July 2009

Coast to Coast: Tea Time

Most minor league operations are wise enough not to mix baseball with politics, but the Brevard County Manatees made a big exception on the Fourth of July.

You might have heard in the news about the Tea Party movement, which began as anti-tax protests on April 15. I’ll bite my tongue and not comment on their cause, other than to say as someone who’s been active in local politics for decades that I don’t begrudge anyone who gets off their duff and becomes sincerely active in politics. Government is supposed to be a reflection of the majority’s will, and government tends to go awry when the people aren’t vigilant in assuring their elected officials are exacting their will.

Anyway, in the eleven years I’ve been doing FutureAngels.com, I can’t remember ever hearing of a minor league operation turning over its stadium on game day to a political movement.

Yet that’s what the Manatees did on Independence Day.

Click Here to read the Florida Today article about the Tea Party rally.

The paper published on July 12 a profile of the individual who organized the Tea Party. Click Here to read the July 12 article.

Comments posted on the paper’s web site and letters printed in the paper expressed a variety of opinions about the propriety of a baseball team turning over its operation to a political movement, with one person writing he’ll never attend another Manatees game.

Maybe the Manatees figured it was free publicity and it got people in the gate who might not otherwise come to a game.

All I gotta say is it left me scratching my head wondering why the Manatees would risk offending so many people. I don’t go to baseball for politics. I’d be offended even if it was my candidate or cause being promoted. Baseball is escapist entertainment. It just doesn’t seem like the proper venue to inject politics.

Florida Today on the Angels

Florida Today, my new local paper, has an article today which suggests the Angels are setting a trend with their style of play.

“You can manufacture runs,” [former Florida Marlins manager John] Boles said. “The old Kansas City Royals, they developed a reputation, they were going first to third. You try to stop it. That’s what Mike Scioscia does now with the (Los Angeles) Angels. The Angels play a National League-style game. Their kids are taught from the day they sign: ‘We’re going first to third, we’re going from second to home.’ That’s a style of baseball that, if you have the ability to manufacture runs, you don’t have to rely on the home run.”

Click Here to read the article.

The photo in both the print and online versions is of Chone Figgins sliding into home plate. Who would have thought that Figgy would make the front page of the Florida Today Sports section? And I bet the author had no idea that Chone’s brother Demetrius scouts their customer service area.

Splitting Brandon Wood, Revisited

Brandon Wood
Brandon Wood homered Saturday against Yankees’ left-hander Andy Pettitte.

 

Back on June 15 I wrote a blog looking at Brandon Wood’s 2009 offensive numbers in the PCL’s five super hitter-friendly parks versus the rest of the league.

Brandon was promoted to the Angels July 10, and homered in the nationally televised game July 11 against the Yankees, so I thought it might be a good time to update his splits.

To restate the methodology … The Pacific Coast League has five super hitter-friendly ballparks — Salt Lake, Albuquerque, Colorado Springs, Las Vegas and Reno. These parks distort offensive numbers for PCL hitters, especially if the hitter’s home field is one of those five. When I write the annual FutureAngels.com Top 10 Prospects report, I use this unique split analysis to give a more accurate picture of Salt Lake players.

When I did the splits for Wood on June 15, the results were:

Hitter-Friendly: .338/.415/.669 (147 TPA)
Other: .178/.255/.400 (51 TPA)

The updated results:

Hitter-Friendly: .344/.398/.651 (216 TPA)
Other: .234/.286/.442 (84 TPA)

Better in the neutral/pitcher-friendly parks, but still not reassuring.

The Bees have some road trips the next two months that take them to those “other” parks. I was looking forward to those because they would give us a larger statistical sample. But hopefully Woody hits well with the Angels and never returns to Salt Lake.

It should also be noted that Brandon started Sunday’s game at first base. He had five starts at first base scattered over the last two months at Salt Lake. Los Angeles Times sports blogger Steve Bisheff breathlessly made a big deal out of this on June 9, but as I pointed out it’s not unusual for Triple-A players to get some experience at other positions to enhance their résumés in case they need to play another position in the majors.

