Top 100 Baseball Blog

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Checking In With the Boston Red Sox's Farm System

Following a stellar debut, 22-year-old starting pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez has Boston Red Sox fans justifiably licking their chops about who else looms on the horizon of the team’s farm system. There’s good reason for such optimism, as the organization was recently tabbed by Baseball America as having the second-most talent of any other in the game. Like other more typical produce found on farms, this time of year can be a little early for prospects to be ready. Irregardless, there’s a lot to be excited about in the minors for Boston, so let’s take a look at some of the early highlights, level by level, of some of the more intriguing kids.

Triple-A Pawtucket:

Outfielder Jackie Bradley, Jr. has been unable to find a groove in the majors over parts of the past three seasons, hitting a combined .192 in 170 games. However, he is still just 25, plays some of the best defense in the game, and is raking thus far during his time in the minors—to the tune of a .339 clip with a .865 OPS. Although it’s possible he will be included in a trade later this year, it’s not out of the question that he eventually finds his way back to Boston and finally lives up to his substantial potential.

Brian Johnson is another southpaw starter who may be right on the heels of Rodriguez in jumping to Boston if an opportunity arises. The 24-year-old, who was a 2012 first-round pick, has dominated at every level during his young career despite not having overpowering stuff. Triple-A has been no exception, as he is 6-3 with a 2.60 ERA in 10 starts, including 57 strikeouts in 55.1 innings. His last start, on May 29th, was a thing of beauty, as he went six perfect innings, whiffing nine batters.

Speaking of lefty pitching, let’s not forget about Henry Owens, who is the most coveted in the entire Boston system. Although he’s had control issues in his first nine starts (35 walks in 54.1 innings), he still has a 3.15 ERA, 42 strikeouts and 37 hits allowed. Just 22, it looks like he has just a little fine tuning left before being ready to contribute at the big league level.

Double-A Portland:

He doesn’t get a lot of press but Carlos Asuaje produces. After combining for a .310 batting average, 15 home runs and 101 RBIs last year between two levels, the 23-year-old has continued his surge after being bumped up yet another level. Just 5’9”, he is hitting .265 with three home runs and 25 RBIs in 45 games, chipping in a .374 OBP and versatility in the field, as he has played second, third and in the outfield so far during the young season.

Despite being a 2012 first rounder, lanky right-hander Pat Light sputtered during his first three professional seasons. After exclusively operating as a starter, he has converted to bullpen duty this year and seems to have taken a liking to it. He has appeared in 17 games, posting a 2.45 ERA with 32 strikeouts and just 15 hits allowed in 25.2 innings. With a reputation for a live arm that can generate mid-90s fastballs when he is on, relieving may allow Boston to get the most out of his skill set now that he is 24 and reached the crossroads of his career.

High Single-A Salem:

Quietly, outfielder Manuel Margot has become one of the most highly regarded prospects in Boston’s system. Despite hitting .293 with 12 home runs and 42 steals last year, he didn’t get the kind of attention one might expect for such a showing. Speed is his calling card but he can also do a lot of other baseball things well. In 28 games in 2015, he’s hitting .257 with a home run, 8 RBIs and 11 stolen bases. He has just returned from an injury that kept him out of action for three weeks this month, so look for him to heat up even more now that he is once again healthy.

He may be hitting a modest .254 with a .286 OBP in 32 games but there is still plenty to like about second baseman Wendell Rijo. First, the right-handed hitter is just 19 (won’t turn 20 until after the season) and already has two home runs, a triple and 15 doubles (after 27, 6 and 9 last year). Such pop from someone so young is a very positive sign, as that’s often one of the final aspects of a prospect’s game to come around.

Left-handed pitcher Daniel McGrath was signed as a project out of Australia in 2012. Still just 20, he’s flashed real growth after mixed results during his first two seasons. Although he is currently on the disabled list, he previously made six starts, going 1-1 with a 1.80 ERA. Lacking top-end stuff, he has shown an ability to get batters out, punching out 31 batters in 30 innings, while walking 18 and permitting 12 base hits. If he can continue his upward trend upon his return, the Red Sox may have another intriguing southpaw on their hands.

