MLB Non-Roster Invitees – AL West

Well, something finally happened — Manny Machado agreed to a ten year contract with the San Diego Padres, first reported by Jeff Passan and Mark Feinsand.

Once Machado passes his physical, the deal will become official. Before long, Bryce Harper will choose where he plays for the next several years. Everyone….BREATHE!

Okay, back to why we’re here. Last time out, we examined some interesting non-roster invitees in the AL Central Division. Today we head west and finish off the American League West, starting with the Astros.

Houston Astros

  • J.B. Bukauskas (RHP) – Bukauskas, a 22 year old right-hander, was Houston’s first round draft pick in 2017. He was drafted out of high school in the 20th round of the 2014 draft by the Dbacks, but decided to go to college at the UNC. Bukauskas began ’18 with one abbreviated start in Rookie ball, made 13 more starts across various levels of A-league ball. He made one brilliant six inning start at AA Corpus Christi to finish the season. Overall J.B. pitched well, amassing a combined ERA of 2.14, walking 24 and striking out 71 over 59 innings. Bukauskas will most likely spend the larger part of 2019 in Double-A. If he does well, look for him to be promoted to Triple-A Round Rock late in 2019
  • Yordan Alvarez (LF/1B) – Yordan is the Astros number three rated prospect in their system, a power-hitting 6’5″ hulk of a man. The 21 year old Cuban played 88 games in 2018, almost evenly split between AA and AAA. He hit 20 home-runs in 379 plate appearances, with an overall slash-line of .293/.369/.534. Not too shabby. Expect to see him soon, probably later this season.
  • Forrest Whitley (RHP) – Things are looking better for the Astros second ranked prospect than a year ago. In early 2018, he was suspended 50 games for violating the Minor League Drug Prevention and Treatment Program. After returning, Whitley made eight uninspiring starts for Double-A Corpus Christi. He put up a 3.76 ERA over 26.1 innings, striking out 34. Forrest also added another 26 innings of work in the Arizona Fall League with similar results. This young man has a lot of catching up to do to justify his being the organization’s number-one pick in the 2016 draft.

Los Angeles Angels

  • Jo Adell (CF) – Jordon Scott “Jo” Adell is a 19 year old center-fielder from Louisville, KY, the tenth player taken in the 2017 amateur draft. He spent most of 2018 playing in A-level ball in Burlington, Iowa. Adell was promoted to High-A Inland Empire (San Bernadino) after 25 games, and was again promoted to AA Mobile to finish the season. He stumbled in Double-A, hitting .238 in 17 games. Jo finished with 20 HR’s, and his power will only increase as he fills out. Adell, the top-ranked prospect in their system, plays all three outfield spots. Good thing, since the Angels CF spot is currently occupied by Mike Trout
  • Griffin Canning (RHP) – Canning, a 6’2″ righty out of Mission Viejo, CA is the second-ranked prospect of the Angels. Originally drafted in the 38th round by Colorado in 2014, he decided to go to college at UCLA. Re-entering the draft in 2017, the Angels selected Canning in the 2nd round. He rose quickly through the minors in 2018. He made two scoreless starts in High-A Inland Empire and was promoted to AA Mobile. Ten starts and a 2.17 ERA later, the 22 year old was promoted to Triple-A Salt Lake. The competition was stiffer in the Pacific Coast League. Canning was hit hard in Salt Lake, surrendering 68 hits and 22 walks over 59 innings, posting a 5.49 ERA. Chances are he spends most of the summer in AAA.
  • Peter Bourjos (OF) – A blast from the past! The rail-thin 31 year old vet played the first four seasons of his career in Anaheim. After 2013, Bourjos bounced from St. Louis to Philly, Tampa and Atlanta. The Braves released him in July, and shortly after he signed a minor league deal with the San Francisco Giants, finishing the year in AAA Sacramento. Bourjos doesn’t have the same speed he once had, but can steal a few bags and be a good defensive replacement. If you’re looking for offense, well, you’re dreaming.

