Building a five-tool center fielder

Building a five-tool center fielder

Major League Baseball’s winter meetings have concluded, and the hot stove is running white hot at the moment. Perhaps there is nothing more coveted by MLB general managers than the five-tool player. So, let’s have a little fun with this concept over the weeks ahead. If there’s one thing the baseball world knows best, it’s debating who is/was the best at a certain position.

Today, let’s complete the task of building a five-tool center fielder using the ghosts of players past. This is maybe a little different concept than usual, but it would be fun to make an eight-man roster of five-tool players, using past player’s attributes.

What would that roster look like? Whose attributes would you use? These are the debates that keep baseball fans busy, and why the game is more than just a game.

So, let’s get to it then. Let’s build our prototypical center fielder.

Before we begin, a five-tool player is one who hits for average, hits for power, excels with his glove, has speed to burn and an arm like a piece of field artillery. These are the “five tools” of baseball: throwing arm, speed, glovework, hitting for average and hitting for power. A player that’s superior in talent for each category is said to be a five-tool player.

Hitting for average

Building a five-tool center fielder

Ty Cobb, the unquestioned greatest hitting center fielder of all time. (Photo from baseballforthebeginner.blogspot.com)

There’s absolutely no doubt whose plate discipline and batter’s eye we want for our prototype center fielder. The answer here must be, unequivocally, Ty Cobb.

This might be the easiest of the tools to consider when building a five-tool center fielder. When you ask most baseball fans who the greatest hitter of all-time is, if they don’t say Ted Williams, they will most likely say Ty Cobb. Being that we’re not building a left fielder in our laboratory, Teddy Ballgame is out of the picture.

So, that leaves us with Cobb, the sweet swinging Georgian. Much has been said about Cobb off the field, but we know on the field, the man was a master at the dish. In Cobb’s 24 seasons, he recorded 11,434 official at-bats, which still ranks fifth all time in that category. When you also realize that he’s the game’s all-time leader in batting average (.366), the at-bats become a lot more significant.

Cobb also had nine seasons with over 200 hits and lead the American League in that category an impressive eight times. All told, Cobb racked up 4,189 hits, a record since surpassed by the notorious Pete Rose (4,256). It does need to be said that Rose played in over 500 more games and accumulated over 2,600 more at-bats than Cobb did. This isn’t to take anything away from Rose, but let’s just say Cobb had those 2,600 at-bats on his line. If you assume Cobb only hit .350 over those at-bats, that would add over 900 hits to Cobb’s line. It isn’t a stretch to assume this either.

As far as center fielders are concerned, Ty Cobb will forever remain the greatest pure hitter of the lot. There will never be anyone better with the bat, and you can take that to the bank.

The Willie Mays factor

When building a five-tool center fielder, one would expect Willie Mays to come to the forefront of any discussion. There is a legitimate argument that Mays was the prototypical center fielder, and for some, the debate would end there. But that’s no fun.

Mays has a legitimate argument to be the standard for three of the five tools we’re looking for. He hit for power, his glove work was phenomenal (considering the cavernous ballparks of his time) and he is widely recognized as having one of the best arms that has ever thrown a baseball. All things considered, for our prototype, we’re going to take his thunderous bat and his golden leather.

Building a five-tool center fielder

Aerial view of the Polo Grounds in New York City. (Photo from CBS Sports)

First things first, Mays’ glove is legendary. Much has been said about his crazy over-the-shoulder catch in the 1954 World Series, and if you haven’t seen it, check it out here.

Mays’ career fielding percentage doesn’t fully tell the whole story. He didn’t have the benefit of playing the band boxes of the modern era. He played six seasons at New York’s Polo Grounds before moving with the Giants to San Francisco’s Candlestick Park. We’re talking about a park (Polo Grounds) that was 483-feet to dead center, 455-feet to left center and 449-feet to right center. No matter what way you cut it, that’s a lot of outfield grass for anyone to cover. Along the way, he racked up a record 12 Gold Glove Awards.

Then, there’s Mays’ power. Some might like to favor Ken Griffey Jr. in this category, and it would be an interesting debate to have, but the nod must go to Mays. Again, look at the ballparks that Mays played in. Start with his home parks where he did most of his hitting.

Let’s start with Polo Grounds. It was a short flight down the lines to get one out, but the power alleys evaporated into power vacuums. Quite quickly too. It’s not a stretch to imagine Willie Mays hitting well over 700 homers had he played in more friendly ballparks.

If playing in the Polo Grounds wasn’t daunting enough, Mays then moved into Candlestick Park in San Francisco. The dimensions at Candlestick were certainly more conducive to the long ball, but the atmosphere was not. A few of the adjectives that might be used to describe Candlestick Park are cold, blustery, windy, damp and foggy. This is not just a semantic word game, these words had real impact on hitters. In a park with these conditions, a player has to hit the ball a ton, and Mays smashed balls through the boggy Bay Area air time and time again.

With 660 homers, 1,903 RBI, 523 career doubles and a slugging percentage of .557, Mays is the consummate power-hitting center fielder.

Speed to burn

There really is no contest when it comes to speed on the base paths. Here’s another category that many would just shout out Ty Cobb’s name.

Not so fast! There’s another center fielder that is the, pardon the pun, runaway winner in the speed department. If you’re a Cardinals fan, you might be screaming in your mind “Vince Coleman!”

Building a five-tool center fielder

Vince Coleman at full tilt. (Photo from mosporthalloffame.com)

You’re right. It’s Vince Coleman. Had Coleman not fallen from grace like he did (see No.18 on the list) after he left St. Louis, we might be talking about the greatest base thief of all time. At the very least, he would have given Rickey Henderson something to look at in his rear-view mirror. But, various injuries and silly suspensions sabotaged what was fast becoming a very bright career.

Coleman still stands as the last man to steal over 100 bases in a season, a feat he accomplished three times in consecutive years from 1985-87. It’s hard to imagine anyone ever eclipsing that plateau again in the age of the homer. The simple fact is, no manager in the modern game would ever allow a player to steal the amount of times required to crest the century mark in swipes. Watch Coleman circle the bases in under 15 seconds.

Coleman was a rare breed though. He was pure thoroughbred when he got on base, and everyone knew he was going. It might shock some fans out there to hear this, but Coleman still ranks sixth all-time on the stolen bases list. This is even more impressive when taking into account he played fewer than 100 games in five of his 13 pro seasons.

Coleman stole 752 bags in 1,371 career games and led the National League in that category his first six professional seasons. Just to put that into perspective, that’s an 89 steal average per every 162 games. Digest that for a minute.

Installing Coleman hyperjets now.

The arms race

Throwing arm is a category that many will find to be most debatable. Who really did have the best throwing arm among major league center fielders? It’s a perfectly legit question, and the answers will vary widely. Many would shout Mays, others would say Griffey Jr. and yet others would throw out a Kenny Lofton or a Kirby Puckett. On our player though, we’re going with the great Tris Speaker’s cannon of a left arm.

