Tommy Joseph Is Out; Carlos Peguero Is In

Posted July 11, 2019 by Burly
Categories: Baseball Abroad, KBO, NPB, Philadelphia Phillies, San Francisco Giants

The KBO’s LG Twins put former Philly and SF Giants’ prospect Tommy Joseph on waivers today as a prelude this release and announced the signing of former marginal MLBer and brief NPB star Carlos Peguero, who had been playing in the Mexican League this season.  Not a big deal as far as the baseball world goes, but it interests me in terms of what it says about what KBO teams are thinking.

Joseph hadn’t been terrible in the KBO.  He hit nine home runs in 55 KBO games this season, and his .761 OPS wasn’t terrible this year what with the KBO having introduced less resilient baseballs that cut deep into offensive production.  However, he missed 33 games so far this year, mostly due to back problems; and he was highly paid by KBO standards, having inked a deal that gave him a $300,000 signing bonus and a $700,000 salary.  That’s about as much as first year foreign players can expect to make in the KBO now that a $1M salary cap for first-year foreigners has been imposed.

Peguero will earn $150,000 for the rest of the way with an additional $30,000 in performance incentives.  By my rough calculation, this means the Twins will save between $90,000 and $120,000 by replacing Joseph with Peguero.  That’s not much when you consider that Joseph hadn’t been playing badly, and the odds aren’t great that Peguero will play significantly better.  After only 22 Mexican League games, Peguero had been slashing only .259/.362/.481, which isn’t impressive in what has been an extreme hitters’ league this summer.

The Twins are currently in 4th place in the KBO.  The top five teams make the playoffs and then play a weird system where the 5th place and 4th place teams play, the winner plays the 3rd place team, the second winner plays the 2nd place team and the third winner plays the 1st place team.

The Twins are 6.5 games up on the 5th place NC Dinos and eight games up on the 6th place KT Wiz.  The Twins are three and 3.5 back of the 3rd and 2nd place teams.  In short, the Twins could move up to 2nd or 3rd place with improved performance from their lone foreign position player, but they likely make the post-season with or without the move.

In sum, the move seems to be based primarily on saving $90,000 to $120,000 this season, which sure isn’t much for a play-off bound team, even in the KBO.  It does suggest, perhaps, that KBO team finances aren’t all that strong.

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NC Dinos Add a Couple of New Foreign Players

Posted July 3, 2019 by Burly
Categories: Baseball Abroad, Independent-A Leagues, KBO, Minor Leagues, Oakland A's, San Diego Padres, Tampa Bay Rays

I was interested to see yesterday that the NC Dinos of South Korea’s KBO have swapped out two of their three foreign players for new ones.  Christian Bethancourt and Eddie Butler got the ax, and Jake Smolinski and Christian Friedrich got the opportunity.

Bethancourt hadn’t hit the way the Dinos had hoped, and I’m not sure how much use the Dinos got out of him at his principal position (catcher) because of the language barrier.  Butler wasn’t terrible, but he wasn’t good in KBO either (at least relative to his salary), and he was experiencing shoulder problems.

One thing is certain: Smolinski and Friedrich will be making a helluva lot less for the Dinos’ final 62 games than Bethancourt and Butler made for the Dino’s first approximately 82 games.  As an expansion team, the Dinos probably play in a secondary South Korean market, and the big contracts go to the players brought in at the beginning of the season.  Both Betancourt and Butler received $200,000 signing bonuses to come to South Korea at the start of 2019 and earned more than half of the total $1.3 million in salaries they had been promised before getting cut.  I very much doubt that either Smolinski or Friedrich will be earning more than $150,000 for the remainder of the 2019 KBO season, and each could be earning as little as about $90,000.

The small replacement salaries are in line with the players selected.  Smolinski was hitting fairly well in the AAA International League, but with newly introduced baseballs adding more power-hitting to what had been a pitchers’ league, his .864 OPS wasn’t quite in the top 20 among players with at least 200 IL plate appearances this year.

Christian Friedrich was pitching in the Independent-A Atlantic League for what I would guess was $2,500 a month, after missing most of 2017 and all of 2018 with elbow problems.  He was pitching well in the Atlantic League, but I can’t remember the last Atlantic League player signed by a KBO team.  Friedrich does have 296.2 career major league innings pitched, so that and his likely very cheap cost were presumably the main attractions for the Dinos.

In recent years, numerous foreign players have had success in the KBO in spite of being brought in as cheap, late-season replacements.  Jamie Romak, Michael Choice and Jerry Sands have all taken advantage of the opportunity as mid-season replacements to stick around and make some real money for at least one more season after the ones in which they were brought over.  The quality of KBO play is close enough to AAA that any successful AAA player has a shot at making in the KBO if he can get off to a hot start.

