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Inside the Locker Room: Dan Butler

Syracuse Chiefs catcher Dan Butler loves baseball because of the unexpected. Throughout his career, Butler has been through ups and downs in a quest to continually prove he is worth a roster spot on the highest level. And, he does not mind taking a beating to get there.

As soon as Butler was old enough, he signed up to play tee-ball in his local rec league. Soon after that, Butler moved to a new neighborhood and was asked to join a Little League team by his friend’s dad who happened to be the head coach. The league Butler joined was a Farm League, which used a pitching machine rather than coach or player pitch. At age eight, Butler put on the catcher’s gear for the first time in the farm league, simple because he “was the only guy that could fit in the gear.”

Dan Butler has been playing catcher since he first began organized baseball.

Dan Butler has been playing catcher since he first began organized baseball.

After one year, Butler’s father, Steve, took over coaching him from nine years old until the younger Butler’s freshman year of high school. Although the elder Butler was more of a standout football player than baseball, he understood that work ethic was everything.

“He was just as involved with it as I was. He was pushing me to get better; he’s always been a hard worker,” Butler said. He’s always trying to push me to do stuff and he knew what it was like to excel in sports.”

Butler’s father could have played Junior College football “had [Dan] and his sister not come along,” and also played high school baseball. This combination gave Butler all the tools he needed to make himself better.

“He knew what it was like to play hard and to put everything out there to make yourself better,” Butler noted, and that is the same mindset that Butler comes to the field in everyday.

When Butler turned 12 and had a few years of experience behind the plate, he started formal hitting and catching instruction. The two Butlers made it a point to go to the batting cages as often as possible to work on the basic mechanics of hitting.

One of the turning points in Butler’s development was the friendship he and his dad created with Rafael Melchione. Melchione had experience in minor league baseball already, spending seasons in Independent ball in the Prairie and Texas-Louisiana Leagues. Although Melchione’s playing career did not last more than a few years, he became a major influence in Butler’s development as well as his father’s coaching ability.

Butler and his father made a point to go to the batting cages as much as possible as a kid.

Butler and his father made a point to go to the batting cages as much as possible as a kid.

Butler’s father and Melchione became close friends, the younger Butler noting his “dad kind of coached me through him.” Butler and Melchione formed their own relationship, with Butler even living with Melchione during an off-season.

Once Butler finished his 12-year-old Little League season, he immediately began year-round travel baseball since there was no middle school team and the weather in Arizona allowed for 12 months of baseball. He graduated to the 90-foot bases as well as metal spikes for “hundreds of travel ball games.”

In high school, Butler earned the starting catcher role for the freshman team and received a promotion to the varsity squad near the end of the season. During his sophomore year, Butler played third base since the starting varsity catcher was a senior. Finally, Butler got a chance to catch for the varsity squad. But, although Butler had formal catching instruction from Melchione, he had yet to learn how to call a game.

“In my high school days it wasn’t really about controlling the game as it was just hitting,” Butler said. “That’s all they cared about: if you could hit, they’re gonna play you in high school.”

So, Butler relied on the coaches to call pitches while he gave signs and instructions to the rest of the infield.

“Honestly, I didn’t know how to control a game,” Butler admitted. “I didn’t call pitches. I didn’t do any of that except in club ball. Just the standard stuff of catching the ball, throwing people out, blocking balls and hitting is all that was necessary for me in high school and I didn’t know anything else.”

Butler committed to play for National Champion coach Andy Lopez and the University of Arizona for his college ball. What really drew Butler to Lopez, however, was not his winning percentage, but how he worked with his catchers.

“He was really tough on everyone, especially the catchers,” Butler remembers. “He understood how important the job of catching is, he was real hard on us and taught us the game from every aspect.”

With Lopez calling pitches, Butler learned how to call a game by watching his head coach. During and after games, Butler asked Lopez why he called certain plays, and eventually picked up enough from the former National Coach of the Year to call his own games.

Butler learned to properly catch a game under University of Arizona head coach Andy Lopez.

Butler learned to properly catch a game under University of Arizona head coach Andy Lopez.

Right as Butler was establishing himself as a dominant catcher, he blew out his arm 10 games into his second season. And, the most frustrating part for Butler was that the injury came during infield-outfield throwing work, not even a live game.

The injury was a blessing in disguise for Butler. Coming out of surgery and rehab, Butler was in “the best shape [he] was ever in,” and a little lighter than usual. He also had the realization that “you’re not going to last forever and you might as well put everything into it that you can.”

By the time his senior season came around, Butler was fully healthy and relieved “to get back out there and know that everything went well.” He only wanted a chance to finally play since he had just 81 total at-bats over his first two seasons. Butler got 76 at-bats his final year, but was used more as the “late inning catcher”, mid-week catcher, and the Sunday catcher.

So, even though Butler was not getting the playing time he wanted, he knew that the team “had to be able to trust that I wouldn’t screw the game up, which is pretty tough to do catching. I had the ability defensively and there were no worries.”

Butler entered the 2009 First-Year Player’s Draft but did not get any phone calls on draft night. For Butler, it was an average day: no phone calls and just a few questions from scouts.

“Maybe a late, late round thing but I didn’t think I had any pull to get drafted,” Butler reflected. “I was gonna go back for a fifth year of college in my mind.”

Instead, he found a job in the Cape Cod Summer League as a replacement catcher for a player still in the College World Series. When that player returned, the Brewster Whitecaps, also in the Cape League, wanted Butler to be their catcher for the rest of the season. Butler finally had the season he was waiting for, even if it did not come in college.

“I went to the Cape Cod League to show that it doesn’t matter how much I played in college, I still have the ability to play,” Butler said.

The Boston Red Sox saw a special player in Butler. The team approached Butler after the season and asked him to sign, the only reason Butler wanted to play in the Cape League in the first place.

Butler's performance in the Cape Cod League earned him his first contract with the Red Sox (Herm Card).

