Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Fujinami and Ohtani meet again, this time in the desert

The spring-training script writers got it right by matching Shintaro Fujinami up against Shohei Ohtani in his first Cactus League start. It's hard to tell Fujinami's tale without bringing Ohtani into it.

Fujinami was a phenom as a teen, leading his Osaka Toin HS team to both the Spring and Summer national high-school tournament titles in 2012, only the seventh time in history a school had won both in the same year. His profile exploded that August after tossing complete-game, two-hit shutouts on back-to-back days to secure the championship in Japan’s highly prestigious Summer Koshien Tournament. Fujinami struck out 14 in the final, when his fastball topped 92 mph. Ten days later, he threw another high-stakes two-hit shutout against Chinese Taipei in the XXV IBAF 18U Baseball World Championship, striking out 13 and walking only one.

Many scouts preferred Fujinami to Ohtani entering the Nippon Professional Baseball draft that October, and four teams selected him in the first round (Chiba Lotte Marines, Hanshin Tigers, Orix Buffaloes, and Yakult Swallows), with Hanshin winning his rights in the NPB’s lottery process. 

Fujinami made his NPB debut just three games into the 2013 season, allowing two runs in six innings in a 2-0 loss to Yakult, establishing a new record for earliest debut by a rookie drafted out of high school. He went 10-6 with a 2.75 ERA and struck out 126 in 137.2 innings as a 19-year-old rookie, significantly outperforming Ohtani on the year. Fujinami displayed a veteran’s feel for making mid-game adjustments, and worked with his catcher to determine which of his six off-speed pitches were working best on the day, though his cutter and forkball were typically most reliable.

He won 11 games in his sophomore campaign, becoming the first NPB pitcher since Daisuke Matsuzaka to win 10 or more in his first two seasons out of high school. He also became the youngest pitcher in Central League history to win a playoff game when he topped the Yomiuri Giants that fall. Fujinami turned in his best season in 2015, reeling of a 32-inning scoreless streak while going 14-7 with a 2.40 ERA and leading the CL with 221 strikeouts in 199 innings. His 82 walks were also the most in the league, a troubling trend that would plague him over the coming seasons.

Fujinami's lack of command derailed his career at times, relegating him to Hanshin's minor league club in the Western League for long stretches, and he even saw significant time as a reliever. He pitched well for Hanshin late last year and asked the club to post him for an opportunity to pitch in the major leagues. He was officially made available on Dec. 1. The Athletics, who had received positive reports on how Fujinami had finished the 2022 season from their Pacific Rim scouting director, Adam Hislop, signed him to a one-year, $3.25-million deal in January, shortly before his 45-day posting window closed.

He should fill a spot in Oakland's rotation this season. If he throws strikes, he could be an intriguing addition. The stuff has never been the question.

Sunday, February 26, 2023

Englert displays his no-hit stuff in first spring outing

Home runs grab headlines, and two Tigers who launched balls in their first spring at-bats got a bit of attention Saturday. Parker Meadows, younger brother of outfielder Austin Meadows, hit the first pitch he saw out to right-center. Second baseman Andre Lipcius cashed a Jake Jewell fastball in for two runs in the eighth. Both seem likely to reach Comerica Park at some point in 2023, so let's remember those names because we'll be circling back to them.

There was also a pitcher who stood out, and as it's the second time in a week his name has popped onto my radar, I'm focusing on him today. Mason Englert worked two perfect innings, striking out the side in the fifth, then tacking on a fourth K in the sixth when he victimized former-Tiger Nick Castellanos.

A fourth-round pick of the Rangers in 2018, Englert joined the Tigers in December when he was plucked with the fifth pick in the Rule 5 draft. For Detroit to keep him, he'll have to stick on the active roster all season. Judging by Saturday's showing, the 6-foot-4, 206-pound righthander stands a chance despite having just three games above High-A on his resume.

Englert threw 17 of his 20 pitches against the Phillies for strikes. All four of his victims went down swinging. He also induced a popup to short from Dalton Guthrie and a grounder to second from Rafael Marchan. Impressive, though Castellanos is the only batter he faced who projects as a big-league regular this season.

Englert had one of the more unusual offseason routines, which involved jumping into the Grand River in Grand Rapids, Mich., and chilling out. Literally. He focuses on a spot in the distance and stays calm. The habit has helped him keep his cool on the mound, though he began the practice to deal with life, not baseball. As Englert told Evan Petzold of the Detroit Free Press, he battled mental-health problems in 2021. The cold-water meditation was just one of several methods for coping. Though his mound performance wasn't his primary focus in overhauling his approach, the changes were beneficial there as well.

After logging a solid 4.35 ERA with 90 strikeouts in 80.2 innings at Low-A Down East in 2021, Englert took things up a level at High-A Hickory last season, holding opponents to a .193 average while posting a 3.57 ERA and a 0.96 WHIP in 21 starts. He once again struck out more than a batter per inning, fanning 116 in 103.1 frames.

