July 2009

Trade Winds


Former Angels first baseman Casey Kotchman was traded today by the Atlanta Braves to the Boston Red Sox for first baseman Adam LaRoche.

 

Today was the so-called trade deadline, and it saw a lot more action than in past years.

The “deadline” only means that 40-man roster players from now on have to pass through waivers before a trade is complete. Let’s say the Blue Jays want to send Roy Halladay to the Angels. Every team in the American League with a worse winning percentage than the Angels would be able to claim him first, but of course Toronto would withdraw the waivers and Halladay would remain a Blue Jay. Many GMs choose not to botch some else’s trade by exercising a waiver claim because they know a time may come when they want to sneak someone through waivers and it might be done to them.

Despite rumors to the contrary, the Angels made no moves. A last-minute rumor out of ESPN.com had the Angels acquiring Halladay for Joe Saunders and a bunch of prospects, but Angels GM Tony Reagins later said the report was “inaccurate.” Other rumors had the Angels in pursuit of Padres closer Heath Bell, but San Diego didn’t move him either.

Former U.S. Senator William Proxmire used to give a Golden Fleece Award for public officials he felt wasted taxpayer dollars. I’ll give the baseball version of the Golden Fleece Award to White Sox GM Ken Williams, who coughed up much of his team’s future today to San Diego for the Padres’ ace starter Jake Peavy.


Jake Peavy pitching for Lake Elsinore against Rancho Cucamonga in April 2001.

 

The Padres got pitchers Clayton Richard, Aaron Poreda, Dexter Carter and Adam Russell. Richard was ranked the Sox’ #3 prospect this year by Baseball America, and Poreda #2. Carter has a jaw-dropping 143 strikeouts in 118 innings for Low-A Kannapolis. Russell has a 3.20 ERA and seven saves for the Sox’ Triple-A team in Charlotte with 51 strikeouts in 56.1 innings.

Those who think only of instant gratification and can’t grasp that baseball continues beyond the end of the World Series will probably think the White Sox made a great deal, that they’ve guaranteed themselves a post-season title by flushing the farm for Peavy. Check back in five years and it may be a different story.

And as usually happens at times like this, the Angels fan boards are filled with outrage because Tony Reagins didn’t make a similarly short-sighted deal.

As I’ve written many times, I think the importance of trades is way overblown.

Let’s start with the Angels’ 2002 championship year. What was the big blockbuster trade pulled before the trade deadline that made the difference?

There wasn’t one.

The only trade was with Milwaukee. The Angels acquired Alex Ochoa as a spare outfielder to back up Tim Salmon, whose knees were going bad. They also got third-string catcher Sal Fasano. In exchange, they gave up spare catcher Jorge Fabrergas, minor league infielder Johnny Raburn, and minor league pitcher Pedro Liriano.

Of course, we heard the same outrage when Bill Stoneman refused to trade young talent such as John Lackey or Francisco Rodriguez for some aging veteran.

A year ago, with Stoneman retired and Reagins now the GM, the Angels sent Casey Kotchman and minor league pitcher Stephen Marek to Atlanta to rent Mark Teixeira. The instant gratification crowd was delirious with joy. A World Series championship was guaranteed, they proclaimed. Yet three months later, the Angels were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs, and Teixeira left as a free agent for the Yankees.

WIth divisional play, the wild card and three rounds of playoffs, there’s just too much unknown to declare that only one move “guarantees” anything. Back in Mid-May, when the Angels were struggling to reach .500 and the fan boards were screaming that the Angels’ season was over, I predicted that the Angels would run away from the division in the second half. That seems to be happening now, with Texas the only reasonable threat.

So a trade won’t make a difference in reaching the post-season, barring a collapse or more catastrophic injuries. (But they’ve survived the last few weeks quite nicely without Vlad Guerrero, Torii Hunter and Juan Rivera. To quote Alfred E. Newman, “What, me worry?”)

A trade, therefore, would only be with an eye to the post-season, where as I said it’s just way too uncertain. The 2006 National League representative was the 83-78 St. Louis Cardinals, basically a .500 ballclub. And a big show of hands from all of you who predicted before the season began that the Colorado Rockies would go to the World Series in 2007 and the Tampa Bay Rays in 2008.

