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Hokies In The Minor Leagues 5/22

At the end of the 2006 baseball season, hall of famer Chuck Hartman, a 47-year veteran of coaching, including 28-years as the head man of the Hokie program, retired from coaching. That season saw the Hokies win only 20 games, the lowest number for the program since 1974, a season that preceded Hartman in Blacksburg by five years. Tech tabbed Boston College head coach Pete Hughes as the replacement, and in two years time, Hughes' Hokies had improved their 2006 record by 12 wins. In 2010, Hughes guided the Hokies to their best season since 1999, going to the NCAA Tournament and finishing the season 40-22. With that rise of the Virginia Tech baseball program in recent years, it is no surprise that the program has seen an increase in the number of players selected in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft (also known as the Rule 4 or Amateur Draft). That bodes well for putting more Hokies in the majors, as Joe Saunders has been the only Tech baseball representative in the major leagues consistently since 2005 (though 2004 pick Wyatt Toregas and 1996 draftee Kevin Barker had cups of coffee in the bigs as recently as 2011 and 2009 respectively). With that crop of young Tech draftees now making their way through the minor leagues, let's look in on them and see how close each one of them are to getting that call to the bigs, in our first part in a season-long series, Hokies In The Minor Leagues.

Corpus Christi Hooks

A few weeks ago I began getting curious about how long it would take former Hokie Austin Wates to get to the big leagues. After all, Wates is in the ailing (being ridiculously kind) Houston Astros organization which has lost 100+ games each of the last two years and is on pace to shatter that mark again, and Wates was busy crushing AA pitching for the second consecutive year. So a call up to the bigs by season's end or at least a promotion was incredibly likely. That's when I began researching the other former Hokies in the minors and how close they were in their respective tracks to the major league, which gave me the idea for this post and this series.

Instead of organizing these posts by the players which I feel are closest to the big leagues and going down, I will arrange the players based on draft year (for players who have multiple draft years, I will use the latter one, representing the actual beginning of his pro career).

To my knowledge, this list is complete with every former Virginia Tech baseball player who is currently playing for a minor league baseball team or an independent league team. If you know of one that has slipped past me, let us know in the comments section below. Enjoy.

First off, thanks to Hokiesports for having such a well-organized draft tracker that made doing research for this post much easier. So without further ado, here's the first Hokies In The Minor Leagues:

Warren Schaeffer SS/INF- Drafted in 2007 in the 38th round by the Colorado Rockies

Though Schaeffer is no longer playing competitive baseball as of his decision this spring, I felt it appropriate to add his name to this list as he has taken a coaching position within the Rockies organization, in which he spent all six of his minor league seasons. He will become the hitting coach for the Tri-City Dust Devils (Pasco, Wa.), the Rockies' Short-Season Class A affiliate where he began his career in 2007. By his own admission in the article, Schaeffer stalled in AA where he spent most of the last two years. For his career, Schaeffer was a .214 hitter with 137 RBI's in 461 career minor league games. His best year came in 2010 when he hit .242 with 3 HR's and 43 RBI's in a season split between AA and AAA.

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

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. Bumbry has been in the news recently among Tech beat writers when he ran into Aaron McFarling in Salem while playing for the High-A Frederick Keys of the Carolina League. Based on McFarling's tweets, Bumbry had a pretty good series:

Bumbry is currently hitting .221 with 5 HR's and 17 RBI's for the Keys, where he has spent all of 2013 so far. He is a career .245 minor league hitter with 31 homers and 141 RBI in 388 minor league games.

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

Now to the former Hokie making the biggest waves (or at least based on his advanced level) in the minor leagues right now: Austin Wates. Like I said at the beginning of the post, I began to wonder about Wates' timetable as it related to promotion or a call up to the major leagues:

I also went on to talk about the Houston outfield, which has compiled a -1.5 WAR (Wins Above Replacement) as a unit so far this season according to Fangraphs, the second-worst in baseball to the -1.8 WAR Minnesota Twins outfield. The 9-man unit is batting .228, and has almost four times as many strikeouts as they do walks. In other words: not good...unless you're the up-and-coming Wates. They also just did this...among many other bad things this year.

