The newest ESPN Films “30 for 30,” Brothers in Exile, premiered Tuesday night. The documentary tells the story of Livan and Orlando Hernandez — the half-brothers from Cuba who fled to the U.S. in the mid-90s and went on to become World Series-winning pitchers. Of course the story isn’t that simple. In association with MLB Productions, director Mario Diaz chronicles the great risks they took to eventually achieve their success. You can watch ESPN’s preview here.
Sports Illustrated media critic/reporter Richard Deitsch calls it one of the five best “30 for 30” films yet. In that link, Deitsch also has notes on how the documentary came to be, including how Diaz obtained footage of Livan and El Duque from Cuba. Awful Announcing also has its own Brothers in Exile review here.
There’s a bit of a TinCaps connection to this.
Some more details to that story from 1996…
The setting was spring training in Viera, Florida. Mike was 24 and had just started his first full-time job out of college as a group salesman with the Brevard County Manatees, who were then the Advanced-A affiliate of the Marlins in the Florida State League. (The Manatees are currently affiliated with the Brewers.) Meanwhile, Livan had just turned 21 and was preparing for his first season in the United States.
When Livan arrived in Brevard County, Mike helped him move into his apartment. Although Livan only knew a couple words of English at the time — more on that in a moment — Mike was fluent in Spanish. From that point on they were friendly.
And so following a lengthy session with the press after Livan’s U.S. debut in an exhibition against the University of Miami (mini recap here), it was Mike who took him out to eat. Livan didn’t ask Mike to go eat as much as he rubbed his stomach and pointed to his mouth. Just like two young 20-year-olds would do almost 20 years later, they went to Wendy’s. Naturally.
In Spanish, Livan told Mike he wanted the biggest burger on the menu. Livan likely said something to the tune of, “Quiero una hamburguesa grande.” But then, for the first time in Mike’s company, Livan spoke English. He altered his order.
Later that spring training, Mike and Livan had another outing together as the Marlins wanted Livan to get his driver’s license. This is one of those tasks that sounds simple enough to any of us, but when you add in language and cultural barriers, it becomes considerably more challenging. Not to mention, Livan didn’t have his own car (although considering the Marlins signed him for four years, $4.5 million, he probably could’ve afforded one, as well as a better meal than Wendy’s, but we digress).
Mike let Livan use his red Honda CRX for the driving test.
As you can see, that CRX didn’t have a backseat. So you’ve got Livan up front along with a driving instructor, and Mike — there to translate — laying in the back/trunk. (For the record, couldn’t find any Google images depicting that scene.)
On Livan’s first crack at his driving test, he didn’t pass. A few weeks later, Mike brought Livan back for a second try. First, though, Livan had to go through a three-hour defensive driving course — in English. Again, it was Mike’s job to translate. And then, at last, Livan passed.
He soon spent the majority of 1996 with Double-A Portland and Triple-A Charlotte. He made one appearance with the Marlins that year at the end of September. A year later, Livan would end up the youngest ever World Series MVP.
There you have it — classic tales from working in Minor League Baseball. And by now, Mike has enough of them to fill a book.
Do you have any good stories to share about encounters with stars before they were stars? Or ever find yourself laying in the back of a red Honda CRX to translate during a driver’s test? Eat Wendy’s? Whatever the case, be in touch on Twitter, @John_G_Nolan, in the comments below, or by email. Thanks for reading.
Before we dive into the desert, in case you missed it last week, Mallex Smith was voted Minor League Baseball’s Top Offensive Player in 2014.
That’s a pretty incredible honor for Mallex for a number of reasons. For one, he beat out the top prospects in baseball like Kris Bryant (Cubs), Joc Pederson (Dodgers), Mookie Betts (Red Sox), and Joey Gallo (Rangers). That goes to show you just how popular Mallex is with fans, and for good reason. With his speed and hustle — on top of talent — he’s an exciting player to watch. Mallex is also well-liked because of how he gives back to his fans. (At Parkview Field he was routinely the last one on the field Sundays signing autographs.) Mallex’s award also says something about the popularity of the TinCaps and the loyalty of fans in Fort Wayne (as well as in Lake Elsinore).
Before the season started, some predicted Mallex would lead all of Minor League Baseball in stolen bases, which he did. But no one would have predicted him to be MiLB’s Top Offensive Player. Especially not out of spring training, when he was assigned to Fort Wayne again for a second season, and not to Lake Elsinore, where most of his 2013 TinCaps teammates went. It wasn’t that Mallex didn’t want to be in Fort Wayne. It’s that he didn’t want to repeat a season at the same level. To his credit, he kept a positive attitude throughout his first half in the Midwest League and played at a caliber that pretty much forced San Diego’s hand to move him up midway through the season.
