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Hoos in the MLB: Former Virginia players climbing in the minors

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With 10 Hoos in the majors, let’s look at alumni making moves in the minors.

NCAA Baseball: College World Series-Vanderbilt vs Virginia
Josh Sborz and Matt Thaiss are both making moves in the minors.
Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

Yesterday, we looked at the 10 former Hoos who are currently in the major leagues or will be there this year. Today, let’s take a look around the various minor leagues to see where all of our Wahoos are playing and how they are doing thus far this year.

This list is shorter than it has been in past years, because several players were released prior to this season, but we’ll keep our eye on them to see if they sign somewhere during this year. Still, 18 minor leaguers combined with the 10 guys we checked in on yesterday makes a pretty good alumni network in professional baseball.

For this group, we’ll go in alphabetical order.

Stephen Bruno, 2B, Chicago Cubs – Bruno played a few games in AAA Iowa last year, but struggled to a .188 BA. He is back there this year, and so far hasn’t been much better. He’s batting .222 with a 467 OPS through 12 games and 23 ABs. He’s not starting and has come in as a replacement in more than half of his games. Still, being in AAA is a good sign for Bruno.

Branden Cogswell, 2B, Oakland Athletics – After missing all of last year with an injury, Cogswell is back in Stockton (California League), where he played in 2015. It’s early, but so far his numbers are solid. He’s batting .308 with a 814 OPS through 12 games and 39 ABs. He has seven RBI, four doubles and has walked the same number of times as he’s struck out (six).

Brandon Downes, OF, Kansas City Royals – Though Downes finished last season with a handful of games at AAA, he is back at High-A Wilmington in the Carolina League. The early results are very good, as Downes is batting .278 with a 1017 OPS to go along with a HR and two triples through five games. However, Downes hasn’t played since April 11th, and I can’t figure out why. We’ll track him to see if there’s an undisclosed injury or something along those lines.

Derek Fisher, OF, Houston Astros – The Astros have a lot of young talent, so Fisher is sitting in AAA Fresno waiting his turn. He’s not on the team’s 40 man roster, so he’s probably going to be waiting a while. Meanwhile, he continues to rake in AAA. He’s batting .271 with a 846 OPS through 16 games and 59 ABs. He has three HRs, seven RBI, 11 runs scored and two steals. He has nine walks, which is helping boost his .371 OBP, though he also has 18 Ks.

Nick Howard, P, Cincinnati Reds – Howard hasn’t pitched since last June 20th, and was placed on the DL on July 11th. No official word as to the nature of the injury. Some people have speculated that it’s simply a case of Steve Blass disease. Those who watched him pitch for the Hoos would believe it, as Howard was averaging well over a walk an inning in High-A ball, which is incredibly high. He simply couldn’t find the strike zone consistently. He’s not listed on the roster for any affiliate of the Reds at this moment. Could be working in extended spring training,.

Connor Jones, SP, St Louis Cardinals – Jones threw just less than 15 innings in the pros last year after being drafted last June. He’s starting for the Palm Beach Cardinals of the High-A Florida State League. Through two starts, he’s got a 1.64 ERA and 1.18 WHIP over 11 IP. He’s struck out just five with five walks, which is concerning. Still, he’s just 22 years old, so he’ll likely be given plenty of time in A-ball.

Nathan Kirby, SP, Milwaukee Brewers – After undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2015, Kirby hasn’t pitched since. He’s been working out at the Brewers spring training complex.

Branden Kline, RP, Baltimore Orioles – Like Kirby, Kline had Tommy John surgery in 2015 and hasn’t pitched yet. He’s on the roster for the Bowie Baysox. But he’s on the 7-day DL. We’ll see if, and how much, he’s able to pitch this year.

John La Prise, 2B, Toronto Blue Jays – After finishing last season at High-A Dunedin, John was sent back there this year. Right now, he’s on the DL and hasn’t played yet this year.

Artie Lewicki, SP, Detroit Tigers – Lewicki is back at AA Erie in the Eastern League. He’s started three times and has a 7.43 ERA and a 1.80 WHIP. Those numbers are not good. But he has 14 Ks versus just 6 BBs in 13.1 IP. He started 12 times at Erie last year and had a 3.48 ERA and 1.19 WHIP. His numbers will likely return to those levels as the season progresses.

Whit Mayberry, SP, Washington Nationals – Mayberry bounced between the rotation and bullpen last year and seems likely to do that again this year. So far, he’s pitched out of the pen twice, at High-A Potomac in the Carolina League. He has a 3.00 ERA and 1.33 WHIP over six IP. He’s struck out four and walked two (one intentionally).

Joe McCarthy, OF, Tampa Bay Rays – Joe was promoted to AA Montgomery in the Southern League, and so far is adjusting well. He’s batting .265 with a 735 OPS. He has one HR, five RBI and two steals. He’s walked eight times in 14 games (49 ABs) versus 13 strike outs.

Mike Papi, OF, Cleveland Indians – Papi finished last season in AA and played pretty well, with a 738 OPS in 78 games and 259 ABs. So far this year, he’s played 15 games with 48 ABs and he has a 659 OPS. His OBP is a solid .367, but hasn’t yet hit for any power (.292 SLG). Last year, he had a .340 OBP, but hit eight HRs. The power will come, and if the plate discipline remains (more BBs than Ks so far), he’ll be looking at a promotion to AAA before too long.

Daniel Pinero, SS, Detroit Tigers – In his first full-season action, Pinero isn’t hitting much. He’s at Low-A West Michigan in the Midwest League and is batting just .191 with a 503 OPS. He’s got 11 Ks and four BB in 47 ABs. He does have two doubles and three RBI. He was never going to be much of a hitter, but he’s a slick fielding shortstop. He’ll have to hit more than this though.

Will Roberts, SP, Cleveland Indians – Roberts finished last year on the disabled list, last pitching on July 26th(after nearly a month off). He’s still on the DL, though he is listed on the roster for the Columbus Clippers in AAA. I can’t find a report of the nature of the injury, except to say that it was a significant injury.

Josh Sborz, SP, Los Angeles Dodgers – After spending time in extended spring training, Sborz was sent back to AA Tulsa in the Texas League. He pitched well there last year, with a 3.78 ERA and 1.38 WHIP over 16.2 IP. In his first start this year, he was shelled for five ER in 3.2 IP. He has a 14.73 ERA and a 1.91 ERA over 7.1 IP. Hopefully, this is just a blip.

Matt Thaiss, 1B, Los Angeles Angels – A promotion to High-A Inland Empire was Thaiss’ reward for his strong play last year after being drafted in June. So far, he has 66 ABs over 16 games and is batting just .212 with a 697 OPS. He has three HR and nine RBI to go along with a 13:11 K/BB ratio (which is very good). Thaiss has always been complimented for his approach at the plate. His numbers will improve as he gets used to the pitching at this level.

Brandon Waddell, SP, Pittsburgh Pirates – Back at AA Altoona in the Eastern League, Waddell is hoping to improve on last year’s 4.12 ERA and 1.55 WHIP over 118 IP. Waddell started once this year, giving up four ER on three hits in four IP. He struck out five and walked just one. He was placed on the DL with a forearm strain just the other day after having his 2nd start pushed back.

If we missed anybody, please let me know in the comments. As I mentioned, there are a few guys who were released prior to this season. They are still on my list, so I'll keep checking up on them.