August 2006

Picks plus POTY=Perfect

Hey everyone. We’re back with our Picks-to-Click for the week. And remember, feel free to add your own suggestions right here and we’ll discuss them on the air (our show, Around the Minors, for the uninitiated, airs Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, 12-1 p.m. ET on MLB Radio). After that, as promised, I’ve got a run-down of our Pitcher of the Year nominees. First, oru Picks-to-Click:

Lisa: Lake Elsinore-Lancaster, Aug. 21-23. The two teams are separated by a half-game in their division of the California League. It’s a classic hitting vs. pitching matchup (although Lancaster has been hit by some promotions of late). The JetHawks lead the California League with a .300 team batting average. The Storm lead the circuit with a 3.79 team ERA, one of only two teams (San Jose is the other) with an ERA under 4.00 in the hitter-friendly league.

Jonathan: Danville-Elizabethton, Aug. 25-27. The two teams lead their respective divisions in the Appalachian League. This not only could be a preview of the 2006 Appy League Championship, but it’s a rematch of last year’s title series, won by the E-Twins.

And quickly, our Pitcher of the Year candidates thus far:

Matt Garza, Twins: Put his big league debut aside and note these numbers — 14-4, 1.99 ERA, 135 2/3 IP, 87 hits (.179 batting average against), 32 BB, 154 K’s. Those were amassed across three levels in his first pro season.

Jason Hirsh, Astros: Put his big league debut…you get the point — 13-2, 2.10 ERA, 137 1/3 IP, 94 H (.193 average against), 51 BB, 118 K’s. He leads the hitter-friendly PCL in ERA and hasn’t lost a Minor League decision since the end of April.

Charles Lofgren, Indians:
Yes, he should’ve been promoted to Akron a while ago, but the Indians are kind of stacked. But his numbers are still very impressive — 15-5, 2.46 ERA, 128 IP, 101 H (.219), 49 BB, 117 K’s.

Yovani Gallardo, Brewers: Now the top arm in the Brewers system, with all due respect to Mark Rogers. He’s just 20 and is at Double-A and dominating. His overall numbers — 10-5, 1.80 ERA, 140 IP, 94 H (.192), 45 BB, 172 K’s. He leads all of the Minors in strikeouts.

Kevin Slowey, Twins: Now pitching for Team USA in Olympic Qualifying, Slowey has been almost impressive as org-mate Garza, making the leap to Double-A in his first full season — 8-5, 1.88 ERA, 148 2/3 IP, 102 H (.188), 22 BB, 151 K. How’s that for a K/BB ratio???

Scott Elbert, Dodgers: Just so you didn’t think the Dodgers’ well of pitching prospects had run dry. Elbert is a lefty who just turned 21 and is in Double-A now and dominating there. Overall, he needs some work on command, but when that comes, look out. 10-8, 2.56 ERA, 130 IP, 82 H (.183), 74 BB, 161 K’s (good for third in strikeouts).

Welcome to Happy Valley

So now I know why they call it Happy Valley.

Our trip to State College last week could not have been more fun. Hopefully you will check out the Around the Minors video from the big event.

For one thing, the cuteness factor at the ballpark was overwhelming, and not just because Jonathan and I were in town. It was "Bark in the Park" night, and along with a few thousand enthusiastic fans (two in particular, which I will get to in a bit), there were also more than 200 puppies and dogs there for the game (and even more remarkably, I only saw one pile of … well, you know).

At least one dog was even celebrating his/her birthday. At least, I hope he/she was, since when they listed birthday greetings on the scoreboard, there was one for Sputnik. And while I know unusual monikers are in on the celebrity front (Apple, Suri, Moxie Crimefighter), I REALLY hope this was someone’s dog.

SpikesThe State College Spikes, in their first year of New York-Penn League play (they moved from New Jersey this season), definitely are big on the between-inning promotions. And while I often find that personally to be a little distracting and sometimes grating, even annoying, they were creative enough that it was more amusing than anything.

I think my favorite contest was "What Did Bob Really Sing?" where they played a snippet of a Bob Dylan song and the fan had to actually figure out what the lyrics were.

For a midweek August night, I was really impressed by how much the crowd "got into" the whole game, from start to finish. Maybe part of it is because it’s a new team, and maybe part of it is because there is such a tradition of sports fanaticism among the Penn State fans that it’s easy for them to carry it over into Minor League baseball.

Standing at the rail a few rows behind where I sat for the game were two particularly vocal fans who managed to straddle that very fine line by being raucous and rowdy for nine (OK, eight and a half) innings without ever being obnoxious about it.

Mike and TJ are spring 2006 graduates of Penn State who have stayed in town, sharing an apartment, working at the local Ruby Tuesdays and going to as many Spikes games as they can with their work schedule.

They’ve created several individualized cheers for their new home team, and are understandably really proud of their team and their beautiful stadium (easily a gold standard for short-season ball).

On opening night they even tailgated in the parking lot for two hours before the gates opened.

The highlight of the night for me, needless to say, was watching my colleague and co-host Jonathan Mayo co-managing the Spikes to a come-from-behind 4-3 win against the Williamsport Crosscutters.

I don’t want to give too much away, preventing you from feeling the need to go to our multimedia link and watching the video (check out MiLB.com at around noon ET on Wednesday), but suffice to say that highlights included his shaving his goatee to stay in line with the organization rule against facial hair other than a mustache, getting a nice faceful of shaving cream at a time OTHER than while he was shaving and his much-anticipated trip to the mound to tell jokes to starter Matt Lane.

