Non-Roster Invitees – National League East

We survived! I’m so excited because MLB spring training baseball games begin today. Baseball is back, baby!

In our last piece, we looked at a few notable non roster invitees from each team in the American League West. Today we begin the National League, starting with the East division. Let’s get started, down south in Atlanta.

Atlanta Braves

Ian Anderson (RHP) – Ian Anderson is a 20 year old righty who was a first round draft pick (#3 overall) in the 2016 amateur draft. Standing 6’3″ tall and 170 pounds, Anderson employs three pitches. He features a good fastball (92-96 mph), a swing and miss curve and a change-up. Ian works continuously to improve his off-speed pitches, and was rewarded for it with excellent results in 2018. Anderson made 20 starts in High-A ball with the Florida Fire Frogs, logging a 2.52 ERA. He struck out 118 over 100 innings, allowing 73 hits and 40 walks. Ian was bumped-up to AA Mississippi and made four more starts, punching-out 24 over 19.1 innings and posting a 2.33 ERA. Anderson needs to work on control and command, but what 20 year old pitcher doesn’t? His ceiling is high, but the Braves won’t rush him.

Austin Riley (3B) – Riley was taken by Atlanta late in the first round of the 2015 amateur draft. He is a power-hitting third baseman who was a two-way player in high school. Reportedly, many teams looked at him as a pitcher, but the Braves were more impressed with his bat. He worked his way through the system and split 2018 between AA Mississippi and Triple-A Gwinnett, slugging 19 HR’s and producing a combined slash-line of .294/.360/.522. Riley was on target for a potential September call-up to Atlanta, but he sprained his knee diving for a foul ball. With an impressive spring, he could easily be playing with the big league club this season.

Pedro Florimon (Utility) – The well-traveled 31 year old utility-man spent the last two seasons with the Phillies. In late May, Florimon fouled a ball off his foot, breaking a bone near his big toe. He finished the at-bat before leaving the game, but didn’t return until Sept. 1. The switch-hitter went 1-14 in September, rendering his 2018 season a washout. The Braves inked him to a minor league deal in November. Pedro is a useful guy to have because he can play anywhere on the field except catcher and first-base.

Miami Marlins

Victor Victor Mesa (CF/OF) – I have to admit the first time I heard Victor Victor’s name, I thought of this scene from the 1980 comedy film, “Airplane!”

Now that we got that out of the way, 22 year old Mesa is Miami’s second ranked prospect in their organization. He and his younger brother, Victor Jr. defected from Cuba last May. In October, both brothers signed contracts with the Marlins, with the elder Mesa getting $5.25 million — a franchise record for an amateur position player. Victor Victor’s strongest points of his game are currently defense and speed and awareness on the basepaths. On offense, Mesa makes good contact, but is lacking in power. He hasn’t drawn many walks because he’s so good at making contact, but has to learn patience to work the counts. Mesa projects to begin in Double A.

Nick Neidert (RHP) – Neidert, 22, was taken in the second round of the 2015 amateur draft by the Mariners. He was acquired in the 2017 deal that sent Dee Gordon to Seattle. At 6’1″, 190 lbs, he doesn’t overpower but can top out at 93 mph, and has a plus-change-up that is his second best pitch. Nick spent the entire 2018 season in AA Jacksonville, where he went 12-7 with a 3.24 ERA. He struck-out 154 over 152.2 innings and walked only 31, a rate of 1.8 per nine innings. Expect Neidert to begin 2019 in Triple-A, and could reach the big-leagues if Marlins have injury problems or ineffectiveness.

Curtis Granderson (RF) – The “Grandy-Man” still can! Curtis Granderson has enjoyed a long and distinguished career, entering what will be his 16th season in the major leagues. He signed a minor league deal on February 5, making the Marlins the fifth organization Granderson has been with since 2017. He began 2018 with the Toronto Blue Jays, and was acquired by Milwaukee on the last day of August for their push to the playoffs. Curtis will turn 38 years old in a few weeks. He’s not an everyday player anymore, but can be productive in a platoon-role against right-handers and as a defensive replacement. He’s also a good clubhouse guy and young Marlins players will benefit from his presence.

New York Mets

Peter Alonso (1B) – Pete Alonso, a 24 year old out of Tampa, FL, is a hulk of a man at 6’3″, 245 lbs. He was picked in the 2nd round of 2016’s draft, and has torn through the Mets system in his two and a half seasons. Last year, Alonso began in AA Binghamton and was elevated to Triple-A Las Vegas midway through the season. When it was over, Peter compiled a slash-line of .285/.395/.579 with 36 home-runs and 119 RBI. On defense, he made only nine errors in 110 games. He’s ready now, but the Mets may use their legal right to gain an extra year of team-control by keeping him Syracuse, their new AAA affiliate until May. You’ll see him soon.

