Mylz Jones – Lancaster JetHawks

Mylz Jones is a talented prospect that John Calvagno told me about a few months ago.  John saw him play in Asheville last year and he kept telling me how he’s such a well rounded player.  When I saw Mylz in Modesto I asked him for an interview and he gladly accepted.  Here is how our conversation went…

Real McCoy: “Prior to 2015, you played baseball for Cal State Bakersfield.  Can you tell me a little bit about your time there?”

Jones: “Yeah, I went there from 2013-2015.  It was a great experience.  I’m really glad I went there.  I learned a lot, not just about baseball, but also about myself and other things that have helped me in life.”

Real McCoy: “Were there any coaches that influenced you during your time there?”

Jones: “The whole coaching staff was great but I’d have to say that head coach Bill Kernen helped me out the most.  He recruited me and taught me about the mental aspect of baseball and not just the physical part.  Without him I wouldn’t have a strong mindset needed to play at a high level.  There’s a lot of ups and downs in this game and you have to stay positive.”

Real MMylz Jones small photocCoy: “What were you feeling when you were drafted by the Rockies in 2015?”

Jones: “I was REALLY excited.  I was still in school during the Draft because we were on the quarter system.  I had my laptop open looking at the Draft while I was studying for finals with my brother.  It was kind of difficult to keep studying after I got the phone call.  It was a very memorable moment.”

Real McCoy: “Are you happy with the Rockies organization thus far?”

Jones: “Oh yeah, definitely.  They’ve been nothing but helpful and I couldn’t ask for a better organization.”

Real McCoy: “Can you tell me about your time in Grand Junction last year?”

Jones: “I had a blast in Grand Junction.  It was my first year in pro ball.  So, I was getting acclimated to playing everyday on a consistent basis and getting my routine in as well.  I learned a lot about the ups and downs of playing baseball everyday.  I also learned a lot about myself.”

Real McCoy: “What do you think your best tool is besides your speed?”

Jones: “I would say defensive versatility.  I got drafted as a shortstop and in my first year of pro ball I played majority short and third.  Then last year was the first year ever in my life that I played in the outfield.”

Real McCoy: “It must great to play pro baseball in your native state of California, no?”

Jones: “Yeah that’s the best part.  I grew up in Palmdale and I played a few high school games at the JetHawks stadium so that’s pretty cool.  Not a lot of people get the opportunity to play in their home state, let alone their home city.”

Real McCoy: “Okay last question, what are your goals for this season in the California League?”

Jones: “Just to get better all around: offensively, defensively and mentally.  It’s a long season and the competition gets better at every level so you have to find new ways to get better.”

For more information about Mylz Jones check out this article by John Calvagno.  You can also follow Mylz @TheDeuce4MJ on Twitter and please subscribe to my new YouTube channel above!

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Stockton Ports Prospect Watch

Ports

Written by Mark Nikolov Photos from MiLB.com and Scout.com

I’ve recently had a chance to watch a few MiLB games live and up close in Northern California.  One of the teams that I’ve been very impressed with so far is the Stockton Ports.  The Oakland A’s Affiliate team is loaded with talent this year, starting at the top with A.J. Puk.  

PukAJ’s mechanics are incredible.  I was able to get some video of him throwing before his first start in Stockton and he was amazing to watch.  He creates a divot in the ground while he’s warming up in the bullpen.  He then uses that divot to line up his front foot so he can throw the ball with more accuracy.  I can’t imagine the amount of time and muscle memory that have gone into his delivery.  While throwing in the bullpen before a game against Rancho Cucamonga the rest of his teammates were very supportive of him as they watched in awe.

One of the leaders on the team is Daulton Jefferies.  He interacts with the fans more than anyone else and the rest of the team listens to him and respects him.  Daulton doesn’t have the same velocity as Puk but his changeup is phenomenal and he throws a nasty slider.  Jefferies has played shortstop in the past and he probably still could at any level in the MiLB.  He is incredibly athletic.  I was surprised to see him playing first base during batting practice before a game against the San Jose Giants.  He appears to be a jack-of-all-trades.

Stockton’s Manager, Rick Magnate, runs batting practice like the military.  I’ve never seen anything like it.  Everyone is in perfect sequence and they waste no time on the field when getting ready for a game.  I was very impressed that Magnate, himself, participates in the hitting drills.  His hands on approach seems to be working well for the team.

Another player that I’m eager to watch is Logan Shore.  Shore was taken in the second round of last year’s draft out of the University of Florida (the same college Puk went to).  Apparently he was a more consistent pitcher than any of his other teammates there.  

MurphCatcher Sean Murphy is another prospect that is gathering attention for the Ports.  His best tool is his arm and it shows.  I’ve seen him throw guys out at second in every game that I’ve been to.  His bat is nothing to scoff at either.  He hit two bombs in a game against the Quakes and I’ve been particularly impressed with his patience at the plate.

