April 2008

B3 Mailbagish

So between a comment here and there on the blog and some emails I’ve gotten, I figure every once in a while I’ll answer some queries here. Let me start with an email I got as part of a new quasi-regular B3 feature: FIND THE MINOR LEAGUER. They can get easily lost, you know, and I get emails sometimes asking about someone’s whereabouts. So, if you’re trying to find someone in the Minors, email me and I’ll put on my detective hat and see what I can find. Here’s our first edition:

Jonathan, I can’t find any news on Cole Rohrbough.  He
doesn’t appear to be on any Braves roster I can find.  Do you have any info on
his playing status?
– Nervous Ned

OK, he didn’t sign the email Nervous Ned, but I thought that was catchy. At any rate, here’s what I was able to dig up. Rohrbough is still in Orlando, in extended Spring Training. Seems that he had some shoulder tendinitis during Spring Training and the Bravos wanted to be understandably cautious. Once they got the tendinitis to calm down, they had him work on strengthening the area. He’s now working through their throwing program to get himself prepped to throw game innings. There’s no ETA on when it will happen, but he’ll pitch in a few Extended Spring Training games before he gets to head back out to a club.

The other recent question came via the comments on this blog (you guys should try it — I hear interactivity is all the rage):

Jason, wondering if you had any insights on the whether or not the Reds
continued struggles, including tonight’s drubbing, will mean a more
expeditious call-up for Bruce, Bailey or anyone else, and whether or
not you think grabbing them now for a 10-team fantasy squad makes sense? — jaynew

OK, first things first. If you’re going to ask someone a question you want answered on a blog, make sure you get the guy’s name right. I mean, how hard is that? It’s only in the header of the whole blog and above that great big picture of my chrome dome. Maybe it’s because his “name” is jaynew and he’s asking about Jay Bruce that he got Jay on the brain… Suffice it to say others in my place would completely disregard the question.

But I’m a bigger man than that, whatever my name is. So on to his fantasy-related question. I could use some more information — like is it an NL-only league? Is it a keeper league? You know, the typical questions worth asking. Matt Belisle has already replaced Josh Fogg in the rotation, so you have to figure he’ll get at least a few starts to show what he can do. That’s really the only spot for Bailey in the rotation. That being said, if he continues to pitch like that, they’ll figure something out. At this rate, if Belisle continues to struggle, I could see Bailey getting another shot by the end of May. And I still love his upside potential.

As for Bruce, I thought he should be up on Opening Day and the way the OF is producing, you have to imagine he’ll get his chance soon enough. I don’t know how concerned the Reds are with the whole service clock thing and now you have to wonder if they’re freaking out about the Longoria contract, but he’s another one who should show his face sooner rather than later. I think both can contribute to a fantasy team right away, so especially jaynew, if you’re league is a keeper league or in an NL-only format, then grab them as soon as it is allowed. If you’re in a mixed league, I still think they can help, but I wouldn’t go as nuts over them.

I’m going on vacation starting on Thursday, so I’ll be back in about a week with more thrilling B3 action…

Evan Almighty (Dollar) …

Sorry I’ve been a little tardy in hopping on the past week. Can I blame it on being unleavened? (Happy Passover — Pesach as we in the Tribe like to call it — to those who celebrate).

Thumbnail image for Durham running (closeup).JPGI had wanted to say something about the Evan Longoria contract extension, but the only thing I could thing of was, “Where’s my cut?” I don’t want to over-estimate the power of the media here, but something is going on here. Here’s how the sequence of events went:

1. The Rays decide to send Longoria to Triple-A to start the season in order to keep his service clock from getting going, thus saving them a year before having to worry about free agency and, if all went well, arbitration. Not only would that keep E-Love in a Rays uniform longer, it obviously would save the organization a bucket load of cash.

2. I write a column, which you can read here, examining — astutely, I might add — why the Thumbnail image for evan.jpgRays made the decision they made. I give the Rays’ management the overall benefit of the doubt, though they get an “incomplete” in terms of how the situation was handled. The column, it should be noted, was posted on April 9.

3. Exactly three days later, on April 12, the Rays recall Longoria to replace Willy Aybar, who conveniently got hurt and likely will never be a starter in Tampa again. Coincidence? I think not.

4. Just six days after he makes his big-league debut (on April 18), Longoria inks a nine-year deal that could be worth up to $44 million.

monopoly_guy.jpg
The way I see it, Longoria went from being a Triple-A infielder to signing the longest deal in the history of the Rays organization in the span of oh, about 10 days. The catalyst in this sudden turn of events? Is there any doubt it was my column? That being the case,  when do I get paid?