A lot happens during the course of a 140-game season, but a few moments stand out. One of my favorites was on Father’s Day, June 15, when the TinCaps were hosting the Bowling Green Hot Rods in the final game of the first half. The night before, following a win, Mallex found out he would be promoted to Lake Elsinore after playing in the MWL All-Star Classic. Manager Michael Collins told the entire team in the clubhouse and so by Sunday word had gotten out. When Mallex came up to bat that day, the die-hard fans gave him a standing ovation. You don’t often see that at the Single-A level. It was pretty special. It’s nice to see good things happen to good people. So congrats again to Mallex.
As we’ve told you before, Mallex is one of seven former TinCaps currently playing in the Arizona Fall League — an off-season “graduate school” for top prospects. Here’s the full list, along with what years they played in Fort Wayne:
Former TinCaps in the 2014 Arizona Fall League
* LHP Brandon Alger (2012)
* RHP Tyron Guerrero (2013-14)
* RHP Justin Hancock (2012-13)
* INF Jace Peterson (2012)
* OF Hunter Renfroe (2013)
* OF Mallex Smith (2013-14)
* INF Trea Turner (2014)
The only other San Diego prospect on the Surprise Saguaros (also featuring players from the Red Sox, Reds, Mariners, and Rangers) is Burch Smith. The team also includes D.J. Peterson (Mariners), who’s the older brother of 2014 TinCaps third baseman Dustin Peterson.
Speaking of Dustin, a few weeks ago Baseball America had an update on Petey’s development at the Padres’ Fall Instructs in Peoria, Ariz.
You need to have a paid account to see the article, so if you don’t here are the highlights… As you already know from following the TinCaps this past season, Dustin led the team in errors with 38 in 101 games. You also recall that it was not just the 19-year old’s first full pro season, but also his first full year after playing shortstop at Gilbert High School.
“I’m happy with his progress,” (then) farm director Randy Smith said. Smith believes that Peterson has the necessary arm strength and agility to stay at the hot corner and that many of his adjustments are mental. “The biggest thing for him, really, was just cutting the ball loose,” Smith said. “He needed to trust his arm, instead of babying the ball over there.”
Midway through instrux, Smith said Peterson’s improvement was noticeable. “His angles to groundballs are better,” Smith said, “and he’s throwing well.”
Hitting coaches worked as well with Peterson, though his defense drew lengthier attention. Peterson hit .233/.274/.361 with 10 home runs, 137 strikeouts and 25 walks at Fort Wayne, but he showed that he can work counts and drive pitches.
“He’s gonna hit,” Smith said. “He’s a good RBI guy. We’re getting him to understand, ‘Don’t try to do too much with men off base.’”
Two other bullet points to share from BA:
• Randy Smith said cutting down strikeouts was a general theme of the instructional league. “We want to improve our two-strike approach,” he said.
• Michael Gettys, a second-round pick in June out of Gainesville (Ga.) High, impressed during instructional league after hitting .310/.353/.437 in 52 games in the Rookie-level Arizona League. “He’s got a real simple swing,” Smith said. “He’s got strength, bat speed. He’s a pure center fielder.”
It’s a futile effort to try to predict the 2015 TinCaps roster at this point, but safe money says Michael Gettys should be in Fort Wayne, and could be one of the most fun players to see in the MWL next year.
Baseball America highlights Gettys, as well as Trea Turner, in this recent 2014 Draft Report Card for the Padres.
BEST PURE HITTER: OF Auston Bousfield (5)
BEST POWER HITTER: OF Michael Gettys (2)
FASTEST RUNNER: SS Trea Turner (1)
BEST DEFENSIVE PLAYER: SS Trea Turner (1)
BEST FASTBALL: RHP Ryan Butler (7)
BEST ATHLETE: OF Michael Gettys (2)
MOST INTRIGUING BACKGROUND: SS Mitch Morales (29)
CLOSEST TO THE MAJORS: RHP Ryan Butler (7)
BEST LATE-ROUND PICK: RHP Colby Blueberg (24)
In evaluating the entire draft, Baseball America pegged Turner among Fastest Runners (No. 5), while Butler qualified for Best Fastball (No. 5) and Gettys was tabbed the No. 4 Best Athlete.
The canonical BA is scheduled to release its list of Top 10 Padres Prospects on January 26. Stay tuned.
Can you believe all of those prospects mentioned above were born in 1990 or later? That means we unfortunately don’t have any natural segue to Taylor Swift, who was born in the last month of the 1980s and has gone on to name her latest album 1989.
