Brandon Wood turning a double play with Provo in 2003. That’s Howie Kendrick as his double-play partner.
(Windows Media Player and a broadband Internet connection required to watch the video clips in this article.)
I met Brandon Wood in July 2003.
I was in Provo to do a few days of photography and videography of the Provo Angels, the Rookie-A affiliate in the Pioneer League. (The franchise moved six miles west to Orem to start 2005.)
I was at the far end of the team dugout working on my equipment, when a reed-thin teenager sat down on the steps in front of me and said, “Hi, I’m Brandon Wood.”
Brandon was the Angels’ first round pick (#23 overall) in the June 2003 draft, taken out of Scottsdale High School in Phoenix. Everyone wants a piece of the #1 pick, so I try to give them their own space and don’t bother them until they’re used to my being around. But Woody took the initiative to come over, introduce himself, then sit down on the steps and ask about FutureAngels.com.
That was typical Woody. Polite, humble, unassuming.
Howie Kendrick and Brandon Wood at Rancho Cucamonga in 2005.
Wood was shortstop to Howie Kendrick’s second base at Provo that year. The duo were promoted together to Cedar Rapids in 2004, and then to Rancho Cucamonga in 2005. The two were close on and off the field, and in those days observers speculated which pair of “Siamese twins” would be the Angels’ future middle infield — Wood and Kendrick, or Erick Aybar and Alberto Callaspo who were a year ahead of them.
(It turned out to be Aybar and Kendrick.)
2005 was a magical season for Wood. He hit 43 homers for the Quakes that year, breaking the Angels’ minor league single-season record of 42 set by Dick Simpson with San Jose in 1962.
Woody’s home run record chase became a running joke between the two of us. It seemed that almost every time I showed up to film him at Rancho Cucamonga, he homered. After returning to the dugout and receiving high-fives from his teammates, he’d looked towards me, I’d shrug, and he’d smile.
I sprained my foot at Orem in July, and was unable to work games for about a month. Sure enough, Woody went cold. Between July 25 and August 17, he hit only one homer. I finally limped into The Epicenter on August 18 — and he homered. Click here to watch.
The Quakes were due to play at High Desert on Sunday, August 21. I told Woody I would be there to fix his slump — and swore he’d hit three homers.
I was close. He hit two homers and a double. Click here to watch.
“Told ya,” I said as we left the ballpark.
I was there, of course, on September 1, 2005 when Wood hit home run #43 in his final at-bat of the season to break Dick Simpson’s record. Click here to watch.
Brandon worked his way up through the system, considered the top power-hitting prospect in the organization.
In spring training 2008, he was playing in a Triple-A game at the Tempe minor league complex. This was the year he was expected to challenge for the Angels’ third base job, so I gave him his space and didn’t say a word.
Around the fifth inning, playing third base, Woody dove to his left for a ground ball. He skinned the palm of his bare hand as the ball got by.
At the end of the inning, I made my way through the dugout to reach the field so I could shoot photos. In jogged Woody. He saw me, came over and said, “Hi Steve.” Then he raised his hand. “I’d shake your hand but …” and showed me his dirty, bloodied palm.
I scowled and said, “Don’t worry about me! Go play!” But, of course, it was meant with affection.
Brandon was never able in the majors to replicate his minor league success. He’s certainly not the first prospect to fail reaching for the top rung on that ladder, and he won’t be the last.
On April 20, he was designated for assignment, which means his Angels career is probably over.
I consider Woody to be one of the two most humble, polite and professional prospects I’ve known in my thirteen seasons covering Angels minor league baseball.
The other? Nick Adenhart.
My heart aches for his failure, as I’m sure do all those who knew him in the minors. But baseball has no tolerance for failure, so now Brandon will ply his trade elsewhere.
Whereever he might be, I will root for him.
Brandon Wood’s banner hanging at The Epicenter in August 2007.
Scot Shields with his mother Ida in the cornfield at the Field of Dreams in July 1998.
