Marlins Catching Prospect: J.D. Osborne

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Marlins Catcher OsborneWritten by Mark Firkins Photo by Twitter

J.D. Osborne was drafted by the Miami Marlin in 2017 in the 22nd round. He is off to an impressive season debut in the NY PENN League and with the Batavia Muckdogs. Through 44 games he is batting .350 with 7 doubles, 1 triple, 2 HR, 18 RBIs and a .414 OBP. He has spent most of the season as a catcher but has also played first and third base.

He has a powerful, level swing and makes hard contact with the ball. For a catcher he has decent speed and gets around the bases quickly and efficiently. On defense he has a strong arm, shows leadership and confidence on the field

J.D. Osborne jogged out the Batavia Muckdogs clubhouse, greeted me as if we were old friends who hadn’t seen each other in years and powerfully shook my hand with his huge muscular arms. There’s no doubt he takes his training seriously and hits the weight room often. He was energetic and appeared to be thrilled to talk with me and do an interview. J.D. is definitely a fun person to be around and enjoys life as a professional baseball palyer.

MF: This is your first season in the NY PENN League, what are some of the biggest challenges you’re facing?

JD: I played college ball in Division II, so the velocity from the pitchers is a little higher than I saw at school ball. I’m still making some adjustments with the guys who throw 95 mph or more.

MF: You’ve played third base, first base, and catcher so far this season. All physically and mentally demanding positions to play, how do you prepare yourself for such diverse roles?

JD: I take my reps daily at all of those positions. I catch bullpens and work on my blocking and receiving. I take fielding practice and ground balls at both third and first almost every day as well. I just stayed mentally prepared, focused, and always ready for wherever I’m needed on the field.

MF: You’ve been very consistent at the plate all season and over the past three weeks your bat has really come alive. Did you make any adjustments or change anything in your approach at the plate?

JD: No, my approach to hitting has always been the same. I go to the plate looking for a pitch that I know I can put in play. I’ve been taught to never deviate from the plan.

MF: Speaking of hitting, what type of bat do you swing?

JD: I love Old Hickory bats, they just feel so comfortable with my swing. I have used some Mark Lumber bats as well, they’re a Canadian maker of really good bats.

MF: You’re from Whitby, Ontario, Canada, almost directly across Lake Ontario from where we sit. You’ve spent the past few years down in Florida playing for Polk State College and then the University of Tampa. Now you are playing in the Marlins organization, that’s a lot of Florida connections. Is there anything truly unique that you miss from Canada?

JD: I miss the people from home and good authentic poutine. There’s a restaurant back home I really miss called Jimmy Guaco’s, THE BEST burritos ever, man do I miss those!

MF: There’s such a diverse mix of international players on your team and in the league, what are some of the obstacles you guys face together?

JD: Communication is a big issue. I don’t speak Spanish and a lot of the guys I catch for do. So we’re learning to communicate with each other with our signals. Even though we haven’t learned each other’s language yet doesn’t mean we don’t understand each other. They know on mound visits that I’m trying to make sure we’re on the same page and that I’m supporting them and have their back.

MF: Tell me something different about learning and playing the game in Canada?

JD: We play it a little more aggressively, maybe you want to call it a hockey mentality when we run the basses or slide into a base or home.

MF: Who in the Marlins organization has been a positive influence or given you some great advice?

JD: All the coaches here in Batavia are so supportive, positive and want you to learn and succeed. I couldn’t ask for a better first year manager than Mike Jacobs. He has so much experience and knowledge to share and offer. We all feed off one another and learn so much together.

MF: In your limited free time away from baseball what do you like to do?

JD: I just started playing the guitar about a year or so ago. I’m learning and watching YouTube videos to help me. I’m getting pretty good.

MF: Who are some of your favorite athletes?

JD: Brett Lawrie in baseball. #16, Darcy Tucker for the Toronto Maple Leafs. I loved that guy.

MF: Favorite MLB Ballpark?

JD: I saw a lot of games at the Sky Dome now the Rogers Centre

MF: Favorite song or music heard in the ballpark?

JD: Anything Michael Jackson, Rock with You by MJ

MF: What’s better day games or night games?

JD; Either is great, I just want to play.