Over his last seven starts for the Crawdads he was nearly unhittable. Literally. Englert combined with Theo McDowell to no-hit Greenville on Aug. 11, working the first seven innings before giving way to the reliever. He then threw six no-hit frames in his next start, combining with John Matthews on a one-hitter, with the only Winston-Salem safety coming with one down in the ninth. From mid-July through the end of August, Englert surrendered just 11 hits in 36.1 innings, posting a 1.49 ERA and striking out 41 while walking just eight. He was a no-brainer call as the South Atlantic League's Pitcher of the Month for August.

The Rangers bumped him up to Double-A Frisco for three September starts, and he struck out 20 in 15.1 innings there. On the year he struck out 136 and walked just 31 in 118.2 innings.

Though Englert originally signed with Texas in 2018, he didn't throw his first professional pitch until 2021. Having worked 98.1 innings in a record-setting senior season at Forney HS not far from Dallas, he was held out of action his first summer. The organization's cautious approach was for naught, as he wound up requiring Tommy John surgery in April 2019. COVID cost him a chance to return in 2020 until instructional league that fall, when he couldn't consistently throw strikes and began to experience performance anxiety. He overcame both issues once he got regular innings. He issued 2.9 BB/9 IP in 2021 and cut that to 2.3 BB/9 at Hickory last year.

Englert's incredible run last season wasn't the best on his resume. He established a Texas HS record with 55.1 consecutive scoreless innings as a senior in 2018. A Texas A&M signee, the lifelong Rangers fan was ecstatic when he was drafted by his favorite team. Now, he'll get his chance to make his mark with the Tigers. If he continues to throw strikes like he did Saturday, he might get to show the Rangers what they missed out on by leaving him unprotected. The Rangers visit Detroit on Memorial Day. 

Saturday, February 25, 2023

Royals' Bradley emerging as intriguing free-agent signing

I was cruising through the box scores from yesterday's spring training openers (how nice is that?!), when I hit upon Tucker Bradley's name. It stood out a bit because he homered in the bottom of the ninth to give the Royals a 6-5 walk-off win over the Rangers.

"Tucker Bradley"
You know Bradley, right? This guy:

Yep, looks familiar. Well, maybe if he gets a few more AB's MLB.com will dig up a photo of him.

Anyway, Bradley came on in a line change yesterday in the top of the sixth, taking over in left field for John Rave as Kansas City swapped out all seven remaining starting fielders (catcher Salvador Perez had been replaced an inning earlier). He flew out to right in his first at-bat in the bottom of the sixth. His next trip to the plate came to lead off the ninth against Rangers reliever Marc Church, and he launched the game winner to left-center.

So, who is Bradley, and why is he a faceless gray silhouette on MLB.com? He had the bad luck to come out of college in 2020, when MLB shortened the draft to five rounds. A redshirt junior at Georgia, he could have stayed another year in school, but he was ready. Though he wasn't picked in the abbreviated draft, there was definite interest by a number of clubs, and the Royals stood out to him as a team that had paid him some attention earlier. Money was not the deciding factor, with bonuses capped at $20,000 that year for undrafted free agents.

Bradley signed on June 23, 2020, then waited. And waited. And finally got to play when baseball opened back up in spring of 2021. He opened the year at Low-A Columbia, but after hitting .348/.500/.391 in eight games he quickly moved up to High-A Quad Cities after outfielder Seuly Matias was placed on the IL. His first professional homer came two weeks later in an 8-5 win over Beloit in which first baseman Vinnie Pasquantino went 3-for-4, missing a cycle by a single. So yesterday's game wasn't the first time Bradley and the Italian Nightmare have both gone yard in the same contest. In fact, Bradley timed his second homer in 2021 with Pasquantino, as the pair went yard in a 10-3 win, also against Beloit. Bradley hit a three-run triple as well, driving in five runs on the day, all from the No. 9 spot in the order.

Bradley and the River Bandits won the league championship that fall, topping Cedar Rapids 5-0 in the fifth and final game of the series. He homered and drove in two in the finale.

Despite a few notable home runs, Bradley has been more of a gap hitter to this point. He hit .280/.370/.430 in 86 games for Quad Cities in 2021, with 18 doubles and six homers. Last season, spent entirely at Double-A Northwest Arkansas, saw him nudge those numbers up to .293/.382/.455 in 110 contests. He contributed 22 doubles and 12 home runs, and stole 19 bases in 25 attempts. His season ended early when he was injured in a game on Sept. 4 at Tulsa.

Bradley missed most of his junior season at Georgia after tearing his labrum while diving for a ball in the outfield in the third game of the spring. He came back big as a redshirt junior in 2020, hitting .397/.513/.730 through 18 games before COVID ended the college season. He mashed six home runs in 63 at-bats, including a dramatic 12th-inning walk-off blast against Santa Clara on Feb. 22, nearly three years before yesterday's shot. He also pitched in relief for the Bulldogs, tossing 4.1 scoreless innings in the abbreviated season.

Royals bloggers have been tuned in to Bradley for some time now as an under-the-radar prospect. "Undrafted" isn't what it used to be when the draft went 40 rounds (or a lot longer in the old days), and it's even less significant for the class of 2020. Bradley is one to keep an eye on, and is looking like a strong candidate to make next year's edition of Major League Debuts.