In all seriousness, what an unbelievable turnaround. I have to say I kind of like the deal, even if it does seem incongruous to the decision not to have Longoria on the Opening Day roster. You have to think they had told Longoria’s agent, Paul Cohen (who, by the way, must hang out at Long Beach State to rep all of their shortstops — he’s got Bobby Crosby and Tulo as well — not a bad way to make a living) that once they did call him up, they wanted to lock him up long term. When Aybar went down, it just sped up the timetable.

And when you think of it that way, it actually does make a little bit of sense, doesn’t it? The Rays sent Longoria down to try to avoid having to worry about arbitration or free agency for an extra year. Once they were forced to bring him up (And no, I don’t think the public outcry really had anything to do with the decision.  Who else would you have play third once Aybar hit the DL?), they immediately took steps, unprecedented as they might be, to  … avoid all of arbitration (assuming Tampa picks up that first option year) and, if the Rays pick up both option years after that, two years of free agency. With the uphill struggle the organization faces, especially in the division, from a financial landscape/revenue standpoint, can you blame them? Yes, there’s a risk involved, but he’s as safe a bet as anyone to more than live up to this contract. Do the math, even if they dole out the $44 million, this will be a huge long-term savings compared to what his earning potential would be when he hit arbitration or free agency for the first time.

There’s my two cents worth.. and neither of those pennies came from Longoria himself, unfortunately.

I’ll be back tomorrow or the next with a little mini-mailbag of sorts.

Tulsa and Lehigh Valley

There’s really nothing to tie these two places together, other than that I was in both on this trip (and I didn’t get around to blogging from Tulsa on Friday). I guess you could say Lehigh Valley’s got a new ballpark and Tulsa really wants/needs one.

drillers.PNGWhat the Tulsa Drillers

lack in amenities, they do make up for in talent. Keep an eye out for our video feature on their lineup, should be running around Wednesday or Thursday. They’ve got ridiculous speed with Corey Wimberly (already with 7 steals), Dexter Fowler, Eric Young Jr. and Chris Nelson all having the ability to create runs with their legs. All swiped more than 20 bags in 2007. Throw in Daniel Carte and Matt Miller and it’s a very interesting lineup. They’ve even got some intriguing pitchers, though I didn’t have the chance to do stuff with them. But Casey Weathers was the Rockies’ first-round pick last year and the reliever has yet to give up a run in four outings and Brandon Hynick was MiLB.com’s Class A Advanced Starting Pitcher of the Year in 2007.

ironpigs.gifWe high-tailed it to Lehigh Valley in time for Saturday night’s game. We were on the tired side, but it was well worth it. Coca Cola Park is, quite simply, one of the most beautiful ballparks I’ve been to. It’s got that really nice red brick and green steel retro-feel. There isn’t a bad view in the house, with terrific porches and patios at all angles. But the piece de resistance is behind home plate. The IronPigs have something called dugout suites. The only time I’ve seen this before is in Mobile, Alabama, and with all due respect to the BayBears, that version was much smaller and less impressive. Basically, there are a few rows of seats right behind home plate (check out the seating chart here. Behind the seats are all the amenities of a suite, but the seats are closer than any I’ve seen and I don’t know you could find a better one in any park anywhere. I’ve never been a big fan of luxury suites — it’s always felt to me like you’re in your living room or very secluded, but with the seats right behind the plate like this, it’s like you’re at the game with all the bells and whistles of the suite right behind you.

There does seem to be one small negative to those seats, at least in the early going. Players were mildly complaining about it affecting their ability to see the ball. Once nightfall hits, it’s not a problem, but the lack of a wall behind the plate has made it tough in daylight for outfielders and infielders to pick the ball up when it’s put in play. Maybe it’s something players adjust to, but it’s worth keeping an eye on to see if it’s an on-going issue.

The Natural state of things…

nwarklogo.jpgGreetings from Springdale, Arkansas. Just like with the old ATM blog,
I’m going to try to make this a travel-blog whenever I hit the road.

Today, I’m in Northwest Arkansas for the first-ever game at Arvest
Ballpark, home of the Naturals. This is the Royals’ Double-A affiliate,
with the old Wichita Wranglers moving this way (The Wranglers had finished last in Texas League attendance for the past three years, if you were curious).

