Les Debutantes: Major League Debuts (Part 1): American League

Feature Photo:  Ji-Man Choi, 1B, Angels

Ed. Note: Today we’re excited to welcome contributor Lisa Winston into the fold at 2080 Baseball, as we publish her first article in a series titled “Les Debutantes“.  Lisa is a two-time MLB Scout School graduate, a former MiLB.com staff writer, and also spent 14 years covering the minor leagues for USA Today/Baseball Weekly.  She’ll be covering all of the major league debuts happening during the 2016 season, starting today with debuts in the American League. 

(Click here for Winstons’ full coverage of the National League debuts).

B/T: S/R   H/W: 6’1”/230   BORN: May 19, 1991

ACQUIRED: Selected with the 16th pick of the 2015 Rule 5 Draft from Baltimore. Originally signed by Seattle as an international free agent (South Korea) in 2009.
2015 SEASON STATS: Hit a combined .290 in 23 games between the Arizona League (Rookie) and Tacoma (Triple-A) with one HR and 18 RBIs.
PROMOTED: Already on the 40-man roster, he made the club out of spring training.
DEBUT: April 5, in a 6-1 loss to the Cubs.   He came into the game in the ninth inning as a defensive replacement and took the lineup spot of DH Geovany Soto but did not get an at-bat.
PLAYER NOTES: Choi didn’t have to wait too long for that first big league at-bat, as he pinch-hit the next night, April 7, once again a late-game entry and got his first start on April 8, going 0-for-3 with a walk against Texas. A fractured fibula suffered in spring training limited him to just a handful of games in 2015 but he came back strong this spring, proving his mettle as a potentially valuable left-hander off the bench who can give the club defensive versatility late in games. A converted catcher, Choi has missed time due to other injuries as well, including virtually all of 2011 with a strained back muscle, as well as serving a 50-game suspension in 2014 for performance-enhancing drugs. Choi became a minor league free agent on November 6, 2015 and was signed by Baltimore, but never played a game for the Orioles after being taken in the Rule 5 Draft by the Angels just two weeks later.

B/T: R/R   H/W: 6’3”/210   BORN: November 13, 1990

ACQUIRED: Via trade from the White Sox August 3, 2012, as the player to be named later in a July 21 deal that originally brought RHP Matt Heidenreich and LHP Blair Walters to the Astros for RHP Brett Myers. Originally drafted in the 25th round of 2011 MLB First-Year Player Draft by the Chicago White Sox (Cal State-Fullerton).
2015 SEASON STATS: Went 7-4 with a 3.01 ERA in a combined starter/reliever role at Corpus Christi (Double-A), appearing in 24 games, 17 of them starts. He struck out 104 batters in 119.2 IP, walking 33.
PROMOTED: Contract purchased from Fresno (Triple-A) April 7 when RHP Michael Feliz was sent down to Fresno and RHPP Danny Reynolds was designated for assignment.
DEBUT: April 8, in a 6-4 loss to the Brewers. The second of three pitchers, he allowed one hit over three scoreless innings, while striking out four before being lifted for a pinch-hitter in the eighth inning. Of 38 pitches thrown 27 were for strikes.
PLAYER NOTES: With the Astros in need of another arm in the bullpen after Feliz tossed 107 pitches in relief earlier in the week, Devenski got the call. He’s been part of the Astros’ ‘piggyback’ starting pitcher plans. In 2014, between Corpus Christi and Lancaster (High A), he was 10-8 with a 4.04 ERA and fanned 114 in 118 IP, walking 30 while allowing 103 hits.

