Sunday, June 26, 2016

San Diego Padres Prospect Auston Bousfield Talks Baseball

The San Diego Padres have struggled to find their identity in recent seasons, finishing above .500 just three times in the last decade, entering the 2016 season. They last appeared in the playoffs in 2006 and don’t look like they will break that streak this year. However, if some of their young talent pans out, there may be a very bright future ahead. One of the young players who may play a role in the turnaround is speedy outfielder Auston Bousfield.

The right-handed batter followed a standout high school career in Florida with three outstanding seasons at the University of Mississippi. This led to his selection in the fifth round of the 2014 draft.

Primarily a centerfielder, Bousfield started out his professional career strongly. He hit .301 with 12 stolen bases in 45 games in 2014 (playing in short season), and a combined .268 with 23 stolen bases in 121 2015 games (playing at high Single-A and Double-A). He is off to a slow start this year, repeating Double-A. In 66 games, he is hitting just .167 with three home runs, 14 RBIs and eight stolen bases. While he has struck out 71 times, the 29 walks he has drawn shows that he is able to take a pitch. He has been particularly cold of late, going just 9-80 with 33 strikeouts in the month of June.

Although his struggles are alarming, it’s important to remember that he is a young player who is still refining his game and figuring out what does and doesn’t work in relation to his game. Continuing to play and to work with the coaches within the San Diego organization should give him a good chance to get back on track.

The 22-year-old Bousfield is considered a strong defensive player but isn’t known for his power, with nine long balls to his credit thus far in his career. Since San Diego plays in a park known for its expansive outfield, that will actually play up to his strengths.
This past offseason, Bousfield agreed to answer some questions about his career. Keep reading for more about this young player who may be an important piece to the future of the Padres.

Auston Bousfield Interview

Who was your favorite team and player when you were growing up, and why?: My favorite team growing up was the Atlanta Braves, and naturally my favorite player was Chipper Jones. They used to play on TBS every night when I was a kid so I would always come home and watch them play.

How did you decide to attend Ole Miss?: A couple of my buddies that I played summer ball with on the Orlando Scorpions had committed there before me and so when they offered to take me on a visit I accepted and fell in love instantly.

If you did not start a career as a professional ballplayer, what job field do you think you would have entered?: That’s actually a very good question.  I'm not sure what field I would have gotten into. It’s always been all about baseball for me so if I had to guess id say somewhere still around the game.

How did you first find out that the Padres were interested in you, and what was your draft experience like?: I first found out that the Padres were interested in me when they drafted me. I had met with them once in the fall for pre-draft meetings but I never got the vibe that they were very interested, so when I got the call from them on draft day I was just as surprised as any. I was actually in the elevator on my way down to the bus during our super regional in Louisiana-Lafayette when my college roommate called me and told me that I had just been drafted. He was the first to let me know.

What has been your favorite moment thus far from your professional career?: I don't have one moment that I can put my finger on at this point of my career. I have been surprised about all the great guys and friendships that I have developed already however.

Who has been your most influential coach or manager?: My high school summer ball coach Matt Gerber had a major influence on me as not only a player but also as a man. I have spent countless hours working with him on my craft, and in turn I feel like that has taught me a lot about myself and also about life.

What is the extent of your knowledge of baseball history?: I have always been a big baseball guy. I never really played any other sports competitively, so I would have to say that my knowledge of the game is pretty high. I watch a lot and like to learn about all the great players that have played before me.

What are your goals for 2016?: My goal for 2016 is to really just play to the best of my ability day in and day out. Not to get caught up in the results but to have fun and learn as much as I can.  

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

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Jen Pawol Assigned to Umpire Games in the Gulf Coast League


A media release from the Gulf Coast League:

ST. PETERSBURG, Florida — The Gulf Coast League (GCL) today announced the hiring of umpire Jen Pawol for the 2016 season. Pawol (pronounced Powell) will be the first female umpire in the GCL since Pam Postema in the 1977-78 seasons, and becomes the first female umpire in Minor League Baseball since 2007.  

