Archive for the ‘Minor Leagues’ category

Go East, Not So Young Men, Part II: The Pitchers

October 20, 2017

Here are some starting pitchers who seem like good bets to sign with a KBO or NPB team for 2018:

Drew Hutchinson (27 in 2018).  Hutchinson looked like a burgeoning star in 2014 after coming back from Tommy John surgery, but he’s only thrown 24 major league innings since the start of the 2016 season.  He didn’t pitch in the Show at all this year, despite posting a strong 3.56 ERA in 26 starts for the International League’s Indianapolis Indians.

One would think that Hutchinson would be receptive to a guaranteed offer from an NPB club; and one or two strong seasons in Japan could put his MLB career back on track.

Wilmer Font (28).  Font hasn’t pitched much in the majors (7 IP over eight appearances with an ugly 11.57 ERA), but he was dominating for the Pacific Coast League’s Oklahoma City Dodgers in 2017.  His 3.42 ERA was the only ERA under 4.00 by any PCL pitcher who threw at least 115 innings, and his pitching line of 134.1 IP, 114 hits, 11 HRs and 35 BBs allowed and a whopping 178 Ks was even better.

Font will have a hard time breaking through with the pitching rich Dodgers, and I would expect a KBO team in particular to make him a strong offer.

Justin Masterson (33), Tom Koehler (32) and Dillon Gee (32).  A trio of veterans with substantial MLB resumes, all three look to be at a point in their respective careers where the Asian majors would be each pitcher’s option, at least if they want to continue starting.  Masterson, also pitching for the OKC Dodgers, recorded the PCL’s second best ERA at 4.13 and recorded 140 Ks in 141.2 IP, but hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2015.

Koehler pitched well in relief for the Blue Jays late in the 2017 season, but might well get a better offer to be a starter for an Asian team than a reliever for an MLB one in 2018.  Pretty much the same for Dillon Gee.

T.J. House (28).  House was pretty good for the International League’s Buffalo Bisons in 2017, posting a 4.32 ERA and 108 Ks in 133.1 IP.  He also has enough of an MLB track record that he might interest an Asian team.

Anthony Bass (30).  Bass pitched for NPB’s Nippon Ham Fighters in 2016 and pitched pretty well (3.65 ERA in 103.2 IP), although he was not invited back.  This year, he pitched well enough for the PCL’s Round Rock Express (4.18 ERA, 87 Ks in 75.1 IP) to get a two game cup of coffee with the Rangers.  He seems like he’d be a good bet for a KBO team in 2018.

Other starting pitchers who might well get an Asian offer too good to pass up are Williams Perez (27), Cody Martin (28), Michael Blazek (29), Vance Worley (30) and Paolo Espino (31).

The relief candidates for NPB in 2018 (KBO teams only want starters) number as many as 50.  These are the ones I like best.

Louis Coleman, Al Alburquerque and Ernesto Frieri (all 32).  A trio of live-armed, proven MLB relievers who pitched great in AAA in 2017, but aren’t likely to get major league contract offers for 2018.  It’s reasonable to assume that at least one of them will be pitching in Japan next season.

Preston Claiborne (30).  He’s all the way back from Tommy John surgery a couple of years ago, but didn’t get much of a look from the Rangers in spite of a 1.89 ERA and 16 saves at AAA Round Rock.

Bruce Rondon (27) and Blaine Hardy (31).  A couple of Tiger hurlers who may well be non-tendered this off-season, because both are arbitration eligible.

Jack Leathersich (27), Dayan Diaz (29) and Simon Castro (30).  Will they or won’t they receive major league contract offers from their current MLB teams?  That is the question that will most likely determine their receptiveness to any Asian offers.

Other reasonable relief possibilities: Michael Tonkin (28), Alex Wimmers (29), Brandon Cunniff (29), Deolis Guerra (29), Felix Doubront (30), Josh Smith (30), Jason Gurka (30), Zac Rosscup (30), Jeff Beliveau (31), Rhiner Cruz (31), Erik Davis (31), Pat “Switch Pitcher” Venditte (33) and Edward Mujica (34).

