Archive for June 2019

Conner Menez Watch

June 27, 2019

24 year old Conner Menez has made three starts at AAA Sacramento.  He has a 3.31 ERA and 31 strikeouts in 16.1 innings pitched.  In a woefully bad season for the San Francisco Giants, this is something to be excited about.

Menez is from Hollister, a semi-rural small city in San Benito County, where some people probably commute to work in San Jose in what must one of the more brutal commutes going.  He went to the Master’s College, a Christian school in SoCal.  He was drafted by the Giants in the 14th round of the 2016 Draft.

Jerry Owens is the only Master’s College matriculant to play in the majors.  Absent major injury, Menez will be the second.

One of the great things about baseball is that seeming nobodies from small schools can be drafted after hundreds of other players (Menez was the 425th player selected in 2016) and still reach the major leagues if everything breaks right for them.

Menez’s first two years of pro ball weren’t particularly impressive.  He had decent, but not particularly impressive, strikeout rates and he needed to learn how to pitch.  He started the 2018 season at A+ San Jose and had a pedestrian 4.83 ERA through 11 starts.  However, he struck out 70 batters through 50.1 innings.  Did he add a new pitch, or improve on a pitch that became his new strikeout pitch?  I don’t know.

He was promoted to AA Richmond, where his 4.38 ERA across 15 starts in a pronounced pitchers’ park was not impressive.  But he struck out 92 batters in 74 IP at the level in which the real prospects predominate.  Meanwhile, he made a couple of emergency starts for AAA Sacramento in which he posted a 3.27 ERA and struck out nine in 11 IP.  He was also assigned back down to A- Salem-Keiser several times, but never actually made a start there, in what I have to assume were roster moves designed to give other pitchers a look at the AA level.

In short, Menez finished the 2018 season with a 4.46 ERA across three levels of play, but he struck out 171 batters in 135.1 IP (!).  That strikeout rate is what you look for in a pitching prospect.  He also walked 60 and allowed 127 hits, which is why his ERA was so high.

This year, Menez’s command has improved.  That, or he’s more willing to challenge hitters with his stuff.  Through 11 AA and three AAA starts, he’s struck out 101 batters in 76 IP, but only allowed 50 hits and 25 walks.  He’s allowed nine home runs this season, which is one more than he allowed in 2017 and 2018 combined across a total of 249.2 IP.  That’s what makes me think he’s challenging a better caliber of hitter more often with his stuff.

My guestimate is that the Giants will give Menez at least 2-4 more starts at AAA Sacto, and if the results are the same or better, he’ll replace Drew Pomeranz, Tyler Beede or a traded Madison Bumgarner in the rotation, at least to start.  As Earl Weaver once said, the best place for a rookie pitcher is middle relief.

ChinaTrust Brothers Sign Casey Harman

June 27, 2019

The ChinaTrust Brothers of Taiwan’s CPBL have apparently reached a deal to sign Casey Harman, who is currently pitching for the Pericos de Puebla (Puebla Parrots) of the Mexican League (“LMB”).  Foreign pitchers playing in the CPBL come and go like minor-hit pop songs and their performers, and what I’m more interested in his how Casey Harmon got to this point in his professional career.

Originally a 29th round draft pick out of Clemson by the Chicago Cubs in 2010, Harman didn’t start pitching professionally until the 2011 season.  He reached AA ball in 2012 at age 23.  While he wasn’t terrible there, he wasn’t very good either and found himself pitching in the Indy-A Can-Am League and American Association in 2013 and 2014.

Then he appears to have had a three-year absence from professional baseball.  If I had to, I’d guess he tore and replaced his elbow tendon and/or tried to get a real job for a while before deciding to give pro ball another try.  He caught on with the Wichita Wingnuts back in the American Association in 2018, pitched reasonably well (although not in a brief two game trial in the better Indy-A Atlantic League), and parlayed that into a winter assignment starting in the Mexican Pacific League.

