Archive for the ‘St. Louis Cardinals’ category

David Harris and Other Winter League Batting Leaders

November 12, 2018

A player who has caught my eye this year is David Harris.  He turned 27 last August and was the best hitter in the Indy-A Can-Am League this past summer, slashing .331/.435/.590 in more than 400 plate appearances.  Although he’s still reasonably young, no major league organization was willing to sign him, even to fill in for late season injureds.

After 25 games in the Mexican Pacific League (LMP) this Fall, Harris is leading LMP with a 1.066 OPS.  Sure, it’s only a 25 game sample, but if Harris manages to stay hot and finish in the LMP’s top five in OPS, it will be a distinctly more impressive feat than leading the Can-Am League, particularly for a non-Mexican player.

Harris washed out of the Blue Jays’ system after two 100+ plate appearance trials at Class A+ Dunedin a few years back, and he may already be too old to seriously tempt MLB organizations.  Where does a player like Harris go from here?

The most likely answer is that Harris will be playing in the Atlantic League or Mexico’s summer league (LMB) next summer.  A really hot first half in LMB in 2019 could get him a contract to play in Japan’s NPB, but the odds of him being LMB’s OPS leader (or at least in the top three) in the first half of 2019 are probably slim.  It takes a lot of luck to be a consistent league leader even at the LMB/LMP level if MLB has already made a judgment that you don’t have the talent to merit another contract even though you haven’t yet reached age 28.

Ramon Urias, Saul Soto and Japhet Amador are other top hitters in the LMP this winter.  Ramon Urias had some big seasons in LMB until the Cardinals finally purchased his rights, and he’s still young enough to have some kind of an MLB major league career in the future.

Saul Soto is one of the best LMB players of his generation.  Soto slashed .262/.366/.401 as a 22 year old C/1B in nearly 300 Class A Sally League plate appearances, but was returned to LMB the next summer season.  Playing summers in LMB and winters in LMP mostly as a catcher, which equates to about the same number of games as a full MLB major league season, Soto has slugged well more than 350 career home runs south of the border.  At age 40 now, he’s been exclusively a 1Bman since the start of the 2016 winter season.

Japhet Amador had a nice little NPB career going until a positive steroids test this summer likely sent him back to LMB/LMP for good.  He’ll hit a lot more home runs in Mexico until his 300+ lbs body breaks down for good.

Soon to be 26 year old middle infielder Hanser Alberto is currently leading the Dominican Winter League with a .911 OPS.  Alberto has already received MLB major league playing time in three different seasons, but has batted dreadfully because he has no strike zone judgment.  Alberto appears to have the raw batting abilities of a major leaguer, particularly when you take into account his defense, but he may have to go to Asia to become a major league star.

Delmon Young is currently tied for the Venezuelan Winter League lead with five home runs.  Young played pretty well in LMB this past summer, and I’m not particularly surprised.  He only turned 33 in mid-September, and he had the raw athletic and batting abilities to be a No. 1 overall MLB draft pick once upon a time.

However, I don’t see Young returning to MLB.  He’s the same player now he was as an MLBer, meaning he won’t walk enough to be successful at the MLB major league level.  If he can lead the VWL in home runs, though, he might be able to catch on with an NPB team in search of right-handed power.

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World Series Excitement

October 29, 2018

You know who was really excited about this year’s Dodgers-Red Sox World Series, aside from Dodgers and Red Sox fans?  Fox Sports.

If it was up to the network broadcasting the World Series, at least every other World Series would feature the Red Sox or Yankees playing the Dodgers or the Mets playing the Angels or Red Sox, with the Giants, the Cubs, the Phillies, the Astros and maybe the Cardinals, Nationals, Rangers and Braves making the Series just often enough to keep MLB fans from getting too bored.

Obviously, teams from across the country playing in the largest markets make for the highest World Series television rantings.  In fact, the top viewership for the last ten years was 2016, when the Cubs made the World Series for the first time since 1945 and won for the first time since 1908.  The viewership in 2004, when the Red Sox won for the first time since 1918, was even better.  However, none of the BoSox’ three subsequent World Series have drawn as well.

The 1986 World Series between the Mets and Red Sox was the most viewed Series since 1984, and viewership has tumbled steadily since the late 1980’s early 1990’s to the present decade.

My proposed solution to declining World Series viewership?  It’s the same as my solution to a number of MLB’s structural problems — expansion.  You have to grow the pie and get MLB in more markets if you want to increase World Series, play-off and regular season major network viewership.

