Chiefs in the Show

Every Wednesday, our broadcast intern Conor Green will take a look at a former Chiefs player who’s made his way to the Major Leagues. Enjoy…

——

Adam Lind was born in 1983 in Anderson, Indiana and quickly became a star at Highland High School. After passing on the Twins in the 2002 draft, Lind signed with the Blue Jays after being selected in the 3rd round in 2004. Lind had a sharp first season in the organization, hitting .312 with seven home runs in 70 games with the Auburn Doubledays.

Lind 2

(Mike Greenlar – The Post Standard)

Despite the performance, Lind was just ranked as Toronto’s 17th best prospect by Baseball America following the season. However, that sentiment shifted after another phenomenal year in 2005. With the Dunedin Blue Jays, Lind hit .313 with 12 home runs and 84 RBIs. The performance was the catalyst to Lind’s top prospect ranking prior to 2007.

The outfielder/first baseman played with the Chiefs on-and-off from 2006 to 2008, while moving back-and-forth to the big leagues. In those three seasons, Lind continued his hot-hitting, with a .394 average in 2006, .299 average in 2007 and .328 average in 2008.

The Indiana native played with the Blue Jays full time in 2009 and had his best season as a professional. Lind was one of the most explosive players in all of baseball, hitting .305 with 35 home runs. Additionally, he led the team in doubles (46) and RBIs (114). He followed with back-to-back solid years in 2010 and 2011, hitting 49 home runs with 159 RBIs combined.

Lind’s All-Star caliber performances came in spite of a habitually bad back. Oddly enough, to remedy the uncooperative ailment, Lind turned to yoga. Prior to the 2013 season Lind hired his own personal yoga instructor, saying later, “It was especially good in the second half of the off-season when she had gotten to understand my body a little better and was able to figure out ways to get to the spots that have bothered me the most last summer.”  The ancient Indian practice has allowed for Lind’s career to span 13 professional seasons.

In 2016, Lind has played a pivotal role for the playoff contending Mariners. He’s tallied 13 home runs and 70 RBIs through the midway point, as Seattle trails his former team, Toronto, by five games for the final Wild Card spot.  The long-time pro also played a stopper role for the Mariners earlier this year with a walkoff home run to end a six-game losing streak.

This former Chief turned his time in the salt city into a long, sturdy career in the big leagues. He will look to continue his good play out of the All-Star break, as he attempts to top 30 home runs for the second time in his career.

Minor League Monday 7/11/16

While another Monday brings us another work week, it also signals the return of our weekly Minor League Monday post here on the Inside the Chiefs Blog. Now unless you get to celebrate this week with a few days off thanks to the Triple-A All-Star game like us, use this read up on Andrew Stevenson to start your week off right. Stevenson is the feature of this production, a speedy defensive-minded player who currently patrols the outfield for the Harrisburg Senators, the Nationals Double-A Affiliate.

Andrew Stevenson

Position: OF Age: 22 DOB: 6/1/1994 Bats: L Throws: L Height: 6’0’’ Weight: 185 lbs.

stevenson

Bill Kamenjar/InsideNoVa.com

 

Andrew Stevenson was a steal in the 2015 MLB Draft. The Nationals were able to pick up the LSU product in the second round, 58th overall, with the organization’s first selection (Washington lost its top pick of the Draft in the process of signing Max Scherzer in the offseason). Entering the draft, scouts were very high on Stevenson, labeling the three-year collegiate player as possibly the best defensive player out there. The Nationals knew what they were getting in him, a great defensive talent with a definite upside at the plate. Stevenson climbs the ranks thanks to his prowess in the outfield, but with work could become a top of the lineup hitter. His talent led him through a tough freshman year at LSU, paving the way for his success at the collegiate level and beyond.

 

As a Tiger, Stevenson had a rough go of it in his freshman campaign, hitting just .193 while striking out with more frequency (25 times) than collecting hits (23). However, thanks to his electric play in center, he started every game, helping LSU to the 2013 College World Series in that manner. Switches flipped prior to the 2014 season, and Stevenson really turned it around offensively, batting .335 his sophomore season, a team high, before hitting at a .348 clip in his junior year, which also ended in the College World Series. His efforts earned him a spot on the 2015 All-SEC First Team, an accolade to accompany his two SEC All-Defensive Team honors (2014 and 2015). The awards pale in comparison to his actual play on the diamond, which included many highlight reel catches over that span. It was at LSU where Stevenson demonstrated that he possessed Major League abilities in terms of speed and defensive ability. Those tools were enough to get him drafted in the second round, with the notion that other assets would develop over time in the Minors.