Eli White is another guy that has impressed people this season.  He was an 11th round pick out of Clemson University in South Carolina.  As of today he is batting .333 with a .405 OBP.  I saw him make some spectacular defensive plays in a walk off victory against Rancho Cucamonga.

Last but not least is Carlos Navas.  I noticed Navas throw some heat out of the bullpen during one of the games and it was scary!  I don’t know what kind of velocity he has but I’m guessing he can throw 100 MPH or something close to that.  Follow Navas on Twitter at @carlosnavas57 and keep an eye on this guy.  He’s got some big league stuff!

Navas 2

Thanks for reading my article!  You can follow me on Twitter for prospect updates at – @REALMcCOYMINORS and also check out my online store:

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Jabari Blash isn’t Sherman Hemsley but He’s Moving On Up!

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Written by Mark Nikolov  Photo by Jake Roth

The San Diego Padres just recently purchased the contract of Jabari Blash from the El Paso Chihuahuas Triple A Affiliate.  Blash, a client of Primetime Sports, has been very impressive in Cactus League play this year.  His power has been particularly impressive.  He hit seven homeruns and two doubles in only 58 at bats this Spring.  Today I got the chance to talk to Blash after appearing in his first Major League game of the season against the San Francisco Giants.  It was the first interview I’ve had with a guy that has played on an MLB roster and I was really nervous but Jabari was really easy going and he made it a great interview for me.  Here’s how the conversation went…

Real McCoy Minors: “Congrats on getting the call from San Diego.  It was well deserved in my opinion.  You also made me look really good because yesterday I had posted on Twitter that you would be in a Padres jersey very soon.”

JBariabari Blash: “Thanks, it’s exciting to be back in the majors…a little unexpected the way things happened but good to be back nevertheless.”

Real McCoy Minors: “Today was your first Major League game of the 2017 season.  What was it like?”

Jabari Blash: “It was good.  I got to pinch hit today but unfortunately I struck out.  I think I was a little too amped up.  I’m hoping to start tomorrow’s game and get few quality at bats.”

Real McCoy Minors: “Yesterday you played against the Las Vegas 51s with the Padres Triple A team in El Paso.  You guys won that game 8-1.  Not to take anything away from El Paso but I thought it would be a closer game.  Can you give me your take on that game?”

Jabari Blash: “Yeah, we had Walter Lockett on the mound and he was just getting in all day with his fastball.  He did a great job yesterday and it was really fun to watch (8Ks in 6 innings pitched).  His slider is electric!”

Real McCoy Minors: “You played extremely well in Spring Training this year.  It seemed like your name was popping up everyday on RotoWorld.  To what do you attribute this recent success and how do you plan on continuing your high level of play for the Padres this year?”

Jabari Blash: “This Spring Training was definitely one of my better ones.  I made an adjustment in my batting stance, adding a toe tap, and I feel more confident up at the plate now.”

Real McCoy Minors: “I remember back in 2011, Mark Trumbo had a great Spring and the Angels brought him up to be their everyday first baseman.  Can you see yourself having as good a career as Trumbo perhaps?”

Jabari Blash: “Trumbo and Nelson Cruz are two guys that had a late start in the MLB, like myself, but at this point I’m not thinking that far ahead.  I’m just focused on my current opportunities and I’m taking things day by day.”

Real McCoy Minors: “I noticed on Facebook that you played baseball for Miami Dade College.  Are you from the Miami-Dade area?”

cropped-real-mccoy-shopify-logo.jpgJabari Blash: “No, I was actually born in the Virgin Islands in St. Thomas.  I got the opportunity to play baseball at Miami Dade College without having to pay any tuition and that made things really easy on my family and me.  It was at that point that I started taking baseball seriously.  When I was young I never thought I would grow up to be a professional athlete…”

Real McCoy Minors: “What will you do to prepare for tomorrow’s game against the Giants?  Do you have any pregame rituals or routines that you follow?”

Jabari Blash: “I’ll start off the day by eating good…I’ll get to the ballpark early, get stretched, get loose in the cage.  As far as a pregame ritual I’ll listen to music about 15 minutes before the game starts.”

Real McCoy Minors: “Okay last question, what are your hobbies outside of baseball?”

Jabari Blash: “Right now I’m trying to get better with my Spanish…I like to pick up books as well.  I’m currently on book six of the Chronicles of Nick by Sherrilyn Kenyon.  In the off-season I’m a total beach bum.  I really enjoy working out and just spending time at the beach.”

Real McCoy Minors: “Awesome.  Thanks for taking the time to chat with me today.  I know you have a big day ahead of you tomorrow so I’ll let you get some rest.  Best of luck to you and the rest of the guys at Primetime Sports!  I hope you have an incredible season and a successful MLB career.”

You can follow Jabari Blash on Twitter @JabariBlash and please check out my online store REALMcCOYBASEBALL.COM for all kinds of great stuff!

