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Browsing Posts tagged Kevin Pillar

By Scott Barancik, editor

With Team Israel’s surprising run at the World Baseball Championship behind us, Jewish Baseball News turns to that beloved annual rite: Spring Training.

A total of 19 Jewish players were invited to MLB Spring Training camps this year, either as part of their teams’ active roster, 40-man roster, or non-roster invitee list. Here is how they’re doing through games played March 17.

Danny Valencia (Mariners)

  • In the first Spring Training with his new team, 32-year-old Valencia is hitting .184 with 1 HR, 3 RBIs, and 5 walks in 38 at-bats. Although he’s a career .321 hitter against righties (and .246 vs. lefties), he has struggled equally against both so far.
  • Seattle has Valencia playing first base almost exclusively. Last season with Oakland, Valencia had no errors at first base, one in the outfield, and 13 at third base.

Richard Bleier (Orioles)

  • Traded to Baltimore by the Yankees last month, Bleier has performed well this Spring, delivering a 1.50 ERA across four outings and six innings overall, and yielding six hits and one walk while fanning four.
  • Bleier is among several pitchers still fighting for a spot in the Orioles’ bullpen.

Max Fried (Braves/minors)

  • A 1st-round draft pick of the San Diego Padres in 2012, Fried — who missed the entire 2015 season due to Tommy John surgery — was impressive in his first MLB Spring Training, yielding a hit and three walks in three outings (and four innings overall) while striking out five.
  • Atlanta not only has promoted Fried to Double-A but added him to the Braves’ 40-man roster, meaning he will be eligible for call-up during the regular season.

Ryan Braun (Brewers)

  • Braun has seen limited action in Spring Training, going 3-for-11 with a HR, double, three RBIs and a walk while striking out three times. Nevertheless, the 33-year-old has remained something of a lightning rod for criticism, most recently for his complaints that Spring Training lasts too long.

Kevin Pillar (Blue Jays)

  • Pillar has been hot this Spring, hitting .355 with six extra-base hits, one RBI, and a .444 on-base percentage. He’s also been batting leadoff, a privilege largely denied him in past seasons due to a dearth of walks.
  • In prior Springs, Pillar’s average has ranged from .111 to .264.

Rowdy Tellez (Blue Jays/minors)

  • A non-roster invitee with a reputation for power — he hit .297 with 23 HRs last season at Double-A — Tellez has hit .259 this Spring with no home runs, two doubles, two RBIs, four walks, and 10 strikeouts.
  • No word yet on which minor-league team Tellez will be sent to after Spring Training ends.

Brad Goldberg (White Sox/minors)

  • In addition to playing for Team Israel in the 2017 World Baseball Championship, Goldberg pitched well for Chicago during Spring Training. In four appearances and 4.2 innings overall, he delivered a 0.00 ERA and earned a save while yielding two walks a hit and striking out one.
  • Earlier this week, the White Sox sent Goldberg back to Triple-A but placed him on the Major League club’s 40-man roster. He’s likely to make his MLB debut this season.

Ian Kinsler (Tigers)

  • Normally a strong Spring Training performer — through games played March 17, his career average was .328 with 30 HRs and 117 RBIs — Kinsler has hit .263 this year, with one HR and one RBI in 19 at-bats.
  • Kinsler also has played for Team USA in the WBC, hitting .294 in 17 at-bats.

Craig Breslow (Twins/minors)

  • Breslow, who has adjusted his pitching form in a data-driven bid to revive his stalled career, earned a minor-league contract with the Twins and an invitation to Spring Training. So far, so good: in five appearances and 4.1 innings overall, Breslow has yielded no earned runs and just one hit while striking out four. On the down side, he’s walked five.
  • Breslow is likely to begin the 2017 regular season in Triple-A.

Alex Bregman (Astros)

  • In addition to playing for Team USA in the WBC, Bregman has hit .304 in Spring Training, stroking two doubles and a walk while striking out once in 23 at-bats.

Garrett Stubbs (Astros/minors)

  • A non-roster invitee who hit a combined .304 in High-A and Double-A last season, Stubbs didn’t get a chance to play with Houston this Spring due to a problem with his throwing arm. He was later assigned to minor-league camp, but manager A.J Hinch said the Astros were “excited” about Stubbs, whom he called “really good behind the plate.”

Michael Barash (Angels/minors)

  • Barash, a 2016 draft pick, was perhaps the most unlikely non-roster invitee this Spring, having topped out at Single-A his rookie season (and hitting .240 there after batting .314 in rookie-league ball). The 22-year-old catcher went a perfect 2-for-2 with the Angels, singling and doubling in two pinch-hit at-bats.

Ryan Lavarnway (Athletics/minors)

  • Despite a non-roster invite, former major leaguer Lavarnway has seen limited play during Spring Training, having instead spent his time starring for Team Israel in the WBC. The 6’4″ catcher went 2-for-3 with a double for the Athletics before joining Team Israel.

Scott Feldman (Reds)

  • Signed to a one-year deal during the offseason, the 34-year-old Feldman is 0-1 this Spring with a 4.50 ERA. In eight innings spread across the starts, he’s yielded seven hits (including 3 HRs) and two walks while striking out seven.
  • Feldman has secured a spot as a starter in Cincinnati’s rotation and might start the team’s Opening Day game.

Jared Lakind (Pittsburgh/minors)

  • A non-roster invitee, Lakind has recorded one save this Spring and held opponents scoreless over three relief appearances. He has yielded two walks and two hits over three total innings while striking out two.
  • Lakind also played for Team Israel in the WBC.

Corey Baker (Cardinals/minors)

  • A non-roster invitee, Baker made his MLB Spring Training debut before playing for Team Israel in the WBC. In a 2.2-inning relief stint, he gave up 2 hits and a hit batsman but struck out one and yielded no runs.

