Brett Wisely flies under the radar in a Tampa Bay Rays farm system where it’s easy to get overlooked. A 15th-round pick in 2019 out of Gulf Coast State College, the 22-year-old infielder is coming off a first full professional season where he augmented a .301/.376/.503 slash line with 19 home runs and 31 stolen bases between Low-A Charleston and High-A Bowling Green. Despite those eye-opening numbers, Wisely is unranked — albeit within a deep, talent-laden minor-league system — by Baseball America (our own list is forthcoming).
His low-profile status dates back to the day he was drafted. A two-way player at Jacksonville’s Sandalwood High School, and again in junior college, Wisely wasn’t even sure that his phone would ring.
“I didn’t think I was going to go at all, really,” Wisely admitted late last season. “I was playing summer ball and planning to go to USF the following year. But then the call came, and I got all excited. It was an opportunity that I couldn’t pass up.”
It’s not as though the opportunity came out of the blue. Wisely had been in contact with Tampa Bay’s area scout, and he’d filled out pre-draft questionnaires for “four or five teams,” the Boston Red Sox and Chicago White Sox included. The interest shown by the Rays differed from the others.
“They were the only one for hitting,” Wisely explained. “Everything else was for pitching. The other teams preferred my arm over my bat.”
Wisely threw in the low-90s at Gulf Coast State College, occasionally touching 95, and finished his JUCO career with a 2.86 ERA and 134 strikeouts in 138-and-two-thirds innings. He also batted .363 with a 1.075 OPS. Given his 5-10, 180-lb. frame, Wisely felt that he had a brighter future as a position player than he would as a pitcher, making the phone call from Tampa all the more pleasing.
Defensively, Wisely has seen the bulk of his action at second base. He also spent time at third base last year, and on a handful of occasions played first. Wisely has versatility in his corner, and while his left-handed stroke — not his glove or his right arm — will ultimately determine his future success, it also doesn’t hurt that he possesses a bulldog mindset. Wisely is well aware of his overlooked status, and so are many of his 2021 teammates.
“He’s a grinder, that kid,” said Ian Seymour, who ranks among Tampa Bay’s top pitching prospects. “He’s a really competitive guy. That’s a difference-maker in certain players. Brett is one of those under-the-radar guys that works his butt off. He’s very much a chip-on-your-shoulder kind of player.”
Make that a chip-on-your-shoulder kind of player who logged a 135 wRC+ and fell just short of a 20/30 season in his first taste of professional baseball. Wisely might not be under the radar much longer.
RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS
I asked that question in a Twitter poll this week, and as is quite often the case when I offer these comparisons, the disparity was maybe wider than it should have been. Carew won going away, capturing a hefty 64.2% of the 300-plus votes.
Here is a snapshot of their career numbers, with Carew listed first:
72.3 WAR, .369 wOBA, 132 wRC+, 3,053 hits, 92 HR, 3,998 TB.
66.1 WAR, .389 wOBA, 142 wRC+, 2,086 hits, 573 HR, 4,143 TB.
And their accolades, Carew again listed first:
18 All-Star seasons, seven batting titles, one MVP, three top-five MVP finishes.
11 All-Star seasons, six home run titles, one MVP, six top-five MVP finishes.
Carew unquestionably had a brilliant career, his 1977 MVP season — .388 batting average, 175 wRC+, 8.6 WAR — particularly standing out. Killebrew’s best season would be a tossup between 1967 and 1969. In the former, “Killer” crushed 44 home runs while logging a 176 wRC+ and 7.0 WAR. In the latter, he logged a 173 wRC+ and 7.1 WAR while walloping 49 home runs.
When Killebrew retired following the 1975 season, only Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, and Frank Robinson were in front of him on the all-time home run list. When Carew called it a career following the 1985 season, he ranked 10th all-time in hits. Emblematic of how different they were as hitters, Carew actually had more singles (2,404) than Killebrew had hits (2,086). Carew’s edge in batting average was a whopping .328 to .256.
As someone suggested in comments section, comparing Carew and Killebrew is like comparing apples and oranges. One was power personified, the other was a line-drive machine. As another commenter put it, “What’s more delicious, pizza or ice cream?”
Miami Marlins reliever Louis Head was a guest on Friday’s episode of FanGraphs Audio, and among the topics addressed was his rags-to-riches path to the big leagues. A decade after being taken in the 18th round of the 2012 draft by Cleveland, Head debuted with the Tampa Bay Rays last April, shortly after celebrating his 31st birthday. The long odds he faced began prior to his throwing his first pitch at the collegiate level.
“I was cut from my first university, [from] Texas Tech,” Head explained on the podcast. “I was just going to go to school at Texas State; I wasn’t even going to play baseball anymore. My college coach at Tech kind of told me, ‘You’re not good enough to play Division One.’ He didn’t think I was going to be a professional baseball player. He said I was really smart, so [should] just focus on school.”
Head initially did that after transferring, only to have a coach ask him to throw a bullpen. It went well, but joining the Texas State baseball team was going to take time. Transfer rules dictated that he sit out a year, which necessitated his throwing on his own. That was a challenge, as well. As Head explained, “It was really hard to find somebody to throw with when everybody that plays catch at the university is on the baseball team.”
After a successful stint in a collegiate summer league, Head made the team at Texas State, initially struggling as a starter but then finding his foothold as a reliever. Pro ball followed, and through continued perseverance he reached the top rung of the ladder. Moreover, he thrived upon arrival. In 27 appearances with the Rays, Head registered a 2.31 ERA and a 3.11 FIP over 35 rock-solid innings.
The coach who doubted Head’s ability to one day play professional baseball was mistaken.
