Sunday Notes: Alexander is Blazing a Path to Arizona

Blaze Alexander is on the bubble to break camp with the Arizona Diamondbacks. His spring showing suggests he deserves the opportunity to do so. In 52 Cactus League plate appearances, the 24-year-old infield prospect has slashed .420/.442/.640 with seven extra-base hits and five stolen bases in as many attempts. Moreover, he’s continued to show promise since being taken in the 11th round of the 2018 draft out of IMG Academy. That he’s mostly flown under the radar while doing so is starting to change.

“I hope that’s the case,” Alexander told me in mid-March. “I mean, I’ve been putting on a pretty good performance this spring, so I definitely think I’m opening some eyes. That said, I obviously need to transfer it over to the regular season.”

The likelihood of his doing so in the big leagues was improved on Friday when the D-Backs released Elvis Andrus, a notable roster move given that the 15-year veteran had been inked to a free agent contract as a potential backup for Geraldo Perdomo. As it now stands, there is a good chance that Alexander — “a viable defensive shortstop with a huge arm… [who] hits for enough power” in the words of Eric Longenhagen — will be filling that role.

Hitting for power isn’t one of Alexander’s aims, nor is it part of his process. While he does possess pop — his ledger includes 30 home runs in 734 plate appearances over the past two minor-league seasons — his M.O. is bullets, not blasts.

“I could put on a show in BP —I could hit most of the balls out — but everyone in this room can do that,” he explained. “ What I want is to be a mature hitter. Your routine transfers over to the game, so what I’m doing in batting practice is trying to hit low line drives from five-to-25 degrees. If you watch Freddie Freeman’s BPs, he’s hitting liners at the shortstop. Doing that allows him to hit homers in games.”

Alexander has tweaked his setup in an effort to make hard contact on a more regular basis. He used to have his hands “kind of in front of [his] helmet,” but he now holds them closer to his shoulder in order to have a more consistent launching point. As the youngster put it, “I’m not trying to find that spot, because I’m already in that spot. I just get my foot down and keep my direction to the middle of field.”

Some of his favorite players over the years have prioritized line drives, knowing that well-struck balls will occasionally carry over the fence. Brandon Crawford is one, Derek Jeter — “everyone likes to be compared to him, because he did it the right way” — is another. A third favorite had a far different profile at the plate.

“I’m from the Chicagoland area — Northwest Indiana — and when I was younger, my brother and I were always in front of the TV, watching Sammy Sosa,” recalled Alexander. “We’d be cheering him on, and it seemed like he was always hitting a home run. I’m obviously not going to be Sammy Sosa. What I am striving to be is the best version of myself.”

The current version has him on the doorstep of a big-league debut. Final roster decisions are right around the corner.

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RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS

Rusty Peters went 1 for 15 against Orval Grove.

Babe Dahlgren went 1 for 15 against Lefty Grove.

Chick Gandil went 2 for 16 against Grover Lowdermilk.

Pete Knisely went 1 for 15 against Grover Cleveland Alexander.

Chubby Dean went 1 for 15 against Pete Appleton.

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A little over a month ago, a name I was unfamiliar with appeared near the bottom of a Picks To Click article put together by Eric Longenhagen and Tess Taruskin. The name, which was on a list of potential breakout players that industry insiders had provided to our prospect analyst duo, was that of a young southpaw whose professional résumé comprises all of 38 innings, none above High-A.

Lance Brozdowski is quite familiar with the player in question. As a matter of fact, it was his name that the Marquee Sports Network analyst cited when I asked who he considers to be the most interesting pitcher in the Chicago Cubs organization.

“Arguably the most interesting arm in the system is Drew Gray,” said Brozdowski, whose nerdy pitcher breakdowns are consistently excellent (check out his Twitter feed). “He’s only 20 years old and threw just over 30 innings last year coming off Tommy John surgery that caused him to miss all of 2022. His lefty fastball is what sticks out. He’s a classic combination of good extension (6.9’), low release height (5.5’) and above-average vertical break on his fastball (17”+). He had some trouble finding the zone with it last season, but the pitch still missed bats at an above-average clip despite sitting below 92 mph. On top of that, he had big movement on his slider with spin up to 2,900 rpm. If you project a few extra ticks of velocity here, and he finds the zone even marginally more, he’ll be the top pitching prospect in the organization come 2025. I wonder whether the presence and projection of Gray made the Cubs more willing to trade fellow lefty and IMG Academy graduate Jackson Ferris to the Dodgers this winter for Michael Busch.”

