November 2010

The Interview Vault: Beltre and Kirkman

beltre kirkman interview vault.jpg

It’s a two-for-one Cyber Tuesday special for today’s installment of “The Interview Vault”, and for good reason.  First, it makes up for next week when I will be unable to post a new (or in this case, old) interview as I will be at the Baseball Winter Meetings in Orlando.  Second, it’s to honor newly-minted Texas Rangers’ Minor League players of the year Engel Beltre and Michael Kirkman.  Third, both of their interviews are rather short, so pairing them gives you more to listen to.

Beltre was named the Tom Grieve Minor League Player of the Year yesterday, while Kirkman took home the Minor League Pitcher of the Year accolades, named after Rangers’ president and Hall-of-Famer Nolan Ryan.  They both played together in Clinton in 2008 and each had pivotal, if not contrasting, seasons with the LumberKings.

Beltre, an 18-year-old centerfielder from Santo Domingo was heading into his first full season as a Rangers farmhand after being acquired from Boston in a four-player deadline deal that shipped Eric Gagne to the Red Sox.  He had played briefly in the AZL and Spokane while still only 17, but his expectations heading into 2008 were lofty as Baseball America named him the #10 prospect in the Texas system.  His season needed to be one about making good on those expectations.

Meanwhile, the 22-year-old left-handed Kirkman was just hoping to prove worthy of his 2005 fifth-round selection what was already his fourth season in the system.  After a solid first stint in the AZL (3-1, 3.44 in 14 games), he battled through 2006 and 2007 seasons that saw setbacks in the form of injuries (hamstring in ’06) and inconsistency (88 walks compared to just 66 strikeouts and an ERA around 8.00 in 30 outings).  His season needed to be one about getting back to basics and gaining confidence.

Both would do that with Mike Micucci’s LumberKings.  Beltre was the electrifying catalyst to the league’s top offense, hitting .283 with 26 doubles, nine triples, eight home runs, 47 RBI, 31 steals in 42 attempts and a league-best 87 runs scored.  Despite finishing third in the Midwest League in total bases (228), he was neither a mid-season nor post-season All-Star.  Kirkman would have his bounce-back year, going 4-3 with a 4.36 ERA in 15 games, 14 starts.  A 2-0, 1.38 month of July including a .195 opponent average showed the Rangers (including pitching coach and later Minor League Pitching Coordinator Danny Clark) a glimpse of the dominance they had hoped for.

Just two seasons later they’ve both become rising stars in the Texas system.  Kirkman was the PCL’s top pitcher while with triple-A Oklahoma City and earned a late-season call-up to the Rangers that included three post-season appearances.  After starting his pro career with nine-straight scoreless innings (third-longest by a rookie reliever in Texas history), he went on to post a 1.65 ERA and a .161 opponent average in 14 games.

Beltre was added to the 40-man roster to avoid a possible Rule 5 selection.  He’s never had quite the same production as ’08, but he is hitting for average (.300, 133-for-444 between high-A Bakersfield and double-A Frisco) and still can put the ball out of the yard (6 HR) or swipe a base (18 steals) when he needs to.  Plus, he’s done it all and an accelerated pace.  The 21-year-old was the youngest position player in the Texas League last season and third-youngest overall.  The 2011 season will already be his fifth, and he won’t turn 22 until next November.

Getting now to the interviews.  I spoke with both Beltre (who at the time was called EN-yel, but now prefers to be called Angel) on a date I can’t pinpoint during that ’08 season and Kirkman on July 6, 2008 after what had been his best start to date, a seven-inning blanking of Burlington.  Beltre talks about going from Santo Domingo to New York and back before getting signed by Boston as a teenager, advice he gained from David Ortiz, his thoughts at the time of the trade to Texas and other topics.  Kirkman speaks about his outing against the Bees, some of the setbacks he faced in ’06 and ’07, his mental changes leading to success and more.

