September 2010

Angels, Inland Empire Agree to Two-Year Affiliation

The Inland Empire 66ers issued a press release today announcing a two-year affiliation with the Angels.

That means the Cincinnati Reds are doomed, er, bound for Bakersfield.

According to the release:

A formal press conference will be announced in the coming weeks where fans and members of the media can come meet and greet the new partners at the new home of the Angels High-A affiliate in the Inland Empire.

No Gain, No Bane


Eddie Bane visits Rookie-A Provo in July 2004, one month after his first Angels draft.

 

The Angels announced Wednesday that scouting director Eddie Bane’s contract would not be renewed, and also that three scouts had been let go.

The scouts were Jim Bryant (Alabama-Mississippi), Bart Braun (south Florida), and Jeff Scholzen (Utah-Colorado-South Nevada).

Fan sites are rampant with rumor and speculation, much of it baseless.

I’ve read plenty people claim Bane was fired because Brandon Wood and Howie Kendrick failed to live up to early hype, but neither was drafted by Bane. They were drafted by his predecessor, Donny Rowland.

Others have claimed that Bane was fired because his “high risk, high reward” philosophy has supposedly failed to deliver top prospects.

But “high risk, high reward” didn’t begin with Eddie Bane. It didn’t begin with Donny Rowland, either. It began with then-general manager Bill Stoneman.

In an August 26, 2003 Los Angeles Times article about the firing of Rowland, Bill Shaikin wrote:

Stoneman said the Angels have not wavered from the philosophy he directed Rowland to follow, that of drafting high-risk, high-reward prospects, particularly high school players.

Under the previous management of general manager Bill Bavasi and his scouting director, Bob Fontaine, the Angels emphasized the selection of college players who might sign more cheaply and reach the majors more quickly, even if their potential might not be as great.

But Bavasi and Fontaine tabbed the majority of Angel players who appeared in Game 7 of the World Series — outfielders Garret Anderson, Darin Erstad and Tim Salmon, pitchers John Lackey, Troy Percival and Francisco Rodriguez, catcher Bengie Molina and third baseman Troy Glaus, the World Series MVP.

Media reports claimed that Rowland was let go because of “a behind the scenes rift” with Stoneman that “led to his downfall,” according to Baseball America in February 2004.


Bill Stoneman, Dominican academy manager Charlie Romero, and Kendry Morales
at Kendry’s first game press conference in Rancho Cucamonga, May 21, 2005. Morales was one example of Stoneman’s “high risk, high reward” philosophy.

 

Now media reports are suggesting the same between Bane and current general manager Tony Reagins. According to Baseball America, “Sources inside and outside the organization, speaking on condition of anonymity, indicated tensions between the two had increased over the last year or two.”

Tensions between a general manager and scouting director are nothing new. The book Moneyball alleged a rift between Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane and his scouting department, although Beane told Baseball America the claim was false.

Only two weeks ago, it was reported that Bane was one of five candidates for the Arizona Diamondbacks’ general manager job. Logan White, the Dodgers’ assistant GM in charge of amateur and international scouting, was another candidate. Former Padres GM Kevin Towers got the job.

I was a bit surprised to hear Eddie was a candidate — not because I thought he wasn’t qualified, but I wondered how the Angels would react to it. The Diamondbacks needed the Angels’ permission to talk to Bane, and presumably received it, but I wondered how the Angels’ front office would react if he didn’t get the job. Would he be perceived as a threat? As someone whose loyalty should be questioned?

Others have applied for jobs elsewhere. Joe Maddon was the bench coach when he was hired to manage Tampa Bay. Bud Black was the pitching coach when he was hired to manage San Diego.

But they left. They didn’t stay, which would have meant someone marked as a prime managerial candidate elsewhere would be in the Angels dugout, where some might perceive him as a threat, if not disloyal.

I’ve worked at companies that fired you if they got wind of you interviewing, or even just applying, for a job elsewhere.

