"What?! He's Still Playing?!" Part Four of Five

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(Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

If you've read Part One, the intro to this article is the same, so skip down to the players. For the benefit of those of you who haven't read Part One, here is the series intro:

 

Have you ever looked at a box score or turned on the T.V. 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 that nobody wants to read all the way through. I'd be 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.

 

The first article looked at the International League (Triple-A) pitchers. The second one looked at at IL hitters. The third article examined Pacific Coast League (Triple-A) pitchers, and this one will look at PCL hitters. Part Five will be everyone in Double-A or below.

 

Got that memory ready? Here we go!

 

 

Valentino Pascucci

 

Pascucci is a longtime minor league slugger who once played for the Montreal Expos. He's hit 25-plus homers four times in the minors, including 34 in Albuquerque in 2007.

 

The mega-sized (6'6", 270) first baseman struggled to open the year in Albuquerque (.207/.330/.383), but has found his stroke since moving to Portland in the Padres' organization (.361/.415/.444). Between the two franchises, Pascucci has hit .231/.343/.393 in 70 games.

 

Will he ever get another big league look? Well, he's hit very well in the past without getting much of a major league chance, and he isn't hitting as well this year. However, it's still doubtful.

 

That said, if his bat returns to pre-2009 levels, he deserves a chance.

 

 

Mark Bellhorn

 

Bellhorn clearly wants to stick around as long as he can.

 

You rarely see a 10-year, big-league veteran like Bellhorn go back to the minors. You almost never see it when the veteran in question was a starter for several years, and a key contributor on a World Series team.

 

Yet, Bellhorn not only signed a minor-league deal last year, but he accepted being assigned to Double-A.

 

Mark Bellhorn spent all of 2008 playing for the Dodgers' Double-A team. Given that he's made a ton of money, had two big years (and eight other ones) in the majors, and won a World Series, there's no explanation for why he'd stick around other than that he just loves the game.

 

He didn't even do that well at Double-A, hitting just .242/.357/.420 in part-time duty.


You'd think at this point, he'd finally let go.


But no.

 

Bellhorn has resurfaced this year with the Rockies' Triple-A team. As surprising as it is that he's still around, it's even more surprising that he looks to be in 2004 form.

 

Bellhorn has hit .276/.396/.569 in Colorado Springs, showing the walks and power that made him such a valuable major league commodity.

 

Will he ever get another big league look? Surprisingly, Bellhorn's only 34 (he turns 35 next month), and with this sort of production, he merits a big league utility job. Given the itinerant nature of bench jobs in the majors, it's anyone's guess as to whether Bellhorn will be able to sneak back into the big league.

 

Sal Fasano

 

Fasano is proof that catchers can last forever.

 

Either that, or everyone just digs the mustache (check the picture).

 

About to turn 38, Fasano is a career .221/.295/.392 hitter in 11 big-league seasons. While he has above-average power for a catcher, his defense was never very good and he has always struggled to get on base.

 

Fasano is Bellhorn's teammate in Colorado Springs and is hitting .237/.291/.333.

 

Will he ever get another big league look? He doesn't deserve one, but given the nature of catching, I wouldn't really be shocked if Fasano makes it back.

 

Joe Borchard

 

Once one of the top prospects in the game, Borchard's complete inability to make contact at the big league level (he struck out in 31 percent of his big league at-bats) killed what was supposed to be a superstar career.

 

Borchard's has a ton of power and still holds the record for the longest homer ever hit at U.S. Cellular Field (504 feet). Offensively, that's about all he brings to the table, as he has poor contact ability and plate discipline.

 

Borchard last played in MLB with Florida, where he was the Marlins' fourth outfielder in 2007. He hit .196/.287/.313.

 

After a decent showing last year with the Braves' Triple-A club, Borchard started 2009 in the Braves organization again before moving to the Giants.

 

Between the Braves' and Giants' Triple-A teams, Borchard's hitting .216/.279/.413.

 

Will he ever get another big league look? Not on any team that knows what it's doing.

 

Borchard's 30, so he won't get any better, and his terrible hitting in a pretty big MLB sample size (.205/.284/.352 in 716 AB) makes a convincing case that he just isn't a big-league-caliber player.

