Jeimer Candelario is establishing himself as one of the best young players on a young Detroit Tigers team. Playing in his first full big-league season, the 24-year-old third baseman is slashing a solid .251/.346/.476 with 10 home runs. His 2.0 WAR leads all Tigers.
Acquired along with Isaac Paredes in the deal that sent Alex Avila and Justin Wilson to the Cubs at last summer’s trade deadline, “Candy” is a switch-hitter with pop. His M.O. is gap-to-gap, and the orientation of his top hand is a focal point of his swing.
“I want to hit the ball with palm up,” explained Candelario. “If you’re palm up and you hit the ball, you finish up. I try to be connected. My back side, my hands, my hips, and my legs come in the same moment. That way, when I hit the ball I hit the ball with power, with palm up.”
Candelario credits Cubs assistant hitting coach Andy Haines — at the time the club’s hitting coordinator — for helping him develop his stroke. Now that he’s in Motown, he’s heeding the advice of Lloyd McClendon, who is emphasizing “How to load and then follow through, which helps me have some doubles and homers. If I just concentrate on hitting line drives, the ball will carry.”
McClendon is bullish on the young infielder’s future. Ditto his here and now.
“He’s a pretty advanced kid for his age,” opined Detroit’s hitting coach. “Maybe the most impressive thing about Candy is that he becomes a better hitter with runners in scoring position. He has a propensity to drive in runs. What makes him able do that is his ability to stay inside the ball and use the entire field. He takes what the pitcher gives him, particularly with two strikes. I think he’s going to be a very good run producer at this level.”
Hitting coaches haven’t been his only mentors. Robinson Cano — “He’s from my town and we always practiced together in the Dominican” — has stressed the importance of being short and quick, and inside the ball. Miguel Cabrera talks about shooting the gaps. “If you go gaps and gaps, you’re going to recognize the breaking ball and the fastball. You’re going to be square to the pitcher and stay good to the middle.”
And then there’s Victor Martinez. Candelario has been hitting from both sides of the plate since he was “probably four or five years old,” but that doesn’t make 39-year-old V-Mart any less of a resource.
“He’s one of the best switch hitters we have in the big leagues, so I’m obviously learning a lot from him,” said Candelario, who likes to load earlier against left-handed pitchers, as he faces them less often. “When Victor has two strikes, he tries to be short — more short than anybody — because he doesn’t want to be that guy to strike out. He wants to put the ball in play. That’s why I try to be short and quick to the ball.”
Make that short and quick to the ball with palm up.
Jesse Biddle’s path to the big leagues was anything but smooth. Drafted 27th overall by his hometown team in 2010, the Philadelphia product went on to battle health issues (including whooping cough, plantar fasciitis, a concussion, and a torn UCL), as well a poor relationship with the strike zone (his walk rate was north of 5.00 in 2013-2014). By the time the Atlanta Braves claimed Biddle off waivers in spring training 2016, his chances of reaching the pinnacle of his profession seemed tenuous at best.
The 26-year-old southpaw admits that doubt had begun to creep into his mind.
“Did I wonder if I’d ever get here? Of course,” said Biddle, who debuted with the NL East club in mid-April. “Injury after injury and really struggling on the mound… definitely. I’m just fortunate that Atlanta took take a chance on me.”
They’re glad they did. In 19 appearances out of the Braves bullpen, Biddle has a 3.22 ERA and 26 strikeouts in 22-and-a-third innings. Earlier this month, he fanned eight while throwing three scoreless innings against the Washington Nationals.
Injuries and a role change — last season was his first as a reliever — have notably impacted who he is on the mound.
“Tommy John surgery changes everybody,” Biddle told me when the Braves visited Boston two weeks ago. “You have to kind of rebuild everything after that happens. And then, getting moved to the bullpen forces you to change who you are as a pitcher. I now need to be able to recover quickly so I can go the next day, and I need the mentality of ‘Every pitch I throw is going to be one of my best.’”
What does he consider his best pitch?
“It depends on the day, man,” opined Biddle. “Honestly, I think every one of us who is stubborn enough is going to say his fastball, but it depends on the hitter and it depends on the situation. I have a lot of faith in my curveball and slider, too. I’ve definitely tightened certain things up. Everyone wants to improve, and I feel I’ve done that.”
Let’s stick with the Braves and revisit Sean Newcomb, who led last Sunday’s column. The piece focused primarily on the young lefty’s fastball, and here we’ll touch on his secondary offerings and his increasing level of maturity on the mound.
Atlanta pitching coach Chuck Hernandez shared an interesting perspective on the latter.
