Random autograph of the day: London Bradley

Drafted by the Cubs in 1992, one pick after pitcher Melvin Bunch and ahead of future Gold Glover Jose Cruz, Jr., Bradley spent all of three seasons and 102 games in their system before his career was over.

His 1993 campaign was solid, as he hit .301 in 49 games for the Single-A Peoria Chiefs, but beyond that, accomplishments were sparse. Considerable trouble was had in the field, as the third baseman posted a .847 fielding percentage his first campaign and a .884 mark overall. 

Random autograph of the day: Dominic DeSantis

Dominic DeSantis was drafted three times, last by the Phillies in the 20th round of the 1991 draft.

At 22, he was a senior citizen in the leagues in which he pitched in 1991, his first year, but his numbers were excellent: 1.98 ERA, 0.960 WHIP in 15 starts between Rookie ball and Single A, with just 17 walks and 79 hits allowed in 100 innings of work.

The next season, at A ball, he had a 2.71 mark in 133 innings, allowing just 123 hits and 29 BBs. Over the next two campaigns, his ERA jumped to 3.45 then to 4.57 — an occurrence more excusable when someone is moving up into the higher, more competitive ranks … but DeSantis was still in (high) A ball.

Though many players experience a career resurgence upon joining the independent leagues after struggling or stagnating in affiliated ball, such was not the case with DeSantis: He moved to the Northern League in 1994 to wrap up his career, posting a 5.86 ERA in 43 innings. 

Random autograph of the day: Mike Devaney

Mike Devaney holds a special place in my heart, because he’s a former Mets prospect, and I, of course, am a Mets fan.

He showed great potential in the early going, posting a 5-0 mark with 1.95 ERA in 14 starts his first professional season, 2004, and going 10-4, 3.88, while averaging just 7 hits allowed per 9 innings, in his second campaign. In 2006, he was 12-5 with a 2.13 mark, an excellent year indeed, before slipping to 6-9, 4.85 in his fourth and final season.

It’s odd the Mets didn’t give him another campaign to redeem himself, with 2007 being his first real struggle. Sure, he was 24 in 2007, but that is far from old. One wonders if injuries did him I’m, of that I’m not sure. Either way, he was 33-18 with a 3.24 ERA overall, a great line for someone who never made the majors. 

Random notes and musings: September 13, 2021.

Andrus has hit just .224 since 2020. (Wikipedia).

Took long enough: 2021 has not been a great year for Athletics shortstop Elvis Andrus, who has hit just .231/.278/.309 in 135 games. Every time he puts together a decent run, he enters another cold streak, ruining any progress made. Perhaps not this time: Over the past week, he has hit .353 with 6 hits in 17 at-bats. It’s not much, but he’ll take anything at this point.

Give it up for Duffy: The Cubs aren’t going anywhere this year, but infielder Matt Duffy is going places right now. After beginning the season with a .226 mark through August 1, he has hit .294 with 16 runs scored and 8 RBI since to bring his season average up to .259. He began the year with a .309 mark through May 8.

Middling Mitch: Pirates starter Mitch Keller was a second round draft pick in 2014, taken alongside the likes of Alex Verdugo and Spencer Turnbull. While they’ve begun crafting fine careers, Keller has gone in the opposite direction: He is 4-11 with a 6.29 ERA this year and 6-17, 6.07 in 35 career starts. His career ERA+ of 71 is the second-worst among active pitchers with at least 150 innings, behind Burch Smith’s 69.

Coonrod’s cooking: 2021 has been quite the rebound campaign for Phillies reliever Sam Coonrod, who had a 9.82 ERA in 18 games with San Francisco last season. In 35 appearances this year, he has a 3.68 mark and 10.6 K/9 IP ratio. Since August 28, those numbers are 1.29 and 15.4, respectively.

Almost won it: Adam Wainwright has the most Cy Young Award shares among pitchers to never actually win the award, with 1.97. He finished second and third twice each, but never took the honor home. Eddie Murray has the most MVP shares among those who never won it at 3.33. He finished in the top-five five years in a row and six times overall; he also finished second twice in a row. The active player with the most MVP shares to never win is Robinson Cano, at 2.14. He’s finished in the top-10 six times, peaking at third place.