There’s really no excuse for being tired at work on the Monday after Daylight Saving Time. Actually, that’s a dumb saying. I’m sure there are lots of excuses to still be tired. But at least there’s one less since setting back the clocks gave everyone an extra hour. In any case, if a TinCaps employee needed an extra rush of sugar to get going today, they were in luck.
That’s leftover Halloween candy in the break room. Thank you, parents, for looking out for the health of your kids and for the unhealthy appetites of your co-workers. (FYI: There was considerably more candy this morning before this picture was taken in the afternoon. Not that we had anything to do with the sudden scarcity of Kit Kats and Reese’s.)
Meanwhile, the weather on Friday for Halloween was far from being a treat. It snowed. Litch-rally. However, that didn’t stop Johnny TinCap from having BIG FUN with his friend Lydia, who won the Trick-or-Treat with Johnny Essay Contest.
Both Johnny and Lydia had great costumes. Check out more of their Trick-or-Treating adventures here below.
NBC 33 also had a report on trick-or-treating with Johnny.
On another baseball-related Halloween note: We saw a lot of couples dressed up as
Elsa Squints and Wendy Peffercorn from The Sandlot.
Good going, couples who dressed up as Squints and Wendy Peffercorn.
Might as well finish out the Halloween theme here, right? Michael Jackson take it away…
Believe it or not, the Major League Baseball season isn’t over yet. It just feels that way since there hasn’t been a game in five days. But alas, that’s what happens when you have a sweep in the ALCS, a five-game series in the NLCS, and a World Series start date predetermined by TV contracts.
So who are we rooting for: Kansas City? San Francisco? Fort Wayne?
If you want to support Fort Wayne, then you’ll want to root for the Giants. Why? Because the Giants have one former Fort Wayne player and the Royals don’t have any.
That one player? Jake Peavy, a 2000 Fort Wayne Wizard. This blog has already examined Peavy’s path from Fort Wayne to fruition. But if you’re interested in reading a bit more about his time and Fort Wayne and his MLB career, check out what we wrote earlier today.
You may also be interested in knowing that of the other 49 players in this year’s World Series, 17 played in the Midwest League.
Midwest League Alums in 2014 World Series
San Francisco Giants
- LHP Jeremy Affeldt (Lansing, 1998)
- INF Joaquin Arias (Battle Creek*, 2003)
- RHP Santiago Casilla (Kane County, 2003-04)
- LHP Javier Lopez (South Bend, 1998-99)
- RHP JAKE PEAVY (FORT WAYNE, 2000)
Note: The Giants are currently affiliated with Class A Augusta in the South Atlantic League. San Francisco was affiliated with multiple Midwest League clubs from 1963-96. More on the Giants’ MiLB history here.
Kansas City Royals
- OF Lorenzo Cain (Wisconsin, 2009)
- LHP Tim Collins (Lansing, 2008)
- RHP Wade Davis (Southwest Michigan*, 2006)
- LHP Danny Duffy (Burlington, 2008)
- OF Jarrod Dyson (Burlington, 2007, 2009)
- RHP Jason Frasor (West Michigan, 1999-2000)
- RHP Kelvin Herrera (Burlington, 2008-10)
- INF Eric Hosmer (Burlington, 2009)
- INF Omar Infante (West Michigan, 2000, 2013)
- INF Mike Moustakas (Burlington, 2008)
- C Salvador Perez (Burlington, 2009)
- RHP Yordano Ventura (Kane County, 2011)
- OF Josh Willingham (Kane County, 2001)
Note: The Royals are currently affiliated with Class A Lexington in the South Atlantic League. Kansas City was affiliated with Kane County from 2011-12 and Burlington from 2001-10. For 20 out of 30 years between the franchise’s inception in 1969 and 1998, the Royals had a Midwest League affiliate. More on the Royals’ MiLB history here.
It’s interesting to point out that three current Royals played for Burlington in 2009 — the year the TinCaps beat the Bees in the Midwest League Championship Series. However, Jarrod Dyson, Eric Hosmer, and Salvador Perez were all promoted during the summer and no longer with Burlington by September.
Considering Mr. Peavy is from Alabama, we must allow Lynyrd Skynyrd to take it away…
When the Padres fired General Manager Josh Byrnes and later hired A.J. Preller over the summer, you wondered what it would possibly mean for the TinCaps? You figured there would be at least a few other changes in San Diego’s organization to follow — if not an entire overhaul — it just wasn’t clear what they would be. A few months later, the picture at Petco Park still hasn’t crystallized entirely, but more dominoes are starting to fall.
On Friday evening, the Padres announced several changes to their player development staff.
