October 2010

The Interview Vault: Blake Beavan

beavan interview vault.jpg

We sit on the eve of Game One of the 2010 World Series, just a day away from the most hyped pitcher’s duel of the playoffs so far (and there has been many)…Cliff Lee of the Texas Rangers against Tim Lincecum of the San Francisco Giants.

As I wrote in an earlier blog post, the Clinton LumberKings have had an interesting connection to these playoffs given our former status as the low-A affiliate of the Rangers.  That connection extends to Lee, Clinton’s current affiliate, the Seattle Mariners and the subject of today’s “The Interview Vault”, right-hander Blake Beavan.

Back on July 9, the Rangers made waves that are still being felt across Major League Baseball when they acquired Lee and right-hander Mark Lowe from the Mariners in exchange for four players, all former LumberKings.

Without question, the player that made that deal move — the one that kept Lee from becoming a Yankee, at least for now — was switch-hitting first-baseman Justin Smoak.  Right-hander Josh Lueke and infielder Matt Lawson were also promising prospects at the time of the trade, but the 21-year-old Beavan could very well be the most important piece of the deal when we look back in several years.

To take Beavan away from Texas is to conclude the “local kid makes good” story that he had been working on ever since his first round (17th overall) selection in the 2007 June draft.  A native of Irving, TX, Beavan played his high school ball just 12 miles away from Rangers Ballpark at Irving High School.  Even before his selection by the team he grew up following, Beavan was already a bonafide star in the area having earned Baseball America‘s 2006 Youth Player of the Year award after an 11-strikeout performance against Cuba in the World Junior Championships.  Later in his senior season, he tossed a perfect game and struck out 18 in a 6-0 win over MacArthur High, Irving’s number one rival.

All of those accomplishments were behind him already when he arrived in Clinton in late April, 2008.  A lengthy holdout kept him away from rookie ball in 2007, so his April 29 start against the Great Lakes Loons at Alliant Energy Field proved to truly be his first professional action.

What we saw that night was about as sharp a performance possible given all the variables: a nervous 19-year-old that hadn’t thrown a pitch above the instructional league, pitching in front of both his parents and Rangers’ Pitching Coordinator (and later Mariners pitching coach) Rick Adair.  Beavan allowed three measly singles, walked none and struck out three over six scoreless innings in a 4-2 win over the Loons.  He pitched well to contact, inducing four double plays in the game.

I caught up with Blake after that start, and that’s the interview we’re throwing back to today.  He talks about the outing, getting drafted by his hometown team, staying mentally focused while holding out, working with Rangers’ staff in the instructional league, his fastball/slider/change arsenal and more.

Listen Here: 
Blake Beavan (after first pro start on 4.30.08).mp3

That start was just the beginning of a season that saw Beavan go 10-6 with 2.37 ERA in 23 starts, 121 innings.  The strikeout total (73, or 5.39 per nine innings) wasn’t exactly what scouts were expecting, but the 20 walks, .234 opponent average and 5-0 record over his final eight starts showed plenty of promise.

In 2009, he went a combined 9-8, 4.14 in 27 starts between high-A Bakersfield and double-A Frisco.  The 2010 season saw his return to the RoughRiders and his best numbers since 2008.  Beavan had nearly identical stats as his season with Clinton, going 10-5 with a 2.78 ERA, 68 strikeouts to just 12 walks and a .242 opponent average in 110.0 innings.  He stood on the verge of a promotion to triple-A Oklahoma City when Texas struck the deal with Seattle.

As Mariners fans know, Beavan was hit hard with Tacoma, posting a a 6.47 ERA and .331 opponent average in seven starts, 40.1 innings with the Rainiers.  Those numbers didn’t beg for a September call-up, but they also aren’t cause for concern.  He still walked only eight while striking out 22 in the PCL and was dominant when ahead in the count, limiting opponents to a .222 average.  In the playoffs, he went 1-0 with a more respectable 4.26 ERA in two starts, helping the Rainiers win the PCL Championship.

We’ll see what 2011 holds for Beavan.  Hopefully he’s heading for a call-up to Safeco Field sometime in the season.  Now, at least, you know where he’s been.


18-Inning Classic up for a MiLBY

Martinez Game of the Year.jpgThe MiLBY yearly awards are still going on over at MiLB.com, and they’ve moved on to the two final categories: “Best Game” and “Best Team”.