He doubted Ichiro: Not everyone thought Ichiro Suzuki was going to be a star. When he was starting out with Nippon Professional Baseball’s Orix BlueWave in 1992 and 1993, his manager, Shozo Doi, refused to give him regular playing time. In addition to criticizing the young outfielder’s batting stance, he once said Ichiro had “come too far too fast…a player has to know hardship if he’s going to reach his full potential.” In 1994, his first full season, Suzuki hit .385 with 210 hits in 130 games at 20 years old.

Minor league home run leader: Royals prospect MJ Melendez has smashed 37 dingers in just 390 at-bats this season, his first above A-ball, to lead the affiliated minor leagues. Nine of them came in 29 Triple-A games, his first stint at that level.

Steals base Easley: Keep an eye on Rangers prospect Jayce Easley, the son of former major leaguer Damion. The speedster has swiped 69 bases in 93 Single-A games this season, and though his average is a middling .247, he has still managed a .406 on-base percentage. The former 5th-round pick has 91 stolen bases and a .255/.401/.309 line in 139 games in the low-minors.

Far from the Wurtz: Outfielder Gabe Wurtz slashed .382/.511/.588 at University of Virginia’s College at Wise in 2020, then .344/.519/.811 in 33 games in 2021. After going undrafted, he promptly hit .414/.487/.841 with 22 home runs and 86 RBI in 54 games for the independent Tucson Saguaros of the high-flying Pecos League. He also spent 13 less-than-stellar games with the indy Houston Apollos, batting .382/.461/.764 with 24 dingers and 98 RBI overall.

Odd Hall of Fame choice: Shortstop Jack Wilson was elected to the Lancaster JetHawks Hall of Fame in 2006, despite never playing for the team. The closest he got was when he played with the winter league Lancaster Stealth in 1999, with whom he won a championship.

48-year-old Colon was 6-2 with a 4.55 ERA in 11 Mexican League starts this season. (Wikipedia).

Colon reminiscing: Hey Mets fans, remember when Bartolo Colon clobbered an improbable home run?

A lot of seasons, not hits: Catcher Rick Dempsey spent 24 years in the major leagues and played over 100 games in 8 of them. He had 100-plus hits just once, in 1978.

Double Crown: Pitcher Mike Birkbeck was *this* close to winning two pitching Triple Crowns … in the minor leagues. In 1984, while with the Single-A Beloit Brewers, he finished third in victories (3 behind the leader), second in strikeouts (2 behind the leader) and second in ERA (0.22 behind the leader). In 1993, with the Triple-A Richmond Braves, he paced the International League in victories and tied for the lead in strikeouts but was just 0.02 points short of the ERA title. He again got pretty close again in 1994, also with Richmond. That year, he finished two wins and 17 strikeouts short; his ERA missed by 0.31 points.

Three other Millions have played professionally: Robert, Doug and Mike. (Wikipedia).

Not-so-famous first: Who was the first Latin American player in major league history? Cuban infielder Estavo B. “Steve” Bellan, who played for the Troy Haymakers and New York Mutuals in the National Association from 1871 to 1873. The next Cuban—and Latin American—didn’t appear in the majors until outfielder Chick Pedroes in 1902; some consider Luis Castro to be the second Latin American, however his birthplace is disputed. He might have been born in New York City.

He was million-to-one: One of the strangest names in baseball has to belong to 1910s minor league outfielder Ten Million, so named at the behest of his grandmother, who wanted his name to stand out. She also convinced Million to name his daughter Decillian, with the help of a $50 bribe. She went by Dixie later in life.

Stuck in Japan: In 2005, Japanese outfielder Tatsuya Ozeki was signed to a minor league contract by the Brewers but immigration issues—specifically, Milwaukee used up all its work visas—kept him from appearing stateside. He later tried out with Colorado, but they didn’t sign him.

Random autograph of the day: Paul Ellis

Paul Ellis was a St. Louis Cardinals first round pick, taken 30th overall in 1990 between outfielder Midre Cummings and pitcher Brian Williams. Though he never became a recognizable face in the majors … because he didn’t reach them … he did become well-known at Double A Arkansas, spending three full seasons and two partial years there.

While he did not find much success in the affiliated ranks, he exploded in independent baseball: With the Western League’s Reno Chukars in 1997, he slashed .337/.464/.570 with 16 home runs and 75 RBI in 84 games. To that point, he had not hit higher than .255 or had more than 6 home runs in a season. That was his only year in indy ball, however, and was also his final professional campaign. Another point of interest: He did not steal a single base in 696 pro games.

