March 2014

Prospect Previews: Week Five

Welcome to the fifth and final edition of “Prospect Previews” as we get set for the 2014 baseball season, which is a mere eight days away. This week, a look at five more players who might make an impact on the 2014 TinCaps. In case you’ve missed any of the first four weeks, here’s all you need to get caught up:

Prospect Previews Week One

Prospect Previews Week Two

Prospect Previews Week Three

Prospect Previews Week Four

Prospect-Preview-2014

From last week–a good story from MLive.com on TinCaps Manager Michael Collins and West Michigan Whitecaps Manager Andrew Graham, both from Australia, who have known each other since childhood and will face off against one another 19 times this season in the Midwest League:

“The two have been baseball ambassadors and played and managed in the Australian Baseball League, which is supported by Major League Baseball.

Graham, 31, played catcher for Australia in two World Baseball Classics, was an assistant coach for the Sydney Blue Sox and, for the past three seasons, has managed the short-season Class A Connecticut Tigers.

He was drafted in the 19th round by the Tigers in 2003, and reached as high as Toledo in 2007.

Collins, 29, managed Canberra Calvary of the ABL for two seasons, and also played those two seasons, winning the batting title in 2010-11. In 2012-13 the team won the Claxton Shield as ABL champs.

Collins spent 10 seasons in the minor leagues, reaching Triple-A in 2009 and 2010 seasons. He managed San Diego’s affiliate in the Rookie-level Arizona League in 2013.

The ABL 40-game season runs November to February with games Thursday through Sunday.

That will be a far cry from the 140-game season awaiting the two in the Midwest League this season. And even further from their youth, when the two first squared off in junior programs in neighboring Canberra and Sydney.

They will meet for the first time Friday, April 25, when the Whitecaps host the TinCaps for a three-game series.

“At this point, we aren’t talking like we used to,” Collins said. “But I dare say we’ll get together for a couple dinners and maybe a few beers during the season when we play each other.”’

Also of note is that as the Padres go through spring training and trim their roster, both at the Major and Minor League levels, there are cuts to be made. One of those cuts, as announced by the Padres on Friday, was the release of pitcher Tyler Hale. I wrote of Hale last week:

“If…Tyler Hale finds himself in Fort Wayne–a likely option considering he played in Eugene and Arizona last year–he’ll be one of the oldest players on the roster.”

Realistically, that’s never a good sign–you don’t want to be the oldest player on a Midwest League roster unless you’re an MLB rehab player. Happy trails, Mr. Hale.

Prospect-Preview-2014

Coby Cowgill

Although he wasn’t originally drafted by the Padres, there’s something San Diego likes in the former Rangers farmhand. Cowgill, who played for three years at the Virginia Military Institute, was selected in the 23rd round of the 2012 draft by Texas, but was released May 17 of 2013, and signed by the Padres not long afterward.

Photo via @CobyCowgill_RHP

Photo via @CobyCowgill_RHP

From a Q&A on VMIKeydets.com, Cowgill describes his experience of his first pro season:

Q: Coby, you played with three different teams in this, your first professional season. First off, can you tell us something about each location, about each level you played at (positives, lessons learned, etc)?

A: I began my professional career in Spokane, Washington playing for the Spokane Indians. It was my first time ever spending an extended period of time on the West Coast; the only other time I had been there was when we played at Oregon State my sophomore year.  Spokane is much different than Virginia, the people, climate, wildlife, but the mountains did remind me a bit of Lexington. In Spokane, I was fortunate enough to live with my Aunt and Uncle who live in nearby Idaho, about 20 minutes from the ballpark.  It was a blessing in disguise because I had not seen them in quite some time, and it was nice to reconnect and spend some time with them.  The ballpark and fan base in Spokane was unlike anything I had ever been a part of; they love Indians baseball, which made it very exciting to go to the ballpark each night. Unfortunately my time in Spokane was cut short due to an injury and I was reassigned to Surprise, Arizona.
In Arizona I rehabbed my shoulder for two weeks and eventually joined the AZL Rangers team. Arizona was unlike any place I had ever been, it was unusual to be surrounded by desert as far as you could see, with the only grass on the ball field or golf course. Not to mention the heat, just imagine a blow dryer being blown in your face constantly, I definitely missed the cool breezes.  The craziest weather of all had to be the random dust storms that blanketed the air with red clay, yet we still played through them. After about a month in Arizona, I got the call to return to the East Coast.
With about three weeks left in the regular season I joined the Hickory Crawdads, meeting up with them on the road in Hagerstown, Maryland.  I was very excited to get to A-ball because I was back healthy and ready to compete against the highest level of competition so far in my young career. Hickory was a nice change from Arizona; I missed playing in stadiums in front of crowds every night, plus my family was able to see me play professionally for the first time.  During my time as a part of the Crawdads I got the first taste of a playoff race, despite falling just short and returning to the VMI shortly after the completion of the regular season.

After being signed by the Padres last summer, Cowgill spent some time in extended spring training and was then assigned to short-season Eugene. He began his time there as a reliever, but as the season wound down, he ended up in the starting rotation for seven games.

Looking at his numbers between being a reliever and a starter, he fared quite well in the rotation:

Reliever: 10G, 17.2 IP, 10BB, 18K, Groundball-to-Flyball ratio 2.56-to-1

Starter: 7G, 37.1IP, 10BB, 44K, Groundball-to-Flyball ratio 1.92-to-1

If Cowgill ends up with the TinCaps (he’ll be 23 on Opening Day), he looks like a viable option at starter or out of the bullpen.

Jimmy Brasoban

A telling sign for many foreign-born prospects is how they play in their first season coming over to the United States. The transition from either the Dominican Summer League or the Venezuelan Summer League is a Grand Canyon-sized leap in talent, and the transition is never an easy one, and talent is not guaranteed to translate from one league to another.

Photo via Padres.scout.com

Photo via Padres.scout.com

For Jimmy Brasoban, his transition to the United States was a positive one, although it included his fair share of struggles. The righty, who was 19 for the majority of last year, spent his entire season in Eugene’s starting rotation. The one number that jumps out is that he allowed 10 home runs in 58.1 innings, but the rest look good for a first US season:

2-3, 4.17 ERA, 13GS, 58.1 IP, 44H, 33R, 27ER, 39K, 23BB, .212 AVG Against

He was named a Northwest League All-Star following the season, and was among Padres pitchers selected to go to the prospect mini-camp prior to Spring Training this year. Here’s what Padres blog MadFriars said about his season, calling him their top prospect from that club:

“The teenaged hurler from the Dominican had ups and downs in his first stateside campaign, but his filthy slider has the makings of a true plus pitch. As he gets more familiar with commanding the pitch in the zone, his strikeout totals should go up and ERA drop. “

From conversations and observations I’ve had in the last few years, it seems like pitchers can survive in the Midwest League on two pitches. Most of them get by with a fastball and some form of a slider or curve. The challenge lies, once they reach this level, in developing that third pitch–usually a changeup–into one they can comfortably throw in a variety of situations. If Brasoban has two pitches down, he looks like he’ll be a fit for the TinCaps.

