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The 2015 MLB Draft begins on Monday, June 8th and runs until Wednesday, June 10th. In anticipation of the draft, MLBTR caught up with University of Arizona second baseman Scott Kingery, one of the most highly regarded players in this year’s class.
Tomorrow night, Arizona second baseman Scott Kingery will be waiting to hear his name called from Secaucus, New Jersey. Just three years ago, few could have imagined that Kingery would be in line to be a Day 1 draft pick or to even get drafted at all. Kingery was a very solid player coming out of Phoenix, Arizona’s Mountain Pointe High School, but he was overlooked by schools largely because he was only 5’7″ tall.
Kingery arrived at the University of Arizona as a walk-on, made the team, and started really making a name for himself in his sophomore year. An awful lot has changed over the last three years – not just Kingery’s stature. Today, he is rated as the No. 25 draft prospect in the country by ESPN.com’s Keith Law, No. 40 by Baseball America, and No. 42 by Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com. Kingery took some time out of his busy schedule late last week to chat with MLB Trade Rumors about his career at Arizona, his draft stock, and his MLB future.
Zach Links: It’s pretty rare to see a college walk-on go on to become a top draft prospect. In 2012, did you think you’d be in this position today?
Scott Kingery: Definitely not. That’s not something that I had in mind going into my freshman year, especially as a walk-on player. I didn’t have a spot on the roster yet for sure, so at that point, I was just trying to find a spot on the team.
It was pretty late in the summer when an assistant coach came down to watch me play in a tournament. They offered me a recruited walk-on spot, which means that you have a place on the fall roster but nothing is guaranteed for the spring roster. So, I wasn’t thinking about the majors at all at that point.
ZL: Did you consider taking scholarship offers from other schools, whether it was D-I or D-II?
SK: I was committed to going to a junior college in Arizona, but other than that, I didn’t have any D-I, D-II, or D-III offers for baseball. So, it was pretty much go to junior college or just take my chances at Arizona.
ZL: You turned the corner in a big way from your freshman year to your sophomore year. What changed for you?
SK: I think each year you play in the Pac-12 you just get a little bit more confident. I gained experience and I learned a lot. I think in your first year as a freshman you come in and don’t know what to expect. The level of play from high school to college increases so much. But, I learned more and more each year and built off of that.
ZL: Your double play partner, Kevin Newman, is considered to be one of the very best draft prospects in this year’s class. Did you feel like you’ve pushed each other over the years to excel?
SK: Yeah, when I was in the outfield the first few years I didn’t spent that much time with him. Now I’m at second base and we push each other and that helps us play better. This year he become one of my roommates and that’s when I realized how truly competitive we are with each other. Literally everything is a competition between us.
ZL: How does that competitive spirit between the two of you manifest itself off the field?
SK: If it’s video games, we’re competing. One night we were mini golfing and it got intense. We started even having competitions in the weight room and seeing who could get to school the fastest.
ZL: You played second base while at Arizona but there has been talk of your skills translating to shortstop. Could you see yourself playing shortstop at the big league level? How comfortable are you at shortstop?
SK: Since I haven’t been there in a few years, I think it would take some getting used to again. But that was my home all through high school. College is the only time I haven’t played there really…I think I could definitely play shortstop. I think a lot of teams want to see me try that out, too. If it doesn’t work, they can always throw me back to second base.
ZL: Do you have a preference between playing shortstop or second base?
SK: I’ve always loved playing shortstop more but playing second base isn’t too bad either.
ZL: Why do you like playing shortstop more?
SK: I don’t know why, but that’s just always been where I’ve been the most comfortable. I grew up playing that position and I just want to get back over there. When you’re at shortstop you feel like you’re kind of in the head role, kind of captain on the field. I’d like to get back to that.
ZL: There always seems to be skepticism surrounding shorter players, even when they’ve proven their ability time and time again like you have. Do you feel like any concern about you being under 6-feet tall is overblown?
SK: At this point, I don’t think that’s gonna come into play, but that was definitely one of the big reasons why I didn’t get a scholarship offer out of high school. I was 5’7″, 150 pounds heading into college so I think everyone saw that small stature and they didn’t want to take a chance. Now, I think I’ve proven myself over multiple years so I don’t think that my small stature matters much. Also, I’m 5’10.5″ now and I’ve put on 25 or 30 pounds, so it’s a different story.
