Archive for the ‘Minor Leagues’ category

Pacific Association Action

July 16, 2018

I took my wife and five year old daughter to a Martinez Clippers game today, our first.  The Clippers are a 2018 expansion team in the Pacific Association of Professional Baseball Clubs, an independent-A league which plays at almost the lowest level of professional baseball, one step up from the Pecos League and one step down from the Frontier League.

The Clippers play at one of the four fields at Joe Dimaggio Fields, a four-plex of baseball diamonds in Martinez.  There were maybe 150 fans tops in attendance, and I don’t think the park could seat more than 300.  It’s hard to understand how a team could stay in business with attendance that low when tickets are only $12 for adults and $5 for children under 13.

I will say that Joe Dimaggio Field was a great place to watch a game at this level.  There is very little foul territory, so all the seats, which run from about third base to first base are extremely close to the action.  It was certainly professional baseball as up close and personal as I have ever seen it — I flinched almost every time a left-handed hitter fouled one back into the screen in front of me.

Drinks were expensive, but food wasn’t.  There was a taco truck which served tacos and burritos at pretty typical taco truck prices.  My wife got a large burrito for $7.25 which fed all three of us, which was less than the $8 I paid for a beer.  The beer was made by Martinez craft brewer Del Cielo Brewing Co.  On tap were a Mexican-style lager and an IPA.  I chose the Mexican lager, as it appeared to me most of the other patrons did, and it was quite good.

I attended a Sonoma County Crushers game in the now defunct independent-A Western League in Rohnert Park around 2000.  Today’s game between the Clippers and the Sonoma County Stompers was about the same level of play I recall from all those years ago, even though the Western League was trying to provide a highly level of Indy-A play.

The Stompers scored two runs early on a routine fly ball that Clippers right fielder Will Decker lost in the sun (he was deservedly charged with an error), and there were a few other misplays.  Clippers DH Jacob Barfield hit a home run to dead center that was the only run the Clippers scored in seven innings against Stompers’ starter Dominic Topoozian, who pitched for Fresno State, a top college program, for a couple of seasons.  Stompers 3Bman Kevin Farley made back-to-back great plays in the bottom of the 5th, and Clippers shortstop Pedro Barrios made a terrific play on a shot up the middle in the top of the 6th.

Unfortunately, I had to leave after seven innings, as my daughter was bored by the third inning and getting increasingly restless as the game wore on.  If I lived closer to Martinez (I live in Berkeley) or my wife and daughter had more interest, I’d definitely go again.  Martinez has excellent summer baseball weather, and Joe Dimaggio Fields is close enough to the Carquinez Straight to get an occasional cool breeze.

That said, I don’t how the Pacific Association has lasted five seasons to date. The reported attendance is awful, with only the San Rafael Pacifics (442) and the Sonoma Stompers (428) averaging more than 211 fans per game.  The Clippers are currently averaging 104 fans a game, and the Pittsburg Diamonds averaging only 70 per game.

The only information I could find on Pacific Association salaries says that in 2015 teams were capped at $15,000 per month for 22 players and two coaches.  That averages $625 per month per player/coach, but I don’t see how teams can be paying that given the reported attendance.

By comparison, the Frontier League pays players between $600 and $1,600 per month, with season caps of $75,000 per team, which comes to maximum average salaries of about $725 per month.  The Frontier League’s 12 teams are averaging from a high of 3,078 fans per game to a low of 1,595 fans per game this season.  Granted, the Frontier League has been in play since 1993, which is a testament to fact that its teams draw enough fans to keep teams making enough of a profit to keep going year after year.

The Pecos League pays a brutal $50 a week for an 11+ week season, which isn’t even enough to feed a young athlete.  The Pecos League is essentially a pay to play league for undrafted college seniors who just can’t give up the pro baseball dream without at least taking one real stab at it.  I note that the Pecos League appears to be just about the only Indy-A league that does not routinely report its attendance.

After the Pecos League season ends, the best players typically get late season tryouts from American Association and Frontier League teams looking to replace players who have been sold, injured or released.  If they don’t show enough to get re-signed for the next season in these leagues (or to even get a shot in the first place), they try their luck in the Pacific Association.