Michael Kelly

According to this extremely detailed analysis of draft results, more than 70% of players selected in either the first or supplemental first round of the MLB draft will make it to the major leagues. This means that as a first-round or supplemental first-round pick, almost any team would have agreed that that player had a chance to reach the majors.

Picking a round number, lets go back five years and look at San Diego’s first-round and supplemental first-round draft choices, and see where those players have reached:

Year – Player Name – (Highest Level Reached)

2008

Allan Dykstra – (Double-A)

Jaff Decker – (MLB)

Logan Forsythe – (MLB)

2009

Donavan Tate – (Advanced-A…It’s a long story)

2010

Karsten Whitson – Did not sign

2011

Cory Spangenberg (Double-A)

Joe Ross (Fort Wayne)

Michael Kelly (Fort Wayne)

Brett Austin – Did not sign

Jace Peterson (Advanced-A)

2012

Max Fried (Fort Wayne)

Zach Eflin (Fort Wayne)

Travis Jankowski (Advanced-A)

Walker Weickel (Fort Wayne)

2013

Hunter Renfroe (Fort Wayne)

Let’s take a closer look and just talk about the 2011 class.

Spangenberg, who missed six weeks with concussion symptoms in 2012, is on track for Triple-A this season. Ross, who spent this last year in Fort Wayne after being limited to just six starts because of injury in 2012, looks like he’ll start 2014 in Lake Elsinore. Peterson, who tore up the basepaths in the Cal League with Lake Elsinore last year, should also advance, making his way to Double-A.

Michael Kelly, who has been on the Fort Wayne roster each of the last two seasons, has not pitched in a Midwest League game later than June.

Michael Kelly, who has been on the Fort Wayne roster each of the last two seasons, has not pitched in a Midwest League game later than June.

That leaves just Kelly as the lone member of the class who’s yet to advance at the same rate as his 2011 peers. At the center of his issues has been just one thing: walks. I think this question from a Matt Eddy chat on Baseball America’s website sums up Kelly’s standing quite well:

"AddyMac (Nashville, TN): Is Michael Kelly now considered close to an ORG guy? He continues to show above average velocity and a lot of spin on his breaking ball. His control, command, arm action, and repeating his delivery still seem to hold him back.

Matt Eddy: You hit the nail on the head with 2011 supplemental first-round RHP Michael Kelly. He has the raw stuff to succeed in relief if he can improve his control to say 40 or 45, but he’s not really close to that level after a walk rate of 7.5 BB/9 in 2013.”

When “AddyMac” uses the phrase “ORG guy”, that means “organizational guy”–or a player that teams don’t see as someone with major league potential, but rather someone who can nicely fill out a roster in the minors.

In two seasons as a pro, Kelly has worked 115.0 innings and has walked 90 batters. He’s made two stints with the TinCaps, and neither have been great statistically:

2012: 0-2, 7.53 ERA, 7 G, 14.1 IP, 18 BB, 14 K

2013: 2-1, 5.00 ERA, 15 G, 18.0 IP, 12 BB, 16 K

Control will be the optimal phrase for the former supplemental first-round pick in 2014. All is not lost, but the control must be there soon for Kelly.

It was during the 2013 season that I spoke with Craig Wieczorkiewicz (aka @MWLTraveler), and asked him about players he remembered having struggled in the Midwest League, but who went on to MLB careers. The name that first came to mind was Mike Cameron, who spent 17 years in the majors.

If you look way back to the beginning of Cameron’s career, though, specifically the two seasons he spent with the South Bend White Sox in 1992 (managed by Terry Francona) and 1993, neither of them were jump-off-the-charts good:

1992: .228 AVG, 1 HR, 9 RBI, 37 K in 35 G

1993: .238 AVG, 0 HR, 30 RBI, 101 K in 122 G

Kelly can look to Cameron as inspiration in what might be year three in the Midwest League.

Tayron Guerrero

Coming out of fall instructional league (known in baseball parlance as “instructs”), things looked good for pitcher Tayron Guerrero:

“The most improved pitcher honor went to 21-year-old Tayron Guerrero. Guerrero is pushing 6-foot-8, has a big arm, as evidenced by the multiple occasions where he was clocked at 100 mph.

“He’s a huge kid, a super kid, with a really good arm,” Smith said. “His slider was improved and that’s going to be another weapon for him. He was throwing that 87-90 mph.”

Guerrero will likely be a part of Fort Wayne’s starting rotation in 2013.”

While Guerrero did end up in Fort Wayne in 2013, albeit as a reliever, his stay wasn’t long. He went on the disabled list on April 16th, just 12 days into the season, and didn’t make it back to the TinCaps roster the remainder of the season. His next active duty didn’t come until June 23rd with the Arizona League Padres.

Tayron Guerrero pitches in his only appearance at Parkview Field. (photo by Brad Hand)

Tayron Guerrero pitches in his only appearance at Parkview Field. (photo by Brad Hand)

It was an elbow issue that sidelined him for so long, and he finally made it to Eugene in July, with his first appearance coming on the fifth of that month. Guerrero stands at 6 feet 7 inches tall, and looks to have put on some weight since last year. In 2013, he was listed at a slim 189 pounds, however this year’s Padres media guide has the Colombian righthander checking in at 210 pounds, which hopefully means added muscle to help his body withstand the long baseball season. Guerrero can throw heat–his fastball can easily hit 95 or more on the radar gun–but the problem was he didn’t seem to know where it was going. If he straightens that pitch out, and adds a secondary pitch or two, he can be an asset for the Fort Wayne bullpen.

Bryan Verbitsky

A quick peek at the 2013 draft class for the San Diego Padres reveals that their first three picks won’t be on the mound anytime soon, as they took two outfielders and an infielder. But their fourth overall selection, Bryan Verbitsky out of Hofstra University, is a likely candidate to find his way to the bump at Parkview Field not before long. Verbitsky was selected by San Diego in the third round last June, 86th overall, from a college team that finished the season 26-27 and 11-16 in the Colonial Athletic Association. They were no Mississippi State (Hunter Renfroe, national runner up) or UCLA. The Padres took Verbitsky, although never having worked him out individually, but having seen him as a starter and reliever:

‘”We saw him in both roles and we feel like he as all the ingredients to start,” said Padres assistant general manager Chad MacDonald.

At 6-foot, 205 pounds Verbitsky also played the outfield, but began to focus on his pitching with a consistent 90-mph fastball that he can get up to 97, along with a changeup and slider.”

Working with Eugene last season, Verbitsky made 14 appearances, all of them starts, and went 0-6, but don’t let the record fool you–Eugene’s record of 27-49 was the worst in the Northwest League. He worked 49 1/3 innings, allowed 42 hits, struck out 47 and walked 38.

Verbitsky, who not only went to school on Long Island (N.Y.) but grew up there, didn’t succeed at first as a pitcher:

“Verbitsky laughed at the disjointed way his career has come together, from not being able to throw a strike early on at Island Trees HS (to the point where his dad questioned his coach’s decision to make him into a pitcher) to now being the first pitcher the Padres selected in their draft class.

“I knew they had interest in me but it’s a pleasant surprise to see my name go up there so early,” Verbitsky said in a phone interview. “It’s definitely a surreal feeling, that’s for sure. It’s been an amazing run, honestly, and I’m very grateful for having this opportunity to be able to pitch for the Padres organization.”

