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Pack in the Pros: Baseball Edition

As many as three former Pack hurlers could see time in The Show as soon as next year, and that is not even including Carlos Rodon.

This picture has a point. Really. Read to the end!
This picture has a point. Really. Read to the end!
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

The minor league baseball season is over, so it's time to see how former Pack players did down on the farm. As with the recent Pack in the Pros football edition, players are listed alphabetically with the year and round they were drafted in parentheses.

Aaron Bates (‘06/3rd): Now 29, the well-traveled Bates is still chasing the dream. He has hit .311/.403/.418 with Sugar Land of the independent Atlantic League, which is actually still churning out regular season games. Bates was the league's player of the month in August. Maybe he'll latch on to a AAA roster again next year.

Jake Buchanan (‘10/8th): The most likely former Pack player to become the next Pack player to make The Show, Buchanan split the season between AA/AAA, finishing up 12-7 with a 2.96 ERA in 158 and 1/3 innings. Buchanan's strength is his command (1.3 BB/9), but the biggest knock on him as a prospect is his extremely low strikeout rate (5.6/9). Only six MLB starters with enough innings to qualify for the ERA title have an equal or lower rate, but several of those guys have been pretty successful anyway. Take a look:

  • Ageless Wonder Bartolo Colon (15-6, 2.85 ERA, 5 K/9)
  • Jeremy Guthrie (14-10, 4.11 ERA, 4.8 K/9)
  • Mike Leake (13-6, 3.35 ERA, 5.6 K/9)

Greg Maddux won 355 games with an 88-90 mph fastball and a career strikeout rate of 6.1/9, so a big fastball and lots of swings and misses is not the only path to success on the mound. Buchanan, who should make his MLB debut next year, is not going to be the next Maddux, but it is plausible that he could post numbers like any of the three gentlemen above.

Chris Diaz (‘12/11th): Limited to 42 games due to injury, Diaz sputtered a bit offensively, hitting just .239/.316/.321. His time was split pretty evenly between shortstop and second and third base, suggesting that the Pirates are grooming him for a utility role. If he can stay healthy and improve his on-base skills, Diaz has a chance to be a 25th man someday.

Jonathan Diaz (‘06/12th): Chris's big brother finally saw his years of toil in the minor leagues pay off, as he got a cup of coffee with the Red Sox earlier this year. He went hitless in four at bats but did manage to cross the plate twice, including a game-winning run. Foot touching plate in Fenway = priceless.

Diaz had his usual year in the minors, displaying good on-base skills (.358 OBP) and an extreme lack of power (.316 SLG). The versatile, slick-fielding infielder will presumably be back in AAA next year to serve as some club's insurance policy.

Josh Easley (‘13/23rd): One would be hard-pressed to find a more dominate season than the one enjoyed by the Muskogee, OK native and BTP reader. Easley won seven games for the College World Series bound Pack, second most on the team, while posting a 1.38 ERA. He was even better over three stops in the minors, finishing a perfect 5-0 with a 0.59 ERA and four saves. Easley struck out 43 batters over 30 2/3 innings in the minors, a rate of 12.6/9. Combining hits, hit batters, and walks, he was responsible for just 20 base runners, so he was more than twice as likely to strike you out than to let you get on base. That's just crazy.

If there is a knock on Easley it's that the 22-year-old was a bit old for the levels of competition he faced. Over 70% of the batters he faced were younger than him, and while he did well against all competition, he was particularly nasty against those young pups, holding them to an anemic .117/.160/.169 triple slash line. Easley jumped from rookie ball all the way to the Florida State League in short order, leaving him just one rung below AA, the level that is typically the proving ground for prospects. He should reach AA next season; if his fastball-slider combo holds up well there, Easley would appear to be ticketed for a set-up role in the Marlins' pen by 2015.

If he doesn't make it, it won't be for lack of intelligence. Easley made the ACC Academic Honor Roll during all three of his seasons at State (and he was one of 11 players from the CWS team honored this year).

James Gillheeney (‘09/8th): Gillheeney posted a 9-9 record with a 4.18 ERA, spending most of the year at AA but reaching AAA for the first time in his career. The lefty's peripherals had typically been a bit better than his career minor league ERA of 4.58 suggests, and he has pitched in some pretty tough environments (CALL, PCL), but this year he suffered a steep, concerning drop in K rate (5.4/9 compared to 7.9/9 for his career). Prior to this year, I thought he had a chance to break out and be a back of the rotation starter or swing man, but he may be destined to spend whatever remains of his professional career as an organizational arm. Gillheeney's biggest problem is his tendency to give up the long ball (1.2/9) and his inability to get lefties out well enough to have a shot as a situational reliever. Lefties (.767 OPS) actually hit him better than righties (.753) this year.

