Keeping Tabs On Patrick Ruotolo and Ray Black

Posted June 19, 2018 by Burly
Categories: Minor Leagues, San Francisco Giants, Uncategorized

One Giants’ minor leaguer I’ve been keeping tabs on is reliever Patrick Ruotolo.  He was originally drafted in the 27th Round in 2016, and I just couldn’t understand how he could have still been around that late.

He pitched really well as the closer for the University of Connecticut, which plays in a second-tier conference that still has some good baseball programs like Southern Florida (USF) and Central Florida (UCF) that regularly turn out drafted players.  Ruotolo has funny dimensions for a RHP, standing 5’10” and weighing 220 lbs.

I don’t know if it was the prejudice of his short stature or the worry that his motion would cause arm problems, but I had a hard time understanding why he wasn’t selected sooner.

He’s done nothing but pitch well since he became a pro.  He has a career 1.48 minor league ERA in two seasons and counting.  He’s got a 1.42 ERA after nine appearances and 12.2 innings pitched for AA Richmond, after his promotion from Class A+ San Jose.

Well, that looks like a real prospect, which are hard to come by in the 27th round.  Sure, Ruotolo may get hurt before he amounts to anything, but if he’s pitching well in a AA league (and he is with 14 Ks against seven hits and seven walks) at age 23, he’s definitely a prospect.

Ray Black of the 100+ mph heater (he once hit 104 in an Arizona Fall League game), looks like he’s finally finding his command. A 7th round pick in 2011, Black in his age 28 season is only now pitching in the AAA Pacific Coast League because of his inability to throw strikes.

Black has found his command this year and has allowed only six walks in 13.2 AAA innings pitched with 24 big strikeouts.  His ERA is currently 4.61 because he’s served up two taters among only eight hits allowed, but that’s to be expected from a hard thrower who is still working on his command.

Even if Black doesn’t make it to the majors until 2019, he still appears to have a lot of gas in the tank.

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There Are Now 44 Teams in the Dominican Summer League

Posted June 19, 2018 by Burly
Categories: Kansas City Royals, Washington Nationals, Baseball Abroad, Minor Leagues

I had no idea that there were this many teams in the Dominican Summer League (DSL).  For some reason, I had thought the number was like 36.  There were only 36 teams as recently as 2014, which is at least the last time I looked.

44 teams sure does allow MLB to cycle through huge numbers of 17 to 21 year old Latin American players, which at least gives a lot of kids/young men a shot at the professional baseball success dream, although precious few will actually make it.

One thing positive about a 44 team DSL is that it may produce better players for home countries’ winter leagues.  More players getting to play in the DSL means more young players that are getting elite training at their craft, even if they don’t make it beyond the DSL level outside of their home countries.

What got me thinking about the number of teams in the DSL was the fact that in today’s Kelvin Herrera trade, the third player the Royals got was a 17 year old Dominican named Yohanse Morel with exactly one career appearance in the DSL under his professional belt.   He pitched 3.1 innings and allowed four runs, three earned on six hits, a walk and an HBP.  He struck out five, though.

It could be that the Royals liked Morel before he signed with the Nationals, but it’s also possible that Morel is the classic player-to-be-named-later type who gets thrown into the deal to get it done without a lot of due diligence.  Only time will tell when they’re 17.

San Francisco Giant Draft Pick Signings

Posted June 19, 2018 by Burly
Categories: San Francisco Giants

The McCovey Chronicles always does a great job covering the Giants’ Draft Pick signings.  The summary is that No. 2 overall pick Joey Bart got $7.025 million, which according to Jim Callis is a record for “up-front” bonus for a position player, but which still saved the Giants almost $470,000 of the slot amount.  The Giants gave that money, plus an almost $88,000 in slot savings from 2nd Round pick Sean Hjelle, who still got a cool $1.5M, to 3rd Round pick Jake Wong, 4th Round pick Blake Rivera and 6th Round pick P.J. HIlson, who all got over-slot bonuses.

