Gerrit Cole faced Jordan Walker for the first time on Wednesday, and he came away impressed. The New York Yankees ace induced a ground-ball out from the top prospect in the St. Louis Cardinals system in the first inning, but then surrendered a line-drive single to him on a 95-mph heater a handful of frames later. When Cole met with members of the media mid-game — standard fare for starters during spring training — I asked him about his matchups with the fast-rising phenom.
“I thought he put a good swing on it,” Cole said of Walker’s knock. “It was a good adjustment from the first at-bat. It was a good pitch, a borderline ball, and one of the better swings of the day, for sure.”
Cole needed clarification as to whom he was opining on before offering the praise. Understandably focusing on preparing for the regular season, he admitted — this with the caveat that he wasn’t being disrespectful — he didn’t know where Walker was hitting in the St. Louis lineup.
Walker was understandably very aware of Cole. Asked about what the five-time All-Star had said — the question came from a St. Louis scribe whom I’d shared the quotes with — he was equal parts pleased and humble.
“It means a lot, man,” said Walker, who is No. 12 on our Top 100 and at age 20 has a legitimate chance to break camp with the Cardinals. “He’s a helluva pitcher. His stuff was really electric today. His stuff was really jumping. His slider was good. So it means a lot to hear that from him. A wonderful pitcher.”
As Cardinals fans are discovering, the 6-foot-5, 220-pound Stone Mountain, Georgia native is more than just a star in the making. He also exudes fun. I asked the effervescent outfielder how he is balancing that trait alongside being hyper-focused in his quest to earn a big-league job.
“It’s all fun, to be honest,” replied Walker. “I feel like competing is having a good time. I’m competing to show what I can do here, and if I look at it as fun, I can stay relaxed. That’s what I’m trying to do.”
What he’s trying to do has been working like a charm. Walker is 14-for-32 with three doubles and three home runs on the spring.
Curtis Mead has certainly succeeded at baseball. Signed out of Adelaide, Australia by the Philadelphia Phillies in 2017 and subsequently swapped to Tampa Bay two years later in exchange for Cristopher Sánchez, the 22-year-old infielder is now the top prospect in the Rays system. Moreover, he is No. 27 on our Top 100.
What might Mead be doing had he not chosen baseball as a profession?
“Probably living back home and playing AFL,” Mead said in response to that question. “I was playing a lot of Australian Rules Football growing up as a kid. It was pretty much my number-one sport until I was 16.”
Mead was a midfielder and as a forward, and he feels that with a lot of work he could have played professionally. Fortunately for the Rays, he decided to cast his lot on the diamond instead.
RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS
Ken Singleton went 4 for 7 against Win Remmerswaal.
Brian McCann went 5 for 11 against Rick Van Den Hurk.
Enos Cabell went 11 for 20 against Bert Blyleven.
Didi Gregorius is 7 for 11 against Lance McCullers.
Robert Eenhoorn went 1 for 6 against Bobby Witt.
Team Netherlands has won two of its first three games in this year’s WBC, and it has done so with a roster that includes numerous players born and raised in Curaçao, as well as Aruba native Xander Bogaerts. There are also a number of players from the Netherlands itself, which shouldn’t come as a surprise. The Dutch have made a habit of winning the European Baseball Championship.
Wanting to learn more about baseball in the European nation, I checked in with Peter Kwakernaak during December’s Winter Meetings in San Diego.
“The quality gets a lot higher when we play on the world stage and have all the players from the islands,” said Kwakernaak, who along with Hensley Meulens was representing Team Netherlands in a WBC media session. “But normally we can do without the best of the best to win the European Championship. I don’t mean to sound arrogant, but that’s the way it is today.”
Kwakernaak went on to tell me that approximately 20,000 people in the Netherlands play either baseball or softball. There are baseball academies in Amsterdam, Bussum, Haarlem, and Rotterdam, and the best of that talent — typically around 35 players — goes to a facility in Amsterdam that is run by the Dutch Olympic Committee. As Kwakernaak put it, “We’re small, but we’re creative.”