MF: Spring or Fall baseball?

JD: Spring baseball

MF: Favorite ballpark food?

JD: Hot dog, loaded

MF: Why is it called the foul pole?

JD: Um… I’m not sure, you got me (shrugging and laughing). It’s fair and in play. Weird.

Chatting with a baseball player is always enjoyable but talking with J.D. was downright fun. He has a powerful energy to him that’s infectious and definitely carries out into his game. You can tell that same energy transfers into his swings at the plate and while wearing the tools of ignorance.

Please follow Mark Firkins on Twitter @thefirkster. Also, check out our eBay store for Minor League Baseball cards and autographed photos. Thanks!

Batavia Muckdogs OF – Michael Donadio

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648097354-612x612Written by Mark Firkins Photo by Getty Images

Michael Donadio was selected by the Marlins in the 30th round in 2017. He played in the Gulf Coast League in 2017 and made his debut in the New York Penn League with the Batavia Muckdogs on June 15, 2018.

He has appeared in 31 of the 38 games played so far this season. He currently features a .288 AVG, 8 doubles, 4 HR, and 20 RBI. He has a quick hard swing. Makes solid contact that makes the ball jump off the bat and find its way to outfield quickly.

A natural Left Fielder, but he can also play Center and Right Field when called upon. Through 336 defensive innings played between the GCL and Batavia, Michael has a perfect 1.000 FPCT.

We sat down in Dwyer Stadium recently and talked about Long Island, life in the minors, and of course baseball.

MF: You’re a NY born and raised player from Long Island. You played your college ball at St. John’s in Queens. You’re now playing on the opposite side of the state in Western NY. Have you had to make any adjustments to life in a small town and a with a small community minor league team like Batavia?

MD: The game is no different. I have the same mentality playing here as I have no matter where else I’ve ever played. Play hard, work hard and give 100% every day. Long Island has their small towns too and where I’m from isn’t that much different.

MF: The NY PENN League has teams in Staten Island, Hudson Valley, Brooklyn, and Connecticut.  Unfortunately Batavia has few games scheduled in those parks this season. It would have been nice from your family’s perspective to have caught you in action there. Have they made the trip down the Thruway to visit you here?

MD: Yeah, those locations would’ve been within an hour or so from home. It’s about a six, seven hour drive for them to visit me here, depending on the traffic on the Island, New York City/New Jersey, but they came up to see my debut a month ago and hopefully they’ll get back again before season’s end.

MF: You’re from Long Island, went to college in Queens, so, I have to ask, growing up were you a Yankees or Mets fan?

MD: I was more of a Mets fans. My dad is from Queens and that’s where the Mets are. My mom’s side of the family are all Yankees fans, so we’re split in half on our NY teams.

MF: Everyone gets along during the holidays when the subject of baseball comes up?

MD: Oh yeah, there’s the good natured teasing, but everyone loves their NY teams.

MF: What have been some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced as a new minor league player?

MD: The every day grind. You practice for a few hours each day, a game each night, then you have the bus rides home or to the next city.

MF: Have the Marlins brought in any ex MLB players or roving instructor coaches to teach and give you any extra guidance as a young player?

MD: Our coach Mike Jacobs has a lot of MLB experience and is one of the most positive influences on all of us. His message is pretty clear. Believe in yourself and play the game the way you did that got you here. Don’t change anything about your game now because you’re in a pro league.

MF: There are so many diverse pitching styles and with young pitchers on a smaller pitch count early in the season, there’s frequent pitching changes. What adjustments do you make or what do you go up there looking for facing a new pitcher every few innings?

MD: I don’t make too many adjustments. No matter who’s pitching I go up there looking for the fastball over the plate.

MF: You’ve been very consistent at the plate and I’ve seen you hit the gaps and with a little power this season. What brand of bat do you like?

MD: Tucci Lumber. Some of my past coaches in summer ball introduced me to that brand. I’ve had good luck and success with them, no need to look at any other type.

MF: You’ve played all three OF spots this season. Do you favor one and why?

MD: I played all 4 years in college in LF and most of my games here have also been there as well. I can play all three, but I’m most comfortable with the view, throw and angle of left.

