The Valley League’s tagline is “Gateway to the Majors,” and this has been more or less true over the hsitory of the league. Seeing former Valley Leaguers make it to the game’s highest level is, after all, one of the reasons that the many employees and volunteers work all June and July to make the league a success. (Along with many other reasons, of course, like love of the game, because I’m feeling sappy this morning.)
In 2018, 30 former Valley League participants played in the major leagues. The 30 of them, 13 hitters and 17 pitchers combined, did not have a terrific year according to VBL standards (and also according to Wins Above Replacement (WAR)), but 30 represents the highest total of players at the highest level since that many played in 2013.
Let’s take a look at all 30, split by hitter/pitcher, and placed in arbitrary categories.
These guys are regulars in the majors, and most of them have been for quite some time.
- Daniel Murphy (Luray 2004-05), Washington Nationals and Chicago Cubs. Murphy got off to a late start in 2018 because of injuries, but in 190 at-bats for the Nationals hit 300/341/442, with 9 doubles and 6 home runs. He was traded to the Cubs for the playoff push, and hit 297/329/471 in 138 at-bats, with 6 doubles and 6 more home runs. Even with the gaudy slash numbers, he is listed in baseball-reference.com at -1.0 WAR, due to below-average defense. His offense, actually, is listed at +1.1 WAR. He’s also currently a free agent.
- Yonder Alonso (Luray 2006), Cleveland Indians. Alonso continued his launch angle revolution, slashing 250/317/421 in 516 at-bats for the Indians. He hit 19 doubles, 23 home runs, drove in 83 runs, and had a 51/123 BB/K ratio. He comes in at 1.6 WAR.
- Jason Kipnis (Covington 2006-07), Cleveland Indians. Jason definitely struggled some in ’18, finishing at 230/315/389 in 530 at-bats, with 28 doubles, 1 triple, 18 home runs, 7 stolen bases, a 60/112 BB/K ratio, and 1.6 WAR. There were some rumblings late in the season that he had made some changes at the plate that were playing dividends, so look for an uptick in those numbers in 2019.
- Jon Jay (Staunton 2004), Kansas City Royals and Arizona Diamondbacks. Like Murphy, Jay split his season between two teams. In 238 at-bats for the Royals, he hit 307/363/374, with 9 doubles, 2 triples, 1 home run, and a 19/39 BB/K ratio. After a midsason trade to Arizona, he fell to 235/304/325 in 289 at-bats, with 10 doubles, 5 triples, 2 home runs, and a 14/56 BB/K ratio. His combined WAR finished at 0.8. He’s currently a free agent.
- Brett Gardner (New Market 2003-04), New York Yankees. Gardner has long been a mainstay in the Yankee clubhouse. This year, due to a slump to end the season, he slipped to 236/322/368, with 20 doubles, 7 triples, 12 home runs, and a 65/107 BB/K ratio. His defense is still outstanding, though, and his final WAR is 2.8. He signed a one-year contract with the Yankees for 2019.
The Role Players
These guys weren’t everyday players, but still filled important roles.
- Erik Kratz (Waynesboro 2000, Harrisonburg 2001), Milwaukee Brewers. Erik started 2018 in Triple-A with the Yankees, but was traded on May 25th to the Brewers. The Brewers brought him to the majors, and in 203 at-bats, Kratz hit 236/280/355, with 6 doubles, 6 home runs, and 0.1 WAR. He was a fan favorite in the playoffs; he went 5-8 with a double and 2 RBIs in the National League Divisional Series, making some headlines along the way.
- Tommy La Stella (Haymarket 2009), Chicago Cubs. The pinch-hitter, in 169 at-bats in 123 games, hit 266/340/331, with 8 doubles, 1 home runs, and a 17/27 BB/K ratio. His WAR is 0.1.
- Cory Spangenberg (Winchester 2010), San Diego Padres. Spangenberg played six different positions for the Padres in 2018, including pitcher, and hit 235/298/362 in 298 total at-bats. He hit 9 doubles, 4 triples, 7 home runs, and had a 25/108 BB/K ratio. At all those positions, he combined for 0.7 WAR.
- Tyler White (Haymarket 2010), Houston Astros. White has a chance, with the way he hit for the juggernaut Astros in 2018, to move up to “the core” in 2019. White hit 276/354/533 in 210 at-bats for Houston, with 12 doubles, 3 triples, 12 home runs, and a solid 24/49 BB/K ratio. He put up 1.6 WAR.
The Cups of Coffee
These players got a couple at-bats, but spent most of the season either in the minor leagues or out of baseball.
- Ryan Schimpf (Luray 2008), Los Angeles Angels. Schimpf batted just 5 times for the Angels, hitting one home run and walking twice. He batted about 100 times in Triple-A before he was released in May. He still registered 0.1 WAR in the majors, though. Ryan was not signed through the end of the year. I am convinced that if Ryan is signed by the right team, like, say, the rebuilding Baltimore Orioles, and given 600 at-bats in the majors, he might hit 45 home runs…. and strike out 300 times. But still.
