The top prospect in the Los Angeles Dodgers system lost one of his baseball “brothers” a month ago. Not literally — Alex De Jesus is alive and well — but rather by dint of a trade-deadline deal. A 20-year-old infielder who’d been playing with the High-A Great Lakes Loons, De Jesus went to the Toronto Blue Jays organization, along with Mitch White, in exchange for Moises Brito and Nick Frasso.
Shortly after the trade, I asked Diego Cartaya what it’s like to have a teammate who is also a close friend leave the organization.
“It’s not easy, but I’m kind of happy for him,” replied Cartaya, who along with being L.A.’s top prospect is No. 31 in our MLB prospect rankings. “He’s going to get a better opportunity with Toronto, so we’re pretty excited for him. But it’s hard. As teammates, we spend more time together than we do with our families. He’s just like my brother.”
Cartaya’s real family is in Venezuela, and it was his father who initially taught him how to hit. The tutoring he’s received since entering pro ball at age 16 has resulted in occasional tweaks, both to his stance and his swing. Cartaya told me that he used to be “more of a big launch-angle guy,” but now has a flatter swing. Upon hearing that, I noted that the home run I’d seen him hit the previous night was more of a line drive than a moonshot.
“I didn’t think that it was going out,” admitted Cartaya, whose shot to right-center just cleared the glove of a Lansing Lugnuts outfielder leaping at the wall. “But thank God it went out. I was a little confused. I almost took my helmet off to show him ‘good catch.’”
As for his primary position, the 20-year-old Cartaya has a rocket for an arm, but is viewed by most scouts as an offense-first catcher with still-developing skills behind the plate. Citing blocking as his biggest need for improvement, Cartaya expressed satisfaction with his overall defensive improvement this season.
Cartaya is slashing .260/.395/.519 with 22 home runs between Low-A Rancho Cucamonga and High-A Great Lakes, and he was recently named the Dodgers’ Branch Rickey Minor League Player of the Year. It’s a safe bet that his former teammate Alex was among those happy to hear the news.
RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS
Bobby Wilson caught a lot of pitchers over his 17 professional seasons, 10 of which were spent in the big leagues. Who among them stands out for having the most-unique movement profile on one of his offerings?
“Off the top of my head, we had Fernando Romero when I was in Minnesota,” replied Wilson, who is now the catching coach for the Texas Rangers. “He threw a one-seamer — basically, he split his pointer and middle finger over one seam — and kind of the running joke Mitch Garver and I had is that he was our 98-mph knuckleballer. Sometimes the ball would cut left, sometimes it would go right, and sometimes it would go straight down, like a split. Other times it would be straight as an arrow. It was all over the place. He was hard as hell to catch.”
A pitcher that Wilson never squatted behind the dish for has caught his attention. Jhoan Duran features a pitch that’s been dubbed a “splinker” — a high-90s sinker-spitter hybrid that has touched triple digits.
“The guy that sticks out right now is Duran, from Minnesota,” Wilson said. “One of our players came into the dugout after facing him and said, ‘That guy just broke my eyes.’ He’d never seen it before. The pitch is disgusting.”
The hitter in question?
“He’s a pretty good player,” allowed Wilson. “I’ll tell you that much.”
Who has the most hits in Tampa Bay Rays franchise history?
The answer can be found below.
Bob Locker, a right-handed reliever who made 576 appearances while pitching for four different teams from 1965-1975, died last month at age 84. Locker’s best season came with the Chicago White Sox in 1967 when he logged a 2.09 ERA with 20 saves while working in a league-leading 77 games.
Pete Burnside, a left-handed pitcher who played for four different MLB teams from 1955-1963, and for Japan’s Hanshin Tigers in 1964-1965, died late last month at age 92. A graduate of both Dartmouth College and Northwestern University, Burnside made 111 of his 196 big-league appearances with the Washington Senators.
SABR announced the finalists for the 2022 Dorothy Seymour Mills Lifetime Achievement Award, which honors women in baseball. Biographical clips of Penny Marshall, Justine Siegel, Janet Marie Smith, Toni Stone, and Suzyn Waldman can be found here.
On a related note, registration is now open for the fourth annual SABR/IWBC Women in Baseball Conference, which will be held virtually on September 16-18, 2022. More information can be found here.
