All-time hit-by-pitch leader Craig Biggio retired after the 2007 season, but his spirit lives on in the form of Oakland Athletics prospect J.D. Pruitt.
After being selected in the 23rd round of the 2007 First-Year Player Draft, Pruitt was assigned to short-season Vancouver. There, he compiled a set of most unusual stats. In 61 games, the University of Montevallo product was hit by a pitch a staggering 34 times while drawing 50 walks. His dedication to reaching first base by any means necessary resulted in a Northwest League-leading .460 on-base percentage, despite the fact he batted just .211.
"That's been my M.O. my whole life," Pruitt said. "I just want to get on base, and I think that was why the A's drafted me. They saw a leadoff guy who really fits the mold of their organization."
Pruitt's remarkable ability to take one for the team didn't come about by accident.
"It all started in high school, where my coach, Earl Miller, stressed that in order for us to win ballgames, you have to win the small battles that occur throughout the game," said Pruitt. "At Montevallo, coach Greg Goff really emphasized that philosophy, to the point where'd we'd even have hit-by-pitch practices.
"If a pitcher tries to come inside, that's a purpose pitch and that purpose is to get me off the plate. But the way I look at it is that the batter's box is mine and I'm not going to move."
The single-season Minor League record for getting hit by a pitch is held by Carlos Quentin, who was plunked 43 times in 2005. Pruitt easily could challenge that mark if he plays a full season in 2008.
"That would be positive because it would bring attention to the team, but it's not something that's on my mind," said Pruitt, who is slated to play with Class A Kane County after recovering from offseason rotator cuff and labrum surgery. "I've always been really into the team concept, not the individual-type stuff."
One person Pruitt will have a hard time catching in the hit-by-pitch department is active Minor League leader Corky Miller, currently a free agent, who has taken one for the team 168 times over 10 seasons. The veteran backstop has cooled off in recent years, however, as he was hit 112 times between 1998-2001. In 1998, he was plunked a Pruitt-esque 21 times in only 45 games with Rookie-level Billings.
The painful ballad of J.D. and Corky represents just the tip of the proverbial iceberg when it comes to lesser-known Minor League milestones and statistical oddities. This article is dedicated to celebrating some of these "accomplishments," all of which feature players who appeared in the Minor Leagues in 2007.
The Bringers of Pain
On the other, less bruising end of the hit-by-pitch equation are the pitchers, some of whom have become quite proficient at drilling opponents. Take veteran Tim Kester, for example. Last Aug. 2, the Norfolk Tides right-hander became the only active pitcher in the Minors with 100 career plunks when he hit Louisville's Jorge Cantu in the second inning of a 1-0 win. Kester hit one more batters during the season to give him a career-high 11 for the year and 101 overall. Unfortunately (for the sake of history), Corky Miller was not among Kester's 2007 victims. The Cork Man faced Kester on April 27 but went a benign 0-for-3.
Other veteran hurlers knocking on the door of the esteemed "100 Hit Batters Club" include Chris Michalak (99 over 14 seasons) and Sean Tracey (95 over six seasons, including a career-high 25 in 2003).
On the Flip Side: Tigers farmhand (and Netherlands native) Edward Clelland has not hit a batter over 139 innings in four seasons. ... D-backs southpaw Craig Pfautz has gone three seasons and 119 2/3 innings without plunking anyone, although he has thrown 18 wild pitches. ... And speaking of wild pitches ...
For strategic (and, occasionally, vengeful) purposes, pitchers will purposely throw at a batter. But something that is rarely intentional is the wild pitch, those offerings that elude the catcher and careen into parts unknown. There is only one current member of the "100 Wild Pitches Club" and that's Jake Robbins, who played for Triple-A Charlotte in 2007.
The 31-year-old ran his wild pitch total to triple digits on July 8, when he uncorked one in the fifth inning against Columbus, and ended the season with 102. Close behind is 29-year-old right-hander Ben Howard, who has 99 wild pitches on his career stat sheet. Howard is deserving of some sort of "most improved" award when it comes to wild pitches, however, so let's give credit where credit is due: The Illinois native threw 69 wild pitches over his first four seasons but only 30 over the past seven campaigns. In 2007, he pitched for Triple-A Iowa and unleashed just one wild pitch over 82 innings.
On the Flip Side: It goes without saying that New York Yankees left-hander Kei Igawa had a year to forget (2-3 with a 6.25 ERA in 14 big-league appearances). However, the Japanese import pitched 77 1/3 innings in the Minors without uncorking a wild pitch, the longest streak among pitchers who didn't allow a wild pitch last season.