- Cliff Pennington (Harrisonburg 2003), Cincinnati Reds. Pennington started 2018 in the majors with the Reds, going 4-29 in 16 games before he was released on May 17th. The Texas Rangers signed him immediately, and he spent the rest of ’18 in Triple-A. He’s now a free agent again.
- Mac Williamson (Harrisonburg 2011), San Francisco Giants. Poor Mac. He batted 94 times for the Giants in ’18, and just when it seemed he was going to take off with a new swing and even more power, Mac tried to make a catch in left field, but slid into the wall in foul territory and suffered a concussion. He still put up 0.5 WAR.
- Sherman Johnson (Covington 2009-10), Los Angeles Angels. Johnson made his major league debut in September of 2018, but did not record a hit in 10 at-bats (-0.2 WAR). He is now a free agent.
The 13 hitters combined for 8.3 WAR, which comes out to an average of 0.64 per player. The total is the lowest since 2009, and the average is the lowest since 2011.
Most pitchers have a specific role, so we’ll use different categories for them.
- Will Harris (Staunton 2003), Houston Astros. Harris had another outstanding season for the Astros this season, finishing at 5-3, 3.49, with a 1.09 WHIP, 2.2 BB/9, and 10.2 K/9 in 61 games and 56 2/3 innings in his age-33 season. Harris was also the only pitcher on this list who appeared in the 2018 MLB playoffs. He finished the regular season with 0.7 WAR.
- Chris Devenski (Woodstock 2011), Houston Astros. Chris, at 27, is significantly younger than Will Harris, but was also an important cog in the Astros’ bullpen. In 50 games and 47 1/3 innings, he went 2-3, 4.18, with a 1.16 WHIP, 2.5 BB/9, 9.7 K/9, and 0.1 WAR. Devenski missed most of August due to an injury and rehab stints in the minors.
- Justin Anderson (Front Royal 2013), Los Angeles Angels. Anderson made his major league debut on April 23rd of this year, and then proceeded to cement his spot in the Angels’ bullpen. In 57 games and 55 1/3 innings pitched, Justin went 3-3, 4.07, with a 1.48 WHIP, 6.5 BB/9, and 10.9 K/9. A total of 40 walks is too much, but he also struck out 67, and he was even used in a few save situations, ending with 4. He also threw 9 wild pitches, most likely with his wicked slider, and finished 10th in the league in that category. He also finished with 0.4 WAR.
- Chad Kuhl (New Market 2012), Pittsburgh Pirates. Kuhl, after starting 31 games for the Pirates in 2017, began 2018 in Pittsburgh’s rotation, and started 16 games through June. Unfortunately, Kuhl was placed on the disabled list with a “right forearm strain” on June 29th, and did not pitch again. In those 16 games, Kuhl went 5-5, 4.55, with a 1.44 WHIP, 3.5 BB/9, 8.6 K/9, and 0.0 WAR in 85 innings pitched. He did not undergo Tommy John surgery, which is sometimes the result of a forearm strain, and will hopefully be healthy and ready to go in 2019 Spring Training.
- Emilio Pagan (Harrisonburg 2010), Oakland A’s. Pagan pitched with the Seattle Mariners in 2017, and was traded to Oakland in the offseason. He was snakebitten a bit by home runs in 2018, as he gave up 13 of them in 62 innings… but upon further investigation, seven of them were hit by the Houston Astros. Hmm. Anyway, overall, Pagan went 3-1, 4.35, with a 1.19 WHIP, 2.8 BB/9, 9.2 K/9, and 0.3 WAR. I think he’ll be a crucial arm moving forward for the A’s.
- Ryan Yarbrough (Luray 2012), Tampa Bay Rays. Yarbrough made his major league debut on March 31st, spent the entire season in the majors, and broke WAR in 2018. The Rays used Ryan as the de-facto starter in most of his games, but he didn’t actually start (besides 6 times), because of the “opener” strategy they employed. So Yarbrough was credited with only 0.9 WAR, mostly because he was compared to relievers instead of starters. We’ll leave fixing that issue to people who are much, much smarter than I. Anyway, in 38 games and 147 1/3 innings pitched, Ryan went 16-6, 3.91, with a 1.29 WHIP, 3.1 BB/9, and 7.8 K/9. Ryan finished 5th in the very contentious American League Rookie of the Year voting. (Contentious in that twitter almost broke because Shohei Ohtani won the award instead of Miguel Andujar.)
- Brad Ziegler (New Market 2000), Miami Marlins and Arizona Diamondbacks. In his last season, Ziegler led the league in appearances with a whopping 82 games. He spent the first 53 with the Marlins, going 1-5, 3.98, with a 1.27 WHIP, 2.9 BB/9, and 6.4 K/9 in 52 innings. He was traded to the Diamondbacks on July 31st, and in his 29 games and 21 2/3 innings there, went 1-1, 3.74, with a 1.38 WHIP, 3.3 BB/9, and 5.4 K/9. At the two stops, he accrued -0.2 WAR. The now-39 year old retired after the season.
