Dylan Carlson was the Cardinals’ first-round pick in 2016, so it’s easy to look at his numbers and say he’s been disappointing. After getting his feet wet with a .717 OPS in his draft year, he slashed a ho-hum .240/.342/.347 in his first full season. There have been flashes of power, yet the switch-hitting outfielder has gone deep just 10 times in 652 professional plate appearances.
Not to worry. While his performance has been anything but splashy, it’s important to consider that Carlson has been playing against older competition since signing. He spent the entire 2017 season in the Midwest League as an 18-year-old.
If he’s sometimes felt like he was in over his head, he was reluctant to admit it. When I asked him late in the season if being one of the youngest players on the field is ever intimidating, Carlson dove directly into the positive.
“It’s actually great to have teammates who are older and have been to college,” said the former Elk Grove (CA) High School standout. I can always lean on them for advice — I like being around older guys for that reason — and it’s also been fun coming out and competing against older guys. I’m learning a lot.”
Carlson claimed he’s essentially the same hitter he was when he entered the St. Louis system. While developmental strides have been made, there have been no mechanical overhauls or watershed moments. Aside from “standing a little taller in the box,” he’s just focused on “refining the basics.”
Mechanically, the youngster considers himself similar from both sides of the plate. He admitted that his right-handed stroke is “maybe not as developed” because of the more-limited looks he’s had against southpaws, but while “being a switch-hitter is tough,” he’s not about to change something he’s always done. He simply plans to work on improving his hitting as a whole.
Ditto his defense. At 6-foot-3, 195 pounds — “the same size as when I signed” — Carlson saw time at all three outfield positions in Peoria this past season. But while remaining versatile enough to handle center is a goal, he can’t hold a candle to his friend, and fellow Elk Grove alum, Derek Hill when it comes to tracking down fly balls. Unlike Detroit’s 2014 first-round pick, Carlson profiles as a corner outfielder. For that reason, he’ll need to eventually do more than tread water with his bat. He’ll need to make a splash.
You can count Thad Levine among those who are surprised by the dearth of movement in the free-agent market. Based on his comments during the winter meetings, Minnesota’s GM assumed we’d have seen more signings by now. At the same time, he had a good idea of why things were off to a slow start.
“There are tiers in this market, so I’m not sure that one domino will necessarily start everything cascading,” said Levine. “There has been a paucity of movement. We’ve seen a few (moves), but we really haven’t seen much of a decongest, whether it be the top tier, the second tier, or the middle tier. As long as there are options out there, people are reluctant to jump.”
That reluctance remains firmly planted on a ledge. Two weeks into the new year, Christmas has yet to come for all but a smattering of free agents — despite Levine’s best guess.
“I think in the window between the winter meetings and the holidays we’ll see a little more movement,” the executive predicted in early December. “Teams want to have their most-pressing holes filled, and players and their families want to know where they’re going to be, so… I do think some urgency will start percolating during this window.”
Given the continuing somnolence of the market, it appears that decaf is currently the drink of choice for MLB decision-makers. Somebody please brew some espresso.
On the subject of available talent, Torey Lovullo was asked at the winter meetings how well J.D. Martinez could be expected to age. Given the 30-year-old outfielder’s reported long-term-contract demands, that’s a huge consideration for teams kicking the priciest tires in Scott Boras’s showroom. Lovullo suggested that Martinez should remain productive for several years down the road.
“You have to look at the body and the mind and the soul,” said the Diamondbacks skipper. “Had anybody predicted that Pete Rose would have played until he was 45, back when he was 25, you would have said they were crazy, given how hard he played.
“I know that there are some very unique sets of circumstances, and I’ve seen how hard J.D. works. He’s got a very healthy, strong body. That’s information I got to see inside of the clubhouse, so I know that he’s the type of guy that could last the length of a long-term contract.”
