June 2009

Coast to Coast: You Know You’re in Cape Canaveral When …

We were awakened at 7 AM this morning by one NASA T-38 jet after another roaring above the beach here in Cape Canaveral. No doubt a Shuttle crew announcing their arrival to the world. (They’re known as “blue suits” to those who work on the program.)

We went out scouting locations yesterday for Saturday morning’s launch of STS-127, scheduled for 7:17 AM EDT (4:17 AM PDT). I’m hoping to videotape the launch and post it online so you get a different flavor than the usual footage you see on TV.

As everyone warned us, it’s hot and humid here. When we don’t have thunderstorms in the afternoon, it’s pretty miserable as the storms burn off the humidity. But nothing’s in the forecast for a few days.

My computer and peripherals arrived yesterday on the moving van, so life is good again. We go house hunting tomorrow.

Oh, one last space geek note … We bought annual passes for the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) visitor complex. A one-day ticket is $38, the annual pass is $50. That’s a real deal, because you can hop the tour bus any time so when something special is happening like moving the Shuttle stack out to the pad on the crawler you can see it up close.

Baseball America on Angels’ Draft Picks

For Baseball America subscribers, Click Here to read detailed analyses of each player selected by the Angels Tuesday in the first three rounds of the draft.

Here are capsule summaries based on the BA report, with the number indicating their overall slot in the draft:

#24 Randal Grichuk — A name none of the self-anointed experts on professional, amateur and fan sites had associated with the Angels, so I like this pick just for that reason. Grichuk has a track record as a right-handed power hitter with a below average arm and speed, which suggests a future in left field. BA describes him as “pull-oriented” but has “strong hands and bat speed.”

#25 Mike Trout — MLB Network had Trout in studio last night, as they’re based in New Jersey where Trout lives. Mike had to live through the indignity of the talking heads focusing on him as each pick went by without him being selected, but the Angels saved him. He’s a right-handed outfielder who, according to BA, started experimenting with switch-hitting during his senior year. BA says he had a problem with flailing on sliders but has calmed his approach and shown the ability to hit line drives to all fields, although “his swing still gets loopy and long at times.”

#40 Tyler Skaggs — A left-handed pitcher out of Santa Monica High School, BA describes him as “thin and lanky” at 6’4″ 180 lbs. His velocity is only in the 88-91 MPH range, although BA believes he’ll eventually develop mid-90s velocity. He has an “over-the-top rainbow curveball” and has toyed with a slider and changeup.

#42 Garrett Richards — A right-handed pitcher out of the University of Oklahoma, Richards has mid-90s velocity, “a mid-80s slider with bite,” a “power curveball” and a changeup. But BA notes that Richards never posted an ERA below 6.30 in college. He tends to fly open in his delivery and has trouble throwing strikes. If he signs early enough, my guess is he goes to Orem to work with longtime pitching coach Zeke Zimmerman, or if the Angels want him in a more developmental environment he’ll go to Tempe with coach Trevor Wilson.

#48 Tyler Kehrer — The first of three southpaws selected by the Angels. A junior out of Eastern Illinois, BA describes him as “a work in progress” with low-90s velocity and an “improved” slider. BA says he needs to improve his changeup and command to project as a starter, otherwise he more likely projects to a big-league bullpen role.

#80 Pat Corbin — If he’s out of Chipola, he’s a Tom Kotchman pick. Chipola, in the Florida Panhandle, is Kotch’s alma mater and his scouting territory. BA describes him as “the state’s top juco pitching prospect” with a 6’3″ 170 lbs. frame. His velocity is typically in the high 80s to low 90s with a “solid-average fastball.” BA says his changeup has “made real progress” and he’s developing a breaking ball.

#110 Josh Spence — A native Aussie who played this year for Arizona State, Spence has mid-80s velocity which he uses to set up four off-speed pitches.  BA describes his changeup and slider as “legitimate plus pitches,” and believes his velocity can improve with proper coaching.

Much Ado About Nothing

It’s endlessly astonishing how some people have the capacity to make something out of nothing.

In yesterday’s Bees game at Fresno, manager Bobby Mitchell started Brandon Wood at first base and Sean Rodriguez at center field.

