the road to the big leagues

David Ledbetter: The road to the big leagues

It’s October, the best time of the year in baseball. For fans, it means watching their team fight to get to the World Series. For players, it means building a legacy and making history. The regular season is now meaningless and anything can happen.

It is truly exciting, but not everybody can be a part of it. Not every team makes the postseason. Not even every player from the postseason teams gets to participate. Then there are the guys in the minors, just dying to get even just a taste of MLB action.

It is not an easy road to the MLB. Just ask pitcher David Ledbetter. The former 2013 third-round pick just finished his fifth season in the Texas Rangers’ farm system. He completed this season with the Round Rock Express, the team’s triple-A affiliate. In triple-A, he went 3-4 with a 4.31 ERA and 85 strikeouts in 110.1 innings.

Now 25 years old, Ledbetter is still hoping he can make his dream come true. He has been working for years to get to the big leagues and is now one call-up away from making the dream a reality.

Life in the minors

Ledbetter found out he’d been promoted to triple-A while on a bus ride to his next game. It surprised him at first, but it was also fulfilling to get recognition for his performance.

“I felt like all my hard work had paid off a little bit,” Ledbetter said. “It is always nice to see an advancement in whatever you do.”

David Ledbetter: road big leagues

Ledbetter went 3-4 with a 4.31 ERA in triple-A this year. (Photo by Andy Nietupski/Round Rock Express)

Ledbetter has spent time in all levels of the farm system. He said life is basically the same in all levels of minor league baseball. With all the traveling and bus rides, you can’t really settle down in one place for too long.

“You’re pretty much homeless,” he said. “You can’t really call a single place home.”

The minor league life is a grind. You are living out of a suitcase. And if you do have an apartment, you usually don’t spend more than a few months in it. You also try to live with a lot of guys to cut rent costs and save money due to the low pay in the minor leagues.

Ledbetter is also married, and since his wife is a pharmacist, she can’t be with him all the time. Ledbetter said being away from family is tough. Why would anyone want this lifestyle?

Ledbetter said he loves the experiences you can only get from playing professional baseball.

“It is really cool because you get to meet people you never otherwise meet,” he said. “You get to experience a lot of different cultures because guys come from all over the world. That’s an experience that I would only be getting if I was in pro ball, and I’m really happy for that.”

Road to the show

In high school, Ledbetter played with his twin brother Ryan at Heritage Christian High School (Indiana), where they won back-to-back state championships. The twins went on to pitch at Cedarville University (Ohio), where they both had successful careers. Cedarville had never had a player drafted, so they went into school just looking to play the best they could and maybe bring a championship to the team.

Unfortunately, they never won that championship, but both had successful careers in college. David finished his time at Cedarville with the second lowest career ERA and second most career wins and strikeouts in school history. Ryan wasn’t bad either as he finished with the third most saves in school history and posted a 3.16 ERA.

David Ledbetter: road big leagues

Ledbetter and his brother Ryan were both drafted by the Rangers. (Photo by Andy Nietupski/Round Rock Express)

They both ended up getting drafted as well, making them the first players in school history to do so. David, as mentioned earlier, was drafted in the third round by the Rangers in the 2013 draft. Later in the 19th round, Ryan was also drafted by the Rangers. What are the odds of that happening?

“That was totally God’s favor on that draft,” Ledbetter said. “It was unbelievable. There was definitely a little bit of nervous excitement there for a little bit though in between the rounds.”

Both of them played together in single-A for a few years. Then Ryan played double-A in 2016. He is now working in the medical field.

David moved up to double-A last year and also got the call-up to triple-A. He is still going and is glad to see his work paying off.

“It’s definitely been a ride,” he said. “I never thought I’d be where I was today. I’ve worked really hard, but it’s cool to see God’s hand through everything.”

What does it take to get to the bigs?

So what does Ledbetter need to work on to get to the big leagues? He says consistency.