The New York Yankees have had a team payroll between 2004 and 2009 of between $184 million and $209 million, far more than any other team, yet they didn’t go to the World Series once. All that money, all those free agents, all those “name” trades guaranteed nothing.

Bill Stoneman used to have a saying, “We made our moves last winter.” He meant that if an organization builds depth in its roster and farm system, and signs free agents where needed, they really don’t need to panic mid-season. Bill was almost always right during his tenure, and he’s been proven right this year. The Angels have survived a catastrophic season that saw injuries to many key players, and the death of top prospect Nick Adenhart, yet they’re playing .600 ball and in first place at the end of July. Why? One reason is they never flushed the farm for instant gratification. Another reason is that they plugged holes by signing free agents Brian Fuentes and Bobby Abreu, and retained Juan Rivera while letting go veteran outfielder Garret Anderson and combustible closer Francisco Rodriguez.

Are the Angels perfect? Of course not. They have a lot of injury concerns. Their starting rotation is shaky. The bullpen has been unreliable. Yet somehow they’re still playing .600 ball. I would have tried to add a starting pitcher and a reliever, just as Reagins did, but I wouldn’t flush the future to do it and neither did Reagins.

Casey Kotchman was on the move again, traded by Atlanta today to the Boston Red Sox for Adam LaRoche. The son of a legendary Angels minor league manager/scout (Tom Kotchman) was traded for the son of a former Angels closer (Dave LaRoche). Casey should flourish in Fenway Park, where it’s only 302 feet down the right field line. He was having quite a week, with homers on Sunday at Milwaukee and Wednesday at Florida.


UPDATE August 1, 2009 4:00 AM PDT — The Angels won 11-5 in Minnesota last night, giving them a 61-40 (.604) record which is the best in the American League. When you consider all the terrible things that have happened to the team this year, that’s simply incredible.

Notes from Orem, Day 3


Orem players watch Sunday’s game. Left to right: Richard Cates, Terrell Alliman, Michael Wing, Tyler Mann.

 

Sorry it took a while to wrap up this weekend’s trip. I had a short overnight sleep Sunday night before heading to the Salt Lake City airport, then spent the day flying home to Florida. The first flight was spent wedged up against the window holding my nose while sitting next to a very large man who hadn’t encountered a bar of soap in quite some time. Yecch.

I’ve posted more videos, including highlights from Sunday’s game. All the links are on the FutureAngels.com web site home page. Here are all the links so far:

Garrett Richards’ Professional Debut
Richard Cates Scores from Second on a Bunt
Jean Segura Doubles
Jon Karcich Homers
Travis Witherspoon Triples
Richard Cates Triples
Dillon Baird Doubles
Manager Tom Kotchman Interview
Hitting Coach Mike Eylward Interview
Pitcher Mike Piazza Interview
Windows Media Player and a broadband (cable modem, DSL) Internet connection are required

Below are photos from the game.


Pitcher Stephen Locke.

 


Hitting coach Mike Eylward.

 


Manager Tom Kotchman in the “Kotch stance.”

 


Center fielder Travis “Superman” Witherspoon.

 


Left fielder Justin Bass.

 


Catcher Braulio Pardo.

 

Notes from Orem, Day 2

The Owlz lost last night 6-0 to Casper, the worst team in the league. Center fielder Travis Witherspoon made two spectactular diving catches that would put Torii Hunter to shame.

Every team develops its own unique personality. I’ve only seen these players for two games, but so far they seem to be a fairly quiet bunch. Not that they don’t care. They obviously do. They spend a lot of time talking about what they’re learning from Tom Kotchman, Zeke Zimmerman and Mike Eylward. But they seem to still be a little in awe of pro ball, unlike last year’s Owlz which had a little swagger in their step.

I’ve posted some video clips and interviews. I have a lot to work through, so please be patient until I return home and can spend the week editing film. The video online so far:

Manager Tom Kotchman interview

Hitting coach Mike Eylward interview

Jean Segura double

Richard Cates scores from second on a bunt

One last note … The photo I posted yesterday of Braulio Pardo getting nailed in the derriere by a pitch is all the rage around the ballpark. A print is up in the Owlz clubhouse. A fan approached me after the game and wanted to know if it was online somewhere so she could send the link to others. Braulio seems to be getting more attention from this photo than if he’d hit a homer to win the game.