“Whatever his age is, take five years off,” Hernandez said of Newcomb, who celebrated his 25th birthday earlier this week. “He’s like a 20-year-old pitcher. He’s from (Massachusetts) and played football, basketball, and baseball. What are his reps next to Florida kids and California kids? His reps, his time on the mound, are smaller. I actually love that. His arm is fresh.”
The Middleboro, Mass native offered an equally-interesting thought when addressing the relationship between focus and mechanics.
“There are times when a pitcher is pitching to a pitcher in an NL game and you’ll see his velocity drop a little bit,” Newcomb told me. “Typically it’s because of a little lack of intensity. You kind of back off the gas pedal to throw a strike, and as a result everything you’re doing from start to finish gets out of whack. When you release the ball you’re at a different point than you were when you were going fluid and being aggressive. You need to maintain a good mixture of focus, aggressiveness, and confidence.”
Back to Hernandez on why Newcomb has greatly upped his changeup usage this year while throwing fewer breaking pitches.
“Out of necessity,” said the former Detroit Tigers pitching coach. “The same thing as in 2006 when at the start of the year Justin Verlander was throwing all those changeups. He couldn’t find his curve. (Newcomb’s) curveball is plus when he catches it — the spin rate on it is great — but it’s been inconsistent. That’s why.”
Dominic Cotroneo is following in his father’s footsteps. Vince Cotroneo has been broadcasting professional baseball since 1984 and is now in his 13th season calling games for the Oakland A’s. Dominic is currently the radio voice of the Down East Wood Ducks, a Texas Rangers affiliate in the high-A Carolina League.
“It’s been an interesting journey, to say the least, “ said the younger Cotroneo, who is in his third season as a minor league broadcaster. “In a way it’s all I’ve never known, although I didn’t always want to be a broadcaster. For a long time I wanted to be a teacher, and for a long time I wanted to be a professional golfer — but the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, and here I am.”
Having grown up going to ballparks with his father and “sitting between him and Eric Nadel, or sitting between him and Ken Korach,” it was only a matter of time until the proud son decided to gave baseball broadcasting a shot. He made the decision at the age of 17, at which point he was already a better golfer than the man who taught him how to play.
“My dad hasn’t beat me since I was about nine years old,” crowed Cotroneo. “He holds his own out there — he’ll usually break 100 — but he’ll still get ticked off when I’m 30 yards ahead of him and making pars when he’s making bogeys. It’s one of those father-son things where he’s, ‘You little jerk. I raised you. I clothed and fed you, and you’re doing this to me?’”
“But seriously, he’s definitely been a great influence. I can’t thank him enough. Father’s Day definitely means a lot to me. It means a lot to both of us.”
Jose Iglesias, who defected from Cuba in 2008, became a citizen of the United States on Friday. According to MLive’s Evan Woodberry, the Tigers shortstop will participate in an on-field ceremony with Leonys Martin and other new Americans at Comerica Park on June 25.
Pirates pitcher Steven Brault struck out for the first time in his career this past Tuesday, in his 35th plate appearance. Brault went down swinging against Arizona’s Silvino Brancho.
With the addition of four on Friday, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim had 15 players on the disabled list, including Shohei Ohtani, Andrelton Simmons, Kole Calhoun, Zack Cozart, Keynan Middleton, and Garrett Richards.
Orioles southpaw Richard Bleier is expected to miss the rest of the season after suffering what was reported as a left shoulder latissimus strain. Bleier, who sports a 1.97 ERA in 111 career relief appearances, was injured on Wednesday.
Per the Red Sox press notes, Rafael Devers went into yesterday having hit safely in each of his last 10 games. The last Red Sox players to record a 10-game hit streak at the age of 21 or younger were Xander Bogaerts (2014), Tony Conigliaro (1966), and Ted Williams (1940).
The 48th annual national SABR convention gets underway later this week in Pittsburgh, with Pirates president Frank Coonelly giving the opening remarks on Thursday. The list of featured speakers also includes Joe Block, John Candelaria, Dan Fox, and Neal Huntington. The convention runs through the weekend and includes a Friday ballpark session at PNC Park.
Kirby Yates began throwing a splitter midway through last season — the 31-year-old righty explained its development in a recent Players’ View piece — and the pitch has been a panacea. Yates has appeared in 29 games out of the Padres bullpen and allowed just 17 hits and three runs in 28 innings. He’s fanned 33, many with his shiny new weapon.
It’s not the only reason behind his breakout. Same-sided hitters are 6 for 60 (all singles) against Yates this year, and angle has a lot to do with it.
“I moved from the first base side of the rubber to the third base side,” explained Yates. “That’s helped create a little more deception, and allow me to hide the ball a little better. When I was on the fist base side, sometimes the hitters would see the ball too early. Once I moved over to the third base side, you could see right away that the swings weren’t always as comfortable.”
Yates moved over a year ago after receiving some brotherly advice.