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Should the 88.9-mph ground ball that went through Jake Cronenworth’s glove in this season’s MLB opener in Seoul, South Korea have been ruled a hit or an error? I asked that question in a Twitter poll, and the results were closer than I expected. Error — the obvious call in my opinion — received 55.1%, while hit garnered 44.9%.

The xBA on the bouncer was .080. The idea that the hitter should be credited with a hit (which he wasn’t) hence makes no sense. None whatsoever.

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A quiz:

Maury Wills became the first modern-era (since 1901) player to steal 100 or more bases in a single season when he swiped 104 with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1962. Who is the most recent player to reach triple digits in steals?

The answer can be found below.

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NEWS NOTES

The Triple-A Worcester Red Sox have promoted Brooke Cooper to Executive Vice President/General Manager. A 31-year-old Rhode Island native with an MBA from Providence College, Cooper has been with the team since 2015, most recently as Senior VP/Assistant GM.

The Athletic debuted a weekly column titled “Sliders,” which is being penned by the incomparable Tyler Kepner. The inaugural column can be found here.

Chuck Seelbach, a right-handed pitcher for the Detroit Tigers from 1971-1974, died this week at age 76. The Lakewood, Ohio native made 69 of his 75 appearances in 1972, going 9-8 with 14 saves and a 2.91 ERA over 112 innings.

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The answer to the quiz is Vince Coleman. The St. Louis Cardinals speedster stole 100 or more bases in each of the 1985, 1986, and 1987 seasons. Rickey Henderson’s last 100-steal season was 1983.

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Jumping back to polls, I asked which of two young NL Central shortstops — Cincinnati’s Elly De La Cruz and Pittsburgh’s Oneil Cruz — will put up the better offensive numbers this season: I expected a horserace. What I got instead was a runaway result. The Pirate garnered a hefty 69.1% of the votes cast, while the Red received just 30.9%.

Cruz, who played in just a baker’s dozen games last year due to a fractured fibula, has raked this spring. The 25-year-old has slashed .293/.370/.829, and his seven home runs are tied with Baltimore’s Kyle Stowers for the most in the Grapefruit League.

De La Cruz, whose rookie season featured both peaks and valleys —- he ultimately finished with 13 homers, 35 steals, and an 84 wRC= — has had a less impressive spring. The 22-year-old has slashed .277/.370/.553, gone deep twice, and fanned in 37.0% of his 51 plate appearances.

Regular season numbers obviously mean far more than spring training numbers, and as my colleague Davy Andrews recently pointed out, the 6-foot-7 Cruz and 6-foot-5 De La Cruz have more in common than being especially tall for their position. To wit:

Cruz and De La Cruz have both played in exactly 98 big league games, and their skillsets are nearly identical, as well. They’ve both walked 35 times, struck out 33.7% of the time, and posted batting averages and on-base percentages within two points of one another.

Whoa. That’s pretty much the definition of a dead heat. Their other numbers to date are also close, but what of the future? It will be fascinating to follow.

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A fascinating team to follow this season is the Seattle Mariners. The AL West club is coming off a year where they finished 88-74 and fell just short of making the playoffs, and projections have them going 85-77 in the year at hand. By all appearances, they’ll once again be contenders — but will they actually go on to play October baseball? And if so, might they even go deep into October, ultimately giving fans throughout the Pacific Northwest something they’ve long craved: a championship parade in downtown Seattle?

The Boston Globe’s Alex Speier thinks it could happen. Seven of the publication’s sports scribes made 2024 MLB predictions earlier this week, with four them tabbing the Mariners to earn a wildcard berth (none had them winning the division), with Speier’s standing out. Three of the wildcard predictors had Seattle going no further; Speier had them going on to beat the Dodgers in the World Series.

Working out of the Boston market, I know that Speier doesn’t traffic in hot takes, but rather provides insightful commentary on all things baseball. Much for that reason, I reached out to Alex to get his rationale.

