Category Archives: minors

pug marks, May 16

photo by Samara Pearlstein

It is raining like the dickens here, and thundering, and there’s a tornado watch on the western part of the state, so while everyone is going to TRY to get the game in tonight, I’m not at all sure that we will. Hopefully we will. Just had a few things I wanted to dump on you lot anyways.

pug mark 1
Sean Casey feeds the homeless, is too awesome for words. Only not quite, because the Herald managed a whole article’s worth of words on him, and I’m adding to it here.

Apparently, after Monday’s game Casey didn’t go back to the hotel, instead going to Lawrence so he could be up at 6 am to work at a meal center. You guys. I can’t even express the awesomeness that is Sean Casey. The dude deserves a medal or something just for helping to restore my faith in the fact that there are anti-Barry-Bondses and anti-ARods in baseball these days.

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You know how I’ve been puzzling and sobbing uselessly over Bondo’s first inning struggles? Of course you do. We’ve all noticed it, and we’ve all been helplessly horrified by it.

Well, a new Motown Tiger calling himself Sven Draconian showed up on the boards, and he comes bearing answers. It’s fascinating, it makes sense, and he’s a very very very dedicated scorer. Top work, Sven Draconian.

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You may notice a little box-a-ma-jig on the right-hand side of this post. It’s a new feature here at MVN that allows me to occasionally point you guys in the direction of Take 75 North, the Detroit Tigers minor league blog here at the Network. It’ll show a couple of Matt’s most recent posts, which are good reads, because Matt is perhaps unhealthily obsessed with the Tigers’ minor league teams. He’s not photoshopping their heads onto penguins, though, so it’s definitely a safer bet than over here. Go read!

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Some old dude is going around Michigan telling people that he’s Brandon Inge’s dad, but he isn’t. Weird. Just weird.

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Photos photos photos photos photos!

The photo set from the first game of this series (Dice-K/Nate) is now up on flickr. There will be a proper photo post at the end of the series, but if you want to check that one out first, thar she be.

ADDED pug mark 6
Bondo to the DL. Blah. It’s retroactive though, so I think he doesn’t miss more than his next supposed start. Better to let it heal completely than having him tear up his finger more and adding a patch of scarring to it that screws up his pitching.

ADDED pug mark 7
The rainout means that I hauled my rear all the way downtown and back just to sit in traffic. Auuuugh. I’ll be at the afternoon game tomorrow, which means waking up EARLY, whine whine whine. Dunno ’bout the night game, it depends on whether or not my brother goes to that one. Either way, posting may take a bit to recover, as I’ll be a gibbering wreck and have to be up early to work on Friday. I plan to spend this entire weekend not moving.

a thought on baby catchers

photo by Samara Pearlstein

So I’m sitting here watching the Red Sox/Mariners game, and Matsuzaka is being all kinds of careful with Kenji Johjima. I get to thinking, you know, Johjima hit him really well in Japan League, and is hitting really well right now, all of which is probably contributing to Matsuzaka’s tentativeness (Daisuke went on to strike him out, but ignore that for now).

This got me thinking about my favorite pet whine topic: BABY CATCHERS.

This is a whine topic because, to put it simply, we don’t have any. I mean, obviously that’s a literal lie; we have a minor league system, and they have catchers on all those teams. The Whitecaps even have Jeff Kunkel, a baby Tiger catcher whom I adore because he’s a Wolverine (I do not say former…. once a Wolverine, always a Wolverine) (and while I’m watching a Mariners game, my mind often turns to another Wolverine, JJ Putz, who’s makin’ good in the Majors out there in Seattle).

But none of our baby catchers are tearing the snot out of the minors or anything like that, and so none of them are making the kind of clamorous noise that would convince the Tigers’ front office that they’re ready to slide into Pudge’s place when his battered ancient catcher’s body finally explodes into a million pieces (each of which will still insist that it’s good to go and can totally play in tomorrow’s game).

