Archive for the ‘Minor Leagues’ category

Marshall Bridges and Joe Stanka

December 7, 2017

Marshall Bridges crossed my consciousness for the first time yesterday.  He came up while I was reviewing Joe Stanka‘s years with Sacramento of the Pacific Coast League — see below.  I hit a link for Bridges’ major league numbers and found out that he was the 1962 World Champion New York Yankees’ top fireman.

Bridges went 8-4 with 18 saves, while Luis Arroyo, who had a break-through year for closers generally in 1961, was next on the Bombers with seven.  Arroyo’s 1961 season was so great, in fact, that it appears to have a cast a dark shadow over Bridges’ merely impressive 1962, even though the ultimate outcome, a World Championship, was the same.  Bridges had a big fastball and was hard to hit but wild, and his 1963 campaign was similar to Arroyo’s 1962.

The thing that really did in Bridges’ Yankees’ career, perhaps, was that he got into an altercation with a female patron in a Ft. Lauderdale bar during Spring Training 1963, and Bridges ended up getting shot in the leg.   According to baseball reference, “21-year-old Carrie Lee Raysor claimed Bridges had repeatedly offered to drive her home and, after repeatedly not taking ‘no’ for an answer, ‘took out [her] gun and shot him'” below the knee.

I hope she was good-lucking.  Bridges eventually made a full recovery, but since he was already 31 in 1962, he again recaptured his 1962 magic.

Bridges was an African American lefty (Ms. Raysor was a married black woman, according to my sources) from Jackson, Mississippi who started his professional career with the Memphis Red Sox of the Negro Leagues.  Bridges started his MLB-system career as a two-way player, but pitched better than he hit in the low minors and became a full-time pitcher.  He didn’t reach the majors until his age 28 season, and still pitched in seven major league seasons.  He passed away at the age of 59 in 1990.

Bridges also pitched for the NL Champion Cincinnati Reds in 1961, but had been sent down to the minors for good long before the Reds reached the post-season.  Bridges pitched in two games of the 1962 Series, but allowed three runs, two earned in 3.2 innings pitched and did not receive a decision.

More famously, he allowed Chuck Hiller’s 7th inning game-winning Grand Slam in Game 4, with Jim Coates‘ runner on first the run what cost Coates the decision.  This website says that Marshall Bridges was the last Negro Leaguer pitcher to pitch in the World Series.

I was surprised the Bridges’ name rang no bells and his photo on baseball reference was not familiar, after I saw his record.  I knew about Chuck Hiller’s Grand Slam, but obviously not the pitcher that served it up.  I fancy myself pretty knowledgeable about pitchers, including relievers, who had at least one great season in the 1960’s, and I was sad to be disabused of that notion.

I think that a big part of the reason I had never heard of Bridges is because he appears to have appeared on only one Topps baseball card in his seven seasons of major league play.  Topps apparantly elected not to put out a card for Bridges in either 1962, the year he had the great season, or in 1963, the year after.  The shooting incident in before the 1963 season was almost certainly why there was no baseball card for 1963, since he was on the Yankee’s major league roster for all or most of the 1963 season.

I never had Bridges’ 1960 Topps card, and I couldn’t have seen his card for any other year since there weren’t any.  Anyway, that’s my excuse for my shameful ignorance.

Joe Stanka was a pitcher who appeared in only two major league games, but was one of the first two great American pitchers in NPB history.  Stanka was also probably the first “modern” player in Japan’s NPB, in the sense that he was exactly the type of 4-A player just past age 27 which ultimately became the bread-and-butter of NPB recruiting of foreign players.

Stanka pitched reasonably effectively in his 5.1 major league innings during the September of his age 27 season, but when he got an offer to play in the Japan that off-season, he jumped at it.  Stanka pitched four full seasons for the Pacific Coast League’s Sacramento Solons before his 1959 major league cameo, when the PCL was still the best of the three AAA leagues.  In those four seasons, he was one of the Solons’ top two starters in three of those seasons and was the third best out of six in the fourth year, his rookie year in the league.  Marshall Bridges was the best starter on the 1958 Solons.

