Sunday Notes: Xzavion Curry is Commanding Attention by David Laurila September 12, 2021 Xzavion Curry is a prospect-on-the-rise in the Cleveland organization. A seventh-round pick in 2019 out of Georgia Tech, the 23-year-old right-hander is 8-1 with a 2.23 ERA in 18 starts between Low-A Lynchburg and High-A Lake County. With the lion’s share at the latter, Curry has allowed just 65 hits in 93 innings. Moreover, he’s fanned 118 batters and issued just 16 free passes. Command is Curry’s forte, but it’s not his only attribute. As our own Eric Longenhagen wrote in early June, the 5-foot-11, 195-pound hurler’s “vertical arm slot creates angle and carry on a fastball that plays well at the letters.” Augmenting Curry’s 91-94 mph four-seamer are a curveball, a slider, and a changeup. He’s only been a full-time pitcher for a handful of years. Curry came to Georgia Tech as a two-way player, having excelled both on the mound and at short as an Atlanta-area prep. That his college coaches made him a full-time pitcher is a testament to changing times. Curry is African-American, and Black players have historically been channeled into position-player roles. Black pitchers have been at a premium. “That does enter my mind,” said Curry, who had a 17-inning scoreless streak come to an end earlier this week. “As I go around to different places, and play different teams, I don’t really see a lot of Black pitchers. So that is something I’ve noticed, but as the younger generation goes forward, those guys just keep getting better and better. We have a couple in our organization, and I’m pretty sure we’ll start to see more and more Black pitchers.” Curry cited a different sport when addressing his plus command. “One my strong points is being able to throw wherever I want to throw,” said Curry. “I played quarterback [in high school] and being accurate was kind of my thing. If I pick up a football, I feel like I can throw it through a cone, or hit a wide receiver on a dime. I take that same mentality to baseball. It’s like, ‘OK, this is the zone, and there’s no way I can’t throw it there.’ I’m blessed with being an accurate thrower.” And then there is his sense of style, which came about mostly by accident. Watching a video of Curry from late August, I observed that he was wearing high socks. It turns out that the look — at least initially — was more about comfort. “In the first part of the season, I actually wore my pants down,” explained Curry. “Honestly, I started wearing the high socks because I feel like I have more mobility with the pants up, and with high socks. With long pants, sometimes I feel that once I’m getting to the top of my leg lift, I’m kind of being restricted. I don’t want any restrictions that could hinder my motion, and when I tried that in practice one day it felt good; it felt almost like I was wearing shorts. So it’s more about being comfortable, but at the same time, I do kind of like the look.” More importantly, the numbers look great. Curry has the seventh-lowest ERA and the sixth-highest K/BB rate among minor-league pitchers who have thrown at least 70 innings this year. Unheralded coming into the season, he’s emerged as a promising prospect in Cleveland’s pitching pipeline. ——— RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS Shohei Ohtani is 0 for 2 against Glenn Otto. Otto Knabe went 4 for 6 against Eppa Rixey. Everth Cabrera went 4 for 5 against Adam Ottavino. Ed Ott went 10 for 21 against J.R. Richard. Mel Ott went 26 for 62 against Heinie Meine. ——— José Iglesias has had an inexplicably abysmal season with the glove. When he was claimed off waivers by the Red Sox this past Monday, the highlight-reel shortstop had minus-21 DRS, the worst mark of any player at any position. I asked Iglesias about his atypically-poor metrics when he met with the Boston media on Tuesday. “It’s a fair question,” responded Iglesias. “The numbers are not there. I’m not trying to find excuses, but energy has a lot to do with it. So, I’m not concerned at all. I have zero concern about my defense, or my stats on defense. It’s something I definitely need to