January 2008

The Database Begins

I’ve started a project that will take a while, but I’m inviting everyone to give it a look and share your thoughts.

The idea was spawned by Brandon Wood’s 2005 chase of the Angels’ single-season minor league home run record.  No one knew what was the record until I started researching around early July.  Going through a lot of books and media guides, it appeared that **** Simpson set the record with 42 for San Jose in 1962.  I forwarded the information to the Quakes and the Angels’ media relations; as Brandon neared the record, it began to appear in news stories.  Brandon broke the record on the last day of the season.

Since it was such a general pain in the butt to research, I began thinking about what other records were out there we don’t know about?  Dallas McPherson had chased the record in 2004, but no one knew or even thought about it; he hit 20 at Rancho and 20 at Arkansas for a total of 40.

So I’ve been collecting media guides and any other statistical source I can find with the goal of one day building a database that could be searched by FutureAngels.com visitors.

The project has begun.

Right now, I’m inputting batting stats from the early 1960s.  Those are rather fragmentary, because detailed stats weren’t published for the minors other than The Sporting News Baseball Guide, and even then those are less than complete.  But it’s enough to test the logic and presentation.

Click Here to go to the test page.

You can click on a column to sort it in ascending order, then click it again to sort in descending order.

Eventually, there will be a records page, you’ll be able to select one player for career minor league stats, and so on.  This is just a test to show people what’s possible.

There’s a link on the test page to post comments and suggestions.

By the way, I spoke with **** Simpson yesterday.  A sibling project is recording interviews with people who played in the Angels’ minor leagues, starting with the inaugural 1961 season.  I’ll record his interview soon, along with Bob Lucas, another 1961 minor leaguer.  You’ll find in the Audio Gallery interviews with Jack Hiatt, Paul Mosley, Dan Ardell and Roland Hemond, who was both the farm and scouting director that year.  Great stories that deserve to see the light of day.

The Minor League Game of the Week

Jordan Walden made his professional debut on June 21, 2007 against Ogden.

June 21, 2007 — Jordan Walden makes his professional debut as the Orem Owlz host their Pioneer League rivals, the Ogden Raptors. Click Here to listen to the game. You need Windows Media Player to listen.

Orem and Ogden have a great rivalry. Orem is to the south of Salt Lake City. Ogden is to the north. Orem is in the heart of Mormon country. Ogden is a blue-collar community descended from the Old West’s major railroad hub. Orem is an Angels affiliate, Ogden is a Dodgers’ affiliate.

It’s always fun when these two teams hook up. Ogden fans drive down to Orem and get rowdy. Orem fans will drive up to Ogden to support their players, but get razzed by the blue-collar crowd. Ogden has staged promotions making fun of their Mormon friends.

But there are a lot more division titles and pennant in Orem than in Ogden. Nyah.

As noted, J-Wal makes his first start. Walden would go on to start for the Owlz in the Pioneer League title game against Great Falls. He recently ranked third on the 2007 FutureAngels.com Top 10 Prospects Report. In my recent interview with Angels’ farm director Abe Flores, he compared Walden to John Lackey. Some have compared Walden to Roger Clemens (without the HGH allegations).

Plenty other players contribued in this game. Second baseman Hector Estrella was 3 for 4 with a homer and two singles. Right fielder Donato Giovanatto was 3 for 4 with two doubles and a single. Shortstop Jerry Gonzalez added three singles.

This was the third game of the season for the Owlz, who ended up the Pioneer League champions yet again under manager Tom Kotchman.

State of the Farm

Abe Flores was named the new Director of Player Development on October 16, 2007. Photo Courtesy Angels Baseball.

A FutureAngels.com tradition is the annual State of the Farm report, a snapshot in time with the Angels’ farm director.  These reports go back to 2000, except for 2005 (equipment malfunction) and 2006 (the web site was on hiatus).

I recorded tonight an interview with Abe Flores, the Angels’ new Director of Player Development.  Abe was the Manager of Baseball Operations when Tony Reagins was promoted to General Manager on October 16, 2007, succeeding Bill Stoneman.   Reagins and Stoneman offered him Tony’s old job, as he tells in the interview.

