Baseball

Who said Idaho isn’t a baseball state? These 18 former players dot pro baseball

Boise High product James Hoyt may be Astros’ next dominant reliever

From the gutters of the independent league to the brink of the majors, Fresno Grizzlies closer James Hoyt is well traveled. And his next stop might be Houston to join the Houston Astros. Fresno catcher Tyler Heineman breaks down Hoyt's pitch reper
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From the gutters of the independent league to the brink of the majors, Fresno Grizzlies closer James Hoyt is well traveled. And his next stop might be Houston to join the Houston Astros. Fresno catcher Tyler Heineman breaks down Hoyt's pitch reper

Major League Baseball teams don’t send a lot of scouts to Idaho. But the cold-weather state continues to crank out professional talent year in and year out.

One player with Idaho ties started the season on an MLB roster. And as the full-season minor league clubs got underway Thursday, another 17 are battling to climb the ladder, including four who are just a phone call away in Triple-A.

Below are the state’s native sons and the talent developed at Idaho’s colleges chasing their professional dreams.

Blaine Hardy, Tigers.jpg
Former Lewis-Clark State College pitcher Blaine Hardy threw two innings of relief and earned the win for the Detroit Tigers on Thursday afternoon. Carlos Osorio AP

Blaine Hardy

Club: Detroit Tigers

Position: Relief pitcher

Level: MLB

Age: 32

Idaho tie: Lewis-Clark State College

The lefty swingman started his sixth MLB season on the Tigers’ Opening Day roster. He gives Detroit flexibility after starting 13 games last year before moving to the bullpen with an elbow injury. In 86 innings between both roles, he posted a 3.56 ERA and 66 strikeouts in 86 innings. He’s in the Tigers’ bullpen for now.

And as a bonus Idaho tie, Hardy began his professional career with the Idaho Falls Chukars in 2008.

Josh Osich horo
Bishop Kelly grad Josh Osich played for three teams this spring, eventually landing with the Chicago White Sox. Orlando Ramirez AP

Josh Osich

Club: Chicago White Sox

Position: Relief pitcher

Level: Triple-A

Age: 30

Idaho tie: Bishop Kelly High grad (2007)

Osich landed with the Chicago White Sox to finish a tumultuous spring. After four Major League seasons with the Giants, they waived him in February. The Orioles claimed him only to waive him a month later. The White Sox scooped him up March 11, and he made two scoreless appearances this spring for Chicago. But the hard-throwing lefty who often struggles with his command starts the season in Triple-A.

James Hoyt, Astros.jpg
Boise High grad James Hoyt battled injuries all year last season, only making one appearance with the Astros before getting traded to Cleveland. Jim Mone AP

James Hoyt

Club: Cleveland Indians

Position: Relief pitcher

Level: Triple-A

Age: 32

Idaho tie: Boise High grad (2005)

After winning a World Series ring with the Astros in 2017, Hoyt was snakebit all of last year, starting the year with an oblique injury and making a lone appearance for Houston. The Astros traded him to Cleveland, where he made three appearances before a knee injury ended his season. After offseason right knee and right elbow surgeries, he re-signed with the Indians on a minor-league deal. He didn’t throw a pitch in spring training and starts the year on the injured list in Triple-A.

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Twin Falls High grad Cy Sneed signs autographs with fans before an Astros spring training game. John Raoux AP

Cy Sneed

Club: Houston Astros

Position: Starting pitcher

Level: Triple-A

Age: 26

Idaho tie: Twin Falls High grad (2011)

A substitute teacher in Alaska during the offseason, Sneed turned in his most impressive season last year, going 10-6 with a 3.83 ERA and 114 strikeouts in 127 innings for the Astros’ Triple-A club. Houston has yet to place him on its 40-man roster, so a Major League call-up would require some roster moves.

Seth Brown

Club: Oakland Athletics

Position: First base

Level: Triple-A

Age: 26

Idaho tie: Lewis-Clark State College

The lefty has shot up the A’s organization since Oakland drafted him in the 19th round in 2015. He was named to the club’s minor-league all-star team each of the past two seasons, including when he hit 30 home runs and drove in 109 runs in High-A in 2017. He hit .283 with 14 home runs and 90 RBIs last season and led the Double-A Texas League with 38 doubles. And the former outfielder did it while learning a new position.

Damon Jones

Club: Philadelphia Phillies

Position: Starting pitcher

Level: High-A

Age: 24

Idaho tie: Twin Falls High grad (2013), College of Southern Idaho

After starting his career in the bullpen, Jones impressed as a starter last season in his first year with a full-season club. He went 10-7 with a 3.41 ERA in the Low-A South Atlantic League, striking out 123 in 113.1 innings to earn a promotion. He also found his command, walking just 50 after issuing 20 free passes in 26 innings as a rookie.

