Kernels Article for Quakes’ “Play Ball” Magazine

Chris Pettit was promoted to Rancho Cucamonga after the Midwest League All-Star break.

I mentioned earlier that I’ve been working on a series of articles for the Play Ball magazine distributed at Rancho Cucamonga Quakes games.

The below article was in the issue distributed July 1-3 during the Lancaster series.

The next article, about the history of the Quakes/Lake Elsinore Storm rivalry, will appear in the issue distributed July 7-9 during the Storm series. I’ll post it next week when I return from Orem.

And now I have to go write an article about the Arkansas Travelers …

The 2007 Cedar Rapids Kernels

If you ask the seismologists at Cal Tech, they’ll tell you that quakes come from the shifting of tectonic faults deep beneath the Earth’s surface.

But Angels fans know that Rancho Cucamonga Quakes usually come from Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

The Cedar Rapids Kernels are the Angels’ affiliate in the Midwest League.  They’re one level below Rancho Cucamonga in the Angels farm system.

Players are promoted to Rancho Cucamonga after showing they can play at the Midwest League level.  Many of the most successful Quakes players in recent years played for Cedar Rapids the year before — Brandon Wood, Howie Kendrick, Casey Kotchman, Dallas McPherson, Jeff Mathis, Sean Rodriguez, Ervin Santana, Nick Adenhart and many more.

The 2007 Kernels finished 38-31 in the first half, good enough for third place in the eight-team Western Division.  Two of them — outfielder Chris Pettit and pitcher Doug Brandt — have already arrived in Rancho Cucamonga.  You might see more Kernels before the season ends, and most of the rest will take the field at The Epicenter in April 2008.

Pettit, who turns 23 on August 15, hit .346 in the first half with 9 HR and 41 RBI.  His .429 on-base percentage led the league.  He also led the league with 24 doubles and was second with a .679 slugging percentage.  Oh, he also stole 17 bases in 21 attempts.  And he started for the Western Division in the Midwest League All-Star Game.  Pettit grew up in San Dimas, and attended Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles before the Angels sign.

Two Orange County natives are among the Kernels’ top prospects.

Catcher Hank Conger, 19, was the Angels’ first round pick in the June 2006 draft.  The Huntington Beach resident hit .282 in the first half with 8 HR and 33 RBI.  His OPS (on-base percentage + slugging percentage) improved from .732 in April to .820 in May and .872 in the first half of June.  The switch-hitter had more success against right-handed pitchers (.840 OPS) than lefties (.703 OPS).

The other local is first baseman Mark Trumbo, 21, who’s from Orange.  Although he’d committed to attend USC, the Angels gave him a huge bonus to sign in August 2004.  Trumbo had a disappointing 2006 with the Kernels, batting only .220 with 13 HR, and started 2007 back in Cedar Rapids.  After a slow start, Mark had a .319 AVG in June before the break, a .351 on-base percentage and .507 slugging percentage.

Let’s not overlook the Inland Empire!

Southpaw pitcher Brandt made a name for himself in Iowa after being drafted out of Cal State San Bernardino. Doug was selected in the 43rd round of the June 2006 draft, and began 2007 in the Kernels’ bullpen where he posted a perfect 0.00 ERA.  But after a couple starters were injured, Brandt made the most of his opportunity.  In nine starts at the break, Doug has a 2.76 ERA and given up only one homer.  His overall numbers for the first half: a 2.18 ERA with 60 strikeouts and only 12 walks in 57 2/3 innings.

Ryan Mount, from Chino Hills, turns 21 in August.  "Mountie" hit .272 in the first half, stealing 13 bases.  In June before the break, his average was a sizzling .417 with a .481 on-base percentage.  Originally drafted as a shortstop, Ryan has played second base for the Kernels.

