Archive for the ‘Tampa Bay Rays’ category

Delmon Young Sighting

July 8, 2018

Doesn’t it seem like a long time since Delmon Young last played in the majors?  It was only 2015 with the Orioles, but it feels like longer.

Young is still around, attempting a come-back in the Mexican League at the age of 32.  I was certainly surprised when I saw his name today in milb.com’s list of Mexican League hitters, because one has to think long and hard to remember that Young was young when he entered the major leagues and still young when he left them.

Young had enormous talent, enough to be the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2003 out of high school.  He was a great pure hitter (.283 career batting average across ten major league seasons), and he had some pop, but he almost never drew a walk and didn’t hit with enough power consistently enough to make it as a corner outfielder.

He had a great year for the Twins in 2010, when he drove in 112 runs and had 12 outfield assists playing exclusively left field, but that was pretty much it.  Another thing that appears to have contributed to his rapid demise is that he had lost his speed by the time he was in his late 20’s.

After leaving the majors, Young played in the Dominican Winter League in the winter of 2015-2016, and he played in the Australian Baseball League the next winter, without particularly impressive results given the respective levels of competition in either league.

He has only played in 26 Mexican League games so far this summer, and he looks like the same old Delmon Young.  He can hit for a decent average with a little pop, but he still doesn’t walk much.  We’ll see how long he’s willing to play for $5,000 to $8,000 a month playing in Mexico.

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San Francisco Giants Foreign Amateur Signings

July 3, 2018

The international signing period started today, and the Giants have been busy.  The biggest signing so far is of 16 year old Dominican shortstop Marco Luciano for a reported $2.6 million.  All of MLB.com, fangraphs and Baseball America ranked Luciano as the 2nd best available prospect this signing period.

The Giants signed two more prospects of ranking renown, 17 year old Cuban CF Jairo Pomeraz for $975,000 and 16 year old Venezuelan outfielder Luis Matos for $725,000.  Baseball America ranked Pomeraz as the 11th best prospect and fangraphs ranked him 31st.  MLB.com ranked Matos as 27th best and Baseball America as 37th.

Baseball America reports that the Giants signed all of the following players not included in their rankings: RHP Odue Civada, C Eduardo Jaramillo, RHP Melvin Marte (good chance he’s related to former Giants’ prospect Kelvin Marte), SS Roberto Monegro, LHP Aaron Peniche, CF Victor Bericoto, 2B Yeiver Torrealba, and LHP Anthony Torres.  All of these youngsters are from either the Dominican Republic or Venezuela.

For what it’s worth, the White Sox still like Cuban amateurs, the Mariners have signed three players out of Panama, and the Rays have signed the top two prospects out of Curacao, Ryson Polonius and Rainer Polonius.  They may be twins and were perhaps a package deal.  A few Colombians were signed and at least one Brazilian.  I didn’t notice any Taiwanese players as having signed yet, although I’m aware that at least a couple of have reached deals that either were part of last year’s class or haven’t been formally announced yet.

Shohei Ohtani Gives the Angels Options

May 26, 2018

The Anaheim Angels have decided to skip Shohei Ohtani‘s next turn in the rotation in order to “manage his workload.”  Obviously, protecting your young pitcher is a much easier decision to make when it means the team will get his bat in the line-up three more games between now and his next start.

At 23, Ohtani isn’t especially young, and he pitched as many as 160.2 innings in a season in Japan, so one has to think that Ohtani’s .991 OPS entering today’s game has a lot to do with the decision to skip his next start.  Ohtani does not hit the day he pitches, or the next day or the day before, but you can bet he’ll be hitting on those days this week.

Everyone in MLB thought that Ohtani was a better pitching prospect than hitting prospect before the season started, so everyone’s understanding is that Ohtani would be allowed to hit in exchange for the bargain price he would be signed for by joining MLB now, rather than waiting until he turned 25.  Obviously, it turns out he can hit major league pitching, at least so far, so now the Angels have to engage in the difficult but highly enjoyable process of trying to decide how they both protect their investment for the long term and maximize the value of his two-way abilities now.

In days past, teams typically decided that an every-day hitter was worth more than a starting pitcher.  Today’s analytics may not bear the old calculations out.  In any event, it’s more or less irrelevant, since Ohtani wants to both hit and pitch, and at his bargain price, the Angels will go along with Ohtani’s wishes for the immediate future.

Would using Ohtani as a two or three inning starter, rather than skipping a turn, make sense?  The Rays recently started Sergio Romo for three-and four-out starts in consecutive games against the Angels to take advantage of the fact that the top of the Angels’ line-up is top-heavy with right-handed hitters.  The ChinaTrust Brothers of Taiwan’s CPBL have been starting their relief pitchers for a couple of innings before bringing in their foreign starters to pitch the next six or seven innings, with some success this season.