Listen: 
Engel Beltre (2008).mp3
 / Michael Kirkman (2008).mp3

The next edition of “The Interview Vault” will be on Tuesday, December 14.  Stay tuned for that!  Also, keep an eye out for another “Top 10 of ’10″, coming later in the week.

-DL

2011 Coaching Staff is Announced

We’ve just learned who will be guiding the LumberKings as they attempt to defend their West

Menchaca_Eddie.jpgDivision Title in 2011.  Eddie Menchaca, manager of the playoff-qualifying Pulaski Mariners in 2010, will become the 44th manager in Clinton baseball history.  The 29-year-old former infielder (yes, he won’t turn 30 until February) will be joined by former Everett pitching coach Rich Dorman, returning hitting coach Terry Pollreisz and trainer Jake Naas.

Read up on Menchaca and Dorman right now over at LumberKings.com.  I’ll have more information on Naas’s background later in the winter.  No Performance Specialist has yet been named to replace Jim Bose (assuming he doesn’t come back).

Wondering where all your favorite former LumberKings coaches from ’09-’10 are?  Well, they’re all still with Seattle.  Manager John Tamargo is taking over as the Latin America Field Coordinator, which means we’ll still see JT yell “little man hit it” and “pick ‘em up” a few times when he passes through AEF this year.  Dwight Bernard has ascended back to his old post as the pitching coach for triple-A Tacoma, where he was for four seasons prior to coming to Clinton.  He’ll have a nice, renovated Cheney Stadium to come back to.  Trainer B.J. Downie will be with short-A Pulaski next year.

Elsewhere, Scott Steinmann is back as a manager for the first time since helming the 2009 LumberKings.  He’ll try and lead Everett to a second-straight Northwest League title after serving as the AquaSox’ hitting coach last year.  Jesus Azuaje (’09) is back as the manager of the AZL Mariners in Peoria, and Lance Painter (’09) will once again be the double-A pitching coach for Jackson.  Eddie Tamez, the 2009 Midwest League Trainer of the Year, returns to high-A High Desert for his second season with the Mavs (which on another note were formally purchased by Main Street Baseball LLC today, the same group that owns the Quad Cities River Bandits).

-DL

Maurer Down Under

Courtesy of my colleague Chris Mehring of the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, who stumbled across this article from an Adelaide news site…

Right-hander Brandon Maurer, a member of the LumberKings late in 2010 is pitching with the Adelaide Bite of the Australian Baseball League.  Recently, a reporter stepped in to face his “150km/h missile” and wrote an article on it.  He also posted video of the epic battle.

Check it out here:  http://www.adelaidenow.com.au/sport/ken-mcgregor-fronts-professional-baseball/story-fn34oii8-1225956862638

Looks like he broke off a few curveballs in addition to his “thunderbolts”.  Nice work, Brandon!

-DL

Seager Named a Topps Single-A All-Star

Seager.Kyle (strip7).jpgFormer LumberKings infielder Kyle Seager (’09) was named to the Topps Class-A All-Star Team in an announcement that crossed my inbox this afternoon.

Seager hit a Cal League-best .345 with 14 home runs and 74 RBI with the High Desert Mavericks this year, also qualifying for the league lead in hits (192) and runs scored (126).  A third-round pick by the Mariners in 2009 out of the University of North Carolina, Seager started his career with Clinton last season and hit .275 with a home run and 22 RBI in 41 games.

He is joined by fellow Mavericks Johermyn Chavez (outfield) and Rich Poythress (designated hitter) on the list.  Apparently, Topps made no distinction between high-A and low-A, so the Cal League, Florida State League, Midwest League and South Atlantic League are all represented here.  The only low-A qualifiers were Fort Wayne catcher Jason Hagerty and Lexington outfielder J.D. Martinez.  Topps Minor League Player of the Year and former Cedar Rapids Kernel Mike Trout is on the list as well, though he spent half the season with Rancho Cucamonga.

