By Ashley Marshall
Over the next week, I’ll be publishing a series of short posts featuring players I spoke with at Lakewood’s FirstEnergy Park during the South Atlantic League All-Star game.
Rome outfielder Josh Elander has found his power stroke in 2013. His production is up across the board in his first full season of pro ball, and he has impressed coaches with his ability to hit gap to gap with conviction.
He ranks third in the South Atlantic League with 59 RBIs, fourth with 36 extra-base hits and fifth with 80 hits and 22 doubles.
A converted catcher, Elander is pleased with the progress he has made over the past three years.
“From college, it started with [head coach] Jim Schlossnagle at TCU,” Elander said. “Those guys did a real good job of making you a better person off the field which in his mind and our mind as well makes you a better player on the field. Then obviously the professional approach the Atlanta Braves take gives us the best opportunity to be successful in the game we all love.”
But as much as Elander is dedicating himself to improving on the field, he’s not afraid to try new things to ensure he and his teammates are enjoying themselves away from it.
“It’s been a fun year. Levi [Hyams] and I have a great time and we have a lot of stuff we do on deck before we go hit,” Elander said. “It’s nothing major, we just joke around and stay loose. One thing we have done is we’ve had Thrift Shop Thursdays which is where we go to a thrift store and buy ridiculous clothing and wear it to the field. The last couple times it’s resulted in some hits, so we may do that a couple more times.
“There’s been six or seven of us doing it. [Catcher] Chase Anselment will do it, [outfielder] Blake Brown, too, and some other guys. We return looking like, well, not baseball players. The first day I came back in all-white Capri pants and a Hawaiian shirt to match, so that was pretty good.”
On deck: Savannah’s Jayce Boyd discusses leading the SAL league with a .361 average.
By Jake Seiner
Dayton pitching coach Tony Fossas on Cincinnati Reds prospect Ismael Guillon (Dragons’ Guillon building confidence):
“For the last two or three starts, his bullpens and pregame have been right on the money, and he’s still — his bullpens are still better than the way he’s pitching. His rhythm and tempo have been really good, and he’s not thinking about anything.
“In games, he’s pitching very aggressively and his tempo is getting better. You can see in a pitcher’s face when he’s building confidence. That’s what he’s doing right now. That he’s getting his confidence back tells me a lot about this young man. He had some games earlier this year that might’ve had me running to the mound.
Fossas on coaching players with unusual deliveries:
“I’m not a big guy on changing deliveries. I don’t play with that with a young man who has been throwing all his career a certain way. I believe it’s difficult to change a delivery. There are so many different, unorthodox deliveries out there. If I wanted to teach a perfect, prototypical delivery, I can do that.
“I pitched for a long time and I didn’t have a perfect delivery. Certain guys, you just try to make them better with what they’ve got. You don’t change too much and you try to create confidence for that player. I remember when I was a young player, my delivery was always being changed and I always struggled then because I was never comfortable.”
Pittsburgh Pirates’ Alen Hanson on winning Florida State League All-Star Game MVP (Hanson homers, named All-Star MVP):
“It’s an honor, especially with the way I started the season. It wasn’t quite the way I was expecting to start, so to get the opportunity to be an All-Star and perform like this is a dream come true for me.
“It was one of the best times so far in my career, actually being able to be at the All-Star Game and to be in the Home Run Derby with guys I know from back home, I enjoyed every moment. I enjoyed it as much as possible. And to cap it off by having the game that I had at the plate and to win the game, it was fun.”
Texas Rangers’ Neil Ramirez on managing baseball’s mental side (Ramirez fans 10 in RoughRiders’ win):
“Sometimes, I speed up a little and leave the ball up in my delivery. Having the intent to throw the pitch where I want it and with the stuff on it I want is what will keep me in the strike zone. I can’t try to miss bats too early. If you get ahead 0-2, then you can take your shot, and after that, then you come back into the zone. I need to be efficient with my pitches, not try to do too much. That’s when I get in trouble.”
Atlanta Braves’ Cody Martin on midseason promotions (Martin tosses gem in Triple-A debut):
“It’s fun. It’s really fun. You’re meeting a lot of new guys. It’s exciting. You can get into a lull with things when you’re with the same team for so long. By the midway point, it’s just a grind every day where you’re doing the same thing — it gets monotonous. Getting here two days ago, it put some pep in my step. I’ve been having an awesome time with these guys and I just want to keep contributing.”
