Life for a manager at the low Class A level can be both challenging and rewarding.
For Cedar Rapids skipper Bill Mosiello, the challenge comes from keeping egos in check at an age where promise exceeds production. The reward comes when a player meets expectations and graduates to the next rung of the minors.
But the hitters entrusted to Mosiello and his coaching staff arrive in Cedar Rapids often having spent time at one of the Angels' hitter-friendly, Rookie-level affiliates in Orem, Utah, or Tempe, Ariz.
"For some players, they may have a false feeling of accomplishment from playing in Orem," Mosiello said. "But in the Midwest League, you can get humbled very quickly. How will they handle going 1-for-20 when they've always hit in pro ball?
"That's where we come in. We have to make them believe in their ability, to trust their approaches. That's the neat part of being manager at this level."
Attention to the Kernels' offense typically centers on 2009 first-round picks Randal Grichuk and Mike Trout, a pair of prep outfielders who punched their tickets to the MWL with strong pro debuts last season. But don't lose sight of second baseman Jean Segura and third baseman Luis Jimenez. At ages 20 and 22, respectively, they may not be as wet behind the ears as Grichuk or Trout, but both righthanded batters have an advanced feel for hitting.
Mosiello deemed Jimenez perhaps the club's most overlooked player. "He's going to be a special hitter," he said. "He's got very strong barrel awareness, but right now he needs to be a bit more patient. He thinks he can handle every pitch out there."
With a 5-to-8 walk-to-strikeout ratio, Jimenez's play backs up his manager's assessment. Though he had yet to homer in the MWL, he led the Rookie-level Pioneer League in dingers and doubles in 2008.
In the early going, Jimenez is playing a rotation of two games at third followed by one at DH as he makes his return from shoulder surgery that wiped out his ’09 season. Through 16 games, Jimenez had batted .297/.343/.438 with seven doubles, a triple and 16 RBIs.
Segura is striving to overcome an injury of his own. He broke a finger when sliding headfirst into second base last August, though he appeared to be suffering no ill effects this season. He had batted .273/.368/.394 while going a perfect 7-for-7 in stolen base attempts in his first 17 games.
"He has a chance to win a batting title one day," Mosiello said, echoing a sentiment shared by others in the Angels organization. "He can do a lot of things well—he walks, he's tough to strike out, he's an effective basestealer.
"From what I've seen, he's also a really good defender. He hadn't made an error until (an April 16 game against Peoria), when he made two on the same play. He fielded a routine groundball, bobbled it and then overthrew the third baseman when he thought the runner on second was making a run for it."
• People in the game often identify Double-A as the separator level—make it there (at an appropriate age) and you're probably a prospect. Mosiello considers low Class A to be a separator in its own right. "It's part of what makes this game so special," he said. "Here, the intangible things begin to show up—who's smartest, who works the hardest, who's the quickest to pick things up?"
Grichuk and Trout were proving their aptitude in their first full seasons, but each had obvious areas for improvement, a common trait among 18-year-old baseball players.
Grichuk has made an effort to become more multi-dimensional by putting in work on defense and on the bases. The progress in those areas is obvious, according to Mosiello, but pitch recognition (five walks, 22 strikeouts) has been a bit suspect early on. Trout has been hitting (.357) and stealing bases (9-for-10) with unbridled enthusiasm, but he had collected one double and two triples among his 25 hits. The Kernels coaching staff has endeavored to help him stay more balanced at the plate to help unleash his power on inside pitches. Their goal: to keep his head level during his swing and prevent him from diving over the plate.
• Low Class A Savannah shortstop Wilmer Flores' 10-game hit streak came to a thudding, unceremonious end last night. He went 0-for-5 with three strikeouts in a game against Hickory. During his streak, the 18-year-old Flores went 16-for-42 (.381) with two home runs, seven doubles and 17 RBIs.
• One Midwest League manager singled out Quad Cities righthander Joe Kelly for his easy 94-99 mph velocity and makings of a plus breaking ball. A Cardinals' third-round pick last year, the UC Riverside product proved to be ineffective for large stretches despite quality raw stuff. In three appearances for the River Bandits this season, totaling 13 1/3 innings, Kelly had struck out eight and walked three, while going 2-1, 2.70.
• The Red Sox announced that outfield prospect Ryan Westmoreland was released from Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Boston on April 24. He will continue to undergo physical and occupational therapy on an outpatient basis as he recovers from brain surgery he had in March to remove a cavernous malformation from his brain stem. A Red Sox press release states that Westmoreland is making steady progress and is in great spirits.
• The Padres made two selections in the big league portion of the 2008 Rule 5 draft, taking a chance on raw talents in Rockies shortstop Everth Cabrera (who had just completed a season with low Class A Asheville) and Yankees righthander Ivan Nova (24 starts for high Class A Tampa). We've already seen what Cabrera can do. The 23-year-old has developed into San Diego's regular shortstop, showing baserunning acumen, plate discipline and plus defensive play.
But San Diego may grow to regret its decision to return Nova to New York toward the end of spring training ’09. At the time, they simply were unable to make room for both he and Cabrera on the active roster.*
Nova pitched capably in the Yankees system last season, splitting his time in Double-A and Triple-A, but he came alive in the International League playoffs. In 14 innings, he limited the opposition to three runs on nine hits, while striking out 10 batters and walking three. His late success has carried over to 2010, as he's garnered favorable reviews this spring. A scout who saw him in spring training lauded his power fastball/curveball mix, and Nova has often tantalized with his moving 92-94 mph velocity, his breaking ball and his occasionally-plus changeup. But an inconsistent release point has meant that seldom has he had all three offerings working at once.
In four starts for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre this season, Nova is 1-0, 1.88 with a 25-to-8 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 24 innings.
* Teams really do know their personnel best. Scan the past several Rule 5 drafts and among those players drafted and then returned to their original organizations, only one has developed into a steady contributor: Cubs catcher-turned-pitcher Randy Wells. The Blue Jays selected him in 2007 and retained him through mid-April ’08 before returning him to Chicago. Wells logged one scoreless inning for Toronto in ’08 before blossoming into a reliable starter the following season.
• It doesn't pay to be a third baseman in the Pirates system if your name isn't Pedro Alvarez. That's one reason why Neil Walker has made appearances at second base, left field and first base in addition to his customary position of third base for Triple-A Indianapolis. The 24-year-old switch-hitter has worked hard to become a quality defender at the hot corner, after switching off catcher in 2007, and he's shown above-average power in his time in the International League.
Walker is off to a fine start for the Indians this season, his third with the club, batting .309/.382/.500 with seven doubles and two home runs in 68 at-bats. But most encouraging of all: He has shown a more disciplined approach in the early going with eight walks and 11 strikeouts. Perhaps a positive turn in the Venezuelan League helped keep Walker's batting eye sharp. He batted .267/.370/.448, drawing 17 walks in 34 games for Margarita last fall.
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