Archive for the ‘Minor Leagues’ category

This Year in the Australian Baseball League

January 4, 2019

With this off-season’s MLB free agent signing period slow going indeed, this baseball blogger has been somewhat hard-pressed to come up with topics to write about.  Thus, you, gentle reader, have been subjected to numerous posts about Asian baseball, where the signings of foreign players have been more forthcoming.  Besides, the fringes of the professional baseball world interest me and seem like a ripe topic that few other baseball blogs cover.

Thus, it feels like a good time for a post on the action in this year’s Australian Baseball League.  The ABL isn’t in the same class as the big four Caribbean Winter Leagues (Mexico, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Venezuela), but is probably better than the Winter Leagues in any of Panama, Nicaragua or Colombia.  It plays a short season, even by Winter League standards, of about 40 games.

The ABL is heavily subsidized by MLB as a way to develop interest in baseball in Australia and to help generate a continuing supply of Aussie prospects for MLB.  I could not help but notice earlier today that, while the ABL’s website provides very detailed box scores, including game temperatures and wind speeds, it does not report attendance numbers, a sure sign that the games are not well attended by the standards of even this level of professional baseball and must be subsidized by someone to keep the league afloat.

The ABL draws an interesting mix of Australian players and Independent-A American players not quite good enough during the summer to secure work in the Big Four Caribbean Winter Leagues.  The Circuit also draws a smattering of pro players from Taiwan, South Korea and Japan.

The top pitcher in the ABL this season is Shota Imanaga.  Imanaga is a potentially a world class NPB pitcher, who is coming off a brutal 2018 summer season and apparently pitching in the ABL this winter to get himself back on track.

After the 2017 season, Imanaga looked like a potential future MLB prospect, as I mentioned that off-season.  In 2018, however, he went 4-11 in NPB with a brutal 6.80 ERA.  His command deteriorated significantly from the prior two seasons, and he seems to have hurt by the rise in NPB home-running hitting this past season.  He still managed to strike out 80 batters in 84.2 innings pitched, and his performance in the ABL this winter suggests there is nothing fundamentally wrong with his pitching arm, always a concern for a pitcher listed under 5’10” and 180 lbs.

Against a much lower level of competition, and limited so far to six starts and 35 IP, Imanaga has posted a 0.51 ERA and 57 strikeouts while allowing only 14 hits, one home run and one walk.  If nothing else, Imanaga’s foray to the ABL should certainly boost his confidence going into the 2019 NPB season.

Frank Gailey, Ryan Bollinger, Mikey Reynolds and Zach Wilson are examples of typical North American players playing in the ABL this winter.  Ryan Bollinger pitched pretty well in the Yankees’ system last summer, mostly at the AA level, and he struck out 97 batters and 111.2 IP.  He has been signed by the Padres this off-season with an invitation to Spring Training, but will most likely start the 2019 season at AAA El Paso.

Needless to say, the ABL is a refuge for Australian players who just can’t give up the enjoyment they get from playing professional baseball.  Former major leaguer Travis Blackly, for example, is still around at age 36 pitching effectively Down Under (and in the very low Indy-A Pacific Association during the Northern Hemisphere summer).  He’s now pitched professionally in at least seven countries (U.S., Canada, Mexico, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Australia).

Steve Kent and Luke Hughes are a couple of old Aussie war horses who have played in the MLB system and the ABL for many years.  Hughes played in the majors for the Twins and the A’s from 2010-2012.

More recent major leaguer Gift Ngoepe, originally of South Africa, is playing well in the ABL this season.  After a brutally bad 2018 season mostly for the Blue Jays’ AAA team in Buffalo, which caused him to get released in mid-August, Ngoepe is obviously hoping a strong winter in Oz will get him contract to play baseball somewhere next summer.

Pete Kozma and Josh Collmenter, two other familiar major league names, are in basically the same boat as Ngoepe — Kozma is trying to resuscitate his career after a rough year in the Tigers’ organization, and Collmenter is trying to come back from injuries that kept him out of action throughout the 2018 regular season.  Kozma, at least, has signed an minor league contract to return to the Tigers’ organization with invitation to spring training in 2019.

 

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Bits And Pieces

December 2, 2018

I’m glad the San Francisco Giants re-signed Joe Panik.  He was worth one more year going into his age 28 season, and the Gints signed him for $3.8M, which was less than the $4.2M mlbtraderumors.com predicted.  I have to assume that Panik wanted to stay with the Giants.  He’s a fine player if he can just stay healthy.

