Results tagged ‘ Cedar Rapids Kernels ’

The Playoff Picture


Jeremy Moore tripled with one out in the top of the 9th, and scored on Jay Brossman’s single, to give the Quakes the lead run Thursday and an eventual 3-0 win at Lake Elsinore.

 

The last will be first, and the first will be last.

– Matthew 20:16

Unlikely upsets last night have two Angels affiliates moving up to the next round of their leagues’ playoffs.

The Rancho Cucamonga Quakes finished 2009 with an overall record of 61-79, the worst ever in California League history for a team that qualified for the post-season. They faced Lake Elsinore (73-67) in a best-of-three series between the South Division’s two wild-card teams, while High Desert (who won both halves of the season) got a bye.

The Storm got the home field advantage, which meant Games #2 and #3 would be at The Diamond. The Quakes hosted Game #1 at The Epicenter on Wednesday and won 6-5, forcing Lake Elsinore to win both remaining games at home. But Manuel Flores pitched seven shutout innings last night, the Quakes scored three runs in the top of the 9th led by a Jeremy Moore triple, and the Storm lost 3-0 to be eliminated.

The Quakes advance to a best-of-five series against the Mavericks (83-57) which starts Saturday in High Desert. Games #1 and #2 are in Adelanto, #3 and #4 in Rancho on Monday and Tuesday, and #5 in High Desert. Of course, #4 and #5 are only if necessary.

It’s the first time a Quakes team has advanced in the playoffs since becoming an Angels affiliate for the 2001 season. It’s also the first time an Angels affiliate has advanced since they were affiliated with Lake Elsinore in 1996, when they went on to an improbable California League pennant. The Storm that year were 35-35 in the first half to finish third in the South Division, and in the second half were 40-30 to finish second. They were the division’s wild card and faced Rancho Cucamonga in a best-of-three series similar to this week’s pairing. The Storm took that series, no big upset as the Quakes were only 31-39 in the second half. But Lake Elsinore went on to knock off High Desert (41-29 in the second half) for the South Division title. They then faced the San Jose Giants, who had won both halves of the North Division with an overall 89-51 record. The Storm upset San Jose three games to two to win the pennant.

That also happens to be the only ring I have from a pennant winner. The Storm allowed certain fans who’d helped the team to order replica rings personalized with their names. So I have a Storm 1996 pennant ring in the drawer.

It wasn’t that much of an upset, because the teams were more evenly matched, but the Cedar Rapids Kernels (78-60 overall) eliminated the Peoria Chiefs (81-57 overall) last night at Veterans Memorial Stadium, to win their best-of-three series 2-0. Peoria was 43-26 in the second half, the Kernels 38-30. C.R. was only 18-17 in August-September while Peoria was red-hot at 25-11.  Head-to-head, the Chiefs beat the Kernels eight games to three this year.  But the Kernels won 6-4 Wednesday at Peoria, then last night fought back from an early 4-0 deficit to win 9-8.

It was literally a “walk-off” win, pushing across two runs in the bottom of the 9th. The Kernels drew four walks to force in one run to tie the game at 8-8, then Matt Crawford was hit by a pitch to force in Dwayne Bailey with the winning run.

The Kernels move on to face the Burlington Bees (64-75 overall), who upset Kane County (76-64 overall) in their best-of-three series. The three-game series begins Saturday at Burlington, with Games #2 and (if necessary) #3 at The Vet.

Not to be overlooked are Tom Kotchman’s Orem Owlz. Their 4-3 win last night against rival Ogden gave them a 31-6 record in the second half, a Pioneer League record for best second-half record. The Owlz finish their regular season tonight at Ogden, then face the Raptors in a best-of-three series for the South Division title. Game #1 is Saturday at Orem, with Games #2 and (if necessary) #3 in Ogden.

The Playoff Picture

Yogi Berra famously said, “It ain’t over ’til it’s over.”

Well, it’s over.

Salt Lake and Arkansas have been eliminated from post-season contention, and finish their regular season schedules today.

Rancho Cucamonga and Cedar Rapids also finish their regular season schedules today, but they’re going to the post-season.