Now go watch it. Seriously. It’s totally worth it.

Two-pronged blog

Hey, everyone, Jonathan here. Going to try to serve two purposes here: Posting our picks-to-click for the week and providing an update on our Player/Pitcher of the Year Candidates. For those of you not listening — and why aren’t you? — we’ve been unofficially nominating POTYs on Around the Minors on just about every show (12-1 p.m. ET on MLB Radio; also available on podcast). So let’s get to our nominees for Player of the Year (we’ll do pitchers toimorrow) so far (If you want to add your nominees, or vote for one of ours, please do so via the comments):

Player of the Year Nominees

Ryan Goleski, OF, Akron Aeros: He’s hitting .309 with 23 homers and 92 RBIs (9th in the Minors). The Indians’ OF prospect got a combined .569 SLG between Kinston and Akron. You can listen to our interview with Ryan from Aug. 8.

Mark Reynolds, INF/OF, Tennessee Smokies: Not known as an elite prospect heading into the season, Reynolds is third in the Minors with 31 homers and fourth with 98 RBIs all while hitting a combined .319 for Lancaster and Tennessee in the Diamondbacks system. His 1.035 total OPS is outstanding, especially when you consider that he’s played five positions this season.

Joe Koshansky, 1B, Tulsa Drillers: The Rockies’ 1B prospect who played in both the Texas League All-Star Game and the Futures Game is fourth in the Minors with 29 homers and second with 100 RBIs. He’s hitting .296 while leading the Texas League in homers and RBIs (and his .562 SLG is third in the league).

Kevin Kouzmanoff, 3B, Buffalo Bisons: Maybe it’s a stretch since he’s missed a good chunk of time because of injury, but anyone who hits .388 at least deserves to be in the consideration. And the Tribe 3B prospect isn’t hitting a weak .388, mostly for Akron and now for Buffalo. He’s got 19 homers and 63 RBIs in 89 games. His 44 extra-base hits in that time is extremely impressive. He hasn’t missed a beat since the move to Triple-A, hitting .378 in his first dozen games and improving his overall OPS to 1.126.

Pitching candidates will come tomorrow, and we’ll have more hitters as we nominate more on the show. Quickly, before I go, here are our picks to click for this week (again, feel free to come up with your own suggestions):

Lisa: Wilmington at Frederick, Aug. 14-17:
Truth be told, Lisa has a rooting interest in this one because of her possible Carolina League playoff coverage travel schedule. Nevertheless, this series pits the second-half Northern Division leaderrs — the Keys — against the first-half winners, the Indians. And the K-Tribe trail Frederick by two games as they try to sweep both halves. The Keys have won five in a row.

Jonathan: Quad Cities at Beloit, Aug. 14-17: I’ll go Midwest League this week. The Snappers have won four straight to take a half-game lead in the second half over the Swing in the Western Division. Kane County, the first-half wild card winners (everyone makes the playoffs in the MWL!), trail by only a game, so they could sneak up here as well. Cardinals’ first-round pick Adam Ottavino will take the mound on Wednesday or Thursday. Zach Ward, who finally lost his first game of the season in his second start in the Twins’ organization, should go today. You’ve got the second-best pitching staff in the league (Beloit: 3.24 ERA) against No. 4 (Quad Cities: 3.52).  QC is the best hitting team (at least by batting average, .270 — they are No. 2 in OPS), while Beloit is No. 3 in average at .264, but No. 8 in OPS.

Picks to Click

File this one unders something we should’ve been doing on this blog every week since the beginning of the season…

On most Monday’s, Lisa and I single out big Minor League series on MLB Radio‘s Around the Minors. It’s really a no-brainer that we then post our picks here and open it up to readers for other suggestions. We’ll read the best suggestiosn on the air as the week progresses. So, here it goes — and this week’s selections have a decided Yankee-Mets theme:

Jonathan’s Pick to Click: Staten Island Yankees vs. Brooklyn Cyclones, Aug. 7-8 (NY-Penn League)

It’s only a two-game set, but with the Cyclones (the Mets’ affiliate) clinging to a one-game lead in the McNamara Division over the Yankees, every time these two teams meet, it’s crucial. I love what they do in these series, going back and forth to the two NYC stadiums. One game is in Brooklyn and one is in Staten Island. The SI Yankees, of course, won the  NY-Penn League title in 2005.

Lisa’s PIck to click: Trenton Thunder vs. Binghamton Mets, Aug. 8-10 (Eastern League)

This is Yankees-Mets, Double-A style. Trenton is the Yankees’ Double-A affiliate and they host the B-Mets for three games in lovely Trenton, New Jersey. The Thunder currently have a one-game lead over the Mets (none in the loss column) in the EL’s Northern Division. They’ve won four out of five, while the B-Mets closed out July and began August with a 12-game winning streak to make this really interesting, though they have gone 2-3 since.

Other plusses for this series:  Yankees top prospect Philip Hughes takes the mound on  Tuesday (against Willie Collazo in an 11:35 a.m. ET start), while Mets pitching prospect Philip Humber makes his first Double-A start post-Tommy John surgery on Thursday (against Trenton’s Jason Jones).

UPDATE: You’ll be able to listen to Humber take the mound for the B-Mets live on MLB Radio on Thursday at 7 p.m.

OK, so now it’s your turn. What would you guys choose as your "picks to click?" Pick any series from now until the end of the week. As suggestions come in, we’ll bring them up on future shows (Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, 12-1 p.m. ET). Happy clicking!

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