David Harris and Other Winter League Batting Leaders

Posted November 12, 2018 by Burly
Categories: Baseball Abroad, Independent-A Leagues, Mexican League, NPB, St. Louis Cardinals, Texas Rangers, Toronto Blue Jays

A player who has caught my eye this year is David Harris.  He turned 27 last August and was the best hitter in the Indy-A Can-Am League this past summer, slashing .331/.435/.590 in more than 400 plate appearances.  Although he’s still reasonably young, no major league organization was willing to sign him, even to fill in for late season injureds.

After 25 games in the Mexican Pacific League (LMP) this Fall, Harris is leading LMP with a 1.066 OPS.  Sure, it’s only a 25 game sample, but if Harris manages to stay hot and finish in the LMP’s top five in OPS, it will be a distinctly more impressive feat than leading the Can-Am League, particularly for a non-Mexican player.

Harris washed out of the Blue Jays’ system after two 100+ plate appearance trials at Class A+ Dunedin a few years back, and he may already be too old to seriously tempt MLB organizations.  Where does a player like Harris go from here?

The most likely answer is that Harris will be playing in the Atlantic League or Mexico’s summer league (LMB) next summer.  A really hot first half in LMB in 2019 could get him a contract to play in Japan’s NPB, but the odds of him being LMB’s OPS leader (or at least in the top three) in the first half of 2019 are probably slim.  It takes a lot of luck to be a consistent league leader even at the LMB/LMP level if MLB has already made a judgment that you don’t have the talent to merit another contract even though you haven’t yet reached age 28.

Ramon Urias, Saul Soto and Japhet Amador are other top hitters in the LMP this winter.  Ramon Urias had some big seasons in LMB until the Cardinals finally purchased his rights, and he’s still young enough to have some kind of an MLB major league career in the future.

Saul Soto is one of the best LMB players of his generation.  Soto slashed .262/.366/.401 as a 22 year old C/1B in nearly 300 Class A Sally League plate appearances, but was returned to LMB the next summer season.  Playing summers in LMB and winters in LMP mostly as a catcher, which equates to about the same number of games as a full MLB major league season, Soto has slugged well more than 350 career home runs south of the border.  At age 40 now, he’s been exclusively a 1Bman since the start of the 2016 winter season.

Japhet Amador had a nice little NPB career going until a positive steroids test this summer likely sent him back to LMB/LMP for good.  He’ll hit a lot more home runs in Mexico until his 300+ lbs body breaks down for good.

Soon to be 26 year old middle infielder Hanser Alberto is currently leading the Dominican Winter League with a .911 OPS.  Alberto has already received MLB major league playing time in three different seasons, but has batted dreadfully because he has no strike zone judgment.  Alberto appears to have the raw batting abilities of a major leaguer, particularly when you take into account his defense, but he may have to go to Asia to become a major league star.

Delmon Young is currently tied for the Venezuelan Winter League lead with five home runs.  Young played pretty well in LMB this past summer, and I’m not particularly surprised.  He only turned 33 in mid-September, and he had the raw athletic and batting abilities to be a No. 1 overall MLB draft pick once upon a time.

However, I don’t see Young returning to MLB.  He’s the same player now he was as an MLBer, meaning he won’t walk enough to be successful at the MLB major league level.  If he can lead the VWL in home runs, though, he might be able to catch on with an NPB team in search of right-handed power.

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Winter League Notes

Posted November 9, 2018 by Burly
Categories: Baseball Abroad, Chicago White Sox, Independent-A Leagues, KBO, Minor Leagues, New York Yankees, Washington Nationals

With the free agent market yet to heat up (CC Sabathia re-signed with the Yankees for $8M, but that’s about it), I’ve been following players in the Caribbean Winter Leagues.  Here are a few I want to note.

The Nationals’ Victor Robles is lighting it up in the Dominican Winter League.  Youngsters of Robles’ talent and closeness to the majors usually don’t get to play in the Caribbean Winter Leagues unless they were hurt during the summer season, which Robles was.  He played in only 73 summer season games, so the Nats are letting him get some live game reps in the the Dominican Republic this winter.