With the Brewers having non-tendered Jonathan Schoop (projected to get $10.1M by mlbtraderumors), the future Schoop signing could be the best bargain signing of the 2018-2019 off-season.  Schoop could be a bust in 2019, but his up-side is extremely high.  I hope the Baltimore Orioles try to re-sign him at what I believe will be (potentially) a bargain price — to me, that seems like the ideal place for Schoop to bounce back — and the O’s need any talent at the right price they can get (and then some).

The Giants non-tendered Hunter Strickland, who was only projected to get $2.5M in arbitration.  He didn’t pitch nearly as well when he came back from his dumb-ass, punching a wall with his pitching hand injury (this is a more common injury than you might think throughout MLB history — so much so that pitchers have been advised since long ago to punch out immovable objects with their catching hands).

The Giants realize that they can get right-handed short-men who will pitch well in the City by the Bay for bargain prices every off-season.  There are always plenty of such pitchers whom other teams have non-tendered come this time of the year, and it’s one of the reasons I think the Giants should make a run at Billy Hamilton.  Plug up the gap in Death Valley, and AT&T Park is a double-plus good park for right-handed pitchers.

Pitchers’ League: almost 40 games into the 2018 Dominican Winter League season, Jordany Valdespin is leading the league with an .838 OPS, and only eight batters have an OPS over .700.  For what it’s worth, in the three major winter leagues which have played roughly 40 games, only Mexico’s Ramon Urias and Colombian in Venezuela Harold Ramirez have OPS’s (slightly) over 1.000.  I have no idea why there hasn’t been more offense in the Caribbean this winter in light of the fact that balmy weather tends to favor hitters.

One of the things I enjoy about following the major Winter Leagues, the Atlantic League and the summer Mexican League is that there are a lot of terrific professional ballplayers out there, in an objective sense, who aren’t good enough to play in the major leagues, or at least have memorable major league careers.  How good does that make major league stars?

As a baseball junkie, I also have to admit that I enjoy the fact that some pretty good ballplayers get non-tendered every year because their respective teams feel they’ll get more than they’re worth through the arbitration process.  Some of these teams are right, and some of these teams are wrong — that means more major league players out there for all the other MLB teams to sign.  More chances for your team to strike it rich — Wahoo!

Winter League Notes

November 9, 2018

With the free agent market yet to heat up (CC Sabathia re-signed with the Yankees for $8M, but that’s about it), I’ve been following players in the Caribbean Winter Leagues.  Here are a few I want to note.

The Nationals’ Victor Robles is lighting it up in the Dominican Winter League.  Youngsters of Robles’ talent and closeness to the majors usually don’t get to play in the Caribbean Winter Leagues unless they were hurt during the summer season, which Robles was.  He played in only 73 summer season games, so the Nats are letting him get some live game reps in the the Dominican Republic this winter.

Robles’ winter season may well end after only 20 or 25, like Eloy Jiminez last winter, because his MLB team doesn’t want to risk injury.  However, the Nats may want to give him reps since he’s definitely a candidate to make the Nationals’ roster out of Spring Training if/when Bryce Harper leaves for the big money.

Every baseball blogger, I suspect, is looking for players who are much better than anyone else seems to realize.  One of the players I’ve been watching in this regard is left-handed starter Tyler J. Alexander.  For several years he pitched his summers for Fargo-Moorhead in the Indy-A American Association and winters in the Mexican Pacific League.  He was consistently good with high strikeout rates, but couldn’t seem to catch anyone’s attention.

Alexander shook things up in 2018, starting the season with the Sussex County (New Jersey) Miners of the Can-Am League.  The Can-Am League isn’t any better than the American Association, but it probably gets more scouting because it’s on the East Coast.  He pitched well enough there to finally get a contract to pitch in the second half of the Mexican League (Summer) season.

This winter Alexander has elected to pitch in the Dominican Winter League, rather than the Mexican Pacific League, I think because he’s hoping to finally get someone’s attention in a league that pays a real wage.  He’s been great through his first five starts with a 2.13 ERA and 25 Ks in 25.1 IP.  If he can keep it up the rest of the winter, maybe somebody (besides me) will finally take notice.

Two Dominican Winter League pitchers who have done a lot to keep their high-paying summer league dreams alive are Esmil Rogers and Tommy Milone.

Esmil Rogers had a more than $1M contract to pitch in the KBO in 2018, but he broke his hand about half-way through the season and got cut, probably losing roughly the second half of his $1M+ contract.  He currently has a 2.53 ERA after five DWL starts.  If he can keep it up, a KBO team will play him at least $500,000 to pitch in South Korea in 2019.

