Richie Martin grew up in Tampa and plays in the Oakland A’s organization, but he has a lot of Detroit in him. The 21-year-old shortstop prospect was born in the Motor City and still has family there. There are baseball connections. Martin’s 74-year-old father was a high school teammate of Tigers legend Willie Horton — the two remain friends — and the youngster considers Chet Lemon a huge influence and “almost a second dad.”
Martin — the 20th-overall pick in the 2015 draft —played youth baseball for Lemon beginning when he was 12 years old. Not surprisingly, he’s friendly with the former centerfielder’s son, Marcus Lemon, who plays in the White Sox system. The two share more in common that athletic talent. Both are creative.
“Marcus paints and draws in his free time, and I enjoy art as well,” explained Martin. “But what I really like away from baseball is building things. I grew up playing with Legos and K’NEX and have always wondered how things work. I enjoy architecture. I studied civil engineering in college (at the University of Florida).
Baseball history is another interest for the grandson — on his mother’s side — of a Negro League player.
“Back in school, my buddy and I would go hit in the cage when we got bored,” said Martin. “Afterwards, we’d go in and watch old World Series games. That’s what I’m all about. I’m usually either watching baseball on TV or playing a baseball video game. I’m a big baseball guy.”
Martin spent most of this season with high-A Stockton after missing the first six weeks with a torn meniscus. He was recently promoted to Double-A Midland.
Alex Gordon accumulated 22.2 WAR from 2011-2014. He did so while averaging 19 home runs per season and batting .283. A generation ago, those numbers would have garnered him a reputation as a solid player, but not… well, a 22.2 WAR player. Thanks to advanced stats — particularly defensive metrics — Gordon has been appropriately valued for what he contributed to the Kansas City cause. (The past two seasons being far less impressive.)
Last weekend, I asked the Royals outfielder if he appreciates what advanced stats have done for his reputation.
“I don’t think like that,” responded Gordon. “But I do think it’s neat that people have come up with these stats . Back in the day, maybe certain things were overlooked a little bit. Now, some of the what your teammates see, but the common fan might not recognize… to have that noticed a little more is a good thing.”
Gordon isn’t ignorant about what the numbers say about him, but at the same time, he claimed to be “not too aware.” He does pride himself in being a well-rounded player. He always has. Going all the way back to high school, it’s “how I’ve molded my game.”
When Brad Miller was featured in this space in late July, he was a shortstop with a career-high 15 home runs. A few things have changed since then. He’s now a first baseman with 26 home runs, and the Tampa Bay Rays have been hitting him in the four-hole.
Miller isn’t surprised by the power numbers. He is by the position switch, which he doesn’t view as permanent.
“Regardless of whether I’ve hit five home runs, 10 home runs, or 15 home runs, there is a certain number I’ve always felt I’m capable of reaching,” said Miller, who was replaced at shortstop by Matt Duffy. “I knew I was capable of this. My opinion of myself has never changed. Even moving to first base, I still feel like I’m a shortstop. I just have to get better, wherever position I’m playing.”
Miller is slashing .260/.316/.511 and has a 122 wRC+ to go with his bombs. Those are outstanding numbers for a shortstop. For a first baseman, they aren’t nearly as impressive. But while the bar is higher on a corner, the 26-year-old former Mariner isn’t looking at it that way.
“When you’re in the batter’s box, you’re not playing a position,” Miller told me. “They’re two different things. When I’m hitting, I’m not thinking about if I’m a shortstop or a first baseman, or if I’m a DH or a left fielder. I’m just hitting. My intent hasn’t changed. I’m just up trying to move a pitch, and hopefully laying off it’s not a strike.
“Baseball is about your body of work. Any one day, anyone can be the best player on the field. It’s the guys like Evan Longoria and Robinson Cano who do it over and over again that separate themselves. I think I’m just scratching the surface in terms of consistency.”
Matt Duffy is big into the mental side of the game. (We’ll hear from him on that subject, in much more detail, later in the week.) When he steps into the batter’s box, his primary focus is on seeing the baseball with a clear mind. Who is standing on the mound is a secondary consideration.
The 25-year-old infielder was acquired by Tampa Bay from the San Francisco Giants a month ago in the Matt Moore deal. A few days ago, I asked him which of his former teammates is least concerned with who the opposing pitcher is.
“It would have to be Hunter Pence,” responded Duffy. “He respects his competition, but he also respectfully feels he can bury them. To him, the pitcher isn’t controlling the ball with a joystick or a GPS tracker that is going to make it miss his bat. He doesn’t see a major leaguer on the mound so much as he sees a guy throwing a baseball that he’s going to crush.”
The Tampa Bay Rays and Colorado Rockies were involved in an interesting replay-challenge earlier this year. The result was a run being scored by a player who (by all accounts) didn’t touch the plate.
