Long Beach will once again be well-represented in Major League Baseball this season, and there are more than 15 players with ties to the city who will try to keep a few streaks alive. Opening Day is Thursday when all 30 teams will be in action.
The most impressive local streak is that Long Beach has had a representative in all but one MLB All-Star game since 1989, and Long Beach State has had an All-Star in each of the last nine seasons. Also, the city has had a representative in each of the last five World Series, and the Dirtbags have had the most alumni in the league for the last nine years.
The contingent of local boys in the league also features one of the brightest young stars in the game, JP Crawford, as well as one of the most respected veterans, Chase Utley.
Crawford made his MLB debut in early September last year, and will likely be the Opening Day shortstop for the Philadelphia Phillies. The Lakewood High alum had 14 hits, six runs and six RBIs in 22 games with the Phillies after racking up 20 doubles, six triples and 15 home runs at Triple-A last season.
Phillies manager Gabe Kapler told CBS.com that he might hit his pitcher eighth this season, which could send Crawford to the ninth spot. Kapler likes Crawford’s on-base skills, and wants him there for powerful hitters at the top of the Philadelphia lineup. Crawford was hit in the eye with a piece of a broken bat on Saturday, but was back on the field Monday.
Utley, 39, is the second-oldest position player in the MLB, and he’s back for another season with the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Long Beach Poly alum is a 15-year pro and a six-time All-Star. He will platoon at second base, but will play a bigger role in the Dodgers clubhouse.
“He has the most powerful voice of anyone in this building,” Dodgers outfielder Trayce Thompson told USA TODAY Sports about Utley. “For us players, his word goes further than anybody else’s. You don’t even have to talk to him. You just watch what he does. He’s seriously one of a kind.”
Aaron Hicks is expected to be the everyday center fielder for the New York Yankees. The Wilson High alum battled injury last year in his second season with the Yankees, and hit .266 with 15 home runs and 10 stolen bases in just 88 games. Hicks, 28, signed a one-year $2.8 million deal in the offseason and could hit second in the Yankees lineup. He has made highlight catches throughout his career, and told WTHN News last week that he’d rather make a great defensive play than come up with the big hit.
“I feel like that makes more of a change in the game, if guys think that they have a home run and they don’t,” Hicks said. “I think it’s a lot more fun for me as well.”
Evan Longoria was traded from the Tampa Bay Rays to the San Francisco Giants in December. The former Dirtbag and St. John Bosco Brave spent the first 10 years of his professional career with Tampa Bay, and has played in 798 games over the last five years, which is the most in the MLB.
Longoria, 32, is a three-time All-Star third baseman with 261 home runs and 892 RBIs in his career, and averages 29 home runs and 101 RBIs a season. He has had two phenomenal seasons in the last five years, and fills a need for San Francisco. Longoria told MLB.com that hitting National League pitching will take adjusting.
“There’s going to need to be a level of trust from me to be able to say, ‘I haven’t seen this guy,’ but I’m going to trust my teammates, and guys who have been here, that their assessment or scouting report is right,” he said.
Matt Duffy missed all of last season following heel surgery, but is working his way back to be Longoria’s replacement at third base for the Tampa Bay Rays. The Lakewood High alum and former Dirtbag was traded from San Fransisco two years ago after winning a World Series, hitting .295 and winning the Willie Mac Award as the Giants’ most inspirational player.
“(Duffy) is a solid defender and puts together great at-bats,” Longoria told the San Fransisco Chronicle. “I just hope for his sake, he’s healthy.”
Troy Tulowitzki, 33, is struggling with injury yet again. The former Dirtbags and current Toronto Blue Jays shortstop won’t start on Opening Day because of a bone spur in his right heel. Tulowitzki is a five-time All-Star with a .290 career batting average, but he has battled injuries for his entire career. He only played 66 games last season. Toronto manager John Gibbons said the shortstop job is Tulowitzki’s when he healthy and ready.
Marco Estrada will be the number three or four starter for the Toronto Blue Jays. The former Dirtbag had the best season of his career in 2016 when he made the All-Star team, but had one of the worst seasons of his life last year with a 4.98 ERA and 1.38 WHIP. Estrada, 34, has been working on his delivery and changeup in the offseason, but the results have been mixed.
Bryan Shaw agreed to be the setup man for the Colorado Rockies, and signed a three-year contract in the offseason that’s worth around $9 million. The former Dirtbags pitcher appeared in a league-leading 79 games with 26 holds last season for the Cleveland Indians. Shaw, 30, played the last five seasons in Cleveland after two with the Arizona Diamondbacks. He was a key relief pitcher for Cleveland in the last two playoffs.
Khris Davis is a rising star in the Oakland Athletics outfield. The Lakewood native was second in the American League with 43 home runs last season, and third with 110 RBIs. Davis, 30, is the No. 22 ranked MLB outfielder according to ESPN.
Nick Vincent is trying to become an integral member of the Seattle Mariners bullpen. The former Dirtbags pitcher had a 3.20 ERA and 29 holds last year in his second season with Seattle. Vincent, 31, spent his first four years in the league with the San Diego Padres.
Justin Turner broke his hand in spring training, but the Los Angeles Dodgers All-Star third baseman won’t need surgery. The Long Beach native had a breakout season in 2017 while helping the Dodgers reach the World Series. Turner, 33, hit .322 last year with 21 home runs and 71 RBIs. He will be out until at least May.
Jason Vargas likely will start the season on the disabled list with the New York Mets. Vargas, 35, bounced back from Tommy John surgery to win 18 games for the Kansas City Royals last season. He signed with the Mets for two years and $16 million, but on March 16 he broke his hand in spring training. Vargas had surgery last week when he got sick on the painkillers and had to go to the emergency room. He threw a bullpen last Saturday.
Jered Hughes was the first free agent signing for the Cincinnati Reds. The former Dirtbag pitcher inked a two-year contract worth $4.5 million, and has a a 1.50 ERA in six spring training appearances. He has a 2.85 career-ERA in six seasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates and one with the Milwaukee Brewers. “I think we have the best lineup in baseball, and I think this year, when our pitching clicks, we’re going to be one of hardest teams to beat in baseball,” Hughes told Cincinnati.com earlier this month.
Ryan Madson is with the Washington Nationals for his 13th year in the league. The Long Beach native missed three years of his career for Tommy John surgery, and the Nationals are his third team in four years. Madson has a 3.36 career-ERA.
Travis d’Arnaud is fighting with Kevin Plawecki to be the primary catcher for the New York Mets. The Lakewood High alum has struggled with injuries and has batted .245 with 46 home runs and a .309 on-base percentage in the last five years.
Shane Carle is one of two pitchers battling for the last spot in the Atlanta Braves bullpen. The former Dirtbag made his debut last summer.
Mike Marjama made his debut with the Seattle Mariners, and will be the backup catcher this season. The former Dirtbag hit over .300 during spring training.
Vance Worley, 30, signed a minor league contract with the Cincinnati Reds, and will start the season at Triple-A. The former Dirtbag has 97 career starts with five teams over nine years.
Shane Peterson started spring training with the San Diego Padres, and was shifted to minors camp on March 18. The former Dirtbags outfielder is a four-year pro.
Danny Espinosa, 30, is also trying to keep his career alive with the Toronto Blue Jays. The former Dirtbag was battling for the final spot on the roster, and signed a minor league deal.