Tommy Milone was a marginal major leaguer in 2018, his age 31 season.  He’s pitching in the DWL to prove that he’s worth a split AAA/major league contract in 2019.  So far, so good — Milone hasn’t allowed an earned run or a walk in his first four starts, while striking out 19 in 22 IP.  That’s what a soon to be 32 year old player of Milone’s caliber needs to do to show MLB teams he’s worth bringing back for another season as AAA insurance.

 

Winter League Baseball

October 18, 2018

The Winter League seasons in Mexico, the Dominican Republic and Venezuela started a few days ago, and I’m excited!

I got interested in the Winter Leagues last year, in part because I’ve gradually become more interested in Taiwan’s CPBL.  As far as I can tell, CPBL teams currently base their decisions on which foreign players to sign (each CPBL team can sign three players, all pitchers in recent years, to play at the major league level and a majority of CPBL teams sign a fourth pitcher in case a major leaguer gets hurt or is ineffective), on summer performance, which makes sense.  But they still value Winter League performance, which shows both that the pitcher is healthy enough to at the end of the summer season and that the pitcher is willing to pitch in a foreign league and perform there.

The ability to perform in a foreign league is a bigger factor in pro baseball than most people realize.  Some players can do it, some players can’t, and it matters a great deal if you are trying find the best possible players at your league’s pay scale.

The Winter Leagues are the best pro baseball that people in the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, and (probably) Mexico get to see, and the best teams in each of these leagues then play in the Caribbean Series, which is major event (and attended and paid for in ticket prices as such) for Latin American baseball fans.  In an era where MLB major league players are enormously compensated, the Winter Leagues aren’t what they once were, since major league players (and top AA and AAA prospects) no longer are allowed to play there, lest they get hurt.  Even so, the Winter Leagues mean a lot to local fan bases, and the baseball played is worth watching.

Players play in the Winter Leagues for a number of reasons, which, aside from domestic players who get to be big stars in their home countries, mostly relate to salaries and a possibility that good performance will be rewarded with a promotion to a better summer league.   For MLB minor league players who have not yet played in the major leagues, the Winter Leagues offer a chance at a living wage playing baseball (at least for the 2.5 months of the Winter League season).  For MLB minor league players over the age of 28 or 29, the Winter Leagues provide a chance to prove the player is still good enough to play in AAA another season and thus be one only step away from the MLB majors.

For native players from the Winter League countries, they can potentially earn enough money in the 2.5 month Winter League season (at least in the Dominican Republic and Venezuala) to support themselves and their families for the whole year.  The Indy-A Atlantic League’s 2018 batting average leaders were dominated by over age 29 Dominican players who, in my opinion, were trying to keep their skills sharp for the Dominican Winter League.

Go East, Not So Young Men!

October 11, 2018

A couple of days ago mlbtraderumors.com posted a list of recently announced players who have elected free agency after being out-righted off of teams’ 40-man rosters and accepting minor league assignments during the season.  It’s a virtual who’s-who of players who should seriously consider playing in Asia in 2019 if any Asian teams will have them.  Players who might look particularly appealing to Asian teams based on age, past major league success and 2018 performance on this list are 1B Tommy Joseph (27 in 2018), SS/2B Dixon Machado (27), RHP Drew Hutchison (28), RHP Mike Morin (28), RHP Casey Sadler (28), RHP Chris Rowley (28), RHP Ryan Weber (28), RHP Jacob Turner (28), RHP Mike Hauschild (29), LHP Danny Coulombe (29), RHP Kevin Quackenbush (30), RHP Jhan Martinez (30), LHP Buddy Boshers (31) and LHP Tommy Milone (32).

A player I have thought for the last several years should take his talents to Asia is Jabari Blash.  He’s 29 now, hit a ton in the Pacific Coast League, but failed to take advantage of another major league opportunity with the Angels this season.  It’s not too late to become a star in Asia, Jabari, you certainly have the raw talent.

Slugging 1Bman Dan Vogelbach turns 26 in December, and he’s out of minor league options.  After a season in he hit at AAA but only hit .207 with a .691 OPS in 102 major league plate appearances, his best offer might come from Asia.  Socrates Brito is another out of options 26 year old with significant, but not yet successful, major league experience who could appeal to Asian teams.

1B/corner OF Jordan Patterson turns 27 in February.  He still appears to have options left, but hasn’t played in the majors since a 10-game cup of coffee in which he hit well for the Rockies back in 2016.  Despite solid, if unspectacular, AAA performance the last two seasons, he doesn’t appear to be in the Rockies’ future plans in any serious way.

Mike Tauchman, who turns 28 in December, has done much in a couple of brief major league cups of coffee, but he could likely be a starting center fielder in Asia.  Corner IF/OF Patrick Kivlehan who turns 29 in December got significant major league playing time with the Reds in 2017, but spent most of 2018 back at AAA.