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Go East, Not So Young Men

October 20, 2017

Every year around this time, I like to do a post regarding MLB-system players who are good bets to be playing in Japan’s NPB or South Korea’s KBO next season.  In the past, these posts typically identify players who had great seasons in AAA, but didn’t get much MLB playing time.

This year, I’ve decided to try to be a little more thorough about the subject, including looking at contract issues more likely to push some players, but not others, to try their luck in Asia.  The biggest factors for a player entering his age 26 or older season in deciding whether to give up the MLB dream and go to Asia are likely whether he has received a major league contract offer from an MLB team and also his personal, subjective belief about his likely future chances of MLB success.

I suspect that a lot players who play in MLB for the first time in September of their age 26 or 27  seasons and play well during that cup of coffee will elect to stay in the MLB system the next season, even if they get a better offer from an NPB or KBO team.  On the other hand, players who received substantial major league playing time in their early or mid-20’s, who then spend the next couple of years mostly at AAA, have a much better idea how tenuous MLB success can be and are a lot more tempted by better offer from abroad.

Here’s my list of some hitters who are good bets to be playing in Asia next year.

Oswaldo Arcia (27 in 2018).  Arcia played in 200 games for the Twins in 2013 and 2014 at the ages of 22 and 23.  Since then, his major league career has gone straight downhill, in large part because he isn’t patient enough, i.e., he doesn’t walk enough and strikes out too much.

At age 26, Arcia led the Pacific Coast League with a 1.049 OPS.  However, he didn’t play in even one major league game because he got hurt on August 30th, right before the September roster expansions.  I wasn’t able to determine the nature of his injury, and injuries have plagued him the last few seasons.  If he’s fully healthy by December 1st, though, he’d be a great bet for an Asian team.

Bryce Brentz (29).  Brentz hit a league-leading 31 home runs (Asian teams want their foreign hitters to hit the long ball) and his .863 OPS was second best in the International League.  Even so, the Red Sox never called him up, even after the rosters expanded in September.  A player can’t get a much stronger message his team doesn’t see him as part of their future than that.

Jabari Blash (28).  Blash has a lot of talent, but through his age 27 season, he hasn’t been able to put it together at the major league level.  If the Padres don’t offer him a major league contract, he should seriously consider any Asian offers he receives.

Leonys Martin (30).  NPB teams love Cubans as much as cigar aficionados do.  Small wonder — Alex Guerrero and Alfredo Despaigne respectively led the Central and Pacific League in home runs this past season.

Martin isn’t likely to hit 35 home runs in a season even in Japan, but he could 25-30 in a season there, and he still runs well. He has more than three full seasons of MLB service time, entitling him to salary arbitration, and will almost certainly be non-tendered by his current MLB club.  I’m guessing his best free agent offer will come from Japan.

Will Middlebrooks (29).  Middlebrooks’ MLB career has gone down the toilet, but he’s the kind of power-hitting 3Bman NPB teams like.

Mark Canha (29).  I could definitely see him getting a $1M offer from the Doosan Bears this off-season, if the Bears decide to replace Nick Evans as their foreign position player.

Cody Asche (28).  Another 3B candidate with power potential in Japan’s smaller ballparks, Asche was the Phillies’ main 3Bman in 2014 and 2015.  Now he’s just another guy coming off a strong minor league season looking for a decent contract going into his age 28 season.  Still, Asian teams love past MLB experience.

Xavier Avery (28).  A center fielder whose .816 OPS was 5th best in the International League, Avery’s only major league experience (32 games with the Braves) came way back in 2012.  You would have to think he’d be receptive to a foreign offer.

Nick Buss and Brandon Snyder (both 31).  A couple of left fielders coming off strong AAA seasons.  Buss led the Pacific Coast League with a .348 batting average, and his .936 OPS was 7th best.  Snyder’s .846 OPS was 3rd best in the International League.  You can guess which of the two AAA leagues is a pitchers’ league and which is a hitters’ league.

