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MLB launches wood-bat league for draft-eligible prospects

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NEW YORK — Major League Baseball is creating a minor league for top eligible prospects leading to the summer draft.

The wood-bat MLB Draft League is launching with five teams and could add a sixth, MLB said Monday. Teams will play a 68-game regular season that includes an All-Star break that would coincide with the draft in early July.

Teams are being awarded to communities that lost franchises as MLB moved to shrink the affiliated minor leagues from 160 to 120 teams this offseason following the expiration of the Professional Baseball Agreement, which governed the relationship between the majors and minors. MLB has planned to eliminate the separate governing body of minor league baseball.

The founding members of the MLB Draft League are located in Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and New Jersey: the Mahoning Valley Scrappers, the State College Spikes, the Trenton Thunder, the West Virginia Black Bears and the Williamsport Crosscutters. MLB said it is in discussions with a sixth team that it hopes to announce soon.

The league will be operated by Prep Baseball Report — a scouting, events and media organization focused on youth ball — and former Cape Cod League coach Kerrick Jackson has been appointed president.

MLB said in a statement that players will “receive unprecedented visibility to MLB club scouts through both in-person observation and state-of-the-art scouting technology, and educational programming designed to prepare them for careers as professional athletes.”

“We are thrilled to partner with Prep Baseball Report and the founding members of the MLB Draft League to create a one-of-a-kind league that will attract the nation’s top players who are eligible for each year’s MLB draft and allow local fans to see top prospects and future big-league stars in their hometowns,” said Morgan Sword, MLB’s executive vice president of baseball economics and operations. “This announcement continues MLB’s commitment to preserving and growing baseball in communities around the United States.”

MLB announced in September that the Appalachian League, formerly a Rookie-level affiliated league, would be transformed into a wood-bat college summer league.

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Mike Sadek, former San Francisco Giants catcher, dies at 74 after illness

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SAN FRANCISCO — – Mike Sadek, a popular backup catcher who played all eight of his major league seasons with the San Francisco Giants, has died. He was 74.

The team announced Sadek died Wednesday in San Andreas, California, following a short illness.

Sadek was a .226 career hitter with five home runs and 74 RBIs in 383 big league games from 1973-81.

San Francisco selected Sadek in the 12th round of the 1966 amateur draft, but he opted to return to the University of Minnesota. The Twins then chose him in the fifth round the following year before the Giants picked him in the December 1969 Rule 5 Draft.

At age 26, he made his major league debut on April 13, 1973, and spent parts of eight seasons with San Francisco. His 64 games in 1980 were a career high.

Sadek went on to work in the club’s community relations department from 1981-99 before retiring.

“Mike was a Forever Giant in every sense of the term,” Giants CEO Larry Baer said in a statement. “He spent nearly 30 years in the Giants organization between his time as a player and his role as a member of the front office. He had a genuine love for the game and was known for getting a laugh out of his teammates when they needed it the most. Our condolences go out to the Sadek family for their loss and we extend our thoughts to his teammates and friends.”

Sadek was born May 30, 1946, in Minneapolis.

He is survived by his son, Mike Jr., daughter-in-law, Melanie, and grandchildren Jackson, Nicholas and Maxwell. Sadek was preceded in death by his daughter, Nicole.

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Sources — J.A. Happ, Minnesota Twins agree to deal

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Veteran left-hander J.A. Happ and the Minnesota Twins have agreed to a one-year deal, pending a physical, sources tell ESPN’s Jeff Passan.

Financial terms weren’t immediately available.

Happ, a free agent, will remain in the American League after spending the last two-and-a-half seasons with the New York Yankees. He will join a Minnesota rotation that includes Kenta Maeda, Jose Berrios and Michael Pineda, a group that will look to help the Twins to a third straight AL Central title this season.

A 12-year veteran, he was acquired from the Toronto Blue Jays in July 2018, went 7-0 in 11 starts and was rewarded with a $34 million, two-year contract from New York. He went 12-8 in 2019 and struggled at the start of last season, prompting the Yankees to skip his turn.

He got stronger as the season went on and finished with a 2-2 record and 3.47 ERA in nine starts. His $17 million option for 2021, which the Yankees declined to exercise, originally would have become guaranteed with 27 starts or 165 innings, but the threshold was reduced to 10 starts with the shortened season and he fell one short.

Happ didn’t come right out and say it, but the left-hander seemed to imply at the time that the Yankees had limited his starts to avoid his option vesting for next season, telling reporters, “I think it’s fairly clear.”

A one-time All-Star, Happ has a career record of 123-92 and a 3.98 ERA. He has played for the Philadelphia Phillies, Houston Astros, Seattle Mariners and Pittsburgh Pirates as well as the Blue Jays and Yankees.

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Michael Brantley, Houston Astros agree to 2-year, $32M deal, sources say

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Veteran outfielder Michael Brantley will be returning to the Houston Astros after the free agent agreed to a two-year, $32 million deal, sources confirmed to ESPN on Wednesday.

Brantley, 33, continues to boast a high contact rate, low strikeout ratio and polish at the plate. In 46 games with the Astros in 2020, alternating between left field and DH, Brantley hit. 300, with five homers, 22 RBIs and an OPS of .840.

He has hit at least .300 in five seasons since 2014, tied with four others for the most such seasons in baseball in that time span. He also has struck out in just 10.1% of his plate appearances since 2014, third best in baseball in that time span, with a minimum of 2,000 plate appearances.

Fox 26 in Houston was first to report that Brantley and the Astros had agreed to the deal.

Brantley also signed a two-year, $32 million contract when he joined the Astros before the 2019 season.

Injuries have troubled Brantley over his 12-year career with the Cleveland Indians and Astros, in which Brantley has a .297 average, with 114 homers, 640 RBIs and a .794 OPS. He has been an All-Star four times, and in 2014 he finished third in the MVP voting.

Earlier, ESPN had reported that Brantley had agreed to a deal with the Toronto Blue Jays, who had already reached a six-year, $150 million deal with former Astros teammate George Springer, sources confirmed.

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