Shohei Ohtani is a unicorn in terms of two-way talent, but he’s not the only player who has shown an ability to provide value on both sides of the ball. And you don’t need to go back as far as Babe Ruth or Negro Leagues legend Ted “Double Duty” Radcliffe to find examples. It’s not that long ago that Mike Hampton was putting up healthy offensive numbers in the DH-less National League, and Michael Lorenzen was pinch-hitting and playing the outfield for the Reds just two years ago. There is also Brendan McKay — he of the repaired labrum — who would presumably welcome a return to two-way play if the Rays were to give him that opportunity.
Cade Cavalli could conceivably handle his own as an Ohtani-lite. The top pitching prospect in the Washington Nationals system performed solely on the mound in his junior year at the University of Oklahoma, but he was both a pitcher and a corner infielder in the two years prior. And he raked. Cavalli’s sophomore numbers with the Sooners included a .319/.393/.611 slash line with five doubles, a pair of triples, and four home runs in 88 plate appearances. Including his freshman output, the Tulsa native went deep 10 times as a collegian.
I asked Cavalli for his thoughts on two-way players in MLB this past Friday.
“It takes a special person to be able to do that,” said Cavalli, who pitched in the Futures Game and is currently with the Double-A Harrisburg Senators. “There’s a lot that goes on; it’s not just playing in the game every single day. There’s early work, hitting, you’ve got your conditioning as a pitcher, you’ve got position work. It can take a toll on someone’s body.
“For me, I was playing it more on the safe side going into my junior year,” continued Cavalli, “I figured that my future was going to be on the mound. Don’t get me wrong — I loved hitting, and I loved playing every single day— but physically, for recovery purposes… and mentally, focusing solely on pitching, helped me a ton. But I do think there are dudes out there. And I think that I could have done it. But like I said, I was just playing it safe.”
Cavalli has enjoyed his handful of opportunities to hit this season — he’s 1 for 4 with a double and no strikeouts — and while he doesn’t see himself becoming a feared slugger, he does envision a world where the best of his contemporaries are doing damage on both sides of the ball.
“As the game keeps developing, we’re going to see more and more guys like Lorenzen and Ohtani,” opined Cavalli. “I think there are going to be a lot of two-way guys that make their way into the big leagues. For sure. I see that being part of the future in baseball.”
RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS
Zach McCambley’s first Double-A start didn’t go as planned. Promoted to Pensacola from Beloit where he’d fanned 73 while walking just six, the 22-year-old right-hander didn’t make it out of the fourth inning. Moreover — in a veritable flip-flop of his High-A performances — he issued five free passes and punched out just one Mississippi Braves batter.
Prefacing my question by pointing out the last of those numbers, I asked McCambley — a 2020 third-round pick who entered the season No. 27 on our Miami Marlins Top Prospects list — about his atypical outing. Was he guilty of giving the opposing lineup too much credit?
“It’s funny you say that,” said McCambley, who played his college ball at Coastal Carolina. “I was talking to my dad right after the game, and I was like, ‘Dude, I just walked as many people in one game as I did in two and a half months.’ We just laughed about it. Baseball is hard, man. But basically, yeah, it kind of trickles down to giving those guys too much credit. They were banging breaking stuff, so I kind of went away from it a little bit, then couldn’t command my fastball as much as I wanted to. But that just goes with stepping stones and learning. It’s about flushing this one, keep trusting my stuff, and going out there and attacking.”
McCambley’s stuff is plus, particularly his curveball (which will be featured in a forthcoming installment of our Learning and Developing a Pitch series). As Eric Longenhagen wrote in the righty’s prospect profile, “his curveball was perhaps the best in the entire  draft.” McCambley also throws a work-in-progress circle change and a four-seam fastball that has been sitting 91-94 [mph] and topping out at 96-97.
Longenhagen’s writeup also mentioned a need for improved command, and despite the hiccup in his Double-A debut, McCambley has clearly made huge strides in that area. Doing so was a goal entering what is effectively his first professional season.
“Coming into pro baseball, a lot of guys had a lot of different things to say about the walks I’ve had in my past,” McCambley said when asked about his 0.95 BB/9 over 57 innings in Beloit. “I was kind of trying to show them — and I still am — that I’m a strike-thrower.”
McCambley made his second Double-A start last night and allowed three hits and one unearned run over six innings. He walked two and fanned six.
The Seattle Mariners went 116-46 in 2001. Which Seattle player was worth the most WAR that season?
The answer can be found below.
