May 2010

Rally Monkeys


Roberto Lopez homered in his second Double-A at-bat Sunday to help the Arkansas Travelers to a 2-1 win over Corpus Christi.

 

Top to bottom, the Angels’ organization had late-game rallies — and won most of them.

The Mariners had a 7-2 lead after 4 1/2 innings but the Angels chipped away to trail 7-6 going into the bottom of the 9th. Howie Kendrick hit a three-run homer with one out and the Halos won 9-7.  It was Kendrick’s second homer of the game.

The Salt Lake Bees were down 5-0 to Fresno (Giants affiliate) after 4 1/2 innings but posted three in the 6th, one in the 8th, and one in the 9th to send the game to extra innings. Ryan Budde walked to lead off the bottom of the 10th. Gary Patchett bunted him to second. Peter Bourjos was intentionally walked, then Nate Sutton singled in Budde to give the Bees a 6-5 win.

Corpus Christi (Astros affiliate) scored in the top of the 2nd but Arkansas Travelers’ starter Jeremy Thorne drew the line there. Roberto Lopez hit a solo homer in the 4th on his second Double-A at-bat to tie the game, then Ryan Mount hit a solo shot in the 7th to give the Travs the lead. Jordan Walden pitched 1 1/3 innings of shutout relief to get the save.

The Rancho Cucamonga Quakes almost pulled off a miracle rally in San Jose (Giants affiliate). Down 6-1 after four innings, they scored one in the top of the 6th and four more in the top of the 9th to tie the game at 6-6. But San Jose scored in the bottom of the 10th to win 7-6. Adam Younger hit his second homer with Rancho, and Luis “Lucho” Jimenez homered in his first Quakes game.

Wisconsin (Brewers affiliate) scored four runs in the top of the 4th to take a 4-0 lead over the Cedar Rapids Kernels. No problem. The Men of the Corn scored one in the 4th, one in the 6th, then three more in the bottom of the 7th, with Mike Trout’s 2-RBI single driving in the tying and leading runs. Manaurys Correa got the win in relief, with the save to John Hellweg.

Who’s on First


Mike Napoli played 68 games in the minors at first base, including 36 with Rancho Cucamonga in 2004.

 

Tom Kotchman warned this would happen.

A few years ago, I listened as the Orem Owlz’ manager warned his young players never to jump on home plate to celebrate a dinger. Kotch told of an opposing team’s batter who did just that, slipped and broke his leg, ending his season.

Kendry Morales wasn’t there for the lecture (he began his career at Rancho Cucamonga), but it certainly came to mind when I heard that Morales broke his lower left leg celebrating a walk-off grand slam to give the Angels a 5-1 10-inning win over the Seattle Mariners.

You can see video of the injury on the MLB.com web page reporting the game.

Media reports suggest Morales is probably done for the season, so the question now is one posed decades ago by Lou Costello — who’s on first?

The initial answer is probably Robb Quinlan.

The veteran left as a free agent last winter, found no takers, returned to the Angels in spring training on a minor league contract and is currently at Triple-A Salt Lake. With prospect Mark Trumbo getting most of the playing time at first base, Robb has seen action at third base, designated hitter and a little left field in addition to first. His AVG/OBP/SLG are currently .253/.323/.322, not particularly inspiring numbers but he’s a known quantity.

Quinlan is on the 40-man roster, as is Trumbo. I want to see Mark in Anaheim as much as he does, but it’s probably not his time yet. His AVG/OBP/SLG are .275/.320/.522, but as I demonstrated in Friday’s blog on Salt Lake offense numbers his performance in PCL super-hitter friendly parks somewhat distorts his numbers this year, as usually happens with Bees hitters. In neutral or pitcher-friendly parks, Mark’s numbers are .227/.237/.493 in 75 at-bats.

One option out there might be Jeff Mathis, once he heals from his broken right wrist. No, Matty wouldn’t play first base, but Mike Napoli would. Nap had occasional time in the minors at first base, most significantly in 2004 with Rancho Cucamonga. Napoli missed much of 2003 after surgery to repair a tear in his right labrum. He played 36 games at first base for the Quakes in 2004, and was at first for 68 games overall in his minor league career. Mike underwent surgery again on his right shoulder in late October 2008, suggesting that he might not hold up over the long haul to catching every day.

MLB.com reported on May 26 that Mathis took test swings with a bat on Wednesday, suggesting a rehab assignment might be on the horizon. That might put him about a month away from returning, near the end of June.

At that point, if the Angels haven’t made another move, Mathis could assume most of the catching time with Bobby Wilson as the backup, and Napoli at first base.

