Friday, December 14, 2012

Player Interview: Mark Donato, 1B, AZ Royals (Rookie Level, Arizona League)

Now that the Legends are affiliated with the Kansas City Royals (at least for the next 4 years), I've been getting to know the KC system. And let me tell you: there's a TON of talent in this organization. Newly-drafted 1B Mark Donato is one of their most recent draftees, and he definitely fits the Kansas City mold. Despite what the record states in terms of wins and losses in recent years (ahem!), this is one team that knows real talent when they see it. I had a chance to speak with Mark for a moment about his experiences in this, his first year as a pro, and I'd like to share it with my fellow Legends fans as the first of what I hope will be many "getting to know your minor league organization" type entries here at TGOG.

Mark Donato
Bats: Left, Throws: Left
Height: 6' 2", Weight: 225 lb.
Born: November 18, 1991 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, US (Age 21)
Drafted by the Kansas City Royals in the 26th round of the 2012 MLB June Amateur Draft from Indian River Community College (Fort Pierce, FL).

Minors Batting

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(Thank you, Baseball Reference. You rock.)

1. Had you any thoughts as to who would be drafting you? Was it surprising to go when and where you did?

I knew there were a few teams interested in drafting me; I just didn't know who wanted me the most. I was expecting to go somewhere (between) 10th through 20th rounds, but when I heard my name called in the 26th round by the Royals it was the best feeling ever.

2. After starring as both a first baseman and a pitcher for Ss. Neumann-Goretti High, were you happy with becoming exclusively a position player after turning pro?

I stopped pitching when I got to college; that was the coach's choice, he wanted me at 1st base to supply some power to the team.

3. You're now part of an organization which has had a very strong talent pool in the minors in recent years. How do you see yourself matching up against other prospects in the KC system?

I always thought I was able to compete with the best ever since I was a little kid (emphasis added-ed.), now that I'm able to do that in the minor leagues it's a dream come true.

4. You were thrown right into the thick of it when you got to the Arizona League. What was the toughest part of being such a vital part of a pro lineup?

At first it was shocking that I was batting 3rd and playing 1st in my first pro baseball game, but I knew I worked for that spot and earned my chance to do that.

5. What is your impression of the differences between pro ball and your time as an amateur, thus far?

I noticed that only the great players on your high school team make it to play college ball, and only the best players on your college team make it to play pro ball, so as of now it's gonna take great dedication and motivation to make it to the big leagues. I noticed as a hitter how the holes in the infield and outfield got smaller as I moved from college to the professional level.

6. What would you say is your greatest strength as a player? Greatest weakness?

I would say power is my greatest strength as a player and speed would be my weakness.

7. Do you have a specific routine on game days? How do you prep for game time?

I like to make sure I'm fully prepared hitting-wise with getting enough swings in before the game.

8. Lexington, KY is KC's newest affiliate, a team who had been in the Astros system for 12 years, and so the fans are just becoming accustomed to rooting for a new team and a new league altogether. How do you feel about the prospect of being a big part of Legends fans' indoctrination into the Royals family?

I hope to play in Lexington soon and maybe entertain them with some long balls (laughs).

Monday, December 10, 2012

Player Interview: Dan Gamache, 2B, West Virginia Power (Class A, South Atlantic League, Pittsburgh Pirates)

DEC 10th, 2012-I had the opportunity recently to speak with Pirates 2B prospect Dan Gamache, and after seeing him play here against our Legends several times this past season I'm certainly happy to have had the chance to do so. Never did I see him on the field or at the plate without a smile on his face or a noticeable energy and passion for the game. Watching players like Gamache is always a joy for me, and a reminder that there are still players out there who are fans of the game. You'd be surprised how many of them aren't.

Daniel Joseph Gamache
Bats: Left Throws: Right
Height: 5' 11", Weight: 190 lb.
Born: November 20, 1990 in Newport, Rhode Island, US (Age 22)
Drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 6th round of the 2011 MLB June Amateur Draft from Auburn University (Auburn, AL).

