Archive for the ‘International League’ Category

Twenty Percent of Syracuse Fans Are Excited To See Wang In 2010

Just about every team that uses the standard MiLB.com web template has a poll up in the lower right corner of the page.  The questions generally ask something like, “What 2010 promotion are you most excited about?” or “Which player are you most excited to see in _____ in 2010?”

This isn’t amusing on its own.  Look at the home page for the Syracuse Chiefs, however, and you’ll get a good laugh:


I’m pretty sure that 20% for Wang is mine – I threw him a courtesy vote so I could see what the actual tally was – because as cool as it would be to see a guy who won 46 games from 2006-08, including 19 each in the first two years, I can’t imagine anyone would be more excited to see him than Strasburg.

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Jason Heyward is a Whole Lot of Awesome

As you might have noticed, we’re typically a little slow to unfold from the winter-long hibernation here at Bus Leagues. This is our third spring, and the routine is almost always the same: finish the season strong, fade away to virtually nothing from October to February, start working out the kinks in March, and really start firing on all cylinders in April. Just like the players, we need a little bit of spring training to get ourselves back in the groove.

I bring this up because it is the best explanation for our ignorance to-date of Braves minor leaguer Jason Heyward. Heyward is Baseball America’s top-ranked preseason prospect, although you wouldn’t know it from the way we (and, in fairness, everyone else) wax poetic about Stephen Strasburg. Not that there’s anything wrong with Strasburg – it’s just that Heyward is pretty darn good too.

In fact, here are three good reasons to keep an eye out for Heyward this season (besides the fact that Baseball America – and pretty much the rest of the baseball world – has already proclaimed his excellence):

  • He Tweets – Not only does Heyward have a Twitter account, he’s active on it, taking time to answer questions from his 3,000+ followers.  That’s where I found out that he prefers oatmeal raisin cookies to chocolate chip (BLASPHEMER!) and grew up a Yankee fan (…).
  • He Has Already Drawn Favorable ComparisonsBobby Cox is 68 years old, 69 in May.  He’s been around baseball, and the Braves, for more than fifty years.  So while his statement that the sound of Heyward’s line drives is “kind of like ol’ Hank Aaron’s sound” might initially be taken as an off-the-cuff utterance of a grandfatherly old man, it also has to be considered as the wisdom of a guy who has seen a lot of good players in his day.  Oh, who am I kidding – it was a completely crazy thing to say.  All it does is make the public’s expectations of Heyward even more unreasonable.
  • He Destroys Stuff – Earlier this spring, Heyward’s bombs to right dented cars and smashed windshields in a parking lot used by Atlanta’s front office, requiring a net be put up for protection.  Once you get past the fact that these people continued to park there – maybe someone familiar with the Braves’ spring training facilities could shed some light on that, because I find it hard to believe that there was NOWHERE else to park safely – you realize how awesome it is: a 20-year-old kid consistently hitting the ball 450 feet.

So yeah, Heyward is good.  And truth be told, all of this got me thinking.  Two years ago, we had a contest and gave Jay Bruce (the consensus number one prospect at the time) a nickname.  Shouldn’t we do the same for Heyward?  (I know what you’re thinking – what about Matt Wieters?  Unfortunately, Wieters appears destined to go the way of the 1904 World Series – he loses out because the powers that be couldn’t get their crap together.)

I tossed the idea around Bus Leagues headquarters, where it was well received (not a surprise, really; giving people stupid nicknames is one of our raisons d’etre).  A few ideas were tossed around – Hank; the J-Hey Kid; at one point, Pookie was mentioned (I think Eric might’ve been drinking) – but nothing definite.  So what we can do is backburner this for the moment.  It’s only early March, no need to rush things.  If you, the reader, happens to think of one that works, leave a comment or email us.  Pay it forward.  And when we have a few, we’ll figure out some way to pick the best one.

But rest assured, Jason Heyward will be awesome.  And he will be awesomely nicknamed.  This is fact.

Where Will Strasburg Start The 2010 Season?

Stephen Strasburg is gonna rock some lucky fan base’s world in 2010.  The question is, where?

Tuesday morning, Nats manager Jim Riggleman “strongly hinted” that Strasburg would spend some time riding the buses in ye olde minor leagues to begin the season, the reason being that live game action against Double- or Triple-A hitters will provide a better overall measure of the phenom’s performance than a few spring training outings against major leaguers.

Tuesday evening, of course, Riggleman “definitely didn’t rule out” the idea of Strasburg in a Natinals uniform on Opening Day.  So really, nobody knows what the hell is going to happen.

That leaves me with only one option: to assume that if Strasburg starts off in the minors, it will be in either Syracuse or Harrisburg, and to figure out when those teams might be coming to a ballpark near me.  Because obviously, the main objective is to see this kid throw in person.

