West Virginia Black Bears 2017

By Steve Samek

Tonight, the West Virginia Black Bears begin season number three. The Black Bears had a .500 campaign in 2016 with a 38-38 record. This was after taking the championship in 2015, their first year in the league as the Black Bears.

Taking a look at tonight’s opening roster. The team looks rather pedestrian.  One of the top 30 Pirates prospects have been assigned to the roster. http://m.mlb.com/prospects/2017?list=pit.

Mitch Keller is listed, but it is as a rehab assignment. He belongs with Bradenton.  Michael Suchy is also on a rehab assignment.

The rest seem to be call ups from the Gulf Coast league and Bristol.http://www.milb.com/roster/index.jsp?sid=t5020. No one stands out to even have done anything really worth noting. The closest thing to doing something is Jonathan Schwind. Schwind has seen time at the Double and triple a level. He just hasn’t done much with the bat and isn’t really considered a prospect. This just has to be lineup filler. http://www.milb.com/player/index.jsp?sid=milb&player_id=605462#/career/R/hitting/2017/ALL

Sandy Santos returns to the black and gold after spending last season with them. Santos was with the West Virginia Power, but struggles this season have led to a demotion back to Morgantown. http://www.milb.com/player/index.jsp?sid=t5020&player_id=642353#/career/R/hitting/2017/ALL. Santos tied for second on the team with 34 rbi, while hitting .281, also second best on the team. http://www.milb.com/index.jsp?sid=t5020.

A fast start with the Bears and it won’t surprise me if he gets returned to Charleston. Last season he showed a bit of dominance, but nothing not 30 worthy, yet. https://www.milb.com/milb/news/santos-flashes-potential-for-black-bears/c-185063200/t-185364810.

Though aside from the yawn fest of a line up, the Black Bears have an interesting addition to the coaching staff. Joel Hanrahan is an assistant pitching coach for the team. Hanrahan was a former all-star closer in Pittsburgh with 100 career saves. http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/h/hanrajo01.shtml. This gives that big league feel and experience to the young pitchers and should serve them well.

I will say though even with a lack of pedigree in the lineup I can see moves being made to improve this roster. Shane Baz, the first-round pick that recently signed with the Bucs could perhaps make an appreance here. Though the most likely spot for him would be the GCL. Recent draftees from the college ranks maybe sent here as well after signing. http://bit.ly/2s1uhUo.

 

Though it won’t surprise me either if top 30 ranked pitchers in Braeden Ogle, Travis MacGregor and Max Kranick see time in West Virginia after short, or successful stints in the GCL. http://m.mlb.com/prospects/2017?list=pit.

Plus, with no expectations comes the high possibility of a sleeper prospect emerging.  First pitch for the season is at 7:05 p.m.  against Mahoning Valley.

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2017 MLB Draft round 1

By Steve Samek

2017 MLB draft day one is in the books. The Pittsburgh Pirates had four selections from the initial 72. Starting with pick number 12. With the selection, the Pirates took right handed pitcher Shane Baz.

 Baz a high school pitcher from Texas. He came into the draft ranked as the fifth best right hander and 11th best overall prospect. http://www.baseballamerica.com/draft/2017-mlb-draft-position-rankings-righthanders/#dHcQ26fiFrvmZ2MG.97. Putting him at about where he was projected to be drafted.

Baz is a pretty hard thrower. His fastball hits 92-96 and has touched 98. Complementing that is a curveball, changeup and cutter. http://m.pirates.mlb.com/news/article/235982456/pirates-draft-prep-pitcher-shane-baz-at-no-12/.

Though it may be difficult to sign Baz and take him from his commitment at TCU. Though should Baz sign it will boost a strong, yet depleting pool of arms at the minor league level. This can help the system with the loss of Glasnow as a prospect, despite his struggles and Jameson Taillon.  Taillon was the last high school pitcher taken by the Pirates in the first round when he went number two overall in 2010.  Though a recent trend isn’t helping the chances to sign Baz. Last year Nick Lodolo picked TCU over the Pirates. Should be an interesting follow to see if Baz will sign. The Slot value for the pick is over four million dollars and would take up a large amount of the Pirates over 10 million in bonus money. http://m.pirates.mlb.com/news/article/235982456/pirates-draft-prep-pitcher-shane-baz-at-no-12/.

Reports are coming in that Baz may officially sign on Thursday. http://www.piratesprospects.com/2017/06/pirates-first-round-pick-shane-baz-reportedly-agrees-to-sign.html.

