Archive for the ‘Minor Leagues’ category

Indy-A CanAm and Frontier Leagues Have Merged

November 27, 2019

I only just discovered (the move was announced about a month ago) that the independent-A CanAm League and Frontier League will merge for the 2020 season.  Five Can-Am League teams (the New Jersey Jackels, Quebec Capitales, Rockland Boulders, Sussex County (NJ) Miners and Trois-Rivieres Aigles) will join nine Frontier League teams (all but the River City Rascals) will form two seven-team divisions.  As you might have guessed, the River City Rascals had the Frontier League’s worst overall attendance in 2019; however, the possibly now defunct Ottawa Champions had attendance better than three of the merging CanAm League teams.  You can read more about the merger here.

What I find interesting about the merger is that the two leagues have traditionally featured different levels of Indy-A play, with the Frontier League featuring more 23 year old college grads who went undrafted by MLB, while the CanAm featured older players and was more in line with the higher American Association level of play.  In fact, for a number of years the CanAm League had a relationship with the American Association whereby the leagues would play a certain number of inter-league games each season.

However, CanAm league attendance never approached that of the better drawing American Association teams, but was able to maintain a high level of play because it was seen as the best place to get noticed by MLB scouts if you weren’t quite good enough to get an Atlantic League roster spot entering the season.

The Frontier League draws slightly better than the CanAm League, but also traditionally had lower total payrolls in accordance with playing generally younger players.  Will the quality of merged league play be closer to the CanAm League or the Frontier League?  That remains to be seen.  The finances suggest that former CanAm League teams will sign more 23 and 24 year olds than previously and play at closer to a Frontier League level, however.  The merged league hopes to expand further, perhaps to a 16- or 20-team circuit, but that remains to be seen.

The merger will probably mean fewer jobs for older players cut loose from the MLB system.  Both the American Association and Atlantic League have roster limits on the number of older veteran players, and the attendance for the weaker teams in each circuit don’t suggest that either league can afford to pay for more older veteran players unless the vets can be forced to take a class pay cut — players are in both leagues are usually paid a flat monthly salary based on years of professional experience.

It’s possible that a few vets will be willing to play for less money in the fly-by-night Indy-A leagues like the Pacific Association and the Empire League, but again, that remains to be seen.

Hiroshima Carp to Post 2B Ryosuke Kikuchi

November 8, 2019

NPB’s Hiroshima Toyo Carp have announced their intention to post their slick-fielding 2Bman Ryosuke Kikuchi for MLB teams this off-season.  I don’t think this Kikuchi has the bat to draw major league interest, but we’ll have to wait and see.

mlbtraderumors’ post on the subject notes that Kikuchi is an absolutely terrific defender and provides numerous video clips to prove it.  I’d guess that Kikuchi would prove an elite defensive 2Bman even in MLB.

However, Kikuchi just does not get on base enough to hold a major league regular position for long.  The last three seasons, his age 27-29 seasons, Kikuchi has posted on-base percentages of .311, .301 and .313.  I feel with near certainty those NPB numbers would translate to less than .300 in MLB.  Kikuchi has some pop, hitting 13 or 14 HRs each of last three seasons, along with between 27 and 36 doubles.  However, the home runs are likely to all but disappear in MLB’s larger ballparks against better league-average pitching.

Could Kikuchi be worth a two-year, $2M guarantee from an MLB team to be a middle infield super-sub? Maybe.  I will note that with all the infield shifting and launch angle swinging in today’s game, Kikuchi’s 2B defense probably isn’t as valuable to an MLB team as would be to an NPB team.  I don’t see him having the opportunity to make as many plays in MLB as he has in Japan, not least because he’s no spring chicken going into his age 30 season.

The Carp are posting Kikuchi because the team feels fairly certain they will lose Kikuchi next off-season when he gets his domestic free agent rights.  It would not surprise me to see Kikuchi get at least a three-year $12M offer from one of NPB’s wealthy teams next off-season, and he’d be worth it to those teams.  I don’t see him being worth that kind of money to an MLB team, where glove-tree middle infielders are a dime a dozen.

As a completely unrelated note, the Padres just released RHP Eric Yardley.  He pitched pretty well for the Friars last year in ten relief appearances as a 28 year old rookie, but, again, he’s no spring chicken.

What is interesting about Yardley is that he’s one of those extremely rare players who started his pro career in the Independent-A Pecos League but ultimately reached the majors.  Players only earn $50 a week to play in the Pecos League, and they are almost exclusively players who just finished a four-year college career, aren’t good enough to make even a Frontier League roster, but just can’t give up the pro baseball dream.

The Pecos League website lists all of 20 players to have reached even the affiliated minor leagues in the Pecos League’s nine year history.  Chris Smith also accomplished the feat of eventually reaching the majors, but I’m not sure there are many (or any) others.  I hope another MLB team picks up Yardley in time for the start of the 2020 season, but guys with Yardley’s Indy-A ball roots usually don’t get much respect from MLB organizations.

