Sunday Notes: Toronto’s Hunter Mense Played Pro Ball With a Teenage Giancarlo Stanton

Hunter Mense had some talented teammates during his relatively brief playing career. None were more talented than a teenager who went by one of his middle names. Now the assistant hitting coach for the Toronto Blue Jays, Mense played alongside Giancarlo Cruz Michael Stanton during their time together as Florida Marlins farmhands.

“I knew him as Mike,” Mense said of the the 2022 All-Star Game MVP, who began going by his given first name after reaching the big leagues. “I remember reading about, and him telling me that he could have played D1 basketball or D1 football. He looked more like a D1 football player than he’s ever looked like a baseball player.”

It goes without saying that the Brobdingnagian superstar is a stupendously good baseball player. According to Mense, who doubles as Toronto’s minor-league hitting coordinator, Stanton’s work ethic was off the charts. Wanting to improve defensively, the 6-foot-6, 245-pound outfielder would often “drag a coach out to the field” and have him hit balls in his dirction before batting practice.

Not surprisingly, Stanton also went the extra mile as a hitter.

“He was one of the first guys I remember who would tell the coach, ‘Dial the machine up as firm as you can make it,’” recalled Mense. “If we were going to be facing a guy who threw 92 [mph] that night, he wanted it dialed up to 97. Another thing I remember is walking into the [indoor] cage and the lights were off. He was hitting off the tee. I asked him, ‘What are you doing?’ He said, ‘Well, I figure if I can hit when it’s hard to see, when the game starts, it will be easy for me to see.’”

Stanton launched 39 home runs and had a .933 OPS as an 18-year-old when he and Mense played together in the Low-A South Atlantic League. That was in 2008. By June 2010, “Mike” was in the big leagues.

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RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS

Mike Sweeney went 10 for 16 against Charles Nagy.

Frank Bolling went 10 for 18 against Bob Lemon.

Joe Ginsberg went 10 for 20 against Mike Garcia.

Harmon Killebrew went 10 for 22 against Herb Score.

Whitey Herzog went 10 for 24 against Early Wynn.

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All nine players in the Blue Jays lineup had scored at least two runs through five innings in Friday night’s shellacking of the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park. Toronto had totaled 25 runs by that time, making them just the second team in MLB history to score as many runs in so few frames. The Chicago Cubs had done so against the Philadelphia Phillies on August 25, 1922. As was the case on Friday, every member of the Cubs lineup had scored at least twice by end of the fifth inning.

The Phillies, who trailed 25-6 through four innings, nearly came back to win. The game ended with Cubs reliever Tiny Osborne striking out Bevo Lebourveau — the potential go-ahead run — with the bases loaded. The final score was 26-23.

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I recently happened across a fascinating box score when looking at the 1958 Milwaukee Braves season. That year’s National League pennant winners won 92 games, and the most-historically-unique of them came on June 4 against the Giants at San Francisco’s Seals Stadium.

With two out in the top of the ninth inning, Braves outfielder Wes Covington slugged a three-run homer to tie the game 7-7. After a scoreless bottom half, Milwaukee scored twice in the 10th to take a 9-7 lead, only to have San Francisco respond with two-out, back-to-back solo home runs by Hank Sauer and Bob Schmidt to knot the game at 9 apiece.

In the top of the 10th inning, the Braves regained the lead when Hall of Fame left-hander Warren Spahn plated a run with a two-out, pinch-hit single. Gene Conley — a 6-foot-8 right-hander who won NBA titles with the Boston Celtics in 1959, 1960, and 1961— then set down the Giants in order. The final score was Milwaukee 10, San Francisco 9.

As compelling as those sequences were, it was the distribution of players crossing the plate that made the game historically unique. The 19 runs were scored by 19 different players — something that has otherwise never happened in a big-league game.

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A quiz:

Two players share the record for most home runs by a player born in Michigan. John Mayberry is one of them. Who is the other?

The answer can be found below.

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NEWS NOTES

The nominees for the 2023 BBWAA Career Excellence Award are Bruce Jenkins (San Francisco), John Lowe (Detroit), and Gerry Fraley (Dallas). Results of the voting will be announced in December.

Longtime Pittsburgh sports scribe John Perrotto has been hired as the new Pirates beat writer, and editor-in-chief, for Pittsburgh Baseball Now. Perrotto was a guest on FanGraphs Audio this past March.

Dwight Smith, an outfielder for four different teams from 1989-1996, died of congestive heart and lung failure earlier this week at age 58. Smith — the father of former Blue Jays and Orioles outfielder Dwight Smith Jr. — won a World Series with the Atlanta Braves in 1995.

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The answer to the quiz is Kirk Gibson. The former Michigan State University Spartan (a Pontiac native) and Mayberry (a Detroit-born former University of Michigan Wolverine) each went deep 255 times.

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Who are the best pitchers in Japan? I recently asked that question to St. Louis Cardinals right-hander Drew VerHagen, who returned to MLB this year after spending the 2020 and 2021 season with the Nippon Ham Fighters.

