When professional baseball scouts visit Nashville, they generally are bound for West End to see the powerhouse built by Tim Corbin at Vanderbilt.
Who can blame them? The Commodores routinely churn out first-round draft picks and currently have 38 former players scattered throughout professional baseball.
Despite the success of its of their neighbor, the Lipscomb Bisons have also contributed, though quietly, to the baseball pipeline running out of the Music City. Lipscomb currently has nine alumni in the professional ranks, including three who have appeared for major league teams in 2017.
Below is a complete rundown of all of nine former Bisons in the pros, analysis for each player and thoughts from Lipscomb head coach Jeff Forehand:
MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL (ONE PLAYER)
2017 stats: .274 batting average, 61 hits, 26 RBI, 12 doubles and eight home runs
After a forgettable showing in 2016 that included zero RBI and a horrific groin injury, Joseph has bounced back in a big way. His .274 batting average forced Baltimore manager Buck Showalter to insert the former Bison into the lineup more often.
For his efforts, Joseph will likely get a raise from his current salary of $700,000, as he is eligible to negotiate a new contract this offseason. Should Joseph and the Orioles fail to agree to a deal, the two sides will then go to arbitration, where a third party will decide how much Joseph will get.
Joseph also paid homage to Forehand last weekend with a “Thank You” patch on his jersey as part of the MLB Players Weekend.
“That was a very cool thing for Caleb to do,” Forehand said of the patch. “I’m flattered that he did that, because he could have chosen a lot of other people. He’s having a great season and is proving he belongs [in Baltimore], and he is probably going to be there for a long time.”
Triple-A (two players)
- MLB: 2-3 record, 7.63 ERA, 15.1 innings pitched, 13 earned runs and 22 strikeouts
- Minors: 0-0 record, 2.70 ERA, 16.2 innings pitched, five earned runs and 26 strikeouts
Once a highly-touted prospect for the Colorado Rockies, Brothers had a slow fall from grace starting with a disappointing season in 2014. After pitching just 17 games at the MLB level in 2015, Brothers missed all of last season with an arm injury. 2017 has provided some redemption for Brothers, who signed a minor-league contract with the Atlanta Braves in April.
He has been successful in the minors this season but struggled when given another chance in the big leagues this summer. Despite that, Brothers is likely to be recalled by the Braves when rosters expand to 40 men on Sept. 1.
“[Brothers] has gotten his velocity back up to 96 or 97 and just needs to get back to locating the ball more consistently,” Forehand said.“Once he can do that, he’ll back [in Atlanta] to stay. Being able to fight off an injury and get back to the big leagues after a year away is pretty special.”
- MLB: 2-1 record, 4.89 ERA, 35 innings pitched, 35 hits, 19 earned runs and 25 strikeouts
- Minors: 4-1 record, 3.72 ERA, 36.1 innings pitched, 29 hits, 15 earned runs and 39 strikeouts
Smith has split his season between the Triple-A Nashville Sounds and the major-league Oakland Athletics. His numbers don’t jump off the page, but the right-handed pitcher has been a successful reliever. Smith was largely used as a starter up until last season, when he made 30 relief appearances for the beleaguered Cincinnati Reds bullpen. The Margate, Florida, native is a near lock to be added back to the A’s roster in September, allowing him another opportunity to showcase his value to Oakland.
“We got to see [Smith] and have lunch with him last week,” Forehand said. “He is a veteran now and knows how things work. He understands he’ll probably get called back up when rosters expand in September.”
Double-A (one player)
2017 stats: 0-1 record, 7.36 ERA, 11 innings pitched, nine earned runs, 10 walks and 10 strikeouts
Much like Brothers, Nunn missed the entire 2016 season after being released by the San Diego Padres. The Memphis native then inked a minor-league deal with Milwaukee this spring, but elbow tendinitis and a miscommunication with the team’s staff led Nunn to ask for his release.
Nunn spent the summer pitching in a Nashville men’s baseball league before reappearing with the Evansville Otters of the independent Frontier League in August. The hard-throwing lefty made just one start for the Otters before being scooped up by the Chicago Cubs on Aug. 17. At age 26, Nunn’s dreams of making the majors are still alive, but a strong finish to the season would assure the Cubs that they made the right choice.
