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The big news out of the American League today comes from the Royals, who announced Hall of Famer George Brett will take over as interim hitting coach in place of Jack Maloof, while Pedro Grifol will take the major league special assignment coach role from Andre David. Brett has worked with the club since retiring in '93, but this marks his first in-season coaching job. He'll have his work cut out for him, as the Royals rank 12th in the AL with 3.98 runs scored per game, tenth with a .314 on-base percentage, and 14th with a .375 slugging percentage. The team's entire infield has failed to hit, right fielder Jeff Francoeur has been terrible as well, and even Billy Butler is slugging just .404. Losers of their last eight, the Royals still have a 6.3% shot at the playoffs, according to Clay Davenport's calculations.
Elsewhere around the American League…
- Hideki Matsui will sign a one-day minor league contract with the Yankees on July 28th to announce his official retirement that day as a Yankee, according to a team press release. After playing ten seasons with the Yomiuri Giants, Matsui compiled a .292/.370/.482 line with 140 home runs in seven seasons with the Yankees.
- Joel Sherman of the New York Post revisits the Yankees' failed attempt to acquire Cliff Lee from the Mariners in 2010, noting that the players GM Brian Cashman refused to include aren't looking so great these days for the most part.
- As the Angels' best player, Mike Trout merits the respect of someone with four or five years of big league service, argues Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports, who feels Trout should stay in his preferred center field even when Peter Bourjos returns from the disabled list. Rosenthal notes that Trout "never once complained about playing left." I should point out that Trout's agent Craig Landis did bring up that "disappointment" in his March statement expressing displeasure with Trout's contract renewal.
Even contenders have their flaws. Defining contenders as any team Clay Davenport gives at least a five percent chance of reaching the playoffs and using weighted on-base average, let's identify the weakest offensive production by position in the NL.
- Catcher: Reds (.263), Diamondbacks (.265). For the Reds, giving Devin Mesoraco the clear starting catcher role over Ryan Hanigan would boost their offensive production out of the position, but of course this position is about a lot more than hitting. The D'Backs are in a tough spot. They have a major commitment to Miguel Montero, and he's been brutal so far this season. They probably just have to hope he pulls out of it.
- First base: Rockies (.289), Phillies (.317). The Rockies have used Jordan Pacheco, Todd Helton, and a little bit of Michael Cuddyer at first base this year. In theory, the Rockies could go with Cuddyer at first and someone like Tyler Colvin in right field. The trade market is bleak at the position, as Justin Morneau and Carlos Pena would not be clear upgrades for Colorado. Corey Hart could be an interesting option, once he comes off the DL. The Phillies owe Ryan Howard roughly $98MM through 2016, so they'll just have to hope he can start drawing some more walks and begin to add positive value.
- Second base: Nationals (.227), Diamondbacks (.284). Second base has been a black hole for the Nats, with Danny Espinosa and Steve Lombardozzi struggling. Fans are calling for the return of 2011 first-round pick Anthony Rendon, but he probably needs to gain more experience at second base first. The D'Backs have used Martin Prado at second baes a decent amount in Aaron Hill's absence. Should Hill require surgery on his hand fracture, perhaps the D'Backs will look into an acquisition. Maybe third base prospect Matt Davidson, hitting .311/.342/.544 at Triple-A this month, could help the situation.
- Shortstop: Dodgers (.219), Pirates (.248). Hanley Ramirez should return from a hamstring injury next week, providing a lift to the Dodgers' abysmal offensive production at shortstop. The Pirates signed Clint Barmes in the 2011-12 offseason for his defense, but it barely makes up for the automatic outs at the plate. Jordy Mercer, John McDonald, and Chase D'Arnaud aren't much better, and highly regarded prospect Alen Hanson is still at High A. Good luck finding a decent-hitting shortstop on the trade market, though. The White Sox, should they drop out of contention, could offer up Alexei Ramirez at a premium.
- Third base: Pirates (.259), Rockies (.280), Dodgers (.288). It's been a power-only show for the Pirates' Pedro Alvarez at the hot corner, as he's striking out a ton and owns the fifth-worst qualified OBP in the NL (.257). Aramis Ramirez would be a fun pick-up, though intra-divisional trades can be tricky. Chase Headley would be a huge addition, but only if the Padres are willing to listen. The Rockies will give rookie Nolan Arenado some time to find his footing. Less Luis Cruz should be enough to give the Dodgers a lift.
