Studs and duds: August 22 – August 28

Salvador Perez has already topped his previous high of 27 home runs. (Wikipedia).

Salvador Perez’s power barrage continues and Sandy Alcantara shows he might be breaking out as one of the game’s top young stars.

Offensive stud: Salvador Perez (C, Royals). Perez keeps cranking in what has been a historic season for the star catcher, as he hit another home run last night to bring him to 5 in the past week, 11 in August and 37 on the year. The slugger—more a slugger now than any time in his career—also has 12 RBI and 5 walks, giving him a .382 on-base percentage over the past seven days.

This power surge has been accompanied by a rise in production in other departments, as well.  He has already set career highs in runs scored (62, previous high: 57) and RBI (92, 80), and is on pace to best his previous mark in walks (not a great accomplishment, as he still might not break 30 for the year). His career slugging mark has jumped 11 points because of this season alone.

Honorable mention: Whit Merrifield (2B, Royals; .387 BA, 4 2B, 2 HR, 10 RBI).

Offensive dud: Jose Barrero (IF, Reds). Barrero reclaims his title, going 0-for-6 with 4 strikeouts and an error in a rough showing. The speedy middle infielder is young and still working out the kinks, but his future might be brighter than his recent performance suggests: Baseball America ranked him the number 79 prospect going into 2021, and the 23-year-old has hit over .300 in the minors this year. And that’s where the Reds just sent him, back to Triple A to get him some more conditioning.

Dishonorable mention: Aristides Aquino (OF, Reds; 0-for-11, 7 K).

Shows how bad the Marlins are: In his All-Star 2019 season, Sandy Alcantara led the league with 14 losses. (Wikipedia).

Pitching stud: Sandy Alcantara (SP, Marlins). If the Marlins have any reason to believe brighter days are ahead, Alcantara is it. The hurler tossed 14 innings his past two starts, posting a 1.93 ERA while allowing just 3 runs and 3 walks, and striking out 23 batters.  There’s something about that number 3. Outside of a terrible 10 run game on August 6, he hasn’t allowed more than 2 runs in an appearance since July 27, and has a 1.24 mark since that rough outing.

Still only 25 years old, Alcantara already has an All-Star selection under his belt and owns a career 118 ERA+—and he has yet to reach his prime. The Marlins acquired him with three other decent names in a deal with St. Louis, surrendering only outfielder Marcell Ozuna to get them. Ozuna had two ho-hum seasons with the Cardinals; Alcantara is making the transaction look like a steal for Miami.

Honorable mention: Adam Wainwright (SP, Cardinals; 2-0 W-L, 15 IP, 0 ER, 1 BB).

Pitching dud: Daniel Bard (RP, Rockies). Bard returned to the majors last year after not pitching there since 2013, and in that stunted campaign with Colorado, he did pretty well. In 23 appearances, he posted a 3.65 ERA and 143 ERA+—shades of his glory days with Boston, when he had a 2.88 mark in 192 games from 2009 to 2011. He had an All-Star worthy 2010, posting a 1.93 ERA and 227 ERA+ in 73 games.

Well, this year, things have not been so sunny. His season-long struggles, which saw his ERA hover into the mid-4s as recently as August 16, culminated in an atrocious line of 1 2/3 innings pitched and 8 earned runs allowed—that’s an ERA of 43.20—over the past week. He blew a save, lost two games and saw his season ERA rise nearly a point, to 5.61. Over his last four appearances, he surrendered less than 2 earned runs just once and didn’t manage a single out in his last go-round against the Dodgers on August 28. It was nice having you back, Daniel, I hope you enjoyed your stay—because it won’t be too much longer.

Dishonorable mention: Jake Petricka (RP, Angels; 1 IP, 5 ER, 1 L, 1 BSV, 45.00 ERA).

Studs and duds: August 20 – August 26

Salvador Perez was cranking this past week, but it wasn’t good enough to make him the Offensive stud. 

Offensive stud: Whit Merrifield (2B, Royals). After a 1-for-3 performance yesterday, which included a double, run and RBI, Merrifield maintains his title for one more day. His most recent showing puts him at .387/.412/.645 with 9 RBI, 7 runs and 2 stolen bases over the past week. Having not gone more than one game without a hit since August 6, Merrifield is batting .306 on the month, after hitting just .229 in July. August is usually his best month and he should cool off soon—though even his career September numbers (.296 BA, 35 SB) are still pretty solid.

Aristides Aquino has 125 home runs in 10 minor league seasons (Wikipedia).

Honorable mention: Salvador Perez (C, Royals; 6 H, 5 HR, 8 RBI).

