2016 Major League Pitcher of the Year

chris-devenski-houston-headshotWhile not a runaway, like the major league hitter of the year award, our top pitcher, Chris Devenski (Woodstock 2011), also had a fantastic 2016 season.

Devenski, nicknamed “The Dragon,” made the Houston Astros out of Spring Training, and pitched mostly in relief (although he did start 5 games). In 48 total games and 108 1/3 innings pitched, Chris went 4-4, 2.16, with 1 save, a 0.91 WHIP, 1.7 BB/9, and 8.6 K/9. He finished 4th in the American League Rookie of the Year voting (Mike Fulmer won it, with Gary Sanchez a relatively close 2nd).

Originally drafted by the Chicago White Sox in the 25th round in 2011, Devenski was traded to the Astros (along with a package of other players) for Brett Myers. He was a starter half of the time in the minors, but the Astros chose to use him as the “long man” in the 2016 Houston bullpen.

His changeup would play in the rotation, I do believe, but it looks like Chris is slated to be in the Houston bullpen again.

Congratulations on your excellent year, Chris!

Past Winners:

2015- Will Harris (Staunton 2003), Houston Astros
2014- David Carpenter (Covington 2004), Atlanta Braves

Others to Consider:

  • Will Harris (Staunton 2003), Houston- 1-2, 2.25, 12 svs, 1.05 WHIP, 2.1 BB/9, 9.7 K/9 in 64 IP
  • Adam Liberatore (Waynesboro 2007-08), LA Dodgers- 2-2, 3.37, 1.19 WHIP, 3.6 BB/9, 9.9 K/9 in 42 2/3 IP
  • Tyler Thornburg (Winchester 2008), Milwaukee- 8-5, 2.15, 13 svs, 0.94 WHIP, 3.4 BB/9, 12.1 K/9 in 67 IP

MLB: Cleveland Indians at Houston Astros


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

Devenski 4th in AL ROY Voting

Major league baseball is in award season, now that the Cubs have ended the most amazing dry run in history.

Yesterday, MLB released the rookie of the year winners, and while Chris Devenski (Woodstock 2011) did not win the award, he did come in 4th place in the American League with a 2nd place vote and four 3rd place votes, for a total of seven voting points.

Chris becomes only the 6th former Valley Leaguer since 2000 to receive at least one vote for the ROY award, and his vote score is the second highest in that time.

Here are the others:

2012: Yonder Alonso (Luray 2006) received one 3rd place vote
2010: Gaby Sanchez (Staunton 2003) received 18 vote points, including two 1st place votes, finishing 4th in the NL
2008: Brad Ziegler (New Market 2000) received one 3rd place vote
2001: David Eckstein (Harrisonburg) finished 4th in the AL with 6 vote points (there were only 4 players voted for that year)
2000: Juan Pierre (Harrisonburg) received one 3rd place vote


Devenski Makes All-Rookie Team

Each year, Baseball America names an “All-Rookie” team from the major leagues. It’s been several years since the last Valley League alumnus made the list, but this year, one broke through- Chris Devenski (Woodstock 2011)!

This is what the site had to say about Chris’s excellent season as a swing man for the Astros (meaning that he both started and relieved):

RP Chris Devenski • Astros

Devenski doesn’t throw 100 mph like the Mariners’ Edwin Diaz, who struck out 15.3 batter per nine innings, and he didn’t save 19 games like the Cardinals’ Seung Hwan Oh, the outstanding 34-year-old Korean import. All he did was pitch the most effectively, among rookie relievers, in the highest-leverage spots. Devenski, whom the Astros picked up in 2012 when they traded Brett Myers to the White Sox, likes to get ahead of batters with a low-90s fastball before finishing them off with either an outstanding changeup or slider, both of which sit at 80-82 mph. In his 43 relief appearances, he struck out 83 in 84 innings and recorded one save while allowing a .194 average and 0.81 WHIP.

I don’t think Chris will win the American League rookie of the year (which will most likely go to Michael Fulmer, or, God forbid, to Gary Sanchez), but he was, at least according to Baseball America, the best rookie reliever in the game!


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

Devenski Named Top Prospect

Chris Devenski Fresno 09-23-2015Let’s stick with the Astros for one more. This time it’s Chris Devenski (Woodstock 2011), who is not as highly touted as Tyler White, but he’s still held in high esteem. Two outlets have writeups on Chris.

First of all, Fangraphs has Chris at #23 in the Houston system:

Devenski was a position player late into his amateur career. Drafted by the White Sox, he joined the Astros in the Brett Myers trade in 2012. He really pitched well in Double-A as a starter with a track record of decent success. The Astros like him most in the bullpen where his competitiveness and strike-throwing profile best. He’s a fairly safe bet to be a swing man in the future despite middling stuff, with an above-average changeup that helps to get hitters off their timing. He has a very outside chance of working into a number-five starter role, but the rest of his arsenal likely won’t give him enough to work with going through a lineup multiple times.

