Mitch Harris is known for his back story. The 30-year-old righthander was drafted by the Cardinals in 2008, but he didn’t throw his first professional pitch until 2013. The interim years were spent protecting Uncle Sam. Harris did two tours of duty in the Persian Gulf and another off the coast of Colombia, where his ship helped curtail drug-smuggling operations.
Last year, Harris became the second graduate of the Naval Academy to reach the big leagues. (Nemo Gaines pitched in four games for the Washington Senators in 1921.) Harris came out of the St. Louis bullpen 26 times and put up a 3.67 ERA over 27 innings.
A 6-foot-4, 235 lb. power pitcher, Harris relies heavily on a mid-90s fastball and a cutter. He began throwing the latter during his sophomore season with the Midshipmen, on the recommendation of his pitching coach.
Keeping your deliveries sharp isn’t easy when you’re on a boat halfway across the world, although Harris did occasionally throw to a cook on the flight deck. Following the MLB hitters he hoped to one day face was also a challenge. As Harris put it, “It’s not as though I could turn on the TV and get any channel; it was more of whether the ship was in the right direction to get a satellite.”
Now that he’s in the big leagues, the righty has access to all the video he could possibly want. Initially, he used ignorance to his advantage.
“When I came back, I didn’t always have an idea of who I was facing,” said Harris. “There was no… I don’t like to use the word fear, so I guess you could say I wasn’t nervous to face anybody. I just saw a guy in a box and knew that if I did my job, I was going to get him out.”
Given what he experienced in his time away from the game, anxiety isn’t going to be an issue.
“I love to be in tough situations,” Harris told me. “I don’t get as hyped up, as overly excited, as maybe a lot of people do. I don’t feel this rush of emotion when I’m out there on the mound. I’m able to just focus on the job at hand and get hitters out. That’s my duty.”
This is Anthony Seratelli’s third, and possibly final, appearance in my Sunday Notes column. In March 2014, I wrote about his chances of breaking camp with the Mets. Eight months later, the subject was his decision to spend a season in Japan.
On Wednesday, Seratelli announced that he was hanging up his spikes. Thirty-two years old and having never fulfilled his dream of playing in the big leagues, it was time to go home.
Tears were shed.
“It was very emotional,” admitted Seratelli. “We had a family dinner, and while I’d talked to them about it over the winter, when I finally said, ‘Look, I’m officially done,’ I choked up. I teared up a little, and there were some hugs. Baseball was a huge part of my life for a long time.”
Seratelli overachieved. Bypassed by all 30 teams after graduating from Seton Hall in 2005, he played a year of independent ball before being signed by the Royals as a non-drafted free agent. Playing all over the field, he ultimately topped out in Triple-A, where he slashed .284/.385/.443 over three seasons
Despite being melancholy about moving on, Seratelli doesn’t feel his life would be all that different had he gotten a cup of coffee. His own Moonlight Graham moment would have been “a little cooler story to tell at a cocktail party,” but all in all, he’s satisfied with his baseball experience. The focus is now on the future.
“I plan to continue to build on my production company,” said Seratelli. “Thankfully, I have my new career to distract me from this retirement process. I’d probably be really out of sorts if I didn’t. I look forward to making people look good on camera.”
Seratelli saw a player in Japan who makes opposing batters look bad. Here is his capsule assessment of 21-year-old pitching phenom Shohei Otani:
“First, he’s an amazing specimen. He’s very tall, very long (6-foot-4) and his velocity is unbelievable. He also has control of his off-speed stuff. For someone his age, he’s very impressive. I would anticipate seeing him over here shortly.”
Rob Kaminsky had one of the best curveballs in his draft class when he was selected 28th overall by St. Louis in 2013. A few short years later, the 21-year-old southpaw is struggling to regain command of the pitch in the Indians organization. Cleveland acquired Kaminsky last summer in exchange for Brandon Moss.
In what Kaminsky calls a Catch-22, the Cardinals emphasized changeup development in his first professional season. The result was “a leap forward” for his change-of-pace, and “a step back” for his bender.
The step back was steep. According to this year’s Baseball America Prospect Handbook, Kaminsky has become “more of a sinker/slider pitcher as a pro.”
They’re right about the sinker. The lefty added a two-seam fastball to his repertoire last year — “I’m probably 70-30 four-seams now, but I used to be 100-0” — and it’s turning into an effective offering for him. His two-seamer is “always three mph off from my four— it’s always slower — but it gets that downward depth.”
But he’s never thrown a slider.
“I’m a curveball guy, but my curveball hasn’t been very good the last two years,” admitted Kaminsky. “Don’t get me wrong, there were some flashes last season where it was a good 11-to-5 power curveball. But there were also times where I couldn’t throw it how I wanted; it was slidery and not very good.”
Kaminsky is working hard to get the feel back on his hook, and believes he made great strides over the offseason. He’s also focused on fine-tuning his delivery.
“I’ve never been perfectly aligned to the plate — I used to be pretty closed off — but I’ve improved that,” said Kaminsky. “I’m learning about my body and my mechanics. I’m finally becoming a man and figuring myself out. And the Indians have been awesome. This is an unbelievable pitching organization. I’m anxious to get back on the bump.”
The Angels have the best player on the planet, and while they lack depth behind him, Mike Trout does have some help. Albert Pujols is in his decline phase, but he did go deep 40 times last year. Andrelton Simmons is as good as it gets defensively. Kole Calhoun (3.8 WAR) is underrated. Garrett Richards is likewise better than many people realize. Mike Scioscia’s squad has enough talent to make a run at an American League West title in 2016.
