Brad Keller is having an impressive rookie season with the Kansas City Royals. Pumping fastballs with a bulldog mentality, the 22-year-old right-hander has appeared in 18 games and has a 1.96 ERA. He’s not afraid to challenge big-league hitters. Substantiating KC skipper Ned Yost’s assertion that he’s “been able to come in and bang strikes on the attack,” Keller has issued just five free passes in 18-and-a-third innings of work.
His path to the Kansas City bullpen was roundabout. In retrospect, it was also only a matter of time before he got there.
Drafted out of a Flowery Beach, Georgia high school by the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2013, Keller changed addresses twice in a 15-minute stretch during December’s Rule 5 draft.
“My agent called to say, ‘Hey, the Reds picked you up in the Rule 5,’” explained Keller. “I hung up the phone, called my parents, called my brother, and as soon as I hung up my agent called again. ‘Hey, you just got traded to the Royals.’ Then I had to pick up the phone and call everybody back.”
Keller’s next conversation was with the D-Backs — “they told me everything that was going down” — and soon thereafter Royals assistant GM Scott Sharp called to welcome him to his new organization. A similar call almost came four years earlier.
“It’s weird how we came full circle, because this front office almost drafted me out of high school,” Keller explained. “They were pretty hot and heavy on me. I went to Kaufman Stadium and did a pre-draft workout — I actually had two pre-draft workouts for them — and there were in-house visits and stuff like that. There was even some contact with them on draft day.”
Arizona ultimately pulled the trigger first. When their call came, Keller was prepared to begin his professional career with whomever presented him the opportunity.
“It’s the draft — it’s always a coin flip — and I had no idea that the Diamondbacks were going to take me,” said Keller. “My Diamondbacks scout called and was like, ‘Hey, we’re about to take you right here; are you down to play?’ I was like, ‘Absolutely.’ I really wasn’t a big prospect out of high school, so I was going to take whatever the first team offered. I was going for it.”
Keller learned that he would be on the Royals’ opening day roster in the final days of spring training.
“I was sitting in the locker room and Ned called me into his office and told me that I was going north with the team,” recalled Keller. “I called my parents and my agent, then we had an hour bus ride to Salt River Fields to play the Diamondbacks — that was kind of ironic — and the whole time my heart was racing. I was pitching that day, too.”
How long he’ll be pitching in a Royals uniform remains to be seen. Being a Rule 5, Keller needs to stay on the big league roster all season or else be offered back to the D-Backs. His chances of sticking are seemingly quite good, but at the same time, baseball is hard to predict. What if he does end up getting called into Yost’s office and given bad news?
“I don’t really want to think about that,” said Keller. “I just want to stay right here and stay in the moment. If I handle my business, they won’t have a reason to send me back.”
Blake Treinen has added a cutter, which led to a couple of interesting exchanges when the A’s visited Fenway Park earlier this week. When I shared that his pitching coach, Scott Emerson, had just suggested that it’s more of a swing-and-miss pitch than his slider, he didn’t agree.
“I think that what’s happening is that when my slider is harder, he thinks it’s my cutter,” reasoned Treinen. “My slider is definitely my swing-and-miss pitch. My strikeouts have been with the slider, and I try to get weak contact with my cutter.”
Concerned that I had misheard, I followed up with Emerson for some combination of confirmation and clarification.
“His cutter is a pitch that he usually throws just off the plate,” explained Emerson. “It’s harder, it’s later, it’s got more action to it, it’s got less tilt, so hitters are chasing it when it’s not a strike. The slider is more of his strike pitch. He slows it down and adds a little more tilt to it, and it lands in the strike zone more — whether he knows it or not.
“They’re both good pitches. They’re swinging and missing on his slider as well, but again, he’s landing it inside the strike zone more often. When you see the 92s and 93s that end up in the dirt, those are his cutters.”
Kirby Yates appreciates nature, and it’s easy to see why. The San Diego Padres reliever hails from Hawaii, which is, as he aptly described to me to on Thursday, “A beautiful place.” Yates went on to say that he grew up learning to respect mother nature and appreciate her beauty.
