Sunday Notes: C.D. Pelham’s Heater Does Just About Everything

C.D. Pelham has had a good couple of weeks. On June 22, the 23-year-old southpaw was promoted from the high-A Down East Wood Ducks to the Double-A Frisco RoughRiders. Two days ago he got even better news. Thanks in large part to a fastball that has a mind of its own, Pelham learned that he’d be representing the Texas Rangers in next Sunday’s All-Star Futures game.

A few short years ago, the 6-foot-5, 230 pound Pelham had little idea where his pitches were going. In his first two seasons after being selected in the 33rd round of the 2015 draft out of Spartanburg Methodist College, he walked a staggering 56 batters in 56-and-a-third innings.

The lefty reined in his wildness by getting his mind right. Pelham pointed to the mental side of the game as having been the biggest issue, explaining that he lacked confidence and spent too much time dwelling on his previous pitch — “whether it was good or bad” — rather than focusing on the one he was about to throw. Conversations with a “peak performance guy” in the Rangers organization (Josiah Igono) helped him turn a corner, and while no one is ever going to mistake him for Greg Maddux, Pelham no longer needs a GPS to find the strike zone. In 32-and-a-third innings this year, he’s issued a much more respectable 15 free passes.

He’s also missed a lot of barrels. Pelham has fanned 40, held opposing batters to a .197 average, and he’s yet to be taken deep. Squaring up his heater is hard for two reasons. Not only does it sit in the mid-to-upper-90s, it moves… well, in pretty much whichever direction it pleases.

“I’ve always gripped it the same, but lately it’s been having a lot of cut to it,” Pelham said of his four-seamer. “My catcher has actually had a little trouble catching it, because of how much it’s been cutting. I couldn’t tell you why. Sometimes it will even go like a two-seam, and sink. It will do just about everything. I’m not trying to (manipulate it), it just does it.”

What Pelham does is close out games. He’s a perfect 12-for-12 in save opportunities this season, with one of those coming in the Carolina League All-Star game. A week from today, he may get another chance on an even bigger stage.

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Bo Takahashi hails from Presidente Prudente, Brazil, so you can be sure that he was disappointed when his home country lost to Belgium in Friday’s World Cup quarterfinal. But while the 21-year-old Arizona Diamondbacks pitching prospect professes to like “The Beautiful Game,” his devotion lies elsewhere. As Takahashi told me recently, “Baseball is better than soccer. Baseball is the best sport, for sure.”

Five players from his homeland have reached the big leagues, all of them in the past decade. According to Takahashi, Brazil’s baseball roots stretch back a full century before Yan Gomes broke the ice in 2012. They also play a prominent role in his embrace of the game.

“Baseball came to Brazil with a Japanese pitcher, in 1908,” explained Takahashi, who earned a promotion from high-A Visalia to Double-A Jackson in late May. “My family is from Japan — I’m the third generation in Brazil — and my dad wanted me to play baseball. He used to be a coach, so I was kind of born into it.”

According to Visalia pitching coach Jeff Bajenaru, the multilingual youngster — Takahashi speaks Portuguese, Spanish, English, and a smattering of Japanese — has the potential to reach the top. Pitchability is the reason why.

“He’s got some sneaky stuff — there are times he’ll flash a plus fastball, and his slider is pretty good — but he’s more about command,” said Bajenaru. “He can paint at the knees, and side to side, and he changes eye levels really well. That’s why he has success.”

Takahashi recognizes that it’s savvy, not heat, that allows him to succeed.

“I’m not a speedy guy,” the righty acknowledged. “I can’t throw 98-99 — I’m more low 90s — but the command of my pitches is pretty good. That’s how I have to be. I can’t live in the middle of the plate, because that would be candy for the hitters.”

Takahashi has a 4.60 ERA in 15 starts between his two stops this season. He’s fanned 90, and walked 20, in 78-and-a-third innings.

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Last Sunday’s column led with Ian Kinsler, with the focus on how he’s been markedly shortchanged in Gold Glove voting. Accolades aside, the veteran second baseman has played alongside, and against, some gifted shortstops. He considers Andrelton Simmons the cream of the crop — no surprise there — but whom would he rank as second best?

Elvis (Andrus) is fantastic, but the only other guy could possibly stand up to Simba would be Brandon Crawford,” Kinsler told me. “I only played with him a little bit in the WBC, but he was really good. Simba is head and shoulders above everyone else, though.”

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RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS

Ducky Medwick went 1 for 8 against Cookie Cuccurullo.

Cookie Lavagetto went 5 for 38 against Dizzy Dean.

Peanuts Lowrey went 2 for 20 against Monk Dubiel.

