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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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

In a Game of Failure, Stubblefield Finds Success in a Second Chance

Signing up to play professional baseball means that you expect to fail.

You expect to fail in the field.

You expect to fail at the plate at least 70% of the time.

And worst of all, you are expected to fail in your pursuit of playing Major League Baseball, as nearly 90% of players in Minor League Baseball will never reach the majors.

Statistically speaking, former Fort Wayne TinCaps infielder Tyler Stubblefield, who has officially retired from playing baseball, is among the 90%, but by no means would he consider himself a failure.

The 2013 Fort Wayne TinCaps season came to a close September 9, 2013, with a playoff loss against the South Bend Silver Hawks at Coveleski Stadium. The only things that stood between the players and their trips home were a two-hour bus ride and the cleaning out of their lockers the next day.

Stubblefield, who’s now 26 years old, was on the first shuttle out of Fort Wayne the next day. He was in his car by 7 a.m. and driving home to Georgia, where he was born and where he played his college ball at Kennesaw State University. Other than home, he wasn’t quite sure where he was headed. Until his phone rang…

**********

The 2013 season was an up-and-down ride for the fourth-year pro. He opened the year like he had each of the previous three seasons—at Spring Training in Arizona. Except this season, the day before players broke camp to head to their respective assignments, Stubblefield was cut by the Padres. He was a player without anywhere to play. It was then, he started to learn, that baseball is not only a business, but it’s also a game that is built around relationships.

When Stubblfield played for the TinCaps in 2011, the first of his three seasons in Fort Wayne, he was managed by Shawn Wooten. Stubby, as most everyone in baseball knows him, had a great relationship with Wooten who, for the last two seasons was the manager of the Lake Elsinore Storm, the Advanced-A affiliate of the Padres. (This year Wooten will be the hitting coach for the Double-A Chattanooga Lookouts (Dodgers), which will be managed by former Great Lakes Loons skipper Razor Shines.) Wooten told Stubby that he’d help find him somewhere to play, and he came through for his former player. With the help of TinCaps hitting coach Morgan Burkhart, who had previously been a manager in the Frontier League, Wooten landed Stubblefield a spot with the Southern Illinois Miners. It wasn’t affiliated baseball, but it was a gig.

While Stubblefield was getting settled at Rent One Park in Marion, Illinois, the home of the Miners, Stephen Carmon, a shortshop out of the University of South Carolina-Aiken, had locked down the starting gig for Jose Valentin’s team. Then, one day about three weeks into his stay with the Miners, Stubblfield got a text message from the man in charge of the minor leagues for San Diego’s system — Padres Director of Player Development Randy Smith.

“What league are you in,” it said.

“Frontier League. What’s up?” Stubblefield wrote back.

“Would you be interested in being a Padre again?” the reply read.

“Tomorrow would be fine,” an interested Stubblefield typed in response.

With just the exchange of a few text messages, Tyler Stubblefield's 2013 season took a quick and positive turn.

With just the exchange of a few text messages, Tyler Stubblefield’s perspective on the 2013 season took a quick turn.

Carmon had gone down with a season-ending injury, and the TinCaps were in need of a shortstop. Stubblefield was back.

**********

On the other end of that early-morning phone call was Stubblefield’s college hitting coach, Ryan Coe, now a scout for the Texas Rangers. Coe had given Stubblefield one opportunity—the chance to play college baseball—and was about to present him with another.

“He told me, ‘You’re 26 years old and you’re in Low-A. Why don’t you stay in the game and keep making money?”

Coe had heard that there were some open scouting positions within the Padres organization, and made a call to recommend Stubblefield for one of those spots.

Stubby, who’d always been one of the most cerebral and well-liked players on the teams he played for in Fort Wayne, wasn’t quite sure about leaving the game just yet.

“My plans for after the season depended on how I did. If I got there and had an average year and got benched, I was gonna be done,” he said. “I had the best statistical year through the Frontier League and playing in Fort Wayne. I was leaving there and thought I felt like I bought myself another year to ply. I’ll never know if I did or not.”

The next day, Stubblefield got a phone call from Chip Lawrence, who is the Southeast regional scouting supervisor for the Padres.

“He put me through a little interview process on the phone,” Stubblefield said. “At first I was a little shocked and he was like, ‘Ok thanks.” I thought (the chance to work for them) was over. I was deer hunting a week later and I was in the deer stand and I saw a phone call pop up from San Diego. It ruined my hunt but it was (Padres Director of Scouting) Billy Gasparino and (the PadreS) were going to have me out to interview in Nashville.”

**********

Stubblefield has always “gotten it” when it comes to baseball. He knows what it takes to get a starting job and be on the field every day. He knows that doing interviews with local media and team broadcasters is part of the gig, like it or not. He knew the tricks of the trade. However, he wasn’t used to formal settings.

In three seasons with the TinCaps, Tyler Stubblefield played in 190 games with the club.

In three seasons with the TinCaps, Tyler Stubblefield played in 190 games with the club.

“I’ve never done any (job) interviews. Any interview I’ve ever done in my life has been on a baseball field. I was nervous, I was shaking, sweating,” Stubblefield said, thinking back to his suit-and-tie meeting with the Padres in Nashville.

With some of the team’s most important player development personnel in the room, Stubblefield realized he was still talking his favorite language: baseball. The interview wasn’t formal at all, he said, but more of a round-table discussion with questions targeted toward how he might fare as a scout:

-What are you going to do when you’re driving through the boondocks on a Tuesday night at 12 a.m. on the way to see another player?

-Will you be confident enough in yourself to stand up for a player you think is going to make it to the big leagues?

After the questions were done, Stubby got the answer he wanted to hear—the Padres liked his baseball knowledge and he was set to begin the next chapter of his baseball career as a scout.