I’m glad to see the Giants more fully taking advantage of moving slot money around.  It may be easier to do when you’re starting with the No. 2 slot in the draft and the high slot amounts in each round, which certainly makes it easier to sign their first two picks to below slot bonuses.  Whatever the reason, I like to see the Giants moving the slot money around to get more players who are real prospects.

Cubs Rotate Two Pitchers between Left Field and the Mound

Posted June 14, 2018 by Burly
Categories: Anaheim Angels, Chicago Cubs, Milwaukee Brewers

In what has been a year full of innovation in the world of professional baseball, Cubs’ manager Joe Madden tried rotating pitchers between left field and the pitcher’s mound to get the platoon match-ups he wanted.  It’s an interesting idea, and it worked today, but I don’t think it will catch on.

Madden used righty Steve Cishek to face two right-handed hitters, and lefty Brian Duensing to face two left-handed hitters.  It worked this time, but it will only take one misplay by a pitcher turned left fielder on a ball hit by intention or accidentally to that field for the whole scheme to unravel.  The media will go crazy, and MLB managers typically lack the intestinal fortitude to buck the conventional wisdom as expressed by the large majority of sportswriters.

In a baseball world in which teams are carrying more and more pitchers in order to take advantage of match-ups, it certainly makes sense for athletic pitchers to learn how to defend left field.  However, even left field takes a lot of practice to play at the major league level, and, repeat after me, major league pitchers become and remain major league pitchers solely based on their abilities as pitchers.  Shohei Ohtani got to hit this year solely because it was part of the cost of signing him at a bargain basement price.

Unless every man in the bullpen can also learn to defend left-field, this tactic just won’t work, because managers are always going to go with the relief pitchers whom they think can get the next hitter or few hitters out.  This goes beyond actual match-ups into the question of which pitchers are sufficiently rested to be available so your bullpen doesn’t break down sooner rather than later.

It worked tonight, but I just do not see a trend here.

$750,000 to Pitch in a Foreign Minor League

Posted June 13, 2018 by Burly
Categories: Baseball Abroad, Milwaukee Brewers, NPB

Former Milwaukee Brewer and MLB 1st Round Draft pick Taylor Jungman is pitching for the Yomiuri Giants of Japan’s NPB this year for a reported $750,000, but he isn’t doing it at the major league level.  It’s mid-June and he’s spent his entire season pitching in NPB’s minor leagues (two leagues at one level of play: NPB teams only have a single minor league club each).  He’s currently 6-2 with a 1.42 ERA after 10 starts.

The situation is not entirely unexpected.  The Giants signed Jungman last off-season with their major league roster already filled with four foreign players who are more highly paid this season than Jungmann in 2018.  None of the four is younger than 31 this season, so the Giants figured that one of the four would probably get hurt.  It just hasn’t happened yet.

The Yomiuri Giants are NPB’s wealthiest team by far and can afford sticking a foreign player earning a major league salary in the minor leagues.

I wonder what Jungmann thinks about pitching in Japan’s minor league?  On the one hand, it’s certainly better in the short-term to be earning major league money pitching in Japan’s minors than it would be earning around $125,000 pitching at the MLB AAA level.  Of course, it’s possible to pitch one’s way out of AAA back to the MLB majors, where Jungman would probably be making a pro-rated portion of the same $750,000 he’s making in Japan for MLB major league service time, since it looks like he would have been out of options for the Brewers and was still young enough to sign a relatively generous split contract with another team that remembers his draft pedigree and his successful 2015 season.

Meanwhile, no matter how well Jungmann pitches against Japanese minor leaguers, he isn’t going to be impressing anyone much in Japan or back in MLB for purposes of his 2019 contract, although if he continues to pitch as well as he has so far this year, Yomiuri will probably want him back for around the same $750,000 he’s making this year to pitch at the NPB major league level.

