Rhett Wiseman didn’t sign when he was drafted by the Chicago Cubs out of a Cambridge, Massachusetts high school in 2012. Instead, he attended Vanderbilt University. The reasons were twofold. Education was a priority — he’s since completed his studies and earned a business degree — and the new-at-the-time CBA had squelched any chances of his being coerced with a well-over-slot offer. As I wrote in the hours following that draft, Wiseman was viewed a second-to-fourth-round talent, and fell to the 25th round for just those reasons.
While signing was never a viable option, Wiseman did engage in dialogue with the Theo Epstein-led Cubs.
“We talked a little bit,” Wiseman told me recently. “I spoke to Theo, who I respect greatly, but just like the article you wrote at the time said, it was a situation where teams couldn’t come remotely close to the number that it would have taken to pull me away from the commitment to Vanderbilt. Looking back, I’m glad the slotting system changed in the way that it did, because it made my decision easy.”
The 24-year-old outfielder considers the three years he spent at Vandy “the experience of a lifetime,” but there were still dreams to chase. One year after being part of a team that won the 2014 College World Series, he was drafted by the Washington Nationals in the third round. This time he signed.
Pro ball has proven to be a challenge. Wiseman raked during his final collegiate season — 15 jacks and a .980 OPS — but he hasn’t come close to those numbers in the minors. There have been hot stretches, including this past April when he earned Eastern League player-of-the-month honors, but sustained success has eluded him. Even with his scalding start, he’s slashing .237/.325/.479 in the current campaign.
Wiseman knows as well as anyone that he needs to up his game if he hopes to reach the pinnacle of his profession. Baseball is, after all, a business. If you don’t perform, you’ll all too soon find yourself behind a desk, staring at a computer screen rather than at a man holding a baseball, 60 feet, six inches away.
In terms of truly understanding the ins and outs of the professional game, Wiseman might as well have been a million miles away when he turned down his first chance to sign.
“When you’re in high school, and looking at this whole process, it so isn’t what it seems,” said Wiseman. “You’re living at home and not playing every day. You have school commitments and are thinking about college. You’re still coming into full maturity. So even if you think you know what it’s like, you really don’t. It’s not until you’re in pro ball that you really understand how much of a business this is. It’s a livelihood, and it’s treated as such.”
Justin Mashore didn’t make it to the majors. A third-round pick in the 1991 draft, he went on to play 11 professional seasons — the first six in the Detroit Tigers system — but Triple-A was his apex. Injuries helped squelch his dreams. By the time he’d played his last game, at age 29, his medical record showed six knee surgeries. A dozen or so years later, the outfielder-turned-coach had both knees replaced.
What might have been isn’t something that dwells in Mashore’s mind.
“Once you get into coaching, you realize just how small of a window it is to get that opportunity,” said Mashore, who was a hitting coach for the Texas Rangers from 2016-2018, and is now in that role with the Triple-A New Orleans Baby Cakes. “I have no regrets. The way I look at it, everything I went through in the minors makes me better at what I do now.”
A number of Mashore’s former teammates did go to play in the big leagues. Bobby Higginson — “A blue collar guy who wasn’t big on accolades; he just went out there and did his job every day” — was among the notables. Another was Tony Clark, whom Mashore said, “always had that aura about him; you could see the leadership qualities.”
And then there was Justin Thompson. Detroit’s 1991 first-rounder went on to make his MLB debut at age 23, and a year later he was representing the Tigers in the All-Star Game. The glory was short-lived. Beset by arm woes, Thompson never came close to attaining the long-term success that once seemed inevitable.
“There’s more to it than just being talented,” said Mashore. “The script isn’t written for you. When someone is a first-round pick, you think everything is going to come easy for him. But things happen. Sometimes your career gets derailed. A lot of things have to go right for you to make it.”
RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS
Colin Poche got his first big-league call-up yesterday, and proceeded to make his debut at Fenway Park. The last mile was the most-challenging.
The 25-year-old Tampa Bay Rays left-hander learned on Friday that he would be traveling to Boston, and in all likelihood be activated for the second game of a day-night doubleheader. As Saturday’s afternoon affair was winding down, he left the team hotel, hopped into an Uber, and headed to the ballpark. Easier said than done.
“Traffic wasn’t moving,” Poche told a small group of reporters following what turned into an on-foot arrival. “We were sitting in the same spot for 10 minutes. I was like “Hey man, I can’t be late; this is my first day.’ So I walked close to a mile with my bag on my shoulder — my big Rays bag — and powered through.”
The horde departing Fenway served as his navigation device.
“I figured that if I was walking in the opposite direction of all the Red Sox fans, I should be going the right way,” explained Poche. “I was just praying that I wouldn’t be late.”
Poche entered the nightcap early, replacing opener Ryne Stanek in the second inning. He fanned three, but also allowed a pair of runs in an inning-and-a-third. He was charged with the loss in Boston’s 5-1 win.
Sticking with the Rays, Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash was asked yesterday if he has any favorite double-header memories from his playing days. His response was self-deprecating to the nines.
“I was with the Hagerstown Suns,” said Cash, who back then donned the tools of ignorance. “First game, I believe I was 0 for 4 with three strikeouts. Next game we were up 2-1, second and third, and I try to pick the guy off at third base. I throw it away and the winning run scores. My buddy on the bus said, ‘Just think, man; it can not get any worse tomorrow.’ That guy [ Kurt Keene] was in my wedding.”
