It’s that time of year again. That last week in July when we swear that teams lose all sense of things big and small and ship otherwise valuable prospects in exchange for late-inning relievers who will pitch a few dozen innings over the balance of the season. It’s a formula that the sabermetric community sometimes finds difficult to rationalize. Relievers pitch so few innings and are so volatile that their value is almost certainly lower than that of the prospects dealt for them.
It’s difficult to look at the trade returns for late-game specialists and understand the thought process. The Cubs seemingly traded a king’s ransom to acquire Aroldis Chapman, a pitcher whose performance is only marred by the domestic violence charges that hang over him. Let’s not mince words either; that marring very real and deserved. For the purposes of this article, though, we're be ignoring that component of this trade, not because it doesn’t matter—it matters immensely—but because it didn’t dramatically diminish his value in the baseball world, which is what this article is about.
The Red Sox signed David Price to make, roughly, 210 starts for them. The first tenth have not gone smoothly, but the next nine-tenths remain an open question.
Game 81 is long past, All-Star Week has come and gone, a handful of teams are admitting defeat with sell-offs this week, and pretty much every sample we look at feels like it's of sufficient size. We are deep into the season, which means that many deals that had fans starry-eyed in December are now leaving them wondering what went wrong in the summer.
Notes on prospects who stood out yesterday, including Ranger Suarez, Conner Greene, Ian Happ, and Scott Schebler.
Prospect of the Day: Ranger Suarez, LHP, Phillies (Short-Season Williamsport): 7 IP, 0 H, 0 R/ER, BB, 5 K
After two years in the now-defunct Venezuelan Summer League, followed by a dominating showing with a 0.65 ERA in 15 appearances in the GCL in 2015, Suarez has continued pitching well as a 20-year old in the NYPL. A quick-armed lefty with an average fastball, two secondary pitches with potential, and a strong command profile, Suarez fired this seven-inning no-hitter while flashing all of these traits. Most scouts view Suarez as a potential back-end starter or lefty reliever down the line.
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If you want a bunch of Zobrists, it helps to plant them early. Are teams doing it?
We live in an era of short benches. Recently, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred made news when he admitted that the league office has had discussions about new restrictions for teams around how they can use relievers (and how many). There’s nothing imminent, but Manfred cited the dominance of relievers in recent years and hinted that the move would bring a little offensive spark back into the game. Plus, we all know the complaints about innings where a team uses four pitchers. Because they have eight relievers on the roster.
Jeremy Hellickson aces his audition, the White Sox get to the Cubs' bullpen, and Dave Dombrowski has made so many trades that they're starting to overlap in a kind of baseball version of the grandfather paradox.
One factor in bridging the gap between the minors and majors? Confidence. Not the 2003 Ed Burns film.
Geography isn't always the sole dictator of distance. This is particularly true in minor league baseball stadiums, especially the ones that sit almost tauntingly close to their major-league counterparts. The Kane County Cougars, single-A affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks, play their games at Fifth Third Bank Ballpark in Geneva, Illinois, an outer suburb of Chicago that lies somewhere around 50 miles from Wrigley Field—an hour drive on a good day, or a trip on two commuter trains. But sitting in either dugout and mulling how best to approach baseball players who are barely drinking age, or standing on the mound facing other players fresh out of the amateur ranks, those 50 miles become relative. Sure, they could easily make the drive or take the Metra to the Red Line and hop off at the iconic stop on Addison Street, but they’re still not really there.
Professional baseball’s minor league system is a crucible that tests the fortitude and passion of players and coaches alike, leaving only an opportune few to summit the highest peak. The hoped-for outcome of time spent there is the same for every player, but for most of them, the distance will never be closed. In stadiums where it’s as much about the spectacle as the game, where the stands usually only fill when it’s dollar beer night in the middle of summer, these players are honing a craft that they hope will get them there, even if just briefly. Getting through this crucible requires a learned humility. These players were all the best in their little leagues, the best in their high schools, even the best in their colleges. More often than not, they’re facing equal competition for the first time, and that requires something beyond just filling up a stat sheet in order to succeed. Some bloom of self-belief has to be there, otherwise the mire of team buses and bad hotels separates the wheat from the chaff.
For minor league pitchers, this self-belief can come in part from the experience of pitches that don’t often fail them and the devotion to putting in the work to ensure that that ‘go-to’ pitch is always an ally. When those things don’t work, even temporarily, a well-tested minor league pitching coach might do the trick. In Kane County, that’s Rich Sauveur, whose value comes in part from his own journey through the minor leagues, both as a player and as a coach.
A look at how the wise guys spent their money in expert leagues this week.
Welcome to The FAAB Review, the series that looks at the expert bidding in LABR mixed, Tout Wars NL, and Tout Wars AL every week in an effort to try and help you, the Baseball Prospectus reader, with your fantasy baseball bidding needs. Bret Sayre and I participate in LABR Mixed while I have a team in Tout Wars NL, so I can provide some insight on the bids and the reasoning behind them. LABR uses a $100 budget with one-dollar minimum bids, while the Tout Wars leagues use a $1,000 budget with zero-dollar minimum bids. I will also be including Bret’s winning bids in Tout Wars mixed auction league where applicable.
LABR and Tout Wars both use a bidding deadline of Sunday at midnight ET.
Notes on Cody Sedlock, Isaiah White, and... others.
Cody Sedlock, RHP, Baltimore Orioles (Short-Season Aberdeen)
For the Ten Pack this week I wrote about Justin Dunn, who like Sedlock, was a first-round college pick in this past month's draft. Ideally Ten Pack entries, and certainly a Notes from the Field piece, should give some indication into what I think the player is at the highest level. That's the bare minimum you can ask for, right? At least make a call. The problem is with these recent college draftees is: what exactly are you looking at?
The Twins phenom hits homers at a spectacular pace but strikes out at a record pace. That's not by accident, and it's not necessarily by mistake.
Miguel Sano will play the 150th game of his career tonight, which is a nice round-number place to pause and examine how one of the decade’s best offensive prospects has fared so far.
Sano has been a top prospect since 2009, when he signed with the Twins as a 16-year-old out of the Dominican Republic following a long, controversial process that was later shown—warts and all—in the 2012 documentary “Pelotero.” He signed for $3.15 million and immediately put up big numbers in the minors, debuting on Baseball Prospectus’ annual top-101 prospects list the next year—as a shortstop, if you can imagine—at no. 35. Sano went on to crack BP’s top 15—as a third baseman, or perhaps more accurately as a hitter—in three different years.
His arrival in Minnesota was delayed when Tommy John elbow surgery knocked him out for all of 2014, but Sano picked up where he left off—finishing his minor-league days with a .565 slugging percentage in 442 games—and on July 2, 2015 made the jump from Double-A to the majors two months after his 22nd birthday. He’s been setting Twins records ever since, ranking first in team history through 150 career games in homers, walks, and strikeouts. Sano has been a revelation for a strikeout-phobic organization that has long struggled to produce power hitters.