Walk in to any AA game in the country and you’re going to find some guy out there playing who is as old as one of his managers, and you wonder what makes these guys hang on. How many years of bus trips can one man take? How many times can you ice your arm knowing that in five days you’ll be pitching to a bunch of kids five to ten years younger than you in some stadium where half the people are only there because it’s dollar dog night?
But these guys are out there. And there are a bunch of them. So it always warms my heart to tune in to some random major league game and see a decidedly nervous 29-year-old throwing his first big league pitches in what is likely to be a 3-week MLB career. But the fact that they’re there also makes it infinitely more understandable why so many guys hang on, even when they're shuffling levels and parent clubs, sometimes annually.
With that in mind, here are the five oldest rookies to break in this year.
Editors note: This does not include Kyuji Fujikawa (Cubs), who played professionally in Japan from 1999-2012. Honestly, I was tempted to include him, primarily so I could mention that as a rookie in 1999 he had to miss part of Spring Training while he was taking remedial classes in high school.
5. Bobby LaFromboise, Mariners, 26 years, 10 months
LaFromboise, from Warren (CA) High School, was picked in the 23rd round of the 2005 draft, but didn’t sign. After his junior year at New Mexico he was taken in the 14th round, but didn’t sign. The Mariners took him in the 8th round of the 2008 draft, and this time he signed.
Since then he spent a year in short season A, a year in A, and a year in advanced A in which he was always a starter. But once he made AA, his role switched to reliever. After a 1.01 ERA in AA last year and a 1.59 ERA in AAA, LaFromboise finally got the call early this year.
After midnight, while in Sacramento, Tacoma manager Daren Brown called him to his room.
"When he told me, I was blown away," LaFromboise said. "I was just hanging out with a couple of roommates and friends. It was a big shock to me.
"I went back down to my room and called my dad. I made one phone call; it was just to my dad. I couldn't get through it. Teared up. And then I had to talk to my mom, and that was worse. Because it's mom. It was just a great feeling to be able to make that phone call to them, and say, hey, I made it."
He lasted three outings, giving up 2 runs in 2.1 innings before being sent back down. Since then, he’s pitched 7 innings in AAA without giving up an earned run.
4. Josh Fields, Houston, 27 years, 8 months
The former Mariners first round pick (No. 20 overall) out of the University of Georgia ended up getting traded to the Red Sox in 2011 after he struggled in limited AAA innings. He pitched well for the Sox last year (2.01 ERA between AA and AAA), but became available through the Rule 5 Draft, where the Astros grabbed him.
Fields made two appearances this year, facing one batter in each of the Astros first two games. So on the year he’s thrown 10 pitches and hasn’t surrendered a hit.
He was placed on the 15-day DL on the 8th, and will be rehabbing soon.
3. Steven Wright, Boston, 28 years, 8 months
Right now it’s hard to find the right Steven Wright on Google. Search for “Steven Wright” and you end up here. Search for “Steven Wright Boston” and you’ll end up here. What’s next, a Red Sox closer named Stephen King?
The 28-year-old knuckleballer was a 2nd round pick for Cleveland in 2006. At the time he was a conventional starting pitcher throwing fastball/slider/curve. But by 2010 he was lost in the minor league shuffle, and began tinkering with the knuckler. In 2011 he used it fulltime (about 75% of his pitches). He still has his old stuff to fall back on, but whether he can stick in the majors is dependent on the knuckleball.
He pitched one game for Boston before being sent back down. He pitched 3.2 innings of relief vs Oakland, and gave up 5 earned runs.
An interesting note about Boston is that Tim Wakefield has a job with their baseball operations. Assumedly, he’ll help progress Wright.
2. Zach Clark, Baltimore, 29 years, 9 months
Clark is another older rookie who’s major league debut lasted one appearance. He was up for four days and now finds himself back in the minors after he cleared waivers. “It’s about right for my path,” Clark said. “If I thought it was going to be easy once I got here, I’d be naïve.”
He originally signed with the Orioles for $1,000 as a non-drafted free agent in 2006. Since then he’s pitched 783.2 innings in their minor league system, and 1.2 innings in the bigs.
The newest plan for Clark? Turn him into a knuckleballer.
1. Scott Rice, New York (N), 31 years, 7 months
The Scott Rice-to-the-majors trip looks something like this:
- He was a sandwich pick in the 1999 draft for the Orioles, and signed a $700,000 bonus at the age of 17.
- He floundered around as a starter, struggling with his command, and then was converted to a reliever when he was 21.
- In his first full season as a reliever he posted a sub-1.00 ERA and had ridiculous strikeout numbers.
- It still took until 2006 for him to make AAA, but the Orioles cut bait and traded him to Texas.
- There, his elbow began hurting, but the doctors couldn’t find any structural damage. Texas cut bait, literally, but cutting him.
- On to the independent leagues where he played for the Long Island Ducks. Fortuitously, a connection there got him to see the Mets team doctor about his lingering arm issues, who immediately recommended Tommy John surgery.
- He got his stuff back together, and once again was pitching in AAA in 2010 (for Colorado).
- Since then he’s been floating around, but hasn’t been able to pitch in a major league game.
- UNTIL, he gets picked up as a free agent by the Mets.
Now all he’s done is post a 1.80 ERA in 17 games.