A Twitter follower shared a not-uncommon thought when I recently compared Ryne Sandberg’s and Lou Whitaker’s total-base numbers. Pointing out that the latter played in roughly 200 more games, he opined that “If were making the case for him, not sure if a career-additive stat like total bases does that.”
I understand what he was saying, but in terms of the Hall of Fame, there’s a flaw in the logic. If nothing else, it shortchanges longevity, which in my opinion adds to, rather than subtracts from, a player’s worthiness. It takes a lot of talent to play in the big leagues, and continuing to perform at a level that keeps you there — particularly in your mid 30s and beyond — is extremely challenging. In this particular case, Whitaker, who played his last game at 38, simply aged better than Sandberg, who played his last game at 37.
Other notable players have extended their careers even further beyond their primes, with Pete Rose, Omar Vizquel, and Carl Yastrzemski being classic examples. Should they be penalized for hanging on, and thereby increasing their counting stats while harming their rate stats? I’m of the belief that they shouldn’t.
Delineating as best we can their respective primes and decline phases, here are some pertinent numbers:
In his age 24-40 seasons, Rose slashed .315/.386/.434. In his age 41-45 seasons, he slashed .261/.348/.315.
In his age 25-39 seasons, Vizquel slashed .282/.349/.370. In his age 40-45 seasons, he slashed .250/.305/.310.
In his age 22-37 seasons, Yastrzemski slashed .291/.390/.478. In his age 38-43 seasons, Yastrzemski slashed .269/.354/.424.
Meanwhile, Bill Freehan (11) and Lance Parrish (8) combined for 19 All-Star berths, and neither got as much as 4% support in Hall of Fame balloting. Catchers are not only underrepresented in Cooperstown, they are seemingly held to an unreasonable statistical standard.
Freehan has the same adjusted OPS (112) as Craig Biggio and Cal Ripken. Parrish has the same adjusted OPS (106) as Johnny Evers and Ivan Rodriguez. Does this make them Hall worthy? No, but once you add in their All-Star achievements and the intangibles that go with their position — catcher value will always be hard to quantify — they have a damn good argument. And don’t get me started on Ted Simmons…
…who Jerry Crasnick, upon second thought, feels is deserving of a plaque. The accomplished ESPN columnist didn’t include “Simba” when he contributed to my December Writers’ View column asking which of the people on the Modern Era ballot belongs in the Hall of Fame — and he regrets having not done so. In an exchange we had a few weeks later, Crasnick told me that he “probably whiffed on Ted Simmons; I do think he belongs, and I would answer that question differently if I had another chance to respond.”
Adding Crasnick’s after-the-fact vote for him would push Simmons from 36% to 41% in my unofficial poll of baseball writers. That number is (somewhat surprisingly) lower than the 68.8% Simmons received in the official balloting.
Mike Rojas had a pretty good week. On Wednesday, he was named as the new manager of Kansas City’s Double-A affiliate, the Northwest Arkansas Naturals. On Thursday, he was named the Venezuelan League Manager of the Year. The 55-year-old Rojas spent last season managing Detroit’s Triple-A affiliate, the Toledo Mud Hens. His father is longtime big-league infielder, and Royals Hall of Famer, Cookie Rojas.
In other Detroit-to-Kansas City news, Gene Lamont has joined the Royals as a special assistant to general manager Dayton Moore. The Tigers’ bench coach each of the last five seasons, Lamont previously managed the Chicago White Sox and Pittsburgh Pirates. As a player, Lamont homered in his first big-league at bat with the Tigers in 1970.
Per Lynn Henning of The Detroit News, the Tigers haven’t gone to arbitration with a player since 2001 when right-hander Chris Holt sought $2.35 million and the club countered with $1.85M. Holt lost his case, then proceeded to go 7-9, 5.77 in his final big-league season.
The vast majority of baseball fans know that Jackie Robinson broke MLB’s color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers in April 1947, and that Larry Doby joined the Cleveland Indians a few months later. Each of the pioneers is in the Hall of Fame.