Chris Johnson and Eric Young, Jr. (both 33).  Two aging veterans with substantial MLB experience, both played well enough in AAA to suggest they still have something left going into 2018.  Both would provide an Asian team with a certain amount of defensive flexibility.  Johnson is probably more likely to get an offer because he has more power.

In my opinion, age 27 is the ideal age for a foreign MLBer to try his luck at a successful Asian career.  Here is a list of players who will be 27 next season, had great AAA seasons, have at least a little MLB experience, but don’t look likely to receive major league contract offers for 2018: Richie Schaffer, David Washington, Christian Walker, Mike Tauchman, Tyler Naquin, Ji-man Choi, Garrett Cooper, Tyler White, Christian Villanueva, Luke Voit, Max Muncy and Cesar Puello.

Almost all of these guys will elect to stay in the MLB system, but don’t be surprised if you hear that one or two of them have signed with Asian teams later this off-season.  Tyler Collins (28) and Travis Taijeron (29) are a couple of slightly older players who are reasonable possibilities of getting Asian offers.

The Best Foreign* Pitchers in the History of Taiwan’s CPBL

October 12, 2017

* This post is a work in progress.  The CPBL’s website is in Chinese using Chinese characters.  Figuring out who the foreign players are for someone like me who has no knowledge of written Chinese is an inexact science.  I have not included Japanese or Korean players in my lists, if there are any who qualify, because it is simply too difficult to figure out who all the Japanese and Korean players are.  I invite anyone with an interest to correct or supplement my lists.

I’ve been following Taiwan’s CPBL closely for the last three or four years now, and it strikes me as time for a list of the best foreign pitchers in CPBL’s 28 year long history.  I won’t bother with foreign hitters at this time, since it does not appear that any foreign position players have played in the league since the end of the 2015 season.

WINS

1.      Osvaldo (Ozzy) Martinez  108-85     MiLB, WiL Stats and more MiLB Stats

2.      Jonathan Hurst       76-52     MLB, NPB, MiLB Stats

3.      Mike Loree                62-33     MiLB, Indy-A stats

4.      John Burgos             58-34     MiLB, Indy-A Stats

5.      Jose Nunez                56-25     MLB, NPB, KBO, etc Stats

6.      Mark Kiefer               55-27     MLB, MiLB, KBO stats

7.     Joe Strong                  47-33     MLB, MiLB, Indy-A Stats

8.     Orlando Roman       44-28     MiLB, NPB Stats, WiL

9.     Gabriel “Gab” Ozuna     43-39     MiLB Stats

Martinez and Hurst are the only long-term veterans among pitchers I could find in my search of the CPBL website.  Martinez pitched nine seasons, Hurst pitched seven.  Burgos had a terrific 4.5 seasons, Kiefer had four terrific seasons, and Nunez had an even better than either three seasons.  Kiefer won 34 KBO games over three seasons later in his career.

Mike Loree is the most successful foreign pitcher currently pitching in CPBL.  His 2017 season, in which he won his second pitching Triple Crown (2.18 ERA, 16 wins, and 154 Ks) in only four full seasons, firmly establishes him as one of the circuit’s all-time best foreign pitchers.

Joe Strong was a 37 year old MLB rookie in 2000 for the Florida Marlins, but he pitched better in the Show in limited use in 2001.  He pitched professionally through his age 41 year old season.

ERA   (650 IP)

1.      Jose Nunez               2.13

2.     Jonathan Hurst       2.56

3.     Joe Strong                 2.71

4.     Mark Kiefer              2.82

5.     John Burgos             2.84

6.     Gab Ozuna                3.16

7.     Osvaldo Martinez    3.20

7.     Enrique Burgos   3.20     MLB, MiLB Stats

9.     Mike Loree               3.22

10.    Orlando Roman     3.78

I set the 650 IP limit because I wanted to include both Nunez (687) and Roman (691).  Nunez won 56 games over three seasons, before moving on to greener Japanese NPB pastures.  He also pitched in the Taiwan Major League (TML) in 1998, during that competitor league’s six-year history before it folded/merged into the CPBL after the 2002 season. But, no surprise, I haven’t been able to find the stats for the TML on line.

