It wouldn’t be accurate to say that Chavez Young came out of nowhere to become one of the hottest prospects in the Toronto Blue Jays organization. But he is following an atypical path. The 21-year-old outfielder grew up in the Bahamas before moving stateside as a teen, and going on to be selected in the 39th round of the 2016 draft out of Faith Baptist Christian Academy, in Ludowici, Georgia.
Since that time he’s become a shooting star. Playing for the Lansing Lugnuts in the Low-A Midwest League this past season, Young stroked 50 extra-base hits, stole 44 bases, and slashed a rock-solid .285/.363/.445.
How did a player with his kind of talent last until the 1,182nd pick of the draft?
“I wasn’t a person to go to All-American Games, Perfect Game, or showcases like that,” Young told me late in the 2018 season. “Growing up, we didn’t have money enough for me to get that kind of exposure. It was just, ‘If a scout sees me, a scout sees me.’ The Blue Jays scout, Mike Tidick came from something like three hours away. He heard about me (in 2014) and decided to see where I was at.”
Tidick received the tip from Gene Reynolds, who now runs Georgia Premier Academy but at the time was coaching Young at Faith Baptist Christian School in Brandon, Florida.
“Gene knew I was with the Blue Jays,” explained Tidick, who resides in Statesboro, Georgia. “He said, ‘Hey, why don’t you take a ride down here and I’ll work these guys out for you.’ I did, and was like, ‘Whoa, OK.’ This kid was running around with his hair on fire. He had tools. He was playing center field. He was a switch-hitter who could run. There was a lot to like. I followed him all that spring.”
Other teams weren’t onto the young Bahamian until much later. It wasn’t until he moved to Georgia for his senior year — he was in Florida for two years — that his name was garnering any appreciable attention. Young eventually ended up talking to “10 or 12 different scouts,” with most of those conversations coming closer to the draft.
It’s still somewhat of a mystery how he ended up lasting until the 39th round. Young had college plans, but it’s not as though he had Kyler Murray-type leverage. Regardless of where he went, inking him to a contract wasn’t going to break anyone’s bank.
“We didn’t know what to expect with him — the draft is hard to predict — but I wouldn’t have been surprised if he’d have been gone by the fifth round,” Tidick told me. “He’s a good story so far, and I have no doubt that he’s going to continue to keep doing what he’s doing. His makeup and work ethic are off the charts, and he’s got a chip on his shoulder because of when he got drafted. He wants to prove something.”
The chip on the youngster’s shoulder may be sturdy, but it isn’t engrained with anger. Having spent his formative years in a country where track and field is king — Young excelled in both the 400 and the 800 meters — and baseball almost an afterthought, he’s mostly just happy to be getting an opportunity.
“I picture it as, ‘It was a blessing to be drafted,’” said Young, who according to Tidick was planning to attend Polk State College if he didn’t sign professionally. “A lot of kids in the world want to play professional baseball. I got picked up by the Blue Jays. I’m grateful to be able to play the game I love, and want to make my family proud.”
Will Benson hasn’t lacked for opportunities. Athletically gifted, he grew up in Atlanta excelling on both the hardwood and the diamond. Academically, he would have matriculated from the prestigious Westminster School to Duke University had he not signed with the Cleveland Indians after being taken 14th overall in the 2016 draft.
He recognizes that many others — particularly young African-Americans — don’t have the same opportunities he’s had. That’s particularly true when it comes to his chosen sport.
“A lot of guys I knew growing up were good at baseball, but they didn’t stick with baseball,” Benson told me last summer. “They chose football instead. Going back and talking to them, one thing they’ve told me about not continuing to play baseball is that they couldn’t afford to pay for it. It costs $300 for a bat. It costs thousands of dollars to go to tournaments. There are lessons — batting lessons, pitching lessons — and people don’t have the funds to pay for all of that. Baseball is an expensive sport. It’s a sport that a lot of people in the African-American community look at like, ‘OK, I can go out and play football and all my equipment is paid for. I can get a full scholarship. Basketball is kind of the same thing. All you really need is sneakers and a basketball. It would be great to get the best athletes out there on a baseball field, but for a lot of families the economics make that almost impossible.”
