February 2014

Prospect Previews: Week One

At Parkview Field the approach of Opening Day doesn’t just mean waiting for snow to melt off the field and the end of Johnny’s annual Canadian vacation, but it also means looking ahead to the players that might make up the TinCaps roster this season. As we did last year to critical acclaim (Thanks, Mom!) here on “It’s All Relative”, it’s “Prospect Previews” back by popular demand (Thanks again, Mom!). I’ll preview five prospects per week for the next five weeks through the end of March. There’s no particular order to these previews, whether by position or alphabetical order. If you have any questions on any players you think I left out or who you’d like to know more about ,please let me know via email (Couzens@TinCaps.com) or on Twitter, where I’m @MikeCouzens. Don’t forget…only 36 days until opening day.

Prospect-Preview-2014

Luis Tejada

The 2013 season was one of adventure for Luis Tejada, who was fresh off of a transition from being an outfielder to being a first baseman. In 2012, playing in 46 games with the Arizona League Padres, he primarily played first base, but the level of competition and short length of that league’s season don’t provide the same type of baseball climate as the Midwest League does. For the first two years of his career, Tejada, a native of the Dominican Republic, had been an outfielder, and this was his first full season at first base.

On the defensive side of things, it was nearly impossible for me to tell that Tejada was not a native first baseman. His instincts and defensive ability on balls hit his way were very good, making him a reliable, everyday option for Manager Jose Valentin.

The downside of Tejada came on offense where he hit a meager .227, the second-lowest mark among regular players. Only Brian Adams’ .211 had a lower average among everyday players. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Tejada start the 2014 season in Fort Wayne in an effort to improve his bat. The tough part of that, of course, is that hitters say it’s not easy to hit in the Midwest League in April with the frigid temperatures. Tejada, at worst, will be a good defensive anchor for the 2014 TinCaps.

Franchy Cordero

Although there’s not much depth at shortstop in the Padres minor leagues (although 2012 TinCaps  SS Jace Peterson does stand out), Cordero has shown quite a good bit of promise in his two years as a pro, especially with his bat.

The 19-year-old began his Padres tenure in 2012 with the Dominican Summer League team, managed by new TinCaps manager Michael Collins, and hit .270 with a .372 OBP. He also struck out 73 times in 61 games. In 2013 Cordero moved up to the Arizona League club, again with Collins, and raised his average to .333 with a .381 OBP and was 11-for-11 in stolen bases. His batting average was the fourth-highest in the AZL and he led his team in average, triples, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and stolen bases. MadFriars.com named him their 2013 Prospect of the year from the AZL, writing:

“Cordero, 19, may be the most exciting Padres Latin American prospect since Rymer Liriano came to the States. He led the AZL Padres in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and stolen bases with 11 in 11 attempts. The six-foot-three Dominican is considered to have the speed, quickness and hands to play shortstop. His stroke can get a little long, but he has more tools than the local Home Depot.” 

And in the 2014 Prospect Handbook, Baseball America says he’s their choice for breakout prospect of 2014 in the Padres system: “…Rare lefty-hitting Dominican infielder shows quick-twitch athleticism and strong tools across the board.”

Ryan Miller

Going into the fall of 2013, all signs pointed to Rodney Daal, who was Fort Wayne’s starting catcher for 79 games last year, returning for a second season in the Midwest League. The multi-lingual backstop was just 19 last season, having celebrated his birthday in late March, and so another season in Fort Wayne certainly wouldn’t be viewed as a setback for him. He has work to do as a signal caller and defender. However, he had off-season Tommy John surgery, which requires a recovery time of 12 months, which means we won’t see him again until 2015.

Enter Miller, who was with the TinCaps for three games last year toward the end of the season (8/28, 8/30, 9/1). After being drafted last June out of San Bernadino (CA) Valley College, he went and played in Eugene for 43 games. His defense was strong, as he threw out 53% (35/66) of attempted basestealers, a mark that lead the Northwest League. He looks like a candidate to begin 2014 in green and white.

Josh VanMeter

Although in franchise history there’s never been a Fort Wayne-born player to suit up for the team (There have been some from other teams, most recently Ryan Wright of Homestead High School (Dayton) and Kevin Kiermaier of Bishop Luers (Bowling Green)), there have been a few close calls. At the end of the 2012 season, the TinCaps had Leo native and left-handed reliever Brandon Alger join the team, but his propensity for getting batters out saw him spend 2013 above the Midwest League.

Last summer all eyes were on Norwell High School star Josh VanMeter, who was selected by the Padres during the fifth round of the 2013 draft. Would he sign? Would he go to Illinois State to play college baseball? That decision had to wait for one big moment in his life—a high school baseball championship game.

VanMeter, drafted by the Padres as a shortstop, pitched seven innings in that championship game against Jasper, leading Norwell to its first state title since 2007, when Jarrod Parker of the Oakland A’s was on the team. After winning the title he made his decision, and just a few days later he was off to Arizona to begin life as a professional baseball player:

“I guess a short term goal would be to end up in Fort Wayne next year,” he told WANE-TV in June. “I’m going to see where things fall into place. I’m going to go out there, work hard, and do what I’ve been doing for the last 18 years.”

We could expect to see him accomplishing that short-term goal in 2014.

In the 2014 Prospect Handbook, Baseball America rated VanMeter as its #31 prospect in the San Diego farm system, writing: “Upper Midwest area scout Mark Conner, the very same who recommended (2012 TinCaps star pitcher) Matt Wisler from Bryan, Ohio, in the 2011 draft, argued successfully for VanMeter in the fifth round in 2013. Hailing from the same Norwell High program that produced Athletics righthander Jarrod Parker, VanMeter opted to turn pro for $308,000 rather than become starting shortstop for Illinois State. The Padres’ player-development staff fell in love with VanMeter’s savvy, makeup and athleticism during the Rookie-level Arizona League season and instructional league in 2013. A two-way player on the high school diamond and also a standout on the basketball court, he showed sound bat-handling skill and a refined approach in his AZL debut, with nearly as many walks (24) as strikeouts (25). The Padres believe VanMeter can stay at shortstop in pro ball because he has solid-average speed, great instincts and enough arm to play the left side of the infield. They also think he’ll fill out his lean 5-foot-11 frame and develop gap power, giving him a chance for a few 50 tools, plus strong on-base skills and perhaps fringy power. VanMeter could join fellow AZL shortstop Franchy Cordero in a middle-infield timeshare at low Class A Fort Wane in 2014.”

