Archive for July 2018

Time for the San Francisco Giants to Become Sellers

July 31, 2018

We are only 23 hours and 50 minutes from the trade deadline as I write this, but there is still time for the Giants to try to re-load for 2019.  At this point it seems clear that the Giants are going to be hard pressed indeed to make the playoffs, as they are six games back of the 2nd wild card spot with four other teams between them and the Diamondbacks.  It could be done, the odds sure aren’t good. It isn’t helped by the news that its a “strong possibility that Johnny Cueto needs Tommy John surgery.

Assuming the Giants aren’t willing to sell any of their core players, they could still potentially package Will Smith and Sam Dyson, who are both pitching well, to any contending team still looking for bullpen help.  Smith in particular has value because he’s been both very good and still has a year of control at what should be a reasonable 2019 salary because of his lost 2017 campaign.

I wonder if there would be any interest in Gorkys Hernandez?  He has played pretty well this year, plays a key defensive position, and his salary is currently near the MLB minimum and won’t be much higher in 2019 even though he’ll be arbitration eligible for the first time.  Always good to trade a player when their value is probably at its peak.

Maybe the Giants could trade Andrew McCutchen to the Phillies, who were interested in Adam Jones until Jones said he planned to enforce his no-trade clause.  The Giants would likely have to pay a portion of McCutchen’s remaining salary, but so be it — the team would still save money and get a prospect or international bonus money.

If the Giants trade either or both Smith and Dyson, that would free up a shot for a personal favorite of mine, Tyler Rogers, who currently has a 1.61 ERA at AAA Sacramento.  If the Giants trade Hernandez, the team could recall Mac Williamson, who is hitting great at AAA and start Steven Duggar every day in center field.

Again assuming that the Giants aren’t willing to trade away any core players, it seems like a half re-build would be appropriate for the remainder of 2018.  Then McCutchen’s and Hunter Pence‘s salaries would come off the books, and the Giants would have some money to throw at what they see as their most pressing need going into 2019.  Losing a few more games in 2018 might also get the team a better 2019 draft pick.

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The 10 Best Major League Players Who Started Their Pro Careers in the Independent-A Leagues

July 31, 2018

I’ve been following the Independent-A Leagues closely the last few years, and I recently wondered who the best major league players were who started their pro careers in an Indy-A League.  I couldn’t find a decent list, so I decided I’d make one.

One of the things I learned in compiling this list is just how incredibly difficult it is to have a major league career amounting to more than a couple of brief cups of coffee for players who don’t start their professional careers in the MLB-system.  MLB hoovers up just about every player with any shot of ever having a major league career that anyone besides the players themselves would typically remember.  Only a tiny number of players gets overlooked.

That said, it is within the realm of possibility that a player can start his pro career in an Indy-A league and still amount to a successful major league player.  That’s what keeps the dream alive.

Without further ado, here’s the list of the 11 best major league players who started their pro careers in an independent-A league.  Be sure to let me know if I’ve missed anyone who should be included.

1.  J.D. Drew.  J.D. Drew is really an Independent-A league ringer.  He was drafted with the second overall pick of the 1997 Draft by the Phillies.  Before the Draft, Drew and his agent Scott Boras let if be known that Drew was demanding a $10 million signing bonus.  The Phillies called Drew’s bluff, drafted him and offered him $2.6M.

Drew wasn’t bluffing.  When the Phillies refused to come up significantly from their initial offer, Drew refused to sign.  Instead, he spent parts of two seasons thumping the ball for the St. Paul Saints of the Northern League (now the American Association).

I haven’t always been a fan of Boras inspired holdouts, but it sure worked for Drew.  The Cardinals drafted Drew with the 5th overall pick in 1998 and signed him for $7 million.  Refusing to sign in 1997 did not significantly delay Drew’s career, as the Cardinals gave him a cup of coffee at the end of the 1998 season, and he was in the majors for good (except for injury rehab assignments) by 1999.

Drew would not be the last early round draft pick to elect to start his career in the Indy-A’s when he couldn’t reach an agreement with his drafting team, as you will see below.  A couple of Cuban defectors, Ariel Prieto and Eddy Oropesa, used the Indy-A Leagues as a means to boost their draft stock — one can argue whether Cuba’s Serie Nacional is an amateur or pro league, but it is effectively amateur in name only, since the players are essentially professionals who are compensated for their performance, although perhaps not in cash.