The Angels are a highly disciplined organization, and that discipline starts with manager Mike Scioscia. No slight intended against Tony Reagins, but the common perception among many observers is that Scioscia calls the shots, and it’s Tony’s job to administratively implement Scioscia’s program. Whether it’s true or not, I can’t say, but I do think it’s fair to describe the arrangement as collaborative.

I’m pretty certain Bane’s drafts had nothing to do with his termination. At least, they shouldn’t have.

As noted above, high risk/high reward originated with Bill Stoneman. If Reagins wanted to veer away from that philosophy, he could have, and there’s no evidence to suggest he did.

Most people tend to focus on the June amateur draft as the sole measurement of a scouting director’s success, but that’s wrong. The draft only applies to amateurs in North America. It doesn’t apply in the rest of the world, where almost anything goes. And many players have gone on to big league careers who were not drafted — they were overlooked and signed as undrafted free agents.

If a scouting director wants to make himself look good, he calls a safe projectable name in the first round, an amateur likely to have a decent but not spectacular career in the majors, and soon has a success story he can claim as his own.

In my opinion, the real test of a scouting director is how he does in the later rounds, how he does in international scouting, and how he does with undrafted free agents.

Baseball America in May 2003 analyzed the first ten rounds of the 1990 through 1997 drafts to measure the success of players by round, and also by high school versus college players. I doubt it’s changed much since then, but in any case it’s quite revealing in helping to predict what we should expect out of a draft.

The article found that 34.9% of first rounders were “flops,” meaning that one-third of them never made it to the big leagues. 20.3% got there for “a cup of coffee,” meaning a token appearance. 18.3% were “fringe” players, e.g. utility players, backup catchers, long relief men, etc.

That leaves only 26.6% — roughly one in four — who were “regulars” (14.0%), “good” (8.3%) or “star” (4.3%).

I’ve read posts on fan sites where people complain that the Angels haven’t produced their own Albert Pujols. Well, it’s really hard to produce an Albert Pujols. Only 4.3% of first-round draft picks become “stars,” and overall only 0.9% of draftees in the first ten rounds become “stars”. That’s 1 out of 100.

And that doesn’t take into consideration whether the drafting team had a higher position in the draft order because it stank the year before. Teams draft in reverse order of winning percentage in the prior season. Persistently competitive teams, such as the Angels in the 2000s, will draft lower. And if the general manager signs a star free agent, his team might have to cough up a first-round pick in compensation, which means the scouting director doesn’t even get a shot.

Bane had seven drafts during his Angels tenure, so that’s about 70 names in those ten rounds he called. Generically speaking, his odds of finding a “star” were less than one percent, considering the Angels were usually one of the last teams in each round to draft.

Due to signing free agents, the Angels lost high-round picks in many years:

2004 — Lost their second (for Bartolo Colon) and third round (for Kelvim Escobar) picks.

2005 — Lost their first round pick (for Orlando Cabrera) but got a supplemental pick between the first and second rounds (Trevor Bell at #37 overall).

2006 — Lost their first round (for Jeff Weaver) and second round (for Hector Carrasco) picks but got a first-round (Hank Conger) pick for losing Paul Byrd.

2007 — Lost their first round (for Gary Matthews, Jr.) and second round (for Justin Speier) picks but got a supplemental first-round (Jon Bachanov) pick for losing Adam Kennedy.

2008 — Lost their first round pick (for Torii Hunter).

Should Eddie be blamed because Bill Stoneman gave up high-round draft picks for Jeff Weaver and Gary Matthews, Jr.? Of course not.

Let’s be clear how important those first-round picks are.

Using the BA analysis, by round here’s the statistical probability of a player being a “regular” or better:

1st 26.5%
2nd 9.4%
3rd 6.2%
4th 3.9%
5th 5.4%
6th 5.0%
7th 4.0%
8th 4.6%
9th 2.1%
10th 3.2%

So if you’re unhappy with the talent depth in the Angels’ farm system today, you can point the finger at that feel-good instant gratification some fans felt when the Angels coughed up first- and second-round draft picks to sign veterans.