ZL: What are you hearing about where you might get drafted?
SK: It’s kind of all over the place, but I’ve been hearing and reading that it could be somewhere in the No. 20-50 range. Hopefully I’ll get drafted towards the top of that, but, we’ll see. Anything can happen.
ZL: What do you think sets you apart from other middle infielders in this class?
SK: I’ve proven that I can hit at multiple levels. I did it in college and I did it in the Cape Cod league. That, along with my speed, sets me apart. I’ve shown that I can create havoc on the basepaths with my speed and my bat really just improved each year at Arizona. I also got even more comfortable with my range this year and I made things happen on defense as well.
ZL: What’s the main thing you want to work on?
SK: I want to work on my footwork at second base because that can always get better. I also want to make sure that I stay aggressive at second base. It’s a short throw so sometimes you can find yourself getting complacent and sitting back on a ball rather than getting the right hop. I like to be aggressive and get right to the ball.
ZL: Last summer in the Cape Cod League, you showed that you can still rake with a wooden bat. Do you sense that has helped your draft stock somewhat?
SK: Definitely. The top players in college are in the Cape Cod league so going there, facing that pitching, and putting up some good numbers really shows the scouts that I have a good swing and that it doesn’t matter if I’m swinging wood or metal.
ZL: Everyone loves to compare draft prospects to current players. What major league player would you say that your skill set is similar to?
SK: I’d say I’m something like Ian Kinsler, with a little bit more speed.
ZL: What are your plans for draft night?
SK: I’m just going to have some friends and family over. We’ll be watching on TV with everyone else, waiting to see what happens.
When you think of the lifestyle of a professional baseball player, you think of big houses and Olympic-sized swimming pools. You rarely think of those players building pools in someone’s backyard. Reds pitcher Josh Smith has had to do just that to make ends meet as he chases his big league dream.
Players taken in the early rounds of the draft typically get sizable signing bonuses and don’t have to moonlight at a second job. Smith’s journey to the minors, however, was decidedly different.
The right-hander cut his teeth at Lipscomb University as the No. 2 pitcher in the rotation next to ace Rex Brothers. Brothers, the Friday night pitcher, would go out and throw in front of scores of major league scouts. By Saturday, when Smith would take the mound, the scouts were off to check out their next prospect. Smith may not have had the same upside as Brothers, but he was a very strong pitcher in his own right and deserved far more attention from scouts, in the estimation of agent Alex Esteban. Brothers became a first round selection of the Rockies while Smith wound being selected in the 21st round by Cincinnati in 2010. Brothers got a signing bonus just shy of seven figures upon signing his deal. Smith got roughly $1K.
Bonuses for later round picks are extremely low and the minors don’t pay very well from year-to-year either. Smith, who earns less than $10K per year in salary, quickly figured out that he needed to take on a full-time job in the offseason. Longtime pitching coach Tracy Valentine, a former minor leaguer himself, also ran a pool construction business and had a need for a physically strong employee who could haul bulky, cumbersome bags of cement from the truck to backyards. That position, while greatly appreciated by the pitcher, didn’t give Smith the hours or pay that he needed to make ends meet.
“I don’t need side cash,” Smith told Valentine. “I need a job.”
With that, Smith began actually building the pools and earning a bit more cash. To line his pockets further, Smith also helped coach some of Valentine’s pupils, including Diamondbacks 2014 first-round choice Touki Toussaint.
“He came to us when he was like 14 or 15 and I was like, ‘Who is this kid?,‘” Smith said. “Back then he was a shortstop and I asked him if he ever thought about pitching and he said no. I told him, if you ever change your mind, let me know. I told him that he needed to be a pitcher because he had a cannon.”
Smith still helps to guide young arms and build pools in the offseason, even though he has reached Triple-A and is knocking on the door of the Reds’ major league roster. His particular offseason job might be unique, but it’s a lifestyle that is not at all uncommon for minor leaguers, Smith says.
“My old college teammate Caleb Joseph is in the bigs now with the Orioles, but when he was in the minors, he would come home and work at the local country club as a caddy and a waiter. Some guys do construction, some work in restaurants. Everyone does what they need to do in the offseason to make ends meet,” Smith explained.
In April, it became evident that Smith’s hard work both on and off the field was paying off as the Reds called him up to the majors.