Who has the highest batting average among eligible non-Hall of Famers with at least 5,000 MLB plate appearances? (Hint: he played the majority of his career with the Chicago Cubs.)
The answer can be found below.
SABR announced that James E. Brunson III, Jane Leavy, and Donald Okrent are the recipients of its 2022 Henry Chadwick Award. Established in 2009, the award honors baseball’s great researchers — historians, statisticians, annalists, and archivists — for their invaluable contributions. More info can be found here.
The Chicago Cubs announced on Friday that they’ve signed manager David Ross to a contract extension that runs through the 2024 season. Hired by the NL Central club in October 2019, the erstwhile catcher was the subject of a FanGraphs interview titled David Ross: Future Big League Manager in February 2016, just before his final season as a player.
MLB.com’s Christina De Nicola reported that Adam Conley has decided to retire. The 31-year-old southpaw played 10 professional seasons, all but one in the Miami Marlins organization. Conley threw 434 big-league innings, 19-and-two-thirds of them last year with the Tampa Bay Rays.
Fred Lasher, a right-handed reliever for four teams from 1963-1971, died late last month at age 80. The Poughkeepsie, New York native had his best season in 1968 when he went 5-1 with five saves and a 3.33 ERA with the World Series champion Detroit Tigers. Lasher threw two scoreless innings in that year’s Fall Classic.
Ike Delock, a right-handed pitcher for the Boston Red Sox — and briefly for the Baltimore Orioles — from 1952-1963, died late last month at age 92. The Highland Park, Michigan native had his best season in 1958 when he went 14-8 with a 3.38 ERA in 160 innings of work. Delock had 84 wins, 32 complete games, and 31 saves over the course of his career.
The answer to the quiz is Riggs Stephenson. The Tuscaloosa, Alabama native played from 1921-1934 and finished his career with a .336 batting average.
Clayton Kershaw hasn’t exactly mashed baseballs, but as far as pitchers go he’s been a pretty good hitter. Since the start of the 2018 season, the longtime Los Angeles Dodgers southpaw has slashed .183/.236/.206, and his 24 hits are eighth-most among hurlers. I asked LA hitting coach Robert Van Scoyoc about Kershaw’s abilities with the bat.
“He’d hit BP every day, and would get on us [hitting coaches] because we’d be underneath, working with guys, and would miss him putting on an absolute display for us,” said Van Scoyoc, who was the subject of our most-recent Talks Hitting interview earlier this week. “[In-game], he’ll fight for every pitch and every inch. He’s a tough guy to strike out. His ability to fight with two strikes and foul pitches off… he’s just an unbelievable competitor in the batter’s box.”
Kershaw’s 23.6% K-rate over the past four seasons is fourth-best among pitchers with at least 80 plate appearances, while his career mark is an equally-respectable 24.9%. With the universal DH taking effect this year, the future Hall of Famer will likely go into the annals having swatted 113 hits, including one home run. The long ball, which broke a scoreless tie in the eighth inning, came against the San Francisco Giants on Opening Day in 2013.
On the subject of rule changes, count me among those happy to see seven-inning double-headers and ghost runners fall by the wayside. Both of the short-lived rules — especially the ghost runner — were borderline abhorrent. With the caveat that COVID considerations factored into their existence, each was too gimmicky for a purist’s tastes. Does that mean I’m averse to baseball evolving? No, but I am of the belief that there are core components that shouldn’t be touched. Frankly, the freedom to position all defensive players, besides the pitcher and catcher, anywhere on the field is one of them. That’s a topic for another day.
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At Yonhap News Agency, Jee-ho Yoo wrote about how the return of iconic stars such as Hyeon-Jong Yang 양현종 and Kwang Hyun Kim 김광현, both of whom spent 2021 in MLB, will likely provide a boon for the KBO.
Purple Row’s Mac Wilcox wrote about Colorado Rockies players who have crossed the Pacific to play in NPB.
Royals Review’s Max Rieper provided us with a history of shortened Kansas City Royals seasons.
RANDOM FACTS AND STATS
Kansas City Royals infielder Nicky Lopez had a .300 batting average, a 106 wRC+, and an MLB-high 12 sacrifice hits last season. Cincinnati Reds infielder Eugenio Suárez had a .198 batting average, an 85 wRC+, and no sacrifice hits last year.
Mule Haas holds the MLB record for most seasons leading the league in sacrifice hits, with six. An outfielder for the Philadelphia A’s and the Chicago White Sox from 1928-1938, Haas had a career-hight 40 sacrifice hits in 1929 — a year in which he finished second to Cleveland’s Joe Sewell in that category.
Phil Rizzuto led the American League in sacrifice hits each year from 1949-1952. The Hall of Fame infielder finished his career with a 96 wRC+ and 41.3 WAR
Eddie Collins, who finished career with a 144 wRC+ and 120.5 WAR, is the all-time leader in sacrifice hits, with 512. The Hall of Fame infielder’s 3,315 hits are 11th-most all-time.
The modern day record for most runs scored in a game by one player is six, and is held by numerous players. Guy Hecker scored seven runs for the American Association’s Louisville Colonels in the second game of an August 15, 1886 doubleheader against the Baltimore Orioles. A right-handed pitcher, Hecker homered three times, and threw a complete game, in Louisville’s 22-5 win.
Players born on today’s date include Bruno Block, a catcher whose big-league career spanned 209 games for three teams — primarily the Chicago White Sox — from 1907-1914. The Wisconsin Rapids-born backstop recorded 131 hits and was charged with 18 passed balls.
Also born on today’s date was Chippy Gaw, a right-handed pitcher whose MLB career comprised six games for the Chicago Cubs in 1920. The West Newton, Massachusetts native had his best professional season in 1914 when he went 15-8 with the New England League’s Worcester Busters.