José Cruz Sr. had an outstanding career. Playing for three teams — most notably the Houston Astros — from 1970-1988, the Puerto Rico-born outfielder logged 2,251 hits while putting up a 119 wRC+ and 50.8 WAR. As his grandson, Detroit Tigers infield prospect Trei Cruz put it, the family patriarch may not be a Hall of Famer, but he is in “The Hall of Very Good.”
Moreover, the father of 1997-2008 big-leaguer José Cruz Jr. is a 74-year-old in a younger man’s body.
“He has more energy than anybody I’ve ever met in my life,” explained Trei, who calls Houston home and is No. 14 on our 2022 Tigers Top Prospect list. “I actually work with him, every single day. He throws BP for hours, and it’s some of the best left-handed BP you’ll ever see. He’s got a lot of life in his arm — he’ll really chuck it in there — and along with gas he’ll mix in sliders and changeups. Guys actually come to hit with me, because his BP is so good. He’s amazing, man. I don’t know how he does it.”
The smooth left-handed-stroke that produced 650 extra-base hits is still there, as well. The septuagenarian may not be able to catch up to mid-90s heat anymore, but he hasn’t forgotten what to do with a bat in his hands. According to Trei, his abuelo isn’t shy about standing in the box when the situation calls for it. Read the rest of this entry »
Ryne Nelson emerged as the top pitching prospect in the Arizona Diamondbacks system in 2021. A second-round selection in 2019 out of the University of Oregon, the 23-year-old right-hander was named the organization’s Minor League Pitcher of the Year after logging a 3.17 ERA — with 163 strikeouts in 116-and-a-third innings — between High-A Hillsboro and Double-A Amarillo. Mixing and matching a riding fastball with a trio of solid secondaries, Nelson held opposing hitters to a .206 batting average and a .644 OPS. He issued just 40 free passes.
Originally a two-way player before becoming a closer at Oregon, the 6-foot-3, 180 pound Henderson, Nevada native transitioned into a starting role upon entering pro ball. Nelson — No. 5 on our newly-released Diamondbacks Top Prospects list — discussed his development, as well as his 2020 eye surgery, via phone earlier this week.
David Laurila: Let’s start with a self scouting report. Who are you as a pitcher?
Ryne Nelson: “I would say that I’m aggressive in the zone, and I like to change speeds and eye levels.”
Laurila: Do you identify as a power pitcher?
Nelson: “I like to think so. I mean, ‘power pitcher’ is kind of changing nowadays — you’ve got to be up in the triple digits to be a power pitcher — but I do pitch off of my fastball.” Read the rest of this entry »
The most recent of my “Who Was Better” polls on Twitter featured Dale Murphy and Ken Singleton, and while it drew only a modicum of interest — only 95 people cast votes — the results were nonetheless telling. Murphy won in resounding fashion — 76.8% to Singleton’s 23.2% — and it’s unlikely that the percentages would have been markedly different with a more-robust sample size. Murphy is a two-time MVP who made seven All-Star teams and was once on a Hall of Fame trajectory. Singleton made three All-Star teams and received nary a vote in his one year on the ballot.
But was Murphy actually better than the less-ballyhooed Singleton, who broke into the big leagues with the New York Mets before excelling with the Montreal Expos and the Baltimore Orioles? Let’s look at a few of their numbers, keeping in mind that Murphy played in 2,180 games, Singleton in 2.082 games.
Murphy: .265/.346/.469, 2,111 hits, 398 HR, .357 wOBA, 119 wRC+, 44.3 WAR.
Singleton: .282/.388/.436, 2,029 hits, 246 HR,.371 wOBA, 134 wRC+, 44.4 WAR.
Peaks matter, so here is the best eight-year stretch for both: Read the rest of this entry »
Elijah Dunham had a promising first professional season in the New York Yankees system. Signed as a non-drafted free agent following 2020’s COVID-shortened five-round draft, the 23-year-old Indiana University product slashed .263/.362/.463 with 13 home runs in 395 plate appearances between Low-A Tampa and High-A Hudson Valley. He proceeded to rake in the Arizona Fall League. In 101 plate appearances with the Surprise Saguaros, the left-handed hitting Dunham went deep twice while slashing a stand-up-and-take-notice .357/.465/.571.
Dunham — an Honorable Mention on our newly-released Yankees Top Prospects list — discussed his disappointing draft-day experience, and the developmental strides he’s made since entering pro ball, late in the Arizona Fall League season.
David Laurila: What were your conversations with teams leading into the draft?
