Sunday Notes: Under-The-Radar Yankees Prospect Ben Rice Raked This Year

Ben Rice led all New York Yankees minor leaguers with a 183 wRC+ this past season. Given the degree to which he’s flown under most prospect radar, it wouldn’t be unreasonable for you to read those words and ask, “Who the heck is Ben Rice?“

Here is a snapshot answer to that question:

A 24-year-old left-handed-hitting catcher, Rice grew up in Massachusetts and went on to attend Dartmouth College, from where the Yankees selected him in the 12th round of the 2021 draft. His first full professional season was solid but not especially notable; in 68 games with Low-A Tampa, he logged an .810 OPS and went deep nine times. This year was particularly notable. Playing at three levels — the majority of his games were at Double-A Somerset — he slashed .324/.434/.615 with 20 home runs in 332 plate appearances.

My own knowledge of Rice was admittedly next to nil prior to talking him in Portland, Maine in early September. Somerset broadcaster Steven Cusumano suggested Rice as a deserving interview subject, and as circumstances would have it, that conversation came moments later. Outside of having been told that the backstop had been tearing up the Eastern League — I later saw that his OPS was north of 1.000 — I basically went in blind.

I asked the erstwhile psychology major about his breakout. More specifically, why was he was enjoying such a boffo season with the bat?

“I mean, I don’t really know were to start,” replied Rice. “I got off to a good start at Hudson Valley, missed a couple months with [a back] injury, then got sent up to Double-A after a rehab assignment. I guess I’ve just been able to get on a good roll here.”

Elaborating, Rice said that simply gaining more experience has been a primary driver to his success. COVID led to the cancellation of all but the first seven games of the 2020 Ivy League season, and subsequently all of the 2021 season. He had just 110 collegiate plate appearances when he entered pro ball.

His adjustments since signing include simplifying his setup and stroke.

“Nothing crazy,” Rice said when asked about his progression. “Maybe a little bit with how I was positioning my bat in my launch position. That was one thing, just making it a little flatter, giving myself a little more room for error by being more on plane with the baseball. That’s just a small thing, though. I don’t think too much about mechanics. When I do, that’s when it starts to get a little funky.”

How does the emerging-from-under-the-radar prospect identify as a hitter?

“I’d call myself a contact hitter with power,” said Rice. who had a 13.3% walk rate, an 18.7 strikeout rate, and a .462 wOBA to go with his aforementioned numbers. “That’s maybe better than a power hitter that makes contact? I’m not sure.”

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RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS

Stephen Vogt went 7 for 11 against Jeremy Guthrie.

Sean Casey went 7 for 11 against Dave Mlicki.

Dick Allen went 11 for 23 against Jim Bunning.

Don Demeter went 6 for 11 against Jim Brewer.

Rip Repulski went 6 for 10 against Ron Mrozinski.

Rogers Hornsby went 16 for 36 against Pol Perritt.

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Voting for the Hall of Fame is an honor that I have for the fourth time this year — my colleague Jay Jaffe does as well — and as always, difficult decisions loom. Not only do numbers need to be assessed (for instance, how much weight should be put on peak?), issues such as PEDs, cheating scandals, and off-the-field accusations make the process more complicated that it otherwise would be.

There is the “fame factor” to consider. While not nearly as important as on-the-field accomplishments, it can’t be fully discounted. I’ll use Bill Mazeroski as an example. Many feel that the Pittsburgh Pirates legend wasn’t worthy of enshrinement, as he logged just 2,016 hits, an 82 wRC+, and 30.9 WAR. I do consider him worthy of the honor he received in 2001 via the Veteran’s Committee. Mazeroski was long considered the best defensive second baseman in baseball history (by no means a farfetched belief) and he also happened to hit what is arguably the most famous home run in World Series history, a Game 7 walk-off that gave the Pirates a 10-9 win over the vaunted New York Yankees in 1960. Mazeroski’s “fame” bona fides are real.

