Top 100 Baseball Blog

Monday, December 30, 2013

Re-Examining an Interview with Branch Rickey

In 1955, Sports Illustrated’s Gerald Holland interviewed perhaps the most famous front office man in baseball history—Branch Rickey.

Although widely credited for integrating the majors by signing Jackie Robinson to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers, that shouldn’t define Rickey, as he had a long an diverse career in the sport.

It took him quite a while to find success. He began as a player, playing catcher and outfield in parts of four seasons with the St. Louis Browns and New York Yankees. However, hitting .239 with three home runs (although it was the Deadball Era) in 120 total games didn’t win him a permanent job, and he had to find another way to stay in the game.

He managed the Browns and St. Louis Cardinals for 10 seasons but finished with a sub-.500 record and only reached as high as a third place finish twice during that time.

Rickey found his greatest success in the front office. From 1919 to 1955 he served as the general manager and president of the Cardinals, Dodgers and Pittsburgh Pirates. In addition to his groundbreaking collaboration with Robinson, he was innovative throughout his career, as he championed things like scouting, the farm system development, and the use of batting helmets among others.

He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1967—two years after he passed away at the age of 83. One of the greatest pioneers in the game’s history, it was a richly deserved honor.

The Holland interview is intriguing insight into the great executive. Reading the entire piece is well worth the time. However, for the sake of closer inspection, I am pulling out what I believe to be the most interesting portions of Rickey’s statements during the interview, and including my own thoughts in italics.

On his vow to never play baseball on Sundays: "Of my career in baseball, let us say first of all that there have been the appearances of hypocrisy. Here we have the Sunday school mollycoddle, apparently professing a sort of public virtue in refraining from playing or watching a game of baseball on Sunday. And yet at the same time he is not above accepting money from a till replenished by Sunday baseball.

A deeply personal thing. Something not to be exploited, not to be put forward protestingly at every whisper of criticism. No, a deeply personal thing. A man's promise, a promise to his mother. Not involving a condemnation of baseball on Sunday, nor of others who might desire to play it or watch it on Sunday. Simply one man's promise—and it might as well have been a promise not to attend the theater or band concerts in the park."

Rickey’s refusal to play ball on the Sabbath has always been one of those baseball maxims used as a general tool to describe him as a person. The clarification he provides about how he came about this standard, and how he very clearly refutes it being a morality issue, is refreshing to say the least.

On Some of His Contributions to Baseball: "More than a half-century spent in the game and now it is suggested that I give thought to some of the ideas and innovations with which I have been associated. The question arises, 'Which of these can be said to have contributed most to making baseball truly our national game?'

First, I should say, there was the mass production of ballplayers. The Cardinals were three years ahead of all the other clubs in establishing try-out camps. We looked at 4,000 boys a year. Then, of course, we had to have teams on which to place boys with varying degrees of ability and experience. That brought into being the farm system.

There were other ideas not ordinarily remembered. With the St. Louis Browns, under Mr. Hedges, we originated the idea of Ladies Day, a very important step forward. Probably no other innovation did so much to give baseball respectability, as well as thousands of new fans.”

The importance of the contributions of Rickey to the modern concept of minor league farm systems and advanced scouting cannot be overstated. Teams’ ability to plan and build for the future made it much easier to compete with organizations with deeper pockets and greater cache, like the New York Yankees.

The Boston Red Sox, Tampa Bay Rays and St. Louis Cardinals are the best current examples of the unlimited possibilities that can be reaped by embracing Rickey’s innovations. Really, it’s one of the greatest things a team can have—the ability to be successful on a self-sustainable level.

On His Role Bringing Jackie Robinson to the Majors: "Some honors have been tendered. Some honorary degrees offered because of my part in bringing Jackie Robinson into the major leagues.

No, no, no. I have declined them all. To accept honors, public applause for signing a superlative ballplayer to a contract? I would be ashamed!"

Regardless of how modest he was regarding being the front-office man to finally sign a black player; Rickey will always be congratulated for his role in integrating the game. He may have done nothing more than simply the “right thing,” but doing so in the staunchly segregated majors took a certain degree of chutzpah that only an executive of his reputation would have been able to pull off.

On The Process of Identifying Robinson as the First Player to Integrate the Majors: "I talked to sociologists and to Negro leaders. With their counsel, I worked out what I considered to be the six essential points to be considered.

Number one, the man we finally chose had to be right off the field…

Number two, he had to be right on the field. If he turned out to be a lemon, our efforts would fail for that reason alone.

Number three, the reaction of his own race had to be right.

Number four, the reaction of press and public had to be right.

Number five, we had to have a place to put him.

Number six, the reaction of his fellow players had to be right.

In Jackie Robinson, we found the man to take care of points one and two. He was eminently right off and on the field. We did not settle on Robinson until after we had invested $25,000 in scouting for a man whose name we did not then know.

Having found Robinson, we proceeded to point five. We had to have a place to put him. Luckily, in the Brooklyn organization, we had exactly the spot at Montreal where the racial issue would not be given undue emphasis.

To take care of point three, the reaction of Robinson's own race, I went again to the Negro leaders. I explained that in order to give this boy his chance, there must be no demonstrations in his behalf, no excursions from one city to another, no presentations or testimonials. He was to be left alone to do this thing without any more hazards than were already present. For two years the men I talked to respected the reasoning behind my requests. My admiration for these men is limitless. In the best possible way, they saw to it that Jackie Robinson had his chance to make it on his own.

Point four, the reaction of press and public, resolved itself in the course of things, and point six, the reaction of his fellow players, finally—if painfully—worked itself out."

Rickey’s detailing of the process he went through in identifying a course of action for Robinson is fascinating. In particular, his consultation of black community leaders is a part of the story rarely recounted in the re-tellings of the MLB integration narrative.