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Who is new Reds reliever Bennett Sousa?

When Chicago brought shortstop Elvis Andrus back earlier this week, lefthanded reliever Bennett Sousa was bumped off the 40-man roster to clear space. Two days after he was designated for assignment, he was claimed today by Cincinnati. So, Reds fans, who is Bennett Sousa? Well, here's his entry from Major League Debuts to bring you up to speed.

Bennett Sousa, LHP, White Sox

B-T: L-L HT: 6-3 WT: 220 Born: Apr. 6, 1995, North Palm Beach, Fla.

Debut Age: 27

Debut: April 8. Having made the Opening Day roster with a strong training camp, Sousa didn’t have to wait long to get the first-day jitters out of the way, coming on in the fifth inning against the Tigers in relief of starter Lucas Giolito with the Sox sitting on a 3-0 lead. Sousa made quick work of the Tigers, setting leadoff man Akil Baddoo down in two pitches, getting him on a fly ball near the line in right field. A fly ball by Spencer Torkelson and a grounder to short by Tucker Barnhart got him back in the dugout after just nine pitches. He was replaced at the start of the sixth by Kyle Crick, the first of four relievers to follow Sousa to the mound. The Tigers broke through in the late innings, scoring twice in both the eighth and ninth to earn a walk-off 5-4 win.

Background: Sousa was named a second-team All-American by Perfect Game in 2014 as a senior at the Benjamin School in North Palm Beach, and chose Virginia out of a number of college suitors. He pitched sparingly for the NCAA-champion Cavaliers as a freshman, reduced to a spectator after issuing 13 free passes in seven early-spring innings. He got his work in that summer, pitching for Keene in the New England Collegiate Baseball League, before jumping to the Cape Cod League for one start with Orleans. His control issues persisted as a sophomore, and it wasn’t until his junior season that he finally took on a prominent role for Virginia, leading the staff in appearances with 24 and fanning 44 batters in 33 innings. Disappointed to slide all the way to the 34th round in 2017, when the Nationals finally called his name, Sousa returned to Virginia for his senior season. While he struck out 61 in 43 innings, he posted a 5.23 ERA in an up-and-down campaign as Virginia suffered a losing season in ACC play. The White Sox plucked him in the 10th round, and he started his pro career with Rookie-level Great Falls, where he struck out four batters in a single inning in his second appearance, thanks to a wild pitch that allowed one victim to reach. Sousa showed no hint of control problems in the Pioneer League, striking out 18 and walking none over 13 innings. After nine appearances, he moved on to Low-A Kannapolis and continued to roll. After opening the 2019 season back at Kannapolis, he progressed all the way to Double-A Birmingham by season’s end. The White Sox sent him to the Arizona Fall League, where he pitched much better than his 5.59 ERA might indicate, striking out 12 and walking only one in 9.2 innings. Included on Chicago’s 60-man roster, Sousa spent time at the organization’s alternate site in 2020, and garnered a non-roster invite to spring training in 2021. He spent the first half of the season at Birmingham, striking out nearly 14 batters per nine thanks to a velocity increase that had his fastball sitting solidly in the mid-90s. He kept that pace up after a mid-season promotion to Charlotte. Between both stops, he struck out 71 and walked 20 in 47.1 innings. The White Sox added him to the 40-man roster in November.

2022 Season: Sousa impressed in Cactus League play and was one of 14 pitchers named to the Opening Day roster. He proved reliable over the first month and a half, allowing runs in just three of his first 16 appearances. He was trusted enough to secure the final out on May 8 in front of a packed Fenway Park, with a runner on second and Chicago clinging to a one-run lead. Sousa set down pinch-hitter Kevin Plawecki to earn his first save. But the faith began to erode when those same Red Sox torched him for five runs two weeks later. Sousa was on the hill for Tony La Russa’s infamous and endlessly second-guessed decision to intentionally walk Trea Turner with a 1-2 count on June 9. It was his wild pitch that had advanced Freddie Freeman to second, and moments later his slider that Max Muncy sent into the left-field stands. Less than a week later, he was back in Charlotte. He found the waters choppy there as well before hitting his stride in late July. Over his final 19 appearances, Sousa posted a 1.45 ERA and issued just eight hits in 18.2 innings while striking out 21 and walking seven. He finished out the season there, never receiving a call back to Chicago after his June demotion.

Outlook: Sousa didn’t get lefthanded batters out in his first shot with the Sox, getting worked for a .982 OPS in 43 plate appearances by lefty swingers. He needs to solve that to earn his way back.

Tuesday, February 21, 2023

What others are saying about Major League Debuts

Now that Major League Debuts has been out for a few weeks, the positive reviews are beginning to roll in. Yesterday, Howard Cole, who writes a Dodgers-focused Substack called "Off Base with Howard Cole," ran an extensive excerpt that started off like this:

Over 300 players made their major league debuts in 2022, some in spectacular fashion, others not so much. Some prospects traded for difference makers during the summer work out for the acquiring club, others not so much. With number 21 in our book excerpt series — “Major League Debuts: 2023 Edition,” by James Bailey (2023, $7.99 Kindle, $17.95 Paperback) — in your collection, you can read about them all. And I suggest you do so.

