September 2008

Flood Relief Update from Cedar Rapids

This letter came in e-mail today from Kernels Foundation president Gary Keoppel:

On behalf of The Kernels Foundation, I would like to thank you for your support of Cedar Rapids as we recover from the record floods of 2008. The Kernels Foundation received $1,595 from you and followers and that money was donated to the Taylor Elementary School Tiger Cub Club. Taylor Elementary, a partner school of the Kernels, was severely damaged and will not reopen until the 2009-2010 school year. The Tiger Cub Club will use the money to build a walking track around the school campus and the Cedar Rapids Kernels ground crew will help rebuild their baseball field. The children from this neighborhood school are attending other schools around the city this year and the track and field will allow them to use the school property while they are waiting for the school to be reopened next year.

In addition, The Kernels Foundation received a $25,000 donation from Minor League Baseball and the entire amount was donated to the Boys and Girls Club of Cedar Rapids (BGCCR). The BGCCR was housed in a former YMCA building and water reached the second floor ruining not only the facility but also everything in it. The Angels donated nine laptop computers to the BGCCR to replace those destroyed in the flood. BGCCR is continuing their programs in a separate facility as they determine what they can do to replace their main facility.

The Kernels Foundation also held a raffle this summer and gave away a Harley Davidson motorcycle. Proceeds of the raffle went to the YMCA of the Cedar Rapids Metropolitan Area resulting in a $3,000 donation. The Angels donated six laptop computers to the YMCA to replace the ones they lost in the flood. The YMCA was recently reopened to serve the community.

Jack Roeder of the Kernels can give you more details, but the Kernels helped raise over $67,000 for flood relief this summer and used the ball park for distributing school supplies to students, preparing food for the Meals on Wheels program and many other activities. Veterans Memorial Stadium was indeed a multi-purpose facility this summer.

Thanks again to you and your readers for your help. Cedar Rapids is working hard to recover and make CR an even better place to live, work, play and cheer on the Kernels. I enjoy checking your website and look forward to meeting you during your next visit to CR.

Gary Keoppel
The Kernels Foundation

I just wanted to say I’m very proud of all of you, including BeesGal, the Quakes and Owlz Booster Club for stepping up to the plate to help the people of Cedar Rapids when it mattered most. You did good.

Fall Ball, Part 2

Here are some more photos from instructional league … Video highlights will be posted in the next day or two, including Jered Weaver’s three innings yesterday.


The aforementioned Mr. Weaver. He pitched three innings. He didn’t start the game but relieved Manaurys Correa to start the third. Since the Angels haven’t announced yet their rotation for the upcoming division series against Boston, read into that what you will.


Shortstop Andrew Romine on the back-end of a spectacular double play. With a runner on first, the Cubs’ batter hit a shot up the middle. Angels second baseman P.J. Phillips dove to his right to glove the ball, and lying on his stomach flipped the ball over his head to Romine at the bag. Romine then turned and leapt to throw on to first and complete the double play. That got a standing ovation from their own bench.


For the Canadians who keep e-mailing me to ask for a photo of Terrell Alliman … Enjoy.


And for the John Hellweg fan club who also ask for photos … He pitched the 9th yesterday. The roster lists him at 6’7″. He certainly stands out in a crowd, but he’s not the tallest player on the roster. That honor goes to Jon Plefka at 6’8″.


And here’s Gabe Jacobo, also requested by his clan. Gabe played first base Thursday and Saturday.


Plenty for me to do this weekend, more photos and video as time permits.

Fall Ball

I’m in Tempe for fall instructional league, also known as “The Instructs” or “Fall Ball.”

Fall ball is fun for people like me who are constantly trying to learn the nuances of the game, because the emphasis isn’t on winning and losing so much as teaching minor leaguers.

In fact, during today’s game against the Cubs camp, the scoreboard wasn’t even turned on. Yesterday, when we played at their place (Fitch Park in Mesa), we played the bottom of the 9th although we’d already lost 3-2. The Cubs have employed 10-man lineups with two DHs — one catches the first part of the game, then becomes the DH while the other becomes the catcher.