Benson went from playing on almost-exclusively-African-American teams from ages 7-12 to an Atlanta public schools system “where baseball isn’t really heavy.” He had the wherewithal to get into “the high-level travel circuit at East Cobb, but you don’t really see too many black guys there.”
The same is true for professional baseball, most notably MLB. On opening day last year, African-American players made up just 8.4% of big-league rosters. In the early 1980s, that number was a little over 18%. The downturn obviously isn’t good for the game. As the 20-year-old Indians prospect put it, “People want to see the best out there, and the more people we can get into baseball, the better it’s going to be.”
RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS
Joy In Tigertown, by Mickey Lolich (with Tom Gage), contains an interesting what-could-have-been-trade story. According to the former pitcher, his longtime team was intent on trading Jim Bunning following the 1963 season. They ultimately did, and it turned out to be a disastrous deal. Detroit swapped Bunning to the Phillies in exchange for Don Demeter and Jack Hamilton.
That less-then-dynamic duo wasn’t who the Tigers were originally targeting. Per Lolich, the Detroit front office was looking to acquire Felipe Alou from the Giants, only to have San Francisco trade him to the Milwaukee Braves instead. A few days later, Bunning went to Philadelphia for what turned out to be pennies on the dollar. Alou went on to have several stellar seasons with the Braves.
Which beings us to Felipe Alou’s autobiography, which he co-wrote with Peter Kerasotis. Chapter One of Alou: My Baseball Journey begins with the sentence: “My last name is not Alou.”
The native of Santo Domingo explained that when he began his professional career in 1956, “the Latin tradition of placing the mother’s maiden name after the family name wasn’t well known.” As a result, he received a uniform with ‘F. Alou’ on the back. The son of Jose Rojas didn’t yet know enough English to explain the error.
Ozzie Virgil became the first Dominican-born player to reach the big leagues when he debuted with the New York Giants in September 1956. Alou debuted with Giants — newly relocated to San Francisco — in June 1958.
Kazuyoshi Tatsunami, Hiroshi Gondo, and Haruo Wakimura have been elected to the Japanese Hall of Fame. Tatsunami played 22 seasons as an infielder with the Chunichi Dragons. Gondo played just five seasons — he was a 30-game winner in two of them — also with Chunichi. He later managed the Yokohama BayStars. Wakimura is a former chairman of the Japan High School Baseball Federation.
Craig Breslow has been hired by the Chicago Cubs as their new Director of Strategic Initiatives for Baseball Operations. The 38-year-old veteran of 12 MLB seasons will reportedly, “help to evaluate and implement data-based processes… (and) support the organization’s pitching infrastructure.”
The Tampa Bay Rays announced several promotions within their baseball operations department on Friday. Notable among them were Cole Figueroa to Assistant Director, Hitting Development, and Jeremy Sowers to Coordinator, Major League Operations. On the coaching front, Brady North will join the staff of the club’s Gulf Coast League affiliate. The 27-year-old Cumberland University graduate had been the director of hitting and mental performance at Top Level Athletes, in Orlando.
Jason Bourgeois is joining the coaching ranks. An outfielder for six teams from 2008-20015, the 37-year-old Bourgeois will be on the coaching staff of the Dodgers’ Midwest League affiliate, the Great Lakes Loons.
Wayne Randazzo, who had been serving as a pregame and postgame host, will join Howie Rose in the New York Mets radio booth this coming season. Randazzo replaces Josh Lewin, who will now be a part of the San Diego Padres broadcast team.
Anders Jorstad been hired by the Lynchburg Hillcats as a Broadcast and Media Relations Assistant. A 2018 graduate of Hofstra University, Jorstad will join Max Gun, a 2015 graduate of Michigan State University, in the radio booth. The Hillcats are the High-A affiliate of the Cleveland Indians.