B/T: R/R   H/W: 5’11”/225   BORN: October 29, 1990

ACQUIRED:   Drafted in the 33rd round of the 2013 MLB First-Year Player Draft (Western Carolina University, Cullowhee, N.C.)
2015 SEASON STATS: Combined to hit .325 between Corpus Christi (Double-A) and Fresno (Triple-A) with 14 HRs, 99 RBIs and 25 doubles. He posted a .442 OBP thanks to 84 walks (vs. just 73 strikeouts) and a .496 SLG.
PROMOTED: In camp as a non-roster invitee, his contract was purchased from Triple-A Fresno on April 1, and he made the club out of spring training.
DEBUT: April 5, in a 5-3 win against the Yankees. Pinch-hitting for DH Preston Tucker in the seventh inning, he singled to CF off Chasen Shreve, and remained in the game in the DH slot. In his second trip to the plate, pitcher Johnny Barbato hit him.
PLAYER NOTES: Despite the injury scare from that first game, White was back in the lineup the next night and collected two more hits, then posted back-to-back three-hit games and homered in three games in a row. White was one of the surprises of spring training, beating out top first base prospects Jon Singleton and 2080’s #34 ranked Prospect A.J. Reed for the job, but given his 2015 numbers it shouldn’t have been that big a shock. His .442 OBP was third in the minors. Though he doesn’t have the prototypical athlete’s build, White has worked out tirelessly to get into better physical shape and it’s paid off.

B/T: R/R   H/W: 6’4”/215   BORN: May 29, 1990

ACQUIRED: Selected with the 10th pick from San Francisco in the 2015 MLB Rule 5 Draft. Originally drafted by San Francisco in the 26th round of the 2011 MLB First-Year Player Draft (University of California at Davis).
2015 SEASON STATS: Went 10-7 with a 2.42 ERA in 23 games for Richmond (Double-A/Giants), striking out 84 and walking 34 while allowing 112 hits in 130.1 IP.
PROMOTED: Already on the 40-man roster, he made the club out of spring training.
DEBUT: April 8, in an 8-7 loss to the Red Sox. The last of six pitchers, he faced the middle of the lineup and tossed one perfect inning, getting groundouts from Xander Bogaerts and Hanley Ramirez sandwiched around a swinging strikeout from David Ortiz.
PLAYER NOTES: Biagini had posted a composite 4.06 ERA in his four pro seasons prior to the Jays taking him in the Rule 5 draft, with his 2015 campaign by far his most impressive. At Class A Augusta in 2013 he went 7-6 with a 5.03 ERA in 20 starts, striking out 79 while walking 42 and allowing 102 hits in 96.2 IP before moving up to San Jose (High A) in 2014, where he was 10-9 with a 4.01 ERA, fanning 103 in 128 IP while walking 46 and allowing 133 hits. 

B/T: L/R   H/W: 6’2”/190   BORN: April 24, 1991

ACQUIRED:   Drafted in the first round (15th overall) of the 2012 MLB First-Year Player Draft (Texas A&M).
2015 SEASON STATS: Combined to hit .300 in 84 games between Akron (Double-A) and Columbus (Triple-A), with 7 HRs, 27 RBIs and 13 SBs.
PROMOTED: Already on the 40-man roster, he made the club out of spring training.
DEBUT: April 5, in a 6-2 loss to the Red Sox. Pinch-hitting for right fielder Collin Cowgill in the seventh inning, he struck out swinging against Junichi Tazawa and stayed in the game in center field.
PLAYER NOTES: Naquin hit .397 with four HRs and seven RBIs, adding three doubles and three triples over 22 games for a .759 SLG during spring training, which nailed down his roster spot.   One of the Indians’ top prospects on paper since being drafted, he needs to avoid the injury bug to make that projection reality. After winning a pair of Big 12 Conference batting titles at Texas A&M, he spent most of his first full season in 2013 at Carolina (High A), hitting .277 with 9 HRs, 42 RBIs and 14 SB. Making the move up to Akron (Double-A) in 2014, he was hitting .313 with 4 HRs, 30 RBIs and 14 SBs when he broke his hand, sidelining him until early 2015. A plus defender in center field who is considered to have the organization’s best arm, he’s a line drive hitter to all fields with minimal power.