That’s what happened on Sunday. The Angels were facing C.C. Sabathia, one of the most dominant left-handed pitchers in the majors, and Kendry Morales has had problems hitting lefties this year. So Mike Scioscia gave Kendry the day off and let Wood bat against Sabathia. But Kendry started Saturday against Andy Pettitte, a future Hall of Famer southpaw, so I wouldn’t count on Wood permanently replacing Morales any time soon.

The Curious Case of Mark Trumbo

Mark Trumbo
Mark Trumbo’s home run last night at Midland was one of the longest hit this year by an Arkansas Traveler.

 

Back on June 25, I wrote that Mark Trumbo appeared to be emerging from a season-long funk. At that point, in his last thirteen games (starting with Game #2 of a June 12 doubleheader) his AVG/OBP/SLG were .385/.396/.558.

During last night’s game at Midland, Mark hit a two-run dinger that Travs broadcaster Phil Elson described as perhaps the longest homer he’d seen hit this year. In his second at-bat, with the bases loaded, Trumbo hit a shot that required a miracle catch by RockHounds center fielder Archie Gilbert to avoid clearing the bases. He finished the night 3 for 5 with 3 RBI.

So I wanted to revisit Mark’s numbers and see how he’s done since that June 12 marker.

That period covers 25 games. In those games, his AVG/OBP/SLG were .384/.404/.566 in 99 at-bats. He had only 15 strikeouts, or one every 6.6 at-bats, an excellent ratio for a power hitter.

Mark has never been one to take a lot of walks, and that’s still true. He had only four walks in that 25-game period. But you can’t argue the rest of the results, other than perhaps last night’s dinger was his first since June 4.

I e-mailed Angels farm director Abe Flores to ask why Trumbo was more successful in the last month. He replied that Mark had shortened his swing and “matured” in the batter’s box; by that, he meant that Mark was letting bad at bats go, being more conscious of his body language, staying positive and focusing on the next at-bat.

As I’ve written many times, Dickey-Stephens Park, the Travs’ home field, is the most pitcher-friendly park in the Texas League. It’s very important, therefore, to look at the home/road splits for Travs hitters to see how badly DSP has impacted their overall numbers. Here are Mark’s overall splits for 2009:

Home: .248/.310/.416 (137 AB)
Road: .294/.324/.436 (163 AB)

Mark’s splits during his last 25 games:

Home: .315/.345/.481 (54 AB)
Road: .467/.478/.667 (45 AB)

This is the same pattern I noted in last November’s 2008 FutureAngels.com Top 10 Prospects report. Mark’s 2008 home/road splits in the Texas League:

Home: AVG/OBP/SLG: .209/.225/.358 (67 AB)
Away: AVG/OBP/SLG: .357/.410/.661 (56 AB)

In the latest issue (#0915) of Baseball America, columnist Peter Gammons comments on whether pitch recognition and plate discipline can be taught in the minor leagues.

Gammons quotes an unnamed general manager as saying, “I think plate discipline and recognition can be honed and developed. But I think it is an innate skill.”

Howie Kendrick is cited by Gammons as someone struggling to figure out pitch recognition:

But if a young player doesn’t have to address pitch recognition and plate discipline in the minors, can he learn on the major league level? The Angels are going through that process with Howie Kendrick, a potential batting champion whose inability to deal with the strike zone had resulted in a .229 average.

The sabermetric world tends to think that taking more walks results in better plate discipline, when in fact it’s the reverse. Walks are a byproduct of better pitch recognition and plate discipline. This was a point made by Mike Scioscia and Mickey Hatcher last April in an article by sportswriter Mike DiGiovanna in the Los Angeles Times. Kendrick in particular was one subject of the article.

Do Trumbo’s numbers over the last 25 games indicate better plate discipline even though he’s still taking few walks? That’s a question that may not be answered until he faces major league pitching.

But he’s certainly trending in the right direction.

This ‘N That

After a couple months on the inactive list due to the Florida move, I’m starting to get in the groove again. I’m going to Orem for the July 24-26 games.

I’ve received inquiries asking if I’m going to Tempe for Randal Grichuk, Michael Trout and crew. I’d like to go, but my concern is that if I go in mid-August they may have been promoted to Orem by then. I’m hoping to go to fall instructional league in late September, and I’m fairly confident they’ll be part of that, so I may wait until then.

