Winners of three straight and owners of an impressive 8-2 record away from home, the New Hampshire Fisher Cats have jumped out to a 15-9 start this season, tops in the Eastern League’s Northern Division. It’s an especially sweet beginning coming on the heels of last season’s 61-81 finish, which was good only for last place.
While the Double-A club’s offense has been productive, this year’s squad, a Blue Jays affiliate, owes its early success to pitching. Fisher Cats hurlers have compiled the EL’s best ERA (2.92), racked up the most strikeouts (187) and pitched the most shutouts (four). The staff also surrendered just seven home runs in 24 games, a total topped only by Trenton’s five.
Lefty Fabio Castro (0.83) and righthander Rei Gonzalez (1.39) lead the ERA charge, but two other young lefthanders, who both are making the jump directly from low Class A Lansing, offer perhaps the most promise. In fact, their prominence reminds New Hampshire manager Gary Cathcart of the meteoric rises of Casey Janssen and Brad Mills to Double-A in 2005 and 2008, respectively.
Marc Rzepczynksi, a fifth-round pick from UC Riverside in ’07, has gotten off to a 5-1, 3.06 start for the Fisher Cats, but more importantly, he leads the EL in wins, innings (32 1/3) and strikeouts (41). On the flip side, the 23-year-old also has issued a league-high 18 walks, or five per nine innings.
Rzepczynski delivered perhaps his best outing so far last night, allowing two runs on five hits in 7 2/3 innings in a win at New Britain. He struck out six and walked only one batter.
"Last night he had all his pitches working," Cathcart said. "He was moving his fastball around good, using his whole repertoire. He’s got enough velocity (89-91 mph) and deception as a lefthander that when his breaking ball was as good as it was last night—he hit on, I think, 25 of 32 sliders—he can be very tough to hit.
"His fastball runs pretty good, so when he’s using his slider to both lefties and righties, guys are looking at the other side of the plate."
Rzepczynski’s ability to pitch to both sides of the plate, with movement, has facilitated high groundout-to-flyout ratios in his young career. This year it’s 2.86; last year it was an even 3.0; in 2007, it was 2.36 in short-season ball.
Lefthanded batters have yet to register an extra-base hit vs. Rzepczynski, but righthies have had, comparatively, more success. They’re hitting .247/.371/.309 through 81 at-bats, a line which is mostly the product of 15 walks. Refining a below-average changeup will help the young lefty in this regard.
"His pitch count wasn’t high, but we let him work into the eighth inning last night, on a lousy night," Cathcart said. "We let him go out a bit longer, and he threw about 10 changeups last night. To me, it’s a pitch he’ll need to use in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings—the third time through the lineup.
"He just needs experience and needs to learn how to attack the advanced hitters here."
Lefty Luis Perez, 24, has made the jump with Rzepczynski from Lansing to New Hampshire, skipping over high Class A. Signed out of the Dominican in ’03, Perez has, in fact, teamed with Rzepczynski in each of the past three seasons. The fact that he got a later start to his pro career (he turned pro at age 18) and then spent three years in the Dominican Summer League, from 2004-06, necessitated his addition to the 40-man roster in the offseason.
Perez has gone 2-2, 3.86 through five starts, while registering 24 strikeouts, 13 walks and one home run allowed in 25 2/3 innings. Like Rzepczynski, he’s a groundball pitcher who has yet to allow an extra-base hit to a lefthanded batter this season in 23 at-bats.
"His record with Lansing last year (5-12) was deceptive because he made a lot of good adjustments," Cathcart said. "I think being in big league camp this spring helped him a lot. He arrived from our Latin academy probably later than he should have, so it was helpful for him, I think, to be around the veteran major league guys, to watch how they work. Also, it helped show him that he wasn’t as far away as he thought he was."
Because he has a unique arm action—long in the back, then quick to the plate—Perez can be plagued at times with command issues.
"We’re working with him on his delivery, trying to help him clean it up," Cathcart said. "He’s been anywhere from 89-93 (mph) with a lot of life and action on his fastball. He has a unique arm slot—and he’s got to be on his delivery to be successful—but he might just have so much stuff that it won’t matter.
"When he hits his arm slot, his changeup and curveball are there. The curve has real good depth, and the change is so much more effective from his three-quarters arm slot. Like a lot of young pitchers, though, he’ll get under his pitches at times and they’ll flatten out."
A Tale Of Two Draft Picks
Cooper, 22, was Toronto’s first-round pick (17th overall) last June out of California. The sweet-swinging lefthanded batter hit his way from short-season ball to high Class A last season (.333/.399/.502 in 69 games), but is not renowned for his defense around the first base bag.
"He’s working hard on defense and understanding how important that is to his future," Cathcart said.