Random autograph of the day: Ryan Carter

For those who think these signatures look a little off, I believe they are ghost-signed—that is, someone other than Ryan Carter signed the cards.

Carter was drafted twice, initially out of high school in 1997, then in the 8th round out of the University of California, Los Angeles in 2000. He was taken in the same round as future pitching stars Dontrelle Willis and Brandon Webb, though such success was not in his professional future.

He played in the minor leagues from 2000 to 2003 and had modest success in the lower levels, striking out 132 in 138.2 innings in 2001. However, in his Double A debut in 2003, he went 2-7 with a 6.00 ERA in 17 starts in what would be his final season. 

Random notes and musings from the world of baseball, September 5, 2021.

Something about those catchers: These past couple days, I’ve noted impressive runs by some otherwise unimpressive catchers—Philadelphia’s Rafael Marchan and Detroit’s Dustin Garneau, for example. Here’s one more: the Blue Jays’ Danny Jansen. In his past 14 at-bats going back to July 11, he’s hitting .500/.533/1.571 with 4 home runs, 3 doubles, 4 RBI and 4 runs scored. That’s right, each of his last 7 hits went for extra bases. He added another dinger yesterday.

Barnhart has won two Gold Gloves. (Wikipedia).

How about one more: Reds catcher Tucker Barnhart has been solid this past month, hitting .294 with a couple home runs, 4 doubles, 11 RBI and 6 runs scored. He’s no Salvador Perez, but any team would take numbers like that.

Found a Holme: Yankees reliever Clay Holmes began the year poorly with Pittsburgh, posting a 5.13 ERA through July 20. A trade to New York changed his fortunes: With his new club, he is 3-0 with a 1.32 ERA in 12 games; in 13 2/3 innings, he’s surrendered just 7 hits and 1 walk, while striking out 16 batters.

Blake’s doing great: It’s the less-known pieces that have helped the Astros to first place in the American League West, reliever Blake Taylor among them. Since July 18, he has a 2.40 ERA in 19 appearances; he hasn’t surrendered a run since August 21. Ryan Pressly is the bullpen’s All-Star, but Taylor, and guys like him, are just as valuable.

Appreciating the Mets’ little guys: Each year, the Mets seem to find at least one diamond in the rough—a guy or two who unexpectedly perform far beyond anyone’s expectations. Brandon Drury, a career .249 hitter, is batting .274 with a .476 slugging mark in 51 games. Pitcher Trevor Williams, acquired from the Cubs in the Javier Baez trade, began the season with a 5.06 ERA, but has a 0.69 mark in 13 innings so far with New York. Even reliever Aaron Loup, who had a 3.38 ERA going into the year, has stunned Metsdom with a 1.16 mark in 55 appearances. Not bad, guys.

Jayson Werth-less: Former Nationals outfielder Jayson Werth signed with the club in December 2010 for seven years and $126 million dollars and hit .263 with 109 home runs, 162 doubles and 393 RBI for the duration of the deal. In other words, each home run cost $1.156 million, each double cost $777,778 and each RBI cost $320,611.

Mr. Consistent: From 2009 to 2019, a span of 11 seasons, former outfielder Adam Jones averaged 162 hits, 25 home runs, 80 RBI and 82 runs scored per year. His season numbers never fell below 126, 15, 63 or 54, respectively.

Winning runs in the family: Former second baseman Chuck Knoblauch won four World Series rings in the 1990s—one with the Twins and three with the Yankees. His father, Ray, was also a champion. He coached Bellaire High School in Texas to four state titles.

Nomo he wasn’t: Before there were Daisuke Matsuzaka and Masahiro Tanaka, there were Hideo Nomo and Katsuhiro Maeda. Never heard of Maeda? In the wake of Nomomania, he was signed by the Yankees in 1996 after a bidding war with the Giants and White Sox. He spent five years in their system and went just 18-21 with a 4.69 ERA, peaking at Triple-A.

More to the Maeda story: After he flunked out of the minor leagues, Maeda continued his baseball journey—but initially not back in Japan. After failing to make a Nippon Professional Baseball team’s roster, he went to Taiwan, where he played in 2002, then Italy, where he spent 2003. In 2004, he signed with the Shanghai Eagles, becoming China’s first Japanese player. As recently as 2008, he was still going in the minor Shikoku-Kyūshū Island League in Japan.