Stanka won 100 games against 72 losses in seven NPB seasons.  He was generally a No. 2 starter in Japan, except for 1964, when he was one of the Central League’s top three starters, going 26-7.  More importantly, he had one of the all-time great Japan Series, pitching shut-outs in Games 1, 6 and 7 (ya think?), beating fellow American Gene Bacque, the 1960’s other 100 NPB game winning foreigner, in Game 6.  Bacque had had an even better regular season than Stanka in 1964.

I got to thinking about Stanka while I was researching foreign players in NPB in the 1960’s.  1962 was roughly the year that NPB teams routinely began to bring in foreign players throughout each NPB league’s six teams.

Most of the foreign MLB-system players in 1960’s NPB were players over the age of 30, who were finishing out their relatively/marginally successful MLB-system careers and wanted to keep playing for top dollar once their future MLB major league hopes were dim indeed.  The next largest group was younger players who played in the MLB low minors and somehow made their way to NPB to continue their careers.

There were few 4-A players of Stanka’s type in the 1960’s, but Stanka’s success wasn’t really acted upon by NPB teams until the 1970’s.  Today, NPB teams (and now KBO teams) like best foreign players going into their age 27 season, with ages 26 and 28 a close second.  Teams will still sign older players with substantial major league records, but it’s not nearly as common as it once was.

Casey McGehee is an example of a current generation older player.  McGehee has had the talent level, good luck and good sense to use two separate stints in NPB to have what must be his most successful professional career possible.  He’s returning to the Yomiuri Giants in 2018 for a reported $2.4 million, which beats by far what most 35 year olds make.

In reviewing the NPB 1960’s, one thing that struck me is that by the 1960’s, NPB was already a pretty good league.  The older major league veterans mostly had a couple of good years and then were too old to succeed in NPB.  Relatively few foreign players during this period were either No. 1 starters or No. 1 hitters (per each of each league’s six teams) in any of their many, collective seasons.

Foreign hitters provided power, which NPB teams highly valued.  By the late 1960’s, it was mostly foreign sluggers that NPB teams were signing.

As a final note, in 1962 saves was still not an official statistic, although it was the third season that the Sporting News had been reporting save totals based on a formula created by Jerome Holtzman.  Bridges’ 18 saves were second best behind The Monster, Dick Radatz.  As far as I know, there is no (close) family relationship between Jerome and Ken Holtzman, another fine pitcher who fell victim to early success and 1970’s pitch counts.

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KBO and NPB Signings, Part I

November 30, 2017

While things have been slow in MLB this off-season with no major free agents yet signed as I write this, the Asian major leagues have been more active in filling their roster spaces reserved for foreign players.  The roster limits for foreign players in South Korea’s KBO and Japan’s NPB are as follows.

The KBO allows each of its ten teams to sign three foreign players, at least one of whom has to be a position player.  In fact, all KBO teams have signed two foreign starting pitchers and one position player since the league expanded foreign player roster spaces from two to three a few years ago.

The NPB allows only four foreign players on each of its twelve teams major league active roster at any one time, but has no limits on the number of foreign players who may be signed by an organization.  Thus, NPB teams now average about six foreign players per organization, with at least two stashed in NPB’s lone minor league in case a foreigner on the major league roster gets hurt or becomes unproductive.

The trend in recent years has been for NPB to sign foreign relief pitchers in greater numbers to serve as closers and top set-up men, roles that are more highly valued in Japan in terms of NPB’s salary scale compared to that of MLB.  Further, there are more MLB-system, borderline major league relief pitchers who have a high probability of success in NPB than at any other position.

Because the KBO has tighter limits on the number of foreign players their teams can sign and also the fact that MLB-system 4-A players have a higher probability of success playing in the KBO than in NPB due to the lower overall level of play in the KBO, KBO teams are now offering starting salaries to foreign players comparable to NPB starting salaries; and the two leagues are now largely competing directly to sign many of the same foreign players, subject to the fact that the KBO hasn’t signed any relief pitchers in several years.

