May 2007

Just Like Old Times


Brandon Wood and Howie Kendrick together at Rancho Cucamonga in 2005.

It was deja vu all over again last night in Fresno.

Howie Kendrick was playing second base for the Salt Lake Bees, on rehab assignment from Anaheim.

Brandon Wood was back at shortstop for the game, getting a night off from his internship at third base.

Kendrick and Wood were the best of friends in the minors, rising through the system together, starting at Provo in 2003. Howie’s bat moved him ahead of Brandon, reaching the majors in 2006, and the Angels’ starting second base job was his to lose in spring training. Kendrick was hitting .327 when his hand was broken April 17 by a pitch thrown by A’s pitcher Chad Gaudin.

Wood had two brief callups this year while third baseman Chone Figgins mended, but still has work to do. Kendrick was already on the DL when Brandon arrived in Anaheim, so there was no opportunity for them to be in the lineup together.

Last night at Fresno, they were in the lineup together, back-to-back, with Kendrick batting third and Wood in the cleanup slot.

In the top of the 2nd, Howie hit a three-run homer, and then Wood followed with a solo shot. They homered back-to-back.

Hopefully it was a moment that Angels fans will see repeated in the big leagues in the near future.

Strikeouts

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It’s time for another poll.

Which pitcher will lead the Angels minor leagues in strikeouts this year?

The options are to the right.

The results of the last poll … Who will lead the Angels minor leagues in triples this year?

  • Nathan Haynes 49%
  • Brad Coon 21%
  • Peter Bourjos 12%
  • Terry Evans 6%
  • Greg Porter 6%
  • P.J. Phillips 2%
  • Freddy Sandoval 2%
  • Hainley Statia 2%

There were 179 votes cast.

It’s Official: Troy Percival to Attempt Comeback

Matt Hurst of the Riverside Press-Enterprise reported this afternoon that Troy Percival will attempt a comeback.

Percival says that the Angels are his first choice, but so far no reaction from Anaheim.

Troy Percival Contemplating a Comeback?

Fox Sports reports that Troy Percival is contemplating a comeback. Percival officially retired at the beginning of the 2007 season and signed a contract to work 50 minor league games as a roving special assignment pitching instructor, but so far I haven’t heard of him showing up anywhere. Doesn’t mean he hasn’t, I’m just saying I haven’t heard of any appearances.

UPDATE 5/17/2007 7:30 PM PDT — Matt Hurst of the Riverside Press-Enterprise posted this entry on his blog at 3:45 PM today:

Today is the day that Troy Percival, the Angels’ all-time saves leader is supposed to decide whether he’s coming back to pitch in the majors again. I called his agent, Paul Cohen, as I did yesterday when I first got wind of this, and Cohen made it sound like Percival is going to give it a go.

"I spoke with him today," Cohen said. "He was going to go to UCR to throw a ‘pen."

Cohen had not heard how Percival’s bullpen session went at UC Riverside, where he went to school and where he worked this offseason to re-build the clubhouse. The definitive answer will come later tonight, but when I asked Cohen if everything went well in the bullpen, would that be the definitive answer to Percival returning?

"I think, probably," Cohen said. "This would be the second day in a row (throwing). We’re navigating new waters."

Angels general manager Bill Stoneman said he had not spoken with Percival yet, so he would not make a comment.

What Mickey Hatcher Really Does – Part Two

Back on May 10, I wrote a column documenting how Mickey Hatcher had watched videos all the way back to 2001 to find a flaw in Shea Hillenbrand’s mechanics.

Tuesday’s Orange County Register had another example. Hatcher found a flaw in Casey Kotchman’s footwork in the batter’s box. Casey credited Hatcher for the grand-slam he hit in Monday’s game at Texas.

"Lately (hitting coach) Mickey Hatcher pointed something out that was really beneficial the last couple days," Kotchman said. "It was something in my setup. My feet were getting in the way and I was trying to get my front foot out of the way.

"I would say it was all mechanical. Then getting that straightened out allowed me to be mentally free and easy."

For all the nonsensical blather spewed by people on fan boards who demand that Hatcher be fired, the fact of the matter is that Hatcher could undergo a lobotomy and still know more about hitting than the cranks. Not that this will stop them from claiming they know more than he does, of course.

With the Kernels – Day Four


Kernels Pitching Coach Pedro Borbon resigned yesterday.

