If you haven’t bought your tickets by now, the best advice we can give you is run – don’t walk – to Alliance Bank Stadium. Seats are filling up for Saturday’s Chiefs game – otherwise known as Strasmas. It’s the return of Nationals right-handed phenom Stephen Strasburg, who heads to Syracuse for his fifth rehab start of 2011. Strasburg’s return has already caused enough hoopla around the Syracuse area, simply because of what he accomplished last season. The skinny: 4-1 with a 1.08 ERA in six Syracuse starts. Today, we’ll take a look at Strasburg’s Syracuse starts last season, and tomorrow, we’ll examine how 2011’s gone for him.
May 7 vs Gwinnett: 7-0 win
Strasburg’s line: 6 IP, H, 0 R, BB, 6 K
Six innings of one-hit ball in his first Triple-A start – and how was your first day at your new job? Strasburg dominated the G-Braves in a shutout victory, giving up just one hit – a fourth-inning single to current Chief Gregor Blanco. In fact, he allowed as many hits as he collected himself – a second-inning single by Strasburg scored Seth Bynum. He also drove in a run with a sacrifice bunt. And for one more ridiculous, impressive note to top it off, Strasburg got twelve groundouts and no air outs against the 20 batters he faced. That’s ZERO outs in the air. If you’re handing out grades, this one’s an A+, and that still might be an understatement.
May 12 vs Norfolk: 4-0 win
Strasburg’s line: 6 IP, 0 H, 0 R, BB, 7 K
…and then he got better. Strasburg went from one hit allowed to no hits allowed in his second Triple-A start, shutting down Norfolk before leaving with a pitch count at 80. The closest thing the Tides got to a hit was a hard-hit ground ball by Blake Davis in the third inning that bounced off Pedro Lopez’s glove for an error. Other than that, a Jeff Salazar walk was the only blemish on Strasburg’s night. The Chiefs scored four runs in the fifth inning to back him up, on a Kevin Mench single and Josh Whitesell triple.
May 19 at Rochester: 5-1 win
Strasburg’s line: 6.1 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 9 K
Strasburg hit the road for the first time in Game 2 of a Wednesday doubleheader. The result was just as dominant. Though Strasburg gave up multiple hits for the first time (gasp!), he struck out nine to set a new Triple-A high. Every player in Rochester’s lineup struck out in the game, with four Red Wings fanning twice. The Chiefs backed Strasburg offensively with 11 singles and six walks.
May 24 vs Toledo: 6-3 win
Strasburg’s line: 5 IP, 5 H, 2 R, ER, 0 BB, 5 K
For once, Strasburg picked up a no-decision, leaving in a 2-2 tie before the Chiefs exploded for four runs in the sixth. Another current Chiefs outfielder did a decent amount of the damage against Strasburg – former Mud Hen Jeff Frazier. Frazier, who went 3 for 4 in the game, singled and doubled in two at-bats off of Strasburg, with the double coming in the middle of a fourth-inning rally. The game was a bit of a bizarre one for a few reasons; Chiefs outfielder Kevin Mench and manager Trent Jewett were ejected in the fourth inning, five of the Chiefs’ six runs were unearned, and Pete Orr both tripled and homered in the win.
May 29 vs Scranton/Wilkes-Barre: 3-2 loss
Strasburg’s line: 5 IP, 6 H, 3 ER, 2 BB, 6 K
A loss! A Strasburg loss! Stop the presses! OK, not quite that amount of hysteria, but the Yankees still touched up Strasburg for a Scranton win. They also made the right-hander labor for 86 pitches in just five-plus innings. Strasburg allowed two hits, a balk, and a walk in the fifth, before Josh Wilkie came on. Two inherited runners scored against Wilkie, and the Chiefs couldn’t muster another run against three Yankee relievers. Strasburg also allowed his first Triple-A home run, with Rene Rivera smacking a third-inning long ball.
June 3 at Buffalo: 7-1 loss
Strasburg’s line: 5 IP, 3 H, 0 R, BB, 5 K
Talk about going out in style. In Strasburg’s final Triple-A start, he shut out the Bisons despite laboring for 89 pitches. And that was all against a team with an average north of .280 coming into the game. Three singles were all Buffalo could muster against the right-hander, who was backed by three Syracuse home runs. Once again, the right-hander helped out his own cause, with a single and a run scored.
