Sunday Notes: Scott Harris Likes Reese Olson’s Ceiling

Reese Olson has a chance to be a top-of-the-rotation starter in Detroit, and it is notable that the Tigers acquired him via trade. On July 30, 2021, then-general manager Al Avila dealt Daniel Norris to the Milwaukee Brewers in exchange for the now-24-year-old right-hander, who at the time had a 4.30 ERA in High-A and was flying below most prospect radar. Talented but raw, he ranked seventh in a system that wasn’t particularly well-regarded.

Olson made his MLB debut this past June, and by season’s end he was showing signs that he could emerge as a No. 1 or a No. 2.on a promising young staff. Over his last six starts, the plain-spoken Gainesville, Georgia native allowed just 18 hits and six earned runs in 35-and-two-thirds innings. On the year, he had a 3.99 ERA and a 4.01 FIP to go with a 24.4% strikeout rate and a .214 BAA. He fanned 102 batters in 103-and-two-thirds innings.

Scott Harris doesn’t believe in labels like No. 1 starter or No. 2 starter. He does believe in the fast-rising righty.

“Reese has three distinct secondary pitches that miss bats,” Detroit’s President of Baseball Operations told me at this week’s GM meetings. “That’s really hard to find. He also has two different fastballs that reach the upper 90s. I also think he did some things this summer that reminded me of what other really good pitchers do in their first year in the big leagues. I’m not going to throw those expectations on him, but his ceiling is as high as anyone’s.”

Asked if he could elaborate on “what other really good pitchers do in their first year,” the exec explained that Olson had stretches of dominance within games that didn’t necessarily translate into a dominant line. Like many young pitchers, he would string together “three, four innings of truly dominant stuff, then make a couple of mistakes in the zone that lead to home runs.” Harris viewed that as a source of optimism. To him, it suggested that the young hurler was an adjustment away from having dominant stretches for entire starts, if not months or longer.

Olson was coming off of a stellar start — six scoreless innings against the Minnesota Twins — when I talked to him at Fenway Park in mid-August. I’d first spoken to him a handful of days after he’d been dealt to Detroit, so I asked him what has changed since his 2021 stint with the West Michigan Whitecaps.

“I added a sinker this year,” said Olson, who was then 175 pounds and is now a sturdier 185. “Other than that, the arsenal is the same. I’ve just got much better command. That just comes from getting older and stronger and not having to put as much effort into it. I don’t know that I’d say I used to force effort, but I was a little smaller, trying to throw hard.”

Olson averaged 94.8 MPH with both his two- and four-seam fastballs, with the former serving as a primary weapon against right-handed hitters. His slider, which he spun at 2,989 RPM, was his most-used pitch overall. Augmenting those offerings were a 2,800-rpm curveball and a changeup. All five pitches in his repertoire yielded a .280-or-lower wOBA.

His approach on the mound is basically to attack hitters with his five-pitch mix, balancing scouting reports with how well each one is working on a given day. His demeanor on the mound is much the same as what it is is off the field.

“I like to keep it simple,” said the even-keeled Olson. “Calm down. Don’t get too jacked up. That’s kind of me out there.”

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RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS

Matt Olson is 10 for 24 against Kyle Gibson.

Jeff Kent went 5 for 6 against Gregg Olson.

Greg Olson went 6 for 9 against Jeff Brantley.

Asdrúbal Cabrera went 6 for 11 against Garrett Olson.

Adam LaRoche went 9 for 16 against Scott Olsen.

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I had a question for Chicago White Sox Senior Vice President/General Manager Chris Getz at this week’s GM Meetings that required a longish preface. I told the former big-league infielder, and University of Michigan graduate, that six years ago I’d asked numerous people within the game if today’s analytically-inclined players are the next generation of top-level front-office executives. Referencing that 2017 article when I wrote about the Red Sox’s recent hiring of Craig Breslow, I cited Sam Fuld, Brandon Gomes, and Chris Young — but not Getz — as examples of how that has since begun to happen.

I asked the 40-year-old GM if he fits in the same bucket as the players-turned-executives I did name.

“In terms of analytics and integrating them into our organization, it’s certainly a priority of mine,” replied Getz, who earned a BA in Sports Management from U of M. “Without question. I think the work, and the output, that we have will speak to what bucket you want to put me in. But in regard to utilizing analytics, whether it be in our scouting approach, with our major league roster, in-game in terms of leveraging situations, it’s a huge part of who I am and what we’re going to set out to do. But I’ll leave it to you what bucket you want to put me in.”

