Coast to Coast: The FWBL Tryouts
“El Duque” Orlando Hernandez (center) watches the Florida Winter Baseball League tryouts Saturday at Historic Sanford Memorial Stadium in Sanford, Florida.
The Florida Winter Baseball League held its second of two tryouts on Saturday. The first was two weeks ago in Miami. Demand was so high, a second tryout was scheduled.
The FWBL is an attempt to create a viable professional winter league here in the United States so players won’t have to go to the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico or Venezuela. The season begins October 30 and has a 60-game schedule.
League officials tell me they have verbal commitments from 13 of the 30 Major League Baseball organizations to provide players, mostly from the lower minor league levels. The league itself is independent of MLB, so right now it’s scouting and signing players from the independent leagues, or those who have been released.
Space Coast Surge general manager Sean Boudreaux (left) and Global Scouting Bureau president James Gamble evaluate players during Saturday’s workout.
Some players have been signed without a tryout, based on past performance or scouting reports. The FWBL has partnered with the Global Scouting Bureau, an independent outfit out of Louisiana, to find and sign players.
Although they’ve been reluctant to tell me who are the investors behind the league, some prominent baseball names have publicly associated themselves with the effort. Ken Griffey Sr. is the league commissioner, and it’s been made very clear to me he’s more than a figurehead. Former Cincinnati Reds slugger George Foster will manage the Lake County team. And former major league star pitcher “El Duque” Orlando Hernandez is apparently one of the investors.
Hernandez was quite actively involved in Saturday’s tryouts. He was all over the field injecting his opinion into how things should be run, offering advice to the tryout players, and acting as a mentor for the Latin players.
I haven’t seen any former Angels minor leaguers yet, although I was told two former players are possible signees.
As for the stadium used for the tryout, it sounded awfully familiar. A visit to the stadium’s web site reminded me that Sanford is the home town of popular former Angels infielder David Eckstein.
Saturday’s tryout was supposed to be limited to 100 players, but about another 20 walked up. They had to wait until everyone who pre-registered showed (or didn’t show), and then they were allowed to sign up. Some guys showed up by prior arrangement. A couple Latin players were referred by Hernandez.
Everyone was fed at lunch time with cheese pizza from a local pizzeria while the scouts made the first round of cuts. An afternoon game was played, nine innings, with 18 pitchers given one inning each. No one scored, as base runners weren’t allowed past third base, and the batting cage was kept in place so the scouts could stand behind it and watch. (The cage was a major buzz killer for photography …)
I’d guess that about a half-dozen players were offered contracts at day’s end. The scouts made it clear that others might be offered contracts later, or might be on a depth list if a player is needed later in the season. I saw a couple pitchers I thought had decent enough stuff, although few came close to, say, Tom Kotchman’s Rookie-A Orem Owlz talent.
If you’re thinking these guys sound like the bottom of the barrel … you’re right. But every once in a while, the independent leagues help to resurrect a player’s career. It’s more common for major league organizations to reach into the independent leagues to acquire players to fill out rosters, especially at the Double-A and Triple-A level, to surround top prospects with experienced players.
If nothing else, I would expect this league to help place some players with major league organizations for the next minor league spring training. After that, their talent will take them as far as it can.
Players stretch at the beginning of Saturday’s workout.
Click Here to watch an interview with Jake Leonhardt, an independent player who signed at Saturday’s workout. Windows Media Player and a broadband (cable modem, DSL) Internet connection are required. A Houston native, Leonhardt formerly pitched in the Astros system and travelled here from Texas to qualify for the league.
Coast to Coast: A Surge in Space Coast Baseball
You probably know that baseball is played during the winter in Latin and South America. Fall and winter leagues have been tried over the years in Hawaii, California and Maryland, but none lasted long because Major League Baseball wouldn’t provide funding.
No problem, say the people with the Florida Winter Baseball League.
The FWBL will begin play October 30 in four Florida cities. Each team will play a 60-game schedule.
I recorded an interview today with Sean Boudreaux, general manager of the Space Coast Surge, which will play out of historic Cocoa Expo Stadium. Click Here to watch the video interview. You need Windows Media Player and a broadband (cable modem, DSL) Internet connection to watch.