However, while attendance was good for MLB’s top 12 teams this year, it was way, way down compared to recent seasons for the bottom eight teams.  MLB is going to be reluctant to expand if most of the current small-market teams are drawing poorly.

It might also be time for MLB teams to consider building bigger ballparks so that there are fewer home runs and more singles, doubles and triples.  However, history has shown that fans (in terms of overall attendance) prefer more offense over less offense.

World Series Indifference

October 29, 2018

The 2018 World Series is now officially in the books, and I have to admit that I found it hard to get excited about this one, even aside from the fact that it turned out to be pretty one-sided.  As a Giants’ fan, I can’t root for the Dodgers as a team, and as a non-Red Sox fan, I find it hard to root for a team that spends as much money as they do and has enjoyed as much recent success even before this year’s World Series.  Also, with the spate of racist, terrorist attacks this week, baseball seems trivial (although it is precisely because the World is sometimes an awful place that we need distractions and entertainments like baseball).

When I can’t root for the teams, I root for individual players.  However, I can’t say I’m a particularly big fan of many players on either team.  I like Kenta Maeda, because he’s a small right-hander and I sung his praises as a potential major leaguer for years before he signed with the Dodgers.  I like late-bloomer Justin Turner, although I don’t enjoy looking at that ugly, bushy, bright orange hipster beard of his — I don’t like Craig Kimbrel‘s beard either.  I’m eagerly waiting for both the don’t-shave-until-season’s-over baseball trend and the larger hipster trend to finally run their respective courses.

I root for Clayton Kershaw to pitch well in the World Series, so long as it can’t hurt a team I care about, because he’s such a good pitcher, but I root for David Price and Chris Sale for the same reason.  But if they don’t pitch well, my attitude is f@#$-’em, because you got to get it done when it counts the most.

The Red Sox and Dodgers have plenty of bright young stars, but since I don’t root for either team, I haven’t developed any particular fondness for most of them. They’re fun to watch, but that’s about it.

I was also a bit disgusted to see chronic steroids cheat Alex Rodriguez getting paid big money to provide commentary at the end of the games.  I can see why Fox hired Rodriguez — he’s a big name, he knows plenty about MLB baseball, he’s good looking (and relatively light skinned), and he’s reasonably well spoken.  It still rankles me, though, the way that Barry Bonds got black-balled by MLB for being an obstreperous black man, while arguably bigger steroids cheats like AFraud and somewhat less obstreperous white men like Mark McGwire are able to continue drawing big paychecks from the game.

In a just world, Bonds will get into the Hall of Fame before either Rodriguez or McGwire, but I wouldn’t count on it.  See racist, terrorist attacks above.

It must have given Red Sox fans pleasure to watch somebody’s else Manny being Manny for a change.  Machado went 4-for-22 with no extra base hits in the Series, which will probably cost him more this off-season than failing to run out the ball hit off the wall, although it really shouldn’t.  Even great players can have bad World Series.  Mickey Mantle went 3-for-25 with a lone double in the 1962 World Series, but hit 18 home runs in the nine other World Series in which he played regularly.

At the end of the day, though, I still expect Machado to get his $300M+ free agent deal this off-season.  You can’t under-perform in the World Series if you don’t get there in the first place, and Machado improves any team’s chances of making it there.

Best Pitching Prospects in Japan’s NPB 2018/2019

October 20, 2018

With the MLB success of Shohei Ohtani, Miles Mikelos and Yoshihisa Hirano in 2018, I think we’ve reached a point where MLB teams realize they need to look to Japan’s NPB as a source of potential prime talent every off-season.  Without further ado, here’s a list of Japan’s top pitching prospects for MLB purposes, as I see it:

Yusei Kikuchi (28 years old in 2019).  Kikuchi is clearly the top NPB prospect for MLB this off-season.  He’s a left-handed starter with stuff, he’s got an MLB sized body (6’0″, 220 lbs), and his NPB team, the Seibu Lions, have already announced that they are willing to post him this off-season.

After a break out season in 2017, when he was arguably NPB’s best pitcher (he lost the Eiji Sawamura Award to Tomoyuki Sugano, who is listed two spots down), Kikuchi was merely very, very good in 2018.  He finished 14-4 with a 3.08 ERA, which was second best among qualifiers in NPB’s Pacific League.  He struck out 153 batters, good for fourth in his league, in 163.2 IP.

