Image credit: Garrett Crochet (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Now that No. 1 overall pick Paul Skenes has signed with the Pirates, the question inevitably becomes how quickly he will reach the majors.
When it comes to making a quick jump, White Sox lefthander Garrett Crochet can speak to what it takes to be successful more than most.
The White Sox drafted Crochet with the 11th overall pick in 2020 out of Tennessee. With the minor league season canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, he spent two months at the White Sox’s alternate training site in Schaumburg, Ill. before getting called up for his major league debut in September. He is the only active major leaguer, and one of only 23 ever, to go straight from the draft to the majors without playing in the minor leagues.
“Just throwing strikes (and) being competitive in the zone,” Crochet said. “I’d say the big difference was in the adjustment of level and talent that I was playing against. Now you kind of have to win in the strike zone as opposed to getting people to chase. So just feeling confident with my stuff, that was pretty much it.”
Crochet acclimated better than most. He made five straight scoreless appearances out of the White Sox’s bullpen to begin his career and was included on their roster for the 2020 postseason, where he made another scoreless appearance. Overall, he allowed only one earned run in his first 24 career appearances, including the postseason.
“My confidence and everything comes from my work ethic,” Crochet said. “So just working hard and then letting whatever happens on the field happen. The harder you work, you tend to be a little bit luckier. So that’s kind of just the mentality that I had going into it.”
Things have been rockier for Crochet since. He missed all of the 2022 season after having Tommy John surgery and made only 10 appearances this season before going back on the injured list with shoulder inflammation.
Still, when it comes to getting to the majors quickly and having success, Crochet has credible words of wisdom to offer Skenes and other hopeful fast risers.
“It’s still the same game,” Crochet said. “Sometimes you throw a mistake and it’s hit 500 feet, sometimes throw a mistake and get a swing and miss. Sometimes you paint a pitch that’s hit really hard and really far and sometimes it goes your way. I mean, it’s baseball. So you really just gotta be confident and trust your stuff.”
A TRADE THAT KEEPS GETTING MORE LOPSIDED
When the Padres demoted catcher Austin Nola to Triple-A earlier this week, it was the latest chapter in what has quickly become one of the most lopsided trades in recent years.
The Padres traded infielder Ty France, righthanded reliever Andres Munoz, catcher Luis Torrens and outfielder Taylor Trammell to the Mariners for Nola and righthanded relievers Austin Adams and Dan Altavilla at the 2020 trade deadline.
Nola, the centerpiece of the deal, has hit .234/.314/.320 for the Padres while struggling to stay healthy. Adams set a modern record for most hit batters in 2021 and now pitches for the D-backs. Altavilla pitched only 10 innings for the Padres before having Tommy John surgery and hasn’t pitched in the majors since.
The Mariners, meanwhile, can point to the trade as one of the turning points of their rebuild. France has blossomed into a middle-of-the-order staple for the Mariners and made his first All-Star Game last season. Munoz has emerged as one of the American League’s most dominant setup men. Even Torrens had a 15-homer season as a backup catcher in 2021—more than the nine homers Nola has hit for the Padres in four seasons.
“For us at that point, it was about the future,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “We were trying to build and we needed multiple players and we were able to do that in that trade. So in that regard, it was a success.”
Context is important to understand the motives behind the deal. The Padres were desperate to make their first postseason since 2006 and were getting little to no production from catchers Austin Hedges and Francisco Mejia.
Muñoz reached the majors as a 20-year-old but was out for the season after having Tommy John surgery. France, a 34th-round success story from San Diego State, hit his way to the majors but didn’t have a path to regular playing time with Manny Machado at third base and Eric Hosmer at first base.
The Padres had longstanding interest in Nola prior to the deal. After he went 5-for-9 against the Padres in a three-game series at Petco Park with most top Padres officials in attendance, they went the extra mile to get a deal done.
In retrospect, it was a mistake. While Nola has provided the Padres some memorable moments, notably guiding the pitching staff through a bullpen game to clinch the NL Wild Card Series against the Cardinals in 2020, the deal has played out heavily in the Mariners’ favor with France and Muñoz.
“Those were guys that weren’t really proven guys,” Servais said. “We took some chances. And you know, the biggest thing sometimes, you get traded, and I got traded as a player, often times is just the opportunity you’re given. Maybe that guy had it in him all along, but maybe there was somebody ahead of him, blocking him or for whatever reason. Better player, more experienced player a bigger contract, whatever, and sometimes you just need an opportunity.
“You get that opportunity, it’s a fresh start, you take it and run with it. That’s what those guys have done.”
THE TWINS’ CANADIAN SAVIOR
While midseason callups Elly De La Cruz, Matt McLain and Andrew Abbott are (deservedly) being showered with attention for how they’ve turned the Reds’ season around, another midseason callup is having an outsized impact with much less fanfare.
Twins second baseman Edouard Julien has been outright one of the best hitters in baseball since being recalled from Triple-A St. Paul on June 10. The 24-year-old Quebec native is batting .378 with a 1.091 OPS in that time, the highest batting average and fifth-highest OPS in the majors among players with at least 100 plate appearances.
An 18th-round pick out of Auburn in 2019, Julien broke out last season at Double-A Wichita and hit .400 in the Arizona Fall League to solidify his standing as one of the best pure hitting prospects in the game. He continued by going 7-for-13 (.538) with two doubles and two home runs as Canada’s leadoff hitter in the World Baseball Classic. He struggled in his first two callups to the majors this season, but the third time has been the charm.
Julien is currently riding an eight-game hit streak and has five home runs in his last 11 games. He has moved to the top of the Twins order—batting either leadoff or second most games—and has thrust himself as a late entrant into the AL Rookie of the Year race.
Even with the struggles in his first two callups, Julien leads all major league rookies (min. 150 PA) with a.957 OPS and ranks second with a .316 batting average.
GOLDEN SPIKES CURSE?
For most of the early 2000s, the Golden Spikes Award was a nearly surefire predictor of future MLB success.
Between 2003-2013, every Golden Spikes winner went on to play at least nine years in the majors and make at least one all-star team. Recipients included future Cy Young winners Tim Lincecum (2006), David Price (2007) and Trevor Bauer (2011), future MVPs Buster Posey (2008), Bryce Harper (2010) and Kris Bryant (2013), future World Series MVP Stephen Strasburg (2009) and multiple-time all-stars Jered Weaver (2004) and Alex Gordon (2005).
Recently Golden Spikes Award winners, however, have struggled mightily. Kyle Lewis (2016) and Brendan McKay (2017) have had their careers sidetracked by injuries. Andrew Vaughn (2018) has yet to find his footing with the White Sox. Kevin Kopps (2021) and Ivan Melendez (2022) have underwhelmed in the minors with the Padres and D-backs, respectively. Only Adley Rutschman (2019) has flourished among the last six Golden Spikes winners, a far cry from the award’s hit rate at the start of the century.
LSU outfielder Dylan Crews (2023) will try to turn that recent trend around. The No. 2 overall pick has yet to sign with the Nationals but still has time before the July 25 signing deadline.