**********

When I caught up with Stubblefield, he was just leaving a hotel in North Carolina. The top two players in next year’s draft, North Carolina State’s Carlos Rodon and East Carolina University’s Jeff Hoffman, are both there and he was in the area for a visit. Sure, the Padres don’t pick until the 13th spot, but they’ve got to be prepared for everything.

“I’ve spent seven nights in a hotel in the last eight days. It’s Minor League Baseball except I’m driving and I make my own schedule. Six months of tearing the roads up, putting miles on your car and stressing over paperwork,” is how Stubblefield describes his new profession.

“I love the game of baseball. I’m gonna attack scouting like I attacked playing. I was an overachiever on the field. I never should have played at the levels I played at. I’m going to take my overachievability and outwork other guys. I just came off the field with players who are at the Low-A level so I know what a pro athlete looks like and what these players look like. I can compare a lot of these guys to what I saw.”

A Georgia native, Stubblefield will scout some of his home state for the Padres.

A Georgia native, Stubblefield will scout some of his home state for the Padres.

While he’s gotten to making up new words like “overachievability”, he’ll have to get used to an entire dictionary of new scouting terms. He says that, along with the paperwork for player evaluations, will be the biggest adjustments.

“It’s an artwork to sit down at a computer at night and paint a picture with words for your general manager and your scouting director to read and like. For me it’s a huge learning process, and if I don’t get it, it will hinder me from being the scout or employee that I want to be. I think I see the same things that more veteran guys see–they can write a little check mark and write a paragraph off of that. I have to write the whole paragraph and then go back and make it longer and better to make it understandable for my bosses.”

**********

Stubblefield’s territory covers Northeast Georgia, all of South Carolina and all of North Carolina. He’s again signed up for a thankless existence, one that comes with even less recognition and accolades than playing in the Midwest League, and most days even that’s not saying much, unless you’re playing in Fort Wayne.

“What I’ll remember most is how awesome the fans were and the field and the atmosphere that we got to play in every night,” Stubblefield said of his time in a TinCaps uniform. “I’ve done three in-home visits with high school kids and the first thing I talk about is how much of an impact the fans and the atmosphere Fort Wayne brings to the table.”

He’ll still be eating fast food, still be watching baseball, but now he’ll be getting paid more than he was as a player. But when your paycheck is $1,100 per month, as it is in the Midwest League, it’s not hard to go anywhere but up.

“Right now,” Stubblefield says, “the decision is easy. I thought it would be the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It still might be come April 1st when all of my buddies break camp, but right now for me it was being 26. I want to be able to have a family or have money and start a life and actually have something to put in the bank and sit back on. It’s time to start.”

**********

MUSICAL GUEST

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

MCsig

Michael Collins Named TinCaps’ New Manager

After much waiting and anticipation, the big day finally came Tuesday afternoon when the San Diego Padres announced who would succeed Jose Valentin after his two seasons as manager of the Fort Wayne TinCaps. That successor is Michael Collins, who, at 29 years old, becomes the youngest manager in the history of the Fort Wayne franchise.

Former Padres farmhand Michael Collins will lead the TinCaps during the 2014 season.

Former Padres farmhand Michael Collins will lead the TinCaps during the 2014 season.

Collins may at first seem an unconventional choice–young, no major league experience–but that would belie what he brings to a dugout and a clubhouse, according to those who have worked with him and played under him.

For the last two winters, Collins has been the manger of the Canberra Cavalry of the Australian Baseball League. (When it’s winter here in the United States, it’s summer in Australia.) This past season he brought unprecedented success to the franchise, bringing them their first-ever Claxton Shield, the championship trophy of the ABL. Collins, also known as “Tubby” (still trying to get to the bottom of that nickname..stay tuned!) also played two seasons for the Cavalry. In fact, one of the members of his staff this past season was former TinCaps pitcher (2010) Hayden Beard, also a native of Australia.

From people I know within the Padres organization, I’ve heard that Collins is a great leader of men, and also someone who is very easy to work with and get along with. Another plus, I’m told, is that he is fluent in Spanish, a skill that is almost a must these days in baseball. Although the TinCaps will have athletic trainer Ricky Huerta, who speaks Spanish, it can only be a positive for a manager to communicate with his Spanish-speaking players directly.

The Cavalry posted an article on their website about Collins coming to work in Fort Wayne:

“Tubby says he’s excited to head to the Midwest because, much like Canberra, they have fans who are incredibly devoted to the team.

“Managing the TinCaps will be a great opportunity,” Tubby said. “They will have a talented young team on the field to go with great community support and involvement much like the Cavalry but on a much larger scale.”

The Cavalry have the second-best attendance in the league and draw an average of 1,314 fans per game. The TinCaps, on the other hand, averaged 5,766 fans per game during the 2013 season, which saw the most fans ever pass through the gates in the history of Fort Wayne baseball.

More from the Cavalry:

Tubby says he’s really excited to be a part of the organization and their mission to win the title, but it will all come down to how they can do as a team.

“Success will come down to the players’ development,” Tubby explained. “As coaches we will give them everything to prepare and they will need to apply it to their individual games.”

Tubby joins hitting coach Morgan Burkhart and pitching coach Burt Hooton. After coaching at a rookie level last year, this will be the highest level Tubby has ever taken on and he’s ready for the challenge.
 
“We are very proud of Michael,” Cavalry General Manager Thom Carter said. “He has a great baseball IQ and has amazing leadership abilities. Watching him manage our team over the last two seasons, you can see how players want to be their best for him. The players, management, and fans in Fort Wayne are lucky to have him.”

