Today, April 5, marks our second Opening Day of the 2018 baseball season. Last Thursday was MLB's Opening Day, but today might hit a little closer to home, literally, for many of you: It is Opening Day for Minor League Baseball.If I want to see the best baseball players in
Today, April 5, marks our second Opening Day of the 2018 baseball season. Last Thursday was MLB's Opening Day, but today might hit a little closer to home, literally, for many of you: It is Opening Day for Minor League Baseball.
If I want to see the best baseball players in the world, I'll go to a Major League Baseball game. But if I just want baseball, any baseball -- and I think we can all understand this specific state of being -- nothing beats the Minors. The tickets are cheaper, the seats are closer to the field, the beer is just as cold as it is in the big league parks (and also cheaper) and the mascots are flat-out horrifying.
Minor League Baseball is truly wonderful and, unless you live in a city with an MLB team already, it's probably just around the corner from you.
And the season begins tonight. You can look for the game nearest you right here.
The primary draw of any Minor League game is to see future big league stars -- maybe even your team's future big league stars. I remember catching Gary Sanchez at a Staten Island Yankees game back in 2010 and … well, honestly, not noticing much of anything special about him at all. (I am a bad scout.) But I'd argue it's just as much fun to see the opposite of that: Past Major League players, still hanging on, trying to get back to the bigs one last time.
In the past, you had to pay Major League prices to watch these guys. Now, you can see them plying their trade down there with the kids, the way they did years before. You always have to make the climb to the Majors; sometimes, at the end of your career, you just have to do it again.
So I thought, today, I'd look the 10 most fascinating former Major League players who will open tonight's Opening Day on Triple-A rosters. These are all names you will recognize, players who had legitimate Major League careers and are still plunging forward, fighting tooth and nail to reach the bigs again.
One caveat: We're not counting players who are on an injury assignment, or were signed late in the season and are working themselves back into playing shape, virtually assured of a roster spot when they're ready. (Those are, of course, common, and have, in fact, included some Hall of Famers.) This is just guys whose names you will know but may have forgotten about, guys who haven't given up yet. Who can blame them? We wouldn't give up, either.
Chris Carter, Salt Lake Bees
Two years ago -- two years ago! -- Carter led the National League in home runs. And now here he is, presumably launching bombs deep into the Utah night and waiting for the Angels to be in need of a right-handed power bat. Carter leaned into the Three True Outcomes revolution maybe a little too hard: The year he hit 41 homers for Milwaukee, he struck out 206 times and walked 76. Counting his nine HBP, this means that 52 percent of his plate appearances didn't require a fielder to move a muscle.
Carter is only 31; if, say, Jose Pujols has to go on the DL anytime this season, Carter can fill in without anybody even noticing, really.
Allen Craig, El Paso Chihuahuas
Craig was a borderline star for the Cardinals from 2011-13, and St. Louisans will never forget him catching the final out of the immortal 2011 World Series. But after 2013, when he missed the last month with a foot injury -- one that he might have reinjured on the infamous obstruction play in the 2013 World Series -- Craig fell off a cliff. He hit only nine more big league homers after that, and once he was traded (for John Lackey), the Red Sox lost patience with him quickly.
Craig hasn't appeared in an MLB game since 2015, and his power for Pawtucket was completely gone last year (one homer in 182 plate appearances). The Padres are giving him another shot, but he'll be 34 in July.
Jumbo Diaz, New Orleans Baby Cakes
Diaz has always been listed at 312 pounds in the majors, but … come on. Actually, he was 300 pounds when the Marlins signed him to a Minor League deal this spring, an improvement from the 342 he says he weighed at the end of last season.
Nevertheless, Diaz is the heaviest pitcher in MLB history. I assume he and the mascot will be best friends by midseason.
Edwin Jackson, Syracuse Chiefs
Jackson is the most well-traveled starting pitcher of all time, pitching for 12 different teams in his 15-year career. He needs just one more team -- well, one team he hasn't already pitched for -- to tie Octavio Dotel for most different teams in MLB history. The Chiefs are a Nationals affiliate, which is no fun, as Jackson has already pitched for the Nationals twice, in 2012 and last year.
Jackson, despite all these travels, is still somehow only 34 years old.
Pete Kozma, Toledo Mud Hens
Speaking of Nationals fans, here's the guy whose name they still curse in their sleep, nearly six years later. You might remember why.
Kozma never was much of a hitter, that game aside, but he could play shortstop like a dream, which is why he still has a place in the Tigers' organization, waiting for someone to get desperate.
Erik Kratz, Scranton Wilkes-Barre Railriders
The platonic ideal of the backup catcher, Kratz didn't break into the Majors until after his 30th birthday, so it's tough to blame him for not getting too worked up about a little time in the Minor Leagues. He's 37 now and still rattling around the Yankees' organization.
Kratz had two plate appearances for the Yanks in 2017 and got hits both times. He has never appeared in a postseason game before, poor guy.
Kris Medlen, Reno Aces
Medlen factoid! He finished 20th in MVP voting in 2012. Quite reasonably so, for that matter: He was 10-1 with a 1.57 ERA for the Braves that year, starting 12 games, finishing seven and generally doing whatever Atlanta need him to do.
Medlen wasn't half bad for the Royals in 2015, but hasn't been back to the bigs since he had a 7.77 ERA in six starts back in 2016. He has a World Series ring and a lifetime 3.25 ERA, and there are tens of thousands of pitchers who would give up an appendage or a distant relative to have either.
Oliver Perez, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders
Never forget how amazing Perez was in 2004 for the Pirates. The tall, lanky lefty looked like the next coming of Randy Johnson, striking out 239 batters with a 2.98 ERA at the age of 22. That potential is why the Mets signed Perez to such a massive contract, but it ended up being one of the worst contracts in team history and the reason his name is still mud in New York City.
But when Perez left New York, he transformed himself into a relief specialist -- and a good one -- rattling around Seattle, Arizona, Houston and Washington from 2012-17. The Reds released him in camp and the Yankees signed him for one final go-around. If this were a baseball novel, Perez would earn redemption in New York by striking out the last batter of the World Series; for now, Scranton will have to do.
Ruben Tejada, Norfolk Tides
Speaking of former Mets, the fine-fielding, zero-hit, look-out-for-Chase-Utley! shortstop is only 28 years old and basically impersonating a younger Kozma. He hasn't hit a homer since 2015, but he reeks of a guy who is going to be starting in Game 162 for the Orioles this year.
Pat Venditte, Oklahoma City Dodgers
The only player in more than 100 years to inspire his own baseball rule, Venditte is still around and still ambidextrous. He was stuck in Phillies' Triple-A Lehigh Valley last year, but now he's with the Dodgers. (Of course Venditte is with the Dodgers.)
With a 1.59 ERA and 14 strikeouts and three walks in 11 1/3 Cactus League innings, the Dodgers see Venditte as a potential multi-inning reliever. If there's any justice in the world, Los Angeles will return to the World Series and we'll get to see him there. For now: Oklahoma City, he's your gift.
Will Leitch is a columnist for MLB.com.