March 2008

Minor League Spring Training – March 16

The winds tore the batter’s eye on one of the minor league practice fields.

My first day in minor league camp is always the most memorable.

Or forgettable.

Forgettable in the sense that nearly 150 players are in camp, and many uniform numbers are worn by two or even three players, and I’m trying to put all those faces back together with their names. I know them, they know me, but neither of us is really sure who we really are, so we just kinda nod and try to remember who each other is.

But it’s always memorable because I get to see friends after six months, all those players and coaches gathered in one place, knowing that in a couple weeks they’ll scatter to all corners of the baseball globe.

Most of the upper-level players are over at major league camp, so minor league rosters right now have no meaningful resemblance to what their Opening Day lineups will look like. But for what it’s worth, here were the lineups for today’s Quakes and Kernels games.

1. Stantrel Smith LF
2. P.J. Phillips SS
3. Jeff LaRue 1B
4. Tadd Brewer 2B
5. Abel Nieves 3B
6. Rian Kiniry CF
7. Greg Dini C
8. Anderson Rosario RF
9. Tyler Mann DH

David Herndon started for Rancho Cucamonga.

1. Anthony Norman LF
2. Hector Estrella 3B
3. D’Andre Miller CF
4. Gordie Gronkowski 1B
5. Donato Giovanatto DH
6. Tyler Johnson RF
7. Jerry Gonzalez 2B
8. Chris Rosenbaum C
9. Carlos Colmenares SS

Trevor Reckling started for Cedar Rapids.

The predicted scattered thunderstorms gave us a pass for the most part, other than the occasional sprinkle. But it was quite cool and windy at times. I noticed a batter’s eye on one of the practice fields was torn so a City of Tempe service truck had to repair it in the afternoon while the games were played on two other fields.

Click Here to watch March 16 minor league spring training highlights. You need Windows Media Player and a broadband Internet connection (cable modem, DSL) to watch.

Quakes broadcaster Jeff Levering was in town and recorded an interview with Angels farm director Abe Flores that will air later in the year on a Quakes pre-game show. But both agreed to let me videotape the interview, so Click Here to watch the interview.

This ‘N That

The Angels played two exhibition games during their 1961 spring training at Indio against the PCL San Diego Padres.

On the way to Arizona, I stopped in Indio to find South Jackson Field. On February 5, I wrote that the Angels played two spring training games in Indio during their first spring training in 1961. The games were against the PCL San Diego Padres.

It’s likely the field doesn’t look much like it did 47 years ago, but the photo will give you a rough idea of the modest conditions for those exhibition games.

If today’s Angels were to barnstorm all over the Inland Empire during spring training, playing in towns like Indio, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ontario, they’d have to call out the riot squad to keep the crowd manageable. Back then, when the Inland Empire was sparsely populated and the Angels were definitely second-fiddle to the established Dodgers, their presence was probably considered a novelty and not much else.

I’ll be at minor league camp tomorrow for the Quakes/Kernels games. The weather forecast for the afternoon is a 40% chance of scattered thunderstorms. Hopefully the games don’t get banged, as the next two days have the Bees and Travs at home, so it’ll be my one chance to see the Quakes and Kernels.

(And with Casey Kotchman’s freaky bad luck, he’ll probably get struck by a bolt of lightning …)

The big news is that John Lackey is down with a triceps strain, and for the first time in his pro career will miss a start. News reports say he’s out at least a month.

Media speculation has Nick Adenhart a candidate for the Angels’ starting rotation, along with Dustin Moseley, Nick Green and Kasey Olenberger. I really think it’s a stretch to consider Nick the favorite, as he’s only 21 and yet to pitch above Double-A. He needs more experience. But neither do I think three or four big-league starts will "ruin" him, as some people on fan boards will inevitably claim. It’ll just be experience for him to take to Salt Lake.

In my mind, the likely scenario is Dustin Moseley moving into the rotation, which means the chances improve for two out of Jason Bulger, Darren O’Day and Rich Thompson to make the Opening Day bullpen. But Kelvim Escobar and Chris Bootcheck should be back by mid- to late-April, which would push Moseley back to the pen and two of those three back to Salt Lake.

Once again, I give thanks that the Angels GM didn’t give in to the instant gratification demands of certain fans and media scribes who wanted the Angels to flush all their depth for a "big bat." If Nick Adenhart and Ervin Santana had been dealt last winter, the Angels’ pitching staff would have some major problems and they’d probably have to make another move just for a short-term fix.

Bill Stoneman showed that patience pays off, and so far Tony Reagins is showing the same patience.

Before I go, let’s note Matt Brown’s performance today. Brownie homered in the bottom of the 8th to tie the game 4-4, then tripled in the bottom of the 10th and scored the winning run on a single by Juan Rivera. Matt tends to get overlooked because Brandon Wood is ahead of him, but he’s 4 for 12 with a homer and triple this spring in parent club games.