The Angels could pursue a trade, of course, but they’re not likely to cough up top talent for what would amount to a short-term rental.

Checkpoint: Salt Lake


In neutral or pitcher-friendly PCL parks, Hank Conger’s AVG/OBP/SLG are .340/.431/.480 in 50 at-bats.

 

This is the second in a series of articles I’m writing to look at each Angels affiliate as they currently stand. This is just a “checkpoint” in time.

On May 25 we looked at the Cedar Rapids Kernels in the Low-A Midwest League. Now we’ll look at the Salt Lake Bees in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League.

I’ve been waiting to write about Salt Lake until they completed their recent road trip, which included four games at Omaha and four games at Iowa. This is critical because the Bees play most of their games in super-hitter friendly ballparks. Salt Lake, Las Vegas, Albuquerque, Reno and Colorado Springs all distort what otherwise might be more a more realistic performance of a player’s talent. The Bees, of course, play half of their games in Salt Lake City, and Colorado Springs is in their division.

When I write my annual FutureAngels.com Top 10 Prospects reports, for Salt Lake players I always do a custom split. Instead of the traditional home/away split, I look at the five super-hitter friendly parks versus the rest of the PCL to get a more accurate measurement. So I wanted to wait until the Bees passed through Omaha and Des Moines.

When I apply this approach to certain Bees hitters, here’s how they stand so far in 2010:

Peter Bourjos (AVG/OBP/SLG)
OVERALL .250/.297/.375
HITTER-FRIENDLY .258/.276/.387 (93 AB)
NEUTRAL .237/.328/.356 (59 AB)

Hank Conger (AVG/OBP/SLG)
OVERALL .284/.368/.455
HITTER-FRIENDLY .250/.330/.440 (84 AB)
NEUTRAL .340/.431/.480 (50 AB)

Terry Evans (AVG/OBP/SLG)
OVERALL .265/.329/.394
HITTER-FRIENDLY .319/.360/.435 (69 AB)
NEUTRAL .206/.296/.349 (63 AB)

Mark Trumbo (AVG/OBP/SLG)
OVERALL .273/.312/.528
HITTER-FRIENDLY .307/.375/.554 (101 AB)
NEUTRAL .227/.237/.493 (75 AB)

It’s natural to expect the hitter-friendly park numbers to be higher than the neutral/pitcher-friendly parks by some margin, but when there’s an extreme difference it’s usually an indicator of something signficant.

In the above numbers, we note that Conger is actually doing much better in the neutral parks. Go figure.

Now let’s apply the same approach to certain Bees starting pitchers:

Daniel Davidson (ERA/SO:BB/WHIP)
OVERALL 5.20/29:15/1.47 (45.0 IP)
HITTER-FRIENDLY 5.76/15:8/1.48 (29.2 IP)
NEUTRAL 4.11/14:7/1.43 (15.1 IP)

Sean O’Sullivan (ERA/SO:BB/WHIP)
OVERALL 5.12/41:17/1.38 (58.0 IP)
HITTER-FRIENDLY 6.00/27:8/1.52 (33.0 IP)
NEUTRAL 3.96/14:9/1.20 (25.0 IP)

Trevor Reckling (ERA/SO:BB/WHIP)
OVERALL 6.11/37:34/1.90 (53.0 IP)
HITTER-FRIENDLY 6.67/17:20/2.09 (29.2 IP)
NEUTRAL 5.40/20:14/1.67 (23.1 IP)

Nothing particularly revealing in those numbers, other than demonstrating yet again how the super-hitter friendly parks distort offense numbers for Salt Lake pitchers.

Checkpoint: Cedar Rapids


Kernels outfielder Mike Trout has an OPS of 1.000 — on-base percentage of .442 plus slugging percentage of .558.

 

This is the first in a series of articles I’m going to write looking at each Angels affiliate as they currently stand. This is just a “checkpoint” in time.

We’ll start with the Cedar Rapids Kernels, the Angels’ Class-A affiliate in the Midwest League.

This is a team that came loaded out of spring training. After a slow start, they’ve won seven in a row and are 27-17 with a two-game lead in the league’s Western Division.

The Kernels finished April 10-12 but in May are 17-5. The turnaround began the day before I arrived in Cedar Rapids on April 30. The team won the night before 7-5 against Clinton (Mariners affiliate), then swept a four-game series against Kane County (A’s affiliate).

