April 2014

Quick Hits: Towles, Braves, Prospects

There have been 23 perfect games in Major League history and 16 instances of a player hitting four home runs in one game, and both of these rare baseball events have taken place on April 30.  White Sox right-hander Charlie Robertson threw a perfecto against the Tigers on this day in 1922; 39 years later, the legendary Willie Mays homered four times as part of a 14-4 Giants rout of the Braves.  Incredibly, there have been two other instances of a four-homer game and a perfect game on the same day — July 18 (Pat Seerey in 1948 and David Cone in 1999) and May 8 (Josh Hamilton in 2012 and Catfish Hunter in 1968).

Here’s some news from around the majors as we head into May…

  • J.R. Towles is fully recovered from a home plate collision that ended his 2013 season and is receiving some interest from Major League teams, MLBTR’s Zach Links reports (Twitter links).  Considered a top-55 prospect headed into the 2008 season, Towles hit .187/.267/.315 in 484 PA with the Astros from 2007-11.  The catcher spent 2012-13 playing for the Triple-A affiliates of the Twins, Dodgers and Cardinals, and is currently hitting well for the independent Bridgeport Bluefish.
  • Three years ago, Jason Heyward was seen as the Braves‘ signature star of the future while Freddie Freeman was projected to have a more modest ceiling, Sports Illustrated’s Ben Reiter writes.  Now, Freeman is emerging as one of the game’s best first basemen while Heyward has yet to truly break through thanks to both injuries and a hole in his swing.  Reflecting how the two players have switched roles, the Braves only locked Heyward up to a two-year commitment during their offseason extension frenzy, while Freeman was given an eight-year, $135MM contract.
  • In an Insider-only piece for ESPN.com, Jim Bowden looks at seven top prospects who could be making their Major League debuts sometime this season.
  • Fortitude is a quality that every scout wants to see in a pitcher, yet it’s one of those intangibles that is hard to both identify or even define, Jason Parks of Baseball Prospectus writes.

AL Notes: Abreu, Carbonell, Astros, Baker

2014 looked like a rebuilding year for the White Sox, but with Jose Abreu bursting onto the scene to become a star power bat, could the Pale Hose contend this season?  GM Rick Hahn told reporters (including CSN Chicago’s Dan Hayes and MLB.com’s Scott Merkin) that “it really is a balancing act.  You don’t want to pass on a chance to win. They are sacred. At the same time, this is a long-term proposition we are trying to build here, sustain over an extended period, and we don’t want to hamper our ability to do that.”  It’s still too early in the season to make “short-sighted” moves, Hahn said, yet if the Sox are in the race in a couple of months, the team will re-evaluate its goals for the season.

Here’s some more from around the junior circuit…

  • White Sox executive VP Kenny Williams talked to Daryl Van Schouwen of the Chicago Sun-Times about his experience scouting Abreu and then his discussions with owner Jerry Reinsdorf about raising the club’s bid for the heavily-courted slugger.  It was Reinsdorf, Williams said, who actually endorsed paying more for Abreu.  The extra push seems to have paid off, judging by Abreu’s huge April performance.
  • The Yankees are interested in Cuban outfielder Daniel Carbonell, according to media outlet Diario de Cuba (hat tip to Mike Axisa of River Ave Blues).  The Yankees scouted Carbonell during a February workout.  The switch-hitting 23-year-old is a free agent and can be signed for any price as long as he signs before July 2.
  • Astros amateur scouting director Mike Elias discusses his team’s scouting process, current top prospects and the upcoming 2014 amateur draft with Sportsnet.ca’s Ben Nicholson-Smith.
  • It looks like Scott Baker will indeed stay with the Rangers‘ Triple-A affiliate, sources tells Chris Cotillo of MLB Daily Dish (Twitter link).  Cotillo previously reported that Baker would only use his May 1 opt-out clause if he could find a Major League deal with another team, and the White Sox and Indians had some interest in Baker’s services.

