Archive for the ‘Anaheim Angels’ category

Chinatrust Brothers Sign Eric Wood and Other Asian Notes

January 1, 2019

The CPBL’s Chinatrust Brothers signed Pirates’ minor leaguer Eric Wood for 2018.  It is the first time since 2016 that a CPBL team has used one of its three major league roster spots on a foreign position player.

Wood will be 26 in 2019 and plays 3B, 1B and the corner outfield positions.  He slashed .269/.328/.481 in 308 plate appearances at AAA Indianapolis in 2018, his second season the International League.  Wood is not a bad hitter, but he doesn’t hit well enough to be a major league 1B/LF, and his defense at 3B isn’t major league average.

Wood was a minor league free agent this off-season and given his age and 2018 performance, it is surprising he did not sign with a major league organization.  CPBL teams do not report the contract amounts they spend on foreign players, but my reasonable guestimate would be that the Brothers guaranteed him $75,000 for the first three months of the 2019 CPBL season, which is probably about the same he would earn for a full season as a minor league free agent signee playing a full year at AAA.  Of course, playing at AAA, Wood would have had a chance to get called up to the majors and make major league money for however long he could stick on a major league roster.

The last position player signed by a CPBL team was former major league Felix Pie in 2016.  Pie was coming off a successful season in South Korea’s KBO in which he batted .326 with an .897 OPS in 2015, but was not invited back by the Hanwha Eagles, so he signed with the CPBL’s 7/11 Uni-Lions instead.  Unfortunately, Pie fouled a ball off his ankle, fracturing it, in his fifth CPBL game, and that was the end of his CPBL career, as the Uni-Lions weren’t willing to wait for him to heal before filing his roster spot with another foreigner.

In recent years, the CPBL has decided it wants starting pitchers to fill the three roster spot limit for foreigners on each team, pretty much like KBO teams had decided before the KBO expanded from eight to ten teams between 2013 and 2015 and decided to allow each team a third foreign player so long as at least one of the three foreigners was not a pitcher.  The Brothers signed Wood in part because of his versatility, although I kind of expect he’ll play mostly 3B in Taiwan.  However, it remains to be seen whether Wood lasts more than half a season, because the Brothers may not have enough adequate domestic starters to make experimenting with a position player work.

Four foreign position players played in the CPBL in 2014 and 2015, but only 2B JIm Negrych managed to last long enough to play in more than 37 CPBL games.  He managed to appear in 107 for the Brothers spread over those two seasons.

In other recent Asian signings, NPB’s Yomiuri Giants signed reliever Ryan Cook to a $1.3M contract, and the Hanshin Tigers signed 1B/3B/LF Jefry Marte for an “estimated” $1M.  Both Cook and Marte have considerable major league experience.

Ryan Cook was really good a few years ago as a young reliever for the A’s, but arm problems, including Tommy John surgery, derailed his career.  He had a 5.29 ERA in 19 relief appearances for the Mariners last year, but he pitched well at AAA, and his arm appears to be healthy again.

Marte has an ugly .222/.288/.407 slash line in 728 career major league plate appearances, but he’s also hit 30 doubles and 30 home runs and he’s only 28 in 2019. He looks like an excellent bet to become a successful NPB slugger.

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Oliver Drake’s Ongoing Odyssey and Other Minnesota Twins Notes

December 29, 2018

In the aftermath of the Twins’ signing of Nelson Cruz for $14.3 million for 2019, I was looking at the Twins’ now surplus of right-handed power bats, and I happened to notice that Oliver Drake had a very successful 19 relief appearance run (2.21 ERA) for the Twins last season but is no longer with the team.

Drake played for five different major league teams last year and six since the start of the 2017 season.  The reason for this is obvious: Drake has great stuff and has success in AAA, but he has command issues and was awful at the major league level last year until the Twins selected him off waivers.  Drake started the season for the Brewers, was ineffective and then sold to the Indians, probably for a box of crackerjack.  He pitched poorly in Cleveland, and the Angels selected him off the waiver wire on May 31st.  Drake didn’t pitch well in Anaheim, and was selected off waivers by the Blue Jays in July 26th.  Ditto in Toronto, and the Twins claimed him off waivers on August 3rd.

Despite finally pitching well in the Twin Cities, the Twins tried to pass him through waivers again in late October/early November, and the Rays grabbed him.  The Rays tried to pass him through waivers at the end of the month, and the Blue Jays once again grabbed him.  At least once the regular season ended, Drake’s subsequent travels were virtual, rather than real, and Drake is presumably sitting at home waiting to see whom he ends up with in its time to start Spring Training.