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Recap of Team USA’s First Three Games in the World Baseball Classic

WBC 2017

Written by Mark Nikolov  Photos by Mike Ehrmann

world_baseball_classicThe World Baseball Classic has arrived and baseball fans seem to be extra patriotic right now.  I’ve been live tweeting the USA games and it’s been a blast!  As far as I know I’m the only one that’s been live tweeting all the USA games from start to finish.  It’s nice to be #1 in something!

The first game against Colombia started off as a pitching duel between Chris Archer (USA) and Jose Quintana (Colombia).  Archer was particularly impressive.  He pitched with some incredible velocity!  His fastball registered at around 96 miles per hour on the radar gun.  His changeup was even hitting 90 MPH!  Quintana was also impressive against a highly talented Team USA lineup.  He threw 5 ⅔ innings of one hit ball.  He only walked one batter and gave up zero runs.

Colombia scored the first two runs of the game in the fifth inning after hitting three doubles in a row.  Shortly after, in the 6th inning, Team USA got their first hit of the game on a single to right from Brandon Crawford.  Kinsler then followed up with a single of his own and Adam Jones made it a 2-1 game with a line drive double scoring @bcraw35.  Kinsler then scored on a wild pitch from William Cuevas making it a 2-2 ballgame.  Kayla Harper (Bryce’s wife) was getting pumped up at that point and started a USA chant on Twitter!  USA! USA! USA!

BCrawf USA

Sam Dyson came in to pitch in the seventh for Team USA and retired three straight batters.  Nate Jones then came into relieve Dyson but he was pulled and replaced by Pat Neshek after allowing two runners on base.  Neshek, the right handed Minnesotan, threw the ball well and helped USA escape the inning.

Christian Yelich started off the 8th inning with a line drive double to center field.  Ian Kinsler then followed up with a pop up single with Yelich advancing to third.  Things got really exciting at that point but unfortunately Team USA couldn’t capitalize with runners at the corners.

The game eventually went to extra innings and the energy was high among fans.  Adam Jones ended up being the hero with a walkoff RBI single in the 10th.  Shortly afterward #walkoff was trending all over Twitter and USA fans were going crazy over the game winning knock!

Ian+Kinsler+MXDrDjkawyxmTeam USA had a huge challenge in their second game.  Playing against last year’s winner the Dominican Republic, USA was the underdog.  The first three innings went scoreless for both teams in what was looking like another pitching duel.  USA got on the board first in the forth inning when Ian Kinsler scored on an outfield error.  Adam Jones scored after Kinsler on a double from Christian Yelich.

Giancarlo Stanton came up to bat in the sixth inning and knocked in Paul Goldschmidt with a line drive double.  Crawford followed up with his own line drive double and scored Stanton.  At that point things were looking great for Team USA.  Going to the middle of the sixth inning they had a 5-0 lead over the Dominican Republic.  That all changed in the bottom of the sixth inning when Manny Machado hit a moon shot to make it a 5-1 game.

After Machado’s homerun Carlos Santana hit an RBI single and Team Dominicana started gaining momentum.  Things then took a turn for the worst in the seventh when Nelson Cruz hit a three run bomb of off Andrew Miller.  Starling Marte followed Cruz with another homerun and that ended up being the nail in the coffin for Team USA.  Jeurys Familia closed out the game for The Dominican Republic and they ended up winning 7-5 in a close game.

Team USA faced off against Canada in their third game.  Danny Duffy started off extremely well and things got bad for the Canadians early on when Eric Hosmer hit a double with the bases loaded in the first inning.  USA was up 3-0 by the end of the first.

The damage continued when Nolan Arenado hit a three run bomb in the bottom of the second (see video).  USA was up 7-0 after only two innings in what was beginning to look like a massacre for Canada.  Meanwhile, Danny Duffy continued to pitch a gem!  He struck out seven batters in four innings of work without allowing any runs to Team Canada.  With the game already out of reach in the bottom of the 7th inning, Buster Posey hit a solo shot to make it an 8-0 victory for USA (see video).

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After three games Team USA finished up 2-1 and now they will advance to San Diego for round two.  Follow my World Baseball Classic coverage of USA Baseball @REALMCCOYMINORS as I live tweet the upcoming games against Venezuela, Puerto Rico and a rematch with the Dominican Republic.  Also check out my online baseball card store where I’m now selling Axe Bats!  Real Ballplayers use Real Bats. Shop Real McCoy!

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2017 California League Prospect Watch

Written by Mark Nikolov 

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I can’t help but be excited about this upcoming Minor League Baseball season.  There is going to be a ton of talent on the field, particularly in the High-A California League.  I’ll try to see as many games as I can in San Jose this year but the one hour drive back and forth from could be grueling.  My goal is to go to a dozen or so.  Here are a few teams that I want to watch and some prospects that I’ll be keeping an eye on.  