According to the movie Field of Dreams, the only ballplayers in its cornfield are ghosts, but I met a real live one there.
In July 1998, shortly after I started the FutureAngels.com web site, I made my first road trip to an Angels affiliate — the Cedar Rapids Kernels in Iowa.
While in Cedar Rapids, I planned to make the pilgrimage to Dyersville, where Field of Dreams was filmed on a farm just outside the town. The site welcomes visitors, honoring the adage, “If you build it, they will come.”
I issued an open invitation to the Kernels players to go with me, to bring their jerseys so I could take a photo of them in the cornfield. Reliever Jaymie Bane, the son of future Angels scouting director Eddie Bane, accepted so in the early morning we picked up his jersey and cap at the old Veterans Memorial Stadium and headed off for Dyersville, about a 90-minute drive.
When we arrived, we found Scot Shields and his mother Ida were already there. As a group, we headed out to the cornfield. I took photos of Jaymie in his uniform, then Scot borrowed Jaymie’s jersey and cap to pose as well.
At the time, Scot was considered a non-prospect. He was a rubber-armed reliever scout Tom Kotchman (Casey’s father) spotted pitching for tiny Lincoln Memorial University. The Angels selected him in the 38th round of the June 1997 draft, another in a long line of college seniors Kotch has drafted over the years to bolster the bullpen of his short-season teams. He appeared in 30 of the 76 games the Boise Hawks played that year, finishing with a 2.94 ERA in 52 innings, all in relief.
With the Kernels in 1998, Scot remained in that role, appearing in 58 of their 140 games, posting a 3.65 ERA in 74 innings.
Scot was promoted to Lake Elsinore in the High-A California League to begin the 1999 season, and there was every reason to think he’d remain in the bullpen perfecting his setup reliever specialty. But a rash of injuries to the Storm starting rotation during April forced Scot into the starting rotation by May.
And sent him on a fast track to the big leagues.
Scot Shields (left) being introduced at the 1999 California League – Carolina League All-Star game held in Lake Elsinore.
Scot pitched so well that he was named to the California League All-Star team. In nine starts, he had two complete games, including a shutout on July 7 at Stockton. His ERA in those nine starts was 2.08.
I’d just bought a camcorder, primitive by today’s standards, and decided to try it out filming Scot’s July 12 start against Rancho Cucamonga. Click here to watch. (Windows Media Player and a broadband Internet connection required). After that game, Scot was promoted to the Angels’ Double-A affiliate in Erie, Pennsylvania. In ten starts for the SeaWolves, he had a 2.89 ERA with 81 strikeouts in 74 2/3 innings. At season’s end, he was named the Angels’ minor league pitcher of the year.
So confident were the Angels in Scot’s abilities that they moved him up to Triple-A Edmonton for 2000. He finished the year with a 5.41 ERA in 27 starts, but this was the Pacific Coast League where high-octane ERAs are the norm. In 163 innings, Scot struck out 156, which led the PCL and set an Edmonton franchise single-season record.
A trip to Edmonton was beyond my pocketbook, but my wife and I planned a drive up north to intercept the Trappers on a road trip to central California. We saw Scot pitch at Fresno on June 8, then followed the team north to Sacramento.
Scot Shields pitches for Edmonton at Fresno on June 8, 2000.
The Angels’ Triple-A affiliation changed to Salt Lake for 2001, so Scot opened the season with the Stingers. He had 24 starts, but got his first major league promotion on May 25 and made his major league debut the next day in his home state at Tampa Bay, with his family in attendance.
In 2002, he returned to Salt Lake and also to the bullpen, as the Angels groomed him for the role he would have during most of his major league career — a rubber-armed reliever who could also spot start. He returned to Anaheim on June 14 and never looked back, playing an important role in the Angels’ world championship season. Scot in 2002 had a 2.20 ERA in 49 innings.
In those early years, there was still some sentiment that the Angels were better off with Scot in the starting rotation, and in 2003 he started 13 games, although after that the Angels kept him exclusively in the bullpen.
