Sunday Notes: Twins Prospect Kala’i Rosario Won the AFL Home Run Derby

Sunday Notes: Twins Prospect Kala’i Rosario Won the AFL Home Run Derby


Kala’i Rosario won the Arizona Fall League’s Home Run Derby this past November, and he did so in impressive fashion. Not only did the 21-year-old Minnesota Twins outfield prospect pummel a total of 25 baseballs over the fence at Mesa’s Sloan Park, the longest of them traveled a power hitter-ish 465 feet. By and large, that is what Rosario’s game is all about. As Eric Longenhagen pointed out last summer, the 6-foot, 212-pound Papaikou, Hawaii native had previously won the 2019 Area Code Games Home Run Derby and he “swings with incredible force and has big raw power for his age.”

Rosario’s setup in the box stood out to me as much as his ability to bludgeon baseballs when I watched him capture the AFL’s derby crown. The right-handed hitter not only had his feet spread wide, he had next to no stride. I asked him about that following his finals victory over Toronto Blue Jays infield prospect Damiano Palmegiani.

“Tonight my setup was a little different, but in games I usually do a small stride, so it wasn’t a big difference,” Rosario told me. “I have power already, so I don’t lock into my coil too much. When I get into the box I kind of preset everything, and from there it’s just letting my hands do the work.”

Improving his contact skills is both a goal and a necessity for the slugger. Rosario had a 29.6% strikeout rate to go with his .252/.364/.467 slash line and 21 home runs in 530 plate appearances with High-A Cedar Rapids. As Longenhagen also opined in his midseason writeup, Rosario’s “high-effort swing has zero precision.” Widening out and shortening up have been part of his effort to alleviate that issue.

“This year I had a wider stance that has let me have less movement in my swing,” explained Rosario, who despite his swing-and-miss issues did improve his K-rate and walk rate relative to the 2022 season. “When I try to do too much is when things get out of order, so I’m trying to keep it as simple as possible and kind of just let my power play for itself.”

The power-hitter label?

“I don’t mind it at all,” said Rosario. “It comes naturally for me.”

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RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS

Joel Youngblood went 10 for 15 against Jim Kaat.

Julio Franco went 10 for 16 against Shawn Estes.

Hanley Ramirez went 10 for 17 against Craig Stammen.

Shane Mack went 10 for 18 against Scott Sanderson.

Glenn Wilson went 10 for 19 against John Candelaria.

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Who was better, Ellis Burks or Bernie Williams? I asked that question in a Twitter poll earlier this week, and the results were more or less what I expected. The longtime New York Yankee won by a wide margin, garnering 65.6% of the votes cast, while his five-team contemporary received just 34.4%. The sample size was relatively meager — only a few hundred people weighed in — but it’s doubtful that higher participation would have moved the needle in a meaningful way. Williams was not only very good, he was also a popular player on perennially-successful squads that won four World Series titles with him roaming center field.

Those things said, was Williams truly better than Burks? Here is a snapshot of their regular-season numbers, which came in 2,076 games for the former and 2,000 games for the latter.

Williams: 2,336 hits, 287 home runs, 147 steals, 126 wRC+, 43.9 WAR.Burks: 2,107 hits, 352 home runs, 181 steals, 125 wRC+, 44.7 WAR.

And then there is October. Along with being a one-franchise player, Williams has a resumé that includes 121 postseason games, 32 of them in the World Series. Burks, who played for the Red Sox, Rockies, Indians, Giants, and White Sox, saw action in just 25 postseason games, none of them in the World Series.

My take? Flip-flop their team-specific resumés and Burks wins this poll, quite possibly by a similar margin. Does that mean he was better? No. It means that the two were more comparable than you might think. The numbers support that conclusion.

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I also ran a Mark Buehrle–Andy Pettitte poll. Prefacing my question with a caveat that the currently-on-the-ballot southpaws are borderline candidates at best, I asked which of them has the better Hall of Fame resumé. Just over 400 people responded, and this time the results weren’t what I expected. Instead of a close contest, what I got was a margin of victory nearly identical to that of the aforementioned poll. Pettitte cruised to a 64.1% to 35.9% win over his left-handed contemporary.

How closely matched are their credentials? Rather than citing their numbers, I’ll share something my colleague Jay Jaffe wrote when assessing their candidacies in the same article one month ago: “I’m going to chew on the results awhile longer and possibly return to the drawing board before I commit to including either on my ballot.”

Jay ultimately voted for Pettitte, and not for Buehrle, while Ryan Thibodaux’s invaluable Ballot Tracker shows that other Hall voters are likewise favoring the former (albeit by an insignificant margin). That suggests that Pettitte indeed deserved to win my poll, although, again, I’m surprised that he did so easily.

Did Pettitte’s having gotten far more exposure by dint of wearing pinstripes for 15 years and making 44 postseason starts (to Buehrle’s four, all with Chicago’s less-popular club) factor into the results? As was the case with Williams and Burks, I’m inclined to think that it very much did.

