Former Hogs chasing opportunities in the big leagues
Oh, to live the life of a professional athlete like Clayton Kershaw, who tops the list of 38 players in the major leagues whose salary is at least $20 million this season.
But for every mega star, there are dozens more athletes just trying to hang onto their professional careers. Guys like former Razorbacks Craig Gentry, Blake Parker, and Zack Cox, who is dangling by his shoelaces after playing with an independent league team last season.
By now, you’ve heard or read about the trades that sent Drew Smyly to Seattle and Logan Forsythe to the Los Angeles Dodgers, where he’ll join Brett Eibner, another former Razorback, who arrived from Oakland. Smyly and Forsythe will play primary roles with their new teams, but Gentry, Parker, and Cox could all be out of baseball by the time the regular season begins in April.
Spring training is the time of year when the final scores mean nothing but individual performances mean everything. So, I’ll be checking the boxscores from games involving the Baltimore Orioles (Gentry), Los Angeles Angels (Parker), and Detroit Tigers (Cox).
Gentry, 33, will attempt to resurrect his career with the Orioles after missing most of the last two seasons because of injuries. The former Fort Smith Christian standout is a career .261 hitter and defensive ace who has played parts of eight seasons in the major leagues. But he appeared in only 14 games last year and 26 games in 2015 at the major-league level while missing time with a broken right hand, a broken left hand, and a lower back strain.
Gentry started in right field and batted second for Baltimore in Saturday’s exhibition game with Pittsburgh.
“The last couple of years, obviously, have not been up to standard,” Gentry told the Baltimore Sun last week after signing as a free agent with the Orioles. “Especially, when you’re getting into your 30s, you don’t know what the future holds. I’m just glad I got an opportunity. That’s all I was looking for.”
Baltimore manager Buck Showalter said Gentry has a chance to make the team if he can avoid the injuries that have jeopardized his career.
“He’s a guy who for a couple of years was considered one of the premier fourth outfielders,” Showalter said of Gentry, who is 77 of 90 in stolen-base attempts in the majors. “Plus runner, plus defender. He wore out left-hand pitching.”
Perhaps no one is more familiar with the uncertainties of professional baseball than Parker, 31, who has been signed, released, or waived seven times by major league teams since he was drafted by the Chicago Cubs in 2006.
Baseball fans in Arkansas saw Parker pumping his fist on ESPN last summer after he earned a save for the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium. But true to form, Parker (3-3, 3.87 ERA in 91 career games) was back in Fayetteville helping with his former high school team after being cut loose by the Yankees.
He’ll get another chance with the Angels, who’ve invited him to spring training.
Cox’s disappointing career appeared over when he was released by the Washington Nationals after being sent to Triple-A Syracuse. That was quite a blow for the former first-round draft choice, who was selected 25th overall by the St. Louis Cardinals in 2010.
But Cox, 27, picked himself up and signed with an independent league team in Wichita, Kan., where he hit .290 with 12 home runs and 64 RBIs. That production caught the eye of the Tigers, who signed Cox to a minor-league contract with their Triple-A club at Toledo, Ohio.
He’ll play third base at Toledo, where Cox’s former Arkansas teammate, James McCann, played before he was promoted by the Tigers in 2014. Cox hopes to follow a similar path in what could be his last opportunity in the big leagues after he signed for $3.2 million with the Cardinals in 2010.
That’s about $32 million less than Kershaw, a first-round pick who reached the major leagues when he was 20 years old, will make this year.