Last month, I took the time to catch up with the six former UK baseball stars playing in Major League Baseball, plus a host of others who had a chance to get the call this season. Now that the 2021 MLB season is a month old — and the Bat ‘Cats continue to get it done — I thought it’d be a good time to check back in with the guys representing the BBN so well at baseball’s highest level.
The list took a hit a few weeks ago, as veteran Mariners hurler James Paxton went down with a forearm strain that ultimately required season-ending Tommy John surgery. It was a really tough break for the Big Maple, who was looking to regain the magic that made him the ace of the Seattle staff for several years before he was traded to New York. Instead, he’ll rehab until the winter, when he’s expected to enter free agency once again at age 33.
However, Paxton’s absence has cleared some room in the big blue spotlight for a few new faces in the season’s first month. We’ll get to them all here in the first-ever BBMLB Power Rankings.
1. Taylor Rogers — RP, Minnesota Twins
Stats: 9.1 IP, 0-1 W-L, 0.00 ERA, 0.096 WHIP, 11 K, 1 BB
If you look past the fact that the Twins have the second-worst record in the American League, Taylor Rogers has had just about the best start to the 2021 MLB season that he could hope for. Acting as one half of the two-headed closer machine in Minnesota along with Alex Colome, Rogers has emerged as the Twins’ most reliable high-leverage reliever so far. Through eight appearances (9.1 innings pitched), he has yet to allow a single earned run on his watch. Moreover, he’s only allowed eight baserunners all year, including three doubles and five singles. His 11-1 strikeout-walk ratio is even more impressive when you consider that the one walk was an intentional pass against the Red Sox.
While Colome has gotten the bulk of the save opportunities for Minnesota so far, he hasn’t exactly inspired confidence, with a 7.45 ERA and three blown saves already. Rogers has appeared in the ninth inning four times, netting one save and three holds, but he hasn’t gotten many chances with the lead. With the success of the Twins’ lineup (Byron Buxton, Nelson Cruz and Josh Donaldson = a whole lotta pop), the team’s results should improve, meaning more chances for Rogers. And if Colome continues to struggle, you can expect to see the crafty lefty a lot more in the closer role going forward. Keep crushing it, Taylor.
2. Zach Pop — RP, Miami Marlins
Stats: 9.0 IP, 0-0 W-L, 7.00 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 11 K, 4 BB
Without Paxton, the list takes a bit of a drop-off after Rogers, with so many young guys still trying to get a feel for their roles. Chief among those is Zach Pop, the 2017 draftee who was picked up in the Rule 5 draft by the Marlins last winter and made his debut this season. His big-league career got off to a rough start, surrendering seven runs in his first four appearances, including a grand slam against the Cardinals his second time out. However, that 7.00 ERA is a little deceiving, because he’s been much improved since April 15. In his last 5.2 innings, Pop has allowed three hits, one walk and no runs, cutting that ERA in half in the process.
He looked particularly strong in a recent series against the Giants, where he pitched three scoreless innings and didn’t allow a baserunner. Here he is giving the business to a veteran slugger:
After midnight, you are allowed to post porn on Twitter, right?
Here’s rookie Zach Pop dismantling 8-year MLB vet Curt Casali on back-to-back-to-back sliders. pic.twitter.com/qXSxJKPop6
— Fish Stripes (@fishstripes) April 18, 2021
He also made headlines with one of the wildest throws you’ll ever see against the Nationals on Sunday. But as long as he’s pointed toward the plate, this kid’s got a ton of potential, and the Marlins clearly see it. Here’s hoping he stays at it.
3. Evan White — 1B, Seattle Mariners
Stats: 19 GP, 1 HR, 6 RBI, .155 BA, .221 OBP, .446 OPS
At this point, the Mariners know what to expect from Evan White — which is to say, excellent defense and not a whole lot of offense. This was the case in 2020, when he hit .176 but won the gold glove at first base as a rookie, and early signs have shown that it’s still the case now. The 25-year-old White has gotten off to a brutal 11/71 start at the plate this season with 21 strikeouts and just three extra-base hits. However, his defense has kept him in the lineup virtually every day, so he’ll have every opportunity to break out of the slump if he can.
