Lofgren returns home for Futures Game
Being selected to the Futures Game is a huge honor for any player, but this time around it's a little more special for Indians lefthander Chuck Lofgren.
Growing up in Northern California, the 21-year-old returns home for the first time since high school, when he was a fourth-round pick in 2004 out of Serra High in San Mateo. But this time the stakes are much higher than any game on the amateur circuit—even if Lofgren is scheduled to pitch just one inning.
EASTERN INFLUENCES• Altoona first baseman Steven Pearce will represent the Pirates on the U.S. team in the Futures Game, and he was tearing up the Eastern League in June, batting .406 with six homers. Overall, Pearce was hitting .307/.377/.575 in 179 at-bats since being promoted from high Class A Lynchburg.
"He’s ready to hit every pitch as hard as he can,” Curve manager Tim Leiper said. “And he’s got a very short memory, so nothing really bothers him. He’s played a solid first base, he’s got a ton of walks . . . He’s just kind of this throwback kind of guy that came up here and had an immediate impact. Maybe not so much with the home runs early, but his presence. The guy has a presence about him. And then the home runs started to come.”
SOUTHERN ACCENTS• Mobile outfielder Carlos Gonzalez is attending his second straight Futures Game, and despite posting mediocre numbers early, the 21-year-old Venezuelan has benefited since Justin Upton arrived with the BayBears. Through 273 at-bats, the lefthanded-hitting outfielder was batting .253/.274/.425—up from the .210/.250/.346 numbers in April.
“It’s a healthy competition between prospects,” Mobile manager Brett Butler said. “Carlos struggled early on, but he’s the type of player who will get on a roll and carry the ballclub. We’re very fortunate to have two of those game-changers in he and Upton.”
TEXAS LEAGUERS• Springfield catcher Bryan Anderson has been playing beyond his years in the Texas League this season. The 20-year-old lefthanded hitter was hitting .328/.387/.460 through 198 at-bats. Those numbers earned a selection to this year’s Futures Game, but it wasn’t just because of his offense.
“He’s been very good at handling the staff, and his game-calling gets better every time out,” Cardinals vice president of amateur scouting and player development Jeff Luhnow said. “He’s really grown into that role and we’re extremely pleased with what he’s done.”
"It's extremely exciting to go back home and play in front of your friends and family," Lofgren said. "But at the same time I feel like I'm deserving of the honor to be selected. I've worked extremely hard, and I'm still on the road to the big leagues in a lot of ways.
"I'm ready to go back to the Bay and show everybody how much I've changed since they last saw me at Serra."
How much Lofgren has changed since those days is nothing short of dramatic. While several clubs liked him better as an outfielder because of his plus bat speed and lefthanded stroke, the Tribe wanted Lofgren on the mound.
After he signed, Lofgren spent every fifth day on the mound and one day a week as a hitter at Rookie-level Burlington. But a collision at the plate that left him with a bloody lip forced then-farm director John Farrell to put an end to the hitting experiment, and the lefthander focused solely on the mound.
"We were moving in that direction anyway, but after that incident it was time for him to make his path," said Farrell, now the pitching coach for the Red Sox. "I think he's proven where he belongs since then."
Since then, Lofgren quietly built a name for himself in the organization. At low Class A Lake County he posted 5-5, 2.81 numbers in 2005, tied for the minor league lead in wins with 17 at high Class A Kinston in 2006 and broke into Double-A as a 21-year-old.
"The thing you notice immediately is the maturity," a scout from a National League club said. "He pitches like he's 27, 28 years old and pounds the zone with his fastball."Big Stuff, More Moxie
Lofgren's fastball has topped out at 95 mph at Double-A Akron this season, but as good as his heater has been, his secondary pitches have been equally as good. He rounds out his repertoire with a 12-to-6 hammer curveball, changeup and newly added slider.
Lofgren started messing around with the slider under the tutelage of pitching coach Steve Lyons at Kinston during the second half of last season, and his changeup emerged at Lake County in 2005.
Still, Lofgren insists that no matter which one of his breaking balls is working that day, fastball command is key.
"It's like four pitches right there," Lofgren said. "You use it up, down, in and out—you're not going to beat a well located fastball. If there's one thing I learned at this level, it's that hitters are much more selective and they're not going to bite on a lot of secondary stuff.
"It's not an easy task. You really have to grind on those days when you don't have your best stuff. But if you can command and locate with your fastball, things go a lot better. You might not have your best slider or curveball or changeup on any given day, and even if you don't have quite the velocity you might want on your fastball, if you can locate, it makes it much tougher on hitters."
Location has been one of Lofgren's stronger suits, though he's run into growing pains this season with the Aeros. He's given up five runs or more in three outings, leading to 6-5, 3.89 numbers overall. He especially tends to struggle with runners on base against more experienced hitters in Double-A.
"I think the only time he really gets rattled is with runners in scoring position," Akron manager Tim Bogar said. "He gets a little too careful, a little too cautious in what he's trying to do.
"A lot of times when teams get to him, it's just for an inning. He'll throw six solid innings and give up runs in one of them. He just needs to locate better when he finds himself in hitter's counts. He's still got the stuff, it's just learning when and how to use his stuff. Still, he's 21 years old. Guys are going to go through growing pains. There certainly isn't any reason to panic."Family Ties
When Lofgren sat in the pregame luncheon at the Carolina-California League all-star game in Salem, Va., last June, his face turned bright red. No one knew why initially until they saw a group of 20 to 30 of his family members entering the ballroom wearing T-shirts with Lofgren's image emblazoned on the front.
This year, the Lofgren clan has taken it a step further, updating the image with a photo of him in an Akron uniform and "LOFGREN" written in gold on the back.
"It's a little much, but I love them," Lofgren said. "It's embarrassing, but they're going to do whatever they can to show their support. They always have."
Even Lofgren's father Chuck is trying to do what he can to support his son at this year's Futures Game in front of the hometown crowd. A 30-plus year veteran of the San Francisco Police Department, the senior Lofgren was trying to convince his lieutenant that he needed to have July 8 off to see his son take the mound in the prospect showcase.
Because Lofgren now works in transit, all his days off for the all-star game festivities had been canceled as the police will be out in force to deal with the crowds.
"I just have to confirm it," Lofgren Sr. said. "Hopefully I can convince them, but either way I'm going to find a way to go see Chuck pitch."
There is no doubt the Lofgrens, who live just 15 minutes from the city, will rival the San Francisco police presence for the Futures Game. Just look for the people with "LOFGREN" etched in gold.
"We know he gets embarrassed, but we love and support him," Lofgren Sr. said. "He knows we're all going to be there for him no matter what. This is going to be a special day for everybody in our family."