Results tagged ‘ 2004 draft ’
Tampa Bay Rays second baseman/right fielder/shortstop Ben Zobrist has been one of the most productive, versatile, and underrated players in baseball over the past five seasons. It is amazing to see how the man called Zorilla went from a non-prospect to compiling nearly 26 WAR over the past four seasons.
Zobrist grew up in Eureka, Illinois and attended Olivet Nazarene University in Kankakee, Illinois for three years where he pitched, and played shortstop and second base. In the summer after his Junior season, Zobrist played outfield for the Wisconsin Woodchucks of the Northwoods League, where he was voted team MVP as he led his team to the Northwoods League Championship. At the end of the season, Zobrist was named a Small College All-American at second base. For his senior year, Zobrist attended Dallas Baptist University in Dallas, Texas, which has produced a number of baseball players, including Lew Ford and Freddy Sanchez, where he played shortstop.
Zobrist was drafted by the Houston Astros in the 6th round, 184th overall, of the 2004 draft, immediately in front of Cla Meredith. Zobrist signed quickly, as is common with college seniors who were not drafted in the first few rounds, and was assigned to the Tri-City Valley Cats of the short-season A New York-Penn League. Zobrist displayed a keen batting eye, solid contact rate, and enough range to stay at shortstop en route to a 339/438/463 season where he walked 43 times and struck out only 31 across 310 games. After the season, Zobrist was named to the short season A All-Star team, as Baseball America ranked Zobrist the #5 prospect in the New York-Penn League and the #16 prospect in the Astros organization.
For 2005, Zobrist opened the season with the Lexington Legends of the full season A South Atlantic League, where he continued to put up solid numbers, hitting 304/415/413 across 310 plate appearances before being promoted to the Salem Avalanche of the high A Carolina League, where he continued his torrid hitting, putting up a 333/475/496 line with 37 walks and 17 strikeouts. After the season, Baseball America ranked Zobrist as the #16 prospect in the Astros system and said that he has the “Best Strike Zone Discipline” in the Astros’ system.
For 2006, Zobrist was assigned to the AA Corpus Christi Hooks of the AA Texas League, where he continued to hit, putting up a 327/434/473 line before being dealt to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays with Mitch Talbot in exchange for Aubrey Huff and cash. As a show of respect for the prospect status of Zobrist and Talbot, ESPN referred to the Devil Rays’ newest acquisitions as “two minor league prospects” and did not refer to them by name until the fifth(!) paragraph. Zobrist played for the Durham Bulls of the AAA International League for the next two weeks, when he was called up by the Devil Rays to play shortstop. Zobrist appeared in 52 games, putting up a 224/260/311 line for the remainder of the season. After the season, Baseball America ranked Zobrist as having the “Best Strike Zone Discipline” in the Texas League, but did not rank him otherwise as he had exhausted his prospect eligibility when he lost his rookie status. Despite only playing 83 games for Corpus Christi, Zobrist was named to the Texas League All-Star team as its Utility player (the All Star at shortstop was Brandon Wood).
In 2007, Zobrist opened the season as the starting shortstop for the Devil Rays but struggled early, and was sent down to AAA Durham Bulls when he had a 159/156/222 line after the game on May 10. While in AAA, Zobrist hit 279/403/455 before being promoted to start the July 30 game against the Toronto Blue Jays. Zobrist played in most of the games until August 18, when he strained his right oblique, ending his season. Zobrist’s final line for the 2007 season while playing for the Devil Rays was a disaster, as his 155/184/206 line created an OPS+ of 4, one of the worst in the major leagues for all non-pitchers.
In 2008, Zobrist was slated to become the “super utility man” for the newly minted Tampa Bay Rays when he fractured the top of his left thumb, forcing him to miss the first month of the season. After a four-game rehab assignment for the Vero Beach Devil Rays, Zobrist returned to the Rays, playing inconsistently but hitting well enough to put up a 267/353/400 line through May 28. Zobrist was sent down to AAA Durham and promoted reliever Grant Balfour. Zobrist was only in the minor leagues for about a month, as he started the June 25 game against the Florida Marlins, going 2/6 with a home run. For the rest of the season, Zobrist hit 251/338/514 with 12 home runs, the most he hit on any level to that point (in fact, Zobrist’s previous high was eight total in 2007). Zobrist’s final line for 2008 was 253/339/505, good for an OPS+ of 120. By this point, many viewed Zobrist’s defense at shortstop as sub-par and his “super utility” role took hold, as Zobrist appeared in 35 games at shortstop, 14 in left field, eight at second base, five in center field, two in right field, one at third base, and two at DH.
In 2009, Zobrist’s “super utility” role continued, though he was primarily a second baseman and a right fielder, with as he appeared in 1,044 of his 1,209.1 innings (86.4%) at one of the two positions. Zobrist flourished in the rule, putting up a 297/405/543 line with 27 home runs and 17 stolen bases, being elected to his first MLB All-Star Game and placing eighth in the MVP vote, despite having a WAR higher than the winner, Joe Mauer (about 30% of Zobrist’s WAR was attributable to playing second base). Zobrist was also the Tampa Bay Rays player of the year.