In this extreme hitter-friendly era of the CPBL, Mike Loree’s and Orlando Roman’s higher ERAs are at least equivalent to what the best foreign pitchers accomplished in different, less offensive eras than today, based on their W-L records, the fact that Loree has been arguably the league’s best pitcher in each of his four full CPBL seasons, and the fact that Roman used the CPBL as a springboard to a four year NPB career, where he won a total of 18 games and saved another six, before returning to CPBL in 2016.

Roman will be 39 in 2018, and it remains to be seen if he will return to CBPL next season.  Given his experience, he is surely high paid by CPBL standards (he probably makes $25,000 a month for a seven month season), and his second half of 2017 wasn’t great — he had a first half ERA of 3.95 and a second half ERA of 4.96.  Given that the CPBL plays a split season and Roman’s age, the China Trust Brothers may decide he isn’t a good risk for the money next year.

STRIKEOUTS

1.     Ozzie Martinez      1,286

2.     Jonathan Hurst     779

3.     Enrique Burgos     736

4.     Michael “Mike” Garcia      651     MLB, MiLB, KBO etc Stats

5.     Mike Loree             640

6.     John Burgos          541

7.     Mark Kiefer           532

8.     Orlando Roman   564

9.     Jose Nunez           511

10.    Gab Ozuna           508

Enrique Burgos had some of the best strikeout stuff CPBL had ever seen, but it didn’t translate into his W-L record.  He finished his CPBL career an even 36-36.

SAVES

1.     Mike Garcia             124

2.     Ryan Cullen           70     MiLB, Indy-A, WiL Stats

3.     Brad Thomas        59     MLB, NPB, KBO etc Stats

4.     Alfornio (“Al”) Jones     50     MLB, MiLB Stats

5T.   Dario Veras           49     MLB, MiLB, KBO etc Stats 

5T.   Tony Metoyer       49     MiLB, Indy-A Stats

Mike Garcia is far and away the best foreign closer in CPBL history, and certainly one of the best in league history overall, second only in career saves to Yueh-Ping Lin.  He pitched five seasons in Taiwan (1996-1998, 2004-2005) in between which he was a 31 year old MLB rookie for the 1999 Pittsburgh Pirates.  His career CPBL ERA is an even 2.00.  He last pitched professionally at age 39.

Ryan Cullen pitched 3+ seasons in Taiwan, saving a then record-setting 34 games for the Brother Elephants in 2010 and recording a career CPBL ERA of 1.60.  Cullen is best remembered for his final CPBL game, when he threw a pitch, felt pain in his throwing shoulder, and walked off the mound and off the field without motioning to the dugout and waiting for the manager to take him out of the game.  He was released the next day.

Cullen said he didn’t intend to disrespect anyone, but it does not appear that he ever played professional baseball again.  Since he was only 32 and still pitching effectively at the time of his release, I suspect that he may have just decided that he’d had enough of pro ball.

Brad Thomas is an Aussie who pitched professionally in at least seven countries on four continents, concluding his baseball odyssey with 2.5 seasons in Taiwan.  Tony Metoyer pitched parts of seven seasons in the CPBL, where he was used as both a closer and spot starter.

Unfortunately, the CPBL doesn’t hire foreign relievers much any more, with the Uni-President 7-11 Lions the only team that’s still looking for the next great foreign closer.  They haven’t found him yet, although Werner Madrigal saved 16 games for the Lions in 2015.  As recently as 2014, Miguel Mejia saved a record-setting 35 games and posted a 1.24 ERA for the Lamigo Monkeys, although that record was bested in 2017 by Chen Yu-Hsun, who recorded 37 saves for a Lamigo Monkeys team that set a league record for wins in a season.

It’s hard for a foreign player to have a long career in the CPBL.  If the player has a bad year or even a bad half-season (most foreigners initially receive half-season contracts), he’s too expensive to keep around.  If the player has a great full season or two, he typically moves on to NPB, KBO or back to MLB AAA.  However, a lot of departing foreign players come back to the CPBL later for another go ’round when it’s their last best chance to make a substantial wage playing summer baseball.