Kikuchi hit 98 mph with his fastball in a regular season game in late July or early August 2017, but I didn’t see any reports of him matching that number in 2018.  MLBtraderumors.com provided a good scouting report on Kikuchi when the Seibu Lions announced they were willing to post him.

Takahiro Norimoto (28; 2020-2021).  Norimoto is a small right-hander (5’10”, 180 lbs) with tremendous strikeout stuff, who could be described as Kenta Maeda with more strikeouts or NPB’s answer to Tim Lincecum.  The problem with Norimoto is whether he can last any longer than Lincecum did.  (In fairness to Maeda, he’s got that harder to define “ability to pitch,” which produced better NPB ERAs than Norimoto without the same strikeout stuff.)

Norimoto had a mixed 2018.  He went 10-11 with a 3.69 ERA, sixth best out of nine Pacific League qualifiers, but he led the league with 187 Ks in 180.1 IP.  His walks and home run rate were up, and his strikeout rate was down (although still excellent).  However, he also became the fifth fastest pitcher to reach 1,000 NPB career strikeouts this year, and three of the four who accomplished the feat faster pitched in MLB.

We will have a better idea a year from now, which may well be when he gets posted, if his 2018 season was just a blip or an indication that he’s been pitched too many innings over too many years at a young age in Japan.

Tomoyuki Sugano (29; 2022).  Sugano is a virtual lock on winning his second consecutive Eiji Sawamura Award (NPB’s Cy Young) in 2018.  He’s a tremendous pitcher who led NPB in ERA (2.14), innings pitched (202) and strikeouts (200).  He threw eight shutouts in the regular season (NPB starters only pitch once a week, so teams let a starter go deeper in the game if he’s pitching well) and a no-hitter in the first round of the play-offs, a game in which he was one walk away from a perfect game.

Alas, his team, the Yomiuri Giants, have never posted a player in their history, and it’s unlikely they will start with Sugano.  That means he won’t come to MLB before his age 32 season.  However, I’ve read reports that Sugano does want to pitch in MLB eventually.  Maybe he can be the next Hiroki Kuroda.  He’s got the talent for it.

Kodei Senga (26; 2023-2024). Senga is not real big (6″1″, 185 lbs), but he’s not real small either.  He’s not one of NPB’s top tier starters, but he’s consistently very good and has the kind of strikeout rates you want to see in an MLB prospect (630 NPB career Ks in 559 IP).

In 2018, Senga went 13-7 with a 3.51 ERA.  He struck out 163 batters in 141 innings pitched.  He’s just good enough every year that, if he stays healthy, at least MLB team will look to him as a low cost, high upside sign when his time comes.

Shintaro Fujinami (25; 2021-2023).  I don’t have enough information to know what’s wrong with Fujinami.  He’s a tremendous talent, who may or may not have been overworked to the point where he is no longer a good NPB pitcher.

Fujinami had his second suck-ass season in a row, but it’s unclear whether the criminal overwork the Hanshin Tigers put him through early in his career has taken it’s tole, or he’s just lost the ability to throw strikes.  On July 29, 2017, he hit 98 mph with a fastball in an NPB minor league game.  This year, he had a major league 5.32 ERA with 70Ks, but 47 walks, in 71 IP.  This was actually an improvement in his command compared to 2017.  In the NPB minors this year, he had a 1.14 ERA with 60Ks and only 23 walks allowed in 63 IP.

Fujinami is still young enough and talented enough that he has to be on this list.  It remains to be seen whether he can regain the success he experienced in 2015, when only Shohei Ohtani’s star shown brighter.

Yuki Matsui (23; 2022).  A small (5’8.5″, 163 lbs) left-hander with electric stuff (457 Ks in 370 career NPB innings pitched), Yuki Matsui was used in a variety of roles by the Rakuten Golden Eagles in 2018.  He started the season as the team’s closer, was apparently demoted to a set-up role and then late in the season was used as a starter.  His 3.65 ERA was high, but so were his 91 Ks in 66.2 IP.

As I wrote two years ago, it’s anybody’s guess whether a pitcher this small and this young can hold up to the often high-stress workload of a closer (or however the Golden Eagles elect to use him) long-term.  If his arm holds up, he’ll be young when his time to get posted arrives.

Naoyuki Uwasawa (25, 2022).  A right-handed starter big enough (6’2″, 196 lbs) to interest MLB teams, Uwasawa had his best season so far in 2018.  His 3.16 ERA was third best among Pacific League qualifiers, and he struck out 151 batters in 165.1 IP.  He had a strong rookie season in 2014, but this year was the first time he had the kind of strikeout rate you’d like for an NPB pitcher to be a legitimate MLB prospect.

