Monday, May 21, 2018

Luis Mercedes, Tough Situation - 16

Originally published April 5, 2013
Luis Mercedes hoped for a return to the majors out of spring training in 1992. What he got was a return to AAA, according to The Baltimore Sun.

"He wouldn't be human if he wasn't disappointed. There's a lot of great things going on here," Mercedes' agent Mike Powers told The Sun after the decision was made. "He was in a tough situation here -- he'll go down and wait his turn."

Mercedes' turn did eventually come again that year, a turn that lasted for 23 games with Baltimore, after 19 he logged the season before. In all, Mercedes' turns got him to the bigs in parts of three seasons, playing with both the Orioles and the Giants.

Mercedes' career began in 1987, signed by the Orioles as an undrafted free agent out of his native Dominican Republic.

With the Orioles, Mercedes started at rookie Bluefield, hitting .274 in 59 games. He moved to single-A Frederick in 1989 and then AA Hagerstown in 1990.

At Hagerstown, Mercedes hit .334, stealing 38 bases. He also made the Eastern League season-ending All-Star team. For 1991, Mercedes made AAA Rochester. In September, he made Baltimore.

As a September 1991 call up, Mercedes got into 19 games, hitting .204. Returning for 1992, Mercedes got into those 23 games, but hit just .140.

In late-September 1992, Mercedes looked forward to 1993, hoping for a regular spot on the Baltimore roster, or some other major league roster, according to The Sun.

"I never get frustrated because I'm a young man," Mercedes told The Sun. "No matter what they do to me, I have to keep my mind going all the way. No matter if it's here or somewhere else, I'll keep going, and I'll play hard and give 110 percent all the time."

Mercedes started 1993 with Baltimore, getting into 10 games in April, hitting .292. In late-April, though, he was sent to the Giants for Kevin McGehee. With the Giants, Mercedes got into 18 games, hitting .160. They were the last 16 games of his major league career.

After not being recorded as playing in 1994, Mercedes returned for one final season as a pro in 1995. He got 25 games with the Pirates at AAA Calgary, playing the remainder of the year in Mexico, ending his career.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Joel McKeon, Working Forkball - 14

Originally published May 24, 2013
Joel McKeon didn't get much of a chance to show what he could do in spring training 1986, The Chicago Tribune wrote. That's because he hurt his wrist.

At AAA Buffalo in April, though, McKeon showed exactly what he could do. He also earned his first call up to the majors.

"I had my forkball working," the new White Sox pitcher McKeon told The Tribune of his time at Buffalo. "Hopefully, it will stay."

For McKeon, his forkball and other pitchers ended up working well enough to keep him up in Chicago into July, until illness cut his season short. His pitches also worked well enough to get him back to Chicago the next year. In a pro career that continued another four seasons, though, he wouldn't return.

McKeon's career began in 1982, taken by the White Sox in the first round of the June secondary draft, out of Miami-Dade College in Florida.

With the White Sox, McKeon got 11 starts his first season, four in the rookie Gulf Coast League and seven after making the jump to AA Glens Falls. At Glens Falls, he went 5-2, with a 3.00 ERA.

After playing at single-A Appleton in 1983, McKeon returned to Glens Falls for 1984 as as reliever. McKeon got into 45 games that year for Glens Falls, five starts, posting an ERA of 3.64.

McKeon moved to AAA Buffalo in 1985, returning there to start 1986. It was that May 3 that McKeon made his debut with Chicago.

McKeon ultimately got into 30 games in relief for the White Sox in 1987, posting a 2.45 ERA. He also picked up three wins and a save.

McKeon picked up his second relief win by mid-May, the second coming on two innings of work, The Tribune wrote.

"I told him that we'd use him," White Sox manager Tony LaRussa told The Tribune after that second McKeon win. "Spots on the major-league roster are precious. If you have a guy for a certain role, you use him."

By July, McKeon was pitching well. Then he came down with hepatitis, having to be hospitalized, The Tribune wrote. His teammates also had to get preventative shots. He was out for the year.

He came back for 1987, but his numbers suffered. After 11 outings, his ERA hit 8.00 and he got sent back down. But he pitched well enough there to get another chance in July.

"I'm starting to get the forkball over," McKeon told The Tribune. "Ive quit trying to throw the ball past hitters when you don't throw that hard. I've got my timing together. Hopefully, it will show."

McKeon, though, lasted just two more outings, his last giving up four earned runs in 2.2 innings of work.

McKeon continued playing through 1991, moving through the Padres, Braves and Expos systems, before landing with the Orioles for his final two seasons, ending his career without returning to the majors.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Frank DiMichele, Made Of - 26

Originally published Oct. 1, 2017
Fresh off a season where he saw four outings in the majors, Frank DiMichele vowed to get back, according to The Los Angeles Times.

"I'm going to show what Frank DiMichele is made of," DiMichele told The Times in August 1989. "I had a taste (of the majors). Now I know what it takes."

