Player: Mike Difelice
Born: May 28th, 1969 (Currently 45 years old)
Tenure: 1997 - 2001, 2008
Positions: C, 1B, and DH
Drafted: 11th Round, Pick #285 in the 1991 MLB draft out of the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, TN by the St. Louis Cardinals
Start of Tenure: Drafted on November 18th, 1997 from the St. Louis Cardinals with the 20th pick of the 1997 Expansion Draft // Signed as a Free Agent on January 6th, 2008
* - Didn't appear in a MLB game
Retired: February 5th, 2009, Career span of 17 years (1991 - 2008)
Rays Stat Line: 1.4 WAR, .248 AVG, .291 OBP, .667 OPS, 17 HR, 82 RBI, 1 SB
Mike Difelice was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 11th round of the 1991 MLB draft. Difelice was eager to his baseball career started and quickly signed on June 6th. The Cardinals assigned their new catcher to A-ball Hamilton in the New York Penn-League. Difelice struggled with the bat in his first pro season, but he did impress with his arm. He caught 37% of the base-runners who tried to steal with him behind the plate.
In 1992, Difielice was again assigned to Hamilton. He only stayed there a couple of weeks because his bat started to heat up and Difelice was promoted and skipped a level to A+ ball St. Petersburg in the Florida State League. Difelice's bat disappeared in the FSL thought, but he was still impressing with his arm, throwing out 44% of base-runners trying to steal.
In 1993, the Cardinals put Difelice in A-ball Springfield to see if Difelice could get his bat going again. He spent a little over a week there and hit well enough to earn a trip back up to St. Petersburg. Again though, his bat disappeared. In June, Difelice suffered a should injury, so the Cardinals shut him down for the rest of the season making 1993, pretty much a lost season for the 24 year old catcher.
When 1994 came around, not much was expected of Difelice. He didn't really hit well and his best tool, his arm, may have been damaged when he injured his shoulder. The Cardinals still decided to assign Difelice to AA-ball Arkansas in the Texas League. Difelice did hit better there, establishing career highs in some offensive categories. Mainly though, he proved he still had his arm strength 46% of base-stealers. In 1995, Difelice was put in Arkansas again to see if his bat would adjust, and he did do better. In August, Difelice was promoted to AAA Louisville in the American Association league. Difelice would finish the year in Louisville and put up decent offensive numbers to go along with his solid defense.
In 1996, Difelice was again in Louisville and proceeded to put up the best offensive numbers of his career, including a career high 9 HR. When the Cardinals Major League roster expanded to a 40-man roster in September, Difelice was called up to serve as a defensive replacement and to give occasional rest to Tom Pagnozzi and Danny Sheaffer. The day he was called up, Difelice was inserted in the top of the 9th aginst the Colorado Rockies, playing at Busch Stadium II in St. Louis. He came in as a defensive replacement for Miguel Mejia, who pinch ran for Pagnozzi in the 8th. Difelice would catch Rick Honeycutt who was set to face the the top of the order for the Rockies; Eric Young, Quinton McCracken, and Ellis Burks. The game was a blowout and the Cardinals won 15-6, Honeycutt retired the Rockies in order to close out the game. Two days later on September 3rd, Difelice was against inserted as a defensive replacement in the 9th inning against the Houston Astros. This game would feature 3 players that were drafted by the Devil Rays in the 1997 Eexpansiondraft; Bobby Abreu, Dmitri Young, and Difelice. He would catch Cory Bailey who was set to face Jeff Bagwell, Derek Bell, and Bill Spiers. Bailey would give up a run, but the Cardinals won 12-2.