Most of the players will probably be from the independent leagues, although a number of major league organizations have said they’ll consider sending players from their lower minor leagues. Apparently the Angels are not one of those teams, although I wouldn’t be surprised if former Angels minor leaguers from Florida who were released surface in the league.
For history buffs, Cocoa Expo Stadium was the spring training home for the Houston Astros until the early 1980s, then the Marlins in 1993 in their inaugural year.
Sean Rodriguez is the PTBNL in Kazmir Trade
Sean Rodriguez at shortstop for the Mesa Angels in July 2003, his first year as a professional ball player.
As I speculated this morning, Angels general manager Tony Reagins told the Orange County Register that Bees infielder Sean Rodriguez is the third player in the Scott Kazmir trade.
“I knew obviously what the cost was all along,” Reagins said. “The package was a package we felt was fair, based on Scott Kazmir’s age and the time period we had Scott under control.”
I’ve been warning on the Register blog and the MLB.com Angels fan board for days that the PTBNL would be the biggest name of the three. Rodriguez will certainly challenge for the Rays’ second base job in 2010.
P.S. Congratulations to Mike DiGiovanna at the Los Angeles Times for being the first one to figure it out. Some fan sites are out there claiming they got the scoop, but it was DiGiovanna who posted last night that it was probably Rodriguez.
Ever since the Angels acquired Scott Kazmir from the Rays on Saturday for minor leaguers Alex Torres and Matt Sweeney, speculation has run rampant on the identity of the third player sent by the Angels to Tampa Bay.
In baseball parlance, such a player is known as the Player To Be Named Later (PTBNL).
The identity of the PTBNL has ranged from idle speculation to false claims from certain fan sites that they have “insider” information as to his true identity. The truth is that no one — including me — knows who is the PTBNL, other than the front offices of the teams involved.
We do have some clues.
• Rays Manager Joe Maddon said at the time of the trade that the PTBNL is “a very interesting player that I’m very excited about.” The St. Petersburg Times suggested that the player “is considered closer to the majors” than Torres or Sweeney. In many PTBNL transactions, the two teams have agreed on a list of players from which the receiving team may select one, but Maddon’s statement suggests there’s no list. His identity is known.
• If the player were active now and not on the 40-man roster, he simply would have been included in the trade. Why wait? It risks the PTBNL being injured while playing for another organization. If not on “the 40,” the only reason he wouldn’t have been moved is because he’s on the disabled list. I believe a disabled player can grant his consent, although that’s fairly unusual. Jake Peavy’s trade to the White Sox is a recent example of a disabled player being traded.
• If the player is on the 40, there are two reasons why he wouldn’t have been traded at the time — he has to pass through waivers, or he’s disabled. If he didn’t pass through waivers, both teams would simply wait until after the season, at which time the waiver period ends. The disabled list also ends after the season.
• Here’s another obscure and frequently misquoted rule. The PTBNL cannot be in the same league for the balance of the season. In 1967, Hall of Fame baseball writer Leonard Koppett wrote an article noting a potential conflict of interest should a player learn he’s the PTBNL. Let’s say PTBNL will be traded from Team A to Team B after the season. Team B faces Team A in a series. Does PTBNL perform poorly for Team A, knowing he’s soon to be an employee of Team B? So the rule was amended to keep a player from performing in the same league; in the case of the Kazmir trade, the PTBNL cannot perform in the American League for the rest of the season. So that rules out anyone currently on the 25-man roster.
The Angels just promoted five players from Salt Lake as part of the September callups — pitchers Sean O’Sullivan and Rich Thompson, catcher Bobby Wilson, infielder Brandon Wood and outfielder Reggie Willits. Since they will violate the “same league” rule if they play, we can rule them out as PTBNL candidates.
Who’s left among the 40-man roster candidates?
Kelvim Escobar, Robert Mosebach, Dustin Moseley, Anthony Ortega, Scot Shields, Ryan Budde, Matt Brown, Sean Rodriguez, Freddy Sandoval, Mark Trumbo and Terry Evans.
We can throw out Escobar, as he’s a free agent at season’s end.
The other scenario is it’s someone not on the 40-man roster, i.e. everyone else in the minors. But as noted above, the PTBNL would have been included in the trade at the time unless he was disabled.
