Archive for the ‘California League’ Category

Bus Leagues Q&A: Elizabeth Martin, Assistant GM of the Visalia Rawhide

When our little cabal of writers gets on gmail and starts talking about what each of us will contribute each week, lots of ideas get thrown out. When the idea of interviewing Elizabeth Martin came up, there was serious concern that none of us was smart enough to hold our own during a Q&A. I’ve never let the possibility of sounding stupid come between me and a good interview before, so I happily took the assignment.

Good choice. Liz Martin is the Assistant GM and Legal Counsel for the Visalia Rawhide, the A+ California League affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks. During our phone interview, she was engaging and funny, and used small words to explain why she chose to use her DePaul law degree in baseball instead of some swanky glass skyscraper. Clearly, she knew what caliber of website she was dealing with.

Liz MartinTell me a little about how you ended up working for the Visalia Rawhide.

I actually interned with the team in 2006 when they were the Oaks. It was one of my first internships while I was in law school. I got to be pretty good friends with the owner and stayed in touch with him while I was in school, and he offered me the position when I graduated.

You traveled from Chicago to California for the internship?

I did. I spent every summer that I was in law school away from Chicago, which is the wrong time to leave town. So the first summer I was in St. Petersburg, second summer I came here and third summer I went to Berkley and worked for the Raiders. Then I came back here permanently.

So, while you were in law school, you were targeting a job in sports?

Well, when I first went to law school, I wanted to be an agent. It took me about six weeks to figure out that I didn’t want to be an agent any more. Really, what sealed the deal for me was getting the internship with Minor League Baseball and working in their headquarters in St. Petersburg.  Working in that kind of organization, I realized that was much more to my taste. I really felt at home. So I shifted directions and went the corporate law route with a sports focus.

You are the legal counsel for the Visalia Rawhide. What are some of the legal issues that come up that we might not be aware of?

Other than contracts, which is what I do a lot of – sponsorship contracts – I helped with the lease negotiations with the new stadium being built – well, it’s mostly renovations, but it feels like it’s new.

One thing that we had happen recently is that an East Coast independent league team tried to take our Mudville logo, which our team also owns. They tried to modify it, but they had clearly taken it and barely changed it and tried to use it themselves. So, logo protection, trademark protection… you’d be surprised how often someone tries to take a trademark and run with it.

Minor league teams often change affiliations. Would you have a role in that process if it happens?

That’s usually handled by our owner, though I’d definitely help out with that. Minor League Baseball standardizes most of those agreements. Our relationship with the Diamondbacks has been pretty solid, so I don’t foresee anything like that happening.

How does sports law practice differ from, say, corporate law?

It’s really just the subjects you touch on. I tell people I could work the same crazy hours I work for baseball, but be forced to wear a suit in some underground dungeon, but I get to come to work at a baseball stadium every day. That’s the first bonus.

Do you get a chance to join the crowd and enjoy the game from time to time?

Definitely, during the games I try and get out of the office and interact. I don’t think many minor league baseball people stay in an office on gameday. There’s always something breaking or a lost child or something that needs attention. For me, it’s a more fun environment. I get to interact with the fans and help younger people coming into baseball. I’m about five to seven years older than anyone else in the office other than our owner, so helping them get their careers off the ground, shape their futures and figure out where they want to go in baseball or in life. Some people come here for six months and say “OK, I never want to do that again,” but I think that’s a great learning process that I didn’t get to go through at 20 years old.

As assistant GM, do you have other duties outside the legal realm?

I do. I’m also the sales manager because I came from a sales background before I went back to law school. I handle all the HR functions because there are a few legal aspects in that. Fortunately, or unfortunately for the crowd here, I also manage the concession stand. I’m a vegetarian.

That would be tough in that environment.

It’s a perfect fit! (laughs)

Were you involved with baseball as a kid?

