Big bats in baseball are difficult to find, especially with the increased prevalence of power pitchers. Home run numbers have dropped across the board, even at the traditional power positions. In this week’s edition of Chiefs in the Show, we look at one former Chief who’s developed into an All-Star power threat in an increasingly powerless sport.
Ian Desmond was born in 1985 in Sarasota, Florida and attended Sarasota High School. Desmond separated himself as an athlete early on, his high school baseball coach saying, “He’s mature, and a very, very hard worker. Those kinds of traits make him someone that’s probably very inviting for an organization.” (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A18438-2005Mar8.html?nav=rss_sports/leaguesandsports/mlb/washington)
(Jim Commentucci | The Post-Standard)
He was selected out of high school in the third round of the 2004 draft by the Montreal Expos and his fielding ability quickly garnered attraction from the organization’s front office. General Manager Jim Bowden said after spring training in 2005, “I wouldn’t be afraid to bring him to the big leagues to play defense.” (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A18438-2005Mar8.html?nav=rss_sports/leaguesandsports/mlb/washington)
Despite the verbal accolades, Desmond’s rise through the organization was arduous. The shortstop hadn’t yet developed into a power threat and it took five years before he received a promotion to Triple-A Syracuse. In 2009 with the Chiefs, known primarily as a singles-doubles hitter and an excellent defensive shortstop, Desmond hit .354 with with 12 doubles in 55 games. The stint led to the shortstop’s promotion to Washington for the latter portion of the season.
The promotion was more than just a professional advancement for Desmond. The move to Washington made his lifelong dream a reality. He commented on his 23rd birthday in 2009, “From my 12th birthday until this birthday, every single time I’ve wished that I get to the big leagues.’I never made another wish. Not once.” (baseball.playerprofiles.com) Desmond’s wish was granted and he became the Nationals everyday shortstop for the next six years.
With Washington, Desmond developed into a top-level power threat at the shortstop position. He hit 15 or more home runs in five out of six years, while knocking 20 or more long-balls three times. One of the team’s most reliable producers, Desmond patrolled the middle infield in a period that saw the Nationals progress from N.L. East bottom dwellers to World Series contenders.
Desmond was not re-signed by Washington following the 2015 season and instead joined the Texas Rangers. The move transitioned the Sarasota native to new positions, playing a mix of both left and center field. With Texas, Desmond is enjoying one of his most successful seasons as a professional. At the midway point, he’s batting .321 with 15 home runs and 52 RBIs. The scalding start led to him being named as an A.L. All-Star along with teammate Cole Hamels. His contribution has the Rangers holding the best record in the American league, at 53-32.
Ian Desmond’s journey in the big leagues now features him as one of the best players in all of baseball. From Syracuse to the big leagues, he’ll again play a major role come October. This former Chief continues to be a major difference maker in the Show.
While burgers and Budweiser are on the slate for many today, baseball doesn’t take the Fourth of July off, and neither does Minor League Monday. We are back for the third edition of this weekly posting which examines and evaluates prospects across the Washington farm system. So far we’ve touched upon two high end prospects, Lucas Giolito and Victor Robles, but today we are dipping a little further down into the talent pool, where we find a speedster currently stationed in Double-A Harrisburg.
Position: OF Age: 23 DOB: 3/8/93 Bats: R Throws: R Height: 6’2’’ Weight: 165 lb.
Cliff Welch, MiLB
Rafael Bautista is certainly not the blue chip prospect that Giolito or Robles is, but the outfielder possesses enough talent to become a proficient major league player. Bautista, since starting his professional career in 2012 in the Dominican Summer League, has already been twice named an Organizational All-Star, twice selected as a Post-Season All-Star and once tabbed a Mid-Season All-Star. This accolades all came during his 2013 and 2014 campaigns, the best years of his young career. Bautista has a very high ceiling and some raw abilities that show the impact he could have with a major league team somewhere down the road.
Before the 2016 season, Bautista was moved up to Double-A, despite a 2015 season that was cut short due to a broken finger suffered in the first week. His best play came between 2013 and 2014. In 2013 he displayed his stuff stateside for the first time with the Gulf Coast Nationals at the Rookie level, where he slashed .322/.400/.391 with a solid contact swing. A mix of this solid offense and stellar defense moved him up to Hagerstown for 2014, when he really came onto the scene. Bautista hit at a .290 clip with 141 hits and an astounding 97 runs scored, far and away his career best. That rate also led the South Atlantic League. At the end of the season he moved into MLB.com’s top 15 rankings for the Nats, premiering prior to the 2015 season at 15th.