Hagerstown was the first of eight minor-league outposts Cash called home in a professional career that spanned the 2000-2011 seasons. His favorite of the bunch twas Round Rock, with Durham a close second. Atmosphere, and how much the respective front offices do for the players and their families, were cited as the primary reasons.
Monte Harrison, a 23-year-old outfielder in the Marlins system, has stolen 19 bases in 20 attempts with the Triple-A New Orleans Baby Cakes. Miami’s No. 3-ranked prospect is slashing .288/.366/.472.
Will Benson, a 21-year-old outfielder in the Indians system, has 16 home runs in 230 plate appearances for the low-A Lake County Captains. Cleveland’s No. 17-ranked prospect has a .284/.383/.619 slash line.
Darren McCaughan, a 23-year-old right-hander in the Mariners system, has a 2.88 ERA to go with 56 strikeouts, and just five walks, in 65-and-two-thirds innings with the Double-A Arkansas Travelers. The Cal State Long Beach product was selected by Seattle in the 12th-round of the 2017 draft.
Andrew Perez, a 21-year-old left-hander in the White Sox system, has a 1.74 ERA and a 1.97 FIP in 31 innings with the low-A Kannapolis Intimidators. The University of South Florida product was Chicago’s eighth-round pick last year.
Joey Terdoslavich is slashing .320/.362/.520 with the Lancaster Barnstormers in the independent Atlantic League. The 30-year-old outfielder played in 92 games with the Atlanta Braves from 2013-2015. He spent last year in Double-A, in the Mets system.
In an interview that ran here last summer, Colin Moran discussed the mechanical adjustments he hoped would take him to the next level. Twelve months later, he’s questioning whether he went about them the right way. While the principles themselves were sound, the Pittsburgh Pirates third baseman feels he put too much weight on one specific area, to the detriment of the objective as a whole.
“It’s always a process, right?,” Moran said earlier this season. “I made a good adjustment in Triple-A, but last year I kind of got super-obsessed with the swing plane. I probably got a little too into that, and neglected some of the lower-half stuff. My swing plane was allowing me to shoot balls different places, but I wasn’t doing enough to drive the ball.”
The numbers back that up. Moran slashed a solid .277/.340/.407 last season, but with just 11 home runs in 465 plate appearances. For a corner infielder looking to put more balls in the air, that qualified as — cue up Courtney Barnett — pedestrian at best. In order to better exploit pitchers’ mistakes, he’s needed to partially return to his old ways.
“I’d gotten away from loading in a way that has been kind of natural,” explained the lefty swinger. “I wasn’t getting into my back hip and glute; I wasn’t getting into a strong position. You need to combine a good swing plane with good lower-half explosion. You need the good path to get to it, but once you get there, you need something behind it to impact the baseball.”
Moran’s power numbers aren’t exactly Stargellian this year, but they are better. He’s gone deep nine times in 185 plate appearances, and his .485 slugging percentage is 78 points higher than last year’s mark. His batting average (.278) and OBP (.335) have more or less remained static.
CC Sabathia started throwing a slider more or less by accident. The plan was for the then-Cleveland Indians southpaw to introduce a cutter to his repertoire, but as Carl Willis explained to me recently, that’s not what ended up happening.
“We started working on this cutter, and what came out was a wipeout slider,” said Willis, who is currently in his second stint as Cleveland’s pitching coach. “What happened is that when we said, ‘Hey man, that’s an above-average slider you’re throwing,’ he started thinking of it as a slider — and it wasn’t the same. All of a sudden he was trying to spin the ball and get a bigger break, while in actuality he was getting the appropriate break when he was throwing what he was viewing as a cutter.”
The more things change, the more they stay the same. Just a few years ago — more than a decade after Sabathia learned his accidental slider — Willis was chatting with Yankees pitching coach Larry Rothschild.
“Larry smiled and said, ‘Yeah, we still call it a cutter,’” Willis said with a smile of his own. “That’s one thing we always try to be cognizant of when we’re developing a pitch: what to label it as. How it translates to the mind of the person actually throwing the pitch matters.”
LINKS YOU’LL LIKE
Sports Illustrated ran an excerpt from Ben Lindbergh and Travis Sawchik’s must-read book, The MVP Machine: How Baseball’s New Nonconformists Are Using Data to Build Better Players. Red Sox pitching guru Brian Bannister is the subject.
Also at Sports Illustrated, Emma Baccellieri wrote about how MLB adopted the save, and changed the game forever.
The Toronto Blue Jays have extended the contract of General Manager Ross Atkins. Ben Nicholson-Smith has the story at SportsNet Canada.
Lookout Landing’s Kate Preusser wrote about Austin Shenton, a third baseman/Renaissance man whom the Seattle Mariners selected in the fifth round of this week’s draft.
RANDOM FACTS AND STATS
The Boston Red Sox hit 17 home runs as a team in 1921. Babe Ruth hit his 17th of that season on June 10th, and finished with 59.
Pat Tabler had 108 RBIs in 109 career plate appearances with the bases loaded. His slash line with the sacks filled was .489/.505/.693
Tommy John missed the 1975 season after undergoing the surgery that is now named for him. From 1976-1984, he went 131-91 with a 3.42 ERA, allowing 2,084 hits and logging 757 strikeouts.
Lefty Grove went 120-32 in his career at Philadelphia’s Shibe Park.
The town of Hugo, Oklahoma had a team in the class-D Texas-Oklahoma League in 1913 and 1914. In first of those two seasons they were the Hugo Hugoites.
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.