I looked at the road trips for each of those two teams, but first the lightning in a bottle scenario: my second annual baseball road trip takes me through Washington in early June, either the fourth or the fifth, when the Nationals play the Reds.  This guarantees at least a shot at seeing Jay Bruce, of course, and is also right around the time that Strasburg would likely be getting a callup if he does in fact go to the minors.  So there’s that.

(And don’t get me started on the possibility of a Strasburg-Aroldis Chapman matchup…)

Now, if he does start off in Triple-A, here are the Chiefs’ road trips through the end of June:

April 14-16 @ Scranton/Wilkes-Barre
April 17-20 @ Lehigh Valley
April 27-30 @ Toledo
May 1-4 @ Columbus
May 14-17 @ Pawtucket
May 18-21 @ Rochester
May 27-28 @ Scranton/Wilkes-Barre
May 31-June 3 @ Buffalo
June 12-15 @ Charlotte
June 17-20 @ Gwinnett
June 29-30 @ Buffalo

It must be noted that my friend Chris, who writes for this blog, lives in upstate New York, so even if Strasburg gets called up at the end of May, he’s still a) playing his home games in nearby Syracuse, and b) making trips to Buffalo and Rochester. If Strasburg ends up in Triple-A and Chris DOESN’T see him at least once, he’s doing something wrong.

I can’t help but notice, however, that journeys to my corner of the world are few and far between. There’s just one, actually, a four-game trip to Pawtucket in mid-May. It’s a longshot, admittedly, but it’s possible.

Now, there is just as good a chance that the higher-ups will send Strasburg to the Harrisburg Senators. If that’s the case, he could be just up the road in Manchester, right? Or maybe Portland? As my son likes to say, “Uh, uh…no.”

April 8-11 @ Altoona
April 12-14 @ Bowie
April 22-25 @ New Britain
April 26-28 @ Reading
May 10-12 @ Altoona
May 21-23 @ Akron
May 28-31 @ Erie
June 1-3 @ Richmond
June 8-10 @ Altoona
June 15-17 @ New Britain
June 18-20 @ Bowie
June 28-30 @ Portland

I don’t know how the Eastern League puts together its schedule, but if you’re scoring at home, that’s three visits to Altoona, two to Bowie, and two to New Britain before the Senators wind their way up to northern New England in the last week of June. And that stop in New Hampshire, right up the road? Last week in July, my friends, by which point The Strasburg will most certainly have left the building.

So the point of all this, I guess, is that unless the cards fall right, I’m unlikely to see Stephen Strasburg pitch this season. The bright side, though, is that Chris should have ample opportunity to see him if he lands in Triple-A, and fans in minor league towns up and down the eastern seaboard should have that same chance regardless of where he plays.

Jason Heyward Has Awesomeness Confirmed With Awards From Baseball America, USA Today

Two years ago, Bus Leagues began building its massive empire on the strength of Jay Bruce, the Cincinnati Reds farmhand who won Baseball America’s Minor League Player of the Year award at the end of the 2007 season.  We spoke of Bruce in hushed tones until he was called up midway through the 2008 campaign, followed his early days in the majors with guarded interest, and performed a complicated set of Internet high-fives when someone mentioned this blog to him and he said he liked the nickname we gave him last year.

In short, Jay Bruce was our first man-crush.

Conversely, when Matt Wieters won the same award last year, Bus Leagues Headquarters was largely silent.  I remember thinking to myself, “Gee, I should write something about this,” but it never came to fruition, and while I tried to give Wieters a nice welcome to The Show by pointing out his Chuck Norris-like facts site, it just wasn’t the same.  We enjoy Wieters, we think he’s gonna be a great player for a long time, we just don’t get the same sense of awesome that we did about Bruce.

The question now is this: where will Jason Heyward fit into the equation?

Heyward, the top prospect in the Atlanta Braves system, was named the Minor League Player of the Year this week by both Baseball America and USA Today (neither Bruce nor Wieters won the latter award, losing out to Justin Upton and David Price, respectively; in addition to Heyward, four players – Andruw Jones (1995-96), Rick Ankiel (1999), Josh Beckett (2001), and Jeff Francis (2004) – have taken home both) after a season that began in the High-A Carolina League, continued through the Double-A Southern League, and will likely end in the Triple-A International League (barring a late September experiential call-up to the Braves).

The 20-year-old Heyward was the fifth-rated prospect by Baseball America prior to last season and the only one of the top eleven on the list who has not seen action at the major league level.

His overall numbers at three stops – 17 homeruns, 63 RBI, 69 runs, 51 walks, 51 strikeouts, .323/.408/.555 – were very good.  What set Heyward apart, however, was the environment in which he posted those stats:

“When you consider his ability and his actual performance, especially what he’s done at higher levels, and the power he showed as a notorious pitcher’s park (in Myrtle Beach) … he had a standout season,” Baseball America editor John Manuel said. “His advanced plate discipline, combined with his youthfulness and the difficulty of those leagues ñ the Carolina League, the Southern League, they are very difficult for a 19 to 20-year-old – he made it look easy.”