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A quiz:

Three players drafted first-overall have been elected to the Hall of Fame. Who are they?

The answer can be found below.

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NEWS NOTES

The Kansas City Royals have hired Dave Holtzman as their Baseball Information & Communications Strategist. Holtzman has worked in professional baseball, in multiple roles, since 2000. He’s been with Bally Sports KC for the past 10 years.

The Kansas City Royals have also hired Christine Harris, this for the position of Director, Research and Development. The University of Virginia (BA) and London School of Economics and Political Science (MS) graduate has been the Assistant Director, Research and Development for the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Bobby Guindon, an outfielder whose big-league career comprised five games with the Boston Red Sox in 1964, died on October 28 at age 80. The Brookline, Massachusetts native went 1-or-8, his lone hit being a double off of Detroit’s Joe Sparma at Tiger Stadium.

Lee Richard, a speedy utility infielder who played for the Chicago White Sox from 1971-1975, and for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1976, died back on August 6 at age 74 (per Baseball Player Passings). According to his B-Ref bio page, the Lafayette, Louisiana native was at the plate in 1974 when Nolan Ryan threw what was believed to be the first pitch clocked over 100 mph by a radar gun.

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The answer to the quiz is Harold Baines, Ken Griffey Jr., and Chipper Jones.

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COACHING/FRONT OFFICE NEWS NOTES

The Tampa Bay Rays named Michael Johns their new first base coach. It is the first big-league assignment for the 48-year-old Johns, who has coached and managed in the system since 2007, most recently as the manager at Triple-A Durham.

The Cleveland Guardians have hired Craig Albernaz as their major league field coordinator. The 41-year-old Fall River, Massachusetts native has spent the last four years as the San Francisco Giants’ bullpen and catching coach.

The Philadelphia Phillies have promoted Brian Barber and Preston Mattingly to assistant GM positions. Barber is in charge of amateur scouting. Mattingly runs player development.

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The Tigers announced the hiring of Jason Benneti as their new TV play-by-voice earlier this week, and the news came as music to the ears for Detroit sports fans. Nothing against Matt Shepard, who was given his walking papers last month after five years in the position, but Benneti, who’d called Chicago White Sox games since 2016, is widely regarded as one of the best broadcasters in the country (in multiple sports, no less). With Benneti in the TV booth and Dan Dickerson on the radio side, the Tigers arguably have the best play-by-play duo in baseball.

Benneti met with the Detroit media via Zoom shortly after Thursday’s announcement — I joined in for the first 15 minutes before leaving for a commitment — and much of what I heard was classic Benneti. Here are three snapshot quotes from the Tigers’ new TV play-by-play voice.

“In the interview process, I felt, and knew, that I was surrounded by people who want to be so extraordinarily great, and forward-thinking, and do this in a smart analytical way that was beyond the scope of anything I would have expected in terms of what they want from their television announcer. They want somebody who is going to think about the game from all facets.”

“[Calling games] is like doing a crossword puzzle every day. There is a solution, and it’s different every day.”

“I think we all know that the American League Central has been the land of opportunity, just in terms of [best] winning record of the division. I think the Tigers are on the move upward… every time we had the Tigers, whether it was with the White Sox, or Fox, there was an aura. There was an energy. I sensed that with Baltimore a couple of years ago.”

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FOREIGN AFFAIRS

The LG Twins took a three-games-to-one lead in the Korean Series on Saturday with a 15-4 routing of the KT Wiz. Ji-hwan Oh, Bo-gyeong Moon, and Hyun-soo Kim went deep for the Twins, who are are one win away from their first title since 1994.

The first three games of the Korean Series were all decided by one run, with the third featuring a ninth-inning, two-out, three-run homer by Ji-hwan Oh to give the Twins an 8-7 win. Former big-leaguers Byung-Ho Park and Austin Dean hit two of the four home runs that preceded Ji-hwan’s blast.

The Australian Baseball League’s 2023-2024 season starts this coming Thursday with all six teams in action. The Adelaide Giants are the defending champions.

Alex Hall is returning to his hometown Perth Heat for what will be his seventh ABL season. The 24-year-old catcher/outfielder/first baseman in the Milwaukee Brewers organization had 11 home runs and a .729 OPS this year with the High-A Wisconsin Timber Rattlers.

