Results tagged ‘ John Whittleman ’

Kings in Spring (March 25)

Well, it was nice to finally catch the Mariners in Cactus League action, even though it was from the dusty office TV as they played the Chicago Cubs on WGN rather than from my favorite seat down the left-field line at the Peoria Sports Complex.  Still, it was nice to get a look at right-hander Tom Wilhelmsen (’10) in the #73 uni…aside for a minor hiccup in the way of a Blake DeWitt solo homer, he looked pretty comfortable in two innings of relief work.  Wilhelmsen and Justin Smoak (’08), who went 2-for-4 with a pair of doubles, look like locks to make the Opening Day roster to me.

Another funny note from the game, former LumberKings infielder Kyle Seager (’09) got into the action at third base, wearing #92 with no nameplate.  The 90’s numbers are normally given to the Minor League players called up to the big-league game for the day, but apparently that number was originally intended for Mario Martinez.  As a result, Cubs’ broadcaster Len Kasper referred to Seager as Martinez for a couple defensive plays and a full at-bat.  I doubt anyone aside from me, the Seager family and a few other Clintonites noticed or cared.

I didn’t catch the entire game, but Denny Almonte (’09) also made a cameo appearance, grounding out on one pitch in his lone at-bat.

In Texas Rangers news, and certainly a note not to be lost in the mix, it appears that former LumberKings’ third-baseman and one-time Futures Game hero John Whittleman (’06-’07) has been shipped to the Kansas City Royals in exchange for a player to be named later.  That’s according to multiple sources, cited in an email I received from The Newberg Report.  Whittleman, a second-round pick in ’05, struggled in ’06 but was an All-Star with the Kings in ’07.  He remains the only active LumberKing ever to participate in an MLB All-Star Futures Game, something I covered earlier this offseason in an edition of The Interview Vault.  If the reports are true, it’s a fresh start for Whit in the deepest Minor League system in baseball.  He’s always been a favorite of mine, I hope this works out well for him.

As you can tell, I’m working late on a Friday night yet again.  Such is life this close to the baseball season.  We’re about 13 days and 15 minutes away from the first pitch.

-DL

Kings in Spring (March 25)

Well, it was nice to finally catch the Mariners in Cactus League action, even though it was from the dusty office TV as they played the Chicago Cubs on WGN rather than from my favorite seat down the left-field line at the Peoria Sports Complex.  Still, it was nice to get a look at right-hander Tom Wilhelmsen (’10) in the #73 uni…aside for a minor hiccup in the way of a Blake DeWitt solo homer, he looked pretty comfortable in two innings of relief work.  Wilhelmsen and Justin Smoak (’08), who went 2-for-4 with a pair of doubles, look like locks to make the Opening Day roster to me.

Another funny note from the game, former LumberKings infielder Kyle Seager (’09) got into the action at third base, wearing #92 with no nameplate.  The 90’s numbers are normally given to the Minor League players called up to the big-league game for the day, but apparently that number was originally intended for Mario Martinez.  As a result, Cubs’ broadcaster Len Kasper referred to Seager as Martinez for a couple defensive plays and a full at-bat.  I doubt anyone aside from me, the Seager family and a few other Clintonites noticed or cared.

I didn’t catch the entire game, but Denny Almonte (’09) also made a cameo appearance, grounding out on one pitch in his lone at-bat.

In Texas Rangers news, and certainly a note not to be lost in the mix, it appears that former LumberKings’ third-baseman and one-time Futures Game hero John Whittleman (’06-’07) has been shipped to the Kansas City Royals in exchange for a player to be named later.  That’s according to multiple sources, cited in an email I received from The Newberg Report.  Whittleman, a second-round pick in ’05, struggled in ’06 but was an All-Star with the Kings in ’07.  He remains the only active LumberKing ever to participate in an MLB All-Star Futures Game, something I covered earlier this offseason in an edition of The Interview Vault.  If the reports are true, it’s a fresh start for Whit in the deepest Minor League system in baseball.  He’s always been a favorite of mine, I hope this works out well for him.

As you can tell, I’m working late on a Friday night yet again.  Such is life this close to the baseball season.  We’re about 13 days and 15 minutes away from the first pitch.

-DL

The Interview Vault: John Whittleman

whittleman interview vault.jpgIn the five-year span I’ve been in Clinton, I’ve been fortunate to watch players that have already become Major Leaguers (John Mayberry, Mitch Moreland, Neftali Feliz, Derek Holland to name a few) and players that seem on track to be Major Leaguers, if not stars at that level (Nick Franklin, James Jones and Erasmo Ramirez come to mind). 