Well, that was a weird day.

As feared, the Cedar Rapids game with Clinton was rained out. An early drizzle became light showers and was so persistent by late morning that the Kernels front office decided to cancel the game. It was cancelled instead of postponed because the two teams don’t face one another again in the first half, and with so many postponed games already on the horizon for makeup dates an opportunity simply wasn’t available.

Then came word that Kernels pitching coach Pedro Borbon, Jr. had submitted his resignation.

According to this morning’s Cedar Rapids Gazette, Borbon resigned for the ubiquitous “personal reasons.” Dan Ricabal, who was slated to be the pitching coach later this year for the summer league Tempe Angels, will report to Cedar Rapids.

With time to kill, I recorded more interviews for the next podcast. And then I was interviewed by Kernels broadcaster John Rodgers, who plans to use the recording for their pre-game show on Thursday (weather willing).

On the way out, I made sure to do my part in the Kernels gift shop. Since I’d last been there in 2003, they’ve added a Cedar Rapids baseball hall-of-fame inside the gift shop. What an incredible display of memorabilia. Jerseys, uniforms, bats, scorecards from a hundred years ago. Back in the early 1900s, the locals were known as the Cedar Rapids Bunnies. Well, there was an actual Bunnies uniform, complete with the wascaly wabbit logo. A newspaper clipping from the era reported a game between the Bunnies and the Infants. (Supply your own punch line.) They did a great job of collecting memorabilia.

With two hours to kill, I went over to see the new IMAX Science Station. The IMAX was showing that highly praised educational documentary, Spiderman 3. They were already 30 minutes into the film, and I wasn’t going to stay for the end, so they just let me in for free. All of three people were in the theater.

Everyone associated with the Kernels operation — management, staff, players, coaches, host parents — was warm, open and supportive. Even the team hotel let me stay over a couple hours to shower before checking out. I wish I could have stayed a few more days. Great people, a great ballpark, and a great town.

With the Kernels – Day Three


Hank Conger told FutureAngels.com the back story to his presidential campaign video.

Not much time to write, as we have a noon game today against Clinton. If the weather cooperates. Right now a light shower is falling. The forecast has the rain tapering off by early afternoon, but Midwest weather is so unstable you really can’t make a certain prediction what will happen.

Lanny Peterson, who runs the Kernels host parent program, was gracious enough to take me to breakfast today. Tom Pumroy joined us. Tom and his wife Abby have been host parents for years. Because Abby speaks Spanish, they usually host the Latin players who are assigned to Cedar Rapids.

Lanny and Tom told me about their trip to the Angels’ academy in the Dominican Republic. Prospect pitcher Rafael Rodriguez escorted them around town. They confirmed what we’ve heard so often about the impoverished conditions in the Dominican. If the players fail, they go back to a life of picking sugar cane or cleaning fish. And you thought you had pressure at work.

I recorded interviews yesterday with Kernels manager Ever Magallanes, catcher Hank Conger and Clinton LumberKings broadcaster Dave Lezotte. Hopefully I’ll record more interviews today. Conger’s interview is already on the home page at www.futureangels.com. For those of you who’ve heard about Hank’s YouTube video, I finally got the straight story on its origins. Hank’s dad and grandfather showed up mid-game and were welcomed by the P.A. announcer.

Depending on how the stars align, I might do the pre-game show or some color on the Kernels broadcast today with John Rodgers. John is an endless well of optimism and good cheer. He’s a refreshing change from the snide and cynical commentary you read on certain web sites and hear on certain sports radio shows. If only more people were like John … well, the world would be a better place.

I go straight from the ballpark to the airport, and don’t arrive home in O.C. until 10:30 PM PDT, so look for the next blog in the morning.

With the Kernels – Day Two


Alliant Energy Field opened in 1937.

No matter where I’ve gone this year, I’ve been a curse.

Rancho loses. Salt Lake loses. And Cedar Rapids lost Saturday night to Clinton.

So when the Kernels took a 6-1 lead Sunday at Alliant Energy Field, I figured they’d probably blow it and my self-guilt (aggravated by all those years of parochial school) would be worse.

Well, the Lumberkings posted two runs in the bottom of the 6th and three runs in the bottom of the 7th to tie it up at 6-6, so I was about ready to head back to the hotel and spend the night in self-flagellation.