Scot announced his retirement on March 18 at age 35. He was only the third Angel with more than ten years of major league service to spend his entire big-league career with the Angels; the other two were Tim Salmon and Gary DiSarcina (the latter appeared briefly in the Red Sox’ minor league system before he retired). Sports Illustrated named Scot the “setup man of the decade” for 2000-2009.
I’ll always remember Scot as an easy-going fan-friendly young man who was a bundle of superstitions and rituals. He had a thing for McDonald’s hamburgers, never with any lettuce or pickles or any other condiments. When Star Wars: The Phantom Menace was released in May 1999, I remember sitting with him on the Lake Elsinore bench talking about the movie. Scot was excited because, “I’ve never seen Star Wars in the theatre before,” only on VHS, and I felt very old because I was part of a generation that never saw the films in first-run other than in a movie theatre. He swore he’d never give an interview until he reached the big leagues; but once he did, Scot was a regular chatterbox on Angels pre-game and post-game interviews.
Hopefully the Angels can find a place for Scot in the organization. He was a major part of Angels history in the 2000s and I can’t imagine him anywhere else other than with a halo on his cap.
Scot Shields pitching in Anaheim on March 30, 2002, the end of spring training.
When I was in Cedar Rapids last May, I noticed a number of jerseys had been mounted on the wall in the main hallway along the executive offices and suites. Some of these were jerseys that once belonged to future Angels, while others were from old Cedar Rapids teams. I took photos of each one, which are below.
Nick Adenhart’s road jersey.
The road jersey worn by Erick Aybar, Alexi Casilla and Sean Rodriguez.
An alternate jersey worn by Alberto Callaspo.
These jerseys are from various times in Cedar Rapids minor league history.
Roberto Lopez homered in his second Double-A at-bat Sunday to help the Arkansas Travelers to a 2-1 win over Corpus Christi.
Top to bottom, the Angels’ organization had late-game rallies — and won most of them.
The Mariners had a 7-2 lead after 4 1/2 innings but the Angels chipped away to trail 7-6 going into the bottom of the 9th. Howie Kendrick hit a three-run homer with one out and the Halos won 9-7. It was Kendrick’s second homer of the game.
The Salt Lake Bees were down 5-0 to Fresno (Giants affiliate) after 4 1/2 innings but posted three in the 6th, one in the 8th, and one in the 9th to send the game to extra innings. Ryan Budde walked to lead off the bottom of the 10th. Gary Patchett bunted him to second. Peter Bourjos was intentionally walked, then Nate Sutton singled in Budde to give the Bees a 6-5 win.
Corpus Christi (Astros affiliate) scored in the top of the 2nd but Arkansas Travelers’ starter Jeremy Thorne drew the line there. Roberto Lopez hit a solo homer in the 4th on his second Double-A at-bat to tie the game, then Ryan Mount hit a solo shot in the 7th to give the Travs the lead. Jordan Walden pitched 1 1/3 innings of shutout relief to get the save.
The Rancho Cucamonga Quakes almost pulled off a miracle rally in San Jose (Giants affiliate). Down 6-1 after four innings, they scored one in the top of the 6th and four more in the top of the 9th to tie the game at 6-6. But San Jose scored in the bottom of the 10th to win 7-6. Adam Younger hit his second homer with Rancho, and Luis “Lucho” Jimenez homered in his first Quakes game.
Wisconsin (Brewers affiliate) scored four runs in the top of the 4th to take a 4-0 lead over the Cedar Rapids Kernels. No problem. The Men of the Corn scored one in the 4th, one in the 6th, then three more in the bottom of the 7th, with Mike Trout’s 2-RBI single driving in the tying and leading runs. Manaurys Correa got the win in relief, with the save to John Hellweg.
Kernels outfielder Mike Trout has an OPS of 1.000 — on-base percentage of .442 plus slugging percentage of .558.
This is the first in a series of articles I’m going to write looking at each Angels affiliate as they currently stand. This is just a “checkpoint” in time.