Then on to Wates' stat-line at the time:

And a nice little post that shows you where he projects in the scheme of things in the Astros organization:

And don't forget, he's no slouch in the field either. If you didn't know or didn't remember that detail, here's a friendly reminder:

The good and bad news was announced four days later (good in that Wates was promoted to AAA Oklahoma City, bad in that, just as I projected, I missed it) when Kevin Burke saw an Andrew Rash (current Hokie and former Wates teammate) tweet announcing the call-up before it had been reported anywhere else and went with it. Kudos to Mr. Burke for that one (and also thanks for the assist).

Since that time, Wates has performed about as well as you could expect for a player adjusting to the transition between AA and AAA ball. While his batting average has dipped just a bit (from .310 in AA to .279 in AAA), he is still maintaining a solid K-to-BB ratio at 2-3 (the sign of a truly good contact hitter) as well as knocking in nearly as many runs (4) as he did in AA (5) in under half as many AB's (at-bats). So it's not like he's being overwhelmed at the plate. Much like AA too, Wates has flashed his ability on the basepaths, scoring 5 runs already and adding 3 stolen bases without a caught stealing.

And to add to that, Kevin was right. If you wanted a play-by-play of what Wates has done while at AAA, what better to have than the founder and former editor of Gobbler Country, furrer4heisman, there in the stands for several of his early OKC games? I present to you Ryan's tweets about Wates:

I don't think you can get more detailed than that (and in future versions of this post, we will not be going into quite as much detail as that). Thanks to Ryan for keeping us abreast on Wates' AAA experience out there in OKC.

So, to wrap up the Wates portion of this post, he's in AAA, he's playing pretty well and we expect to see him soon on the major league level to join Joe Saunders as the only other Hokie in the least for now.

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

Next on the list of former Hokies in the minors is Jesse Hahn, a 2010 draftee of the Tampa Bay Rays. He was also in my initial report on Hokies in the minor leagues on Twitter:

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), which he did in each of his last two starts. That tends to indicate two things: 1. The Rays must have a lot of pitching prospects in High-A Charlotte that they consider to be starters, and so are trying to give them all time, and 2. The fact that he has pitched 4 innings both of his last starts tend to indicate the Rays are stretching him out to see if he can be a starting pitcher at the AA level.

All of his peripherals tend to suggest he's in line for a call up very soon, as he has thoroughly dominated High-A hitters to the tune of a 9.4 K/9 and a 1.9 BB/9 ratio while only allowing 6 hits per 9 as well. Those numbers are amazing at any level.

Here is a tweet from a Bowman Scout who goes by the name of Jaypers regarding Hahn's start last night:

And another one from a USF baseball writer Kellie Karbach regarding Hahn's velocity:
That'll do Hahn. That'll do.

Expect to see Jesse with the AA Montgomery Biscuits (not kidding, that's their real name) really soon, as two of their starters have posted 6.9+ ERA's so far this season.

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

Price, another Hokie drafted in 2010, has not seen quite as easy of a road as his fellow 2010 draftees. He did not pitch at all in 2010 and had to have Tommy John surgery in September of that year, essentially putting him on the shelf until mid-2011. And when he finally did get back on the mound, he showed pretty dominant stuff, but he also struggled quite a bit with his control (though we're talking small sample sizes here).

That doesn't mean he forgot how to pitch. Just ask former teammate Steve Bumbry:

And keeping with McFarling tweets:

But, all total, we're talking about a combined total of 20.1 IP (innings pitched) in the minors between three different affiliates to this point, and that's not a lot to go off of. So for someone who has seen him pitch during this time, I'm going to defer to the scouting report from, which does not have him as one of the Red Sox top-60 prospects (as you would expect for a converted starter who is now relieving at High-A with only 20.1 IP in his age-23 year).

