A lot of buzz preceded Francisco Lindor’s mid-June call-up last summer. Much of it revolved around the when, with some suggesting the Indians’ top prospect was being unnecessarily held back. He was certainly ready once he arrived in Cleveland. Lindor hit .313/.353/.482 over 99 games and finished second in American League rookie-of-the-year voting behind Carlos Correa.
The young shortstop’s Super Two status is presumed to have played a role in the timing, but that’s less cut-and-dried than you might imagine. The Super Two cutoff date changes from year to year and is based on percentages that weren’t yet determined when Lindor debuted. In short, the small-market Indians were certainly cognizant of future arbitration hearings, but they didn’t have a date circled on the calendar.
According to Carter Hawkins, the decision was based more on readiness than on economics. Side-stepping specific questions on service time, the Cleveland farm director share the club’s thought-process earlier this week.
“In some ways, the timing of Francisco’s call-up was a little bit easier than other prospect call-ups we’ve experienced over the last few years,” Hawkins told me. “The reason being that, collectively, we felt so strongly about Francisco’s future as a cornerstone of the organization that we were able to eliminate a lot of the other variables and focus purely on what was best for Francisco from a baseball standpoint.
“There wasn’t a specific benchmark we were looking for, but over the course of the first few months in Columbus, Francisco really took his game to the next level — refining his approach, both offensively and defensively. When he really heated up in early June, it was that foundation that gave us the confidence that our team goals in Cleveland, and our development goals for Francisco, were both best served with Frankie in an Indians uniform.”
In a recent article on 2015 first-round draft pick Christin Stewart, I noted that the Tigers, unlike the vast majority of teams, didn’t hold an instructional league this past fall. The Cardinals did, although with a wrinkle. Unlike in past seasons, they didn’t invite any of the players they drafted in June.
The decision was a curious one. It is common practice for organizations — St. Louis being no exception — to be largely hands-off during a draftee’s initials months of pro ball. If mechanical tweaks are in order, they are typically addressed during instructional league.
There is a grain of logic to what the Cardinals did. First-year players often start their high school and college seasons as early as February, so by the time the minor league schedule is completed, they’re burned out. Rather than extending the longest baseball year of their young lives, the Cardinals gave these players a chance to exhale. Whether this remains the approach going forward, or if it ends up being a one-year experiment, remains to be seen.
Japan has been in the baseball pages of late. Jonny Gomes announced that he’ll be playing for the Rakuten Golden Eagles next year. Matt Murton, who spent six seasons with the Hanshin Tigers, inked a contract with the Cubs. Hideki Okajima, who has been pitching for the Yokohama Bay Stars, is returning stateside to compete for a job out of the Orioles bullpen. Off the field, Hideo Nomo was hired to an advisory role within player development for the Padres.
As mentioned in this space last weekend, Anthony Seratelli is retiring after concluding his career with the Seibu Lions. One of Seratelli’s Seibu teammates was a 5-foot-6 dynamo with an intriguing future.
Tomoya Mori, who turned 20 years old in August, hit .287/.357/.468 with 33 doubles and 17 home runs last year. A left-handed-hitting catcher who also plays the outfield, Mori was the youngest position player on the Lions’ roster.
“He’s very good,” assessed Seratelli. “He’s a little guy, but a very powerful little guy. He takes these nasty hacks, and when he connects the ball goes a long way. They play the game differently over there — their swings are a little different — but while he has a Japanese style, he produces an enormous amount of power for someone his size.”
Does Mori have the potential to play MLB some day?
“He’s young, so he has plenty of time to develop to where he could become a big league player,” said Seratelli. “He’d have to come over here to experience how the game is played, though.”
Jonathan Lucroy is reportedly on the trading block. If Brewers do deal the veteran backstop, they’ll be unloading more than a good pitch-framer with a decent bat. They’ll also be losing a nice guy. At least that’s the opinion of Milwaukee minor leaguer Stephen Peterson.
“He rehabbed in Wisconsin when I was there in 2012, and again this past year in Brevard County,” said Peterson. “He’s one of the nicest guys I’ve been around. And not just him being a catcher and me being a pitcher, and getting to talk about pitching. He was great with everybody. He’s one of the most open, and genuine, guys I’ve met in the game.”
As crack Cincinnati Enquirer Reds beat writer C. Trent Rosecrans pointed out yesterday, Jay Bruce was Baseball America’s top overall prospect heading into the 2008 season. Bruce has gone on to hit over 200 home runs, but he’s nonetheless fallen short of expectations. His last two seasons have been especially disappointing.
Rumors that the Orioles have interest in trading for Bruce may or may not have legs. If they do, and assuming they have prospects the rebuilding Reds covet — a big if — the upside is certainly there. Bruce won’t turn 30 until April 2017, and a change of scenery might result in a resurgence. If I’m Baltimore, I’m kicking the tires pretty hard.
Dave “King Kong” Kingman hit three home runs in a game five times. Two of those contests, each of which came with the Cubs, were especially memorable.
On May 14, 1978, Kingman’s second home run of the game was a two-run shot that evened the score in the top of the ninth inning at Dodger Stadium. His third came with two on and two out in the 15th, giving the Cubs a 10-7 win.
On May 17, 1979, Kingman hit three home runs for the Cubs in a loss to the Phillies. The final score was 23-22, in 10 innings. One of them was among the longest home runs ever hit at Wrigley Field.