MF: It’s tough on the minor league road. The bus rides, travel schedule, long days at the field. In your limited free time what do you enjoy doing?

MD: I love fishing. I haven’t had much time around here to do any, but when I’m home I go to the Long Island Sound and fish for Blue Fish, Bass, anything to relax and catch some fish.

MF: Some fun and quick questions for you, ready?

MF: Favorite sport other than baseball?

MD: Football, the NY Giants

MF: MLB park you’d LOVE to play in some day?

MD: Ooh, I should say something else but I’m going to say Fenway Park, it’s about as legendary as it gets.

MF: Day games or night games?

MD: It’s cooler at night, both temperature and under the lights

MF: Spring baseball or Fall baseball?

MD: Spring

MF: Favorite ballpark treat?

MD: Cracker Jack

MF: Favorite song you’ve heard play in the stadium?

MD: It’s cool they play Sweet Caroline here in the 8th

MF: Do you have any baseball superstitions?

MD: None

MF: A debate I’m stirring up between pitchers and hitters, why is it called the foul pole?

MD: That’s good, I don’t know, it’s in play, it should be the fair pole, but that doesn’t sound right. Why, what do pitchers say?

Michael Donadio is proving that no matter where you’re picked in the draft, first, last or somewhere in between, if you work hard, practice hard, listen to and learn from your coaches, the game will find a place for you. Michael’s aggressive approach at the plate and impressive defensive play should find him climbing the organizational ladder and stay in the starting lineup for many seasons to come.

Please follow Mark Firkins on Twitter @thefirkster. Also, check out our eBay store for Minor League Baseball cards and autographed photos. Thanks!

Marlins 1B prospect – Sean Reynolds

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SeanSean Reynolds was picked by the Marlins in the 4th round of the 2016 draft. Through 2 1/2 professional seasons he has split time between the Gulf Coast and NY PENN Leagues. He has slugged 13 HR, 15 doubles, 5 triples, and 59 RBI. I was fortunate enough to witness him pound his 7th and 8th home runs of this season on Sunday July 22. He hit both shots to almost the same spot, directly into the power alley of RC field, right at the scoreboard.

Sean was an interesting choice and draft pick by the Marlins. They saw him blast baseballs 400 feet in high school. They also saw him throw a 7-0 record, strike out 73 batters in 57 innings, a 1.23 ERA as a pitcher and reach back and throw the ball 92 mph. At 6′ 7″ he’d be the ideal fit as the Marlins tend to favor tall athletic pitching prospects. It was his bat though that Marlins vice president of scouting, Stan Meek,  liked the most about Sean. He is quoted as saying “We like the bat, there’s power in it. He’s an aggressive kid and makes good contact. There’s definitely a chance for him to be developed as a power hitter.”

His size, swing and defensive style have been compared to Richie Sexon and John Olerud, good company to be compared with.

I sat down with Sean after his batting practice session on Saturday, July 21st. His 6′ 7″ frame towered above me. His long extended arm pointed downward toward me as we shook hands. He was friendly, enthusiastic, and open to talk about his role and development within the Marlins organization, the Batavia Muckdogs, and the minor leagues.

MF: I think the Marlins saw two possibilities in you when they drafted you in 2016. One, the player we’re seeing now, first baseman with an aggressive swing, power and pop in his bat, good OPS and hitting stats that continue to climb. What a lot of fans might not know is that you were a very good high school pitching prospect as well. Did the Marlins ever take a look at you as pitcher?

SR: They knew I could pitch and some scouts talked to me about that possibility, but the Marlins saw me for what I really am. A 6′ 7″ first baseman with a power lefty swing. They’ve developed me as hitter and saw my future more as a hitter than on the mound.

MF: You bat left but throw right. Is this something natural you’ve always done?

SR: Hitting is the only thing I do as a lefty. Everything else I do is right handed. My dad said when I was 2-3 years old I picked up a wiffle ball bat and started swinging it as a lefty. No one ever tried to change that about me, so I’m a lefty at the plate.

MF: What brand of bat are you using?

SR: Right now I’m swinging Old Hickory maple bats. But I do have some Victus, Rawlings, and Homewood Bats as well. I like a bat with a thin handle and big barrel and when I pick one out I know when it feels just right in my hands.