Click Here to listen to the interview.  You need Windows Media Player to listen.  It runs about a half-hour.

We talk about the Dominican academy, including Japanese player Ikko Sumi who played there in 2007; injury status for Hank Conger, Young-Il Jung and Jon Bachanov; and prospects Brandon Wood, Nick Adenhart, Jordan Walden, Sean O’Sullivan, Hainley Statia and Chris Pettit.

If you go to the FutureAngels.com home page at www.futureangels.com, you’ll see the links for the prior State of the Farm reports.  Those include 2002, after Tony Reagins had been promoted from Manager of Baseball Operations to Director of Player Development.  Six years later, Tony is the general manager.

That’s part of the fun with these annual reports.  Not only do you hear what was management’s thinking about players and development philosophy at a particular time, but you also hear these farm directors at a certain point in their careers.  Six years from now, who knows what Abe will be doing.

This article is copyright © 2008 Stephen C. Smith DBA FutureAngels.com. It may not be reprinted elsewhere without the prior expressed written permission of the author. To obtain permission, e-mail Stephen at home@futureangels.com.

Ten Years and Counting

A July 1998 visit to Cedar Rapids gave birth to the idea for FutureAngels.com.

Happy Birthday, FutureAngels.com.

Or not.

Check out the banner on the FutureAngels.com web site and you’ll see it now says TEN YEARS below the site name.

Depending on how you measure such things, the site’s inception has already passed, or is yet to come.

The site’s origins lie in the 1998 season for the Lake Elsinore Storm, at the time the Angels’ affiliate in the California League.

I got the minor league bug in the mid-1990s. A lifelong Angels fan, I was curious about their minor leagues so one day I drove out to Lake Elsinore, which was the closest affiliate. I found it was a very informal environment, and it was easy to get involved with the operation if (1) your intentions are sincere, and (2) you don’t have your hand out looking for cash.

I developed a friendship with Jennifer Bock, who at the time was running the Storm gift shop. (Jen is the wife of Alan Bock, an editorial writer for the Orange County Register.) As a side gig, I’d been doing some free-lance writing work for trading card companies, helping to produce entertainment card sets. I always wanted to do baseball cards, and offered to do the 1998 Storm set.

Players, naturally, want action shots on their cards, but that means hiring a professional photographer. Jen didn’t have the money in her budget for that, so she’d get a cheap camera and take posed photos of the players. I volunteered to shoot action shots in exchange for a press pass that gave me access to the camera wells, dugouts, etc. I went out and bought a camera and started to learn all about photography.

I came up with an idea for the back of the card sets. Instead of a simple line like, "Johnny was drafted in the 5th round," I thought it would be fun to interview the players and get quotes about their teammates. So a quote from Player B about Player A would be on the back of A’s card. Neat idea, a pain to do, never tried it again.

(My wife had that card set framed. It’s on the wall here in my home office. Jen got the cards autographed for her.)

One day, I was approached by a woman who asked if I was a professional photographer.

I was flip. "If someone paid me, I guess it would make me a professional photographer."

She introduced herself as the mother of Travis Rapp, the team’s third-string catcher. "If you’ll take photos of my son," she said, "I’ll pay you for them."

I mentioned it to Jen, who observed, "You can make a lot of money if you get into the parents."

Well, that turned out not to be quite true, because camera equipment costs a lot of money and so does travel. But it did open the door to what has become FutureAngels.com.

At the same time I was doing the card sets, I’d discussed with Jen development of a Storm web site. I developed a prototype on AOL, since I had an account over there back then. Subscribers could create their own personal sites with very limited storage space and features. Another front office executive developed his own site, so that became their first "official" site, but I kept mine going as a fan site about the Angels’ minor leagues.

So, technically, the first FutureAngels.com site was http://members.aol.com/ssmith1701. (No, it doesn’t exist any more.)

That only lasted a couple months. Eventually I registered the name HaloStorm.com (it no longer exists either) which covered both the Angels and Lake Elsinore. That’s really where the site began to morph into what we have today.

