Sunday Notes: Brendan McKay Could Swing It. Brady Singer Can’t.

Brady Singer played in the SEC for three seasons before being drafted by the Kansas City Royals, so he faced a ton of talented hitters prior to starting his professional career. Pitching for the University of Florida from 2016-2018, Singer matched up against the likes of JJ Bleday, Nick Senzel, Bryan Reynolds, and Evan White. Easy marks were few and far between.

Which of his collegiate opponents does Singer recall respecting the most? More specifically, which hitter had him laser-focused on making quality pitches, lest an errant offering result in serious damage?

“One that really stands out wasn’t in the SEC, but rather in Omaha,” Singer told me. “I believe it was the first game I pitched there, in 2017 when we went on to win the [College] World Series. It was Brendan McKay, from Louisville. When he got in the box, I knew I had to dial in. Just the bat path he had, and how he stood in the box — how he presented himself — was tough.”

McKay’s hitting future is obviously in limbo. Ostensibly still a two-way player, he pitched 49 big-league innings for the Tampa Bay Rays in 2019, and logged just 11 plate appearances. Last season, a positive COVID test and subsequent shoulder surgery squelched his opportunities to do either. McKay’s Ohtani aspirations remain — he’s taking cuts in camp as he rehabs — but what happens going forward isn’t entirely clear.

Singer was correct when he told me that McKay could “really swing it back in college.” As the record shows, the fourth-overall pick in the 2017 draft slashed a snazzy .328/.430/.536 as a Cardinal. Singer — the 18th-overall pick a year later — is another story.

“I’m absolutely terrible,” the former Gator admitted. “I don’t think I’ve swung since… wow, maybe my junior year of high school? I think I begged the coach. I was like, ‘Hey, I’ll play third and swing it.’ But I can’t see the ball. I have 2020 vision — I can see everything fine — but I can’t see a baseball coming in at 90 mph. Nor do I really want to.”

And most pitchers don’t throw 90 anymore, either. They tend to throw well north of that.

“They’re throwing fuel,” acknowledged Singer. “So, yeah, it’s not easy to see. I don’t know how hitters do it. I have a ton of respect for those guys.”

———

Orioles third base coach Tony Mansolino had an undistinguished playing career. Drafted in the 26th round by the Pirates out of Vanderbilt University in 2005, he never advanced beyond Double-A. But Mansolino did have a few notable teammates in his six professional seasons. I asked the erstwhile infielder for his memories of Andrew McCutchen, whom he played with in the Gulf Coast League.

“I remember seeing Cutch and kind of understanding it’s a little bit different for guys like that,” said Mansolino. “What stood out the most about him was that he was mature beyond his years. He might have been 17 when he got there — 17 or 18 — but he was just so calm. He was cool. He was mature. You never would have thought this was a kid who just came out of a small town in Florida. A high school kid. I mean, he was polished in so many ways.”

Mansolino went to applaud McCutchen for how he’s continued to carry himself throughout his career. “He’s been a complete professional across the board,” said Mansolino. “Having gotten that impression when he was 18 years old, I’m not surprised at all.”

———

RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS

Kiki Cuyler went 9 for 16 against Pea Ridge Day.

Boots Day went 8 for 16 against Steve Blass.

Chipper Jones went 7 for 18 against Zach Day.

Brian Dayett went 7 for 14 against Shane Rawley.

Bo Diaz went 6 for 10 against Ken Dayley.

———

Nick Markakis announced his retirement on Friday, calling a close to a 15-year-career that saw him log 2,388 hits, including 514 doubles and 189 home runs. Reliability and consistency were his trademarks. Markakis played in 155 or more games in 11 different seasons, seven times playing in 160 or more. He was never a bona fide star — although he did have a 138 wRC+ and 6.1 WAR in 2008 — but he was indisputably an asset for the Baltimore Orioles for nine seasons, and for the Atlanta Braves for six more.

Shortly after the news broke, I asked Tampa Bay Rays manager Kevin Cash for his thoughts on Markakis’s career.