With service in parts of four major league seasons now, but only about 2.5 years of major league service time, Drake isn’t yet arbitration eligible but is certainly out of minor league options.  What that means is that, unless he is first released, the last team to claim him off waivers will likely have to give him a major league contract in the $565,000 to $575,000 range.

Well, that’s small potatoes in today’s game, particularly for a pitcher with his potential.  However, the Twins didn’t think he was worth that modest guarantee, and the Rays didn’t think so either once they obtained somebody they liked better for their 40-man roster, almost certainly because he can’t be sent down to the minors if he’s ineffective without passing him through waivers yet again.  He’s also going into his age 32 season, so many teams may doubt he’ll ever have sufficient command to take advantage of his plus stuff at the major league level.

Drake was originally a 43rd round draft pick out of the U.S. Naval Academy.  He now has a career major league ERA of 4.59 with 151 Ks in 137.1 innings pitched and a WHIP of 1.46.  He’s good enough that a lot of teams want him at the right price, but don’t seem to be willing to give him any guarantees.

With the signing of Nelson Cruz and the earlier claiming off waivers and signing of C.J. Cron for $4.8M, the Twins are now officially overloaded with defensively challenged, right-handed hitting sluggers.  Cruz and Cron will get plenty of playing time because of their 2019 salaries unless either gets hurt, but the Twins also have Miguel Sano, who is too young and has too much potential to give up on yet, and also Tyler Austin, who came over from the Yankees when the Twins traded Lance Lynn at the 2018 trade deadline.  With the corner outfield slots taken up by young lefty hitters Eddie Rosario and Max Kepler, one would have to think the Twins would be willing to listen to trade offers for Austin.

Austin is already 27 and hasn’t established himself as a major league regular yet.  He doesn’t hit for average or draw many walks, but he sure has right-handed power with 24 HRs in only 404 major league plate appearances.  He wouldn’t be a bad fit for the San Francisco Giants, who could use another corner outfielder with right-handed power.

Because Austin is out of options, maybe the Twins would be willing to trade him to Giants for minor league reliever (and personal favorite) Tyler Rogers.  Tyler’s twin brother Taylor has had three successful seasons as a reliever for the Twins, and the Tyler has been mighty good at AAA the last two seasons.  Obviously, there would be some great PR for the Twins to have twin relievers pitching on their major league roster to start the 2019 season.  That said, the Twins will probably hold on to Austin since he cheap and provides insurance if Cruz, Cron or somebody else gets hurt.

I have to say that I like the fact that the Twins are active every off-season, seeking out deals at the right price that might reasonably make the team better.  It didn’t work in 2018, but if you keep trying every off-season, it may well work eventually.

Luis Valbuena and Jose Castillo Killed in Venezuelan Ambush

December 8, 2018

What was initially reported as a traffic accident in which baseball players Luis Valbuena and Jose Castillo were killed is now being reported by the Venezuelan authorities as the result of an ambush by criminals that caused the relevant SUV to crash.  Apparently, this is a common tactic by criminal gangs in Venezuela, who throw large objects in front of moving vehicles to cause them to stop or swerve and crash so that the occupants can then be robbed.

Reportedly, four men have been arrested in possession of Valbuena’s and Castillo’s belongings.  Valbuena and Castillo were driving back to their Venezuelan Winter League (VWL) team’s home city of Barquisimeto after a road trip.  Another former major leaguer Carlos Rivero and the driver of the SUV both survived the incident.

The latest news is simply one more small piece of evidence about how bad things are now in Venezuela.  The VWL is considering banning its players from traveling to or from away games by any means other than the team bus, which are protected by what ESPN describes as “security forces” — I don’t know if this means simply armed guards or whether Venezuela’s national police or military guard the team buses  — given the importance of protecting VWL players, who are ripe targets for criminals, for their propaganda value, it would not surprise me at all if the Venezuelan government is directly involved in protecting team buses.

While the VWL will still be able to find foreign professional baseball players willing to play in Venezuela for approximately two months for a total of $10,000 to $15,000, it’s going to be that much more difficult to recruit any player worth a damn to a country this notorious unsafe.

Jarrett Parker Sighting

December 7, 2018

mlbtraderumors.com reports that the Angels have signed Jarrett Parker to a minor league contract for 2019.  Last year, the SF Giants cut Parker at the end of Spring Training, and for some unknown reason, he did not sign with anyone else at any time during the 2018 season.  It made no sense to me, and I am still wondering what was going on with Parker that he didn’t sign with anyone else, given how close he was to being a major league player at the time the Giants cut him.