Difelice wouldn't make another appearance until 2 weeks later when on September 25th, Cardinals' manager Tony LaRussa penciled Difelice in as the starting catcher, batting 7th against Jon Lieber and the Pittsburgh Pirates. Mike Difelice's 1st MLB AB came in the 2nd inning with Cardinals, losing 2-1. Difelice would hit a ground ball right back to Lieber who tossed the ball over to Pirates' 1B, Mark Johnson. In Difelice's 2nd AB, Cardinals' OF Terry Bradshaw had just doubled in 2 runs. So there was a man on the 2nd and the count reached 3-1. On the next pitch, Difelice lift a deep fly ball to right field that hit off the wall and caromed to Orlando Merced. Difelice had hit a double in his 2nd MLB AB, and had also gotten his 1st RBI. Difelice grounded out in his next AB against the Pirates new pitcher, Ramon Morel. In his 3rd AB, against another new Pirates' pitcher, Dan Plesac, Difelice would hit a ground ball up the middle for a single. The game went 11 innings, and Difelice played the whole game, the Cardinals won 8-7. Difelice did have a chance to test his arm when he threw out Merced attempting to steal 2nd, but Pirates' LF, Al Martin and C, Jason Kendall were each able to steal 2nd. Difelice went 2-5 with a double and a RBI and caught 1/3 base stealers.
He would play 1 more game in 1996, in 1997 Difelice was cut from Spring Training and assigned to AA Arkansas, where he played 1 game and was promoted to St. Louis. He started the season on a cold streak going 1-21, but rebounded nicely. On May 8th, Difelice hit his 1st MLB HR against the Philadelphia Phillies' Mike Mimbs, the HR tied the game and the Cardinals went on to win 6-2. Difelice started 81 games that year, which led all rookies. He threw out 35% of runners trying to steal (34 of 96). Also, when Difelice was behind the plate, the Cardinals' team ERA was 3.68 which was good for 5th best in the MLB. Difelice finished the year with a .238 AVG, 4 HR, and 30 RBI.
On November 18th, 1997, the Cardinals chose to not protect Difelice for the Expansion Draft. The Arizona Diamondbacks and the Tampa Bay Devil Rays were allowed to draft players from each team, and with their 10th pick, the Devil Rays selected Mike Difelice. The Devil Rays had traded their 12th pick, Andy Sheets, and their 15th pick, Brian Boehringer to the San Diego Padres in exchange for their catcher, John Flaherty. So Difelice's role with his new team would be to back up Flaherty.
On March 26th, 1998, the Devil Rays announced their inaugural season, Opening Day roster. Mike Difelice had made his first Opening Day roster. He played in the Devil Rays' 3rd game and hit safely in his 1st 8 games. On April 4th, the Devil Rays were playing the Chicago White Sox. In the bottom of the 7th inning, the Devil Rays were up 4-2. Dave Martinez had just singled to left off of Tom Fordham to score Bubba Trammel from 2nd. Rich Butler went to 3rd, and Martinez advanced to 2nd on the throw. White Sox Manager, Jerry Manuel replaced Fordham with Carols Castillo to face Difelice. On Castillo's 1st pitch, Difelice sent the ball to the right field seats for the 1st 3-Run HR in Tropicana Field's history and gave the Devil Rays a commanding 8-2 lead over the White Sox. Difelice finished the month of April with a .290 AVG, but he slumped in the month of May and dropped down below the mendoza line. Difelice continued to struggle with the bat most of the season, but his defense was still there. He threw out 37% (29/78) of attempted base stealers, which was good for 3rd best in the American League. Rays pitchers collectively had a 4.21 ERA when Difelice was catching, which was good for 4th best in the American League. Mike Difelice played in 84 games during the 1998 season, he finished with 3 HR, 23 RBI, and a .238 AVG.
In 1999, Difelice was active the entire season, but only played in 50 games. His bat was quiet until the middle of June, than he hit over .300 the rest of the season and finished with a .307 AVG, 6 HR, and 27 RBI. Difelice threw out 41% (16/39) of runners trying to steal. When he was catching, the team ERA was 4.58, compared to the 5.28 with other catchers. The Devil Rays finished 1999 in last place in the AL East with a record of 69-93, but games that Difelice started in, the team was 28-22.
