Article from the archives—31-year-old Amaury Sanit makes major league debut

I wrote this back in 2011, when 31-year-old pitcher Amauri (then spelled Amaury) Sanit made his big league debut with the Yankees. The hurler spent only four games in the majors, but after an escape from Cuba and a rocky road up the minor league ladder, he finally made it.

***

Following his big league stay, Sanit played in the Mexican League. (Wikipedia).

It always tickles my tailbone whenever an “old” career minor leaguer makes his major league debut. These grizzled veterans are the epitome of dedication, never giving up long after many of their younger, fresh-faced counterparts have been promoted to the big leagues and established themselves at that level.

New York Yankees pitcher Amaury Sanit is one such “old guy.” At 31 years old, he was one of only a few tricenarians still toiling in the minor leagues—most guys his age, if they haven’t had a taste of the majors, stop playing by then. But not Sanit.

He made his debut on May 12 against the Kansas City Royals and pitched 4 2/3 innings of relief after starter Ivan Nova struggled. He allowed three runs on four hits and two walks, while striking out two batters (including the very first man he faced, Jeff Francoeur) and though he did not pitch particularly well—he left the game with a 5.79 ERA—he still accomplished what every minor league baseball player dreams of accomplishing—he played in the major leagues.

His story really begins in Cuba, where he was born in 1979. In his native land, Sanit pitched seven seasons, going 25-25 with 58 saves and a 4.11 ERA in the Cuban Serie Nacional. He was a solid pitcher who was one of the better closers of his era.

 In 2003, he made the perilous trek from Cuba to the United States. The Yankees signed him in 2008 and he pitched two games for their Dominican Summer League team—a group comprised of teens and young adults…and one 28-year-old Cuban defector. He moved stateside in 2009 and pitched for three teams and performed well with each—combined, he posted a 3.16 ERA with 10 saves.

Then he got in trouble with the law—the laws governing baseball, that is. During the 2010 season, Sanit was caught using much-maligned performance enhancing drugs, which earned him a 50 game suspension. For a 30-year-old minor leaguer, such an event can be the death knell for a professional career.

Not for Sanit, however. He bounced back from his transgression and pitched well to start the 2011 minor league season, winning two games and striking out 24 batters in 16 1/3 innings.

And then he got the call that 100 percent of all minor leaguers yearn for, but only a small percentage receive. Amaury Sanit, after years of playing baseball in various countries all over the world, is now a major leaguer.

***

Sanit allowed 10 earned runs in 7 big league innings, giving him a 12.86 ERA.

Worst trades in Mets history, #8: Dan Wheeler for Adam Seuss

Okay, okay. What I consider “worst” is very arbitrary. If I liked a player and he got sent packing, that’s a deal that goes in my pile of worst trades.

I made a similar face when I saw how well he did when he left the Mets. (Wikipedia).

Such is the case of reliever Dan Wheeler, whom New York traded to the Astros for minor league outfielder Adam Seuss on August 27, 2004.

Granted, to that point in his career, Wheeler hadn’t done much, not even with the Mets. From 1999 to 2001, he pitched sparingly for the Devil Rays, allowing 94 hits in 71 1/3 innings for a 6.43 ERA. He spent all of 2002 in the minors, then New York took a flier on him, signing him in February 2003.

Everything about the ’03 squad was horrid, including their pitching. Five guys finished with ERAs over 10 and their 4.48 club mark was 10th in the National League. Tom Glavine, brought on the help revive the team after a 75-86 2002, went 9-14 with a 4.52 ERA. The Mets lost 95 games that year.

With such a mediocre pitching staff, ample opportunities cropped up for men to try their hand at keeping the ship from sinking any further. Wheeler was one of them. Debuting with New York on June 18 against Florida, he went 3 innings, struck out 2 batters and didn’t allow a hit or a run. Welcome aboard, Dan.

