Taylor Hearn is the top left-handed pitching prospect in the Pittsburgh Pirates system. Long and lanky, the 23-year-old native of Royse City, Texas possesses a high-octane heater and a changeup that he considers his best pitch. He also has a background unlike that of any other player in professional baseball.
According to the young southpaw, his grandfather was the first African-American to attend Oklahoma State on a rodeo scholarship, and the first professional black cowboy. Dubbed “Mr. Black Rodeo,” Cleo Hearn joined the calf roping circuit in 1959.
The tradition was passed down, both within the family and throughout Texas. Robby Hearn followed in his father’s footsteps, and he went on to teach his own son the tricks of the trade.
“Growing up, it was kind of bred into me to do that,” Taylor Hearn told me. “I did it until I was 17. It’s still a big thing in Texas, including for African Americans. Cory Solomon has been in the national finals the past few years.”
Hearn doesn’t do much calf roping these days —“only now and then, because I don’t have the time” — but he does hope to get back into it down the road. For now, he’ll settle for (ahem) showing his girlfriend the ropes.
“She wanted to learn, so we went over to my grandparent’s house and I taught her,” said Hearn. “She’s still got some work to do, but she’s an athlete, so she’s picked it up pretty well.”
“Athlete” is an apt description. Jade Rhodes played on Auburn University’s women’s softball team for four years and made the all-tournament team at the 2016 College World Series. She has some serious bloodlines of her own. Her father is Arthur Rhodes, who pitched for nine teams over 20 big-league seasons.
Being dealt “came as a shock,” to Hearn, who found himself heading to the team that drafted, but didn’t sign, him out of high school four years earlier. A conversation he had after joining his new organization was bucolically apropos. A Pittsburgh scout reintroduced himself and reminded Hearn that he’d once watched him throw in a barn.
Eric Hosmer has been a bit of a lightning rod this winter. The free agent first baseman is coming off a strong season, yet plenty of pundits are less than enamored with his offensive profile. Couple the launch angle revolution with an increased acceptance of strikeouts, and Hosmer has become, in the eyes of his detractors, somewhat of a square peg in a round hole.
Would the former (and perhaps future) Kansas City Royal be looked upon more favorably if he were to trade in a chunk of his ground-ball outs for strikeouts? As counterintuitive as that sounds — fanning is every hitter’s humiliation — it may actually be true.
Let’s compare Hosmer to a player who is, by and large, considered to be a superior hitter.
Home runs: Hosmer 25, Corey Seager 22.
Adjusted OPS: Hosmer 132, Seager 125.
wRC+: Hosmer 135, Seager 127.
wOBA: Hosmer .376, Seager .364.
BABiP: Hosmer .351, Seager .352.
Now let’s look at their ground ball and strikeout rates.
GB%: Hosmer 55.6, Seager 42.1.
K%: Hosmer 15.5, Seager 21.4.
What if the last set of numbers were flip-flopped, and it was the Dodgers shortstop who K’d less often and hit more balls on the ground? Would the way the two are perceived flip-flop as well? It’s a question worth pondering.
As for whether the one-year snapshot shows that Hosmer is a better hitter than Seager… that probably isn’t the case. (Justin Upton is another interesting comp, as his K and GB rates were markedly different from Hosmer’s, and his wRC+ and wOBA almost identical.) But it does suggest that not being what people think you should be — being a square peg in a round hole — can negatively impact how you’re viewed.
Trevor Oaks went from the Dodgers to the Royals as part of January’s Scott Alexander trade, which means he’ll be meeting a lot of new people in spring training. One year ago, the 23-year-old pitching prospect had to introduce himself to a clubhouse stocked with veteran players in big-league camp with his old team. Thanks to L.A. skipper Dave Roberts, a piano was involved.
“It was an initiation thing,” explained Oaks. “We had a team meeting every morning, and if a new guy — maybe a non-roster invitee — comes in, he has to stand up and introduce himself. I was the very first guy, and had no idea what to expect. (Roberts) said to me, ‘So what kind of hobbies do you have?’ I said ‘sometimes I’ll play the piano in the house,’ and the response to that was ‘Oh, really.”
A few nights later, Oaks got a text informing him that a piano had arrived in the clubhouse, and he’d best be ready. His reaction was, “Oh gosh.”
Having taken his last piano lesson around the age of 12, Oaks was predictably nervous when he showed up the next morning. Nevertheless, he put on a brave face and tackled the task. Doing his best to “not feel like a dork,” he played several songs, including Clair de Lune and a couple of melancholy pop ditties, like Say Something. Why melancholy? “I play sadder songs because I like them better,” admitted Oaks, who is expected to compete for a spot in Kansas City’s starting rotation this spring.
Does he expect another initiation experience — possibly involving a piano — when Royals camp gets underway later this week?
“I hope not,” laughed Oaks. “But I’m up for it if they want me to.”
(Author’s note: We’ll hear from Oaks on the subject of pitching in the upcoming week.)
Last Sunday’s column mentioned that Oscar Gamble was the last-ever batter at Philadelphia’s old Connie Mack Stadium. The man responsible for baseball’s most-famous afro ended the October 1970 contest with a walk-off single.
Josh Whetzel, the play-by-play voice of the Triple-A Rochester Red Wings, has a good follow-up to that piece of trivia.
