Nov. 3, 2015

By Sean Tenaglia, ’16

As the 2015 professional baseball season comes to a close with a Kansas City Royals World Series title, it’s time to take a look back at some highlights from the stars that used to take the field at Frank Eck Stadium. Over the course of the season, five former Notre Dame players were active on Major League rosters, while eight continued the pursuit of their MLB dreams in the minor leagues.

Former Irish head coach Pat Murphy (1988-1994) served as interim manager for the San Diego Padres, while his former player Craig Counsell (1989-1992) took over as manager of the Milwaukee Brewers, the team he wrapped up his 16-year MLB career with in 2011. On November 2, Murphy joined Counsell in Milwaukee as the Brewers bench coach.

Additionally, in the final days of the season, the Atlanta Braves promoted Notre Dame graduate John Coppolella to general manager.

Read on to discover the highlights from the 2015 season, including an MLB All-Star campaign and a Minor League Player Of The Year award:

Irish in the MLB

A.J. Pollock (Centerfielder, Arizona Diamondbacks)

Pollock capped his breakout season with the Diamondbacks with his first All-Star Game appearance in July. In his fourth year in Arizona, Pollock finished second in the National League in runs (111) and hits (192), fourth in doubles (39) and stolen bases (39), fifth in batting average (.315), 12th in on-base percentage (.367), 24th in RBI (76) and 26th in home runs (20). He joined an exclusive club by becoming just the sixth major leaguer since 2009 to finish a season with 20-plus homers and 35-plus stolen bases.

Pollock was also named the NL Player of the Week for the week of August 17-23, posting four multi-hit games and leading the league with 14 hits, eight runs scored, and a .483 batting average. On September 25, Pollock hit his first career grand slam and plated a career-high five RBI against the San Diego Padres. The rising MLB star played for the Irish from 2007-2009 before being selected 17th overall by the Diamondbacks in the 2009 draft.

Jeff Samardzija (Starting Pitcher, Chicago White Sox)

Traded in a deadline deal last July from the Cubs to the Oakland A’s, the former two-sport Irish star found himself on the opposite side of the Chicago crosstown rivalry with the White Sox in 2015. Samardzija struggled a bit in his first season on the South Side, finishing with an 11-13 record and a 4.96 ERA. However, he posted two complete game shutouts, including a one-hitter against the Detroit Tigers on September 21.

Over his final two outings of the season, the “Shark” was 2-0, allowing only two runs and nine hits in 16.0 innings. He finished the 2015 campaign with 163 strikeouts (15th in the American League) and a 1.29 WHIP (24th in the AL) in 214.0 innings pitched. Samardzija was a fifth round pick (149th overall) by the Cubs in 2006 after playing four years of football and three years of baseball for the Irish.

David Phelps (Starting Pitcher, Miami Marlins)

After being traded from the New York Yankees to Miami last December, Phelps pitched in 23 games for the Marlins, starting 19 of them. In 112.0 innings of work, he earned a 4-8 record and a 4.50 ERA. Phelps struck out 77 batters and posted a WHIP of 1.36 before having his season cut short in late August due to a forearm strain. The former first team all-BIG EAST pitcher toed the rubber for the Irish from 2006-2008 before being selected 440th overall (14th round) by the Yankees in the 2008 MLB Draft.

Jeff Manship (Relief Pitcher, Cleveland Indians)

Manship turned in the best season of his seven-year major league career for the Indians. He was lights out coming out of the Cleveland bullpen, posting a 1-0 record and a miniscule 0.92 ERA. In 39.1 innings of work, he struck out 33 batters and sported a 0.76 WHIP. The former Irish star played at Notre Dame from 2005-2006 and was the 426th pick (14th round) by the Minnesota Twins in 2006.

John Axford (Relief Pitcher, Colorado Rockies)

Axford bounced back in 2015 with the Rockies, converting 25 of his 31 save opportunities (13th in the NL). He posted a 4-5 record and a 4.20 ERA with 62 strikeouts in 55.2 innings pitched. The Cincinnati Reds originally drafted Axford, who played for the Irish from 2002-2004, in 2005 (42nd round, 1,259th pick).

Irish in the Minors

Trey Mancini (First Baseman, Baltimore Orioles organization)

In his third year in the minor leagues, Mancini had a sensational season with the Frederick Keys of the Carolina League (Class A Advanced) and the Bowie Baysox of the Eastern League (Double-A) en route to earning the Orioles’ Brooks Robinson Minor League Player of the Year award. Between the two leagues, Mancini hit .341 with 43 doubles, six triples, 21 homeruns, and 89 RBI in 136 games. He led the Baysox to the Eastern League Championship and won the league’s batting title with an impressive .359 average.

