Feature Photo: Clayton Blackburn, RHP, Rangers
When Your Humble Scribe decided, a year ago at this time, to take a fun cyberwalk down memory lane to try to make some sort of statistical and anecdotal sense of the 258 players who had made their major league debuts in the preceding six months that were the 2016 MLB Season, she had no idea what she was in for (the “royal she” in use here).
To give you a basic idea of what a Debutantes Ball pre-season consists of, let’s just quote the very first paragraph of LAST year’s Season In Review:
“Before the season started, we were already doing our homework. When the first pitch of the 2016 season was thrown in the early evening hours of April 3, we here at Les Debutantes (as the column was named in 2016) had already created “prep pages” for every player on each of the 30 clubs’ 40-man rosters who could be making his MLB debut, if and when he got called up. Hundreds of pages. We’d been working off of the original spring training invitee list, so we’re talking every eighth-string catcher brought in to give all those rusty pitchers a target; every high draft pick whose contract had guaranteed the player an invitation; players who were sent en masse back to minor league camp as soon as games began. All of them. That was one damned heavy looseleaf binder.”
So, now, fast forward to pre-season 2017. Take that one damned heavy looseleaf binder. Deduct the number of pages of players who actually debuted (we had 258 debuts in 2016, but not all of them had even been in ‘The Book’ to start the season… many of them were nowhere near the radar when The Book was first compiled). Keep every page that had been written up with the most remote possibility of a debut and update it with that player’s 2016 stats, even those designated for assignment by the grim reaper. Then write up umpteen MORE pages for the new names on rosters, spring training invitee lists, prospect lists.
And there you have the situation heading into 2017.
And now, the summer has flown by. 262 more players have made their debuts (and yes, the Looseleaf Of Hernia Doom still exists and is ready to be added to in 2018, God – and 2080 editors – willing). And YHS has spent the last few days making all sorts of spreadsheets and reading over the pages and notebook entries for those 262 and has come up with what follows.
Nothing earthshattering, nothing groundbreaking, and frankly if you’ve been following along avidly all season (you HAVE, haven’t you?) probably not that much you don’t know, player by player.
But hopefully, you will find it entertaining, maybe amusing, maybe even eye-opening. And here’s hoping it will make you smile and look forward to 2018 even as the winter starts to creep in here and we search our local cable provider’s 972 channels for the one channel that airs winter ball in Spanish.
BY THE NUMBERS:
Number of players who debuted in 2017: 262
2017 Debut No. 1: Austin Pruitt (RHP, Rays), April 2. Pruitt joined the Rays’ bullpen out of spring training and got into the season-opening Sunday night game against the Yankees, the third of five pitchers in a 7-3 victory.
2017 Debut No. 262: Tim Locastro (INF/OF, Dodgers), September 29. With the playoffs looming, the Dodgers purchased the contract of Locastro, their speediest of speedsters, to give them the option of using him as their 25th man in the postseason if they chose to go in that direction in any round. For the first round, they opted to keep an extra reliever in the person of Pedro Baez, but Locastro remains on their “taxi squad,” inactive but eligible to be activated before any round. In his debut, a 9-1 loss to the Cubs, he came in as – what else? – a pinch-runner and remained in the game in left field.
WHEN, WHERE, WHAT?
Debuts made by month: One would imagine that the two months with the most debuts would be April (50) and September (52). However, in fact, it was June where the debutantes were busting out all over, as 57 players made their debuts that month.
That fact is especially interesting when we look at the numbers from 2016. Last year, April clocked in first with 54, followed closely by September with 49, and June crawled in last with just 30.
Filling out the tallies, August saw 38 players make their debuts, May 35 and July 30. Unlike 2016, when Nationals catcher Spencer Kieboom took the field on the very last day of the season, we had no October debuts in 2017.
Debuts made by date: Teams were much quicker to expose newcomers to action right away in September (either they were out of contention, had things locked up, or their players were just tired), as September 1 saw 11 players debut, the most on any single date of the year, followed closely by 10 more the next day, September 2. In comparison, there was only one day in April that saw more than five debuts, as April 3 (the first official day of the season, not counting the new tradition of a Sunday night open) saw six debuts.