By Josh Jackson
Trayce Thompson’s dad, Mychal Thompson, is a two-time NBA champion. His brother Klay impressed in his sophomore season with the Golden State Warriors.
I figured Trayce — the White Sox’s No. 2 prospect and the Double-A Birmingham Barons’ center fielder — might know something about intersections between basketball and baseball, including the greatest crossover in the last twenty years (with my apologies to Mark Hendrickson). After all, he is currently playing for Michael Jordan’s former team.
When he was asked if he ever thought about that, it wouldn’t have been shocking if he laughed the question off, like, “Hey, man, I’m working my butt off every day to get to the big leagues. Think I’ve got time to sit around thinking about Jordan?”
But he didn’t.
Instead, he said, “That’s funny, because probably my best friend in the organization, Brady Shoemaker, when we got to Birmingham last year, all we talked about was that we want to do better than Jordan did.”
Thompson doesn’t mean to belittle MJ’s performance, though.
“I mean, what an incredible athlete,” he said. “To go play baseball, after being the greatest basketball player, and after missing what are crucial years to develop as a baseball player — taking all that time off — even to perform as well as he did, that’s pretty impressive. Then to hit .250 in the [Arizona] Fall League? That’s unbelievable.
“It’s pretty special just to think about it, and not just Michael Jordan, but Bo Jackson, Frank Thomas… thinking about all the great players who came through here made getting here one of the best moments of my career so far.”
So, how’s he faring? Better than Mike? Thompson got off to a really slow start this season, hitting below .200 through the end of April. Since then, he’s been much better. He had five RBIs and two home runs, one of which was monstrous, the other night. He followed that with a 3-for-3 game. As of this writing, he’s batting .264 with 11 doubles, three triples and eight homers through 68 games. He has 40 RBIs and 12 stolen bases.
His Airness? He hit .202 with 17 doubles, a triple and three homers through 127 games. He had 51 RBIs and 30 stolen bases. (That last number, the 30 stolen bases, is pretty remarkable. Jordan was 31 years old, playing with top prospects in their early- and mid-20s, and he only got on base about 145 times).
Bo only made a brief rehab appearance for the Barons. The Big Hurt put up a .487 on-base percentage and 18 homers and 27 doubles.
No word on whether Thompson will give a tryout with the Chicago Bulls a shot when he wraps up his career — or when he’s in the middle of his career — with the White Sox.
By Sam Dykstra
This is always a fun one. The arguments that start around the water cooler usually are, even if they aren’t necessarily on the tip of the tongues of everyone in your office.
Who should start the All-Star Game?
It’s a question that seems objective in nature, but the answer is always subjective. If your ballot isn’t based around your favorite team, it depends on what stats you favor. Time and time again, Player X has a higher batting average, but Player Y has more homers and RBIs. Eventually, you go on down the line on each’s stats page until you believe there’s a clear winner. (Or if you’re a certain writer’s sibling, you just punched whatever name you recognized or sounded the funniest on the physical ballots at the ballpark. Not pointing any fingers, of course.)
Anyways, what I’m saying is everyone’s ballot will look different, everyone has his or her reasons for why the looks a certain way, and that’s where the debate comes in.
So for your consideration, I’ve taken a look at the Triple-A ballot and decided whom I think should be starting at each position in Reno on July 17. Let’s start with the International League.
Catcher, Josh Phegley, Charlotte – Not too difficult of a pick here. The No. 15 White Sox prospect is enjoying a breakout season — his third straight campaign with the Knights — and leads IL catchers in average (.314), homers (12), RBIs (35) and OPS (.980). (Fan vote leader: Phegley) (more…)
By Sam Dykstra
With All-Star teams being named and first-half division titles being clinched, we’re coming up on the midway point of the 2013 Minor League season. That’s certainly a large enough sample size to determine who has improved their prospect stock and who has perhaps done a little damage to theirs. Let’s take a look.
