Tagged: Instructional League/Arizona Fall League

Angels in Arizona

Photo of Angels players in Arizona Fall League
Left to right: outfielder Chris Pettit, catcher Tim Duff, pitcher Nick Green, pitcher Barret Browning (with a bat!), pitcher David Herndon and first baseman Mark Trumbo. They’re wearing Scottsdale Scorpions caps, one of the six teams in the AFL. Photo courtesy Cheryl Perdew.


Cheryl Perdew of the

Rancho Cucamonga Quakes Booster Club
sent me the above photo of the six Angels players who participated in Arizona Fall League this year.

Cheryl is one of those selfless fans who sacrifices so much to help ball players along in their careers, asking nothing in return. Rancho Cucamonga, Cedar Rapids and Orem are blessed to have booster clubs and host parent programs to help along the young players.

She’s been at it for so long, the players automatically recognized her when she showed up at the ballpark and asked them to line up for a group photo.

I’m often asked why I do my gig although I lose a couple thousand dollars a year doing it. This is why. These young men are like family, and most of them will embrace you as part of their family.

Cheryl, like so many others who get no public recognition, is also family.

Fall Ball, Part 2

Here are some more photos from instructional league … Video highlights will be posted in the next day or two, including Jered Weaver’s three innings yesterday.


The aforementioned Mr. Weaver. He pitched three innings. He didn’t start the game but relieved Manaurys Correa to start the third. Since the Angels haven’t announced yet their rotation for the upcoming division series against Boston, read into that what you will.


Shortstop Andrew Romine on the back-end of a spectacular double play. With a runner on first, the Cubs’ batter hit a shot up the middle. Angels second baseman P.J. Phillips dove to his right to glove the ball, and lying on his stomach flipped the ball over his head to Romine at the bag. Romine then turned and leapt to throw on to first and complete the double play. That got a standing ovation from their own bench.


For the Canadians who keep e-mailing me to ask for a photo of Terrell Alliman … Enjoy.


And for the John Hellweg fan club who also ask for photos … He pitched the 9th yesterday. The roster lists him at 6’7″. He certainly stands out in a crowd, but he’s not the tallest player on the roster. That honor goes to Jon Plefka at 6’8″.


And here’s Gabe Jacobo, also requested by his clan. Gabe played first base Thursday and Saturday.


Plenty for me to do this weekend, more photos and video as time permits.

Fall Ball

I’m in Tempe for fall instructional league, also known as “The Instructs” or “Fall Ball.”

Fall ball is fun for people like me who are constantly trying to learn the nuances of the game, because the emphasis isn’t on winning and losing so much as teaching minor leaguers.

In fact, during today’s game against the Cubs camp, the scoreboard wasn’t even turned on. Yesterday, when we played at their place (Fitch Park in Mesa), we played the bottom of the 9th although we’d already lost 3-2. The Cubs have employed 10-man lineups with two DHs — one catches the first part of the game, then becomes the DH while the other becomes the catcher.

Yes, that’s not how the DH is supposed to work. Like I said, these games are for instruction.

Here are some photos from the first couple days. I’m working on video clips, some of which are already on www.futureangels.com.

Anel de los Santos successfully blocks the plate as Cubs center fielder Brandon Guyer tries to score in yesterday’s game at Fitch Park.


Roberto Lopez, the Pioneer League MVP this year with the Orem Owlz, played the outfield, third base and first base. The Angels may be thinking about adding catcher to his resume, as he caught a little bullpen today.


Cubs catcher Robinson Chirinos blocks the plate as Angels center fielder Clay Fuller dives head-first trying to score. Fuller was called out.


Cubs center fielder Tony Campana and right fielder Brandon Guyer collided in the first inning of today’s game at Tempe Diablo. Both called for the ball and then collided. Angels field coordinator Bruce Hines and trainer Mike Metcalfe were on the scene before the Cubs staff arrived.


The Angels have a full complement of veteran coaches and instructors directing the daily program. Seen in this photo are Arkansas hitting coach Eric Owens, field coordinator Bruce Hines, catching instructor Tom Gregorio and pitching instructor Kernan Ronan.


Fall Ball – Day Three

No, beer isn’t on tap in the minor league clubhouse, but when this neon sign is lit it means the Tempe Angels won that day.