Max Murphy is slashing .381/.469/.750 with seven home runs in 98 plate appearancesfor the Mexican Pacific Winter League’s Mayos de Navojoa. The 30-year-old former Minnesota Twins and Arizona Diamondbacks outfield prospect has spent the last three season with the independent American Association’s Winnipeg Goldeyes.

Alex Liddi is slashing .239/.309/.421 with four home runs in 98 plate appearances for the Mexican Pacific Winter League’s Venados de Mazatlan. The 30-year-old Sanremo, Italy native played for the Seattle Mariners from 2011-2013.

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Based on the smattering of Minnesota Twins games I saw this year — ditto some broadcaster commentary I heard — the amount of platooning the team did was almost at a 1970s Earl Weaver Orioles level. More than once I saw manager Rocco Baldelli pinch-hitting in the early innings to gain a platoon advantage. Did the A.L. Central champions actually overdo handedness matchups? I asked that question to Derek Falvey earlier this week.

“I don’t think so,” the President of Baseball Operations replied. “To define overdid… when we look at how it worked for some our young players getting established at the big-league level, building on some success, the likes of Matt Wallner and Edouard Julien didn’t see as much left-handed pitching. I feel like that was good for them. They got some development against lefties, but our second-half offense was really what we hoped it would be from the get-go. Our first half offense was not what we thought it was going to be, but our second-half was and I think a lot of that was owed to Rocco really utilizing the matchups to the best of his ability.”

Julien logged 360 plate appearances versus RHP and 48 versus LHP, while Wallner had 208 versus RHP and 46 versus LHP. Meanwhile, right-handed-hitting Donovan Solano pinch-hit a team-high 33 times (and went 8-for-29 with three walks and a sac fly).

Those things said, while the Twins did mix and match often, it wasn’t as as often I expected when I looked at the data. While above average in percentage of platoon advantage plate appearances, they were only ninth among MLB clubs. Their 186 pinch-hit plate appearances were third-most in MLB behind the Giants and Athletics.

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FARM NOTES

The Peoria Javelinas advanced to yesterday’s Arizona Fall League championship game by rallying from a 9-0 first-inning deficit to beat the Scottsdale Scorpions 12-9. Cleveland Guardians prospect Kyle Manzardo went deep twice for the winners.

The Surprise Saguaros held on to beat Peoria 6-5 last night to capture the AFL title. The Javelinas scored four runs in the ninth inning before Milwaukee Brewers prospect Justin Yeager came on to fan the only batter he faced to seal the win for Surprise.

Caleb Durbin finished his Arizona Fall League season with 21 stolen bases, three short of the AFL record held by Rick Holifield (24 in 1994). The 23-year-old infielder in the New York Yankees organization — featured here at FanGraphs back in May — slashed .304/.395/.427 with a 132 wRC+ and 36 steals this year between High-A Hudson Valley and Double-A Somerset.

Davis Daniel had 25 strikeouts and allowed just 10 hits, five walks, and four runs over 19 innings for the AFL’s Scottsdale Scorpions. The 26-year-old right-hander made his MLB debut with the Los Angeles Angels in September and logged a 2.19 over three games comprising 12-and-a-third innings.

Adam Laskey had 15 strikeouts and allowed just six hits, two walks, and one run over nine games comprising nine innings for the AFL’s Mesa Solar Sox. The 25-year-old left-hander in the Chicago Cubs organization went 4-1 with a 4.33 ERA over 54 relief innings between High-A South Bend and Double-A Tennessee.

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The Washington Nationals farm system is currently robust, ranking as the third-best in MLB on The Board. High-level position player talent is a primary reason, with outfielders James Wood and Dylan Crews ranked as the game’s No. 2 and No. 4 prospects respectively. Third baseman Brady House is also in our Top 100 at No. 61.

Mike Rizzo has been in the organization since 2006, almost exclusively at the top of the front office food chain. The likes of Bryce Harper, Anthony Rendon, and Stephen Strasburg have been drafted and developed during his tenure. I asked the club’s General Manager & President of Baseball Operation how the current crop compares to the best of his 17-year tenure.

“It’s probably as exciting of a group of young players, prospects, that we’ve had since I’ve been here,” replied Rizzo. “It’s as good as we’ve had, but I’ll qualify that with prospects are prospects until they compete and win in the big leagues. There are still steps to take, and progress to make.”