“The hit was a ground ball single to centerfield,” Whetzel told me via email. “Boots Day, who was our hitting coach one of my years (broadcasting) in Kinston, was playing center. He said he charged the ball hard to try to throw out the runner at the plate, and the ball rolled up his arm so he didn’t even get off a throw. The next year, Boots led off for the Expos in Philly at the first game at Veterans Stadium. So he always said he was the last guy to touch a ball at Connie Mack Stadium, and the first batter ever at Veterans Stadium.”
And while Whetzel didn’t mention this, let’s not overlook the irony within the event: A player nicknamed “Boots” had a ball roll up his arm.
In 1924, Ike Boone slashed .337/.404/.497 in 545 plate appearances. In 1925, he slashed .330/.406/.479 in 546 plate appearances. Each of those seasons was spent with the Red Sox.
In 1926, Boone batted .380 and put up a gaudy 1.011 OPS — in the minor leagues. As for the team that cast him aside due to his defensive deficiencies, they scored the fewest runs in the American League, and finished with a record of 46-107.
Puerto Rico captured this year’s Caribbean Series on Friday, besting the Dominican Republic by a score of 9-4. It was the island’s second consecutive title, and their 16th overall.The Dominican Republic has won it 19 times.
Phil Coke is reportedly looking to make a comeback as a knuckleball pitcher. The 35-year-old left-hander made five appearances with NPB’s Orix Buffaloes last year after pitching in the big leagues from 2008-2016.
Tim Lincecum will reportedly throw for scouts on Thursday. The showcase will be held at Driveline, where the former Cy Young award winner has been working out. Lincecum made his last big-league appearance in August 2016, just over a month after doing an in-depth pitching interview here at FanGraphs.
The Detroit Institute of Arts will be featuring “Play Ball: Baseball at the DIA,” beginning on March 30, and going through September 16. Along with artwork, the exhibition will include a large collection of T206 baseball cards from 1909–1911 (including a Honus Wagner), and a variety of items from the Tigers’ 1968 World Series championship season.
Quiz time: Nolan Ryan’s 204 walks in 1977 are the second most allowed by a pitcher since 1900. Who holds the dubious distinction of having walked more? The answer can be found below, right after Random Hitter-Pitcher Match-ups.
This past summer, Frank Herrmann told me that his Rakuten Golden Eagles teammate Takahiro Norimoto “could pitch in the big leagues.” Comparing him Masahiro Tanaka, Herrmann cited Norimoto’s low-to-mid-90s fastball, a slider that is sometimes plus, and “a wipeout split.”
Notable about Herrmann’s “could pitch in the big leagues” opinion is the fact that the former big-league reliever was far less bullish on a few other players I asked about, despite the strong numbers they were putting up.
Norimoto went on to finish the NPB season with a record of 15-7 and a 2.47 ERA. He fanned 222 batters in 185-and-two-thirds innings. As Sung Min Kim mentioned on Friday, the 27-year-old right-hander is eligible to be posted after the 2019 season.
Spring training and Valentine’s Day are imminent, and Donald Hall’s The Seventh Inning explores the relationship between baseball and lust as well as any poem ever written. Here is the first stanza, plus this link to the entire text.
“Baseball, I warrant, is not the whole
occupation of the aging boy.
Far from it: There are cats and roses;
there is her water body. She fills
the skin of her legs up, like water;
under her blouse, water assembles,
swelling lukewarm; her mouth is water,
her cheekbones cool water; water flows
in her rapid hair. I drink water.”
RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS
The answer to the quiz question is Bob Feller. In 1938, the future Hall of Famer walked 208 batters in his age-19 season with the Cleveland Indians.
If an individual’s total contributions to the game are what matters, Mel Harder belongs in the Hall of Fame. The erstwhile Cleveland Indians hurler amassed 223 wins — second most in franchise history behind Bullet Bob Feller’s 266 — and his bona fides extent well beyond his regular season exploits.
Harder appeared in four All-Star games and went un-scored upon in 13 innings. No pitcher in All-Star history has thrown more frames without giving up a run. In the 1934 summer classic, Harder went five scoreless — facing nine future Hall of Famers along the way — and picked up the win.
Following his playing career (1928-1947), Harder spent the next two decades as a pitching coach, mostly in Cleveland. Considered a pioneer in that role, he helped hone (beginning when he was still playing) the skills of Feller, Bob Lemon, Early Wynn, Luis Tiant, and countless others.
LINKS YOU’LL LIKE
Giants broadcaster Dave Flemming is one of the best in the business, and Henry Schulman profiled him at the The San Francisco Chronicle.
How did Erik Neander end up running the Rays? According to Marc Topkin of The Tampa Bay Times, it’s interesting… and he got there the old-fashioned way”
Over at The Daily Herald, Bruce Miles wrote about Blake Lalli, who is making the transition from journeyman catcher to minor league manager with the Kane County Cougars, Arizona’s Midwest League affiliate.
RANDOM FACTS AND STATS
On this date in 1974, Minnesota pitcher Dick Woodson won MLB’s first ever salary arbitration hearing and was awarded $30,000. On May 4 of the same year, the Twins traded him to the Yankees.
On February 10, 1920, baseball’s rules committee outlawed the spitball. Seventeen pitchers were grandfathered, allowing them to continue throwing the pitch. The last of them to retire was Burleigh Grimes, who hung up his spikes after the 1934 season.
In 1894, New York Giants right-hander Amos Rusie logged 195 strikeouts and issued 200 walks. His W-L record was 36-13.
No pitcher has saved a World Series game while being the current all-time leader in saves. (Thanks to Aidan Jackson-Evans for the fact.)
Slim Love, who pitched for the Senators, Yankees, and Tigers from 1913-1920, was born in Love, Mississippi.
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.