Tagged: Minor League Baseball

Back to the Minors

When the summer commenced and the high school sports season ended, my editor contacted me and asked if I wanted to cover some Hudson Valley Renegades games. Having interned for the Renegades over the summer of 2010, and needing to keep busy with work while school was out, I leaped at the opportunity, and spent many summer nights in the Dutchess Stadium press box.

Little did I know how far Hudson Valley was going to go, in terms of its season.

This past Thursday night, the Renegades captured the New York-Penn League title, beating the Tri-City Valley Cats 8-3. It marked the first time since 1999 Hudson Valley won a title and it was only the Renegades’ second championship in the team’s history.

Manager Jared Sandberg was nearly speechless after his team won it all, and was happy his squad was victorious for such a loyal fan base. His team pied him in the face while I was interviewing him, but he wiped it off and said,

“Hudson Valley has always meant a lot to me and my family, and to win a championship for these fans is amazing. The team had fun, but it was a focused fun; they came to play every single day and they came to work every single day. You really have to tip the cap to these players.”

What struck me about the Renegades from the first game I covered up until their champagne celebration after Thursday’s win was their resiliency. If they trailed late in the game, you could be almost certain they would find a way to come back and win it.

In fact, that resiliency was never more evident than in the playoffs. The New York-Penn League postseason is almost set up the way the MLB playoff system used to work. Four teams make it; three division winners and a Wild Card team. Elimination is best two-out-of-three – and twice the Renegades were down 1-0 after Game One, facing elimination in Game Two.

In the first round, Hudson Valley lost the first game to the Wild Card team, the Brooklyn Cyclones. With their backs to the ropes, the Renegades rebounded for two straight wins to advance to the League Championship Series.

Once it got there, Hudson Valley lost the first game to the Valley Cats. On the ropes again, and one win away from becoming a team who almost won, the Renegades came from behind and survived to win Game Two last Wednesday before reaching baseball nirvana on Thursday.

A big first inning highlighted the deciding game, as Hudson Valley wasted no time scoring runs.  First baseman Ryan Dunn rocketed a two-run single to center field to give the Renegades a quick 2-0 lead. Shortstop Leonardo Reginatto and catcher Jake DePew then followed with back-to-back RBI singles to give Hudson Valley a commanding 4-0 edge in the early going.

The Valley Cats chopped the lead in half by the sixth, but the Renegades fought back for more runs. Left fielder Marty Gantt drove in a run with a sacrifice fly, and later in the frame, Dunn came to the plate on an error.

Tri-City tacked on one in the seventh, but in the eighth Hudson Valley put it away, adding two more runs to its 6-3 lead. Gantt drove in a run with an RBI single to the right-center field gap, and eventually scored on a wild pitch to cap the night on offense.

Just as the Renegades’ bats were clicking, Hudson Valley’s pitching also held up. The Renegades used seven pitchers to piece together the clincher and were carried by a two-inning, four-strikeout performance from Brandon Henderson, who recorded the win.

Henderson also notched the win in the Renegades’ 2-0 victory over Brooklyn last Monday, setting down 13 consecutive Cyclone batters through 4.1 innings. He maintained the relaxed mentality throughout the playoffs.

“I just took it one pitch at a time, that was the mindset,” Henderson said. “I tried to dial in each pitch, and we got the job done. It was great energy, and all year we played really loose.”

Tampa Bay Rays’ first round draft pick this year, third baseman Richie Shaffer, finished the playoffs with five RBIs, three runs scored, and a triple.

Shaffer knocked in one of the Renegades’ two runs in the final game of the Brooklyn series, not to mention he crushed a go-ahead, three-run home run in the eighth inning of Game Two of the LCS to force a Game Three. The Renegades’ win overwhelmed Shaffer, and marked the first time he captured a team title.

“It’s incredible and this is why you play the game,” he said. “I could tell we had something special here and the chemistry among this team was unparalleled. This is one of the first times I ever won a championship in my career in baseball, since I was eight years old, and it’s just an awesome feeling.”

 Like the players, after it was all over, Sandberg felt a huge sense of satisfaction.

“It’s amazing,” he said. “Both series we were down 1-0 and that’s how we played this entire season. We never gave up. It was a special season – they turned it into a special season.”

I’d like to thank the Renegades right now for allowing me to be a part of the team this season, albeit a small part. It was extremely fun to cover this group of players and I’m also happy manager Sandberg enjoyed my articles – he even went out of his way to compliment them several times.

I can only hope covering the Renegades this season served as just a prelude of what is to come for me in my career as a journalist. Perhaps a few years down the road, I’ll make the big press box at Yankee Stadium.

Let’s hope so.

A Minor Sample

Coming off a night when Hiroki Kuroda spun an absolute gem for the Yankees, beating the Texas Rangers 3-0 with a complete game, two-hit shutout, the baseball world has learned former Bronx Bomber Melky Cabrera has been suspended 50 games for testing positive for testosterone.