It’s worth noting that in the KBO’s salary scale, if your first contract amount is small, it tends to stay smaller even after a few months of successful performance have been established.  Even so, coming back the next season for a $500,000 salary sure beats AAA pay, and a full season’s strong performance in Year 2 can mean a $1 million salary for a third KBO season.  None too shabby for playing baseball.

Munetaka Murakami Hits 20th Home Run of 2019 NPB Season

Posted July 3, 2019 by Burly
Categories: Baseball Abroad, NPB

19 year old rookie Munetaka Murakami today became the first NPB player to hit 20 home runs in a season before the age of 20 since Kazuhiro Kiyohara accomplished the feat in 1986 and/or 1987.  Kiyohara went on to blast 525 NPB home runs.  We’ll have to wait and see how many home runs Murakami hits.

Murakami is currently slashing .230/.328/.504, so he’s still got a lot of developing to do as a hitter.  He’s listed as 6’2″ and 213 lbs, which suggests an MLB-sized body.  If he stays healthy and develops as one would expect for a player capable of hitting 20 home runs in a major league at age 19, there’s a good chance we’ll see him in MLB one day.  It doesn’t hurt that he plays for the Yakult Swallows, a small market team that should be willing to post him when the time comes.

Anyway, Murakami has entered the NPB record books, and MLB fans can put a bookmark in on him for the next six or seven seasons.

San Francisco Giants Promote Austin Slater

Posted July 2, 2019 by Burly
Categories: Minor Leagues, San Francisco Giants

On a sad day in MLB, as we wait to find out why Tyler Skaggs died prematurely at age 27, there is at least one piece of MLB news that makes me happy.  The Giants called up Austin Slater for his first major league opportunity of 2019.

I had been hoping the Giants would give Slater another shot this year because: (1) the Giants’ outfield is terrible; (2) he’s homegrown and still only 26; and (3) he currently has a .436 on-base percentage at AAA Sacramento.  He’s now had just over 1,000 plate appearances in the Pacific Coast League over four season, and his .405 career OBP there is terrific even for a hitters’ league.

I was kind of frustrated with the Giants bringing in all of these flavor-of-the-month outfield cast-offs without giving Slater another try.  Now, he’ll get that chance.

That said, we’ll see how many plate appearances come Slater’s way.  Counting Tyler Austin as an outfielder, where he’s played about 2/3’s of his defensive innings, the Giants are carrying five outfielders, and Steve Duggar is currently on a rehab assignment at AAA Sacto.

The odds are likely high that when Duggar is ready to come off the Injured List, he’ll be optioned to Sacto.  He wasn’t hitting in San Fran, and he could likely use the regular plate appearances at a much friendlier place to hit.  That way, the major league team could at least give Slater a real look, which is to say at least the 57 plate appearances over 15 games the Giants gave Mac Williamson before designating him for assignment.

Also, Tyler Austin has stopped hitting, so he’s got to be on thin ice, although he’s almost certainly out of options and would have to be exposed to waivers to send him down.  That may give him a little more rope.

I like Mike Yastrzemski‘s story as much as the next fan, and he hasn’t been terrible, but, truth be told, he hasn’t been very good either.  His .298 OBP on a team full of players not getting on base (Brandon Belt, Steven Vogt, and (so far) Alex Dickerson excepted) just isn’t cutting it.  The Giants badly need a table-setter who can get on base at least 34 out of every 100 plate appearances, and Austin Slater appears to be the best option to actually accomplish this modest feat.

Give Austin Slater at least 50 or 60 major league plate appearances before casting him off to Palookaville or to try his luck at Asian baseball.  The Giants surely don’t have much to loose between now and the trade deadline in which to do so.

Conner Menez Watch

Posted June 27, 2019 by Burly
Categories: Baltimore Orioles, Minor Leagues, San Francisco Giants

24 year old Conner Menez has made three starts at AAA Sacramento.  He has a 3.31 ERA and 31 strikeouts in 16.1 innings pitched.  In a woefully bad season for the San Francisco Giants, this is something to be excited about.

Menez is from Hollister, a semi-rural small city in San Benito County, where some people probably commute to work in San Jose in what must one of the more brutal commutes going.  He went to the Master’s College, a Christian school in SoCal.  He was drafted by the Giants in the 14th round of the 2016 Draft.

Jerry Owens is the only Master’s College matriculant to play in the majors.  Absent major injury, Menez will be the second.

One of the great things about baseball is that seeming nobodies from small schools can be drafted after hundreds of other players (Menez was the 425th player selected in 2016) and still reach the major leagues if everything breaks right for them.

Menez’s first two years of pro ball weren’t particularly impressive.  He had decent, but not particularly impressive, strikeout rates and he needed to learn how to pitch.  He started the 2018 season at A+ San Jose and had a pedestrian 4.83 ERA through 11 starts.  However, he struck out 70 batters through 50.1 innings.  Did he add a new pitch, or improve on a pitch that became his new strikeout pitch?  I don’t know.

