Last month, the Indians selected Brady Aiken with the 17th overall pick of the amateur draft. There’s a distinct possibility that several of the sixteen teams that passed on the southpaw will someday regret doing so. They all might regret it. Aiken arguably has the best raw talent of any player taken.
When he’s healthy.
Aiken is, of course, recovering from Tommy John surgery. What’s curious – at least to me – is that so many teams were seemingly scared away by that fact. This year’s draft was viewed as sub par, and Aiken went first-overall in 2014. The Astros not signing him made sense at the time – and their medicals were proven right – but the elbow fears are now in the rear-view. He’s already gone under the knife.
A full recovery from Tommy John surgery isn’t guaranteed, but chances are good that the 18-year-old will come back strong. Indians scouting director Brad Grant expects exactly that, based on precedent.
“Younger pitchers have had the injury early in their careers and come back after rehab,” said Grant. “Lucas Giolito was 17 when he was drafted and sat out a year. We’ve been able to do it on the major league side with guys like Salazar and Carrasco. We feel we can do the same thing from the draft side.”
Grant agreed when I suggested that perhaps we’re seeing the start of a trend. In 2014, two pitchers who’d already undergone Tommy John surgery – Jeff Hoffman, by Toronto, and Erick Fedde, by Washington – were taken in the first round.
The Indians scouted Aiken thoroughly in 2014, even though there was little chance he’d fall to them (Cleveland ended up taking Bradley Zimmer with the 21st overall pick). According to Grant, the team does its due diligence and never approaches a draft as if a specific player will be gone. In his words, “(Taking Aiken) was a unique situation, but in the end it was the same animal. We spent the same amount of time trying to get to know him.”
Aiken is currently getting well-acquainted with Thomas Albert, Cleveland’s rehab coordinator, in Arizona. The club is allowing him to go through the normal Tommy John rehab process — “There’s no rush to get him back” – and he’ll report to spring training along with everyone else. How he’s progressing at the time will determine the plan of action going forward.
Another note of interest regarding this year’s Indians draft: Teams who make “risky” picks in the first round are quite often more conservative with their next selection(s). Not Cleveland.
“We took a 17-year-old high school right-handed pitcher, then we took a 17-year-old high school left-handed pitcher,” explained Grant. (Triston) McKenzie and (Juan) Hillman have a lot of projection and a lot of upside. We weren’t targeting high school pitching with those picks, it was more that we were taking the best talent available.”
Targeting or not, the Indians see value in procuring preps, and their player development system is a big part of the reason. To a certain degree, health issues play a role.
“Especially with pitching, having the ability to mold them at a young age, and to be able to maintain their innings, is very attractive to us,” said Grant. “You can make the adjustments you want, because they really haven’t had that much instruction yet; they haven’t had certain things engrained into them. We’ve taken a bunch of young players lately and feel good about doing it. We didn’t flinch when McKenzie and Hillman were there when we picked.”
Two weeks ago, the Yankees took Adam Warren out of their rotation. It wasn’t for lack of performance. The 27-year-old righthander had a 3.57 ERA and had allowed three or fewer runs in each of his last nine starts. Innings were a big reason, as he was a reliever last season.
“I was a little under 80 last year and I’m already over that,” Warren told me on Friday. (Joe Girardi) explained to me that they didn’t think I could throw 180 this year. How do you know how many innings is too many innings? You usually don’t until you get hurt. I feel good, but you do have to be careful about it, so maybe it’s a blessing in disguise.”
The Yankees’ skipper told him two other things as well. They needed Warren in the bullpen, and he had a right to be mad about the move. Warren is no hot-head – far from – but he did need to blow off some internal steam.
“I didn’t get into the game that first night,” said Warren. “I think that was a good thing, because there was some frustration. I kind of needed a day to just accept it and move on. That’s what I did. Having that one-day buffer let me accept it.”
When I asked him if having pitched well made the move to the pen easier or harder, Warren paused, thoughtfully, before answering.
“That’s a hard question,” said Warren. “It made it harder because I wanted to stay in the rotation. On the other hand, knowing I proved that I was capable of starting made it easier. I’m not unhappy in the bullpen, but I do want to be a starter long-term.”
Steve Cishek, like many of the Marlins, has had a miserable season. The righty with the funky delivery has three saves, six losses, and a 5.14 ERA. All too often, Shrek has been shredded by enemy bats.
In 2013 and 2014, Cishek’s sinker dipped and his slider darted. A bright spot on blighted squads, he earned saves in 73 of Miami’s 139 wins. This year, a misplaced arm angle, which proved devilishly difficult to realign, has contributed to a bumpy ride.
“When the season started, my arm slot was a little low and my velocity was down,” explained Cishek. “I tried a little too hard to bring my velocity back up and started yanking everything. I was flying open and the ball was just taking off on me.
“If I’m throwing from too low, my sinker doesn’t sink. It’s flat. If I’m able to move my hand up an inch or two, I’m able to get the diving action I’ve had in the past, with a little more thump behind the ball.”
Cishek is 29 years old and in his fifth full season. He recognized the problem early on, but despite his experience, he struggled to make the needed adjustment. “It’s harder for me to bring it up than it is to go from high to low, like I did two years ago,” explained the 6-foot-6 reliever.
Cishek is an atypical sidewinder. His arm is at a wide angle, but he’s tall when he comes through his delivery and he needs his hand on top of the ball in order to drive it down. As he puts it, “When I’m at my best, I feel like I’m throwing overhand. I don’t feel like I’m throwing sidearm.”
