Sunday Notes: Toronto Native Denzel Clarke Aspires to Thrive in Oakland – blogs.fangraphs.com

Denzel Clarke isn’t one of the highest-profile prospects in the Oakland Athletics organization. A 2021 fourth-round pick out of Cal State Northridge, the 22-year-old outfielder is No. 17 in our most recent ranking of the system. But he is one of the most intriguing — and most exciting. Gifted with elite athleticism, Clarke made a number of highlight-reel catches this summer, and he also legged out a pair of inside-the-park home runs. In a season split between Low-A Stockton and High-A Lansing, he put up a 123 wRC+ while going deep 15 times and stealing 30 bases in 33 attempts.

His baseball background is modest compared to that of most of his peers. A native of Ontario, Canada, Clarke began playing at age 10, and it wasn’t until he was 16 that he began taking the game seriously. It was then that his travel-ball coach with the Toronto Mets told him he had a shot at doing something special if he devoted his attention to the diamond. Prior to that, he was multi-sport to the max.

“I played everything,” explained Clarke, who is currently with the Arizona Fall League’s Mesa Solar Sox. “In school, it was track and field — that runs in the family (Clarke’s mother competed in the 1984 Summer Olympics) —volleyball, basketball, badminton. I love racquet sports, so I played some tennis. I touched on pretty much everything except football and hockey. My mom was very precautionary with concussions, so those are the two I avoided.”

A Business Management major in college — eventually earning a degree is among his priorities — Clarke knows that he has a lot of development in front of him. At the same time, he’s pleased with the strides he’s already made — and will continue to make — every time he steps onto the field.

“The more you experience things, the more you learn and the more you can develop,” said Clarke, whose cousins Josh and Bo Naylor play for the Cleveland Guardians. “As I’m transitioning from athlete to baseball player, my tools are starting to refine. My speed has always been there, and the power has come as I’ve grown into my body and continued to refine my swing. I’m starting to see my hit-ability improve as well. My arm is getting stronger. I see a lot of my tools refining themselves.”

Prior to the season, our lead prospect analyst, Eric Longenhagen described the 6-foot-5, 225-pound outfielder’s tools as “exceptionally loud.” Fine-tuning remains, but Clarke’s ceiling is high.

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RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS

Ty Wigginton went 7 for 8 against Shawn Camp.

Campy Campaneris went 7 for 9 against Minnie Rojas.

Gilly Campbell went 7 for 11 against Flint Rhem.

Al Van Camp went 5 for 9 against Firpo Marberry.

Roy Campanella went 2 for 32 against Ewell Blackwell.

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Joey Wentz turned a question mark into an exclamation point this year. In 2021, the left-hander had returned from Tommy John surgery to log an 0-7 record with a 4.50 ERA over 72 innings between High-A and Double-A. In the season just completed, he logged a 3.03 ERA over 86 innings. Moreover, the last 32-and-a-third of those frames came in the big leagues with the Detroit Tigers.

“I’ve come a long way, even from April to now,” said Wentz, who made 14 of his 21 appearances in the minors. “I really enjoyed working with some of the new guys the Tigers brought in, like [Director of Pitching] Gabe Rivas. Doug Bochtler, my pitching coach in [Triple-A] Toledo, also helped make me better. Some mindset stuff shifted, which led to more success on the field.”

The recently-turned-25-year-old Lawrence, Kansas native also made a meaningful arsenal adjustment. He added a cutter, which helped him “open up parts of the zone” and better allowed him to utilize his fastball, curveball, and changeup. Learning and developing the new pitch was a matter of finding the right grip and, from there, delivering it with conviction.

“When I first started throwing the cutter, I had a tendency to back it up and kind of turn it into a weak fastball,” explained Wentz. “As amateurish as this sounds, I had to start throwing it like a fastball and just trust it. Now the horizontal movement is in a good place. I couldn’t tell you exactly how much it moves — it’s not a ton — because I don’t look at the analytics very much. When I’m successful, I’m keeping things pretty simple.”

The amount of success Wentz had this season is impressive. His MLB debut was rocky — six earned runs in two-and-a-third innings — but after that he was stellar. Establishing himself as a bona fide big-league pitcher, Wentz allowed just five earned runs over his final 30 innings of work.

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A quiz:

Curt Schilling appeared in 402 big-league games, the second-highest total among Alaska-born players in MLB history. Which player born in the state of Alaska has appeared in the most games? (Hint: he played in the current century.)

The answer can be found below.

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NEWS NOTES

Jake Eisenberg — a guest on episode 974 of FanGraphs Audio — won’t be returning as the play-by-play voice of the Triple-A Omaha Storm Chasers. Eisenberg filled in on New York Mets and Kansas City Royals radio broadcasts this past season.

