When the team that drafted a player releases him fromDouble-A, his career is hanging by a thread. If he’s lucky, another team will call him offering an opportunity, but there’s a real chance that no one will. When that happens, players have two options: 1) to give up, retire, and move on with their lives, or 2) to give the dream one more chance in Independent ball. Some players just can’t let baseball go and are willing to let their pride fall by the wayside as they try desperately to attract the attention of another organization. It’s a long journey from independent ball to the major leagues, and only the most determined and the most fortunate can find success. But they don’t always have to go alone. Shane Dyer, David Newmann, and Mike Sheridan face long odds as they hope to fulfill their dream of making the major leagues. This season with the Laredo Lemurs, though, they will face the challenge together.
In the middle rounds of the MLB Draft, the Rays have selected players like Jeremy Hellickson and Alex Cobb who did not stand out for great fastball velocity but impressed for their pitchability and secondary pitches and was worth a chance. As we know, Hellickson and Cobb blossomed into excellent major league pitchers. For a while, it looked like Shane Dyer might join them. Dyer was the Rays’ 6th round pick in the 2008 MLB Draft after hitting 92 MPH in community college with a solid breaking ball, but his two professional seasons were mediocre. In 2010 between Low-A and High-A, though, Dyer finally broke through, going 7-11 with a 2.72 ERA, a 7.2 K/9, a 1.9 BB/9, and a 0.3 HR/9 in 23 starts, a relief appearance, and 135.2 IP. He tossed 3 complete games, the most among all Rays minor leaguers–no one else had more than one–and only Matt Garza matched his totals among the Rays’ MLB totals. Dyer had added a cutter to his arsenal to go along with his fastball and curveball, and suddenly low minors hitters couldn’t handle him. But that was the peak of Dyer’s career and it was all downhill from there.
Dyer managed just a 4.47 ERA at Double-A in 2011, and although he managed a 2.85 mark in his return there in 2012, he got destroyed once coming up to Triple-A, managing just a 7.34 ERA in 9 appearances. The issue was that Dyer’s cutter was his only real plus pitch. Dyer threw an assortment of pitches, mixing in fastballs, cutters, curveballs, and changeups, but his cutter was the only offering he could trust. His fastball was too straight and he couldn’t locate his secondary pitches consistently enough to be effective. Joe Maddon has talked before about how a young pitcher adding a cutter to his arsenal can take away from his other pitches. Dyer was unfortunately the perfect example His cutter was great and that was enough to beat hitters at A-ball, but his focus on his cutter took his focus off his curveball and changeup and made him unable to miss bats against more advanced hitters. Dyer wasn’t like Hellickson with his changeup or Cobb with his split-change–attacking hitters with a fastball and a cutter with just a 2 MPH difference in velocity wasn’t going to cut it. If Dyer wants to get his career back together, he has to made major strides on his curveball and change and make up for the time he lost on them developing his cutter to become a more complete pitcher and a better one. Dyer is only 25 years old and was talented enough to get a look from the Tigers in their minor league camp before they cut him loose. His career is at its nadir right now, but with enough work he has the ability to get himself back together.
The year before Dyer made his name pitching for High-A Charlotte, 2009, lefty David Newmann began his professional career with the Stone Crabs and did so quite well. A 4th round pick by the Rays in the 2007 MLB Draft, Newmann didn’t make his pro debut until 2009 thanks to signing late and a knee injury. But when he got his career started, Newmann dominated hitters as expected, going 9-6 with a 3.44 ERA, an 8.8 K/9, a 3.2 BB/9, a 0.8 HR/9 in 24 starts and 131 innings pitched. Armed with an excellent sinker, Newmann forced an outstanding 58.6% groundball rate, and combining that with a good curveball and decent changeup gave him the ability to be a number three starter in the major leagues. Unfortunately, Newmann’s career has never looked as optimistic since. Newmann struggled at Double-A Montgomery in 2010, going 3-9 with a 4.50 ERA and an 80-45 strikeout to walk ratio in 114 innings pitched, and that has been his last healthy season.
