Press release from the Arkansas Travelers.
Team Arrives Monday, Holds First Practice Tuesday
The Travs should feature one of the most dynamic offenses in the Texas League. Mark Trumbo returns to hold down first base for the Travs after leading all Angels minor league players with 32 home runs and 93 RBI in 2008. Trumbo also ranked in a tie for second in the minor leagues with 286 total bases. One of the top hitting prospects in baseball, Hank Conger is slated to be the everyday catcher. Conger recovered from a torn labrum to post a strong second half in 2008 (.303-13-75) at Rancho Cucamonga, then led the Travs in the playoffs with 13 RBI. Ben Johnson also returns to play the outfield as well as catcher and first base. Johnson had the best season of his career posting a .262 batting average and 20 homers plus 77 RBI in 106 games at Arkansas.
Second baseman Ryan Mount also put together a great second half after an injury at Rancho Cucamonga (.290-16-49). Hainley Statia begins the season with the Travs at shortstop for the second year in a row. The slick-fielding Statia was limited to 59 games in 2008 due to hamstring injuries. Wilberto Ortiz, one of the Travs 2008 playoff heroes, will take over at third base. Ortiz batted .266 between Arkansas and Rancho Cucamonga, then collected a team-high 10 hits during the postseason.
The outfield is anchored by centerfielder Peter Bourjos, who led the California League with 50 stolen bases while posting a .295 batting average, 9 home runs, 51 RBI and 83 runs scored. Patrick Breen will be at one of the corner outfield spots after signing with the Angels in October as a free agent. Breen was named the 2008 Most Valuable Player of the independent Golden Baseball League when he hit .396 with 28 homers and 94 RBI.
Also returning to the Travs are outfielder Coby Smith (.275-2-16 in 61 games), utilityman Nate Sutton (.276-7-44) and catcher Flint Wipke. Gary Patchett will be the infield utilityman after spending the last two seasons at Salt Lake.
On the mound the Travs feature two of the Angels’ top starting pitching prospects with opening day starter RHP Sean O’Sullivan and RHP Jordan Walden. O’Sullivan led the California League in wins in 2008 (16-8, 4.73 ERA), whle Walden (9-8, 2.76 ERA between Rancho Cucamonga and Cedar Rapids) led all Angels farmhands with 141 strikeouts. Midwest League All-Star LHP Mike Anton (13-9, 3.87 ERA between Rancho and CR) is the only lefty in the rotation. RHP Amalio Diaz (10-8, 4.32 ERA at Arkansas and RC) returns while RHP Trevor Bell (7-8, 3.91), the Angels’ 2005 first round draft choice, rounds out the rotation.
In the bullpen, the Travs find RHP David Herndon as the probable closer. After a switch to relief midway through the 2008 season Herndon saved 17 games, second most in the Angels’ system. LHP Barret Browning returns to the Travs after a strong 2008 campaign where he struck out 73 batters in 65.1 innings. RHP Bobby Mosebach (9-12, 4.62 ERA) has made the switch to relief after leading the Texas League with 177.1 innings pitched. Mosebach was returned to the Angels in March after being selected by the Phillies in the Major League Rule draft.
RHP Jeremy Hill is the elder statesman (31) on the club after posting 23 saves in the Mexican League in 2008. Hill also is the only member of the opening day roster with experience in the Major Leagues pitching 11 games with the Royals in 2002 and 2003. RHP Marco Albano, RHP Chad Blackwell and RHP Bobby Cassevah round out the relief corps.
The Travs arrive at Little Rock National Airport Monday afternoon and will hold a public practice at Dickey-Stephens Park on Tuesday beginning at 5:00 p.m.
The regular season opens Thursday night against the Midland RockHounds with first pitch scheduled for 7:10 p.m.
Kary Booher of Baseball America has an excellent summary of events at the Angels’ minor league spring training camp. Among the notes of interest:
• Third baseman Luis Jimenez suffered a torn labrum and is out for the year. Jimenez was one of the big bats for Orem in 2008; he was ranked #10 on the 2008 FutureAngels.com Top 10 Prospects list.
• The last report on Hank Conger was that he’d start 2009 at Rancho Cucamonga, but now farm director Abe Flores says that Conger will go to Arkansas if he’s healthy.
• Mason Tobin has been converted to the bullpen and will open 2009 as the Quakes’ closer.
• 3B Matt Sweeney, who missed all of 2008 with an ankle injury, should start 2009 with Rancho Cucamonga.
• Jon Bachanov, the Angels’ 2007 1st round pick who underwent Tommy John surgery, should start pitching next month in extended spring training.
• Young-Il Jung, the other Tommy John patient, is a bit further out, projected to pitch in June.