Butler’s performance in the Cape Cod League earned him his first contract with the Red Sox (Herm Card).

Steve Butler was always a Red Sox fan and Butler’s mom, Karen, was simply happy for her son to make it to the professional baseball ranks. Butler remembers his mom “was ecstatic, obviously, but it was just the unknown after that. All of it was just pure excitement.”

Butler moved through the Boston ranks quickly, which he laughingly attributes to “being old.” Soon enough, after four years in the system, Butler was called up to make his Boston debut.

“That first step in the clubhouse is exciting and to do it in Fenway Park is something even better,” Butler said while grinning. “It’s a whole different realm with the gear on, warming up for your first game. It’s a whole new level of excitement and you can’t replicate that.”

Butler was part of a loaded catching group in Boston, and was traded to the Nationals before the 2015 season. Yet, Butler is no stranger to proving himself, having done it at Arizona, the Cape Cod League and finally with the Red Sox. Part of baseball is the great unknown, and proving oneself is what Butler enjoys the most.

“I think everyday you get nervous, it’s unknown everyday what can happen,” Butler said. “That’s the exciting part about baseball is just the unknown of what’s gonna transpire the next out, the next minute.”

Through it all, Butler remains positive, always smiling and being a voice in the clubhouse to show people that he is there to stay.

Triple-A Trickledown: Lehigh Valley IronPigs Updated

The Chiefs open up their second-to-last home stand of the season against the IronPigs on Saturday night at NBT Bank Stadium. A Triple-A Trickledown was already done on Lehigh Valley this season. You can find that here. Let’s take a look how things have shaped up for the Triple-A Phillies over the past several months.

Catcher: Gabriel Lino, Erik Kratz and Logan Moore

Tommy Joseph’s tenure as a catcher in the Phillies organization has ended as he now switches over to first base. Logan Moore and Gabriel Lino have taken over as the backstops for Lehigh Valley since Joseph’s return off the disabled list for a concussion. Joseph’s history of concussions limits him to first base duties as opposed to catching. Lino boasts the most promise of the three catchers. He is just 22-years old and has already become an every day catcher in Triple-A.

First Base: Russ Canzler and Tommy Joseph

Tommy Joseph, the Phillies former top catching prospect, is now a first baseman after he suffered his third concussion in five years in May of this season. Joseph remains on the 40-man roster. He was placed on the 40-man in 2013 in order to avoid the Rule 5 draft. Now that he is healthy and playing a position that does not put him at risk for more concussions, it is possible to see Joseph get some time in September, once MLB rosters expand.

Tommy Joseph is now a first baseman after suffering his third concussion this season (Photo credit: Digital Photographic Imaging)

Tommy Joseph is now a first baseman after suffering his third concussion this season (Photo credit: Digital Photographic Imaging)

Second Base: Tyler Pastornicky and Tyler Henson

In the first edition of Trickledown, the Jayson Nix era was beginning in Lehigh. However, that era came and went very quickly. The Phillies acquired Tyler Pastornicky in a trade with Texas on August 10th. Pastornicky is hitting .250 since joining the IronPigs. Neither second baseman is on the 40-man roster.

Shortstop: Chase d’Arnaud

D’Arnaud has officially won the battle with Duran for the starting shortstop role. He is hitting .284 this season with the IronPigs.

Third Base: Cord Phelps 

With the Maikel Franco and Cody Asche drama over, Phelps has become the starting third baseman for the Triple-A Phillies. In 111 games for the IronPigs, Phelps is batting .242.

Outfielders: Kelly Dugan, Brian Bogusevic and Jordan Danks

Brian Bogusevic and Jordan Danks are the only remaining outfielders left in Lehigh Valley that started the season in Lehigh Valley. Domonic Brown and Cody Asche are now in the Major Leagues and don’t appear to be leaving soon. Danks is on the 40-man roster and may see some time in Philly by the end of the season. Bogusevic is not on the 40-man but has had a good season for the IronPigs. He is hitting .301 for Lehigh Valley, which is good for fourth-best in the International League.

Fun fact about Kelly Dugan: His father has directed almost all of Adam Sandler’s movies since Big Daddy. Kelly has a bright future. He made his Triple-A debut this season at 24. 

Starting Pitchers: Severino Gonzalez, Jesse Biddle, Anthony Vasquez, Sean O’Sullivan

Severino Gonzalez is a name to watch over the next several seasons. He is only 22 years old and has made 14 starts in Triple-A this season. His numbers are a little escalated with an ERA around 5.00 but Gonzalez has a high ceiling. The right-hander made his Major League debut this season and made seven starts for Philadelphia. He posted an ERA close to eight before he was optioned back to Lehigh Valley.

Severino Gonzalez made his major league debut this season at 22-years old (Photo credit: Cheryl Pursell)

Severino Gonzalez made his major league debut this season at 22-years old (Photo credit: Cheryl Pursell)

Jesse Biddle is another starter on the 40-man roster. He began the season with Double-A Reading and posted a 7-2 record with an ERA just above four. The former first round pick of 2010 is in his first stint in Triple-A at 23 years old. He could make his Major League debut when September call-ups happen at the end of the season.

David Buchanan continues to impress. His ERA is just above three in eight starts for Lehigh Valley this season. He made 10 starts for Philadelphia this season but did not fair well. However, he could get a second chance when the MLB rosters expand.

Relief Pitchers: Dalier Hinojosa, Seth Rosin, Dustin McGowan, Chris Leroux and Colton Murray.

Dalier Hinojosa and Seth Rosin are both on the 40-man roster and are likely to find themselves in the Majors come September. Hinojosa began the season with Pawtucket before he was claimed off waivers by Philadelphia in July. He has pitched in nine games since coming over to Philadelphia. He has thrown in four Major League games this season. Hinojosa did not allow a run in six and two-thirds innings.

Rosin has been a workhorse out of the bullpen. He has appeared in 44 games for Lehigh Valley and has posted a 3.25 ERA. Rosin pitched in one game in Philadelphia this year and allowed five earned runs in two innings of relief.

