July 2008

Bay to Boston

The three-way is coming true. The Minor Leaguers involved appear to be: Craig Hansen and Brandon Moss from the Red Sox; Bryan Morris and Andy LaRoche from the Dodgers… More to come…

Bay not a Ray … yet

As the deadline quickly approaches, rumors were abuzz that Jason Bay was headed to Tampa in return for shortstop Reid Brignac and pitcher Jeff Niemann. But not so fast.

A source has told me there is no done deal… yet. One of the above names has not been made available. I’ve got no confirmation on this, but my guess is that Brignac is the one the Rays won’t part with.

More as this develops…

Richar and Masset going to Cincy?

That’s the rumor, anyway. The Reds would get 2B Danny Richar and RHP Nick Masset for Ken Griffey Jr.

Richar was supposed to compete for the big-league job at second, but visa issues made him late for Spring Training and then a broken rib kept him out until the end of May. He’s hitting .262 with nine homers 11 steals in 62 games for for Triple-A Charlotte. The 25-year-old could head to Triple-A Louisville if the trade becomes official. Richar hadn’t spent that much time in the White Sox organization, coming over a year ago in June (he spent some time in the bigs last summer after the trade) from the Diamondbacks in return for minor league outfielder Aaron Cunnigham, who’s since been traded to Oakland. He’s got a career .290 average in the Minors with a .441 SLG and 73 stolen bases.

Yo, Gaby Gaby!

Just what kind of pitcher did the Mariners get in return for Arthur Rhodes? Here’s a closer look at Gaby Hernandez:

The 6-foot-3, 215-pound right-hander was drafted by the New York Mets in the third round oGHernandez.JPG the 2004 draft out of a Miami-area high school. He made an immediate impression by leading the Gulf Coast League with a 1.09 ERA, striking out 58 batters over his first 49 2/3 pro innings.

He was equally impressive in his first full season, reaching Class A Advanced ball as a teenager. In the first half of 2005, Hernandez was a South Atlantic League All-Star, posting a 2.43 ERA and .179 batting average against before struggling a bit following a promotion to the Florida State League. That offseason, he was sent, along with outfielder Dante Brinkley, to the Marlins for catcher Paul LoDuca. His first full season with the Marlins (2006), Hernandez was outstanding, spending the season in the FSL at age 20 and going 9-7 with a 3.68 ERA and a nifty 115/35 K/BB ratio in 120 IP. His 2007 season was a little up-and-down, though he was a Southern League All-Star at age 21 and topped the 150-inning plateau for the first time.

This year, Hernandez was briefly in the mix for the Marlins’ No. 5 starter job in big-league camp. He pitched well in camp, but eventually got sent down and began the year with Triple-A Albuquerque. Things didn’t go well for him in New Mexico, as he went 2-8 with a 7.24 ERA over 13 starts, spending nearly a month on the DL with an intercostal strain, before being sent down to Double-A to get straightened out. He’s gone 3-0 with a 4.30 ERA in four starts and looking a lot sharper.

When Hernandez is right, he’s got a good three-pitch mix: a fastball that sits in the low 90s and can reach 94; a breaking ball that is a plus at times; and a changeup that is also above-average. Even with the demotion to Double-A, Hernandez is still fairly young for his level and could still be ready for a big-league callup in 2009.

Report: Gaby Hernandez traded again

It’s being reported that the Mariners have found a home for LHP Arthur Rhodes: South Florida. According to ESPN, the veteran reliever is being exchanged for 22-year-old Minor League right-hander Gaby Hernandez. He’s dealt with some injuries, but he’s still a big, strong right-hander with some pretty good potential. If the deal is official, it’ll be the second time Hernandez has been a part of a trade, going from the Mets to the Marlins as part of the Paul LoDuca trade in December 2005. More later as it develops…

Note: I have received confirmation from a team source from one of the teams involved that this is indeed a done deal.

Deadline day commences with … Matt Cusick?

Sure, there are bigger names from the Minor League perspective being mentioned out there — and I’ll be blogging all day on prospects both rumored to be and actually dealt — but the one deal overnight that was official was the huge LaTroy Hawkins to the Astros deal. The Yankees had designated the reliever for assignment, but then found a taker in Houston.

In return, the Astros sent their 10th-round pick from the 2007 draft, Matt Cusick, to New York.Lexington at bat (r to l).jpg The USC product was hitting .285 with a .365 OBP and .462 SLG in his first full season with Lexington in the South Atlantic League. The left-handed hitting second baseman was a SAL All-Star this year as well as a New York-Penn League All-Star in his pro debut with Tri-City last summer, when he hit .306 with a .422 OBP and .446 SLG.

Cusick is one of those slightly undersized, gritty middle infield types. He’s not blessed with the greatest tools in the world, but has a makeup that’s off the charts and constantly works to improve all facets of his game. He doesn’t have much power and isn’t blessed with great speed, though he’s used his smarts and plus instincts to go 8-for-9 in stolen-base attempts. What he does bring to the Yankees is an ability to make consistent contact — he doesn’t strike out much (43 K vs. 40 BB in 94 games) — and get on base. He’s largely been used as a leadoff hitter in Lexington, where he’s hit .322 in that role with a .394 OBP and .513 SLG (mostly 16 doubles, 4 triples, a suprising seven homers in 236 AB), but might profile better as a No. 2 hitter with a terrific approach at the plate.