Blue Jays Notes: Stroman, Pearce, Buehrle

The bullpen was one of the Blue Jays’ few strengths in 2013 and yet the relief corps has gotten off to a terrible start this year, Sportsnet.ca’s Shi Davidi writes.  Last night’s blowup against the Royals was only the latest in a series of late-game meltdowns for the bullpen, which has a cumulative 5.08 ERA that ranks as the third-worst in the majors.  Here’s some more news from Toronto…

  • Cubs scout Dave Littlefield was in Buffalo last night to watch Marcus Stroman‘s six no-hit innings for the Triple-A Bisons, Davidi reports.  Chicago reportedly asked for both Stroman and Aaron Sanchez as part of a trade package for Jeff Samardzija in the offseason, a deal that the Jays rejected out of hand.  Littlefield’s presence could indicate a continued interest on the Cubs’ behalf or, as Davidi notes, simple due diligence.
  • Steve Pearce turned down the Jays’ waiver claim on his services in order to return to the Orioles because he could receive everyday playing time in Baltimore, according to Davidi.  Pearce will likely receive regular work at first base for the O’s while Chris Davis is out with an oblique injury.  The Blue Jays were looking at Pearce to start against left-handers as part of a DH platoon with Adam Lind.
  • If the Jays aren’t in contention by midseason, Richard Griffin of the Toronto Star notes that Mark Buehrle would likely have the most trade value of any Blue Jays starting pitcher.  The veteran southpaw has been the Jays’ best starter in 2014 and, as Griffin notes, Buehrle’s consistent track record means that a trade partner knows exactly what they’re getting.  Moving Buehrle would also free up payroll space for the Jays — he is owed approximately $15MM over the rest of 2014 and is owed $19MM in 2015.
  • Also from Griffin’s piece, he interviews Jays assistant GM Tony LaCava about several prospects at all levels of Toronto’s minor league system.


Minor Moves: Matt Langwell, Tomo Ohka

Here are Wednesday’s minor moves from around the league…

  • Right-hander Matt Langwell has signed with the Somerset Patriots of the independent Atlantic League,  MLB Daily Dish’s Chris Cotillo reports (Twitter link).  Langwell made his Major League debut in 2013, posting a 5.14 ERA, 7.7 K/9 and 1.71 K/BB rate in 14 relief innings with the Indians and Diamondbacks.  He made the move from Cleveland to Arizona as the player to be named later in the Jason Kubel trade.  Langwell, who turns 28 next week, was originally the Tribe’s 11th-round pick in the 2008 amateur draft.
  • Right-hander Tomo Ohka, who was released by the Blue Jays at the end of Spring Training, has signed with the Atlantic League’s Bridgeport Bluefish, reports Chris Cotillo (via Twitter). The 38-year-old right-hander spent parts of 10 seasons in the Majors, most recently with the Indians in 2009. In his big league career, the Japanese hurler posted a 4.26 ERA with 5.0 K/9 and 2.5 BB/9 in 1070 innings. Back in February, Ohka spoke with the Toronto Star about his late adoption of a knuckleball to attempt to revive his career and return to the Majors. He’ll now try to parlay a strong showing with the Bluefish into a look from a big league club.

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Brewers Notes: Wang, K-Rod, Offseason

The injury-riddled Brewers may have suffered another knock today when Matt Garza was removed from today’s 9-3 loss to the Cardinals.  Garza suffered a bruised right thumb while batting in the top half of the fourth inning, and came out of the game after facing one batter in the bottom of the fourth.  With Ryan Braun, Jean Segura, Aramis Ramirez and now Garza all facing nagging injuries and the bullpen piling up appearances, some roster moves may be in order for the Crew, as you’ll read in this edition of Brewers Notes…

  • Rule 5 draft pick Wei-Chung Wang could be the odd man out if the club calls up a fresh bullpen arm, Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports.  Wang has a 15.00 ERA over six innings of work, and he made only his fourth appearance of the season in today’s game.  Manager Ron Roenicke hinted that his club wouldn’t put a player on the DL in order to call up a reliever, though that didn’t necessarily mean they were giving up on Wang.  The Brewers would have to offer Wang back to the Pirates for $25K if he isn’t on Milwaukee’s 25-man roster for the entire season.
  • Francisco Rodriguez always had a return to the Brewers on his mind when testing the free agent market last winter, the closer tells MLB.com’s Tracy Ringolsby.  “I had two or three offers before the Brewers, but I told my agent to wait and see what the Brewers decided to do,” Rodriguez said. “As soon as their offer came, I said, ‘I want to take it. It’s where I want to be.’ “
  • Despite today’s loss, the Brewers still have the best record in baseball at 20-8, and Grantland’s Jonah Keri examines how the club has rebounded from a poor 2013 thanks to better health and improvement in virtually all areas.  GM Doug Melvin cited the Brewers’ core of young talent getting a chance to play last season as a big reason why this year’s club has gotten off to such a strong start.