If nothing else, it’s kind of gratifying to see teams in the baseball world trying out some new ideas to get an advantage at the margins.  I can’t give Ohtani credit for teams trying their relievers as short-outing starters, but he has at least shaken up the baseball world enough to suggest that new ideas ought to be given a trial even if they conflict with the inherited wisdom about how today’s game should be played.

Best Hitting Pitchers in MLB Baseball 2018

May 12, 2018

Shohei Ohtani has more or less blown up any discussion of the best hitting pitchers in major league baseball.  He’s created a whole new paradigm for two-way players that hasn’t existed since the 1920’s and the only question is whether he is the start of a new trend or a one-off.

Highly touted prospect Brendan McKay is still on pace to be the next two-way player, although he’s still got a long way to go and his hitting abilities may not be able to keep up with his pitching abilities as he shoots up through the minors.  McKay is already ready for a promotion to A+ ball as a pitcher, and I wouldn’t hold him back to let his hitting catch up.  Still, major league pitchers who can also pinch hit should have value in today’s extreme relief pitching game.

1.  Shohei Ohtani.  I didn’t want to jump on the Ohtani as hitter bandwagon too soon, but I was convinced he’s for real (even if he doesn’t continue to bat .344 and produce over 1.000) when he beat the shift with a double down the left field line about a week ago.  Ohtani has what it takes to be a great major league hitter, although he’ll face his forced adjustments and his hitting performance will be affected by the many games in which he does not bat.  That said, the baby-faced 23 year old phenom can hit.

2.  Madison Bumgarner (.185 career batting average and .555 career OPS).  MadBum is still baseball’s best full-time pitcher hitter, but the bloom is off the rose compared to Ohtani, who will be DHing three times a week until major league baseball pitchers prove they can get him out.  A one-on-one Ohtani-MadBum home run derby at the All-Star Break would be an enormous amount of fun.  Madbum should be healthy by then.

3.  Zack Greinke  (.229 BA, .579 OPS).   One thing I’ve noticed about good hitting pitchers, writing about them as I have for some years now, is that there doesn’t seem to be a particularly strong correlation between a pitcher’s ability to hit and his having spent his minor league time or the vast majority of his MLB career with a National League team, even though this would presumably mean that the pitcher got a lot more opportunities to hit.  After spending his minor league career and his first seven major league seasons with the Royals, Greinke established himself as a fine hitter by his second National League season.

If I had to guess, I would say that the ability to hit the fastball (and lay off breaking pitches) is probably the most important factor in a pitcher’s ability to hit.  Pitchers hate to walk the opposing pitcher, so any time the pitcher-as-hitter is ahead in the count, fastballs for strikes are likely to follow.

The fact that the Diamondbacks are apparently not willing to give Greinke even half a dozen opportunities to pinch hit each season is a missed opportunity.

4.  Yovani Gallardo (.229, .564).  Gallardo’s career as a major league pitcher may be over, but he sure could hit.

5. Adam Wainwright (.199 BA, .529 OPS).  Another player whose major league pitching career is winding down, but with well over 500 career at-bats, Wainwright has well proven his abilities as a hitting pitcher.

6.  Noah Syndergaard (.181 BA, .561 OPS).  A poor start to the 2018 season has brought Syndergaard’s batting average below the Mendoza Line, but he has power and will take a walk.

7.  Daniel Hudson (.226, .567).  Since coming back from an arm injury as a major league relief pitcher, Hudson has had only one plate appearance since 2012, but he could hit.

8.   Mike Leake (.200, .511).  Mike Leake hasn’t had a plate appearance yet this year, as he is now an American League pitcher.  He hit a ton his first three seasons with the Reds, but hasn’t done much with the bat since.

9.  Tyler Chatwood (.214, .485) and Tyson Ross (.199, .476).  As I point out every year, the best hitting major league pitchers get pretty bad pretty fast.

Honorable MentionsCC Sabathia (.212, .539)  CC hasn’t had a hit since 2010, but he could hit when he had the opportunity to bat more than three or four times a season.  Travis Wood (.185, .537).  Wood’s major league career appears over.

Young Hitting Pitchers to Watch.  Michael Lorenzen (.226, .618).  A shoulder injury has prevented Lorenzen from pitching or hitting so far in 2018.  Ty Blach (.194, .505) hit as a rookie in 2017 but is off to a terrible start with the bat in 2018.  Ben Lively (.182, .545) still has to prove he can be a major league starter.

Knuckleheads

April 28, 2018

One thing every baseball blogger needs is something to get exercised about.  Knucklehead ballplayers are a great source for vituperative writing.

For that reason, I kind of miss the end of the professional careers of Milton Bradley and Sidney Ponson.  They provided countless opportunities for my digital venting.