Building a five-tool center fielder

This is the style of glove you could imagine Tris Speaker taking into center field. (Photo from keymancollectibles.com)

To settle the debate on whose throwing arm we put on our five-tool center fielder, it’s probably most prudent to look at two categories. First, we look at assists. Then, we see how many double plays he was involved in. Both categories are, for outfielders, probably the greatest measure of how potent and accurate their throwing arm was.

Check this out. Speaker had 322 career assists as a center fielder. The next closest to him is Max Carey at 216. That is an astounding total. Take into consideration for a minute the equipment that Speaker had available and the larger dimensions of the ballparks that he played in during the early 1900s. We’re talking about a player who most likely was asked to make some very long throws.

Next up, Speaker, as a center fielder, was involved in 107 double plays. Think about the last time you saw an outfielder turn two. I bet he most likely made a long throw for the second out. Willie Mays had the second most ever at 59 double plays turned. While Mays might have the power and the leather, Speaker has the arm.

There is absolutely no way, based off the raw numbers, that Speaker didn’t have arguably the greatest throwing arm of all center fielders to play the game. Speaker’s plaque in Cooperstown acknowledges this very fact, calling him the “greatest center fielder of his day.”

With Cobb’s eye, Mays’ power and golden glove, Coleman’s thoroughbred speed and Speaker’s howitzer left arm, I challenge anyone to make a center fielder that could out-hit, out-run and out-throw this prototype.

 

Featured image from bleedingyankeeblue.blogspot.com

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Emile Kinst and his odd banana bat creation

Emile Kinst and his odd banana bat creation

The tools of the game are, in large part, something that modern baseball players take for granted. The modern fan must realize, however, that at the dawning of professional baseball in the late-1800’s the gear that was available leaves a lot to be desired. Take, for instance, the baseball glove. Until St. Louis Cardinals pitcher, Bill Doak, revolutionized the baseball glove by inventing the webbing between the thumb and finger. Up until the 1920’s, baseball gloves were nothing more than a simple padded leather glove. Doak would ultimately sell his patent to Rawlings, and the rest, as they say, is history. While Doak’s invention has become the standard for all gloves that have come since his 1922 patent, Emile Kinst and his odd banana bat creation have been relegated to the dust bin of history.

The banana bat

Emile Kinst and his odd banana bat creation

Emile Kinst, inventor of the banana bat. (photo courtesy of: Fangraphs.com)

Emile Kinst was the best kind of baseball fan. He apparently thought the game was too “easy” for players in the 1890’s. From Kinst’s vision for a tougher game, came the banana bat, quite possibly the oddest creation in baseball history. But this isn’t just me speculating here, one can read Kinst’s own words about his invention here.

What Kinst was trying to achieve, was a tougher game. Or, using his line of thinking, a more intriguing game to watch. The focus behind the creation of his new bat was to increase the degree of difficulty for the fielder. The entire purpose of his bat design was to alter the flight of the ball. In Kinst’s own words from his patent application he said, “The object of my invention is to provide a ball-bat which shall produce a rotary or spinning motion of the ball in its flight ‘to a higher degree than is possible with any present known form of ball-bat, and thus to make it more difficult to catch the ball, or, if caught, to hold it…”

Kinst and his banana bat have largely been forgotten about by most baseball fans. But the desire to re-think the design of baseball bats has not subsided. This drive to reshape the tools of the game has existed as long as the game itself has. Take for instance the work that the Axe Bat Co. has been doing over the last seven years. They’ve went from the prototype phase, to putting their design in the hands of the players at the top level of baseball in less than a decade. With Victus Sports already contracted to make the axe-handled design for MLB, Tucci Lumber Bat Co. has followed suit.

This is part one in a forthcoming series about the tools of the game. 

Next week: Baseball gloves

 

(feature photo courtesy of: manmadediy.com)

 

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Nolan Ryan record 108 mph fastball

Nolan Ryan’s record 108 mph fastball

Big league pitchers have heard the phrase “Throw him the heat!” perhaps more than any other phrase. Baseball fans have long had an infatuation with the game’s signature pitch, the fastball. There’s no doubt that for many who’ve played baseball, the pitchers that stand out the most are the ones who threw the hardest.

One of the burning questions at any one snapshot in baseball history is the question of who throws the hardest. At this snapshot in time, Aroldis Chapman is the game’s preeminent fireballer. When Chapman blistered the radar gun at 105 mph a few years back, many were calling him the fastest thrower of all time.

But this isn’t correct. Thanks to the scientific and mathematical analysis done in the documentary Fastball, we know it’s not correct. The distinction of fastest fastball belongs to Nolan Ryan’s record 108 mph fastball.

Why we love the fastball

Nolan Ryan record 108 mph fastball

Bob Feller showcasing his iconic high leg kick. (Photo from baseballheritagemuseum.org)

It’s the element of confrontation that the fastball brings to the game. The struggle between hitter and pitcher is one of the ultimate showdowns in sports, especially in those many instances where the hitters know what’s coming, and the pitcher knows exactly what he’s throwing. There’s nothing more primal in baseball than the predator-prey aspect of facing a hard fastball. It tests the very limits of what’s humanly possible.

The science of the fastball has been well studied, and Fastball does a wonderful job of putting it all together. One of the most striking comparisons made is the difference between a 92 mph fastball and 100 mph fastball. By the time a pitch thrown at 100 mph crosses home, a pitch thrown at 92 mph would still have 4.5 feet of travel left if thrown at the same time. At 100 mph, the batter has 0.396 seconds to process the pitch and make his decision to swing. Putting that in perspective, it takes a human being longer to blink.

This puts the hitter in a unique position that sets him in a situation where he must confront a cognitive dilemma of what’s humanly possible. For the pitcher, the dilemma is the same extreme, but it puts him in a unique position where it sets him at his limits of what is physically possible.

It’s even better when it’s late in the game and there are runners on the bases. Going beyond the science, there’s just something about watching a flame-throwing pitcher put the clamps down on the opposing lineup.

Debating the fastest

Discussing which pitcher is the hardest thrower in the modern game has long been settled by the radar gun. All MLB radar guns are set to record pitch speed at the 50-foot mark between the mound and the plate.

Until Nolan Ryan ushered in the “radar” age in 1974, there were only two other pitchers in history that were clocked using various devices. These pitchers are Walter “Big Train” Johnson, and Bob “The heater from Van Meter” Feller, or Rapid Robert for short. These are two of the best pitchers to ever take the mound, and arguably the best pitcher of their respective era. What’s unique about these three pitchers, however, is they were the first to have their pitches “clocked.”