Michael Nels has been named the new General Manager of the Double-A New Hampshire Fisher Cats. The Brookfield, Wisconsin native’s resume includes parts of seven seasons with the Oakland Athletics, most recently as the Director of Membership and Premium Services.

Ray Guy, a Hall of Fame punter who played his entire professional football career with the Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders, died Thursday at age 72. A multi-sport athlete during his time at the University of Southern Mississippi, Guy was drafted four times by MLB teams: the Cincinnati Reds (twice), Houston Astros, and Atlanta Braves. He threw a no-hitter for Southern Miss in 1972.

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The answer to the quiz is Josh Phelps. Born in Anchorage, the designated hitter/catcher/first baseman appeared in 465 games for six teams from 2000-2008.

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Left on the cutting-room floor from my early-October column that led with Stan Boroski were his thoughts on a reliever he worked with from 2011-2016. I’d asked the now-retired Tampa Bay Rays bullpen coach which pitchers he’d most enjoyed tutoring, and his response included the Executive Vice President & General Manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

“There have been so many of them,” said Boroski, “But the guys that come to mind are the Steve Geltzs, the Andrew Bellattis, the Brandon Gomess — the guys who didn’t have super-high-end octane stuff, so to speak. Being able to take the skills they did have, and maximize their major-league careers, was more fun than helping guys who threw 100 mph.”

Gomes joined the Dodgers in 2017 as a pitching coordinator before being promoted to farm director, assistant GM, and most recently to his current position last January. His rise from 17th-round draft pick to solid big-league reliever had included a characteristic that made his 90-92-mph fastball play up.

“The split and slider came along, but a big part of it was realizing that he had that kind of lower-slot, carry fastball,” explained Boroski. “That’s something we didn’t fully understand when he was here, but we did know that it worked for him. He wouldn’t blow up the radar gun, but given an opportunity, and with his willingness to just attack the zone, he was able to maximize his stuff. That’s the goal, to maximize what you have.“

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FOREIGN AFFAIRS

The Orix Buffaloes won this year’s Japan Series, with their clinching victory over the Tokyo Yakult Swallows coming last Sunday. It was the Osaka-based club’s first NPB championship in 26 years.

Orix outfielder Masataka Yoshida has reportedly asked to be posted. Per The Japan Times, the Buffaloes would be willing to make the 29-year-old, two-time batting champion available to MLB teams “on conditions.”

Courtney Hawkins is reportedly joining the Yakult Swallows’ fall camp, which will essentially serve as a tryout for the soon-to-turn-29-year-old outfielder. The former MLB first-round draft pick had 48 home runs and a 1.055 OPS this year with the independent Atlantic League’s Lexington Legends.

The best-of-seven Korean Series is tied at two games apiece following a 6-3 Kiwoom Heroes win over SSG Landers on Saturday. Song Sung-mun went 3-for-3 with two RBIs for the winners.

Twenty-one-year-old New York Mets infield prospect Ronny Mauricio is 16 for 42 with two home runs for the Dominican Winter League’s Tigres del Licey. Twenty-year-old Cincinnati Reds infield prospect Elly De La Cruz is 13 for 36 with one home run for Tigres del Licey.

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The Red Sox will look different next season. Just how different remains to be seen, but given their 78-84 record and last place finish in the American League East, changes are clearly in order. That said, the team that fell two wins short of the World Series just one year ago isn’t without talent. If Xander Bogaerts, Nathan Eovaldi, and Michael Wacha all return, Chris Sale and Trevor Story are healthy, and a few 2022 underachievers rebound to previous norms — admittedly all big ifs — the Chaim Bloom-constructed club could conceivably contend without impactful additions.

According to Boston’s chief baseball officer, we’re not about to find out.

“I expect that when we get to spring training we’re going to have a different roster,” Bloom said in response to my suggestion during an end-of-season press conference. “We need to win, and we feel we have pieces here to win, but we also need to do the right things as far as rebuilding our club to give us the best chance to do that.”

Re-signing Bogaerts would seemingly be a top priority, and there is reason to believe that Boston’s deep-pocketed ownership will open the coffers to keep him in a Red Sox uniform. As for other priorities and what the roster will look like come Opening Day… let’s put it this way: It promises to be a busy offseason. Numerous moves will be made.

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FARM NOTES

Seattle Mariners prospect Robert Perez Jr. won the Arizona Fall League Home Run Derby last night, beating Baltimore Orioles prospect Heston Kjerstad 11-10 in the finals. A 22-year-old outfielder/first baseman, Perez Jr. had 27 home runs during the regular season, 20 in Low-A Modesto and seven in High-A Everett.