Verbitsky started the year coming out of the bullpen but was moved into the starting rotation late in the season as Hofstra tried to make a run at the Colonial Athletic Association Championship, coming up short and missing the post-season. His 11 saves puts him second all-time at Hofstra and his fastball has been clocked in the low 90’s. Verbitsky said he gained a measure of satisfaction at being able to represent a school not known for baseball in the MLB Draft.”
“(He) isn’t overly physical, but he repeats his delivery well and has good arm action. He likely will be able to smooth out some of his rough edges as a professional when he moves exclusively to the mound.”

BLOG PROGRAMMING NOTE

To those of you who have read the blog for the last two years, or any part of that time frame, really, I offer a sincere thanks. It’s a great pleasure for me to write about the TinCaps–and many, many other things– throughout the baseball season, and I hope that you enjoy reading the blog.

This year, I welcome John Nolan, who you will remember from TinCaps broadcasts last year, back to the broadcast team as the Broadcasting and Media Relations Assistant for 2014. John is going to be handling the daily blogging duties in this small corner of the internet this season. I think you will greatly enjoy John’s unique take on all things baseball and otherwise throughout the season. Opening Day, April 3rd, will be his first daily entry, and from there on out it’ll be his space to roam and cultivate. I will still post from time to time, but not with the same frequency as I have in each of the last two years.

You can reach John at Nolan@TinCaps.com or on Twitter at @John_G_Nolan.

MUSICAL GUEST

Justin Timberlake…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

Prospect Previews: Week Four

Can you believe that as of today, Wednesday, March 19th, we’re just 15 days from Opening Day? Baseball will be here before we know it, and we’re playing with or without snow on the ground. Mother Nature’s not going to get in the way of what we’ve all been looking forward to since the end of last baseball season.

This is week four of Prospect Previews, and in case you haven’t been following along since week one, here’s your chance to get caught up:

Week One

Week Two

Week Three

Enjoy!

Prospect-Preview-2014

MAX BEATTY

Too often in sports, we deify and look up to people for the wrong reasons, and put star players on pedestals for achieving feats that, in many ways, came as a result of their natural athletic prowess. That’s not to discount the hard work it takes to be a high-level athlete, but someone who’s only going to grow to 5’1″ is never going to be a star basketball player–there’s a certain element of luck and genetics involved.

In the 2013 draft, the Padres selected Max Beatty, a pitcher from Division III Pacific Lutheran University, who Baseball America had named the top D-III prospect after the 2011 season. What separates Beatty from his peers is that he is a cancer survivor. From Tacoma Weekly:

“I was just seeing signs of stuff,” Beatty said. “I noticed something a while before that but didn’t think much of it. It kind of kept getting a little bit worse.”

It was on Christmas break in 2011 that he was diagnosed with testicular cancer. But instead of letting it discourage him, Beatty tackled the two-month round of chemotherapy – five days a week – with his eyes set on returning to the field. Despite missing the 2012 season at Pacific Lutheran, Beatty got a clear diagnosis that summer and joined the summer league’s Corvallis Knights in June 2012.

“My mindset was, ‘Let’s get this done with and get back to it,’” Beatty said of the cancer treatment. “It was awesome. It’s finally over, I’m healthy and back here doing the thing I love.”

Image via GoLutes.com

Image via GoLutes.com

Beatty’s story is one of perseverance. Surgery…Chemotherapy…Working back to full strength. That’s something that deserves recognition, even if he weren’t an athlete.

While flying this winter, one of the planes I was on experienced significant turbulence, and it forced me to consider my mortality. This was maybe for ten or fifteen minutes, and the odds of anything bad happening were pretty low. For someone battling cancer, I can imagine that’s a daily internal worry–that your life is really not completely in your hands.

On top of all that, it’s no small feat to get drafted as a Division III baseball player. Beatty was selected by the Padres in the 32nd round following his junior season at PLU, where he worked as a starting pitcher, and had three complete games. He split the 2013 pro season between the Arizona League and Eugene, pitching in 21 games–all in relief.

Beatty, who will be 23 on opening day, which will make him one of the oldest players on the roster, looks like he could be a guy with more more to prove in Fort Wayne’s bullpen in 2014.

ADRIAN DE HORTA

Like Fort Wayne-area native Josh VanMeter was a two-way player in his high school days, and ended up as an infielder with the Padres, 2013 eighth-round draft selection Adrian De Horta also played two positions in high school. De Horta, a native of La Puente, California, ended up as just a pitcher, though, once he signed for $425,000, which is $269,000 above the MLB’s slot value for an eighth-round pick. That commitment by the Padres shows how much Josh Byrnes & Co. wanted to have De Horta as a part of the organization.

The 19-year-old De Horta, who just celebrated his birthday on Thursday, the 13th, had committed to play at Cal State-Fullerton, a college baseball powerhouse that finished last season ranked #10 in the country. and is a four-time national champion. He went to South Hills High School, which is the alma mater of former TinCaps Manager (2011) Shawn Wooten, Jason and Jeremy Giambi, Aaron Small, and the late Cory Lidle.

Image via InsideSoCal.com

Image via InsideSoCal.com

Fullteron head coach Rick Vanderhook said this when the school announced its recruiting class: “Adrian is another big right-hander who has ability to mix right into the staff. He has command of three pitches right now with a 90-plus fastball.” De Horta checks in at either 6’3″ or 6’4″, depending on where the info comes from, and is listed at 185 pounds. At his age, he seems to be a great size, with some more room to grow, for a starting pitcher. (For reference, 2013 TinCaps righty Zach Eflin checked in at 6’4″, 200 lbs.)

With Manager Michael Collins in Arizona during the summer of 2013, De Horta started 11 of the 12 games he pitched in, and struck out 41 batters in 31 innings, which was the highest K/9IP ratio on the team among pitchers who worked more than seven innings. If the trend of young arms is to continue for the TinCaps from last year, it looks like De Horta could find himself in the starting rotation.

SAM HOLLAND

If you’re a fan of players from Australia, you’re in luck. Over the years the TinCaps have had a few: Hayden Beard (2010) and Corey Adamson (2011, 2012, 2013), and it looks like they might have another in Sam Holland.

The tall (6’4″, 195 lb) righthander was originally signed by the Padres in October of 2012 and last year made his US debut with the Arizona League Padres. In 27 relief appearances, he went 2-2 with a 2.25 ERA and saved eight games, which ranked him second in the league. His strikeout to walk ratio of 34-6 was also pretty impressive.

In this article, which compares Holland to “cricket’s freakish leg-spinner Shane Warne,” we learn that he has a non-traditional delivery: “

“Holland is not your regular pitcher who releases the ball above the shoulder from a squarer stance on the mound.

He pitches from the side with an action that allows him to put more work on his slider and fast balls.

The fact he can hit the ball out of the park (he has a grand slam home run at the national titles) and can round bases like a sprinter, impressed the Padres who scouted him during the under 18 AAA world championships in Seoul in September.”

Image via TheBaseballFiles.Wordpress.com

Image via TheBaseballFiles.Wordpress.com

Reading “fast balls” makes me think of when baseball used to be “base ball”. I’m sure @OldHossRadbourn approves.

