Last week I wrote about National League players on each team that I think baseball fans should know. I wrote about guys that are less than household names, but are worthy of consideration as viable major league players.
This week I take a look at similar type players on American League teams.
It is important for me to note that these players are not necessarily prospects I am watching or even ranking. In most cases, they are players I think could return to the major league club next year. In some cases, they are players I first saw in the Arizona Fall League and they have realized their dream of making the big leagues.
Any year to date statistics are as of Friday, September 28, 2018
CEDRIC MULLINS—OF-BALTIMORE ORIOLES
The Orioles will enter next season in the same mess they leave this year. Their team was loaded with guys that were supposed to have big time power. However, Chris Davis, Mark Trumbo (injured) and Trey Mancini never really delivered an explosive offense.
Cedric Mullins is the total opposite type player. He’s more of a doubles and triples type hitter, but he has some pop in his 5-foot-8 frame. A switch hitter, Mullins has speed and an ability to get on base. He is a nice addition to the top of the Orioles order.
He can be used in both center and left and is average to above average as a defender. He may start the season as the fourth outfielder with the Orioles, but he’ll force himself into the outfield mix with his solid play.
A 13th round draft pick out of Campbell University in North Carolina, Mullins has provided quality at-bats for the parent Orioles at the end of the season. He has played exclusively in left field, but there is every reason to believe he has the tools to play center for Baltimore as well. A rebuilding Orioles club may find a nice addition with Mr. Mullins.
SAM TRAVIS-1B/OF-BOSTON RED SOX
I was in Cleveland last week when I saw Travis hit his first major league home run. He does have some pop in his bat, as I saw in the 2015 Arizona Fall League when he played for Scottsdale. I said at the time that he reminded me of Jeff Bagwell when Bagwell began with the Red Sox.
Travis has a chance for playing time with the Red Sox. He’s a solid hitter with a good approach at the plate. Versatile enough to play in the outfield or at first base, Travis can live up to his 2nd round, 20143 draft status.
At 6-foot, 205 pounds, Travis isn’t a big first baseman. A right-handed hitter, he may get the chance to platoon at first base next year and also grab some late game outfield time. But I don’t think he can break into the starting lineup on a Boston team that seems fairly set around the diamond. He could prove me wrong and end up with a full-time job. It would not be a surprise if that happened.
It will be interesting if the product of Indians University follows in Bagwell’s footsteps and is the subject of an offseason trade or if he sticks with the Red Sox and has a big role going forward.
DANIEL PALKA-OF-CHICAGO WHITE SOX
Daniel Palka is a name every baseball fan should know. This guy has outstanding power. I spoke of him last week, but not in detail. As I said then, Palka looks bigger and stronger than his listed 6-foot-2, 220 pounds.
Palka was selected off waivers from the Minnesota Twins. Prior to that, he was a 3rd round pick of the Arizona Diamondbacks. In their infamous ways, the Dbacks traded Palka to the Twins for catcher Chris Herrmann in 2015-the year of La Russa and Stewart disaster moves that I have often chronicled in this space. It was another poor decision by the Dbacks at the time, as Palka has proven to be a very credible source of power.
But the Dbacks aren’t the only team to make a mistake with the left-handed power hitter. The Twins just flat out released him in 2017 and the White Sox picked him up.
Palka already has 27 home runs for Chicago while playing as the DH or left fielder against right-handed pitching. Palka is a liability on defense, but the man can hit with power. For a platoon player, his 66 RBI are also impressive.
Slow afoot and limited in his role, Palka should likely return to the White Sox next year. As the team continues to wait for Yoan Moncada to hit with consistency they need some offense to balance the young pitching that will be getting better and better in the future. They need whatever power they can get from Palka in the middle of the order.
ERIC HAASE-C-CLEVELAND INDIANS
The Indians appear to be set at catcher with Yan Gomes and Roberto Perez staffing the position with average to above average results. Gomes has had a fine year on offense and a good year on defense. Perez has had a good year on defense and a miserable year on offense. Is there room for a different catcher in the mix? If there is, it would be Haase.