 

Stevenson made three stops in his first professional season following his exit at LSU. After a two game stint with the Gulf Coast Nationals, Stevenson stopped by Auburn for 18 games, where a .361 batting average quickly moved him to Hagerstown. He finished out the season with the Suns, batting .285 with 16 stolen bases to give him a slash line of .308/.363/.309 after his first professional season. To start 2016, Stevenson was promoted to the Potomac Nationals, Washingtons’ High-A affiliate. This came after MLB.com ranked him as the Nats eighth best prospect in the system, a high debut for a young player. Stevenson carried over his success here, knocking 83 hits in 273 at-bats while driving in 18 and stealing 27 bases. These numbers led to a promotion to Double-A Harrisburg, but not before Stevenson earned Mid-Season All-Star accolades for his work with the Suns, his first professional All-Star appearance. Adjustment to Harrisburg has been a slight issue for Stevenson so far, however. Through 16 games he holds a .183 batting average with just 11 hits with all of them coming as singles. This is nothing to worry about in the long run, as the stretch classifies as his first real professional slump, and can be expected in the transition phase to a higher level.

 

Let’s take a closer look at what the scouts say about Stevenson, in particular to his MLB.com ranking. Eighth in the organization, scouts tab his fielding ability as his top tool, rating it a 65 on the 20-80 scale. His speed, rated a 60, compounds this success in the outfield, while his arm strength has room for improvement in the Minors (rated a 35). At the plate, scouts know Stevenson can hit, ranking that tool at a 50, though not for power, where he receives just a 30 grading.

stevenson1

John Oubre/Advocate Staff

A herky-jerky swing would aptly describe Stevenson’s mechanics at the dish. Weight moves all over, first forward then back, in his preparation for a pitch. This translates to base hits, though not over the fence power. And for the role Stevenson could play, that’s not a bad thing at all. As mentioned, many people project Stevenson to be a defensive-first center fielder who has the ceiling to hit at the top of a lineup. Based on what we’ve seen, this is entirely possible. He can hit, and once on base is always a threat to steal and put himself in scoring position, just what you want to see at the top of a lineup. The ability to see if Stevenson could earn that spot remains to be seen, but from what he has displayed at the collegiate level and now early in his professional career, it is entirely likely he may be atop a Major League lineup in the future.

 

The skills that will, and have, push Stevenson’s progression forward lies in his defensive abilities. He can fly with his speed, and this combined with excellent route taking makes him a centerfielder with the capability to cover huge stretches of the outfield en route to catching a fly ball. If you don’t believe that even after watching the first video hyperlinked, I’ll throw in some more proof here and here. It’s worth noting that the grab in the first video came in a 3-3 ballgame in the top of the 12th inning, just to add a little more impact to the play. While the second video doesn’t do a great job in capturing the athleticism required to make that catch, you can see how Stevenson couldn’t have taken a wrong step in catching that ball. It was hit on a line, requiring a full extension dive to catch it just above the grass. Had Stevenson taken one step in the wrong direction while first tracking the ball, it would have fallen down ahead of him. Note that these videos are all from his days at LSU (the SEC will always be more glorified than minor-league baseball). He was working here with mostly raw ability, talent that had yet to be honed by professional level coaches. The LSU coaching staff certainly influenced him, but the training Stevenson now is receiving on an everyday bases certainly outshines collegiate play.
The book on Andrew Stevenson is certainly an open one with much left to be written, but the first few chapters yield heavy promise. Stevenson holds rare defensive talent, and has the ability to bring up his offensive talent as well. Syracuse will likely see this player within the 2017 season at some point before he is able to make a jump to the majors following that. From a Tiger to a Sun to a Senator, Andrew Stevenson is quickly progressing his way up the baseball ladder. He is a player of many talents and one with a high ceiling, and much more importantly of course, is this week’s Minor League Monday prospect of the week.

Chiefs in the Show

 

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)

Ian Desmond                              (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.

 

Minor League Monday 7/4/16

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.

 

Rafael Bautista

Position: OF Age: 23 DOB: 3/8/93 Bats: R Throws: R Height: 6’2’’ Weight: 165 lb.

bautista

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:

 

Hit: 45

Power: 30

Run: 70

Arm: 50

Field: 60

(Via http://m.mlb.com/prospects/2016?list=was)

 

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.

Screenshot (2)

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.

 

Sabermetric Saturday: Spin Rate

Welcome to our fourth new recurring blog series: Sabermetric Saturday! If you’ve enjoyed Minor League Monday, Chiefs in the Show Wednesday or I.L. Trip Advisor Friday…well, there’s absolutely no correlation to whether or not you’ll enjoy this! So pull up a chair, hope my exclamation mark key breaks and enjoy!


