Results tagged ‘ Mike Micucci ’

The Interview Vault: Mike Micucci

micucci interview vault.jpgOf all the interview subjects I’ve had over the years, nobody has joined me on the pregame show more times than Mike Micucci.  The one-time Chicago Cubs minor-league catcher managed the LumberKings during the 2007 and 2008 seasons and always offered me great insight into his prospect-laden team and his own approach to the game.  As the wildly successful 2008 campaign winded down, Micucci himself became known a hot coaching prospect.

It was late August, and the first-half West champs were molding a new identity as the playoffs closed in.  All-Star pitchers Derek Holland and Neftali Feliz were already long gone to double-A Frisco.  The table-setting abilities of Renny Osuna and RBI production of Ian Gac were now aiding the high-A club in Bakersfield.  Mitch Moreland, Jonathan Greene and Tim Smith were more than shouldering the offensive load, while Blake Beavan and Michael Main were establishing themselves as front-line starting pitchers.  Roleplayers like Matt Lawson, Davis Stoneburner, Ryan Tatusko and Michael Kirkman were stepping up in new ways as well. 

Then, along came the switch-hitting first-baseman Justin Smoak, the Rangers’ first-round pick in the recent June draft and the new centerpiece to the who-do-you-pitch-to LumberKings’ lineup.  All of Texas and much of Minor League Baseball turned their attention to Peoria when Smoak made his professional debut against the Chiefs on August 18, a 1-for-3 performance in Clinton’s slim 6-5 loss.

Shortly after Smoak’s arrival, Micucci was able to steal back some of the spotlight. 

Baseball America named Micucci the top managerial prospect in the entire Midwest League in their annual “Best Tools” issue.  Maybe it was the league-best 70-54 record at that point in the year, maybe it was back-to-back first-half playoff berths, maybe it was the fast rise of core prospects like Holland and Feliz.  Whatever the reason, Micucci found himself outshining both established veterans (Great Lakes’ Juan Bustabad, Dayton’s Donnie Scott, South Bend’s Mark Haley) and the league’s biggest coaching name, Peoria’s Ryne Sandberg.

It was at this moment in time, with all these plotlines intersecting, that I recorded today’s feature interview.  In it, Micucci speaks about hype well deserved in Smoak, Moreland’s path to an MVP-like season (he calls him the “backbone” of the club), Holland and Feliz’s fast rise, the honor of the BA award (which he credits to the team’s success and his coaching staff) and more.

Listen: 
Manager Mike Micucci (2008).mp3

So what’s happened with Mike since the interview?  The LumberKings bowed out in just two games to Cedar Rapids in the first round of the playoffs, but his coaching stock didn’t drop one bit.  The Rangers gave him the Holland/Feliz treatment, sending him straight to the double-A Frisco bench where he managed to RoughRiders in 2009. 

Micucci would again manage 22 of his former players from the previous two years in Clinton, helping Moreland and Smoak repeat their ’08 success, guiding Craig Gentry and Chad Tracy into breakout offensive seasons and teaming with pitching coach Joe Slusarski to develop the arms of Beavan, Kirkman, Kasey Kiker and Omar Poveda.  The ‘Riders were competitive all season long — finishing second in the Texas League South division with a 72-68 record — but missed the postseason.

Micucci’s ability to groom prospects did not go unnoticed by Nolan RyanJon Daniels and the Rangers.  Prior to the 2010 season, he was promoted to the Minor League Field Coordinator position, where he joined former Clinton pitching coach and newly-named Pitching Coordinator Danny Clark as the men in charge of the entire system.

While he would probably again defer the credit to his players and support staff, there’s no doubt that Micucci’s own success aided the Rangers in their rise to relevance.  His outstanding two-year run as the LumberKings’ manager should not only be remembered by the fans here in Clinton, but should also be looked at as a vital component of the Rangers’ ascension to the 2010 American League pennant. 

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The Interview Vault: Justin Smoak

smoak interview vault.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Rangers Name Minor League Staff

The Texas Rangers just announced their 2011 Minor League coaching staff, and four former LumberKings’ coaches are included on the list. 

Trainer Jeff Bodenhamer (’05-’07) is with the new high-A affiliate in Myrtle Beach (replacing Bakersfield), while trainer Jake Newburn (’08), who was in Bakersfield, takes over Bodie’s vacated spot in low-A Hickory.

Newburn is joined in Hickory by Jason Hart (’08), who will serve as hitting coach.  Speaking of hitting coaches, Brian Dayett (’05-’08) is back with short-A Spokane.

The list did not include instructors and coordinators, but I would assume that former Clinton manager Mike Micucci (’07-’08) is still the Field Coordinator and former Kings’ pitching coach Danny Clark (’07-’08) is still the Pitching Coordinator.

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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!

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Gentry Gets the Call

Former LumberKings center-fielder Craig Gentry (’07) is reportedly getting the call up to the Texas Rangers today, according to our old friends at the Newberg Report

The Rangers’ 10th-round pick in 2006 hit .274 with 15 doubles, three HR, 40 runs scored, 12 RBI and 24 steals with the Kings in 2007.  He was hitting .303 with 21 doubles, eight HR, 53 RBI and 49 steals in double-A Frisco for former Clinton manager Mike Micucci (’07-’08) this year. 

In case you’re keeping track, Gentry is set to be the fourth former LumberKing to make a Major League debut in 2009, joining Derek Holland (’08), John Mayberry, Jr. (’06) and Neftali Feliz (’08).

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