Results tagged ‘ Chris Davis ’

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

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.

-DL

Former Kings to Watch this Spring

With pitchers and catchers arriving today at both Seattle Mariners and Texas Rangers camps, I thought it would be good timing to take a look at some former LumberKings looking to make impacts in Major League camps this Spring.

The Future is Now for Feliz

We’ll start with a man who’s already logged Major League service time, but is looking to
feliz.JPGemerge as the top-flight starting pitcher so many in baseball have billed him to be.  He of course is fireballing right-hander Neftali Feliz (’08), who is coming off an outstanding 20-game relief stint with the Rangers in 2009.  After becoming the first Ranger in history to strike out the first four men he faced, Feliz kept his fastball in the high 90′s and kept Major League hitters baffled to the tune of a .124 opponent batting average.  Over his 20 games, the 21-year-old went 1-0 with a 1.74 ERA (just 6 ER in 31.0 innings) and struck out 39 while walking only eight.  This performance was enough to earn Feliz the Top Prospect ranking in the entire Rangers’ organization and the #7 prospect in all of professional baseball.

There’s no question that Feliz will be on the Opening Day roster.  The question is, will his stuff be good enough this Spring to earn him a rotation spot alongside former King Derek Holland (’08)Baseball America projects him to be Texas’ #1 starter by 2013, but he’ll still need to prove himself over more than three innings to emerge amongst a host of qualified rotation candidates.  Even if he remains in the bullpen, look for Feliz to rise further towards “household name” status this season.

Smoak Rising

 
smoak.JPGAfter Feliz, first-baseman Justin Smoak (’08) is the next-most-hyped prospect in Surprise.  Smoak IS Texas’s first-baseman of the future, but how ready is he to be that guy right now?  The former first-round pick is coming off a huge offseason that saw him win the MVP award at the 2009 IBAF Baseball World Cup while guiding Team USA to gold.  He’s also hit .292 with 15 HR and 63 RBI in just 120 games as a pro so far.

The question for Smoak is if he’s ready to unseat incumbent Chris Davis at first.  His glove, by all accounts, is ready.  His ability to hit for power from both sides of the plate will give him an eventual advantage over Davis, who himself has something to prove following a .238, 150-strikeouts-in-391 at-bats season.  Still, Smoak struggled in a transition from double-A Frisco to triple-A Oklahoma City last year, hitting just .244 over 54 games with the RedHawks after shredding the Texas League with a .328 average.  Much like Feliz, Smoak is a highly-regarded prospect (#2 with the Rangers, #9 overall) who WILL be a Major Leaguer at some point this season.  Only question is, how early will his call-up be?

Moreland on the Radar

In the shadow of Smoak’s hype, Mitch Moreland (’08) has been able to go about his business very
moreland.JPGquietly the past two seasons.  A 17th-round pick by the Rangers back in 2007, Moreland started out as a first baseman with the LumberKings in 2008 prior to the arrival of Smoak.  With the future of first basically locked up, the former Mississippi State Bulldog has carved a new path as an outfielder with average range and a fantastic bat.

Moreland captured the Tom Grieve Minor League MVP Award for the Rangers this Winter following a 2009 campaign in which he hit .331 with 16 HR and 85 RBI between high-A Bakersfield and Frisco.  He’s certain to get a look at big league camp this season, but how long he stays there will rest part on his hitting and part on the performances of Brandon Boggs (’05), Craig Gentry (’07) and the recently-signed Endy Chavez.  Former LumberKing Chad Tracy (’07) could also give him a run for his money.  Moreland will most likely spend the bulk of 2010 with triple-A Oklahoma City and could possibly be a late-season call-up.

A Call to ’07 Arms

poveda.JPGFour members of the 2007 LumberKings’ rotation are invites to big-league camp for the Rangers this season.  Left-handers Michael Kirkman (’06-’08), Kasey Kiker (’07) and Zach Phillips (’06-’07) and right-hander Omar Poveda (’06-’07) will all try and show why they belong.  Of the four, only Poveda has spent significant time in Rangers camp before.  Kiker is the highest ranking prospect of the bunch, coming in at #6 on BA‘s list for 2010. 

Who has a legitimate shot to make a Major League debut this season?  I’d put my money on Poveda, who has shown flashes of dominance in Clinton (11-4, 2.79 in ’07) and Frisco (11-5, 4.14 in ’09), but has yet to log more than one start in triple-A.  A good Spring and a solid few months in OKC and Poveda should be a Ranger late in the season.  Kiker went 7-7 with a 3.86 ERA and yielded an opponent average of .231 while with Frisco last year, his best season since his 7-4, 2.90, 112 strikeout season with the Kings in 2007.  He has a chance to crack the Texas bullpen.

Kirkman and Phillips both have tremendous upsides, but both need to show some consistency.  “Captain Kirk” finally found his stuff after four tumultuous seasons, going 5-7 with a 4.19 ERA in 18 starts with Frisco last year.  Phillips got acclimated to life as a reliever last season, going 2-3 with a 1.39 ERA, four saves and an eye-popping .163 opponent average between Bakersfield and Frisco.  However, 2010 will be only his second season in the pen following an ’08 campain in which he went 8-9, 5.54 in 28 Cal League starts.  Both are probably at least a season away.

Of course, there’s always the chance that a darkhorse emerges in camp this year.  Look out for guys like Engel Beltre (’08) , Blake Beavan (’08) and Marcus Lemon (’07).  You could even see the resurgence of John Whittleman (’06-’07) this season.  That’s the great part about this time of year, you just don’t know until it starts.

The first games of Spring Training in Arizona start on March 3.  I’ll be in Peoria, AZ watching the Mariners take on the San Francisco Giants.  Blog updates to follow!

-DL 

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