Archive for July 2014

Dan Runzler Heading to Japan

July 31, 2014

San Francisco Giants’ farm hand Dan Runzler has been released so that he can sign with the Orix Buffaloes of Japan’s NPB.

Giants’ fans certainly remember Runzler, who looked very promising in 2010 at age 25, when he posted a 3.03 ERA in 41 major league games.  Unfortunately, while his stuff was excellent, his command was not.  He got by with it at first, but once the major leaguers realized he couldn’t pound the strike zone, they patienced him back to the minors for good.

Runzler’s stuff still looks great (103 Ks in 98.2 IP over the last two seasons at AAA Fresno), but he’s still wild as all hell (73 walks).

Clearly, what the Buffaloes are hoping is that with NPB’s wider strike zone and a slightly lower caliber of hitters, Runzler will be better able to take advantage of his great stuff, sort of like Marc Kroon, who was simply too wild for MLB, but used his high 90’s fastball to become NPB’s highest profile closer for five seasons between 2005 and 2009.

A Mexican Leaguer to Keep an Eye On

July 30, 2014

Looking at what’s been going on the Mexican League, at least in terms of who the league’s leaders are, I noticed a 22 year old catcher playing for the Toros de Tijuana (the Tijuana Bulls) named Arturo Rodriguez.  Rodriguez is currently third in the league with a .371 batting average, and his 1.033 OPS is fifth best behind four well-over-30 foreign (to Mexico) veteran professionals of the type who usually dominate the Mexican League’s OPS leader board.

I know very little about his defense, although he has apparently thrown out 17 of 41 attempted base-stealers this season, a 41% rate, which is pretty good.  However, he’s also played a lot of games at 1B and as a designated hitter this season, suggesting either that his defense isn’t great or the Toros are afraid he’ll get worn down or hurt playing catcher every day.

Rodriguez doesn’t walk much, and he’s listed as 6’0″ and 235 lbs and has yet to steal a base as a professional, so he’s probably pretty slow.  He looks like a great plate-blocking catcher in an era when plate-blocking is much more restricted than it used to be.

Rodriguez can certainly hit, however, and he’s young, which are things you look for in any prospect.  Mexican League teams hold onto their players and want top dollar to sell them off to MLB organizations.  If the MLB scouts don’t think a young Mexican League player is worth as a prospect what his Mexican League teams wants to let him go, the player stays in Mexico, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, at least if you are a Mexican baseball fan.

Rodriguez played pretty well last season as a 21 year old rookie (.279 batting average, .775 OPS) but was limited to only 67 games played.  MLB teams may want to see if he plays as well in 2015 as he has so far in 2014 before investing what is almost certain to be a seven figure amount to purchase his rights.

So Far So Good for Alfredo Despaigne in Japan

July 30, 2014

Cuban slugger Alfredo Despaigne played his first game in NPB earlier today.  He went 1-for-4 with a triple and sacrifice fly, scoring one run and driving in another.  He also struck out once.

A lot of eyes are on Despaigne, as he is possibly the best hitter to play in Japan since Hideki Matsui left the Yomiuri Giants for the New York Yankees more than a decade ago.  I’m not saying he really is that good, but there is at least a reasonable possibility of it, given that his numbers in Cuba’s Serie Nacional were comparable to Jose Abreu‘s and Yoenis Cespedes‘.

What it comes down to now is how fast Despaigne gets up to speed at the highest level of Japanese baseball.  It isn’t an easy transition to make, and NPB teams expect immediate performance well above league average in what is a very good pair of leagues.

Assuming that Despaigne plays well enough, despite his late-season start, to come back in 2015 for a full season, it will be interesting to see what he could do with full seasons in 2015 and 2016, at age 29 and 30 respectively, in NPB’s small ballparks.  I certainly think that if he stays healthy and the Cuban government lets him play full seasons in NPB, he could challenge Wladimir Balentien‘s NPB single-season home run record, which Brad Eldred is already making a run at this season.