The club here started up their own blog here on MLBlogs and you can check out all the photos of the park. They don’t do it justice. It’s a beaut, right up there with all of the other new Minor League parks that have been cropping up (I’ll be in Lehigh Valley over the weekend, by the way).  It’s kind of below ground level, sunken in, so when you first pull in, you can look down on the field for a really neat effect, especially coming in surrounded by cows and farmland. Kind of Field of Dreams-ish, in a way.
planestrains.jpg

It helped get the adrenaline going, something important considering I was up at 4:50 a.m. to fly out of my home in Pittsburgh  to Cincinnati and then onto a connecting flight to Tulsa. Then there was the drive, handled capably by multimedia producer extraordinaire Joe Cronin, to Northwest Arkansas. All I need is a train ride and I can make a movie with John Candy.

The weather certainly cooperated. It has rained a lot in these parts, but the skies parted and the sun came out to provide a perfect setting for baseball. The usual pre-game festivities unfolded, though there was an extra something with the governor of Arkansas on hand, among other dignitaries.

Royals owner David Glass was here and boy was he a happy guy. Not just because this is a Royals affiliate. He lived her (Wal-Mart is based here) and has wanted baseball here for a long time. Now he has it and it’s an affiliate of the big-league club he owns. Couple that with the Royals’ wins against the Yankees and the guy was floating. We had the chance to talk to him a bit — look for the feature on MiLB.com next week sometime. The best part of it is something you won’t see. We asked if Mr. Glass wouldn’t mind sitting in the first row of the seats to give us a different look (and so he wouldn’t be looking directly into the sun). I assumed he’d walk around to the stairs and come around the railing. Instead, the grandfather of six basically vaulted over the railing and gracefully into the seating. Just what I needed, the owner of a Major League franchise to trip and break something for an interview. Luckily, no owners or former CEOs of Wal-Mart were harmed in the filming of this feature.

The game hasn’t started out so well for the Naturals (named for the fact that Arkansas is known as the Natural State because of things like the many natural waterfalls that can be found here, and NOT because of the Bernard Malmud book/Robert Redford-starring movie). San Antonio’s Will Inman had given up just one hit into the fifth inning and the locals were down, 4-0.

The only other negative, most would say, was the traffic pattern coming into this place. People were lined up waiting to come in well into the game. There were promises made that things would be addressed, but there can’t be a quick fix to that, can there? Evidently, there can — some of the issue stemmed from an inability to use an overflow lot for parking. It’s a grass area and all the rain recently made it unparkable. Even without it, though, the atmosphere here made it well worth the wait.

Travel bookshelf: I’m not really an iPod guy, so I can’t share with you what music I brought with you. I do like to bring a book with me, something mostly to help me pass the time on planes. I like to mix it up with baseball and non-baseball titles. On this trip, I’ve got one of each and I’d recommend both. The baseball book is called Crazy ’08, written by Cait Murphy. It’s a fantastic volume on the 1908 baseball season and one of the best-researched books I’ve ever read. If you’re a fan of baseball history like I am, this is a must-read.

The non-baseball book is Three Cups of Tea and it’s the kind of story that you wouldn’t believe if it weren’t true. It’s about this guy who was a mountain climber who tried, and failed, to scale K2, wandering lost into a nearby village in Pakistan. Taken by the horrible conditions, particularly when it comes to the education of children, he takes it upon himself to build the village a school. He’s now built 53 of them throughout Pakistan. This is truly one of the most inspirational stories I’ve ever read and if it doesn’t move you to doing something to help someone somewhere, then you’ve got a heart of stone.

New name, slightly different schtick

ATM: He Said, She Said is gone, but certainly not forgotten. It was time to take things in a new direction.

Don’t look at this like a split, like a rock band breaking up to do solo albums. It’s not like that at all. Think of it more like spinoffs. ATM was like the Minor League “All in the Family” and now we’ll have versions of “The Jeffersons” and “Maude.” This will be my domain from now on. Lisa Winston will have her own blog and I’ll pass along that information when I have it. Frequent contributor Kevin Czerwinski is up and running with his blog, Minor Leagues, Major Thoughts. Check it out — he’ll have great news and insights over the course of the year as well.

As for me, I’ll be doing the same thing, just hopefully more of it, reporting from the exotic locales of the Minor Leagues, weighing in news and trends and trying to get some interactivity going with polls and questions, etc.

So hope you enjoy our new trifecta and don’t be bashful about weighing in on anything. For starters: What do folks think about the new B3 branding effort?