“There would be three, really,” responded VerHagen, adding that he was in NPB’s Pacific League and thus less informed on Central League hurlers. “Roki Sasaki, pure stuff-wise, was maybe the most impressive. [Koudai] Senga and [Yoshi] Yamamoto are the other two.”

Sasaki is the best-known of the three, having become an international sensation in baseball circles at the tender age of 20. VerHagen’s perspectives on the other two were hence more interesting to hear.

Yamamoto — a 23-year-old right-hander with the Orix Buffaloes — has a 1.81 ERA and 128 strikeouts in 124 innings this season. He was even better last year, logging a 1.39 ERA with 206 strikeouts in 193-and-two-thirds innings.

“He’s got good velo — 94 to 98 — with a nice curveball and a little slider,” VerHagen said of Yamamoto. “He’s filling up the zone. It’s hard to compare Japanese pitchers [to MLB pitchers], because they’re so different, but he’s maybe a [Walker] Buehler-type? Buehler is really nasty, so maybe that’s not a great comp, but [Yamamoto] definitely has good stuff.”

Senga is reportedly a strong candidate to come stateside next year. VerHagen was somewhat less-bullish on the 29-year-old Fukuoka Softbank Hawks right-hander.

“I see Senga more as a reliever [in MLB],” opined VerHagen, who had a 3.51 ERA over his two NPB seasons. “We’ll see. He’ll probably get a decent opportunity to start, but I’ve never seen him go deep into games on a regular basis, where he’s mixing three, four pitches. It’s more like a lot of heaters and maybe one offspeed.”

Senga has a 1.70 ERA and 105 strikeouts in 101-and-a-third innings this season. Last year he had a 2.66 ERA and 90 strikeouts in 84-and-two-thirds innings.

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FOREIGN AFFAIRS

Rookie right-hander Ren Mukunoki came within one out of a no-hitter on Wednesday as the Orix Buffaloes beat the Nippon Ham Fighters 2-0.. The 22-year-old, making just his second NPB start, surrendered a single to Ryusei Sato on a 2-2 count. The Fighters were playing without manager Tsuyoshi Shinjo, who has tested positive for COVID.

Koyo Aoyagi is 11-1 with a 1.37 ERA and 92 strikeouts in 111-and-a-third innings for NPB’s Hanshin Tigers. The 28-year-old right-hander went 13-6, 2.48 a year ago.

Casey Kelly is 12-1 with a 2.24 ERA and 93 strikeouts in 104-and-two-thirds innings for the KBO’s LG Twins. The 32-year-old right-hander last pitched in MLB with the San Francisco Giants in 2018.

Felix Doubront is 6-2 with a 5.40 ERA and 59 strikeouts in 65 innings for the Mexican League’s Saraperos de Saltillo. The 34-year-old southpaw last pitched in MLB with the Toronto Blue Jays and Oakland A’s in 2015.

Jose Zepeda is slashing .333/.403/.496 over 127 plate appearances with the Mexican League’s Guerreros de Oaxaca. A 21-year-old native of Santiago Ixcuintla, Mexico, Zepeda played in the Toronto Blue Jays system before being released in May 2020.

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I opened a pack of 2021 Topps cards while taping Friday’s episode of FanGraphs Audio. Ellen Adair was the featured guest, and as the actress and self-described baseball nerd is a hard-core Phillies fan, the idea was to have her share thoughts on any Philadelphia player within. The second of the 16 cards in the pack was a Bryce Harper. The last was a young pitcher who changed organizations at last summer’s trade deadline.

“It’s a sad situation with Spencer Howard,” Adair said of the former Phillies prospect and current Texas Ranger. “In some ways, it’s kind of hard to know what exactly happened with his development. It’s also sad to see that he hasn’t been particularly successful with the Rangers, either. I wish that there were some sort of long German term for the feeling that you have about a young player when they’re traded away. On the one hand, you’re rooting for them to do well, because you were invested in them doing well… On the other hand, if they leave your organization and then light the world on fire, doesn’t that also suck?”

No. 1 on our Phillies Top Prospects list going into the 2021 season, Howard had a 5.81 ERA over 52-and-two-thirds innings during his brief time with Adair’s favorite team. Since going to Texas, he has an 8.29 ERA over 46-and-two-thirds innings.

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FARM NOTES

The best record in the minor leagues going into the All-Star break belonged to the Myrtle Pelicans, the Low-A affiliate of the Chicago Cubs (59-28). The best record at the Triple-A level belonged to the Nashville Sounds (Milwaukee Brewers) who were 54-35.

David Festa is 8-1 with a 1.74 ERA and 84 strikeouts in 72-and-a-third innings between Low-A Fort Myers and High-A Cedar Rapids. The 22-year-old right-hander was drafted in the 13th round last year out of Seton Hall University by the Minnesota Twins.