“Prediction, especially postseason predictions, are an affront to the epistemological reality that we don’t know squat,” Speier said in an email reply to my request. “When approached with any kind of earnestness, they fly in the face of what I consider one of the foundational joys of sports — randomness and the unknown outcomes of competition. I used to take predictions very seriously, and pretend that I had some insight into what might happen in the future. I have been happily humbled by the inaccuracy of any such prognostications, over and over and over. And so: I say a mighty “Fie!” to the logic of picking what might be seen as the best team, and instead picked the Mariners. Why? First, I *love* that the success of wild card teams in the new format has proven that relative talent is not a meaningful predictor of short series success. Secondly, it’s always a delight to contemplate a season that delivers maximum happiness to the largest population.

“Wouldn’t it be just freaking fantastic to see the entire Pacific Northwest enjoy and celebrate its first-ever championship, with first pitches thrown out by the likes of Griffey and Martinez and RJ, and to think of a team that would be remembered for generations? And finally, sure, there’s a logic to thinking the Mariners have the starting pitching to do something ridiculous like the 2005 White Sox or some such outlier of outlier thing. So: My “prediction” is not a suggestion at all of something that I think *will* happen, but instead something that I happily imagine *could* happen. So: Why the hell not? Someone might as well take the field against the Dodgers and the team from Atlanta.”

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On the subject of predictions, I made one a week ago today on a Cincinnati radio station. Appearing as a guest on WLW’s Sunday Morning Sports Talk with Ken Broo, I opined that not only will the Reds win the NL Central this year, they have a legitimate shot at 90 wins. Given the team’s projected record (79-81) and a handful of injured players to start the season, that’s perhaps a bit too bold? I don’t think it is. As I said on the show, Cincinnati’s starting pitching depth is impressive. With the caveat that they are all young, options beyond the five-man rotation expected to start the season include Nick Lodolo, Brandon Williamson, Connor Phillips, Carson Spiers, Lyon Richardson, and 2023 first-rounder Rhett Lowder. Teams typically incur pitching injuries over the course of the season. The Reds can withstand them far better than most.

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FOREIGN AFFAIRS

The KBO season got underway on Saturday with a five-game slate, highlighted by defending champion LG Twins beating the Hanwha Eagles 8-2. Hyun-jin Ryu took the loss for Hanwha in his return to Korea after 10 MLB seasons. Another notable game was the Samsung Lions topping the KT Wiz 6-2 in 10 innings. Erstwhile Red Sox and Rockies righty Connor Seabold went six innings for the winning side in a solid first KBO start.

Yonathan Perlaza’s KBO career is off to a scorching start. The 25-year-old former Chicago Cubs prospect went 2-for-4 in Hanwha’s opening day loss, then followed that up with another 2-for-4 — this time with pair of home runs — as the Eagles outscored the Twins 8-4 earlier today. Perlaza had 23 home runs and a 130 wRC+ with the Triple-A Iowa Cubs last year.

The NPB season is slated to get underway this coming Friday. The Hanshin Tigers, who will open at home against the Yomiuri Giants, are the defending champions.

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A random obscure former player snapshot:

Eddie Joost had an underrated career in which he was at his best from 1947-1952. A shortstop for the Philadelphia Athletics over that six-season span, Joost batted just .248, but he also had a .391 on-base percentage, 109 home runs, a 117 wRC+, and 26.1 WAR. Moreover, his 713 walks were the most in the majors, this at a time when his contemporaries included Ted Williams, Stan Musial, Ralph Kiner, and Eddie “The Walking Man” Yost. In terms of valued skill set — OBP and power at a middle infield position — Joost was decades ahead of his time.

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Which player is the key to Toronto’s success this season? I posed that question to Ben Nicholson-Smith, who cover the Blue Jays for Sportsnet Canada.

“There is no need to complicate this one,” replied Nicholson-Smith. “The answer for the Blue Jays is Vladimir Guerrero Jr.. He’s played five full years in the majors and was famous long before he debuted, so sometimes it’s easy to forget how young Guerrero Jr. is. He turned 25 this month, which makes him younger than Heston Kjerstad, Michael Busch and Joey Ortiz – players who still appear on pre-season top-prospect lists. Already, we’ve seen Guerrero Jr. perform at an MVP level, as he hit 48 home runs in 2021, but his offensive production has dropped off each year since, and he hit just 26 home runs last year en route to a 118 wRC+. Clearly, he’s capable of more, though. If he accesses that ceiling again, the Blue Jays’ lineup will be that much closer to where it needs to be.”