Congrats to Kyle and his fellow HD Mavs.  Revisit an interview I did with Seager last season: 
Kyle Seager Interview 8.18.09.mp3

-DL

The Interview Vault: Chad Tracy

tracy interview vault.jpgAs I mentioned in a post yesterday, seven former LumberKings became members of 40-man Major League rosters for the first time as the December 9 Rule 5 draft approaches.  Guys like Engel Beltre, Fabio Castillo, Maikel Cleto, Josh Lueke and others have been in the Minors for at least four seasons, meaning if left off the 40-man roster could be claimed by any team willing to put them on a 25-man roster for the full season.

Former LumberKing Chad Tracy is one of those left unprotected that could very well be suiting up for another team next year.  The third-round pick by the Texas Rangers in 2006 out of Pepperdine, Tracy has done nothing but hit since his arrival in the system.  He’s a career .271 hitter, including 135 doubles, 85 home runs and 363 RBI over a span of five seasons that includes All-Star years in the Northwest League (2006, Spokane), Midwest League (2007, Clinton) and Texas League (2009, Frisco).

While he certainly was the steady producer in the Clinton lineup in 2007 (.250, 14 HR, team-high 84 RBI), that was a fairly modest year given what he’s done since.  Tracy hit .279 with a Texas League-best 26 home runs and finished second in RBI with 107.  In 2010, he made the move to triple-A Oklahoma City and proceeded to hit .263 with 17 home runs and 55 RBI in just 78 games.

So why has he not been a call-up yet for the Rangers?  It’s a problem of position.  Originally drafted as a catcher, Tracy spent the early part of his career as an outfielder (including 86 games in left with the LumberKings in ’07, although he did start the All-Star Game behind the plate).  His 2009 season saw a transition to first base, where he made 81 starts for Frisco.  Last year, he had most of his at-bats as a designated hitter and also saw time at both first and left.  With the likes of Chris Davis, Justin Smoak and now Mitch Moreland blocking him at first base and the emergence of a strong corner outfield in Nelson Cruz and David Murphy in place, there’s been no real route to the big-leagues for Tracy.

Come December 9, we’ll see if he’s heading elsewhere.  Could it be Colorado, where his father Jim Tracy will be entering his third season as the manager of the Rockies?  Someone’s got to take over for the aging Todd Helton at first base eventually (he hasn’t hit more than 20 home runs since 2004), and only journeyman Brad Eldred (.264, 30 HR, 84 RBI in triple-A Colorado Springs last year) seems like a challenger for first in the near future (Jared Clark, Kiel Roling still have a ways to go).

For today’s edition of “The Interview Vault”, I went back to the 2007 playoffs for what turned out to be my final interview of that memorable season.  I talked with Tracy, undeniably the vocal leader of the team as they prepared to take on Beloit at Pohlman Field, down 1-0 in the best-of-three West Division Championship Series.  Tracy hit .278 with two homers and a team-high four RBI in the playoffs, but he and his teammates did nothing against Matt Fox and the Snappers in a 2-0 loss and were eliminated that evening.

During the conversation, we talk about the situation of being down 1-0 and having to win two on the road, manager Mike Micucci’s season-long philosophy of winning series, plus Chad’s thoughts on teammates like Marcus Lemon, Kasey Kiker and Zach Phillips and more.

Listen: 
Chad Tracy (2007 Playoffs).mp3  

This is my last post before the holiday, but look out for another Top 10 of ’10 most likely going up on Friday.  This time around, I focus on the best pitching performances from last season.

Until then, have a happy Thanksgiving!

-DL

On the 40

wilhelmsen27.jpgThis isn’t breaking news, but in case you missed it, there were seven former LumberKings added to 40-man rosters over the weekend in order to protect them from December’s Rule 5 draft.

Right-hander Fabio Castillo (’08) and outfielder Engel Beltre (’08) were added by the Texas Rangers, while right-handers Maikel Cleto (’09), Josh Lueke (’07-’08), Yoervis Medina (’10) and Tom Wilhelmsen (’10, pictured left) were added by the Seattle Mariners.  Right-hander Evan Reed (’07-’08) was added by the Florida Marlins.

All but Reed and Medina (who is playing for John Tamargo’s Cardenales de Lara) appeared in the Arizona Fall League this year.