So you had quite a number of honors bestowed upon you as an amateur, but would you say there was one in particular that meant more than the rest?
My favorite honor I got as an amateur would have to be being named the MVP in the Capital City Classic my junior year at Auburn against Alabama. It doesn't get better than that game when it comes to regular season college games.
When the time came for the draft, was there a particular team which showed early interest in drafting you, or did you have a preconceived notion as to where you would end up?
There were several teams that I was confident would be taking me, but I would have to say that I had the most confidence that the Pirates would take me first.
Coming up as a third baseman and now having shifted to second, have you had much difficulty in making the transition?
It was definitely difficult at first transitioning from a corner position to the middle. I didn't realize the responsibility that came with second but with reps in practice and actually playing in games I have become way more comfortable there.
What would you say is your greatest asset, on the field?
I'd say that my greatest asset on the field would have to be my bat. I have always felt comfortable making necessary adjustments at the plate physically and with my approach.
How does the atmosphere in a pro clubhouse, with many different players from across the US and surrounding countries, differ from the feel of college or high school?
The pro clubhouse is very different at first from the college ranks. In college its more of a team atmosphere with everyone kind of focusing on winning games and working together as a team. In pro ball everyone has the same goal, to get to the big leagues. This makes everyone work together as well but it has a different feel from college.
If there was one coach or instructor you could take with you throughout your pro career, who would it be and why?
The one instructor I could take through my professional career with me would have to be my hitting coach that I've worked with since I was 8 years old, Jon Burke. He knows my swing and me better than anyone I've ever been coached by and I am able to call him for advice or just to talk whenever I need.
What has been the hardest adjustment for you since you went pro?
Worst moment on the field since being a pro has to be when I struck out three times in a game last season in West Virginia, just felt plain helpless. Best moment for me is my first home run that came in State College my first year.
Do you follow a special routine on game days?
I wouldn't call the routine that I have on game day special. Its not even planned out really, it just kind of happens. On the way to the field i will pick up a couple of energy drinks, usually crush one of those on the way to the field, get my early work in before BP, take BP, take in and out, take a shower, and listen to music at my locker while downing the other energy drink before pre-game stretch.
Who has been the toughest pitcher/batter you've seen, to this point?
Toughest pitcher that I've faced to now is Jose Fernandez. Kid's got talent. (Ed. note-he ain't kidding.)
If you had to leave the game tomorrow, what would you most like to do?
If I left the game as a player tomorrow I would without a doubt be a coach somewhere.

Monday, September 17, 2012

KC To Pickup PDC With Lexington...Possibly, Perhaps, Maybe

SEPT 17th, 2012-Following up on yesterday's post regarding Lexington's break-up with Houston (long-distance relationships can be tough; let's be fair), news out of Illinois and the Midwest League could have bearing on the future of the Legends and perhaps even professional baseball in Central Kentucky. Please keep in mind that I am speculating here. I am not Nostradamus, I have never claimed to be Nostradamus, and therefore I could be way off-base. But that's OK; I've been wrong, from time to time. 

As reported by the Peoria Journal-Star:

All 30 Major League teams have standard PDCs with all their affiliates. The contract lengths typically are two or four seasons and expire after even-numbered calendar years. The Cougars' contract with the Kansas City Royals also expires at the end of this season.(emphasis added by yours truly)

Here's why that matters:

The Chicago Sun-Times reported on August 21st that the Chicago Cubs are planning to end their affiliation with the Peoria Cubs, their Class A affiliate in the Midwest League. The fact that either Peoria, Chicago or both could be fined six figures for discussing new PDCs with other teams before the September deadline notwithstanding, it's appearing more and more like this will happen. 

Meanwhile, in Kane County, their affiliation with Kansas City is ending as well. There have been rumors among Kane County fans that Peoria and Kane County would end up switching major league affiliations...


While Lexington is also without an affiliation, they would appear to be in the mix to become KC's next Class A affiliate (at least on the surface). One problem with KC coming to Lexington (leaving Kane County without a parent club) is that Kane County has been a big draw at the gates, historically. Last year they AVERAGED 6,000 per game, and all things being equal it's reasonably logical to assume that they won't come close to those numbers in Lexington. Maybe I'm wrong about that, but baseball just doesn't seem to be the draw in Lexington that it is in places like, oh, say Kane County?

Another thought: with the Reds and Cardinals both bordering Kentucky, this has always seemed to be National League country. Kansas City would not only be moving it's Low-A affiliate farther away, it would also be sending them straight to the front-line of a century-long pissing contest between Cincy and St Louis fans, where they would likely end up being non-combatant casualties. That's kind of a long, meandering way of saying that they'd take a pretty big hit in gate receipts and merchandising as compared to what they were bringing in while playing in Kane County. 

Of course, there are tons of Cards fans in Illinois as well. But I digress...

