Results tagged ‘ Engel Beltre ’

Kings in Spring (March 14)

This may be old news to some, but I was back home in Milwaukee and unable to post it until now.  Right-hander Blake Beavan (’08) made his first Spring start as a Mariner on Saturday against Oakland and earned the win, limiting the Athletics to a run on three hits over 3.0 innings.  Shortly thereafter, Beavan was re-assigned to Minor League camp.  Right-hander Yoervis Medina (’10) also saw his time in big-league camp end as he was optioned to the High Desert spring roster.

In that Beavan start, a 10-2 win over the A’s, first-baseman Justin Smoak (’08) finally woke up his bat with a 2-for-2 game including a two-out two-run single in the fourth inning and a two-run homer to left-center in the sixth.  The blast was Smoak’s first in Cactus League action.

The Mariners’ roster still includes Smoak, right-handers Josh Lueke (’07-’08) and Tom Wilhelmsen (’10) and catcher Steven Baron (’10) at this time.  I have to say, I’m still surprised Baron is there.

Over in Surprise, the Texas Rangers sent outfielder Engel Beltre (’08), right-hander Fabio Castillo (’08) and left-hander Zach Phillips (’06-’07) back to Minor League camp on Saturday.

Continuing with Rangers camp, Ian Kinsler (’04) is hitting a healthy .367 with a .933 slugging percentage…the former Clinton infielder has a team-high five homers and nine RBI in 11 games.  While Chris Davis continues to assert his value to the team as a corner infielder, Mitch Moreland (’08) keeps fighting to hold onto the first-base spot…he’s hitting .375 with a .719 slugging percentage, five doubles, two home runs and seven RBI in 12 games.  Aside from catcher Jose Felix (’08), who is 5-for-5 with a double in big-league action, the group of former Kings that includes Chad Tracy (’07), Craig Gentry (’07), Marcus Lemon (’07) and others has been largely quiet offensively.

Left-hander Derek Holland (’08) is 1-0 with a 1.80 ERA, no walks and six strikeouts in his two starts, totaling 5.0 innings.  Right-hander Neftali Feliz (’08) has pitched just twice in camp, including one start…the flamethrower has not allowed an earned run over 5.0 innings, but has walked three and has hit a batter in that span.  Lefty Michael Kirkman is carrying a 3.00 ERA in three outings and has struck out eight over 9.0 innings.

Scanning other camps, outfielder John Mayberry Jr. (’06) continues to look impressive in a bid for a roster spot with the Philadelphia Phillies…he’s hitting .324 with three doubles, four homers and nine RBI in 14 games.  Right-hander Maikel Cleto (’09) has had two outings with the St. Louis Cardinals and is 0-0 with a 4.50 ERA, one save, four walks, three strikeouts and a home run allowed over 4.0 innings.  Right-hander Thomas Diamond (’04) is 0-1 with a 5.79 ERA over four relief outings as he attemps to make the Chicago Cubs’ Opening Day roster.  Catcher Manny Pina (’07) and outfielder Tim Smith (’08) have both seen minor action in Kansas City Royals’ camp…Pina is 4-for-16 (.250) with a home run and three RBI in 10 games, while Smith is hitless in two at-bats. 

There’s plenty more players to track, but I’ll leave it at that for now.

-DL

Kings in Spring (March 2)

In a game chock-full of former LumberKings, the Mariners held on to defeat the Texas Rangers, 5-4 at Peoria Stadium yesterday.  Milton Bradley was the offensive headliner with a 3-for-3, two RBI performance, but a former (and potentially future) King also had a big day.  Catcher Steven Baron plated the eventual difference-making run in his only at-bat in the eighth, launching a solo homer off Neil Ramirez.

That’s right, the 19-year-old who hit sub-.200 in Clinton last year and had only four extra-base hits started his spring with a home run in his first at-bat.  Should we read too far into his 1.000 average?  Probably not, but it is an exciting first glimpse at a more mature Baron.

