Prospect Previews: Week Four

We are getting closer and closer to Opening Day 2013, with just 45 days standing between you, me, and the first “Play Ball” at Parkview Field this year. It’s starting to feel like baseball season around the TinCaps offices, too. The phones are constantly chirping, the coffee is always brewing and the anticipating is building. There’s a much different aura once February hits–but it’s a comfortable and familiar one. Each day during the baseball season is like riding an old wooden roller coaster; it starts with a slow climb and eventually takes you all the way to the top of the on a creaky car  that rattles your nerves and seemingly takes forever to hit the peak.  Then you go down the hill for excitement (that’s the game), with the wind gushing in your face and your hands uncontrollably flailing in the air. Eventually, three or so hours later (fortunately roller coaster rides don’t last that long, otherwise they’d have to provide a barf bag), you are in the decrescendo and nearing the end of the ride. You’ve had an emotional and physical journey, but crave more. Fortunately in Minor League Baseball, there is no line for the next ride. Another game is but a good night’s sleep away.

I had the privilege of speaking to the Fort Wayne Rotaract group this past week, and gave them a tour of Parkview Field. Believe it or not, it was the first formal tour of the facility that I’d given in almost a year in Fort Wayne. I’ve certainly expended lots of breath talking about the park and spent plenty of time showing folks the press box, but I’d never shared the guts of the stadium or taken anyone out into the dugout for the first time. Here’s the thing about giving tours: I get to see every part of the park whenever I want to. I work here. The people that are on that tour may have never been up to the suite level before and have never seen the TinCaps clubhouse. It’s a new and exciting experience for each and every person, and I have to keep that in mind when I give a detail that I think might be insignificant, like the amount of money players get per day for food when they’re on the road. Like when a child visits Disney World and thinks he or she is really meeting Mickey Mouse, there’s a first-time curiosity with stepping out into the dugout for folks, even if it is half covered in drifting snow and it’s 7:00 and too dark to see the outfield wall.  It’s fun to see and thrilling to share.

Speaking to the Fort Wayne Rotaract group. Photo courtesy of Jeremy Redding.

Speaking to the Fort Wayne Rotaract group. Photo courtesy of Jeremy Redding.

WAR is the Answer

OK, well not in the sense you may think. We’re talking about the baseball term “Wins Above Replacement”. Please stop typing whatever angry email you were writing to me.

There’s a great article on ESPN.com that talks about WAR, and how it’s a necessary statistic in today’s era when it comes to understanding the value of each baseball player:

“Fight it if you like, but baseball has become too complicated to solve without science. Every rotation of every pitch is measured now. Every inch that a baseball travels is measured now. Teams that used to get mocked for using spreadsheets now rely on databases packed with precise location and movement of every player on every play — and those teams are the norm, not the film-inspiring exceptions. This is exciting and it’s terrifying.” 

The author, Sam Miller, does an excellent job of explaining, for those of us unfamiliar with baseball’s advanced stats, what exactly WAR is:

“A single baseball at-bat is magnificently complex, a single game exponentially more so, a team’s season more than that and a player’s career more than that. WAR uses the most advanced available data to measure, in each area of performance, how many runs a major league player saved or produced relative to a consistent baseline: the runs likely saved or produced by an average minor leaguer called up as a hypothetical “replacement.” It expresses those runs as wins — about 10 runs to one win — and calls it a player’s “worth” over a year. It takes all of baseball’s amazing intricacy and sums it up in a number.”

Perhaps the most eye-opening comparison Miller makes is between David Eckstein and Miguel Tejada, and how WAR shows them to be of nearly equal value:

“The mainstream story about Eckstein — he’s small and not technically very good, but boy does he have grit — was told through adjectives, not facts. At the media-criticism site Fire Joe Morgan, there was a David Eckstein category comprising 20 separate posts on Eckstein hagiographies. That’s nearly 12,000 (hysterical) words mocking the reporters who celebrated the plucky Eckstein despite his weak arm, punchless bat and general failure to be athletic.

