Craig Counsell, Manny Pina, Hernan Perez, Lorenzo Cain
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Three position players have already pitched in 2018

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The 2018 season is only ten days old, and already we’ve seen three position players take the mound. Usually one of the more entertaining moments of any given baseball game, these appearances have run the gamut from cringeworthy (i.e. necessary due to gruesome injuries) to impressive.

Last week, Phillies center fielder Pedro Florimon became the first position player to try his hand at pitching in 2018. Only two days after Opening Day, he was called upon to cover the eighth inning of a particularly brutal 15-2 beatdown by the Braves. He debuted a rudimentary fastball-changeup combo against the heart of Atlanta’s order: inducing two consecutive fly outs, issuing a four-pitch walk to Nick Markakis and granting pinch-hitter Lane Adams his first home run of the year.

Brewers utility player Hernan Perez, on the other hand, wasn’t given nearly as long of a leash when he took the mound during Thursday’s 8-0 loss to the Cubs. Of course, the circumstances surrounding his first pitching opportunity were also considerably more alarming: Milwaukee closer Corey Knebel labored through two outs in the ninth inning before collapsing on the mound with a hamstring injury. The first Brewers’ position player to take the mound at Miller Park in eight years, Perez was given the reins for the final out of the inning and promptly deposed Tommy La Stella with a line out to left field.

On Saturday, Rays second baseman Daniel Robertson stepped up to deliver the most impressive non-pitcher pitching performance of the year. Down 10-3 in the bottom of the eighth inning, he replaced Sergio Romo to face the top third of the Red Sox’ lineup. Armed with a changeup that fluttered between 74-77 mph, he put Brock Holt away with a pop-up to second base and induced back-to-back line outs from Andrew Benintendi and Blake Swihart to end the inning.

Per MLB.com’s Bill Chastain, Robertson was just the eighth position player to ever pitch for the Rays.

Never stop pitching, position players. (Well, do stop pitching, but thanks for the laughs.)

An Astros executive asked scouts to use cameras, binoculars to steal signs in 2017

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The Athletic reports that an Astros executive asked scouts to spy on opponents’ dugouts in August of 2017, suggesting in an email that they use cameras or binoculars to do so.

The email, ESPN’s Jeff Passan reports, came from Kevin Goldstein, who is currently a special assistant for player personnel but who at the time was the director of pro scouting. In it he wrote:

“One thing in specific we are looking for is picking up signs coming out of the dugout. What we are looking for is how much we can see, how we would log things, if we need cameras/binoculars, etc. So go to game, see what you can (or can’t) do and report back your findings.”

The email came during the same month that the Red Sox were found to have illegally used an Apple Watch to steal signs from the Yankees. The Red Sox were fined as a result, and it led to a clarification from Major League Baseball that sign stealing via electronic or technological means was prohibited. Early in 2019 Major League Baseball further emphasized this rule and stated that teams would receive heavy penalties, including loss of draft picks and/or bonus pool money if they were found to be in violation.

It’s an interesting question whether Goldstein’s request to scouts would fall under the same category as the Apple Watch stuff or other technology-based sign-stealing schemes. On the one hand, the email certainly asked scouts to use cameras and binoculars to get a look at opposing signs. On the other hand, it does not appear that it was part of a sign-relaying scheme or that it was to be used in real time. Rather, it seems aimed at information gathering for later use. The Athletic suggests that using eyes or binoculars would be considered acceptable in 2017 but that cameras would not be. The Athletic spoke to scouts and other front office people who all think that asking scouts to use a camera would “be over the line” or would constitute “cheating.”

Of course, given how vague, until very recently Major League Baseball’s rules have been about this — it’s long been governed by the so-called “unwritten rules” and convention, only recently becoming a matter of official sanction — it’s not at all clear how the league might consider it. It’s certainly part and parcel of an overarching sign-stealing culture in baseball which we are learning has moved far, far past players simply looking on from second base to try to steal signs, which has always been considered a simple matter of gamesmanship. Now, it appears, it is organizationally-driven, with baseball operations, scouting and audio-visual people being involved. The view on all of this has changed given how sophisticated and wide-ranging an operation modern sign-stealing appears to be. Major League Baseball was particularly concerned, at the time the Red Sox were punished for the Apple Watch stuff, that it involved management and front office personnel.

Regardless of how that all fits together, Goldstein’s email generated considerable angst among Astros scouts, many of whom, The Athletic and ESPN report, commented in real time via email and the Astros scout’s Slack channel, that they considered it to be an unreasonable request that would risk their reputations as scouts. Some voiced concern to management. Today that email has new life, emerging as it does in the wake of last week’s revelations about the Astros’ sign-stealing schemes.

This is quickly becoming the biggest story of the offseason.