Will he make the majors?
Diaz was certainly the most recognizable member of the 2011 Tides’ bullpen, as his 330-pound-frame was instantly recognizable from even the most distant corner of Harbor Park. He came up through the Dodgers’ organization, left as a minor-league free-agent, and ended up in the Orioles’ organization. He pitched very well as a 26-year-old closer in High-A and AA ball in 2010, and continued to pitch well as the AA closer in 2011. Promoted to Norfolk in June, he was ineffective in 14 appearances — 21 hits and 8 walks allowed in 12 2/3 innings — then was placed on the disabled list before returning to Bowie.
Diaz throws hard — but very straight; his fastball doesn’t move much. I have to think that his weight affects his mechanics and control. His fastball will always keep him on teams’ radars, but his lack of other stuff will mean he won’t get much more than a cup of coffee.
Diaz signed with the Pirates as a free agent for the 2012 season.
Has his status changed any from this time last year?
Not really; instead of being a light-hitting catcher with a reputation for good defense who spent most of the year at AAA, he’s now a light-hitting catcher with a reputation for good defense who spent most of the year at either AA or injured.
At least he’s been a consistent non-hitter; since leaving High Desert in the California League in 2006 — remember, High Desert is regarded as one of the two most-favorable parks for hitters in all of full-season minor league baseball — Donachie hasn’t hit above .221 anywhere, in any number of at bats. He hasn’t hit above .215 in AA or AAA. As I wrote last year, he’s got to have a good-glove reputation, otherwise there’s no way he’d have a job.
Who is he?
Note: I did not see Drake perform for Norfolk in 2011.
Oliver Drake is another semi-local Orioles prospect. He was drafted from the Naval Academy as a draft-eligible sophomore, and because he left the Academy after his sophomore year he had no military commitment. He pitched adequately in his first two full minor-league seasons, then in a repeat engagement at Frederick pitched brilliantly. He was jump-promoted to Norfolk in an emergency, made one appearance, and was then returned to Bowie, where he didn’t pitch so well. Based on the statistics he’s accumulated, he appears to be a command-and-control righthander. I don’t see much to suggest that he’ll have a good major-league career.
Was this his last chance?
Most likely. He’ll turn 36 on opening day 2012, and in 44 innings with Norfolk last year gave up 64 hits with a 14-11 BB-K ratio. He was released in late May and didn’t hook up with an independent team. If you were to rank all the pitchers in the International League last season in order of their likelihood of having a future major league career, Ryan Drese might rank at the very bottom.
Where does he stand?
It’s amazing. I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen a pitcher who was so effective at AA be so ineffective at AAA. Egan, a tall (6’7″) right-hander who doesn’t throw hard, pitched the first half of 2010 at Bowie and was great; so he got promoted to Norfolk and was terrible. He started the 2011 season at Norfolk and was terrible, so he got demoted to Bowie and pitched great. Overall, he’s pitched 85 innings at Bowie with a 2.33 ERA, 64 hits allowed, and a 20-58 walk-to-strikeout ratio; he’s pitched 75 2/3 innings at Norfolk with a 5.11 ERA, 110 hits allowed, and a 25-39 walk-to-strikeout ratio.
He’s certainly not as good as his AA numbers, nor probably not as bad as his AAA numbers. Egan is a pitch-to-contact type, and it’s possible that AAA betters are substantially better at making solid contact than AA batters. Norfolk hasn’t had a really strong infield defense, and maybe Egan’s been more adversely affected by that than other pitchers.
Whatever the reason, on June 28, 2010, Pat Egan was a 25-year-old pitcher who had established himself in AA and was looking to conquer AAA. Today, Pat Egan is a 27-year-old pitcher who has established himself in AA, and has failed miserably in AAA. Egan’s prospects for a baseball career have dimmed considerably. To continue his career, he’s got to start 2012 in AAA and pitch well in AAA.
Can he be a major-league pitcher?
Willie Eyre — full name, William Mays Eyre — is a 32-year-old pitcher who has pitched consistently well in the minor leagues and has pitched at a replacement level in the majors. He doesn’t have great control and he doesn’t strike out a lot of hitters, but he’s succeeded by consistently not allowing base hits. He’s been less effective as a starter than as a reliever in the minors.
Because he has pitched well in the minors, there’s no reason he can’t be a successful sixth-seventh inning middle relief pitcher. Because he doesn’t have great control, and doesn’t have a strikeout pitch, it’s unlikely that he’d succeed in a more important role. He’s also the sort of pitcher who would be sent down if he hits a rough patch. So while he could be a major-league pitcher, it’s unlikely that he’d have a significant career.
Eyre re-signed with the Orioles for 2012.
Should he be in the major leagues?
Let’s start with the obvious — Jake Fox really can’t play the field except in emergencies. He’s an awful defensive catcher, has been unplayable in the outfield and at third base, and is, at best, a barely acceptable first baseman. If he’s going to be on your major league roster, he’s going to be a pinch-hitter / designated hitter / desperation defensive fill-in. The question is, is he a good enough hitter to warrant a roster spot in that role?
When I, and presumably fans of my vintage, hear Jake Fox described — good-hitting catcher who’s a defensive liability everywhere — the name “Cliff Johnson” comes to mind. Johnson was a 1970′s-era player who could really hit, but was stuck because he wasn’t mobile enough to play in the Astrodome except at catcher, and he couldn’t catch. But Johnson was, as a hitter, at least one order of magnitude better than Fox. Fox has impressive-looking minor-league numbers, but his best numbers were always when he was a little old for the league and when he was repeating the league. Johnson hit from the start in the major leagues; Fox has a career 87 OPS+ in 534 career plate appearances. So, no, I don’t think Fox has shown enough to warrant a spot on a major league roster.
That said, Fox’ 2011 at Norfolk is really impressive. Fox has signed with the Pirates; his “baseball age” for 2012 will be 29. Signing with the Pirates is good in one sense, that they can use hitters, but bad in another sense, because they’re a National League team with no DH. But if he starts off hot, and forces his way into the lineup, well who knows?
What happened to him?
After pitching very well with Norfolk in 2010, Gabino started 2011 with the Tides and continued to pitch well. Then, suddenly, he completely lost his control and became ineffective, and was sent back down to Bowie. Eventually, he regained his control and pitched well for Bowie, but because the BaySox were in a playoff race and Norfolk wasn’t remained in AA.
Unfortuately for Gabino, his 2011 probably derailed his chances for a decent big-league shot. Gabino turned 28 at the end of August, 2011. Had he not suffered his control lapse and subsequent demotion, he might have been promoted to Baltimore and given a chance to prove himself. Had he done so, he’d be entering 2012 as a 28-year-old major-league pitcher — certainly not a potential star, but someone who could have a two-to-three-year career as a middle relief pitcher. Now, however, he’s a 28-year-old AA pitcher who washed out of AAA. That’s a big difference.