“My manager, Delino DeShields, called me and said, ‘Pack your stuff, you’re meeting the Reds in Chicago.’ I didn’t believe him, but he told me he’d never pull a joke like that and that he wished he could see my face when I heard the news,” Smith said. “I was actually playing Call Of Duty with a bunch of my Louisville teammates and I told them on the headsets that I had to go and get myself packed.”
“The funny thing is,” Esteban added. “He was playing with like 100 other teenagers who had no idea what any of them were talking about.”
When Smith landed in Chicago, Esteban was there to pick him up from the airport and drive him to meet the team. The right-hander had a million things going through his mind on his way to the hotel. What’s it going to be like to pitch in a big league game? How will I adjust to playing in front of tens of thousands of people in the stands? But, there was one pressing concern that stood out above the others.
“I was wondering,” Smith said to Esteban. “Do you think they’ll put me in the video game?”
Unfortunately, Smith didn’t make it into the video game or the actual game during that stint. The Reds sent Smith back down to the minors after the three-game set in Chicago without having thrown a pitch. Still, the experience was a milestone for the 27-year-old and he knows that he’ll get another opportunity when the Reds are in need of a long reliever or spot starter. Once he gets to the majors and sticks on the roster, he could wind up with a big swimming pool to call his own.
Hector Olivera is Los Angeles’ newest star, but he easily could have wound up elsewhere given the widespread interest clubs had in him. On a conference call Tuesday evening, I asked the infielder how many teams he had serious conversations with and whether he was close to signing with any of them.
“There were five teams that had interest in me [including] San Francisco, Atlanta, and Miami,” Olivera said through a translator. “But, in the end, I decided to sign with the Dodgers because I know that this is a great organization.”
Hours ago, team president Andrew Friedman told reporters that he is open to different positions for Olivera, who is said to have the ability to play second base, third base, and the corner outfield. It appears that Olivera and Friedman are in agreement.
“My whole career I played second base, but I don’t think I’m in the position to decide where I should play or to say what my preference is,” said the Cuban star when asked what position he is most comfortable playing. “Wherever they put me, I’m going to give my best…Wherever they put me, they’ll see results.”
Friedman was unwilling to put a timetable on Olivera’s Major League debut, but the player doesn’t think it’ll take all that long. The second baseman told reporters that he’ll probably need “three or four weeks” to get ready before making the leap to L.A. As he prepares to make the biggest transition of his professional career, he’ll do so unencumbered by any elbow trouble. For weeks, it has been reported that Olivera was dealing with an issue in his arm, rumored to be a a slight UCL tear in his right elbow.
“I don’t know where that rumor came from. I know that there was a little bit of inflammation in my forearm…It was just fatigue in the muscle, but it wasn’t a serious problem and I don’t know where that rumor started.”
After months of anticipation, the Dodgers have finalized their agreement with Cuban infielder Hector Olivera. The two sides first shook hands on a six-year, $62.5MM deal back in March but a few roadblocks – including visa issues – dragged the process out a bit. Today, the i’s are dotted, the t’s are crossed, and Olivera is at long last an official member of the Dodgers.
There are still lingering questions, however, not the least of which is where Olivera will fit into the Dodgers’ big league picture with plenty of talent already at second base, third base, and the corner outfield positions. Minutes ago on a conference call, I asked Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman if Olivera’s arrival could open things up for a potential trade down the line.
“I think having as many good players as possible helps you not only in constructing your own roster, but it allows you the opportunity to talk with more teams. If we’re ever complaining about having too much depth then that’s a good problem to have, but we’re certainly not there yet. Adding someone that has a chance to impact the game is obviously always a good thing,” Friedman said.
Friedman clearly wasn’t looking to discuss specific trade possibilities, but one has to imagine that the Dodgers could parlay their offensive depth into pitching, particularly in the wake of rumblings that pitcher Hyun-jin Ryu could require season-ending shoulder surgery. There’s no word yet on whether Ryu will have to go under the knife, but Friedman says that he has been bracing for the worst and planning as though he will not have Ryu the rest of the way. The Dodgers expect to know more about the left-hander’s condition on Wednesday, and that information will shape their approach this summer.
The immediate plan for Olivera will be to work him up through the minor league system. The infielder’s first stop will be in Arizona (for “a few days”), followed by a bump up to Oklahoma City. Given Olivera’s age and the size of his deal, there has been a lot of talk about him making an immediate impact at the major league level. Still, Friedman wasn’t willing to put a timetable on when the Cuban standout might join the varsity squad.
