Results tagged ‘ The Interview Vault ’

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: Derek Holland

holland interview vault.jpgBack in April of 2008, a 20-year-old draft-and-follow left-hander named Derek Holland was a relative surprise choice for Clinton’s Opening Night starter against the Cedar Rapids Kernels. 

Holland, the 25th round pick by the Texas Rangers in 2006 out of Wallace State Community College wasn’t exactly a hot prospect when he arrived to start the 2008 season.  He was coming off a solid 4-5, 3.22 season in Spokane, but wasn’t the returning playoff hero that right-hander Evan Reed was.  Reed, a third-round pick in 2007 out of Cal Poly was given the #2 starter role because pitching coach Danny Clark felt Holland “had earned it” with a great Spring Training.

What Holland would earn from there on would put him on the fast track to the big leagues.

He went 7-0 with a 2.40 ERA and limited Midwest League opponents to a .228 average over his 17 starts as a LumberKing, including six innings of one-hit ball in that previously-mentioned Opening Night outing against the Kernels.  Getting better with each start and limited only by a pesky blister on his pitching hand, Holland would prove ready for the next level by the time July rolled around.  In his final three starts, he yielded just a run over 19.2 innings (a 0.46 ERA) and struck out 18.

His fantastic rise continued in the Cal League as he needed just five starts with Bakersfield to prove to Rangers brass that he was too good for high-A as well.  Added along with LumberKings’ teammate Neftali Feliz to double-A Frisco, Holland would go 3-0 with a 0.69 ERA and a .163 opponent average over four regular-season starts and 1-1 with an astounding 0.44 ERA (1 ER in 20.2 IP) in three playoff starts for the RoughRiders.  He’d end the year alongside Feliz as the unquestioned future of the Texas staff.

By the time late April, 2009 came around, Holland was primed for his Major League debut with the Rangers.  Not quite a full year after he was a suspicious choice for Clinton’s #1 rotation spot, he was dressing in blue and red at Rogers Centre in Toronto, tossing 2.1 scoreless innings in relief against the Blue Jays.

In parts of two Major League seasons with the Rangers, Holland has already seen his fair share of success and failure.  After dropping his ERA as low as 4.72 with three-straight wins in the rotation (including a complete-game effort against the Angels on August 9), Holland lost six of his last seven starts to finish the ’09 season at 8-13, 6.12.  This season saw Holland bounce between triple-A Oklahoma City and the Rangers, improving on his numbers significantly as he went 3-4 with a 4.08 ERA in 14 games, 10 starts with Texas.

And, of course, he pitched in the 2010 playoffs.  Ignore his disastrous outing against San Francisco in the World Series and he was pretty solid in relief.  The Rangers might not advance past the Yankees without his relief victory in the Bronx in Game 4.  Needless to say, Holland has made himself a fixture as either a starter or reliever heading into 2011.

For today’s edition of The Interview Vault, I’ve dug up my first recorded conversation with Derek following the first of his seven wins with the LumberKings.  He defeated the Dayton Dragons at Fifth Third Field, not far from his hometown of Newark, OH back on April 18, 2008.  Aside from talking about the outing, we also talk about his favorite team growing up — the Atlanta Braves — and his favorite pitcher from that staff, the legendary Greg Maddux.  Fitting that his current pitching coach is Mike Maddux.

Listen Here: 
Derek Holland (April, 2008).mp3

I’ve also interviewed Derek since he’s been a Ranger.  You can find that on a previous LumberBlog post here: http://mlblogslumberkings.files.wordpress.com/2010/11/holland20interview20vault-thumb-480×270-25217911.jpgarchives/2009/06/special_guest_derek_holland.html

-DL

The Interview Vault: Danny Clark

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-DL

The Interview Vault: Blake Beavan

beavan interview vault.jpg

We sit on the eve of Game One of the 2010 World Series, just a day away from the most hyped pitcher’s duel of the playoffs so far (and there has been many)…Cliff Lee of the Texas Rangers against Tim Lincecum of the San Francisco Giants.