Despite his brief stint in the majors the previous year, DMichele played 1989 back at AA. He played two more seasons after that, but those four big league outings proved to be the entire make up of his big league career. He didn't get back.

DiMichele's career began in 1985, taken by the Angels in the 15th round out of Community College of Philadelphia.

He started with the Angels at short-season Salem. He got into nine games, starting eight. He went 1-5, with a 5.83 ERA. He left an early August game with a sore elbow.

DiMichele returned to the field with single-A Quad City for 1986. He went 7-10, with a 3.67 mark. He then moved to single-A Palm Springs for 1987, going 6-9.

Invited to spring training 1988, the lefty DiMichele caught some eyes immediately. Among those eyes was Angels manager Gene Mauch, according to The Times.

"If DiMichele sneaks in there, what'd be wrong with that?" Mauch told The Times. "I don't know what's he's going to do, but he's definitely got my attention."

DiMichele took advantage. He waited until March 24 to give up his first run and pitched well enough to earn the title "hotshot rookie." He was also counted among the leading candidates for a roster spot.

Not having played above single-A, DiMichele made the team. He debuted April 8. He got into four games in all and gave up five earned in 4.2 innings if relief.

He played the rest of that year at AAA Edmonton and AA Midland. He then returned to Midland for all of 1989.

In 1990, he started at Midland and then moved to the Padres at AA Wichita. He then finished out his career with 22 relief outings at AA Reading in 1991.

DiMichele has since returned home to Pennsylvania. He spent time as a coach and head coach at LaSalle University. More recently, he teaches pitching through in Norristown, Pa.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Andy Hall, Position Change - 35

Originally published Oct. 5, 2017
The El Cajon Little Leaguers needed a solid relief performance to ensure a slot in the 1977 Little League World Series championship game and Andy Hall delivered.

The young California hurler and outfielder, changed positions from the outfield to the mound to get the final three outs to eliminate Rotterdam, NY's Carmen Little League by a score of 6-3, according to The Associated Press.

Hall went on from the Little League World Series years later to turn pro, and focus on another position change. The professional catcher Hall played a total of nine seasons. He made AAA, but not the bigs.

Hall's pro career began in 1983, taken by the Pirates in the third round of the draft out of El Cajon High School.

He started with the Pirates in the rookie Gulf Coast League. He got into 40 games as a catcher and hit .287.

Hall then started 1984 in Pirates camp. He played the season at single-A Macon. He hit .190 in 73 games.

He played briefly at short-season Watertown in 1985 then a full season between Macon and short-season Tri-Cities in 1986. He hit .208 on the year with six home runs.

Hall first made it above single-A in 1989. He made AA Harrisburg and then AAA Buffalo. A fielding miscue in the outfield led to a Hall triple that scored two in a May game for Buffalo.

Hall moved to the Angels system later that year and got time at AA Midland. He saw eight games there to finish out 1989. Injuries then limited his 1990 playing time to just seven total games.

Hall played one final season in 1991, at independent high-A Miami. He hit .175 over 39 games to end his career.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Brandy Vann, Just Pitch - 34

Originally published May 12, 2015
Brandy Vann started over in a new organization in spring 1991. He also wasn't intimidated, according to The Milwaukee Sentinel.

It was Vann's sixth professional season and he was hoping to move up, he told The Sentinel.

"I've tried to go out and pitch and not worry about everything," Vann told The Sentinel. "I feel I belong. I just want to try to not overthrow - just pitch like I can pitch."

Vann first made AA the previous season in the Angels system. He returned to AA with the Brewers in 1991, but also got time at high-A. He didn't make AAA for another two seasons. He never made the majors.

Vann's career began in 1986, taken by the Angels in the first round of the January draft out of Butler County Community College in Oklahoma.

Vann started with the Angels at short-season Salem. He got into 20 games, starting four. He had a 7.06 ERA.

He moved to single-A Quad City for 1987, returning there in 1988. He went 10-11 in 27 starts in 1988. He also had a 3.06 ERA.

Vann split time in 1990 between high-A Palm Springs and AA Midland. He made it to Midland by the start of July.

"I thought I'd be here when the season started," Vann told The Oklahoman after the move. "But I guess it's better late than never."

Overall, Vann went 3-5 between Palm Springs and Midland that year. He moved to the bullpen, getting into 60 games without a start.

Vann impressed enough that year to catch the eye of the Brewers as the club took him in that December's minor league draft.

"Those are the kinds of arms you look for," Brewers farm director Bruce Manno told The Sentinel that December. "We really felt he was a guy we couldn't pass on."

Vann then played 1991 between high-A Stockton and AA El Paso. He had a 2.25 ERA in his 23 outings at Stockton. At El Paso, his ERA increased to 9.85 over 19 outings.

He returned to El Paso for 1992, then moved to the Mets and AAA Norfolk for 1993. At Norfolk, He went 4-4, with a 3.22 ERA over 53 outings. It was his final season in affiliated ball.