Because I’m unemployed, I’m putting out to bid some items from my collection.
Now on eBay are two jerseys worn by Bobby Jenks during the 2002 season. He split the year between Arkansas and Rancho Cucamonga. Both jerseys were autographed by Bobby after the 2002 season, when I caught up with him at Arizona Fall League.
Ryan Mount at Rancho Cucamonga’s youth clinic last January
It was brought to my attention that a fan site reports Ryan Mount “has been preliminarily placed on Salt Lake City’s roster, which seems a tad aggressive given his limited exposure at lower levels.”
Apparently someone is reading way too much into the minor league roster assignments that occur over the winter prior to the Rule 5 Draft.
Rule 5 has lesser known minor league phases to go along with the major league phase. Click Here to see the 2008 Rule 5 Draft with minor league phases. I don’t pretend to know all the intricacies of the minor league phase rules, but suffice to say minor league players have to be assigned to a certain roster to be protected, just as are those exposed to the major league phase.
Mountie was assigned to the Salt Lake roster for draft purposes, but other than that it’s meaningless. One winter a few years ago, when Darrell Miller was the farm director, I was in his office which had a big magnetic board with a name plate for each player in the system. They were assigned to Salt Lake, Arkansas, etc. The assignments seemed rather bizarre; Darrell explained it had to do with the Rule 5 minor league phases.
Actual assignments won’t be made until minor league camp breaks in early April. Click Here to see the minor league spring training schedule on the FutureAngels.com web site; camp breaks on April 5. Current farm director Abe Flores told Arkansas Travelers fans at their Hot Stove banquet on February 3 that Hank Conger would probably start the year in Rancho Cucamonga to work on his catching, then move up to Arkansas later in the season. He also said Mark Trumbo would return to North Little Rock. But such blanket commitments are pretty much the exception to the rule.
Mountie tweaked a knee last March when an opposing runner slid into him while he covered second base in a major league spring training game. He missed nearly a half-season before reporting to Rancho Cucamonga. Ryan spent some time over the winter in the Angels’ Dominican academy to help make up for lost time; I would say it’s 50/50 whether he returns to Rancho for more work or moves up to Arkansas.
But he’s not starting 2009 in Salt Lake.
The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported on February 4 that Angels farm director Abe Flores revealed at the Travelers’ Hot Stove banquet the assignments for a number of prospects.
The article states that Peter Bourjos, P.J. Phillips and David Herndon are likely to be assigned to Arkansas. Chris Pettit, who missed half of 2008 with a broken foot, will return along with Mark Trumbo.
Flores also said that Hank Conger “will start the season at Rancho Cucamonga to work on his catching.” The article said that Conger “should receive his second promotion to Arkansas sometime in 2009.”
Can’t find the original source, but I read somewhere that the Travs voted at season’s end to donate their fine money to Cedar Rapids for flood disaster relief.
For those of you going to spring training, the minor league camp schedule is now online at the FutureAngels.com web site. The minor league fields are west of Tempe Diablo Stadium, across the parking lot. Minor league camp is very informal. You’ll see over 100 ballplayers running around on four fields, in the bullpen and in the batting cages. Everything is accessible, and you can usually get an autograph so long as you don’t bother a player while he’s working. In the afternoon, you can watch two games for free on adjacent fields. Major league players often participate in the games to get some extra work.
The FutureAngels.com web site underwent a redesign recently. I’ve received a couple e-mails from AOL users who reported problems viewing the site. Refreshing their browser solved the problem, so if you’re experiencing a similar problem click the Refresh or Reload button on your browser and see what happens.
It’s very unlikely that I’ll go to spring training, since I’m unemployed. But this is also a reminder that FutureAngels.com survives only on the donations of its readers. You can make a one-time donation, or sign up for a voluntary $5/month subscription. FutureAngels.com has no ads, nor do you have to pay to access exclusive content such as the video clips and audio interviews. Click Here to learn more about how you can donate and support the web site in 2009.
Corey Smith was drafted by the Cleveland Indians in the first round of the June 2000 draft, was traded in 2005 to the Padres, and spent 2007 with Newark in independent ball before joining the Angels organization in spring training 2008. He finished 2008 with 26 homers for Double-A Arkansas.
Once upon a time, minor league teams could hire, trade and release their own players. About 20 years ago, all that changed, although it was an evolutionary process. These days, a minor league team affiliated with a major league operation must only use players assigned by that parent club.
Arkansas Travelers Chief Operating Officer Bill Valentine, about as “old school” as they come, has openly advocated the Los Angeles Angels signing independent league players to supplement his roster when deficiencies arise. In past years, the Angels resisted for the most part, preferring to assign to Arkansas players already in the organization. Independent league players, by and large, are talent released by other organizations or not talented enough to be offered a contract by a major league club.