The CPBL appears to have recruited heavily among Latin American players who put up successful seasons in the winter leagues, which makes a lot of sense, since the Latin American winter leagues are pretty good and pay accordingly.  In recent years, the independent-A Atlantic League has been a major source for CPBL teams looking for in-season pitching help.

Tyler Alexander

September 8, 2017

Tyler J. Alexander was the best starter in the Independent-A American Association this season.  His 2.07 ERA was the circuit’s second best, and his 167 strikeouts (in 148 IP) led the league by 35.  He will be 26 years old next season.

2017 was Alexander’s third season in the American Association, and although he has pitched well all three seasons and steadily improved, no MLB organization has come calling.  It’s one of those mysteries that I find difficult to understand.

Alexander was originally a 27th round draft pick by the Brewers, and he spent two seasons in their systems.  His ERAs weren’t impressive, and he’s a bit wild, but his strikeout rates were terrific.  In 2014, his 10.1 SO9 was the best of any the ten pitchers to make at least six starts for his full season Class A team in the Midwest League.  Usually, teams want to keep around left-handers with stuff, but the Brewers let Alexander go that off-season.

Since there is apparently something that MLB organizations just don’t like about Alexander, his best option for 2018 would be to move up to the Atlantic League to show what he can do against a higher level of competition.  Even if that doesn’t attract MLB interest, there is always the reasonable possibility that strong performance in the Atlantic League will get him a crack at Asian baseball and at least living wages playing pro baseball.

Heliot Ramos and Jacob Gonzalez Update

August 9, 2017

In what has been a bleak season for the San Francisco Giants at all levels, one bright spot has been the strong starts of 1st and 2nd Round 2017 Draft picks Heliot Ramos and Jacob Gonzalez in the Rookie Arizona League.

CF Ramos, age 17, currently has the fifth best OPS (.975) in his league, and the third best OPS among hitters under the age of 20.  3B Gonzalez, age 19, has the league’s 9th best OPS (.911), and the 4th best among hitters under 20.  Their batting averages are also high, which you like to see in your prospects.

We are only 35 games into the Arizona League season, and Ramos and Gonzalez have played in only 26 and 28 games, respectively.  Even so, it’s better to get your professional career off to a strong start than a slow one.

The AZL Giants are currently 23-12, with the league’s best overall record (the league plays a split season in spite of being a short season league), which is a pleasant change from the sorry records of the Giants’ full season minor league squads this year.

The best of the rest of the AZL Giants’ position players so far in 2017 is 18 year old Nicaraguan Ismael Munguia.  He’s hitting for average and has an .881 OPS after 24 games, mostly in left field.  He’ll have to hit to move up at that position, although there are suggestions he may have enough arm to play right field.

Weilly Yan (21), Camilio Duval (20), Franklin Van Gurp (21), and Keenan Bartlett (21) have all pitched well in terms of ERA and strikeout rates.  2017 3rd Round Draft Pick Seth Correy (18) has a 1.88 ERA and has struck out 14 in 14.1 innings pitched, but has been wild, allowing 13 walks.  Correy is obviously the best prospect here, with Duval, who is in his age 19 season and only just turned 20, the second best as of this moment.

What Do Players in the Mexican League Make?

July 30, 2017

I’ve been trying to figure out exactly what the respective salary scales are throughout the world’s professional baseball leagues.  The Mexican (summer) League numbers were hard to find on line in English.  Thanks to Google Translate, I think I’ve been able to figure out what the current salary caps in this league now are.

The best information I’ve been able to find is that domestic veteran players (Mexican Nationals) max out at 150,000 pesos per month, or $8,450 per month at current exchange rates.  Foreign players cannot be paid more than either $6,000 or $6,500 per month for their first season of Mexican League baseball, but can eventually earn as much as $8,000 per month.  However, some of the Spanish language posts I read in translation asserted a belief that the best foreign players on the wealthiest Mexican League teams may be making more through rule-breaking, performance bonuses, free housing and other stipends.  Also, there are reportedly no state or federal taxes on salaries in Mexico.