Each week in this space, we’ll examine a statistic or term that’s part of the sabermetric baseball world. What are “sabermetrics”? They are, according to Merriam-Webster, “the statistical analysis of baseball data”. The phrase was coined by the legendary baseball thinker Bill James in 1980 as an homage to the Society for American Baseball Research – or SABR.

On Sabermetric Saturday, we’ll attempt to explain something beyond the realms of traditional baseball thinking (home runs, RBIs, ERA, etc.) and apply it practically to your enjoyment of the game and/or the Chiefs. Our goal here is not to turn everyone into statistical junkies, poring over spreadsheets of data while examining variable after variable. That work is valuable to a certain group of people and should not be dismissed. However, we recognize it doesn’t always make for simple dinner conversation. These write-ups will hope to simplify and educate you on something that may be new.

So let’s talk about spin rate.


First of all – what is spin rate? Here’s how MLB.com defines it:

A pitcher’s Spin Rate represents the rate of spin on a baseball after it is released. It is measured in revolutions per minute.

The amount of spin on a pitch changes its trajectory. The same pitch thrown at the same Velocity will end up in a different place depending on how much it spins. (For instance, a fastball with a high Spin Rate appears to have a rising effect on the hitter, and it crosses the plate a few inches higher than a fastball of equal Velocity with a lower Spin Rate. Conversely, a lower Spin Rate on a changeup tends to create more movement.)

As more data have become available, most experts have agreed that fastballs and breaking balls are tougher to hit when they possess higher Spin Rates. In fact, some data suggest that Spin Rate correlates more closely than Velocity to swinging-strike percentage.

The short version: higher spin rate generally equals more swinging strikes. This varies from pitch to pitch – for instance, high spin on a splitter isn’t good, because splitters are supposed to dive. This MLB.com breakdown on how spin applies to different pitches is a good example of spin rate’s effectiveness per pitch.

Paolo Espino

The Chiefs’ king of spin is right-handed pitcher Paolo Espino, thanks to a dazzling curveball with a mighty break. That might not surprise you. Its specific metrics, however, might.

Espino has become a believer in his spin rate as it relates to his success. Here’s what he told us back in May…

“I hit 3,100 (rpm) this year, and I think in the past I hit 32. When I was in Columbus in 2010 or ’11, that’s the first time I heard about spin rate.”

Espino began talking to the Clippers’ video intern in charge of the “TrackMan” program that measures spin rate. That’s where Espino began to realize just how impressive his curveball was.

Paolo Espino

“I’ve only seen one guy getting close to you”, the intern told Espino. “He told me that it was Ivan Nova. I had no idea what it was then. He only told me it was really high.”

Paolo Espino’s curveball was “really high”? Ladies and gentlemen, that may be the understatement of the century. Once again, that link – Statcast’s look at every pitch thrown at least 100 times last year in Major League Baseball.

At that link, we can see that Garrett Richards threw a curveball with the highest spin in the majors last year – at 3,086 rpm. That means Paolo Espino – who has never pitched in a Major-League game in a career spanning 10 seasons and more than 1,200 innings – has a curveball that spins as much as any curveball in Major League Baseball.

Just how does Espino spin the ball that much? That has to do with his “choke” grip and release point. It’s a topic for a different day. For now, know that with the proper spin rate, you don’t even have to throw 90 miles per hour to strike out batters and pitch effectively at this level – or above.


If you have suggestions for something you’d like to see on Sabermetric Saturday, please shoot me an email at kbrown@syracusechiefs.com. If you have thoughts on what you like or don’t like about this post, those messages are welcome as well. Here’s to exploring.

I.L. Trip Advisor – Rochester

Today we continue with the second installment of our blog segment, I.L. Trip Advisor! Sometimes what makes or breaks a road trip for Kevin and I is where the hotel and ballpark are located in relation to great food spots. Thanks to uber, we have been able to explore the local cuisines of the I.L. cities even further. So every Friday, I’ll try and be your I.L. Trip Advisor. This is not a complete list, as there are far too many spots to try and get to in the few days we have in each city. But I’ll do my best to try and bring to light some of the best spots the I.L. footprint has to offer. With the Chiefs 90 miles west in Rochester, today we take a look at some Flower City spots. Bon Appetit!…

Now last week we spent time ranking some breakfast spots in Syracuse, which over the course of the season I’ll continue to do with other food items. But for some of the other I.L. cities, we simply have not scouted out enough joints to make a full rankings list. So with the Chiefs in Rochester today, we won’t go through a full ranking of city foot, but look at a spot or two that have helped us pass the hours and meals on the road in the I.L.

