Baseball’s bloodlines are booming

Contributed by Richard Cuicchi

I’ve used this blog in the past to publicize the prevalence of major-league players with family ties in the sport.  Within the last two weeks that situation has never been more evident, and it has included some of baseball’s biggest names.

The promotion to the big leagues of a young player who has relatives in the game brings up the age-old debate of whether the player has benefitted from having good genes or being the product of a baseball environment in which they grew up.  In my book Family Ties: A Comprehensive Collection of Facts and Trivia About Baseball’s Relatives, I quoted Phil Pote, a scout for the Seattle Mariners, who probably summed up the situation the best, “I think genes give the potential and the environment sets how close to the potential you might reach.  A kid could be in Afghanistan and have great genes; I mean great quickness, the hand-eye coordination, balance, and agility, whatever.  But if he doesn’t have the environment no one would ever know, including him.”

Several of the players from strong baseball backgrounds involving multiple family relationships recently received big-league promotions.

Mike Yastrzemski made his major-league debut on May 25 for the San Francisco Giants.  The outfielder is the third generation of his family in the sport.  His grandfather, Carl, is one of the most recognizable names in Boston Red Sox history and was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame after 23 major-league seasons.  Mike’s father, also named Mike, played five seasons in the minors, reaching the Triple-A level in the Chicago White Sox organization.

Cavan Biggio made his debut on May 24 for the Toronto Blue Jays.  He made history when he and Blue Jays teammate Vlad Guerrero Jr. became the first pair of major-league teammates to have fathers in the Hall of Fame.  The second baseman recorded his first big-league home run in his third major-league game.  Cavan’s father, Craig, was a seven-time all-star in his 20 seasons for Houston Astros.  He collected over 3,000 hits and 600 doubles during his career.   Cavan’s brother, Conor, was selected by the Houston Astros in the 34th round of the 2015 MLB Draft, but did not sign.

Arizona Diamondback first baseman Kevin Cron made his debut on May 24.  He had 21 home runs and 62 RBI in the minors this season before his call-up.  Kevin’s father, Chris, played briefly in the majors in 1991 and 1992 for the California Angels and Chicago White Sox.  Chris is in his 20th season as a minor-league manager and was managing Kevin with the Reno Aces at the time of his call-up.  Kevin’s brother, C. J., is currently a major-leaguer with the Minnesota Twins.  Kevin is in his sixth big-league season after being a first-round draft selection of the Los Angeles Angels.

In only his third pro season, pitcher Zach Plesac made his major-league debut with the Cleveland Indians on May 28.  Zach is the nephew of former major-league pitcher Dan Plesac, who played 18 seasons for six different clubs.  Zach’s father, Joe, played six seasons in the San Diego Padres organization following his second-round draft selection in 1982.

Two other recent big-league promotions involved players with brothers in pro baseball.

On May 24, Canadian-born Josh Naylor made his debut with the San Diego Padres.  He was the first-round pick of the Florida Marlins in 2015.  He is the brother of Bo Naylor, who was the first-round pick of the Cleveland Indians last year.

Mitch Keller made his debut with the Pittsburgh Pirates on May 27.  He struck out seven batters in four innings pitched, but took the loss against the Cincinnati Reds.  He is the brother of Jon Keller, who pitched for five seasons the Baltimore Orioles minor-league system.

Earlier this year, Vlad Guerrero Jr. had the most anticipated major-league debut since Bryce Harper.  Guerrero had been the Minor League Player of the Year in 2018 as a 19-year-old.  He got his promotion on April 26 with the Toronto Blue Jays and has since showed his potential with six home runs.  Guerrero Jr. is the son of recently elected Hall of Famer Vladimir Guerrero Sr., the nephew of former major-leaguer Wilton Guerrero, and the cousin of 2018 major-leaguer Gabriel Guerrero.

Other players with family ties who made their MLB debuts earlier this season include:

Fernando Tatis Jr., shortstop with the San Diego Padres, is the son of 11-year veteran Fernando Tatis Sr., who hit 34 HRs and 107 RBIs in 1999.