“[Nunn] knew he still had the tools to pitch, even after being out for a year,” Forehand said. “He’s throwing harder than ever, but had a rough first outing. I think he was hyped up a little bit after not starting a game for so long. Hopefully he can keep moving up the ladder.”
Single-A (two players)
2017 stats: .314 batting average, 69 hits, 12 doubles, three home runs, 36 RBI and 20 stolen bases
Gigliotti is arguably the former Bison with the highest professional ceiling. After being selected by the Kansas City Royals in June’s MLB Amateur Draft, the speedy outfielder has excelled through his first 58 professional games and he earned a promotion to Single-A Lexington on Aug. 9. The 21-year-old is also showing that his struggles at the collegiate level this spring were a fluke.
MLB Pipeline lists the Fort Lauderdale, Florida, native as the Royals 21st-best prospect, and he was also recently named to the Appalachian League All-Star Team. With a hefty signing bonus in his pocket, Gigliotti has plenty of time to progress through the Royals’ system.
“By his standards, [Gigliotti] would probably say he had a down junior season,” Forehand said. “But we all knew what he was going to do in professional ball. I think we’ll see him in the big leagues soon.”
2017 stats: .248 batting average, 79 hits, 16 doubles and 35 RBI
Massey’s three-year pro career has been one of incredible consistency, as his batting average has hovered around .250 since being drafted by the Chicago White Sox in 2015. However, his fielding ability is what initially drew the eyes of scouts in 2015, when Massey was named a semifinalist for the Brooks Wallace Award, given annually to the nation’s top shortstop. Although Massey faces a tough road to ever make it to the majors, the versatile infielder is still a solid asset to have under contract.
“If [Massey] keeps fielding well, he’s going to play for a long time,” Forehand said. “He’s like a coach’s safety blanket. His average is fine, but his opportunities will come because of his defensive play.”
Rookie League (three players)
2017 stats: 2-0 record, 17.2 innings pitched, 23 hits, six earned runs, two walks and 18 strikeouts
Fresh off being the final player selected in June’s MLB Amateur Draft, Passantino has settled into his new home in Arizona nicely. Passantino initially drew attention by dominating the Cape Cod League last summer, garnering the award for the league’s top pitcher. Control is perhaps his best tool, and his 9:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio with the AZL Cubs is consistent with his showing this past spring at Lipscomb.
All 10 of Passantino’s pro outings have come as a reliever, but his versatility on the mound makes his long-term role flexible. Passantino will likely find himself with the Single-A Eugene Emeralds or the South Bend Cubs when the 2018 season opens.
“[Passantino] puts teams in a position to win by being effective in the strike zone and by not walking many batters,” Forehand said. “He probably projects as a middle-inning kind of guy, but you never know. His fortitude has gotten him to where he is, and he’s going to keep being confident in his ability to pitch.”
2017 stats: 3-1 record, 3.19 ERA, 42.1 innings pitched, 47 hits, 15 earned runs, nine walks and 27 strikeouts
Puckett has split his rookie season between starting and coming out of the bullpen. The Murfreesboro native struggled during a few appearances in July but has since found his groove. In each of his last five outings, the powerful right-hander has tossed five plus innings while allowing two runs or less. Look for Puckett to begin his 2018 season with the Single-A Greensboro Grasshoppers.
“The Marlins and the Cubs are both careful with their pitchers,” Forehand said. “Passantino and Puckett both threw over 90 innings with us this spring, so these teams are taking it slow with them. Brady projects as a big-time arm. Even when he has a bad outing or two, we know what he is capable of.”
2017 stats: .160 batting average, four hits, three RBI and two walks
Vazquez has been the ultimate “team-first” player this season. After going undrafted in 2016, Vazquez inked a free-agent deal with the Yankees to provide organizational depth at catcher. Victor Rey and Saul Torres are both ahead of Vazquez on Pulaski’s catching depth chart, so the former Bison serves as a pinch-hitter and makes an occasional appearance at first base.
Thanks to his solid defense behind the plate, Vazquez has a chance to stick in the pro ranks – whether it’s with the Yankees or another organization.
“(Vazquez) has been working hard ever since he got his chance with the Yankees,” Forehand said. “The catching position is so injury-prone that teams often need an extra catcher. He just needs to keep doing his thing and make the most of the chances that come around.”
* PLAYER STATISTICS AS OF 4:30 P.M. ON 8/29/17
Photo courtesy of Lipscomb Athletics