Over the weekend, the folks who run Baseball Almanac tweeted:

Baseball Almanac, for 24 years, made its mission to go beyond the stats – tell the stories of the players. Author James Bailey (@James_L_Bailey) did an INCREDIBLE job doing that for ALL 303 rookies from 2022!


(Might as well include the screenshot. Who knows how much longer Twitter will be above ground.)

Saturday, February 18, 2023

The lowdown on new Tiger hurler Tyler Holton

The Tigers claimed lefthander Tyler Holton off waivers from the Diamondbacks on Friday, creating room on their 40-man roster by placing righthander Casey Mize on the 60-day injury list. Holton will shift from Arizona to Florida for training camp and should see plenty of opportunity in Grapefruit League play to make his case with his new club.

Holton debuted with the D-backs last April and made 10 big-league appearances with them in 2022. For those who may not be familiar with him, here's his entry in Major League Debuts

Tyler Holton, LHP, Diamondbacks

B-T: L-L HT: 6-2 WT: 200 Born: June 13, 1996, Tallahassee, Fla.

Debut Age: 25

Debut: April 28. Holton’s opportunity came when reliever J.B. Wendelken was placed on the injured list. He entered Arizona’s series opener in St. Louis in the bottom of the eighth with the Diamondbacks trailing 8-2. Facing the top of the order, he retired leadoff man Tommy Edman on a grounder to short. Back-to-back singles by Brendan Donovan and Tyler O’Neill put runners at first and second. Holton responded by getting Edmundo Sosa to chase a changeup down and out of the zone. Corey Dickerson then sliced a liner the other way, but Snakes left fielder David Peralta made a fine sliding grab to retire the side. Arizona plated one in the top of the ninth, but fell 8-3. Holton returned to Reno the following day with a 0.00 ERA.

Background: Holton threw a perfect game his junior season at Lincoln HS in Tallahassee, striking out 17, including the last 14 batters he faced. A lifelong Seminole fan, he led Florida State in strikeouts as a freshman and blossomed into the staff ace as a draft-eligible sophomore in 2017, going 10-3 with a 2.34 ERA and 144 strikeouts in 119.1 innings and leading the team to Omaha for the College World Series. The Marlins selected him in the 35th round that June, but he returned for his junior year. Holton had allowed only one hit in the season opener against Xavier when he came out of the game in the fifth inning with what turned out to be a torn UCL. He had Tommy John surgery in February 2018, and was only a few months into his rehab when the Diamondbacks took him in the ninth round. He signed the week after the draft and made his professional debut the following summer in the Rookie-level Arizona League, where he made four appearances before joining Short-A Hillsboro. There were no signs of rust there, as Holton fanned 51 in 32.1 innings, earning Northwest League Pitcher of the Week honors twice in a three-week span that August. Holton was hit hard in 26 appearances between Double-A Amarillo and Triple-A Reno in 2021, though he did strike out 78 in 64.1 innings of work. His greatest triumph of the year came when he earned his FSU degree in sport management, having completed his coursework long distance.

2022 Season: Holton opened the season back in Reno, working mainly in middle relief. A month after his debut, the Diamondbacks gave him another 24-hour pass with the big club, and he tacked two more scoreless innings onto his resume. He got a longer run in the second half, spending most of August with Arizona before returning to Reno for the final month. In all, he made 10 appearances for the Diamondbacks, posting solid if unspectacular numbers. He was particularly effective against lefthanded hitters, holding them to one single in 11 at-bats.

Outlook: With a fastball that averaged 90.5 mph in his time with Arizona last year, Holton needs to be precise with the location of his fastball, changeup, cutter, curve arsenal. And perhaps a bit crafty. His likeliest role is as a lower-leverage reliever with some upside as a left-on-left option.

Friday, February 17, 2023

Talking Major League Debuts with Don Wardlow on The Baseball Lifer podcast

I was the guest on Don Wardlow's The Baseball Lifer podcast this week. We talked mostly about the book, and some about old Durham Athletic Park. Give it a listen.

The Baseball Lifer - S1E15 - RIP Tim McCarver; guest James Bailey

Thanks to Don for having me.

I was also a guest on Rick Tittle's show on Sports Byline USA yesterday, but as it was livestreamed I am not finding a link to listen back to that one.

Several more appearances are scheduled for next week, so stay tuned.

Monday, February 13, 2023

Who is new Astro reliever Matt Gage?

The Astros claimed lefthanded reliever Matt Gage off waivers Monday, a week after he was let loose by the Blue Jays. Gage broke in with Toronto last June, but despite posting a 1.38 ERA over 11 appearances, he spent most of the season in Triple-A. Here's the full entry on Gage from Major League Debuts.

Matt Gage, LHP, Blue Jays

B-T: L-L HT: 6-3 WT: 265 Born: Feb. 11, 1993, Johnstown, N.Y.