There is no need for Cleveland to carry 3 catchers as the Red Sox and Diamondbacks have done this year. None of the three in question, including young Eric Haase can play another position. But going forward, Haase has to get some consideration for playing time should either Gomes or Perez get injured or just not play well. Haase is a major league capable catcher.
A 7th round pick in 2011 out of Divine Child High School in Dearborn, Michigan, the right-handed hitting Haase has a .245 minor league career batting average. I saw him play briefly in the 2016 Fall League, where he appeared in only five games for Mesa.
Haase, like Gomes and Perez, is a good defensive catcher capable of handling a pitching staff and using solid catching fundamentals.
Currently on the expanded Indians September roster, Haase hasn’t seen much playing time. His future remains a question, as he has played eight minor league seasons and he is now 25. He needs a break for the coming season.
DAWEL LUGO-2B-DETROIT TIGERS
Lugo was one of three players sent to the Detroit Tigers in July 2017 for outfielder J.D. Martinez. Martinez was a superstar for Arizona before he left them to sign with Boston as a free agent. Now, Martinez is in the AL MVP conversation.
Lugo was signed by the Blue Jays in 2011 out of the Dominican Republic and began his career playing for Toronto’s minor league clubs in 2012. He was traded to Arizona in 2015 for infielder Cliff Pennington and cash. Still only 23, the fit between the Tigers and Lugo seems solid. He has played good defensively at 2B. But he has not hit with Detroit and there is room for offensive improvement, to be sure. He hasn’t shown any power at all.
If the Tigers are looking for a versatile middle-infield type as their utility infielder, it may not be Lugo. He might have to win the second base job outright to stick with the club for next year. His range is limited, making second base his most comfortable position.
In his past, Lugo has played third base. In fact, that’s where I saw him play in the 2016 Arizona Fall League. However, he doesn’t have the power to play that position regularly at the professional level. With good eye-hand coordination and a quick swing, his offensive game continues to show promise. I think he could eventually hit major league pitching, but he needs more reps and additional time against quality pitching. For now, I grade him as a 45-a utility type, non-regular player.
TYLER WHITE-1B/2B/OF-HOUSTON ASTROS
White is still not a household name outside of Houston. The Astros front office really likes the power and presence White brings to the club. Rarely, if ever, do we see a quality first baseman play second base as well. White does that. And he has played in the outfield, as well. However, he appears to be most comfortable at first base.
White is no longer a rookie, as he exceeded that status back in 2016. At that time, many in the Astros organization felt he was the perfect bat to play first base. Well, he’s back there now, but more on a platoon basis.
Only 5-foot-11 and 225 pounds, White’s compact and strong body has already produced his best home run season. With 12 homers, White’s season has been a success. He has hit. 288, higher than may be expected. He has platooned with Yuri Gurriel, among others.
A right-handed hitter out of Western Carolina University, he provides a nice option for Houston manager A. J. Hinch to use as he sees fit in good pitching matchups.
Tyler White has probably exceeded industry projections, as he was a 33rd round draft pick in 2013. Now 27, he is entering prime years for his power and strength.
RYAN O’HEARN-1B-KANSAS CITY ROYALS
Ryan O’Hearn may become a very important part of the Kansas City Royals makeover. The team has vowed to cut payroll, and O’Hearn will help that goal, as he is still a rookie with the team.
O’Hearn had a very respectable first year with the parent club. He has hit 12 home runs in limited playing time. The team should be able to realized more of the same in the future. As a left-handed hitter, O’Hearn has already reached his 25th birthday. It really is dependent upon O’Hearn to hit next spring and claim that first base job as his own.
O’Hearn was an 8th round pick out of Sam Houston University in Texas in 2014. He worked his way up the ladder to his current position as a July addition to the club.
I scouted O’Hearn in the 2016 Arizona Fall League. At the time I felt his left-handed bat would be a nice fit for the Royals as he hit .291/1/11 for Surprise that fall.