Notes from Orem, Day 1


Orem Owlz manager Tom Kotchman explains the ground rules for Idaho Falls manager Darryl Kennedy during the lineup exchange before Friday’s game.

 

This was my first road trip to an Angels affiliate since my move to Florida, so it was a bit reassuring to walk into the Orem Owlz office Friday and see old friends.

With Rookie-A ball, it also means a lot of unfamiliar faces who have the general expression on their faces of, “Who is this guy and why is he in the dugout taking photos of us?” Not that they resent it. They’re just excited that someone is shooting photos and video.

The familiar faces are, of course, manager Tom Kotchman and pitching coach Zeke Zimmerman. Joining them this year is hitting coach Mike Eylward, who played in the Angels system from 2001 through 2007. It’s exciting to see kids I saw start their careers in pro ball (always with Kotch) become coaches, passing along to the next generation what they learned in the Angels farm system. “Ellie” joins Kernels pitching coach Brandon Emanuel and roving catching instructor Tom Gregorio as the ones I saw start out with Kotch long ago.

Once word gets around, I start getting approached by players’ families and loved ones in town, asking what I’m doing, can they buy the photos, will they be on the Internet, etc. The circle begins anew each summer in Orem. :-)

Friday was Pioneer Day in Utah, which is the rough Mormon equivalent of July 4th. It’s an official state holiday, which meant this game was going to be a sellout and there would be fireworks afterwards.

A couple hours before game time, word began to circulate that the Salt Lake Bees game up the freeway had been postponed. According to the Portland Oregonian, seven members of the Portland Beavers came down with the flu in Reno and the team didn’t want to travel to Salt Lake City. Angels farm director Abe Flores and roving infield instructor Rob Picciolo were up in Salt Lake, so they decided to come down to Orem for the night.

I have plenty of photos and video, which I’ll post today as time permits. Please keep checking this page as I will continue to update it when I can. All the photos I shoot this weekend will eventually be available in the FutureAngels.com Digital Photo Gallery.

If you’re wondering why they’re wearing the camouflage jerseys, it was a promotion. The Owlz auction off the jerseys and the winners collect them from the players after the game. They don’t normally have such poor color coordination in their apparel.


The Nick Adenhart memorial banner on the left field wall.

 


Supplemental first-round draft pick Garrett Richards made his professional debut Friday night.

 

Click Here
to watch video of Richards’ start
. You need Windows Media Player and a
broadband (cable modem, DSL) Internet connection to watch.


Second baseman Jean Segura.

 


Left fielder Justin Bass.

 


Third baseman Casey Haerther.

 


First baseman Dillon Baird.

 


Designated hitter Michael Wing.

 


Pitcher Carson Andrew relieved Richards, who was on a 20-pitch limit in his first game.

 


Right fielder Richard Cates.

 


Shortstop Jon Karcich homered to lead off the bottom of the 4th.

 


Catcher Braulio Pardo’s derriere takes one for the team.

 


Center fielder Travis Witherspoon.

 


Pitcher Adam Clerici.

 


Pitcher Yeison Almeida.

 

More to come!

Mother’s Day with the Kotchman Family

A bit belated … This article and video was forwarded to me of a Fox Atlanta news story about the Kotchman family uniting for Mother’s Day. You may recall that Susan Kotchman suffered a brain injury last August. Tom left Orem and Casey left the Braves to return to Florida. Susan survived an injury that kills most of its victims.

The First Shall Be Last


Joe Torres was one of two Angels first-round selections in the June 2000 draft. In this August 2000 photo, he’s pitching for the Boise Hawks.

 

Joe Torres was arguably the top left-handed high school pitching prospect in the nation entering the June 2000 draft. He was selected by the Angels with the first of two picks they had in the first round, selected #10 overall.

(The Angels selected RHP Chris Bootcheck with the #20 pick, which was compensation from the Oakland A’s in exchange for signing a former Angel as a free agent. Who was that Angel? The answer is at the end of the article.)

Joe began his career with legendary manager Tom Kotchman, who at the time was running the Boise Hawks in the Northwest League. Not quite 18, he posted stellar numbers. In 46 innings, he struck out 52, walked 23, and had a 2.54 ERA.