Difelice started the 2000 season how he ended his 1999 campaign. At the end of May, Difelice had a .316 AVG, but when the All-Star break came, Difelice fell into a slump that would last until the end of the season. He again was above average in catching base stealers, nabbing 33% (17/52) of them, but he tied with Cleveland's Sandy Alomar and Detroit's Brad Ausmus for 2nd in the AL with 8 errors. The Oakland Atheletics' Ramon Hernandez was first with 13. When 2000 ended, Difelice had a .240 AVG, 6 HR, and 19 RBI.
In 2001, Mike Difelice's season started miserably and never got better. Hit didn't hit over .200 until May 27th, and never got above .250. He hovered just above the mendoza line, sometime falling under it. On July 25th, 2001, The Devil Rays traded Difelice and Albie Lopez to the Arizona Diamondbacks for former prospects, OF Jason Conti and P Nick Bierbrodt. Difelice only played in 12 games for Arizona going 1-21, than on August 24th, the Diamondbacks demoted Difelice to AAA Tucson. Difelice did see plenty of action during those 12 games though, first he was involved in a fight with the Pirates' Kevin Young. Than on August 21st, he was arrested for an incident in a Pittsburgh strip club. For the 1st time in 3 years, Difelice was in the minors, and hit well for the week, but the Diamondbacks decided they didn't want to have the controversial catcher in their system and released Difelice on September 4th, 2001.
On November 20th, 2001, the Cardinals signed Difelice to return to St. Louis. Difelice made the Opening Day roster and was actually the starting catcher. He drove in the 1st Cardinals' run of the season. Difelice stayed on the MLB roster the whole season, and put up his typical offensive numbers (.230 AVG, 4 HR, and 19 RBI) and maintained his usually strong catching numbers, preventing 28% of base stealers. At the seasons' end, Difelice became a free agent and signed with the Kansas City Royals on January 9th, 2003 as a non-roster invite. He made the Opening Day roster again for the 6th straight year. He finished the season on the MLB roster with a .254 AVG, 3 HR, and 25 RBI. Once again, Difelice became a Free Agent at the seasons' end.
On December 18th, 2003, Difelice signed a 1 year deal with the Detroit Tigers, they release, than resigned him in a 10 days span when Difelice didn't make the Opening Day roster and requested it. He couldn't find any work, so Detroit resigned him. Difelice spent most of the season in AAA Toledo, than on August 31, 2004, the Tigers sent Difelice to the Chicago Cubs. Difelice appeared in 4 games for the Cubs in September than became a free agent at the years' end.
Difelice would spend the 2005-2007 seasons with the New York Mets, except for 2006 Spring Training, he spent that with the Washington Nationals. The Mets mainly used Difelice in the minors to mentor their young pitching or if they needed a back up at the MLB level. At the end of the 2005 season, Difelice felt the scorn of Mets' fans at Shea Stadium when Willie Randolph put in Difelice in the top of the 8th inning. The reason he was boo'd, he replaced Mike Piazza, in Piazza's last game as a Met.
At the beginning of 2008, the Rays signed Difelice with an invite to Spring Training. He failed to make the opening day roster, but when the Rays' starting catcher, Dioneer Navarro went down with in injury, they called up Difelice. He was only on the MLB roster for 11 games, than Navarro came back and Difelice was sent back down. He went 0-4 against the Chicago White Sox on April 18th in his final MLB game. He spent the rest of the season in AAA Durham, and requested his release in September. On September 1st, 2008, the Rays released the veteran backup.
In February, Mike Difelice announced his retirement from playing. The New York Mets hired Difelice to manage their rookie-ball team in Kingsport, Tennessee. After 2 years of finishing 4th and 5th in the division, the Difelice moved on from coaching. In the 4 seasons that Difelice played with the Rays, he holds the club record for CS% with 35.4%. Also, he was ejected 3 times in Devil Rays career. which is tied for 2nd with Carl Crawford, behind only Greg Vaughn (4).
A Mike Difelice Devil Rays highlight:
Difelice tags out 2 Yankee runners (Jose Canseco and TIno Martinez) on the same play on September 28th, 2000 against the New York Yankees
Career Stat Line: 0.6 WAR, .236 AVG, .291 OBP, .667 OPS, 28 HR, 167 RBI, and 3 SB
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