We haven’t seen Cishek’s best this year, but he has performed better since returning from a two-week hiatus in Double-A. It’s too late for the Marlins to salvage their season, but their once-dependable closer has three months to reclaim his old form. Whether that happens in Miami is another question. The trade deadline is fast approaching.
Rob Refsnyder made his major league debut last night, starting at second base for the Yankees against the Red Sox at Fenway Park. Before the game, I asked the highly-regarded 24-year-old how he’s preparing for his at bats against Eduardo Rodriguez.
“I was just looking at the scouting report,” said Refsnyder. “I like seeing what a fastball is doing – I looked to see if it’s moving – and I’ll go from there.”
For Refsnyder, a .290/.387/.413 hitter in Triple-A, things get simple once he stands in the batter’s box.
“Any time you over-think hitting, you’re going to struggle,” he told me. “In baseball, especially with hitting, simple-as-possible is best. I try to do all my work before the game. That’s when I take care of my mechanics and my approach. In the game, I just see the ball and hit the ball.”
Refsnyder hit into a 4-6-3 double play in his first at bat. His second time up, he was robbed of a base hit on a sliding catch by the right fielder. In the eighth inning, he popped up to first against Junichi Tazawa.
Last season, Brian Dozier became the 12th second baseman in history with 30 doubles, 20 home runs, and 20 stolen bases. This year, he’s on pace to far surpass those numbers in the first two categories, and he’s got a good shot at equaling the third. He currently leads all second basemen in SLG, HR, RBI and Runs Scored, and he ranks second in 2B and wOBA. To top it all off, Dozier is an outstanding defender.
At age 28, Dozier is having a career year on the heels of a good year. It goes without saying that he deserves to represent the Twins on the American League All-Star team. He shouldn’t have had to wait until last night for the nod, but it’s not all that surprising. Most people outside of Minnesota have been slow to recognize his value.
The Eastern League All-Star Game will be played on Wednesday, at Hadlock Field in Portland, Maine. Boston’s Double-A affiliate previously hosted the game in 2005, and one of the participants was 21-year-old Brandon Moss. His regular season club, the Portland Sea Dogs, was itself a veritable All-Star team.
Interestingly, of the above, only Ramirez joined Moss in the contest. Portland’s other All-Star representatives were Chris Durbin, Kenny Perez and Jared Sandberg, Papelbon had been promoted to Triple-A a week earlier, and the Red Sox wouldn’t allow Lester to pitch.
“I was having a really good year at that point,” Moss told me. “I think I was the second-youngest player in Double-A that year, behind Carlos Gomez, and to play in that league and be an All-Star, playing in my home city, was really cool. It definitely doesn’t seem like it was 10 years ago. I remember everything about that season.”
Among the things the Indians slugger remembers is something he didn’t get to do: Participate in the All-Star Game’s Home Run Derby.
“I wasn’t a part of that,” said Moss, who has hit 105 bombs since reaching the Bigs. “I remember that Shelley Duncan won it. I’ve never actually been in a Home Run Derby. I would love to be, but I haven’t yet.
The National Pastime, a publication of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR), includes an intriguing article about former White Sox pitcher Ted Lyons. Written by Herm Krabbenhoft, it looks into the career of a pitcher who fashioned a record of 260-230 from 1923-1946. More specifically, it explores how many of Lyons’ “119 complete game losses (and four of his incomplete game losses) might have been prevented and saved as (incomplete game) victories by successful holders and closers.” According to the author, the answer is 24.
Krabbenhoft’s research also showed that Lyons was the winning pitcher 85.5% of the time he “was confronted with a save situation in the seventh inning or later”and finished the game himself. That’s a higher save percentage than every reliever in the Hall of Fame: Dennis Eckersley (84.6), Hoyt Wilhelm (76.9), Rollie Fingers (75.8), Bruce Sutter (74.8), Goose Gossage 973.5).
Keeping in mind that pitcher usage has changed markedly since Lyons’ day, it would be interesting to see how other starting pitchers compare. For instance, Jack Morris, Don Sutton, Jim Kaat and Catfish Hunter – workhorses from a more-recent era – all had between 175-181 complete games. To what extent was each helped or hurt by finishing as many games as he did?
RANDOM STATS AND FACTS
Per John Dewan, the Royals are the only team in baseball that has played above average defense at every position. Their +42 DRS leads MLB. (through Thursday)
Mets pitchers have given up 30 intentional walks, the most in the majors. Yankees pitchers have given up four intentional walks, the fewest in the majors.
Per ESPN Stats and Info, prior to the Twins beating Detroit on Friday night after trailing 6-1 in the ninth inning, teams trailing by five-plus runs in the ninth were 0-1,057 over the past two seasons.
In case you missed it, on June 14, the Twins hit three triples in the same inning and scored just one run. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that hadn’t happened in 50 years.
Red Sox first basemen didn’t record a putout last Sunday. It’s the only time that’s happened in franchise history, which now totals 17,871 games.
On this date in 1931, the Cardinals and Cubs combined to hit 23 doubles in game two of a doubleheader at Sportsman’s Park. Chicago beat St. Louis 17-13.
Sixty years ago today, Stan Musial of the St. Louis Cardinals hit a walk-off home run to lead the National League to a 6-5 win over the American League in the All-Star Game.
Today is the 36th anniversary of Disco Demolition Night.
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.