Jan 042012
 

While we await the news on Prince Fielder, I thought I’d dust off this classic for an “encore presentation.” Unlike last year, you can now visit the “Road Trips” tab to see some pics from the past two summer sojourns. This piece was actually the first one I filed for the site back on January 5, 2010 and reruns with some, um, minor edits.

One of the joys of following minor-league baseball is going to see your favorite team on the road. As a fan of the Potomac Nationals, I’ve been to the stadiums of all seven opposing teams in the Carolina League, and have visited the Nationals’ affiliates in Auburn, Hagerstown, Harrisburg, and Syracuse (pictured above). With the move of the Kinston franchise to Zebulon (Carolina Mudcats), I have to make another trip to North Carolina this summer to maintain the claim. Oh, the horror!

With the recent cold snap in the D.C. area, I thought I’d share some of my tips for taking and making the most of a baseball road trip, to help ease the time until pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training.

Take The Interstate
There’s nothing wrong with taking the secondary route to get there, especially if you want to see the countryside. But the Interstates are your best bet because they’re faster, there are more places to stop for food and fuel, and should you have car trouble, you’re a better position to get the help you need quickly. Also, quite a few teams are situated close to the freeway anyway (e.g. The Frederick Keys).

Consider The Dominant Travel Pattern
My favorite night to shoot for is a Saturday night. People that are going to the beach or the mountains are likely already there, so you’re not fighting them. If you must travel on a Friday, try to leave either mid-morning or mid-afternoon, i.e. after rush hour or after lunch. Likewise for Sundays, watch out for afternoon games that will have you on the road between 5 and 8pm, a.k.a. when the weekend throngs are coming back. This is why some teams have opted for a start time of 4 or 5 pm — it’s not quite as harsh on the players, and enables the opposing team to leave with some daylight.

Parking
It’s an overlooked detail, so do your homework — especially with clubs in older ballparks or teams that are very popular. If you’re able to walk, think about the money you’ll save if you park a few blocks away or more importantly, the time you’ll save as you walk past the folks jockeying to get out. I like to look for libraries and schools for this strategy. One notable exception is…

Promotions
…Fireworks night. They’re great for packing them in, and most people stay. Translation: While the masses ooh and ahh, you can make a break for your car and get out ahead of them. You can use the promotions calendar two ways: To get the freebies you want, or avoid the folks that care more about the giveaway than the game (e.g. bobbleheads).

Midweek Day Games
These are big moneymakers for minor-league clubs. They’re often dominated by schools and/or summer camps, but they almost always sit in the cheap seats. Despite the crowds, it seems that most venues are shorthanded, relying on the groups’ chaperones for crowd control. This also makes it harder to get concessions and nearly guarantees long lines. But if you don’t mind eating before or after the game, you can generally get great seats up close.

Don’t Forget To Wear Sunscreen…
…and drink plenty of fluids, by which I mean water and soda. One of the unfortunate things I’ve noticed is that minor-league stadiums with a roof aren’t being built anymore. To me, that’s penny-wise and pound-foolish because a roof provides cover from both the sun and the rain. Maybe that’s part of the reason why I love the WPA-era parks so much, but I can’t help but notice that in the places where there is a roof, people tend to stick around when the elements aren’t favorable. For everywhere else, it’s a good idea to notice where the shadows fall and try to get those seats when the weather will be a factor.

Aug 192011
 


It’s another trip to New England to visit family, which means the posts are going to slow and shorten since I’ll be working from wherever I can find free WiFi for the next week or so. Next week’s “GBI” will probably be a day late. But my goal is to keep the News & Notes going as best as possible, even it’s mostly links & bullets.

Please keep the comments coming and the conversation going.

Jul 112011
 

Take a look at scorecard. Savor it. Not too often you see a 9-1 game turned around so fast.

That’s what happened last night in Auburn. With a 10-run sixth inning that saw 14 batters come to the plate and feartured eight hits, the Doubledays put up an inning so big the scoreboard couldn’t list the “10” spot as they defeated the Jamestown Jammers, 11-9.

The win put the brakes on a three-game skid, the third of of three-or-more losses in a row already this season; they’ve also put together win streaks of six and four.

Take another look at that scorecard. For four and 2/3rds innings, Jamestown’s Tom Peale had a no-hitter going. Hendry Jimenez broke it up with an opposite-field double to left field to drive in Carlos Alvarez — yes, that Carlos Alvarez — to break up the no-no and the shutout bid in one fell swoop.

