Results tagged ‘ Cliff Lee ’

The Interview Vault: Justin Smoak

smoak interview vault.jpg

While everyone around baseball watches shockingly as Cliff Lee dons a Philadelphia Phillies uniform at a press conference sometime in the next few days, I’m focusing in on the centerpiece of the deal that sent the left-hander to the Texas Rangers last July 9.  He just happens to be a former LumberKing and is the feature of this week’s edition of “The Interview Vault”.

Switch-hitting first-baseman Justin Smoak was one of the four former Clinton players dealt by the Rangers in exchange for Lee and Mark Lowe prior to last year’s trade deadline.  Once the undoubted future of the middle of the Texas lineup, Smoak was deemed expendable to help the Rangers turn the corner in the immediate.  Now, the 2008 first-round pick (11th overall) finds himself as the cornerstone of Jack Zduriencik’s rebuilding project in Seattle.

Smoak was fresh off the fishing boat when he arrived in Clinton in August of 2008, rested from a drawn-out signing process that wouldn’t end until 15 minutes before the MLB deadline.  Anxious to play baseball again for the first time since he left the University of South Carolina, he’d still have to wait a day before making his professional debut in Peoria on August 18.

The featured interview today took place between myself and Smoak prior to that first action and was his first minor league interview.  We talk about his hectic first 48 hours, fitting in with the likes of fellow first-baseman Mitch Moreland (who hit a pair of home runs in the previous game vs. the Chiefs), getting ready to hit in the 5-spot in manager Mike Micucci’s order, his thoughts on the first round selection by the Rangers and more. 

Listen:   Justin Smoak, Prior to ’08 Pro Debut.mp3

Not long after the interview, Smoak would take the diamond for the first time as a pro, going 1-for-3 with a double off the right-center wall for his first pro hit.  He’d go on to register at least one hit in 13 of his 14 games as a LumberKing, hitting .304 with three doubles, three home runs and six RBI.

Since ’08, he’s accomplished a lot quickly.  Smoak ascended to the Major Leagues in just his second full season in 2010, making his big-league debut for the Rangers on April 23 vs. Detroit.  He’d hit .209 with eight homers and 34 RBI for Texas before being packaged for Lee, and would finish out the year bouncing between Seattle (.239, 5 HR, 14 RBI) and triple-A Tacoma (.271, 7 HR, 25 RBI).  Smoak teamed up with the red-hot Dustin Ackley to bring a PCL championship home to the Rainiers, winning the PCL’s Offensive Player of the Postseason award (.423, HR, 6 RBI) in the process.

With the likes of Ackley, Rich Poythress and Nick Franklin coming up alongside him, the future for Smoak should be very bright in the middle of the Mariners’ order.    

-DL

The Interview Vault: Danny Clark

dc interview vault.jpgThe World Series is over, and the San Francisco Giants are the well-deserved champions.  No doubt, their young rotation of Tim Lincecum/Matt Cain/Madison Bumgardner — and to a lesser degree Jonathan Sanchez — handcuffed the Rangers over the course of five games en route to the 4-1 series victory.  Only Mitch Moreland hit above .250 for the series, batting .462 with a home run and three RBI.

While the San Fran arms are sure to be the buzz around baseball all winter, there’s no doubt that the young guns of the Texas rotation and bullpen proved a little something as well on the national stage.  Colby Lewis stepped out of the shadow of Cliff Lee to prove to be the Rangers’ stopper, going 3-0 with a 1.71 ERA in four postseason starts including the lone World Series win.  Rookie closer Neftali Feliz shrugged off doubts that he could perform in the playoffs, posting a 1.23 ERA in seven appearances including a World Series save.

Ignore the blowups in Game 2 and left-handers Derek Holland and Michael Kirkman were actually pretty solid.  The Rangers might not get past the New York Yankees without the clutch 3.2 scoreless innings thrown by Holland in Game 4 of the ALCS.  Alexi Ogando was another unknown heading into late October, and he responded with a 1.50 ERA in five postseason outings before ending up on the disabled list.

All of these pitchers (aside from Lee), at some point on their way to reaching Arlington have worked with Texas Rangers’ Pitching Coordinator Danny Clark.  Better known as “DC”, Clark was the pitching coach here in Clinton from 2007-2008 before rising to his current rank prior to the 2009 season. 