And mlb.com has him at #24:

A two-way player at Golden West (Calif.) JC, Devenski became a full-time pitcher at Cal State Fullerton in 2011 and signed for $55,000 as a 25th-round pick of the White Sox. After Chicago shipped him to the Astros a year later as the player to be named in the Brett Myers trade, Devenski recorded a 5.08 ERA in his first two-plus seasons with his new organization. He broke out in 2015, ranking second in the Double-A Texas League with a 3.01 ERA and throwing seven one-hit innings to win the Triple-A Baseball National Championship in his first start at that level.

Devenski’s success can be attributed to one pitch. He taught himself a circle changeup early in his pro career and it has developed into a plus offering that gets swings and misses from left-handed and right-handed hitters. His changeup is the main reason he held lefties to a .210/.267/.296 batting line last season.

Though Devenski hit 96 mph in the Triple-A playoff, his fastball usually sits at 89-91 mph and maxes out at 93. He can throws his fastball and curveball for strikes, but they’re fringy pitches that lead to questions about his long-term future as a starter. He doesn’t beat himself with home runs or walks, and he earns raves for his competitiveness and work ethic, so he has a chance to sneak into the back of a big league rotation.

Some good stuff in here- makes it sound like Chris will most likely make the majors at some point. Congrats!

White Named Top Prospect

Tyler White 2015 Houston AstrosHere we go- it’s time to look at the attention Tyler White (Haymarket 2010) has been receiving (from media outlets other than this one- ATVL has already named him its Triple-A hitter of the year). This needs to be posted today, as Tyler will make his major league debut tomorrow!

Tyler has been mentioned in four outlets, with only one neglecting him- Baseball America, again. Fangraphs, mlb.com, John Sickels, and Baseball Prospectus all felt White deserved at least a mention, and in a couple cases, much more than that. Let’s take a look:

First of all, Fangraphs lists Tyler as the #6 prospect in a still-strong Houston Astros system. Their writeup:

All White has done is hit. His 2015 season was no different: he put up a monster year in the regular season before winning the MVP award in the Dominican Winter League. By all accounts, he’s a wretched defender with no base-running value, so it’s a good thing his bat looks like it has impact potential. His size and poor defense, along with his status as a former 33rd-round pick, have kept him away from the big-league batter’s box. This is the year when that changes.

He has an excellent hand path and good use of his lower half at the plate. He gets a little big with his stride and loses the ground with his back foot a tick early, but his hip drive is quick and direct. Though his power is more of the doubles variety, he has an above-average power ceiling with the potential for low double-digit homer totals and a bunch of two-baggers. White has gotten on base at over a .400 clip as a professional, and he has the contact skills to avoid strikeouts against major league pitching, with the power to pressure pitchers into being careful with their location. While it’s foolish to expect the same production in the majors, it’s equally foolish to use his defensive issues to write off his potential as an impact hitter.

I get why a player like White has to perform at such a high level before getting a chance in the big leagues, but his defensive liabilities can only hold down his total value so much. He is absolutely a big-league hitter. Even with his defense leaving him a DH in essence, he has the bat to provide value wherever they decide to play him. For offensive production like his should be, the Astros will find a way to get him into the lineup.

Next up: mlb.com has Tyler at #13 in Houston:

After totaling 44 extra-base hits in his first three years at Western Carolina, White broke out as a senior in 2013 with 43 versus just 26 strikeouts, numbers that caught the eye of Houston’s analytics department. Area scout Tim Bittner liked his hitting ability, so the club invested a 33rd-round pick and a $1,000 bonus in White. He hit .311/.422/.489 in his first three pro seasons, finishing 2015 in Triple-A before winning the Dominican Winter League MVP award and topping the circuit in homers (seven), walks (32), on-base percentage (.421) and slugging (.494).

He’s already 25 and may not have a strong prospect pedigree, but White’s hitting ability is very real. He excels at controlling the strike zone and barreling balls. He has some strength and raw power, but his compact right-handed stroke is more geared for line drives and his ceiling might be 15 homers.

White has played primarily at third base as a pro, but he lacks the athleticism, quickness and arm strength to play there in the big leagues. His main college position was first base, and he could get at-bats there or at DH in Houston this year. He’s an all-bat guy — but it’s a very intriguing bat.

John Sickels has him at #14:

Older prospect with bad body (5-11, 225) but he can really hit and this is not a fluke, exceptional feel for the strike zone with solid average power. Main problem is finding a place to play him. Ron Coomer with more walks.

Baseball Prospectus lists him as “just interesting:”

The Astros took White in the 33rd round of the 2013 draft and gave him $1,000 as a senior sign out of Western Carolina. He’s now one of the best corner infield prospects in the system. Baseball is neat. White’s approach at the plate is outstanding, and even though he doesn’t have the prototypical power you see from a corner infielder, he can drive the ball into the gap and maybe give you 15-homer seasons at his peak. He’s not a good defender and there’s very little athleticism, but you could see him become a quality bench bat who gives lefty hurlers fits.

“Hitting ability is very real.” “All White has done is hit.” “Baseball is neat.” “Absolutely a big league hitter.” Sounds pretty positive to me!