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Emilio Vargas Jersey

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In addition to having a three-pitch mix, including a fastball that seems to play above its velocity, righthander Emilio Vargas also seems to have intangibles he has been leaning on through the first two months at high Class A Visalia.

“He’s got a knack for finishing guys off,” Visalia pitching coach Jeff Bajenaru said. “He gets two strikes on someone and he knows he’s got him.

“Or when he gets guys on base, you can see it in his eyes: ‘These guys aren’t scoring.’ He just has that look; he just gives it off. You can feel it in the dugout. You’re never really worried. That’s a really good thing to have as a pitcher.”

Through 58 innings, Vargas led the California League with a 1.24 ERA and ranked second with 76 strikeouts.

The 21-year-old Vargas, who signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2013, has been on the organization’s radar for years. In a start for low Class A Kane County late in 2016, he struck out 16 in eight innings. After a 2017 season that was sidetracked by blisters and a bout with the chicken pox, Vargas seems to be coming into his own in Visalia.

“This is him just coming into his own,” minor league pitching coordinator Dan Carlson said, “and really understanding what type of pitcher he is.”

Vargas sits in the 92-93 mph range with his fastball, but with the high spin he generates, the pitch plays like it’s 95. That has allowed him to pitch more aggressively at the top of the zone, something he’s done more this year than in the past.

He also has a slider and a changeup, giving him weapons to attack hitters on either side of the plate.

In his first five starts this season, Vargas issued 19 walks in 23.1 innings yet somehow managed to allow just four runs. In six starts since, he walked just nine in 34.2 innings, which Bajenaru said was the result of refining his fastball command, cleaning up the direction in his delivery and not nibbling so much.

Some wonder if Vargas might fit best in the bullpen, but he is starting to win believers in the rotation.

“I wouldn’t say he’s a front-line guy by any stretch,” a scout with an American League club said, “but he’s certainly in the rotation somewhere.”

Jay Bell Jersey

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The odds were astronomical. But it didn’t matter.

On July 11, 1999, Diamondbacks infielder Jay Bell made a millionaire out of Chandler resident Gylene Hoyle in what remains today one of the most expensive swings ever taken.

The Diamondbacks paid homage to the anniversary of the event with a video posted to Twitter on Thursday.

Hoyle, then 31, won a radio contest sponsored by Shamrock Farms and was invited to the day’s game between the Diamondbacks and Oakland Athletics. She was tasked with picking a Diamondbacks player to hit a home run and to pick the inning in which it would occur.

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Arizona Diamondbacks’ Jay Bell (R) is congratulated by third base coach Brian Butterfield after he hit his 22nd homer of the season against the Atlanta Braves in the seventh inning 20 June 1999 in Phoenix, AZ. The Braves won 10-4. AFP PHOTO Mike FIALA (Photo by Mike FIALA / AFP)

Arizona Diamondbacks’ Jay Bell (R) is congratulated by third base coach Brian Butterfield after he hit his 22nd homer of the season against the Atlanta Braves in the seventh inning 20 June 1999 in Phoenix, AZ. The Braves won 10-4. AFP PHOTO Mike FIALA (Photo by Mike FIALA / AFP) (Photo: MIKE FIALA, AFP/Getty Images)

Hoyle told The Republic’s Paola Boivin in 2011 that she and her husband, Clayton, were not baseball fans but picked Bell because he was one of the club’s better hitters. They picked the sixth inning randomly.

Hoyle was also there with her nieces and nephews had seats behind the Diamondbacks dugout and Gylene was even introduced to the crowd before the game. Bell, who had been 0 for 12 in the series, was reportedly also aware of the stakes.

But as fate would have it, the Diamondbacks loaded the bases in the sixth for Bell, who fouled off a pair of two-strike pitches before depositing a ball in the left-field seats. The million-dollar swing.

“My career highlight,” Bell told Boivin.

Hoyle and her family were quickly ushered away to sign documents and take care of logistics. She opted for a lump sum instead of installments.

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Hoyle later told Boivin that the family put away the money, invested it and upgraded their house after some time had passed.

“He made life easier for us,” Hoyle said of Bell. “He made it so we have less stress in our lives.”

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Astros righty Corbin Martin is down for the rest of the season after undergoing Tommy John surgery, GM Jeff Luhnow told reporters including Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle (via Twitter). Martin had been pitching at Triple-A on optional assignment after debuting in the majors earlier this year.

Entering the 2019 campaign, the 23-year-old Martin was graded as one of the game’s top 100 prospects and seen by the Houston organization as a key near-term depth piece. He already took five MLB starts for the club in just his third season as a professional.

Martin wasn’t able to establish himself in the Astros rotation, working to a 5.59 ERA with 19 strikeouts and a dozen walks over 19 1/3 innings. He was done in by the long ball, coughing up eight. But Martin is hardly the first young hurler to have some early hiccups and had turned in good results at Triple-A prior to his promotion.