Not other than just loving the sport. My dad was a baseball player and he got me to fall in love with the sport. I tried to play softball, but I had no talent for that at all. So I became the official scorekeeper, so I learned a different aspect of the sport from an early age.

You said your dad was a ballplayer. Did he play professionally?

He played in college for a couple of years, at Kent State in Ohio. He played in high school. He didn’t have any sons, and I was the oldest of three girls, so I was the one he would play catch with in the backyard. That’s how we bonded.

What is the major focus of your job during the offseason?

Preparing for the next season. We get the question a lot. People think in the offseason we take six months off. We’re meeting with sponsors and getting our sales cycle going. It’s basically an event-planning job. But we’re essentially planning 70 separate events. I like to look at them as separate events because each game might have a different sponsor or promotion tied to it. And some people in town only come to one game a year, so we try to make each experience as memorable and special for that person, as for somebody who comes to all 70 games.

We kept track of Collin Cowgill from afar when he played for Visalia. Is he a fan favorite there?

He was, but unfortunately he got hurt pretty early on and they took him away for rehab. But his name was definitely a tie-in for us being in the cow capital of the universe.

I actually didn’t know where the Rawhide name came from.

We are in the dairy capital of the world here. The Happy California Cows commercials are basically about this area. We wanted to pay homage to that, and the fact that baseball has been in this town for over 60 years. But we didn’t want to be too cheeky about it, either. We threw around some childish names, but we wanted to be a bit more serious. We gave the players a bunch of suggestions we had received and kind of left it up to them to decide.

Rawhide sounds a bit more dangerous than something cow related.

Yeah. Like the Moo or the Tippers.

Is there some personal pride when someone who passed through Visalia moves up the ladder?

We definitely love it. That can be front office or on the field. It’s great to see people who are now in the big leagues who were nice guys when they were here. When I was here in ’06 we were a Tampa Bay affiliate, so I got to spend some time with Evan Longoria and Reid Brignac, so that was fun. That’s just a great story to tell your kids some day. But in the front office, we have a ops manager who is now with the Durham Bulls and one that went to Tacoma. So that’s fun for us to see them move on and have other opportunities, too.

How do you know somebody has the right makeup to succeed in a minor league baseball front office?

My boss at the Raiders told me if you want to work in sports you have to be just a little bit insane. I believe that. You have to be willing to lose yourself in it; to give everything you have. It’s not a 9-to-5 job by any stretch. At this point we’re working seven days a week. I was here until 9:00 last night and started before 9:00 this morning. You really have to be willing to go above and beyond what most people just coming out of school have ever done.


Grant Desme Retires…

Yeah, you haven’t seen a post from any of us for a good three weeks. But that’s just because we’re living in the slow time for minor league baseball. The 6 year free agents of note have all been picked up.

But then came news from top propsect and one of the BLB Player of the Year finalists. Grant Desme.

Desme, seen here in his come hither pose, was having himself a tremendous 2009. The only man to hit 30-30, the Arizona Fall league MVP, an open Center Field for him for when he’s proven major league ready. The man seemed like he was on the path for millions of dollars.

But? Today Desme announced that he had a higher calling. He has left the Athletics organization to join the priesthood. I know I’ve made a joke on my twitter feed in regards to it. But obviously, it’s a deeply personal decision that was made here. Desme had a real shot at going somewhere with this whole baseball thing, But he let that go.

It’s not exactly the conformists way, but considering the rightward kant of sports in general? It’s actually kind of impressive. Do you think someone like a Jeff Suppan would leave the potential millions on the table so he can share his faith with the world? No.

So you know what? I salute Grant Desme. Fortune favors the bold, and you sir, are one bold lemon farmer.

Giants Prospect Angel Villalona A Murder Suspect

Saturday night, a 25-year-old man named Mario Felix de Jesus Velete was shot to death in the Dominican Republic.  Earlier today, a suspect, 19-year-old Angel Villalona, voluntarily turned himself in to local police.  The fact that Villalona is a person of interest in this case is noteworthy because he is a person of interest to this blog, a top Baseball America prospect (#33 in 2008, #44 in 2009) two years running.