“Deliveries don’t throw strikes. Deliveries protect your arm.” — Pitching coach Zeke Zimmerman lecturing a group of young pitchers on Friday.

The rain that passed through Southern California Friday night and Saturday worked its way to Phoenix by the middle of Saturday afternoon. As the last out was recorded, the first drop fell, and within a few minutes a deluge drenched Tempe Diablo.

Before that, the Angels’ fall instructional league team won 6-4 over the Maryvale Brewers.

This was the second game for rehabbing Dallas McPherson. After playing third base for three innings on Friday at the Cubs’ camp, Dallas was the DH in Saturday’s game. In three plate appearances, he homered, walked, and singled. He was then replaced at DH by Chris Pettit.

Click Here to watch Dallas’ home run. You need Windows Media Player and a high-speed Internet connection (cable modem, DSL) to watch.

Jordan Walden got the start for the Angels. I should mention that "start" doesn’t mean much in these games. Typically the "starter" goes two innings; if he exceeds his pitch count, he can be relieved early. The next guy in line is often a starter himself. Innings three and four on Saturday belonged to Mike Anton, who was a starter during the summer for Tempe. After them came Tremayne Holland, Ryan Brasier, and Lou Green, all three of which were relievers this year. Holland worked the 5th, then Brasier had the 6th and 7th. Ryan ran into trouble in the 7th, so Green relieved him early and also worked the 8th.

If you look at the day’s roster, you’ll see a "JIC" next to certain pitchers’ names. That means "Just In Case." Because Green relieved earlier than scheduled, the Angels used a JIC to pitch the 9th. Mason Tobin, a Tempe starter who also pitched for Orem, was the 9th inning JIC.

The Angels got out to an early 5-1 lead, but the Brewers rallied against Brasier. With two outs in the top of the 8th, Green relieved Brasier. The Brewers had runners on 1st and 3rd. On the first pitch, the runner on 1st took off for second, hoping to draw a throw from Angels catcher Anel de los Santos. As Anel threw down to 2B Wil Ortiz, the runner on first froze midway as the runner on third broke for home. Ortiz threw the ball right back to de los Santos, who blocked the plate and applied the tag for the third out.

Click Here to watch the play at home.

You’ll hear a Brewers fan next to the camcorder complain the runner was safe, but I looked at the tape frame-by-frame and saw he was out. Anel’s foot blocked the front of the plate, causing the runner’s lead foot to bounce off and around Anel’s ankle. Anel slapped down his mitt to apply the tag an instant later. The umpire got it right.

I mentioned in an earlier entry the stats for instructional league games aren’t reported because the rules aren’t always enforced. Saturday was one example. Although the Angels won, the bottom of the 9th was played anyway because the Brewers had a pitcher who needed work.

I could see a massive storm cloud approaching from the south, so it was a question of whether he could record three outs before the cloudburst arrived. The first drops fell as he delivered his final pitch, and by the time the out was recorded it was raining.

That didn’t stop the Angels coaches from holding a post-game drill, though, as the position players were led over to another field for work in the downpour.

As Dirty Harry said, a good man knows his limitations, and I drew the line at standing in the rain, so I headed inside to wait it out. It stopped raining about 30 minutes later, and I started the six-hour drive for home.

(I refilled the gas tank in the Arizona desert for about $2.45/gallon, or 30 cents/gallon cheaper than in SoCal. Travel tip: if you’re driving between California and Arizona, always gas up on the Arizona side.)

Inside the clubhouse delivery entrance is a neon sign with an Angels logo and a Coors Light ad. No, beer is not on tap in the clubhouse. (Nor is there any alcohol I’ve ever seen.) But you do see various knick-knacks such as the neon sign. Apparently these are collected from vendor shows, samples given to the parent club, personal acquisitions, etc. Some stuff came over from the clubhouse at the Angels’ former facility, Gene Autry Park (AKA "The GAP") in Mesa.

Long-time Angels fans know of the tradition that the halo on the old Big A scoreboard by the freeway is lit after every win. A similar tradition was started this year at Tempe by Dan Ricabal, who was the Tempe pitching coach until Pedro Borbon Jr. resigned in May as the Cedar Rapids Kernels’ pitching coach. Dan was sent to Cedar Rapids to replace him. But before he left, Dan started a "Light the Halo!" tradition at Tempe. If the Tempe team wins, the neon sign is lit for the rest of the day.