Oakland Athletics

  • Sean Murphy (C) – Murphy is an athletic (see what I did there?) 24 year old strong-armed catcher. Murphy, a third round draft pick in the 2016 draft, had a productive season on both sides of the ball until he suffered a broken bone in his right hand. He recovered at the very tail-end of the season, and was promoted to Triple-A Nashville. Murphy played three games before the season ended, then went to Winter league ball in the Dominican League. He struggled in the Domincan Republic, hitting .185 with two home-runs and 13 RBI in 23 games. A’s fans can look to see him play this year in Las Vegas, the team’s new Triple-A affiliate.
  • Jesus Luzardo (LHP) – Luzardo, the first ranked prospect in the A’s system, was acquired from the Washington Nationals a part of the 2017 trade that sent Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson to D.C. The 21 year old southpaw began last season in High-A Stockton (Calif.) where he dominated opponents for three starts. Luzardo was promoted to AA Midland in the Texas League, posting a 7-3 record and 2.29 ERA, with 86 K’s in 79.2 innings. He was bumped up to Triple-A Nashville, where he was lit-up to the tune of 25 hits and 13 runs over 16 innings (7.31 ERA). Expect Luzardo and his mid-90’s fastball (he can reach back for 97-98 mph) to spend 2019 in AAA Las Vegas.
  • Jerry Blevins (LHP) – 35 year old Jerry Blevins started his major league career way back in 2007 with these same Oakland A’s. He enjoyed a long and productive career, primarily as a LOOGY (lefty one out guy). Blevins made 60 or more appearances in seven different seasons, proving his durability. He’s not a strikeout pitcher, rarely topping 90 mph but gets outs by mixing his ordinary fastball with a low-70’s looping curve. Jerry had an off-year, logging a 4.85 ERA, but can be very useful on the cheap for the perpetually cost-efficient A’s.

Seattle Mariners

  • Dustin Ackley (OF/2B/1B) – Ackley hasn’t appeared in a MLB game since an injury-riddled season in 2016 with the Yankees, but he’s still around. He signed a minor league deal with the M’s on January 24, after spending the last two seasons with the Salt Lake Bees, the Triple-A affiliate of the Angels. Ackley, soon to be 31, was the 2009 first round pick of the Mariners. At best, Dustin will be a very useful piece at a low price if he makes the big-league club. At worst, he will be experienced minor league filler at the AAA level.
  • Kyle Lewis (CF) – Lewis was the Mariners first round draft pick (#11 overall) in 2016. His career was slowed by a right knee injury that he suffered in late 2016. It cost him the majority of 2017 after re-aggravating it, eventually leading to his knee being scoped in February 2018. After he returned, the 23 year old center-fielder split last year between High-A Modesto (Calif.) and AA Arkansas, posting a combined .244/.306/.405 slash-line. In 86 games, Lewis hit 9 home-runs and drove in 52 RBI. If his knee problems resurface, he will be likely destined for a corner outfield spot. Expect him to begin 2019 in Double-A Arkansas.
  • Ichiro Suzuki (OF) – Amazing. Simply amazing. Those were my initial thoughts upon discovering that this will be Ichiro’s 28th season in professional baseball, when you include his nine seasons in Japan. At age 45, he isn’t expected to play very much if he makes the team. If so, Ichiro won’t embarrass himself out there. I won’t bet against him, as no one takes better care of his body.

Texas Rangers

  • Tim Dillard (RHP) – Dillard was drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers in 2002’s amateur draft, and spent the next 16 seasons in the organization, mostly in the minor leagues. The 35 year old Dillard made 73 appearances over parts of four seasons in a Brewers uniform, mostly in 2011 and 2012. He hasn’t made a big league appearance since, but became a beloved figure among fans in Milwaukee in large part because he’s one of the funniest people on Twitter (@DimTillard – you should follow him).
  • Jason Hammel (RHP) – The 36 year old from Greenville, SC has seen better days. Hammel spent the last two seasons with the Kansas City Royals, including a record of 4-14 with a 6.02 ERA last season. He began the year in the starting rotation and pitched himself out of it by the All-Star break, thanks in large part to a particularly gruesome four-start stretch where he surrendered 27 runs in 17.2 innings. He does not throw hard enough to overcome mistakes as he did in earlier years. At the big league level, he’s nothing more than a warm body to eat insignificant innings.
  • Hunter Pence (RF) – Pence has had a long, productive career and wants to keep playing, so he signed a minor league deal with the Rangers on February 7. He spent time re-working his swing over the winter after a rough 2018 when he hit a career-worst .226. Pence only hit four home-runs in 97 games. It didn’t help that he missed more than six weeks with a sprained right thumb early in the season. Another great follow on Twitter (@hunterpence), by the way.

