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Monday, July 21, 2014

Patrick Wisdom: St. Louis Cardinals Prospect Attempts to Stand Out on Hot Corner


Matching up in the 2013 World Series against the Boston Red Sox, the St. Louis Cardinals garnered significant attention for being a self-sustaining organization. 18 players on their roster were drafted or signed and developed through their minor league system—a really impressive figure in this age of free agency. One player who hopes to be a cog in that machine is third baseman Patrick Wisdom, who came to the team with big expectations and is getting closer to the major leagues every day.

The right-handed hitter from Murrieta, California had a stellar career with St. Mary’s College of California, hitting a combined .303 with 29 home runs in three seasons. His production earned him significant attention, and in 2012 the Cardinals took him with the 52nd overall pick (first round-supplemental) in the draft.

With a reputation for big power and a good glove, the 22-year-old Wisdom has shown flashes of his talent during his first three professional seasons, hitting a combined .241 with 32 home runs and 145 RBIs in 286 games. He is playing with Double-A Springfield this season, and while he has 11 home runs and 40 RBIs in 92 games, he is hitting just .220 and has 103 strikeouts.

It may be Wisdom’s glove that gets him to the majors but his bat is could be what keeps him there. If he is able to unlock his potential, his power and defense combination is the perfect skill set for an effective player at the hot corner.

I had a chance to interview Wisdom in 2012 during his first professional season when he was playing for the Batavia Muckdogs in the New York-Penn League. Keep reading for more on this St. Louis prospect.

Patrick Wisdom Interview:

Growing up, who did you like for teams or players?: It was mixed. I grew up in California so I really grew up watching the Padres. Big Ken Caminiti fan. And then as I got older, I started liking the Angels and became a Troy Glaus fan. So yeah, it was a mix, but I always followed the Angels and the Padres.

Do you have a favorite baseball memory from when you were growing up?: Yeah, the last time we went to Cooperstown, New York and played in the Hall of Fame Tournament. I won the home run derby there. That’s a moment that I’ll never forget and I always reminisce on that. It was fun.

Coming out of high school, did you have any thoughts about going pro instead of to college?: You know, I always thought I could play at this level but I didn’t get any offers out of high school, which was fine. I had a blast in college. I learned a lot. Grew up a lot. I’m glad I went to college.

What was your draft experience like?: It was mixed. Early on, I heard, really high, really high. It was still there but wasn’t as high. You know at the end the day (Day 1 of the draft) was there. It was kind of a last minute deal. My advisor at the time, he said ‘Hey, it’s probably not going to happen but tomorrow will be a for sure thing.’ But then he called me five minutes later and said it’s going to happen. It was kind of up and down on that day but it was fun to see a lot of friends go and I was excited to see my name called.

Can you explain to those of us who wouldn’t know, what’s the first thing that happens after you get drafted?: I honestly had no idea what was going on. I just stuck by my phone and waited for the call, and then waited for my agent to call me back, and waited for the scout to call me back. Then, I kind of did nothing. I just hung out with my family and embraced the time with my family that I had. It was awesome and an unbelievable experience.

How difficult is it to play with the scrutiny that comes with being a top pick?: I’ll admit at first it was a lot of pressure but I had to get in the groove of things and just kind of forget about it and go out and play the game. That’s all the coaches and the organization wants you to do. They’re not looking for you to be spectacular; they just want you to go off and play. They picked you for a reason, and I was fortune to be picked pretty high. They just want you to go out and play your game and play like you know how.

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You can check me out on Facebook or follow me on Twitter @historianandrew

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Catching Up With Former MLB Pitcher Travis Driskill

Some of the best pitchers in baseball come from the State of Texas. Whether that’s because of the hearty weather or the frying pan sized steaks eaten by its citizens, the correlation is a mystery. Right-hander Travis Driskill was among that group. Although he didn’t win 200 games in his career or garner consideration for the Baseball Hall of Fame, he enjoyed a lengthy professional career that took him a lot further than many ever get.

Born in 1971, Driskill attended L.C. Anderson High School in Austin before going on to Blinn College (Brenham, Texas) and then Texas Tech. He was drafted twice after high school graduation but stuck with college, hoping to improve his stock as a prospect.