And hilarity has ensued.

Several fan sites have concluded that these changes must be of cosmic significance. And Los Angeles Times sportswriter Steve Bisheff has chosen to fuel the supernova.

Bisheff wrote in today’s blog:

Something is stirring in the Angels’ front office.

How else do you explain the startling news that in Salt Lake City’s game last night, Brandon Wood started at first base and Sean Rodriguez in center field?

Wood is a shortstop/third baseman by trade, and never had made a professional start at first base. Rodriguez is a versatile sort who has played some outfield, but he is projected as a second baseman.

You don’t experiment like this for no reason. Clearly, the Angels are thinking about making a move, maybe for the second half of this season.

Oh, puh-leeze.

It’s very common for the Angels to have their Triple-A players enhance their résumés by playing occasionally at other positions. It gives the player a little more experience at a position he might have to play should he be called up to the majors.

One recent example is Howard Kendrick. When he was called up in 2006, it was as an emergency to play first base. Howie had been a second baseman his entire career, but the Angels gave him a little time at first base in Salt Lake anticipating a need for him to play first in Anaheim. It got his bat in the lineup while keeping Adam Kennedy at second base.

Sean Rodriguez has played center field before, with Double-A Arkansas in 2007. The Angels have always envisioned him as a utility player — there was a time when some wanted to convert him into a catcher — so time in CF is entirely normal. With the recent injury to Chris Pettit, it makes sense that Sean would see more time in the outfield.

The bottom line is not to read anything into last night’s box score. It’s routine for Triple-A.

Baseball Christmas

The annual baseball draft begins today. You can follow the draft on MLB.com or BaseballAmerica.com.

I always look at Draft Day as the baseball equivalent of Christmas Day. All 30 teams get to unwrap the presents under the tree. Only it kinda works the way it did in my house growing up. Our parents gave us the Sears catalog, told us how much we could spend, and we chose what our presents would be.

Baseball organizations know how much they can spend, and they know what’s in the catalog by scouting all that amateur talent in high school, junior college and four-year universities. Some can spend more than others, with the Yankees being the Montana Max in the baseball version of Acme Acres.

I opened my copy of Florida Today and found the top story in the Sports section was quoting Angels scouting director Eddie Bane about the draft. (It was an Associated Press story.) Mark Whicker at the Orange County Register suggests the draft will determine how history will view the trade of Casey Kotchman and Stephen Marek for the privilege of renting Mark Teixeira for three months, although as I’ve commented several times the problem with that deal was the Angels could have moved Kotchman in a winter deal for a starting pitcher who wouldn’t leave after a cursory pass through the clubhouse.

You’ll find web sites all over the Internet — some professional, some amateur — claiming to tell you who the Angels will choose today. The truth is that none of them know. Not even the Angels know, because many of the top prospects they lust after could be gone by the time they pick. The Angels have five picks before the first round — #24, #25, #42, #44 and #48 — but it will be years before we can form an intelligent opinion about how well they selected.

I was glad to see Whicker reaffirm what I’ve said over the years, that Moneyball was a flop, but that’s a subject for another day.

Casey Kotchman Goes on Disabled List

He may get a paycheck from the Atlanta Braves, but he’ll always be an Angel in the hearts of those who follow the Angels minor leagues …

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported on June 7 that Kotchman went on the disabled list with a strained right calf, suffered when he was hit in the right shin by a pitch.

Video of the injury is currently on Kotchman’s MLB.com stats page.

Doesn’t sound too serious. He’s projected to return on June 16. His current AVG/OBP/SLG are .277/.340/.405.

Scout’s Honor

Earlier in the week, the Angels fired international scouting director Clay Daniel. No reason has been given publicly, although Sports Illustrated reports that Daniel may have been dismissed due to his scouts in Venezuela skimming money from bonuses paid to signees.

Of course, whenever something like this happens, the lunatic fringe shifts into high gear on the fan boards. Several are alleging that Daniel was fired because he failed to sign anyone of consequence — never mind that players like Ervin Santana and Kendry Morales were signed while he was in charge.

Others are predicting doom because this happened just before the amateur draft next Tuesday. What they overlook is that international players are not subject to the draft — only players in North America. So Daniel’s departure will have no impact on the draft.