Now with Kevin (and before him Jason Benetti) having been around the league for much longer than I, many of the best choices in each city were actually originally scouted out by them. And Jim’s on Main was discovered by Kevin, and is a great breakfast spot.

Jim’s on Main

Jim's On Main (Rochester Democrat and Chronicle)

Jim’s On Main (Rochester Democrat and Chronicle)

Distance from Stadium: 1.8 miles

Meal of Choice: Corned Beef Hash, Side of Home Fries

About a mile down the road from the team hotel, Jim’s on Main is an awesome spot to grab breakfast in Rochester. We drove over Friday morning and had to park a few blocks away, but not to far to hurt the experience. I had a delicious corned beef hash and got a choice of a side toast that I turned into a bagel. All for only $6.95. French toast for only $4.25. Great food at an affordable price is as good as you can ask for as a minor league broadcaster on the road. The service was excellent, nice friendly folks and the food came out quick. Kevin enjoyed cinnamon french toast, and even with a late morning they served us breakfast past the 11:30 marked changeover to lunch. Very happy we discovered this spot.

Dinosaur Bar-B-Que

Distance from Stadium: 1.8 miles

Meal of Choice: Pulled pork sandwich, side of mac & cheese and mashed potatoes

Dinosaur simply needs no introduction. Just on the other side of the river from the hotel, it is a great spot for lunch in Rochester. I’ll save more of an in depth review for when we talk Syracuse lunch/dinner spots, but the Rochester Dino is actually a little bit bigger than the Syracuse one, and is usually pretty accessible to get a seat on a weekday walk over the river. And the food is as good as any in the city or the league. Dinosaur takeout has also worked out great on days we are running late and can savor pulled pork and mac and cheese at Frontier Field.

Frontier Field Press Spread:

As an added bonus, I’ll rank the press spread at the ballparks in the league. Frontier Field is a good place to start. Pizza and wings on Friday. Thursday decent burgers and hot dogs with above average quality rolls. Coffee is available which is big for me, and the Red Wings always end things right with multiple cookie selections. Definitely above average: 7 out of 10.

Coming Up on our next trip to Rochester – 

– Genesee Brew House

Chiefs in the Show

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.

Tanner Roark

Reinhold Matay – USA TODAY Sports

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.

Minor League Monday 6/27/16

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.

Lucas Giolito

Position: RHP Age: 21 DOB: 7/14/1994 Bats: R Throws: R Height: 6’6’’ Weight: 255 lb.

usa-today-9154918.0

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.

LG

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.

I.L. Trip Advisor – A Syracuse Breakfast

Today we unveil a third new recurring blog segment! Sometimes what makes or breaks a road trip for Kevin and I is where the hotel and ballpark are located in relation to great food spots. Thanks to uber, we have been able to explore the local cuisines of the I.L. cities even further. So every Friday, I’ll try and be your I.L. Trip Advisor. This is not a complete list, as there are far too many spots to try and get to in the few days we have in each city. But I’ll do my best to try and bring to light some of the best spots the I.L. footprint has to offer. And since the Chiefs just got back to Syracuse, lets start right at home. Bon Appetit!…

For being one of the smaller cities in the International League, Syracuse is far from short on great places to eat. Now sure, living here for five plus years now I have uncovered my share of lesser known spots that may make this list a bit longer than other cities we only visit for three days, but the Salt City really has its fair share of excellent offerings for any meal of the day. We’ll leave some suspense and throw a few Syracuse hot spots into the mix as the season goes on, so today let’s start with the most important meal of the day. Here are my top three breakfast spots in the ‘Cuse.

#3 Mother’s Cupboard

Distance from Stadium: 15 min

Personal Meal of Choice: Pancake and Home Fries

If you are in the mood for a little bit of a drive and dont mind a wait, Mother’s Cupboard is a great choice.

The Six Pound Frittata (FoodChallenges.com)

The Six Pound Frittata (FoodChallenges.com)

Made famous by an appearance on Man vs. Food, Mother’s Cupboard is a small, 36 seat breakfast spot on the edge of Syracuse on James Street. The line can be long but the wait is more than worth it. Once inside, among the many excellent options is the chance at the Frittata Challenge.

Though I was not bold enough to try this task which according to the restaurant, 95% of people have failed at, it features a six point frittata with scrambled eggs, sausage, pepperoni and hash browns. If that isn’t your speed, Mother’s Cupboard has excellent pancakes a foot long in diameter and some of the best home fries I have ever had. This is an excellent spot if you are hungry for a large and delicious breakfast.

