Drew Muren batted .279 in 48 games with the Legends in 2012. (Photo-Mary Lay)

Drew Muren batted .279 in 48 games with the Legends in 2012. (Photo-Mary Lay)

Baseball America’s J.J. Cooper recently previewed the Rule 5 Draft for 2016, and among the players he expects to be considered for selection is former Legends outfielder Drew Muren, who is now a pitcher in the Arizona Diamondbacks system.

(How the Rule 5 Draft works, from mlb.com:  Players who were signed when they were 19 or older and have played in professional baseball for four years are eligible for the Rule 5 Draft, as are players who were signed at 18 and have played for five years.  All players on a Major League Baseball team’s 40-man roster, regardless of other eligibility factors, are “protected” and ineligible for the Rule 5 Draft.)

                 Muren, who played college baseball for Cal State-Northridge, was a 22nd round choice by Houston in the 2011 draft.   He played in 48 games for the Legends in 2012 and batted .279 with three home runs and 17 runs batted in.  He had an 11-game hitting streak from April 28-May 11 in which he had 17 hits in 43 at bats (.395), and he also provided several highlight plays in center field.

Muren made it to double-A Corpus Christi in the Houston organization before he was released March 29, 2014.  He played two years of independent league baseball as an outfielder with Sioux Falls, Gary and Fargo-Moorhead of the American Association before signing with the Diamondbacks to try pitching in March 2016.

In his first year on the mound, Muren, in 38 relief appearances at three levels, including two appearances at triple-A, had a record of 0-5, but the right-hander struck out 61 batters and walked 20 in 41 innings.

“Muren’s stuff has helped make up for lost time. He sits in the mid-to-high 90s and touched 100 mph this year,” Cooper wrote. “He struck out 61 in 41 innings between three stops although he also showed below-average control. Muren’s delivery is a little unconventional as might be expected for a converted hitter. His release point is nearly sidearm giving hitters a very odd look for a pitcher with a near-top-of-the-scale fastball.”

The Rule 5 draft will begin at 9 a.m. Eastern time December 8, the closing day of baseball’s winter meetings, which will be held this year in National Harbor, Maryland.

Andrew Edwards, a former Western Kentucky University star, pitched for the Legends in 2014.  (Photo - Mary Lay)

Andrew Edwards, a former Western Kentucky University star, pitched for the Legends in 2014. (Photo – Mary Lay)

The Kansas City Royals added four players to their 40-man roster ahead of the 7 p.m. November 18 deadline, and all four are former Lexington Legends.

Catcher Cam Gallagher, a 2013 Legend, pitchers Jake Junis (2014 Legend) and Andrew Edwards (2014), and first baseman Samir Duenez (2014-15-16) were named to the 40-man roster Friday.  Edwards, a native of Gilbertsville, Ky., pitched in college for Western Kentucky University.

Adding the players to the 40-man roster keeps them from being chosen in the Rule 5 draft, under which players meeting certain conditions in terms of age and length of service may be chosen by other major league teams.  Former Legend Delino DeShields Jr., who was originally drafted by the Houston Astros, was chosen in the Rule 5 draft by the Texas Rangers in 2014 and has been with the Rangers at the major league level for the past two seasons.

The best known Rule 5 selection is Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente, who was chosen from the Brooklyn Dodgers’ organization in November of 1954 by the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Jeffrey Flanagan’s story on mlb.com has more about the Royals’ moves.

Jose Altuve was a Lexington Legend in 2010. (Photo-Mary Lay)

Jose Altuve batted .308 with 11 home runs, 45 RBI and 39 stolen bases for the Lexington Legends in 2010. (Photo-Mary Lay)

Houston Astros’ second baseman Jose Altuve, a Lexington Legend in 2010, finished third behind winner Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels and runner-up Mookie Betts of the Boston Red Sox in voting for the 2016 American League Most Valuable Player Award.  

Altuve won his second American League batting title with a .338 average and led the major leagues with 216 hits.  He also hit a career-high 24 home runs.  A story by Jake Kaplan of the Houston Chronicle offers analysis of the voting. 

Royals prospects play for title:  Eight Kansas City Royals prospects, including six former Lexington Legends, are on the roster of the Surprise Saguaros, who will play for the championship of the Arizona Fall League Saturday against Mesa.

The six-team league brings together the top prospects in baseball for fall competition.  Each team consists of prospects from five different major league teams.  Surprise has players from Kansas City, Boston, Minnesota, Pittsburgh and Texas.   The former Legends on the Surprise roster are left-handed pitcher Eric Stout, first baseman Ryan O’Hearn, infielders Corey Toups and Mauricio Ramos, and outfielder Alfredo Escalera.   Royals’ prospects Josh Staumont and Todd Eaton, both pitchers, are on the Surprise roster but did not play for the Legends.