Onto the next season, where according to the prospect rankings from scouts at MLB.com, Bautista was Washington’s 16th ranked prospect prior to 2016. Based on the 20-80 scouting grades, with 50 being an average MLB player ranking and 65 being at an All-Star level, here is the consensus on Bautista:
As we can see here, Bautista’s calling card comes with his defense and speed. Combine these attributes, and you have a pretty solid outfielder in the making, which is exactly the route this young man is on. Many see Bautista as a fourth or fifth outfielder on a major league roster, though his big upside contends that he could become a starter. He has great initial reads when prowling the outfield, which paired with his plus plus speed allows him to reach balls that certainly may have dropped in on other players. The ground he can cover on any given play will certainly be an asset when it comes to earning that major league starting role.
Tracy Proffitt, MiLB
Bautista’s speed also factors in heavily on the offensive side of the game. He has the ability to steal any base at any time, making him a threat to score even when receiving just a walk. Check out this great jump and steal of third base when he was with Potomac. No throw to third on a stolen base attempt? You don’t see that too too often. Bautista has already stolen 211 bases in his young career, including a South Atlantic League-leading 69 in the 2014 season. In perspective, the second highest number of swiped bags in the league that year was 49 by Hagerstown teammate Wilmer Difo. Already in this season at Double-A Harrisburg, Bautista has stolen 35 bags in 41 attempts. Speed also comes into play in regards to Bautista’s bunting ability, which he can do for a base hit.
At the plate, Bautista isn’t an outstanding hitter, but he certainly is no slouch. He puts up stats typical to a center fielder, exempting Mike Trout and a few other outliers. While he doesn’t have outstanding power, though that does appear from time to time, Bautista generates good contact at the plate, which translates into base hits. Of course from there, the threat of a steal is imminent. A positive for Bautista this season is his ability to become more patient and work walks. With his ability to steal, getting on base, however possible, is what he needs to do. Already in 2016, he has reached base 29 times via a free pass in 77 games. This is about to shatter his career high of 33 walks in 2015 when he appeared in 133 games. Through his years thus far, Bautista has a slash line of .289/.353/.360. Clearly not power numbers, but solid averages for a player in Bautista’s role.
All in all, Bautista is a talented young prospect worth of the high grade assessed to him by many scouts. The threat of his speed is a legitimate game changer, either in the outfield or on the basepaths, where it will influence games more. That asset, along with his fielding capabilities, are among the best in the minors. The only downspell to his game comes at the plate. While Bautista can certainly handle himself at the dish, his numbers against minor league pitching does open the door for slight concern over whether he can translate his abilities to the major league level. The power is something that will likely never play into his game. Anywhere from 10 or more home runs a year would be a stretch for Bautista to collect, especially if the power remains as is. However, Bautista can apply solid contact to earn base hits, something he has shown consistently thus far. The X factor in becoming a player at the major league level for Bautista is his ability at the plate. At the rate he is going, a backup outfielder role seems in the cards, but there are variables that could sway that outcome in either direction. More strength to add at the plate would certainly make the case for this young prospect to earn a more valuable, everyday spot. The future is bright for Rafael Bautista, but the path to the bigs is not totally clear yet. We will see what this speedy outfielder, this week’s Minor League Monday feature, has in store in seasons moving forward.
Baseball is a sport riddled with ups and downs. A player can swat multiple home runs one week and go hitless the next. A sport in which failure seven times out of ten, can culminate in a Hall of Fame bid. In this week’s edition of Chiefs’ in the Show, we’ll take a look at a former Chief who overcame adversity, while fighting through a bevy of peaks and valleys, en-route to the big leagues.
In high school, Tanner Roark won two state championships, in both 2003 and 2005, at Wilmington High School in Illinois. Roark then attended the University of Illinois at Urabana-Champaign and was later selected by the Texas Rangers in the 25th round of the 2008 draft.