Debut Age: 29

Debut: June 6. After waiting eight years to reach the big leagues, Gage was forced to hold tight for an additional two hours and five minutes when Toronto’s contest in Kansas City didn’t start on time due to inclement weather. It was nearly midnight when the lefthander came on in the bottom of the ninth with Toronto comfortably ahead of Kansas City 8-0. He set down all three batters he faced, retiring Whit Merrifield on a grounder to short and striking out Kyle Isbel and Bobby Witt Jr., both on cutters, to finish off the win.

Background: Gage struck out 138 batters in 85 innings over his final two seasons at Broadalbin-Perth HS in Upstate New York, and earned Class B fifth-team all-state honors as a senior in 2011. After breaking in at Siena in a variety of roles his freshman year, he was a Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference first-team pick as a sophomore, when he went 6-6 with a 3.42 ERA in 97.1 innings. Gage spent the summer of 2013 with Chatham, and was named a Cape Cod League All-Star after going 4-2 in seven starts with a 3.89 ERA. He helped Siena reach the NCAA Regionals in 2014, capping his career with a 10-inning, 130-pitch effort against host Texas Christian. Gage allowed only one run in the contest, which TCU won 2-1 in 11 innings, and was named to the Fort Worth Regional All-Tournament Team. Later that week, he was selected by the Giants in the 10th round of the draft. He profiled as a workhorse who threw strikes and kept hitters guessing with a variety of pitches, none of which were particularly outstanding. Gage reached Double-A the year after he signed, and Triple-A the following season. But he struggled to make an impact in two shots with the Giants’ top affiliate, surrendering 182 hits in 120.1 innings, leading to his release in July 2018. Gage hooked on with the Mets for the remainder of the season, after which his journey began to wind off course. He spent 2019 in Mexico, winning 10 games for the Diablos Rojos despite a 5.57 ERA. He enjoyed the experience enough that he was planning to return before COVID hit in 2020. It was during the shutdown that Gage’s fortunes turned. After watching White Sox starter Lucas Giolito throw with a short-arm delivery, Gage decided to experiment with his own mechanics. Suddenly his fastball was up to 94 mph, faster than ever before. All of his pitches had more life. He tested his new delivery out in the independent Constellation Energy League that summer, then worked on it further yet in the Mexican Pacific League that offseason. The Diamondbacks were impressed enough to offer a minor league deal for 2021. He struck out 58 in 45.1 innings at two stops, working exclusively as a reliever for the first time, and heard from several teams intrigued by his pitch metrics when the minor league free agency window opened that fall.

2022 Season: Gage signed with the Blue Jays, who sold him on how they could help him develop. He reported to training camp in January and altered the grip on his slider to give it more horizontal movement. Toronto had him attack the center of the zone and allow the movement on his pitches to locate the ball for him. With a fastball, cutter, slider arsenal, he carved up batters at Triple-A Buffalo, logging a 1.08 ERA and 0.90 WHIP over the first two months of the season to finally earn that big-league callup. He did everything Toronto could have hoped for and more, limiting hitters to a .146 average in 11 outings. Lefthanded batters went 0-for-9 against him. Despite all that, he was squeezed back down to Buffalo in early July and finished out the year in the International League.

Outlook: If the Blue Jays can’t find room for Gage, someone else will. He has turned himself into a legit bullpen option, particularly against lefthanded batters.

Saturday, February 11, 2023

A glimpse inside the book at the newest A, JJ Bleday

With JJ Bleday being traded to the Athletics today in exchange for lefthander A.J. Puk, here's a glimpse inside Major League Debuts at the writeup for the young outfielder, who made his first big-league appearance for Miami last July.

JJ Bleday, OF, Marlins

B-T: L-L HT: 6-3 WT: 205 Born: Nov. 10, 1997, Danville, Pa.

Debut Age: 24

Debut: July 23. Jorge Soler landing on the IL with back spasms provided an opening for the Marlins to add Bleday from Triple-A Jacksonville, where he had collected extra-base hits in six of his last seven games. The Western Pennsylvania native joined the team in Pittsburgh for a Saturday evening contest, entering in the home half of the seventh as a defensive replacement in left field. His first action came an inning later when he tracked down a deep fly off the bat of Pirates left fielder Ben Gamel. In the top of the ninth, with the Marlins trailing 1-0, he came to the plate with one out and no one on. Bleday battled Pirates closer David Bednar to a full count, eventually drawing a walk after seven pitches. He was stranded at first when Avisail Garcia struck out and Joey Wendle grounded to second to end the game.

