Feature Photo: Renato Nunez, 3B, Athletics
Though the flood of debuts of the first two weeks of September have subsided to a trickle, the week was not without its highlights, including one notable game – the Oakland Athletics’ 16-3 win over the Kansas City Royals on September 12 – where three players all made their big league debuts (including Royals former first-rounder Hunter Dozier, who was in his 10th game in the dugout since arriving from Triple-A Omaha on September 2. No word on whether they had to shake the cobwebs off of him before trotting him out right field in the seventh inning.)
The week also featured one of if not THE most unusual official major league debut we’ve had this year, and it happened to check in at 2016 debut No. 250 … for the first time in the long, proud (six-month) history of Les Debutantes, we will revisit this player’s NEXT outing and write it up as his “debut part deux” to give him his full due. Who, you ask? Read on to find out!
While there should still be a handful of debuts between now and the end of the season, there will be no Les Debutantes column next week (September 25) … check back here on Monday, October 3, for the final debut capsules of the 2016 campaign, and again on October 10 for a massive season-ending lollapalooza of fun facts as we look back over this season’s debuts!
We’ll also hand out some “Little Debbie” awards (perhaps one day we can get sponsored by your humble scribe’s FAVORITE snack food … maybe we can get a box of Zebra Cakes sent to every player who debuts … … maybe … okay, never mind) for all sorts of interesting categories.
But for now, here are the newest big leaguers from last week!
American League Debuts
ACQUIRED: Signed as an international free agent (Venezuela) on November 20, 2010
CURRENT SEASON STATS: .228 with 23 homers and 75 RBIs in 128 games at Nashville (Triple-A), adding 20 doubles for a .412 SLG.
PROMOTED: Recalled from Nashville on September 12.
DEBUT: September 12, in a 16-3 win over the Kansas City Royals. He came into the game pinch-hitting for DH Stephen Vogt in the ninth inning with one out and two runners on, including fellow debutante Matt Olson who had just made HIS debut moments earlier (see below). Nunez grounded out to first base against reliever Alec Mills, advancing both runners, who would both go on to score. He remained in the lineup at DH but did not bat again.
PLAYER NOTES: Nunez, who signed for a $2.2 million bonus out of Venezuela in 2010, turned 22 on Opening Day this year and is one of the premier power prospects in the Oakland system (fittingly, sharing that honor with his co-debutante, Matt Olson). Despite his low batting average at Nashville this season, he is a solid hitter who brings a career .265 average into his big league debut and has shown consistent power throughout his one-level-at-a-time climb through the system. A two-time Futures Game participant (in 2014 and 2015), he comes off a 2015 season where he hit .278 with 18 homers and 61 RBIs in just 93 games at Midland (Double-A) after hitting .279 with 29 homers, 96 RBIs and 28 doubles at Stockton (High A) in 124 games in 2014. His call up came after his Nashville Sounds were eliminated in the Pacific Coast League semifinals, but he led off that series against Oklahoma City with a five-RBI game.
ACQUIRED: Drafted in the first round (CBA, #47 overall) of the 2012 MLB First-Year Player Draft (Parkview High School, Lilburn, GA).
CURRENT SEASON STATS: .235 with 17 homers and 60 RBIs in 131 games at Nashville (Triple-A), adding 34 doubles for a .422 SLG.
PROMOTED: Contract purchased from Nashville on September 12.
DEBUT: September 12, in a 16-3 win against over the Kansas City Royals. A late-game entry on defense at first base, he came on in the bottom of the eighth, getting his first at-bat in the top of the ninth. With one runner on and one out and facing Royals reliever Alec Mills, Olson drew a walk on four pitches and eventually came around to score on a two-run double by Arismendy Alcantara.
PLAYER NOTES: Arguably the Athletics’ top power prospect (arguable mainly from proponents of the aforementioned Nunez, since both have serious pop), Olson combines power with fine plate discipline, as he has not only been among the top home run hitters in the minors, earning the Joe Bauman Award for most homers in the minors in 2014 when he blasted 37 at Stockton (High A) but he’s also been among the top when it comes to bases on balls, topping 100 walks in both 2014 and 2015. He’s also topped the 30-doubles mark in all of his full-season campaigns. His average could be a little higher, but that might be a quibble. In 2015 at Midland (Double-A), along with being names to the mid-season Futures Game, he hit .249 with 17 homers, 75 RBIs and 37 doubles in 131 games after hitting .262 with those 37 homers, 97 RBIs and 31 doubles the previous summer. One of three first-rounders taken by the A’s in 2012, along with Addison Russell and Daniel Robertson, he’s the only one left in their system now.