improve, numbers-wise, but I know it’s all about energy for me.” The team that released Iglesias, the Los Angeles Angels, were 12-and-a-half games in arrears of the second Wild Card when I posed my question. A Red Sox beat writer followed up by asking Iglesias if energy will come from playing for a winning team. “Not necessarily,” said Iglesias. “It’s just being in the moment and feeling connected. And playing for something. I like playing for something.” ——— A quiz: Mike Hegan hit the first home run in Seattle Pilots/Milwaukee Brewers franchise history on opening day in 1969. The team moved from Seattle to Milwaukee the following year. Who hit the first home run wearing a Brewers uniform? The answer can be found below. ——— NEWS NOTES AND NUMBERS The Tampa Bay Rays have extended the contract of Erik Neander and promoted him to President of Baseball Operations. The 38-year-old lead architect of one of baseball’s best teams had held the title of Senior Vice President of Baseball Operations and General Manager. The Texas Rangers have announced a number of front office changes. Notable among them are the promotion of Ross Fenstermaker to Vice President and Assistant General Manager for Player Development and International Operations, and Josh Boyd to Vice President and Assistant General Manager for Scouting. Claire Smith was named yesterday as the recipient of SABR’s 2021 Dorothy Seymour Mills Lifetime Achievement Award. Justine Siegel, Janet Marie Smith, and Toni Stone were the other finalists. Cleveland is 96-for-109 in stolen base attempts; their 88.1% success rate is the best in MLB. Cincinnati is 27-for-49 in stolen base attempts; their 55.1% success rate is the worst in MLB. San Diego Padres reliever Austin Adams has 20 HBPs in 47-and-two-thirds innings. In Korea, LG Twins starter Casey Kelly set a KBO record by pitching at least five innings in 48 consecutive starts. Kelly had been tied with former Kia Tigers — and current Texas Rangers pitcher — Hyeon-Jong Yang. (Per JeeHo Yoo.) ——— The answer to the quiz is Danny Walton, who went deep twice in Milwaukee’s fourth game of the 1970 season. Played in Chicago, it was the first win in Brewers history. ——— Miguel Cabrera, who last month hit his 500th career home run, is approaching several other milestones. The Detroit Tigers first baseman needs 26 hits to reach 3,000, six doubles to reach 600, four RBIs to reach 1,800, and two walks to reach 1,200. On Friday, Cabrera achieved another notable feat when he recorded his ninth hit in as many at bats. The last Tigers player to get that many consecutive hits was Walt Dropo, who logged 12 straight in 1952. Dropo co-holds MLB’s consecutive-hits record along with Johnny Kling, with the Chicago Cubs in 1902, and Pinky Higgins, with the Boston Red Sox in 1938. Of note, Dropo’s 12 consecutive hits came in July, one month after the Tigers acquired him from the Red Sox as part of a nine-player trade. ——— Taylor Kohlwey may or may not get his first big-league call-up in the waning weeks of the season. Either way, he’s already exceeded expectations. San Diego selected the now-27-year-old outfielder in the 21st round of the 2016 draft out of Division III Wisconsin-LaCrosse. His prospect profile has never been particularly high. In a 2021 campaign that includes 18 games with Double-A San Antonio, Kohlwey is slashing .335/.389/.456 in 303 plate appearances with the Triple-A El Paso Chihuahuas. That’s no small feat, especially for someone who grew up in Holmen, Wisconsin, a town of 10,000 located near the Mississippi River and the Minnesota border. (For those of you interested in Kohlwey’s NFL allegiance, he roots for the Green Bay Packers, and not the next-state-over Minnesota Vikings.) Two years before becoming a late-round draft pick, Kohlwey played for the Wisconsin Woodchucks in the summer collegiate Northwoods League. I asked the soft-spoken outfielder how he viewed his baseball future at that time. Did he see the big leagues as a realistic possibility? “I’m not sure,” said Kohlway, who counted current St. Louis Cardinals shortstop Paul DeJong as one of his Woodchucks teammates. “I’ve