Happy New Year and here's a look at 2015 in MiLB, prospects and potential not yet reached.
MiLB Lawsuit/Petition – Everything will change or nothing will change. But this story leads the way, as the future of Minor League Baseball takes center stage. The 32 MiLBers that are involved in the lawsuit that was filed claim that MiLB pays players low wages, no overtime compensation, and that the CBA is in violation of the law for state and federal wages. At the Baseball Winter Meetings in December, MiLB VP Stan Brand announced that he’ll be petitioning congress sometime this year to add minor league players to the list of jobs that aren’t required to receive minimum wage or overtime wages.
While both sides can make an argument, MLB and Brand’s tone falls flat. Brand calling the lawsuit “perilous” in nature.
“I will ask you to heed the clarion call, man the battle stations and carry the message to Congress loudly and clearly. The value of grassroots baseball and our stewardship of the game needs to be protected against the onslaught of these suits.” Brand said, as reported by Josh Leventhal of Baseball America.
In other news, the average MLB salary went up 3.8 percent in 2014, to $3.2 million. (ESPN)
Bryce Harper/Mark Appel –Harper is the lighting rod to end all lightning rods, but Appel’s story has made waves since he was first drafted, and didn’t sign, with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Both are in a prime spot to prove a lot and live up to the elite prospect status they were branded with early in their careers.
Harper’s personality is often the topic, and, unfortunately, is too often secondary in conversation about his talent and still vast potential. Also taking center stage was the possible grievance hearing, which was avoided, when the Washington Nationals settled with the outfielder on a two-year $7.5 million extension. He missed Natsfest in the midst of that unfolding, creating more issues for fans, and the team, to grapple with. At 21, Harper has a long career ahead of him, and, for all his antics and controversies, is an exciting, interesting player to watch. And, to bottom line it, he could be one of the greats of this generation of players. After all that went down in the bottom half of 2014, his 2015 season is high on the list for anticipated seasons.
Appel’s career has not led him to the majors just yet, but according to …he’s a possibility to make his major league debut in 2015. The 2013 first round pick for the Houston Astros kicked up controversy (not his fault), when he decided to (gasp!) return to finish his education at Stanford University, opting not to sign with the Pirates who drafted him in 2012. Most of the baseball world understood Appel’s strategy: go back to school, wait for boyhood team the Houston Astros to draft him the following year. That’s exactly what happened.
Since then, he’s moved through the minors at a fast clip. He pitched in the Class-A Midwest and Short-A New York Penn Leagues in 2013, moving onto Advanced-A and Double-A levels in 2014. He’s not had the easiest go of it. In 2014, he combined for 83 innings pitched, finishing with a 6.91 ERA, with hitters averaging .319 off of him. He also struck out 78 batters, while walking 24 in 18 starts. The strikeouts are a good sign, but needs to cut down on the walks. He also followed that up with a strong performance in the Arizona Fall League. In one start, he pitched five shutout innings. That brought his scoreless innings streak to twelve.
Here’s what Astros GM Jeff Luhnow told MLB Network Radio in December:
“He’s not that far away, whether it’s 1st or 2nd half of this year, or beginning of 2016, he’ll let us know.”
Yankees System – The end of Derek Jeter’s career is important to many people on so many levels. But his retirement also marks the end of the homegrown New York Yankees story people tend to forget. With closer Mariano Rivera retiring in 2013, and catcher Jorge Posada retiring in 2011, three of the most successful, important Yankees homegrown players are gone.
Through the years, criticizing the Yankees for not developing players in their farm system has been easy, and that’s certainly due to how much they have and how much they can spend to achieve success. Those three players were an exception to the rule to a large extent.
So what now? Where are the Yankees greatest future possibilities?
If you look for the shining hope, the first face you’d see is reliever Dellin Betances. Yes, a reliever. Ok, not exciting enough? Well, he’s one of those what they call ‘elite relievers’, and they’re tough to come by. With Rivera’s departure, Betances has emerged as his replacement, due to the outstanding numbers he put up in 2014. He’d finish the season setting a franchise record in strikeouts with 135 in 90 innings pitched.