Single-A Greenville:

One of the most talked about prospects in baseball is Cuban sensation Yoan Moncada. Signed to a mammoth contract just a few months ago, the 20-year-old switch-hitting second baseman is only nine games into his professional American career. He has hit the ground running, with a .257 average, a home run and five RBIs to his name. A number of baseball insiders believe he’s talented enough that he would have been in the running to be the first overall pick of this year’s draft if he had been eligible, so it should be fascinating to see what he’s able to accomplish over the course of a full season.

Rafael Devers is proof positive that the Boston farm system is a current embarrassment of riches. The 18-year-old third baseman is already in his third professional season and has developed at a rapid pace. This should be even more celebrated given his youth and the fact he plays a premium position. Even so, there are a number of other young players in the system that are mentioned before him. A left-handed hitter, he has scorched the Sally League so far in 2015, to the tune of .340 with 13 doubles, two home runs and 20 RBIs in 40 games. With a .328 career average so far in his minor league career, the sky seems to be the limit in terms of what the youngster may ultimately become.

Last year’s first-rounder, right-handed pitcher Michael Kopech, is looking like a sound selection in his first full professional season. The 19-year-old came directly from high school and is being eased along, but his potential has come across loud and clear. In eight starts (32.2 innings), he is 2-2 with a 2.76 ERA and 38 strikeouts. With a big fastball and the potential for other plus offerings, there’s a very good chance he will be part of the next wave of top pitching prospects to appear on the horizon of the high minors in the near future.

Statistics via

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Thursday, May 28, 2015

An Interview With The Wire's Kwame Patterson

It’s with rare exception that a television show can be transformative and provide social value in addition to entertaining its viewers. The Wire and its gritty portrayal of the many facets of culture in Baltimore, Maryland is one that not only met that standard but comfortably cleared the bar. Still my favorite show by far, it’s always a pleasure to reconnect with it in any way possible. When a recent opportunity became available to chat with former cast member Kwame Patterson, you better believe I jumped at the chance.

Although this is a baseball; blog, this isn’t the first time The Wire has been a topic covered within these hallowed web pages. Earlier in the year, actor Tray Chaney discussed his experiences with the production, and now I have the pleasure of adding a conversation with Patterson to my archives.

Patterson appeared in 17 episodes of The Wire as hardened street soldier Monk Metcalf. His character was a stark representation of how the streets can consume and strip away humanity. In a world lacking structure and hope, Monk’s ability to find purpose, no matter how negative the environment, shows what can happen when life options are so limited. In a cast of memorable characters, he resonates as much as anyone.

Although The Wire is what Patterson is best known for, he has been working steadily in Hollywood for a decade. He has appeared in other popular productions like The Shield, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, and Ray Donovan among other projects.

Keep reading to see what Patterson had to say about his time working on The Wire.

Kwame Patterson Interview:

Please tell us a little bit about yourself and where you grew up.: I grew up in Plainfield, New Jersey till I was about 16, then I moved to Baltimore, and that is where I grew up until I move to L.A. in 2006.

How did you land the role of Monk Metcalf, and were you given any hand or did you lend any personal experience or research in helping create his persona/personality?: I was asked to come in and audition for Pat Mornan Casting, and when I originally booked the role, I didn’t have a character name, it was just “lieutenant #1.” I was only supposed to be in one episode but after shooting my first episode, I received a phone call from Pat Moran Casting saying ‘how would you like to be a regular character,’ and Monk Metcalf was born.

My personal experience in playing a role like Monk Metgalf was easy because I grew up in the streets of Jersey and Baltimore. I won’t get into details about my past but it’s the reason my character became bigger and so well loved.

Season 4 of The Wire is roundly seen as the series' best. What do you think it is about this that resounded so much with viewers?: Season four hit so close to home because it really shed light on what our inner city youth from Baltimore were really going through. It was so well written and the young kids who they signed on to bring these words to life, truly did…Shout out to Jermaine Crawford, Julito McCullum, Maestro Harrell and Tristan Wilds.

How frequently do you hear from people regarding your involvement in the show and the impact it has had on them? Also, do you encounter many people who have a hard time distinguishing Kwame Patterson the person from Monk Metcalf the character?: I hear from people all the time, from fans to friends to industry people. And people can definitely distinguish the difference between Kwame Patterson and Monk Metcalf. I get told all the time that before they met me in person they would have been scared to meet me in an alley, but once they meet me they’re like ‘you’re so cool and down to earth.’

Your character's confrontation with Cutty in Season 4 is one of the show's more memorable scenes? How did you go about preparing for that?: That was definitely probably one of my favorite scenes to do. We had a lot of fun and a lot of laughs that night; plenty of outtakes that were never seen.

