Results tagged ‘ Minor League baseball ’

Cubs Could Be Better Than Many People Think

It’s been quite awhile since people have whole heartedly believed in the Cubs.

CubsBut let’s face it. They haven’t had a reason to believe for the past several years. With the Cubs having failed to even make the postseason since 2008, not having made a World Series appearance since 1945, and currently holding a 107-year World Championship drought, the Cubs’ fan base has been nothing but disappointed for a long time.

The Cubs, however, have finally put together what could prove to be a formidable team that fans could actually get behind. In fact, many Cubs fans are getting so behind this year’s roster that they have visions of a World Series title to round out the coming season. While I like their optimism, and wouldn’t be too stunned if it happened, I don’t think it will necessarily occur in 2015. I think it will be 2016 at the earliest before the World Series becomes a possibility.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t think the Cubs will have an amazing team this year. Although a lot of people are saying that the Cubs are extremely overhyped and stand little chance of doing much of anything this season, I actually believe in the club they have.

First off, their new manager, Joe Maddon, has proven to be one of the best in baseball — not necessarily for his winning records but for his ability to get the most out of each and every one of his players. His addition to the club house will have an immeasurable impact on the Cubs in my mind.

As far as the players themselves are concerned, it’s a talented group of characters the Cubs are going to be putting on the field throughout the season.

The one weakness a lot of people foresee, however, is their pitching staff, consisting of guys like Travis Wood, Tsuyoshi Wada and Kyle Hendricks. While those players aren’t the worst pitchers in baseball, they aren’t Cy Young candidates either. But the Cubs do in fact have a Cy Young caliber pitcher they snatched up this offseason, set CubsRizzoto lead the staff every fifth day. Jon Lester, who came over to the Cubs on a 155 million dollar contract, is sure to instantly make the Cubs pitching staff relevant (with their bullpen being decent enough).

Beyond that, the Cubs’ lineup is fairly good as well. Admittedly, it consists of a lot of young, unproven talent, but it’s a good group, nonetheless. Having Starlin Castro, Anthony Rizzo and newly added catcher, Miguel Montero, slotted in the Cubs’ lineup is sure to lead to runs being scored. But it’s the youth of the Cubs that could ultimately lead to a lot of wins in 2015.

With Jorge Soler, Tommy La Stella, Arismendy Alcantara and Javier Baez looking to have breakout seasons — along with uber prospect Kris Bryant, who should be called up shortly into the year — the Cubs’ team is going to be one to reckon with.

However, it’s that very youth and inexperience in a great number of the players that has a lot of people remaining cautious from hopping aboard the Cubs’ bandwagon. After getting their hopes up in the past only to see things come crashing down, many people from around the baseball world refuse to believe that the Cubs stand a chance at making much ground in a division that includes the Cardinals, Reds, Pirates and Brewers.

But it’s not stopping me from predicting the Cubs to have success in 2015.

Maybe the 2015 Cubs aren’t the team that will break the “Curse of the Billy Goat”. Maybe they aren’t even the team that will dominate their division for the better part of the season. But I feel that the Cubs are in fact the team that will surprise the most people this season as they make a run toward the second wild card spot in the National League.

2015 Top 100 Prospects List Released

The annual top 100 prospects list was revealed on Friday night to the baseball world, providing everyone the first glimpse at which minor league players are worth keeping a very close eye on throughout the coming 2015 season.

I’m not sure what it is about prospects that intrigues me so much, but I absolutely love studying over, and basically memorizing, the top 100 prospects list — the stars of tomorrow. I didn’t really get into it until 2012, as that’s when I began to get serious about autograph collecting, and I had to keep up with the prospects to know when a particularly talented player was coming to town. I suppose that’s why I love it so much, as I can’t get autographs from MLB players all that often — living 250 miles from the nearest MLB team — so I have to get them on their way up.

In this blog post, I’m going to tackle the prospects list in chunks (10 prospects at a time), but I’m not going to be talking about them all. That would take far too long, and besides, not every player of the top 100 is going to make an impact at the Major League level in 2015. Therefore, I’m only going to cover the prospects who will likely make it to the big leagues this year; including those who don’t make it out of Spring Training but have a chance of a call up later in the season.

Keep in mind, I’m by no means guaranteeing the players I discuss below will make the major leagues this year; they could get delayed for whatever reason. In addition, there might end up being a few players I don’t mention that end up making it to the big leagues this season. I’m merely giving my own personal opinions as to which players I feel will make it to the bigs in 2015. With that said, let the debating begin:

Prospects 100-91

Steven Moya (100), Manuel Margot (99),  Touki Toussaint (98), Alex Gonzalez (97),

Rafael Devers (96), Grant Holmes (95), Lucas Sims (94), Christian Bethancourt (93),

Alen Hanson (92) and Francelis Montas (91).