Pawol attended the 2016 Minor League Baseball Umpire Training Academy in Vero Beach, Florida. She was selected for the MiLB Advanced Course, where the top candidates from The Minor League Baseball Umpire Training Academy qualify for further training. Her performance in the Advanced Course led to her assignment to the Gulf Coast League.  

“Beginning my career as a professional baseball umpire this week is a privilege that goes beyond words,” said Pawol. “I went to the Major League Baseball Umpire Camps and the Minor League Baseball Umpire Training Academy with an open mind, a strong work ethic and a passion for umpiring, and I’m honored to be starting this exciting journey in the Gulf Coast League.”  

Pawol will become the seventh woman to umpire a Minor League Baseball game, joining Bernice Gera (1972), Christine Wren (1975-77), Postema (1977-89), Theresa Cox Fairlady (1989-91), Ria Cortesio (1999-2007) and Shanna Kook (200304).   

                                                  Photo Courtesy of Minor League Baseball

“Jen worked extremely hard during the Minor League Baseball Umpire Training Academy and proved herself during a very competitive Advanced Course to earn this assignment,” said Minor League Baseball Director of Umpire Development Dusty Dellinger. “We are pleased to have someone of her talent joining the professional umpiring ranks and I’m confident she’ll do a great job.”
   
Pawol was a decorated softball catcher and shortstop at Hofstra University and competed for the USA Baseball Women’s National Team. She later received a master’s degree in fine arts from Hunter College. Pawol began her umpiring career in 2006 and worked Division I softball through 2015, including assignments in the Big Ten Conference during the 2013-15 seasons.   

Pawol and partner Scott Molloy will open the 2016 season on Friday, June 24, in Dunedin, Florida, as the GCL Blue Jays host the GCL Tigers at noon EDT. The Blue Jays’ complex is located at 1700 Solon Avenue, Dunedin, Florida 34698. Pawol’s second game will take place the following day in Lakeland, Florida, as the GCL Tigers host the GCL Blue Jays at 10 a.m. EDT. The Tigers’ complex is located at 2125 North Lake Avenue, Lakeland, Florida 33805.  

About the Gulf Coast League  

Founded in 1964, the Gulf Coast League is a rookie-level professional baseball league in Southern Florida. The league is operated by Minor League Baseball and features 17 teams representing 15 Major League Baseball organizations. For more information, visit MiLB.com. 

                                                   Photo Courtesy of Minor League Baseball

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

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Seattle Mariners' Zack Littell Emerging as a Top Pitching Prospect

The Major League Baseball draft recently concluded and another batch of young players joined the ranks of professionals. Every step along the way from when they first started playing as children has essentially weeded out those with less talent. Those who can prove themselves and hang in there have the potential of becoming a big leaguer and realizing dreams that are years in the making. Seattle Mariners pitching prospect Zack Littell still has his dream alive and well. Entering his fourth season in the organization, he is right on pace for becoming one of the lucky ones.

The right-handed Littell was a baseball phenom from an early age, starring at Eastern Alamance High School in Haw River, North Carolina. His senior year, he was 10-2 with 130 strikeouts and was selected in the 11th round of the 2013 draft by the Mariners. Although he was set to attend Appalachian state, the lure of starting his baseball career was too strong and he signed on the dotted line.

Just 17 during his first professional season, he experienced some natural bumps that first year, going 0-6 with a 5.94 ERA in 10 Arizona Rookie League games. However, he struck out 28 batters in 33.1 innings and got invaluable experience about what he would need to do going forward.

In a classic example of doing exactly what you’d want out of a young baseball player, Littell has gotten better with each passing season. This year, pitching for Single-A Clinton, he is 5-5 with a 2.93 ERA in 14 starts and has struck out 80 batters in 86 innings. Still just 20, he is emerging at the right time and is poised to get more recognition as one of best young players in Seattle’s system.

This past offseason, Littell graciously answered some questions about his career. Keep reading to find out more, as now’s the time to find out who this exciting pitching prospect is.

