Archive for the ‘Minnesota Twins’ category

Is Miguel Sano Imploding?

October 8, 2018

Miguel Sano drove over a Dominican Republic police officer’s foot today in an unlicensed truck.  The incident tops off a season in which Sano, once a tremendous prospect, worked his way back to the minors to work on his swing and to lose some weight, or, in other words, to get his head together, stop coasting on his enormous talent, and put the necessary work in.

The Twins had high hopes for 2018 and made a number of moves last off-season that looked like smart money-ball moves.  None of them worked out as the team hoped, and Sano in particular regressed badly after looking at the end of 2017 like a youngster on the verge of MLB superstardom.

Money-ball moves don’t always pan out, but a phenom’s failure to perform because he got complacent is infinitely more disappointing.

Sano apparently needs a good kick in the pants, but it remains to be seen if he will get one.  With good lawyers and a little good old fashioned corruption, it’s entirely possible he will evade any consequences in the Dominican Republic.  As a lawyer, I can already see ways to spin running over a cop’s foot in an unlicensed vehicle (he just bought it, he was afraid of the evil people threatening him in the club outside of which the incident took place, he’s willing to pay a hefty fine, blah, blah, blah).

It looks like someone needs to kick Sano just hard enough somewhere to get him to straighten up and fly right.  If he has a minor league option left, the Twins could send him down to AAA to start the 2019 season if he doesn’t perform in Spring Training.  If he doesn’t have any options left, I’m not sure how the Twins could send him a needed message without possibly losing him to another team.

Extremely talented butt-heads are a problem for any team fortunate enough to have them.  Very few teams have nothing but focused talent.  Even so, these guys will drive you crazy, particularly if your team is not a high revenue team that can afford to cut its losses and buy some other prime talent.  The Twins just can’t afford for Sano not to live up to his abilities.

 

Advertisements

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).

Why Major League Hitters Aren’t Beating the Shifts

July 11, 2018

Here’s a good article from Jerry Crasnick about why players who are routinely shifted against aren’t changing their approach to beat the shift.

What it comes down to, in my mind, is that today’s major league hitters are paid to hit the ball with power, and for left-handed hitters who are shifted against most, that means pulling the ball or driving the ball out to left center.  It’s easy to plug those holes with defensive shifts.

60 or 70 years ago, Ted Williams talked about hitting against the shifts played on him (there is truly nothing new under the sun.  Trivia question: which team invented the Williams Shift?)  Williams said that hitting against the shift never bothered him, because it meant that pitchers were trying to pitch him middle-in to get him to hit into the shift.  That meant pitchers were pitching into his power, with all-too-often predictable results: 521 career home runs despite missing nearly five years of his major league career to military service.

The shifts work better today because pitchers are better and defenders are better.  There will never again be another .344 career hitter unless umpires start calling a ten-inch tall, over the plate strike zone.  Still, an awful lot of home runs are being hit today because pitchers are pitching inside to power hitters to get them to hit into the shift.

I thought Daniel Murphy‘s comments were particularly telling because he rightly talks about the advantages to hitting for power in today’s game, but he’s dead wrong insofar as taking a free first base is not extremely valuable if the bases are empty or with a man on first with less then two outs.  Home run hitting works best when men have gotten on base first.  Earl Weaver, good pitching and defense and the three-run homer.

However, the guy the hits the home run makes a lot more money than the guy who gets on base first, all other factors being even.  That’s why Murphy overvalues power hitting over getting on base.

Ichiros will always beat the shift, but how much demand is there for the poor man’s Ichiro’s in today’s game.  (There will be future Ichiros, Tony Gwynns and Rod Carews, but they will need to play at that level.  How much demand is there in today’s game for the next Nori Aoki?

The very best players have the confidence and ability to try to take advantage of every opportunity the other team gives them.  Most major league players, however, want to maintain the swing and the approach that got them to the bigs in the first place.  Trying to hit the other way against the shift might screw up their power stroke, so why risk it?