 

With the 42 pick Steve Jennings, another right hander joins in. Jennings can throw 95 mph heat and was a two-sport athlete.  Though not as hard of a thrower as Baz, with a fastball siting in the 89-92 range. Jennings is a Mississippi commit if he doesn’t sigh. http://m.pirates.mlb.com/news/article/235982994/pirates-take-rhp-steven-jennings-in-mlb-draft/

 

To me this is a nice arm to add to the lineup. The speed can be upped in the minors, or is serviceable as is. A curveball, slider and changeup compliment the fastball. Jennings should be sigh able.  Though he may have been a slight reach of a pick, as he was projected as the 49th best prospect in the draft. http://www.baseballamerica.com/draft-preview/.

Eight picks later and Calvin Mitchell was next to hear his name called by Pittsburgh. Mitchell was prospect number 79 by MLBpipeline.com and 74 by Baseball America. http://www.baseballamerica.com/draft-preview/. Making this selection at number 50 a bit of a reach. The high school outfielder hit .369 with 11 home runs and 34 rbi this season. Mitchell has an offer in place from the University of San Diego. For about a million and a half in bonus money from the slot pool Mitchell can join the Pirates. Potential yes, at this price, no. Though it would add to a system lacking a good, as in top 30 organization true outfield prospect and knock some weaker top 30 guys off the list. http://m.mlb.com/prospects/2017?list=pit

With their final selection of day one, number 72 overall the pick was another high school outfielder. This one in the form of Connor Uselton from Southmoore high school in Oklahoma. Interesting discrepancy in draft positions for this kid. MLBpipeline.com had him ranked 46th, Baseball America had him 89th. http://www.baseballamerica.com/draft-preview/

Though the kid adds another multisport athlete to the Pirates system. Though he is also 19 years old and a bit older than most high school players. A maturity that may help with the day to day grind of the minors and professional life. For just around 800,00 he can be placed in the Pirates system. I like this pick. If he can play like the mid second round projection of MLBpipline.com the Pirates have a steal. Though the upside is there even if it’s closer to the 89th ranked pick, which would come as a small loss. http://m.pirates.mlb.com/news/article/235983718/pirates-take-of-conner-uselton-no-72-in-draft/.

I like the stocking up on younger players. With a strong core in place and many fast-moving prospects in the minors, a lot of draftees don’t have to be MB ready now. Giving the high school player time to develop without the pressure of now or never is a plus. Though I’m still waiting on a stud lefty to complement the big-league rotation. Its’s one of the systems lacking pieces, even with three left handers in the top 20 organization prospects. None of them have the real dominance top of the rotation wow factor. http://m.mlb.com/prospects/2017?list=pit

 

 

 

 

 

 

His Honor

Yankees rookie is on many radars.

By Steve Samek.

The New York Yankees a team of money. Known to flash the cash at whatever free agent can come their way. Yet what if I told you the Yanks did it the old-fashion way and have a home-grown talent dominating the game today.

The domination comes in the form of rookie outfielder Aaron Judge. Judge is hitting at a .344 clip with 21 home runs and 47 RBI. All of those are top marks in the American League.  The 21 homers are a league-wide best. Throw in additional top marks for runs scored, walks, total bases and the dominance is real. http://m.yankees.mlb.com/news/article/235942730/aaron-judge-is-named-al-player-of-the-week/.

Judge is coming off a week where he hit .500. Got on base at a .600 while slugging 1.00. The Yanks won five of the six contests and led the American League East.  The impressive week gave Judge the nod as player of the week for the first time in his career.

http://m.yankees.mlb.com/news/article/235942730/aaron-judge-is-named-al-player-of-the-week/

This comes on the heels of Judge being named AL rookie of the month for both April and May. http://m.mlb.com/awards/history-winners/?award_id=ALROM&year=2017

If that doesn’t get your attention his power should. On Sunday June 11,2017 Judge hit 495 feet, clearing the left field bleachers at Yankee Stadium. It was the second longest tracked home run ever, sense 2015 and the longest homer in the majors this year. http://m.yankees.mlb.com/news/article/235942730/aaron-judge-is-named-al-player-of-the-week/.

 The power looks to be real too. By homering 21 times to date, Judge has already amassed a career high in homers. Judge hit 56 homers in the minor leagues, with 39 of them coming in the past two seasons. 27 of those round trippers came at the triple a level. http://m.mlb.com/player/592450/aaron-judge?year=2017&stats=career-r-hitting-minors. Think twice pitchers before throwing the high heat.