I covered all four games of the Kane County series, including the April 30 combined no-hitter by Fabio Martinez Mesa, Kyle Hurst and Mike Kenney. Click here to watch video from the no-hitter. (Windows Media Player and a broadband Internet connection are required.)

Randal Grichuk and Mike Trout, the Angels’ two first-round draft picks in June 2009, saw their power bats awaken in that series. Grichuk hit three homers in the series, while Trout hit the first two of his five this season.

Grichuk went on the disabled list May 9 with a left thumb sprain. After a very slow start, Randal hit .300/.344/.700 in May (30 AB) before he was hurt. For the season, he was .229/.280/.431 with a SO:BB ratio of 30:6 in 109 at-bats. Click here to watch Grichuk’s May 3 home run.

Trout was considered more polished than Grichuk, and it showed. He ended April batting .372/.427/.465 but didn’t hit a dinger. The feedback I had last winter within the organization was that Grichuk projected as more of a pure power-hitter while Trout would be the more all-around hitter, with occasional power. April fit that projection, but his five homers in May — including a 426-foot shot at Cedar Rapids on May 3 — served notice that he can bash too. Click here to watch Trout’s May 3 home run.

Another power hitter I came to Cedar Rapids to watch was third baseman Luis Jimenez. “Lucho” missed all of 2009 after injuring his right labrum, spending the year on rehab at Tempe. Jimenez led the short-season Pioneer League with 15 homers in 2008, so there’s thunder in his bat, but when I got to Cedar Rapids he hadn’t hit a single dinger and seemed a bit frustrated by it. Lucho hit homers on May 23 anf May 24 at Beloit, and went 8 for 15 in his last three games, so maybe he’s shaken off the rust. His overall 2010 numbers are .300/.331/.493. His defense has been a concern, having committed seven errors in 27 defensive appearances, but there’s plenty of time for the 22-year old to improve.

Second baseman Jean Segura was just named the Midwest League player of the week for May 17-23. In that period, Segura hit .435/.519/.696. Segura had a 19-game streak from April 12 through May 2 in which he was just 15 for 76 (.197) but since then he’s 26 for 75 (.347). His overall numbers are .287/.355/.402. If I had to profile Jean, he would be a cross between Erick Aybar and Howie Kendrick. He has Aybar’s reckless abandon in the field but is more of a contact hitter that rarely walks as Kendrick does. I think Segura’s build projects him as a second baseman more than a shortstop.

Catcher Carlos Ramirez hit .376/.500/.638 in 2009 for Rookie-A Orem, but in his first full season he’s hitting only .181/.306/.295. The Pioneer League, a hitter’s haven, can be deceptive especially with older players who have college experience. Carlos is 17 for 40 in catching baserunners; his .425 percentage is fourth-best in the Midwest League.

The Kernels’ starting rotation began 2010 with six projectable starting pitchers, so that problem was solved by “piggybacking” the two Tylers, Kehrer and Skaggs.

Kehrer has definitely strugged, posting a 6.12 ERA with a 28:28 SO:BB ratio in 32.1 IP. Skaggs has done well, with a 2.37 ERA and 41:9 SO:BB ratio in 38.0 IP.


Kyle Hurst, Fabio Martinez, and Mike Kenney combined to throw a no-hitter for Cedar Rapids on April 30 against Kane County.

 

The two pitchers with the best raw “stuff” are Garrett Richards and Fabio Martinez. Richards, drafted after his junior year in college, has a 3.54 ERA in 56.0 IP with a 50:18 ratio and a 2.55 Ground Outs to All Outs (GO:AO) ratio. He didn’t start while I was in Cedar Rapids but I did film his bullpen session; click here to watch. As for Fabio, he reminds me of a young Ervin Santana, complete with the exaggerated head tilt. The 20-year old has a 4.68 ERA in 42.1 IP with a 64:31 SO:BB ratio. He has “filthy” stuff but little control of it. Click here to watch video from Fabio’s April 30 start.

At 8-0, Pat Corbin remains undefeated. He has a 3.86 ERA in 58.1 IP with a 42:10 SO:BB ratio. He doesn’t have the dominating power of Richards or Martinez but is still effective. Click here to watch video of Corbin’s May 1 start.

He wasn’t a top-round draft pick, nor is he flashy like Martinez, but Orangel Arenas quietly is pitching a fine season. He has a 2.03 ERA in 48.2 IP with a 32:14 SO:BB ratio and a 2.38 GO:AO ratio.

