We certainly know, don’t we, that making the major leagues is really, really hard. Staying there might be even tougher.
And the true value of the Valley League is not necessarily with its successes- the players who once toiled in the Valley who are now making millions of dollars a year, like Jason Kipnis (Covington 2006-07) and Daniel Murphy (Luray 2004-05). The real value of the league is in the relationships that are formed- between players, players and host families, coaches and players, players and the community… this is true not just the Valley League, but all of life, really.
So with that said, something is happening in the major leagues this year with Valley League alumni. While it is clear that developing major league starters is not something that has happened in the Valley for quite a while- not one alumnus has qualified for the ERA title (162 innings pitched) since 2006 (although Brandon Beachy got close in 2011), the first year ATVL has kept track of such things (and maybe Chad Kuhl (New Market 2012) will be the first in the future?)- developing relievers is a whole different story. In fact, there are enough relievers having excellent seasons in the majors right now to (almost) fill a bullpen by themselves.
Let’s take a look, shall we?
- Will Harris (Staunton 2003), Houston Astros. Back in November of 2014, the Astros scooped up Will from the waiver wire after a solid-but-not-spectacular 29 innings in the Arizona bullpen. All he did in 2015 was go 5-5, 1.90 in 68 games and 71 innings, along with a 0.90 WHIP, 2.8 BB/9 and 8.6 K/9. Now, in 2016, Will is even better, and has been named to the American League All-Star team as a result. At the break, he’s 1-1, 1.62, with a 0.95 WHIP, 1.4 BB/9 and 9.0 K/9 in 39 innings. He has 9 saves, too, as he’s now the Astros’ primary closer. (As a side note, Will is making $525,500 this year.)
- After struggling with a few injuries over the past couple years, Tyler Thornburg (Winchester 2008) is now healthy, and putting up the best numbers of his career this year. For the Milwaukee Brewers, Tyler is 3-2, 2.57, with a 0.94 WHIP, 3.1 BB/9, and 12.3 K/9 in 35 innings pitched. He’s also saved 2 games. By the way, Tyler was named ATVL’s 7th best reliever in the 2008 VBL season. Four of the pitchers named ahead of him played in the minors, but they are all out of pro ball now. He’s the only one on the reliever’s list to make the majors. (2016 Salary: $513,900)
- Adam Liberatore (Waynesboro 2007-08) heads into the All-Star Break the owner of a new record; he now holds the Los Angeles Dodgers’ record for most consecutive appearances without allowing a run, at 24. A month after Andrew Freidman took over the Dodgers’ position of President of Baseball Operations in October of 2014, he made an under-the-radar trade with the team he left, the Tampa Bays Rays, to scoop up Liberatore. Adam was decent in his major league season in 2015, but he’s been lights-out this year. So far he’s 1-0, 0.61, with a 0.85 WHIP, 3.1 BB/9 and 10.1 K/9 in 29 1/3 innings. I believe Adam is making the major league minimum this year- $507,500. ATVL named Adam the 2nd best starter in the Valley League back in 2008.
- Chris Devenski (Woodstock 2011) made his major league debut on April 8, 2016. Understandably, I was expecting a time of struggle for the 25-year-old as he adjusted to pitching to the best hitters in the world. Well, that period of adjustment either happened really quickly, or Chris didn’t need it. Working mostly as the Astros’ long man (he’s also started 2 games), Chris is 0-2, 2.30, with 1 save, a 1.06 WHIP, 2.1 BB/9, and 7.2 K/9 in 58 2/3 innings. Chris is also making the minimum (I believe).
- The old man of the group, Brad Ziegler (New Market 2000) is also the only “established closer” on this list (although give Harris some time, and he’ll be one, too). The 36-year old has saved 81 games over his career, including 18 in 2016 so far. Just traded from the Diamondbacks to the Red Sox, Ziegler will help the Sox bullpen bridge the gap left by Craig Kimbrel’s knee surgery. Overall in 2016, Brad is 2-3, 2.75, with those 18 saves, a 1.42 WHIP, 3.4 BB/9, and 6.6 K/9 in 39 1/3 innings. He’s also making the most of this bullpen, with a salary of $5.5 million.
Looks pretty good, doesn’t it? For a bullpen? The team would have a lefty, a long man, and two guys with closing experience (not that I think closing experience is all that important, mind you). The other thing, for this year at least, is that this bullpen is really, really cheap.
So let’s celebrate the five bullpen successes by alumni this season!