For clues, we can look at the Tempe Angels roster on FutureAngels.com. This shows us players assigned to Tempe on rehab. Who are they?
Leo Calderon, Mike Davitt, Tim Dorn, Robert Fish, Anthony Ortega, Matt Oye, Jose Perez, Tim Schoeninger, Mason Tobin, Jordan Walden, Brian Wilson, Luis Jimenez, Jean Segura, Rian Kiniry, Val Majewski, and Julio Perez.
The roster was last updated on August 24. Since then, Robert Fish has been activated and sent to Rancho Cucamonga. So it’s unlikely to be him, although his playing doesn’t violate the “same league” rule.
Given Maddon’s comment that the PTBNL is “a very interesting player that I’m very excited about,” no offense intended to some of the guys on those two lists, but I think that whittles it down considerably. The St. Petersburg Times speculated it was someone closer to the majors than Torres or Sweeney, although nothing stated specifically rules out someone already in the majors, e.g. a disabled player like Scot Shields, who had knee surgery earlier in the year and is out for the season.
So given all these clues, I’ll speculate that it’s Shields, Sean Rodriguez, Mark Trumbo, or Jordan Walden. If Rodriguez isn’t called up when the Bees’ season ends, he’s the leading PTBNL candidate.
But that’s my speculation. I won’t be so arrogant as to claim “insider” information as some fan sites simply pulling it out of a certain body orifice.
It’s Official: Scott Kazmir to the Angels for Alex Torres, Matt Sweeney and PTBNL
|The Angels traded Alex Torres (left) and Matt Sweeney to Tampa Bay on Friday for pitcher Scott Kazmir. A third Angels player is to be named.|
Once the Rays’ game in Detroit ended last night, the rumored trade was officially announced. The Angels acquired LHP Scott Kazmir from Tampa Bay in exchange for Arkansas Travelers’ LHP Alex Torres, Rancho Cucamonga Quakes’ third baseman Matt Sweeney, and a player to be named later (PTBNL).
The trade was originally announced on AngelsBaseball.com as just Torres and Sweeney, but then that press release was deleted and replaced by one which said that the trade fell through. Mark Topkin of the St. Petersburg Times wrote that “The leak from the Angels’ side enraged Rays officials and nearly led them to call it off because it aborted their protocol of notifying their player first.”
There’s no doubt that Kazmir has issues. I wrote on May 10 that the critics who bashed the Angels for selecting Joe Saunders over Kazmir in June 2002 had been proven wrong. Since then, Saunders has struggled but we learned that it was due to shoulder tightness which has been apparently corrected by a stint on the disabled list and a cortisone shot. Kazmir, however, has had ongoing battles with mechanical problems that have led to repeated DL visits.
Martin Fennelly of the Tampa Tribune published an article today that calls Kazmir “the Ace Who Never Was.” Fennelly couldn’t resist also taking a cheap shot, writing:
The word from Detroit is the Rays beat the space shuttle to the punch by launching Scott Kazmir into space. Well, not space, but a place just as spacey, the left coast, and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, or whatever they’re called.
Infantile insults aside, Kazmir at age 25 remains one of the most promising young pitchers in baseball. A rare left-hander with mid-90s velocity and a wicked slider, his best seasons were during and after Mike Butcher worked with him in Tampa. Butcher was a long-time Angels minor league pitching coach who was hired by Joe Maddon to be the Devil Rays’ pitching coach in 2006. When Bud Black left to manage the Padres, Mike Scioscia brought home Butch to become the Angels’ major league pitching coach. Kazmir’s best ERA year was 2006 at 3.24, and in 2007 it was 3.48. Reuniting Kazmir with Butcher might solve whatever problems are going through his young head.
As for what the Angels gave up … You can read about Torres and Sweeney in the many articles published this morning on various newspaper sites, as listed on FutureAngels.com. Torres is about the same in physical build as Kazmir, although he lists as about two inches shorter (5’10”). He put himself on the prospect radar this year, although you won’t find many star left-handed pitchers of his stature in the big leagues. As for Sweeney, he was always a potential power hitter but he missed all of 2008 with a leg injury and part of 2009 with a hip injury, and his defense has always been suspect.