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A quiz:

Which player has the highest on-base percentage in Cincinnati Reds franchise history?

The answer can be found below.

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NEWS NOTES

This year’s SABR Analytics Conference will include a Baseball Prospectus Founders panel, comprising Clay Davenport, Gary Huckabay, Rany Jazayerli, Christina Kahrl, and Joe Sheehan, with Will Carroll serving as the moderator. The conference will be held in Phoenix from March 8-10.

The Texas Rangers have hired Dave Bush as their director of pitching strategy. The 44-year-old former big-league hurler has spent the last four years as the pitching coach for the Boston Red Sox.

Ryan Mossman is joining the New York Yankees as a minor league pitching coach. The 2016 Shenandoah University graduate has spent the last five years as an assistant coach at Milligan University.

Chuck Harrison, a first baseman who logged 241 hits while playing for the Houston Astros from 1965-1967, and for the Kansas City Royals in 1969 and 1971, died on December 30 at age 82. The Abilene, Texas native swatted 40 home runs for the Double-A San Antonio Bullets in 1964.

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The answer to the quiz is Joe Morgan, with a .415 OBP. Joey Votto ranks second with a .409 OBP, while Kal Daniels, who had 1,398 plate appearances for the Reds from 1986-1989, is third at .408.

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Luke Little pitches for the Chicago Cubs, but it was another historic franchise that captured his rooting interests as a young fan in Charlotte, North Carolina. No, it wasn’t the Atlanta Braves. The 23-year-old southpaw’s allegiance was with a team that broke a famous curse 12 years before his current club broke one of their own.

“My cousin was a huge Red Sox fan when we were growing up,” explained Little, who made his MLB debut with Cubs in September and was featured here at FanGraphs a month later. “He liked Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz, Jonathan Papelbon… all of those guys. I always hung out with my cousin — he’s like a brother to me — and my parents never pushed me toward a certain team. My uncle is a Red Sox fan, too. That’s pretty much how it happened.”

The idea of taking the mound in a Cubs-Red Sox World Series predictably appeals to the 6-foot-8 hurler.

“That would be nice,” Little said of my suggestion. “I would love to play at Fenway, whether it’s in a Cubs jersey or in a Red Sox jersey. Having it be in the World Series would make it even sweeter.”

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Justice Bigbie, a 24-year-old Detroit Tigers prospect who slashed .343/.405/.537 with 19 home runs across three levels last season, would enjoy being part of a Fall Classic matchup at Citi Field.

“My team growing up was the New York Mets,” said Bigbie, who was featured here at FanGraphs in my “Talks Hitting” series just over a month ago. “David Wright is from my area — from Chesapeake (Virginia) — so I grew up rooting for him. He was my favorite player. Mostly because of him, I rooted for the Mets.”

Bigbie would presumably also enjoy seeing Wright get more support in Hall of Fame balloting, and — favorite player bias aside — who could blame him? I couldn’t find room for the erstwhile Mets stalwart on my own ballot, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t give it serious thought. In a nine-year-stretch (2005-2013) before injuries cratered his career, Wright logged 46.4 WAR, the fourth highest total in MLB behind only Albert Pujols, Chase Utley, and Miguel Cabrera.

As my colleague Jay Jaffe recently opined, “David Wright is the greatest position player in Mets history.” That fate intervened was truly unfortunate. Given a few more years of good health, he wouldn’t currently be at 5.7% in his first year of eligibility —basically a coin flip to remain on the ballot — but rather a serious candidate to eventually get a plaque in Cooperstown.

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FOREIGN AFFAIRS

Greg Bird is slashing .275/.362/.541 with nine home runs in 127 plate appearances for the Australian Baseball League’s Melbourne Aces. The 31-year-old former MLB first baseman leads all ABL hitters in round-trippers.

Sam Gardner is 4-0 and has 43 strikeouts to go with just six hits allowed in 20 scoreless innings with the Australian Baseball League’s Brisbane Bandits. The just-turned-27-year-old right-hander in the Milwaukee Brewers system pitched for the High-A Wisconsin Timber Rattlers in 2023.

Brian Rey is slashing .331/.418/.436 in 150 plate appearances for the Puerto Rican Winter League’s Indios de Mayaguez. The 25-year-old outfielder/second baseman batted .344 with a .993 OPS for the independent American Association’s Lake Country DockHounds last year after being released by the Cincinnati Reds in May.

Vidal Bruján is slashing .262/.405/.324 in 186 plate appearances with the Dominican Winter League’s Estrellas Orientales. The 25-year-old infielder was acquired by the Miami Marlins from the Tampa Bay Rays in November as part of a five-player trade.

Former Seibu Lions pitcher Chih Chia Chang, who in 2002 set a since-broken NPB record for most consecutive innings with at least one strikeout, died this past week at age 43. Joseph Yeh has the story at Focus Taiwan.

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Vaughn Grissom met with the Boston media over Zoom on Thursday, and one of the questions the new Red Sox acquisition addressed was his hitting approach vis-a-vis Fenway Park’s Green Monster. When he made his big-league debut with the Atlanta Braves on August 10, 2022, Grissom cleared the high wall at Boston’s home park in his third plate appearance.