Regular readers of this column will recall that Rockies pitching prospect Kyle Freeland was profiled here a month ago. Not included in that writeup were the southpaw’s thoughts on feel and focus. The 2014 first-round pick is big on both.
“I’m definitely aware of where my finger pressure is,” said Freeland. “That’s the case with with all of my pitches. It matters to how a pitch will break.”
“Fastball, I’m definitely throwing to where my catcher is set up. With my changeup, we mostly go back corner of the plate and I let the changeup work, instead of trying to hit a perfect location with it. Slider and curveball, it will depend on the count and the hitter as to whether I’m throwing directly to the glove or to a certain spot.
“You make pitching complicated when you start letting the game speed up on you. The simpler you keep it, the easier things are going to be for you. Just focus on putting the ball where it needs to be, and on throwing quality pitches.”
Jake Reed was nearly un-hittable in 2014. Drafted by the Twins out of the University of Oregon that summer, the starter-turned-closer put up a 0.29 ERA over 20 appearances at the A-ball level. Featuring a fastball that reportedly touched 97 mph, he had more than twice as many strikeouts as baserunners allowed.
Last year he encountered tougher sledding. In 35 appearances for Double-A Chattanooga, the righty had a 6.32 ERA and a .340 BABiP-against. The latter was partly attributable to jam shots and bloops, but a far bigger problem was the two-strike breaking pitches he left up in the zone. Those were struck with authority.
“I kind of developed a habit of failure,” admitted Reed. “I wasn’t able to put guys away, so when I got ahead in the count, instead of ‘I’m going to finish him off with this pitch,’ I was telling myself, ‘Don’t hang this.’ You need to have conviction with every pitch, and for awhile I didn’t have that.”
A brief demotion to high-A helped turn Reed around. He threw 12 scoreless innings in Ft. Myers, then returned to Chattanooga where he pitched well in the playoffs. From there it was off to fall instructional league, and then a stint in the Arizona Fall League. At each of the last two stops, he worked extensively on his changeup, a pitch he lost the feel for when he moved to the bullpen.
“When I was starting in college, the changeup was a big pitch for me,” explained Reed. “They were big on changeups (at Oregon), so I threw it a lot. But after moving to the pen my junior year, I didn’t really use it much. I also raised my arm angle a little, and changed a few things mechanically, my junior season. When I tried going back to it, it was just different; it was like throwing a new pitch. It took time to start getting a feel for it again.”
Reed’s primary offering is a low-to-mid 90s fastball with sinking action — “I rely on getting ground balls” — and he also throws a slider. If he can fine-tune his circle change, and keep his confidence at a high level, he has a future in the Twins bullpen.
We’ve all seen it. The star of the game is doing a postgame interview on live TV when all of a sudden he’s the recipient of a shaving cream pie in the face. This happens in the minor leagues as well as the big leagues. Josh Whetzel, the longtime play-by-play voice of the Triple-A Rochester Red Wings, experienced this in a unique way, back in 2009.
Whetzel would do the interview from the broadcast booth, with the player donning a headset in front of the home dugout. Rochester first baseman Brock Peterson wanted nothing to do with shaving cream attacks, so Whetzel agreed to warn him “with a safe word” if he saw anyone trying to sneak up on him from the dugout. That’s what happened, and Peterson was able to spin out of the way, just in time.
The foiled assailants vowed revenge. Whetzel laughed them off and soon forgot about it, but a few weeks later, while interviewing Matt Tolbert, he got his just desserts.
“I was in the midst of asking him some routine question about the game when all of a sudden the door to the broadcast booth flew open,” explained Whetzel. “Trevor Plouffe, Steve Tolleson and Justin Huber came racing in with multiple towels full of shaving cream, and before I could react they absolutely plastered me. I was basically covered with it from my waist up. My headset was caked with it.
“Apparently, as soon as the game was over, they lathered up the towels with shaving cream and immediately climbed up the back stairs of the stadium, right through the departing crowd, to the press box. Needless to say, that ended the interview with Tolbert and I never considered giving the postgame guest a safe word again.”
Two notes on Whetzel: Since beginning his professional baseball broadcasting career in 1995 he has worked 3,017 out of a possible 3,018 games (the one game he missed was for a wedding). Whetzel was diagnosed with cancer while in high school and had a lung removed. He is, in his own words, “Probably the only one-lunged sports broadcaster out there.”
The 1970 Zanger Major League Baseball Guide included some snappy player profiles. Here are the first sentences for four different Los Angeles Dodgers:
“A year ago, Maury Wills looked as if he had been exiled to oblivion.”
“Runty Ted Sizemore got around more last year than a motorist trying to get off the LA freeway.”
“In nine years with the Dodgers, Willie Davis has received more counseling than a wayward youth — and it has’t done much good.”
“Why they persist in calling Bill Singer the singer sewing machine is mystifying.”
RANDOM FACTS AND STATS
Wade Boggs batted in the leadoff position 927 times in his 2,324 big-league starts (39.9%).
In 1935, Hank Greenberg had 25 home runs and 103 RBIs at the all-star break. The Detroit Tigers slugger wasn’t named to the All-Star team that season.
The most losses in any one season since 1910 is 27. That dubious honor belongs to Paul Derringer, who went 7-27 in 1933. Six years later, Derringer — an inaugural member of the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame — went 25-7.
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.