Sunday Notes: Jharel Cotton is on the Comeback Trail (and Has a Snow Blower)

Jharel Cotton is trying to revive his career in the Texas Rangers organization. Three years removed from Tommy John surgery — and four years after making 24 starts for the Oakland A’s — the 29-year-old native of the Virgin Islands is taking the mound for the Triple-A Round Rock Express. Progress has been slower than ideal. In eight appearances comprising 17-and-two-thirds innings, Cotton has a 4.58 ERA and, more importantly, less feel for his deliveries that he did pre-injury.

He believes it’s only a matter of time.

“I didn’t play in 2018, I barely played in 2019, and 2020 was a scratch because of the pandemic,” Cotton explained earlier this week. “Now 1 have a full year, and within a full year I’ll be back to myself. I just have to keep putting in the work and trusting the process — going through the process of getting my arm to feel normal again. A lot of guys get back quickly and other guys get back not as quick. Everything will work out in its own time.”

Cotton’s velocity is slowly coming back — his fastball has been ranging between 92-96 mph — although his command has lagged a little behind. Ditto the crispness of his cutter, curveball, and changeup. But again, he’s not overly concerned. As he put it, “I lost a lot of those things, but I feel I’m putting the pieces back together.”

Cotton’s comeback isn’t the only reason I wanted to talk to him for today’s column. I also wanted to revisit a story I’d read about him back when he was still pitching for the A’s.

Originally in the Los Angeles Dodgers system, Cotton went to Oakland in August 2016 as part of a five-player deal involving Rich Hill. A few years earlier, he was a minor-leaguer making ends meet during the offseason. That’s when he learned to love shoveling snow.

“I had to find a job, and honestly, that was a lot better than working at a gas station,” said Cotton, who’d spent 2013 with the Midland, Michigan-based Great Lakes Loons. “This was at an apartment complex in Wixom [MI]. I changed light bulbs, picked up leaves, and in the winter shoveled ice and snow.”

And again — feel free to roll your eyes if you find the often-back-breaking chore abhorrent — he loved doing it.

“We never had snow in the Virgin Islands, so I’d wanted to see snow for a very long time,” explained Cotton. “I got that opportunity when I moved to Virginia for high school, but it was a limited amount of snow. Being in Michigan because of my now-wife — she’s from there — I was like, ‘Yes, I get to see snow!’ The shoveling… I looked at it as an opportunity to see this beautiful weather, this phenomenon, and to get a workout. At work, snow days were my best days, because that’s all you had to do: you shoveled snow and then you went home. I liked that part of it too, but honestly, I thought it was fun, I just loved it, man.”

Cotton continues to make his home in Michigan. Does he still enjoy shoveling snow?

“I do,” claimed Cotton. “Of course, the older you get, the more strain it puts on your body. So I’ve upgraded to a snow blower. Now I like snow-blowing.”

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RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS

Marlon Byrd went 4 for 5 against Blake Hawksworth.

Birdie Cree went 1 for 4 against Ed Hawk.

Hawk Harrelson went 5 for 15 against Eddie Fisher.

Hawk Taylor went 0 for 6 against Woodie Fryman.

Chicken Hawks went 7 for 11 against Flint Rhem.

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Front offices play a role in lineup decisions, and to varying degrees they have for a long time. I recently asked Pittsburgh Pirates GM Ben Cherington how much he’s seen the collaboration dynamic evolve over the past two decades.

“Collaboration is a good word, and I think that’s been going on for quite a while,” responded Cherington, who served in leadership positions in Boston and Toronto before coming to Pittsburgh. “I remember conversations with Theo [Epstein] and Tito [Francona] 15-18 years ago. What hasn’t changed — at least in the organizations I’ve been in — is that it is the manager’s decision. Ultimately, it’s the manager’s decision who’s in the lineup, who’s pitching, when they come out, who comes in.

“I think what’s happened more is that the collaboration now is amongst people who are in the clubhouse,” continued Cherington. “We have staff in the clubhouse that work with our coaches who have access to every piece of information that we would look at in the office. So maybe we’re building tools that they’re using, but really, the collaboration is happening within that major-league travel party.

