Hokies In The Minor Leagues 6/24

Grant Nelson/Frisco RoughRiders

With all of Tech's baseball success over the last few years, particularly last month, I became curious when thinking about who the next Hokie to join long-tenured major leaguer and the only Hokie in the big leagues for several years, Joe Saunders, at the major league level. So I began to research, and put out this post, the first of the series, on May 22nd. But taking a singular post to convey how the entire minor league season was going for these former Hokies would be like trying to see the entire universe through a single snapshot from the Hubble Telescope. So as promised, here is the second post in the series Hokies In The Minor Leages. Enjoy.

All of these stats and player profiles are up to date through June 23rd. Also included are all of the 2013 Hokie draftees from the most recent draft. So without further ado, here are what the former Hokies are doing in the minor leagues:

Steven Bumbry OF- Drafted in 2009 in the 12th round by the Baltimore Orioles

Last month I wrote this about Bumbry's minor league career to date:

"Bumbry has been a slow but steady climber up the ranks of the Baltimore system, starting in 2009 at Low-A Aberdeen, Bumbry got as high as AA Bowie last year, but struggled to hit, posting a .170 batting average in 98 PA's (plate appearances). That was, however, his first crack at AA, which he may get another chance at by the end of the year."

Somebody from Baltimore must have been reading, because Bumbry was immediately promoted after a series with the Salem Red Sox, where Tech beat writer Aaron McFarling saw Bumbry single and score in one game and then launch a 2-run homer deep over the right field wall and finish the game with an RBI single. So far he is doing a lot better in his second crack with AA Bowie, hitting .242 (up from .170 his first go around) with power, knocking in 12 with an unreal 5 home runs in just 66 at bats so far in his 21 games with the Baysox. If he keeps doing that, he'll stay there for the rest of the year, or perhaps even warrant a promotion to AAA Norfolk. But based on his previous success, I'd say he stays put for a while just to make sure he's the real thing.

Bumbry's problems so far in his short career have been strikeouts which have led to a poor batting average and a poor stolen base percentage that has seen him caught stealing over 42 percent of the time. The strikeouts are a huge issue, as Bumbry has K'd in around 35 percent of his at bats, a completely unsustainable amount. The caught stealing issue is more correctable, as Bumbry simply needs to be given the edict to run less. Once they take his green light away, that problem is taken care of.

If by chance Bumbry beats my projection of staying in Bowie for the remainder of this season, I still highly doubt he'll be making his major league debut this year. He's not on the 40-man roster on a team with seven outfielders entrenched in that 40-man unit. He also has not proven an ability to hit consistently enough, and with the strikeout issue he'd be a longshot for big league promotion until he ironed that out.

Austin Wates OF- Drafted in 2010 in the 3rd round by the Houston Astros

I hate to start out any post about former Hokies with bad news, but unfortunately I have to do so in this case. Austin Wates, who had been tearing it up in AAA at about the same rate as he had in AA, will be missing 6-8 weeks with a fractured forearm after being hit by a pitch (retroactive to June 12) per this tweet from his Twitter account:

That may not seem like a lot of time since baseball is a long season, but consider that's time he'll miss without being able to do many baseball activities. Furthermore, even if he beats that prognosis, he will have missed a good amount of time in the season, putting him at the end of July or early August, giving him only about a four-week window (the remainder of the AAA season as it is shorter than the major league calendar) with which to make a case to be promoted to the bigs, something that as a result of the injury, seems unlikely.

It's not that he can't do it, but it would take him coming back completely healthy, being at full strength from the outset of his return and dominating like he had before, something that would be unusual. If not, he would probably miss his window to make it to the bigs this year, particularly as George Springer and Domingo Santana are making their way up the organizational ladder for Houston, though they're still only at AA Corpus Christi for the moment. Both strike out a ton and don't walk enough, but both also hit for considerably more power than Wates. Both are also younger than Wates, though Springer barely is. Springer hit AA at the end of last year, so he could be promoted at any time as he's hitting just short of .300 with power numbers, but with his age and batting average, Santana would benefit from sticking the whole year in AA. This article from Houston's FanSided site seems to agree that promoting one of those guys to the bigs is too early and that he would rather see a roster spot go to a guy like Wates (this was written when Wates was just on the 7-day DL and the Astros were carrying an extra pitcher). Wates, however, faces another road block unrelated to his injury: he is not currently on the Astros' 40-man roster, which as of today, already includes eight outfielders. So in summation, the most major league-ready player (perhaps, but likely) the Hokies have in the minor leagues may not make it up this year, in which case, Joe Saunders will just have to hold down the fort for one more year.

