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

Advertisements

Updates on Copeland, Liberatore, and Leathersich

The Valley League has seen three former players make their major league debuts so far in the 2015 season: Scott Copeland (Staunton 2007), Adam Liberatore (Waynesboro 2007-08), and Jack Leathersich (Haymarket 2009).*

* Interesting that two of the three won VBL titles- Liberatore in ’07 and Leathersich in ’09*

Scott Copeland Toronto headshot

Copeland

The fun part is that all three pitchers have been effective- to different levels of effectiveness, sure, but still effective- in their stints with their major league clubs.

Copeland has only pitched in two games (through Wednesday, May 20) for the Toronto Blue Jays, but has not allowed a run. Overall, he’s 0-0, 0.00, and has allowed 2 hits and 2 walks in 3 innings pitched. So his WHIP is 1.333, but the point of pitching is to keep the other guys from scoring, so he’s done his job.

Liberatore was poached by new Dodgers’ president of operations Andrew Friedman, who traded for the former Tampa Bay Ray after Friedman left the Rays. Adam has been outstanding since his callup in the middle of April. Overall, he’s 0-1, 1.64 in 12 games and 11 innings pitched. He’s allowed only 5 hits and 1 walk, while

Liberatore

Liberatore

striking out 11. If Liberatore keeps pitching like this, he’ll be with the major league club all year for sure, and have an excellent chance of breaking Spring Training camp next March.

Leathersich seems to have filled in the role for the Mets that Josh Edgin (Winchester 2007) filled last year- a lefty reliever to equalize left handed batters. Jack has pitched in 5 games, but has only completed 3 innings. He’s allowed 3 hits, 0 runs, 2 walks, and struck out 2. His WHIP is high, at 1.667, but again, like Copeland, he’s not allowed a run, so he’s doing his job.

Hopefully all three will stay in the majors the rest of the year, and keep putting up solid numbers!

Leathersich

Leathersich

Dennick Has Great Outing

Ryan Dennick 2014 CincinnatiRyan Dennick (Fauquier 2008) was last seen in these pages when he made his major league debut in September 2014.

He’s been busy since then. First of all, after his debut with the Cincinnati Reds, they designated him for assignment after only two appearances for the Reds’ Triple-A affiliate this spring. (He was on the 40-man roster at that point, if I remember correctly, and the Reds needed to clear some space.)

The Dodgers swooped in and claimed Ryan on waivers on April 15th of this year, and assigned him to Tulsa, the team’s Double-A affiliate in the Texas League.

Ryan got banged around a little bit in two early appearances, but on May 15th, Ryan had a tremendous outing against Arkansas, the Angels’ Double-A franchise. Showing that his stuff can still be overpowering, Ryan came in the game in the 7th inning and proceeded to strike out 7 batters in a row… almost. There was one hit thrown in there, but Dennick earned all 7 outs by strikeout. Tulsa went on to lose, 1-0, but it surely wasn’t Ryan’s fault.

In the entire 2015 season so far, Ryan is now 1-0, 3.63, with 17 hits, only 2 walks, and 23 strikeouts in 17 1/3 innings. I would not be surprised if Ryan got a few more innings in the major leagues at some point in 2015!

Liberatore Makes Major League Debut!

Adam Liberatore LA DodgersHere at ATVL, we celebrate whenever a former player from the Valley makes the major leagues, and last night, Adam Liberatore (Waynesboro 2007-08) did just that- he pitched the 9th inning for the Dodgers in their 7-3 victory against the Colorado Rockies.

Adam was drafted in the 21st round of the 2010 draft by the Tampa Bay Rays, and slowly worked his way up to Triple-A Durham before being traded to the Dodgers this offseason. (Not a surprise, since former Tampa Bay head man Andrew Friedman moved to the Dodgers himself.) Adam had pitched 2 innings in Triple-A this season before getting the call.

Just one more success story out of the Valley! Congrats Adam!