Cal Quantrill, pitcher with the San Diego Padres, is the son of former major-league pitcher Paul Quantrill, a 14-year veteran who led the American League in appearances for four consecutive years

Josh Fuentes, infielder with the Colorado Rockies, made his debut in a game in which his cousin, all-star third baseman Nolan Arenado, also played.

Carter Kieboom, shortstop with the Washington Nationals, is the brother of major-league Spencer Kieboom, who also plays in the Nationals system.

Kyle Zimmer, pitcher with the Kansas City Royals, is the brother of major-leaguer Bradley Zimmer, who made his MLB debut in 2017.

Nate Lowe, first baseman with the Tampa Bay Rays, is the brother of minor-leaguer Josh Lowe, who also plays in the Rays organization and projects to be a future major-leaguer.

The Toronto Blue Jays have a potentially interesting situation developing in their organization.  Already with three players with family ties on their big-league roster (Guerrero Jr., Biggio, and Lourdes Gurriel Jr.), the Blue Jays also have Bo Bichette at the Triple-A level in their minor league system.  Bichette is the son of Dante Bichette, former four-time all-star and 1995 National League MVP runner-up.  When the younger Bichette is called up, the foursome will form a complete Blue Jays infield of players with baseball bloodlines.

Family Ties Prominent Again in this Year’s MLB Draft

Contributed by Richard Cuicchi, 07/05/2016

Following the MLB Draft in June of every year, I try to identify those drafted amateur players who have a relative in professional baseball. I’ve found 48 players so far who fit this criteria this year.  They represent the latest crop of relatives that have infused baseball rosters since the sport’s professional beginnings in the 1870s.

Every year there are intriguing backgrounds for several of the drafted players. This year is no exception.  Here’s a look at some of the highlights of this year’s players with family ties in baseball.

One of the headliners in this year’s major-league draft class probably won’t attempt to play professional baseball at all. Trey Griffey was selected by the Seattle Mariners in the 24th round, even though he hasn’t played baseball since grade school.  He is currently a senior wide receiver for the University of Arizona.  Trey has one of the most recognizable last names in baseball.  His father is Ken Griffey Jr., who will be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame later this summer.  His grandfather is Ken Griffey Sr., who was a 19-year veteran of the majors.  The Mariners actually selected Trey as a tribute to his father, who played a significant portion of his career in Seattle, wearing uniform Number 24.

Torii Hunter Jr. is another college football player selected in this year’s draft, except he also played baseball, albeit sparingly, at Notre Dame for two seasons. His father is Torii Hunter Sr., who retired only last year after playing 19 years in the majors.  Torii Jr. had been drafted out of high school in 2013 by the Detroit Tigers, but chose to attend Notre Dame to play football and baseball.  However, football became his primary sport, as he has played on special teams and as a wide receiver.  He wound up playing only a handful of baseball games for The Fighting Irish.  Because of his athleticism and family bloodlines, he was drafted by the Los Angeles Angels in the 23rd round this year and proceeded to sign a pro contract with them.  He still intends to play football at Notre Dame this fall.  Who knows?  He may be the next Deion Sanders, who played professionally in both football and baseball.

Bo Bichette was encouraged by his father, Dante Bichette, to play tennis as a youngster, but he wound up following in his father’s baseball footsteps. Bo was drafted out of high school by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 2nd round, after becoming one of the top prep pitchers in the country.  The elder Bichette was a four-time major-league all-star during his 14-year career.  Bo’s older brother, Dante Jr., is currently an infield prospect in the New York Yankees organization.

Cavan Biggio, son of 2015 Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Craig Biggio, was drafted this year by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 5th round.  The infielder had previously been drafted out of high school in 2013 by the Phillies, but chose to attend college at Notre Dame, where he was a starter for three seasons.  Cavan’s brother, Conor, was drafted last year by his father’s major league team, the Houston Astros, after also playing for Notre Dame, but he did not sign a pro contract.