It looked like things were turning around for White two weeks ago, when he recorded five hits in four games against the Orioles and Astros, including his first home run of the season, a 416-foot bomb that tied the game vs. Houston. However, he’s batted just 3-33 since then, and there are rumors he may be sent to Triple-A when the minor league season starts. He’s currently on the bereavement list following the death of his grandfather, so we’ll see how he looks when he returns.
4. Luke Maile — C, Milwaukee Brewers
Stats: 3 GP, 2-6 (.333 BA), 1 R, 1 RBI
He didn’t start the year with the big league club, but thanks to injuries to both of Milwaukee’s primary catchers in the last week, Luke Maile is getting his shot. He was recalled last Tuesday when news broke that Manny Piña, the Brew Crew’s backup C, was headed to the IL with a broken toe. Maile appeared twice after that, coming in as a sixth-inning defensive replacement for banged-up starter Omar Narvaez on Friday and earning the start on Saturday, catching all 11 innings of an upset win over the Dodgers. Then on Sunday, it was announced that Narvaez would have to go on the IL as well with a hamstring strain. That left Maile as the only player left on the roster to have caught a game for the Brewers this season.
However, the club reacted swiftly in calling up their no. 5 prospect, Mario Feliciano, to fill in off the bench. They also made a trade with the Mariners to reacquire Jacob Nottingham — a catcher they’d DFA’d literally last week — and plugged him into the lineup for Sunday’s finale against the Dodgers. He promptly hit two home runs in the game, which was half of what he hit all of last season. Maile pinch-hit in the ninth and hit a single. What their plan is going forward is anyone’s guess, but Maile should draw the majority of the starts for the time being, as he is Monday night against the Phillies. He hasn’t played more than 50 big league games in a season since 2018 when he hit .248 and drove in 27 runs as the backup for the Blue Jays.
5. Ka’ai Tom — OF, Pittsburgh Pirates
Stats: 13 GP, 2-23 (.087 BA), .214 OBP, 2 RBI; 1 IP, 0.00 ERA, 1 H
I was as excited as anyone when I saw that UK legend Ka’ai Tom, after making his debut with the A’s early last month, was called upon to pitch against the Astros in an early-season blowout, the first position player to do so in 2021. See for yourself:
You know it. You love it. Folks, we have our very first
( (> PLAYER
of the 2021 season! pic.twitter.com/FNkvkaVwvn
— Cut4 (@Cut4) April 4, 2021
What made this outing particularly memorable — other than the fact that he never eclipsed 72 miles per hour but pitched a scoreless frame — is that he had yet to record his first major league hit as a batter. That made him, as far as I’m aware, the first Major League position player to ever allow a hit as a pitcher before recording one as a hitter. He was so committed to this accomplishment that he refused to earn that first hit until his fourth game on April 5, and then didn’t add another for the next two weeks.
Unfortunately, his lack of production at the plate (see the above numbers) forced the A’s to put him up for waivers, at which point he was snagged by the Pirates, a fate I wouldn’t wish on anyone. With that said, he has looked moderately better at the plate in Pittsburgh, recording a hit, an RBI and four walks in his first 12 plate appearances, good for a .354 point leap in on-base percentage compared to his previous line. New beginnings, I guess?
In all seriousness, baseball people seem to be high on Tom, a versatile player who can play all three outfield positions. He’s hit at every level up to this one, including a .310 average and .963 OPS in spring training this year, so that should come around in time. And if not, hey, he’s always got his pitching career to fall back on.
Other names to watch:
- Kyle Cody, RP, Rangers – currently on the IL with shoulder inflammation
- J.T. Riddle, INF, Twins – DFA’d last week, expected to report to AAA this month
- Trevor Gott, RP, Giants – made a brief appearance two weeks ago, since outrighted to alternate site
- Zack Thompson, SP, Cardinals – top prospect expected to start season in AAA
- Chandler Shepherd, RP, Twins – expected to start season at AAA