Judge was a great player in the minors. Three times he was selected as an Milb.com Yankees organization all-star. In 2014, he received an invitation to play for Scottsdale of the Arizona Fall League for advanced prospects. Judge made the AFL all-prospect team for his play with Scottsdale, while also being an AFL player of the week award. Then in 2015 Judge was selected for the Futures game as a member of the Scranton/WB Railriders. http://m.mlb.com/player/592450/aaron-judge?year=2017&stats=career-r-hitting-minors. The first call to the majors came on August 13,2016 when the Yankees selected his contract.

Judge suited up in 27 games during that final month of 2016. He hit .179, but had 4 home runs and 10 rbi. Though an oblique strain sent him to the 15-day DL. http://m.mlb.com/player/592450/aaron-judge?year=2017&stats=career-r-hitting-mlb. Now the injury looks to be behind him and the numbers are improving.

Judge’s stellar season has gained the attention of fans league wide. Judge has the led in the All-star game vote for the American league outfield. His over a million and 250 thousand and 500 votes is the top mark in the American league for any position. http://www.baseballamerica.com/majors/american-league-star-game-voting-a/#5ysDggDukcAhpHQC.97. To capitalize on this success Judge has earned his own cheering section. The section has been dubbed the Judge’s chambers and sits in right field. Fans wear judges robs and receive foam gavels that say “All Rise.” https://www.si.com/mlb/2017/05/22/yankees-aaron-judge-chambers-cheering-section-photos.  True intimidation factor for opposing right fielders. Judge approves of the section too. http://www.nj.com/yankees/index.ssf/2017/05/what_yankees_aaron_judge_thinks_of_the_judges_cham.html

 

Can’t wait to see this guy in the all-star game. Should he win the triple crown, Judge can easily put a stamp on Rookie of the Year as well. No jury deliberation needed on that one.

 

Logo Mania 2017

By Steve Samek

The chase for supremacy once again hits minor league baseball. This time in the form of Logomania 2017. A contest of 36 teams and four rounds naming one champ the best logo in minor league baseball. Here is how I voted in the first round of the contest and my thoughts on the included teams.
Pool A
Biloxi
Montgomery
Carolina
Beloit
Buffalo
Charleston
This pool features three good logos fighting for two spots in the next round. The Carolina Mudcats is a classic goofy logo that is much loved. The Biloxi Shuckers have made some waves sense rebranding from the Huntsville Stars. Either of these fine aquatic themes offering should end up advancing to the second round as pool A’s runner up. Beloit has a slightly better than average logo, but it’s in a strong pool and should not advance. So many negative points to whoever though to include the likes of the Charleston River dogs and Buffalo Bison in this tournament. They are so boring and uncreative that they don’t deserve a shot at the best logo title. The easy winner here is Montgomery. The Biscuits are the original food themed logo. Take that Lehigh Valley and Fresno. http://bit.ly/2njLZ0M. They will make you laugh and take the title belt with it. Vote Montgomery.

Pool B
Clearwater
Corpus Christi
El Paso
Eugene
Hillsboro
Las Vegas
This is the strong, but not strong enough bracket. With the likes of Threshers, Hooks, Chihuahua’s, Hops, Emeralds and 51’s in the house. Each with great local flare, but not really well known nationally. Except maybe the infamous little doggies. https://hammerdownsportsblog.wordpress.com/2016/09/26/el-paso-embraces-the-chihuahuas/ I vote for the aliens to back up the pups in this one. Vote El Paso
Pool C
Ashville
Binghamton
Chattanooga
Durham
Frisco
Jacksonville
Quirky meets classic in this bracket. Mr. Moon of Ashville graces a glow in the dark cap that does look really cool. A horse meets Rocky in another option. Famous Bulls put the classic in this grouping. Combined with a new rebrand effort, a weird look and a United States President and you have a pool C where anything can happen. Two of these names I talked about here and I agree with my thoughts today as I did before. http://bit.ly/2mBxu8e. Frisco owns the president on the cap and Teddy Roosevelt does hit hard in this competition. My vote goes to the RoughRiders over the most likely picked Jumbo Shrimp. Vote Frisco
Pool D
Stockton
Tennessee
Albuquerque
Salt Lake
Tacoma
Akron
A very underwhelming selection of teams. A standard script R logo yawn. A bee, a bear, an anchor, try no. An Isotope and the RubberDucks should be the picks to move on. I vote for the one mentioned on a long running cartoon. Vote Albuquerque.
Pool E
Rochester
Syracuse
Vermont
Modesto
Ogden
Richmond
A bracket that looks underwhelming at first. The Red Wings and Chiefs are a weak start to this bracket. The next four redeem this bracket. Nuts, Raptors, Lake Monsters and Flying Squirrels make this a tough pick. Lake Monsters advance as does Richmond. My vote goes to the super hero Squirrel. Vote Richmond
Pool F
Harford
Norfolk
Reno
Lansing
New Orleans
Portland.
Save the best for last as the saying goes. This bracket will see two strong players come out of it. Lansing, Portland and Reno could be sleeper picks to advance and surprise people. Hartford and Norfolk also look impressive, yet retain a certain comedy to them. As for New Orleans please do yourself a favor and not rebrand to something stupid. http://bit.ly/2mBxu8e. Read more there. Voting here for a tasteful rebrand. Vote Norfolk.
You can vote in the contest to crown a champion here. http://www.baseballamerica.com/2017-logomania/

 

Crossing The Line

Promotions that may have been too edgy.