Ryan Sherriff (Cardinals/minors)

  • A non-roster invitee, Sherriff has made the most of his first MLB Spring Training, going 0-1 with a 1.35 in six appearances and 6.2 innings overall. The 28th-round 2011 draft pick yielded six hits and one walk while hitting one batter and striking out an impressive eight.

Joc Pederson (Dodgers)

  • In a familiar pattern, Joc Pederson is hitting .242 this Spring with both a lot of home runs (4) and a lot of strikeouts (10). But that’s not giving him credit for advances he made in 2016, his second full season in the Majors. Pederson raised his batting average 36 points last year (to .246) while reducing his strikeouts, hitting more doubles, and slightly improving his home-run frequency.

Ike Davis (Dodgers/minors)

  • Davis, a former major leaguer who signed a minor-league contract with Los Angeles during the offseason, went 2-for-2 as a non-roster invitee before joining Team Israel in the WBC. He has been assigned to the Dodgers’ Triple-A team.

Ty Kelly (Mets/minors)

  • Kelly, who played for Team Israel in the WBC but does not identify exclusively as Jewish, is 2-for-8 this Spring with two RBIs and a .500 on-base percentage. He made his MLB debut in 2016.

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By Scott Barancik, Editor

The latest athlete to join the ranks of Jewish ballplayers is a 6-foot-4-inch first baseman with prodigious power and a promising future with the Toronto Blue Jays.

California native Rowdy Tellez, 21, turned down a roster spot at USC in 2013 when the Blue Jays offered him an $850,000 signing bonus out of Elk Grove High School, an eye-popping figure for a 30th-round draft pick. In its pre-draft scouting report, Baseball America had called Tellez the “best lefthanded power bat” in the 2013 class with a “patient approach at the plate and excellent hand-eye coordination.” A year earlier, he’d won the Perfect Game National Showcase home run derby.

It appears Toronto’s talent spotters knew what they were doing.

Except for a rough start in rookie-league ball, Tellez has paid off for the Jays, shaking off injuries to earn a spot in the prestigious Arizona Fall League in 2015, reach #9 on MLB.com’s list of Toronto’s top minor-league prospects in 2016 (see video), and earn an invitation to the Blue Jays’ 2017 major-league Spring Training camp in Dunedin, FL.

Tellez’s 2016 season was his finest yet. Playing for the New Hampshire Fisher Cats (AA), the son of Lori Bernick Tellez and Greg Tellez hit .297 with 23 home runs (tied for 4th most in the Eastern League), 81 RBIs (5th), a .387 on-base percentage (2nd), .530 slugging percentage (3rd), and .917 OPS (3rd).

Tellez is not alone on the farm. Other Jewish prospects in the Toronto system include OF Jake Thomas, P Jake Fishman, and C Ryan Gold. And of course, at the Major League level there’s Superman himself, star centerfielder Kevin Pillar.

Please join us in welcoming Rowdy to the family, and follow him on Twitter.

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By Scott Barancik, editor

The roster of players set to represent Israel in the World Baseball Classic in South Korea this March is taking shape.

Team Israel general manager Peter Kurz, whose squad of former Major League and current minor-league athletes guided Israel to a qualifying-round win in September, said Tuesday that 15 ballplayers had already committed to play in the main tournament in Seoul. The list includes:

  1. Ty Kelly, IF (New York Mets)
  2. Sam Fuld, OF (free agent)
  3. Jason Marquis, P (free agent)
  4. Ike Davis, 1B (free agent)
  5. Ryan Lavarnway, C (Oakland Athletics/minors)
  6. Cody Decker, IF (Milwaukee Brewers/minors)
  7. Josh Zeid, P (free agent)
  8. Nate Freiman, 1B (free agent)
  9. Tyler Krieger, IF (Cleveland Indians/minors)
  10. Nick Rickles, C (Washington Nationals/minors)
  11. Dean Kremer, P (Los Angeles Dodgers/minors)
  12. Corey Baker, P (St. Louis Cardinals/minors)
  13. Jeremy Bleich, P (free agent)
  14. Jake Kalish, P (Kansas City Royals/minors)
  15. Alex Katz, P (Chicago White Sox/minors)

Two key additions are Ty Kelly and Sam Fuld. During the qualifiers in September, Kelly was playing for the New York Mets, while Fuld, then with the Oakland Athletics, was on the disabled list. Also new are minor leaguers Tyler Krieger and Jake Kalish.

Roster spots have been offered to at least seven additional minor leaguers who played for Team Israel in September : Zach Borenstein (Arizona Diamondbacks), Brad Goldberg (Chicago White Sox), Blake Gailen (independent), Scotty Burcham (Colorado Rockies), Tyler Herron (New York Mets), R C Orlan (Washington Nationals), and Joey Wagman (Oakland Athletics). None has provided a final answer yet.

Kurz told Jewish Baseball News that Danny Valencia of the Seattle Mariners and Craig Breslow, who is seeking to return to the Major Leagues, are possible future additions to Israel’s roster. Team Israel also is pursuing Joc Pederson of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Jason Kipnis of the Cleveland Indians.

Several prominent pros politely declined Team Israel’s invitations due to injury, family commitments, Major League aspirations, or other concerns. They include Ryan Braun of the Milwaukee Brewers, Kevin Pillar and Scott Feldman of the Toronto Blue Jays, Richard Bleier of the New York Yankees, Jon Moscot of the Cincinnati Reds, and minor-league prospect and Ryan Sherriff of the St. Louis Cardinals. Sherriff played for Team Israel in the September qualifiers.

Alex Bregman of the Houston Astros and Ian Kinsler of the Detroit Tigers have committed to play for Team USA rather than Team Israel in the World Baseball Classic.

