Up in Michigan, 17-Year-Old Pitcher, Umpiring

Greetings and salutations from Dow Diamond in Midland, Michigan. Tonight the TinCaps, who were just swept in a three-game set by the Bowling Green Hot Rods, open a four-game series against the Great Lakes Loons, the Midwest League affiliate of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Here’s a field-level view of the ballpark, which is one of my absolute favorites to visit in the Midwest League:

IMG_20130817_161209_229

Game time tonight is 7:05 p.m., as Walker Weickel faces Loons pitcher Julio Urias. This is an important series for the Loons, who were just swept by the Dayton Dragons, as they contend for a second-half playoff spot. Great Lakes is right now in the wild-card spot, 1/2 game behind Bowling Green, with just 16 regular-season games to play.

John Nolan and I will have the radio call tonight, with pre-game coverage on The Fan 1380 and TheFanFortWayne.com getting underway at 6:45.

JUST A KID

Urias, who starts for the Loons tonight, began this season at the ripe age of 16, and has just four days ago turned 17. Here’s a quick scouting report on him, courtesy of Yahoo! Sports, which was written before his recent birthday:

Urias boasts a fastball 88-92 MPH that has natural arm-side run. He’s touched 94 MPH quite often and even touched 95 MPH in his June 11 start. He’s 16!

 His changeup might be his best offering. It’s a low-80s pitch that is a weapon against right-handers. The great thing is, he isn’t afraid to throw it to left-handers — something most lefties wouldn’t do. He also has a breaking ball. It’s been called a curveball, he calls it a slider, but whatever it is, it’s effective. As he works in the minors, that pitch should turn into two pitches — a curve and a slider. The curve is a mid-70s pitch and the slider should be a low-80s pitch.

What’s even more amazing about his stuff is he’s doing it from a frame that doesn’t scream “power pitcher.” He’s 5’11, 160 pounds (though, he looks a little more filled out than that) and, at 16, could grow more while in the minors.

Urias has gone no more than two innings in any of his last seven outings, and from talking to Loons Manager Razor Shines earlier today, I expect that to be the case once again. It’ll be interesting to see what kind of an effect that has on the Loons bullpen, which as Shines told me, has been put into service a lot more often with dwindling innings counts for the team’s starting pitchers.

UMPIRING

A lot is made of umpiring at nearly any level of baseball, but after I had an extensive chat with Midwest League umpires Sam Vogt and Tim Hromada yesterday, I’ve really come to see their job in a different light. (Side note: A feature story on those two umpires, who were promoted to the Advanced-A California League yesterday, will be coming to this blog in the next few days.)

I was doing a little bit of bus reading today about umpiring, and came across a story on ESPN.com by Jim Caple, in which he goes to umpire school to try and learn what the job is really like:

Instructor Brent Rice discusses such finer points during morning sessions at a banquet room of the school hotel. You’ve probably never heard of Rice but there’s a good chance you’ve seen him on YouTube. He had the unfortunate honor of being the home plate umpire when Braves minor league manager Phil Wellman had hisinfamous nut-out, burying the plate in dirt, crawling along the ground like a soldier and flinging the rosin bag at Rice as if it were a grenade. “How much was the dry cleaning bill for your pants?” another instructor asks Rice.

I feel a little bad about bringing that up because it wasn’t his fault Wellman completely lost his mind. Plus, manager-umpire confrontations are such a small part of the game. Sure, there are arguments and ejections but they really are relatively rare. The key to avoiding them is knowing the rules and calling them authoritatively in a manner that lets the teams understand you know them.

Which is why we receive frequent tests each morning. “Write your name on the ‘graded by’ line,” Rice tells us when we correct each other’s papers. “Do not grade ahead, you are not that smart. Yet.”

No kidding. I’ve covered baseball for 25 years and have seen more than 2,000 games at the major league level. I’ve watched countless others on TV. I know the game. And I get 20 percent of the questions correct on one test.

The article is certainly worth a read, and I hope to give you a better picture of what a Midwest League umpire’s life is like in the next few days.

MUSICAL GUEST

JJ Grey…take it away!

Thanks for reading. If you’d like to get in touch, you can reach me at Couzens@TinCaps.com or on Twitter @MikeCouzens.

MCsig

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