NL Central Notes: Samardzija, Polanco, DeJesus

Homer Bailey‘s extension with the Reds could have a ripple effect within the NL Central, as Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times believes Bailey’s six-year, $105MM deal greatly exceeded a five-year extension offer the Cubs made to Jeff Samardzija.  It has been widely speculated that Samardzija will be traded or leave in free agency rather than remain a Cub, though Bailey himself isn’t so sure.  “I think the Cubs will spend money where they feel like it’s needed,” Bailey said.  “And maybe it will be Samardzija. We don’t know that.  The Cubs might be playing a bluff card. That’s part of going into a negotiation, too. There’s so many strategies.”

Here’s the latest from around the division…

  • If the Pirates are really keeping Gregory Polanco at Triple-A to keep him from reaching Super Two status, it’s a lose-lose situation for all parties, Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review writes.  Ownership could save money on Polanco’s future arbitration years, but Sawchik makes the point that those savings could cost the Bucs a playoff berth (and playoff revenue) this year since the Pirates need Polanco’s bat.
  • Polanco’s Triple-A dominance could be hurting him in some respects, MLB.com’s Tom Singer opines, as the Pirates might be waiting to see how Polanco deals with adversity before calling him up to the Major League level.
  • Polanco’s situation is detailed by ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick, and one scout had high praise for the young outfielder.  Polanco was called “as close to the perfect player as you can get” and the scout described him as “Dave Parker with more speed, and Darryl Strawberry without the off-field baggage.”
  • Unlike former teammate Matt Garza, David DeJesus didn’t necessarily feel relieved to be traded from the Cubs last summer, the outfielder tells CSN Chicago’s Patrick Mooney.  DeJesus still has a house in the Chicago suburbs and enjoyed his time in Wrigleyville, but the Cubs’ continual moving of veterans could harm the club’s youth movement.  “Young guys have to follow leadership. I followed Mike Sweeney,” DeJesus said.  “You learn how to be a professional at that time. When they keep losing those guys, it’s going to be tougher. They’re going to have to grow up real quickly.”

A.J. Griffin Undergoes Tommy John Surgery

WEDNESDAY: Griffin’s surgery took place today, according to the Athletics’ official Twitter feed.

TUESDAY: Griffin will, in fact, have Tommy John surgery, CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman tweets.

FRIDAY 7:12pm: “No decision on the next course of treatment will be finalized” until Dr. Mehlhoff sees Griffin on Tuesday, A’s assistant GM David Forst tells Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle (Twitter link).

6:28pm: Athletics righty A.J. Griffin will undergo Tommy John surgery next week, a source tells Joe Stiglich of CSNBayArea.com.  An elbow issue first cropped up for the 26-year-old pitcher in March, and word came from A’s manager Bob Melvin this week that Griffin would visit Houston-area specialist Dr. Thomas Mehlhoff on Tuesday for a second opinion.

Griffin provided 200 innings of 3.83 ball as a member of the A’s rotation last year.  The A’s had already lost Jarrod Parker to Tommy John in March.  The A’s seemed to have a surplus of starting pitching when they reached an agreement with Scott Kazmir in December, but attrition has taken its toll.  Nonetheless, Oakland’s 2.74 rotation ERA ranks first in the American League this year.  The group is comprised of Kazmir, Sonny Gray, Dan Straily, Tommy Milone, and the surprising Jesse Chavez.  The A’s may still be compelled to add to their starting pitching depth as the summer wears on.

In an ESPN article today, Jayson Stark addressed this year’s Tommy John epidemic, of which Griffin appears to be the 17th victim.


Dodgers Notes: Olivo, Outfield, League

The Dodgers today announced that they’ve selected the contract of catcher Miguel Olivo and promoted him to the big league club, optioning Tim Federowicz to Triple-A to clear room on the 25-man roster. To make room on the 40-man roster, Chad Billinglsey was placed on the 60-day DL. Olivo hit well in a very small sample at Triple-A after signing a minor league deal with the Dodgers this offseason, slashing .390/.438/.661 in 64 PAs. Here are a couple more Dodgers notes as the team hopes to squeeze in a three-game set with the Twins despite some poor weather in Minneapolis…

  • In an ESPN Insider piece, Jim Bowden writes the Dodgers must trade one of their outfielders prior to the trade deadline and another in the offseason to clear room for Joc Pederson, who is ready for big league action. Bowden goes through each player’s contract before concluding that he’d first look to move Andre Ethier and then Carl Crawford, noting that a trade of either would require the Dodgers to eat significant amounts of salary. Pederson is batting .393/.491/.628 through his first 114 plate appearances.
  • Though he’s been a whipping boy for the better part of the past year, Brandon League has started off the season very well, writes Steve Dilbeck of the L.A. Times. The immediate disaster of League’s $22.5MM contract made him the subject of plenty of ire, but Dilbeck points out that Juan Uribe also went from a perceived sunk cost to a surprising value for Dodgers recently. League has a 2.84 ERA in his first 12 2/3 innings on the young season.