Now, here’s the twist: David Eckstein was actually very valuable, and it had nothing to do with the adjectives. In 2002 Eckstein (WAR of 4.4, according to analytics-based website FanGraphs) was almost as good as Miguel Tejada (WAR of 4.7), who won the AL MVP award that year. Tejada hit 34 home runs and drove in 131. But Eckstein was nearly his equal while driving in 63 and taking a running start every time he threw to first. How? WAR, and the components that it comprises, tells us:

 1. Eckstein let himself get hit by 27 pitches, giving him a better OBP than Tejada and blunting Tejada’s power advantage.

2 . Eckstein hit into a third as many double plays.

3. Eckstein was actually a good defensive shortstop with more range than Tejada and more success turning double plays.

A writer who wanted to praise Eckstein, then, could have made some assumptions about Eckstein based on his height, weight and skin color (white), collected some flattering athlete-cliche quotes from Eckstein’s teammates and flipped through his thesaurus looking for new words — thaumaturgical! leptosome! — to describe the little guy. Or he could have started with WAR and explained how David Eckstein, ballplayer, was good at playing ball.”

You’ve probably never thought of Eckstein and Tejada as possible equals, right? There’s so much that I don’t understand about WAR and advanced baseball statistics, but that area of the game is something that I am going to learn more about this year. I may not incorporate those numbers into my broadcasts, but I do want to know more about how numbers can help explain what happens on the field. The days of “only nerds use advanced numbers” and “I’m not a computers guy” are gone. I agree with Miller. This is the future.

Bonus: Here’s the ESPN The Magazine podcast where Miller talks more in-depth about his article: http://espn.go.com/espnradio/play?id=8972646

———-

Onto Week Four of our Prospect Previews series. If you’re just joining us, here are the first three weeks:

Week One (Brian Adams, Corey Adamson, Brandon Alger, Jeremy Baltz, Cory Bostjancic)

Week Two (Erik Cabrera, Felix Cabrera, Stephen Carmon, Matt Chabot, Joe Church)

Week Three (Rodney Daal, Jose Dore, Zach Eflin, Max Fried, Jalen Goree)

Prospect-Preview-2013

Justin Hancock

It was former Speaker of the House of Representatives Tip O’Neill who coined the phrase “All politics is local”, which  means that the success of a politician is tied to his or her ability to deal with constituent issues.  The more local focus, the better. In 2012, that morphed into “All baseball is local” as Fort Wayne not only had Matt Wisler (Bryan, Ohio) but Justin Hancock, from Defiance, Ohio, which is just an hour away from the ballpark. The presence of those two players provided a lot of interest within the region, because instead of having to travel to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, or Bowling Green, Kentucky, the players’ families and friends could make a day trip out of seeing a TinCaps game.

Hancock, a ninth-round pick out of Lincoln Trail Junior College (IL) in 2011, opened the season with Fort Wayne. He didn’t have great success in a TinCaps uniform, but that doesn’t mean his whole year was a wash. Here are the splits:

Fort Wayne (April 5-May 28) 0-4, 6.95 ERA, 13 games, 2 starts, 33 2/3 IP, 44H, 31R, 26 ER, 20 BB, 23 K, .312 BAA

Eugene (June 17-August 30) 5-1, 1.61 ERA, 15 games, 14 starts, 72 2/3 IP, 52H, 17R, 13 ER, 23 BB, 66 K, .203 BAA

His numbers at Eugene were stupendous. He gave up only eight more hits in 39 more innings and 13 fewer earned runs. Here’s what Eugene Emeralds broadcaster Matt Dompe had to say about Hancock:

 Pitching coach Nelson Cruz raved about Hancock all year long.  He has four pitches of which Cruz already rated three of them as big league caliber.  He is a big guy and a quick worker.  When Hancock was able to get into a groove he was pretty much lights out allowing one run or less in 12 of his 15 outings.