#2 Stella’s Diner

Distance from Stadium: 5 min

Personal Meal of Choice: French Toast, Side of Scrambled Eggs

oneclass.com

oneclass.com

I grew up in Connecticut where there was a diner in every town. I loved going to the diner, and at Stella’s I get the diner and amazing breakfast. French toast, eggs, sausage, home fries, you can’t go wrong at Stella’s. Now there can be quite the line on a Saturday or Sunday morning, but once your in you are taken back to the 1950s style diner and the food comes fast and the meal is excellent.

#1 Funk n’ Waffles 

Distance from Stadium: 10 min

Personal Meal of Choice: The Jersey Shore

Funk n' Waffles on the SU hill (syracuse.com)

Funk n’ Waffles on the SU hill (syracuse.com)

Whether you are up by the SU hill or in Armory Square, Funk and Waffles has become a favorite spot of baseball players, coaches, and broadcasters coming into town. Originally created by two Syracuse University students and entered into an SU business school entrepreneurship competition, the students stuck around and let their idea of waffles and music grow. And boy are we glad they did. The environment is perfect for a morning bite, and the food is dynamite. Bacon-stuffed waffles. Ice cream. Fried chicken and waffles. If you are really hungry, you can even go with pulled pork on a waffle. You could go here for two weeks and not get the same thing, and enjoy every offering. And especially during baseball season, there is almost never a wait with students away for the summer break. This is an awesome unique spot and the breakfast is never a let down.

Chiefs in the Show: Marco Estrada

It’s another new recurring blog segment! Every Wednesday, our broadcast intern Conor Green will take a look at a former Chiefs player who’s made his way to the Major Leagues. Enjoy…

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The journey from the minors to the majors varies greatly from player-to-player. For blue chip up-and-comers like Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg, minor league advancement is often a swift process. But this obviously doesn’t hold true for every prospective major-leaguer. In this edition of Chiefs in the Show, we look at former Chief Marco Estrada, and his professional voyage.

Marco Estrada (FOX Sports)

Marco Estrada (FOX Sports)

From 2015 to 2016, Estrada has been a revelation in the starting rotation for the Blue Jays. This after playing a starter-reliever hybrid role, across the majority of his 11-year career. In 2016, Estrada sports a 5-3 record, while ranking fourth in the American League in ERA at 2.70.

Picked in the 6th round by the Nationals in 2005, Estrada was a standout at Sylmar High School in California, but was not a highly sought after prospect, resulting in pitching at Glendale Community College in California from 2002 to 2003. Following two years at Glendale, the right-hander transferred to Long Beach State in California, before being drafted in 2005.

After college, it took Estrada three years to progress out of Single-A ball, eventually moving to Double-A Harrisburg in 2008.  With the Chiefs in 2009, Estrada had his best season as a professional to that point. In 25 starts, he went 9-5 with an ERA of 3.63 over 136.1 innings. Following the season, he was claimed off waivers by Milwaukee.

With the Brewers, the Californian made 70 starts over five seasons, not once winning more than seven games, while shifting from a starter to reliever role on occasion. Estrada didn’t tally All-Star totals with Milwaukee, but his five years with the Brewers provided an opportunity to start at the big-league level. Estrada will long be appreciative, saying, “I’m thankful every day for the opportunities the Brewers have given me. Not only that they picked me up in the first place, but that they actually gave me a chance to pitch.”

The pitcher’s breakthrough has come in the last two years in Toronto, with Estrada playing a pivotal role in the Blue Jays’ 2015 playoff run. In the ALDS, down two-games-to-none to the high-powered Rangers, Estrada pitched a sparkler. He went six and one-third innings, allowing just one run, en route to a 5-1 Blue Jays game-three win. Estrada’s performance propelled Toronto to the first of three-consecutive wins, as they eventually won the series in five games.

Then, again facing elimination against the Royals in the ALCS, Estrada kept the Blue Jays alive with another dazzling performance. Trailing three-games-to-one, the former Chief went seven and two-thirds innings, once again allowing just one run, while surrendering only three hits. The Blue Jays later fell to the Royals in game six, but without the playoff poise provided by Estrada, Toronto’s first playoff berth since 1993 wouldn’t have been as memorable.

Over his 11-year career, Estrada has navigated the murky waters of minor-league baseball, faced early hardship at the big-league level, and emerged as one of the more effective and consistent starters in the major-leagues. The road to the bigs was no easy ride, with some bumps along the way, but over the last few years this former Chief has begun to make his mark in the show.

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