Archive for the ‘Mexican League’ category

Independent-A Run-Down

August 21, 2018

Here are some comments on the top prospects at this moment in the Indy-A Leagues.

27 year old Bennett Parry signed with the CPBL’s ChinaTrust Brothers as their back-up foreigner more than two weeks ago.  He still leads the Atlantic League in strikeouts as I write this.

Dave Kubiak also escaped the Atlantic League for the warmer climbs of Mexico.  Alas, his brains have been beaten out his first two Mexican League starts.

Blake Gailen is the Atlantic League’s best hitter for the umpteenth time, but at age 33 this year, there is nowhere for him to go except Mexico, where he has played successfully before and thus may not be interested in playing there again.  Otherwise, go to Mexico, Blake.

Former major leaguer David Rollins pitched his way out of the Can-Am League to the AAA Tacoma Rainiers, but, alas, he got bombed in his first Pacific Coast League start.

Just turned 27 year old outfielder David Harris deserves another shot with an MLB organization.  Still 22 year old Martin Figuero also deserves another shot with an MLB organization, although he’s come down to earth since I wrote about him six weeks ago.

In the American Association, 25 year old Dillon Thomas did not go gentle into the good night of his career after the Rockies released him.  He’s leading the AA in with a 1.021 OPS.

Also 25 year old Dylan Tice earned his way back into the Mets’ organization.  Just turned 28 year old Jay Austin has earned his way up to the Mexican League, where so far so good.

28 year old Tommy Collier needs to pitch in the winter leagues this off-season to boost a move up to a better league, but I sure wouldn’t want to pitch in Venezuela again this winter.

The Wichita Wingnuts’ Travis Banwart, now 32, might more properly be pitching in the CPBL for a lot more money, what with his three seasons of KBO experience, but he’s actually from Wichita, which complicates the matter.  Banwart is one of the best American pitchers not to have pitched at all in the majors.

If you want to read more about Indy-A players who recently signed with major league organizations, go to the Atlantic League’s, the Can-Am League’s and the American Association‘s respective websites.  The Indy-A Leagues scream from the rooftops every time one of their boys signs with a major league organization — that’s what gets most of their boys to play for peanuts.

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Tiago Da Silva

August 19, 2018

Tiago Da Silva has recently caught my eye.  He’s a 33 year old Brazilian who is currently a top starter in the Mexican League, and he has had quite a baseball odyssey.

Born in Sao Paolo, Da Silva has some Japanese ancestry — there are more Brazilians of Japanese ancestry than you might think and are probably part of the reason why baseball is more popular in Brazil than you might think.  Sao Paolo is something of a Brazilian baseball hotbed, what with Yan Gomes, Paulo Orlando and Andre Rienzo also hailing from Brazil’s largest city.

Presumably, Da Silva made a name for himself in Sao Paolo’s amateur baseball circuit, but didn’t attract any attention from MLB organizations because he’s a small right-hander — at age 33 he’s listed as 5’9″ and 180 lbs — he was almost certainly a lot lighter when he was prospect age.  However, Da Silva could pitch: from the video I’ve seen, he has an unusual, deceptive motion and gets good movement on his pitches.

After playing for Brazil in the 2003 Baseball World Cup, he was signed by and played briefly in Taiwan’s CPBL.  He got bombed in limited work, and ended up taking his baseball talents to Italy.  The baseball cognoscenti know that Italy and Holland have had professional baseball leagues for quite some time, although regular season schedules are typically only 42 to 60 games and played mostly on the weekends.

He was extremely successful there for T&A San Marino, going a combined 41-12 over his last six seasons, as the San Marino club went from a .500 team to a perennial powerhouse.

Da Silva pitched in the Venezuelan Winter League successfully in the winter of 2013-2014 and then moved up the Mexican League in 2014.  He was good enough to get a shot with the Blue Jays’ organization in 2015 pitching at the A+ (mostly) and AA levels, where he struck out 28 batters in 22.2 IP while allowing only 16 hits and four walks.  However, he was a small, 30 year old right-hander that season and returned to Mexico for the summer of 2016.

Da Silva was a top closer in the Mexican League in 2016 and 2017, combining for 49 saves, which is impressive when you remember that Mexican League teams only played about 110 games per season those years.

He’s become a starter again in 2018, and he’s been equally good in that role.  It has me wondering whether a CPBL team will give him another shot in 2019.  Da Silva is making a reasonable living pitching his summers in Mexico and his winters in Venezuela, but with things falling apart in Venezuala, a return to Taiwan might look a whole lot more appealing than it did even a year or two ago.

Da Silva is a great example of a player who has carved out a reasonably successful professional career without ever coming close to pitching in the MLB major leagues, or even the major leagues in Japan or South Korea.  He has a career record at all professional levels published by baseball reference of 81-34 with 83 saves and 2.47 ERA.  He likely hasn’t made enough money to retire on, even in Brazil, but he has probably lived comfortably at least since returning to Mexico in 2016.