After seeing some time at the major league level in 2014, it wouldn’t be a shock to see Steven Moya make a return once again right out of the gates in 2015. Given, it’s likely he’ll begin the season in Triple-A, but a mid-to-late-season return is a near guarantee. That also stands as the case for Christian Bethancourt, who made his debut with the Braves last season but struggled a bit in his short time there. With his previous competition, Evan Gattis, now traded away to the Astros, I expect Bethancourt to make a quick return to Atlanta, if he isn’t placed there on Opening Day.

For all the other players on the list, it will likely be a year or two before they arrive on the big stage. While anything is possible — with some players making the jump from Single-A to the majors in one season — a big league debut doesn’t seem imminent in 2015 for the other eight players besides Moya and Bethancourt.

Prospects 90-81

Stephen Piscotty (90), Eduardo Rodriguez (89), Orlando Arcia (88), Jeff Hoffman (87),

Vincent Velasquez (86), Franklin Barreto (85), Miguel Almonte (84), Jake Thompson (83),

Michael Conforto (82) and Aaron Blair (81).

Unlike the last ten prospects, none of these prospects have made it all the way to the majors to this point in their careers. But that’s pretty much guaranteed to change for a few of them, namely Stephen Piscotty and Eduardo Rodriguez. For Piscotty, he very well had a case to make it to the majors in 2014, but he wound up remaining at the Triple-A level all year long. For Rodriguez, while he spent most of 2014 in Double-A, pitching just the playoffs in Triple-A, he has quickly become one of the fastest rising young pitchers in the game today and should see a promotion at some point.

Prospects 80-71

Jake Lamb (80), Kyle Crick (79), Mike Foltynewicz (78), Willy Adames (77),

Tim Anderson (76), Brandon Finnegan (75), Nick Kingham (74), Matt Olson (73),

Brandon Nimmo (72) and Domingo Santana (71).

Jake Lamb played a total of 37 games with the Diamondbacks last season to round out the year, and that’s where he should begin 2015. Likewise, while they won’t start 2015 with their major league clubs, Mike Foltynewicz, Brandon Finnegan and Domingo Santana should spend a great deal of time in the bigs as well, getting the opportunity to show their organizations what they’re capable of. Nick Kingham could potentially make it to the majors as a September callup, but that remains to be seen. It will all depend on how he performs throughout the year.

Prospects 70-61

J.T. Realmuto (70), Matthew Wisler (69), Aaron Judge (68), Sean Newcomb (67),

Steven Matz (66), Daniel Robertson (65), Reese McGuire (64), Kevin Plawecki (63),

Trea Turner (62) and Justin O’Conner (61).

J.T. Realmuto is the only player of the ten that saw major league time last season, and he stands as the only player that could see more big league time to begin the year in 2015. Even so, it’s more likely the case that Realmuto, along with Matthew Wisler and Kevin Plawecki on the list, will begin the season in the minors, with a late season big league call up always being a possibility for each of them.

Prospects 60-51

Kyle Freeland (60), David Dahl (59), Kyle Zimmer (58), Albert Almora (57),

Sean Manaea (56), Maikel Franco (55), Nomar Mazara (54), Clint Frazier (53),

A.J. Cole (52) and Austin Hedges (51).

Following a decent season at the Triple-A level, Maikel Franco was promoted to the Phillies to end out the year, but didn’t perform all that well. Nonetheless, he stands a good shot at seeing a lot of playing time with them this year. Another player who could get a good amount of seasoning with their big league team is A.J. Cole. However, being a pitcher, he’ll likely have to serve at a bullpen capacity with the loaded starting rotation the Nationals now possess.

Prospects 50-41

D.J. Peterson (50), Kyle Schwarber (49), Hunter Renfroe (48), C.J. Edwards (47),

Austin Meadows (46), Jorge Alfaro (45), Aaron Sanchez (44), Dalton Pompey (43),

Michael Taylor (42) and Hunter Harvey (41).

The number 44-42 prospects on this list all saw time in the majors this past season, with Aaron Sanchez being the only one to post above average numbers upon their callup. But while Dalton Pompey and Michael Taylor underperformed for their clubs, they should each see themselves back up in the majors at some point. D.J. Peterson also stands a chance at a September call up spot, after the great season he had in 2014. It should be interesting to see if he makes the jump.

Prospects 40-31

Raul Mondesi (40), Braden Shipley (39), Jose Peraza (38), Aaron Nola (37),

Kohl Stewart (36), Eddie Butler (35), Josh Bell (34), Nick Gordon (33),

Jose Berrios (32) and Jameson Taillon (31).

Eddie Butler is the only one of these prospects to have played a single moment at the majors, but a few others will be added to that list in 2015. Braden Shipley, Jose Peraza, Aaron Nola, Jose Berrios and Jameson Taillon should all make their debuts at various points throughout the coming season. They all bring something different to the table, and are all very talented. They’re the type of players that make big impacts for years and years to come.

Prospects 30-21

Mark Appel (30), Alex Meyer (29), Alex Jackson (28), Tyler Kolek (27),

Jesse Winker (26), Andrew Heaney (25), Robert Stephenson (24), Luis Severino (23),

Jorge Soler (22) and J.P. Crawford (21).

