Sunday Notes: Jordan Romano Played Hockey, Randy Arozarena Played Soccer

Friday’s interview with Michael Harris II focused on his career path, the 21-year-old Atlanta Braves rookie having excelled as a multiple-sport athlete while growing up in Stockbridge, Georgia. Moreover, he’d been a two-way player whom many scouts preferred as a pitcher. While baseball and outfielder-only are proving to be prudent choices, he had options along the way.

Jordan Romano’s path shares some similarities with Harris’s. Not only was the Toronto Blue Jays closer a multi-sport athlete in his formative years, he originally excelled as a position player. That he became a pitcher was circumstantial. Choosing baseball was a matter of passion.

“Being Canadian, I played a lot of hockey in high school,”said Romano, who grew up a Toronto Maple Leafs fan in Markham, Ontario. “I also played a little basketball and was pretty decent at volleyball. But with baseball, you kind of had to drag me off the field, even in practice. My parents wanted me to play a bunch of different sports, and while I really enjoyed hockey — I still do — I didn’t have the passion for it that I did for baseball.”

Romano never considered himself NHL material, but he does feel he had the potential to play collegiately, or in juniors, had he stuck with it. The decision to forgo that possibility came at age 17, and while it shaped his future, it didn’t end his time on the ice. Romano kept lacing up the skates for another year.

“I was thinking about quitting hockey and going baseball only, but I had a few buddies playing so I just went down to a lower level,” explained Romano, who skated mostly as a center and occasionally as a defenseman. “I was playing AA, but I moved down to Select where I could more play for fun and not take it too seriously.”

His baseball fortunes changed around the same time. Romano had grown up wearing the tools of ignorance, but a broken foot incurred in his penultimate year of high school made catching uncomfortable when he returned for his Grade 12 season. His coaches suggested that he move to the mound.

“I pitched my senior year, but having been a hitter up until then, I wasn’t very good,” admitted Romano. “I stuck with it, and because I have a strong arm I ended up getting a scholarship to a junior college [Connors State College, in Oklahoma]. I pitched bad there, too. Eventually I figured it out.”

To say he’s figured it out qualifies as an understatement. Romano, a hockey-loving Canadian who chose baseball, has 50 saves and a 2.19 ERA over 111 innings since the start of last season.

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RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS

Evan Longoria went 32 for 78 against CC Sabathia.

Carl Crawford went 23 for 48 against John Lackey.

Carlos Pena went 11 for 23 against Jamie Moyer.

Ben Zobrist went 10 for 25 against Andy Pettitte.

BJ Upton went 10 for 22 against Derek Holland.

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Randy Arozarena chose baseball over soccer, but unlike Romano, passion wasn’t the primary reason. Had the 27-year-old Tampa Bay Rays outfielder not grown up where he did, there’s a good chance that he’d be making his living on a pitch.

“Back then, in Cuba, you could go a longer way playing baseball than you could soccer,” explained Arozarena, who defected from his homeland in 2016. “I realized that if I wanted to be professional athlete and make a little bit more money, baseball would be it. But who knows, had I been born in Brazil, I probably would have stuck with soccer.”

His younger brother did stick with soccer. Raiko Arozarena is a goalkeeper for the United Soccer League’s Tampa Bay Rowdies. That the older of the siblings chose otherwise was, again, based on financial considerations. Asked which of the two sports he was better at prior to leaving Cuba, he opined that it was soccer.

Arozarena now mostly settles for being a fan of “the beautiful game.” He primarily follows the Champions League and Spain’s La Liga — Real Madrid is his favorite team — and he also keeps an eye on “Christiano Ronaldo’s league, Manchester United’s league” (The English Premier League).

As for when Arozarena actually stopped playing soccer, his answer came with a smile: “I haven’t really stopped.”

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A quiz:

Don Sutton’s 233 wins are the most in Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers history. Who ranks second in that category?

The answer can be found below.