Villalona made his professional debut at the age of 16 with the AZL Giants in 2007 before finishing the season with the short-season Salem-Keizer Volcanoes just after his 17th birthday.  The next year he moved up to the South Atlantic League and hit seventeen homeruns, earning another promotion, to the California League.  He appeared in 74 games for the San Jose Giants this season before his season ended prematurely in July.

According to the AP, “Villalona will appear in court on Monday and could face up to 20 years in prison if found guilty” of the murder.  If this was the United States, I could see some sort of deal being worked out (depending on the circumstances); not knowing anything about the criminal justice system in the Dominican Republic, however, it’s hard to say what sort of punishment Villalona might actually be facing.

Now Batting For The San Francisco Giants…

Actually, “Now Batting For” might not be the best description for Buster Posey’s next few weeks with the Giants.  “Now Coming In As A Defensive Replacement And Occasionally Starting If Bengie Molina Can’t Play” is probably a more apt, though much wordier, option.

Posey was called up on Wednesday, capping off a remarkable season that started in the Class A Advanced California League and saw a promotion to Triple-A Fresno.  The 22-year-old catcher out of Florida State hit .325 with 18 homeruns and 80 RBI in 115 games between those two stops.

Chances are that Posey won’t get a lot of starts – the team didn’t even want to bring him up this season; Bengie Molina is still the top dog behind the plate, although he’s fighting an injury right now – but this will give him a chance to see the game from a major league dugout, which is important, I think.  Kinda like a young quarterback watching from the sidelines until he gets his bearings.

Giants fans are happy about the fact that Buster is coming to town.  And they’re doing a great job of keeping their expectations reasonable:

So welcome, Buster (nickname: Bustery Poseyey). No pressure. Just rescue the Giants’ offense while you’re up. Oh, and teach the rest of the team how to work the count. Also, dispel the myth that rookie catchers cause entire pitching staffs to implode. Also, I’d like a glass of iced tea.

That really doesn’t seem like too much to ask.

California League All-Stars Announced

The California League announced its postseason All-Star team earlier today:
Catcher: Koby Clemens, Lancaster JetHawks
First Base: Joe Dunigan, High Desert Mavericks
Second Base: Jason Van Kooten, Modesto Nuts
Third Base: Alex Liddi, High Desert Mavericks
Shortstop: Beamer Weems, Lake Elsinore Storm
Outfield: Thomas Neal, San Jose Giants
Outfield: Roger Kieschnick, San Jose Giants
Outfield: Jon Gaston, Lancaster JetHawks
Designated Hitter: Scott Van Slyke, Inland Empire 66ers

Starting Pitcher: Craig Clark, San Jose Giants
Starting Pitcher: Donald Hume, High Desert Mavericks
Starting Pitcher: Alexander Torres, Rancho Cucamonga Quakes
Relief Pitcher: Craig Baker, Modesto Nuts

Most Valuable Player: Alex Liddi, High Desert Mavericks
Pitcher of the Year: Craig Clark, San Jose Giants
Rookie of the Year: Roger Kieschnick, San Jose Giants
Manager of the Year: Jim Horner, High Desert Mavericks
Athletic Trainer of the Year: Yukiya Oba, San Jose Giants

Liddi, Clemens, and Gaston were my three favorites for the MVP award. As an unabashed Alex Liddi follower since early July, I’m happy to see the Italian win.

Lucky Thirteen

Heading into the bottom of the eighth inning last night, High Desert held a 6-4 lead over Inland Empire.  The plan for the Mavericks was simple: get through their turn at bat, get three outs in the ninth, and head into the weekend with a three game division lead.