“Everything has to come back to staying up the middle and the other way, and then let the pull-side pop come,” said Grissom, who was celebrating his 23rd birthday when he spoke those words. “Especially with the wall — try not to get too focused on the wall. But I will say that in my minor-league career, I enjoyed hitting with the big wall in left. I enjoyed hitting in [High-A] Greenville with the replica. I also played at Jet Blue quite a bit growing up in Florida… It’s pretty cool.”

The Red Sox play their spring training games at Jet Blue Park in Fort Myers, so the young infielder will be getting more opportunities to take aim at the 37-foot-high target in less than two months’ time. Come April, he’ll be doing much same at MLB’s oldest ballpark. Grissom stated in the Zoom call that he’s growing into his strength, so even with a staying-up-the-middle approach, the Green Monster could ultimately serve as more than just an inviting target. It could very well become his close friend.

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Left on the cutting room floor from Thursday’s Q&A with Baltimore Orioles outfield prospect Billy Cook was his answer to a question I asked at the end of our conversation: What else might people be interested in knowing about you?

“I’m an Eagle Scout,” replied Cook, who graduated from Pepperdine University with a business degree and aspires to be a financial analyst after his playing days are over. “Growing up, our church would do Boy Scouts and stuff like that. I ended up being an Eagle Scout, which not many people are; it’s not everyday you run into one. It was a good experience. It’s something I feel has helped me in life, as well as in baseball.”

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LINKS YOU’LL LIKE

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Derrick Goold wrote about football legend Ernie Nevers’s brief big-league career, which included twice striking out Babe Ruth.

Shin-Soo Choo 추신수 feels that the KBO has a long ways to go, not just in terms of improving physical facilities, but also in adopting a different mindset. Jeeho Yoo has the story at Yonhap News.

Pitcher List’s Lucas Seehafer wrote about how Yoshinobu Yamamoto’s workouts are unique but fundamentally sound.

At The Sporting News, Ryan Fagan delved into how Shohei Ohtani’s deferral-heavy contract could impact the baseball industry.

At Motor City Bengals, Rogelio Castillo made a case for the Detroit Tigers signing free agent slugger Jorge Soler.

SABR.org posted a memoriam to renowned baseball researcher Larry McCray, who died on December 26 at age 81.

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RANDOM FACTS AND STATS

Chris Sale is 4-3 with 12 saves and a 2.55 ERA in 80 regular-season relief appearances. Johan Santana went 4-2 with one save and a 3.96 era in 76 regular-season relief appearance.

Michael Brantley had 1,656 hits and a .298/.355/.439 slash line.Shannon Stewart had 1,653 hits and a .297/.360/.430 slash line.

Since debuting with the New York Mets in 2019, Pete Alonso has 192 home runs, the most in the majors over those five seasons. Prince Fielder had 192 home runs over his first five-plus seasons (he went deep twice in a 62-game cup of coffee prior to his 2006 rookie year).

Dale Murphy played in 162 games and won a Gold Glove each year from 1982-1985. His home runs totals were 36, 36, 36, and 37.

Hall of Fame outfielder Larry Doby and should be-Hall of Fame pitcher Don Newcombe both played for the Japanese Central League’s Chunichi Dragons in 1962. Widely regarded as MLB’s first great Black pitcher, Newcombe spent his final professional season as an outfielder/first baseman, logging a dozen home runs and a .789 OPS with Chunichi.

Masanori Murakami was the first Japanese player in MLB history. The left-hander debuted with the San Francisco Giants on September 1, 1964 at age 20 and proceeded to go 5-1 with a 3.43 over 54 appearances and 89-and-third innings through the 1965 season. He then returned to Japan, where he pitched from 1966-1982.

The Boston Red Sox signed Keith Foulke as a free agent on today’s date in 2004. The righty reliever logged 35 saves that year, 32 in the regular season and three more in the postseason. The last of them came in Boston’s World Series clincher.

The Philadelphia Phillies purchased “Sliding Billy” Hamilton from the American Association’s Kansas City Cowboys on today’s date in 1890. The Hall of Fame outfielder went on to slash .350/.462/.438 over the next dozen seasons, six each with the Phillies and the Boston Nationals. Hamilton swiped 100 bases and scored 198 runs in 1894.

Born on today’s date was Bunky Stewart, a right-handed pitcher who went 5-11 with a 6.01 ERA while appearing in 72 games for the Washington Senators from 1952-1956. The Jasper, North Carolina native — his given name was Veston Goff Stewart — went 15-2 with a 1.16 ERA for the Coastal Plain League’s New Bern Bears in 1951.

Also born on today’s date was Clay Roe, a left-handed pitcher whose big-league career comprised one game for the Senators in 1923. The Greenbrier, Tennessee native was tagged with a loss despite allowing no hits or earned runs in an inning-and-two-thirds. Roe walked six of the 12 batters he faced and threw three wild pitches.



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