February 2009

Kings in Spring (Pt. 1)

The Texas Rangers opened their Spring schedule against Kansas City yesterday at Surprise.  A few former LumberKings saw action in the 12-7 win:

Ian Kinsler (’04):  2-for-3, run scored, RBI

Justin Smoak (’08):  2-for-2, double, run scored

Manny Pina (’07):  came in to catch, did not hit

Thomas Diamond (’04):  1.0 inning, 2 strikeouts.  Nice return after Tommy John surgery last year.  Comeback story of the year in the Rangers system?

Remember my post on former LumberKing Tug Hulett (’05) and his shot at making the Mariners 25-man roster a few weeks back?  He’s now with the Royals after being clamed off waivers on February 19th.  Nope, he didn’t see any action in yesterday’s game, although I’m sure he and Diamond took time to catch up.

Word has it (thanks to our old friends at the Newberg Report) that Derek Holland (’08) will face the Royals today.  Hopefully he bounces back from a less-than-stellar performance in intra-squad play a few days back (4 runs, 3 earned on 4 hits over 0.0 IP, 3-run HR allowed to Julio Borbon).  I have a feeling this outing will be solid.  Holland hasn’t struggled in back-to-back outings yet in his career.

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Derek Holland in last year’s season-opener against Cedar Rapids.

The Mariners opened up Spring at Peoria with a tough 4-3 loss to San Diego in 10 innings.  Former Fort Wayne Wizard Kyle Blanks doubled home the game-winner for the Padres.  

One former LumberKing remains with Seattle, reliever Roy Corcoran (’02), who according to this Jim Street article, is in the mix for the closer role this year. 

As for us here in Clinton, spring hasn’t formally arrived quite yet.  The snow is thawing thanks to 50-degree temperatures yesterday, but we’ve got fog, rain and 41 degrees at the present.  More cold on the way, I’m afraid.

-DL 

Back in the Office Again

A long offseason officially concluded for me on Monday when I returned to the main office at Alliant Energy Field to “get to work”.

Here’s a peek into life at the ballpark:

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The LumberKings Media Relations Department (aka my desk).  You’ll notice in Clinton we utilize the “open office” atmosphere.  Makes it a lot easier to communicate, but even easier to launch rubber bands, softee balls and other projectiles at one another.  On my desk, you’ll notice a picture of me as the Italian Sausage along with my mom, a Grady Sizemore bobblehead, a Jack McKeon “Jack in the Box” and a Prince Fielder bobblehead.  GM Ted Tornow lurks in the background.

06-15-2008 002.jpgDirector of Operations Justin Sampson is pictured here, printing out tickets by the thousands.  As you can see by the binder of orders, he’s only just begun.

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Assistant GM Nate Kreinbrink has a desk full of season preparations.  And, a box of candy bars for sale.  I’ve already purchased two.

 

06-15-2008 004.jpgThe field remains snow-covered after last weekend’s latest barrage.  Our new groundskeeper Dan Thomas can only wait for the thaw.

As for me, I’m busy updating the stats, records and various content for our 2009 Gameday Program.  There’s also work to be done with live radio reads, advertisements, media credentials, game notes formats, etc.  Oh yeah, and that All-Star Game we’re having.

Back to work.

-DL

Old 24 is Back

 
griffey%20jr.jpgI just thought I’d throw my two cents in on the return of Ken Griffey Jr. to the Mariners.  No, I’m not going to break down his impact on the club, his potential numbers or likelihood of a healthy season.  The folks over at USSMariner will probably do a more insightful job of that than I can.

I will say though, as a kid of the 90′s, Griffey was the standard.  His was the baseball card you’d gladly trade half your collection to get.  You could find his jersey on the rack at every sporting goods store across America.  Some guys just look right in a certain uniform, and to see Junior donning the old blue and silver 24 again will be a great thing.

We did cross paths once during my baseball career.  It was in 2000, my first year with the Milwaukee Brewers Grounds Crew.  After a Reds-Brewers game ended late on a school night, I was walking through the old basement of Milwaukee County Stadium and passed Griffey on my way out.  He gave me the head nod and “what’s going on”.  I had only worked a few months in pro baseball at the time, so it was one of the early moments I remember feeling that I had arrived.

So, stay healthy Junior.  Climb up that all-time home run ladder a few more rungs.  But if you do get injured, come rehab in Clinton.