I guess when you get right down to it, that’s what they did.  Only, instead of simply, “getting through their turn at bat,” they decided to, “score thirteen times and put the game out of reach.”  To each his own.

The inning got off to a tough start for the 66ers when catcher Alex Garabedian struck out to end the top half and ended up being ejected.  Then, the Mavericks jumped all over new pitcher Marcel Prado – all five batters he faced reached base:

–Leury Bonilla singled to right
–Juan Diaz singled to right
–Tyson Gillies singled to shortstop after the ball was deflected by Prado
–Jeffrey Dominguez reached on force attempt and throwing error by Prado, with Diaz scoring
–Jamie McOwen singled to center, scoring Tyson Gillies

And that was all she wrote for Prado: four singles, a throwing error, two runs already in, two men in scoring position. Miguel Sanfler was brought in to stop the bleeding…

–Carlos Peguero walked
–Alex Liddi singled right, scoring Dominguez
–Joseph Dunigan struck out swinging for the first out
–With Travis Scott batting, Sanfler threw a wild pitch, allowing McOwen to score and closing the book on Prado
–With Travis Scott batting, Sanfler threw a wild pitch, allowing Peguero to score
–Travis Scott homered to right, scoring Liddi

(Side note: I understand that when a pitcher wild pitches in a run, the batter doesn’t get credit for an RBI, and he shouldn’t…except in a situation like this, where the batter eventually homers. In that case, go ahead and give him the ribbies that would have been rightfully his.)

At this point, High Desert has batted around.

–Leury Bonilla doubled to center
–Juan Diaz singled to right
–Tyson Gillies singled to center, scoring Bonilla

All three of these guys had two hits in the inning.

–Jeffrey Dominguez singled to left
–Jamie McOwen grounded into a force out, with Diaz out at home
–Carlos Peguero hit a grand slam to left, scoring Gillies, Domiguez, and McOwen

At this point, with the score 19-4, the 66ers waved the white flag, putting second baseman Justin Fuller on the mound and bringing Elian Herrera in to take his place. And Fuller made it look easy, getting Alex Liddi to fly out to center to end the inning.

Final tally for the bottom of the eighth: thirteen runs, eleven hits, a double, two homeruns, two wild pitches, and an infielder masquerading as a pitcher.

Inland Empire went 1-2-3 in the ninth to end it.

Minor League MVP Candidates, League-By-League

Just for the heck of it, I decided tonight to look at the stats for every league in the minors and see if I could come up with a candidate or two (no more than three) for the Most Valuable Player award.  (I’ll try to do the same for pitchers later this week.)

Some of these are no-brainers (*cough*Chris CarterTexasLeague*cough*), but most had at least a couple guys that should find themselves in the running for some awards.  In most cases, I tried to limit a player’s eligibility to the league they currently play in – Brian Dopirak and Michael Taylor, for example, are still in good shape in the Eastern League, but shouldn’t win any awards there after spending more than a month of the season in Triple A.

If I missed anyone obvious, or if you have a personal favorite, throw it out there. We’ll see how many of these (if any) we actually get right.

Triple A
International League
Andy Marte, Columbus: .963 OPS (1st), 18 HR (t-4th), 66 RBI (4th)
Shelley Duncan, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre: 25 HR (1st), 76 RBI (1st), 54 BB (t-1st), .899 OPS (5th)

Mexican League
Ruben Rivera, Campeche: 32 HR (1st), 90 RBI (t-4th), 1.130 OPS (2nd), 96 R (2nd)
Saul Soto, Monterrey: 28 HR (2nd), 93 RBI (2nd), 1.095 OPS (3rd)
Dionys Cesar, Vaqueros: .380 BA (1st), 40 SB (1st), 92 R (3rd)

Pacific Coast League
Randy Ruiz, Las Vegas: 25 HR (2nd), 106 RBI (1st), .320 BA (10th), .976 OPS (3rd), 81 R (5th), 148 H (1st), 43 2B (1st)