Speaking of which, AFL MVP Dustin Ackley and the Peoria Javelinas fell to Bryce Harper’s Scottsdale Scorpions in the Championship Game on Saturday.  Wilhelmsen took the loss with a run on two hits over an inning of work, while Lueke fared better with a scoreless final inning to keep it close at 3-2.  Nate Tenbrink (’09) went 0-for-1 as a pinch-hitter.

-DL

The Interview Vault: Beau Jones

beau jones interview vault.jpgJuly 31, 2007.  A day that had as much importance in the recent success of the Texas Rangers as any other in the team’s history.  On that afternoon, General Manager John Daniels swung a deadline deal with the Atlanta Braves that sent Mark Teixeira and Ron Mahay over in exchange for catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, shortstop Elvis Andrus, right-hander Neftali Feliz and left-handers Matt Harrison and left-hander Beau Jones.

Andrus and Feliz are nearing household-name status after starring roles in the 2010 playoffs and near back-to-back Rookie of the Year awards (Andrus finished second behind Oakland’s Andrew Bailey in 2009, Feliz won it yesterday) and there’s no question they are two of the cornerstones of the franchise.  Saltalamacchia caught in roughly 190 games for the Rangers and appeared to be their catcher of the future (he hit .243 with 19 HR and 81 RBI in his first three seasons), but a case of “Rube Baker syndrome”, a visit with a psychologist and just two more games with Texas in 2010, he was sent over to the Boston Red Sox.  Harrison went 13-8 over 26 starts in the 2008-2009 seasons, but transitioned to a relief role in 2010 and was not included on the playoff roster.

So what happened to Jones, the ninth-best prospect in the Braves system in 2006 and a LumberKing in 2007?

As LumberKings fans may remember, Jones stepped into the rotation after the promotion of Omar Poveda in 2007 and went 4-1 with a 2.70 ERA in seven games, six starts.  Clinton fans surely will recall his gutsy playoff performance in Game 2 of the West Division Quarterfinals against Cedar Rapids when, after rain forced the early exit of right-hander Kasey Kiker, Jones stepped in to deliver six innings of scoreless, one-hit relief as the Kings battled back for an 8-2 victory.

Since then, Jones has been under the radar in a Rangers’ system chock full of prospect arms.  He had moderate success with double-A Frisco in 2008 and 2009, going a combined 5-5 with a 4.37 ERA in 47 relief appearances with the RoughRiders.  He returned to the Texas League in 2010 and had his best season to date as a Ranger, going 3-0 with a 2.91 ERA in 34 games, mostly relief.  The numbers look even better when you condense it to relief outings only, as his ERA drops to 1.90.  Jones limited opponents to a .192 average (including a .122 average to right-handed hitters) and struck out 56 in 47 innings out of the pen.

The Metairie, Louisiana native looks bound for the new triple-A affiliate of the Rangers in Round Rock next year with the possibility of a Major League call-up.  If the latter happens, it will prove to be a rarity in the world of deadline deals: a seven-player trade in which every player involved makes the Majors.

For today’s edition of “The Interview Vault”, I dug up my conversation with Jones following that Game 2 performance against the Kernels.

Listen Here:  Beau Jones (2007 Playoffs).mp3

-DL

Former LumberKing Feliz is A.L. Rookie of the Year

Texas Rangers’ closer Neftali Feliz becomes fourth former Clinton player to win a R.O.Y. award

 

Former Clinton LumberKings right-hander and Texas Rangers’ closer Neftali Feliz was voted the 2010 American League Rookie of the Year in an announcement today from the Baseball Writers Association of America.  He is the fourth former Clinton player to win the award, joining Steve Sax (1982 N.L. Rookie of the Year), Ron Kittle (1983 A.L. Rookie of the Year) and Jason Bay (2004 N.L. Rookie of the Year).