Another top prospect from the L.A. area is right-hander Trevor Bell, who the Angels chose in the first round of the June 2005 draft.  Trevor, who’s from the San Fernando Valley, made a name for himself acting in commercials while growing up.  His professional baseball career has been set back by injuries, but when healthy he’s been another solid starter for the Kernels.  In eight starts before the All-Star break, Bell was 2-2 with a 3.46 ERA, striking out 30 and walking only four in 41.2 innings.

Let’s be honest — not all the Kernels’ talent comes from California.  (It only seems that way!)

On the mound, the Kernels’ ace the first half was right-hander Tim Schoeninger.  The Denver native wasn’t on anyone’s prospect radar, but his season to date has changed that.  Tim was 9-2 in 12 starts with a 2.67 ERA.  In 81 innings, he struck out 64 and walked only six!  Schoeninger was named to the Western Division All-Star roster.

In the bullpen, watch out for Aaron Cook, a 23-year old Floridian with a funky submarine delivery.  In 19 relief appearances, he had a stingy 1.04 ERA with 17 strikeouts and only one walk in 26 innings.

Cook had four saves, but lefty Barret Browning leads the staff with five.  Browning, 22, was scouted and signed out of Florida State University by Tom Kotchman, Casey’s dad.  Opponents were batting only .205 against Barret, who had 42 strikeouts in 35.1 innings.

A couple years ago, Angels fans expected one day to see Warner Madrigal hitting home runs at The Epicenter.  But a series of hand injuries slowed his career to the point where the Angels converted him to the mound last summer.  Now 23, Warner had a 3.64 ERA in 27 relief appearances, striking out 31 and walking 17 in 29.2 innings.  Warner’s fastball is in the mid-90s, and he’s working on a slider and changeup.

In the next issue of Play Ball, we’ll look at the Double-A Arkansas Travelers, where many of last year’s Quakes now play.




    Petit thoughts: I’ve been pretty high on this guy for a while. Many were skeptical of his age, as he’s a bit old for a true top prospect (turns 23 in August).

    He has continued to put up monster stats at High-A, and I have to say that thus far, this guy seems to be the total package- Howie Kendrick-like batting average, Brandon Wood-like power, good speed, and and a decent batting eye.

    I was surprised it took the Angels as long as it did to move him up to High A, and I wonder if he’s still not really in the right place yet. Sure, Rancho’s a launching pad, and Arkansas has always seemed to me to be the toughest place for our prospects to play. (Certainly the struggles of S. Rodriguez and Wood speak to that). I also realize that a lot of his success has only come in the last 10 days or so. It just bothers me sometimes to see us hold guys back. Other organizations always seem to promote guys quickly if they dominate consistently the way Petit has.

    One thing I would ask about is how his arm and glovework look. His error count has been fairly low for a minor leaguer, but that doesn’t tell me much.

    On another subject entirely, a couple of guys I was surprised you left out:

    Sean O’Sullivan, who is 19 years old and has the lowest ERA on the Cedar Rapids staff. He’s not quite Nick Adenheart, but he’s closer than some might think.

    Mark Sweeney, 3B, also 19 years old. He’s put up similar numbers to Mark Trumbo, while being 2 years younger. They also happen to be better than the numbers Brandon Wood put up at the same age back in 2004. Not saying he’s going to explode in Rancho the way Wood did. Just found that interesting.

    Thanks for the reporting, I just figured I’d let you know someone is reading and cares enough to respond. ^_^

  2. Stephen

    Thanks for your comments.

    I was aware that I left out O’Sullivan and Sweeney, but frankly I ran out of space. By the time I got past (1) guys I thought would be called up to Rancho in time for the series where this would be distributed, and (2) guys from the SoCal area, I was at the limit. They certainly were deserving and I regret I didn’t find space for them.

    Re someone caring enough to respond, a lot of folks come up to tell me they read the blog and the main site. Most folks just enjoy reading, I guess. I see statistics for page views and it’s pretty clear these columns get read. Maybe folks don’t want to sign up for an account.