Thanks for reading the updated version of the Lehigh Valley Trickledown. The Chiefs and IronPigs play five more times before the end of the season. The two teams begin a three-game series at NBT Bank Stadium starting on Saturday night at 7:05 p.m.- Broadcast Intern Andrew Grella

Inside the Locker Room: Jason Martinson

This season, Chiefs infielder Jason Martinson was selected to his first All-Star team, representing Syracuse in the Triple-A version of the Midsummer Classic. The All-Star play of Martinson should come as no surprise to those that know him. On and off the diamond, he has been a star athlete his entire life.

Martinson grew up in Bedford, Texas, about 20 minutes northeast of Fort Worth. One of his earliest memories is of playing rec-league baseball in elementary school. With his father Robert coaching, the younger Martinson progressed through the baseball stages; from Tee Ball through machine pitch and by coach pitch, until he reached high school and travel baseball leagues. Robert played shortstop through his college baseball days at Ranger College in Texas, partially influencing his son to play the same position. Jason primarily played shortstop and pitched, with third base and the outfield mixed in.

Martinson's father played shortstop through college and developed his son's play.

Martinson’s father played shortstop through college and developed his son’s play.

Baseball was not the only sport that the All-Star third baseman played in his youth. Martinson lettered in track and field and was a highly touted wide receiver coming out of Birdville High School in North Richland Hills, Texas. Being a natural-born athlete allowed Martinson to pick up the sport of football in middle school and still have enough talent to get recruited by schools such as Baylor and SMU out of high school. He played wide receiver and also filled in on special teams as a kick and punt returner.

The Chiefs' All-Star was a two-sport star in high school and recruited to play college football. (Photo Credit: Rick Nelson)

The Chiefs’ All-Star was a two-sport star in high school. (Photo Credit: Rick Nelson)

Ultimately, Martinson chose to go to Texas State University on a football scholarship with less emphasis on baseball. He only visited colleges with the thought of playing football, even attending a Nike football camp at Texas A&M University. Martinson eventually ended up committing to Texas State when a star receiver and baseball player left for Rice University.

“Baseball-wise, I had quite a bit of interest,” Martinson noted on his recruitment. “But, I had so much interest in football and I committed pretty early. Originally I committed to play just football at North Texas and I wasn’t even going to play baseball.”

North Texas however, did not have a baseball team, something that Martinson also wanted as an option. So, when the spot opened up on both the football and baseball teams, Martinson could not pass up Texas State.

“North Texas had told me that they were going to be opening up a baseball team. But, still to this day, they have yet to open up one,” Martinson said with a smile.

Martinson ended up on a full football scholarship at Texas State and was content for a year. After his freshman year however, Martinson began to have a change of heart. As a freshman, he pulled in only one catch for eight yards before tearing his hamstring and ending his season. Before his sophomore year, Martinson decided to drop football entirely to focus on baseball and rehab his torn muscle.

“I had a little better chance of making a career in it than football,” Martinson said on the switch to just baseball. “That’s basically where it all started.”

Working with the baseball coach and the athletic department, Martinson was able to pick up a partial baseball scholarship late in his sophomore year, allowing him to remain at Texas State to pursue his dream. At Texas State, he played with future MLB All-Star Paul Goldschmidt and against future teammates Ricky Hague, who was at Rice, and Kevin Keyes, who played for Texas.

Martinson has always known he's a power hitter and leads the Chiefs in home runs in 2015. (Photo Credit: Justin Lafleur)

Martinson has always known he’s a power hitter and leads the Chiefs in home runs in 2015. (Photo Credit: Justin Lafleur)

Martinson declared for the 2010 amateur draft, the same class in which the Nationals selected Bryce Harper with the first overall pick. On draft night, Martinson was sitting in his mother Lynn’s house, watching the draft tracker and listening to the picks on the radio. Even before he was contacted by his agent or the Nationals, Martinson saw his name pop up on the computer screen in the fifth round.

“We started jumping up and down and I got the phone call shortly after that,” Martinson remembers. “My mom started laughing, grabbed me and made me start jumping up and down. It was awesome to share that experience with her.”

Robert was excited for his son, too. His dream for his child had come true.

Adding an All-Star selection to Martinson’s 2015 season only makes sense for the gifted athlete. Through August, Martinson leads the Chiefs in home runs, RBIs, runs, total bases and walks. He is the only Syracuse player with more than seven home runs so far this year.

For Martinson, that run of success is not enough. He knows his dedication to the game will eventually pay off with a promotion to the major leagues.

“It’s been a lifelong dream to get called up, so when that day comes, I don’t know what kind of feelings will happen,” Martinson said. “Until then, I’m just going to keep putting in hard work and try to stay consistent.”

Right now, Martinson is getting through the grind of playing 143 games in a season. His teammates will all play 142, but Martinson’s All-Star recognition gives him one more game to prove his talent.

— Broadcast Intern Josh Hess

Triple-A Trickledown: Gwinnett Braves

The Syracuse Chiefs are in the middle of a three-game set with the Gwinnett Braves at NBT Bank Stadium. The Braves are in town for the first and only time, so that means its time for Triple-A Trickledown. Let’s take a look at the 45-46 Gwinnett Braves.

Catchers: Christian Bethancourt and Jose Yepez

Christian Bethancourt is ranked the third best prospect in the Braves organization by Baseball America. The 23-year old has spent 61 games in the majors over the past three seasons with Atlanta. However, Bethancourt has struggled both at the plate and behind it in his time in the majors. He began 2015 with Atlanta but only hit .208 in 29 games with one home run and nine RBIs. Bethancourt struck out 18 times in 101 at-bats while only recording 21 hits in that span. Before he was sent back down, ESPN stats ranked him 66th out of 82 qualifying catchers in catcher’s ERA at 4.50, he had the third most passed balls with six and was tied for fourth in errors with three. However, the Braves look at Bethancourt as the catcher of the future. A.J. Pierzynski is now 38-years old and career backup Ryan Lavarnway does not seem like the logical replacement. So it is very possible to see Bethancourt back in a Braves uniform by the end of the season.