Erik Schoenrock

If you asked farm directors around Minor League Baseball for one thing they’d like to have more of on their rosters, I’d bet a lot of them would say that they want quality left-handed pitching. When the Padres selected Memphis Tigers pitcher Erik Schoenrock in the 11th round last June, it looks like they got exactly that.

The Collierville, Tennessee, native, who played for his father, Daron, at Memphis, was named the Conference USA pitcher of the year in 2013. The southpaw has been gaining momentum in his career, following up a 2012 summer in the prestigious Cape Cod Baseball League with a 7-4 record and 3.02 ERA with the Tigers in 2013.

In an article in the Memphis Commercial Appeal, both father and son said being together for Erik’s college career was the right fit:

“He’s gone from a guy trying to figure out ‘Do I fit?’ as a college pitcher to being a professional prospect,” Daron said.

Daron said traditionally strong national programs like Vanderbilt, Baylor, Arkansas and Mississippi State expressed interest in his son coming out of Collierville High. “He was ready to go anywhere. He even took a visit to Vanderbilt.

“Then he took an official visit to see us. I told him this is who we are, this is what we do. I think the visit got him around our players on a more formal basis and he made a decision that he wanted to be part of that.”

Daron said he’s glad he got the opportunity to coach his son and watch his career unfold instead of hearing about it had he chosen another program.

Erik gives his dad a passing grade for handling what could be a difficult situation. But Erik has attempted to do everything he can to make it easy on his father.

“This year he’s seen I’m going to work hard and he treats me like everyone else,” Erik said. “I think he worries more about my grades and if my rent is paid on time.”

Erik said his father has played more the role of “dad than coach” this season, but adds “he balances out playing father and coach really well.”

Last season at Eugene, Schoenrock showed good control in 14 starts, striking out 52 batters and walking 15 in 57 1/3 innings. He also showed a propensity to get ground-ball outs, with a 3.51-to-1 ratio of ground balls to fly balls.

Considering the TinCaps worked with only two lefties last year—starter Max Fried and reliever Chris Nunn—the addition of Schoenrock would be a boost for new skipper Michael Collins.

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First-Round Follies

Having recently received my 2014 copy of Baseball Prospectus in the mail, I was very interested to read Geoff Young’s write-up on the Padres, especially his take on the minor leagues. The Padres are, relatively speaking when compared to the Yankees, Red Sox and top-of-the-mountain teams, a low-budget team when it comes to the amount of money they have available to spend on free agents. Thus, they must build from within and make smart, economical decisions. Young writes:

“The Padres must constantly replenish their system by drafting and developing better players. Questionable choices have undermined recent efforts…Their lat decent first-round pick was Tim Stauffer in 2003. Khalil Green, taken a year earlier, enjoyed a few good seasons. Before that? Sean Burroughs in 1998. Ben Davis in 1995, another disappointment. Dustin Hermanson, 1994? He landed the Padres Qulvio Veras. Derrek Lee, 1993? He fetched Kevin Brown in a trade….We can’t yet judge 2011 to 2013, but the last 10 years are ugly. A team that relies on developing its own cost-controlled talent cannot burn draft picks like matchsticks. Some of this is bad luck, but some is bad process.”

Young includes a table of the last ten first-round picks by San Diego:

1rd picks

Over that ten-year stretch, the franchise has seen three different general managers: Kevin Towers, Jed Hoyer, and now Josh Byrnes, who took over in 2011.

Young goes on to remind readers of players like Jedd Gyorko, Chase Headley, Will Venable, Tommy Medica, Burch Smith, Matt Stites (traded to Arizona), Austin Hedges, and Matt Wisler, who have been successful, despite not being first-round picks.

“All of this doesn’t undo a decade of damage, but it’s a start,” Young writes.

In the Midwest League, having a star player or two certainly helps, but as my counterpatr Tom Nichols in Dayton wisely tweeted:

“That being said, you win or lose in the Midwest League because of roster depth up to and including the 25th man on the club. Everyone plays.”

MUSICAL GUEST

Martin Garrix…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

From Fort Wayne to Fruition: George Kottaras

Welcome to the fifth installment of our new series here on “It’s All Relative”, From Fort Wayne to Fruition, a look at players that have spent time during their minor league careers with either the Wizards or the TinCaps and then have gone on to play Major League Baseball. The word fruition, according to Merriam-Webster, is defined as ”the state of being real or complete”, and for our purposes that’s very fitting. Players reaching the majors have their dream come to fruition, although by no means does that mean their journey is complete. Some of the players in this series have had storied MLB careers, while others have only seen a few games of time in the show. However, the odds of ever making it onto a Minor League Baseball roster, let alone an MLB one, are slim, and so it’s worth recognizing those who have been fortunate and talented enough to reach the apex of professional baseball in the United States.

I’m going to go in no particular order with any of these players, but if you do have any requests, please do let me know and I’ll be happy to accommodate you. (You can reach me at Couzens@TinCaps.com or on Twitter, @MikeCouzens.) As of today, the list of former Fort Wayne players to have reached the majors stands at 118. Some of the more notable alums include LaTroy Hawkins, AJ Pierzynski, Torii Hunter, and David Eckstein, while some names you may not be as familiar with, like Mike Baxter or George Kottaras. Each one of them has a story–where they’re from, how they got to Fort Wayne and, ultimately, how they got to play in Major League Baseball.

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Just imagine…Mean Girls is one of the most popular movies in America, George Bush has just been re-elected for a second term in office, Lance Armstrong has won his sixth Tour de France title, and George Kottaras is playing catcher for the Fort Wayne Wizards. Obviously, one of these events is significantly less important than the other (sorry, Lindsay Lohan).