When we take out the obvious months of deluge, April and September, we have only two dates that saw six players make their debuts: July 1 and September 1. Three other dates – June 11, June 24 and June 29 – had five debuts apiece, while May 24, June 22, June 23 and July 31 each saw four players debut.
Debuts made by organization: (based on which organization the player was with when he made his debut … understanding that they do sometimes change hands along the way):
The Debutante Ball’s Gold Star and crown goes to: The Reds, who welcomed a very grand total of 17 players to the big leagues this season, with right-handed reliever Barrett Astin being the first to see action on April 3, and right-handed reliever Keury Mella wrapping things up with a September 20 debut.
Not far behind were the Phillies (15), the Twins (14), the Blue Jays (13), and the Yankees and Mets, who both welcomed 12 newly minted big leaguers.
On the other side of the coin, the teams that did not see a need or a fit for many newcomers: The Diamondbacks and Indians each brought four debutantes to the ball this year, with the Rockies, Astros and Angels coming in at five apiece.
Debuts made by position: (very, very, very loosely, since the positions at which players are listed, especially when it comes to infield and even outfield, can vary once they’re up):
So this was a point where I had to go back and double-check my numbers, and did so to the best of my ability, but I’m still open to someone point out to me an error in my tally.
I’m not debating my pitcher/position player ratio, which came out to 151 pitchers making their MLB debuts versus 111 position players. But my own recordkeeping indicates that of those 151 pitchers, 122 were right-handers and only 29 were left-handers. While that is not THAT far off the actual ratio of left-handers versus right-handers in the league, last year’s tally (158 pitchers, 100 position players) found us with 113 right-handers and 45 left-handers. So, if somewhere along the line I accidentally inserted an R for an L (or, wait, I can blame it on auto-correct!), my apologies. But since the only records I can go on are my own, that’s what I show!
I am going very basic on my position breakdown because not only do some players come up having been identified at a certain position in the minors only to move to another one in the majors, but many play sort of all over the place.
That said, I’ve got the 111 broken down thusly: 45 outfielders, 19 catchers, 14 shortstops, 12 third basemen, nine first basemen, nine second basemen and three “infielders.”
LET’S GO TO THE BIRTH CERTIFICATES!
Debuts made by birthday: While our 2016 crop of debs were led by those kids who got to celebrate their birthday AND their winter holiday of choice the same month – we had 30 December babies – this year, the bumper crops came in January and May, with 31 debutantes apiece. August came close behind with 30 debut player birthdays. On the other end, June was not busting out all over when it came to debs being born, with just 14 June birthdays, and February and October, with 17 apiece, coming in right behind.
Last year, despite June having been last as well with an identical number of 14 birthdays, it also was represented on the positive side with four players sharing a June 9 birthday (none of them having the same birth year, however).
This year, the big birthday day was January 18, which is on the birth certificates of a whopping SIX 2017 debutantes – Pirates shortstop Gift Ngoepe (1990), “birthday twins” Cardinals shortstop Alex Mejia and Red Sox right-hander Kyle Martin (1991), A’s outfielder Jaycob Brugman (1992), Marlins left-hander Jarlin Garcia (1993) and Braves left-hander Max Fried (1994).
While we had 11 sets of birthday twins last year (including THREE players all born on December 4, 1992), this year we had 12 sets but no date bearing more than two debutantes. Since none of them are teammates at this point, we’ll list them here so if they run into each other they know they can share that special “twin handshake” or whatever twins do (P.S. One of them is even a Minnesota Twin!):
- January 14, 1993: Pirates right-hander Dovydas Neverauskas and Mariners outfielder Boog Powell.
- January 18, 1991: Cardinals shortstop Alex Mejia and Red Sox right-hander Kyle Martin.
- March 21, 1992: A’s right-hander Bobby Wahl and Orioles right-hander Jimmy Yacabonis.
- March 22, 1994: Rays shortstop Daniel Robertson and Phillies right-hander Drew Anderson.
- August 2, 1993: Cardinals infielder Paul DeJong and Reds right-hander Keury Mella.