I’m happy to announce that Clinton’s 18-inning walk-off win in Game 2 of the Midwest League Championship Series is one of the six games up for fan vote in the Low A classification.  For those of you who missed it back on September 16 (many saw the beginning, far fewer saw th end), the LumberKings won a war of attrition over the Lake County Captains in the longest Championship Series game in league history when Mario Martinez (pictured) sent a hot shot through the legs of third-baseman Adam Abraham, scoring Blake Ochoa.

Listen to Ochoa’s game-winning run: 
Abraham’s Error Scores Ochoa in 18th 9.16.10.mp3

Abraham’s glove would end up on the roof of the clubhouse, but the Captains would go on to take the series in the decisive Game 5.  It’s the longest game I’ve ever broadcasted as far as innings are concerned, and it’s one the folks who stuck around won’t soon forget. 

Whether you were there or not, help us out by voting at this link:  http://web.minorleaguebaseball.com/news/awards/y2010/game.jsp

In other MiLBY news, Nick Franklin finished second in “Best Hitter” voting for class A, trailing only Lexington’s J.D. Martinez.  Martinez received 29% of the vote, while Franklin earned 22%.

For some reason, the five-team field for “Best Team” did not include your West Division Champion LumberKings.  Instead, Lake County, Great Lakes and Quad Cities are the entrants from the Midwest League.  Augusta and Lakewood of the South Atlantic League round out the selections.

I’ll give you Lake County based on their Midwest League championship and Great Lakes based on their fantastic 90-win regular season, but I struggle with Quad Cities.  A first-half Wild Card entrant into the playoffs, the Bandits did go on to finish one game better than Cedar Rapids for overall record in the West Division.  However, they bowed out in the first round to Kane County.

Meanwhile, a Clinton club that went 5-1 in playoff elimination games, slugged a league-high 134 home runs and featured the league’s second-best pitching staff gets no love.

I’d tell you to cast anti-votes, but that’s not possible and it’s not very nice either.  Instead, vote for Lake County in this category…they deserve it:  http://web.minorleaguebaseball.com/news/awards/y2010/team.jsp

A new edition of “The Interview Vault” is coming tomorrow.  Stay tuned!


The Interview Vault: Mitch Moreland

theinterviewvault.jpgIt’s time for another edition of “The Interview Vault”, the blog segment that relives past interviews with former LumberKings’ players and coaches and other notable figures.  This week, I’m turning the page back to July of 2008 when I visited with LumberKings’ first-baseman Mitch Moreland.

In case you missed Game 3 of the ALCS last night, Moreland drove in a pair with a line single to right in the midst of a six-run ninth inning, helping his Texas Rangers defeat the Yankees, 8-0 at Yankee Stadium.  He’s now 4-for-8 with two runs scored and three RBI in the series, heads and tails more productive than his Yankee counterpart (and former Rangers super-prospect), Mark Teixeira.  Teixeira is 0-for-11 thus far.

Watch Moreland’s big hit:  http://texas.rangers.mlb.com/video/play.jsp?content_id=12856707&c_id=tex

Moreland’s path from little-known 18th round pick out of Mississippi State to MLB playoff heroics is one of relative obscurity until only recently.  While guys like Teixeira and later Justin Smoak would arrive in the Rangers system as “heir apparents” to the first base position, Moreland was looked at more as an “experienced colllege hitter from a competitive program”, one of many drafted by the Rangers every season.  In other words, no major fanfare, no immediate spotlight and no clear-cut path to the Major Leagues.

Thumbnail image for mitch moreland.jpgSo, Moreland made the path himself.  He’d arrive on the scene in Clinton two weeks late as a result of a neck injury and would find himself in the shadow of first-baseman Ian Gac’s monster start.  Gac, a third-year veteran of the LumberKings had already blasted four home runs in seven games before Moreland joined the club. Thankfully, his ability to play right field would get him into the lineup immediately, and his bat would help him stay there.

Moreland doubled twice and drove in five runs over his first two games wearing the black and green, only a sign of things to come.  He’d hit .357 in April, .315 with five homers and 18 RBI in May, .313 with 20 RBI in June, .269 with seven homers and 26 RBI in July and would finish with a .380, five-homer, 23 RBI month of August.  On the final day of the regular-season in Cedar Rapids, he ripped his 18th home run and drove in three to finish with a Midwest League-best 99 RBI, the third-highest single-season RBI total in Clinton baseball history.  Moreland would be voted by the league’s managers as the top first baseman and would narrowly miss out on league MVP honors to Beloit speedster Ben Revere.