Of course Jamie Moyer had reverse splits, did not strike out anyone, gave up a shitload of home runs (the most of anyone, ever, actually), and won 241 games from his age 26 season through the end of his career. So there you have it: Gillheeney, who is entering his age 26 season in 2014, is the next Moyer. (I was probably kidding there, so don't waste your time pointing out that Moyer was lights out in the minors, something J.G. has not been.)

Ryan Mathews (‘12/27th): Mathews skipped from rookie ball last year to full-season A ball and batted a respectable .260/.337/.446 with 14 dingers and 55 RBI. His rate of runs created was 20% above the Midwest League average and he had respectable walk (9.5%) and strikeout (20.8%) rates for a guy who hits with power. However, Mathews is already 24 and 409 of his 472 plate appearances came against younger competition. He really needs to destroy high A pitching next April and May and get himself to AA with the quickness if he is going to appear on the radar as a prospect. He did post a superb .903 OPS over the final month of the season, so his performance is trending in the right direction.

Pratt Maynard (‘11/3rd): Speaking of ending the season on a high note, Maynard scuffled mightily in May and June but showed some life down the stretch. He hit .236/.345/.417 in July and .255/.406/.327 in August. For the season, Maynard posted a .246/.360/.381 line. The power he showed in college has not translated to the pro level, but he continues to get on base. Impressively, he drew walks in 14.7% of his plate appearances (and had an identical strikeout rate), and his low BABIP (.275) suggest that he could see jumps in average and OBP going forward.

Catchers are notorious late developers, and lefty-swinging backstops with on-base skills do not exactly grown on trees. At worst, Maynard could surface as an MLB backup someday, and the fact that he hit lefties (.825 OPS) better than righties (.723) last year bodes well for his potential to be an everyday player.

Cory Mazzoni (‘11/2nd): It was a bit of a lost season for Mazzoni, who made just 12 starts thanks to a torn meniscus that required season-ending surgery. The hard-throwing righty was 5-3 with a 4.36 ERA, but he pitched much better than his ERA suggests. He struck out 10.1 per nine, walked just 2.6/9, and was stingy with the long ball (0.5 HR/9). A high BABIP (.361) and ridiculously unfortunate LOB rate (56.2%) made his ERA probably at least a run higher than it would have been with even average luck.

Mazzoni will be back on the mound in the Arizona Fall League; his inclusion shows not only that he is healthy but also that the Mets think a lot of him as a prospect. It would not be the least bit surprising to see Mazzoni surface in Flushing Meadows in 2014.

Harold Riggins (‘11/7th): Riggins is an aberration. You are not supposed to be even remotely productive when striking out in 40% of your plate appearances, but seemingly unsustainably high BABIP rates have made his overall numbers look pretty decent. After tearing up the SALLY last year, Riggins took a step back in 2013 but still hit .247/.353/.472 with 22 dingers. He hit an even .400 on balls in play. You just can't sustain that. Or maybe Riggins can. His BABIP in rookie ball was .419, and he hit .385 on balls in play in the SALLY. In now over 1,100 minor league plate appearances, Riggins has shown a remarkable ability to hit the shit out of the ball or miss it completely. There is no middle ground.

If he ever trims the strikeouts and refines his glove work-he made an unsightly 17 errors at first base-Riggins' power will make him a legitimate prospect. He could carve out a career on the short side of a platoon at DH/1B; Riggins posted a .954 OPS against lefties this year. And if he maintains his August production (.338/.400/.618) over a full season, look out!

Alex Sogard (‘10/26th): The PCL ate Sogard up and spit him out to the tune of a 9.39 ERA. His WHIP was over two, and he walked (19) the same number of batters he fanned (19). No bueno. He was much better in AA (2.88 ERA), he is still left handed, and he still has a pulse.

Eric Surkamp (‘08/6th): Surkamp, that ugly 23.63 ERA in his lone Big League start notwithstanding, seems to have made it all the way back from TJS. He was 7-1 with a 2.80 ERA in two minor league stops, with most of that work coming at AAA. Barry Zito's unfortunate contract is finally at its end, Tim Lincecum is a free agent, Ryan Vogelsong sucks, and, despite his near-perfecto, journeyman Yusmeiro Petit is not likely long for the rotation. Surkamp could break camp in the Giants' rotation next year.

Andrew Taylor (‘08/34th): Taylor beat the odds and made The Show for a brief stint last September with the Angels, during which time he posted an unfortunate 11.57 ERA. He missed all of this year with a torn labrum, an injury that has a much lower successful return rate than TJS. There is certainly no guarantee that he will ever get a shot to lower that career ERA.

Anthony Tzamtzis (‘13/32nd): Tzamtzis is who we thought he is. He walked 6.4/9, hit three batters, and uncorked four wild pitches in 19 2/3 innings split between rookie ball and the New York-Penn League. Those are more like California Penal League numbers.

Kyle Wilson (‘10/24th): Despite twice getting drafted, Wilson never played in the minors. But he is still one of life's winners. This is his girlfriend.