Sunday Notes: Giants Prospect John Michael Bertrand Has Irish in Him

John Michael Bertrand is an under-the-radar pitching prospect with multi-sport bloodlines and a good backstory. Moreover, he’s performing above expectations in his first full professional season. Drafted in the 10th round last year by the San Francisco Giants out of the University of Notre Dame, the 25-year-old left-hander is 10-5 with a 3.17 ERA in 99-and-a-third innings across three levels. Bertrand began the campaign at Low-A San Jose and has since progressed to High-A Eugene and Double-A Richmond.

Growing up in Alpharetta, Georgia, the 6-foot-3, 225-pound hurler aspired to play college basketball, but it eventually became apparent that baseball would provide him with the better long-term opportunity. The decision proved prudent, but only after a bumpy beginning. Bertrand’s Blessed Trinity School prep days were followed by a pair of disappointments that might easily have ended his career before it even started.

“I went to the University of Dayton for a camp, and they told me that I didn’t throw hard enough,” Bertrand explained. “I was around 82 [mph] and had a loopy curveball, so it was basically, ‘Thank you for your time.’ After that, my guidance counselor suggested Furman [University]. It was closer to home, and purple happened to be my favorite color, so I was like, ‘Perfect, I’ll go.’ I walked on to their baseball team, but ended up getting cut my first fall. The coaches told me that I wasn’t good enough to play Division One baseball.”

Undeterred, and more determined than ever, Bertrand decided that not only would he return the following year and make the team, he intended to go on to play professionally. As he put it, ‘God kind of called me to go back to that campus and work even harder.’ That started that train, started my journey.”

Bertrand did make the team the next year, and proceeded to pitch credibly in his first two seasons of college eligibility. He then got off to an outstanding start in 2020, only to have COVID shut things down after he’d logged a 1.50 ERA over four appearances. His academic progress continued unabated. Bertrand went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in Philosophy, with furthering his education a big part of his life’s plan. So was continuing to play baseball. That led the southpaw to South Bend.

“I’m from an Irish Catholic family, and my dad grew up in Ireland playing rugby, so Notre Dame had always been a dream college of mine,” said Bertrand, who had applied out of high school but wasn’t accepted. “I was able to start my master’s program there, and I pitched well enough that I got one call on draft day [in 2021]. I decided that I couldn’t pass up a second year at my dream school, and be there with my little brother [JD Bertrand] who is a starting linebacker on the football team, so I went back hoping that we could win a national championship.”

The Fighting Irish fell short of that goal, getting eliminated by Texas A&M in the 2022 College World Series. Despite that disappointment, his Notre Dame tenure was a rousing success. Along with going 18-5 in his two seasons on the mound, Bertrand earned a pair of graduate degrees, a master’s in Science and Management, and an MBA.

His father had attended high school in Greystones, Ireland.

“That’s an interesting story,” Bertrand told me following his last start with the Eastern League’s Flying Squirrels. “My grandfather actually bought two desks at Blackrock so that my father and his brother, my uncle, could play rugby there. It’s an all-boys boarding school, and it’s said that when you have a baby — when you have a son — the first thing you do is name him, and the second is that you sign him up on the wait list for Blackrock.

“My grandpa moved to Ireland from Dayton, Ohio when they were around middle school age,” continued Bertrand. “That obviously meant they weren’t on the wait list, but he talked to the priest and they let him buy two desks. So, they played at Blackrock and I think my father [Jim Bertrand] is still the only American to captain a team to the [Leinster] Senior Cup and win it. Now, this weekend, my little brother is playing in the same stadium where my dad won the Cup.”

That would be Aviva Stadium, in Dublin, where JD Bertrand, a fifth-year senior and second-year captain, helped lead Notre Dame to a resounding 42-3 win over Navy yesterday afternoon. As for older brother John Michael, he was following as closely as his baseball schedule would allow. That the crafty lefty with a six-pitch mix and an 89-90-mph heater was doing so two steps below the major leagues is no less notable. Twice told that he wasn’t good enough, it turns out that he actually is.

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RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS

Andrew Benintendi is 11 for 21 against Shane Bieber.

Todd Benzinger went 10 for 21 against Orel Hershiser.

David Bell went 7 for 10 against Gary Majewski.

Tim Naehring went 7 for 12 against Shawn Boskie.

Scooter Gennett went 7 for 12 against Jon Gray.

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Left on the cutting-room floor from Thursday’s interview with Max Scherzer were his thoughts on missing bats. That’s something he’s long been good at. The 39-year-old right-hander’s 3,344 strikeouts are 11th most in MLB history.

“Generating swing-and-miss is a critical part of pitching,” Scherzer told me. “It’s something you need, and ideally you’re doing it in-zone. If you can throw pitches in the zone and generate swing-and-misses, it opens up so many other things. When you’re getting chases, you’re relying on the hitter to make a negative decision. You can’t always throw every pitch out of the zone, you’ve got to throw pitches in the zone.

