tepid participation

I mostly write about minor league basball and I take very little of it seriously. Booorring!

Month: October, 2012

The Legend of the Beach (part 1)

 

Goin to the Beach y’all. Myrtle Beach. Golf courses, summer homes for rich folks, taffy, boardwalks, clichés, etc. etc. Outdoor showers and sandcastles abound. Oh, and high-A baseball, Carolina League style. A style where pitchers love ya, bats can’t stand ya. The Carolina League has been around for a very long time. As in, Johnny Bench played in the Carolina League and unless there has been a significant shift in the earth’s general atmospheric conditions in the last 60 years (I know, I know), it was a pitcher’s league then and it remains a pitcher’s league today. Nonetheless, guys can hit there. And more importantly, if you can hit there, you can practically hit anywhere. And if you can pitch there, well, you can pitch in San Diego. Ask Joe Wieland. Anyway, without further ado, let’s take a peek at what I think the 2013 Myrtle Beach Pelicans will look like.

 

Obviously, this is a roster that will look similar to the 2012 team from low-A Hickory. So I expect to see a pitching rotation that includes Nick Martinez(RHP) and Kid Lefty Vic Payano(LHP-duh). Jerad Eickhoff(RHP)will be there too, alongside Kevin Matthews(LHP). Not sure who gets the final rotation spot so I’ll refrain from listing the 10 or so dudes who could get the job, but gun-to-my-head, I think lanky lefty Will Lamb gets it, at least early in the season.  Myrtle Beach’s pen was stout in 2012 and I’ll be anxious to see if it is again. I think 2012 draftee Josh McElwee gets back in there with his nice curveball as does fellow ’12 pick, Paul Schwendel. If Nick McBride, Taylor Dennis, and emerging arm, 6’7” Phil Klein are put back in the Myrtle pen, it could be another year of opposing teams looking dour when trailing after the 6th.  All of those fellas throw with their right arm, so there’s a clear opening for someone who throws with the opposite appendage, which is why a guy like Lamb or possibly Payano may end up in the Pelican’s pen. Rating pitchers in Myrtle is, as you imagine, kinda tough. It’s a dilemma compounded when considering that not only is the jump to AA considered the most difficult in the development path, next to the MLB jump obviously, but Frisco is traditionally a hitters park so that tends to skew the numbers and skewer the pitchers. The point is, a hurler can be nails in Myrtle Beach, but fall flat in Frisco (unfortunately, see Osborne, Zach) But the kids can only throw on the mound they’re given, it’s your job to see through the smoke and mirror numbers and focus on the stuff.  The fun part of the Myrtle experience is the kids who get bumped up there in mid-season. Who knows, maybe the insane run of CJ Edwards continues through the first half of the Sally season and the organization decides he’s ready for the next challenge. That happened last year with Everybody’s Favorite Fireballer, Luke Jackson, whose name is conspicuously absent from my projections for the Pelicans rotation. Hmmm.

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The Legend of the Beach (part 2)

On to the fun part. This is a pack of promising kids who hit well and fielded even better in Hickory, so now let’s see if they can make consistent contact in air that seems to have weight. I expect DROB, Drew Robinson to manage the hot corner. He had the highest OBP in the entire TEX organization last year and showed a little bit o’ pop. He needs to get the strikeouts down, but mamma mia does this kid draw a lot of walks. I assume, following his Arizona Fall League debut, Luis Sardinas will be at short and both he and DROB will occasionally borrow the second base slot from Enter the Dragon, Roogie Odor, who’ll turn 19 in February. I think the catcher position is a Spring Training decision. If Kellin Deglan looks ready, and depending on free agent signees and, frankly about a bazillion other factors, he could jump Myrtle and head to Frisco. If that is the case, I hope Pat Cantwell is ready for some seaside eating. I think either one of these guys could get an aggressive assignment for 2013. Deglan didn’t hit well in Hickory, so he’s not likely to hit well in Myrtle, but he’s still very young and may not develop into an average hitter (that’s his ceiling) until well into his career, perhaps even at the big league level.  Same goes for Cantwell, but he’s older. Regardless of age and experience, I assume both of these guys are keenly aware of the fact that there is not only a catching shortfall within the organization, but there is a human toolshed right next to them who’ll probably feature as the everyday catcher. Jorge Alfaro has a huge arm, tremendous power, and far better than average (for a catcher) speed. He just needs lots and lots of reps, and to stay healthy. His ceiling is very high, unfortunately, his floor is pretty low. He could become special, and I think it’s safe to say, we’re all rootin’ for him to do so. A hamstring injury and general caution (not to mention the presence of Deglan) led the club to get him some familiarity with playing 1st base last year, and though it wouldn’t surprise me to see that happen from time to time with Myrtle Beach, I expect him to see plenty of time behind the plate. He’s a Top 10 prospect in this system and for many people he’s solidly in the Top-5. He just needs to play, often.