Jeremy Sowers, who handles replay for the Rays, explained it to me this way:
“(Colorado) had runners on first and third, with one out, and there was a fly ball hit to right field. The runner tagged up and there was a bang-bang play at the plate and the umpire ruled that Curt Casali had tagged the runner. My replay radar went off, because it was a close play, but since it worked out in our favor — the runner was called out — there was no sense of urgency. It was just a matter of seeing what the call might end up being.
“Colorado wasted no time challenging. During that process, we looked at it and saw that a tag was never applied. It was also apparent that the baserunner never touched home plate. We figured the out call was going to stand, because nobody could claim they met the burden of proof that a run was scored. Instead, the umpires ruled that the run counted.
“When we asked for clarification on the rule, we were told that if this play happens, the runner will be safe unless the fielding team indicates to the umpire that they want to challenge the touching of home plate. That would be done as an appeal play.
“Basically, we’d have had about a 15-20 second window to do that. I would have had to recognize he didn’t touch home plate, get on the phone to the dugout, and the dugout would tell the umpire that we want to appeal — all before the umpire put on the headset.”
The term “pitch to contact” has become anathema to Minnesota Twins fans. The club has consistently ranked at, or near, the bottom in strikeouts for several seasons running. No team in either league has a lower K-rate over the past decade.
Look for that to change. According to acting general manager Rob Antony, the organization’s pitching philosophy has been moving into a missing-more-bats direction.
“We’ve ranked fairly high in strikeout percentage in the minor leagues over the last few years,” Antony told me this summer. “That’s been a point of emphasis. For a long time, we were maybe too worried about command and control, about not walking guys. We need to do a better job of putting guys away. That’s become a philosophy — a point of emphasis — for us throughout the minor leagues.”
Once upon a time, the W-L column was an important measuring tool for pitcher performance. Those days are mostly in the past, but Sean O’Sullivan sees an exception. The journeyman right-hander spent 2008 in the hitter-friendly California League — he went 16-8, 4.73 — and gained perspective while doing so.
“I focused more on wins than having a low ERA, because it’s hard to have a low ERA in the Cal League,” O’Sullivan told me this summer. “You have to recognize that the guy on the other side is pitching in the same environment you are. You do everything you can to win that game, knowing you’re not necessarily going to have the best numbers.”
Batting titles aren’t nearly as sexy as they once were, but they’re still noteworthy. They’re also fun to follow. This year’s National League race certainly is. D.J LeMahieu is hitting .342 and Daniel Murphy is right behind at .341 (through Friday).
If LeMahieu or Murphy finishes on top, he’ll become the third second baseman to capture the NL title in the last 11 season, following Freddy Sanchez (.344 in 2006) and Dee Gordon (.333 last year). Prior to Sanchez, the last second baseman to lead the National League in batting was Jackie Robinson in 1949.
In June, we ran an interview with New York Mets pitching prospect P.J. Conlon. There’s a pretty good chance you’d never heard about him at the time. The 22-year-old lefty was putting up sick numbers, but he was doing so in the obscurity of A-ball. Being a 13th round pick (in 2015 out of the University of San Diego), he was flying under most people’s radar.
For the most part, he still is. Which doesn’t mean he should be. Conlon made his final regular-season start a few days ago, and as usual he was dominant. He allowed just one hit over five shutout innings. On the season, the Northern Ireland-born pitcher made 24 appearances — 12 each with Columbia and St. Lucie — and finished with a record of 12-2 and a 1.65 ERA. In 142 innings, he allowed 115 hits while walking 24 and fanning 112.
If you missed it on Friday, you might to check out Rex Hudler Manager Stories. The Royals’ color man is entertaining, as evidenced by this excerpt from the article:
“Earl (Weaver) didn’t allow young players in the clubhouse during the game. One day, I happened to be in there when something happened on the field. I heard him coming. He was yelling and screaming. The head equipment man, Jimmy Tyler, took off and ran. That guy had been there for 100 years, so if he ran, I knew I was in trouble if Earl saw me. I jumped in a locker and pulled the clothes over me. I hid in that locker like a scared rabbit. He came in, turned over some tables and threw a tantrum. Earl had anger. He was intense. He never saw me.”
LINKS YOU’LL LIKE
Writing for The Undefeated, David Squires opined that the Death of Baseball hurts heart, soul of black community.
Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press wrote about how the Tigers saved their season.
According to the Boston Globe’s Alex Speier, Latin America has been a scouting Wild West in baseball circles.
What were the youngest and oldest starting lineups in big league history? Diane Firstman has the answer at Value Over Replacement Grit.
RANDOM FACTS AND STATS
Vedie Himsl — part of the club’s “College of Coaches” — managed the Chicago Cubs for 31 games in 1961.
From July 26-October 2, 1906, the Chicago Cubs went 55-8. They went on to lose the World Series.
From July 27-October 3, 1951 the New York Giants went 47-16. They went on to lose the World Series.
On this date in 2002, the A’s blew an 11-run lead against the Royals before winning 12-11 on a walk-off home run by Scott Hatteberg. It was Oakland’s 20th consecutive win.
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.