The minor league baseball season is coming to an end, and soon the playoffs will start and awards will be given. However, there are some players that deserve their own type of recognition. Brandon Magee present the Shaq Thompson Pitching All-Stars in honor of the former Boston Red Sox draftee.
The focus on minor leaguers is usually on the great prospects ‒ hitters like Kris Bryant and Miguel Sano, pitchers like Roberto Osuna and Eduardo Rodriguez ‒ players who have been great as they have traversed the minor league landscape and have begun to make their impact in the major leagues. However, succeeding in the minor leagues is not easy. At every level, there are players struggling to hit their weight, pitchers striving to keep their ERAs in the single digits.
For some, it’s the end of the road, for others it’s just a bad year or a bad transition. In honor of former Red Sox outfielder (and current Carolina Panther) Shaq Thompson, we unveil The Shaq Thompson All-Stars, bringing to light the abysmal pitching, the unfortunate hitting and the absurd defense in minor league baseball. In today’s edition, we scour the leagues closest to the Majors, the International League and the Pacific Coast League, highlighting former Major Leaguers and struggling prospects as they struggle with throwing the baseball.
Josh Roenicke has been a reliever since entering the professional ranks in 2006. He was able to put up a 3.25 ERA in 63 relief appearances out of the Colorado Rockies bullpen in 2012. For reasons unknown to anyone ‒ including those who made the decision ‒ Roenicke was transitioned into a starter last season with the Syracuse Chiefs, and has continued to start this season with the Colorado Springs Sky Sox. In 22 games, Roenicke has put up a 5.96 ERA and a 1.74 WHIP with 15 home runs allowed, only four fewer than his entire 190 game major league career.
John Lannan had a eight year major league career, mostly with the Washington Nationals, but he has fallen on hard times this season in the PCL. Lannan, pitching for the Rockies affiliate in Albuquerque, has put up a nuclear line for the Isotopes. Over 139 innings, Lannan has given up 192 hits and 99 runs, numbers that are not likely to get him another bite at the majors next season.
Rafael Dolis has had a long road back from a 2013 injury. Dolis pitched 4 ⅓ catastrophic innings for the Fresno Grizzlies last season before being released by the San Francisco Giants organization. The Detroit Tigers gave him another shot this season and Dolis has pitched 40 games for the Toledo Mud Hens, putting up a 5.07 ERA and a 1.69 WHIP, numbers unlikely to earn him a call to Detroit this season.
A Lack of Improvement
Robbie Erlin pitched 24 games for the San Diego Padres in 2013 and 2014. Mediocre stats placed him back in AAA El Paso for this season, but this Chihuahua has been barking up the wrong tree. In his 22 starts this year, Erlin has put up a 6.04 ERA and a 1.56 WHIP. Not bad enough? Erlin has allowed a dozen more unearned runs while the opposition has launched 21 bombs off his fat pitches.
Atahualpa Severino threw 4 2/3 innings for the Washington Nationals in 2011. Although he never got another major league nibble, it wasn’t for lack of performance. A 2.81 ERA for Syracuse in 2012, a 3.60 ERA for Indianapolis and Omaha in 2013 and a 3.22 ERA for Gwinett in 2014 are certainly decent numbers for a AAA reliever. But he was stung by bad performance this season with the Salt Lake Bees. In 26 games for the Bees, Severino recorded an 8.44 ERA and a 2.18 WHIP, earning his release from the Los Angeles Angels organization in June. A month later he was picked up by a new team… in Mexico.
Taylor Hill put up a 4.35 ERA for the Syracuse Chiefs in his first nine starts of the year, earning him a promotion to the Washington Nationals bullpen. After 12 innings of relief with a superficially low ERA of 3.75 ‒ Hill allowed an OPS of .894 to the opposition ‒ Hill was placed back into the Chiefs rotation… where he has proceeded to fall apart. In eleven starts since the demotion, Hill has gone 0-8 with a 5.95 ERA while allowing opposing batters to hit .342/.391/.494.
Alex Meyer made his major league debut this year with two games out of the Minnesota Twins bullpen, allowing seven batters to reach and five to score in 2 2/3 innings. He hasn’t been that much better for the AAA Rochester Red Wings, where he has put up a WHIP of 1.67 in 34 appearances.
Matt Bowman made his AAA debut with the Las Vegas 51s last season, putting up a 3.47 ERA and a 1.29 WHIP in seven games. However, his first full season in the PCL has been a struggle. Leading the league with 15 losses, Bowman’s ERA has ballooned to 5.40 and his WHIP climbed to 1.67. It hasn’t been all bad for Bowman, he does have a complete game shutout this season.