Andre Gimenez (SS) – Gimenez is a 20 year old shortstop from Barquisimeto, Venezuela. He is the top-ranked prospect in the Mets system. He spent most of 2018 in High-A, and later promoted to Double-A where he played almost 40 games. Combined, Gimenez hit .281, with 6 HR’s and 46 RBI in 122 games. On the bases, he’s a threat to steal, swiping 38 bags. He has a quick left-handed bat, but not a power guy at 5’11”, 160 lbs. He’s your prototypical lead-off hitter, able to work the counts and get on base. He bears watching, but you won’t see him until 2020, at the earliest.

Tim Tebow (LF) – How many of you expected Tim Tebow to still be in baseball after he said he wanted to switch sports in 2016? Admittedly, I did not. Tim had the best season of his short baseball career in 2018, putting up a .273 average with 6 HR’s and 36 RBI. He still struck out too much, 103 K’s in only 298 plate appearances. He has been a model teammate by all accounts, and no one has more drive and determination. He may be promoted to AAA Syracuse Mets to begin 2019, and if he plays well enough, who knows? Are you going to bet against Tebow? I’m not.

Philadelphia Phillies

JoJo Romero (LHP) – Romero is a 6’0″, 190 lb. southpaw who was selected in the 4th round of the 2016 draft. He has five pitches, including a mid-nineties fastball, to go with his slider, curve, cutter and change (all average to above-average). He breezed through Rookie League and all levels of A-ball by the end of 2017 with ERA’s under three at each stop. Romero began 2018 at AA Reading, PA of the Eastern League. On May 9, his ERA stood at 6.68 with an 0-4 record. He then seemed to figure things out, going 7-2, 2.35 ERA over his next dozen starts, when a strained oblique short-circuited and ended his season. Romero could start 2019 in Reading, but a move to Triple-A Lehigh Valley could come quickly.

Adam Haseley (CF/OF) – Haseley was the Philly’s top pick in the 2017 amateur draft. So far, he’s made quick work of each stop, hitting everywhere he goes. 2018 began in Clearwater, FL in A+ ball. Adam hit .300 in 79 games in the Sunshine State, with five HR’s and driving in 38. Haseley played his final 39 games in AA Reading, where he hit even better. He nailed six homers to go with his .316 average. Best of all, he struck out less in Double-A and drew walks at a higher rate. Plan for Haseley to finish 2019 in Triple-A, and if he continues progressing at this rate, you’ll see a September call-up.

Drew Butera (C) – Butera was middling along with the rest of the Royals in the basement of the AL Central, when opportunity came knocking in the form of a trade. The 35 year old veteran backstop was shipped to the Colorado Rockies on August 31, as insurance against injury to regular catchers Tony Wolters and Chris Iannetta. It helped that Butera had playoff experience and was familiar with closer Wade Davis. He can’t hit water if he fell from a boat, but his money is earned working with pitchers. Plus he’s a damn good Twitter follow (@drewbutera).

Washington Nationals

Carter Kieboom (SS) – Kieboom, 21, was the Nationals’ 1st round draft choice in 2017’s amateur draft. At 6’2″, 190 lbs, Kieboom hits for power and average. He started last season in High-A Potomac, where he smacked 11 home-runs, driving in 46 in roughly 60 games. Carter, the younger brother of Nationals catcher Spencer Kieboom, was promoted to AA Harrisburg halfway through 2018. He was challenged more there, but still hit a respectable .262 with five home-runs in 62 games. Of interest, Kieboom played 21 games in the Arizona Fall League, nine of which he played at 2nd base, a position he hadn’t played professionally. With Trea Turner firmly entrenched at shortstop in DC, a move to second base would be a way to make room for Kieboom in 2020. Brian Dozier can keep things warm until then.

Aaron Barrett (RHP) – Aaron Barrett is attempting a comeback from not one, but TWO catastrophic arm injuries. He last pitched in the majors with the Nationals in 2015. The story in the embedded tweet from @MiLB is worth reading and gives context.

Barrett pitched well in 20 games for Low-A Auburn Doubledays in the NY-Penn League, giving up only four earned-runs in 20.1 innings. He struck out 26 and walked eight. You can follow Barrett on Twitter here.