“Most of the time, they’ve already kind of beaten up every possible decision, or permutation, before I even bring it up. [Manager Derek Shelton] and I talk a lot about different things every day. Honestly, it’s not often about lineups or pitching decisions. It’s usually about something else, because that collaboration has already kind of happened.”

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A quiz:

Willie Mays (2,829) and Tris Speaker (2,691) rank 1-2 for most games played as a centerfielder. Who is third in that category?

The answer can be found below.

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NEWS NOTES AND EARLY-JUNE NOTABLES

Houston Astros reliever Joe Smith pitched in his 803rd career game on Thursday, moving him past Walter Johnson and into 49th place on the all-time list. Next up is Nolan Ryan, who made 807 pitching appearances.

Brandon Crawford has appeared in 1,325 games as a shortstop for the San Francisco Giants, second-most in franchise history. Travis Jackson played in 1,326.

Pavin Smith went into last night leading all rookies in hits [59] and extra-base hits [21]. The Arizona Diamondbacks first baseman/outfielder is slashing .288/.341/.454.

Jerred Kelenic is 0-for-his-last-39. The Seattle Mariners rookie outfielder is 8-for-83 on the season and is slashing. 096/.185/.193. He’s fanned 26 times.

Cincinnati Reds batters were hit by seven pitches in the first two games of their weekend series against St. Louis. Per Reds beat writer Bobby Nightengale, it was the first time in Cardinals franchise history that they’ve plunked three-plus batters in consecutive games.

San Diego Padres and Tampa Bay Rays relievers have been credited with 22 wins each, the most in the majors. Minnesota Twins relievers have been credited with six wins, the fewest in the majors.

Jillian Gelb was the official scorer when the Colorado Rockies hosted the Texas Rangers on Tuesday night. Per MLB.com’s Thomas Harding, the 29-year-old Gelb joins Elisa Green Williams, Susan Fornoff, and Marie-Claude Pelland as the only women to serve in the capacity for an MLB game.

SABR’s Women in Baseball Committee will be awarding a $500 scholarship to a high school senior in its inaugural Women in Baseball Essay Contest. Students must write an essay of 1,500 words or less addressing the following question: “Choose one person or event in women’s baseball history that you believe has made a significant impact on the game and explain the importance.” The deadline is June 14, and information can be found here.

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The answer to the quiz is Steve Finley, who played in 2,314 games as a centerfielder from 1989-2007.

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Last Sunday’s column included a look at Jack Weisenburger, whose grandfather scored three touchdowns in the 1948 Rose Bowl before going on to play professional baseball. Currently pitching for the high-A Lansing Lugnuts, Weisenburger was drafted out of the University of Michigan by the Oakland A’s in 2019.

Left on the cutting room floor from my conversation with the 21-year-old right-hander was a question I asked about his teammates: Who has the best stuff on the Lugnuts pitching staff?

“As a starter I’m going to say Brady Basso, because he’s got a mid-90s fastball, a low-90s cutter, and a big breaking curveball,” replied Weisenburger. “When he’s on, it’s lights out. He’s really hard to hit. Out of the pen, Aiden McIntyre is pretty dang good. He’s got a big-time, high-spin-rate, vertical-break fastball and a good curveball that he uses to strike guys out. He’s been punching out a lot of guys.”

So has Weisenburger. The Rockford, Michigan native has made 10 relief appearances and fanned 24 batters in 12-and-a-third innings. He’s allowed three runs and has three saves.

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FARM REPORT

Austin Martin, the fifth-overall pick in last year’s draft, hit his first professional home run on Thursday. The 22-year-old infielder/outfielder — No. 2 on our Toronto Blue Jays Top Prospects list — is slashing .256/.387/.372 for the Double-A New Hampshire Fisher Cats.

David Hamilton, a 23-year-old outfielder with the high-A Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, stole six bases on Thursday and is 20 for 21 on the season. Milwaukee’s eighth-round pick in 2019, Hamilton was featured here at FanGraphs in late April.