We’ll start with the Cedar Rapids Kernels, the Angels’ Class-A affiliate in the Midwest League.
This is a team that came loaded out of spring training. After a slow start, they’ve won seven in a row and are 27-17 with a two-game lead in the league’s Western Division.
The Kernels finished April 10-12 but in May are 17-5. The turnaround began the day before I arrived in Cedar Rapids on April 30. The team won the night before 7-5 against Clinton (Mariners affiliate), then swept a four-game series against Kane County (A’s affiliate).
I covered all four games of the Kane County series, including the April 30 combined no-hitter by Fabio Martinez Mesa, Kyle Hurst and Mike Kenney. Click here to watch video from the no-hitter. (Windows Media Player and a broadband Internet connection are required.)
Randal Grichuk and Mike Trout, the Angels’ two first-round draft picks in June 2009, saw their power bats awaken in that series. Grichuk hit three homers in the series, while Trout hit the first two of his five this season.
Grichuk went on the disabled list May 9 with a left thumb sprain. After a very slow start, Randal hit .300/.344/.700 in May (30 AB) before he was hurt. For the season, he was .229/.280/.431 with a SO:BB ratio of 30:6 in 109 at-bats. Click here to watch Grichuk’s May 3 home run.
Trout was considered more polished than Grichuk, and it showed. He ended April batting .372/.427/.465 but didn’t hit a dinger. The feedback I had last winter within the organization was that Grichuk projected as more of a pure power-hitter while Trout would be the more all-around hitter, with occasional power. April fit that projection, but his five homers in May — including a 426-foot shot at Cedar Rapids on May 3 — served notice that he can bash too. Click here to watch Trout’s May 3 home run.
Another power hitter I came to Cedar Rapids to watch was third baseman Luis Jimenez. “Lucho” missed all of 2009 after injuring his right labrum, spending the year on rehab at Tempe. Jimenez led the short-season Pioneer League with 15 homers in 2008, so there’s thunder in his bat, but when I got to Cedar Rapids he hadn’t hit a single dinger and seemed a bit frustrated by it. Lucho hit homers on May 23 anf May 24 at Beloit, and went 8 for 15 in his last three games, so maybe he’s shaken off the rust. His overall 2010 numbers are .300/.331/.493. His defense has been a concern, having committed seven errors in 27 defensive appearances, but there’s plenty of time for the 22-year old to improve.
Second baseman Jean Segura was just named the Midwest League player of the week for May 17-23. In that period, Segura hit .435/.519/.696. Segura had a 19-game streak from April 12 through May 2 in which he was just 15 for 76 (.197) but since then he’s 26 for 75 (.347). His overall numbers are .287/.355/.402. If I had to profile Jean, he would be a cross between Erick Aybar and Howie Kendrick. He has Aybar’s reckless abandon in the field but is more of a contact hitter that rarely walks as Kendrick does. I think Segura’s build projects him as a second baseman more than a shortstop.
Catcher Carlos Ramirez hit .376/.500/.638 in 2009 for Rookie-A Orem, but in his first full season he’s hitting only .181/.306/.295. The Pioneer League, a hitter’s haven, can be deceptive especially with older players who have college experience. Carlos is 17 for 40 in catching baserunners; his .425 percentage is fourth-best in the Midwest League.
The Kernels’ starting rotation began 2010 with six projectable starting pitchers, so that problem was solved by “piggybacking” the two Tylers, Kehrer and Skaggs.
Kehrer has definitely strugged, posting a 6.12 ERA with a 28:28 SO:BB ratio in 32.1 IP. Skaggs has done well, with a 2.37 ERA and 41:9 SO:BB ratio in 38.0 IP.
Kyle Hurst, Fabio Martinez, and Mike Kenney combined to throw a no-hitter for Cedar Rapids on April 30 against Kane County.