I’ve preached for years that instant gratification has consequence. We see that today.

So what’s a scouting director to do when he’s robbed of a sure thing?

High risk. High reward.

That’s where Eddie Bane shined.

Let’s look at his first draft, in June 2004.

With his first-round pick, #12 overall, Bane selected Jered Weaver. Although Weaver was the consensus best college pitching prospect in the nation, the eleven teams ahead of the Angels passed because Weaver’s advisor was Scott Boras and therefore considered unsignable.

But the Angels took the risk.

A year went by, and it went down to the final minutes the Angels had his rights before Weaver signed. A few minutes more, and he would have gone back into the pool. It was this year-long waiting game that was partially responsible for Major League Baseball moving up the signing deadline from one year to mid-August, about two months after the draft.

Weaver might fall into that “star” category one day, as he’s pitched in 2010 like a Cy Young Award candidate.

Bane had no second or third round picks. In the fourth round, he selected Patrick White, a star Alabama high school football player whose raw tools projected to make him a star baseball player too. White didn’t sign.


Nick Adenhart was one of the first “high risk, high reward” players drafted by
Eddie Bane.

 

In the 14th round, Bane played high-risk high-reward again. He selected Nick Adenhart, who BA had profiled as the top high school pitching prospect in the nation before blowing out his elbow in his final start, requiring “Tommy John” surgery. The Angels signed Adenhart for a reported $710,000 signing bonus, about half what he would have received in the first round but much more than any other 14th rounder would ever receive. The Angels assumed the risk of damaged goods, overseeing his rehab and waiting a year until he could begin to pitch again. Nick might be on his way to “star” status too if not for the accident that took his life in April 2009.

In the 18th round, Bane selected Mark Trumbo, a Villa Park high school graduate already committed to USC. Trumbo received a reported $1.4 million bonus to lure him away from college. Six years later, Trumbo hit 36 homers this year for Triple-A Salt Lake, but it remains to be seen what he’ll do when he’s given a full-time job in the majors.

The high school players from Bane’s earliest drafts — Trumbo, Hank Conger, Peter Bourjos and more — are just now starting to arrive in the majors, so it’s too early to judge their long-term success.

Of course, there’s also his pick of Mike Trout at #25 overall in the June 2009 draft. Plenty of teams passed over him, yet he’s already one of the consensus top prospects in all the minors.

As for international scouting, Bane signed Cuban defector Kendry Morales at age 21½ in December 2004. Morales received a six-year major league contract and a reported $3 million signing bonus. When he arrived in Anaheim in 2006, he appeared in 57 games and posted an AVG/OBP/SLG of .234/.293/.371. In 2008, his numbers were .213/.273/.393 in 61 at-bats as he spent most of the year at Triple-A. Impatient people declared him a “bust.” But in 2009 Morales posted a line of .306/.355/.569, well on his way to “star” status.

But not many top prospects from Latin countries have emerged from the Angels’ system since Kendry, and I think this is one category where maybe the scouting department didn’t produce as well. Current prospects Alexi Amarista, Luis Jimenez, Fabio Martinez-Mesa and Jean Segura might change that trend; left-handed pitching prospect Alex Torres was sent to Tampa Bay in July 2009 in the Scott Kazmir trade.

Bane can’t held to blame for Kazmir, or for the signings of Bobby Abreu and Hideki Matsui who have entered their declining years. He can’t be held responsible for the disappointing performance in the bullpen by Brian Fuentes and Fernando Rodney. Those were decisions made by others, and it should be noted that according to the Angels’ 2010 Media Guide professional scouting is overseen by Gary Sutherland, the Special Assistant to the General Manager, not Eddie Bane.

I’ve no doubt Eddie will find another job, and soon. He’s too talented a baseball man to be on the open market for long.

By the way, one final note about Albert Pujols … He’s a first-round talent, but he was selected by the Cardinals in the 13th round of the June 1999 draft and given a $60,000 signing bonus. As I wrote upstream, the best scouts shine in the later rounds.