After his breakout season, Zobrist and the Rays began negotiating a new contract. Though Zobrist was not yet eligible for arbitration, the Rays are well known for signing players to team-friendly extensions that guarantee financial security for players. In late April, Zobrist and the Rays agreed to a three year extension that left his 2010 salary at $438,100, but increased his salaries to $4.5 million in 2011, $4.5 million for 2012, and $5.5 million for 2013. The Rays also received a $7 million option for 2014 (with a $2.5 million buyout) and a $7.5 million option for 2015 (with a $500k buyout). Zobrist struggled out of the gate, putting up a 241/327/356 line in April, then a robust 352/400/514 line in May. Zobrist’s struggles continued as he put up a 177/294/293 line after the All-Star break en route to a 238/346/353 line for the season, with his batting average and home runs dipping significantly. Zobrist’s defensive flexibility – he played 371 innings at second base and 749.1 in right field out of his 1294.2 – kept his value high, as his 4.2 WAR was fueled nearly as much by his defense (1.4 dWAR) as his offense (2.5 oWAR).
Zobrist bounced back in 2011, putting up a 369/353/469 line while playing second base in 79% of his 1348 innings (not counting his time at DH) and right field the rest of his time playing.
In 2012, Zobrist has his to a similar line as 2011, putting up a 271/376/466 through September 26 while playing mostly right field (42% of innings). The interesting thing about Zobrist is that he shortstop for 26% of innings, a position he has not played for any extended period of time since 2008. Zobrist has been the Rays’ primary shortstop since August 9, during which he has hit exceptionally well, putting up a 311/378/518 line, well above his career 260/254/441 line.
But what should we expect from Zobrist going forward? Is he the 260/354/441 player his career line suggests? If he the 300/400/500 perennial All-Star that his recent play suggests? I think he is neither. I this he’s closer to the 269/369/457 line that he has put up from 2009-2012. Sure, Zobrist won’t be a Hall of Famer, but in an era with hyper-specialized bullpens, a player who can hit and play multiple positions that require real defensive ability has a lot of value. The Rays should be commended for trading for him and, possibly more importantly, being willing to give him time to develop.
On Saturday, Phil Humber threw the 21st perfect game in Major League Baseball history, throwing only 96 pitches to retire all 27 Seattle Mariners. Despite once being a top prospect, Humber’s path to the perfect game was filled with injuries, demotions, a blockbuster trade, demotions, being released, and finding success for the Chicago White Sox.
Humber grew up in Nacogdoches, Texas and attended Carthage High School in Carthage, Texas. In the Texas University Interscholastic League Class 4A semifinals, Humber struck out six, walked one, and allowed three hits. Humber was drafted in the 29th round of the 2001 Rule IV Draft by the New York Yankees, a pick Humber considered more of a “draft-and-follow,” than anything else said Humber. Humber continues, “I wasn’t mature enough to go into pro ball then. They made a pretty decent offer to try to sign me away from Rice, but I’m glad I chose [Rice].”
As Humber said, he went to Rice University, where he was part of one of the greatest pitching staffs in college baseball history, teaming with Jeff Niemann, Wade Townsend, and David Aardsma to come in 5th in the 2002 College World Series, win the 2003 College World Series, and come in 11th in the 2004 College World Series. To say Humber was dominant in college is an understatement. Humber put up a 2.78 ERA across 110 innings with 130 strike outs in 2002, a 3.30 ERA across 128 innings with 138 strike outs in 2003, and a 2.27 ERA across 115 innings with 154 strike outs in 2004.
Going into the 2004 draft, Humber was considered a top prospect and rumors swirled regarding which team would pick Humber. Matt Bush was picked #1 overall by the Padres and twice flamed out spectacularly. Justin Verlander was picked #2 overall by the Detroit Tigers, and has done very well, including two no hitters, Rookie of the Year (2006), Cy Young (2011), and MVP (2011), and four All Star Game appearances. The Mets were focusing on three college pitchers, Jered Weaver, Humber, and Verlander. Then-Mets General Manager, Jim Duquette, said that “[e]verybody who went in to see [Humber], including myself, thought he was going to be a 200-inning, year-after-year type of pitcher. [Humber] had a good frame and a lot of the elements you’d look for in a top-of-the-rotation starter.” The Mets passed on Weaver and took Humber with the #3 overall pick, with Weaver falling to the Angels at #12 due to bonus demands.
Humber was not the only Rice Owl to be picked in the first round of the 2004 draft, as teammates Jeff Niemann (#4 overall to the Devil Rays) and Wade Townsend (#8 overall to the Orioles, though he didn’t sign) were also selected, the first time three teammates were selected with the first eight picks of the draft.