This injury dents both the depth and the upside of the Houston pitching staff, a strong unit that nevertheless seems a likely area to upgrade at the trade deadline. The loss of Martin comes amidst ongoing uncertainty surrounding Brad Peacock. There are plenty of other options to patch things up for the time being — Jose Urquidy just got the call; Framber Valdez and Cionel Perez are among those available at Triple-A — but it’s hard to imagine the ’Stros won’t look far and wide for new arms. Indeed, it seems that pursuit has already begun.

All indications are that the injury occurred after Martin’s demotion; Luhnow specifically said so this afternoon, in fact. (Via Rome, on Twitter.) If that is indeed the case, then Martin will not accrue MLB service time while he is sidelined. Given the typical year-plus layoff occasioned by a TJ procedure, it’s likely that Martin won’t be seen again at the game’s highest level until late in 2020 or early in the 2021 campaign.

Greg Colbrunn Jersey

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The New York Yankees have announced that Charleston RiverDogs skipper Torre Tyson will take over the reins of the High-A Tampa Yankees of the Florida State League and that RiverDogs hitting coach Greg Colbrunn has been promoted to manager.

Colbrunn takes over for Tyson, who spent five years with the RiverDogs – two as hitting coach from 2004-05 and the last three as manager – with an overall record of 232-186, making him the winningest manager in RiverDogs history.

“We’re very happy for both Torre and Greg,” said RiverDogs General Manager Dave Echols. “Torre leaves as the winningest manager in RiverDogs history, but then again, our fans will be very happy with Greg, too. He’s been with us for three seasons already and knows how we do things. While Tampa is getting a great manager, this should be a seamless transition for Charleston as well.”

“My time in Charleston has been outstanding, but I’m anxious for the opportunity to move up to Tampa,” said Tyson. “My wife and I are still planning to move to Charleston permanently, so we won’t be leaving completely.”

A Mt. Pleasant resident, Colbrunn enters his first managerial experience after three seasons as the RiverDogs hitting coach. The former infielder spent 13 seasons in the major leagues with stints with Montreal, Florida, Minnesota, Atlanta, Arizona, Colorado and Seattle. He won a World Series ring playing for the Diamondbacks in 2001 when the team upset the New York Yankees, who had won the previous three World Series titles from 1998-2000.

“I’m very grateful to have been given this opportunity by the Yankees,” said Colbrunn. “I’m looking forward to managing the RiverDogs and see how successful we can be.”

A lifetime .289 hitter in 992 major league games, Colbrunn made an immediate impact on the RiverDogs in his first season as a coach in 2007, helping guide third baseman Mitch Hilligoss to a league-record 38-game hitting streak that lasted from April 18 to June 1.

That track record continued to improve last season as the RiverDogs’ offense led the league in triples (46), finished second in hits (1,228) and tied for third in the league in average (.260).

Dominican Republic native Melky Mesa slugged 20 home runs in his first full season in Charleston to lead the squad and finish tied for fourth in the league. The 6-1 flycatcher also led the team in doubles (24), extra base hits (51), RBI (74) and runs scored (76), which was good for fifth in the circuit. Mesa was named SAL Hitter of the Week from June 22-29 and earned selection to the SAL’s Midseason and Postseason All-Star Teams, the third year in a row that event has happened for the RiverDogs (Jesus Montero, 2008; Mitch Hilligoss, 2007).

Second-year RiverDog Abraham Almonte flourished in the second half of the season, hitting .368 over his final 33 games to finish with a .280 average, highlighted by a league-best 26-game hitting streak from Aug. 6 through Sept. 4, the longest for Charleston since Hilligoss raked in 38 straight in 2007. The 5-9 fireplug ended the ’09 season tied for second in triples (10) and finished fifth in the league in stolen bases (36), the most for a RiverDog since Austin Jackson swiped 37 bags in ’06. Over his two-year stint, Almonte ranks 11th in RiverDogs history in both hits (224) and RBI (102).

Promotions gave the final two players a terrific opportunity for success, and Corban Joseph and Jose Pirela did not let chance go to waste. Joseph, the Yankees fourth round pick in 2008, joined the team in mid-May, hit safely in his first 12 games in a Charleston uniform, and raced to a .300 average in 100 games, tied for the fourth-best mark in the SAL. Joseph was named SAL Hitter of the Week from July 20-27 when he notched six-straight multi-hit games.

Pirela came onto the scene in late May and ended up hitting a robust .295 over 97 games to finish ninth in the league. The Venezuelan came in second on the squad in hits (119) and doubles (23) as the team’s leadoff hitter.

The 2010 South Atlantic League season begins Thursday, April 8 when the RiverDogs host the Lexington Legends for a 7:05 p.m. start. For information on ticket packages, contact the RiverDogs at (843) 577-DOGS (3647).

