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Houston Astros minor leaguer Forrest Whitley, one of the game’s top pitching prospects, has been suspended 50 games for a violation of minor league baseball’s drug program, Major League Baseball announced on Wednesday.

Whitley’s suspension is without pay.

“Obviously as an organization we’re going to suffer a little bit, but we’re still hopeful and optimistic that Forrest can be a big part of our future,” general manager Jeff Luhnow said.

Whitley, 20, was the Astros’ first-round pick in 2016 (17th overall). A product of Alamo Heights High School in San Antonio, Whitley advanced from low-A ball to Double-A last season. He was a combined 5-4 with a 2.83 ERA and 143 strikeouts in 92⅓ innings with three minor league teams last season, including four appearances for Double-A Corpus Christi in which he posted a 1.84 ERA.

Luhnow wouldn’t provide details on what led to the suspension, but he did say Whitley was remorseful and he believes he will learn from his mistake.

“On the pitching side I don’t have any concerns, he’s going to continue to develop and this is part of maturity,” Luhnow said. “When you’re a high school player and you get drafted and you’re a top prospect there’s a lot of pressure that goes along with that role. And I don’t know if that had anything to do with this, but there’s a maturation process going from high school and the big leagues and this is one step along the way for him.”

The Astros have fended off recent trade interest in the 6-foot-7 right-hander, who is ranked eighth among the top 100 prospects this spring, according to ESPN’s Keith Law.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Ryan Zimmerman seals deal with Washington Nationals, says this might not be last year

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WASHINGTON — Now that he’s set to play for the Washington Nationals this season, Ryan Zimmerman might stick around a little longer, too.

Zimmerman and the Nationals made it official Saturday, announcing his $1 million, one-year contract. The deal came after the Nats’ longest-tenured player opted out of the coronavirus-shortened 2020 season.

“If I can settle into this role and do well this year, by no means does this have to be my last year,” the 36-year-old Zimmerman said on a video call with reporters. “At least that’s the way I’m looking at it.”

Zimmerman is a two-time All-Star and bats right-handed. His playing time likely will diminish after Washington traded for switch-hitting first baseman Josh Bell from Pittsburgh last month.

It’s still uncertain whether the National League will employ the designated hitter this year. It was used as part of the new rules added for the virus-abbreviated season.

Zimmerman, however, wasn’t looking for a new opportunity in another city.

“Playing anywhere else would be really weird. Wouldn’t really be worth it,” he said.

Zimmerman has played 15 seasons in the majors, all for the Nationals. They took him with their first pick in the 2005 draft soon after moving from Montreal to Washington.

Zimmerman boosted the franchise to its World Series championship in 2019. He didn’t play last year, choosing to sit out because of concerns about his family’s health during the pandemic. His mother has multiple sclerosis; he and his wife had their third child last year.

“Me coming back this year was in no means for like a victory lap sort of thing,” he said. “This is about coming back because I still think I can play the game at a high level, and I still think I can help the team win.”

The Nationals went 26-34 last season, tied with the Mets for last in the NL East.

Zimmerman batted .257 with six homers and 27 RBIs in 171 at-bats in 2019. He is a career .279 hitter with 270 home runs and 1,015 RBIs.

Zimmerman said he was pretty certain he’d return to the diamond.

“I don’t think it was ever 100%, but I don’t think it was under, like, 95%,” he said. “Once I was hanging out at home and watching the games and kind of getting into life without baseball, I think that number shot up to pretty close to 100% very quickly on my end.”

Zimmerman thanked general manager Mike Rizzo and the organization for the chance to play again.

“I didn’t know if they were going to offer me a major league deal, or if they were going to want me to come down on a minor league deal,” he said. “I’m 36 years old, and I haven’t played baseball in a year. So I think that shows, obviously, the respect that [Rizzo] and the team have for me. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate that.”

Zimmerman gave up a $2 million salary last season, but received a $2 million buyout for the declined option at the end of his previous contract.

In addition to his $1 million base salary this year, Zimmerman can earn $250,000 for games: $50,000 each for 50, 65, 80, 95 and 100. He also can make $250,000 for plate appearances: $50,000 apiece for 200, 250, 300, 350 and 400.

He also gets a one-day use of Nationals Park for charity, as a provision in his contract.

Zimmerman’s deal includes $500,000 if he’s league MVP or $200,000 if he finishes second through fifth in voting. He would get $100,000 for making the All-Star team and another $100,000 if he’s the top vote-getter. Zimmerman would earn $250,000 for World Series MVP, $150,000 for League Championship Series MVP, $100,000 for Gold Glove, $100,000 for Silver Slugger, $100,000 for the Hank Aaron Award and $100,000 if he is Baseball America or The Sporting News player of the year.

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Garrett Richards, Boston Red Sox reach 1-year, $10 million deal, sources say

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Starting pitcher Garrett Richards and the Boston Red Sox have agreed to a one-year, $10 million deal, sources told ESPN’s Jeff Passan on Saturday.

The deal is pending a physical.

Richards’ biggest success during the pandemic-shortened season was staying healthy. The veteran right-hander made 10 starts for the San Diego Padres in 2020, going 2-2 with a 4.03 ERA, 46 strikeouts and 17 walks. He was moved to the bullpen late in the season and during the playoffs.

The 32-year-old veteran fared much better against right-handed hitters (.589 OPS) than left-handers, who had an .853 OPS against him during the season.

Richards has had a long history of arm injuries. He had Tommy John surgery to repair his damaged ulnar collateral ligament after making 16 starts for the Los Angeles Angels in 2018, and he signed with the Padres after that season with the knowledge that he’d be rehabbing for most of the first year of his two-year, $15 million deal. He did get back on the mound for San Diego late in the 2019 season, posting an 8.31 ERA in 8 2/3 innings over three starts.

Another ACL injury, for which he had stem-cell and platelet-rich plasma treatment, limited Richards to just six starts in 2016, and he made only six starts in ’17 because of biceps irritation.

He also tore his left patellar tendon in 2014 while covering first base at Fenway Park, prematurely ending an upstart season

Richards, who was a member of the Angels for his first eight seasons, has a 47-41 career record with a 3.62 ERA and 702 strikeouts and 291 walks.

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Houston Astros trade Cionel Perez to Cincinnati Reds for Luke Berryhill

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HOUSTON — The Astros traded left-hander Cionel Perez to the Cincinnati Reds for minor league catcher Luke Berryhill on Saturday.

The 24-year-old Perez pitched seven games in relief last season, going 0-0 with a 2.84 ERA.

In parts of three seasons for the Astros, he is 1-1 with a 5.74 ERA in 20 games, pitching 26 2/3 innings, striking out 27 and walking 15.

The 22-year-old Berryhill hit .240 in eight games in 2019 for Greeneville at the rookie level. He didn’t play in any games last year because of the minor league shutdown caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

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