Matt Skole started the scoring binge in the sixth with a BOMB to right field, easily 450′ plus for a solo shot. OK, no big deal. Jamestown still up 9-2. A flyout to right, one out. But then a single. A walk. A two-run double. Now, it’s 9-4 and another reliever comes on.

A Hughes walk, Alvarez gets an RBI single. Jimenez strikes out. So now it’s 9-5 but it looks like they’ll survive. Not so fast: Justin Miller doubles down the LF line to make it 9-7. Jamestown doesn’t have a reliever ready and a conference is held on the mound to stall, and remind folks that candlesticks always make for a good gift. Skole walks, semi-unintentionally; another reliever is brought in.

Adrian Nieto and Angel Montilla both single. Now it’s 9-9 and Caleb Ramsey strikes the death blow with a two-run double and the 11-9 score that would become the final.

Blowouts like this are hard to make observations because the fan side of the brain takes over. But here’s some quick takes anyways…

…Hughes still looked lost out in right field. He has a good arm and that’s why he’s there, but it’s cost the team runs in both games I saw

…Meza doesn’t throw hard, but he’s lefthanded and his across-the-body motion is deceptive. Should his control improve, he could make for a decent middle reliever.

…Alvarez looks shorter and stockier than the 5-11, 175 (think Leonard Davis) he’s listed at but has strong throwing arm. He jumped at the first pitch he saw in his first at-bat but then showed discipline in his second and third at-bats. Nothing you wouldn’t expect, however, from a 25-y.o. playing below his age level.

…Jimenez looked better at second base than at shortstop but I suspect the M.O. is to keep swapping MI’s until a true SS emerges from the ranks. I’d have to say Francisco Soriano may stick around in the system for this reason.

…Greg Holt has a nice 12-6 curve, good enough to throw on consecutive pitches for strikes. I know the slider and the cutter are the pitches du jour, but us old folks still appreciate the bender.

And that concludes the NationalProspects.com 2011 Baseball Roadtrip. Hope you enjoyed it. I know I did.

Jul 102011
 


Alliance Bank Stadium is a very nice stadium — clean, comfortable, with good food and good service. Perhaps second only to Metro Bank Park in Harrisburg, which is a bit unfair because it’s much older. But every bit as good as other AAA stadiums I’ve been to.

I figure I’d better start with something nice to say about the game’s setting because there’s only so much positive things that can be said about the game itself, which was a 6-0 loss with just five hits and two errors for the Syracuse Chiefs.

On Friday, I could say “Well, the other pitcher was outstanding” and while Vance Worley was very good, he was by no means out of this team’s league, even if he’s likely to be back in the majors (and with a contender) next week.

That’s because Worley did not dominate the Chiefs. Sure, he scattered three hits over six innings, but he wasn’t overpowering, striking out just three batters. But he did beat them, and he did what good pitchers do: just. get. guys. out.

On the flip side (of the scorebook), Yunesky Maya continues to disappoint. Maybe some of this is simply the gap between the puff and PR from the mainstream media and his actual performance, but he very much reminds me of Robinson Checo in the late 1990s, an underwhelming, overpriced IFA that the Boston newspapers eventually dubbed “The Dominican Mystery Man” because his reputation far exceeded his results.

Maya was charged with four runs over five innings on nine hits with zero walks, but zero strikeouts. Four of nine hits went for extra bases. The Lehigh Valley batters may have been fooled the first time they saw Maya, but like many minor-league pitchers, not the second time, with eight of the nine IronPig hits coming during the 3rd, 4th, and 5th innings.

Offensively, only Chris Marrero seemed to show any real fire, gumption, or moxie. He showed particularly good patience by evening the count three times after falling behind 0-2 in the count in his first three at-bats. And it paid off: The first time, he flew out to the warning track. The second time, he singled to right-center. The third time, he rapped a double to the LF corner.

Unfortunately, Marrero also grounded into a double play in his last at-bat, which was the theme of the night as three times the Chiefs would see rallies snuffed by the dreaded twin-killing. Marrero’s GIDP stung a little more because it came after the first two batters walked in the 9th, ending whatever vain hope there may have been in denying the shutout bid.

The loss drops Syracuse to 38-49 for the season, 13 games behind first-place Lehigh Valley, as the two teams clash again tomorrow with Chad Gaudin set to start the game in another rehab outing.

May 072011
 

With 19 hits and 13 runs allowed, the best that can be said is that the pitching was not there last night for Harrisburg Senators.

Every Reading position player had a hit, with five players collecting three or more, as the Phillies dominated the first three Senator pitchers until Hassan Pena finally silenced them for the last five outs of the game.