Collins is no stranger to the Midwest League, having played in this circuit during both the 2004 and 2005 seasons with the Cedar Rapids Kernels, which were then an affiliate of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. In 2005, Collins hit .320 with the Kernels, good for the third-best average in the league. He spent eight seasons with the Angels organization, and played two with the Padres, playing at every level with the exception of Fort Wayne. His playing experience also includes two seasons in the Australian Baseball League. During the 2010-2011 season, he hit .360 and was the batting champion of the ABL.

Collins is certainly a change from Jose Valentin, who spent 16 years in the majors, and brought plenty of perspective and experience with him. Collins, on the other hand, never played in the major leagues and will be anywhere from 7-10 years older than some of the players he’s managing. For the last two seasons, Collins has also managed in the Padres system, working with the Dominican Summer League Padres in 2012 and the Arizona League Padres in 2013. Early prognostications seem to indicate that a good chunk of that Arizona League roster may make up Fort Wayne’s squad in 2014. Collins’ lack of MLB experience shouldn’t be viewed as a negative, though. He’ll bring a fresh perspective as someone who has recently “been there, done that” and can relate to the players. Not to mention the rest of his staff–Burt Hooton and Morgan Burkhart–bring a collective 18 years of MLB time, along with Hooton’s World Series ring. Interstingly, Hooton (63 years old) is more than twice as old as Collins. The beauty of baseball is that, as Hooton told me many times last year, it’s a simple game, and the teaching lessons can be delivered by those young and old.

2014-Coaching-Staff

Here’s a look at every manager in Fort Wayne history, and respective ages for those skippers while they were here:

Mike Boulanger – 1997 – Age 47

Craig Colbert- 2000 – Age 34

Michael Collins – 2014 – Age 29

Doug Dascenzo – 2007, 2008, 2009 – Ages 42, 43, 44

Jim Dwyer – 1993, 1994 – Ages 42, 43

Jose Flores – 2010 – Age 36

Gary Jones- 2003 – Age 41

Tom Lawless- 2001 – Age 42

Jose Marzan – 1998 – Age 32

Randy Ready – 2004, 2005, 2006 – Ages 44, 45, 46

Dan Rohn – 1995, 1996 – Ages 39, 40

Dan Simonds – 1999 – Age 33

Jose Valentin – 2012, 2013 – Ages 42, 43

Don Werner – 2001 – Age 47

Tracy Woodson – 2002 – Age 39

Shawn Wooten – 2011 – Age 38

As you can see there, the previous youngest manager was Jose Marzan, who was here for all of one season in 1998, the team’s last year of affiliation with the Minnesota Twins.

Collins chatted via email with The Journal Gazette telling the newspaper he believes his relative youth will be a positive:

“In regards to relating with players, I guess I’m not far removed from playing with a quick transition into coaching, so I’m closer in age than other coaches and spending 10 years all in the minors, I understand what these players are going through,” he wrote.

His predecessor, Jose Valentin, was a fiery guy. What will Collins be like?

“My managing style,” he wrote, “(is) I like to let the players play. Try to line them up in the best position to succeed and let them be aggressive. Early days right now, but there are a lot of great young players in the organization, should be a good mix of young talent.”

I think TinCaps fans should be excited for Collins to come to Parkview Field. He brings high praise, a great managerial track record, experience in the Midwest League, and more than a decade of playing experience to the clubhouse, and also worked with many future TinCaps last year in Arizona. In what was a busy off-season for Padres Director of Player Development Randy Smith, Collins looks to be a great hire. Smith had to make many hires with the departure or re-assignment of many members of his minor league staff.

Former roving pitching coordinator Mike Cather, who is very popular among players, is the new pitching coach for Triple-A El Paso. Gary Jones, a former Wizards manager, who was San Diego’s minor league infield coordinator, left to become the third-base coach of the Chicago Cubs. Jones is extremely well liked around baseball, especially here in Fort Wayne. Other new hires that had to be made included the following minor league positions:

San Antonio (Double-A) Hitting Coach

Lake Elsinore (Advanced-A) Manager, Hitting Coach

Eugene (Short-Season A) Manager, Hitting Coach

Arizona League (Rookie) Manager

(For more on all of those personnel changes, take a look at the news story on Padres.com.)

Why is having the right manager important? From the outside, it might just seem like he fills out a lineup card, makes pitching change during the game, and gets after it with the umpires when he feels they’ve made a poor call. But I can tell you that it’s a lot more than that. A manager at this level has a great impact on players who are in their first or second years of professional baseball–how they carry themselves, their punctuality, their attitudes (which vary greatly with the successes and failures of a 140-game season), how they take care of their bodies, how they dress when they travel for road games–all of which are crucial, but many times unseen, aspects of having what it takes to continue rising through the ranks of professional baseball. These players come from high school or college programs where they were the best player on the team, and the rules didn’t always apply. Now, it’s once again a level playing field, and those most open to the instruction they receive at this level are most often the most likely to succeed.

As I write this on Friday, January 17th, we are just 76 days away from Opening Day 2014, when the TinCaps play host to the Great Lakes Loons. If you haven’t heard, individual tickets go on sale January 30th. If you make your purchase that day between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. in the Suite Level Lounge at Parkview Field, we’ll even throw in lunch for free. Sounds like a good deal to me!

MUSICAL GUEST

Nappy Roots…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: Michael Cuddyer

Welcome to the third 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, George Kottaras or Cliff Bartosh. 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.

Contestant number three in our series is Michael Cuddyer, who is currently a member of the Colorado Rockies, just the second team he’s played for in his 13-year major league career.