Double A
Eastern League
Carlos Santana, Akron: 20 HR (4th), 82 RBI (2nd), 71 BB (2nd), .943 OPS (4th), 73 R (2nd)
Ryan Strieby, Erie: .982 OPS (1st), 17 HR (4th), .305 BA (6th)

Southern League
Juan Francisco, Carolina: 22 HR (1st), 74 RBI (1st), .822 OPS (10th), 63 R (8th)
Todd Frazier, Carolina: 124 H (1st), 37 2B (1st), 13 HR (t-6th), 63 RBI (t-5th), .852 OPS (8th)

Texas League
Chris Carter, Midland: .336 BA (1st), 21 HR (1st), 90 RBI (2nd), 101 R (1st), 148 H (1st), 38 2B (1st), 73 BB (t-1st), .433 OBP (1st), .574 SLG (1st), 1.006 OPS (1st)

*Carter has to be a frontrunner not only for Texas League MVP, but Minor League Baseball’s Player of the Year. What an outstanding season thus far.

Class A Advanced
California League
Alex Liddi, High Desert: .356 BA (1st), 1.044 OPS (1st), 21 HR (t-4th), 86 RBI (4th), 85 R (t-2nd)
Jon Gaston, Lancaster: 30 HR (1st), 81 RBI (6th), 1.015 OPS (4th), 15 3B (1st), 100 R (1st)
Koby Clemens, Lancaster: 96 RBI (1st), .343 BA (3rd), 1.023 OPS (2nd)

Carolina League
Cody Johnson, Myrtle Beach: 26 HR (1st), 76 RBI (2nd), .886 OPS (2nd)
Brandon Waring, Frederick: 20 HR (2nd), 74 RBI (3rd), .870 OPS (3rd)

Florida State League
Chris Parmelee, Fort Myers: 14 HR (1st), 64 RBI (1st), .814 OPS (4th)
Ben Revere, Fort Myers: .307 BA (3rd), 36 SB (4th), 60 R (3rd), .368 OBP (t-8th)

Class A
Midwest League
Kyle Russell, Great Lakes: 24 HR (1st), 79 RBI (t-1st), .915 OPS (2nd), 74 R (4th)

South Atlantic League
Derek Norris, Hagerstown: 23 HR (1st), 75 RBI (2nd), 69 R (3rd), .296 BA (10th), .955 OPS (3rd)

Class A Short-Season
New York-Penn League
Leandro Castro, Williamsport: .353 BA (1st), .973 OPS (1st), 37 R (t-1st),
Neil Medchill, Staten Island: 10 HR (1st), 30 RBI (t-5th), .925 OPS (5th), 33 R (4th)

Northwest League
Vincent Belnome, Eugene: 39 R (1st), 8 HR (t-2nd), 37 RBI (2nd), 37 BB (2nd), .952 OPS (4th)

Appalachian League
Jose Altuve, Greeneville: 45 R (1st), 21 SB (1st), .324 BA (7th), .916 OPS (8th), 26 BB (1st)
Richard Racobaldo, Johnson City: 1.077 OPS (1st), 26 RBI (t-9th), .415 BA (1st)
Riaan Spanjer-Furstenburg, Danville: .383 BA (2nd), 1.032 OPS (2nd), 7 HR (t-3rd), 39 RBI (2nd)

Arizona League
Cody Decker, Padres: 1.127 OPS (1st), .357 BA (3rd), 11 HR (1st), 46 RBI (1st)

Dominican Summer League
Reymond Nunez, Yankees 2: 10 HR (2nd), 57 RBI (1st), .947 OPS (4th)
Alexander Sanchez, Mets: .391 BA (1st), .982 OPS (2nd)