33.1 IP, 18 H, 5 R, 4 ER, 7 BB, 38 K, .154 average against, 1.9 G/A ratio
Domination. That’s the easiest way to put Strasburg’s 2010 Triple-A performance into words. He was held to five or six innings every start because of pitch count and inning limits, but never gave up more than three runs, and the Chiefs won 5 of his 6 games. And over 12,000 fans came out to five of the six games to see him.
Tomorrow, we take a look at how Strasburg’s 2011 tour of the minor leagues has gone. Love or hate the stories, feel free to let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. Feel free to tweet at us too @ChiefsRadio.
Today’s trivia question: What current Chiefs player does this description fit from his high school days?
“He started as a sophomore at third base. He was basically a weak, skinny kid.”
Steve Lombardozzi? Matt Antonelli? Seth Bynum? Nope…try the pitchers.
How about the highest-ranked Nationals prospect outside of Bryce Harper, and a starting pitcher – Brad Peacock?
Here’s more from Peacock’s high school baseball coach at Palm Beach Central in Florida, Scott Benedict:
“We had a very talented team, and he was a very talented third baseman – ability, work ethic, mental toughness…he had good feet, he’d throw it across the diamond about waist-high the whole way. As he got stronger, he became a better hitter. He hit a grand slam against a tough team in the regional playoffs one year. He didn’t throw any his junior year, then the summer between his junior and senior years he started working off the mound a bit, just a little. Then his senior year, I think he threw 8 innings for us.”
Palm Beach Central was no slouch on the high school circuit. The team was ranked as high as #3 in the country in Peacock’s senior year. But Benedict wishes he’d made at least one change.
“In retrospect I should have pitched him more,” said Benedict with a laugh. ”I was a real genius! Should have made him a closer. We didn’t win the state title in the playoffs, we lost a very close game. In retrospect, I wish I’d have brought him in, and I didn’t.”
Peacock shone at third base for Benedict’s squad, playing what coach calls “Gold Glove” type defense. In a win against Sarasota High School, the then-#1 team in the country, Peacock started a triple play at third base in an upset win. But soon enough, people would realize where the right-handed thrower’s future lied.
Peacock played for the Georgia Stars, a summer league team during his high school years, with former major leaguer Scott Grove as his pitching coach. Benedict had seen Peacock’s arm strength in action at third base and wanted to know if it would translate to the mound.
“I remember when I first got to Georgia,” Grove said, “Scott (says), ‘Hey, this kid has a great arm, real raw. Do you mind watching him throw a bullpen?’ And I took him down to the bullpen, and he was right. He had exceptional arm strength, a real loose arm, pretty raw mechanically. But we worked on his mechanics and he started pitching for us that summer, and the rest is history. He just really blossomed, and I know the year that he’s having this year is just unbelievable.”
Grove worked extensively with Peacock on several things over the summers. One was the ability to pitch downhill, altering his mechanics to keep the ball low in the strike zone. Another was the developing of three pitches that Peacock still uses effectively today.
“We worked on a two seam fastball as well as a four seam fastball, a curveball which was more of a slurve at the time with real tight break, and a circle change,” said Grove. ”Just watching him at the Futures Game, he was totally in control of all three pitches and has command of all three pitches where he can throw them at any time in the count. I think that has a lot to do with the success now.”
Back in the summers of 2005 to 2007, did Grove have any idea that success would come?
“It was so hard at that time (to tell) because he was so young. He’s really developed physically. You kinda knew something was special about him way back when he threw his first bullpen, with the way the ball came out of his hand. As far as being surprised, not really, because he was always one of those kids that was a dirt dog at the ball field. (He) always wanted to play, always was listening to get better, and had one of the best high school coaches in the country in Scott Benedict. I’m not real surprised because of the way the ball came out of his hand – it was just so free and easy. As time went on, as he got stronger and developed his lower body. It’s just so great to see, and he’s so close to the big leagues right now.”
That big league call-up could come sooner rather than later. Nationals manager Davey Johnson has specifically mentioned by Peacock by name as a player he’d like to see in September. That potential promotion to the majors would certainly jog Benedict’s memory.
“You know who I had that was a first rounder that’s with the Nationals?” said Benedict. ”(Reliever) Sean Burnett. I was lucky enough to be at his major league debut when he was with the Pirates in Pittsburgh. Sean was a similar type guy; he was a good position player, too.”