The scout who found Holland, Trevor Schumm, was also responsible for finding Kalian Sams, a pickup for the Padres who enjoyed a hot streak in Double-A last season. (He’s now in the Rangers organization.) Additionally, he’s helped sign former TinCaps Adamson, Rodney Daal, and John Hussey, among players currently under contract with the Padres.

Holland presents himself as an intriguing option–a right-handed Chris Nunn perhaps–with a funky delivery out of the pen in ’14.

TONY RIZZOTTI

Quick word association: New Orleans.

What comes to mind?

I’m guessing it’s more beads and booze than it is baseball, but we’re going with baseball here.

Tony Rizzotti, a possible member of the 2014 TinCaps, was taken in the 25th round this past June out of New Orleans’ Tulane University, and signed with the Padres. From Nola.com:

“Rizzotti took a roundabout way of getting to Tulane. He started his collegiate career at TCU, where he pitched 4.2 innings in six appearances out of the bullpen for the Horned Frogs. However, he suffered injuries to both knees before transferring to Grayson College in Texas where he did not suit up for the baseball team.

Fortunately for the Green Wave, he found his way to New Orleans, putting together one of the finer seasons in recent memory by a Greenie pitcher.

 Being drafted is not unfamiliar territory for Rizzotti, as he was selected by the Colorado Rockies out of high school in the 28th round (860 overall) in 2010. He turned down the Rockies offer to attend TCU.”

Photo via TheAdvocate.com

Photo via TheAdvocate.com

If you remember Payton Baskette from last week, you’ll recall that Rizzotti isn’t the only player to have spent some time at Grayson College. The Arlington, Texas, native played his redshirt sophomore season last year, meaning he had two years of eligibility remaining. Again, from Nola.com.:

“Rizzotti went 5-4 with a 2.22 ERA in 81.0 innings pitched this spring. He made 12 starts this spring, allowing 71 hits and only 20 earned runs, while issuing 23 walks and striking out 57. In two of his starts, he tossed complete games.. He led the squad in strikeouts (57), fewest earned runs (20), ERA (2.22) and was tied for second in wins (5). He was third in Conference USA in ERA (2.22), second in earned runs allowed (20) and 10th in hits allowed (71).”

After pitching in two games in the AZL last year, he moved up to short-season Eugene, pitching in 11 games and fanning 22 batters in 21 innings.

TYLER HALE

Early indications for the 2014 TinCaps team are that it might be rather young, leaning heavily toward teenagers who played for Collins last year in the Arizona League. If that ends up being the case, and Tyler Hale finds himself in Fort Wayne–a likely option considering he played in Eugene and Arizona last year–he’ll be one of the oldest players on the roster.

Photo via ArizonaWildcats.com

Photo via ArizonaWildcats.com

The former University of Arizona Wildcat will be 23 on Opening Day, and will turn 24 during the season. He won a national championship as a sophomore in 2012, primarily pitching out of the bullpen and also getting a few spot starts. His action was limited in 2013, as he only worked 12 innings last spring and summer. Hale, a native of Dallas, went undrafted and signed with the Padres on July 10th, and pitched in his first AZL game just a week later. His time there was brief, and like Rizzotti, he finished the season with Eugene.

FLORIDA GEORGIA MADNESS

In case you didn’t hear this past week, popular country band Florida Georgia Line announced Friday that it will be playing a concert at Parkview Field on June 19th. Additionally, Nelly and Chris Lane will be on hand for what could be the best concert in Parkview Field history.

Florida Georgia Line will play at Parkview Field on June 19th.

Florida Georgia Line will play at Parkview Field on June 19th.

Stay tuned to our Twitter and Facebook accounts, as well as TinCaps.com, for more information on when tickets will go on sale.

MUSICAL GUEST

Paperboy…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

Prospect Previews: Week Three

Greetings and salutations, baseball fans (and people who showed up by accident, which I assume is most of you), and welcome to the third edition of Prospect Previews, in which I lay out who might make Fort Wayne’s roster to begin the 2014 season. I understand I am being graded on this by loyal reader Ken B., so with the fear of a college professors’s red grading pen looming large, I submit to you my prognostication of five more players this week. To recap, we looked as Norwell High School (Ossian, IN) product Josh VanMeter, and what his future might hold, in week one of the series, and last week my perspicacious (ok, maybe not) preview gave an overview of a prospect who took a route similar to Bryce Harper, among other possible Padres. Prospect-Preview-2014 And now, watch me pull a rabbit out of my hat

Dustin Peterson When conversation arises regarding the best teams in college baseball, there are a few names that come to mind first: the University of Southern California, which has won more national titles than any other school, Louisiana State University, the University of Texas, and Arizona State, which has won five national championships and has produced the second-most MLB alumni in the nation. P

adres second-round draft selection Dustin Peterson had committed to go to Arizona State, but the Friars were able to sway him away with a $1.4 million signing bonus. (As Jay-Z once noted, “We can talk, but money talks, so talk mo’ bucks) The Mariners’ Robinson Cano (10 years, $240 million) knows that line well.

Peterson, taken 50th overall by Josh Byrnes & Co., played shortstop in high school, but once he began playing professionally, he shifted over to third base, playing 31 of his 38 2013 Arizona League games at the hot corner. (If he wasn’t at third, he was the DH for Manager Michael Collins.) In that short sample size, Peterson put up good numbers (.293, 0 HR, 18 RBI, .337 OBP), but did strike out 33 times while walking nine times.

Bernie Pleskoff, who writes for MLB.com, got many looks at Peterson during the AZL season last year:

“Peterson hit .540 with 10 homers and 39 RBIs during his senior season at Gilbert High School in Arizona. He had committed to Arizona State University but instead signed with the Padres. Peterson’s older brother D.J. was chosen by the Seattle Mariners as the 12th overall selection in the same Draft. The older Peterson attended the University of New Mexico. At this point, Peterson’s hitting is more advanced than his defense.

Peterson is the type of hitter that will be able to extend the length of the lineup with good plate discipline and pitch recognition. He has the ability to make consistent contact, frequently hitting the ball solidly on the barrel of the bat. And he looks to take the pitch where it is thrown. Only 18, at this early point of his development, Peterson has a nice, easy swing without trying to extend his capabilities and hit home runs. His swing is polished and mature. There is little movement in his setup, his trigger or at the point of contact regarding his hitting mechanics. At 6-foot-2, 185 pounds, Peterson’s right-handed swing is measured and compact. He swings as though he is happy to be using the entire field. He’s patient enough to realize his power will come in time as he fills out with more strength and muscle.

If there is any concern regarding Peterson’s overall game, it has to be his defense. So far, he has made 14 errors in 80 total chances. Since Peterson is likely to add inches and weight to his frame, it will be difficult for him to return to the shortstop position he once played. There are issues with his first-step quickness and range that could be exposed at any infield position other than third base. Eventually, and with sufficient development instruction and repetition, he could become an adequate third baseman. He has enough arm strength and carry on the ball to play that position. However, I don’t see him having enough speed to play the outfield.”

Depending on where both Duanel Jones and Gabriel Quintana (hot corner minders of TinCaps seasons past) end up, it appears as though Peterson could be the next third baseman for the TinCaps.