Background: Bleday grew up two hours north of Pittsburgh, attending Titusville HS as a freshman and sophomore. His family then moved to Florida, where he finished his prep years at Mosley HS in Lynn Haven. Bleday made quite the first impression in his Mosley debut, belting a two-run homer and striking out the first seven batters he faced as the starting pitcher, finishing with 11 Ks on the day. A first-team all-state selection both years at Mosley, Bleday committed to Vanderbilt as a junior, and stuck with his college plans when the Padres burned their 39th-round pick on him in 2016. After hitting .256/.384/.342 while walking more than he struck out as a freshman, Bleday raised his average more than 100 points in 2018, leading the Commodores with a .368 mark. He still hadn’t broken through as a power hitter yet, tallying just four home runs among his 10 extra-base hits. But something clicked into place that summer in the Cape Cod League, where Bleday hit .311/.374/.500 with five home runs for Orleans and was named the top pro prospect in a poll of scouts. His power exploded during his junior season, when he topped all NCAA Div. I hitters with 27 home runs and 192 total bases while slashing .347/.465/.701. Deep in pitching but desperate for some high-end offensive talent, the Marlins took the Southeastern Conference Player of the Year with the fourth overall pick, but had to wait to begin negotiations while Vanderbilt completed its season. After helping Vandy win the College World Series, he finally came to terms on signing deadline day for a club-record $6.67 million bonus. The Marlins sent him to High-A Jupiter, where he struggled initially, hitting .187/.208/.293 over his first 20 games. Over his final 18 contests, however, Bleday batted .338/.419/.477 in 74 plate appearances. After the pandemic year, he again got off to a slow start, hitting .141/.284/.235 over the first month at Double-A Pensacola. But while he enjoyed several short hot spells, he never put it all together, and finished at .212/.323/.373. He was still racking up the walks, but nothing else was translating to the pro game. The first glimpses came in the 2021 Arizona Fall League, where he hit .316/.435/.600 in 115 plate appearances after making some adjustments to his stance and his hands.

2022 Season: Bleday’s goal entering the season was to carry over the improvements he’d made to his swing in the AFL. It didn’t happen. He hit just .189 in April for Jacksonville. At the end of May his average stood at .201. It wasn’t until June that he began to drive the ball with much regularity. With the Marlins struggling to score runs, his 20 long balls looked tempting enough to give him a try. It started off promising, as Bleday picked up two hits the day after his debut, singling in his first official at-bat and driving a double to deep center field in the ninth. His first home run came three days later off righthander Luis Castillo in his final game as a Red. But Bleday struggled to build on his successes, often going three or four games between hits. Clearly overmatched, he hit just .135/.248/.214 in 105 September and October plate appearances. On the positive side, half of his 34 hits went for extra bases, and he drew 30 walks, helping to keep his OBP afloat. All 30 came against righthanders, however, as he slashed an abysmal .163/.163/.279 in 43 plate appearances versus lefties.

Outlook: Whether Bleday answered any questions as a rookie or simply asked different ones is a matter of interpretation. Miami has 6.67 million reasons to be patient with him. He might benefit from some more time down on the farm, where he can diagnose his swing out of the spotlight. 

Thursday, February 9, 2023

Alvarez, Tovar, Henderson youngest players to debut in majors in 2022

Francisco Alvarez became the youngest player to debut in the major leagues in 2022 when he was called up the week before the season ended. Two months shy of his 21st birthday, he was the only player who couldn't legally celebrate his first game with a beer. The next youngest players to break in were Ezequiel Tovar (21 years, 53 days) and Gunnar Henderson (21 years, 63 days). National League Rookie of the Year Michael Harris II was fourth at 21 years, 82 days.

Youngest Age
Francisco Alvarez, Mets20.315
Ezequiel Tovar, Rockies21.053
Gunnar Henderson, Orioles21.063
Michael Harris II, Braves21.082
Julio Rodriguez, Mariners21.100
Liover Peguero, Pirates21.169
C.J. Abrams, Padres21.187
Vaughn Grissom, Braves21.217
Riley Greene, Tigers21.263
Bobby Witt Jr., Royals21.297

Candidates to make the youngest list for 2023 include Cardinals third baseman-turned-outfielder Jordan Walker, Marlins righthander Eury Perez, Diamondbacks shortstop Jordan Lawlar, and Brewers outfielder Jackson Chourio.

On the other end of the spectrum, Jason Krizan finally got his shot on April 29, after 1,132 minor league games. Huascar Brazoban of the Marlins was nearly as vintage when he made it up in July. His journey was even more winding, delayed by injury, visa complications, and a long stretch in the Atlantic League. In all, there were 13 players that arrived in the majors in 2022 at 30 or older. Here are the 10 oldest:

Oldest Age
Jason Krizan, Giants32.305
Huascar Brazoban, Marlins32.282
Fernando Cruz, Reds32.158
Wynton Bernard, Rockies31.322
Kevin Herget, Rays31.163
Robert Suarez, Padres31.037
Mark Appel, Phillies30.349
Esteban Quiroz, Cubs30.212
Brennan Bernardino, Mariners30.197
Tanner Banks, White Sox30.168

The most common age for a debut was 24, with 62 of the 303 players to reach the big leagues last year doing so at that age, though the average was 25 years, 152 days.

Debuts by age
Average age was 25 years, 152 days.

