Feature Photo: Chris Stratton, RHP, Giants
This week’s Les Debutantes column brings you the details on five life-changing nights. Some players barely had time to hang their street clothes up in their new lockers before getting into games, while others had time to … well, probably become permanent residents of their new cities.
But what are the odds of this? Two of the five (I think that’s 40% but “Math class is hard,” said Teen Barbie) — Yankees left-hander Richard Bleier and Brewers right-hander Jacob Barnes — were originally drafted out of Florida Gulf Coast University. This gives the Eagles three pitchers on big league rosters – White Sox ace Chris Sale is also an alum – and a legit shot at four, if Mariners right-hander Casey Coleman, currently dealing big-time with a 1.61 ERA in relief at Triple-A Tacoma, gets called up.
American League Debuts
ACQUIRED: Drafted in the 16th round of the 2011 MLB First-Year Player Draft (McLennan C.C.)
CURRENT SEASON STATS: 3-4 with a 2.94 ERA in eight starts at Columbus (Triple-A) including one complete-game shutout, striking out 37 while walking eight and allowing 48 hits in 52 innings.
PROMOTED: Recalled from Columbus May 23 when RHP Joba Chamberlain was placed on the 15-day DL.
DEBUT: May 30, in a 9-2 loss to the Rangers. The third of four pitchers, he tossed 4.1 innings of one-hit shutout ball, striking out two without walking a batter. After starter Josh Tomlin gave up eight runs before the end of the fourth inning and reliever Austin Adams finished out that frame for him, Merritt came on to start the fifth. The first batter he faced, Elvis Andrus, hit a soft line drive single to right field, after which Merritt made short work of the next 12 batters he faced, throwing just 40 pitches, 32 for strikes. Andrus was erased when Ryan Rua grounded into a double play, after which Bryan Holaday grounded out. Merritt turned in a pair of one-two-three innings in the sixth and seventh, and then, in the eighth, Andrus once again reached base to lead off the inning, this time on a throwing error, only to be erased once again on a Rua double play ball, and then Holaday flew out. Merritt started the ninth by striking out Jurickson Profar before Cody Allen came on in relief to finish things off.
PLAYER NOTES: Merritt probably needed a rust remover – or at least a dust remover – when he was finally called on to make his big league debut. He had been recalled way back on May 23 and had one of the best seats in the house to watch the Indians games for a week before trotting out to the mound. Prior to his debut, Merritt had only had five outings ever out of the bullpen, making A wait not uncommon but certainly not THIS wait. A workhorse starter for the Indians in 2015 when he combined to go 12-7 with a 3.63 ERA between Akron (Double-A) and Columbus, he threw 171 innings that season, walking just 22 while striking out 105 and allowing 183 hits, posting two complete games. In 2014, he was among the High A Carolina League leaders in most categories, going 13-3 with a 2.58 ERA in 25 starts, including two complete games, and allowing 128 hits and 25 walks while striking out 127 in 160.1 IP. His WHIP has been just outstanding every season, and he’s tossed at least 130 innings in each of his three full seasons. His plus changeup highlights a four-pitch repertoire, but it’s his feel and control which carry him.
ACQUIRED: Drafted in the 29th round of the 2012 MLB First-Year Player Draft (Texas Christian University).
CURRENT SEASON STATS: .335 with seven homers, 24 RBIs and one steal in 43 games at Charlotte (Triple-A) with 13 doubles and two triples for a .567 SLG.
PROMOTED: Contract purchased from Charlotte June 4 when RHP Tommy Kahnle was sent down.
DEBUT: June 4 in a 7-4 loss to the Tigers. The starting left fielder, he batted eighth and went 0-for-1 with a walk before leaving the game in the bottom of the seventh inning when he suffered a bloody lip and was shaken up in an outfield collision with center fielder J.B. Shuck. In his first at-bat in the second inning, Coats drew a two-out walk, and then he was hit by a pitch in the fourth by Tigers starter Mike Pelfrey. In the sixth, he fouled out on a pop up behind home plate.
PLAYER NOTES: Happily, Coats was okay after the scary-looking collision in his debut (though perhaps he and Shuck were distracted by vision issues caused by the rather garish throwback pajama uniforms they were wearing). He was enjoying a very impressive first two months in the minors after hitting .276 with 17 homers, 83 RBIs and 38 doubles between Birmingham (Double-A) and Charlotte in 2015, when he led the organization in total bases (236), doubles and RBIs and added 148 hits. Coats was actually drafted in the 12th round of the 2011 draft as a junior at TCU but did not sign and then dropped to the 29th round as a senior after suffering a torn ACL. An extra-base hits machine as a pro, he collected 15 homers and 38 doubles between Winston-Salem (High A) and Birmingham in 2014 after posting 12 home runs and 38 doubles in his pro debut in 2013 (he did not play until ’13 because of the ACL injury). Boasting a career .446 SLG in his first three full pro seasons, he projects most likely as a fourth outfielder, but don’t rule out his improving that projection with his hustle.