2.  Kevin Millar.  Millar is in my opinion the best undrafted, unsigned player independent-A league product in major league history.  Every year, many undrafted players are nevertheless signed by major league organizations.  As I understand it, each major league team makes a list shortly before Draft Day of the 500 or 600 players who the team believes are the best amatuer players available.  Each team’s scouts and front offices grade the nation of prospects differently, and every team has at least a few players who aren’t on any other team’s list.  If any of those players go undrafted, then the team that had the player listed will typically sign them up.

Playing for small college Lamar in Texas, Millar went undrafted and unsigned, and thus started his pro career at age 21 with the St. Paul Saints in 1993, the Northern League’s maiden season.  Millar never made an All-Star team or received an MVP vote, but he was a star on the 2004 Boston Red Sox team that won the franchise’s first World Series in 86 years.  Millar was also never allowed to join the MLB Players’ Association, because he crossed the picket line during the 1994-1995 strike.

3-5.  George Sherrill, Joe Thatcher and Kerry Ligtenberg.  A trio of relief pitchers who all pitched in between 386 and 442 major league games.  George Sherrill was the Orioles’ closer in 2008 and the first four months of 2009 before being traded to the Dodgers.  He finished his career with a 3.77 ERA, 56 saves and 320 Ks in 324.1 IP.  He started his pro career with Evansville of the Frontier League in 1999.

Joe Thatcher had a nine year career as a left-handed relief specialist.  He was effective in the role, finishing his major league career with a 3.38 ERA and striking out 270 batters in 260.2 innings pitched.  Thatcher began his pro career with River City in the Frontier League in 2004.

Kerry Ligtenberg was the Braves’ closer in 1998 before hurting his arm.  He came back from it, but never pitched as well as he did in 1998.  He finished his major league career with a 3.82 ERA and 357 Ks in 390.2 IP.  He started his pro career in the short-lived North Central and Prairie Leagues in 1994 and 1995.

6.  David Peralta.∗  David Peralta gets an asterisk because he started his professional career as an 18 year old pitcher in the Cardinals’ organization.  He pitched ineffectively for two seasons in the Rookie Appalachian League and was unceremoniously dumped.  He came back four years later as a 23 year old outfielder for the Rio Grand Valley WhiteWings of the short-lived North American Baseball League, and gradually worked his way up the majors three years later in 2014.  He’s still active and having a solid season at age 30, so he could well move up this list in the future.

7.  Aaron Crow.  Another high first round draft pick who refused to sign a contract with the Nationals, Crow made four appearances (three starts) with the Ft. Worth Cats of the American Association in 2008 and 2009 in order to prove he was still worth a high 1st round draft pick by the Royals in 2009.

Crow had four strong seasons as a set-up man in the Royals bullpen from 2011-2014 before his arm gave out.  He compiled a 3.43 career major league ERA and struct out 208 batters in 233.2 IP while recording six saves.

Crow is attempting a comeback in the Mexican League this summer at age 31.  While he is pitching effectively (2.33 ERA in 19 relief appearances so far), his peripheral numbers don’t suggest he’ll make it back to the majors in the near future.

8.  Daniel Nava.  Nava started his professional career at the advanced age of 24 with the Chico Outlaws of the long since defunct Golden Baseball League.  He hit a grand slam in his first major league game in 2010 (as I recall, the outfielder may have actually tipped the ball over the wall with the end of his glove), and he was a star for the 2013 World Champion Red Sox when he slashed .303/.385/.445 as an every day outfielder who split his time between right field and left field.

Nava has managed to play parts of seven major league seasons, and at age 35 he’s still listed as part of the Pirates’ AAA team, although he has yet to play a game this season because of injury.

9.  Jeff Zimmerman.  Zimmerman finished his three year major league career as the closer for the Rangers before injuries, including two Tommy John surgeries, ruined his career.  He started with the Winnipeg Goldeyes of the Northern League in 1997.

10T.  Matt Miller and Chris Coste.  Miller was a relief pitcher who pitched in an even 100 major league games with a career 2.72 ERA with 95 Ks in 106 IP.  He was a 31 year old rookie for the Rockies in 2003, but enjoyed most of his major league success starting with the Indians in 2004.  His professional career began with Greenville of the short-lived Big South League in 1996.

Chris Coste was the Phillies’ primary back-up catcher for four seasons starting with his age 33 season in 2006.  He began his pro career in the North Central and Prairie Leagues in 1995 and then spent four seasons with his home town Fargo-Moorehead Red Hawks of the Northern League before being signed by the Indians’ organization.  The North Central and Prairie Leagues may not have lasted long, but in Coste and Kerry Ligtenberg, these leagues gave first shots to two young Minnesota ballplayers who eventually made the big time and proved they belonged there.