In 1993, he was taken in the fourth round by the Cleveland Indians. He spent eight years in their organization, a brief stint in Japan and another two in the minors for the Houston Astros, yet never made the majors despite solid numbers year in and year out.

His big break came following the 2001 season when he signed with the Baltimore Orioles. The 2002 squad was a putrid 67-95 and had issues with its starting rotation, which created an opening for the then 30-year-old. He appeared in 29 games (19 starts) and acquitted himself admirably, going 8-8 with a 4.95 ERA.

That was to be the biggest opportunity of his career. He pitched in parts of four other major league seasons with Baltimore, the Colorado Rockies and the Astros but never got himself a permanent gig, and retired as a player following the 2007 season. In 57 career games (19 starts), he was a combined 11-14 with a 5.23 ERA and a save. He also won 97 games and had a 4.03 ERA in parts of 15 minor league seasons. More information about his career statistics is available at BaseballReference.com.

Perhaps Driskill’s best major league game was a start on June 5, 2002 against David Wells and the New York Yankees. In that contest, the righty went a career-high 7.2 innings in beating the portly southpaw 4-3. Not a bad highlight for a career!

Since his playing days ended, Driskill has coached, done some announcing and most importantly been a parent. Earlier this year, he took some time to answer questions about his career.

Travis Driskill Interview:

Who was your favorite player when you were growing up, and why?: Kirby Puckett- Just loved the passion and excitement that he brought to the game. Favorite moment was Game 6 of the 1991 World Series when he helped the team to Game 7 with his defense and the obvious home run off of (Charlie) Leibrandt.

Can you describe your draft experience(s)?: Drafted three times. 76th round by the Astros out of high school; 11th round by the Angels out of Blinn Junior College; fourth round (by the Indians) out of Texas Tech, which was 1993. The draft for me was always about improving my position for a higher bonus.

What pitches did you throw, and which was your out pitch?: I threw a standard mix of pitches. Fastball- two and four-seam, curveball, slider and split. The split was my out pitch and by the time I reached the majors it was probably the only pitch that would have been graded just above average on the 20-80 scale.

As a pitcher who had a good deal of success in the minors, was it frustrating that it took nine years to reach the majors?: I would like to have made the big leagues sooner but as I reflect on my career, had I made it earlier I might have had a shorter overall career because on the day I got called up, I can honestly say I was ready. But had it happened sooner, I do not believe I would have been prepared to handle it. Now when I think about where I am today, I know I got the most out of myself and I like where my life is headed, so I can say it and be truthful that I did not have many frustrations.

What is your favorite moment from your baseball career?:  I have two. The first would probably be striking out Derek Jeter three times in one game. The thing that made it cool was the fact that Derek was my oldest son’s favorite player.

The second was facing Barry Bonds. After having spent nine seasons in the minors, I had nothing to lose in facing Barry. I made my mind up that if I got to pitch to him I would attack him in and with fastballs. So, this is 2002 and he hit 73 home runs the year before. On the day he was oh-for-two with a walk off me, and the walk was not intentional but just a good at-bat.

What was your experience pitching in Japan like?: I was 26 when I went, and not ready to handle the rigors of being overseas and being in a big league type of environment. I wish it would have worked out better because of the financials, but like everything in life things work out for a reason, and I chalk it up to a learning experience. I was able to learn the split-finger fastball over there and bring it back, which helped me get to the majors.

Who was your most influential coach or manager?: Jim Hickey probably had the most influence because I learned who I was as a pitcher under him, and so I believe he was the one who put the final polish on me, which allowed me to be ready for my call-up the next year.
The coach I admire the most and would run through fire for is Burt Hooton. Burt had a way of putting things that made the most sense to me and he never worried about what others thought because he knew in his heard he was right, and in my experience he was right about 99.9 percent of the time.

What are you up to since retiring as a player?: After my career was done in 2007, I got right into coaching with the Astros and did that for four years, coaching all over the Astros’ system except Triple-A.