Apparently it was never the “Melky Way.” It was the “Juicy Juice way.”

Cabrera had been leading the majors in the hits and runs offensive categories; he even captured the MVP Award of this year’s All-Star Game in Kansas City.

To my knowledge, this is the first time anything of this sort has occurred: a player wins the ASG MVP and later in the season gets suspended for violating the drug policy. It came as a little bit of a surprise to me, but I get the feeling the topic of whether or not PEDs affect a player’s performance will come up as a result of this recent finding.

Anyhow, for this specific blog topic, I figured I would try something different ; something a little more original, as opposed to ranting about the Yankees’ last two victories over Texas. As I’ve written about these past few weeks, I’ve had the opportunity this summer to cover a Minor League Baseball team, the Hudson Valley Renegades, several times.

Instead of writing a typical opinionated piece, I figured I would share my latest Renegades article, which just so happened to be a win last Thursday over the Vermont Lake Monsters, a MiLB team affiliated with the Oakland Athletics.

Enjoy the story and be sure to comment on how you like the article!

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Renegades Slug Lake Monsters in Extras

By: A.J. Martelli

The Hudson Valley Renegades celebrated Irish night on Thursday at Dutchess Stadium. Therefore it was only fitting designated hitter Justin O’Conner came up with the game-winning hit in the 10th inning, a bases-loaded infield single bringing home Charlie Epperson, to give the Renegades a thrilling 5-4 win over the Vermont Lake Monsters, completing Hudson Valley’s second consecutive sweep.

O’Conner embraced the challenge, remaining calm in the pressure-laden situation.

“I just wanted to do a job,” he said of the big at-bat that sank the Lake Monsters. “I got down in the count 1-2 and just wanted to put the ball in play. I’ve just been trying to relax in every at-bat and I did the job.”

Renegades Manager Jared Sandberg was left almost in disbelief following the extra inning victory.

“Wow,” he said. “It’s a lot fun, the way we’re winning. It seems somebody different is stepping up every single time, whether it’s a pitcher, a base-running play, a defensive play, or an offensive play. Every night it’s somebody different and it’s fun.”

The Renegades had to fight for the win, as they trailed 4-3 in the bottom of eighth. But after O’Conner crushed a booming, one out double into the right field corner, he took third on a passed ball and came home on a wild pitch, capitalizing on a few Lake Monster mistakes to tie it up.

Vermont had taken the lead in the seventh, knocking around Hudson Valley reliever Kris Carlson to take the lead. The Lake Monsters were down 3-1 heading into the frame, but sent eight batters to the plate and put up three runs.

The Lake Monsters plated their first run in the top of the sixth, but Hudson Valley had an answer in the bottom half of the inning, taking the lead with three runs. An RBI single off the bat of first baseman Michael Williams and a two-run single from shortstop Leonardo Reginatto accounted for the Renegades’ offensive strike in the sixth.

Sandberg knew his resilient team wasn’t going to lose without putting up a battle.

“There’s no real panic,” he said. “There’s no give-up, and there’s a ton of fight in this team.”

Jeff Ames, one of six Renegades who have been selected to the New York-Penn League All-Star team, toed the rubber and gave a solid performance. Ames tossed 4.2 innings and allowed no runs on three hits. He walked one and struck out four, lowering his season earned run average to 1.68.

“Jeff Ames came out and gave us five zeros on the board,” Sandberg said of his starting pitcher. “He did a nice job battling through his outing.”

Reliever Ryan Garton, who pitched a scoreless 10th inning, notched the win, improving to 3-0 on the year. Rob Finneran also contributed with 2.1 scoreless innings, relieving Carlson and preventing further damage in the seventh. Lefty Jose Molina came on in relief of Ames, and threw in 1.1 innings and allowed Vermont’s first run in the sixth. 

With yet another tenacious win under his team’s collective belt, Sandberg is becoming more and more impressed with his squad every time they take the field.

“What can you say about the Renegades?” he said. “It’s a special group, they really feed off each other, and I hope everyone who comes out to the Dutch to see us is having as much fun as we’re having on the field.”

Following the sweep of Vermont, the Renegades (35-19) dropped three straight to the Lowell Spinners, entering the All-Star break in first place — one game ahead of the second place Brooklyn Cyclones in the NY-Penn League McNamara division.

Makin’ Moves

Despite going 2-5 on their recent road trip which included a sweep at the hands of the suddenly “Moneyball” Oakland Athletics team, the Yankees still possess the best record in baseball at 59-39 and continue to sit atop the AL East, looking eight games down at the Baltimore Orioles and Tampa Bay Rays, and 10 1/2 games down at the Toronto Blue Jays and Boston Red Sox.

A number of things have happened in Yankees Universe and the baseball world in general these past couple of days. Therefore in the spirit of old-fashioned blogging, I figured I would give some thoughts, opine on some topics, and even throw in a story or two – just for old time’s sake.