“You’re also trying to get the highest amount of swings-and-misses with two strikes. All swings-and-misses are good, but the ones with two strikes are great. Those are outs. Generating strikeouts is a positive goal on the mound. You’re seeing the at-bat ending the way you want it to end. Strikeouts are the ideal result.”

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A quiz:

Duke Snider (389) and Gil Hodges (361), both of whom played primarily when the team was based in Brooklyn, have the most home runs in Dodgers franchise history. Which Dodger has hit the most home runs since the team relocated to Los Angeles?

The answer can be found below.

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NEWS NOTES

The championship game of this year’s Little League World Series will be held today, August 27, at 3:00pm ET and will be aired on ABC. Willemstad, Curaçao will face El Segundo, California.

SABR’s Rocky Mountain chapter will host a Zoom meeting tonight, Sunday August 27, with Joe Posnanski the featured guest. Registration for the free-to-all 6:00pm MT event can be found here.

Aaron Familia, a 24-year-old former Milwaukee Brewers prospect, died after suffering a heart attack during an attempt to cross the United States-Mexico border. The news was reported by Dominican Republic newspaper El Diario Nuevo, and by the UK’s Daily Mail.

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The answer to the quiz is Eric Karros, with 270 home runs. Ron Cey is next on the list with 228.

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Brian Snitker was called old-school when he was hired to manage the Atlanta Braves in 2016, initially on an interim basis and five months later on a full-time basis. To the extent that the label was accurate then, it is less so now. Asked by another reporter how he’s become more adaptable to analytics, he said the following when the Braves visited Fenway Park in late July.

“Well, I knew it wasn’t going away,” replied Snitker. “If I started bucking it, or whatever, it was going to be on me. I pick and choose what I use. It’s part of the game, and I think it’s here to stay. It’s good stuff. It’s information. We have a veteran staff, guys with a lot of experience, and [the front office] allows us to incorporate that in. I think it’s a good blend.”

Upon hearing that, I asked the 67-year-old baseball lifer if any of the coaches he’s worked with over the years stand out in terms of intuition — they have almost a sixth sense of which moves to make, regardless of what data suggests.

“All of the guys I’m working with in this dugout, really,” replied Snitker.” Walt Weiss has seen it all as a player, a manager, and now as a [bench] coach. I think Kranny [pitching coach Rick Kranitz] has a great feel. He’s the one I’m closest to over the course of the game, and I trust his sixth sense, his experience, his feel. We’re very blessed to have a guy with his experience running things as our pitching coach.”

Kranitz turns 65 in mid-September. Atlanta’s 39-year-old bullpen coach is also well regarded by the manager of baseball’s best team.

“We’ve got a young, really bright, new-age guy in our bullpen,” Snitker said of Drew French. “He’s also got a great feel. I think Kranny is going to be a great resource for Drew, because he’s going to be a major league pitching coach someday. Growing up in this game under Kranny is going to bode him well.”

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FOREIGN AFFAIRS

Keio Senior High School won its first national baseball championship in 107 years earlier this week when it beat defending champion Sendai Ikuei Gakuen High School 8-2 at Koshien Stadium. The final game of Japan’s most prestigious amateur tournament was attended by 42,100 fans.

Chiba Lotte Marines outfielder/DH Gregory Polanco homered three times on Thursday in the NPB club’s 9-5 loss to the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks. The 31-year-old former Pittsburgh Pirate has 19 home runs on the season to go with a .250/.314/.466 slash line in 354 plate appearances.

Yokohama BayStars pitcher Trevor Bauer has one hit in 40 at-bats while playing in Japan. The erstwhile MLB right-hander went 7-for-105 professionally in the United States, including 1-for-30 in his final MLB season.

Jung Hoo Lee is slashing .315/.407/.456 with six home runs in 386 plate appearances for the Kiwoom Heroes. A .340/.407/491 hitter over seven KBO seasons, the 25-year-old outfielder is expected to be made available to MLB teams this coming winter.

Eui Lee Lee is 10-6 with a 3.87 ERA in 100 innings for the KBO’s Kia Tigers. The 21-year-old left-hander has allowed 78 hits and fanned 123 batters.

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How do the Dodgers-Giants and Red Sox-Yankees rivalries compare? I asked that question to Dave Roberts at Fenway Park on Friday, and his response came as somewhat of a surprise. I expected obligatory diplomacy. What I got instead was forthright honesty.

“It’s hard to beat Red Sox-Yankees,” said the Los Angeles manager. “I think that you have to give it a clear nod because of the history. I don’t think you can take two teams that were in New York and made their way westward [while] the initial, original rivalry of Yankees-Red Sox… is entrenched in the blood and the culture of those two fanbases… No disrespect to the Dodgers and the Giants.”

Roberts’s ninth-inning stolen base against the Yankees in Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS is one of the most impactful plays in Red Sox history, and the subsequent vanquishing of their arch rival is a momentous moment in Boston sports history. For those reasons alone it would be hard for Roberts to have answered any differently than he did.