B/T: R/R   H/W: 6’4”/250   BORN: June 21, 1982

ACQUIRED: Signed as an international free agent (South Korea) February 3, 2016.
2015 SEASON STATS: Hit .282 for the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks of the Japan Pacific League with 31 HRs, 98 RBIs, 30 doubles and a .524 SLG.
PROMOTED: Originally in camp as a non-roster invitee, he had his contract purchased from Tacoma (Triple-A) on March 27.
DEBUT: April 4 in a 3-2 loss to the Rangers. Pinch-hitting for center fielder Leonys Martin in the seventh inning, he struck out swinging against Cole Hamels.
PLAYER NOTES: A 15-year veteran of international baseball, playing four years for Orix in Japan and another 11 in his native South Korea, the big power-hitting Lee combined for a .303 BA and .514 SLG in Japan with some highlights including his 2010 season at Lotte when he hit a personal-best .364 with 44 HRs, 133 RBIs and a .667 SLG. He topped the 100-RBI plateau three times and hit at least 20 homers 10 times. 2015 was actually the first time that he also topped the 100-strikeout mark.
2080 NOTES: 2080’s Dave DeFreitas on Lee: “Big raw-power guy; has been an offensive oriented player his entire career.  Was primarily a third baseman in Korea; I first saw him on the Korea WBC team in 2009.  Always had a middle of the field, opposite field approach.  I would say he has ‘loft’ power as he gets carry on his fly balls, but not the big exit velocity.  Above-average plate discipline, good on-base guy.  Moves better than the body lets on, but still a below-average defender that will likely see those skills decline sharply as he ages.”

B/T: L/R. H/W: 6’2″/200. BORN: January 12, 1988

ACQUIRED: Signed as an international free agent (South Korea) on December 23, 2015.
Hit .326 for the Doosan Bears (KBO) with 28 HRs, 121 RBIs, 26 SBs, drawing 101 walks while fanning just 66 times. He posted a .438 OBP and a .541 SLG.
Already on the 40-man roster, he made club out of spring training.
April 10, in a 5-3 win over the Rays. Batting ninth and starting in left field, he went 2-for-3 with a pair of infield hits before being removed for pinch-runner Nolan Reimold in the seventh inning. His first hit came in his first at-bat when he singled back to the mound off RHP Jake Odorizzi. He grounded out in his third at-bat before singling to shortstop in the seventh inning.
PLAYER NOTES: One of the most bizarre and contentious situations in O’s spring camp played out over the high-profile international signee, who inked a $7 million, two-year deal in the offseason. Nicknamed “The Machine” for his consistently excellent play, he represented South Korea in the 2009 World Baseball Classic and in his 10 years with Doosan he had a .318 BA with a .406 OBP and .488 SLG. He signed with the Orioles when he became eligible for free agency, and he was the projected starting left fielder for Baltimore when spring training began, but a very slow start and adjustment to U.S. baseball put into doubt whether he was ready for the big leagues. After hitting just .178 with no extra-base hits in 45 at-bats over 17 games this spring and not playing at all the final week of games, the Orioles wanted him to start the season in the minors to get in some more reps, but his contract allowed him to refuse a minor league assignment. Rather than release him and eat the $7 million, the Orioles kept Kim on the 25-man roster, but he had to wait nearly a week before finally getting off the bench and make his debut.