It should be interesting to see how the Salt Lake infield shakes out to start the season. If Wood is at shortstop, then Brown would be at 3B. But the Angels need to find a home for 3B Freddy Sandoval, and Sean Rodriguez is in the mix too. One should be the 2B, and there don’t seem to be any obvious first basemen unless Kendry Morales returns to Triple-A, so maybe Sandoval or Brown play some 1B. Brown also played some 2B in 2007.  Sean will probably become a roving agent of chaos to prepare him for the utility role envisioned throughout his career. Michael Collins will probably make a run at the 1B job too along with Matt Pali.

So guys will move around to get them experience, enhancing their opportunity to move up to Anaheim.

The Minor League Game of the Week

Adam Pavkovich hit a two-run single in the bottom of the 9th on September 6th to give the Bees a 2-0 playoff series lead against Sacramento.

Not much longer before the regular season begins, which means our traditional Minor League Game of the Week series is about to reach its crescendo.

This week it’s Game #2 of the best-of-five series between the Salt Lake Bees and the Sacramento River Cats (A’s affiliate). The two teams were playing for the Pacific Conference title, and the winner would go on to face the winner of the American Conference for the PCL title.

Click Here to listen to the game. You need Windows Media Player to listen.

Next week it’s Game #1 of the Midwest League Western Division playoff series between the Cedar Rapids Kernels and the Clinton Lumberkings (Rangers affiliate). The C.R. roster should arrive more or less intact in Rancho Cucamonga to begin the 2008 season.

And our final webcast in two weeks will be the epic 16-inning battle between the Orem Owlz and Great Falls White Sox for the Pioneer League championship. Owlz’ ace Jordan Walden faced White Sox ace Aaron Poreda in a battle of two top pitching prospects.

Be sure to check this blog starting Sunday night for my reports directly from the Angels’ minor league camp in Tempe, Arizona. Hopefully I’ll have video footage to go along with the blogs.

Jon Garland at Minor League Camp on Monday

Today’s Riverside Press-Enterprise reports:

Jon Garland, who allowed three runs on seven hits in four innings during Wednesday’s 6-3 loss to the Royals, will pitch in a Class AAA game Monday.

I’ll be at minor league camp Sunday-Tuesday to shoot the games, so if this happens look for video footage of Garland’s start Monday evening on

Monday is an off-day for the parent club, so I suspect we’ll see more major leaguers over at the minor league camp. My guess is either Mike Napoli or Jeff Mathis will catch Garland.

It also happens to be St. Patrick’s Day. Some teams do a “green” theme on that day so I’m curious to see if the Angels do anything, but I doubt they’ll spend a dime for the minor league camp to don green caps or will deploy green bases. Ya never know.

Scott Spiezio Update

USA Today published an article about troubled former Angels first baseman Scott Spiezio. Troy Percival tried to intervene last year when both were on the Cardinals roster, but to no avail.

Well worth the read.

Jordan Walden is No Mystery

Jordan Walden is a mystery to some, but not to those who read the 2007 Top 10 Prospects Report.

Why it is that some people don’t do their research when the Internet boasts many fine search engines?

Case in point: This thread on which declared that Jordan Walden’s velocity dropped his senior year in high school "for no apparent reason."

Comparing Jordan to Padres prospect Matt Latos, the author writes: "Which is the bigger problem, Latos’ makeup issues or Walden’s vanishing fastball?"

Well, anyone who read the Top 10 Prospects Report last November knows it was no mystery at all.

Jordan suffered a groin injury his senior year. It was reported not only on, but a quick Google search would have found these reports:

Baseball America: "A matchup with projected second-round pick Zach Britton drew a horde of scouts, but Walden pitched at just 85-88 mph due to a groin injury. He did rebound to throw 92-93 mph in his next outing, so his draft status is secure." "The Texas recruit also had 11 home runs and 36 RBIs during a season hindered by a nagging groin injury. He was drafted in the 12th round by the Los Angeles Angels." "He’s got a projectable body and a fastball that touches 97 mph. A drop in velocity, and a groin injury, this year hurt his stock, though when he’s on, he’s got a plus fastball and curve with easy delivery.

And so on …

I have the highest respect for John Sickels, the column’s author. He’s one of the few independent analysts out there who tries to get it right. But none of us are perfect.

My concern is more with how these things take on a life of their own. If you read the replies, one person claims Walden has a “disappearing fastball,” another speculates he was suffering from fatigue, a third claims Jordan is “soft.” For cryin’ out loud! All this nonsense over a non-issue.

I just can’t abide by intellectual laziness, and the Internet certainly encourages it.

Jon Bachanov to Have Elbow Ligament Surgery

Joe Torres (left) and Nick Adenhart in August 2004 after their “Tommy John” surgeries.

Buried in an Orange County Register article is this crummy news:

For the second time in the past four years, the Angels drafted a pitcher who needed Tommy John surgery.

When the Angels made Nick Adenhart their 14th-round pick in 2004, they knew the right-hander had damaged the ulnar collateral ligament in his pitching elbow and would need surgery. When they made another high school pitcher, Jon Bachanov, their first pick last summer, they didn’t realize the right-hander would need surgery.

