Earlier this week, UnipolSai Bologna bid farewell to one of the Italian Baseball League’s best pitchers, Rudy Owens. Today, the club announced it is replacing Owens with fellow American hurler Jared Lansford. Lansford is a former Oakland Athletics’ prospect who most recently pitched in the Chinese Professional Baseball League.
Bologna found itself down an ace after Rudy Owens was obligated to return to the United States to fulfil an academic commitment (story), but it moved quickly after replacement Carlos Duran was injured. Lansford has gone from Oakland native drafted by his hometown club to international ace for hire, pitching recently in Taiwan and Venezuela after appearing earlier in his career everywhere between Hawai’i and Long Island.
Lansford was drafted by the A’s out of St. Francis HS in California’s Bay Area, the son of a local legend. His father, Carney Lansford, hit .444 on the way to leading his hometown Athletics to a World Series title in 1989. The third baseman’s storied career included 2,074 career hits with a .290/.343/.411 average, earning 40.2 WAR (B-Ref) for the Angels, Red Sox, and A’s over a 15-year career.
Carney’s son’s career started in similarly admirable fashion as he was listed by his father’s A’s on its top prospect list after a stellar debut in 2005. Pitching as an 18-year old in the Arizona League, the righthander had a 1.27 ERA in 21 1/3 innings, whiffing 20 and walking five, and was tabbed the No. 6 prospect in the circuit and No. 12 on Oakland’s farm.
Lansford followed up that campaign with another solid one in the Midwest League, going 11-6 with a 2.18 in 18 starts and, despite his walk and strikeout numbers regressing considerably, earned the fifteenth spot on Oakland’s farm listing. Despite missing most of 2007 with injury, Lansford made it to Triple-A by age 22, but stalled over the next few seasons in the high minors and was released after 2011 despite a 3.80 career minor league ERA.
A switch to the independent leagues gave Lansford’s career new life, as he turned in strong performances out of the bullpen in 2012 and 2013 for the Long Island Ducks, before turning in a dominant 2014 out of the rotation. The then-27-year-old was 8-5 with a 3.22 ERA over 25 starts and 159 1/3 innings, with his best control numbers since his first professional year.
The performance earned him a much higher salary as he signed with Taiwan’s Lamigo Monkeys. The change turned out to be a good one for Lansford, who turned in one of the best performances in Taiwan as Lamigo’s ace. Lansford tied for the league lead in wins (16), was second in starts (28) and innings (178), third in strikeouts (111), and fourth in ERA (4.15), earning May Pitcher of the Month honours. While the ERA sounds unimpressive, consider that no team had an ERA under five and all but one team hit over .300 collectively and his ERA was 23 percent better than the average pitcher (or 123 ERA+).
After shopping around and, perhaps, hoping to move up the Asian ladder to Korea or Japan, Lansford signed with the CPBL’s EDA Rhinos a month into the 2016 campaign, turning in another great season in Taiwan. Once again in the rotation, Lansford helped propel the Rhinos to their first CPBL title in 11 years, turning in a 4.75 ERA (125 ERA+) and a career-high 9.9 strikeouts per nine.
Bologna will hope for some of the same magic as it finds itself two games out of first place with four games left in the regular season. The Navy-and-White (21-9) host bottom-of-the-table Padule (3-27) this weekend, but conclude the season with a home-and-home against IBL leaders T&A San Marino (23-7). Lansford, pitching his age-30 season, will certainly find himself tested in both series, and the club announced he would team with Raúl Rivero for a lethal combination on the mound. With Bologna assured of a spot in the next round of the IBL, Lansford will have plenty of time to earn a national title in his second country.
Kevin Senatore first broke the news (tweet) that Jared Lansford was joining Bologna. Hat tip to Rob Liu of CPBLSTATS.com, who provided Lansford’s Taiwanese stats and some background information. Bologna’s official statement is here.