Under WBC rules, athletes can play on Team Israel as long as they are eligible for Israeli citizenship. That means having at least one Jewish grandparent or being married to someone Jewish. Nearly all the players on Israel’s roster personally identify as Jewish.

Earlier this month, eight players on the WBC roster visited Israel for a week to learn about the country, meet Israeli fans, and break ground on a new baseball stadium. MLB.com reporter Jonathan Mayo and Ironbound Films co-founder Jeremy Newberger plan to create a documentary about the trip, titled Heading Home.

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By Scott Barancik, Editor

At least 16 Jewish players were picked in the annual MLB draft that took place earlier this month. We’re going to tell you a little bit about each one.

First, the list:

  1. Andy Yerzy (C), D’backs (2nd round, #52 overall)
  2. Kenny Rosenberg (P), Rays (8th, #240)
  3. Jason Goldstein (C), Mariners (9th, #267)
  4. Mitchell Kranson (C), Twins (9th, #273)
  5. Michael Barash (C), Angels (9th rd, #276)
  6. Brandon Gold (P), Rockies (12th rd, #350)
  7. Matthew Gorst (P), Red Sox (12th rd, #358)
  8. Dean Kremer (P), Dodgers (14th rd, #431)
  9. Marc Huberman (P), Cubs (18th rd, #554)
  10. Ryan Gold (C), Blue Jays (27th rd, #822)
  11. Jordan Scheftz (P), Red Sox (28th rd, #838)
  12. Elliott Barzilli (3B), Astros (29th rd, #877)
  13. Jake Fishman (P), Blue Jays (30th rd, #912)
  14. Jeremy Wolf (LF), Mets (31st rd, #940)
  15. Matthew Popowitz (C), Marlins (36th rd, #1073)
  16. Leo Kaplan (OF), White Sox (37th rd, #1106)

The list might grow longer. After all, a number of today’s players — including Kevin Pillar and Danny Valencia — were unknown to the Jewish news media until well into their professional careers.

For only the second time in the past five years, no Jews were selected in the first round. Recent first-round picks have included SS Alex Bregman (2015, #2 overall pick, Astros), P Rob Kaminsky (2013, #28 overall pick, Cardinals), and P Max Fried (2012, #7 overall pick, Padres). There were none in 2014.

The most populous Jewish round in 2016 was the 9th. Among the 10 slots between pick numbers 267 and 276, three Jewish players were selected.

Two Georgia natives who pitched together at Georgia Tech, Brandon Gold and Matthew Gorst, were chosen eight picks apart from one another in the 12th round.

Four players (Andy Yerzy, Ryan Gold, Matthew Popowitz, Leo Kaplan) were drafted out of high school, one out of junior college (Jordan Scheftz), and the rest out after their junior or senior years of college.

Most of this year’s draftees either pitch (7) or catch (6). Three play outfield, and only one in the infield. This is not good news for Team Israel, which is preparing for the 2016 World Baseball Classic qualifiers and has few middle-infielders to choose from.

What do we know about them? Following are short bios largely drawn from MLB.comBaseballAmerica.com, and college baseball websites.

Andy Yerzy (C), Diamondbacks (2nd round, #52 overall)

  • Age: 17
  • Height/Weight: 6’3″, 215 pounds
  • Bats/Throws: L/R
  • Home: North York, Ontario
  • School: York Mills Collegiate Institute
  • Highlights: A power hitter, Yerzy tied for first place in 2016 High School Select home-run derby over All-Star Game weekend in Cincinnati. Homered in 2015 Under Armour All-American game at Wrigley Field. Played for Canada’s junior national team. Committed to Notre Dame before he signed with Diamondbacks.

Kenny Rosenberg (P), Rays (8th, #240)

  • Age: 20
  • Height/Weight: 6’1″, 195 pounds
  • Bats/Throws: L/L
  • Home: Mill Valley, CA
  • School: Cal State Northridge
  • Assigned team: Princeton Rays (rookie league)
  • Highlights: After missing sophomore season in 2015 with a back injury, ranked 14th in country with 118 strikeouts in 2016 (10.8 per nine innings). Was All-League goalkeeper on high school soccer team.

Jason Goldstein (C), Mariners (9th, #267)

  • Age: 22
  • Height/Weight: 6’0″, 210 pounds
  • Bats/Throws: R/R
  • Home: Highland Park, IL
  • School: University of Illinois
  • Highlights: Was picked by Angels in 17th round of 2015 draft but returned to school to finish degree. Senior year, led Illinis in average, OBP and RBIs, and threw out 15 of 39 attempted base-stealers.

Mitchell Kranson (C), Twins (9th, #273)

  • Age: 22
  • Height/Weight: 5’10”, 205 pounds
  • Bats/Throws: L/R
  • Home: Danville, CA
  • School: UC Berkeley
  • Highlights: Hit .333 with five HRs and 36 RBIs senior year while striking out just 26 times in 213 at-bats. Has played 1B, 3B, and LF in addition to catching.

Michael Barash (C), Angels (9th rd, #276)

  • Age: 21
  • Height/Weight: 6’1″, 200 pounds
  • Bats/Throws: R/R
  • Home: Boca Raton, FL
  • School: Texas A&M
  • Assigned team: Orem Owlz (rookie league)
  • Highlights: An “excellent defender,” according to Baseball America. Hit .324 his senior year with 5 HRs and 43 RBIs.

Brandon Gold (P), Rockies (12th rd, #350)

  • Age: 21
  • Height/Weight: 6’3″, 203 pounds
  • Bats/Throws: R/R
  • Home: Atlanta, GA
  • School: Georgia Tech
  • Assigned team: Boise Hawks (short season)
  • Highlights: A two-way player, went a team-best 9-3 with a 2.48 ERA as a junior. “He is a competitor with a strong track record in a power conference,” says Baseball America.