Da Silva’s professional success may also have something to do with his smarts.  He speaks five languages — Japanese, Spanish, Italian, English and his native Portuguese.  If nothing else, he’ll probably be able to find paying work as a translator when his playing career is over.

Japhet Amador

August 1, 2018

Japhet Amador has a special place in the hearts of American baseball nerds like myself.  Amador, like Alfredo Despaigne, is one of the answers to the questions “Who are the best baseball players not in the major leagues?” and “Who are the best baseball players most Americans have never heard of?”

Amador was a Mexican League player who was long recognized in geek circles as a player obviously too good for the Mexican League but still obviously not good enough to play in the MLB majors.  Amador could certainly hit, but his was not a major league body.  Specifically, since Amador turned 25 more than six years ago, he has likely never weighed less than 290 lbs and often quite a bit more.  He’s one of those baseball players who probably hits better fat and sassy, but these kinds of players usually have little defensive value and clog up the base paths.

Amador has been playing in Japan’s NPB the last three seasons, and this year at age 31 he’s finally having the breakout season at least a few observers thought he might be capable of.

Until July of 2018, there was some question how long Amador could last in NPB.  However, the fates have conspired in his favor.

Amador’s one elite skill is power hitting, and luckily for him this is a skill that NPB value very highly in their foreign imports, because most Japanese NPB major leaguers simply don’t hit with a lot of power, even in NPB’s small ballparks.  I think that NPB hitters are beginning to adopt MLB hitters’ obsession with launch angles and power hitting this season, but there aren’t nearly as many Japanese players capable of hitting 20 home runs a season in NPB as there are players in MLB capable of hitting 20 HRs in the majors.

Also, coming out of the Mexican League, Amador likely required a large initial investment in the form of a buyout of his rights from the Mexico City Red Devils that probably amounted to something between $750,000 and $1,000,000, but his salaries have been low by the standards of foreign players since his acquisition.  Amador reportedly was paid about $275,000 in each of 2016 and 2017 and $550,000 in 2018.  With a large initial investment followed by relatively low salaries, the Rakuten Golden Eagles have had good reason to show more patience with Amador than NPB teams typically do with their foreign imports.

In his first two NPB seasons, Amador hit for power (32 HRs in 598 plate appearances), but hit less than .250, had an on-base percentage right around .300 and grounded into 24 double plays.  This year Amador was plodding along with similar numbers and missed some games due to injury, which can be expected from a 31 year old player who weighs around 300 lbs.

In July, however, Amador got hot.  He’s now hit 20 HRs in 231 plate appearances this season and gotten his batting average up to .273 and his OBP up to .342 to go with a .589 slugging percentage.

Amador has hit only six doubles and no triples (although he did steal the first base of his NPB career this year) and has grounded into eight double plays.  However, just about any NPB team, or at least the poorest six to nine out of 12, would put up with his failings if his OPS is over .900 and he’s costing well less than $1M a year.

It gives me a certain sense of satisfaction that Amador has reached the place where his talents can be best appreciated and best compensated.  It is somehow reassuring when the world rewards performance and people find the level where they can accomplish the most within their specific abilities.

Matt Chavez and Craig Massey

August 1, 2018

Two of the top hitters (in terms of batting average) in the Independent-A Atlantic League this year are a pair of 29 year olds Matt Chavez and Craig Massey.

What makes them interesting to me is that they have both played almost their entire professional careers in the Indy-A leagues.  Matt Chavez got a couple of brief looks from MLB organizations, but I don’t think that either the Giants or the Padres were at all serious about him, and Massey has never gotten even one shot with an MLB organization.  Both started their professional careers at the age of 25, which means no MLB organization would ever consider them prospects.

Both of them have worked their way up from the lowest levels of Indy-A ball to the highest level in the Atlantic League, which says they are not bums.  Neither one has much power, but they get on base: Chavez is slashing .320/.374/.440  and Massey is slashing .353/.436/.420 as I write this.

Both are too old, too power deficient and lack the pedigree to have any realistic expectation of ever getting any real shot from an MLB organization going forward.  So what are their baseball career options?

Their best options are almost certainly playing their summers in the Mexican League and their winters in one of the four top Caribbean Winter Leagues (Puerto Rico, Mexico, Dominican Republic and Venezuela).  There is at least a living to be made this way, and it is pretty much the best that players like Chavez and Massey can aspire to, because Taiwan’s CPBL does not sign foreign position players and South Korea’s KBO and Japan’s NPB are extremely reticent about signing foreign players without any MLB major league experience.

My best guestimate is that approximately one Mexican League player per season gets a shot at playing in either the KBO or NPB, most of the time without success.  The CPBL signed three Mexican Leaguers last off-season, but they were all pitchers.