No More Earthquake Jokes

When the Angels affiliated with the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes on September 15, 2000, it was inevitable that we’d hear all sorts of earthquake-inspired jokes, such as the marketing slogan “Shake, Rattle and Roll.”

So when it was announced by the Quakes yesterday that they had dumped the Angels for a two-year affiliation with the Los Angeles Dodgers, the first temptation of course was to write something like, “Angels Rocked by Rancho Cucamonga Temblor.”

The rumors began circulating on September 15 when the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin reported the Quakes might leave the Angels for the Dodgers. The Angels and Quakes had been partners for ten years, but at times it was a rocky relationship, with Rancho Cucamonga filing to terminate after the 2002 season, but the teams eventually reconciled.

It’s hard to say what goes through the mind of a minor league team’s ownership when they file to terminate. Winning sometimes is a factor, although most casual minor league fans haven’t a clue how the team is doing. A desire to partner with a locally popular major league team such as the Angels or Dodgers, or a nationally popular organization such as the Cubs or Yankees, also sometimes plays a factor.

According to today’s Daily Bulletin, Quakes managing partner Bobby Brett cited “the mutual interest in the Dodgers purchasing a minority share in the Quakes.”

It seems an odd reason to terminate a successful ten-year affiliation, especially for one of the most dysfunctional organizations in major league baseball. Dodgers owners Frank and Jamie McCourt are going through an ugly divorce, and one of the major issues of contention is who actually owns the team. There’s been much speculation in the papers about the McCourts’ value on paper, and how much that affects the Dodgers.

The Dodgers and Angels have had disappointing seasons, but both have fruitful farm systems that produced several post-season contenders. In the Midwest League, one level below the California League, both the Angels’ Cedar Rapids Kernels (82-56) and the Dodgers’ Great Lakes Loons (90-49) went to the post-season, suggesting that the 2011 teams in the Cal will be very competitive.

Brett claimed, “When you’re partners with a major league team, you get more of an effort to win. You get more cross-marketing and promotion in your own backyard.” But there’s a difference between the interests of a minority owner and a majority owner. The parent club won’t be calling the shots in Rancho Cucamonga. Brett will.

And according to the Daily Bulletin article, the Dodgers’ expressed earlier interest in a financial partnership seems to have waned. Brett rationalized that by saying, “When you become partners, you have to know each other a little bit better,” which in my opinion sounds like a bit of spin now that the original scheme seems to have misfired.

In a column published before yesterday’s breaking news, Baseball America columnist Will Lingo wrote about the lack of sentimentality in affiliation switches:

… What the process reinforces is that very American desire to be on the lookout for a better deal. Sure you may be happy with your current situation, but you could probably do better if you could just get to that hot new market with the shiny new ballpark . . .

Times like this remind us that professional baseball is a business. Sentimentality is a gimmick owners use to separate you from your money.

Brett says he’s not concerned about losing Angels fans. “There may be some people (who leave as Quakes fans),” he told the Daily Bulletin. “It’s hard for me to believe people come to Quakes games solely because the players on the field get their paychecks from the Angels. If people decide to watch future Angels elsewhere, we understand. We believe there are diehard Dodger fans to offset that.”

I’ve heard anecdotally from several Quakes season ticket holders and host parents that they will have nothing to do with the team now that it’s affiliated with the Dodgers, and certainly we’ll see far less red in the stands next year. Brett seems to think he’ll see more blue. That’s his choice.

As for the Angels, the breakup ends a ten-year streak of stability. Starting with the 2001 season, the Angels did not change any affiliations, a record very few other teams (if any) can claim. Stability comes from good relationships with the affiliates, but sometimes the affiliates have a different agenda and that’s their privilege.

So the Angels move on.

To where?

Their choices are limited. At the Advanced Class-A level, only two openings remain and they’re both in the Cal League. Inland Empire (AKA San Bernardino) was the Dodgers’ home, and Bakersfield just lost the Rangers to the Carolina League.

