Top 100 Baseball Blog

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Steve Kemp, The Former First Overall Draft Pick

Outfielder Steve Kemp was a can’t-miss prospect coming out of the University of Southern California in 1976. The first player taken in that year’s draft, he went to the Detroit Tigers and embarked on an 11-year major league career that didn’t take him to the Hall of Fame but was very solid nonetheless.

After being drafted, Kemp made quick work of the minor leagues. Hitting .328 with 19 home runs in his lone season for seasoning, he became a starter for the Tigers in 1977. The left-handed 22-year-old acquitted himself nicely, contributing a .257 batting average, 18 home runs and 88 RBIs in 151 games.

In 1979, he made his lone All Star appearance, hitting .318 with 26 home runs and 105 RBIs. It was good enough for 17th place in the MVP voting. Although he was well above average the following year, he never approached the same level of play and was traded to the Chicago White Sox prior to the 1982 season.

Kemp had his last above average season as a regular for the Sox. His .291 batting average and 19 home runs and 98 RBIs in 160 games earned him a fat five-year, 5.45 million dollar contract with the New York Yankees.

Unfortunately, Kemp never clicked in New York. His .306 slugging percentage against left-handed pitching in 1983 mean that he was relegated to more of a platoon role. The next year was much of the same, as he was productive against righties but anemic against southpaws. As his play declined, he also suffered a series of injuries. After bouncing to the Pittsburgh Pirates and Texas Rangers, his big league career was over following the 1988 season.

For his career, Kemp appeared in a total of 1,168 games and hit .278 with 130 home runs and 634 RBIs. He was particularly lethal against future Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley, has he had 16 hits (including 3 home runs and 6 doubles) in 39 career at-bats against him; good for a .410 batting average.

You can read more about Kemp and his career here and here. Also, keep reading for his answers to some specific questions he answered about his time in the game.

Steve Kemp Questionnaire:

If you could do anything about your career differently, what would that be?: Play in one place.

What was the strangest play you ever saw as a player?: George Brett’s pine tar game.

Who was your favorite coach or manager?: Ralph Houk.

What team had the best clubhouse food?: Detroit home clubhouse.

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You can check me out on Facebook or follow me on Twitter @historianandrew

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Catching Up With Former Boston Red Sox Outfielder Dwayne Hosey


In the 1990s the Boston Red Sox were feast or famine. They had some years where they made the playoffs (though they never went far) or they ranged from embarrassing to bland. With the team seemingly going in circles, the appearance of any promising young player was anxiously awaited by the eager fan base. A highly-regarded prospect from this era was outfielder Dwayne Hosey, who was called up with much fanfare in 1995 but was out of the majors by the end of the following season.

The switch-hitting Hosey was a 13th-round draft choice of the Chicago White Sox in 1987. A five-tool player, he developed slowly but had finally become a promising prospect by the time he reached the Boston system in 1995, five organizations and eight years after he started his professional career.

Part of what gave the Red Sox some excitement about acquiring Hosey off waivers (on August 31, 1995) was that in 1994 he had hit .333 with 27 home runs and 27 stolen bases in 112 games for the Kansas City Royals Triple-A affiliate. He followed that up by hitting .295 with 12 homers and 15 steals in 75 games with the same team in 1995, earning an immediate call-up to Boston as soon as he had been claimed.

Although rosters were watered down due to the waning moments of the season, the 28-year-old Hosey showed tantalizing ability, playing like a veteran from the outset. He appeared in 24 games and smashed three of his 12 extra base hits for home runs, while stealing six bags.

His debut was enough to earn him a regular roll the following year. Unfortunately, it was not mean to be. He hit just .212 with one home run in 28 games and spent most of the season with Triple-A Pawtucket.

Hosey never played in the majors again. He went to Japan in 1997, enjoying a spectacular inaugural season there and bounced around there, the minors and independent ball through the 2002 season. These days he is still involved in baseball. Keep reading for more from this former Sox player.

Dwayne Hosey Interview

Who was your favorite player when you were growing up, and why?: Ricky Henderson. He was the ultimate complete player without switch hitting.

Can you please talk a little bit about your experience in the 1987 draft?: I had not a clue about what was going on. My scout and friends had to explain to me what was about to happen. I didn't know about a minor league system.

What do you remember most about your first major league hit against Mark Langston?: All I was focusing on was staying inside Langston's cut fastball and breaking ball. He was a smooth operator and it was an honor to get my first hit against a stud like that.

In your opinion, who was the most talented player you ever played with or against? What made them stand out so much?: You know, I have to say there is great, amazingly great, and just unbelievable. The guy that I was star struck with was Bo Jackson. But I've seen incredible arms, speed, power and high average hitters. Defenders and mentally tough animals are another facet to enjoy. That's why it's called the SHOW.

