Who will man the shortstop position for the Indians once the Francisco Lindor era is over? That largely depends on when Cleveland’s best player moves on, but the down-the-road answer could very well be Brayan Rocchio. The 18-year-old switch-hitter came into last season ranked No.4 on our Indians Top Prospects list.
Borrowing a boxing term, Rocchio punched above his weight in 2019. Listed at 5-foot-10 and 150 pounds, he slashed a wholly respectable .250/.310/.373 for the Mahoning Valley Scrappers in the short-season New York-Penn League. Stateside for the first time, the Caracas, Venezuela native put up those numbers against pitchers typically several years his senior.
Moreover, he did so as a comparable flyweight. With that in mind, I asked Indians GM Mike Chernoff just how impactful Rocchio’s bat can ultimately be, given his whippet-like frame.
“We have a lot of young international players who, when we signed them, were sort of undersized,” said Chernoff. “He’s one of those guys. But we see a ton of potential in his bat-to-ball ability, and in his defensive capabilities. He’s also held his own while super young for his level, and to us that’s a huge indicator of future success. We feel that as Brayan matures, as his body gets stronger and can handle the demands of a full season, he has a chance to be an impact guy.”
But again, just how impactful? While Rocchio’s physique will almost certainly fill out, he’ll be doing so from a 150-pound baseline. That’s water-bug territory, not future-thumper. Right?
“Francisco Lindor. Jose Ramirez. We’ve heard the same things on a lot of our middle infielders when they were coming up,” countered Chernoff. “When you’re that young, and playing against guys who are three, four year older, scouts often go in and say, ‘Oh, he doesn’t have that impact.’ But once the player catches up in terms of his physical maturity, he has a chance to be… I mean, nobody ever thought Jose and Frankie would hit 30 or 40 home runs. Both guys grew into their bodies, and their physical skills developed. They ended up having that impact.”
Which isn’t to say that Rocchio will do the same. As bullish as he is on the promising young shortstop, Chernoff was by no means predicting 30-bomb seasons. As he pointed out, Rocchio has a lot of development in front of him. Even so, one can always dream. Could Rocchio one day grow into an offensive force, perhaps as Lindor’s successor?
“I think he’s probably close to what Frankie was when we first signed him (at age 17),” said Chernoff. “I couldn’t give you the exact physical comparison — Frankie was maybe a little bigger — but with any of these young players you’re going see a lot of growth and maturity in their first few years of pro ball. There’s a lot of projecting involved, but we like [Rocchio] a lot.”
When I wrote about the Minnesota Twins in the days following their ouster from the playoffs, Derek Falvey was quoted as saying that the “organizational philosophy on hitting for Luis Arraez is very different than Nelson Cruz.” Not included in that article is what Minnesota’s president of baseball operations said when asked about the rookie second baseman’s stellar season.
“He’s always had good strike zone discipline and awareness,” Falvey told me. “That’s a great baseline to start from, and now he’s figured how guys are going to attack him. He understands his approach. He can do just about anything at the plate, which can sometimes be a curse for a hitter. If you can get to a ball inner-half and spray it the other way, you can get caught in between with your approach. For Luis, it’s about knowing which guys to go to the opposite field on, and which guys he should be trying to turn on. He’s understanding that better.”
Arraez slashed .334/.399/.439, with four home runs, in 366 plate appearances for the AL Central champs. He’ll turn 23 in April.
RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS
Veteran pitchers sometimes have personal catchers. For whatever reason, they’re more comfortable with a particular backstop, and as a result will deliver each pitch with optimal confidence and conviction. At least that’s the theory. Think Jon Lester throwing to David Ross, or Clayton Kershaw to A.J. Ellis. Established front-line hurlers, Lester and Kershaw have had the cachet to be granted their own caddies.
I asked Oakland manager Bob Melvin about pitchers still miles away from having earned that right. Say a youngster has been called up from the minors, and the backup catcher is someone he’d had success throwing to down on the farm. Would that pairing not be every bit as valuable as a Lester-Ross, given that the wet-behind-the-ears pitcher doesn’t yet have his feet firmly on the ground?
“It’s a variable, said Melvin. “You want guys to be comfortable, but you also don’t want to overdo it to where you’re not using who you consider your best guy. That’s why in spring training we try to mix it up right away. We try to get guys on every one of our catchers so they’re comfortable with them. We haven’t had an issue with that. I’m a former catcher, so I know the dynamic.”
He also knows that a pitcher new to the big leagues is unlikely to ask for a specific guy. At the same time, Melvin may intuit that he has a preference. What then?
“I sometimes can [sense that],” Melvin said. “I’ll go to them and say, ‘Hey, look, I’m kind of in between tonight; have you got a preference on this?’ That makes them part of the equation, and feel like they’re part of it. But I don’t do it too often. Again, it’s all about running the best lineup out there on a particular day, and being communicative with all your guys, letting them know where they stand and where you’re going.”
Is calling pitches in the big leagues different than it is in Triple-A? And if so, why and how is it different? I asked those questions to White Sox manager Rick Renteria last season while discussing the progress rookie catcher Zack Collins has made behind the plate.
“That’s a good question,” responded Renteria. “In terms of preparation, you have information available at both. But in terms of in-game adjustments, you’re dealing with a much more efficient, and mature, hitting base at the major-league level. This is a different place. This isn’t the minor leagues. The hitters here are much better. Think about navigating through the Red Sox. I think that’s different than navigating through Norfolk. If you told me that Boston’s lineup is down in Triple-A, I’d say you’re probably mistaken.”