Jimmie Sherfy Jersey

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Bucky Jacobsen represents one of the rarest flavors of big leaguer: the rookie who succeeded and yet never got a second chance. An old 28 when he debuted in 2004, Jacobsen hit .275/.335/.500 in 42 games. His beefy build, bald head, and big bat made him a hero in Seattle; to this day you’ll occasionally see “Jacobsen” jerseys around the ballpark.

But those 42 games constituted the entirety of his career. A knee injury ended his season prematurely and recovery from surgery sidelined him for most of 2005. The Mariners released him that summer and he was out of the game completely two years later.

Such a quick rise and fall was naturally disorienting. In a recent Corey Brock profile at The Athletic, Jacobsen described the nagging feeling that he’d unjustly lost something: “To have success in the big leagues and then not be allowed to continue that? That felt unfair.”

We all know what it’s like to fall just short of our dreams; the Triple-A veteran who plateaus at the highest level is an easy guy to empathize with. But there’s something just as sad about the guys who get their chance, succeed, and fade away, like the dream itself never mattered.

When you’re on the fringes of a big league roster, you develop a few peculiar rooting interests. You certainly want to play — you need to play, need to show why you deserve your spot on the team. But, if you’re a reliever of a certain stripe, some outings are more dangerous than others. You can call it the Goldilocks Theory of a big league audition.

If you’re the last man in the bullpen, you don’t really want to see the starter struggle. If the starter struggles, then the team needs someone to soak up innings. That person will be you, and in 2019, the inning sponge tends to get wrung out in Triple-A.

It’s already getaway day, ominous in itself. Starter Merrill Kelly labors early. He walks two and gives up three runs in the first. Jimmie Sherfy is told to start moving around. In the second, Kelly allows a double and another run. Sherfy is asked to get loose. After two more walks, Kelly is up to 63 pitches; he’s done for the day. Manager Torey Lovullo signals for Sherfy.

Sherfy more or less handles his business. He escapes with the bases loaded in the second. He concedes a run in the third, but nobody really hits him all that hard, and he tosses a scoreless fourth for good measure.

Sherfy is sent to Triple-A the following morning anyway. It doesn’t matter that he’s thrown eight innings of one run ball over the last 10 days, or that he’s struck out a batter per inning while finally limiting those pesky walks. Sherfy had thrown too many innings recently and was deemed surplus to requirements. In truth, he was as good as optioned the second Lovullo summoned him from the bullpen.

Over the last three years, 53 relievers have thrown at least 30 innings with a FIP below 3.50 and an ERA+ better than 120. There’s some fun with arbitrary endpoints baked in there, but this is just supposed to be a quick and dirty way to cobble together a collection of good pitchers. And it is a strong group: Josh Hader leads the list in WAR. He’s followed by Felipe Vazquez, Blake Treinen, and Craig Kimbrel. Tommy Kahnle is 46th, and he’s posted a 2.70 ERA in 120 innings. This is good company to ride with.

Of those 53 pitchers, five haven’t pitched in the majors this season due to injury. Forty-six of the others are either on major league rosters or the injured list. The other is Jimmie Sherfy.

Sherfy has lurked around the edges forever. A 10th round pick for the Diamondbacks in 2013, he took quickly to pro ball, striking out 29 in 17 innings in his debut season, and then 68 in 49 frames the following year. By that point he’d reached Double-A, and his slider spun violently enough to land him on the back half of various Arizona prospect rankings. He struggled in 2016, but rebounded the following spring, earning a trip to the Triple-A All-Star Game and a big league debut in August.

A funny pattern soon emerged. Sherfy continued to pitch well, both in Arizona and Triple-A, but unlike most relievers who succeed in the show, he never stuck. In 31 games and 36 big league innings, Sherfy has posted a 3.17 FIP and an ERA under one. He’s whiffed nearly a batter per inning and has only surrendered one dinger. And yet he’s been recalled and optioned back to Reno (Ed Rooney voice) nine times.

The reasons why are pretty clear. Sherfy isn’t your typical 2019 reliever. At six feet and 170 pounds, he doesn’t really look like a late-inning arm. His very best fastballs touch the mid-90s, but it’s a below average heater overall. None of his offerings have a huge whiff rate. His strikeout numbers are mediocre for a reliever, and he walks nearly a batter every other inning.

Sherfy’s success is built on a combination of deception and home run suppression. Due to the way he moves his glove toward the plate as he begins his delivery and the slight pause in his motion, he’s a difficult guy to time, and that helps everything play up. While his breaking ball isn’t an elite bat-misser, it’s a very tough pitch to hit hard, generating more grounders and popups than solid contact.

Given enough time against big league hitters, Sherfy will inevitably give up more homers, if perhaps fewer than you’d think for a righty without a big fastball. He’s actually been pretty good at limiting big flies as a minor leaguer, even while pitching in an extremely hitter-friendly park in a hitter-friendly league. Even this year, throwing a rabbit ball in Reno, Sherfy has only allowed one home run in nearly 40 innings.