It seems to be just a matter of time before Peacock makes his first major league appearance. It’s a long way removed from the skinny third baseman who threw nearly as many innings in his senior year as he did in his last Triple-A start.
For more on Brad Peacock, check out our “Before They Were Chiefs” feature on Peacock at our Inside Pitch podcast. This link will take you right to the piece.
Feel free to shoot over your story ideas as well to firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to hear any ideas or thoughts you have. Check us out on Twitter too, @ChiefsRadio.
Tonight could be something special at Alliance Bank Stadium – and I’m not just talking about the postgame fireworks. Whether you’re a Chiefs fan, Yankees fan, or fan of minor league baseball in general, tonight’s game is essentically can’t-miss action. The reason: tonight’s pitching matchup.
This season, Chiefs right-hander Brad Peacock hasn’t been used to being the less heralded of the two starters in any given game. But tonight, Peacock – #42 on Baseball America’s midseason Top 50 prospects list – may take second billing, at least pregame. Yankees left-hander Manny Banuelos will start for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre – the same Banuelos who is Baseball America’s #13 overall prospect and #7 overall pitcher. Let’s take a look at the matchup – and assess the chances for fireworks before the fireworks.
AAA stats: 2-1, 4.97 ERA in 5 starts; 25.1 IP, 19 H, 15 BB, 23 K; .207 average against
AA stats: 10-2, 2.01 ERA in 16 games/14 starts; 98.2 IP, 62 H, 23 BB, 129 K; .179 average against
Peacock’s AAA career has started interestingly, to say the least. The first batter he faced ripped a double to deep center field. The first inning he pitched saw five runs scored against him. Two starts later, he carried a no-hitter into the eighth.
Overall, while the ERA doesn’t shine at the moment, Peacock has been more good than bad in Syracuse. The Chiefs have won 3 of Peacock’s 5 starts, and his ERA’s an even 3.00 since his first start against Lehigh Valley. The AAA rookie’s fastball scorched up to 97 miles per hour in his last start at Columbus, and his sharp knuckle-curveball has also been on display. Tonight won’t be Peacock’s first go-around against Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, either – he picked up his first AAA win against them on July 22, allowing just one earned run in five innings.
How much longer will Peacock be around for? His promotion to the big leagues may be sooner than you’d think – Nationals manager Davey Johnson has specifically named Peacock and Tommy Milone as pitchers he’d like to see in Washington this season. Peacock’s control could use some tweaking – see the 15 walks in 25.1 AAA innings – but his strikeout and hit numbers have stayed strong.
Peacock says he made a slight change in his delivery in the offseason. Outside of that? He didn’t have much more to offer for the improved results – though Peacock says there’s been added deception and command because of the delivery tweaks.
AAA stats: 0-0, 2.45 ERA in 2 starts; 11 IP, 14 H, 3 BB, 13 K; .311 average against
AA stats: 4-5, 3.59 ERA in 20 starts; 95.1 IP, 94 H, 52 BB, 94 K; .263 average against
You may have heard Banuelos’ name recently in trade discussions. But the Yankees refused to include their prized left-hander in any potential deals, and Banuelos remains in pinstripes. The scariest part about Banuelos? He’s 20 years old – TWENTY – and already in AAA, averaging more than a strikeout per inning between Trenton and Scranton this season, with an ERA in the 3s. Banuelos throws in the high 90s, and has drawn mounds of praise from Joe Girardi, Alex Rodriguez, and Mariano Rivera. Speaking of Rivera – the greatest closer of all-time had this to say about Banuelos back in March, when asked if Banuelos was the greatest pitching prospect he’d ever seen:
“I would say so. I like everything about him. The makeup and how he keeps his composure. I notice situations and how you react in situations. Where you make your pitches in tough situations, where you spot your pitches, he has the ability to do that.”
At the time, Banuelos was 19 years old. Which is the same age as a normal college sophomore. And oh, by the way, Mariano Rivera’s been in professional ball since 1990.
Banuelos has also been widely praised for his mental makeup – players and coaches alike say he not only has great stuff, but he knows how to pitch. The one thing Banuelos does NOT have now is the necessary endurance. The Yankees are obviously taking it slow with one of baseball’s best prospects – he threw more than five innings just three times in 20 AA starts.