- Left field: Diamondbacks (.300), Reds (.300), Giants (.302). The D'Backs have used six different left fielders, and figure to stick with Jason Kubel and Cody Ross. With Ryan Ludwick and Chris Heisey on the DL, the Reds have been employing Xavier Paul of late, and he's been solid overall. The Giants' combo of Gregor Blanco and Andres Torres was never meant to be offense-first, and Torres has heated up in May anyway. Should one of these teams turn to the trade market, Josh Willingham, Carlos Quentin, Michael Morse, Jason Bay, Raul Ibanez, Melky Cabrera, and Alfonso Soriano are some candidates. Several of those players don't work for the Giants, however.
- Center field: Dodgers (.278), Braves (.278), Phillies (.288). Center field is not an offense-first position, but in general these teams just need to get more out of their incumbents. Matt Kemp might miss some time with a hamstring strain, which could allow for Joc Pederson to get a look with the Dodgers. It seems crazy for the Braves to push B.J. Upton into a full-blown platoon with Jordan Schafer months after committing $75.25MM over five years, but that could be an option at some point. The Phillies were looking mostly for defense from Ben Revere, but .263/.302/.294 is still tough to stomach. John Mayberry Jr. can pitch in a bit. As for the trade market, Peter Bourjos, and Franklin Gutierrez could become available when healthy. David DeJesus, Chris Coghlan, and Alejandro De Aza could also be options.
- Right field: Phillies (.294), Braves (.313). Delmon Young hasn't done much for the Phillies in right so far. The Braves' Jason Heyward has been terrible, and we'll see how long they can wait that slump out. Trade options could include Giancarlo Stanton, Alex Rios, Andre Ethier, Nate Schierholtz, Chris Denorfia, Morse, and Hart.
Hitters converting to pitchers, and vice versa, is nothing new in Major League Baseball. One of baseball's all-time best hitters — Babe Ruth — began his career as a successful pitcher before becoming a full-time hitter and eventually landing in the Hall of Fame mainly for his exploits at the plate. That said, Ruth – who played between 1914 and 1935 – is clearly an anomaly when it comes to his performance given how tough it is to succeed at one role, let alone two.
The conversion from hitter to pitcher is generally considered to be a little easier due to the smaller learning curve and fewer skills that need to be developed. Some of the recent examples of hitters-turned-pitchers include Sean Doolittle of the Athletics, Jason Motte of the Cardinals, and Kenley Jansen of the Dodgers.
There are a number of interesting conversion stories developing throughout the minor leagues as prospects desperately cling to their dreams of playing in The Show by redefining their roles.
Stetson Allie, 1B, Pittsburgh Pirates
As alluded to above, switching from hitting to pitching is a very difficult thing to do and many nameless minor leaguers have washed out attempting to make the bold move. Some of the more recent successes include the likes of Rick Ankiel, Adam Loewen and Brian Bogusevic but that group of players has experienced moderate success at the plate at best. Pirates prospect Stetson Allie is looking to become more than just a role player, Quad-A slugger, or curious oddity.
Originally signed for $2.25MM due to his big-time fastball, the Ohio native made just 17 appearances on the mound before it became apparent his best hope for a big league career would come while standing in the batter's box. As a pitcher, Allie posted a 7.76 ERA while walking 37 batters in 26 2/3 innings of work.
The decision to turn Allie into a first baseman was not a desperate grasp at straws to try and recoup a hefty investment. Baseball America is one of the best in the business when it comes to covering the annual amateur draft, and Allie's pre-draft scouting report touched on the young player's prep hitting abilities (subscription required). "[Allie] had expressed a desire to hit, and he does have some of the best raw power in the draft… With his size, power and arm strength, he could be an early-round pick as a third baseman, but he now accepts that his future is on the mound."
He began his journey as a hitter in 2012 and had a modest first season as a hitter in the Gulf Coast League. Moved up to A-ball in 2013, the 22-year-old Allie got off to a hot start in his first two months of the season (.342 batting average and 13 home runs) although there are some red flags. He's age-appropriate for his league and there would be more enthusiasm for his numbers if he were a year or two younger. Additionally, a strikeout rate of 28 percent in Low-A ball is worrisome, although Allie will likely earn a mulligan due to his lack of experience. Improvements in his contact rate will have to be made if he hopes to succeed against better pitching and improved breaking balls at the Double-A and Triple-A levels. When asked about the Pittsburgh prospect's chances of reaching the Majors, ESPN's prospect expert Keith Law referred to him as a "longshot" on Twitter.
Allie is not the only prospect in the Pirates system attempting to reinvent himself. Jared Lakind, 21, was originally given a $400K contract to forgo a two-way career at the University of Arkansas because of his intriguing raw power. He never tapped into it in pro ball with just five home runs in three seasons. He also hit just .148 and .169 over the past two seasons.