Cuddyer was born in Norfolk, Virginia, and went to high school in Chesapeake, Virginia. Although throughout Minor League Baseball we’ve become accustomed to seeing the best players come from locations that have climates conducive to year-round baseball (Florida, California, Georgia, etc.), Virginia isn’t necessarily what you’d think of as one of those baseball hotbeds. However, in the years since Cuddyyer was drafted by Minnesota in 1997 (1st round, 9th overall), many more high-level players have emerged from the Hampton Roads area of Virginia, such as brothers BJ and Justin Upton, Mark Reynolds, David Wright and Ryan Zimmerman.

The draft is held annually in June, but Cuddyer didn’t sign his contract with the Twins until August of ’97, meaning that he missed any chance of playing for an MiLB affiliate that season. However, under the most recent revision of the collective bargaining agreement, draft picks must be signed by mid-July, which means they’ll get on the field, even with a rookie-level affiliate, much sooner.

Cuddyer played with the Wizards in 1998, appearing in 129 games. He hit .276 with 12 home runs (he would’ve been the team leader each of the last few years), and 81 runs batted in. He had a .364 on-base percentage, and also stole 16 bases in 1998. He saw time around the infield during his time in the minors. Unfortunately for Cuddyer, he holds a mark in the Fort Wayne record books that may never be broken—most errors in one season. He committed 61 errors during the 1998 season. The highest single-season error total by one player in the TinCaps’ five-year tenure is 43 by shortstop Jonathan Galvez in 2010.However, Cuddyer’s 81 runs batted in are also the fourth-most by any player in a single season, and his 37 doubles are fifth-most.

Photo from "Baseball in Fort Wayne" a book by Chad Gramling.

Photo from “Baseball in Fort Wayne” a book by Chad Gramling.

In 1999, at age 20, he moved on to Advanced-A Fort Myers, where he saw all of his major numbers improve. He hit .298 with 16 home runs and knocked in 82. In 2000, he moved up to Double-A New Britain, playing 138 of a possible 142 games. He repeated the level in 2001, missing just one game and hitting an impressive 30 home runs, while driving home 87 runs and hitting 36 doubles. His stellar play at Double-A, much more a breeding ground for top-level prospects than Triple-A is, earned him a trip to the big leagues in 2001 as a late-season call-up for the Twins, and he made his MLB debut on September 23, 2001 against the Cleveland Indians.

Cuddyer started the 2002 season with the Edmonton (Alberta, Canada) Trappers of the Pacific Coast League. This is the field they played on:

TELUS Field, featuring a turf infield and a natural grass outfield. (Photo from charliesballparks.com)

TELUS Field, featuring a turf infield and a natural grass outfield. (Photo from charliesballparks.com)

(Side Note: There is currently only one Minor League Baseball team in Canada , the Vancouver Canadians, Short-Season affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays. The last affiliated team to leave Canada was the Ottawa Lynx, which became the Lehigh Valley IronPigs (Phillies) in 2008.)

He made his way back into the majors late in the 2002 season after playing 86 games in the Pacific Coast League. 2003 saw him split time between Triple-A Rochester (N.Y.) and the bigs, with 2004 being his first full season with Minnesota.

Michael_Cuddyer_2

The 6’2″, 220-pounder has played the majority of his MLB games at third base (355 games), but has seen time at a variety of spots including outfield (130 games), shortstop (122 games), first base (68 games), second base (nine games) and right field (four games). During the 2011 season, he became the first Twins position player to pitch in 21 years, and fans even made a Facebook page petitioning the team to play him at all nine positions in one game. He has hit double-digit home runs in nine of his 13 seasons in the majors, and in December 2011, the last remnant of Fort Wayne’s association with Minnesota to still be with the Twins, he signed a three-year, $31.5 million contract with the Rockies. In exchange for losing Cuddyer, the Twins got two supplemental first-round draft picks. One of those picks, Jose Berrios, ended up playing against the TinCaps this past season as a member of the Cedar Rapids Kernels, Minnesota’s affiliate in the Midwest League.

In 2013, Cuddyer had a career season and won the National League Silver Slugger Award:

“Cuddyer, 34, won his first career batting title by leading the National League with a .331 mark in what was his second season in Colorado. He finished with a .311 road average to tie for the sixth best mark in the National League.

Cuddyer was named to his second career All-Star team in 2013 and finished the season with a batting line of: .331 average, 162 hits, 31 doubles, 3 triples, 20 home runs, 84 RBI, 74 runs, .389 on-base percentage, .530 slugging percentage.

The Norfolk, Va. native set career highs in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and OPS (.919) this season.”

He has one year, the 2014 season, remaining on his contract with Colorado.

When Cuddyer made his debut in 2001, he became the 27th Fort Wayne alum to reach Major League Baseball.

MUSICAL GUEST

Lupe Fiasco and Ed Sheeran…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: Matt Antonelli

Welcome to the second 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, George Kottaras or Cliff Bartosh. 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.

Our second Fort Wayne alum that I’m profiling is Matt Antonelli, who was the 17th overall pick in the first round of the 2006 draft by the San Diego Padres. He played five regular-season games for the Wizards in 2006–a very short stay in Fort Wayne–but he’s written a lot about his baseball career and I’ve had the pleasure of reading it, so I wanted to let him share his insights with you, the readers of It’s All Relative. Matt made his MLB debut on September 1, 2008, with the Padres, before spending time in the Nationals, Orioles, Yankees, and Indians organizations. He is now coaching baseball and is finishing his studies at Wake Forest University, where he was when drafted by San Diego.

Please enjoy the Q&A, and know that you can follow Matt on Twitter at @MattAntonelli9.

It’s all Relative: You got drafted in June of ’06, and after starting out at Eugene, and came up to Fort Wayne for the very end of the season. What was that 2006 year like for you?