Johnson’s pitch speed was calculated on a gun range, because where else would you test it? The Remington Arms Co. used a device that was normally used to measure the speed of a bullet. In summation, the calculation they arrived at, 83.2 mph, was flawed. Based on the design of the apparatus used, 83.2 mph is a calculation of how fast his pitch was travelling at 7.5 feet behind home plate. Adjusting pitch speed to meet modern standards, Johnson’s pitch was much closer to 93.8 mph.

Feller also threw a pitch through a device as did Johnson. However, this time the speed was measured right at home plate. Feller clocked in at an astonishing 98.6 mph on his fastest pitch of the test. Adjusting Feller’s pitch to align with today’s standard, he was closer to 107.6 mph. That’s 2.5 mph faster than Chapman’s officially recorded fastest pitch of 105.1 mph. Neither of these two pitchers have anything on Nolan Ryan though.

Nolan Ryan’s record 108 mph fastball

Nolan Ryan record 108 mph fastball

Nolan Ryan’s seventh no-hitter. (Photo from star-telegram.com)

The year 1974 was a watershed year of sorts for how we have come to measure the speed of a pitch. This was the year that the concept of the radar gun was established. A bunch of smart people decided that if you use an infrared beam, you can quickly get an accurate reading of how fast a pitch is moving. It can also be set to read the same point of measurement repeatedly, giving a fair assessment of the speed. Nolan Ryan became baseball’s first pitcher to ‘light up” the radar at a major league park.

On Aug. 20, 1974, in a game against the Detroit Tigers, then Angels pitcher Nolan Ryan pitched an 11-inning complete game 1-0 loss. As a quick note, Nolan Ryan’s career is marked by playing on teams that weren’t all that good offensively. He truly is a case study in why wins aren’t the best judge of a pitcher’s worth in every instance. Not wanting to stray to far off topic though, in the game against Detroit, Ryan was clocked at 100.9 mph, in the ninth inning. That means that he was getting stronger as the game wore on!

But like Feller and Johnson before him, Ryan’s measurement needs to be adjusted too. Ryan’s pitch was measured at 10 feet in front of home plate. When the proper adjustments are made, his 100.9 mph fastball becomes closer to 108.5 mph. If you are keeping score, that is about 3.5 mph faster than Chapman’s fastest pitch on record. All hail the Ryan Express!

 

 

Feature image from baseballhall.org

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Lewis Brinson's 2018 season outlook

Lewis Brinson’s 2018 season outlook

The Milwaukee Brewers came out of nowhere to finish within striking distance of MLB’s playoffs in 2017. Looking back to the start of the season, there was nobody giving Milwaukee much of a chance. And why should they? There was little to suggest this team would go on to do what it did. The Brewers led the NL Central most of the season’s first half before getting roughed up after the All-Star break. The Brewers, however, to their credit fought back and were in contention for a playoff spot into the final week of 2017. They lost Jimmy Nelson, just as he was finding a dominant form on the mound, and closer Corey Knebel had some uncharacteristic break downs in some of the season’s most important games. General manager David Stearns is looking to reload for another run. Without further ado, here is Lewis Brinson’s 2018 season outlook.

How Brinson was acquired

CF Lewis Brinson was the centerpiece of a trade with Texas. (photo from: tulsaworld.com)

Brinson has done nothing but hit the ground running since coming over in a 2016 trade with the Texas Rangers. The move sent long-time catcher Jonathan Lucroy to the Rangers, and in return the Brewers netted Brinson and pitcher Luis Ortiz. It was a heck of a haul for Milwaukee, and a nice feather to stick in GM David Stearns’ cap. The move has set up Milwaukee’s roster nicely for the future. And that future, is about to become the present.

Lewis Brinson’s 2018 season outlook

In 2017, Brinson, who is also billed as the top prospect in the Brewers’ organization put together a monster year at Triple-A Colorado. He put together an incredible slash line .331/.400/.562 as a member of the Sky Sox. It was due to this type of output that he was recalled from Colorado on June 11. His first taste of major league ball, however, didn’t necessarily go to plan.

In his first 21 games with Milwaukee, he struggled to hit major league pitching. In his 47 official at-bats, his slash line .106/.236/.277 leaves a lot to be desired. At the tender age of just 23 though, he has plenty of time to get the ship righted and back on course. Based on his skill set and his minor league track record, Brewers fans should expect a good rookie year from Brinson.

For 2018, Brinson should break camp with as a member of the Brewers’ 25-man roster. It will be interesting to see what happens at the upcoming winter meetings in Orlando. The Brewers find themselves in the position of having a ton of outfielders who are ready to contribute. But with only a handful of spots to go around, one would expect some moves to be forthcoming.

With the emergence of center fielder Brett Phillips in 2017, Brinson’s road has gotten a little tougher. At the end of the day, however, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the physical tools of Brinson win the day and see him firmly entrenched as Milwaukee’s everyday center fielder by the All-Star break.

 

(feature photo from: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

 

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Baseball steroid era

Baseball’s grudge against the steroid era should end

Another Hall of Fame balloting season is upon us, and the topic of the day should not be who the first ballot selections going to be. No, the question should be how is it that Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens still find themselves on the outside looking in.

Forget about the legal troubles and PED issues that Clemens has had. Forget about the notion that Bonds might have used PEDs. Considering some of the more recent selections to Cooperstown, baseball’s grudge against the steroid era should end, and it should end now.

If any fan out there thinks that the Hall of Fame is completely devoid of PED users, they simply don’t understand what they are talking about. Take your pick from players that used “greenies” or the ones that used HGH. So there it is, plain and simple. There are PED users enshrined in Cooperstown already, like it or not. The fact of the matter is that Bonds and Clemens are two of the very best that have ever played this game. Quite frankly, it’s a crime against baseball that they are still seeking entry on their sixth attempt.

What’s more is there’s little numerical hope for them to get in this year. Bonds finished last year’s HOF voting with 53.8 percent of the vote. For Clemens, he finished with 54.1 percent of the vote. This is a total joke. If anyone out there thinks that these players were some type of anomaly, they are fooling only themselves. PEDs were rampant in those years prior to testing, make no mistake about it.

Put Bonds in already

Barry Bonds is one of the greatest players that has ever played the game of baseball. No matter what anyone thinks of him, he deserves a plaque in Cooperstown. For the sake of making ourselves laugh, let’s look at his career.

First, Bonds’ WAR (162.4), places him in sole possession of first place all-time among left fielders. The only other left fielders aside from Bonds that ever crested 100 in WAR are Rickey Henderson and Ted Williams. Now you attribute that to steroids if you want to, but Bonds was well on his way to Cooperstown before any of the speculation even began.

If WAR isn’t a good enough measure, then try on his record seven NL MVP awards. Or how about his 14 All-Star appearances. Or his eight gold gloves. How about his 12 silver sluggers? Or, his two batting titles. Or, his being named MLB’s Player of the Year three times. Does that sway you yet? Again, if anyone wants to attribute that output to steroids alone, they are crazy. There’s no getting around it.