Yasuaki Yamasaki (26; 2023).  A small right-hander (5’11”, 187 lbs) who has saved 133 games in his four NPB seasons and has a career 2.44 ERA and 274 Ks in 236 IP.  My guess is that he would be a set-up man in MLB.

Pitchers available this off-season include Yuki NIshi, Spencer Patton, Jay Jackson and Geronimo Franzua.  Yuki Nishi will be 28 next season, and he earned his domestic free agent option this season. He reportedly asked his team, the Orix Buffaloes, to post him this off-season, but the Buffaloes reportedly refused.  Nishi is a good pitcher, but he’s a small right-hander (5’11”, 176 lbs) whose strikeout rates don’t match most of the Japanese pitchers who go on to MLB success.  The Buffaloes are reportedly likely to offer him a three or four year deal this off-season, and that might well be his best option financially.

I like Spencer Patton’s chances of returning to MLB as an inexpensive set-up man at the two-year $4M amount that Chris Martin signed for with the Texas Rangers last off-season.  Martin’s 2018 performance was not particularly impressive on paper, but fangraphs says it was worth $4.4M, which means Martin has already paid off his full contract amount with another season to go.

Patton had an ugly 6.26 ERA in 54.2 MLB career innings pitched, but he also struck out 58 batters.  There’s no question that he has major league stuff, but his lack of command hurt him in the past.  His command seems to have improved in Japan, where over two NPB seasons, he struck out 133 batters in 116 IP while walking only 35.  Patton will be 31 next season.

Jay Jackson will also be 31 next year, and he’s put in three strong seasons as a reliever in NPB.  Jackson doesn’t have as strong an MLB system track record as Patton, but MLB teams might be interested in signing Jackson if the price is right.

Geronimo Franzua is a left-hander who washed out of the Dominican Summer League years ago, but caught on with the Hiroshima Carp through a try-out in the Dominican Republic.  (It was a good year for the Carp in this regard: they signed another low minors castoff, Xavier Batista, at a tryout, and he hit 25 HRs for them in only 302 plate appearances this season.)  Franzua had a 1.66 ERA mostly in a relief role and struck out 81 batters in 65 innings of work.  He only just turned 25, so he could well appeal to MLB teams.

It’s possible, however, that the Carp have Franzua signed to long-term, low-salary deal, to take into account that the team would have to develop him at the minor league level when they signed him.  MLB teams might also want to see Franzua do it two years in a row in NPB before shelling out to bring him back to the Americas.

Bookmark “EmShinnosuke Ogasawara (age 21 next season), Naoya Ishikawa (22), Katsuki Azuma (23) and Haruhiro Hamaguchi (24) are some young, talented NPB pitchers who still have many seasons in which to blow out their arms before they might become available to MLB teams.  I’ll be keeping an eye on them going forward.

As a final note, Takayuki Kishi and Hirotoshi Masui are two excellent NPB pitchers we’ll probably never see in MLB.  Both are small right-handers who are well over 30 and in the middle of multi-year contracts with their current NPB teams.

The 10 Best Major League Players Who Started Their Pro Careers in the Independent-A Leagues

July 31, 2018

I’ve been following the Independent-A Leagues closely the last few years, and I recently wondered who the best major league players were who started their pro careers in an Indy-A League.  I couldn’t find a decent list, so I decided I’d make one.

One of the things I learned in compiling this list is just how incredibly difficult it is to have a major league career amounting to more than a couple of brief cups of coffee for players who don’t start their professional careers in the MLB-system.  MLB hoovers up just about every player with any shot of ever having a major league career that anyone besides the players themselves would typically remember.  Only a tiny number of players gets overlooked.

That said, it is within the realm of possibility that a player can start his pro career in an Indy-A league and still amount to a successful major league player.  That’s what keeps the dream alive.

Without further ado, here’s the list of the 11 best major league players who started their pro careers in an independent-A league.  Be sure to let me know if I’ve missed anyone who should be included.

1.  J.D. Drew.  J.D. Drew is really an Independent-A league ringer.  He was drafted with the second overall pick of the 1997 Draft by the Phillies.  Before the Draft, Drew and his agent Scott Boras let if be known that Drew was demanding a $10 million signing bonus.  The Phillies called Drew’s bluff, drafted him and offered him $2.6M.