The Mytle Beach outfield is likely to feature a couple of kids who, for me and others I’ve spoken with, are on the cusp of losing “prospect” status. I think both Zach Cone and Jake Skole take residence in the Myrtle outfield. Cone will be a 23yr old outfielder who may not have the arm strength or big power profile to play right field, his primary spot in Hickory, and almost certainly doesn’t have the speed to play center field. He has the strikeouts that typically go with a slugger and he did lead the Crawdads in homers with 17, but that’s kind of what you’d expect out of a 1st round draft pick from an SEC school playing in low-A at age 22. 2013 is important for him. It’s also a big, important year for Jake Skole, who may have had the worst 2012 campaign of any prospect in Texas’s system. (Neil Ramirez, Matt West, and David Perez are also candidates for this dubious distinction, but that’s beside the point) Jake was taken with the 15th pick in 2010, yet he played in only 68 games for Myrtle Beach last season before serving a 50 game drug suspension. Before you ask, yes, I’m aware of the circumstances, and I’m not really sure they’re relevant anymore. What is relevant is that he lost 50 games that were important to his development and it’s not like he was setting the world on fire before the suspension. No, as a matter of fact he was hitting .185/.288/.260 in 268 plate appearances. He played centerfield everyday, but most reports on his ability there were middling. In short, like to see ya’ get it goin’ dude.

Do I think any of the prodigious, weapons-grade thunder sticks lurking in the Hickory outfield make a mid-season jump to Myrtle? Not likely. I think, not only do they want those kids to stay together, but the club is already being rather aggressive if they, in fact, send them to Hickory as I suspect. So Myrtle’s outfield is somewhat wide open. Cone, Skole, maybe Chris Grayson, maybe another year of Jeremy Williams. I’m also rather anxious to see, not only the winter development, but also how the pitcher-friendly confines treat young starters Nick Martinez, Jerad Eickhoff, and Victor Payano. I’m the exact same as everyone else who’d also like to see Kevin Matthews not walk a hitter in every inning he pitches. But if you are headed on a “guys golf getaway” and you want to check in on the 2013 Pelicans one night, I’ll tell you to watch the infielders. DROB, Sardinas, and Odor can all play. They’re all likely to be big leaguers if their current trajectories hold true. And don’t forget The Legend. He’s good and 2012 is a big year for him. Catching, hitting, running, throwing, it could be a very exciting season to see a kid develop. As far as his nickname goes, I know it grew from jest and I’ve perpetuated it, like everyone else, but as he began showing up on more people’s radar screens, I received more than a few comparisons to Pudge. Just for the record Alfaro will be 20 next season and spending the season playing high-A baseball. When Pudge was 20 he spent the season catching 116 Major League Baseball games, was an All-Star, won his first Gold Glove and threw out a comical 52% of potential base stealers. Oh, and he caught 88 big league games the previous season, when he was f-ing 19! I love Alfaro, you should too, and Texas needs a catcher, but development takes a long time (especially at that position), so let’s just simmer down now, y’all. Simmer down. I’d tell you a watched pot never boils, but I know you’ll be watching…just like me. So please do me a favor and when he goes 13-for-27 one week in July next season, remind me that I told you to simmer down. Remind me of the numbers Pudge was putting up, and where he was playing while doing so. I’m gonna need it.
Now, everybody to the Beach!!!!