Island Empire 66ers – Los Angeles Angels Affiliate

Two prospects that I really want to see live and in person are Matt Thaiss and Jahmai Jones.  Thaiss was drafted in the first round (16th overall) out of the University of Virginia as a catcher but it looks like the Angels intend on bringing him up as a first baseman.  Most people agree that he is one of the best pure hitters coming out of last year’s draft.  The Baseball America 2017 Prospect Handbook had this to say about Matt:

“He takes excellent at-bats, knows his plan, doesn’t chase bad pitches and isn’t afraid to take a walk.  He walked nearly as often as he struck out in pro ball after compiling a 55-to-74 strikeout-to-walk ratio in three college seasons.  With plus bat speed and a strong swing with leverage, Thaiss had above average to plus raw power…”

Jahmai Jones was drafted by the Angels in the second round of  2015 MLB Draft.  His hitting approach is behind that of Thaiss but he makes up for it with his speed and defense.  In a recent article written by Chase C. Kimura, Jones was praised as “the guy who should help put the Angels farm system back on the map…”  I’m really excited about the possibility of Jahmai and Matt both playing for the 66ers this year.

Lake Elsinore Storm – San Diego Padres Affiliate

Another Prospect that I’m really anxious to watch is Cal Quantrill.  Cal was drafted in the first round of the 2016 MLB Draft out of Stanford.  Quantrill didn’t play at Stanford as a junior and he had his 2015 season cut short because of Tommy John Surgery.  So it’s pretty impressive that he was still drafted 8th overall.  The Padres must’ve seen something special in the Canadian born prospect.  The good news for Quantrill is that he has a degree in Mgmt. Science and Engineering to fall back on just in case injuries plague his career.

Cal pitched really well in his pro debut last season.  While playing in Rookie Ball and Short A he struck out 44 and walked only 4 batters.  He struggled a little bit in Fort Wayne but he barely got a chance to get comfortable.  He only threw 4.2 innings there.  I’m expecting him to start off the season back in Low Class A but I’m hoping he gets a call from Lake Elsinore at some point during the season.  There’s probably a lot of Stanford Baseball fans that are hoping for the same thing.  San Jose Municipal Stadium is only a 25 minute drive from their campus.

Lancaster JetHawks – Colorado Rockies Affiliate

The biggest name to watch for in the California League this year could be Brendan Rodgers.  Rodgers was selected number three overall by the Rockies in the 2015 Draft.  Kyle Glaser of Baseball America has him listed as the seventh overall prospect in the 2017 BA Prospect Handbook.  After looking at his accomplishments last year with Asheville it’s difficult to argue otherwise (see below – info courtesy of MiLB.com).

2016 MILB.COM ORGANIZATION ALL-STAR: Colorado (NL)

2016 BASEBALL AMERICA LOW CLASS A ALL-STAR:  Asheville (SAL)

2016 MOST OUTSTANDING MAJOR LEAGUE PROSPECT: Asheville (SAL)

2016 POST-SEASON ALL-STAR: Asheville (SAL)

2016 PLAYER OF THE WEEK: 8/21/16 – Asheville (SAL)

2016 MID-SEASON ALL-STAR: Asheville (SAL)

Rodgers recently made a surprise performance in an MLB Spring Training game.  I’m crossing my fingers that he doesn’t get an early promotion to Double-A.

A guy that I’m probably most eager to watch on the JetHawks is Salvador Justo.  I met Justo a few months back and he gave me the opportunity to do an exclusive interview with him.  Since then we’ve become good friends and I still keep in contact with him about once a week.  As far as I know he’s been having a very productive offseason and I suspect that he will start off the year in Lancaster as a result.  Keep an eye on him and his 100 mph fastball if you can.

Modesto Nuts – Seattle Mariners Affiliate

Mariners fans are excited about first round pick Kyle Lewis and with good reason.  Lewis was drafted 11th overall last year out of Mercer University.  He was the highest drafted player in the history of the Southern Conference.  His two best tools are his power and his arm.  He was very impressive in his first pro appearance last year in Short Season Everett.  In 117 at bats he hit .299 with a .385 OBP showing great patience at the plate.  His strikeout-to-walk ratio was almost even at 22-to-16.  Unfortunately a bad collision at home plate ended his season abruptly with a torn ACL and torn cartilage in his LCL and MCL.

Apparently Lewis has been rehabbing well.  He has a reputation for being a hard worker and he is very motivated to get back out on the field.  On January 31st of this year he tweeted a video of himself hitting a triple for the AquaSox and told his fans “I need more!”  Kyle is obviously a fierce competitor and there’s no doubt in my mind he’ll be back playing at a high level in 2017.  He’ll likely start off in Low Class A Clinton but he should see a good amount of time playing for the Nuts.

Rancho Cucamonga Quakes – Los Angeles Dodgers Affiliate

Rancho Cucamonga has produced a good amount of highly talented players in recent years (Cody Bellinger, Julio Urias, Corey Seager, etc.).  One player that could gather some attention for the Quakes this year is Walker Buehler.  The Dodgers drafted him with the 24th overall pick in 2015 out of Vanderbilt.  Buehler spent most of the 2016 season recovering from Tommy John surgery but in a short return to the mound he actually showed improved velocity from his college days.  He profiles as a middle of the rotation starting pitcher with three potential plus pitches: a fastball, cutter and a curve.