B/T: R/L   H/W: 6’1″/185   BORN: May 21, 1991

ACQUIRED: Selected with the eighth pick of the 2015 MLB Rule 5 Draft from Tampa Bay. Originally drafted by the Rays in the ninth round of 2012 MLB First-Year Player Draft (University of Arizona).
2015 SEASON STATS: Hit a combined .321 at three levels – Charlotte (High A/Rays), Montgomery (Double-A/Rays) and Durham Triple-A/Rays) – with 2 HRs, 55 RBIs, 23 SBs and 28 doubles.
PROMOTED: Already on the 40-man roster, he made the club out of spring training.
DEBUT: April 4, in a 3-2 win over the Twins. The starting left fielder, he batted ninth and went 2-for-4 with a run scored. He lined a single to center field in his first at-bat and scored the game’s first run on an Adam Jones double; he then doubled in the fifth inning.
PLAYER NOTES: It appeared that it was going to be a battle for the final Orioles’ outfield roster spot between unsung Rule 5 pick Rickard and multimillion-dollar international sign Hyun-Soo Kim, but Rickard earned a spot on the roster quickly by hitting .390 this spring with a .576 SLG so both landed on the roster. Rickard helped lead his University of Arizona team to the College World Series title in 2012. He went on to earn short-season New York-Penn League All-Star honors that summer, hitting .279 with 11 steals at Hudson Valley, and swiped 30 bases in his first full season, 2013, at Bowling Green (Class A). An ankle injury ended his 2014 campaign prematurely, but he made up for it with his surge through three levels last summer, as his combined .427 OBP ranked fifth in the minors. He’s an above-average defensive outfielder who can handle all three spots.

B/T: R/R   H/W: 6’1”/190   BORN: November 9, 1983
ACQUIRED: Signed as a minor league free agent on December 15, 2015. Originally drafted by Arizona in the 10th round of the 2006 MLB First-Year Player Draft (Arizona State University).
2015 SEASON STATS: Went 3-1 with a 1.29 ERA and 41 saves in 59 games for the Tokyo Yakult Swallows of Nippon Professional Baseball in Japan, striking out 56 while walking 19 in 62.2 IP.
PROMOTED: Already on the 40-man roster, he made the club out of spring training.
DEBUT:   April 5, in a 10-2 loss to the Mariners. The second of five pitchers, he took the loss. Coming on in the seventh inning in a 2-2 tie, he allowed two runs, both earned, on three hits over 0.2 IP, striking out one. After giving up a leadoff single to Seth Smith, he retired the next two batters before Leonys Martin delivered an RBI double and Nori Aoki followed with an RBI single. Barnette faced five batters, delivering 16 pitches, 12 of them for strikes.
PLAYER NOTES: After being an innings-eater stateside, with back-to-back-to-back seasons of 150 or more innings, he moved into relief when he signed with Yakult in Japan, and it signaled a career turnaround. With the club for the last six years, he worked in the closer role and posted mixed results that included some pretty spectacular numbers, as his 2015 stats will attest.
2080 NOTES: 2080’s Dave DeFreitas on Barnette: “Tony is a pretty high energy guy; always had good stuff, but had trouble harnessing everything for more than an inning or two.  It was a good move by Yakult to move him to the pen, where he could just focus on his hard stuff.  I think to be successful in the U.S., he will need to be able to go backwards and forwards a little bit better, but he throws a heavy ball and the cutter is plus.  He deserves a lot of credit for the adjustments he’s made to this point and Texas is a good organization for him.”

You can read DeFreitas’ full scouting report on Tony Barnette here:

B/T: R/R   H/W: 6’1”/235   BORN: July 10, 1986

ACQUIRED: Signed as an international free agent (South Korea) on December 1, 2015.
2015 SEASON STATS: Hit .343 in 140 games for Nexen (KBO) with 53 HRs, 146 RBIs and 35 doubles to go with a .436 OBP and a .714 SLG.
PROMOTED: Already on the 40-man roster, he made the club out of spring training.
DEBUT: April 4, in a 3-2 loss to the Orioles. The starting DH, he batted sixth and went 1-for-3 with a run scored. After striking out looking in his first at-bat, he singled to center field in the fifth inning off Tyler Wilson.
PLAYER NOTES: A huge power prospect who finally came stateside after spending nine seasons in the KBO, Park was coming off of his best season, statistically, when he signed with the Twins. In 2014, he hit .303 at Nexen with 52 RBIs and 124 RBIs, after batting .318 with 37 HRs and 117 RBIs in 2013 and .290 with 31 HRs and 105 RBIs in 2012.
2080 NOTES: 2080’s Dave DeFreitas on Park: “Huge raw power, can hit it out anywhere; I’ve never been a big fan of the stroke, as I think it gets long and he may have some trouble up in the zone.  That plays better in Korea since it’s more of an offensive league.  There is some swing and miss there for sure and there weren’t a ton of walks for someone that I have to assume was getting pitched around a good bit.  That said, he did what good hitters do to lesser pitching. ”