Jon Bachanov was the Angels’ first pick in the June 2007 draft but suffered an elbow ligament injury and underwent “Tommy John” surgery before he threw his first pitch in official game action. The Angels decided to move him to relief, and Cedar Rapids is his first full-season assignment. He has a 4.58 ERA in 17.2 IP with a 18:10 SO:BB ratio and 1.83 GO:AO ratio. Based on the radar reading on the Cedar Rapids video board, his velocity appeared to be in the mid-high 80s, but I’m told that radar can be off up to 7 MPH. It’s not unusual for a “Tommy John” survivor to have diminished velocity for the first year coming back. He didn’t allow a hit in his last two relief appearances.

The Kernels are playing like we all expected. Every once in a while, you’ll see a “bubble” of talent move through an organization. The Angels’ draft class of 2001 was one example, with Casey Kotchman, Jeff Mathis, Dallas McPherson and more. The 2009 draft is showing early signs that they’ll surpass that group in potential. But potential is only that, not major-league production, and for all of them that day is still far away.

Lots more video of the Kernels is coming … when I have the time.

(Sorry that I didn’t write about everyone, I focused on the players who’ve received the most attention in the media from analysts and fans.)

Whither Brandon Wood


Brandon Wood, Howie Kendrick and Kendry Morales in the Arizona Fall League, October 2005. Of the three, only Morales has fulfilled his potential.

 

This morning’s Los Angeles Times reports that not only did the Angels keep Brandon Wood out of the starting lineup for a second straight game, but he wasn’t even allowed to take batting practice.

Brandon’s AVG/OBP/SLG this year are .156/.168/.213 in 122 at-bats. If a veteran player did that in the middle of a season for a contending team, it would probably be dismissed as a typical mid-season slump, but with the Angels struggling at 21-25 nearly two months into the season Wood’s failure to adjust so far to major-league pitching has turned him into the poster boy for the team’s slow start.

I raised a red flag on February 28 in a blog article looking at Wood’s 2009 splits with Salt Lake.

Unlike the traditional home/away splits, with Salt Lake Bees players I look at their numbers in five super-hitter friendly PCL ballparks versus the rest of the league, including their home town stadium in Salt Lake City. Performance in those parks tends to distort a player’s true performance, so I’ve found that my custom split system is a more accurate barometer.

Wood’s 2009 Salt Lake numbers:

OVERALL: .293/.357/.557 (386 AB)
HITTER-FRIENDLY: .318/.382/.614 (280 AB)
NEUTRAL/PITCHER-FRIENDLY: .226/.291/.406 (106 AB)

In 2007 and 2008 his neutral/pitcher-friendly numbers were much better, so the 2009 numbers were a red flag in my mind.

Did something change with him? Hard to say. We know from newspaper reports that the Angels tinkered with his hitting mechanics to shorten his swing and lengthen the time the bat spends in the strike zone, but that’s unlikely to be the problem.

Armchair psychiatrists on fan boards have claimed that Angels management somehow “ruined” Wood by keeping him in the minors so long, but that’s ridiculous.

Any major league manager, coach or player will tell you that the most difficult adjustment a player can make in his professional career is the jump from the minors to the majors. Successful transitions are the exception, not the rule.

Howie Kendrick is a career .360 hitter in the minors, and won the 2004 Midwest League batting title with a .367 average. But he’s struggled to repeat that performance in the major leagues; he was even sent back to Triple-A in the middle of the 2009 season. His 2010 AVG/OBP/SLG are .260/.292/.349, showing he still hasn’t made the adjustment.

Unlike Kendrick, the Angels can’t simply send Brandon back to Triple-A to clear his head. Wood is out of options, meaning he would have to pass through waivers before reporting to Salt Lake. His potential remains so high that there’s no doubt someone would claim him.

The inevitable “Trade Wood!!” threads are showing up on fan boards, written by people who apparently don’t realize that you don’t trade someone when their value is so low. But as a waiver claim, he’d be very desirable because he’d come cheap.

So the Angels have no choice but to let Brandon figure it out at the big-league level.

Wood now has 346 major league at-bats scattered over four seasons. His career AVG/OBP/SLG are .179/.203/.277. The general rule of thumb in baseball has been to give a batter at least 500 at-bats at the major-league level before writing him off.

My opinion is to just roll with it. The Angels’ problems to date are much more than Brandon’s slow start. No other third-base option is imminent in the organization. Odds are he’ll figure it out eventually. If he doesn’t, well, he won’t be the only reason why the Angels aren’t in first place.

This ‘N That

Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.

– John Lennon

For someone without a job, I’ve sure been busy the last month.

I haven’t been able to find the time to write blogs. Not that there isn’t anything to write about. Certainly the Internet is clogged with milions of blogs that bloviate on the most trivial of subjects.