(In case you’re not very familiar with the structure of a Major League organization, the player development staff is the one that handles a team’s farm system. So if you’re at a TinCaps game and see someone in the dugout wearing Padres gear instead of TinCaps attire, then you’re most likely spotting someone from the player development staff. As part of their role, they travel around the organization’s affiliates throughout the season and help the team’s manager, hitting coach, and pitching coach instruct players.)
* For starters, Randy Smith, who had been the Vice President of Player Development since 2010, remains with the organization but has a new role. Smith is now a Senior Advisor for Baseball Operations with a focus on scouting.
“This title is a new one. I’ve had all the director jobs,” Smith said. “It’s nice to continue to get exposure to do different things. I like new challenges.
“It will be having a chance to impact the Major League team with Major League scouting and whatever else A.J. wants me to do,” Smith said. “I’ve been in the organization for 23 years and feel like I have a perspective of what’s been successful and what hasn’t over the years.”
Smith was the Padres’ general manager from 1993-95 and served in that same role with the Tigers from 1996-2001. He returned to the Padres in 2003 as a special assistant to the general manager.
During his career, Smith has been a general manager, assistant general manager, director of player development, scouting director, director of international scouting and director of professional scouting.
“He’s a guy that has a lot of experience in a lot of different areas in the game; he started off scouting, he’s been a GM, the farm, and now he’s moving back into a scouting role,” Preller said. “Randy’s also got a chance to bring is international experience to the role.
“I think any chance you have to cross different departments and combining that with his evaluation skills, it made it an attractive move.”
In the last four years, seven members of the Padres player development staff have moved on to jobs at the Major League level — Phil Plantier (hitting coach, Padres), Doug Dascenzo (first-base coach, Cubs), Gary Jones (third-base coach, Cubs), John Gibbons (manager, Blue Jays), Willie Blair (bullpen coach, Padres) and Jose Valentin (first-base coach, Padres).
Preller said one of his next hires will be a director of player development, who will then have a say in the hiring of the coordinators.
Regarding the Minor League changes, Preller said it was time to a new perspective and direction.
“I didn’t think that we were lacking anything, it’s just getting a different vision, a fresh start,” Preller said. “We’re looking to put some new faces in those positions. It’s a chance to get others in the organization involved. We felt that was the way to go.”
* Meanwhile, Randy Johnson (Minor League Field Coordinator), Sean Berry (Minor League Hitting Coordinator), and Glen Barker (Minor League Outfield & Baserunning Coordinator) are not returning in 2015.
Johnson was the Padres’ Field Coordinator for the last five years. Berry, who was the Astros Hitting Coach from ’06-10, had spent the last four seasons as San Diego’s Hitting Coordinator. Barker was also with the Padres for four years.
These changes follow a few others that came during the season around the time when Preller arrived from Texas. Chad MacDonald stepped down as Assistant GM of Player Personnel in August. Vice President/Assistant GM A.J. Hinch also left the organization in August (and is now the Astros’ manager).
When you add it all up, it’s a fairly significant amount of turnover on the side of Scouting & Player Development.
But going back to the original question: What does it mean for the TinCaps? That remains to be seen.
The changes the Padres have made here are understandable from the standpoint that the organization has had four consecutive losing seasons and made the playoffs only twice in the last 16 years with only five winning campaigns in that course of time. It also makes sense to allow a new leader in Preller to surround himself with “his” people.
With that said, the crew the Padres have had in place has helped the TinCaps make six consecutive Midwest League Playoff appearances. Of the other 15 teams in the league, no one else has made more than four playoff appearances since 2009. Fort Wayne has also produced 30 big leaguers over the last six years — another league high (the MWL average elsewhere has been 17).
Playoff-clinching clubhouse celebrations have become a TinCaps tradition.
Beyond appreciating how the recent Padres player development staff has helped the TinCaps have winning teams, they’ve also been class acts to work with. So you wish those moving on well.
At the same time, Preller played a key role in turning the Rangers into a World Series contender. So if you believe he can help improve the Padres’ fortunes, too, then it’s exciting to think about the product that could be on display at Parkview Field in the years to come.
Again, time will tell. In the coming weeks, we’ll likely learn not only who the Padres have brought in to fill the roles of VP for Player Development, Field Coordinator, Hitting Coordinator, and Outfield & Baserunning Coordinator, but also discover who will serve as the TinCaps’ field staff in 2015.
Opening Day at Great Lakes is just 172 days away!
Recently we told you that Minor League Baseball will have a new team in 2016: the Columbia… Well, that’s where you come in. They need a name. The Columbia __________ are holding a “Name Our Team” contest right now through Friday (Oct. 24). You can enter your ideas here.
And while Columbia goes through its naming process, ColumbiaProBall.com is taking a look at some of the more popular monikers in Minor League Baseball — like the TinCaps.