Ichiro Joins the Yankees

Before Monday’s series opener vs. the Mariners huge news broke via the Twitter wire: the Yankees had acquired Ichiro Suzuki from the Mariners in exchange for minor league pitchers D.J. Mitchell and Danny Farquhar.  

Just like that, Ichiro is a Yankee.

The news came as a shock to most Yankee fans, as well as me, seeing as how Ichiro spent his entire MLB career with the Mariners. Not only that, but the move was on no one’s radar; nobody saw it coming. It was obviously a trade General Manager Brian Cashman kept under wraps until it became official.

The first notion that entered everyone’s mind was the jersey number. Throughout his career Ichiro has always worn number 51, a number that has meant a lot to the Yankees – being that Bernie Williams wore it for 16 years in pinstripes.

To everyone’s relief, Ichiro chose to take 31, respecting Williams and the jersey number. Unfortunately Dave Winfield didn’t seem to take too kindly to Ichiro taking 31.

Right on, Dave.

In his first three games as a Yankee, Ichiro has collected three hits and has stolen a base. He hit eighth in the batting order in his first two games, and led off yesterday, showing his versatility in the lineup. Plug him in anywhere and he can still hit.

This was a good move for the Yankees. With Brett Gardner’s season over and Raul Ibanez and Andruw Jones signed to be designated hitters and fourth outfielders, the trade makes sense. The Mariners organization is becoming tailor-made for young players and the veteran Ichiro, 38, didn’t feel he fit in with them – hence why he requested the trade.

Hats off to the Mariners not only granting his wish, but commenting on how he deserves to a chance to win a title before his career ends. It’s obvious Seattle isn’t going anywhere this season while the Yankees, now with Ichiro’s help, could potentially go very far.

After the final out was made in yesterday’s 5-2 win over the M’s, Ichiro waved goodbye from right field to the Mariners faithful. The fans seemed heartbroken at the thought of their golden boy for so many years leaving town.

The sight of it all made me sad. I couldn’t help but remember the way I felt when Joe Torre managed his last game in October, 2007. When someone has meant so much to a franchise, I know first-hand that it’s extremely difficult to see them leave.

Alex Rodriguez out 6-8 Weeks

On Tuesday night in Seattle, Alex Rodriguez was beaned on the left hand during an at-bat in the eighth inning – the third HBP in the game (Ichiro and Derek Jeter had previously been plunked). Rodriguez fell to the dirt in agonizing pain and left the game.

Afterward it became known that A-Rod has a broken hand and will miss 6-8 weeks; the Yanks are hoping to have him back by the middle of September.

Losing A-Rod is a blow, but perhaps it’s better the Yankees lost him now as opposed to a time when they really needed him. For example, if this injury occurred in 2005 or 2007 when Rodriguez put the team on his back and carried it, the Yanks would be in serious trouble.

Thank God we live in the year 2012.

Because now there are several players who are capable of coming up in big spots to bring the runs home, like Mark Teixeira, Curtis Granderson, and Robinson Cano, among others. Not to mention in ’05 and ’07 the Yanks were constantly battling for first place, locked in a dogfight with the Red Sox for the division.

Obviously that’s not the case this year.

Although taking Rodriguez’s bat out of the lineup basically takes an offensive threat and a presence out of the Yankees’ arsenal, there’s more than enough power to compensate for it.  As far as defense is concerned, Ramiro Pena was called up to fill A-Rod’s roster spot and will obviously see time at third base along with Eric Chavez and yesterday’s hero, Jayson Nix.

There’s also speculation the Yankees might go after Chase Headley, the Padres’ third baseman, before the trade deadline on Tuesday. Headley, 28, is hitting .267 this year with 12 homers and 51 RBIs.

A-Rod looked devastated after the game; he was clearly not just in physical pain from the HBP and the fracture, but emotional pain as well. It was apparent the news of him missing more time due to another injury impacted his psyche and left him in disbelief, as evidenced by his words when he met with the press.

“It’s difficult; tough break,” he said, masked in a shell-shocked expression. “I never thought ‘fracture’ but it was. Tough blow. Tough blow.”

Rivalry Renewed

The Boston Red Sox will visit Yankee Stadium for the first time this season tomorrow night, as the Bombers and BoSox get set for a three-game weekend series. The last time these teams met, the Yankees took three of four from the Sox in Beantown.

The Red Sox are coming off a losing series to the Texas Rangers while the Yanks (as it’s known) just took two of three from the Mariners.  Aaron Cook (2-3, 3.50) will start for Boston tomorrow night while the Yanks will counter with Phil Hughes (9-8, 4.09 ERA). 

Saturday afternoon in a match-up of aces, CC Sabathia (10-3, 3.30 ERA) will toe the rubber, facing off with Jon Lester (5-8, 5.46 ERA). Finally on Sunday night, 10-game winner Hiroki Kuroda will gun for win number 11 – while Boston has not yet listed a starter for the finale.

