Sunday, November 03, 2013

2012 Lexington Legends Update: Moving On

NOV 3rd, 2013-Baseball is a beautiful game. It's a play in nine innings on green diamonds and dirt fields, a traveling show making appearances worldwide. There's simply nothing quite like it.

But it's not all peanuts and Cracker Jack. There are parts of the game at the professional level which are hard to accept; the worst of these necessary evils is the premature end of a player's career.

Every year, dozens of players are handed their walking papers. Sometimes, they're players who have been in the game for years and never made it to the top; often, they've been pros for little more than one or two seasons. For many reasons, reasons which are moot from the player's point of view, they are sent home with the pieces of their broken dreams crammed into their equipment bags. Veteran or rookie, none are immune to the dreaded Unconditional Release.

Now that the 2013 season has drawn to a close (congratulations to the Red Sox; they certainly earned it), some of the boys who graced our field here at The Bank have suffered this very fate. The needs of the organization, and so on and so forth. Hardly matters when you're the one who's been told that your services are no longer needed. Some of this will be old news for you folks, but I like to catch up with the guys when I am able. (Note: some of these players were released before the 2013 season began.)


Jay Austin, CF
2013 Stats: none

Drafted in 2008 by the Astros in the 2nd round, Austin was a speedy outfielder who stole 54 bases in 2010 with the Lancaster JetHawks. However, he bounced between Class A Lexington and High-A Lancaster from 2011-12 and never truly seemed to progress with the bat. While he may still catch on with another team, his chances are now limited at best. He's a 23 year-old OF with no time above High-A; he'd have a long road ahead of him, if he came back now.

James Howick, SS
2013 Stats: none

A 21st round pick in 2011, Howick had a great deal of trouble adjusting to pro pitching. At times he seemed out-matched in the field, as well. One thing I noted about him, however, is that he could do the little things very well; hitting the runner over or laying down a bunt was well within his ability. I still feel like he could have progressed into a reliable utility infielder, but without his being able to produce offensively he won't get that chance with the Astros.

Zach Johnson, 1B
2013 Stats: 62 games, 232 PA, 12 R, 16 2B, 2 3B, 5 HR, 27 RBI, .271/.339/.440

Now here's one that I don't understand. Johnson was a bonafide run producer (38 2B, 15 HR, 108 RBI with the 2012 Legends), and he drew a lot of walks without sacrificing ABs or becoming too passive with the bat. He handled first base adeptly and I figured he'd at least project as an above-average DH in the Majors. With Houston now in the AL, he could have been a useful bat to have in such an anemic lineup. Just can't figure that one out. (Timothy De Block and the fine, fine crew at The Crawfish Boxes have info on this move on their August 9th podcast.)

Jordan Kreke, 2B
2013 Stats: none
(Obtained via trade with Atlanta prior to the 2012 season)

A 13th round pick by the Braves in 2009, Kreke appeared to be on his way to developing into a useful and steady glove off the bench. As often happens with middle infield specialists, the glove was willing but the bat was weak (apologies, Jordan). I felt like he could have been utilized a bit more than he was, but while his 49 PA in Class AAA Oklahoma City were promising (.273 BA, .347 OBP), he was a victim of the number crunch; younger players coming up, and no real place for him on the ML roster. I would like to have seen what he could have done with even half a season at Triple-A.


Tanner Bushue, RHP
2013 Stats (Low-A Tri-City ValleyCats): 3-4, 5.14 ERA, 13 G, 7 GS, 49 IP, 40 HA, 28 ER, 7 HRA, 13 BB, 40 K, 5 HBP

What The Heck, Bobby? reported on Bushue's voluntary retirement a few days ago. I know that he had struggled with injuries as far back as 2011 (strained hip, if I remember correctly), and it seems that he never was truly healthy after that. His overall numbers and peripherals weren't all that bad (7.3 HA/9, 2.4 BB/9, 7.3 K/9), but what concerned me about him was his slight build. Bushue has a smallish frame, especially for his height, but I think he'd be a great asset in the 'pen. He's still only 22, and if he chose to come back (assuming he is healthy, again) I think most any team would be lucky to have him in their system. Bushue had one of the best curves I've ever seen come through Lexington, and he could change speeds well.

Dayan Diaz, RHP
2013 Stats (AZL Cubs, Daytona Cubs, Tennessee Smokies): 3.00 ERA, 13 G, 5 GF, 21 IP, 16 HA, 7 ER, 9 BB, 29 K)

Diaz had an explosive fastball and a hard-breaking slurve, and lit up the radar gun at The Bank on a regular basis. A mid-to-high 90's heater will make you stand up and take notice. He pitched with the Cubs organization in 2013 but struggled with injuries for much of the season. If he could get his health back on track, he'd certainly be worth a second look. At 24 now, however, the numbers game is not working in his favor.

Nathan Pettus, RHP
2013 Stats: none

Another player with whom Father Time caught up, Pettus had his struggles with the 2012 Legends. While his overall numbers weren't great, I felt like he was a valuable middle reliever and occasional short man. His 37 walks in 63 innings tended to come back and bite him, but he was most certainly a fighter on the mound.

Scott Zuloaga, LHP
2013 Stats: none

Zuloaga is on the voluntarily retired list, having dealt with injuries throughout 2012. A lefty sidearmer, he pitched in only 5 games with Lexington. Personally, I'd love to have a port-side submarine slinger in my 'pen. He's only 23, so he could potentially sign on with another organization (assuming he's healthy). Again, the numbers game is against him.

This was just a tiny bit about the 2012 Legends who are no longer in the game. Some of it may come across as a little too frank for some folks, and I can understand that. I'm as big a fan of the game of baseball as anyone you're likely to meet, but sometimes the game can be cruel. There's no real way to sugarcoat a player's release or retirement. Every player who turns pro is aware of this fact, and for many of them there is a deep-seated fear that they harbor: the fear that their career will be cut far shorter than they ever imagined. That, unfortunately, is the nature of professional baseball. Some players are advanced, others are released, and sometimes there's no obvious reason for either transaction.

Whatever happens for these former pros, we wish them all the best in their future endeavors. If I could offer them any advice (if they were desperate enough to ask me), I would remind them that they are all far more than just baseball players; they all have their whole lives ahead of them, and I hope that they find success and happiness in whatever the future brings.

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