The right-handed starter quickly rose through the Texas organization, compiling a 14-5 record with four affiliates from 2008-2009. This included a perfect 10-0 record and a 2.70 ERA, with 91 strikeouts in 86.2 innings, at Single-A Bakersfield in 2009. The Illinois product was promoted to Double-A Frisco later that year, before being acquired by the Nationals organization via trade midway through 2010. Roark made 21 starts with Double-A Harrisburg that season, going 9-9 with 92 strikeouts in 117 innings, before being called up in 2012.
To this point in his career, Roark faced little adversity, compiling a win-loss record of 34-19 in his progression to Triple-A Syracuse. The 2012 season began like most others, with a strong performance against Rochester in his debut. But it all unraveled shortly thereafter. Roark suffered his worst season as a professional. He lost a career high 17 games, leading the international league, including losses in his five of his last six starts.
The hardship led to a group-meeting between Roark and Chiefs’ then-Manager Tony Beasley, then-Pitching Coach Greg Booker, and Nationals Assistant General Manager Doug Harris. In the meeting, the trio convinced Roark to simplify his approach. Roark later reflected on the 2012 season, saying, “I was being selfish, I guess. Little things would happen, bloop hits. I would be getting it in my head and saying, ‘Why is he getting on?’ I was trying really hard.” (www.washington.nationals.mlb.com/news/print.jsp?ymd=20140501&content_id=73989028&c_id=was)
The renewed approach did not produce instant results. After a scoreless debut in 2013, Roark’s difficulties returned. He lost his next two starts, including a disastrous outing against the Buffalo Bisons. Roark went just three and two-thirds innings, allowing ten runs on 12 hits, in a 27-9 loss. The 27 runs were the most scored in the International League in over 40 years and resulted in Syracuse relegating Roark to the bullpen.
But something clicked for right-hander shortly thereafter. Whether it was the development of his two-seam fastball, or the continuance of a simplified approach, the Illinois product began to shine. From May 11 through June 29 of 2013, Roark allowed just two earned-runs in 42 innings. Over the stretch, he surrendered only 19 hits, while striking out 33 batters.
The turn-around resulted in Roark’s return to the starting rotation. He won six of eight starts with the Chiefs from June 23rd through August 2nd. The strong stretch amounted to Roark’s call-up to the show. With Washington, he finished the last two months with a 7-1 record as a starter-reliever hybrid. Roark’s success continued into 2014, where he went 15-10 with a 2.85 ERA.
Earlier this season Roark had his best performance to date. Against the Twins the former Chief twirled a gem. He pitched seven scoreless innings, allowing just two hits, while striking out 15. The 15 strikeouts were the most Roark’s tallied as a professional. The righty’s explanation for the phenomenal performance was simple, “I was throwing four pitches to lefties and righties,” Roark said. “Keeping them guessing, uncomfortable at the plate.” (http://espn.go.com/mlb/recap?gameId=360423120)
In 2016, Roark’s been one of the most reliable starters in a loaded Nationals rotation. He sports a 7-5 record and a 2.96 ERA, with 89 strikeouts in 100 innings. Roark’s sharp pitching has contributed to the Nationals first-place positioning in the N.L. East.
From success to hardship, and now back to success, Roark has ridden the roller coaster of professional baseball. In 2012, his likelihood of reaching the majors appeared bleak. Fast-forward four years later and Roark has established himself as a reliable, consistent starter at baseball’s highest level. Tanner Roark’s fight through turbulence is a testament to his determination in joining the exclusive list of Chiefs in the Show.
We are back again for another Minor League Monday post here on the Inside the Chiefs Blog. Today’s rising star is currently stationed in AA Harrisburg, where he finished last season. Let’s talk to it.
Position: RHP Age: 21 DOB: 7/14/1994 Bats: R Throws: R Height: 6’6’’ Weight: 255 lb.
Logan Bowles, USA Today Sports
It is hard to do a blog on the Washington Nationals farm system without bringing up Lucas Giolito. I was going to attempt to save this post for a little while down the road, but when an organization has the rights on a 6’6’’, 255 pound right-hander who has three above average pitches, it’s hard not to get around to him. Giolito is an ace of the future. The term “the sky’s the limit” has never rang more true than in the case of this 21 year old.