First Base: Barrett Kleinknecht and Sean Kazmar

Barrett Kleinknecht is in his first season in Triple-A in 2015. The first basemen is now 26 years old and is in his sixth season of professional baseball with the Atlanta Braves. In 2014, he began his third season with Double-A Mississippi, but was demoted down to Advanced-A Lynchburg for five games during the season. He batted .280 in 2014 in Double-A with nine home runs and 38 runs batted in. This season in Triple-A he is hitting only .206 with three home runs and 18 RBIs but is the everyday first basemen. Sean Kazmar is the backup first baseman. Kazmar spent some time in the Majors with the San Diego Padres and recorded his first hit against C.C Sabathia in 2008. However, since he was optioned back to Triple-A after 19 games with San Diego he has not seen any time back in the big leagues. Kazmar is more versatile than Kleinknecht since he is a utility man and has played all four infield positions for Gwinnett this season. However, with Freddie Freeman at the helm at first for the foreseeable future and with Chris Johnson and Kelly Johnson as backups, don’t expect to see either of these guys to advance unless they have breakout seasons for Gwinnett in the next few years. Freeman is injured and neither of these two received a call up to even serve as backups. So, if that is any indication of how the Braves feel, the future looks bleak for Kleinknecht and Kazmar.

Second Base: Jose Peraza

For the second year in a row, Peraza is ranked the top prospect in Atlanta’s farm system by Baseball America. He is also the 54th best prospect in all of baseball according to Baseball America. The 21-year-old has excelled at every level since he was signed as an international free agent with the Braves in 2012. His lowest batting average came in 2013 with Single-A Rome of the South Atlantic League where he hit .288 for the Braves in 114 games. He still showcased his speed and gap power with 30 extra base hits, including eight triples and 64 stolen bases. His performance was good enough to grant him a promotion to Advanced-A Lynchburg and eventually Double-A Mississippi in 2014. Peraza hit .342 for the Hillcats in 66 games. Then, he hit .335 for the Double-A Braves in 44 games. This season, his numbers are a bit down for Peraza’s standards through his first 83 Triple-A games. He is batting just .288 with 16 extra base hits and 34 RBIs. The Braves are also trying to transition Peraza into the outfield since they have a surplus of middle infielders. With Andrelton Simmons and Jace Peterson emerging in the majors as formidable fits in Atlanta’s system, the Braves are trying to fast track Peraza to the majors by transitioning the youngster into the outfield. The Venezuelan born middle infielder played 13 games in center field so far this season.

Jose Peraza is ranked the number one prospect in the Braves organization by Baseball America

Jose Peraza is ranked the number one prospect in the Braves organization by Baseball America (Photo credit: Mississippi Braves) 

Shortstop: Daniel Castro

The Atlanta Braves have several young shortstops in their farm system that could make an impact with the big club at some point. Daniel Castro is one of those young middle infielders. The Mexican born shortstop is only 22 years old and finds himself in Triple-A in just his fifth professional season in the Braves organization. After excelling at Double-A Mississippi over the first 23 games of 2015, batting .389 with 10 RBIs for the Braves. He was called up to the Major Leagues for one game so far this season and had one plate appearance in a pinch-hit opportunity. Castro took advantage and singled. He was promptly optioned back to Triple-A Gwinnett the following day on June 19th. Since he was optioned, Castro is batting .275 with five doubles and 18 RBIs. Castro remains on the 40-man roster and could make an impact for the Braves late in the season when the Major League rosters expand to 40 players.

Third Base: Adonis Garcia

Adonis Garcia spent all of last season with the Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders. The Cuban born third baseman put together a career year in 83 games for the Triple-A Yankees, batting .319 with nine home runs and 45 RBIs. However, New York had a plethora of third base talent and decided to part ways with Garcia at the end of the 2014 season. The 30-year old signed with the Atlanta Braves and began the season with Gwinnett. He was called up on May 18th for two games before he was optioned. Garcia is hitting .278 with 17 doubles for the Triple-A Braves this season and remains on the 40-man roster. However, Garcia is getting older and needs to make a splash in the Majors soon if he ever wants to be a consistent producer. Garcia began his career late because of fraudulent residency paperwork after he defected from Cuba. However, if he can make a surge late in his career and prove that he can produce during September call-ups, Garcia could make an impact on a Braves team that is thin at third base.

Outfield: Todd Cunningham, Cedric Hunter, Mycal Jones, Eric Young, Jr. and Mallex Smith

Todd Cunningham is the only outfielder on the 40-man roster for Gwinnett. He spent around a month with Atlanta from May until early June. Cunningham spent time with Atlanta in 2013 too, playing in eight games for the Braves. This last stint was his longest time spent in the Majors. He hit .239 in 26 games with four doubles and four RBIs. This season for Gwinnett, the 26-year-old is batting .236 with five doubles and 14 RBIs. This is the third year in a row Cunningham has spent extended time with Gwinnett and his numbers are plummeting. He hit .287 last season. With a drop of 51 points in average, Cunningham may not see much time in the Majors in the future unless his production picks up.

Cedric Hunter has spent six games in the Majors with the San Diego Padres over his 10-year career in baseball and he doesn’t look to be going anywhere fast. In his first season with Gwinnett, Hunter is batting .267 with five homers and 32 RBIs but remains off of the 40-man roster. Mycal Jones is now 28 and has yet to see time in the majors. Eric Young, Jr. is trying to break back into the Major Leagues. After he led the National League in stolen bases in 2013, Young has failed to put up any league leading or eye-popping numbers. At the moment, he is in the midst of a 1-31 slide over his past nine games.