ACQUIRED: Signed as a minor league free agent on December 18, 2015. Originally drafted by the Rangers in the sixth round of the 2008 MLB First-Year Player Draft (Florida Gulf Coast University).
CURRENT SEASON STATS: 1-1 with a 2.84 ERA in seven starts at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (Triple-A), striking out nine while walking four and allowing 30 hits in 31.2 IP.
PROMOTED: Contract purchased from Scranton/Wilkes-Barre May 26 when LHP Chasen Shreve went on the 15-day DL.
DEBUT: May 30, in a 4-2 loss to the Blue Jays. The last of three pitchers, if you blinked you missed Bleier’s perfect two-thirds of an inning. Coming on with one out in the eighth inning in relief of Nick Goody, it took him a grand total of three pitches — all strikes — to complete the inning, as he retired both Michael Saunders and Justin Smoak on infield groundouts.
PLAYER NOTES: Like Jacob Barnes (below), Bleier became one of two Florida Gulf Coast University products to make his big league debut within a four-day period. The veteran, who brought a 4.04 ERA in his first eight seasons into 2016, had gone a combined 14-5 with a 2.57 ERA in 28 games for the Nationals between Harrisburg (Double-A) and Syracuse (Triple-A) in 2015, striking out 65 and walking just 16 in 171.2 IP. Now with his fourth organization, he began his career in the Rangers system before the Blue Jays — the team he faced in his major league debut — plucked him out of the Texas chain in the 2013 Rule 5 Draft. One year later, he signed as a minor league free agent with the Nationals organization, before once again entering the free agent market and inking with the Yankees on December 18, 2015.
National League Debuts
ACQUIRED: Drafted in the 14th round of the 2011 MLB First-Year Player Draft (Florida Gulf Coast University).
CURRENT SEASON STATS: 2-1 with a 1.21 ERA in 17 games in relief at Colorado Springs (Triple-A), striking out 23 while walking seven and allowing 14 hits in 22.1 IP.
PROMOTED: Recalled from Colorado Springs June 2 when RHP Michael Blazek went on the 15-day DL.
DEBUT: June 3, in a 6-3 loss to the Phillies. The last of five pitchers, he came on to start the eighth and needed just nine pitches – seven of them strikes – to retire the side in order, and finish his debut in mere minutes. He opened the frame by striking out Tommy Joseph swinging, then got Jimmy Paredes to ground out to first base on the first pitch he saw, before fanning Peter Bourjos (swinging) to end the inning.
PLAYER NOTES: Barnes has started and relieved in his pro career, but his numbers seem to attest that the Brewers have found the right fit by putting him in the bullpen. He has never had a season during which he allowed more hits than innings pitched, and he brings a combined 3.38 career ERA with 382 strikeouts in 439 innings against 163 walks and 395 hits. The 2016 season marked his Triple-A debut as he spent all of 2015 at Biloxi (Double-A) where he was 4-5 with a 3.36 ERA in 39 games — six of them starts — striking out 84 in 75 innings and walking 30, while allowing 74 hits.
ACQUIRED: Drafted in the first round (#20 overall) of the 2012 MLB First-Year Player Draft (Mississippi State University).
CURRENT SEASON STATS: 5-4 with a 6.02 ERA in nine starts at Sacramento (Triple-A), striking out 36 and walking 15 while allowing 58 hits in 52.1 IP.
PROMOTED: Recalled from Sacramento May 28 when RHP Matt Cain went on the 15-day DL.
DEBUT: May 30, in a 5-3 loss to the Braves. The last of three pitchers, he tossed one perfect inning, striking out two. On for Derek Law, he needed just 12 pitches – eight of them strikes – to finish the night. Coming on to start the eighth inning, he got Adonis Garcia to fly out before recording back-to-back swinging strikeouts of Nick Markakis and Kelly Johnson.
PLAYER NOTES: The Tupelo, Mississippi native may never become more famous than his hometown’s most notable native (Elvis something), but being a former first-round draft pick and a newly-minted big league pitcher is as good a place to start as any. The former SEC Pitcher of the Year while at Mississippi State, he is expected to pitch out of the bullpen in his first stint in the majors. Between Richmond (Double-A) and Sacramento in 2015, Stratton combined to go 5-10 with a 3.95 ERA in 26 starts, striking out 111 while walking 62 and allowing 128 hits in 148 innings. In 2014, between San Jose (High A) and Richmond, he was 8-9 with a 4.80 ERA in 24 games, fanning 120 and walking 48 with 132 hits allowed in 122 innings.