Despite a poor year, the Quakes are in the post-season due to how the California League playoff system works. High Desert won both halves of the South Division, so the second- and third-best teams by overall winning percentage play in a best-of-three series while the Mavericks get a bye. So the Quakes (61-78) will host the Storm (73-66) on Wednesday, with Games #2 and (if necessary) #3 Thursday and Friday at Lake Elsinore.

The Kernels (77-60) play Peoria (80-57) in a best-of-three series starting Wednesday at Peoria. Games #2 and (if necessary) #3 will be Thursday and Friday at Cedar Rapids. The Kernels get the home field advantage because they qualified in the first half but Peoria didn’t.

The Orem Owlz (47-24) play through Friday 9/11, then begin their three-game series against Ogden (41-30) on Saturday 9/12 at Orem. Games #2 and (if necessary) #3 are Sunday and Monday at Ogden, which won the first half title.

The Tempe Angels (38-18) qualified for the playoffs but lost to the Scottsdale Giants (39-17) in the Arizona League playoffs.

The Playoff Picture (Through August 30)

Here’s an update on where each affiliate stands in their pursuit of the post-season.

Salt Lake — The Pacific Coast League is a full-season league, no split-season schedule, so the Bees must win their division outright to qualify for the playoffs. I’d given them up for dead when they lost three straight August 24-26, but they just beat division leader Colorado Springs three straight to move within 4½ of first place. The Bees are 65-69, the Sky Sox are 69-64. Tacoma (69-66) is in second place, one game behind Colorado Springs. The Bees have nine games left, including today’s game at Colorado Springs and then four on the road at Tacoma. They ain’t dead yet.

Arkansas — The Travelers finished 28-42 in the first half, ten games behind Springfield in the Texas League North Division. They’re currently 28-33 in the second half, five games behind Northwest Arkansas (33-28). Tulsa (32-29) trails Northwest Arkansas by a game. The Travs and Springfield are tied at 28-33. They have nine games left on the schedule — two against Springfield, then four at home at Northwest Arkansas, and finally three on the road at Springfield. The Travs remain on the periphery with a little more than a week to go; if they go off on a hot streak they still have a chance.

Rancho Cucamonga — The Quakes finished 30-40 in the first half, 13 games behind South Division first-half winner High Desert. The California League has rather unusual post-season eligibility rules. The first-half winner in each division get a bye, while the second-half winner faces the team with the next best overall record in a best-of-three series. If High Desert wins both halves, then the teams with the second and third best records will face each other. In the second half, the Quakes are 29-33, six games behind the Mavericks (35-27). They’ve won three of their last four but lost power-hitter Matt Sweeney in the Scott Kazmir trade. They’re currently two games behind Lake Elsinore (31-31) and two games ahead of Lancaster (27-35). In the overall standings, after the Mavs the Storm (70-62) have clinched the second-best record so the Quakes (59-73) must finish third overall to qualify for the wild card. They currently have a two-game lead over Inland Empire (57-75) with eight games to go, none of them against division opponents. To make it simple, the Quakes have to hold that third-place lead through the rest of the regular season to make the playoffs.

Cedar Rapids — The Kernels finished 40-30 in the first half, good enough for second place one game behind Kane County, so under Midwest League rules they’re in. They’ll face the Peoria Chiefs in the first round of the West Division playoffs.

Orem — Tom Kotchman does it again. The Owlz’ 20-18 first half record in the Pioneer League’s South Division was only good enough for third place, so they need to win the division outright in the second half. As Kotch teams almost always do, they kicked into high gear in the second half for a 22-3 record so far and a seven-game lead over Idaho Falls (15-10). Rival Ogden won the first half. The Owlz have 13 games left in the second half, so short of a total collapse they’re going to the post-season. Garrett Richards continues to emerge as the staff ace, striking out eight and walking none in eight shutout innings last night at Idaho Falls.

Tempe — The Tempe Angels beat the Scottsdale Giants 1-0 last night in 12 innings in their regular season finale, to finish in a 20-8 first-place tie with the Giants. They meet tonight at 7:00 PM MDT at Scottsdale for a one-game playoff to determine the East Division champion. The winner goes on to play the West Division champion Peoria Mariners on Monday for the Arizona League title. Tempe’s overall record for the season was 38-18, one game behind Scottsdale (39-17).