As a hitter, Despaigne is more like Eldred than Balentien — he probably won’t walk a lot, but he’ll hit some long home runs, at least if he can get up to speed fast enough.

P.S.  For what it’s worth, Despaigne played against Michel Abreu, another Cuban slugger who led NPB’s Pacific League in home runs last year but missed all of the first half of the 2014 campaign with back problems.  Today’s game was only Abreu’s third game played this season.  I wonder if the two had a late dinner together after the game.

San Francisco Giants Pay Heavily to Get Jake Peavy

July 26, 2014

The Giants obtained the starting pitching depth they wanted, trading for Jake Peavy today.  It’s another two-plus month rental, and as with the Tigers’ acquisition of Joakim Soria earlier this week, the price was steep.

The Boston Red Sox get young lefty starter Edwin Escobar and not-so-young righty reliever Heath Hembree.  Escobar is 22 this year, and while he’s struggled in his first season in the AAA Pacific Coast League (5.11 ERA), he’s still on track to be a major league pitcher in about a year’s time if he doesn’t get hurt.

Heath Hembree is 25 this year and is in his second season as the AAA Fresno Grizzlies’ closer.  He was terrific in a September call-up with the Giants last year, but his ERAs at AAA Fresno the last two seasons (4.07 and 3.89) weren’t particularly impressive.  However, he’s definitely got the stuff (145 Ks in 132.2 AAA innings pitched), that he could be a useful major league middle reliever with just a little more improvement.

Meanwhile, while I expect that Jake Peavy will perform better pitching his home games at AT&T Park rather than at Boston’s Fenway Park, this trade has to be seen as an unqualified win for the Red Sox.  In last place in the AL East and 10.5 games back of the first place Orioles, the Red Sox can’t be expected to miss Peavy much.   He didn’t pitch particularly well for the Crimson Hose, he wasn’t reasonably likely to help the Red Sox reach the post-season, and he would have been leaving as a free agent at the end of the season regardless.

Not only did the BoSox turn Peavy into two prospects, but they even got the Giants to relieve them of $2 million of the remaining monies owed to Peavy under his current contract.  Definitely a great deal from the Red Sox’ perspective.

The Next Great Japanese Position Player

July 25, 2014

Back about seven or eight years ago, it looked like we were going to get a steady stream of position players jumping over from Japan’s NPB to MLB with at least one or two Japanese position players coming over every off-season.  That hasn’t happened, thanks to some high-priced busts (namely Kosuke Fukudome‘s $48 million deal with the Cubs) and the general underwhelming American performances of the NPB stars who followed.

I’m still on the look-out for young NPB stars who might one day have what it takes to cross the ocean.  Last year I wrote briefly about Seibu Lions’ 1Bman Hideto Asamura who had a terrific season in 2013 at age 22.  This year, however, he hasn’t played as well and has missed significant time with a left knee injury.

The Japanese youngster who’s caught my attention this year is Yakult Swallows’ 2Bman Tetsuto Yamada.  He turned 22 on July 16th, and he’s currently second in the Central League with a .332 batting average.  His .969 OPS is third best in the league behind only big boppers Brad Eldred (.979) and Wladimir Balentien (.970).

The only other player in NPB with a higher OPS than Yamada is the Pacific League’s Yoshio Itoi (.981), who is widely regarded as one of the very best, all-around players in NPB but probably won’t be coming to MLB because he turns 33 next week.

Yamada hit a home run in one of this season’s two NPB All-Star games, and he’s hit 15 regular season HRs as well, pretty impressive for a youngster who is listed at only 167 lbs.  I don’t know anything about his defense, however.

22 year old LF for the DeNA Bay Stars Yoshitomo Tsutsugo also deserves a mention due to his current .907 OPS and the fact that he’s obviously big and strong (listed as 6’1″ and 213 lbs).  Looks like he’s already none too fast at age 22, though.

Detroit Tigers Pay a Steep Price for Joakim Soria

July 24, 2014 reports that the Tigers are going to obtain Joakim Soria from the Texas Rangers in exchange for prospects Corey Knebel and Jake Thompson.  It looks like the Tigers paid a steep price for a two-month closer rental.