Robles’ winter season may well end after only 20 or 25, like Eloy Jiminez last winter, because his MLB team doesn’t want to risk injury.  However, the Nats may want to give him reps since he’s definitely a candidate to make the Nationals’ roster out of Spring Training if/when Bryce Harper leaves for the big money.

Every baseball blogger, I suspect, is looking for players who are much better than anyone else seems to realize.  One of the players I’ve been watching in this regard is left-handed starter Tyler J. Alexander.  For several years he pitched his summers for Fargo-Moorhead in the Indy-A American Association and winters in the Mexican Pacific League.  He was consistently good with high strikeout rates, but couldn’t seem to catch anyone’s attention.

Alexander shook things up in 2018, starting the season with the Sussex County (New Jersey) Miners of the Can-Am League.  The Can-Am League isn’t any better than the American Association, but it probably gets more scouting because it’s on the East Coast.  He pitched well enough there to finally get a contract to pitch in the second half of the Mexican League (Summer) season.

This winter Alexander has elected to pitch in the Dominican Winter League, rather than the Mexican Pacific League, I think because he’s hoping to finally get someone’s attention in a league that pays a real wage.  He’s been great through his first five starts with a 2.13 ERA and 25 Ks in 25.1 IP.  If he can keep it up the rest of the winter, maybe somebody (besides me) will finally take notice.

Two Dominican Winter League pitchers who have done a lot to keep their high-paying summer league dreams alive are Esmil Rogers and Tommy Milone.

Esmil Rogers had a more than $1M contract to pitch in the KBO in 2018, but he broke his hand about half-way through the season and got cut, probably losing roughly the second half of his $1M+ contract.  He currently has a 2.53 ERA after five DWL starts.  If he can keep it up, a KBO team will play him at least $500,000 to pitch in South Korea in 2019.

Tommy Milone was a marginal major leaguer in 2018, his age 31 season.  He’s pitching in the DWL to prove that he’s worth a split AAA/major league contract in 2019.  So far, so good — Milone hasn’t allowed an earned run or a walk in his first four starts, while striking out 19 in 22 IP.  That’s what a soon to be 32 year old player of Milone’s caliber needs to do to show MLB teams he’s worth bringing back for another season as AAA insurance.

 

Free Agent Foo and Other Notes

Posted November 3, 2018 by Burly
Categories: Arizona Diamond Backs, Baltimore Orioles, Cleveland Indians, Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Mets, New York Yankees, NPB, Oakland A's, Philadelphia Phillies, San Francisco Giants, Toronto Blue Jays

mlbtraderumors.com posted its list of the top 50 free agents this off-season.  I was interested to see what they had to say after last year’s paradigm shifting free agent period.

Mlbtraderumors projects Bryce Harper to get 14 years at $420M and Manny Machado to get 13 years at $390M.  My guess would be that Harper gets between $350M and $400M and Machado gets $330M.  I think Machado hurt himself with a poor post-season, and I’m doubtful any team is going to be willing to completely blow out of the water the record-setting 13 year $325M deal that Giancarlo Stanton got a few years ago, at least to the extent that mlbtraderumors is predicting.

However, it will come down to how many teams are in the hunt for both players.  If either player gets three or four teams determined to sign him, then the numbers could be bigger than I’m saying.  For whatever reason, I think the Phillies will sign Harper and Yankees Machado, although the Yankees could pursue Josh Donaldson as a shorter-term, lower commitment alternative.

Patrick Corbin is the only player MLBTR projects to get a $100M contract, in keeping with last year’s off-season”s disappointing returns for all but the very best free agents.

I think somebody will pony up more than $50M for Japan’s Yusei Kikuchi, including the posting fee.  I will be surprised if a team does not allocate at least $60M total for the six years MLBTR is projecting.

If CC Sabathia does not re-sign with the Yankees, I would love to see him sign with either the Giants or the A’s on a short-term deal.  CC is from Vallejo, so you would certainly think he’d be receptive to an offer from one of the two Bay Area teams.