In the latest installment of their series, Columbia takes a look at the story behind the name of the Triple-A Albuquerque Isotopes.
Similar to Columbia, Albuquerque is a city that had seen affiliated professional baseball leave town only to return. So in advance of the Calgary Cannons moving to New Mexico’s largest city in 2003, the team had a naming contest.
As fate would have it, Albuquerque’s naming contest came on the heels of a 2001 episode of The Simpsons about Minor League Baseball. In the “Hungry, Hungry Homer” episode, Homer discovers his fictional hometown team, the Springfield Isotopes, is plotting to relocate to Albuquerque and become the Albuquerque Isotopes.
(Notice how even fictitious Minor League teams have local names! Springfield, in The Simpsons, is home to a nuclear power plant; thus, the Springfield Isotopes. And in case you forgot from chemistry class, an isotope is an atom with the same number of protons but differing number of neutrons.)
So following this popular episode of The Simpsons, Isotopes found its way on the ballot in Albuquerque’s fan vote to name their team. In a three-candidate race, Isotopes garnered more than 50% of the votes. It actually is a very fitting moniker for New Mexico’s only MiLB team. The state has several nuclear technology labs; New Mexico is also where the U.S. first tested an atomic bomb in 1945 and where the Roswell “UFO” came down in 1947.
The Isotopes have played off of their scientific roots by nicknaming their ballpark “The Lab.” The team’s mascot is Orbit, a large, goofy-looking alien. Albuquerque has also honored the heritage of its name by putting up statues of Homer, Marge, Bart, and Lisa in the park. (Apparently no love for Maggie, though.)
More than a decade later, the Isotopes set an attendance record in 2014 and remain in the top 25 of MiLB merchandise sales.
Does this make you think of any pop-culture references that would be fitting for Columbia? Or any other ideas? Submit your name here!
Bonus Fact 1: The Isotopes recently received another boost in popularity from pop culture. With Breaking Bad being set and filmed in Albuquerque, star actor Bryan Cranston started going to games and became a fan. He ended up wearing an Isotopes hat in one episode!
Bonus Fact 2: Ken Levine was the screenwriter of the “Hungry, Hungry Homer” Simpsons episode. It was the first episode Levine wrote for the show and was inspired by his background as a baseball fan. In fact, Levine isn’t just a baseball fan, he’s been a play-by-play broadcaster for the Orioles, Mariners, and Padres, and hosted the Dodgers’ post-game talk show. Before that, Levine was an MiLB broadcaster in Syracuse and Norfolk. He referenced Albuquerque in The Simpsons because Albuquerque was the longtime affiliate of the Dodgers, who he grew up rooting for.
With all this talk about names, let’s let the pride of Buffalo take it away…
Were you following the name change in Fort Wayne when the Wizards moved Downtown and became the TinCaps? First thing you thought when you heard “TinCaps”? Let us know onTwitter, @John_G_Nolan, in the comments below, or by email. Thanks for reading.
Remember a couple weeks ago we told you about a cool accolade for Parkview Field? Stadium Journey magazine ranked the home of the TinCaps No. 1 out of 16 Midwest League ballparks.
Now we’ve got something at least 10x cooler to share. Stadium Journey has ranked Parkview Field No. 1 out of all 160 ballparks throughout Minor League Baseball in 2014! (I’m not a big exclamation point guy, but this seems warranted.)
Even more impressive, this is now the third time in four years that Parkview Field has been named the best MiLB venue in America. Downtown Fort Wayne’s crown jewel was also numero uno in 2011 and 2012. Pensacola Bayfront Stadium — home to the Pensacola Blue Wahoos, Reds Double-A — had eclipsed Parkview Field in 2013. Pensacola finished second in this year’s ranking.
Check back later in the day for more on how one goes about ranking 160 different ballparks. In the meantime, check out the full MiLB Ballpark Rankings and Parkview Field’s review here.
In honor of Parkview Field’s Stadium Journey ranking, Joe Esposito, take it away…
It’s been more than a month now since the 2014 TinCaps season ended. In case you’re having withdrawal, here’s a Q&A we did with MadFriars.com to review the season. It ran last week on Fox Sports San Diego’s website.
By the way, if you consider yourself a fan of the TinCaps and are interested at all in the Padres’ farm system, MadFriars is a must follow on Twitter and John Conniff’s site is worth checking out regularly for updates on San Diego prospects.
MAD FRIARS: What type of player is Trea Turner? How would you describe him defensively and offensively.
John Nolan: Based off his time in Fort Wayne, I’d say Trea Turner falls into the “Fun to Watch” category. I’d describe him as a dynamic player who has innate talent and always hustles when he’s on the field. His speed is noticeably elite.