What was your favorite scene or moment on the show?: Shooting Cutty in the leg…. LOL

What do you believe is the lasting legacy and impact of the show?: I believe The Wire, when it’s all said and done, will go down in history as one of the greatest shows ever to be written on TV, and people will still be talking about this show long after me and you are gone.

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Sunday, May 24, 2015

An Interview with Chicago Cubs' Pitching Prospect Rob Zastryzny

Hope springs eternal in the friendly confines of Chicago’s Wrigley Field. Despite last winning the World Series in 1908, the Cubs have annually captivated their fans over the years with possibilities of grandeur. Expectations are high once again this season in the Windy City, as the Cubbies have assembled a strong roster, combining savvy veterans with a veritable stable of young talent. However, not all of the youngsters have graduated to the majors, and there are still a significant number of prospects looming on the horizon. This includes left-handed pitcher Rob Zastryzny.

Following a decorated stint with Calallen High School in Corpus Christi, Texas, and a standout career with the University of Missouri, Zastryzny was selected by the Cubs in the second round (41st overall pick) of the 2013 draft; the team’s next pick after current phenom, Kris Bryant.

The 23-year-old southpaw has the ability to be a starter in the majors. In his three professional seasons, he has gone a combined 5-7 with a 4.22 ERA and 140 strikeouts in 141.1 innings covering 37 games (33 starts). This scouting report will give a good idea of his potential, which he is continuing to unlock. He has reached Double-A this season but has battled injuries and made just three appearances thus far in 2015.

I had a chance to ask Zastryzny some questions back in 2013. Keep reading for more, and also make sure to follow him on Twitter as he continues his journey towards the major leagues.

Rob Zastryzny Interview:

Who was your favorite player when you were growing up, and why?: My favorite player growing up was Craig Biggio by far. He always hustled everything out and played the game the right way. He was never the most physically gifted guy but he used every bit of talent and skill he had.

How well did your experience at the University of Missouri-Columbia prepare you for your baseball career?: Very well. I was blessed to have played for such a great organization for three years and I wouldn't change a thing. My pitching coach, Matt Hobbs, was by far the most influential person in my pitching career. He taught me that pitching is as much mental as it is physical and that pitchers set the tempo of every game.

You were a tremendous hitter in high school (career .401 hitter). How difficult was it to give that up to focus on pitching?: I loved hitting. I still go and hit every now and then for fun. But I knew that if I was going to progress in the game of baseball it would be as a pitcher. To tell you the truth, I was very excited I went to a National League team just so I could get the opportunity to hit again.

What pitches do you throw and which do you think you need to work on the most?: I throw a fastball, curveball, slider and changeup. I need to work on off-speed command the most.

How did you first find out that the Cubs were interested in you?: The area scout came to see me twice my junior year at Missouri, but other than that I had no idea.

Can you describe your emotions/surroundings when you found out you had been drafted?: It was a very surreal experience. I didn't want it to be a big deal, so it was only my immediate family at the house. But the dream isn't to be drafted, the dream is to play and be successful in the big leagues and help my team win.

Can you talk a bit about how your first visit with the Cubs went after you signed?: I went to Arizona four days after I was drafted and everyone there treated me well. The coaches in the AZL did a great job introducing me to pro ball and help me learn all I needed to learn before being sent to Boise.

What do you think are your best assets that you bring to the Chicago organization?: I hope to bring leadership to whatever team they decide to put me on, and I hope that I can help the team win games and help the organization as much as I can in years to come.

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Sunday, May 17, 2015

Arky Vaughan: Baseball's Forgotten Star

Shortstop Arky Vaughan is a Hall-of-Fame baseball player yet remains one of the least remembered and under-appreciated players in the history of the game. Described by New York Times columnist Red Smith as “baseball's most superbly forgotten man,” his relative absence from the collective baseball memory can be attributed to a number of things, including his untimely death at the age of 40 in a extinct volcano crater lake.

Born in Clifty, Arkansas in 1912, Floyd Ellis Vaughan (He later changed his name to Joseph Floyd after converting to Catholicism) was raised in California and grew up to be a tremendously talented athlete. Among his schoolmates was one Richard Milhous Nixon. Although Vaughan only briefly lived in the Razorback State, his nickname stuck throughout his life.