Pea Ridge Day went 2 for 4 against Les Sweetland.

Pickles Dillhoefer went 3 for 3 against Sweetbread Bailey.

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David Fletcher is emerging as a compelling-fringe-prospect success story. Featured in multiple Month-of-May editions of Carson Cistulli’s Fringe Five series, the versatile 24-year-old has thrived since a mid-June call-up. In 20 games with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Fletcher has 15 hits in 53 at bats, and he’s seen action at second, short, third, and right field.

A Triple-A breakout preceded his arrival. In 275 plate appearances with the Salt Lake Bees, the Loyola Marymount product slashed a stupendous .350/.394/.559, with six home runs. That latter number is notable, as he came into the season having hit just seven long balls in 1,242 PAs since being selected in the sixth-round of the 2015 draft.

“I’ve focused my approach more,” explained Fletcher, who had a 7.6% strikeout rate with the Bees. “I’m looking for pitches in a smaller zone, because when I swing I have a tendency to put the ball in play. In order to drive the ball, I need to stay in that smaller zone.”

Fletcher elaborated, saying that a more-disciplined approach helps him extend at bats, which he hopes will lead to more walks. Recognizing that he’ll never be a bopper — David Eckstein is the most-common comp — getting on base remains his primary goal. That doesn’t mean he’s willing to simply settle for singles.

“Along with focusing on my zone, and having more intent to drive the ball, I’ve made a small swing adjustment,” said Fletcher. “I’m getting synced up and putting my body in better position to hit the ball hard, as opposed to simply putting it in play. “

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NEWSY STUFF

Shane Victorino, who played in 1,299 games and won World Series rings with the Phillies (2008) and Red Sox (2013), formally announced his retirement earlier this week. The Flyin’ Hawaiian had Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds” as his walk-up song during the latter stages of his career.

Mike Kilkenny, a left-handed pitcher for four teams from 1969-1973 , died last month at the age of 73. The native of Bradford, Ontario had four shutouts in a seven-start stretch for the Detroit Tigers in his rookie season. According to his SABR Bio Project entry, Kilkenny was friends with former FBI director J. Edgar Hoover.

This past Monday, Joe Mauer played in his 1,784th game with the Twins, passing Kirby Puckett for second most in team history (since the franchise moved to Minnesota in 1961). On Wednesday Mauer hit his 414th double, tying Puckett for the most in team history.

On Tuesday, Ivan Nova became the first pitcher in Pittsburgh Pirates history to allow as many as five home runs in a game. The Dodgers victimized the righty in the 20,712th game played in franchise history.

On Wednesday, Cody Allen became Cleveland’s all-time leader in saves when he notched the 140th of his career, one more than Bob Wickman had as an Indian.

Chicago Cubs prospect Trent Giambrone tied a Southern League record on Thursday when he drove in nine runs as Tennessee defeated Jackson by a count of 16-3. The 24-year-old infielder smoked three home runs, the last of them a ninth inning grand slam.

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Dick Bosman played 11 big-league seasons before spending 25 years as a pitching coach for four different organizations. He recently co-authored a book about his time in the game, and an early chapter contains a pair of notable “what-if” trade scenarios from the 1969-1970 offseason. Bosman was a young pitcher with the Washington Senators at the time, and Ted Williams was the manager.

According to the book, Senators owner Frank Short, who was serving as the team’s de facto GM, turned down Minnesota’s offer to trade Graig Nettles for outfielder Brant Alyea — this despite Williams’ insistence that he do so. Short is also said to have refused to part with first baseman Mike Epstein for Tug McGraw or Nolan Ryan.

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What would an all-time-born-in-Cincinnati lineup look like? Outside of a fairly nondescript battery, it wouldn’t be too shabby. Here is one way to put it together:

Barry Larkin, SS
Kevin Youkilis, 3B
Pete Rose, LF
David Justice, RF
Jimmy Wynn, DH
Leon Durham, 1B
Miller Huggins, 2B
Garry Maddox, CF
Red Dooin, C
Richard Dotson, P

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NON-MLB NOTABLES

Seuly Matias, a 19-year-old outfielder in the Royals organization, leads the minor leagues with 25 home runs. Playing for low-A Lexington, Matias has 18 singles and 36 extra base hits. He’s fanned 104 times in 282 plate appearances.

Travis Snider is hitting .279 with nine home runs for the Long Island Ducks of the independent Atlantic League.

Courtney Hawkins, who was drafted 13th overall by the White Sox in 2012, is hitting .256 with 12 home runs for the Sugar Land Skeeters of the independent Atlantic League.

Daniel Moskos, who was drafted fourth overall by the Pirates in 2007, has a 1.17 ERA in 15 relief appearances for Toros de Tijuana in the Mexican League.