Daniel was hired after Bill Stoneman took over as general manager. Under the previous regime, international scouting had withered. The Autrys deeply cut international scouting in the 1990s to save money. Disney kept in place Bill Bavasi and his regime, and also the Autry-era budgets, so no real effort was made to expand international scouting until Stoneman took over.

Not only did the Angels expand their scouting in Latin and South America, but Daniel personally grew their scouting program in east Asia and Australia. In recent years, players from Europe and Africa have passed through the Angels’ system. Stoneman, Daniel, former scouting director Donny Rowland and his successor Eddie Bane all deserve the credit for their vision and foresight.

Which brings up a related subject.

A couple weeks ago, someone named Andy Seiler posted a blog looking at recent Angels drafts. Mr. Seiler’s qualifications are undefined, much less any personal access at all that would suggest he knows the decision-making process by the Angels’ scouts, yet some on the Angels fan boards seized on this article as clinching proof of the general ineptitude of the Angels front office.

Seiler’s conclusions had several flaws. The biggest is this fallacious assumption: “… It’s quite easy to see [Bane has] been completely hamstrung by a tight budget.”

Huh?!

Seiler makes the mistake of confusing budget with actual money spent.

Let’s say we decide to go to Las Vegas for the weekend. We budget to spend $1,000. But we get some good deals, the expensive show we wanted to see got cancelled, we’re too full to eat that last big meal. So we spend only $750.

Seiler would conclude we were “hamstrung by a tight budget,” when in reality we just didn’t spend as much as we had planned.

As I’ve written many times over the years, the Angels have what they call a “high risk, high reward” philosophy towards the draft. Because the parent club does so well every year, their draft picks are towards the bottom of each round. (Draft picks are in inverse order of prior year’s success.)

Major League Baseball establishes bonus “slots” for the first round, i.e. what they suggest each player’s signing bonus should be. #2 should get less than #1, etc. In reality, that’s not how it turns out, because you get teams like the Yankees who will spend what they feel like. You’ll also have guys like Jered Weaver fall to lower picks beacuse they’re considered too expensive to sign. That’s how the Angels got Weaver, although it took them a year to sign him for a bonus much higher than his slot indicated.

So much for the “cheap” allegation.

When you don’t have a draft pick in the first round — which often happens to the Angels, because they lose those picks as compensation for signing free agents like Vlad Guerrero and Torii Hunter — of course your total dollars spent will be lower because you’re not picking a first round draft pick. Should you give that million bucks to a 5th or 10th round guy just to prove to people you’re not “cheap”? Of course not.

“High risk” also means you might not sign a guy. One example is Matt Harvey. The Angels selected Harvey in the third round of the 2007 draft and offered him $1.5 million, which was lots more than any other third round pick got. Harvey said no and went to college. When Harvey is eligible again for the draft in 2010, he’ll be a first-rounder and will get a bigger bonus — assuming he doesn’t blow out his elbow or otherwise flop. That was his risk, not the Angels’. In any case, it’s clear that the Angels were willing to spend the money — money that others weren’t willing to spend.

Seiler also overlooks the great job done by Angels scouts to find amateur talent overlooked by other teams. Will Smith (7th round, 2008) and Trevor Reckling (8th round, 2007) are looking like steals. Ryan Chaffee (3rd round, 2008) might have been a first-round pick if not for subpar numbers in 2008 due to a broken foot.

Going back to 2004, the Angels selected Nick Adenhart in the 14th round although he’d just blown out his elbow. Adenhart was going to require more than a year of rehab, but the Angels paid him $750,000, lots more than any other 14th rounder got — it was 50% of what a first-rounder would have received that year. The same goes for power hitter Mark Trumbo, selected in the 18th round that year.  He got a bonus of about $1.4 million — again, way more than anyone else in his round got. Trumbo fell that far because all the other organizations assumed he was a lock for USC. The Angels ponied up the money to buy him out of his commitment.

Seiler also overlooks how much the Angels spent over the years in international scouting, which as mentioned above is not subject to the draft. Young-Il Jung, for example, signed out of South Korea in July 2006 for a reported $1 million bonus. Hardly “cheap” or “hamstrung”, as alleged.

