Daily Dish: June 28

Carolina League tops California League in annual all-star game

See also: Tuesday's Daily Dish

SALEM, Va.--The thick, heavy, humid air that hung over Salem Memorial Baseball Stadium like a security blanket--after two straight days of rain and flooding in the area--was part of the reason no home runs were hit in the California-Carolina League all-star game on Tuesday, but it couldn't silence the Carolina League bats entirely as the CL eventually cruised to a 6-3 win over the Californians.

It rained in the Roanoke Valley all day Monday, postponing the extracurricular activities surrounding the event, and it appeared at times as though the game might be a complete washout. But just before 5 p.m., the skies began to clear, the raindrops faded away and the only events cancelled Tuesday were batting practice and infield.

"We completely planned everything this way," Salem general manager John Katz joked. "We knew (the weather) would be gone by 5:15 and we knew how beautiful the rest of the night was going to be. Seriously, though--our staff did a remarkable job keeping everything on pace and pulling the night off. They were fantastic."

So were the Carolina Leaguers, who won their second straight all-star game against California. Although the Cal League jumped off to an early 1-0 lead in the first against Kinston lefthander Chuck Lofgren, Carolina came roaring back with a pair of runs in the bottom half--highlighted by Kinston outfielder Brian Barton's RBI triple off the wall in right center.

Carolina added another run in the second, and the Cal League answered with one in the fourth on an RBI double by Lancaster outfielder Chris Rahl to bring the score to 3-2 through four.

But the Carolina League put things out of reach in the bottom of the fifth.

As Bakersfield righthander Jesse Ingram entered the game, things quickly fell apart as Lynchburg shortstop Brian Bixler reached on a fielding error by Visalia shortstop Reid Brignac--who went on to commit two errors on the night and was also picked off first base by Wilmington righthander Michael James in the seventh.

Bixler then stole second and Winston-Salem first baseman Chris Kelly was hit by a pitch. Frederick outfielder Nolan Reimold followed with a double off the wall in center for a 4-2 lead and hometown hero Wallace Torbert came through with a two-run single to right to push the lead to 6-2.

The Cal League scored another run in the seventh, but was eventually shut down by Winston-Salem righthander Fernando Hernandez Jr. in the eighth and Salem closer Rodrigo Escobar slammed the door in the ninth.

Reimold went 2-for-3 with an RBI and a run scored and was named the CL star of the game. Despite his defensive woes, Brignac, who went 2-for-4 at the plate, was the Cal League star of the game. San Jose righthander Justin Hedrick was named the pitcher of the game. The sixth-round pick in 2004 struck out two in his only inning of work.

"This has been a really, really good time," Reimold, who will also be playing in this year's Futures Game on July 9 in Pittsburgh, said. "Just being around all these players and having the opportunity to be here will be something I'll never forget."

The View From The Scouts

This year's California League-Carolina League all-star game wasn't nearly as chock full of prospects as last season, but we got the in-game breakdown of some of the event's top players. And with over 20 scouts in attendance, that wasn't tough to do.

Glancing at the box score, it is easy to overlook Indians lefthander Chuck Lofgren's performance. The 20-year-old allowed a run on three hits, but consider the sequence of events and what it took to work out of it.

Lofgren first walked the leadoff hitter, Inland Empire second baseman Yung Chi Chen. He then sawed off Brignac on a soft liner that fell for a base hit to center. Modesto outfielder Matt Miller followed with an infield base hit to short that skipped off Bixler's glove. Chen scored, but Bixler caught Brignac off the bag at second for the first out.

With Miller on first, Rancho Cucamonga catcher Michael Collins singled to right and Miller moved up to third. Then Lofgren suddenly hit a second gear, freezing High Desert first baseman Mike Stodolka on a called third-strike fastball and getting Headley swinging on an 80 mph changeup.

"Lofgren really showed me something that no other pitcher in this game showed me," a scout from an American League organization said. "And that was guts. He was able to throw his breaking ball for a strike when he was behind in the count. He also had one of the better swing-and-miss fastballs and showed an above-average changeup. And that changeup was the most impressive one all night."

High Desert righthander Billy Bucker allowed a run on two hits in the third inning, but scouts were impressed by his 78-81 mph knuckle curve.