It’s Cooper’s bat that will carry him, though. With hits in his past six games, during which time he’s gone 9-for-24, he’s improved his season line to .278/.359/.389. He hit a mere .243/.321/.338 during April in the cold Eastern League climates, so he now appears to be on the upswing.
"We’re working on some things, a few mechanical things to make his swing even better," Cathcart said. "But he’s already got that effortless lefthanded swing.
"His swing is beautiful, but we’re working with him to get more separation, so that he’s feeling like his front foot is really down before he swings. Now, he tends to double-tap—and he picks up too much ground. He’s mastered the new swing in batting practice, but in games he likes to set his foot down, and then he does it again. But with more base under him with his legs, there’s no telling what he can do."
Cooper has put in time already working with video, but the Blue Jays believe the adjustments will, in time, help him hit for more power because he’ll be leveraging his swing off a firmer front side.
Stationed about 45 feet to Cooper’s right, second baseman Emaus has taken a different path to Double-A. The 23-year-old ranks second in the Eastern League with 29 hits—and fourth with 18 RBIs—yet, in contrast to Cooper, he lasted until the 11th round of the 2007 draft.
He’s shaping up to be one of the bigger steals of that draft. While at Tulane, his home run totals dropped from 13 to six to five as a junior in ’07, while he battled an ankle injury.
Since getting healthy in ’08, all Emaus has done is hit—.302/.380/.463 in the Florida State League last year, then .333/.447/.494 in Hawaii Winter Baseball, then .306/.370/.694 in big league spring training. Of course, he’s off to a .305/.374/.463 start through 95 at-bats with New Hampshire.
"He’s a guy who’s unique because he can hit a lot of pitches, even out of zone," Cathcart said. "Yet he’s not a fee swinger. He’s just been great for us.
"His batting coach Paul Elliott talks to him all the time about it, and I tell him so he hears it from another voice, that when he gets ready to hit, he waits a bit too long. He’s got such a quick bat, but sometimes the pitch gets on him too quick before he gets in hitting position. He’s got a pretty defined stance, but he can be a little late on pitches, which he can remedy by getting himself squared up."
A third baseman in college and in his pro debut with short-season Auburn in ’07, Emaus has transitioned to second, first making the move last year while jumping straight to high Class A.
"He’s working hard at second base," Cathcart said. "He spent a lot of time in big league camp around (Blue Jays bench coach) Brian Butterfield, seeing how those guys work in major league camp. He has a good BP routine he does on defense. It’s just his second year at second, so he’ll still run into some things he needs to smooth out.
"He’s getting real good at making the transition on double plays. He really transfers the ball from glove to hand well, and he’s working all the time on using his feet around the bag to make the transition."
No-No? Technically, Yes
White Sox lefthander Aaron Poreda, the club’s first-round pick in ’07, shut out West Tenn for five innings Monday night, despite issuing five walks and hitting a batter. But because the game was called at that point due to rain, and because Poreda had allowed no baserunners via a hit, the Double-A Birmingham lefty is credited with a no-hitter, the Southern League’s first this season.
"He did a great job in the stretch," Birmingham pitching coach J.R. Perdew told The Birmingham News. "That’s when he was at his best. Tonight, he got a lot of work there."
Poreda, 22, improved to 2-3, 1.65 through five starts, and he’s given up just 15 hits in 27 1/3 innings. However, the 6-foot-6 lefty’s strikeout (9.2 per nine innings) and walk (5.3) rates are up considerably from last season, when they were a corresponding 6.6 and 2.2.
No Tune-Up Neccessary
Who needs April? Apparently not Mariners center fielder Michael Saunders, who has hit a torrid .353/.421/1.118 (6-for-17) with Triple-A Tacoma since returning to action last Thursday. He missed most of April while recovering from offseason arthroscopic surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder.
Five of his six hits have gone for extra bases, including four home runs. The 22-year-old Saunders homered in his first game back, and again in his third, before connecting for two bombs yesterday—both line shots to right field—in a game at Salt Lake. It was just his fourth game of the season.
Isn’t Life Grand?
If scouts measured a player’s ability to hit grand slams, then Indians third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall surely would grade an 80. The 29th overall pick last year, he already has hit three of them in just 23 games with high Class A Kinston.
The 20-year-old Chisenhall, a lefty batter, went 4-for-5 yesterday at Salem, scoring three runs and hitting a double to go with his slam. He previously hit grand slams in consecutive games, on April 21-22 at Myrtle Beach.
Comments will be monitored prior to being added to the site. Comments that include profanity or personal attacks or other inappropriate comments or material will be rejected. Additionally, entries that are unsigned or contain "signatures" by someone other than the actual author will be removed.
We have chosen to open up commenting to everyone, so comment away! We want to hear from each and every one of you! Leave a comment.
About This Blog
Syndicate This Blog
Search This Blog