Now, some of them could be pretty good defensive catchers, and some of them could be pretty good at calling games and handling pitchers. I’d assume most of them are, or they wouldn’t even be in the minors. But you HAVE to hit to some degree to get to the majors. You just have to. If you’re some super magical amazing Gold Glove style defender, maybe you’ll make it without hitting much, but… well, unfair as it may be, the Tigers have become accustomed to having the catcher’s spot in the lineup filled with someone who is, in addition to all the defensive wonders and the unmatched skill in pitcher groping, a very accomplished hitter.

I mean, look at the superbasicidiot current stats for the starting catchers (or top two play-time-getting catchers per team, in the case of AA and A squads) of our minor league teams:

Dane Sardinha, Toldeo Mudhens (AAA): .258/.288/.318 with 1 HR, 3 BB and 18 SO in 23 games.
Steve Torrealba, Erie Seawolves (AA): .265/.294/.286 with 0 HR, 2 BB and 9 SO in 15 games.
Joel Roa, Erie Seawolves (AA): .222/.250/.370 with 1 HR, 0 BB and 6 SO in 11 games.
Dusty Ryan, Lakeland Flying Tigers (A): .180/.241/.420 with 4 HR, 3 BB and 20 SO in 14 games.
Adrian Casanova, Lakeland Flying Tigers (A): .256/.293/.333 with 0 HR, 2 BB and 6 SO in 11 games.
James Skelton, West Michigan Whitecaps (A): .304/.328/.321 with 0 HR, 2 BB and 10 SO in 15 games.
Jeff Kunkel, West Michigan Whitecaps (A): .132/.195/.158 with 0 HR, 3 BB and 9 SO in 11 games.

…. aaaaand I can’t seem to find the ’07 stats for the O-Tigs (short season A), so, eh (probably because they haven’t started playing yet this season… aaaaand I’m an idiot).

(On a sidenote, I was wondering what on earth had happened to Maxim St. Pierre. He was definitely a Tiger in ’06… he was on the Team Canada provisional roster for the World Baseball Classic… he somehow ended up on the Royals, and the Royals sent him to the Brewers for a pitcher, Ben Hendrickson. I can’t find him on any of the Brewers’ minor league rosters, though. He has basically disappeared into the baseball ether. Anyone know more?)

Obviously all these numbers are suffering from small sample sizes, but they’re still not incredibly encouraging. What I see is a bunch of guys struggling to hit for average (James Skelton temporarily excepted), with little or no patience at the plate, and with no power to compensate for these bad habits (Dusty Ryan temporarily excepted). None of those numbers leap off the computer screen and scream readiness to start ascending rapidly through the ranks. Jeff Kunkel’s numbers actually made me WINCE when I saw them. To put it bluntly, there ain’t no Cameron Maybin in this group here.

This problem isn’t something that the Tigers suffer alone. Most teams have little or nothing in their minor league systems when it comes to catching prospects. The teams that DO have catching prospects, then, are going to want to hang onto their guys, or else demand insane lots of things for them. It’s not something that can be easily addressed via trade.

Our backup catchers are Vance Wilson, who is a hundred years old and on his way out just like Pudge, and Mike Rabelo, who is good enough to backup, but who is unlikely to ever rise above that (perfectly respectable) role. This is not something that can be addressed with what we already have.

So we come back to the start of this post, when I was thinking about Kenji Johjima.

What about those other leagues?

Mightn’t there be another pretty good catcher over there, or at least a catcher who is better than Mike Rabelo or Dane Sardinha? Someone in the Japanese League… maybe even someone in the Korean leagues? I honestly don’t know. I don’t think the Japanese League is packed chock full of Kenji Johjimas; he’s a damn good player, not someone you find every day, but… it’s a possibility, right? I assume someone in the Tigers’ front office is looking into it. It might turn out to be the only possible solution when Pudge finally has to bow out.

Or Jeff Kunkel can start hitting and become the next great Michigan catcher. You know. Whichever.

(The baby catcher in the photo at the top of this post is my cousin Sam. He plays for the Walled Lake Central Vikings. Right now he is hitting much better than most of the Tigers’ catching prospects.)