always hoped it would happen, but I never knew for sure what will happen, because for a lot of guys who go to Division III schools, the chances aren’t very good, even to get drafted. All I can do is focus on getting better.” Kohlwey has played with the likes of Fernando Tatis Jr., Ty France, and Taylor Trammell while coming up through the San Diego system. How hard is it for him to not dream about joining them in the big leagues, especially now that he’s just one step away? “It’s always in the back of your head,” admitted Kohlwey. “But I don’t want to distract myself with all that. I’m just trying to stay focused on the game.” And what if there is a late-September call-up to the big leagues? Will the Holman native be a celebrity when he returns to his hometown for the offseason? “I doubt it,” said Kohlwey.” It’s a pretty small area.” ——— FARM REPORT Milwaukee Brewers middle-infield prospect David Hamilton has 51 stolen bases to go with eight home runs and a .253/.336/.410 slash line between High-A Wisconsin and Double-A Biloxi. Hamilton cited 50 steals as a seasonal goal when he was featured here at FanGraphs in May. Jayce Easley leads the minors with 69 stolen bases. A 22-year-old outfielder in the Texas Rangers system, Easley is slashing .247/.406/.312 with the Low-A Down East Wood Ducks. He’s been caught stealing nine times. Kansas City Royals first-base prospect Vinnie Pasquantino leads the minors with 37 doubles. A 23-year-old left-handed hitter out of Old Dominion University, Pasquantino is slashing .311/.402/577 between High-A Quad Cities and Double-A Northwest Arkansas. He’s gone deep 22 times. Francisco Fajardo is slashing .339/.429/.422 in 128 plate appearances with the Toronto Blue Jays’ Dominican Summer League entry. The 21-year-old, switch-hitting infielder out of San Pedro de Macoris has a 6.3% strikeout rate and has stolen 16 bases in 20 attempts. Gabe Moncada has a 209 wRC+ to go with a .361/.527/.602 slash line in 148 plate appearances with the Mariners’ Dominican Summer League entry. The 19-year-old, left-handed-hitting first baseman was signed by Seattle out of Venezuela in 2018. Louie Varland is 10-3 with a 2.13 ERA and 131 strikeouts in 97 innings between Low-A Fort Myers and High-A Cedar Rapids. The 23-year-old right-hander was taken in the 15th-round of the 2019 draft by the Minnesota Twins out of Concordia University. ——— Tampa Bay Rays reliever J.P. Feyereisen was first featured in this column 24 months ago. The subject at hand wasn’t baseball. A New York Yankees prospect at that time, the River Falls, Wisconsin native shared thoughts on his favorite NFL team, predicting that the Packers would go 10-6. The Aaron Rodgers-led club went on to outperform Feyereisen’s expectations, finishing 13-3 before going on to lose the NFC championship game — a record and final result that was replicated last year. With the 2021 NFL season now on tap, I circled back to ask Feyereisen for his thoughts on this year’s Packers’ fortunes. “It’s boom-or-bust,” replied Feyereisen. “We have Rodgers for one more year, so it’s Super Bowl or bust. From there, we’ll have to figure it out going forward. Hopefully Rogers comes in with a little fire underneath his butt and plays well.” I asked Feyereisen about the soap opera that has caused consternation for fans of football’s only publicly-owned franchise. Over the course of a tumultuous offseason, Rodgers reportedly said that he wants out of Green Bay, then had his contract restructured in a way that more easily allows for an exodus. “That’s just sports,” said the 28-year-old right-hander. “It’s a business. But it’s frustrating, because you want your starting quarterback to be happy where he’s at. At the same time, you have to work with the front office; they have to plan for the [upcoming seasons].” The Packers’ chances in this year’s NFC North? “I think we’re going to win the division,” predicted Feyereisen. “The Bears, with [quarterback Justin] Shields, should be competitive. The Vikings’ defense isn’t anything special; they have good offense, but they’re not going to stop anybody. And then the Lions