Minor league ballplayers were forced to wait more than a year between games, but the 2021 season finally got underway last week. The layoff may have delayed their career timelines, but Long Beach’s young talent is now back on the diamond continuing their journey to the big leagues.
A few Long Beach State alums find themselves on the cusp of an MLB promotion, led by centerfielder Jarren Duran, who began his 2021 season with the Triple-A Worcester Red Sox. The 24-year-old speedster is getting his first action at the Triple-A level after finishing the 2019 season in Double-A. Duran appeared in the MLB Futures Game that year, playing alongside several players who have since made their MLB debuts. It’s only a matter of time until Duran arrives at Fenway Park, but a strong start to the season could make that call come sooner rather than later.
Also in Triple-A is LHP Clayton Andrews, who is coming out of the bullpen for the Nashville Sounds in the Milwaukee Brewers organization. Andrews had never advanced beyond Double-A prior to this year, throwing 31.1 innings at that level in 2019. Meanwhile, RHP Darren McCaughan opened the season with the Seattle Mariners’ Double-A affiliate Arkansas Travelers. McCaughan allowed two runs in 5.2 IP with six strikeouts and no walks in his season debut. He made nine starts in Triple-A in 2019, and is a strong candidate to be promoted should he perform well out of the gate.
Other former Dirtbags starting their seasons at Double-A include LHP Zak Baayoun (Colorado Rockies), C David Banuelos (Minnesota Twins), RHP Kyle Freidrichs (Oakland A’s), and OF Brock Lundquist (Toronto Blue Jays).
Due to last season’s shutdown, OF L.J. Jones (St. Louis Cardinals) and LHP Adam Seminaris (Los Angeles Angels) are finally getting their first minor league experience this season. Seminaris was invited to the Angels’ alternate training site–Bohl Diamond at Blair Field–at the end of the shortened 2020 campaign, but he now has the opportunity to face some in-game competition. Both players have opened the year with their organizations’ Low-A affiliates.
Local high schools also have some alums back on minor league diamonds. Wilson’s Chase De Jong is looking to make his fourth different big league club this season, and he made a compelling case to do just that in his first start for the Triple-A Indianapolis Indians. De Jong threw six shutout innings, allowing just two hits and two walks while striking out 10. Especially after his solid Spring Training performance, more starts like that could have De Jong heading east on I-70 to join the Pittsburgh Pirates very soon. His former Wilson teammate, Chris Betts, is currently seeing his first action with a Double-A club, catching for the Montgomery Biscuits in the Tampa Bay Rays organization.
Former Lakewood infielder Brendon Davis is with the Angels’ High-A affiliate to start 2021, and he launched a two-run home run in his team’s season opener. Meanwhile, former Poly Jackrabbit and Long Beach City College pitcher Tai Tiedemann was great in his first appearance for the High-A Hickory Crawdads (Texas Rangers), allowing just one hit in 3.2 scoreless innings of relief. Millikan star Spencer Steer is off to a hot start with the Twins’ High-A squad, going 7-for-20 (.350 AVG) with five runs, three walks and a stolen base through his first five games.
Meanwhile in The Show, there have been some positive early results for a few Long Beach guys, most notably the resurgence of Matt Duffy with the Chicago Cubs. The former Lakewood Lancer and Long Beach State Dirtbag has played in 29 of the first 34 games for the North Siders, hitting .288 with an impressive .394 on-base percentage and three stolen bases. He’s also displayed some defensive versatility, making appearances at third base, first base, second base, plus his first game as an outfielder. “Duff Man” even stepped onto the mound for his first career pitching appearance on April 28, retiring the only batter he faced against the Atlanta Braves.
Third baseman Evan Longoria is also off to a good start in his Age-35 season, hitting .281 with a strong .385 OBP through his first 30 games for the San Francisco Giants. The former Dirtbag star is in his 14th big league season and currently ranks 10th among active ballplayers in Wins Above Replacement (WAR).
Colorado Rockies utilityman Garrett Hampson has already had a much-improved season compared to 2020. The 26-year-old out of Long Beach State is tied for third in MLB with seven stolen bases through Sunday’s action, and he’s on pace for his most productive offensive season while splitting time between center field and second base.
Former Lakewood SS J.P. Crawford is an everyday player for the Mariners, and he was in a groove at the plate during last weekend’s series in Texas. The reigning Gold Glover collected three hits including his first home run of the season in the series opener. On the weekend, Crawford went 6-for-13 (.462) at the dish to raise his season batting average 25 points up to .270.
On the mound, former Dirtbags hurler Bryan Shaw has pitched well in his return to Cleveland and is a key component of the Indians’ bullpen this season. The veteran righthander has a 2.03 ERA through his first 13 appearances while holding opposing batters to a paltry .070 batting average.