“Basically, he performed like a superstar, quietly,” said Cash, who hadn’t yet seen the report. “You look at the amount of doubles. You look at the amount of games played. The RBIs. He was a really good player for a long time… I love hearing Buck Showalter talk about him, and what he meant to that Orioles group. You had Adam Jones, who appeared to be a pretty big vocal presence, and Markakis, who was a same type of presence but got there a different way. Both great players. Congrats to him.”

Miami Marlins manager Don Mattingly hadn’t heard the news either, and was equally effusive in his praise.

“Nick’s been a really good player for a long time,” said Mattingly. “I have a lot of respect for him… Consistent. Good at bats. A good defender. Just a solid, solid player. Obviously a great career, so congratulations to him on that. I have a lot of respect for the way he played. He’s been a tough out for a long time now.”

Alex Cora echoed his managerial brethren when I asked for his thoughts on Markakis.

“I saw something about hits and strikeouts,” said the Red Sox skipper. “He had 2,300 hits, or something like that, and not too many strikeouts. Since day one with Baltimore, all the way to the end with the Braves in that League Championship Series, a good at bat, a good solid player. He did everything on the field that the managers asked him to do. Enjoy his retirement now, but what a good player.”

———

Circling back to Mattingly, I also asked the former batting champion if any young players on opposing teams have caught his attention this spring. I prefaced my question by saying that I knew his focus was on his own guys, and he responded accordingly. Mattingly said that the first part of my statement was true — he doesn’t pay much attention to players on other teams — in part because of limited looks. While he might notice a good swing, he may not see that player again in the days or weeks to come. Even so, he was willing to namecheck one player.

“The kid they had in centerfield for Houston,” Mattingly said. “We’ve seen him three or four times now. I don’t think he’s young — I think he’s been around — but he looks like a good player.”

Asked if he was referring to 26-year-old speedster Myles Straw, Mattingly affirmed that he was. Straw is 8 for 19, with a double, a triple, and a stolen base in Grapefruit League action.

———

Who else has been raking this spring? Here are six notables (through Friday):

Ty France is 9 for 15 with three home runs.
Joc Pederson is 11 for 19 with five home runs.
Jeimer Candelario is 9 for 19 with a pair of doubles.
Heliot Ramos is 9 for 20 with three home runs.
Nico Hoerner is 9 for 16 with a home run.
Joey Gallo is 6 for 16 with five home runs.

Which hitters have been scuffling? Here are six looking to right the ship:

Tommy Pham is 0 for 17 with eight strikeouts.
Matt Carpenter is 0 for 15 with seven strikeouts.
Spencer Torkelson is 0 for 15 with nine strikeouts.
Miguel Sanó is 2 for 16 with eight strikeouts.
Dominic Smith is 2 for 17 with eight strikeouts.
Rafael Devers is 3 for 21 with six strikeouts.

———

A quiz:

Who holds the Baltimore Orioles franchise record for pitching appearances?

The answer can be found below.

———

NEWS ITEMS

Matt Vasgersian has been named the new TV play-by-play voice of the Los Angeles Angels. Vasgersian will join Mark Gubicza and Jose Mota as part of a three-man booth.

Oakland A’s have hired Amelia Schimmel as their new public address announcer. She succeeds Dick Callahan, who died in January after serving in that position for 15 seasons. Schimmel will be one of three female PR announcers in MLB this year, along with Marysol Castro (New York Mets) and Renel Brooks-Moon (San Francisco Giants).

Rheal Cormier, a native of Moncton, New Brunswick who played for five teams over 16 big-league seasons, died of cancer on Monday at age 53. The southpaw’s 683 pitching appearances are second-most among Canadian-born players, trailing only Paul Quantrill, who made 841 appearances.

Norm Sherry died earlier this week at age 89. A catcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers from 1959-1962, and the New York Mets in 1963, Sherry went on to manage the California Angels in 1976-1977, as well as coach and scout for multiple clubs.

Christina Kahrl will be leaving ESPN at the end of the month to become the new sports editor at The San Francisco Chronicle. A co-founder of Baseball Prospectus, Kahrl was at BP for 15 years before joining ESPN in 2011.

