Starting their sixth year of existence, eight Hillsboro Hops alumni made it to the box score of a major league game. Considering the path from Hillsboro to a major league team is across six different levels of playing fields, the odds are against the average hopeful to suit up in a MLB uniform.
But, some have made it and more will follow. Consider this fact – the current season had only seven days so far where no Hillsboro Hops alumni was in a MLB boxscore. Some days featured as many as four former Hops players either swinging a bat or throwing a pitch. When the rosters expand to 40 later this season, that number is expected to at least double.
Hillsboro Hops alumni in MLB: in order of debut.
The First to Debut
On April 26th, 2016, Aaron Blair made his debut three years after he was drafted in 2013. The first of the Hillsboro Hops alumni to reach the major leagues. Traded in 2016 to the Atlanta Braves in the Dansby Swanson deal. Aaron was considered a solid pitcher of the future for the young upcoming team and made his home at triple AAA Gwinnett. On April 13th of this year, Aaron made his season debut at AAA. After 2.2 innings, he injured his right shoulder and had season ending surgery on April 17th. The Braves released him on May 31st, saying they would be interested in signing him for next year once they saw how the shoulder healed. So far, Aaron has played one game in the majors when he was still with Arizona. He has yet to pitch for Atlanta.
First to Debut with Another Franchise
From the class of 2014, Zac Curtis made his MLB debut on April 30th of 2016. With the Colorado Rockies visiting, Zac closed out the loss for the last two outs of the ninth, keeping the visitors hitless. He would appear in 21 games. After the season, the Arizona Diamondbacks traded Zac along with Jean Segura and Mitch Haniger to the Seattle Mariners for Taijuan Walker and Ketel Marte. The next season, he played his first MLB game for the Mariners on May 11th and would be in two more.
Before the end of the season, Zac would be looking at a new team. On September 11th, the Philadelphia Phillies rescued Zac from the waiver wire and he would appear in three more games for the 2017 season at the MLB level. So far, in 2018, Zac has appeared in seven games. He was recently called back up to the Phillies roster on June 22nd and pitched in one inning against the Washington Nationals that night. He is still on Philadelphia’s roster. His last appearance was on June 29th.
The Longest Journey…
Appearing in three games for the Hops in 2015, Mike Freeman made his major league debut on July 17th, 2016. It took him the longest journey so far for one of the Hillsboro Hops alumni. Freeman was drafted and signed back in 2010, over six years before his MLB debut. Eight games and less than a month later, he was on waivers. Seattle picked him up on August 1st, 2016 and Mike played 29 MLB games over the late 2016 and early 2017 seasons. The Los Angeles Dodgers claimed him off of waivers and played four MLB games for them in 2017. On August 17th, 2017, the Chicago Cubs signed him to a minor league deal. He has played in 15 games for the Cubs and still resides in the minor leagues trying to return.
Called Back to Major Leagues
Braden Shipley debuted on July 25th, 2016. Facing the Milwaukee Brewers, Braden started and went 5.1 innings in the loss. Since then, he has played mostly for the AAA Reno Aces getting call ups to the parent club from time to time. His latest appearance was on June 11th and 12th of this year. He was called up to fill a spot while back up catcher Jeff Mathis was on Paternity leave. The time until his next major league outing is expected to be a short wait. Update: Braden pitched for the Diamondbacks on June 25th.
Now With the Dodgers
Ariel Hernandez made his debut on April 24th, 2017. In 2015, Ariel played for the Hops and waived on December 10th, 2015. The Louisville Bats picked him up and brought him into the Cincinnati Reds farm system. He made his way up to the Reds and debuted facing eight batters, striking out five, allowing no hits. Traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers on April 17th, 2018 for 1B Ibandel Isabel and RHP Zach Neal, Ariel went to his third franchise. Ariel is currently playing for the Oklahoma City Dodgers.
Quickest to the Big Boys
Dansby Swanson debuted on August 17th, 2016. His was the fastest rise from the Hops to the majors for one of the Hillsboro Hops alumni. From his pro debut with the Hops on August 12th, 2015, the jump took only one year and five days from his first swing of a bat as a Hillsboro Hop to his first MLB swing. But, it wasn’t with the Arizona Diamondbacks.