Typing “O-Tigs” makes me crack up

In case you were unaware (I’m not sure how much it was bruited around outside of New England), there was an event called Futures at Fenway today. It was a double-header, the morning game featuring the single-A Red Sox affiliate and the night game featuring the triple-A Red Sox affiliate. They could do this because the Sox are on a west coast road trip and the channel that televises their games could therefore show a game at 2pm, a game at 8 pm, and the regular Sox game at 10 pm, and because this is Red Sox Nation, a lot of people would go to both minor league games (they were on the same ticket), and most people would watch at least parts of all 3 games on TV.

The reason I bring this up is because the first game, the NY-Penn League matchup, was the Lowell Spinners vs. the Oneonta Tigers and I, being the sick kitten I am, watched it to see what there was to be seen.

I took notes on the game and a lot of them had to do with the Spinners, and the fact that Dave McCarty was announcing, but what I took down about the O-Tigs is as follows:

Tom Thornton out of Marlboro, MA starting for the O-Tigs. Oh gross, he’s a Notre Dame kid. I will now take a moment to resent Brad Lidge for little reason.

Crudnuggets, Ronnie Bourquin (out of tOSU) is playing third but Jeff Kunkel (out of U of M) isn’t starting. Ronnie Bourquin has ham hands. I’m guessing he gets moved somewhere else if he advances beyond this level; probably first base if they’ve got room to stash him there.

Best name so far: Deik Scram, the leadoff hitter for the O-Tigs. It;s pronounced Deek Skram. I love it.

Ha ha, Ronnie Bourquin got pump-faked into running for home, got stuck in a rundown and was the last out of an inning-ending double play. Yeah, good Buckeye fundamentals. I realize that a lot of guys would have gotten stuck in that play and I have absolutely no basis for trashing on Buckeye fundamentals, but it looks pretty in type, so I’m gonna go with it.

Thornton has a real high kick. His arm… he’s not coming way over the top with it? Almost a 3/4 slot. McCarty points out that when he throws his changeup he fans his glove a little. In fact, McCarty managed to pick this up after seeing him throw the changeup, uh, twice. Ruh roh.

Thornton’s delivery is a little jerky too, but at a different point [than that of Spinners starter Kristofer Johnson]. For Johnson the pause comes right when he lifts his front leg up and his glove and ball hand are still together. Thornton’s pause is inconsistent, sometimes he doesn’t do it, and it comes when his pitching arm is extended backwards and his front leg is in the air. Because of this it looks a little awkward when he comes down on that front leg; the stress on his knee looks slightly above average. He comes down on it hard and there’s a slight twist to it. The twist probably offsets some of the shock of coming down that hard but it can’t be good for the tendons in there; the knee is not a joint that’s really meant to move in any direction other than straight up and down.

Almost everyone on the field is wearing high socks. Minor league baseball is hotness.

Esposito, #23, of the Spinners, hits a ball hiiiiigh off the Monster. Good for him, in another ballpark, even a ML ballpark, that’s gone. McCarty notes once again that Thornton had thrown the changeup and fanned his glove. Although it’s not too likely that Esposito picked up on that, it’s possible he did, since the information was there for the taking. Maybe one of his coaches tipped him to it. Either way, not good, kid’s gonna hafta clean that up right quick, even in a short-season league.

Oh, 9th inning, pinch hitter, it’s Kunkel! Sweet! I haven’t seen him play since the Wolverines season ended, of course. This is wicked cool. Won’t be able to tell much about his swing from one at-bat, of course, but it’s encouraging to see him get in here. Nothing quite like playing at Fenway, I reckon. Although this is gonna be rough. He’s facing BabyPapelbon, and there’s nothing Boston likes so much as a Papelbon right now.

Kunkel ROBBED of a hit by a great LEAPING catch from, um, the shortstop, number 7 I think. Amazing balletic leaping catch. Jeter would be lucky to get so far off the ground.

O-Tigs lose, but it wasn’t a blow out or anything like that. Wish I coulda gone; I had an offer of tickets, but I ended up working this morning so I wouldn’t have been able to go. Alas.

You’ll notice I am pointedly not paying attention to what Verlander just did. I swear to cats, if someone says anything that rhymes with the words “Fi Plover Purse”, I’m going to beat them with the Papelbon scream page.