Riley O’Brien

Club: Tampa Bay Rays

Position: Starting pitcher

Level: High-A

Age: 24

Idaho tie: College of Idaho

Two seasons into his pro career, the 6-4 right-hander keeps excelling. He owns a 9-4 career record with a 2.57 ERA through stops in the rookie leagues, the Low-A Midwest League and the High-A Florida State League. The former fourth-round pick was an all-star in the Midwest League last year before closing out the season in Florida. He returns to Florida to start the season.

Jacob Zanon

Club: New York Mets

Position: Outfielder

Level: High-A

Age: 23

Idaho tie: Lewis-Clark State College

The former 15th-round pick will spend another year in the High-A Florida State League after he hit .206 while battling injuries there last year.

Connor Brogdon

Club: Philadelphia Phillies

Position: Relief pitcher

Level: High-A

Age: 24

Idaho tie: Lewis-Clark State College

The 6-6 right-hander earned a promotion after going 5-3 with a 2.47 ERA in the Low-A South Atlantic League. He struck out 79 with 16 walks in 69.1 innings.

Micah Brown

Club: Miami Marlins

Position: First base

Level: High-A

Age: 22

Idaho tie: Lewis-Clark State College

The power has yet to come for the 19th-round pick, who hit .224 last year and has seven career home runs. But he’ll start the year with a full-season club for the first time in the Florida State League.

Michael Stefanic

Club: Los Angeles Angels

Position: Second base

Level: Low-A

Age: 23

Idaho tie: Timberline High grad (2014)

The Angels picked up Stefanic as an undrafted free agent last summer out of Westmont College, an NAIA program in California. He hit .351 in 14 games as a rookie while playing first, second and third base. He’s impressed the Angels’ front office enough to earn a full-season spot despite his limited professional experience.

Zack Draper

Club: Cleveland Indians

Position: Starting pitcher

Level: Low-A

Age: 24

Idaho tie: College of Idaho, College of Southern Idaho

The 6-3 left-hander bounced between the Indians’ short-season and Low-A affiliates last season, posting a 7-5 record with a 3.10 ERA and 74 strikeouts in 81.1 innings. But unlike last season, he starts the year with a full-season assignment in the Low-A Midwest League.

Alex Guerrero

Club: New York Yankees

Position: Catcher

Level: TBD

Age: 19

Idaho tie: Eagle High grad (2018)

The power-hitting catcher became the first Treasure Valley native drafted out of high school since 2013 when the Yankees took him in the 18th round last year. He signed immediately but struggled in his first pro season, hitting .164 in 61 at-bats. The Yankees’ rookie team was loaded with catchers and he broke his finger in August, limiting him to just 23 games. He starts the year in extended spring training and likely will wait for a short-season assignment.

Kris Jackson

Club: Boston Red Sox

Position: Relief pitcher

Level: TBD

Age: 23

Idaho tie: Lakeland High grad (2014)

Drafted in the 28th round last summer, the right-hander shined in his rookie season. He made 19 appearance for two short-season clubs, posting a 0.69 ERA with 29 strikeouts in 26.1 innings. He remains in extended spring training awaiting an assignment.

Zach Penrod

Club: Texas Rangers

Position: Starting pitcher

Level: TBD

Age: 21

Idaho tie: Columbia High grad (2015), Northwest Nazarene

A two-way player at NNU, the Rangers signed the 6-2 lefty as a pitcher after last year’s draft. He made four appearances in the Arizona Rookie League last summer, going 0-2 with a 6.17 ERA and 16 strikeouts in 11.2 innings. He remains in extended spring training awaiting an assignment.

Seaver Whalen

Club: Tampa Bay Rays

Position: Third base

Level: TBD

Age: 24

Idaho tie: Lewis-Clark State College

Whalen spent the entire 2018 season on the injured list after hitting .248 as a rookie in the Appalachian League. He’s still in extended spring training waiting for an assignment.

Jake Barnett

Club: Washington Nationals

Position: Relief pitcher

Level: TBD

Age: 24

Idaho tie: Lewis-Clark State College

The lefty and former 20th-round pick didn’t throw a pitch last year but still remains in the Nationals’ organization, where he awaits an assignment.

Gage Burland

Club: Toronto Blue Jays

Position: Relief pitcher

Level: TBD

Age: 23

Idaho tie: Lewis-Clark State College

A 22nd-round pick last summer, he made 10 appearances last season in the rookie leagues. He had a 3.27 ERA with 12 strikeouts in 11 innings and will wait for a short-season assignment in extended spring training.

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