Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Too Little, Too Late

Nine All-Star Games. Five Gold Gloves. Consistent excellence at his position. Nearly two decades as a color commentator. Immeasurable effort to raise money for and awareness of juvenile diabetes. And one hell of a nice guy.

Those are just a few things that made Chicago Cubs 3B and life-long blueblood Ron Santo the kind of person he was widely known to be. And it wasn't enough. Not for the Hall. Until, somehow, this year.

The HOF Veterans Committee, in their infinite wisdom, finally decided to allow Santo to join the ranks of the legends who came before him in Cooperstown. Good call, fellas. Only took you a few years. Give or take. And all he had to do to solidify his enshrinement is die. Strong work, committee members. Strong.

As a lifelong Cubs fan, I suppose the first feeling I should have had is happiness; happiness for a man who had such a good career in uniform, who gave so much of himself after he left the field to his team and organization, who devoted more than 30 years of his life to helping to raise money and awareness to cure a disease which has affected millions of people (and which ultimately crippled him). But somehow, I can't feel happy about this. I can't bring myself to feel good about a decision that should have been made while the man was still alive.
I started this entry four days ago! I'd like to be able to find the words to express how much of a sham this all seems to be, but I still can't fully express my disappointment.

Case in point: Buck O'Neil. Here's a man who devotes virtually his whole life to the game he loves; as a player, a scout, the first African-American coach in Major League Baseball, and going on to become a sort-of unofficial ambassador for all of American professional baseball. He was awarded the Presidental Medal of Freedom posthumously and even has a statue in the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City. The man has an award named after him, for crying out loud! It's an award given by no less than representatives of the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame! He had quite a life, quite a compelling legacy in baseball, and yet for all he was blessed with a Hall of Fame election wasn't one of them. I still believe it will happen, somehow, someday, but it should have happened while he was alive. The same can most definitely be said of Santo.

So the question is this, plain and simple: why didn't it happen sooner? Why now, now that his family is deprived of his presence and the man himself has been deprived of the joy of earning the highest honor pro baseball has to offer, is Ron Santo finally being enshrined?

I don't have the answer, and I barely have the means or ability to express my sadness at this most recent black eye suffered needlessly by Major League Baseball. Because it may be a great honor for the Santo family, but it's an insult to me. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Green Diamonds: Mike Kvasnicka, 3B, Lexington Legends (Class A, SAL, Houston Astros)

Kvasnicka swings away vs. Asheville Tourists, 8-23-2011;
Photo by Clinton Riddle
Michael Kvasnicka

Bats: Right, Throws: Right
Height: 6' 2", Weight: 200 lb.
Born: December 7, 1988 in Lakeville, Minnesota, US (Age 22)
Drafted by: Minnesota Twins in the 31st round of the 2007 MLB June Amateur Draft and the Houston Astros in the 1st round (33rd) of the 2010 MLB June Amateur Draft.

Overview: Originally played OF with occasional catching duties when signed out of University of Minnesota...Three-sport star (baseball, football and hockey) who competed in state championships in baseball and hockey...Minnesota State High School Player of the Year in 2007..While playing for Lakeville HS (Lakeville, MN), set all-time school records in HR, RBI and consecutive games played...Father Jay was drafted in the 8th round in 1988 by Minnesota Twins, reaching Class AAA...Mike batted .314, driving in 26 runs while playing for the Brainerd Lakes Area Lunkers of the Northwoods League in 2009, gaining All-Star honors...Led Tri-City (Class A-, NY-Penn League) in RBI with 36 in 2010...Batted .260, led team with 59 RBI and 32 doubles at Lexington (Class A, SAL) in 2011.

K-Man in the field; Photo by Clinton Riddle
Strengths: Kvasnicka manages to square up and make solid contact reasonably well for someone who doesn't use his lower half in his swing. His bat speed and aggressive nature at the plate allows him to let the pitch get deeper in his zone before he swings. He has mainly gap-to-gap doubles power at this point, but he still has time to allow his power to develop. In the field, Kvasnicka handles the hot corner well for someone who is relatively new to the position. His range is slightly better to his glove side, and he makes the majority of routine plays (see below). His arm strength is solid, no doubt helped along by his catching experience, and projects to be at least ML average if not plus. He makes throws to first with confidence, and cannot be underestimated even when throwing from deep behind the bag. He seems to take real joy in what he does, and is often smiling and cutting up with his partner at short between innings.

Weaknesses: While he doesn't seem to be overmatched at third, he is still a work in progress at the position. His 31 errors will attest to that. He can sometimes be caught off-guard by harder ground balls, which is likely due (again) to his having to learn the position while on the job. At bat, he can be overpowered at times by even average fastballs and is often cuffed on pitches up and in. He can battle pitchers who throw a steady diet of breaking pitches, but those at-bats end in groundouts too often. Because he doesn't use his lower body to drive into the pitch he doesn't drive the ball as well as he could, and this also translates into pop-ups on high fastballs that he otherwise could either lay off or drive the other way. He seems to rely on his bat speed and instincts more than he ought to, and will have to learn to leverage himself better if his power potential is to develop. Even so, he is likely to be little more than average (or slightly below) in that department when/if he reaches the majors.

Outlook: Because Houston is in the position it is in (ahem), Kvasnicka may find himself bumped up with regularity. He could probably handle a promotion to AA next year, but would benefit from more time at Lexington before that happens. He strikes me as the type of player whose intangibles make him a positive clubhouse presence, and he did handle advancing to Class A well, while bettering all of his major offensive stats, in the process. Kvasnicka fit in very well with the Legends, and seemed to bond especially well with SS Ben Orloff, which was beneficial to them both as they learned each others' habits and tendencies in the field quickly. Overall, he may not ever be the type of slugging third sacker we've seen in recent times, but at the very least he should at least be a versatile bench player and part-time starter at the ML level (especially when you factor in his experience behind the dish), and the needs of the big club could have him finding out for himself sooner rather than later.

2012 Season-Should start the year with Lexington, with consideration for advancement around mid-season.

Clinton Riddle
The Grand Old Game