Mallex Smith seems to be on the rise in the Braves organization. The 22-year old came over to the Braves organization in the trade that sent Justin Upton and Aaron Northcraft to San Diego for Smith, Jace Peterson and Dustin Peterson. Smith stole 64 bases for the Fort Wayne TinCaps in 2013, which was one shy of the Fort Wayne record. The following year, Smith compiled 88 stolen bases between Fort Wayne and Lake Elsinore and led the minor leagues. Smith is in his first stint in Triple-A. He was called up to Gwinnett on June 24th. In 19 games so far, he has stolen seven bases despite batting just .195. Smith is not on the 40-man roster yet, but has potential to break into the Majors in the next few seasons.

Starters: Mike Foltynewicz, Tyrell Jenkins, Alex White, Kanekoa Texeira, Greg Smith

Mike Foltynewicz is one of two Gwinnett starters on the 40-man roster. Tyrell Jenkins is the other. Both of these young arms were acquired via trade after the 2014 season. Foltynewicz was acquired from the Houston Astros in the trade that sent Evan Gattis and James Hoyt to Houston for the right-hander, Andrew Thurman and Rio Ruiz. Jenkins was acquired in the trade that sent Jayson Heyward and Jordan Walden to the Cardinals for Jenkins and Shelby Miller. Both pitchers are former first round picks in the 2010 draft. Foltynewicz was drafted 19th overall by the Astros while Jenkins was taken 50th overall as a supplemental first round pick of the Cardinals. Both guys are young; Foltynewicz is 23 and Jenkins is 22 and both are teammates for Gwinnett. Both guys are also on the 40-man roster. Foltynewicz has a bit more Major League experience. He appeared in 16 games out of the bullpen for Houston and 12 games, nine of them starts, with the Braves this season. Jenkins is in his first stint in Triple-A with Gwinnett and is ranked the seventh best prospect by Baseball America. Both arms are expected to be vital members of a revamped starting rotation for the Braves in the near future.

Tyrell Jenkins was acquired from the Cardinals in the offseason in the trade for Jayson Heyward

Tyrell Jenkins was acquired from the Cardinals in the offseason in the trade for Jayson Heyward (Photo credit: Taylor Botta) 

Relievers: Carlos Fisher, Peter Moylan, Matt Marksberry, Hunter Cervenka, Vin Mazzaro, Mitch Lambson

The Gwinnett bullpen is the greatest asset to the Triple-A Braves. The Braves three main arms out of the bullpen have ERAs under 3.00 and each have appeared in more than 10 games this season. Carlos Fisher has been the most dominant for Gwinnett. In 26 appearances, Fisher holds a 1.80 ERA and has converted three of four save opportunities. The 32-year old spent time in the Majors with the Cincinnati Reds from 2009-2011.

What is rare about the Braves bullpen is the surplus of left-handers they can call upon late in the games. Matt Marksberry, Hunter Cervenka, Mitch Lambson, and occasionally Greg Smith. In comparison, the Chiefs only have one left-hander in the bullpen. Gwinnett has four different options (five if you include Andrew McKierhan who is here on MLB rehab) to choose from to get lefties out. However, most of the lefties were recent call-ups from Mississippi so they are unproven.

That does it for Triple-A Trickledown about the Gwinnett Braves. Syracuse is seeking its second series win against Gwinnett. The Chiefs took three out of four from the Braves back in mid-May. Tonight, Syracuse sends Taylor Hill to the mound against Tyrell Jenkins. Thanks for reading. Stay tuned for more IL North teams coming up- Broadcast Intern Andrew Grella

Inside the Locker Room: Darin Mastroianni

When Darin Mastroianni was traded away from the Lehigh Valley IronPigs in early May, he immediately began growing out his beard. Through almost two months with the Syracuse Chiefs, Mastroianni has solidified himself in the outfield and as the leadoff hitter. The one element that Mastroianni enjoys the most about the Washington Nationals organization, however, is not the playing time; it’s the ability to be himself.

Growing up in Mount Kisco, New York, about an hour north of New York City, Mastroianni was surrounded by baseball. Although local competition was not always stellar, his dad, Paul, and grandfather, Sylvio, had experience in higher-level baseball. Paul played college baseball for Fordham, but Sylvio played professional baseball as a pitcher in the Detroit Tigers and New York Giants organizations in the 1950s. Mastroianni always loved playing baseball and his dad was a huge supporter.

“As long as I showed interest, he was gonna support me and I would keep playing,” Mastroianni reflected while noting that his father never pressured him to be involved with baseball.

Once he started playing organized baseball, it was clear Mastroianni found the right game. Mastroianni started playing Tee Ball and showed glimpses of a future major-leaguer.

“I remember playing Tee Ball as a kid and just really liked being out there running around,” Mastroianni said. “I was the kid, kind of like how I play now, just running all over the field. If I was at shortstop, I was always trying to catch the ball in the outfield or at second base.”

Still, Mastroianni was not the biggest or most athletic kid on the field, a fact that would motivate him throughout his entire career. As a smaller kid, Mastroianni learned the proper way to throw and hit “because if I didn’t have a good swing, I wasn’t going to be able to hit. So that was a blessing for me and a benefit of being small and undersized through high school.”

After little league, Mastroianni focused on playing shortstop during his high school and travel baseball career. To make sure their son played against the best competition, Mastroianni’s parents would him drive to Long Island up to three or four times a week, traveling up to hours each way. Nevertheless, Mastroianni was successful in high school baseball, winning a sectional championship his senior year. In the title game, he went 3 for 4 with a home run and earned MVP honors.

Mastroianni played infield through college, but transitioned to the outfield after he was drafted.

Mastroianni played infield through college, but transitioned to the outfield after he was drafted.