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FARM NOTES

Pete Hansen is 10-3 with a 3.32 ERA, a 3.96 FIP, and 114 strikeouts in 103 innings for the Low-A Palm Beach Cardinals. The 23-year-old southpaw was drafted in the third round last year by the St. Louis Cardinals out of the University of Texas where he went 22-4 with a 2.67 ERA over three collegiate seasons.

Tyler Cleveland is 13-5 with a 3.49 ERA, a 4.14 FIP, and 104 strikeouts in 126-and-a-third innings for the Low-A Modesto Nuts. A 14th-round pick last year out of Central Arkansas, the 23-year-old submarining right-hander is No. 13 on our Seattle Mariners Top Prospects list with a 40 FV.

Kenedy Corona is slashing .263/.343/.488 with 22 home runs and 29 stolen bases in 39 attempts between High-A Asheville and Double-A Corpus Christi. The 23-year-old outfielder from Maracaibo, Venezuela is No. 10 on our Houston Astros Top Prospects list with a 40+ FV.

Jackson Chourio is slashing .280/.333/.466 with 19 home runs and 34 stolen bases in 40 attempts for the Double-A Biloxi Shuckers. The 19 year-old outfielder in the Milwaukee Brewers system is No. 4 on The Board with a 60 FV.

Dru Baker is slashing .304/.392/.487 with 14 home runs and 46 stolen bases in 49 attempts between High-A Bowling Green and Double-A Montgomery. The 23-year-old outfielder was taken in the fourth round of the 2021 draft by the Tampa Bay Rays out of Texas Tech.

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Evan Katz didn’t want his career ERA to remain at infinity, so he made another pitching appearance last month at age 67. Starting for the independent Pecos League’s Austin Weirdos against the Alpine Cowboys, the right-hander allowed 14 hits and 12 earned runs over four innings in a 22-0 loss. In his one previous professional outing, which came in 2017 with the Pecos League’s White Sands Pupfish at age 61, he walked a batter who subsequently scored before he could record an out.

Infinity in the rear-view mirror, Katz now is in the record books with a 29.25 ERA. As for the 2023 Austin Weirdos, they currently have a record of 1-47. The 1899 Cleveland Spiders would be proud.

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LINKS YOU’LL LIKE

At The Los Angeles Times, Sarah Valenzuela wrote about how Angels ownership doesn’t send their radio team on the road — a decision that (in my words, not hers) embarrasses the organization and is disrespectful to both the broadcasters and the fanbase.

The Las Vegas Review Journal’s Mick Akers interviewed understandably-unpopular Oakland Athletics owner John Fisher about the team’s impending move to Nevada.

Brewers pitching prospect Robert Gasser — featured here at FanGraphs in July of last year — discussed his arsenal at MLB Pipeline’s Pitching Lab.

Over at Royals Review, Preston Farr wrote about how 20-year-old left-hander Frank Mozzicato, Kansas City’s first-round pick in the 2021 draft, has added a slider to his repertoire.

The KBO’s Kiwoom Heroes announced Friday that they have reached a strategic partnership with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Jee-ho Yoo has the story at Yonhap News Agency.

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RANDOM FACTS AND STATS

Kyle Schwarber has 35 home runs and a 111 wRC+. Mookie Betts has 34 home runs and a 171 wRC+.

Pirates rookie Henry Davis is 3-for-3 with two home runs off of Shohei Ohtani.

Stephen Strasburg went 14-2 with a 2.58 ERA in 27 starts against the Philadelphia Phillies.

Oakland Athletics pitchers have walked 544 batters this year, the most of any team. Seattle Mariners pitchers have walked 321 batters, the fewest of any team.

Bob Tewksbury walked 93 batters in 783 innings from 1990-1993. Matt Young walked 259 batters in 459 innings.

The Detroit Tigers swept a doubleheader from the Minnesota Twins on today’s date in 1972, winning both games on 11th-inning home runs. Willie Horton’s blast game the Tigers a 5-3 win the opener, and Aurelio Rodriguez went deep in the 1-0 nightcap.

Pete Mackanin capped a four-run bottom of the ninth inning with a walk-off single as the Twins beat the Tigers 4-3 on today’s date in 1981. It was Minnesota’s only hit that inning.

Players born on today’s date include Ed Herrmann, a left-handed-hitting catcher who played for five teams in a career that comprised the 1967-1978 seasons.The grandson of 1918 Brooklyn Robins pitcher Marty Herrmann was all All-Star with the Chicago White Sox in 1974.

Also born on today’s date was Dizzy Nutter, an outfielder who logged 11 hits in 52 at-bats while appearing in 18 games for the National League’s Boston Braves in 1919. The Roseville, Ohio native’s given name was Everett.

Jim “Coldwater” Hughey went 25-12 for the Western League’s Toledo White Stocking in 1894, and 21-15 for the Toledo Swamp Angels/Terre Haute Hottentots in 1895. He later went 4-30 with the National League’s Cleveland Spiders, who infamously finished with a record of 20-134, in 1899.





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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delatopiamember
7 months ago

“Terre Haute Hottentots,” racist as it is, is some fine alliteration.