Giolito was taken by the Nationals in the first round of the 2012 draft with the 16th overall pick. Washington was lucky to pick him up so late- the prep star was mocked much higher, but concerns of an elbow injury his senior year scared potential suitors off. Prior to those concerns, it was speculated that the Southern California product may have become the first high school right-hander to be taken number one overall. After he fell, the Nats took the bait, and are now reaping the benefits. It wasn’t without a little worry, however. Giolito did undergo Tommy John surgery shortly after he signed in the summer of 2012, though this came as no surprise to Washington, who weathered the storm and came out with baseball’s top prospect prior to the 2016 season, according to MLB.com. Baseball America has him ranked as the fifth best prospect in the game while Baseball Prospectus slots him at third.
After the Tommy John procedure, Giolito began his first full professional season in 2014. To say it eliminated worries over his elbow would be putting it lightly. The big righty dominated the South Atlantic League, going 10-2 with a 2.20 ERA in 20 starts with the Hagerstown Suns. His efforts reaped a mass of postseason accolades, including being tabbed twice as a pitcher of the week, named to the Low-A Futures team, selected an Organizational All-Star for Washington and given the 2014 South Atlantic League Most Outstanding Pitcher award. Giolito split time between Hagerstown and AA Harrisburg in 2015, going 7-7 overall on the bump with a 3.15 ERA. This season, Giolito is still with Harrisburg, putting up similarly stellar numbers for such a young prospect. He sits at 5-3 thus far with a 3.17 ERA in 14 starts. At the pace he is going, it may not be long before Giolito works his way to Syracuse and the AAA level, a likely pit stop before joining the ranks of the Washington staff in the big leagues.
With such high regard all across the board, it is Giolito’s physical makeup and astounding three-pitch arsenal that have scouts in consensus of his prospect ranking. The Senator pitcher has drawn comparisons to Roy Halladay, thanks to his hulking frame and above average pitches. Giolito’s best pitch is his fastball. Some scouts even have it topping out the 20-80 grading scale, while others have it at “just” a 75. The heater averages around 93 miles an hour, and did coming out of high school, but can also range up to the mid to high 90s when Giolito really reaches back. In addition to the pure speed of his fastball, Giolito also has natural, late break on the pitch, providing yet another challenge for batters. As if a straight as an arrow 95 mile an hour pitch wasn’t enough. Take as close a look as you’ll ever want to facing Giolito with this link, courtesy of PennLive.com.
While the heater is a huge weapon on its own, imagine gearing up for a 95 mile an hour fastball but getting a hard, sharp, 12-6 curve that drops just prior to reaching the plate. This is where Giolito really gets batters. He’ll pair the fastball with that breaking curve, setting up hitters for weak, or no, contact. Like the fastball, Giolito’s curve has that late break that just compounds problems for hitters. It’s sharp bite on the end makes it extremely difficult to hit, especially when expecting a fastball. For many pitchers, this type of curve would be their bread and butter. For Giolito, his curve is his number two pitch, rating at a 70 according to scouts. Both pitches on their own are enough to buckle a batter’s knees, but what sets Giolito apart is his ability to throw them with extreme skill and precision, much of the reason behind his top pitcher status.
It seems impossible, but Giolito isn’t done there. He has been developing a changeup in recent years, which has really come a long way in the minors. He is throwing it with more frequency and success, and has been using it especially as a tool against left-handed batters to keep them guessing. The change has usually been ranked around a 50 to 55 by scouts, though it is always improving. It has a dipping motion that drops it just before the plate, yielding weak contact when hit. The change has become a swing-and-miss pitch, though Giolito has been gaining ground on throwing it for strikes when he wants as well.
See these pitches in action here with a clip from a 2015 appearance with Harrisburg. In the game, Giolito went seven innings, allowing just one hit while striking out 11. If anything, watch the last pitch of the at-bat. The curve thrown on a 3-2 count not only shows Giolito’s confidence in his control of the pitch, but also displayed just how deceptive that 12-6 curve is. A true thing of beauty. However, while all of these pitches combine for success on the mound, they may not even be Giolito’s most effective weapon.
John Absalon, MiLB.com
That lies with his build. At 6’6’’ and 255 pounds, Giolito has one of the best frames for a pitcher. It contributes to not only his power, but in the way he, literally, comes at a batter. His frame best comes into play when referring to the downhill plane in which he throws his pitches. Pitching downhill is a hard to achieve feat that makes pitches much more difficult for batters to hit. When hurlers can get this downhill action on their pitches, the batter now must deal with not only catching up to speed (in Giolito’s case the mid-90s) but also hitting the ball level as the pitch is moving towards the hitter while also moving downwards. In simpler terms, it is much more difficult to hit Giolito because his pitch moves down as it reaches the plate, rather than just coming in straight. While it doesn’t seem like much, the difference here can make or break some prospects, or at the very least make a pitcher much more difficult to drive a pitch off of. The term “hitting it square” is commonplace around baseball. For batters against Giolito, it is much more difficult to do so because of this downward action.
