What’s next, Roy Hobbs driving a two-strike pitch into the lights?
The Bees were losing 8-7 to Fresno Saturday as they headed into the bottom of the 9th. Their eleven-game winning streak was on the line, and faced the possibility of losing their second game in 21 contests.
Terry Evans led off with a walk. After pinch-hitter Kendry Morales popped up, Sean Rodriguez hit a grounder to short that forced Evans but Sean beat the throw. Reggie Willits came to the plate. Rodriguez stole second, but Willits was down two strikes.
Broadcaster Steve Klauke said the outfield was playing shallow, assuming Willits’ pop-gun bat was more likely to hit a single than a deep fly ball, and they could keep Rodriguez from scoring.
But this is Salt Lake City, at an elevation of 4,500 feet. I’ve seen pop flies carry for home runs.
Reggie hit a fly ball to center. Klauke’s voice over the webcast sounded like it was routine, but the ball kept carrying. It landed behind the center field, and Rodriguez raced for home.
Game tied, 8-8.
In the bottom of the 10th, Matt Brown walked with one out. After Brandon Wood popped out, Dee Brown walked to move up Brownie to second base. Terry Evans drove a line drive to right, Brown scored, Bees win 9-8.
And now they’re 20-1.
The keeping of minor league statistical records is somewhat less reliable than major league stats, so no one really knows if this is the best start ever by a minor league team, but it’s certainly one of the best. In the ten years I’ve been covering the Angels’ minor leagues, I can’t recall any full-season team with this good a run. Some of Tom Kotchman’s teams in Boise, Provo and Orem may have had hot mid-season runs, but I doubt any went 20-1.
The Bees’ only loss was their home opener, 11-9 to Portland. They won their first eight games on the road, and since that lone loss have now won twelve straight.
Looking at Minor League Baseball’s statistics portal, here’s where individual Bees stand relative to the rest of the minor leagues.
- Matt Brown is 8th in the minors in AVG at .419.
- Brandon Wood is tied for #2 in the minors in HR at eight (one behind the leader).
- Brown is #1 in runs scored (24), and Brad Coon is #2 (22).
- Brown is #1 in total bases (73).
- Brown is #3 in hits (39).
- Brown is tied for #6 in doubles (10).
- Brown is #1 in extra-base hits (19).
- Brown is #4 in slugging percentage (.785) and Sean Rodriguez is #15 (.696).
- Jose Arredondo is tied for #2 in saves (7).
- Freddy Sandoval is #6 in AVG for switch-hitters (.385).
Clearly it’s been the Matt Brown show.
Brownie has flown under the radar as a prospect. He didn’t make the Baseball America Top 30 Angels prospects for 2008. In fact, he’s never made the Top 30 list. A 10th round pick in the June 2001 draft, his career minor league numbers are decent enough — AVG/OBP/SLG of .265/.347/.449 — but never seemed to grab the spotlight.
I was aware of Matt, of course, and every November when I wrote the annual FutureAngels.com Top 10 Prospects report he was in the back of my mind. But my two concerns were his high strikeout rate, and a tendency to be hot-headed at times on the field. He’s struck out over 100 times in his last four seasons, while drawing less than 50 walks each year. But he also hit 73 homers during that period, which for his age and level were impressive enough to deserve more attention than he’s been given.
Matt received a brief callup to Anaheim in 2007, and was briefly with the Angels earlier this month. He turns 26 in August, so he’s right about where he should be in terms of career development. With less talented organizations, he’d be in the majors now.
Credit should also be given to whomever found Shane Loux and Giancarlo Alvarado.
Loux was a Detroit Tigers’ 2nd round pick in the June 1997 draft. He reached the majors with Detroit for parts of the 2002 and 2003 seasons, but was released after the 2004 season. Loux underwent Tommy John surgery and missed all of 2005, then signed with the Kansas City Royals and pitched for them as a reliever at Triple-A Omaha in 2006. And was released.
Marty Renzhofer of the Salt Lake Tribune tells the rest of the tale. Shane was a high school coach in 2007, but was signed by the Angels in November after a Tempe workout at the end of fall instructional league. Angels farm director Abe Flores told me that scout John Gracio deserves the credit for bringing in Loux for a look-see.
Loux may have been no more than a blip on the radar. Alvarado wasn’t even on the radar.
Giancarlo was originally signed by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1995 at age 17 out of Puerto Rico. He never played higher than Double-A, and bounced around in independent ball for a couple years. Nevertheless, his career minor league numbers aren’t bad — 3.81 ERA, 755:379 SO:BB ratio in 778.0 IP, a 1.42 WHIP.
Alvarado spent 2007 in the Mexican League with Saltillo, where he was 7-1 with a 3.09 ERA. In 75.2 IP, he had a 70:24 SO:BB ratio and allowed only two homers.
I asked farm director Abe Flores how the Angels found him. He said that former Angel Eduardo Perez saw Alvarado during winter workouts in Puerto Rico and recommended him to Angels pitching coach Mike Butcher. Alvarado isn’t even in the Angels’ media guide, which shows you how late he was signed.
If John Lackey and Kelvim Escobar hadn’t been hurt, maybe Loux and Alvarado don’t even have a job. Either Joe Saunders or Ervin Santana would have been in Triple-A, and Dustin Moseley would be in the bullpen forcing another arm back to Salt Lake.
The Angels are currently 15-10, tied with Oakland for the best record in the A.L. (a score that will be settled with their upcoming four-game series in Anaheim starting Monday). With the Triple-A team playing so well, the parent club seems set for the foreseeable future.