Harman pitched well in seven Mexican Winter League (“LMP”) starts and landed a job with the Pericos this summer, where he is 8-1 with a 4.57 ERA and 54 Ks in 69 innings pitched so far.  While the ERA doesn’t look impressive, it’s currently 17th best among qualifying starters in LMB’s 16-team hit-happy circuit.  So the Brothers came calling.

I’m always interested in figuring out how and for how much players end up moving between leagues throughout the world of professional baseball.  The Atlantic League is the best of the Indy-A leagues.  However, every Indy-A League has caps on how many “veteran” players each franchise can carry at any given time.  Thus, some good players (relatively speaking) filter down to the second- and third-tier Indy-A leagues.  This both keeps team salaries low, and allows teams in the second- and third-tier leagues to develop and hold onto their own local “stars.”

Anyway, the LMP seems to have some kind of relationship with the American Association whereby the best AA starters each season in each of the last few years have ended up pitching in the LMP the following winter.  A good winter in the LMP can lead directly to a job in the LMB the next summer, where salaries are better than in the Atlantic League ($10,000/month salary cap v. $3,000/month).  It certainly gives veteran pitchers a round-about incentive to pitch in the American Association if they can’t secure a job in the Atlantic League.

I was surprised to see the Pericos were willing to let Harman leave for Taiwan mid-season, since the Pericos are a contending team this year, and Harman had been well more than adequate as a starter for them.  CPBL teams can and do pay foreign players more than LMB teams, but CPBL teams can’t afford to pay high purchase fees of the kind that LMB teams typically charge for players they sell directly to MLB, NPB or KBO teams.

One thing I’ve noticed is that throughout pro baseball, teams generally don’t charge big (or at least market-rate) transfer fees when transferring a player to a league that isn’t much better, or is worse, but which will pay the player better.  MLB organizations do sometimes charge KBO and NPB teams meaningful transfer fees in the $500,000 to $1M range, but it’s usually less than what the player is actually worth either to the MLB or the KBO/NPB team.

Obviously, players sometimes negotiate contract terms that let them leave for a better paying opportunity in a different league for nominal or no transfer fees.  However, I also think that MLB organizations are willing to let their 4-A players go to Asia for less than market value, because of the good will it generates among the MLB organization’s minor league players by letting players who can’t establish themselves as regular major league roster-holders go to Asia where they’ll make a lot more money.

The same thing may be going between LMB and the CPBL.  MLB, NPB and KBO teams only seek to acquire the very best LMB players, who are naturally worth the most money, and LMB teams try to sell these players for market value or something close.  A player like Harman, while playing well in LMB, is more readily replaceable by signing the best current pitcher in the Atlantic League willing to play in LMB.  Meanwhile, Harman might not make it in the CPBL, in which case the Pericos could always bring him back and probably for a contract amount significantly lower than the $10,000 cap, since both player and team know that even $5,000 or $6,000 a month is lot better than the $3,000 a month Atlantic League cap, assuming Harmon could even get a max Atlantic League salary after washing out in Taiwan.

Earlier this season, the Fubon Guardians signed former KBO foreign Ace Henry Sosa, after tax law changes forced Sosa out of South Korea.  Given that Sosa had been one of the KBO’s top five or six starters in 2018, the Guardians likely had to pay Sosa a hefty-for-CPBL $25,000 or $30,000 per month (although probably with only a three-month guarantee) to start the 2019 season for them.  Sosa pitched like gang-busters in Taiwan, and after only 12 starts the Guardians sold him to the KBO’s SK Wyverns (all of Sosa’s signing bonus will reportedly be paid to the South Korean government as part of Sosa’s back-taxes).

