Have you ever looked at a box score or turned on the TV to a baseball game and seen a name you never expected to see?
A name you hadn't seen in several years?
I had a moment like that just last week. I looked at a Royals box score and was flabbergasted at their starting pitcher.
"What?! Bruce Chen's still pitching?!"
Obviously, players who come back to the majors after several years away get some mainstream exposure.
I thought it would be a fun idea to look through the minor leagues and see what former major leaguers are still kicking around.
I'll do this in five parts. I feel that often, when I'm doing a big list like this, I wind up writing a 10-page article nobody wants to read all the way through, and I'm losing viewers by cramming four or five articles' worth of information into one. So I'm trying out a new split-up approach—we'll see how it goes.
This article will look at the International League (Triple-A) pitchers. The next one will look at IL hitters. Part 3 will be Pacific Coast League (Triple-A) pitchers, and Part 4 will be PCL hitters. Part 5 will be everyone in Double-A or below.
Basically, my criteria for picking these guys is as such:
1. They had a significant big league career.
2. They haven't had significant big league action in a few years.
3. They don't really have the "Quad-A" tag, so you wouldn't expect them to just stay in the minors putting up great numbers forever.
So, here are the International League pitchers that you never would've guessed are still playing:
Take a second to think about that. John Halama is still pitching.
A major leaguer from 1998-2006, the lefty managed to be a useful back-of-the-rotation guy despite throwing just 83-84 mph with his fastball.
He took 2007 off, pitched for the Indians' Triple-A team last year, and moved on to the Braves Triple-A team this year, where he's actually made three decent starts.
Halama is 37 and gets very few strikeouts, but he still has good control and keeps the ball on the ground.
Will he ever get another big league look? Not unless the Braves have a ton of injuries.
The one with the weird glasses?
The one with the odd stepback hesitation thing in his delivery?
Yep, that's the one.
Chacin was last seen in the Blue Jays rotation in 2007. His struggles (6.28 FIP), sent him to Triple-A, where he continued to struggle.
Last year, Chacin was sent all the way down to High-A at age 27. He responded by posting a 7.88 ERA and getting released after the year.
Just when his career looked over, Chacin was given one last shot by the Phillies, and now all of a sudden, he looks like he's back to his excellent 2005 form. Chacin's got a 3.48 FIP in six Triple-A starts.
Will he ever get another big league look? Chacin's just 28 and pitching well. Given how bad the Phillies' rotation's been, who knows?
Lopez was a pretty bad major league pitcher, primarily with the Orioles, for nearly a decade, but after basically vanishing last year, he's resurfaced with the Phillies. A 3.10 FIP has him back on track to be the below-average major league pitcher he once was.
Will he ever get another big league look? Supposedly, he's starting tomorrow. If Lopez struggles, look for Chacin to take his spot.
Consider yourselves warned for the inevitable "What?! Rodrigo Lopez is still pitching?!" moment that you'll have watching ESPN highlights.
How's Hernandez for a throwback?
Once thought to be an excellent lefty starting prospect, the diminutive lefty turned in a nice year in 2002 as the Astros' No. 3 starter before arm problems ended his career.
Or did they?
Hernandez made nine big league starts in 2004 and was awful. He threw 14 Double-A innings in 2006 and was awful. Then, last year, six years removed from his last decent effort of any kind, Hernandez dominated High-A in six starts.
Moved back to Triple-A, Hernandez has put up a 4.05 FIP in 15 starts for the Rays' Triple-A affiliate.
Will he ever get another big league look? Believe it or not, Hernandez is just 29. If he stays healthy and pitching decently, his chances are about 50/50.
This one might not be quite as surprising.
Davis actually threw 34 terrible innings for a terrible Pirates team last year. Given that the 2008 Pirates weren't exactly drawing huge TV ratings, I doubt many people even realized Davis was still around. But he is.
With the Pirates' Triple-A team, Davis has struggled to a 6.02 ERA. He hasn't been that bad (4.80 FIP), but it certainly doesn't look like a 2009 callup is in the cards.
Will he ever get another big league look? He's 29, and he's been there recently, so his name still has the "big leaguer" tag on it.
Then again, he's not pitching well, and the Pirates are getting younger and better. He'll have to look elsewhere and get some luck, whether it's in the form of injuries to others or a big spring training performance from Davis.
Towers is one of my least favorite players of all time.
I'm not sure why. I think it has something to do with the fact that he's a pitcher and wore No. 7. It also probably has to do with the fact that he's not a very good pitcher.
Last seen killing the Blue Jays from within in 2007, Towers was bad for the Rockies' Triple-A affiliate in 2008 (to be fair, it's impossible to pich there), was released by the Nationals after one Triple-A game this year (that's when you know you're bad), and was picked up by the Yankees.
Towers has superficially good numbers, but he's still a bad pitcher. His miniscule strikeout rate and high homer rate put his FIP at 5.30.
He's still Josh Towers.
Will he ever get another big league look? I hope not—too many teams have thrown away innings on this guy. He hasn't pitched well in Triple-A, and he's 32.
Mitre has a good excuse for dropping out of our minds—he missed all of 2008 after Tommy John surgery. Let's not forget the 3.98 FIP the sinkerballer put up for Florida in 2007.
Mitre, now with the Yankees, has a 2.60 Triple-A FIP. He's just 28 and certainly seems ready to pick up where he left off.
Will he ever get another big league look? It's fairly likely. Mitre has talent and fairly recent big league success. He'd fit well on a team like Cleveland.
The journeyman is still journeying. After his horrific performance for the Mets last year (5.95 FIP), you'd think Sosa, who's pitched seven years in the majors, would be gone at age 32.
The Nationals picked him up (Jim Bowden picked up a has-been guy with talent and no clue how to use it? Who saw that coming?).
To be fair to Sosa, he's actually pitching very well in Triple-A, with a 3.26 FIP. However, Sosa's only real big league value is as a starter, and he hasn't started a game in two years.
Will he ever get another big league look? He shouldn't get one from the Nationals, who really need to go young, but given the way they're run, I wouldn't rule it out. I'd say Sosa has a 55 percent chance of throwing in another major league game.