MF: This your second summer in Batavia and the NY PENN League. You’re now playing against some fresh rookies and some players with 2-3 years of professional experience. What are some of the challenges you’re still facing?

SR: With that fresh talent, there’s always good fresh arms. You’re a pro if you’re here. It doesn’t matter if you’re a new player and this is your first taste, it’s pretty much an even playing field.

MF: Nothing is easy in baseball, especially the minor leagues. However after two seasons now in Batavia have you found it easier to adjust to life in Western NY and life on the road?

SR: The bus trips aren’t that bad. Our longest trip is around 6 1/2 hours, most are shorter drives. The buses certainly weren’t made for guys like me (6′ 7″) to get comfortable on and stretch out. Life in this area is good. It’s a small city but it has everything you need and the community has been very welcoming of us.

MF: After a long day of instruction, practice, then a game, what do you do to relax in your limited free time?

SR: I catch up on my sleep when I can. I love to listen to music.

MF: What kind of music would I find on your phone?

SR: I like a little of everything. Country, classic rock, some oldies, I love just about anything from the 60’s, 70’s & 80″s

MF: What’s some of the best advice you’ve been given by someone in the Marlins organization?

SR: Our manager, Mike Jacobs has been a great influence and example for us to follow. He knows how to teach, has a lot of stories and experience. He’s got recent MLB experience and finished his career with 100 home runs. He always tells me it’s a results based game. He’s a big advocate that when you’re in slump or missing the ball, to remind you not to panic and don’t try to make big adjustments to your approach at the plate. He’ll say the hits will come and that good swings will turn into hits.

MF: Who was your favorite baseball player as a kid?

SR: David Ortiz. My parents lived in New Hampshire for a while before moving to California. My sister lives in Boston, so there was a lot of Red Sox influence when I was younger.

MF: Then I think I know the answer to this, what is your favorite MLB Ballpark?

SR: Oh yeah, Fenway Park

MF: Favorite ballpark food or treat?

SR: Hot dogs – Fenway Franks

MF: What’s better spring baseball or fall baseball?

SR: Fall ball. If you’re still playing in the fall that means you’ve had a good season and you’re part of the post season.

MF: Day games or night games?

SR: Night games. There’s nothing like playing under the lights. The crowds are bigger and the atmosphere has a little more energy to it.

MF: A silly question, yet a baseball one, would you rather sing the National Anthem or dance with the team mascot?

SR: (laughing) I’m not much of a dancer, so I’d rather sing.

MF: A debate I’m stirring up between pitchers and hitters. Why is it called the foul pole?

SR: Ooh, good question, I don’t know, is there a right answer? It’s a home run if you hit it, I’ve never been asked that before.

Sean Reynolds’ offensive stats have continued to climb as he gets more at bats, sees more pitches and faces righties and lefties on a regular basis. His defense is excellent. With his long legs and tall frame, he easily stretches and scoops low throws and turns them into outs. He is vocal on the field and in constant communication with the coaches in the dugout and relays info to the outfield. As I witnessed, Sean is always trying to improve his swing. After BP and before the game he was working individually with Batavia hitting coach, Jesus Merchan then with manager Mike Jacobs. Jacobs was also a first baseman who had the uniqueness of throwing right and batting left. It’s no surprise that Sean respects and looks to his manager for guidance and help to advance his career in baseball.

 

20 Questions with Jeremiah Jackson

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JJ Blog photoWritten by Mark Firkins Photo by Twitter.com

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Jeremiah Jackson, the June 2018 2nd round draft selection by the Los Angeles Angels.

Jeremiah is an exciting young Short Stop from Mobile, Alabama who by his sophomore year of high school had committed to playing college baseball at Mississippi State. However, when the Angels came calling with the 57th overall pick in the 2018 draft, Jeremiah knew it was time for his professional debut.

He’s best described by most scouts and publications as an all around complete player. He features an athletic build and is smooth defensively. He has good range, a strong arm and quick hands making him an ideal double play man at SS. He gets good extension when swinging the bat, makes solid contact, and hits to all parts of the field. He flashes full power when he sees his pitch.

Jeremiah was very polite and personal on the phone. He was polished and honest in his answers about his new life in professional baseball. The following interview took place on Wednesday, July 18th.

