Back in 2004, the White Sox went through a period commonly referred to as "5th starter hell", when they stretched into late June without a win from the last slot in the rotation.
In fairness, this team entered the year with Scott Shoeneweis as their No. 4 starter, and skipped spots on enough occasions to run out Mark Buehrle a career-high 35 times (for a career-high 245.1 IP). Perhaps the larger issue was that the rotation was planned out with the understanding that the offense would score 10 runs a game.
Yet this oddity captured the media and fans' attention as call-up after call-up was brought in and thrown to the wolves. By June 19th, Dan Wright, Felix Diaz, Neal Cotts, and Jon Rauch had all fallen by the wayside in ignominious fashion, the No. 5 slot had been skipped in the rotation three times in a row, and 22 year-old Arnie Munoz boasted promising enough stats in Double-A to earn himself a looksie.
What's the worst that could happen? It was only the friggin' Expos.
What followed was truly remarkable, not because Arnie miraculously ended the White Sox woes--heavens no--but because he brought them to a thunderingly gruesome climax.
Munoz had a rough enough time in his first inning of Major League, getting a few loud outs alongside matching doubles by Jamey Carrol and Carl Everett to score a run. But it was the 2nd inning in Montreal where things went to hell at a uniquely brisk pace.
It featured six hits, three walks (one intentional, who eventually scored), a hit batter, a wild pitch, and of courese, two separate home runs by Juan Rivera. In the middle of it all, Expos pitcher Tony Armas Jr. laid down a sac bunt. Only in National League ball do you get to see someone give up outs to a 22 year-old making his debut and throwing batting practice.
Munoz actually retired the Expos' #3 and #4 hitters to get out of the 3rd, but at that point, had thrown 91 pitches. First-year manager Ozzie Guillen decided to call it a day for the youngster, leaving him with a final line of 3 IP, 10 H, 11 ER, 2 HR, 3 BB, and 1 strikeout of the pitcher (Because Arnie did not generally miss the bats of major league hitters) for a Game Score of -7, the worst score for a debuting pitcher since 1920.
The notoriously strong-hitting, crap-pitching 2004 Sox rallied that day, and brought the game as close as 15-14 before ultimately falling 17-14, and one wonders if not for Munoz if that contest would have been remembered instead as "The Juan Uribe 7 RBI game" or "The time the White Sox scored 14 runs despite not having Magglio Ordonez, not starting Frank Thomas, and Carlos Lee going 0 for 6"
Munoz was bounced back to the minors after the game, and didn't return until September call-ups, where he was neither remarkable in a good way, nor in the way he had previously demonstrated. Arnie regularly operated in the 3.0 K/BB ratio range in Double-A Birmingham, but his mid-80's heat transformed him into a nibbler who couldn't keep his walk rate down in Triple-A. The White Sox were not about to promote him based off promising numbers in the Southern League again, and the kid who debuted at 17 years-old in Rookie ball never started another Major League contest, nor suited up for the big club in Chicago again.
In 2007, the Nationals (apparently impressed by what they saw first-hand in 2004) gave Munoz a September call-up that went preposterously terribly. He faced 32 batters, 15 of them reached base, 9 of them at Munoz' insistence, and two just touched them as they were passing around the diamond on a victory lap. When his prodigious walk problems followed him back to the minors in 2008, the Nationals released Munoz, and he disappeared from MLB and baseball altogether until spending 2010 in the Mexican Leagues.
Munoz managed to get through an entire 26 IP in 2010 without allowing a home run in Mexico, as Juan Rivera was nowhere to be found.
Clued in by a tweet from Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus, I found Munoz in Dominican Winter Ball pitching for the Aguilas Cibaenas. On this Tuesday evening he worked 1.2 IP, walking one, and apparently getting his five outs au naturale...which is to say that Munoz looks to still be a soft-tossing lefty who can't miss bats, as he's walked four and struck out none with a 10.12 ERA in 2.2 IP on the young season.
But hey, he's still only 29 year-old. His career is progressing at a Randy Williams-like pace.
The MiLBY Awards
As anyone could have expected, the White Sox are cleaning up all the post-season Minor League awards. Due to their obvious short-comings, the White Sox are cleaning up in the awards by cheating, and by winning the awards that aren't real.
Addison Reed actually won the Minor League Reliever of the Year award, for pitching at 5 different levels over the course of the year, and rarely letting his K/BB ratio dip below 9 along the way. Reed had an outstanding and deserving year, but also played for exactly the organization that would facilitate something like a 5-level season. Daniel Hudson agrees with this sentiment.
Ian Gac is currently dominating the fan vote for High-A Hitter of the Year after his 33 HR season for Winston-Salem. This has been harped on before, but Ian Gac is 26 years-old and first broke into High-A ball in 2006. If only the White Sox shameless courting of MiLBY awards ended here.
But no. Nick Cioli won a fan vote for Best Play of the Year for the catch he made tumbling over the short right field fence in BB&T Ballpark in at High-A Winston-Salem. While the rationalization that if the White Sox farm system is filled with organizational filler, they might as well build a cartoonishly odd right field fence for them to tumble over and rack up highlights is theoretically sound, it's chillingly calculated.
Finally, Lucas Harrell is apparently in the running for Triple-A starter of the year. This is a nice rejoinder to have in your back pocket the next time someone is trumpeting a minor league starter who "just gets results" - "Oh yeah, well, even Lucas Harrell is an effective starter in Triple-A." Shutdown, that person would be.
We know about hitting coaches now?
Joe Cowley's latest drum to beat is that of "Frank Thomas: A Dream Deferred", in response to Frank's readily apparent interest in the open Hitting Coach position for the White Sox, and their hesitance to reciprocate interest. As a born Frankophile, the idea of the greatest hitter I've ever witnessed coaching others is natural intriguing, and certainly the Sox aren't currently in a great position to argue that there's more to coaching than just being a great player, but Cowley's campaign for Frank never gets beyond how he was a great hitter, and quotes from Frank on how he thinks he'd could do it. It didn't include a word of confidence from Frank's former coaches, nor even a sloppy trumpeting of Alex Rios' resurgent September after a conversation with Thomas, nothing.
I can only give a logical guess of what would make a good Major League hitting coach, and it doesn't seem like the interviewer or subject are operating with much more. And if we're all just pontificating here, then what's the tragedy of the White Sox going for 'experienced and in-house' for an assistant job of unknown tangible value?
"Do I fit? Who knows. Bottom line is they’ll make the right decision they need to make.’’
At the very least, Frank's skills at delivering safe quotes seem ready for the pros.
Tags: addison reed, Alex Rios, arnie munoz, baseball, carlos lee, dan wright, felix diaz, Frank Thomas, jon rauch, juan rivera, Juan Uribe, Kenny Williams, magglio ordonez, Mark Buehrle, montreal expos, neal cotts, nick cioli, scott schoeneweis, tony armas jr., Washington Nationals, White Sox