Matt Antonelli: The thing that comes to mind about the 2006 season was how long it felt. Our college season basically started in January of that year, then I got drafted in June and went directly to Eugene to start my short-season schedule. I believe after being sent to Fort Wayne in August, our season ended around the middle of September. From there I went to instructional league until the beginning of November. It was the first time I had ever played baseball everyday for basically 10 months straight. Plus, I was getting use to the travel demands of pro ball, so the first year is definitely unique.

IAR: You played just five games with the Wizards, and only one at Memorial Stadium. What do you remember about Fort Wayne?

MA: Although I was only with the Wizards for a few weeks, I really remember my time there because professional baseball was still very new to me. It was my first time as a professional being called up from one level to the next in the middle of the season, so it was a really big deal to me. Coming from Eugene, where the stadium was very old and the clubhouse was extremely small, I remember thinking Fort Wayne’s stadium felt like a big league park. I was also very lucky to get promoted right before the start of the playoffs, so it was my first experience as a professional player in a playoff situation, which was a lot of fun.

Matt Antonelli as a member of the San Diego Padres.

Matt Antonelli as a member of the San Diego Padres.

IAR: When that 2006 season ended, you had a good amount of future major league players on the roster—Yourself, Mike Baxter, David Freese, Jose Lobaton, Will Venable, Wade LeBlanc, Jon Link, and Joakim Soria…did you notice anything among that group, as a whole or from individuals, that would’ve indicated to you they had major league potential?

MA: All of those players you mentioned were really impressive players. At that point I was so new to professional baseball and the Major Leagues seemed so far away that I never really thought that far ahead. With that being said, they were all extremely talented players and I knew they all had very bright futures. The first time I saw David Freese hit I felt he was one of the better hitters I had ever seen. Wade LeBlanc possessed the best change-up I’d ever witnessed. Will Venable was such an impressive athlete with his size and speed combination. Jose was great behind the plate and really impressive with his ability to pick runners off the bases. Mike Baxter was a gamer. He was such a hard nosed and smart player that always got the job done. Jon Link had a great sinker / slider combination that made him dominant. Joakim was the one player I never got to play with because of my limited time with the Wizards, but his success at the Major League level speaks for itself.

IAR: What was that first off-season like for you since you were out of school and now a pro ballplayer?

MA: The first off-season is definitely strange once you become a professional player. It was the first time in my life where I didn’t have to go to school or play baseball for about a three month period. One thing I love about baseball is the practice time. I really enjoyed the off-season, being able to get up everyday and have three months to dedicate yourself to working out and preparing yourself for the following season. It was always one of my favorite times of the year.

IAR: What was it like hearing you were getting called up in 2008?

300px-Matt_Antonelli_2010

MA: Being called up in 2008 was definitely the highlight of my baseball career. When I received the news it was a little strange for me because I was in the midst of one of my toughest seasons of my baseball career. I really struggled that year and it wasn’t until August that I started to turn my season around. I definitely did not envision myself getting an opportunity to play at the Major League level that year, but when I got the news I was extremely excited.

IAR: I know you’ve battled through a lot of injuries during your career…what was the decision like to retire and what are you up to now?

MA: People are very surprised when they hear me say this, but my decision to stop playing wasn’t as hard as I would have imaged it to be. The last few years of my career I had a lot of issues with my hand and wrist. I had already missed almost 300 games because of it during my career, and I just didn’t feel like I was the player I needed to be to make it back to the Major Leagues. I wasn’t able to practice the way I needed to. It was really tough for me to hit multiple days in a row without it hurting. I wasn’t able to work out in the weight room the way I once was. And I played a good amount of games the last few years in a lot of pain. When I was finally released at the end of this April and did not receive any phone calls from Major League teams, I decided it was best to step away from the game and get into coaching. I just finished the fall coaching and finishing my Senior year at Wake Forest University. I love coaching and have really enjoyed my transition from player to coach. I envision myself coaching and developing players for the rest of my life.

IAR: From having been in the minors, we know about the bus rides, the hotels…all of that good stuff. What would you want people to know about Minor League Baseball who have never experienced it?

MA: Minor League baseball was a great time and I have a ton of memories and friendships that will last a lifetime. It is really unique because you literally spend every single minute of the day for almost eight months straight with a group of twenty five or so guys that basically become your family. That is probably the strangest part about not playing anymore. I no longer arrive at Spring Training every February and reunite with all of my buddies.

IAR: What was the greatest sacrifice you made to play professional baseball?

MA: I don’t know if I would call them sacrifices, but I definitely had to make some choices throughout my life to make sure I prepared myself for the opportunity to play professional baseball. The biggest thing is putting in the time and being dedicated to your development. A lot of my life was dedicated to traveling around the country, finding teams to play with and against that would push me to keep improving as a player. Once you become a professional player the biggest sacrifice players make is with regards to their family. I’m from the Boston area and played most of my career on the West Coast away from my family. I spent eight seasons away from my girlfriend and now wife, which is never an easy thing to do. Many players spend extensive time away from their kids. The lifestyle is definitely not easy, but the reward of realizing a childhood dream and making it to the Major Leagues makes it a little easier and ultimately worth the ride.

SCATTERSHOOTING

Away from baseball, I’ve been keeping busy on the basketball trail. This past weekend, I was down in Wheeling, West Virginia, to call high school basketball, and had the pleasure of working with Paul Biancardi (left) and Fran Frashcilla (center), two great basketball analysts.

BdLHM3JCcAAPWpE

In the midst of all this deep cold, I’m thinking about next weekend, when I’ll be down in Florida at Montverde Academy for another high school hoops game. If you’re around the TV on Saturday at 4:00, flip on ESPN and I’ll keep you company for a few hours.