Kottaras was selected by the Padres in the 20th round of the 2002 MLB draft as a draft-and-follow, and he spent the next year at Connors State College in Warner, Oklahoma. If you’re not familiar with what the draft-and-follow refers to (it’s a since-eliminated option for drafted players), here’s Baseball-Reference.com to explain:

“A draft-and-follow is a player selected usually in the later rounds of the amateur draft by a team that does not intend to offer him a contract immediately . The typical draft-and-follow pick will be attending a junior college or will be a college player with at least a year of eligibility remaining as a player. The team that drafts him has a year to decide whether to offer him a professional contract before the player becomes eligible for the next year’s amateur draft. This allows the drafting team to see him play for another season before making this decision.”

(Much more on the elimination of draft-and-follow can be found here http://mlb.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20070531&content_id=1997066&fext=.jsp, including thoughts from former Padres Vice President of Scouting and Player Development Grady Fuson.)

Kottaras signed with the Padres and headed to Idaho Falls (now a Royals affiliate) for the 2003 season, playing in 42 games with the Padres’ rookie-level club.

The next season Kottaras opened the year with Manager Randy Ready and the Fort Wayne Wizards. Statistically speaking, the catcher put up good numbers: .310, 7 HR, 46 RBI in 78 games. He also did something that most players will never get to do, and that’s represent their “country” in the Olympics. The Canadian-born player has Greek lineage, which allowed him to represent the host country that year:

“Baseball is not big in Greece,” Brewers catcher George Kottaras said. “They’re kind of learning about it. They’re trying to learn the game, basically.”

Kottaras should know. The Canadian played first base and caught for Team Greece seven years ago.

Not surprisingly, Kottaras was one of the very few guys on the team who could actually speak Greek.

“There were only about one or two others,” Kottaras said. “I’m fluent so I was kind of like the tour guide. They wanted me to talk to people for them. It was kind of cool.”

Kottaras’ parents immigrated to Toronto from Greece, but not together. They met in that beautiful international city and George was born almost 28 years ago in Scarborough, Ontario. His heritage and baseball skills made him eminently qualified for the Greek Olympic baseball team.

“I think one of your great-grandparents or something had to be born there,” Kottaras said. “Both of my parents were born there. They were just trying to find people who could play. We had an OK team. It was a good experience for us.”

Not as good as for the Cubans, who won gold, or the Australians, represented by former Brewers Dave Nilsson and Graeme Lloyd, who finished second. But it was certainly better than the Americans, who didn’t even qualify for the Olympics at their own game.

But for two Greek players and a whole bunch of North Americans, it was an encouraging start. Kottaras, who was listed as American-affiliated because he was playing for the Fort Wayne Wizards at the time, had a three-hit game against Italy in the only tournament victory for Team Greece.

What he cherishes most, though, was the goose-bump raising sensation caused when he was part of the Greek delegation that entered the stadium last on opening night to thunderous, emotional cheers of “Hellas, Hellas.”

“The greatest experience was going to the opening ceremonies,” he said. “Everyone was just going nuts. It was a bone-chilling experience I’ll never forget, for sure.”

The lone Greek victory came against Italy that year. Team Greece also had Baltimore Orioles outfielder Nick Markakis on the roster.

Kottaras missed about a month of the season for the Olympics, with a gap in his MiLB stats from July 31st to August 30th. He closed out the season with the Wizards, playing the final eight games of the year with the club.

His progression following that season was much quicker, as he reached Double-A Mobile in 2005, and Triple-A Portland in 2006.

During the middle of the 2006 season, he talked with Baseball America regarding his physical size and defensive skill:

“BA: How about your defense behind the plate? Is there anything you’ve been working on defensively?

GK: I’ve been trying to get my transfer and release down a little better. It’s been tough–like it’s tough to do it in the games because everything’s happening so fast and there are so many factors that can go wrong. So I just try to stay positive with it and look at it as an uphill climb. I just want to keep getting better and climbing uphill.

BA: You take it as a personal challenge when someone tries to steal a bag from you?

GK: Definitely. Everything’s personal. They’re up against you. There’s the pitcher’s speed in how quick he is to the plate–that’s just one factor to consider–but I get mad when someone steals on us. And when someone does, that just re-focuses me for the next time and it kind of fires me up more to get the next guy who tries it.

BA: Some scouts have knocked you in the past because of your size (Kottaras is listed at 6-foot, 190 pounds) at your position. How do you feel your size affects your ability to not only catch, but to also be a productive hitter with power?

GK: I think the size thing is people tend to question my longevity and durability in going through a whole season. Last year was the first time I played an entire full year of full season ball. I worked out probably more this past offseason than I had before to prove that I could do it–to prove that I belong where I am, and I think my numbers both offensively and defensively will speak for themselves when it’s all said and done.”

On August 31,, 2006, he was traded to the Padres in a deal for David Wells, who the Padres hoped would boost their chances for a playoff run. (They got eliminated in the first round by St. Louis.) Here’s what an ESPN.com article said of Kottaras at the time:

“Kottaras, 23, was rated San Diego’s No. 2 prospect by Baseball America before this season. He has a smooth swing and excellent plate discipline, and he posted an exceptional .392 on-base percentage in his first three seasons in the minors.

The main criticisms of Kottaras: He’s a bit undersized for a catcher at 6-0 and 185 pounds, and some baseball talent evaluators question his durability. While Kottaras has a strong throwing arm, his accuracy also comes and goes at times.

Kottaras grew up in Canada and got a late start playing baseball, so the Red Sox think he has some room to refine his game. The Padres, who have Josh Bard and Rob Bowen on their roster along with Mike Piazza, are convinced they’re covered at the catching position for the foreseeable future.

Kottaras began this season hitting .276 in 78 games with San Diego’s Double-A affiliate in Mobile.”

(Side note: Who remembered that Mike Piazza went to the Padres for a year? Even as a Mets fan, I forgot about that.)

At age 24, Kottaras spent his 2007 season at Triple-A Pawtucket (Red Sox), splitting playing time with Kevin Cash. (If you’ve never been to McCoy Stadium in Pawtucket, I highly recommend you make the trip. It’s an older venue, but one of the best in Minor League Baseball, in my opinion.)