MLB posed an excellent question a couple days ago:

Has the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry lost its luster?

Right now, I think it’s almost dormant. With Bobby Valentine shooting off his big mouth about Derek Jeter over the off-season, I thought for sure the rivalry would be ignited and something would happen this year; perhaps the boiling of some bad blood.

So far, however, nothing. But I suppose it’s not necessary when the Red Sox are AL East cellar dwellers and not pushing for first place at all. If Boston was in the pennant race, there might be more of a competitive element thrown into the mix.

Yet, it is clear that the days of A-Rod and Jason Varitek duking it out are long gone; Curt Schilling wanting to “make 55,000 people from New York shut up” is surely passé. It could take awhile – maybe even a number of years – before the Yankees and Red Sox go back to where they were in 2003, 2004, and even 2005.

Then again, you never know. It only takes one bean ball to start a fire.

Some Encouragement from Sandberg

As promised, I’ll throw in a little story to close this one.

The last time I blogged, I wrote about my experience covering the Hudson Valley Renegades, as most readers probably know by now, the same team I interned for.  I wound up covering them again last Friday after I saw “The Dark Knight Rises” (go see that movie if you haven’t yet done so).

Escaping damage in the ninth inning and with some eighth inning heroics, the Renegades beat the Aberdeen Ironbirds 3-2 – the Ironbirds being a farm team of the Baltimore Orioles, for the record.

After the game I went from the press box to the clubhouse and interviewed Jared Sandberg, the Renegades’ skipper, former Tampa Bay Devil Ray, and nephew of Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg.

Tampa Bay Rays’ 2011 first round draft pick Taylor Guerrieri once again started, and Sandberg actually noticed that I had been there for Guerrieri’s previous start.     

“You were here the last time Taylor pitched (against Mahoning Valley) weren’t you?” he asked me after the interview.

“Yes,” I answered.

Jokingly he looked at me and asked, “Oh, so you only cover the games Taylor pitches?”

I let out a chuckle and said, “Well, we’re a newsweekly with so many coverage areas, so there are a lot of games and only so many we can get to every week.”

Sandberg answered, “Oh, I understand. I was just kidding. Which paper are you with again?”

The Examiner,” I replied.

“Oh, I saw that article from last week!” he exclaimed. Frightened, I had no idea what he was going to say next.

 “That was really well-written and very nicely done; nice spread – and the pictures came out great, too.”

I thanked him and told my editor about it. He was happy Sandberg saw it and basically said, “Now the pressure’s on us. He might expect great articles from now on.”

Honestly though, I am having a great time covering this team. They are performing extremely well, and are in first place in their division in the New York-Penn League, ahead of the likes of the Brooklyn Cyclones and Staten Island Yankees.

I’m looking forward to covering more of their games and I’m anxious to see how they are going to finish. When I interned for them in 2010, they ended at 39-36, missing the playoffs. At 24-13 right now, it looks as if they will indeed eclipse their 2010 record and go who knows where.

Hopefully to a League title.

A Minor Assignment

Yesterday afternoon was almost awesome for the Yankees, in their series finale vs. the Los Angeles Angels. But what’s that old saying? “Almost only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.”

With the tying run on second base, the potential winning run on first base, and two outs in the ninth, Alex Rodriguez had a chance to channel his inner 2007 and walk off the Yankee Stadium field a hero. Instead he came up short, popping the ball up behind first base; the cowhide falling into waiting glove of Albert Pujols for a 10-8 loss.

Nonetheless, the Yankees still own the best record in baseball at 54-34, and remain in first place in the AL East, a cool eight games ahead of the second place Baltimore Orioles.

While the Yankees were taking two games out of three from the Angels this weekend, I had the opportunity to cover the same minor league team I interned for in 2010, the Hudson Valley Renegades, who are connected to the Tampa Bay Rays.

Since the high school sports scene is obviously voided for summer vacation, my editor thought it might be fun for me to cover some Renegades games, just to give me some work and a chance to cover some professional baseball.

Saturday evening I made my way to up Dutchess Stadium, much like I did every game day two years ago, to cover the Renegades’ game vs. the Mahoning Valley Scrappers – a minor league team affiliated with the Cleveland Indians.

It was a different feeling on the way to the ballpark, however, knowing I’d be sitting up in the press box rather than setting up for the game and handling all the oftentimes unpleasant tasks interns have to do. Like this…

When I walked into the Stadium, it felt surreal. Not having been there in two years and having so many memories – and all those memories coming back to me in that moment – was a little overwhelming. All of the players (including Robinson Cano’s cousin Burt Reynolds) and interns who were there in 2010 have moved on; it was so strange looking around and not seeing all the familiar faces.

Wearing my press pass, I made my way up to the breezeway, past the luxury boxes and into the press box, where a number of MiLB personnel and beat writers were.

A group of them were conversing about the recent draft, and speculating about which players were going to make an impact in the future. They also shared with each other some stories about traveling, going from city to city following their respective teams. It was a little intimidating for me, knowing these reporters are the real deal; not that I’m not the real deal, but they are writers that get to experience professional baseball on a daily basis.

