Well, baseball fans, the 2015 Major League Baseball postseason tournament is underway now. The Chicago Cubs and Houston Astros survived the Wild Card play-in games, and now there are 8 teams left standing, including the Toronto Blue Jays and aforementioned Astros, both of whom snapped double-digit playoff droughts. By the time the early part of November rolls around, Major League Baseball will have its 3rd World Champion in as many years.
One of those contenders is the New York Mets, who upset the Washington Nationals to take the NL East title, their first title, and in fact their first playoff birth, in 9 years. The keys to the success of the Mets this year were a solid mix of starting pitching (including ’14 NL ROY Jacob DeGrom) and the hitting of players such as Yoenis Cespedes, Lucas Duda, Daniel Murphy. One player who missed roughly half the season due to injury, but returned just in time to be an inspirational morale boost to his teammates was their team captain, 3B David Wright (Chesapeake). Wright, often nicknamed Captain America, is one of the few Mets players to have postseason experience, and his leadership will be counted on when the NLDS gets underway tonight in Los Angeles.
Another Met with playoff experience has graciously accepted his platoon role for the betterment of the team. OF Michael Cuddyer (Chesapeake) signed with the Mets last winter to play closer to home after time in Minnesota and Colorado and to join fellow Hampton Roads-native Wright as well as try to win his first World Series ring. He will be a valuable part of the Mets locker room for the month of October as well-2015 will mark his 7th postseason appearance in his 15-year career. Cuddyer played in the postseason with the Minnesota Twins in 2002, 2003, 2004, 2006, 2009, 2010. He has batted .338 in 22 career postseason games entering the 2015 playoffs.
Also in the postseason-St. Louis Cardinals 3B Mark Reynolds (Virginia Beach/UVA), who played in the playoffs 2007 with Arizona and 2012 with Baltimore; Chicago Cubs reliever Justin Grimm (Bristol), making his first playoff appearance. Also of note, the Cubs left fellow reliever Neil Ramirez (Virginia Beach) off the playoff roster for the NLDS, but have the option of adding him to the roster later in the postseason should the need arise.
8 teams. 1 Champion. Virginia will be well represented.
The San Francisco Giants are now in a rebuilding mode. Winners of 3 World Series championships this decade, the Giants are on the verge of missing the postseason altogether in 2015. With that in mind, they are starting to give some younger players a chance to prove themselves by giving them regular playing time and seeing what they can do. While they have a solid nucleus of a lineup already (Belt, Panik, Duffy, Crawford), they are looking to add from within.
One such young player is OF Jarrett Parker (Stafford/UVA). Parker got a cup of coffee with the big club earlier in the summer, and after going 1-9 in 4 games, was returned to Triple-A. He came back to the big club with the September roster expansion, and after a few appearances as a pinch-hitter, got a start on September 20. Parker was starting to show a lot of promise, batting .318, when he entered Saturday’s game against the Oakland Athletics.
If Parker was showing signs of promise beforehand, his game yesterday afternoon across the Bay made Giants brass take notice, BIG TIME!
Parker clubbed three homeruns and drove in 7 runs, including a grand-slam homerun in the 8th inning to put the Giants ahead for good, as San Francisco won the slugfest 14-10.
A few other tidbits about Parker’s career game:
- He became the first rookie to hit 3 HR in a game since Andrew McCutchen in 2009 for the Pirates.
- The last Giants player to club 3 HR and 7 RBIs in a single game? Willie Mays.
- Parker has 5 HRs in his last 3 games-in fact, his last 9 at-bats! The last Giants player to homer in 3 straight games, including a multi-hr game in that binge? Brandon Belt in 2011.
Parker is batting .500 with 8 runs scored, 6 HRs, and 12 RBIs since coming back to the big club on September 11.
10 years ago, Ryan Zimmerman (Virginia Beach) made his debut with the Washington Nationals, just a few months after being drafted in the first round out of UVA, the first draft choice ever made by the Nationals. Needless to say, it has worked out well for the franchise.
Zimmerman has had quite a stellar career resume in DC. In 2009 alone he was an all-star and won the Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards, and won the Silver Slugger award again in 2010. He holds the franchise record with a 30-game hitting streak. His 10 career walk-off homers are tied for 3rd best in NL history. He is the last player left on the team from the 2005 inaugural season.
This past week, Zimmerman added to his DC legend when he hit his 200th career HR.
Here are some splits with regards to his career HRs:
Most HRs vs a single team:
- 25, Miami Marlins
- 20, Atlanta Braves
- 20, Philadelphia Phillies
- 17, New York Mets
- 15, San Diego Padres
- 20 of his HR are vs. Inter-League opponents.