The 2008 campaign alone saw Clark teach the likes of Feliz, Holland, Kirkman, Blake Beavan, Michael Main, Josh Lueke, Kennil Gomez and Ryan Tatusko.  The year before, he guided pitchers like Kasey Kiker, Zach Phillips, Omar Poveda and Evan Reed, all right here in Clinton, IA.

Today, we’ll dust off an interview I did with DC during the second half of that tremendous ’08 year.   We talk about Feliz’s development of a breaking ball/changeup to compliment his blazing fastball, Kirkman’s revival after tough seasons in ’06 and ’07, Holland’s 7-0 start to the season, Gomez and Beavan working through struggles and more. 

Listen Here: 
Pitching Coach Danny Clark (talking about Feliz, Holland in 2008).mp3

Interestingly enough, we ran into DC just hours before Game 3 on Saturday in Arlington.  It was one of those “coming full circle” moments that baseball often provides.  I imagine that, like us, he was pretty astounded by how fast the success has come for many of his pitchers.  It’s a success I believe you’ll see around Texas for seasons to come. 

-DL

The Interview Vault: Blake Beavan

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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.

-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

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!

-DL

 

Diamond Debuts, Beavan Impresses in Tacoma

diamond.JPGMy apologies lately for letting a lot of LumberKings alumni news slip through the cracks, but I’ll attempt to resolve some of that right now.

Less than a week after first-baseman Mitch Moreland (’08) became the third former King to make a big-league debut, right-hander Thomas Diamond (’04, pictured left) stepped to the mound for the Chicago Cubs to make his first Major League start last night against the Milwaukee Brewers.

Diamond struck out 10 of the 27 batters he faced over 6.0 innings, but also allowed three runs on seven hits as the Cubs lost, 4-3 to the Brewers at Wrigley Field.  He became only the second Cub in 90 seasons to strike out 10 in his debut. 

Amongst his seven seasons in the Minors (all in the Texas chain until this year) was the 2004 season with Clinton, in which Diamond went 1-0 with a 2.05 ERA in seven starts.  He walked only eight while fanning 42 batters over 30.2 innings as a LumberKing.  Diamond joins Moreland, first-baseman Justin Smoak (’08) and right-hande Omar Beltre (’03) as former LumberKings who have made Major League debuts this season.

Diamond isn’t the only former Clinton pitcher moving up in recent days.  Right-hander Blake Beavan, a member of the 2008 Kings, moved up to triple-A Tacoma and earned a win in his first start with the Rainiers.

Recently acquired by the Seattle Mariners in the deal that sent Cliff Lee to Texas, Beavan was denied his triple-A debut with Oklahoma City but did not have to wait long to get his shot in Seattle.  The Irving, TX native and former first-round pick worked 6.0 innings, yielding two runs on seven hits and striking out two in a 9-3 win over Reno. 

Right-hander Josh Lueke (’07-’08) has also joined Beavan in Tacoma and has pitched well so far, going 0-0 with a 3.00 ERA, no walks and five strikeouts over 3.0 innings.  At least for now, infielder Matt Lawson (’08) has not moved up to Tacoma despite hitting .365 with four doubles, two HR and 14 RBI in just 15 games with double-A West Tenn.

Elsewhere, right-hander Evan Reed (’07-’08) made his first outing as a Florida Marlins farmhand last Saturday, pitching in relief for the double-A Jacksonville Suns.  Reed worked 1.2 innings and struck out one of the six Carolina Mudcats’ hitters he faced.  The former Clinton starter was shipped by the Rangers along with right-hander Omar Poveda (’06-’07) in the deal that brought them Jorge Cantu.  Poveda is still coming back from Tommy John surgery.

Through five games, four starts with double-A Richmond, left-hander Michael Main (’08) is 0-3 with a 13.83 ERA in what has been a rough introduction to the San Francisco system.  The former first-round pick has battled control issues with 14 walks and seven strikeouts over 13.2 innings so far.  Main was acquired by the Giants in the deal that sent catcher Bengie Molina to the Rangers.

With our bus to the Quad Cities leaving in less than an hour, that’s all the time I have for today.  I’ll hopefully have a new interview and game notes prior to the 7:00 PM game against the River Bandits tonight.