At the end of 2011, I was let go by the Astros for what I believe was me being the round peg trying to fit in a square hole. I have no ill will for being let go because now I watch my two sons and their athletic endeavors, which is a whole lot more fulfilling than coaching. I work with my dad as well, and do some color analyst for the Round Rock Express on the radio. Maybe when the kids are out of the house, I might try to pursue another coaching job, but not in the near future.

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You can check me out on Facebook or follow me on Twitter @historianandrew

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Boston Red Sox: Let the Kids Play!

The Boston Red Sox may “only” be 9.5 games out of first place in the American League East, but they are in last place and have not come close to matching their 2013 World Series winning success through 91 2014 games. In theory, they could still turn things around. However, this just doesn’t feel like a team destined for great things, and it seems like the most salvageable part of this year would be letting some of the organization’s excellent young players get time on the field and see how they may fit into the future.

The Red Sox have already started shedding some of their underwhelming veterans. Their moves to date include:

Left-handed pitcher Chris Capuano was sent packing after early-season success turned to struggles.

Outfielder Grady Sizemore looked like a candidate to be a comeback player, but a .215 batting average after 52 games ended his chances of reclaiming a once starry career—at least in Boston.

A 76 OPS+ (100 is league average) in 72 games spelled the end of catcher A.J. Pierzynski’s time with the team, barely half a season into his first year with the team. Signed as a stopgap between the present and the arrival of vaunted prospect receivers Christian Vazquez and Blake Swihart, he wasn’t able to complete the bridge.

There are talented young players practically oozing out of the pores of the Red Sox farm system. Despite the hype, it’ss likely that only a small percentage will eventually transition to productive big leaguers—especially in the tough Boston market. However, now is the time to throw as many of these youngsters against the wall and see who sticks for 2015 and beyond.

The rest of the way in 2014 may be rough but it’s not like the cupboard is bare. The team still has veterans like David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, Mike Napoli and Jon Lester, who are productive leaders, and able to potentially keep things interesting while helping break in the kids.

Here are the young guys I want to see get liberal playing time over the last two-plus months of the season.

Vazquez: The man with the golden arm is much more known for his defensive work than his bat. On the other hand, he has a .265 batting average in his minor league career and has displayed some pop. With Swihart nearly ready, it will be good to see if the 23-year-old has the chops to be a starter, or if he will be better suited as a backup.

Second Baseman/Outfielder Mookie Betts: After hitting approximately .785 over the past season and a half in the minors (Fine, it was only .326 but seemed much higher!), the wonder kid was recently summoned to the majors for the first time. Although he has already launched his first home run, he has also struggled at times.

Outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr.: The 2011 first-round pick has a personality custom-made for Boston. He comes across as such a positive guy and hard worker, yet has produced just a .210 batting average in 118 major league games over the past two years. He is already a strong defender, and continued regular playing time will hopefully allow him to adjust and get on track to be a successful regular in the Fenway outfield for years to come.

Utility Man Brock Holt: About the only places he hasn’t played this year has been pitcher and catcher, and he shouldn’t be counted out for making an appearance or two at those positions before it’s all said and done. Although he has hit .311 this year, his future seems best suited as a jack-of-all-trades.

Shortstop Xander Bogaerts: Still just 21, he has gone through flashes of brilliance and periods of iciness that could frost a thousand beers. Despite the unevenness, there is no doubt he is a star in the making. 2014 is the perfect time for him to work out the kinks and get a full season under his belt—kinks and all.

Pitcher Rubby De La Rosa: Somewhat of a throw-in in the massive 2012 trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers, the hard-throwing righty is showing he can be quite an asset. He has been dominant in six major leagues starts this year, posting a 2.89 ERA and punching out 33 batters in 37.1 innings while flashing a mid-to-high 90s fastball. He is a serious candidate for the 2015 starting rotation if he can maintain his success over a longer stretch this year. Despite being in his fourth big league season, he is still only 25 and still figuring out exactly what he is as a pitcher.

Pitcher Brandon Workman: Up and down from the minors all year, the right-hander has pitched effectively in Boston in both starting and relief roles. Another possibility to join the starting rotation next season, it would be great to get him some more seasoning to ensure he is ready for the rigors ahead.