Then it started to go wrong.

Torres suffered a sore shoulder in spring training. He finally reported to Cedar Rapids in late May but after four starts was returned to Tom Kotchman, this time in the Pioneer League with the Provo Angels (today’s Orem Owlz).

Joe got through a full season in 2002, posting a 3.52 ERA in 133 innings, but wildness crept into his game — a SO:BB ratio of 87:66 — and his strikeout rate showed an alarming decline.

Torres began 2003 with Rancho Cucamonga but clearly something was wrong, and eventually he underwent “Tommy John” surgery. He spent the next year and a half on rehab at the Angels’ minor league complex in Mesa, joining another top high school pitching prospect — Nick Adenhart.


Top pitching prospects Joe Torres and Nick Adenhart show off their “Tommy John” scars while on rehab at Mesa in August 2004.

 

Nick’s recovery was successful, but Joe’s was not.

During the 2005 and 2006 seasons, Torres walked more than he struck out. He found himself in the bullpen, and since 2005 has not started a game.

After 2006, he took his minor league free agency and signed with the White Sox.

The 2009 season found him in the Rangers’ organization, pitching for Double-A Frisco in the Texas League. This May 22 article in his hometown newspaper recounts Torres’ career history, and concludes with his optimism that a major league job was in his near future.

But he was released on the Fourth of July.

Perusing this morning the minor league transactions listed on MiLB.com, I saw that the Dodgers had signed Joe and assigned him to the Inland Empire 66ers in the California League, the same league as the Angels’ Rancho Cucamonga Quakes. Joe is back in High-A ball for the first time since 2006, a big step backwards in his dream.

For all his years in pro ball, Torres is only 26 years old, turning 27 in September. He could still find his way to the big leagues one day; the baseball gods sometimes reward those who are persistent.

But his career to date is yet another reminder that first-round draft status guarantees nothing. Too much uncertainty awaits ahead.


The Angels got the A’s first-round pick in the June 2000 draft in exchange for Oakland signing reliever Mike Magnante as a free agent. A’s GM Billy Beane admitted making a mistake because he signed Magnante before the Angels could offer him arbitration. The penalty was losing his first-round draft pick.

Homework Assignment


Former Lake Elsinore Storm mascot Hamlet in his prime, April 1998.

 

Three articles of interest on the Los Angeles Times web site that may interest you.

“Steve Dalkowski Had the Stuff of Legends” is written by Bull Durham writer-director Ron Shelton. He writes that Dalkowski was the loose inspiration for Nook LaLoosh. Dalkowski may be the fast throwing pitcher ever, but his career was ruined by alcohol.

“Lake Elsinore Storm Mascots are Born to Thrill” by Times columnist Bill Plaschke. Lake Elsinore was the Angels’ California League affiliate 1994-2000 before switching with the Padres for Rancho Cucamonga. The photo in the article shows Hamlet, the popular Storm sea serpent mascot in the 1990s. The costume looks a bit dingy. I sure wouldn’t want to be inside it. A trivia note … Although Hamlet had a regular performer, others were known to wear it. Mario Mendoza, Jr., the son of the major league shortstop/Storm manager and a future Angels minor league pitcher, wore it on occasion when hanging out with the team as a teenager. So did one of the twin teenage girls who were part of the Storm family; one dated Francisco Rodriguez, although I can’t remember which one wore the Hamlet outfit.

“A National Pastime for Only Half the Nation” by Times columnist Kurt Streeter. The article is about a writer who questions why women are forced to play softball and not their own brand of baseball. If this subject interests you, I’ll also refer you to the web site of Jean Hastings Ardell www.jeanardell.com, who wrote the landmark book Breaking Into Baseball: Women and the National Pastime, which you can order through Amazon.com among other places.

Coast to Coast: Fear the Sea Cow

On the left, Martin Maldonado catching for the Orem Owlz in August 2005 at age 19. On the right, Martin catching today for the Brevard County Manatees in the Florida State League.

 

I worked my first photo shoot today for the Brevard County Manatees (Brewers affiliate). They were playing the Jupiter Hammerheads (Marlins affiliate). Both teams are in the Advanced-A Florida State League, the same level as the California League where Rancho Cucamonga plays.