Niko Kavadas is s slashing .292/.463/.609 with 22 home runs and a 196 wRC+ between Low-A Salem and High-A Greenville. The 23-year-old first baseman was drafted in the 11th round last year out of the University of Notre Dame by the Boston Red Sox.

Vaun Brown is slashing .344/.422/.633 with 20 home runs and a 173 wRC+ between Low-A San Jose and High-A Eugene. The 24-year-old outfielder was drafted in the 10th round last year out of Florida Southern College by the San Francisco Giants.

Alejandro Osuna is slashing .317/.401/.466 with eight home runs and a 143 wRC+ for the Low-A Down East Wood Ducks. A native of Ahome, Mexico, the 19-year-old outfielder was signed by the Texas Rangers in 2020.

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The San Diego Padres only took one up-the-middle infielder in this year’s draft, and that wasn’t until their penultimate pick. In the 19th round, the A.J. Preller-led organization selected Spence Coffman, a shortstop out of Mississippi’s Tishomingo County High School.

I broached the subject with the team’s President of Baseball Operations when he took questions from the media following the draft.

“I think every year is a little bit different,” said Preller. “We’re no different than most teams in that we put a priority on athletes up the middle. But you never want to force anything in a draft. Some years the board lines up. Some years, where you are when you’re picking in the rounds, it doesn’t quite line up from that standpoint.

“We’ve got a lot of really good infielders in the system,” Preller added. “Obviously, in the last few years we’ve taken C.J. [Abrams, sixth-overall in 2019] and Jackson Merrill [27th-overall in 2021]. We’ve got some shortstops that can fly.”

Preller went on to say the Padres were excited to get Coffman, a player he called “an under-the-radar type,” in a later round. Scouting director Chris Kemp, who was also on the Zoom call, likewise spoke highly of the draft’s 570th-overall selection.

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LINKS YOU’LL LIKE

At Sports Business Journal, Erik Bacharach wrote about how MLB’s international strategy could lead to games in South Korea.

At PhillyVoice, Joseph Santoliquoto talked to Phillies color analyst Larry Andersen, who at age 69 is working a scaled-back schedule.

Shannon Curley is among the most influential people in the Toronto Blue Jays organization. David Singh wrote about her for SportsNet Canada.

The Score’s Travis Sawchik presented a case for radical realignment and the end of interleague play.

MLB.com’s Sarah Wexler told us about an exhibit at Dodger Stadium that honors the hidden legacy of Japanese American baseball.

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RANDOM FACTS AND STATS

Tony Oliva batted .304 with 95 home runs in home games. He batted .304 with 125 home runs in away games.

David Ortiz batted .305 with 241 home runs in home games. He batted .267 with 300 home runs in away games.

Stan Musial famously had 1,815 hits in home games and 1,815 hits in away games. Musial also had 215 strikeouts, 19 stolen bases, and 19 caught-stealings as a left fielder, and 215 strikeouts, 18 stolen bases, and 19 caught-stealings as a first baseman.

Jim Kaat allowed 132 triples, 66 at home and 66 away. Two of the triples he allowed were to Pirates pitcher Bruce Kison, one at home and one away.

Alcides Escobar leads all active players with 58 career triples. The Washington Nationals infielder is tied with 18 other players for 537th on the all-time list.

The National League beat the American League 4-3 in 14 innings in the 1950 All-Star Game. Brooklyn Dodgers Hall of Famer Roy Campanella caught all 14 innings for the winning side.

On today’s date in 1993, Anthony Young saw his record drop to 0-13 as the New York Mets fell to the Los Angeles Dodgers 5-4 in 10 innings. It was the right-hander’s 27th consecutive loss, the most for any pitcher in MLB history. Four days later, he narrowly avoided a 28th straight when the Mets rallied for two runs in the bottom of the ninth inning to beat the Florida Marlins. Young, who finished his career 15-48 with a 100 ERA+, was credited with the win.

Corey Koskie reached base three times via HBP on July 27, 2004. The Minnesota Twins beat the Chicago White Sox 7-3.

Players born on today’s date include Norihiro Nakamura, who appeared in 17 games and had five hits in 39 at bats for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2005. A native of Osaka who starred for the Kintetsu Buffaloes prior to his brief stint in MLB, Nakamura hit 404 home runs — including 46 in 2001, and 42 in 2002 — during his NPB career.

Also born on today’s date was Cotton Nash, a 6-foot-6 outfielder whose MLB career comprised 13 games with the Chicago White Sox and Minnesota Twins from 1967-1970. An All-American forward at the University of Kentucky, Nash played for the Los Angeles Lakers and San Francisco Warriors in the 1964-1965 season, and for the ABA’s Kentucky Colonels in 1967-1968.





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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tz
2 months ago

That old Braves/Giants boxscore was amazing. Other things of note: the Braves used 23 players in that game, including 7 pitchers, none of whom pitched more than 2 1/3 innings (starter Bob Rush got the quick hook after giving up 4 runs in 1 2/3 innings). Also, the Braves used three catchers, each of whom scored a run (looking for the Jays to maybe do that this year).