As I wrote in an earlier blog post, the Clinton LumberKings have had an interesting connection to these playoffs given our former status as the low-A affiliate of the Rangers.  That connection extends to Lee, Clinton’s current affiliate, the Seattle Mariners and the subject of today’s “The Interview Vault”, right-hander Blake Beavan.

Back on July 9, the Rangers made waves that are still being felt across Major League Baseball when they acquired Lee and right-hander Mark Lowe from the Mariners in exchange for four players, all former LumberKings.

Without question, the player that made that deal move — the one that kept Lee from becoming a Yankee, at least for now — was switch-hitting first-baseman Justin Smoak.  Right-hander Josh Lueke and infielder Matt Lawson were also promising prospects at the time of the trade, but the 21-year-old Beavan could very well be the most important piece of the deal when we look back in several years.

To take Beavan away from Texas is to conclude the “local kid makes good” story that he had been working on ever since his first round (17th overall) selection in the 2007 June draft.  A native of Irving, TX, Beavan played his high school ball just 12 miles away from Rangers Ballpark at Irving High School.  Even before his selection by the team he grew up following, Beavan was already a bonafide star in the area having earned Baseball America‘s 2006 Youth Player of the Year award after an 11-strikeout performance against Cuba in the World Junior Championships.  Later in his senior season, he tossed a perfect game and struck out 18 in a 6-0 win over MacArthur High, Irving’s number one rival.

All of those accomplishments were behind him already when he arrived in Clinton in late April, 2008.  A lengthy holdout kept him away from rookie ball in 2007, so his April 29 start against the Great Lakes Loons at Alliant Energy Field proved to truly be his first professional action.

What we saw that night was about as sharp a performance possible given all the variables: a nervous 19-year-old that hadn’t thrown a pitch above the instructional league, pitching in front of both his parents and Rangers’ Pitching Coordinator (and later Mariners pitching coach) Rick Adair.  Beavan allowed three measly singles, walked none and struck out three over six scoreless innings in a 4-2 win over the Loons.  He pitched well to contact, inducing four double plays in the game.

I caught up with Blake after that start, and that’s the interview we’re throwing back to today.  He talks about the outing, getting drafted by his hometown team, staying mentally focused while holding out, working with Rangers’ staff in the instructional league, his fastball/slider/change arsenal and more.

Listen Here: 
Blake Beavan (after first pro start on 4.30.08).mp3

That start was just the beginning of a season that saw Beavan go 10-6 with 2.37 ERA in 23 starts, 121 innings.  The strikeout total (73, or 5.39 per nine innings) wasn’t exactly what scouts were expecting, but the 20 walks, .234 opponent average and 5-0 record over his final eight starts showed plenty of promise.

In 2009, he went a combined 9-8, 4.14 in 27 starts between high-A Bakersfield and double-A Frisco.  The 2010 season saw his return to the RoughRiders and his best numbers since 2008.  Beavan had nearly identical stats as his season with Clinton, going 10-5 with a 2.78 ERA, 68 strikeouts to just 12 walks and a .242 opponent average in 110.0 innings.  He stood on the verge of a promotion to triple-A Oklahoma City when Texas struck the deal with Seattle.

As Mariners fans know, Beavan was hit hard with Tacoma, posting a a 6.47 ERA and .331 opponent average in seven starts, 40.1 innings with the Rainiers.  Those numbers didn’t beg for a September call-up, but they also aren’t cause for concern.  He still walked only eight while striking out 22 in the PCL and was dominant when ahead in the count, limiting opponents to a .222 average.  In the playoffs, he went 1-0 with a more respectable 4.26 ERA in two starts, helping the Rainiers win the PCL Championship.

We’ll see what 2011 holds for Beavan.  Hopefully he’s heading for a call-up to Safeco Field sometime in the season.  Now, at least, you know where he’s been.

-DL

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