“Fear the Sea Cow” is the Manatees’ slogan for 2009. Manatees are sometimes known as a sea cow. They are the most docile creatures you’ll meet, so I’m not sure what there is to fear, but I digress …

One aspect of minor league baseball I love is running across old friends.

The stats sheet for Jupiter showed Alfredo Amezaga, who was in the Angels system from 1999 through 2004. He’s now with the Marlins; he did a rehab stint in April with the Hammerheads, so he wasn’t here, but that would have been neat to see him again after all these years.

The Manatees catcher looked familiar. When his name was announced, “Martin Maldonado,” I realized he’d been in the Angels system from 2004 through 2006, then released. I didn’t have a chance to talk to him today but I’m sure we’ll sit down before the season is over and renew our acquaintance.

The starting pitcher for the Manatees was staff ace Evan Anundsen, who entered the game with a 1.85 ERA and a team-leading 87 1/3 innings. Selected in the fourth round of the June 2006 draft by the Brewers, his career ERA entering the season was an unremarkable 4.46. But this year, the 21-year old leads the league in ERA and is among its strikeout leaders.

Jupiter third baseman Matt Dominguez got ejected at the plate for arguing balls and strikes after striking out to end the first inning. For a 19-year old, that was a veteran move to get a day off when the weather is hot and it’s a day game after a night game. :-)

The Hammerheads took the field and began to warm up for the bottom of the first but, before Logan Schafer led off, Manatees manager Mike Guerrero and Jupiter manager Tim Leiper began jawing at each other. The two umpires finally had to separate them after Guerrero left the third base coach’s box and confronted Leiper at the visitor dugout railing.

Now there’s something you don’t see every day.

The Manatees eventually won, 7-4, helped by five Jupiter errors. Anundsen gave up two runs in six innings, striking out nine and watching one. I need to bring my camcorder next time he pitches to tape him.

In addition to Maldonado’s photo above, here are some more photos from today’s game.


Manatees starting pitcher Evan Anundsen is one of the top starting pitchers in the Florida State League.

 


Manatees manager Mike Guerrero jaws with Hammerheads skipper Tim Leiper in the middle of the first inning. Apparently Leiper said something about one of the Manatees players and Guerrero took exception.

 


Manatees center fielder Logan Schafer doubles to lead off the bottom of the first.

 


Manatees left fielder Lee Haydel entangles with Jupiter shortstop Osvaldo Martinez after he doubled. An errant throw allowed Haydel to advance to third.

 

Coast to Coast: Space, the Final Frontier

There’s only a temporary home page, but my new site SpaceCoastBaseball.com is operational. Please feel free to take a look.

I’ve had meetings this week with several people regarding the site, including the Brevard County Manatees, the Brewers’ affiliate in the Florida State League. The Manatees are already in the playoffs, having won their division’s first half. I hope to use August to gear up for covering their post-season with photos and video, similar to what I do with FutureAngels.com.

I also met with the folks at the Cocoa Expo Sports Center, which was at one time the spring training complex for the Houston Astros and later the Florida Marlins. The stadium still has the Marlins’ teal color. The new Florida Winter Baseball League will play at Cocoa Expo later this year.

I’ve also talked briefly with the Gulf Coast League Nationals, D.C.’s version of our Tempe Angels, but need to follow up.

Coast to Coast: STS-127 Launch

Click Here to watch a video clip of today’s STS-127 Space Shuttle launch. Windows Media Player and a broadband (cable modem, DSL) Internet connection required.

After five aborts due to fuel leaks and bad weather, STS-127 finally launched this evening at 6:03 PM EDT.

(STS is NASA-speak for “Space Transportation System,” what the public knows as the Space Shuttle. The craft itself, e.g. Endeavour, is known as the orbiter although public often refers to it as the Shuttle.)

My wife and I found a nice spot to watch, recommended by a friend who works at NASA. It’s one of the few sites with a direct view of the launch pad, although this location is about ten miles away. In the video, you’ll notice that you don’t hear the roar of the launch until some time later, because sound travels about 1,100 feet per second. So that’s about five seconds per mile, and if we’re ten miles away … fifty seconds for the sound to reach us.

And now we return you to your regularly scheduled baseball blog …

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