Career Years: Who's having them? (Part 1) By Luke Garrison (Monday July 23rd, 2018)
Photo by www.en.wikipedia.org
TORONTO—Spring training is an important time for every club. Teams are able to evaluate their top prospects in order to predict who will breakout into full-time, productive players when the season begins.
The simplest method of accomplishing this is to look at the younger players with high pedigrees who were dominant in Double-A, Triple-A, and/or in a small sample size in the big leagues during the previous year.
But, as we saw with Aaron Judge, we sometimes have no idea how much of an impact a player will truly have until April begins. For example, Judge had never hit more than 20 homers in a minor league season before exploding for 52 as a rookie with the New York Yankees.
With that being said let’s take a look at three players who hadn’t experienced much MLB success, if any at all, before 2018.
The first is Jesus Aguilar of the Milwaukee Brewers. The first baseman was signed as an amateur free agents by the Cleveland Indians in 2007. After years of playing in both the Dominican League and the minor leagues, he eventually earned a spot at the Futures Game in 2012. He represented the Indians along with Francisco Lindor.
Aguilar then attended spring training with the Indians in 2013 as a non-roster invitee. He became a part of the Indians’ 40-man roster in November of that year and started 2014 in Triple-A (International League) with the Columbus Clippers.
Cleveland promoted him in May but he was sent back down to Triple-A in early June after only eight games. He got into 19 total games for the Indians that year but only managed a .121 batting average.
Aguilar also began 2015 with Columbus and made the Triple-A all-star game. He was recalled to the Indians in July but only got into seven games despite posting a .316 batting average. He led Triple-A in home runs (30) and runs batted in (92) the following year in 2016 but spent very little time (only six plate appearances) with the big club that season as well.
The Venezuelan was designated for assignment on January 26th, 2017 and was claimed off of waivers by the Milwaukee Brewers a week later on February 2nd. After a convincing spring training later that year, he made the Brewers’ opening day roster and played 133 games (279 ABs) last season recording 16 home runs, 52 runs batted in, and a .265/.331/.505 slash line.
Even though those are respectable numbers, it was this season when Aguilar’s production truly reached an elite level. Through 89 games (280 ABs) he has posted 25 home runs, 71 runs batted in, and a slash line of .293/.369/.618 earning a well-deserved Home Run Derby appearance.
Not bad for a waiver pickup.
Our next player, Max Muncy, was released by the Oakland Athletics around the end of spring training in 2017. The super-utility fielder was drafted in the 5th round by the A’s in 2012 and got into 96 big league games (215 ABs) during the 2015 and 2016 seasons. He only managed five home runs and 17 runs batted in to go along with a .195 batting average.
The Los Angeles Dodgers signed him to a minor league contract on April 27th 2017, a month after his release. He spent the remainder of the year with the Triple-A Oklahoma City Dodgers (Pacific Coast League). Through 109 games (320 ABs) he had 12 home runs, 44 runs batted in, and a .905 OPS.
He began this season with OKC again but was called up to the Dodgers on April 17th, 2018 to provide depth after an injury to Logan Forsythe. At the time, Muncy had gotten off to a strong start in Triple-A posting a .313/.421/.563 slash line with two homers through his first nine games.
Given his modest numbers in the minors and his lack of past MLB success, no one could have predicted what came next. Suddenly, he’s hit 22 home runs and boasts a whopping 1.009 OPS through his first 232 ABs as a Dodger. A feat more than good enough to earn an appearance in the Home Run Derby.
He’s become a regular in LA’s lineup and his positional versatility just makes his all-around production that much sweeter. His 2B/3B/OF eligibility has also made him quite a fantasy darling for those who were lucky enough to pick him up.
Max Muncy can do almost everything.
Be sure to read ‘Part 2' of this article to learn about a pitcher who has broken out, along with two pitchers who should have, in 2018.