Fitzsimmons, Cooney Taken in Rule 5 Draft

The Rule 5 draft was held on December 8th, at the end of the annual Winter Meetings. You can click here for the rules of the draft- about who’s eligible and how much each pick costs.

No former Valley Leaguers were chosen in the Major League portion of the draft, but two were chosen in the Triple-A phase. Triple-A and Double-A selections are not required to spend the year in the major leagues, but can be stashed in the minor leagues. Here are the two, who were, oddly enough, teammates for Front Royal 4 years ago:

  1. Jon Fitzsimmons (Front Royal 2012) was picked by the Arizona Diamondbacks from the Cleveland Indians. This was an interesting name to pop up, as Jon was a 2016 free agent signee by the Tribe. Originally signed as an undrafted free agent by the Kansas City Royals in 2013, Jon was released in 2014. After two seasons in the Independent Canadian-American Association, the Indians scooped him up. In 2016, Jon went 1-0, 3.31 in 16 1/3 innings for Lake County in the Midwest League.
  2. Harrison Cooney (Front Royal 2012), originally from the Los Angeles Angels, was picked by the Boston Red Sox. Harrison appeared on a couple top prospect lists for the Angels, and even reached Double-A in 2015, but appeared in only 2 games in 2016 due to injury.

The two will continue their march towards the major leagues in 2017!

Jon Fitzsimmons (Jarah Wright)

Jon Fitzsimmons (Jarah Wright)

Harrison Cooney

Harrison Cooney

 

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Thornburg, Tolliver Totally Transacted

Two former Valley Leaguers will have new addresses after the first little while of the MLB Winter Meetings- Tyler Thornburg (Winchester 2008) and Ashur Tolliver (Harrisonburg 2007).

Thornburg developed into an elite bullpen arm in 2016 for the Brewers, as he went 8-5, 2.15, with 13 saves, a 0.94 WHIP, 3.4 BB/9 and 12.1 K/9 in 67 innings pitched. He was traded to the Boston Red Sox for a package consisting of Travis Shaw and two minor leaguers. Tyler will most likely be a setup man for Craig Kimbrel in 2017.

Ashur Tolliver has been bouncing around quite a bit. He made his major league debut for the Baltimore Orioles in 2016, throwing 4 2/3 innings. He was grabbed off of waivers in September by the Angels, and now has been scooped up by the Houston Astros (off waivers again). I’m always intrigued when the Astros do something like this, as I think their player development program is pretty strong. Perhaps they see something in Ashur that will lead to him getting some major league time in the bullpen, like Will Harris (Staunton 2003)!

Tyler Thornburg

Tyler Thornburg

Ashur Tolliver

Ashur Tolliver

Robby Scott Makes Major League Debut!

robby-scott-pawtucket-2016I’ve been covering this league since November of 2006. One would think that I’ve got it together, right? I shouldn’t be surprised by anything. All my lists are complete, and I’m on the front lines of disseminating information.

Then along come Brilliant Reader Mark Pifer, who sends a message telling me that Robby Scott has made his major league debut. Robby who? I thought. My lists of professional baseball players who played in the Valley League do not include Robby Scott.

Well, after some frantic research, of course Mr. Pifer is correct, and corrections have been made, and really, this is a pleasant surprise, isn’t it?

So here we go!

Robby Scott, a student at Florida State, played in Covington in 2010. After being undrafted in 2011, he signed with Yuma, an independent league team in the North American League. After striking out 19 batters in only 11 innings, the Red Sox swooped in and signed Robby to a free agent deal and assigned him to the Gulf Coast League, where he struck out 11 more batters in 7 1/3 innings.

In 2012, Robby returned to the GCL, and went 0-0, 0.44, with 23 strikeouts in 20 1/3 innings. He moved up to Salem of the Carolina League in 2013, and had his first “full” season, 67 2/3 innings, and went 4-4, 2.79, with 44 strikeouts.

He spent 2014 and part of 2015 in Portland of the Double-A Eastern League, and the latter part of ’15 in Triple-A Pawtucket. He was assigned back to Pawtucket this spring, and after going 4-3, 2.54, with 73 strikeouts in 78 innings, he was called up to the big leagues. (Overall in the minor leagues, Robby went 19-12, 2.75, with a 1.111 WHIP, 2.5 BB/9, and 7.9 K/9 in 314 innings.

He made his major league debut on September 2nd at Oakland, and pitched a shutout inning while allowing one hit, and striking out two.

Robby joins Tyler White (Haymarket 2010), Chris Devenski (Woodstock 2011), Ashur Tolliver (Harrisonburg 2007), Ryan Schimpf (Luray 2008), Alex Wimmers (Luray 2008), and Stephen Cardullo (Covington 2007). Seven in one year may be a record!

Congratulations, Robby! May your major league career be a long one.

robby-scott-red-sox-2016

 

 

The Valley League/Major League Bullpen

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?

  1. 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.)
  2. 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)
  3. 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.
  4. 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).
  5. 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!

Will Harris

Will Harris

Tyler Thornburg Milwaukee Brewers

Tyler Thornburg

Adam Liberatore

Adam Liberatore

Chris Devenski

Chris Devenski

Brad Ziegler

Brad Ziegler

Washington Off to Powerful Start

Kyri Washington Greenville 2016Almost exactly one year ago, I was keeping an eye on Longwood’s Kyri Washington (Woodstock 2013), who, with his massive power potential, as rumored to go as high as the 2nd round of the 2015 draft, which would have made him the highest drafted former Valley Leaguer since Cory Spangenberg was popped in the first round in 2010 (depending on where in the 2nd round, of course).