Byron Buxton, OF, MLB.com No. 18 – The Twins had high hopes for Buxton when they made him the second overall pick last year, and he’s been even better than advertised. As of Friday, he was leading the Midwest League with a .433 OBP, a .573 slugging percentage and (obviously) a 1.006 OPS. He also ranks among the circuit’s leaders in batting average (.343, second), triples (eight, second), stolen bases (27, fourth), RBIs (50, fourth) and walks (39, fourth). That’s not to mention his outstanding defense in center field. He should be moving up to the Florida State League soon, but those are the types of numbers that put you into the conversation for top overall prospect.
Archie Bradley, RHP, MLB.com No. 23 –The 20-year-old right-hander has been considered one of the best right-handed pitching prospects in the game since the D-backs took him seventh overall in the 2011 Draft. He didn’t do anything to hurt that reputation in his full-season debut last year, going 12-6 with a 3.84 ERA and 152 strikeouts in 136 innings for Class A South Bend. He’s taken things to another level so far this year. He posted a 1.26 ERA and a 43-10 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 28 2/3 frames at Class A Advanced Visalia before the D-backs promoted him to the Southern League (read: got him the heck out of the California League while times were good). He’s been just as good at Double-A Mobile, going 5-1 with a 1.34 ERA in eight starts all while being the second-youngest pitcher in the circuit. (Jackson’s Taijuan Walker has him by three days.) That ability to dominate such a high level at just 20 years old should send Bradley into the top 10, if not top five, during the next set of rankings.
Garin Cecchini, 3B, Red Sox No. 7 – The 22-year-old didn’t have a spot in the top 100 before the season began, but there’s no doubt he should have one now. He leads the Carolina League with a .351 average through 60 games — his closest competitor, Carolina’s Jerrud Sabourin, is at .312 — and ranks second among all Minor Leaguers with a .468 OBP. Though his batting numbers are up across the board, his basestealing ability has remained, with 15 thefts thus far. With that, Cecchini has brought a unique package to the Salem lineup, one that should vault him into the top 100 for next season.
Trevor Bauer, RHP, MLB.com No. 16 – It hasn’t been a great transition to the Cleveland organization for the 22-year-old right-hander, who was traded from the D-backs last offseason. He’s been spotty through nine starts at Triple-A Columbus (4.02 ERA, 1.38 WHIP) and hasn’t instilled much confidence in a trio of spot starts with the Indians. His 2.76 ERA in the Majors looks nice when isolated, but when considering his 15 walks in 16 1/3 frames, it begins to lose its luster. Bauer dropped from No. 9 at the beginning of last year’s rankings to No. 17 at the beginning of this season due to similar Major League struggles, and that could happen again for next year.
Mike Olt, 3B, MLB.com No. 21 – The former UConn star’s stats through his first 20 games at Triple-A Round Rock (.139/.235/.236, 32 strikeouts in 72 at-bats) showed that something must be wrong, and indeed there was. As it turned out, Olt was battling vision problems and ended up missing more than a month while searching for answers. He’s back with the Express now after a short stint at Double-A Frisco and seems to be back in the swing of things with a .275/.348/.550 line in the 11 games since his return. But with strikeouts remaining a concern, it might be too late to keep Olt from dropping out of the top 50 next time out.
Bubba Starling, OF, MLB.com No. 24 – It could be time to admit that the extremely athletic center fielder isn’t as big a prospect as we all believed. He performed admirably in his professional debut last year with Rookie-level Burlington, owning a .275/.371/.485 slugging percentage with 10 homers and 33 RBIs in 53 games to go with excellent defense en route to a spot on the Appalachian League All-Star team. This year has been a different story. It seems like he’s taken a step back with the bat, producing just a .200/.281/.351 line in 57 games during his full-season debut with Class A Lexington. There’s no doubt that Starling has a lot of tools in his bag — speed, glove and arm among them — but until he shows that he can produce with the bat, he could be knocked down a few pegs in the next rankings.
By Danny Wild
I only discovered Josh Satin’s eyebrows earlier this week — they are easily the biggest eyebrows in baseball, perhaps in sports (except for maybe Anthony Davis, but he only has one). And so when Zack Wheeler tweeted a photo of his teammates on a Las Vegas road trip, I instantly recognized those brows in the second seat:
— Zack wheeler (@Wheelerpro45) June 5, 2013
On the subjects of Minor League teammates and “facial” hair, check out Padres pitcher Walker Weickel’s snapshot of teammate Matthew Shepherd:
— Walker Weickel (@walkerweickel) June 5, 2013
I like how they’ve decorated — blank walls, fishing pole.
