Sunday Notes: Under-The-Radar Dodgers Prospect Justin Yurchak Is Raking

Justin Yurchak is flying under the radar as a prospect. He’s flying high in present-season performance. Unranked on our 2021 Los Angeles Dodgers Top Prospects list, the 24-year-old first baseman boasts the highest batting average among minor-league hitters with at least 260 plate appearances. Currently with Double-A Tulsa after spending the first three months of the season with High-A Great Lakes, Yurchak has come to the plate 322 times and is slashing a stand-up-and-take-notice .365/.452/.498.

Those numbers aren’t as nearly surprising as you might think. Since entering pro ball in 2017 as a 12th-round draft pick out of SUNY-Binghamton, Yurchak has put up a sumptuous .318/.413/.468 slash line. With the exception of a pedestrian year in 2018 — a 100 wRC+ in Low-A — he’s always hit.

I asked Yurchak about that lone blemish on his otherwise stellar stat sheet.

“That year, I got off on a bad track and had a hard time figuring out what was wrong,” Yurchak told me on the final Friday of July. “There was a little bit too much movement in my lower half. Part of it was that I wasn’t gathering my legs under my body. When I was landing in my load, there was a little bit of a slide with my hips, and my bat was dragging. Had I been able to make [the needed] adjustment earlier, I think the season would have gone differently for me.”

The adjustment he ultimately made came in a different uniform. Originally in the Chicago White Sox organization, Yurchak was dealt to the Dodgers in November of 2018 in exchange for Manny Bañuelos. Shortly thereafter he traveled to Arizona for a hitting camp, and it was there that he “learned a lot about swings” — particularly his own. The level of instruction differed from what he’d experienced with Chicago.

“They’re definitely two different orgs,” acknowledged Yurchak, who takes his cuts from the left side. “The White Sox do it well, but the Dodgers are a little bit more analytical. I’ve had a little more video and technology to help me progress, to go through the progressions needed to improve.”

The biggest need for improvement is in the power department. First basemen are expected to leave the yard with some regularity, and Yurchak has a mere seven home runs on the season, and just 29 in 292 professional games. He’s been absent on prospect lists much for that reason, and the aspiring big-leaguer knows that as well as anyone. The extent to which he can change what’s he’s always done is the question.

“From a young age, I was always taught to ‘hit’ over [hitting for] power,” explained Yurchak, who hails from Clifton Park, New York. “I’ve molded myself off of that, and sometimes it benefits me, and sometimes it hurts me. Slugging is an important part of the game today — it helps create runs for your team — so I’m trying to find that happy medium. Being able to hit doubles, triples and homers [is important].”

The potential is certainly there. Yurchak has a solid build — he’s listed at 6-foot-1, 204 pounds — and just as importantly, he’s become a student of hitting since joining his current organization. “They expect that here.” The evolution began with the aforementioned hitting camp, and it’s continued with the mentorship of a Dodgers player-development staff that he reasonably referred to as “among the best in the game.”

A particular aspect of his left-handed stroke is at the forefront of his efforts to improve. Yurchak knows that he has a tendency to let balls get too deep — not always by design — and that catching more pitches out in front would be beneficial. Moreover, it could be the determining factor in his quest to reach the big leagues. Playing what has long been an offense-first position, Yurchak will be expected to provide more than a modicum of pop.

At the same time, it’s hard to argue with success. His ho-hum home run total may not be anything to write home about, but his .365/.452/.498 slash line and 162 wRC+ certainly are. Unranked and still very much under the radar, Yurchak has been one of the best hitters in the minors this season.

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RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS

Rafael Ramirez went 4 for 23 against Bruce Ruffin.

Jim Rice went 4 for 19 against Pete Redfern.

Buck Redfern went 4 for 16 against Red Ruffing.

Pete Runnels went 4 for 13 against Robin Roberts.

Joe Rudi went 4 for 11 against Vern Ruhle.

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Cole Sulser was featured in this past week’s installment of our Learning and Developing a Pitch series, with the Baltimore Orioles reliever telling the story behind his changeup. Left on the cutting room floor from that conversation were his thoughts on pitch design as a whole, as well as a comparison of his current and former clubs. Previously with the Tampa Bay Rays, Sulser came the Orioles via the waiver wire in October 2019.

“It’s been similar to what the organization I was with before is known for,” said Sulser. “[The Rays] are known for pitching development, and that’s definitely the way it’s headed here. The reason I started working on my changeup, and the pitch design that went with it, was because of the recommendation of the coaches. They looked at my analytics and felt it was an area where I could improve my game.

“They’ve given me all the tools I need,” added Sulser. “I can go throw my changeup on the Rapsodo, and I can home in on the Edgertronic camera to see how it’s coming out, and where I might need to make tweaks. I’m able to visualize what I want to get out of it, and where I can make those improvements.”

What might have happened were the previous, less-analytically-inclined Orioles regime still in place? Sulser theorized that he’d still be throwing his old circle change, and not the more-effective split-circle. In other words, things are changing for the better in Baltimore… at least when it comes to pitching development. The current state of the big-league club is another story entirely.

