Jan. 6, 2017
By Jake Maier
The boys of summer are gone, but as the calendar flips to 2017, take a look back at a successful 2016 for Notre Dame baseball’s former players in the ranks of professional baseball. The Irish were represented at every level, from the World Series (Jeff Manship) to the 2016 MLB Draft (Cavan Biggio and Torii Hunter Jr.).
Jeff Manship, RHP, Cleveland Indians
Jeff Manship helped the Cleveland Indians bullpen pitch the team to its first World Series in 19 years. He played a key role in game three of the ALCS – in which starter Trevor Bauer left in the first inning due to a lacerated pinkie – retiring Josh Donaldson, Edwin Encarnacion and Troy Tulowitzki to preserve a tie, which the Indians would eventually win. After emerging as a stud reliever in 2015, Manship put together another terrific season, posting a stellar ERA of 2.03 in 26.2 innings before a bout with wrist tendonitis caused him to falter in late July leading to a quick trip to the disabled list. Upon returning in August, he got back on track, finishing off the season with a 3.12 ERA and 36 punch outs in 43.1 innings of work. He was arbitration eligible, however the Indians elected to non-tender his contract, making the righty a free agent.
Trey Mancini, 1B/DH, Baltimore Orioles
Trey Mancini burst onto the scene in the middle of September, blasting a solo home run for his first major league hit. In his second major league start, he deposited a pitch from Boston ace David Price over the left field wall at Camden Yards for a three-run home run to tie the ballgame. Mancini etched his name in history when he went deep in his third start, joining Trevor Story of the Rockies (2016) and Carlos Quentin of the Diamondbacks (2006) as the only players in Major League history to homer in each of their first three starts. Mancini’s performance earned him the trust of Buck Showalter and a spot on the Orioles’ roster for the win-or-go-home AL Wild Card Game. Mancini received his call to the show by putting up big numbers in AAA. He drove in 54 runs and hit 13 homers while posting a .280 clip. Mancini does not become arbitration eligible until 2020.
Jeff Samardzija, RHP, San Francisco Giants
Fresh off inking a five-year deal with the San Francisco Giants, Jeff Samardzija rebounded from an inconsistent 2015 season with the Chicago White Sox. Samardzija returned to form, putting up stellar numbers for a Giants club that would reach the NLDS. He posted a 3.81 ERA while striking out 167 batters in 203.1 innings and netted 12 wins for the Giants. Samardzija’s five-year deal will make him a free agent following the 2020 season.
A.J. Pollock, OF, Arizona Diamondbacks
Pegged as one of the best five tool players in baseball, A.J. Pollock was expected become a mainstay in the Arizona outfield. However, his season never seemed to get off the ground. He fractured his elbow in spring training, resulting in surgery and a DL stint that lasted until August 26th. In the 12 games he played, Pollock assured the Arizona faithful that he was ready to play, hitting two bombs and swiping four bags. In 2017, Pollock will look to pick up where he left off in his All-Star 2015 season. That year, he displayed a rare combination of power and speed, hitting 20 home runs and stealing 39 bases – all while batting at .315 clip. Pollock is signed through 2017, when he becomes arbitration eligible.
David Phelps, RHP, Miami Marlins
David Phelps wore many hats in Miami while putting up stellar numbers in 2016. Phelps mostly worked out of the bullpen but also served as a spot starter on five occasions. In 86.2 innings of work, he struck out 114 batters and saved four games while posting an excellent 2.28 ERA and 1.14 WHIP. Phelps is in his second year of arbitration eligibility.
John Axford, RP, Oakland Athletics
The Oakland Athletics signed John Axford prior to the 2016 season to bolster a struggling bullpen. Axford pitched well out of the pen, accumulating 65.2 innings in 68 games, striking out 60. The Canadian is slated to become a free agent after the 2017 season.
Dan Slania, RHP, San Francisco Giants (AAA)
Dan Slania tore through the Giants farm system during the 2016 season. He started out with the Class-A San Jose Giants, spent most of the season with Double-A Richmond Flying Squirrels, and finished the season with the Triple-A Sacramento River Cats. Collectively he owned a 2.93 ERA, but improved with each stop as his ERA went from 2.50 in Richmond to 1.38 with Sacramento. In his final 13 innings, split between two starts, he whiffed 14 batters and allowed only two runs. Following the conclusion of the season, the Giants purchased his contract from Sacramento while adding him to their 40-man roster.
Eric Jagielo, 3B, Cincinnati Reds (AA)
Eric Jagielo joined the Cincinnati Reds organization before the 2016 season as one of the centerpieces in the trade that sent closer Aroldis Chapman to the Yankees. Spending the full season with Double-A Pensacola, Jagielo hit .205, but did record a pair of walk-off hits for the Blue Wahoos. He has been extended a non-roster invitation to big league spring training with the Reds in 2017.
Cavan Biggio, 2B, Toronto Blue Jays (A)
After being drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays in the fifth round of the 2016 MLB Draft, Cavan Biggio spent his first professional season between the Vancouver Canadians (Single-A short season) and the Lansing Lugnuts (Single-A long season). He was excellent at the plate, hitting at a .273 clip over 238 at bats. Biggio boasted a .371 on-base percentage and swiped 11 bags, establishing himself as a scoring threat every time he stepped into the batter’s box.
Torii Hunter Jr., OF, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Biggio was the only 2016 Irish draft pick to see action immediately, but in 2017 he’ll be joined by Torii Hunter Jr. The outfielder was selected in the 23rd round by the Angles, but remained in South Bend for one more season as a wide receiver and team captain with the Notre Dame football team. Following a football career with 79 receptions for 949 yards and six touchdowns, Hunter elected to forego a remaining year of gridiron eligibility and pursue professional baseball in the Angles system this summer.
Cole Johnson, RHP, Free Agent
After signing a minor league deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks in June of 2016, Cole Johnson had stints with the Reno Aces (AAA) and Mobile BayBears (AA). He worked out of the bullpen for Reno, entering three games and allowing three runs in three innings of work. Johnson was assigned to Mobile to transition to working as a starting pitcher and showed much more success, posting a 4.30 ERA over 52.1 innings. Johnson is currently a free agent.
Jake Maier is a senior student worker for Fighting Irish Media. The Cleveland, Ohio native is a neuroscience and behavior major in the College of Science.
Assistant athletics communications director Michael Scholl contributed to this story.