The Playoff Picture (August 24)

I wrote on August 18 a review of where each Angels minor league affiliate stands in the pursuit of the post-season. I’ll update this each week until the regular season ends.

Salt Lake — The Pacific Coast League is a full-season league, no split-season schedule, so the Bees must win their division outright to qualify for the playoffs. The Bees are currently 62-66 and trail Colorado Springs by six games with 15 games left, including five at Colorado Springs August 26-30. Tacoma is now a half-game ahead of the Bees; Salt Lake is at Tacoma August 31-September 3.

Arkansas — The Travelers finished 28-42 in the first half, ten games behind Springfield in the Texas League North Division. They’re currently 24-30 in the second half, 5½ games behind Tulsa. Northwest Arkansas trails Tulsa by a game. They have 16 games left on the schedule, including four August 25-28 at Tulsa and four at home September 1-4 against Northwest Arkansas. While it’s not impossible for the Travs to win the division, it’s rather unlikely unless they go off on a really hot winning streak, and they did shave two games off their deficit this last week.

Rancho Cucamonga — The Quakes finished 30-40 in the first half, 13 games behind High Desert in the South Division, which won the first half. The California League has rather unusual post-season eligibility rules. The first-half winner in each division get a bye, while the second-half winner faces the team with the next best overall record in a best-of-three series. If High Desert wins both halves, then the teams with the second and third best records will face each other. In the second half, the Quakes are 26-30, five games behind the Mavericks. They had a poor week, going 1-5 to fall behind Lancaster (27-29) and tie with Lake Elsinore (26-30). In the overall standings, after the Mavs it’s Lake Elsinore (65-61) with a nine-game lead over the Quakes (56-70), and then Inland Empire (53-73) and Lancaster (53-73) three games behind the Quakes. At this point, with fourteen games left, it looks like Rancho’s best bet is to finish third in the overall standings and make the playoffs as a wild card. One oddity in their schedule is that they end the regular season on the road in the North Division for seven games, so their ability to knock off rivals down the stretch will be limited. Clear as mud?

Cedar Rapids — The Kernels finished 40-30 in the first half, good enough for second place one game behind Kane County, so under Midwest League rules they’re in. It’s way too early to say who’ll they’ll face in the first round of the West Division playoffs. In the second half, the Kernels are 30-26 with an overall record of 70-56, second-best in the division behind 72-52 Peoria.


UPDATE August 25, 2009 — According to Jeff Johnson at the Cedar Rapids Gazette, the Kernels will probably face Peoria in the first round of the Midwest League playoffs.


Orem — Tom Kotchman does it again. The Owlz’ 20-18 first half record in the Pioneer League’s South Division was only good enough for third place, so they need to win the division outright in the second half. They ran off a fifteen-game winning streak and now have an 18-2 record with a six-game lead over Idaho Falls. Rival Ogden won the first half. The Owlz have 18 games left in the second half, so short of a total collapse they’re going to the post-season. One big factor is that Kotch’s top starting pitcher prospects are stretching out their innings, with Garrett Richards perhaps emerging as the staff ace.

Tempe — The Tempe Angels have been great, but the Scottsdale Giants have been greater. Scottsdale won the Arizona League’s East Division in the first half by one game over Tempe, which finished 18-10. In the second half, Tempe is 16-7 but trails Scottsdale (18-5) by two games with five games left. If Scottsdale wins both halves, they get a bye and the Angels are out. Tempe can help themselves by beating the Giants in the two games they have against each other, starting tonight at Scottsdale. If the Angels don’t win tonight, it’s pretty much over. If they end up tied in the second half, then to go to the playoffs the Angels would need to have won the head-to-head series this season against the Giants. The Angels lead that series 4-3, so if they can knock off the Giants in both games then they’ve looking pretty good. But they really need to win tonight.

The Playoff Picture

With about three weeks left to go in the minor league seasons, here’s the playoff picture for each of the Angels affiliates.