In case you’re not completely sold that tonight might be something special, here’s one more quote about Banuelos, from a rival scout:
“When he’s right, he has a Cole Hamels changeup, and early Johan Santana fastball, and I can’t even think of who has as powerful a curveball from the left side in the big leagues.”
The Chiefs and Yankees tee off tonight at 7:00. Tune in and take a listen at 6:45, when our coverage starts on The Score 1260. And feel free to let us know about any other story ideas or send along some feedback – we’re glad to hear it. The e-mail address is email@example.com and the Twitter account is @ChiefsRadio.
If you were thinking that the last four days in Chief-land have been a little hectic, there’s a reason for that – the last four days in Chief-land have, well, been a little hectic. Because of trades, injuries, and an enormously tired bullpen, Syracuse has made eleven transactions in four days. Let’s slow down and recap them:
OF Brian Bixler recalled by Washington; SP Yunesky Maya recalled by Washington; SP Garrett Mock promoted from GCL Nationals
The Nats traded IF/OF Jerry Hairston, Jr. to the Brewers and SP Jason Marquis to the Diamondbacks before the deadline, so Bixler and Maya were logical replacements. Bixler, like Hairston, is a right-handed hitter who can play everywhere on the field, and could see some increased time in center field as the backup to Rick Ankiel. Maya was recalled to take Marquis’ spot for a game Marquis was originally scheduled to pitch in.
To take the place of Maya – that day’s scheduled Syracuse starter – the Nationals plucked Mock from the depths of the Gulf Coast League, where he’d been pitching in relief for the Nats’ GCL team. Mock could only throw 60 pitches, though, since he wasn’t stretched out, which ate up just three innings of what turned out to be an eleven-inning game. So the bullpen was a bit burned up…keep that in mind.
RP Atahualpa Severino recalled by Washington; SP Yunesky Maya optioned back to Syracuse
Yunesky Maya pitched a heck of a game in his spot start, throwing 5.1 innings of shutout ball and earning his first big league win in a victory over the Mets. His reward? A return trip back to Syracuse. Lefty Atahualpa Severino was called up to the Nats to give Washington another bullpen arm as insurance at the deadline.
OF Roger Bernadina optioned to Syracuse from Washington; SP Brad Meyers activated from Disabled List; SP Tommy Milone placed on Disabled List; RP Evan Bronson promoted to Syracuse from Class A-Advanced Potomac; IF Michael Aubrey placed on Disabled List
Changes galore! Bernadina finally made his way to Toledo after the Nats had optioned him down with the arrival of Chien-Ming Wang. The outfielder had been struggling in the big leagues and Washington needed another bullpen arm at the time.
Meyers was taken off the DL after just around a month on it. He’d been out with some minor injuries after originally going on with a neck injury. Milone’s fine, but the Nationals want to limit his innings a bit coming down the stretch run of the season. As for Bronson, he was called up to provide the bullpen with some relief. For Monday’s game, only Bronson and Ryan Tatusko were readily available…and Bronson took the Chiefs home by throwing the final 4.1 innings. He’ll probably head back down soon, but certainly stole a future audition.
Aubrey’s headed to the DL with some knee problems. He’s been banged up all season despite a nice year – Aubrey’s been a team leader in on-base and slugging percentage all season. It’s too bad for Aubrey’s sake the Nats never picked him up to the bigs – as a left-handed bench option on a team that had a struggling Matt Stairs all year, Washington could have done much, much worse.
RP Collin Balester recalled by Washington
Balester threw 4 shutout innings in Game 1 of the Toledo series – a length that was likely pre-determined, as Davey Johnson’s planning to use him as a long reliever up in the big leagues. The next move coming is likely the return of Severino, who’s been optioned down by Washington. Bronson could also likely return to Potomac soon…so don’t be surprised if even more moves are on the horizon.
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Yesterday we examined how the potential trade of some Nationals players could affect Syracuse. Today we take a look from the other side of things – how could adding players change life in Chief-ville? Right now, Washington’s big league club is fairly set pitching-wise and is set for the future at a number of key positions – but center field is one that Washington’s still looking to nail down. Here’s some Nationals trade targets that would make John Fogerty proud:
The skinny: The hot rumors of the day are starting to involve Span, the Twins’ speedy, young center fielder. Span’s currently on the disabled list with a concussion and belongs to an organization with plenty of outfield depth. Multiple reports have pegged the Nats and Twins as at least in discussions about Span. These two teams are no strangers to dealing – last season Washington traded reliever Matt Capps for top catching prospect Wilson Ramos.