Inland Empire would obviously be preferable, not just geographically but also because Sam Lynn Ballpark in Bakersfield is decrepit. Built in 1941, it hasn’t been renovated, it’s 354 feet to center field, and the field faces into the setting sun. Bakersfield usually gets whatever major league club loses the game of affiliation musical chairs every two years, and will wind up with whatever team doesn’t go to San Bernardino.

The Inland Empire 66ers can choose between the Angels and Cincinnati Reds. The Angels would seem the obvious choice, but 66ers management might think the Angels are so desperate not to go to Bakersfield that they can issue their own demands.

David Elmore’s Elmore Sports Group owns the 66ers, and his son D.G. Elmore individually owns the Blaze. It doesn’t take much imagination to suspect a little collusion might happen out of mutual interest.

Whether it’s Inland Empire or Bakersfield, we should know soon enough where the halo will shine in the Cal League the next two years. But Angels fans are considered expendable in Rancho Cucamonga.

A Teachable Moment


Angels minor league catching coordinator Tom Gregorio works with Roberto Lopez during the 2009 fall instructional league.

 

‘Tis the season for fall instructional league, one of the most overlooked and least understood annual rituals of the baseball calendar.

Instructional league is often confused with the Arizona Fall League, but one has nothing to do with the other. The instructs end around the time the AFL starts. The instructs are held at a major league organization’s minor league training complex, while AFL is played in major league spring training stadia. And while the AFL usually has many of the top prospects in the upper levels of minor league baseball, instructional league rosters feature mostly players who were drafted or signed last June.

The AFL was created as a finishing school of sorts for top prospects, an opportunity to showcase them and accelerate their progress to a major league roster the next year. The instructs are more like extra homework for selected students.

Official stats are kept by the AFL, although how much they mean is debatable. The AFL is a part-time job as everyone plays a couple times a week, but few play every day. The dry desert air turns these games into high-scoring affairs — Coors Field with cactii. Some players try harder than others, and quietly everyone hopes they don’t get hurt. Although the original concept was to feature top prospects, in reality many organizations send players who project as setup relievers, utility infielders, or backup catchers. Each team has players from five teams, so to field a normal lineup a team needs “niche” players.

No official stats are kept or reported at the instructional league. The reason is the games are more like a glorified practice. Rules are loosely enforced. If a young pitcher falls behind in pitch count, his manager can simply call an end to the inning and the other team takes the field. It’s not uncommon to see ten-man lineups with two designated hitters. The DHs might take the field mid-game, with two position players becoming the DHs. Although the home team has won, the bottom of the 9th might be played anyway to get extra practice.

Yesterday I was at the Washington Nationals’ complex in Viera, Florida for their first instructional league game against the Atlanta Braves. Major league catcher Jesus Flores underwent shoulder surgery last fall and missed all of 2010. He was in the lineup yesterday but was scheduled to play only three innings. He homered in his first at-bat, but going into the bottom of the 3rd it appeared unlikely his slot in the lineup would bat in the inning. So the Nats simply sent him to the plate again with two outs, to get him an extra plate appearance.

This year, the Oakland A’s are fielding two teams in the Arizona instructional league, the first time I’ve seen an organization field two squads. That’s another reason not to put any value in statistics. What happens when they play each other? Certainly players can move back and forth between the two rosters.

Stats are kept internally, of course, but under the above circumstances you can understand why they wouldn’t be “official.” Another reason is more basic — no official scorer is present at these games. There’s no neutral party to keep score and report it to Major League Baseball Advanced Media, which now keeps official stats for MLB and the minors.

The emphasis is on instruction, as the name implies. For many of the players, this is their first opportunity for intense instruction in the ways of professional baseball. Most organizations have their own unique style of baseball. Angels manager Mike Scioscia has implemented a regimented developmental philosophy and process throughout the organization. It begins with instructional league.