Silvino Bracho Jersey

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Diamondbacks reliever Silvino Bracho will undergo Tommy John surgery, knocking him out for the entirety of the season, tweets the Athletic’s Zach Buchanan. Bracho left his last spring outing with elbow discomfort, and this represents the worst-case scenario.

Bracho will miss not only the entirety of the 2019 season, but potentially some of 2020 as well, MLB Trade Rumors reports. The injury comes just as Bracho seemed to cement himself as part of the Diamondbacks bullpen picture. He was out of options, which helped his cause, but it was a strong finish to the 2018 season that gave Bracho the inside track to a prominent role in the 2019 pen.
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On a personal level, the injury is nothing short of heartbreaking for Bracho. He won’t return to game action until close to his 28th birthday – and that’s if he is ready in the first half of next season. He appeared in 31 games with the big league club last year, and with a 93.5mph heater, he struck out 9.9 batters per nine innings against 3.5 BB/9. A 3.19 ERA stuck very closely to a 3.26 FIP, good for an impressive 137 ERA+.

If there’s any silver lining for Bracho, it’s the commonplace nature of Tommy John surgery in this era. There is no shortage of examples for whom he can look for inspiration as he rehabs. Still, it’s a blow.

From a team perspective, the injury doesn’t move the needle much for the Diamondbacks, though it does remove the safety net from under back-end righties Archie Bradley, Greg Holland and Yoshihisa Hirano. I hate to say this because of the heartbreak facing Bracho, but his absence does open up a development spot in the bullpen that will benefit the club long-term.

Yoan Lopez, 26, will likely get the first crack at Bracho’s roster spot. He has given up one run in three innings thus far this spring. Veteran lefty Marc Rzepczynski is a good option to soak up some innings in April and May if the Dbacks don’t want to tease their youngsters out into the bright lights of the big club before they’re ready.

Given the long-shot nature of the coming season, my personal hope is that Torey Lovullo and Mike Hazen will trust an unproven arm like Jimmie Sherfy over someone with more ML experience like Rzepczynski or Matt Andriese. The Diamondbacks expected Silvino Bracho to take on primary responsibilities in the middle innings (with T.J. McFarland), but instead they’ll need to call the first audible of the 2019 season.

Hopefully, Bracho can work his way back into the mix sometime during the 2020 season. For the time being, he’ll be placed on the 60-man injured list, opening a spot on the 40-man roster.

Stefan Crichton Jersey

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The Arizona Diamondbacks activated outfielder David Peralta from the injured list on Monday, a welcome return of a player who has been a key bat in the team’s lineup in 2019.

To make room for Peralta, the D-backs optioned right-handed pitcher Stefan Crichton to Triple-A Reno.

“I know what he means to this team, I know what he means to this lineup,” D-backs manager Torey Lovullo said of Peralta before Monday’s game. “His energy and presence in this lineup were missed and they’re much needed. Glad to have him back.”

Peralta, who had been on the shelf to recover from right AC joint inflammation, was placed on the IL on May 24, retroactive to May 22. That made him eligible to return on June 1, so his return comes only a few days after the earliest possible date.
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The 31-year-old has hit .309 with seven home runs and 30 RBI this year in 46 games played. He also has a .881 OPS, a higher mark than last season when he won a Silver Slugger Award.

Peralta is slotted in the No. 3 hole on Monday against Dodgers pitcher Walker Buehler.

Crichton was making his second stint in MLB and his first since 2017. He appeared in four games, pitching 2.2 innings and not allowing an earned run. He gave up one hit and no walks in that time.

The move also means the D-backs again have four position players on the bench, a move Lovullo expects to be the norm because of the potential length out of the bullpen from Zack Godley and T.J. McFarland.

The D-backs play the Dodgers on Monday to begin a three-game series at Chase Field. You can hear that game at 6:40 p.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.

David Dellucci Jersey

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OXFORD, Miss. (Ole Miss Athletics) – When David Dellucci makes a promise, he intends to keep it. It’s the mindset that drove the Rebel great back to school more than two decades since he took his last college course. He already has about all the accolades a potential college graduate can ask for, but that doesn’t matter to him, because he has a commitment to uphold.

“I promised my grandfather, when he was alive, that I would go back and get my degree when I signed to play professional baseball,” Dellucci said.

He fulfilled his promise to the late Carlo Polito on Saturday, when he walked across the stage at The Pavilion to receive his degree from the University of Mississippi, 24 years after he last stepped onto the Ole Miss campus as a student.

Dellucci’s academic plans had to take a backseat to his 13-year professional baseball career, an illustrious one that saw him crowned a 2001 World Series Champion.

His dream of graduating from college, however, never faded, and when the Rebel Reconnect program allowed him the opportunity to finish his schooling online, he jumped at the opportunity.