And on the subject of Matthew Shepherd, he Tweeted this shot of Class A Fort Wayne’s patriotic uniforms:
— Matthew Shepherd (@MkShepherd31) June 12, 2013
I’m not sure if these were a tribute to Captain America, the military, or the Puerto Rican flag. Either way:
Brewers prospect Hunter Morris may soon get to be living the life of a big leaguer, but for now, he’s stuck in mediocre Minor League hotels that don’t have TV:
Bad weather, can’t get out of the hotel, and then to top it off the cable goes out.. Best off day ever
— Hunter Morris (@HunterMorris15) June 6, 2013
But Hanley Statia was a good teammate and offered up his room for shared viewing of… Duck Dynasty? Game of Thrones? MLB Network?
@HunterMorris15 looks like your struggling there buddy come by room 604
— Hainley Statia (@HStatia4) June 6, 2013
Mariners outfield prospect Dario Pizzano (not the guy from Game of Thrones) is 22 but still feels old:
— Dario Pizzano (@DarioPizzano25) June 6, 2013
Tucson’s Cody Decker needs no introduction:
Remember that Russell Crowe Robin Hood movie? Ironically, it stole from the poor movie watcher and gave to the rich studio ($12 at a time).
— Cody Decker (@Decker6) June 7, 2013
Hey guy. Nice job on the whole getting-hitched plan. Bacon for everyone. (paraphrase of Lehigh Valley’s Cody Asche);
Guys are now 3-0 this year proposing while the Pigs play. I am sure there is some coincidence. Congrats to whomever you are guy.
— Cody Asche (@cody_smasche) June 8, 2013
I don’t really know what Trevor Bauer is referring to, but it sounds like he’s carrying a lot of lunch meat?
Secured a U-haul for the ride to lunch today. Wish it had an iPod hookup so I could blast ridin dirty with the windows down. #GangsterRide
— Trevor Bauer (@BauerOutage) June 8, 2013
Rangers No. 2 prospect Mike Olt reveals in a Twitter Q&A that he regularly converses with animals:
— Michael Olt (@molt2222) June 10, 2013
White Sox prospect Chris Beck gave up four runs in three innings on June 12 and, like many of us, ate his way back to happiness.
Advice for a sub par day: Stuff face with most delicious foods possible
— Chris Beck (@WatchurBeck) June 13, 2013
Love being able to drive this on nice days pic.twitter.com/mMAYJivkI8
— Matt Barnes (@mattbarnesRHP) June 13, 2013
That thing would destroy my Challenger — 662 horsepower, 200 mph, SVT painted forged aluminum wheels. The Cobra starts at $55,000, which is pennies for a guy who received a $1.5 million signing bonus.
Marlins top prospect Christian Yelich has already planned his breakup with Taylor Swift:
Hey @taylorswift13 Iets go on a date. Then i can have my own song
— Christian Yelich (@ChristianYelich) June 13, 2013
Rangers prospect Luke Jackson is worried about invisible lizards taking over his house:
There is literally no way to know how many chameleons are in your house.
— Luke Jackson (@YaBoy77) June 13, 2013
Finally, Indianapolis catcher Tony Sanchez delivers with an outstanding obscure Boardwalk Empire reference for Andrew Lambo:
— Tony Sanchez (@Tony26Montana) June 14, 2013
I agree. What do you think? (Also, Gyp’s eyebrows probably in the same league as Josh Satin):
Chipotle Tweet of the Week
Chipotle 3 out of 4 days…. 😑
— Mike Foltynewicz (@Folty25) June 11, 2013
By Ashley Marshall
Eddie Gamboa turned in one of the finest starts of his pro career on Wednesday, firing seven shutout innings with a pitch that he’s only had in his arsenal since March (Ben Hill’s feature on Gamboa).
Sure, the Orioles farmhand learned to throw the pitch as a 12-year-old with his father, but now it’s actually something that may fulfill his dreams of becoming a big leaguer.
I spoke with Gamboa in depth about his knuckleball. You can read the game recap here.
Here’s much more from Gamboa about his repertoire, his mindset and his inspirations.