Drew wasn’t bluffing.  When the Phillies refused to come up significantly from their initial offer, Drew refused to sign.  Instead, he spent parts of two seasons thumping the ball for the St. Paul Saints of the Northern League (now the American Association).

I haven’t always been a fan of Boras inspired holdouts, but it sure worked for Drew.  The Cardinals drafted Drew with the 5th overall pick in 1998 and signed him for $7 million.  Refusing to sign in 1997 did not significantly delay Drew’s career, as the Cardinals gave him a cup of coffee at the end of the 1998 season, and he was in the majors for good (except for injury rehab assignments) by 1999.

Drew would not be the last early round draft pick to elect to start his career in the Indy-A’s when he couldn’t reach an agreement with his drafting team, as you will see below.  A couple of Cuban defectors, Ariel Prieto and Eddy Oropesa, used the Indy-A Leagues as a means to boost their draft stock — one can argue whether Cuba’s Serie Nacional is an amateur or pro league, but it is effectively amateur in name only, since the players are essentially professionals who are compensated for their performance, although perhaps not in cash.

2.  Kevin Millar.  Millar is in my opinion the best undrafted, unsigned player independent-A league product in major league history.  Every year, many undrafted players are nevertheless signed by major league organizations.  As I understand it, each major league team makes a list shortly before Draft Day of the 500 or 600 players who the team believes are the best amatuer players available.  Each team’s scouts and front offices grade the nation of prospects differently, and every team has at least a few players who aren’t on any other team’s list.  If any of those players go undrafted, then the team that had the player listed will typically sign them up.

Playing for small college Lamar in Texas, Millar went undrafted and unsigned, and thus started his pro career at age 21 with the St. Paul Saints in 1993, the Northern League’s maiden season.  Millar never made an All-Star team or received an MVP vote, but he was a star on the 2004 Boston Red Sox team that won the franchise’s first World Series in 86 years.  Millar was also never allowed to join the MLB Players’ Association, because he crossed the picket line during the 1994-1995 strike.

3-5.  George Sherrill, Joe Thatcher and Kerry Ligtenberg.  A trio of relief pitchers who all pitched in between 386 and 442 major league games.  George Sherrill was the Orioles’ closer in 2008 and the first four months of 2009 before being traded to the Dodgers.  He finished his career with a 3.77 ERA, 56 saves and 320 Ks in 324.1 IP.  He started his pro career with Evansville of the Frontier League in 1999.

Joe Thatcher had a nine year career as a left-handed relief specialist.  He was effective in the role, finishing his major league career with a 3.38 ERA and striking out 270 batters in 260.2 innings pitched.  Thatcher began his pro career with River City in the Frontier League in 2004.

Kerry Ligtenberg was the Braves’ closer in 1998 before hurting his arm.  He came back from it, but never pitched as well as he did in 1998.  He finished his major league career with a 3.82 ERA and 357 Ks in 390.2 IP.  He started his pro career in the short-lived North Central and Prairie Leagues in 1994 and 1995.

6.  David Peralta.∗  David Peralta gets an asterisk because he started his professional career as an 18 year old pitcher in the Cardinals’ organization.  He pitched ineffectively for two seasons in the Rookie Appalachian League and was unceremoniously dumped.  He came back four years later as a 23 year old outfielder for the Rio Grand Valley WhiteWings of the short-lived North American Baseball League, and gradually worked his way up the majors three years later in 2014.  He’s still active and having a solid season at age 30, so he could well move up this list in the future.

7.  Aaron Crow.  Another high first round draft pick who refused to sign a contract with the Nationals, Crow made four appearances (three starts) with the Ft. Worth Cats of the American Association in 2008 and 2009 in order to prove he was still worth a high 1st round draft pick by the Royals in 2009.

Crow had four strong seasons as a set-up man in the Royals bullpen from 2011-2014 before his arm gave out.  He compiled a 3.43 career major league ERA and struct out 208 batters in 233.2 IP while recording six saves.

Crow is attempting a comeback in the Mexican League this summer at age 31.  While he is pitching effectively (2.33 ERA in 19 relief appearances so far), his peripheral numbers don’t suggest he’ll make it back to the majors in the near future.

8.  Daniel Nava.  Nava started his professional career at the advanced age of 24 with the Chico Outlaws of the long since defunct Golden Baseball League.  He hit a grand slam in his first major league game in 2010 (as I recall, the outfielder may have actually tipped the ball over the wall with the end of his glove), and he was a star for the 2013 World Champion Red Sox when he slashed .303/.385/.445 as an every day outfielder who split his time between right field and left field.