As natives of the 50th state know all too well, mother nature can be cruel as well as beautiful. Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano has been erupting since early May, resulting in small earthquakes and the destruction of homes from its fast-moving lava flows. Ash has reportedly been spewing as high 30,000 feet.
The island Yates grew up on is dealing with a natural disaster of its own.
“I’m from Kauai, and about a month ago we got hit hard with rain,” explained Yates. “The north shore got flooded pretty heavily. There’s a little neighborhood right by where I grew up that is surrounded by a big reservoir and a lot of streams, and there was water as high as the tops of cars and in people’s houses. I know a lot of these families, and they’re having to start back from ground zero with things like remodeling. You could call it the 100-year flood — my parents said they’ve never seen anything like it — and I’m doing what I can to help.”
Yates, who has a 0.60 ERA in 17 relief outings, is matching donations up to $5,000 at the Hawaii Community Foundation through YouCaring. If you’d like to pitch in, information can be found here.
Dustin Fowler recorded his first MLB hit on May 11, and the fact that it came at Yankee Stadium was especially notable. The 23-year-old Oakland outfielder suffered a season-ending injury while making his big-league debut with Boston’s arch rival last June. He was subsequently swapped to the A’s, with whom he came to Fenway Park earlier this week.
I asked Fowler how different his first Fenway experience might be were he still wearing a Yankees uniform.
“I haven’t really thought about that,” Fowler told me. “Right now I’m just enjoying it. I was happy to be able to make my second debut against New York, and get my first hit against New York. That was awesome. But the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry… yeah, that would have been a fun experience.”
Fowler recorded the second hit of his career, and his first for extra bases, in his second Fenway Park at bat. What was it like to stand on third base after hitting a run-scoring triple in a game his team went on to win 6-5?
“It was good,” said the understated native of Dexter, Georgia. “I got my first hit pretty quick — I was 1-for-3 coming out — then I had 10 at bats where I didn’t get any hits, so I was just thankful I got another one to keep it going. I’m still in the get-the-jitters-out process, to be honest.”
I recently passed up a freelance opportunity to write about the affinity some players have for specific uniforms and logos. The story idea had appeal — I think I would have had fun with it — but having a lot on my plate at the time, I opted to decline the offer…
… but only after giving a tentative yes and procuring quotes on the subject from Atlanta Braves right-hander Chase Whitley.
“Chipper Jones wore his pants up, showing the socks, so that how I wore mine when I was growing up,” said the Troy, Alabama native, who was with Triple-A Gwinnett when we spoke. “It’s kind of neat to have signed here (over the offseason) because I always liked the logo and imagined myself in a Braves uniform. Down South, everybody is a Braves fan.”
RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS
How could the pool of prospective MLB umpires be improved? Orioles manager Buck Showalter has an idea, and he shared it with me prior to Friday night’s game.
“One of the challenges that umpires have is the recruitment of qualified candidates,” opined Showalter. “My solution is that every team is responsible for kicking one guy into the umpires’ program every year. Every team has a Double-A, Triple-A, single-A guy who is a baseball gym rat, great guy, understands the game, loves the game, great energy, whatever. He’s just not a very good player.
“Why not take… let’s call him Joe Smith, from our Double-A or Triple-A roster, who is getting ready to be released, and say, ‘Hey, we paid you $10,000 a month last year to play in Triple-A; we are going to pay that for you to go to umpire school.’
“If your team doesn’t have anybody like that, and we have two, then you have to pay for it. So every team is responsible for paying for one. And those guys would fly through the system.”
MLB has only one new umpire this season. Stu Scheurwater replaced Dale Scott, who retired.
Last Sunday’s column noted that Marc Appleman will be resigning as Chief Executive Officer of SABR as of July 6. Per a subsequent press release, Appelman has been named as the new CEO of Fleetwood Projects, LLC, which has announced plans to “(B)uild a one-of-a-kind immersive, technology-based baseball attraction in the Phoenix area that will be known as HOME: The Baseball Experience. It is exploring locations within the Talking Stick Entertainment District.”
The Red Sox have announced that they will be hosting an alumni game —their first in 25 years — at Fenway Park, on Sunday, May 27. The three-inning contest, to be played prior to that afternoon’s game against the Tampa Bay Rays, will include over two dozen participants. Among those taking the field will be Wade Boggs, Oil Can Boyd, Bill Lee, Derek Lowe, Mike Lowell, and Pedro Martinez. Dwight Evans and Luis Tiant will act as managers.