When the trade was “unannounced,” rumors abounded that a PTBNL had been added to the deal. Normally a PTBNL is chosen later from a list of players agreed upon at the time of the trade, but it appears in this case that the player’s name is already known. Topkin wrote, “The one not named is considered closer to the majors and someone Maddon, a former Angels coach, called “a very interesting player that I’m very excited about.”
HalosHeaven.com claims it’s Jordan Walden, based on Walden not appearing on the Arkansas Travelers’ roster. But Walden hasn’t been on that roster for weeks. He’s been on the Tempe Angels’ roster since August 16 while on rehab assignment for a recurring forearm injury. The Tempe rosters are on FutureAngels.com.
Flawed logic aside, if the player is already known but hasn’t been announced it could be for several reasons. MLB rules prohibit trading a player while he’s on the disabled list, unless the player approves. Another rule prohibits trading a player within the first year after he signs. Topkin says it’s someone closer to the majors than Torres or Sweeney.
If I were the Rays, I’d be asking for Trevor Reckling, Will Smith or Ryan Chaffee. None of those, however, are disabled, so there’s no reason not to include them now in the trade. So it could be Walden despite the flawed reasoning of the HalosHeaven.com post. It could also be a position player pending some other transaction.
When I originally heard it was just Torres and Sweeney, I thought the Angels were getting off cheaply. But as the saying goes, “You get what you pay for,” and Kazmir is worth more than those two. When the other cleat drops, we may think twice about this deal.
UPDATE August 29, 2009 4:45 PM PDT — In discussing the PTBNL with someone on the Angels MLB.com board, we realized that the PTBNL could be someone on the 40-man roster who isn’t on the 25-man roster. That opens a new list of possible names. Among those are Brandon Wood, Sean Rodriguez, Matt Brown, Terry Evans, Sean O’Sullivan, and more. They also include two major league pitchers on the disabled list, Scot Shields and Dustin Moseley. These players would have to pass through waivers first, which could explain the delay.
If you’re looking for clues, it was pointed out that Matt Brown didn’t play the last two nights for Salt Lake. You’d think that the Rays wouldn’t want to risk an injury to a future employee by letting him play while he passes through waivers.
What if the player is claimed on waivers by another team? That would complicate matters. It would seem likely that the Angels and Rays would have a “backup” list if that happens. Or they could simply wait until season’s end when waivers are no longer required and then complete the transaction.
Report: Angels About to Acquire Scott Kazmir from Rays for Alex Torres and Matt Sweeney
Multiple media outlets report a trade about to happen between the Angels and the Tampa Bay Rays. The Angels would acquire 25-year old LHP Scott Kazmir from the Rays for Arkansas LHP Alex Torres and Rancho Cucamonga 3B Matt Sweeney.
The Los Angeles Times reported the trade, then MLB.com reported the trade fell through, and now the St. Petersburg Times says the trade may still happen but the hangup may be the Rays wanting a third minor leaguer to be named later.
Updates when available.
2008 Top 10 Prospects at the Half
Ryan Chaffee was ranked #6 last November on the FutureAngels.com Top 10 Prospects list. He’ll represent the Cedar Rapids Kernels in the Midwest League All-Star Game.
The 2008 FutureAngels.com Top 10 Prospects report was published last November. We’re now about halfway through the 2009 season, so let’s take a quick look at how they’re proceeding.
A disclaimer … Prospect rankings are always shifting, whether it’s a professional analysis by Baseball America, or semi-pro reporting by those such as Baseball Prospectus, John Sickels and myself. They’re simply a snapshot in time. Some may claim their expertise is infallible (those would be the amateur/fan sites), but the truth is we’re all guessing based on the facts as we have them at the time, and what’s most important to us for the future. I have the advantage of following the Angels full-time, while those others scatter their resources across thirty organizations.
Presented in reverse order, just as they were last November:
10. Luis Jimenez 3B — I wrote last November that “Lucho” had been relegated to DH duty since August 8 after injuring his throwing shoulder in a game. He wound up undergoing labrum surgery and is currently on rehab at the Angels’ minor league complex in Tempe. When I visited during extended spring training, the scuttlebutt was that he might DH the rest of the year, but so far he’s still disabled. How well he recovers may determine if he remains at the Hot Corner or moves to a corner outfield position.
