Sunday, February 26, 2012

Mike Gener: Baseball's Rudy Works to Become MLB Bullpen Catcher



Professional baseball teams are comprised of many more positions than just those on the active 25-man rosters. One position that is largely forgotten by fans is that of bullpen catcher. Keeping pitchers warm and stretched out is an integral job on every team, whether it is on game day or part of off-day routines. The allure of becoming part of the team attracts many to bullpen catching, and gaining a spot can be just as difficult as any other on the roster. Becoming a big league bullpen catcher is Mike Gener’s dream, and he is chasing it as doggedly as any top prospect honing their talent to become a major league player. He is for all purposes, baseball’s version of Rudy.

The 27 year old Gener’s path towards professional baseball is not a typical one. He was born and raised in San Diego and his quest to become a bullpen catcher is made all the more interesting because he never played organized ball. He attended Rancho Bernardo High School, which produced the likes of Cole Hamels and Hank Blalock, proof of the seriousness of baseball where Gener grew up. Unfortunately Gener was ineligible to play during his high school years so he could focus on academics.

Despite a lack of organized playing experience, Gener has always loved the game and determined that becoming a full time bullpen catcher is the best way to remain part of it. He has moved to Arizona to increase his chances to catch on with a team. He has already found some part-time catching work, but is hoping to latch on with a professional team for the upcoming season, with the goal of one day making it to the big leagues. He has thrown everything he has into his dream and with every job he gets, he moves himself one step closer to bringing it to fruition.

For more on Gener’s story, check out his recent interview. You can also follow him on Twitter and check out his blog http://bpcatchergener.com/ for updates as the season goes on. It is great to see a person going after their dreams with such determination, so show Gener some support, which is sure to go a long way in helping him reach his goal.

Mike Gener Interview:

Who were your favorite team and player when you were growing up, and why?:  For my favorite team, I would say the San Diego Padres since I was born and raised in San Diego. And Tony Gwynn since he played for the Padres and he was one of the best players ever. During the off-season in San Diego, when I worked out with some of the Padres, Tony Gwynn was there every day with us, so that was cool meeting him and being around him all the time. He is a great guy with some amazing stories.

What is your background in baseball?: The funny thing about my baseball background is that I never even played high school, college, or any pro ball. It amazes everyone every time I tell them that. I'm out catching bullpens and throwing BP to big league and minor league guys. It’s been a fun part to my story and everyone wonders how it’s possible that I'm working with the best guys in the game.

Can you explain your motivation to become a major league bullpen catcher?: Like every other young boy I always wanted to play in the big leagues. Since I never did that I was always thinking about a way to still get in the big leagues, and being a bullpen catcher/BP pitcher was the best way for me. I love being around the game and helping others get better, so it’s something I really want to do.

What have you done thus far to achieve your goal?:  So far I have caught bullpens and thrown BP for some Padres players, D-Backs, Rockies, Angels, and for the Scottsdale Scorpions in the Arizona Fall League. Also, just meeting the right people and telling them what I'm trying to do helps get my name out there.

How difficult is it to make the proper contacts in professional baseball?:  It’s not hard to make contacts in baseball. It is all about who you know though, and that makes it much easier to get my name out and to meet the right people. Before I moved out to Arizona I already knew a pretty good amount of players/front office/owners, so that for sure has helped me a lot. A family friend that I hang out with a lot is a part owner of the D-Backs, and he has introduced me to a ton of people and I have gotten to experience some cool stuff with him.

If you could catch a bullpen session for one pitcher in their prime, who would that be?: I think it would be fun to catch Randy Johnson, Roy Halladay, and Greg Maddux. I love how much their ball moves and they are all such amazing pitchers, and I believe will all be Hall Of Famers.

Do you know yet what you will be doing during spring training or the 2012 baseball season?: I'm not sure yet what I will be doing for the 2012 season. For the last month I have been working for the Angels, catching bullpens and throwing BP with minor league and MLB guys rehabbing and getting ready for spring training. But once minor league camp starts I will be done. I'm looking for other opportunities after spring training though.

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Friday, February 24, 2012

2012 National League Breakout Players


The American League breakout players were covered in last week’s post- http://baseballhistorian.blogspot.com/2012/02/2012-american-league-break-out-players.html -  and now it is time to go over their National League counterparts. The senior circuit has their own crop of impressive up and coming players, many of whom will play important roles in their team’s fortunes in 2012.

Arizona Diamondbacks- First Baseman- Paul Goldschmidt: Arizona is one of the most exciting young teams in the game, and will ratchet it up a few more notches in giving Goldschmidt significant at bats in 2012. He will log most of his time at first base and remind fans a bit of Mark Reynolds because his all-or-nothing approach at the plate. The good news is that Goldschmidt is a better hitter than Reynolds, so while he may strike out once every 3-4 at bats, he should also hit around .250, and it isn’t out of the question for him to club 20-25 homers.

Atlanta Braves- Starting Pitcher- Julio Teheran: The Braves and talented pitchers go together like peas and carrots. Baseball fans would be hard-pressed to identify another team that has so consistently developed top notch pitching talent over the past two-plus decades. While the Braves have several promising arms rising through their system, Teheran is the best of the bunch, and has a good chance to stick in the back end of their rotation this season. Although barely 21, Teheran already got a taste of the majors last year and held his own. He is a hard thrower and should pile up the strikeouts if given the innings.

Chicago Cubs- First Baseman- Bryan LaHair: Theo Epstein’s first season with the Cubs is going to be a rough one. However, it will be by design, as the brilliant executive is biding his time waiting for bad contracts to expire and his farm system to be replenished. In the meantime he is working with what he inherited, and LaHair looks like he may get the lion’s share of playing time at first base. He won’t do anything to unseat first baseman of the future, Anthony Rizzo, but will put up good replacement numbers (think .270 with 15-20 home runs) while the youngster gets a little more seasoning.

Cincinnati Reds- Catcher- Devin Mesoraco: While youngsters like Bryce Harper get all the attention, Mesoraco may be your National League ROY in 2012. While he doesn’t blow kisses or hit 500 foot home runs, he is the most exciting catching prospect to come along since Matt Wieters. Mesoraco can hit, hit for power, and play defense. He probably won’t wrest the starting position away from Ryan Hanigan to start the year, but may end up with more playing time by the end of the season.

Colorado Rockies- Utility Player- Jordan Pacheco: Now that Ty Wiggington left the Rockies for Philadelphia, Colorado is seeking to replace his versatility on their roster. A prime candidate is Pacheco, who came up through the minors as a catcher, but can also play all over the infield. He got a cup of coffee on the big league roster last September and played well in his limited opportunities.