The Dodgers extended Hyun-Jin Ryu a $17.9M qualifying offer, but MLBTR anticipates the Dodgers will bring him back for three years and $33M.  If I had to guess, I would say that Ryu decides to do will have a lot to do with whether or not the Yankees or Mets have any interest in him.

As a Korean, I would imagine the NYC or LA, two cities with large Korean American populations, would be his preferred destinations.  Ryu is also the only player out of seven who might reasonably accept the qualifying offer if he wants to stay in LA but the Dodgers won’t offer him a multi-year deal between now and the decision date and/or he decides to bet that he’ll be healthier in 2019 and be able to set himself for another big contract next off-season.

Clayton Kershaw signed a new deal with the Dodgers that essentially adds a third season at $28M (plus incentives), on the two-year $65M contract he could have opted out of, although the new deal pushes back $3M to the final season so he will now earn $31M per.  For whatever reason, I had imagined a new five-year $125M deal for Kershaw with or without money pushed back to the new seasons.  The actual contract signed may reflect both the Dodgers’ concerns about Kershaw’s back problems and Kershaw’s realization that he may not want to pitch more than three more seasons given his back problems.  Dodger fans can at least rest assured that Kershaw isn’t leaving this off-season.

 

Willie McCovey Passes

Posted November 1, 2018 by Burly
Categories: Baseball History, San Francisco Giants

Willie McCovey passed away today at the age of 80.  Giants fans will tell you he was the most popular San Francisco Giant of all time.  Willie Mays may have been better, but Willie Mac had a better disposition and his 1968 through 1970 season certainly must have made fellow Alabama boy and teammate Mays proud.

I had the privilege of watching McCovey play, which means a lot to me since Mays was before my time.  I will admit that the Willie Mac I remember was the 1978 version, when he was an old war-horse who wasn’t very fast to the ball anymore, but still got some big hits that drove in runs and gave Mike Ivie the opportunity to have the season that Giants’ fans best remember Mike Ivie for.

I also got to see Willie Mac having dinner at his namesake restaurant in Walnut Creek some years ago when I went there with my father, my last memory of seeing Willie in person.

You can read the San Francisco Chronicle article on his death here for more career details, if you haven’t read their article already.

World Series Excitement

Posted October 29, 2018 by Burly
Categories: San Francisco Giants, New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Anaheim Angels, Texas Rangers, New York Mets, Atlanta Braves, Washington Nationals, Philadelphia Phillies, St. Louis Cardinals, Chicago Cubs, Houston Astros, Los Angeles Dodgers, Baseball History

You know who was really excited about this year’s Dodgers-Red Sox World Series, aside from Dodgers and Red Sox fans?  Fox Sports.

If it was up to the network broadcasting the World Series, at least every other World Series would feature the Red Sox or Yankees playing the Dodgers or the Mets playing the Angels or Red Sox, with the Giants, the Cubs, the Phillies, the Astros and maybe the Cardinals, Nationals, Rangers and Braves making the Series just often enough to keep MLB fans from getting too bored.

Obviously, teams from across the country playing in the largest markets make for the highest World Series television rantings.  In fact, the top viewership for the last ten years was 2016, when the Cubs made the World Series for the first time since 1945 and won for the first time since 1908.  The viewership in 2004, when the Red Sox won for the first time since 1918, was even better.  However, none of the BoSox’ three subsequent World Series have drawn as well.

The 1986 World Series between the Mets and Red Sox was the most viewed Series since 1984, and viewership has tumbled steadily since the late 1980’s early 1990’s to the present decade.

My proposed solution to declining World Series viewership?  It’s the same as my solution to a number of MLB’s structural problems — expansion.  You have to grow the pie and get MLB in more markets if you want to increase World Series, play-off and regular season major network viewership.

However, while attendance was good for MLB’s top 12 teams this year, it was way, way down compared to recent seasons for the bottom eight teams.  MLB is going to be reluctant to expand if most of the current small-market teams are drawing poorly.