I guess it was only natural to feel intimidated; me being just a fresh, relatively new high school sports reporter who was given an assignment – they being writers with years of experience in the business. I’ll admit I was nervous – nervous, but not scared. Believe it or not, a Tweet from one of my former co-workers at the Renegades put my mind at ease.

Thanks, Dan.

The other writers eventually left though, and took seats down the left field line in a designated area for press members. I elected to remain in the press box with another reporter, the official scorer, and the girl who runs the Renegades’ Twitter page. The group of us shared a lot of laughs and banter throughout the game.

Before the game started, I kind of soaked it in; took in the view.

The Renegades led off the bottom of the first with a home run from their center fielder Joey Rickard. They then took a 2-0 lead after two innings when their left fielder, DeShun Dixon, led off the bottom of the second with a home run.

Dixon would knock in a run on an RBI single in the third after an RBI single off the bat of Renegades’ shortstop Ryan Dunn (Yes, Ryan Dunn. I’m aware he shares the same name as Bam Margera’s late friend).

Leading 4-0 heading into the fourth, the Scrappers put up two runs on back-to-back RBI doubles off reliever Brandon Henderson. Renegades’ starter, 19-year-old Taylor Guerrieri – who was Tampa Bay’s top pick out of Columbia, S.C. a year ago – left the game after three innings, using up a lot of his pitches.  

Following the back-to-back RBI doubles, the ‘Gades bent but didn’t break. They held the score until the seventh when second baseman Tommy Coyle blasted a two-run homer, the Renegades’ third round-tripper of the night.

Trailing 6-2, the Scrappers threatened in the ninth. Mahoning Valley loaded the bases with nobody out, but again, the Renegades refused to fold. Reliever Ryan Garton induced a 6-4-3 double play, which allowed a run to come home, before notching the last out.

Final score: Renegades 6, Scrappers 3

It marked the Renegades’ eighth win at home this year, and they are only a game out of first place in their division behind the Brooklyn Cyclones, the Mets’ farm team.

I left the press box and went to the clubhouse where I caught up with Jared Sandberg, the Renegades’ manager, ex-Devil Ray, and nephew of famed Chicago Cubs second baseman Ryne Sandberg. I had to ask him what makes his team so good when they’re playing at home.

“We get the last at-bats, we make it exciting, and we get the chance to put on a show for the home crowd,” he said.

“The crowd comes out and supports us every night, with 4,000-plus, and it’s fun to play in front of a big crowd. They get behind us and it’s good energy.”

I then questioned him about the home runs, seeing as how a power surge led to the win. He admitted the long ball raised his eyebrows.

 “We haven’t hit many homers this year, so it was a little bit of a surprise,” he said.

“It was also good to see because guys aren’t trying to hit home runs and they’re hitting home runs. Any time Joey Rickard can lead off the game with a homer and give us that boost, that’s nice, and then DeShun Dixon hits a two-run homer with a flick of the bat. Then obviously Tommy Coyle’s late home run gave us some breathing room.”

With the top pick on the mound, and a decent job from the relief corps, I inquired about how well the Renegades’ pitching has been anchoring the team.

“The pitching is keeping our season going in the right direction,” Sandberg said.

“We can lean on the pitchers right now because they’re throwing strikes and competing extremely well. The team is playing relaxed but we’re going out there competing every night and that’s what a manager wants.”

Overall I was extremely satisfied with how it went. My editor thought I did a great job with the story, and I hope this is just serving as a warm-up; the start of what I pray is a long career covering pro baseball.

Perhaps I’ll be one of those beat writers in the press box, talking about the new draft picks and sharing stories about life on the road, covering pro baseball teams.

Maybe someday. Until then, I have this story: getting the chance to cover a pro baseball game for the first time.

Bottom line: I loved it.

The MLB Draft: What Does it Mean and Does Anyone Care?

At the end of April every year, football fans flock to Radio City Music Hall, bars, or friend’s houses to watch the spectacle known as the NFL Draft. College players eligible to be drafted by NFL teams, coaches, draft analysts, fans, and Commissioner Roger Goodell are all in attendance to watch the draft take place.

The MLB Draft takes place during the regular season (in June) and is hardly anything compared to the NFL Draft. This year’s draft is currently taking place this week and a number of high school players and collegiate athletes have been drafted to MLB teams.

To be honest, I had no idea the MLB Draft was happening until I saw it on Twitter. In fact, as I was writing this, ESPN acknowledged that there has barely been a word uttered about the MLB Draft, and right now it is in its third day.

There are so many reasons the MLB Draft is, in a lot of ways, meaningless.

First I will start with an obvious point: popularity. The MLB Draft does not get mainstream media attention because high school and college baseball is not nearly as recognized as high school and college football, basketball, and in some areas of the county high school and college hockey.