Virtually, all but a couple of players from this portion of the list could make the major leagues in 2015, but the most likely are Mark Appel, Alex Meyer, Andrew Heaney, Robert Stephenson and Jorge Soler. Heaney and Soler both spent time in the major leagues in 2014, with both likely starting the year back where they left off. For Appel, Meyer and Stephenson, their major league careers will likely kick off towards the end of the season.

Prospects 20-11

Dylan Bundy (20), Henry Owens (19), Blake Swihart (18), Daniel Norris (17),

Jon Gray (16), Archie Bradley (15), Carlos Rodon (14), Joc Pederson (13),

Tyler Glasnow (12) and Miguel Sano (11).

Talk about a loaded list. Getting down closer to the number one spot brings better and better talent (obviously), with all of these players standing a shot at big league time this year. Though Jon Gray and Tyler Glasnow are long shots, Dylan Bundy, Henry Owens, Daniel Norris, Archie Bradley, Carlos Rodon, Joc Pederson and Miguel Sano will see the big leagues this year, barring injury, with their arrival time differing from player to player.

 Prospects 10-1

Noah Syndergaard (10), Joey Gallo (9), Julio Urias (8), Corey Seager (7),

Lucas Giolito (6), Addison Russell (5), Francisco Lindor (4), Carlos Correa (3),

Kris Bryant (2) and Byron Buxton (1).

With the exception of Lucas Giolito and Carlos Correa (and likely Byron Buxton), each one of these players could potentially see big league games this year. From Noah Syndergaard to Corey Seager and all the way down to Kris Bryant (who should’ve been number one, in my opinion), the future of baseball looks to be bright, with some amazingly talented prospects on the not so distant horizon.

Four-Year Anniversary of ‘The Unbiased MLB Fan’

It’s hard to believe, but today marks exactly four years since I first sat down and created ‘The Unbiased MLB Fan’. In some ways, it feels as if I’ve been blogging forever, as it has truly become a large part of my life. But in other ways, though, it seems like just yesterday that I began writing what has now developed into hundreds of posts. Time certainly has a way of flying along.

Creating a blog about baseball was something I never envisioned myself doing. When I first started writing this blog, it wasn’t really because I wanted to share my opinions of baseball with the world — I didn’t know a lot about it at the time, so I didn’t have very strong opinions — but mostly because I knew several people who had a blog, and I wanted one too. That was the driving force behind its creation.

But through writing this blog over the years, I feel that I have grown as a writer, a person, and — more than anything — a baseball fan. By blogging about the sport, I have turned into one of the most passionate baseball fans I know, constantly following the latest story lines and various baseball topics. I may not write about every single one, but odds are that if it’s a major baseball story, I’ve heard about it (including the 7-year, 210 million dollar contract Max Scherzer was given by the Nationals on Monday).

Initially, I was sporadically writing about various topics from around baseball, but none of the posts really focused too heavily on actually facts and statistics. They revolved around my favorite players, my favorite moments from the week, etc. Nothing that would really grab people’s attention all that much. But as time passed, I slowly turned this blog into an outlet with two main purposes: to inform the reader about the latest baseball news, and to provide myself with a place to give my opinions to whoever cared to hear them. I feel that is what this blog has become for the most part.

Each of the past two years, I’ve thrown together a list of posts on January 20th (this blog’s anniversary date) with a link and brief description regarding what the post was about and why I felt it was important. This year, however, I didn’t want to do exactly the same thing. So instead of a list, I decided to put together a brief discussion of the past four years, with most of my effort being put into the most recent blogging year (2014).

Kicking off with January 20, 2011, when I published my first post, I wrote about who I was and what this blog was planned to be about. If you take the time to read it you’ll likely notice that my first post was terrible. While I still make writing mistakes to this day (I’m sure there are several in this particular blog post), I like to think that I’ve come a long way from that first post. I sure hope I have. But even with my inexperience with blogging “way” back then, I still managed to come out as the 35th most viewed MLBlog from 2011, which was pretty remarkable to me at the time.

When the 2012 blogging year rolled around, I began an attempt to improve my blog posts as much as I could from the previous year. I was just beginning to become an avid baseball fan, and wanted to put some of my newly found knowledge into each and every post. It must have worked, because not only did I finish out the year ranking 17th overall in terms of blog views for the year, but in July of that year, I received an all expense paid trip to the 2012 State Farm Home Run Derby in Kansas City. That by far is the greatest perk I’ve ever received from this blog, and nothing will likely ever top it. But, I suppose, you never know.

The following year, in 2013, I made a list of resolutions for the first time that I was going to try to keep throughout the blogging year (I posted the same type of entry a couple weeks ago) and was able to stick to most of them — including one of getting more views than the previous year. By doing so, I was able to make it my most successful blogging year to that point, making a jump in the year end rankings up to 8th overall for views.

But despite the large jump in ranking, I still felt I could do better. After amassing just over 75,000 views, I set out to get more than that in 2014, and I was once again able to reach my goal. Recording a few hundred views over 80,000 for the year — including over 1,200 on a single day back in May, the most ever in a single day for me — 2014 was my best year to this point as far as views go. However, I also feel it was my best year to date in terms of blog content, as I wrote about a lot of interesting things throughout the year.