Drew Gagnon had a fine year in AA Huntsville in 2014, earning a bump up to the Milwaukee Brewers AAA affiliate in Colorado Springs this season. The thin air was not kind to Gagnon, who put up a 6.93 ERA and walked one more batter than he struck out in 20 appearances for the Sky Sox. Gagnon was recently sent back to AA, where he continues to struggle for the Biloxi Shuckers.
Keith Couch had a banner 2014, leading the Portland Sea Dogs to a playoff spot, and helping the Pawtucket Red Sox to the International League title with a scoreless 6 2/3 inning start in his first AAA start – the final game of the Governors’ Cup final versus the Durham Bulls. But his first full season has been nothing to write home about. In 24 games for the PawSox in 2015, Couch has put up a league worst ERA of 6.24.
Boone Whiting started the year with the Memphis Redbirds, putting up a 7.77 ERA in 22 innings. Released by the Cardinals in late May, the Colorado Rockies picked him up four days later, assigning him to the Albuquerque Isotopes. Whiting hasn’t been quite as radioactive in the desert, posting a 5.43 ERA and a 1.79 WHIP.
Mike Kickham had fifteen problematic appearances in the major leagues for the San Francisco Giants in 2013 and 2014. A fantastic journey in the off-season led him to the Seattle Mariners via the Chicago Cubs and Giants, where he started five games for the Tacoma Rainiers, allowing 17 runs on 18 hits, and an abominable 28 walks. Kicked to the curb by Seattle, Kickham was scooped up by the Texas Rangers, where he pitched seven games in relief for the Round Rock Express. Seven walks in six innings were all the Rangers needed to see, giving Kickham his walking papers.
Mike Belfiore became a success in the Baltimore Orioles system after a switch to the bullpen, earning a brief cup of coffee with the Orioles in 2013. Claimed off of waivers by the Detroit Tigers in 2014, the Tigers transitioned him into the starting rotation in July, where he experienced a decent amount of success. The success did not last into 2015, where he put up an ERA of 5.60 for the Toledo Mud Hens in 22 starts. Released by the Tigers, the Orioles recently picked him up yet again and placed him in the starting rotation in Norfolk.
The Invisible Debut
Eddie Gamboa spent two days on the Baltimore Orioles roster in April ‒ not that anyone will ever know it. Gamboa never entered a game in his time with the Orioles and is still waiting to make his major league debut. Given the 30-year old’s season with the Norfolk Tides, his opportunity may have been swept out to sea. In 24 appearances, Gamboa has put up a record of 8-10. While his ERA of 4.36 is not particularly disastrous, walking 83 while striking out 76 is usually a death knell to a call-up.
Being a utility fielder is not as easy as Brock Holt makes it seem. Steve Lombardozzi has played flawlessly this season in the outfield for the Indianapolis Indians and has not erred in his two games at first. The rest of the infield has not been so kind. Lombardozzi has racked up ten errors in only 14 games at second base, ten more errors at third base ‒ where he has played just 18 times ‒ and one error at shortstop in a single game there, for a total of 21 around the horn.
Taylor Motter has also had his issues patrolling multiple positions. Motter has picked up nine errors in 24 games at third, five in 57 games in right field and two in eight games at shortstop for the Durham Bulls.
The Charlotte Knights have a multi-faceted error maker in Leury Garcia: In 43 games at shortstop, Garcia racked up an impressive 13 errors. Garcia also totalled six errors in 32 games patrolling the outfield.
The Yankees AAA affiliate in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre has had all types of problems with second base defense. The teams has committed 30 total errors at second base with hot hitting prospect Rob Refsnyder leading the team with 18 miscues.
Jett Bandy has had some troubles backstopping the Salt Lake Bees this season. In 82 games behind the plate for the Bees, Bandy has committed seven errors, four passed balls and allowed 66 runners to successfully steal a base. Teammate Charlie Cutler was even worse. In 19 games, Cutler committed three errors, was charged with three passed balls and allowed 21 runners to take an additional base. Cutler was released in July and has moved onto the independent leagues, playing for the Lancaster Barnstormers of the Atlantic League.
Outfield is not usually a place where errors are accumulated. But don’t tell that to the Sacramento River Cats, who have recorded an astonishing 31 outfield errors. Jarrett Parker leads the three-ring circus with ten. Juan Perez is not too far behind, posting nine in only 72 games. And centerfielder Darren Ford has picked up an impressive six in the spot reserved for the supposed best defender in the outfield.
In the following weeks we will continue to explore the sub-basements and underground bunkers looking at the prospects who have failed to produce through all of minor league baseball. In our next installments, the focus will turn to AA, highlighting the lowlights of the Eastern, Southern and Texas Leagues.