Now, if a player is kind of a jerk, but really, really good, everyone in the baseball world kind of puts up with him, at least so long as he remains at the top his game.  Think Barry Bonds.  But the moment the player begins to slip, then everyone is quick to jump in and get their digs.

With that in mind, I’ve kept my eyes open for a knucklehead worthy of Bradley and Ponson.  Some players are just so bad, they’re disgusting and quickly out of the game like Aaron Hernandez.  Other promising contenders like Matt Bush end up (apparently) learning something and turning their lives around .

What you need is a guy who is just bad enough that he hangs around so you can be righteously indignant every time a team that should know better signs him anyway.

A guy I’ve got my eye on is former marginal MLB pitcher Josh Lueke (pronounced like loogie with a k).  You may or may not remember Lueke for an incident that happened back in 2010 when he was a throw-in prospect who went to the Mariners in the deal that sent Cliff Lee to the Rangers.

The Mariners at the time were taking a leading role in MLB in speaking out against violence against women.  However, the Mariners traded for Lueke, who had spent most of the previous summer in the Bakersfield, California jail after being accused of sexually assaulting a young woman he brought home from a bar, which even a cursory internet search would have revealed (which I well know: I was one of the first to report Lueke’s legal problem which I had discovered through a cursory internet search when the trade was announced).  The allegations were pretty disgusting, but there was a lot of alcohol involved, and ultimately Lueke got off relatively easy in all respects except for his reputation.

The M’s understandably caught a lot of flack for the move, and they eventually traded him off to Tampa Bay, although not until after he had gotten lit up for a 6.06 ERA in 25 major league relief appearances for them in 2011.  Lueke has a major league arm, but after unsuccessful major league stints with the Rays in each of 2012 through 2014, he ended up in the Mexican League in 2015, presumably because at age 30, he was no longer worth the baggage that came with him.

Lueke not surprisingly had a big year in the Mexican League — he’s got a major league arm — and was signed by the Yakult Swallows in 2016 for an estimated $330,000.  He had a good year, posting a 3.06 ERA and 60 Ks in 64.2 relief innings pitched, and the Swallows brought him back in 2017 for an estimated $687,000, a hefty raise and MLB money anyway you slice it.

Lueke was even better in 2017, recording a 2.97 ERA, 22 holds and seven saves, while striking out 70 in only 60.2 innings pitched.  Lueke had made a success of himself in a league that would pay him major league money and where few likely knew much if anything about his past.

Alas, the knucklehead in him struck again.  The Swallows are a small-market NPB team, and apparently their offer for the 2018 season wasn’t to Lueke’s liking, because he skipped a team practice on October 2, 2017, the day before the Swallows’ last game in a season in which they finished dead last 29.5 games out of the play-offs (team practices in these circumstances are not usual in NPB — it’s a Japanese thing — fighting spirit and all that).  The Swallows suspended him for the last game, didn’t bring him back in 2018 and no other NPB team did either.

As an American (and a knucklehead), you can’t necessarily expect Lueke to understand how important it is in Japanese baseball for players to show respect and for the team to save face.  Still, that’s usually one the first things players from the Americas are told by the foreigners already there, and Lueke had been in the league two seasons.

Anyway, in 2018, Lueke is back in the Mexican League as the league’s best closer.  Now aged 33, MLB teams apparently decided he was too old for his baggage to offer him a minor league no matter how well he had pitched in NPB the year before.

So, Lueke has apparently worn out his welcome in both MLB and NPB, and he’s presumably making somewhere between $8,000 (the official league cap) and $15,000 (more likely if the rumors are to be believed) a month to pitch in Mexico, but in any event far, far less than the $800K or $900K the Swallows almost certainly would have been willing to pay him if he hadn’t stepped on his dick.

If, in fact, no NPB team can or will bring Lueke back to Japan, then his opportunities for better future pay-days are extremely limited.  KBO and CPBL teams only sign starting pitchers, and Lueke hasn’t started a game in his professional career.  A relief pitcher of Lueke’s abilities who wears out his welcome in both MLB and NPB is certainly a worthy candidate for Knucklehead of the moment.

Is It Too Soon to Call Shohei Ohtani the Best Hitting Pitcher in Major League Baseball?

April 11, 2018

Every year just before or just after the regular season starts I write a post of the best hitting pitchers in MLB.  These articles are some of the most popular I’ve written, so I do it pretty religiously every year until now.

This year, I don’t know what to do about Shohei Ohtani.  He’s hit home runs in three consecutive games, including one that traveled nearly 450 feet, but he has had only 19 major league plate appearances.

I have generally tried to limit my list to pitchers with at least 100 major league at-bats in order to weed out great one-season fluke performances.  But no one has come along like Ohtani in several generations, a true two-way player who can’t really be compared with anyone I’ve seen play in MLB since I became a fan in 1978.