Salt Lake — The Pacific Coast League is a full-season league, no split-season schedule, so the Bees must win their division outright to qualify for the playoffs. The Bees are currently 59-64 and trail Colorado Springs by 5½ games with 21 games left, including five at Colorado Springs August 26-30.

Arkansas — The Travelers finished 28-42 in the first half, ten games behind Springfield in the Texas League North Division. They’re currently 21-28 in the second half, 7½ games behind Northwest Arkansas. They have 21 games left on the schedule, including four at home against Northwest Arkansas. They’d also have to leapfrog Tulsa, which is two games out of first; they have four games next week at Tulsa. While it’s not impossible for the Travs to win the division, it’s rather unlikely unless they go off on a really hot winning streak.

Rancho Cucamonga — The Quakes finished 30-40 in the first half, 13 games behind High Desert in the South Division. In the second half, the Quakes are 25-25 and only one game behind the Mavericks. The California League has rather unusual post-season eligibility rules. The first-half winner in each division get a bye, while the second-half winner faces the team with the next best overall record in a best-of-three series. If High Desert wins both halves, then the teams with the second and third best records will face each other. If the Quakes win the South Division in the second half, they would face the team with the next best overall record, which would currently be Lake Elsinore at 61-59 (followed by the Quakes at 55-65). If High Desert wins the second half, again the I-15 rivals would face each other. Rancho has 20 games left, and three other teams are within four games of them in the second-half standings, so for now it’s anybody’s race.

Cedar Rapids — The Kernels finished 40-30 in the first half, good enough for second place one game behind Kane County, so under Midwest League rules they’re in. It’s way too early to say who’ll they’ll face in the first round of the West Division playoffs. In the second half, the Kernels are 27-24 with an overall record of 67-54, second-best in the division behind 68-51 Peoria.

Orem — What would the post-season be without Tom Kotchman? The Owlz’ 20-18 first half record in the Pioneer League’s South Division was only good enough for third place, so they need to win the division outright in the second half. That’s what they’re doing, as they’ve won eleven straight to post a 12-1 record and a 4½ game lead over Idaho Falls. Rival Ogden won the first half. The Owlz have 25 games left in the second half, with three at Idaho Falls on August 28-30, so it’s a bit early to declare them the second-half winner. But given Kotch’s track record, I wouldn’t bet against him.

Tempe — The Tempe Angels have been great, but the Scottsdale Giants have been greater. Scottsdale won the Arizona League’s East Division in the first half by one game over Tempe, which finished 18-10. In the second half, Tempe is 13-6 but trails Scottsdale by 2½ games. With two teams added to the AZL this year, divisional playoffs are new so it’s unclear to me what happens if the same team wins both halves. Let’s assume the team with the next best record goes to the first-round playoff for the division title. In that scenario, the Giants at 34-12 are 3½ games ahead of the 31-16 Angels, and the 27-20 Mesa Cubs trail the Angels by four games. Tempe has nine games left in the regular season, so their post-season chances look pretty good. They have two games left with the Giants, at Scottsdale on August 24 and at Tempe to close the season on August 29.


UPDATE August 19, 2009 1:00 PM PDT — Per the Angels staff in Tempe, if Scottsdale wins both halves of the AZL East Division then they get a bye in the first round, so Tempe has to win the second half to go to the post-season. Tempe is currently three games behind Scottsdale with nine games to go, including two with the Giants.

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.

2008 Top 10 Prospects at the Half

Ryan Chaffee
Ryan Chaffee was ranked #6 last November on the FutureAngels.com Top 10 Prospects list. He’ll represent the Cedar Rapids Kernels in the Midwest League All-Star Game.

 

The 2008 FutureAngels.com Top 10 Prospects report was published last November. We’re now about halfway through the 2009 season, so let’s take a quick look at how they’re proceeding.

A disclaimer … Prospect rankings are always shifting, whether it’s a professional analysis by Baseball America, or semi-pro reporting by those such as Baseball Prospectus, John Sickels and myself. They’re simply a snapshot in time. Some may claim their expertise is infallible (those would be the amateur/fan sites), but the truth is we’re all guessing based on the facts as we have them at the time, and what’s most important to us for the future. I have the advantage of following the Angels full-time, while those others scatter their resources across thirty organizations.