Louisville, finally

At long last, my post on the trip to Louisville. I know you’ve all been waiting impatiently for my description of my time there.

I have to say that I really liked the city. For me, I look for uniqueness, atmosphere, vibrance and, of course, good eats, in any urban area I visit. L’ville did well on all fronts, in my opinion.

One of the dishes  the city is know for is called “Hot Brown” and I got to sample the dish at a place called Bistro301 my first night in town. While it lends itself to some pretty off-color jokes about Big Brown and what’s become of him, it’s tasty fare. Here’s the description from the restaurant’s menu:

Our rendition of a Kentucky classic. Smoked turkey, bacon, tomato, Parmesan
and Jack cheese. Finished with Mornay sauce and served golden brown.

What could be bad, right?

Louisville slugger.jpgThe Bats did a wonderful job hosting, including a terrific All-Star Gala at the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory. What a great location! I got the chance to get a “behind the scenes” look at the bat vault, which basically had a version of pretty much every model of bat the company has ever made. Considering they started making bats in 1884, just imagine how much lumber was there. Just picking up a bat like the all-time greats used was such a thrill and it was amazing to consider how much bats have changed — and stayed the same — over the years. The highlight of the gala (kids, turn away at this point, please) may have been the Official All-Star Cocktail. I figure if we can have the release on our site, I can talk about it here, right? Check out the link if you want the recipe. Lets just say it was quite refreshing and a good time was had by all.

The All-Star Game itself actually turned out to be an exciting contest, with a ton of runs scored late. The game rosters didn’t have a ton of “prospects,” but there were some great performances nonetheless. Luis Pena may have caused the biggest buzz, hitting triple digits on the radar gun on more than one occasion, though Pawtucket’s Chris Carter certainly got folks in the stadium (which is beautiful, by the way, and the folks in Louisville packed the house not only for the game, but for the Home Run Derby on Monday night as well.) going when he turned around one of those Pena heaters for a two-run homer in the ninth to make the score close. For me, personally, I had a great time as I got the opportunity to serve as ESPN’s sideline reporter for the game. I had a blast and hope those of you who checked it out thought I didn’t stink.

Next year, the game is in Portland (Oregon, not Maine) and they’ll have a lot to live up to. I’ve been to two Triple-A All-Star Games now: the one here in Louisville and last year in Albuquerque and both clubs did a fantastic job putting on a great show. Let’s hope it continues in the Pacific Northwest in 2009…

I’ll be back soon with a report on my trip to Los Angeles (not really Minors-related, but who cares?).

Me for Prez???

I owe everyone posts on my trip to Louisville for the Triple-A All-Star Game and Los Angeles (I’m at LAX now) for the Breakthrough Series at the Urban Youth Academy and I promise to do so soon. For now, though, I wanted to take the wraps off of a grass-roots movement. The groundswell has been building and it’s really starting to take off, with the media taking notice. Take a look at the video and jump on the bandwagon!!!

http://www.paltalk.com/marketing/media/vanksen/main.swf

Futures Game, New York style

It’s taken me a little longer than I anticipated, but I wanted to share some thoughts about my time in New York covering the 10th Futures Game. Joe Cronin’s already written about it on his blog and I’m sure Lisa Winston will describe here experience in detail over on got milb.

It all started on Friday for us. For the past couple of years, we’ve brought in a prospect — usually one from the area — for a whirlwind tour of the city. In 2006, Neil Walker was the perfect subject, a Pittsburgh kid coming home for the Futures Game at PNC Park while a member of the Pirates organization. Last year, Indians prospect Chuck Lofgren came home to the Bay Area for the game. But this year, there was no New Yorker on the roster, so we had to think a little outside the box. Scott Campbell and Luke Hughes, hailing from New Zealand and Australia, made for the perfect candidates, and not just because they’re 1-2 in the Eastern League in hitting.

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Having never been to New York before, we decided to take them on a tour of the city via double-decker bus. I grew up in Northern New Jersey and then lived in New York for eight years and had never done this — I think it’s the kind of thing that residents of a city rarely do, but it was a perfect day and we had a great time seeing the sights.  It’s basically a quick sweep of stuff, but the Empire State Building, Macy’s, Ground Zero, plus driving through many of the city’s neighborhoods was all interesting and Hughes and Campbell had a great time doing it.

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See, that’s them having a great time…a picture is really worth 1,000 words. At any rate, we got off the bus in Battery Park and decided, why not, let’s hop on the Staten Island Ferry in a Futures Game version of Planes, Trains and Automobiles.