Frank Quilici, a light-hitting utility infielder for Minnesota Twins — and later the team’s manager, as well as a coach and a broadcaster — died this past week at the age of 79. One of his career highlights came in his 1965 rookie season. Quilici started at second base in Game One of the World Series and recorded hits in each of his first two at bats. Both came in the third inning against Dodgers’ right-hander Don Drysdale.
Fans in Pittsburgh won’t soon forget October 1, 2013. Playing in the postseason for the first time in 20 years, the Pirates bested the Cincinnati Reds by a count of 6-2 in the NL Wild Card game. Cacophonous jubilation abounded at PNC Park that night, with the most-memorable explosion of joy coming in the second inning.
Tim Neverett, who was in the Pittsburgh radio booth, shared his recollection — and an entertaining side story —with me on Friday.
“Johnny Cueto, who was really good, gets on the hill,” recalled Neverett. “Russell Martin is at the plate and the fans are cheering Kway-toe, Kway-toe, Kway-toe. It was deafening how loud it was. And as he’s standing on the rubber, somehow the ball slips out of his glove and rolls down the slope of the mound. You have 40,000 people going crazy — they’re laughing at him — and Cueto picks up the ball, walks back on the mound, and delivers the next pitch. Russell Martin hits it into the left field seats. If PNC had a dome, it would have cracked open. It was the loudest I’ve ever heard a stadium.
“Fast forward to the following year. The Pirates now have Edinson Volquez on their staff, and he’s best friends with Johnny Cueto. First road trip we’re in St. Louis, and we’re in the lobby near the elevator. Volquez is there with Francisco Liriano and we’re talking. He brought up Cueto’s name. I go, ‘Hey, I have to ask you a question. You know Johnny real well. How could he drop the ball on the mound?’ He goes, ‘Oh yeah, he told me all about it. He was breaking in a new glove.’ I said, ‘In the Wild Card game?’ He starts laughing and says, ‘That’s what he told me.’”
LINKS YOU’LL LIKE
At Sport Techie, Joe Lemire wrote about the modern baseball coach’s job description, which is to throw BP and know SQL.
In the opinion of USA Today’s Ted Berg, the problem with Major League Baseball is that players are too good at baseball.
Over at The Portland Tribune, Paul Danzer caught up with Rob Neyer, who is not only the newly-named commissioner of a summer wood-bat league, he is also putting the finishing touches on his seventh book.
RANDOM FACTS AND STATS
Heading into their Friday night game with the Red Sox at Fenway Park, the Orioles had a record of 3-18 in road games, with all three of the wins coming in Yankee Stadium.
On May 15, 1952, Detroit Tigers right-hander Virgil Trucks threw a no-hitter against the Washington Senators. On August 25, he followed up with his second no-hitter of the season, this time against the New York Yankees. Trucks finished the year with a record of 5-19.
On May 18, 1912, the Detroit Tigers fielded a team of replacement players while their regulars sat out in protest of a suspension to Ty Cobb. The Philadelphia Athletics, hitting six triples and stealing six bases along the way, crushed the temporary Tigers by a count of 24-2.
On May 18, 1968, Washington Senators outfielder Frank Howard went deep twice in a game against the Detroit Tigers, extending his streak of consecutive games with a home run to six. Hondo had 13 hits in 20 at bats within that span.
Atlanta’s Ender Inciarte has stolen an MLB-high 18 bases so far this season. The Oakland A’s have stolen 9 bases as a team.
The 1976 Oakland A’s went 87-74 while stealing 341 bases and hitting 113 home runs. The 2000 Oakland A’s went 91-70 while stealing 40 bases and hitting 239 home runs.
MLB hitters combined for 2,235 home runs in 1976. In 1977, they combined for 3,644 home runs.
In 1919 , Oscar Tuero of the St. Louis Cardinals became the first relief pitcher to lead the league in appearances. Tuero pitched in 45 games, 28 out of the bullpen. (per John Thorn, MLB’s official historian, at Our Game.)
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.