First of all, back in February, I posted one of my favorite interviews I’ve every conducted. Being on 2013 first overall draft pick, Mark Appel, the interview was the highest drafted player I’ve every interviewed, and it was truly amazing to get such fantastic answers from a player of Appel’s caliber.

But things didn’t stop there in terms of good blog content and a fun year. In July of 2014, I had the privilege of attending Minor League Baseball’s biggest events: the 2014 Triple-A Home Run Derby and All-Star game. I blogged about both, but the one I did on the All-Star game was the one I enjoyed writing the most, and therefore the one I linked.

As far as other baseball news topics are concerned from my most recent year, one of my favorite posts to put together in 2014 was the entry I wrote about Derek Jeter’s final home game, and the miraculous events that surrounded it. With Jeter being one of my favorite players of all time, seeing him finish out his final game in New York with such amazing fashion was incredible.

Rounding out my blogging year, I posted an entry on the first day of December regarding my then recent trip to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. As I discussed in the post, it was the second time I had ever traveled to Cooperstown, but the first time I ever made it inside the Hall of Fame. To say I was impressed with my time there would be an understatement. It’s truly a place everyone should visit at least once.

In conclusion, I don’t know how long I’ll be able to keep this blog going — my overall schedule is busier this year than it has been in the history of this blog — but I’m going to do my best to make it last as long as possible. It’s something that I don’t want to give up (or plan to give up) until I absolutely have to.

‘The Unbiased MLB Fan’ Fast Facts

  • Total number of words written to this point: 294,116
  • Total number of posts: 459
  • Average number of words per post: 641

My Final Baseball Game of 2014

On Thursday, for the 20th and final time of 2014, I’m heading out to a baseball game.

More specifically, a minor league playoff game, which just so happens to be a rematch of last year’s International League finals, with the hometown Durham Bulls set to take on the visiting Pawtucket Red Sox. Both teams are very evenly matched in numerous ways, however, while I’ll surely be rooting for the Bulls to win the game, and subsequently take three of the five games against Pawtucket to head to the Triple-A National Championship like they did last season, I’m going to be attempting to snag a few autographs from the Red Sox.

Although I saw the Red Sox earlier in the year, back in June, they’re an even better team than they were then, which is truly saying something. While they’re now without Mookie Betts, Allen Webster and Matt Barnes, who were with the team back when I previously saw them, the Red Sox now have six of their organization’s top ten prospects on the team, with Garin Cecchini being the only one who was with the team in June.

The biggest addition to the team since I last saw them is their top pitching prospect, Henry Owens. Going 17-5 with a 2.94 ERA in the regular season, Owens looks to be a big part of the Red Sox’ future down the road, and is at the top of my list for players I want an autograph of.

Other additions to the team that I’m looking to get an auto from include Eduardo Rodriguez and Edwin Escobar, both of which came over as part of a trade from another team; Cuban phenom Rusney Castillo, who signed a record breaking contract with the Red Sox earlier this year; and Blake Swihart, Brian Johnson and Deven Marrero, who are also a few top prospects who look to be headed for bright big league futures.

As I did last season, I’m planning to post a recap of my year out at the ballpark sometime in the week following Thursday’s game, so be sure to check back for that. With all of the talent that’s going to be there on Thursday, it’s sure to make for an exciting conclusion to an amazing minor league season.

Blogging Plans for Remainder of 2014 Regular Season

We’re quickly approaching the final month of the 2014 Major League Baseball regular season, and that means that the playoffs are just around the corner. With only a few dozen more days until the end of the season on September 28th, I figured I’d do a blog post — as I do from time to time — covering what I’m planning to write about over the course of the next month or so.

First up, on August 28th, I’m going to be publishing an entry on the top five story lines worth keeping an eye on in the final month. There are several dozen potential points of interest that people around the baseball world will be keeping an eye on throughout September, but I’ll do my best to narrow it down to a mere five topics.

Once that’s up, I’ll, obviously, post an entry on the first day of September with the latest statistical leaders (something I’ve done every first day of the month throughout this season) from around baseball, and will likely do the same toward the end of September, or, perhaps, on the first day of October. I haven’t decided yet.

Either way, around a week or two into the month, after the Minor League Baseball season has ended, I’m going to be publishing a recap of sorts from my time spent this past season out at local minor league ballparks. I did the same things last year, going over each game briefly and displaying the autographs/game used items I picked up, but I did remarkably better this time around, so I’m looking forward to publishing that.

When the playoff teams have been finalized at the end of the season, I’ll be giving my postseason predictions, starting with the Wild Card games and working my way all the way down to the World Series. Though I was extremely far off yet again this year with my preseason predictions, I was able to successfully pick the World Series matchup in 2013 — unfortunately, I had the Cardinals winning instead of the Red Sox — so hopefully I’ll be able to do it again.

Other than that, it’s all up in the air.