I guess the thing about minor league baseball and parent club affiliations is this: it doesn't really seem to matter much in the long run who your team is ultimately sending prospects to. If you've got a strong front office, good field staff and an effective promotions department, you're gonna sell tickets. You're also going to sell hats, t-shirts, cards, pennants, souvenir bats and balls, etc. If I had the last say in what organization ended up signing a new PDC with Lexington, I'd probably say that Cincinnati would make the most sense. But that's in a perfect world, and this isn't a perfect world. If it was, the Cubs would still have fans who remember what it was like to see the World Series trophy hoisted triumphantly in The Friendly Confines in ANY other environment than one involving an overpriced gaming system, a 60" flat-screen and a pile of pizza boxes housing a young middle-class family of cockroaches. 

Time will tell who ultimately comes here and adopts Lexington as their new Class-A. Until then, I'm liable to spout any number of ridiculous theories as to who it will be. You've been warned. 

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Lexington Legends Lose PDC With Houston Astros

SEPT 16th, 2012-According to a source with direct knowledge of the team's day-to-day operations, the Class A Lexington Legends, the Houston Astros affiliate in the South Atlantic League since their founding in 2001, will no longer be affiliated with the Astros when the 2013 season begins.

Although there is no indication as to what organization will sign a Player Development Contract with Lexington as of yet, there could very well be deal in the works as we speak. As for the team's fans, rumors abound as to who could be the new parent club, with Toronto, NY (NL), St. Louis, and Kansas City thought to be the leading candidates.

More news to come; I'll keep you posted. 

Thursday, September 13, 2012

NC Teen Shows What Love Of The Game Is All About

SEPT 13th, 2012-Today's post has nothing to do with players, leagues, teams, etc. It has to do with something every bit as important and meaningful (or more so), in my opinion. 

There's a young man in North Carolina who has taken his love of sports card collecting into a somewhat uncommon direction, a direction which would fall under the "share the wealth" category. His name is Mitchell Kennedy, he's entering his sophomore year at West Forsyth High School in Winston-Salem, NC, and he's the driving force behind Sports Cards For Kids, a charitable endeavor which has seen the donation of thousands upon thousands of sports cards to children who might not otherwise be able to buy their own. As much as I'd like to tell the story, I'd rather let Mitchell do the talking here. 

How did you come about this idea? What made you want to do this?

I had some extra cards and told my mom to give them to someone she knew that did not have a lot and she told me one day that the child that got them still had one of the cards by his bedside. So I thought that I could make this a big thing and give cards to a lot of kids. 

How did you get started with your donations?

A new card shop had just opened near were I lived. The owner of the store allowed me to put a donation box on his counter. 

Have you had much support from other businesses or collectors?

I have had support from other collectors and some one time donations from Panini and Topps. 

Do you have any plans to expand your donations even further?

I would love to be able to expand. I have started to make trips to Boys and Girls Clubs in different town and I have also gone to several hospitals. 

What do you think the future holds for Sports Cards For Kids?

I would love to make trips out of North Carolina and have support from a card company or athletes. 

What would you say has been your most memorable experience since you started?

I have two, the first one is when I gave out the first Armanti Edwards autographed cards. The kid who received it went back to his table and said "Does anyone want to trade for this?" and many people said yes. Then after the reactions from the other kids said "Sike!" The second one is when I gave a Albert Haynesworth jersey card to a Patriots fan and when I came back almost 10 minutes later the same kid had the card in his hand feeling the jersey.

Have you contacted many other athletes for assistance? Who, if any, has responded?

I have tweeted almost every athlete on twitter. I have had the most support from Gary Barnidge, TE for the Panthers, who is getting all of the players to sign cards for Sports Cards for Kids. Some of the biggest names like Peyton Manning and Tim Tebow responded to my letters.

Tell me about how your project works? How do you keep it going?

I divide the cards up by sports, superstar players, and hall of fame players. I divide them between the packs and make adjustments if needed. I put 12 to 20 cards per pack depending on how big the group is. The biggest thing that has help is Facebook. It keeps our supporters informed on what is going on and spreads the word.

I'm always glad to help spread the word when it comes to undertakings like this. Mitchell's website is linked above, or contact him at for more info or if you wish to donate to his cause. Also, go 'like' him on Facebook. Help Mitchell help countless more children, any way you are able. 

On the Web:

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Movin' On Up

If you're looking for new posts from TGOG, you'll find most of them on The Crawfish Boxes. TCB is one of the biggest sites on the 'Net devoted to the Houston Astros, and I was recently asked to join them as a writer. Lots of good writers on TCB, and tons of info you might not otherwise hear about the Astros and their affiliates. Check 'em out. 

