Archive for April, 2009

Things I Never Thought I’d Post: Episode 1

I have a google alert set up with the nebulous search parameters of “minor league baseball”, and it coagulates everything into a daily email to me showing top stories with those words in it. I followed one such link to a blog called Plethora, which talked about an Alabama song from the 1990s that’s about following a minor-league ball team.

Feathered hair and country music… not my usual cup of Schlitz, but I can’t deny that the lyrics have Bus Leagues written all over them.

The Z-Meter: 4/28/2009

The Z-meter tracks the story arcs of 25 top prospects (or players we just like) on their way to the bigs. It is named after current Washington Nationals star Ryan Zimmerman, who made the transition from anchoring the University of Virginia to starring in MLB in one year.

Promoted:

Jordan Zimmermann: Syracuse Chiefs (AAA) to Washington Nationals (MLB)

It hasn’t been very long since the last time I looked at the numbers, but I decided that this year, I’m going to update whenever I feel like it. Last year it was once a week, this year it might be twice. I’ll definitely update any time someone gets called up. It’s just more fun that way.

This week, I finally decided to take Michel Inoa off the meter until he starts putting up stats somewhere. There seems to be no rush to get him in a uniform in the A’s organization, so I replaced him with the Pirates’ top prospect, Pedro Alvarez. Alvarez is missing a lot of balls, but the ones he hits tend to be unplayable, so I can respect that.

Some of my prized pitching prospects are struggling early. Shooter Hunt is by far the worst, but he still has a cool name, so he stays. Jhoulys Chacin, who lit up A-ball last season, is struggling to find his way in Tulsa. Madison Bumgarner continues to rock it, however. So it’s not all bad news from the mound.

As hitters go, Lars Anderson had a boom week, jumping all of his decimal-pointy stats in impressive fashion. Former teammates Gamel and LaPorta are wrecking Triple-A, and I’d be shocked if they don’t both get the call soon. Justin Smoak at Frisco has also been red-hot over the weekend.

It’s interesting to me that I’m not using many black pixels. Most everyone on the meter is playing very well, or lousy. Only a small handful of prospects are in the average range.


The top level. These prospects are in AAA in the prime of their youth, waiting for the call that will change their lives.

Andrew McCutchen, CF – Indianapolis Indians (Pirates): .301 AVG – 17 R – 1 HR – 6 RBI – 5 BB – 4 SB – .548 SLG – .894 OPS

Wade Davis, RHP – Durham Bulls (Rays): 3 Games – 1W – 0L – 2.08 ERA – 8 BB – 11 K

Kila Kaaihue, 1B – Omaha Royals – .192 – 11 R – 3 HR – 11 RBI – 17 BB – 0 SB – .423 SLG – .803 OPS

Mat Gamel, 3B – Nashville Sounds (Brewers): .403 AVG – 17 R – 6 HR – 24 RBI – 11 BB – 0 SB – .806 SLG – 1.287 OPS

Matt LaPorta, CF – Columbus Clippers (Indians): .400 – 19 R – 5 HR – 13 RBI – 7 BB – 0 SB – .767 SLG – 1.245 OPS

Alcides Escobar, SS – Nashville Sounds (Brewers): .257 – 11 R – 1 HR – 6 RBI – 6 BB – 8 SB – .324 SLG – .645 OPS

Carlos Carrasco, RHP – Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs (Phillies): 4 Starts – 0 W – 2 L – 4.57 ERA – 3 BB – 23 K

Ramiro Pena, SS – Scranton-Wilkes Barre Yankees: .154 – 1 R – 0 HR – 0 RBI – 2 BB – 0 SB – .154 SLG – .421 OPS

Matt Wieters, C – Norfolk Tides (Orioles): .270 AVG – 5 R – 1 HR – 2 RBI – 8 BB – 0 SB – .405 SLG – .805 OPS

Fernando Martinez, CF – Buffalo Bisons (Mets): .254 AVG – 5 R – 1 HR – 8 RBI – 3 BB – 0 SB – .448 SLG – .739 OPS

Daniel Bard, RHP – Pawtucket Red Sox (Red Sox): 7 Games – 1W – 0L  – 3 SV – 1.69 ERA – 3 BB – 18 K

Austin Jackson, OF – Scranton Wilkes-Barre (Yankees): .354 – 9 R – 0 HR – 10 RBI – 6 BB – 4 SB – .458 SLG – .887 OPS


These guys also have the potential to skip straight to the majors, but may get promoted to AAA first.