Yes, that’s not how the DH is supposed to work. Like I said, these games are for instruction.

Here are some photos from the first couple days. I’m working on video clips, some of which are already on

Anel de los Santos successfully blocks the plate as Cubs center fielder Brandon Guyer tries to score in yesterday’s game at Fitch Park.


Roberto Lopez, the Pioneer League MVP this year with the Orem Owlz, played the outfield, third base and first base. The Angels may be thinking about adding catcher to his resume, as he caught a little bullpen today.


Cubs catcher Robinson Chirinos blocks the plate as Angels center fielder Clay Fuller dives head-first trying to score. Fuller was called out.


Cubs center fielder Tony Campana and right fielder Brandon Guyer collided in the first inning of today’s game at Tempe Diablo. Both called for the ball and then collided. Angels field coordinator Bruce Hines and trainer Mike Metcalfe were on the scene before the Cubs staff arrived.


The Angels have a full complement of veteran coaches and instructors directing the daily program. Seen in this photo are Arkansas hitting coach Eric Owens, field coordinator Bruce Hines, catching instructor Tom Gregorio and pitching instructor Kernan Ronan.


Report: Ever Magallanes Signs with White Sox

Quakes manager Ever Magallanes has left the Angels organization to manage Double-A for the White Sox in 2009.


Travs’ manager Bobby Magallanes was on the Angels’ pre-game radio show today. Interviewer Rory Markas brought up that his brother Ever, who managed the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes in 2008, has left the Angels organization to manage Double-A for the Chicago White Sox in 2009.

Like Bobby, Ever is a class act. Ever was the Cedar Rapids Kernels’ manager in 2007. After a devastating flood struck Cedar Rapids in 2008, Ever helped me put together a video for Kernels fans that played on their scoreboard to let them know the players in Rancho Cucamonga — most of whom played for the Kernels in 2007 — were thinking of them.

The Angels don’t usually announce their minor league coaching assignments until December or January, so we’ll have to wait and see who manages the Quakes in 2009.

On Deck: The 2008 Top 10 Prospects Report

With the minor league seasons done, it’s time to turn my attention to writing the 2008 Top 10 Prospects report.

Many lists come out in the spring. I prefer to write it after a season ends. In any case, all such lists are just a snapshot in time.

The Top 10 Prospects Report has been around since 2001. It’s unique in that I actually see the players I write about, talk to their coaches and the players themselves, and shoot video of the players which I post online so you can see them and judge for yourself. You get a lot more than just a line of stats, which many so-called “expert” reports use as their sole basis for evaluating talent. Mine also relies on context. Theirs don’t.

My philosophies have evolved over the years. Baseball America goes by a player’s ceiling — if he maximizes his raw potential, what could he become. In recent years, I’ve tended to go more with actual production and progress, which means I will give a Triple-A or Double-A player the nod over someone in the lower minors, simply because he’s progressed his career to within range of the major leagues.

But now I’m thinking about how well our lower-level teams did this year, and considering that maybe some players at Orem and Tempe deserve more consideration. For example, five Orem players made the Baseball America Top 20 Prospects list — Will Smith, Luis Jimenez, Jose Perez, Angel Castillo and Michael Kohn. Roberto Lopez, who hit .400 and was the league MVP, didn’t make the cut due to his age. But should he be on the list? Tom Kotchman thinks he projects as a possible big-league role player — my rough analogy would be Robb Quinlan — so should Lopez make the list?

I’ll start writing in early November. If you want to add your thoughts and suggestions, please feel free to post a reply. Please note that the BA eligibility rules apply — no more than 130 ABs or 50 IPs in the big leagues. That means Brandon Wood, Sean Rodriguez and Jose Arredondo are no longer eligible.

I’ll be at Tempe September 25-27 for instructional league games, all against the Cubs. A World Series preview? Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. But I’ll be shooting video and trying to record some more interviews in anticipation of the Top 10 Prospects report.