Yet, as you often hear about Minor League Baseball, there’s always surprises when it comes to who achieves the dream and who flames out.  There’s guys like left-hander Michael Kirkman, who rose quickly through the Texas system after an injury-plagued and inconsistent start to his career, making the Rangers’ roster in time for the postseason last year.  On the other end of the spectrum, there’s a guy like infielder John Whittleman, seemingly a sure-fire future Ranger when drafted in the second round in 2005, yet still buried on the Texas system depth charts somewhere between Bakersfield and Frisco.

Say what you will about the hype surrounding Franklin when he arrived in Clinton, but Whittleman, for a time, was that same caliber of star for the LumberKings in 2007.  Coming off a disappointing 2006 as a 19-year-old (.227, 9 HR, 43 RBI, .656 OPS and 34 errors at third base), the Houston native returned to Clinton in 2007 and got off to maybe the best offensive start in the Midwest League that season.

Whittleman hit .343 with three home runs and 12 RBI in the first month of the season, also showing off a new patient eye (14 walks compared to just 15 strikeouts) as he captured the Rangers’ Minor League Player of the Month award for April.  He hit .343 yet again in May, ramping up the power production with six homers and 18 RBI and claiming the MWL Player of the Week award on May 7.

A cooling trend in June still couldn’t impact his tremendous first-half numbers as he entered the All-Star Break with a .320 average, 20 doubles, 12 home runs, 43 RBI and a .989 OPS.  Despite still struggling with the glove at times, Whit was named the starting third baseman for the West in the 2007 Midwest League All-Star Game in Kane County.  He went 1-for-2 with a walk and a run scored in the game, batting in the three spot.

That game was just the prelude to an even bigger showcase.  Not long after, Whittleman was selected to represent the Rangers and the USA in the 2007 MLB Futures Game in SanFrancisco, becoming the first (and only thus-far) active LumberKing to appear in the July 8 game.

whit futures game.jpg
Whittleman made the most of his opportunity, taking a 3-2 pitch from then-Mets prospect Deolis Guerra deep to the right-field seats at AT&T Park to cut the USA deficit to 4-2 in the fifth.  Future Major Leaguers Joey Votto (World) and Justin Upton (USA) also homered in the game, a 7-2 win for the World squad.

Returing to the LumberKings in the midst of a series at Burlington, there was no question that Whittleman was riding high.  It was prior to a July 9 game at Community Field that I spoke with him on an extended pregame interview about the Futures experience.  He talks about the surreal feeling of hitting the home run, the honor of being chosen for the game, connecting with fellow Futures players like Upton, Jay Bruce, Colby Rasmus, Cameron Maybin and Jacoby Ellsbury, dealing with the media frenzy surrounding the game and more.

Listen: 
John Whittleman Post Futures Game Interview (2007).mp3
 

So what’s happened since then to Whittleman?  Unfortunately, not the fast track to the Rangers’ corner infield like many (including myself) had expected.  His second-half production dipped drastically and he ended the Clinton portion of his season hitting .271 with 14 homers and 57 RBI.  He still finished second in the league in slugging (.476) and fourth in on-base percentage (.382) and was promoted to high-A Bakersfield at the end of July.

We saw Whit for the last time as we boarded a bus bound for Great Lakes, and I figured the next time I’d see him was in a Rangers uniform.  That turned out to be somewhat correct as I saw him with Texas in a Spring Training game in 2009, a game in which he made the most of his opportunity, homering in his first at-bat.  He appeared just in two games in last year’s Cactus League action, drawing a walk in his only at-bat.

Aside from those stints in Spring, Whittleman has yet to advance past double-A Frisco.  He’s appeared with the RoughRiders in 2008 (.258, HR, 5 RBI in 9 games), 2009 (.224, 28 doubles, 10 HR, 57 RBI in 127 games) and 2010 (.201, 5 HR, 30 RBI in 74 games).  A bulk of his last season was also spent back in Bakersfield for the first time since ’08.  He hit .248 with seven blasts and 23 RBI in 33 games, earning a promotion back to Frisco for the end of the year.  The one thing he’s been able to maintain despite the low average has been the propensity to draw walks — he drew 81 free passes in 118 games with Bakersfield in ’08, then followed up with 80 more in 127 games with Frisco in ’09.  While his career average sits at a mere .242, his .353 on-base percentage shows a strike zone discipline he’s always been known for.

The 2011 season will be make-or-break for the now first baseman, who is no longer near the top of any Texas prospect lists.  Whittleman is due to be a six-year Minor League free agent after the year and will need to prove to both the Rangers and other potential suitors that he has the eye and the power to be a big-league contributor.  If he can regain some of that 2007 magic we witnessed here in Clinton, he’ll hopefully be able to do just that.