Before we close, I want to pay respect to San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy, who is retiring after the 2019 season. I have long admired Mr. Bochy for the way he goes about things. He just carries himself as a friendly professional. Here is a very a proud moment for him, handing the ball to his son, Brett Bochy for the first time.

And with that, we have looked at each team in the American League. In a few days, we will delve into the National League, beginning with the NL East Division. Who know, maybe even by then Bryce Harper will have found a home — I still think it’ll be the Phillies. We’ll found out. See you then!

Finesse Pitchers: A Lost Art

A couple weeks ago, I bought tickets to watch my local minor league team, the Rochester Red Wings play the Norfolk Tides in a doubleheader. Norfolk won both games, each by a score of 1-0. Obviously both games were well-pitched affairs, with runs at a premium.

In the first game, Norfolk had a tall lefty on the mound by the name of John Means. As I watched him in the 1st inning, I noticed he didn’t throw all that hard, sitting about 87-88 mph with his fastball. He mixed in a curve and a change, and seemed to command all three pitches. Means went on to breeze through the Red Wings lineup and never got into trouble, effectively shutting them down. He pitched a three-hit shutout, struck out six and walked no one. His fastest pitch of the day reached 89 mph. He painted like Picasso against a Rochester lineup that had six players who played in the major leagues at one time or another. It really was enjoyable to watch.

 

Before that day, July 19, I never heard of John Means. He’s 25 years old, 6’3″, 230 lbs. and was drafted by the Baltimore Orioles in the 11th round of the 2014 draft from West Virginia. As of this writing, Means has started 15 games in Triple-A, with a record of 5-3, an ERA of 3.25 and a WHIP of 1.2. Decent numbers, but not eye-popping. After watching him pitch in person and reading his overall career stats, he can throw strikes and he can strike people out. These minor league stats show that he’s always been able to do both regularly. So why are the pitching starved Orioles not taking a look at this guy in the big leagues? He’s not in their Top 30 minor league prospects, probably more suspect than prospect. Means is not even on their 40 man roster.

With everyone from fans to front office executives to MLB league executives in love with the velocity craze, I worry guys like Means may never get a fair shot to prove their worth in the major leagues. Guys who throw (not necessarily pitch) at 95 or better seem to get fast-tracked to the big leagues, while the finesse pitchers seem to get left out in the cold, ending up minor league filler. Greg Maddux and Jamie Moyer, both drafted by the Cubs in 1984, recorded 624 big league wins between them, logging over 9,000 combined innings. Neither one of these men would probably get a second look in today’s MLB. Each of them made incredibly good livings for many years with fastballs that rarely, if ever touched 90 miles per hour. They learned to pitch because they had no choice, and they won a lot of games as a result. Same with Trevor Hoffman, who survived and thrived on an 86 mph fastball and a deadly change-up. He went into the Hall of Fame mere days ago, having saved more than 600 games over his long career. With relievers throwing near 100 mph, it would to envision him even getting a shot if he were a young pitcher in today’s game.

Maddux, Moyer and Hoffman are just a few examples, but there are many more who pitched with lower velocities and won many games. Tom Glavine comes to mind. Flame throwing pitchers and strikeouts seem to draw fans in, and more fans equals more attention, which can bring more revenue. Everyone loves the oohs and ahhs. But there should be room for pitchers like John Means. Finesse pitching doesn’t have to be a lost art.