McCoy Stadium  - Home of the Pawtucket Red Sox

McCoy Stadium – Home of the Pawtucket Red Sox

The 2008 season saw Kottaras again travel the International League, until it all came to fruition on September 13 when he made his MLB debut against the Toronto Blue Jays. At the time, he was one of four catchers on the Red Sox roster, which presented a bit of a dilemma for then-Manager Terry Francona:

“How he gets into games, or if . . . I really don’t know,” Francona said. “The opportunity may present itself at some point. . . . You’re always trying to strike a balance and trying to stay ahead of everything so that if something comes up you don’t miss an opportunity to maybe get a Kottaras an at-bat. But I don’t know how you can game plan how to get four catchers in a game. Something’s either going to go wrong or terribly right . . . but even if he’s working in the bullpen with Tuck, it’s an exciting time for him.”

When 2009 rolled around, Kottaras made the Red Sox as a backup to Jason Varitek, and was primarily used as the personal catcher for knuckleballer Tim Wakefield.

Former Wizard George Kottaras celebrates a Red Sox win with Tim Wakefield.

Former Wizard George Kottaras celebrates a Red Sox win with Tim Wakefield.

Even in spring training, mastering the art of the knuckleball proved no easy task for the former Midwest League backstop, wrote Adam Kilgore, then of The Boston Globe:

“Twice a day, Kottaras fields a bucket of balls shot through a pitching machine meant to mimic a knuckleball. Those sessions take place with only bullpen coach Gary Tuck and a few fellow catchers watching. This was different. The go-ahead run stood 90 feet away, under the lights, and in front of 11,113 fans, a record for Steinbrenner Field.

“Just trying not to have the anxiety of letting it go by you,” Kottaras said. “Just taking as it is, like with nobody on, basically. Still trying to catch them all and keep them in front.

“You can only work on it so much. Once you’re in the game, it’s a different feel, because you don’t know what the ball is going to do.”

And Wakefield had saved some of his most devilish knuckleballs. He threw one that started at Damon’s stomach and dived to his feet as Damon swung over it. Kottaras stabbed at it, his mitt rubbing the dirt, and caught it. The next knuckler followed a similar trajectory. Again Damon swung through it, and Kottaras caught the ball.

Damon fouled a pitch off and then dribbled an infield single; Gardner scored anyway, but Kottaras’s performance imbued Wakefield with confidence, which Kottaras had been doing all night.

“I’m as comfortable with him as I am with [Kevin] Cash last year,” Wakefield said.”

After that season he was released by the Red Sox and picked up by the Brewers, where he played in 2010, 2011, and 2012. He played for Oakland (27 games) in 2012, too, after being traded for pitcher Fautino De Los Santos. In 2013, he was claimed off waivers by the Royals and played in 46 games for Kansas City. Then, in November of last year he was traded to the Cubs for cash, marking the fourth MLB team he’ll have played for.

This year it looks like the Cubs will aim to have Wellington Castillo as their #1 catching option, with Kottaras as a possible backup:

“Last year veteran Dioner Navarro was an important mentor to Castillo, and he also had a career year at the plate, batting .300 with 13 homers.

Navarro signed with Toronto this off-season, and the Cubs have turned to another veteran, George Kottaras. The 30-year-old Kottaras has played for Boston, Milwaukee, Oakland and Kansas City, putting up a career hitting line of .214/.324.406 with 29 homers.”

Here in Fort Wayne, we’ll continue to follow Kottaras’ career, as we fondly observe the career of the 77th Fort Wayne player to reach the big leagues.

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If you have any memories of Kottaras, please feel free to share them in the comments below.

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MUSICAL GUEST

Red Hot Chili Peppers…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

A Fort Wayne Baseball Mystery

UPDATE: Only the magnet schedules remain. Thanks to everyone who emailed!

When it comes to surprises, not every one you get is a good one. Nobody wants to find out they’ll need a new transmission when they were only going in for an oil change. On the flip side, though, sometimes a surprise can be a good thing. Last week a piece of mail showed up addressed to TinCaps President Mike Nutter. Nothing out of the ordinary, as he gets plenty of mail each day. However, it was the contents of this particular parcel that sparked some chatter around the office.

While this baseball team has been the TinCaps since the 2009 season, the majority of the franchise’s history is as the Fort Wayne Wizards, which existed from 1993-2008. Surely, many baseball fans young and old have fond memories of the team, the players, and summer trips to Memorial Stadium. And we now know that there is at least one fan out there who collected some of those memories and has held onto them…until last week when they showed up in a box at Parkview Field. However, this box  did not come with a return address, and that is where our mystery begins.

This box contained oodles (yes, oodles) of Fort Wayne Wizards memorabilia–some of it autographed. And I ask for your help in finding out who our mystery Wizards (and hopefully TinCaps) fan is. Are you, one of the readers of this blog, the mystery fan? Do you maybe know someone who’d been holding on to some Wizards goodies? I’d like to thank this person for sharing some of the franchise’s baseball past. And, in turn, I will share it with you, as I will be giving away some of the Wizards gear. So please let me know (Couzens@TinCaps.com) if you know who sent this over to us.

Here’s what was in the box:

Two Sean Burroughs (1999) bobbleheads, and a Dinger D. Dragon bobblehead.

Two Sean Burroughs (1999) bobbleheads, and a Dinger D. Dragon bobblehead.

A 2000 Fort Wayne Wizards card set, including a player named Jacob Peavy. You may have heard of him.

A 2000 Fort Wayne Wizards card set, including a player named Jacob Peavy. You may have heard of him.

Dinger Doll

A Dinger D. Dragon doll.

Not one, but two Wizards beach towels.

Not one, but two Wizards beach towels.

Wizards Magnet Schedules

Wizards Magnet Schedules

A copy of the 2000 "Wizards Baseball News", autographed by Cliff Bartos, Gerik Baxter, Tony Cosentino, Vince Faison,Shawn Garrett, Travis Jones, Troy Schader and Todd Shiyuk.

A copy of the 2000 “Wizards Baseball News”, autographed by Cliff Bartos, Gerik Baxter, Tony Cosentino, Vince Faison,Shawn Garrett, Travis Jones, Troy Schader and Todd Shiyuk.