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Green Diamonds: Chan Moon, SS, Lancaster JetHawks (Class A+, California League)

Name: Chan Jong Moon
Bats: Both Throws: Right
Height: 6' 0" Weight: 160 lb.
DOB: March 23, 1991 in Seoul, KR (Age 21)
Drafted: Signed by the Houston Astros as a minor-league free agent 9/25/2009 for $350,000


2011 Season (Greeneville, Rookie League) 43 G, 160 PA, 3 2B, 3 3B, 1 HR, 12 RBI, 51 K, .207 BA, .302 OBP
2012 Season (Lexington, Class A; Lancaster, Class A+) 44 G, 171 PA, 20 R, 8 2B, 22 RBI, 6-9 SB,
.268 BA, .358 OBP

Introduction: This young infielder has made for himself quite a following here in Lexington without even trying. Cries of “MOOOOOOOON!” follow him on his every at-bat, and whenever he makes even a modestly difficult play in the field the case is invariably the same. I understand it is the custom in Korea to refer to a man by his last name (i.e. Moon Chan Jong), so there's a little something you might not have known :) Shy and quiet but always very polite and smiling, he was a real pleasure to watch on the diamond as well as to meet in person.

Batting: Moon has a somewhat wider-than-shoulder-width stance, keeping his weight back slightly and his hands high. There's a slight crouch and he is footwork is sure. There is a little twirl-type movement in his bat, but nothing excessive. In some ways, his stance is very similar to that of OF Jordan Scott (for those of you who've seen him play). He does drop his hands back as well as shifting his weight back slightly more before his swing (a timing mechanism), and lets fly with what appears to be a pretty big swing, but the whole thing looks very well-controlled. It's not a wild or blind swing, at all, but all of this together sometimes contributes to it being a long swing. This swing appears slightly slower and longer from the left side, but I would expect the team to work with him to increase his contact percentage from the left side as he gets out of the box so quickly and this will help to maximize his quickness and produce more infield hits. He keeps his head in well, covers the whole plate easily and has a very level swing. The biggest problem I see is that he could stand to shorten up a bit more on 2-strike counts and perhaps choke up a hair for more bat head control. Being able to improve in that regard would make him perfect as a #8 or even #2 hitter. Other than that, it's a pretty textbook swing. He has what some aficionados of Asian baseball would call an Asian-style swing, and that's a good thing; hitters in many leagues in the Pacific Rim and Mainland Asian countries are taught to think “contact first”, and that's the approach you see when Moon is at the plate. On his follow-through, he can really twist himself into a corkscrew when he misses. This lends itself to the impression that he's swinging for the fences, but I don't see it. He's deft with a bunt, and can become a good push-bunter with time. He's already comfortable with it, and that will only improve with time. He gets out of the box quickly, but shortening his follow-through could definitely help him in that regard. I think he could stand to gain more upper-body and core strength, but the flexibility and reflexes are already there in abundance. He's not ever going to be much on power, but he'll make consistent contact and throw in a handful of extra-base hits and steals, and that ain't bad.

An excellent play leaves 2B Delino Deshields Jr stunned

Fielding: Moon is, in my estimation, already a plus fielder. He gets everything in range and makes some plays on the other side of second, as well. He has soft hands, fluid mechanics getting to and fielding the ball, and a sure arm. The arm strength is there for short, but as he will probably play a bit more third in the future I'd say he'd probably be only fringe-average for that position, arm-wise. Moon is the kind of gloveman you could put at short, second or third and expect at least average or better results, overall. I've never seen him at first, but somehow I don't think that would take him long to get used to. At short, he's already a spark-plug kind of fielder, making all the sure plays and diving for every ball he thinks he has even a small chance of reaching. He stands in well against a sliding base-runner and throws well on the DP, though he could stand to get a little more force behind his throws in these situations. He starts the double play quickly and confidently, and keeps his head when he has to make his own call on where to throw (multiple base-runners, late-inning situations). Don't be surprised to see him emerge from a cloud of dust with a ball you didn't expect to see. Some of the best plays I've seen in the IF this year were plays Moon was directly involved in, and I expect that will be the case at whatever level he finds himself. If I were a major league owner, I'd be comfortable with his glove in my lineup, right now. That's how much faith I have in this kid. Of course, there's the aforementioned arm strength that I'd like to see improve, but otherwise he's not going to have much trouble defensively while climbing the ladder.