9. Matt Brown 3B-1B — Brownie turned heads in spring training when he posted an AVG/OBP/SLG of .468/.527/.787 (47 AB), but he’s just another example of how much caution should be used when analyzing spring numbers. Matt hit just .189 in April with only one homer. He’s picked it up a bit since then, but overall his numbers are still just .223/.324/.429. Originally a third baseman, he’s played mostly first base to give him another position on the résumé. He turns 27 in August and can be a six-year minor league free agent this winter if the Angels don’t protect him on the 40-man roster.
8. Kevin Jepsen RHP — Jepsen injured his lower back early in the season and went on the disabled list April 21 with tightness and spasms. The Angels sent him to Salt Lake first as a rehab assignment and then outright when he came off the DL, but his 9.00 ERA and 2.56 WHIP (Hits + Walks)/(Innings Pitched) in 18 innings showed little to suggest progress. The Angels recalled him anyway on June 10 when they demoted Jose Arredondo; in five innings, he’s allowed four runs on eight hits, struck out four and walked none.
7. Peter Bourjos CF — Bourjos has fulfilled expectations with Double-A Arkansas, earning a spot on the Texas League North Division All-Star team. Due to a sprained left wrist suffered during batting practice on June 4, he won’t be able to participate, but up to that point his numbers were excellent for a 22-year old in Double-A. His AVG/OBP/SLG were .316/.366/.454; because his home park is so pitcher-friendly, it’s important to note that his home/away splits are very similar so there’s no reason for “adjustment” to his overall numbers. Pete could improve his OBP by taking more walks, and he could work at reducing his strikeout rate (once every 5.2 AB), but those are common nitpicks for young hitters at upper levels. In the stolen base department, he was 14 for 20, a bit of a slowdown in his usual theft rate. His defense in center field has been excellent, having not committed a single error and among the league leaders in outfield putouts when injured.
6. Ryan Chaffee RHP — I took a lot of grief from the amateur/fan sites for this one, but so far Chaffee has shown he deserved the recognition. Drafted in the third round of the June 2008 draft, Chaffee was unable to pitch professionally last year due to a broken foot that eventually required corrective surgery. His winter workouts in Tempe drew rave reviews. Although he was projected to report to Rookie-A Orem in June, he was assigned out of extended spring training to Class A Cedar Rapids in April 25 as pitching promotions cascaded throughout the organization in the wake of injuries at the parent club level. Chaffee didn’t disappoint. Despite his late arrival, he was voted by league managers onto the Midwest League West Division All-Star team. His overall numbers to date are a 2.83 ERA in 11 starts (60.1 IP) with a 66:29 SO:BB ratio. His groundouts to all other outs (GO/AO) ratio is an outstanding 3.38, and his AVG against is .176. Ryan turned 21 on May 18; I won’t be surprised if he gets a promotion to Rancho Cucamonga after the All-Star break, certainly before season’s end.
5. Nick Adenhart RHP — Despite a poor 2008, Nick made the parent club roster out of spring training after the Angels lost John Lackey and Ervin Santana. He made his first start on April 8 in Anaheim against Oakland, and pitched six shutout innings. Later that night, he was killed by an alleged drunk driver. The loss to baseball is insignificant compared to that suffered by his family, loved ones, and the many people whose lives he touched.
4. Hank Conger C — The first question to be answered was, “Will Hank Conger ever catch again?” The answer is yes. He’s caught in 40 of the 58 games in which he’s appeared this year, having twice caught in seven straight games when he was in the lineup, so no questions are left about his shoulder holding up. His defense has been acceptable too — a .980 fielding average, only six errors so far, and he’s thrown out 14 of 39 runners (35.9%), which ranks third among Texas League regular catchers, although the caught-runners stat is dependent upon the ability of a pitcher to hold a runner on base. So let’s talk about his offense. That aspect of his game has been disappointing, although it’s important to remember he’s a 21-year old only two steps from the majors; there will be guys younger than him starting their pro careers this week at Orem and Tempe. His overall AVG/OBP/SLG are .265/.318/.352. I’ve written many times that the Travelers play in perhaps the most pitcher-friendly park in the league, yet surprisingly his offense numbers are much better at home (.296/.346/.417) than on the road (.234/.282/.287). One good sign is that his strikeout rate is excellent for a power hitter, once every 5.8 AB. He may wind up repeating the Texas League in 2010 if the power numbers don’t pick up, but that was the one aspect of his game no one worried about until now. Everything else is looking good.