The game featured 12 former Clinton players including Baron, Blake Beavan (2.0 IP, 3 H, 2 ER) and Josh Lueke (1.0 IP, 1 H, 0 R, got the win) for the Mariners, plus Engel Beltre (0-for-3), Davis Stoneburner (0-for-1), Mitch Moreland (0-for-2), Jose Felix (1-for-1, double, run, RBI), David Paisano (0-for-1), Chad Tracy (0-for-1), Cody Eppley (1.0 IP, 3 H, 2 ER, took the loss), Zach Phillips (1.0 IP, 2 H, 0 ER) and Mark Hamburger (1.0 IP, 0 H, 0 ER, 1 K) for the Rangers.

The Mariners (2-0-1 in Cactus League play) return to action today in Scottsdale as they take on the Arizona Diamondbacks.  Right-hander Michael Pineda will make his spring debut.  Check out the details over at Mariners.com.

-DL

Predicting the 2011 Roster (Part 2)

Thumbnail image for 2011previewpart2.jpg

Left-handers Anthony Fernandez (left) and Edlando Seco (right) finished 2-3 in the Northwest League in ERA last season.

Part two of my third-annual educated guess at the upcoming LumberKings’ roster is today, with a look at players who I think will make their Clinton debuts at some point in 2011.  Again, my disclaimer…I have no advanced knowledge of the roster via the Seattle Mariners at this point in the year, thus this is just my opinion.  If anyone I’ve mentioned is no longer with the Mariners’ organization (trade, release, retirement, etc.), please feel free to update me in the “comments” section below.

It’s easy to get excited about the crop of talent coming up, given that four of the five teams below low-A advanced to the playoffs last year.  Everett, the team we’re likely to see the most players from, won the Northwest League title last season under the guidance of Jose Moreno and newly-named LumberKings’ pitching coach Rich Dorman.  Pulaski, the other top feeder team, advanced to the postseason under current manager Eddie Menchaca.  The players coming up from those two squads will already be well versed in what it takes to win, and they’ll be working with a staff that is more than familiar with their skillset.  That should be a solid recipe for success here in Clinton.  Now, let’s take a position-by-position look at some of the players who could be wearing black and green in 2011.

Catcher

As I said in part one of the preview, 2009 supplemental first-rounder Steven Baron, who split his first pro season between Clinton and Everett, should be the everyday catcher here.  He started 50 of the AquaSox’ 76 games behind the plate and was named the NWL’s top catcher. Cal State Fullerton product Billy Marcoe (.153, 0 HR, 3 RBI, .383 OPS) appeared in 11 games for Everett as Baron’s backup last year.  He could be filling that role again.  Pulaski’s catching corps included Venezuela native Larry Gonzalez (.267, 1 HR, 17 RBI, .700 OPS), Dominican native Hassiel Jimenez (.229, 0 HR, 8 RBI, .541 OPS) and Seattle’s 32nd round pick out of Vanderbilt, Andrew Giobbi (.291, 2 HR, 12 RBI, .764 OPS).  Seattle’s highest-drafted catcher in 2010 was sixth-round pick Christian Carmichael, who needs a season at short-A before he’s ready for the Midwest League.  Carmichael, drafted out of Mililani High School in Hawaii, hit .100 in just 11 games in the AZL.  It’s anyone’s guess at this point who the other catcher (or second and third catchers) will be, but I’d put my money on Gonzalez or Giobbi and bank on Carmichael in 2012.