Rod Boykin

If Jace Peterson’s start to his full-season career in Minor League Baseball with the TinCaps in 2012 was any indication, the Padres don’t mind taking a chance on guys who are two-sport athletes, especially ones who are football players. Peterson played both football and baseball at McNeese State, and had great success here in 2012, and followed that up with a great season at Advanced-A Lake Elsinore in 2013.

Boykin, who is from Montgomery, Alabama, played the same two sports in high school, and had committed to play both at Alabama State in his hometown. When he was drafted–as a 12th-round pick–he told the Montgomery Advertiser, “I was pretty much a baseball player who played football…I was pretty good at both sports, but baseball was always my dream ever since I was little.”

High school statistics are hard to evaluate, since most any draftable player hits in the .500-.600 range at his best in prep baseball. Boykin, for what it’s worth, hit .538 and stole 56 bases during his senior season. His speed certainly translated to the pro level, as he led the AZL Padres with 11 stolen bases in 12 tries. Playing predominantly center field (31 starts there vs. nine in left field), he hit .279 in the AZL with a .358 OBP.

Initial reports on his abilities were good, too: “The 18-year-old, who the club nabbed in the 12th round out of high school in Alabama, is a premium athlete with lightning-fast hands at the plate. He hit a team-best .397 in July.”

Padres Vice President & Assistant GM of Player Personnel said succinctly of the outfielder, “A plus-plus athlete with plus-plus impact speed.” And so, on that note, we can only wonder–how quickly will he get to Fort Wayne?

Payton Baskette

True or False: Texas is one of the top three MLB-player-producing states.

On the spot, I’d say yes…however according to Baseball-Reference.com, I would be wrong.

Here’s the top 5 of that list:

1) California – 2,074

2) Pennsylvania – 1,391

3) New York – 1,175

4) Illinois – 1,033

5) Texas – 849

Potential TinCaps pitcher Payton Baskette hails from state number five on that list, which, for the record, I would’ve guessed would be #2, not the Keystone State. Forging ahead…Baskette is a 16th-round pick from the 2013 class, taken out of Grayson County (Texas) College, which has also produced Toronto Blue Jays third baseman Andy LaRoche.

With the AZL Padres this past year, Baskette made 16 appearances (six starts), and had 43 strikeouts (second on the team), while working 46 innings. All things considered, that’s a pretty significant sum of innings, especially considering most full-season guys at Fort Wayne will pitch about 120 frames. Baskette was one of 17 pitchers selected for the Padres minicamp, and has been at work for a few weeks down at the San Diego complex in Peoria, Arizona. Whether starter or reliever, it looks like he’ll likely start the season with the TinCaps.

Pete Kelich

A nameless (for now) quote: “I always try to do the same thing every time — work ahead of hitters and keep the ball down.”

Would you say that came from an established major leaguer, or a guy who, when he said that, had never pitched one professional inning of baseball? It could have easily been Roy Halladay who said that in the prime of his career, as getting ahead in the count is a goal of many successful pitchers. But, it wasn’t the two-time Cy Young Award winner who said that–it was Pete Kelich, senior right-handed starter at Bryant University.

Last year, Kelich, a native of Jackson, New Jersey, polished off perhaps the best career in Bulldogs history: “The right-hander went 7-4 with a 2.49 ERA in a staff-high 97.2 innings. Kelich tied the single-season program record with 89 strikeouts and issued just 19 walks, holding opponents to a .221 average. In his career, he went 30-11 with a 3.00 ERA in 335.2 innings pitched. Kelich became the program’s all-time leader with 277 strikeouts and he walked only 73 batters in his career. He saved arguably his best performance for the final start of his career as he allowed just one run on two hits and struck out six over five innings in Bryant’s historic victory against Arkansas in the NCAA tournament. On the year, he allowed three runs or less in 13 of his 15 starts and struck out six or more batters in 10 starts.” 

Interestingly enough, when Kelich left high school, he had more of a history as a shortstop than he did as a pitcher. But, Kelich developed into a starting pitcher who had uncanny control of where the hide-bound, cork-filled sphere he was throwing was traveling. This past season, after being selected by San Diego in the 38th round, in the AZL, he had astoundingly good numbers: 58 IP, 69 K, 1 BB. Yes! One walk in 58 innings! In recent memory, only Matt Stites, who was a closer, put up similar numbers, walking three and striking out 60 in 48 2/3 innings in 2012 with the TinCaps, and he faced 169 batters, while last season Kelich faced 219.

A Midwest League pitching coach must get googly-eyed just thinking about the prospect of working with a pitcher who has that type of control, as getting the ball to go where a player wants it to go is one of the biggest hurdles overcome in the Midwest League. With the AZL Padres, he led the team in ERA (1.37), strikeouts (69), and innings (58.0) – good for first, second, and third, respectively, in the Arizona League for those categories.

From CDN News: “I’ll be honest, I just really went with the mindset I was going to challenge every batter,” said Kelich. “If I got in 2-0 or 3-0 counts, I threw a BP fastball. Having played shortstop in high school and knowing pitching from a hitter’s perspective, I know pitching is hard to hit. Hitting a baseball is the hardest things to do in sports. Throwing a quality pitch, not necessarily a perfect pitch, is often good enough to get an out.”

While Kelich’s college career showed consistent improvement in his first two years and dominance in his final two years, he says a turning point occurred during his junior campaign, thanks to the development of a new pitch.

“I developed a cutter, which some people call a hard slider,” Kelich said “I throw it at about 84-87 and can use it with different speeds. It’s become my out pitch.” Kelich’s fastball sits at 88-91 miles per-hour but he has hit 93 on the gun. He also throws a slower slider, at 78-80, that he calls, “my get-me-over pitch” and has made great leaps with his change-up. That change-up has given lefty batters a lot more to think about when facing Kelich. He credits former major league pitcher Nelson Cruz, one of his coaches in rookie ball, for helping him develop the change-up. “He and Pedro Martinez had the best change-ups in baseball at one time,” Kelich said.

There was also a subtle change in Kelich’s transition to pro ball that helped inject life into his change-up. “The seams on the baseball in pro ball are smaller than the seams on the ball we used in college,” Kelich said. “The ball we use in the pros actually feels smaller in my hand because of the seams. I have complete confidence in my change-up now and it has better sinking action.” Kelich was an all-around standout in high school for Jackson, a Group 4 power since the arrival of coach Malta.Kelich played shortstop and pitched Jackson to the championship of the highly competitive Shore Conference Tournament. Kelich was selected to play in the N.J. Coach’s Senior All-Star Game and was named to both the All-Shore Conference and the All-Group 4 teams in 2009.

He is no worse for the wear after a college season and professional summer in which he pitched a combined 175 innings. “My body felt good at the end of the season,” said the 6-2, 185-pound Kelich. “I credit our strength and conditioning coach for that. But I’d like to put on five to 10 pounds this off-season.” Kelich expects to move up to the Padres full-season Class-A level in Fort Wayne, Indiana at the start of next season.”

It’s All Relative optimistically agrees.