Carrying a 2.31 mark through his first 15 appearances, Wheeler looked like the cog New York needed. Until he fell apart. On July 29, he allowed 4 earned runs in 4 innings for the loss; in his next appearance, he surrendered 5 earned runs in a single frame and his season ERA skyrocketed to 4.76. Though he carried a 2.38 mark from that point forward, his season totals—marred by two horrendous games—were an underwhelming 3.71 ERA and 114 ERA+ in 35 appearances.

It was even worse in 2004. In 32 games, he gave New York a 4.80 ERA and 11.5 H/9 IP ratio. The Mets had had enough and shipped him to Houston in late August for the little-known Adam Seuss (no relation to the doctor).

Seuss spent a couple games in the Mets system, never advancing beyond Single-A. They cut him loose and he re-signed with Houston for 2005, which proved to be his final professional campaign.

Wheeler became a whole new man after joining the Astros. In 14 games in 2004, he had a 2.51 ERA, then didn’t allow a run in 5 postseason appearances. In 2005, he had an All-Star quality campaign, posting a 2.21 mark and 192 ERA+ as Houston’s best relief pitcher not named Brad Lidge. The Astros won 89 games that year, snagged the wild card and—with the hurler producing a 2.08 ERA in the NLDS and not allowing a run in the NLCS—took home the pennant. They lost in the World Series to the White Sox; Wheeler had a 13.50 ERA. As Dan went, so went Houston.

The Astros slipped to just 82 victories in 2006, but Wheeler didn’t slip at all. In 75 games, he had a 2.52 ERA and 177 ERA+. After posting a 5.07 mark through 45 appearances in 2007, he was shipped to his old home, Tampa Bay, for former Mets third baseman Ty Wigginton (himself involved in one of the team’s worst trades ever).

From 2008 to 2010, he was one of the Rays’ most reliable relief pitchers, averaging a 3.24 ERA, 68 games and 20 games finished per season. Though he tanked in the ’08 postseason (6 earned runs allowed in 8 2/3 innings) it was on the back of his solid pitching that Tampa Bay got there in the first place.

After a couple more middling seasons with Boston and Cleveland, Wheeler wrapped up his career after 2012.

His totals after leaving the Mets: 492 games, 3.54 ERA, 157 games finished, 43 saves. In the playoffs, he had a 3.38 mark in 21 appearances, averaging more than a strikeout per inning.

Ahhh, what refreshingly respectable numbers the Mets could have used in the mid- and late-2000s, when they were vying for spots in the postseason and trying to establish some level of legitimacy. Instead, they kept the likes of the always-mediocre Aaron Heilman (see here) and Scott Schoeneweis around, as well as experiments like Dae-Sung Koo. Instead, they built a core that led to miserable collapses in 2007 and 2008.

Would Wheeler alone have prevented the Mets woes of that always promising, but perpetually disappointing, era? Maybe not. One relief pitcher does not change the fortunes of an entire team, unless he’s Tug McGraw.

But hey, he would’ve done more than Adam Suess and his one hit at Single-A.

Looks like we made it, pt. 1: Celebrating the old guys who finally reached the majors in 2021—Mickey Jannis.

Thus far in the 2021 season, 221 players have debuted in the majors. Eighty-three weren’t yet 25 when they ran onto a big league field for the first time, and 172 were younger than 27.

It’s common sense—as prospects age (and lose the prospect tag), their chances of reaching the major leagues dwindle year-by-year. By the time they’re in their late 20s, they should already be in the big leagues. By the time they’re in their 30s, many men are already seasoned veterans.

For many players, however, the call isn’t easy to come by. They toil on the farm, waiting for someone to say their name’s been picked … but no one ever does. Many guys give up and walk away.

But some keep pushing with the fire burning in their hearts and that goal—that dream of playing in the majors—drawing them back season after season. As so many of their counterparts grow old, are cut loose, retire or just fade out of sight, they keep going.