During that summer of 1998, I made my first trip to another affiliate. The 1999 Storm players would come from Cedar Rapids, so I went out to Iowa to shoot photos of the 1998 Kernels.

The Kernels opened their door, just as did the Storm. Broadcaster John Rodgers put me on the radio with him, peppering me with questions about Kernels alumni who’d moved up to Lake Elsinore. Many fans approached me to ask about their favorite players and how they were.

That was when the cartoon lightbulb lit over my head.

If the fans in Cedar Rapids wanted to follow their kids after they left, if Storm fans wanted to know who’d be in Lake Elsinore next year, and if Angels fans wanted to know more about the farm system in general, then wouldn’t the Internet be a great way to deliver that information?

I called the other affiliates, explained the concept, and everyone was supportive. No one ever really gave much thought to their sibling affiliates, because each team is its own operation. They’re not owned by the Angels, but independent business people (or corporations such as Mandalay Sports Entertainment, which at the time owned the Storm). The basic deal was that, in exchange for access, I’d post their press releases and schedules on-line, shoot photography for them for free, do some writing for their game programs and provide them with photos from the other affiliates. Done deal.

In early 1999, I registered the name FutureAngels.com and started building the site. The official opening day was April 1, 1999. No foolin’.

So as I wrote upstream, depending on how you want to measure it, the site’s birthday is somewhere in the 1998 season, or the spring of 1999.

In any case, I’ve covered ten seasons of Angels minor league baseball, and 2008 will be the eleventh. So TEN YEARS could refer to that too.

As Internet technology has evolved, so has FutureAngels.com.

Eventually the affiliates all got their own web sites, so I no longer needed to post their schedules and press releases. Fine by me! More time to put into other endeavors.

Back then, most people accessed the Internet by dial-up modem. Many site visitors were people in rural areas or folks who didn’t have a lot of money, so the site wasn’t loaded up with a lot of whiz-bang special effects. The regulars told me they didn’t care about effects, they wanted content, so I’ve always kept that in mind as the site has evolved.

Recording and posting audio interviews was pretty easy, because streaming sound didn’t require much bandwidth (if you weren’t trying to stream music in stereo!). You’ll find in the FutureAngels.com Audio Gallery interviews going back to 1998. The idea was to create a permanent archive, so that when these players reached the majors you could hear them when they were starting out. You’ll find Nathan Haynes and Robb Quinlan in 2000; Casey Kotchman, Jeff Mathis and John Lackey in 2001; Joe Saunders and Mike Napoli in 2004; and Howie Kendrick and Brandon Wood in 2005.

As an historical archive, you’ll also find interviews with managers and coaches over the years talking about the players assigned to them for that season. Tom Kotchman’s annual interviews are always of interest because he’s managed the teams that usually have the first-year players; in his 1999 interview, he talks about John Lackey. In his May 2002 interview, Travs manager Doug Sisson talks about why Francisco Rodriguez was moved into the bullpen and the marching orders he was given for how to use Frankie; as we all know, that move rocketed Frankie through the system to a September 15, 2002 major league debut and World Series stardom.

I’ve also recorded interviews each spring with the Angels farm directors, sort of a "State of the Farm" report. It’s a snapshot in time so you can listen to what was management’s thinking about top prospects and player development in general.

As broadband Internet access became more commonplace and affordable, I started experimenting with video. The FutureAngels.com Video Gallery began in the summer of 2002. One of the earliest clips is of Frankie Rodriguez pitching in relief at Salt Lake right after he was promoted from Arkansas.

Some of that early stuff is crude, but it was a learning curve and within a couple years the web site had some memorable clips. One of my favorites is of the Provo Angels winning the pennant in September 2004. My wife and I drove up the I-15 to Provo the day before — a 650-mile drive — to be there should the Angels win. I videotaped the final out, the on-field dogpile, the trophy award ceremony, and the celebration. We went back to the hotel and I posted that video on-line so the players’ parents could see their sons win the pennant. Jordan Renz’ father was able to see him hit the game-winning homer. Billy Layman, who had to leave the team as his mother was very ill, was able to watch the celebration on-line; that’s his jersey you see his teammates waving, to show he was still part of the team.