I’ve posted on FutureAngels.com video highlights from Day Two. Click Here to watch the highlights. The 13-minute video includes some great instruction sessions with Bruce Hines, Zeke Zimmerman and Tom Gregorio, along with game highlights. Day Three highlights will be on-line in the next couple days.

My thanks and gratitude to all the managers, coaches, front office staff, and players for their patience over the last three days. I’ve always found "fall ball" so fascinating. This is where the young players first learn how to really play the game — and yet almost no fans are ever around, although they could be, to listen and observe. Where else could you sit down and listen to a Bruce Hines, a Zeke Zimmerman, a Kernan Ronan — all with decades of experience — teach how to play Angels baseball? And it doesn’t cost you a penny. You just have to show up. But no one ever does.

Except the ******* with the camcorder and the good sense to get out of the rain.

Fall Ball – Day Two

Dallas McPherson played three innings Friday in his first rehab game of 2007.

“The f***in’ problem is the f***in’ DH!” — An instructor commenting on last night’s headhunting by the Mariners’ Jorge Campillo at Vlad Guerrero.

Although the big leagues are far removed from the Arizona Instructional League, last night’s dustup between the Mariners and Angels was very much a topic of conversation.

Minor league field coordinator Bruce Hines gathered the young players around him to discuss the incident. It’s not my place go into detail, but he made it very clear to them that the Angels’ organizational philosophy is NOT to throw at opposing batters. That comes straight from Mike Scioscia. The best way to retailiate is to win the game. There are other ways, all legal, to retaliate.

One coach who I won’t name expressed his opinion that the designated hitter has led to more headhunting episodes. In the old days — and it’s still played this way in the National League — a pitcher might think twice about throwing at a batter because that pitcher has to bat himself, and might find himself knocked on his butt. If he’s not around, his catcher might suffer the same fate.

Losing cool under pressure manifested itself on September 14, when the Orem Owlz upset the Great Falls White Sox for the Pioneer League title. The Owlz won a 3-2 game in 16 innings at Great Falls. The White Sox had three players ejected from the game, and their manager too.

I asked Zeke Zimmerman, Owlz manager Tom Kotchman’s pitching coach who’s here as an instructor, when was the last time Kotch was ejected from a game. He thinks it was about eight years ago, and believes it’s been that long for one of Kotch’s players to get tossed too.

That says a lot about how smart the management is in this organization. They teach discipline, they teach calm under fire, and most importantly they teach how to pressure the other guy into losing his calm under fire.

I recorded two interviews this afternoon. One was with Jordan Walden, the Owlz’ ace pitcher who was on the mound that night in Great Falls. Jordan is quickly becoming one of the top pitching prospects in the Angels organization. He’s scheduled to pitch tomorrow, so hopefully I can get video and post it on-line after I return home late Saturday night.

The other interview was with Trevor Reckling, an 18-year old lefty out of New Jersey. Trevor attended a small prep school in Newark, but despite the obscurity of his amateur career was drafted by the Angels this year in the eighth round. He had knockout numbers in the Arizona Summer League — a 2.75 ERA in 36 innings, striking out 55 and walking only seven! Trevor seems very excited by the opportunity to soak up so much baseball knowledge from people like Zeke, pitching instructor Kernan Ronan and Tempe Angels pitching coach Brandon Emanuel. As Trevor will tell you in the interview, any meaningful instruction was pretty much non-existent at his high school.

Today’s game was against the Cubs at Fitch Park. The Angels lost 8-4. More importantly, the game marked the return to action of Dallas McPherson. Once destined to replace Troy Glaus at third base for the Angels, Dallas suffered a series of back injuries and underwent increasingly drastic surgeries in an attempt to fix the damage. His last surgery was in January to have a herniated disk removed and a bone spur shaved down.

Dallas started the game at third base and played three innings. In two at-bats, he grounded out and then drilled a ball off the right-field wall. His baserunning was definitely in first gear, although the Cubs’ pitcher forced him to dive back into second on a pickoff play.