Very first Marlin: He never played in the major leagues, but pitcher Clemente Nunez was the first player ever signed by the Florida Marlins. Inked to a contract on December 16, 1991, he spent five seasons in their system. Included in that run was a 12-6, 2.48 line with Single-A Brevard County in 1995. He was 29-26, 3.51 overall.

Baines was a controversial Hall of Fame pick and his numbers play that out. (Wikipedia).

Just a phantom: Bruce Dostal, a centerfielder who spent four years at Triple-A, was this close to becoming a major leaguer. On the Orioles active roster for four games in June 1994, the ballplayer was twice told by late manager Johnny Oates that he would pinch run for future Hall of Famer Harold Baines if Baines reached base … he didn’t and Dostal was soon sent packing. Despite being with the team, he does not count as a major leaguer because he never appeared in a game. Rather, he became a phantom major leaguer.

Lot of games, but not hits: Speaking of Baines, he has the third-fewest career hits of anyone who played as many games as he did (2,830) with 2,866. Only Brooks Robinson, who had 2,848 knocks, and Rusty Staub, who had 2,716, did worse.

The first youngster: Who was the youngest player in the National Association’s first year, 1871? 17-year-old Joe Battin, who appeared in a single game for the Cleveland Forest Citys. He went hitless.

Battin led the league with 98 games played in 1883, despite batting just .214. (Wikipedia).

Battin worst: Joe Battin’s name is a misnomer … he couldn’t bat well at all. In 10 seasons, he slashed just .225/.241/.281 in 480 games. He holds one of the lowest on-base percentages of anyone with at least 400 games.

No-no not enough: While playing in Japan in 2006, former Padres prospect Rick Guttormson tossed a no-hitter … and was sent down to their version of the minor leagues the next day. Nippon Professional Baseball limits how many foreign players a team can hold and his club, the Yakult Swallows, had recently brought former Mets and Devil Rays hurler Dicky Gonzalez on board. Needing to make room, they cast Guttormson aside.

A different kind of senator: In 1913, minor league first baseman Scott Lucas hit .349 in 95 games, including .462 in 34 showings with the Class-D Pekin Celestials. After a couple more seasons, the Illinois native realized baseball wasn’t for him and chose a career in politics. Serving in the United States House of Representatives from 1935 to 1939, he later became a Senator, remaining in that capacity for over a decade. From 1949 to 1951, he was the Senate Majority Leader.

Random autograph of the day: Ryan Basner

It seems if one is a minor league relief pitcher, he needs to strike batters out at a exceptional rate, post a superhuman ERA for an extended period, or at the very least, rack up a ton of saves, to earn a big league promotion.

Basner did none of the above, so despite spending part or all of four seasons at Triple-A, he never reached the majors. His career was not without highlights, however.

With the rookie-level Danville Braves in 2003, during his first year of pro ball, he went 4-1 with a 1.83 ERA in 19 appearances, averaging 10.2 strikeouts per nine innings. The next year, he averaged 9.7 whiffs per 9 frames. Those years were the outliers, however, as his career rate was 7.6 K/9 IP.

In 2009, his penultimate campaign, he had a 2.88 ERA in 54 games for the independent Somerset Patriots. Unfortunately, his career totals paint a less rosy picture, as he went just 27-32 with a 4.26 ERA and 609 hits allowed in 568 2/3 innings overall. 

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.

Random autograph of the day: Tim Burcham

Tim Burcham spent more than a decade playing professional baseball, with part or all of five of those years at affiliated Triple-A (he spent seven years at that level if you include his time in the Mexican League). The pitcher won ten-plus games twice, including a 17-6 record for the Class-A Palm Springs Angels in 1987. That was his third year in pro ball. Skip to 1996, his final campaign. Back in Palm Springs with the independent Suns, he posted a 2.56 ERA in 102 innings.

Because his campaigns in-between weren’t stellar, he never earned a promotion to the major leagues—though he got close. Named a strike replacement player in 1995, he was on the San Francisco Giants Opening Day roster, but was sent down once the strike ended, never to appear in a game. His son, Scotty, is currently in the Colorado Rockies system.