Since last we updated you on Tech’s minor leaguers, two of them have been promoted to Major League Baseball. Therefore, this series of articles has to be renamed “Hokies in Baseball” from “Hokies in the Minors.”
Pitchers Jesse Hahn and Ben Rowen were promoted to The Show, though Rowen has since been optioned back to Triple-A to make room for a veteran reliever. Hahn was a starter on the 2010 NCAA Tournament team, while Rowen served as that team’s closer. Unfortunately, the Major League career of one other former Tech pitcher, Joe Saunders, could be approaching its conclusion.
Joe Saunders was designated for assignment and waived last week by the Texas Rangers. After going 11-16 with a 5.26 ERA last year, he was 0-5 with a 6.13 ERA so far in 2014. With his numbers trending down at the age of 33, the Rangers elected to move in a different direction. For his career, Saunders is 89-86 with a 4.35 ERA in 229 starts. He was an All-Star in 2008.
Saunders will get another chance, as he was signed to a minor league contract by the Kansas City Royals on Tuesday. He will pitch in the minors and try to get back on course, and the Royals hope he can help their rotation later in the season. They currently sit just 4.5 games behind the Tigers in the AL Central.
Meanwhile, the Major League career of Jesse Hahn is just beginning. He was called up by the San Diego Padres to take over a spot in the starting rotation, and he has pitched very well. Though he was knocked around a bit in his first start against the Pirates, Hahn is sporting a 4-2 record with a 2.34 ERA through six starts. In 34.2 innings, he has struck out 41 hitters. His 10.6 strikeouts per nine innings ratio would rank second in the Majors behind only Yu Darvish, though Hahn hasn’t thrown enough innings to be eligible. Opponents are hitting just .103 against his dominant curveball.
Ben Rowen was called up by the Texas Rangers. In eight games out of the bullpen, he posted a 4.15 ERA in 8.2 innings. However, earlier this week he was optioned to Triple-A Round Rock to make room for the return of Neftali Feliz from the Disabled List.
It doesn’t look like Jesse Hahn is going anywhere, though you can bet that Major League hitters will adjust to him. Then he’ll have to readjust. That’s typical for new players, except for perhaps a few notable guys like Mike Trout. Hopefully Rowen is back in the bigs sooner rather than later.
Come on Astros: either give Austin Wates a shot, or trade him before the July 31 deadline. Here are his numbers for Triple-A Oklahoma City this year:
Wates isn’t a power hitter by any means, but anyone who draws more walks than strikeouts, hits at a .294 clip, reaches base nearly 40% of the time and steals 22 bases in 26 attempts has to have a place in the Majors somewhere. I would certainly take him as Atlanta’s fourth outfielder. (He has to be better than Jordan Schafer.)
Houston will have to make a move with Wates between now and December, because he is eligible for the Rule 5 Draft this year. That means if he isn’t placed on the Astros’ 40-man roster by the date of the Rule 5 Draft, then another team can select him and place him on their 25-man roster. At the age of 25, I don’t think he can progress any further in the minors. It’s possible that Houston could bring him up by the end of the season, though it’s also possible that he could be traded between now and the Rule 5 Draft if the Astros don’t have future plans for him.
Tim Smalling was promoted in the middle of the season to the Colorado Springs Sky Sox of the Colorado Rockies organization. He’s over 26 years old, and barring a rash of injuries he has likely reached his peak as a baseball player. Nevertheless, there is no shame in “only” making it to the Pacific Coast League in your baseball career. Smalling is hitting .263 with three homers and 11 RBIs in 25 games with Colorado Springs. He is playing outfield for Colorado Springs, though he has mostly been an infielder in the past.
Virginia Tech’s only two current Double-A players are both working out of the Springfield Cardinals bullpen. Justin Wright, another starting pitcher on the 2010 team, got a brief cup of tea in Triple-A earlier this year, but he posted a 10.00 ERA in seven appearances. It took Wright awhile to adjust to the Double-A level earlier in his career, so he has struggled with promotions as he has reached the upper levels of the minors.