DAVID FLETCHER-2B/3B/SS-LOS ANGELES ANGELS
Fletcher, a 5-foot-10 inch 175 pound infielder has made an outstanding contribution to the ever-changing Angels roster. Continuing to search for both offensive and defensive help, Fletcher was a 6th round 2015 draft pick out of Loyola Marymount University. I saw Fletcher play for Scottsdale in the 2017 Arizona Fall League. He hit .250 in 65 plate appearances. He hit one home run and drove in seven runs. He also stole two bases while being caught stealing twice. He played 2B and SS in the Fall League.
Fletcher spent parts of four seasons in Minor League Baseball. He hit .350 this year while playing at Triple-A Salt Lake.
Fletcher played 80 games for the parent Angels before he was sidelined with a left hamstring strain. It is unlikely that type of injury will carry over to next season. If all things go well, the right-handed hitting Fletcher should be able to build upon a fine .275 batting average. He hit a homer and two triples as well as a surprising 18 doubles in his 284 at-bats.
Analysts have compared Fletcher to former player David Eckstein, a scrappy type infielder from the past. Fletcher, like Eckstein is the type that would get their uniform dirty But when it really is all said and done, Fletcher may well be playing “over his skis” at this point. We’ll have to wait and see how the Angels react to Fletcher next year and how Fletcher reacts to his opportunity. But he does, indeed, have a .294 lifetime minor league batting average.
WILLIANS ASTUDILLO-C/3B/2B-MINNESOTA TWINS
If there is a surprise in this season, it may well be that Willians Astudillo has produced an outstanding .357 batting average over his 84 at-bats at the end of the season. He is making his presence known.
He is certainly easy to see on the field, as he has a hefty 5-foot-9 inch, 225 frame. He just looks like a catcher.
Astudillo has quite a history with stateside baseball. Astudillo began his career by signing with the Philadelphia Phillies out of Venezuela in 2008. Then in 2015 he was granted free agency by the Phillies. The Atlanta Braves signed Astudillo in the same month. Then in 2016 he was again released and became a free agent. In January the Arizona Diamondbacks signed him and released him in November 2017. But then again, he was signed. This time it was by the Minnesota Twins.
Astudillo has played 2B, 3B, LF, and CF in addition to being a catcher. The reason he has been signed and released so many times is a mystery, as he has a very credible .306 batting average in his 9 minor league seasons. I do have to add that he’s one of the slowest runners I’ve seen in the game.
Can Astudillo win the catching job in Minnesota next year? If he continues to hit as he has so far, and if he can play defense, why wouldn’t the club give him a long, long look in spring training? Like many of the players on this list, it is important to know that Astudillo is a credible player.
LUKE VOIT-1B-NEW YORK YANKEES
We entered the season thinking Greg Bird would be the first baseman for the New York Yankees from the beginning of the season, going forward. There would be no need to wait for Bird. He had made it. He was the Yankees guy. Bird was alleged to be a power hitter that can break up a game. But he also has a history of being an injury risk. This year once again, Bird spent a considerable amount of time on the disabled list. When he returned, he didn’t produce the type of power or offense the Yankees had hoped.
Then on July 29, the Yankees obtained Luke Voit from the St. Louis Cardinals. He would take the place on their 40-man roster of Tyler Austin, a first baseman the Yankees decided to trade to the Minnesota Twins. In essence, Austin was traded in an effort for the Yankees to replace him with the power hitting Luke Voit.
Voit has done a terrific job for the Yankees in a short period of time. Bird has been relegated to the bench, his future in New York in question. Voit has 139 plate appearances in 37 games for the Yankees. He has already hit 12 home runs and he has driven in 30 runs. He is hitting .331.
Voit had limited plate appearances in his time with the Cardinals. He finished 2017 hitting .246 with 4 home runs in 124 plate appearances.
Many analysts are wondering aloud if Luke Voit is the new first baseman going forward in the Bronx? Is he going to take over on a day-to-day basis? Or, will someone else emerge to play first base? Will Bird get his old job back?
Voit is a big guy at 6-foot-3, 225 pounds. He was a 22nd round pick by the Cardinals in the 2013 draft out of Lafayette High School in Missouri. Now 27, Luke Voit might be getting his best chance ever to play regularly or perform as the right-handed hitting side of a first base platoon. And the Cardinals may have made a huge mistake.