There have been plenty other memorable moments. Two of my favorites are Dallas McPherson’s homer off Randy Johnson at Rancho Cucamonga in July 2003, and Brandon Wood’s 43rd homer for Rancho Cucamonga in 2005 to set an Angels minor league single-season record. No one even knew what the record was until I’d researched it that summer.

Which brings me to the next project.

I’m working on a database of Angels minor league statistics. Soon you’ll be able to query the database for questions such as, "Who holds the record for most homers in a single season?" Who has the most homers lifetime? Which pitcher has the most strikeouts? Which team had the highest winning percentage? Which manager has the most wins?

I pretty much have the technology nailed down (an ASP.NET front-end to a SQL Server database, for you computer geeks), so now I’m entering early 1960s data for test records. I should have something for you to see in a few days. With 47 seasons and counting of data to enter, obviously this will take a while, but the upside is I’ll learn a lot more about the history of the Angels minor leagues.

That’s the other big project. I’ve been interviewing people involved in the early days of the Angels minor leagues — farm director Roland Hemond, and players Dan Ardell, Jack Hiatt and Paul Mosley — to build a foundation for a permanent section on the Angels’ minor league history. There are other plans in the air — a possible reunion, and a book — but more about those if/when they happen.

I’ve been sitting on a ton of video footage I shot in 2003 of the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes. That was a team with Casey Kotchman, Jeff Mathis, Dallas McPherson, Ervin Santana and more. Eventually I want to produce an on-line documentary about that team and its players. It just awaits the time to do it. I may do something similar with the 2008 squad, which should feature all the top-prospect talent that was at Cedar Rapids last year.

Isn’t that how all this started?

Please keep in mind that nobody pays me to do this. I’m not wealthy. I lose a couple thousand dollars every year doing this. So if you enjoy the content, please consider a donation or voluntary subscription to FutureAngels.com. Ten years of support from people like you have helped us to preserve some incredible moments in Angels minor league history. Your donation might help pay for the next one.

This article is copyright © 2008 Stephen C. Smith DBA FutureAngels.com. It may not be reprinted elsewhere without the prior expressed written permission of the author. To obtain permission, e-mail Stephen at home@futureangels.com.

The Minor League Game of the Week

Adam Morrissey homered on his birthday when the Travs hosted Wichita on June 8, 2007.

June 8, 2007 — The Arkansas Travelers host the Wichita Wranglers in a Texas League contest.

FutureAngels.com was there to cover the game. It was my first visit to Dickey-Stephens Park, the Travs’ new stadium in North Little Rock after 75 years at historic Ray Winder Field in Little Rock.

You’ll find video clips from this game in the FutureAngels.com Video Gallery.

Second baseman Adam Morrissey was the big story. A former Cubs, A’s and Rangers property, Adam took his minor league free agency after the 2006 season and signed with the Angels.

June 8 was Adam’s birthday, so his teammates set up the native Aussie for a prank in the bottom of the first inning.

As he came to bat, they arranged for the PA to play the suggestive "I Touch Myself" by Divinyls, an Australian rock band. Adam responded with a homer over the center field batter’s eye, the first in the park’s history.

Morrissey was 3 for 5 in the game, adding two singles. He was interviewed after the game by Arkansas Democrat-Gazette sportswriter Todd Traub.

Click Here and you can watch Adam’s homer and his post-game interview. (You need Windows Media Player and a broadband Internet connection.)

Nick Adenhart, the Angels’ top pitching prospect, was the starting pitcher that night. Click Here to watch a video clip of Nick pitching that night.

Click Here to listen to the game.

Next week, we’ll kick off the Orem Owlz’ 2007 season with Jordan Walden’s first professional start.

John Sickels’ Baseball Prospect Book Available for Pre-Order

Baseball analyst John Sickels sent out an e-mail today reminding us to pre-order his Baseball Prospect Book 2008:

The book will go to the printer on Monday or Tuesday, and should be shipped the first Saturday in February. As always, those who order early will get an email copy of John’s Top 50 lists.

