Thursday, September 04, 2008

Up From the Valley (Part 3)

The third, and final, installment of this series, highlighting the best major league players who once played for the Hudson Valley Renegades, includes one solid part-time player and three potential future stars, two of whom were selected to this year's All-Star Game. The first two installments can be found here:

Up From the Valley (Part 1)
Up From the Valley (Part 2)

Matt Diaz (1999)Matt Diaz
Matt Diaz was drafted by the Devil Rays in 1999, and played that season with Hudson Valley. He worked his way gradually through the organization's system and, after hitting .383 at AA Orlando and .328 at AAA Durham in 2003, was promoted to Tampa Bay. However, he didn't get much of a chance at the major league level, with a total of only 30 at bats between 2003 and 2004. Despite batting .332, with 21 HR and 93 RBI at Durham in 2004, he was released by Tampa Bay in the off-season.

He was subsequently signed by Kansas City and played most of 2005 at AAA Omaha, batting .371, with 14 HR and 56 RBI in 259 at bats. Still, he was traded in the off-season to the Atlanta Braves. It was with the Braves that he was finally given the opportunity to prove himself at the major league level. Between 2006 and 2007, as a platoon left fielder, he batted .333 with 19 HR, 81 runs and 77 RBI in 655 at bats.

His 2008 season has been marred by injury, though, as he's been out for three months with a left knee injury. Despite this, his career numbers (.310, 23 HR, 102 runs, 103 RBI in 906 at bats) are solid enough to expect that he should be able to return and continue a productive career as a platoon outfielder.

Josh Hamilton (1999)Josh Hamilton
By now, everyone knows the Josh Hamilton story: first-round draft pick (#1 overall) of the Devil Rays in 1999, after which he began his ascent through the organization, including helping to lead the Renegades to their first New York-Penn League championship in his first professional season. He actually batted only .194 in 72 AB with Hudson Valley that year. Still, his progression through the minors continued until injuries and drug problems put his career on hold following the 2002 season.

He was out of baseball from 2003 until his reinstatement from drug suspension in 2006. That year, he made a brief appearance with Hudson Valley again, but batted .260 and slugged only .360, with 0 HR in 50 at bats.

In the off-season following 2006, he was left unprotected by Tampa Bay and was selected in the Rule 5 draft by the Chicago Cubs, who subsequently sold his rights to the Cincinnati Reds. Since the Rule 5 draft requires the selected player to remain on the team's major league roster for an entire season, this turned out to be Hamilton's big break. Injuries to other Reds outfielders paved the way for him to earn considerable playing time, but his own injuries also limited him to 90 games and 298 at bats. He made the most of those at bats, though, hitting .292 with 19 HR and 47 RBI.

Cincinnati traded him in the off-season to the Texas Rangers, for Edinson Volquez, in a deal that's turned out well for both teams, with both players selected to play in the 2008 All-Star Game. So far this season, Hamilton has batted .301, with 31 HR and a major-league leading 121 RBI, and has emerged as a candidate for American League Most Valuable Player, despite playing for a team with a losing record. It may be a little early to say, but it appears he may be emerging as the tremendous player he was projected to be when drafted, and quite possibly one of the best in the game.

James Shields (2001)James Shields
Jamie Shields, as he was then called, was drafted by Tampa Bay in 2000, and played for the Renegades briefly in 2001. After a strong first professional season, injuries and ineffectiveness slowed his progress for the next few years.

Shields turned things around in 2005, though, posting a 2.80 ERA with 104 SO and just 31 BB in 109 1/3 innings at AA Montgomery. Then, a strong start at AAA Durham in 2006 (2.66 ERA, 64 SO, 6 BB in 61 IP) earned him a promotion to the big leagues. His rookie season was unimpressive, though, as he went 6-8 with a 4.84 ERA, but still struck out 104 batters in 124 2/3 innings.

Somewhere along the way, he started going by his given name, James, again. 2007 turned out to be James' breakout year, as he showed his potential to team with Scott Kazmir as an effective 1-2 punch at the top of the Tampa Bay rotation, going 12-8 with a 3.85 ERA and 184 SO, to just 36 BB, in 215 innings. This year, he's built on that impressive 2007 season, and is one of several reasons why the Rays currently own the best record in the majors. His 12-8 record, 3.66 ERA, 140 SO, and just 35 BB, in 184 2/3 innings have demonstrated his ability to be the staff ace, a role he had to assume for the first month of the season due to an injury to Kazmir.

Other than a propensity to give up the long ball (66 HR in 524 career IP), Shields' statistics, particularly an almost 4-1 strikeout/walk ratio (428 SO, 109 BB), his stuff and his makeup show his potential to be a dominant major league starting pitcher.

Evan Longoria (2006)Evan Longoria
Tampa Bay made Evan Longoria the third overall pick in the 2006 draft. He batted .424, with 4 HR, 11 RBI and an .879 slugging percentage in just 33 at bats at Hudson Valley before being promoted. Following that brief stint, he quickly rose through the organization, batting .304, with 44 HR and 153 RBI in 733 at bats in his two full minor league seasons.

He didn't make the Tampa Bay squad out of spring training this year, but quickly was called up following an injury to Willy Aybar. He's made the most of this opportunity, batting .278 with 22 HR and 71 RBI, before a wrist injury sidelined him in early August.

He joined fellow former Renegade Hamilton on the American League All-Star team, and is still among the top Rookie of the Year candidates, despite missing close to a month with the aforementioned injury. Wrist injuries are always cause for concern, of course, but he's expected back within the next couple of weeks, and his ability to return to his pre-injury productiveness remains one of the keys to the Rays run to the post-season. Assuming the injury has no impact on his future, the sky appears to be the limit for Longoria's career.


  1. I saw your heading, Dan, and thought for a millisecond that you had posted about visiting us. Better luck next time! Come down to the valley anytime where the grass is green (or will be) and the girls are pretty. Ok, ok, the kids are cute and the food is free.

  2. It's always great when someone quotes Guns 'N' Roses in my blog.