First Base   

Evan Sharpley, the Mariners’ 50th-round and final selection of the 2009 June draft, was better known as the backup quarterback to Jimmy Clausen at Notre Dame when Seattle selected him.  After solid efforts in the AZL in ’09 (.333, 7 HR, 29 RBI) and Everett in ’10 (.231, 6 HR, 42 RBI, .706 OPS), Sharpley has proven he belongs in pro baseball.  Granted, .231 with a .318 OBP isn’t lighting up the Northwest League, but he still started 64 of Everett’s 76 games last year and can provide power from the left side of the plate.  Pulaski had a first-base platoon situation with Hofstra product and 35th round pick Ethan Paquette (.236, 3 HR, 19 RBI, .643 OPS) splitting time with Matt Browning (.330, 4 HR, 24 RBI, .947 OPS), the 43rd round pick out of James Madison.  Paquette is the only natural first-baseman of the group with Sharpley and Browning both moving over from third base, but I think this spot ultimately goes to Sharpley.  I projected in my previous post that Tim Morris should return, but we’ll see who emerges this Spring.

Second Base

LumberKings’ alums Hawkins Gebbers and Terry Serrano handled most of the second-base duties for Everett last year, and either one could be back on the Clinton infield.  Since this post is about new faces, I’ll focus elsewhere.  Menchaca’s Pulaski team featured an intriguing second-baseman named Jorge Agudelo, who ripped 16 doubles and legged out seven triples in just 59 games while hitting .287.  The Caracas, VZ native also exhibited a knack for baserunning, stealing an Appy League-high 24 bases in 31 attempts.  The Kings haven’t had a true speedster at the top of the lineup since Engel Beltre in ’08, so it’d be great to see Agudelo flying around the bases.  Unless Gabriel Noriega repeats the league and isn’t the starting shortstop (more on that later), I think Agudelo has the inside track on the second base spot.  Gebbers, Serrano and Carlos Ramirez are all solid utility choices, while 30th-round pick Derek Poppert (.242, 8 doubles, HR, 11 RBI) could be in the mix also.    

Third Base

When Menchaca was in for the Hot Stove Banquet in January, he raved about third-baseman Ramon Morla whenever he was asked about his players from Pulaski.  The 21-year-old San Pedro de Macoris product was a near Triple Crown winner in the Appy League, blasting a league-best 17 homers in 62 games while hitting .323 (2nd) and driving in 49 runs (2nd).  Only Elizabethton’s Oswaldo Arcia (who figures to be big in Beloit this year) led more offensive categories than Morla.  He won’t be Mario Martinez on defense, given that he committed a team-high 21 errors at the hot corner last year, but his offensive numbers are exciting enough to forgive that fact.  The Mariners’ used their 12th-round pick on Oregon State third-baseman Stefen Romero, but he was unable to play last season after fracturing his arm in late May.  Romero was hitting .326 with 13 homers and 41 RBI with the Beavers prior to the injury.  Director of Amateur Scouting Tom McNamara is high on Romero, but you can’t argue against Morla’s MVP-like season.  I say, let’s see them both.  Someone’s got to DH.

Shortstop 

No question, the shortstop position will be the biggest shoes to fill in the eyes of most LumberKings’ fans.  Nick Franklin enjoyed one of the best offensive seasons in club history last year and emerged as the #3 prospect in the entire Seattle system.  With respects to Pulaski’s Jake Schlander (the 31st-round pick out of Stanford, hit .259, one HR, 25 RBI, .671 OPS) and Everett’s Anthony Phillips (.204, 2 HR, 12 RBI, .627), 2010 second-round pick Marcus Littlewood should be a more-than-capable replacement to Franklin.  The 19-year-old Littlewood was drafted out of St. George High School in Utah and didn’t play for an affiliate last year, yet was ranked the #8 prospect in the system by Baseball America.  Like Franklin, Littlewood has Team USA experience, suiting up with the 16-and-under National Team at the 2008 Pan Am Youth Games (they won gold) and the 18-and-under squad last year.  BA projects him to hit for average and put up 10-15 home runs as Clinton’s everyday shortstop in 2011.  How can I disagree?