Defensively, he was the best shortstop in the Midwest League while here. The numbers back that up. His .982 fielding percentage was the highest in the league for anyone who played more than 30 games at short. And standard fielding percentage doesn’t even take into consideration his range, which was better than anyone else.
The best play I saw any Midwest League fielder pull off in 2014 was during a mid-July Sunday afternoon game at Cedar Rapids. There was a hard-hit grounder destined to go through the 5.5 hole until Trea cut it off on a backhand and then from shallow left field made a jump-throw across his body to beat the runner. It was shades of a young Derek Jeter. So his defense is part of the reason he’s exciting to watch.
Offensively – and this is the area where some were skeptical when Trea was drafted by the Padres No. 13 overall in June – he proved to be far more than just a slap hitter. Besides the pre-draft analysis, there was reason to wonder about Trea’s bat when he came to Fort Wayne on July 12 after he hit .228 in 23 games with Eugene.
However, with the TinCaps he was phenomenal at the plate. He hit the ball to all fields. With his speed, any time Trea makes contact, there’s a chance he”ll be safe. While he recognizes he isn’t a power hitter, Trea can barrel the ball up. He hit four home runs – three of which came in an 11-game span. He had some timely hits as well, including a walk-off single and a triple to lead off a must-win playoff game.
Perhaps more so than any other position player in the Midwest League this season, when you saw Trea Turner, you thought you were looking at a future big leaguer.
MADFRIARS: Fernando Perez, despite leading the team in home runs and RBI, never seemed to walk. Is he somewhat too aggressive as a hitter?
JN: Yes, he is. As are the vast majority of 20-year-olds in the Midwest League. But in Fernando’s defense, I can’t recall many at-bats in which he chased pitches far out of the zone. With that said, there were times when his approach was maybe too aggressive given the situation.
But you could say Fernando epitomized the team’s collective approach. Manager Michael Collins and hitting coach Morgan Burkhart never preached a plan of patience at the plate for their hitters. As a team, the TinCaps were rarely looking to take a lot of pitches and wear pitchers out that way. Instead, led by Fernando, they wore pitchers out by leading the league in hits and finishing second in runs, while setting a franchise record for home runs.
MADFRIARS: Dustin Peterson made 38 errors this year at third base. What plays seemed to give him the most trouble?
JN: The majority of Dustin’s errors came on throws to first base. It’s worth remembering, though, that Dustin was a shortstop in high school. So not only was this his first full season, but it was his first full year at the hot corner.
Over the course of the season, Dustin’s range at third base improved. That actually contributed to a few of his errors. He had the ability to make diving stops on hard-hit balls down the line or in the hole, but then had wild throws across the diamond.
Don’t forget, however, the Fort Wayne franchise record for errors in a season is held by Michael Cuddyer, who, as a Twins prospect in 1998, committed 61 errors. He stopped playing shortstop after that season and it seems like in the end his bat prevailed.
MADFRIARS: How did Jake Bauers look defensively at first base?
JN: Whether it’s because it’s usually just more exciting or because there are more stats to evaluate it, I’d say fans and media alike often can be guilty of overlooking defense at the expense of offense.
And so for Jake, who showed much promise offensively as he had the fifth best average in the league (.296), we probably didn’t talk enough about his defensive performance, which was fantastic.
While the TinCaps led Minor League Baseball in errors on the season (208), Jake was very reliable, as was Trea Turner (see first question). That’s why the TinCaps’ departure from the playoffs at Lake County – a slightly wide throw by Trea and Jake didn’t get his foot on the bag allowing the go-ahead run to score in the bottom of the eighth – was such a cruel way to see the season end.
Jake routinely picked balls out of the dirt and stretched like a gymnast to reach after errant throws. I’ve read some say Jake doesn’t have the prototypical size of a first baseman, and even Randy Smith has jokingly called him “stocky,” but he’s athletic. There were a number of line drives he soared up to snare.
MADFRIARS: Josh VanMeter was a big star locally in high school at Norwell High School. Can you describe how much attention was on him at the beginning of the year and how he dealt with it?
JN: As far as I know, there was only one ballpark in the Midwest League this year selling a t-shirt jersey for an active player. And that would be at Parkview Field for Josh VanMeter. The list of Minor League players who make the t-shirt/jersey list is a short one, especially at Low-A.
So that’s the best way to describe the attention Josh had as the first position player from the Fort Wayne area to ever play for the TinCaps. Fort Wayne’s media presence isn’t to be confused with New York, but he was the focus of the local reporters, too. On Opening Night, he had about 100 family and close friends in the crowd. His teammates jokingly called him “The Mayor.”