Ledbetter said at all levels, there are guys who are very talented. However, the ones that stick around and play in the majors are the ones that know what they do well and do it often.

“If I’m going to make it in the big leagues, I have to make sure I’m consistent with my strengths,” he said.

It hasn’t been an easy path to get here, and he still isn’t in the majors yet. But Ledbetter is glad to be chasing his dream and is working hard to get there.

“If you don’t follow your dreams as a human, it’s going to be a sad life,” Ledbetter said. “We have all these aspirations and passions in our lives, and a lot of people just want to dumb them down and not pursue those. I really think you have those for a reason. So I’m glad I really followed mine.”

 

Featured image by Andy Nietupski/Round Rock Express 

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Luke Weaver is quietly dominating

Weaver

Weaver has been one of the best starters down the stretch (SD Union-Tribune)

Nobody is talking about Luke Weaver, and it is about time we should. The St. Louis Cardinals are starting to fade into obscurity after being swept by the Cubs at Wrigley over the weekend. Over the past few weeks however, we have gotten a glimpse into the rotation of the future.

Luke Weaver was the 27th pick in the draft for the Cardinals in 2014. Since then, he has been dominating the minor leagues with a career 25-11 record and 1.99 ERA. He was called up in July and has started seven games while appearing in 10. He now sports a 1.89 ERA on the season and is 6-1 with a 1.8 WAR already despite starting 20 less games than the leader, who has a 3.5 WAR.
For any fantasy baseball players out there, this is a great guy to get on your team at the most crucial time in the season. Players have picked up on that as he is now owned in over 70 percent of ESPN leagues. He has been paying off for them as well as he has been racking up the wins with an average of 8.4 K/9 over these last five wins he has earned.

The one thing that is worth mentioning about Weaver is the quality of teams he has pitched against. Four of five teams he has faced on this win streak have a sub .500 record. The Brewers are the only team that are in the playoff hunt out of the group, but he did strike out 10 in that appearance. The best team that Weaver has faced is the Diamondbacks who teed off him for four runs in five innings.

What he has to offer

Weaver features a 94-96 mph fastball that stays consistent throughout the game. He has an excellent changeup to back it up that has plenty of sink to throw off opposing hitters. Where Weaver excels is his control though. If you are to watch a game where he is pitching you will not see much of a mix up between him and Molina.

Where Weaver can stand to improve is with his breaking ball. He seems to have figured out a better way to control it since reaching the majors, but this is where he struggled in the minors. Look for him to work on that breaking ball because if the 24 year old can reign it in, he will be a force to be reckoned with

What Weaver means for St. Louis

Weaver

Alex Reyes will emerge as a star in the coming years (MLB.com)

With his performance as of late, the Cardinals should be very happy with what their young core looks like in the rotation. Alex Reyes is St. Louis’ best prospect, but he has been sidelined this season due to Tommy John surgery. He is still ranked as the 14th best prospect in baseball according to MLB.com despite the injury. Reyes just turned 23 so the Cardinals should be very hopeful about his future.
Jack Flaherty is another prospect the Cardinals are excited for. He is still adjusting to the big leagues as he currently has an ERA over 6.00, but he is still only 21 years old. Flaherty still has time to get used to the big leagues at such a young age. He has a solid fastball-changeup combo that should play well. The stuff is there, he just needs time to mature.
These three guys are all names that are starting to set in at the big league level. They should give GM Mike Girsch some excitement though knowing they will be joining Michael Wacha and potentially Lance Lynn if they choose to re-sign him.
Weaver fits right into the Cardinals future and potentially dominant rotation. He and Reyes seem to be the ideal candidates for Wainwright to pass the torch to once he retires.

Will he be able to sustain his success?

There is not much to suggest Weaver won’t be able to become a successful major league pitcher. He has had an easy schedule, but it is tough to take much away from a young pitcher who is having his first extended look at the majors. His impeccable control is what suggests he will be able to continue his dominance through the season.