On incorporating the knuckleball into his game:
“I’ve been throwing my knuckleball about 40 percent of the time. That’s been about my average. I’ve had my high around 65 percent, but I think 40-45 percent is where I feel comfortable throwing it in a game situation, rather than just throwing it and throwing it just to work on it.
“I also throw a two-seamer, a slider and a changeup. I throw my slider to keep them off my fastball, and I throw the changeup to keep them off everything else. I try not to give anybody the same look twice. Sometimes I won’t throw a knuckleball to a guy at all.
“The biggest difference [between success and failure] is just having command of all four pitches so they can’t sit on one pitch. Then I can throw a cutter or a slider at 0-0 or 2-2.
“I’m not really a knuckleball pitcher, but a pitcher who throws a knuckleball. I want to be able to eventually throw it 65 percent [of the time] and have everything else fall after that.”
On the variations of his knuckleball:
“I throw the knuckleball from 65-80 mph. I can throw it slow and I can throw it hard. I have a lot of control over the speed. It can be fluttering at times, and you don’t know where it wants to go. But I made a note of making sure I give them different looks with the knuckleball. I can feel it out to see which one I can control better.
“I can throw it with a three-quarter arm slot or with an over-the-top arm slot. I can throw it slow or hard with a three-quarter arm slot and I can throw it slow or hard coming over the top. I give them different looks and see how they react to it. It’s a matter of getting comfortable and feeling that ‘click.’ Once I do that, I can get away from my old conventional stuff which is the reason I’ve been stuck in the Minor Leagues and not in the Major Leagues.
“I’m still trying to find out what is more comfortable. From what my catchers say, the one over the top will move either left or right, where the three-quarter tails like a slider, away from right-handers and in to left-handers. It’s just a matter of getting comfortable with them. I can throw it all day in the bullpen, but only when there’s a batter and an umpire can you get better, because that’s where it matters. It’s definitely a work in progress, but I’m committed to doing whatever will get me to the big leagues. The Orioles like it, and I’m grateful. I want to do it to fulfill my dream.”
On working with his catchers:
“The catcher sets up in the middle. The only thing he will do sometimes is ask for either the hard or slow knuckleball. He throws down the fingers and I hope for the best.
“I’m a competitive person. People who don’t me maybe don’t know that. You have to have a lot of patience and throw your ego out the window. If you know me, you know I’m all about pitching to contact. I don’t like walking people. I want to throw strikes, get in, get out and keep the defense on their toes. But with the knuckleball, it’s so slow — it’s the opposite. I know I’ll walk a lot of people and that I’ll throw balls and wild pitches and have stolen bases. But [the Orioles] also want me to compete. They want me to work on the pitch in the game, but if there are runners on second and third, I’m not thinking about working on the knuckleball, I’m thinking about getting the hitter out. I’m doing what I love so I can’t complain, but at the same time I still have to get better.”
On his mentors and advisors:
“Phil Niekro has been very supportive. But he lived and died by his knuckleball and I don’t know if I’m there yet. That’s the difference right now, but hopefully one day I can be as great as him. I want to be like R.A. Dickey who had conventional stuff and then got to The Show. I’ve met a lot of great people through the knuckleball. My role model used to be John Smoltz. Now it’s R.A. Dickey and Phil Niekro.
“[Orioles GM] Dan Duquette is good friends with Phil, and he had him come out and watch my games and work on me between starts. He was with me in Spring Training. I’m able to call this Hall of Famer and I have his number. Not many people can do that. It’s a great feeling, having a GM who believes in you. I couldn’t ask for anything better. You play the game for the opportunity and I have a great opportunity in front of me now.”
By Jake Seiner
Fresno manager Bob Mariano on Gary Brown’s recent acceptance of his need to make adjustments (Coachable Brown breaks out for Fresno)
“It started in Salt Lake City. Our hitting coach, Russ Morman, was working with him a lot, and Shane Turner, our field coordinator, came in. Gary’s been real reluctant to really make adjustments. Some guys just take some time and are a little stubborn. He really started opening up and asking questions to Shane and us about what he needed to do. We looked at some video of him in San Jose, and he was taller in his setup back then, and that allowed him to stay above the ball in his setup and stay through the zone.