What was needed to make a success out of Robinson was an elaborate scheme of infinite layers, with Rickey thinking years into the future and of scenarios far from the playing field. Although Robinson had a tough go of it, the remarkable grace and poise he showed in his career demonstrates the great pay-off from the detailed planning.

On the Best Pitchers He Ever Saw: "The greatest pitchers I have ever seen were Christy Mathewson and Jerome “Dizzy” Dean.

Mathewson could throw every pitch in the book. But he was economical. If he saw that he could win a game with three kinds of pitches, he would use only three. Jerome, on the other hand, had a tendency to run in the direction of experimentation. Murry Dickson has a fine assortment of pitches, but he feels an obligation to run through his entire repertory in every game.

Yes, Murry is the sort of pitcher who will go along splendidly until the eighth inning and then apparently say to himself: 'Oh, dear me, I have forgotten to throw my half-speed ball!' And then and there he will throw it."

Two of Rickey’s choices are fairly easy picks.

Mathewson won 373 games and had a 2.13 ERA in a 17-year career. Although his teams only won one World Series, they made four appearances, and the right-hander became perhaps the greatest postseason pitcher of all-time, with a 0.97 ERA and four shutouts in 11 starts.

Because of injury, Dean had a small window of dominance, but when he was good, he was very good. Pitching for the Cardinals from 1932 through 1936, he won a total of 120 games and had 123 complete games while leading the National League in innings three times and strikeouts four times. Rickey, serving as the team’s president and general manager, would have had a front row seat to that video game-esque production.

The inclusion of Dickson is less obvious. With a career record of 172-181 with a 3.66 ERA in 18 major league seasons, the small right-hander was the picture of solid mediocrity. Interestingly, Rickey’s assertion that the pitcher had a tendency to meltdown in the eighth inning was surprisingly accurate, as his ERA jumped over half a run from the seventh to the eighth in his career, according to

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

Friday, December 27, 2013

Pitcher Rob Smorol Bringing Rutgers Tradition to the Boston Red Sox

The New England Patriots of the NFL have developed a recent reputation for their love of players from Rutgers University. It turns out their proclivity may have wafted over to their MLB counterparts, as the Boston Red Sox have acquired their own Scarlet Knight. He is left-handed pitcher Rob Smorol, and he is trying to make a name for himself in the organization’s vaunted farm system.

Smorol attended Arthur L. Johnson High School in New Jersey before moving on to Rutgers. He began as a reliever but became a dependable starter by his sophomore season. He won 22 games during his career and left as one of the best hurlers in school history.

He started his Red Sox career with the organization’s Gulf Coast League team, which according to a Rutgers press release, was managed by former Rutgers player and coach, Darren Fenster. In 13 games with them, and another with Single-A Greenville (all in relief), the southpaw combined to go 1-0 with a 3.57 ERA while striking out 14 batters in 17.2 innings.

Although he doesn’t have overpowering stuff, Smorol knows how to pitch. If he continues to produce results, his lack of a draft pedigree won’t matter. Boston is all about player development, and the young lefty is in a position to prove he can make his way to the majors.

Give Smorol a follow on Twitter and see what he had to say when we recently exchanged emails and I asked him about his career.

Rob Smorol Interview:

Who was your favorite player when you were growing up, and why?: My favorite player growing up was Ken Griffey Jr. Everything he did on a baseball field was so smooth and effortless. I really liked guys with some flash and looked great in their uniform, and Griffey was the epitome of both of these. I started wearing my hat backwards and wristbands just like him, and tried to model my game after him as well. 

How did you end up choosing to attend Rutgers?: I really wanted to attend and play at a Division-1 school that was not only prestigious academically, but also near my home. Rutgers was the perfect choice for me in that it is less than half hour from where I live, and really well known for its academics. My goal was always to play in a high-end conference, and Rutgers offered that in being in the Big East.

How did you first find out that the Red Sox were interested in you?: I did not know the Red Sox were interested in me until the day I was called to be signed. Ray Fagnant, the northeast scouting coordinator, called me and simply asked how I would like to be a Red Sox. He went on to say that Darren Fenster (rookie ball coach and an assistant at Rutgers for 2 years while I was there) had nothing but great things to say about me as a player, and that he though highly of me as well. There were a few teams that I really thought were going to sign me, never thinking it would be the Red Sox. 

How disappointed were you that you weren't drafted?: The draft was extremely disappointing for me. A couple teams had told me that I was a mid-to-later round draft pick on their draft boards, with many others showing interest. I was not only let down the last day of the draft, but completely shocked. I thought it really could have been the end of my baseball career. Fortunately, I was the lucky one in signing shortly thereafter, as a couple of my teammates at Rutgers that also received a lot of interest and were not drafted and never got picked up. 

What current pitcher would you say your style/type of skills is most similar to?: Mechanically, I really try to model myself after CJ Wilson and Scott Kazmir. I believe I throw pretty similar to both those guys, with our sizes being pretty similar as well. In terms of pitches thrown, I believe I'm more similar to Wilson, although he throws harder than I do.

What is one part of your game that you hope to improve on the most?: This offseason I'm really focusing on gaining some velocity. Most guys at the A-ball level throw harder than me, and I really think this is something I need to gain to move up in the organization. Overall you’re able get away with a lot more mistakes if you’re consistently in that 90s range.

What is life like in the Gulf Coast League?: Life in the Gulf Coast League is a lot different than the other affiliates. Usually everything is done in the morning, from conditioning to PFP (pitchers' fielding practice), to batting practice. Report time is 7:30 and the games are mostly played during the day, so you’re leaving the complex sometime around 4. Your day is mapped out for you and everyone is on an extremely strict schedule.

When I moved up to Greenville (A-ball) things were a lot different. Report times were much later and the games were played at night. Everything was a little more loose up there as well.