Presented in reverse order, just as they were last November:

10. Luis Jimenez 3B — I wrote last November that “Lucho” had been relegated to DH duty since August 8 after injuring his throwing shoulder in a game. He wound up undergoing labrum surgery and is currently on rehab at the Angels’ minor league complex in Tempe. When I visited during extended spring training, the scuttlebutt was that he might DH the rest of the year, but so far he’s still disabled. How well he recovers may determine if he remains at the Hot Corner or moves to a corner outfield position.

9. Matt Brown 3B-1B — Brownie turned heads in spring training when he posted an AVG/OBP/SLG of .468/.527/.787 (47 AB), but he’s just another example of how much caution should be used when analyzing spring numbers. Matt hit just .189 in April with only one homer. He’s picked it up a bit since then, but overall his numbers are still just .223/.324/.429. Originally a third baseman, he’s played mostly first base to give him another position on the résumé. He turns 27 in August and can be a six-year minor league free agent this winter if the Angels don’t protect him on the 40-man roster.

8. Kevin Jepsen RHP — Jepsen injured his lower back early in the season and went on the disabled list April 21 with tightness and spasms. The Angels sent him to Salt Lake first as a rehab assignment and then outright when he came off the DL, but his 9.00 ERA and 2.56 WHIP (Hits + Walks)/(Innings Pitched) in 18 innings showed little to suggest progress. The Angels recalled him anyway on June 10 when they demoted Jose Arredondo; in five innings, he’s allowed four runs on eight hits, struck out four and walked none.

7. Peter Bourjos CF — Bourjos has fulfilled expectations with Double-A Arkansas, earning a spot on the Texas League North Division All-Star team. Due to a sprained left wrist suffered during batting practice on June 4, he won’t be able to participate, but up to that point his numbers were excellent for a 22-year old in Double-A. His AVG/OBP/SLG were .316/.366/.454; because his home park is so pitcher-friendly, it’s important to note that his home/away splits are very similar so there’s no reason for “adjustment” to his overall numbers. Pete could improve his OBP by taking more walks, and he could work at reducing his strikeout rate (once every 5.2 AB), but those are common nitpicks for young hitters at upper levels. In the stolen base department, he was 14 for 20, a bit of a slowdown in his usual theft rate. His defense in center field has been excellent, having not committed a single error and among the league leaders in outfield putouts when injured.

6. Ryan Chaffee RHP — I took a lot of grief from the amateur/fan sites for this one, but so far Chaffee has shown he deserved the recognition. Drafted in the third round of the June 2008 draft, Chaffee was unable to pitch professionally last year due to a broken foot that eventually required corrective surgery. His winter workouts in Tempe drew rave reviews. Although he was projected to report to Rookie-A Orem in June, he was assigned out of extended spring training to Class A Cedar Rapids in April 25 as pitching promotions cascaded throughout the organization in the wake of injuries at the parent club level. Chaffee didn’t disappoint. Despite his late arrival, he was voted by league managers onto the Midwest League West Division All-Star team. His overall numbers to date are a 2.83 ERA in 11 starts (60.1 IP) with a 66:29 SO:BB ratio. His groundouts to all other outs (GO/AO) ratio is an outstanding 3.38, and his AVG against is .176. Ryan turned 21 on May 18; I won’t be surprised if he gets a promotion to Rancho Cucamonga after the All-Star break, certainly before season’s end.

5. Nick Adenhart RHP — Despite a poor 2008, Nick made the parent club roster out of spring training after the Angels lost John Lackey and Ervin Santana. He made his first start on April 8 in Anaheim against Oakland, and pitched six shutout innings. Later that night, he was killed by an alleged drunk driver. The loss to baseball is insignificant compared to that suffered by his family, loved ones, and the many people whose lives he touched.