“Tyler and I always talk,” the Kauia, Hawaii native said of his older sibling. who pitched in the big leagues from 2004-2009. “He’s the guy who taught me how to throw a baseball at a young age, and he always has some insight. I kind of bounced it off him: ‘Hey, do you think I should move to the other side of the rubber?’, and he was like, ‘Yeah.’
“Mike Harkey, my bullpen coach in New York, had actually suggested it before. He said, “I think you could benefit from the other side of the rubber.” I didn’t start doing it yet, although I did start toying with the idea. Talking to Tyler, I decided to try it. It was a little different at first — I’d thrown from the first base side my whole life — but it slowly became comfortable. It’s made a difference.”
James McCann has a charitable foundation “in the works,” and his reasons for establish it hit close to home. The Detroit Tigers catcher is fortunate to be living a healthy life, and so are his infant sons.
“We had twin boys that were two months premature,” explained McCann. “They were born December 6 this past year and were in the Vanderbilt NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) for seven weeks. My own birth story is that I was only given a 25% chance of survival. My mom had a (tear in her) amniotic sac 13 weeks into her pregnancy and they pretty much guaranteed that if I survived I’d be physically or mentally disabled. But here I am with a platform, playing in the major leagues.”
Along with his wife, Jessica, he’s using that platform to help others.
“We try to do a lot in the community, and one thing is children’s hospitals and local NICUs,” McCann told me. “We’ve done things like give stuff to mothers who are spending their Mother’s Day, or other holidays, in NICUs. We’re trying to make their stays, which are a not-so-awesome time, a little more enjoyable. With the birth of our boys, and the struggles they went through, it became a no-brainer that we want to start a foundation. Helping newborns and their families is our goal.”
RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS
The Kansas City Royals do an annual “Dads Road Trip,” where the players’ fathers accompany the team to a visiting city. They get to hang out with their sons in the clubhouse, watch batting practice from the dugout, and maybe even take a few pregame swings themselves. Count Ned Yost among those who embrace the six-year-old tradition.
“It was a chance to come to Fenway Park,” the Royals manager said of this year’s trip. ‘To be able to get on a plane and experience what we experience a little bit… and there’s the relationship between a man and his dad. You know how special that is. There’s a pride factor involved, not only having your dad here, but the pride your dad has in you being here. It’s just a phenomenal trip for them to come together and share three days. Everybody, from the dads to the players, thoroughly enjoys this.”
LINKS YOU’LL LIKE
Kevin Thomas of the Portland (Maine) Press Herald wrote a highly-informative piece about the large disparity in salaries between MLB and MiLB, and efforts to improve the quality of life down on the farm.
At The Japan Times, Jason Coskrey wrote about how Seibu Lions ace Yusei Kikuchi — 16-6 with a 1.97 ERA last year — refuses to rest on his laurels.
At The Kyodo News, Jim Allen wrote about how Junko Yazawa became the first Japanese female athletic trainer in MLB because no such position would be available in Japan.
RANDOM FACTS AND STATS
Following their win on Thursday, the Braves franchise (Boston, Milwaukee, Atlanta) had an all-time record of 10,550 wins and 10,550 losses.
On this date in 1915, Zip Zabel came out of the bullpen to throw18-and-two-thirds innings as the Chicago Cubs beat the Brooklyn Robins 4-3 in 19 innings.
On this date in 1943, Boston’s Joe Cronin hit a pinch-hit three-run homer in the seventh inning of the first game of a double-header against the Philadelphia Athletics. In Game 2, Cronin hit a pinch-hit three-run homer in the eighth inning.
On June 16, 1938, Jimmie Foxx walked in all six of his plate appearances as the Red Sox beat the St. Louis Browns 12-8 at Sportsman’s Park.
Ted Williams slashed .399/.531/.750 in 100 games at Sportsman Park.
In 1923, Herman “Old Folks” Pillette led the American League in losses while going 14-19 for the Detroit Tigers. In 1951, his son, Duane Pillette, led the American League in losses while going 6-14 for the St. Louis Browns. The younger Pillette was the starting pitcher on August 19, 1951 when 3-foot-7 Eddie Gaedel walked as a pinch hitter against Detroit’s Bob “Sugar” Cain.
Sammy Hairston and Johnny Hairston were the first African-American father-son duo to play in the major leagues. Sam appeared in four games for the Chicago White Sox in 1951, John in three games for the Chicago Cubs in 1969. Jerry Hairston, John’s younger brother, played 859 games, all but 51 with the White Sox, from 1973-1989.
Dusty Baker managed 3,500 regular season games. Jim Leyland managed 3,499 regular season games.
Fats Fothergill slashed .337/.379/.482 for the Detroit Tigers from 1922-1930.
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.