He was promoted to AA Richmond, where his 4.38 ERA across 15 starts in a pronounced pitchers’ park was not impressive.  But he struck out 92 batters in 74 IP at the level in which the real prospects predominate.  Meanwhile, he made a couple of emergency starts for AAA Sacramento in which he posted a 3.27 ERA and struck out nine in 11 IP.  He was also assigned back down to A- Salem-Keiser several times, but never actually made a start there, in what I have to assume were roster moves designed to give other pitchers a look at the AA level.

In short, Menez finished the 2018 season with a 4.46 ERA across three levels of play, but he struck out 171 batters in 135.1 IP (!).  That strikeout rate is what you look for in a pitching prospect.  He also walked 60 and allowed 127 hits, which is why his ERA was so high.

This year, Menez’s command has improved.  That, or he’s more willing to challenge hitters with his stuff.  Through 11 AA and three AAA starts, he’s struck out 101 batters in 76 IP, but only allowed 50 hits and 25 walks.  He’s allowed nine home runs this season, which is one more than he allowed in 2017 and 2018 combined across a total of 249.2 IP.  That’s what makes me think he’s challenging a better caliber of hitter more often with his stuff.

My guestimate is that the Giants will give Menez at least 2-4 more starts at AAA Sacto, and if the results are the same or better, he’ll replace Drew Pomeranz, Tyler Beede or a traded Madison Bumgarner in the rotation, at least to start.  As Earl Weaver once said, the best place for a rookie pitcher is middle relief.

ChinaTrust Brothers Sign Casey Harman

Posted June 27, 2019 by Burly
Categories: Baseball Abroad, Chicago Cubs, CPBL, Independent-A Leagues, KBO, Mexican League, Minor Leagues, NPB

The ChinaTrust Brothers of Taiwan’s CPBL have apparently reached a deal to sign Casey Harman, who is currently pitching for the Pericos de Puebla (Puebla Parrots) of the Mexican League (“LMB”).  Foreign pitchers playing in the CPBL come and go like minor-hit pop songs and their performers, and what I’m more interested in his how Casey Harmon got to this point in his professional career.

Originally a 29th round draft pick out of Clemson by the Chicago Cubs in 2010, Harman didn’t start pitching professionally until the 2011 season.  He reached AA ball in 2012 at age 23.  While he wasn’t terrible there, he wasn’t very good either and found himself pitching in the Indy-A Can-Am League and American Association in 2013 and 2014.

Then he appears to have had a three-year absence from professional baseball.  If I had to, I’d guess he tore and replaced his elbow tendon and/or tried to get a real job for a while before deciding to give pro ball another try.  He caught on with the Wichita Wingnuts back in the American Association in 2018, pitched reasonably well (although not in a brief two game trial in the better Indy-A Atlantic League), and parlayed that into a winter assignment starting in the Mexican Pacific League.

Harman pitched well in seven Mexican Winter League (“LMP”) starts and landed a job with the Pericos this summer, where he is 8-1 with a 4.57 ERA and 54 Ks in 69 innings pitched so far.  While the ERA doesn’t look impressive, it’s currently 17th best among qualifying starters in LMB’s 16-team hit-happy circuit.  So the Brothers came calling.

I’m always interested in figuring out how and for how much players end up moving between leagues throughout the world of professional baseball.  The Atlantic League is the best of the Indy-A leagues.  However, every Indy-A League has caps on how many “veteran” players each franchise can carry at any given time.  Thus, some good players (relatively speaking) filter down to the second- and third-tier Indy-A leagues.  This both keeps team salaries low, and allows teams in the second- and third-tier leagues to develop and hold onto their own local “stars.”

Anyway, the LMP seems to have some kind of relationship with the American Association whereby the best AA starters each season in each of the last few years have ended up pitching in the LMP the following winter.  A good winter in the LMP can lead directly to a job in the LMB the next summer, where salaries are better than in the Atlantic League ($10,000/month salary cap v. $3,000/month).  It certainly gives veteran pitchers a round-about incentive to pitch in the American Association if they can’t secure a job in the Atlantic League.

I was surprised to see the Pericos were willing to let Harman leave for Taiwan mid-season, since the Pericos are a contending team this year, and Harman had been well more than adequate as a starter for them.  CPBL teams can and do pay foreign players more than LMB teams, but CPBL teams can’t afford to pay high purchase fees of the kind that LMB teams typically charge for players they sell directly to MLB, NPB or KBO teams.

One thing I’ve noticed is that throughout pro baseball, teams generally don’t charge big (or at least market-rate) transfer fees when transferring a player to a league that isn’t much better, or is worse, but which will pay the player better.  MLB organizations do sometimes charge KBO and NPB teams meaningful transfer fees in the $500,000 to $1M range, but it’s usually less than what the player is actually worth either to the MLB or the KBO/NPB team.