Antonio Bastardo, LHP – Reading Phillies (Phillies): 1 Start – 1 W – 0 L – 2 SV – 0.73 ERA – 1 BB – 11 K

Lars Anderson, 1B – Portland SeaDogs (Red Sox): .306 AVG – 9 R – 2 HR – 13 RBI – 5 BB – 0 SB – .484 SLG – .837 OPS

Jhoulys Chacin, RHP – Tulsa Drillers (Rockies): 4 Starts – 1 W – 3 L – 4.87 ERA – 4 BB – 12 K

Carlos Santana, C – Akron Aeros (Indians): .226 AVG – 11 R – 5 HR – 15 RBI – 12 BB – 0 SB – .547 SLG – .905 OPS

Justin Smoak, 1B – Frisco RoughRiders (Rangers): .323 AVG – 8 R – 3 HR – 12 RBI – 11 BB – 0 SB – .516 SLG – .943 OPS

These guys have vast potential but need to work out some kinks in A-ball before they can advance.

Ian Gac, 1B – Bakersfield Blaze (Rangers): .191 AVG – 3 R – 1 HR – 8 RBI – 4 BB – 0 SB – .319 SLG – .569 OPS

Mike Moustakas, SS – Wilmington Blue Rocks (Royals): .292 AVG – 17 R – 4 HR – 15 RBI – 5 BB – 1 SB – .554 SLG – .897 OPS

Madison Bumgarner, LHP – San Jose Giants (Giants): 3 Starts – 3 W – 0 L – 0.56 ERA – 2 BB – 14 K

Pedro Alvarez, 3B – Lynchburg Hillcats (Pirates): .217 AVG – 8 R – 3 HR – 17 RBI – 13 BB – 0 SB – .383 SLG – .725 OPS

Che-Hsuan Lin, OF – Salem Red Sox: .170 AVG – 6 R – 0 HR – 4 RBI – 4 BB – 2 SB – .213 SLG – .458 OPS

Josh Vitters, 3B – Peoria Chiefs (Cubs): .327 AVG – 7 R – 1 HR – 6 RBI – 2 BB – 0 SB – .449 SLG – .826 OPS

Shooter Hunt, RHP – Beloit Snappers (Twins): 1 Start – 0 W – 1 L – 10.8 ERA – 23 BB – 10 K

Collin Cowgill, OF – Visalia Rawhide (Diamondbacks): .318 AVG – 16 R – 4 HR – 17 RBI – 12 BB – 3 SB – .652 SLG – 1.096 OPS


NCAA: Only used if a prospect in college shows really, truly, immensely, hugely inescapable potential.

Stephen Strasburg, RHP – San Diego State: 9 Starts – 9W – 0L – 1.54 ERA – 13 BB – 135 K


Prospects chosen from Diamond Cutter’s Top 25, Baseball America, and our trademark irrational sense of whimsy.

Bus Leagues in Baltimore

I went to a major-league game in Baltimore this Sunday. Rangers at Orioles, with a few of our old Z-meter regulars playing, like Felix Pie and Elvis Andrus. But my real Bus Leagues surprise came when I took the advice of an usher and visited the Sports Museum that was recently built next to Camden Yards. I was wandering around in the rather gloomy basement display area and found this:

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This bus was actually a display showing the travel conditions of Maryland’s Negro Leagues players. I liked it – I thought it was an innovative use of the space they had, even though it was a sort of creepy cellar. The upstairs was given over to the old Baltimore Colts and the Orioles. Everything else was downstairs.