-DL

Fields of Dreams

Go figure.  I just finish writing a long, detailed post about who might show up in a Clinton LumberKings uniform this season and THEN I check out the front page of Mariners.com.  Last year’s first-round pick, right-hander Josh Fields has finally signed.

Fields, the 20th overall selection in last year’s June draft ended a nine-month wait by signing yesterday.  You can read more on the 23-year-old former University of Georgia reliever and Southern Conference Pitcher of the Year in Jim Street’s article.

The LumberKings have had at least one first round pick in each of my three seasons with the club.  John Mayberry (2006), Kasey Kiker (2007) and the trio of Blake Beavan, Michael Main and Justin Smoak (2008) all donned the Louie cap.  Hopefully Fields is next.

The key quote from GM Jack Zduriencik in the article:

“Our goal is to have him ready to pitch in the Minors this season.  We need to get him in the Minor Leagues and get him some innings.”

Now, will those innings come in Clinton?  At least some of them?  The Rangers started out Kiker, Beavan and Main in the AZL before promoting them to Clinton once the weather got better.  The Mariners may well do the same thing with Fields.  Low A would seem to be the perfect fit for him, since Seattle will not want to hold him back for the start of short-season in June, but also may not want to rush him up to the hitter-friendly Cal League.

I guess we’ll see.

-DL

 

Speculation Time

Mariners camp has only just begun, and we’re still a long way from knowing where players will align within the system.  Still, in just over 50 days, the 2009 Clinton LumberKings will take the field.  Who will be dressed in black and green other than Scott Steinmann, Lance Painter and Jesus Azuaje?

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The 2008 LumberKings lined up on Opening Night.

This is an especially tough question given our first year as a Seattle affiliate.  In the past, you get a good sense of who will return from the previous year’s club, then round out the roster with the top performers in short-season, AZL and VZL ball.

Throw in the mix that the system itself may be getting a shakeup under Jack Zduriencik and Pedro Grifol.  The result, it’s a little tougher for people like myself to guess who’s going to be where on the farm.  Right now, much like the fans, I can only speculate.

So, let’s do just that:

During our Hot Stove banquet in January, Mariners’ special assistant John Boles didn’t bring up a lot of names when it came to possible players, but did toss out two in specific, former Wisconsin Timber Rattlers outfielder Daniel Carroll and 20-year-old third-base prospect Mario Martinez

Although Carroll has seen time in high-A High Desert, there’s reason to see why the 2007 second-round pick might be back in the Midwest League.  He hit just .135 (10-for-74) in 17 games with the Mavs, and his stats with the Rattlers weren’t outstanding.  At Wisconsin he hit .248 and posted a .325 on-base percentage in 60 games.  Still, his speed was intriguing…31 of 40 in stolen bases against MWL opponents last year.  Those numbers are even better than what Engel Beltre did atop the LumberKings order last year (31 of 42 in steals), and Carroll did it in half as many games (60 compared to Beltre’s 130).  Plus, Carroll stacks up as Seattle’s best defensive outfield arm according to Baseball America. 

You never know if the Mariners will choose to challenge him back in high-A next year, but I’d personally love to see Carroll swiping bags and gunning down baserunners at Alliant Energy Field.

Could Carroll be one of two former second-round picks roaming the Clinton outfield?  Dennis Raben (second round in ’08) had some nice power numbers from the left side of the plate last year in short-season Everett.  He slugged five homers and drove in 14 RBI while hitting .275 (.560 slugging, .411 on-base) in 27 games.  Bound to be a LumberKing?  Hopefully.

On to Martinez.  The numbers the last two years on this kid have been solid.  A .281 average, 36 runs scored and 26 RBI in 53 games his first season in the AZL, a .319 average, 15 doubles, 5 HR, 43 runs, 32 RBI in 64 games last year with Pulaski.  As Boles said, he should make it to Clinton.  Hopefully he’ll be working with Azuaje on developing further plate discipline…while his average has been where you want, he’s walked just 16 times in his career compared to 78 strikeouts.

It would be interesting to see if Jharmidy DeJesus might also get a look at the Midwest League.  Another third-baseman, DeJesus is equally young, hails from Jose Vallejo’s hometown of Bani, D.R. and can swing the bat.  Splitting time between the AZL and Everett last year, he combined to hit .309 with 10 homers, 33 RBI and a .376 on-base percentage over 62 games.  Who knows how those numbers could project over a full 140 games?