I have video of Dallas’ at-bats and will post them this weekend after I return to California. I also shot plenty more footage of the morning instructions. My favorite was Zeke working with the young pitchers on what’s called the strap drill. (Get your minds out of the gutter …) Zeke began by saying that what he was about to explain was passed on to him by Marcel Lachemann, the Angels’ famous pitching coach and manager in the 1990s. So although Lach is long gone from the organization, his pitching philosophies remain, and Zeke is passing it along to a new generation — including Tempe pitching coach Brandon Emanuel, who not too many years ago was a young pitching prospect himself learning from Zeke.

Oh, an update on Hank Conger … He suffered a left hamstring strain in yesterday’s game. The early belief is that he won’t play again in the Instructs, but he was previously scheduled to join Team USA in the Arizona Fall League starting in mid-October so it appears the Angels will shut him down to quiet the hamstring and then let him get his extra work with Team USA.

Tomorrow’s game is at 10 AM. My game plan is to check out of the motel, go work the game, then drive home to Orange County. Since it’ll probably be around 8 PM PDT before I get home, watch the home page at www.futureangels.com for the video updates from Day 2 and Day 3.

P.S. Yes, it’s still hot here.

Fall Ball – Day One

Trevor Bell pitched two shutout innings to start today’s 10-0 Angels romp at the A’s complex in Papago Park.

I’m in Tempe, Arizona at the Angels’ minor league complex for the first three days of the Arizona instructional league.

"Fall Ball," or “The Instructs,” is often confused with the Arizona Fall League. They’re two different things. The AFL is a six-week top prospect league organized by Major League Baseball, with six teams each having players from five organizations. Fall Ball lasts four weeks, with informal games played between minor league camps.

Statistics aren’t available, because the games aren’t formal. Although teams keep their own numbers, they’re not reported anywhere. You’ll see games with two DHs, you’ll see the bottom of the 9th played when the home team has already won, and other oddities.

They’re serious about that word "instructional" in the title. Each day, and each game, is heavy on instruction.

I’ve posted a video with clips from various instruction drills today. (The link is at the bottom of this article.) You’ll see pitchers and catchers being taught to communicate. You’ll see longtime pitching coach Zeke Zimmerman pass along some pickoff tips to young pitchers.

You’ll also see a drill that’s classic Angels "Contactball" preparing the players for the parent club. Two coaches go to center field, and set up cones in shallow center that are to the left and right of second base. The hitters are expected to drive a soft-toss ball between those two cones, then run as fast as possible to first base. They must do it twice, and their times are logged. The times ranged from under 4.0 to about 4.6 seconds. If you watch the parent club, you see how skilled they are at driving the ball up the middle and pressuring the defense. This is where they learn how to do it.

Today was the first game of the four-week schedule. The Tempe Angels were at the Phoenix A’s.

The A’s minor league complex is in Papago Park, north of the Phoenix Zoo and Phoenix Municipal Stadium. Just my opinion, but I think the A’s complex is the most beautiful of all the Arizona complexes. It’s blended into the nearby desert landscape, up against a butte. The facility is more like a campus. The trees and plants are all native xeriscape. and many bloom green-and-gold, the A’s colors.

The A’s bullpen pitchers relax beneath a tree that’s part of the bullpen.

There are many fields at this complex. The minor league games are usually played on the same field. I noticed this time that the A’s bullpen is on a slight hill behind the third-base dugout. The bullpen pitchers sit on a bench under a tree! I took a photo, which is to the right. Tough life, huh.

The visitors’ dugout is on the first base side, and their bullpen is down the line. (No tree.) Pitchers for both sides who have the day off sit on concrete steps behind home plate. Some pitchers chart or work the radar gun. The photo below shows both teams’ pitchers sitting side-by-side behind the backstop.

As for the game, the Angels romped 10-0. (So much for Moneyball.) It was classic Contactball. Singles, doubles, stolen bases, take the extra base, pressure the defense. You’ll see some of the highlights in the video.

Trevor Bell pitched the first two innings and was nails. I think he struck out something like four hitters, but I’ll post the video when I get home this weekend and we’ll get it right. For those of you who’ve seen Trevor before, he’s shorn his locks to a fine fuzz. I asked him about it afterwards; he said he’s just trying to change his luck. It worked today.

Both teams’ pitchers sit behind the backstop on concrete steps, all part of the unique design at Papago Park.

After Bell came the other Trevor, Trevor Reckling. You’ll see both Bell and Reckling strike out batters in the video.