Zavier Warren is 20 for 63 and has a .476 OBP with the Glendale Devil Dogs. The 23-year-old infielder in the Milwaukee Brewers organization has drawn 19 walks and gone down on strikes 13 times.

Evan Reifert has thrown 10-and-two-thirds innings of hitless and scoreless innings over seven appearances for the Mesa Solar Sox. The 23-year-old right-hander in the Tampa Bay Rays organization has walked four and fanned 22.

Cristian Hernandez has allowed eight hits and one earned run in 10 innings with the Surprise Saguaros. The 22-year-old right-hander in the Philadelphia Phillies organization has walked one and fanned 10.

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Roy Campanella put up strong numbers in his 1955 MVP season. The Hall of Fame catcher slashed .316/.395/.583 with 32 home runs and a 150 wRC+ while helping lead the Brooklyn Dodgers to the National League pennant. He was worth 5.7 WAR.

One of Campanella’s teammates had a better year. Don Newcombe went 20-5 with a 3.20 ERA over a team-high 233-and-two-third innings, and he had one of the best pitcher-hitting seasons in big-league history. In 125 plate appearances, the right-hander slashed .359/.395/.632 with nine doubles, seven home runs, and a 168 wRC+.

Newcombe finished the season with 4.6 WAR as a pitcher and 2.3 WAR as a hitter, for a cumulative total of 6.9. He finished seventh in MVP voting. As for who should have won the award, Willie Mays had a good argument. The New York Giants superstar had a league-leading 9.0 WAR and an MLB-best 51 home runs. He finished fourth in the voting.

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LINKS YOU’LL LIKE

Grant Lavigne and Zac Veen have been swinging hot bats in the Arizona Fall League. Samantha Bradfield talked to both Colorado Rockies prospects for Purple Row.

Just Baseball’s Aram Laighton looked at underrated Arizona Fall League prospects.

Red Reporter’s Wick Terrell opined on Cincinnati GM Nick Krall’s most difficult task of the offseason.

Baseball is entering a delicate and dangerous world with legalized betting. Nick Groke addressed the subject at The Athletic (subscription required).

True Blue LA’s Samantha Carleton celebrated the life of Roz Wyman, who helped bring the Dodgers to Los Angeles.

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RANDOM FACTS AND STATS

Aaron Judge had 16 stolen bases and no triples this season. Johnny Mize had 16 triples and no stolen bases in 1938.

Los Angeles Angeles Angels batters struck out 1,539 times this year, the most in the majors and the most in franchise history. In 1978, Angels batters struck out 682 times, the fewest in franchise history for a full 162-game season.

Willie Keeler had five consecutive seasons (1897-1901) with more than 600 plate appearances and five or fewer strikeouts. “Wee Willie” had 1,077 hits, 154 walks, and a .416 OBP over that stretch.

Jose Canseco had 3,631 total bases and 1,407 RBIs.

Mark McGwire had 3,639 total bases and 1,414 RBIs.

Buddy Lewis had 1,112 hits and a .304 batting average for the Washington Senators through his age-24 season before missing the 1942, 1943, and 1944 campaigns while serving in the military. The left-handed-hitting third baseman/outfielder logged just 454 more hits after returning to the majors in 1945.

Roy Gleason’s big-league career comprised eight games for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1963, the first seven as a pinch-runner and the last as a pinch-hitter. Gleason, who doubled in his lone plate appearance, subsequently became the only person to serve in Vietnam after playing in MLB. He was awarded a Purple Heart.

Mike Marshall became the first reliever to win the Cy Young Award on today’s date in 1974. The right-hander appeared in a record 106 games and logged 15 wins and 21 saves while throwing 208-and-a-third innings out of the Los Angeles Dodgers bullpen.

San Francisco’s Dusty Baker was named the National League’s Manager of the Year on today’s date in 1997. Baker also won the award in 1993 and 2000.

Players born on today’s date include Ever Magallanes, whose MLB career comprised three games and the same number of plate appearances for the Cleveland Indians in 1991. A native of El Sauz, Mexico, Magallanes reached base once, drawing a walk against Oakland’s John Briscoe.

Also born on today’s date was Skip Pitlock, a left-handed pitcher who appeared in 18 games for the San Francisco Giants in 1970, and in 41 games for the Chicago White Sox over the 1974-1975 seasons. An .080 hitter for his career, Pitlock struck out in 12 of his first 15 at-bats before logging the first of his two hits — an inside-the-park home run off of Houston’s Wade Blasingame.