What do you believe you need to do to help yourself stand out from the guys who may be high draft picks or received big international bonuses?: I believe if you pitch well you’re going to stand out. Everyone gets a shot at this level, no matter where you were picked or how much you signed for. So in order for me to stand out and move up in the organization I have to really pitch well and do whatever is asked of me, no matter how big or small the role. The rest takes care of itself.

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

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Casting the Boston Red Sox Into A Christmas Carol

The 2013 Boston Red Sox are similar to Charles Dickens’ classic story A Christmas Carol in that they both represent the best of their respective genres. Both were heartwarming tales of redemption that showed the good that can occur when there is a willingness to change.

I may have too much holiday time on my hands, but I couldn’t help wondering what would happen if the Red Sox were cast as characters from the holiday favorite. What would that look like? Is there a thespian among the bunch? No matter, here are some thoughts as how the casting could play out if I were in charge?

Mike Napoli as Tiny Tim: Can’t think of a better choice. The first baseman is incredibly beloved by his teammates and fans .

Like Tiny Tim, Napoli has a bad wheel that almost prematurely cut short his tenure with the team. Fortunately, the devotion of his teammates helped keep him in Beantown, and he signed a richly deserved two-year extension just before Christmas.

To truly make this work, Napoli may need to shave to really nail the part…

Josh Beckett as Jacob Marley: No longer a member of the team, he is now just a vestige of the pitcher who won 20 games for the 2007 Red Sox. A former compatriot of Lackey, he wasn’t very well-liked when he was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers mid-way through the 2012 season.

Some thought Beckett displayed selfish behavior that rubbed off on others, including Lackey. Unfortunately, he serves as a reminder of the dark, not so distant past, when another World Series title seemed a lifetime away. He never showed the contrition some felt necessary, and for that he will remain in Red Sox purgatory for the foreseeable future.

John Lackey as Ebeneezer Scrooge: Earlier in his Boston career, the right-handed pitcher was rich and disliked; seen as one of the faces of the Red Sox decline during his first three seasons with the team. A 26-23 record with a 5.50 ERA and a season missed because of Tommy John surgery won him few fans.

Unlike his former running mate Beckett, Lackey came into 2013 looking like a changed man. He showed up to spring training in the best shape of his career and went on to be Boston’s most consistent starting pitcher, winning the clinching game of the World Series before departing to a standing ovation at Fenway Park. All that was missing from his complete transition to a redeemed Scrooge was beckoning a boy from Landsdowne Street to go fetch the prized goose from the butcher’s window.

David Ortiz as the Ghost of Christmas (Red Sox) Past: The longest-tenured member of the team, Big Papi and his character share the same ability to sport a lusty beard, and both serve as reminders about how wonderful it can be to have a connection to the past.

Dustin Pedroia as the Ghost of Christmas (Red Sox) Present: Nobody personifies the current Red Sox any better than Pedroia. The second baseman is in the prime of his career and a face of the franchise. Although his stature may make him seem like an obvious fit for the Tiny Tim role, his swing-from-his heels playing style makes appearances deceiving.

Xander Bogaerts (With Jackie Bradley Jr. as understudy) as the Ghost of Christmas (Red Sox) Yet to Come: Like Dickens’ ghost, the Red Sox youngsters didn’t look so promising at the beginning. Bogaerts hit just .250 during a late-season call-up, and Bradley fared even worse, posting a .189 mark in 37 games.

As 2013 ends, things are definitely looking up for Boston’s two best prospects. Bogaerts shone in the postseason and is currently looking like he will be the team’s starting shortstop in 2014. Meanwhile, during a recent interview with WEEI, noted baseball analyst Jim Callis said Bradley has the tools to be better than departed center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury.

As with the end of A Christmas Carol, the future of the Red Sox looks bright indeed. A number of young players are on the horizon, led by the precocious Bogaerts and Bradley, who are both in line to be 2014 starters.

John Farrell as Old Mr. Fezziwig: The kindly benefactor to young Scrooge is one of the most effervescent characters in the classic story. The pleasant businessman got the most out of his young apprentices by running a shop that was based on both fun and hard work. Sound familiar?

The 2013 Red Sox intentionally built their team to have a positive clubhouse—and bringing in Farrell as their new manager (after he has previously served as a pitching coach in previous years) was the biggest brick in that foundation.

Shane Victorino as Bob Cratchit: The patriarch of the Cratchit clan worked his fingers to the bone doing things most would avoid (working for Scrooge). Despite that, he always maintained a cheery disposition and was considered a hero to his family.

In his first season with Boston, Victorino slipped easily into the Cratchit role, becoming immensely popular with his teammates and fans alike. He did many of the things players hate to do, like getting hit by an American League-leading 18 pitches, and running into walls more than once.

Unlike Cratchit, Victorino and the $39 million he will earn over the life of his three-year Boston contract doesn’t have to worry any time soon about putting food on the table for his family.

Thank you for allowing this indulgence of the sillier side during this holiday season. Happy holidays to you and your families, and as always, thanks for reading.

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

Friday, December 20, 2013

Chris Martin: Former Boston Red Sox Prospect Reflects on Recent Trade and Career

When the Boston Red Sox acquired infielder Jonathan Herrera in a recent trade with the Colorado Rockies, they had to give up major league pitcher Franklin Morales and a prospect. That young player was pitcher Chris Martin, a hard-throwing right-handed reliever, who is on the cusp of making his major league debut.

The 27-year-old Martin was considered a good prospect as an amateur. He was drafted out of high school in 2004 by the Detroit Tigers, and again the following year by the Rockies after he had done a year with McLennan Community College. He never signed with either team, opting to continue his education.

After he tore the labrum in his throwing shoulder during his sophomore year, it looked like baseball might be over for him for good. According to The Boston Globe’s Michael Vega, after school, he spent three years working for places like UPS, Lowes and an appliance shop.