- August 14, 1991: White Sox right-hander Dylan Covey and Yankees right-hander Giovanny Gallegos.
- August 31, 1992: Rangers right-hander Ricardo Rodriguez and Marlins left-hander Dillon Maples.
- September 4, 1992: White Sox outfielder Willy Garcia and Twins right-hander Aaron Slegers.
- October 26, 1993: Blue Jays outfielder Dwight Smith, Jr., and Royals left-hander Eric Skoglund.
- November 28, 1989: Pirates right-hander Angel Sanchez and Cubs catcher Taylor Davis.
- December 12, 1992: Pirates infielder/outfielder Jose Osuna and Reds right-hander Luis Castillo.
- December 27, 1991: Reds catcher Stuart Turner and Diamondbacks right-hander Jimmie Sherfy.
Finally, a special birthday shout-out to Orioles right-hander Stefan Crichton who, not surprisingly, does NOT have a birthday twin in this year’s debut crop, but he does have one in 2016 debutante left-hander Gerardo Concepcion. Both were born on February 29, 1992. When Concepcion debuted in 2016, he became the first MLB player in 10 years, since outfielder Terrence Long retired in 2006, to boast a February 29 birthday. Now we need to root for the eventual return of Concepcion, who came here from Cuba and pitched for the Cubs in 2016 before being released in May 2017. Crichton becomes just the 14th player in MLB history to sport a February 29 birthday.
Decade-ence: We’re probably still a year or two away from having our first MLB player born in the “naughty aughties,” but we still have a few guys making waves from the ‘80s. Of our 262 debs this year, 30 were born before we flipped the calendar to 1990, led by lone 1985 baby Rangers right-hander Austin Bibens-Dirkx, born on April 29, 1985. He made his debut on May 17, at 32 years old.
We had four more players debut past the age of 30 (in descending order of age at the time of their debut: Dodgers left-hander Edward Paredes (born September 30, 1986/debut July 24, 2017), Tigers right-hander Arcenio Leon (born September 22, 1986/debut May 28, 2017), Brewers right-hander Paolo Espino (born January 10, 1987/debut May 19, 2017) and A’s right-hander Michael Brady (born March 21, 1987/debut June 20, 2017). We did have two other 1987 “babies” debut in 2017 in Giants infielder Jae-Gyun Hwang and Blue Jays right-hander Casey Lawrence, but both were still “only” 29 years old when they debuted.
While we did not have a teenager debut as we did in 2016 (when Dodgers left-hander Julio Urias took the mound at 19), we did see the debut of four players under the age of 21, one more than in 2016 when only three players under 21 debuted.
Leading the way was Nationals outfielder Victor Robles, born May 19, 2017, who made his debut on September 7, 2017, at 20 years and three months (give or take a few days). The other three 20-year-old debs: Braves infielder Ozzie Albies (born January 7, 1997/debut August 1, 2017), Red Sox infielder Rafael Devers (born October 24, 1996/debut July 25, 2017) and Padres catcher Luis Torrens (born May 2 1996/debut April 3, 1997). Torrens was the youngest player on an Opening Day roster this year, and also one of the Padres’ three MLB Rule 5 Draft picks at the 2016 Winter Meetings.
Size Matters: Toronto pitcher Marcus Stroman (who is NOT a debutante) coined the term “HDMH” which stands for “Height Doesn’t Measure Heart.” Stroman, who stands tall on the mound at 5-foot-8 and 180 pounds, would have qualified as one of the more slight-physiqued (YHS made that adjective up) players on this list had he qualified, though possibly not QUITE the smallest-per-cubic-whatever-it-would-be (math class is hard, said Teen Barbie).
Of our 262 debs, two were listed at Stroman’s 5’8”: Rangers infielder/outfielder Willie Calhoun and Pirates infielder Gift Ngoepe. But both players are on the muscular side, with Calhoun weighing in at 190 pounds and Ngoepe at 200 poiunds.
Right behind them are a trio of 5-foot-9’ers in Braves infielder Ozzie Albies, Red Sox shortstop Tzu-Wei Lin, and Marlins southpaw Dillon Maples. While Maples weighs in at 195 pounds, Albies barely registers on the scale at 150 pounds (the lightest of all the debutantes) with Lin not far behind him at 155 pounds.