I may also go to Cedar Rapids for their playoff series in September, but we’ll see.

If you were one of the players at extended spring training April 27-29 when I was there for photography, I’m finally starting to post those photos online. Check the FutureAngels.com Digital Photo Gallery for your photos. I’m about halfway through, so give it a couple weeks if you don’t see anything.

As for reprint sales, I’m still not quite at that point. I’m looking for a vendor who will do a volume rate discount as did my photo lab in California. I have a candidate and if all goes well I’ll start accepting orders again in a week or two.

While on the subject of monetary compensation, let me remind everyone once again that FutureAngels.com survives on your donations. I don’t run ads, I don’t charge for any of my services. I lose a couple thousand dollars a year, mostly due to travel costs, preserving memories for players and their loved ones. I do accept donations, so if you enjoy FutureAngels.com and want to help it continue then please consider either a voluntary subscription ($5.00/month) or a one-time donation. Click Here for more information about how to donate.

Here in Florida, I’m making contacts to start up a similar operation. It’ll be called SpaceCoastBaseball.com but don’t bother checking the web site, there’s nothing there yet. The idea is to follow the FutureAngels.com format but apply it to professional and amateur baseball here in the Space Coast.

Here’s the web site for the Space Coast Office of Tourism, if you want to learn more about the region.

Today’s local paper had an article about a startup winter league here called, appropriately enough, the Florida Winter Baseball League. The idea is to have an American version of the winter leagues in the Caribbean, Puerto Rico, Mexico and Venezuela.

I think it’s a great idea, especially given how increasingly dangerous it’s become for both locals and foreigners in Venezuela. And considering how many Floridians play pro ball, this would be a great opportunity for them to play during the winter to make a little money. It would also give scouts a chance to see some players they may not otherwise see.

The main problem, in my opinion, will be attendance. Ten years ago, four California League teams staged a post-season circuit called the California Fall League. (FutureAngels.com was its official web site.) The CFL was a financial disaster, in part because Major League Baseball failed to subsidize it but also because attendance was abysmal. Sports fans were distracted by the World Series, football and basketball.

I fear the FWBL will have the same problem. Baseball seems to be third in these parts anyway behind football and basketball, and maybe behind water sports. So getting people to watch unknowns in November-January will be tough. I hope the league has deep pockets so they can give it time to establish itself.

If they could get a little seed money from MLB (fat chance of that), it would be a lot easier. I think the league would be of help to MLB teams. Using the Angels as an example, they could suggest their Floridian minor leaguers play in the FWBL, knowing Tom Kotchman is down here to keep an eye on them. It could be an extension of the four-week fall instructional league, providing lots more time for minor leaguers to work on skills.

It’s one of those ideas that makes so much sense, it’ll probably never happen.

Men of the Corn

The Cedar Rapids Kernels are on yet another winning streak, winning their eighth straight last night.

The Kernels won thirteen straight between May 22 and June 4, finished the first half with a 40-30 record, and clinched a post-season berth by finishing second, one game out of first, in the Midwest League’s Western Division in the first half.

Overlooked during all their success is the absence of one very big bat. 3B Luis Jimenez, known as “Lucho” to Orem fans last year, has been at Tempe on rehab all summer after a right shoulder injury. Jimenez hit fifteen homers for the Owlz last year in a half-season, the most in the Pioneer League.

OF Roberto Lopez, the 2008 Pioneer League MVP who hit .400, arrived a month late from extended spring training after recovering from minor injuries. Lopez got off to a bit of a slow start, although his AVG/OBP/SLG are now .262/.383/.417, acceptable numbers in the pitcher-friendly Midwest League. His SO:BB ratio is 33:32 in 206 at-bats, which fits in nicely with the Angels’ Contactball style of play.

There are many success stories on this roster, but the Kernels’ starting pitching is the dominant force for their success. The team ERA is 3.30, #2 behind Clinton (3.16). Manaurys Correa (97.1) and Manuel Flores (93.1) lead the league in innings pitched, yet they don’t get as much publicity with the top prospect analysts as do Will Smith, Ryan Chaffee and Tyler Chatwood.