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I was amused by the caption on this poster. “Why the Minor Leagues?” A question OMDQ and I ask ourselves every day. Kidding! We love the Bus Leagues. Pictured here are uniforms from Maryland’s entries into the minor league system: the Aberdeen IronBirds (Short Season NY-Penn League), Bowie Baysox (AA Eastern League), Frederick Keys (A+ Carolina League), Delmarva Shorebirds (A South Atlantic League), and Hagerstown Suns (A South Atlantic League). The Suns belong to the Nats organization. The rest are all variations on the Orioles.

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Just kind of a cool map. It shows all of the minor-league teams to call Maryland home, even ones that are now defunct. That hole where they listed the teams is actually where Delaware belongs!

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Another perspective on starting out small and making it to the bigs.

At first, I thought it kind of sucked that all of these great items were stuck in the basement. Then I saw this:

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Dude wins a kajillion Olympic gold medals and all he gets is a crummy alcove and a bare lightbulb.

So, it was kind of cool to see this stuff when I only thought I’d be seeing a MLB game. Still, not sure it was worth ten bucks. But how would I know unless I tried?

Now Pitching For The Boston Red Sox…

On the heels of Saturday’s wild 16-11 win over the Yankees, the Red Sox made a roster move before Sunday’s game, optioning infielder Gil Velazquez to Pawtucket and calling up righthander Michael Bowden.  Bowden made his first appearance of the season (and the second of his career) in relief of fellow youngster Justin Masterson, holding a 4-1 lead with two innings of perfect relief.

This Week in Bobbleheads – Week 4

April seems to have flown by, and Independent Leagues are starting.  More games means more giveaways and I’m back for the weekly installment. Here we go:

Philadelphia Phillies 4/28/09 Charlie Manuel – I so believe that every team in their system will do Charlie to celebrate their ’08 win.  Here’s Philly’s version.

Trenton Thunder 4/29/09 Tony Franklin – First 2,000 6 and up – The 2 time Eastern League champ skipper is actually holding a replica of the League Trophy.

Portand Seadogs 4/30/09 David Ortiz – First 1,000 – It’s a little Papi, how cute!!

Clearwater Threshers 5/1/09 Chase Utley – First 1,000 – Chase begins a big series of figures surrounding the 08 champs.

Long Island Ducks 5/1/09 Gary Carter – First 2,000 – Carter’s first season as Ducks manager and he already has a bobble on Opening Night at Citibank Park.

Memphis Redbirds 5/1/09 Nostalgiaman – First 1,000 – Memphis once again begins a series of multiple bobbleheads for 2009, but I have no clue on this mascot type character.

Northwest Arkansas Naturals 5/2/09 Kila Kaiahue – First 1,000 – Move over Flyin Hawaiian Mr. Victorino, the powerful Kila has arrived having hit over 40 homers in AA last year.

Texas Rangers 5/2/09 Nolan Ryan Bronze Statuette – First 20,000 – Nolan salutes the crown in this figurine.

Milwaukee Brewers 5/3/09 Ryan Braun – The powerful Brewers left fielder in an action pose.

Minnesota Twins 5/3/09 Kirby Puckett (Legends of the Dome) – First 10,000 – Same players, different series as the “Legends” set begins.

Although I normally just stick to pro baseball, one college giveaway is also a standout this week. Long Beach State will devote May 2nd to Evan Longoria bobblehead night at their stadium for the first 750 fans. This will be a definite piece to have in anyone’s collection.

Finally, I will be attending 3 giveaways this week, the Manuel, Franklin and Carter to fortify my collection and will have others to trade as well. Interested? Post on my board at http://thetruebobbleheadboard.yuku.com

Quad Cities River Bandits Star in “Sugar”

sugarI love a good formulaic feel-good baseball movie as much as the next guy. Especially when the premise is inventive, like it was in “Field of Dreams”. But when you get to the more Disney-esque types of films, I tend to lose interest – I feel like I’ve seen it before, as the plucky loser makes good.