That’s just four potential players out of a roster of 25, but four of the biggest names in the entire Mariners’ system.  A look at the Seattle Top 10 according to Baseball America:

1.  Greg Halman – OF

2.  Michael Saunders – OF

3.  Phillipe Aumont – LHP

4.  Carlos Triunfel – SS/2B

5.  Juan Ramirez – RHP

6.  Adam Moore – C

7.  Mario Martinez – 3B

8.  Jharmidy DeJesus – 3B

9.  Dennis Raben – OF

10.  Michael Pineda – RHP

 

Every player on this list aside from Martinez, DeJesus and Raben has already passed through the Midwest League with Wisconsin.  That includes the top pitching prospects, Aumont, Ramirez and Pineda, none of which are likely coming to Clinton in ’09.  So who then will make up the starting rotation?  

Could we see a third stint out of righty Nathan Adcock (2-5, 3.72 ERA in 2008), whose curveball was ranked the best in the system by BA?  How about second seasons out of Donnie Hume (6-2, 2.44), Edward Paredes (7-11, 4.63) and Keith Renaud (1-5, 5.14), all who made at least 11 starts with Wisconsin last year?  Any of those three could enjoy breakout seasons on par with what Omar Poveda and Zach Phillips did with the Kings in 2007.

Or, it could be newcomers.  Pulaski boasted solid arms like Nick Czyz (6-5, 4.08), Brooks Mohr (6-4, 3.27) and Fabian Williamson (4-3, 4.10) last season.  In Everett, there weren’t too many starters with ERA’s under four, but Nolan Gallagher (1-1, 2.94), Bobby LaFromboise (2-2, 3.46) and Brett Lorin (1-0, 2.82) fared well in limited action.  Lorin ended up making six starts with the Rattlers by season’s end.  Then there’s high-rounders Ben Pribanic (1-2, 15.43 in AZL) and Steven Hensley (2-1, 5.22) who both struggled after being selected in the third and fourth rounds, respectively.

This early in the year, it’s still largely a guessing game.  Performance on those back diamonds at the Peoria Sports Complex will be the most important thing in the coming weeks.  I hope to get a chance to observe many of these players myself when I head down to Arizona in a couple weeks.

Any players you think I left out?  Any further observations on who might be a LumberKing in 2009?  I’m definitely interested to hear your opinions.  Click the “comment” link below and let me hear it.

-DL

From LumberKing to Mariner

Spring Training officially opens for the Seattle Mariners at Peoria Sports Complex this Friday, and a quick look at those invited to big league camp includes…

two former LumberKings.  By way of two different organizations.

Second-baseman Tug Hulett, a member of the Texas-affiliated LumberKings in 2005 and right-hander Roy Corcoran, a part of the 2002 Clinton squad affiliated with the Montreal Expos will both attempt to make Don Wakamatsu’s 25-man roster.

For today, we’ll focus on Hulett, a fan-favorite of just a few years ago (but still before my time).  Without consulting team historian Brad Seward, a bit on the Tug story:

Hulett arrived in Clinton after being drafted by the Rangers in the 14th round in 2004.  As the regular second-baseman for Carlos Subero’s club, Hulett hit .265 with 22 doubles, 70 runs scored, 45 RBI and 20 steals in 106 games.  Even though his father, Tim Hulett managed short-season Spokane in the very same system (and coincidentally was the man credited with rebuilding ’08 MWL All-Star Ian Gac’s swing), Tug was traded to the Mariners for Ben Broussard in December of 2007.

The trade of Tug came after his breakout season in the Rangers’ system.  After hitting just five home runs in his first three seasons, he went on a tear at triple-A Oklahoma in ’07, belting 11 homers while driving in 67 RBI and maintaining a solid .275 average.  However, the surprise stardom of Ian Kinsler (’04 LumberKing) and the emergence of Jose Vallejo (’06-’07 LumberKing) as the next big thing put Hulett on the trading block.

Broussard was a relative bust in Texas last year.  Meanwhile, Tug started to make a name for himself in triple-A Tacoma.  He boosted his homer total to 14 and made a huge leap in OPS from .765 to .898.  The power and advanced eye caught attention, and by July, Tug was suiting up for a Major League debut with the Mariners.

The 30-game sample size for Hulett yielded a .224 average, two extra-base hits and 17 strikeouts in 49 at-bats.  Not lighting the world on fire, but a starting point.  He enters camp in a likely competition with rookie Reegie Corona and veteran Ronny Cedeno for the utility infield role. 

