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James Mungro Memorial Award 2014: The chase begins

The faces of the past champions

The faces of the past champions

Every time we find a new James Mungro Memorial Award sponsored by (still no sponsor) winner I do a few things to make sure I can track his every movement. One of those is to set up a Google Alert. When Jose Alvarez won, I actually made two: “jose alvarez tigers” and “jose alvarez”.

I wanted the second in case the first didn’t pick up Alvarez’s exploits with the Mud Hens or he went to another team. The system did a fine job, but it also left me sifting through articles on some of the thousands of other Jose Alvarezs in the world. I would scroll past arrests and high school swimming competitions and perfect attendance awards. Inevitably, curiosity took over. I found myself reading articles about these ordinary citizens.

Right around the time the true Jose Alvarez got his September call up, an article about another Jose Alvarez came through. He was taking over as police chief in a town called Caseyville. I didn’t know it at the time, but Caseyville is a village of about 4,000 near the Illinois border, not far across the Mississippi River from St. Louis.

Every few days officer Jose would show up in my email, and every few days I found myself rooting for this embattled police chief to turn it around.

He was fired Wednesday, a victim of small-town politics.

While it sucks for him, it’s fitting for us. He got dismissed the day before the Tigers’ pitchers and catchers reported to spring training. As Caseyville works on replacing police chief Jose, we work on replacing JMMA winner Jose.

The full Tigers team reports today. The chase for the fifth James Mungro Memorial Award sponsored by (sponsor pending).

A full history of the award is available, but since I just spent 300 words on a story about a disgraced small-town police chief I figured I’d just remind you of the Sacred Seven rules and move on:

  1. The award has to go to someone I’ve never heard of.
  2. He must have at least an outside chance of making the team.
  3. He has to be good.
  4. He can’t be a big-time prospect.
  5. The name has to be catchy.
  6. Ideally, he has a distinct characteristic.
  7. No feature stories can be written about him in at least the first half of spring training.

As always, the perfect candidate would fulfill all seven prophecies, but the right combination of anonymity and all-around spectacularness can over power some of the lesser rules.

We’re starting with nine candidates this year. (It was supposed to be 10, but Justin Miller got just a bit too much recognition this weekend.) They are:

Craig Albernaz, C. Age: 31. Signed to a minor league deal this off-season. Non-roster invitee. Albernaz has been in the MLB system for eight seasons and is yet to play in the major leagues. He spent the last two years in the Tampa Bay Rays system, playing mostly for triple-A Durham. He’s got a lot going for him: Albernaz is fun to say, he’s on Twitter, he’s the Chris Bootcheck Award winner as the oldest man in the competition, and he’s 5-foot-8. Being short is a distinct characteristic. He still has to prove he’s good, though, and he still has prove that there’s a chance he could make the team, which will be difficult to do at catcher.

Ezequiel Carrera, OF. Age: 26. Signed to minor league deal this off-season. Non-roster invitee. Carrera signed with the Mets, then got traded to the Mariners, who then traded him to the Indians, who put him on waivers where he was claimed by the Phillies, who also put him on waivers, where he was claimed back by the Indians. In total, he’s played eight MLB games, six with the Phillies and two with the Indians last year. He’s also on Twitter, but hasn’t tweeted since July. Also, Ezequiel is fun to say.

Trevor Crowe, OF. Age: 30. Signed to a minor league deal this off-season. Non-roster invitee. Crowe, like former champ Chris Bootcheck, is a former first-round pick. He was selected 14th overall by the Indians in the 2004 draft and actually rose through the ranks to play a full season in Cleveland in 2010. Two years later he didn’t see a big league game the entire season and was released by the Indians. League-worst Houston picked him up, where he played in 60 games for them this year. He on Twitter with a verified check and bio that states, “Former kick returner for the Westview Wildcats.” His semi-high profile has him swimming upstream from the outset.

Luis Exposito, C. Age: 27. Signed to a minor league deal this off-season. Non-roster invitee. A 31st-round draft pick of the Red Sox in 2005, he never played a game for Boston. The Orioles picked him up early last year and he played in nine games for them, going 1-for-18 at the plate. Like the rest of the candidates, he is on Twitter and even has the verified check. With a name like Luis Exposito, this might be a buy-low situation, but only if Exposito can overcome the catcher curse and convince me he has a chance at making the team.

Blaine Hardy, P. Age: 26. Signed to a minor league deal early in the 2013 season. Non-roster invitee. Hardy rose from double-A to triple-A last year and finished the season in Toledo with a 1.69 ERA in 64 innings. A 22nd-round draft pick of the Royals and graduate of Lewis-Clark State College in Lewiston, Idaho, he’s going to have his chance with the Tigers. But when he does, will he be interesting enough for us to care about him?

Jhan Marinez, P. Age: 25. Signed to a minor league deal this off-season. Non-roster invitee.  An early favorite based on the name alone, Marinez came up in Florida Marlins system, just like Alvarez. The difference is that Marinez got his chance: He pitched in four games for the Marlins at age 21 posting a 6.75 ERA. Two years later he got two more MLB games, this time with the White Sox, and didn’t allow a run. Another buy-low candidate, Marinez is close to being too good of a prospect, but not quite past the boundary line. Also: he’s on Twitter. 

Francisco Martinez, 3B. Age: 23. Signed out of Venezuela by the Tigers in 2008. On the 40-man roster. Martinez is just four years removed from being ranked the Tigers’ No. 4 prospect and two removed from being the Mariners’ No. 22 prospect. He’s also on the 40-man roster. No player on the 40-man roster has ever won the JMMA. With such a high profile, he’s going to have to suck just enough not to get noticed but still be good enough to be a contender for the JMMA. An almost impossible balance.

John Murrian, C. Age: 25. Drafted by the Tigers in the ninth round in 2009. Non-roster invitee. Murrian might be the first to go. He’s on Twitter, but his only tweet since September was that stupid #EsuranceSave30 thing after the Super Bowl. He’s got a boring name and he plays catcher, a position that will see some if not all of its candidates eliminated faster than any other position.

Eduardo Sanchez, P. Age: 25. Signed to a minor league deal this off-season. Non-roster invitee. Sanchez’s Twitter game is surprisingly strong, with nearly 13,500 followers. He appeared in 26 games for the Cardinals in 2011 and posted a 1.80 ERA. Since then, though, his ERA has increased and his big league time has decreased. He only saw 6.1 inning in the majors this year, all with the Cubs, and he posted a 5.68 ERA. We could be sitting on a comeback story. Or we could be sitting on an already-stepped-in turd.

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