The stats: Span was having a solid season before his injury – in 56 games, he’s hitting .294 with a .361 on-base percentage with 14 extra-base hits. Last season, Span stole 26 bases in 30 attempts, though he’s just 4 for 5 this year.
The Syracuse impact: This is an interesting one. Span would definitely become Washington’s everyday center fielder, bumping Roger Bernadina to the bench. Or would it? Span would join Bernadina, Jayson Werth, Laynce Nix, and Rick Ankiel as Washington outfielders. Werth and Nix obviously aren’t going anywhere, which could mean Bernadina’s return to Syracuse. The other possibility would involve the Nationals carrying five outfielders and six infielders – which seems unlikely. None of Washington’s current four outfielders can play anywhere outside of first base – same goes for Span – and Matt Stairs, who’s technically an infielder, barely plays the field anymore.
The skinny: Upton’s name has been thrown around as much as anyone with the Nationals over the past week or so. Washington’s just one of a few teams exploring the possibility of Upton, with FOX Sports reporting today that around five teams are currently in play for him. With Desmond Jennings’ recent promotion to the big leagues, Upton’s days in Tampa seem numbered. One X-factor here is Ryan Zimmerman, a close friend of Upton’s for AAU ball, who’s publicly said he’d love to have Upton.
The stats: 2011’s been a struggle for Upton. While the power’s been there with 15 home runs, he’s batting just .229 with a .310 on-base percentage. Upton’s bounced into 10 double plays and struck out 98 teams in 96 games. He’s stolen 23 bases in 30 attempts.
The Syracuse impact: Likely the same as Span, with Upton sliding into the Nats’ starting center field position. There could be more of a chance of carrying five outfielders with Upton though – while it’s been a few years now, he has played third base, second base, and shortstop in the past, so he could be used as an emergency infielder if needed.
The skinny: Bourn to the Nats seems like less of a possibility than Span and Upton. Houston is certainly a seller at this point, with the Astros sporting baseball’s worst record. The negatives here are likely price-related; Houston’s asking price in terms of top prospects, and the high financial price that Bourn’s likely to garner in salary arbitration after the season.
The stats: The good: Bourn’s hitting .300 with a league-high 37 stolen bases in 43 attempts. The bad: Bourn’s walked just 34 times to 83 strikeouts and has just about no power, with only one home run. His OPS is slightly better than league average – the first time in five full seasons that’s been the case.
The Syracuse impact: Bourn’s in the same boat as Span – outfield and outfield only. But there’s a difference in what the teams are looking for. Minnesota’s still hanging on in the AL Central race and could be looking for major league help, specifically in the bullpen – so a Span trade’s more likely to mean the loss of a big leaguer (and subsequent promotion of a Chiefs player) than Bourn trade. The odds of a 33-69 Houston team adding a major league player in a deal are slim to none…and slim’s on his way out the door.
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The Chiefs and the Trade Deadline, Part 1
It’s that Fleetwood Mac-esque time of the year again…when rumors fly left and right and the trade winds pick up. Everyone’s concerned with what their favorite major league team will do – but what of the clubs down below? Let’s take a look at how some rumored wheelings and dealings could affect Syracuse:
The skinny: They’re shopping him, they’re not shopping him. They’re actively trying to trade him, he’s part of the core. It seems like there are two conflicting schools of thought around Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond these days, and nobody’s 100% sure what to believe. But multiple reports have cited interest from other teams regarding Desmond.
The stats: The Nats’ starting shortstop is at .226 with 3 home runs and 20 extra-base hits in 94 games. It’s been a tough year at the plate for Desmond, whose OPS (on-base plus slugging) is 37 percent worse than a league average hitter.
The Syracuse impact: If Desmond was to go, the likely move up would be Steve Lombardozzi. In just 32 Triple-A games, Lombo’s at .343 with 14 multi-hit games and 9 three-hit games. IL All-Star Matt Antonelli could also be a possibility to move. Neither Lombardozzi nor Antonelli is currently on the 40-man roster, but a trade of Desmond would leave an open spot. One more note: a Lombardozzi call up would likely bump Danny Espinosa to shortstop.