Another soon to be 29 year old I root for is 2B Nate Orf.  He got a his first cup of coffee with the Brewers this year, which vastly improves his chances at interesting an Asian team.  Orf turns the double play well and has a career minor league .387 on-base percentage.  Unfortunately, he has little power, and Asian teams want their foreign players to hit for power.

Jose Fernandez was a 30 year old rookie 1Bman for the Angels in 2018 with a .697 OPS in 123 plate appearances, after joining the MLB system in 2017 following a long career in Cuba.  Asian teams have come to love their Cuban imports, who have had a great deal of success, particularly in Japan.

UT Danny Santana (28), UT Drew Robinson (27), and OF Noel Cuevas (27) are three more position players who may well both be available and draw interest from NPB and KBO teams.

Starting pitchers who fit the bill are (lefties in parentheses) Austin Voth (27), Adrian Sampson (27), Alec Mills (27), William Cuevas (28), Manny Banuelos (28, LHP), Daniel Corcino (28), Casey Kelly (29), Aaron Brooks (29), Drew Gagnon (29), Eric Jokisch (29), Asher Wojciechowski (30), Deck McGuire (30), Chris Bassitt (30), and Casey Lawrence (31).

Relievers I could see making the move to NPB (KBO wants starters only, thank you) are Joely Rodriguez (27, LHP), Jake Barrett (27), Tyler Duffey (28), Andrew Kittredge (29), Scott McGough (29), Chris Smith (30), Liam Hendriks (30), Neftali Feliz (31) and Josh Edgin (32, LHP).

Needless to say, most of the 48 currently marginal major leaguers I have listed above will be pitching in the MLB system in 2019 and at best I’ve named only half of the 2018 mlb system players who will be playing in the Asian majors at any time in 2019.  For example, I haven’t even identified most of the arbitration eligible players likely to be non-tendered when the time comes in November.  There are an awful lot of these guys every off-season for the Asian major league teams to choose from, and no more than half of them are willing to pitch in Asia in the first place.

San Francisco Giants Show No Love (Yet) for Tyler Rogers

September 5, 2018

Today the Giants called up 3Bman Ryder Jones and newly acquired middle infielder Abiatal Avelino.  Neither deserves the promotion, at least compared to Tyler Rogers.  OK, Rogers turns 28 in December, but he has been really, really good at AAA Sacramento two years in a row now.

Over the last two Pacific Coast League seasons, Rogers has pitched 106 games and 143.2 IP with a 2.26 ERA (2.69 run average) with a line of 115 hits, six HRs and 51 walks allowed while striking out 103.  Rogers throws low side-arm and he’s an extreme ground ball pitcher at the PCL level.

The problem for the Giants, apparently, is that Rogers isn’t on the 40-man roster.  While I wouldn’t knock either the much younger Jones or Avelino off the 40-man roster for Rogers, there is an obvious candidate to be sent through waivers.  Lefty Josh Osich turned 30 yesterday, and it sure looks like he’s lost whatever he had in 2015 and 2016.  Osich has stunk the last two years at both AAA and the majors, and sure isn’t younger than Rogers.

One problem the Brian Sabean Giants have had is that they prefer toolsy/stuff prospects to actually-perform without great skills prospects.  It works a lot of the time for the recent Giants, but it is obviously interfering with their willingness to give Rogers the shot he has clearly earned.

Rogers has to play one more season in the Giants’ system before he becomes a minor league free agent.  If the Giants don’t give him a shot, and he continues to pitch reasonably well next year at Sacramento, a team like the Oakland A’s or Tampa Rays will sign him and give him his shot.

I still think Tyler Rogers could be the next Brad Ziegler.

Ayami Sato — World’s Best Female Pitcher?

August 31, 2018

I saw this article linked on japanball.com today describing Ayami Sato, a Japanese female pitcher who has been dominating in international play since 2010.  She stands only 5’5″ and has a fastball that at its best touches about 80 mph, but she has a great curveball.

Sato has played in Japan’s Women’s League, about which I know next to nothing, since 2009.  As far as I am aware, she has not pitched in a men’s pro league, such as Japan’s independent Baseball Challenge (BC) League, where Eri Yoshida played without much on-field success for several seasons in recent years.

Stacy Piagno in 2017 became the first woman to win a professional game in North American men’s professional baseball since Yoshida.  She pitched in 16 games over two seasons for the Sonoma Stompers of the Indy-A Pacific Association, but her career 7.67 ERA suggests Piagno was mainly an Indy-A novelty act.