I think Josh dealt with it as well as any 19-year-old could. Heck, as well as anyone could regardless of age. He did every interview, posed for every fan picture, and signed all the autographs asked of him, and he did that all with a smile.
Josh has said he put too much pressure on himself the first two months of the season. On May 25, he was hitting .196. So while a .254 average for the season doesn’t blow you away, maybe it should considering he hit .289 over his final 75 games. Hitting coach Morgan Burkhart told me Josh’s turnaround during the season was as impressive as any he’s been around. Also, defensively, he committed only two errors total in July, August, and September.
The script couldn’t have been written much better at the end of the season when it was Josh who hit a three-run homer and had a four-RBI game to send the TinCaps into the playoffs on the final day of the regular season. Then in the playoff opener, he broke a tie game in the eighth with a two-run single off Tigers reliever Luke Putkonen, who was pitching for West Michigan on a MLB Rehab Assignment.
MADFRIARS: Nick Schulz was a big part of the team’s success. How would you describe him?
JN: The best anecdote I can give on Nick is from August 26. At this point the TinCaps were in must-win mode to make the playoffs and Nick went 5-for-5 with two home runs, including a grand slam, as he drove in six runs to lead Fort Wayne to a victory over Bowling Green. After the game, MiLB.com wanted to interview Nick. I went down to the clubhouse to see if he was still around. Not only was he around, he was lifting.
Not to say that all big contract guys lack zeal for the game, but as someone who went undrafted after four seasons at San Jose State and then went unsigned for more than 300 days, Nick, in his own words, has “some fire in (his) belly.”
His offensive numbers should speak for themselves: .341/.386/.545. He was second in the Midwest League in August in home runs (7) and fourth in RBIs (24). Hitting coach Morgan Burkhart said Nick’s biggest development over the course of the summer was the quality of his at-bats when he got to two strikes.
And on the defensive side, he was steady, too, as a corner outfielder. No errors in 48 games. He didn’t make “How’d-he-catch-that?! Catches” but he got to every ball he was supposed to and made a few nice sliding grabs.
MADFRIARS: Kyle Lloyd came out of nowhere to pitch really well and got better as the season went on. Why?
JN: Well having never seen him pitch before he came to Fort Wayne, I can’t answer why he was in a position to come out of nowhere. His numbers with Eugene last year were pretty good. But as for how he developed over the course of the season, the simple answer is how he threw his splitter.
Many a Midwest League batter thought he was looking at a fastball only to see Kyle’s splitty dive down to the dirt at the last moment. Often times, he was able to set batters up for that pitch by getting ahead with his low-90s fastball. Toward the end of the year, his slider became a strike pitch as well.
From July 12 through the end of the season, Kyle struck out a Minor League Baseball-leading 88 batters in 54.1 IP. That phenomenal run began on a Saturday night at Parkview Field when the TinCaps were on a 13-game losing streak. Kyle stopped the franchise’s longest ever losing skid with a 13-strikeout performance in six innings against South Bend. He finished 2014 with 162 Ks – top five in franchise history behind only the likes of LaTroy Hawkins and Jake Peavy.
Part of the explanation for why he got better as the season went on may have to do with his conditioning. In Mike Couzens’ story on nutrition and Minor League Baseball, TinCaps trainer Dan Byrne said Kyle (along with his roommate Justin Livengood) was nutritionally the best on the team.
MADFRIARS: Where do you think Ryan Butler’s future will be. In the bullpen or as a starter?
JN: Fortunately for Ryan and the Padres, any prediction I make doesn’t matter at all. I can tell you, though, with the TinCaps, he was every bit as dominant as a closer as the numbers indicate. Some teammates nicknamed him “Rocket Arm” – deservedly so – and compared him with Tyron Guerrero, who had an All-Star first half in Fort Wayne.
Ryan’s fastball was clocked at 101 MPH on multiple occasions and routinely sat in the mid-to-upper 90s. Therefore, he usually relied on overpowering hitters. And why not, right? It was rather rare to see him mix in a secondary pitch.
Maybe the best compliment you can give to a closer is that when he comes into the game, everyone in the ballpark feels like the game is over and that was pretty much the case with Ryan.
MADFRIARS: Who was the top player and pitcher in Fort Wayne this summer?
JN: Since you said summer, I won’t consider Mallex Smith, who was only here in the first half. In that case, for the reasons given above, it’s pretty easy to answer that Trea Turner was the best position player in Fort Wayne this summer and Kyle Lloyd was the best starting pitcher, while Ryan Butler was the best reliever.