Eli Grba died earlier this week at age 84. The former big-leaguer had an unremarkable career on the mound — 28 wins over parts of five seasons — but he does hold a unique set of distinctions. In December 1960, Grba became the first player ever chosen in an expansion draft. By dint of that occurrence, he also became the first player in Los Angeles Angels franchise history. A third first followed, four months later. In April 1960, the then-26-year-old right-hander starter and won the first game in Angels history.
While Grba is otherwise a footnote, two other players the Angels acquired in the 1960 expansion draft went on to have standout careers.
Jim Fregosi, who was just 18 years old when he was selected from the Red Sox organization, went on to play 18 big-league seasons and made six All-Star teams as a shortstop. Dean Chance, selected from the Orioles organization as a 19-year-old, went on to pitch 11 seasons, make two All-Star teams, and win a Cy Young award.
Steve Pearce wasn’t a free agent for long this offseason. Only weeks removed from being named World Series MVP, the 35-year-old journeyman re-upped with the Red Sox on November 16. Others haven’t been so fortunate. For the second winter in a row, the free agency process has moved along like molasses. Pearce is sympathetic to what many members of his baseball brethren are going through.
“It’s not fun when the market moves this slow,” said Pearce, who has signed multiple free agent contracts over the years. “I know that a lot of players are frustrated right now. I’m glad I had the opportunity to sign fast so I don’t have to go through what they’re going through. You get to this point and think that it’s going to be an easy process, but it’s not.”
LINKS YOU’LL LIKE
Former Pawtucket Red Sox broadcaster — and all-around good guy — Steve Hyder is in serious need of a life-saving kidney transplant. Kevin McNamara has the story at The Providence Journal.
Matt Shephard used to call games in his backyard; now he’s the TV voice of the Tigers. Anthony Fenech gave us the particulars at The Detroit Free Press.
Over at ESPN Seattle, Shannon Drayer wrote about how additions to the minor league staff continues the Mariners’ technology focus.
RANDOM FACTS AND STATS
Jackie Robinson had 1,518 hits, a 132 adjusted OPS, and was worth 57.2 WAR. He was an All-Star six times. Larry Doby had 1,515 hits, a 136 adjusted OPS, and was worth 51.1 WAR. He was an All-Star seven times.
Josh Gibson, who some feel is the greatest catcher in baseball history, died on this date in 1947. The Negro League legend was just 35 years old. Fifty years later, on January 20, 1997, Curt Flood died at age 59. Every free agent who signs a contract owes a debt of gratitude to the seven-time Gold Glove outfielder.
Tony Lazzeri had 7,315 plate appearances and 1,840 hits. Dick Allen had 7,315 plate appearances and 1,848 hits. Lazzeri had 178 home runs and a 121 adjusted OPS. Allen had 351 home runs and a 156 adjusted OPS. Lazzeri is in the Hall of Fame. Allen isn’t in the Hall of Fame.
Andruw Jones had 3,690 total bases, a 111 adjusted OPS, 10 Gold Gloves, and was worth 66.9 WAR. He received 7.3% support in his first year on the Hall of Fame ballot. Dwight Evans had 4,230 total bases, a 127 adjusted OPS, eight Gold Gloves, and was worth 65.1 WAR. He topped out at 10.4% before falling off the ballot after his third year.
Scott Rolen had 2,077 hits, 316 home runs, seven All-Star berths, and was worth 69.9 WAR. Graig Nettles had 2,225 hits, 390 home runs, six All-Star berths, and was worth 65.7 WAR. Nettles topped out at 8.3% in his four years on the Hall of Fame ballot.
Reggie Jackson had 563 home runs and a 139 adjusted OPS. David Ortiz had 541 home runs and a 141 adjusted OPS. Jackson had 18 home runs and an .885 OPS in the postseason. Ortiz had 17 home runs and a .947 OPS in the postseason.
Kirby Puckett played 1,783 games and had a 124 adjusted OPS. Bill Madlock played 1,806 games and had a 123 adjusted OPS. Puckett played 24 post-season games and batted .309 with an .897 OPS. Madlock played 17 post-season games and batted .308 with an .898 OPS.
A total of 247 players made their big-league debuts in 2018. Per our friends at B-Ref, there have now been 19,420 players in MLB history.