Breaking Through: The Revival and August 31st

Back in August I was merrily clipping along and covering all major league debuts a week at a time. As September 1st, and with it roster expansion, drew near I knew that the status quo was going to change. The last published edition of Breaking Trough detailed the MLB debuts that took place the week of August 24th to the 30th. Nine players, the most notable being Eric Surkamp, earned some space in that column making it the most “populated” week in the series brief history.

On August 31st four players saw their first major league action followed by another 4 on the following day. On September 2nd, the proverbial poop hit the fan as 9 players debuted in the big leagues. By the time games were finished on the 6th nearly forty players had made their MLB debut in those last 7 days.

I’m a methodical writer and even when I was handling the debuts of  6, 7, 8 or even 9 players a week, the published column was a result of many hours of work on my part. So you can imagine my thought process when I was faced with trying to cram 40 debuts into a weekly column all the while knowing that the influx in debuts was going to likely continue through the end of the regular season.

The status quo had changed and I needed a new plan. After much deliberation my chosen of action was to simply sit and wait for that final month to wrap up before I would continue on with the series.

That continuation commences today about two months after the last edition of Breaking Through was published. It does not happen without some alterations however as the problem of quantity still exists. To alleviate that issue I will be covering the debuts from August 31st  (where I left off) through September 28th (the last day of the regular season) one day at a time.

There’s no time like the present so I present to you the Major League debuts from Wednesday, August 31st.

2B/3B-Taylor Green (24) – Milwaukee Brewers

2011 Preseason Ranking: Not Ranked

2011 Minor League Performance: 0.336/.413/.583, 36 2B, 22 HR, 55 BB and 72 SO in 420 AB (120 G) for the Nashville Sounds (AAA) also appeared in 3 G for the Huntsville Stars (AA)

This ladies and gentleman is what a breakout season looks like.

Green came from off the radar to have a monster year in the minors – his best in his 6 year career – and followed that up by hitting 0.270/.270/.351 in 37 PA with the Brewers. His debut consisted of just a single at bat as a pinch hitter against the Cardinals but he got the job done and collected his first major league hit in the process. He would get hits in his first 4 pinch hitting appearances and would go 3-9 in his first two games as a starter. Obviously he tailed off and went 3-24 the rest of the way, but it was an impressive debut season none-the-less.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise as Milwaukee seems to have a knack for finding young 3B. In 2007 it was Ryan Braun, who of course would immediately vacate 3B after his rookie season due to his defensive “talents” at the hot corner. In 2009 it was Casey McGehee that broke through. In hindsight it seems natural that 2011 would be Taylor Green’s year. Of course we can’t forget Mat Gamel and former Brewers prospect Brett Lawrie who made quite a statement of his own with the Blue Jays this year.

In addition to getting a cup of coffee at the end of the season, Green’s breakout season earned him spot #96 on the S2S 2012 Top-100 Prospect List, and if he’s able to build upon 2011 he should have a long and productive major league career.

RHP-Brad Brach (25) – San Diego Padres

2011 Preseason Ranking: 30th in Baseball America’s 2011 Padres Top-30

2011 Minor League Performance: 2.25 ERA, 0.84 WHIP, 1.0 BB/9 and 13.1 SO/9 in 44.0 IP (42 G) for the San Antonio Missions (AA) and 3.90 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 2.3 BB/9 and 9.8 SO/9 in 27.2 IP (25 G) for the Tuscon Padres (AAA)

Brach was called on to finish out the 7th inning at Dodger stadium with a runner on and his team down 4-2. He walked the first batter he faced and then got Tony Gwynn Jr to line out to second to end the inning. He returned to the mound in the bottom of the 8th and gave up singles to Andre Ethier and James Loney but avoided giving up a run. All three outs in the inning – Matt Kemp, Casey Blake and Rod Barajas – came on swinging strikeouts.

All told on the season he pitched 7.0 innings with San Diego with a 5.14 ERA and 2.29 WHIP. He struck out 11 but walked 7. Nathaniel covered Brach’s brief major league performance in his “Stuff” series about a month ago. His conclusion was that Brach, due to his deceptive delivery should “carve out a solid career in relief” despite the fact that neither of his pitches are particularly impressive. It’s hard to argue with that logic.

Like so many relief options with he will likely have a few seasons where he’s effective mixed in with some rather lackluster ones.

RHP-Mark Hamburger (24) – Texas Rangers

2011 Preseason Ranking: Not Ranked

2011 Minor League Performance: 1.83 ERA, 0.81 WHIP, 2.3 BB/9 and 10.1 SO/9 in 19.2 IP (11 G) for the Frisco RoughRiders (AA) and 3.88 ERA, 1.81 WHIP, 2.9 BB/9 and 6.9 SO/9 in 62.2 IP (31 G) for the Round Rock Express

Hamburger pitched a clean 9th inning of a 4-1 loss to Tampa Bay and threw 15 pitches – 11 for strikes – in the process. He finished the season with a 4.50 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 3.4 BB/9 and 6.8 SO/9 in 8.0 IP (5 G) but it’s Hamburger’s entrance into the world of professional baseball that makes him more noteworthy. That and the fact that he was born and raised in St Paul, Minnesota!

Nathaniel dissected Hamburger’s brief MLB experience using Pitch F/X data and concluded that he should be a serviceable reliever with his ceiling likely that of a “seventh-inning guy.” Considering where he came from and what he’s had to do just to get to the majors, he’s already a success story in my eyes. Any additional innings he logs is just gravy.

LHP-Zach Phillips (24) – Baltimore Orioles

2011 Preseason Ranking: Not Ranked

2011 Minor League Performance: 4.01 ERA, 1.54 WHIP, 4.3 BB/9 and 6.9 SO/9 in 58.1 IP (47 G) for the Round Rock Express (AAA-TEX) and the Norfolk Tides (AAA-BAL)

Phillips entered the game in the 8th inning of a 13-0 blowout loss against Toronto and pitched a scoreless inning. He gave up 2 hits and 1 walk while recording a strikeout in what you could argue was the worst of his 10 appearances on the season. He pitched a lot better for Norfolk after the Orioles acquired him in a July trade with the Rangers and he was able to keep that momentum going in his audition. Overall Phillips wound up with a 1.13 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 2.3 BB/9 and 9.0 SO/9 in 8.0 innings pitched with Baltimore.

His brief stint in the majors smacks of the small-sample size bug. If he could carry a 4.0 SO/BB forward in his career he’d have a great deal of value in a major league bullpen. It would also be somewhat atypical of his minor league track record though he has done it in small bursts in the minors.

2005 (Rk/A) 5.92 SO/BB in 54.1 IP
2009 (A+) 4.18 SO/BB in 44.0 IP
2010 (AA) 4.60 SO/BB in 16.2 IP

However over the longer stretches he hasn’t fared as well, especially in the upper levels of the minors (1.94 SO/BB in A+, 2.17 in AA and 1.49 in AAA). Phillips wouldn’t be the first pitcher to outperform his minor league track record, but it would surprising. The lefty showed a low 90s fastball, curveball, changeup combination with his curve being a well-above average pitch based on pitch type linear weights. Regardless of his long term prospects, he got results and should be given a chance to earn a spot in the Orioles bullpen when Opening Day rolls around.

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Topics: Baltimore Orioles, Brad Brach, Mark Hamburger, Milwaukee Brewers, San Diego Padres, Taylor Green, Texas Rangers, Zach Phillips

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