Monday, November 4, 2013

#606 - '74 Rookie Outfielders

The next rookie card gives us four young AL outfielders, though by the time this card came out one would be over in the NL. Two of these guys appear to be at Yankee Stadium and one at Comiskey. God knows where Jim Fuller is but he sure does look tall, which is fitting because he was/is. And those mutton chops are something else.

Jim Fuller could hit the crap out of the ball. Unfortunately he could also miss the crap out of the ball and his senior year of high school in ’68 in San Diego he hit .260, not exactly a number that points to pro ball. After graduation he attended San Diego City College from where he was drafted the following year by the Dodgers but passed. He’d hit .360 that year, in part because he started taking lots of protein supplements his mom used to sell. After another good year of fall ball he was drafted in January ’70 by the Orioles in the second round and this time signed. That summer he played first base in A ball and began his hitting assault with a .247/9/64 season in 373 at bats. He also had 83 strikeouts and his big issue was that his K’s could outnumber his hits on a regular basis. In ’71 the O’s realized his arm was too good to keep at first and he was moved to the outfield where he would regularly be among league leaders in assists. In A ball that year he put up a .326/33/110 stat line with 105 runs and 129 strikeouts. He then split ’72 between Double A and Triple A, going a combined .255/34/107 with 165 K’s. He would settle into a fairly long run at the higher level beginning in ’73 when his stat line was .247/39/108/197. In his few appearances for Baltimore that year he hit .115 with 17 K’s in his 26 at bats. But he then spent most of ’74 with the O’s where he hit .222 with seven homers and 28 RBI’s in 189 at bats but also struck out 68 times. He spent most of the summer back in Triple A where he hit .278 in a slow power year. The next couple years were spent exclusively at that level where his power fell off but his strikeouts didn’t: in ’75 his line was .213/17/50/133 in 362 at bats and in ’76 .227/19/55/92 in 269 at bats. That winter he signed with Houston as a free agent and in ’77 he would see his final MLB action in a couple stints, hitting .160 with 45 K’s in his 100 at bats. His career line at that level was .194/11/41 with 130 K’s. In Triple A that year he hit .233 with eleven homers and 31 RBI’s, most of the season as a loaner to the ChiSox. He then split ’78 between the KC and Pittsburgh organizations at the same level with not too many at bats. It was his last year as a player and his final numbers in the minors were a .254 average with 170 homers, 554 RBI’s, and 919 K’s in his 2,811 at bats. Tracking Jim down since then has been tough – he has a pretty common name and is not related to the pitcher from a generation later – but he appears to now reside in Apple Valley, California. If that is the correct Jim he sadly just lost a son who was a director for “Glee”, “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”, and other shows.

Wilbur Howard was drafted as a pitcher by the Seattle Pilots out of his Lowell, North Carolina high school, just after leading his team to a state title in ’68. The Pilots fielded an A team that year before their MLB franchise played and Wilbur led the team in victories, going 8-5 with a 3.87 ERA. But he was a fast guy and the Pilots moved him to the outfield the following year where he hit .287 at that level with 20 stolen bases and then upped his numbers to .321 with 15 steals – on less at bats – in the fall Instructional League. In ’70 he hit .304 with 41 stolen bases and 73 runs scored in a season spent in A ball with a few late games in Triple A. Willie could obviously hit and run but he didn’t walk much and he put up a lot of K’s for a contact guy. He would then spend nearly all his time the next three years in Triple A where he averaged 72 runs, 28 stolen bases, and 111 K’s per season while hitting .240, .286, and .270. In September of ’73 he made his debut, hitting .205 in 16 games. After the season he was traded to Houston for a package that included Larry Yount, Robin’s older brother. He returned to Triple A to start off the ’74 season and after hitting .296 with 13 stolen bases at that level, came up to the Astros in June to hit .216 the rest of the way as a back-up outfielder. In ’75 the Astros went with four regular outfielders and Wilbur had his biggest season, hitting .283 in 392 at bats with 62 runs scored and 32 stolen bases. But in ’76 an early slump had him back in a back-up role which lasted the next three seasons, his best year being ’77 when he hit .257 in 187 at bats and stole eleven bases in twelve attempts. During that time he also played a little second base and even a few games at catcher. He also spent a bit of ’77 in the minors and in ’79 he spent the whole season in Triple A, hitting .241 his final season stateside. He then spent the next four years playing for Yucatan in the Mexican League, with ’83 being his final year of pro ball. Wilbur finished with a .250 average with 60 stolen bases in a bit more than 1,000 MLB at bats and a .275 average with 174 stolen bases in the minors. And then he disappears media-wise although he may be still residing in the Houston area (I guess that Astro blood runs deep).