Ji-Man Choi has never played professionally in his homeland. Signed out of South Korea by the Seattle Mariners shortly after his 18th birthday, the 31-year-old first baseman has played almost exclusively in the United States, the lone exceptions being brief stints in the Australian Baseball League and the Venezuelan Winter League. I recently asked Choi if he wishes he would have stayed in Korea for a few more years before coming stateside.
“Half and half,” responded Choi, who has spent the past five seasons with the Tampa Bay Rays. “Sometimes I think to myself, ‘What if I did play at the pro level, in the KBO? In Korea, before you become a free agent you have to wait seven to eight years, so I would have been older. For that reason, I wonder if maybe I wouldn’t have ever made it to the Major Leagues.”
Returning home to play, something Choi hopes to do one day, requires a waiting period of its own.
“As a Korean, I obviously would like to play in Korea, in front of the fans,” said Choi. “That is my ultimate dream, to end my career there. The only thing is, when you sign with a Major League team as an amateur, you can’t go back to Korea and play right away. You have to wait two years [from the time you’re released or choose not to sign another contract].”
Asked about countryman Shin-Soo Choo, who returned home to play for SSG Landers less than a year after leaving the Texas Rangers, Choi called that, “a different case,” adding that “an exception was made at that time.”
Choo’s current team is the one Choi would most want to play for, SSG Landers being based in Incheon, where he grew up. That’s not so simple, either. As Choi explained, not only would he have to wait two years, he would go into a draft where he could be selected by any team.
SSG Landers has the best record in the KBO, at 77-39-3. The worst record belongs to the Hanwha Eagles, who are 36-79-2.
Hyeong Jun So is 12.3 with a 2.94 ERA and 103 strikeouts in 143-and-two-thirds innings for the KBO’s KT Wiz. The 20-year-old right-hander has allowed 126 hits.
The Yakult Swallows have NPB’s best record, at 70-48-2. The Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters have NPB’s worst record, at 47-71-3.
Yoshinobu Yamamoto is 12-5 with a 1.82 ERA and 172 strikeouts in 163 innings for NPB’s Orix Buffaloes. The 24-year-old right-hander went 18-5 with a 1.39 ERA with 206 strikeouts in 193-and-two-thirds innings a year ago.
Hotaka Yamakawa has been NPB’s best power hitter not named Munetaka Murakami. The 30-year-old Seibu Lions first baseman has 37 home runs to go with a .275/.389/.611 slash line. Yamakawa hit a career-hight 47 long balls in 2018.
I ran a Twitter poll earlier this week, the options being Munetaka Murakami and Roki Sasaki. The question was as follows:
You’re a MLB GM and these young NPB stars become available. You can only have one. Which do you take?
The results were close. The 20-year-old Sasaki garnered 53.2% of the vote, while the 22-year-old Murakami polled at 46.8%.
Readers of this column are certainly familiar with both players — even those who don’t pay much heed to NPB — as I’ve cited their numbers and accomplishments numerous times. Here is an updated snapshot:
Murakami is slashing .341/.477/.756 with 50 home runs; he leads the league in all four categories.
Sasaki has a 2.05 ERA to go with 162 strikeouts and 74 hits allowed in 118-and-a-third innings.
Would the poll results look much different if it were actual MLB GMs voting? Based on a handful of conversations I’ve had with front office members from multiple teams, it’s hard to say. Both players are highly desirable, and with good reason.
Yanquiel Fernandez is slashing .289/.347/.514 with 20 home runs and 108 RBIs with the Low-A Fresno Grizzlies. A native of Havana, Cuba, the 19-year-old outfielder is No. 9 in our updated Colorado Rockies prospect rankings.
Jose Rodriguez is slashing .280/.340/.430 with 11 home runs and 40 stolen bases for the Double-A Birmingham Barons. A native of Valverde, Dominican Republic, the 21-year-old middle infielder is No. 4 in our updated Chicago White Sox prospect rankings.
Edinson Batista is 9-3 with a 2.63 ERA and 121 strikeouts in 102-and-two-thirds innings between Low-A Fayetteville and High-A Asheville. A native of Santiago, Dominican Republic, the 20-year-old right-hander is No. 25 in our updated Houston Astros prospect rankings.