It might also be time for MLB teams to consider building bigger ballparks so that there are fewer home runs and more singles, doubles and triples.  However, history has shown that fans (in terms of overall attendance) prefer more offense over less offense.

World Series Indifference

Posted October 29, 2018 by Burly
Categories: Boston Red Sox, Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Yankees, Oakland A's, San Francisco Giants, St. Louis Cardinals

The 2018 World Series is now officially in the books, and I have to admit that I found it hard to get excited about this one, even aside from the fact that it turned out to be pretty one-sided.  As a Giants’ fan, I can’t root for the Dodgers as a team, and as a non-Red Sox fan, I find it hard to root for a team that spends as much money as they do and has enjoyed as much recent success even before this year’s World Series.  Also, with the spate of racist, terrorist attacks this week, baseball seems trivial (although it is precisely because the World is sometimes an awful place that we need distractions and entertainments like baseball).

When I can’t root for the teams, I root for individual players.  However, I can’t say I’m a particularly big fan of many players on either team.  I like Kenta Maeda, because he’s a small right-hander and I sung his praises as a potential major leaguer for years before he signed with the Dodgers.  I like late-bloomer Justin Turner, although I don’t enjoy looking at that ugly, bushy, bright orange hipster beard of his — I don’t like Craig Kimbrel‘s beard either.  I’m eagerly waiting for both the don’t-shave-until-season’s-over baseball trend and the larger hipster trend to finally run their respective courses.

I root for Clayton Kershaw to pitch well in the World Series, so long as it can’t hurt a team I care about, because he’s such a good pitcher, but I root for David Price and Chris Sale for the same reason.  But if they don’t pitch well, my attitude is f@#$-’em, because you got to get it done when it counts the most.

The Red Sox and Dodgers have plenty of bright young stars, but since I don’t root for either team, I haven’t developed any particular fondness for most of them. They’re fun to watch, but that’s about it.

I was also a bit disgusted to see chronic steroids cheat Alex Rodriguez getting paid big money to provide commentary at the end of the games.  I can see why Fox hired Rodriguez — he’s a big name, he knows plenty about MLB baseball, he’s good looking (and relatively light skinned), and he’s reasonably well spoken.  It still rankles me, though, the way that Barry Bonds got black-balled by MLB for being an obstreperous black man, while arguably bigger steroids cheats like AFraud and somewhat less obstreperous white men like Mark McGwire are able to continue drawing big paychecks from the game.

In a just world, Bonds will get into the Hall of Fame before either Rodriguez or McGwire, but I wouldn’t count on it.  See racist, terrorist attacks above.

It must have given Red Sox fans pleasure to watch somebody’s else Manny being Manny for a change.  Machado went 4-for-22 with no extra base hits in the Series, which will probably cost him more this off-season than failing to run out the ball hit off the wall, although it really shouldn’t.  Even great players can have bad World Series.  Mickey Mantle went 3-for-25 with a lone double in the 1962 World Series, but hit 18 home runs in the nine other World Series in which he played regularly.

At the end of the day, though, I still expect Machado to get his $300M+ free agent deal this off-season.  You can’t under-perform in the World Series if you don’t get there in the first place, and Machado improves any team’s chances of making it there.

Manny Being Manny

Posted October 27, 2018 by Burly
Categories: Boston Red Sox, Los Angeles Dodgers

World Series Game 3.  The Dodgers down by two games but up a run in the middle innings.  With two outs, Manny Machado smokes a ball toward the left-field wall.  He hit it so good, he sits there and admires it.  It hits low off the wall, and Manny barely has time to make the turn around first base.  Sigh.

The next batter made out, so the forfeited base probably didn’t matter.  Still, Machado has too much MLB experience and has heard too many times about his sometimes lackadaisical effort not to run that ball out hard from the box.

If the Dodgers go on to lose this World Series, I hope this memory sticks in teams’ minds and it costs Machado at least $10M or $20M on the still ginormous contract he’s going to get this off-season.  Really a bush move from a guy who fully expects a major league team to give him a $325M+ contract a few weeks from now.

It would really be nice if there were still consequences for stupid, self-absorbed behavior.