Contributed by Richard Cuicchi
I just completed my annual compilation of active major-league and minor-league players and non-players (managers, coaches, scouts, executives, etc.) who have relatives in baseball. The number of family ties in baseball appears to be more prevalent than ever.
Former pro players, especially those who only played in minors and never attained a major-league salary, see opportunities for their sons to excel through personal coaching and today’s competitive environment of club and travel baseball. The prospect of attaining current-day salaries from major-league contracts is a real incentive to push their sons toward pro baseball.
Major-league scouts and front office personnel are sending their sons in larger numbers to the pro ranks as players. Even if they never played at the pro level themselves, they frequently use their professional insight as a competitive edge to help their sons achieve success at amateur, collegiate, and ultimately professional levels.
Even the MLB Home Run Derby contests during the annual All-Star Game festivities provide another indication of the influence family ties have in the game. A number of the recent major-league contestants have used family members to pitch to them, including Bryce Harper, Kris Bryant, Todd Frazier, Robinson Cano, and Javy Lopez. It’s apparent it’s not the first time these family combos have been in batting practice situations together.
The 2019 baseball season portends to produce another bumper crop of players with major-league bloodlines, who will be making their own major-league debut. There are some very familiar names among the potential first-year players: Bichette, Guerrero, Mazzilli, Biggio, and Yastrzemski. Additionally, there are other players who are likely part of the next generation of MLB players with family ties.
The most notable of the potential rookies is Vlad Guerrero Jr., Baseball America’s Minor League Player of the Year in 2018. He is the son of Vladimir Guererro who was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame last year. Vlad Jr. played in his third pro season at age 19 in the Toronto Blue Jays organization. He split the season at the Double-A and Triple-A levels where he posted a combined slash line of .381/.437/.636. The third baseman hit 20 HR and 78 RBI in a total of 95 games. He is expected to make the big-league roster coming out of spring training next year.
Two of Guerrero’s minor-league teammates in 2018 were also sons of major leaguers: infielder Bo Bichette, son of four-time all-star Dante Bichette, and infielder Cavan Biggio, son of Hall of Famer Craig Biggio. They had banner offensive seasons in 2018 as well. They won’t likely make the big-league club right away in 2019, but don’t be surprised if they get call-ups during the season, as the Blue Jays start settling their roster for the next few years.
Mike Yastrzemski, who plays in the Orioles organization, is the grandson of Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski. The former 14th-round pick played his third season at the Triple-A level last year. The O’s have started a complete makeover of their roster, and Yastrzemski could likely find himself as one of their new candidates for an outfield spot. His father Mike formerly played at the Triple-A level in the White Sox organization, falling short of a major-league appearance.
L.J. Mazzilli is the son of former big-league player and manager Lee Mazzilli. Like his father, he started out in the Mets organization, but was traded to the New York Yankees early last spring and played for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. He could eventually claim a big-league spot due to his versatility as an infielder and outfielder.
Besides Guerrero, one of the most talked about minor leaguers in 2018 was Fernando Tatis, Jr. He figures to be one of the new stars for a San Diego Padres franchise starving for a new face of the team. Tatis is the son of Fernando Tatis, who played in the big leagues for five teams during 1997 and 2010. The 19-year-old shortstop hit 16 HR and 43 RBI in 88 games for San Antonio, before missing most of the second half of the season due to injury. He plays at an advanced level for his age, and the Padres will likely take advantage of that situation next year.
Kevin Cron, corner infielder in the Arizona Diamondbacks organization, put up big number in 2018 at the Triple-A level that included a .309/.368/.654 slash line, 22 HR, and 97 RBI. He is the brother of current major-leaguer C. J. Cron and the son of former big-leaguer Chris Cron. As the D’backs ponder the potential trade of its all-star first-baseman Paul Goldschmidt, Cron would be at the top of the list as his likely replacement.
Left-handed pitcher Brandon Leibrandt had an impressive season with the Philadelphia Phillies Triple-A club, posting a 1.42 ERA and .868 WHIP in 20 appearances. His father, Charlie Leibrandt, was a major-league pitcher for 14 seasons, amassing 140 career wins and a 3.71 ERA and making World Series appearances with the Kansas City Royals and Atlanta Braves.
Cal Quantrill was a first-round pick of the San Diego Padres in 2016 and has progressed rapidly in their system. He made a total of 28 starts in 2018 split between Double-A and Triple-A levels, compiling a 9-6 record and 4.80 ERA. His father is Paul Quantrill, a major-league relief pitcher for 14 seasons who led the National League in appearances for four consecutive seasons.
Austin Nola is the brother of Philadelphia Phillies ace Aaron Nola. Formerly an infielder who converted to the catcher position in 2017, he hit .279 last year for the Miami Marlins’ Triple-A affiliate New Orleans. If the Marlins’ major-league catcher J. T. Realmuto winds up getting traded during the off-season, Nola could find himself in a backup role with the Marlins in 2019.
Kean Wong is an infielder/outfielder in the Tampa Bay Rays organization. A fourth-round pick out of high school in 2013, he is the brother of St. Louis Cardinals infielder Kolten Wong. At Triple-A Durham last year, Kean posted a slash line of .282/.345/.406, 9 HR, and 50 RBI. He could see a promotion as a utility player in 2019.