 

Jason Dubois

 

It could be argued that Dusty Baker ruined Dubois' career. The left fielder was an excellent power prospect a few years back, but Baker, who then managed the Cubs, preferred veteran Todd Hollandsworth in left, forcing Dubois into a bench role he wasn't used to. Dubois struggled (.239/.289/.472 in 2005), was traded to Cleveland, and hasn't been seen much since.

 

Superficially, Dubois looks a bit like Borchard. He put up a bunch of 20-plus homer seasons in the minors and then had a low-average and low-OBP line in the majors (.233/.286/.443 in 210 career AB).

 

However, Dubois is actually a much better all-around hitter than Borchard. He hit .300 in the minors three different times and has a semblance (though not an abundance) of plate discipline.

 

Last year, Dubois hit .307/.399/.664 in 76 games for Triple-A Iowa. Forget Milton Bradley—the Cubs should've looked to Dubois for 2009.

 

In retrospect, he certainly could've improved on Bradley's terrible performance.

 

Dubois is currently hitting .293/.284/.398 in Triple-A.

 

Will he ever get another big league look? He certainly deserves one, but he’s got the Quad-A label at this point. If the Cubs call him up and get rid of Bradley, they’ll improve their playoff chances.

 

 

Luis Rivas

 

Rivas’ career is about as much as you can get without any plate discipline.

 

In 2001, he hit .266/.319/.362 with 31 steals. He had decent contact ability, gap power, good speed, and good defense. All he needed to do was improve his plate discipline.

 

He never did.

Rivas never came close to a .319 OBP again, and holds a .303 mark for his eight-year big-league career.

 

Nevertheless, the Twins continued to start Rivas at second base through 2005, when they finally got rid of him.

 

Rivas bounced around after that, and he actually got 206 AB for the Pirates last year. He hit a pitcher-esque .218/.267/.311.

 

Rivas has continued to perform poorly for the Cubs’ AAA team this year.

 

Will he ever get another big-league look? Not unless he suddenly figures out how to hit or a completely incompetent GM picks him up.

 

 

Erick Almonte

 

Almonte was once the 25th man on the Yankees back in 2003. After a big 2004 in Triple-A (in the offense-friendly environs of Colorado Springs), Almonte headed overseas, then came back in 2006 to the indy leagues.

 

Signed by Detroit prior to 2007, Almonte spent most of that season in Double-A. He then showed a bit of power in Triple-A last year (.258/.349/.408).

 

Moving to the Milwaukee organization this season, Almonte has hit .304/.369/.354 in Triple-A.

 

Will he ever get another big league look? If he can combine the contact hitting of this season with the power of last season, he could have an Augie Ojeda-esque three-year utility run in him.

 

 

Michael Ryan

 

In 61 AB in 2003, Michael Ryan hit .393/.441/.754 for the Twins.

 

I’ve always wondered why Ryan never got much of a chance to build on that, but the Twins just used him as a fifth outfielder in 2004 and 2005, and without regular playing time, Ryan struggled.

 

He’s bounced around three organizations and the independent Atlantic League since then. Ryan was terrible in 2006 and mediocre in 2007, but he hit well in the Atlantic League last year and has been on fire since coming back into organized ball.


Ryan hit .321/.359/.670 last year in 33 games with the Marlins’ AAA affiliate.

 

The Marlins moved their Triple-A affiliate in the offseason from the hitter’s haven of Albuquerque to the pitcher-friendly park in New Orleans. However, Ryan has still torn the PCL apart this season, hitting a robust .319/.403/.516.

 

Will he ever get another big league look? It takes a lot of hard work and good production to get back to the majors after a four-year absence, but if Ryan keeps producing at this rate, he should get a shot eventually.

 

 

Gookie Dawkins

 

Now, if you’ve read much of this series, or my work in general, you probably know that I try to stay as objective as possible, and let the players’ production make their case.

 

However, let’s take a one-sentence break from that.

 

The major leagues are a better place with a man named “Gookie” in them.

 

There, I said it.