Which leads us to a name I’m not currently planning to put a checkmark next to on my forthcoming ballot … even though I’m not 100% convinced I shouldn’t. First-time eligible Bartolo Colon certainly has fame on his side. It’s not Mazeroski-type fame, but it’s safe to say that “Big Sexy” is one of the most popular players of our generation. The rotund right-hander pitched his last game at age 45 in his 21st MLB season, and his lone home run is a thing of legend. Hit two weeks before his 43rd birthday, it made Colon the oldest player ever to hit his first-ever dinger.

As for his overall numbers, let’s just say there are pitchers in the Hall of Fame who accomplished less. Colon logged 247 wins, 2,535 strikeouts, made four All-Star teams, and won a Cy Young Award. While not quite Cooperstown-worthy numbers, they are only part of the story. Maybe Colon actually does deserve my vote?

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A quiz:

Andy Pettitte’s 19 postseason wins are the most in MLB history. Which pitcher has the most postseason losses?

The answer can be found below.

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NEWS NOTES

The Chicago White Sox have named Paul Janish as their new director of player development. The 41-year-old former big-league infielder has spent the last two years as an associate head coach at Rice University.

The San Diego Padres are planning to hire Mike Daly to manage their Triple-A affiliate, the El Paso Diablos. Daly has been serving as San Diego’s assistant farm director. (Per The Athletic’s Dennis Lin).

Mike Sarbaugh reportedly won’t be returning to the Cleveland Guardians next season. The 56-year-old erstwhile infielder had been in the organization for over three decades. He played in the system from 1990-1994, served as a minor-league hitting coach and manager from 1995-2012, and since 2013 he’s been on Terry Francona’s big-league staff, primarily as third base coach.

Dick Drago, a right-hander who pitched for five teams in a career that spanned the 1969-1981 seasons, died on Thursday at age 78. A Toledo native who attended the University of Detroit Mercy, Drago went 17-11 as a starter with the Kansas City Royals in 1971, and later had multiple double-digit save seasons with the Boston Red Sox. All told, he went 108-117 with 58 saves and a 3.62 ERA over 519 appearances.

Dick Bremer is retiring after calling Minnesota Twins games for 40 years. In the press release announcing the move, the venerable play-by-play voice stated that he had broadcast 4,972 Twins games, and over the past year he’d thought about how it would be cool to make it to 5,000 — only to realize that would be selfish. As Bremer put it, “A broadcast should NEVER be about the announcer. It should ALWAYS be about the game and those who play it.” Amen to that.

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The answer to the quiz is Tom Glavine, with 16 postseason losses. Greg Maddux has the second-most postseason losses with 14.

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Frank Howard’s passing away this past Monday at age 87 merits more a mention in News Notes. Not only did the hulking 6-foot-7, 270-pound slugger log a 140 wRC+ from 1958-1973, he twice led the American League in home runs and totaled 383 for his career. Over a five-year stretch with the Washington Senators, “The Capital Destroyer” averaged 40 long balls annually with a 164 wRC+. In 1968, he had a six-game stretch where he went 13-for-24 with 10 home runs.

Along with tape-measure homers, Howard was known as a gentle giant. Humility was one of his traits. When I had the pleasure of interviewing him in 2010, Howard told me that he didn’t consider himself worthy of the Hall of Fame. He also said that he “can’t be critical of anything in the game of baseball… The game of baseball has been an absolute delight to be a part of.”

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Earlier this week I read a baseball column that rubbed me the wrong way. Written by a veteran scribe with a reputation of disliking the modern game, it included his saying that he was planning to watch basketball, and not World Series Game 5, later that night. He also suggested that no one knew who two specific players were in the respective Arizona and Texas starting lineups.

If you don’t respect the game and the people who play it, you probably shouldn’t write about it. In my opinion, baseball is to be embraced, not trolled.

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FOREIGN AFFAIRS

The Hanshin Tigers won this year’s Japan Series in seven games over the Orix Buffaloes. Sheldon Neuse went 2-for-5 with a home run and four RBIs. Kōji Chikamoto went 4-for-5 and was named Series MVP.