We’ve still got no word on the coaching staff for 2014, but will let you know as soon as we hear it. The Dayton Dragons just announced theirs today, and both Manager Jose Nieves and Pitching Coach Tony Fossas will return. Luis Bolivar joins the club for his first season as hitting coach, replacing former Padres infielder Alex Pelaez.

MUSICAL GUEST

Coldplay…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: Jake Peavy

Welcome to the first 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, George Kottaras or Cliff Bartosh. 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.

Our first subject is Jake Peavy, who has played 12 years in the majors after originally being drafted in 1999. Peavy is now 32 years old, 13 years removed from his time with the Wizards, but as Parkview Field goes, his history in Fort Wayne will live on for years to come:

This Jake Peavy sign, one of many that display pieces of Fort Wayne's baseball history at Parkview Field, hangs beyond the center field wall.

This Jake Peavy sign, one of many that display pieces of Fort Wayne’s baseball history at Parkview Field, hangs beyond the center field wall.

Peavy was taken by the Padres in the 15th round of the 1999 draft out of St. Paul’s Episcopal School in Mobile, Alabama, and chose professional baseball over an opportunity to play baseball in his home state at Auburn University.

He originally followed the path that many minor leaguers do, starting out in the Arizona League and then moving up to rookie-level ball in Idaho Falls, Idaho, with the then-Idaho Falls Braves. (The team, now known as the Chukars–a native bird–kept the Braves name for four seasons after its affiliation with the Braves came to an end.) Following that 1999 campaign, he began the 2000 season in Fort Wayne and pitched in 26 games, starting 25 of them. He worked 133 2/3 innings (about an average workload over a full season) and struck out 164 batters while walking 53. He also held opponents to a .216 batting average. He stayed in Fort Wayne for the entirety of the 2000 season, moving on to both Advanced-A Lake Elsinore and Double-A Mobile in 2001 turning in a 2.97 ERA over 133 1/3 innings. He did that, it should be noted, as he was 19 (turning 20 in May) years old. The numbers are pretty darn impressive by themselves, but it’s the age at which he did them that’s most impressive.

Jake Peavy pitching for the Wizards at Memorial Stadium.

Jake Peavy pitching for the Wizards at Memorial Stadium.

One number that remains constantly strong throughout Peavy’s minor-league career and on into his MLB days is his strikeout/innings pitched ratio. Here’s a small sample:

2000 (Fort Wayne): 164 K in 133 2/3 IP

2001 (Lake Elsinore): 144 K in 105 1/3 IP

2002: (Mobile): 89 K in 80 1/3 IP

In fact, he’s ranked #21 in the history of Major League Baseball when it comes to ratio of strikeouts per nine innings pitched. (Randy Johnson is #1, in case you were wondering.

After starting the ’02 season in Mobile, his hometown, where a local Pepsi distributor made a can with his face on it, Peavy was called up to San Diego by then-General Manager Kevin Towers, to help out an injury-laden Padres squad. It was also a team that finished 66-96, last in the National League West, 32 games out of first. Peavy’s debut came June 22 of that season against the New York Yankees. What a way to come into the majors…facing a lineup that included Alfonso Soriano, Derek Jeter, Jason Giambi, and Bernie Williams, among others. Peavy was 21 years old.

Fast forward now to the 2004 season, just Peavy’s third in Major League Baseball. As a 23-year-old (I was still figuring out how to properly iron things at that age), Peavy turned in a 2.27 ERA, the best in the bigs. He became the youngest pitcher to lead the majors in earned run average since Dwight Gooden did it, at 20 years old, in 1985. From the “You win some, you lose some” category, Peavy also gave up Barry Bonds’ 700th career home run.

Clearly, Peavy was head, shoulders, and perhaps even torso above the rest of players his age. But, as an old axiom tells us, excellence is a habit, not something that’s just found one day. Sports Illustrated once profiled Peavy, and shared a great anecdote about his baseball intelligence when he was in Fort Wayne:

“In the summer of 2000 Padres general manager Kevin Towers was sitting in the stands at a Class A ball game in Fort Wayne when a skinny teenager sat down next to him and introduced himself. It was the kid out of St. Paul’s Episcopal in Mobile whom the year before Towers had taken in the 15th round of the amateur draft on the recommendation of scout Mark Wasinger, who had raved about the kid’s mound moxie.

“I don’t get it,” the kid said after a while. “Why don’t these hitters ever make adjustments? They’re supposed to be professionals. I make adjustments every time I’m out there pitching.”

Recalls Towers, “That was the first time that I had met Jake–and I remember thinking, Is this kid 19 or is he Greg Maddux?”‘

Time and time again, anyone within the game from pitching coaches to managers to scouts will tell you that the best players make adjustments, especially at this level. Jose Valentin preached it the last two years in the media, and scouts scribble it in judgmental ink each and every night on their notepads, letting their organizations know who to keep an eye on and who to forget.

In 2007, Peavy not only won the NL Cy Young Award, but he again won the National League ERA title, while also leading the circuit in wins (19) and strikeouts (240 in 223 1/3 innings). At that point, he was seven years removed from his time in Fort Wayne, with 76 MLB wins under his belt.

On July 31, 2009, more than ten years after he had originally been drafted by the Padres, Peavy was traded to the Chicago White Sox. Despite seeing season-ending surgery in 2010 and a dip in his numbers after the trade, he was named a 2012 All-Star and also awarded the Gold Glove that season. On July 30 of this year, he was shipped off to the Boston Red Sox, and went on to win the World Series with the club.