After he started playing baseball again recreationally, Martin discovered that he had healed from his injury and was still able to throw effectively—with a fastball that sat comfortably in the 90s. One thing led to another, and in 2010 he signed with the Grand Prairie AirHogs in the independent American Association, which was managed by former major league outfielder Pete Incaviglia.

Martin’s time as an AirHog was a success, as he went 4-0 with a 1.96 ERA in 13 games, earning a 2011 contract with the Red Sox.

Since joining the Boston system, he has progressed steadily, compiling a combined mark of 14-11 with a 3.12 ERA in 88 games over three seasons. He has also struck out nearly a batter per inning and only given up a total of 10 home runs in 222.3 innings.
Martin started 2013 with 21 scoreless innings at Double-A Portland before moving up to Triple-A Pawtucket, where he was 3-3 with a 3.18 ERA. He appears to be ready for a chance to pitch in the majors. Although that opportunity will no longer be from the Red Sox, his new start with the Rockies could be the perfect springboard.

I was able to catch up with Martin just days after his trade. Check out what he had to say about changing organizations and other reflections on his career. If you want to continue monitoring how he makes out with his new team, give him a follow on Twitter and keep looking for his name to pop up on the Colorado roster.

Chris Martin Interview:

Who was your favorite player when you were growing up, and why?: Growing up in Arlington, Texas, I watched a lot of Rangers games as a kid. Anytime Nolan Ryan was pitching, I was locked in. The reason is because of his mentality. He pitched with confidence and he knew no one was going to touch him.

After you suffered a serious shoulder injury that prevented you from starting a professional playing career after college, what made you decide to make another attempt years later?: Even though I wasn’t playing I always had it in the back of my mind that I could pitch professionally. Just had to be patient and wait for the shoulder to allow me to give it another shot.

What has been your favorite moment from your playing career?: This may sound a little cliché but every moment is my favorite as long as I’m still playing. I know how fast it can be taken away.

How did you find out you had been traded to the Rockies, and how surprised were you?: On Twitter, I saw a post that I was involved in a trade. I called my agent and he didn’t answer, but about a minute after I got a call from the farm director for the Red Sox and he told me that I was traded, and he wished me the best of luck.

Are you disappointed that you reached the highest level of Boston's minor league system but never got to pitch with the big league team?: No. not at all. I’m a big believer that things happen for a reason. Hopefully I can debut in Colorado now.

What do you believe 2014 holds in store for you and your career?: It’s going to be new scenery but it’s still the same game. I just want to be able to contribute in helping win games whether it’s at Triple-A or the big leagues. 

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

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Nick Goody: The Pursuit of Mariano Rivera's Legacy With the New York Yankees

The New York Yankees’ propensity for courting and signing high-priced free agents can sometimes obscure their farm system, which has delivered numerous players of great importance to the team over the years. Mariano Rivera, Derek Jeter and the recently departed Robinson Cano are all more recent examples of franchise cornerstones that were also homegrown.

One area the Yankees especially hope start producing in the near future is pitching. Right-hander Nick Goody is a prospect trying to be one of the youngsters who will one day graduate to the Bronx and continue the team’s tradition of self-sufficiency.

After attending high school in Orlando, Goody went on to Manatee-Sarasota Community College. He pitched well enough to be selected by the Yankees in the 22nd round of the 2011 draft but declined to sign and transferred to LSU.

Serving as the team’s closer, Goody had 11 saves and a 2.67 ERA in 2012, posting 45 strikeouts in 33.2 innings while walking just four. It was enough to induce the Yankees to draft him again—this time in the sixth round.

Pitching for three minor league teams that summer, Goody had an impressive combined ERA of 1.12 with seven saves in 23 games. What really stood out were the 40 strikeouts he recorded in 24.2 innings.

Unfortunately, after just two games with Advanced-A Tampa in 2013, Goody had to undergo Tommy John surgery and missed the rest of the season and possibly a good chunk of 2014.

If everything goes as planned, the 22-year-old will eventually regain full health and resume his promising career. With the recent retirement of Rivera, the Yankees are in need of a new long-term replacement to close games. With any luck, Goody could be a potential option down the road.

Last offseason, Goody answered some questions about his career. Check him out and also give him a follow on Twitter. Since he is coming back from such a major setback, he would undoubtedly enjoy as much support as he can get as he works to fulfill his baseball goals and dreams.

Nick Goody Interview:

Who was your favorite player growing up, and why?: My favorite player growing up was Rafael Furcal. I loved the Braves and I was also an infielder and switch hitter. I tried mirroring everything he did.

Talk a little bit about your experience playing at LSU:  Playing for LSU was everything I could have asked for and more. The fans are unbelievable, and the team and staff is in my opinion the best in the country. The atmosphere and competition you get there is second to none and definitely helped prepare me for pro ball. Definitely a blessing

How did it feel knowing that the Yankees thought so much of you that they drafted you twice?: Being drafted once by the best organization in baseball is an honor and a blessing. Being drafted twice by the same team just goes to show what a class act they are. I guess the big man upstairs wanted me to be a Yankee and I'm honored.

What is your favorite meal when you are on a team road trip?: Haha, my favorite meal when on a road trip... It's tough to say when you’re not piecing meals together at a gas station, LOL, but I mean I'm a big sushi guy, so I'd say when I can sushi.

If you could change anything about the 2012 season what would it be?: I honestly wouldn't have changed a thing this past season. Everything happens for a reason, although I'm not satisfied, and know I have a lot to work on to get to where I ultimately want to be.

What pitches do you throw, and which one do you consider your out pitch?: I throw a fastball, slider, and recently have been working on a changeup. If I had to choose my "out pitch," I guess it would have to be my slider.