Junior Guerra signed with Arizona last month, and Diamondbacks fans can expect to see a lot of split-finger fastballs from the 34-year-old right-hander. Guerra threw his primary secondary pitch 21% of the time last season with the Milwaukee Brewers.
He picked up his splitter while playing with Tiburones de La Guaira in his native Venezuela, in 2010. Released by the Mets a year earlier, Guerra was shown the grip by Jean Machi, who featured the pitch as a San Francisco Giants reliever. It took a few years to master — an elbow that “hurt a bit” being a factor — but eventually it morphed into a weapon. Guerra signed with the White Sox in October 2014, and a year later was claimed off waivers by Milwaukee.
Guerra came out of the Brewers’ bullpen 72 times last year and had a 3.55 ERA over 83-and-two-thirds innings. He was credited with nine wins and three saves.
The Texas Rangers have hired Darwin Barney to manage their Triple-A Affiliate, the Nashville Sounds. The 34-year-old Oregon State University product played for three MLB teams from 2010-2017.
Per The Athletic’s Lindsey Adler, the Yankees have hired Eric Cressey to oversee their strength-and-conditioning department. In November, New York hired Matt Blake, a former pitching coordinator for Cressey Sports Performance — as their pitching coach.
Gunnar Kines has a 0.98 ERA in six starts for the Adelaide Giants in the Australian Baseball League. The 26-year-old southpaw spent this past summer with the Schaumburg Boomers in the independent Frontier League.
Dylan Unsworth, a 27-year-old native of South Africa, is 5-1 with a 2.39 ERA with the ABL’s Perth Heat. Unsworth pitched in the Mariners and Angels systems from 2010-2018.
Andy Hassler, who pitched for six teams from 1971-1985, died on Christmas day at age 68. A hard-luck hurler in terms of wins and losses, he finished his career with a record of 44-71, and a 3.83 ERA.
Per The Kyodo News, Yuki Matsui is “potentially moving back into the starting rotation” of the Rakuten Golden Eagles. The 24-year-old left-hander had an NPB-best 38 saves last year, and has topped the 30 mark in four of his five seasons as a reliever. Matsui started 17 games for the Eagles in 2014, when he was 18 years old.
NPB’s Rakuten Eagles have reportedly reached an agreement with JT Chargois, who began his MLB career with the Minnesota Twins and has spent the past two seasons with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Midway through the 2019 season, I asked the 29-year-old right-hander what, if anything, LA had him doing differently in terms of approach.
“There’s definitely more emphasis on the sinker-slider combination,” responded Chargois, whose 85 big-league appearances have all come in relief roles. “I’d had a changeup, and did a couple other things, with my other org. There it was more about being a ‘complete pitcher’ — throwing all these pitches and being able to execute so many different things. When I came here, they really emphasized what my strengths are, and told me to run with that. That’s made it a lot easier on my brain.”
Chargois graduated summa cum laude from high school, in Sulphur, Louisina, and made the Conference USA academic honor role while at Rice University. He also swung a productive bat. Chargois slashed .308/.391/.377 in his three years as an Owl.
Koji Uehara recently told The Kyodo News that money is one of the reasons he didn’t sign with the Anaheim Angels upon graduating from the Osaka University of Health and Sport Sciences in 1998. The now-retired righty said as follows:
“I would’ve had to spend two years in Double-A and my paycheck was for 100,000 yen [about $900] a month. That’s much lower than what developmental players make here. That’s a part-time income with full-time effort.”
According to Tokyo-based baseball scribe Jim Allen, Japan’s “developmental minimum is now $21,000.” At the time Uehara eschewed Anaheim’s offer — the current contract system had yet to be put in place — “the minimum salary for all pros was $50,000 a year.” [Prompted in part by my inquiry, Allen wrote about NPB’s salary structure here.]
Uehara pitched for the Yomiuri Giants from 1999-2008 before coming Stateside to play for the Orioles, Rangers, Red Sox, and Cubs.
A few days ago I noted on Twitter that in a three-year stretch — 1974 to 1976 — the Detroit Tigers drafted Mark Fidrych, Jack Morris, Lance Parrish, Dan Petry, Ozzie Smith, Alan Trammell, and Lou Whitaker. Bill James weighed in, writing that he once did “a study of the history of the draft, and concluded that was the greatest performance in the history of the draft.” James added that Bill Lajoie directed those drafts for the Tigers.
LINKS YOU’LL LIKE
At Cronkite News, Erica Block addressed how baseball influencers such as Jomboy and PitchingNinja could offer a solution to MLB’s marketing woes.
At Valley News (New Hampshire), Greg Fennell told us about how longtime SABR member F.X. Flynn is helping create digital files from a Sporting News index card collection.
Over at Beyond the Box Score, Shawn Brody wrote about how MLB teams have seen ticket revenue go up while attendance has gone down.
RANDOM FACTS AND STATS
From 2010-2019, New York Yankees pitchers logged 465 saves and were charged with 636 wild pitches. Tampa Bay Rays pitchers logged 465 saves and were charged with 637 wild pitches. The save totals were the most of any MLB team.
From 2010-2019, Colorado Rockies relievers were charged with 232 blown saves, the most of any team. Cleveland Indians relievers were charged with 115 blown saves, the fewest of any team.
Mike Bordick finished his career with 1,500 hits, 500 walks, and 800 strikeouts.
Buck Freeman led all players with 25 home runs in 1899. The Washington Senators outfielder also had 25 triples that year.
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