Matthew Gorst (P), Red Sox (12th rd, #358)

  • Age: 21
  • Height/Weight: 6’1″, 205  pounds
  • Bats/Throws: R/R
  • Home: Alpharetta, GA
  • School: Georgia Tech
  • Highlights: After posting ERAs of 7.59 and 4.81 in first two seasons, had one of best seasons in Georgia Tech history, going 2-1 with 12 saves and 0.55 ERA. Second-team All-ACC selection.

Dean Kremer (P), Dodgers (14th rd, #431)

  • Age: 20
  • Height/Weight: 6’2″, 185 pounds
  • Bats/Throws: R/R
  • Home: Stockton, CA
  • School: Las Vegas
  • Highlights: The first Israeli citizen to be drafted by an MLB team. Award-winning pitcher with Israel’s national team. In sole season at UNLV, went 4-5 with a 4.92 ERA.

Marc Huberman (P), Cubs (18th rd, #554)

  • Age: 22
  • Height/Weight: 6’2″, 190 pounds
  • Bats/Throws: L/L
  • Home: Los Angeles, CA
  • School: USC
  • Highlights: Went 2-1 with a 3 saves and a 1.94 ERA his senior year.

Ryan Gold (C), Blue Jays (27th rd, #822)

  • Age: 18
  • Height/Weight: 5’11”, 180 pounds
  • Bats/Throws: L/R
  • Home: Myrtle Beach, SC
  • School: Carolina Forest H.S.
  • Highlights: Signed with Toronto after committing to Coastal Carolina University. Moved from New Jersey the summer before senior year.

Jordan Scheftz (P), Red Sox (28th rd, #838)

  • Age: 20
  • Height/Weight: 6’3″, 190 pounds
  • Bats/Throws: R/R
  • Home: Irvine, CA
  • School: Saddleback Community College
  • Highlights: Went 4-3 with a 3.48 ERA as a sophomore.

Elliott Barzilli (3B), Astros (29th rd, #877)

  • Age: 21
  • Height/Weight: 6’0″, 175 pounds
  • Bats/Throws: R/R
  • Home: Los Angeles, CA
  • School: Texas Christian
  • Highlights: Hit .346 his junior year, with 7 HRs, 47 RBIs, and only one more strikeout (31) than walks (30). Younger brother of former Cardinals prospect Julian Barzilli.

Jake Fishman (P), Blue Jays (30th rd, #912)

  • Age: 21
  • Height/Weight: 6’3″, 195 pounds
  • Bats/Throws: L/L
  • Home: Sharon, MA
  • School: Union College (NY)
  • Highlights: Went 7-0 his junior year with 0.41 ERA. In 66 innings, fanned 85 while walking only 11. Had team’s second-best batting average (.361).

Jeremy Wolf (LF), Mets (31st rd, #940)

  • Age: 22
  • Height/Weight: 6’3″, 220 pounds
  • Bats/Throws: L/R
  • Home: Scottsdale, AZ
  • School: Trinity
  • Highlights: Hit .408 as a senior, leading team with 11 HRs and 70 RBIs in just 201 at-bats. Walked nearly twice as often as he struck out (35 vs. 19).

Matthew Popowitz (C), Marlins (36th rd, #1073)

  • Age: 18
  • Height/Weight: 5’11”, 160 pounds
  • Bats/Throws: R/R
  • School: Suffern H.S. (NY)

Leo Kaplan (OF), White Sox (37th rd, #1106)

  • Age: 18
  • Height/Weight: 6’1″, 180 pounds
  • Bats/Throws: R/R
  • Home: Santa Monica, CA
  • School: Harvard-Westlake H.S. (CA)
  • Highlights: Attended same high school as former 1st-round draft pick Max Fried.

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By Scott Barancik, editor

Here’s what’s happening in Major League Baseball.

Ryan Braun hit his 250th career home run Wednesday. Among Jewish players, only legends Hank Greenberg (331) and Shawn Green (328) have hit more. The homer, Braun’s 20th of the season, came against the Cubs’ Jason Hammel, the same pitcher who gave up Braun’s 249th round-tripper on July 31. Unfortunately, it came in Wrigley Field, where the silence was audible.

Braun, who added two singles Wednesday, is the 19th active Major League player with 250 or more HRs and the second youngest next to Prince Fielder. He is one home run behind Brewers career leader Robin Yount.

Speaking of home runs, Oakland’s Danny Valencia hit a massive shot to center Wednesday against Toronto, his 10th home run of the season and third since joining the A’s on August 5. Meanwhile, teammate Sam Fuld made two highlight-reel plays in the field, throwing out the Blue Jays’ Troy Tulowitzki at home plate, and — in a classic Jew vs. Jew moment — makes a spectacular catch in left to rob Kevin Pillar of extra bases. (Pillar, who doubled earlier in the game, got the last laugh as Toronto won its 10th straight, 10-3.)

Houston’s Scott Feldman pitched six shutout innings Wednesday in a 2-0 win over the Giants, yielding just four hits and a walk while striking out four. It was the 6’7″ right-hander’s first win since May 26, having sat out nearly 2 months this season after getting knee surgery.

 

 

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valencia old newBy Scott Barancik, editor

Danny Valencia, who was as shocked as his fans were when the Toronto Blue Jays designated him for assignment on Saturday (8/1/2015), has been claimed off waivers by the Oakland Athletics.

The 30-year-old Florida native was hitting .296 with 7 HRs, 13 doubles, and 29 RBIs in 162 at-bats when the Blue Jays decided to move him off the team’s roster. A versatile utility man who spent most of his time in left field this season but also manned right field, third base, second base and first base, Valencia will join Ike Davis and Sam Fuld on what now will be this season’s most Jewish major-league team.