Corey Toups, Lexington's Player of the Year in 2015, was one of seven former Legends named  KC organization All-Stars in 2016.

Corey Toups, Lexington’s Player of the Year in 2015, was one of seven former Legends named KC organization All-Stars in 2016.

Seven former Lexington Legends are among the Kansas City Royals’ organization All-Stars announced Friday by MiLB.com, the official website of Minor League Baseball.

The Legends have been the Royals’ class A affiliate for the last four seasons.

First baseman Samir Duenez, a Legend in 2014-15-16, second baseman Corey Toups (2015), third baseman Hunter Dozier (2013), first baseman Ryan O’Hearn (2015), who was named to the All-Stars as a utility player, and pitchers Jake Junis (2014), Matt Strahm (2015), and Jake Kalish (2016) were recognized.

Duenez, 20, played in 41 games for the Legends at age 18 in 2014, batting .232 with nine runs batted in. He returned to Lexington in 2015 and batted .266 in 101 games with one home run and 37 RBI. In 2016, he played in 68 games, batted .272 with six homers and was tied for the South Atlantic League lead with 49 RBI at the time of his promotion in June to advanced-A Wilmington of the Carolina League. He was later promoted again and finished the 2016 season at double-A Northwest Arkansas.

Toups, 23, was named the Legends Player of the Year by the Royals in 2015. He played in 102 games for Lexington and batted .291 with seven home runs and 44 RBI. He started the 2016 season with Wilmington and was promoted to Northwest Arkansas, where he batted .275 with 10 homers and 38 RBI in 86 games.

Dozier, 25, was with the Legends briefly near the end of the 2013 season. He was the Royals’ first-round pick in the June 2013 draft and after breaking into the professional ranks with Idaho Falls of the Pioneer League, he joined the Legends for 15 games. He had 18 hits in 55 at bats (.327) and drove in nine runs.   After stops in Wilmington, Northwest Arkansas and triple-A Omaha, Dozier made his major league debut with the Royals September 12, 2016.

O’Hearn, 23, a teammate of Toups at Sam Houston State before both were drafted by Kansas City, played for the Legends with Toups in 2015. O’Hearn tied for the South Atlantic League lead with 19 home runs in 81 games before being promoted to Wilmington. He returned to Wilmington to start the 2016 season and was promoted to Northwest Arkansas, where he hit 15 homers and drove in 60 runs in 112 games.

Junis, 24, made 22 starts for the 2014 Legends, and had a 9-8 record with an ERA of 4.30, and was named the Legends Pitcher of the Year by the Royals. On May 18, 2014, he pitched eight no-hit innings in a start against Hagerstown before being removed from the game due to pitch count. After stops at Wilmington and Northwest Arkansas, he finished the 2016 season with Omaha.

Strahm, 24, a left-hander, was 2-1 with a 2.08 ERA in 14 relief appearances for the Legends in 2015. He struck out 38 batters in 26 innings. He was promoted to Wilmington in June 2015, and spent most of the 2016 season at Northwest Arkansas before being promoted to Kansas City, where he made his big league debut July 31. He is expected to contend for a spot on the Royals’ staff in 2017.

Kalish, 25, also a left-hander, had no record with a 2.38 ERA in five relief appearances for Lexington in 2016. He struck out 13 batters in 11 and 1/3 innings. He finished the season with Wilmington, where he was 3-0 with a 2.48 ERA.

“It was a pleasure to have all of these players in Lexington, and we’re all very proud of their accomplishments. This is a well-deserved honor for them,” said Legends President/CEO Andy Shea.

The All-Star catcher could be a Legend in 2017. Meibrys Viloria batted .376 with Idaho Falls and was named the Most Valuable Player in the Pioneer League.

 

 

Damon Hollins has been a coach in the Royals organization for seven seasons, the last two with the Lexington Legends.  (Photo-Mary Lay)

Damon Hollins has been a coach in the Royals organization for seven seasons, the last two with the Lexington Legends. (Photo-Mary Lay)

Joe Maddon, the manager of the World Series champion Chicago Cubs, is well-known for his unique approach to his job.

For example, the motivational quote that took the Cubs a long way in 2016 was “Try not to suck.”

And in a Chicago Tribune story, Maddon philosophized about the art of doing nothing.

“I didn’t have enough chance to do nothing last off-season,” he said in spring training this year. “I want more of an opportunity to do nothing, and I mean that in a positive way. When you get this downtime, to be able to do nothing well, that’s my goal.”

Lexington Legends hitting coach Damon Hollins played for Maddon in 2006 when Maddon was in his first year as the Tampa Bay Devil Rays manager.  He had been interim manager twice for the Angels, but the Tampa Bay position was his first full-time managing job in the majors.

On their way to a record of 61-101, the ’06 Devil Rays bore little resemblance to the Cubs 2016 champions, but Hollins said Maddon’s managing style has not changed.