Baserunning: Moon seems to be a smart but conservative base-runner, who can steal the odd base for you but usually isn't called upon to do so. He seems to rely more on base-running smarts than pure speed. Mind you, he's no base-jammer, but he's certainly not a dyed-in-the-wool base-stealer, either. He thus far appears to have at least average speed, and things progressing as they should might steal 10 or 12 for you in the ML, but will probably be given the green light in low-risk situations. Even so, he doesn't hurt himself or the team on the bases. He can take the extra base if necessary but won't likely be asked to do so unless (again) it's a low-risk situation. The base-running instincts, to me, are definitely above-average for his age, and will only get better as time goes by. Moon thinks out there; he doesn't do anything recklessly. He's confident in advancing in passed ball/wild pitch situations, and won't often make a bad call there. He will sometimes surprise you with his selective aggressiveness, which only helps his cause.

Looking on
Cracking up OF Justin Gominsky
Intangibles: For being such a shy kid when you meet him face-to-face (at times), Moon is actually known for being a bit of a jokester in the clubhouse. He is often seen making his teammates laugh and he seems to keep things loose in the dugout, as well. He's not undisciplined by any stretch, but he knows that he's getting paid to play a kid's game, and he's very aware of how fortunate he happens to be. He truly seems to enjoy the game and all aspects of it; he just seems so happy to be here, as cliché as it may sound. It's refreshing to see players at this level who aren't overcome by the pressure of having to perform and moving up the chain, and Moon is one of those players. He communicates well in the field with his keystone compatriot, and is always aware of where he is and the game situation involved. He is always ready for the cut-off throw, and he knows exactly where to go with it when it comes. His baseball IQ is definitely high. He will, at times, let a bad play get to him a bit, though this isn't overly obvious. He is, however, usually quick to bounce back, and doesn't often let a bad play in the field affect him when he comes to bat. He's the kind of player who will be well-liked in the clubhouse wherever he goes, and should fit into most any collection of teammates. That can only help him as he advances ever closer to Houston.

A little glove love from righty Jonas Dufek
Overall: I like most everything I see in this kid. There are some things I'd like to see improve (upper-body/core strength, shorter swing especially from the left side, don't get discouraged too easily, greater confidence), but these are all things that should come with time. At bat, he's going to be a prototypical middle infielder (no power, plus-average contact), but with the glove he could well carry himself into, at the least, a utility infield spot with starts two to three times a week, and that's not so bad is it? Kind of an Adam Kennedy-type with a bit less pop and perhaps a better glove. A smart ownership will want him on their club for reasons that extend beyond his play on the field, because his clubhouse presence is a plus, too. With a little more confidence, you've got a switch-hitting, versatile gloveman, plus he could be a leader both on and off the field, and in ways that you won't read about in the box score. Put the whole package together, and you've got yourself a kid who's gonna make it. I can't wait to see how far he goes. 

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Green Diamonds: Delino Deshields Jr, 2B, Lexington Legends (Class A, South Atlantic League)

Name: Delino Diaab DeShields
Bats: R Throws: R
HT: 5'9” WT: 210
DOB: August 16th, 1992, in Gaston, Georgia
Drafted: Houston Astros in the 1st round (8th overall) of the 2010 Draft.


2011 SEASON: .220 BA, 9 HR, 48 RBI, 30 SB, 52 BB, 118 SO, 17 2B, 2 3B in 541 PA
2012 SEASON: .279 BA, 6 HR, 38 RBI, 62 SB, 54 BB, 81 SO, 16 2B, 3 3B in 394 PA

That's not chalk dust. That's smoke. 
Introduction: Anyone who had the chance to see the then 18-year-old Delino Deshields Jr. take the field last year could probably tell that there was a world of talent in him waiting to be realized. The numbers had not reflected this, however, and there were times in which he seemed utterly lost. Now in his third season in the Houston Astros organization, he has shown dramatic progress this season, thus far, in more than just his on-field performance.