Marwin Gonzalez became the fifth player in baseball history to homer in both the World Series and the Japan Series when he went deep for the Orix Buffaloes earlier this week. Andruw Jones, Johnny Logan, Hideki Matsui, and Roy White had done so previously.

Yoshinobu Yamamoto won this year’s Eiji Sawamura Award — NPB’s equivalent to the Cy Young Award — for the third straight season. The Orix right-hander, who is widely expected to sign with an MLB team this winter, went 16-6 with a 1.21 ERA.

Yuto Akihiro slashed .273/.318/.402 with 10 home runs in 439 plate appearances for the Tokyo Yomiuri Giants. One of the tallest players in NPB history, the 6-foot-6 outfielder/first baseman was among the youngest this season. Yuto turned 21 in mid-September.

The KT Wiz beat the NC Dinos 3-2 yesterday to advance to the KBO’s championship series, where they face the LG Twins. The Korean Series begins on Tuesday.

Ed Howard, whom the Cubs drafted 16th overall in 2021 out of Chicago’s Mount Carmel High School. will play for the Australia Baseball League’s Canberra Cavalry this winter. The 21-year-old infielder spent this summer with High-A south Bend where he slashed .199/.239/.244 in 188 plate appearances.

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Baltimore Orioles reliever Shintaro Fujinami led last Sunday’s column, and today he’ll occupy space toward the bottom. Not included from our September conversation in last week’s Notes were his thoughts on a former Hanshin Tigers teammate, and a difference in how MLB and NPB players are viewed by their respective teams and leagues.

“I believe that an Ichiro [Suzuki] or [Norichika] Aoki type of hitter — a outfielder with good contact skills and speed — has a better chance coming here than a power hitter,” opined Fujinami. “Koji Chikamoto might be a good fit. He’s a left-handed-hitting centerfielder who makes good contact and is really fast. I think he could maybe steal 50 bases if he played here.”

Chikamoto, who turns 29 on Thursday, slashed .285/.380/.429 with 24 doubles, 12 triples, eight home runs, and 28 stolen bases in 31 attempts for this year’s Pacific League champions. A .291/.348/.402 hitter over five NPB seasons, he went 14-for-29 in this year’s Japan Series.

Fujinami’s tenure in Japan was at time tenuous. Despite solid overall numbers, which included a 3.41 ERA and 1,011 strikeouts in 994 NPB innings, he was temporarily demoted to Hanshin’s minor-league affiliate on pretty much a yearly basis. As recently as 2022 — this while displaying enough raw stuff and upside to bring him to MLB — Fujinami made 16 appearances with the Tigers and nine more in the Japanese Western League.

“How Japanese baseball evaluates players compared to how US baseball evaluates players is different,” said Fujinama, who debuted in NPB at age 19 and went on make 189 of his 252 appearances at the highest level. “In the middle of my career, I didn’t have good enough numbers. Here it is more about your potential ability. American baseball kind of has an unpolished-diamond [approach]. Over there, you have to put up good numbers, traditional numbers like wins, homers and RBIs. I still haven’t put it all together.”

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FARM NOTES

David McCabe is slashing .271/.435/.357 with a circuit-best 21 walks in 92 plate appearances for the Arizona Fall League’s Salt River Rafters. A native of Oshawa, Ontario, the 23-year-old third baseman in the Atlanta Braves organization had 17 home runs and a .276/.386/.450 line between Low-A Augusta and High-A Rome.

Victor Scott II is slashing .272/.366/.407 in 94 plate appearances, and has 16 stolen bases in 18 attempts, for the AFL’s Scottsdale Scorpions. The 22-year-old outfielder in the St. Louis Cardinals system had 94 steals and a .303/.369/.425 line between High-A Peoria and Double-A Springfield.