Zack Littell Interview

Who was your favorite team and player when you were growing up, and why?: My favorite team was the Atlanta Braves and my favorite player was Chipper Jones. The Braves were my favorite because they were the closest MLB team to my hometown, so they felt like a hometown team. I went to their games often when I was younger. Chipper Jones was my favorite player because he was always fun to watch play. 

What do you remember most about attending your first major league game in person?: My first MLB game I ever attended went into extra innings and I didn't leave until 2 a.m.

How did you first find out that the Mariners were interested in you, and what was your draft experience like?: I first knew the Mariners were interested in me when I was invited to their pre-draft workout. My draft experience was very much a whirlwind, I graduated from high school the day before I was drafted and had to keep my phone on during graduation in case I got a call. It was definitely something I'll never forget.

What was something you did to celebrate after being drafted?: The day of the draft my mom had all of my close friends and family over to watch the draft, and after I was drafted we hung out and celebrated. I also went to a whitewater rafting center so that was pretty cool!

How difficult/strange was it to be just 17 for the entirety of your first pro season (in 2013)?: I was kind of used to being the youngest because I've always been the youngest on teams. It was difficult because a lot of the other guys knew each other through their college experiences and I didn't have that.

What pitches do you throw and which do you believe needs the most work?: I throw a four-seam, two-seam, curveball and changeup. My changeup probably needs work; I need to take some velocity off.

You struggled in your first pro season but have had significantly better results in each successive season. How have you managed to do this?: I think just throwing and understanding my body more and learning more about the type of pitcher I am.

What do you like to do for fun in your free time?: In my free time I like to fish, play golf, and hang out with friends. 

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

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Dustin Pedroia's Quiet Re-Emergence for the Boston Red Sox

The (tied for) first-place Boston Red Sox have had a lot of reasons for their success so far this season. The headlines have been dominated by their young breakout stars (Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley Jr.), and the swan song of their venerable veteran, David Ortiz. Lost in all that positivity has been the reemergence of second baseman Dustin Pedroia, who is quietly putting together another of his signature seasons after seeing his production dip in recent years.

The 32 (soon to be 33)-year-old Pedroia is now in his 11th year in a Boston uniform. The former American League Rookie of the Year and MVP has always been a solid producer for the team but injuries contributed to declining numbers in 2014 and 2015. Now more than a third of the way through the 2016 season, Pedey appears to have found his groove again, as he has been the quiet anchor of the lineup.

Health has been a key in 2016 for Pedroia. After missing a combined 96 games over the past two years he has played in 62 of a possible 64 games this season. He has contributed a .317 batting average, seven home runs and 27 RBIs. He also has 82 hits, 19 doubles and 45 runs scored, putting him on pace for a truly impressive stat line at by season’s end. His 126 OPS+ is currently the third-best mark of his career, and highest since the 2011 season, when he finished ninth in MVP voting.

Previously good for about 20 stolen bases a year, Pedroia doesn’t run much anymore. He has four steals this year but was never blazing fast to begin with. Being more cautious on the base paths has been a good way to keep him out of injury-risk situations that he seems to frequently find because of his all-out playing style.

FanGraphs reflects other ways that Pedroia has been able to reinvent himself and bring about his renewed success. He has always sprayed the ball to all fields during his career but there seems to be more of a concentrated effort to go the opposite way this year. The percentage of balls (38.6) he has put in play to the right side is by far a career high. He is also making a little better contact overall, connecting with 94 percent of all pitches he has offered at that were within the strike zone; his best mark since 2010.

Pedroia’s resurgence has not been limited to just at the plate. Always a strong defender, he has shown no signs of slowing down in the field despite having reached an age often associated with eroding skills. He has regained his status as an all-around star for the team, yet has ironically seems to have been lost a bit in the shuffle given the many stellar performances happening in Boston’s lineup.

The seven-year, $100 million contract extension the second baseman signed in 2014 and started in 2015 had started looking like a possible financial burden if his numbers continued to slip. However, even with his inevitable decline sometime in the coming years, it looks like there is still plenty of meat on the bone for the team to get some excellent production out of their stalwart star. Pedroia has shown that if healthy he still has the game, and the Red Sox and their fans should sit back and continue to enjoy the wonder that is the Laser Show.

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