Batting: Deshields takes a stance slightly wider than shoulder width, keeping his head in and his hands back until seemingly the last possible second. He has always taken a very short path to the ball with high hands, yet he generates surprising pop despite this. He shows quick hands, often split-second reflexes and there is no extraneous movement in his stance of which to speak. He takes his place in the box in a deliberate manner, sets his feet early and attempts to move him off the plate typically prove futile; he shows no fear. There is no leg kick or foot lift, and while a little more loading up may help him generate enough forward momentum to bring his swing plane down a bit flatter. Nevertheless, he is continuing to improve in making consistent contact. One very noticeable thing he is doing this year that he failed to do in the last is he takes the first pitch virtually every time. Last year, it seemed he would swing at anything near the plate in any count. This year, however, he's not likely to swing unless he gets a strike. This is, according to “unidentified sources” (sounds way more Spy-vs-Spy than it is), a result of input and strongly-suggested pointers from Houston batting instructors in the past off-season. Regardless of the reason behind it, Deshields has easily been as consistent in his approach as any of his teammates. This has boosted his walks and helped to get him into better hitting counts, and his batting average is reflective of this. He still strikes out a bit too often and appears to press with runners in scoring position, and while he has a short swing he often doesn't keep his bat in the hitting zone long enough. In this, as in all other facets of his game, it is important to consider the fact that he doesn't even turn 20 for another month. In terms of small ball, he is better than average with the bunt, and shows definite potential to become a fine push-bunter. He can be called upon to drop one down on a frequent basis without worry that he'll lay a bad one. Without a current time to first measurement for him I would still feel confident in saying he's sub-4.0 to first on the bunt. More than once I've seen him simply dart past catchers fortunate enough to get to the bunt quickly. He has plus pull-side power at this level, but with his pronounced uppercut swing he isn't taking advantage of his power-speed package in terms of hitting to the opposite field, thereby losing out on recording perhaps twice the number of doubles and triples he has tallied so far. He generates considerable loft and distance but would benefit from a flatter swing (as noted above). He may consider starting with his hands back further in his stance or incorporating a short leg lift in order to generate more line drive swings.

Two the hard way. (Pictured: Deshields not flying into CF)
Fielding: This is still a significant problem area. While he seems comfortable when he comes set to await the play, there are many times in which he is caught either flat-footed or on his heels when the ball reaches him. He has more than enough arm for second base, but his throws are too often made from an unbalanced or poorly leveraged position. His footwork is progressing but is far from ideal for a position which requires more agility than Deshields has as yet shown. He gets down on the ball easily and makes the routine plays and will occasionally surprise with an off-balance throw that hits its target, owing to his significant upper body strength. He could stand to be a bit less stiff in his actions, but that should come along with time. He seems to play his position with more vigor and assertiveness this year, likely owing to his already extensive (for an 18-year-old) experience in Class A ball. He seems more at-ease in the field, in general. He makes the turn reasonably quickly on the double play and always stands fast and fearless when runners try to knock him off the bag on the throw to first. The last runner I saw who attempted this was unable to move him even an inch after hooking his right ankle on the slide. While all this is true, he does often make his throws flat-footed (again, as noted above), and while he has the strength to pull it off it's not an advisable approach to gunning down a runner at first on the DP. He has this year, as last, made a considerable amount of errors, but many of these could be attributed to youth and inexperience at the position. Of note, there were many times in 2011 when he seemed noticeably uncomfortable in the field, and the idea of moving him to CF has been bandied about from time to time. He would certainly have the speed, quickness and arm to play in center, and the Class A Legends have had a bit of a logjam in the infield on several occasions, so this may be a reality for him sooner rather than later. Also worth noting, he is already considerably well-developed in terms of his muscle mass, but with a frame his size he should try to avoid adding much more to it if he wants to remain agile enough for the infield or fast enough for center. Heavy musculature in a small frame makes a player play a stiff game, not to mention the added risks if he doesn't also remain flexible (as with any other player, frankly).

Baserunning: Deshields has been far more relaxed on the base-paths this year, and it shows. He's already doubled his SB total from last year in 150 fewer PA, so that in itself speaks volumes. Throw in the SB% (62 in 73 attempts; 84.9 SB%) and watch how free and easy he moves between bases, and you have a teenager running seemingly at will. He's easily on pace for over 100 steals, given his current pace, and if he's not promoted this year he'll definitely break that barrier. In terms of the different facets of his game, this is the area in which he has run roughshod over catchers older and more experienced than him. The real test, of course, will be when he's sent up the chain and has to deal with stronger arms behind the plate. They may slow him down a bit, but he certainly has the ability to compensate for this. As things currently stand, I can see him stealing 30-40 in the bigs. With growth and maturity, this peak total could easily jump substantially. Deshields is not afraid to take the extra base but already has the foresight to avoid taking unnecessary risks and doesn't often try to stretch a single recklessly.