“Basically, just the same thing you see now,” Hollins said recently.  “I’m not really surprised by his success.  He’s one of those unconventional guys, not afraid to do things a little different, not afraid to let guys be themselves.  He’s comfortable with letting them be who they are, and getting the most out of them on the field that way.  Joe’s always been that type of guy.  He can relate to whoever walks in that clubhouse, or whoever he meets in life.  You have those types of managers that guys gravitate to and love playing for, and that’s why they’re in the position they’re in.”

 

 

 

Ryan Ferry and Ben Zobrist got together for this 2016 photo at Wrigley Field. Zobrist and Ryan's family have a friendship going back to 2005, when Zobrist played for the Lexington Legends. (Photo provided by Ferry family.)

Ryan Ferry and Ben Zobrist got together for this 2016 photo at Wrigley Field. Zobrist and Ryan’s family have a friendship going back to 2005, when Zobrist played for the Lexington Legends. (Photo provided by Ferry family.)

Ben Zobrist will forever be remembered as the Most Valuable Player in the 2016 World Series, in which the Chicago Cubs claimed their first championship in 108 years. He batted .357 in the Series with 10 hits in 28 at bats, and his 10th-inning double in game seven put the Cubs ahead for good.

Lexington Legends fans will also remember him as one of their own.  Zobrist, as a Houston Astros’ prospect, played for the Legends in 2005.

            Zobrist played in 68 games for the Legends, who were an Astros affiliate at the time. He batted .304 with two home runs and 32 runs batted in before being promoted to Salem in the advanced-A Carolina League. Among his Legends teammates in 2005 was San Francisco Giants outfielder Hunter Pence. Zobrist and Pence were named to the Legends Hall of Fame in 2009.

During his time with the Legends, he formed a lasting friendship through the Legends’ host family program with the Ferry family of Lexington – Lance, Diane, and their son Ryan, who was 13 at the time.  Players generally do not live with host families, but the families do provide a local connection for the players outside of baseball, and can provide assistance on a variety of matters when needed.

Zobrist turned 24 in 2005, which is on the upper end of the age range for South Atlantic League players.

“It was more an adult-to-adult relationship” because of that, Diane Ferry recalled.  It also made it easier for Zobrist to become, in effect, a big brother to Ryan.

“Ryan really looked up to Ben as a mentor,” she said, “and Ben took that relationship seriously.   He became the big brother that Ryan didn’t have. They bonded over baseball and their love of equipment and shoes.  That relationship and our friendship with Ben continues through the present.”

Zobrist played his last game for the Legends on June 26, 2005, but the Ferrys have not only stayed in touch, they have traveled to see him play at various stops made by his minor and major league teams.   They had an opportunity to spend some time with him during the 2016 season when the Cubs played in Cincinnati, and they have become friends with Zobrist’s parents, who still live in Eureka, Illinois, where Ben grew up.

“As baseball fans, we never miss watching the post-season games, and again this year, we were obsessed with them, just like last year when Ben played for the Royals,” Diane Ferry said.  “The final game this year was so exciting.  There was very little sleeping at our house after the game.”

“We were not surprised but so pleased to see the Cubs win, and to see Ben honored as the MVP of this World Series,” she added.   “Ben is typically a humble and low-profile type of player and we are thrilled to see him get the recognition he earned and that he deserves.”

“The long-standing relationship between Ben and the Ferrys is an indication of just how meaningful the host family can be to a young player,” said Legends’ President/CEO Andy Shea.  “Of course, everybody in the Legends family is proud of Ben and all he’s accomplished.  He was outstanding on and off the field when he was here, and now fans everywhere know that as well.”

 

 

Ben Zobrist played in 68 games with the Lexington Legends in 2005.

Ben Zobrist played in 68 games with the Lexington Legends in 2005.

Ben Zobrist of the Chicago Cubs is the only former Lexington Legend playing in the 2016 World Series.  He played for manager Joe Maddon with the Tampa Bay Rays in the 2008 Series, and after playing for the World Series champion Kansas City Royals in 2015, was reunited with Maddon when he signed with the Cubs following the 2015 season.

As noted in this story by Richard Justice on mlb.com, Maddon has for years appreciated Zobrist’s unique role as a regular who is also a “super-utility” player.

You can take a look at some highlights from Zobrist’s season with the Legends in 2005, when, as a Houston Astros’ prospect, he batted .304 with 75 hits in 68 games.  The video is from WKYT-TV, and Larry Glover has the play-by-play.