MLB Proposes Eliminating 40+ Minor League Affiliates

October 19, 2019

As part of the negotiations between MLB and minor league teams over a new Professional Baseball Agreement set to take effect after the 2020, MLB is proposing major revisions to the current minor league system, including, most significantly, the elimination of up to 42 mostly lower minor league teams, amounting to about one-quarter of all existing affiliated minor league clubs.  Here’s a post from mlbtraderumors.com about MLB’s proposals.

MLB wants minor league facilities (i.e., ballparks) to conform to higher standards, and it wants to geographically re-organize the existing leagues in order to put minor league affiliates closer to the major league clubs, to reduce travel for minor league players and presumably to reduce travel costs, although travel costs are probably payed by the mostly independently owned minor league teams.  MLB also wants to increase minor league pay, probably to head off minimum wage violation lawsuits brought by minor league players.

MLB’s proposals are merely a starting point for negotiations, based on MLB’s desire to compel minor league teams to fund improvements to  their facilities and contribute to higher salaries for minor league players.  However, as part of the package of proposals MLB is also suggesting that the short-season rookie and low-A leagues be eliminated, and the MLB Draft be moved back to August and reduced to only 20 or 25 rounds.

Undrafted players would then have the option of playing in the Independent-A leagues or playing in a proposed “Dream League,” which would be a joint MLB-MiLB quasi-independent-A league.  All major league teams would be allowed a maximum of five minor league affilitiates in the United States and Canada, the four full-season levels and a rookie league where teams play in each organization’s Spring Training complex in Arizona or Florida.  Teams would be limited to 150 minor league contracts, plus the 40 players on the 40-man roster.

The proposed changes are the most dramatic since the minor leagues were reorganized in 1962.

The proposals are at their core clearly about MLB reducing its current player development costs.  However, they might in the long run be penny-wise and pound-foolish.  Minor league teams generate a lot of interest for both major league and professional baseball in cities without major league clubs.  The value of this good will and interest aren’t easily quantifiable, but at a time when baseball seems to be losing popularity among large segments of the American public in a way that football (at least so far) and basketball are not, dramatic cut-backs to affiliated minor league teams doesn’t sound like a good idea.  Such dramatic changes are also likely to generate large numbers of lawsuits, which may further tarnish MLB’s image.

Ubaldo Jimenez Sighting And Other Winter League Notes

October 17, 2019

It looks like Ubaldo Jimenez is starting a comeback in the Dominican Winter League this month.  He lost his first start, but allowed only one run in five innings and struck out five.  Before this start on October 12th, Jimenez appears not to have pitched anywhere since his final season with the Orioles in 2017.

Whether Jimenez is intent on pitching again in the MLB system, or more likely the Mexican League given that he’ll be 36 in January, remains to be seen.  Jimenez is Dominican so his goal may only be to pitch in front of his home fans and make good money for 2.5 months of play that comes with his status as a former major league star.

I noticed that Evan MacLane is back for another winter in the Dominican Republic at age 36 (he turns 37 on November 4th).  This is his 12th season in the DWL, the last 11 with the Estrellas (Stars) de Oriente.  Interestingly, MacLane appears not to have played summer baseball anywhere since 2015, with the exception of an unsuccessful three-game trial in the Mexican League in 2018.

Typically, a player of Evan MacLane’s talent level and experience will play summers in one of the top three Independent-A leagues, often doing double duty as a pitching or hitting coach in order to earn a living wage and to keep one’s skills sharp for better paid Winter League play.  At MacLane’s age, he apparently doesn’t need to play in the summer to continue to be successful in the Dominican Winter League.  I’d guess that MacLane earns his living in the States coaching baseball somewhere during the summer and is thereby free to continue pitching in the Dominican Republic each winter.

MacLane got a cup of coffee with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2010 and played parts of two seasons with the Orix Buffaloes of Japan’s NPB in 2011-2012.  He hasn’t made a lot of money or succeeded at the pro game’s highest levels, but he’s put together a nice little career as an Estrellas’ ace.

Another of my favorite minor league players, John Nogowski, is also playing in the Dominican Republic this winter.  So far, so good: after three games, he’s 3-for-8 with a double and four walks.

Nogowski had a good year with the AAA Memphis RedBirds, slashing .295/.413/.476 in 463 plate appearances.  Unfortunately, he turns 27 in January and hasn’t yet played in the Majors, so his window is closing fast.  I’m hoping he can get some major league playing time in 2020, and then if he hasn’t established himself as a major league player by the end of the 2020 season, go to Asia.  We’ll see…

Meanwhile, now 40 year old Chris Roberson has opened up his ninth season with the Aguilas (Eagles) de Mexicali and his 15th in the Mexican Pacific League (LPM) overall.  He slashed .338/.405/.512 this past summer in the Mexican League, but injuries limited him to 72 games played.

Interestingly, both Evan MacLane and Chris Roberson played baseball at Feather River Community College in remote Quincy, California.  MacLane is originally from Chico and Roberson is from Oakland, so they’re both Northern California boys.  Feather River CC apparently has a pretty good baseball program, as it has produced three major leaguers including MacLane and Roberson (the third is Cody Anderson who pitched briefly for the Indians this summer), and 12 players drafted by MLB organizations.  They probably did not attend the school at the same time, and I don’t know if they’ve ever had the opportunity to face each other professionally.