When I caught up with Mitch in this 2008 interview, he had just enjoyed his first multi-homer game (a 4-for-6, 5-RBI performance on July 5 at Burlington), an effort that raised his average to .327.  We talk about the power outburst, picking up the slack after the then-recent promotions of Gac and fellow All-Star Renny Osuna, hitting in the midst of a talented Clinton lineup, getting more experience at first base and more.

Listen Here: 
Mitch Moreland (2008).mp3

From here, we know where the rest of the story goes.  Moreland would go on to hit a combined .331 with 16 home runs and 85 RBI between high-A Bakersfield and double-A Frisco in 2009, then would bat .289 with 12 blasts and 65 RBI in triple-A Oklahoma City in 2010 before getting his promotion to Texas.  With the Rangers during the regular season, he hit .255 with nine homers and 25 RBI, unseating incumbent Chris Davis to make the postseason roster.

From near-MVP in Clinton to fast-rising prospect to playoff performer, it’s clear that Moreland is fast on the rise to star status with the Rangers.  We’ll see if he comes up big again tonight in Game 4 of the ALCS at Yankee Stadium, first pitch scheduled for 7 PM central time.

Oh yeah, Cliff Lee was pretty good last night also.  In the next edition of The Interview Vault, we’ll revisit an interview with one of the players acquired by the Seattle Mariners in the deal that sent Lee to Texas.  Stay tuned for that next week, unless another former LumberKing has a huge game for the Rangers.


Kirkman Added to ALCS Roster

Thumbnail image for kirkman.JPGThe Texas Rangers have added former LumberKings’ left-hander Michael Kirkman to the 25-man ALCS roster today.  Kirkman (#62) and fellow lefty Clay Rapada were both placed on the roster, while right-hander Dustin Nippert and infielder Esteban German were removed to clear space.

Kirkman, a King for stints from 2006 to 2008 was impressive as a lefty reliever for the Rangers during the regular season.  He went 0-0 with a 1.65 ERA in 14 relief appearances, allowing just three runs on nine hits over 16.1 innings, striking out 16 and limiting opponents to a .161 average.

He’s been noticeably in the dugout the entire postseason for the Rangers, but was left off the roster for the ALDS.  Looks like Ron Washington and Mike Maddux have decided on extra southpaws to face the likes of Robinson Cano, Brett Gardner and Curtis Granderson.  Not to mention the fact that Alex Rodriguez hit .217 against left-handed pitching during the regular year.

Kirkman is the fourth former LumberKing on the Rangers’ ALCS roster, joining second-baseman Ian Kinsler, first-baseman Mitch Moreland, left-hander Derek Holland and right-hander Neftali Feliz.

Game one is tonight at 7:00 PM.


The Interview Vault: Richard Durrett

theinterviewvault.jpgA new offseason segment debuts on the LumberBlog today, not-so-cleverly called “The Interview Vault”.  Player, coach and staff interviews have been a staple on the LumberBlog since 2009 but there’s a ton of lost interviews I’ve had sitting on cassette tapes in a dusty shoebox.

Those tapes have resurfaced and contain valuable interviews with the likes of former LumberKings manager (now Texas Rangers’ field coordinator) Mike Micucci, former Kings turned big-leaguers like Mitch Moreland, Derek Holland and Justin Smoak, plus up-and-coming prospects like Chad Tracy, Marcus Lemon, Engel Beltre and more.

I will try and revisit interviews that are timely and notable throughout the fall and winter, and with that in mind, I present the first lost interview with Texas Rangers’ beat writer for the Dallas Morning News, Richard Durrett.

I caught up with Mr. Durrett in the late summer of 2008 when he was stopping by Alliant Energy Field to do a story on then-Rangers prospects, right-handers Blake Beavan and Michael Main.  While those two were his main focus, he also observed a Clinton offense that included Moreland, Beltre, Jonathan Greene, Cristian Santana and others.

We talk at length about his observations of Beavan, whose now one of the top arms in the Seattle system.  He also weighs in on the remarkable 2008 season for Josh Hamilton, the establishment of a plan in the Rangers system and proves very prophetic about his prediction of seasons to come for Texas. 

Listen Here: 
Richard Durrett, Rangers Writer (2008).mp3

A fitting interview from the vault just hours before the Rangers take the diamond in Tampa for the most important game in team history.  Game five against the Rays begins at 7:00 PM central time as lefty Cliff Lee takes the hill hoping to give Texas their first-ever playoff series victory.


The LumberBlog: 34th in September

The new list of “Latest Leaders” is out over at the MLBlogosphere, and this blog ranked 34th out of the Top 50 in the “ProBlogs” list.