 

Ryan O'Hearn tied for the South Atlantic League lead in homers with 19 in 2015. (Photo - Mary Lay)

Ryan O’Hearn tied for the South Atlantic League lead in homers with 19 in 2015. (Photo – Mary Lay)

Former Legend Ryan O’Hearn is enjoying his experience in the Arizona Fall League, where major league teams send some of their top prospects to gain additional experience against high-level competition.  O’Hearn, the seventh-rated prospect in the Kansas City Royals organization according to mlb.com, was recently interviewed about his first few weeks in the AFL.   Right-hander Josh Staumont, the Royals’ 10th-rated prospect, is also interviewed.  Staumont did not play for the Legends, going from Idaho Falls of the Pioneer League in 2015 to advanced-A Wilmington in 2016.  He was named the AFL Pitcher of the Week for week two of the schedule.

O’Hearn tied for the South Atlantic League with 19 home runs for the Legends in 2015.  He played in 81 games for Lexington before being promoted to Wilmington.  He returned to Wilmington for the start of the 2016 season, but after batting .352 with seven homers and 18 runs batted in in 22 games, he was promoted to double-A Northwest Arkansas.  He batted .258 with 15 homers and 60 RBI in 112 games with the Naturals.

Video:  O’Hearn homers for Legends May 21, 2015

Meibrys Valoria was named the Most Valuable Player in the Pioneer League for 2016. (Photo - Steve Thayer/Idaho Falls Chukars)

Meibrys Viloria was named the Most Valuable Player in the Pioneer League for 2016. (Photo – Steve Thayer/Idaho Falls Chukars)

If Meibrys Viloria comes to Lexington next season, he’ll bring some strong credentials with him.

The Kansas City Royals won’t decide for sure who will be on the Legends’ roster until late in spring training, but the 19-year-old catcher from Colombia no doubt earned strong reviews for his 2016 season.  He was named the Most Valuable Player in the short-season Pioneer League after leading the league in hitting at .376, doubles with 28 and runs batted in with 55 for the Royals’ affiliate in Idaho Falls.  The Pioneer League plays a 70-game schedule, and Viloria saw action in 58 games.

Viloria is currently ranked 24th by MLB.com on the list of top 30 prospects in the Kansas City organization.  He was not among the top 30 at the start of the 2016 season.

The MLB.com report said Viloria “has a patient approach and makes a lot of hard contact from the left side of the plate.  While the Pioneer League is a hitter’s league, he does have emerging power that should result in plenty of doubles and double-digit home run totals.”

The catcher position provided a lot of offense for the Legends in 2016, as Chase Vallot and Xavier Fernandez combined for 22 home runs and 86 runs batted in.

The Dodgers' Enrique Hernandez played in 62 games for the Legends in 2011.

The Dodgers’ Enrique Hernandez played in 62 games for the Legends in 2011.

Former Lexington Legend Enrique Hernandez is back on the Los Angeles Dodgers’ roster for the National League Championship Series.  He was not on the roster for the Division Series, which the Dodgers won over the Washington Nationals.

Hernandez, better known by the nickname Kike (pronounced Kee-kay)  is in his second season with the Dodgers and also has played for the Houston Astros and the Miami Marlins.  He was drafted in the sixth round by Houston in 2009, and played for the Legends, then an Astros affiliate, in 2011.

Hernandez also has strong ties to the New York Yankees going back to his childhood in Puerto Rico.  His godfather is Jorge Posada, Sr., the father of the longtime Yankees’ catcher, and Hernandez met Jorge Posada Jr. and other Yankees, including Derek Jeter, as Hernandez was growing up.

When Jeter hit a home run for his 3000th major league hit July 9, 2011, Hernandez and his Legends teammates were watching from their seats on the team bus, which was on its way to the ballpark in Hickory, North Carolina, where the Legends played that night.

“I got chills,” Hernandez said in an interview a few minutes after Jeter’s hit.  “It was exciting, and it was a very special moment. “

Noting his friendship with Posada, who was Jeter’s teammate for 17 seasons with the Yankees, Hernandez said “I’ll bet Jorge’s living this moment right along with Jeter.”

Hernandez was eight years old when he met Jeter for the first time.   “I couldn’t think of anything to say,” he recalled.  “I couldn’t believe I was meeting Derek Jeter.”

Hernandez joined the Los Angeles Dodgers in a trade December 11, 2014.

Hernandez joined the Los Angeles Dodgers in a trade December 11, 2014. (Sporting News)

With the Legends in 2011, Hernandez missed several weeks due to injuries, but played in 62 games and batted .247 with 11 doubles, two homers and 17 runs batted in.  A versatile player then and now, he played in 12 games at second base, four at third, three at shortstop, and 32 in the outfield (the remainder as a designated hitter or pinch hitter).  He moved on to advanced-A Lancaster the next season, and after stops at double-A Corpus Christi and triple-A Oklahoma City, made his major league debut with Houston July 1, 2014.  He was traded to Miami July 31, 2014 and went from the Marlins to the Dodgers in a trade December 11, 2014.

 

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