Jays jabber

Brett Cecil, whom Toronto selected with the 38th pick in last season’s
draft, is slated to make
Thumbnail image for brett_cecil.jpg his season debut tonight for Dunedin. I had the chance
to sit down with Cecil for about a half hour Friday afternoon and he proved to
be an honest, engaging guy. Most players I’ve encountered usually sugar talk
about their injuries or are very secretive but Cecil was pretty open about his
shoulder bothering and even fessed up to getting a cortisone shot, which is
something that the organization didn’t let on to.
 
Now granted, I didn’t ask anyone in the front office about a cortisone shot
and I probably should have. But by now, I’m relying on someone mentioning it to
me when I speak with that person so Cecil gets props for that. He’s only
scheduled to throw two innings or 35 pitches, whichever comes first.
 
Last week when I spoke to Detroit prospect Cale Iorg, he mentioned his
affinity for George Washington. Jonathan Mayo, my esteemed colleague, went to
great lengths to find a picture of our founding father to throw into my blog so
I’m hoping he can do the same for Cecil, who said he’d love to have dinner with
Brandon Lee if he could.
 
brandon_lee.jpgThe late actor and son of martial arts superstar Bruce Lee was a person for
whom Cecil has a great deal of respect. I’m always interested to hear who
players would pick to meet from history and this one certainly caught me by
surprise.
 
“He wanted to do his own kind of movies,” Cecil said. “He was an
independent person and a great actor. I really liked his acting, the way he was
able to change in character. He did that pretty well. He didn’t want to be know
only as Bruce Lee’s son.”
 
As for getting back into game action, Cecil hasn’t pitched in nearly three
weeks, he said he’s not anxious, just excited. When he was throwing this spring,
he said he had been working on getting ahead in the count earlier with greater
frequency while using his fastball so look for that tonight.
 
“Usually I’d throw a first-pitch changeup or curveball to get ahead,” he
said. “But I’m going to try and get ahead with my fastball and work both sides
of the plate.” — Kevin C.

Tiger Talk

This spring has been all about pitching for me, whether I’m ranting about
the staff that the Rome Braves are going to have or the group that Northwest
Arkansas is going to throw out there. Well, there’s another group of pitchers
that deserves some mention even if they may not put up numbers as gaudy as I
expected from the aforementioned teams.
 
The Lakeland Tigers figure to have a pretty darn good staff, which will of
course be anchored by the Detroit’s first-round pick Rick Porcello. He’ll get
most of the attention this season and rightfully so but look who he has falling
in behind him. Southpaw Duane Below will get the start Friday night against
Tampa and I believe he’s one of the most underrated pitchers in the Minor
Leagues.
 
Below went 13-5 at West Michigan last year, tying for the Midwest League
lead in victories. He had a 2.97 ERA in 26 starts and struck out 160 in 145 2/3
innings, allowing only six homers. He’s a lot like Burke Badenhop, one of the
starters that Detroit sent to the Marlins in the Miguel Cabrera deal, in that he
doesn’t overwhelm anyone. But he clearly knows how to get the job done.
 
Lakeland manager Andy Barkett said before Thursday’s game that he could see
why some scouts would underrate Below, adding that if they only saw him pitch
once, it would be impossible for them to get a real feel for the kid.
 
“But if you watch the guy compete day in and day out, he’s a guy you want
on your staff,” Barkett said. “He is someone that will have to prove himself at
every level. I want guys on my staff who can win and so does [Detroit manager]
Jim Leyland. If Duane shows that he can win at this level and the next one and
so on he’ll be fine.”
 
Jonah Nickerson will get the start Saturday night in Lakeland’s home-opener
against Clearwater. He showed me two years ago during the College World Series
that he’s a bulldog and he’s carried that attitude over into the pros. He’s a
tough kid who went 11-7 with a 4.24 ERA in 25 starts at West Michigan. Nickerson
finished up well, going 5-1 with a 3.32 ERA and two complete games in his last
10 outings.
 
Matt O’Brien, a 15th-rounder from the 2004 draft, will start Sunday against
Clearwater. He was 8-5 with a 3.59 ERA in 20 games (19 starts) last season at
three levels, including Lakeland. The wild card in the rotation, though, could
be while Luis Marte, a native of the Dominican Republic whom the Tigers signed
as free agent in 2005.
 
Barkett had Marte last season in extended spring training before the
youngster before the youngster went on to pitch in the Gulf Coast and Midwest
Leagues, where he combined to go 3-2 with a 2.30 ERA in 17 games (four starts).
He was 1-0 and had 15 strikeouts with a 0.90 ERA in 10 innings for West Michigan
in the playoffs.
 