I’m sure Mr. Seiler’s intentions were sincere, and he put a lot of effort into his article, but he reached the wrong conclusions because he simply wasn’t familiar with how the Angels operate. I’m far less forgiving of people who call themselves Angels fans but look for any excuse to seize on inaccurate or trivial data to bash the team. You have to wonder where their loyalties truly lie.


UPDATE June 8, 2009 — Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times wrote this excellent article on the intricacies of the draft that further exposes the flaws in Mr. Seiler’s assumption that spent money equates to budgeted money.

Coast to Coast: The Eagle Has Landed

We arrived in Cape Canaveral around 3 PM EDT on Wednesday June 3. We’ve been super busy settling into our oceanfront condo, so I haven’t had time to post until now.

Until we find a home, we’re renting a fully furnished 1,600 square foot fourth floor condo in a complex on the Atlantic Ocean. Sticker shock?! It’s $1,600 per month.

I walked out to the beach this morning and shot some photos, which you can see below.

We finally got high-speed Internet Thursday night. This morning we got our advanced cable TV package, specifically with MLB Extra Innings so I can watch the Angels. It’ll take a while, though, to get used to the time zone change. Home games will be on at 10 PM EDT so I’ll have to record the games and watch them the next morning.

The first game tonight was the Angels at Detroit. It’s the local telecast, so I get to watch my buddy Mario Impemba. Mario was the Angels’ radiocaster in the late 1990s through 2001, when he left to accept the TV job with his hometown Detroit Tigers. It’s pretty eerie watching Mario calling our game instead of the Angels broadcasters.

The weather here is as I hoped — predictably unpredictable.

It’s rained each day so far. Today we were at Merritt Square Mall leaving the movie theater when a low black menacing cloud starting moving toward us. The wind really picked up, and a few minutes later it was pouring. It was that way for nearly an hour.

But it made for a perfect evening. We went for a walk on the beach, up to the jetty where the cruise ships leave Port Canaveral for the open sea. North of that are the old launch pads used during the Mercury and Gemini era in the 1960s. And beyond that are the Shuttle launch pads.

A launch is scheduled for 7:13 AM EDT on June 13. I hope to videotape the launch and post it online.

Speaking of videos … A friend who works in the Astronaut Office at Kennedy Space Center e-mailed me two video clips.

You may recall that last week Atlantis landed at Edwards Air Force Base because of bad weather here at the Cape. When that happens, NASA flies the orbiter back to KSC on a 747. It’s quite a show, especially when they arrive in town.

The 747 flies up and down the coast and circles KSC so everyone can have a good look
. This video was shot by an employee in the parking lot of the Administration building. Click Here to watch.

Have you ever wondered what the view of a landing is like from inside the cockpit? This video is from a camera mounted in the orbiter as it lands. Click Here to watch.

Windows Media Player and a broadband (cable modem, DSL) Internet connection are required to watch the video clips.

For more on space events, I recommend the Flame Trench blog on the Florida Today web site.

Anyway, here are some photos from the first couple days.


The view from the condo balcony looking left (east) to the Atlantic Ocean.

 


Looking back at the condo from the beach. We’re in the building to the right, fourth floor, the open balcony facing towards the building on the left.

 


The view from the beach looking north towards the jetty. In the distance are the Delta unmanned rocket launch pads and the Cape Canaveral lighthouse. Notice the beach is fairly empty. Most of the tourist and college crowds go further south to Cocoa Beach. Here it’s mostly locals and retirees.

 


A flock of gulls take flight on the beach. In addition to the sea gulls, pelicans are very common. All other sorts of creatures are about; I saw a racoon this evening in the rocks by the jetty, and a couple of stray cats.

 


The Merritt Square Mall parking lot as a squall passed over the island.

 

Coast to Coast: A Future Angel, Past and Present

Paul Mosley and Stephen Smith
Paul Mosley (left) signed with the Angels in 1961. He played six seasons in the Angels minor leagues.

 

I’ve been off-line blogwise for a couple days while travelling. We’re currently in Metairie, a New Orleans suburb.