However, Wright has been much better in Double-A this year. In 24 appearances out of the bullpen, he is 2-0 with an impressive 0.87 ERA. It doesn’t get much better than that. He has walked just eight batters and allowed only 15 hits in 31 innings.
He is sharing bullpen duties with Ronnie Shaban. Unfortunately Shaban hasn’t fared as well. He has posted a 7.17 ERA in 22 games with Springfield. Shaban had a 1.73 ERA in Advanced-A ball last season, but he has struggled following his promotion to Double-A. However, in his last 10 appearances, he has posted a 2.70 ERA, so perhaps he’s picking things up.
Chad Pinder plays for the Stockton Ports of the Oakland A’s organization. He is hitting .298 with 11 homers and 30 RBIs through 55 games, though he is currently on the 7-day Disabled List. Pinder is hitting for more power than many projected. The O’s currently have him playing second base, though he can also play shortstop and third base. That versatility has drawn some Evan Longoria comparisons.
Pinder must continue to work on his walk-to-strikeout ratio. During his minor league career, he has drawn only 24 walks while striking out 94 times. His path to the majors got a little easier last week, as Oakland traded away top prospect Addison Russell, who was also a middle infielder, to the Cubs.
Devin Burke was undrafted in 2013, but he quickly moved up the ladder. He now plays for the Modesto Nuts of the California League. He has posted a 5-6 record with a 5.76 ERA through 13 starts. Earlier in the year he pitched in the South Atlantic League (Single-A), where he had a 3.09 ERA in three appearances.
Matthew Price was listed as an injured member of the Salem Red Sox roster earlier this season, but I can’t find him on a list for any minor league team of the Sox organization anymore.
Three former Virginia Tech players are now in Single-A ball. All three played for the 2013 NCAA Tournament team.
Joe Mantiply is toying with hitters while playing for the West Michigan Whitecaps. He is coming out of the bullpen, and in 28 appearances he is 5-2 with a 1.79 ERA. He has walked just 14 batters in 55.1 innings. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him called up to Advanced-A later in the season. West Michigan is part of the Detroit organization.
Tyler Horan is playing for the Augusta GreenJackets of the South Atlantic League. He is doing what he did best in college: hitting homers. Though 81 games, Horan has 11 homers, which is tied for eighth in his league. He is also hitting .280 with 44 RBIs. He plays the outfield for Augusta, which is part of the Giants organization.
Eddie Campbell is a starting pitcher for the Clinton LumberKings. Though he pitched well for Pulaski last season, he has struggled in Single-A in 2014. Through 16 starts, he is 4-6 with a 6.54 ERA.
Short Season Single-A
Three Tech players are currently playing Short Season Single-A ball, including both players who were drafted last month.
Jake Joyce is playing for the Auburn Doubledays as part of the Nationals organization. He struggled last season, posting a 5.04 ERA and a 1.615 whip in 20 games. Thus far in 2014, he has a 0.00 ERA a 0.300 whip through his first four appearances out of the bullpen.
Brad Markey was drafted by the Cubs in the 19th round last month. He pitched in two games in the Arizona League before being promoted to the Boise Hawks, the Cubs’ Short Season Single-A team. Through four appearances, he has a 4.50 ERA. He has allowed only two hits in those four games, but unfortunately for Markey, both were homers.
Mark Zagunis was also drafted by the Cubs in the third round last month, making him one of the top prospects in Chicago’s system. After playing in two games in the Arizona League, Zagunis was sent up to the Boise Hawks along with Markey. He is tearing the cover off the ball through his first eight games, hitting .414 with a .553 on base percentage. Zagunis has seven walks in just eight games, along with five RBIs. He has stolen four bases in four attempts, which is impressive for a catcher.
Though Chicago is loaded with young talent in their minor league system, Zagunis is a potential fast riser. The Cubs don’t have a catcher amongst their top 20 minor league prospects, which could leave the door open.