YHS’s poor math skills but acute awareness of weight leads her to believe that this would make Albies, indeed, the “tiny tot” of the 2017 deb class (she also remembers when Jose Altuve (2B, Astros) and Alexi Amarista (SS, Rockies), aka “Teeny Little Super Guy,” made their debuts at 5-foot-6 a few months apart … and she also wants to give everyone reading a heads up to watch out for Detroit’s 2017 draftee Ronell Coleman who stands somewhere in the official 5-foot-5 inch vicinity).
On the other side of the measuring tape and scale, we find Mariners right-hander Max Povse standing tall at 6-foot-8 but Twins right-hander Aaron Slegers standing even taller, a veritable mountain of a man at 6-foot-10.
Not surprisingly, a vast majority of our debs checked in listed (I have to qualify that) between 6-feet and 6-foot-4 (207 of the 262), with 6-foot-2 the most commonly listed height (51 players). Out of the 28 players listed between 5-foot-8 and 5-foot-11, 22 of them were position players. Of the 27 players, however, listed between 6-foot-5 and 6-foot-10, 22 were pitchers.
On the weight scale (no pun intended), rounding off all listed weights to the nearest five, the numbers ranged from Albies’ aforementioned 150 pounds to Giants right-hander Dan Slania’s 275 (and at “only” 6-foot-5, Slania might qualify as the most … robust … player out of the 262, though YHS really has to give big props to MLB.com’s Giants beat writer Chris Haft who called him “mastodonic” and that’s why he makes the big bucks).
Special mention, though, needs to go to Mets first baseman Dominic Smith and Rays left-hander Jose Alvarado, who both check in at “just” 6-feet tall, but also at 240 pounds. Given Smith’s potential light-tower power and Alvarado’s fastball that touches close to 100 mph, they both put that bulk to good use.
As with height, we find the majority of players falling into the 175-to-225 pound range, with 219 of the 262 there and within that, we can sub-group the fit, the prime, the 195-to-200 pounders, of whom we have 53, basically 20 percent of the crew. 23 players check in between 150-to-170 pounds, while 20 more check in from 230-to-275 pounds.
NAME THAT DEBUTANTE!!!
This is totally one of my favorite parts of the deb tallying. It is so interesting, and often a sign of the times, to see which names are the most common – or uncommon – among the debutantes (especially first names, which can change dramatically in as little as a year as you will see!).
The (first) name game: So, just to give you a little bit of background, let’s take a look at which first names were the most popular among our debs in 2016 versus which ones were storming the scene in 2017.
If we are going to look at the variations, which I think we should, then first by a wide landslide in 2016 would be Joseph/Joe/Joey PLUS Jose. We had six of the first and another six of the second, for a grand dozen. This year? Three Joses, one Joe and … that’s it. Maybe teams just had a secret vote to bring up all of their Joe/y/seph/ses at once.
Next we had the John variations: John, Johnny, Jonathan, Juan and Yoan with nine. This year? Three Johns and a Johan.
Also checking in with nine debuts in 2016 we had the combination of Matt/Matthew. In 2017? We had just one (A’s third baseman Matt Chapman).
Right behind the Matt/hew variations we had Ty/ler/ell with eight. This year we had five Tylers (and also three Taylors which I had not combined into the variations last year).
Also among the most popular names in 2016 were Jake/Jacob (seven). That pretty much stayed in fashion this year as, between Jacob, Jakob and Jaycob we had six.
2016 also saw six Daniel/Danny/Dans compared to four in 2017.
So what came on strong in 2017? Leading the pack this year was the combination of Michael/Mike Miguel with eight (in 2016 we had six, but no Miguels whereas this year we had three).
The new kids on the block?
Chris/Christopher/Christian debuted seven times in 2017 after appearing just twice on the list in 2016.
Kyle kept pace with the Chris variation all by itself in 2017 with seven Kyles debuting after having just one – one!!! – in 2016.
Similarly, Austin, the first name of six of our 2017 debutantes, came to the ball just once in 2016.