Yoshihiro Maru, a 29-year-old outfielder for the Hiroshima Carp, leads Japan’s Central League in OBP (.508) and SLG (.653). He’s batting .335 with 15 home runs.

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The charitable efforts of MLB players have been highlighted in this column over the past few months, and today we’ll hear from someone who regularly goes above and beyond. Adam Jones is a Baltimore Orioles icon thanks to what he’s done on the field — he ranks among the franchise leaders in multiple categories — and what he does off the field is every bit as impressive. Earlier this season I asked the outfielder about some of his recent efforts.

“My wife and I just donated to a group called Stocks for the Future,” Jones told me prior to a game at Fenway Park. “They’re teaching junior high kids stocks — understanding how to read stock markets, write checks, do account ledgers — basically, financial literacy. They’re teaching mostly African-American kids in at-risk areas, in the Baltimore area.

“We also just donated to a group called Sharp Dressed Man. It’s for people who were in prison. It gives them clothes to wear to interviews, and gives them a place to stay. Obviously, when you go to prison you don’t have too many resources. The goal is to help people who want to rehabilitate and get themselves on the right track — people who want do the right things for themselves, their families, and society.

“The most important one to me is the Boys and Girls club. That’s my main focus. I want to help Baltimore. It’s the final year of my contract, but I told the people there that through the six years of my contract I’d give all my resources to the kids of Baltimore. I’m holding true to that.

“Why do I do this? It’s the way I was brought up. It’s the way our family is. We’re people who, if you have too much, you don’t need too much. Don’t be afraid to share. I try to invest in a lot of kids. A lot of adults, too. I want to invest in people who want to better themselves. When you see someone focus on something and accomplish a dream… it’s pretty awesome and humbling to have been a part of that.”

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LINKS YOU’LL LIKE

Shiro Yamaguchi shared how a survey conducted once every five years by the Japan High School Baseball Federation and The Asahi Shimbun shows that baseball is not Japan’s national pastime anymore.

Ashley MacLennan of Bless You Boys put together an all-star team of former Tigers, and yes, it’s pretty good (especially the pitching).

At The San Francisco Chronicle, John Shea wrote about how A’s closer Blake Treinen is sinking the competition while his team soars.

Doug Mientkiewicz returned to his roots when he was hired to manage the Toledo Mud Hens. Chris Bumbaca talked to him for MiLB.com.

Over at The Philadelphia Inquirer, Tom Avril addressed whether Vince Velasquez is ambidextrous, and suggested that scientists would like to see an MRI of his brain.

RANDOM FACTS AND STATS

Boston outfielders Andrew Benintendi, Mookie Betts, and Jackie Bradley Jr are a combined 41 for 44 in stolen base attempts. In 1986, the Red Sox had 41 steals as a team, with the outfield trio of Tony Armas, Dwight Evans, and Jim Rice a combined 3 for 10.

On July 6, 1929, the St. Louis Cardinals scored 10 runs in the first inning, and 10 more in the fifth, on their way to a 28-6 pasting of the Philadelphia Phillies. Jim Bottomley and Chick Hafey hit grand slams, while winning pitcher Fred Frankhouse went 4 for 7 with four RBIs.

On this date in 1941, Ted Williams hit a two-out, three-run homer in the bottom of the ninth inning to give the American League a 7-5 win the All-Star Game.

On this date in 1971, the Oakland A’s beat the California Angels 1-0 in 20 innings. Four Oakland pitchers combining for 26 strikeouts and just one walk.

On July 10, 1911, Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Sherry Magee was ejected by home plate umpire Bill Finnegan after throwing his bat in the air after being called out on strikes. Magee proceeded to punch Finnegan, knocking him to the ground. He was suspended and fined $200.

On July 10, 1932, Cleveland shortstop Johnny Burnett went 9 for 11 as the Indians lost to the Athletics 18-17 in 18 innings.

Brian Lesher, who had 288 plate appearances for the A’s, Mariners, and Blue Jays from 1996-2002, is the only player born in Belgium to appear in a big league game.

Seven players born in France have played in the big leagues, including Bruce Bochy (Landes de Bussac), Steve Jeltz (Paris), and Charlie Lea (Orleans).

Four players born in Sweden have played in the big leagues. The most successful (and most recent,) was Eric Erickson, who pitched for the Senators, Tigers, and Giants from 1914-1922. Born in Vargarda, Erickson grew up in Johnsonburg, Pennsylvania.

Harry Kane, who pitched for three teams from 1902-1906, was nicknamed Klondike.





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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pedeysRSox
4 years ago

So, what do you think of the Astros calling Tucker up?