Red Sox Down, But Not For Long

No matter how you look at it, the Boston Red Sox are having a poor season. Despite a great deal of anticipation surrounding the team for 2014 after winning the World Series last year, the Sox currently hold the last place position in the American League East division. With a better win-loss record (13 games under .500) than only the Astros and the Rangers in all of the American League, the Red Sox have lost all their hope for the 2014 season being a memorable one — memorable in a good way, that is.Red Sox

Any remaining hope that the Sox did have was diminished last week just before the trade deadline when they made several trades that sent some of their key players off to other teams. Most significantly, Jon Lester being sent out to Oakland in exchange for Yoenis Cespedes, who should provide some pop to a struggling Red Sox outfield, was a big blow to the team.

While Cespedes is a fantastic player, and will undoubtedly help the Sox moving forward, Lester was an ace, and aces are extremely valuable. A team simply isn’t the same after loosing such a valuable asset, and it will certainly show.

But Lester wasn’t the only Red Sox pitcher who changed uniforms. Also getting sent packing were John Lackey and Jake Peavy, who brought back Allen Craig and Joe Kelly, and a couple of minor league prospects, respectively.

Though David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, Mike Napoli, and breakout Brock Holt, have been big parts to the Red Sox team this year, coming through big in games, there have been too many injuries to have the Sox make any sort of run towards making the playoffs. Last season everything seemed to go right every single day of the year, but this season things are just the opposite, with players not being able to get on a roll.

With a mere 51 games left to their season, the Red Sox are beginning to look to the future for signs of better things to come. And, fortunately for them, they have an unbelievable amount of young talent set to contribute to the Sox as soon as the 2015 season, leading many to envision big things for them next year.

Consisting of Mookie Betts, Henry Owens, Blake Swihart, Garin Cecchini, Allen Webster, Anthony Ranaudo and Christian Vazquez, all of which are age 24 or younger, the Sox have seven of their top ten prospects currently at Triple-A or in the major leagues, leaving them with numerous options to help improve their ball club shortly down the road.

Two of those multiple options were just recently promoted to Triple-A, in Henry Owens and Blake Swihart, however, they are arguably the most talented of any players in the Red Sox farm system.

052414_6847-MOwens holds a 15-4 record between Double-A and Triple-A this year, with an ERA of 2.47, after an outstanding Triple-A debut on Monday night. Swihart is hitting an even .300, with a career high 12 home runs and 55 RBI’s to this point in the season.

Though it isn’t likely that either one will be a September call up, seeing that the Red Sox are out of things, both could play huge roles in a resurgence for the Red Sox in 2015.

As far as Mookie Betts, Garin Cecchini, and the remaining, previously mentioned prospects go, all have seen some major league time at some point this season, and while none of them blew people away by posting amazing stats, they each are expected to have bright big league futures.

Once the Red Sox’ top prospects begin to reach the big league level and stick, combining their talents with the likes of the always consistent David Ortiz, newcomer Yoenis Cespedes, and star second baseman, Dustin Pedroia, the Sox should begin to see things turn around.

With there being rumors that the Red Sox could potentially resign Jon Lester this coming offseason to a deal for 2015 and beyond, despite 2014 being a down year, next year could wind up being the year the Red Sox begin to see that expected major turn around to their overall team. If all goes as predicted (given, that hardly ever happens), 2015 could turn out to be a very special season.

2014 Triple-A All-Star Game

While Monday night’s Triple-A Home Run derby was extremely exciting, with Minor League Baseball’s top sluggers putting on a home run hitting show, Wednesday’s Triple-A All-Star game was the event that everyone had been waiting for. With the stars of tomorrow from both the Pacific Coast League and the International League set to take on each other in what was sure to be a thrilling game, many people (myself included) showed up to the ballpark fairly early.

Normally I’d be getting to the ballpark early because I was going to try for autographs. But thanks to an autograph session that was held at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park on Tuesday afternoon, I was able to get an auto from every player that I wanted, and thus, it wasn’t a top priority at this game. Even so, I still arrived to the ballpark right before the gates opened, getting inside in time to watch the last portion of the Pacific Coast League’s batting practice:

DSCN7230Down on the field (as seen in the picture) was Stephen Piscotty (in the batting cage), Andrew Susac and Max Stassi, among others, with numerous players in the outfield shagging balls. With me not trying that hard for autographs, I wasn’t down near the dugout at this point, but after seeing arguably the best player of both teams, Joc Pederson, gesturing that he’d sign autographs after he came back out of the clubhouse, I decided to head down to the field anyway.

Despite having gotten Pederson’s autograph the day before, with him being listed as the number 30 prospect in all of baseball by MLB.com, it was worth another shot. Unfortunately, although he kept his promise of signing autographs once he came back out, Pederson signed for everyone but me. Skipping over me twice, apparently he remembered me from the day before; at least, that’s all I can think of. But that was okay.