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The St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Derrick Goold named a new-to-the-team starting pitcher when answering the question for the Cardinals.

The answer has to be Sonny Gray,” Goold opined. “The Cardinals chased innings all of last season, trying to overcome a crater created by inconsistent, abbreviated, and ineffective starts from the rotation. The shopping list of the winter, as coined by executive John Mozeliak, was “pitching, pitching, pitching.” They recognized they needed to add more than one starter, but they also sought to add a No. 1. They entered the offseason focused on Sonny Gray and optimistic they could sign the Cy Young runner up. “Sonny was the guy we wanted,” the manager told me recently.

“Their pursuit and their offer — could be the first $100-million deal for a free-agent pitcher in club history — reveals his importance. They wanted him to not only lead the rotation in performance but lead the rotation. For the first time in more than a generation, the Cardinals do not have an heir ready, like Wainwright was to Carpenter, or Carpenter was to Morris, Morris to Kile. All five members of the planned rotation signed as free agents — even Lance Lynn, a homegrown player who left and returned for this season. That speaks to the gap the Cardinals believe they had in their pitching development. Gray is who the Cardinals want as that No. 1 they can count on for exceptional, efficient innings and wins, and the No. 1 they want to turn to for Game 1 of a playoff series. He’s pivotal to the Cardinals’ success in a season that is vital to the Cardinals’ direction and brand. Was last year a blip, as they say, or the dip that reveals a trend?. All this, and Sonny Gray is starting the season at least two weeks behind his peers due to a hamstring injury.”

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LINKS YOU’LL LIKE

At Front Office Sports, Bradford William Davis wrote about Shohei Ohtani and how the gambling scandals are only beginning.

At Mile High Sports, Drew Creasman gave us three spring-training-influenced predictions for the Colorado Rockies.

The Giants and popular longtime PA announcer Renel Brooks-Moon are parting ways after not being able to come to terms on a contract. Ann Killion has the story at The San Francisco Chronicle.

Former Atlanta Braves outfielder Gary Cooper — once considered the fastest man in baseball — missed qualifying for an MLB pension by one day. Dave Mesrey wrote about it at Andscape.

David Bilmes chronicled the life and career of Cecil Fielder for SABR’s Bio Project.

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RANDOM FACTS AND STATS

The Tampa Bay Rays won their first 13 games last season and were 27-6 on May 5th before going to finish 99-63 and then get swept in the Wild Card Series. In 2019, the Washington Nationals were 19-31 on May 23rd before going to finish 93-69 and ultimately winning the World Series.

Three prominent former Cincinnati Reds — Joe Morgan, Tony Perez, and Pete Rose — played for the 1983 NL champion Philadelphia Phillies. Four players who later wore Reds uniforms — Don Carman, John Denny, Bo Diaz, and Juan Samuel — were also on the team. Pat Corrales, who managed the Phillies for the first half of the season, caught for the Reds from 1968-1972.

Earl Moore’s 1908 MLB season comprised three starts and 26 innings pitched for the Phillies. The right-hander allowed four runs, none of them earned. Moore’s 26 innings are the the most in a single season for a pitcher who finished with a 0.00 ERA.

Pete Rose had a 121 wRC+, 160 HR, a .303 BA, and three batting titles.
Bill Madlock had a 121 wRC+, 163 HR, a .305 BA, and four batting titles.

Mike Trout has a 170 wRC+, a .416 wOBA, 1,624 hits, 310 doubles, and 206 steals.
Shoeless Joe Jackson had a 165 wRC+, a .443 wOBA, 1,772 hits, 307 doubles, and 202 steals.

Two California-born players (Barry Bonds and Brett Butler) have stolen 500 or more bases. Two Rhode Island-born players (Hugh Duffy and Davey Lopes) have stolen 500 or more bases.