Other players who had more than brief major league cups of coffee who began their pro careers in the independent A leagues are Chris Colabello, Brian Tollberg, James Hoyt, Chris Jakubauskas, Scott Richmond, Brian Sweeney, Chris Martin, Trevor Richards and Bobby Hill.  Hoyt, Martin and Richards are all still active and have at least a reasonable shot at adding to their career major league numbers.

Bobby Hill was drafted in the second round in consecutive seasons and presumably started his career in the Atlantic League in 2000 because he refused to sign after the White Sox drafted him the year before.  Scott Richmond started his professional career in the Northern League in 2005 at the age of 25, which makes him the oldest rookie professional baseball player I found to eventually make the majors after starting in the Indy-A leagues (MLB organizations never or almost never sign any amateur over the age of 23).

It Hasn’t Felt Like a Buyers’ Market

July 27, 2018

All the talk of a buyers’ market this trade deadline season sure doesn’t seem to have played out.  In my mind, at least, it seems like the sellers have all received fair value in prospects for what the veterans they have been selling.

Today’s J.A. Happ for Brandon Drury and Billy McKinney is a case in point.  Happ has been a good No. 3 starter who becomes a free agent at the end of this season.  He has little real value for a Blue Jays’ team that sure doesn’t seem poised for a late-season run.

Neither Brandon Drury nor Billy McKinney looks like a world beater at this moment, but neither is either one a bum.  Drury was good enough to start for the Diamondbacks in 2016 and 2017, and he’s still only 25 this season.

McKinney is a former 1st round draft pick, who has dropped off in terms of batting average this season but has added power.  He’s still only 23 this season, so he’s still got time to put it together and live up to his draft pedigree.

It all seems like a good return for the Jays compared to 2+ more months of J.A. Happ.  The Jays also shed a little salary, and if they place worse the rest of the season, it will put them in a position to get better draft picks next June.

Similarly, the going-nowhere White Sox turned two-plus months of Joakim Soria, a $10M option for 2019 (which isn’t exactly a bargain for a 35 year reliever having his best season in three) and $1M for a former first round draft pick who is pitching well in AA ball at age 22 and second throw-in prospect.  I don’t know how anybody in the ChiSox organization wouldn’t be happy for this return.

One could certainly argue that the Angels didn’t get enough in return for plus-defensive catcher Martin Maldinado.  However, good-field-no-hit catchers have traditionally not been seen as valuable trade chips, unless the other team is really desperate for catching help.  Patrick Sandoval, 21 year old pitcher the Angels received is no bum, its just that he’s a long way from the majors having only just been promoted to the A+ level.

Given what seems to be the recent trend of going nowhere teams tanking in the second half to get a better draft selections the next season, I definitely think the sellers are getting plenty in return for the short-timers they’re selling.

The Zach Britton Trade

July 25, 2018

Another minor success for the Baltimore Orioles in turning 2+ months of Zach Britton into three more prospects to add to the five they collected for 2.5 months of Manny Machado.

The center piece of the trade is former No. 4 overall draft pick Dillon Tate.  The New York Yankees were willing to part with Tate because his professional performance has not lived up to the draft pedigree.

Tate is currently 24 years old and pitching as a starter in AA ball with a 3.38 ERA and 75Ks in 82.2 innings pitched.  Nothing particularly impressive about that.  In fact, at this moment former 11th round draft pick Josh Rogers, who is three months younger, left-handed and has roughly similar numbers pitching in AAA, looks to be as good a prospect as Tate.

The third pitching prospect in the deal, 25 year old right-handed reliever Cody Carroll, looks ready for his major league debut.

While none of the three looks overly impressive, all three will almost certainly pitch in the major leagues.  That’s better for the O’s than the alternative, particularly since it was no sure thing that the Orioles would have made a qualifying offer to Britton this coming off-season.  The injury bug has hit Britton the last two seasons, he’s over 30 and $18M+ is a lot to pay for a closer probably past his prime even if it’s only for one season.

Having hoovered up eight players under the age of 27 for their two most obviously tradable players, do the Orioles keep going and trade away any of their other regulars?  Only if the offers are too good to pass up.

There is reportedly interest in Jonathan Schoop, but his trade value is down because of a down season.  They can always trade him next July assuming the 2019 O’s aren’t much better than the 2018 club.

Similarly, I wouldn’t trade either Dylan Bundy or Kevin Gausman at this time, unless the offer is just too good to pass up.  The O’s are going to get some very good draft picks in 2019, and they have a couple of young position players in Ryan Mountcastle and Cedric Mullins, who could contribute in 2019.  Get rid of some dead wood, specifically Chris Davis, and the Orioles could bounce back to at least respectability in 2019.