Right now, Jungman’s best shot at a major league job is replacing Arquimedes Camerino, who has struggled in the closer role this year (4.50 ERA), after a strong 2017.  Still, it doesn’t look like any of Yomiuri’s current four foreign major leaguers is playing poorly enough that Yomiuri won’t stick with them for at least another month.  I guess Jungmann has to hope for one of the olders getting hurt if he wants a chance at NPB stardom in the near future and the chance at a triumphant, or at least lucrative, MLB return in a couple of seasons.

Ah, the Five Pitcher Shut-out

Posted June 11, 2018 by Burly
Categories: Arizona Diamond Backs, San Francisco Giants, Washington Nationals

The Giants beat Max Scherzer and the Nats today using five pitchers.  Only in today’s game.

The Gints got five shut-out innings from Derek Holland,which is like a gift from the Gods.  But Bruce Bochy did not tempt fate or risk wrath (in keeping with the original metaphor) and went with four relievers for one inning a piece the rest of the way.

With Mark Melancon back and healthy, the Giants’ bullpen looks the best it’s looked all season.  Bumgarner is back and Cueto is on reputedly on course be back as soon as June 30th, the earliest date for his 60-day stay on the DL.

The NL West sucks: the Giants are only one game above .500, but in second place only 2.5 games back of the D’Backs.  Suddenly, the Giants’ 2018 strategy doesn’t look as much of a long-shot as it did when the season started.

The Giants are certainly no Justify, but at least there is reason to hope in early-mid June, and there’s something to be said for that.

My Favorite Minor League Stars 2018

Posted June 8, 2018 by Burly
Categories: Baseball Abroad, CPBL, KBO, Los Angeles Dodgers, Minor Leagues, NPB, Philadelphia Phillies

Every year I like to write a post about minor league players whom few have ever of, but who have either carved out relatively successful professional careers or have simply just kept playing because of their abilities and love for the game.

Mike Loree and Josh Lowey.  Two pitchers who never reached the major leagues, but have carved out professional success because they can pitch.  Loree is currently one of the all-time foreign greats in Taiwan’s CPBL, and Lowey is arguably the top starter in the Mexican League (LMB) at this moment.

Loree is in his 6th season in the CPBL (and 7th in Asia), and he was arguably the league’s best pitcher in each of his first four full seasons in Taiwan.  This year at age 33 his 4.22 ERA is currently only 5th best in a four team circuit, but he leads the league in innings pitched and strikeouts, with 90 in the latter category.  The CPBL is an extreme hitters’ league, and there is still plenty of time to put himself back on top of the league’s pitchers.

Josh Lowey is in his fifth season in LMB and his ranking in the Mexican League is so similar to Mike Loree in the CPBL that it’s scary.  Lowey is also 33.  His 2.58 ERA is 6th best in a 16 team circuit.  He leads the league in innings pitched and strikeouts, with 79 in the latter category.  Both Loree and Lowey had shots a few years back in South Korea’s KBO, but neither made it despite showing something.

I’m hoping that Josh Lowey pitches in the CPBL next year (it’s a step up from LMB), so I can see what the two do pitching in the same league.

Cyle Hankerd and Blake Gailen.  Two more guys who have never reached the MLB majors (or come particularly close) but who can play.  Hankerd, who was once a 3rd Round draft pick out of USC, is in his fifth season in LMB.  His .949 OPS is currently 22nd best in the league.

Gailen is back in the Atlantic League this year, the best of the Indy-A’s.  His .813 OPS is currently 16th best in an eight team circuit.  Gailen sometimes gets signed mid-year to play for an MLB organization’s AA or AAA team when someone gets hurt — he had a .871 OPS in 167 plate appearances for AA Tulsa in the Dodgers’ system last year — but he’s spent most of the last seven seasons in the Atlantic League.