Tommy Smith graduated from high school in ’66, having played the big three sports, and then went to NC State on a hoops and baseball scholarship. He played both sports his first two years and then concentrated on baseball when he stopped growing his junior year. Initially a pitcher in college he threw the team’s final game in its first CWS appearance in ’68, a 2-0 loss to USC. He hadn’t been used terribly much as a pitcher – the staff ace was Mike Caldwell – and his senior year of ’70 he was converted to an outfielder and responded with a .379, five home run, 33 RBI season that got him named all-ACC. It also helped get him selected by the Indians in that year’s draft. Tommy was a huge guy – check him out in the Cleveland team photo – but wasn’t particularly a big power hitter. But he could hit for average and his first year put up one of .360 with 48 RBI’s in only 200 at bats between A and Double A. He then had a couple relatively low average seasons the next two years in Double A, with a .263 average in ’71 and .277 in ’72. But in ’73 he moved up to Triple A where he rallied with a .342 with 82 runs scored before making his September debut in Cleveland and hitting .244 the rest of the way. That off-season he broke both bones in his left forearm playing a pick-up hoops game and had to have metal rods inserted to help repair them. And though he hit horribly in his short time up in ’74 with an average below .100, he did pretty well back in Triple A, putting up a .312/10/67 season in 381 at bats, the only year he’d reach double figures in homers. ’75 was nearly all the lower level, with a .302/4/63 stat line with a personal best 25 stolen bases. Then in ’76 he upped his numbers to a .335/9/54 first half before getting recalled to Cleveland. That summer would produce his biggest year up top as he hit .256 with two homers and twelve RBI’s as the team’s fouirth outfielder down the stretch. After the season he was selected by the Mariners in the expansion draft where he hit well enough in a pinch and reserve role - .259 in 27 at bats – before being sent down to Triple A, where he hit .284 the rest of the way.  Outside of a brief comeback try in the Inter-American League in ’79, Tommy was done. He put up a .232 average in his 271 MLB at bats and hit .312 in the minors. After playing he returned to the Raleigh area of North Carolina where he established his own baseball school, Diamond Stars, which he continues to run.

Otto Velez was a corner infielder when signed by the Yankees as a free agent in ’70. An admittedly horrible fielder he could bash the ball pretty well and that first summer hit .369 with seven homers, 44 RBI’s, and a .472 OBA in rookie ball. Though he didn’t hit too well in his few at bats in A ball, the next year at that level he put up a .310/16/73/.420 stat line. In ’72 he had his best fielding year in Double A but his offensive line fell a bit to .249/13/68/.371. Then in ’73 he got moved to both Triple A and the outfield and Otto responded with a .269/29/98/.450 line with 130 walks and 92 runs scored in just over 400 at bats. He came up to NY in August after the Yankees pared away the Alou brothers and hit .195 the rest of the way while playing right field. He returned to Triple A the first half of ’74 where he was moved to first base and in under half a season had a line of .310/13/35/.483 now from the top of the order, where he scored 44 runs in just 200 at bats. When new Yankee first baseman Chris Chambliss went on a cold snap in mid-June, Otto was recalled, had a hot start while getting some starts that month, and then settled to .209 in a back-up role the rest of the way. In ’75 he played both corners in Triple A where his offense came in a bunch after he missed time with a broken wrist, though his OBA remained super strong at .445 while when up in NY he barely played as those two positions were handled by guys who never sat. In ’76 he had a pretty good spring, made the cut as the Yankees cleared house in the outfield, and hit .266 with a .410 OBA as the team’s fifth outfielder before seeing some post-season action. After that season he was taken by Toronto in the expansion draft and Otto began his Blue Jays career in a monster fashion, winning the April ’77 AL Player of the Month by hitting .452 with five homers and 18 RBI’s in his first 17 games. He would then miss a few weeks later in the summer and would finish his first year as a regular with a .256/16/62/.366 line and earn the nickname “Otto Swatto” in Canada. That year he had DH’d a bunch but in ’78 the Jays acquired Rico Carty to handle that spot full-time and though Otto had one of the best bats on the team, his defensive inabilities caused his playing time to come in as his line came to .266/9/38/.380 on a third less at bats. Same deal in a ’79 that produced a .288/15/48/.396 line with 21 doubles in just 274 at bats and a request to be traded. But in ’80 Otto got the DH spot outright and got off to a huge start, hitting .362 with nine homers and 29 RBI’s in his first 27 games. Then his shoulder got dinged in a near-brawl against Oakland and while he didn’t miss too much time, his offensive production came in pretty big the rest of the way as he did miss a couple weeks due to an auto accident. Still, he put up one of his best lines in his busiest season with a .269/20/62/.365 year. But in ’81 more shoulder pain helped induce a much lower average and he split ’82 between Toronto and Triple A, not getting too much plate time at either level. Following the season he went to Cleveland as a free agent and in ’83 only got into a few games for the Tribe, though in Triple A he hit .310/9/42/.435 in just 142 at bats. It was his final season in the continental US as he spent ’84 in Mexico and that year also wrapped up his winter time playing in PR. Otto finished with a .251 average, 78 homers, 272 RBI’s, and a .369 OBA for his MLB line and hit .282 with 97 homers and a .428 OBA in the minors. He went hitless in his four post-season at bats.He would return to PR to coach, his most high-profile stints being in ’92 for the Olympic team, ’94 for the Baseball World Cup team, and ’95 for the Intercontinental Cup team. He then coached a bunch at the island’s Roberto Clemente Sports Complex, which he may or may not still be doing.

These guys give us a combined 16 MLB seasons and no awards. They are another pretty big bunch, particularly Fuller, and Smith. Maybe there was something in the water in ACC territory.

The inter-card hook-up takes us through Boston:

1. Frank Tanana and Jerry Remy ’75 to ’77 Angels and ’81 Red Sox;
2. Remy and Bob Watson ’79 Red Sox;
3. Watson and Jim Fuller ’77 Astros;

This one will involve another one of those splits where one guy is used as an independent link to two other ones:

1. Jim Fuller and Wilbur Howard ’77 Astros;
2. Howard and Cesar Cedeno ’74 to ’78 Astros;
3. Cedeno and Alan Ashby ’79 to ’81 Astros;
4. Ashby and Tommy Smith ’75 to ’76 Indians; Ashby and Otto Velez ’77 to ’78 Blue Jays.

And there’s our record.

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