MF: Congratulations on your selection by the Angels. They have one of the finest development, training, and coaching staffs in baseball. I can see you excelling in their environment.

JJ: Thank you, it’s a dream come true. I’ve always admired the Angels and now I get to call them my team and hopefully one day my teammates. I am blessed to be in the same organization as Albert Pujols, Upton, Trout, and so many other baseball greats.

MF: You just dropped a few, but can you tell me some of the other big names the Angels have brought into camp and you’ve been introduced to?

JJ: I’ve met so many great people. Jose Molina, Alexis Gomez. I was invited to Anaheim and was introduced to everyone, Mike Scioscia, Eric Hinske, Pujols, Trout, Kinsler, Upton, everyone, my head was spinning meeting everyone being so young.

MF: My head would’ve been spinning as well in that group.

MF: What’s the best advice you’ve been given by someone in the Angels organization that you truly take to heart?

JJ: Everyone is consistent with their message. Work hard and be dedicated. You have to work to get to the next level, nothing is ever given. You have to go out and play every day as if it may be your last day.

MF: You’re playing with and against a great diverse mix of young professionals, new draft picks, international players, and some players with a year or two of professional experience. What are some of the challenges you’ve faced so far?

JJ: You’re right, the talent level is amazing. There are a lot of Latino players and we all have to learn to communicate with each other. We don’t all speak the same language so we have to get to know each other, learn each others signals, use our body language. It’s been an adjustment working together with the 2nd basemen on defense. I’m picking up and understand some Spanish and he’s learning English. We’re all growing together and getting to know each other out on the field together.

MF: Speaking of defense, tell me something about defense you’ve found challenging?

JJ: Working out that communication with my 2nd baseman has been the first. The game is speedier. I take a lot of reps with the defense coaches. I take about 50 reps in practice with the coaches hitting it as hard as they can.

MF: With such a deep and talented pool of pitching prospects on all teams and with young pitchers most likely on a smaller pitch count, you’re seeing 3-5 pitchers per game. Do you find hitters have the disadvantage facing so many frequent pitching changes?

JJ: The pitchers always have the advantage, no matter what level or how many pitchers you may bat against each game. They know what pitch they’re throwing, you don’t. I try to pay attention to the pitcher in his warm ups, read him and look for anything different in his delivery. Once I see a curve or change up I try to remember something in his wind up that I can use so I can recognize it the next time I see it. The coaches tell you what to look for in certain situations and certain counts. I always try to stay ahead in the count, be aggressive, and try not to get behind in a count giving the pitcher back the advantage.

MF: How hard of an adjustment has it been for you swinging a wood bat now in a professional league?

JJ: I’ve trained with a wood bat since high school. I’ve used it in the cages and during BP. I started training with wood very young in case this day ever came. It did and I’m so grateful that I decided to train that way.

MF: You’re batting .295 so far with some extra base hits and a HR. I’d say your training has paid off.

MF: What brands of bats do you prefer?

JJ: Right now my gamers are Marucci. I use an AP 5 model. I also have some Dove Tail and Victus bats that are 271 models that I like.

MF: Did you know that you are the first middle infielder from an Alabama high school to be drafted within the first three rounds of the MLB draft since 1982? Do you know who the 1982 pick was?

JJ: Bo Jackson was the last Alabama pick back then.

MF: Overall, what’s it like being a professional baseball player in the Angels organization?

JJ: Awesome. I play baseball for a living, an absolute dream come true. I love this game and I get to play and improve my game every day. I can’t thank the Angels enough for this opportunity.

MF: I’m an old school guy who still gets the most out of my writing by talking with the players, visiting the ballpark and seeing them in action. I still pay more attention stat lines like AVG, RBI, OBP, FPCT. What do you think about all of the new stat categories, sabr metrics, and technology that a computer can figure out about a player without ever seeing him play?

JJ: The game is always changing. All I can do is work hard and give my best every day. At the end of the game the numbers are what they are. Technology is great though. It has really improved my swing and allowed me to see and learn new things about that part of my game.

MF: In a lot of the minor leagues the players can’t afford their own apartments or can’t find short term rentals, and therefore live with host families in that community. What’s your living situation in the Arizona League?