When Olivera is ready for primetime, Friedman says that the organization is open to different positions for him. While Olivera worked out at the Dodgers academy, Friedman received reports indicating that he was taking well to both second and third base. Olivera is also said to have the range to play in the outfield, so that could theoretically be an option for L.A.
Of course, as MLBTR’s Jeff Todd outlined a bit earlier this afternoon, that versatility doesn’t exactly make his path to the Majors any clearer. The Dodgers have Juan Uribe, Alex Guerrero, Enrique Hernandez and Justin Turner all, like Olivera, capable of playing multiple infield positions. And, starting second baseman Howie Kendrick doesn’t figure to be displaced anytime soon (he’s even been mentioned as an extension candidate). In the outfield, Andre Ethier has looked rejuvenated this season, with Joc Pederson, Yasiel Puig, Scott Van Slyke, Carl Crawford, Guerrero and Hernandez all serving as options as well (though Puig and Crawford are currently injured). Versatile as he may be, Olivera joins a crowded mix of players in an intriguing logjam that figures to be addressed at some point down the line.
In addition to Olivera, the Dodgers also completed the signing of Cuban righty Pablo Millan Fernandez to a minor league contract. Fernandez, who, according to Friedman, has an Orlando Hernandez-type windup that many Cuban pitchers are fond of, will be stretched out to be a starter.
In a draft class that featured several high-quality pitchers at the top, LSU ace Aaron Nola was viewed as one of the very best and universally regarded as the most major league ready of any of them. Scouts were impressed by Nola’s poise, maturity, and (perhaps most importantly) his pinpoint accuracy and multiple teams in the top ten were connected to the hurler, but the Phillies were the club that pounced at No. 7. Back in June, Nola spoke with MLBTR as a part of of our Draft Prospect Q&A series. Recently, we checked in with Nola as he was gearing up for the 2015, a season that could see his big league debut.
Zach Links: When the Phillies drafted you last summer, there was immediately talk of you quickly making a path to the big leagues since you were so polished. Did the Phillies indicate to you last summer that you could be bumped up to the majors rather quickly?
Aaron Nola: They didn’t really say exactly that. They didn’t really say much in terms of that. For me, the way I look at it is, whenever they want me up, its their call. Wherever they put me, my focus is going to be where I am and play to to the best of my ability.
ZL: Some folks were surprised that the Phillies didn’t have you in major league camp for the entirety of the spring. Were you expecting to be in big league camp for the whole thing, as opposed to just a bit at the end?
AN: They just told me that they were going to send me to minor league camp and I was okay with that. I had fun, I had a good time.
I knew a lot of guys there and there’s a good group of guys there and it was pretty cool pitching against the Yankees that one time. I was around guys in the clubhouse and getting to watch what they do and how they play the game, it was a really good and really educational experience.
ZL: Alex Rodriguez offered up some really high praise after facing you in spring training, telling reporters (including Ryan Lawrence of the Philadelphia Daily News), that you had a “good arm” and “a bright future” that “the Phillies should be very excited” about. [Nola allowed a single to Rodriguez in their first meeting, but struck him out with a changeup the next time around.] What was your reaction to that?
AN: I was just thinking that was pretty cool. We all know what he’s done in his career, he’s an unbelievable player and just watching him step in the box and the battle going on, it was surreal. Growing up we were just watching that guy on TV all the time and I was always hoping that one day I would pitch against him, so that was pretty cool.
ZL: Did you have any jitters when he stepped into the box?
AN: Maybe a little bit. I wasn’t too nervous coming in because it wasn’t the first time I pitched in front of a crowd like that. We pitched in front of some huge crowds at LSU. If there were any butterflies, they went away when I stepped on the mound because everything felt normal for me. I think some minor jitters sometimes are good, in a way.
ZL: The Phillies landed you at No. 7 but there were a number of teams connected to you, including the Twins at No. 5. Did you see the Phillies as your most likely landing spot on draft week, or did you see anyone else as the frontrunner?
AN: I just kind of told myself at that point that I was focused on my season at LSU and the games we were playing at that time. At that point, I was blessed and honored to be in that situation, to know that I’d probably be called in the first round wherever I go. I couldn’t control any of that, and I didn’t know where I’d end up when I was watching on TV.
