Frank Viola — the best pitcher in the history of Long Island — was all over the lobby down at the Winter Meetings last month. I figured it was just because he lives down in Florida and was meeting and greeting, but maybe he was there on the make for a job. He just got one: he’s been named the pitching coach for the Brooklyn Cyclones, the Mets’ Class A team. This is my favorite part of the story:
In addition to Viola and Backman, former Mets players Tim Teufel, Mookie Wilson, Howard Johnson, Randy Niemann, Keith Hernandez and Ron Darling all have jobs in the organization or with the team-owned SNY cable network.
I know Viola wasn’t with the team then, but that factoid made me go back and check out the 1986 Mets’ Baseball-Reference page. One of my favorite time wasters is to figure out who the most obscure and/or most unexpected player to actually pitch an inning or make a plate appearance for a famous team. Call them the Eddie Matthews All-Stars if you will. It can be a Hall of Famer who made an otherwise unmemorable cameo with a World Series team like Matthews did with the 1968 Tigers. It can be some random former prospect for a team you root for who somehow stumbled forward several years to pinch hit five times for a winner after you figured he was selling cars for a living.
I think my vote for the 1986 Mets was former Tiger jack-of-all-trades, Tim Corcoran, who used to get talked up a bit in late 70s Tigers publications. There’s almost always one.
None of this has anything to do with Frank Viola, of course. But that’s how my mind works when it’s the offseason and nothin’ is going on.
Veteran utilityman Reid Brignac is in camp with the Astros on a minor league deal. The 31-year-old is close to being done as a major leaguer as he owns a career .219/.264/.309 triple-slash line across parts of nine seasons. In an effort to prolong his big league career, Brignac is now attempting to become a switch-hitter, MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart reports.
I’m going to try it out this year. It was something that I just thought long and hard about and I was like, ‘OK, I’m going to try and see how it goes.’ I used to switch-hit when I was younger off and on, nothing consistent. I could always handle the bat right-handed. I play golf right-handed, so I do a lot of things that way that feel natural.
I just want to get to the point where I’m trying to stay in games, not get pinch-hit for, not starting games because a lefty is starting. … That could help me stay in the games longer. I’m trying to add a new element. I play multiple positions and now if I can switch hit and be consistent at it, then that can only help me.
As Brignac mentions, he’s also verstile. He’s a shortstop by trade, but has also logged plenty of innings at second base and third base, and has occasionally played corner outfield.
There aren’t any examples — at least that I can think of — where players began switch-hitting late in their careers and actually succeeding in the major leagues. As the saying goes, you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. But here’s hoping Brignac bucks the trend.
Angels shortstop Andrelton Simmons fell off the map a bit last year due to a combination of the Angels’ mediocrity, Simmons’ lack of offense, and a month-plus of missed action due to a torn ligament in his left thumb.
Simmons is still as good and as smart as ever on defense. That was on full display Monday when the Angels hosted the Padres for an afternoon spring exhibition.
With a runner on first base and nobody out in the top of the second inning, Carlos Asuaje grounded a 2-0 J.C. Ramirez fastball to right field. The runner, Hunter Renfroe, advanced to third base. Meanwhile, Asuaje wandered a little too far off the first base bag. Simmons cut off the throw to first base, spun around and fired to Luis Valbuena at first base. Valbuena swiped the tag on Asuaje for the first out of the inning.