Simply put, more is known about prospective players in other sports than baseball.

To another point, many players who get drafted to MLB teams do not see an MLB diamond until years later. These kids get drafted but in no way make an immediate impact. In fact, some don’t make the majors at all.

Consider this:

31 of the first 53 picks in first round of the 1997 MLB Draft eventually made the majors. But only 13 of those 31 players appeared in more than 100 innings as of 2009.

In the sixth round of the ’97 draft, only five of the 30 players selected eventually made a big league appearance – and only two of those five (Tim Hudson and Matt Wise) have played more than 40 innings in an MLB game.

MLB drafted 64 players in the first round of the 2007 draft. At the end of the 2008 season, those 64 players – combined – totaled one inning of MLB playing time. What’s more, as of 2009, the majority of the players selected in the 2008 draft were still in the minor leagues.

Now compare that to the NFL.

Every first round pick in the ’08 NFL draft had played in the league by the end of the season.

On last night’s broadcast of the Yankees vs. Red Sox game, former Yankee Paul O’Neill made a great point when he and the rest of the commentators were discussing the MLB Draft:

“If you get drafted, you have a chance to make it,” O’Neill said.

“You go to minor league camp and find there’s 400 other guys trying to do the same thing you are.”

It’s such an excellent point. In baseball, you really are not guaranteed anything. You can be the best player on your high school or college team, but it doesn’t mean you are going to see an MLB diamond anytime soon. If a player gets drafted, they get a chance.

What the player chooses to do with the opportunity is up to them.

If a player gets drafted, tears through the minors, and demonstrates ability on and off the field, then he has a great chance at success.

However, if they falter in the minors and can’t keep up, the odds of making the majors are slim.

As far as first overall picks, there’s a little bit of a difference between baseball and football. For example, football has produced 28 players (drafted as the first overall pick) that have gone on to play in a Pro-Bowl, football’s version of the MLB All-Star Game.

12 football players who were picked first overall went on to become Hall of Famers.

21 overall first round baseball picks became All-Stars and two won Rookie of the Year.

Yet, what struck me is that two players in baseball who were drafted first overall retired without ever playing a Major League game.

That just proves the point: you can be as good as it gets, but still not make it to the show.

None of the first round overall MLB picks have gone on to the Hall of Fame, but keep in mind: the NFL Draft began in 1936. The MLB Draft only started in 1965, giving the NFL Draft 29 years on the MLB Draft, and thus more time to generate Hall of Famers.

Ken Griffey, Jr. was selected first overall (by the Seattle Mariners) in the 1987 MLB Draft, and in all likelihood, he will become the first player, taken first overall, to make it to Cooperstown. Alex Rodriguez was picked first in the 1993 draft, but with his admission of PED usage, his future in terms of the Hall of Fame is uncertain.

24 out of the 46 overall first round MLB draft picks were drafted out of college. In my mind, that demonstrates maturity. I have always maintained, whenever speaking about sports, that athletes who play in college are more mature than athletes who sign right out of high school.

Prime example: Tino Martinez, one of the more dominant players during the Yankee dynasty.

  

Martinez was drafted by the Boston Red Sox out of high school, but instead opted to go to the University of Tampa. His father always told him, “Anything can happen to you and you might not be able to play. Get a college education, and if they like you enough, they will draft you again.”

And that they did. But the second time he got the call it was from the Seattle Mariners. He was then traded to the Yanks, and the rest is history.

Bottom line: I respect those who play in college more than the players that sign right out of high school.

Another advantage football has over baseball in terms of the draft is the scouting combine. The NFL scouting combine takes place every year after the season ends, and coaches get the chance to see the draftees in action about two months before the draft – giving them ample time to see what their choices are before making their picks.

There is no equivalent in baseball. Scouts from different organizations go around to high schools and colleges across the country, with a book and a radar gun in hand. The scouts are the only ones who get to see the potential draft picks, the manager and coaches don’t see them first hand.

This spring season, I mostly covered high school girls’ lacrosse for the newspaper I work for. I did however get the chance to cover a baseball game last month. A Lakeland High School (Shrub Oak, NY) pitcher was two outs away from a perfect game, and he surrendered a home run.

I had the chance to cover him again last week, as he was named New York State Gatorade Player of the Year for the second year in a row. He became the first player from New York to win the award twice and on his senior night, Tommy John personally came to the game to watch him pitch.

Overall he tossed 40 innings this season and only issued five walks. He also racked up 59 strikeouts over those 40 innings and he only gave up seven earned runs all season. He finished with a 6-1 record and his ERA was 1.22.

Next year this player is going to Richmond to pitch.

Do all of his accolades mean he will get drafted?

Perhaps, but only if he keeps it up in college. He has a good chance to get a call from an MLB team and sign after his junior year.

Yet, does it mean he will see an MLB field and play Major League Baseball?

Who’s to say? Nothing is guaranteed in baseball.

Yanks Fall to BoSox Under the Lights, Bartolo Fans Five

     

 

First game Saturday.