Ohtani also has an established track record in Japan’s major leagues.  How much credit do you give him for that?  On a scale from 1 to 10 with the MLB AAA a 1 and the MLB majors, I would rank NPB’s majors as a 4.  NPB is a good league, but it’s not the MLB majors.

There is no doubt even with a limited sample size that Ohtani is an elite MLB rookie prospect on both sides of the ball.  It still remains to be seen on the hitting side how quickly he will adjust once MLB pitchers, scouts and analytics guys find the holes in his swing.  (As a pitching prospect, Ohtani has a less of a problem — unfamiliarity is a pitcher’s friend, and as long as he can continue to command his pitches, it could well be 2019 before major league hitters figure out how to attack his exceptional stuff.)

As such, I’m going to hold off on my annual article until I feel more confident that Ohtani’s performance is for real.  With Ohtani DHing three times a week, that shouldn’t be too long.

The thing that excites me even more than Ohtani’s exceptional MLB performance so far, is that his breakthrough has the possibility of effecting a paradygm shift in MLB.

For the last generation at least, MLB teams have a made a decision when they draft or sign an amateur player that they will develop that player either as a hitter/position player or as a pitcher.  Most of the time MLB teams make the right decision, but once in a while you get a two-way player on whom the team makes the wrong decision.

For example, I think the odds are high in hindsight that Micah Owings would have had a more successful major league career if the DiamondBacks had elected to develop him as a hitter, rather than as a pitcher.  Owings was a real prospect on both sides of the ball out of college, but under the old regime, the D’Backs made a decision that he was going to be a pitcher and stuck with it until he hurt his arm and couldn’t be a pitcher any longer.

With early first round 2017 picks Brendan McKay and Hunter Greene, the Rays and Reds have made at least some effort to develop them as two-way players, at least while they are still in the low minors.  I strongly suspect that Shohei’s performance in Japan had something to do with decisions to try to so develop McKay and Greene at least a little bit as two-way players, because everyone in MLB knew well by the time of the 2017 amateur draft what Ohtani was doing in Japan at a level of play too high to be an aberration.

Obviously, there won’t be a whole lot of players so good on both sides of the ball that MLB teams will try to develop them as two-way players.  However, there was always be a few top amateur prospects who can do everything on a baseball field.

In today’s game, two-players could be extremely valuable, at least enough to give these prospects a chance to try both in the low minors and see how it goes.  The American League has the DH, which is ideal for taking advantage of a two-way player, but the NL still needs pinch-hitters and there are fewer roster spots for them now that all teams are carrying more relief pitchers.

In 2003-2004, Brooks Kieschnick had some value as a relief pitcher/pinch hitter/emergency left-fielder for the Brewers. (Kieschnick had been developed as a hitter, and only turned to pitching when his MLB career as a position player didn’t pan out — he’d been an effective college pitcher but it wasn’t a close call when he was drafted as a hitter.) Why not give at least a few two-way prospects two-way training in the minors leagues to try to develop a more valuable major league player down the line?

Baltimore Orioles to Sign Alex Cobb for a Reported $57 Million

March 21, 2018

In a deal that I find shocking given everything that came before in this off-season, the Orioles signed Alex Cobb at the last minute for four years at a total guarantee of $57M.  There is apparently a lot of deferred money in the contract, but even so it’s a lot of money for a lot of years this late into Spring Training.

The signing invites the question if Baltimore was willing to shell out this much, why did it take so long to get this deal done?  Wouldn’t Cobb have accepted a $57M guarantee on March 1st or February 1st or January 1st this off-season once the obvious down market trend had been set?  Did Baltimore think that Cobb’s price was going to come down eventually and finally just caved in completely when it became apparent that Cobb would not sign unless he got top dollar and the season was about to start with Baltimore still in need of pitching?

For the life of me, I can’t imagine what the circumstances could have been that caused a deal this big to happen this soon before the real 2018 games start.  Maybe the O’s just decided at the last minute that with many of their best players becoming free agents next off-season, they’d have to make one last push for the post-season in 2018.  Still, they’re going to have a hard time keeping up with the Yankees and Red Sox, Alex Cobb or no.

I was thinking that at this point, Cobb was holding out for two years and $25M.  He even beat the four years and $48M that mlbtraderumors.com predicted.  My goodness!

As mlb trade rumors points out, the O’s back out of more deals at the last minute than most teams if they see anything questionable in the player’s pre-signing physical exam.  Cobb better hopes he looks good to the doctors in that exam.

Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain and apparently now Alex Cobb were big free agent winners this off-season.  There weren’t many others.  At least it gives next off-season’s class of free agents hope that a few more of them will pull rabbits out of their free agent hats even if the market has changed for the worse overall.