Starter Ryan Tatusko labored through three innings, allowing five runs (four earned) on nine hits with one walk and three strikeouts to take his third loss of the season. He threw 80 pitches, 51 for strikes. Though some of his pitches were left up in the zone, it was uncanny how they seemed to guess fastball and get it — even when he switched up and started throwing mostly offspeed in his second pass through the lineup.

Jimmy Barthmaier’s luck and results were much the same. A leadoff bunt that he appeared to field and tag the runner was ruled safe. A hit-and-run set up a 1st-and-3rd situation. The next batter tapped to Tyler Moore who both hesitated and dropped the ball, eliminating both a play at the plate and a double play opportunity.

A hit batsmen, a wild pitch, a double, a walk, an opposite-field single and suddenly the game went from 5-3 to 10-3 in the space of maybe ten minutes. Pat McCoy would follow Barthmaier and would get roughed up in his first and last innings of work, allowing two HRs and four runs total over three and a 1/3rd innings before yielding to Pena.

As the 5-3 score suggests, for a brief moment, the Senators were in this game. Archie Gilbert singled with one out in the bottom of the second, the first of his four hits on the night, took second on a groundout by Steve Lombardozzi and went to third on an infield single by Tyler Moore that both the pitcher and the shortstop got a glove on. Jesus Valdez scorched a single to left that was misplayed into a two-RBI double as the fielder tried to snare the sinking liner and failed to touch it. After one full inning, it was 2-0 Harrisburg.

Strange as it may sound, the Senators managed to get a baserunner in eight of the nine innings and did not hit into any double plays, as they managed a respectable 13 hits. On most nights, that would be more than good enough. Tonight, it was like getting 100 yards rushing when the opposing QB had toasted the backfield for five TDs.

The loss dropped Harrisburg to .500 at 14-14, good for second place in the E.L. West while Reading improved to 18-10 and took sole possession of first place in the E.L. East. Brad Peacock will take the hill tomorrow afternoon, going for his fifth win and a chance to prevent a Reading sweep.

Jan 292011
 

Remember the last two snowstorms? Well, this week’s came too early to fulfill my private prediction that we’d get another just in time to preempt our third attempt to visit family in New England. So, as you might imagine, posts will slow (though it was a busy week this week wasn’t it?).

My Baseball America book came in the mail on Thursday. After the flurry of Keith Law posts, I chose to put my time into working on the player watchlists, as previously posted. It’s still a work in progress, but I’ve updated the page for lefthanded starters and published the page for righthanded starters, leaving unfinished the guys that I hope may be included in the Sickels book, which I hope to have in my hands upon my return.

And though his site is now officially gone, NFA Brian still lives on Twitter and I have to pass along two tweets combined into one quote regarding the BA book:

[Ten] of the 30 #Nationals were acquired in the last year — Harper (1), Cole (4), Ramos (5), Solis (6), Maya (11), Hague (14), Ray (15), ElvRamirez (20), Martinson (22), & Tatusko (26)

Add in the 2009 draft picks that are still in the system — Kobernus (21), Rosenbaum (23), Holder (28) — and that’s 13 out of 30 from the Rizzo era. This is not to say we’ll be the next Kansas City (let’s face it: that many high-risk/high-reward picks panning out does require a certain amount of luck), but we’re getting there… maybe not as fast as folks want, but it’s progress.

Aug 312010
 

Despite late-inning heroics, the Potomac Nationals couldn’t take both games of the doubleheader and had to settle for a split to open up the last regular-season road trip of 2010 with a 5-2 win and a 3-2 loss.

GAME ONE
In opening game, Potomac pounced on Salem’s Michael Lee, connecting for three doubles on their first three hits as Derek Norris, Jamar Walton doubled before and after a two-out walk to Tyler Moore to take a 2-0 lead in the first.

Dan Lyons got double number three to lead off the second and came in on an RBI single by Francisco Soriano, who in turn scampered in when Chris Curran tripled him in. Bill Rhinehart would single after a walk to Norris to complete the rally and the scoring for game one.

Zach Hammes came on in relief of Lee and stifled the P-Nats bats over the next four innings while Salem picked away at the Potomac lead, which began with two runs in the bottom of the second off starter Jimmy Barthmaier, who went five innings and gave up five hits.

Rob Wort came on in relief in the sixth and failed to retire a batter, issuing two walks around a double. A.J. Morris preserved the lead with a first-pitch double play that plated the third Salem run and got the final out in the sixth.

The seventh, however, was a little different as Morris issued two walks and knocked down a ball that went for an infield single but also got two strikeouts and a flyball to earn his second save for Potomac and preserve the 5-3 win.