I came back from Cedar Rapids with four days’ worth of photos and videos. I’ve been editing them when I have the time, and still have quite a lot to do, but other matters have intruded.

In addition to FutureAngels.com, I also have the SpaceCoastBaseball.com web site. That covers professional and amateur adult baseball in Brevard County, Florida, AKA the Space Coast, where I’ve lived for nearly a year. (The anniversary is June 3.)

The local minor league team is the Brevard County Manatees, a Milwaukee Brewers affiliate in the High-A Florida State League. The Manatees don’t have a radio contract, so I volunteered to webast fifteen games for them this year along with the 2010 Florida State League All-Star Game on June 12.

The webcasts are archived in the SpaceCoastBaseball.com Audio Gallery. I’ve done four this year. We’ll do each FSL team at least once, and the Tampa Yankees three times.

Many times over the years, I’ve picked the brains of minor and major league broadcasters for how they practice their craft. Growing up in Southern California, I listened to Vin Scully and Dick Enberg. The key, of course, is to find your own voice, not to simply mimic someone else. Listening to the webcast archives, I can hear when I borrowed a technique from the Kernels’ John Rodgers or the Travs’ Phil Elson or the Bees’ Steve Klauke. Scully and Enberg are there too. But as I gain more confidence, Stephen’s unique voice is starting to emerge.

It must be affecting the way I speak in everyday life. A couple weeks ago, during a job interview, I was asked what I do in my spare time. I told the interviewers about the Manatees gig. They said I have a radio voice, which surprised me, because to me a radio voice is someone like Jon Miller or the late Bob Starr — someone with “the pipes,” as they say.


A runner on the white second base and on the orange second base in the May 15 NXBL game between the Tampa Black Sox and Space Coast Rockets.

 

A new league started play here on May 15, the National Extreme Baseball League. The basic concept is that the infield has an extra set of bases, colored orange. The first batter in an inning runs the traditional counterclockwise direction on the white bases. The next batter runs clockwise on the orange bases.

Baseball purists seem to loathe it, although I consider myself a purist and I think it’s a hoot. I commented to a local sports editor that it’s “baseball for Mensa,” a phrase she said she might steal. It creates all sorts of new tactical decisions.

For we left-handers, it also balances the defense. In normal baseball, the second baseman, shortstop and third baseman are right-handed because they need to make the throw to first base; a left-handed infielder would have to make a difficult pivot on many plays. But when the batter runs the bases in the opposite direction, a left-handed infielder would have the advantage.

A local sports show asked me to film raw footage of the May 15 for their program. Click here to watch clips on SpaceCoastBaseball.com. (Windows Media Player and a broadband Internet connection are required.) The clip specifically shows situations where the clockwise orange bases come into play; one common situation has batters running the wrong way because they’re not used to the concept. If the batter runs up one base line by mistake, he must reverse course and pass through the batter’s circle before heading towards the proper base. But you’ll also see a couple plays where runners pass each other, such as on a double steal.

Also diverting me from Angels minor league baseball was the arrival in the Space Coast of seven members of my wife’s family. They’ve been here for nearly two weeks, so we’ve been busy playing host, and joined them on a four-day cruise to the Bahamas.

I’ve also been busy volunteering for the Brevard County Fire Rescue, database design and administrative work.

Anyway, I’m trying to find the time to get back to processing all the Cedar Rapids photos and videos. I’m well aware that the June draft lurks right around the corner, and then the short seasons for the Orem Owlz and Tempe Angels.

John Lennon was right.

Photos of Cedar Rapids No-Hit Pitchers


Left to right: Kyle Hurst, Fabio Martinez, Mike Kenney

 


The three with their pitching coach, Brandon Emanuel

 

We had the no-hit pitchers pose for the traditional photo holding a baseball with a “0″ on it. Pitching coach Brandon Emanuel is in the second photo.

More photos and video to come.

Three Kernels Pitchers Combine for No-Hitter


Fabio Martinez

 


Kyle Hurst

 


Mike Kinney

 

Three Cedar Rapids Kernels pitchers combined last night to throw a no-hitter as they defeated the Kane County Cougars (A’s affiliate) 3-0.

Fabio Martinez was the starting pitcher and worked the first five innings. Kyle Hurst covered the 6th and 7th, then Mike Kinney the 8th and 9th.

I have game highlight video which I’ll try to post today. Meanwhile, click here to listen to the Kernels’ webcast. (Windows Media Player and a broadband Internet connection required.)

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