Gailen spent two winters playing in Mexico and part of the 2014 season playing in LMB.  However, he apparently prefers to pay for peanuts in the U.S.  For players like Hankerd and Gailen, LMB and the top four Caribbean winter leagues (Mexico, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, and Venezuela) are the end of the line, because CPBL teams no longer sign hitters and South Korea’s KBO teams want hitters with at least a little MLB major league experience.  Both Hankerd and Gailen are also 33 this season.

Chris Roberson.  Now in his age 38 season, he’s the American King of Mexican baseball.  He’s played eight seasons in LMB and at least 13 seasons in Mexico’s even better winter league (MXPW or LMP).  His .967 OPS is currently 18th best in the 16 team LMB.

Roberson is almost certainly the best paid foreign player in Mexico, and I’d guess he makes $90,000 to $100,000 a year in both leagues combined in terms of total value of his compensation (officially, LMB’s foreign players cap at $8,000 per month in salary for a 4.5 month season, but rumors have it that the perks are huge; LMP probably pays better on a monthly basis, but it’s only a 2.5 month season).  Roberson played enough in the MLB majors back in 2006-2007 to earn an MLB pension, so it’s all good for player who managed only 72 major league plate appearances.

The beauty of LMB is that with its roughly AA level of play, players (mostly from Latin America) who have aged out of the MLB system can earn a living wage, at Mexico’s cost of living, playing into their late 30’s or even early 40’s if they are good enough and age gracefully.  Roberson is a poster boy, but there are a lot of other players about whom the same can also be said.

Karl Galinas and Isaac Pavlik.  Two Can-Am League pitchers, they are the modern day equivalent of Lefty George.  George was a marginal major leaguer who pitched nearly forever in his adopted home town of York, Pennsylvania, where he also ran a bar.

Galinas and Pavlik never reached the majors (or came close) but they have pitched for years in respectively, Quebec City and northern New Jersey.  Both are local boys, and it looks like Galinas in involved in the management of the Quebec Capitales, which may explain why he’s continued to be the team ace.

Alas, it looks like 2017 was Pavlik’s last season.  It was more than a good run with 13 seasons pitched for the New Jersey Jackels.  At age 38 now, it’s hard to justify spending 4.5 months each year pitching for a lousy $10,000.  You can’t live in New Jersey on that unless you spend your nights in a cardboard box or a beat-up vehicle.

Galinas has pitched 12 seasons for the Capitales, and at age 35 (happy birthday, Karl!), he’s still one of the league’s best pitchers in the early going.  Pavlik and Galinas the top two pitchers (in that order) in the Can-Am League in terms of career wins, losses, innings pitched and strikeouts.

To be honest, I’m not sure how the Can-Am League has lasted so long.  Attendance does not match that of either the Atlantic League or the American Association, particularly when it comes to the top teams.  What Galinas and Pavlik have accomplished is simply amazing.

Orlando Roman‘s baseball odyssey appears to have ended with four starts in Puerto Rico this past winter.  He pitched professionally for 19 seasons without ever reaching the MLB majors.  He used the CPBL as a spring board for four so-so seasons in Japan’s NPB where he pitched just well enough to earn more than $1 million.  With four years in the CPBL sandwiching his four years in Japan, plus all his winter league seasons, I’d guess Roman made close to $2 million in his professional career, which beats just about anything else he might reasonably have been doing.

It also looks like Brian “Beef” Burgamy‘s 16 year pro career concluded at the end of the 2017 season.  He compiled more than 8,000 professional plate appearances without ever playing above the AA/LMB level.

There are so many young or youngish or not-so-young players in the Atlantic League and LMB who can play but will likely never again play at a higher level than the top four winter Caribbean winter leagues or the CPBL that I can’t describe them all here.  Cuban defector Yadir Drake played so well in the first half of the 2017 LMB season that he got a shot in Japan, but he couldn’t cut it with the Nippon Ham Fighters, and he’s back in LMB this year.  It’s a big jump from the Mexican League to the major league money paid by the KBO or NPB, and few players can do it.