Intangibles: This is a hard section for me when it comes to Deshields. Some who saw him play in 2011 may have noticed what appeared to be a significant lack of interest in the game going on around him and an, at times, obviously flippant attitude to his play, in general. Whether this was due to an 18-year-old kid being overwhelmed by the competition, his having difficulty adjusting to or accepting the expectations thrust upon him by the organization and his high selection in the draft, or perhaps his even being depressed and discouraged by his performance in his first year of Class A ball, it was quite obvious that his head just wasn't in the game, sometimes. I often note the last game I saw him in in 2011 in which he dragged his bat to the plate in what I considered to be a petulant display of indifference as the best example I have of his attitude toward the game at the time and, consequently, his teammates as well. As I said before, I have no idea what was going through his head...he may have suffered a loss in his family, might have been dealing with a lot of inner turmoil adjusting to life as a newly christened top prospect and, by way of his draft slot, life as a millionaire on top of that...who knows better than the kid, himself? So I try to reserve judgment on all that, especially since his attitude this year has done a complete 180. He is assertive in his play, he is far more sure in many aspects of his game, and he even seems to be laughing more. That's the part that gives me the most optimism, frankly. It shows his comfort level has increased dramatically, and his play will continue to improve, owing in no small part to this. I now consider him a potential field captain, at some point in his near future.

Overall: The Astros and their fans have every reason to expect great things from Deshields, and also every reason to expect that he will continue to make the adjustments necessary to succeed and thrive in whatever level he happens to reach. He has a power-speed combo which could pay huge dividends for the Astros in the future, and he looks to me like he'll be comparable to Craig Biggio when he reaches the majors, only with a little less power. I see him more in CF than at 2B, but he could even end up at third with his athleticism, though he'd need a little more arm strength for that.

OK, he'll run so let's hold him on pretty clo...wait, what?
The physical gifts are obvious, and now that he's growing beyond the early pressure of being a 1st round pick in what has been, until very recently, a drastically understocked farm system, the results will show up in the box scores. Make no mistake: this kid is truly gifted. He is often a real joy to watch on the bases and he can be the hero at the plate, on top of that. Go see him play the game and tell me what you think; I'm guessing you'll come to the same conclusion. 

Monday, July 09, 2012

This Is The Business We Have Chosen

JULY 9th, 2012-We're halfway through the season, and things have been about what I expected they would be.

3B Matt Duffy, putting a hurt on the ball.
The team as a whole has been reasonably successful, playing some pretty exciting games and more than holding their own in what has turned out to be a somewhat competitive division. Players have come and gone, been promoted, demoted, released (we still miss you, Tyler), injured, all of what you'd expect to see in a typical baseball season. Several of the players I've known and hosted while here have gone up the chain (Jason Chowning and Alex Todd, for starters), new players have come to take their place on the roster (happy to see one of my personal favorite players Mitchell Lambson joining us), and business has been pretty much "as usual", as they say.

The Moon Man, firing away after a great hustle play
Business. I've never gotten used to hearing that word associated with baseball. Somehow, it doesn't sit well with me.

I've never been naive enough to think that, at this level, it's first and foremost a business. But when you get to know these kids, when you learn about their lives off the field, what they're like when they're not ball players, you can't get totally accustomed to the fact that, in the end, their status as a professional baseball player is strictly subject to the whim and will of the parent organization. The "big club". Somehow, "big club" is a very appropriate nickname for a Major League team...after you've been released, you probably feel like you've just been smacked over the head with one.

CF Drew Muren just knocked the crap out of this ball. Trust me. 
Anyway, I continue to take hundreds upon hundreds of photos at every game I attend. It sometimes gets to feeling too much like actual work (which it shouldn't because I love doing it), and when it does I back off a bit. But I spend countless hours working on those photos, and sometimes a player will thank me for taking them. In the end, besides the fact that I feel like the time spent by these young men in professional baseball is worthy of remembrance, I do it for them. At the last potluck I was able to print some 200 of these photos out to distribute to the boys. Many of them were very grateful to have shots of themselves playing this game, and I imagine they seldom get to see prints of their own unless someone is asking them to sign one, but I love being able to do this for them. I genuinely feel that it's a small gesture, considering all they give back to the fans. And yeah, I like the feedback I get when they see the pics, too.

RHP Murilo Gouvea waits for the call. 
I say all this because I feel that minor league baseball players have so much asked of them by their team and their fans, they're paid peanuts for what they do, they endure eternally long road trips and have to share space with 2 or 3 other players just to be able to afford a place of their own, and honestly they are given little in return when you think about it. Consider: after all they do to make their way in pro ball, only one in 11 will ever step foot on a major league field for even one at-bat, one inning, one play. That's a lot of work for such long odds. But they do it, and every year another 1500 or so new faces fight for their place in the game, veterans keep working toward their dream, and some are just praying for one more game, one more inning, one more moment in the sun.