The skinny: The Nationals’ lone All-Star, Clippard has had a career year in 2011. There’s certainly not a team in the league that couldn’t find a spot for Clippard in their bullpen – but that, of course, includes Washington. Odds are the Nats would need to be blown away to let go of Clippard, but his name’s popped up at times.
The stats: Clippard’s 1-0 with a 1.73 ERA in 45 games. He’s allowed just 28 hits in 57.1 innings – that’s less than a hit per every TWO innings – and struck out 72. Those are astronomical numbers – which means the price on Clippard would also be astronomical.
The Syracuse impact: Collin Balester’s already bounced back and forth between the Nats and Chiefs a few times this year. He’s already on the 40-man roster and would almost surely be the next reliever up. The only other reliever on the 40-man is left-hander Atahualpa Severino, who’d probably only go up if a left-hander was injured or sent down. Josh Wilkie’s had the best full year of any Syracuse reliever, but a 40-man spot would need to be cleared for him.
The skinny: The Nationals suddenly find themselves with 6 starters for 5 spots with Chien-Ming Wang’s impending return to the major leagues. Wang’s currently taking Tom Gorzelanny’s spot and bumping Gorzelanny to the bullpen as a short-term solution. In the long term? Marquis is a free agent after this season and the Nationals won’t receive any compensation if he leaves after the year, making him a logical candidate to at least have his name tossed around in rumors.
The stats: At age 32, Marquis is enjoying one of his best seasons. He’s 8-5 with a 3.95 ERA in 20 starts. However, he’s allowed 132 hits in 120.2 innings and only struck out 71. He also has a career 4.52 ERA, so this could be a case of selling Marquis when his value’s at a high point.
The Syracuse impact: Minimal, likely. Wang’s scheduled to start on Friday for the Nationals, which means Washington would need to send a player down to Syracuse anyway. That could be Ross Detwiler, whose long reliever spot seems like it’s going to Tom Gorzelanny soon. If Marquis is traded and the Nats need a pitcher back, they’d likely move Gorzelanny back into the rotation and recall Detwiler or Balester.
Tomorrow, we’ll take a look at potential trade targets for the Nats, where they’d fit in with Washington, and the trickle-down effect it could cause for the Chiefs. Please feel free to shoot over any story ideas or thoughts – firstname.lastname@example.org is the address.
A typical three-year-old is learning to read, to draw, or to be toilet trained. Jhonatan Solano was not a typical three-year-old.
“My father played baseball when he was young,” Solano said before yesterday’s doubleheader with Buffalo. “When I was three years old, he went with me first to the baseball field and I practiced with him.”
Baseball has run in the family for Solano. His younger brother Donovan, a 23-year-old infielder with the Cardinals’ AAA team, the Memphis Redbirds, has played professionally since 2005.
“I talk to him every day,” said Solano. “We have a good relationship…after brothers, we are good friends.”
To be in the United States and just one level away from the major leagues has been a lifelong goal for Solano.
“This life today, it was a dream. I remember when I was in high school; everybody asked me what kind of career I want to be in if I go to the university. I always remember I’d say I want to play in the big leagues. I started playing baseball when I was 3 years old and this was a dream – so I live the real dream now for me, for my father, for my brother, and I appreciate God for giving me the opportunity.”
But that dream could have been derailed at an early age. Solano had to travel from Colombia to Venezuela for a tryout with the Nationals, but relations between the two countries were strained at the time. With a visa, the travel wouldn’t have been easy. So Solano took an unusual journey.
“I was with eleven more players from Colombia and we crossed the line in a bus, like a truck. If you wanted to go in that way to Venezuela, if immigration caught you, maybe they’d put you in jail for a few days.”
He made it over successfully, and the tryout was a success – Solano signed with Washington and began his career as a catcher with the GCL Nationals in 2006. While Chiefs fans know Solano as a stellar defensive backstop, it wasn’t always that way. Solano was an infielder at a younger age, but a position change was soon in order.
“Before I got a contract for an organization, I was working in the infield. But I don’t run a lot, I am a slow guy,” Solano admitted while laughing. “Some coach told me if I’m interested, I’d change positions. Why not try and play catcher?”
The rest, as they say, has been history – except for a few cameo appearances at second base here and there. One game earlier this year at Norfolk, Randy Knorr’s lineup card featured Solano at second.