Marco Raya is 3-2 with a 3.25 ERA and 69 strikeouts in 61 innings for the Low-A Fort Myers Mighty Mussels. A fourth-round pick in 2020 out of United South High School in Laredo, Texas, the 20-year-old right-hander is No. 12 in our updated Minnesota Twins prospect rankings.
Davis Sharpe is 8-3 with a 1.86 ERA and 81 strikeouts in 67-and-two-thirds innings between Low-A Lynchburg and High-A Lake County. A 13th-round pick last year out of Clemson University, the 22-year-old right-hander is No. 27 in our updated Cleveland Guardians prospect rankings.
Is there is such a thing as a clutch hitter? According to Toronto Blue Jays manager John Schneider, the answer to that question is yes.
“I think it’s a definite real thing,” Schneider said prior to a recent game at Fenway Park. “When you’ve got 40,000 screaming at you and your heart rate gets going, certain guys are really good at staying in the moment and embracing it. And you see people do the opposite. So it’s definitely a real thing.”
A player’s inability to stay in the moment can obviously be detrimental to his team’s success. With that in mind, would Schneider try to avoid putting certain players in situations where they might let the game speed up on them?
“I think everyone at this level is going to be pretty well-versed in it,” replied Schneider. “By no means are you trying to shy away from someone who is as talented as they are at this level, just because the pressure is going to be too high. I think pressure is something that you should enjoy. It’s something that you’ve earned. If you’re playing, you’re going to be in pressure spots. You trust guys to make the necessary adjustments.”
Left on the cutting-room floor from Wednesday’s nerdy interview with Mike McCarthy is what the El Paso Chihuahuas pitching coach said about the value of a pitch holding its line for as long as possible.
“The ability to create tunneling is based on, the harder you throw a pitch, the longer it will hold plane, and the later it’s going to break.” said McCarthy, who is in his first year with the Padres’ Triple-A affiliate. “That ability to create deception later in ball flight means the hitter has less time to react. That’s usually favorable to a pitcher.”
LINKS YOU’LL LIKE
MLB is overdue for a female umpire, and one may be on the way. Chelsea Janes has the story at The Washington Post.
RANDOM FACTS AND STATS
Miguel Cabrera batted .316 with a 112 wRC+ in the months of May and June, and .177 with a 40 wRC+ in July and August. Albert Pujols batted .174 with a 66 wRC+ in May and June, and .342 with a 202 wRC+ in July and August.
Yu Darvish has 3,040 professional strikeouts, 1,790 in the U.S. and 1,250 in Japan. Hideo Nomo had 3,222 professional strikeouts between the two countries, 2,018 in the U.S. and 1,204 in Japan. Masahiro Tanaka has 2,483 between the two. Daisuke Matsuzaka had 2,395.
Darvish’s win on Friday night was the 1,000th in MLB history by a Japanese-born pitcher of Japanese ancestry. Counting pitchers born in Japan but not of Japanese ancestry — Stephen Randolph is among them — there have been 1,016 wins.
Brooks Robinson had exactly the same number of walks and strikeouts in three different full seasons. He had another full season with one more strikeout than walk, as well as a season with two more strikeouts than walks.
The St. Louis Maroons won the Union Association title in 1884 with a record of 94-19-1. Fred Dunlap led the league in batting average (.412) and home runs (13). Buttercup Dickerson batted .365. Orator Shafer batted .360.
On today’s date in 1988, the Toronto Blue Jays scored five in the eighth and four in the ninth to beat the Texas Rangers 9-7. George Bell hit a walk-off grand slam.
The Cincinnati Reds homered nine times on today’s date in 1999 on their way to a 22-4 pummeling of the Philadelphia Phillies. Eddie Taubensee went deep twice.
Players born on today’s date was Paul Jata, a first baseman/outfielder who played in 32 games for the Detroit Tigers in 1972. The Astoria, New York native recorded three of his 17 career hits against All-Star southpaw Ken Holtzman.
Also born on today’s date was Kelly Heath, an infielder whose big-league career comprised one game and one plate appearance — a line-out to center against Detroit’s Milt Wilcox — for the Kansas City Royals in 1982. Wilcox hurled a one-hitter that day.