"Tall, thin righty building back up after Tommy John surgery in September 2010. Throws from a ¾ arm slot. Fastball sits 92-93 mph and can top out at 95. Shows heavy, sinking action in the lower tier of the strike zone. Best suited to operate below the thighs. Average fastball command. 79-82 mph breaking ball presently has a ¾ slider look to it. Can be tight at times and break hard off the plate. Better look at pitch will come as he continues to get further away from surgery. Solid-average 82-83 mph fading changeup. Creates similar arm speed to his fastball when throwing it and demonstrates solid feel of offering. Needs work keeping pace of delivery consistent. Over-throws his fastball to cause periods of wildness."

So what to make of that scouting report...? Well, it appears that up to this point in his career, it's spot on, though Price's BB/9 has dropped significantly. As we didn't ever get to see Price pitch in the minors prior to his Tommy John surgery, we'll never know how he would have pitched then. His arm slot has apparently been affected according to the report. But what is clear is this: generally speaking, he has been a better pitcher the further he gets away from the surgery, something doctors always tell athletes to expect, and that's no different than with Tommy John surgery.

So while Price has done an adequate job so far for Salem, I'd expect the Red Sox leave him there for most if not all of the year until he can get some innings under his belt and they can really see what they have in him post-surgery.

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

Domecus is the first active player on this list not playing in conventional minor league baseball. Instead, Domecus just began his 2013 season with the Sioux Falls Canaries of the American Association of Independent Professional Baseball, part of what is more commonly known as the independent leagues. Domecus started out his season with the Canaries in productive fashion, going 2-of-4 with 2 RBI's and a run. Since then, however, aside from a home run that helped get the Canaries the win, his bat has cooled and he is hitting .231 with 1 HR and 4 RBI's in 13 AB's.

Domecus fell out of favor somehow with the Dodgers organization for reasons I can't understand. He hit north of .270 in his three seasons with the organization at various levels and had an OBP (on base percentage) above .340 (both tremendous for a catcher). He didn't flash much of a power bat, but given his plate appearances, he was not terrible there, homering on around 2% of his AB's (1.891 to be exact). The major league average for that peripheral in 2012 was only around 3% (or 2.986 if you want to be exact again) according to Baseball Almanac. So the average player would hit a home run one more time than Domecus every 100 at bats. That number is essentially statistically insignificant and is well within the margin of error should he have been given more at bats. While he did post a very poor walk rate of around 5.3%, Domecus only struck out at just above 15%, considered above-average for any player. Those numbers would be in the ballpark with most good contact hitters at any level.

Defensively, while he threw out a below-average amount of base stealers, his range factor was off the charts at 7.93 as a catcher (the reason I specify as a catcher is because he played 11 games in his three seasons with the Dodgers' clubs in the outfield...which he was predictably not very good at defensively). I know that range factor for a catcher can be skewed towards a catcher who catches high-strikeout pitchers, but even so, that would tend to suggest that he was able to call a good game if that was the case. And while he did post a high passed ball per game average (at around .19 per game), it wasn't otherworldly considering minor league catchers have to handle on average a pitching staff with a lower level of control, creating some of those chances for passed balls.

Lastly, Domecus stole 6 bases in his minor league career compared to only twice being caught stealing. A 75% success rate when swiping a bag was above league average by 2% (using major league statistics) according to ESPN, and for catchers, who are statistically poor base stealers, 75% success in that department is terrific.

So again, why the Dodgers got rid of Domecus, or didn't renew his contract/extend an invite, or perhaps suggested sending him back to Low-A ball (which he had already conquered) for some reason is beyond me. And why another major league team didn't bring Domecus in their organization also doesn't make sense. It befuddles me. Anyway, if he continues to post numbers near or above his career averages, someone will see the value in him and pick him up. Otherwise, what the hell are we using all these metrics for if they don't mean anything!?

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

Another 2010 draftee, Ben Rowen was a player I missed in my initial look into Tech players in the minors. He is doing pretty well considering my looking over him. In three plus seasons with the Rangers affiliates, Rowen has posted a 15-4 record (phenomenal for a reliever) with a 1.53 ERA in 171 IP while allowing only 132 hits, 4 HR's and 43 walks (which gives him an unreal 1.023 WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched)) compared to 142 strikeouts. Rowen has also picked up 24 saves. Right now he has a career-best 0.83 ERA, a 3-0 record and a pair of saves in 21.2 IP while pitching for AA Frisco.