Walker will face an innings limit in 2017, which is bad news for fans that want to see him play.  The good news is, it’s been reported that he’s working diligently on his strength and conditioning this past year in order to improve on his thin frame (via Rotowire).  “He says he is 25 pounds heavier than he was prior to undergoing UCL surgery in August of 2015.”  A return to Low A is the most likely scenario for Buehler this April but I expect to see him in a quakes uniform at some point during the upcoming season.

Stockton Ports – Oakland A’s Affiliate

@JohnJKerley has been telling me for a while now that A.J. Puk is going to be the next Chris Sale.  At first I was skeptical, but after following him in Spring Training this year I’m starting to believe the hype.  Puk faced three batters and struck out the side in his first ever spring performance.  MiLB.com reported that A’s manager Bob Melvin was particularly impressed with his changeup.  “He had good life on his fastball, but something we’ve been talking about is using his changeup and using it effectively, and every changeup he threw ended up being a good one. You take the mound for the first time in a Spring Training game, expect to have some nerves and so forth, and he didn’t. Nice little start for him.”

The 2017 Baseball America Prospect Handbook says Puk has the ceiling of a front end starter “but he must become more efficient with his pitches and more consistent with his command.”  Other publications have published similar opinions.  Last year in Short Season Vermont A.J. threw 40 strikeouts in 33 innings showing advanced skills at that level.  I’m not ready to call him the next Chris Sale but I wouldn’t be surprised if he puts up Sale type numbers in the California League this year.  More on this later…

I want to thank John Calvagno of Notes from the Sally for encouraging me to write this piece.  Follow him on Twitter @AshevilleSoxFan for the most insightful news on the South Atlantic League.  Also, check out my Minor League Baseball card store at REALMcCOYSPORTSCARDS.com.

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Anderson Polanco Saves The Day!

anderson-polanco-photoWritten by Mark Nikolov Photo by Scout.com

Anderson Polanco is a pitching prospect in the Cleveland Indians organization.  He was born in Santo Domingo, the capital and largest city in the Dominican Republic.  Similar to other prospects that I’ve spoken with, Polanco started playing baseball at a very young age.  His pitching repertoire consists of 3 pitches – a fastball, curve and changeup.  Anderson told me that he’s done a lot of work on his curve but his favorite pitch is his “cambio” (change in Spanish).  He currently profiles as a relief pitcher at the MLB level, but unfortunately an injury from last season has slowed him down some.

Polanco started playing with the Indians at the age of 18 in the Dominican Summer League.  He produced great results at that level striking out 63 batters in 61 innings pitched with a 1.77 ERA.  At 19, he came over to the US and showed a lot of promise up until last season.  In his first appearance at AA Akron, Polanco struggled with his command.  He finished up the season with better results at High-A Lynchburg.  Immediately after the season he had surgery to fix an injury that had been nagging throughout the year.

Polanco, Anderson 1202 (Mitchell).jpgDespite some regression last year with his injury and playing at a higher level, Polanco did not sound down on himself when we spoke. He looked back on his time in  Akron as a learning experience.  “I learned a lot from a lot of good players in Double-A…” he told me.  He didn’t sound like he felt completely out of his league at that level.  His struggles were more related to an injury that he sustained.  The good news is that he’s still young and should be able to make a complete recovery.  If he can cut down on his walks, I believe he can eventually return to Akron and flourish there.

Outside of baseball, Polanco enjoys spending time with his family and friends.  Anderson has two children that he loves dearly.  His Facebook profile is full of family pictures.  I think that, perhaps, some time away from baseball will be helpful for him.  He was very relaxed throughout the interview and it seems like he has developed some new insights on the game.  “This year is a year of recuperation for me,” says Polanco.  “I’m not sure what the Indians have in store for me this upcoming season but I’ve had a lot of time to reflect and make improvements in myself.”

Regardless of where he plays this season, Polanco could still have a future in Major League Baseball.  In past years he has been heralded as an “under the radar” type prospect with high upside.  That upside is still there.  Now that he’s had time to reflect on the mental aspect of the game, his upside might be higher than ever.  I was particularly impressed by his efforts to improve not only his own life, but the lives of others as well.  “I like to collaborate with the young children in the Dominican Republic,” he told me.  “A lot of them come from poor areas and they don’t have the opportunities that God has given me.  I try to help them out as much as I can.”

Polanco, Anderson 1201 (Mitchell).jpgAnderson Polanco has thoroughly impressed me as a selfless human being.  He’s very concerned with the youth in the Dominican Republic.  He has made it a goal not only to make a full recovery and return to baseball, but also to assist other people in his community.  Speaking of help and assistance, Polanco really came through for me yesterday.  I desperately needed some content for my article of the week and he was nice enough to give me an interview within an hour’s notice.  He was  very nice and polite with me.  I felt as if I was speaking with someone I had known for years.  The future is impossible to predict but I hope and pray that Polanco has a bright one ahead of himself.  Look for him to return back to Double-A at some point and establish himself as one of the many talented prospects in the Indians organization.