“He’s been asking more questions and been more receptive to some teaching that Russ was trying to get through to him, and Shane Turner was trying to get through to him, and he just started catching on fire. He’s barreling up the ball. He’s had three good games now where he’s really swinging the bat. Tonight, he had probably the best game he’s had all year.
“He was a little wider in his setup and was really rushing out there with his mechanics on the front side and was constantly working underneath the baseball. He had a long swing and he was in and out of the zone real quick. Now, he’s taller, and he’s working high to low, keeping the barrel above his hands. He’s more short to long, staying inside the ball and barreling up. He’s catching fire and putting together some good at-bats, and that’s something we’ve been waiting for for a long time.
“Sometimes, guys might have success for their whole lives, whether it’s in college or a lower level. He had success in San Jose, but as he started moving up — in Triple-A, it’s a whole different animal. Pitchers are throwing to different sides of the plate and they can add and subtract real well.
“Sometimes guys take time to make adjustments and are more open to it. Gary, he was kind of — he wasn’t real receptive earlier. Sometimes failure is your best teacher as a coach. You let guys fail, and they have to take a couple of steps back before they can take steps forward. That’s what was going on, and now, he’s swinging the bat well. It’s a good thing, because we have a lot of games left. We’re only midway through the season.”
San Francisco prospect Gary Brown on battling through his struggles this season (Brown rights the ship with four hits):
“It’s hard because in this game, you can do everything right and fail. Earlier this year, I wasn’t doing much right, but, even when I was doing things right, I was still failing. It’s good to have a night like this.
“It’s definitely been building. I haven’t stopped working since the season started. I just haven’t seen the results. I finally got some balls to fall today. I found a couple holes in the infield, and sometimes, that’s just what it takes.”
Springfield pitching coach Randy Niemann on Cardinals’ prospect Seth Blair pitching in Double-A (Cards’ Blair outduels Drillers’ Oswalt):
“When he started the year, he was probably a level above where he should’ve been in the sense that he didn’t pitch a lot last year. He had a very good Spring Training and we took a chance on taking him up here. He’s had some growing pains, but he’s done a great job of making adjustments to his delivery and basically getting comfortable at this level.
“We knew coming in that he had all the ability to be able to pitch at this level. He just didn’t have the experience. Now, he’s gaining the experience, and he understands himself and his delivery better and he’s making better pitches.
“I think in Spring Training, we realized that not only did he have the ability to be at this level, but he had exhibited the mental capacity to handle it. You knew going in that it wouldn’t be easy. There were some rough spots. With every outing, even if the results weren’t showing up, he was improving and mentally, he was staying strong, and it’s a credit to him that he was able to do that.
“He didn’t let the results overwhelm him. He understands the process and he kept working hard at that. Now, we’re starting to see the results of that work. We’re very pleased and proud of the work he’s put in.
He had a delivery where he actually stepped back and then had a big leg turn, more of a leg swing than a turn. What it was doing was affecting his posture through his delivery. Sometimes, he would maintain it, and sometimes, he would get out of it. It was making him very inconsistent. He calmed that down a little.
“He still goes over his head and makes a turn, but he’s picking that leg up and doing a little side step rather than stepping back and swinging his leg around and getting his posture off line. He worked hard on that. Also, out of the stretch, he had a little higher of a leg kick, so we cut that down. That’s helped improve his command, also. It’s that old saying, ‘Keep it simple.’ By simplifying those things, he’s helped his delivery and his command. The stuff is definitely there — it’s just about being able to keep it in the strike zone.
He’s got an overpowering curveball, but the issue with it — it’s kind of a spike curve, and the issue is commanding it. He’s starting to improve that a lot. We’ve kind of adjusted his grip and gotten him to where he can throw a slower curve and a harder one. He’s ended up with two curveballs, and he’s improved his command with both. With the changeup, again, it’s a plus pitch for him, but he has a tendency to fly open and lower his arm angle. When he’s able to maintain that same angle as his fastball, that’ll affect that pitch.
“Those are the little things guys with experience are able to understand and do. He’s doing it and experiencing it and fixing it with each outing and side session and bullpen he throws. Those are the kinds of things — other than results — those are the things we noticed him improving on and getting better. Now, it’s showing up in games.”