Although I am certainly rooting for Parker, I don’t think his odds of future major league success are good.  A player of Parker’s talent level is going to have a hard time coming back after sitting out his entire age 29 season.  His best option is to play well at AAA, if he can still do so, and then try to sign with an Asian team in 2020.  MLB teams aren’t going to give many opportunities, except in emergency situations, to 30 year old position players who have yet to establish themselves as full-time major leaguers.

World Series Excitement

October 29, 2018

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.

Best Pitching Prospects in Japan’s NPB 2018/2019

October 20, 2018

With the MLB success of Shohei Ohtani, Miles Mikelos and Yoshihisa Hirano in 2018, I think we’ve reached a point where MLB teams realize they need to look to Japan’s NPB as a source of potential prime talent every off-season.  Without further ado, here’s a list of Japan’s top pitching prospects for MLB purposes, as I see it:

Yusei Kikuchi (28 years old in 2019).  Kikuchi is clearly the top NPB prospect for MLB this off-season.  He’s a left-handed starter with stuff, he’s got an MLB sized body (6’0″, 220 lbs), and his NPB team, the Seibu Lions, have already announced that they are willing to post him this off-season.

After a break out season in 2017, when he was arguably NPB’s best pitcher (he lost the Eiji Sawamura Award to Tomoyuki Sugano, who is listed two spots down), Kikuchi was merely very, very good in 2018.  He finished 14-4 with a 3.08 ERA, which was second best among qualifiers in NPB’s Pacific League.  He struck out 153 batters, good for fourth in his league, in 163.2 IP.

Kikuchi hit 98 mph with his fastball in a regular season game in late July or early August 2017, but I didn’t see any reports of him matching that number in 2018.  MLBtraderumors.com provided a good scouting report on Kikuchi when the Seibu Lions announced they were willing to post him.

Takahiro Norimoto (28; 2020-2021).  Norimoto is a small right-hander (5’10”, 180 lbs) with tremendous strikeout stuff, who could be described as Kenta Maeda with more strikeouts or NPB’s answer to Tim Lincecum.  The problem with Norimoto is whether he can last any longer than Lincecum did.  (In fairness to Maeda, he’s got that harder to define “ability to pitch,” which produced better NPB ERAs than Norimoto without the same strikeout stuff.)

Norimoto had a mixed 2018.  He went 10-11 with a 3.69 ERA, sixth best out of nine Pacific League qualifiers, but he led the league with 187 Ks in 180.1 IP.  His walks and home run rate were up, and his strikeout rate was down (although still excellent).  However, he also became the fifth fastest pitcher to reach 1,000 NPB career strikeouts this year, and three of the four who accomplished the feat faster pitched in MLB.

We will have a better idea a year from now, which may well be when he gets posted, if his 2018 season was just a blip or an indication that he’s been pitched too many innings over too many years at a young age in Japan.

Tomoyuki Sugano (29; 2022).  Sugano is a virtual lock on winning his second consecutive Eiji Sawamura Award (NPB’s Cy Young) in 2018.  He’s a tremendous pitcher who led NPB in ERA (2.14), innings pitched (202) and strikeouts (200).  He threw eight shutouts in the regular season (NPB starters only pitch once a week, so teams let a starter go deeper in the game if he’s pitching well) and a no-hitter in the first round of the play-offs, a game in which he was one walk away from a perfect game.

Alas, his team, the Yomiuri Giants, have never posted a player in their history, and it’s unlikely they will start with Sugano.  That means he won’t come to MLB before his age 32 season.  However, I’ve read reports that Sugano does want to pitch in MLB eventually.  Maybe he can be the next Hiroki Kuroda.  He’s got the talent for it.

Kodei Senga (26; 2023-2024). Senga is not real big (6″1″, 185 lbs), but he’s not real small either.  He’s not one of NPB’s top tier starters, but he’s consistently very good and has the kind of strikeout rates you want to see in an MLB prospect (630 NPB career Ks in 559 IP).

In 2018, Senga went 13-7 with a 3.51 ERA.  He struck out 163 batters in 141 innings pitched.  He’s just good enough every year that, if he stays healthy, at least MLB team will look to him as a low cost, high upside sign when his time comes.

Shintaro Fujinami (25; 2021-2023).  I don’t have enough information to know what’s wrong with Fujinami.  He’s a tremendous talent, who may or may not have been overworked to the point where he is no longer a good NPB pitcher.