Kyler Burke, LHP, Chicago Cubs
Toiling away in the near obscurity of the Florida State League (High-A) — where crowds are announced in the hundreds rather than the 10s of thousands — is another conversion project in Kyler Burke of the Cubs. The Padres originally selected the prospect 35th overall during the 2006 amateur draft out of a Tennessee high school. He spent more than five years as a hitter in the low minors and was traded to the Cubs in 2007 as part of a package for former big league catcher Michael Barrett. Burke's best season as a hitter came in 2009 at the A-ball level when he posted a .911 OPS.
Contact issues plagued the young prospect throughout his career and he made the decision to give pitching a try after he struck out 131 times in 135 High-A ball games in 2010. Still just 25, he's moved methodically through the system as a pitcher and he's currently in the Daytona Cubs' starting rotation. Burke has made two starts so far after opening the year rehabbing an injury in extended spring training and he's allowed five hits in 10 innings of work and features a 0.90 ERA.
The prospect recently told writer Jake Seiner of MiLB.com he was willing to do anything asked of him to realize his dream of playing in the big leagues. "I just want to get to the big leagues," he said. "I love starting and I love the routine of going out every fifth day and getting my work in between. If it works out as a reliever, that's fine, too. It really doesn't matter to me."
The Cubs will face a difficult decision with Burke this fall. If he's not added to the 40-man roster, he'll not only be available in the annual Rule 5 draft, but he'll also be a minor league free agent, allowing him an opportunity to search out the clearest path to a Major League opening.
Justin Jackson, RHP, Toronto Blue Jays
Like Burke, Justin Jackson was a highly-regarded prep hitting prospect out of North Carolina. The Toronto Blue Jays selected the former shortstop 45th overall during the 2007 amateur draft and handed him a $675K bonus. He spent six seasons as a hitter but never hit more than .249 in a season and played just 94 games above the A-ball level. Ashley Marshall of MiLB.com sat down with Jackson, 24, and spoke to him about the decision to switch roles — which was borne out of a conversation between his agent and the Jays front office.
He opened 2013 in extended spring training in an effort to give him as much time as possible to polish his repertoire before making his pro debut as a pitcher. That moment finally came on May 4th when he worked 2 2/3 innings out of the bullpen for the Lansing Lugnuts of the Midwest League (A-ball). Sam Dykstra of MiLB.com spoke with Jackson shortly after his first appearance. Since then, Jackson has accumulated 11 1/3 innings in seven appearances and features a 1.59 ERA with eight strikeouts.
His control continues to be a work in progress with six walks issued but he flashes an intriguing repertoire that includes a low-90s fastball, slider and changeup. If he's not added to the Jays' 40-man roster after the conclusion of the 2013 season, Jackson will be eligible for the Rule 5 draft in November and he'll also become a minor league free agent after six full seasons in the minors.
Jackson's former Lansing teammate Markus Brisker is also switching from hitter to pitcher, although he's still working out in extended spring training. The 22-year-old outfielder was originally a sixth round draft pick out of a Florida high school back in 2008. After hitting .306 in his debut, the athletic and strong-armed outfielder managed to hit above .200 just once in parts of four seasons in A-ball.
Prospect Tidbits: Like Allie, Micah Owings is trying to reinvent himself as a hitter after reaching the Majors as a pitcher and making 138 appearances (68 starts), mostly with the Diamondbacks. The born-again rookie currently has a respectable .770 OPS at the Triple-A level for the Nationals. He's slugged 15 extra base hits in 40 games but his 32 percent strikeout rate is a concern. Owings, 30, owns a career .813 OPS with nine homers in 205 big league at-bats — despite a strikeout rate of 33 percent…..Royals outfield prospect Brett Eibner, 24, was selected in the second round of the 2010 amateur draft after a strong career at the University of Arkansas as a two-way player. After parts of three years, though, he has yet to hit higher than .213 in any one season and struck out 165 times in 120 games last year in High-A ball. During the 2010 pre-draft scouting report on Eibner, Baseball America stated (subscription required): "Eibner is the best two-way prospect in the 2010 draft. Teams are evenly split about whether he has more potential as a pitcher or an outfielder… Eibner's preference is to hit, but it remains to be seen if he'll get his wish." The publication noted that his fastball velocity ranged anywhere from 88-97 mph. If he continues to struggle with the bat, the outfielder could take to the mound in the near future.