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NEWS NOTES

Willemstad, Curaçao will face Honolulu Hawaii this afternoon in the finals of the Little League World Series. Curaçao advanced by beating Fu-Lin, Chinese Taipei 1-0, while Hawaii topped Nolensville, Tennessee 5-1.

Tom Hamilton will be inducted into the Greater Cleveland Sports Hall of Fame on October 18. The 2022 season marks Hamilton’s 33rd year calling games on the Guardians Radio Network.

Chris Mehring called his 3,000th game as the radio voice of the Midwest League’s Wisconsin Timber Rattlers earlier this week. Mehring has been with the Milwaukee Brewers’ High-A affiliate since 2000.

John Wockenfuss, who played for the Detroit Tigers from 1974-1983, and for the Philadelphia Phillies in 1984 and 1985, died earlier this month at age 73. A catcher/outfielder/first baseman known for his unique batting stance, Wockenfuss had a 117 wRC+ over 795 big-league games. He slashed .377/.480/.600 in 102 plate appearances versus the Toronto Blue Jays.

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The answer to the quiz is Don Drysdale, with 209 wins. Clayton Kershaw (192), Dazzy Vance (190), and Brickyard Kennedy (177) round out the top five.

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Tim Hagerty was a guest on Friday’s episode of FanGraphs Audio, and one of the subjects addressed by the El Paso Chihuahuas broadcaster was a former first-round pick whose career was derailed by arm ailments. Hagerty was calling games for Triple-A Portland in 2010 when the star-crossed southpaw went 10-1 with a 2.68 ERA.

“Padres fans will remember his name,” Hagerty said on the pod. “Cory Luebke. It was really too bad what happened with him, with injuries. Luebke is one of the best minor league pitchers I’ve seen. Left-handed, terrific control, got to Triple-A fast, got to the Majors fast. He’s an example of when Major League teams offer prospects, or young Major Leaguers, team-friendly deals. I think his offer was four years $12 million. And he signed it.

“Some people at the time criticized that,” continued Hagerty. “Some agent-types said, ‘If this guy develops into one of the best starters in baseball, he will make four times that in a free-agent deal.’ Well, he had a couple of arm surgeries, and right now he’s at home in Ohio, out of baseball. But guess what? He has $12 million. I always think about him as somebody that [signed] a team-friendly deal.”

Luebke logged 10 wins and a 3.52 ERA over parts of four big-league seasons, pitching just 197 innings.

Hagerty has a book coming out next spring that can now be pre-ordered. He shared several of the entertaining stories from Tales from the Dugout: 1,001 Humorous, Inspirational & Wild Anecdotes from Minor League Baseball on the podcast.

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FOREIGN AFFAIRS

On Friday, Munetaka Murakami’s 47th long ball of the season made him the youngest player in NPB history to reach 150 home runs for his career. (He’s since hit numbers 48 and 49). The 22-year-old Yakult Swallows slugger supplanted Kazuhiro Kiyohara, who reached that mark with the Seibu Lions in 1990. Kiyohara had 525 career home runs.

Roki Sasaki threw seven scoreless innings with eight strikeouts in Chiba Lotte’s 2-0 win over Rakuten on Friday. The 20-year-old right-hander is 8-3 with a 2.14 ERA and 153 strikeouts in 109-and-a-third innings on the season.

Cody Ponce threw a no-hitter for the Nippon Ham Fighters in yesterday’s 2-0 with over the SoftBank Hawks. The erstwhile Pittsburgh Pirates right-hander is 3-4 with a 3.17 ERA in his first NPB season.

Orix Buffaloes right-hander Yoshihisa Hirano and Rakuten Golden Eagles left-hander Yuki Matsui went into the weekend with 27 saves each, tied for tops in NPB’s Pacific League. Both pitchers possessed a 1.35 ERA and had allowed 18 hits in 40 innings. Hirano had 37 strikeouts. Matsui had 65 strikeouts.