 


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The 22-year-old Feliz received 20 out of 28 first-place votes thanks to an outstanding 2010 season with the American League Champion Rangers.  He set a Major League Baseball record for saves by a rookie, converting 40 of 43 chances while going 4-3 with a 2.73 ERA in 70 appearances with Texas.

 

Feliz was acquired by the Rangers as part of a seven-player trade with Atlanta on July 31, 2007.  He began his first full season in the Texas system as a starting pitcher with the LumberKings in 2008.  The Azua, Dominican Republic native went 6-3 with a 2.52 ERA in 17 starts that year, walking just 28 batters while striking out 106 over 82.0 innings.  Feliz was named a 2008 Midwest League All-Star and was also the league’s Pitcher of the Week from June 9-16.

 

Feliz joins Kittle as the only former Clinton players to win the American League award.  Kittle, a member of the Clinton Dodgers in 1977, won in 1983 while an outfielder with the Chicago White Sox.  Sax (1979 Clinton Dodgers) was the National League’s top rookie in 1982 while with the Los Angeles Dodgers, while Bay (2001 LumberKings) took home the nomination following his 2004 season with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

 

-DL

Former Kings in the Fall/Winter Leagues

As we continue to move along with plans for the 2011 season here at Alliant Energy Field, many of our former players have yet to end their 2010 campaigns.  Below is my exhaustive search to find them all.

In the AFL…

Clinton has many alumni entrants in the Arizona Fall League, most notably Nate Tenbrink of the 18-8, first-place Peoria Javelinas.  Tenbrink, a corner infielder with the LumberKings in 2009 got a little publicity last week after a 3-for-4, 3-RBI game against Phoenix.  Taking a page out of Scott Savastano’s playbook, Tenbrink has been Mr. Utility for the Javelinas, getting starts at third base, in the outfield and even at shortstop.

Check out last week’s article here:  http://mlb.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20101108&content_id=16036770&vkey=news_mlb&c_id=mlb

Tenbrink is hitting .299 with a pair of home runs and 16 RBI as of today, slightly overshadowed by the fantastic offensive showing from non-LumberKing Dustin Ackley.  Seattle’s first first-round pick (ahead of Nick Franklin) in 2009, Ackley is leading the AFL in hitting with a .456 average and is tied for the lead in home runs with four.

Pitching-wise, ’09 LumberKings right-hander Aaron Pribanic has had a nice showing with the Mesa Solar Sox, going 0-1 with the AFL’s fourth-lowest ERA of 2.25 in nine games, 16.0 innings.  Pribanic, now a Pittsburgh Pirates farmhand was one of the notable pitchers included in the deal that brought Jack Wilson to Seattle in the summer of 2009.  Right-hander Eric Hurley is pitching today for the Surprise Rafters, attempting to extend his three-game, 15.0-inning scoreless streak as he faces the Javelinas today. The ’05 LumberKing is 2-0 with a 2.29 ERA in five starts.

Elsewhere in the AFL…right-hander Josh Lueke (’07-’08) has been just about unhittable so far, posting a 0.87 ERA and two saves in nine relief appearances for the Javelinas…right-hander Tom Wilhelmsen (’10) has been pitching in relief as well, going 1-1 with a 4.09 ERA and one save in nine outings…Maikel Cleto (’09) has made five starts for Peoria and is 2-0 despite a 5.82 ERA…Matt Lawson (’08) is hitting .273 with a home run and seven RBI with the Javelinas…Fabio Castillo (0-1, 2.79, 2 saves) and Adalberto Flores (0-1, 7.71), both of the ’08 squad are also pitching with Surprise…fellow ’08-ers Jose Felix (.341, 4 RBI), Davis Stoneburner (.261, HR, 9 RBI) and Engel Beltre (.245, HR, 7 RBI) are also with the Rafters.

In the Venezuela Winter League…

John Tamargo’s Cardenales de Lara are 14-14 and in fifth place.  Mario Martinez (’09-’10) is hitting .429 (6-for-14) with two doubles, but has yet to drive in a run in eight games.  Yoervis Medina (’10) has been roughed up to the tune of a 9.28 ERA in his seven relief outings for the Cardenales.  Lefty Jose Jimenez (’09-’10) has pitched in just two-thirds of an inning across three games and has an ERA of 13.50.