Because the Guardians were still well in the hunt for the CPBL’s first-half pennant, I assumed that the Wyverns had had to pay the Guardians $150,000 to $200,000 for Sosa’s rights, in line with what the KBO’s KT Wiz had reportedly had to pay LMB’s Acereros de Monclava for LMB Ace Josh Lowey‘s rights mid-season in 2016.  However, Rob over at CPBL Stats guestimated that the buyout for Sosa’s rights was more likely in the $50,000 to $100,000 range.

Now, it’s possible that at the CPBL season’s half-way point, Sosa could have signed with a KBO or NPB team with no money payable to the Guardians, which would have greatly weakened Fubon’s ability to demand a big buy-out price.  It’s also possible that because CPBL teams make the biggest chunk of their revenues during the post-season, which is still a long way off, the Guardians were willing to get out from under whatever relatively high salary was being paid to Sosa.  The Atlantic League is full of much less expensive, although also much less effective, pitchers to replace Sosa.

However, it’s also possible that the Guardians figure that by letting Sosa return to the KBO, where he’ll make a lot more money, it will be easier for the Guardians in the future to lure in other foreign pitchers who are trying to work their way back to the KBO or NPB after a down season.  Unfortunately, unless you know all of the contract terms and what each organization’s and league’s unwritten rules are on these matters, it simply isn’t possible to know for sure.

Trey Hair and Garrett Harris

June 23, 2019

Trey Hair and Garrett Harris are a couple of still young players playing extremely well in the Indy-A Can-Am League.  Major League organizations should sign them.

Trey Hair is a 2B/3B who is still only 24 years old.  He was drafted in the 34th round by the Rays out of the University of Evansville in 2017.  He slashed an impressive .290/.362/.438 in 2018 in 243 plate appearances at full season Class A ball, but got cut nevertheless.

Hair is currently slashing .362/.431/.569 after 139 plate appearances for the Sussex County Miners.  He currently leads the Can-Am League in both batting average and OPS.

Garrett Harris, now age 25, was an undrafted pitcher out of Texas A&M Corpus Christi who signed with the Royals and spent 2016 and 2017 making a total of 27 appearances for two Royals’ rookie league teams.  His strikeout rates were better than one per inning, but his command wasn’t good, and he was hit hard.  He pitched in the Indy-A Frontier League last year, and while his strikeout rates were again good, his ERA and run average didn’t impress.

This year, Harris has become a starter for the Trois-Rivieres Aigles, and he’s been great.  He’s currently tied for the league lead with five wins, and his 58 K’s leads the circuit free and clear.  His 2.54 ERA is currently the league’s fourth best.  His command appears to have improved markedly, and he’s been hard to hit.

Hair and Harris are young enough that it’s a little surprising that major league organizations haven’t already bought their rights.  If they keep performing in the Can-Am, I would expect they’ll return to the MLB system before the end of July.  Here’s wishing them luck.

San Francisco Giants Promote Alex Dickerson

June 22, 2019

The Gints placed Steve Duggar on the Injured List today with lower back problems (possibly a case of canthititis), and called up relatively new acquisition Alex Dickerson.  As far as I’m concerned, the jury is still out on new General Manager Farhan Zaidi, but I’m starting to have concerns about his seeming fixation on the latest likely-has-been he’s brought in over what he already has in-house.

Dickerson is 29 years old who had a .788 OPS in 285 plate appearances for the 2016 Padres, but then missed all of the next two seasons to injury.  He went 3-for-19 with the Friars with no extra base hits this season, but had a 1.075 OPS at AAA El Paso in 113 plate appearances (looking suspiciously similar to just about every outfielder who has played regularly at AAA Sacramento this year).

Since being acquired by the Gints, he’s gone 3-for-17 at Sacramento with no extra base hits, so he naturally gets the call-up over 26 years olds Mike Gerber and Austin Slater.  That’s called building for the future, at least in Bizarro World.

Sure the San Diego and Sacramento playing times are small samples, but did Dickerson really earn a major league opportunity over two players each three years younger?