Outfield

Two of Everett’s top four hitters resided in the outfield, with left-handed hitting right-fielder Kevin Rivers leading the way.  Rivers, signed as a non-drafted free agent in 2009 out of the same school that produced Scott Savastano (Franklin Pierce University in New Hampshire), shook off pedestrian numbers in the AZL and hit a team-best .332 (3rd in the NWL) with 11 blasts, 48 RBI, a league-best .466 on-base percentage and a 1.022 OPS for the AquaSox.  Centerfielder Robbie Anston also had a productive year for the AquaSox after a 26th-round selection out of Boston College, hitting .292 with 13 doubles, two homers, 24 RBI and 15 steals in 23 attempts.  Anston was one of Everett’s top playoff hitters, batting .333 with three doubles.

Menchaca’s Pulaski team was also anchored by powerful outfielders, most notably Venezuelans Jose Rivero (.295, 7 HR, 35 RBI, .817 OPS) and switch-hitting Mario Yepez (.231, 12 doubles, 6 HR, 27 RBI, .652 OPS).  Left-handed hitting James Wood, the 47th-round pick, hit .291 and had a .794 OPS in 28 games.  The one I’ve heard most about, however, is the eighth-round pick out of Miami Dade Community College, Jabari Blash.  Originally from St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands, Blash looks like the heir apparent to James Jones in right field.  The 6’4″ Blash is just about the same size as JJ, plus he hit at a similar clip (.266, 5 HR, 20 RBI, .839 OPS) over his 32 games in the Appy League.  BA rated Blash the fastest player of the Mariners’ 2010 draft class, and we’ll see if he can cover JJ-like ground when he patrols right-field.  I expect him to be joined by Rivers in left and Anston in center, with Rivero, Yepez, Kalian Sams and Ryan Royster fighting for the fourth spot or stepping in to the DH role.  In regards to Menchaca’s lineup, I’d like to see Anston and Rivers in the 2-3 spots with Blash protecting Morla around the five spot. 

Starting Rotation 

One thing the Mariners have always supplied the LumberKings since the affiliation began in 2009 is brilliant starting pitching.  The 2009 club led the Midwest League in ERA at 3.35 and featured league ERA champion Kenn Kasparek, while the 2010 team ranked second in ERA at 3.66 and sported the league’s top right-hander (Erasmo Ramirez) and second-best left-hander (Jimmy Gillheeney).  Will the rotation live up to the standards of the last two years?

Looking just at the top three starters in Dorman’s Everett rotation, it looks like the 2011 starters should be outstanding.  The AquaSox posted a Northwest League-best 3.22 ERA thanks largely to a pair of southpaws, Edlando Seco and Anthony Fernandez.  The duo finished 2-3 in the league in ERA, with the Calabozo, VZ native Seco going 3-3 with a 2.48 ERA in 14 starts while Fernandez, from Santiago, DR went 8-3 with a 2.59 ERA over 15 starts.  Fernandez finished atop the league in fewest baserunners per 9.0 IP (10.26), tied for first in wins (8), second in WHIP (1.12) and third in fewest walks per 9.0 IP (1.94) while Seco held opponents to a league-low .169 average, finished third in WHIP (1.20) and third as well in strikeouts per 9.0 IP (9.52).  Simply put, the lefties put on a show for the eventual champs.

Yet, they weren’t the only stellar starters for Everett.  Right-hander Chris Sorce, Seattle’s 26th-round pick out of Troy in 2009, made the move from the bullpen to the rotation this season and was fantastic in 15 starts, going 8-2 with a 3.64 ERA and a 1.29 WHIP.  I had him projected to be in Clinton’s pen last year, but there’s no doubt in my mind he should be in the Kings’ rotation this season.

Pulaski has an ace of their own to offer up.  Right-hander Tim Boyce, the 44th-round pick out of the University of Rhode Island, won an Appalachian League-best nine games (9-3) and had the league’s 10th-best ERA of 2.98 over 13 games, eight starts.  In the mold of Ramirez, Boyce is a control artist — he walked seven while striking out 42 over 47.1 innings as a starter and had a paltry 1.03 WHIP, fourth-best in the Appy League.