By Steve Samek

Minor League baseball embraces the crazy and unique to make for the perfect promotion. Though what if a promotion goes too far.
Enter the Ogden Raptors and their Hourglass appreciation night. http://www.baseballamerica.com/business/ogden-raptors-announce-quickly-remove-hourglass-appreciation-night-a/#LUOVb6EismcMMCm5.97
Yes, the promotion honored women’s bodies of the curvy variety. The promotion was to include models, 18 of them to be exact each calling a half inning of baseball in the booth. Fans can then take pictures with the beauties.
Sounds harmless, while being so offensive at the same time. You are promoting looks first and all the unhealthy things that women do to match the ideal body shape. Plus, it doesn’t seem like it has anything to do with baseball. I mean baseball doesn’t have a clock, or hour glass like in most other sports, but the connection to honoring that and an hourglass is weak at best.
Not helping the fact is that A.P Harreld a broadcaster for the Raptors has connections with the modeling agency in question.
The promotion was canceled and was never an official thing to begin with. Fans knew about it through social media and internet means, and have been voicing disapproval for the promotion. An apology has been given by the team. http://www.baseballamerica.com/business/ogden-raptors-announce-quickly-remove-hourglass-appreciation-night-a/#LUOVb6EismcMMCm5.97.
Though if you did have models at the ballpark, what’s not to say attendance wouldn’t rise. It’s the idea behind many a cheerleader, or dance team. They entertain and look good doing it.
Also brought up in the article was another failed promotion idea in White Heritage Night by the Orem Owlz.
Orem’s promotion was to celebrate the good and wholesome aspects of American living. A leave it to Beaver feel of the past. Fans didn’t take too well to that idea either. Mostly poking fun at how every day is a white appreciation day. Two days later was the church shooting in South Carolina. One that may have had racial motives. The promotion was canceled.
I think this promotion was more of a spoof than anything else. It made sense with the rest of the heritage night promotions out there to include whites. Though it does raise a lot of eyes for possible connections to white supremacy. That’s a no go. http://www.cnn.com/2015/06/20/us/caucasian-heritage-night/index.html
Sports should be a uniting factor. Even if your bitter rivals are to be hated, there is a line that doesn’t need to be crossed. These promotions may have crossed it.

 

Another Rarity

By Steve Samek

Ah so many problems with the game of baseball. Though still much loved. First was the mentioning of killing extra-inning games. http://bit.ly/2q82Reo

 Second is the over reliance on the specialty closer. http://bit.ly/2qfDxk6

This problem leads to a very real problem the rarity of the complete game and its possible extinction.

In this ESPN article http://www.espn.com/blog/sweetspot/post/_/id/80161/the-death-of-the-complete-game It shows that the numbers of complete games being thrown are going down by significant margins. As of the writing of this article the 2017 season is on pace for 75 complete games. This is down from 83 in 2016. Sense 2011 and the 173 complete games thrown that season the number has been declining every season this decade.

The percentages of complete games being thrown has also gone down according to the ESPN piece. During the 1900’s 79 percent of game pitched were complete games. Today just about two and a half percent go the distance. The trend has been decreasing percentages the whole time.

One reason behind this is pitch count watching. This season none of the 26 complete games this season, none have been more than throwing 120 pitches. Compared with 250 complete games of 120 plus pitches in 1988. Though in 5 year increments the trend downward is continuing. Just five compete games went 120 or more pitches last year. http://www.espn.com/blog/sweetspot/post/_/id/80161/the-death-of-the-complete-game

This trend has to be assisted by the bullpen argument. The game has shifted to a bunch of specialists in the bullpen, even to the point of the loogy, or roogy. (Left handed one-out guy, or right handed one out guy.) http://www.baseball-reference.com/bullpen/LOOGY.

The point is get the 27 outs even if you have to take six pitchers to do it.