I’ll be at the Angels’ camp for the October 11-15 games. October 11 is against “A’s #1″, October 12 is the Dodgers (the first time I’ll see them since they moved to Glendale from Vero Beach), and October 13 is the Giants. October 14 and 15 are home-and-away games against the Cubs in Mesa.

As always, I’ll bring back plenty of photos and video, not just of the games but also of instruction. Click here for the roster; it will be my first opportunity to see 2010 draft picks such as Kaleb Cowart, Chevy Clarke, Taylor Lindsey, Ryan Bolden and more.

But older players are there too, for one reason or another. Some are making up for lost time due to injury. Others are learning a new position, a new pitch, or trying to fix bad mechanics.

The experience is fascinating for a baseball fan, because a player’s day isn’t focused on winning the game that afternoon. It’s about teaching how to win. And it’s here on the minor league fields of an organization’s complex that the teaching begins.

For a fan, you can walk in for free and watch the training up close. Nearly every Angels player currently on the parent club roster spent at least one fall at instructional league. You can learn as they do.

Aaron Peel Passes Away


Aaron Peel with the Tempe Angels in July 2008.

 

Former Angels minor leaguer Aaron Peel passed away. I was forwarded the below obituary. As soon as I find out anything more, I’ll post it.

SAN ANGELO Aaron Isaac Bradley Peel, 27, on Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2010, our loving son and brother passed away into the Lord’s hands. Aaron was born on Feb. 8, 1983, in Brownfield, Texas, to Ken and Renee Peel. He graduated from Seminole High School in Seminole, Texas. Aaron loved to play sports, especially baseball and basketball. He played so much baseball he earned a full scholarship to Texas A&M and later was drafted by the Anaheim Angels in 2002. Visitation will be held from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 23, 2010, in Johnson’s Funeral Home chapel. Funeral service will be at 2 p.m. Friday, Sept. 24, 2010, at Johnson Street Church of Christ with Dr. Tommy King and Bryan Elliott officiating. Arrangements are under the direction of Johnson’s Funeral Home. Aaron was preceded in death by his grandfather, Jack Peel; and a cousin, Shannon Peel. He is survived by his parents, Ken and Renee Peel; a sister, Amye Cobb and husband Michael of Eldorado, Texas, and their children, Lucy, Jacob and Jace; grandparents Kenneth and JoVeta Hayes of Water Valley, Texas, and Sandra Peel of Sterling City, Texas. He also leaves behind numerous aunts, uncles, cousins and the loves of his life, Marina, and her daughter, Lexi. Pallbearers are Matt Brown, Kevin Jepsen, Rob Guerra, Alex Ramos, Levi Hasty, Ross Whitfield, LJ Glass and Eric Sheets. Honorary pallbearers are Scott Peel, Michael Collins and Greg Porter. Our dear Aaron will be missed by all and his beautiful heart and soul will never be forgotten. Family and friends are invited to sign an online guest book at www.johnsons-funeralhome.com.

The Playoff Picture (as of September 21)

After nine innings of the deciding game in a best-of-five series, the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes and San Jose Giants were tied 6-6. In a way, it would have been fitting to call the series at that point and award co-championships, declaring the teams had fought to a draw.

But as we know, there are no ties in baseball, a champion must be declared, and so on they went to extra innings.

Quakes closer Eddie McKiernan took the mound, his third appearance in four days, and gave up a triple that scored on a sacrifice fly. To the bottom of the 10th, the Giants led 7-6.

In the bottom of the 10th, Mike Trout was hit by a pitch with two outs. He stole second and advanced to third on a bad throw. But Darwin Perez struck out, and San Jose captured the flag.

Thus ended what might have been the last game played by Rancho Cucamonga as an Angels affiliate. The Inland Valley Daily Bulletin reported on September 15 that Brett Sports & Entertainment, the Quakes’ owners, may terminate the affiliation to sign with the Dodgers, who are currently at San Bernardino (called Inland Empire). The Angels would probably replace the Dodgers in San Bernardino, and if so it would be the first affiliation change for the Angels since after the 2000 season.