General Manager Tony Reagins said the team’s scouts saw Bachanov pitch late before last summer’s draft and had no indication of a problem. But Bachanov threw in workouts for the team shortly after signing his first contract in July and complained of a sore elbow. He was sent to the team’s minor-league complex in Arizona to begin a rehabilitation program. When the pain persisted, Bachanov underwent an MRI that revealed ligament damage in the elbow. He had Tommy John surgery in December.

Recovery from the surgery can take 10 months or more. Reagins said there is a possibility Bachanov could be ready to pitch in the fall instructional league. Most likely, he will not throw his first pitch in the Angels’ organization until 2009.

Adenhart had his surgery before his 18th birthday in August 2004 and made his minor-league debut in 2005. He has since emerged as the Angels’ top pitching prospect. Bachanov turned 19 in January.

The success rate on "Tommy John" surgeries is much higher than a generation ago, but it’s still not perfect. For every Nick Adenhart there’s a Joe Torres, the Angels’ first-round pick in June 2000 (#10 overall). Joe missed part of 2003 and all of 2004 after the surgery, and was never the same. The last I checked, he was knocking around the White Sox system.

I interviewed Jon Bachanov last July in summer league. Click here to listen. You need Windows Media Player.

This ‘N That

I’ve been very busy lately with non-baseball stuff. My day job had me in San Diego for three days at a training seminar (within walking distance of Petco Park, but I didn’t walk …). I also dabble in local politics, and as of late I’ve been doing what I can to help cage a certain local politician with corrupt tendencies. But I keep that world separate from here.

So far the injuries thankfully have been minimal in spring training camp.

Chris Bootcheck may miss eight weeks due to a strained oblique muscle. My first reaction was, "Oh cool, I get to see Booty at Rancho," which is a rather selfish attitude but there we are. Like any mortal human being, I have my favorites, and Chris has been a favorite since he made his pro debut with Rancho Cucamonga in 2001.

Ryan Mount injured his left knee sliding into second base during Monday’s game. According to Matt Hurst at the Riverside Press-Enterprise, Mountie sprained his medial collateral ligament (MCL) with an unknown timetable. My chiropractor, who has some background as an athletic trainer, says most MCL injuries aren’t that big a deal and at worst it will affect Ryan’s lateral movement. Mountie was probably going to be the starting 2B for Rancho come April. Until he returns, it should be Wil Ortiz at 2B and P.J. Phillips at SS for the Quakes.

Meanwhile, Mark Whicker at the Orange County Register tells us that "the sky is falling" in Angels camp and proceeds to rattle off his fantasies. But then the Register also happens to be ignoring the corruption of a certain local politician in my town, so what else would we expect from this kitty box liner.

As aforementioned, I’ll be at Angels minor league camp March 16-18. Hopefully the political shenanigans calm down and I can get back to what’s more important, i.e. baseball.

The Minor League Game of the Week

Trevor Bell pitched seven shutout innings on August 24, 2007 when the Kernels visited Quad Cities.

August 24, 2007 — Riding an eight-game winning streak, the Cedar Rapids Kernels visit the Swing of the Quad Cities as both teams seek post-season playoff slots.

With everyone finally healthy, by late August the Kernels were firing on all metaphorical cylinders.  This game features all the regulars who should be at Rancho Cucamonga in 2008 — P.J. Phillips, Peter Bourjos, Wil Ortiz, Mark Trumbo, Hank Conger, Matt Sweeney, Ryan Mount, Trevor Bell, and Barret Browning.

For Trevor Bell, he was as hot in August as the rest of the Kernels.  In that month, Trevor was 4-0 with a 2.20 ERA.  In 41.0 IP, he struck out 29, walked just five, and gave up just one homer.

Although the Angels have been affiliated with Cedar Rapids since 1993, Quad Cities was a long-time Angels affiliate as well, starting with the Angels’ second year of existence in 1962.  The Angels were in Davenport from 1962-1978, then returned for 1986-1992 before switching their Midwest League affiliation to Cedar Rapids.

I’m hoping this year I can catch at least one Kernels road game at Quad Cities.  Historic John O’Donnell Stadium is one of the most picturesque ballparks in the minors.  Literally against the Mississippi River, the Centennial Bridge arches across the water next to the stadium.  The field does flood now and then, forcing the ballclub to move elsewhere, but a recent renovation project supposedly will help protect from future floods.  (I’m sure Mother Nature will have something to say about that …).

The franchise has gone through several names over the years.  When they were affiliated with the Angels, they were known as the Quad Cities Angels but also known at times as the Quad Cities River Bandits.  A previous owner changed the team name in 2004 to the Swing of the Quad Cities (ick!), but new ownership this winter changed it back to River Bandits.  Unfortunately, they also sold the stadium naming rights, so it’s now called Modern Woodmen Park.  Supply your own punch line.

Click Here to listen to the game.  You need Windows Media Player.