The third and fourth African-American players to reach the big leagues remain mostly unknown. They shouldn’t be. Shortly after Doby debuted, Hank Thompson, and Willard “Home Run” Brown, joined the St. Louis Browns. On July 20, the duo became the first African-American players to appear together in the same starting lineup. That wasn’t the only notable achievement for either of them.
On August 13, 1947, Brown became the first African-American player to homer in an American League game (as you’d expect, Robinson was the first to do so in the National League).
Thompson went on to join the New York Giants in 1949, where he become the first African-American player to play in both leagues, as well as the first to break the color line with two separate teams. In 1951, he helped form the first all-black outfield with Monte Irvin and Willie Mays.
RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS
If you’re a White Sox fan of a certain age, you might remember Ken Korach calling games for your favorite team. The veteran announcer has been with the Oakland A’s for over two decades, but from 1992-1995 he handled weekend duty for Chicago’s South Side club while their regular play-by-play voice, John Rooney, was away doing national assignments for CBS. It was a challenge, albeit one made easier by a broadcasting partner who remains in the Sox booth to this day.
“I would do a Triple-A game on Friday night, and then I’d fly out to wherever the White Sox were playing, maybe on a red eye,” explained Korach. “I’d go from 2,000 fans in the stands to someplace like Yankee Stadium where there were 50,000 fans. And not only were the facilities different — including the radio booth — this was before the proliferation of the internet. A lot of work had to be done to keep abreast of what was going to with the White Sox.
“When I first started doing the games, I also hadn’t been to most of the parks. I didn’t know where the clubhouses were. I didn’t know where the press boxes were. Ed Farmer was my tour guide. He was incredible. Ed helped me out a lot.”
The first African-American pitcher in MLB was Dan Bankhead, who debuted with the Brooklyn Dodgers in August 1947. His first outing was a mixed bag. Pitching in relief against the Pittsburgh Pirates, the righty gave up eight runs in three-and-a-third innings. He also homered in his first plate appearance, the only time he’d go deep in a big-league uniform.
In Game 6 of that year’s Fall Classic, Bankhead became the first African-American pitcher to appear in a World Series game… sort of. He didn’t take the mound, he entered as a pinch runner and proceeded to score a run. In 1948, Satchel Paige became the first to pitch in a Series game, doing so with the Cleveland Indians as a 42-year-old rookie.
LINKS YOU’LL LIKE
David Waldstein of The New York Times told us about how a data analyst hired by Charros de Jalisco, a team in the Mexican Winter League, has seen his number-crunching ignored.
At The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Benjamin Hochman wrote about 23-year-old Emily Wiebe, the first woman hired to work as an analyst in the Cardinals’ baseball operations department.
Graig Kreindler is an artist who paints baseball, and Nicholas Frankovich wrote about him at National Review.
RANDOM FACTS AND STATS
Walter Alston had one MLB plate appearance. Playing for the St. Louis Cardinals on the final day of the 1936 season, the future Hall of Fame manager struck out against Lon Warneke of the Chicago Cubs.
Longtime Twins executive Terry Ryan played in the Minnesota system from 1973-1976, topping out at the Double-A level. A left-handed pitcher, Ryan went 14-3 with a 3.07 ERA in 138 innings.
Carl Yastrzemski holds the record for most games and most plate appearances with one team. Counting the postseason, Yaz appeared in 3,325 games and batted 14,068 times with the Boston Red Sox.
On January 14, 1964, Willie Mays — coming off a season where he was worth 9.8 WAR — reportedly signed a $105,000 contract with the San Francisco Giants.
A dozen players with the surname Fitzgerald have appeared in a big-league game. The total rises to a baker’s dozen if you include Ed Fitz Gerald (given name Edward Raymond Fitz Gerald) who caught for three teams from 1948-1959.
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.