The Year of the Crawdad

I like hyperboles. Can’t help it. I like often unnecessary, flowery descriptions of otherwise mundane objects. I especially like practical and useful hyperboles. In the hands of writers far more capable than myself, a proper hyperbole can give life to a description that may have otherwise been boring. So, I’m inviting all who are interested, go see the 2013 Hickory Crawdads. Bring your best hyperbole.

I expect this to be the most exciting team in the Texas system next year. It should have a roster that indicates the Rangers’ acknowledgement of a lack of impact bats and outfield depth. The Crawdads will be representative of the push Texas made into an imminently changing international market. The Rangers splurged on a few of these kids, and they’ll find out next year if the kids at least have the look of money well spent. There are also some wildcards- kids who are out over their skis a little bit, but expected to perform nonetheless. Hickory is where players are first exposed to a big 140 game season and crappy bus rides, and stadiums with wooden outfield fences. This is professional baseball’s first step and it’s a path littered with the Chipotle wrappers of minor leaguers who stalled out at this point. In short, this is exciting.

So lets name names. First of all, I’ll end the speculation with a bit of wishful thinking. I truly believe (and truly hope) that the big lumber from the ’12 Arizona Rookie League champs makes the jump to full season baseball. I think it’s a given that 6’5” baby behemoth, Joey “Gobbles” Gallo plays third base for Hickory in ’13. He’s a huge kid with unmistakable raw power, a good attitude, and an arm big enough to make the 3rd base throw with ease. He’s also a recent high school graduate whose actions/size in the field may limit his position and whose go-for-gusto swing, without alterations, will be successfully exploited by any decent professional baseball pitcher. It’s going to be a challenge for him and his adjustments and learning will be constant. I think he’ll be joined by the two bonus babies, Ronald “Condor” Guzman, and Nomar Mazara. Reports from the two Jasons (Parks and Cole) were positive about Condor’s footwork and general abilities at first base during Fall Instructs. This is a very good sign, because not only can he not really play any other position, but at 6’6” and left handed, he can essentially just reach out and have the second baseman hand him the grounders he fields. Chuck Knoblauch’s career would have been 3 years longer if Guzman would have been playing first. (rimshot)  As for Mazara, another lefty, I think he makes the jump. Neither of these guys played in Spokane last year, but I think the club will challenge them with a big boy assignment rather than hold them back in extended. If that is the case, for the second year in a row, Texas likely has the youngest player in full season baseball. (Roogie Odor held that honor on Opening Day 2012) Mazara, a typical right field profile, will be 17 when the season begins in 2013. He was born in 1995, so that should make you feel good. Or not. Anyway, let’s assume Mazara plays RF for Hickory in ’13. Now things get complicated. Well, not entirely. I think centerfield is safely Sweet Lew Brinson’s job. People need to get excited ‘bout Brinson. He can hit and field and throw and has shown a little more pop in the bat than what was expected by some. He’s a player and he’s ready for a real season. For whatever reason, maybe teammate continuity, maybe because of his .313/.375/.448 with 15 stolen base Rookie League numbers, I think left fielder Nick Williams makes the leap to Hicktown as well.

Ready for the dilemma?  These guys are outfielders, and in 2012 Spokane had some outfielders too. Guys like Preston Beck, Royce Bollinger, and Chris Garia are likely to be on the Hickory roster. The outfield is crowded and that’s without the X factor of Jordan Akins. The Rangers were aggressive with his 2012 assignment to Hickory, and it didn’t go very well. His approach was profoundly poor, his pitch recognition nearly non-existent, and he remains a raw, tool shed. The Crawdads beat writer, Mark Parker, told me that there were times Jordan would square up a pitch and not only was it always the hardest hit ball of the day, but it bordered on looking dangerous for those who dared get in it’s way. But, do the Rangers promote a kid to the pitcher friendly Carolina League after he hit .199/.224/.323 with 12 walks and 162 strikeouts in the Sally? I dunno. Guess we’ll find out.  As Coach Don Welke famously put it when discussing Akins, “if he’s ever able to put it together, it won’t be normal.”