For whatever reason, that philosophy changed in 2008, as the Angels signed several players from independent ball to supplement the underachieving Travs. Corey Smith was signed during the winter and hit 26 homers for Arkansas. Outfielder Adam Greenberg joined the Travs on May 10 and finished with an AVG/OBP/SLG of .271/.361/.347. Outfielder Brian Stavisky joined the Travs at the end of May and finished with .312/.408/.522.
Add minor league free agents Jordan Czarniecki (.284/.379/.433) and pitcher Dan Denham (9-10, 4.44 ERA, 146 IP in 25 starts) and you have a group of players who came from outside the Angels organization to provide enough support for the Travs to win the Texas League North Division first-half title at 36-34. The Travs were an abysmal 26-44 in the second half, and 62-78 overall, but nonetheless they qualified for the playoffs.
The Travs swept state rival Northwest Arkansas (75-65 overall) three-zip in the North Division title series, thanks in part to two power bats added from Rancho Cucamonga, Mark Trumbo and Hank Conger. This really isn’t all that unusual in the minor leagues, due to the split-season schedules used at Double-A and lower levels. The teams that go to the post-season may not resemble at all the roster that won the first half.
Arkansas won Game #1 tonight of their best-of-five series against Frisco (84-56 overall), 3-0. Conger delivered a bases-loaded double in the bottom of the 8th to clear the bases. Veteran lefty Daniel Davidson pitched seven shutout innings, Barret Browning a scoreless eighth and Rafy Rodriguez got the save in the 9th.
And a 62-78 team is two wins away from the Texas League pennant.
Owlz outfielder Roberto Lopez has a shot at the Pioneer League triple crown.
The Angels system came within one run of placing all six minor league teams in the post-season.
The Rancho Cucamonga Quakes lost a one-game sudden-death playoff Tuesday at Inland Empire, 7-6 in 13 innings. Flip that score and all six teams are playing capture the flag.
Still, five out of six is darn good. And although I don’t count them because they’re an academy operation, the Dominican Summer League Angels finished 47-24 in a virtual tie for first in their division. They won their first best-of-three series 2-0 over the DSL Rangers, but were eliminated in the second round 2-1 by the DSL Nationals.
With players called up from Salt Lake to Anaheim for September, the Angels have moved around some minor league chess pieces to compensate. Catcher Tim Duff and second baseman Adam Morrissey reported to the Bees from Arkansas, and Quakes second baseman Ryan Mount also reported to Salt Lake. None of them are in tonight’s starting lineup at Sacramento.
Arkansas got catcher Hank Conger from the Quakes to complement catcher C.J. Broussard who reported from Rancho Cucamonga a couple days ago. Hank will probably DH most of the time; he hasn’t caught since August 22 as the Angels continue to treat gently his shoulder recovering from a slight labrum tear in spring training.
Cedar Rapids got infielder-outfielder Alexi Amarista from the Tempe Angels. Charitably listed at 5’8″ 150 lbs., for some of we long-timers he evokes memories of popular diminutive infielder Joe Urso, who played for the Lake Elsinore Storm in the mid-1990s. 19-year old Amarista finished with an AVG/OBP/SLG of .332/.416/.431 in the Arizona League.
Orem won both halves of the Pioneer League South Division. They’ll face their I-15 rivals, the Ogden Raptors (Dodgers affiliate), in a best-of-three starting Saturday in Ogden. Games #2 and (if necessary) #3 will be in Orem. The winner of that matchup will face either Billings or Great Falls in the title series.
Should the Owlz get to the championship round, I’ll fly up for Games #2 and #3 at Orem scheduled for September 12 and 13. It looks like manager Tom Kotchman won’t return as he remains in Florida to tend to his ailing wife, so I’m going to videotape as much as I can to send him the highlights.
Owlz outfielder Roberto Lopez has a shot at the Triple Crown. He’s first in average at .402 (Great Falls’ Tyler Kuhn is second at .370), second in homers with 14 (trailing teammate Luis Jimenez and tied with teammate Angel Castillo), and first in RBI with 69 (teammate Jimenez has 63). Regarding the RBI record, Robb Quinlan had 77 RBI with Boise in 1999, which is probably the best short-season record in the Angels system in recent years, although I haven’t researched it. Lopez has three games including tonight to catch Quinlan.
Just in … Cedar Rapids shut out Clinton (Rangers affiliate) 3-0 tonight to take a 1-0 lead in their series. Arkansas’ game against Northwest Arkansas was postponed due to the remnants of Hurricane Gustav. They’ll try again on Thursday.