Fujinami had his second suck-ass season in a row, but it’s unclear whether the criminal overwork the Hanshin Tigers put him through early in his career has taken it’s tole, or he’s just lost the ability to throw strikes.  On July 29, 2017, he hit 98 mph with a fastball in an NPB minor league game.  This year, he had a major league 5.32 ERA with 70Ks, but 47 walks, in 71 IP.  This was actually an improvement in his command compared to 2017.  In the NPB minors this year, he had a 1.14 ERA with 60Ks and only 23 walks allowed in 63 IP.

Fujinami is still young enough and talented enough that he has to be on this list.  It remains to be seen whether he can regain the success he experienced in 2015, when only Shohei Ohtani’s star shown brighter.

Yuki Matsui (23; 2022).  A small (5’8.5″, 163 lbs) left-hander with electric stuff (457 Ks in 370 career NPB innings pitched), Yuki Matsui was used in a variety of roles by the Rakuten Golden Eagles in 2018.  He started the season as the team’s closer, was apparently demoted to a set-up role and then late in the season was used as a starter.  His 3.65 ERA was high, but so were his 91 Ks in 66.2 IP.

As I wrote two years ago, it’s anybody’s guess whether a pitcher this small and this young can hold up to the often high-stress workload of a closer (or however the Golden Eagles elect to use him) long-term.  If his arm holds up, he’ll be young when his time to get posted arrives.

Naoyuki Uwasawa (25, 2022).  A right-handed starter big enough (6’2″, 196 lbs) to interest MLB teams, Uwasawa had his best season so far in 2018.  His 3.16 ERA was third best among Pacific League qualifiers, and he struck out 151 batters in 165.1 IP.  He had a strong rookie season in 2014, but this year was the first time he had the kind of strikeout rate you’d like for an NPB pitcher to be a legitimate MLB prospect.

Yasuaki Yamasaki (26; 2023).  A small right-hander (5’11”, 187 lbs) who has saved 133 games in his four NPB seasons and has a career 2.44 ERA and 274 Ks in 236 IP.  My guess is that he would be a set-up man in MLB.

Pitchers available this off-season include Yuki NIshi, Spencer Patton, Jay Jackson and Geronimo Franzua.  Yuki Nishi will be 28 next season, and he earned his domestic free agent option this season. He reportedly asked his team, the Orix Buffaloes, to post him this off-season, but the Buffaloes reportedly refused.  Nishi is a good pitcher, but he’s a small right-hander (5’11”, 176 lbs) whose strikeout rates don’t match most of the Japanese pitchers who go on to MLB success.  The Buffaloes are reportedly likely to offer him a three or four year deal this off-season, and that might well be his best option financially.

I like Spencer Patton’s chances of returning to MLB as an inexpensive set-up man at the two-year $4M amount that Chris Martin signed for with the Texas Rangers last off-season.  Martin’s 2018 performance was not particularly impressive on paper, but fangraphs says it was worth $4.4M, which means Martin has already paid off his full contract amount with another season to go.

Patton had an ugly 6.26 ERA in 54.2 MLB career innings pitched, but he also struck out 58 batters.  There’s no question that he has major league stuff, but his lack of command hurt him in the past.  His command seems to have improved in Japan, where over two NPB seasons, he struck out 133 batters in 116 IP while walking only 35.  Patton will be 31 next season.

Jay Jackson will also be 31 next year, and he’s put in three strong seasons as a reliever in NPB.  Jackson doesn’t have as strong an MLB system track record as Patton, but MLB teams might be interested in signing Jackson if the price is right.

Geronimo Franzua is a left-hander who washed out of the Dominican Summer League years ago, but caught on with the Hiroshima Carp through a try-out in the Dominican Republic.  (It was a good year for the Carp in this regard: they signed another low minors castoff, Xavier Batista, at a tryout, and he hit 25 HRs for them in only 302 plate appearances this season.)  Franzua had a 1.66 ERA mostly in a relief role and struck out 81 batters in 65 innings of work.  He only just turned 25, so he could well appeal to MLB teams.

It’s possible, however, that the Carp have Franzua signed to long-term, low-salary deal, to take into account that the team would have to develop him at the minor league level when they signed him.  MLB teams might also want to see Franzua do it two years in a row in NPB before shelling out to bring him back to the Americas.

Bookmark “EmShinnosuke Ogasawara (age 21 next season), Naoya Ishikawa (22), Katsuki Azuma (23) and Haruhiro Hamaguchi (24) are some young, talented NPB pitchers who still have many seasons in which to blow out their arms before they might become available to MLB teams.  I’ll be keeping an eye on them going forward.

