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.

Random autograph of the day: Jorge DeLeon

Bereft of power or speed — he averaged one home run every 187 at-bats and one stolen base every 20 games — Jorge DeLeon was a multi-positional infield talent who could post a decent average (.296 mark in 2000) and rarely struck out (once every 7 at-bats). He was a solid performer at nearly every level of the minors, save for Triple-A. At that level, he hit .152 in 46 at-bats, which lowered his career average from .281 to .276. In part because of his struggles at the highest level of the minors, the Puerto Rico native with the nice signature never got the call to the bigs.

Random autograph of the day: John Eierman

John Eierman spent four seasons in the Boston Red Sox chain, hitting .260 with 37 home runs in 414 games. Perhaps his best campaign was 1993, when he slashed .273/.367/.446 with 15 home runs and 62 RBI in 119 games for the Lynchburg Red Sox. He improved to .285 the next year, but by that point was almost two years older than the average player in his league, so the Red Sox let him go. The Eierman name lives on in pro baseball, however. One son, Johnny, was a 3rd round pick by the Rays in 2011. Another, Jeremy, is currently in the Athletics system. He was the club’s 2nd round pick in 2018.

Random notes and musings from the world of baseball, August 31, 2021.

DJ Stewart was a first round pick in 2015. (Wikipedia).

Stellar Stewart: Demetrius Jerome “D.J.” Stewart, presently of the Baltimore Orioles, has always had power. It’s just that little else accompanies it. Over the past week, however, he’s put it all together, going 4-for-9 with a dinger, 4 RBI, 5 walks and 3 runs scored. Stewart has smashed 25 home runs in 497 career at-bats, but he needs to get his strikeouts (156) under control and his average (.215) up a bit.

In the fast lane: Nationals outfielder Lane Thomas hit .111 in 36 at-bats for the Cardinals last year and began 2021 with a .107 mark in 48 trips to the plate. But a trade to the Nationals—in exchange for struggling starter Jon Lester—has changed his fortunes. In 42 ABs with his new club, he’s hitting .310. In his rookie season, 2018, he slashed .316/.409/.684.

Chargois chugging along: Rays reliever J.T. Chargois has had a great 2021 campaign, but since July, he’s been lights-out. In 20 1/3 innings, he’s allowed just 4 earned runs for a 1.77 ERA. Since being traded from the Mariners on July 29, his mark is 0.71 in 12 games. His number is 2.32 in 43 games on the year.

Diamond in the rough: Though he was a third round pick in 2014, Chris Ellis has never been much of a prospect. In 2017, while pitching in the Cardinals system, he was 7-12 with a 5.29 ERA in 30 games (22 starts). But the 28-year-old rookie turned heads with his first and only appearance with the Rays this season, striking out 7 and earning the win in a 4 inning relief appearance against Baltimore on August 17. Now an Oriole himself, he surrendered just 1 run in 4 2/3 innings yesterday.

Worth the wait: On August 26, Ervin Santana recorded his 150th career win. He had been sitting at 149 since September 23, 2017.

Even 150 wins is tough these days: The 150-win club isn’t particularly exclusive, with 266 total members. The next-closest active pitcher? Johnny Cueto, with 135 victories.

Another call for Khalil? Outfielder Khalil Lee, a former top prospect acquired by the Mets in February, had just 1 hit in 18 at-bats in his first try with New York. But it might be worth giving him another shot—with Triple A Syracuse this year, his on-base percentage is .442, the 4th-best mark in the International League (it will always be the International League to me!).

Hat tip to a former Met (prospect): And guess who’s leading the Interna …okay, okay … Triple-A East in home runs? Former Mets third base prospect Aderlin Rodriguez, who played in their system from 2009 to 2015. Playing in the Tigers chain, he has 25 dingers this year, as well as a .304 average, with Toledo. Should he reach the majors, which he has yet to do, it will have been a long, winding path that took him through five big league systems and over to Japan.

Rob Deer hit .220 with 230 home runs in his career. (Wikipedia).