Why the Owlz Lost

In last Tuesday’s blog, before the Pioneer League pennant series began, I warned, “Let’s not get ahead of ourselves here.”

The Pioneer League’s three-game championship format has a knack for creating upsets, and that’s what happened in 2008 as the 52-23 Orem Owlz lost to the 39-37 Great Falls Voyagers, two games to one.

There are many reasons why the Owlz fell, the best-of-three format being one of them.

Here are some other reasons, from my perspective.

  • For openers, the Owlz’ offense was largely silent. Orem hit 76 homers during the season (#2 in the league); three of the top five home run hitters in the league wore Owlz jerseys. But they hit only one homer in the playoffs, a solo shot by Beau Brooks in the 7th inning of Game #1  None of the leading home run hitters delivered.
  • I saw Games #2 and #3 at Orem, so I can personally comment on those games. Time and again, the Owlz had opportunities to capitalize but failed. They won Game #2 3-2 in 13 innings, but left 16 runners on base and committed four errors.  In Game #3, the left on nine runners. They had the bases loaded with one out in the bottom of the 2nd in Game #3, but the next two batters struck out.
  • I won’t name names, but there were some truly boneheaded decisions by certain players. In the aforementioned bases-loaded situation with two outs, the batter on his own squared and tried to bunt, fouling off the pitch. No squeeze was on, so far as I could tell. He just decided to try it on his own. On another play, a Great Falls batter hit a pop fly that could have been easily handled by one infielder, but another infielder called him off — and missed the ball.
  • Both sides griped about the umpiring, which isn’t unusual at any level, but the home plate umpire in Game #2 jumped the gun and tossed Luis Jimenez, the league’s home run leader. Jimenez tried to take home on a squeeze play (that really was called), but the bunt was missed and he was easily tagged out. “Lucho” hit the catcher hard, but it was a clean hit. He turned back to the plate and was immediately tossed by the umpire, who apparently thought Lucho was charging the catcher. The Owlz won that game in 13 innings, but it meant running the bullpen instead of saving some guys for Game #3.
  • By no means is this intended as a slight against interim manager Brent Del Chiaro, but I think Tom Kotchman’s absence due to his wife’s illness cost the team a certain degree of intensity. Losing Kotch before the playoffs would have been like the U.S. hockey team losing Herb Brooks just before the 1980 Winter Olympics. The team is geared emotionally to respond to Kotchman; you could have resurrected Billy Martin but it wouldn’t have been the same.

I hope that one day the Pioneer League expands the title series to best-of-five. Until then, expect more mediocre teams to fly a pennant flag, diminishing the integrity of their championships.

BeesGal of The Sporkball Journals has her own perspective on the Angels minor league seasons that just ended. Click Here to read her latest blog entry.

Milan Dinga: You’re in the Army Now

Angels minor league pitcher Milan Dinga and other West Point graduates in professional baseball will have to report for duty at season’s end.


Baseball America reports in its current issue that Angels minor league pitcher Milan Dinga and other West Point graduates will have to report for duty at season’s end.

Reporter Kary Booher wrote:

The Army rescinded a program that allowed cadets who were athletes to swap out military service for playing professional sports after graduation … The option had been available since April 2005, as the Army reasoned that its former West Point cadets could generate positive media attention — and enhance recruiting — by serving on athletic fields instead of battlefields.

The Pentagon, apparently pressured by athletes from the Naval and Air Force academies who did not have similar options available, reiterated that the Army fall back under the same rules, which require at least two years of active service after graduation.

Dinga appeared in only two games this year — one for Cedar Rapids, one for Salt Lake. A 10th round draft pick by the Angels in 2007, he pitched in only four games last year with Orem, allowing one run in 6 2/3 innings with six strikeouts. He’s been battling a rotator cuff injury since May.

Chris Rosenbaum’s Final Blog

Kernels catcher Chris Rosenbaum wrote a blog this year called

Looking Through the Mask
which was an insight into the life of a minor league ballplayer.

His final entry is, in my opinion, his best.

Click Here to read his final blog. Be sure to post a reply with your thoughts.