3. Mark Trumbo 1B — There was every reason to think Trumbo would have a good 2009 with the Travelers. In 132 AB at the end of 2008, Mark posted an AVG/OBP/SLG of .276/.311/.496; on the road, those numbers were .357/.410/.661 (61 AB). But so far, he’s failed to repeat that performance in his first full Double-A season. His overall numbers are .238/.288/.383 (240 AB), with his road numbers .242/.278/.371 (124 AB). He’s shown some life in his last ten games, batting .333/.350/.513 with five doubles and a triple. Defense is always hard to measure statistically, but if you compare his numbers to the league leaders they’re very competitive. Hopefully he builds on his recent streak into the second half.
2. Jordan Walden RHP — Walden missed a month (April 21 to May 19) due to an inflamed right elbow muscle, so it’s hard to get a read on how much that’s been affecting him. His overall numbers are a bit lackluster — 4.12 ERA, 1.63 WHIP, .298 AVG — but in June they’re much better — 1.90 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, .258 AVG. In his four June starts, he’s struck out 27 in 23.2 IP, suggesting the elbow problem may have passed. I like that he’s given up only three homers (one in June), which is a good sign as when he’s going well he rarely gives up dingers.
1. Will Smith LHP — Another controversial ranking for which I caught grief, but overall I’m still confident about his top ranking. (I will note, though, that last November I predicted Chaffee could be #1 for 2009.) Will’s numbers are a bit deceiving, because he got hurt early when he strained his left hamstring in his second start on April 18. Smith returned three weeks later on May 7 and got bombed, which I dismiss because he hadn’t pitched in a while. If you look at his numbers since then, he’s had eight starts, 54.1 IP, a 2.98 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 48 strikeouts and 10 walks. Not quite the insane 76:6 SO:BB ratio in 73 IP last year at Orem, but still very impressive for a 19-year old in the Midwest League. (He turns 20 on July 10.) The injury probably cost him a nomination to the All-Star Game. A defensive note — six of nine runners against him have been caught stealing, but that could be credited to his catcher as well as Will. In any case, this 6’5″ southpaw (with room to grow) continues to look as if he may evolve into a dominant pitcher, with a late-season promotion to Advanced-A Rancho Cucamonga not out of the question.
UPDATE June 23, 2009 10:30 AM PDT — This morning’s Cedar Rapids Gazette had a lengthy article about Ryan Chaffee and the other Kernels chosen for tonight’s Midwest League All-Star Game. Kernels manager Bill Mosiello had this to say about Chaffee:
“He needs to make a lot of changes,” Kernels Manager Bill Mosiello said. “He needs to not try and trick every hitter and pitch around everybody. Like the other day, he gives up one run but throws 98 pitches in five innings. If he continues to do that, he’s not going to be able to pitch very long.
“But he’s been good since day one. Sometimes in their minds, they are developing. Maybe they’re not physically showing it, but I think he’s learning … He’s going through the process, still learning. It’s like I told him, it’s pretty neat to learn like that giving up only one run. Hopefully he’ll make the adjustments in his next start and as he gets older.”
Saunders vs. Kazmir, Part II
On May 10, I wrote an entry revisiting an old argument on fan sites that the Angels supposedly erred by drafting Joe Saunders over Scott Kazmir.
In the long run, Saunders has proven to be the more durable pitcher. Kazmir has found himself on the disabled list from time to time with various injuries, although nothing so far that’s career-threatening. Saunders has yet to go on the D.L. in the big leagues.
The Rays announced today that Kazmir is once again on the disabled list:
Left-hander Scott Kazmir will be shut down for a bit because of a right quad strain he said was caused from bad mechanics in his delivery. Kazmir will continue to throw off flat ground and said it shouldn’t keep him out long.
Bad mechanics was reportedly the reason why the Mets, who originally drafted Kazmir, traded him to Tampa Bay. Looks like his habits are starting to catch up to him.