Ramiro Pena’s grounder in the bottom of the ninth with two outs looked as if it had a one-way ticket to center field. If it had gotten through the infield hole, it would have tied the Yankees’ exhibition with the Red Sox tonight at five. Oscar Tejada made a great play to rob Pena of a game-tying single, ending the tune-up game and giving Boston 5-3 win over New York.

Tejada not only made the game-ending play on defense, but he helped out on offense, padding Boston’s 2-1 lead. In the top of the seventh he clubbed a two-run triple to give the Red Sox a 4-1 edge. They had scored earlier in the frame on an RBI single by Juan Carlos Linares, breaking a 1-1 tie.

The big night continued for Tejada in the ninth when he singled to score Linares, making it a 5-1 ballgame. Daniel Nava drove Tejada in to score in the sixth inning, accounting for Boston’s first run in the game.

Robinson Cano recorded his first hit of the spring in the bottom of the sixth, an RBI double which plated Pena. Before Pena made the final out, the Yanks tried to stage another comeback by scoring two runs. Jordan Parraz singled to score Austin Krum and Gustavo Molina drew a bases-loaded walk which plated Kyle Higashioka.


Bartolo looked..well..good. 

Bartolo Colon started for the Yankees and although he did not face most of the regulars, he put up a strong showing. The tubby right hander tossed three innings and scattered two hits while not allowing a run. He walked no batters and fanned five BoSox.

On the other side Clay Buchholz made the start for the Red Sox and also showcased good stuff. The 26 year-old righty pitched three innings and allowed only one hit. He walked two and struck out two.

Clay Buchholz returned the favor.

Tonight the Yankees and Red Sox met for the first time in 2011 and there will be a lot more where that came from. The rivals will meet again on Monday March 14 in another exhibition and will of course face off 18 times during the regular season. Not to mention they have a good chance to square off in the postseason.


Yankee notes!Things to Look Out For & Notes   

·         The Yankee starters are proving their worth. They have only allowed one run in the first 15 innings they have pitched this spring, and have registered 13 consecutive scoreless innings. So far they are probably making it difficult for Joe Girardi, since they have all been producing.

 

·         Russell Martin caught behind the plate tonight for the first time. After the game he told the YES Network that he feels good and felt comfortable catching. At the plate tonight he struggled, though; he was 0-for-3 and left three men on base.

 

·         In some bad new for the Yanks, Francisco Cervelli will be out of action for at least a month. The details of his injury became apparent and he has a broken foot. He worked hard in the off-season, slimmed down, and looked good through the first few games. But then he fouled a ball off his foot on Wednesday vs. the Astros, and now he can’t play for awhile. Tough break for such a great guy.


Poor Cervelli. :( 

·         Now that Cervelli is out of action, the chances that Jesus Montero makes the team are high. Contrary to what I originally assumed, Jorge Posada will not be catching at all this season, at least from the looks of things. That being said, this is Montero’s chance to impress and maybe make the team.

 

·         Robinson Cano has been pressing to begin the spring, but finally broke out with an RBI double tonight. Good to see the real Cano finally come out to play.

 

·         Alex Rodriguez was 2-for-3 tonight with a double, and he now has four doubles for the spring. His double tonight, on any other night or in any other ballpark, would have been a home run. The wind down there in Florida keeps pushing the ball back and he is just missing home runs. Wait until he gets back to New York. He won’t be missing many homers at Yankee Stadium.

 

·         I cannot believe I am even saying this, but Bartolo Colon is actually pitching very well to this point. When the Yankees signed him the headline in the New York Post read, “Cheap Colon.” Right now, that Colon smells pretty good. He does need to lose weight, however. He looks out of shape and that can eventually catch up to an athlete.

 

·         Yesterday I wrote about Mark Prior and what he has been through in his career. He impressed me tonight: one inning, no runs, no hits, one walk, two Ks. I am really pulling for him and I would like to see him make a solid comeback.

 

·         Manuel Banuelos pitched tonight and once again put up a strong showing. He worked two innings and gave up no runs on one hit. He walked a batter and struck out three. The 19 year-old lefty will probably not make the team coming out of Spring Training, but he is unquestionably turning a lot of heads and raising eyebrows. He topped out at 96 on the speed gun tonight and looks way ahead of his age.
Manny is impressing us all. 

 

·         I made a small comparison in my head tonight: before 2007 began the Yankees had three promising prospects – Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, and Ian Kennedy. Here we are just before 2011 and we have Banuelos, Dellin Betances, and Andrew Brackman.

 

·         Lefty specialist Pedro Feliciano pitched tonight, giving up an earned run on two hits. No walks and no strikeouts, but he did better than the other lefty reliever Boone Logan, who took the loss tonight. Feliciano might pitch more this season than Logan. When he was with the Mets, they gave him the nickname “Perpetual Pedro,” being that they used him almost every day to get the big left-handed hitters out.