Don’t delay! We are basing the number of books we print on the number of preorders we get, and we don’t want anyone to be left out.

Thanks! And remember, Catchers and Pitchers report next month!

To order, go to John’s site at www.johnsickels.com. There are only two prospect annuals I keep on my bookshelf — Baseball America and John Sickels.

The Return of Home Run Derby

The 1950s classic Home Run Derby is now available on DVD.

Home Run Derby is one of my cherished memories of childhood. I was too young to watch it in its initial airing, but was it repeated many times over the years.

The basic idea was to take two major league sluggers and pit them against each other in a home-run hitting contest. The winner got $2,000, the loser $1,000. This was back in the days when that meant a lot of money to a ballplayer, who usually spent winters moonlighting to make ends meet.

The series was filmed at Wrigley Field — not the Chicago version, but the Los Angeles version. The same Wrigley family that owned the Cubs also owned the Pacific Coast League L.A. Angels. They built a stadium called Wrigley Field in what is now south-central Los Angeles.

(And if you didn’t know, the Wrigleys at one time also owned Catalina Island. The Cubs used to travel west to hold their spring trainings on the island, which no doubt helped cut down on extracurricular activities.)

When the Dodgers came to town in 1958, the PCL Angels moved to Spokane, Washington. (The franchise today is the Las Vegas 51s, a Dodgers affiliate.) Wrigley Field sat empty except for Home Run Derby until 1961, when the American League awarded a franchise to Gene Autry in Los Angeles. The A.L. Angels played there for 1961, then moved to Dodger Stadium for 1962-1965. Wrigley Field was finally demolished in 1966.

**** Beverage, president of the Pacific Coast League Historical Society and their newsletter editor, wrote in this month’s edition that the three-disc set is available on Amazon.com. If you go to www.amazon.com and search Home Run Derby you’ll find the three volumes. Volumes 1 and 2 are $8, Volume 3 is $13. Not a bad deal.

So if you want to see the ancestral homeland of today’s Angels — when they really were in Los Angeles — treat yourself to at least one of these discs.

This article is copyright © 2008 Stephen C. Smith DBA FutureAngels.com. It may not be reprinted elsewhere without the prior expressed written permission of the author. To obtain permission, e-mail Stephen at home@futureangels.com.

Ten Predictions for 2008

It’s a sure thing — Tom Kotchman will take the Orem Owlz into the playoffs.

Ten predictions for 2008, in no particular order of importance or credibility:

  • Jeff Mathis takes over the Angels’ full-time catching role by mid-season.
  • Brandon Wood becomes the Angels’ full-time shortstop by season’s end.
  • Casey Kotchman actually stays healthy for a full season and hits thirty homers.
  • Joe Saunders will start drawing comparisons to Tom Glavine.
  • Nick Adenhart will have an ERA over 4.50 with Salt Lake, and some people will dismiss him as a "bust" even though he’s a 21-year old pitching in a Triple-A high-altitude ballpark. Nick will also make his major league debut in September.
  • Jordan Walden begins the year with Cedar Rapids, makes the Midwest League All-Star team, then gets promoted to Rancho Cucamonga for the second half.
  • Hank Conger, Matt Sweeney and Mark Trumbo will each hit 20 HR for Rancho Cucamonga.
  • The Quakes’ rotation of Sean O’Sullivan, Trevor Bell, Jeremy Haynes, David Herndon and Tommy Mendoza will be considered the best in the California League.
  • The Quakes qualify in the first-half for the California League playoffs. The team that actually goes to the playoffs looks little like the qualifying team because so many guys got mid-season promotions to Double-A.
  • And the easiest prediction … Tom Kotchman leads the Orem Owlz into the Pioneer League playoffs.

This article is copyright © 2008 Stephen C. Smith DBA FutureAngels.com. It may not be reprinted elsewhere without the prior expressed written permission of the author. To obtain permission, e-mail Stephen at home@futureangels.com.