Thomas Pannone is 2-2 with a 2.45 ERA in 40-and-a-third innings with the KBO’s Kia Tigers. The 28-year-old former big-league left-hander signed with the Korean club in late June.

Rainel Rosario is slashing .372/.456/.792 over 401 plate appearances with the Mexican League’s Saraperos de Saltillo. The former St. Louis Cardinals and Boston Red Sox farmhand leads the hitter-friendly circuit with 136 RBIs and is the co-leader in home runs, along with Toros de Tijuana’s Félix Pérez, with 38.

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The Kansas City Royals have a number of talented players, but they’re not exactly household names to fans across the country. That comes with the territory when you play in a smaller market and are in the midst of your sixth-consecutive losing season. With that in mind, I asked Whit Merrifield which of his not-so-well-known former teammates is especially-deserving of more attention.

“Most of the roster is guys playing their first year in the big leagues,” replied Merrifield, who was dealt to the Toronto Blue Jays at the trade deadline. “So maybe Scott Barlow? He’s their closer and probably should have been on the All-Star team the last couple of years. His numbers have been as good as anybody’s, and he’s always pitching in the highest-leverage situations. Scotty is one of the elite relievers in the game.”

Barlow has pitched in 125 games for the Royals over the past two seasons and has a 2.42 ERA and a 3.17 FIP, with 150 strikeouts in 134 innings. He has 36 saves and has won 10 of his 17 decisions.

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Tim Burke had one of the best reliever seasons you might not know about. Appearing in 55 games for the Montreal Expos in 1987, the 28-year-old right-hander allowed just 64 hits in 91 innings while going 7-0 with 18 saves and a 1.19 ERA. Despite his numbers, he received nary a vote in that year’s Cy Young balloting. That the award went to another reliever, Steve Bedrosian, underscores just how under-appreciated Burke’s performance was.

Bedrosian appeared in 65 games that year, allowing 79 hits in 89 innings while going 5-3 with 40 saves and a 2.83 ERA. Bedrosian had 0.8 WAR and 3.47 WPA, while Burke had 2.3 WAR and a reliever-best 4.96 WPA.

Should Burke have won the NL Cy Young Award in 1987? Probably not — a handful of starters were statistically more deserving — but he clearly had a better year than Bedrosian. Not many people outside of Montreal seem to have noticed, nor do they remember it 35 years later.

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FARM NOTES

Matt Sauer struck out 17 batters over eight innings in Double-A Somerset’s 4-3 loss to New Hampshire on Thursday night. A 23-year-old right-hander in the New York Yankees organization, Sauer has a 4.15 ERA and 131 strikeouts in 106-and-a-third innings on the year.

Tink Hence has a 1.52 ERA and 1.45 FIP in 44-and-a-third innings with the Low-A Palm Beach Cardinals. St. Louis’s second-round pick in the 2020 draft, the 20-year-old right-hander is No. 7 in our updated Cardinals prospects rankings.

Louie Varland is 8-4 with a 3.02 ERA and a 3.96 FIP in 122 innings between Double-A Wichita and Triple-A St. Paul. Featured here at FanGraphs last September, the 24-year-old right-hander is No. 25 in our updated Minnesota Twins prospect rankings.

Corbin Carroll is slashing .307/.425/.611 with 24 home runs and 31 bases between Double-A Amarillo and Triple-A Reno (plus two games in the Arizona Complex League). The 22-year-old outfielder is the top prospect in the Arizona Diamondbacks system, and the No.3 prospect on our updated Top 100.

Jackson Holliday had nine hits in 22 at bats with the Baltimore Orioles’ Florida Complex League entry before being promoted to Low-A Delmarva on Wednesday. The 18-year-old infielder from Stillwater, Oklahoma was the No.1-overall pick in this year’s draft.