Though it certainly took a complete team effort to extend the Midwest League’s longest active consecutive postseason appearances streak to six (and league semifinals appearance to four straight years), July 12 was a definite turning point in the season. That was the day that Trea and Ryan arrived from Eugene and Kyle began to pitch like an ace. Suffice to say the two rookies brought in a boost of talent as well as a feeling of freshness, and every five days, the TinCaps knew they were in a position to win with a dominant starter taking the mound.
Parkview Field was again playing host to more than just baseball this weekend. Saturday saw about 8,000 gather downtown for the American Cancer Society’s Making Strides Against Breast Cancer 5K Walk. (Keep in mind, 8,000 is the equivalent of a sell-out crowd for a TinCaps game.)
Fort Wayne was one of hundreds of communities Making Strides this October as part of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Participants in this year’s FW walk have raised more than $169,000 for breast cancer research, information and services, and access to mammograms for women who need them.
If you’ve watched a football game the last two weekends, then you’ve likely seen pink all over the place — from towels to gloves to socks, etc. Oregon even had pink numbers on their jerseys.
That’s really nothing, though, in comparison to the look the TinCaps sported for their Turn the Park Pink game on May 22 this season.
Turn the Park Pink Night was a fundraiser for the Vera Bradley Foundation for Breast Cancer. The jerseys the TinCaps’ players and staff wore were auctioned off during the game and generated more than $3,400. Additionally, proceeds from the shirts you see above went to the VBFFBC. The TinCaps also sold pink tennis balls for the postgame “Launch-A-Ball” promotion.
As part of the effort to raise awareness for breast cancer, Francine’s Friends was at Parkview Field with their Mobile Mammography coach bus to offer free mammography screenings. Breast cancer survivor Karen Peters threw out the game’s ceremonial first pitch.
A COUPLE NOTES ON BREAST CANCER
* Don’t let all the pink lead you to forget that breast cancer isn’t entirely sexist. According to the American Cancer Society, 2,360 new cases of invasive breast cancer in men are diagnosed annually and 430 men will die from the disease this year. And it’s not necessarily overweight men who develop breast cancer. Syracuse Post-Standard sportswriter Donna Ditota wrote in May about how her marathon-running boyfriend was diagnosed with the disease.
* Ever wonder why breast cancer awareness receives as much attention as it does? Maybe part of it is simply that pink stands out, but no other cause seems to be quite as visible. The simple answer is that it is indeed the most common form of cancer. Here are the numbers from the American Cancer Society:
|Cancer Type||Estimated New Cases||Estimated Deaths|
|Breast (Female – Male)||232,670 – 2,360||40,000 – 430|
|Colon and Rectal (Combined)||136,830||50,310|
|Kidney (Renal Cell and Renal Pelvis) Cancer||63,920||13,860|
|Leukemia (All Types)||52,380||24,090|
|Lung (Including Bronchus)||224,210||159,260|
From The New York Times: Over the decades, women have been among the most colorful and passionate fans of baseball, as The New York Times’s photo archive helps illustrate.
It’s a balmy 70 degrees in the Summit City today. This could be the last time it’s 70 here until… Don’t answer that. Despite the fact that it is cloudy, this song is appropriate. Breast-cancer survivor Sheryl Crow, take it away…
Only four teams remain in contention for the Commissioner’s Trophy. Tonight the Orioles and Royals open up the ALCS at Camden Yards. Tomorrow, the Giants and Cardinals begin the NLCS in St. Louis. Of the 50 former Fort Wayne Wizards and TinCaps who played in the majors during the regular season in 2014, just three remain on the active rosters of the final four teams:
Nick Hundley ’05-06 (Catcher)
Brad Brach ’09 (Right-handed reliever)
Jake Peavy ’00 (Right-handed starter)
Left-handed reliever Nick Greenwood ’09-10 was with St. Louis for parts of June, July, August, and September, but isn’t on the postseason roster. The same goes for catcher A.J. Pierzynski ’95-96, who joined the Cards in late July after being released by the Red Sox. That isn’t to say Pierzynski didn’t still make his presence felt in the Cardinals’ dugout during the NLDS.
(UPDATE: The Cardinals ended up putting Pierzynski on their NLCS roster after all. They went with three catchers, which at first blush seems unnecessary, but looks like a smart move now after Yadier Molina got hurt last night. Tony Cruz replaced Molina in Game 1. Molina’s status remains to be seen for the rest of the series.)
For the rest this October, it’s a case of “see ya.”
José Lobatón ’05-06 (Catcher)
David Freese ’06 (Infielder)
Torii Hunter ’94 (Outfielder)
Eric Sogard ’07 (Infielder) Nate Freiman ’10 (Infielder) Andy Parrino ’08-09 (Infielder)
In the spirit of the Charm City…