are the Lions. They’re going to be good again someday, but…” (Sorry, Lions fans.) ——— How will the defending Super Bowl champions fare? I asked that question to Tampa Bay Rays outfielder Brett Phillips. “I firmly believe that the ‘Champa Bay Buccaneers’ are going to defend their title,” the ever-exuberant Phillips told me. “Tom Brady was exactly what we needed: a veteran quarterback like himself to man that offense. I feel like our defense has always been pretty solid. So I think we’re going to definitely run it back this year. And it’s my hometown, so yes, I’m obligated to feel that, but at the same time, I believe that we’re still one of the best in the league.” No championship hangover? “No championship hangover,” responded Phillips. “They’re coming out Thursday against the Cowboys and they’re… oh, this is going to run on Sunday, right? So you’re going to get a hindsight 20/20 for Thursday’s game.” Acknowledging that to be true, I proceeded to ask the Florida native whom he sees as the Buccaneers’ biggest competition this coming season. “It would have to be the Kansas City Chiefs,” opined Phillips. “100%. But I also think everyone else is second to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Or should I say ‘Champa Bay’ Buccaneers.” Phillips’ favorite team beat the Dallas Cowboys 31-29 on Thursday. ——— LINKS YOU’LL LIKE Sports Illustrated’s Emma Baccellieri addressed how MLB is dealing with its fake-memorabilia problem. Marcell Ozuna agreed to a pretrial diversion program in his domestic violence case. Shaddi Abusiad has the story at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The inimitable Joe Posnanski compared and contrasted Hall of Fame shortstops Derek Jeter and Barry Larkin. The Texas Rangers’ cruelest summer is almost over, and Jamey Newberg wrote about it at D Magazine. Bat Flips & Nerds introduced us to Great Britain’s Euro 2021 baseball roster. ——— RANDOM FACTS AND STATS Nelson Cruz has slashed .343/.396/.652 in 222 career plate appearances at Fenway Park. This season, those numbers are .346/.370/.769 in 27 plate appearances. Joey Votto has played in 1,884 games and has 1,103 runs scored, 2,014 hits, 325 home runs, and a 149 wRC+. Hall of Famer Johnny Mize played in 1,884 games and had 1,118 runs scored, 2,011 hits, 359 home runs, and a 157 wRC+. Chase Headley had a .263 lifetime batting average. He hit .263 in nine seasons with the Padres, and .262 in four seasons with the Yankees. A switch-hitter, Headley hit .263 in games started by right-handed pitchers and .263 in games started by left-handed pitchers. Roy Face went 18-1 for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1959, with all of his decisions coming as a reliever. He suffered his lone loss on September 11. Jesus Alou made his MLB debut as a pinch-hitter for the San Francisco Giants on September 10, 1963. The next two batters were Matty Alou and Felipe Alou. The three brothers went down in order against New York Mets right-hander Carl Willey. On this date in 1962, Tom Cheney fanned 21 batters while throwing a 16-inning complete game as the Washington Senators beat the Baltimore Orioles 2-1. A right-hander, Cheney went 19-26 with a 3.77 ERA in eight big-league seasons. David Ortiz hit his 499th and 500th career home runs on today’s date in 2015. Big Papi is 17th on the all-time list with 541 round trippers. Red Tramback logged his lone MLB hit on September 15, 1940. Playing in the first of his two career games, the New York Giants outfielder singled off of Pittsburgh Pirates righty Rip Sewell, the inventor the eephus pitch. Players born on today’s date include Hilly Hathaway, who pitched for the California Angels in 1992 and 1993. The possessor of four big-league wins, the southpaw’s given name is Hillary Houston Hathaway. Also born on today’s date was Pepper Peploski, who appeared in two games for the Detroit Tigers in 1913. A Brooklyn-born third baseman who went 2 for 4 in his cup of coffee, Peploski played a pair of professional seasons, then hung up his spikes and attended law school. Born Joseph Aloysius Peploski, he later changed his last name to Pepper.