Some of the lesser known names I expect to ply their trade in Hickory next season are infielders Ryan Rua, Gabe Roa, and Cam Schiller. I think catcher Pat Cantwell begins the season there and boy, howdy, if there’s one kid for whom the door is wedged open for a rapid ascent, it’s Cantwell. The former Stony Brook backstop is known for his mouthy, take-charge attitude on the field and if he can consistently put the bat on the ball in Hickory, he’ll be putting himself in a good position in a catcher-light system. (no, his is nowhere close to Alfaro’s skillset, but he could be a solid, if unspectacular, option down the road)

On the bump there will be some names of note. First up, for me, is CJ Edwards. I mean, come on, the kid was taken in the 48th round. They don’t even have 48 freakin’ rounds anymore! All wires and muscles, Edwards works a typical FB, CB repertoire, and he came out of nowhere, well, actually rural South Carolina and burst onto the scene in 2012 with a combined 85K in 65ip between the rookie and Spokane teams. I’ve been rootin’ for this kid from day 1, he’s from a town called Prosperity for pete’s sake and he may be Hickory’s opening day starter. Joining him in the rotation will likely be 6’6” 220lb kid Jose Valdespina. JV is a massive dude with a + FB that became better as the Spokane season wore on in 2012. His command improved and he maintained his mid-90’s velo. So, yes please. 2012 1st Rd-er Collin Wiles is a distinct possibility to join the rotation, but he could also be Spokane-bound. Conor Sadzeck will be in Hickory and I expect Taylor Texas native Eric Brooks to be a part of the rotation as well. The bullpen should have the interesting velocity monster that is Keone Kela, though I’ve heard rumblings of him starting. Either way, he throws hard as hell and that’s often what you want, right?

So, yes, there are going to be some exciting arms in Hicktown, but you ain’t gonna pay to see the pitchers. Nope, you’re gonna pay to see the bats. Gallo, Mazara, and Guzman are all at least 6’4” 210lbs, and left handed, and I thoroughly expect them to torment some Sally pitchers next year. There are going to be strikeouts and ground outs and put outs, but there are also going to be some blast outs. If you live out there, please prepare the piney woods beyond the right field fences of the stadiums. If it sounds like I am excited about this team, it’s because I am. 2013, the year of the Crawdad.

Another Weird Obsession

So it’s obviously minor league baseball’s offseason and my mind and interests are as focused as a toddler guzzling Red Bull.  In between reading Dominican Winter League box scores, scouring mens fashion blogs, teaching pottery classes at the Senior Center, and providing paramilitary support to a couple of local coups, I’ve become minorly obsessed with a town, that’s like, a zillion miles away or something. Ordos is a city in the state of Inner Mongolia in China. Writing this post is probably going to get me on some kind of “no-fly” list with them, but then again so would half of my personal life. Anyway, the Chinese began really building this city up around 2001 and the bottom line is that the place is supposed to have a million residents. It has somewhere around 10,000. It’s a modern ghost town, and it is simultaneously creepy, awesome, and creepy again. I’ll hit you up with some more baseballish posts later, but for now, I wanted to share with you, Ordos China:

http://www.time.com/time/photogallery/0,29307,1975397_2094521,00.html

I cannot tell a lie. Believe that if you will. I initially “discovered” Ordos thanks to this outstanding short video of some of my favorite 4-wheelers having a session in what must have seemed like a strange, abandoned dream. Without further ado:

Love Ya!