Monday, February 6, 2023

Transactions: Plummer joins Reds, former bonus-baby Diaz returns to Dodgers


The Chicago Cubs invited non-roster LHP Brendon Little to spring training. Little spent most of the 2022 season at Triple-A Iowa, with the exception of a brief stint with the Cubs when two unvaccinated hurlers hit the restricted list for the team's trip to Toronto at the end of August. He served up a three-run homer and recorded just two outs in his only big-league appearance. Though he dominated International League hitters for short stretches, he also struggled with his command, a common refrain throughout his career. A first-round pick in 2017, Little was still building back up from a 2021 elbow injury at this time last year and wasn't able to participate in Cactus League action. With Brandon Hughes the only lefthanded reliever on the Cubs' 40-man roster, there is an opportunity for someone with Little's skill set in Chicago. He'll have to hit his spots better than he did last year if he hopes to break camp with the big club.


The Arizona Diamondbacks invited non-roster 3B Buddy Kennedy to spring training. Kennedy faces a tall task in cracking an Arizona roster that is already two deep at every infield spot. With Evan Longoria having signed over the winter to complement Josh Rojas at third, Kennedy is blocked at the hot corner. Most of his time with the big club last year came at second base when starter Ketel Marte was nursing a hamstring injury. With Nick Ahmed, Geraldo Perdomo, and Diego Castillo all possibilities up the middle, Kennedy's likely facing another year in Reno, where he hit .261/.363/.385 in 93 games in 2022.

The Cincinnati Reds signed free agent OF Nick Plummer to a minor league contract. A first-round pick of the Cardinals in 2015, Plummer managed a major league deal with the Mets after moving on from St. Louis as a free agent following the 2021 season. Despite homering in his first two big-league starts last May, Plummer was returned to Triple-A Syracuse after an 0-for-20 spell dropped his average to .138. He was designated for assignment by New York in August, but cleared waivers and continued playing for Syracuse until a dislocated shoulder ended his season in early September. He still shows glimpses of the power bat that enticed the Cardinals all those years ago, but aside from a 90-game sample at Double-A Springfield in 2021 when he hit .283/.404/.489, he's never really looked the part as a pro.

The Los Angeles Dodgers signed RHP Tyler Cyr and OF Yusniel Diaz minor league contracts and invited them to spring training. Cyr seemed to find a home in Oakland, where he landed after being designated for assignment the day after making his big-league debut with the Phillies. He struck out 16 in 13 innings for the A's, while posting a 2.08 ERA. Given the state of the pitching staff, he looked like a good bet to lock down a job there this spring until he was DFA'd to clear room for Japanese pitcher Shintaro Fujinami last month. He logged a 2.85 ERA in 39 Triple-A appearances in 2022, with much better results in Lehigh Valley than he had in Las Vegas after moving clubs. He'll face much stiffer competition for a job in Los Angeles than he would have seen in Oakland. Diaz is an interesting case, returning to his first organization after spending 4 1/2 years with the Orioles. He was regarded by most as the headline prospect in the Manny Machado deal in 2018, though he never fulfilled that promise and spent time on the injured list every season with a variety of maladies. His only at-bat at the top level came as a pinch hitter against the Rangers on Aug. 2, when the O's needed a body to fill in for the departed Trey Mancini. Diaz struck out and was returned to Triple-A Norfolk. Now he's back with the Dodgers, the team that signed him for $15.5 million in 2015 after he defected from Cuba. 

The New York Mets invited non-roster RHP William Woods to spring training. Woods hasn't pitched much over the past two seasons, missing most of 2021 with an elbow issue and sitting out more than two months thanks to an ankle injury last year. While he started the season strong and earned a shot in the Atlanta bullpen in late April, he wasn't the same after returning from the IL in July. He logged a 6.58 ERA in 13 appearances over the final two months of the season, walking nine batters in 13.2 innings while striking out just eight. The Braves sent him to the Arizona Fall League after the regular season wound up, and he got worked over pretty good, surrendering 19 hits and 12 runs in 12.2 innings. Atlanta designated him for assignment in November, and the Mets claimed him off waivers. His first chance to show them what he's got will come in Grapefruit League play. He owns upper 90s heat that would play well in short stints, but as with so many young flamethrowers, he comes with command issues. With just 24.1 innings above A-ball under his belt, he would benefit from an extended run at Triple-A.

The Boston Red Sox traded RHP Franklin German to the Chicago White Sox for RHP Theo Denlinger. German had been designated assignment on 1/30 after being bumped from the 40-man roster when the Red Sox acquired veteran lefthander Richard Bleier from the Marlins in a swap for reliever Matt Barnes, who had been DFA'd earlier. German converted to a relief roll full-time last year, and was very effective at both Double-A Portland and Triple-A Worcester, logging a 2.72 ERA between both stops and striking out 64 in 49.2 innings while posting a 0.906 WHIP. He made his Boston debut on Sept. 17, allowing four runs on two hits and two walks without recording an out. He worked in five games for the Sox late last season, racking up an 18.00 ERA in four innings. He was much more effective over the offseason in the Dominican Winter League, notching a 1.88 ERA in 14.1 innings for Aguilas. He was highly regarded enough by the Red Sox to be included in their rookie development program in Boston in January, but he wasn't quite entrenched enough to lock in a spot there. He was added to Chicago's 40-man roster. The Queens native will be competing for a bullpen job with Bronx-born Nicholas Padilla, among others. A fellow 2022 debutant, Padilla was another under-the-radar pickup by the White Sox late last season. 