It was an honor that the Phillies picked me, that day is something that I’ll always cherish and remember.
ZL: How has your daily preparation changed from this time last year to today? What kinds of things do the Phillies have you doing differently?
AN: I’m not doing anything different, really. What the Phillies have me doing is pretty much what I’ve done before. The only difference I’m pitching more often. I’m getting out on the mound more and more and I’m pretty accustomed to that at this point.
ZL: When we spoke last year, there were some scouting reports questioning your 3/4 arm slot. Have the Phillies tinkered with that at all?
AN: No they have not. It’s the same slot I’ve always done. I’ve never thrown a pitch another way and always thrown in that arm slot.
ZL: The Phillies were zeroed in on their veterans for a long time and playing for the here and now, but they seem to be focused on building on younger talent now. Are you excited to be part of the youth movement in Philly?
AN: Everyone there, they’re all great guys and I got to know them really well, or at least have good relationships with them. I’ve been hanging out with them a lot this year and I can tell you that they play the game the right way and work really hard.
I think those guys are great and their stars have been at the top of the game for years. They have had unbelievable careers and I don’t know what is going to happen but they’re working so hard this spring. I’m excited to work my way up to that level and play alongside them.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
What a difference a year makes. In April 2014, many doubted that Rick Porcello could ever meet the lofty expectations set for him roughly twelve years ago when he was mowing down every high school batter in Central Jersey. Today, Porcello inked an extension with the Red Sox that will net him a guaranteed $82.5MM over four seasons. That’s big bucks any way you slice it, but as Steve Adams noted earlier tonight, Porcello is sacrificing some earning potential by signing a deal at this juncture. On a conference call with reporters, I asked the right-hander if he was hesitant to sign a deal just months away from being able to hit the open market at the age of 27.
“I mean obviously I knew the opportunity that was ahead of me in entering free agency, but when I first got to camp and I saw the way the team was run from the ownership to Ben [Cherington] to the coaching staff and the players that were there, I saw that it was run very well from top to bottom,” Porcello said. “The devotion to win was here and it was something that I wanted to be a part of. It wasn’t a very difficult decision for me.”
Porcello went on to explain that he wasn’t thinking about signing an extension upon his arrival to Boston but he was board once that possibility presented itself. As for the Red Sox, Cherington said that he was impressed with Porcello from the get-go. One might think that a deal of this magnitude was hammered out over months of late nights at the office and bad takeout, but the GM explained that the deal actually came together rather quickly. Cherington had “informal” conversations with agent Jim Murray towards the end of Spring Training and negotiations actually didn’t pick up until the last few days.
“When we made the trade we had interest in at least having a conversation about [an extension], but as Rick alluded to, we respected that he was new to the Red Sox and we wanted to give him an opportunity to get to know us a little more and vice versa,” Cherington said. “It gave us a chance to get to know him too…Aside from the pitcher that he is, which we obviously like, getting to know Rick more over the winter and spring we came to learn that he just has a lot of qualities that we really admire and we felt that he was type of guy that we wanted here and we see him as a very important part of our team going forward for many years.”
There’s already plenty of discussion about the deal, with some believing that Porcello wisely locked in after a career year and others feeling that the Red Sox ace should have tried to build off of his 2014 effort and land an even bigger deal next winter. Porcello, for his part, could do without any of the attention.
“If we could have signed it without announcing it, that would have been fine with me. Today was about our season opener and the Red Sox winning.”
Even after watching the Braves ship out key players such as Justin Upton and Jason Heyward, Evan Gattis wasn’t expecting to be the next one to go. In January, after weeks of rumors and speculation, Atlanta struck a deal with the upstart Astros to continue their massive overhaul. Gattis was caught off guard, but it didn’t take him long to come to terms with the move and get comfortable with his new club.
“I wasn’t really actually bummed about the trade, I was just more surprised than anything. I just didn’t think it would happen,” Gattis told MLBTR prior to Wednesday’s game against the Phillies. “Other than that, its been a good camp and there’s a really good group of guys here. I’m just excited and looking forward to the season.”
Gattis understood that major change was coming to the Braves, but he figured that he would be immune to it all since he’s still pre-arbitration eligible for one more season and playing near the league minimum. Eventually, when it became clear that the Braves were listening on offers for him, he still didn’t panic or personally reach out to anyone in the Atlanta front office. “I’m always the type to focus on my own business and I just worry about what I need to do to play,” Gattis explained.