Injuries limited Nwemann to 4.2 innings in 2011 and not a single one in 2012, and the Rays had finally seen enough, releasing him. For Newmann, now 27 years old, his task is simple: if he proves that he is healthy and has at least a fraction of the stuff that got him on the map as a prospect, he will get another chance. But after the way he has struggled the last three years, Newmann will be forced to do that way down at Independent ball, and it’s going to take all of Newmann’s willpower to keep going, especially if the injuries cause him to struggle early on. After two years spent almost entirely away from the mound didn’t dishearten Newmann, though, finally heading back to the mound, even in unaffiliated ball, will be not a further fall from grace but a step in the right direction as he hopes to pick up the pieces of a once-promising career that hasn’t lost all of its luster yet.
The Rays just kept waiting and waiting for Mike Sheridan to finally come around. A 5th round pick by the Rays in the 2008 MLB Draft, Sheridan, a first baseman, stood out for good bat speed, an immaculate ability to make contact, and decent power. Sheridan continues to show all those traits. He has struck out in just 11.1% of his plate appearances in his career as he continues to make contact as often as anyone and his power has surfaced to an extent as well as he slammed 14 home runs in 2009 and 10 in 2012. But Sheridan’s career has never come together. In 2079 professional plate appearances, his batting line is just .247/.294/.366 (.660 OPS), with his OPS ranging from .620 to .680 in each of his minor league seasons. He hasn’t been terrible, but he has never impressed. What happened?
Sheridan’s career BAbip has been just .264, and that isn’t a case of bad luck–if it should have been .290, the chances of it being that low are just 113 to 1 (.0089 probability). Sheridan just isn’t making enough high-quality contact to hit well. It’s great that he’s making contact in general, and that is what has given him a measure of consistency in his career. However, he’s not hitting for average or much power because his plate discipline hasn’t been up to par. According to Minor League Central, Sheridan swung at pitches outside the strike zone 13.3% of the time, exactly the league average–it’s not that he doesn’t know the strike zone. Instead, the issue is that Sheridan isn’t being patient enough within the zone, making too much contact and hitting the ball weakly way too often. He’s not getting the ball on the barrel enough, and as a hitter without much power, that has to change immediately. Sheridan, a lefty batter, also has struggled versus lefties, managing just a .208/.235/.308 line the last two years. But despite everything, Sheridan still has promise. He’s only 25 years old, plays great defense at first base, and still has quality the bat speed. The question is going to be whether he can change his approach at the plate to maximize his talent and give himself a chance, and after years of struggles, that will have to come at independent ball. The scouting report that caused Sheridan to stand out to the Rays in 2008 still holds entirely true. Now it’s up to him to fix the underlying parts of his game that have held him back, and if he can do that, maybe everything will change.
Shane Dyer, David Newmann, and Mike Sheridan are not players with little talent holding onto a major league dream that undeniably won’t happen. They are all players who still have something left, and while their chances look as bleak as ever, they are one each breakthrough away from turning their careers around and getting themselves one more opportunity in affiliated ball and just maybe in the major leagues someday. They are all competing separately, but nevertheless having former teammates next to them with the Laredo Lemurs will all help them significantly. It will allow them to retain a sense of familiarity as they enter a path the likes of which they have never seen before, and whenever they think about giving up, they can be inspired once more by looking out and seeing their former teammates in the same position as them still trying. The odds are that this is the last we’ve seen of Shane Dyer, David Newmann, and Michael Sheridan in baseball. But with untapped potential remaining, teammates in it with them for the long haul, and a determination not to let this be the way their careers end, Dyer, Newmann, and Sheridan are going to do everything they can hoping and dreaming that a promising future is still ahead.
(Hat tip to the @RaysProspects Twitter account for reporting that Dyer, Newmann, and Sheridan were all with the Lemurs.)