It’s a modern trend: Before 2010, only three players had ever had 20 or more home runs in a season in which they batted .200 or worse: Rob Deer (1991, 25 HR, .179 BA), Ruben Rivera (1999, 23, .195) and Mark McGwire (2001, 29, .187). From 2010 on, it’s happened 12 times—by Mark Reynolds twice.

Pettitte was a workhorse: Andy Pettitte has had trouble gaining traction on the Hall of Fame ballot. But say what you will about him, he was a workhorse, tossing 175 or more innings fourteen times. No active pitcher has done that, with Justin Verlander the closest at 13 instances. Only five pitchers who debuted after 1990 managed it that many times—Pettitte, Mark Buehrle, C.C. Sabathia, Mike Mussina and, most surprisingly, Livan Hernandez.

Relief pitchers can’t hit—oh, wait: On July 19, 1955, Tigers relief pitcher Babe Birrer clobbered two home runs against the Baltimore Orioles. Both were three run shots, giving him 6 RBI on the day. They represented 2 of his 7 career hits and all 6 of his ribbies. A few years later, in 1958, he hit .571 (4-for-7).

Ryan Madson owns two World Series rings. (Wikipedia).

Not easy to guess: Mariano Rivera holds the record for most postseason appearances, with 96. It makes sense—he pitched during the Yankees’ glory years, when they were making the playoffs time and again. Who pitched the second-most games in playoff history? It was Ryan Madson, with 57 (mostly for the Phillies) from 2003 to 2018.

No 300 game winners: No pitcher who debuted in the 1990s won 300 games—Mike Mussina, who arrived in 1991, came the closest with 270. Likewise, the 1950s did not produce any future 300 game winners. 1959 debut Jim Kaat was the closest, with 283 victories. The ‘70s were devoid of such hurlers, as well, with 287-game winner Bert Blyleven, who debuted in 1970, narrowly missing the mark.

Who needs strikeouts: The last pitcher to win at least 20 games in a season with less than 100 strikeouts was Bill Gullickson in 1991. Pitching for the Detroit Tigers that year, he went 20-9 with just 91 Ks. It’s actually rarer for a pitcher to lose 20 games without 100 Ks—since 1950, that’s happened just six times, with the most recent instance being Mike Maroth in 2003 (21 L, 87 K). Twenty-plus victories and fewer than 100 Ks has happened 14 times since 1950.

How’d he win so many? In 1929, the Negro league New York Lincoln Giants’ Connie Rector led the league in earned runs, home runs allowed and hit by pitches. He surrendered more hits than innings pitched and walked more batters than he struck out. He also went 18-1, leading the league in victories and winning percentage. He accounted for nearly half his team’s 40 wins.

That’s a lot of games: The single-season professional record for most games played, as far as we know, belongs to William Devereaux. Playing for the Pacific Coast League’s Oakland Oaks in 1904, he appeared in 228. In 777 at-bats, he collected 180 hits for a .232 average.

Not X-actly easy:  Major league baseball has never had a player with a surname beginning with the letter X, and it looks like they won’t for a while. There are no active minor leaguers with such a name.

Random autograph of the day: Kevin Burford

Kevin Burford never played above Double A, but he made the best of his professional career, nevertheless. The eight-year veteran came onto the scene with a bang, slashing .362/.490/.546 with 12 steals and 50 walks (to only 30 strikeouts) in 54 games his rookie season.

The next year, he stole 15 bases before being shipped off to Colorado in a trade. In his first season in the Rockies system, he slashed .306/.447/.523; he followed that with 16 home runs and 80 RBI. By 2003, however, he’d begun to stagnate at Double A — that was his third campaign at that level. After a down year in the Phillies system in 2004, his career was over.

Random autograph of the day: Amer Abhugerir

Abugherir is not an oft-found name in baseball — heck, the pitcher is one of only three known professional players with a surname beginning with “Abu.” Equally unique as his surname was the trajectory of his playing career: It spanned 1988 to 1999, though he played stateside in only three of those campaigns. He had a 7.30 ERA for the Gulf Coast League Reds of the Cincinnati Reds system in 1988, then resurfaced with the independent Duluth-Superior Dukes in 1993, going 0-2 with a 8.31 ERA. He then disappeared for a spell, only to return in 1999 with the independent Atlantic City Surf in 1999, going 5-0 with a 6.88 ERA. The Colombia native also coached in the minors. 