Given what Kinsler did in Spring in 2006, going from 17th-round longshot to starting second-baseman and eventual AL All-Star, this could very well be Tug’s time to shine.  He’ll certainly have the Clinton faithful behind him.  The fans here don’t seem to forget past favorites too quickly.

While our photo archives in Clinton are still lacking (especially prior to my arrival in 2006), I was able to dig up a photo of Tug as a LumberKing in 2005.  This photo is thanks to MWLGuide.com:

 
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Further reading:  Tug Hulett’s Mariners Bio Page

I’ll have to reach back even further for some memories of Corcoran.  I might need to consult Mr. Seward on that one.  Until then, enjoy the beginning of baseball season!

-DL

Hot Stove Wrap-Up

We officially kicked off the 2009 season and the Seattle Mariners era with our Hot Stove Banquet on January 24th.  This year was my first opportunity to serve as the emcee of the event, and after fighting some nerves and thinking up different ways to roast General Manager Ted Tornow, I think I pulled it off. 

Our speakers included team president Paul Schnack, assistant General Manager Nate Kreinbrink, “Friends of Riverview” vice president Judy Dennis, Clinton mayor Rodger Holm, and our keynote speaker John Boles.

For a longtime follower of the Florida Marlins like myself, it was an honor to be able to introduce Mr. Boles, a man who formed young talent like Edgar Renteria, Charles Johnson, Mike Lowell, Luis Castillo, Josh Beckett, A.J. Burnett, etc. into World Champions in 1997 and 2003. As one of the great baseball minds and the special assistant to Mariners’ GM Jack Zduriencik, Boles used his speech to familiarize the fans (and myself) with what the Seattle system is all about.

He talked about the Mariners’ philosophy of finding players with character in addition to ability, something that can be lost in today’s sports culture.  A player has to be well-rounded and mentally strong, not just talented to succeed in the Seattle system.  I think that certainly fits well with this community.  Boles also had high praise for the character and leadership of manager Scott Steinmann, who takes over the LumberKings after managing in double-A last season.

In talking with Boles after the banquet, it was easy to get a sense of the optimism surrounding this organization.  It reminded me of our first meeting with the Mariners’ brass at the 2008 MLB Winter Meetings in Las Vegas.  Building this franchise back into a powerhouse through the draft and international scouting unlike any other in baseball is what they are about.  It is certainly a philosophy that is going to help us put a great team on the field in Clinton.

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(Left to right: myself, Head Groundskeeper Mitch Langstaff, General Manager Ted Tornow, Mariners’ Special Assistant John Boles, Assistant GM Nate Kreinbrink, Director of Operations Justin Sampson, Director of Promotions Mitch Butz, PA Announcer Brad Seward).

While we move forward officially as a Mariners affiliate, I still get emails from time to time asking about former players and coaches.  I thought I’d close this entry with an update on the 2008 LumberKings.

Each of last year’s coaching staff has moved to a new post in 2009.  Manager Mike Micucci has taken over the managerial role for the double-A Frisco RoughRiders and will likely have many members of last year’s LumberKings opening day roster.  Mike got the nod after being named the “Best Managerial Prospect” in the Midwest League by Baseball America last year.

Pitching coach Danny Clark moved into the minor league pitching coordinator role with the Texas Rangers, after Rick Adair ironically left to become the pitching coach for the Mariners.  Small world, huh?  I’m glad for DC, he certainly deserved it after grooming a staff that featured Derek Holland, Neftali Feliz, Blake Beavan, Michael Main and Kennil Gomez last year.

Hitting coach Brian Dayett has taken over the same post in low-A Hickory, while coach Jason Hart is now the hitting coach for short-season Spokane.  Trainer Jacob Newburn is headed West for high-A Bakersfield.

Of course, for those of you who kept up with the Rangers this winter, their farm system was ranked the best by Baseball America, thanks to many a LumberKing.  Here’s the list of their Top 10 Prospects, with former Kings in bold:

1.  Neftali Feliz (RHP) – class of ’08

2.  Derek Holland (LHP) – class of ’08

3.  Justin Smoak (1B) – class of ’08

4.  Elvis Andrus (SS)

5.  Martin Perez (LHP)

6.  Taylor Teagarden (C)

7.  Engel Beltre (OF) – class of ’08

8.  Michael Main (RHP) – class of ’08

9.  Julio Borbon (OF)

10.  Max Ramirez (C/1B)

Congrats to those guys.  There was obviously a lot of talent on last year’s club.  You’d likely see second-baseman Jose Vallejo and right-hander Omar Poveda on the list (both ’06-’07 Kings), but both are currently on the Rangers’ 40-man roster and have legitimate shots at making their big-league debuts this year.  I’ll be sure to post something when they do.