4. Hank Conger C — The first question to be answered was, “Will Hank Conger ever catch again?” The answer is yes. He’s caught in 40 of the 58 games in which he’s appeared this year, having twice caught in seven straight games when he was in the lineup, so no questions are left about his shoulder holding up. His defense has been acceptable too — a .980 fielding average, only six errors so far, and he’s thrown out 14 of 39 runners (35.9%), which ranks third among Texas League regular catchers, although the caught-runners stat is dependent upon the ability of a pitcher to hold a runner on base. So let’s talk about his offense. That aspect of his game has been disappointing, although it’s important to remember he’s a 21-year old only two steps from the majors; there will be guys younger than him starting their pro careers this week at Orem and Tempe. His overall AVG/OBP/SLG are .265/.318/.352. I’ve written many times that the Travelers play in perhaps the most pitcher-friendly park in the league, yet surprisingly his offense numbers are much better at home (.296/.346/.417) than on the road (.234/.282/.287). One good sign is that his strikeout rate is excellent for a power hitter, once every 5.8 AB. He may wind up repeating the Texas League in 2010 if the power numbers don’t pick up, but that was the one aspect of his game no one worried about until now. Everything else is looking good.

3. Mark Trumbo 1B — There was every reason to think Trumbo would have a good 2009 with the Travelers. In 132 AB at the end of 2008, Mark posted an AVG/OBP/SLG of .276/.311/.496; on the road, those numbers were .357/.410/.661 (61 AB). But so far, he’s failed to repeat that performance in his first full Double-A season. His overall numbers are .238/.288/.383 (240 AB), with his road numbers .242/.278/.371 (124 AB). He’s shown some life in his last ten games, batting .333/.350/.513 with five doubles and a triple. Defense is always hard to measure statistically, but if you compare his numbers to the league leaders they’re very competitive. Hopefully he builds on his recent streak into the second half.

2. Jordan Walden RHP — Walden missed a month (April 21 to May 19) due to an inflamed right elbow muscle, so it’s hard to get a read on how much that’s been affecting him. His overall numbers are a bit lackluster — 4.12 ERA, 1.63 WHIP, .298 AVG — but in June they’re much better — 1.90 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, .258 AVG. In his four June starts, he’s struck out 27 in 23.2 IP, suggesting the elbow problem may have passed. I like that he’s given up only three homers (one in June), which is a good sign as when he’s going well he rarely gives up dingers.

1. Will Smith LHP — Another controversial ranking for which I caught grief, but overall I’m still confident about his top ranking. (I will note, though, that last November I predicted Chaffee could be #1 for 2009.) Will’s numbers are a bit deceiving, because he got hurt early when he strained his left hamstring in his second start on April 18. Smith returned three weeks later on May 7 and got bombed, which I dismiss because he hadn’t pitched in a while. If you look at his numbers since then, he’s had eight starts, 54.1 IP, a 2.98 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 48 strikeouts and 10 walks. Not quite the insane 76:6 SO:BB ratio in 73 IP last year at Orem, but still very impressive for a 19-year old in the Midwest League. (He turns 20 on July 10.) The injury probably cost him a nomination to the All-Star Game. A defensive note — six of nine runners against him have been caught stealing, but that could be credited to his catcher as well as Will. In any case, this 6’5″ southpaw (with room to grow) continues to look as if he may evolve into a dominant pitcher, with a late-season promotion to Advanced-A Rancho Cucamonga not out of the question.


UPDATE June 23, 2009 10:30 AM PDT — This morning’s Cedar Rapids Gazette had a lengthy article about Ryan Chaffee and the other Kernels chosen for tonight’s Midwest League All-Star Game. Kernels manager Bill Mosiello had this to say about Chaffee:

“He needs to make a lot of changes,” Kernels Manager Bill Mosiello said. “He needs to not try and trick every hitter and pitch around everybody. Like the other day, he gives up one run but throws 98 pitches in five innings. If he continues to do that, he’s not going to be able to pitch very long.

“But he’s been good since day one. Sometimes in their minds, they are developing. Maybe they’re not physically showing it, but I think he’s learning … He’s going through the process, still learning. It’s like I told him, it’s pretty neat to learn like that giving up only one run. Hopefully he’ll make the adjustments in his next start and as he gets older.”

The 20/20 Hindsight Top 10 Prospects

Alexi Amarista
Kernels second baseman Alexi Amarista will play in Tuesday’s Midwest League All-Star Game. He’s batting .310 and has 22 stolen bases.