With the Braves eyeing 2017 as their year to get back to contention, Gattis sounds legitimately enthused to be with a team that has advanced their own timeline considerably. In fact, he says he’s okay with being flexible with regards to his exact role this season and isn’t fretting the split he might have between left field, the DH spot, or occasional time behind the plate. Gattis hasn’t gotten a ton of balls hit his way in left during spring training, but he’s confident that he’ll get comfortable there in time, just as he did with his new club.
Over the years, third baseman Cody Asche has drawn comparisons to Chase Utley from wishful Phillies fans. However, even though they’re both infielders that bat left-handed, Asche is a different type of player and is still working towards making that major step forward at the big league level. This spring, Asche has given the Phillies plenty of reason to believe that 2015 could be his year to break out. Last week against the Twins, Asche took Mike Pelfrey deep for his third homer in just five games. Prior to his next outing against the Astros on Wednesday, Asche spoke with MLBTR in the team’s Clearwater clubhouse about his representatives at Arland Sports.
On how he first came in contact with his primary agent, Jason Wood:
He was close to one of my summer coaches in high school and he represents one of my good friends, Jake Odorizzi (Odorizzi spoke with MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes back in 2013 about Arland Sports). We kept in contact a little bit and when it came time in college to find someone, me and my family just felt really comfortable with him. We didn’t really interview anyone else, we just knew that he was a good guy with the same kind of morals as us so we went with him.
On whether there’s an advantage to being with a smaller agency like Arland Sports:
I think for sure there’s an advantage, just because you get to know him on such a personal level. I wouldn’t even consider him my agent first, I would consider him my friend first before calling him my agent. But, being that he’s a smaller agent, only having a couple guys in the big leagues, we get a lot more attention than someone might get at a bigger agency.
On the things his agency does for him outside of baseball:
Anything, you name it. He’ll help me with restaurant reservations, tickets to games, lots of stuff like that. A lot of the time I’ll just reach out to him so that I can go to dinner with him. Obviously, he also helps me line up things like apparel deals. Also, my wife Angie is a dietician and he’s helped a lot with her startup business, Eleat Sports Nutrition, and getting that off the ground. Overall, I try not to ask Jason for too much though and I’m not the most demanding guy, so there’s not a ton of stuff I really want.
On whether he’s tried to recruit other players to the agency:
I haven’t done that a lot, I’ve had it more the other way actually. I’ve had a lot of guys say to me, “If you ever want to talk to [my agent] about making a change you can,” but I think everyone knows that I’m rock solid with Jason and all of Jason’s guys are rock solid and a lot of people in the business know that. Myself, Jake Odorizzi, and David Phelps are the three main guys we have in the big leagues right now, all three of us know what he’s about, we’re loyal, and I couldn’t foresee a situation where any of us would ever want to leave.
Last season, Aaron Harang was a pleasant surprise for the Braves. Signed to a cheap one-year pact, the veteran hurler pitched to a 3.57 ERA with 7.1 K/9, 3.1 BB/9, and a 39.4 percent ground-ball rate in 204 1/3 innings, a major step up from his 2013 campaign where he went from team to team and finished with a combined 5.40 ERA. Some, including yours truly, felt that his bounce back season would put him in line for a two-year deal. Instead, Harang wound up signing a one-year deal with the Phillies worth $5MM. It’s conceivable that something more lucrative could have materialized with time, but Harang didn’t want to be left without a chair when the music stopped.
“The Phillies were the most aggressive team as far as just getting things moving. I had a few other clubs that were talking to me at the same time but there were some other pieces that needed to fall in line before things could move forward with them,” Harang told MLBTR on Wednesday morning in Clearwater, Florida. “The Phillies moved the fastest. I knew that with some clubs, if I played my part and waited, there would be opportunities there. Obviously, I learned from last year that I didn’t want to sit around and wait so at that point I wanted to go to the team that was most aggressive, and that was the Phillies.”
Harang was also drawn to the Phillies’ rotation and felt that he would be a solid fit in the middle of the starting five. He was admittedly wary of some things about the roster, including the December trade of Marlon Byrd, but he says that he felt good about the organization as a whole and he believes that the lineup will get a boost from an improved Ryan Howard.