After a stand-out prep career at Fullerton High School and for organized community leagues, the shortstop was signed by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the winter of 1931 after his neighbor passed along information about the talented youngster to a scout.

The left-handed hitting Vaughan played his first professional season in 1931 with the Wichita Aviators, hitting .338 with 21 home runs. That was more than enough to earn him a ticket to play for the Pirates the following year. Still raw in different areas of the game, especially in the field, he was put under the tutelage of former Pittsburgh shortstop great Honus Wagner, who worked almost exclusively with him—with outstanding results.

During a 14-year career with the Pirates and the Brooklyn Dodgers (1932-1948), Vaughan hit a combined .318 with 96 home runs and 2,103 base hits. He was also a terrific defender, and his 72.9 career WAR is 83rd best of all time. He was out of baseball from 1944 through 1946 because of a decision to retire early but came back for his two final seasons.

His other achievements include:

He hit at least .300 in all 10 of his seasons with the Pirates.

He walked 937 times during his career while striking out on just 276 occasions.

In 1941, he became the first player to hit two home runs in an All Star game when he took Sid Hudson and Eddie Smith deep.

He made nine All-Star teams.

His 136 career OPS+ is better than many baseball greats, including George Brett (135), Joe Morgan (132), Roberto Clemente (130) and Carl Yastrzemski (130).

Despite his quiet demeanor, he joined many of his teammates in portraying themselves in the 1943 Red Skelton film, Whistling in Brooklyn.

His three year “retirement” came at the end of the 1943 season with the Dodgers after standing up to manager Leo Durocher for berating teammate Bobo Newsome

Although there were undoubtedly other reasons why he decided to stay home, the confrontation was certainly an aberration from his day-to-day persona. Perhaps it was for the best that he decided to return in 1947, which was the year Durocher was suspended for his association with gamblers.

Vaughan’s re-entry to baseball had a positive impact on at least one person. Years later, Jackie Robinson would tell a New York Times reporter "He was one fellow who went out of his way to be nice to me when I was a rookie. I needed it." The man who broke baseball’s color barrier faced many challenges that first season, so it was important to have the support of such a respected veteran.

After he retired, Vaughan never received more than 29 percent of the votes from the writer’s Hall of Fame ballots and ultimately had to wait until 1985 when he was finally enshrined via the Veteran’s Committee, thus confirming his relative anonymity in the modern day. That point was truly driven home when the Hall released commemorative envelopes to celebrate his impending induction with his last name spelled “Vaughn.” Even when he was being appreciated he was under-appreciated.

Sadly, he never lived to see his induction or how his baseball legacy was shaped following his playing days. In 1952, just four years after his final major league season, he was dead from a strange accident at the age of 40.

After leaving baseball, he returned to California to live with his wife and four children on their sheep ranch in Eagleville. He was also an avid fisherman, and on August 30, 1952 he and his friend, Bill, took a boat out on nearby Lost Lake. It wasn’t your standard lake, as the water actually sat in the crater of a long-extinct volcano.

In the midst of their fishing, the boat capsized. The two men struggled to make it to shore. Just moments from hitting land they both succumbed in 20-foot deep water.

Initially, there were conflicting reports that the accident had been caused by a sudden storm or Vaughan had gotten entangled in fishing gear. However, a full account of the actual events was reported by Bill McCurdie in a January 13, 1986 issue of the Los Angeles Times:

On Aug. 30, 1952, Bill Wimer, Arky's friend and neighbor, visited the Vaughan ranch to talk Arky into going fishing. Arky declined, saying he had too much work to do that day, but Wimer convinced him to change his mind, saying the work would be there when he returned.
Arky asked his wife, Margaret, who had grown to love the outdoors nearly as much as her husband, if she wanted to join them, but she declined. Had she gone, one relative said, they would have fished from the shore of the lake instead of going out in the boat…
When Arky and his companion found a place where the trout were biting, Wimer, a logger and a hulking man of more than 200 pounds, stood in the boat to cast. Verne Wheeler, an elderly man who witnessed the incident from the shore of Lost Lake, told authorities of how the boat overturned, sending both men into the chilly water.
Arky was a good swimmer but Wimer apparently was not. Both men headed toward the shore but Wimer began to struggle long before he got there. Once he realized his plight, Wimer began to panic. Arky tried to help his companion, but, outweighed by more than 50 pounds, was unsuccessful. About 25 feet from shore, both men went under and never resurfaced. Their bodies were recovered the next day.
The Fullerton Daily News Tribune, Vaughan’s hometown newspaper, eulogized their quiet hero with an observation that he would likely see his record fade more quickly than most of his peers. “He lacked only one thing—a colorful personality. Those who knew him best believe he would have been one of the game's greatest heroes had he been endowed with the sparkling personality that made lesser players great.”