“I was surprised when I saw the lineup in Norfolk,” Solano said. “The first thing I did was call my wife and say ‘can you believe I’m playing second base today?’ I enjoyed that game.”
Solano played one more game at second before returning to full-time duty behind the plate. It’s there where he’s made his mark throughout his career in the minors – and with a career-best .309 average through 43 games, the final step in his dream is as close as it’s ever been.
For more on Jhonatan Solano, check out our audio conversation with him in our latest edition of Getting to Know The Chiefs. That’s at syracusechiefs.com – just click on the Inside Pitch podcast.
Wile E. Coyote doesn’t seem to understand. ACME Glue doesn’t slow the Roadrunner down. Cornering the Roadrunner near the side of the cliff will, guaranteed, end with a plummeting ball of brown fur. Wile E. Coyote never wins.
Seth Bynum played 447 games in the Nationals’ minor-league system from 2004 through April 13th of 2009. None of those games came above the Double-A level. Bynum only drove in more than 40 runs in a season once. He was a modern-day barnstormer; Bynum never spent a full season with any team in the Nationals’ chain.
“You always have that doubt that they don’t have your back, they’re not thinking about you, they don’t think you can play a position,” Bynum said recently from the visitors’ dugout in Buffalo. “But, you’ve got to stay humble and leave the other stuff to them.”
Bynum, then simply a shortstop, spent the first four seasons of his pro career behind current National Ian Desmond. But, when Desmond broke the hammate bone in his left hand in 2008, Bynum had evidence the Nationals were behind him.
“One of the happier days I had was in Double-A (Harrisburg),” Bynum said. “I was playing well. I knew Desi was coming back and they said they wanted to keep me and put me at second.”
The transition paid off. The next season, Bynum rose to Syracuse where he made the Triple-A All-Star game as the everyday second baseman for the Chiefs. He played in 134 games; Bynum was the second baseman in 123 of them.
(photo courtesy of Jim McGregor)
The next year, though, Bynum was suspended for 50 games after testing positive for an amphetamine. This season, Bynum missed 47 more games. Bynum broke his thumb sprawling for a ball in a game with Rochester on May 1st.
“It was one of those plays where I extended my hand first then it took a little short hop and I had to bring it in toward my body,” Bynum said. That’s when my thumb clipped the ground and came back on me a little bit. It felt like a real big jam. I couldn’t comprehend what happened at the time.”
Bynum came back on June 24th and has a hit in all but two of his starts since. Before his return, the 30-year-old Bynum went on a rehab assignment with the Auburn Doubledays, the New York-Penn League affiliate of the Nationals. The 30-year-old Bynum had six hits in 22 at-bats. His first was a home run against a 22-year-old named Patrick Daughtery who was making his 27th appearance in pro ball.
“It’s awesome seeing these college kids coming to professional ball for the first time,” Bynum said of his time with Auburn. “Getting their first hit…it’s corny, but I like seeing that.”
Soon, Seth Bynum will have a memorable moment of his own. He and his wife Jen are due to have their first child this Christmas. They were married this offseason in Louisville. It’s a union that may never have happened without Bynum’s persistence.
“We were broke up for seven years and we got back together,” Bynum said. We were high school sweethearts. I was a junior, she was a sophomore. We got back together in ’07. Her identical twin sister Stephanie is married to my best friend, Ricky Gibson. I kept close ties to her through them. We never talked but I knew where she was at and what she was doing. I think I am ten million times a better human being with her.”
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On June 1st, in his ninth Triple-A start, Chiefs left-hander Tommy Milone went 2-for-2 at the plate. Fitting perfection for a young man who has failed in pro baseball about as much as Charles Van Doren did at Twenty One.
Similarly to Mr. Van Doren, Milone succeeds through deception.
“The way I pitch comes from how I am as a person,” Milone told me recently in the first base dugout at Louisville Slugger Field. “I’m very quiet and not outspoken, so I think I take that on to the mound. I don’t throw hard, but I try to keep hitters off balance by throwing different pitches in different counts than maybe they’re expecting.”
Using that strategy, Milone won 12 games in both 2009 and 2010. In each of his last three stops in the Nationals’ farm chain prior to this season, the 24-year-old Milone posted ERAs no greater than 2.95. The only outlier in his pro career is a 4.57 ERA with his first team, the New York-Penn League’s Vermont Lake Monsters in 2008.