Nice to See the Oakland A’s as Buyers at Trade Deadline

July 22, 2018

The A’s have been a surprising over-achiever this year, and they are acting accordingly, acquiring Jeurys Familia from the New York Mets for prospects Bobby Wahl and William Toffey and $1 million in international bonus slot money.  In acquiring Familia, the A’s acquire a legitimate closer at a price that cannot be called particularly steep.

Bobby Wahl looks ready to be a major league reliever.  He has a 2.27 ERA (but a 3.63 run average) at AAA Nashville with 65 strikeouts and only 17 hits allowed in 39.2 innings pitched so far this season.  The knocks on him are that he is already 26 years old and there are still questions whether he has major league command.

I remember when Wahl was drafted by the A’s in the 5th round of the 2013 out of Ole Miss.  He was widely predicted to be a late first round or early second round pick (Baseball America had him going 36th overall), so it was certainly a surprise when he fell to the fifth round.  In fact, he didn’t really start putting it together as a professional until the 2016 season.  However, he’s got more upside than your typical 5th round draft pick.

William Toffey is a 2017 4th round draft pick out of Vanderbilt.  At age 23, he’s been playing 3B for the Class A+ Stockton Ports of the California League.  He’s only hitting .244 but has a .741 OPS.  He appears to have the tools to be a major league third sacker, but he currently makes too many errors.  Toffey appears to be a player the Mets wanted more based on his scouting reports and draft pedigree than his actual, but limited, professional performance so far.

The $1 million in international bonus slot money counts as another prospect of probably equal value to either Wahl or Familia.  The Mets can sign a pretty good 16 to 18 year old international prospect for a $1 million, or they can aggregate the money with the large pool they will be receiving next year to sign whomever they believe to be the top prospect in next year’s international class.

The A’s are taking on the remaining $3M of Familia’s 2018 salary and lose him to free agency after the 2018 season.  Still, the A’s are sending the right message to their relatively young core of players: that the organization thinks they are putting together a group that can make the post-season now and in the future, the team is willing to make moves to get the squad over the hump.

In a somewhat related note, the A’s set an Oakland Coliseum baseball record by drawing 56,310 fans to an inter-league game against the San Francisco Giants yesterday.  As a special, but pre-planned, occasion the A’s opened up the Mt. Davis football seats at $10 a pop.  The A’s also sold out Friday night’s game (45,606) for the first time this season in the first game of the inter-league set.

Even after these two games, the A’s are drawing a dismal average of 17,340 per game this season, better only than the Tampa Rays and the Miami Marlins.  Obviously, as far as the A’s are concerned, inter-league play, and particularly the annual home-and-home series against the Giants, are a very, very good thing.

San Diego Padres Acquire Francisco Mejia for Relievers Brad Hand and Adam Cimber

July 20, 2018

Francisco Mejia is regarded as one of the best prospects in baseball.  I don’t think he’s a sure thing, and the Indians really needed relief pitching, so I don’t think it’s a bad move at all for the Tribe.  The Padres paid high in the hopes of achieving Francisco Mejia’s upside.

Mejia probably hits enough already in his age 22 season to be given a shot as a major league starting catcher for the Padres.  However, I’m not sure his defense is ready.  He’s only thrown out 29% of the 190 minor leaguers who have tried to steal against him.

Mejia doesn’t walk much, either, which may inhibit his development as a hitter.  If he’s a major league average defensive catcher, he should be enough of hitter to be a valuable player.  So the question, I guess, is whether his defense is good enough?

Fangraphs.com says: “Mejia has the rare top-of-the-scale 80 arm but is a below-average receiver currently, despite his above-average athleticism for the position.”  So, he isn’t a good catcher yet, but he has the tools to be a good catcher in the future.  We’ll see.

Shohei Ohtani’s Value

July 20, 2018

As Shohei Ohtani today gets permission to start a throwing regimen after six week of rest and stem cell and platelet-rich plasma treatment, fangraphs.com says that Ohtani has been worth $18.3 million so far in 2018, roughly split between his value as a pitcher ($8.8M) and his value as a hitter ($8.5M).  That’s after missing six weeks of pitching, though, so he obviously has more value as a pitcher, which is pretty much what everyone expected.

Still, it’s great to have his offense to fall back on while his arm has been ailing.  He can’t hit lefties, though (he’s 6-for-36 with two doubles and no home runs), so he DH’s almost exclusively against right-handed starters.