And if you want to argue, well, Kyle and Austin are more trendy names, then I’ll counter you with this one: In 2017, we had six players debut with variations on a long-time traditional name as we welcomed six Nick/Nicky/Nik/Nikos. How many in 2016? One.
The other name that had five players in its “family” to make it to the bigs in 2017? Lewis/Luis/Luiz with five after seeing just two, both Luis, in 2016.
No names began with Q, U or X. The most popular first initials for first names were J (38) and A (34) by a landslide. The closest first initials, tied for third place, were C and D with 21 each, followed by R (19) and T (17).
In all, while we had 25 first names grace our list in 2016 that were “first-timers” in the big leagues, we had 38 of them in 2017. First timers? Glad you asked: Amed, Amir, Arcenio, Barrett, Breyvic, Chih-Wei, Deck, Dietrich, Dinelson, Dovydas, Franchy, Gift (who would also have qualified with his given African name Mpho), Hoby, Ildemaro, Jae-Gyun, Jakob and Jaycob, Jarlin, Jen-Ho, Jesen, Keury, Keynan, Luiz, Magneuris, Nik, Niko, O’Koyea, Paolo, Pierce, Raudy, Reyes, Reymin, Rhys, Ryder, Thyago, Tzu-Wei, Yacksel and Yandy.
The (last) name game: In 2016, we had no Xs or Is. The former is no surprise because to this day there had not been a major leaguer whose last name began with X. This year, we had no Xs, Is or Qs (last year we were blessed with the duo of Roman Quinn (OF, Phillies) and Juniel Querecuto (SS, Giants), but no such luck this year).
The most popular last initials? S (30) and M (26) led the pack followed remotely by B (19), C (18), and R (17).
The same last name – Smith – remained atop the leader board in both seasons, with four in 2016 and five in 2017. The runner-up in 2016 – Diaz, with three – fell to a large tie for fourth with two, supplanted in second by the duo of Davis and Mejia with three apiece (last year we had one Mejia and no Davises). The other names that showed up more than once (obviously with two apiece): Alcantara, Anderson, Castillo, De Jong/DeJong, Garcia, Gomez, Jimenez, Paredes, Rodriguez, Rosario, Sanchez and Williams.
Out of our 262 debutantes, there were 103 names that have now been engraved into the permanent MLB baseball archives for the first time … and no, YHS is NOT going to list them all here because while the Internet may be infinite, your time and patience is not! You’re welcome. (But if anyone actually cares, feel free to e-mail me at LisaWinstonBaseball@gmail.com and I’ll send you the list!)
The (whole) name game: So, if you’ve read this far, you know that we had 37 players whose first name was the first such name in MLB history, and 103 players whose last name was the first such recorded in MLB history.
So, was there any overlap? Guys who made the big leagues for the first time with both the first-ever recorded first name AND last name?
Glad you asked!
In fact, there were. 18 of them, to be exact. And yes, we’re including Asian players who, just by the virtue of recent international rule changes, are not surprisingly on the list, but they are not the only ones. So here, alphabetically by first name, are those 18 players: Barrett Astin; Dietrich Enns; Dinelson Lamet; Dovydas Neverauskas; Gift (Mpho) Ngoepe; Jae-Gyun Hwang; Jakob Junis; Jaycob Brugman; Jen-Ho Tseng; Jesen Therrien; Keury Mella; Luiz Gohara; Niko Goodrum; Raudy Read; Reyes Moronta; Reymin Guduan; Thyago Vieira; Tzu-Wei Lin.
AND FINALLY … AN ODE TO THE DEBUT-NOTS:
So, you know how at some point during the Academy Awards they cue the sad music and show photos of everyone who had left us during the previous year?
Okay, this isn’t THAT sad. But we here at DB do like to give a nod and an encouraging cyberhug to the group of players we call “the Debut-Nots” … players who got that Call, who joined the team, who were given a uniform and a locker and remembered to tingle when they stepped out on the grass (nod to Jim Bouton there) and then … crickets. Maybe it was for a day, maybe it was for a week, but for whatever reason they never got into a game, never got into the official Baseball Encyclopedia as a big leaguer, and then they were sent back down and did not come back up.