Have you had a chance yet to pick the brain of Yankees legendary closer Mariano Rivera?: I have not met Mariano Rivera, although he's one guy I'd love to talk to. Every person that talks about him has nothing but great things to say. I'd have to say he's one of my favorite players. He's an all-around good guy on and off the field.

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

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Brian Garman: Getting to Know the Former Milwaukee Brewers Pitching Prospect

If you are left-handed and a pitcher, there may be a future for you in baseball. Especially if you have some talent. Former Milwaukee Brewers minor leaguer Brian Garman is finding that out as he works his way towards the major leagues.

The 25-year-old southpaw attended Wapakoneta High School in Ohio before moving on and having a stellar career with the University of Cincinnati.

The Brewers made him their 17th-round draft choice in 2010 and promptly started developing Garman as a reliever. Through four seasons, he has become a very effective bullpen piece, appearing in a combined 127 games (four starts) and going 12-7 with a 2.65 ERA and more than a strikeout per inning. He has pitched at Double-A for parts of each of the past two seasons, and 2014 should be a pivotal year for him, as he is on the verge of the big leagues.

Last offseason, Garman answered some questions about his career. Regrettably, his answers are just getting posted now but he is an intriguing prospect, and more importantly, a nice guy. 

*UPDATE* Unfortunately, Milwaukee released Garman earlier this offseason following some troubles he had with injuries. Hopefully, he will be able to bounce back and resume his major league aspirations with another team.

Make sure to check out his story and give him a follow on Twitter because he may just be pitching at a major league stadium near you in the not so distant future.

Brian Garman Interview:

Who was your favorite player when you were growing up, and why?: My favorite player when I was a kid was Nolan Ryan. I am too young to remember watching him pitch but my father always talked about him and it grew on me. I knew I wanted to pitch, and Nolan was the guy to watch.

As I got older, through high school and college, I really took to Roy Oswalt. Because of his small stature, I could relate to having to overcome being smaller than most, as far as pitchers go. He always seemed to be attacking hitters with no fear, and I feel like that is a guy to try to emulate.

How did you come to attend the University of Cincinnati?: Cincinnati hosted a Nike Baseball Camp when I was in high school. I didn't have any knowledge of UC prior to this camp. I came to the camp just as they were opening up their brand new, multi-million dollar facilities – new weight room, new ball diamond and club house. There was nothing better in the nation at that time. 

During the camp I caught the eye of the coaches, and they followed me from there. When it came to my junior year in high school and the recruiting picked up, Cincinnati was the first to call. They seemed excited about getting me on campus, and they had a good offer along with the top-notch facilities. I couldn't turn it down. I had a great four years there. 

Can you describe what your 2010 draft day experience was like?: My draft day was not at all the way I pictured it as a kid. I always knew it would happen, although I wasn't sure when or how it would go, and if you would have asked me to describe it, it wouldn't have been close to the way it actually happened.

My senior season at Cincinnati was a strong season, undoubtedly the best of the four, so I anticipated being drafted. I had been contacted by all MLB teams and had heard several things from the scouts that looking back on it now I never should have bought into. I was told the latest I was going to be drafted was 10th round from five or six different scouts. I was drafted in the 17th round. I was not happy. As I was watching some high school guys and some of my friends getting drafted in the seventh, eighth, ninth, 10th, 12th, and 14th rounds, I was pissed and I wasn't hiding it. So, to burn off some frustration, I left the house to go running. I left the house without anyone noticing; unintentionally. I ran to the track, and started running 100 yard sprints mumbling to myself that I wasn't good enough to get drafted in the top ten rounds as motivation to keep running. I ran home completely exhausted and walked in the door to my mom asking where the hell I had been because the Brewers called and drafted me in the 17th round. My reply was, ‘Good... took 'em long enough.’  I called my scout and we handled the rest of the contract/signing plans over the phone. 

What kind of feedback about your training and performance have you been getting from the Brewers organization?: I have not been told too much. On the training side of things they seem to be pleased. As far as performance goes, they don't say too much to me. I don't get too wrapped up in compliments or criticism. At this age I know what a strong performance is and what is not. If I am throwing the ball well then things will take care of themselves. 

Which pitches do you throw; and which is your best; and which do you believe needs the most work?: I throw a two-seam, four-seam fastball, curveball, slider, changeup. I wouldn't say that I have a best pitch, just a pitch that isn't the best, and that is my changeup. That is what needs the most work, but with that said, if I just throw it with confidence then it could be just as good as the others. I like to mix it up and throw all my pitches in any count, so I try not to label any as my best. 

Have you been surprised by the success you have had thus far?: I don't want to say that I am surprised by success because that is what I work for and I expect to have success. I have also had plenty of struggles along the way. I am not surprised by either successes or struggles. I understand it is part of the process and part of the game. I would like to think that during times of struggle that maybe I can surprise others with a comeback. There are plenty of lessons learned from both.

Are you comfortable being labeled as a left-handed specialist, or do you think you are capable of ever more, like starting or closing?: I am not particularly fond of the label left handed specialist. Hitters are hitters; I don't care from which side of the plate they choose to stand. I have been facing right handed hitters my entire life, I have never faced an all left-handed line-up, so I have some experience getting out right handed hitters. As far as starting or closing, I will pitch at any point throughout the game that the organization or manager feels I can have success and be an asset to the team. I will pitch whenever they call my number and hope it is often. I just want the ball. I don't care when.

Can you talk a little bit about the work you have done in the off-season teaching and working with youth?: I spend my offseason keeping busy. It is an opportunity to make slightly more money than the life-changing minor league salary I make, and a chance for me to teach the game to kids. I run my own pitching camp in my hometown and I help others with camps throughout the region. I also work with the Wapakoneta High School varsity baseball team five or six days a week. We lift, condition, talk mental game, and even do yoga classes during the offseason. I give individual lessons in the evenings as well. I substitute teach four or five days a week for a little money and to keep some structure. I find myself interacting with youth in almost everything I do during the offseason. I enjoy doing all that I do. I like to try to teach the game, but even if it's not baseball related I like to try to make an impact and try to create opportunities for kids. 

