Sunday Notes: Brewers, Raines, Carpenter, Castro, Cuba, Reds, much more

Tyrone Taylor is happy to be in the Milwaukee Brewers organization. He could just as easily be roaming the outfield at Cal State-Fullerton. Football was another option, as Taylor rushed for over 1,500 yards in his senior year at Torrance (CA) High School.

Playing baseball for a living has always been his dream.

“I really just played football for fun,” Taylor told me. “I had a blast doing it, but I’ve known I want to be a professional baseball player since I was a little kid. I got letters from schools about football, and it was a hard decision not to go college, but once the Brewers showed how interested they were, my mind was made up.”

Taylor signed for $750,000 as Milwaukee’s second-round pick in 2012. It was enough for him to forgo Fullerton and dive headlong into the not-so-glamorous lifestyle of a minor-leaguer. Culture shock came fast.

“I’d heard I was going to Helena and expected it to be pretty populated, as it’s the capital of Montana,” explained Taylor. “But we cruised in there on the smallest plane ever and the airport was almost like a cabin. I was pretty overwhelmed by that. My first full year was in (Appleton) Wisconsin which, being a 19-year-old kid from California, was kind of lonely. There wasn’t much to do. It’s been a great experience though.”

Taylor has experienced a lot of success since Helena and the Arizona rookie league. His numbers don’t jump off the page, but he’s shown enough promise to be rated the Brewers’ top prospect. The 20-year-old spent most of the 2014 season in the Florida State League before finishing up at Double-A Huntsville.

Taylor’s best tool is his speed, which he used to swipe 23 bags in 29 tries this year. He admitted to having been a little too hesitant on the base paths and told me he needs to learn to read pitchers better. At the plate, he’s working on “making my head more balanced and not tilting it when I’m swinging.”

His right-handed stroke produces good gap power – he had 36 doubles, 3 triples and 6 home runs this year – but his plate discipline left a lot to be desired. Taylor drew just 40 free passes in 573 plate appearances. He feels keeping his head better balanced will help him “grow up into a more patient hitter, yet stay aggressive at the same time.”

Regardless of how he progresses, one thing is for certain: Taylor has his head on straight when it comes to the choice he made out of high school.

“Some days I wake up a little sore and tired, but I realize how lucky I am to be doing this,” said Taylor. “This is what I’ve always wanted, so it’s easy to wake up knowing I’m going out to play professional baseball.”

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Jason Castro opted not to sign after being drafted out of Castro Valley (CA) High School by the Red Sox in 2005. He attended Stanford University and was subsequently taken 10th overall by the Astros in 2008. His acclimation to pro ball differed from that of Taylor and other prep signees, yet in many ways it was the same.

Castro – currently Houston’s starting catcher – began his career in Troy, New York with the short-season Tri City Valley Cats. Along with his teammates, he stayed in budget hotels and stared at a lot of moving scenery.

“Minor league travel is different and not something I was used to,” said Castro. “No one is, really. There’s no way you can prepare for 14-hour bus rides, traveling through the night and getting to new cities at 6-7 in the morning.”

Castro went on to play in the California, Texas and Pacific Coast Leagues before reaching Houston. He also traveled to Germany and Italy with Team USA for the 2009 World Cup. From a cultural standpoint, he was well-prepared for every outpost thanks to his three years in Palo Alto.

“One thing Stanford lends itself to is diversity,” said Castro. “Our team wasn’t comprised of just players from California. We had guys from all over – Montana, Colorado, Louisiana, New Jersey – so I was exposed to a lot of backgrounds before I even got to pro ball.”

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For many, an assignment to the Arizona Fall League isn’t so much an opportunity as an obligation. After the grind of a long season, the idea of going home to unwind is more appealing than a month in the desert. For all intents and purposes, players don’t have that choice. They go if they’re asked to go.

Nick Howard wanted the month in the desert.

The 21-year-old righthander was an atypical participant, primarily because the Cincinnati Reds drafted him 19th overall this year out of the University of Virginia. It is uncommon for first-round picks to play in the AFL the same year they enter pro ball. (A request for an exact number wasn’t returned by the AFL’s media relations director.)

“I don’t know if I was surprised to be sent, but I was obviously thrilled,” said Howard. “I guess they have some history of doing it – they did with Michael Lorenzen (in 2013) – so I kind of knew it was a possibility. But I didn’t think I’d be fortunate enough to play here.”

Howard and Lorenzen were sent to Arizona for much the same reason. Each was a two-way player in college and spent his junior season as a closer. The Reds are grooming both as starters, with the AFL an early step in that direction.

Unlike Lorenzen, who pitched exclusively out of the bullpen at Cal State-Fullerton, Howard has starting experience. He was in UVA’s rotation his sophomore year and also started in the Cape Cod League. When draft day rolled around, he wasn’t sure how teams viewed his future role – not even the Reds.