Unfortunately, neither Chavez nor Massey has yet played abroad, unless they did so in Nicaragua’s, Colombia’s or Panama’s winter leagues, for which Baseball Reference does not provide stats.  Aside from Chavez and Massey, the other current top four Atlantic League batting average leaders are all over age 30 Dominicans who are presumably playing in the Atlantic League mainly to keep themselves sharp for Winter League ball back home, where they make their real money, and to work their way up or back to the Mexican League’s better salaries.

I have definitely noticed a trend that more players in the top three Indy-A Leagues (the Atlantic League, the American Association and the Can-Am League) are playing in the top four Winter Leagues each winter.  MLB organizations are increasingly less willing to allow even their better AA and AAA players to play in the Winter Leagues (unless the player has been hurt and needs to playing time), so the top Indy-A Leagues’ best players can now compete successfully at this level.

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).

Bennett Parry and Tyler J. Alexander

July 11, 2018

One problem with being a life-long baseball observer outside of the professional game is that, at the end of the day, I can only guestimate how major league organizations make decisions.  Even though a lot of input is sought by the media from major league organizations, major league organizations will provide some information, but they won’t provide everything.  Pro baseball knowledge is proprietary, and why would you put out information to the public from which another pro baseball organization might learn something with which to compete against you?

Sabrmetrics can tell us something by which we can get some idea of what MLB organizations analytics departments are looking at.  (If I had to guess, I’d say that computer simulations using powerful computers and algorithms produced by professional mathematicians are things MLB orgs are using that hasn’t yet reached the likes of fangraphs.com.)

Sometimes, I just don’t know whether the MLB orgs are missing something that seems obvious to me or they have information I don’t have, or some combination of both.  I often feel like I’m working with 1950’s inside baseball, and that the modern baseball world might well be passing me by.

Why haven’t MLB orgs re-signed either Bennett Parry or Tyler J. Alexander, as I write this.  Both started their professional careers in MLB organizations, but were late round draft picks who apparently got burned by MLB’s minor league numbers game (35+ new prospects are added by each organization every year, which is about or more than 1.5 low minor league club rosters).

Bennett Parry was a 40th round (whew!) draft pick who never pitched higher than the full season A level but still produced a 2.71 ERA with 211 Ks in 216 IP across four MLiB seasons, before suffering injuries of some kind that caused him to miss  majorities of both the 2015 and 2016 seasons.

He has worked his way back through the Indy-A leagues to the point where he is a starting pitcher in the Atlantic League with a 2.60 ERA with 104 Ks in 72.2 IP.  He’s a big 26 year old left-hander at 6’6″ and 240 lbs.

Tyler Alexander is another, smaller 26 year old left-hander (6’1″ and 200 lbs) without the injuries.  He was plagued by high ERAs but with high strikeout rates in two MLiB seasons after being drafted by the Brewers in the 27th round.  He put together three fine seasons for the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks of the Indy-A American Association and two fine winters in the Mexican Pacific League, before signing with a Can-Am League team this year, presumably to get more exposure). He has joined the Mexican Summer League for the second half season.

Left-handers with strikeout stuff are always in demand if only for the simple fact that while only one person in ten is a natural left-hander, about one-third of major league pitchers are left-handed.

For the life of me, I don’t understand why neither Parry nor Alexander has been signed by an MLB organization as of this writing.  I haven’t found anything on line suggesting a scandal involving either player, and neither is too small to suggest MLB would ignore them for this reason.

What am I missing?  The question torments me in my spare time.

Delmon Young Sighting

July 8, 2018

Doesn’t it seem like a long time since Delmon Young last played in the majors?  It was only 2015 with the Orioles, but it feels like longer.

Young is still around, attempting a come-back in the Mexican League at the age of 32.  I was certainly surprised when I saw his name today in milb.com’s list of Mexican League hitters, because one has to think long and hard to remember that Young was young when he entered the major leagues and still young when he left them.

Young had enormous talent, enough to be the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2003 out of high school.  He was a great pure hitter (.283 career batting average across ten major league seasons), and he had some pop, but he almost never drew a walk and didn’t hit with enough power consistently enough to make it as a corner outfielder.

He had a great year for the Twins in 2010, when he drove in 112 runs and had 12 outfield assists playing exclusively left field, but that was pretty much it.  Another thing that appears to have contributed to his rapid demise is that he had lost his speed by the time he was in his late 20’s.

After leaving the majors, Young played in the Dominican Winter League in the winter of 2015-2016, and he played in the Australian Baseball League the next winter, without particularly impressive results given the respective levels of competition in either league.

He has only played in 26 Mexican League games so far this summer, and he looks like the same old Delmon Young.  He can hit for a decent average with a little pop, but he still doesn’t walk much.  We’ll see how long he’s willing to play for $5,000 to $8,000 a month playing in Mexico.