Random autograph of the day: Jason Arnold

On paper, Jason Arnold had a very good minor league career.

The second round draft pick began with a 7-2 mark and a 1.66 ERA, while averaging more than 10 strikeouts per 9 frames, in his first campaign (2001); he was 13-4, 2.61 with a 8.9 K/9 IP ratio his sophomore year. His record fell to 7-9 in 2003, though his ERA was a solid 3.69, with a similar tale the next year: 2-5, but with a 3.61 mark.

Two-thousand-and-five illustrated his downfall: In his first, and only, full season at Triple A, he was 0-4 with a 6.39 ERA in 47 relief appearances. He averaged less than a hit allowed per inning and posted a solid K/9, but too many balls left the yard — he surrendered 14 dingers in 62 innings (that’d be 45 in a 200-inning campaign).

Abbreviated though it was, just 12 games, 2006 was a rebound season, as Arnold posted a 1.90 mark with a 11.0 K/9 in 23.2 innings. It wasn’t enough to save his career, however, and he was out of the game after that. His record and ERA outside of Triple A: 24-11, 2.29. In Triple A: 5-15, 4.79. He never made the majors.

Random notes and musings from the world of baseball, August 28, 2021.

Michael Chavis has hit just .220 since his 2020. (Wikipedia).

Chavis chugging along: Former Red Sox first rounder Michael Chavis hit 18 home runs with 58 RBI his first year, 2019, but hasn’t done much since. It seems a change of scenery has helped him get going, however: Since joining the Pirates on August 23, he is hitting .381 with a .619 slugging percentage. Included in that was a 4-for-5 showing on August 26.

Get Otto here: Rangers rookie pitcher Glenn Otto had a killer debut against Houston yesterday, tossing 5 scoreless innings with 7 strikeouts, just 2 hits and no walks allowed … then the Rangers killed the vibe by losing 5-4 anyway. The hurler had been traded to Texas in the deal that sent outfielder Joey Gallo to the Yankees and was 9-4 with a 3.20 ERA and 12.6 K/9 on the farm this year. In 2019, he went 3-1 with a 1.88 ERA in the Arizona Fall League.

Struggling Jose: Jose Iglesias, the Angels shortstop, was a top prospect a decade ago, an All-Star in 2015, and is thoroughly struggling right now. Through July 26, he was hitting .285, but has a paltry .179/.240/.284 line over the past month. If there is a silver lining in this rough patch, it’s that he’s shown decent extra base skill when he makes contact, with 7 of his 17 hits going for doubles; he’s also scored 15 times.

Gilbert’s still going strong: Diamondback’s starter Tyler Gilbert has tossed just 22 2/3 innings this year and has surrendered 6 earned runs in his past 10. But he didn’t allow a single one in his first 12 2/3 frames—including his no-hitter on August 14—and so his season ERA is still just 2.38 despite his middling recent starts.

Chris Heston’s ERA after 2015, the year he tossed a no-no: 13.91. (Wikipedia).

On Gilbert’s no-no: The only no-hitter in my memory than I would have expected less than Gilbert’s was Bud Smith’s on September 3, 2001. Smith, a rookie, was in just his 11th career start when he blanked Tony Gwynn, Phil Nevin, Ryan Klesko and the rest of the Padres. He pitched just 11 more games in 2002, and that was it for his career. Giants pitcher Chris Heston’s no-no against the Mets on June 9, 2015, also came out of nowhere. Playing in his first full season, he surrendered 5 or more earned runs in 4 of his 6 starts prior to his big game.