Following high school, Mastroianni attended Winthrop College for two years, getting only two at-bats. So, he transferred to the University of Southern Indiana, where he quickly became a major player. In his first season at Southern Indiana, Mastroianni batted .323 with 15 stolen bases. His second season, however, would prove to be the breakout year Mastroianni needed to put his name on the Major League radar. Southern Indiana finished in third place in the Division II College World Series with Mastroianni named to the First Team National Championship. After leading the nation in stolen bases with 64 in 66 games, connecting for 97 hits, and batting over .400, Mastroianni decided to enter the draft to “see what happens.”

Mastroianni is second on the Chiefs in steals this season (8) halfway through the season.

Mastroianni is second on the Chiefs in steals (8) halfway through the season.

On draft night, Mastroianni was sitting in his parents’ den with his father, fielding phone calls from teams saying they would pick him, only to choose someone else. In the 16th round, the Blue Jays called, saying they were “100 percent for [him]” and would take him if he agreed on the spot.

“I looked at my dad and my dad just smiled and said, ‘go for it,’” Mastroianni recalled. “My dad was such a big baseball fan and my dad supported me so much that I think it meant more to him than to me. It was more of the look on his face that struck me and I can still see that in my head today.”

Knowing this could be the only chance Mastroianni had to make the majors, he agreed to be a Blue Jay. Mastroianni became somewhat of a journeyman before arriving in Syracuse in May 2015. He played in different levels in the Toronto, Minnesota and Philadelphia organizations, but never had the ability to show who he is. With the IronPigs, there was a rule against facial hair. Now he’s in an organization that thrives with diversity. That’s where the beard comes in.

For the future, Mastroianni knows that the Chiefs allowing each player having their own personality is key for the team to achieve its goals.

“I love that this organization lets us have our own personalities and that’s a big part of the success in this organization,” Mastroianni said. “They let us have our personalities come out.”

Mastroianni shows off his beard after connecting on a solo home run.

Mastroianni shows off his beard after connecting on a solo home run.

He’s a grinder and runs everywhere on the field because that is what he has been doing since Tee Ball. The beard? Well, that only feeds into the image that Mastroianni wants to portray: “It’s part of my personality. I like being a grinder out there and I think when I have my beard, I’m just a filthy mess and I feel like I’m just out there trying to roll around in the dirt like a little kid. It makes it fun and I enjoy having it… it’s part of me.”

— Josh Hess, Broadcast Intern

Pitcher Primer: Joe Ross

Joe Ross is making his Triple-A debut for Syracuse on Thursday night at NBT Bank Stadium. Ross was traded to the Nationals at the end of the 2014 season in the trade that sent Steven Souza Jr. to Tampa Bay. Ross was called up to Washington at the beginning of June and impressed many in the Nationals organization. He has been optioned to Triple-A to make room for Stephen Strasburg, who came off the disabled list yesterday. Here are three reasons why Chiefs fans should be excited for Joe Ross.

Joe Ross is making his Triple-A Debut for the Syracuse Chiefs on Thursday night (Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)

Joe Ross is making his Triple-A Debut for the Syracuse Chiefs on Thursday night (Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)

1. He has Major League potential

After making nine starts for Double-A Harrisburg this season, Ross was called up to Washington and made three starts for the Nationals. He was outstanding in his outings in the Major Leagues. Ross compiled a 2-1 record with a 2.66 ERA in 20 and one-third innings pitched. During those innings, the 22-year old allowed only nineteen hits, six earned runs and two walks while striking out 23 batters. In his last two starts for that Nats, Ross threw 15 and two-thirds innings and allowed 13 hits, two walks and most impressively 19 strikeouts. In his last outing against Pittsburgh, Ross fanned 11 hitters over seven and one-third en route to his second win of the season. Joe may have taken a few pointers on how to pitch in the Majors from his brother Tyson, who is a starting pitcher for the San Diego Padres.

2. He has good stuff

According to Baseball America, Ross is a, “young, athletic right-handed pitcher with a power arm. He’s a power (91-93 mph fastball) sinker-slider guy who has an above-average groundball rate, a plus slider that helps him get more strikeouts as he learns to pitch (his strikeout rate was up the second half of 2014), and a changeup that has been playable against left-handed hitters.” After the 2014 season, Ross was ranked the 10th best prospect in the Padres organization by Baseball America before he was traded to the Nationals. In the updated 2015 Top 10 Prospect rankings by Baseball America, Ross is the fifth-best prospect in the Nationals organization. He has tremendous upside as a three-pitch pitcher and will continue to develop those pitches as he gains more experience. He is the youngest prospect to start for the Chiefs since A.J. Cole started for Syracuse last season. Cole was ranked the second-best prospect before the start of the 2014 season.

3. He is a workhorse

Ross is an innings-eater. He has thrown close to 300 innings in his minor league career. The 22-year-old has thrown at least 122 innings over 45 starts the past two seasons for Single-A Fort Wayne, High-A Lake Elsinore and Double-A San Antonio. On average, Ross lasts just over five innings per start. Over that stretch of 244 innings over the past two years, the right-hander has fanned 185 hitters and walked just 69 batters he has faced.

Ross will start the final game of the Chiefs four-game set against the Knights on Thursday night. Syracuse seeks its second series win on the homestand. Hope to see you at the ballpark, but if not tune in to Kevin Brown and Eric Gallanty on the Score 1260 AM.

Triple-A Trickledown: Charlotte Knights

Triple-A Trickledown: Charlotte Knights 

Triple-A Trickledown returns with a review of the Charlotte Knights who began a four-game series against the Chiefs at NBT Bank Stadium on Monday night at NBT Bank Stadium. The Triple-A White Sox are in first place in the International League South with a record of 40-30.

Catchers: Kevan Smith and George Kottaras

Kevan Smith is the everyday catcher for the Charlotte Knights in 2015. Smith began his athletic career as a football player. He attended the University of Pittsburgh and played quarterback for the Panthers. Smith started at quarterback in 2007 for a few games after an injury to Bill Stull but was benched after just a few games. However, after the season, Smith’s coaches decided to change his position so he decided to change sports all together. In 2008, Smith switched to baseball and has excelled since. The White Sox drafted Smith in 2011 in the seventh round. He advanced to Double-A in just his third professional season last year. For the Birmingham Barons, he hit .290 with 10 home runs and 48 RBIs in 106 games. The 26-year-old is in his first Triple-A season in 2015.