- He has homered against all NL opponents, but never against 4 AL teams: Royals, White Sox, Mariners, Tigers.
- One of his most famous walk-off HRs came on March 30, 2008, when his walk-off homer beat the Braves to christen the new Nationals park, He is one of only 3 players to ever hit a walk-off in a team’s debut in a new stadium.
- He knows how to get things started for the Nationals. 38 of his career HRs have come in the first inning, the most he has in any single inning. Second place on that list is the 3rd inning with 30 HRs.
- When the Nationals get into the dog days of summer and the playoff race starts to heat up, they can count on Zimmerman to step up his game. There are two months in which he has more than 40 career HRs-August (43) and September/October (40).
- The only opposing ballpark in which he has hit double-digits in HRs is Yankee stadium, 10.
C John Hicks (Richmond) certain to start 2015 at AAA, but could be in Seattle this season.
With the winter months settling in, baseball teams are in the middle of their off-season plans. One of those is the annual Rule 5 draft, which allows teams to select players from other big league organization’s minor league systems and give them a full season on their major league roster, for a dirt cheap price of $50,000.
Teams just passed the deadline to set their 40-man rosters and determine which players they wanted to protect from the Rule 5 draft, and the Seattle Mariners have chosen to protect their Top Catcher prospect, John Hicks (Goochland/UVA). In 2014, Hicks started the year with an invite to big league spring training. He would open the season at Double-A, and finish the year at Triple-A. For the season he hit .290 with a .351 On base Percentage and a slugging percentage of .403. He will more than likely return to Triple-A Tacoma, but appears set to make his major league debut in ’15, should one of the Mariners catchers get hurt.
In Baltimore, the Orioles are competitive and relevant again. After no playoff baseball in Charm City since 1997, Orioles fans have seen postseason ball in 2 of the last 3 years. In 2012, they beat Texas in the Wild Card Gams before losing to the Yankees in 5 games in the ALDS. In 2014, they went a step further, winning their first division title since ’97, sweeping 3 Cy Young Award Winning Detroit Tigers pitchers in the ALDS, before getting swept by the upstart Royals in the ALCS. The Orioles are very competitive and should remain so for a while, but any crack in the Orioles rotation should pave the way for RHP Tyler Wilson (Midlothian/UVA), whom the Orioles have added to their 40-man roster. Wilson started 2014 at Double-A Bowie, and finished the season at Norfolk. He went a combined 14-8 with a 3.67 ERA and 157 Strikeouts in 166 innings pitched, nearly a strikeout per inning. Wilson is likely to return to Norfolk to open 2015, but could get a look in Baltimore sometime during the season.
John Hicks. Tyler Wilson. Promising futures in the big leagues.
Continuing this series where we look at potential stars in the making from the Commonwealth, we turn to the Pacific Northwest and the Seattle Mariners.
To put it simply, baseball has become relevant again in Seattle. The Mariners fell short of the playoffs in 2014, but only by one game. Thanks to a farm system that produced some key supporting players to franchise stars Felix Hernandez and Robinson Cano, the Mariners have shown that they are for real, and 2015 will give them a golden opportunity to end the second longest active playoff drought in MLB.
The Mariners seem to be well stocked at all positions, including the Catcher position, with Mike Zunino and Jesus Sucre. But should the need arise, a promising young backstop awaits at AAA Tacoma-UVA alumni and Richmond-native John Hicks.
Hicks was drafted in the 4th round of the 2011 draft by the Mariners, and signed quickly enough that he got into 38 games with Low-A Clinton, batting an impressive .309.
In 2012, his first full season, he moved up to High-A High Desert and really impressed. He batted .312 with 15 HR and 79 RBIs, and while he did strikeout 73 times, he still posted a very good .351 On Base Percentage. His exploits earned him a spot on the league’s post-season and mid-season all-star teams, as well as the TOPPS Single-A All-star team.
In 2013, he did sort of level off a bit, as he batted .236 at AA Jacksonville, but still had a OB% higher than .300.
He started 2014 at Jacksonville again, looking for a chance to redeem himself, and he did. In 53 games he batted .296 and posted a .362 OB%. This earned him a promotion up to AAA Tacoma, where he finished the season. Hicks batted .277 with the Rainiers, where he finished the season, and posted a .330 OB%.
The future is bright for 25-year old C John Hicks, as well as the Seattle Mariners.
To continue this series about Virginia baseball stars in the making, we turn to the Orioles system and look at Midlothian-native and UVA alumni P Tyler Wilson.