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

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Jamie Callahan: Boston Red Sox Pitching Prospect About to Explode on the Scene

Fire up the presses! The Boston Red Sox have another really good pitching prospect. No, seriously, they do. His name is Jamie Callahan and he is poised to join the short list of the best young hurlers in the organization.

The right-hander grew up in South Carolina and attended Dillon High School where he went 7-1 with a 0.89 ERA and 113 strikeouts in 50 innings.

Although Callahan had a scholarship to attend the University of South Carolina, who were coming off winning the College World Series, the Red Sox took him in the second round of the 2012 draft. A healthy bonus convinced him to forego school and start his professional career.

He just dipped his toes into the minors last year, appearing in a handful of games in the Gulf Coast League. That served as a good spring board to the 2013 season, as he went 5-1 with a 3.92 ERA in 13 games (12 starts), striking out 54 in 59.2 innings.

Callahan will be 19 for most of the 2014 season, which he will spend with his first full-season team. His low-to-mid 90s fastball and starter’s arsenal make him a prospect on the rise. lists a smoother delivery and fastball command as two of the biggest things he must work on to propel his development. However, both are typical areas of concern for young pitchers.

I was able to chat with Callahan prior to one of his Lowell games this past season. Not only was he one of the nicest players I have met in a long time, he is also clearly passionate about his job and determined to continue getting better. Don’t be surprised if his name starts coming up a lot more often in the Boston area in the coming years.

Jamie Callahan Interview:

How did you first become interested in baseball?:
I started playing when I was just four-years old in T-Ball. My dad gave me a ball and glove, and started playing catch. From that, the love of the game has just always been there. I just enjoy playing it.

Did you have a favorite team or player when you were growing up?: Being from the south, and South Carolina, the closest team was the Braves. My grandparents and great grandparents were Braves fans, so I was a big Chipper Jones and Braves fan too. John Smoltz, I loved watching him, so I guess the Braves have been my team.

Is there any pitcher you would like to sit down with and pick their brain?: Any guy that has MLB experience. It’s always great when we have them come through the clubhouse. It’s always great to sit down and ask them a couple of questions about what it feels like. Just to learn how to be a professional pitcher; how to be a big leaguer so to speak. I like to pick their brains for their experience, and kind of live through them.

What was your draft experience like in 2012?: Oh man, it was amazing. Actually, when I got the call, I had a Blackberry at the time and my scroll button wasn’t working, so I couldn’t make calls.

I was on my way to my local Sprint store, which was like 30 minutes away in Florence. So I got my phone fixed, and the draft, which was on the second day started at 12. I was on my way back and stopped at a gas station and got the call. I was pumping gas with my parents when I got the call. I was on my way into the store to buy a soda and I got the call. It was just completely a surprise that I got picked.

Had Boston been in touch with you before? How did you know they were interested in you?: I knew they were kind of interested, but there wasn’t really talk. I didn’t think they were actually going to take me.

I had a couple of calls; a call from the Orioles, but couldn’t get things worked out there.

It was just kind of a surprise. Going through the draft with Quincy (Red Sox scout Quincy Boyd), my family really liked him. My mom felt really comfortable with him, and talked with him a couple of times and didn’t really think they were going to take me in the second round; maybe the later rounds. It just so happened to work out. It seems like it was meant to be.

You originally committed to play for the University of South Carolina; how difficult was it to choose between them and the Red Sox?: It was very difficult. I told my parents that if I got such-and-such money I was going to go. I got that and I felt like the time was right and I was mature enough to take on the challenge. When I got that call, I knew I was ready for pro ball.

It was really tough to turn down a great program; a great school.

Did you do anything special to celebrate after you signed with Boston?: I went out and bought me a 2012 SRT Dodge Challenger. It was my dream car and what I wanted, so I went out and bought that. I just kind of enjoy it, but know that it only lasts for so long.

What pitches do you throw, and which one are you trying to work on the most?: I throw a fastball, curveball and a changeup.

I would have to say I am working on all the pitches. Just working on developing them and being able to throw them when I want, on command.

The curveball is probably the one I am struggling with right now. Sometimes it’s there, sometimes it’s not.

I just recently started throwing a changeup a lot more, and I’m getting comfortable with that. I’ll move on and try to get comfortable with the curveball so I can have a three-pitch arsenal. I’ll pull that out whenever I need to.

I would say that all of my pitches are in development right now. Just trying to learn how to pitch.

Now two years in with the Red Sox, how has your experience been with the organization?: I love it. It’s great. They’ve got a great coaching staff, all the way up. It’s just magnificent to be able to learn from their experiences.

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

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Mike Ekstrom: Determined Pitcher Still Pursuing His Goals

Getting to the major leagues can be a monumental task, but staying there can be just as difficult. Just ask pitcher Mike Ekstrom, who has alternately pitched on baseball’s biggest stage and in the high minors for the past six seasons.

The right-hander pitched collegiately at Oregon State and Point Loma Nazarene University before becoming a 12th-round draft choice of the San Diego Padres in 2004. He rapidly became a top prospect, winning 13 games in just his second professional season.

Ekstrom converted from starting to relief in 2008 and took off from there. He made his debut with the Padres on September 8, 2010 against the Los Angeles Dodgers, throwing two scoreless innings of relief in a losing effort. However, he did have the highlight of whiffing Dodgers’ slugger Manny Ramirez in the seventh inning of the game. He went on to go 0-2 that season with a 7.45 ERA in eight appearances.

