November 2008

AFL Championship preview extravaganza

OK, maybe that’s overstating things, but I really wanted to use the word extravaganza…

Keep an eye out for my “official” championship preview story over on MLB.com and mlbfallball.com. Should be up in a little while.

But I figured, why wait? They’ll be on the story, but in case you were curious, here are the starting lineups for the game:

Mesa

1. Matt Young LF
2. Jason Donald SS
3. Logan Morrison DH
4. Jeff Larish 1B
5. Tyler Flowers C
6. Scott Cousins CF
7. Casper Wells RF
8. Van Pope 3B
9. Will Rhymes 2b
Tommy Hanson RHP

Phoenix

1. Eric Young Jr. CF
2. Steve Tolleson SS
3. J.P. Arencibia C
4. Mike McKenry DH
5. Josh Donaldson 1B
6. Dustin Martin LF
7. Chris Nelson 2B
8. Danny Valencia 3B
9. Evan Frey RF
Jeff Manship RHP

Noticeably absent from the Desert Dogs lineup is Sean Doolittle. He’d normally hit cleanup and probably play a corner OF spot (maybe 1B), but he had prior commitments and will not be at the game.

You think these guys aren’t taking this seriously? Take a look at some of these quotes, some of which are in the story and some which didn’t make the cut:

Eric Young Jr.: “It’s always a great time when you play in a championship game. Both teams are going to be pumped up to play. There will be more fans in the stands and that  brings more excitement. With what Tommy Hanson’s brought to the table this fall and in the Minors, he’s a real good pitcher. You have to bring your A game. If you can’t get pumped up for that, you don’t need to be in this business.”

Tommy Hanson: “It’s definitely an honor to get to throw in the championship game, especially for this team. Hopefully, I’ll do what I’ve been doing during the whole fall and give us a chance to win a ring. Now we’re at a point where we’re playing to win. We’ll do what it takes to try to win.”

Logan Morrison: “It’s the end of the season and we only want one game to do it, but we all want to get it done. The only way I can play is to be competitive. If I’m not competitive, I’m not going to do my best.”

Rocket Wheeler: “It’s what we’ve played for all year. We’ve played loose and played hard. They’ve played the game the way it’s supposed to be played. It’s a credit to these kids. We set the example early, but they went out and did it.”

Stan Cliburn: When they started putting rings out in this league, any time you play in a league sanctioned by Major League Baseball, you’re playing for a championship. The fall league is no exception. Our players, from day one, we knew reaching that championship would be a goal. They’re all excited about it. I set the tone early, that we’re down here for a purpose, not only to develop you, but to win baseball games. The Phoenix Desert Dogs have a little run going. I kept hearing, ‘Stan, you have a tradition to keep up.’ Getting that opportunity is what it’s all about.”

Be sure to watch all the action on MLB.com at 2:30 p.m. ET. It’ll be me and Vinny Micucci with the call. More later…

Minor League outfield swap

At first glance, the Greg Golson-for-John Mayberry trade is one that might be tough to figure out. Two first-round picks, Golson in 2004 out of high school and Mayberry the following year out of Stanford. One a power guy with a little speed, the other with great speed and some developing power. Neither having fully lived up to expectations, but still with potential. Both on the 40-man roster.

The question is: What was the point, really?

Depending on who I talked to, I got a variety of answers. The most common theme was that this was a “change of scenery” trade. The idea behind it is that perhaps both young players will benefit from a fresh start, a chance to learn from different coaches. Sometimes a trade ignites just the right parts of a previously incomplete player and he takes off. Golson is just 23; Mayberry 25. As one scout put it to me: Neither player is an uber-prospect right now, but both can still be pretty good players.

The knock on Mayberry, another scout told me, is that he’s been an underachiever. Everything points to the fact that he should be a prolific power hitter. But he’s been too laid back and relying solely on his talent. That being said, he’s a guy with some pop at a more advanced level of the Minors who might be able to help soon.

Golson, for his part, is a great kid with tremendous athletic ability. He’s made great strides defensively and could play center field in the big leagues right now. Offensively, he still needs some work. He can do many things well, but the hitting end hasn’t come easily. He did hit for average in Double-A, perhaps a good sign, but he does need to find a greatre level of consistency.

In the end, this trade may not seem like much to most fans. And it may never materialize into anything monumental. But it could also end up being good for both teams, as one executive told me, with both guys figuring things out with their new organizations.