If I’m Austin Slater, the message I take out of this is loud and clear — you are a holdover from the old regime and you’re not going to get an opportunity unless you play at least one standard deviation better than any of the Gints’ other 4-A outfielders stashed at AAA (or struggling on the major league roster) in order to get a call-up.  Of course, if Slater were performing one standard deviation better, he’s already be playing regularly in the majors.

Slater is still under minor league control for one more season, so, if I were him, I’d start looking for higher paid opportunities in Asia sooner rather than later.

San Francisco Giants Claim Yet Another Mediocre Outfielder

June 21, 2019

The Giants’ quest to obtain every major-league-marginal outfielder in MLB continues.  Today the team claimed Baltimore Orioles wash-out Joey Rickard, who batted .203 for the major league club this year and .203 at AAA Norfolk.  Rickard’s OPS numbers are better, but not good enough to get around that consistent .203 batting average.

My guess is that Rickard will play about as well for the Giants or the Sacramento River Cats about as Mac Williamson has played for the Mariners since they claimed him off waivers from the Giants, which is to say not very well at all.

It seems to me that it isn’t too early to start the fire sale of Giant major leaguers who still have some value to other major league teams.  The Gints are 18.5 games out of the NL West lead and have the worst run differential in the Senior Circuit.  The Giants are only eight games behind the Brewers for the second wild card spot, but have eight teams between themselves and the Brew Crew.

After Madison Bumgarner‘s poor outing in L.A. and the published comment that the Yankees won’t trade Clint Frazier for a “rental” yesterday, a MadBum for Frazier trade looks a lot less likely than it did a few days ago.  Still, the Giants have a lot of other assets than another team might covet, and the Yankees’ resolve to get value for Frazier may waiver as the 2019 trade deadline nears.

It’s fair to say, however, that such trades rarely get completed before the All Star Break, and probably won’t be in the 2019 Giants’ case.  One thing I am more sure of than ever, though, is that at least one 4-A player in Giants’ system will be playing in one of the Asian major leagues in 2020.

2019 NPB Update

June 21, 2019

Up until March of this year, yakyudb.com was my go-to source for Japanese baseball news beyond the box scores available on NPB’s English-language website.  However, Yakyu DB hasn’t posted since the eve of the 2019 season, and until about a week ago, I was hard pressed to find any good information in English.  Then I found Jim Allen’s blog, and I can start to get a little “color” again beyond the box scores and leader boards.

Here is a run-down of some of the things that have been happening in NPB as we approach the 2019 season’s half-way mark.

Former New York Yankee Zelous Wheeler became the Rakuten Golden Eagles’ first foreign player to reach 100 NPB home runs a few days ago.

Former Seattle Mariner Jose Lopez set an NPB record for 1Bmen by playing 1,632 consecutive chances without an error.  The streak began on August 31, 2017 and ended on June 2, 2019, thus enabling Lopez to become in 2018 the first qualifying NPB 1Bman to record a 1.000 fielding percentage for a full season.  You may remember that Lopez played mostly 2B and 3B in the MLB majors.  He’s now an bigger, slower power-hitter, but he’s still got the same soft hands.

Shinnosuke Abe, a catcher who was an MLB major league talent who never left Japan, became the 19th player in NPB to hit 400 home runs on June 1st.

Rakuten Golden Eagles ace and likely future MLBer Takahiro Norimoto made his first minor league rehab appearance a few days ago.  He hit 150 kph (93.2 mph) on consecutive pitches.  Norimoto says he’s now at “60%” but he should be pitching in the NPB majors within about a month.  He had his elbow cleaned out of loose bodies in late March.

Another MLB major league caliber star, Yuki Yanagita won’t be back until late July after tearing a muscle behind his knee early in the season.  Yanagita became only the second player in NPB history (the other being Sadaharu Oh) last season to lead his league in on-base percentage and slugging percentage for the fourth year in a row.  He’s unlikely to get enough plate appearances this year to do it for the fifth consecutive season.