The Baltimore Orioles invited non-roster C Mark Kolozsvary to spring training. Kolozsvary has spent his entire career up to now in the Reds organization. He debuted in Cincy last April when Tyler Stephenson was out with concussion symptoms and enjoyed a couple of stints with the big club. Ultimately, the Reds decided to go with veteran Austin Romine when Stephenson was ruled out long-term over the second half of the season. He finished with four hits in 20 at-bats, three of which went for extra bases. Selected for the U.S. Olympic team in 2021 because of his reputation for handling a pitching staff, Kolozsvary has always been regarded as more of a defense-first backstop. He was claimed on waivers by the Orioles last October, two months before Baltimore acquired veteran James McCann to serve as Adley Rutschman's primary backup. Kolozsvary will go to camp looking to prove he's the best option for next-in-line should anything happen to either of them.


The Atlanta Braves invited non-roster 3B/SS Joe Dunand and LHP Danny Young to spring training. Dunand homered in his first big-league at-bat last May against the Padres, then doubled in his second trip to the plate, going 2-for-4 as the Marlins cruised to an 8-0 win. The nephew of Alex Rodriguez, he hit like his uncle in high school and for a stretch at North Carolina State, but the resemblance has worn off since he signed with Miami as a second-round pick in 2017. The Braves claimed him on waivers last June, less than four weeks after his triumphant debut, and he spent the remainder of the season at Triple-A Gwinnett. Drafted as a shortstop, he has spent most of his time at third base over the past two seasons, and also has some first-base experience on his resume. He hit just .205/.300/.319 in 260 plate appearances with Gwinnett and will most likely get a second crack there this season. Young was another Braves waiver claim last season, coming over after being DFA'd by the Mariners on Aug. 1. He made three big-league appearances between both organizations, but spent most of his time at the Triple-A level, featuring in 40 games between Tacoma and Gwinnett. He doesn't throw hard, with his sinker sitting in the high-80s, but he's been effective at the upper levels of the minors, particularly against lefties.


The Seattle Mariners invited non-roster OF Jack Larsen to spring training. Larsen has been kicking around the Mariners organization since signing in 2017 as a non-drafted free agent out of California-San Diego. He's spent the past season and a half at Double-A Arkansas, where he's shown a steady on-base game, though he was old for the level last year when he played the entire campaign as a 27-year-old. He got the briefest possible audition in Seattle when Julio Rodriguez and Dylan Moore both landed on the IL at the end of July. The M's called up both Larsen and Jarred Kelenic to fill in. Larsen arrived first and got the start in right field against the Astros on July 31. He struck out in his only at-bat, and was removed in the fifth inning when Kelenic finally arrived. That was all she wrote. Larsen returned to Arkansas with one at-bat on his resume. He finished out the year with a .269/.371/.407 slash line in 528 Double-A plate appearances. He should finally get a shot at Triple-A Tacoma this season.


The Chicago White Sox signed 2B Nate Mondou to a minor league contract. Chicago's infield isn't the most settled in the game heading into spring training, but Mondou looks like depth/insurance more than a candidate for a starting gig. He has spent his entire career up to now in the Athletics organization, and his build and approach seemed to fit the Moneyball profile. He slashed .283/.373/.432 in two seasons at Triple-A Las Vegas, posting nearly identical lines there in 2021 and '22. Oakland rewarded him with a cameo on Oct. 4, and he went 0-for-2 with a walk against the Angels in his only big-league game. Most of his reps have come at second base, but he did see time at third, short, and in the outfield last season in Triple-A.

The Toronto Blue Jays invited non-roster RHP Bowden Francis and SS Vinny Capra to spring training. Francis made one appearance for the Blue Jays in 2022, tossing 2/3 of an inning against the Red Sox on April 27. He struggled badly after being dropped back to Triple-A Buffalo, posting an 11.12 ERA over five May outings and losing his spot in the rotation. He eventually smoothed things out, but when he returned to a starting role in July it was mostly in two-inning stints. He finished the year with a 6.59 ERA in 98.1 innings for Buffalo, by far his worst line in any full-season league. He was a completely different guy in Puerto Rico over the winter, however, dominating over nine starts for Caguas, where he posted a 1.51 ERA in 35.2 innings while striking out 47 and walking just nine. If that Francis shows up in Dunedin, he's got a great chance of breaking camp with the big club. Capra made his debut with the Jays just a few days after Francis last spring, going 0-for-2 as the starting left fielder against the Astros on May 1. He spent most of May with in Toronto, but saw only seven plate appearances, going 1-for-5 with a pair of walks. He hit a solid .283/.378/.403 in 52 games for Buffalo, but missed significant time due to hamstring and finger injuries. The Jays non-tendered him in November, but re-signed him the following day. He's got a shot at a utility role, though he's likely to see time in Buffalo again.


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