A foreign player who succeeds in NPB can look forward to much higher salaries down the road than a foreign KBO star.  NPB salaries max out at around $5.5 million, while Dustin Nippert‘s 2017 contract that paid him a reported $2.2 million is the highest salary a foreign player has earned in the KBO’s history.  I also suspect that more first year contracts in NPB are guaranteed than first year KBO contracts for foreign players.

With all that said, here is a run-down on some of the contracts signed by foreign players in the KBO this off-season.

After a 20 win season for the Korea Series champion Kia Tigers, Hector Noesi just signed a $2 million deal for 2018, a $300,000 raise from last year, making him only the second foreigner in KBO history to receive a $2 million annual salary.  Noesi will probably be the KBO’s highest paid foreign player in 2018, because it is anticipated that Dustin Nippert will be forced to accept a significant pay cut after going “only” 14-8 in 2017 and not pitching particularly well in the season’s second half.

KBO teams are expected to bring back at least 60% of the foreign players who finished the 2017 KBO season for their teams, higher than usual.  Brooks Raley, Roger Bernadina, Darin Ruf, Mel Rojas Jr., Ryan Feierabend and Merrill Kelly all re-signed with last year’s teams for at least $1 million, topped by Ruf and Kelly who will make respectively $1.5M and $1.4M in 2018.  Esmil Rogers will also be returning to the KBO after a year away recovering from Tommy John surgery for a cool $1.5 million.

The most notable new players who signed contracts to play in the KBO in 2018 are starting pitchers Angel Sanchez and Tim Adleman.  Sanchez will make a reported $1.1 million in 2018 and Adleman a reported $1.05M.

I like the signing of Adleman more than those of either Sanchez or Esmil Rogers.  I’m not sure how much Rogers has left, and I’m surprised that the SK Wyverns gave this much money to Sanchez given his skimpy MLB record.

Adleman, on the other hand, has made 33 MLB starts and pitched a total of 192 innings at the highest level over the last two seasons.  He led the Cincinnati Reds in innings pitched in 2017, which says more about the sorry and re-building state of the Reds 2017 rotation than it does about Adleman’s abilities as an MLB pitcher.

However, Adleman pitched well enough that I would expect him to pitch great in the KBO so long as he stays healthy next season.  He’ll be taking all he’s learned in what amounts to more than a full year as an MLB starter into what is a decidedly inferior league.  Adleman just turned 30 years old, but on a one year deal, that doesn’t much matter.  I would guess that Adleman’s contract is guaranteed, while Sanchez’s is not.

The lowest salary I’ve seen a rookie foreign player so far to sign to play in the KBO in 2018 is the $575,000 that the Hanwha Eagles gave Jason Wheeler.  $100,000 of that amount is a signing bonus, which I assume means the remaining $475,000 is not guaranteed but will have to be earned by remaining on the Eagles’ roster.  However, Wheeler is only 27 in 2018, which means if he can hack it in the KBO, he’s got a good chance of making a lot more money in the future.

Byung-Ho Park to Return to South Korea’s KBO

November 27, 2017

Byung-ho Park has reported agreed to a one-year 1.5 billion won ($1.37 million) with his old team, the Nexen Heroes.  In doing so, he may have agreed to forfeit the remaining $6.5 million on the four-year deal he signed with the Twins two years ago.

I thought that Park had a real chance to make it in MLB, and even last spring I thought he still had a chance, because he hit with a ton of power in 2016, if nothing else.  However, his age 30 season spent entirely at AAA Rochester didn’t go well, and now he looks old for a reasonable possibility of future MLB success.

It appears that Park lost the ability to control the strike zone in the U.S.  Park struck out a lot in the KBO, and he struck out a lot here, but in South Korea he walked a lot too.  In the U.S., he didn’t walk much at all.

It’s an interesting decision by Park to forfeit all of the remaining $6.5 million in his Twins’ contract without agreeing to a buy-out in some lesser amount.  Since current Twins management wasn’t enamored with Park when they came in last off-season, I would have thought they’d be willing to give Park two or three million bucks to go back to Korea.

In fact, the latest update as a I write this post is that Park’s agent is still working to get something out of the Twins as part of the deal.  That’s what agents are for, even if the player is tempted to make a rash decision.