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Brandon Lawson is Stuck in the Sunshine State

brandon-lawson-photo-2Written by Mark Nikolov  Photo by unknown

Brandon Lawson is a native of Florida and a former pitcher from the University of South Florida.  He currently plays in the Tampa Bay Rays farm system where he’s had a lot of success as a first year player.  Bethany Cohen of Legends On Deck interviewed Lawson in August of last year and recently I got the chance to catch up with him.  Here’s how our conversation went:

Real McCoy: “Since August, what have you been doing to prepare yourself for the upcoming season?”

Lawson: “I’ve been working out 5-7 days a week…started throwing about a month ago.  Mostly been working to get my body stronger.  I’ve kept my workout program from college and just tweaked it a little since I’ve been in the Rays system.”

Real McCoy: “Can you tell me about your experience playing baseball at the University of South Florida?”

Lawson: “I went in my freshman year as a weekend rotation starter.  Eventually I ended up in the bullpen and got a little discouraged there.  It wasn’t until my junior year that things really started clicking for me.  My velocity went from the high 80’s to the mid 90’s.”

Real McCoy: “Other than the increased velocity, how did you benefit from playing in college?”

Lawson: “College allowed me to prepare physically and mentally.  I’m still learning to deal with different situations all the time as a pro.  Baseball is a game of imperfections.  You’re never gonna be perfect in baseball.”

Real McCoy: “You put up some very impressive stats last year with the Hudson Valley Renegades.  Are you satisfied playing in the Rays farm system right now?”

brandon-lawson-2Lawson: “Oh yeah.  I’m very grateful to be a part of the Rays organization.  I had the opportunity to go pro after high school but I knew it wouldn’t be a good idea.  I wasn’t ready to play a game with men at 18 years of age.”

Real McCoy: “What can you tell me about your pitching assortment?”

Lawson: “I rely a lot on my two seam fastball, which has turned into a sinker.  I use a four seam fastball and a changeup as well.  I also have a slider and a curveball.”

Real McCoy: “How is your relationship with your family?”

Lawson: “It’s great.  My family has always been a big baseball family.  My dad played in high school and in JUCO.  My old brother David played at Southeast Missouri State and after college he started coaching.  Him and my dad have always been coaching me since I was a kid.”

Real McCoy: “I noticed on Facebook that your brother David is now a scout for Primetime Sports Agency.”

Lawson: “Yeah him and my dad became good friends with Phil Terrano.  Phil hired him as a scout and they’ve been working closely together ever since.  It’s really cool to work with my brother in that capacity.”

Real McCoy: “Nice!  Last question – what are your goals for the upcoming season?”

Lawson: “My personal goal is to start in Low A or High A and keep advancing in the system.  I also want to lower my ERA and get more innings.”

cropped-cropped-cropped-real-mccoy-shopify-logoBrandon Lawson is a great guy and he seems to have a good group of people behind him.  I’m hoping that he has another strong outing this year in the Minors.  Please follow him on Twitter @B_Lawson1213 and check out my Minor League Baseball card store at REALMcCOYSPORTSCARDS.com

 

Prospecting the Dominican Republic

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Written by Mark Nikolov photo by Mike Blake

As I get ready for the upcoming World Baseball Classic, I’m trying to familiarize myself with players from other countries and I couldn’t help but notice the amount of highly skilled players on this year’s Dominican team.  Rather than focusing on the current superstar players though, I’m more interested in who the up and coming stars might be.  I started my search on Facebook.

Today I spoke with a young man from the Dominican Republic named Jesus De La Rosa.  He’s from Las Matas de Santa Cruz, the same hometown where Yankees prospect Jorge Guzman was born.  I have no idea how good of a player Jesus is but he told me that he can through low 90’s which is obviously very impressive for an 18 year old.  I checked out his Facebook profile before we spoke and he didn’t seem to have any character issues: no pointing middle fingers, no pictures of naked women, nothing concerning at all.  Most of his recent posts were photos of him with family and friends.  He has a training video that he posted a few days ago where he’s doing an upper body workout.

This was the first time I’ve ever spoken to De La Rosa and I can’t say that I know much about him.  However, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that if he could get a personal trainer (in his video post he was working out by himself) and some good coaching, he should be able to excel in any MLB organization.  He currently stands at 6’1 and he still has many more years of growth ahead of him.  At 18 years of age he has some more maturing to do but he seems to be on the right track.  I really hope someone notices this guy and gives him an opportunity.

Jorge Guzman initially got his opportunity with the Astros and he’s currently trying to make his way up the Minor League ranks in the Yankees Farm system.  A trade this past November sent him and Albert Abreu to New York for Brian McCann.  In an article written by Robert Pimpsner of Pinstriped Prospects, Guzman is described as “a hard throwing pitcher who can touch 101-103 miles per hour.” 

