Archive for the ‘Minor Leagues’ category

Christian Arroyo Making a Statement at AAA Sacramento

April 22, 2017

21 year old middle infielder and former Giants 1st round pick (2013) Christian Arroyo is making a statement at Sacramento in the Pacific Coast League.  In 14 games, he’s 24 for 56, a .429 batting average, and he’s got a 1.136 OPS.

The PCL is a hitters’ league and it’s early in the season, so Arroyo is “only” 2nd in the league in hitting and 4th in OPS.  Even so, the message is clearly that Arroyo is ready for the Show.

The Giants will almost certainly leave Arroyo in the minors for at least another 15 or 16 games, to give him a chance to come down to earth.  Also, it is a concern that Arroyo has walked only twice in at least 58 plate appearances.

If Arroyo keeps hitting like this for another 15 or 16 games, the Giants will have to do something.  He has played eight games at SS, three at 2B and three at 3B so far this season, so he certainly provides flexibility coming off the bench at the major league level.

Sorry to See Clayton Blackburn Go

April 19, 2017

In the recent roster machinations that put Buster Posey on the 7-Day Concussion list and prompted a brief call-up of Tim Federowicz, the Giants elected to drop Clayton Blackburn from the 40-man roster.  That placed Blackburn on waivers, and the Giants were forced to trade him to the Rangers for young middle infielder Frandy De La Rosa.

I first became aware of Blackburn when he had a huge year in 2012 at Class A Augusta at the age of 19.  He was only a 16th round draft pick, so I was hoping he’d turn out to be a steal.

He continued to play well in the minors at each level, culminating in a 2015 season at AAA Sacramento in which he went 10-4 with a 2.85 ERA, good enough to lead the Pacific Coast League that season among pitchers who threw at least 115 innings (Blackburn threw 123 IP).  His strikeout total (99) was only tenth best, but his strikeout to walk ratio was better than 3/1, and he was only 22 that season.

Blackburn deserved a September call-up that year, but didn’t get one.  The Giants may have been right, however, because Blackburn regressed badly in 2016.  Back at AAA Sacramento, Blackburn went 7-10 with a 5.02 ERA.  His numbers were almost exactly the same as the year before, except that he allowed three times as many home runs.  That’ll sure rowdy up the old ERA.

Blackburn was dreadful in his first AAA start this year, allowing five earned runs in three innings pitched.  But it was just one start before the trade.  Blackburn’s still only 24 this season, and he’s maybe only a few adjustments from being a major league caliber pitcher.

The guy the Giants got, De La Rosa, also appears to have talent.  He had a solid season in the Class A Sally League last year at the age of twenty, most notable for a .330 on-base percentage, which is certainly acceptable for a middle infielder.

De La Rosa got off to a horrible start to 2017 at Down East (Kinston) in the Class A+ Carolina League (3 for 28, but two doubles and five walks), and the Giants have sent him back to their Sally League franchise in Augusta.  It’s entirely possible the Rangers gave up on him too soon also, although I would like my chances with Blackburn better, since he’s much closer to the major leagues.

Let’s hope they both ultimately make it to the Show.

MLB Teams Should Develop Two-Way Stars

March 18, 2017

Baseball America recently published its list of its top ten prospects for the 2017 Amateur Draft.  The top two players, high school star Hunter Greene and Louisville 1B/P Brendan McKay are described as two-way stars (offense and defense) who the drafting teams will probably develop as pitchers.

I wish MLB teams and the players themselves would be more willing to develop the players as two-way stars, like Japan’s Shohei Otani.  There is a certain logic to what I am saying, at least so far as those prospects who are developed as pitchers in pro baseball.  Because pitchers are so susceptible to arm injuries, developing the player at least in part as a position player is basically a kind of insurance policy, since if he blows out his arm, he could still prove to be a major league hitter.

In the case of Greene and McKay, their talent levels as baseball players are probably so high that they could potentially develop into stars either as pitchers or afield.  If the player quickly proves in the low minors that the player’s professional potential is as one or the other, you haven’t lost much but committing a minor league season or two to doing double duty.

MLB teams and amateur players don’t typically do so for a number of reasons.  The teams quickly decide how they like the youngster better and train him toward that narrow goal.  That’s what they based their 1st round draft pick on.

Also, each MLB team ideally wants to be developing one player at each position on each minor league team, because in most cases those are the guys who are one day going to contribute at the major league level. Developing a player as a two-way star means some degree of platooning somewhere, as I explain below.

The amateur player’s primary concern is getting as big a signing bonus as possible.  Since the team almost always considers their value at the moment of selection as either or, the player’s financial incentive is clearly with doing what the team wants the player to do.

