Prospect Previews: Week Five

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

Prospect Previews Week One

Prospect Previews Week Two

Prospect Previews Week Three

Prospect Previews Week Four

Prospect-Preview-2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prospect-Preview-2014

Coby Cowgill

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

Photo via @CobyCowgill_RHP

Photo via @CobyCowgill_RHP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jimmy Brasoban

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

Photo via Padres.scout.com

Photo via Padres.scout.com

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

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

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

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

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

Michael Kelly

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

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

Year – Player Name – (Highest Level Reached)

2008

Allan Dykstra – (Double-A)

Jaff Decker – (MLB)

Logan Forsythe – (MLB)

2009

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

2010

Karsten Whitson – Did not sign

2011

Cory Spangenberg (Double-A)

Joe Ross (Fort Wayne)

Michael Kelly (Fort Wayne)

Brett Austin – Did not sign

Jace Peterson (Advanced-A)

2012

Max Fried (Fort Wayne)

Zach Eflin (Fort Wayne)

Travis Jankowski (Advanced-A)

Walker Weickel (Fort Wayne)

2013

Hunter Renfroe (Fort Wayne)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tayron Guerrero

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bryan Verbitsky

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BLOG PROGRAMMING NOTE

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

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

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

MUSICAL GUEST

Justin Timberlake…take it away!

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

MCsig

Prospect Previews: Week Four

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

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

Week One

Week Two

Week Three

Enjoy!

Prospect-Preview-2014

MAX BEATTY

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

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

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

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

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

Image via GoLutes.com

Image via GoLutes.com

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

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

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

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

ADRIAN DE HORTA

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

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

Image via InsideSoCal.com

Image via InsideSoCal.com

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

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

SAM HOLLAND

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image via TheBaseballFiles.Wordpress.com

Image via TheBaseballFiles.Wordpress.com

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

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

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

TONY RIZZOTTI

Quick word association: New Orleans.

What comes to mind?

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

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

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

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

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

Photo via TheAdvocate.com

Photo via TheAdvocate.com

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

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

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

TYLER HALE

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

Photo via ArizonaWildcats.com

Photo via ArizonaWildcats.com

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

FLORIDA GEORGIA MADNESS

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

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

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

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

MUSICAL GUEST

Paperboy…take it away!

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

MCsig

Prospect Previews: Week Three

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rod Boykin

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

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

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

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

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

Payton Baskette

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

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

Here’s the top 5 of that list:

1) California – 2,074

2) Pennsylvania – 1,391

3) New York – 1,175

4) Illinois – 1,033

5) Texas – 849

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

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

Pete Kelich

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s All Relative optimistically agrees.

Cam Stewart

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

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

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

SMOKELESS TOBACCO AND BASEBALL

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MUSICAL GUEST

Status Quo…take it away!

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

MCsig

Prospect Previews: Week Two

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

Prospect-Preview-2014

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

Fernando Perez

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jose Urena

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jose Ruiz

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

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

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

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

Franmil Reyes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jalen Goree

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s go Choctaws!

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

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

MUSICAL GUEST

Cream…take it away!

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

MCsig

Prospect Previews: Week One

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

Prospect-Preview-2014

Luis Tejada

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

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

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

Franchy Cordero

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

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

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

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

Ryan Miller

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

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

Josh VanMeter

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

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

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

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

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

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

Erik Schoenrock

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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First-Round Follies

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

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

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

1rd picks

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

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

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

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

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

MUSICAL GUEST

Martin Garrix…take it away!

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

MCsig

From Fort Wayne to Fruition: George Kottaras

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

McCoy Stadium  - Home of the Pawtucket Red Sox

McCoy Stadium – Home of the Pawtucket Red Sox

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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MUSICAL GUEST

Red Hot Chili Peppers…take it away!

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

MCsig

A Fort Wayne Baseball Mystery

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

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

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

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

Here’s what was in the box:

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

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

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

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

Dinger Doll

A Dinger D. Dragon doll.

Not one, but two Wizards beach towels.

Not one, but two Wizards beach towels.

Wizards Magnet Schedules

Wizards Magnet Schedules

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

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

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

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

Until next time…put your Sherlock Holmes hat.

MUSICAL GUEST

Mozes and the Firstborn…take it away!

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

MCsig

Understanding the 20-80 Scale

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

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

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

Great suggestion, Brian.

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

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

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

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

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

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

80: Excellent

70: Very Good

60: Good

50: Major League Average

40: Below Average

30: Well Below Average

20: Poor

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

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

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

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

**********

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

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

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

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

MUSICAL GUEST

Gavin DeGraw…take it away!

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

MCsig

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

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

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

#24 Catcher Austin Hedges

#43 Left-handed Pitcher Max Fried

#78 Right-Handed Pitcher Matt Wisler

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

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

HEDGES:

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

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

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

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

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

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

FRIED:

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

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

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

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

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

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

WISLER:

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

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

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

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

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

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

—-

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

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

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

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

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

#33 HEDGES

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

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

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

#39 WISLER

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

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

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

#48 FRIED

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

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

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

#94 RENFROE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MUSICAL GUEST

Of Monsters and Men…take it away!

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

MCsig

From Fort Wayne to Fruition: Cliff Bartosh

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

**********

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

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

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

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

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

**********

MUSICAL GUEST

Paramore…take it away!

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

MCsig

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