The fact that Mexican League salaries are approximately 50% higher than I had previously thought they were explains a few things I had been wondering about.  Many foreign players, particularly Latin American players, play in the Mexican League for years after their careers in the MLB system end, something you don’t typically see in the Independent-A Atlantic League where salaries cap at $3,000 per month.  The talent flow is almost exclusively from the Atlantic League to the Mexican League, which makes sense if the salaries are significantly higher.

It also explains something that I had noticed this year.  Taiwanese CPBL teams seem to have a strong preference for signing Atlantic League players over Mexican League players, even though the best foreign pitchers in the latter league are succeeding against a higher level of competition.  This is particularly the case once the CPBL season has started.

Atlantic League players can presumably be signed for much lower initial contracts than better paid Mexican League foreign stars, particularly in light of the fact that success in the CPBL would eventually lead to annual or monthly contracts considerably larger than either the Atlantic League or the Mexican League, plus a chance to move up to even bigger salaries in South Korea’s KBO or Japan’s NPB.

Also, Mexican League teams typically charge much larger transfer fees for their players’ rights than do Atlantic League teams.  Part of the reason Atlantic League and other Independent-A teams are able to pay such modest salaries is that they allow their successful players to move up to better baseball pay-days for only nominal transfer fees the moment a better opportunity comes along.

I would guestimate that the current transfer fee for an Atlantic League player is around $5,000, and a small percentage of that (20-25%) may go the player.  Mexican League teams are far more reluctant to sell their players in season if they believe those players will help them make the post-season.

San Francisco Giants Trade Eduardo Nunez to Red Sox for Prospects

July 26, 2017

Thankfully, the Giants traded Eduardo Nunez to the Boston Red Sox last night for two right-handed pitching prospects, Shaun Anderson and Gregory Santos.  Both Anderson and Santos look like Grade B prospects to me, but Nunez is only a two month rental before he becomes a free agent this coming off-season, so I’m glad the Giants pulled the trigger and got something.  Right now, the Giants need organizational depth, even if they can’t get anything more.

Anderson is 22 this year and a former 3rd round draft pick.  He’s roughly split the 2017 season so far between full-season A and A+ ball, not surprisingly pitching a lot better in the former than in the latter.  Anderson’s strikeout rates at these levels aren’t particularly impressive, but it’s hard to know, because he pitched only 2.2 professional innings before this season.  I wouldn’t be surprised, however, if his strikeout rate drops dramatically when he reaches AA.

I like Santos better as a prospect, mainly because he hasn’t even turned 18 yet.  He’s pitching very well in his second season in the Dominican Summer League, where he has an 0.90 ERA after seven starts.  His strikeout rates are not impressive, but he may still be learning how to pitch, and his strikeout rates may improve once he learns how better to set hitters up for his strikeout pitches, or he improves his strikeout pitches.  He’s listed as 6’2″ and 190 lbs, which sounds like he’s got a projectable body for this age.

The odds that either Anderson or Santos will eventually have a significant major league career probably aren’t great.  With Santos in particular, he’s got a lot of years in which to potentially blow out his arm before he ever reaches the majors.

Giants’ management has talked about “reloading” for 2018, rather than “rebuilding” this trade deadline, but this is much more a “rebuilding” move, as the odds are slim and none that either Anderson or Santos will contribute anything to the major league club in 2018.

Assuming the Giants intend to keep Brandon Belt, I was kind of hoping that a Nunez deal with the Red Sox might include Chris Shaw, a Massachusetts native and Boston College star, whose minor league defensive numbers suggest he’s an American League 1B/DH type, in exchange for at least one Grade-A prospect.  However, Shaw has gone cold again at AAA this past week, and it’s possible the Giants still value him more highly than anyone else does, since they drafted him only two years ago.

I hopeful that Nunez won’t be the only veteran the Giants move for prospects of almost any caliber before the trade deadline passes.  The Giants need all the additional young talent they can get and then some.