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St. Louis’s Corey Dickerson recording hits in 10 consecutive bats — the last of them coming on Thursday — served as a reminder that the MLB record is 12, co-held by Walt Dropo (1952), Pinky Higgins (1938) and Johnny Kling (1902). What kind of numbers did those players put up in their streak seasons? Glad you asked.

Dropo had 163 hits, a .276 batting average, and a 116 wRC+.
Higgins had 159 hits, a .303 batting average, and a 99 wRC+.
Kling had 126 hits, a .285 batting average, and a 110 wRC+.

Dickerson has 49 hits, a .277 batting average, and a 105 wRC+.

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LINKS YOU’LL LIKE

At The Kyodo News, Jim Allen wrote about Trey Hillman, and how the Shohei Ohtani story has origins in the Nippon Ham Fighters’ fearlessness.

The Brewers have had one of MLB’s steepest drops in attendance this year. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel’s JR Radcliffe and Curt Hogg delved into the reasons why.

MLB.com’s Martin Gallegos wrote about how Oakland Athletics rookie left-hander Zach Logue is benefitting from fellow southpaw Cole Irvin’s tips.

The Athletic’s Levi Weaver wrote about how getting up to speed on pitching analytics is Tony Beasley’s first task as the interim manager of the Texas Rangers. (Subscription required.)

The New York Post’s Jared Schwartz wrote about how Zack Hample — “the widely-loathed adult baseball collector” — whined about having to follow stadium rules in Colorado.

Margaret Simon interviewed historian Leslie Heaphy — Ohio’s connection to the Negro Leagues — for Patch.com.

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RANDOM FACTS AND STATS

Paul Goldschmidt went into the weekend leading the National League in batting average and RBIs, and was two behind Kyle Schwarber for the home run title. The MVP candidate also led the circuit in wOBA, wRC+, and WAR.

Toronto’s Adam Cimber has thrown 54 innings and been credited with 10 wins. Pittsburgh’s JT Brubaker Cleveland’s Zach Plesac have each thrown 127 innings and been credited with three wins.

The Arizona Diamondbacks have 25 sacrifice hits this season, the most in the majors. The Atlanta Braves are the only team without a sacrifice hit.

The triple that Shea Langeliers hit last Sunday was the first for an Oakland Athletics player since May 18. The A’s went 81 consecutive games without a three-bagger, a modern-era record.

In 1994, Bernie Williams had 118 hits, including 29 doubles and 12 home runs. He struck out 54 times. In 2006, Williams had 118 hits, including 29 doubles and 12 home runs. He struck out 53 times.

Paul O’Neill played 1,254 games with the Yankees and hit 185 home runs while logging a 125 OPS+. Bobby Murcer played 1,256 games with the Yankees and hit 175 HR while logging a 129 OPS+.

Joey Votto homered in the bottom of the 14th inning to give the Cincinnati Reds a 5-4 win over the Washington Nationals on today’s date in 2011. The game featured three ejections, with the managers for both teams, as well as Washington’s bench coach, all getting tossed.

On today’s date in 1971, Tainan, Taiwan scored nine times in the top of the ninth inning to beat Gary, Indiana 12-3 in the championship game of the Little League World Series. Lloyd McClendon homered five times and was walked intentionally the other five times he came to the plate in Gary’s final three games of the tournament.

Players born on today’s date include Goody Rosen, an outfielder who played for the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Giants in a six-year career that spanned the 1937-1946 season. The native of Toronto, Ontario was at his best in 1945 when he logged 197 hits on his way to a .325 batting average with the Dodgers.

Also born on today’s date was Buck Hooker, whose big-league career comprised one game in each of the 1902 and 1903 seasons with the Cincinnati Reds. A left-hander pitcher, Hooker lost his only decision.





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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Glenn Williams
2 months ago

I got your Dodger trivia question correct, but ran through a few names before picking. One was Carl Erskine, who I was glad to see is still alive at 95 when looking him up after.

speedy
2 months ago
Reply to  Glenn Williams

Just read his book, Tales from the Dodgers Dugout. Really good!