Justin Hancock pitches for the TinCaps in 2012. Photo courtesy Brad Hand.

Justin Hancock pitches for the TinCaps in 2012. Photo courtesy Brad Hand.

MadFriars.com’s John Conniff, who has covered the Padres farm system for several seasons and made a trip to Fort Wayne last summer, named Hancock his pitcher of the year in Eugene:

While I like FIP, like all statistics, it measures some things better than others; specifically it will undervalue a pitcher like Justin Hancock who thrives on mishits to induce weak ground outs. The opposition only hit .203 against him as compared to .280 against Marcano and Hancock gave up significantly fewer hits (52) than innings pitched as compared to David’s choice. After posting an ERA of 4.26 in June, Hancock’s ERA in July and August (60 innings) was 1.05. A big factor in his improvement was his ability to master the two-seam fastball that enabled him to have the success that eluded him in Fort Wayne earlier in the year.

Bonus question: The 2012 TinCaps players, at some point, decided that I was a dead ringer for Hancock. Thoughts?

18-Hancock_Justin HS 01MC

Chris Haney

We didn’t get to see much of Chris Haney during 2012 because he pitched in only three games in a TinCaps uniform, and struggled during the time he was here. Haney’s 2012 TinCaps stats were:

0-2, 15.75 ERA, 3G, 4IP, 9H, 8R, 7ER, 4BB, 8K

He did a lot of travel last season, beginning the year with Advanced-A Lake Elsinore, coming to Fort Wayne, and then being sent, on the day of the Midwest League All-Star game, to Eugene. Haney will be a bit on the older side of the Midwest League spectrum when the season starts at 24 years old,  and may open the year with Lake Elsinore, but it all depends on how rosters shake out and how minor league camp goes next month.

Drew Harrelson

This past weekend I was in Cedar Falls, Iowa, to broadcast a basketball game at the University of Northern Iowa. My broadcast partner for that game, former college basketball coach Rich Zvosec, said he got one of the greatest presents ever…when he was fired from his job at the University of Missouri-Kansas City on his birthday. That’s definitely a story you should read about. But someone else who got a more classically exciting birthday present is Padres farmhand Drew Harrelson, who was selected by the Padres the day before his birthday in the 12th round of the draft last summer.

The Nashville, Georgia, native turned 18 last June and made his professional debut with the rookie-level Arizona League Padres, pitching in 10 games out of the bullpen. In 11 innings, he struck out eight, walked six and allowed seven earned runs.

Here’s some background on Harrelson, courtesy of The Valdosta Daily Times:

Harrelson is a 6-foot-6, 180-pound left-handed pitcher with a fastball that has been consistently clocked between 87-89 mph. When he worked out for the Philadelphia Phillies earlier this year, he reached 93 mph on the radar gun three times.

Last season, he went 9-1 with a 2.49 earned run average for Berrien. He set the Rebels’ single-season record with 109 strikeouts, while facing just 307 batters. He was chosen the Region 1-AA Pitcher of the Year for the second consecutive season. He also helped the Rebels win the Region 1-AA championship.

“We’re very proud of Drew,” Berrien head coach Doug Nix said. “Any time you get a kid drafted, that’s a great honor. As a young boy growing up and playing, that’s always your dream. Every kid has that dream of one day playing Major League Baseball. To be drafted out of high school, it’s just a great honor and a dream come true, one that I’m sure he’s worked towards all his life.”

The Berrien High School program seems to have had a run on talent the last few years, with the Phillies having selected Harrelson’s former teammate Larry Greene, who played for the Williamsport CrossCutters on the New York-Penn League last year, in the supplemental first round of the 2011 draft.

Harrelson turned down a scholarship to Middle Georgia College to sign with San Diego.

Goose Kallunki

Best name ever?