The two pitchers with the best raw “stuff” are Garrett Richards and Fabio Martinez. Richards, drafted after his junior year in college, has a 3.54 ERA in 56.0 IP with a 50:18 ratio and a 2.55 Ground Outs to All Outs (GO:AO) ratio. He didn’t start while I was in Cedar Rapids but I did film his bullpen session; click here to watch. As for Fabio, he reminds me of a young Ervin Santana, complete with the exaggerated head tilt. The 20-year old has a 4.68 ERA in 42.1 IP with a 64:31 SO:BB ratio. He has “filthy” stuff but little control of it. Click here to watch video from Fabio’s April 30 start.
At 8-0, Pat Corbin remains undefeated. He has a 3.86 ERA in 58.1 IP with a 42:10 SO:BB ratio. He doesn’t have the dominating power of Richards or Martinez but is still effective. Click here to watch video of Corbin’s May 1 start.
He wasn’t a top-round draft pick, nor is he flashy like Martinez, but Orangel Arenas quietly is pitching a fine season. He has a 2.03 ERA in 48.2 IP with a 32:14 SO:BB ratio and a 2.38 GO:AO ratio.
Jon Bachanov was the Angels’ first pick in the June 2007 draft but suffered an elbow ligament injury and underwent “Tommy John” surgery before he threw his first pitch in official game action. The Angels decided to move him to relief, and Cedar Rapids is his first full-season assignment. He has a 4.58 ERA in 17.2 IP with a 18:10 SO:BB ratio and 1.83 GO:AO ratio. Based on the radar reading on the Cedar Rapids video board, his velocity appeared to be in the mid-high 80s, but I’m told that radar can be off up to 7 MPH. It’s not unusual for a “Tommy John” survivor to have diminished velocity for the first year coming back. He didn’t allow a hit in his last two relief appearances.
The Kernels are playing like we all expected. Every once in a while, you’ll see a “bubble” of talent move through an organization. The Angels’ draft class of 2001 was one example, with Casey Kotchman, Jeff Mathis, Dallas McPherson and more. The 2009 draft is showing early signs that they’ll surpass that group in potential. But potential is only that, not major-league production, and for all of them that day is still far away.
Lots more video of the Kernels is coming … when I have the time.
(Sorry that I didn’t write about everyone, I focused on the players who’ve received the most attention in the media from analysts and fans.)
FutureAngels.com will cover cover four games between the Kernels and the Kane County Cougars.
Thanks to the miracle of frequent flyer mileage, I’ll be able to visit Cedar Rapids for a four-games series April 30 – May 3 against the Kane County Cougars (A’s affiliate).
As I’ve mentioned before, because I’m unemployed I don’t have the money to travel to the Angels affiliates as I usually do. I’ve already cancelled plans for Rancho Cucamonga.
But I checked the frequent flyer mileage I have with Delta and found that I barely had enough for a free round-trip flight to Cedar Rapids.
I’ll still have hotel, car rental and meal bills, but air fare is usually about half the expense of a road trip so this will help.
The Kernels have many of the Angels’ top prospects this year, so I really wanted to spend some time with the team to do photos and video for you.
As always, you can help defray costs by signing up for a voluntary $5/month subcription or making a one-time donation.
My last trip to Cedar Rapids was in 2007, one year before the flood that destroyed downtown Cedar Rapids. Nearly two years have passed, so I’m looking forward to seeing how far they’ve recovered. I produced in 2003 a video about the Kernels’ history, so I’ll be looking for some before/after footage to show you.
You can still help with flood recovery by making a donation to the Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation.
Left-handed pitcher Trevor Reckling is #1 on the FutureAngels.com 2009 Top 10 Prospects list.
The FutureAngels.com 2009 Top 10 Prospects report is now online. Click here to read the report on the FutureAngels.com web site.
The Top 10 are:
1. Trevor Reckling LHP
2. Garrett Richards RHP
3. Will Smith LHP
4. Hank Conger C
5. Mike Trout OF
6. Jordan Walden RHP
7. Mark Trumbo 1B-OF
8. Peter Bourjos OF
9. Randal Grichuk OF
10. Alexi Amarista 2B
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