Check out the full list here:  http://mlblogs.mlblogs.com/archives/2010/10/latest_leaders_-_september_201.html

I would have to assume our appearance in the Midwest League Championship Series probably helped spike interest in the blog, but thanks again to all my regular readers.  Things have been a little sparse lately as I’ve been working on some other offseason projects, but I hope to be posting content more regularly again soon.

Thanks again!


Franklin Up for a MiLBY

A week after Clinton right-hander Erasmo Ramirez was nominated for a MiLBY for top Class A pitcher, LumberKings’ shortstop Nick Franklin now finds himself nominated for the Top Hitter award for all of Class A.

Franklin is up against fellow Midwest League post-season All-Star Mike Trout of the Cedar Rapids Kernels, Trout’s Kernel teammate Jean Segura, Wisconsin Timber Rattlers slugger Khris Davis and both Jared Clark (Asheville) and J.D. Martinez (Lexington) of the South Atlantic League.

Nick is leading the early vote at 52%.  Vote early and often for Franklin at this link: http://web.minorleaguebaseball.com/news/awards/y2010/hitter.jsp

While you’re checking off Franklin, make sure to show some love for fellow Mariners’ prospects Kevin Rivers (Everett) in the short-season vote and pick either Johermyn Chavez or Rich Poythress (both from High Desert) in the high-A vote.

For the record, Ramirez finished fourth amongst the six nominees for top pitcher with 10% of the vote.  Matt Magill of the Great Lakes Loons won with 57% of the vote despite going just 7-4 with a 3.28 ERA.  I guess the 135 strikeouts was a bigger deal than Ramirez’s 10-4 record and 2.97 ERA.  I disagree.

Following the MLB Division Series, I’ll do an update on former LumberKings in the playoffs.  Turns out I missed one.  Stay tuned for that posting later this week.


Following Former Kings in the MLB Playoffs

Volquez ('04).jpgThe 2010 Major League Baseball Postseason begins in just about 40 minutes as the Texas Rangers start things off with the opener of their ALDS against the Tampa Bay Rays.  With Texas’s return to the playoffs for the first time since 1999 there’s an extra-high volume of former LumberKings to watch this postseason.  Not all of them, however, are Rangers.

The 25-man playoff roster for the Rangers includes former LumberKings second-baseman Ian Kinsler (’04), first-baseman Mitch Moreland (’08), right-hander Neftali Feliz (’08) and left-hander Derek Holland (’08).  Left-hander Michael Kirkman (’06-’08) was left off the playoff roster but will probably still be with the club in Tampa in case of injury.

The man traded for four former ’08 LumberKings (Justin Smoak, Blake Beavan, Matt Lawson and Josh Lueke) in Cliff Lee gets the game one start for the Rangers, who have never won a playoff series.

Over in the NL, the Central Division Champion Cincinnati Reds also begin their NLDS against the Philadelphia Phillies today.  They’ll start a former LumberKing in right-hander Edinson Volquez (’04, pictured left as “Edison Volquez”) against the defending NL Champs.

The Reds also have right-hander Nick Masset (’03) on their playoff roster, while the Phillies decided not to include their only Clinton alumnus, outfielder John Mayberry, Jr. (’06) amongst their 25 players.

To my knowledge, there’s no former LumberKings with the Atlanta Braves, San Francisco Giants, New York Yankees, Tampa Bay Rays or Minnesota Twins.  I could be wrong.

Given the high volume of former recent Kings with Texas, the Rangers have my backing this year.  Feel free to weigh in on the 2010 MLB Playoffs (and all your old favorite Kings) by commenting below!



The 2010 Final Report & Bios

2010 Final Report.jpgAt long last, the 2010 Final Report on the Clinton LumberKings is now complete.  Check out the biographies on every player that suited up for the Kings this season, plus final statistics and summaries from the entire 2010 regular season and playoffs.

View it here: 
2010 Clinton LumberKings Final Report.pdf


MLB Network, Ghost Players come to Clinton

Just over a week ago, the folks over at MLB Network partnered with Joe Scherrman’s Ghost Players from Dyersville, IA to shoot action at Alliant Energy Field for an upcoming documentary on the 1919 Chicago White Sox (aka the “Black Sox”).

For diehard Midwest League fans, one of the players involved in the shoot is former Kane County Cougars pitcher and current Florida Marlins farmhand, Nic Ungs

The special will air on MLB Network sometime in November, but you can check out scenes from the shoot in Mr. Scherrman’s YouTube video.  You’ll even see some shots of me in there, as well as Head Groundskeeper Dusty Krogman.

Check it out:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SVOcufUfp6Y