Orem Owlz Playoff Preview

Owlz outfielder-first baseman Roberto Lopez had a season for the ages, finishing the 76-game Pioneer League season with an AVG/OBP/SLG of .400/.480/.667 and the league’s Most Valuable Player award.


Let’s not get ahead of ourselves here.

Wednesday night, the Orem Owlz open the best-of-three Pioneer League title series at North Division champion Great Falls. The Owlz were 52-23, the Voyagers were 39-37.

Orem and Great Falls met in the 2007 playoffs. Orem finished 37-39. Great Falls finished 51-24.

The Owlz won two straight to take the pennant.

So a word of caution before you think the title is a sure thing.

Personally, I’ve always hated the league’s best-of-three format. The North and South Division alternate which division gets the home-field advantage in the playoffs. In odd-numbered years, it’s the North Division. In even-numbered years, it’s the South Division.

The road team for Game #1 becomes the home team for Games #2 and #3, which really makes that first game so pivotal.

If you’re the home team for Game #1 and win, then all you have to do is win one of two on the road. If you’re the road team for Game #1 and win, then you just have to win one of two at home to take the title.

So if Orem can knock off Great Falls in Montana, they come home Friday night with a huge advantage. It’s 600 miles from Great Falls to Orem. How’d you like to be the Voyagers on the team bus Thursday knowing you have a 14-hour bus trip ahead of you only to have two must-win games ahead of you before a hostile crowd?

Interestingly, the Owlz have been a better road team than home team in 2008 — 28-9 on the road, 24-14 at home. The Voyagers have been a better home team, 21-17 versus 18-20 on the road. So both teams play to their strengths Wednesday night, and their weaknesses Friday and Saturday.

Short series statistics aside, it’s been a memorable year for a team that seven or eight years from now could be compared to the 1999 Boise Hawks team that was also loaded with future Angels. That Tom Kotchman team (43-33) had future major leaguers Alfredo Amezaga, Tom Gregorio, Gary Johnson, Robb Quinlan, Dusty Bergman, John Lackey and one start by some guy named Francisco Rodriguez. Sure, most of those kids had no more than a token appearance, but considering that on the average only one in ten minor leaguers ever set foot in a big-league dugout, seven players is an impressive achievement.

Kotch’s 2001 Provo Angels (53-23) also had its share of future major leaguers — Nick Gorneault, Casey Kotchman, Jeff Mathis, Dallas McPherson, Steve Andrade, Pedro Liriano, Ervin Santana, Steven Shell and Jake Woods.

Outfielder-first baseman Roberto Lopez demolished the league, finishing with an AVG/OBP/SLG of .400/.480/.667. In 67 games, he hit 28 doubles and 14 homers. His 72 RBI were the most for an Angels short-season team since Robb Quinlan had 77 for Boise in 1999. Lopez walked more than he struck out — 23 strikeouts to 34 walks in 270 AB.

Lopez turns 23 on October 1, making him very old for the league. I’ve seen older players do well before in the Pioneer League, only to flame out at higher levels, so it’s a good idea to remain a bit skeptical until Roberto proves himself at Double-A and Triple-A. Nonetheless, his remarkable plate discipline — even for this level — is a good sign. Kotchman told me back in June that he thought Lopez might project as a corner fourth outfielder in the major leagues.

Two other names more easily fall into the prospect category. 20-year old third baseman Luis “Lucho” Jiminez finished with a line of .331/.361/.630; his 15 homers edged Lopez and teammate Angel Castillo who each had 14. But Jimenez committed 13 errors and has been the DH since August 12.

Castillo, 19, had a line of .281/.345/.533 yet whiffed once every 3.2 at-bats. But as Kotch said, the ball makes a different sound when it comes off his bat; if Angel can harness his raw talent, he might be the best prospect of the three.

Lefty starter Jayson Miller was named the pitcher of the year with a 2.33 ERA in 81 IP, but as with Lopez you have to be a bit skeptical due to age. Jayson turns 23 in November; he was selected in the 30th round of the June draft. Looking back at the 2001 Provo Angels, lefty Jason Dennis had a 2.05 ERA in 75 IP and was the left-handed pitcher on the league’s post-season all-star team, but he too was 23 and by 2003 was in independent ball.