His younger brother Bob remembered him similarly in later years. “It's like I said when Arky was inducted to the Orange County Sports Hall of Fame (in 1982), if Arky would have been there, he would have said, 'Thank You.' And that would have been it. But he'd have meant it."

In 1999, Pittsburgh Pirates fans were polled on their opinion of the greatest shortstop in team history. Of the more than 14,000 votes cast, Wagner was the justifiably clear-cut winner with over 11,000 tallies. Dick Groat and Jay Bell trailed with just under 1,000 votes a piece. Sadly, Vaughan barely registered on the ballot with 264 votes, affirming his status as baseball’s forgotten star.

Arky Vaughan was a baseball gem whose accomplishments have sadly faded like old photographs. He may have had a quiet demeanor and met an early end but none of that should detract from what he did on the field. Hopefully, his legacy will experience a comeback, much like the final years of his playing career, and he will be forever remembered in the way he should have been from the start.


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Sunday, May 3, 2015

Corey Black: An Interview with the Chicago Cubs' Pitching Prospect

Right-handed pitcher Corey Black is one of the up-and-rising prospects in baseball. With his ongoing development and steady production, he finds himself knocking on the door of the major leagues for a team with one of the most promising futures—the Chicago Cubs.

Now 23, Black was selected by the New York Yankees in the fourth round of the 2012 draft out of Faulkner University in Montgomery, Alabama. The California native dominated the small conference, going 11-2 with a 1.53 ERA in 2012.

Despite a strong showing in the early going in the minors with the Yankees, Black was traded in 2013 along with significant financial considerations to the Cubs for aging star Alfonso Soriano. The hurler showed why he was so coveted, as he went 4-0 with a 2.88 ERA in five starts in high Single-A following the deal.

Now 23, Black is pitching, and pitching well, in Double-A. He has the arsenal to be a starter in the majors but could also be a valuable piece in the bullpen, at least to start his career. As the Cubs continue to make significant strides towards relevance, don’t be surprised to see him making contributions in the Windy City as the summer days grow longer.

I was able to interview Black in the winter of 2014. Continue reading for more on this exciting pitching prospect, and check him out on Twitter to keep up with him as the season progresses.

Corey Black Interview:

Who was your favorite player when you were growing up, and why?: I grew up an Alex Rodriguez and Ken Griffey Jr. fan. I loved the athleticism from both athletes, and of course the power. Growing up as a position player only, I strived to be as good as them.

Can you think of a particular moment in your past when you thought professional baseball could be in the cards for you?: Probably when I was 14. I played with 18-year-olds that had just made the Aflac All-American team, and I was holding my own with these amazing players.

Can you describe what the draft process was like for you?: It was stressful for me. I had been told so much going into the draft, I was expecting too much. All in all, it all worked out for me.

What pitches do you throw and which do you think you need to work on the most?: Fastball, curveball, slider and changeup. I love the way all of my pitches have progressed. Of all my pitches I think I need to work on my slider because last year with the Yankees, we tried changing my slider to a cutter, and then back to a slider, so it was inconsistent until the very end of last year.

You throw very hard, especially for someone who is considered "smaller" for a pitcher. Do you get a lot of surprised reactions from hitters/coaches/scouts?: Not as much anymore because everybody has a scouting report. So everyone knows who is who no matter the size.

What was it like finding out you had been traded to the Cubs in exchange for a star like Alfonso Soriano?: It was crazy! I had never ever thought of myself being traded straight up for someone I grew up watching. It goes to show the Cubs really like me and I am doing everything I can to make it to the big club and help out. 

Who has been your most influential coach or manager?: My most influential coach was my coach in college my junior year (Faulkner University). Coach McCarthy taught me that it is just a game, to have fun and don't be so tense because you could be doing much worse like sitting behind a desk.

What are some differences you have noticed between the Chicago and New York franchises?: Not much. Both are historic franchises and both do things the right way. One thing is that the Cubs are a little more laid back and let you play a little bit more.

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