“I don’t know what teams were thinking,” Howard told me. “I’m sure some were split on the role they’d want me to have. I didn’t talk to anybody about that, not even when I was drafted. Actually, I didn’t really talk to the Reds until the season was over. My job was just to play baseball. I don’t know what went on behind the scenes.”

Howard approached his collegiate move in much the same way. He wasn’t concerned about how going from starter to closer might impact his draft status. He simply went with the flow.

“I wasn’t too worried about things like that,” said Howard. “I trusted my coaches and was going to do what was best for the team. I knew there would be a lot of scouts at our games. I had a feeling everything would work out and it worked out better than I thought it would. I’m certainly not complaining.”

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Sonny Gray’s name has come up amid an endless barrage of Twitter rumors. A hypothetical Gray-for-Mookie-Betts trade is especially interesting and I’m honestly not sure which team would gain the most. It’s the type of deal one likes to see happen, because both players have a chance to do big things.

Thinking about this prompted me to dig into my unused-quotes folder, where I knew I had a snippet from earlier this summer. Speaking to a small group of reporters, Oakland manager Bob Melvin said the following about Gray:

“He moves his grip around a little bit sometimes, depending on what he’s trying to do. Now he’s throwing this hybrid slider thing he’s come up with. I think he holds it like a changeup and it ends up working like a slider. He’s always kind of tinkering. He used it last game and I didn’t even know he had it.”

According to PITCHf/x, Gray threw 8.3% sliders and 6.9% changeups this year.

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Chris Carpenter was a good pitcher for many years. The tall righthander won 144 games from 1997-2012, plus another 10 in post-season action. Most of his success came with the St. Louis Cardinals, who signed him to a free agent contract prior to the 2004 season.

Not surprisingly, Carpenter credits Dave Duncan for helping fine-tune his pitching skills. But it was his pitching coach in Toronto, Mel Queen, who made the biggest mark on his development.

When I talked to Carpenter last week, he said he said he turned a corner when he reached the big leagues. He told me he “didn’t really turn into anything” until the Blue Jays called him up from the minor leagues. It was then he, “started processing what you really need to do to pitch.”

Carpenter called Queen “a phenomenal baseball mind who taught me a lot.” The retired righty also shared a history lesson, pointing out that Queen both pitched and played the outfield. Playing for the Cincinnati Reds and California Angels from 1964-1972, Queen made 140 appearances on the mound and 53 more as a corner outfielder.

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I’ve been aware of how favorably Tim Raines compares to Lou Brock in regard to stolen-base efficiency and overall offensive value. Raines had 808 steals and was caught 146 times (84.7%) while Brock had 938 steals and was caught 307 times (75.3%). Raines has a huge edge in adjusted OPS, 123 to 109, and wRC+, 125 to 109.

What I didn’t know until recently is that Raines was charged with 54 errors over his 22 seasons, while Brock was charged with 196 errors over 19 seasons.

I’m not a big believer in “If X is in, so should Y, because Y has better numbers than X.” That said, Brock is a deserving Hall of Famer given his impact on the game, and it’s a travesty Raines has yet to be inducted.

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Rickey Henderson and Lou Brock rank first and second all-time in caught stealing. That’s no big surprise, as both were daring on the base paths and had long careers. A look at the record books shows many of the game’s greatest players rank high in unflattering categories.

Here are the top five in caught stealing, with their success rates (of note: these records were incomplete during Ty Cobb’s era) :

Rickey Henderson: 335, 80.8%
Lou Brock: 307, 75.3%
Brett Butler: 257, 68.5%
Maury Wills: 208, 73.8%
Juan Pierre: 203, 75.2%

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One year ago, the Veteran’s committee inducted Joe Torre into the Hall of Fame as a manager. In his 15 years on the ballot as a player, Torre received no better than 22.2% of support.

There’s an argument for Torre to be in as both. In 18 seasons, Torre hit .297/.365/.452 with 252 home runs. His adjusted OPS was 129 (the same as Eddie Murray) and he accumulated 57.6 WAR (a percentage point more than Hank Greenberg and Willie Stargell). A nine-time All-Star, Torre is the only Hall of Fame manager to have won an MVP award.

In writing that Torre has an argument for both, I’m not implying he had a Hall-worthy playing career. What I’m saying is the total package is Hall-worthy. Suppose Torre’s managerial credentials – as deemed by voters – fell an eyelash short? Would his combined contributions to the game, which now include time at the executive level, not be enough?

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All-time lowest OBP in a 200-hits season:

1973 Ralph Garr .323
1985 Bill Buckner .325
1967 Lou Brock .327
1979 Buddy Bell .327
1970 Matty Alou .328

All five players had batting averages between .297-.299 and between 200-206 hits.

