Tampa Bay’s Blake Snell made his major-league debut Saturday at Yankee Stadium, where he pitched five innings, fanned six, allowed a single run, threw 90 pitches and returned to the minor leagues when he was a done.
Snell will be back, and probably soon, because he started 2016 as the best pitching prospect not in the majors, unless it was Washington’s Lucas Giolito or the Dodgers’ 19-year-old Julio Urias.
Snell was the 52nd pick of the 2011 draft by the Rays and he’s done nothing since to make them regret it, which makes him a rarity of the many Rays chosen in the first hours that day. If you want to know why the Rays have been below .500 for the last two seasons and are so again to start 2016, you need inspect no further than draft day 2011.
The Rays won 96 games in 2010 and then shrewdly allowed several of the players who helped them do so — Carl Crawford, Grant Balfour, Brad Hawpe, Rafael Soriano, Randy Choate and Chad Qualls — to leave as free agents. They were compensated with picks for all of them.
None of them has given the Rays reason to regret it, and Snell was drafted with a pick to compensate them for the loss of Hawpe, who went to the plate 46 times for the Rays and batted .179. Numbers like that improved the Rays by Hawpe’s exit; compensation was extra.
The Rays made like Sam Hinkie and accumulated 10 of the first 60 picks in the 2011 draft. They used them to acquire Snell, who will be a star, outfielder Mikie Mahtook, the only other pick who’s reached the majors for the Rays, and eight others who couldn’t have helped less if they had been late-round nepotism selections: a shortstop accused of murder, a pitcher who hasn’t pitched since 2014, and six players who haven’t advanced beyond AA in five years.
It’s enough to make you wonder if the Rays turned their draft day operations over to the Cleveland Browns.
The Rays could have put themselves in a position of prominence and envy; instead they underwhelmed (fortunately for the Rays, the Yankees took Dante Bichette Jr., who has yet to advance beyond AA and seems unlikely to ever at No. 51, just before they took Snell. It could have been worse).
Consider the Rays’ selections other than Mahtook at No. 31 and Snell at 52:
- Taylor Guerrieri at No. 24 — he’s pitched just 225 pro innings, which is too bad considering his 1.96 ERA. He’s at AA with a 5.79 ERA this year.
- High school shortstop Jake Hager at 32 — he’s back at AA for a second season. He’s batted .271 in 1,744 minor-league plate appearances, but he’s rarely walked (121) or homered (12).
- Shortstop Brandon Martin at No. 38 — he batted .211 in three seasons and then left baseball. He was arrested last year and charged with murdering three people, including his father.
- Outfielder Tyler Goeddel at No. 41 — the Rays lost him to the Phillies in last year’s Rule 5 draft. Given Goeddel’s .262 career minor-league average and .783 OPS at AA in 2015, that might have been the best move the Rays could make with Goeddel, who’s just 3-for-21 with the Phillies. If he’s offered back to the Rays, they’d probably refuse.
- Pitcher Jeff Ames at No. 42 — by age 24 last year, he was already in AA. A year later he’s still there, with a career 3.48 ERA and 279 strikeouts in 318 innings. After starting through 2013, he’s now exclusively a reliever.
- Outfielder Kes Carter at No. 56 — like Ames, he reached AA by age 24. Unlike Ames, he may not get any higher. He has a career .235 average, .680 OPS and 32 steals and 14 homers in five seasons.
- Pitcher Grayson Garvin at No. 59 — he didn’t pitch last year and has yet to this year because of injury, which is a recurring theme. He’s made just 41 starts since being drafted and has reached AA, where he was 1-8 in 2014. He has a career 3.75 ERA and 3-14 record.
- Outfielder James Harris at No. 60 — after OPSes of .460, .566, .655 and .649 and never advancing past Class A, the Rays released him. Harris was signed by Oakland, where he’s still in Class A (though hitting .375, perhaps thanks to the California League).