Some Quakes players continue on to the Angels’ fall instructional league in Tempe. Current Quakes going to “fall ball” include pitchers Orangel Arenas, Ryan Chaffee, Matt Oye, Dillon Baird, Luis Jimenez, Eric Oliver, and Mike Trout.

Seven Angels properties will play in the Arizona Fall League — Ryan Brasier, Robert Fish, Steven Geltz, Eddie McKiernan, Andre Romine, Brandon Wood and Jeremy Moore.

As for FutureAngels.com, I’ll be going to the instructional league for the October 11-15 games.

Once the major league season ends, we’ll start posting the Minor League Game of the Week, which are rebroadcasts of Angels minor league games I’ve archived over the years. These webcasts help with Angels withdrawals over the winter, but they’re also a way to listen to Angels minor league history.

Is it spring yet?

The Playoff Picture (as of September 20)


Manuel Flores threw eight shutout innings Sunday to help the Quakes advance to Game #5 tonight.

 

Manuel Flores wasn’t listed in the 2010 Baseball America Prospect Handbook, and he probably won’t be in the 2011 edition either.

But last night he pitched like the Angels’ top prospect.

Flores pitched eight shutout innings last night as the Quakes beat San Jose 4-0, tying their best-of-five series at two games each. He struck out four, walked one and gave up only five hits.

Luis Jimenez was 2 for 4 with a triple and RBI. Mike Trout was 2 for 4 with an RBI.

Game #5 is tonight at The Epicenter.

The Giants will start staff ace Justin Fitzgerald on three days’ rest. The 24-year old right-hander was 10-6 with a 3.45 ERA. In Game #1, he shut out the Quakes for seven innings, striking out nine, walking none and allowing six hits. If you’re looking for a silver lining, in his last start at Rancho on July 29 Fitzgerald took the loss, giving up four runs on eight hits in five innings.

Kyle Hurst will start for the Quakes. He began the year with Low-A Cedar Rapids, where he had a 2.84 ERA in nine relief appearances. Promoted to Rancho Cucamonga in mid-May, Hurst toiled largely in mid-relief until he joined the starting rotation in early August. In seven starts, Kyle had a 5.05 ERA. If you’re looking for a silver lining, in his last four starts (26 1/3 innings) Hurst had a 2.73 ERA with seventeen strikeouts and four walks.

Tomorrow morning, we’ll know who is the 2010 California League champion.

The Playoff Picture (as of September 19)


Mike Trout was 4 for 5 and hit two homers, but the Quakes lost Saturday 12-7 in 11 innings.

 

It was everything you’d want in a championship playoff game — except for the final score, if you’re a Quakes fan.

The Quakes had an early lead, gave it up, got it back, lost it again, rallied to score three runs in the bottom of the 8th to tie it up, went into extra innings, but fell apart in the top of the 11th to lose 12-7 to the Giants.

So now San Jose goes up two games to one in the best-of-five series. Rancho Cucamonga must win today and tomorrow, or the Giants repeat as California League champions.

Mike Trout was 4 for 5, hit two homers, scored four runs and drove in two, and took a walk for good measure.

Starter Ryan Chaffee gave up three runs (one earned) on four hits in six innings with three strikeouts and two walks. Jose Perez took the loss in relief; he gave up all five runs (four earned) in the top of the 11th. You can grouse about the three unearned runs, but San Jose committed four errors and the Quakes scored only two unearned runs, so the opportunities were there.

Game #4 is 5:05 PM PDT today at The Epicenter. Left-hander Manuel Flores (5-9, 4.23 ERA) is the scheduled starting pitcher for the Quakes, while righty Oliver Odle (12-7, 5.78 ERA) starts for San Jose.

The Playoff Picture (as of September 18)


Garrett Richards struck out eight and gave up only two hits in seven innings as the Quakes evened the series Friday night at San Jose.

 

The Quakes are on a bus somewhere in Central California as they head home to Rancho Cucamonga for Game #3 of their championship series against San Jose.