“I feel like Ole Miss took a chance on me as a young man and a young baseball player out of high school, and they offered me an opportunity to get a degree and better my life,” Dellucci said. “It is important on my end to complete that commitment that they offered to me. I owe it back to them to finish my degree, so it’s a two-way street.”

It wasn’t an easy process for the retired MLB player. Now a husband and father, Dellucci has had to juggle his family life and busy work schedule with the added work of a course load.

“It’s not easy,” Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco said. “For baseball players, especially guys that have a long career like he did, now you’re established. You’re married with a family in Baton Rouge. It makes it a lot more difficult to make that happen. I know the difficulty that it takes to come back and finish.”

Dellucci, however, knows a thing or two about the work required to turn a dream into reality.

When he left campus in 1995, Dellucci held the program record for most career total bases (430), most career runs scored (181), most home runs in a single season (17), most RBI in a single season (63) and most stolen bases in a single season (31), not to mention top-five finishes in just about every single offensive category there is to offer.

Dellucci is still an easy find in the Ole Miss record book, but in the 24 years since he last donned the Red and Blue, he’s watched his name slowly slide down the list of school record holders.

“I was athlete of the year in 1995, I won the SEC batting title, and I did all that stuff which is great, but records get broken and statistics get forgotten,” Dellucci said. “One thing that can never get taken away from me is my college degree from the University of Mississippi.”

Dellucci walked across The Pavilion stage on Saturday and received his degree in University Studies. It was a day to remember for the Rebel great, who was adamant about playing a part in the graduation festivities in Oxford.

“When you go to college and reach the ultimate goal of earning a degree, this is the pinnacle,” Dellucci said. “This is what you set out to do – to walk across the stage and get your degree that took you four years, or in my case 24 years, to achieve. I’m not going to stay at home and wait for it to come in the mail, I’m going to go walk across that stage.”

Though he won’t be the oldest Rebel to graduate in 2019, he’ll certainly have some years on the average age in The Grove on Saturday. In Dellucci’s defense, at least he has the hardware to back up his 20-year hiatus from academia.

“I had some colleagues at the SEC Network joke around that I should go up there with my World Series ring and then maybe people will understand that I had other priorities over the last 20 years,” Dellucci said.

Dellucci has amassed quite the resume over the years, from All-American in college, to World Series Champion in the MLB, to ESPN broadcaster and the current host of Rally Cap, the SEC Network’s premiere college baseball and softball show. To him, though, the distinction of college graduate ranks right up there with his greatest achievements.

“It’s up there with winning the World Series,” Dellucci said.

Just a few months ago, Ole Miss fans selected Dellucci to grace the 2019 Swayze Field banners outside the main concourse at Oxford-University Stadium, along with fellow Rebel great J.B. Woodman, who also returned to finish up his degree this season. It’s just one of the many ways that the people of Oxford have always made him feel welcome on campus.

“Ole Miss took me in,” Dellucci said. “I was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana — LSU Tiger country — and I chose Ole Miss because of the southern hospitality and the way that the fans and the residents of Oxford treated me. Oxford is a wonderful, small town.”

Dellucci’s role with the SEC Network includes serving as color analyst on game broadcasts, and early in the season, he is able to call several Ole Miss home games. Those are opportunities for the current Rebel players to spend time with Dellucci and be reminded of the legends before them who helped craft Ole Miss into a national powerhouse.

“I think it’s great for our current players,” Bianco said. “There’s a former major leaguer and somebody who was an All-American, and here he is in the dugout before our games. He’s just a great ambassador.”

Bianco currently has a handful of draft-eligible juniors and non-graduating seniors on his roster who hope to hear their name called in June’s 2019 MLB Draft, which could potentially cut their academic careers short. He just hopes that whenever their retirement from the game may be, their love for the University of Mississippi will one day draw them back to the Ole Miss campus, as Dellucci’s did.

“You hope that, like David, they have an affinity for Ole Miss,” Bianco said. “They obviously like this place to come here out of high school or junior college, but like David, you’re hoping that 20 years down the road, their love for it is only going to grow. That’s my hope for all the guys who play here.”

Dellucci has always been a graduate of the Ole Miss baseball program, but as of Saturday, he will officially be David Dellucci, graduate of the University of Mississippi.

“We’ve always looked at him as one of our alumni, but we’re proud that he can officially get that piece of paper,” Bianco said.

Randy Johnson Jersey

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Born Sept. 10, 1963 in Walnut Creek, Calif. – a San Francisco suburb – Randy Johnson was an elite athlete who used his height to his advantage in both baseball and basketball. He turned down the Atlanta Braves after they drafted him in the fourth round in 1982, opting for a combination baseball/basketball scholarship at the University of Southern California.

Johnson began concentrating solely on baseball following his sophomore year and was drafted by the Expos in the second round in 1985. This time, Johnson turned pro.