A popular stat among the sabermetric crowd is WHIP — (Walks + Hits)/(Innings Pitched). Here are the WHIPs for the Kernels’ starting rotation:

  • Ryan Chaffee 1.03
  • Tyler Chatwood 1.40
  • Manaurys Correa 1.19
  • Manuel Flores 1.22
  • Will Smith 1.10

There are sixteen teams in the Midwest League, so I don’t have time to crunch the numbers, but if there’s another team in that league with five better starters than the Kernels I’d be surprised.

Smith and Chaffee were on the 2008 FutureAngels.com Top 10 Prospects report. I took a lot of grief last November for ranking them — Smith was #1 and Chaffee was #6 — but it would be hard to argue that now with their outstanding numbers.

I’ve been wrestling in my mind with a question I can’t answer, so feel free to post your opinion. Here goes: if you had one game on the line for the Midwest League title, who would you want on the mound – the 6’6″ lefty Smith or the deceptive righty Chaffee? Both are bulldogs on the mound.

Each day when I update the FutureAngels.com home page, I read online both the local papers for our affiliates and those of our opponents, so I can get a flavor for what everyone in the league thinks of our players. I’ve seen plenty of comments that validate what I wrote in November. Opposition managers have complimented Smith for how he changes speeds on his fastball. Chaffee was described by one writer as “the man of a thousand deliveries” because he can throw his repertoire from three different release points.

Let’s also praise Bill Mosiello, who right now appears to be the hands-down favorite for Angels’ minor league manager of the year. Mosiello wasn’t even supposed to be the manager. 2008 manager Keith Johnson was supposed to return. But when longtime field coordinator Bruce Hines left to join Don Wakamatsu on the Seattle Mariners’ coaching staff, a domino effect rippled through the system. Johnson moved up to Rancho Cucamonga, and Mosiello was hired on January 29. He was assistant baseball coach at the University of Southern California when the Angels hired him.

As of this writing, the Kernels are 50-32, a .610 winning percentage which if it holds would be the best by far since Cedar Rapids became an Angels affiliate in 1993. The best record during the Angels era was .583 in 2002, a team whose roster was largely comprised of all the talent reaped during the 2001 draft. Casey Kotchman, Jeff Mathis, Dallas McPherson, Mike Napoli, Nick Gorneault, Tommy Murphy, Ervin Santana, Jake Woods, Steven Shell, Joel Peralta and Steve Andrade were all part of that team, with a late-season token appearance by Joe Saunders.

The last team to top .610 was the 1990 Cedar Rapids Reds. They finished 88-46 (.657).

A few years ago, some in Cedar Rapids argued that the team should dump the Angels as a parent club because they’d gone through a series of losing seasons. But the 2007 and 2008 teams went to the post-season, and the 2009 edition has already clinched a post-season appearance. Despite claims by some pundits that the Angels’ farm system is in decline, all they need to do is look at what’s happening in Cedar Rapids. The Angels’ future is on its way.

Coast to Coast: History in the Making

The 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission is this month.

(For the uninformed, Apollo 11 was the first mission where humans walked on the Moon.)

Because Apollo 11 launched from here in Space Coast, a number of ceremonies and celebrations are planned. You may see some specials on television, but there’s on airing on the local PBS station WBCC that you probably won’t see elsewhere in the county.

Click Here to go to the Florida Today blog entry with an embedded copy of this 30-minute documentary. What makes it unique is that it’s about what was happening here in Space Coast at the time of the Apollo missions. There’s a lot of home footage, local TV footage, interviews with local workers, and other information you won’t get anywhere else.

The next Space Shuttle mission, STS-127, is scheduled for launch this Saturday at 7:39 PM EDT. If they go, I’ll be out there with my camcorder to videotape it and place it online. STS-127 will launch from the same pad as Apollo 11.

L.A. Times on Nolan Ryan

Los Angeles Times sportswriter Mike DiGiovanna has in today’s paper a lengthy article about Nolan Ryan and the changes he’s made in the Texas Rangers since taking over as president.

One has to wonder how history might have changed if the Angels had kept Ryan rather than letting him walk as a free agent after the 1979 season.