Grant Williams is slashing .280/.345/.333 for the Double-A Portland Sea Dogs. A 25-year-old middle infielder whom the Red Sox selected in the 10th round of the 2018 draft out of Kennesaw State University, Williams has fanned just twice in 84 plate appearances.

Hudson Haskin is slashing .301/.414/.430 with three home runs for the low-A Delmarva Shore Birds. The 22-year-old outfielder — No. 22 on our Baltimore Orioles Top Prospects list — has stolen 11 bases in 12 attempts.

Jordan Walker is slashing .333/.474/.600 with two home runs for the low-A Palm Beach Cardinals. The 19-year-old outfielder — No. 5 on our St. Louis Cardinals Top Prospects list — was the 21st-overall pick in last year’s draft.

Cade Marlowe is slashing .317/.427/.544 with four home runs for the low-A Modesto Nuts. The 23-year-old outfielder was Seattle’s 20th-round pick in 2019.

Hunter Greene is 4-0 with a 2.31 ERA and 51 strikeouts in 35 innings for the Double-A Chattanooga Lookouts. The 21-year-old right-hander is the No. 3 on our Cincinnati Reds Top Prospects list.

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The Red Sox announced on Friday that Dustin Pedroia will be honored at Fenway Park on June 25, prior to a game against the New York Yankees. Pedroia played all 17 of his professional seasons in the Boston organization and was the heart and soul of World Series championship clubs in 2007 and 2013. A four-time All-Star, four-time Gold Glove winner, and an AL MVP, he was worth 46.2 WAR in a 10-year prime that spanned the 2007-2016 seasons. Seemingly Hall of Fame-bound, he suffered a knee injury in 2017, cratering his career.

Yesterday, I posted a poll on Twitter, asking which of Dustin Pedroia or Kirby Puckett was the better player. Definitively, voters chose the Minnesota Twins’ icon over the Red Sox’ icon. Puckett received 59.9% of the vote, while Pedroia garnered just 40.1%.

Going strictly by WAR, those results were questionable. Puckett accumulated 44.9 WAR in his 12 big-league seasons, while Pedroia’s career total — amassed in 271 fewer games — was 46.8.

Puckett obviously has a stellar resume. Like Pedroia, he was a stalwart on two World Series championship clubs, and he was a 10-time All-Star who captured eight Gold Gloves. While not a slam-dunk Hall of Famer, Puckett is nonetheless deserving of his plaque in Cooperstown.

Is Pedroia likewise deserving of enshrinement?

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I also ran a poll asking which of Shohei Ohtani or Fernando Tatis Jr. is the more-exciting player. Ohtani came out ahead, receiving 58.4% of the vote to Tatis’s 41.6%.

My thoughts on those results? Let’s just say there wasn’t a right or wrong answer.

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FOREIGN AFFAIRS

Justin Smoak is slashing .296/.349/.531 with seven home runs in 106 plate appearances with NPB’s Yomiuri Giants.

Adam Jones is slashing .213/.351/.288 with one home run in 97 plate appearances with the Orix Buffaloes.

Kaima Taira has made 29 relief appearances for the Seibu Lions and has yet to yield a run in 28-and-two-thirds innings. The 21-year-old right-hander has 40 strikeouts.

Baek-ho Kang continues to dominate the KBO. The left-handed-hitting 21-year-old outfielder is slashing .419/.495/.602 with seven home runs in 220 plate appearances with the KT Wiz.

Shin-Soo Choo is slashing .265/.421/.451 with eight home runs in 209 plate appearances with the KBO’s SSG Landers.