Considering that the average major-leaguer can expect to be in the bigs for 5.6 years (number as of 2007), what Peavy has done in doubling that service time is quite impressive. Not only has he made his mark as a player, but as a philanthropist, too, purchasing one suite at the Mobile BayBears’ ballpark for each of the team’s 70 home games, and donating it to charity.

After winning the World Series with Boston, he took part in the Duck Boat parade around the city, where the team’s executives and players rode in World War II-era vehicles that are equipped to ride on both land and water.

Peavy poses in front of the duck boat, which he liked so much that he ended up buying it for himself.

Peavy poses in front of the duck boat, which he liked so much that he ended up buying it for himself.

Riding on the boat wasn’t enough, though, for Peavy, who bought the boat and says he hopes to keep it in the family. According to his Twitter account, the boat is now back at his home in Alabama.

It was perhaps easy to see, from his demeanor in Low-A, his sterling Minor League numbers, and his rapid ascension through the ranks, including just 3 1/2 years in Minor League Baseball. However, no one can truthfully predict a future Cy Young award winner when he’s only 19 or 20 years old. Peavy has made a name for himself, both on and off the field. His contract with Boston, originally signed by White Sox management, runs through the 2014 season, with an option, at Peavy’s leisure, as long as he reaches a certain innings threshold.

Peavy is one of many to have started his career in Fort Wayne, and certainly one that fans who watched him here can be proud to say was once a Fort Wayne Wizard, his dream now come to fruition.

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In other news, I’ve been traveling more for ESPN calling college basketball, and got to call a thriller in Ames, Iowa, on Friday night between Iowa and Iowa State. Here’s a look at a packed Hilton Coliseum:

1519184_10201518844077852_1714521463_oThis Thursday I’ll be down in Indianapolis with Dan Dakich and Paul Biancardi calling high school basketball, which will air on ESPN at 9:30. Then, on Sunday the 22nd, I’ll be in Morgantown, West Virginia, to call Purdue’s game against the Mountaineers. I hope you’ll be able to tune into one, if not both!

If we don’t cross paths again before the New Year, have a great holiday season and new year’s celebration.

——-

MUSICAL GUEST

Miranda Lambert…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 Brach, Decker, Mikolas Traded Away

Although late November isn’t the biggest time of the year for baseball news, the Padres caused a ripple in the trade world today by shipping off three former TinCaps: Brad Brach, Jaff Decker, and Miles Mikolas. In exchange for Brach, a member of the 2009 TinCaps, the Padres received right-handed pitcher Devin Jones from the Baltimore Orioles. Decker and Mikolas both went to the Pittsburgh Pirates organization for first-baseman/outfielder Alex Dickerson.

Brach saved 33 games for the TinCaps in ’09, helping close many a game in the franchise’s most successful season ever. This past season, his third seeing big-league time, he pitched in 33 games out of the San Diego bullpen and had a 3.19 ERA. With the Triple-A Tucson Padres, from which he was shuttled back and forth with great frequency, he also pitched in 33 games with a 2.84 ERA. If Brach lands with Triple-A for the Orioles, he’ll be stationed with the Norfolk Tides along the coast in Virginia.

Brach, drafted out of Monmouth University (NJ), led the Midwest League with 33 saves in 2009.

Brach, drafted out of Monmouth University (NJ), led the Midwest League with 33 saves in 2009.

Decker, 23, is a former first-round pick (2008) by the Padres out of Sunrise Mountain High School in Peoria, Arizona. He played in 104 games for the TinCaps in 2009, and was the first player to hit a home run into the Treetops seating area in right field, before Clark Murphy repeated the feat in 2012. Decker made his MLB debut with San Diego in June, but only appeared in 13 games this season for the Padres, spending most of his time at Triple-A Tucson. The bright news for TinCaps fans regarding Decker and Mikolas is that if they end up in Triple-A with Pittsburgh, they won’t be playing very far from here. The Pirates Triple-A affiliate is the Indianapolis Indians.

When Decker made his MLB debut, he became the 115th former Fort Wayne player to do so.

When Decker made his MLB debut, he became the 115th former Fort Wayne player to do so.

Mikolas followed both Brach and Decker, pitching for the TinCaps in 2010. The Jupiter, Florida, native pitched in 60 games that season, saving 13, and had just a 2.20 ERA. After being drafted in the 7th round in 2009, he reached the majors on May 5, 2012 with the Padres, and over the last two seasons has pitched in 25 games for San Diego. He hurled 54 times this season for Tucson.

If you walk around Parkview Field, you'll find Miles Mikolas' mustache on one of the banners.

If you walk around Parkview Field, you’ll find Miles Mikolas’ mustache on one of the banners.

As for the two players the Padres got in return, here’s what San Diego told us about them via press release today:

Jones – “The 23-year-old Jones spent nearly all of the 2013 campaign with Double-A Bowie, going 4-7 with a 5.84 ERA in 24 starts.  He also made one start with High-A Frederick.  The 6-foot-2 Jones was the Orioles’ ninth round selection of the 2011 Draft out of Mississippi State University.  The Mississippi native is 15-18 with a 4.47 ERA in 67 games (34 starts) over three seasons.”

Dickerson – “The 23-year-old Dickerson was born and raised in the San Diego suburb of Poway, graduating from Poway High School in 2008 before playing baseball at Indiana University. The left-handed hitter and thrower spent all of 2013 with Double-A Altoona, batting .288 (130-for-451) with 36 doubles, three triples, 17 home runs, 68 RBI, 61 runs scored and 10 stolen bases.  The 6-foot-3, 235-pounder was named both the Eastern League Rookie of the Year and a post-season All-Star.  His 2013 campaign comes directly on the heels of Dickerson being named the Florida State League Player of the Year in 2012 after batting .295 with 31 doubles, 13 home runs and 90 RBI in 129 games with High-A Bradenton.