Dominic Keegan is 18-for-50 with three home runs for the AFL’s Peoria Javelinas. The 23-year-old catcher in the Tampa Bay Rays system slashed .287/.386/.467 with 13 home runs between Low-A Charleston and High-A Bowling Green. The Methuen, Massachusetts native was drafted out of Vanderbilt University in 2022.

Emiliano Teodo has thrown 11 scoreless innings while fanning 19 batters and allowing just three hits and three walks for the AFL’s Surprise Saguaros. The 22-year-old right-hander in the Texas Rangers organization had a 4.52 ERA and 84 strikeouts in 61-and-two-thirds innings with High-A Hickory.

Jordan Leasure has fanned 13 batters while allowing just two hits and a pair of walks over eight-and-a-third innings for the AFL’s Glendale Desert Dogs. Acquired by the Chicago White Sox from the Los Angeles Dodgers at the trade deadline as part of the five-player Lance Lynn deal, the25-year-old right-hander had a 3.91 ERA and 79 strikeouts in 48-and-a-third innings between Double-A Tulsa and Triple-A Charlotte.

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The mailbag in Baseball America’s most-recent print edition included a fan asking if there is a chance that another 30 minor-league teams will cut in the next few years. (Looking to increase profit margin, MLB’s billionaire owners conspired to contract the minors following the 2020 season.) According to BA’s J.J. Cooper, the answer is no. The current working agreement, which runs through 2030, stipulates that there can be no such reduction of teams. What happens seven years from now is of course anyone’s guess.

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Speaking of questions to J.J. Cooper, something I recently read in Bob Ryan’s 1974 book Wait Till I Make the Show: Baseball in the Minor Leagues prompted one of my own. Quoted within was the following from a staff member of the 1972 Great Falls Giants (future big-leaguers on the team included Ed Halicki and Bob Knepper), which competed in the rookie-level Pioneer League:

“[Manager Dick Wilson] doesn’t even stay in the same hotel, because he doesn’t want to get too personally involved with his players. That’s because he’s the one who must decide who gets released.”

I contacted Cooper to ask what he could tell me about this. To what extent did managers actually make such decisions in the 1970s?

“As best as I understand from my research over the years and conversations with baseball lifers, I could imagine that a manager was more involved in those decisions, but teams had farm directors (and usually also a director of player procurement who was the scouting director,” BA’s editor-in-chief told me via direct message. “Technically at that point — also as best I remember from research I’ve done — all moves were officially done by the MiLB teams, so if a Double-A team released a player, it was done by the MiLB team, even though it was the MLB team making the decision.”

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LINKS YOU’LL LIKE

At The Japan Times, Joel Tansey wrote about how this year’s Japan Series between the Hanshin Tigers and Osaka’s Orix Buffaloes is a tale of two fanbases.

At Japan Today, Todd Wojnowski wrote an elegy to Tokyo’s doomed (and historic) Jingu Stadium and its fans.

Covering The Corner’s Quincy Wheeler offered some offseason roster suggestions that the Cleveland Guardians might want to consider.

Purple Row’s Joelle Milholm looked at the Colorado Rockies’ Silver Slugger history, which this year is sans a single finalist.

Pinstripe Alley’s Matt Ferenchick looked back at the life and career of colorful 1960s New Yankees outfielder Joe Pepitone.

Eric Nadel has called Texas Rangers games for 45 years, and last week he was behind the mic when the team won its first-ever World Series — this at the culmination of a season where the 72-year-old broadcast legend took a leave of absence to address depression, anxiety, and insomnia issues. Levi Weaver has the story at The Athletic (subscription required).

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RANDOM FACTS AND STATS

Bruce Bochy has managed 26 MLB seasons. None of his teams have won 100 or more games in a single season, nor have they lost 100 or more games.

Connie Mack managed five teams that won 100 or more games. He managed 10 teams that lost 100 or more games.

Boog Powell won two World Series playing with the Baltimore Orioles. The slugging first baseman went 16-for-45 (.356) with four home runs and 12 RBIs over 12 postseason games while doing so.