Although I would’ve liked to have gotten his auto again, seeing the future Dodgers’ star outfielder (assuming they can figure their outfield situation) up close was cool in itself:

DSCN7237

After failing to get an autograph from Pederson, I made my way to my ticketed seat (the same one I had for the home run derby) to watch the pre game introductions. While every player seemed thrilled to be there and honored to have been selected to participate, no other player seemed quite as happy to be taking part in the All-Star game as the Clippers’ first baseman, Jesus Aguilar:

DSCN7256If that’s not pure excitement by Aguilar, I don’t know what is.

Shortly after all of the players had been introduced from both the Pacific Coast League and the International League, and after a flyover during the National Anthem, . . . . :

DSCN7259

. . . . the 2014 Triple-A All-Star game got underway.

The starting pitcher for the International League, Liam Hendriks, had been fantastic heading into Wednesday’s game. Having gone 7-1 with a 2.19 ERA so far this season for the Buffalo Bisons (Triple-A affiliate of the Blue Jays), Hendriks picked up right where he left off, keeping the Pacific Coast League off the board in the top of the first inning.

On the mound for the opposing Pacific Coast League was Elih Villanueva, who didn’t fare nearly as well. In the bottom half of the first inning, Wilson Betemit drove in a pair of runs, taking the score up to a quick 2-0 International League lead. Then, in the very next inning of swings for the International League, Jhonatan Solano (with a man on base) blasted an impressive shot over the left field blue monster, bringing the score up to 4-0:

DSCN7277Not surprisingly, that’s as far as Villanueva was allowed to go, being replaced by Spencer Patton after 1.2 innings pitched:

DSCN7282

Patton would finish out the inning, with the Pacific Coast League once again bringing in another pitcher for the third, in Kyle Hendricks, who was finally able to keep the International League off the board, after they had scored a couple of runs in each of the previous two innings.

Neither team would score for the next few innings, with the first run of the game for the Pacific Coast League, and the first run of the game since the bottom of the second inning, coming in the top of the sixth inning thanks to a Joc Pederson home run. Pederson, who had struck out in his first two at-bats of the game, took out some of his frustration, absolutely demolishing a ball deep into the right field stands:

Having attended dozens of Bulls games, I’ve never seen a ball hit that well to right field. For that matter, I’m not sure any of the participants in the home run derby a couple of nights prior hit a ball quite that deep. Though I’d heard a lot about the extreme power that Pederson possesses, I was still amazed at how far the ball traveled.

Getting back to the All-Star game, which, on a side note, was being broadcasted live on MLB Network with Darryl Hamilton and Paul Severino doing the play-by-play, . . . . :

DSCN7314

. . . . despite Pederson finally getting the Pacific Coast League on the board and bringing the score to within three runs, the International League would ultimately put the game out of reach in the bottom of the sixth. A two-run triple by Felix Perez, followed by a double from Steven Souza Jr. that scored Perez from third, took the score up to 7-1 in favor of the International League.

Though the Pacific Coast League would attempt a comeback, scoring a run in the top of the eighth as well as the top of the ninth, Merrill Kelly was able to record the final out of the game to secure the 7-3 win for the International League, which has now won seven of the last ten Triple-A All-Star games:

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For their contributions to the game, Liam Hendriks of the International League and Chris Taylor of the Pacific Coast League were named the “top stars” of the game. Hendriks’ two shutout, one hit innings, in which he struck out four, got the International League off to a great start, which they were able to continue. Taylor, going 3-4 with a couple of doubles, was one of the few bright spots for the Pacific Coast League (other than Joc Pederson), being one of only three players from either side (Jose Pirela and Ivan De Jesus were the others) to record more than one hit.

Though I’ve never attended a Triple-A All-Star game at any other ballpark, it’s hard to imagine that it could’ve been done any better than the one on Wednesday in Durham, North Carolina. The entire week — from the home run derby, to the autograph session, to the All-Star game itself — seemed as though it was planned out specifically with the fans in mind. While it will likely be a long time before Durham ever hosts these events again, after the experience from this week, whenever it returns to the Bull City, I’ll certainly be sure to make the trip.

2014 Triple-A Home Run Derby

After over a year of anticipation, the day finally arrived. Taking place last night in Durham, North Carolina, and showcasing some of the minor league’s premier power hitters, the 2014 Triple-A Home Run Derby is something that I’d been looking forward to witnessing for a long time. As always, I made the decision to show up to the ballpark early to try for a few autographs. Thus, despite a gate opening time of 5:30 for the 6:35 derby, I made my way to the All-Star themed Durham Bulls Athletic Park at around 4:50:

DSCN7169Even though I still had a good amount of time until I could go inside, I went ahead and jumped in line. The extremely hot sun was beating down on myself and the fans around me, but I was glad I made the choice to get my place in the line, as it wasn’t long afterwards that it became fairly long. Thankfully, the time in the heat passed fairly quickly, and upon the opening of the gates, I took off for the Pacific Coast League’s dugout.

With the Pacific Coast League being such a loaded team of top prospects and former big leaguers, there were already a lot of people down by the dugout when I got there, making it difficult for me to get down to autographing level. But when Nick Franklin (the first player to emerge from the dugout) popped out . . . . :

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. . . . I was able to (with a little help from fellow auto seekers) get him to sign a couple of cards for me.