Chad Hockin is the grandson of another Hall of Famer, Harmon Killebrew. He was selected by the Chicago Cubs in the 6th round, after completing his third season as a pitcher for Cal State Fullerton.  Grandfather Killebrew was one of the all-time great sluggers in baseball, recording 573 career home runs.  He was selected to all-star teams on eleven occasions and was American League MVP in 1969.  Chad’s brother, Grant, was a 2nd round pick of the Cleveland Indians in 2014.  His uncle, Cameron Killebrew, played in the Texas Rangers organization and unaffiliated baseball from 1978-1981.

Grae Kessinger is a third-generation baseball player that was drafted by the San Diego Padres in the 26th round.  His grandfather is Don Kessinger, a six-time all-star shortstop for the Chicago Cubs who also managed in the majors for the Chicago White Sox.  Grae’s father is Kevin Kessinger, who played in the Cubs organization in 1989, while his uncle, Keith Kessinger, played part of one major-league season for the Cincinnati Reds in 1993.  It is likely Grae will opt to attend Ole Miss on a baseball scholarship, where his grandfather, father, and uncle also played collegiately.

Brandon Bossard’s baseball bloodlines go back three generations before him. The shortstop was drafted out of high school by the Chicago White Sox in the 31st round.  However, his forefathers didn’t play the game, but instead worked as groundskeepers for the White Sox.  His great-grandfather, Emeril, was the first in the family to hold the position, followed by his grandfather, Gene, and his father, Roger, who is currently the head groundskeeper at U. S. Cellular Field.

JaVon Shelby, drafted by the Oakland A’s in the 5th round out of the University of Kentucky, also comes from a large baseball family.  His father, John Shelby, was a big league outfielder from 1981 to 1991, primarily for the Baltimore Orioles and Los Angeles Dodgers.  JaVon has three brothers who also played baseball.  John III played in the minors from 2006 to 2012 for the White Sox and Rays organizations, while Jeremy played briefly in the Orioles organization in 2010.  Youngest brother Jaren, this year’s Gatorade Player of the Year in Kentucky, has signed a letter of intent to play for Kentucky next year and projects to be a future major league draft pick.  JaVon’s cousins, Josh Harrison and Vince Harrison Jr., both played baseball professionally, with Josh currently playing for the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Brothers Joshua and Nathaniel Lowe were both drafted by the Tampa Bay Rays. Joshua was a top high school third baseman in Georgia, while Nathaniel played first base for Mississippi State University.  Joshua was selected in the first round, the 13th overall pick, and Nathaniel was picked in the 13th round.  They are the sons of David Lowe, who was drafted out of high school by the Seattle Mariners in the 5th round in 1986, but did not play professional baseball.

Every year there are also a handful of major-league draftees whose bloodlines don’t include a baseball background. This year’s list includes pitcher Matt Manning, son of Rich Manning who played in the NBA for two seasons (1995-1996).  Matt was a first-round pick of the Detroit Tigers.  Pitcher Griffin Jax, the son of NFL linebacker Garth Jax (1986-1995), was the third-round pick of the Minnesota Twins.  Outfielder Chris Bono, the 37th round pick of the San Francisco Giants, is the son of former NFL quarterback Steve Bono, a veteran of 14 pro seasons (1985-1999).

A full list of the players from the 2016 MLB Draft with relatives in professional baseball can be viewed at http://baseballrelatives.mlblogs.com/2016-family-ties/.

Brothers Joshua and Nathaniel Lowe Drafted by Rays

It’s not often two brothers are selected in the same MLB Draft, but that’s what happened in the June draft.  In fact, Joshua and Nathaniel Lowe were both drafted by the Tampa Bay Rays.

Joshua was one of the top high school players in Georgia and was picked in the first round by the Rays.  Nathaniel, who played for SEC Champion Mississippi State University this season, was selected by the Rays in the 13th round.

Their father, David, was drafted by the Seattle Mariners in 1986, but did not play pro baseball.

Read Joshua’s pre-draft review at the link below from SB Nation:

http://www.amazinavenue.com/2016/6/5/11806528/mlb-draft-joshua-lowe-mets