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A quiz:

Randy Johnson has the most pitcher wins in Arizona Diamondbacks franchise history. Who ranks second?

The answer can be found below.

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NEWS NOTES

The NPB season is back underway following the Olympic break, and per Tokyo-based baseball scribe Jim Allen, Yomiuri Giants closer Thyago Vieira threw the fastest pitch ever recorded in Japan on Friday night. Vieira’s heater was clocked at 166 kph (103.1 mph) breaking the record of 165 set by Shohei Ohtani and equaled earlier this year by Hiroshima’s Robert Corniel.

Chicago Cubs infielder Andrew Romine pitched the ninth inning of a 17-4 blowout loss to the Milwaukee Brewers on Thursday. Austin Romine was behind the plate, making the duo the first set of brothers to form a battery in a big-league game since Larry and Norm Sherry did so with the Dodgers in 1962.

Joey Votto has 1,998 career hits, 321 home runs, and 1,041 RBIs. With two more hits, the Cincinnati Reds first baseman will join Billy Williams as the only players to reach 2,000 hits, 300 home runs, and 1,000 RBIs in the same season.

Oakland’s 17-0 win over Cleveland was the largest margin of victory in a shutout in A’s franchise history. The previous mark, achieved six times, was 16-0.

The Tampa Bay Rays and Toronto Blue Jays entered the weekend with 62 two-out home runs, tied for the most in the majors. The San Francisco Giants had 59 two-out home runs.

Xander Bogaerts made his 1,000 career start at shortstop for the Boston Red Sox yesterday.

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The answer to the quiz is Brandon Webb. The right-hander was credited with 87 wins while pitching for the D-Backs from 2003-2009. The “Big Unit” had 118 wins in his eight seasons in Arizona.

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Jim Slaton led the team in wins when he went 14-6 for the Milwaukee Brewers in 1983. All 46 of the right-hander’s appearances came out of the bullpen.

That tidbit had been earmarked for the Random Facts and Stats section of this column, but a look at Slaton’s transaction log prompted me to share a little more on the right-hander who toed the rubber for three teams from 1971-1986.

Slaton spent the first seven years of his career with the Brewers, then was traded to the Detroit Tigers, along with Rich Folkers, for Ben Oglivie. Milwaukee got the better of the deal. Oglivie went on to bash 176 home runs as a Brewer — including 41 in 1980 — and make three All-Star teams. Folkers never again appeared in a big-league game. Slaton pitched well for the Tigers, but only for one season. He then signed as a free agent with the team that had traded him 11 months earlier, and remained in Milwaukee for five years.

Slaton is the Brewers’ franchise leader in wins, games started, innings pitched, and shutouts.

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FARM REPORT

Worcester Red Sox infielder/outfielder Yairo Muñoz extended his hitting streak to 35 games yesterday. It’s the longest hitting streak in Red Sox organizational history, majors or minors. The 26-year-old native of the Dominican Republic is slashing .317/.345/.446 with Boston’s Triple-A affiliate.

Drew Rom is 10-0 with a 3.05 ERA and a 3.71 FIP in 82-and-two-thirds innings between High-A Aberdeen and Double-A Bowie. The 21-year-old left-hander came into the season No. 29 on our Baltimore Orioles Top Prospects list.

Max Meyer is 6-1 with a 2.00 ERA and a 3.36 FIP in 81 innings with the Double-A Pensacola Blue Wahoos. The 22-year-old right-hander came into the season No. 1 on our Miami Marlins Top Prospects list.

James Proctor is 3-0 with a 1.35 ERA and a 2.83 FIP in 40 innings with the Low-A Daytona Tortugas. Signed by the Cincinnati Reds as a non-drafted free agent in 2020, the 23-year-old right-hander out of Princeton University has 53 strikeouts and has yet to be taken deep.

Taylor Motter 모터 — called up by the Colorado Rockies earlier this week — was slashing .335/.460/.759 with 24 home runs for the Triple-A Albuquerque Isotopes. The 31-year-old infielder/outfielder spent 2020 in both independent ball and the KBO.

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Like most MLB broadcasters, longtime Tampa Bay Rays radio voice Dave Wills got his start down on the farm, calling games for the class-A Kane Cougars from 1991-1995. His first home game behind the mic was also the initial home game for the relocated Midwest League franchise, and it was preceded by a late night/early morning lesson on life in the minors.

“This was in April of 1991, and it was the back end of a [home-and-home] commuter game against the South Bend White Sox,” explained Wills, who grew up in the Chicago area. “We got back to Kane County around two o’clock in the morning, and I saw that the lights were on. I was thinking, ‘That’s a cool touch; they’re keeping the lights on all night, so when people drive by they’ll know that the Cougars were going to play their first-ever home game the next day.”

Wrong. When Wills walked into the ballpark, he saw that the team’s GM, assistant GM, and a handful of other team employees were burning some post-midnight oil. More specifically, they were installing ad signs on the outfield fence.