Pacheco figures to get a lot more playing time in 2012 just because of the law of averages. Playing behind aging, injury prone veterans like Ramon Hernandez, Marco Scutaro, and Casey Blake could push Pacheco into near full time playing status. He was a .299 career hitter in the minors, so expect the athletic rookie to hit the ground running.

Houston Astros- Outfielder-J.D. Martinez: The Astros’ 2012 season will likely be viewed as a success if they lose less than 100 games. Their roster is full of aging veterans and unproven youngsters, but Martinez locked up a starting outfield spot with his inspired play in the second half of last season. Prior to his debut he had a career .342 batting average in the minors, making him one of the most under the radar prospects in the game.

Los Angeles Dodgers- Shortstop- Dee Gordon: Generously listed at 150 pounds, Gordon can be knocked down by a stiff breeze, but the son of former major leaguer Tom Gordon can flat out play. Gordon’s game is all about speed. He can be a .275-.290 hitter and has the ability to steal as many bases as he wants. If he sticks as a starter all season, 60 steals or more are within the realm of possibility. He will provide next to nothing in power categories, but will more than make up for it with the way he can disrupt a game on the base paths.

Miami Marlins- Outfielder- Logan Morrison: Although he had a decent season in 2011, Morrison made more headlines for his off the field issues. With the Marlins having upgraded their lineup with Jose Reyes and a presumably healthier Hanley Ramirez, Morrison should take a big step forward this season hitting in the middle of the Marlins order.

Milwaukee Brewers- First Baseman- Mat Gamel: Gamel has simmered in the upper level of the Brewers’ system during the past few seasons. Between Casey McGehee and Prince Fielder, there was no place for him to play regularly in Milwaukee. With both players having departed this off-season, the Brewers can suddenly offer Gamel all the playing time he can handle. He has already been given the first base position, and while he won’t match Fielder’s production at the plate or during the post game meal, he will put up good numbers. He has a .304 career minor league batting average and hit 28 home runs in a season as recently as last year. Outside of Joey Votto, he might become the most productive first baseman in the NL Central.

New York Mets- Outfielder- Lucas Duda: In what seems to be a National League theme this year, Duda is another young player who was never regarded as a top prospect, but will be expected to provide solid production from the regular playing time they are projected to receive. Duda is a massive left-handed hitter, who will never be mistaken as a Gold Glove defender, but will hit enough to hold down right field and occasionally spell Ike Davis at first. If he plays to expectations, a .270 average with 15-20 home runs sound about right.

Philadelphia Phillies- Outfielder- Domonic Brown: A lot of chatter out of Philadelphia is that Brown needs a change of scenery if he ever hopes to recapture the potential that made him one of the hottest prospects in baseball. I am in the minority who still believe he will make his mark with the Phillies. Although he may not even make the big league roster out of spring training, the Phillies are in need of his dynamic offensive talent. With Ryan Howard shelved for a major chunk of the season and Chase Utley an annual visitor to the disabled list, the team will need to find offense elsewhere. If Brown isn’t given a chance to play over the likes of Laynce Nix, the Phillies’ front office need to be questioned.

Pittsburgh Pirates- Outfielder- Jose Tabata: For the first time in a long time, the Pirates can make a legitimate run at .500 this season. Their success will be largely determined by the continued development of their young players, including Tabata. He has played well during his first two major league seasons, but was hampered by injuries in 2011. He had a .373 OBP when hitting out of the lead-off spot last year, so if he can remain healthy in 2012 he will help drive the Pirates’ offense. A .285 batting average with 10 home runs and 25 steals are reasonable expectations and would really help elevate the team to the next level.

San Diego Padres- First Baseman- Yonder Alonso: The Padres’ offense won’t be pretty this season due to their enormous park and a lack of impact bats. One of the players that is generating some excitement is their new first baseman, Alonso. Acquired in the Mat Latos trade, he was handed the starting position after fellow prospect Anthony Rizzo was traded after just one season in the organization.

Alonso is not much of a power hitter and will be even more hampered by Petco Park’s not so cozy confines. He may hit .280 with 75-80 RBI, but it will be a shock to see him hit more than 12-15 home runs. Nonetheless, such production would immediately make him one of the top mashers in the Padres’ lineup.

San Francisco Giants- First Baseman/Outfielder- Brandon Belt: The Giants are another team that has curiously handled its top hitting prospect, despite a decided lack of team offense. Stubbornly sticking with Aubrey Huff at first base, the Giants should finally give Belt a chance to start this year- in the outfield. A .343 career hitter in the minors, Belt could give a much needed boost to the San Francisco lineup and take some pressure off Buster Posey’s return. As a 6’5, 220 pound left-handed hitter, Belt is also the most likely candidate since Barry Bonds to send some balls splashing down in the cove.
St. Louis Cardinals- Pitcher- Lance Lynn: The Cardinals enter 2012 composed primarily of aging veterans. Lynn emerged last year and is poised to do even more this season. Right now he doesn't have a defined role with the Cardinals, but through injuries and inevitable player decline, the big righty will force his way into significant playing time. He was brilliant in 34.2 innings (with another 11 in the playoffs) with St. Louis last year, mostly out of the bullpen, so the team already knows he can handle pressure situations.

Washington Nationals- Outfielder- Bryce Harper: Washington is trying to convince the baseball world that Harper will spend all or most of 2012 in the minors, but I’m not buying it. The Nats acquired enough pieces during this off-season to become a legitimate contender in the mediocre NL East. As this season plays out they will realize that an impact bat will help push them over the top. Instead of having to trade for one, they will have Harper lurking in the minors. The decision will be made even easier by the fact that Washington has glorified 5th outfielder Roger Bernadina manning center field, which just so happens to be the same position played by Harper.

There you have it. Now the season just needs to start so the accuracy of these predictions can be verified. Play ball!

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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Welcome to the Boston Zoo


Without a single spring training game yet being played, it is apparent that all is not well in Red Sox Nation. A franchise that became synonymous with stability and efficiency has disintegrated into chaos and uncertainty over the past six months. Despite numerous changes meant to address the disastrous way the 2011 season ended, 2012 already looks murky, with no ready solutions or explanations in sight.

One of the strangest areas of concern for the Red Sox is their front office, which appears to have lost its mojo practically overnight. It is convenient to associate this with the departure of boy wonder GM Theo Epstein, but there has to be more to it than that. The ownership group, team president, and handpicked GM successor Ben Cherington, are all intimately familiar with the way business has been run for the past decade, so there should be no excuse for their sudden lack of effectiveness.

The botched compensation negotiations with the Chicago Cubs for allowing them to sign Epstein was the first sign of trouble. Even the most inexperienced businessman would want something more concrete in place besides a generic agreement of “significant compensation” before allowing an asset to exchange hands. Had the Red Sox stuck to their guns, they could have turned Epstein into a real return. The Cubs were so desperate to land him as part of a franchise makeover, that if held to the fire would have handed over a handsome dowry. Failing to lock in a more detailed agreement, the Red Sox ended up with oft-injured, but hard throwing Chris Carpenter, whose best case scenario is as a useful bullpen piece. So much for significant compensation.