There are also assorted buttons from the 1990 season including those featuring: Barry Bonds (on the Pirates!), Bo Jackson, Dwight Gooden, Howard Johnson, Alan Ashby, Pedro Guerrero, Tom Brunansky, Kevin Elster, Steve Sax, and Chet Lemon.

So, if you want any of these things, shoot me an email Couzens@TinCaps.com, and I’ll either set them aside for you to pick up at the ballpark, or mail them to you–although the bobbleheads will probably break in the mail, so those will have to stay local. It’s my way of saying thank you to anyone who ventures to this section of the internet. With all the cute cat videos and BuzzFeed lists you could be reading instead, I’m flattered that you spend some time with me.

Until next time…put your Sherlock Holmes hat.

MUSICAL GUEST

Mozes and the Firstborn…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

Understanding the 20-80 Scale

After yesterday’s post on the Top-100 Rankings of former TinCaps Max Fried, Austin Hedges, Hunter Renfroe and Matt Wisler, I received an email to the It’s All Relative inbox (Couzens@TinCaps.com) from reader Brian S., a friend of the blog, who wanted to know more about the 20-80 scale mentioned in the article. He writes:

“If I might make a suggestion, it might be worth describing the 20-80 scale a bit more for future publications.  I know Keith Law includes the following:

“I use the 20-80 grading scale in these comments to avoid saying “average” and “above average” thousands of times across the 100 player comments. On that scale, a grade of 50 equals major league average, 55 is above average, 60 is plus, 45 is fringy or below average and so on. Giancarlo Stanton has 80 raw power. David Ortiz has 20 speed. Carlos Gomez is an 80 defender. An average fastball for a right-hander is 90-92 mph, with 1-2 mph off for a lefty.”‘

Great suggestion, Brian.

Bucket hats and visors are not necessary for the job, but a radar gun and a keen eye are.

Bucket hats and visors are not necessary for the job, but a radar gun and a keen eye are.

For more information on the 20-80 scale used by baseball evaluators, I employed the help of a National League scouting executive familiar with the Midwest League. Here’s his breakdown of the system, including some evaluations of two 2013 TinCaps players, Zach Eflin and Hunter Renfroe:

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The 20 – 80 scale provides a contextualized framework for comparison in scouting. For decades, it has been ingrained as a scouting industry standard for grading, much like “A – F” has been established in elementary schools. 20 – 80 grades can be digested as ordinal data; by its very nature a 70 is better than a 60, which is better than a 50, so on and so forth.

The most important feature of the scale is that it establishes a clear baseline for Major League Average – 50. As a scout, your ability to comprehend Major League Average and identify/assess what it looks like is of paramount importance. In scouting, the characteristics of an outfielder’s throw or a pitcher’s curveball are best communicated by how they compare to average.

The Major League Scouting Bureau has defined each grade as follow:

80: Excellent

70: Very Good

60: Good

50: Major League Average

40: Below Average

30: Well Below Average

20: Poor

In scouting, we do not solely make an assessment on the overall player, but rather we grade his tools in isolation. This is done to depict a more accurate representation of a player’s abilities. At a minimum, a scout will grade out each of a position players tools – hit, power, throw, field, speed. For pitchers, a scout would assess each pitch type in a repertoire as well as his command of those pitches. As the saying goes, we like to break the player down, before building him back up. There are much more advanced concepts in regards to mechanics, performance, projection, development, but to purely “fill in the boxes” – a scout must be able to assess the tools on a 20 – 80 scale.

Scouting is not the only industry in which the 20 – 80 scale has been adopted. We also see the scale used in the SAT Reasoning Test administered to High School students seeking higher education. Each interval between grades represents a gap of one standard deviation from average, assuming the population approximates a normal distribution.

A key feature of a scouting report is that the tools will be assessed with two values – a present grade, and a future grade. The present grade is traditionally interpreted as how a specific tool would play in the Major Leagues today. Younger players, whom still have development ahead of them, will typically have present tool grades below Major League Average. For example, RHP Zach Eflin’s slider would be graded out as a 40/50. Although it shows glimpses of being a quality breaking ball, present inconsistencies of shape, tilt, spin, and break would lead one to assess it as a present below average slider. With normal development, Eflin should become increasingly comfortable throwing the pitch – mastering it so to speak, and one could envision it developing into Major League Average breaking ball in the future.

The need for development and disparities between present/future grades becomes even more evident with hitters. For example, Tincaps OF Hunter Renfroe demonstrates the swing mechanics necessary to be an above average hitter at the Major League level. That being said, his success in the Major Leagues will depend greatly upon his ability to adjust to more advanced pitching as he escalates through a minor league system. If Hunter were to be promoted to the Major League team today, he may very well be overmatched by the overall quality of Major League pitching. One would be hard pressed to believe that at the current stage of his career, Hunter would be anything better than a below average hitter at the Major League level. While he accrues at bats and slowly becomes introduced to better pitching, Hunter should hone in and improve his skills such as pitch recognition and at bat management. Pair that development with his present tools, and undoubtedly Hunter should have the ingredients necessary to be an above average Major League hitter in the future.

**********

Hopefully that helps you in your understanding of what scouts and talent evaluators mean when they grade a player. The last paragraph of this write-up is the most important one when it comes to understanding and grading the Midwest League, in my opinion. Without a future grade, every player in the Midwest League would seem to be unfit for the Major League Baseball level. When drafting and scouting, it’s finding the ones that have the tools to make it work four or five years down the road that can help a franchise.

That’s it for now. Hope you’re enjoying the weather today, wherever you may be. Here’s what’s going on at Parkview Field:

DJ TinCat, awoken from his winter hibernation, enjoys the Parkview Field snow.

DJ TinCat, awoken from his winter hibernation, enjoys the Parkview Field snow.

MUSICAL GUEST

Gavin DeGraw…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

Former TinCaps Fried, Hedges, Renfroe, and Wisler on Top Prospects Lists

As we wade through the chilly, snow-filled days of February, we look outside and cringe–ice-covered sidewalks, snowbanks taller than the elementary school children that stand next to them, waiting for the bus to arrive…if there is school that day.