The ideal scenario in a baseball game is have a starter go six, or seven innings for the quality start then move to a set-up man for the eighth and the closer in the ninth. Lots of closers never see the field for days based on the need to lock down the save and the win. Lots of closers are known for being hard throwers. Being able to give maximum effort for a short time is an advantage and shortening the game with a lock down bullpen is a legitimate strategy. Though a lot of the time the closer, which is often one of the best arms on the team gets left on the bench.

Conversely, the closer would mess with the idea of the complete game. Even with a starter cruising and the game in hand, why not bring in the closer in a save situation. Have the starter not throw more pitches than needed and still pick up the win. The starter gets pulled for the all-important save and loses the complete game. http://bit.ly/2qfDxk6

 

The pitcher hitting may have a say in this argument too. A lot of times pitchers are lifted in favor of pitch hitters, for offensive improvement. Yes, using a designated hitter helps keep pitchers focused on pitching, but it still doesn’t mean pitchers will be kept in longer. It just means you won’t have to deal with often time a liability at the plate. Though some pitchers can hit insert Madison Bumgarner here.

Looks lie the key to completeness in 2017 isn’t actually complete a game. Five of this season 22 games have only been eight inning complete games. While technically a complete game because you lost after the top of the ninth with the home team winning, I feel it cheapens it. Full games are nine innings. To truly be a complete game you have to pitch all nine. http://www.espn.com/blog/sweetspot/post/_/id/80161/the-death-of-the-complete-game.

Though I must admit the rarity is what makes it exciting. If it becomes too common to throw a complete game it loses its luster. That’s why perfect games and no-hitters are celebrated. For their difficulty to achieve. Complete games are easier to throw than perfect games and no hitters, but still can be a special thing. Just let your pitchers have a couple more pitches to finish things off.

 

Star Wars Night

By Steve Samek

On Friday May 19,2017, I went to a galaxy far far away. Well or at least a ball park near me for Star Wars Night at the Altoona Curve. The game turned into a mini prospect scouting trip after the main objective for the evening was met. This report will chronical my prospects and promotional thoughts all in one.

The main objective for the night was to snag one of the night’s giveaway items. This came in the form of much loved fish mascot Al Tuna with a light saber as a bobble head. The top 1,000 entrants would receive this prize. While it may not make for fun reading, thanks to lining up at 4:30 p.m. for a 5:00 p.m. gate time, I was able to add this collectable to my collection. Note was only offered to sell this item once and turned it down. I would say most fans got the item, as the crowd was sparse that day.

Surprisingly that crowd didn’t head for the exits after the seven run first inning the Erie Sea wolves put up. Curve starter Alex McRae, who I saw in an earlier game was rocked and looked the opposite of that earlier game. Try to the tune of just 1/3 of an inning pitched giving up six runs and two home runs, including a grand slam. McRae is would be my pick for a sleeper prospect as he sits outside of the top 30 Pirates prospects, but has pitched consistently well.

Jared Lakind pitched 3.2 innings only allowing a singular run on a singular hit while striking out six. He looked good in his long relief. Montana Durapau looked super as well. The 2016 Altoona fireman of the year lived up to the award with two scoreless innings of 1 hit ball with two stakeouts. Look for this guy to make a run at Pittsburgh, despite also being outside of the top 30 prospects.

Former top 30 prospect Luis Heredia did not impress. In 2/3 of an inning Heredia barley kept the lead intact, from a mess inherited from Buddy Borden. Borden was also lacking his best stuff on the day.

Kevin Kramer impressed me with the bat. The number 17 ranked prospect in the Pirates system went 3-4 with a home run and scored three times. http://m.mlb.com/prospects/2017?list=pit. He was a major player in the Curves 11-10 win over Erie. https://www.milb.com/gameday/seawolves-vs-curve/2017/05/19/497495?#game_state=final,game_tab=box,game=497495.

 

Now to review the festivities.  I think the Star Wars theme was a bit underdone. There were several costume characters around the park for pictures, score board graphics and walk up music themed to Star Wars. Though it felt weird that the Curve didn’t have a theme jersey on. I also felt that as cool as the bobble head was, the choice of robe makes it look like Harry Potter. If it didn’t say revenge of the fish on it and have a red colored saber it could be confused for another pop culture icon. It also seemed like the music was the same theme over and over and not a ton of varity. Though points added for playing the Saga Begins by Weird Al during the eight inning.

The promotional video work also gets an A grade. Loved the Loco vs. Al Tuna using the force hitting and pitching. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3S0Czrkw8l8.

I just think they could have done a better job emerging fans in the theme. Maybe have special themed contests, or have the costume characters participate in the games. Maybe add more video clips from the movie on the score board if doable. Overall I think I give the promotion a B-.