ACQUIRED: Via trade from the Chicago Cubs on July 20, 2016, along with RHP Paul Blackburn for LHP Mike Montgomery and RHP Jordan Pries. Originally drafted by the Cubs in the second round of the 2011 MLB First-Year Player Draft (Bishop Verot High School, Fort Myers, FL).
CURRENT SEASON STATS: .292 with 23 homers and 96 RBIs in 133 games between Iowa (Triple-A/Cubs) and Tacoma (Triple-A/Mariners) adding 25 doubles for a .505 SLG. He hit .318 at Iowa and .240 at Tacoma.
PROMOTED: Recalled from Tacoma on September 12.
DEBUT: September 12, in an 8-1 win against the Los Angeles Angels. Pinch-hitting for Nelson Cruz, he came into the game with a runner on first in the top of the ninth and hit the first pitch he saw against reliever Brett Oberholtzer, grounding into a force out at second base. He remained in the lineup as DH but did not have another at-bat.
PLAYER NOTES: Though listed as “Dan” in many references and on many rosters in the past, he’s made clear he prefers “Daniel” and we always like to go with the name preferred by the player so Daniel it is! Despite struggling a bit at the plate after the trade overall, Vogelbach did homer in his first game with Tacoma and his power is undeniable, as he combined between his two stops in his Triple-A debut for career-bests in both homers and RBIs and earned Pacific Coast League All-Star honors. Slowed by injuries in 2015 when a strained oblique and sore hamstring cost him time, he still hit .279 with seven homers and 39 RBIs in 83 games, most of them at Tennessee (Double-A) with a .415 OBP and .434 SLG. He’s posted a career .481 SLG over six career seasons. A big boy, his defense is not his strong point but his bat should carry him.
2080 NOTES: You can check out our Prospect Spotlight on Vogelbach here.
ACQUIRED: Drafted in the first round (#8 overall) of the 2013 MLB First-Year Player Draft (Stephen F. Austin University).
CURRENT SEASON STATS: .296 with 23 homers and 75 RBIs in 129 games between Northwest Arkansas (Double-A) and Omaha (Triple-A), adding 44 doubles and a .533 SLG.
PROMOTED: Contract purchased from Omaha on September 2.
DEBUT: September 12, in a 16-3 loss to the Oakland Athletics. He was a late-game defensive replacement, inserted into right field in the top of the seventh inning and replacing Cheslor Cuthbert in the batting order. He had his lone at-bat leading off the top of the ninth inning against reliever Zach Neal and struck out swinging.
PLAYER NOTES: It must have seemed like an eternity for Dozier to finally get his first at-bat, since he was brought up on September 2 and didn’t debut for 10 days. Despite being the eighth pick in the country in 2013, Dozier had his struggles early on in his career, doing fine until he reached Double-A for the first time in 2014, when it seemed he hit a roadblock. After batting .295 at Wilmington (High A), his average dipped to .209 at Northwest Arkansas. When he returned there to start 2015, he hit just .213 with 12 homers and 53 RBIs in 128 games. But this year, Dozier took no prisoners with the Naturals, hitting .305 in his first 26 games with eight homers and 21 RBIs to earn a promotion to Omaha, where he batted .294 with 15 homers and 54 RBIs in 103 games, earning the call to the big leagues. Now that he has seemed to put it together and figure it out, one can look for him to put the struggles in his rear view mirror.
National League Debuts
ACQUIRED: Via trade from the Houston Astros on January 14, 2015, along with RHPs Andrew Thurman and Mike Foltynewicz in exchange for C Evan Gattis and RHP James Hoyt. Originally drafted by the Astros in the fourth round of the 2012 MLB First-Year Player Draft (Bishop Amat Memorial High School, La Puente, CA).