The powers that be in the league office, for years, turned a blind eye to PED use among its players. PEDs were good enough to prop up the game after the strike of 1994 that threatened to gut fan support. It’s in this vain that some of the all-time greats, like Bonds, should be allowed to ascend to their rightful place among their peers.

What’s sickening though, is most likely this year is going to be no different than the previous five. Bonds won’t be getting in, and the BBWA has a lot to answer for in this regard. It seems they are more interested in prolonging a “moral” controversy, dven if it means being hypocritical (see 2017 HOF voting).

Make way for Clemens

Here’s the deal with Clemens. He’s the greatest starting pitcher of the modern era, and it’s not even close. Clemens’ career WAR (140.3) is good enough for third all-time among starting pitchers. He sits behind only Cy Young (168.5) and Walter Johnson (165.6) respectively. That’s pretty exclusive company no matter what way you slice it. Going further, Clemens is one of only four starting pitchers in recent memory to record over 100 wins above replacement. The others being Tom Seaver, Greg Maddux and Randy Johnson.

Baseball steroid era

Roger Clemens is a Hall of Famer, and it doesn’t matter what you think about it. (Photo from Deadspin.com)

Like Bonds, Clemens has had to add on another room to his mansion just for all the league honors he’s won. Clemens was an AL MVP, a seven-time Cy Young winner, a seven-time ERA champion and an 11-time All-Star. Oh, and then there’s the two pitching triple crowns he won for leading the league in wins, ERA and strikeouts. Again, like Bonds, people want to believe his numbers were only possible because of steroid use, but they’re flat out nuts.

We all know about the allegations outside of the sport that have surrounded Clemens at various points. But the last time I checked, the HOF isn’t about how good of a person you are, it’s about how good of a ballplayer you are. As far as starting pitchers go, none of us have seen one more dominant. That’s just a fact. Nolan Ryan might be baseball’s strikeout king, but Clemens was a superior starting pitcher.

If the BBWA wants to do something productive, maybe it’s time they call off the grudge against both Bonds and Clemens.

 

Feature image from CBS News

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Arizona Fall League season awards

Arizona Fall League season awards

The Peoria Javelinas claimed the Arizona Fall League title on Nov. 18. Powered by league MVP and Braves top prospect, Ronald Acuna, Peoria dispatched the Mesa Solar Sox 8-2 in the season finale. For the Javelinas, this marks their sixth AFL title since the league was founded in 1992. But while the AFL recognizes a league MVP, there are no Cy Young award equivalents for the league’s best pitcher. If there were such an award, it would have most likely been a clean sweep for the Braves in the Arizona Fall League season awards in 2017.

League MVP, CF Ronald Acuna

AFL Season slash line: .325/.414/.639/1.053

Arizona Fall League season awards

Seattle prospect Eric Filia won the AFL batting title, but lost out to Ronald Acuna in the MVP race. (Photo: Baseball America)

Much has been written about the season that Ronald Acuna posted in 2017. At 19 years of age, soon to be 20 in December, Acuna has risen through the Braves system this year like a man on fire. Starting the season in Advanced-A with the Florida Fire Frogs, Acuna would reach the Braves’ Triple-A affiliate, the Gwinnett Braves, by season’s end. What’s more, his numbers got better at each level he played at this year.

The young Venezuelan native played at three levels this year, four if you include his inclusion in the AFL. And, quite frankly, it is reasonable to consider the AFL “another level” on the prospect ladder, to be fair. It is, after all, the proving ground for elite talent in MLB’s prospect pipeline. And Acuna wasn’t just good he was dominant in Arizona this fall, leading Peoria to the AFL championship.

Though Acuna didn’t lead the league in batting, on-base percentage, slugging, or even OPS for that matter, he was the league’s best player when you look at the sum of the whole. This young center fielder finished second in OPS, 12th in batting, second in slugging and sixth in on-base percentage, respectively.

This future star was a league leader though, make no mistake about it. Acuna led the AFL in home runs with seven, and total bases with 53. On top of that, he drove in 16 runs, good enough for fifth in the AFL in 2017.

There is no way this kid doesn’t break camp with the big club next spring. Acuna has absolutely nothing left to prove in the minors. He’s ready for his call to the big leagues right now.

AFL Cy Young, LHP Max Fried

AFL Season pitching line: (3-1) 1.73 ERA, 26 IP, 32 K’s, 0.88 WHIP

The AFL’s “Cy Young” award, if one were given out, would’ve been a trickier call than league MVP. Four pitchers could’ve easily walked away with this award. In no certain order, the New York Yankees’ Cody Carroll, Pittsburgh’s Mitch Keller, Philadelphia’s J.D. Hammer and Atlanta’s Max Fried all pitched well enough to be considered the best pitcher in Arizona this fall.

Arizona Fall League season awards

Max Fried was the best pitcher in the AFL in 2017. (Photo courtesy of: Reinhold Matay/USA TODAY Sports)

At the end of the day, however, only one can player can take top honors. And this year, Atlanta’s Max Fried would have to be the guy to get the nod. Over his six starts for eventual AFL champions, Peoria, Fried was as dominant as they come. The Braves’ young southpaw was second among all starting pitchers in WHIP (0.88), only bested Yankee’s prospect Justus Sheffield (0.84).

Fried was also the AFL’s strikeout champion for 2017 as well. He finished with 32 strikeouts in his 26 innings of work, good enough for an outstanding ratio of 11 K’s per nine innings. Making Fried’s case even better, he also showed good control walking only 2.77 batters per nine innings. Even though Fried wasn’t as efficient as Mitch Keller in this category (1.9 BB/per 9), he outpaced Keller’s (4.9 K/per 9).

In the cases of Hammer and Carroll, however, both pitchers were closers. This isn’t to slight these two future big leaguers, but generally it’s a rarity that a reliever will win an award for league’s best pitcher. It’s happened only nine times at baseball’s top level, with the last occurrence being Eric Gagne’s 2003 Cy Young season. While Hammer and Carroll both had outstanding seasons in Arizona, the volume of work by Fried must be the deciding factor here.

Based on his body of work, Fried is the AFL’s best pitcher of 2017.

Atlanta’s prospects ready to contribute

Both Fried and Acuna progressed along the prospect ladder in leaps this year. The Braves have moved these young men up the ladder quickly, and they have responded by showing a maturity beyond their years. There is little doubt that both players will more than likely be on the opening day roster come 2018.

It is worth noting that Fried has already made the jump to MLB in 2017. His performance in the AFL this year should solidify his place in next year’s Braves rotation. Especially when you look at his performance in his limited exposure at the major league level. While it is a very small sample, it is apparent that the lights aren’t too bright for this future staff ace.