But fear not, friends, as of today, February 4th, Opening Day for the 2014 season is just 58 days away, and the warmth of summer nights at the ballpark is not far off. And to get you a bit closer, at least in your mind, to the baseball season, I present good news: three former TinCaps were recently named to MLB.com’s Top 100 Prospects List. They are:

#24 Catcher Austin Hedges

#43 Left-handed Pitcher Max Fried

#78 Right-Handed Pitcher Matt Wisler

Both Hedges, who is regarded by many as the top defensive catcher in Minor League Baseball, and Wisler, came through Fort Wayne in 2012. Fried was here for all of 2013.

As you read these rankings, keep in mind that the standard scouting scale runs 20-80, with 20 being the worst and 80 being the best. Here’s what MLB.com had to say about each player.

HEDGES:

“Scouting Grades: Hit: 50 | Power: 50 | Run: 40 | Arm: 65 | Field: 65 | Overall: 60

Even coming out of high school, Hedges was known as an elite defender behind the plate. He may be the best defensive catcher in the Minor Leagues, and he has shown he has the tools to impact the game on both sides of the ball. He reached Double-A San Antonio in 2013, his second professional season, and ended the year with a strong showing in the Arizona Fall League.

Hedges is the complete package behind the plate, with quiet hands, good footwork and a strong arm. He is not an all-glove, no-bat player, however. His balanced swing produces line drives to all fields and he has good raw power. Like most catchers, he is a below-average runner.

Hedges still has room to develop on both sides of the ball, but he is well on his way to reaching his projection as an everyday catcher in the Major Leagues.”

Hedges hit .279 with 10 home runs in Fort Wayne in 2012, and won a Texas League title with San Antonio in 2013.

Hedges hit .279 with 10 home runs in Fort Wayne in 2012, and won a Texas League title with San Antonio in 2013.

FRIED:

“Scouting Grades: Fastball: 60 | Curveball: 65 | Changeup: 50 | Control: 50 | Overall: 60

Fried was teammates with Lucas Giolito in high school, and when injury befell Giolito in their senior season, Fried became the top high school pitcher selected in the 2012 Draft. He spent his first full professional season in Class A Fort Wayne, where his 7.6 strikeouts per nine innings ranked second among starters in the Midwest League.

All three of Fried’s pitches project to be at least Major League-average offerings. His fastball sits in the low 90s and routinely touches 95 mph. Scouts believe there is still projection in his wiry frame. His power curveball is his best offspeed pitch, and his changeup has improved since his amateur days.

Fried has a good pickoff move and earns high marks for his athleticism. He has had some control problems as a professional, but he should be able to straighten those out as he gets more experience.”

Making all but one of his scheduled starts for the TinCaps in 2013, Fried showed off why he's one of the best left-handed prospects in all of Minor League Baseball.

Making all but one of his scheduled starts for the TinCaps in 2013, Fried showed off why he’s one of the best left-handed prospects in all of Minor League Baseball.

WISLER:

“Scouting Grades: Fastball: 60 | Curveball: 45 | Changeup: 60 | Control: 60 | Overall: 55

Due to his Ohio State commitment, Wisler was a difficult sign in the 2011 Draft. But the Padres went well-above slot to get a deal done with their seventh rounder and are now reaping the benefits. He reached Double-A San Antonio as a 20-year old in 2013 and is one of the fastest rising pitching prospects in baseball.

Wisler throws his fastball in the low- to mid-90s with good movement. His slider is his best secondary pitch and he also throws a changeup and curveball. He commands all of his pitches very well, walking 2.2 batters per nine innings in his first two full Minor League seasons.

Wisler earns praise for his poise and work ethic. He has already pitched his way onto the fast track and has the Padres excited to see how good he can be.”

Wisler dominated the Midwest League in 2012, finishing third in ERA with a 2.53 mark.

Wisler dominated the Midwest League in 2012, finishing third in ERA with a 2.53 mark.

—-

The MLB.com rankings did not include 2013 first-round draft pick Hunter Renfroe, taken 13th overall out of Mississippi State University by San Diego, who played with the TinCaps this year, but Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com did address that in a Q&A:

“One of the things I love the most about doing these rankings is the passion fans show for certain organizations or specific players. Invariably, we get a lot of “How could Prospect X not be on this list?” kind of comments. Patrick, to be fair, seems to be just asking for an explanation.

I don’t think Renfroe is that far off. I could have mentioned him in the question above, but I knew this one was coming. And I did include the Padres’ 2013 first-round pick in my Beyond the Top 100 discussion on my blog. If Renfroe gets off to a good start in his first full season, I could easily see him climbing into the Top 100 as the year progresses.

The tools are definitely all there. I think everyone just wants to see how it translates to the pro game — against more advanced pitching — before completely buying into Renfroe as a Top 100 guy. There have been some questions about his bat, whether he’ll hit enough for his other tools to come into play, but a solid first full campaign should quiet those doubts.”

Over on ESPN.com (Insider Subscription Required $$$), Keith Law did put Renfroe in his Top 100. Here’s how his rankings and analysis panned out:

#33 HEDGES

“The minors’ premier defensive catcher is one of the best bets on the list to have a long MLB career, although it remains to be seen what kind of role he has. His glove will keep him playing as long as he’s healthy, regardless of whether or not he hits, but he has the raw power to become an impact bat for the position as well.

Hedges is as natural and smooth a receiver as any in the minors, with one of the strongest and most accurate arms as well. At the plate, he’s reduced his stride and is more balanced than he was a year ago, still showing big-time rotation and loft in his swing, but his power wasn’t evident on the field this year, only in BP, although some of that may have been a hangover from getting hit on the left hand with a pitch in early May. His contact rates are very strong for a hitter so young, as he was well below the Cal League median for strikeout rate despite being the second-youngest position player in the league after Addison Russell, so it’s about getting into better counts to drive the ball, not an inability to hit.

He’s ranked here because I see 20-25 homer power potential with a .250-.260 average, which, with plus defense, would make him an All-Star.”

#39 WISLER

“The Padres’ seventh-round selection in 2011 had a solid full-season debut in 2012, but last year was his coming out party as he improved in just about every possible way, from stuff to command to confidence on the mound.