Vann returned for one more season, at independent Brainerd. He got 18 outings there, with a 3.12 ERA, ending his career.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Wiley Lee, Competitive Nature - 31

Originally published Oct. 1, 2017
Wiley Lee recalled in 2014 seeing a rare competitive edge in future major leaguer Justin Upton, he told USA Today.

Lee coached Upton at Great Bridge High School in Virginia, helping guide him to the first overall selection in the 2005 draft out of Great Bridge.

"You only had to pull him back, but you never had to make him go," Lee recalled to USA Today. "If there was some top pitcher in the state or in the Tidewater area, he was more than willing to take a shot at that guy on the mound. He was very, very competitive."

Lee was competitive enough years earlier to see his own career in the pros. Lee played four seasons. He made AA, but not the majors. He has, however, since gone on to a career as a coach and instructor, helping players like Upton on to the pros.

Lee's career began in 1987, taken by the Angels in the fifth round of the draft out of Old Dominion.

At Old Dominion, Lee swiped 120 bases over his career and only got caught 12 times. He made the national team in 1986. He hit a home run against Japan.

He started with the Angels at short-season Salem. He hit .286 over 57 games and stole 21 bases. He moved to single-A Quad City for 1988 and stole another 55 bases over 102 games.

Lee made single-A Palm Springs for 1989 and recorded 66 stolen bases over the year. He knocked in two runs on a hit in a July game, among his 57 total RBI that year.

Lee arrived at AA Midland for 1990. He hit .297 over 102 games, knocked eight home run and stole 45 bases. That season marked his last as a pro.

Lee later started his coaching career. He returned home to Virginia and took the helm at Great Bridge in 1998. He stayed there through 2011, watching over Upton and 40 others who went on to play in college. He also won two state championships.

He then served as a coach at Norfolk State and works as an instructor in 2017 at Great Neck Baseball Academy in Virginia.

In 2011, he stepped down at Great Bridge following his second championship. His second baseman Hunter Higgerson told The Norfolk Virginian-Pilot what he meant to the school.

"He's an icon, not only to Great Bridge but to the whole community," Higgerson told The Virginian-Pilot. "We know he'll always be there for us, and we'll always be there for him."

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Joe Grahe, His Ability - 33

Originally published Sept. 16, 2017
Joe Grahe came into this September 1991 with a 1-7 record and still looking for his first win as a starter, according to UPI.

Grahe responded by throwing a complete-game that ended in a walk-off Angels win and a win for Grahe, UPI wrote.

"I've been able to get a big monkey off my back," Grahe told UPI afterward. "It's not a question of doubting my ability. It was just a question of when am I going to get a break and win a game."

Grahe's focus later turned from notching wins for himself to wins for the team, and recording saves in the process. He turned closer for the Angels the next year and tallied 21 saves. He then tallied double-digit saves his next two seasons.

Overall, Grahe played in seven major league seasons, recorded 22 wins and 45 major league saves.

Grahe's career began in 1989, taken by the Angels in the second round of the draft out of the University of Miami.

At Miami, Grahe earned the description "one of the finest pitchers" in school history over his three seasons. He completed 11 games in 1988 and 10 in 1989, school records. He also recorded 433 strikeouts and 34 wins. He later won induction into the school's Hall of Fame.

Grahe also recorded Miami's only win in the 1989 College World Series. He threw a five-hitter and struck out eight.

"We hit the home runs and played pretty good defense," Miami Coach Ron Fraser told reporters after the win. "But I thought the night belonged to Joe Grahe."

With the Angels, Grahe started in 1990 and quickly climbed the ladder. He played at AA Midland, AAA Edmonton and then, in August, debuted with California.

Grahe started eight games for the Angels in 1990. He went 3-4, with a 4.98 ERA. He then returned for 1991 and finished 3-7, with a 4.81 ERA over 18 outings, 10 starts.

Grahe then turned closer mid-season 1992. He saved those 21 games for the Angels, but let an August one get away with some wildness.

"I was trying to run a 'cutter' in on him," Grahe told The Los Angeles Times after the loss. "It's been a good pitch for me, but I got a little overaggressive and it hit him. It can happen that way."

Grahe returned to the Angels for 45 more relief outings in 1993. He saved 11. He then got 40 outings in 1994 and saved 13.

He played 1995 with the Rockies, getting into 17 games, starting nine. He went 4-3, with a 5.08 ERA.

Grahe then underwent shoulder surgery. He lost all of 1996 and then played 1997 in independent ball and 1998 in independent ball and the minors before he returned for one final stint in the bigs in 1999 with the Phillies. He recorded his first win back in September.

"It was a long road back," Grahe told The Associated Press after the win. "I went through some tough times, but I still had faith in myself."

Grahe played his last games in the minors in 2000. He has since returned home to Florida, where he works in real estate.


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