Moving onto Acuna, now, here’s a player that has absolutely no need to take another swing in the minor leagues. The Braves’ top prospect, and fifth ranked prospect in all of MLB, has shown he’s ready for the call. When the Braves break camp next spring, Acuna should be the man roaming center field in Atlanta every day.

This young man, at 20 years old, will most likely become the youngest player in the majors in 2018 and it’s exciting to speculate how he will handle the jump to MLB. If 2017 is anything to go by, we might be talking about the NL Rookie of the Year here. He will almost certainly be a training camp favorite for the award, no doubt about it.

 

(feature photo courtesy of: sportsnewsinstant.com)

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Prospect Max Fried’s 2018 season outlook

Prospect Max Fried’s 2018 season outlook

The Arizona Fall League will name a champion on Nov. 18, and Braves prospect Max Fried could have a key role to play. The southpaw has fully overcome Tommy John surgery to reestablish himself as a top prospect in MLB.

For the Braves, Fried’s rise couldn’t have come at a better time. With many prospects like the much heralded Ronald Acuna ready to make the major league jump, Max Fried has tasted MLB, and is ready to take the ball every fifth day in Atlanta. This is prospect Max Fried’s 2018 season outlook.

The injury

Entering 2014, Fried was one of the hottest left-handed pitching prospects in baseball. Drafted with the seventh overall pick in 2012, the San Diego Padres were sure they had an “ace of the future” waiting in the wings. They might have been right, had Fried not injured that prized left arm of his.

At just 20 years old, in 2014, Fried was the third ranked prospect in San Diego’s farm system as rated by Baseball America. Everything seemed to be going according to plan, until early in the spring months, Fried began feeling soreness in his left forearm.

As a result, the Padres medical staff shut down all throwing activities for the young hurler. He wouldn’t see live action again in 2014 until mid-July. However, he didn’t last long. In his third start after his return, he began to complain of soreness in his arm, this time in his elbow. And this time, it would require surgery to repair. Tommy John surgery and the resulting rehab would cost Fried nearly two years of his career, and he wouldn’t again pitch until 2016.

The comeback

Prospect Max Fried’s 2018 season outlook

Max Fried as a fresh-faced draft pick of the San Diego Padres. (Photo courtesy of: AP/Alex Gallardo)

Although Max Fried would lose nearly two years of his development to rehab after undergoing Tommy John, he remained committed to the cause. However, when he resumed pitching he would no longer be doing it for the team that drafted him. During December of 2014, Fried was part of a trade that sent Braves’ outfielder Justin Upton to San Diego in return for a load of top-end prospects. Fried was one of them.

In 2016, Fried would break camp with Low-A Rome in the Braves system. While he started slowly, the surgically repaired elbow stood up to the test of live action. By season’s end, Fried would be firmly entrenched as one of the most dominant pitchers in the Sally League.

In 21 games (20 starts) Fried pitched 103 innings, striking out 112 batters, and posted a 3.93 ERA for the year. Excellent work for a young pitcher coming back from the vaunted Tommy John surgery.

Building off a strong 2016, the Braves decided to challenge Fried by jumping him two levels to Double-A. In 19 starts for Mississippi, Fried pitched to a 5.92 ERA and won two while losing 11. However, the strikeouts were still there. He fanned 85 over 86.2 innings of work. This would suggest that his pitches were taking time to find their bite at an advanced level.

If that were all there was to go on, you might think of Fried as a ho-hum type of prospect, but he buckled down when the Braves moved him to Triple-A Gwinnett. In two starts at Gwinnett, spanning six innings of work, the youngster only surrendered one hit, walking two and striking out six. It was on the back of this performance that Fried earned his first big league call-up. And he didn’t disappoint.

For Atlanta, their eighth ranked prospect, fared well in his first taste of MLB. In nine appearances (four starts), Fried went 1-1 with a 3.81 ERA striking out 22 and walking 12 in 26 innings of work.

For Fried, the road back has been long, but his outlook for 2018 is bright.

Prospect Max Fried’s 2018 season outlook

Max Fried fires one to home as a member of the Atlanta Braves.
(Photo courtesy of: Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)

As it stands now, into the last week of the Arizona Fall League’s schedule, Fried has arguably been the best pitcher in the league. What Fried has done in Arizona, considering his past injury, has been remarkable. His line this fall 3-1 with a 1.73 ERA has shown that this young man is ready for the big-time. Fried has tested himself in Arizona against baseball’s most elite prospects, and has come through in fine style.

The strikeouts are still there as well. In 26 innings of work for the Peoria Javelinas, Fried has struck out 32 batters, while only walking eight. Mitch Keller and Justus Sheffield are the only other starting pitchers in Arizona with a better WHIP than Max Fried. Neither of those two pitchers, however, has posted as many innings of work as Fried has this fall.

Based on the late season call-up to Atlanta, and the success he had there, it would be inconceivable to see Fried start anywhere but Atlanta. It’s a bonus for the Braves’ front office personnel that Fried has dominated in Arizona like he has.

The kid is ready. Give him the ball.

 

(feature photo courtesy of: David Banks/Getty Images)

 

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Modern Era ballot offers renewed hope

Modern Era ballot offers renewed hope

In a significant turn of events, the National Baseball Hall of Fame announced substantial changes in voting on Nov 6. These changes will have a major impact on how the 2018 Hall of Fame class could be comprised. The Modern Era ballot offers renewed hope for several of the game’s elite players, who’ve now been given a second crack at Cooperstown.

The Hall of Fame defines the Modern Era as the span of time from 1970 through 1987. To the layman, this means for a player to be considered in this era, his peak years should mostly fall within that range. This, of course, has serious impact for several players who’ve watched their initial 15-year period of eligibility expire.

Among the names on the newly formed 10-player Modern Era ballot are, Steve Garvey, Tommy John, Don Mattingly, Marvin Miller (executive nominee), Jack Morris, Dale Murphy, Dave Parker, Ted Simmons, Luis Tiant and Alan Trammell.

Among the players on this list with a career WAR of (50+) are pitchers Luis Tiant (66.1) and Tommy John (62). Also joining this list are position players Alan Trammell (70.4) and Ted Simmons (50.1), respectively.

In my estimation, the no-brainer selections are Alan Trammell, Ted Simmons and Marvin Miller. Trammell deserves it for being among the best short stops ever, Simmons for being among the best catchers ever and Miller for his work as the first MLBPA union head. Miller has a legacy that every player in today’s game owes a serious debt of gratitude.

How voting works

Alan Trammell had a (52.6) WAR between 1980-1989. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)

This newly formed selection committee will consist of 16 members. Membership of the Modern Baseball Committee will be a mixture of HoF members, executives and veteran media members (BBWA). Members will be appointed by the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s Board of Directors.

The appointees to the Modern Baseball Committee will each serve for a renewable term as well. They will meet twice every five years to discuss the merits of elite players that have slipped through the cracks.