Wisler works with two plus pitches already, a fastball at a legit 93-96 mph and a slider that’s a grade 60 or a 70, working consistently in the bottom of the zone and showing no fear when attacking hitters on the inner half or even when falling behind in the count. The main knock on Wisler is his delivery, as he doesn’t use his lower half as much as he should and he pronates his pitching arm late, with his front foot already touching the ground. That leads to some inconsistency in his slot, but he hasn’t had any trouble yet with command or control, only with his feel for his changeup, which he can’t turn over properly when his arm drifts down.

He’s an 80-grade competitor and a diligent worker, giving him a better chance than most pitchers to reach his ceiling, which for him is a No. 2 starter who can handle 200-plus innings a year.”

#48 FRIED

“Fried had a good but not ideal first full year in pro ball, showing improved stuff and staying healthy but struggling more with command than anyone might have anticipated.

He worked in the low 90s all year but showed he can reach back for 96 when he needs it, and both his curveball and changeup will show plus, with the curveball a solid 65 or 70 on the 20-80 scale. Fried is extremely athletic with a loose if slightly long arm action, taking a good long stride toward the plate and turning over his pitching hand in plenty of time to bring it forward. He can repeat his delivery, but has a habit of nibbling as if he didn’t have power stuff, trying to be too fine when he should try to blow a hitter away with velocity or a curveball breaking down and away from a left-handed hitter.

He’s very competitive with great makeup, so no one doubts he’ll make this adjustment in time and cut his walk rate as he moves up; he’ll have to do so to continue to project as a future No. 2 starter.”

#94 RENFROE

“Renfroe had two nondescript seasons at Mississippi State before breaking out in the spring of 2013, which helped push him to the top half of the first round of the draft once he had some results to go with his plus power and speed tools.

He is broad-shouldered with a solid build and has the plus-plus power you’d expect from a guy that size. His swing is very rotational, with a good stride into the ball and excellent follow-through to generate all of that power. He lifts his back foot off the ground at contact, which isn’t ideal since it means he’s hitting entirely off his front foot, something a few good big league hitters have done but that most don’t.

He’s a plus runner with a strong arm and should be an excellent defender in right, saving up to 10 runs per season between his glove and his arm. The question on Renfroe, and it’s a significant one, is his pitch recognition and the resulting trouble he has making contact; he doesn’t pick up spin that well, and pitchers can change speeds on him to get him off balance, all of which (plus fatigue) seemed to catch up to him in his very brief time in low Class A last season.

Right now, he projects as a low-average, power-speed guy, a No. 5- or 6-hole hitter who adds a lot of value on defense and on the bases — but he’ll have to improve his contact rates to get there.”

Renfroe played in 43 games during his debut season of 2013, 18 of those in a TinCaps uniform.

Renfroe played in 43 games during his debut season of 2013, 18 of those in a TinCaps uniform.

Having watched each of these players, I agree more with Law’s analysis than with MLB.com’s. I don’t have the expertise to evaluate players like scouts do, but I certainly think Law’s notes on Hedges’ receiving ability, Wisler’s competitiveness and Fried’s accuracy are spot-on.

Whatever value you give to these rankings (20? 80?), it’s a good sign that former TinCaps are being recognized on a national level. It means that future MLB talent is funneling through Fort Wayne and at a rate higher than it does in most other minor league cities. The Padres place a high value on having their prospects play at Parkview Field because of the large crowds, which simulate a big-league envionrment, the great facilitiy, and the high level of play in the Midwest League. Dating back to 1999 when Fort Wayne began its affiliation with San Diego, Renfroe is the 26th supplemental first round or first-round pick of the Padres to be sent to Fort Wayne.

And remember…Opening Day 2014 at Parkview Field is just 58 days away!

MUSICAL GUEST

Of Monsters and Men…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

From Fort Wayne to Fruition: Cliff Bartosh

Welcome to the fourth installment of our new series here on “It’s All Relative”, From Fort Wayne to Fruition, a look at players that have spent time during their minor league careers with either the Wizards or the TinCaps and then have gone on to play Major League Baseball. The word fruition, according to Merriam-Webster, is defined as ”the state of being real or complete”, and for our purposes that’s very fitting. Players reaching the majors have their dream come to fruition, although by no means does that mean their journey is complete. Some of the players in this series have had storied MLB careers, while others have only seen a few games of time in the show. However, the odds of ever making it onto a Minor League Baseball roster, let alone an MLB one, are slim, and so it’s worth recognizing those who have been fortunate and talented enough to reach the apex of professional baseball in the United States.

I’m going to go in no particular order with any of these players, but if you do have any requests, please do let me know and I’ll be happy to accommodate you. (You can reach me at Couzens@TinCaps.com or on Twitter, @MikeCouzens.) As of today, the list of former Fort Wayne players to have reached the majors stands at 118. Some of the more notable alums include LaTroy Hawkins, AJ Pierzynski, Torii Hunter, and David Eckstein, while some names you may not be as familiar with, like Mike Baxter or George Kottaras. Each one of them has a story–where they’re from, how they got to Fort Wayne and, ultimately, how they got to play in Major League Baseball.

And today we do take a look back at Cliff Bartosh, who was a member of the Wizards during the 1999 and 2000 seasons, and most recently in his pro baseball career served as the strength and conditioning coach for the TinCaps during the 2012 season.

The following is a story that I wrote on Bartosh during that summer, with an update on his current whereabouts at the end:

It took two weeks for the phone to ring. Nearly 14 days had gone by before Cliff Bartosh found out he had been selected in the 29th round of the 1998 Major League Baseball draft by the San Diego Padres. Bartosh had aspirations of playing professional baseball, but wasn’t sure he’d be headed down that road. A phone call from late Padres scout Jim Dreyer changed Bartosh’s plans. He was scheduled to head to Texas Tech on a baseball scholarship, but instead chose to follow his dream and report to the Padres training complex in Peoria, Arizona.

“I started out as a first baseman and pitched a little bit (in high school). My junior year I might’ve thrown 12 or 13 innings for our varsity team. My senior year, maybe about 20 innings,” Bartosh said one afternoon while sitting in the home dugout at Parkview Field. “(Dreyer) said he never saw me pitch in high school, he only saw me take infield. So he only saw me throw the ball from first base, and he drafted me off of that. I didn’t know when the draft was.”

