Funny you should mention the lack of overlap…
7. Changing of the Guard
Here’s how bad things were before June 15th – the Chiefs had recently gone from 16-19 to 17-38. That’s a 1-19 stretch in a 20-game period. Their 3-6 record in the nine games after that didn’t move the needle much before the arrival of Keyes and Hague.
Starting with the five-run first and blasting of Toledo, the Chiefs won six of their next eight games. They promptly lost 8 out of the following 10. Turning point? It’s normally impossible to pick one turning point in a 144-game baseball season. There are so many major or minute points that shift a team on its axis from month to month or week to week.
June 15th seemed to be a trend-setter of sorts, though – it may have marked the day the Nationals began a mini-overhaul of the Chiefs’ roster. Infielder Chris Nelson joined six days later. Starter Joe Ross and shortstop Trea Turner, two of the organizations’ most prized possessions, soon followed. Those two, along with Keyes and Hague, certainly firmed up the backbone of the Chiefs’ roster for some time until the team became more whole as the year went along.
A couple of other notes on that game, which Eric covered in detail otherwise…
- Manny Burriss tried his best to lighten the mood for Keyes and Hague beforehand, per Lindsay Kramer of The Post-Standard…
After both were called up from Double-A Harrisburg to make their Triple-A debuts against Toledo at NBT Bank Stadium, Burriss asked each whether they were nervous about the big moments.
“Manny was giving us both a hard time,” said Hague, a second baseman. “Like, just to stay in the moment, don’t let it get too big. Just messing with us. Just shrug it off, laugh a little bit.”
“After the homer (Burriss) didn’t give me a hard time after that.” Hague said.
“I thought I was going to have a lot (of jitters),” Keyes said. “Burriss kept asking me if I was scared again and again. I was like, no, I don’t think I am. He was just trying to lighten the mood.”
- You’ve heard the audio…now, here’s the video, of Hague’s first (and, to date, only) Syracuse home run…
One last side note: we didn’t know Ricky liked to be called, well, Ricky, until postgame. That’s why I called him Rick in the video. For those of you keeping score at home, that’s a 1:1 ratio of “games not being identified by the preferred name” to “games with a home run” for Rick(y).
Mr. Turner’s inclusion on this countdown will not be limited, Eric, but that’s for another day…
8. Now Pitching…
We’ll miss Josh Johnson in Syracuse this year. That might sound like a strange thing to say about someone who hit .250 with just two home runs in 277 Triple-A games, but it’s true. Johnson – taking over this season as the first-year manager of the Gulf Coast League Nationals – brought energy and enthusiasm to the park every day in his four years with the Chiefs. He provided humor and an upbeat mentality at all times.
Here’s how Johnson detailed his approach to the game to The Post-Standard‘s Bud Poliquin in 2012…
“Nobody’s ever told me to tone it down, uh uh,” said Josh, who proudly confessed that his happy approach to the game mirrors that of his father. “I’m going to continue to run on and off the field, bust my butt down the line. If I pop out, I’m gonna try to get to second base before the ball hits the ground. It’s just part of my game. If I’m not true to myself, I won’t be able to sleep at night.
“I like to get out there early. I’ve got a little routine. I like to run out there in center field, say a prayer and thank the lord for all the blessings he’s given me. My parents are still here. My sister is still here. I’m still breathing. I’ve got the uniform on. I’ve got all my fingers. Both my eyes work. I can speak. I can go on for days.”
That’s how we’ll remember the playing career of Johnson. Well, that and one memorably weird moment from last year…
Last July 10th, the Chiefs and Rochester Red Wings locked horns in a doubleheader. Syracuse won the first game 4-0. Rochester won the second game 11-2. The most memorable half-inning of those, somehow, was the top of the seventh in Game Two.
Because of the length and consistency of a baseball schedule, it’s hard to analyze the sport on a day-to-day basis. Games aren’t all won or lost by what happens in the 24 hours during that day. They’re often changed by what happened in the 24, 48 or 72 hours beforehand. And two days before the Chiefs’ doubleheader, Syracuse used up nearly all its bullpen in a 12-inning win at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. So, 48 hours and 13 innings later, Billy Gardner looked it his lineup card and surmised that his best option, down nine runs, was…
Johnson had never pitched professionally. His dad used him as a pitcher in high school, he told us after, but that was as close as he’d come to taking the mound in a pro game. So Johnson dialed up the necessary courage in the clubhouse, toed the rubber and started firing.
You know how some position players come in and start lobbing to preserve their arm? Josh Johnson was not one of those position players. He fired a first pitch north of 80 miles per hour for a strike to Argenis Diaz. The next pitch was popped up – in foul ground – to catcher Craig Manuel. One out.