I would love to see a young player like Greene or McKay say, “I’m willing to sign for $1M under slot if you will agree to play me at least X number of games in the field.  I’m good enough to do both, and I just might add a great deal of value if I can prove it.

In 2016’s NPB season, Shohei Otani went 10-4 as a pitcher with a 1.86 ERA and 174 Ks in 140 innings pitched.  As mainly a DH, he slashed .322/.416/.588 in 104 games and 382 plate appearances.  Otani would have led the Pacific League in OPS if he’d had only 61 more plate appearances.  Oh, and by the way, his team the Nippon Ham Fighters won the 2016 Nippon Series.

You can’t tell me that the way the Fighters used Otani in 2016 didn’t have a lot to do with the team’s success, since while he could have potentially pitched exclusively for the same overall value, he would have had to throw a truly unhealthy number of innings to do so.  Otani, who is still only 22 years old, could be better, on both sides of the ball, in any of the next few years than he was in 2016.

Developing a two-way player requires a team to be willing to platoon, at least at the DH position, since a two-way player is going to miss games recovering from his pitching efforts.  Also, teams willing to do so don’t typically get to select the two-way player before the team that most highly values him as a pitching prospect.

On the other hand, MLB organizations realistically expect only a couple of players at any level below AA ball to eventually make the Show.  Platooning to develop a true MLB prospect on both sides of the ball is not overly burdensome, since it’s unlikely that any one MLB team will have more than one of these players in its minor league system at any one time.

I’d don’t think it’s any surprise that the very best of the best amateur players feature real two-way prospects.  Youngsters with great physical talent who really understand the game at a physical level are going to be able to hit, pitch and field.

That said, I will admit that it’s either to find the next Shohei Otani in NPB than it is in MLB.  Since MLB is the better league, you have to be better on both sides of the ball to be either a pitching ace or an hitting star, let alone both.

At the end of the day, it’s probably going to take Greene saying, “I’m willing to take only $5.4M or $6.4M in order to play both ways,” or Brendan McKay saying, “I’m willing to accept $5.0M or $5.85M to play both ways,” in order for MLB to develop a true two-way player.

I’m sure we haven’t seen the last two-way player in MLB, but it’s sure unlikely to be any more common in the future MLB than in its been in MLB past, for the reasons suggested above.

Will 2017 Be a Tough Year in South Korea’s KBO?

March 10, 2017

The South Korean team has already been eliminated from the World Baseball Classic.  They went 1-2 in the first round, beating Taiwan and losing to Israel and the Netherlands, both teams the South Korean squad was expected to best.

South Korean fans put a lot more stock in WBC performance than MLB fans do, and the KBO isn’t as developed as MLB or Japan’s NPB.  KBO attendance boomed when the South Korean team lost the final in 2009;and KBO attendance tanked after the team was knocked out in the first round (even though they went 2-1) in 2013.

KBO teams spent big this off-season, blowing away the old salary records, largely out of the belief that the national team would do well in the WBC this year and attendance would spike again in 2017.  This was an entirely reasonable assumption, because the KBO is getting better as a league every year.

As I like to say, anything can happen in a short series, but the KBO fan base isn’t quite developed enough to understand this or care.  KBO average attendance is between 12,000 and 13,000 a game, which is half that even of Japan’s NPB.  There is huge room for growth, but it still takes the national team making national news in a positive way to spur the casual fans to go to the ballpark more regularly.

Israel went 3-0 in the first round, a big surprise, although the Israeli team appears to be loaded with American players of some Jewish ancestry, including most notably Jason Marquis and of personal interest,one of my favorite minor league stars, Blake Gailen, who unfortunately hasn’t hit a lick in the first three games.

It’s no surprise to see that the Netherlands team made it to the second round, but it is surprising they lost to the Israeli team.  The team is loaded with players from Curicao at a time when the small Caribbean island has become a hot bed of professional baseball talent, including Andrelton Simmons, Jurickson Profar, Xander Bogaerts, Wladimir Balentien, Jonathan Schoop and Didi Gregorias.  That’s a line-up that will take the Dutch team as far as its pitching will hold up and then some.

What’s Going on with Eri Yoshida?

December 25, 2016

In years past I have frequently written about Japan’s “Knuckle Princess” Eri Yoshida, most recently in June 2014.  Since then, I have periodically looked for information on the internet about her goings-on, but by and large there hasn’t been a whole lot to report.

On June 29, 2015, Eri won her first game for the Ishikawa Million Stars of Japan’s Baseball Challenge League, basically a Japanese Independent-A league.  Eri had been associated with the Million Stars since 2013, so that first win was a long time coming.