Jesse Hahn P- Drafted in 2010 in the 6th round by the Tampa Bay Rays

Hahn has been his phenomenal, dominant self since we last looked in on him on May 22nd. Here's what we said about him at that point:

"Hahn is still in High-A Charlotte for the Rays, sporting a 0.96 ERA in 8 starts with 29 strikeouts compared to only 5 walks and only 20 hits and no home runs allowed in 28 innings pitched. He has yet to record a win on the season as he has yet to pitch more than 4 innings in a game (below the 5-inning minimum qualifier necessary for a starting pitcher to be considered the winner of a game)..."

Surprisingly and confusingly, Hahn is still in High-A Charlotte despite putting up nearly identical peripherals with a slight decrease in both walks and strikeouts and a slight increase in ERA and innings per start (hitting the 4 inning mark each of his last 7 starts, including a 5-inning start in his last appearance, a season-high). Again, it appears that Tampa Bay is stretching him out to see if he has the stamina to be a starter at the next level, and while they have been doing it slowly, he's done everything to indicate they can push the pace a little more. His ERA is still only 1.10 (up from 0.96 a month ago), his WHIP (walks and hits allowed per innings pitched) is an astoundingly-low 0.898 and he has STILL YET TO ALLOW A HOME RUN IN HIS MINOR LEAGUE CAREER OVER 101 INNINGS PITCHED! That's special. And as a benchmark, GM's usually like to see 100 productive innings at a level before they promote a starting pitcher. Hahn's 101 innings by comparison have been dominant. It's not like the Rays' AA affiliate, the Montgomery Biscuits (again, yes I'm serious) couldn't use him. Look at some of their starting pitchers:

Screen_shot_2013-06-23_at_5

On top of that, Hahn is undoubtedly the ace of the Charlotte staff, meaning he's not being boxed out from promotion by other more deserving pitchers on his team:

Screen_shot_2013-06-23_at_5

So why he hasn't been promoted yet, again as I said to lead off the discussion on Hahn, is beyond me. But figure once the Tampa Bay Rays get their heads out of their asses, they'll realize they've got a really good pitcher in Hahn that's toiling away in High-A and promote him. That day shouldn't be too far off.

Matthew Price P- Drafted in 2010 in the 8th round by the Boston Red Sox

Matthew Price has done a great job since we checked in on him in May, at which point he had only logged 20.1 career minor league innings. Since that time, he has added more innings under his belt and become more consistent. According to Baseball Reference, he has spent his entire 2013 in High-A Salem, logging 29.1 innings in relief in 17 games while pitching to a 3.68 ERA with 32 strikeouts to only 9 walks and collecting 4 saves. That performance would indicate an improvement over his early season numbers and his career to date, and would also tend to indicate that he has finally become the pitcher that the Red Sox though they got when they drafted him in the 8th round in 2010. It also proves that to date, the high walk rates in the pittance of innings that he pitched prior to this year were the result of small sample sizes.

As I stated last month, because of his injury and subsequent Tommy John surgery a few years ago that has limited his innings/production so far in the minor leagues, I expect to see him spend most of his 2013 in Salem so that the Red Sox can take stock and see what they have in him as he gets more innings under his belt. However, if Price continues to improve, he may force the Red Sox organization's hand and earn a promotion to the AA Portland Sea Dogs.

Steve Domecus C- Drafted in 2010 in the 9th round by the Los Angeles Dodgers

One of the players I defended vehemently in last month's Hokies In The Minor Leagues was Domecus, who was/is somehow playing in the independent leagues with Sioux Falls. If you want to read my rant about why he's good enough to be in conventional minor league ball, just click here. Otherwise, strap yourself in for this month's look into Domecus.