And While We're on the Subject: Over the past three seasons, Kevin Slowey recorded just one wild pitch -- July 22, 2007 against Ottawa -- over 354 1/3 Minor League innings. His Major League experience was a different story, however, as the 23-year-old right-hander threw three in 66 2/3 innings with the Minnesota Twins.
So far, we've focused on some rather dubious pitching accomplishments. Sometimes these achievements are simply the result of longevity and not due to any major deficiencies in the hurler's approach to the game. So let's pause to recognize some of the Minors' most durable men on the mound.
There are no active pitchers who have reached the 1,500-innings mark, but several may do so in 2008:
Most games pitched:
It should be mentioned that Bacsik has started more games (231) than anyone else in the Minors. Lee Gardner, meanwhile, has appeared in the most games (440) without making a start.
It would be a disservice if we focused solely on oldsters. Here are a few young 'uns (25 and under) with career stats worth keeping an eye on:
Back to the Batter's Box
To those who are offense-minded, the rest of this column will focus solely on stats relating to hitters. Of course, when it comes to statistical oddities and bizarre milestones, one hitter stands out above the rest. And that's the greatest oldster of them all, Julio Franco, who turns 50 on Aug. 23.
This past season, Franco spent the second half of August in the Braves' Minor League system, marking the first time since 1982 that he had played in the affiliated Minor Leagues. The reason for this brief sojourn back to the Minors was simple -- the ageless wonder was biding his time before returning to Atlanta for a September callup. Suffice to say, virtually anything he did during his stint in the Minors set some sort of age-related record, but here's the most impressive:
On Aug. 18, while playing for Class A Rome, Franco stole a base. It'll probably be a long, long time before we see a 48-year-old man steal another base in the South Atlantic League. For the record, Julio's historic swipe occurred against the Greenville Drive and came after he was hit by a pitch by Brian Steinocher leading off the eighth inning. The catcher was Matthew Cooney, who had just entered the game, and was, in fact, making his SAL debut. When Cooney was born in December of 1985, Franco already had four Major League seasons under his belt.
I'm Fine Right Where I Am, Thank You
Franco stole a base when he was five days shy of turning 49, yet there are Minor League players more than 25 years his junior who seem incapable of swiping a bag. For example, Astros catching prospect Max Sapp has logged 481 at-bats without even attempting a steal, the longest such streak in the Minors. He is followed by Blue Jays farmhand Brian Jeroloman, also a catcher, who has batted 431 times without trying to steal.
Among those who have at least attempted a stolen base, David Castillo has gone the most at-bats without being successful. The 26-year-old catcher (as if he could be anything else) has played 297 games, logged 957 at-bats and has been gunned down in all four of his steal attempts.
On the Flip Side: In the Rookie-level Arizona League, outfielder Adam Klein stole 33 bases in only 45 games and averaged one steal every 4.11 at-bats. The 24-year-old Athletics prospect was caught seven times.
The Elusive Three-Bagger
Since we're on the topic of lead-footed catchers, let's take a moment to honor J.C. Boscan, who has amassed 2,365 at-bats over 11 seasons without ever hitting a triple. That drought is the longest in the Minor Leagues, but give Boscan at least a little credit -- the native of Venezuela has managed to steal 15 bases in his career (in 34 attempts).
Next up on the "No Triples" list is Brian Dopirak, who has batted 2,001 times over six seasons. Surprisingly, he is not a catcher, but he is a member of another breed of speed-averse baseball players: the slugging first baseman. Dopirak, in fact, has blasted 89 home runs in his professional career, including 39 with Class A Lansing in 2004.
On the Flip Side: A triumvirate of professional rookies showed a remarkable propensity for the three-bagger in 2007.
Hard Work and No Sacrifice
After a decade of putting up solid numbers in the Minor Leagues, Jack Cust finally got a chance to play regularly in the Majors in 2007. He did not disappoint, as the 28-year-old hit 26 homers and drove in 82 runs for Oakland after starting the season with Triple-A Portland.
Cust hit 200 homers and drove in 699 runs in the Minors before getting his big break, but there was one thing he was never able to accomplish. Over 1,114 games, 3786 at-bats and 4,782 plate appearances, the New Jersey native did not collect a single sacrifice hit. That's right, not once did he give himself up to advance a runner. Granted, that's not what a player of Cust's caliber is paid to do, but one would figure that given nearly 5,000 chances he'd do it at least once.
Cust's streak is the longest of any player who appeared in the Minors in 2007. Next is veteran 1B/DH Chris Richard, who has gone 909 games and 3,193 at-bats without a sacrifice. Uncannily, the two players were once part of the same transaction. On March 11, 2003, the Orioles traded Richard and cash to the Rockies in exchange for Cust. It's safe to say that deal involved no sacrifice on the part of either organization.
Benjamin Hill is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.