Elijah Dunham: “A handful of [scouts] told me they were probably going to take me in the fourth or the fifth. My agent thought I was probably going to go somewhere in the fifth. But then, when draft day rolled around, he called and said ‘Hey, I think we fell out.’ In my mind, I was like, ‘There’s no way.’ But it happened.”
Laurila: Did your agent get calls on draft day, asking if you’d sign for X amount if you were taken in whatever round?
Dunham: “I didn’t even talk to my agent about it, because I was pretty distraught. But I had one call come straight to me, from the area scout, with their pick coming up. He asked if I’d take so-and-so amount, and I said, ‘Yeah, definitely.’ It just never happened.”
Laurila: Which team was that? Read the rest of this entry »
Blake Brown had an uninspiring transcript when he signed as a non-drafted free agent with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2020. In four collegiate seasons at the University of North Carolina-Asheville, the 23-year-old right-hander had logged a 4.99 ERA and been credited with just six wins and eight saves. He had a psychology degree in his back pocket, but outside of a promising fastball, little in the way of baseball bona fides.
Based on his first professional season, the Phillies may have secured a diamond-in-the-rough. In 34 relief outings — 33 with High-A Jersey City and one with Double-A Reading — Brown fanned 59 batters and allowed just 22 hits over 41 innings of work. Walks were an issue — he issued 36 free passes — but his ERA was a laudable 3.07, and his batting-average-against a Lilliputian .155.
Brown — No. 31 on our newly-released Phillies Top Prospects list — discussed his draft experience and his emergence as an up-and-coming arm in a recent phone interview.
David Laurila: You were a non-drafted senior sign. What were your draft expectations, both in your junior and senior years?
Blake Brown: “My junior year, I thought there was a decent chance that I’d get drafted, but they weren’t especially high expectations. I didn’t have the greatest year. But my senior year, going into the five-round draft, I thought that I was… not guaranteed, but I was more certain that I would at least get a call. And I did get a couple of calls during the draft, with some money on the table. Things just never panned out.”
Laurila: Why didn’t things pan out?
Brown: “So, a couple of the teams called and said, ‘Hey, would you take X amount of money in the next round?’ Before the draft, it was ‘Would you take X amount of money if we were drafting you today?’ I would say ‘yes.’ But when that round came and the team’s name popped up, it was never my name getting called. I think it was a matter of teams having someone on their board that they didn’t expect to be there, and they were like, ‘OK, we’ve got to hop on that.’”
Laurila: Where did the Phillies fit into the equation? Read the rest of this entry »
When Buster Posey announced his retirement in early November, my first thought was something along the lines of “Fantastic career; he’ll be getting my vote when he becomes Hall of Fame eligible in five years.” Looking back, that initial reaction actually undersold just how dominant Posey was over his 12-year career.
A few days ago, I shared the following on social media:
Best catchers in baseball history: 1. Mickey Cochrane, 2. Johnny Bench, 3. Josh Gibson, 4. Yogi Berra, 5. Gary Carter, 6. Ivan Rodriguez.
Your opinion of that ranking aside, a follower proceeded to ask for my opinion of Posey. That prompted me to compare the 34-year-old’s career to that of Cochrane, who likewise was done at a relatively-early age. Cochrane played his last game shortly after his 34th birthday, an errant Bump Hadley pitch — this in the days before hitters wore helmets — having fractured his skull and rendered him unconscious for 10 days. Coincidentally or not, Cochrane had taken Hadley deep in his previous at bat.
Cochrane played from 1925-1937 — a high-offense era — and finished his career with an eye-popping .320/.419/.478 slash line. Perusing our WAR leaderboard for that baker’s-dozen stretch, you’ll find Cochrane sandwiched between Rogers Hornsby and Tony Lazzeri. In 1947, Cochrane became the first catcher voted into the Hall of Fame by the BBWAA.
Cochrane played in 1,482 games. Posey played in 1,371 games. How do they otherwise compare? Read the rest of this entry »
In many respects, Josh Palacios has already exceeded expectations. A 2016 fourth round pick who has remained on the periphery of most top prospect lists, the 26-year-old outfielder debuted with the Toronto Blue Jays last April. Moreover, he went 4-for-4 with a walk in his second game. While the opportunity proved fleeting — he was back in the minors by month’s end — the Brooklyn born-and-raised nephew of former Kansas City Royals catcher Rey Palacios had reached the pinnacle of his profession. Counting September’s second cup of coffee, the personable youngster finished the campaign with seven hits in 35 at-bats.
An honorable mention on our just released Blue Jays Top Prospects list, Palacios recently took the time to discuss his path to the big leagues, his still-lofty goals, and a baseball role model whose memory inspires his own efforts to be an asset to his community.