The big highlight of that, of course, was floating by the Statue of Liberty, but we also got to see the Staten Island Yankees’ ballpark, which I’ve never been to. Campbell played in the New York-Penn League, but never got the chance to play there, or in Brooklyn, for that matter. We also saw some of the Eliasson New York City Waterfalls. Got to be honest there, I didn’t really appreciate them. Maybe going to see all of them, and getting a closer look, would make me  enjoy them more, but they didn’t do it for me from our vantage point. Here’s hoping, though, that it brings people to NY to see ‘em.
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After our afternoon of touring, we had dinner at Sparks Steakhouse, a veritable New York landmark in its own right. Those of you mafia buffs might recall Sparks as the setting for the deaths of Paul Castellano and Thomas Bilotti, courtesy of John Gotti. But I digress. A good time was had by all and it got everyone that much more excited for the game on Sunday. If you want to check out the video feature and photo gallery, go to the MiLB.com Futures Game page and scroll the bottom. It’s in that box on the bottom right.

Just so you don’t think it was all fun and games, we had plenty of work to do. Lisa and I did a pair of shows from FanFest. Futures Gamer Kevin Pucetas joined us on Saturday and I’m pretty sure he’d make my MiLB All-Interview team (look for a something on that at the end of the year).  And there were some injuries along the way. Lisa battled through some blisters the entire weekend without complaining (well, not complaining much). I think Kerry Wood could learn something from her example. As for me, any time I try to keep the ol’ noggin clean-shaven every day, there’s a risk. And wouldn’t you just know…

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Thank goodness Batman was there to rescue me. That’s right, it’s a Batman band-aid, which I’m sure is going to become a hot trend among those who shave their heads, especially with The Dark Knight coming out shortly.

Anyway, then came the game on Sunday. The live pre-game show went off without a hitch, I thought, and much kudos needs to be given to our incredibly hard-working multimedia staff. In my mind, it was the best live broadcast, in terms of how smoothly it went, that I’ve been involved with. During the game, Vinny Micucci and I did analysis in the booth between some innings, while Lisa did a terrific job with interviews from the U.S. and World dugouts.

The game itself was a little, well, less than thrilling, though it was still fun to see some of these players in person for the first time, especially on a stage like that. And Che Hsuan Lin put himself on the map with that tater, while Henry Rodriguez created quite a buzz by hitting triple-digits on the radar gun. Hard to believe it was my ninth Futures Game (I missed the game in Houston in 2004 because of the birth of my daughter), but I’m already looking forward to St. Louis in 2009.

From there it was on to Louisville (where I am right now) for the Triple-A All-Star Game. I’ll have more from here in the next day or so, but be sure to tune into the game on ESPN2 at 7 p.m. ET. Yours truly will be handling the sideline reporting duties…

More Brewers-Indians trade info

Kevin C. did a bang up job breaking down the young players involved in the A’s-Cubs trade yesterday. Check out his blog as well: Minor Leagues, Major Thoughts. Great insight from there, too.

I figured Matt LaPorta’s gotten enough attention (though you can watch my interview with him in Akron last night on the MiLB.com homepage). What about a guy like Robert Bryson, the low-A RHP included in the deal? How about some love for him?

I’m no stats geek (though I like them to an extent), but I was looking at his performance since he began his pro career and something stuck out: He seemed to have a lot of strikeouts. Seventy in 54 IP for Helena last summer in the Pioneer League, then 73 more in 55 IP in West Virginia prior to the trade. If you’re scoring at home, that’s 143 K’s in 109 IP.

Boy, I thought, that seems like a pretty good rate.  I wonder, I pondered aloud (that was strange because I was working in a coffee shop and people turned and stared. But I digress…), where that ranks among Minor League pitchers over the same time frame. So like I did with the LaPorta power numbers, I asked my good friends in the MLBAM stats department to do some crunching for me. They came back with great abs. When I told them I meant for them to crunch the numbers, they said, “Ohhhhh,” punched themselves in the stomach and got the spreadsheet up and running. Lo and behold, this is what they found, using the strikeout per nine inning ratio and using all pitchers from June 22, 2007 (Bryson’s debut) and a minimum of 100 IP:

Santo Luis, Astros/White Sox,  12.62 K/9
Victor Garate, Astros/Dodgers, 12.03
Neftali Feliz, Rangers, 11.83
Rob Bryson, Brewers, 11.81
Jeremy Jeffers, Brewers, 11.78

I almost want to discount Luis and Garate since both are older (Luis is 24; Garate 23) and pitching in low-A ball. Not that they can’t have careers, but they’ve been around since signing  in 2001 and 2002 (both by the Astros, who let them go, if that’s telling at all). Feliz is legit and is in Double-A now at age 20. Jeffress has ridiculous arm strength, but has had some off-the-field issues and it remains to be seen what he becomes. But he’s still very young. And there’s Bryson, No. 4 overall in the Minors with his K/9 rate. So while LaPorta is clearly the big fish the Indians wanted to reel in with this trade (C.C. makes for some imposing bait, no?), don’t just relegate Bryson as “some random guy” thrown in. Dude can throw and if he can figure some things out, he could be a nice arm, either in the rotation or more likely as a short reliever, down the line.


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