 

·         The Red Sox left most of their stars at home. Only Buchholz, Jed Lowrie, Jason Varitek and Josh Reddick made the trip to Tampa. Reddick had a great diving catch in left field to rob Cano of extra bases in the bottom of the second. I’m pretty sure Carl Crawford has that spot locked up, but Reddick could state a claim to be Boston’s fourth outfielder.

 

·         Nick Swisher, Brett Gardner, and Curtis Granderson did not play.  

 

·         Actor Richard Gere threw out the honorary first pitch tonight. According to what they say, he is a big Yankee fan. I always liked that guy…

 

·         The Yankees will face the Washington Nationals tomorrow and the Houston Astros Sunday. The next televised game is on Monday against the Phillies and A.J. Burnett will start that game.

 

·         So far the Yanks’ Grapefruit League record is 2-4-1.      

 

Can Mark Prior be This Season’s Comeback Kid?

 

I love a good comeback story.

Some of the best stories in sports are the stories of comebacks. Most people are familiar with Josh Hamilton of the Texas Rangers, who was a highly touted prospect but fell victim to temptation and drugs. He worked as hard as he could and made it back to become one of MLB’s best players.

If you are a football fan, David Tyree’s name comes to mind. He was arrested and lost everything, becoming another athlete with a drug addiction. Yet he exorcised his demons and eventually had the huge “helmet catch” to help propel the New York Giants to a 17-14 Super Bowl victory in 2008 over the undefeated New England Patriots.

The so-called “rise up from the ashes” tale is one everyone enjoys – not just sports fans.

At 30, life in baseball has seemingly not yet begun for Mark Prior. Stemming back to his debut in 2002 with the Chicago Cubs, he has a history of injuries and he has never really been able to recover from them. You name it, Prior has been through it.

Hamstring injuries, Achilles injuries, shoulder surgery, elbow strains, a tweaked oblique, tendinitis – he has not had an easy career considering all these problems.

Mark Prior has not had an easy career

Although he has been hurt most of his career, he still holds a lifetime record of 42-29 with an ERA of 3.51, and he has fanned 757 lifetime batters. He was the second overall pick (in the first round) by the Cubs in the 2001 draft and he even made the National League All-Star team in 2003. That being said, he has the makings of a very good pitcher.  

Now, if he can only find a way to translate it to his career without getting hurt.

Since leaving the Cubs after 2007, Prior has bounced around baseball. He tried to make it with the San Diego Padres, but never pitched a Major League game for them. He was released by the Padres in August of 2009 and in June of 2010 he went back to USC, where he had previously attended College.

He worked out for a Major League scout, but was deemed “just all right.”

Prior has bounced around baseball because of his injuries

In September of last year Prior agreed to a deal with an independent team – the Orange County Flyers of the Golden Baseball League. Exactly a month after he had agreed to play for the Flyers, he signed a Minor League contract to pitch for the Texas Rangers. He made it clear that he wanted to pitch for a Major League club and hoped to catch on with the Rangers in a middle or long relief role.

Obviously he didn’t get a roster spot on the Rangers, but that didn’t mean he was giving up.

This past off-season the Yankees signed Prior to a Minor League deal. He has only pitched one inning this spring- a perfect frame against the Detroit Tigers on Monday March 1. He has also been working out with the team consistently and hopes to accomplish what he didn’t with Texas – receive a spot in the bullpen as a middle or long reliever.

The Yankees signed Prior this off-season

In a recent interview with the YES Network, Prior described his arm strength as “good” and stated that he needs to prove that he can stay healthy. One of his goals this spring is to show everyone what he is made of.

“I want to show everybody that I can stay healthy and I can still pitch,” he told YES. “I know how to pitch. My stuff may not be what it used to be, but it’s still good enough to get guys out at this level.”

Prior added that he wants to get comfortable pitching in games.

At the trade deadline last season, the Yankees acquired Kerry Wood, who was Prior’s teammate for five years on the Cubs. At one time the two were considered a “dynamic duo,” if you will, being the Cubs’ top tier starting pitchers. Like Prior, Wood sustained a number of injuries and analysts and fans questioned his ability to return from them and effectively pitch.

At one time, Prior and Kerry Wood were the tops around the NL

Wood proved to everyone that he can indeed still pitch, as he went 2-0 with a 0.69 ERA down the stretch for the Yankees. He was also instrumental in fortifying the Yankee bullpen, acting as the bridge to Mariano Rivera for the second half of 2010.

Prior was happy to see his former teammate succeed in pinstripes.

“I know Woody had a great time here, he really enjoyed himself here, and I think it revitalized him to continue on and keep playing,” he said.

“He pitched outstanding the last two months of the season for the Yankees and hopefully I can do just as good a job as he did.”

Everyone loves a comeback story. And this year Prior might be the guy the fans look at and say, “He’s the guy who rose above; the guy no one believed in, but he proved us wrong.”

The fans should be rooting for him. I am.