Obviously, players sometimes negotiate contract terms that let them leave for a better paying opportunity in a different league for nominal or no transfer fees.  However, I also think that MLB organizations are willing to let their 4-A players go to Asia for less than market value, because of the good will it generates among the MLB organization’s minor league players by letting players who can’t establish themselves as regular major league roster-holders go to Asia where they’ll make a lot more money.

The same thing may be going between LMB and the CPBL.  MLB, NPB and KBO teams only seek to acquire the very best LMB players, who are naturally worth the most money, and LMB teams try to sell these players for market value or something close.  A player like Harman, while playing well in LMB, is more readily replaceable by signing the best current pitcher in the Atlantic League willing to play in LMB.  Meanwhile, Harman might not make it in the CPBL, in which case the Pericos could always bring him back and probably for a contract amount significantly lower than the $10,000 cap, since both player and team know that even $5,000 or $6,000 a month is lot better than the $3,000 a month Atlantic League cap, assuming Harmon could even get a max Atlantic League salary after washing out in Taiwan.

Earlier this season, the Fubon Guardians signed former KBO foreign Ace Henry Sosa, after tax law changes forced Sosa out of South Korea.  Given that Sosa had been one of the KBO’s top five or six starters in 2018, the Guardians likely had to pay Sosa a hefty-for-CPBL $25,000 or $30,000 per month (although probably with only a three-month guarantee) to start the 2019 season for them.  Sosa pitched like gang-busters in Taiwan, and after only 12 starts the Guardians sold him to the KBO’s SK Wyverns (all of Sosa’s signing bonus will reportedly be paid to the South Korean government as part of Sosa’s back-taxes).

Because the Guardians were still well in the hunt for the CPBL’s first-half pennant, I assumed that the Wyverns had had to pay the Guardians $150,000 to $200,000 for Sosa’s rights, in line with what the KBO’s KT Wiz had reportedly had to pay LMB’s Acereros de Monclava for LMB Ace Josh Lowey‘s rights mid-season in 2016.  However, Rob over at CPBL Stats guestimated that the buyout for Sosa’s rights was more likely in the $50,000 to $100,000 range.

Now, it’s possible that at the CPBL season’s half-way point, Sosa could have signed with a KBO or NPB team with no money payable to the Guardians, which would have greatly weakened Fubon’s ability to demand a big buy-out price.  It’s also possible that because CPBL teams make the biggest chunk of their revenues during the post-season, which is still a long way off, the Guardians were willing to get out from under whatever relatively high salary was being paid to Sosa.  The Atlantic League is full of much less expensive, although also much less effective, pitchers to replace Sosa.

However, it’s also possible that the Guardians figure that by letting Sosa return to the KBO, where he’ll make a lot more money, it will be easier for the Guardians in the future to lure in other foreign pitchers who are trying to work their way back to the KBO or NPB after a down season.  Unfortunately, unless you know all of the contract terms and what each organization’s and league’s unwritten rules are on these matters, it simply isn’t possible to know for sure.

Trey Hair and Garrett Harris

Posted June 23, 2019 by Burly
Categories: Independent-A Leagues, Kansas City Royals, Minor Leagues, Tampa Bay Rays

Trey Hair and Garrett Harris are a couple of still young players playing extremely well in the Indy-A Can-Am League.  Major League organizations should sign them.

Trey Hair is a 2B/3B who is still only 24 years old.  He was drafted in the 34th round by the Rays out of the University of Evansville in 2017.  He slashed an impressive .290/.362/.438 in 2018 in 243 plate appearances at full season Class A ball, but got cut nevertheless.

Hair is currently slashing .362/.431/.569 after 139 plate appearances for the Sussex County Miners.  He currently leads the Can-Am League in both batting average and OPS.

Garrett Harris, now age 25, was an undrafted pitcher out of Texas A&M Corpus Christi who signed with the Royals and spent 2016 and 2017 making a total of 27 appearances for two Royals’ rookie league teams.  His strikeout rates were better than one per inning, but his command wasn’t good, and he was hit hard.  He pitched in the Indy-A Frontier League last year, and while his strikeout rates were again good, his ERA and run average didn’t impress.

This year, Harris has become a starter for the Trois-Rivieres Aigles, and he’s been great.  He’s currently tied for the league lead with five wins, and his 58 K’s leads the circuit free and clear.  His 2.54 ERA is currently the league’s fourth best.  His command appears to have improved markedly, and he’s been hard to hit.

Hair and Harris are young enough that it’s a little surprising that major league organizations haven’t already bought their rights.  If they keep performing in the Can-Am, I would expect they’ll return to the MLB system before the end of July.  Here’s wishing them luck.