Sounds like the latest baseball film, “Sugar”, is a more realistic look at how baseball winnows its talent pool. It’s the story of a Dominican pitcher who plays well enough to make it out of the Republic and onto a minor-league roster. In the Disney version, Miguel “Sugar” Santos would suffer a mid-career setback, turn things around, fall in love, and win his major league debut.

But this movie isn’t about beating the odds. It’s about real life. From the reviews I’ve read, Sugar finds out he’s good, but not great. So he tops out in the minors, and has to figure out what to do with his life after baseball dead-ends. It might sound depressing, but this film is made by the production team that created the fantastic film “Half Nelson“, which gave us a drug-addicted teacher and a disadvantaged student who make small but important differences in one another’s lives. If this story is treated with the same even-handed approach, it should be gripping.

The part that interested me from a Bus Leagues perspective was my attempt to find out what minor-league ballparks might have been used in the filming. I know from the movie’s press kit that it was shot in the Dominican, Arizona, Iowa, and the Bronx. The only info I could find was about the Iowa location:

Once the action in the film moves to the U.S., the filmmakers wanted to be just as accurate in their depiction of life among minor league players. To find the home for the Single-A team that marks the apex of Miguel’s career, they spent days driving around Iowa. They eventually decided on Davenport, a small city on the banks of the Mississippi.

 

“The city and the team really embraced us,” says Patricof. “We used the uniforms and the stadium of the real team.”

[Sugar Press Kit]

That team is the Quad Cities River Bandits (Cardinals). If you look at the movie’s poster, you see the distinctive bridge over the Mississippi that looms near the stadium. The River Bandits have a big movie premiere party going on this weekend, with the movie’s star throwing out the first pitch and signing autographs. The River Bandits’ stadium also has a marvelous name: Modern Woodmen Park. Not a bad name if your team brings big bats to the game every night. Or if you’re filming a baseball-themed porno. Which, come to think of it, you could totally also name “Sugar”.

Anyway, I’ll be looking forward to catching “Sugar” when it comes to my town. And I’ll have a special eye out for the baseball haven of Davenport, Iowa (they grow corn in the outfield!) during the minor-league scenes.

[Quad Cities River Bandits] [Sugar Film Site]

Now Pitching For The Texas Rangers…

Okay, imagine this situation: you’re a 22-year-old kid from Ohio, recently called up from the minor leagues by the Texas Rangers to pitch out of the bullpen.  You join the big club, sit out there for a couple days, wait patiently for the call…and when it comes, it’s just about the most pressure imaginable: bases loaded, two outs, down 6-3, and you’re in charge of stopping the bleeding.

That’s what it’s like to be Derek Holland.  The Rangers’ rookie made his debut in just that situation on Wednesday and performed admirably.  After entering in the bottom of the sixth and allowing an infield single to Adam Lind that made the score 7-3, Toronto, Holland settled down, retiring Scott Rolen on a popup to end the threat with minimal damage.  He went on to pitch two more scoreless innings, allowing two more hits (including another single to Lind) and giving Texas the chance to claw back and tie things up with a run in the eighth and three in the ninth.

Holland is expected to start for the pitching-poor Rangers at some point in the not-too-distant future.

“One of the last draft-and-follows signed before MLB changed their signing rules, Holland has always been blessed with exceptional command. What really excited scouts was the upticks in his velocity with each season. He was 89-91 in his season in JUCO, 90-92 in his professional debut in short-season Spokane and then up to 93-98 mid-summer last season, with movement. Holland pitched at three different levels, playing mostly in High-A last year and reached AA before season’s end.  In just 221.2 minor league innings, Holland racked up 245 punch-outs to just 64 walks before being called up to the Show. While he’s starting his career as a reliever, there’s no question the long-term plan is starting for Holland.”

I seem to remember reading the other day that the Rangers plan to make this a permanent promotion.  Hopefully he can successfully navigate the hitters paradise that is Arlington and make that a reality.