CURRENT SEASON STATS: .271 with 10 homers and 62 RBIs in 133 games at Gwinnett (Triple-A) along with 24 doubles.
PROMOTED: Contract purchased from Gwinnett September 17 when 40-man rosters expanded.
DEBUT: September 18, in a 6-2 victory over the Washington Nationals. Sort of, anyway. In the bottom of the seventh with the Braves up 6-2, he came on with two outs and a runner on second as a pinch-hitter for relief pitcher Shae Simmons. Reliever Trevor Gott was on the mound, so once Ruiz was officially announced as the batter, the Nats shuffled to replace Gott with another reliever, Matt Grace, taking up a few precious minutes. In those minutes, clouds that had been forming over Nationals Park got bigger and darker and wetter and the game was suspended by its second – and final – rain delay of the day. This one finally forced an early end to the game (not a suspension, an official game). Rio Ruiz never even stepped into the batter’s box, but he’d made his major league debut. Hey, at least his team won. BUT, that said, we at Les Debutantes WILL write up Ruiz’s actual debut-debut when it comes (which should be soon) in our final package of debuts on October 3.
PLAYER NOTES: With his official insertion into Sunday’s game, Ruiz became the 250th player to OFFICIALLY make his major league debut in 2016. A highly regarded high school player out of Southern California who had committed to USC as a freshman, he missed much of his senior year of high school due to a blood clot in his right clavicle and his draft status dipped a bit as a result. His consistent ability to hit doubles could turn into more homers as he develops. In 2015, he hit .233 with five homers and 46 RBIs along with 21 doubles at Mississippi (Double-A) and led Southern League third basemen in fielding percentage with a .950 mark.
2080 NOTES: You can read our Prospect Spotlight on Ruiz here.
ACQUIRED: Via trade from the Texas Rangers on July 31, 2015, along with RHP Matt Harrison, RHP Jerad Eickhoff, RHP Alec Asher, RHP Jake Thompson and OF Nick Williams for LHP Cole Hamels, LHP Jake Diekman and cash. Originally signed by the Rangers as an international free agent (Colombia) on June 14, 2010.
CURRENT SEASON STATS: .285 with 15 homers and 67 RBIs in 97 games at Reading (Double-A), adding 21 doubles.
PROMOTED: Recalled from Reading on September 11.
DEBUT: September 12, in a 6-2 win against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Pinch-hitting in the eighth inning for pitcher Hector Nevis, he went 1-for-1. He led off the inning against reliever Jared Hughes, singling to third base on a 2-0 count.
PLAYER NOTES: This is actually Alfaro’s second trip to the majors this season, as he was brought up for one day, August 26, when the Phillies and Dodgers swapped catchers (Carlos Ruiz and A.J. Ellis respectively), prompting both teams to recall minor league catchers to have on reserve if needed. Neither one was (the Dodgers brought up Aruban-born Shawn Zarraga, who would have also been making his debut) and thus Alfaro returned to the minors for a few more weeks. Part of a huge haul of top prospects that the Phillies received from the Rangers in a blockbuster deal with Texas a year ago, Alfaro had been signed for a $1.3 million bonus out of his native Colombia. Injuries have slowed his ascent, including a broken hand in 2013 and a broken ankle in 2015, as well as some time spent on the DL this year with a strained oblique, but the two-time Futures Game participant has been a steady hitter, batting a career .266 with occasional pop, adding 15 or more homers in 2013, 2014 and 2016 (he missed most of ’15), and boasting a double-plus arm. He’s very athletic but still something of a work in progress due to the missed time. When everything clicks, his upside should be huge.
2080 NOTES: You can read our Prospect Spotlights on Alfaro here and here, and you can also catch this video we shot of him. Alfaro checked in at No. 48 on our Preseason Top 125 Prospect Rankings List where we had this to say about him: “The top catching prospect on our 2016 list, Alfaro was one of the main pieces coming to the Phillies in the Cole Hamels trade. He has unique athleticism for a catcher and some of the best raw power in the minors. Agility behind the plate should translate to the major league level, but if not, he would be able to handle a corner-outfield spot. With just a slightly below-average hit tool and above-average in-game power from the catcher spot, Alfaro could project to an all-star caliber future.”