Certainly, Park’s endorsement opportunities are better in South Korea, and as a proven KBO hitter, he’s still young enough to resurrect his superstar standing there.  He also reportedly would prefer to play in South Korea’s “major” league than an MLB “minor league.”  Nexen, meanwhile, has to be thrilled to get Park back on a one-year deal that costs them less than the $1.5 million they recently committed to pitcher Esmil Rogers for 2018.

How Eric Thames does in 2018 will probably have a lot to do with how MLB teams see KBO hitters going forward.  If Thames regresses significantly from his 2017 performance, following Park’s failure, MLB teams are going to be leery indeed about the prospects of future KBO hitters making the jump to the world’s biggest stage.  It will take some very, very out-sized offensive numbers in the hit-happy KBO to convince MLB teams that a player can make the transition to MLB.

40-Man Roster Madness

November 21, 2017

I’m getting a big kick out of all the last-minute bottom-of-the-roster moves and deals as MLB teams try to firm up their 40-man rosters before tomorrow’s deadline for the Rule 5 Draft.  It’s like a crazy game of musical chairs.

I wonder if it’s stressful for marginal players to bounce from one team to the other through the post-season.  The Giants lost light-hitting, glove-tree middle infielder Engelb Vielma on a waiver claim by the Phillies today after designating him for assignment off the 40-man roster.  The Giants had claimed Vielma on September 14th when the Twins placed him on waivers shortly after the minor league season ended.

I’m sure the players know that it’s part of the game and that since there is nothing they can do about it, they shouldn’t worry about it.  Just wait until February to see which team tells you where and when to report for Spring Training.  Still, it would be nice for players with minor league contracts (major league contracts pay enough to ameliorate such inconveniences) to get a small bonus, say $5,000, each time they are traded to a new team or a new team claims them off waivers.  For minor league players making minor league salaries even $5,000 bonuses would smooth away any anxiety over changing organizations.

I’ve also been interested in the trades involving international bonus money.  Teams can trade away up to 75% of their international bonus money allotments in $250,000 increments each off-season.  It’s really an exercise in capitalism in action.

What I mean by that is that because the bonus pools are capped, they achieve a value greater than their actual dollar amounts, at least for the teams seeking extra bonus pool money, much the way that free agent contracts are excessive because relatively few major league players become free agents in any one off-season.  Supply and demand, baby!

The Mariners traded 24 year Thyago Vieira to the White Sox for $500,000 in international bonus money.  Vieira had a pretty good minor league season, mostly in the AA Texas League, and he pitched an effective major league inning in August.  I can’t imagine that a team would sell Vieira for $500,000 cash, even though the move has the added benefit for the M’s of opening a spot on their 40-man roster.

The Yankees made an even more lop-sided deal with the Marlins for $250,000 of the Fish’s bonus pool money.  The Marlins received soon to be 27 year old 1Bman Garrett Cooper and 26 year old  LHP Caleb Smith in exchange for RHP Michael King, who will be 23 next May.

Both Cooper and Smith look like reasonable bets to help the Marlins’ major league club in 2018, while King doesn’t look like a realistic shot to have a major league career because his strikeout rates in the low minors are poor.  Again, the Yankees have cleared two spaces on their 40-man roster, but the deal is completely lop-sided in favor of the Marlins in terms of the talent exchanged.

Of course, what the Yankees and Mariners are trying to do is get as much money as possible together to try to win the Shohei Otani sweepstakes.  If Otani does not end up getting posted, because, for example, the MLBPA won’t agree to allow the Nippon Ham Fighters to get $20 million for Otani’s rights while Otani only gets a $3.5 million signing bonus at most, the Yankees and the Ms will find some high profile 16 or 17 year old Latin players to throw the extra money at, but these trades will look even more one-sided than they do now.

Meanwhile, the Phillies have designated for assignment former No. 1 overall draft pick Mark Appel, in part to make room for Glove-Tree Vielma.  Appel had a mediocre age 25 season in the AAA International League in 2017, and it’s starting to look like he could become a draft bust of historic proportions.  Still, Matt Bush righted his professional career at the age of 30, so anything is possible going forward.