The front office/owners have also suddenly decided that money is an issue. To be fair, even the most pessimistic Red Sox fan would be hard pressed to cry poverty with the 2012 payroll scheduled to be north of $140 million. However, when chasing the likes of the New York Yankees, Los Angeles Angels, and suddenly spendy Detroit Tigers, money is a necessity and never seemed to be a problem before during the John Henry era. Lately, the Red Sox have indicated that they do have limits, stories have circulated about Henry’s shoveling of cash into his Premier League soccer team, and the team even resorted to trading its starting shortstop for 10 cents on the dollar as a last-ditch effort to find financial relief.

A major reason for John Henry’s previous effectiveness as an owner was the way he stayed in the background and always made the story about the team and the players; never himself. This has all changed with his bizarre micro aggressions towards Carl Crawford, the man he is helping pay $142 million through 2017. Crawford endured a miserable first season in Boston, but is well known for his pride and work ethic, making a repeat of 2011 unlikely. He cares; a commodity Boston fans were left to believe lacked from the rest of the team after “Beer and Chicken-Gate.”

For some reason Henry decided doing a George Steinbrenner impersonation would be a good idea and publically stated that he was against signing Crawford because it would make the team too left-handed. While the logic of that statement makes sense in baseball terms, such actions have no benefit. Crawford was obviously disappointed with how his season went, and a front office turning on its players is noticed by others- those already on the team and prospective free agents- and not in a good way. Henry’s sentiments were irrelevant because after pen was put to paper, Crawford became a Red Sox player for the next seven seasons, for better or for worse.

For his part, Crawford has handled Henry’s public show of non-support well so far, telling reporters, "I can't do nothing about what he said, just go out and play. It was unfortunate that he said that. I wasn't happy about it, and a little surprised. It's unfortunate he feels that way." If anybody thinks this will go away; they’re nuts. These are Pandora boxes that can’t be closed once they have been opened.

It has also become apparent that despite the vast quantities of money the Red Sox have splashed out, the team lacks a true veteran leader. The media has reported that Crawford prefers to lead by example, Adrian Gonzalez is not a vocal guy, and Dustin Pedroia is as likely to place a whoopee cushion under your seat as he is to give a rah-rah speech. Kevin Youkilis’ intensity often grates on his teammates, Jacoby Ellsbury’s dedication has been questioned by teammates, and Josh Beckett massively failed at leading last year. The roster has as much talent as any other team in baseball, but they don’t have the leadership that helps create cohesion and contributes to realizing their full potential.

Many people are focused on the Red Sox roster shortcomings. Sure, a better shortstop and another quality starting pitcher or two would be great, but the team has other problems that are more pressing.  It feels like they have lost their way and there is no clear map on how they can restore the brilliance they experienced during the past decade. A team with the talent and resources of the Red Sox should not portend such doom and gloom before the season even starts, but here we are. With any luck there will be more answers than questions moving forward, but right now that doesn’t appear to be the case, and in the meantime the Boston Zoo is in full effect.

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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Interview with Ryan Verdugo


Persistent is a great way to describe left-handed pitcher Ryan Verdugo. Throughout his baseball career he has consistently strived to improve and raise himself to new levels. This in itself is not remarkable, but what sets Verdugo apart is the way that he has consistently surpasses expectations, with no end in sight.

After graduating from Lake Stevens High School (Washington) in 2005, Verdugo was selected by the Philadelphia Phillies in the 43rd round of the MLB Draft. Instead he ended up needing Tommy John surgery and ultimately chose to attend Skagit Valley College. After making his way back from surgery and pitching effectively, he was drafted once again, this time in the 47th round in 2007 by the San Francisco Giants. Despite the temptation of starting a professional career he knew he had more work to do and transferred to LSU. It ended up being a wise choice, as Verdugo dominated his junior year with the Tigers, appearing in 20 games, going 9-4 with a 4.12 ERA and 85 strikeouts in 96 innings. In 2008, the Giants, having kept tabs on him all year, drafted Verdugo again; this time in the 9th round, and quickly signed him.

Verdugo pitched exclusively in relief in his first couple of professional seasons, and while producing excellent results, injuries prevented him from getting into as many games as he or the franchise wanted. He had a breakout season in 2010, going 8-1 with a 1.87 ERA in 44 games, all but one in relief. Most impressive were the 94 strikeouts he piled up in 62.2 innings.

The Giants decided to return Verdugo to a starting role in 2011 to capitalize on his momentum from the previous year. He had an 8-6 record and 4.35 ERA, solid, but unspectacular numbers. However, he maintained his high strikeout rate, punching out 133 hitters in 130.1 innings. His performance confirmed that he had the ability to start or relieve, dramatically boosting his prospect status.

Verdugo’s continued rising star was capitalized on by the Giants, who included him in a trade with the Kansas City Royals this past off-season, flipping him and pitcher Jonathan Sanchez for outfielder Melky Cabrera. The Royals are already flush with young prospects, but believe they have a keeper in Verdugo, immediately adding him to their 40-man roster to protect him from the Rule 5 draft.

Shortly after being traded, Verdugo did an interview with me. He provided some insight on his career and experiences in baseball. He is a player to monitor closely this season, and is primed to make an impact on the rebuilding Royals, so don’t be surprised to see him in the majors by the end of the year.

Ryan Verdugo Interview:

Who were your favorite team and player growing up and why?: Well, growing up in Seattle made my favorite team the Seattle Mariners, and my favorite player was Ken Griffey, Jr. Growing up and watching him play in the Kingdome is something I will never forget. He made the game look so easy and he had that smooth swing that every kid dreamed of having. Plus, him being left handed made me idolize him even more since I'm left handed.

What pitches do you have in your arsenal, and which one do you think you need to improve the most?: I throw a fastball, a changeup, and a slider. As for more improvement, I’m sure they all can use more improvement, but the slider needs to get a little better, and my fastball command is something I am always looking to improve. You never stop trying to get better and improving stuff as a pitcher.

Can you run through what your draft experiences have been like?: I got drafted by the Phillies out of high school, and they offered the draft and follow route to me. Then I ended up having to have Tommy John right out of high school, so that kind of went out the window. Then I got drafted again by the Giants out of junior college, but elected to take the college route and went to LSU. That was probably the best choice I could have made. After my junior year, I got drafted in the 9th round by the Giants again, and decided to sign.

How scary was it to have Tommy John Surgery right out of high school?: It was a little scary to have that major surgery right out of high school, but I had a good doctor and a good physical trainer, as well as a good coach to help me through it all. It was a big deal, but at the same time I had a pretty easy recovery back, and honestly, I forget a lot that I even had the surgery.