- Austin Gomber (Luray 2012), St. Louis Cardinals. Yarbrough’s teammate in 2012 for the Wranglers, Gomber also made his major league debut in 2018- on June 2nd. In 29 games, 11 of them starts, Austin went 6-2, 4.44, with a 1.51 WHIP, 3.8 BB/9, 8.0 K/9, and 0.0 WAR in 75 innings pitched. He turned some heads in his debut season; I would expect him to play a decent role for the Cardinals in 2019.
The Cups of Coffee
- Kyle McGrath (Staunton 2011), San Diego Padres. McGrath, after appearing in 17 games in 2017, appeared in only 4 in 2018. He gave up 3 hits, 3 walks, 2 earned runs, and struck out 4 in his 4 innings. He pitched in 43 games in Triple-A El Paso.
- Adam Liberatore (Waynesboro 2007-08), Los Angeles Dodgers. Liberatore has struggled with injuries the past couple seasons, and this year was no exception, as he was officially placed on the disabled list twice by the Dodgers. Adam still appeared in 17 games in Los Angeles, going 2-1, 2.77, with a 1.385 WHIP, 5.5 BB/9, and 8.3 K/9 in 13 total innings while accruing 0.3 WAR. The Dodgers released Adam on September 5th, and as of now, he has not resigned with another club.
- Austin Adams (Staunton 2011), Washington Nationals. There are metaphorical cups of coffee, and then literal ones… well, not really literal, but Adams pitched in only 2 games for the Nationals, completing one inning. He was quite good in Triple-A, though, striking out 78 batters in only 46 innings, so he’ll get another chance or two, I’m sure.
- Eric Stout (Waynesboro 2012), Kansas City Royals. Stout was called up to Kansas City and made his debut on April 25th. He pitched in 3 games in the majors, and… well, it didn’t go so well. In 2 1/3 innings, he allowed 7 hits, 7 runs (6 earned), walked 2, and struck out 2. He was returned to Triple-A Omaha on April 29th, and then the Royals released him outright on September 10. He is still a free agent.
- Scott Copeland (Staunton 2007), New York Mets. Copeland was a free agent all offseason, and wasn’t even signed by the Mets until the middle of April. He bounced back and forth between Double-A Binghamton and Triple-A Las Vegas most of the year, except for May 30th to June 1st, when the Mets called him up to New York. He appeared in one game and pitched 1 1/3 shutout innings. He became a free agent again at the end of the season.
- Sam Howard (Staunton 2012), Colorado Rockies. Howard had three different stints in the major leagues in 2018; June 9-13, July 14-28, and September 4th to the end of the season. He made his major league debut on June 10th, but only pitched in four games in those three stretches of time. He gave up one run in 4 total innings.
- Robby Scott (Covington 2010), Boston Red Sox. I think I would be a little bit frustrated if I were Robby Scott. He spent much of 2017 in the majors, appearing in 57 games for Boston. In 2018, however, he spent most of the season in Triple-A Pawtucket, only pitching in 6 games and 6 2/3 innings at the highest level.
- Tyler Thornburg (Winchester 2008), Boston Red Sox. Thornburg underwent thoracic outlet syndrome surgery in June of 2017, missing all of that year, so he was working his way back in 2018. He pitched in 18 games in the minors, and 25 in the majors. In those games for Boston, he went 2-0, 5.63, with a 1.583 WHIP, 3.8 BB/9, and 7.9 K/9 in 24 innings. Hopefully the rust is now knocked off, and he can contribute more in 2019.
- Drew Rucinski (Luray 2008-2010), Miami Marlins. You could make the case to place Rucinski in the “full-timers” section, as he pitched in 16 games in the minors in 2018, and 32 in the majors. Anyway, coming into the season, he had appeared in only 9 major league games, so 2018 was his first sustained experience in the majors. He went 4-2, 4.33 for the Marlins, with a 1.33 WHIP, 3.3 BB/9, and 6.9 K/9 in 35 1/3 innings. Unfortunately, the Marlins removed him from the 40-man roster and sent him to Triple-A after the season, on October 26, and Drew has since declared free agency. He remains unsigned as of this writing.
The 17 pitchers combined for 1.5 WAR, which comes out to 0.09 per pitcher. This is the lowest total and average since 2014.
If you’re curious how it breaks down by VBL team:
- Staunton and Luray each have 6 (Luray 6 even though the franchise moved after 2012!)
- Harrisonburg- 4
- Covington, New Market, and Waynesboro- 3
- Haymarket, Winchester- 2
- Front Royal and Woodstock- 1
- Charles Town/Purcellville, Strasburg, and Charlottesville do not have any (yet). CT/Purcellville “began” in 2013, Strasburg in 2011, and Charlottesville in 2015. I’ll make a guess here- Strasburg’s first will be Kevin Herget (2012); CT/Purcellville’s will be Adam Parks (2013), and Charlottesville’s will be Tad Ratliff (2015).
Well there you have it, Brilliant Readers: an update on every single Valley League alumnus who appeared in the major leagues in 2018!