Will We Ever See Livan Moinelo in MLB?

November 20, 2017

Livan Moinelo is a soon to be 22 year old, small Cuban lefty who took Japan’s NPB somewhat by storm in 2017.  He had impressed mightily pitching in Cuba’s team in the Independent-A Can-Am League in 2016, and after a strong 2016-2017 winter campaign in Cuba’s Serie Nacional, the Cuban government allowed him to sign with the SoftBank Hawks in May 2017.

Moinelo is indeed small.  Baseball Reference lists him as 6’0″ and 139 lbs.  NPB’s website lists him as a more plausible 5’10” and 152 lbs.  For whatever reason, left-handed pitchers can get away with being small, while small size is held against righties.  Moinelo is small even by NPB standards, but there are a lot more small pitchers there than in MLB.

Moinelo was promoted to the Hawks’ major league team in June and given a 20 million yen ($179,000) salary.  He rewarded the Hawks with a 2.52 ERA, 15 holds and a pitching line of 35.2 IP, 21 hits, one HR and 14 BB allowed and 36 Ks.  The Hawks were NPB’s best team in 2017 NPB regular season and then won the Japan Series convincingly.

By pitching in Japan, Moinelo may never have a reason to defect in order to play in MLB.  $179,000 isn’t MLB money, but it’s still a tremendous amount of money for a 21 year old Cuban to be making.  I don’t know what kind of cut the Cuban government takes from the players it allows to play in Japan — I would bet it is substantial but leaves the players with enough so that they don’t defect.  A 50-50 split, maybe?

Alfredo Despaigne played in his fourth NPB season in 2017 and earned a cool 400 million yen ($3.6 million).  Despaigne will probably receive a 500 million yen contract for 2018, as he also plays for the Japan Series champion Hawks and led NPB Pacific League this past season with 35 home runs.

Moinelo should at least double his 2017 salary in 2018, and once he puts in the years and if he establishes himself as a top NPB closer, he can also reasonably expect to make a 500 million yen salary one day.  That may be reason enough for him to stay in NPB indefinitely.

Rule 5 Draft Candidates Tyler Rogers and D.J. Snelten

November 7, 2017

The San Francisco Giants have a couple of relievers at AAA Sacramento whom the team has not added to its 40-man roster, both of whom would make great Rule 5 Draft candidates.

Tyler Rogers had a 5.06 ERA over his last ten 2017 appearances, but still finished the AAA season with a 2.37 ERA and 10 saves.  He is a low side-arm pitcher who has allowed only nine career home runs in 349 minor league innings pitched.  His other ratios weren’t so hot this season and he’ll be 27 next season, but at least one forward-looking team might be intrigued by his ability to prevent home runs in this homer-happy era.

D.J. Snelten is a year younger than Rogers and has better strikeout stuff.  Snelten is not as good as Rogers at preventing the home run ball, but he’s still awfully good, allowing only 14 home runs in 363.1 minor league innings pitched.

Because of his age and better strikeout stuff, Snelten might well be an even more inviting Rule 5 selection than Rogers.  Snelton posted a 2.20 ERA in a 2017 campaign split between AA Richmond and AAA Sacramento.

One would think that this will be an off-season in which at least a few teams will be actively looking for inexpensive pitching candidates who prevent home runs.  Rule 5 draftees now cost their drafting teams $100,000 a piece and have to be offered back to their old team for $50,000 if they don’t make the new team’s roster.  That’s still small potatoes for a couple of pitchers as close to the majors as Rogers and Snelten seem to be.

The Giants still have time to add either or both pitchers to their 40-man roster.  However, nothing that I’ve seen suggests the Giants intend to do so between now and the November 20th deadline for setting their roster in advance of the December 14th Rule 5 draft date.

I expect the Oakland A’s will be particularly likely to claim one of these two on December 14th.  The A’s have typically kept an eye on the Giants’ AAA players since it is so easy for the A’s to scout them playing in either Sacramento or Fresno, and the A’s are the literal “Money Ball” team.

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 best 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).