—-

Finally, thanks to graphic artist Bowen Hobbs for creating the official logo for this blog.  Bowen is my old college roommate from my days at UW-Oshkosh, and most notably, the creator of this year’s Midwest League All-Star Game logo. 

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Lookin’ good.  Me, and the logo.

-DL

Hot off the Press

It’s official.  I’m your 140 man.  Read below.

LumberKings Radio Returns to KCLN

KCLN-AM 1390 to be “home of the LumberKings” through 2013

 

Clinton, IA – The Clinton LumberKings are proud to announce a new partnership with KCLN-AM 1390 to air all games on the Clinton-based station through 2013.  The agreement includes a tie-in with KCLN’s FM affiliate, KMCN-FM 94.7 (“Mac FM”) that allows the LumberKings the opportunity to advertise to new audiences in Clinton and as far as the Quad Cities.

 

The “Voice of LumberKings Baseball” on KCLN will be a familiar one.  Dave Lezotte, who has handled the radio duties on the road each of the last three seasons will take over the play-by-play for all 140 regular-season games, the 2009 Midwest League All-Star Game and any post-season play.

 

“We’re extremely excited to be back on the air at KCLN.  With them we have a strong partnership that allows us to expand our advertising market while maintaining a great standard of broadcasting for our fans,” said Nate Kreinbrink, LumberKings’ Assistant General Manager.  “We’re also pleased to have Dave back in the fold as our announcer for a fourth year.”

 

The partnership not only benefits the LumberKings, but also includes additional advertising for both KCLN and KMCN at Alliant Energy Field.  Both stations will be highly visible at the ballpark, in the gameday program and on the team’s website, LumberKings.com.

 

Don Davis, President and CEO of Prairie Radio Communications, which owns and operates KCLN-AM 1390 and KMCN-FM 94.7 (“Mac FM”) in Clinton said, “KCLN and the LumberKings are both local treasures for Clinton and the surrounding region, and Prairie is thrilled that KCLN and the ballclub are back together again.  We look forward to a successful relationship with the club for many years to come.”

 

The station switch is just the latest of many changes for the Midwest League’s oldest franchise.  The LumberKings inked a two-year player development agreement with the Seattle Mariners in October and unveiled a new coaching staff in January.  The team also announced their hosting of the 2009 Midwest League All-Star Game this offseason.

 

“It’s exciting to rekindle the relationship with the LumberKings as they begin their relationship with the Mariners,” said KCLN General Manager Chris Streets.   “Who knows, we could see the next Alex Rodriguez or Ken Griffey Jr. right here at Alliant Energy Field!”

 

Fans can hear the LumberKings on KCLN beginning on Thursday, April 9 with the season-opener at Burlington.  All games will continue to be broadcast online via the team’s website, LumberKings.com.

 

 

Can’t wait for April 9.  If you live in the frozen Midwest, I bet you can’t either.  More to come. 

 

LumberBlog Begins

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Welcome to the first edition of the LumberBlog!  Many of you know plenty about myself and the Clinton LumberKings already, but I assume there’s a lot of newcomers filtering through LumberKings.com thanks to our new affiliation with the Seattle Mariners.

The Texas Rangers certainly had some hardcore fans, but I’ve heard from multiple sources that Mariners fans are even more dedicated, especially at following their up-and-coming stars.  I look forward greatly to giving both our longtime fans and new arrivals a view of our team, both on the radio (all 140 games on AM 1390 KCLN and online at LumberKings.com) and via this blog.

Over the course of this year, I hope to give you some insight into what it is like to travel with a minor league team throughout the Midwest.  It is a unique experience that I have enjoyed for the past three seasons. 

This year, however, will be unlike any other.  A brand new affiliate that happens to be turning their own corner with a new GM Jack Zduriencik, our own new coaching staff and roster, and of course, the 2009 Midwest League All-Star Game comes to Clinton in June.  A lot going on.

Expect weekly updates from me, potentially more if I have the time (and something good to write about).  Feel free to leave your comments as well.  If you have any questions for myself, they might even be included in an “email the booth” feature on our pregame show this season.

Once again, welcome to the LumberBlog.  Enjoy your stay.  Tell your friends.

-DL

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