Although he in the minors for most of 2009, he did spend more time in San Diego, posting 6.38 ERA in 12 relief appearances. Unfortunately, following the season, he was placed on waivers because a full-time spot couldn’t be found for him.

Since his time with the Padres, Ekstrom has pitched for the Tampa Bay Rays, Colorado Rockies, Oakland Athletics and Los Angeles Angels organizations. He has spent much of that time in the minors, but did have stints in the majors in 2010-11 (Tampa) and 2012 (Colorado).

All told, he has appeared in 51 big league games, all in relief, going 0-3 with a 5.61 ERA while striking out 45 in 61 innings.

In 10 minor league seasons, he has gone 66-49 with a 3.80 ERA and 11 saves.

The 30-year-old split this past season in the minors for the Athletics and Angels, going 3-3 with a 5.14 ERA in 38 relief appearances.

Most recently, he joined the Perth Heat of the Australian Baseball League for his winter ball. He has pitched well and put himself in position to seek a major league job in 2014.

Ekstrom answered some questions about his baseball career back in 2012. Due to negligence on the part of myself, it is only getting presented now. Take a look and get to know this determined pitcher better. After all, there’s a good chance he could be pitching at a stadium near you in the near future.

Mike Ekstrom Interview:

Who was your favorite player when you were growing up, and why?: Ken Griffey Jr., Jay Buhner, and Greg Maddux. I grew up in Oregon, so the Mariners were my hometown team. Griffey was everyone's favorite player in my neighborhood. 

When did you start feeling confident that professional baseball was going to be a possibility for you?: Not until about a month before the draft my junior year in college. I didn't receive letters from pro teams in high school, and through college pro baseball was never a major focus of mine. Honestly, I never really dreamt of being a pro baseball player when I was little (I was thinking more weatherman). It's been a great opportunity that popped up after college, but it was never really in my plans. 

Can you describe what your draft day experience was like?: When draft day came I knew I'd be drafted, I just wasn't sure when. I was back home in Oregon sitting on the couch waiting to hear when I'd be taken. Once the draft got into the eighth round or so my phone started ringing, and finally I was picked to start the twelfth. 

How difficult was it to adjust from being a starter to a reliever?: It was actually a pretty smooth transition for me. I was pitching so poorly as a starter in 2008, I looked at being sent to the bullpen as an opportunity to finish my season strong and create a new identity for my career. Luckily it worked out. At the time, it was June and I had about a 6.00 ERA in Double-A as a starter and by September I was called up to San Diego. It's crazy how baseball works out sometimes. 

Which pitches do you throw, and which is your best and which do you believe needs the most work?: Fastball, slider, and changeup… I feel like I can get outs with any of the three pitches, depending on the situation. Some days my slider is best, sometimes fastball, and sometimes the changeup works well. I throw mostly sinkers and sliders, but I'm confident in my changeup, I just don't use it as much.  

Can you talk a little bit about how you found out that you had been called up the major leagues for the first time (2008) and how that felt?: Obviously it felt great. It was a big surprise at the time. All my teammates were happy for me and it felt great to call family and friends to let them know. Especially making my debut in San Diego was awesome. My mom's from there and I went to college there, so I had a lot of fans at the game. 

What do you remember about the first hitter (Matt Kemp) you faced in the majors?: First pitch out… Supposed to be a fastball away, but missed my spot by about two feet and jammed him with a fastball in. I think it was a ground ball to short or third. 

What is your thought process like having pitched in the majors in parts of five seasons, but not yet finding a permanent spot?: Of course I'd like to be a five year established MLB vet at this point, but I'm pretty happy with how my career has gone. Baseball's brought a lot of great opportunities and experiences along the way. It can be frustrating to go up and down so many times (I think I've been DFA'ed five times and optioned about ten times), but it's a tough lifestyle to beat. I'm not gonna say it's totally taken away the thrill of getting called up, but I definitely have a different perspective about things than I did in 2008. If you don't have a positive outlook on things, it won't take long for the game to chew you up and spit you out. 

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

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Ty Buttrey: Boston Red Sox's Pitching Prospect Primed for Big Things

High school baseball prospects can be difficult to gauge, especially when they are pitchers. After all, these youngsters are usually not yet finished growing or filling out their frames. Nobody can truly tell what they will be when they reach full maturity.

Whenever a team covets a high school player enough to do whatever they can to lure them away from college in order to being them into the organization, it’s safe to say it’s because they possess special talent. Keeping that in mind, the Boston Red Sox must think awfully highly of pitcher Ty Buttrey.

The big right-hander attended Providence High School in Charlotte, North Carolina. He always stood out among his peers, but it all really culminated as a senior when he went 9-2 with a 0.91 ERA and 100 strikeouts. Naturally, he drew a lot of attention from colleges and was primed to attend the University of Arkansas.

Buttrey’s decision to be a college man was destined to be a difficult one. He was considered one of the best high school pitchers in the country when the Red Sox drafted him in the fourth round (151st overall selection) in 2012.

Determined to not let the talented young pitcher go, the Red Sox gave Buttrey a big bonus to convince him to start his professional career. Already possessing a fastball in the low-to-mid 90s and developing secondary offerings, it was a good gamble.

Following four games in the Gulf Coast League in 2012, he put in his first full professional season this year with the Lowell Spinners of the New York-Penn League. The 20-year-old showed why the Red Sox were right to be so high on him, as he went 4-3 with a 2.21 ERA in 13 starts. He struck out 35 batters and didn’t allow a home run in his 61 innings.

Having seen him pitch and also put in his work before games, I can attest to the serious nature in which Buttrey hones his craft. If he keeps defining his game as he progresses through the minors, the Red Sox will have another prominent prospect that will help them maintain their ranking as the top farm system in baseball, according to a recent Baseball America feature.

The pitcher recently took time out during his offseason to answer some questions about his career. Read on for a better look at one of Boston’s players of the future.

