The St. Louis Cardinals have taken seven players out of the state of Maine since the June amateur draft was instituted in 1965. None of them have reached the big leagues. Trejyn Fletcher is looking to change that. Selected 58th overall last summer out of Portland’s Deering High School, the tooled-up outfielder is No. 10 on our Cardinals Top Prospects list.
Scouting Fletcher — St. Louis’s first ever prep selection from the Pine Tree State — was unique challenge. He’d arrived on their radar in 2018 while playing in the East Coast Pro and Area Code Games showcases, but that was as an underclass invitee. Cardinals scouts were impressed by Fletcher, but with a plethora of draft-eligible players to assess, their focus was elsewhere.
That changed the following March when St. Louis learned that Fletcher had been reclassified and would be eligible for the upcoming draft. That left three months to more-intently assess a player now competing in a wholly-different environment. In charge of those efforts was Assistant GM Randy Flores, whose title includes Director of Scouting.
“As you know, the scouting format for players in the Northeast is different than it is in warmer regions,” said Flores. “In particular, the level of competition Tre was facing. That, along with the limited amount of fair weather before the draft, makes it difficult to accumulate spring at-bats that mirror evaluation periods of Southern California prospects.”
Flores and Co. embraced that challenge. Along the way, they discovered that Maine contains more than raw-but-talented athletes. The state is flush with culinary delights… and not just fresh lobster.
“We were able to have our national crosscheckers and special assistants take a late spring look,” explained Flores. “Positive reports were returned on both Tre and the seafood. I differed in that I came away impressed with the Mexican food. I love Mexican food. Actually, it’s beyond love; it’s more like an obsession when I’m on the road. Nothing was going to get in the way of finding a Mexican dinner.”
Nor would anything get in the way of hiS eye-balling an uber-athletic teenager — Fletcher turned 19 last week — whom Eric Longenhagen has described as having a sky-high ceiling. But while the springtime looks were valuable, they primarily added an extra layer of context. What Flores’s scouting staff had seen on the showcase circuit held more weight.
“When we gathered for our pre-draft meetings and discussed Tre, we referenced his summer, as we do for all players,” explained Flores. “Right or wrong, fair or unfair, the summer for high school players factors in considerably when gaining context — even more so players from cold regions or [against] poor competition.”
Diving into those scouting notes, the decision-makers were impressed with how Fletcher had stacked up against showcase arms. Especially notable were aggressive at-bats against the likes of Brennan Malone, whom the Diamondbacks would go on to draft in the first round, and Matt Allan, who would fall to the Mets in the third round due to signability concerns.
Fletcher was a signability concern, as well. He’d committed to a collegiate powerhouse.
“There was certainly acknowledgement of considerable risk,” admitted Flores. “But given the developmental headwinds he’d already overcome in his young career to get on the radar of both Vanderbilt and the pro scouting community, he was at a good place on our board. Whether or not there would be a fit would have to play itself out during the draft.”
The efforts — replete with lobster and surprisingly-succulent Mexican — paid off. Fletcher was still available when St. Louis’s second-round pick rolled around, and the Cardinals pounced. Shortly thereafter, Fletcher agreed to a $1.5M signing bonus and was sent to the Gulf Coast League. After just nine games, he was promoted to rookie-level Johnson City. If all goes to plan, he’ll one day become the first Cardinals’ draftee from Maine to play in St. Louis.
Blaine McCormick might be best described a fast riser in the broadcast ranks. A 23-year-old graduate of Arizona State’s Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, McCormick was hired by the Double-A Richmond Flying Squirrels this past off-season after just one year at the professional level. He spent last summer calling games for the Boise Hawks in the rookie-level Northwest League.
McCormick’s ascent hit a speed bump recently. And he’s not alone. With baseball on hold — moreover, with the entire season threatened — broadcasters throughout the minors are finding themselves on the sidelines. As the radio voice of a Midwest League team described it, “Quite a few are being furloughed; No. 2 broadcasters, I think, have no chance.”
McCormick is a No. 2, having been brought on board to work alongside Trey Wilson, a veteran of seven minor-league seasons behind the mic. As Richmond’s director of broadcasting, Wilson had interviewed the Grand Junction, Colorado native during the winter meetings. A few weeks later, the job was offered and accepted. McCormick moved to Richmond in mid-February.
His belongings are still there, packed away in a storage facility. McCormick is back home with his family, hoping there’s a season to return to.
Again, he’s not alone. A number of broadcasters I’ve contacted in recent days are either furloughed or have friends in the business not collecting paychecks. And they aren’t all No. 2s. A few of them are established lead voices, one of whom has been with his current team for over a decade.
In terms of job security, seniority is seemingly trumped by association. A smattering of affiliates are owned by their deep-pocketed parent clubs, which allows for a little more cushion. A play-by-play voice on one such team told me that everyone on staff will be paid through the end of this month. Hopefully longer, if necessary.
There’s an opposite extreme that extends beyond independent ownership itself. More than three dozen teams are being threatened by contraction. As one longtime broadcaster put it, “They’re in a particularly awkward situation; they don’t even know if there will be a team to go back to.”
McCormick is fortunate in that he will have a team to go back to. When that happens is the question. He’s optimistic that it will be this year, but like the rest of us, he can only hope. In the meantime, he’s not getting paid.
RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS
Dylan Cease came into spring training with a goal of cutting out the cut. Last season, the Chicago White Sox right-hander had a tendency to get too rotational on his front side, which caused his fastball to move differently than intended. Cease worded it this way when I talked to him in Glendale days before camps were shut down: “I wasn’t trying to throw cutters, but they were turning into cutters. What I wanted was ride, and that’s the main thing I’m honed in on right now.”