What is your favorite moment from your baseball career?: Making that major league debut and post season with Boston, and winning the Japanese title, MVP and home run title in the same year.

What was your favorite ballpark/city to play in, and why?: Well I really appreciate all equally, but playing in Fenway with that Green Monster was historical for me.

If there is anything you could go back and do differently about your baseball career, what would that be?: I wouldn't have changed a thing. I had great mentors and coaches and teammates and fans that gave me great insight. So if I could go back. I'd listen to great sound advice all over again.

How nervous were you to play in Japan, and what was the experience actually like?: I wasn't nervous at all. I fully embraced the experience and couldn't get enough of it. 
What are you up to since retiring as a player?: I now own a baseball facility and youth baseball teams. 

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You can check me out on Facebook or follow me on Twitter @historianandrew

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Important Takeaways From the 2017 Boston Red Sox's Regular Season

By all traditional metrics the 2017 Boston Red Sox have had a successful regular season. They head into the 162nd and final game of the season against the Houston Astros having already sewn up the American League East title and have a chance to notch their 94th victory of the year. Regardless of what happens in the final contest they will proceed to play those same Astros in the American League Divisional Series this coming week. In addition to the team’s unknown playoff destiny, what are some takeaways from this season? Let’s take a look.

They may have found the catcher of the future:

It appears that the team has moved on from former highly regarded (especially for his bat) catching prospect Blake Swihart in favor of more lightly regarded catching prospect Christian Vazquez (better known for his glove work). The plot twist has been that Vazquez has maintained his talented glove (42 percent caught stealing) while showing he may be better than advertised with the bat. His 91 OPS+ will not get him confused with the likes of Giancarlo Stanton but his .291 batting average in 98 games has meant the team has not needed to give pause about throwing him out there.

Vazquez has hit nearly equally well against lefties and righties (.748/.735 OPS split). One downside is that he has not fared so well with his home/road split (.915/.577). It is encouraging to see what he has done before and after All Star Break, where his OPS+ has gone from 78 to 118 in 49 games before and 49 games since. Now completing his 10th season with the organization, he is still just 27 and looks to be entrenched as the receiver who will be receiving the lion’s share of the time behind the plate moving forward.
The lineup misses David Ortiz. Badly:

This should come as no surprise, but the degree to which his absence has impacted the offense has been huge. With one game left, the 2017 team has scored 782 runs. The 2016 squad, which was Ortiz’s swan song, put up 878 runs. Only five current lineup regulars boast an OPS+ of at least 100 (considered league average), with Eduardo Nunez’s 129 mark well above runner up Rafael Dever’s 112. By comparison, the 40-year-old Ortiz posted a 164 OPS+ last year.

Dynamic young players like Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts have had solid but unremarkable seasons. They need to pick it up going forward if the team is to recapture previous excellence with their bats. The Red Sox currently lack a traditional slugger; the kind of hitter that is a consistent threat for 35+ home runs. It doesn’t appear that such a player is on their current roster or even in their minor league system, so getting creative in the offseason may be on the docket.

The Sox might have the best starting rotation in baseball in 2018:

Only those who have lived under a rock during these summer months can claim ignorance as to the greatness Chris Sale displayed in his first season with Boston. He is on the short list for the upcoming Cy Young vote and has dominated hitters in Boston unlike anyone since Pedro Martinez.

David Price missed more than half the season with injuries and is finishing out the year in the bullpen. However, he has pitched well (3.38 ERA and better than a strikeout an inning) when he has been able to toe a rubber. It’s a decent bet that the former Cy Young winner still has some tricks left up his sleeve.

A year after winning 22 games and the Cy Young, Rick Porcello has been atrocious. He has a 4.65 ERA and leads the league with 17 losses, 236 hits and 38 home runs allowed. While he may not approach his Cy Young level again, it’s also hard to imagine he will repeat this level of ineptitude. He appears healthy and will still be just 29 next year, suggesting that some simple adjustments may be all that’s needed to get him back to being the pitcher that has average 13 wins per year over his first nine seasons.

Much wailing and gnashing of teeth occurred around New England last year when the Sox shipped their top pitching prospect to the San Diego Padres for Drew Pomeranz; a talented but flawed lefty, who claimed a 22-31 record in parts of six seasons. He did little to ease fears in his time with the team last year, going just 4-5 with a 4.59 ERA in 14 games. It’s been a completely different story in 2017, as he has been an admirable number two to Sale, going 17-6 with a 3.32 ERA and 174 strikeouts. Still just 28, he is arbitration eligible and will be with the team at least one more year.