Nava has managed to play parts of seven major league seasons, and at age 35 he’s still listed as part of the Pirates’ AAA team, although he has yet to play a game this season because of injury.

9.  Jeff Zimmerman.  Zimmerman finished his three year major league career as the closer for the Rangers before injuries, including two Tommy John surgeries, ruined his career.  He started with the Winnipeg Goldeyes of the Northern League in 1997.

10T.  Matt Miller and Chris Coste.  Miller was a relief pitcher who pitched in an even 100 major league games with a career 2.72 ERA with 95 Ks in 106 IP.  He was a 31 year old rookie for the Rockies in 2003, but enjoyed most of his major league success starting with the Indians in 2004.  His professional career began with Greenville of the short-lived Big South League in 1996.

Chris Coste was the Phillies’ primary back-up catcher for four seasons starting with his age 33 season in 2006.  He began his pro career in the North Central and Prairie Leagues in 1995 and then spent four seasons with his home town Fargo-Moorehead Red Hawks of the Northern League before being signed by the Indians’ organization.  The North Central and Prairie Leagues may not have lasted long, but in Coste and Kerry Ligtenberg, these leagues gave first shots to two young Minnesota ballplayers who eventually made the big time and proved they belonged there.

Other players who had more than brief major league cups of coffee who began their pro careers in the independent A leagues are Chris Colabello, Brian Tollberg, James Hoyt, Chris Jakubauskas, Scott Richmond, Brian Sweeney, Chris Martin, Trevor Richards and Bobby Hill.  Hoyt, Martin and Richards are all still active and have at least a reasonable shot at adding to their career major league numbers.

Bobby Hill was drafted in the second round in consecutive seasons and presumably started his career in the Atlantic League in 2000 because he refused to sign after the White Sox drafted him the year before.  Scott Richmond started his professional career in the Northern League in 2005 at the age of 25, which makes him the oldest rookie professional baseball player I found to eventually make the majors after starting in the Indy-A leagues (MLB organizations never or almost never sign any amateur over the age of 23).

Aaron Judge Strikes Out Eight Times in Double-Header

June 5, 2018

Aaron Judge set a record today that may stand for a very long time, striking out eight times in a double-header.  That is the most since records have been kept (1910 in NL; 1913 in AL); and with as few double-headers as are played today, it could well last just as long.

Judge’s new record is the flip side of Stan Musial/Nate Colbert record of five homeruns in a double header.  Nate Colbert was from St. Louis and claimed to have attended as a kid the double-header in which Stan Musial set the record that Nate Colbert, the man, later equaled.

Don’t know if the claim is true, but it’s a great story.  Colbert would have been eight years old on the day that Musial did it, so it’s at least possible.

Miles Mikolas Tearing It Up in St. Louis

May 22, 2018

Miles Mikolas threw his first MLB major league shutout today and improved to 6-0 in his first year back from three in Japan’s NPB.  For some reason, I had gotten the idea from his Japanese stats that he was something of a control pitcher.  However, the clip of his shutout I just watch recorded him hitting 97 mph with his fastball.  Kind of makes me wonder why he had to go to Japan in the first place.

Even with his nine Ks today, his strikeout rate is a pedestrian in today’s game 6.9.  However, his K/BB ratio is currently above 7.  If I had to guess, I’d say his fastball probably doesn’t have a great deal of movement, and the batters pick it up fairly well out of his hand. In a somewhat related note, Jordan Hickstwo 105 mph pitches didn’t look as fast to me on video as Josh Hader‘s 95 mph pitches about a week ago.  How the hitters see the ball coming out of the pitcher’s hand makes a big difference.

Mikolas’ command in Japan was always pretty good, but his strikeout rate went up sharply his third and final season.  Sometimes it takes a while for pitchers to learn how to take maximum advantage of their plus stuff by figuring out how to set hitters up for the strikeout pitch.  Subtle command improvements must also play a role, though, since managers and catchers call a young major league pitchers’ pitches and presumably have plenty of experience setting up hitters for the strikeout pitch.

I’m hoping we see more 26 year old pitchers like Mikolas elect to pitch in Japan as a way to get some experience and build up confidence pitching in a league with a level of play between the MLB majors and AAA.  To me at least, there is something exiting about a player with great tools like Mikolas or Eric Thames, who couldn’t establish themselves as major league regulars, go to play in Asia and come back a few years later as finished products.