“I just enjoy baseball a lot more (than basketball),” Johnson said as a minor leaguer in the Expos system.

The control problems that plagued Johnson as a collegian also surfaced in the minor leagues, but Johnson displayed his 97-mph fastball as well – earmarking him as a big league prospect.

By 1988, the Expos had brought Johnson to the big leagues – making the 6-foot-10 Johnson the tallest player in big league history. But midway through the 1989 season, Montreal dealt Johnson to the Seattle Mariners in a trade that brought star lefty Mark Langston to the Expos. For the next three-and-half years, Johnson struggled to find his control – showing spurts of dominance (including his June 2, 1990 no-hitter against the Tigers) while leading the American League in walks three times.

In August of 1992, Johnson sought out the Rangers’ Nolan Ryan, who was nearing the end of his Hall of Fame career. Ryan suggested that Johnson make a few adjustments to his delivery, and on Sept. 27 Johnson faced Ryan in a game at Arlington Stadium. Johnson threw 160 pitches in eight innings, striking out 18 Rangers in a game Texas won 3-2.

From virtually that point on, Johnson was a different pitcher.

“I told Randy he could be the most dominating pitcher in baseball if he would just work on his game,” Ryan said in 1992. “He was a lot like me when I was younger. He was just pitching and not doing a lot of thinking.”

In 1993, Johnson went 19-8, led the AL with 308 strikeouts and finished second in the league’s Cy Young Award voting. After a 13-6 record in the strike-shortened 1994 season (when he again led the AL in strikeouts with 204), Johnson went 18-2 in 1995 while striking out 294 batters, leading the league with a 2.48 earned-run average and winning the Cy Young Award.

Johnson missed most of the 1996 season after undergoing back surgery, but rebounded in 1997 to go 20-4 with 291 strikeouts. But with his contract up following the 1998 season, Johnson was traded midway through ’98 to the Astros – where he went 10-1 with a 1.28 ERA in 11 starts, leading Houston to a playoff berth.

As a free agent following the playoffs, Johnson was one of the most sought-after players in the game. But at 35 years old, some thought Johnson’s best days were behind him.

Instead, they were just beginning.

Johnson signed a four-year deal with the Diamondbacks, and the second-year club instantly gained credibility – not to mention a legitimate ace. From 1999-2002, Johnson captured four straight National League Cy Young Awards, three ERA titles and struck out at least 334 batters each season. The ultimate triumph came in 2001 when Johnson was 21-6 in the regular season, then posted a 3-0 record in the World Series – sharing the Most Valuable Player honors with Curt Schilling and leading Arizona to a seven-game series win over the Yankees.

Johnson remained with the Diamondbacks through the 2004 season before Arizona traded the 41-year-old fireballer to the Yankees. Johnson won 34 games in two seasons with New York before heading back to the Diamondbacks for two more seasons. He finished his career in 2009 with the Giants, where he won his 300th career game.

After he signed with Arizona prior to the 1999 season, Johnson posted more than half – 160 – of his 303 career victories.

In 22 seasons, Johnson led his league in strikeouts nine times, earned four ERA titles and recorded 100 complete games to go along with 37 shutouts. He was named to 10 All-Star Games, and only four left-handed pitchers (Warren Spahn, Steve Carlton, Eddie Plank and Tom Glavine) have ever won more games.

His 4,875 strikeouts rank No. 2 all-time behind Ryan’s 5,714, and his 10.61 strikeouts per nine innings rank first all-time. Johnson owns six of the 33 300-strikeout seasons in the history of the game. Five of the top 11 single-season strikeout seasons belong to the pitcher known as the Big Unit.

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Leading off a game at Salt River Fields last week, Geraldo Perdomo took five fastballs, four of them wide of the strike zone, tossed his bat aside and trotted to first base. In his next trip to the plate, he took another fastball for a ball, then shot a curveball into center field for a single.

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Perdomo, the Diamondbacks’ young shortstop prospect, recognizes offspeed stuff well. He has good hand/eye coordination and makes consistent contact. He seems to swing at the right pitches. Most important, he finds his way on base at a steady clip.

During his time in the Arizona Fall League, Perdomo, who turns 20 this month, has exhibited the kind of offensive approach that has helped him quickly ascend through the minor leagues. It also is an approach the Diamondbacks are cultivating throughout their system.

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The first batch of position-player prospects under Diamondbacks General Manager Mike Hazen are nearing the majors. Many have attributes similar to Perdomo.

Catcher Daulton Varsho, first baseman Pavin Smith and Perdomo all are coming off seasons in which they rarely struck out. Three prospects acquired via trade – first baseman Seth Beer, infielder/outfielder Josh Rojas and infielder Andy Young – each had a relatively low strikeout rate, high walk rate or good on-base percentage, or some combination. The same could be said of young outfielders Alek Thomas, Kristian Robinson and Corbin Carroll.