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Derrick Goold was in the small scrum, and he asked Rizzo about how building the team toward its 2019 World Series championship included signing free-agent starters at high cost. Rizzo’s response, in part, was that you draft and develop a couple of your own starters, then finish the process with trades and free agent signings. That served as a good segue to something else I was planning to ask: How pleased he is with the top of their pitching pipeline?

“We like it,” said Rizzo. “We’ve got three good young starters already at the big league level, cutting their teeth and getting experience at the big league level. We’ve got [Jackson] Rutledge who just joined them for a couple of starts. And we’ve got several guys down in the pipeline that I think will be the next wave. When you can put together a list of eight to 10 prospects that you think can be part of your big-league rotation, that’s a big part of the rebuilding process.”

Rizzo gave four examples when asked about notables within that group. Cole Henry and Mitchell Parker were Nationals draft picks, as was Jake Bennett who underwent Tommy John surgery in September, while DJ Herz was acquired from the Chicago Cubs at this summer’s trade deadline. The highest ranked is Henry, whom Eric Longenhagen has assigned a 45 FV. “Those guys are all part of the depth we have at starting pitching,” Rizzo said.

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LINKS YOU’LL LIKE

The city of Osaka erupted in celebration when the Hanshin Tigers broke a 38-year title drought by winning this year’s Japan Series. Joel Tansey wrote about it at The Japan Times.

MLB.com’s David Adler introduced us to Yokohama DeNA BayStars left-hander Shota Imanga, who is expected to sign with an MLB team this offseason.

Texas Rangers closer José Leclerc was raised in poverty — his family could never afford a television — in Esperanza, Dominican Republic, and now he’s a World Series champion. José de Jesus Ortiz has the story at Our Esquina.

At Bless You Boys, Brandon Day looked at the Detroit Tigers’ coaching-staff shakeup, which includes the hiring of Joey Cora.

R.J. Anderson ranked all 30 teams’ chances of trading for Juan Soto (assuming that the San Diego Padres opt to move the slugger) for CBS Sports.

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RANDOM FACTS AND STATS

Cincinnati Reds pinch-hitters had nine home runs and a 138 wRC+ in 146 plate appearances this year. Cleveland Guardians pinch-hitters had no home runs and a 15 wRC+ in 92 plate appearances.

Philadelphia’s Kyle Schwarber came to the plate 720 times this year and batted .197 with 47 home runs, 108 runs scored, 104 RBIs, 126 walks, 215 strikeouts, and a 119 wRC+. In 1956, Phillies outfielder Richie Ashburn came to the plate 719 times and batted .303 with three home runs, 94 runs scored, 50 RBIs, 79 walks, 45 strikeouts, and a 115 wRC+.

Norm Cash had 41 home runs and 19 intentional walks in 1961. Roger Maris had 61 home runs and no intentional walks.

Ted Lyons threw a complete game in all 20 starts he made in 1942. The 41-year-old Chicago White Sox right-hander went 14-6 with a 2.05 ERA.

Pat Hentgen was named American League Cy Young Award winner on today’s date in 1996. The Toronto Blue Jays right-hander finished 20-10 with a 3.22 ERA and led the junior circuit in innings pitched (265-and-two-thirds), complete games (10), and shutouts (3).

The Red Sox purchased Dom DiMaggio from the San Francisco Seals on today’s date in 1939. A defensively-gifted outfielder, The Little Professor had a 112 wWC+ and was a seven-time All-Star in 10-plus seasons with Boston.

Players born on today’s date include Bruce Bochte, a first baseman/outfielder who logged a 112 wRC+ while playing for four teams from 19741-1986. He made an All-Star team with the Seattle Mariners in 1979 when he slashed .316/.385/.493 with 16 home runs and 100 RBIs.

Also born on today’s date was Moonlight Graham, who played one inning in the outfield for the New York Giants in 1905. Immortalized in “Field of Dreams,” the Fayetteville, North Carolina native’s given name was Archibald Wright Graham.





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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guyarrigoni
3 months ago

Lee Richards. …. He was Bee Bee Richards to Sox fans. Louie Aparicio had been traded to the Red Sox and Bee Bee and Alvarado were given a chance to replace him. #6 overall pick in the ’70 draft. In the majors in ’71, probably too soon,couldn’t stick.