Cam Stewart

Stewart, a Freedom Tower-sized righthander from California, was a 20th-round “sleeper” pick in the 2012 draft, according to Padres Assistant VP of Player Personnel, Chad MacDonald.  The San Jose native had signed a letter of intent to play at Fresno State before agreeing to terms with San Diego. In two seasons with the Padres, he has played exclusively with the AZL Padres, appearing in 13 games in 2012 and the same number in 2013.

However, his role changed from year one to year two, as all of his appearances this past year were starts, as opposed to just one in his first season. Stewart’s 2013 numbers don’t jump off the page–4-5, 4.15 ERA, 52.0 IP, 51H, 40 K, 23 BB–however he was third on the team in strikeouts. He’s certainly got good size, which works in his favor as a pitcher.

I’d guess he could be a member of the rotation for the TinCaps this year.

SMOKELESS TOBACCO AND BASEBALL

Growing up, I was an avid baseball card collector. For some reason, one card distinctly stood out to me, and now I realize that it was more for reasons of youthful naivete than anything else. It was this card of Ed Sprague, and it looked like he was hiding a golf ball in his mouth:

ed sprague Older and (not much) wiser a few decades later, I now know that it was smokeless tobacco, a mainstay of pro baseball, that Sprague had tucked inside his cheek. Smokeless tobacco is a well-known commodity to anyone who spends time around a professional baseball team. Just go down to batting practice and look in the dugout, or peer for the circle-shaped bulge in a player’s sock or back pocket. You’ll find tins of Copenhagen or Grizzly, the two most popular brands littered around a Minor League bus ride, no to mention the brown-tinted water and Gatorade bottles left to roll around on the floor that players have used as tobacco spittoons.

Do a Google Image search for “mouth cancer” (don’t click on that link if you’re squeamish), and you’ll understand why healthcare professionals strongly advise against the use of smokeless tobacco. It’s a no-brainer…unless you’re a pro baseball player, apparently.

Pete Abraham of The Boston Globe has written a tremendous article on the prevalence of smokeless tobacco in baseball. Here are some selections:

“Smokeless tobacco use stubbornly remains a part of baseball, even though Major League Baseball has tried to discourage its use for the last few years because it is known to increase the risk of cancer. While smokeless tobacco use is not as prevalent in baseball as it was several years ago, a survey of the 58 Red Sox players invited to spring training this year found 21 who admitted to using it.

“It’s a nasty habit, but it’s one of those traditions in baseball,” said Red Sox manager John Farrell, who “dipped” smokeless tobacco when he played and admits to using it now on occasion.

Major League Baseball rules prohibit teams from providing tobacco products to players and strongly encourages clubhouse attendants not to purchase tobacco for players. Players cannot have tobacco tins in their uniform pockets or do televised interviews while using smokeless tobacco. Violators are subject to fines; no Red Sox players have been fined. The rules were put in place in 2011 as part of the latest collective bargaining agreement with the Players Association. An initial proposal to ban tobacco use entirely was rejected by the players. The idea behind the rule change was to look out for the health of the players, present a better example to children, and clean up the image of a game long stained by disgusting brown spit.”

This seems similar to the NFL, which still, somehow, does not test for human growth hormone, setting a bad example for many young athletes around the country. An outright refusal to ban smokeless tobacco is a choice the players are within their right to make–that’s what the Players Association is there for–but it doesn’t mean that it’s a smart one.

The players that pass through Fort Wayne are young, some still teenagers when they get here, and many of them already have smokeless tobacco use as an ingrained habit. I would say that a large number of coaches and managers dip, too–it’s a habit they haven’t shaken from their playing days. But, for John Farrell to say “It’s one of those traditions in baseball,” just rubs me the wrong way. It doesn’t have to be. Baseball just doesn’t seem to have treated it as a problem.

Abraham goes on to make a critical point, although I do agree with one line in the following paragraph:

“Because tobacco use is prohibited in the minor leagues and most levels of amateur baseball, many younger players arrive in the majors unfamiliar with it. But two Sox prospects, outfielder Bryce Brentz and lefthander Drake Britton, said the minor league tobacco ban is only casually enforced. “I did it in the minors,” Britton said. “The people who want to can still do it. They’ll look in your locker to see if you have it, but that’s really it.” Britton was casually spitting into a water bottle as he spoke. “I know I need to quit,” he said. “I don’t want to be one of those guys who never quits, dips the rest of my life, and gets cancer.”

I would argue, based off of what I have seen, that many younger players do not arrive unfamiliar with it. The prevalence of use leads me to believe that. Abraham’s larger point, though, is that the ban in Minor League Baseball is not enforced. The crackdown on tobacco usage is as heavily regulated as jay-walking is–you never see anyone get penalized for it. How can there be any change when the rule has no teeth? And if the rule has no teeth, one day some former baseball players who use smokeless tobacco might not have them either.

“In the Globe’s informal poll, the only Red Sox player who said he didn’t want to quit was outfielder Jonny Gomes. He’s also the only one interviewed who uses chewing tobacco, not snuff. “I’d quit if my family wanted me to,” Gomes said. “The kids aren’t old enough to realize what’s going on. People are baffled I don’t do it in the offseason because I do it all the time when we’re playing. But I don’t have an addictive personality. There’s just something about it that goes with baseball. There’s something attached to hitting. I can’t describe it. “Once I stop playing, I’ll never do it again. I know it’s a bad idea.”

File that under the same line of thinking with the “I only smoke when I drink” crowd…after a while, anything addictive becomes more than just an itch–it becomes a habit. It pains me to see team after team of baseball players doing untold damage to their bodies. Just because the damage doesn’t manifest itself immediately doesn’t mean that it’s not coming. In fact, MLB teams would be wise to crack down on smokeless tobacco usage in the minors to avoid future healthcare claims by retired players who develop issues related to tobacco once they retire. See: the NFL and concussions.

I have a relative who went to college in Florida, and at the time sunscreen usage was not as prevalent as it is today. There wasn’t the same information available as to exactly what type of damage the sun can do to the skin. So, instead of sunscreen, my relative used baby oil on the beach because it helped get a better tan going. Now, there’s surgery required for my relative several decades later to remove potentially pre-cancerous cells because of that exposure to the sun.

It’s a shame to see so many baseball players using smokeless tobacco, and very little, if anything at all, being done to stop it.

MUSICAL GUEST

Status Quo…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

Prospect Previews: Week Two

Welcome to the second edition of Prospect Previews for the 2014 season. Last week we looked at Luis Tejada, Franchy Cordero, Ryan Miller, Josh VanMeter and Erik Shoenrock.

Prospect-Preview-2014

This week, we’ll continue with five more players who could potentially make an impact in Fort Wayne under Manager Michael Collins in 2014. Here’s this week’s group:

Fernando Perez

Perez is a third baseman from Chula Vista, California, who graduated from high school early in order to play at the collegiate level. If this sounds familiar, it’s because it’s what Bryce Harper did (ESPN.com):

“Fernando Perez is one of the few people we have heard of following the “Bryce Harper” junior college route to professional baseball. In an interview today at the Arizona Senior Fall Classic, Perez told us that he would be forgoing his senior spring semester to attend Central Arizona Community College. This will allow Perez to be draft eligible come the MLB first year players draft in June of 2012. 