Henderson Alvarez (RHP) – It seems hard to believe, but Henderson Alvarez is still only 28 years old. Injuries derailed his once promising career, but to his credit he doesn’t give in. The last time Alvarez pitched a full season in the bigs, it was 2014. He went 12-7 with a 2.65 ERA that year, spinning three shutouts. He still has velocity (low 90′ but his stuff is nowhere near the same after his injuries. I hope he can get back on track, but if not — we’ll still have his walk-off no hitter from September 2013 when he was with Miami.

So that’s it from the NL East. Please join us next time when we continue on in the National League Central!

Yankees Take ’em or Trash ’em – Catchers

As I sit here on Wednesday morning, I’m sipping my second cup of coffee and thinking back on what an entertaining World Series we just watched between the Boston Red Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers. Game Three’s 18 inning marathon won by LA and Saturday night’s back and forth see-saw game in Game Four, eventually won by Boston have made this series a classic — the many antics by Dodgers shortstop Manny Machado not withstanding.

While the city of Boston watched the Red Sox victory parade today, the rest of Major League Baseball teams are sorting out what went wrong in 2018 and planning ahead for 2019. The New York Yankees and their front office are doing the same thing.

In the third installment of “Yankees Take ’em or Trash ’em”, we will take a look at the team’s catchers. Let’s get started!

Gary Sanchez – (.186, 18 HR, 53 RBI) Good Lord. Sanchez went from runner up for AL Rookie of the Year (in less than half a season, no less), to All Star in 2017 to the outhouse in 2018. If you are looking for a positive, the Kraken walked six more times than he did in 2017 despite 150 less plate appearances. I guess that’s a good thing, considering his average dropped 90 points to an anemic .186 on the season. Gary just never seemed to get into a groove as he did in 2016 and ’17. His defense behind the plate went from bad in 2017 to worse in ’18. He allowed two more passed balls (league leading 18) than he did in 2017, despite playing in 28 less games. Sanchez threw out 30% of base stealers, down from 38% and 41% from 2017 and ’16, respectively. He got crossed up with his pitcher more times than I could count because he couldn’t remember what pitch he called and basically seemed disinterested back there. Sanchez missed a bunch of time on two different occasions with right groin strains, which may have played a small role in his regression.

This game-ending play from July stands out. Yankees were down a run in Tampa, and Gary loafed down the line and was easily thrown out. Although he ended up on the disabled list the next day, he admitted he needed to run harder.

I think a change of scenery would be good for both Sanchez and the Yankees both. I think he needs some kind of wake-up call. The Miami Marlins are always looking to shed payroll. With New York possibly thinking of offering the aforementioned Manny Machado a contract, it’s not optimal to have two players known for loafing in the same lineup. Perhaps Yankees GM Brian Cashman could whip together a package to land fellow catcher JT Realmuto, who wants to be traded? Sanchez has more team control at a lower price, which would suit Marlins owner Derek Jeter.

Trash him (Meaning trade him).

Austin Romine – (.244, 10 HR, 42 RBI) Romine played quite a bit in 2018, with starter Gary Sanchez sidelined two separate times with a strained groin. He did what he always does, bringing his lunch-pail and goes to work. In 265 total plate appearances (close to half a season’s worth for a full-time starter), Romine knocked ten balls over the fence and drove in 42 runs. He had four games of three hits and several other games here he had two hits. As the season wore on (hey, catchers get banged-up), his average started dropping through August and September. Romine earns his money off the field and on, being a very good defensive catcher and mentoring Gary Sanchez and most importantly, working with and having the respect of the pitching staff. Dollar for dollar, the Yankees are getting their money’s worth.

Take him.

Kyle Higashioka – (.167, 3 HR, 6 RBI) Drafted by the Yankees way back in 2008, the 28 year old Higashioka was recalled by New York on both occasions when Sanchez was injured. He got his first major league hit on July 1 at Yankee Stadium, when he hammered a no-doubter down the left-field line into the second deck off Red Sox starter David Price in the bottom of the 4th inning.

That was probably his most memorable moment of 2018, as he ended the season with more strikeouts (16) than hits (12). Historically, the “Higster” has never been a good hitter (.202 average at Triple-A Scranton in 2018), and is minor league filler. I wish for him to do well, but spots on the “40 man” are valuable and I think the Yankees are better suited to move on with younger talent.

Trash him.