Last year, we recognized seven “Debut-Nots.” Of that septet, four — Angels left-hander Chris Jones, Orioloes outfielder Sharlon Schoop (kind of a borderline call, because the older brother of Orioles second baseman Jonathan Schoop was not added to the 40-man roster but rather summoned for a few days “just in case” while the Orioles had players on and off of the active list due to a prior brawl), Braves infielder Ronnier Mustelier (added as a 26th man for a game played at Fort Bragg military base), Dodgers catcher Shawn Zarraga – remain without an MLB debut on their resumes. Jones did not pitch in 2017. Schoop spent the season between Bowie (Double-A) and Norfolk (Triple-A), still with the Orioles. Mustelier played in the Mexican League for Yucatan. Zarraga was with Tulsa (Double-A) for the Dodgers, on and off of the DL and active/inactive lists.
Of the remaining three, two made their big-league debuts this year: Marlins left-hander Jarlin Garcia, who debuted on April 14 and stayed up all season, posting a 4.73 ERA in 68 games for the Marlins, and Blue Jays right-hander Chris Smith, who had joined Toronto on September 27, 2016, and finished out the regular season sitting on the bullpen bench, but was recalled to the bigs in late June of this year and finally made his debut on June 27.
Then you have Rangers right-hander Clayton Blackburn. And that is how we segue into the 2017 “Debut-Nots.” Blackburn became one of our seven 2016 “Debut-Nots” when he was called up from Sacramento (Triple-A) by the Giants on May 12, and returned to the River Cats on May 16 without getting into a game. Fast-forward to 2017. Outrighted by the Giants after spring training, he was traded to the Rangers for second baseman Frandy de la Rosa and remained on the Rangers’ 40-man roster where he pitched in the bullpen at Triple-A Round Rock. Called up from the minors on July 31, it seemed like this 2016 “Debut-Not” would finally get his chance … but he sat on the bullpen bench for three nights before being sent back to the minors in August 3 and never came up again.
Thus we have our “Double-Debut-Not” and the man on whom that spotlight hovers at the end of our tribute.
Blackburn, who finished his season at Round Rock with a 6-2 record and 4.65 ERA in 19 games, striking out 78 in 93 innings, was one of just three official “Debut-Nots” in 2017, a number clearly down substantially from 2016.
He is joined by Mariners right-hander Ryne Harper, who was called up on May 28 and sent back down May 31 before being outrighted off of the 40-man roster in mid-June, and Orioles left-hander Paul Fry, who was acquired by Baltimore from Seattle on April 14 for the ever-popular “future considerations,” called up to the big leagues on April 25 and sent back down April 27 without getting into a game.
Harper, who split his season between Arkansas (Double-A) and Tacoma (Triple-A), went 4-2 with a 3.35 ERA in 41 games, striking out 55 in 53 2/3 innings and limiting opposing hitters to a .223 average, certainly an effective season. Fry, who split most of the season (minus one game at Triple-A Tacoma pre-trade) between Bowie (Double-A) and Norfolk (Triple-A) was 3-3 with a 4.33 ERA in 33 games, striking out 72 in 66 1/3 innings.
We also had a few “almost Debut-Nots” of note:
- Brewers right-hander Brandon Woodruff was throwing his warm-up pitches for his big league debut on June 13 when he injured his hamstring and went on the DL before the first official pitch of the game was thrown, but happily he returned from his injury to make his debut on August 4.
- Phillies right-hander Ben Lively had a wild ride before he actually got to the mound, being recalled on April 19 and sent back down April 21, then back up on May 14 and back down on May 15, and then FINALLY back up for the third time on June 3 and got into that night’s game.
- Finally, Giants pitcher Reyes Moronta was up for a memorable 24 hours from May 10-11 before being sent down, but he came back up after 40-man rosters expanded and made his debut on September 5.
So, that pretty much wraps things up for us here at the Debutantes’ Ball for 2017! Hope you’ve enjoyed reading along as much as Your Humble Scribe has enjoyed writing it. Don’t forget to follow along with us on our Twitter and Instagram accounts and we always appreciate your comments!