19-year old southpaw starter Will Smith might be a more projectable talent. At 6’5″ with a little more room to grow, you have to be reminded of Randy Johnson although he doesn’t quite have the Big Unit’s plus-plus velocity. Nonetheless, you have to be impressed by his numbers — a 3.08 ERA in 73 IP, and an insane 76:6 SO:BB ratio. Let’s also note he was a Tom Kotchman find; Kotch was scouting in north Florida and saw Will pitching for Gulf Coast Community College. The Angels drafted him in the 7th round; Baseball America reports he signed for $150,000, which might be one of the bigger steals in recent years when we look back at the 2008 draft.

Right now, the rotation for the playoff series appears to be Miller in Game #2 and Smith in Game #3. Manuarys Correa, who spent most of the year with Rookie-A Tempe, will have the start in Game #1 at Great Falls. Correa had a 2.65 ERA in 57.2 IP with the Arizona team and a 67:10 SO:BB ratio. The Pioneer League was a different story for the 19-year old, posting a 6.20 ERA in five games (four starts).

Of course, the Owlz will be missing their most valuable asset, Tom Kotchman himself. He remains in Florida tending to his ill wife. Interim manager Brent Del Chiaro and veteran pitching coach Zeke Zimmerman carry on in his place.

I’ll be in Orem for Games #2 and #3, so look for highlight videos — and, hopefully, a championship dogpile.

Arkansas Travelers Playoff Preview

Corey Smith was drafted by the Cleveland Indians in the first round of the June 2000 draft, was traded in 2005 to the Padres, and spent 2007 with Newark in independent ball before joining the Angels organization in spring training 2008. He finished 2008 with 26 homers for Double-A Arkansas.


Once upon a time, minor league teams could hire, trade and release their own players. About 20 years ago, all that changed, although it was an evolutionary process. These days, a minor league team affiliated with a major league operation must only use players assigned by that parent club.

Arkansas Travelers Chief Operating Officer Bill Valentine, about as “old school” as they come, has openly advocated the Los Angeles Angels signing independent league players to supplement his roster when deficiencies arise. In past years, the Angels resisted for the most part, preferring to assign to Arkansas players already in the organization. Independent league players, by and large, are talent released by other organizations or not talented enough to be offered a contract by a major league club.

For whatever reason, that philosophy changed in 2008, as the Angels signed several players from independent ball to supplement the underachieving Travs. Corey Smith was signed during the winter and hit 26 homers for Arkansas. Outfielder Adam Greenberg joined the Travs on May 10 and finished with an AVG/OBP/SLG of .271/.361/.347. Outfielder Brian Stavisky joined the Travs at the end of May and finished with .312/.408/.522.

Add minor league free agents Jordan Czarniecki (.284/.379/.433) and pitcher Dan Denham (9-10, 4.44 ERA, 146 IP in 25 starts) and you have a group of players who came from outside the Angels organization to provide enough support for the Travs to win the Texas League North Division first-half title at 36-34. The Travs were an abysmal 26-44 in the second half, and 62-78 overall, but nonetheless they qualified for the playoffs.

The Travs swept state rival Northwest Arkansas (75-65 overall) three-zip in the North Division title series, thanks in part to two power bats added from Rancho Cucamonga, Mark Trumbo and Hank Conger. This really isn’t all that unusual in the minor leagues, due to the split-season schedules used at Double-A and lower levels. The teams that go to the post-season may not resemble at all the roster that won the first half.

Arkansas won Game #1 tonight of their best-of-five series against Frisco (84-56 overall), 3-0. Conger delivered a bases-loaded double in the bottom of the 8th to clear the bases. Veteran lefty Daniel Davidson pitched seven shutout innings, Barret Browning a scoreless eighth and Rafy Rodriguez got the save in the 9th.

And a 62-78 team is two wins away from the Texas League pennant.