Ty Buttrey Interview:

Who was your favorite player when you were growing up, and why?:
My favorite player growing up was Roger Clemens because of his dominant presence on the mound, and how he attacked the strike zone and wasn't afraid of anyone.

How did you first find out that the Red Sox were interested in you?: I knew the Red Sox were interested in me when the area scout Quincy Boyd came to my house for an in-home meet and I answered questions and filled out forms.

What pitches do you throw and which do you think you need to work on the most?: I throw a four-seam, changeup and spike curve. The pitch I need to work on the most is my changeup because that makes every other pitch better.

What do you consider to be the primary strengths of the Boston organization?: The Red Sox have so many positive things going on for them that I can't pick just a few. They do a great job of putting me in the best position to succeed and the coaching is amazing.

How difficult is it to handle the attention that comes with being a top Red Sox prospect?: It's not difficult because I don't think of myself as a top prospect. I am just another player in the minor leagues and the goal is to get to the MLB. Nothing in the minors matters if you don't reach that goal.

What are your personal goals for 2014?: My personal goals for next year is to worry about things I can control and go out there and give it my best every game. Focus on getting ahead of the count and learning a better feel for my off speed.

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Monday, November 11, 2013

Danny Bethea: Boston Red Sox Catching Prospect Answers Some Questions

There is fierce competition in the farm system of the Boston Red Sox simply because of the impressive collection of talent the team has amassed in recent seasons. In particular, catcher is a position of great depth, as Ryan Lavarnway, Dan Butler, Jon Denney, Blake Swihart and Christian Vasquez are just a few of the young receivers of note. They aren’t the only ones however, as Danny Bethea has thrown his catcher’s mask into the ring in the hopes he will one day be calling games behind home plate at Fenway Park. 

After graduating from La Costa Canyon High School in California, Bethea enrolled at NAIA Grand Canyon University, where his father Pete had once been an All American. Danny played in 49 games during the 2010 season, hitting .329 with two home runs and 23 RBIs.
The following season, he attended Palomar College and really blossomed as a catcher. Appearing in 25 games, he hit .418 with eight RBIs and threw out an impressive 62.5 percent of base runners.

Joining his third school in as many years, Bethea enrolled at St. Johns as a junior. In two seasons as a member of the Red Storm, he played in a combined 107 games, hitting .270 with four home runs and 58 RBIs. His cumulative college career was enough to get him noticed by the major leagues, and the Red Sox made him their 34th-round selection in the 2013 MLB Draft.

The 23-year-old right-handed hitter endured some struggles during his first professional season. Playing with the Gulf Coast League and the short-season Lowell Spinners, he logged 45 total games, hitting a combined .227 with a home run and 24 RBIs. He was sound defensively but threw out only four of 36 base runners, something he will need to improve upon moving forward. In total, he was able to get his feet wet and find out what he needs to work on as he heads into his first spring training this winter.

Bethea recently answered some questions, so come and get to know the Boston prospect a little better.

Danny Bethea Interview:

Who was your favorite player when you were growing up, and why?: I always enjoyed watching Joe Mauer play because he is an all-around great baseball player. He is a great catcher and runs the defense well. On top of that, he can hit for average and power, which is tough to do as a catcher. He makes the game fun to watch.

What was your back-up plan if you hadn't received an opportunity to have a professional baseball career?: If I didn't get the opportunity to play professional baseball, I wanted to do commercial real estate. I have taken a real interest in commercial real estate because it is my father’s profession and has been in my family since I was born. If for whatever reason my baseball career gets cut short, I still want to practice commercial real estate. I have always been intrigued by it.

How did you first find out that the Red Sox were interested in you?: I first found out the Red Sox were interested in me after a collegiate baseball game when I attended St. Johns University. After we got done playing Seton Hall, the area scout for the Boston Red Sox and I had a short conversation. He expressed that the organization was interested in me.

What was your draft experience like?: My draft experience was a bit of a nail bitter to say the least. Nothing is guaranteed in the draft and weird things happen all the time. I knew I was going to be a senior sign, so I knew my name wouldn't be called (if at all) until the late rounds. My father, my girlfriend (Caddy) and I were on the golf course trying to keep ourselves occupied during the last day of the draft. Needless to say, it was the worst round of golf I have ever played because I was nervous about what was going to happen the whole time.

The rounds got later and later and I grew more nervous. By this time we had just finished golf and headed to the car and I started to realize that professional baseball might not be in the cards. Just as I am loading the golf clubs into the car, my girlfriend pops around the corner and says ‘the Boston Red Sox just drafted you.’ I was relieved and excited at the same time, and it was a special moment; something I will never forget. I am very thankful to the Boston Red Sox for giving me the chance to live my dream.

What do you believe are some of the strongest aspects of the Boston organization?: I think that the Boston Red Sox organization is well rounded and efficient. Some of the strongest aspects of the organization is their player development. They really take the time to make sure all their players are getting the instruction they need to maximize their potential.

Another strong aspect of the organization is the state of the art facilities they have down in spring training. They recently built a new park in Fort Meyers, and it has everything anybody needs to get better, ranging from hitting cages to fields to training room equipment. The Boston Red Sox have a long line of tradition and history in its organization and it is a privilege to be a part of a winning tradition.

What is one part of your game that you hope to improve on the most?: The part of my game I hope to improve the most is throwing to second base. I need to become quicker and shorten my release to have a better chance of throwing runners out. I also have some improvements to do offensively.

What is one rule you would change in baseball?: I wouldn't change any rules of baseball because it sets it apart from other sports and makes it unique.

What things are you looking forward to as your first spring training approaches?: I am looking forward to a lot of things entering my first spring training. I am excited to meet new members of the organization and see friends I have made over my first year. Also, I look forward to working new members of the coaching staff and training staff. 

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