Detroit’s Robbie Grossman led off Game One of yesterday’s double-header against the Minnesota Twins with a home run. Per the Elias Sports Bureau, it was the first time in franchise history that the Tigers hit a home run in their first at bat of the game and went on to win 1-0. MLB history includes 26 such occurrences, with Nick Markakis’s lead-off home run in a 1-0 Orioles win over Seattle on August 3, 2014 being the most recent.
Dick Tidrow died on July 10 at age 74. A big-league pitcher from 1972-1984, and a longtime scout and executive — primarily with the San Francisco Giants — Tidrow was lauded for his talent-evaluation skills, particularly on the pitching front. Sam Gazdziak chronicled Tidrow’s career at RIP Baseball.
F.X. Flinn is stepping down as the treasurer of SABR’s Board of Directors. Dan Levitt will be moving intro the vacated post, creating an opening for Levitt’s current Director position. If you’re interested in applying, please contact Allison Levin by July 26.
Nick Sandlin was one of three pitchers featured in this past week’s Learning and Developing a Pitch installment. The Cleveland reliever told the story behind his slider, which he’s thrown 46.0% of the time this season. His repertoire also includes a sinker and a four-seamer, as well as an occasional change-of-pace. The last of those offerings — a pitch he’s taken out of his back pocket just nine times all year — is intriguing when you consider his arm angle. Sandlin is a bona fide sidewinder.
“It’s a complete splitter grip,” said Sandlin, whom Cleveland selected in the second round of the 2018 draft out of the University of Southern Mississippi. “I was always trying to find a changeup with consistent action, and that was what worked best.”
I asked the 24-year-old right-hander how he’s able to manipulate a splitter from such a low slot.
“The split grip will kill the spin on it a little bit and create some dive,” explained Sandlin. “You want to stay on top of it and make sure you get out in front, and throw it hard. When I say ‘on top,’ I mostly mean to not get lazy with my arm. It’s kind of an out-in-front thing. I release it with my hand in a position similar to the slider — out in front and to the side — but coming out with the split grip… that’s what creates the movement for me.”
Sandlin — first featured here at FanGraphs in a July 2018 Sunday Notes column — has come out of the Cleveland bullpen 24 times this season and surrendered 13 hits in 25-and-a-third innings. He has 37 strikeouts, a 1.78 ERA, and a 2.26 FIP.
Euribiel Angeles is slashing .348/.406/.470 with 13 stolen bases for the Low-A Lake Elsinore Storm. The 19-year-old middle infielder from Higuey, Dominican Republic, Angeles is No. 23 on our San Diego Padres Top Prospects list.
Felix Valerio is slashing .296/.410/.426 with 18 stolen bases for the Low-A Carolina Mudcats. The 20-year-old middle infielder from Bonau, Dominican Republic is No. 28 on our Milwaukee Brewers Top Prospects list.
Ezequiel Tovar is slashing .314/.349/.498 with 18 stolen bases for the Low-A Fresno Grizzlies. The 19-year-old middle infielder from Macaray, Venezuela is No. 15 on our Colorado Rockies Top Prospects list.
Nick Yorke is slashing .289/.381/.400 with nine stolen bases for the Low-A Salem Red Sox. The 19-year-old second baseman from Newport Beach, California — the 17th-overall pick in last year’s draft — is No. 15 on our Boston Red Sox Top Prospects list.
Curtis Mead is slashing .341/.390/.550 with nine stolen bases between Low-A Charleston and High-A Bowling Green. The 20-year-old third baseman from Adelaide, Australia is No. 34 on our Tampa Bay Rays Top Prospects list.
Sal Frelick has come a long way in a few short years. Undrafted out of high school, the Lexington, Massachusetts native was taken 15th overall last week by the Milwaukee Brewers out of Boston College. I asked Frelick how he went from an overlooked prep to a first-round pick.
“I think the biggest reason there was no draft talk whatsoever out of high school is because I wasn’t going around doing showcases,” Frelick reasoned. “I literally played baseball from March 1st all the way until football camp in August/September, while a lot of other guys were playing year round. [At Boston College], we’d go up against teams like Florida State — top-ranked teams with top-ranked players coming out of high school — and when the lights turn on and the ball rolls out, some guys just can’t handle the pressure. I think I’ve always thrived in those pressure situations because of the year-round competition, which is something I’ve valued. I think that might have been my breakthrough, just kind of being able to compete on a national level with these kids.”
An accomplished quarterback in high school, the 21-year-old Frelick went on to slash .345/.435/.521 in three seasons as a Boston College Eagle. And while his outfield defense is stellar — he was honored as the ACC’s Defensive Player of the Year this past season — it’s Frelick’s left-handed stroke that has garnered the most rave reviews. And he’s only getting better.