News on Beachy, Leathersich

Two quick hits this evening:

  • The Los Angeles Dodgers have signed Brandon Beachy (Woodstock 2008) as a free agent. The Atlanta Braves decided to “nontender” Brandon, which basically means that they declined to offer him arbitration. The Dodgers clearly have signed Brandon for extra rotation help when he returns from his *gulp* second Tommy John surgery last spring. The Dodgers have placed him on the 60-day disabled list.
  • If you haven’t checked out fangraphs.com, dear reader, you need to remedy the situation ASAP. On Sunday, Jack Leathersich Mets uniformDavid Laurila wrote a piece on former Valley Leaguer Jack Leathersich (Haymarket 2009), who will probably get a call to the majors in 2015. Among other things, he said this about Jack:

Leathersich is deceptive and has a nasty slider to go with an above-average fastball, so the potential is there to become a bullpen cog at Citi Field. Why he’s been unable to master his command remains the million-dollar question, and the answer extends beyond the physical.

Make sure you head on over and check out the whole article!

Valley League Transactions

Only five transactions to report from the slow time over the holidays:

Tekotte in 2013 with the White Sox

Tekotte in 2013 with the White Sox

1. The Boston Red Sox have signed Blake Tekotte (Woodstock 2006) as a free agent. Blake has played in 50 games in the major leagues, most recently in 2013 with the Chicago White Sox. Originally, he was 3rd round draft pick in 2008 by the San Diego Padres.

2. The Los Angeles Dodgers have signed Pat Christensen (Harrisonburg 2011), who was recently released by the Houston Astros. Pat was drafted in the 27th round in 2013 by the Astros, but was released after the 2014 season. In his minor league career, he’s struck out 84 batters in 81 2/3 innings, so I’m not surprised that he’s getting a second chance.

3. The Tampa Bay Rays have signed Joey Butler (New Market 2006) as a free agent. Joey was drafted by the Texas Rangers in the 27th round in 2008. He reached Arlington in 2013, playing in 8 games for the Rangers. He was then signed by the Cardinals, and got 5 at-bats in St. Louis in 2014. After those 5 at-bats, Joey was released so he could sign with Orix in the Japanese League, where he hit 231/379/385 in 66 plate appearances. Now he’s back, and will attempt to make the Rays’ major league team out of spring training.

4. The New York Yankees have signed Eddy Rodriguez (Luray 2006-07) as a free agent. Eddy got a surprise call up with the Padres in 2012, and ripped a home run in his very first major league at-bat. Eddy will most likely play in the minors in 2015.

5. The San Diego Padres have released Josh Richardson (Covington 2009). Josh, who played for Liberty in college, was a 26th round draft pick in 2013. In 53 total games in the minors, Josh went 2-3, 4.74, with a 1.569 WHIP, 3.4 BB/9, and 7.7 K/9.

Liberatore Named Tampa Bay Org All-Star

Adam pitching for the Generals in 2008

Adam pitching for the Generals in 2008

The website from minor league baseball (milb.com) has listed the best performances at each position for each organization this offseason, and a few former Valley Leaguers have been mentioned.

We are nearing the end of the list; in fact, today’s post is the second-to-last. Milb.com and writer John Parker have named former Waynesboro General (2007-08) Adam Liberatore as the relief pitcher of the year for the Tampa Bay Rays. Adam was a critical piece of the Waynesboro championship season in 2007.

He was also great in 2014. This is what Parker wrote about Adam:

The Rays farm system had a number of strong candidates for top reliever, but Liberatore’s statistics really leap out. The 27-year-old lefty went 6-1 with a 1.66 ERA, held International League hitters to a .187 average, and struck out 86 while walking just 15 over 65 innings.

The numbers are even more ridiculous following the Triple-A All-Star break: 3-0, 0.40 ERA, .113 average against in 18 appearances. Liberatore, a 21st-round pick out of Tennessee Tech in 2010, was just as effective against righties as lefties, though he was far more likely to induce ground balls from the latter. A key contributor to Durham’s success, Liberatore was dealt to the Dodgers in November.

Yes, indeed, Liberatore was traded to the Dodgers, and his new organization added him to their 40-man roster. I think Adam has a real shot at making the big league club in spring training!

At any rate, congratulations on the excellent year, Adam!