In Baseball America’s 2017 Prospect Handbook, Guzman is profiled as a relief pitcher down the line but “he could have a big time impact if everything develops as planned.  He’s likely to begin the year at low Class A Charleston.”  I’ll have to tell John Calvagno to keep an eye on him in the South Atlantic League.

Albert Abreu is a native of Santo Domingo and he profiled very well in the BA Prospect Handbook.  They ranked him as the ninth overall prospect in the Yankees farm system which is loaded with premium talent right now.  One thing he was criticized for was his control but that is completely normal for a young pitcher his age.  Judging from his training videos that he has posted on Facebook, Abreu seems to have a high work ethic.  He appears to have added some strength while lowering his body fat.  With his conditioning he should be able to pitch long innings as a starter or he’ll be a beast coming out of the bullpen.

A name that went missing from this year’s BA Prospect Handbook was Gerson Moreno.  I’ve seen Moreno ranked as high as 13 on some of Detroit’s prospect rankings and I’m not sure why Baseball America left him out.  Moreno is from Santo Domingo, as well, and he fits the profile of an MLB closer.  His fastball reaches 100 miles per hour on the radar gun and he’s had a lot of success in the lower levels of the Minors.  In 2015, he helped the West Michigan Whitecaps win the Midwest league, closing out the 9th inning in the Championship Game.

The level of potential talent in the Dominican Republic is amazing to me.  It seems like the Dominican has an unlimited amount of talented players that come from these small areas like Las Matas de Santa Cruz.  I’m sure if I did some further research I could find dozens of guys from that same area that could be groomed into big league players.  They just need the guidance and the opportunities.  I hope some organization gives Jesus De La Rosa an opportunity.  It would be well deserved for him and relatively low risk for any MLB team.

Thanks for reading my article!  For more Minor League Baseball News follow me on Twitter  @REALMCCOYMINORS and also check out my online baseball card store – REALMcCOYSPORTSCARDS.COM

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2017 San Francisco Giants FanFest

Giants FanFestWritten by Mark Nikolov  Photo by Mercury News

The 2017 Giants KNBR FanFest took place today at AT&T Park in San Francisco .  I wasn’t entirely sure I was going to go when I woke up this morning but I’m really glad I did.  There weren’t as many people there as I expected but, nevertheless, it was a good turnout.  The event started at around 10am but I didn’t get there until noon.  At one o’clock I got lucky and stumbled into a Question and Answer session with Nick Hundley, Hunter Strickland and George Kontos.

Giants Melancon BaseballHundley is coming over from the Colorado Rockies and he seems to be excited about playing for the Giants.  I believe he signed just a few weeks ago and he already seems to have built a good rapport with his teammates.  Originally from Oregon, Nick played high school baseball in the state of Washington.  Today he poked a little fun at himself and told us a story about how he originally played shortstop growing up.  He played there all the way until high school.  Once he was in high school his coach told him he wasn’t good enough to play shortstop anymore and that’s how he became a catcher.  I got a chance to talk to him briefly after the Q&A and he was very nice and friendly to me.  I think he’s going to be a great addition to the Giants this season.

Hunter Strickland was probably the most popular guy at the one o’clock Q&A.  He’s known throughout the organization as an avid hunter and fly fisherman.  He didn’t hesitate to talk about his love of the outdoors when he was asked about his hobbies.  Hunter is really well spoken and he appears to have a high baseball IQ.  One thing that stood out during his interview was when a young fan asked about his split finger fastball.  He mentioned that it’s not necessarily important to get a lot of velocity out of your fastball.  “The delivery is more important,” he says.  This is something that pitching coach Dave Righetti reiterated in the second Q&A.  More and more pitchers are coming into the league now throwing 100 miles per hour but as both Righetti and Strickland pointed out, numbers are not everything.  Righetti even made a joke that when the 100mph pitchers show up at AT&T “their velocity is down to about 93 mph anyways.”

George Kontos was hilarious today.  He was very comfortable in front of the fans and he had some great stories to share.  George is from Chicago but he insists he hates the Cubs.  He recently got the chance to play golf with Michael Jordan.  The moderator asked if Jordan (who has a history of betting on golf) took his money and George came back with “what makes you think I didn’t take Jordan’s money!”  The crowd got a kick out of that.

buster-small-photoThe story that really stuck in my mind was in response to a question about Buster Posey.  Kontos recalled one time late in a game when Buster called for a fastball but George threw a cutter instead.  Buster immediately called time and walked up to the mound.  He asked George “what was that?”  George replied “a cutter (giving Buster a little attitude).”  Buster then replied in a friendly voice “Can you throw it again???”  That was the first time Kontos threw his cutter in a game and he’s had a lot of success with that pitch ever since.  A lot of people got a laugh out of that exchange.  George actually did a really good job of imitating Buster.

The second Q&A session that I saw was with Buster Posey, Jeff Samardzija and Dave Righetti.  Obviously a lot of attention was on Buster.  The fans were very excited to see him in a live interview and they had a lot of questions for him.  Buster is naturally talented when speaking with the fans and the media.  One fan asked who was a better sponsor for Under Armor him or Stephen Curry?  Kind of a strange question but Buster said “Curry.”