Tyler Rogers Finally Gets His Shot

August 28, 2019

The Giants announced today that they have released Scooter Gennett — they’d have been better off just holding onto Joe Panik — and will call up submarining right hander Tyler Rogers to take his place.  I advocated in 2017 and 2018 for Rogers to get his major league shot, but the irony is that he doesn’t really deserve it this year.

After posting ERAs of 2.37 and 2.13 and allowing only six HRs in 143.2 IP in the hit- and homer-happy Pacific Coast League, Rogers hasn’t pitched well at AAA Sacramento this season.  His 4.21 ERA is unimpressive, he had command issues early in the season, and he’s allowed six home runs in 62 IP this year.  He’s pitched well of late, or at least I think so, since MiLB.com no longer publishes his last 10 PCL games since he’s just been promoted to the Show.

Low side-arm/under arm pitchers are rare, and as a result they can be effective major league pitchers in part because hitters aren’t familiar with them.  They can be very good at preventing the home run ball, but they need good infield defense behind them to stop hard hit ground balls and turn double plays.

Rogers has allowed a total of only 19 HRs in 478.2 minor league innings pitched, which is terrific.  We’ll see if he can prevent home runs by major league hitters.  Rogers needs to command his pitches if he’s going to be successful at the major league level.  Again, we’ll soon see how well he can do it.

Rogers is 28 this season, so an awful lot is riding on his ability to make a good impression right away now that he finally has the opportunity.  I’m rooting for him, but it remains to be seen if he what it takes to be a successful major leaguer.  At least, he’s finally getting an opportunity to show what he can do.

Daniel Nava Sighting

August 9, 2019

Boy, I thought Daniel Nava had retired.  I was wrong.

Nava didn’t play in 2018, so imagine my surprise to see that he’s back in the Indy-A Leagues at age 36.  He’s currently slashing .269/.377/.418 as mainly a 1Bman for the Kansas City T-Bones of the American Association.  He’s played in 55 games, and has filled in an emergency in the corner outfield positions, as well as 1B.

I always liked Nava because he was a SF Bay Area guy, and he made his way up to the majors and really amounted to something after playing in an Indy-A League to start his pro career.  That’s really an accomplishment, in terms of the few players who actually do it.  Glad to see him staying true to his roots.

If he’s willing to play in an Indy-A League at age 36, one would have to think he’ll go into coaching as soon as they tell him he can’t play anymore.

Atlanta Braves Acquire Reliever Chris Martin for Kolby Allard

July 31, 2019

It has been a remarkably quite trade deadline this year with no big stars yet changing teams.  However, the Texas Rangers traded right-handed reliever Chris Martin for 21 minor league starter Kolby Allard.  This move interests me for a couple of reasons.

First, Chris Martin is a pitcher who turned himself into an MLB major leaguer by going to Japan’s NPB for a couple of seasons, where he pitched great and played a higher level of competition than he’d have faced at AAA in front of major league sized crowds.  The Rangers signed Martin for a two-year contract at a modest $4 million guarantee with modest performance bonuses.  Fangraphs says that Martin’s performance as a Ranger for the last 1.65 seasons has been worth $9.2M.

Now, for the last two+ months of Martin’s contract, the Rangers have turned him into a 21 year old AAA starter who was the 14th overall selection of the 2015 Draft.  Kolby Allard was indeed a heavy price for the Choppers to pay for two months of Chris Martin.

Allard isn’t pitching as well this year as he did in 2018, when a strong AAA performance earned him a major league cup of coffee.  His ERA at AAA is a buck and half higher than it was last year, but there’s a lot more offense in the International League this year than in years past and Allard’s strikeout rate has improved — he has 98 Ks in 110 IP so far this year.

Allard is listed as 6’1″ and 190 lbs and he pitched 150 innings in 2017 at age 19, which really wasn’t a good idea.  Thus, the Braves may have concerned about his ability to stay healthy, although his improved strikeout rate in his second go-’round at AAA is a positive sign on the arm health front.

I assume we will find out in short order why the Braves were willing to give up Allard on a rental of Chris Martin.  Still, it seems like a steal for the Rangers.

An NPB pitcher I have my eye on for a return to MLB as soon as 2020 is former SF Giants’ right-handed reliever Pierce Johnson.  After 40 relief appearances this year for the Hanshin Tigers, he has 28 holds in 30 opportunities and 0.90 ERA.  His pitching line is currently 40 IP, 24 hits, zero HRs and nine BBs allowed and 57 Ks.

Johnson had an ugly 5.56 ERA for the Giants as a 27 year old rookie in 2018 but his peripheral numbers were better.  His command appears to have improved dramatically this season, and he looks like he’d be a good sign for an MLB major league team this off-season, at least if he stays healthy and can keep performing in Japan at something close to his current level.