Soria has pitched better than his 2.70 ERA so far this season indicates, and the Tigers certainly need a new closer to replace the highly ineffective Joe Nathan.  Even so, they gave up a lot to get a reliever who can walk at the end of this season.

Corey Knebel is a 22 year old former 1st round draft pick out of the University of Texas who has already pitched his way to the majors, even if he isn’t an effective major league pitcher yet.  Jake Thompson is a former second round draft pick who has already pitched his way into the AA Eastern League at age 20.

With a six and a half game lead over the Indians as I write this, it’s not entirely clear why the Tigers felt they had to give up this much talent to get Soria for two months and ten days.  Most likely, the Tigers feel he’s the piece they need to go deep into the post-season.  In any event, you can’t make too many trades like this before you’ve traded away your future.

This is clearly a great move for the Rangers on paper, but it’s tough to develop young pitchers at The Ballpark at Arlington.

Dan Uggla In, Tony Abreu Out

July 22, 2014

The Giants signed former Braves’ 2Bman Dan Uggla to a minor league deal today as a potentially low-cost solution to their lack of offense at 2B.   Now age 34, Uggla hasn’t hit much since this time last year, but I’ve long thought he might be a good fit at AT&T Park as a right-handed hitter with power.  Uggla can opt out on August 1st, if the Giants don’t promote him to the majors by then, which doesn’t give the team much time to determine if Uggla has anything left playing at AAA Fresno.

Meanwhile, current Fresno Grizzlies middle infielder Tony Abreu has opted out of his deal and is now a free agent.  Abreu played well for the Giants in 53 games last year, and he played pretty well at Fresno this year, although his OPS dropped below .800 in the last month.

I can’t say I’m particularly sorry to Abreu go.  Any major league playing time he got would been time taken away from Joe Panik, who I’d rather see play.  You could say the same for Uggla, of course, but at least Uggla seems to promise more immediate help for the 2014 pennant drive if he can get his hitting stroke back.

Tony Abreu can probably find a better situation with another club, and his departure might mean that Matt Duffy gets promoted from AA Richmond, which would certainly be a positive developement, although it’s more likely that Dan Uggla simply takes that roster spot for the Grizzlies and Duffy stays in Richmond.

Four Pitchers Who Deserve a Shot in Asia

July 20, 2014

As we pass the All-Star Break, teams in South Korea’s KBO and Japan’s NPB are looking for replacements for their foreign players who haven’t performed up to snuff in the first half.  Here are four pitchers currently laboring for small pay in the Mexican League, who would be good low-cost options for Asian teams: Amauri Sanit, Fabio Castro, Mario Gonzalez and Jose Contreras.

Amauri Sanit is a short, stocky (5’8″, 205 lbs) right-hander from Cuba who just turned age 35.  He got a cup of coffee from the New York Yankees in 2011 and has since worked his way down to the Mexican League.  He currently leads the Mexican League with a 2.09 ERA and his 95 strikeouts are third best.  Last year, he had the second best ERA (3.27) and was third in Ks (103) in the Mexican League.

Fabio Castro is an even smaller (5’7″, 185 lbs) lefty from the Dominican Republic who is 29 this season.  He pitched in 30 major league games for the Rangers and Phillies in 2006-2007.  His 2.30 ERA is currently second best in the Mex League and his 91 strikeouts are fourth best.

Mario Gonzalez is a thin (6’0″, 168 lbs) 27 year old Mexican right-hander.  He’s been pitching in the Mexican League since the age of 18, but didn’t really put it together until last season at the age of 26, which is why no major league team has snapped him up.  Last year, his 3.70 ERA was 8th best in the Mex League (it’s a hitters’ league) and his 100 Ks were tied for 4th.  This year, he’s third in the league with a 2.65 ERA and second with 104 Ks.

Jose Contreras is the ageless Cuban star we all know and love.  He’s currently at least 42 years old and still dealing it.  While his 3.42 ERA is only 10th best in the Mexican league so far this season, his 118 Ks (in 105.1 IP) leads the league.