Toward the beginning of the Q&A someone asked Buster if he would sign something for him and he answered “I will but that’s probably gonna open up a can of worms.”  I thought that was a good, honest response.  The room was very crowded and if Buster started signing for people he probably would have been there for hours.  Posey has a reputation in the clubhouse for being a humble guy and it really showed at FanFest.  At one point during the show he stressed the importance of community and he offered his condolences to a fan that was dying of cancer.  “Baseball isn’t important,” he said.  “Community and the things that the players do outside of baseball is what’s important.”

the-shark-2Standing at 6’6 Jeff Samardzija was hard to miss at the Giants FanFest.  I am anticipating a great year from Samardzija in 2017.  Before playing in the MLB “the Shark” was famous for playing wide receiver for Notre Dame.  At the Q&A he spoke about being a well rounded athlete growing up in Indiana.  As a result of playing many different sports, he doesn’t have a lot of mileage on his throwing arm.  At 32 years old Jeff may very well be in the prime of his career.

When asked about his long hair, Jeff explained that as a kid his dad forced him to sport a military style flat top.  By the time he was 17 he got sick of it and started growing out his hair.  He’s kept it long ever since.  I’m not sure how his dad feels about his long hair nowadays but I’m willing to bet that he’s damn proud of his son.  All of the Giants displayed a lot of class and dignity today.  I’m really happy that I was able to be a part of FanFest and I’m looking forward to another great season of baseball.

Please follow me on Twitter @REALMCCOYMINORS and press the link REALMcCOY to check out my online baseball card store.

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No Stalling for Cody Stull

cody-stull-photo-1Written by Mark Nikolov  Photo by unknown

Cody Stull was drafted out of Belmont Abbey College by the Oakland Athletic’s in 2014.  This past season he moved up the Minor League ranks faster than any other player in the MiLB perhaps.  I recently got a chance to speak with Cody and talked to him about his recent success.

Real McCoy:  “This past season you moved up three levels in the A’s farm system.  To what do you attribute that achievement?”

Stull:  “I attribute it to hard work.  The A’s have also done a great job surrounding me with some really good pitching coaches.  All of my coaches have helped me improve my performance in single-A, AA and AAA.  I’m very grateful to them for that.  Being able to get lefties out is always a good way to move up in the system too.”

Real McCoy:  “Last season you put up great numbers in the California League, a league that is known for being a hitters league: 65 Ks in 61 IP with only 14 BBs and a 1.61 ERA.  Do you think you can repeat those numbers or put up even better numbers this upcoming season?”

Stull:  “I think so.  I think that there’s always more opportunities to get better.  Now that I’ve added a curveball into my pitching arsenal that should only help me get better.”

Real McCoy:  “Nice!  In an article written by 27 Outs Baseball last season Eddie Pannone mentioned that you have a low 90’s fastball and a good changeup.  He also said that you were working on your breaking ball.  Can you tell me about the success you had with that pitch last year?

Stull:  “Sure, my breaking ball helped me open up the zone a little more.  It eventually turned into a cutter and I’ve had success with that pitch as well.”

Real McCoy:  “I found an article written in January of 2013 by coastalplain.com that described you as a ‘fan favorite’ when you were playing for the Gastonia Grizzlies.  Here is a direct quote from that article ‘Cody has tremendous character and is the kind of person that you always want in your club.’  Do you agree with that statement?

Stull:  “Yeah.  I always want to be known as the guy that people want to be around.  I try to keep a good positive atmosphere when I’m around other teammates.”

Real McCoy:  “I noticed that you and Max Schrock follow each other on Twitter.  What can you tell me about him?

Stull:  “I got to know him for a short period of time when he was in Midland.  He is a true competitor.  He hits everything when he’s at the plate.  It seems like the guy never gets out.  Having him behind you on defense is great because there’s a good chance he is going to make a play on every ball that comes his way.”

Real McCoy:  “What was it like growing up in Matthews, North Carolina?”

Stull:  “It was nice.  Matthews is a small town surrounded by some other small towns and there’s a lot of baseball in our area.  Richie Shaffer and a few other Major League guys are from there.”

Real McCoy:  “Last question, what are your goals for this upcoming season?”

Stull:  “I want to stay on the same path that I’m on right now as far as numbers go.  That should help me advance to the MLB and hopefully I can make an impact there as well.”

Cody seems like a really good guy.  He has a positive attitude and he knows a lot about baseball.  I’m guessing he studies the game all day and probably in his sleep as well.  I missed my first opportunity to interview him because of a scheduling error on my part.  So I’m very thankful he gave me a second chance to speak with him.  I wish nothing but the best for Stull and I hope to see him pitch at Rickey Henderson Field one day.

Please follow Cody Stull on Twitter @LHP1814 and check out my online baseball card store at REALMcCOYSPORTSCARDS.COM

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Article by Eddie Pannone from 27 Outs Baseball found here