-DL

Four Former Kings Involved in Lee Deal

Lee Trade Players.JPG

Left-to-right:  Beavan, Smoak, Lueke and Lawson, all ’08 LumberKings

You’ve already seen the breaking news…the Seattle Mariners (our current parent club) have shipped All-Star lefty Cliff Lee to the Texas Rangers (our previous parent club) for four players, including first-baseman Justin Smoak.

Smoak, alongside right-handers Blake Beavan and Josh Lueke and infielder Matt Lawson all played in Clinton during the 2008 season.  Smoak, Beavan and Lawson were all part of the team during the 2008 Midwest League Playoffs.

It’s unlikely that we’ll see ANY of them come back through Clinton, as all were above double-A at the time of the trade.  Beavan had recently made the move to triple-A Oklahoma City, while Lawson and Lueke were in double-A Frisco.  And, well, Smoak is a big-leaguer.  It remains to be seen if there will be any shifting amongst the upper levels to accomodate the new acquisitions.

Stay tuned to the LumberBlog for more details.

-DL

Cactus League Update – March 10

Stoney.JPGApparently, life goes on without me in Arizona.  Today, Clinton’s current Major League affiliate took on its old one as the Seattle Mariners defeated the Texas Rangers, 6-3 in Surprise, AZ.

No former Kings played for the Mariners, but several familiar faces saw action for Texas.  The golden right arm of Neftali Feliz (’08) surrendered four runs over 2.0 innings in relief of C.J. Wilson, ballooning his ERA to 13.50.  Not a great start for a man looking to capture a rotation spot amidst a ton of talent.  Lefty Kasey Kiker (’07) fared better, yielding only a hit over a scoreless inning.

Mitch Moreland (’08) continues to impress.  He went 2-for-4 to raise his Spring average to .357.  Craig Gentry (’07) went 0-for-1 with an RBI, Justin Smoak (’08) reached base as a pinch-hitter and scored, Chad Tracy (’07) went 0-for-2 as did Emerson Frostad (’05), and Davis Stoneburner (’08, pictured) saw his first Spring action, going 1-for-1 with an RBI single.

Cliff Lee got the win for Seattle, giving up a run on five hits over 3.0 innings.

I don’t think I’ll be able to do an Alumni Update every day as Chris Mehring does over at his Rattlers Blog, but I will attempt to post game results from time to time as my busy schedule allows.  Hey, there’s a lot going on here this time of year.  More on that for another post.

-DL

Spring Training, Day 2

Hello once again from Arizona, this time from the computer center at my hotel in Scottsdale.  I found some free internet (although no way to hook up my digital camera) and thought I might take advantage.

No former LumberKings suited up for the Mariners today, however, Seattle did win their first Cactus League game 9-3 over San Diego.  Ryan Garko and Tommy Everidge each went yard in their Mariner debuts.  You can read the box score here.

I was nowhere near Peoria today, rather, I was checking out the Milwaukee Brewers and San Francisco Giants (again) at Scottsdale Stadium.  A quick summary of my day there:  I snagged three batting practice homers without the aid of a glove (thanks, Aubrey Huff), was interviewed by a writer from the Arizona Republic for a Saturday feature and got sunburned beyond belief.  Oh yeah, and Prince Fielder got the long-awaited retalitory plunk from Barry Zito as the main highlight of a 5-3 Giants win.

Elsewhere, Mitch Moreland (’08) went 3-for-3 with a double and two RBI as the Rangers pounded Kansas City, 13-3 in Surprise.  Several former Kings had a nice day at the plate, including Craig Gentry (2-for-3, 2 runs scored) and Chad Tracy (1-for-1, RBI triple, 2 runs scored).

Now, for the “this has nothing to do with baseball” news.  This evening, I attended my very first regular-season NHL game to watch my favorite team, the Colorado Avalanche take on the Phoenix Coyotes.  John-Michael Liles tied the score at 1-1 with a power-play goal in the second period, but the Coyotes won in the final seconds as the just-traded former Avs winger Wojtek Wolski beat Craig Anderson for the winner.  Deflating, but still the most fun I’ve had at a hockey game.

I will have some pictures and video of my day in Scottsdale coming up next week.  Tomorrow, it’s back to Peoria as the Mariners take on the Padres again.  The buzz will be out on the back fields as Felix Hernandez and Cliff Lee are scheduled to throw simulated games.  I might get some pictures of that, if I can get close enough.  Stay tuned.

-DL 

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