Currently playing third base for Otay Ranch (Chula Vista, Calif.), Perez is an outstanding ball player who runs, hits and fields well. In the 60-yard dash he consistently runs a 6.9-7.0 second dash, he hits for good power and swings for a solid average. Down the line we can see his power increasing as he fills in his frame (currently 6-foot-1, 190 pounds) as he still seems to be growing. In the field he plays a solid third base with good arm strength across the diamond.”

Unlike a lot of TinCaps players, Perez wasn’t drafted last year. He was taken in the third round in 2012, which gives him another year of experience in the system. Here’s more from U-T San Diego:

“We like the bat,” Padres scouting director Jaron Madison said while discussing Perez. “He’s been on the scene a couple of years. To come out of high school like he did and hit No. 3 at Central Arizona says something about his ability.”

The 18-year-old Perez was scheduled to play as a senior at Otay Ranch High this spring. But in December, a review of Perez’s transcript from when he transferred from Mexico as a sophomore showed he had more completed more credits than he was originally credited for.

“Fifth-year seniors can’t compete in athletics in our district,” said Otay Ranch High coach Bob McCurdy. “It was a strange situation. Fernando was ahead of where everyone thought he was.”

Because he was ineligible at Otay Ranch, Perez decided to transfer to a community college. Central Arizona offered him a stipend that was unavailable locally.

“Fernando is a great hitter,” said McCurdy. “He hits for power and he’s still growing and getting stronger. He also has a good arm. And he’s smart.”

If he does end up at third base for the TinCaps this year, it would give them a more polished option than they’ve had in either of the last two seasons with Duanel Jones in 2012 and Gabriel Quintana in 2013, two players who were born in the Dominican Republic. In 2011, Fort Wayne had then-25-year-old Jake Blackwood who had been signed out of independent ball. Perez hasn’t shown a ton of power just yet, hitting six home runs in 278 career at-bats. Last year at Eugene, he played in 59 games hitting .213 with three home runs and 27 RBI. He led the team in at-bats (211), RBI (27), and strikeouts (68).

Jose Urena

Last season the Great Lakes Loons featured one of the youngest players ever to pass through the Midwest League–16-year-old Julio Urias. The young pitcher took the league by storm, drawing internet observers galore (because it’s not like Midland, Michigan is on the way to anywhere) every time he took the mound, not only for his age but also his talent. So, what does Urena have in common with Urias other than that their last names both start with the 21st letter of the alphabet? Well, they are both from Mexico and at one point played for the Mexico City Red Devils, a Mexican League team. The Mexican League is classified as Triple-A, although the true level of the competition, based off of what I’ve heard, is somewhere around Double-A to Triple-A. Either way, the average age is well above 16.

It’s not as though any teenager is necessarily a perfect fit for that league, but it seems to be more a product of the way baseball business works in Mexico, where players are funneled through Mexican League teams to MLB teams (via Baseball America):

‘“Young, talented and qualified Mexican baseball players are forced to contract with the Mexican leagues and cannot directly sign with Major or Minor league baseball simply because the Mexican leagues want to exclusively get their fingers into the pie and secure unwarranted, obscene and excessive commissions when these players are sold to Major League Baseball.”

“Mexican players are not required to be affiliated with a Mexican League club before signing, though it is definitely the custom, and if a player signs directly with a major league team then he is banned from playing in the Mexican League. The Phillies, for example, signed catcher Sebastian Valle directly. However, most Mexican signings are done through a Mexican League team, which typically keeps as much as 75 percent of the player’s bonus. Blue Jays righthander Roberto Osuna, Dodgers lefthander Julio Urias and Padres outfielder Jose Urena are among the notable prospects the Red Devils have sold to major league teams. Pirates righthander Luis Heredia, who signed for a Mexican record $3 million, had been with Veracruz.”

Osuna was also in the Midwest League with Lansing last season.

Last year was Urena’s first season in the United States, and he spent it with the rookie-level Arizona League Padres. He was just 18 last year and hit .257 with nine home runs and 34 RBI in 49 games. The outfielder drew high praise from Director of Player Development Randy Smith (U-T San Diego)- “Jose has big power,” said Smith. “He has the ability to hit to all fields. Defensively, a plus arm.”

Baseball America, in its 2014 prospect guide, ranks Urena as the #29 prospect in the Padres farm system. They write, “He led the Rookie-level Arizona League with nine home runs in 2013, and among the system’s lower-level prospects he may have the most power, owing to quick hands, above-average present strength and high rate of hard contact…Urena played a lot of left field in the AZL, though the Padres view him as a right fielder long term, based on average range and solid-average arm strength….Urena will bat in the middle of the order at low Class A Fort Wayne in 2014.”

Jose Ruiz

Back in 2008, the Cincinnati Reds made a splash in the Venezuelan market by signing Yorman Rodriguez, an outfield prospect, to a then-record $2.5 million bonus, the most ever given to a Venezuelan player. Rodriguez signed in 2009, and when I first saw him in 2011 he was shaky, and ended up leaving the team before the season was over to return home. This year at age 21, he’ll start in Double-A and might see Cincinnati by the end of the year.

Every prospect is different, though, and the Padres gave a good sum of money–$1.1 million–to a catcher named Jose Ruiz, back in 2011 to begin his professional career at age 16.

In the fall of 2012, one writer who saw Ruiz had this to say about him: “The current 17 year old soon to be 18 year old has starting catcher upside in my eyes based almost solely on his catch and throw ability.  Ruiz played the 2nd half of the game and threw out 2 baserunners with pop times of 1.91 and 1.87.  1.9 is the MLB average…  He features a 7 arm and a quick release.  These times will only continue to improve, as he has issues with his receiving and can be lazy behind the plate.  Offensively, he projects to have avg bat speed in a swing that needs to make some adjustments.  He is a pull heavy hitter who struggled to keep his lower and upper halves in sync.  But, for a 17 year old, this kid has all the tools you want.”

In 89 career games (55-DSL Padres, 33-AZL Padres, 1-Lake Elsinore), he has shown little power, hitting one home run and driving in 28 runs.He carries a lopsided strikeout-to-walk ratio of 69 to 8 (8.6 to 1). Right now, with his October birthday, he’ll be 19 for the entire season. It looked like, at the end of 2013, that Rodney Daal would start at catcher for the TinCaps in 2014. However, since he’s had Tommy John surgery, he’s out for the year. I don’t know who the starting catcher will be opening day, but my senses tell me that Ruiz is a likely candidate to start in the Arizona league and make his way to Parkview Field at some point in 2014.

Franmil Reyes

New TinCaps Manager Michael Collins’ Padres managerial career has taken him from the Dominican Summer League Padres in 2012, to the Arizona League Padres in 2013, and now to Parkview Field in 2014. One of his outfielders might be following the same path. Get to know the name Franmil Reyes:

Baseball America‘s Ben Badler wrote a terrific article on the value of instructional league for international prospects, and mentioned both Reyes and Padres Director of Player Development Randy Smith. The piece was written in 2012, prior to Reyes’ AZL campaign, but it’s still got some good nuggets in it:

“Players need to adjust both on and off the field, and for many teams, bringing players to instructional league is a way to expedite the assimilation process. Yet whether a player signed a 2013 contract on July 2 or just spent the year in the Dominican Summer League, team officials say one of the most common problems they run into with international players at their first instructional league is that they treat it like it’s another tryout.