Hitters are superstititious, and almost always associate slumps and hot streaks to what they are doing rather than to random probability over short stretches, which plays a much bigger role than most major league players realize at a conscious level.  That said, the players who have the most success don’t tend to get too high during hot stretches or too low during slumps.

Answer to trivia question:  the Chicago Cubs.  They started shifting Fred “Cy” Williams in the 1920’s when Williams played for the Phillies.  The Phillies played in the Baker Bowl, which was 280 feet down the right field line and only 300 feet to right center, only marginally counteracted by a very tall right field fence.

Phillies quickly learned the value of power hitting left-handed pull hitters, and the Cubs were the first team to respond accordingly.  Williams led the NL for the Cubs with 12 HRs in 1916 during the “Dead Ball” (dirty ball) Era, so the Cubs knew exactly what type of hitter Williams was.

 

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.

Lew Ford Is Still Slugging It Out in the Atlantic League

June 28, 2018

I was surprised to notice today that Lew Ford is still playing in the Atlantic League this season.  He turns 42 on August 12.  He’s only batting .249 with an OPS below .700, but he’s currently tied for 6th in the 8-team circuit with 33 RBIs.

This is Ford’s ninth season playing for the Long Island Ducks, and since the Atlantic League salary cap is $3,000 per month, Ford, with his major league background, has probably made exactly that for all of the many, many months he has played for the Ducks.

Ford did play his way back to the Orioles for a two-month spell in 2012, where he even earned a little post-season money, and he’s played five seasons in the Caribbean Winter Leagues along with a couple of brief interludes in the Mexican Summer League, so I guess he’s somehow been able to cobble out a meager living while still playing professionally as long as he possibly can.  It’s hard to imagine having a family and supporting them in the Greater New York area on what he has likely made playing baseball since the start of the 2009 season.

Ford can start collecting his MLB pension as young as age 45, so we’ll see if he can keep playing until then.  More likely, when they finally take the bat out of his hands, he’ll become a professional coach at some level somewhere.

 

Ichiro Is Done

May 4, 2018

Ichiro retired into the Mariners’ front office where he will presumably work to bring more elite Japanese players to Seattle.  He finishes at age 44 with 3,089 hits, after all those hits in Japan.

Suzuki may the last of the hitters in the Paul Waner, Rod Carew, Wade Boggs and Tony Gwynn line, the pure hitters.  Power’s too important in today’s game, perhaps unless Japan can produce another Ichiro, or at least another better than Nori Aoki. the poor man’s Ichiro.

If it’s a style that all but gone, Ichiro brought a talent set to MLB that will be missed if we don’t soon see it again.

The Minnesota Candy-Asses

April 2, 2018

Occasionally, MLB’s unwritten rules really annoy me.

Some members of the Minnesota Twins were reportedly annoyed that the Orioles’ Chase Sisco bunted for a base hit against the shift in the 9th inning of a game the Twins were winning 7-0.  Since when are teams supposed to stop trying to win when they are way behind in the late innings?

Brian Dozier particularly comes across as looking like an ass, by letting himself be quoted in the espn.com article I read.  If you don’t like players bunting against the shift in blow-outs, don’t f@#$ing shift!

One out in the 9th inning, you’re down by seven runs and nobody’s on base.  It isn’t honorable to take a hit if the defense is giving it to you?  Give me a break!

Chance Sisco is a rookie, so he probably won’t say anything, but if I were in his shoes, I’d tell Dozier and the Twins and anybody else who doesn’t like what he did to go f#$% themselves in no less uncertain terms.  If teams are going to engage in these exaggerated shifts in any circumstances, players should bunt against it if the situation calls for it. Chance wasn’t going to hit a 7-run homer, so his job was to get on base, pure and simple, end of story.

Sisco (and every other hitter in MLB capable of pushing a bunt) should bunt every single time against the shift every single time that his team needs a base-runner, which is most of the time.  Sisco is no kind of power hitter, so why are the Twins even shifting him in the first place?

Dozier and the Twins are probably just trying to get inside Sisco’s head.  Hopefully, none of the veteran Orioles’ players Dozier mentioned in the article will do anything more than give Sisco a pat on the bum, and a “Smart move, Kid!”