Johnson’s third pitch was hit by Carlos Paulino on the ground to second base, where Chris Nelson threw him out. Two down.
Pitch #4 was his first ball, to highly-touted young infielder Jorge Polanco. Pitch five was a called strike. Pitch six was lined – right to Jason Martinson at shortstop. Inning over.
Six pitches, five strikes, three outs – and, upon the final line drive, one Tiger-Woods-esque, right-handed fist pump. Nobody entertained us more on the mound this year. We’ll miss ya, Josh.
Great pick, Eric. I remember that day just as much – if not more so – for the wind than the walkoff. Not that we’ll experience that sort of thing again with 15 home games in April, of course.
Let’s move on…
9. The Power of Paolo Compels You
To quote Oscar Wilde, or perhaps Will Rogers, or possibly Mark Twain – or, definitively, Head & Shoulders – “you never get a second chance to make a first impression.”
The pre-conceived line of thought set forth by this quote is that once a first impression goes poorly, you won’t receive a second chance. What if, however, the first impression goes well, and you still get left out in the cold?
That’s where Paolo Espino found himself last May. In August of 2014, on the heels of a solid season with Harrisburg, the right-handed starter was promoted to Syracuse for a spot start on the final day of August. Espino – the winning pitcher in two Governor’s-Cup clinchers for Columbus in 2010 and 2011 – more than proved his Triple-A worthiness with six no-hit innings to begin a terrific outing vs. Buffalo. He stood in line to start Game Five of the Chiefs’ playoff series with Pawtucket – a series that, of course, didn’t make it past Game Three.
And then, like a flash, he was gone. Espino broke camp back in Double-A and toiled through eight games with a 4.26 ERA and 0-3 record for the Senators, despite the impressive impression of the previous season. On May 24th, however, fortune smiled upon the Panamanian right-hander, with a return trip to Syracuse for a spot start against Indianapolis on his agenda.
Once again, Espino rose to the occasion. He authored an absolute gem, scattering four hits and no walks in seven scoreless innings. Somehow, that was merely the subhead.
The first home run by a Chiefs pitcher since 2012 clocks in as ninth on my list. My next moment will provide a firm and amusing mirror to this, but first, we’ll check back in with Eric…
On its surface, a baseball season is a behemoth – 144 games in 152 days. 1,296 scheduled innings. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 40,000 pitches thrown.
Many of these pitches fade from view immediately as they’re thrown. The 0-1 sinker in the dirt. The 2-0 fastball fouled away in a 9-4 game. The 3-0 grooved down the heart of the plate for a strike on the fifth-place hitter.
Most actions in a baseball game, frankly, seem inconsequential in the long run. The single in the fourth inning that’s immediately followed by a double play to hold the score at 6-1. The wild pitch with a runner on first with a team trailing by four and down to its final out. The line drive that seems destined to be an extra-base hit before it fades seven rows into the seats, disappearing from the minds of the batter and the pitcher and the thousands of witnesses forever just moments later.
Even the results themselves – the wins, the losses, the comebacks, the collapses – tend to escape our memories in the short or the long run – for somewhere in our limbic system, there must be space for more pressing details, like our ATM pin, or which relative has what food allergy, or who won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in 1995.
To your great relief, and to mine, this is not a series about those moments.
This is a series about the moments that transcend baseball. The never-saw-it-coming ones. The thought-it-could-happen-but-still-can’t-believe-it ones. The wouldn’t-it-be-something-if-this-happened-oh-my-goodness-it-IS-happening ones. The streaks. The pitches. The swings. The celebrations. The lunacy. The prevailing power of the human spirit.
These are the moments when baseball becomes more than a game where, to quote Twins reliever Aaron Thompson, “a monkey with a ball of a yarn” throws it “to a monkey with a stick”.
Every weekday from now until Friday, April 1st, Eric and I will count down our individual 10 most memorable moments from last year’s Chiefs season. We’ll dig through our brains to bring you what we believe made last season memorable. I have no idea what’s going to be on his list, and he has no idea what’s going to be on mine. One thing’s for certain: even after a 66-78 season, there’ll be more than enough moments up for discussion.
I’ll begin with a standout moment from one of the most surprising Syracuse performers in years…
10. Bleier, Bleier, Strikes on Fire
Here’s a dirty little secret: when we compile the Chiefs media guide every offseason, we don’t actually expect every player whom we profile to play for Syracuse that season. Triple-A’s such a fickle game, however, that should the Chiefs have an open roster spot for a day, you might see some pitcher from the lower minor-league levels fly in for the day, throw a few mop-up innings and depart, never to be heard from again. In that case, we like to have some basic information ready at our disposal.
