Archive for the ‘Minor Leagues’ category

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.

Go East, Not So Young Men!

September 7, 2016

With the AAA regular seasons over, it’s a good time to look at the not so young players who played well enough in the International or Pacific Coast League to get a shot at making some real money in Japan or South Korea next season.  The guys who go to Asia are mostly players too old to be considered prospects for MLB, but who are really too good to remain in AAA.  If a player has a big year at AAA in an age 26 through 31 season and has more than a handful of MLB games under his belt, he’s a good bet to play in Asia, if he’s willing to travel across the world to play there.

The most obvious  candidates at this moment among the position players are:

Rob Segedin, T.J. Rivera and Stefen Romero.  All three will 28 next season, which is nearly the ideal age for foreign players hoping to have a long Asian career, and all have played in more than a dozen major league games.  Segedin led the PCL in OPS (.989), Rivera finished fourth (.909) and Romero finished fifth (.902).  Romero has the most proven AAA track record and the most major league experience.  Rivera probably has the most defensive value.

I rate Jesus Aguilar (27 in 2017), Chris Marrero (28) and Darin Ruf (30) as the most likely hitting prospects for Asian baseball among this year’s International League regulars.  Aguilar is young and hit 30 home runs for the Columbus Clippers, but Asian teams may not be impressed with his .247 batting average.  Marrero had the IL’s sixth best OPS (.838), and he’s reasonably young.

Darin Ruf is a proven major league hitter, but he hasn’t done much in limited playing time with the Phillies this year.  His .885 OPS was second best in the IL, and at 30 in 2017, this would be a good time to cash in with a Japanese team.

Chad Huffman (32) and Casey McGehee (34) both had fine AAA seasons and have played with varying degrees of success in NPB in the past, so both could draw interest from Asian teams this off-season.

Among starting pitchers, Brad Peacock (29), Roenis Elias (28) and Andrew Albers (31) are probably the best bets.  Peacock and Elias both have the proven MLB track records Asian teams like, but neither pitched much in MLB this season.  Albers bombed in South Korea’s KBO in 2014, but it’s possible he could go back to Asia after a strong AAA season this year.

Among relief pitchers, there are always a tremendous number of possible players who pitch well in AAA and get some games at the MLB level, so it’s very difficult just looking at the numbers to guess which ones are actually interested in playing in Asia for not a lot more money right away since they earn at least a little major league pay each season.  However, Oliver Drake (30), James Hoyt (30), and Spencer Patton (29) all seem to be particularly likely candidates based on their ages, their 2016 AAA performances and the fact that none has really broken through at the MLB level this season in spite of their fine AAA performances.

Dan Slania, Future San Francisco Giants Starting Pitcher?

August 9, 2016

Or are the Giants highly suspicious of his sudden success as a starter?

Dan Slania is a former fifth round draft pick from 2013 who apparently has good stuff, but had high ERAs for his ratios as a relief pitcher working his way up through the system.  The Giants began to use him as a starter about five weeks ago at AA Richmond, where he started the season in the bullpen.  The difference in his pitching since moving to the starting rotation has been night and day, in a good way.

Slania has a 1.51 ERA over his last ten starts — he’s got 12 starts on the season — and his ERA for the season has dropped almost a run-and-a-half since then.  After ten (or at least the last eight) very successful starts at AA Richmond, the Giants promoted him to AAA Sacramento, where he made a start against the Salt Lake City Bees in Sactown, allowing one earned run in seven innings pitched on only two hits and a walk while striking out five.

Slania made his next start five days later for the Class A+ San Jose Giants, where he won his 9th game of the 2016 season, pitching another seven innings, allowing two earned runs on six hits and four walks.

One has to wonder why the Giants would demote Slania two slots in their minor league system after he had suddenly blossomed as a starter.  It almost certainly has more to do with the Giants not having a place for Slania at AA and AAA after adding two pitchers at the trade deadline.  However, the Giants had Phil Bickford‘s (still sad to see you go) spot open at A+ San Jose, so there Slania went.

The situation is not ideal.  Slania is three years older than Bickford, so you would like to see the Giants push him at AAA at age 24, particularly after that first tantalizing AAA start.

It’s up to Slania now.  If he has a couple more good starts for San Jose, he’ll move back up to AAA Sacramento as soon as a roster spot is available, maybe sooner.