It’s an impressive list, if only for its futility, the draft day equivalent of loading the bases with none out and failing to score. The Rays could have had Nats pitcher Joe Ross (No. 25) or Giants second baseman Joe Panik (No. 29) instead of Guerreri, Red Sox pitcher Henry Owens (No. 36) instead of Hager, Red Sox outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. (No. 40) instead of Martin, Rockies shortstop Trevor Story (No. 45) instead of Ames, or Marlins pitcher Adam Conley (No. 72), Reds reliever Tony Cingrani (114), Angels starter Nick Tropeano (160) or Red Sox outfielder Mookie Betts (172) instead of Carter, Garvin and Harris.
Of course it’s easy to see now, and you can draft perfectly with a mulligan. Everybody misses. But that’s the point of stockpiling so many picks: you get a mulligan in real time. If you make a bad pick at 59 with Garvin, you get a chance to immediately rectify at 60, unless you swing and miss at that one, too.
The Rays swung and missed at all but Snell, as if they couldn’t lay off the down-and-away slider. It’s not easy to know if the Rays want Snell around to remind fans they salvaged someone from all those picks, or farmed him to expunge all memory of them.
It’d be fascinating to look at their draft day notes from 2011; maybe Christopher Correa, who pled guilty to hacking into the Astros computer system, can someday provide it (he’s unavoidably detained at present). If anyone is so inclined to do a movie on the Rays’ 2011 draft, it wouldn’t be called Money Ball but Pauper Ball.
The Rays built their 2008 AL champions with high picks — B.J. Upton (No. 2 in 2002), Evan Longoria (No. 3 in 2006) and David Price (No. 1 in 2007) — or by trading them — Delmon Young No. 1 in 2003 brought pitcher Matt Garza and shortstop Jason Bartlett.
But since the 2008 draft, when the Rays took infielder Tim Beckham No. 1, they’re had 20 picks considered first/rounders. Only four — Beckham, Snell, Mahtook and Richie Shaffer — have reached the majors for the Rays and only five in all. Only Beckham was taken higher than 17.
Andrew Friedman was credited, and deservedly so, with helping build the Rays from a 90-loss to a 90-win team. That’s no small feat.
But it’s a lot easier picking in the top 10 than it is the bottom 10, where the helpings are less bountiful. You have to wonder how closely the Dodgers, who hired Friedman away to do the latter, looked at the record.
Other notes from the third week:
- The Diamondbacks know how to end an extra-inning game: bring in starter Rubby De La Rosa. The Diamondbacks brought De La Rosa into the 14th inning of a game on April 16 vs. the Padres and De La Rosa threw a two-run homer to Melvin Upton to lose it. Two days later, De La Rosa fanned the side in the 10th as the Diamondbacks beat the Giants in 11. That’s about the only way De La Rosa could pitch in the late innings: in his two starts, he hasn’t made it out of the fifth inning.
- Cardinals fans booed outfielder Jason Heyward in his return to St. Louis Monday, and Heyward went 0-for-4. They might have been better served to turn their vitriol on another ex-Cardinal: pitcher John Lackey threw a four-hitter over seven innings and fanned 11 in a 5-0 Cubs win.
- Umpire Hunter Wendelstedt called Giancarlo Stanton out on a third strike just a bit outside on Wednesday to end the Nationals’ 3-1 win at Miami. What’s the rush? Stanton fanned three times in that game and 24 times in his first 71 plate appearances, just more than one in three. That’s more than usual for Stanton, who in his career averages a strikeout every 3.5 plate appearances.
- Yes, Bryce Harper is the best hitter in baseball. But where would he be without the Marlins’ Tom Koehler? Maybe on the other side of 100 career home runs. Harper, who has 106 in all, homered off Koehler Thursday for the sixth time in his career, more than any other opposing pitcher. The Braves’ Julio Teheran.is next, but fortunately for him, Harper won’t see him again until August.