That was the case with Richard Bleier. A journeyman left-hander with all of nine Triple-A appearances to his name in seven years, compared to 150 in Double-A? Sounds like the perfect recipe for a one-day Chief. Get in, get your number, throw three innings in a 12-2 game, leave without so much as a hello or a goodbye.
And so we thought it would go when the Nationals recalled Taylor Jordan on April 15th. Needing a spot-starter for an early-morning tilt at Lehigh Valley, Bleier made his way from Harrisburg to Allentown and tossed four respectable innings of one-run ball. Two weeks later, when he allowed just one run in six innings in Pawtucket on two (two!) days’ rest, it seemed we were proven wrong. Bleier and his massive sinker were here to stay…until the next day, when he was shipped back to Double-A, to be the answer to a trivia question in “2015 Syracuse Chiefs Trivial Pursuit”, the world’s least popular board game.
Three months after that, however, with a hole in the rotation, Bleier made his return to Syracuse. His first two starts after the call up were unworthy of remembrance. His third was anything but.
On the 7th of August, Bleier took the mound at Pawtucket one day after Paolo Espino twirled eight shutout innings. He proceeded to up the stakes over the course of nine surgical innings, with efforts such as this…
…not to mention this…
…and ultimately this…
…which ended in this…
The final damage: 21 groundouts, one – yes, one – fly out. Bleier – a lefty who doesn’t throw 90 miles per hour and doesn’t strike out more than a batter or two in a typical outing – would end the season with a 2.75 ERA in 11 Syracuse starts. We’ll likely see him down the road with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre this year.
What’s your first move, Gallanty?
By Eric Gallanty (@ericgallanty)
It’s been 178 days since Emmanuel Burriss drove in the game-winning run of the 2015 season finale last September, a season defined by Syracuse’s ability to seemingly never be out of a game, no matter how bleak things might have looked. Despite a slow start overall, the 2015 Chiefs completely changed the course of their season. Syracuse finished with the IL’s best record after June 14th, posting a 47-35 mark (.573) in that 82-game span, and an even more impressive .613 win percentage after July 3rd. 2015 proved to be a memorable year in Chiefsville, even if it didn’t end in a division title like the 2014 counterparts.
Now as we sit just 35 days from Opening Day, Kevin and I are so excited to get you set for the 2016 season. We’re looking forward to expanding our Chiefs coverage from our radio booth to you in a few new ways.
- Leading up to and during the season, we’ll post a Today in Chiefsville Update. This will feature some links we think are worth looking at, similar to our Stuff You’ll Like section we’ve featured in the past. We will also include daily headlines from our game notes and more news from the 2016 Chiefs.
- Starting next Monday, Kevin and I will go through our top 10 moments from the 2015 season. Kevin’s #10 will be featured Monday, I will go Tuesday, and we’ll each count down to our #1 moment (I have a feeling a certain Father’s Day walk-off may be prominently featured).
- Throughout the year, we’ll continue to bring you features we’ve gotten good feedback on in the past, including Triple-A Trickledown, Road Trip Report, Inside the Clubhouse, and more.
- We are excited to announce the return of the weekly Inside Pitch podcast. Each week during the season, we’ll go around the International League and the Nats’ farm system, and discuss top baseball news with people around the Chiefs and the I.L.
There’s a lot to talk about with the 2016 Chiefs. This year marks the 20th season the Chiefs will call NBT Bank Stadium home, and the 40th Anniversary of the last Chiefs Governor’s Cup Championship team in 1976. We’ll dive into that and plenty more as we get closer to the season.
For now, lets start with our first edition of the 2016 Stuff You’ll Like. Here’s what you might have missed this off season in Chiefs and I.L. news.
- Year one of the pitch clock in the I.L. was a success.
- Chiefs groundskeeper John Stewart was named Triple-A groundskeeper of the year!
- Former Chiefs broadcaster Jason Benetti was added to the Chicago White Sox broadcast team, joining a long lineage of former Chiefs announcers in the majors.
- The Chiefs have a new look, returning to their traditional red, white and blue color scheme. Syracuse will not be the only IL team with a new look this year, with Louisville also returning to its roots, and Norfolk moving to…a giant green sea horse.
- Syracuse will have a new hitting coach this year, after former coach Joe Dillon left for a new gig.
- Chiefs manager Billy Gardner, Jr. is back for his third year after gaining some valuable experience with the big club.
Plenty more to come in the coming weeks as we approach opening day. And don’t forget, single-game tickets are on sale starting Saturday.
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.”
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’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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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 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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.”
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.”
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