———

The answer to the quiz is Jim Palmer. The Hall of Fame right-hander pitched in 558 games with the Orioles, 521 of them as a starter.. Lefty reliever Tippy Martinez ranks second, with all 499 of his appearances coming out of the bullpen.

———

Brice Turang will be ranked highly when our 2021 Milwaukee Brewers Top Prospects list comes out in not-too-distant future. Drafted 21st-overall in 2018 out of a Corona, California high school, the 21-year-old shortstop topped our 2020 list, with Eric Longehagen lauding both his defense and his ball/strike recognition.

This past Wednesday, I asked Turing if hitting analytics are playing much of a role in his development.

“Not really,” said Turang, who slashed .256/.367/.340 between two A-ball levels in 2019. “I’ve still got to put the bat on the ball. I’ve still got to have that competitive mindset to win every battle. There’s never a perfect swing; everybody is different.”

How much power Turang will ultimately tap into remains a mystery, and his response to a followup suggests he’s searching for that answer himself.

“I’m working on finding my A-swing as much as I can,” the youngster said. “When two-strikes comes, I’m just trying to find a barrel — have more barrel control, instead of trying to swing out of my shoes. I wouldn’t say I’ve changed my swing, but my approach is a little different. I’m trying to crush the ball instead of just trying to find contact. I need to find a medium where I’m hitting the ball hard, and still making solid contact.”

———

Arizona shortstop Nick Ahmed has been dealing with a tender knee, which means the players competing to be his backup are getting plenty of opportunities to state their cases. Notable among them is 26-year-old jack-of-all-trades Josh Rojas, who has 12 hits — three of them home runs — in 32 at bats this spring. According to Torey Lovullo, he may or may not be the odds-on favorite.

“Shortstop depth is a big piece to our puzzle,” the Diamondbacks manager said earlier this week. “We know how much Nick means to this club, and we need somebody to be able to back him up. We’re getting a good glimpse of one of them. I know that you guys have seen Josh Rojas play [a lot of] short, but you’re going to see a little rotation of others… before I make my final decision.”

The uber-versatile Ketel Marte is another possibility — “we go back and forth on that” — although Lovullo did seem somewhat lukewarm on the idea when asked. As for the chances of the D-Backs fast-tracking 21-year-old Geraldo Perdomo, that sounded even less likely. The team’s No. 4 prospect has a promising future, but given that he’s yet to reach Double-A, he’s presumably at least a year away.

“I’ve been very impressed,” Lovullo said when asked about Perdomo. “There’s an ease to his game. He’s a young player that’s still learning what foundation he wants to stand on, but piece by piece he’s placing that brick in very carefully… I love the actions, I love the projection, but we need to see the improvements. We’ll continue to teach him.”

———

Six notable first-seasons playing a corner infield position after several successful seasons as a shortstop:

Alex Rodriguez, 2004: 131 wRC+, 6.6 WAR.
Toby Harrah, 1977: 139 wRC+, 5.5 WAR.
Rico Petrocelli, 1971: 125 wRC+, 5.0 WAR.
Michael Young, 2009: 128 wRC+, 2.6 WAR.
Ernie Banks,1962: 107 wRC+, 2.3 WAR.
Cal Ripken Jr, 1998.: 92 wRC+, 1.6 WAR.

———

Gosuke Katoh has been excelling in Padres camp this spring. Signed to a minor-league contract by San Diego in November, the 26-year-old infielder has six hits, including a double and a home run. in 14 at bats. A former second-round pick, Katoh played in the New York Yankees system from 2013-2019, splitting the last of those seasons between Double-A and Triple-A.

Katoh’s former minor-league teammates include Texas Rangers infielder/outfielder Nick Solak, with whom the pinstripers parted ways in a multi-player, three-team trade in 2018. I asked Katoh about Solak’s ability to swing the bat .