RAMON LAUREANO-CF-OAKLAND ATHLETICS
The Oakland Athletics have done an incredible job uncovering high-quality, exciting young players to lead them on a playoff hunt. Players like third baseman Matt Chapman and first baseman Matt Olson are both becoming known and respected as up and coming great players. But outfielders Mark Canha, Nick Martini and Ramon Laureano have each played significant roles in the Athletics surge to prominence.
Laureano is an outstanding defensive center fielder. He is hitting 295 so far this season in his 165 plate appearances with the parent club. He has hit 5 home runs, has driven in 19 runs and he has stolen seven bases without being caught stealing. He has a lifetime .271 batting average in parts of five minor league seasons.
Laureano was drafted by the Houston Astros in the 16th round in 2014 out of Northeast Oklahoma A&M College in Miami, Oklahoma.
Laureano played for the Glendale club in the 2016 Arizona Fall League while he was still with the Houston Astros. He hit .295 that fall, but he only played in 12 games. In November 2017 Laureano was traded by the Astros to the Athletics for pitcher Brandon Bailey.
It seems fairly clear that Laureano, Canha and Martini will find themselves on the major-league roster next season. It also seems clear that all three will be used on a mix and match basis, depending upon the opposing pitcher of the day.
SEATTLE MARINERS-I have no player meeting the profile I have established to be included in this review. Most Mariners players are veterans with years of playing time and name recognition. While there may be a few lesser known players, I do not have enough familiarity with their track records to offer a valid illustration in this space.
WILLY ADAMES-SS/2B-TAMPA BAY RAYS
There literally are countless players on the Rays that I believe baseball fans should know going forward. The year has seen the emergence of a new brand of baseball being played by the Rays by young, aggressive and exciting players.
Consider Joey Wendle, Mallex Smith, Jake Bauers, the many young pitchers and their new shortstop, Willy Adames. They are just a group of motivated players and pitchers who may have even won the American League Central and the National League West. They fell a distant third in the American League East behind Boston and New York.
Adames retains his rookie status through today, the end of the season. He was signed by the Rays out of the Dominican Republic in 2012. He has played both 2B and SS for the Rays, most often playing shortstop.
Adames has played in 81 games and has 307 plate appearances. He has hit 10 home runs and has driven in 33 runs. Adames stole six bases and was caught stealing five times so far. While I believe his speed does play well, I think he has to refine his base stealing techniques.
Adames is 6-foot, 200 pounds. A right-handed hitter, Adames hit .270 in parts of 6 minor league seasons. He finished his minor league career this season at Triple-A Durham, where he hit .277 in 578 plate appearances.
Adames is an extremely competent defensive shortstop. He has the skill to be a highly regarded defensive shortstop in major league baseball for years to come without becoming overwhelmed by the speed and quality of major league life. The Rays have traded shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria to make room for Adames. Prior to trading Hechavarria, Adames was helped tremendously by Hechavarria, himself a wizard as a shortstop.
Unless something unusual happens in the future, it really seems Adames Adames is going to be in the infield of the Tampa Bay Rays for years to come.
ISIAH KINER-FALEFA-3B/C/2B-TEXAS RANGERS
Kiner-Falefa is a 5-foot-10 inch, 176 pound catcher and infielder. It seems incredible that a player with his slight frame can serve as a catcher in baseball. But that’s exactly what Kiner-Falefa has done. He has played all over, but especially behind the plate.
At age 23, the right-handed hitter was drafted by the Rangers in 2013 in the 4th round.
Kiner-Falefa has played in 110 games and has been to the plate 392 times. He has hit .261 with four home runs and 34 RBI. He has played second base, third base and behind the plate at catcher for Texas.
Kiner-Falefa was seen most often as a third baseman when he was signed by the Rangers. He has since broadened his resume with play at those other positions.
When I saw Kiner-Falefa in the 2016 Arizona Fall League, Kiner-Falefa played games at second base, shortstop and third base. He didn’t catch. In ten games he hit .194.