According to the Hall of Fame, voting set to begin in 2017. So presumably, we will have our first voting process at the winter meetings this coming December in Orlando, Fla.

Voting can only take place when there is a 75-percent quorum (12 of 16 members). In the event a quorum isn’t reached, there is an allowance for voting via conference call.

Short Stop, Alan Trammell – Detroit Tigers

Alan Trammell is one of the biggest snubs in the history of the game. I know there is fervent debate about Pete Rose, but unfortunately, he’s banned from baseball. So are the PED players, in a round-about way.

Trammell was a career Tiger having played the entirety of his career in Detroit. A career that spanned 20 major league seasons. These were 20, mostly bright, seasons as well. Had Trammell not had the break down at the end of his career, he would most likely be in already. Still, it’s a shame to see arguably the best short stop of the 1980’s, not enshrined in Cooperstown.

Of the three Hall of Fame short stops that would be classified in the Modern Era (Yount/Ripken/Smith), Trammell (52.6) has a higher WAR than all but Yount (55.1) throughout the decade of the 1980’s. It should be noted, however, that Yount switched to center field full-time in 1986.

It’s not just WAR in Trammell’s case though that shows his greatness. We’re talking about a player that not only posted a (70.4) WAR, we’re talking about an all-around elite player. We’re talking about a six-time All-Star. We’re talking about a four-time Gold Glove winner.

Trammell was a fine hitter, though not known for his power he hit a (.285) clip in his 20 professional seasons. That’s not bad, in fact, it’s the same career average as Robin Yount.

The Tiger legend was also great when the moments were biggest. In the 1984 postseason, Trammell went 13-for-31 in his eight playoff starts. In case you are wondering, that’s an average (.419). However, Trammell saved his best for the World Series in ’84. He hit a blistering (.450) with two homers and six RBI on his way to winning World Series MVP.

Put Trammell in already.

Catcher, Ted Simmons – St. Louis Cardinals

Ted Simmons is one of the greatest catchers that has ever played the game. He still ranks in the top five is several offensive categories after retiring almost 30 years ago. I would go much further in depth on this legend, but I recently laid bare the case for Ted Simmons just days ago.

Modern Era ballot offers renewed hope

Robin Yount was the only short stop with a better WAR rating than Alan Trammell in the 1980’s. (Photo courtesy of: baseballhall.org)

What should be mentioned is that Simmons, a (.285) hitter, was the first catcher to hit 400+ career doubles, and still ranks second in RBI all-time among catchers. That’s impressive no matter which way a person looks at it.

With each passing year, Simmons’ career continues to look better and better. Like a fine wine, it’s time to pop the cork on this fine vintage. Ted Simmons deserves the call to Cooperstown.

Read the case for Ted Simmons here!

Marvin Miller – Former MLBPA Union Head

Marvin Miller wasn’t a player, but his impact on the game of baseball was immense. Miller, an economist by trade, became the first head of the Major League Baseball Players Association in 1966.

In 1968, Miller successfully lead the first negotiation of a collective bargaining agreement between players and owners. As a result, the minimum salary was raised from $7,000 to $10,000 over the seasons of 1968 and 1969.

Perhaps the biggest battle Marvin Miller fought while head of the MLBPA, was the challenge to what was known as the reserve clause. Under the reserve clause, players had no rights to pursue better financial offers from other teams. In effect, the owners of major league franchises held all the power. Under the reserve clause, players were bound to a team as “property” and could be sold, released, or traded on the whim of the owner.

Enter Curt Flood.

During the 1969 season, Curt Flood was locked in a battle with Cardinals owner August Busch over a dispute of a $10,000 raise. As a three-time All-Star, and seven-time Gold Glove winner, Flood was right in thinking he was worth more. However, because of rocking the boat, Flood was traded to Philadelphia at season’s end. Presumably as punishment.

Flood denied the trade, and making a long story short, ended up suing MLB over the legality of the reserve clause. A case he would lose, but would lay the ground work for others in his wake. Flood sacrificed his career for those that came after him. I wonder how many of us would be so principled in that same situation.

Miller’s legacy

Modern Era ballot offers renewed hope

Curt Flood, along with Marvin Miller, reshaped the financial aspect of MLB. (Photo courtesy of: The Atlantic)

In 1974, Miller won a landmark case on behalf of the MLBPA. Due to a missed annuity payment, owed to Catfish Hunter, by A’s owner Charlie Finley an arbitrator ruled that Hunter was fee to sign with any team of his choosing. Thanks to Marvin Miller, free agency in baseball was born when Hunter signed a five-year deal with the Yankees.

For the first time a player had all the negotiating leverage to get the maximum financial return out of his skill set.

Also in 1974, Miller successfully convinced two pitchers to play out their 1975 seasons without signing a contract. It was then that these players challenged MLB by filing grievances with the league. The case was heard by arbitrator Peter Seitz, who ultimately sided with pitchers Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally.

Though the fallout from this case sparked widespread collusion against many of the pioneers of free agency in the 1970s, Miller perhaps changed the game in more ways than any player ever has on the field. After all, Miller fought for free agency, led the MLBPA through three labor stoppages and oversaw average salaries rise from $19,000 in 1966, to $326,000 by the time he stepped away from the union in 1982.

Miller, who passed away in 2012, always blasted the Hall of Fame for colluding against his inclusion in those hallowed halls. Maybe the Modern Baseball Committee will finally give this man his just desserts. Even if it does have to come posthumously.

 

(feature photo courtesy of: Sporting News)

 

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Ted Simmons deserves Cooperstown

Ted Simmons deserves Cooperstown

With the World Series having been settled, Houstonians prepare to honor their championship winning team. For the fans in Houston, all the talk will be on the greatness that this season has produced. For the rest of us it’s time to warm ourselves around the hot stove, and talk about all things past, present and future. Yes, now’s the time to talk about why Ted Simmons deserves Cooperstown.

As we move forever into the future, it’s hard to look back sometimes at those “less glamorous” items from the past. Catcher Ted Simmons is just one of those items that seems to have lost its shine through the years. How sad. The former Cardinals, Brewers and Braves player deserves to stand on that stage in Cooperstown and talk about what it means to be a Hall of Famer.

There has been much written about the likes of Alan Trammell, one of the greatest Detroit Tigers to don the uniform, but Ted Simmons is probably one of the greatest players you don’t realize was great. Simmons’ numbers hold up to this day, nearly 30 years after he played his last professional game. His numbers aren’t just good, they’re great. I would say, they are Hall of Fame great.

The BBWA has made a huge mistake by not admitting Simmons to the Hall when they had their chance. In fact, I wonder how it could possibly be that Simmons only garnered 3.7 percent of the vote in his bellwether year on the ballot. It’s quite mind boggling to be frankly honest. Especially when considering all his peers are in the Hall of Fame.