“For many of them, it’s an out of body experience,” said Padres vice president Randy Smith, who is in charge of San Diego’s farm system and international scouting. “When they first get here, they think they have to do everything better than what they did to get here. They try to hit the ball farther, run faster and throw harder. When you try to do that, you actually perform below your capabilities.”’

‘“It’s a combination of look at what you have that is stateside already in terms of who needs to go to instructional league and who doesn’t,” Smith said. “Some years there’s more room than others based on the playoffs and injuries. It gets guys a taste of Arizona, where they’re going to be, and gives them a bit of a head start for the upcoming season to get acclimated to the surroundings.”

The Padres brought over one of the bigger groups of international players to their instructional league. Carlos Belen, a 16-year-old Dominican third baseman signed for $1 million on July 2, is with the team in Peoria, Ariz., for his introduction to pro ball in the U.S. Mexican outfielder Jose Urena, Dominican outfielder Franmil Reyes, Dominican shortstop Franchy Cordero and Venezuelan catcher Jose Ruiz—recipients of four of San Diego’s five biggest bonuses for international signings in 2011—all played in the Dominican Summer League this year and made the trip to Arizona for instructs. Ivan Marcano, a 21-year-old Dominican righthander who is coming off his third trip through the DSL, also joined them.”

“Smith said San Diego’s group of first-year international players adjusted as well as any group he could remember to their first exposure to the U.S., both in terms of their use of English and their acclimation to a new environment. The comfort level allows the players to relax, which sometimes is the key to allowing their natural talent to show on the field.

“Slow it down and realize what you did to get here was impressive,” Smith said. “It’s almost a second tryout. (Players think), ‘Now I’m here, I’ve got to show I deserve to stay,’ and the reason they’re here is they do deserve to stay.

“Usually the first few days, guys have trouble doing a lot of things. It seems they just forget stuff. The sooner they can slow it down, the better they can perform.”’

That extra stateside experience seemed to pay off for Reyes last season, as he hit .315 with three home runs and 30 runs batted in over a 45-game season in the AZL. The Padres, given the value Reyes provided last year, and the value they paid for him ($700,000) seem to have put a priority tag on the 18-year-old Reyes. At that age, he’d still be a tad young for the Midwest League, although it’s not unprecedented, as Joe Ross began his TinCaps career at that age.

Reyes is among many prospects (the aforementioned Urena and Ruiz included) to be invited to the Padres minicamp, which began last month in Peoria, Arizona. From Padres.com:

“For some of these guys, it will be their first Spring Training, so they’ll come here and this gives them a chance to get to know the staff,” (Randy) Smith said. “I just think it’s an easy way to transition them in to their first spring and give them a head start to their season.”

The roots of the minicamp date back to the late 1980s, when Tom Romenesko was the Padres’ Minor League director and Smith was scouting director. The goal was simple: Give players a head start with thorough instruction.

Before Smith started the minicamp five years ago, the team had a hitting camp for a select group of Minor League players. But the current program includes everyone from position players to pitchers.

“When they’re here, they’re fresh, they’re hungry and whatever we teach them, adjustments they’ve learned, they can carry it into the season,” Smith said. “If you do it during instructional league … then they go home after and sit for five or six months.”

Austin Hedges, considered by many to be the best defensive catcher in the Minor Leagues, went through the minicamp in 2012. Now, in his second big league camp, Hedges can testify as to how beneficial his minicamp experience was.

“It was my first Spring Training, and you really don’t know what to expect. But to get a jump start with a smaller group of guys, I think it gave me an edge, an advantage over guys who didn’t get to do it,” he said. “Getting that one-on-one time with [former catcher Brad Ausmus] and the other instructors was very helpful.”

Smith said the minicamp has evolved over the years, including the addition of more players and also instructors from the Minor League side who will preside over the camp. Also, he said, there’s room for flexibility in the program, allowing the team to easily cater to the general makeup of the group.

“We make subtle tweaks every year in what we’re trying to do and accomplish,” Smith said. “Some of it is based on personnel, like this year we’re going to be pushing a pretty talented group to Fort Wayne that’s very young, so we want to give them as much of a head start as we can.”

One addition this year is the minicamp team will play two games against the French National Team on March 6 and March 8. That team is managed by former big league closer Eric Gagne.

But, really, the focus is on personalized instruction. The rest of the team’s Minor League players report on Feb. 28. By that time, the minicamp group will already be well on its way.

“It felt like we were already way ahead of them,” said pitcher Matt Wisler, who attended minicamp in 2012 and again last year. “When it’s over, you feel really good. I know I felt more ready.”

Hopefully, Reyes feels the same when camp breaks at the end of March.

Jalen Goree

If you’ve heard “You can’t teach height” in basketball, then consider “You can’t teach speed”…that cliche’s equal in baseball. When the TinCaps drafted Travis Jankowski and Mallex Smith in 2013, they picked up a speed boost to their system. Along with those two players (2012 and 2013, respectively), they also added Jalen Goree, a high school shortstop–who also played football–from Alabama. From MLB.com’s Corey Brock:

“A 5’10″, 175-pounder from Bibb County High School in Centreville, Alabama, Goree will most likely be a second baseman at the next level. The right-handed bat has made moves in the JUCO direction, signing with Northwest Florida State College in January, and joins comp pick Travis Jankowski and 5th-round pick Mallex Smith as top speed players joining the Padres system in (the 2012) draft.”

If you remember (and don’t worry if you don’t…I would find it kind of strange if you did), Goree made it into Prospect Previews last year, too:

“If you like speed, chances are you’ll like watching Jalen Goree. All accounts say that he’s a guy who can move on the basepaths and his accolades coming out of Alabama indicate he’s a talent. Goree, a sixth-round pick of the Padres last June, was named theClass-4A Player of the Year for the state of Alabama:

“Goree was picked for the All-State first team as a shortstop. 

Goree hit .459 and drove in 36 runs during his senior season and led the Choctaws to the second round of the Class 4A playoffs. He had 10 doubles, two triples and seven home runs and stole 24 bases. Goree drew 39 walks and struck out only seven times in 122 at-bats.

As a pitcher, Goree posted a 5-3 record with a 1.67 ERA. He struck out 58 batters in 541⁄3 innings and threw one shutout.”

Let’s go Choctaws!

Goree is from Brent, Alabama, population 4,024. Fort Wayne (pop. ~250,000) might take some getting used to, but I’m sure he’ll have no trouble adjusting. Last season with the rookie-level Arizona League Padres, he hit .270 with one home run and 13 RBI in 30 games. He then wrapped up his first season as a pro in instructional league in Arizona. The Padres took him as a shortshop, and he could be the 2013 successor to Jace Peterson in the six-hole this season.”

Last year while fighting through hamstring issues, Goree played in only 22 games, hitting a combined .129 between the AZL Padres and short-season Eugene, With it looking like Josh VanMeter will be making up part of the middle infield, it’ll be interesting to see whether Goree starts here or in Arizona, looking to make up time lost to injury last season. I wouldn’t rule out a stay in Fort Wayne at some point in 2014, though.

MUSICAL GUEST

Cream…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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