With the minor league regular season behind us, the Blue Zone takes a look at the Duke players in the ranks of professional baseball and how they finished up this season:
Griffin Conine, OF, Pensacola Blue Wahoos (Miami Marlins Double-A)
After garnering national attention for a stunning first half of his 2021 season, Conine became a statistical marvel since becoming promoted to the Marlins’ Double-A affiliate. In 173 plate appearances, the third-year pro held a strikeout rate of 47.4%, good for worst in the entirety of Double-A (minimum 100 plate appearances). His 13 home runs (to only 11 singles) since being promoted in the latter part of July combined with a .176 batting average is sure to do some nasty things to his power numbers as well.
He has enormous power considering his poor batting stats. Among players batting below .200, or the so-called Mendoza line, he finished far ahead in slugging percentage, with a rate of .447 and an ISO (a raw power metric) over 50 points higher than the next player. Half of the balls he hit in the air beyond the infield left the yard, and he still pushed the ball to the opposite field over 36% of the time. Conine just has to make contact with the ball more consistently, as he swung and missed at over 26% of the pitches he saw (for reference, MLB’s most disciplined batters whiff in the 4-7% range). The Duke product has the skills and power to be a major league superstar…when he actually makes contact with the ball, that is.
Marcus Stroman, P, New York Mets
While his fellow Blue Devils wrapped up their seasons, Stroman keeps chugging along as his Mets continue to drown at the hands of the rest of the National League. Since the trade deadline, the club has struggled mightily and all but fallen out of the race for a playoff spot. Meanwhile, Stroman has continued his career-best season, as his 2.88 ERA and 151 strikeouts pace the Mets’ pitching staff with just a couple of starts left to go. Despite the Mets’ struggles, Stroman is set up well for a big contract this offseason as he hits free agency for the second straight year. Sources say Duke’s 2011-12 ace could be looking at a 6-year, $150 million contract, whether with the Mets or another club seeking a top-of-the-rotation arm.
Michael Rothenberg, C, Lakeland Flying Tigers (Detroit Tigers Low-A)
Among all of the newest Blue Devils to hit a professional baseball field, none have compared in early success to the switch-hitting catcher. In 24 games at the Low-A level in Lakeland, Fla., the soon-to-be 23-year-old batted .263 with 10 runs driven in and 14 walks. Though he was a talented pitch-framer in college, the first-year pro allowed 15 steals for a poor caught-stealing rate of 21%. If he becomes more consistent defensively and can show the power he demonstrated when he walked-off Miami in the ACC tournament last May, it won’t be long until he gets another call up. Perhaps heading into next season he will find himself in Double-A. Regardless, the Miami Beach, Fla., native has a bright future ahead of him.
Rookies struggle in first year
Duke’s top pitching prospect of all time, Bryce Jarvis, wrapped up his season with Amarillo after a rough stretch at the Double-A level that included an extended stint on the injured list. After starting his season with the Arizona Diamondbacks’ High-A affiliate in Hillsboro, Ore., he went 1-2 with a 3.62 ERA and was shipped up a level. He finished with an identical record but a higher ERA of 5.66. The heightened competition gave Jarvis some fits and will take some adjusting to, but the 23-year-old should feel content with an otherwise promising first season as a pro.
Duke’s four-year starter and anchor at the top of the lineup for much of the 2020 season, outfielder Joey Loperfido struggled over his first 19 games in the professional ranks. The 7th-round pick in the 2021 Draft batted a paltry .116 with 31 strikeouts to only eight base hits. While he was not the player he was at Duke statistically, he continued to be a magnet for pitchers, as he wore eight pitches over his short first stint with the Woodpeckers, the Houston Astros Low-A squad in Fayetteville, N.C. He was able to finish the year on a high note, matching up with former Duke teammate Ethan Murray, who now plays for the Carolina Mudcats.
Duke’s top transfer from Penn and slugger Peter Matt also wouldn’t say he got his pro career off to the best start: in 16 games with the Low-A Myrtle Beach Pelicans, Matt batted .185 and didn’t manage a four-bagger in his 54 at-bats. The New York native will continue to develop alongside fellow former Blue Devils Adam Laskey and Matt Mervis in the Chicago Cubs’ system.
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