For Simmons, affectionately known to his fans as Simba, being frozen out of the Hall of Fame is a nightmare that needs to end.

Simmons’ WAR and JAWS ratings

Ted Simmons deserves Cooperstown

Ted Simmons putting on his Cardinal red jacket while be formally inducted into the St. Louis Cardinals team Hall of Fame. (Photo courtesy of: CBS St. Louis/Bill Greenblatt/UPI)

As someone who was brought up in the pre-money ball era, it has taken time to adjust to the advanced metrics of modern day analysis. I see their usefulness, but there isn’t a ton to be gleaned from them that you can’t glean from a comprehensive analysis of the traditional stats, but I digress.

The WAR rating system is just a quicker way to get to the nuts and bolts of a player’s value. Instead of pouring over stat line after stat line of data, it is much faster to take the numbers and plug them into a handy formula that weights each category appropriately. Much to the credit of Jamesian statistics, these types of stats have made it easier to gauge a player’s individual worth compared to his positional peers.

In the case of Ted Simmons his WAR, 7-year peak WAR and JAWS ratings stand him in good stead. It’s also the jumping off point for arguing that Simmons should be enshrined in Cooperstown. So, where does Simmons rate?

In WAR, Ted Simmons ranks 12th among all catchers with a solid (50.1) rating. Take into consideration that the average HoF catcher has a (53.4) career WAR, and it seems like splitting hairs to say that Simmons’ career WAR isn’t good enough. We’re talking about a difference of (3.3) Wins Above Replacement over the length of a career.

Considering that Simmons is one of only 12 catchers with a WAR rating over (50), it makes little sense that he’s not already enshrined in Cooperstown. All other catchers that amassed a 50+ career WAR rating are in the Hall of Fame, except for the still active Joe Mauer.

But it gets even better for Simmons’ case when accounting for both his 7-year peak WAR, and his JAWS ratings. Starting with Simba’s 7-year peak WAR (34.6), he’s slightly above the average HoF catcher in that category. The average 7-year peak WAR for all HoF catchers is (34.4), making Simmons just your average HoF caliber catcher. Nothing more, nothing less.

Simmons’ JAWS rating of (42.9), which is a combination of both a player’s WAR and 7-year peak WAR, sits just off the average of all HoF catchers (43.9). So, regardless of how you view Ted Simmons, what you can’t argue with is the notion that he’s one of the all-time greats behind the plate.

It’s a crime against baseball that a player that ranks 12th in WAR, 12th in 7-year peak WAR and 11th in JAWS at his position all-time, doesn’t have a bust in Cooperstown. Simmons resides at, or very near, the average HoF numbers in each of these three categories.

Simmons at the plate

If advanced metrics aren’t your thing, that’s ok. A comprehensive look at the traditional state lines will tell you that Simmons is still worthy of the Hall call.

Let’s just start with games played. Simmons to this day, still ranks third in games played all-time. He also ranks third in both plate appearances (9,685) and at-bats (8,680). This shows that Simmons was a guy you could count on to be healthy, and ready to rock and roll every day, for the better part of 20 years.

Ted Simmons deserves Cooperstown

Ted Simmons as a member of the Milwaukee Brewers. (Photo courtesy of: Rich Pilling/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

Simmons also ranks sixth in runs scored (1,074), making him one of only 10 catchers to surpass (1,000) runs scored for a career. Jason Kendall is the only other catcher in this category that isn’t in the Hall of Fame. Everyone else that achieved this feat is included in Cooperstown.

Now we get into the real meat and potatoes of the matter. In hits, Simmons, still ranks second all-time (2,472), behind only Ivan Rodriquez’s (2,844). That means, when Simmons retired after the 1988 season, he was the all-time hits leader for catchers. A record that stood for 19 years until Rodriquez bested Simmons’ in hits during the 2007 season.

If that doesn’t do it for you, then let’s talk about doubles. Simmons was the first catcher ever to hit over 400 career doubles. He finished with a whopping (483) two-baggers in his 21-season career. Simmons remained the all-time doubles champion for catchers, until again bested by Rodriquez in 2007. Keep in mind that when Simmons retired in ’88, Carlton Fisk was the next closest to him in doubles at (346). It wasn’t until the 1991 season that Fisk finally joined Ted Simmons in the 400-double club.

Simmons was also a (.285) career hitter, which is identical to Yogi Berra’s career average at the plate. However, very few catchers can boast a prolific strike out ratio like Simmons’. He struck out an average of once every 12.5 at-bats for his career, which is phenomenal. Simmons also walked 1.23 times to every time he struck out. This is the hallmark of a HoF caliber hitter folks.

If all this isn’t enough for you to digest, Simmons still ranks second in RBI for a catcher with (1,389). Who’s better than Simmons in this category? Only Yogi Berra, and his (1,430) RBI’s are better than Simmons’ mark. Surprisingly, Simmons knocked in more runs than the legendary Johnny Bench’s (1,376). That’s some exclusive company if I do say so myself.

Simmons’ bat alone should have been enough to get him into Cooperstown. Especially when you realize that when he retired in 1988, he was the all-time leader in games played, plate appearance, at-bats, hits and doubles.

Ted Simmons deserves Cooperstown

It’s hard to say where we go in the case of Ted Simmons from this point. Thus far, there isn’t exactly a fire here. Certainly, the Veterans Committee will debate Alan Trammell’s case long before they will Ted Simmons’ case.

Ted Simmons deserves Cooperstown

Ted Simmons putting in work behind the plate, this man deserves a better historical fate. (Photo courtesy of: bestsportsphotos.com)

One of the bugaboos about Ted Simmons is that he didn’t win a gold glove at catcher. However, there can be only one winner each season. Going up against the Red’s 10-time Gold Glove winning catcher, Johnny Bench, Ted Simmons was probably never going to win that award. To Simmons’ credit though, he had an arguable case for the award in 1976. Johnny Bench edged out Simmons for a Gold Glove in ’76 by the slimmest of margins.

Simmons was a competent defender. He was good, but not great, a point that I will readily concede. But the facts remain, Simmons’ bat should have been enough to catapult him into baseball immortality.

Let’s face it, Simmons was a Mike Piazza style of catcher long before Piazza even came around. Although Simmons does have a superior dWAR (4.7) to Piazza’s (1.0). It’s for this reason, that Simmons gets dogged by the BBWA, because it surely isn’t his bat. Simmons’ bat is sound and worthy of all the pomp and circumstance that comes along with being a Hall of Famer.

It’s time for baseball fans to band together to fix this injustice. In Ted Simmons’ case, the Veterans Committee remains his only lifeline to the Hall. However, they don’t vote players in every year.

It’s time to apply the pressure folks.