While Domecus is hitting a lower BA (.242) than he has hit at any point during his minor league career, he has increased his power substantially, hitting 4 HR's in just 66 AB's. That rate (.06) is essentially three times his average career HR per AB rate coming into this year (.021). While it is unfortunate that Domecus has not done as well in his biggest strength, which is hitting for average, it seems that he has gone into message clear mode. For idiotic reasons, MLB scouts, and therefore organizations, have typecast catchers as a position that has to produce in the power department. Since Domecus didn't do that, he was weeded out of the Dodgers' organization last year and no team in baseball picked him up prior to this season (this is my personal belief, not anything based on facts. Just an educated guess). So while in my mind Domecus might be compensating his biggest asset, he may be trying to catch a major league team's eye by showing what he can do in the power department. Should he succeed, they might woo him and get him back into "organized baseball," which is where he should be playing right now.

Ben Rowen P- Drafted in 2010 in the 22nd round by the Texas Rangers

When we last checked in on Ben he was dominating the Texas league to the tune of an 0.83 ERA with a 3-0 record and 2 saves in 21.2 innings for the AA Frisco RoughRiders, and coming off a 2012 where he was named the Texas Rangers' Minor League Reliever of the Year and MiLB.com's Reliever of the Year. He was also a perfect 10-for-10 in save opportunities for the RoughRiders this season, which led to his selection as a Texas League All-Star. That's pretty good stuff, wouldn't you say? Here's what we said about Rowen's chances for promotion, perhaps all the way to the big leagues, in May:

"While the Rangers' big league club has an above average bullpen (13th with a 3.33 ERA), if Rowen keeps up anywhere near this level of dominance, expect him in the bigs by the end of the year. Bullpens are extremely volatile, and when a guy is pitching as well as Rowen is over a period of three plus seasons and is at AA or higher, teams usually find a way to give him a major league opportunity, even sometimes when he is not on the 40-man roster (which Rowen is not). Right now I'd rate him as the second-closest player to the major leagues among former Hokies."

And with Austin Wates injury that puts him on the shelf for nearly the remainder of the 2013 minor league season, we're bumping Rowen to No. 1 most likely to debut in the major leagues this season. Especially after he earned his promotion to the Rangers AAA affiliate Round Rock on June 20th:

Rowen has already pitched in two games for the Round Rock Express, logging 3 innings and as the above tweet says, earning his first AAA save for the Express yesterday. His peripherals have stayed in line with his career, though through 3 innings his K/9 is off the charts at 15. That will fall, presumably, but it doesn't change the fact that Rowen has some nasty stuff that keeps getting batters out, particularly with swings and misses, at every level he's been at. It also helps that he was the RoughRiders' primary closer, and has already been used in that role in Round Rock:

Screen_shot_2013-06-24_at_12

But with Joe Nathan (25-for-26 in save opportunities in 2013) holding down the fort, it looks like the Rangers are all set there, right? Well as Lee Corso says, not so fast my friend. Nathan is 38 and will be 39 in November, and his 2014 team option is a whopping $9 million, which is pretty expensive for a bullpen arm, closer or no. Also, the buyout is reported to be a slim $500,000, a rarity in these deals that would save the Rangers $8.5 million to not renew Nathan. Add in the possibility of promoting Rowen to be that guy on a league minimum salary and they would have saved over $8 million. The question is however, would the Rangers want to promote Rowen, who's fresh to AAA and has yet to log a big league inning, as their closer of the future, or would they want to go with a guy like current AAA closer Cory Burns, who has been up twice, pitching rather poorly (peripherally) last year in 18 innings and exactly league average in his 3.2 innings this year? Burns has also been in AAA two years and pitched well both seasons, in a historically offensively skewed PCL no less. But he is older than Rowen by about a year, and though his time in the majors has been short, he has not shown the ability to do anything but really hang around, perhaps making him a AAAA pitcher. The difference is that he IS on the 40-man roster and has that big league experience. Also to keep in mind that in 2014 if the Rangers still fancy themselves contenders (likely), they probably won't hand over the closer job to a 25-year old (by that time) Rowen with little to no big league experience, as they have shown the willingness to spend on the open market in recent years.