On December 9th, 2015, Arizona made a trade. Atlanta got their current and future starting shortstop (Swanson) along with their current and future starting center fielder Ender Inciarte. As an added bonus, the Braves also got another former Hop in Aaron Blair, a future star on the mound until his shoulder injury earlier this year. In return, the Arizona Diamondbacks got Shelby Miller and Gabe Speier.
First Hillsboro Hops Alumni to Appear in Playoffs
Jimmie Sherfy made a relief appearance on August 20th, 2017 for his MLB debut. Drafted and signed by the Diamondbacks in 2013, Sherfy pitched the seventh inning of a 12-5 loss. Jimmie kept the Minnesota Twins hitless and struck out two for an impressive debut. Sherfy would finish the season allowing no earned runs for a 0.00 ERA.
It was enough to make him the very first (and so far – only) Hops alumnus to be on a MLB playoff roster. Interestingly, in his debut, he relieved his former teammate, Braden Shipley, on the mound. His latest visit was from May 13th to May 20th of this year. He made three appearances in his usual scoreless fashion. Update: Jimmie made an appearance on June 30th.
Made MLB Before the Hops
Matt Koch is unique on this list. He actually made his MLB debut before he played for the Hops. Matt originally made his debut on September 9th, 2016. He pitched in seven games for the parent Arizona Diamondbacks. The rest was in the minor league system. Hillsboro doesn’t come into the picture until June 20th and 25th of 2017 when he came down for a rehab assignment. He pitched two games and then went back up the ladder, ready to resume his trip back to the majors.
Therefore, for the purposes of this list, his debut date will be August 22nd, 2017, when Matt first returned to the majors after having played for Hillsboro, marking the first game as a Hops alumnus in the majors. So far he has appeared in twelve games and appears to be a regular part of the Diamondbacks bullpen this season. His last appearance was June 19th. Update: Matt assigned to AAA Reno Aces on June 20th to make room for Jake Barrett.
Brad Keller made his MLB debut this year on March 29th, 2018 for the Kansas City Royals. Drafted in 2013 by Arizona Brad didn’t play for the Hops until 2014. Determined, he spent the next three years in the minor leagues farm system of Arizona. On December 14th, 2017, Brad was a Rule 5 draft pick by the Cincinnati Reds. The same day, Keller went to Kansas City for cash considerations. Kansas City found a new pitcher for their farm system. During spring training of this year, Brad made the major league roster and made his MLB debut on March 29th. He is still in the current bullpen, making his last appearance on July 1st
Daniel Palka made his MLB debut with the Chicago White Sox in May. Considered to be a short term stay since the opening came from Avisail Garcia’s right hamstring injury. Garcia landed on the 7-day disabled list. According to manager Edgar Renteria, Palka became their DH and maybe pinch hit.
His first game, on May 25th, 2018, saw Daniel start as the designated hitter and bat sixth in the lineup. He went an inauspicious 0-4 but he did bring in a run with a groundout to first. What got more attention was the huge blast in the first inning that went deep to left center. Caught for an out, everyone who saw it knew the power Daniel could offer. Since then, he has became a mainstay in right field for the starting lineup. He occasionally will DH with Trace Thompson filling in at right field. Daniel is showing no signs of going away anytime soon.
There are many Hillsboro Hops alumni that are close to being in the big leagues for the first time, even if for a short call up. Sergio Alcantara is currently with the Erie Seawolves of the Detroit Tigers farm system. Traded to Los Angeles Dodgers, Ariel Hernandez is now playing for their AAA club, Oklahoma City. Traded by the Arizona Diamondbacks on May 1st, Colin Poche now belongs to the Tampa Bay Rays. The Rays assigned Poche on May 11th to the Durham Bulls made famous by the eponymous Kevin Costner movie. Tampa is high on their new prospect and Colin may make the 40-man roster come September.
Of course, there are many Hillsboro Hops alumni still in the Arizona farm system working their way up the ladder. AAA Reno has Taylor Clarke, Jared Miller and Alex Young, among others, on their roster. AA Jackson has Galli Cribbs, Wei-Chei Huang, Domingo Leyba, Jason Morozowski, Jose Queliz and Bo Takahashi, among many others. There are many, many more in the single A levels, all of them former Hops.
Which Hillsboro Hops alumni do you remember? Follow them.