There are nine baseball teams in the Dutch Major League (The Honkbal Hoofdklasse), with Lars Huijer, Denzel Richardson, and Roger Bernadina — all of whom have played professionally in the United States — among the notables. Asked about Netherlands-born players in MLB farm systems, Kwakernaak named Sem Robberse and Jiorgeny Casimiri (Blue Jays), Connor Prins (Mariners), and brothers Darnel and Darryl Collins (Royals).
Josh Donaldson was on base when José Bautista hit his dramatic three-run homer in the bottom of the seventh inning to propel the Toronto Blue Jays to a 6-3 win over the Texas Rangers in the deciding game of the 2015 ALDS. Earlier this week, I asked Donaldson what that moment was like.
“It was electric,” recalled Donaldson, who is now with the New York Yankees. “I remember going around the bases and you couldn’t recognize people’s faces because there was like a vibration going on, It was a huge home run. You go back and look at the half inning before, how they were able to score a run, and then our half inning with how we got guys on base, and it was a pretty surreal moment. It was a pretty crazy experience.”
The Blue Jays announced last Sunday that they will be adding Bautista to their Level of Excellence. How good of a player was he in his former teammate’s eyes?
“He was unbelievable,” said Donaldson. “He’s a guy you wanted on your team to go to battle with every day. He played hard. I think his resume speaks for itself.”
Who was the first player born in Japan to homer in an MLB game?
The answer can be found below.
Mitch Moreland called it a career this week, officially retiring at age 37. A veteran of 12 big-league seasons who played for the Rangers, Red Sox, and Padres, Moreland won a World Series ring with Boston in 2018. His seventh-inning, two-out, pinch-hit three-run homer off of the Dodgers’ Ryan Madson in Game 4 was one of the biggest hits of that Series.
The Blue Jays promoted former MLB and NPB right-hander Frank Herrmann to Pitching Development Coordinator earlier this spring. The 37-year-old Harvard graduate was a guest on FanGraphs Audio in November 2021.
Dan McGinn, a left-hander who pitched for three teams from 1968-1972, died on March 1 at age 79. Playing primarily with the Montreal Expos — he also took the mound for the Chicago Cubs and Cincinnati Reds — McGinn appeared in 210 games and went 15-30 with 10 saves and a 5.11 ERA. His only career home run, which came off of Tom Seaver, was the first in Expos franchise history.
Jesús Alou, who along with brothers Felipe and Matty once roamed the San Francisco Giants outfield together, died this week at age 80. The youngest of the three, Jesús played from 1963-1979 and won World Series rings with the Oakland Athletics in 1973 and 1974.
Fred Marolewski, a first baseman whose big-league career comprised one inning with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1953, died on February 28 at age 94. He had neither a plate appearance nor a chance in the field.
The answer to the quiz is Hideo Nomo, who went deep for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1998.
Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol offered an astute take when he met with a quartet of reporters following Wednesday’s affair at Steinbrenner Stadium. The topic at hand was the new shift rule, which requires two infielders on the dirt on either side of second base, but doesn’t preclude teams from stationing their outfielders anywhere where they wish. A few days earlier, the Red Sox had moved their centerfielder to shallow right behind the second baseman, and their left fielder to center, with pull-happy Twins slugger Joey Gallo at the plate.
“The shift, with removing an infielder for the purpose of defending a pull-side ground ball, was low-risk,” explained Marmol. “Worst-case scenario, you’re giving up a single. [Shifting in the outfield] is high-risk, because if you’re on the wrong side of probability it’s a double or a triple. So I don’t think we’ll see a ton of it. You need to have the right pitcher and the right hitter. But will we see some of it? Sure.”
Gallo walked in his plate appearance.