The only things really working against Rowen going to the bigs this year outside of Nathan and Burns? 1. He's not on the 40-man, which means that the Rangers would have to clear someone off of it, either by trade (and take back a player who was not on the 40-man, which for a contending team is unlikely), releasing a player outright or designating a player for assignment who is out of option years and was claimed off waivers by another team. Those last two possibilities are completely conceivable given the length of the remainder of the season. But that Rowen would be the addition to the 40-man as a result is a little unlikely, as relievers are seldom the recipients of open 40-man spots as they are seen as more expendable and readily available on the open market. And 2. He is a submarine pitcher, which means he pitches from the side more than a conventional over-the-top motion. Say what you will about baseball growing up and moving away from the era of a player being blackballed for what scouts do or don't like, but it's still very much a league where, if scouts don't like something about your game, it's easy to ignore you compared to a player who's similar statistically, but who's a more conventional player.

With all those obstacles in his way, I would say it is a little unlikely that Rowen debuts for the big league club this season, but it's still entirely possible depending on how he pitches in AAA and the many other moving parts at play. I would expect him to be up at some point next year, but still give him the nod over Austin Wates as the former Hokie most likely to be called up the soonest due to Wates' injury.

Buddy Sosnoski OF- Drafted in 2010 in the 25th round by the Kansas City Royals

Buddy, as we mentioned in May, is still in the independent leagues, playing for the Fargo-Moorehead Redhawks after receiving a Spring Training invite from the Baltimore Orioles this spring. The Orioles cut him, which led to his going back to Fargo-Moorehead, where he spent his 2012.

Unfortunately, through 34 games, his 2013 BA is over .100 points lower and while he has walked more and hit for more power, it does not appear like Buddy will be signing a deal with a major league team this year unless he gets it turned around completely.

Justin Wright P- Drafted in 2010 in the 47th round by the St. Louis Cardinals

Back in May, Wright was well on his way to putting a troubling 2012 in AA Springfield behind him, his first crack at that level:

"Wright has seemingly caught on to AA hitters and rehabilitated his AA career, despite allowing more H/9 (8.8), his ERA (3.31), WHIP (1.286), BB/9 (2.8) and K/9 (11) are back to sustainable levels if he wants to continue advancing through the minors."

But unfortunately for Wright, he has regressed back to 2012 self, and in some respects worse peripherally. His H/9 (hits allowed per 9 innings) has risen to 10.5, his ERA to 3.9, his WHIP to again a career-high 1.567, his BB/9 to 3.6 and his K/9 has dropped to 10.5. The Cardinals are obviously not happy about these developments, and will keep a close eye on what Wright does the remainder of the year at AA to try to determine if he deserves another chance at AA, a promotion to AAA, or if he will be deemed as a player who stalled out at a certain level of their minor league system and would not be worth keeping around.

Timothy Smalling 2B/SS- Drafted in 2011 in the 15th round by the Colorado Rockies

After two good years in 2011-12 spanned across A-level ball, Smalling has fallen off considerably in his 2013 performance for the High-A Modesto Nuts, now hitting .212 with 14 RBI in 42 games. Here's what we said about him in May:

"At this point in his career, playing his age-25 season in High-A with the numbers he's posted to this point, forget the fact that he has a cold bat right now (hitting .220 in 32 games), I'd say we're looking at a guy who projects as nothing more than a career minor league platoon bat and defensive utility player."

And unless Smalling gets it turned around in 2013, I would venture to say that he is not back with the Rockies next year. 25 is too old to be playing in A-level ball and not succeeding. So with his skill set and declining performance, it's not looking good for Smalling.

Ronnie Shaban P- Drafted in 2012 in the 33rd round by the St. Louis Cardinals

The final Hokie on this list not drafted this season is Shaban. Here's what we said about Shaban's minor league performance to date in May:

"Shaban, the most recent Hokie draftee in the minors had a very solid year for the Cardinals' Appalachian League affiliate, the Johnson City Cardinals in 2012, posting a 3.05 ERA with 16 saves, a 1.258 WHIP, 8.3 H/9, 13.5 K/9 and 3 BB/9 in 20.2 innings.

The Cardinals were so impressed by his performance they skipped him straight over Low-A Peoria and right to High-A Palm Beach to start the 2013 campaign, and Shaban has rewarded their confidence in him. Through 13 games and 17.2 innings with the club this season, Shaban has put together a 0.51 ERA, an 0.906 WHIP, allowing 5.1 H/9 and 3.1 BB/9 while collecting 5.6 K/9 and 4 saves."