Of these four, Mario Castro is the least likely to go to the Far East.  He’s the youngest of the bunch, the only one without MLB experience, and the only one never to have played outside of his home country.  Also, as a Mexican player, he’s likely to cost more for an Asian team to buy his contract from his current Mexican League team.  At age 27, he isn’t likely to draw much interest from MLB organizations, so he may well continue to be a star in the Mexican League for as long as his arm holds out.




A Bad Draft Season for the Astros

July 19, 2014

The Astros burned themselves big-time on the draft this year.  Their low-balling of and regressive bargaining with the No. 1 overall draft pick and not-actually-injured Brady Aiken, has cost them not only Aiken, but also their fifth round pick Jacob Nix, a high schooler whom the ‘Stros thought was worth $1.5 million until they found out about Aiken’s thin elbow ligament.

The Astros have let it be known that they brought their final offer to Aiken back up to $5 million, but didn’t get a call-back from Aiken’s “advisor” (agent) Casey Close.  However, after dropping their initial $6.5 million offer down to $5 million and then down again to less than $3.2 million, Aiken may have simply decided that he didn’t want to be a part of the Astros’ organization.

If it was me, I’d have taken the $5 million, but I can certainly see why Aiken would decide it’s better to start his professional career somewhere else.

In any event, the Astros get the No. 2 overall pick in next year’s draft, but it means that after three consecutive 100+ loss seasons and another season in which the Astros are likely to approach 100 losses again, it will be another year before the Astros can even sign that compensation pick.  Also, it isn’t too often that you get a No. 1 overall pick, even if this was the Astros’ third No. 1 in a row.

However, with Mark Appel looking an awful lot like a dud, this is two years in a row the Astros have turned the No. 1 overall pick into bupkis.

Bad teams usually aren’t bad simply due to bad luck or relative poverty.  Instead, they tend to make a lot of bad decisions.

In fact, the Astros can’t even really claim to be a “poor” team.  While their revenues are currently near the bottom of MLB, that’s mainly due to their terrible play on the field years on end and some terrible decisions they’ve made regarding their cable television rights.  Houston is a big and potentially great market for baseball.

Luke Scott Talks His Way out of the KBO and Other Notes

July 18, 2014

Former Oriole and Ray Luke Scott just got canned by the SK Wyverns of South Korea’s KBO after calling a team coach a “liar” and “coward.”  The dispute involved how Scott’s plantar fasciitis was being handled — the team wanted to put him on the injured list, but Scott wanted to stay active and work on the problem in his own way.

Scott has a history of expressing pretty unsavory personal beliefs, but I’m not sure that makes him the bad guy here, as some commentators have suggested.  It’s not particularly surprising that Scott, as a veteran player, wanted more control over how his injury was handled, or that Korean baseball still has more of a top-down attitude than MLB.  The fact that Scott apparently went out of his way to get the South Korean media in the dispute wasn’t the kind of conduct that plays well in any professional baseball league, though.

Scott got off to a fine start in KBO, but he hadn’t played much since about mid-May because of injuries that are hardly surprising from a 36 year old ballplayer.  I don’t know if releasing him gets the Wyverns out of his remaining contract, but they can at least someone younger and healthier.

The Blue Jays claimed Brad Mills today off waivers, which means that, by my count, at least eight American League teams passed him up before the Blue Jays made their claim.  Doesn’t seem right after the way Mills pitched in AAA and in three starts for the Oakland A’s this year.  Mills deserves at least two or three more major league appearances before he gets sent down to the minors again.

One of my old favorites Dontrelle Willis still isn’t ready to call it quits.  Willis made two brief relief appearances for the AAA Fresno Grizzlies (San Francisco Giants) in April, the Giants released him following what seemed to be another arm injury.  However, he’s just re-signed to play for the Bridgeport Bluefish of the independent-A Atlantic League, a league in which he pitched effectively last year.  Keep trying, Dontrelle — maybe that old soup-bone will come back!