But the Kernels brought in former outfielder Warner Madrigal to pitch the 8th and 9th innings. He held the line despite giving up three hits, and the game went into the top of the 10th.

Mark Trumbo led off with a single. Cleanup hitter Hank Conger came to the plate and, in an act that would cause the sabermetric zealots to scream heresy, bunted Trumbo to second. With Mark now in scoring position, Julio Perez singled him in.

The Angels expect all their hitters in the minors to learn how to bunt, because you never know when even a power hitter like Conger will be required to move up a runner. Let Conger swing away, and if he makes out then Trumbo is still beyond scoring range with one less out left.

Submariner Aaron Cook came in to pitch the bottom of the 10th. His final batter was Kevin Goosage, a catcher who’s the nephew of Goose Goosage. Aaron struck him out on three pitches.

Curse averted.

I videotaped much of the game. You can watch highlights of the 10th inning on FutureAngels.com. Click Here to start the video stream. You need Windows Media Player and a broadband Internet connection (cable modem, DSL) to watch.

The series comes to Cedar Rapids for tonight and tomorrow. I fly out after tomorrow’s noon game.

Despite the 80-mile long drive one way, I really fell in love with Alliant Energy Field. Originally known as Riverview Stadium, it has that "classic" minor league ballpark feel that’s disappearing all too quickly from the baseball universe.

For those of you who’ve visited Ray Winder Field, the Travs’ old ballpark, the grandstand is very similar in design but much smaller. The listed capacity is 4,000, and it’s about the size of the Orem Owlz’ stadium.

The dimensions are quite modest. It’s 335′ down the left field line, 325′ down the right field line, 395′ just to the left of center, and 401′ just to the right of center.

Behind the ballpark is a road that separates the site from the Mississippi River. One local proudly informed me that the Mississippi is at its widest in Clinton.

If you look at the above photo, I’m standing in the parking lot. Right behind me are railroad tracks that are traversed all during the game. There’s a road just to the left of the point-of-view you see, and a railroad crossing. You can hear the trains and the ding-ding-ding of the crossing bells, and the P.A. will play train sound bites as trains go by.

Oh, parking is free, although you take your car’s life in its hands as foul balls quite easily reach the lot.

Driving to Clinton from Cedar Rapids, I had the misfortune of stumbling across an ESPN Radio host John Kincaid. His schtick seems to be he’s one of those guys who manufactures controversy by distorting facts and taking unpopular positions.

One of his guests was ESPN baseball analyst Peter Pasquarelli. Do you ever wonder how some of these guys got their job?! Pasquarelli impressed me as clueless. He went on a diatribe about how great the Oakland A’s are because they’re playing .500 ball despite injuries to several key players. Then he ripped the Angels for having a "losing" season despite their talent. Now, at the time he said that, the Angels were 21-16 and in first place. Nor did he mention that the Angels have suffered many key injuries themselves — Bartolo Colon, Jered Weaver, Juan Rivera, Garret Anderson, Howie Kendrick, Justin Speier, Maicer Izturis, etc.

Then he says that the Angels are "losing" despite "having the best closer in baseball, Scot Shields." Um, Scot is a setup pitcher. Swear to God, his next sentence was, "They have the best closer in baseball, Felix Rodriguez." Um, his name is Francisco Rodriguez, numbnuts. Apparently we have two closers, which must make the mound awfully crowded in the 9th inning.

Pasquarelli then waxed fondly about the phone call conversation he had with A’s GM Billy Beane, who assured him that all these key players would return soon.

So I’m guessing that Pasquarelli wet his diapers out of ecstasy that Beane actually talked to him.

Anyway, I hope ESPN sacks this guy and hires someone competent instead of a Moneyball fundamentalist.

If I have the time, I’ll post more video clips. There’s a problem with the firewall here in the hotel. I can’t play back the video clips, although I called a technician with my host service who assured me he could watch it just fine, so I’m assuming it’s something local.

I’m hoping to record several interviews today which will show up in the next FutureAngels.com podcast.

With the Kernels – Day One


Wil Ortiz turns a double play to end Clinton’s third-inning rally last night.

Not many people are loony enough to wake up at 4 AM PDT so they can take a cross-country flight and then drive 80 miles to make a minor league ballgame, but that’s what I did yesterday.