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By and large, those players make up the organization’s next wave of hitters. To varying degrees, the Diamondbacks believe they all have a prevailing skill. They all have the ability to control the strike zone.

“We feel like the best hitters in baseball have that skill, have the ability to do that,” Hazen said. “Contact is important. We know that strikeouts are a part of the game – guys are going to strike out – and there are times you sell out to power. But being complete hitters is maximizing all those skills. Those guys have those skills. It’s something we value and we’re going to value moving forward.”

The Diamondbacks are not breaking new ground in their focus on controlling the zone, but it does stand in contrast to the type of team they were before Hazen and his group arrived. In 2016, the Diamondbacks had the fourth-highest strikeout rate and tied for the third-worst walk rate in the National League.

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That led to the front office putting an emphasis on approach in the 2017 draft. Smith, the Diamondbacks’ choice that year at No. 7 overall, not only had more walks (38) than strikeouts (12) as a junior at the University of Virginia – he had more home runs (13), as well. After a slow start to his pro career, Smith finished this season with solid numbers (.291 average, .835 OPS) in Double-A.

Making sound swing decisions leads not only to good on-base ability, it also “pretty much translates in all the damage you do,” Diamondbacks minor league hitting coordinator Joe Mather said.

In the first part of the series, you told us who would be the starting eight on the D-backs, selecting just from those players who finished the year under Arizona control. Now, it’s time to fill out the bench roster. This does require a little more than a straight vote, for a couple of reasons. One: we need to ensure coverage at all positions. Two: there will be a 26th man available next season, due to the roster changes. Will this be used on Opening Day to give the D-backs an extra bullpen arm, or to extend manager Torey Lovullo’s bench?

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To ensure coverage, I have gone for one backup catcher, a middle infielder, a corner infielder and two outfielders. We have seen the fondness of Lovullo for having three catchers, but that approach seemed to be quietly dropped as the season progressed, and I think we’ll probably see that again going forward. Part of the reason for having three catchers was to allow for greater offensive ability to pinch-hit. But that tactic makes rather more sense when you have Jeff Mathis on your roster, than when you have Carson Kelly. Two spare outfielders also makes sense, given Ketel Marte’s ability to go back to the middle infield when necessary.

So, here are the five players who received most votes for those positions, based on the 320 ballots filled in.

Backup C: Alex Avila (125 votes)
If the fans had their way, we’d probably only have one catcher, and just run Kelly out there every day. But that’s not practical: only two catchers in the majors last year reached even 115 starts (Yasmani Grandal and J.T. Realmuto). Despite missing five weeks early due to injury, Avila had a solid bounceback season. The BA wasn’t great (.207), but he had great plate discipline, with a 17.9% walk-rate; among hitters with 200+ PA, only Mike Trout and Brandon Nimmo were higher. He will be a free-agent, coming off a two-year contract worth $8.25 million, and turns 33 in January. It’ll be interesting to see whether he stays in Arizona, or if the team looks for a cheaper, perhaps more defensively-minded alternative.

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Backup CI: Kevin Cron (132)
Cron wasn’t able to reproduce his AAA numbers – but, then again, how could he deliver a 1.223 OPS? In the end, he came in slightly below average, with a 98 OPS+ in his rookie year. In a small sample size, the power was there – six home-runs in only seventy-eight PA. But so were the strikeouts, with a K-rate of 35.9%, and a K:BB ratio of 7:1. That’ll have to change in his sophomore campaign, if the graduate of Mountain Pointe HS here in Phoenix wants to become a solid back-up to Christian Walker. In his defense, most (24 of 39) of Cron’s appearances came off the bench, and he performed creditably as a pinch-hitter with an OPS of .815 in that role.

Backup MI: Ildemaro Vargas (231)
Quite surprised to realize this was actually Vargas’s third season in the majors. But we saw a lot more of him in 2019, appearing in 92 games, compared to 12 and 14 the previous two years. His positional flexibility is key to his securing a roster spot. While he played most at second-base, he also started at third and shortstop, and even played some inning in both corner outfield spots. He made just one error in approaching three hundred innings at second, and didn’t embarrass himself at the plate, with an OPS+ of 82. A few more walks would be nice, as he only had nine in 211 PA, though Vargas struck out just 24 times, so was clearly putting the ball in play.

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Backup OF #1: Josh Rojas (268)
A bit of a surprise here, to see rookie Rojas receive most votes among the bench candidates. Might be some home cooking here, Arizona fans feeling a special attachment to a man born and brought up locally, just a few miles from SnakePit Towers. Josh is probably the first to play for the D-backs, who was a fan growing up. He was also the first prospect received from the Astros in the Zack Greinke trade to reach the majors. While his impact was limited (OPS+ of 64, 0.0 bWAR in 41 games), he didn’t embarrass himself in his rookie season. As the outfield is an area where we don’t have much depth at the higher end of the minors, he will potentially be useful next year, at minimum cost.