How did you find out that you were traded to the Royals this off-season?: I was actually golfing with my Dad when I found out I got traded. Bobby Evans (vice president of baseball operations) from the Giants called me and said he had bad news and that I was being traded to the Royals. Then about 5-10 minutes later I got a call from the Royals, saying congrats and welcoming me to them. It was a pretty overwhelming experience. The new Twitter followers helped ease that though for me.

I have read that Matt Cain mentored you some while you were in San Francisco organization. How did he help you?: Matt Cain was a really down to earth guy and he kind of talked me through some frustrations I had. He just tried to put things in perspective for me and not get overwhelmed or too frustrated, since I tend to be my own worst enemy sometimes. All the guys at big league camp were great though, but he probably helped me the most.

Do you think you have a chance of making the Royals out of spring training in 2012?: I honestly don’t know what my chance is. I’m just getting ready and preparing myself to have the best shot. if I make the team, that obviously would be great, but I know I have a lot of work to do. If I don’t it’s not going to stop me from working towards my ultimate goal of making the big leagues. I’m going to work though and go about it as if I have a good chance.

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Sunday, February 19, 2012

Farewell to Tim Wakefield


He’ll never get into the Baseball Hall of Fame without a ticket, but in the wake of his recent retirement, Tim Wakefield deserves an endless amount of kudos for what he did for the Boston Red Sox and their fans over the past 17 seasons. In many ways his retirement is surprising because it seemed that the knuckleballer was ageless and would always have a place on the Red Sox pitching staff. But Wakefield, now 45 and having pitched in the major leagues since four months before Bryce Harper was born, has hung up his emery board for good. He will be sorely missed.

Wakefield first came to prominence as a rookie in 1992, winning two complete games in the NLCS for the Pittsburgh Pirates. His achievement was even more sensational because of his back story of having come from a failed stint as a minor league infielder; switching to pitching with a knuckleball in a last ditch effort to save his professional career.

Despite the postseason heroics, he never established himself as a full time starter with the Pirates and they released him in April, 1995. He was quickly signed by the Red Sox, who had a potent offense that year but little in their starting rotation after Erik Hanson and an increasingly aloof Roger Clemens. It began the career of one of the longest tenured and respected players in Red Sox history.

Boston and their fans began their love affair with Wakefield from his first game, which was a start against the California Angels in Anaheim on May 27, 1995. He threw 7 innings of 5-hit ball, while striking out 4 in a 12-1 win. Even with Mo Vaughn on his way to the American League MVP award, Wakefield became the story in Boston that year. In his first 17 starts, he went 14-1 with a 1.65 ERA, helping lead the Red Sox into the playoffs. Fans were intrigued by the pitcher who had a difficult time cracking 70 mph when throwing his fastball as a “change of pace,” but could make the ball look possessed when unleashing his next knuckler.

Wakefield remained a productive starter for Boston for several more years before evolving into the Swiss army knife of their pitching staff. He was selfless to a fault, starting, long relieving, and even closing at times during the remainder of his Red Sox career. He famously filled in at closer for an injured Tom Gordon in 1999, racking up 15 saves while also contributing 17 starts and helping the Red Sox into the playoffs.

During his career with Boston, Wakefield was never the best player on the team, but he was as consistent as they came. He was constantly surrounded by more talented and well known pitchers like Clemens, Pedro Martinez, and Curt Schilling, but he always held his own and outlasted them all. Lacking their pedigree and national renown, it is Wakefield who retires holding the Red Sox team record for games started, innings pitched, and with 186 wins, trailing only Clemens and Cy Young in that category.

Wakefield was a baseball rarity not only because of his knuckleball, but for the 17 years he spent in a Boston uniform. In the age of free agency it is rare for players to spend even half that time with the same team. The relationship between Wakefield and Boston was a perfect one because they knew each other so well and what they did for each other. As long as he could still get the ball to dance, he could count on a job with the Red Sox.

A player’s legacy is not only comprised of their feats on the field. Wakefield established a reputation as one of the most philanthropic players in the game. He was nominated for the prestigious Roberto Clemente Award, annually given to the player who "best exemplifies the game of baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement and the individual's contribution to his team." Wakefield was nominated for the award an inspiring eight times, winning it in 2010. He was best known for his involvement with Pitching in for Kids, a charity providing grants to children across New England to help improve their lives and teach important life skills.

The end of Wakefield’s career came not because he got old or became dramatically less productive. It came because the departures of Theo Epstein and Terry Francona this past off-season pushed the team into an entirely different direction, stripping off many vestiges from the past. For nearly two decades, Wakefield gave the Red Sox security, akin to the small child dragging a blanky around everywhere. Boston decided that it wanted to move forward without that security, thus ending one of the most successful careers in Boston sports’ history. Wakefield leaves behind a legacy and memories as unique as the pitch that made him such a successful major league pitcher.

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Friday, February 17, 2012

2012 American League Breakout Players


Every year major league teams hope they have at least one player on their roster that will break out and give them unexpected production. Such players often mean the difference between the post-season and going home after game 162. Teams more or less know what they will get from their stars, so any surprises they get from other members of their roster can really impact a season.

With the start of spring training bearing down upon us, speculation has already begun about who will be each team’s breakout player. There are intriguing candidates on every squad, but I have sifted through to pick the most likely player on each roster, and will start with the American League.

Baltimore Orioles- Designated Hitter/First Baseman- Chris Davis: This is not the first such list Davis has been on over the past few seasons. However, with Baltimore, he may now have his best opportunity for consistent playing time, regardless of what shortcomings (a swing hole-ier than Mother Theresa) he may have. Given the Orioles’ lack of established players, Davis should see the field quite often, and while he probably won’t hit much better than .250, he has the ability to hit home runs in bunches. 

Boston Red Sox- Outfielder- Ryan Sweeney: Sweeney’s claim to fame thus far in his career are the many people who have raved about his performances in warm-ups and batting practice. Unfortunately that has never translated into game results, but with right fielder Ryan Kalish out until June and Carl Crawford a bit uncertain because of a balky wrist, Sweeney figures to get 300-400 at bats with the Red Sox in 2012. He is a career .283 hitter, and with his solid defense, could create some surprising production from the bottom of the Boston batting order. He has never hit more than 6 home runs in any season, but given his 6’4, 225 pound build, and now playing his home games at Fenway, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him double that number this year.

