As I continue to dig through the initial list of names I came up with months ago when I first pitched this idea, I decided to finally get to two of them that stood out given their rankings as prospects. I really have no memories of these two since they were just about two decades ago, but each seemed to stand out. Plus, I already covered many of the other prospects ranked around them.
I’ll also finally get to another catcher (actually catchers) in the seemingly endless list of guys who followed Mike Piazza.
A supplemental first-round pick, amazingly for the loss of a 42-year-old Dennis Eckersley, by the St. Louis Cardinals in 1998, Diggins was the highest pick not to sign in that draft. After playing at Bradshaw Mountain High School, Diggins turned down a $950,000 signing bonus from the Cardinals and moved a few hours south of his high school to the University of Arizona.
Becoming the highest-drafted prep player in the school’s history, the Dodgers took him with the 17th pick of the 2000 draft and he immediately ranked as the organization’s top prospect ahead of the 2001 season.
Debuting for the Single-A Wilmington Waves (on a roster that included Jason Repko, Shane Victorino and Joel Hanrahan), Diggins finished his first professional season with a 3.58 ERA and 79 Ks in 105 2/3 IP. He slipped down to the team’s No. 4 prospect behind Ricardo Rodriguez, Chin-Feng Chen and Joel Guzman before the 2002 season, and moved up to High-A Vero Beach where he put up pretty similar numbers to the previous year. A 3.63 ERA and 101 Ks in 114 IP led him to being traded away to Millwauke with Shane Nance for Houston.
Honestly, that’s the end of Diggins’ career as he obviously never reached the majors with the Dodgers. The Brewers threw Diggins into Double-A for a few starts before inexplicably moving him to the majors as a September call-up. With just seven starts above High-A, Diggins struggled as a 23-year-old in the majors. Five starts led to an 0-4 record, 8.63 ERA and just 15 Ks to 18 BBs.
Tommy John surgery ended his 2003 season, where he had pitched pretty well in Double-A, but never returned to the level. A Rule 5 pick by the Astros in December 2005, Diggins never appeared in a game with the organization. From what I can see, he went on to play a little bit of professional beach volleyball while also working as a scout for the Dodgers and Angels.
With all of that said, the real purpose of this post was to point out the Dodgers traded their first-round pick in 2000 for a trade deadline rental in 2002. Houston slashed .302/.347/.459/.806 with seven homers and 15 doubles for the Brewers before giving the Dodgers a line of .200/.224/.308/.532 in 67 PAs across 35 games. He signed as a free agent with the Phillies the following offseason, but was released in early September despite a .278/.320/.402/.722 line, mostly as a pinch hitter.
“We are very happy with the addition of Tyler, because he gives the club added depth,” Dodgers general manager Dan Evans said. “He gives (manager) Jim Tracy another weapon from the left side of the plate that can play a number of positions.”
A first-round pick for “added depth.” Bold move by the Dodgers there.
The Dodgers signed Pena as a 16-year-old in 1992 with his first entry on Baseball Reference coming in 1995 when he played for Great Falls of the Rookie League. He made each stop on his way up, to Single-A Savannah in 1996, High-A San Bernardino in 1997 and Double-A San Antonio in 1998. That final stop before the majors led to a .335/.401/.547/.947 in 542 PAs before getting the call to the majors for a few at-bats in 1998 after Piazza was traded earlier that season.
That earned him the top ranking in the Dodgers’ organization going into the 1999 season, as well as the No. 41 spot on Baseball America’s list, just a few spots behind Alfonso Soriano and a bit ahead of names such as Jayson Werth, Mike Lowell, Rafael Furcal and Vernon Wells.
Unfortunately, Pena’s hitting in Triple-A (an .892 OPS in about 700 PAs between 1999 and 2001) didn’t translate to the majors, where he slashed .209/.256/.326/.582 for the Dodgers in parts of the 1998, 1999 and 2001 seasons.
Pena had been beaten out by Paul Lo Duca in his quick stints between 1998 and 2000, with the latter playing 125 games in the majors in 2001. Meanwhile Pena, a top-50 prospect in baseball before 1999, was released in October 2001.
After playing for the Giants’ Triple-A team in 2002, Pena bounced between independent ball and Mexico until 2007.
Part of why Pena couldn’t even get an at-bat in the majors in 2000 was the Dodgers, signing of Kreuter during the previous offseason to serve as the primary back-up for Todd Hundley (who himself was acquired in the offseason ahead of the 1999 season).
While Hundley was only entering his age-31 season in 2000, Kreuter was already 35 and coming off a .225/.309/.318/.627 season across 368 PAs for the Royals in 1999.
I’d honestly thought Kreuter played more than the 194 games and 613 PAs he compiled for the Dodgers between 2000 and 2002, but he never really had the job to himself during this cluster of catchers for a few seasons.
While Hundley, Pena and Lo Duca combined to play the position in 1999, Hundley and Kreuter split it pretty evenly in 2000. And amazingly, Dodgers catchers hit .275/.383/.498/.881 that season with 32 home runs and 31 doubles. Each catcher was worth 2.6 WAR during the season.
Kreuter’s 2.6 WAR was the second-best season of his career, with only 3.7 WAR for the Tigers back in 1993 topping it. Even more impressive, he followed up with 1.5 WAR, his third-best season, in 2001 when Hundley departed in free agency and a 29-year-old Lo Duca took over as the primary starter.
And while Kreuter was a useful piece of the roster for three years at the end of his career, I get to again post the Dodgers-Cubs brawl of 2000 in which Kreuter had a major role as he was the one hit in the head and had his hat taken by a fan.