 

(feature photo courtesy of: Sports Illustrated)

 

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Brewers prospect Keston Hiura's bright future

Brewers prospect Keston Hiura’s bright future

The Milwaukee Brewers might have struck gold with Keston Hiura, their first-round selection, in 2017’s first year player draft. Let’s talk about Brewers prospect Keston Hiura’s bright future before he’s a star everyone knows.

David Stearns, Milwaukee’s general manager, has done many good things in his first two years at the helm. Perhaps one of Stearns’ best moves though is his selection of sweet-swinging second baseman Keston Hiura with the ninth pick in the 2017 MLB Draft. For Hiura, the best is most certainly yet to come.

Hiura’s Bat

Brewers prospect Keston Hiura's bright future

Keston Hiura was the Division I college batting champion last season at UC Irvine. (Photo courtesy of: Baseball America)

Hiura was billed by many pundits leading up to the draft as the best pure hitter available. It’s not hard to figure out why either. As a junior at the University of California–Irvine, Hiura batted (.442/.567/.693) leading to an astounding OPS of (1.260). As far as college bats go, a scout for any MLB team would be hard pressed to find one better.

Hiura did, after all, lead Division I college hitters in both batting (.442) and OBP (.567).

Hiura’s hitting prowess saw him named as a semi-finalist for the Golden Spikes Award in 2017. Though the UC-Irvine standout didn’t win the honor, it is most certainly high praise to be named to the semi-finalists list.

The hits just kept on coming for Hiura after making the jump to pro-ball as well. In his first 42 games of professional baseball, the first-round pick belted an impressive (.371/.422/.611), split between two levels.

Putting those number into perspective, Hiura spent the majority of his first pro season at Low-A Wisconsin. It was there that Hiura put up an impressive batting line, hitting (.333/.374./.476). As the old turn of phrase goes, “That’s just par for the course.” Well, for Keston Hiura it is anyway.

Hiura, at 21 years of age, still has a long road to travel to get to the big leagues. His bat might be hard to slow, however. He showcases the plate discipline of a player more advanced in years, and that bodes well for Hiura. He could potentially be one of the first hitters from this year’s draft class to step to the plate in the majors.

Hiura’s Injury

As good as Hiura is at the dish, he doesn’t come without a certain amount of risk attached. This is not a unique circumstance though. There is a certain amount of risk with every prospect that makes the jump to pro-ball.

In 2016, as a sophomore at UC-Irvine, Hiura suffered an injury to the elbow of his throwing arm. While playing center field, Hiura unleashed a throw to home resulting in a sprained ulnar collateral ligament. The injury led to many MLB teams wondering if the dreaded Tommy John surgery would be in Hiura’s future.

Hiura has said in an interview with Baseball America that the injury never affected his swing. It did, however, affect his fielding. As a result of the injury, Hiura spent the entirety of his junior season as UC-Irvine’s DH. Hiura’s lack of game film in the field and the threat of a possible surgery on that elbow without doubt caused some of the teams picking ahead of the Brewers to go another direction with their pick.

Brewers prospect Keston Hiura's bright future

Hiura has also played for the U.S. Collegiate National Team. (Photo courtesy of: Orlando Sentinel)

An outfielder by trade, Hiura’s task now is learning how to become a professional second baseman. Not a small task, but if anyone is capable of the transition it would be Hiura. This youngster has drawn rave reviews from his former coach at UC-Irvine, Mike Gillespie, about his work ethic.

Much to the delight of David Stearns and the Brewers organization, Hiura was back in the field by the middle of August while with Low-A Wisconsin. Even better still, Tommy John surgery has been ruled out for Hiura’s elbow.

Hiura did suffer an injury that saw him on the DL toward season’s end, but breathe easy Brewers fans, it was a strained hamstring that kept him out of action. Hiura’s arm is seemingly good to go for 2018 and his first full season of professional baseball.

Playing a full season at second base, the Brewers and Hiura should know very early on in the year if his arm is going to be an issue. At least for the moment though, all signs point to his UCL sprain as being behind him.

Hiura in 2018

Based on the numbers Hiura pounded out in his first taste of professional baseball, Brewers fans might want to see him start 2018 at High-A Carolina. It is very doubtful that he will start there with the work he needs in the field.

It is far more likely that he will be the opening day second baseman for Low-A Wisconsin.

While his bat is ready right now to face tougher competition, his glove invariably needs work. Brewers fans need to remember that Hiura is essentially learning a new position. There will be a learning curve to this process and it will take time.

Hiura won’t be toiling away at Low-A Wisconsin all season though. I fully expect Hiura the climb the prospect ladder at least one level by the end of 2018, if not two levels. It isn’t unreasonable to assume Hiura could hit his way to Double-A by season’s end. Of course, this depends on how Hiura adapts to second base and how that arm holds up.

The good news though, is if a player can play center field he more than likely can handle second base as well. As he logs more innings, he should come to terms with how to play second base fairly quickly.

Another factor that bodes well for Hiura is time. At the tender age of 21 and with a glut of rising prospects at the keystone positions in the Brewers organization, there is no need to fast-track this young man to the big leagues. Time is on Hiura’s side as far as learning how to properly defend second base is concerned.

Hiura’s ETA in Milwaukee

Brewers prospect Keston Hiura's bright future

Keston Hiura signs his autograph for some of the Milwaukee faithful. (Photo courtesy of: The Post-Crescent)

While the fans in Milwaukee will want to see Hiura sporting the ball and glove logo on his hat sooner rather than later, it would be asking too much to see him up with the big club at any point in 2018. He simply has too much glove work to do before making that jump.

Also, there is no question that as the standard of pitching gets better, his bat will have to adjust as well. In this category though, Hiura will most likely do just fine. There is absolutely nothing in his past to suggest that he will suddenly forget how to hit. It is, after all, his best tool.

The future is indeed a bright one for Keston Hiura. He’ll be knocking on the door of the big leagues by mid-2019, and his bat will be the major reason why. But of course, this is all assuming he experiences no further problems with that balky elbow on his throwing arm.

Hiura seems intent on battering minor league pitching. This should leave Brewers fans with those warm and fuzzy feelings inside. With the emergence of Travis Shaw at third base and Orlando Arica at short stop, adding in Keston Hiura could be a watershed moment for the Brewers organization overall.

How quickly Hiura makes the transition to second base will be the difference maker in how quickly he ascends to the big club in Milwaukee. One thing is for certain though, if his glove adapts anywhere near as quickly as his bat has, you will see him in Milwaukee sooner than later.

Hiura has the bat to play beyond the level he is currently at. If he can become just an average defender in short order, he will be forcing the Brewers’ hand very soon.

For Brewers GM David Stearns this is an excellent problem to have. And it’s a far cry from the pile of smoldering, twisted, wreckage that the Brewers’ farm system had become under Stearns’ predecessor, Bob Melvin.

 

(feature photo courtesy of: azcentral.com)

 

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