Baltimore Orioles reliever Tippy Martinez famously picked off three Toronto Blue Jays runners (Barry Bonnell, Dave Collins, and Willie Upshaw) in the same inning of an August 1983 game. There is more to the story. The Orioles were down 4-3 in the 10th inning when Martinez entered the contest, and infielder Lenn Sakata was behind the plate as an emergency catcher. Moreover, outfielder Gary Roenicke was playing third base, and outfielder John Lowenstein was playing second base.
Sakata’s lone big-league inning as a catcher wasn’t the only notable part of his day. Cal Ripken Jr. homered to tie the game in the bottom of the frame, and five batters later the Honolulu native went deep with two runners aboard to give the Orioles a 7-4 win.
Who was the nastiest pitcher you faced last season? I asked that question to Anthony Volpe earlier this week, and the top prospect in the Yankees system cited the top pitching prospect in the Dodgers system.
“I’ll say Bobby Miller,” said Volpe, who was featured in our Talks Hitting series on Thursday. “I faced him in the Futures Game and he was really good. He throws really hard and he threw two different types of breaking balls, too. Coming in, I was expecting the velocity, but not those breaking balls. He definitely has good stuff. Definitely nasty.”
LINKS YOU’LL LIKE
Six former Phillies who played at Philadelphia’s old Veterans Stadium have died from brain cancer, and chemicals in the Astroturf could be the reason why. Justin Heinze explored the possibility at Patch.com.
At Fox Sports, Jake Mintz wrote about Shlomo Lipetz, Team Israel’s 44-year-old mythical figure.
Lorenzo Cain will officially retire as a Kansas City Royal this summer. Andy McCullough has the story at The Athletic (subscription required).
MLB.com’s Paul Casella profiled Sarah Edwards, who is making history as the first female coach in Phillies organizational history. The Hofstra University graduate will serve as the hitting development coach for Philadelphia’s Florida Complex League affiliate.
Longtime Tampa Bay Rays radio voice Dave Wills died tragically last Sunday at age 58. Marc Topkin wrote about the popular broadcaster for The Tampa Bay Times.
RANDOM FACTS AND STATS
Barry Bonds hit 379 home runs in home games and 383 home runs in away games. Henry Aaron hit 385 home runs in home games and 370 home runs in away games.
Houston Astros shortstop Roger Metzger had a league-leading 11 triples and a .299 slugging percentage in 1971. He had had a league-leading 14 triples and a .322 slugging percentage in 1973.
The New York Giants signed Willie McCovey as an amateur free agent on today’s date in 1955. “Stretch” went on to play 22 big-league seasons and bash 521 home runs while putting up a 145 wRC+.
The Cincinnati Reds signed Tony Pérez as an amateur free agent on today’s date in 1960. The “Big Dog” went on to play 23 big-league seasons and club 379 home runs while putting up a 121 wRC+.
Players born on today’s date include Mike Ignasiak, a right-handed pitcher who appeared in 79 games for the Milwaukee Brewers from 1991-1995. The Anchorville, Michigan native went 10-4 with a 4.80 ERA over 137 innings. His older brother (by nearly 17 years), Gary Ignasiak, pitched in three games for the Detroit Tigers in 1973.
Also born on today’s date was Chuck Oertel, an outfielder who went 2-for-12 with the Baltimore Orioles in 1958. The second of the Coffeyville, Kansas native’s two career hits was a home run off of Hall of Fame right-hander Jim Bunning.
Olaf Henriksen is the only player in big-league history who was born in Denmark. An outfielder who subsequently grew up in Massachusetts, Henriksen played for the Red Sox from 1911-1917 and was part of three World Series-winning teams. His only plate appearance in the 1912 Fall Classic resulted in a game-tying pinch-hit double off of Christy Mathewson in the seventh inning of Game 8 (Game 2 ended in a tie). Boston won 3-2 in 10 innings.
Ed Porray, who pitched in three games for the Federal League’s Buffalo Buffeds in 1914, is the only player in MLB history not to have been born on dry land. Porray’s birth certificate lists “At sea, on the Atlantic Ocean” as his birthplace.