Soon afterwards, tons of players began to flood out of the dugout, and items to get autographed were passing by me right and left. The next player I got to sign a few cards for me was Wednesday night’s All-Star game starting pitcher, Elih Villanueva. But autos from Franklin and Villanueva was all I was able to acquire before the game, as the ushers made us all go back to our assigned seats to clear out the aisle.

Before the derby got underway, the well known softball slugging long haul bombers, who have been known to hit softballs up to 500 feet, took to the field to show off their amazing hitting skills:

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There were three total sluggers, each of which were impressive. Though I had seen the long haul bombers last season up in Seattle, they were just as good this time, slamming two total home runs onto the roof of a four story building, some 450+ feet away. But while they were great, the event that everyone came to see was the Triple-A home run derby, which began shortly after.

Despite losing Mike Hessman (the all-time International League home run leader) and Dan Johnson from the derby roster due to an injury to Hessman and a big league callup for Johnson, the lineup was still decent. Consisting of Francisco Pena, Matt Hague, Allan Dykstra, Jesus Aguilar, Mike Jacobs and Mikie Mahtook, there were sure to be a good amount of homers hit, and after the participants posed for a group photo down around home plate . . . . :

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. . . . the derby got underway.

The famous bull sign (“hit bull, win steak”) down the left field line at the DBAP was originally predicted to play a big role in the derby, with the incentive to hit it being that if it was hit 15 times one lucky fan would take home $15,000. But unfortunately, the Bull was hit only once (everyone in attendance received a free steak taco as a result), with the low number of bull-hitting home runs coming thanks in part to a pair of zeros posted in the first round of the derby by Mike Jacobs and Mikie Mahtook — each of which were eliminated.

The second round of the derby saw a cut to four players, as well as a change in my location. For this round, I made my way out to the outfield, with the slight hope of catching a home run ball, but mainly with the reasoning to see a few batters take their turns from a different perspective:

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A few balls were lofted in my general direction, but nothing came too terribly close. While I was in the outfield, Matt Hague and Jesus Aguilar posted rounds that didn’t hold up in the end (though Aguilar did nearly drill me with a foul ball, had it not have been for fans who knocked it down). Meaning, the final round of the derby was going to be between Francisco Pena and Allan Dykstra.

Clay Counsil — the BP pitcher who threw to Josh Hamilton in his historic 28 home run first round of the 2008 derby up at Yankee Stadium — was on hand to throw the final round of the derby to both of the remaining players, and the crowd seemed excited to see him:

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In Francisco Pena’s set of swings to kick off the championship round, he failed to hit a single home run, leaving Allan Dykstra with just one homer needed to take home the title of 2014 Triple-A Home Run Derby champion. And he did just that. Slugging a home run to right field, Allan Dykstra wound up winning the derby in front of the sold out crowd:

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After the derby had concluded, there was still a multitude of players hanging around on the field, so I once again took off for the dugout with the hopes of getting some more autographs. I was able to get one more player to sign for me before I left the ballpark, being Andrew Susac, bringing my total number of player autographs to three for the game.

Although not everything went my way on Monday night, it was still a very enjoyable time. It’s likely going to be decades before the Bull City hosts these events again, and it’s one of those things you may only witness once or twice in your lifetime.

For the second half of the events, I’m planning to head out to the All-Star game on Wednesday, where I hope to do better in terms of autographs, but no matter what, I’m going to have a great time, no doubt about it.

6/22/14 Tennessee Smokies Vs. Chattanooga Lookouts

When the plan to visit the Tennessee Smokies (Double-A affiliate of the Cubs) was originally being put into place back in early April, I was really looking forward to seeing what was sure to be an extremely talented team. With names such as Kris Bryant, Pierce Johnson, Jorge Soler, C.J. Edwards, and many other top prospects and above average players, I just knew that this game was going to be an exciting one.

That was, however, until everything went wrong.

Pierce Johnson, Jorge Soler, and C.J. Edwards all hit the disable list earlier in the year, keeping them from being at the game, and my optimism that Kris Bryant would still be a part of the team after blasting over 20 home runs in the first half of the season fell just short, as he was called up to Triple-A mere days before my arrival. And thus, Bryant joined the long list of great players who I wouldn’t have a chance of getting an autograph from.

But despite all the bad luck, my dad, grandpa and I made our way out to Kodak, Tennessee yesterday afternoon to take in the early two p.m. game against the Chattanooga Lookouts (Dodgers’ Double-A affiliate, which also didn’t have too many good players). After a quick stop for lunch, we made our way over to the Smokies’ ballpark, bought tickets, and headed inside the stadium:

Smokies 002All I could think about upon first glance of the field was that Kris Bryant had been playing on that very surface not all that long ago  (a number of great players have played there in recent years, including Starlin Castro, Javier Baez, Chris Archer, etc.) but I tried not to dwell on it for too long. To help get my mind off of Bryant’s absence, I swung by the gift shop for a few minutes, where I browsed the wide variety of items before heading down to field level (in the extremely hot sun) with the hopes of snagging a few autographs:

Smokies 003As I stated earlier, the Smokies aren’t all that fantastic of a team at the moment, with so many star players hurt, but I still wanted an auto from Dustin Geiger, Christian Villanueva, Corey Black, and former big league pitcher, Storm Davis. While I was successful in getting Geiger to sign my ticket, I didn’t snag an auto from Villanueva, and never actually spotted Davis or Black.