Your Friend,

Tepid

The Youngest of the Young

Well, here we go. I’m already thinking about 2013. Can’t help it. Sorry. No, wait. I’m not sorry. I’m an unabashed supporter of minor league baseball and I enjoy the process of watching players develop into prospects and then develop into players. Understand, this is a wildly inexact science. Seriously, I’m about to speculate where a pack of TEX prospects will play baseball in 2013 and I’m likely to be proven wrong on at least five of them by the middle of next month. Much of the basis for assignments comes from a player’s maturity level, coupled obviously, with their ability. I’ve met most of the dudes who rolled through AA last year, other than that, I’m trusting my rather relentless appetite for hearsay when it comes to mental makeup and other assorted skills that set some of these guys apart. For instance, Kellin Deglan & Luis Sardinas were somewhat surprising additions to the Arizona Fall League (a league primarily made up of guys who’ll spend ’13 in AA & AAA). They both spent all of ’12 at low-A Hickory. But Sardinas has remarkable talent, and Deglan has sound makeup and (despite a lagging hit tool) is regarded as having come a long way in how he calls a game & backstops in general. These were undoubtedly factors, though far from the only considerations in the decision to send them to the league, regardless, the organization clearly felt they could handle the move.  Anyway, you get the point, the club sends the kids where they think they should be.  Me? I’m just guessing here, educated guessing, but guessing. So, without further ado:

Arizona Rookie League and Spokane Short Season:

These two teams are the most ambiguous in all of this guess fest. Perhaps the coolest byproduct of the new CBA, with regards to player development, was the emphasis it ended up putting on players signing and getting onto the field. The AZ team is filled with international signings and a few of the raw kiddos whom have just been drafted. My clairvoyance has been diminished thanks largely in part to my friends from Shiner, so I’m unable to tell you who TEX will draft in ’13, but I can tell you the AZ team will likely feature a player whose every game will be scrutinized. Jairo Beras has been polarizing for the last couple of years and next year, he’ll be on the field. It won’t really matter if he’s 16,17, 18 or 22. Well, it would matter if he’s 22, that would suck. He’s likely to be joined by a couple of promising Venezuelans, lefty bonus baby Yohander Mendez, and teenage contact-machine Eduard Pinto. By most accounts, Mendez is as raw as you’ve heard. Around 6’5” and 185lbs, he’s not a flamethrower, but can run the FB into the low-90s with a potential plus CB & plus CH. Lots of reports include “smooth delivery” when discussing Mendez. In short, he’s wildly projectable, just needs time and reps. Pinto led the Dominican Summer League in hitting with a .396 avg. He’s a 5’11” 150lb, left handed 17 year old- so there’s that. EP’s an outfielder with little pop, but what appears to be an advanced hit tool, so we’ll see how he develops both physically, and at the plate. We’re also likely to see the stateside debut of big lefty and 1st team All-Name-Team candidate, Nerfy Nunez. Just wanted to type the name “Nerfy Nunez”.  The younger Leclerc brother, Jose, will likely pitch for the rookies in ’13 as well. Need some fun dark horses for the Rookies? Okey dokey. Howsabout 6’6”, 220lb, 18yr-old, LHP Zach Brill. He had TJ surgery in high school so his draft stock slipped, but he’s huge, has a ton of projection, and has those three letters “LHP” attached to his name. He pitched in instructionals and he’ll be ready to rock in ’13.  Brill is an interesting kid who turned down a classical music scholarship from the University of Washington to sign with TEX. Don’t believe me? Here ya go: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wY9bIAKPXeU  I’m also keeping an eye on 19yr-old righty, Kyle Castro. He’s a project at 6’4” 190lbs, but he’s crazy athletic as evidenced by the fact that he led the entire state of California in interceptions as a safety his senior year in high school. Coming off injuries and still learning how to pitch, he’s apparently an ambitious kid who just launched his own clothing line. Seriously. https://en.twitter.com/Clothing_HP  Dark horses and crapshoots—Arizona Rookie Ball.

