Daily Dish: Aug. 24
See also: Wednesday's Daily Dish
See also: Today's Baseball America Prospect Report
Devil Rays righthander Andy Sonnanstine always has had good command. The 23-year-old won the organization's pitching triple crown last year pitching for low Class A Southwest Michigan and high Class A Visalia, leading the system in wins, strikeouts and ERA.
Sonnanstine's strikeout-walk ratio was an eye-popping 178-18 in 181 innings last season. Even with a jump to Double-A, his numbers have remained similar, as he has struck out 141 and walked 30 in 171 innings at Montgomery.
He also has been extremely durable. Sonnanstine set a Kent State record with 125 innings in 2004 and worked a total of 363 innings over his first two seasons as a pro after being a 13th-round pick.
But the biggest difference for Sonnanstine in 2006--and the main reason he was able to reel off nine straight wins from June 13 to July 30--has been the emergence of his changeup. Sonnanstine worked extremely hard with Montgomery pitching coach Xavier Hernandez to perfect his grip and arm action with the pitch, and he's been able to locate it much more effectively than last season, when he went 14-5, 3.01 with a fastball-slider mix.
This year, changeup in tow, Sonnanstine is 14-7, 2.83. His 172 innings ranks third in the minors, and he leads the minors with four complete-game shutouts.
"Really, that's been huge for me--developing my changeup," Sonnanstine said. "I didn't really think about it too much my first two years, but Xavier really started pounding me to commit to it this year. And it really started coming on 12 starts ago."
Sonnanstine was able to have so much success in 2005 without it by varying his arm angle and changing speeds on his fastball. While he doesn't have overwhelming stuff--his fastball tops out at 92 mph--Sonnanstine is all about changing up what he shows to hitters through his mechanics, combined with his moxie.
"You have to be smart out there and for me, without that big fastball, that means mixing up my arm angle, changing speeds and just locating properly," Sonnanstine said. "And with my changeup coming along like it's been, that's allowed me to develop a pitch to keep lefties off me--but it still has a ways to go."
Sonnanstine found that out quickly on Tuesday night in Jacksonville, when Suns power-hitting first baseman Craig Brazell dropped a 450-foot bomb on the first changeup the righthander threw. But from there, Sonnanstine threw 16 more changeups effectively with good arm speed and location. He pitched seven innings to get the victory, giving up four runs but striking out eight.
"That reminded me that it still needs work," Sonnanstine said. "Talk about a wake-up call. But after that, I still needed to throw it--that was one pitch that just kind of hung there.
"Everything about that pitch has been very difficult for me to master. Not that I've mastered it by any means, but it's improved a lot from just throwing it in bullpens and then using it sparingly in games."
--CHRIS KLINEAnswering The Bell
After hitting .327/.440/.473 as a sophomore at Missouri, outfielder Hunter Mense was named to Team USA for the summer of 2005 and looked on the fast track to being drafted early in the first day of the 2006 draft.
Unfortunately, Mense came down with a case of the dreaded draftitis and slumped horribly to begin his junior season.
"My college season was one of the most frustrating things I have ever gone through because I started off, the first week was bad and it just put me in a hole," Mense said. "I felt like I had to carry the team because Max (Scherzer) was hurt for a while and we had a lot of guys that went down with injuries, so I was trying to carry all that load and it was really weighing on me."
Mense hit .258/.328/.390 with just two home runs in 213 at-bats as Missouri sputtered for most of the season.
"It was definitely a problem that I had; I felt I was over-swinging too much," Mense said. "When you have a metal bat in your hand, you feel like you hit balls way out of the park. I just got in trouble and tried to hit too many home runs and that is not my game.
"I felt that I needed to do that to help the team and impress scouts, but I didn't need to do that at all. I just needed to go out and play my game like I did my sophomore year and that is what I have been doing this summer."
Though Mense picked things up late in his college season, he didn't even start for the Tigers in the Big 12 tournament. The Marlins took him in the 17th round, and while he isn't tearing up pro ball, his line of .266/.359/.323 was enough to get him selected to the New York-Penn Leage all-star game, and a big step forward for a player who had struggled so horribly as a junior.
"I am just trying to prove to the Marlins that they made a good choice," said 21-year-old, who had two hits last night in Jamestown's 3-2 win at Mahoning Valley. "I am starting to swing better as the season goes along and having wood bats kind of helps too in not trying to be too aggressive or too strong with the bat. It makes you feel more honest."
--MATT MEYERSQUICK HITS
• Nationals righthander Collin Balester
made his Double-A debut Wednesday at Harrisburg. The 2004 fourth-round pick allowed a pair of runs on five hits, walked two and struck out one over six innings in the Senators' 6-2 loss to Akron. Balester, 20, went 4-5, 5.19 in 118 innings at high Class A Potomac prior to his promotion.
• Reds righthander Homer Bailey
remained perfect at Double-A Chattanooga as the Lookouts blasted Birmingham 10-1 on Wednesday. Bailey tossed five shutout innings, allowed just four hits, walked three and struck out four. With the win, the 20-year-old righthander improved to 6-0, lowering his ERA to 1.16 in the process. "He's pretty darn good," Barons manager Chris Cron
told the Birmingham News. "He throws 95-97 miles per hour with a good hook. He's got a great young arm. If he develops a couple of secondary pitches, he's going to be a very big deal."
• Orioles righthander James Hoey
made his major league debut Wednesday night in Baltimore, topping out at 97 mph in his 1/3 of an inning of work. Hoey, a 13th-round pick out of Rider in 2003, began the season at low Class A Delmarva, with stops at high Class A Frederick and Double-A Bowie along his road to the big leagues. Overall this season, the 23-year-old went 2-1, 2.28 with a 73-18 strikeout-walk ratio. He also racked up 33 saves. "He's just dirty," a scout from a National League club said. "His stuff is filthy--fastball sits anywhere from 94-97 (mph), and he backs that up with a devastating slider. There's no question he can have success in the big leagues--the stuff is quality."
• Low Class A West Virginia's Will Inman
continues to astonish. The righthander improved his record to 10-1, 1.30 with six shutout innings against Greensboro. He now boasts a 115-23 strikeout-walk ratio in 97 innings and has allowed just 64 hits--and zero home runs.
• Short-season Aberdeen center fielder Danny Figueroa
hit for the cycle last night, including his first professional home run, in the IronBirds' 17-6 win against Staten Island.
• Red Sox first-rounder Jason Place
returned to the field Monday, going 1-for-1 with four walks in his first action since being beaned in the head with a pitch on Aug. 9.