Rated the No. 12 prospect in the Baltimore organization, Mancini is moving ever closer to his major league debut. For now, he has returned to South Bend, where he led the Irish for three seasons before being selected 249th (eighth round) in the 2013 MLB Draft, to complete a degree in political science.

Cole Johnson (Relief Pitcher, Minnesota Twins organization)

After starting the year with the Chattanooga Lookouts of the Southern League (Double-A), Johnson earned a promotion to the Rochester Red Wings of the International League (Triple-A) in mid-June. Between the two leagues, the former Irish co-captain appeared in 35 games, posting a 2-2 record with a 3.29 ERA. In 52.0 innings of relief, Johnson struck out 48 batters and also recorded two saves. Johnson, who was a 44th round pick by the Twins in the 2011 Draft, is now one step closer to making his major league dream a reality.

Eric Jagielo (Third Baseman, New York Yankees organization)

The former Irish standout was in the midst of a stellar year with the Trenton Thunder of the Eastern League (Double-A) before a knee injury ended his season in mid-June. Jagielo was named an Eastern League All-Star, hitting .284 with 16 doubles, nine homers, and 35 RBI in 58 games with the Thunder. Rated the No. 6 prospect in the Yankees’ farm system, Jagielo has a legitimate chance to make some major league noise if he can stay healthy. He played three seasons for the Irish (2011-2013) before the Yankees drafted him 26th overall in the 2013 draft.

Dan Slania (Relief Pitcher, San Francisco Giants organization)

The former Irish closer tallied 16 saves for the San Jose Giants of the California League (Class A Advanced). In 59 appearances, Slania finished 4-5 with a 3.53 ERA while striking out an impressive 90 batters in 71.1 innings of work. In the Class A Advanced All-Star Game, Slania struck out the only batter he faced and helped lead the California League to a 9-2 victory over the Carolina League. The Giants advanced to the California League Championship, but fell just short to the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes. Slania was a teammate of Mancini and Jagielo from 2011-2013 before being selected in the fifth round (162nd overall) by the Giants.

Brian Dupra (Relief Pitcher, Washington Nationals organization)

Dupra erased a tough start to the season in Harrisburg (Double-A) by turning in a solid campaign for the Potomac Nationals of the Carolina League (Class A Advanced). Between the two leagues, Dupra posted a respectable 3-2 record with a 3.61 ERA and 43 strikeouts. His numbers in Potomac are even more impressive, as he finished 3-0 with a 2.79 ERA and four saves in 42.0 innings of work. The Nationals selected Dupra in the seventh round (217th overall) in the 2011 MLB Draft.

2015 MLB PLAYERS (Former ND Players)

#66 – John Axford– RHP – Colorado Rockies
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#53 – Jeff Manship– RHP – Cleveland Indians
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#41 – David Phelps– RHP – Miami Marlins
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#11 – A.J. Pollock– CF – Arizona Diamondbacks
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#29 – Jeff Samardzija– RHP – Chicago White Sox
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2015 MINOR LEAGUE PLAYERS (Former ND Players)

RHP – Brian Dupra (Nationals) Potomac Nationals / A Advanced / Carolina League
Harrisburg Senators / AA / Eastern League
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RHP Donnie Hissa(Brewers)Helena Brewers / Rookie Pioneer League
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C Joe Hudson(Reds) Daytona Tortugas / A Advanced / Florida State League
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RHP Cole Johnson(Twins)Rochester Red Wings / AAA / International League
Chattanooga Lookouts / AA / Southern League
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3B Eric Jagielo(Yankees)Trenton Thunder / AA / Eastern League
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1B Trey Mancini(Orioles)Bowie Baysox / AA / Eastern League
Frederick Keys / A Advanced / Carolina League
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LHP Steve Sabatino(Cardinals)Palm Beach Cardinals / A Advanced / Florida State League
GCL Cardinals / Rookie / Gulf Coast League
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RHP Dan Slania(Giants)San Jose Giants / A (Advanced) / California League
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2015 Major League Baseball Connections (Not Necessarily Associated With ND Baseball Program)

Craig Counsell – Manager – Milwaukee Brewers

Pat Murphy – Interim Manger – San Diego Padres

John Coppolella – General Manager – Atlanta Braves

John McHale Jr. – Executive Vice President, Administration & Chief Information Officer – MLB

Joe Garagiola Jr. – Senior Vice President of Standards & On-Field Operations – MLB

Brian O’Gara – Vice President, Special Events – MLB

Lawrence J. Dolan – Owner – Cleveland Indians

Michael Crowley – President – Oakland A’s

Paul J. Dolan – Chairman / Chief Executive Officer – Cleveland Indians

Matt Nussbaum – Associate General Counsel of MLB Player’s Association (MLBPA)