But now at age 23, Kiner-Falefa has to be considered in the discussions of the Rangers for 2019. He is likely to be among those that will be in the mix to be the opening day catcher. When promoted to the Rangers, he was supposed to be an injury replacement, but he stuck as a versatile player capable of being used at multiple positions. Somehow, the Rangers decided to try Kiner-Falefa behind the plate, and low and behold, he proved more than capable. He has very few passed balls and he has a strong enough throwing arm to keep potential base runners in check. His story is remarkable, but it happened. He is now a very reliable major league quality catcher, even though he is so slight of build.
ROWDY TELLEZ-1B-TORONTO BLUE JAYS
Rowdy Tellez is a very big, very strong 6-foot-4, 220 pound left-handed hitter. He has played parts of six seasons in Minor League Baseball. He has a .271 career minor league batting average. He has hit 64 minor league home runs.
Tellez played for Salt River in the 2015 Arizona Fall League. He has played 21 games and hit .293. He hit 4 homers and drove in 17 runs. Tellez showed his ability as a power hitter in his 91 plate appearances.
Tellez has the ability to hit the ball out of any park. He should have more success as a left-handed hitter against a right-handed pitcher. So far this season, he has stroked nine doubles in addition to three home runs. That’s quite a bit of early pop for a young man still only 23.
Tellez should be in the mix to play lots of first base for Toronto as the team plans for next year. He may be part of a platoon, but his strength and potential power will give him lots of ammunition to claim a role on the team’s 25-man roster.
Tellez is a 30th round draft pick by the Blue Jays in 2013. He has made his way through the team’s development program in a steady, even pace.
Look for Rowdy Tellez to add some much needed pop for the American League East club.
It would seem that Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez will both get votes for Most Valuable Player in the American League. If they split the vote, it may mean a sleeper could emerge.
Owner Arte Marino of the Angels will have a decision to make. Does he bring Mike Scioscia back for an 11th year after his ten-year contract expires? Apparently, Scioscia wants to return.
The Seattle Mariners have some serious decisions to make with their aging roster. What do they do to inject new blood into their team after they have traded so many young players?
The collapse of the Washington Nationals is an amazing story. They had some very iconic names on their club for the past several years and it is the upstart Braves and Phillies who have stolen the thunder from the Nationals in the NL East.
I love to watch Christian Yelich play the game of baseball. Imagine one player having not one (which is hard to achieve in itself) but two cycles in a season. That’s how good Yelich is.
Great baseball players run hard on every ground ball to the infield. I saw MVP candidate Javier Baez loaf to first base in games in Arizona last week. The optics weren’t good at all.
The game will miss Chase Utley.
Watch out for David Dahl, one of my favorite young players. Now healthy, Dahl should be a huge part of future Rockies clubs. We just have to hope he stays healthy.
I wish every baseball position player and pitcher took their work as seriously as Trevor Bauer. He is a joy to watch because he offers maximum effort every single day. Bauer is a treasure for the game. He’s another guy the Diamondbacks parted ways with early after drafting him.
I got to see the Dodgers Walker Buehler pitch this week. He’s got great stuff and a terrific mound presence. I’m just a bit concerned about his stamina. I think the team has to be careful about how many innings they put on his arm.
Without question it is 100% true that Clayton Kershaw is not the same guy as he had been. He is no longer a dominant pitcher with an automatic chance to win every game he starts. The stuff isn’t as great and he is feeling the impact of all the innings he has pitched and the impact of his back barking. But he’s still plenty good.
The Yankees C.C. Sabathia is a true team player and a terrific role model for young pitchers. I really admire him continuing to pitch very well with knee issues and other physical concerns. He’s a trooper.
It will be interesting to see if the new crop of managers continues to receive less in salary than some of the traditional managerial contracts of the past. That is one of the big changes in baseball. Managers are making less than before.
I wonder if the Phillies will make a play for any or all of Manny Machado, Bryce Harper and/or pitchers Cody Allen, Andrew Miller or Patrick Corbin or Craig Kimbrel. Any of those names could help them and it appears they have the money to spend.
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