Odds and Ends

Just a few days left in the Arizona Fall League season and it’s coming down to the wire to determine who’ll be in the championship game on Saturday (which, by the way, we’ll be broadcasting live on MLB.com — 12:30 p.m. Arizona time). We know that the Phoenix Desert Dogs will be there. Of course, we could have predicted that on Opening Day — it’s almost to the point where they should get an automatic bid, no? The Desert Dogs, despite different personnel and even different organizations feeding players there (outside of the A’s, who are the constant), will be going for their fifth straight AFL crown.

Who they will be playing is still up in the air. The Mesa Solar Sox and the Peoria Saguaros are currently tied atop the American Division. With all due respect to the Sags, I’m kind of hoping to see the Solar Sox there. Why? I’m glad you asked.

The biggest reason is Tommy Hanson. Have you seen his line in the AFL? It’s the kind of thing that makes you do a double-take, especially considering it’s such a hitter-friendly league:

5-0, 0.63 ERA, 28 2/3 IP, 10 H, 2 ER, 7 BB, 49 K

That’s just silly stuff there. His WHIP is 0.59. If things end as is, he’ll win the AFL pitching triple crown. He’s twice had double-digit strikeouts and whiffed nine in two other contests, worth noting because he’s never gone more than five innings. And it doesn’t even include his dominant outing at the Rising Stars Showcase, during which he fired three hitless innings and struck out seven. It’s led to some good debate: Can/should a pitcher win AFL MVP? I don’t even know if that’s allowed, as there has been a Pitcher of the Year award in the past. In general, I don’t favor a pitcher winning MVP honors in any league. And in the AFL, they usually only pitch every six days and are on fairly tight pitch counts. But Hanson has been so ridiculously good and has been so much better than any other pitcher, he at least warrants a conversation.

Oh, and he’s slated to start the championship game on Saturday if Mesa makes it. I saw him pitch in that Rising Stars Showcase and would love to get one more shot at watching him throw.

He’s not the only draw for me from the Mesa roster. There are a trio of hitters I’d pay to see take some swings on championship Saturday. The first is Logan Morrison, who’s impressed scouts all season long. The Marlins first baseman leads the AFL as of today with a .426 average. He’s tied for second in RBIs, fourth in slugging and total bases and fifth in OPS. Then there’s the Phillies’ Jason Donald. Not only is Donald learning new positions in the infield, he’s third in the league with a .422 average and 1.251 OPS. He’s in the top four in both SLG and OBP and in the top 10 in a few other categories. Finally, we’ve got Braves catcher Tyler Flowers. If the league MVP were given for per game production, it’d be no contest. Flowers has played in 19 games (by comparison, Donald and Morrison have each played 23), yet is still tied for the league lead in total bases (72). He tops the league with 12 homers, SLG (an insane 1.014) and OPS (1.477), all while hitting .394 (sixth best).

In other words, you’ve got 4 MVP candidates on one team.

OK, before I go, I want to recommend a new feature my colleague Lisa Winston has over on her blog, got milb?  She’s begun what promises to be an entertaining and informative offseason feature called Beyond the Boxscore: Getting to Know… The first subject is Matt Young of the Braves. As much work as we all do in finding out the on-field skills of players, who the scouts like and who the future stars are, Lisa always does a fantastic job of digging deeper than that, and relaying what the person behind the player is like. These BTB Q&A’s do just that, so go check it out.

AFLaughter

As most of you know, I hope, we’ve had 30 Arizona Fall League blogs going during the AFL season. I must say that it’s been a smashing success and all 30 regular bloggers (the guys we’ve asked to post something once per week) and the guest bloggers (one-time guys) have been fantastic.

At some point at the end of the season, I’ll present the top 5 or so AFL blog posts of the season, but I couldn’t wait after I saw this one. Please, if you do nothing else on the internet all weekend, all week, all month, please read Royals pitcher Chris Hayes’ guest blog on our Royals AFL blog. I promise you will not be disappointed. It is one of the funnier things I’ve read, period — from a player or not — in a long time.

And One More Thing … Red Sox

You can check out my take on the year that was in the Red Sox organization here.

Sometimes in my line of work, you run into a player who makes an impression. There’s not necessarily a reason why. It’s not because of tools jumping off the page at you when you watch him play or an achievement this player accomplished. Sometimes, it’s simply the way a  player carries himself, talks and acts like a professional. Such is the case for me with Kris Negron.