In spite of the dream, it’s hard to imagine being able to pay players in their second professional season less than $400 or $500 per month.  It appears to me that the average age for a Pacific Association player is about 24, which is old enough that anything less than $400 or $500 month seems untenable if a team is hoping to fill a 22 man roster with a couple of guys on call in case someone gets hurt.

As of the start of the 2018 season, Jon Edwards and Chris Smith are the only two Pecos League players to have later reached the major leagues.  To my knowledge, no Pacific Association player has yet accomplished this feat.

Since the Pacific Association only began play in 2014, it’s certainly possible that someone will someday do it.  However, the odds sure aren’t good, since the best Pecos League players jump to the better American Association or Frontier League or get signed directly by an MLB organization.  Some Pacific Association players have signed with MLB organizations, but the time game is simply not in their favor.

Local boy Matt Chavez is probably the best player the Pacific Association has produced so far.  He’s currently a top hitter in the best of the Indy-A Leagues, the Atlantic League, where he is slashing .323/.380/.442.  However, he’s 29 this year, so his  future major league chances are slim indeed.  His best reasonably possible future is playing successfully in the Mexican League.

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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 apparently blowing out his elbow tendon.

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 arm injury.  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.

Martin Figueroa

July 4, 2018

Martin Figuero is hitting .421 with an insane .542 on-base percentage after 177 plate appearances in the Can-Am League so far this season.  He doesn’t have much power, but his 1.061 OPS leads the league among batters with at least 100 plate appearances.  Best of all, he’s still only 22 years old.

The Astros drafted Figuero out of the University of Rhode Island in the 32nd round in 2017.  He slashed .273/.392/.348 in 79 plate appearances in the Rookie Appalachian League, while playing all of his defensive games at catcher.  He threw out 29% of attempted base stealers, but the Astros apparently didn’t think he was any kind of a prospect.

Figuero has played mostly 3B this year in the Can-Am League and hasn’t shown much range.  He hit well as a college sophomore in 2016, but had a bad year in 2017, which is why he was drafted so low.  Obviously, he’s hitting now.

I’m surprised no major league organization has signed him yet this season.  Hitting .421 in 177 plate appearances at the age of 22 is fantastic even in an independent-A league.

The Luke Heimlich Mess

July 4, 2018

I’ve been reading a lot about Oregon State pitcher and convicted child molester Luke Heimlich, and, boy, is it a complicated situation.

At the age of 16, Heimlich pleaded guilty to one episode of molesting his then six year old niece on one occasion when he was 15.  According to his sister-in-law, the molestation happened on multiple occasions when Heimlich was between the ages of 13 and 15.

Except for the formal guilty plea, Heimlich reportedly consistently denied ever doing what he was accused of doing.  He denied it completely last May to the New York Times well after news of the prior conviction broke in 2017.  Heimlich states that his guilty plea was a decision made by his family in order to avoid destroying the family by forcing the now 11 year old girl to take the witness stand.

As a well-read lawyer, I know that sometimes perps falsely confess to crimes because of various pressures, most notably the fact that the sentence will be much worse if they go to trial and lose.  As a juvenile offender with no prior record, the plea deal meant that Heimlich served no jail time and had his record expunged at age 21 when he did not violate his parol terms.

Heimlich comes from a deeply Christian family (his father is an ordained pastor), and such families tend to be pretty patriarchal.  If his parents decided he should plead guilty to maintain family peace, then there would certainly be a great deal of pressure on the 16 year old to plead guilty.  That fact that he wasn’t yet 18 when he entered the plea deal deserves consideration.

On the other, my daughter recently turned five years old.  If she told me tomorrow that someone was molesting her, I would believe her, particularly if there were corroborating factors like abrasions/swelling to her genitals or a change in her mood or behavior.  Heimlich’s niece was six when she told her mother that she was being molested, and in my mind the difference between age six and age four (when the abuse allegedly started) is a big one in accessing the credibility of the little girl and the likelihood that she could have been coached in making the allegations.