Cliff Bartosh’s life in baseball has revolved around other people dictating his path.

He made his way through the minor leagues with the Padres, and played at Memorial Stadium with the Fort Wayne Wizards in both 1999 and 2000. Although he was in the San Diego organization from 1998 until 2003, he didn’t make the big leagues with the Padres.

“After the ’03 season, (the Padres) sent me to the Arizona Fall League. I probably had the worst Arizona Fall League that anybody’s ever had in the history of that league. I just did absolutely terrible. (The Padres) end up with maybe a week left in the Arizona Fall League, and they take me off the 40-man roster and I’m picked up by Detroit. I go into the off season a Detroit Tiger. About December, I get a call from the Cleveland Indians saying, ‘We just claimed you off of waivers.’ I didn’t even know I had been placed on waivers,” Bartosh vividly recalls.

Cleveland, under then-General Manager Mark Shapiro, called Bartosh up from Triple-A Buffalo to make his major league debut on May 15, 2004, against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. In March of 2005, Bartosh was traded to the Chicago Cubs for pitcher Ronald “Bear” Bay. Once again, Bartosh’s destiny fluttered in the wind.

Bartosh pitched in the big leagues for the Cubs in 2005, but eventually underwent surgery for a torn labrum and rotator cuff, and by August of 2006 he hadn’t thrown a baseball in a year.

Cliff Bartosh played in 53 MLB games during his two seasons in the majors.

Cliff Bartosh played in 53 MLB games during his two seasons in the majors.

“I went home to Texas and my wife got a job teaching. I had no college at that point, and started going to school,” Bartosh says. “It’s weird because to that point, I had done (the baseball routine) for eight to nine seasons. It was the only quote-unquote job I had to that point. I had a wife and a son at that time, and I felt like I can’t just sit and wait for my arm to get better.”

While staying at home to be with his son, Bartosh took online classes at Dallas (Texas) County Community College. He studied government and history, and later transferred in 2008 to the University of Texas at Arlington, enrolling in the exercise science program.

“I got that degree when I was 30, and most guys (in school) were 18 to 22,” Bartosh says. “I got that degree and then decided, ‘Maybe I don’t want to be a strength coach.’ I got an alternative teaching certification. I took some tests to get a science endorsement, an ESL endorsement and a health endorsement.”

He became Mr. Bartosh, teaching at a middle school in his hometown of Duncanville, Texas.

“I taught a class called ‘Skills for Success’. I really don’t know what it was about. I had a set curriculum that I was supposed to teach and I did. My wife made fun of it because there was a chapter in the book that was on how to use a microwave. I didn’t have to teach that one; I didn’t feel it was necessary,” he remarks with a grin.

It was after that stint, and some time spent as an 8th grade science instructor, Bartosh decided to pack up his house, his belongings and his life, and head in a different direction.

“I’m sitting there teaching, and I’m feeling like I’m not really making an impact on these kids. I have a house and I’m living very comfortably. The more I read the gospels, the more I realized we’re maybe not supposed to be that comfortable. In the book of Mark, there’s the parable of the rich, young ruler. Christ says, ‘Sell everything, give to the poor and follow me.’”

“I’ve got a good house, a great job that pays the bills and all that, and we decided that we’re gonna sell our house and I started reaching out to people in baseball and I was fortunate that the big league strength coach here in San Diego, Jim Malone, was a minor league coordinator in Cleveland. I sent them my resume and they were crazy enough to hire me,” he says, mesmerized.

As strength and conditioning coach for the TinCaps during the 2012 season, Bartosh provided the advice of a former player, something rarely found in his position.

As strength and conditioning coach for the TinCaps during the 2012 season, Bartosh provided the advice of a former player, something rarely found in his position.

In his first year as the strength and conditioning coach with the TinCaps, Bartosh has a connection with the players that not many do—he’s one of their kind. He knows what it’s like to give up the game-tying home run, or to feel like your pitches just don’t work. He’s been there time and time again, but on someone else’s calendar. He’s now deciding his own fate, and making a difference on his time. No longer Mr. Bartosh, he’s just Cliff.

“It was very refreshing to get rid of everything that ties you down to an area. So now that I have no ties anywhere, really. Someone asked me where I was going to live in the off-season. I have no idea. I really don’t know where I’ll end up. I’m enjoying this. This is great. You get to develop relationships with players, with coaches, with other staff and hopefully that leads to lifelong friendships.”

**********

At the end of the 2012 season, with about a week to go, Bartosh had another change of heart, deciding that the baseball route wasn’t where he was meant to be, and he decided to move back home to Texas. For those uninitiated with the Midwest League schedule, it entails playing 140 games in 152 days, and off days are more often used for laundry and sleep than anything else (at least from my experience). Bartosh had moved his family (wife and child) to Fort Wayne, and found that even with them in town, he was away too often for his own liking, and probably theirs, too.

From a personal standpoint, I was disappointed to see him leave the team. Cliff was one of the most well-spoken and thoughtful people I’ve met in my time in baseball, and he was a good person to chat with, especially on bus rides, where we sat across from one another. Seating on the team bus is a bit like seating in a college classroom–once you pick your seats for the first road trip, that’s your seat for the rest of the season. He had some pretty good stories from his playing days, too. In this game, friendship is a hard balance. Our human tendency is to gravitate toward those who are similar to us and become friends with them, and to become close. But baseball makes one wary of that choice, with the possibility that injury, promotion, demotion, or any variety of other reasons could mean that friend is gone the next day.

It took a few different Google searches to track down his current whereabouts, but I found him back at his alma mater in Duncanville, Texas, where he is both a teacher and baseball coach. Through email, he told me that he is teaching construction, “mostly residential carpentry with some electrical,” he wrote. He’s also an assistant coach for the high school’s baseball team.

It seems as though with Bartosh, there are no lingering “What if?” questions. What if I’d made it to the big leagues? What if I’d stayed healthy? What if….

Those questions all have answers, and now he’s happy at home, with his family, and doing what he enjoys.

**********

MUSICAL GUEST

Paramore…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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