That’s the amazing thing, when you think about it: Jason Heyward is still just 20-years-old (and a young twenty at that – his birthday was August 9).  Despite that, there’s a good chance we’ll be seeing him in the Atlanta outfield next season.  You have to be at least a little special to reach the majors that early.

I don’t know how Heyward’s career will turn out, or if he will become an official Bus Leagues Favorite.  If nothing else, though, he’s off to a great start.

That Mike Hessman, He’s Got Some Stories To Tell

Before this season, I drafted Mike Hessman as a third base option in my fantasy baseball league.  It seemed worth it after he  hit five homers last September.  Hessman stuck around on my roster for awhile, but when Detroit shipped him down to the minor leagues, I figured it was time to cut him and see what else I could find (the answer: nothing.  I’m stuck in 24th place and my offense has been awful).

Maybe I’m in 24th place because I suck at reading up on players, which is why silly me didn’t realize that this Hessman kid, he’s done some stuff:

The former International League MVP has done about as much as a Minor Leaguer can over 14 seasons — a home run championship, an appearance at the Olympics and even a homer in his first Major League at-bat.

On Friday, the 31-year-old managed to add another chapter to his career.

“LP (manager Larry Parrish) came up to me and said, ‘Do you want to pull a Hoop?’ I didn’t know what he meant until he told me he wanted to know if I wanted to play all nine [positions],” Hessman told the Toledo Blade.

Four men have played all nine positions in a game in the major leagues (Bert Campaneris, Cesar Tovar, Scott Sheldon, and Shane Halter), but at the minor league level the feat has become sort of a fun thing that teams do to reward players when the playoffs are either clinched or out of reach. (I remember a few years ago, either 2003 or 2004, three Atlantic League players did it in the same game, and Adam Ricks did it last year for Winston-Salem after the team had already wrapped up a playoff spot.)

Hessman, though, was in a unique situation: when he came on to pitch the ninth, Toledo had a one-run lead.  He got the first two outs, but couldn’t seal the deal, giving up two runs and taking the loss.  In fact, it was sort of a forgettable day to remember for the veteran:

Hessman went 1-for-5 with a single and four strikeouts, was thrown out stealing, suffered his first blown save, took the loss and played all nine positions in the Mud Hens’ 12-11 loss to the Columbus Clippers.

That sort of describes his whole career in one sentence: a couple of really cool things mixed in with a bunch of stuff that just didn’t work out.

International League All-Stars Announced

The International League’s postseason All-Stars were announced earlier today:

Catcher: Erik Kratz, Indianapolis Indians
First Base: Andy Tracy, Lehigh Valley IronPigs
Second Base: Kevin Russo, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees
Third Base: Andy Marte, Columbus Clippers
Shortstop: Brent Dlugach, Toledo Mud Hens
Outfield: Jordan Brown, Columbus Clippers
Outfield: Shelley Duncan, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees
Outfield: Jon Weber, Durham Bulls
Designated Hitter: Barbaro Canizares, Gwinnett Braves
Utility: Don Kelly, Toledo Mud Hens
Starting Pitcher: Carlos Torres, Charlotte Knights
Relief Pitcher: Luis Valdez, Gwinnett Braves

Most Valuable Player: Shelley Duncan, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees
Most Valuable Pitcher: Justin Lehr, Lehigh Valley IronPigs/Louisville Bats
Rookie of the Year: Austin Jackson, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees
Manager of the Year: Rick Sweet, Louisville Bats

I had either Marte or Duncan taking home the MVP Award – go me!

Now Pitching For The Cleveland Indians…

The Indians are planning to call up top prospect Carlos Carrasco, obtained from the Phillies in a trade deadline deal for Cy Young Award winner Cliff Lee, to make his major league debut on Tuesday:

It’s no surprise that the Indians, who have taken major heat from their fan base for dealing Lee and catcher Victor Martinez before the deadline, are anxious to show off some of the talent they got back. Marson will also join the Indians, and chances are Donald would have too if it weren’t for back spasms that landed him on the DL at Columbus.

Carrasco, 22, was 6-9 with a 5.18 ERA in 20 starts for Lehigh Valley prior to the trade, 5-1 with a 3.19 ERA in six starts for Columbus after.  He struck out 148 batters in 157 innings between the two stops.

As noted above, he is expected to be joined by Columbus teammate Lou Marson, a 23-year-old catcher who also came over from the Phillies in the Lee trade.  The move has had the opposite effect on Marson, who has gone from .294/.382/.370 with the IronPigs to .235/.300/.309 with the Clippers.  He is currently mired in a 1-31 slump.