Where Are They Now?

Ramon Ortiz
Ramon Ortiz pitches in fall instructional league for the Mesa Angels in October 1998 against the Mesa Cubs at Fitch Park. He was considered at the time to be one of the Angels’ top pitching prospects.

 

A year ago, I wrote a blog titled “Where Are They Now?” that was about the current whereabouts of past Angels minor leaguers. I’d intended for that to become a regular feature, but here we are more than a year later and I haven’t written one since.

The Salt Lake Bees recently faced the Fresno Grizzlies, a Giants affiliate, and who happened to be Fresno’s starting pitcher but Ramon Ortiz, a long-ago top Angels pitching prospect. He was relieved by Ronnie Ray, another former Angels minor leaguer.

So I was reminded that I really need to write another Where Are They Now.

Let’s start with those guys, followed by some others requested in the last article …

Ramon Ortiz was at one time the top pitching prospect in the Angels’ system and part of the 2002 roster that won the World Series. He was traded to the Cincinnati Reds in December 2004 for Dustin Moseley, a trade that on the whole has worked out favorably for the Angels. Ramon has drifted around baseball, spending 2008 in Japan. The Giants signed him last winter and assigned him to Triple-A Fresno. It’s hard to believe that Ramon is 36 years old now. His current record with the Grizzlies 1-2 with a 3.13 ERA in 54.2 IP, mostly in relief with a 54:20 SO:BB ratio. He’s vulnerable facing left-handed batters, who are hitting .312 against him. Righties are batting .221. The Angels are looking for relief help; anyone want to take a chance on Ramon?

Ronnie Ray was traded with Dusty Bergman to the San Francisco Giants on August 30, 2005 for veteran reliever Jason Christiansen. The Angels needed a veteran lefty arm in the bullpen, while Ray and Bergman were two lower-level arms who didn’t project as top pitching prospects. Ronnie has quietly moved up through the Giants’ system to Triple-A Fresno. His current record is 1-2 with a 3.51 ERA in 25 relief appearances (41.0 IP). Bergman pitched in independent ball the last two years; the most current record I can find is 17 games between two teams in the American Association in 2008. Searching for his stats, I was reminded that Dusty appeared in one game for the Angels in 2004.

Matt Hensley appeared in 16 games for the Angels as a reliever in 2004. He was let go by the Angels after the 2007 season, when he missed nearly the entire seaon after elbow surgery. I found a record that he pitched in relief nine games last year in the independent Atlantic League, but nothing since.

Greg Jones pitched in the Angels bullpen for parts of four seasons. Given his minor league free agency, Jonesy signed with the Dodgers in 2008 and made 28 relief appearances with Triple-A Las Vegas. The Dodgers released him in July 2008, and he finished the year in independent ball in the Atlantic League. He signed a minor league contract in March with the Cleveland Indians, but was released.

Nathan Haynes was acquired from the Oakland A’s along Jeff DaVanon and Elvin Nina on July 29, 1999 in exchange for Omar Olivares and Randy Velarde. Haynes was projected as a top-prospect center fielder but a series of injuries fairly well derailed his career. He retired in 2004 after playing briefly in the Giants’ system, returned to pro ball in the independent leagues in 2006, was re-signed by the Angels, and made his major league debut with Anaheim in 2007. In March 2008, Tampa Bay claimed him on waivers, and he split the season between the parent club and Triple-A Durham. Given his minor league free agency last winter, he signed with the Texas Rangers in January but was cut from the parent club roster during spring training. It appears that he retired rather than accept a minor league assignment.

Few will recall that Dodgers reliever Travis Schlichting passed briefly through the Angels system as a third baseman. The Angels acquired him in December 2005 in exchange for catcher Josh Paul. Travis played third base for Cedar Rapids for 31 games in 2006, then the Angels converted him to the mound for five games in August at the Tempe rookie camp. After spending 2007 in independent ball, Schlicting signed with the Dodgers and made 33 relief appearances with their Double-A Jacksonville team in 2008, posting a 3.77 ERA. He was reassigned in mid-June to Triple-A Albuquerque after two relief appearances with the Dodgers; he’s allowed no runs in four relief appearances with the Isotopes.

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