Now I'm not mentioning the photography bit because I think what I do deserves any sort of praise. I love doing it and I'll keep on doing it as long as God allows. But in a small way, it affords me a tiny window into the life of a player, a look into who he is instead of what he does, and it brings me that much closer to the game I love and the players I respect.

Flamethrowing prospect RHP Dayan Diaz. If you don't know
about him yet, you will.
Simply put, while one player may be here for the long haul, another may disappear without warning. We all remember the ones who make the All-Star Games, who lead the league in homers or who win batting titles, but let's not forget the ones who are here and gone before we knew them.

Let's not forget that the business can be harsh and unforgiving. Keep that in mind the next time one of your favorites leaves the diamond, perhaps for good. Remember what it meant to him, and what he meant to you. And it won't seem like such a business, anymore.

Find more Legends photos in my 2012 Lexington Legends Flickr set. I'll be adding to it all year. 

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Player Interview: Ian Kadish, RHP, Toronto Blue Jays (MiLB)

MAY 17th, 2012-It was an honor for me to spend a little time today with a pitcher I've been following closely since his professional debut last year at Bluefield (Rookie Class, Appalachian League): Blue Jays prospect and Cincinnati native RHP Ian Kadish. Ian was more than willing to devote a bit of his time to answering a few questions I had for him about his time in pro ball, both on and off the field, and I thank him for that. 

You had a great year at Bluefield in 2011. What one thing would you say was the greatest reason for your success?

If I had to pick one thing for the reason for my success in Bluefield in 2011, it would have to be my competitive nature.  I compete at everything I do, no matter what the scenario.  I hate losing and will go to great lengths to win.  Along with that is my work ethic...I even compete to out work everybody else. 

Tell me about your pitching repetoire. Is there one pitch you feel most confident in throwing? How do you approach pressure situations (runners on, small lead, etc)?

The fastball is obviously my go to pitch, but if I am in a pressure situation, I like to go to the slider.  I have great confidence with all of my pitches and feel I can throw them at any time.

During this year's Spring Training, what have you tried to concentrate on the most? How would you say the Blue Jays coaches handle their young pitching prospects?

This Spring I have tried to concentrate the most on fastball command down in the zone.  The Blue Jay coaches preach that and it is a huge emphasis in our program.  I think they do a wonderful job with the young prospects by pushing them, but not too much.  They really develop some great prospects down here.

What does it mean to you to be Jewish in a sport in which there haven't been a lot of Jewish stars in recent years? Do you feel that baseball is a thriving sport among Jewish athletes? 

It means a lot to me to be Jewish in baseball.  There have been some amazing Jewish players such as Sandy Koufax and Shawn Green...hopefully I can add my name to the list as well!

Have you had a moment in any level of baseball when you were ready to quit the game, altogether? What was it that changed your mind?

There was a time I will never forget where I had a breakdown because I was so frustrated with the game.  I was ready to quit all together and move on with my life.  The person that was there with me was my mom.  I broke down and let all my frustration out and only my mom knows exactly how frustrated I really was.  She got me through it though and I can't thank her enough!

Concerning the fans, has there ever been a moment when you were put in a situation that made you uncomfortable? Any fans that have been a little too aggressive?

Hahaha! There has not been a moment yet where I was uncomfortable...It takes a lot to make me uncomfortable, but I love my fans and I love interacting with them!

How do you keep yourself occupied on those long bus trips?

The long bus trips are filled with a great amount of movies, music, sleep, and more music!  Anything to pass the time!

Is there one player in the Jays organization who's made an impression on you? How about the best player no one knows about?

I can't pick one player in the organization that has made an impression on me because there are so many great players here.  I could go on for days about different players and it wouldn't be fair to pick just one.  

If you weren't playing baseball, what would you most want to do with your life?

If I wasn't playing baseball, I would probably be in Grad School for Exercise Science.  I love the way the body works and I love working out.  My strength coach in college made a huge impact on me and I love what he does.

What advice would you offer to young players looking to make it in the pros?

The advice I would offer was given to me by my manager in Bluefield, Dennis Holmberg.  He told me to keep chasing your dream and never give up.  Work hard and sometime down the road either in the near future or far it will pay off.

Follow Ian on Twitter (@TheBearJew36) and on his personal blog page (One Love...Baseball) for some serious insight on the man, the player, and the dream chaser. You'll be glad you did.