Smith’s back up is former major leaguer George Kottaras. The 32-year old Canadian-born catcher played for 10 organizations (Padres, Red Sox, Athletics, Royals, Indians, Cubs, Indians, Cardinals, Blue Jays, White Sox) including seven seasons in the majors over his 12-year professional career. Kottaras was drafted by the Padres in 2003 and was traded to the Red Sox as part of a deal for David Wells in 2006. He made his major league debut for the Red Sox in 2009. During that season, Kottaras was the personal catcher of knuckleballer Tim Wakefield. As a member of the Brewers in 2011, Kottaras became one of seven Brewers to hit for the cycle. He accomplished the feat against the Houston Astros. Kottaras also played for the Greek national teams in the second to last Olympics that baseball was played in. The Ontario native signed with the White Sox in December of 2014 and is in his first year with the Charlotte Knights.

First Base: Neftali Soto and Chris Marrero

Neftali Soto and Chris Marrero share time at first base for the Charlotte Knights. Soto has been in a Knights uniform since the beginning of the season. However, Marrero signed a deal with the Knights on June 5th. Soto began his career as a supplemental third-round pick of the Cincinnati Reds in the 2007 draft. He made his major league debut in 2013 but did not record a hit in 13 games that season. The 26-year-old was out righted off the Reds 40-man roster in October of 2014. The Puerto Rican born first-baseman was traded to the White Sox in March for cash considerations. This season for Charlotte, Soto is hitting just .243 but he has drawn 30 walks for an on base percentage of .343. Marrero was originally drafted by the Nationals organization as the 15th pick in the 2006 draft. He attended Monsignor Edward Pace High School in Miami Florida and was teammates with Nationals starting pitcher Gio Gonzalez. Marrero made his major league debut in 2011 for Washington and played for the Chiefs from 2011-2013 but was taken off the 40-man roster two years later in 2013. During his time with the Chiefs, Marrero hit .281 with 25 home runs and 140 RBIs in 275 games. He held an on base percentage of .353 over three seasons with Syracuse. The 26-year old spent two seasons with the Baltimore Orioles organization before signing with the White Sox earlier this month. Neither Soto or Marrero are on the 40-man roster and with Jose Abreu playing first base with Chicago and 10th best prospect (Baseball America) Rangel Ravelo chomping at the bit in Double-A, there is not much room for advancement for first basemen in the White Sox organization.

Second Base: Micah Johnson

Micah Johnson is ranked the fourth best prospect in the White Sox organization by Baseball America. Johnson began the season in the big leagues and was the starting second baseman for Chicago on Opening Day in 2015. Johnson has moved up quickly through the White Sox organization. He was drafted in the ninth round of the 2012 draft and just two years later was playing for Charlotte in Triple-A. Johnson’s time in Triple-A was cut short last season due to a left hamstring issue. However, Johnson has picked up where he left off in 2015. This season for Charlotte, the 24-year-old is batting .310 with nine extra base hits, 14 runs batted in and an on base percentage of .380. In 27 games for Chicago to open up the season, Johnson hit .270 with five walks, three RBIs and eight runs scored. He was optioned down to the Knights to make room for 22-year old Carlos Sanchez. Johnson remains on the 40-man roster, so it is very reasonable to assume he can still make a splash in the big leagues this season.

Micah Johnson is ranked the fourth-best prospect in the White Sox (Erica Caldwell/Charlotte Knights)

Micah Johnson is ranked the fourth-best prospect in the White Sox (Anna Reed/The Star)

Shortstop: Drew Garcia and Leury Garcia

Two Garcias play shortstop for the Charlotte Knights, Drew and Leury. Leury Garcia is a 24-year from the Dominican Republic. Drew is a 29-year old from California. The Texas Rangers signed Leury Garcia as an international free agent in December of 2007. Leury made his major league debut in 2013 for the Rangers. He also played for the 2013 World Baseball Classic Champion Dominican Republic team. Leury Garcia did not play in the tournament but gained valuable experience behind veterans Jose Reyes and Miguel Tejada. Leury was traded to the White Sox as the player to be named in the deal that sent Alex Rios to Texas in 2013. He made the Opening Day roster for the White Sox in 2014 and played 74 games for Chicago last year. Drew Garcia was drafted out of UC Riverside in 2008. Drew was an all-star second baseman for the University of California Riverside and was drafted in the 21st round by the White Sox. The 29-year-old is in his fifth season in Triple-A. Over five seasons for both Charlotte and Colorado Springs, Drew Garcia is batting .222 with 18 home runs and 156 RBIs in 398 games. Leury Garcia is the only one of the two on the 40-man roster. However, the second ranked prospect Tim Anderson awaits just one level below in Birmingham. So, perhaps there could be some stiff competition at shortstop in the upcoming months.

Third Base: Matt Davidson

Matt Davidson has provided the most power out of the lineup for Charlotte in 2015. Davidson currently leads the International League in home runs with 13 in 68 games for Charlotte. That is equivalent to a home run every 19.54 at bats for the 6’3” right-hander. He is also amongst the IL leaders in RBIs with 41 on the season. Davidson attended Yucaipa High School in California and was drafted in the first round out of high school by the Arizona Diamonbacks. He was supposed to attend the University of Southern California but decided instead to join the Diamondbacks. Davidson appeared in the 2013 Futures Game and was named the most valuable player after he hit a go-ahead, two-run home run. One day later, he took home the home run derby crown with 11 home runs over three rounds to beat out Brock Peterson. Davidson’s major league career has not panned out in one stint so far as he hit just .237 with three home runs in 31 games for Arizona. The Diamonbacks decided to part ways with Davidson in December of 2013. Arizona traded Davidson to Chicago for Addison Reed. Davidson has yet to appear in the majors for Chicago but is on the 40-man roster.