Continuing with Pulaski…right-hander Jessie Nava (4-3, 4.36 ERA, 1.56 WHIP) was a reliable starter aside from his propensity to give up home runs (a league-high 8 in 13 starts).  Righty George Mieses went 4-4 with a 3.45 ERA and the league’s third-lowest walks per 9.0 IP average (1.19) over his 13 starts.  Right-hander Stephen Kohlscheen went 3-0 with a 2.51 ERA in seven games, five starts after his 45th-round selection.

All of those pitchers could quickly be overshadowed if Seattle’s supplemental first-round pick, 18-year-old right-hander Taijuan Walker, comes to town.  Walker was the 43rd player drafted last year despite having more experience as a high school basketball player than as a pitcher.  That’s because of a large frame (he’s 6’4″ according to most reports) and a live arm (his fastball has touched 95 mph, and he backs it up with a decent slider and change).  Walker went 1-1 with a 1.29 ERA and a stingy .087 opponent average over his four appearances in the AZL last year, a very encouraging start to a career that might take a few seasons to develop.  The Mariners are in no need to rush Walker here to Clinton, but I think he’ll factor into the rotation once the weather gets warmer (much like Kasey Kiker and Blake Beavan did in ’07 and ’08).

Even if Walker doesn’t arrive this year, the Kings could be in for some other surprises from the Dominican Summer League and the Venezuela Summer League much like Ramirez was in 2010.  Left-hander Henry Perez went 7-1 with a 0.86 ERA in 11 starts in the DSL, striking out 76 while walking only 10 (can someone say Erasmo-like?) and limiting opponents to a .187 average over 73.0 innings.  He’s not particularly young (he’ll turn 22 after the season), meaning he likely can handle the jump to the United States.  Left-hander Brandol Perez might be more likely to stay in the DSL despite going 7-0 with a 0.19 ERA (yes, you read that right) over 11 games, six starts last year…he’ll be 18 in August.  Right-hander Vicente Campos was the DSL Mariners’ top starter, going 8-2 with a 3.16 ERA, 1.19 WHIP and .231 opponent average in 12 starts.  Campos will turn 19 in July, leading me to believe we’ll probably see him in 2012.

If the Clinton rotation features any combination of Walker, Seco, Fernandez, Boyce, Sorce and Perez this year, we could witness the most dominant LumberKings’ staff in recent history.  Given all that we’ve seen as a Seattle affiliate, that’s saying a lot.

Bullpen

Things certainly look promising for the first six-to-seven innings, but will the Kings’ bullpen be able to finish things off?  A lot of Everett’s bullpen made their way to Clinton and were sent back down, but there’s a few arms out there we haven’t seen.  Right-hander Willy Kesler, the 18th-round pick out of the University of New Mexico, went 3-2 with a 1.47 ERA in 19 relief outings and held NWL opponents to a .213 average.  Kesler led the team in holds (5) and was tied with Jason Markovitz and Stephen Pryor for the saves lead (4-for-4).  Right-hander Austin Hudson, the 27th-round pick in ’09, went 4-2 with a 2.92 ERA over 20 games (including seven starts) but was just 3-for-6 in save attempts.  New York, NY native Eric Valdez was also impressive in seven relief outings for the AquaSox, going 0-0 with a 0.64 ERA and a .192 opponent average.  Right-hander Tyler Burgoon, the 10th-round pick out of Michigan, had decent numbers outside of a 4.40 ERA…his 0.98 WHIP ranked third on the team amongst pitchers with eight-plus outings.

Back over to Pulaski, right-hander Bryan Leigh (2-0, 1.71 ERA, 3-of-3 in saves, 1.05 WHIP, .203 opponent average) was their most reliable reliever.  Right-handers Lance Abbott (0-0, 2.25 ERA) and Preston Vancil (2-1, 2.84 ERA) also checked in under the 3.00 ERA mark, although they had just one hold and one save combined.  I’m pulling for right-hander Ben Versnik, the 38th-round pick out of the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, to make the roster.  Versnik, born in West Allis, Wisconsin (my birthplace as well) went 0-0 with a 3.38 ERA in six outings. 

