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NL East Notes: Culberson, E-Rod, Lugo, JDM, Mesa

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It wasn’t surprising that longtime clubhouse favorite Charlie Culberson rejoined the Braves on a minor league deal last month, though eyebrows were raised at the news that Culberson was attempting to become a pitcher after 11 MLB seasons as a utilityman.  In an interview with Justin Toscano of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Culberson said he began to pursue a pitching in earnest last August when he was playing with the Braves’ Triple-A affiliate, and he wasn’t entirely alien to the process given his 7 1/3 career innings of mop-up work at the big league level.  “I loved pitching growing up, loved pitching through high school and here I am now getting a chance to try it on now toward — I’m not going to say ‘toward the end of my career’ but at this point in my career, I’m getting to try pitching,” Culberson said.

Culberson turns 35 in April, and Atlanta’s stacked lineup meant that he appeared in just one Major League game in 2023, despite several months on the active roster.  It remains to be seen if pitching will provide Culberson with any clearer path to playing time, yet his fastball clocks in at 94mph, and his repertoire also consists of a split changeup and a cutter.  He has also spent the last six months working with coaches and pitching instructors, and embracing the inherent difficulties of learning a new craft so deep into his career.

For me, this has been a challenge making a position change, but I’m still playing baseball.  I know how tough that is transitioning, and I’m sure it would be probably tougher transitioning out of baseball,” Culberson said.  “Everything is just not gonna come easy for a lot of us in life, and at some point, you have to be ready and able to do something different, do something that’s not comfortable.  Get out of your comfort zone.”

More from around the NL East…

  • The Mets had some limited interest in Eduardo Rodriguez and old friend Seth Lugo this past offseason, The Athletic’s Will Sammon writes, though “neither exchange got serious.”  Apart from a serious push to sign Yoshinobu Yamamoto, the Mets generally stayed away from pursuing any longer-term contract candidates, as such explorations into players like Rodriguez and Lugo were more akin to routine due diligence.  Sammon notes that the same looks to be true of the Mets’ recent talks with J.D. Martinez, even if a probable one-year deal with Martinez would be less expensive than that it would’ve cost to land Rodriguez or Lugo.  E-Rod ended up signing with the Diamondbacks for four years and $80MM, while Lugo (who pitched for New York from 2016-22) inked a three-year, $45MM contract with the Royals.
  • Victor Victor Mesa was so highly touted as an international prospect that he received a $5.25MM bonus from the Marlins in 2018.  Despite all the hype, however, Mesa has hit only .233/.289/.289 over 1211 career plate appearances in the minors, and The Miami Herald’s Barry Jackson writes that his time in the Marlins organization now looks to be over.  While there hasn’t been an official parting of the ways, the 27-year-old Mesa isn’t expected to attend Spring Training camp, and was temporarily placed on the restricted list last July after leaving the Triple-A team prior to the start of a series in Gwinnett.  Victor Mesa Jr. was also signed to a $1MM bonus at the same time as his older brother, and the younger Mesa has developed into an intriguing prospect, ranked by Baseball America as the sixth-best player in Miami’s farm system.



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