The Pirates third-round selection in 2011 batted .419 with 24 home runs and 75 RBI for Indiana in 2010 en route to not only being named Big Ten Player of the Year, but also taking home the league’s Triple Crown.  He represented Team USA on the Collegiate National Team in the summer of 2010 between his sophomore and junior seasons at IU.  Dickerson hit .290 (20-for-69) with four doubles in 18 games for Scottsdale in the recently-completed Arizona Fall League, including taking home the N.L. title in the inaugural Bowman Hitting Challenge.”

Neither Jones nor Dickerson will play in Fort Wayne, but they both seem to represent quality additions to the San Diego MiLB ranks. Here’s an article about Dickerson’s improvement over the course of the 2013 season: http://www.utsandiego.com/news/2013/jul/29/dickerson-finally-finds-swing-at-double-a/

This is a scouting report on Jones: http://orioles-nation.com/players/devin-jones/ and some analysis: http://www.camdenchat.com/2013/11/25/5144000/orioles-trade-brad-brach-padres-devin-jones

More news as it comes across the wire. We’re still waiting to hear word of who the next TinCaps manager will be, too.

*****

MUSICAL GUEST

Lorde…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

TinCaps Manager Jose Valentin Named Padres First-Base Coach

The San Diego Padres announced Monday night that TinCaps Manager Jose Valentin is moving up to the majors to be their new first-base coach. That’s great news for Jose, who did a stellar job in his two seasons in Fort Wayne, but it also means the TinCaps need a new manager. More on that in a moment…

Valentin leaves Fort Wayne as the manager with the third-most wins in franchise history.

Valentin leaves Fort Wayne as the manager with the third-most wins in franchise history.

Valentín, named Fort Wayne’s 15th manager on November 10, 2011, went 149-144 in his two seasons, trailing only Doug Dascenzo, who won a Midwest League title in 2009, and Randy Ready. Both Dascenzo and Ready were in Fort Wayne for three seasons. The 44-year-old Valentín had not coached or managed in Minor League Baseball prior to working in Fort Wayne.

He led the TinCaps to back-to-back playoff appearances, winning the Midwest League’s Eastern Division pennant in 2012, taking the team to the championship series for just the second time. His 2012 campaign saw Yeison Asencio win the franchise’s first-ever Midwest League batting title, along with Adys Portillo and Matt Stites setting team records for the lowest ERA by a starter and reliever, respectively. Valentín was named the Low-A Manager of the Year by Baseball America following the 2012 season. In 2013 he helped oversee a starting pitching staff that featured four first-round draft choices, including San Diego’s top picks from both the 2011 and 2012 drafts.

“José experienced a great deal of success the last two seasons with our affiliate in Fort Wayne and his extensive background in the game will prove to be an asset to the club,” said Padres Executive Vice President/General Manager Josh Byrnes in a press release.

“I’m thrilled for Jose. I’ve known him since we signed him as a teenager from Puerto Rico,” said Randy Smith, the Padres’ vice president of player development and international scouting. “He’s a tremendous person with passion and knowledge of the game. He did a great job in Fort Wayne. Players got better and were held accountable, and [they] learned how to play.”

Seven former Fort Wayne managers or coaches have gone on to work in MLB.

Seven former Fort Wayne managers or coaches have gone on to work in MLB.

Valentin continues the line of former managers or coaches who have worked in Fort Wayne and gone on to work at the major-league level. Here’s a timeline of that group:

NAME – YEAR(S) IN FW – MLB POSITION

Jose Valentin (Manager) – 2012, 2013 – Padres Current First-Base Coach

Willie Blair (Pitching Coach) – 2011, 2012 – Padres Current Bullpen Coach

Doug Dascenzo (Manager) – 2007-2009 – Braves Current Third-Base Coach

Randy Ready (Manager) – 2004-2006 – Padres Hitting Coach (2009-2011)

Mike Harkey – 2001, 2003 – Yankees Current Bullpen Coach

Darren Balsley (Pitching Coach) – 2000 – Current Padres Pitching Coach

Craig Colbert (Manager) – 2000 – Padres Bench Coach (2007, 2008)

On a personal note, working with Valentin was a great pleasure. In the last three seasons (I spent the 2011 season in Dayton) I have worked with two managers, Valentin and Delino DeShields, who were former big-leaguers, and both were great to work with. Jose helped make my job easier by agreeing to every interview request, answering every question that I had and always keeping me in the loop on things. That’s a behind-the-scenes thing that nobody ever sees, but goes a long way in helping the entire operation run smoothly. I think he’ll be a great fit with the Padres, as he’s not only bi-lingual, being from Puerto Rico, but he is not all that far removed from being a player at that level. He played his last game in 2007 and has been managing the last two years. Considering in his last season he helped tutor Jose Reyes in New York, it’s clear that players he shared the field with are still out there now. He also always treated his players well; he expected the best out of them and would praise them when they were playing well, and let them know when they weren’t.

Now the search for a new manager begins. According to Corey Brock on Padres.com, the Padres will “likely fill their managerial vacancy in Fort Wayne from within.” The last manager hired before Valentin was Shawn Wooten, a former MLB player, who had been with the organization for one prior season, working as the hitting coach with the Eugene Emeralds. Prior to Wooten, the manager in 2010 was Jose Flores. He had been the hitting coach at Short-Season A Eugene in 2007 and managing the Arizona League Padres in 2008 and 2009.

Stay tuned to our Twitter account, @TinCaps, and our Facebook page for team news as it happens, and I’ll have a more in-depth look at the team’s new manager here on It’s All Relative as soon as that name is announced.

—————-

MUSICAL GUEST

Jon Pardi…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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