 

The first half for most full-season minor leagues ends this weekend. I’ll wait until then to take a mid-season look at the players listed last November in my 2008 Top 10 Prospects report.

Let’s take a look at guys who might have made my list had I possessed a working crystal ball:

RHP Matt Palmer was a journeyman pitcher signed by the Angels over the winter as a six-year minor league free agent from the Giants’ system. Palmer found himself in the big leagues only because of a rash of injuries to the Angels’ starting rotation. The Angels lost John Lackey, Ervin Santana, Kelvim Escobar, Dustin Moseley and Shane Loux, and worst of all the death of Nick Adenhart. At age 30, Palmer is no one’s idea of a future Hall of Famer, but he provided quality innings at the back of the rotation when it was desperately needed. As of this writing, he has a 6-0 record and a 4.13 ERA in 56.2 innings.

LHP Trevor Reckling appeared on many Top 10 lists. He almost made mine — if there’d been a #11, it would have been him — but I wanted to see how his mechanics held up over another full season before I gave him Top 10 status. Trevor began 2009 at age 19 with High-A Rancho Cucamonga. He made only three starts before Nick Adenhart’s death rippled through the organization. Sean O’Sullivan moved up from Double-A Arkansas to Triple-A Salt Lake, and Reck moved up to fill Sully’s spot. He’s responded beyond all expectations, becoming one of six Travelers named to the Texas League All-Star Game. He turned 20 on May 22, one of the youngest pitchers in the league. Reckling has been shaky in his last three starts, walking 15 in 17.1 innings, which could be mechanical issues, fatigue or just the league catching up with him. It’s also important to note that Dickey-Stephens Park is very pitcher-friendly; it you look at his home/road splits, his home ERA is 1.72 (36.2 IP) but his road ERA is 4.57 (21.2 IP). The second half will be key, to see if fatigue catches up to him and if the extreme home/road split continues.

RHP Trevor Bell, a supplemental draft pick after the first round in June 2005, was generally considered to be a disappointment coming into 2009. Last season found him demoted from Rancho Cucamonga to Cedar Rapids as a disciplinary action, and when he returned to the Quakes he was in the bullpen. There was little reason to think he’d step it up in 2009, join Double-A Arkansas in the starting rotation, be named to the Texas League All-Star Game and be promoted to Triple-A Salt Lake before mid-season. Bell posted a 2.23 ERA in 11 starts (68.2 IP) with 51 strikeouts and 20 walks. But how’s about that home/away split we talked about? Good news. His home ERA was 2.25 (44.0 IP), his road ERA was 2.19 (24.2 IP). He gave up only one homer in the first half, and that was at home. In his first Triple-A start on June 16, Bell went the distance at home against Colorado Springs, pitching a two-hit shutout in hitter-friendly Spring Mobile Ballpark.

2B Alexi Amarista is charitably listed at 5’8″ 150 lbs., but the 20-year old Venezuelan has hit his way into the Midwest League All-Star Game for the Kernels. His glove got him named the Angels’ defensive player of the month for April, committing no errors in 77 chances (although he’s committed nine since then). Amarista has fallen back to earth in June, batting .261 to date. A left-handed batter, he generally lacks power with no homers and a .424 SLG, but he makes up for it with speed, notching 22 stolen bases to date in 32 attempts. His SO:BB ratio is nearly 1:1 (33:27 in 245 AB) and fits well into the Angels’ “Contactball” style of play, striking out once every 7.4 at-bats.

OF Chris Pettit roared out of the gate with an AVG/OBP/SLG of .424/.451/.636 in April for the Salt Lake Bees. The 24-year old outfielder was an unknown when he was selected as a college senior in the 19th round of the 2006 draft, but he’s hit well at each level and was well on his way to establishing himself as a legit prospect when he broke the hamate bone in his left hand on June 4 and may be out for the year. Although he’s seen action at all three outfield positions in his career, he’s best suited for the corners and played mostly LF for the Bees. I’ve written many times here about the importance of splitting out the PCL’s five hitter-friendly parks (Salt Lake, Colorado Springs, Albuquerque, Las Vegas and Reno) from the rest to get an accurate picture of a hitter’s performance; when we do that with Chris, his AVG/OBP/SLG in hitter-friendly parks were .393/.442/.580 (150 AB) and in the rest were .283/.306/.478 (46 AB). Those numbers suggest his offense was largely due to the parks, but we’ll have to wait and see after he returns from the injury if he can retain his prospect status.

