Low men on the totem pole
DeWayne Wise, Mike Hessman, Eric Bruntlett secured big league jobs to start the season, but who are they?
Every April, I like to run through the 25-man rosters and remind myself how ignorant I am. This year was no exception, as I found 35 names that didn't ring even a tiny bell within my mental storehouse of baseball knowledge. I would argue that it's impossible to keep track of 30 teams' worth of rosters, but I won't bother because I suspect Peter Gammons knows every player on every team's 40-man roster.
Most of my "mystery men" are pitchers who will spend most of this season riding buses to cities like Indianapolis and El Paso, so I don't feel too bad about them. But there are a dozen non-pitchers, and since I took the time to learn something about all of them, I'll let you in on the secrets, too ...
Braves outfielder DeWayne Wise -- and I write this with the considerable respect a professional baseball writer should have for a professional baseball player -- doesn't have any business being in the major leagues. In 112 major league at-bats (with Toronto in 2002), Wise batted .179 with four walks. In 285 Triple-A at-bats (with Syracuse in 2003), Wise batted .218 with 17 walks. Yet somehow Wise is one of four outfielders the Braves are carrying right now. Maybe they see something in him that I don't.
Braves first baseman Mike Hessman doesn't have any business in the majors, either (and the presence here of both Wise and Hessman makes me even more skeptical about the Braves' pennant chances). He spent most of last season with Triple-A Richmond, and showed good power (16 homers in 359 at-bats) but also posted a .296 on-base percentage, which exactly matches his career OBP in the minors. That's Hessman's career in a nutshell; he's always hit home runs, but otherwise he's rarely made contact. In 887 minor-league games, Hessman has 152 home runs ... and 1,013 strikeouts.
White Sox first baseman Ross Gload, on the other hand, could be a useful player in the major leagues. He turned 28 on Monday so he's not what you'd call a "prospect," but in 488 Triple-A games, Gload's got a .542 slugging percentage and a .352 OBP. The lion's share of that OBP is due to his .315 batting average; like Randall Simon, Gload doesn't like to let a hittable pitch touch the catcher's mitt.
Rockies second baseman Aaron Miles might be the closest thing to a "prospect" you'll read about in this article, though at 27 he's not exactly on a fast path to Cooperstown. Miles started his pro career with the Astros in 1995, and he spent two seasons in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League, three seasons in the slow-A Midwest League, one season in the fast-A Florida State League, two seasons in the Double-A Southern League ... and then, last year, just one season in the Triple-A International League before he finally got The Call and made his major league debut with the White Sox on Sept. 9. In December, the Sox traded him to the Rockies, and now he's at least a marginal Rookie of the Year candidate, if only because 1) he has a regular job, and 2) Coors Field. Call me sentimental, but I think you have to pull for a guy who spent nine years working for his dream.
Outfielder Rene Reyes shouldn't be a mystery to me, as he played in 53 games for the Rockies in 2003. Then again, Reyes didn't debut until July 22, by which point the Rockies had slid pretty far down the list of teams on my Extra Innings priority list. He got promoted after batting .343 in 98 games with the Rockies' Triple-A team in Colorado Springs. C-Springs is a great place to hit, but still, .343 is .343 and it looks like Reyes is going to enjoy a decent major league career, especially if he stops swinging at everything he sees. He struggled with the big club in 2003, but he's certainly better than Kit Pellow (who started in left field for the Rockies in their first game).
Astros shortstop Eric Bruntlett also saw plenty of action in the majors last season, appearing in 31 games without making any impression on whatever part of my brain is devoted to memorizing utility infielders. He's 26, and with a career minor-league 680 OPS (.348 OBP, .332 slug) he doesn't have much chance to be more than he is.
Another guy I should know is Brewers infielder Bill Hall, who actually started 32 games last season. Hall's got utility infielder written all over him, and could enjoy a nice little career in that role.
Now this guy -- Phillies outfielder Jason Michaels -- must be lodged in my brain, somewhere. But I'll be damned if I can find him. Anyway, he's easy to find in all the books, and I was shocked to discover that last season he batted .330 with big-time power and walks. It might have been the flukiest season in the majors (Melvin Mora notwithstanding), granted it was only 109 at-bats (most as a pinch-hitter). There's simply nothing in Michaels' record to suggest he's anywhere near that good, but he also produced in the same role in 2002; in 220 career at-bats in the majors, Michaels has a .514 slugging percentage. The secret of his success? He's been used mostly against left-handed pitching, and if regularly exposed to righties probably wouldn't hit enough to hold down a regular job. Let's call Michaels the new Shane Spencer.
Miguel Ojeda is the Padres' backup catcher, and he made his reputation over the course of nine seasons with the Mexico City Red Devils. In the last four seasons, Ojeda just killed the ball -- 70 homers in 1,252 at-bats -- which earned him a summons to the Padres last May. He struggled in the majors, but 1) the Mexican League, officially Triple-A, is really closer to Double-A or maybe even a fast-A league, and 2) Ojeda played well in the second half and could probably start for a lot of teams. For now, though, he's stuck behind Ramon Hernandez.
Another backup catcher: St. Louis's Cody McKay. He's lucky to have this chance, as last year in Triple-A he batted .232 with nothing to make that number look better.
Did I say Aaron Miles was the best prospect on this page? He probably does have the best Rookie of the Year chance, but Rangers outfielder Ramon Nivar is the best prospect. After a decent 2002 season in Class A, last year Nivar zipped through both Double- and Triple-A on his way to the majors. A second baseman with good range in the minors, Nivar is so athletic that he's been moved to center field, at least for the time being. He doesn't hit home runs or draw walks, so he'll have to hit .300 to stay in the lineup.
According to John Sickels, Blue Jays third baseman Simon Pond "isn't a real prospect, being much too old." Pond is 27, and didn't escape Class A for good until last season, when he dominated in Double-A, then held his own in Triple-A. John is right -- players like Bond just don't wind up doing much in the majors, though it's nice to see him get a chance after spending an entire decade in the minors.
Senior writer Rob Neyer writes three columns per week during baseball's offseason. This spring, Fireside will publish Rob's next book, "The Neyer/James Guide to Pitchers" (co-written with Bill James); for more information, visit Rob's Web site. Also, click here to send a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.
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