With regards to Spokane, they may end up with the short end of the stick in ’13. Unfortunately, for what seems to be a very well run club with tremendous local support and completely badass uniforms, it remains a distinct possibility most of the prodigious “Baby Rangers” will skip this stop in their development. Short-season ball is a fantastic mechanism for players who need a little more instructional time in extended Spring Training before being sent out to play in competitive games on a daily basis. For many of these kids short-season ball is their first exposure to travel and daily games in front of paying spectators and non-paying scouts, but sometimes it just comes down to who needs to stay in “extended” and who can handle/needs to be challenged by the daily rigors of a 140 game minor league schedule. Having said that, I expect some members of the ’12 AZ Rookie league champs to be key members of the Indians team in ’13. Infielders Janluis Castro and Alberto Triunfel are good candidates as are lefty pitchers Aliangel Lopez and Ryne Slack. Smerling Lantigua played for Spokane in 2012. He is younger than Gobbles Gallo, but he struggled at the plate and lost his 3B position when Gobbles was promoted. Lantigua played a fair amount of 1B later in the season, so it’s feasible that he stays in extended spring training to continue working on the bat and possibly, a new position. 21yr old Angelo Leclerc is a potential Indian, as is fireballing righty Keone Kela, who’ll be 20 when the SPO season begins. 2012 1st Rounder, Collin Wiles could find himself in the Great Northwest in 2013 too. (but maybe Hick bound-shhh)  I suppose David Perez is likely to end up in Spokane again following his Tommy John surgery and a rehabbing Matt West might join him. Both of those fellas would be well past short-season ball, had they not been derailed by wonky elbows. Predicting the SPO roster is inherently difficult. What if Beras shows the freaky-deaky skills we all think he has, would he skip rookie ball and play for SPO? Possibly. The ’12 team was comprised of a bunch of ’12 draftees with college experience and it is likely that the ’13 team will have a similar feel. Regardless of who is on the field, things we know for sure are they will play in a beautiful stadium with great fans and they will look really, really fantastic. And that’s important.

WTF?

“Approach” has become one of my favorite words in any language. In baseball parlance, it’s used in a variety of structures and meanings, but primarily and most commonly as a descriptor for how mentally engaged a hitter is during an at-bat. As a guy who looks for and appreciates the off-kilter, difficult-to-measure aspects of scouting, “approach” is one of my favorite quantifiably in-quantifiable traits. What are you thinking when you step into the box? Do you understand what you should be trying to do in different situations? Then, do you even have the physical abilities to execute the plan? If not, how can you use your skill set to accomplish something positive with this at-bat?  If a hitter is slumping does he start hacking immediately, or try to take a few pitches? If the pitcher is a junk-ball lefty and you’re a FB hitter, can you wait him out until he throws you a “1”?  I see it all the time at the minor league level and it’s a pleasure to watch the development. Essentially, “what is your plan?” “Approach”, frankly, may be Jurickson Profar’s single strongest attribute. He was/is preternaturally aware in the batter’s box. The thing that puts him over the top, from a prospect standpoint, is that he matches his approach with incredible abilities. Same with Trout, Harper, Bundy, Machado, and a small handful of other kids coming up.

The reason I bring this up is because I’m often surprised at the diminishing emphasis being put on approach at the big league level. Admittedly, I don’t watch as much Major League baseball as the majority of you, but is anybody taking pitches anymore?  Perhaps a better question is, are managers using the “take” signal at all?  Anyway, you can look at the walk rates and empirical data of the MLB teams very easily so I won’t be redundant in saying  the 2012 Rangers didn’t walk very often. They finished 18th in MLB, the lowest of any team that made the playoffs. But it’s not just about drawing walks. It’s about understanding all of the situations; your own, the team’s, the game’s, the opposing pitcher’s…everything.

 
Here lies my affection for the word “approach”. I’ve now watched enough of the last games of the season to realize that not only was the team often flawed in it’s approach at the plate, but perhaps, flawed in it’s approach to the entire two-week run. The 2012 Rangers failed down the stretch because of a litany of reasons. Assessing blame is an exercise in futility. Big stars failed, role players failed, rookies failed, veterans failed, coaches failed, tenured leaders failed, mid-season acquisitions failed. I truly believe this is the way it’s viewed internally as well. The Texas front office is too smart to point fingers in one direction or another. They’ll find the holes and attempt to fill them, but they know nothing went right, top-to-bottom, in the last two weeks of the season. The 2012 Rangers were a highly functional machine, except during those last two weeks. The last two weeks, in which the players and coaches seemed to have no idea what they were going to attempt to do. The last two weeks, when it seemed they ignored their “approach”.