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How many Yoan Moncada’s and Hector Olivera’s are out there waiting to become the next Yasmany Tomas or Rusney Castillo, and eventually the next Yasiel Puig or Jose Abreu? From an availability standpoint, there are a good many.

Eddie Romero Jr., Boston’s director of amateur scouting, was recently asked about the number of Cuban defectors entering the market.

“It’s pretty steady,” answered Romero. “We get notified through contacts and tips, (and) MLB, that there are Cuban players coming out. They’re all over the place, to be honest with you. There are some in Central America, there some in the Caribbean, there are some in Mexico. They’ve been finding different avenues to defect, legally and illegally. There are a large number of them available in the free agent market.”

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Per Baseball-Reference.com, 186 Cuban-born players have appeared in MLB. Here is what an all-Cuba, all-star team might look like:

1B: Rafael Palmeiro
2B: Tony Taylor
SS: Bert Campaneris
3B: Tony Perez
C: Joe Azcue
LF: Minnie Minoso
CF: Tony Gonzalez
RF: Tony Oliva
DH: Jose Canseco
RHP: Luis Tiant
LHP: Mike Cuellar
CL: Aroldis Chapman

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Can you think of a more intriguing – a more outside-the-box – trio of managerial finalists than Kevin Cash, Raul Ibanez and Don Wakamatsu? The Tampa Bay Rays are in a transition period – one that could ultimately see them in another city (Montreal?) – and how they’re going to go forward is a fascinating story. This is a team, and an organization, clearly at a crossroads.

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Members of the Red Sox ownership group are reportedly purchasing their Triple-A affiliate from the estate of Ben Mondor. Mondor, who purchased the team in 1977, passed away in 2010. The Pawtucket Red Sox – one of minor league baseball’s most successful franchises – have been run by president Mike Tamburro and vice president/general manager Lou Schwechheimer.

It is unclear if Tamburro and Schwechheimer, who have been with the team since 1977 and 1979, respectively, will retain their positions if the deal is consummated. Many will be disappointed if they depart. Each has worked hard to enhance the fan experience at McCoy Stadium, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a former PawSox player who will complain about how he was treated by management.

Tamburro is a great storyteller. Some of his best yarns involve Win Remmerswaal, who played in Pawtucket from 1977-1980. A native of The Hague, Netherlands, Remmerswaal is legendary in PawSox lore.

According to Tamburro, Remmerswaal was once pulled over for driving his rental car on the wrong side of the road. Another time, he ran out of gas on the Massachusetts Turnpike and had to walk to the nearest town. Instead of purchasing a can of gas, Remmerswaal rented another car and left the first one along side of the road. A week later it was brought to McCoy Stadium. This was at seasons end and Butch Hobson decided to drive it home to Alabama and abandon it in a parking lot.





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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Alfred Postle
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Alfred Postle

Butch Hobson wasn’t the manager of Pawtucket during Remmerswaal’s tenure with them. He was Boston’s third baseman. He did manage the PawSox in the early 90’s. I believe Joe Morgan was managing Pawtucket during that period.

Balthazar
Guest

And Hobson, the player, just taking off in the car cross country and ditching it is totally in character. I’d have loved a dude like Remmerswaal . . . but I was kinda busy in those years.

That Cuban all-star squad is amazing. I don’t like the dash-n-cash aspect of how players are coming off the island at the moment, but this mess is a political creation and that dimension of it isn’t getting fixed anytime soon.

I appreciate the perspective on Tim Raines. It highlights something that I’d forgotten myself: Tim was a very polished player at things that don’t make highlight reels. This is a good example of how a guy’s impact doesn’t necessarily show in the big stats. Something about Brock in the comparison also, a positive, is that his running game was significantly disruptive to opposing pitching staffs. Runs were scarcer then, and manager’s more focused on controlling the running game by far than they are nowadays. The ‘distractive factor’ of Brock on base doesn’t show up in the stat lines but was very real during the 60s. Also, however valuable OBP by means of walks is in an absolute sense, and seen to be so at present, the expectation of Brock’s period was that top talents _hit_, and his superior ability to hit his way on base relative to most of his contemporaries also loses some very real shine in a generational comparison. I’m not saying that to disagree at all with the thrust of the remarks, just an elaboration. Tim Raines was pretty amazing, and keeping him out of the Hall because his career was shorter than many amazing guys is the opposite of smart.

Jon L.
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Jon L.

Raines didn’t really have a short career. He’s top 50 in Major League history in times on base (H + BB + HBP).

LHPSU
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LHPSU

Raines played for 20 years. Even with his fade towards the end he put up 13 2+ WAR seasons.