Pitcher Anthony Ranaudo: The 24-year-old right-hander appears ready to be tested in the majors. He is dominating at Triple-A, posting a 9-4 record with a 2.66 ERA in 18 starts. He doesn’t get nearly the same amount of press as other Red Sox prospects but his results indicate he could have value moving forward, and it would be great to get a peek at what he might bring.

Third Baseman Will Middlebrooks: Technically no longer a prospect, he is still only 25 and only two years removed from an abbreviated rookie campaign that saw him put up an excellent 121 OPS+. Plagued by injuries since then, he has had a hard time staying on the field and sustaining consistent production. Having already proven he can play with the big boys, it’s way too soon to give up on him. Finishing out the 2014 season healthy and getting on track at the plate would be a great way to possibly firm up his spot in the Boston lineup as a 25-30 home run threat for years to come.

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You can check me out on Facebook or follow me on Twitter @historianandrew

Sunday, July 6, 2014

That Nation Might Live: A Review

Baseball is the topic that typically graces the virtual pages of this blog. However, today we are shifting a bit to explore an historical figure—and one of my personal favorites, 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln.

Jeff Oppenheimer has written That Nation Might Live: A Story of Motherhood, Abraham Lincoln & the Civil War. This is the transcript of an 1865 interview Lincoln friend William H. Herndon had with Sarah Bush Lincoln, the aging step-mother of the Great Emancipator. What makes this more than your run of the mill historical primary document is that the author the recreates the setting of the conversation from his own imagination, using the actual notes of the event where possible.

Artistic license and history don’t usually play nicely together but Oppenheimer makes it work here. Although Bush Lincoln was one of the most important and beloved figures in her famous step-son’s life, she is often pushed to the fringe of his story. Refreshingly, here she is front and center, and the role this hard scrabble woman had in Lincoln’s life shines through in this interpretation of her collective memories.

Rightfully so, Lincoln is remembered as one of the greatest leaders the United States has ever known. Interestingly, such recognition may be actually an understatement for someone who navigated the country through the start of the abolition of slavery and a vicious civil war that had no business ending in anything other than abject disaster. That someone like the former president, who grew up in rustic cabins with dirt floors and tragedy, is a testament to the way he was raised and the opportunities he was provided out of such difficult circumstances.

Bush Lincoln came into Lincoln’s life when he was a young boy after his own mother had died of an illness. Despite barely being out of her teens herself, she rapidly proved to be an effective parental figure, providing encouragement for her lanky step-son to not be limited by the rough-hewn log walls and vast tracks of wild forest that surrounded him.

Herndon leads the conversation through Lincoln’s life, and Bush Lincoln is full of accompanying memories. In particular, two stories stand out in this rich compilation.

The first concerns Lincoln’s voracious appetite for books after he more or less taught himself to read. Living on the American frontier, literacy was nearly as rare available books. However, the enterprising youth found a curmudgeonly neighbor willing to lend volumes in exchange for work. After becoming fascinated by a biography of George Washington, it was damaged by rain before he could return it to his neighborhood librarian. Bush Lincoln not only helped him navigate through this accident, it was clear that while living an incredibly busy and hard life on the frontier, she still found time to feed the curiosity of her prodigy child by asking him questions and encouraging his curiosity.

The second defining story recounts a young adult Lincoln escorting cargo down the Mississippi River to New Orleans on a flat boat. It was this experience that first truly exposed him to slavery, the institution that would come to be tied to him later in life.  Bush Lincoln may not have been the most eloquent person but she clearly described how he was repulsed by the idea of humans in forced captivity, all the while trying to make sense of how it fit into his world and country, and how it all might one day be brought to an end.

Oppenheimer doesn’t make any new historical arguments, or present alternate theories. However, he never aims to, and that is not what this book is about. It is the rediscovery of the voice of a quiet yet important figure in American history. Giving Bush Lincoln a platform brings her and her experiences back to life and throws Abraham Lincoln in a light not typically found in your more mainstream works. That Nation Might Live is unconventional, but in many ways so was the former president—and look what he was able to accomplish.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a free copy of this book, but received no payment or other consideration for this review.

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You can check me out on Facebook or follow me on Twitter @historianandrew