Valencia is losing a lot, too. In leaving Toronto, he gives up a clubhouse he loves, an exciting and highly-productive Jewish duet with teammate Kevin Pillar, and a 55-52 team whose playoffs chances rose with this week’s acquisition of ace pitcher David Price. The A’s, by contrast, are last in the A.L. West with a 47-60 record.

But Valencia is nothing if not resilient, having played for five teams since his 2010 debut with the Minnesota Twins, when he finished third in voting for A.L. Rookie of the Year.

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(Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

By Scott Barancik, editor

The sports world is taking note of Kevin Pillar, the Blue Jays CF who has impressed not only with his glove (he is considered a strong Gold Glove candidate) but his bat.

Sports-radio god Jim Rome interviewed Pillar earlier this week about his record setting 54-game hitting streak in college, being selected deep in the amateur draft (32nd round), and how he spent his $1,000 draft bonus.

The Toronto chapter of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America voted him Toronto’s Player of the Month for June. Pillar hit .365 (tied for 2nd-best in the A.L.) with four HRs and four doubles, swiped five bases, had an 11-game hit streak, and made a number of stellar plays in the field.

An article in the Toronto-based National Post last week said Pillar was “making his detractors eat their words, one stat at a time.” It credits Pillar for simplifying and shortening his swing as well as tightening up his pitch selection.

The 26-year-old California native appeared earlier this week on MLB Network’s Intentional Talk.

Pillar ranks 9th among all A.L. position players in Uultimate Zone Rating (UZR), a measure of defensive prowess favored by many Sabermetricians.

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By Scott Barancik, editor

Now here’s something you don’t see very often: two Jewish players, both centerfielders, smacking 2 HRs apiece on the same day.

Dodgers phenom Joc Pederson and Toronto’s Kevin Pillar accomplished the rare feat Tuesday night. Pederson hit the more prodigious bombs, launching a 477-foot monster in Game 1 of a doubleheader against Colorado and a 472-foot shot in Game 2.

The 23-year-old Palo Alto native added his first Major League triple and drove in 4 RBIs overall. He has homered in 4 straight games and is tied for second in the N.L. with 16 round-trippers.

Pillar was the bigger surprise. Entering Game 2 of a doubleheader against the Nations with just 2 HRs in nearly 200 at-bats this season, the 26-year-old launched a solo shot in the 2nd inning and a 3-run shot in the 6th that plated teammate Danny Valencia, who contributed a double and a sacrifice fly Tuesday. Pillar didn’t his 2nd HR of 2015 until May 30.

(MLB.com)

(MLB.com)

Ryan Braun owns the record for HRs by a Jewish rookie, with 34 in 2007, and was named N.L. Rookie of the Year.  All-time Jewish home run leader Hank Greenberg hit 12 his rookie year (1933), and runner-up Shawn Green hit 15 in his (1995).

The all-time N.L. rookie record of 38 HRs is shared by Baltimore’s Frank Robinson (1955) and the Boston Braves’ Wally Berger (1930). With 16 HRs in the Dodgers’ first 52 games this season, Pederson is on pace to hit 50.

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By Scott Barancik, editor

As baseball fans celebrate Opening Day, Jewish Baseball News is taking a look back at the 21 Jews who participated in MLB Spring Training this year.

Fifteen position players and six pitchers saw playing time, some as full-fledged team members, others as non-roster invitees, and several via short-term stints. Their stats are shown at the bottom; players who made their franchise’s Opening Day roster are shown in bold.

Following are some of the Spring’s top stories.

  • It will take a lot more for him to earn back some fans’ trust and affection, but Milwaukee’s Ryan Braun — fresh from a 65-game suspension for taking performance-enhancing drugs — dazzled, hitting .417 with nine RBIs and eight extra-base hits in 36 at-bats.
  • Ike Davis and Josh Satin both made the Mets’ Opening Day roster and will share First Base duties with Lucas Duda. But Davis — who squeaked by with a .241 average in Spring Training — is among the candidates to be sent down later this week to make room for Jon Niese.
  • Nate Freiman‘s 11 RBIs ranked eighth on the A’s, but it wasn’t enough to make the team’s Opening Day roster. Meanwhile, teammate Sam Fuld wowed his way onto the roster with four triples, 7 RBIs and a .348 on-base percentage.
  • With Boston’s Craig Breslow starting the season on the disabled list, Scott Feldman is the only Jewish pitcher to make an Opening Day roster. He also was the only Jewish starter during spring Training. As a group, Jewish pitchers went 1-and-5.
  • After missing much of the past three seasons with surgeries and injuries, former Boston Red Sox OF Ryan Kalish earned a spot on the Cubs’ Opening Day roster. Kalish hit .304 with 3 RBIs, stole 6 of 7 bases, and reached base 38.5% of the time.
  • Texas prospect Aaron Poreda earned some respect in his first MLB Spring Training since 2011. Poreda claimed one save in two chances, held opposing hitters to a .265 average, and walked just one batter over 8.1 innings.
  • Ian Kinsler, traded by Texas during the off-season for Detroit’s Cecil Fielder, outperformed “Big Daddy” with 3 HRs, 9 extra-based hits, 9 RBIs, a perfect 4-for-4 in stolen bases, a .300 average, and a .382 on-base percentage. Fielder matched Kinsler’s power (3 HRs, 9 extra-base hits, 10 RBIs) but hit .246 while striking out 16 times and drawing only two walks.
  • Ben Guez, a 27-year-old outfielder who spent part of the last four seasons with Detroit’s Triple-A club but has yet to be called up, made a brief but exciting splash in three Spring Training games. Against Toronto on 3/18/2014, Guez reached base all six times, going 3-for-3 with two doubles and three walks. His career MLB Spring Training average is a robust .529, along with a .692 on-base percentage.

