Swanson Bregman Benintendi Fulmer Do SEC Proud

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SEC Foursome Makes It To The Bigs Quickly

By John Ventola

Years ago those that made an early-aged appearance in the major leagues were essentially those who would go on to become long-time stars. Mickey Mantle, Sandy Koufax, Ken Griffey, Jr. each represented teenage signees that went on to big league superstardom with little or no minor league seasoning. (Koufax did little in the late ‘50s while on the Brooklyn roster before harnessing everything later in Los Angeles).

Most teenage signees, however, had to work their way through an organization’s farm system, often being cut and released from one franchise, and being picked up by

batter

Professional Baseball Is A Tough Gig

another for a look-see. There were, and continue to be, so many players that tire of the minor league bus trips and stagnated career seen before them and give up the game.

I personally had a college teammate at Northeast Louisiana State in the late ‘60s who signed with the Dodgers organization when he graduated in 1970. The late Wayne Burney, a smooth fielding first baseman with a great left-handed swing, rose through the Dodgers system and put up great numbers at their Triple A affiliate Albuquerque for a few years. However, he never got called up, not even for the “cup of coffee” he so richly earned, and deserved. He hit for a career .300 average in six seasons, the last three with Albuquerque.

Problem was the Dodgers’ lineup at that time was set, Ron Cey at third, Bill Russell at shortstop, Davey Lopes at second, and, of course, perennial all-star Steve Garvey at first base. Manager Tommy Lasorda was a favorite of mine. But Lasorda, a mediocre player himself, should have realized what a few bats in the major leagues would have meant to Burney, and others like him.

I have spoken to a few ex-players who plied their talents in minor league ballparks around the country. Each said it was a real grind. They loved the game, but oftentimes the obstacles were too much to put up with, much less overcome. Even if their

ball and bat

Many Give Up, Some Are Released, Gone Are The Career Minor Leaguers

productivity improved, they were often left behind as another younger, faster, more powerful athlete got promoted to another classification. Taught to never quit, the decision was made for them—-Billy Joe, the Cardinals are releasing you.

Long gone are the days of career minor leaguers like New Orleanian Allan Montreuill, who played in the minors for twelve seasons before getting his cup of joe in a five game September stint with the Chicago Cubs in 1972. He got a hit in his first game, but would finish his brief MLB career 1 for 12. The former De La Salle and Loyola player signed with Boston out of college and refused to give up, playing most of his career at the Triple A level. Nowadays players are quickly released if they fail to show productivity right away.

Collegiate baseball, because of its competitiveness and level of play, has replaced the “old” minor leagues. A talented youngster, like 18-year-old Albuquerque high schooler Alex Bregman, can pass on a low ball signing bonus (because he was injured in his senior year), to go play at a top-flight baseball school like LSU.

It does not work out for all high school youngsters who choose the collegiate route over

SEC

SEC Has Proven Itself As The Best Baseball Conference

years in the minors, but in Bregman’s case it did. He honed his skills. He competed in the most competitive league in the country. He got maximum exposure.

The 2015 Major League Draft showed the overall strength of Southeastern Conference baseball. Four, count’em, four of the first eight selections were from the SEC. Fourteen months later all four are in the major leagues. Talk about a meteoric rise in careers!

With last night’s major league debut of shortstop Dansby Swanson with the Atlanta Braves, the SEC foursome picked in the top eight last year, are in the “big time”. Swanson, the MVP of the College World Series when Vanderbilt won in 2015, was the No. 1 selection of the Arizona Diamondbacks. Inexplicably, Swanson, who signed with Arizona for a $6.5 million signing bonus, was traded by the Diamondbacks to the Braves on December 8th of last year.

Swanson, in his first simulated game in the Arizona system, was hit in the face by a pitch and suffered a concussion. Seventeen days later he started his minor league career. He played in A ball for 22 games and posted a .289 average. Do not know what

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Swanson Overcomes Draft Team’s Rejection To Get To Majors

the Diamondbacks saw there that they did not see while evaluating him in college, but it is mystifying to me how an organization can pay that kind of money on supposedly the No. 1 talent in the country and then trade him away six months later.

In any case Swanson went 2-4 in his major league debut Wednesday night, singling in his second and fourth at bats. He had played earlier this year at Advanced A Carolina and AA Mississippi.

Bregman, the No. 2 selection in the 2015 draft, played out a solid 2015 seasoning, and then packed on 20 pounds in the off season. He played solidly in AA and Triple A early this summer, batting around .300 with over 60 RBI’s and 19 home runs. Since his promotion to the Astros on July 25th he has gone 17 for 86, posting  a 198 average that is not a true indicator of his ability.

He started off weakly at the plate, going only two for his first 38, but he has shown recently that he has made the necessary adjustments to stay off of late breaking pitches

hat

Bregman Settling In After Frigid Start At Plate

and overpowering major league “stuff” that rises above bat level. Bregman hit his first major league home run Tuesday and has been hitting at a .300 clip over the past week. He recently had an eight-game hitting streak, and has hit safely in ten of his last eleven games.

To his credit, Bregman has been outstanding at third base for the Astros, completing a few hard to make plays down the line. He just happened to join Houston when the whole team went into a slump except their hit machine second baseman Jose Altuve. The Astros have lost 15 of the 22 games Bregman has been with the team. The team-wide slump and injuries have cost the team in the American League West standings.

Smooth swinging Andrew Benintendi made his major league debut a couple of weeks ago and went two for three. The No. 7 overall pick in the 2015 draft, the former Arkansas outfielder has played left and center field for the Boston Red Sox. He is hitting .341 (14-41) and went 6-7 in two consecutive games of his second week.

The No. 8 selection in the 2015 draft, righthander Carson Fulmer, who anchored the talented Vandy pitching staff that captured last year’s CWS, has been erratic in his time with the Chicago White Sox. He is 0-2 with a 8.49 ERA in just 11.2 innings of work. He has walked seven and fanned ten. Control has been his main problem, but like all young pitchers, he may have to get more minor league action before settling in at the big league level (he was 4-9 in the AA Southern league last summer). Another possibility to straighten Fulmer out would be to try him as a starter—–what he was use to at Vanderbilt. All his appearances with the Chisox have been out of the bullpen.

Collegiate baseball—the new minor league for professional baseball. The 2015 MLB draft clearly showed that.

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