His numbers won’t blow you away but 24-year-old Eduardo Rodriguez made strides this year towards his potential as a top-flight young pitcher. He was 6-7 with a 4.19 ERA in 25 games (24 starts) but struck out 150 batters in 137.1 innings and his 3.97 FIP was nearly identical to that of his teammate Pomeranz (3.83). Rodriguez once again missed time with injuries and will need to stay on the field to continue moving forward. That being said, he can continue to develop while being stashed in the number five starter role.

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You can check me out on Facebook or follow me on Twitter @historianandrew

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Les Norman: A Baseball Life

Outfielder Les Norman came to professional baseball as a draft pick from the middle rounds. Despite his rather humble entry, he made quick work of the major leagues and became one of the few to ascend to the major leagues.  

After a difficult childhood, the right-handed Norman attended the University of St. Francis in Joliet, Illinois. He was originally drafted by the Boston Red Sox in the 26th round in 1990. However, he declined to sign and ended up being taken a round earlier the following year by the Kansas City Royals.

Solid but unspectacular numbers in the minors earned Norman his ticket to the majors in 1995. His first big league hit was a single against Darren Oliver and the Texas Rangers on May 30th of that year.

Between 1995 and 1996 Norman bounced between the minors and the Royals. During that time he appeared in a total of 78 games and was used primarily off the bench, accumulating just 89 at bats. He hit a combined .169 with 4 RBIs.

The inability to find consistent playing time, along with nagging shoulder injuries curtailed his career. He played in the minors and independent ball before retiring following the 2005 season. He has remained in the game in multiple ways and has a lot to be proud of for what he has accomplished throughout his career.

Les Norman Interview

Who was your favorite player when you were growing up, and why?: A: Pete Rose- hustle and hitting  B: Ryne Sandberg-Played my fave position (second base) & team (Chicago Cubs)

What went into your decision to not sign with the Boston Red Sox after being drafted by them in 1990? In hindsight, did you make the right decision?: Without advice, I had a number set in my mind of signing bonus to pay for college and for a car (didn't have one).  My head wasn't in the right place; heart wasn't very humble, so I didn't sign.  I DID make the right decision. If I would have signed, I wasn't emotionally ready to handle pro ball, and most likely wouldn't have made it to the MLB.  Also, I met my bride through playing MLB in Kansas City, so I believe God used it to A: teach me a HUGE lesson; B: find my family; and C: forge my path into media.

What do you remember most about your major league debut?: Besides the excitement of a dream fulfilled, that when I walked up to home plate the pitcher looked like he was about 10 feet away, and that his 80 mph fastball looked like 100. Shaking and nervous, to say the least.

In your opinion, who was the most talented player you ever played with or against? What made them stand out so much?: Ken Griffey Jr.  Amazing athleticism; the game was slow for him.

What is your favorite moment from your baseball career?: Hitting a game-winning triple against Toronto in the second game of a double header to help the Royals take the Wild Card lead.
What pitcher that you faced had the nastiest stuff, and what made them so tough?: 1) Lefty Norm Charlton.  Nasty screwball and tough to read.  2) Righty Jeff Nelson. Big, submarine pitcher with a FILTHY slider. Almost untouchable.

How easy is it to get acclimated to a major league clubhouse after getting called up for the first time?: Wasn't tough for me, knew to stay quiet and learn.  Mark Gubicza and Jeff Montgomery helped me learn that early.

What is one thing you would have liked to accomplish at the major league level that you weren't able to do?: Hit a home run.  Have 104 in the minors, but none in two years in the majors.  

 What are you up to since retiring as a player?: 1.  Married to my bride Kristin for 20 years, sons Mack (16) and Tayt (12), both ball players.
 2.  Host my own syndicated radio show, "Breakin' the Norm" based in Kansas City, Missouri (lesnorman.com).
 3.  On the Royals Alumni Board of Directors, active in working with Royals Charities and community work.
 4.  National Motivational/Keynote Speaker for businesses, churches, and schools.
 5.  Published author of "Teaching the Tools of Hitting" (Nov. '15).
 6.  TV analyst for Royals "Blue Zone" Show on Spectrum Sports Cable Channel.
 7.  TV analyst for Cox Cable/Spectrum Sports telecasts of Royals Double-A NWA Naturals & Triple-A Omaha Storm Chasers minor league broadcasts.
 8.  Radio Royals Analyst on KC's Sports Radio 810WHB's "Between the Lines" and "Baseball Tonight" shows.

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You can check me out on Facebook or follow me on Twitter @historianandrew