Backup OF #2: Steven Souza Jr. (232)
The first two seasons of Souza’s time here have been an almost unmitigated disaster, with just 72 games played, none of them in 2019, and a value below replacement level. Steven is under team control for next year, in his final year of arbitration. But Souza has to be considered a non-tender candidate, even if he will get little or no increase from this year’s salary of $4.125 million. On the other hand, the lack of credible alternative candidates mean that price-tag would not be bad value, if he was able to return to the level of production seen when fully healthy, prior to 2018 (OPS+ of 105, 2.6 bWAR per 650 PA). Keyword in that sentence is, obviously, “if”…

26th man: Jake Lamb (122)
If the team were to go with an extra bench bat, Lamb was selected by readers to fill that spot. That might not be a bad position for him. As a left-hander, he would be a platoon partner for Walker/Cron at first, and Lamb can also play on the other corner of the infield. However, MLB Trade Rumors project a $5 million arbitration figure for Jake, which is high for an occasional player. He also struggled even against RHP this year, batting .177 with a .607 OPS, when previously that was his biggest plus: “Well, at least Lamb rakes against righties.” In 2019, not so much. Whether the team decides that was a blip or not, may well determine whether or not he is tendered a contract or follows Chris Owings into the wilderness.

Not selected
Jarrod Dyson (119)
Domingo Leyba (109)
Caleb Joseph (84)
Abraham Almonte (79)
Adam Jones (73)
Blake Swihart (29)
Yasmany Tomas (13)
Some free-agents to be of note here, including Dyson and Jones. It seems most people see Tim Locastro as a cheaper alternative to Dyson. And for all the benefits of Jones’s clubhouse presence, he’s clearly on the downside of his career, putting up his lowest OPS+ (87) in more than a decade. The rest are a combination of those whose future is still in front of them (Leyba and Joseph), apparently fungible outfield types (Almonte and Swihart)… And, in last place, the albatross which is Yasmany Tomas. He received just 13 votes. I’ll have to check the IP address those came from, I’d not be surprised if they were all over towards the East of the country… :)

Next up, probably after the weekend, the starting pitchers!

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“Guys who are pretty aggressive are going to see fewer pitches in their zone because the at-bat is going to be over sooner,” Mather said. “For a guy like Perdomo, who does a really good job of taking pitches out of the zone, it forces pitchers back in the zone, which is going to give him far more opportunities to hit balls over the middle of the plate.”

Arizona Diamondbacks catching prospect Daulton Varsho during spring training workouts on Feb. 15, 2019 at Salt River Fields in Scottsdale, Ariz.
Arizona Diamondbacks catching prospect Daulton Varsho during spring training workouts on Feb. 15, 2019 at Salt River Fields in Scottsdale, Ariz. (Photo: Rob Schumacher/The Republic)

As it happens, Perdomo is the only one of the aforementioned players that the Hazen regime inherited. The Diamondbacks signed him out of the Dominican Republic in July 2016, some three months before Hazen was hired. Still, Hazen has opted to keep him; the same is not true of the strikeout-prone Jazz Chisholm, another shortstop prospect whom the Diamondbacks traded to the Miami Marlins in July for starting pitcher Zac Gallen.

Before a fall league game last week, Perdomo described his approach as being dependent upon how he is pitched. If a pitcher is throwing strikes, Perdomo said he will appear aggressive. If not, he will wait him out. Asked how he was able to learn to hit like this, he said he considers himself fortunate.

“I was born like that,” he said, speaking through an interpreter. “That’s me. Nobody taught me how to hit like that.”

The Diamondbacks believe there is some universal truth to that. Hazen thinks an ability to control the zone is more innate than, say, good swing mechanics, but the club puts significant time into honing hitters’ approaches in the minors. One way it does that, Mather said, is to make batting practice more game-like by having hitters take rounds of BP in which they might not swing the bat if the pitches don’t call for it.

“We have them really lock into their pitch,” Mather said. “We’re not worried about them getting their five full swings. We’re worried about them making the right decisions.”

The organization also tries to be proactive with prospects who aren’t as advanced in their approaches. One example came early this season, when coaches sat down with Low-A infielder Blaze Alexander to encourage him to be more selective.

“It’s important because you have to learn this at the lower levels or you’ll never figure it out up here,” Diamondbacks Assistant GM Amiel Sawdaye said. “You’re trying to teach him that approach and hopefully it all meshes when he gets to Double-A or Triple-A.”

It will be years before anyone knows for sure if this wave of young position players can develop into successful major leaguers. But the Diamondbacks are hopeful they have a future core of hitters that has many of the same attributes as those who populate the lineups of teams still playing this October.

“The guys we’re going out and getting, they (already) get on base and have a good eye, and I think that’s a great start,” Mather said. “Power usually comes later.”