The AZL offers up a few names as well, including left-handers Kody Kurowski (1-3, 4.30, 5-for-7 in saves) and Scott Ronnenbergh (0-1, 2.13, 1-for-1 in saves) and right-handers Danny Cruz-Ayala (1-0, 4.05, 3-for-4 in saves) and Jandy Sena (4-2, 4.01, 1-for-2 in saves).

As you can see, there’s no clear-cut closer amongst the players I’ve named, but we might not know who fits into that role until well into the season.  It will be fun to see how it all pieces together, especially with a lot of returnees to the pen from last year’s playoff club.

Whew, that was a long one.  If you’re still reading by this point, congrats…you’ve stuck with me until the end of this preview and you’re truly a diehard LumberKings’ fan.  Feel free to share your own thoughts in the “comments” section below, I’d be interested in hearing what others think.  Of course, we won’t know for sure until just prior to April 7 when the team arrives from Peoria, AZ.  Check out this blog and LumberKings.com around that time to find out the official word on the Opening Night roster.

-DL

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

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: 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.

-DL

Former Kings Seeing Stars

feliz asg.jpgI should have put this out yesterday, but you probably already know anyways.  Former LumberKings’ second-baseman Ian Kinsler (’04) and right-hander Neftali Feliz (’08) are American League All-Stars.  Both were named amongst five Texas Rangers to play in the game at Angels Stadium in Anaheim coming up on July 13.

Kinsler is a second-time All-Star, replacing Boston’s Dustin Pedroia on the roster.  Feliz, who was an active LumberKing through early July three seasons ago is a first-time All-Star.  I’m especially excited about Feliz going, as he is the first player from a team I’ve covered to be named an All-Star.

In other less-exciting but still exciting none-the-less news, word has it that right-hander Blake Beavan (’08) has been promoted to triple-A Oklahoma City.  Center-fielder Engel Beltre (’08) had just joined double-A Frisco, so they had apparently reached the “08 LumberKings” quota.

It’s good to be a former member of that 2008 club right now.

-DL 

Beltre in the Not Top 10

beltre08.JPGFormer LumberKing Engel Beltre (’08) has made the Sportscenter highlight reel in a somewhat less-than-desireable way as his walk-off homer-turned-bench clearing brawl has shown up as #1 on the “Not Top 10″ this week.

Beltre hit a walk-off solo homer for Bakersfield (high-A, Texas Rangers) in a 2-1 win in 10 innings over the Visalia Rawhide.  Engel being Engel, he had a few words to say as he rounded the bases that, needless to say, were not well-received by the Rawhide players.

Watch the video here:  http://espn.go.com/video/clip?id=5275532

Not exactly good exposure for Beltre, one of the up-and-coming prospects in the Rangers system, but if the video is now on ESPN, maybe that means we can all laugh about it just a little bit.  Unless you’re from Visalia.

-DL

Photos and Video from Rangers Camp

Dedicated LumberBlog followers will recall that during my six-day trip to Arizona, I was sadly cheated out of a chance to see many former LumberKings due to Mother Nature.  My plan to see the Texas Rangers take on the Cleveland Indians in Goodyear was cut off by the rare desert rain.

Thankfully, I’m not the only blogger in the world who has ventured to the Cactus League this Spring.  Scott Lucas of Newberg Report fame is down there right now covering the back fields.  He has shot some pictures and video on many of your favorite former Kings.

Here’s some photos from a “B” game, including Craig Gentry (’07), Mitch Moreland (’08) and Chad Tracy (’07):  http://rangers.scottlucas.com/site/TX100316/TX100316b.htm

Scott has also posted some very sharp looking video on his YouTube site:

He’s got a link to some video on Kasey Kiker (’07) as well, but I wasn’t able to get that to work.  I will post it if that changes.

You can check out more from Scott at rangers.scottlucas.com.

-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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