Washington prospect Robbie Ray on the adjustments that have led to his resurgence with Potomac (Ray continues to rebound for Nats):
“It was a mechanical thing. I had kind of tightened up my windup a little. I have a little turn now, and I raised my arm slot. I’m more of a high three-quarters now than a low three-quarters.
“That was actually last season, in the last game of the year last year, Chris Michalak, my pitching coach, we were working on stuff in the ‘pen before my next start. He said, ‘Let’s try this,’ and it felt good. I took it into the offseason, and it seemed to be working, and I stuck with it.
“It’s allowing me to keep my body going straight toward the hitter, toward the plate. Last year, I was flying open and leaving everything arm side. When I get that turn, I stay closed and I’m moving toward the plate, and that allows me to keep the ball in the zone.
“From last year, I thought I could just come out and throw stuff and it’d be good. I didn’t know how to pitch to hitters. This year, I have more knowledge of what to throw in what counts, where as last year, I was trying to blow it by guys. I’m being a little more selective about my pitches.
Oakland prospect Max Muncy on rediscovering success after a hot start and a long slump (Muncy’s three shots lead homer barrage):
“It wasn’t really an adjustment to my swing. It was more to my mental approach. I started off the season really hot, and I think I let that get to my head a little and got away from my approach. My approach is to be a linedrive hitter. The home runs will just come when I get a little underneath the ball and get it into the air.
“I started struggling when I started trying to put the ball in the air instead of sticking to line drives. The last couple weeks, I’ve been trying to get back to that, and I think I’ve done a good job of that. Tonight, I just happened to get underneath it.”
Muncy on what’s gone into him already tripling his homer output from last season:
“I’m getting a little more backspin on the ball. Last year, I had a lot of doubles, and I can honestly say a lot of those were balls with topspin. I’d topspin balls down the right-field line over the first baseman’s head, and even the ones I’d hit into right-center field, I’d be getting some topspin on them. This year, I’m putting more backspin on it.
“It’s just about staying through the ball a little more and not getting to the point of contact and coming out early. I had been doing that my whole life, and that’s really what creates the backspin. I really worked in the offseason to stay on the inside part of the ball and get backspin.”
Fort Myers manager Doug Mientkiewicz on importance of winning in Minor Leagues (Miracle clinch first-half division title):
“I was lucky enough to play with the same group of guys all the way up with Dave Ortiz and A.J. Pierzynski and Torii Hunter and the list goes on — Corey Koskie. We were all together from, ever since we all signed, we played together and won at every level. I think that was a big reason why we turned the franchise around, is we believed in each other.
“We won at every level, and we took our lumps and got our butts kicked every night the first couple years in the big leagues, but that group understood about taking those lumps, and we thought once we got established, things wouldn’t be any different. With the guys we already had out there, the Eddie Guardados and the LaTroy Hawkins and Brad Radkes — our group believed we could win.
“That’s something the Twins always believed in in the development stage. It’s not about developing individual talents. It’s about developing winning players. Winning players find a way to stick around in the big leagues.”
By Josh Jackson
What’s that old Roy Campanella quote? The one about needing to be a man to play in the big leagues, but also needing to have a lot of inner little boy?
I found myself thinking about that after a post-game interview with Taijuan Walker, the Mariners’ top prospect. I also thought about child stars and weird chess or music prodigy kids who grow up way too fast under the weight of expectation.
Walker doesn’t turn 21 until August, and his being 19 last year in his first crack at Double-A was among the things we discussed. He talked about the game and his approach to it with the poise and intelligence of a much older player, but one thing he said showed he doesn’t have much in common with those gifted young people who lose sight of the joy of the thing.
Our interview took place in the midst of Yasiel Puig’s insane first few days in the big leagues, and Walker had just pitched against Puig’s former team. I joked that Walker must be glad to have missed Puig.
“Oh, no,” he said. “I’m bummed not to get to throw against him. Throwing against top talent is fun. If you want to be the best, you have to face the best. You really have to go out there, and battle your butt off. That’s the most fun — throwing against top talent.”
He has a different idea of fun off the ballfield: obsessive viewing of a show that debuted two years before he was born.
One of our two brilliant night editors alerted me to the fact that Walker’s walk-up music is the theme song from The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. I had to ask him about that.
“That is true,” he said. “I’m a huge fan of Will Smith. I have all six seasons on my iPad. All I do all day is watch Fresh Prince.”