 MLB Spring Training hitting, 2014

Team AB H 2B 3B HR RBI SB AVG OBP
Zach Borenstein LAA 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 NA 1.000
Ryan Braun MIL 36 15 5 0 3 9 0 .417 .500
Ike Davis NYM 29 7 2 0 2 7 0 .241 .313
Cody Decker SDP 10 3 1 0 1 4 0 .300 .417
Nate Freiman OAK 42 10 2 1 1 11 0 .238 .327
Sam Fuld OAK 59 16 1 4 1 7 1-1 .271 .348
Ben Guez DET 7 5 2 0 0 2 0-1 .714 .818
Ryan Kalish CHC 46 14 1 0 0 3 6-7 .304 .385
Ian Kinsler DET 60 18 5 1 3 9 4-4 .300 .382
Ryan Lavarnway BOS 38 11 1 0 2 5 0 .289 .357
Jake Lemmerman SDP 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .500
Joc Pederson LAD 38 7 1 0 3 6 0 .184 .311
Kevin Pillar TOR 33 5 1 1 0 4 0-1 .152 .176
Josh Satin NYM 50 13 2 0 1 4 0 .260 .333
Danny Valencia KCR 48 11 1 0 1 4 1-1 .229 .327

Notes: Zach Borenstein walked in his only plate appearance

MLB Spring Training pitching, 2014

Team W L ERA G IP H BB SO AVG WHIP
Jeremy Bleich NYY 0 0 9.00 1 1.0 2 0 0 .500 2.00
Scott Feldman HOU 0 2 5.40 4 16.2 21 2 14 .292 1.38
Aaron Poreda TEX 0 1 3.24 8 8.1 9 1 8 .265 1.20
Danny Rosenbaum WAS 0 1 2.70 3 3.1 3 2 2 .300 1.50
Jeff Urlaub OAK 1 1 8.10 4 3.1 4 2 1 .333 1.80
Josh Zeid HOU 0 0 4.15 7 8.2 12 4 12 .333 1.85

Notes: Aaron Poreda earned one save in two chances; Josh Zeid earned a save in his sole opportunity. Boston’s Craig Breslow did not play, due to injury

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By Scott Barancik, editor

Ah, the off-season. That time of year when baseball fans and writers have little else to do but speculate about which players will move, and where. Ian Kinsler made a splash recently when the Texas Rangers traded him to the Milwaukee Brewers for slugger Prince Fielder. Who’s next?

We at Jewish Baseball News profess no inside information or special insight on the topic. Following is a brief update on the latest rumors.

  • Scott Feldman, a 30-year-old starter who split 2013 between the Chicago Cubs and Baltimore Orioles, is a free agent. At least one reputable website, mlbtraderumors.com, thinks the O’s will resign him. Feldman went a combined 12-12 last season with two completes games, a shutout, and a 3.86 ERA .
  • Kevin Youkilis, a 34-year-old infielder who played just 28 games for the New York Yankees last season due to injury, is a free agent. Where he’ll end up is unknown. Youkilis‘ agent told the New York Daily News that he’s “100 percent healthy” after recovering from back surgery. MLB.com’s Ian Browne says it’s unlikely he’ll return to Boston, where Youk spent the first nine years of his MLB career.
  • Jason Marquis, a 35-year-old starter who underwent Tommy John elbow surgery this season and will begin 2014 on the disabled list, is a free agent. Given uncertainty over his health, it’s possible Marquis will be offered a minor-league contract rather than a major-league one.
  • Sam Fuld, a 32-year-old outfielder with the Tampa Bay Rays, is arbitration eligible. On December 2, Fuld will find out whether the Tampa Bay Rays are going to tender a contract or set him loose as a free agent.
  • Kevin Pillar, a 24-year-old who just completed his rookie season with the Toronto Blue Jays, is not a free agent. But as Pillar departed recently to play in the Dominican Winter League, at least one observer wondered whether the Jays might be showcasing him for a possible trade.

  • Ike Davis, a 26-year-old first baseman with the New York Mets, is not a free agent. But general manager Sandy Alderson says either Davis or fellow first baseman Lucas Duda is likely to be dealt before Spring Training begins. Davis, for his part, says he wants to stay in New York.

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By Scott Barancik, editor

For some Jewish baseball fans, Yom Kippur isn’t just the holiest day on the calendar. It’s also a litmus test of a ballplayer’s commitment to Judaism.

That’s not so true here at Jewish Baseball News, a secular website that holds no grudge against a ballplayer for choosing to swing a bat during the High Holidays (although we take pride when a player like Sandy Koufax or Shawn Green elects to pray rather than play).

Some players find ways to bridge the gap. Consider reliever Craig Breslow, who told Boston’s Jewish Journal:

“In previous years, I have participated in online Passover seders and High Holy Day services, and have fasted as best as I could, even on game days. ‘Typically, I try to observe the holidays in a way that is meaningful to me and indicative of my commitment to Judaism, but also honors and acknowledges the commitment that I have made to my teammates.”

So without further ado, here’s a breakdown of who played last night, and who didn’t.

Played

Six Jewish major leaguers played last night, and five of them emerged victorious:

  1. Nate Freiman, Oakland A’s.Went 1-for-2. Result: defeated the Texas Rangers.
  2. Ian Kinsler, Texas Rangers. Went 0-for-2 but drew three walks, drove in a run, and scored 2 more. Result: lost to the Oakland A’s.
  3. Danny Valencia, Baltimore Orioles. Went 1-for-4 with an RBI single. Result: defeated the Toronto Blue Jays.
  4. Craig Breslow, Boston Red Sox. Of the three batters faced, struck out one, walked another, and gave up a two-run double, leading to a blown save. Result: defeated the New York Yankees.
  5. Josh Zeid, Houston Astros. Pitched a scoreless 8th inning, giving up a walk and a hit but no runs, and earning a hold. Result: defeated the Los Angeles Angels.
  6. Sam Fuld, Tampa Bay Rays. Was brought in as a defensive replacement in the 9th inning. Result: defeated the Minnesota Twins.