“He’s the best guy you never heard of,” Barkett said. “He’s got three
average to above average Major League pitches and he’s a bulldog. He’s a sleeper
now but he won’t be after the season.”
 
So this looks like a pretty good staff, at least on paper.
 
By the way, Barkett gets some props for coming up to me during batting
practice and introducing himself. Not many managers would do that.
 
While we’re on the subject of Barkett, his hat is just a bit different than
that of the other Flying Tigers. While he has the Tiger with the wings logo on
the front of his hat, he has gold, embroidered palm leaves on the bill giving
him a bit of a General Douglas MacArthur look. He said it was the team’s idea
and that he “guesses” the league doesn’t have an issue with it.
 
“I’ll be able to let the umpires know I’m in charge,” he said as he took
off the hat, laughed and showed the bill.  — Kevin C.

The Start of an era

Rick Porcello will make his professional debut Thursday night in Tampa
against the Yankees’ affiliate in the Class-A Florida State League. The Tigers’
top pick in last year’s draft and easily one of the most talked about Minor
Leaguers this spring doesn’t seem fazed at all about stepping onto the mound at
George Steinbrenner Field (formerly Legends Field). He might as well be back on
the hill for Seton Hall Prep up in the frigid temperatures of North Jersey based
on what he’s showing.
 
I got the chance to sit with Porcello for a few minutes yesterday afternoon out
in Lakeland – which by the way is even more of a ghost town now that Spring
Training has ended. When asked if he was nervous, he didn’t flinch.
 
“I’m more excited than nervous and I’m anxious to get the season started,”
Porcello said.
 
He admitted to being a tad star struck when he first arrived in the Detroit
clubhouse earlier this spring but that awe quickly disappeared as he began to
realize that Justin Verlander and Co. were now his co-workers and not just the
players he’d been watching on television.
 
“The first couple of days it was tough to focus,” he said. “You watch those
players for so long but you get used to it after a while. You adjust to it.
Big-league camp was a great experience. I learned a lot from being in the same
clubhouse with those guys. It was tough at the time to come back down.
 
“The days are long and you’re in the sun all day. But it’s good preparation
for the season and I’m ready to go.” 
 
Porcello’s dad, Fred, will be in Tampa Thursday night to watch his son’s
professional debut. 
 
I also got the chance to speak with Cale Iorg, the highly regarded
prospected Detroit grabbed in the sixth-round last season. He’s Garth Iorg’s son
and Dane Iorg’s nephew and his brother Eli is playing in the Astros farm system.
Cale is a bright, friendly kid who will start his first season in pro ball
Thursday night alongside Porcello. I’ll have a feature about him up on the
website next week.
 
Here, though, is a bit of info from my conversation. I like to ask players
oddball questions so
we don’t spend 20 minutes discussing only baseball. When I
asked Iorg which person from
George Washington 1782 painting.jpg history with whom he’d like to have dinner, his
answer surprised me. I get a lot of stock answers to that question and most
players usually just rattle off the names of former ballplayers but he said
George Washington.
 
“I’m a big fan of George Washington’s,” Iorg said. “He was an amazing man
to lead a new country into it’s biggest battles. Just the way he lived and
worked. All he wanted to do was help out. He didn’t want to lead. He just wanted
to serve.” 
 
Interesting, huh? Anyway, Iorg’s dad won’t be on hand for his pro debut
because he’s a roving instructor with the Brewers. But, he’ll be in Brevard
County in two weeks working with Milwaukee prospects and he’ll get to see his
son then. — Kevin C.

Master of his domain

Clearwater won’t start the Minor League season until Thursday but I got to
sit and watch the
Thumbnail image for pitching spring training vs pirates 030308.jpg team go through BP and infield drills this afternoon at Bright
House field. It was fun watching a team actually prepare for something
meaningful. The Threshers were playing an exhibition game later in the evening
against a group of Philadelphia players who are in extended spring training.
Before the game I had the chance to sit in the clubhouse with last year’s top
pick, Joe Savery, and the discussion turned to something about him that no one
knows.

 
“I can quote every Seinfeld episode word for word,” Savery said. “I watch
Seinfeld every day. I’m just a Seinfeld kind of guy. I watch that and
SportsCenter. I even saw Seinfeld live. I might

even wear my Seinfeld t-shirt in
here one day.
 
donna_chang.jpg
“I love the episode where Kramer sees Joe DiMaggio in the coffee shop. Or
the one where George has a man give him a massage. Or how about the one with
Donna Chang. I love that episode.” — Kevin C.
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