    I didn’t mean to imply that it wasn’t. It’s just that as a writer myself, I know that’s always nice to have feedback, and comments on your blog seem in short supply sometimes. ^_^

    I forgot to put a question mark in when I asked about this earlier, but do you know anything about how Petit’s glovework and arm look?

    The available stats don’t tell me much him from the fielding side.

  4. Stephen

    Regarding Chris Pettit, I’ve only seen him for one spring training game and three games at Cedar Rapids. Most of the time it was through a camera lens, so I really can’t give you an authoritative answer. My anecdotal impression is that he played all three outfield positions in C.R, which suggests his arm and defense are fine. But it’s also important to see how well he runs his routes to balls, and that takes more time than I’ve spent watching him play.

    Regarding the relatively few posts, I think there are several reasons.

    One which I’m sure will offend some folks on other fan sites is that, frankly, the people who visit my site and this blog are smarter about the game and more willing to learn. When I read the Angels board, there are times when I want to scream because the posts are so clueless. The real crime isn’t that they’re uninformed, it’s that they’re DELIBERATELY uninformed. They don’t want to be educated. They just want to complain, or they want instant gratification, or they’re trolling for attention.

    When they come to and this blog, they see that it’s informed and realize that irrational rants are probably going to be debunked, not just by me but sane folks such as yourself. So that intimidates them.

    The more I learn from hanging around the minors, the more I realize I don’t know. Spend three days with Tom Kotchman and you’re floored by how much this guy knows about the game, and its psychology. I try to soak as much knowledge as I can from the coaches and pass that along. Some of the coaches and rovers, I’ve known for almost ten years, so we’ll have a lot of off-the-record conversations which help me to learn more about the game and our players. I record interviews and post video on the site so visitors can watch and listen, and decide for themselves. What I learn, I try to pass along, but like I said some people just don’t want to hear it.

    Another reason is that many people who visit the site and the blog are part of the extended family, for lack of a better phrase. They’re players, coaches, their parents and loved ones, host parents, minor league front office staff, reporters, etc. Those folk aren’t as likely to post because they’re looking more for news, photos, video etc. than to get into a prolonged debate.

    I’ve often described as the PBS/NPR of Angels baseball. PBS ratings are way below Fox, but I doubt anyone could deny that PBS viewers are smarter and more discerning than Fox viewers.

    So I just don’t see “quantity” as a measurement of this site’s success. I’d rather have a reputation for “quality” than having hundreds of people posting rants like you see on the Angels board.


    I know well the status of the board. >_>;

    I actually post there pretty often, though I like to think I’m less about instant gratification and bashing players that are playing poorly than most.

    Anyways, thanks for answering my questions.

    (If you’re curious as to who I am on the boards, I’ll give you a hint: I’m currently using one of your Angels pictures as an avatar.)

  6. Stephen

    Oh, I know there are sane people on the MLB board, but from my observation they’re becoming fewer and fewer. I go back to the late 1990s when the Angels front office ran the site, before the owners voted to turn over all Internet rights to MLB. The board was quite different then. It had its share of loonies, but it was manageable.

    These days, if you go read other fan sites they’re unanimous in their disgust with the MLB board; in fact, most of those sites were started as an alternative to the MLB board.

    Ironically, most of the fan sites have become their own little cliques. It’s kinda funny to see two fan sites go to war with each other. It’s the same behavior they condemn on the MLB board.

    I avoid it all by simply not naming any other particular site or any particular individual running a blog. I do see lies and smears posted about me, but they’re just looking to provoke a fight so they can get attention. I’d rather talk about the Angels than get into an endless flamewar.

    Anyway, back to Pettit, hopefully next month I can get to Rancho for a couple games and do more Pettit coverage, including an interview. I also want to look at his Cal League stats to see how they split if you factor out High Desert and Lancaster, the two extreme hitter-friendly parks in the division.

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