I interviewed Negron two years ago at the first Futures at Fenway doubleheader. He was a 2006 draftee who had just been promoted from the Gulf Coast League — where the GCL Red Sox had won the title, by the way — up to short-season Lowell. Negron had the appropriate wide-eyed look and spoke articulately about the opportunity he was being given to even just take batting practice at Fenway Park. The fact he made an incredible leaping grab in the game certainly added to the first impression. Good makeup + some tools is always a good combination.

Things haven’t gone so smoothly for Negron since. He hit .225 in 2007, mostly with Greenville, though he did steal 31 bases. He went back to Greenville to start the 2008 season and hit .244 with 25 steals over 92 games. The Sox sent him up to Lancaster and he enjoyed the hitting friendly California League, hitting .328 in 33 games, stealing 6 more bags (his 31 steals were good for third in the organization). He even showed some pop with a .629 slugging percentage up there and played every day as the JetHawks made it to, but eventually lost, the Cal League championship.

Was this the start of something for Negron, who’s pretty much a second baseman now, though he’s dabbled in the outfield a bit? Did the move to the California League ignite something in the 22-year-old? Only time will tell, but I can tell you I’ll be one who’ll be watching to find out.

The Marlins got who?

The Hot Stove season seems to be going full tilt now, doesn’t it, with trades being announced at a regular clip. The most recent deal was the one with the Marlins and Nats. And the biggest question is: Who did the Marlins get for Scott Olsen and Josh Willingham?

At first glance, the answer is: not much. You can read my breakdown of the trio of players the Marlins got in return. Of the three, Emilio Bonifacio is the only one who will help now, with Jake Smolinski and P.J. Dean still years away, having played short-season ball with a little taste of A ball. Smolinski’s out for 6-8 months following knee surgery. That’s not to say they won’t eventually be good players. Could this be one of those deals that 5 years from now people will look back at and have to re-evaluate? It’s possible, but it just doesn’t seem that way right now. Dean’s a nice pitcher, but not a front of the rotation type, no matter how well he develops. Smolinski, aside from being hurt, doesn’t have a real defensive home. Maybe he can be an offensive-minded second baseman one day, but he’s not the kind of impact bat — at least not now — that is coveted by an organization. I know the Nats were happy they didn’t have to give up any of their top 20 prospects to get this done, particularly getting the 24-year-old Olsen.

I know Olsen has had his ups and downs. But he’s 24, left-handed and has above-average stuff. The Nats did their homework about his attitude issues of the past and they’re confident he’s beginning to mature and that stuff is behind him. Lefties like Olsen don’t grow on trees, so you have to wonder that the Marlins couldn’t have gotten more for him from somewhere. Even from the Nats, was someone like Ross Detwiler completely off the table? If so, they should’ve looked elsewhere.

I know, I know. Maybe they did and this was the best they could do. And maybe Bonifacio, Smolinski and Dean will all be big leaguers. I generally trust what the Marlins do in terms of player personnel, but this one, I must admit, makes me scratch my head.

And One More Thing … Cubs

You can check out my review of the Cubs organization here.

It’s hard to imagine a guy who leads the organization in homers and RBIs gets forgotten completely. And yet, such is the case with Jake Fox, who topped the Cubs system with 31 homers and 105 runs batted in. He slugged .556 for the season as well. Granted, most of it came at the Double-A level after he got demoted from Triple-A. He turned 26 this year and it was his third stint at the Double-A level. The 2003 third-rounder was a catcher once upon a time and now kind of moves all over the place defensively. He’s not on the 40-man roster, meaning anyone can take him in the Rule 5 draft, though he was eligible in previous years and had no takers.

A worthy cause

Hey guys —

Will catch up with some more info on a bit (I’m tardy with a few of my “One More Things…” that go with the organizational reviews and I plan to get to them. But I was so gosh-darn busy in Arizona then swept up in election fever, that I haven’t had much time to blog.

Before I get to some of that other stuff, though, I wanted to direct people to check out Kevin Czerwinski’s blog Minor Leagues, Major Thoughts. He recently wrote about Scranton manager Dave Miley and The Cody Miley Memorial Art Scholarship Fund, named for Miley’s son, who was tragically killed in a car accident in August.

Go check out Kevin’s blog and contribute if you can.

Back with more baseball stuff later on…

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