He should become a fixture in the rotation next season, especially if Lance Lynn does not return. It will be interesting to see how the rotation will turn out with Weaver and Reyes potentially leading the way in the young rotation.

 

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Path to the Majors

Which Path to the Majors has the Most Success?

Major League Baseball is unique compared to the NBA and NFL. Neither allows players to go straight from high school to their respective drafts. The NBA requires at least one year removed from high school and the NFL at least three years. But with baseball, you can go straight from high school to the draft. But is this the best way for a player to make it to the majors? With college being an option for most, many have to decide what path to take to the majors. We will crunch some numbers and see which path has the best track record.

From College to the Draft

Path to the Majors

Chris Sale elevated his draft stock during his time at Florida Gulf Coast University (Credit: Jon Durr/USA TODAY Sports).

Players that choose to go to college out of high school and enter the MLB draft later on are on the rise in recent years. The low point of college players being drafted in recent years came in 2012. A mere 44 percent of players drafted in the first four rounds of the 2012 MLB Draft were from four year universities. But that has been steadily changing. The percentage of college players drafted in the first four rounds hit 58 percent from four year universities in the 2016 MLB Draft. With this rise, does it prove that college is the best route to the majors?

According to the numbers, the answer might be yes. Only 15 percent of the players drafted in the first round since 2013 have played in the majors. But that 15 percent is solely comprised of college players. College players are more developed than their high school counterparts, and can make it to the big leagues faster. Even those high school players who are determined to have first round talent still have a few years before they make it to the majors.

Granted, the benefits of going the college route to the majors may get you there faster. It also provides more opportunities for those players who may not be top prospects to prove their worth in college. But for some, the opportunity to become professionally employed to play baseball is just too good to wait on.

Path to the Majors

Many Machado made a seamless transition from high school to the majors (Credit: Rob Carr/Getty Images).

From High School to the Draft

When these players are in high school, they are approached by MLB scouts. These scouts will try to dissuade them from college with signing bonuses. These bonuses are provided to a player when they sign with a respective team’s agent. These signing bonuses are where players earn their money. The first overall pick in the 2016 MLB Draft, Mickey Moniak, had a $6.1 million signing bonus. But that is certainly not the case for all drafted players.

The salary of an average minor league player can be less than what is considered poverty level in the United States ($11,490 a year for a single person). That is staggering to see, given that minor league players have to provide their own lodging, food and necessary daily items. But even so, if you can earn a good signing bonus, it definitely makes up for it.

To make it to the majors, much more is required than just talent. While that is the basis of a player, it may be necessary to supplement that talent with specialized instruction and equipment. Baseball is one of the most expensive sports to play. With the costs of equipment and training, some players give up the game due to lack of funds. That can make the jump from high school to the MLB Draft even more enticing. After spending countless hours and dollars on their game, some players are ready to get paid. And that may be the best option, given some of my findings.

Which Transition Provides the Most Success?

Using our same sample size from earlier (2009-2016) and using Wins Above Replacement (WAR) to determine success, there is a surprising discovery. High school players have an advantage in career success over their college counterparts. From 2009-2012, only the 2010 draft has produced a college player with a higher WAR than a high school player. Chris Sale entered the draft from college and has a 31.1 WAR, while Manny Machado came straight from high school and has a 24.4 WAR. That is the lone year in our sample size where a high school player has been bested by a college player in terms of WAR.

In terms of short term success, the route from college to the draft is the best choice. Players who gain those few years in college are able to mature physically and have a shorter path to the majors. The 2009 MLB Draft is an excellent example. Even supported by high school phenom Mike Trout’s incredible 48.5 WAR, first found high schoolers have only amassed 72.5 WAR. That does not compared to the 90 WAR put up by college players in that year’s first round draft.

Every year, players across the country are faced with a difficult decision. Whether to play in college or go straight to the MLB Draft. There is a solid argument to be made for both choices, but one of the biggest determining factors is the player himself. Each player is unique. With different circumstances, skills and abilities, there is no definitive answer.

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