Gulf Coast League
Brett Newsome, Nationals: 1.020 OPS (1st), .304 BA (9th), 25 R (1st), 13 2B (t-3rd)
Layton Hiller, Braves: 6 HR (1st), 34 RBI (1st), .846 OPS (8th)
Marcell Ozuna, Marlins: .928 OPS (2nd), .344 BA (3rd), 24 R (t-2nd), 18 2B (1st), 4 HR (t-7th), 31 RBI (2nd)

Pioneer League
Jerry Sands, Ogden: 14 HR (1st), 39 RBI (4th), .350 BA (4th), 1.114 OPS (1st), 41 R (1st)

Venezuelan Summer League
Roan Salas, Rays: 15 HR (1st), 59 RBI (1st), 49 R (t-3rd), 75 H (t-5th), .338 BA (2nd), 1.063 OPS (1st)

Gaston’s Homer, Clemens’ Two Ribbies Not QUITE Enough For Lancaster

Lancaster teammates Jon Gaston and Koby Clemens lead the California League in homeruns and RBI, respectively, and each added to their totals on Saturday night.  Gaston hit his 30th homer in the sixth, a solo shot, and Clemens added a two-run double for RBIs 95 and 96 in the eighth.

Unfortunately, that was the only offense the JetHawks in a game where their pitching staff forgot to show up.  Bakersfield scored at least three runs in six of the first seven innings and led 18-0 by the time Gaston went deep.  Before Clemens drove in his two, it was 24-1.

A team that scores 24 runs in a game will have no shortage of offensive stars, but two players stood head and shoulders above the rest.  Mauro Gomez was 4-6 with two homeruns and four RBI, moving him into third and seventh in those two categories.  Elio Sarmiento had an even bigger game, going 5-6 with a double, homerun, four RBI, and six runs scored.  He’s been hot in August, with a .455 batting average and 1.311 OPS in seven games.

Now Pitching For The Colorado Rockies…

The first “Now Pitching For” in forever, and I’m like four days late on it.  That’s how I roll.

Jhoulys Chacin burst onto our radar last season when he went a combined 18-3 with a 2.03 ERA and 160 strikeouts in 177.2 innings for Modesto and Asheville.  His performance earned him a coveted spot on the Z-Meter last May, and he hasn’t left since.  Well, until now, but this is like graduation day, really.

Chacin’s walks were up and his strikeouts were down at AA Tulsa this season, but that didn’t stop the Rockies from calling him up on Friday to take the place of reliever Ryan Speier, who was designated for assignment.  He made his major league debut on Saturday, pitching the ninth in an 8-2 Rockies win over San Francisco.  He walked one, threw a wild pitch, and struck out two.

Boy, That Escalated Quickly

You looked at that title and thought this post was going to be about Tony Bernazard and the Binghamton Mets, didn’t you?

Actually, the escalation in question is the California League homerun race.  Just a couple weeks ago, I was ready to fit High Desert third baseman Alex Liddi for a Triple Crown.  The 20-year-old slugger was leading the league in just about everything, including homeruns, runs batted in, and batting average.

He still stands at the head of the line in the latter two (despite a spirited battle from teammate Jamie McOwen, who has seen his batting average slide to .335 since his hitting streak ended), but the first one?  Homeruns?  That’s another story.

Liddi has no homeruns and only five runs batted in in his last ten games.  His teammate, Joseph Dunigan, has four and nine in that same stretch, moving him past the Italian Stallion in homeruns (22-20) and narrowing the gap in RBI (78-73).

The big mover and shaker, however, resides in Lancaster.  Jonathan Gaston, the JetHawks leftfielder, has seven homeruns and twelve runs batted in in his last six games, including two straight two-homerun outings.  Last Wednesday, he and Liddi were tied atop the standings with twenty homeruns each; Gaston now has 27 and a commanding lead.  And, like Dunigan, he is narrowing the RBI lead by the day (78-72).

These guys can be shuffled up to a higher classification at any time, but until/unless they are, the homerun standings in the California League are gonna be a lot of fun to watch.