- Jake Arrieta threw 119 pitches Thursday in his no-hitter, which should have ended with the 117th. That was an 0-2 curveball that was so good it prevented anyone in the area of the batter’s box from doing anything — Eugenio Suarez from swinging or home-plate umpire Dana DeMuth from calling it the strike it was. Milt Pappas died early in the week, and how many Cubs fans thought of Pappas losing a perfect game in 1972 on Bruce Froemming’s 3-2 call? Pappas supposedly swore at Froemming in the native Greek of his ancestors; if Arrieta had lost his no-hitter, he may well have kept that tradition alive and sworn at DeMuth in whatever is his ancestors’ native tongue.
- Giants lefty reliever Josh Osich hit Arizona’s David Peralta with a pitch in the forearm on Wednesday night, then hit him again on the elbow Thursday. Understandably, Peralta stepped toward the mound the second time and benches perfunctorily emptied. You can’t blame Peralta for wanting to tell Osich that if his control isn’t any better than that, maybe he shouldn’t be in the majors. But a quick check of the numbers shows that in 36.1 major-league innings over two seasons, Peralta is the only batter Osich has hit. Doubt that would make Peralta feel better.
- Osich’s control was pinpoint compared to Boston’s Thursday. The Red Sox hit Brandon Guyer three times, twice by $30-million-a-year starter David Price and once by minimum wage reliever Noe Ramirez. No outburst from Guyer, who was hit 24 times last year and five this month.
- Fired ESPN broadcaster Curt Schilling has always been supremely talented at two things: pitching and self-promotion. Unfortunately for his broadcasting career, he no longer has the one he needs to balance the other.
- Tweet from ESPN’s Tim Kurkjian after Cubs beat Reds, 8-1, on Friday: “Cubs run differential is +67. Seventeen teams haven’t scored 67 runs.”
- Cubs run differential is +68 entering play Monday after Cubs and Reds exchanged 13-5 and 9-0 blowouts. Cubs have beaten Reds six of seven and outscored them 60-20.
- Two Nats starting pitchers have games of 10 strikeouts or more: Stephen Strasburg (no surprise) and Tanner Roark. Strasburg has done it twice, finished with 10 both times and fanned his 10th in the eighth inning both times. Roark fanned 10 Twins Saturday by the fourth inning, finished with 15 and only needed seven innings to do it. In Roark’s first 17 innings spanning three starts this season, he had fanned only nine.
- Yankes relievers Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller faced 61 batters through Sunday and fanned 37 of them, giving up just eight hits, two walks and no runs. It’s a good thing Aroldis Chapman will be back soon to shore up this glaring weakness.
- Red Sox reliever Heath Hembree threw 49 pitches in Sunday’s extra-inning win at Houston, which by itself wasn’t remarkable. That 40 of them were strikes, given the Red Sox’s bullpen woes over 2015-16, was.
- From the pitchers can do more than pitch department: Three pitchers — the Nationals’ Joe Ross, the Pirates Jonathon Niese and the Diamondbacks Zack Greinke — pinch-hit in extra-inning games Sunday and singled. Oliver Perez reached when Twins catcher John Ryan Murphy threw Perez’s bunt down the right-field line and allowed the tying run to score. And the Diamondbacks’ Shelby Miller played left field in the 13th inning after infielder Nick Ahmed got throw out for arguing a called third strike by Marvin Hudson (that Ahmed was right mattered little). Given that Miller’s last two starts were 2 innings and 1.2, he spent almost as much time in left field as he has on the mound.
- Remember when David Ortiz started the season with three homers, four doubles and nine hits in the first week of the season and it was frequently asked why he’s retiring? He’s 9-for-36 and without a homer since April 12. Answer is, because it’s not easy to maintain that pace at age 40.
Correction: An earlier edition didn’t mention that Jonathon Niese, in addition to Joe Ross and Zack Greinke, also had a pinch-hit in an extra-inning game.