In our next installment of Yankees “Take ’em or Trash ’em”, we will whip it around the horn, covering the infielders. See you then! 👋🏼

Ronald Acuña Jr, Jose Ureña and a Beanball Memory

 

Atlanta Braves rookie sensation Ronald Acuña, Jr. was hit on the first pitch Miami Marlins starting pitcher Jose Ureña threw in Wednesday night’s game at SunTrust Park. Acuña had been wearing out Marlins pitching lately (and almost ALL pitching), and it appeared that Ureña wanted to make a statement. That pitch resulted in Ureña’s ejection, Acuña’s eventual removal (Xrays were negative), and collective panic on Twitter.

 

Braves outfielder Ender Inciarte hopped out of the dugout and both benches cleared, with lots of jawing. Thankfully cooler heads prevailed and the game resumed, minus Ureña and Atlanta manager Brian Snitker, who were ejected after the altercation. Braves 1st baseman Freddie Freeman rightfully described Ureña’s pitch as gutless.

 

With this happening on the Marlins’ first pitch of the game in Atlanta, it brought back a very vivid memory for me of another game in Atlanta that occurred almost 34 years ago to this day. On August 12, 1984, the Braves and San Diego Padres played a game, airing on “super-channel” TBS, that would go down in infamy as one of the ugliest brawls (as in plural!) in major league history. I was only 13 years old at the time, but I remember this vividly because the game was simply insane.

Pascual Perez was Atlanta’s starting pitcher on this day. Before I continue, I would like to give you a little background on Perez. He tended to be very demonstrative on the mound and was widely known as a hot-dog. The New York Times‘ Richard Sandomir (@RichSandomir on Twitter) wrote a piece on Perez shortly after the former pitcher was killed in late 2012 in a robbery at his home in the Dominican Republic. He detailed how Perez was late for his own start in 1982, because he was lost on I-285 and couldn’t find Atlanta Fulton County Stadium. In the same piece by Sandomir, YES Network’s Jack Curry properly describes Perez as a guy who hops around the mound “as if he has a pesky mosquito in his uniform pants”.

On that day in August, 1984, Perez drilled Padres lead-off hitter Alan Wiggins square in the back on the first pitch of the game. Wiggins was erased in the next at bat when Padres Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn hit into a double-play. Pascual came to bat in the bottom of the second inning against Ed Whitson, who promptly sailed a pitch behind him, signalling his displeasure at him for nailing Wiggins the previous inning. Perez came to bat again in the bottom of the 4th and 6th innings, with both Whitson and reliever Greg Booker throwing at him, (and missing him) each resulting in skirmishes and the ejections of both pitchers.

For some insane reason that only then-Braves manager Joe Torre knows, Pascual Perez was again sent to bat in the bottom of the 8th inning. San Diego lefty Craig Lefferts finally drilled him and all hell broke loose. Players from both sides flew out of their dugouts, haymakers were thrown, bodies were flying, and reserve player Champ Summers ran toward the Braves dugout where Perez was, only to be met by Bob Horner.

Champ Summers Bob Horner

Atlanta’s 3rd baseman Horner, on the disabled list with a broken right wrist (if you look carefully, you can see a cast), wasn’t having any of it. Adding to an already insane scene, five fans ended up being arrested for getting involved, including the guy throwing his full beer on Champ Summers from atop the Braves dugout. Ed Whitson, no stranger to fighting (think Billy Martin), reappeared in his team’s dugout, shirtless and all.

Shirtless Ed Whitson

When play finally resumed, Joe Torre wisely had Brad Komminsk pinch-run for Perez, who went to the safety of the Braves clubhouse. But the fireworks weren’t quite done. In the top of the 9th, Atlanta’s Donnie Moore drilled Graig Nettles in the back. Nettles, in his first year in San Diego after a long career with the Yankees, wheeled around and charged Moore, who promptly side-stepped him and planted his glove in his face. The benches cleared once again, although it was relatively brief compared to the scene the previous half-inning. Gene Garber came in to finish the game, which the Braves won, 5-3. The detailed chronicle by Jason Foster of the Sporting News can be found here.

Yesterday’s Braves/Marlins game doesn’t compare to the game back in 1984, and today’s umpires and managers wouldn’t let a game get away the way that one did. But I don’t think the festivities between Atlanta and Miami are done yet. Players today police themselves similarly to players of yesteryear, and it’s hard to imagine what happened to Ronald Acuña, Jr. would go unanswered. This is something to stay tuned into.


 

**UPDATE** — 8/16/2018

This afternoon, MLB announced that Jose Ureña was handed a six game suspension for hitting Ronald Acuña, Jr.

 

Aaaaaand naturally Ureña is expected to appeal said suspension. Courtesy of Marlins beat writer Clark Spencer.

Stay tuned!