Results tagged ‘ Kasey Kiker ’

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: 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: Beau Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Listen Here:  Beau Jones (2007 Playoffs).mp3

-DL

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

More Photos from Scott Lucas

They just keep coming, and they’re all awesome.  Scott Lucas of the Newberg Report posted more photos today of Texas Rangers camp in Surprise, AZ.  Former LumberKings amidst this set include Blake Beavan (’08), Kennil Gomez (’08), Derek Holland (’08), Michael Kirkman (’06-’08), Marcus Lemon (’07), Michael Main (’08), David Paisano (’07-’08), Zach Phillips (’06-’07), Evan Reed (’07-’08) and Ryan Tatusko (’08).

View them here:  http://rangers.scottlucas.com/site/TX100317/TX100317day.htm

Also, yesterday’s elusive Kasey Kiker (’07) footage is now available here:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kbim2PVU34c

-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

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

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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