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A theoretical lineup of players who batted .250 or less in 1968, a.k.a “The Year of the Pitcher”:

Dick McAuliffe, 2B
Ernie Banks, SS
Mickey Mantle, CF
Reggie Jackson, RF
Harmon Killebrew, 1B
Willie Stargell, LF
Orlando Cepeda, DH
Ron Santo, 3B
John Roseboro, C

McAuliffe, who played 16 seasons, primarily for the Detroit Tigers, is probably the least-known player in that fictitious lineup. He was quietly a very good player. In an 11-year stretch from 1963-1973, the left-handed-hitting middle infielder had a 116 wRC+ and was worth 3.2 WAR annually. The leadoff hitter for the 1968 World Series champion Tigers, McAuliffe had 658 plate appearances that year and didn’t hit into a single double play.

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A few fun facts about Red Lucas, who played from 1923-1938, primarily for the Cincinnati Reds and the Pittsburgh Pirates.

A right-handed pitcher known for his impeccable control, Lucas issued 455 walks and had 602 strikeouts in 2,542 innings. He had 37 complete games in which he didn’t log a single strikeout.

Lucas could also swing the bat. Of his 404 career hits, 252 came as a pitcher, 116 came as a pinch-hitter, and he also had six as a second baseman, four as a shortstop, and one each as a third baseman and as a left fielder. Lucas had at least one hit at all nine positions in the batting order.

Nicknamed “The Nashville Narcissus,” the Tennessee native was the subject of a Grantland Rice poem “Red Lucas, Ball Player.”

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LINKS YOU’LL LIKE

At Baseball America, Mark Gonzales looked into how scouting players for their skills—not how they look—is building momentum in an age of analytics.

MiLB.com’s Sam Dykstra provided a primer on how to assess minor-league stats.

Travis Sawchik experimented with foreign substances at a baseball training center, and wrote about it in detail at The Score.

Tyler Kinzy wrote about Dylan Carlson’s splits at Viva El Birdos.

Iron-man-reliever-turned-pitching-guru Mike Marshall died earlier this week at age 78. Eric Stephen penned a remembrance at True Blue LA.

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RANDOM FACTS AND STATS

Rob Picciolo had 363 plate appearances for the Oakland Athletics in 1979 and walked just three times. Dwayne Murphy, Picciolo’s teammate, had seven walks in a three-game stretch (June 4-6) that year.

The Philadelphia Athletics had a 39-35 home record in 1945. They went 13-63 on the road.

Nolan Ryan had 26 games with 15 or more strikeouts. In one of those games he walked 10 batters, in another he walked no batters.

In 1950, NL Rookie of the Year Sam Jethroe scored 100 runs and drove in 58 runs. AL Rookie of the Year Walt Dropo scored 101 runs and drove in 144 runs.

Pirates third baseman Pie Traynor led the National League in sacrifice hits in both 1927 (35) and in 1928 (42). Traynor’s batting averages in those seasons were .342 and .337.

Taffy Wright had at least one RBI in 13 consecutive games with the Chicago White Sox in May 1941. A career .311 hitter over nine big-league seasons, the left-handed-hitting right fielder’s given name was Taft Shedron Wright.

The Kansas City Royals beat the Texas Rangers 4-3 in 18 innings on today’s date in 1991. Mike Boddicker got the win, Kenny Rogers the loss.

Ozzie Virgil Sr. became the first Black player in Detroit Tigers franchise history on today’s date in 1958. The Tigers were the second-to-last team to integrate, with the Boston Red Sox following 13 months later.

Players born on today’s date include Brooks Kieschnick, whose big-league career comprised 74 games as a pitcher, 50 as an outfielder, four as a DH, and two as a first baseman. Kieschnick had a 4.59 ERA and a 93 wRC+ playing for four teams from 1996-2004.

Also born on today’s date was Fresco Thompson, whose scouting and player-development acumen helped spur the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers to eight pennants and four World Series titles in the 1950s and 1960s. A big-league infielder who became an executive, Lafayette Fresco Thompson attended Columbia University.





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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Greg Simons
Member
Member

The voters in the Puckett-Pedroia poll gave a little bit extra, because 59.9% + 41.1% is 101%.

Dave Stewart
Member

Still not enough. Got to give 110%.

Ruben Amaro Jr.
Member
Ruben Amaro Jr.

Dumbass.