Did not play, for one reason or another 

Four major leaguers didn’t play last night even though their teams did, and three of the teams won anyway. With the exception of Baltimore’s Scott Feldman, Baylawsuits doesn’t know whether it was the players’ decision not to play or their managers’.

  1. Scott Feldman, Baltimore Orioles. A member of the team’s starting rotation, he’d pitched 2 days earlier. Result: defeated the Toronto Blue Jays.
  2. Ryan Lavarnway, Boston Red Sox. A back-up catcher, he hasn’t played since Sept. 7. Result: defeated the New York Yankees.
  3. Kevin Pillar, Toronto Blue Jays. A back-up outfielder, he’d started seven of his team’s past 10 games and played part of one other. Result: lost to the Baltimore Orioles.
  4. Josh Satin, New York Mets. A versatile infielder, he’d started six of his team’s past 10 games and played parts of two others. Result: defeated the Miami Marlins.

Unable to play

Four players were on the disabled list, and one was on suspension for violating baseball’s anti-drug policy.

  1. Ike Davis, New York Mets. On disabled list.
  2. Ryan Kalish, Boston Red Sox. On disabled list.
  3. Jason Marquis, San Diego Padres. On disabled list.
  4. Kevin Youkilis, New York Yankees. On disabled list.
  5. Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers. Suspended.

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By Scott Barancik/Jewish Baseball News

Here are highlights from minor-league games played on Monday, April 8:

  • Toronto Blue Jays prospect Kevin Pillar, the 2012 Midwest League MVP, went 1/4 with a single, two walks, one RBI and a run scored (box score). Pillar plays for the New Hampshire Fisher Cats.
  • New York Mets prospect Josh Satin extended his torrid April pace, going 3/4 with a double, an RBI, and a run scored (box score). Satin, who plays for the Las Vegas 51s (AAA), is hitting .476 with one HR, two doubles, and 4 RBIs in 21 at-bats.
  • San Diego Padres prospect Maxx Tissenbaum didn’t get any hits, but he didn’t get any outs, either. Playing for the Fort Wayne Tin Caps (A), Tissenbaum walked four times and scored once (box score).
  • St. Louis Cardinals prospect Corey Baker still hasn’t allowed a run this season. In his third relief appearance for the Peoria Chiefs (A), Baker gave up two singles over two innings while striking out four and walking none (box score).
  • Danny Rosenbaum‘s first Triple-A start was a success. The Washington Nationals prospect pitched five shutout innings for the Syracuse Chiefs, yielding 4 singles and 2 walks while striking out two (box score).

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By Scott Barancik/Jewish Baseball News

Here are highlights from minor-league games played on Saturday, April 6:

  • Toronto Blue Jays prospect Kevin Pillar, an outfielder with the New Hampshire Fisher Cats (AA), went 4-for-5 with 2 stolen bases. Pillar also tossed out a runner at third base (box score).
  • In his 2013 debut, Detroit Tigers prospect Ben Guez homered and walked twice (box score). Guez is an outfielder with the Toledo Mud Hens (AAA).
  • In his first game at the Triple-A level, Houston Astros reliever Josh Zeid pitched a scoreless inning for the Oklahoma City RedHawks (box score). Zeid yielded no hits and one walk while striking out two.

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By Scott Barancik/Jewish Baseball News

With the regular season now underway, we’re taking a quick look back at how Jewish players performed in spring training.

The sheer number who played was impressive: a total of at least 24 Jews — 18 position players and six pitchers — got on the field for at least one MLB game this spring.

BATTING

Collectively,  position players hit .255 with 14 HRs and 64 RBIs in 384 at-bats (see table below). Several stood out:

  • Kevin Youkilis had an eye-popping debut with the New York Yankees. He led all Jewish players (as well as all Yankees) with 6 HRs, 6 doubles and 14 RBIs in just 50 at-bats, along with an .800 slugging percentage and a 1.139 OPS (on-base plus slugging).
  • New York Mets prospect Josh Satin made the most of his 16 plate appearances, cobbling together 3 singles, 2 doubles, 5 walks, and 3 RBIs to amass a .455 batting average and .647 on-base percentage.
  • Ike Davis, another Met, showed great poise at the plate, hitting .327 with 4 doubles, 1 HR, and 4 RBIs. Davis’s 9 walks boosted his on-base percentage to a healthy .431.
  • Danny Valencia lost his fight for a spot on the Baltimore Orioles’ opening-day roster but made a good impression on his new team, hitting .323 with 1 HR, 4 RBIs, and a .417 on-base percentage.
  • Maxx Tissenbaum, a 21-year-old San Diego Padres prospect with one minor-league season under his belt, knocked in 3 runs in just 4 at-bats.
  • St. Louis Cardinals prospect Adam Ehrlich walked in both of his plate appearances, St. Louis Cardinals prospect Charlie Cutler singled in his only appearance of the spring, and San Diego Padres prospect Cody Decker went 3-for-6 with a double.

