With two months of Major League Baseball’s regular season now in the books, it’s time for another check-in with the former Bat ‘Cats making their mark in the pros. In a happier world, we’d be talking about which current Wildcats are making their cases to MLB scouts in the NCAA tournament this week — sadly, it didn’t work out that way. But there are several who may still hear their names called in next month’s draft, including T.J. Collett and John Rhodes.
In the meantime, there’s plenty to talk about at the Big League level as well, including Evan White’s injury, Taylor Rogers’ rising trade stock, and much more. Let’s get it started…
Struggling White joins Paxton on Mariners IL
Heading into this season, it looked as though the Seattle Mariners might be the closest thing to an MLB answer for the “Kentucky Knicks” of the NBA. Which is to say, they were the only MLB team with multiple former ‘Cats on their Big League roster. However, much like the Knicks in the playoffs, things fell apart for that group pretty quickly.
As I mentioned last month, it started when veteran hurler James Paxton hit the lousy luck lottery by sustaining a season-ending arm injury in his first start of the year. That left only first baseman Evan White, who had been scuffling with a brutal .144 batting average and two home runs through the first 30 games of the year. He got a front-row seat for a pair of no-hitters by Baltimore’s John Means and Detroit’s Spencer Turnbull, both of which came against Seattle. Then on May 13, White went down with a hip injury, and he’s been on the 10-day injured list ever since.
White’s struggles at the plate are not out of character, as he hit just .176 in 54 games as a rookie last year but held down the starting spot because of his Gold Glove defense at first. However, the Mariners were hoping to see an uptick in his offensive performance this year to justify their high opinion of him as a prospect. So far, they’ve gotten pretty much nil — but he’s still just 25, so they’re sticking with him.
And hey, did I mention he’s good at defense?
Evan White proving why he was a Gold Glove winner in 2020! pic.twitter.com/Q0ubckAFvB
— Talkin’ Baseball (@TalkinBaseball_) April 20, 2021
The good news is, he’s getting closer to returning. He participated in fielding drills and took some BP in Seattle this week, and he’s expected to begin a rehab assignment in Triple-A when the team returns from their road trip next week. Hopefully, he’ll be back to his full self by then, hitting taters like old times.
In the meantime, ironically enough, White is the only position player from UK currently listed (not counting write-ins) on the MLB All-Star ballots, which came out on Thursday. Vote for Evan! Hey, you never know. They have to pick someone from that team.
Rogers’ strong work drawing save chances, trade interest
If the Mariners are out of the running post-Paxton injury, the leading candidate for BBN’s team (other than the Reds, of course) would probably be the Minnesota Twins — mainly because they have Taylor Rogers, the hard-throwing lefty who has been one of their primary closers since 2019. Veteran utilityman JT Riddle has also appeared in four games for them this year, and he’s currently getting reps at Triple-A St. Paul along with RHP Chandler Shepherd. Odds are that all three of them will play a role in the show for the Twins this year before all’s said and done.
Rogers has been excellent this year, posting a 2.59 ERA in 22 appearances through Sunday. He actually picked up his fifth save of the season earlier today, his third successful capper in the past two weeks. He’s only given up two earned runs in his past 10 appearances now while splitting closer duties with righty Hansel Robles. But with the Twins still mired in last place, those chances haven’t come often.
The bullpen strung together five scoreless innings, capped off by a @trogers34 save. ?
Hear from the closer: pic.twitter.com/KBqyRMZ3qH
— Bally Sports North (@BallySportsNOR) June 6, 2021
If these trends continue, there’s a good chance Rogers will hear his name tossed around in the trade market later this summer. One rumor from a Mets fansite has linked him to New York. Personally, I’m hoping the Giants make a move to reunite him with his twin brother Tyler, who has been a breakout star for San Francisco with his wacky sidearm delivery and baffling softball-esque riseball that somehow breaks up. We support family reunions around here.
Ka’ai Tom finding an on-base groove in new threads
He was a feel-good story when he earned a roster spot out of camp, but an ill-timed cold streak forced the Oakland A’s to release Ka’ai Tom just two weeks into the season. Since joining the Pittsburgh Pirates, he’s gotten more playing time and rewarded the Buccos by getting on base early and often. After reaching just once with the A’s, the 27-year-old rookie has compiled 11 hits and 12 walks in 77 plate appearances for Pittsburgh, good for an excellent .364 OBP in 23 games.
Tom has also hit two home runs that time, which isn’t bad for a professional athlete who’s 5’9″ on his tippy-toes (or at least, it wasn’t until Jose Altuve made everyone think it was easy). His average with the Pirates is still hovering down around .200, but like the Mariners, they can afford to wait it out if they see something in him. And it’s clear they do, based on this article calling for him to hit leadoff.
Maybe I’m biased, but I don’t know how anyone could give up on a guy with an incredible nickname like “The Flyin’ Hawaiian.” I mean, that’s just gold.
Notes from around the league:
– Zach Pop has continued to see action out of the Marlins bullpen, with 18.2 IP in 17 appearances now. Unfortunately, he’s gotten roughed up of late, including a five-run debacle against the Pirates on Friday. If you’ve got a minute, I recommend this terrific article from the Miami Herald on his rise to the bigs.
– Luke Maile was sent down to Triple-A by the Brewers a few weeks ago when Omar Narvaez returned from injury. I’ve been secretly hoping he gets shipped to Reds ever since I realized the electric potential of a Mahle/Maile battery.
– Zach Reks has been absolutely mashing in Triple-A for the Dodgers, flashing a .342 average and .978 OPS through 20 games in Oklahoma City. While he waits to make his Big League debut, he founded a non-profit coffee company to help underpaid minor leaguers get by. What have you done lately?
|Ka’ai Tom (OAK/PIT)||OF||27||33||2||11||.162||.309||.565||—||—||—||—||—|
|Evan White (SEA)||1B||25||30||2||9||.144||.202||.439||—||—||—||—||—|
|Luke Maile (MIL)||C||30||8||0||1||.211||.318||.581||—||—||—||—||—|
|JT Riddle (MIN)||UTIL||29||4||0||0||.333||.333||.667||—||—||—||—||—|
|Taylor Rogers (MIN)||LHP||30||22||—||—||—||—||—||2-2||2.59||5||24.1||34|
|Zach Pop (MIA)||RHP||24||17||—||—||—||—||—||0-0||6.75||0||18.2||23|
|Kyle Cody (TEX)||RHP||26||7||—||—||—||—||—||0-2||7.94||0||11.1||14|
|James Paxton (SEA)||LHP||32||1||—||—||—||—||—||0-0||6.75||0||1.1||2|