JJ: The Angels provide us with two bedroom apartments. Right now I have just one roommate and that’s what I expected with an apartment like that. It was funny when I first got out here. I moved into my place and there were already two other players living there as well. So four of us shared a two bedroom unit. That didn’t last too long though. Those guys were promoted to A ball and now it’s just me and my teammate.

MF: You’re from Mobile, Alabama. A long way from home at a young age. What do you miss most about home?

JJ: My family & friends. I grew up in my Grand Dad’s and Mom’s house and they took good care of me. I’m on my own now so I’m responsible for myself. I have to make sure I get up on time, follow my schedule, eat right, and take care of myself.

MF: After a long day of practice, instruction, then a night game, what do you do to unwind and relax in your limited free time?

JJ: My days are long. I’m at the field most days around noon. We take fielding practice, bating practice, shower, eat, then get ready for our game which usually starts at 7:00. I don’t get home until around 11:30 and when I do, I usually shower then get my sleep and rest because I have to do it again the next day.

MF: Do you have any good luck charms, rituals, or baseball superstitions?

JJ: I used to. If I had a good game maybe I’d wear the same socks or compression sleeves again, but I’ve outgrown that. I work and play hard, what happens, happens out there.

MF: I’d like to ask you some quick and fun baseball questions. Answer as many as you can as fast as you can, ready?

– Favorite sport other than baseball?

Auburn Football

– Day games or night games?

Night games

– Spring baseball or Fall baseball

Spring

– Favorite ballpark food or treat?

Nachos

– Favorite MLB ballpark?

Angel Stadium

– Favorite baseball player?

Albert Pujols

– Why is it called the foul pole?

I don’t know, it’s a sight line for me. It’s fair if you hit it.

MF: Jeremiah, thank you for taking the time to speak with me and Real McCoy Minors. It was truly a pleasure chatting with you. Best wishes to you this season in Arizona and your future with the Angels. I hope someday our paths cross at a game and if they do I’ll be sure to introduce myself.

JJ: The pleasure was all mine. You guys do a great job. I look forward to meeting you someday.

Jeremiah Jackson. Professional, polite, mature beyond 18 years old, and hopefully one day in the near future; The Los Angeles Angels Short Stop, teammate of Mike Trout and his idol, Angels 1b/DH, Albert Pujols.

Please follow Mark Firkins on Twitter @thefirkster. Also, check out our eBay store for Minor League Baseball cards and autographed photos. Thanks!

Summer and The NY PENN League

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League Presentation

Written by Mark Firkins

While spring brings me comfort and the start of a new baseball season, it’s summer that brings out my true passion for the game. June signals the start of the NY PENN League. A Class A, short season league that plays from mid June until Labor Day weekend (75 games), featuring 14 teams in three divisions (McNamara, Pickney, and Stedler). The NY PENN League has a long and proud history dating back to 1939. The team closest to my home in Western NY is in Batavia (halfway between Rochester and Buffalo). Batavia has been called home of the NY PENN League and is one of the founding clubs.

The current team is called the Muckdogs and they are affiliated with the Miami Marlins. In the past they have been called the Clippers, Trojans, Indians, and Pirates. They have been affiliated with the Pirates, Mets, Indians, Tigers, Cardinals, and Phillies.

With a population of less than 16,000, Batavia is one of the smallest cities to host a professional baseball team in 21st century United States. Yet, they have produced more than their share of Major League players. Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Carlos Carrasco, J.A. Happ, Gene Baker, Woodie Fryman, Matt Carpenter, Andy Ashby and dozens of others have all called Batavia home for a summer.

While I enjoy my trips to MLB stadiums and my press box view at AAA Rochester, I honestly feel most at home in Batavia and the other NY PENN League stadiums I visit. There is no seat that is not up close to the action. You can hear the players chatter and manager/coaches talk in the dugout. The Umpires calls are loud and clear. The crack of a maple bat can be heard anywhere in the park. While most stadiums are more modern with plenty of good amenities; the crowds, character, and feel of this league is not that far removed from the classic baseball movie Bull Durham.