Final hitting stats, 2013 MLB Spring Training

 
TEAM
G
AB
H
HR
RBI
AVG
OBP
Ryan BraunMIL1023636.261.357
Charlie CutlerSTL111001.0001.000
Ike DavisNYM21551815.327.431
Cody DeckerSD26300.500.500
Adam EhrlichSTL30000-1.000
Nate Freiman*HOU/OAK25541319.241.268
Sam FuldTB820514.250.286
Adam GreenbergBAL21000.000.000
Ben GuezDET11000.000.000
Ian KinslerTEX24631419.222.292
Ryan LavarnwayBOS1644606.136.188
Jake LemmermanSTL11000.000.000
Joc PedersonLAD710101.100.182
Kevin PillarTOR79100.111.111
Josh SatinNYM1211503.455.647
Maxx TissenbaumSD44103.250.400
Danny ValenciaBAL17311014.323.417
Kevin YoukilisNYY185014614.280.339
* Now with Oakland A's
Source: Jewish Baseball News collection of data from MLB.com, baseball-reference.com, and cbssports.com.

 

PITCHING

Among the six Jewish pitchers who played in at least one spring training game (see below), these ones stood out:

  • Houston Astros prospect Josh Zeid went 1-0 with a 1.50 ERA in six relief appearances, held opposing players to a .235 batting average, and drew 3.33 times as many groundouts as flyouts.
  • San Diego Padres veteran Jason Marquis went 1-1 with a 3.74 ERA in six starts and held opponents to a .239 batting average.
  • Toronto Blue Jays prospect Michael Schwimer earned a 3.00 ERA in three relief appearances and limited opposing teams to a .182 batting average.
  • Scott Feldman stood out for less desirable reasons. The newly-minted Chicago Cub went 0-3 with an 11.25 ERA, gave up nearly 2 hits per inning, yielded 7 HRs, and got lit up by opposing batters to the tune of a .396 average.

Final pitching stats, 2013 MLB Spring Training

 
 
TEAM
W
L
ERA
G
IP
H
BB
SO
1Jeremy BleichNYY000.0010.1000
2Scott FeldmanCHC0311.25620.038617
3Jason MarquisSD113.74621.2211515
4Danny Rosenbaum*COL214.5068.0930
5Michael SchwimerTOR003.0033.0224
6Josh ZeidHOU101.5066.0442
* Now with Washington Nationals
Source: Jewish Baseball News collection of data from MLB.com, baseball-reference.com, and cbssports.com.

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Kevin Pillar (Scout.com)

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By Scott Barancik/Jewish Baseball News

Kevin Pillar is the best Jewish player you’ve never heard of.

In college he set an NCAA Division II record with a 54-game hitting streak. Drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays in 2011, he led his rookie league with a .347 batting average and in one game went 6-for-6 with a 9th-inning grand slam. In 2012 he hit a combined .323 with six HRs, 91 RBIs, and 51 stolen bases for two teams, good enough to be named MVP of the Midwest League. Later that year he starred in the invitation-only Arizona Fall League, where he hit a fifth-best .371 and stole 8 bases in just 62 at-bats.

Baseball America’s 2013 Prospect Handbook rates Pillar the Blue Jays’ No. 21 prospect. It says his “quickness and savvy also serve him well in the outfield, where he can play all three positions.”

Somehow, Pillar flew beneath our radar. That is, until a former high-school teammate wrote to say he was Jewish.

The 24-year-old Pillar confirmed it in a recent interview. Though his father is Christian and their southern California home was not “super religious,” Pillar and older brother Michael both were Bar Mitzvah’d, inspired in large part by love and respect for their maternal grandparents.

Jewish baseball fans may not have known Pillar, but Pillar knows plenty of Jewish ballplayers. He told Jewish Baseball News he played little-league ball with Seattle Mariners prospect Jack Marder, high-school ball with Los Angeles Angels prospect Casey Haerther, minor-league rookie ball with fellow Blue Jays prospect Ian Kadish, and sees San Diego Padres prospect Cody Decker during offseason workouts.

Pillar was careful to avoid burning-out on baseball early on. While some kids focused all their athletic energies on one sport, he and his parents decided it would be healthier to mix things up. Thus Pilllar excelled in football, basketball, and baseball at his Catholic high school, where monthly Mass was mandatory but religious- studies electives included Hebrew and Judaism.

Speed was the common thread. Pillar played point guard on the basketball team, outfield on the baseball team, and running back, receiver, outside linebacker, and kick- and punt-returner on the football team. “I had a good basketball I.Q.,” he said.

Two factors persuaded Pillar to focus on baseball at college. One was his modest size; he finished high school 6-feet-tall and weighing 180 pounds. The other was baseball’s vexing failure rate, where even the finest players rarely hit successfully more than 30 percent of the time. “The fact that you fail more than you succeed was more of a challenge,” he said. Pillar enrolled at Cal State — Dominguez Hills, where he majored in business and set the Division II hitting-streak record.

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Major-league scouts were not particularly wowed. By the time the Blue Jays selected Pillar in the 32nd round of the 2011 draft, 978 other amateurs already had been picked. Playing the way he has his first two years in the minors undoubtedly has been the best revenge. Baseball America projects him as “at least a fourth outfielder in the big leagues.”

Not that Pillar is content. Last year he compensated for a frustrating lack of extra-base hits by following his singles with stolen bases (his 51 ranked 2nd among Blue Jays farmhands). During the offseason, he decided that to do better in 2013 — he’ll most likely open with the New Hampshire Fisher Cats (AA) — he’d need not only to “get bigger, faster and stronger” but also change the mechanics of his swing, and learn to swing more freely.

“I’ve always been a contact hitter,”he said. “It’s just about being a little more aggressive, not that passive at the plate.”

The 2013 season already is off to a good start. Though currently participating in Toronto’s minor-league spring training camp in Dunedin, Fla., Pillar has made his way into four big-league games to date. The highlight so far? Coming off the bench to replace Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista in right field and then stroking a 7th-inning single off Baltimore Orioles reliever Daniel McCutchen.

Pillar shared only one regret in his recent interview: that news of Team Israel’s talent search for last year’s World Baseball Classic qualifiers reached him too late. “I wish that I’d known about it,” he said.

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