Daisuke (“Dice-K”) Matsuzaka is at age 38 working on another come back.  He’s pitched effectively in two minor league appearances for the Chunichi Dragons.  Former Seattle Mariner Hisashi Iwamura is also attempting to come back at age 38.  He’s training at the Yomiuri Giants’ minor league facility but hasn’t pitched in game-action yet.

Former MLBer Norichika Aoki collected his 1,500th NPB hit and 100th NPB home run early this season for the Yakult Swallows.  Although Aoki has played well, it hasn’t been a good year for the Swallows — they tied an NPB record with 16 consecutive losses in a streak that ended on June 2nd.  The NPB Central League’s best team of the last few seasons, the Hiroshima Carp, turned their 2019 season around recently with an 11 game winning streak.

Another former MLBer reliever Ryota Igarashi celebrated his 40th birthday on May 29th by pitching his 800th NPB game.  Including his 83 MLB major league appearances, he’s pitched in 889 major league games and counting.

A 20 year old minor leaguer named Yuto Furuya became the first Japanese left-hander to throw a 100 mph pitch in game action earlier this season.  Unfortunately, he still has no idea where the strike zone is, so it may be some time before he reaches the NPB majors.

A couple of NPB foreign “rookies” I’ve been watching closely this year are Taiwan’s Wang Po-Jung and the Virgin Islands’ Jabari Blash.

Wang hit .400 in consecutive seasons (2016-2017) in Taiwan’s CPBL, earning him a lucrative three-year deal to play with the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters starting in 2019, his age 25 season.  Wang’s .291 batting average is currently 10th best in NPB’s Pacific League, but his OPS is only .744, because he has yet to hit for any power in Japan.  There has been talk that Wang might one day be an MLB-level talent, but for now I expect him to peak as an NPB star.

After a slow start, Blash has gotten hot and is now one of the Pacific League’s most productive hitters.  I’ve been writing for a couple of years now that he was an ideal candidate to try to become an NPB star.  He waited until he was an old 29 (he turns 30 on July 4th), but it looks like he has now firmly established himself as an NPB star.  I’d guess he has at least four more good NPB seasons in him after this one.

Cuban players have an out-sized role now among NPB foreign players, nowhere more so than for the SoftBank Hawks. Four of the Hawks’ seven foreign players starting the 2019 season are Cubans — Alfredo Despaigne, Yurisbel Graciel, Livan Moinelo and Ariel Miranda.  Miranda is the only defector and former MLB-system player in the bunch: Despaigne, Graciel and Moinelo are all the product of contracting between Cuba’s baseball federation and the Hawks.

There are reasons to believe that none of Despaigne, Graciel or Moinelo were prime MLB prospects, and that this was part of the reasons why they never defected, but they’ve all sure played great in NPB and are making a hell of lot more money in Japan than they’d ever make in Cuba.

The Hiroshima Carp have something of a similar relationship with Dominican players.  Until recently a small market team, the Carp have maintained a baseball academy in the Dominican Republic, looking to turn up players who got overlooked by MLB.  They currently have two players — Xavier Batista and Geronimoa Franzua — who washed out of the low MLB minors, but are now helping the Carp win ballgames a few years after asking for a second chance at the Carps’ Dominican academy.  Sometimes beating the bushes will turn up some legitimate baseball talent.

CC Sabathia Wins 250th Major League Game

June 20, 2019

CC Sabathia won his 250th major league game, which, if he wasn’t already assured a place in the Hall of Fame, has assured him a place in the Hall of Fame.  250 career wins is almost certainly the contemporary 300 career win standard that guaranteed any pitcher (major scandals excepted) a spot in the Hall of Fame.

Future pitchers will win 250 games.  Justin Verlander will likely do it in 2021 or 2022, but it is certainly debatable whether any pitcher will again win 300 games.