Aaron Sele made seven postseason starts, one in which he allowed one run over seven-and-a-third innings and got a no-decision while The right-hander was tagged with a loss in all six of his other starts.

Boston Red Sox batters combined to hit 14 home runs in 1916, all but one of them on the road. They then hit two, both by Larry Gardner and also on the road, while winning the World Series over the Brooklyn Robins in five games. Twenty-one-year-old left-hander Babe Ruth went deep three times for Boston that year, while also going 23-12 with a 1.75 ERA.

All but two of the 14 pitchers who played for the Kansas City Athletics’ Florida Instructional League affiliate in 1964 went on play in the big leagues. The staff included 18-year-old Catfish Hunter, who hurled 55 innings in what would be his only minor-league season. Blue Moon Odom was also on the team.

Sadaharu Oh retired on today’s date in 1980. Japan’s all-time home run leader went deep 868 times while slashing .301/.446/.634 for the Tokyo Yomiuri Giants over 22 seasons.

On today’s date in 1963, the New York Mets traded Roger Craig to the St. Louis Cardinals in exchange for George Altman and Bill Wakefield. Craig, who later became a manager and pitching coach — he was an early proponent of the split-finger fastball — had gone a combined 15-46 with a 4.14 ERA for the Mets over the previous two seasons. He went 7-9, 3.25 in his one season in St. Louis.

Players born on today’s date include Putsy Caballero, an infielder who logged 150 hits while playing for the Philadelphia Phillies from 1944-1952. The youngest player in franchise history — he debuted at age 16 — Caballero fanned against Whitey Ford in his lone World Series at-bat, in 1950.

Also born on today’s date was Greasy Neale, an outfielder for the Cincinnati Reds, and briefly the Phillies, from 1916-1924. Neale had 10 hits in 28 at-bats for the Reds when they captured the 1919 Black Sox World Series, and he later won a pair of NFL titles as the coach of the Philadelphia Eagles. Neale is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.





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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MikeDmember
5 months ago

Normally I’d discount the stats of a 24-year-old college player only in AA, but Ben Rice falls into a weird category caused by the seasons of COVID. His development does not fit a standard timeline. Be interesting to see how he does in AAA, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he makes it to the majors in the second half of the year. I think he’s a major league hitter, even if he’s platooned. I’m just not sure if he has a defensive position he can hold. The swing looks made for Yankee Stadium.

So the baseball scribe who hates baseball. Is it Dan Shaughnessy?!

Last edited 5 months ago by MikeD
John Elway
5 months ago
Reply to  MikeD

They should have sent that long in the tooth old mule Shaughnessy out to pasture long ago. He never should have been employed furlong, unless someone was chomping at the bit to trot out the world’s first troll under the Boston Globe brand.

Just neighing.

LightenUpFGmember
5 months ago
Reply to  John Elway

Shaughnessy is excellent, and is one of the rare sportswriters these days willing to put an opinion out there and not pull any punches. The carelessly posted call for the removal of him and writers of his ilk would plunge sportswriting into a vanilla quagmire.

LightenUpFGmember
5 months ago
Reply to  LightenUpFG

Pretty sure people don’t even know who the guy is at this point, so go give a few of his articles a read. Maybe you might change your mind despite what one writer wishes based off of one article.

LightenUpFGmember
5 months ago
Reply to  LightenUpFG

Haha, wow… lots of angry people here. Keep loving that down thumb, folks. See if you can get it to 30 people who don’t like good sportswriting and wish for all older sportswriters to quit already.

Last edited 5 months ago by LightenUpFG
montrealmember
5 months ago
Reply to  MikeD

I can’t see Ben Rice being a real prospect. He will be 25 years old and has just over 200 at bats past high A ball. The covid year was a covid year for all players. I’m a huge Yankee fan but I’m not counting on Ben Rice to ever make the team. He is not ” a bit ” older……he is MUCH older. I wish him luck but….