 

Dawkins is a Gold Glove-caliber shortstop with a questionable bat. He went just 16-for-98 over four years with the Reds (1999, 2001, 2002) and Royals (2003).

 

Since leaving the majors in 2003, Dawkins has played for a whopping 12 teams in nine organizations.

 

When I said his bat is “questionable,” I don’t mean Dawkins is a terrible hitter. What I mean is that he’s posted some great (.329/.404/.555 for Omaha in 2004) stat lines, some terrible (.224/.316/.318 for Double-A Reading in 2008) stat lines, and everything in between.

 

Dawkins has shown a fair amount of hitting prowess at times, and with his excellent defense, he doesn’t need to hit more than about .275/.325/.350 to be a solid big leaguer. However, he’s only eclipsed that mark twice since 2003, which isn’t a great sign.

 

Will he ever get another big league look? A team could do worse than Dawkins as a utility infielder, and he’s only 30. However, he’s certainly become a journeyman, and desperately needs to hit well with some consistency. Let’s hope he does, because the bigs just aren’t the same without Gookie.

 

 

Brian Buchanan

 

A first-rounder of the Yankees back in 1994, Buchanan has had an interesting career.

 

In the mid-'90s, he was considered a draft bust.

 

In the late-'90s, he was considered a Quad-A player.

 

In the early-'00s, he was a good platoon outfielder for the Twins, Padres, and Mets, hitting .258/.328/.439 from 2000-2004 in the majors.

 

Since then, he’s been a journeyman.

 

After a big 2005 in Triple-A, Buchanan went to independent ball, came back to Triple-A, and hit terribly.

 

He went overseas to Fukuoka of the Japanese Pacific League and had a decent 2007 there.

 

Buchanan returned stateside in 2008 with the Triple-A Omaha Royals, and struggled on the bench, hitting a weak .228/.283/.388.

 

Undeterred, the 35-year-old returned this season and is showing some power, hitting .253/.303/.470.

 

Will he ever get another big league look? While Buchanan wouldn’t embarrass himself as an NL pinch-hitter against lefties, he’s in the farm system for an AL team, and he’s soon to be 36. There’s not much hope for him getting back to the majors.

 

 

Abraham Nunez

 

A pathetic hitter in twelve big-league seasons (.242/.313/.314), Nunez and his slack bat were finally sent to the minors this year. With the Diamondbacks’ AAA team, he’s done a nice job walking, but hasn’t done anything else well, putting up a .237/.362/.296 line.


Will he ever get another big league look? He’s never hit well at all in the majors for any extended period of time, and he’s only a mediocre fielder at this point. Any team giving him a job in the majors will regret it.

 

 

J.D. Closser

 

Not too long ago, Closser was considered a rising star. He hit .319/.364/.398 in 36 games for the Rockies in 2004, and the switch-hitting catcher looked like he was going to be a .300/.350/.400 hitter with decent defense behind the plate, the sort of guy every team would kill to have.

 

Then the wheels came off.

 

Closser hit just .219/.314/.376 as the everyday catcher in 2005, and was even worse in a brief look in 2006.

 

In 2007-2009, Closser, like Dawkins, has become a journeyman, playing for a whopping six organizations in two and a half years.

 

Closser failed to hit at the AAA affiliates of Milwaukee, Oakland, San Diego, New York (AL), and Chicago (NL), so when he went to the Dodgers’ organization this year, they sent him down to Double-A.

 

Closser didn’t hit there, either: he put up a weak .228/.313/.327 line in 30 games.

 

The Dodgers promoted him anyway.

 

All of a sudden, it’s like 2004 again for Closser. It’s only been 19 games, but his .323/.371/.354 line is much better than anything he’s done since 2006.

 

Will he ever get another big league look? Fasano proves that catchers can stick around forever, and there are plenty of guys like Paul Bako and Brad Ausmus who can’t hit but are still catching in the majors.

 

Closser will go as far as his batting average takes him. If he can hit .300 in Triple-A and .270 in the majors, he’ll be a worthwhile backup catcher, and will eventually find a big-league job. If he can’t, he won’t.

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