Still, the Phillies’ edge above the other potential suitors came from their readiness to make a deal. Like many other starters on the open market, Harang was left hanging by teams as they waited to see how the top of the pitching market would play out.
“There were a couple of East Coast teams and then a couple of West Coast teams that we had tentative conversations with, but a lot of it had to do with when [Jon] Lester was going to sign and when [James] Shields was going to sign and waiting for the dominoes to fall. But, [Phillies GM Ruben Amaro] called up and they were being the most aggressive out of anyone,” Harang explained.
Heading into the winter, Harang heard from a number of people in baseball who felt that he would wind up getting a multi-year deal. Still, he didn’t dwell on that and went in with the attitude that the market would determine the appropriate deal for him. After being traded twice in April of 2013 and spending time with four clubs in total that year, Harang felt that it was more important to find a place that valued him highly as a starter. Harang also indicated that he was disappointed by Braves’ level of effort to re-sign him early in the offseason, but he sounds plenty happy with his new home in the NL East.
Last offseason, Jerome Williams was on the shelf for quite a while as he waited to find out where his next home would be. The veteran had just turned in a career-high 169 1/3 innings for the Angels in 2013 and even though his core stats weren’t stellar, the advanced metrics indicated that he would have had a much better ERA with some luck on his side. Ultimately, Williams was left in limbo until February when he signed a one-year deal with the Astros with $2.1MM guaranteed. All in all, that offseason experience is one that the 33-year-old is glad to have in his rear view mirror.
“It was kind of nerve racking. Going through a season where I was with the Angels and I felt like things would have gotten done earlier, I proved to people that I could [start and pitch out of the bullpen] at that time. I was the only pitcher that had 25 starts and ten relief appearances, I think I was thinking at that time that people would come out and offer me something and it didn’t happen. It was kind of nerve racking but we got it done and that’s all that mattered,” Williams told MLBTR in the Phillies’ Clearwater clubhouse.
Even though he was biting his nails a bit, Williams says he wasn’t phoning agent Larry O’Brien to get constant updates. The Full Circle Sports Management rep has been in the field for more than 30 years and, as Williams put it, “he knows what he’s doing.” Indeed, O’Brien was relentless in his efforts to find a suitable deal for Williams and eventually he found a solid one-year platform for him to showcase his talents.
Unfortunately, things didn’t work out in Houston and the next stop in Texas wasn’t fruitful, but he found success with the Phillies when he landed there in August. In nine starts for Philadelphia, Williams pitched to a 2.83 ERA with 6.0 K/9 and 2.7 BB/9 across 57 1/3 frames. After ending the year on a high note, Williams jumped at the chance to skip the free agent process and stick with the Phillies with a one-year, $2.5MM contract extension.
“This was a no-brainer for me,” Williams explained. “Playing with them for the couple months I was with them, it was a no-brainer. The atmosphere, the guys in the clubhouse, the city, it was a no-brainer to come back.”
Williams credited his Philadelphia battery mates Carlos Ruiz and Wil Nieves for his improved performance to close out the year. His comfort level with the Phillies also helped matters. With seven different major league stops over the course of his career, Williams knows what he likes in a clubhouse and what he would rather avoid.
“I like being here because everybody treats everybody like family. When I came in, I was a new guy but I’ve been a long time and I knew a lot of the veteran guys here, so that made the transition a lot easier. I started talking to Jimmy [Rollins], Chase [Utley], I played with Chase in the [Arizona] Fall League, I played against Marlon [Byrd], I played against A.J. [Burnett], so it’s like, whoa, I know these guys.”
“Just seeing the younger guys mature, it was like a family, so that’s what the clubhouse is all about. This is your domain, this is our family, this is our place. So if we can be one as a family and as a unit, we can do things together,” Williams said.
Family is a concept that’s hugely important to Williams. In honor of his late mother who lost her battle to breast cancer in 2001, he’ll once again be donning a multitude of colorful gloves to raise awareness for different forms of cancer. Williams’ top choice is pink in recognition of his mother, but he’ll also be mixing it up with four different colors to put the spotlight on prostate, pancreatic, liver, and childhood cancers.
After a stress-free winter and a productive spring, Williams is eager to take the mound in April and build on his strong performance at the close of 2014. If all goes according to plan, Williams won’t find himself waiting around for a call next winter either.