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.

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

The inclusion of Sosnoski on this list may anger Hokie baseball diehards, but he was at one point a Virginia Tech baseball player. Sosnoski transferred from Virginia Tech to Francis Marion University in Florence, Sc. after two years, and despite being drafted in 2010, elected to stay in college. Two years later, he was playing independent league ball with the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks, where he raked, hitting .339 in 53 games. He did so well in fact that the Baltimore Orioles purchased his contract and gave him a spring training invite. While according to this post, Sosnoski was let go, he is back with the RedHawks, again hitting up a storm, this time to the tune of .350 (though it's early in the season for them).

Regardless of whether or not he is to be considered a Hokie, Sosnoski will continue to receive offers from affiliated ball clubs if he hits like this, despite metrics that would tend to indicate poor defense on his part. We'll keep up with him just because, well, this is an incredibly interesting story. Unless there are any objections of course...

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

Wright, the last of the Hokies 2010 draft picks, was blowing through the Cardinals' organization at a torrid pace until he hit a little bit of a bump in 2012 when he reached the AA level, posting his career-worst ERA (4.45), WHIP (1.401), HR's allowed (6), H/9 (hits allowed per 9 innings) (8.6) and his second-worst BB/9 (4) and K/9 (9.5) in his career (not counting the one inning he pitched at the Cardinals Rookie Gulf Coast League affiliate in 2011) and posting an 0-3 record.

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. While I'm sure that the Cardinals will want to make sure Wright has righted the ship (no pun there unless you read it that way, in which case, sure. Fine. I meant to do that) before advancing him to AAA. Ideally they would like to see his WHIP and H/9 fall back to his career norms, because for Wright, that might be the difference in him being a league-average reliever and one of the premier relief arms in the game. We'll be watching him to see if he can do that.

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

Smalling was one of the original players I researched, but did not include in my tweets due to his performance (relative to those I did include (Wates, Hahn and Shaban). Smalling had two pretty successful years in 2011-12, split between the Rockies' Low-A Tri-City Dust Devils (seriously? Two former Hokies have played there recently? Tech has produced two Dust Devils in the last five years? Okay, if you say so) and their High-A Modesto Nuts (Okay, seriously now! This is getting out of hand), hitting .294 in 2011 and .274 in 2012. While those are acceptable averages for a normal player, Smalling is light in the power department (as most middle infielders are), meaning he needs to make up for it with higher BA (batting average) and OBP. It also doesn't help that Smalling is not a big threat on the basepaths, stealing 10 bags in two-plus seasons so far compared to 5 CS (caught stealing), or 66%, somewhat below average.

Defensively, Smalling's RF says that he is an average middle infielder, though he did not do very well at third base. Smalling is also not a switch hitter, which minimizes his value at two positions which typically produce the most swtich hitters. 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. There's certainly nothing wrong with that, and it's more than I'll ever do in baseball, but I'm just saying, it would be tough for me to see Smalling becoming a major leaguer at this point. As I always say when I have to call out Hokies, I hope like hell he proves me wrong. So Mr. Smalling, there's your inspiration. Just do what so many other Tech players have done and make me eat my words. I promise I won't mind.

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

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 ideally you'd like to see the strikeout numbers higher, particularly for a relief pitcher (and I'm assuming still the closer), if those other peripherals are maintained, Shaban might be able to get away with lower than average strikeout numbers. One thing is certain: if he keeps putting up numbers like this, he'll be promoted to Springfield in no time.

So finally we have come to the end of the post. I hope you enjoyed reading into how the former Hokies are faring in the minor leagues just as much as I enjoyed researching and writing about it. Please remember, we will run this as a serial post, updating you on the former Hokies pursuits periodically throughout the season, though keep in mind those posts will be considerably shorter as they will just be updates.

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.