"He seems like he can throw that pitch whenever he wants to," the scout said. "He wasn't sneaking his fastball by many guys though, and he left it up some--flying open a little when he was throwing out of the stretch. And his changeup was just OK for me."

On Reimold's RBI double in the fifth: "He's got some length to his swing at times, but there really is some live explosiveness in the beginning of it. From the time he gets his load out in front of his body to the ball, it's all explosion. I know a lot of people in this business are torn as to what he'll eventually be, but I think he's got a chance to be something special."

On Stockton catcher Landon Powell, who came into the game in the sixth, singled, and then threw out Potomac second baseman Trey Webb in the seventh: "His lower half is a little worrisome at this point if he's going to stay back there, but he moves surprisingly well. The arm strength isn't a question. You just wonder with the knee problems he's already had and the strain the body puts on them just how long he can catch at the upper levels."

Something To Remember

Astros GM Tim Purpura was on hand to speak at the pre-game luncheon, and had some words of advice for those working in minor league baseball.

"One of the things that maybe disturbs me about minor league baseball as we move forward is while we get nicer and nicer stadiums and bigger and bigger crowds--which are all great--I think sometimes the focus goes away from the players. And I just want to encourage our minor league affiliates to focus on the players. The players are number one. And they have to be number one, because they are your product and they're our product. Without these players, we don't have the Houston Astros, we don't have the New York Yankees. It's all about the players and it's all about the coaching staff.

"And I think that if you invest in your players just like you invest in your facilities and your ballparks and your fan amenities and your customer relations, your product will improve. I say that from the heart, because that's what's happened in our organization. We've got great affiliates from (Triple-A) Round Rock all the way down to (Rookie-level) Greenville, Tennessee. And we pick our affiliates because of the physical amenities, certainly, but more so because of how people treat our players."

All-Star Notes

Wilmington outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury was beaming the entire day on Tuesday, after his Oregon State Beavers won the College World Series against North Carolina. The former Beaver played for OSU last season when they were knocked out in the CWS by Baylor, before selected by the Red Sox with the 23rd overall pick in last year's draft. "I was very happy for them. A lot of my buddies are on the team. I respect all the coaches that are at Oregon State and I've learned a lot from them. And to see the success that they've had carry on is awesome. I'm proud of them." . . . The three Rancho Cucamonga players in the game--righthander Jose Arrendondo, shortstop Sean Rodriguez and catcher Michael Collins--had a rough time making it from the West Coast to Salem for the all-star game. The players missed their flight at LAX on Saturday night, waited on standby all day and wound up staying overnight in Los Angeles. They couldn't catch a plane until Monday morning, however, and didn't fly into Salem until 11:30 p.m. "It was a rough time," Rodriguez said. "We had the game on Saturday, then got stuck, then flew across the country to make it here. I feel like I haven't slept in three days. It was just ridiculous. But at least we made it to the game and all our stuff got here." . . . San Jose players--and the entire San Jose coaching staff--also had tough times making it into Salem, flying all day Sunday, getting stuck on the runway in Chicago before getting in Sunday night after midnight--a total of over 12 hours travel time. "We had to basically run to catch our connecting flight in Chicago and then wound up sitting on the plane doing nothing for over an hour," San Jose hitting coach Garrett Nago said. "I'm just glad we wound up getting this game in." . . . In a semi-similar story, Modesto right fielder Matt Miller also had travel issues, which resulted in him wearing pants with dirt stains on the back of his left leg and all over the front of his left thigh and shin for his all-star appearance--which also included the home run derby contest. His uniform hadn't been washed since the Nuts' 1-0 loss at Inland Empire on Saturday. "We got done playing that game on Saturday, drove home and got in at like four o'clock in the morning," Miller said. "I slept in the training room for about an hour and a half and then I was on a plane here. I was told that I'd get my pants washed, but it kind of slipped my mind and no one was really pushing me to do it. I had other concerns, I guess. I actually put them in the sink of my hotel room this morning to get out some of the stains and then got a couple blow dryers and was blow-drying them. But then I blew the power circuit in my room at the hotel. These pants have caused a little bit of trouble along the way." But they still helped Miller win $250 bucks after he finished in a 1-1 tie with Salem catcher Lou Santangelo in the home run derby contest. The two players split the $500 winnings.