Maybe.

Kallunki was a strong competitor in the annual “Moniker Madness” competition held by Minor League Baseball, losing in the second round to eventual champion Rock Shoulders. Seriously, that’s someone’s name. There’s no question Kallunki will be back for more in 2013 in that competition.

Let’s put the baseball on hold here for a second…how did he get that name?

Great story there from KVAL-TV, which tells us that Maclain Kallunki received the nickname “Goose” because his father liked it and it came from baseball Hall of Famer Goose Gossage.

Kallunki had a big summer in 2012, being named one of three finalists for the Dick Howser Award (college baseball’s  Heisman trophy), and then being drafted in the 27th round by San Diego. He went to Eugene, playing exclusively at first base, and hit .254 with two home runs and 13 RBI in 53 games.  We’ve already noted that Jose Dore could be a contender for the first base spot, so there’s possibly a decision to be made when the TinCaps break camp.

Michael Kelly

Last year Michael Kelly was selected in the supplemental first round (48th overall) by the Padres out of high school in Florida, and rated by Baseball America as the 27th-best prospect in the organization. He was taken out of West Boca Raton Community High school and turned down a scholarship from the University of Florida to go pro.

Seinfeld side note: Whenever I see or hear “Boca Raton”, I always think of Jerry Seinfeld’s parents on the TV show, who lived in the fictional Del Boca Vista, Florida.

Michael Kelly pitches for the TinCaps in 2012. Photo by Brad Hand.

Michael Kelly pitches for the TinCaps in 2012. Photo by Brad Hand.

Oh, baseball…right.

Well, Kelly struggled mightily in a TinCaps uniform to being the season last year, with walks being his biggest issue. In 14 1/3 innings, he walked 18 batters and struck out 14. He also allowed 18 hits and 12 earned runs. Kelly was with Fort Wayne from Opening Day until his last appearance on May 2nd. He finished the year with the Arizona League Padres and was able to significantly correct his walk numbers. In the AZL, he was 0-5 with a 7.11 ERA (35ER in 44 1/3 IP), but struck out 37 and walked just 25.

There seems to be no question that the stuff is there–a very strong fastball, among other qualities–it was just a matter of settling down and finding location in year one for Kelly. He’s 6’5″, 185, a good height for a pitcher,  and will be just 21 on opening day this year. Kelly might find himself getting a second chance with the TinCaps this season.

———-

BONUS

I’ve received a few emails asking about the TinCaps in spring training, so here’s a look at the Padres minor league spring training schedule:

March 1 – Pitchers & Catchers report

March 8 – Position Players report

March 10 – First full-squad workout

March 15- First game

March 30 – Last game

March 31 – Camp breaks

Games (All are 1:00 local time)

Friday, March 15 at Kansas City (Surprise, AZ)

Saturday, March 16 at Texas (Surprise, AZ)

Sunday March 18 at Los Angeles-NL (Peoria, AZ)

Monday March, 18 vs. Seattle (Peoria, AZ)

Tuesday, March 19 at Texas (Surprise, AZ)

Wednesday, March 20 vs. Milwaukee (Peoria, AZ)

Friday, March 22 vs. Seattle (Peoria, AZ)

Saturday, March 23 at Kansas City (Surprise, AZ)

Sunday, March 24 at Los Angeles-NL (Glendale, AZ)

Monday, March 25 vs. Seattle (Peoria, AZ)

Wednesday, March 27 vs. Texas (Peoria, AZ)

Thursday, March 28 at Seattle (Peoria, AZ)

Friday, March 29 vs. Seattle (Peoria, AZ)

Saturday, March 30 at Los Angeles-NL (Glendale, AZ)

———-

As always, thanks for reading.

If you’d like to get in touch, you can reach me via email (Couzens@TinCaps.com) or on Twitter @MikeCouzens.

I’ll be back next week with the fifth segment of this eight-part series.

MCsig

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