Based on roster surplus and thin relief market, it wouldn't be a surprise to ESPN.com's Buster Olney (Twitter link) if the Yankees moved Joba Chamberlain sometime before July 31st. The Rangers were keeping an eye on Chamberlain, who is finally back in action after resting a strained oblique, before the season started and its possible that the once-promising prospect could attract some attention between now and the deadline. The Bombers could afford to part with the 27-year-old thanks to the recent emergence of Shawn Kelley and rookie Preston Claiborne in the bullpen. Here's more from around baseball..
- The Royals' struggles could cost manager Ned Yost his job, but not just yet, writes Danny Knobler of CBSSports.com. Knobler spoke with GM Dayton Moore earlier today and gets the impression that he is prepared to stand behind Yost.
- Twins vice president Mike Radcliff told Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN (on Twitter) that he wouldn't rule out taking high school pitcher Kohl Stewart with the No. 4 pick due to his diabetes. Radcliff and scouting director Deron Johnson (link) have been closely watching Stewart and have seen him throw a number of times.
- Alden Gonzalez of MLB.com was surprised to see the Angels designate Mark Lowe for assignment in order to make room on the roster for Jered Weaver. Gonzalez notes that Michael Kohn, Garrett Richards, Dane De La Rosa, and Robert Coello could all be optioned, but the move to DFA Lowe instead is an indication of how well they are throwing. Coello is looking particularly strong so far this season thanks in part to his modified forkball.
Here's tonight's look at the NL East..
- Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo said today that he is not actively seeking roster upgrades from the outside, tweets Jon Paul Morosi of FOX Sports. Jayson Werth could return in the next week for the Nats, who currently sit 4.5 games back of the Braves in the NL East with a 27-25 record.
- Even though there has been speculation that the Phillies could trade Cliff Lee or Jonathan Papelbon this season, Buster Olney of ESPN told WEEI's Mut & Merloni that he doesn't see that happening. Olney noted that owner David Montgomery is very conservative and he's also not ready to count out the Phillies. While they have struggled, the Phillies have the luxury of getting to play plenty of games against the Mets and Marlins, whom Olney calls "two of the three worst teams in baseball".
- Phillies prospect Cesar Hernandez was recalled from Triple-A to help the club get by in the absence of Chase Utley. The Phillies consider the 23-year-old to be a future major league player and due diligence is required as he is out of options in 2014, writes Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer.
- Earlier tonight, we ran down the latest on the Mets.
Yesterday, Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos told ESPN's Buster Olney that he's less-than-thrilled with the depth in this year's draft. However, you'll be hard pressed to find scouts that aren't high on the talent near the top of the boards. Here's the latest draft news..
- UNC third baseman Colin Moran is moving up draft boards and some say he might even go first overall to the Astros, tweets Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com. However, Jonathan Gray, Mark Appel, and Kris Bryant are generally viewed as the top three players in the draft.
- Speaking of Appel, Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com writes that he has no regrets about his decision to return to Stanford last year rather than sign with the Pirates. "I tried to shield myself from it," Appel said of talk that he only returned to school to land more money this year. "But when you're on Twitter and anyone can say anything behind a keyboard without having to say it to your face, people will show their true colors. I saw a lot of people calling me greedy and things like that. Initially, it affected me, because I don't think anyone likes it when people don't like you. Then I realized that these people don't know me. All they know is I turned down $3.8MM."
- The international draft talk is raising job security concerns amongst scouts, writes Ben Badler of Baseball America. Some area scouts are worried about being moved to part-time status or losing their jobs altogether, particularly in countries that don’t produce a high volume of talent. In the long term, scouts are concerned that if a draft leads to a decrease in the number of players signed in the Dominican Republic and Venezuela, then that could hurt scouting jobs in those countries as well. However, most international directors say that they aren't planning on changing much if an international draft is put into place.
Earlier today, we looked at the latest on the Mets and Yankees as the two clubs continue to battle it out in their first Subway Series matchup of the year. For the 20-29 Mets, there's been a great deal of talk surrounding a major organizational shakeup – not from the outside, but from within. Here's more on that and other notes out of Queens..
- Demotion or not, Ruben Tejada is going to be arbitration eligible for the first time next year, meaning that he's due for a salary jump, notes Adam Rubin of ESPNNewYork.com (via Twitter). The 23-year-old entered 2013 at 2 years and 53 days of service time. So far this season, Tejada is hitting just .209/.269/.264 through 49 games.
- Mets skipper Terry Collins is playing very coy on Tejada and Ike Davis, but Andy Martino of the New York Daily News (on Twitter) hears that both could be sent down before the end of the Subway Series tomorrow. Tonight will be a big game for both as they look to stay on the big league roster.