Betances is one of another story of three. He’s the only one of ‘The Three B’s – Betances, Andrew Brackman, and Manny Banuelos- who’s pitched to success with the Yankees. Brackman signed as a free agent with the Cincinnati Reds in 2011, and didn’t play in 2013. According to reports he’s pursuing a career in basketball. Banuelos has been plagued by injuries, spending 2014 in Double-A Trenton.
While in Trenton, Betances was an enigma, but an exciting one. On days he pitched well, he looked like a major leaguer. On days he didn’t, his enormous power to the plate looked sloppy, lacking command, and he struggled to throw strikes and keep the walks to a minimum. He’s on the big stage now, and so far, is living up to the Yankees expectations.
In the midst of all that, Shane Green showed up strong for the Yankees last season, finishing with a 5-4 record and a 3.78 ERA.
There are few players in the system close to major league ready, and most would agree there isn’t a lot of high ceiling talent to pick from. They traded power-hitting catching prospect Peter O’Brien to the Diamondbacks in return for veteran INF Martin Prado. They also acquired third baseman Chase Headley and RHP Brandon McCarthy.
The glimmer spots are RHP Luis Severino , as well as power-bat, outfielder Aaron Judge, RHP Ian Clarkin and third baseman, and Eric Jagielo, all drafted in the first round in 2013.
Those players matter, but it’s unclear whether they matter to the Yankees future or as bargaining chips.
So, for now, all eyes are mainly on the (likely) incoming closer.
Drabek’s Future as Reliever – In 2010, Kyle Drabek was considered, and ranked, one of the top prospects in all of baseball. He led the Toronto Blue Jays system as their number one prospect. Much has changed since he’s underwent two Tommy John surgeries, and been used as a starter and reliever.
At the end of the 2010 season, when Drabek was pitching for the Double-A New Hampshire FisherCats, a reporter in the press box said, “What is he even still doing here?” There was a lot written and said at the end of that season among reporters witnessing his progression. His success at the MLB level seemed inevitable. Proving again nobody knows nothing.
Drabek hasn’t been able to achieve that same success in the majors. His prospect value has dropped. He’s now 27. However, his 2014 season showed reason to believe he can contribute much more, though it’s unclear if that’ll be in the majors. In 99 innings, 32 relief appearances and 13 starts, Drabek finished with a 4.18 ERA and 1.47 WHIP, striking out 68 for the Buffalo Bisons. Hitters went from averaging .297 to .272 off of him, when he pitched out of the bullpen. Drabek made two appearances for the Jays, pitching 3 innings , didn’t allow a hit and struck out five.
Drabek’s story reminds us that there’s no blueprint; but also that the story can be re-written. 2015 is perhaps the most crucial season of his career.
Domestic Violence Policy – This one isn’t exactly MiLB related, but the outcome does matter at the minor league level.
That issue was covered here on HOTF a couple of months ago, but there’s reason to hope for a good outcome, mainly because of Joe Torre. Torre’s own Safe At Home Foundation is a leading organization in helping women victimized by domestic violence. It’s also a subject close to the former Yankees manager’s heart, having coming from a home where he’d witnessed domestic violence. Torre testified before the Senate Commerce Committee in early December, proposing a policy that would “make it easier for the commissioner to impose an appropriate level of discipline on players who commit acts of violence or sexual assault and have that discipline be upheld in arbitration.” The new policy is expected to be introduced this year. (ESPN)
Up to this point, minor league players have received mixed messages about MLB’s stance on such issues. In past incidents, they didn’t take disciplinary action, instead decisions were left up to the team if a player was accused of domestic and/or sexual assault. On the other hand, there’s all that pink stuff for breast cancer awareness. There’s also standards about gambling that are practically viewed as biblical, and in the past few years the crackdown and punishment for use of PED’s has gotten tougher.
By creating a policy that makes clear that violence against women won’t be tolerated by MLB, MiLB players are receiving a new, and just as important message about conduct and consequences.