The bad news is that Hank Conger injured his left leg running the bases. You’ll see that in the video too. Hank reached first on a single, then headed for second when Ryan Mount singled. Hank rounded second full-speed then applied the brakes, tweaking the leg above his knee. He was removed from the game. I’ll check with the Angels’ front office tomorrow morning to find out what I can tell you about the injury.

Tomorrow we have a 12:30 PM game at Fitch Park in Mesa against the Cubs. I’ll try to film more instruction. I’ve also tentatively scheduled a couple of interviews, but let’s see if they actually happen first.

Click Here to watch the Day One video. You need Windows Media Player and a high-speed Internet connection (cable modem, DSL) to watch.

Arizona Fall League Assignments

Sean Rodriguez is one of seven Angels minor leaguers assigned to the Arizona Fall League.

Major League Baseball announced the rosters for the 2007 Arizona Fall League season.

The Angels players will be with the Surprise (that’s a town, not an exclamation) Rafters this year. Click Here for the complete Rafters roster.

The seven Angels are RHP David Austen, RHP Darren O’Day, RHP Fernando Rodriguez, RHP Von Stertzbach, C Ben Johnson, IF Sean Rodriguez, and OF Chris Pettit.

In an August 8 audio interview, Pettit told us he was slated for fall instructional league to learn how to play first and third base. But it looks like that plan has changed; maybe he’ll play the corners in the AFL, maybe not.

Many people have common misconceptions about the AFL. The main one is that the players who go to the AFL are an organization’s top prospects. That’s often true, but not always.

When the AFL was founded in 1992, the idea was to send the game’s top prospects to a six-week league where they could accelerate their development and improve their chance of making the big league roster next spring. Although all major league organizations are required to provide six players, not everyone sends their best players, because they don’t want to risk an injury to a top prospect.

Now you’ll find top prospects, but you’ll also find guys who missed much of the season due to injury (e.g. Austen and Stertzbach). MLB will also negotiate with organizations so they receive a diversity of players; if nobody sends a catcher, it’s a problem, so they’ll ask for certain players at certain positions to balance out the rosters. A versatile player like Sean Rodriguez is a godsend for an AFL manager.

Speaking of Sean … I wanted to note an interesting dichotomy in his 2007 stats. After one season in the Texas League, Dickey-Stephens Park has proven to be very pitcher-friendly, and that’s reflected in Sean’s home-road splits. His home AVG/OBP/SLG are .236/.352/.333. His road numbers are .268/.336/.500. Eleven of his fifteen homers, and 22 of his 31 doubles, were on the road. Most hitters do quite well in the Phoenix desert air, so expect him to post improved numbers in the AFL.

Some other misconceptions …

People often confuse the Arizona Fall League with the fall instructional league. Two different things. AFL is run by Major League Baseball. Official statistics are kept, and the games are played by official rules. "Fall ball" is an informal schedule of contests against other nearby minor league camps. Rules are loosely followed. It’s not unusual to see 10-man lineups with two DHs. You might see an inning end early because a young pitcher is exceeding his pitch count. And the bottom of the 9th might be played even though the home team has won because the visiting team has a pitcher who needs an inning of work. The statistics are not reported, one reason being they wouldn’t make much sense under these informal conditions.

AFL players must be Triple-A or Double-A, although each organization may send one player from below Double-A. (The Angels are sending Pettit.) Instructional league players can be pretty much anyone, but most of the time they’re first-year minor leaguers drafted in June who’ve played only a half-year. You’ll also see players working on a new skill, such as learning a new pitch or position. In 1999, for example, outfielder Jeff DaVanon reported to learn second base, but the new management (Stoneman/Scioscia) abandoned that idea. You might even see a big leaguer for a few days; I saw Troy Glaus working with hitting coach Rod Carew who was trying to get him to go the opposite way with outside pitches. Heaven forbid Mike Scioscia and crew have nothing else to do in October, but if the Angels are eliminated from the post-season then you might see some of the major league coaching staff show up to evaluate the kids.

Instructional league players usually play hard to impress the coaches, while over at AFL you may see some guys take it easy to avoid injury. To some players, the AFL is a part-time job and they don’t want to get hurt in a meaningless game.

With the nation’s attention focused on the post-season and football, few people bother to show up at AFL or instructional league games. That’s a shame, because it’s an opportunity for some intimate quality time with professional ballplayers.