-DL 

Greetings from Dayton

As you can probably tell by the lack of content from yesterday, the LumberKings were rained out in Bowling Green and will not play the finale of the series against the Hot Rods.  That is, unless we schedule a doubleheader for 2011.  The two teams won’t play again till then, and the Kings won’t return to Bowling Green Ballpark until 2012.

100_1816.JPGThus, the 10-game, three-city trip moves into its final leg here in scenic Dayton.  Still the “big leagues” of Midwest League parks, Fifth Third Field is home to the Dayton Dragons, the only club in A ball that continually sells out every game.  There’s additional excitement this season with former Big Red Machine right-fielder Ken Griffey on the staff as the hitting coach.  I’m keeping my fingers crossed for an interview sometime in the next three games.  I know some of you are probably wondering why I haven’t weighed in on Ken Griffey Jr.’s retirement yet, but I’m holding out in case I get the chance to talk to his dad.

One storyline to follow in this series.  Fifth Third Field is usually a power-hitter’s haven most seasons as the ball really jumps to left for right-handed sluggers and also gets out to right equally well.  I’ve done some checking in on Clinton’s home run numbers here over the past four seasons:

  • 2006:  6 HR in 4 games (including five in one game, two by John Whittleman)
  • 2007:  2 HR in 4 games (both by Mauro Gomez)
  • 2008:  3 HR in 3 games (two by Ian Gac, including a Grand Slam)
  • 2009:  8 HR in 3 games (Denny Almonte’s coming-out party, he hit 4 of them)

How will this year’s club fare?  The LumberKings have a league-best 57 home runs as a team and are coming off a six-HR game in pitcher-friendly Bowling Green Ballpark.  Will the likes of Kalian Sams, Nick Franklin, James Jones and Mario Martinez tee off?

One more thing to consider.  Dayton pitchers have allowed just 15 homers in 29 home games this year.  Also, don’t rule out the Dragons’ sluggers.  Chris Richburg has belted six homers (four at home) from the right side, while left-handed hitting Josh Garton has six also (three at home).   Kings’ pitchers have allowed 24 road homers this season and 35 total.

For those who regularly listen to my pregame interviews, you didn’t miss it last night, I decided not to post it with the impending rain in Bowling Green.  I sat down with James Jones to talk about his three home runs on the road trip, the six-homer game against the Hot Rods and more.

Listen Here: 
Jones Interview 6.3.10.mp3

Tonight’s Game Notes: 
6.4.10 kingsnotes.pdf 

Right-hander Taylor Stanton (5-2, 3.31), pushed back by last night’s rainout, will make the start tonight against the Dragons.  First pitch is scheduled for 6:07 PM central time, listen in on 1390kcln.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 

Feliz Heads to Futures Game

Of course you’ve seen them by now, but the 2009 MLB Futures Game rosters were announced yesterday.  There’s plenty of former Midwest Leaguers on the U.S and World team rosters, even some current ones (Brett Lawrie of Wisconsin, Josh Vitters of Peoria, J.C. Sulbaran of Dayton, etc.), but there’s one name Clinton fans should be pretty proud to see.



2008 LumberKings right-hander Neftali Feliz will represent the Texas Rangers on the World team.  Just a year ago, Feliz was still dealing upper-90’s fastballs here at Alliant Energy Field and working on his curve/change.  Now, he’s a full-fledged top prospect, a sure-fire call-up for the Rangers and a Futures Game participant.  It should be exciting to see him in St. Louis.

Feliz came into last season with plenty of hype surrounding his blistering fastball, and he didn’t disappoint.  He went 6-3 with a 2.52 ERA, numbers that don’t really stun you, but also struck out 106 batters over just 82.0 innings.

Ironic how Feliz makes it to the Futures Game just as the LumberKings welcome his Seattle Mariners’ clone.  Right-hander Maikel Cleto has arrived in Clinton and will make his Midwest League debut tonight.  Stop me if you’ve heard this one before…Cleto was acquired in a Major League deal (so too was Feliz, the Mark Teixeira trade with Atlanta), he is said to throw mid-90’s (as did Feliz) and is also said to be working on a curveball/changeup to round out his arsenal (Feliz!).  We’ll see how Cleto fares tonight.

Finally, my favorite Futures Game moment?  Easy.  John Whittleman’s home run in the ’07 game in San Francisco.  Whit remains the only active LumberKing to participate in the Futures Game since its inception in 1999.

whit futures game 2.jpg

Whit rounds the bases in San Fran after taking Deolis Guerra (NYM) deep in 2007.

-DL

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