Wilson was 21 when he was drafted out of University of Virginia in the 10th round of the 2011 draft by the Baltimore Orioles, but signed quickly enough that he got some work in that season, with the GCL and then Aberdeen. He finished that first pro season with a 1.91 ERA in a combined 8 starts between the two levels. He notched 27 strikeouts and 5 walks in 33 innings.
The next season, he started out at Low-A Delmarva, where he posted a bloated 5.06 ERA, but went 3-3 with 29 SO in 32 innings over 6 starts before being promoted to High-A Frederick. The organization decided to try stretching him out a little bit, and he went 7-7, but posted a 3.49 ERA with more strikeouts (114) than total innings pitched (111), walking only 19!
In 2013, he opened at Frederick, where he posted a 4.48 ERA over 11 starts, but impressed the organization enough that he was moved up to Double-A Bowie. With the Baysox, he posted a 3.83 ERA in 16 starts to finish the season.
Wilson would open up 2014 with the Baysox, and really began to impress. He won 10 games with Bowie, over 16 starts, and posted a 3.72 ERA, with 91 strikeouts in 96 2/3 innings. This earned him a promotion to Triple-A Norfolk, which would allow him to pitch less than 2 hours from home.
With the Tides, Wilson went 4-3 in 12 starts, but posted a 3.60 ERA. He threw 70 innings over those 12 starts, and got 66 strikeouts. He also started to prove to be an innings-eater at Norfolk, throwing at least 6 innings in 8 of his 12 starts with the Tides. He had 2 starts at Norfolk where he gave up 4 or 5 runs in no more than 4 innings-take out those starts and his ERA at AAA plummets to 2.72.
For his entire 4-year minor league career so far, Wilson is 32-24 in 88 starts, with a 3.73 ERA. He has notched 445 strikeouts in 494 1/3 innings pitched, with 125 walks, an average of about 1 walk per 4 innings.
The Baltimore Orioles have become a very competitive team again, thanks in part to their farm system producing players. Tyler Wilson appears to be a part of the future in Charm City, and just three hours away, his friends and family in Midlothian could not be prouder.
One of the longest-tenured franchises in all of minor league baseball, much less the Carolina League, will have a new parent club in 2015. The Lynchburg Hillcats have parted ways with the Atlanta Braves after four years, and will now become the High-A Carolina League affiliate of the Cleveland Indians.
The Indians chose not to renew their affiliation with the Carolina Mudcats (formerly the Kinston Indians), a franchise partnership that dates back to 1987, a 25-year affiliation, and decided to go in a different direction, hooking up with a full-season affiliate that is the furthest from Cleveland, 480 miles apart from homeplate at Progressive Field. The deal between the Indians and Hillcats runs through 2018.
Meanwhile, the Braves chose not to re-up after just 4 years in Hillcity, a partnership in which the Hillcats won the 2012 Carolina League championship and current Atlanta Braves stars Evan Gattis, Andrelton Simmons, and former UVA star Phil Gosselin played here.
Over the last 10 years or so, the Commonwealth of Virginia has become a real goldmine of baseball talent. It used to be football, but baseball is emerging. In recent years, Justin Upton, David Wright, Justin Verlander, Michael Cuddyer, Ryan Zimmerman, just some of the notable baseball talent that has come out of our great state.
So, who could be part of the next wave of Virginia talent? That is the focus of this new series. I have looked back at some minor league stats of this year and draft choices of the last 5 years, and I found some names that I like. They will be mentioned, but not ranked like a Top prospects list.
We start off with Red Sox IF Reed Gragnani, a Richmond native. At 5’11 and weighing 180 pounds, Gragnani, a switch-hitting second baseman, played his college ball at UVA, and was drafted by the Boston Red Sox in the 21st round of 2013. He finished up 2013 by batting .277 with a .356 On Base Percentage in 52 games with Lower-A ball at Greenville and Lowell.
This means that 2014 was his first full season of professional baseball, and he delivered. Now, living in Woodbridge, the home of the Carolina League champion Potomac Nationals, I had a chance to watch him play up close when his Salem Red Sox came to Woodbridge to play Potomac, and I was very impressed by what I saw in him. Gragnani was a solid hitter and seemed to show the right discipline at the plate. He finished the season batting .300, tied for second in the Carolina League, and led the league with a .409 On Base Percentage. He also drew 64 walks, good for 4th in the league. Gragnani made the Carolina League mid-season all-star team as well as the End of Season All-star team.
Reed Gragnani definitely has a future in the big leagues, and Red Sox Nation will be happy with him.
Brewers 3B Mark Reynolds (Virginia Beach) has been particularly hitting well lately. On April 21-22, he went a combined 0-9 against San Diego. Since then, he has not had back-to-back hitless games. He has hit safely in 10 of 11 games, hitting .292.