The presence of former Notre Dame Fighting Irish baseball players in Major League baseball has for several years been one of the highlights of the program. While it may never have the professional presence of the football program, the numbers of Irish baseball players in the MLB continues to grow.
This year, five former Notre Dame players made the Opening Day rosters of MLB clubs while an additional eleven players began their seasons in the minor leagues. Let’s take a look at how those on the big clubs performed over the first month+ of the season.
A.J. Pollock - OF, Arizona Diamondbacks
A.J. Pollock is off to a fast start this season, playing his way to National League Player of the Month honors for March/April. He slashed .291/.351/.670 for the month while also hitting 9 home runs and 24 RBIs.
April Power Brings Big Honor.— Arizona Diamondbacks (@Dbacks) May 2, 2018
A.J. Pollock is the Budweiser presents NL Player of the Month! #GenerationDbacks pic.twitter.com/bVmny7gozN
We’ve already touched on Pollock here, so I won’t go into too much detail, but he’s a free agent after this year and he may be quickly playing his way out of Arizona’s price range. As a former Gold Glove winning center fielder who can also handle himself at the plate he seems to be in line for a pretty big contract. He’s already played his way to a 2.1 WAR this season and is a player that should be on the radar of most every club in the league.
Trey Mancini - 1B/OF, Baltimore Orioles
Trey Mancini has struggled so far this season on a Baltimore Orioles team that has one of the worst records in the Major Leagues. Over the first month of the season he slashed .272/.339/.427, which isn’t terrible but is still below his career line of .289/.338/.485. The problem for Mancini is that the power he’s displayed early in his career hasn’t been there, as he’s only hit 3 home runs with a .427 SLG% during the first month of the season, a year after his first full season in which he hit 24 home runs and slugged .488.
The Orioles struggles so far this year go well beyond Mancini, but if the team is going to accomplish anything this year he will need to turn it around. It hasn’t all been bad though, Mancini still managed a sOPS+ of 113 with a .329 BABip through the first month plus of the season. The bad news is that he struck out 29 times but if he can cut those back he’s been doing enough right that everything else should follow.
Jeff Samardzija - RHP, San Francisco Giants
Jeff Samardzija opened the season for the San Francisco Giants on the disabled list recovering from a pectoral injury, but has since come back to make several starts. Samardzija made three starts in the first month of the season, and despite a good first game struggled overall. He pitched to a 5.27 ERA and a 1.829 WHIP in his first three games for a 1-1 record.
The biggest problem for Samardzija so far this season has been a dip in his velocity, sitting in the 92-93 MPH range early in the season, well below his normal 95-96 MPH over the past few years. The bright side of this is that most pitchers see a dip in velocity when returning from injury, and Samardzija’s velocity has been trending upwards over his last few starts, so this will be something to keep an eye on as the season continues.
The Giants are struggling to start the season, sitting just below .500, but if Samardzija can turn things around expect that to benefit the whole team as well.
John Axford - RHP, Toronto Blue Jays
John Axford has pitched in 12 games out of the bullpen for the Toronto Blue Jays over the first month of the season. Axford has performed well, pitching to a 2.08 ERA over 13 innings. His 1.385 WHIP is higher than you would want to see for a guy who generally doesn’t throw more than an inning per appearance, but his impressive 9 SO/9 has helped him overcome that.
The Blue Jays currently sit third in the American League East, but overcoming the Yankees and Red Sox at the top will be no easy task. Axford has done his job so far, and Toronto will need that to continue if they hope to make the playoffs this year.
David Phelps - RHP, Seattle Mariners
David Phelps was expected to be a big part of the Seattle Mariners bullpen this year, however he suffered a torn ulnar collateral ligament at the end of Spring Training. He underwent Tommy John Surgery to repair the tear and will miss the entire 2018 season. He is currently on the Mariners disabled list.
* All statistics from Baseball Reference (https://www.baseball-reference.com/).