David Laurila: Let’s start with you being part of a baseball family. Your brother [Richie Palacios] is in the Guardians system, your uncle played in the big leagues, and I believe that your father (Richard Palacios) played in the minors?
Josh Palacios: “Yes. My uncle and my dad played in the Tigers system together, and then my uncle got traded to the Royals; that’s who he made his major league debut with. My father only played for a short period of time.”
Laurila: You played at a junior college, then at Auburn, before getting drafted by the Blue Jays. Your bio shows that your major was Public Administration, but for all intents and purposes, were you majoring in baseball? Read the rest of this entry »
A few days ago, I ran a Twitter poll asking which of Bobby Abreu and Ichiro Suzuki had the better MLB career. The latter won in a landslide. Of the 1,183 votes cast, 86.8% went to Ichiro, while Abreu garnered just 13.2%.
The poll results don’t reflect their respective numbers:
Ichiro: .311/.355/.402, .328 wOBA, 104 wRC+, 57.8 WAR.
Abreu: .291/.395/.475, .378 wOBA, 129 wRC+, 59.8 WAR.
If you favor counting stats, here are a few of those:
Ichiro: 3.089 hits, 362 2Bs, 96 3Bs, 117 HRs, 3,994 total bases, 509 SB.
Abreu: 2,470 hits, 574 2Bs, 59 3Bs, 288 HRs, 4.026 total bases, 400 SB.
Unless you place an especially-high value on hit totals and batting averages, Abreu clearly has a career-wise statistical edge on the undoubtedly Hall-of-Fame-worthy Ichiro. Read the rest of this entry »
In 2021, I once again had an opportunity to interview numerous people within baseball. Many of their words were shared in my Sunday Notes column, while others came courtesy of the Talks Hitting series, the Learning and Developing a Pitch series, and an assortment of Q&As and feature stories. Here is a selection of the best quotes from this year’s conversations, with the bolded lines linking to the pieces they were excerpted from.
“I knew that I had a high BABIP, but I had no idea it was the highest in history. Once he told me, it wasn’t like I was coming back to the dugout thinking, ‘Man, I think I’m having some bad luck.’ It was actually on paper, as a stat.” — Mitch Keller, Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher, January 2021
“Always trying to hit the ball way out in front is a recipe for a lot of strikeouts. Yeah, you’re going to hit some home runs, but you’re so susceptible to being pitched to that you limit the times in a game that you can truly do damage. You’re limited to the type of pitchers you can hit and the type of pitches you can hit.” — Dave Magadan, Colorado Rockies hitting coach, January 2021
“The guy that probably had the most power was actually Dean Palmer. He could hit a baseball a long ways. But Cecil… what he did was just incredible. And a lot of my home runs were with the bases empty, because I usually hit behind him, and he’d cleared them all. I hit with the bases empty a lot.” — Mickey Tettleton, 1980s-1990s slugger, January 2021
“An individual with a much lower spin rate, but a spin direction closer to 12:00 — high spin efficiency/active spin — can achieve significantly higher vertical break values than an individual who generates a much higher spin rate, but a spin direction further from 12:00.” — Eric Jagers, Cincinnati Reds assistant pitching coach, January 2021 Read the rest of this entry »
Joey Wiemer began tapping into his tools this year. Explosive but raw coming into his first full professional season, the 2020 fourth-round pick out of the University of Cincinnati slashed .293/.403/.556 and went deep 27 times in 472 plate appearances between Low-A Carolina and High-A Wisconsin. Moreover, he belied his 6-foot-5, 230-pound frame by swiping 30 bases in 36 attempts. It came as little surprise when the Milwaukee Brewers named the 22-year-old outfielder their 2021 Minor League Player of the Year.
Wiemer — No. 2 on our just released Brewers Top Prospects list — discussed his breakout in the penultimate week of the Arizona Fall League season, where he was playing for the Salt River Rafters.
David Laurila: You exceeded most expectations in your first professional season. What changes have you made as a hitter?
Joey Wiemer: “A lot of it has been cutting down on my head movement and getting lower in my stance. My thought process was mostly the same. Swing-wise, my hands… I’m really athletic when I hit, so I’m trying to think mechanically, as opposed to just competing. That’s in my cage work. In the game, it’s about trusting what I do in the cage.”
Laurila: Can you elaborate on your stance?
Wiemer: “I’m lower and more widened out, with more of a toe-tap as opposed to the big leg kick I used to have. I started working on that in independent ball, during the 2020 season. I went out and played some indie ball so I could get some live ABs, get some reads, to really feel that change. And honestly, my swing is quicker now than it was at the start of this year. I have more hand movement, preload. I feel like everything is more direct now.”
Laurila: Whose suggestion was it get wider? Read the rest of this entry »