GAME TWO
Pitching on two days’ rest, Pat Lehman got the nod to start the nightcap and sailed through the Salem lineup with just two base runners allowed over the first three innings. In the fourth, Alex Hassan and Oscar Tejeda hit back-to-back jacks to erase an early 1-0 lead that came courtesy of a Norris solo HR in the first. Lehman would finish the inning, allowing five hits over his four innings of work with no walks and two strikeouts.

But like the first game, Potomac’s offense was the long hit or no hit at all. After the Norris big fly, the next five batters would go down in order. Then Robby Jacobsen committed the cardinal sin of making the first out at third by trying to stretch a leadoff double into a triple in the fourth, then six batters went down in order until Jamar Walton doubled with one out in the 5th.

Thus, the 2-1 lead looked almost safe as Salem veteran Mark Holliman went for the complete game and started the seventh. Bill Rhinehart doubled high off the RF wall to lead off the inning and Tyler Moore made a loud out to chase Holliman. Sean Rooney greeted Sox reliever Cesar Cabral with a double to left to cash in “Dolla” Rhinehart and pinch-hitter Jose Lozada singled to left, but too sharply for Rooney to come in from second. The rally was then killed when Cabral got Sean Nicol to roll (hey, that rhymes) into a 6-4-3 double play.

Justin Phillabaum, who had pitched the sixth, came out to pitch the seventh and immediately surrendered a leadoff single that Salem turned into a double as pinch-runner Ryan Dent stole second.

Potomac seemed for just a brief moment to have fortune on their side when a towering popup to shallow center caught Dent in-between as Chris Curran sprinted in after misjudging the arc of the ball and got the double-play call. But a walk and an error kept the inning alive, and .

With the top of the order coming up (and a lefthanded batter), Gary Cathcart summoned Joe Testa to escape the jam. The lefty-on-lefty matchup was rendered moot with a walk, loading the bases. And the game was lost when a 3-2 fastball was deemed too inside for the walkoff walk, and a 3-2 Potomac loss.

With the split and a Wilmington win, the Potomac lead is down to 1½ games (two in the loss column). The series continues tomorrow with Marcos Frias set to take the mound against Miguel Gonzalez.

Aug 262010
 

April and Sue are both hitting the road for vacations, and we know this will shock you… but we’re going to see some baseball along the way. With our foreign correspondent trekking through the hinterlands of Canada and Northern New England and yours truly heading down I-81 to see some Appy League action (really advance scouting?) in Tennessee and Southwestern Virginia, Internet access may not be so reliable. But we’ll do our best to keep the News and Notes afloat and hope to have some features for you as well.

Jun 292010
 

It took a ten-hour drive over two days, but the Vermont Lake Monsters did not disappoint, delivering a 2-0 win on mild summer Monday night.

Pitching was the name of the game. Both teams would get four hits, but two of the Lake Monsters’ would leave the yard, courtesy of Stephen King and Ronnie Labrie.

They would be the difference, but it wasn’t nearly that simple. With eleven baserunners total, Tri-City would threaten to score in each of the first seven innings.

Taylor Jordan’s line of 5IP 3H 0R 2BB and 5K looks a lot more dominant today on virtual paper than it did in person yesterday. Which is not to say that he was lucky, only that it didn’t feel like he was cruising at any point last night.

To his credit, he worked out of every jam regardless of whether he created it (two walks, a hit batsmen) or his defense failed him (two errors), mixing his fastball, change and curveball just enough to be effective.

Jordan was followed by Ben Graham, a sidearmer that had sharp movement on nearly every pitch, except for his curve, which tends to float and then softly break. Prediction: That will be shelved once he faces more disciplined hitters.

Graham would provide three solid innings of relief, then turn it over to Dustin Crane for a 1-2-3 ninth, punctuated by a strikeout.

Some more Quick Hits…
…Leadoff hitter Chad Mozingo displayed a patient eye, working the count full in his first at-bat. Out in left, has a very strong arm nearly tossing out one runner at second base, and freezing that same runner at third base on a flyball to medium left to keep the game at 0-0

…Stephen King looked much better than I’ve ever seen him before on defense, highlighted by turning an awkward feed from second into a smooth double play in the sixth

…Ronnie LaBrie’s and Blake Miller’s errors, however, were of the high-school variety, neither getting in front of the ball to knock it down.

…Connor Rowe struggled with breaking pitches in both of his first two at-bats before drawing a walk. Defensively, covers a lot of ground in center.

…Centennial Field may be the oldest ballpark in affiliated baseball, but it’s not the worst by any means. Most of its disrepair and decay are reversible, and attributable — like most older ballparks — to a lack of proper maintenance, not structural problems.