“I kind of struggled there because I throw it around the plate,” Milone remembered. “I want them to make contact. In Vermont, once guys get signed, they’re just free swingers. They made contact and it seemed like they’d always be getting hits.”
The only other period in Milone’s career which he could, when asked, deem anything close to a failure came early the following season. While in Advanced-A with the Potomac Nationals, Milone’s ERA over the first three months came to 4.04. Between July and September, his ERA stood at 1.94.
“In Potomac, I struggled early on and then it flipped around because I figured out how to pitch to pro hitters,” Milone said. It clicked then to not miss over the plate. If I’m going to miss, make it off low. If it needs to be high, make it way high.”
Milone, currently the International League’s leader in strikeouts with 76, didn’t think himself a lock to be a pitcher when he was in high school. Milone both pitched and played first base at Saugus High School in California.
“I felt like I was a good pitcher in high school, but I felt like my hitting was the thing that was going to carry me through my career and pitching would be back there just in case hitting didn’t work out,” Milone said. “I went into USC and they actually gave me a shot to hit. I didn’t do to well during the fall of my freshman year and they were just kind of like, ‘we’re just going to have you pitch.’”
With a 3.53 ERA, a 19-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and a .250 batting average, Milone has done both impeccably in his Triple-A premiere.
The Chiefs take on the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees tonight at 7 o’clock at Alliance Bank Stadium. Nationals left-hander Tom Gorzelanny is scheduled to make a rehab start for the Chiefs.
You can catch the game starting at 6:45 on The Score 1260 or online at http://www.thescore1260.com. You can also watch for a nominal fee via milb.tv.
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In the 1970s movie Slap Shot, Paul Newman’s player-coach character, Reg Dunlop, tells one the of the Chiefs this:
“I am personally placing a hundred-dollar bounty on the head of Tim McCracken. He’s the head coach and chief punk on that Syracuse team. “
You don’t hear much about goons for hire in baseball movies. It’s not much of a stretch to call baseball and hockey polar opposites on the violence spectrum in sports. Significantly more players overlap in, say, football and basketball or basketball and baseball than baseball and hockey. The newest Syracuse Chief, Peabody, Massachusetts’ Matt Antonelli, is one of the outliers.
“When I was a young kid, I wanted to play in the NHL,” Antonelli said before a recent Chiefs’ game at Alliance Bank Stadium. ”I don’t know if I was better at hockey, but I played more hockey growing up. When I got to high school is when I started playing more baseball. I just kind of randomly made the switch.”
Antonelli’s interest in hockey, a sport which some watch solely for the fighting and bone-crushing collisions, makes his baseball career path rather ironic. Over the 2009 and 2010 seasons, Antonelli played just 60 games due to a hand injury which, quite literally, came out of nowhere.
“I swear, I just remember when I was in AA (in 2008) after a game, I remember feeling a little sore,” Antonelli recalled. ”It went away, it was only like one day. Then the next year, in batting practice, every now and then it would come. It actually took two years for it to start getting bad to where I would hit every day and be like, ‘man this is really bothering me.’ I just kept playing through it and trying to ice it. Eventually, Spring Training of last year, I said ‘I can’t do it no more.’”
Antonelli says he had one aim in Spring Training this year, his first with the Washington Nationals: don’t get hurt. He succeeded until late in camp when he felt a twinge in back of his leg.
“Sometimes you can do stuff about that, sometimes it’s just freak injuries,” Antonelli said. ”I’ve never had a hamstring issue and it just happened to go on me. I feel like if I can stay on the field and get normal at-bats and be able to be out there every day, I’ll do OK.”
A first round pick out of Wake Forest in 2006, Antonelli rose mercurially through the Padres’ farm system. He made his Major League debut on September 1st of 2008 and singled in his first at-bat, against Greg Maddux.
“I don’t think I really realized it until after the game, then after the game a bunch of my friends were calling me,” Antonelli said. ”It was really weird, he was actually with the Padres. I had never been in the Major Leagues with him, but I’d been playing in Spring Training with him. Maybe that helped me to not look out there and see future Hall of Famer Greg Maddux.”
The Chiefs go after the sweep of Norfolk in game four tonight at 7:00. You can hear all the action on The Score 1260 or online at http://www.thescore1260.com. You can also watch the game via milb.tv for a nominal fee.
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