- Martino (link) also hears that the Mets want to resolve the Davis situation before potentially demoting Tejada. However, GM Sandy Alderson could also just send both of them down at once. For more on the Davis/Tejada demotion situation, check out this blog post from Martino.
- Had the Mets not come back against Mariano Rivera last night, it is an absolute certainty that both Davis and Tejada would have been optioned, Martino tweets. While neither player recorded a hit last night, the club likely wouldn't want to make such a move in the wake of a big win (link).
The Angels have designated right-hander Mark Lowe for assignment in order to clear roster space for Jered Weaver, who is returning from a fractured left elbow, according to Angels director of communications Eric Kay (on Twitter).
Lowe, 30, struggled tremendously in his brief time with the Halos, yielding 12 runs in 11 2/3 innings. Lowe issued 11 walks and struck out only seven, and he also served up 11 hits (one homer). Lowe used to sit at 95-96 mph with his fastball as a member of the Mariners and Rangers from 2009-11, but his once blazing heater is averaging a more pedestrian 92.9 mph this season. In 274 1/3 innings for the Mariners, Rangers and Angels, Lowe has a 4.17 ERA with 7.7 K/9 and 4.1 BB/9.
Weaver has been out of action since his second start of the season back on April 7. He broke his non-throwing elbow while avoiding a comebacker from Mitch Moreland (video link). The Angels' rotation has struggled in his absence, as their collective 4.57 ERA ranks 23rd in baseball.
The Rays will promote right-handed starter Alex Colome and add him to their bullpen, according to Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times (on Twitter). The 24-year-old Dominican native ranked as baseball's No. 81 prospect prior to the season, per ESPN's Keith Law (Insider required and recommended).
The move is reminiscent of the Cardinals' promotion of Carlos Martinez earlier this month, although Martinez was recently optioned back to the minors to continue to develop as a starting pitcher. In 55 1/3 innings (10 starts) at Triple-A Durham this season, Colome has a 2.60 ERA, 9.9 K/9 and 3.6 BB/9. He first reached Triple-A as a 23-year-old last season when he finished the year by making three starts for Durham.
Colome, the nephew of former big leaguer Jesus Colome, has a "big arm" with a fastball in the mid-90s, an upper-80s cutter that "blows up bats" and a curveball around 80 mph with tight rotation, according to Law. Baseball America, MLB.com's Jonathan Mayo and Law all agree that there's a chance Colome ultimately ends up as a reliever. Law prefers to project him as a high-end starter, however, despite uncertainty surrounding his delivery and durability. While Colome failed to make the Top 100 list from BA or Mayo, BA ranked him sixth among Rays prospects, and Mayo ranked him 12th.
By calling Colome up now, the Rays run the risk of allowing him to achieve Super Two status if he never returns to the minor leagues. Assuming Colome is in uniform tonight, he will accumulate 124 days of service time this season. With the projected Super Two cutoff at two years, 119 days, he could end up in the top 22 percent of his two-to-three service class and reach arbitration four times instead of three. Any return to the minors would likely delay him from accumulating that much service time.
Here are your minor moves for Wednesday…
- Salt Lake Bees radio broadcaster Steve Klauke reports (on Twitter) that the Angels have released veteran Kip Wells to make room on the roster for the recently outrighted Billy Buckner. Wells, 36, had a 10.36 ERA, 3.3 K/9 and 8.1 BB/9 in 24 1/3 innings at Triple-A.
- Reds assistant director of media relations Jamie Ramsey reports that the team has purchased the contract of 21-year-old outfielder Sebastian Elizalde from the Mexican League. In 147 career games in that league, Elizalde is a .301/.353/.450 hitter. He will report to extended Spring Training (Twitter links).
- Dallas McPherson has signed a contract with the York Revolution of the Atlantic League, according to Chris Cotillo of MLBDailyDish.com (on Twitter). McPherson has a pair of 40-homer minor league campaigns under his belt and was once one of the best power prospects in baseball. He's hit just .241/.292/.446 as a Major Leaguer, however.
- The Dodgers have signed catcher J.R. Towles to a minor league contract, tweets Ken Davidoff of the New York Post. The former top prospect is now 29 years old and has a .265/.361/.423 batting line in 223 career games at Triple-A. At the Major League level, he's just a .187/.267/.315 hitter in 484 plate appearances — all coming with the Astros. He last saw the bigs in 2011.
- The Blue Jays have selected the contract of Triple-A Buffalo closer Neil Wagner, tweets MLBTR's Tim Dierkes. The Jays already had an open spot on their 40-man roster. The 29-year-old NDSU product has a 0.89 ERA with 32 strikeouts and eight walks in 20 1/3 frames at Buffalo this season.