Alas, it was not to be- Kyri wasn’t picked until Boston took him in the 23rd round- 681st overall. Boston did shell out $100,000 to buy Kyri away from his senior year at Longwood, but why did he slide so far? I think part of it comes down to his strikeouts. Even in his best year at Longwood, in 2015 as a junior, Kyri still struck out, roughly, 29% of his plate appearances.

So I was understandably curious about what might happen to Kyri once he gets in a pro system, with pro coaches and a pro mentality (no classes to go to, for one thing).

After the 2015 draft, Kyri spent time at two different levels: the rookie-level Gulf Coast League, and then at Lowell, of the New York-Penn League. Overall, in 132 plate appearances, Kyri hit 263/341/381. OBP very solid, but where was the power? In those 132 appearances, Kyri hit only 9 doubles, 1 triple, and 1 home run. He also struck out 40 times, which put him at right about 30%.

But in no way do organizations give up so soon on a player who shows one outstanding tool at some point, like Kyri showed at Longwood with 15 home runs in 2015.

Well, all that to say that Kyri is off to a very powerful start at Low-A Greenville in 2016! Admittedly, this is a small sample size (SSS), but Kyri is hitting 295/313/641 in 19 games and 71 at-bats. His OBP has come down a bit from 2015, but his slugging is way, way up. It looks like he’s translated his batting-practice power to game situations, as he’s hit 5 doubles, 2 triples, and 6 home runs so far. That’s 13 extra base hits in 17 games! He’s struck out 22 times, which puts him at about 28% of his plate appearances. Still a mite bit too high, but down from 2015.

Congratulations on the excellent start, Kyri- keep it up!

Kyri Washington Gulf Coast League 2015 swinging

 

Other Great Postseasons by VBL Alums

Most of know by now that Daniel Murphy (Luray 2004-05) had a blistering National League Championship series, clubbing home runs in a record six straight postseason games, while leading the Mets to their first World Series appearance since 2000.

This binge reminded me of some other, older series when Valley League alumni had postseason success. Here are three for you to peruse, dear brilliant reader….

Daniel Murphy head brYou have to start with Murphy. Murph, playing in his first postseason games as a big leaguer, crushed the LA Dodgers in the NLDS, hitting 333/333/810 in 21 at-bats, with a double, 3 runs scored, 3 home runs (off Clayton Kershaw twice, and Zack Greinke), and 5 RBIs. Then, on an even bigger stage, Daniel hit 529/556/1.294 in 17 at-bats in the NLCS against the Cubs. He scored 6 runs, hit a double, 4 home runs, and drove in 6 runs. He was easily the MVP of the series. Of course, you probably know that the hot streak ended. In the World Series against the Royals, Dan hit 150/320/150 in 20 at-bats, and committed a couple errors in the field. However, he will most likely be remembered for the blistering 38 at-bats before the ultimate series.

David Eckstein (Harrisonburg 1995-96) had an amazing run in the playoffs for the 2006 St. Louis Cardinals. Already possessing one championship ring (2002 Anaheim Angels), David saved his best hitting for the World Series in ’06. He hit 364/391/500 in 22 at-bats, along with 3 doubles and 4 RBIs, including 2 crucial RBIs in the Cardinals’ clinching 5th game against the Detroit Tigers. David was named MVP of the World Series.

Mike Lowell (Waynesboro 1993), the All-Star third baseman for the Boston Red Sox in 2007, drove in 120 runs in theMike Lowell head br regular season while hitting 324/378/501, and continued his hot hitting right through three rounds of playoffs. He hit 333/364/556 in the Red Sox’s three game sweep of the Angels in the ALDS, and followed that up with the line of 333/375/519 in the 7 games of the ALCS against the Cleveland Indians. He hit 2 doubles, a home run, and drove in 8 runs in 27 at-bats in that series. Then, the World Series. All he did was hit 400/500/800 in the 4-game sweep, along with 6 runs scored, 3 doubles, a home run, and 4 RBIs. He even stole a base against the Rockies. If you add up the three series, Mike scored 10 runs, hit 7 doubles, 2 home runs, and drove in 15 runs. He was named the MVP of the World Series.

Eckstein holding World Series MVP trophy in 2006

Eckstein holding World Series MVP trophy in 2006

Kratz Back in Philly

Erik Kratz Tacoma 2015Well, back in the Philadelphia organization, maybe.

I wrote a couple days ago about Tony Thomas’s eventful year, and he’s only been in three organizations. This is what Erik Kratz (Waynesboro 2000, Harrisonburg 2001) has been through this year:

1. Fresh off a World Series in 2014, Erik opens the year with the Kansas City Royals.

2. He’s injured. After a rehab assignment, the Royals DFA (Designate for assignment) Erik. They have a couple

3. The Red Sox traded for him, and then DFA’d him soon after.

4. The Seattle Mariners signed him, and sent him to Triple-A Tacoma.

5. Erik opted out of his contract, and…

6. He’s now resigned with the Phillies, who sent him to Triple-A Lehigh Valley.

So now time will tell if the Phillies will need him at the major league level- like if they trade Carlos Ruiz, for example, or if someone gets hurt.