“First of all, Nick is an amazing person,” Katoh said of Solak, who had an .894 OPS at the Triple-A level and has slashed .277/.351/.397 in 368 big-league plate appearances. “We’re really close friends. But yeah, his hitting is… he’s a smaller guy, but he hits the ball with a lot of exit velo. He goes the other way really well. I’ve played with a lot of really good hitters, and he’s up there.”

Katoh doesn’t have Solak’s talent, but he does have a .354 OBP down on the farm, including a .382 mark at Triple-A. Padres field reporter Bob Scanlan asked the San Diego native about that on Friday.

“I’ve paid attention to it the last couple of years,” said Katoh, who is earmarked for a return trip to Triple-A to start the season. “When swing decisions became a really big thing in analytics… even here, I’ve heard [manager Jayce] Tingler talk a lot about swing decisions, making the right decisions in right counts. We work on that a lot.”

———

Kim Ng was asked in a Zoom session what she’s learned about herself during the pandemic. Her response was, in a word, thoughtful.

“How to be by yourself,” the Miami Marlins GM told reporters. “I’m not sure if you guys have experienced that. My husband works on the West Coast quite a bit during the year, and when you’re home — not at the office — just hanging out, it’s a strange feeling… It’s sort of a tranquility, if that’s the right word. A peacefulness. Just your own thoughts. And I think you explore doing some things that you wouldn’t normally do. That’s what I found out about myself.”

———

LINKS YOU’LL LIKE

The Cincinnati Enquirer’s Bobby Nightengale told us about how Katie Krall worked her way to a baseball operations analyst position in the Reds front office.

Zach Schonbrun wrote about Rob Friedman, a.k.a. “Pitching Ninja,” for The New York Times.

At Royals Review, Matthew LaMar shared how Adalberto Mondesi is a cautionary tale for promoting Bobby Witt, Jr. too soon.

Lookout Landing’s Amanda Lane entertained us with The First Spring of Ichiro.

For the first time since 1973, John Adams won’t be banging a drum in the bleachers when the Cleveland Indians play on Opening Day. Mandy Bell has the story at MLB.com.

———

RANDOM FACTS AND STATS

Kenny Lofton played 10 of his 17 big-league seasons with the Indians. He played for 10 other teams in his seven non-Cleveland seasons.

Jason Frasor finished his career with 35 wins, 35 losses, 36 saves, and a 3.49 ERA.

Mark Littell had 29 wins, 56 saves, and pitched 430-and-two-thirds innings out of the bullpen. Billy McCool had 29 wins, 56 saves, and pitched 431 innings out of the bullpen.

In 1927, Babe Ruth had 29 doubles, eight triples, 137 walks, and 89 strikeouts.
In 1928, Babe Ruth had 29 doubles, eight triples, 137 walks, and 87 strikeouts.

Vean Gregg went 23-7 with a 1.80 ERA in his 1911 rookie season wth the Cleveland Naps. A southpaw whose given name was Sylveanus Augustus Gregg, the South Dakota State University product logged a 72-36 record with Cleveland before being dealt to the Red Sox midway through the 1914 campaign.

Ted Turner managed one game for the Atlanta Braves in 1977. National League president Chub Feeney proceeded to inform Turner, the club’s owner, that his managerial tenure wouldn’t continue beyond the 2-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Goat Anderson had 85 hits and 80 walks, and struck out just 44 times, for the Pirates in 1907. It was the outfielder’s only big-league season.

The Brooklyn Robins purchased Possum Whitted from the Pirates on today’s date in 1922. Whitted had been previously been traded to Pittsburgh by the Philadelphia Phillies in exchange for Casey Stengel.

Players born on today’s date include Dad Meek, who got cups of coffee with the St. Louis Browns in 1889 and 1890. One of just five natives of the Czech Republic in big-league history, Meek appeared in six games and recorded six hits.

Also born on today’s date was Bruce Hitt, who pitched in two games for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1917. A right-hander from Comanche, Texas, Hitt surrendered seven hits and four runs in four career innings.





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.

newest oldest most voted
tz
Member

Getting insights from Katoh about analytics and Solak was an unexpected treat!