In an interesting combination of former Kings from different affiliations, both Blake Ochoa (’09-’10) and Manny Pina (’07) are catching for the Bravos de Margarita.  Pina, now a member of the Kansas City Royals’ system, is just 1-for-14 at the plate so far.

Both Renny Osuna (’08) and David Paisano (’07-’08) are with the Tiburones de la Guaira.  Osuna is hitting .171 as of last check while Paisano has yet to register a hit in 16 at-bats.

In the Dominican Winter League… 

First-baseman Mauro Gomez (’07), who inexplicably slipped by my radar to hit .281 with 16 homers and 80 RBI with the double-A Missisippi Braves last year, is hitting .273 with a team-high three home runs and 13 RBI in 18 games for the Toros del Este. 

Ogui Diaz (’09), now a pitcher, has an ERA of 9.00 in one appearance with the Leones de Escogido.  Beltre, previously mentioned in the AFL portion of this post, played in 10 games with the Tigres del Licey.  He hit .368 (7-for-19) with no extra-base hits and three RBI.  Infielder Andres James (’08) is also on that Licey club, but has played sparingly.

In the Puerto Rican Winter League…

Blasts-from-the-pasts Freddie Thon (’06) and Mike Ballard (’07) are both playing with the Criollos de Cagua.  Thon, Clinton’s lone 2006 MWL All-Star and a Puerto Rico native is 2-for-10 so far and is playing first base.  Ballard, a near-call-up for the Texas Rangers back in 2008, is 2-1 with a 1.86 ERA over four games, three starts and has struck out 18 over 19.1 innings.  Ballard’s ’07 rotation-mate Kasey Kiker is 1-0 with a 2.63 ERA in four games, three starts with the Leones de Ponce. 

In the Mexican Winter League…

Catcher Israel Nunez (’09) has appeared in six games for the Algodoneros de Guasave.  He’s the only former King I’ve run across in the Mexican League. 

In the Australian Baseball League… 

That’s right, former LumberKings have spread as far as the newly-formed Australian Baseball League.  Catcher Brandon Bantz (’10) and right-hander Brandon Maurer (’10) have turned up on the roster for the Adelaide Bite.   Bantz is hitting .545 with two doubles and five RBI in three games thus far.  Maurer is in the starting rotation and is 0-0 with a 6.75 ERA in one start.

If you catch anyone I’ve missed, feel free to leave your comments below.

-DL 

Honoring Dave Niehaus


dave_niehaus.jpgThere’s not too much I can say that hasn’t already been said by people who know him far better than I do, but there’s no question that the Seattle Mariners, Major League Baseball and broadcasting in general lost an icon in Dave Niehaus yesterday.

I crossed paths with Niehaus at the Peoria Sports Complex during spring training in 2009 and, unfortunately, did not introduce myself when I had the chance.  He was reading the paper in the lobby of the main office, and I didn’t know if he’d want to be disturbed by a kid from low-A Clinton.  Reading other’s words about how kind an indivdual he was, I now wish I had said something.  I’m sure he would have been happy to take time to speak with me about broadcasting, Mariners baseball and everything else in between.  Of course, I’ll never get that chance.

His legacy will live on past just the Northwest.  Since we signed on as a Mariners affiliate two years ago, it has been common to hear sound clips of “My, Oh My!” and “It will Fly Away!” played after LumberKings’ home runs, courtesy of Brad Seward.  I, myself keep a Dave Niehaus bobblehead in the home booth with me.  It has always brought us luck when we’ve needed it, something I’ve marveled at many times on air.

Mr. Niehaus, a man who missed about 100 games in the entire history of the Mariners, a man who remains the team’s only Cooperstown entrant so far, will be the toughest shoes to fill in baseball.  To be a team’s broadcaster is one thing. To be “the voice” of a franchise is another.  Niehaus was that voice for the Mariners, and he always will be.

-DL

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