As for talent coming up through the farm system, that’s another story. The aforementioned Baseball America Prospect Handbook — a publication I greedily devour every year — didn’t pull any punches when assessing Anaheim’s pipeline. Here is what BA had to say:
“Disclaimer: Side affects of reading through the entire Angels Top 30 may include drowsiness and an upset stomach. The Angels have an emaciated farm system devoid of impact talent, with mostly spare parts who could fill in as role players.”
I held back a few quotes when I put together this past week’s Current Players Who are Future Managers article. In most cases, it was because the respondent addressed the hiring practice itself, but didn’t name a player. Then there was this quote, which I felt merited some extra attention:
Andrew Miller: “I’ve been blown away by Alex Rodriguez. Does he have any desire to manage in the major leagues? He’s made something like $400 million in his career, so maybe not. But the way he sees the game has blown me away. You hear our hitters talk about his insights, whether it’s pitch sequencing or lineup matters. Whatever it may be, Alex has a really advanced grasp.”
Could it happen? Assuming A-Rod actually wants to manage, are there teams out there who would hire him? As implausible as it may seem, I think the answer is yes. The Marlins just hired Barry Bonds to be their hitting coach.
Hiring A-Rod to run a team would create a media circus, but it’s not as though he couldn’t handle it. Between playing in New York and the whole Biogenesis imbroglio, he’s been smack dab in the middle of one already. Whether he’d want to remain under a big-tent spotlight is another question. My guess is that he wouldn’t, but if the right opportunity were to present itself, he just might do it.
Porter, the third base coach in Atlanta, told me he doesn’t believe in “putting that stamp on guys. While they’re still playing, you should allow them to play.” He proceeded to point to the “many managerial candidates who have paid their dues, and are either on a major league coaching staff or managing in the minor leagues.”
In the Showalter’s opinion, “The picking pool has shrunk. There aren’t many John Russells around. When you see a bad situation that’s gotten better, and someone took the bullets for that to happen — John took the bullets for Pittsburgh. He’d be the first guy I’d hire.
The Orioles skipper went on to critique the way managers are groomed in the minors.
“We don’t develop managers like we used to,” said Showalter. “Nowadays, (organizations) hand their lineups and their batting orders to guys in Double-A and Triple-A. It’s ‘Here’s your batting order, here’s who’s pitching this inning, here’s who’s pitching that inning. You just throw BP and tell us if somebody is hurt.’ It’s too robotic now.”
McClendon, who was managing the Mariners when we spoke, feels things have changed in the big leagues as well.
“Managing is a lot more difficult than it was 15 years ago,” opined McClendon. “The game hasn’t changed, but the players have certainly changed. The personalities, the way they’re thinking, the way they go about their business — it’s changed quite a bit.
“I know the Xs and Os. I think the guys who separate themselves are the guys who can communicate and make sure the players are on the same page as them, and that everybody is pulling the rope in the same direction.”
Tommy John won 288 games. He also threw 4,710 innings, which is more than all but 10 pitchers since 1930. Of course, he’s better known for having a surgery named after him. The left-hander played 14 seasons after undergoing ulnar-collateral-ligament reconstruction in 1974.
Most fans don’t know that his livelihood was thrust into doubt six years earlier. Pitching for the White Sox against the Tigers on August 22, 1968, John was involved in a brawl. Detroit’s Dick McAuliffe charged the mound after a high-inside pitch, and the result was a torn ligament in the southpaw’s pitching shoulder. (McAuliffe received a $250 fine and a one-week suspension.)
The 1969 Zanger baseball preview asked “How effective will Tommy’s excellent curve and variable fastball be in the future? Nobody knows.”
Twenty years later, John threw his last big-league pitch at the tender age of 46.
Super Bowl 50 will be played later today, which makes this a good time to bring up the 1926 World Series. Why, you might ask? Because of Grover Cleveland Alexander and Max McGee.
Ninety years ago, Alexander came out of the Cardinals bullpen with the bases loaded and his team clinging to a 3-2 lead in Game 7. He fanned fellow future Hall of Famer Tony Lazzeri to end the seventh inning, then held the Yankees scoreless the rest of the way. According to lore, the 39-year-old Alexander was asleep with a bottle of whiskey in his back pocket when the call came to the pen. While that may or may not be true, it is widely acknowledged that “Old Pete” was at least hung over from the night before. (Let’s not forget that World Series games were played in the afternoon back then.)
Fast forward to 1967 and the first ever Super Bowl. McGee, a long-in-the-tooth backup receiver, wasn’t expecting to see much action for the Packers, so he tied one on the night before. Reportedly, he staggered back to the team hotel at 6:30 in the morning, where he ran into the early-rising Bart Starr. As fate would have it, one of Green Bay’s starting receivers was injured early in the game, and McGee was called into action. All he did was catch seven passes for 138 yards, including a 37-yard grab from Starr for the first touchdown in Super Bowl history.
RANDOM FACTS AND STATS
In 1982, John Elway hit .318/.432/.464 in 185 plate appearances for the Yankees’ short-season affiliate in the New York-Penn League. From 1983-1998, he passed for 51.475 yards and 300 touchdowns with the Denver Broncos.
Paul Goldschmidt was the only player in either league to hit .300-or-better with at least 30 home runs and 100 RBIs last year. Albert Pujols has 10 such seasons.
Reggie Jackson had 563 home runs and a .262 batting average. Albert Pujols has 560 home runs and a .312 batting average.
The White Sox hit 136 home runs last year, the fewest in the American League. In 1908, the White Sox hit a grand total of three home runs, the fewest of any team in a single season.
On August 20, 1945, Tommy Brown of the Brooklyn Dodgers homered at the tender age of 17 years, 257 days. On May 4, 2007, Julio Franco of New York Mets homered at the ripe old age of 48 years, 254 days.
Print This Post