“I waved to them, showed them my back, and they yelled ‘Wills, get your butt out here,” recalled the then-rookie-broadcaster. “For the next three hours, from about 2:30 to 5:30, we were putting up fence signs before our inaugural game. That’s what we did in the minor leagues. You pulled the tarp. If they needed help wrapping hot dogs, you wrapped hot dogs. You shoveled snow. It was all-hands-on-deck with whatever was needed.”

What was going through Wills’s mind as he helped install ad signs in the wee hours of the morning?

“I do remember what I was thinking,” related Wills. “I was wondering if Harry Caray had ever done something like this.”

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Earlier this week, the New York Post’s Andrew Marchand reported that MLB and Barstool Sports “potentially could team up to create a new type of broadcast with a focus on in-game gambling.”

Would such a partnering be a good thing, or a bad thing? I posed that question in a Twitter poll, and of the 605 votes cast, only 25.8% were a thumbs up to the possibility. A definitive 74.2% were a thumbs down.

I agree with the majority. While the argument that MLB would have a lot to gain isn’t without merit, so too is the argument that it would have a lot to lose. Reputations matter, and the last thing the league should want is to alienate multiple demographics within its current and prospective fanbases.That’s exactly what would happen if this ill-advised idea goes forward. Hopefully MLB knows that. And cares.

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LINKS YOU’LL LIKE

Beyond The Boxscore’s Sheryl Ring shared her thoughts on the potential Barstool-MLB partnership.

At the East Bay Times, Shayna Rubin explained how an astrophysicist named Samantha Schultz is helping Oakland A’s pitchers fine-tune their arsenals.

Nippon Ham Fighters slugger Sho Nakata has been suspended by the club for an act of violence against a teammate. Japanese daily The Mainichi had the story.

Ballpark Digest’s Kevin Reichard wrote about how the Arizona Diamondbacks are facing a huge decision about the future of Chase Field.

The Boston Globe’s Alex Speier wrote about how Calgary Flames assistant GM Chris Snow didn’t expect to be alive for his 40th birthday, yet celebrated it by throwing out a first pitch at Fenway Park.

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RANDOM FACTS AND STATS

Boston Braves right-hander Red Barrett threw 58 pitches while going the distance in a 2-0 win over the Cincinnati Reds on August 10, 1944. Time of game in MLB’s fewest-pitches-thrown-in-a-complete-game performance was one hour and fifteen minutes.

Bumpus Jones threw a no-hitter in his big-league debut, doing so for the Cincinnati Reds on October 15, 1892. The right-hander from Cedarville, Ohio went on to finish he career 2-4 with a 7.99 ERA.

Wade Boggs had 3,010 hits, 1,014 RBIs, a 132 wRC+. and 88.3 WAR.
Rod Carew had 3,053 hits, 1,015 RBIs, a 132 wRC+, and 72.3 WAR.

Kirby Puckett had 2,304 hits, 207 home runs, a 122 wRC+, and 44.9 WAR.
Chet Lemon had 1,875 hits, 215 home runs, a 122 wRC+, and 52.0 WAR.

Hoyt Wilhelm pitched in 1,070 games with just 52 of his appearances coming as a starter. Wilhelm made 27 of those starts with the Baltimore Orioles in 1959 — in his age-36 season, no less — and went 15-11 with an AL-best 2.19 ERA.

In 1929, Stuffy Stewart went hitless in seven plate appearances for the Washington Senators in his age-35 season. Used primarily a pinch-runner, Stewart scored 10 runs despite reaching base just once on his own accord — that via a walk — and being thrown out in his only stolen base attempt. Over a seven-year-career that saw him play for four teams, Stewart scored 74 runs while logging just 63 hits.

Jim Thome hit the 599th and 600th home runs of his Hall-of-Fame career on today’s date in 2011. Thome’s long-balls helped lead the Minnesota Twins to a 9-6 win over the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park.

Players born on today’s date include Joe Cowley, who in 1986 threw a no-hitter against the California Angels while pitching for the Chicago White Sox. He walked seven and allowed one run. Cowley went on to finish his career with 33 wins and a 4.20 ERA over five big-league seasons.

Also born on today’s date was Doggie Miller, whose career spanned the 1884-1896 seasons. Playing primarily for the Pittsburgh Alleghenys/Pirates, the Brooklyn-born Miller saw action at every defensive position besides pitcher.

MLB history includes 173 players who were born in the state of Oregon. The first was Jiggs Parrott, who debuted with the National League’s Chicago Colts in 1892. The second was Parrott’s brother, Tom, who joined him in Chicago the following year. The Parrots were from Portland.

Dave Brain bashed an NL-best 10 home runs while playing for the Boston Doves in 1907. A native of Hereford, England, Brain hit seven of those dingers in an 18-day stretch from August 16 to September 2. He then hit his last career home run two weeks later.





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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Yurchak and Ian Anderson played together at Shenendehowa High School in upstate NY. Shen is always a good program, but they were hard to beat with those guys.