In 2016, she tried out for Japan’s Women’s Team and reportedly gave up her knuckleball during her try-outs, instead trying to make the team as a “normal” pitcher.  However, she was not one of the six pitchers to make the team.

Japan’s Women’s team is the best in the world, going 8-0 in the Women’s Baseball World Cup held in September 2016, with four of the games complete routs that ended early due to a ten-run mercy rule and a championship game in which Japan beat Canada 10-0.  Even so, Yoshida has been playing with men for years, so her inability to make Japan’s Women’s team strongly suggests her participation in male leagues has been solely as a box office attraction, rather than based on any actual ability.  Either that, or she should have stuck with the knuckleball during try-outs.

Yoshida turns 25 in January, so she is still young.  I was once hopeful that she would develop her knuckleball and become at least a legitimate Indy-A pitcher.  I definitely believe that the very best female pitchers could at least compete at the Indy-A level, as Ila Borders did in the Northern League in 1999.  It is not yet out of the realm of possibility that Yoshida could do it too, but after essentially no professional progress since the 2012 season, I’m not particularly hopeful.  The bloom is definitely off Yoshida’ rose at this point.

If Yoshida intends to continue to pitch professionally, she might be best served returning to the U.S. and playing in one of what I call the fly-by-night Indy-A leagues, like California’s Pacific Association, for example, that are the bottom tier of the American Indy-A leagues.  I suspect Japan’s Baseball Challenge League is too good a league for Yoshida’s currently modest baseball talents.

 

So Much for Matt Reynolds

September 29, 2016

The San Francisco Giants designated LHP Matt Reynolds for assignment to clear a space on the 40-man roster for recent addition Gordon Beckham.  I’m sorry to see Reynolds go, because his story this season was one of the best under-reported stories of the year.

Reynolds had pitched his way out of the MLB system, starting the 2016 season in the Independent-A Atlantic League.  He pitched great there and was signed into the Giants’ system.  He then ran off a streak of scoreless appearances which got him a major league cup of coffee in late July and a promotion when rosters expanded September 1st.

Reynolds pitched better than his ugly 7.50 ERA suggests, in that he allowed runs in only two of his eight appearances.  However, his scoreless inning streak ended on September 4th in a game in which he took the loss, and on his final appearance on September 23rd, he allowed four earned runs without recording an out.

Where Reynolds ends up in 2017 remains to be seen.  He will be 32 next year and should consider pitching in Asia in light of the fact that he’s only appeared in 26 major league games over the last two seasons after missing all of 2014 to Tommy John surgery.  On the other hand, almost every MLB team could use another left-handed short man, and based on his minor league performance in 2016, he’d be a great piece of pitching depth to have stashed at AAA to start the 2017 even if he can’t make the major league club out of Spring Training.

New York Mets Sign Tim Tebow in Obvious PR Move

September 8, 2016

The New York Mets signed the now 29 year old Tim Tebow to a minor league contract today.  I don’t care what kind of an athlete Tebow is, the chances that he will become a major league player or even a legitimate AAA player starting his professional career at his current age are effectively nil.  There is a reason why MLB teams never, ever sign unknown amateur baseball players older than 23 or 24.

The Independent A leagues have created an avenue for a select few players who haven’t been signed by a major league organization by their age 23 seasons to eventually make the majors.  However, the Independent-A leagues are professional baseball, typically playing between 96 and 140 games per season.

There is also a hierarchy of Indy-A Leagues, allowing players to move up to better leagues with better competition as their skills develop.  A player who has played in the Atlantic League, the American Association or the CanAm League and succeeded there at least has a reasonable chance to succeed at the AA or A+ level when signed into the MLB system.

The one thing I have never understood about Tim Tebow’s football career is why, when it turned out he was too scatter-armed to be a successful NFL quarterback, he didn’t move to another back field position like fullback or halfback.  His talents as a running back were always obvious and he was certainly big enough to take the pounding running backs take.

Professional football players with some regularity are moved to other positions than the ones they played in college when they reach the pro ranks, based on where the professional team thinks the player has the best chance of becoming a successful professional player or where the pro team has an unmet need.  For example, Bruce Miller, recently released by the San Francisco 49ers for a drunken off-field assault, was a former 7th round draft pick who had played linebacker and defensive line in college, but played his first four years as a pro exclusively at fullback and was slated to play at tight end this upcoming season.

The fact that Tebow, given his obvious athletic and football abilities, did not move to another position to continue his pro career has long made me wonder whether Tebow wasn’t more interested in building his brand and his celebrity than in playing pro football.  His turn as a professional baseball player at age 29 doesn’t do anything to erase my suspicion.