We spent Sunday night at the home of Paul and Betty Jo Mosley. Paul signed with the Angels in 1961 out of William S. Hart High School in Saugus. Roland Hemond, who was the Angels’ farm and scouting director, signed him along with head scout Rosey Gilhousen.

Click Here to listen to an April 2007 interview with Paul. Windows Media Player required.

Mosley was assigned to the Statesville Owls in the Western Carolina League. He would go on to play at every level in the system — Triple-A Hawaii, Double-A El Paso, Advanced-A San Jose, Class-A Tri-Cities.

Paul and Betty Jo produced scrapbooks from his career. What a treasure trove! Once I get to Florida and the moving van arrives with my scanner, I’ll start digitizing these articles to post online.

The scrapbook solved one mystery. I’ve been identifying where the Angels held their minor league spring training camps in the early 1960s. If you’ve followed this blog, you know they were in Riverside in 1961. In 1962, the Triple-A team was at Amerige Park in Fullerton while everyone else was at La Palma Park in Anaheim. The Angels remained at La Palma through 1964.

The Angels began play in the legendary Holtville camp in 1966, where they remained through 1981. 1965, though, was a bit of a mystery. The 1965 Angels Media Guide said “El Centro” but didn’t say where.

Paul’s scrapbook had a minor league spring training schedule for 1965. It showed that they split time between two facilities, Stark Field in El Centro and Lions Field in Brawley. Exhibition games were played at both sites.

By coincidence, I got a phone call yesterday while on the road from Bob Andrews, the man who worked with Roland Hemond to bring the Angels to the Imperial Valley. He said that El Centro/Brawley was an interim solution until the Holtville site could be built.

Mystery solved.

Mr. Andrews also explained why the Angels left Holtville. The Angels didn’t pay one penny for Holtville construction or maintenance. It was all paid for by the locals. As the facility aged, it was beyond the ability of Holtville to pay for renovation. They asked the Angels to help, but they refused. Bob said it got pretty ugly towards the end. Someone made up T-shirts that read, “Angels go home!” Instead, they went to Casa Grande.

Inside the scrapbook were box scores from several of Paul’s games. I noted one in which he pitched against an Athletics team. Future manager Tony LaRussa led off and played second base. (It was an oh-fer night for LaRussa.) There was also a roster sheet for a 1966 game between the El Paso Sun Kings and the Albuquerque Dodgers. Clyde Wright was one of Paul’s teammates, as well as Jim Spencer, Jay Johnstone and Winston Llenas. Tom Sommers, who would go on to succeed Roland Hemond as the farm director, was an infielder. On the Albuquerque roster was future Dodgers outfielder Willie Crawford. Other future big leaguers I recognize were pitcher Mike Kekich, first baseman Tom Hutton, and outfielder Jim Fairey. Also on the roster was catcher Mike Stubbins, who would later manage in the Angels system.

Paul retired after the 1966 season. He was sold to the Kansas City Athletics. He showed me a letter he received in December 1966 welcoming him to the A’s organization. “You will be receiving your contract early in February and soon after that reporting instructions and the date which you are to arrive at our spring training headquarters in Waycross, Georgia.” It was signed by assistant general manager Eddie Robinson. Paul decided he’d had enough, and retired.

Back on the road in a couple hours. The target is Tallahassee, Florida in the Panhandle. We might see another baseball friend if the schedule permits. Tomorrow is the final leg of the journey, arriving in Cape Canaveral. As my wife pointed out, “We’re heading home.”

One nice serendipity of this trip is that we’ve visited my ancestral homelands. My father was born and raised in El Centro. My mother is from New Orleans. So we’ve passed through both towns. And then it’s on to my future, which is to write a book about the history of the future Angels, past and present.

Dallas McPherson Update

A FutureAngels.com regular wrote asking the status of Dallas McPherson, the one-time top Angels prospect fallen by lower back injuries. Dallas signed as a minor league free-agent with the Giants and was to play at Triple-A Fresno this year but hasn’t reported so far.

I checked with a source in the Giants organization. He said Dallas is still in extended spring training suffering yet again from his lower back problems. It’s possible Dallas may not play at all this year in a regular season game.

It’s so sad to see a young player with all the talent in the world robbed of his career due to injuries. It’s not looking good for Dallas.

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