While Shaban is not as dominant of a pitcher statistically as he was when we last wrote about him, he is still one of the better pitchers in the Florida State League and is the undisputed closer of the team:

Screen_shot_2013-06-24_at_1

The dropping off of some of Shaban's more superlative statistics from earlier in the year would tend to indicate to me that those were unsustainable peripherals which have since normalized. It's not like he has gone from a tremendous pitcher to a terrible one. The only real big change has been his ERA. But again, he is still among the best relievers in the Florida State League.

As I wrote in May, the one area where I have concern for Shaban is his strikeout peripheral. It is rare, particularly for a reliever, to see a player advancing up the minor league system of a team without dominating the competition with his stuff. To date in 2013, Shaban has not done that, or at least not with strikeouts. A 5.5 K/9 ratio is probably unsustainable, particularly for a closer, if he wants to continue to move upward in the St. Louis system. We'll continue to keep an eye on Ronnie, but I would wager that without a heavy increase in strikeouts, we'll still see him in Palm Beach next time we check in on him in July.

Chad Pinder SS/3B- Drafted in 2013 in the 2nd round by the Oakland Athletics

Chad Pinder, the first of the 2013 Hokie draftees, is attempting to settle in to Low-A ball in the New York-Pennsylvania League. So far, he's finding it a bit more of a challenge than expected, as he is currently hitting .211 with a .250 OBP with 7 strikeouts in five games so far for the Vermont Lake Monsters. He has had one shining moment so far though:

So that's a promising sign in the power department even if it came at the expense of former teammate Joe Mantiply. We'll be sure to keep you updated, both on Twitter and via the Hokies In The Minor Leagues posts. Pinder, as is the case all of the 2013 draftees, will have no doubt a sizable amount more of minor league statistics by the next time we check in on him.

Tyler Horan OF- Drafted in 2013 in the 8th round by the San Francisco Giants

Horan, the second Hokie draftee this season, is playing for the Giants affiliate in the Arizona League. So far, through four games, Horan is batting .250 with a .294 OBP and 2 RBI. Not much to see here yet (in my best Leslie Nielsen voice). We'll be sure to keep you updated though as he gets more at bats as the season progresses.

Jake Joyce P- Drafted in 2013 in the 9th round by the Washington Nationals

After being blown up in his first appearance for the Auburn Doubledays of the Low-A New York-Pennsylvania League, Joyce had a much better second outing, going 2 innings, striking out 2 and giving up only 1 hit with no runs in relief on June 22nd. His first outing on June 19th saw him give up 4 hits and 2 runs (both earned) in just 1.1 innings of relief. It's way too early to make anything out of Joyce's first two outings, but as of today he has a 5.4 ERA in 3.1 innings with 5 hits allowed and 2 strikeouts with no walks.

Eddie Campbell P- Drafted in 2013 in the 15th round by the Seattle Mariners

Eddie has been assigned to the Pulaski Mariners, the Rookie level Appalachian League affiliate of the M's. However, according to my research, he has yet to make an appearance, and the only Eddie Campbell I can find on Baseball Reference is not the one I'm looking for. Trust me. We'll keep you updated on Campbell's accomplishments though as he actually does begin to pitch.

Joe Mantiply P- Drafted in 2013 in the 27th round by the Detroit Tigers

Joe is doing perhaps the best so far of any 2013 Hokie draftee in the minor leagues, despite the aforementioned home run he gave up to former Tech teammate Chad Pinder. Outside of that home run, Mantiply has not allowed another run, but is 0-1 in two games with one start. He has an ERA of 3 and has 2 strikeouts and 1 walk, allowing opposing batters to hit .182 against him. More to come as he logs more innings, but so far so good.

Colin O'Keefe P- Drafted in 2013 in the 33rd round by the Los Angeles Angels

Colin, the last of six Hokie draftees in 2013, was signed by the Angels and assigned to their Rookie League team in Orem, Utah of the Arizona League. So far he has yet to pitch according to Baseball Reference. MILB also has yet to create a player page for him. Like the rest of these 2013 lads, we'll keep you updated on what they're doing when they've actually done something.

For all your Virginia Tech baseball needs, including news, analysis and comprehensive coverage of former Hokies in the minors, Gobbler Country is the only place you're going to find it.

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