As a final note, Takayuki Kishi and Hirotoshi Masui are two excellent NPB pitchers we’ll probably never see in MLB.  Both are small right-handers who are well over 30 and in the middle of multi-year contracts with their current NPB teams.

Go East, Not So Young Men!

October 11, 2018

A couple of days ago mlbtraderumors.com posted a list of recently announced players who have elected free agency after being out-righted off of teams’ 40-man rosters and accepting minor league assignments during the season.  It’s a virtual who’s-who of players who should seriously consider playing in Asia in 2019 if any Asian teams will have them.  Players who might look particularly appealing to Asian teams based on age, past major league success and 2018 performance on this list are 1B Tommy Joseph (27 in 2018), SS/2B Dixon Machado (27), RHP Drew Hutchison (28), RHP Mike Morin (28), RHP Casey Sadler (28), RHP Chris Rowley (28), RHP Ryan Weber (28), RHP Jacob Turner (28), RHP Mike Hauschild (29), LHP Danny Coulombe (29), RHP Kevin Quackenbush (30), RHP Jhan Martinez (30), LHP Buddy Boshers (31) and LHP Tommy Milone (32).

A player I have thought for the last several years should take his talents to Asia is Jabari Blash.  He’s 29 now, hit a ton in the Pacific Coast League, but failed to take advantage of another major league opportunity with the Angels this season.  It’s not too late to become a star in Asia, Jabari, you certainly have the raw talent.

Slugging 1Bman Dan Vogelbach turns 26 in December, and he’s out of minor league options.  After a season in he hit at AAA but only hit .207 with a .691 OPS in 102 major league plate appearances, his best offer might come from Asia.  Socrates Brito is another out of options 26 year old with significant, but not yet successful, major league experience who could appeal to Asian teams.

1B/corner OF Jordan Patterson turns 27 in February.  He still appears to have options left, but hasn’t played in the majors since a 10-game cup of coffee in which he hit well for the Rockies back in 2016.  Despite solid, if unspectacular, AAA performance the last two seasons, he doesn’t appear to be in the Rockies’ future plans in any serious way.

Mike Tauchman, who turns 28 in December, has done much in a couple of brief major league cups of coffee, but he could likely be a starting center fielder in Asia.  Corner IF/OF Patrick Kivlehan who turns 29 in December got significant major league playing time with the Reds in 2017, but spent most of 2018 back at AAA.

Another soon to be 29 year old I root for is 2B Nate Orf.  He got a his first cup of coffee with the Brewers this year, which vastly improves his chances at interesting an Asian team.  Orf turns the double play well and has a career minor league .387 on-base percentage.  Unfortunately, he has little power, and Asian teams want their foreign players to hit for power.

Jose Fernandez was a 30 year old rookie 1Bman for the Angels in 2018 with a .697 OPS in 123 plate appearances, after joining the MLB system in 2017 following a long career in Cuba.  Asian teams have come to love their Cuban imports, who have had a great deal of success, particularly in Japan.

UT Danny Santana (28), UT Drew Robinson (27), and OF Noel Cuevas (27) are three more position players who may well both be available and draw interest from NPB and KBO teams.

Starting pitchers who fit the bill are (lefties in parentheses) Austin Voth (27), Adrian Sampson (27), Alec Mills (27), William Cuevas (28), Manny Banuelos (28, LHP), Daniel Corcino (28), Casey Kelly (29), Aaron Brooks (29), Drew Gagnon (29), Eric Jokisch (29), Asher Wojciechowski (30), Deck McGuire (30), Chris Bassitt (30), and Casey Lawrence (31).

Relievers I could see making the move to NPB (KBO wants starters only, thank you) are Joely Rodriguez (27, LHP), Jake Barrett (27), Tyler Duffey (28), Andrew Kittredge (29), Scott McGough (29), Chris Smith (30), Liam Hendriks (30), Neftali Feliz (31) and Josh Edgin (32, LHP).

Needless to say, most of the 48 currently marginal major leaguers I have listed above will be pitching in the MLB system in 2019 and at best I’ve named only half of the 2018 mlb system players who will be playing in the Asian majors at any time in 2019.  For example, I haven’t even identified most of the arbitration eligible players likely to be non-tendered when the time comes in November.  There are an awful lot of these guys every off-season for the Asian major league teams to choose from, and no more than half of them are willing to pitch in Asia in the first place.