Some, even, after they reach 30 years of age.

Like 33-year-old Mickey Jannis, who finally made his debut with the struggling Orioles on June 23. For a minor league veteran like him, playing in a flailing team’s farm system was to his benefit. Those on the big league roster aren’t playing well—which is why the team is doing so poorly—so they get demoted and swapped out regularly.

All that shuffling around, all that throwing stuff at the wall to see if it will stick, inevitably leads to the club giving even the unlikeliest of candidates a try.

And Jannis was the archetype of unlikely. Drafted by the Rays in the 44th round of the 2010 amateur draft, he remained in their system for only a couple seasons before being cut loose. It’s not like he performed poorly—his ERAs were 2.52 and 3.30, respectively—but Tampa Bay moved on anyway.

From 2012 to 2014, he played in independent baseball, becoming a familiar face in the Frontier and Atlantic Leagues; he even spent a winter in Australia, going 2-4 with a 3.05 ERA in 44 1/3 innings with the Brisbane Bandits.

After an excellent stint with the Atlantic League’s Long Island Ducks in 2015 (6-2, 1.18 ERA in 83 2/3 IP), the Mets inked him to a contract midseason. He proceeded to go 2-3 with a 3.55 mark in 11 games (10 starts) between Single- and Double-A. Earning a stint in the Arizona Fall League, he had a 2.33 mark in 6 starts there.

Double-A seemed like his peak. In 2018 and 2019, he had ERAs of 3.60 and 3.10 at that level, respectively. At Triple-A, where he pitched briefly both years, his marks were 14.63 and 22.95.

And the clock was ticking. Jannis was 31 in 2019.

The Orioles signed him in January 2020, though he didn’t play that year due to the coronavirus causing the cancellation of the minor league season.

Back in the Orioles system in 2021, the hurler’s line on the farm was hardly enviable. He was 0-1 with a 6.60 ERA in 3 Double-A starts, and 0-5 with a 4.98 mark in 13 Triple-A games (5 starts).

But the Orioles were so bad, so desperate for anyone who could provide anything, they gave him the call.

On June 22, he was added to the 40-man roster as they designated struggling righty Mac Sceroler for assignment.

At that point in the season, Baltimore was already 21 games back at 23-50. Whether they were using Jannis because they thought he could truly help them, or if they were just giving him his gold watch and long-awaited debut because, hey, why not—it’s not like doing so would hurt their playoff chances or anything—doesn’t really matter.

On June 23, Mickey Jannis became a major leaguer.

Entering a blowout against Houston in which Orioles starter Thomas Eshelman surrendered 6 runs in 4 innings, Jannis took the mound and, skilled baseball veteran that he was, struck out his first batter, Yordan Alvarez. Then he got the next man, Carlos Correa, to flyout. Kyle Tucker walked but was caught stealing.

Easy peasy.

Also, beginner’s luck.

In his next frame, he surrendered two singles and a walk, allowing a run to score. Still not too bad, his ERA for the day was, at that point, 4.50.

In the top of the seventh, Alvarez avenged his earlier strikeout with a leadoff home run. Then Jannis surrendered a double, a walk, a home run (to Abraham Toro) and a walk before even recording an out. The next batters went down one-two-three.

He began the top of the eighth by inducing a weak pop fly off the bat of Taylor Jones, but then Chas McCormick launched another dinger, followed by a Robel Garcia single and Kyle Tucker double.

Mercifully, he was pulled, but not after giving up 7 earned runs in 3 1/3 innings.

On June 25, he was designated for assignment.

The  Jannis Era began with such hope and anticipation—on his end, at least—and ended with a thud. His line includes 8 hits and 3 home runs allowed, 4 walks and an 18.90 ERA.

If Jannis ever returns to the majors remains to be seen. But after spending more than a decade in pro ball, playing all over the globe—

At this point, to even have the potential to return, well, that’s got to be the greatest feeling in the world.