Reconsidering Votto: I’ve never been big on Joey Votto’s Hall of Fame chances, but only two other active players have at least 300 home runs, 2,000 hits and 1,000 runs scored in their careers: Miguel Cabrera and Albert Pujols. Ninety-four men total have reached all three marks and 50 are in Cooperstown. If it’s not a perfect measure of greatness, it at least helps recognize those who qualify for the Hall of Very Good—guys like Raul Ibanez, Carlos Lee and Don Baylor.

You had your chance: The Mets demoted catcher Chance Sisco to Triple A to make room for backup catcher Tomas Nido. The way the latter has performed offensively this year, the move doesn’t offer much of an improvement, but he has thrown out 53% of baserunners trying to steal. Sisco was 1-for-4 in his short time with New York.

Sacrificed himself to second: Did you know Robinson Cano once bunted himself a double? The feat has actually happened quite a few times.

Still waiting for the first: The only three teams that have never had a man win the Most Valuable Player honor while wearing their uniform are the New York Mets, Arizona Diamondbacks and Tampa Bay Rays. They’ve been around since 1962, 1998 and 1998, respectively.

Rockies makes sense: The only three teams who have never featured a Cy Young Award winner are the Texas Rangers, Colorado Rockies and Florida/Miami Marlins. Named the Washington Senators then, the Rangers have been around since 1962, while Colorado and Miami’s first year was 1993. Dodgers pitchers have won twelve CYAs. Clayton Kershaw was the most recent, in 2014.

George Brett was no match for the Phillies in the 1980 Fall Classic. (Wikipedia).

Rockies, Marlins again? There’s a trend here: The Rockies and Marlins also have never won their division, and the Pirates haven’t won theirs either, at least since moving to the NL Central in 1994.

Gotta go back 40 years: The last time a World Series featured two teams who had never previously won a championship was in 1980. That year, the 91-71 Phillies, featuring 48-home run hitter Mike Schmidt and 24-game winner Steve Carlton, faced off against the 97-65 Royals, who were powered by George Brett’s .390 average and Willie Wilson’s 230 hits. Philadelphia won, 4 games to 2.

Nice hitting! Get on the mound: In 2001, former Pirates pitcher John Van Benschoten led NCAA Division I hitters in home runs and slugging percentage, while batting .440. Baseball America called him the country’s top power hitter. So when the Pirates took him 8th overall in the 2001 draft, what did they do? Convert him to pitching, of course. In the minors he had a career 3.84 ERA; in 26 big league games (19 starts), he went 2-13 with a mark of 9.20.

No thanks, affiliated ranks: Centerfielder Jay Davis spent eight campaign in the affiliated ranks, from 1989 to 1996, and never hit more than 5 home runs in a season. In 1997, he joined the independent Texas-Louisiana League and smashed 15, starting a run in which he walloped twenty or more dingers in seven of his final nine campaigns—none of which came in affiliated ball. Most of them were over in Korea; he has one of the longest, if not the longest, careers of any foreigner to play over there. He finished with 241 long flies in his professional career. Side note: In 1997, he pitched a single inning and struck out the side.

Football was more his game: 1998 Heisman Trophy winner Ricky Williams spent four seasons as an outfielder in the Philadelphia Phillies farm system. He never played above A ball and hit just .211 for his career, but he did steal as many as 17 bases in a season. He later rushed for over 10,000 yards and was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame (Canton, if it ever happens, still awaits).

It pays to study: Sean Holub, ever heard of him? He was a 40th round draft pick by the Brewers in 1992 and spent just 2 games in rookie ball. Oh yeah, he also went to Johns Hopkins University and is now the head of trading at Alight Capital Management in New York City. Baseball didn’t pay off for him, but his education did. (He also had his own baseball card, despite his super short career).

Random autograph of the day: Colin Dixon

Colin Dixon was taken in the same round as future notable names Brian Giles and Mark Grudzielanek, but did not achieve similar success. His minor league career was one of few highlights, however his 1994 campaign stands out. Having never before hit more than 4 home runs in a season, he walloped 19 dingers with 79 RBI for the unaffiliated San Bernardino Spirit that year. That convinced the Rockies to sign him, though he lasted just one season in their system before being let go. He later became a financial planner and baseball coach.