Outfield: Jason Coats, Trayce Thompson, Matt Tuiasosopo, and Tyler Colvin

Trayce Thompson is the only outfielder on the Knights on the 40-man roster and he is arguably the best, most consistent outfielder on the team. Trayce also happens to be the brother of NBA Finals champion Klay Thompson of the Golden State Warriors. Thompson has appeared in the second most games of any player in the IL this year with 70. He is fourth in the IL in at bats with 258. In those at-bats, Thompson is hitting for power. The 24-year-old has 29 extra base hits and boasts a slugging percentage of .473, which is second in the IL. Thompson scored the most runs in the league so far as well with 39 total on the season and has accumulated 122 bases. Trayce is the only one of the three Thompson brothers to not play professionally in a sport. But, after spending time in the off season with hitting coordinator Vince Law and former White Sox great Jim Thome, the second round draft pick could see some time towards the end of the season.

Jason Coats is in his third professional season out of Texas Christian University. Originally considered a high draft pick after his sophomore season at TCU, Coats tore his ACL in the final regular season game of his senior season. The White Sox took advantage of his damaged stock and selected him in the 29th round of the 2012 draft. In his first 53 Triple-A games, Coats is hitting .248 for the Knights with 17 extra base hits, six of them home runs and 37 runs batted in in 53 games.

Matt Tuisasosopo comes from a football family. His father Manu played professional football as a defensive lineman l from 1979-1986 with the Seattle Seahawks and San Fransisco 49ers. His brother Marques was a quarterback in the NFL for eight seasons with the Oakland Raiders and New York Jets and is currently the tight end and offensive associate coach for the USC Trojans. Matt Tuiasosopo signed a letter of intent to play football at the University of Washington but decided to sign with the Seattle Mariners after his third round selection in the 2004 MLB draft. Tuiasosopo has spent parts of four seasons in the majors with the Mariners and the Detroit Tigers. He made his Charlotte debut in 2014 after being dealt to the White Sox for cash considerations from the Blue Jays. This season, he has made 23 starts in the outfield for the Knights.

Starters: Chris Beck, Kyle Drabek, Terance Marin, Erik Johnson and Shawn Haviland

Erik Johnson is the only one of the 12 Knights pitchers to be on the 40-man roster for Chicago. The right-hander was drafted in the second round of the 2011 MLB Draft out of the University of California, Berkeley. Johnson made his major league debut for Chicago in 2013. He has a 4-3 record in the Major Leagues with a 4.73 ERA and 36 strikeouts. In 2015 for Charlotte, Johnson is having a solid year. The 25-year-old is 6-5 with a 3.00 ERA. He is also the IL leader in strikeouts with 88 in 78 innings pitched.

Kyle Drabek is also having a great season for the Knights. Drabek is eighth in the IL in ERA with a mark of 2.98 in 60 and one-third innings. Kyle is the son of former 1990 National League Cy Young award winner Doug Drabek. Kyle Drabek was a first round selection by the Philadelphia Phillies in the 2006 MLB draft. He did not spend much time with Philly as he was dealt in the Roy Halladay trade along with Travis d’Arnaud and Michael D. Taylor in 2009. The following year in 2010, Drabek threw the second no-hitter in Double-A New Hampshire’s history. The right-hander made his Major League debut for Toronto in September of 2010. He spent parts of every season with the Blue Jays from 2010-2014. In 2012, Drabek underwent Tommy John surgery for the second time in his career. The 27-year-old pitched in three games for Chicago in 2015 but was optioned to Triple-A Charlotte on April 23rd.

Terance Marin spent the beginning half of the 2015 season in the Mexican League with los Toros de Tijuana. He was reinstated to the Chicago organization and assigned to the Triple-A Knights on June 5th. In two starts since joining Charlotte, Marin is unbeaten. The 25-year-old has yet to allow an earned run in 15 innings and has only surrendered 10 hits in the International League.

Erik Johnson ranks first in the International League in strikeouts with 88 in 78 innings (Erica Caldwell/Charlotte Knights)

Erik Johnson ranks first in the International League in strikeouts with 88 in 78 innings (Erica Caldwell/Charlotte Knights)

Relievers: Jarrett Casey, Maikel Cleto, Matt Lindstrom, Zach Phillips, Onelki Garcia, Miguel Chalas and Arcenio Leon

Maikel Cleto is the strongest arm out of the Knights bullpen. His fastball touches anywhere between 96 and 99 M.P.H. He began his career as an undrafted free agent with the New York Mets in 2006 and began his career in 2007. He has made appearances in the majors for the Cardinals and the White Sox. In 2014, he made 28 appearances out of the bullpen for Chicago. Cleto surrendered 24 hits, 15 earned runs and 23 walks while striking out 32 in 29 and one-thirds innings of relief.

Miguel Chalas is a 22-year old prospect from the Dominican Republic. Originally a member of the Orioles, Chalas was brought over to the White Sox in a trade for Alejandro de Aza. In his first season in Charlotte, Chalas has a 5.27 ERA in six games. Chalas was originally a started in his first few seasons with Baltimore, but the right-hander struggled so he was moved to the bullpen where he has found success.

Zach Phillips is considered the closer on the Knights and so far in 2015, he has converted four of five save opportunities. The 28-year-old is another starter turned reliever. He made the switch to the bullpen in 2009. Three years later, after minimal success in American baseball, he signed a one-year deal with the Hiroshima Toyo Carp in Japan. Last year in 2014 was Phillips first season with the White Sox. In his second year with the Knights, he has appeared in 24 games and has pitched to a 2.35 ERA so far.

That’s all for Triple-A Trickledown. I hope you learned something about the Triple-A White Sox. They are an interesting team filled with athletes from all different backgrounds. But so far this year, the team has been clicking and sits in first place in the IL South. Thanks for reading- Broadcast Intern Andrew Grella.


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