But regardless of the subpar pregame autographing, the game itself was much more exciting. Though not ranked very highly, the one player that really stood out to me was the Lookouts’ Darnell Sweeney:

Smokies 005Sweeney isn’t ever going to hit for much power according to a lot of people, but he was impressive on the day, picking up a couple of hits, making some great defensive plays, and showing off his speed (he stole nearly 50 bases last season). And therefore, Sweeney is a player I’ll be keeping an eye on.

As far as the game goes, heading into the day, both starting pitchers had an ERA above six for the season, which would lead you to believe it was likely going to be a high scoring game. But things started out rather slowly, with neither team scoring through five innings played, and the most entertaining moment being the traditional chicken run that takes place every home game:

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(Everyone loves a good chicken run.)

However, as the temperature began to heat up, reaching a high of 91 degrees, the game quickly heated up as well. With two out and a man on in the sixth, Christian Villanueva blasted a home run out onto the outfield grass berm, putting the Smokies up 2-0. Then, in the very next inning, Dustin Geiger copied Villanueva with a two-run dinger of his own . . . . :

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. . . . moving the score up to 4-0, which is where things would end.

Upon the final out, I went back down around the dugout to try once more for an autograph, but my main target — the only other key player I had seen before the game — ,Villanueva, bolted down the dugout tunnel. Thankfully, although I never saw him prior to the first pitch, Corey Black popped out of the dugout and began to sign autos for the many people who wanted him. I was the last one he signed for, and was able to leave the game with two autographs.

Though two autographs isn’t very many, the time spent out at the game more than made up for it. Any time I can combine baseball, traveling and time spent with family, it’s sure to be a fantastic time all around.

Gregory Polanco Headed to the Pirates

The wait is finally over for Pirates fans.

Gregory Polanco — the 12th overall ranked prospect in all of baseball, and one of the highest praised young outfielders in years — is set to make his MLB debut later tonight against the Cubs, receiving the call after second baseman, Neil Walker, was placed on the disabled list.8396068

Set to play right field for the Buccos, Polanco is joining an already talented outfield of Starling Marte (left) and Andrew McCutchen (center), taking over for Josh Harrison, who has done a fantastic job this year in right field, hitting near .300 and making numerous spectacular catches. Nonetheless, replacing Harrison with Polanco instantly makes the Pirates outfield one of the best in baseball.

And that’s why, in the minds of many baseball fans, the arrival of Polanco is long overdue. After getting off to such a great start to the year at Triple-A Indianapolis, the idea of a big league call up for Polanco began to gain mention (several rumors were started just in the past week regarding a promotion), but when he continued to stay hot, making it up to seven home runs and 49 RBI’s, to go along with a .347 batting average before his call up, Polanco truly left the Pirates no other choice.

With the Pirates struggling somewhat so far this season, the hope is that the young, talented Polanco will arrive on the scene and help turn things around.

Sitting three games back of .500, and 7.5 games back of first place, it’s still too early to count out the Pirates, especially now that Polanco is going to get some time for the club. Despite lofty predictions being made for this year after the Pirates made the playoffs for the first time in twenty years last season, at this point in 2013 they were eleven games above .500, which is allowing understandable concern to come into play.

But could Gregory Polanco’s mere presence truly be enough to turn around the Pirates?

Well, though it’s going to take the entire team playing better for the Pirates to go on a run, we’ve seen big time players make big time impacts before. Take Yasiel Puig for example. The Dodgers were doing terribly last season before his call up, and after Puig’s arrival, the Dodgers went on a record-breaking streak that ultimately led them to the playoffs. Sure, the entire team began playing well, but the initial spark undeniably came from Puig.

However, while it’s certainly possible that Polanco will kick start the Pirates, it’s not all that likely. The biggest difference between the Dodgers’ team, and the Pirates’ 2013 team for that matter, is pitching — bother the starting rotation and the bullpen.

Last season, the Pirates had a magical year, where nearly every one of their pitchers from top to bottom was superb. But the loss of A.J. Burnett this offseason, the recent injury to Gerrit Cole, and the terrible performance by 2013 ace Francisco Liriano, has hurt the chances of an already poor team.

And thus, it will certainly be interesting to see just what type of impact Polanco has for the Bucs. Asking him to put the whole team on his back and carry them to the playoffs for the second straight year is an awful lot to expect from Polanco, but with young phenom prospects, you never truly know what they can do.

But one thing’s for sure: Gregory Polanco is just as excited as Pirates’ fans to finally be making his way to the Steel City, regardless of the current struggles; saying in a tweet on Monday night, “Pirates fans, thanks for being patient with me . . . The wait is over. My dream has officially come true.”

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