Chicago White Sox- Outfielder- Dayan Viciedo: Thanks to off-season moves and the decline of remaining players, outside of Paul Konerko, the White Sox no longer have any reliable power bats. The team hopes they can squeeze something out of Adam Dunn’s corpse, but he looked toasted in 2011, so Chicago isn’t holding its collective breath. Enter Viciedo. The young Cuban is not defensively gifted, but has a powerful bat. He has played several positions, but the White Sox have come to believe he will do the least damage in the outfield. Look for him to do a reasonable Carlos Quentin impersonation in 2012. 20 home runs and 80 RBI are not out of the question if he is allowed to play on a regular basis.

Cleveland Indians- Outfielder- Michael Brantley: Of all the American League teams, the Indians probably have the most break-out candidates on their roster. The sexiest pick may be someone like second baseman Jason Kipnis, but I believe Brantley is the choice. He has steadily improved each year since debuting in 2009, including becoming an above average defender. If he gets a little more selective at the plate, he could give the Indians a solid season from the lead-off position. Something along the lines of .280, 12 home runs, and 20 steals are reasonable goals for this rising player.

Detroit Tigers- Outfielder- Delmon Young: It may be more apt to call Young a come-back candidate, given the success he has had in the past. Regardless of what you want to call him, 2012 may be the season where he finally gets back to his previous form. The off-season emphasis in Detroit obviously focused on the signing of free agent Prince Fielder, and the one-two punch he forms with Miguel Cabrera. Even with those two big boppers, people shouldn’t sleep on the rest of the Tiger’s lineup. Young looked comfortable during his 40 games with Detroit last year (.274 and 8 home runs), so something in the neighborhood of .290 with 15-20 home runs and 90 RBI are reasonable expectations.

Kansas City Royals- Catcher- Salvador Perez: Although they hasn’t yet translated into wins, the Royals have started to become defined by their impressive group of young players. This past year, name brand rookies like Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer made long-anticipated debuts. Other lesser known rookies also made their way to Kansas City in 2011, with perhaps the most intriguing being Perez, who seemingly came out of nowhere to claim the starting catcher position.

Just 21 at the start of the 2012 season, Perez hit .285 during his minor league career, and posted an impressive .331 mark in 30 major league games last year. He was also no shirker behind the plate, throwing out 42% of base stealers. Now that he figures to play a full season with the Royals, the sky may be the limit for the young catcher. It is totally within the realm of reason to think Perez can hit .275 with 10 home runs in 2012, well on his way to a solid big league career.

Los Angeles Angels- Catcher- Hank Conger: Jeff Mathis (whose inexplicable amount of playing time over the past few seasons can best be explained by him either being related to Mike Scioscia or possessing incriminating photos of the manager) has moved on, and the Angels traded for Chris Ianetta, meaning Conger is still not viewed as an everyday catcher. However, he will receive at bats as the back-up catcher, designated hitter, and pinch hitter. Conger will have little pressure batting towards the bottom of the order, and if he gets the playing time, could hit 10-12 home runs.

Minnesota Twins- Utility Player- Trevor Plouffe: From Denny Hocking to Nick Punto, the Twins have traditionally had a super utility player on their roster. It appears that Plouffe will be that guy this season, finally giving him a shot at consistent playing time. He is not the type of player who will put up huge numbers, but he may play up to a half-dozen different positions and will provide capable prooduction at all of them.

New York Yankees- Utility Player- Eduardo Nunez: Nunez got 338 at bats in 2011 and figures to at least match that this season. Versatile enough to play any position but catcher or pitcher, Nunez should get plenty of opportunities all over the diamond, particularly at third, with A-Rod still uncertain after his German blood infusion thingy; and shortstop, where an aging Derek Jeter may need a few extra days off. Nunez’s best skill is his speed, and he has the ability to put up 30 or more steals this year, while continuing to develop as a hitter.

Oakland A’s- Outfielder- Josh Reddick: When it comes to offense, the cupboard of the A’s is nearly bare, but they may have a keeper in Reddick. He got sporadic playing time with the Red Sox over the past few seasons before being obtained in the Andrew Bailey trade. Reddick finally seemed to be putting everything together in 2011, and may emerge even further in 2012. He projects to hit in the middle of the A’s order, in front of or behind new outfield mate Yoneis Cespedes, and is one of the few hitters on the team capable of hitting 15-20 home runs.

Seattle Mariners- Pitcher- Hector Noesi: Jesus Montero, obtained in the Michael Pineda trade, is the player everyone in Seattle is talking about, but Noesi may be the break-out Mariner of 2012. He already cut his rookie teeth on the American League East in 2011, getting into 30 games with the Yankees and acquitting himself admirably. He will either pitch out of the bullpen or back of Seattle’s rotation, but should excel in either role. He has the stuff to approach a strikeout an inning, which will come in handy for the offense starved Mariners.

Tampa Bay Rays- Starting Pitcher- Matt Moore: This feels like a little bit of cheating, since Moore is the most ballyhooed pitching prospect since Stephen Strasburg, but he is still the pick. Although the popular practice these days is to put young pitchers on an innings limit, Moore will still get to throw about 175 frames this season, and is a good bet for 12 wins and 190+ strikeouts. He could also very well be a determining factor in frugal Tampa Bay’s ability to hang with Boston and New York in the American League East.

Texas Rangers- First Baseman- Brandon Snyder: Snyder is my Texas dark horse breakout candidate for a few reasons. I am not a huge believer in Mitch Moreland and think he is better suited to platooning. The Rangers also always seem to suffer strings of injuries each season, which could open the door for Snyder. He primarily plays first, but can also handle third, the outfield, and catch in a pinch. Finally, he has always been a productive minor league hitter (.275 career batting average), but has never been given any significant major league opportunity. If things fall into place for him in 2012, he could see 200 at bats in Texas and approach double digits in home runs.

Toronto Blue Jays- Outfielder- Colby Rasmus: Now that he is free from the disapproving eye of Tony LaRussa, who never seemed to embrace the talented outfielder, Rasmus may finally realize his potential in Toronto. He was terrible in his brief stint there after being traded this past season, but has too much talent to repeat that performance.

Whether it is an advanced team hitting approach or a mysterious middle-aged man relaying signs from the bleachers, the way the ball has jumped out of the stadium in Toronto in recent years could translate into Rasmus’ first 30 home run season occurring in 2012. If he is allowed to play fulltime, Toronto may finally have another star to play alongside Jose Bautista, which could tighten up things considerably in the American League East.

So there you have it; one man’s take on the 2012 American League breakout players. It’s not an exact science, but is a necessary exercise for baseball junkies around the world, as they anxiously await the start of the season. Keep an eye on these players because chances are good that they will figure prominently in their team’s plans this summer, and when that happens, don’t forget who let you in on the secret. 