Cease believes there were instances where the unintended cut was effective, but those were the exceptions rather than the rule. To his mind, the most damaging aspect of that inefficiency was a lack of location; the cut was causing him to not hit his spots consistently. The numbers suggest as much. Cease logged a 5.79 ERA and a 5.15 FIP over the initial 73 innings of his big-league career.
He feels those demons have been exorcised. It took effort — “I wouldn’t describe it as a simple fix, because you have to retrain your body” — but as of our heading-into-mid-March conversation, the cutting had been minimized. Ride was winning out.
A trivia question:
Ted Williams led the American League in RBIs in three of his first six Red Sox seasons. Which other Red Sox player did this?
The answer can be found after News Items.
César Brioso, Roberta J. Newman, and Christopher Phillips were honored with SABR’s 2020 Baseball Research awards. Information on their award-winning books can be found here.
Rich Hacker, who appeared in 16 games with the Montreal Expos in 1971, died late last month at age 82. An infielder during his playing days, he went on to become a scout, coach, and manager. His uncle, Warren Hacker, pitched for four teams from 1948-1961.
Our friends at Baseball-Reference.com launched a new research tool this past Monday. Stathead will replace Play Index, which was introduced in 2010.
Matt Keough, who pitched for five teams over nine big-league seasons, has reportedly died at age 64. Keough’s best year was 1980, when he logged a 2.92 ERA while throwing 20 complete gams with the Oakland A’s. His father, Marty Keough, and uncle, Joe Keough, were big-league outfielders.
The answer to the quiz is Jackie Jensen.Acquired by the Red Sox from the Washington Senators prior to the 1954 season, Jensen led the American League in RBIs in 1955, 1958, and 1959. The under-appreciated outfielder drove in an average of 111 runs over his first six seasons in Boston. He copped A.L. MVP honors in 1958.
The Athletic’s Andy McCollough and Rustin Dodd recently collaborated on a list that was dubbed The 30 greatest songs of all time. The article was a fun read, and despite what I consider to have been a few swings and misses, the duo displayed good musical taste.
What would my own list look like? I’m not going to go 30 deep, but I will offer a Top 10 (with McCullough and Dodd’s rankings in parentheses).
1. “Past Time” — The Baseball Project (NA)
2. “Talking Baseball” — Terry Cashman (3)
3. “Dock Ellis” — SF Seals/Barbara Manning (NA)
4. “Tessie” — Dropkick Murphys (8)
5. “Ballad of Rey Ordonez” — Isotopes Punk Rock Baseball Club (NA)
6. “A Dying Cubs Fan’s Last Request” — Steve Goodman (NA)
7. “Say Hey (The Willie Mays Song)” — The Treniers (7)
8. “Did You See Jackie Robinson Hit That Ball?” — Count Basie (NA)
9. “Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio” — Les Brown & His Orchestra (18)
10. “Bill Lee” — Warren Zevon (24)
Let’s compare three Brooklyn/Los Angeles pitchers:
* Clayton Kershaw has pitched 12 seasons with the Dodgers. He has 169 wins, a 157 ERA+, 64.5 fWAR, and has led the NL ins strikeouts three times.
* Sandy Koufax pitched 12 seasons with the Dodgers. He had 165 wins, a 130 ERA+, 54.5 fWAR, and led the NL in strikeouts four times.
* Dazzy Vance pitched 12 seasons with the Dodgers. He had 190 wins, a 129 ERA+, 56.5 fWAR, and led the NL in strikeouts seven times.
The Koufax-Vance comp is intriguing to me for two reasons. The first is that Koufax was a few months short of his 31st birthday when he pitched his last game, while Vance turned 31 before climbing a mound with the Dodgers.
The second reason? I think it could be argued that Vance had the better career. While Koufax obviously had an iconic six-season stretch, Vance’s seven strikeout titles were consecutive, and in one of those years he had 262 punch outs while the league’s runner up had just 135. The Orient, Iowa native led the senior circuit in ERA three times, in FIP seven times, and like Koufax has an MVP award on his resume. Vance was elected to the Hall of Fame in his 17th year on the ballot.
LINKS YOU’LL LIKE
At the Monterey (CA) Herald, Lewis Abraham Leader wrote about Rachel Luba, who at age 27 is one of just a handful of women certified as an agent by the Major League Baseball Players Association.
Over at The Athletic, Andy McCollough wrote about the time Dock Ellis went into a game against the Cincinnati Reds intending to hit every batter he faced… and he nearly did.
Harrisburg, Pennsylvani’a Susquehanna Art Museum is featuring an exhibit titled, “Separate and Unequaled: Celebrating the 100th anniversary of The Negro League.” M. Diane McCormick has the story at The Burgh.
RANDOM FACTS AND STATS
George Kell and Harvey Kuenn both played 15 seasons and made 10 All-Star appearances. Kell had 2,054 hits, 513 extra-base hits, and a .306 batting average. Kuenn had 2,092 hits, 499 extra-base hits, and a .303 batting average.
Brian Giles had 466 plate appearances and 227 total bases versus the St. Louis Cardinals. He had 464 plate appearances and 227 total bases versus the Cincinnati Reds.
In 1940, Yankees outfielder Charlie Keller scored 102 runs, struck out 65 times, and walked 106 times. In 1941, Keller scored 102 runs, struck out 65 times, and walked 102 times.
Babe Ruth hit the first of his 714 home runs on May 6, 1915. Ruth pitched a complete game that day as the Red Sox lost to the Yankees 4-3 in 13 innings.
Players born on this date include Hall of Fame pitcher Red Ruffing, who on May 6, 1930 was traded by the Red Sox to the Yankees. Ruffing had gone 39-96 with Boston. His record with New York was 231-124.
Legendary television personality Ed Sullivan captained his high school baseball team and was a sports reporter for the New York Evening Mail before getting into radio, and later TV.