In short, without knowing all of the facts behind the allegations, it is nearly impossible to know who is telling the truth or what actually happened.  That said, I can’t see any professional baseball team signing Luke Heimlich in the near future.

Were somebody to sign Heimlich and were he to avoid major injury to his left arm, there is a very high likelihood that he would reach the major leagues.  That’s why the news of his prior conviction is national news.

He wasn’t drafted in either his junior (2017) year or his senior (2018) year, in spite of the fact that he was at least a second round talent both years.  The Royals were reportedly sniffing around a possible signing about a week ago, but it quickly got reported, and I’m virtually certain team management received a lot of very negative feedback as a result.

The only reason for an MLB organization to sign Heimlich is that he is a major league talent.  However, baseball is an entertainment industry, and a lot of people are understandably extremely upset about the prospect of a former child molester earning the kind of riches that come with being a major league player of any duration.

Again, on the other hand, by all accounts, Heimlich was only 15 when the last episode of abuse occurred.  Given his age at the time of the crime, has he paid his debt to society?  The law certainly thinks so, as his conviction was expunged at age 21 when he completed his five year probation period without incident.  These are all very complicated questions with no easy answers.

I just can’t see a major league organization signing Heimlich.  The truth is that MLB doesn’t need any one player no matter how talented that player is.  The Royals likely learned pretty quick what a headache it would be to sign Heimlich.  Even if a team could sign Heimlich quietly and stick him away in the low minors, the moment that Heimlich was ready to pitch in the majors even years from now (the only time that Heimlich would have any actual value to an MLB organization), the issue of his child molestation conviction would become national news again and a huge headache for his team.

I don’t see independent-A league teams signing Heimlich either.  Indy-A teams are even more dependent on fan largess than MLB teams, because the Indy-A teams aren’t putting a major league quality product on the field.  Attending indy-A league games is entirely about the experience and rooting for all the underdogs playing for peanuts for a very slim chance at one day playing in the majors or at the very least making enough money somewhere that they haven’t completely wasted their time pursuing a baseball career.

Any Indy-A team that signs Heimlich immediately kisses away that sympathy from half of its fan base.

The fact that Donald Trump is President does not help Heimlich’s career prospects.  Trump lies so often about things that are easily disproven (the size of his inaugural crowd, illegal immigrants voting for Hillary, the crime rate among undocumented immigrants, the tariff rates the European Union imposes on American exports, the success of the North Korea summit, the education levels of people who immigrate legally from Latin American and African countries, etc.) that he’s given license for others to lie no matter how conclusively in opposition the actual facts.

One result of this is that the roughly 52% of the public that doesn’t approve of Trump is a whole lot less likely to believe Heimlich’s flat-out denials in the face of his guilty plea.  That’s too much of any professional team’s fan base, particularly when it comes to a hot-button issue like child molestation.  Matt Bush was able to make it back to the majors in spite of some incredibly poor decisions he made, but that was only because he never quite succeeded in killing anyone.

Tim Tebow Somehow Makes Eastern League All-Star Team

June 30, 2018

What a sick joke.  I’m actually more disturbed by the idea that Tim Tebow made the Eastern League All-Star Team than I am at the prospect of his playing later this season in the major leagues for the Mets.

The question, I guess, is whether the fans voted him in or someone in management made the decision.  If the former, well that’s the fans’ choice, and I can live with it.  If the latter, then it’s just pandering to his celebrity and ignoring some better Eastern League player who deserves the honor more based on his actual performance.

Tebow is in the news, because against the odds he’s batting .317 this month in AA ball, which sure didn’t seem possible a year ago.  I give props to Tebow’s athleticism and his reported work ethic, but I’m still suspicious of his abilities as a professional baseball player.

By my count, Tebow currently has the 38th highest OPS in the Eastern League, which for a guy who has played exclusively left field ain’t no All-Star, no matter how well he’s hit in June.