OF Jeremy Moore is the quintessential “project,” a potential five-tool player if he can ever harness his raw talents. Last year at Cedar Rapids, his AVG/OBP/SLG were .240/.284/.478, the latter number reflecting an explosion of power (11 doubles, 12 triples, 17 homers). He stole 28 bases in 38 attempts, but his frightening 125:21 SO:BB (5.9:1) ratio suggested problems at higher levels. This year at Rancho Cucamonga, Moore has improved his AVG and OBP; his numbers are now .309/.352/.458. His SO:BB ratio of 70:14 (5.0:1) is better than 2008, but his strikeouts have increased with his walks. The Cal League is a notorious hitter’s league, so that should also be taken into consideration. His stolen bases are down too, with only seven in 18 attempts. The left-handed hitting Moore is batting .384 against southpaw pitchers (73 AB), .276 against righties (163 AB). He turns 22 on June 29 (Happy Birthday, J-Mo).

The Cedar Rapids Kernels bullpen deserves a lot of credit for the team qualifying for the post-season by finishing first or second in the first half (that’ll be decided this weekend). ERA isn’t always the best number to measure a relief pitcher’s success, so let’s go with WHIP (Walks + Hits)/(Innings Pitched). LHP Drew Taylor has a WHIP of 0.93 and AVG against of .132, RHP Michael Kohn has 0.89 and .165, RHP Jeremy Thorne has 1.12 and .226, and RHP Vladimir Veras has 0.96 and .163. Kohn and Veras close most of the time; Kohn has 11 saves and Veras has 10. Taylor is averaging 15.5 strikeouts per nine innings, Kohn 14.2 and Veras 10.5. Taylor, a 34th round pick, might move up fastest due to his age (23 in August) and the fact that he’s left-handed, but he struggled with Rancho in April when he had a 2.82 WHIP in five relief appearances before returning to C.R. Orem manager Tom Kotchman told me last year that Taylor was a great scouting job by Chris McAlpin, and may project as a situation lefty with 87-91 MPH velocity and a slider.

It’s no surprise that an organization that values pitching so highly should be so deep in pitching. Yes, there’s a lack of power hitters, but if the parent club ever sees the need to make a trade they certainly have a lot of pitching to offer in return, and baseball professionals will tell you that pitching is the coin of the realm.


UPDATE 2:30 PM PDT — I wanted to add a comment about Salt Lake outfielder Terry Evans. Terry made the 2007 FutureAngels.com Top 10 Prospects list after making his major league debut that year, but he missed most of 2008 after suffering a torn right labrum in a slide at home plate on May 6. Evans fell off the prospect radar but is trying to play his way back into the Angels’ plans. His overall AVG/OBP/SLG are .284/.330/.521, but as with Pettit we need to split his numbers into hitter-friendly and other parks. His hitter-friendly numbers are .292/.344/.536 (192 AB), and in other parks .261/.288/.478 (69 AB). This mirrored what I saw in 2007; Terry was never one to take many walks, but almost all of them were in hitter-friendly parks. Why he takes almost no walks in neutral/pitcher-friendly parks, I can’t explain. In any case, the “neutral” numbers along with his high strikeout rate (once every 3.4 AB) suggest he’s not quite ready for prime time prospect status just yet, and at age 27 he may be about out of time.

Burlington Hawk Eye on “Sugar”

Back on April 3, I wrote about Sugar, a remarkable film about the minor league career of a Dominican pitcher.

It was a delight for those of us who know Iowa baseball locations, and today’s Burlington Hawk Eye has an article about Burlington locations used in the film along with a general overview of the story. I’m glad they didn’t give away the ending, because it’s not what you expect.

Click Here for the official movie web site.

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