Giolito has one consistent “issue” with his pitching. I write “issue” with that insinuation because to many other prospects, if this was their biggest problem, life would be much easier. The problem comes with his delivery, which Giolito has yet to fully master in terms of consistency. His delivery sometimes is cut short, landing a bit abruptly on his front leg, which makes his control falter slightly. Him and Harrisburg pitching coach Chris Michalak have worked on this together, working to solve the issue before Giolito climbs the ranks further. Here is a slow-mo of Giolito’s full windup, in case you’re a mechanics aficionado. Despite this, Giolito still owns a 3.13 K/BB ratio throughout his young career.
Giolito is a rare talent; one that doesn’t come with every annual draft. All of his raw abilities and talents translate to fluid success on the mound that can be seen with each passing pitch. While there is the blemish of the Tommy John surgery, all signs point to the fact that Giolito has effectively put any sort of issue with that behind him. Even if some problems do arise in the future, the Nationals organization does have plenty of experience in dealing with that, thanks to the battle tested Stephen Strasburg. It should be only a short time before Giolito makes his way to Syracuse and beyond. He has been more than effective thus far in 2016 at the AA level and seems ready to take the next step. After he does come to the Chiefs, it is likely he will be Washington bound in just a short time after. Lucas Giolito is a true talent that one day has the promise to be a starter on Opening Day for an organization. All the tools, both physical and mental, are in the right place as this prospect continues to show off his baseball skill set. Syracuse has seen superstars before in Bryce Harper and Strasburg, but the time is near to see tomorrow’s superstar at NBT Bank Stadium. That superstar is Lucas Giolito, this week’s Minor League Monday prospect feature.
UPDATE (as of 6/27/16 at 3:30 PM)
Giolito has been promoted to Washington, bypassing AAA Syracuse, and is set to start Tuesday’s game against the New York Mets. The Nationals have been in a bit of a tailspin recently, losing seven of their last eight and also losing Strasburg to a back injury. The Nats need Giolito to be effective in his MLB debut, especially against the NL East rival Mets. The two clubs begin a three-game set Monday night, with New York and Miami trailing Washington by just three games in the NL East. Giolito is scheduled to face off opposite Matt Harvey on Tuesday. Harvey has been in a funk of sorts all season, holding just a 4-9 record and 4.64 ERA amidst season-long speculation that he should be scratched from certain outings. A solid start from Giolito would be clutch for Washington, who is in a very precarious situation with the recent slump and without their ace. While the start will be a milestone in Giolito’s young life, he will have to push aside any emotional feelings to concentrate on this key mid-summer matchup. The Nationals are throwing Giolito into the fire for his debut, so we will really get to see what baseball’s top prospect is made of. The game can be viewed on MASN 2 or MLBNetwork.
On Episode four of the Inside Pitch Podcast, we recap a week that’s ended in the Chiefs landing in first place. We hear from Billy Gardner, Jr, Matt Skole, Brendan Ryan, Brian Goodwin, Ben Revere, and Troy Gingrich in an action-packed podcast
Here are today’s game notes:
Game #21 – Syracuse Chiefs (11-9) vs. Pawtucket Red Sox (11-10)
NBT Bank Stadium, Syracuse, New York
Pregame 12:50 p.m. // First Pitch 1:05 p.m.
RHP Austin Voth (0-1, 2.00) vs. LHP Roenis Elias (0-1, 3.86)
Backs Against the Wall: The Chiefs scored all three runs last night with two outs. That marks the second time in five games that all of Syracuse’s runs came with two outs. 24 of Syracuse’s last 34 runs scored have come with two outs in an inning (71%). The Chiefs hold a .333 average (11 for 33) with runners in scoring position and two outs over the last six games.
Due to Score Early?: Syracuse did not score in the first inning yesterday, and if history repeats itself, the Chiefs are due. Over the last 10 instances when the Chiefs did not score a first-inning run, six times the Chiefs scored in the first frame the next day. Syracuse has won three straight games the day after not scoring in the first inning. The Chiefs have scored a quarter of their runs this year in the first stanza (16) and hold a .368 first-inning OBP.