National League breakout players: http://baseballhistorian.blogspot.com/2012/02/2012-national-league-breakout-players.html

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Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Oakland A's Signing of Cespedes is Full of Questions and Upside


One of the final big names of free agency landed today with the Oakland A’s coming to a somewhat surprising agreement with Cuban defector Yoenis Cespedes. The slugging outfielder inked a deal reported to be for $36 million over four years. Having been connected at one time or another this winter to over half the teams in the majors, Cespedes was never linked to Oakland, making today’s news all the more surprising. While in the grand scheme of contracts, there is nothing out of line with this deal, the signing is rife with questions and unknowns.

The type of gamble that Oakland has taken with Cespedes is one more befitting a team closer to competing and with more financial resources. Even with Cespedes, the A’s project to have one of the worst records in the American League in 2012, and are in full rebuilding mode. GM Billy Beane acquired a raft of prospects during this off-season by trading established players like Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez, and Andrew Bailey. While he received some exciting young talent, they are all players lacking big league experience and likely needing a little more minor league seasoning before they can be expected to contribute to the A’s in any meaningful way. There is still quite a great deal of time and patience required of the A’s before they will know exactly what they have.

Cespedes brings a lot of upside, but also a lot of unknowns. He is listed as being 26 years old, but given the creativity with the ages of previous Cuban major league players, there is no telling if that is an accurate figure. He displays impressive power, above average speed, and an arm that will play at any of the outfield positions, but how he will adapt to playing in the major leagues is a complete mystery. The competition he has played against in Cuba and abroad is certainly not an equal comparison, but the A’s hope that his impressive athleticism and skills he displayed in workouts translates into a player worthy of the contract they just proffered.

The biggest issue I have with the signing is that it is a near certainty that the A’s will not be close to competing for at least the next two years- and perhaps longer. Being a small market team, their fortunes are hitched to a wagon being drawn by players who have little or no major league experience. The way they develop, or don’t, will largely determine the extended future of the team.  The money given to Cespedes would have gone a long way towards investing further in the draft or buying back arbitration years from young players who develop into long-term keepers. At least the A’s had the forethought to backload the contract, giving Cespedes $6.5 million and $8.5 million in the first two years of the deal, and $10.5 in each of the final two years. Even if he only becomes an average player, having such a deal makes him eminently tradable.

Signing a player like Cespedes at this stage of their franchise development is a luxury move by Oakland. He could well turn into a star, but by the time the A’s are ready to compete his deal could be running out. There is also the possibility that he does not pan out as expected, which would turn out to be an expensive blunder for a franchise that can ill afford such things. The probability is greatest that he won’t be in Oakland for any longer than the length of his current contract. If he plays to or above expectations he will price himself out of Oakland’s range (he will not be arbitration eligible), and if he bombs they won’t want him back anyways.

The A’s won’t necessarily recoup money from the signing through marketing Cespedes. Unlike international free agents like Yu Darvish, who has an entire national fan base and media entourage built in, Cespedes is unknown to all but the most diehard baseball fans. His popularity will be determined by his production and his personality, all having to be built from the ground up.

One has to wonder if a little bit of Beane’s ego played into the Cespedes signing. The success of the movie Moneyball made his lack of playoff success in Oakland all the more glaring, and the way he sold off so many of the team’s established players this off-season did nothing to endear him to fans. Signing Cespedes was the most cost effective way of him making a splash in free agency with the best probability of getting bang for Oakland’s buck. It has also bought him a little time to see what he has with all the young players he has imported.

The signing of Cespedes is one of the most confounding of the free agency period. It could be a great deal just as much as it could be a total stinker. The A’s got their man on a contract that is very reasonable given the current market, but are laying out money that their team can ill afford to gamble with. It will be intriguing to see how it plays out. If all goes well another victory will be chalked up to the wisdom of the moneyball philosophy, and if Cespedes doesn’t pan out the A’s could prolong their rebuilding process into the foreseeable future.

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Sunday, February 12, 2012

Hal Trosky Jr.: Played Baseball on His Own Terms


Hal Trosky, Jr. grew up with a great model to emulate while dreaming of becoming a big league player. His father, Hal Trosky, Sr. was a major league star, who, if not for World War II may have made a very strong case for enshrinement in the Baseball Hall of Fame. As it was, Senior had a star career that ended after the 1946 season when Junior was 10 years old. By that time the younger Trosky had seen enough to know what he wanted to do with his life- play baseball.

By the time he was in high school, Trosky, Jr. had become a talented player and was drawing a lot of interest from professional teams. As a senior in Cedar Rapids, Iowa he hit .667 and had scouts from nearly half the major league teams in attendance at his games. The connections his father had made during his time in the game helped guide the young man’s decision making, and in 1954 he settled on signing with the Chicago White Sox after making a good connection with team owner Charlie Comiskey, Jr., who shared the commonality of being baseball progeny.

Like his father, Trosky was a slugging first baseman, with the only difference being that he hit right-handed, unlike his dad’s lefty approach. He hit a home run in his first at bat in the minors, but was constantly hobbled by injuries. Wanting to get as much as they could out of their prized prospect, the White Sox suggested in 1956 that he try pitching as a way to possibly keep him on the field. Trosky was amenable to the idea and experienced immediate success, going 9-5, with a 3.95 ERA his first year.

Throwing hard, yet with inconsistent control, Trosky developed almost immediately into a top pitching prospect. In the minors he posted 14 wins in 1957 and another 13 in 1958, fueling speculation that it was only a matter of time before he would be summoned to help out an aging White Sox pitching staff.

Trosky earned an end of season call-up to Chicago in September of 1958. The White Sox were on their way to a second place finish, but well behind the first place Yankees, and wanted to see what they had in their young pitcher. He was given a two relief appearance audition. The first came against the Tigers, and he pitched a scoreless inning. He gave up a single to Billy Martin, the first major league hitter he faced, but got the next batter, Charlie Maxwell, to strikeout into a double play when Martin attempted a stolen base. His second and final major league game was the final contest of the season, on September 28, 1958 against the Kansas City Athletics. Although he gave up 4 hits and 3 runs in two innings, he was able to earn the win in an 11-4 shootout.

The following season Trosky seemed poised to make the White Sox out of spring training, but was sent down on the final day of cuts. He continued to pitch well, but was never brought up again to the big leagues. Feeling that he had no future with Chicago, Trosky refused to sign with the organization for the 1961 season and asked for his release. The team would not release or trade him, so Trosky quit the game for good and began a lengthy career in insurance. Interestingly the White Sox finally did grant his request for a release, but it occurred in 1972, when he was 36 and had been out of professional baseball for over a decade.

Trosky went 44-30, with a 3.53 ERA in five minor league seasons. Although he only appeared in two major league games, he is able to say that he did earn a win during that time. More information about his career statistics is available at http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/t/troskha02.shtml.

I think that Trosky and how his baseball career played out is a fascinating story. This past year I had the opportunity to exchange letters with him and asked him a few questions about his experience with the game.