Offensive dud: Aristides Aquino (OF, Reds). Aquino was a pleasant surprise for the Reds in 2019, slugging .576 with 19 home runs in only 56 games. Fast forward to 2021 and those good feelings are gone. Hitting just .189 on the year, Aquino was 0-for-15 with 8 strikeouts over the past seven days and his average is just .141 in 71 at-bats since July 25. Perhaps the slumping slugger is lucky to be in the majors at all—he began his professional career with two sub .200 seasons and as recently as 2017, hit .216 at Double A. Though he has great power, thrice crushing 20 or more home runs in the minors, whatever skill he has hasn’t translated consistently on the big stage. But all hope isn’t lost—he’s from Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, and there’s something about sluggers from that city putting it all together later in their careers. David Ortiz didn’t get going until he was 27, Nelson Cruz until he was 28 and Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista until they were 29.

Dishonorable mention: Jose Barrero (SS, Reds; 0-for-7, 4 K, 1 E).

Quite a turnaround: Robbie Ray had an 8.16 ERA his rookie year with the Tigers. (Wikipedia).

Pitching stud: Robbie Ray (SP, Blue Jays). The Cy Young Award is becoming more and more of a reality. Over his past two starts, Ray has pitched 15 innings and Ked 25 batters—while walking just 1. With 2 earned runs allowed, his ERA was 1.20, helping bring his August mark down to 1.59 and his number from the beginning of July—that’s 10 starts—to 1.78. His 14 strikeouts his last time out left him just 8 away from 200 on the season. Should he get there, and it’s all but a given he will, Ray will have four 200 K campaigns under his belt. Toronto received the hurler in a steal of a trade from Arizona, surrendering only pitcher Travis Bergen, who’s made just 39 appearances in his career, to get him. What’s more—the Blue Jays bought Bergen back from the Diamondbacks earlier this year.

Honorable mention: Max Scherzer (SP, Dodgers; 2-0 W-L, 12 2/3 IP, 18 K, 2 BB, 0.71 ERA).

Pitching dud: Genesis Cabrera (RP, Cardinals). Having blown two saves and taken a couple losses, this past week might be the genesis of his departure from the majors. Cabrera made 3 appearances, surrendering 3 earned runs in the first one and 6 earned runs in the last, to give him a 40.50 ERA. He allowed 10 hits, including back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back knocks against Pittsburgh yesterday. Because of that performance, his season ERA went from 2.96 on August 19 to 4.29 and his career mark went from 3.23 to 3.99. On the bright side, he strikes out a lot of batters, averaging 10.2 K/9 IP this year.

Dishonorable mention: Lou Trivino (RP, Athletics; 4 G, 0-3 W-L, 3 1/3 IP, 7 H, 6 ER, 2 BSV).

Article from the archives—Former top prospect Chris Lubanski: Forgotten first rounder now toiling in indy ball

Chris Lubanski hasn’t played professionally since 2011. This piece is from that year.

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Eight years ago, in 2003, the Kansas City Royals drafted a highly-touted outfielder out of Kennedy-Kenrick Catholic High School in Norristown, Pennsylvania named Chris Lubanski.

Nearly a decade later, that once top-prospect is still toiling in the minor leagues, though he is no longer on any affiliated team—rather, he is exhibiting his craft with the Chico Outlaws of the independent North American League.

It would be unfair to say that Lubanski fizzled in the minors like so many prospects do. In his first professional season, 2003, he hit .326 and in 2005, he slugged 28 home runs while driving 116 runners home. As recently as 2007, he was named the fourth-best prospect in the Royals farm system by Baseball America.

In 2007, he hit .259 with 15 home runs for two teams—not awful as a whole, but he hit just .208 in 49 games for the Royals Triple-A club in Omaha.

The following season, his struggles continued at the highest level of minor league baseball, as he hit only .242. In 2009, he hit .272 overall … but only .227 at Omaha.

But you said he didn’t fizzle, you’re thinking. Well, he really didn’t.

In fact, in 2010 he signed with the Toronto Blue Jays and spent the entire season with their Triple-A team, the Las Vegas 51s. That year, he hit .293 with 17 home runs and 57 RBI in only 100 games. He finished third on the team in home runs, behind Brett Wallace’s 18 and J.P. Arencibia’s 32.

2010 was a career renaissance for Lubanski, who had, from 2007 to 2009, seemingly lost his way. But, unfortunately, bad news and bad luck followed Lubanski after his comeback year.

He became a free agent following the season, was signed to a minor league contract by the Florida Marlins and—despite his resurgent 2010—was released before the 2011 season began. And no new major league team came knocking.

Lubanski was never a bad player. He showed plus speed and plus power at all minor league levels and, as proven by his 2010 season, showed that he could bounce back well from extended struggles.

And yet, that call from the big league club never came. He fell victim to a curse that befalls too many minor leaguers: Though he performed well at the lower levels, he faded when it really, really counted. And when he got his career back on track, it was too little, too late.

So today, Lubanski no longer plays in any major league organization. Today, he plays for an independent team, the Chico Outlaws, with whom he is hitting .284 with two home runs in 24 games.

And that call to the majors that this former top prospect was sure to receive at some point, eventually, one year, becomes more and more distant, and more and more of just a dream.

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Lubanski was signed by the Philadelphia Phillies in August 2011 and spent 19 games with their Double-A club. He hit .189 to end his professional career.