West Links: Chatwood, Martin, Astros, Angels

Though the Rockies continued their hot start by improving to 16-12 last night, the mood was dampened by the departure of right-hander Tyler Chatwood with elbow tightness, Patrick Saunders of the Denver Post writes. It may not be too serious, as manager Walt Weiss wasn’t sure if an MRI would be utilized, but as Saunders points out, Chatwood missed nearly a month last season with elbow tightness. He also had bone chips removed from the elbow last October. Colorado has already seen its rotation hampered by injuries to Jhoulys Chacin and Brett Anderson, and losing Chatwood for any amount of time would be yet another blow. Here’s more from baseball’s Western divisions…

  • Bleacher Report’s Scott Miller has penned a must-read piece on the tale of Rockies reliever Chris Martin and his journey from working at an appliance store to Colorado’s bullpen. Martin’s career appeared to be done after shoulder surgery in his sophomore season of junior college, but time healed his shoulder, stocking washers and dryers strengthened it, and a game of catch with a friend led to a tryout for the American Association’s AirHogs. His AirHogs manager, former big leaguer Pete Incaviglia, placed a call to the Red Sox about getting scouts to see Martin as soon as possible. This synopsis doesn’t do the story justice, and Miller’s article is well worth the read.
  • The Astros, who typically employ a starter-reliever piggyback system for their minor league clubs, will adopt a six-man rotation at the Triple-A level for the time being, writes MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart. GM Jeff Luhnow spoke with McTaggart about the team’s unconventional development methods in the minors, noting that eventually the Triple-A club will go back to the usual tandem system employed at other levels.
  • In his latest “Fangraphs on FOX” article, Dave Cameron examines the Angels‘ offensive production to date and notes that their record isn’t really indicative of the talent on the team. The Halos also stack up very favorably in wOBA differential, leading Cameron to believe that there’s 90-win potential in Anaheim this year. Cameron acknowledges the team’s biggest flaw — its bullpen — but notes that relievers are the easiest commodity to acquire on the trade market each summer.

Tigers To Promote Robbie Ray

The Tigers have announced that left-handed starter Robbie Ray will be recalled and make his Major League debut against the Astros next Tuesday.

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The 23-year-old Ray ranked 91st on MLB.com’s list of Top 100 prospects prior to the season and was the centerpiece to the trade that sent right-hander Doug Fister from the Tigers to the Nationals this offseason (Detroit also received utility infielder Steve Lombardozzi lefty reliever Ian Krol). He’s gotten off to an excellent start to the year in Triple-A, posting a 1.59 ERA with a 21-to-5 K/BB ratio in 28 1/3 innings of work (five starts). In their free scouting report, Jonathan Mayo and Jim Callis of MLB.com offered the following take on Ray:

“Ray throws his fastball in the low-90s and can reach back for a tick more velocity when he needs it. His slider can look slurvy at times, but the best ones have good depth. He has a good feel for his changeup, which is a more consistent offering. His command has improved, but he would benefit from further refinement. Ray is a good athlete and has proven to be durable. He relies more on pitchability than overpowering stuff to get outs, but he has what it takes to succeed as a middle-of-the-rotation starter.”

Ray’s promotion was necessitated by an injury to Anibal Sanchez, but should he impress to the point where he sticks on the roster, his promotion likely will lead him to Super Two status. If his official promotion is delayed until next Tuesday, he would accrue 148 days of Major League service time through season’s end, which would almost certainly place him within the top 22 percent of the two-to-three year service class following the 2016 campaign. That would make Ray eligible for arbitration four times, beginning after the ’16 season, and also setting him to hit free agency in the 2019-20 offseason. Of course, that schedule would change were Ray to be sent back down when Sanchez returns, which should be sometime in mid-May.

Somewhat ironically, Ray is making his Major League debut before the injured Fister has thrown a single Major League pitch for the Nationals. The trade was widely panned in the media at the time, as many felt that Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski received too little for Fister, and it’s been compounded by his decision to trade Lombardozzi for Alex Gonzalez, who has already been released. Ray’s development into a reliable starting option for the Tigers would greatly change that perception.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.