That said, sure, the Mets should promote him to AAA after this All-Star game on July 11th if he’s still hitting.  If he hits reasonably well at AAA, sure the Mets should promote him to the majors in September if only because the Mets are going nowhere this year, Tebow is a potential box office draw, and professional baseball is at the end of the day nothing more than a form of entertainment.  Give the fans what they want, give the baby its bottle.

Being selected to an All-Star game at any level, unless the selection is made by the fans whose cans in the seats pay for everything, should reflect a player’s performance, or at least his past performance, and not solely his box office appeal.  Whoever got left off the Eastern League All-Star team to make way for Tebow got the fuzzy end of the lollipop.

Tebow’s June performance could just be a fluke, but it also says something about the value of athleticism and hard work.  Teams like to draft great athletes because there is more upside there, although athleticism by itself doesn’t allow you to hit a professionally pitched baseball or throw a baseball like a pro.

I’ve always been suspicious of Tebow’s minor league baseball venture because of his age and the fact that once his NFL career as a quarterback didn’t pan out, he didn’t try to make an NFL team at another position like fullback.  I’ve always wondered/suspected that he didn’t try to become an NFL fullback, a position his body type, athletic ability and football skills would seem ideal for, because it’s not a high-profile position.  Fullbacks get the sh$% beat out of them trying to open holes for running backs, protecting quarterbacks or trying to get that last two yards for the first down or the score.  There’s not much glory there, unless you score a lot of those two-yard touchdowns.

Even playing in the minor leagues, Tebow is high profile because it so unlikely that he’d succeed as a 29 year old beginner.  If Tebow made the decision to try pro baseball because he decided it wasn’t worth the physical abuse and brain damage that comes with playing NFL football, well that I could respect because it’s at least a rational, sensible decision.  If it was more about his building up his brand for his post-sports life, that seems a lot less noble to me.

Go East, Jabari Blash!

June 29, 2018

It’s definitely time for Jabari Blash to take his talents to East Asia.  He turns 29 in six days, and he’s currently playing in AAA for the Salt Lake City Bees, where his 1.237 OPS leads the Pacific Coast League by 214 basis points.  Salt Lake City has always been a great place to hit, but even so.

There’s still an outside chance that Blash could establish himself as MLB major league platoon player, but at his age it’s looking increasingly unlikely.  He’s now had exactly 300 major league plate appearances in which he’s slashed .194/.317/.320 including a 2-for-18 stint with the Angels this year.

It’s time for Blash to wake up and smell the coffee.  The talent is there, as attested by his career .918 minor league OPS in slightly more than 3,000 plate appearances, but it is time to realize that most major league teams are going to see him as a 4-A player who is just too old to give a real shot unless a couple of major league outfielders get hurt.

If I were an NPB or KBO General Manager, I’d be falling all over myself trying to convince Blash to sign a contract.  Asian teams love power, and Blash has that in spades.  Players of Blash’s proven AAA abilities tend to do very well in Asian baseball unless they just can’t adjust quickly to playing abroad.

Blash was born in the U.S. Virgin Islands and attended high school there for at least some time before coming to the U.S. proper (he went to a Junior College in Miami), so he’s already had to adjust to a new culture.

The Doosan Bears needed a new foreign player after Jimmy Paredes washed out, but elected to sign 31 year old Scott Van Slyke for a reported $320,000 for the second half.  Van Slyke was the safe pick based on his more extensive MLB major league experience, but Paredes’ significant major league experience didn’t pan out this year in South Korea.

The Bears are in a pennant race, so I can see why they probably thought Van Slyke would be a safer bet to hit the ground running, but in my mind Blash’s upside would have been worth $500,000 for half a season and the likely much higher transfer fee that the Angels would likely have demanded for Blash.

Van Slyke has a lot of MLB major league experience because he has dramatic platoon splits.  4-A players with dramatic platoon splits can be valuable major league platoon players.  Asian teams, who are looking for 4-A players who can play every day are almost always better off selecting a player with small platoon splits who aren’t worth as much to MLB major league teams.

Blash has big platoon splits in a limited sample size at the major league level, but he obviously has hit right-handed pitchers well enough in the minor leagues.

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.