As much as he loves the series, it peaked early for him. His favorite episode is the pilot, which has helped him through many hours of long bus rides.
“This season I’ve probably watched it 30 times,” he said, “and it still cracks me up.”
By Danny Wild
Padres Minor Leaguer Cody Decker talks about golf in Scotland, winters in Russia, surfing in Australia, living in England and … either Decker is one of the most well-traveled players in the Minors, or he’s had a lot of free time perfecting his accents. Listen up:
— TucsonPadres (@TucsonPadres) June 2, 2013
But if you thought that was the end of this week’s Cody Decker multimedia coverage, you’re wrong. He has produced this movie trailer in iMovie of a teammate getting his belly button pierced. I’m not sure if this was some kind of losing bet situation or someone was bored or this unidentified teammate really wanted a bar sticking into his navel, but in any case, Cody provided the thrilling music, editing and graphics to this docudrama:
— Cody Decker (@Decker6) June 4, 2013
Staying in Cody Decker Land, the Tucson first baseman, perhaps inspired by his alleged British roots, offered this thought:
Did anyone else notice that The Beatles released “All You Need is Love” AFTER they were the wealthiest people in music industry?…
— Cody Decker (@Decker6) June 3, 2013
That song, penned by John Lennon, was released in 1967. It’s estimated The Beatles, by August 1967, had earned at least £25 million. That would be roughly $38.9 million today. Meanwhile, Cody Decker said his after-tax signing bonus as a 22nd-round pick in 2009 was $638. ”I was able to get a nice steak and that’s about it,” he told MLB.com. “More than anything, I love playing professional baseball, but it doesn’t always pay the bills.”
Moving on, I think we can now call David Aardsma a journeyman, and in his latest stop, he knew just how to win over his new teammates:
David aardsma thanks for the Chipotle spread tonight! You’re the man!
— greg peavey (@GregPeavey) June 1, 2013
The Christian Yelich-Jake Marisnick lovefest continued in Jacksonville, where Yelich snapped this photo of his teammate unwinding after a rough game with some Sunkist:
— Christian Yelich (@ChristianYelich) June 2, 2013
Last time we mentioned Twins prospect Trevor May’s DJing skills and need for some new music. And staying in Jacksonville, outfielder Dan Pertusati reveals the Marlins have an DJ of their own in the system:
Team karaoke with @lomomarlins as DJ..quality team bonding
— Daniel Pertusati (@DPert12) June 2, 2013
Mets prospect Zack Wheeler will soon be surrounded by veterans who know how to sleep. Expected to be called up to New York this week, Wheeler is still enjoying Minor League life with his remote-controlled-bed-challenged roommate, Josh Edgin, in Las Vegas:
Watching Edgin try and figure out this “sleep number” bed is priceless. Like a old man trying to figure out a iPhone or something.
— Zack wheeler (@Wheelerpro45) June 2, 2013
I don’t know who “The Shredder” is, but Bowie’s Brian Ward exposed him taking a snooze on the bus:
The shredder knocked out twitter.com/ward_br/status…
— Brian Ward (@ward_br) June 2, 2013
Speaking of sleeping, poor top Rockies prospect David Dahl can’t do much else while he’s on the DL. He hasn’t played for Class A Asheville since May 7:
Never been so bored
— David Dahl (@ddahl21) June 3, 2013
Rays’ No. 16 prospect Tyler Goeddel, a third baseman, likes Xbox and weird hats. What do you think, Call of Duty or Battlefield? Hard to tell in teammate Ryan Dunn’s snapshot:
— Ryan Dunn (@Dunn3R8) June 3, 2013
Chipotle Tweets of the Week
Pirates catcher Tony Sanchez, an outspoken advocate of a certain brand of burritos, was enraged when the Indianapolis Indians rolled into Columbus, Ohio and there were no fast-food Mexican establishments open:
Who closes a #Chipotle on Saturday AND Sunday? Columbus does. Amateurs.
— Tony Sanchez (@Tony26Montana) June 2, 2013
Finally, we have someone here at the MLB.com offices who fits this mind-set:
Is there ever a day when Chipotle doesn’t sound good?
— Xavier Scruggs (@Xavier_Scruggs) June 3, 2013