Hal Trosky, Jr. Questionnaire:

If you could do anything different about your career, what would that be?: Try earlier to get out of the White Sox organization.

Who was your coach or manager?: Luke Appling at Memphis and Jim Turner at Nashville.

What current player reminds you the most of players from your era?: Quite frankly I’ve all but ceased watching professional sports. The attitudes and intensity are sad.

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Friday, February 10, 2012

Willy Kesler: The Mariners' Dark Horse Prospect


The Seattle Mariners are in full-blown rebuilding mode. With aging super star Ichiro in the twilight of his career, and a roster of young players like Felix Hernandez, Dustin Ackley, and Jesus Montero, the franchise is undergoing a rapid transformation. Not only have they been restocking many positions at the major league level, but they also have an impressive collection of talent in the minor leagues fighting for recognition and opportunity. One of these prospects is pitcher Willy Kesler, who has been criminally underrated his first two professional seasons, but is poised for a major coming out in 2012.

The right-handed Kesler had a stellar career with Lamar Community College. As a sophomore in 2007 he had 103 strikeouts in 88 innings, with a 0.82 ERA and school record 10 complete games. From there he moved on to the University of New Mexico, where he continued pitching well when not hampered by injuries.  He had Tommy John surgery in 2008, which robbed him of major chunks of that season and 2009. He returned from his rehab and impressed scouts enough that he was selected by the Mariners in the 18th round of the 2010 MLB Draft.

Ever since starting his professional career Kesler has been nothing short of sensational, pitching exclusively out of the bullpen. Relying on a fastball in the low 90’s and still developing his secondary pitches, Kesler has pitched at three different levels in two years, finishing 2011 in High-A. In 55 total games during those two seasons he has accumulated a 9-5 record and 2.21 ERA, with 16 saves. He also has 81 strikeouts in 89.1 innings. More information on his statistics is available at http://www.baseball-reference.com/minors/player.cgi?id=kesler001wil.

A baseball prospect could not ask for a better start to a career than what Kesler has produced. Not only has he moved rapidly through the minors, but he has performed well at each level and not tailed off as his competition has become more advanced. If he can keep up the same pace for one more year in the minors he will put himself in an excellent position to compete for a roster spot in Seattle. With the team’s bullpen having undergone a cycle of changes over of the past several seasons, there should be a great opportunity for a promising pitcher like Kesler.

Kesler is getting ready to head out to spring training, but before leaving he took the time to answer a few of my questions. He is also on Twitter, where he frequently interacts with his followers and gives a good idea of what the life of a professional ball player is like. He is a must-watch prospect for Seattle and baseball fans, so take a few moments to get to know him better.

 Willy Kesler Interview:

 Who were your favorite team and player growing up and why?: When I was growing up my favorite team was the Colorado Rockies and I liked Andres Galarraga. Now my favorite player is Nolan Ryan. I grew up in Denver, so they were the home town team. I’m not sure why I liked Galarraga. I just always cheered for him. I like Nolan Ryan because I want to be the same type of pitcher that he was.

Can you talk a little bit about your 2008 season at New Mexico where you had an appendectomy and Tommy John? How difficult was that to overcome?: I started the season off great. The third weekend, I hurt my arm, but the following weekend I still pitched. Then the fifth week of the season I had my appendectomy. In May I had my Tommy John. It was tough because everything that could go wrong that year did for me health-wise. Luckily I have a very close family and I was able to get over that big speed bump in my life.

Can you run through what your draft experience was like?: The draft experience was pretty awesome. I saw my name go across the tracker, then my phone started going off a lot. I’ve never experienced
anything like that before.

Since being drafted, how much contact do you typically have with staff from Seattle?: During spring training you tend to see the staff more often. During the season it’s harder with all of the different teams in the middle of their seasons.

What pitches do you throw, and which one is your strongest and which one needs the most work?: I throw a four-seam, two-seam, 12 to 6 curveball, and a circle change. Cleaning up my mechanics will help with cleaning up all of the pitches. I still need to continue working on my changeup. It’s a type of pitch that can always get better.

What coaches, managers, or instructors have been most instrumental to your professional career thus far?: To the day my baseball career  is done I will always seek help from my little league coaches Steve Curry and Terry Smith. They have helped me get to where I am, so I’m not going to stop asking them now. Within pro ball, Rich Dorman has helped me the most. I have the changeup that I do because he has worked with me on it the most.

How difficult is it to maintain the life of a minor league player (financial, fatigue, relationships, etc...)?: It’s pretty tough all around, but I can’t complain too much being I get to wake up and play baseball every day. The goal is to be in Seattle, and then most of the hard times won’t be so hard.

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Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Wynn Pelzer: Looking to Wynn Big in the Majors


Some people were born to do certain things. When Wynn Isaiah Pelzer was born in 1986, he was given the perfect name for a baseball pitcher. His name is the type of gift sports editors can only dream of, as headlines like “Pelzer Wynn’s Again” and “Pelzer Runs Wynning Streak to Ten” are ready made for the papers. Fortunately, Pelzer grew into his name and is a pitcher on the cusp of the major leagues.

The right-handed Pelzer enjoyed a stellar career at the University of South Carolina, starting and relieving with equal success and consistently being one of the best hurlers in the SEC. He was already a hot commodity following his junior year in 2007, and after being drafted by the San Diego Padres in the 9th round of that year’s draft, he decided to sign and start his professional career. He made steady progress through the San Diego system as a starter, but near the 2010 trade deadline, he was traded to the Baltimore Orioles with cash considerations for shortstop Miguel Tejada. The fact that Baltimore was willing to trade one of its last established veteran players for Pelzer shows how much regard they have for the pitcher.

Since joining the Baltimore organization, Pelzer has been transitioning back to relieving and made it as high as Triple-A in 2011. So far in his minor league career, Pelzer has a 32-31 record in 126 games, with a 3.89 ERA. He has also struck out 422 batters in 472 innings, while relinquishing an impressively low 32 home runs. More information about his statistics is available at http://www.baseball-reference.com/minors/player.cgi?id=pelzer001wyn.

The scouting report on Pelzer is that he has major league stuff, highlighted by a low 90’s fastball. Consistency in his delivery and command are the last challenges he has been addressing, as he continues to progress through the minors. Heading into 2012 there is little reason why he won’t make his major league debut at some point during the season. There’s not much left for him to prove in the minors, and the rebuilding Orioles are likely to have many holes on their pitching staff to fill, with prospects like Pelzer eager to show what they can do.

Keep an eye out for Pelzer in Baltimore in 2012. He is a great follow on Twitter and was gracious enough to recently answer some of my questions. #Wynning!

Wynn Pelzer Interview:

Who was your favorite team and player growing up and why?: My favorite team growing up was the Atlanta Braves. I got into little league about the same time Andruw Jones made his debut, so I liked his game.