An Impressive Streak: After not reaching base for the first time all season Monday night, Brian Goodwin has bounced back by reaching in two straight. Goodwin is second in the I.L. in OBP (.438) and third in average (.349).
Offensive Catchers: Jhonatan Solano tallied his fourth straight game with a hit last night. The starting Chiefs catcher (Pedro Severino or Jhonatan Solano) has now tallied a hit in 11 of the last 13 games. Severino is currently up with the Nationals with Wilson Ramos on the bereavement list.
Skole Survivor: Despite not getting a hit yesterday, Matt Skole extended his on-base streak to five games. Skole has posted a .368 average and .455 OBP with seven hits and three walks over that stretch. Skole has been especially good when getting a chance to bat in the first inning, going five for 12 (.417), with a .500 OBP, .583 SLG, and five RBIs.
Austin Powers: Austin Voth has had an impressive start to his Triple-A career. The right-hander has gone six innings in each of his first three starts, posting 21 strikeouts and has still not walked a batter. Voth has allowed just seven hits in 12 scoreless innings at home this season. Voth’s nine strikeouts recorded last time out were his most since posting 11 with Auburn (NYP) in August of 2013.
Chiefs Bites: Ben Revere has gone 2 for 5 with a walk and a run scored in two rehab games so far…With last night’s win, the Chiefs are 14-2 in their last 16 games against the PawSox…Dating back to last year, Isaac Ballou has reached base in seven of his eight career Triple-A games…The Chiefs’ nine wins at home are second most in the league so far this year (Columbus, 10).
Game #17 – Syracuse Chiefs (8-8) vs. Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders (8-8)
NBT Bank Stadium, Syracuse, New York
Pregame 12:35 p.m. // First Pitch 1:05 p.m.
LHP Aaron Laffey (1-0, 1.00) vs. RHP Tyler Cloyd (1-0, 0.57)
Sunday Conversation with Billy Gardner, Jr.
Backs Against the Wall: The Chiefs scored all nine runs yesterday with two outs, including their seven-run eighth. Syracuse has now scored 12 runs in a row, and 16 of its last 21 runs with two outs. The Chiefs went four for eight yesterday with RISP and two outs.
Good Life: Brian Goodwin had just one plate appearance yesterday after coming in as a defensive replacement, but he made it count. Goodwin hit a two-run double with the bases loaded in the eighth, starting the Chiefs eighth- inning rally. With the hit, Goodwin extended his hitting streak to 12 games. Goodwin is off to a fine start to his year in his return to Triple-A, with 19 hits in his first 51 at-bats, tied for the fifth-best average in the I.L. (.373). Goodwin has hits in 14 of 15 games and has reached base in all 15 he’s played. The former first-round pick’s 12-game hit streak is now his longest as a Chief, surpassing his 11-game streak from April 10th-21st of 2014. Goodwin is now one-game short of matching the longest Chiefs hitting streak from 2015. Matt den Dekker and Trea Turner each tallied 13- game streaks a season ago.
LOB City No More: The Chiefs have started to improve their offense with runners on base. Over the last four games, Syracuse has averaged 6.6 runners left on base per game, and is 15 for its last 50 with RISP over those five contests (.300). This comes after averaging 10 runners left on base per game over the previous eight contests and going 18 for 83 with RISP (.217).
Trea Bien: Trea Turner hit his second home run of the season last night, part of a three for five day at the plate. Turner also doubled, drove in three and scored a run. Turner is fourth in the I.L. in average at .377, tied for first in hits (23), fourth in on-base percentage (.457), tied for second in stolen bases (6), first in runs scored (15), and third in total bases (35). The Chiefs shortstop has reached base in six straight games.
No Walks Allowed: Chiefs starter Austin Voth did not walk a batter yesterday. In the last turn of the rotation (Laffey, Espino, Cole, Hill, Voth), the Syracuse starter did not walk a batter in three of the five outings and walks one or fewer in four of five starts.
Marti Party: Jason Martinson reached base twice yesterday, extending an on-base streak to six games. Martinson, who had the game-winning hit against SWB two days ago, has posted an impressive .458 on-base percentage over the life of the streak, tallying five hits and six walks.
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