A Look at three former Notre Dame baseball players in the Major League
Spring has come, and with it, the start of the Major League Baseball season. While Our Lady’s University may be better known for what goes on in labs in Jordan, offices in Decio or Notre Dame Stadium, the Fighting Irish baseball program has produced several Major League-caliber players over the past few years. In the spirit of spring and optimism, here’s a look at a few Domers, a season outlook for them and a prediction for where their teams will find themselves come October.
Perhaps one of the most beloved players of the Charlie Weis era finds himself on the mound for opening day, starting for the Chicago Cubs. Jeff Samardzija was also called upon to make the opening day start last season for the Cubs, and he did not disappoint. He turned in 8 scoreless innings while recording 9 strikeouts. Samardzija will be facing the Pittsburgh Pirates, a team that broke into the playoffs last season, ending a 20-year losing streak.
Samardzija has spent much of his 6-year career as a reliever; it was not until the 2012 season that he was tapped to be a consistent starter for the Cubs. He has a career winning percentage of .453, with 29 wins and 35 losses. The 29-year-old nearly equaled his career high in wins last year, falling one short of the 9 he recorded during the 2012 season. He is projected to best that total this season, with several statisticians projecting at least 12 wins for the Indiana native.
Unfortunately, things do not look as bright for Samardzija’s club in the immediate future. Despite some expected improvement from their ace, the Cubs are once again picked to finish last in the National League Central. While their farm system does seem to be picking up, the Cubs will not even be able to best the Brewers this season.
Moving east to the land of plenty, Notre Dame grad David Phelps is a pitcher for the legendary New York Yankees. Phelps had spent this spring fighting to join CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Ivan Nova and Masahiro Tanaka as the Yankees’ fifth starter, but he has recently lost the battle to Michael Pineda of the Dominican Republic. Phelps will remain a part of the Yankees’ bullpen, and perhaps may have a chance to compete for the recently opened spot as the 8th inning reliever following the elevation of David Robertson to the closer role.
Phelps has not shown much brilliance in his two-year stint with New York. He has started 23 games, winning 10 of them and losing 9. He began his career in 2012 with a 4-4 record, posting a 3.34 ERA and a WHIP of 1.19. Unfortunately, his second season was not as successful. Phelps’s Wins Above Replacement (WAR) dropped from 2.0 to -0.5, precipitating his removal from the starting rotation.
After an incredibly disappointing season last year that saw New York fall to third place, the Yankees are not poised to move any higher. Many scouts express concern regarding the rotation and many of New York’s aging stars.
John Axford enters the 2014 season with a new team, and new expectations. After spending last season with the St. Louis Cardinals and posting a 1.59 ERA in the postseason, Axford was signed as a free agent by the Cleveland Indians. They have announced that Axford will serve as their closer for the 2014 season, a position he had held previously with the Milwaukee Brewers.
Axford’s career has had its ups and downs, being demoted to the minor leagues multiple times before being traded to the Cardinals last season by the Brewers. It seems though that in Cleveland Axford may have found a home. Manager Terry Francona led the team to a playoff berth last season, and the Indians seem ready to pick up where they left off, although competition will be stiff with triple-crown winner Miguel Cabrera playing for division rival Detroit.
Axford, Phelps and Samardzija are just three of the many players Notre Dame has sent to the major leagues over her storied baseball history. Who knows: When the Irish take on Clemson at Frank Eck Stadium on May 9, a future all-star could be taking the field.
John McMackin is a sophomore history and theology major. He is desperately hoping that the Phillies pitching staff can pull itself together this year. If you’d like to discuss that, or the sorry state of their outfield, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.