Can you run through what your draft experience was like; did you think you would go lower or higher than the 9th round?: My draft experience was a little frustrating because the previous year I threw really well and positioned myself to get drafted a little higher. My junior year wasn't as good as I wanted and I had major knee surgery after I was drafted.

How did playing college ball at South Carolina prepare you for life as a professional player?: Playing at the REAL USC was good because the level of competition was really high. A lot of the guys I was playing against were going to play pro ball at some point, and it made me a better player. Matt LaPorta with aluminum in his hands was a testy situation.

What are contract negotiations like after being drafted?: I think they're a standard case of a player’s perceived value versus how much the team thinks he's worth. My negotiations were unorthodox because I was injured and somewhat of an enigma. So it was stressful, but in the end everyone on both sides want to get a deal done. You just can’t show your hand.

What pitches do you throw, and which one is your strongest and which one needs the most work?: I'm a sinker/slider/change-up guy; mostly sinker/slider. When I need a swing and miss, I lean on my slider. When I need a double play ball I'm living with my sinker. I'm comfortable with both of them, but I need to tighten up my command. It’s my biggest obstacle at this point in my career.

Are you most comfortable starting or relieving?: I'm comfortable doing both. My command makes it harder on me as a starter, but as long as I have a defined role I can adapt and prepare accordingly

What is the best baseball park/stadium you have ever played in?: The best stadium is The Diamond in Lake Elsinore. Any and everything that goes into a good baseball environment is top notch. I’d do it again for free.

Are you expecting 2012 to be the year you make your major league debut?: I expect to get better as a pitcher and put myself in a position where I can contribute to the big club. All I can control is my preparation and performance. But if the Lord is willing, I'll be blessed with the opportunity.

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Sunday, February 5, 2012

Interview with Texas Rangers Prospect Jake Brigham


When a baseball player is drafted out of high school, it is with rare exception that years of maturation and experience are needed in the minor leagues before being ready for the majors. That process can be wrought with injuries and other similar delays. Texas Ranger farmhand Jake Brigham has grown patient in waiting for his major league aspirations to come to fruition. Selected in the 6th round of the 2006 MLB Draft out of high school by the Texas Rangers, Brigham started off his pro career with great success, but was thrown for a major loop when he had to have Tommy John surgery and missed the entire 2008 campaign. Since then he has continued to work and battle to get his career back on track and punch his ticket to Texas.

The right-handed Brigham began his career exclusively as a starter, but has more recently been a swingman between the rotation and the bullpen. He struggled initially coming back from his surgery, but has gradually regained his effectiveness and versatility. Brigham throws in the low 90’s and scouts are optimistic about his other pitches; making him capable of handling any role he may be asked to do.

In five full professional seasons, Brigham has a record of 22-37 with a 4.43 ERA. Most impressive are his 424 strikeouts against only 196 walks in 471.2 innings. His best game came in 2010 when he was pitching for A-level Hickory against the Greensboro Grasshoppers. He allowed singles to the first two batters he faced but didn’t allow any other base runners for the rest of the game, finishing with 12 strikeouts and a complete game shutout. A total view of his career statistics is available at http://www.baseball-reference.com/minors/player.cgi?id=brigha001jac.

The time and the hard work have started to pay off for Brigham. He spent all of 2011 in Double-A, and just recently was promoted to the Rangers’ 40-man roster. Teams hold their 40-man roster spots in high regard, so Brigham’s addition is no small feat. If all goes well, Texas fans should expect to see Brigham in Arlington within the next year or two. You can get to know this determined pitching prospect better by checking out the interview he recently did with me or by following him on Twitter.


Jake Brigham Interview:

Who were your favorite team and player growing up and why?: My favorite team was the Boston Red Sox; it was the only channel that we got on Saturday and Sunday that played baseball. Who knows how growing up in Orlando the one baseball channel you get is Boston Red Sox, but that's how it was! My favorite player was Nomar, of course! I loved watching him play, and as a little leaguer I always tried to play like him (ha!).

Can you run through what your draft experience was like?: It was a great time, I sort of came out of nowhere. I was home schooled and played at a small private school, and the thought of being drafted never entered my head. I played in a few tournaments, my junior year, and never expected what would have happened next, a dream come true! 

How did you go about choosing an agent and then opting to sign in 2006?: We interviewed a lot of guys in our home, my parents and I. It just came down to the people that we felt had the same beliefs, and same character that I had, and if someone is going to represent me, I want them to believe the same way I do along with the values. And that is the reason why I chose Doug Rogalski-Sports One Management. I have always wanted to be a baseball player and God blessed me with a talent, and I know that I wanted to play ball as soon as I could, and God gave me that opportunity. 

Can you talk a little bit about what you went through in 2008 with Tommy John surgery, and how difficult it was to get back to the mound?: First finding out having to have surgery as a 19 year old kid was pretty hard to take. Finding out that I couldn't do what I love for over a year hurt pretty bad. I was devastated, but going through the rehab process was maturing for me. The Texas Rangers medical staff is one of the best rehab staffs in all of baseball, plus during the boring hours of sitting in the hotel room all day is what led me to meeting my wife, so it was a blessing in disguise! 

Getting back on the mound took some getting used to; I was just excited when I pitched in the first game my velocity was back. I knew with my hard work I could get back into the form of throwing strikes. It was relieving knowing my arm was healthy.

What pitches do you throw, and which one is your strongest and which one needs the most work?: Number one, my strength is my fastball; that is what got me drafted, I have been blessed with a strong arm. Number two; slider. I just started throwing it a year and half ago, and a lot of hard work, it’s come along to be a very effective pitch for me. Very close, number three is my curveball, I’ve thrown it my entire life and it is a pitch that I'm very confident in. Lastly, is my changeup. Over the past year I have worked on it very hard, and it is actually turned into a pitch that I’m starting to count on, and trust in. It is definitely a pitch that I will always continuously work on! 

How did it feel recently getting added to the Rangers' 40 man roster?: No words for how I felt that night! I was very excited, and honored. I had a slight feeling of satisfaction that this hard work is starting to pay off, but still have so much work ahead of me which I am very excited about! 

How difficult is it to maintain the life of a minor league player (financial, fatigue, relationships, etc...)?:
Financially it is not maintaining it, it is surviving it! Fatigue, you can't let it be a part of your vocabulary because you can't afford to be tired during the season. Relationships you have to work a little harder at them. The first three years of my wife and I’s relationship was long distance and was very tough. All in all, I wouldn't trade it one bit! 

Have you ever received any instruction or advice from Nolan Ryan during your time with the Rangers?: Yes, I have had  conversations with him, and it was pretty incredible. I am very excited about the opportunity to be able to learn from him during spring training. 

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