On today’s date in 1984, the Detroit Tigers traded Glenn Wilson and John Wockenfuss to the Philadelphia Phillies in exchange for Willie Hernandez and Dave Bergman. The Tigers went on to win the 1984 World Series, while Hernandez captured both the AL MVP and Cy Young awards.

The Tigers signed J.D. Martinez as a free agent on today’s date in 2014, two days after he was released by the Houston Astros. The right-handed slugger has hit 291 home runs and logged a 140 wRC+ in the ensuing 10 seasons.

Players born on today’s date include Al Chambers, an outfielder/DH who played for the Seattle Mariners from 1983-1985. The Harrisburg, Pennsylvania native made his MLB debut against the Boston Red Sox and promptly swatted two-run singles off of Dennis Eckersley in each of his first two plate appearances. It was downhill from there. Chambers finished his career with 25 hits and 11 RBIs.

Also born on today’s date was Ernie Shore, who on June 23, 1917 threw a perfect game that isn’t in the record books as a perfect game. Babe Ruth started for the Red Sox, walked the first batter he faced, then was ejected by home plate umpire after voicing some choice words. Shore replaced Ruth, the runner was thrown out trying to steal, and the next 26 Washington Senators went down in order.





David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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sadtrombonemember
2 months ago

This was perhaps the easiest quiz for me in a long time. Stolen bases are my jam.

If you want a fun wrong answer to this, Otis Nixon stole 50 bases in only 263 PAs in 1990. Montreal really gave its runners the green light.

Left of Centerfield
2 months ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

Got it as well. Brock, Coleman, and Henderson are the only modern-day players to accomplish the feat so wasn’t much to choose from.

BTW, an interesting factoid. Including all eras, the player who is 5th in steals in single season is Charlie Comisky, future owner of the White Sox. Comisky stole 117 bases in 1887.

Ivan_Grushenkomember
2 months ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

Yes and Diving Billy Hamilton stole 155 in 2012 for Pensacola.

MikeSmember
2 months ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

I knew Coleman had done it after RIcky, so it was pretty easy. 100 stolen bases in the mid ’80s was like 60 HR in the late 90’s. It happened so often it almost seemed normal for a few years.

PC1970
2 months ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

I think for anyone over 45 years old this one is easy. Not many players to choose from & those over 45 would remember Coleman for his role on the Whitey Herzog Cardinal teams.

Not sure many under 45 will know who Coleman is unless they really know baseball history. He fell off really quickly once he left STL & became known as a bad apple on some disappointing Mets teams.

Last edited 2 months ago by PC1970
mordecaiconstant
2 months ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

I initially thought Coleman. Who else could it be? If my buddies had pondered this question while watching a game I would have said Coleman with 95% confidence.

But I guessed Nixon. He stole 72 in 1991, his age 32 season. 620 for his career – over half of those AFTER 1991.

TKDCmember
2 months ago

I thought Coleman was too easy and tried to think of somehow someone stole 100 in the 90s that I forgot about, but couldn’t think of anyone with any confidence, which I guess shouldn’t be surprising, so went with Coleman.

TKDCmember
2 months ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

How about this: In 1990-91, Nixon stole 122 bases in 722 plate appearances. His 72 with the Braves in 1991 was the Atlanta Braves’ record until Acuña last year, who stole 73 in 735 plate appearances.

sadtrombonemember
2 months ago
Reply to  TKDC

I have to assume that he was pinch running a fair amount in 1990. He reached 1st base about 80 times and had 63 stolen base attempts. I might be wrong on the numbers but they’re in the right ballpark, and while I can’t rule him out running every time he got on base or having multiple attempts I suspect that pinch running helped out a bit.

Left of Centerfield
2 months ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

Baseball Reference data shows that Nixon had 113 stolen base opportunities in 1990, which they define as being on 1st or 2nd with the following base open. Breaking it down further, he made 48 steal attempts of 2nd, 14 of 3rd, and 1 of home.

And while BR doesn’t (AFAIK) have pinch running data, the game log data shows that he had 10 stolen base attempts in games with 0 PAs. I assume those were all games where he entered as a pinch runner. There were other games where he had 1 or 2 PAs as a non-starter. It’s possible that some of those were games where he entered as a pinch runner, stayed in the game, and later picked up a PA.