How did our Aussies travel in the Majors last year and what are their chances of success going to be like in 2014? Let’s take a look at all five players that played in 2013
In to the 2013 MLB season, there were five players - all of them pitchers - doing Australia proud by playing baseball at the highest level.
It’s no secret that baseball is a tough nut to crack; only a handful of players at a time will have a consistent job. Most players will be dropped in and out of rosters. But it’s a tough business, one accepting nothing but the best, and five Aussies cracked the nut.
For the young guys, how permanent their stay in the Major Leagues will be is yet to be seen, but judging by the success of pitchers Grant Balfour and Travis Blackley, there is certainly room for a bit of Aussie blood in the big time.
2013: Relief Pitcher/Closer - Oakland Athletics
2014: Free Agent
Balfour is a seasoned veteran of the Majors. Holding the Oakland Athletics’ record for consecutive saves (44), as well as the all-time record for saves (72) and strikeouts (514) among Australian pitchers, Grant heads into the 2014 season as a free agent at the age of 36.
His age may prevent him from getting a big contract in free agency, but a review of his 2013 season would surely tempt suitors. He managed 38 saves from 41 save opportunities, 72 strikeouts from 62.2 innings pitched, and a .206 BAA. If he’s putting up numbers like this at age 35, there’s no reason why a fully fit Grant Balfour couldn’t put up similar numbers at age 36.
Grant Balfour has a lot to offer, and 2014 should bring him success if he can stay fit. That’s a big if at his age, but there’s success to be had, and as we’re hoping for an Aussie appearance in the 2014 postseason, Balfour looks like our best chance.
2013: Texas Rangers Relief Pitcher
2014: Starting Pitcher/Relief Pitcher, Tohoku Rakuten
At the age of 31, Travis Blackley has certainly had his go at the Majors. Largely unsuccessful up to this point (Blackley is yet to play a single postseason game after 12 years of MLB experience) Travis has spent a lot of his career in the Minors, and representing his many franchises at Triple-A level. In fact, he’s only made 26 MLB starts, which barely compares to his incredible 179 starts in the Minors. Posting a career ERA of 5.23 in the Majors, it’s not hard to see why Blackley has struggled to see consistent time at the highest level.
In 2013, he managed to buck the trend of spending most of his time in the Minors, playing 46 games - but only 3 as a starter. Since 2010 his role in his multiple pitching staffs has changed from being a starter to being a setup and relief guy. This has given him a big opportunity to make it in the MLB, and his 2013 season was pretty decent - it was his first season as a big player in the Majors, playing 18 more games than any other season. A 4.83 ERA, 40 SO and .283 BAA aren’t amazing numbers, but in comparison to his previous form, Blackley did quite well.
In December 2013, Blackley signed to the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles, a member of the Nippon Professional Baseball League, the highest level of baseball in Japan. In the 2013 season, Tohoku Rakuten won the championship, so it will be interesting to see if Blackley can win a championship medal in his time in Japan before getting called back to the MLB majors.
2013: Relief Pitcher, Los Angeles Dodgers
2014: Relief Pitcher, Houston Astros
2014 will be tough for Peter Moylan. He will likely see very little time in the Majors after getting signed to a minor-league contract by the Houston Astros, the former home of Travis Blackley. Unless he is traded, Moylan will spend all of his time in the Minors, but it’s not like he can’t make it big in Houston. They have a notoriously bad pitching staff, extending from the starters right down to the setup guys and closers, so his opportunity is there. He just needs to grasp it.
In previous seasons, Moylan has played with the Atlanta Braves from 2006-2013, and Los Angeles Dodgers in 2013. He boasts a career Major League record of 21-9, with a 2.80 ERA and 213 strikeouts. With a fastball reaching the 95-mph mark, he’s definitely good enough to earn a spot alongside other Major League pitchers.
2013: Relief Pitcher, San Diego Padres
2014: Relief Pitcher, New York Yankees
In 2011, Josh Spence played 40 games in the Majors for the San Diego Padres. This franchise was very good to a young Spence, who at the time was 23 and fresh off just one season in the Minors. In 2012 he manages only 11 games in the Majors, and in 2013 he was sent to the New York Yankees. Unfortunately, he failed to make a sole Major League appearance in New York, instead playing 33 games at Triple-A level.
Spence will again struggle to see regular game time in the 2014 New York Yankees team. They’re just a little too deep to fit him in, which is a shame. The Yankees already have a fairly good pitching staff and will likely keep Spence in the Minors or in Triple-A for a while.
Spence has a lot of talent - his 2012 MLB season was very promising - but New York isn’t the place to make it happen for a youngster trying to build a reputation. If he were ever to move to Houston, Kansas City, Seattle, a place where young talent would be well utilized, then perhaps we’d be seeing Josh Spence a bit more. But for now, we’ll have to just wait and see how things turn out for him in New York.
2013: Starting Pitcher, Minnesota Twins
2014: Starting Pitcher, Baltimore Orioles
Liam Hendriks debuted with the Minnesota Twins on September 6, 2011. He lasted 7 innings, giving up 3 earned runs and striking out 4 in a loss to the Chicago White Sox.
This has pretty much been the deal with Hendriks’ career in the Majors: he just hasn’t won enough games. His career MLB record is 2-13, with a 6.06 ERA. They are unflattering numbers for a guy who has unbelievably good numbers in the Minors. Those numbers include 98 starts, a 42-28 record, and a career ERA of 2.98. He won the Twins’ 2011 Minor League Pitcher of the Year Award. Those numbers make a good case as to why teams keep him around.The Orioles picked up Hendriks off waivers in December, meaning they obviously see something in the talented 24 year old. Given opportunities, Hendriks may develop into a solid starter for Baltimore. He features a changeup with good movement at mid-80-mph, and a fastball around 90-mph, but his key pitch, if he could develop it, is his curveball which nears 75-mph but rarely reaches speeds above that mark. We might see a bit of him in 2014, but he might also be relegated to playing Minor League ball again. Similarly to Josh Spence, only time will tell.