Humber signed a 5-year major league contract with the Mets in January 2005 worth $4.2 million, including a $3 million signing bonus. Ranked the #50 prospect by Baseball America before the 2005 season, Humber immediately clashed with Mets’ pitching coach Rick Peterson, who wanted Humber to change his mechanics and stand taller on the mound. Humber was assigned to the high-A St. Lucie Mets of the Florida State League, where he put up a 4.99 ERA across 70.1 innings with 65 strike outs. Promoted to the AA Binghamton Mets of the Eastern League, Humber made one start on July 11, allowing three runs and four hits over four innings while striking out two. Humber left the game early due to pain in his elbow and was quickly diagnosed with bone spurs and a torn ulnar collateral ligament. Humber underwent Tommy John surgery and missed the rest of the season. Humber returned to action in under 12 months, being assigned to the Rookie level GCL Mets on June 22 for one start, then being sent back to the St. Lucie Mets, where he made seven starts over 38 innings, striking out 36 and putting up a sparkling 2.37 ERA. Promoted to AA Binghamton on August 4, Humber kept the good times rolling, putting up a 2.88 ERA across 34.1 innings while striking out 36. As a reward for his season, Humber was called up to New York, where appeared in two games and did not allow a run.
Humber reappeared on Baseball America’s top 100 list, ranking #73 with the comment: “Blew out his elbow 15 starts into his pro career in 2005, but bounced all the way back last year.” Humber began 2007 pitching for the New Orleans Zephyrs, the Mets’ AAA affiliate in the Pacific Coast League and performed reasonably well, putting up a 4.27 ERA across 139 innings, striking out 120. While these numbers do not seem particularly good, the PCL is notoriously hitter-friendly. Promoted to the Mets in September, Humber appeared in three games, including one start, and put up a (small sample size alert!) 7.71 ERA across seven innings.
In February 2007, Humber was dealt by the Mets, along with Kevin Mulvey, Carlos Gomez, and Deolis Guerra, to the Minnesota Twins for Johan Santana. The Twins assigned Humber to the Rochester Red Wings, the Twins’ AAA affiliate in the International League. In 2007, Humber put up a 4.56 ERA across 136.1 innings, striking out 106. Humber received his annual September call-up and appearing in five games as a reliever, putting up a 4.63 ERA across 11.2 innings. In 2008, Humber broke camp with the Twins as a reliever. After putting up a 12.46 ERA across 4.1 innings, Humber was sent down to Rochester. After putting up a 5.34 ERA across 119.2 innings as a starter, Humber was recalled by the Twins, where he put up a 3.86 ERA across four relief appearances over 4.2 innings.
After the 2009 season, Humber’s career took a number of unexpected turns. In October, Humber was granted free agency, as the Twins did not offer Humber a contract. Humber was signed as a free agent by the Kansas City Royals in December. Assigned to the Omaha Royals of the PCL, Humber appeared in 21 games (21 starts), putting up a respectable 4.47 ERA across 118.2 innings. Humber appeared in 8 games for the Kansas City Royals, primarily as a long reliever, though he did start one game, logging 21.2 innings to go with his 4.15 ERA. In December 2010, Humber was selected off waivers by the Oakland Athletics, then in January 2011, the Chicago White Sox selected Humber off waivers from the Athletics.
Humber opened the season with two relief appearances (and a 9.00 ERA after two innings), but the White Sox, led by Manager Ozzie Guillen, showed patience, giving Humber time to find his way. Humber responded with a great showing, holding a 2.69 ERA after his seven inning start against the cross town rival Cubs on July 2. Humber seemed to struggle after that start, putting up a 7.52 ERA over his next five starts. On August 18, Humber was struck in the face by a line drive and immediately taken out of the game. Humber was, largely, unscathed by the ball, as he only had a face bruise. Humber made one rehabilitation start for the Charlotte Knights, the White Sox’s AAA affiliate, and returned to the White Sox for the duration of the season. Humber returned with seven shutout innings against the Twins in his first start after being taken off the Disabled List, then made four more starts for the White Sox. The 2011 season was a major success for Humber, as he put up a 3.75 ERA (112 ERA+) across 163 innings.
Humber opened 2012 as the #5 starter for the White Sox and has dominated. After going 5.1 innings and allowing only one run in his first start against Baltimore, Humber threw just 96 pitches (67 strikes) in his way to pitching a perfect game against the Mariners over the weekend (if this is news to you then how did you find this article?).
So what is ahead for Humber? No one knows. Congratulations have come from all over, including former teammate, Mike Pelfrey, apparently every person who knows his cell phone number, and former manager Ozzie Guillen, but not White Sox fan President Barack Obama.
At this point, the best way to describe what Humber went through would be something he said in June 2011, when asked to discuss his career after being traded by or released from four different organizations:
“I’ve been through everything you can go through in baseball so far. I’ve had Tommy John surgery, been the hot prospect, been a bust, been given a lot of opportunities and been given up on. You get to the point where you say, you know what, baseball’s not my whole life and if I’m going to play it I’m going to play because I enjoy it. That’s where I am.’
Until next time, follow me @HypeProspect.