All the stars aligned, so my flights stayed on schedule, the luggage arrived when I did, the car rental company was efficient, and so at 3 PM MDT I headed east on Highway 30 for a long drive to Clinton, Iowa to document the Kernels’ game against the Clinton Lumberkings.

Alliant Energy Field — which was built in 1937, when I’m sure it was called something much different — sits on the Mississippi River. It’s one of the few remaining "classic" ballparks in minor league baseball. Only John O’Donnell Stadium in Quad Cities, built in 1931, is older in the Midwest League. The Clinton ballpark underwent a renovation last winter, but it’s still a tiny, quaint ballpark that retains the charm of a bygone era.

The charm was largely lost on the Kernels, who fell 12-6.

I did what photography and video that I could, but with intermittent showers all night I couldn’t expose my equipment to the elements and had to take refuge at the far end of the Kernels dugout.

I’ve written many times about how players are bred to be competitive, so they’ll find a reason at any time to compete. In the dugout last night, several water cups were lined up on the lip of the dugout behind the protective railing. A few players spent several innings trying to flick sunflower seed shells into the cups. When one shell actually made it into a cup, there was more celebrating than a goal at a World Cup soccer match.

Game time today is 2:00 PM MDT. It’s a commute game for the Kernels, which means they’re not staying in a Clinton motel but making the round-trip from Veterans Memorial Stadium via team bus. They leave the Vet at 10:30 AM for a scheduled noon arrival.

The drive is fairly straightforward, but much of it is two-lane highway or worse. You’ll be clipping along at the legal 55-MPH speed limit, round a turn and see a SPEED ZONE AHEAD sign followed a few yards later by a SPEED LIMIT 20 MPH sign. Yikes. This is farm country, so the highway passes through many small towns that don’t look much different than they might have been 50 or 100 years ago. The roads were laid out for horses, not cars.

One great thing about the Midwest is that you can hear baseball radiocasts from all over the Heartland. Last night I picked up parts of the Cubs, White Sox, and Cardinals games. Finally I came across the Cincinnati Reds broadcast from Dodger Stadium. It was interesting to hear their slant on SoCal life, particularly their contempt (which I share) forthe nitwits who bring beach balls to the game.

Anyway, more to come after today’s contest.

Nathan Haynes!


Nathan Haynes in spring training, March 2007.

“A man can’t swing if his underwear doesn’t.”

— Hanes Underwear advertising slogan

There isn’t much left in pro ball that makes me go “gasp” but Nathan Haynes just did it.

After going 4-for-6 Wednesday night at home against Memphis, Nathan Haynes was 4-for-5 Thursday night to raise his batting average over the magic .400 mark to .409. His on-base percentage is .492 and his slugging percentage is .618. In 28 games, he’s stolen 11 bases out of 15 attempts.

All this from a guy whose career was on the trash pile in 2004.

After a series of injuries derailed his top prospect status, Haynes took his six-year minor league free agency in October 2003 and signed with the San Francisco Giants. He played one game for Triple-A Fresno, and seven games for their summer league camp, then disappeared off the baseball radar.

Nathan re-emerged in 2006 with the independent Northern League team in Gary, Indiana. appearing in 31 games, he posted a lackluster AVG/OBP/SLG of .263/.323/.447. But the Angels brought him home in June 2006, and sent him to Double-A Arkansas for 52 games before finishing the year with Triple-A Salt Lake. His numbers with the Bees in 16 games: .228/.286/.368.

In short, there was no reason to think that at age 27 Haynes would suddenly turn the PCL on its ear.

If you’re looking for a vulnerability, look at his splits.

Against lefties, his AVG/OBP/SLG are .273/.385/.485. Against righties, the numbers are .468/.539/.675.

And whenever you’re dealing with a Salt Lake player, you need to look at his home/road splits because Franklin Covey Field sits at 4,500 feet, one of the more hitter-friendly parks in the PCL. At home, Nathan’s line is .419/.500/.710. On the road, it’s .396/.482/.500.

So now the Angels have a ridiculous "deep depth" of center fielders. Behind Gary Matthews, Jr. — who’s proving last year was no fluke — the Angels have Reggie Willits, Tommy Murphy and now Haynes.

With most organizations, Nathan would be on his way to the big leagues with those numbers. But with the deep and talented Angels … he waits.

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