B/T: R/R   H/W: 6’1”/235   BORN: July 11, 1992

ACQUIRED: Via trade from San Diego for RHP Shawn Kelley on December 29, 2014.   Originally drafted by San Diego in the sixth round of the 2010 MLB First-Year Player Draft (Felix Varela H.S., Miami, FL).
2015 SEASON STATS: Combined to go 6-2 with a 2.67 ERA in 40 games between Trenton (Double-A) and Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (Triple-A), striking out 70 while walking 25 in 67.1 innings and allowing 55 hits. At Scranton, he was 4-0 with a 0.36 ERA in 25 IP.
PROMOTED: Already on the 40-man roster, he made the club out of spring training.
DEBUT: April 5, in a 5-3 loss to the Astros. The last of four pitchers, he struck out three in 1.1 hitless innings. Coming on with two outs in the eighth inning, he hit the first batter he faced (fellow “debutante” Tyler White) before getting the final out of the inning, and then cruised through the ninth inning untouched.
PLAYER NOTES: Barbato brought a 3.55 career ERA over five seasons into the 2016 campaign, with all but the first year coming out of the bullpen. Fanning 326 batters in 317 IP, he’s limited hitters to a combined .236 BAA in that time. His numbers at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre no doubt helped tip the Yankees off that he could be ready for prime time. In his last season with the Padres prior his trade to New York, he posted a 2.87 ERA at San Antonio (Double-A), collecting 16 saves and striking out 33 in 31 IP while walking 10.

B/T: R/R   H/W: 6’0”/205   BORN: April 25, 1992

ACQUIRED: Via trade from Detroit with RHP Chad Green in exchange for LHP Justin Wilson on December 9, 2015. Originally signed as an international free agent (Mexico) by the New York Mets on July 9, 2008.
2015 SEASON STATS: Combined to go 8-10 with a 4.52 ERA in 25 starts between Binghamton (Double-A/Mets), Las Vegas (Triple-A/Mets) and Toledo (Triple-A/Tigers), striking out 119 while walking 36 and allowing 163 hits in 139.1 IP.
PROMOTED: Already on the 40-man roster, he made the club out of spring training.
DEBUT: April 8, in a 4-0 loss to the Tigers. The last of three pitchers, he pitched the seventh and eighth innings, allowing one run on two hits, striking out two. The lone run came on a home run to Miguel Cabrera in the seventh inning. He threw 36 pitches, 20 for strikes.
PLAYER NOTES: Converted from middle infield to the mound in 2011 after hitting a combined .178 in 57 games for the Dominican Summer League from 2009-10 combined, he’s posted a combined 3.68 ERA in five seasons on the mound, almost exclusively as a starter. He had not pitched in relief before his bug league debut since 2011. In 2014, between Port St. Lucie (High A) and Binghamton (Double-A), he went 7-9 with a 4.26 ERA in 21 starts, after a strong 2013 campaign at Savannah (Class A) where he was 8-4 with a 3.12 ERA and walked just 19 while fanning 124 in 130 IP.

Special thanks to 2080 Baseball contributors Dave DeFreitas (Rangers, international players), Michael Tepid (Rangers), and  C.J. Wittmann (2080 Top 125 Preseason Ranking List player reports) for their extra insight into the debuts this week!