The Giants are on their own bus, but they face the challenge of winning two out of three on the road if they want to capture the flag. The Quakes must win two out of three as well, but they’ll do it in front of their own fans.

Quakes ace Garrett Richards delivered last night, allowing only one run on two hits while striking out eight and walking only one.

The unlikely hero was Jon Townsend, a utility infielder who evolved into the Quakes’ starting second baseman most nights in the second half. Townsend, an undrafted college senior signed in July 2008 by Tom Kotchman, hit only .243 in 2010 and had a slugging percentage of just .354.

But Jon had a career game last night, three for four with a homer and double for 2 RBI.

So it’s on to Game #3 tonight at The Epicenter.

Ryan Chaffee is the scheduled starting pitcher for Rancho Cucamonga. Considered one of the Angels’ better pitching prospects, Chaffee (another Tom Kotchman sign) was 8-8 with a 4.33 ERA in 2009 for Cedar Rapids.

2010 has been a disaster. Chaffee lost his confidence and his control, ending the season 7-6 with a 6.36 ERA in 20 starts (104 2/3 innings). But in his last three regular-season starts, Ryan showed a glimmer of hope, giving up five earned runs in 20 1/3 innings with 16 strikeouts and three walks. Chaffee also won the deciding game of the Quakes’ three-game series with Lake Elsinore on September 13, allowing one run on two hits in seven innings with five strikeouts and four walks.

Chaffee will face Kyle Woodruff, who was 3-3 with a 3.02 ERA in 83 1/3 innings for San Jose. Woodruff was a reliever until he moved into the Giants’ starting rotation in late July, making eight starts in the second half. As a starter, Woodruff had a 2.70 ERA. Kyle started for San Jose at The Epicenter on July 27, giving up two runs on four hits in six innings.

Meanwhile, nothing new on the Quakes-Dodgers affiliation rumor. I’ve checked with several sources, and about all I’ve been able to determine is … well, there’s this rumor.

The Playoff Picture (as of September 17)

The Quakes were blown out 10-0 last night at San Jose, falling behind 1-0 in their best-of-five series for the California League pennant.

If you think precedent is a sign of things to come, then you should be happy.

The Quakes lost Game #1 of their last series, the best-of-five for the South Division title against Lake Elsinore. Rancho lost that one 5-0, committing seven errors. The Quakes went on to win the next three straight.

Game #2 is tonight at San Jose. Garrett Richards is the announced starting pitcher for the Quakes, with Kelvin Marte starting for the Giants.

Richards began 2010 with the Cedar Rapids Kernels in the Low-A Midwest League. In 19 starts, he was 8-4 with a 3.41 ERA. In 108 1/3 innings, he struck out 108 and walked 34. Promoted to High-A Rancho Cucamonga in late July, Richards was 4-1 with a 3.89 ERA for the Quakes. In seven starts (34 2/3 innings), he struck out 41 and walked nine.

Come November, Richards may be ranked the Angels’ top pitching prospect on the 2010 FutureAngels.com Top 10 Prospects report. I filmed his May 2 bullpen session at Cedar Rapids, so you get to see his pitch location and movement much closer than game action. Click here to watch the video. Windows Media Player and a broadband (cable modem, DSL) Internet connection required.

Marte pitched this year at three levels in the Giants’ system. I’m guessing he was rehabbing from an injury, because he pitched in relief for six games in July with the Giants’ Rookie-A team in the Arizona League. He moved up to Low-A Augusta in the South Atlantic League where he appeared in seven games, making four starts. In 26 1/3 innings, Marte had a 2.73 ERA, striking out 16 and walking seven. He made one start for San Jose on September 4, giving up six runs in 3 2/3 innings to Visalia. In Game #2 of their playoff series against Modesto, Marte gave up three runs on nine hits in 4 2/3 innings with no strikeouts and a walk.

Elsewhere …

I haven’t found out much more about the hot rumor that the Quakes will dump the Angels for the Dodgers. Lots more rumors, but not much in the way of facts. I suspect we’ll hear more once the playoff series is over.

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