“I’ve definitely developed as a hitter,” said Frelick, who hit six of his 12 collegiate home runs as a junior. “Early on, I was so caught up in not striking out, and putting the ball in play. And as much as that’s going to be a part of my game, I think I still need to develop that power, those gap-to-gap bat skills, and not just be slapping the ball and being a collision hitter. I think I kind of put that together this year.”
Nine Canadian-born players were chosen in the first 10 rounds of this year’s draft, with Stouffville, Ontario’s Tyler Black the highest selection at No. 33 overall. The infielder out of Wright State University went to the Milwaukee Brewers, who later selected Winkler, Manitoba’s Tristan Peters in the sixth round. An outfielder, Peters played his college ball at Southern Illinois University.
Kiwoom Heroes pitcher Hyun-hee Han 한현희 has withdrawn from the South Korea’s Olympic baseball team and will be replaced by former big-league reliever Seunghwan Oh 오승환. Han reportedly broke COVID protocols. In related news, the KBO has banned four players for the rest of this season, also for breaking protocols.
Over in NPB, the Central League beat the Pacific League 5-4 in Game 1 of Japan’s All-Star series on Friday. Hiroshima Carp infielder Ryosuke Kikuchi had four hits, including a home run, for the winning side. Saturday’s Game 2 then went to the Pacific League by a count of 4-3. Rakuten Golden Eagles outfielder Hiroaki Shimauchi drove in three runs, including the tie-breaking tally in the eighth inning.
Ryoto Kita made his NPB debut earlier this week and homered on the first pitch he saw. The 18-year-old Orix Buffaloes outfielder and went 3 for 3 on the day.
A few hours before Monday’s event, I ran a short-lived Twitter poll — it was up for only a few hours — asking about people’s level of interest in home run derbies. There were three options, and the results were as follows:
High — 31.7%
Medium — 39.4%
Low — 28.8%
Given the buzz surrounding Shohei Ohtani’s participation in this year’s derby — not to mention Coors Field as the venue — I expected the results to skew more heavily in the direction of “high.” While the sample size of the poll was too small to be meaningful, the lack of enthusiasm is nonetheless interesting to ponder.
LINKS YOU’LL LIKE
At Baseball-Reference, Adrian Burgos, Jr. wrote about the history of Latinos in the Negro Leagues.
The Denver Post’s Erica Hunzinger looked at how MLB tries to protect the fully-online All-Star Game vote from ballot-stuffing.
The Boston Globe’s Alex Speier took an in-depth look at the sticky substances that pitchers have been applying to baseballs. Former Red Sox hurlers Manny Delcarmen and Lenny DiNardo pitched in with hands-on expertise, while Daigo Fujiwara provided graphics to help accentuate the data.
RANDOM FACTS AND STATS
Going into yesterday, the Red Sox and Giants had both hit 20 three-run homers, the most in the majors. The Cubs had just five three-run homers. (per @billyball)
Larry Littleton and Mike Potter both went hitless in 23 career at bats, the most ever for a position player in big-league history. Littleton had 27 plate appearances with Cleveland in 1981, Potter 24 with the Cardinals in 1976-1977.
Kettle Wirts made his big-league debut with the Chicago Cubs on July 20, 1921. A catcher who went on to play parts of four seasons — the last of them with the White Sox — Wirts is one of eight players in MLB history with the given first name Elwood.
Luis Tiant Sr. went 9-0 with a 2.37 ERA for the Negro National League’s New York Cubans in 1947. A southpaw who was then in his age-40 season, the Cuban legend was the father of longtime MLB right-hander Luis Clemente Tiant.
David Cone threw a perfect game on today’s date in 1999. The New York Yankees right-hander fanned 10 along the way in a 6-0 win over the Montreal Expos.
Also on today’s date in 1999, Brad Ausmus squeezed in the winning run — Detroit’s second sacrifice bunt of the frame — as the Detroit Tigers beat the Cincinnati Reds 9-8 in 10 innings. Tony Clark homered twice for the winning side.
On today’s date in 1994, the Houston Astros scored 11 runs in the sixth inning on their way to a 15-12 win over the visiting St. Louis Cardinals. Houston trailed 11-0 after three innings.
Players born on today’s date include Hod Kibbie, whose big-league career comprised 11 games for the Boston Braves in 1925. A middle infielder who logged 11 hits in 41 at bats, Kibbie hailed from Fort Worth.
Also born on this date was Glenn Williams, who holds the major-league record for most games played in which he had at least one hit in all of them. The Gosford, Australia native — a guest on episode 900 of FanGraphs Audio — went 17 for 40 while playing in 13 games for the Minnesota Twins in 2005.