For most of the players in this league, this is their first taste of professional baseball and part of their long journey to the majors. It’s a diverse mix of the occasional #1 draft picks through #40 picks. Recently graduated and drafted high school players, junior college, Division I, and international players are assembled onto a team and all play together. I’ve seen Indians top pick Will Benson, OF – Mahoning Valley Scrappers, play against Marlins #40 pick Matt Foley, Catcher (both players I have profiled and can be seen in my older posts). I was treated to a perfect game on June 24, 2015 (thrown by Muckdogs Pitchers, Gabriel Castellanos, Brett Lilek, and Steven Farnworth) and have seen 22-0 losses. On rare occasions I’ve seen veteran MLB players on rehab assignments face off against top prospects.

The players are there to learn, mature and develop. There’s no shortage of ex-MLB players who have, or still are, coaching at this level to teach these fresh players the ins and outs of the pro game. Pat Borders, Travis Fryman, Tim Raines, Luke Carlin, Joel Skinner, Buck Showalter and many other famous names have all manned the dugouts in this league. The Brooklyn Cyclones alone feature 1980’s Mets greats Edgar Alfonso, Howard Johnson, and Bobby Ojeda as their coaching trio.

The NY PENN League opens on June 18th. I will once again find my seats in the sun a few rows above the visitors dugout, on the third base side. While rosters are still being put together, I’m excited to watch a fresh batch of eager, young players from all of the teams. I look forward to seeing all of the different uniform colors, interesting team names and logos. I’m eager to witness a player get his first professional hit, RBI, and home run with a wooden bat. As the season progresses I start to wonder, which of these players will eventually make it to their MLB club? Who will be the next Francisco Lindor and rise rapidly through the MiLB system to stardom? Will I watch a player quietly fly under the radar and play his way to a Major League roster like Brian Anderson? Which player will be like Pitcher Brandon Mann? A player who grinds out another season in the minors, becomes a fan favorite, has the heart of a lion, and never gives up on his dream of playing in the MLB.

Summer and baseball go hand in hand. It’s time to get outside, visit with friends you haven’t seen since the end of last season, and meet and chat with new, great baseball fans at the ballpark you’re at that night. To me there’s nothing more American than watching our national pastime and seeing young talent getting their first chance to play professionally. The NY PENN League offers just that, 14 teams, 350 players, most playing professional baseball for the first time and providing their fans with entertainment.

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MiLB – Never Give Up

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Brandon Mann

Written by Mark Firkins Photo by MiLB.com

Stay positive. Stay focussed. Have a good attitude. Keep your eye on the prize. Don’t quit. When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. Follow your dreams. One more, and the most important, NEVER, give up.

We’ve all been given this type of advice and life lessons from our parents, teachers, or coaches. Let’s face it, most of us have had to alter our life’s plans. We’ve made sacrifices, done what’s best for our families, and convince ourselves to be practical. It’s not a bad thing, it’s just what we need to do. Sometimes dreams don’t come true and life finds a different path for you. However, once in a while, someone with courage and determination so strong, defies the odds and inspires a whole new generation of dreamers. A 34 year old Minor Leaguer who made Major League headlines last week is a prime example of this.

Most of my articles concentrate on rookies or young prospects in their first few years of professional baseball. Yet when inspiration strikes, it strikes hard and the story needs to be shared. Brandon Mann, who after toiling in the minors, Japanese, and Independent Leagues since 2002, finally achieved his dreams of playing Major League Baseball and is the inspiration of my latest article.

Brandon Mann is a left handed pitcher, drafted by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays (yes, you read that correct, Devil Rays) in the 27th round in 2002. A true journeyman in every sense of the word. He has played in order, in the following leagues:

2002 – Appalachian League   

2003 – NY Penn League & Appalachian League

2004 – NY Penn League

2005 – Midwest League

2006 – California League

2008 – Florida State League

2009 – Southern Atlantic League

2010 – Atlantic League (Independent)

2011 – Japan Central League

2012 – Japan Central League

2014 – Atlantic League (Independent)

2015 – American Association (Independent)

2016 – Pacific Coast League, Texas League, & Arizona League

2017 – Texas League

2018 – Pacific Coast League

2018 – American League – MLB

* Note in 2007 and 2013 he did not play professional baseball.

That’s a lot of traveling, in a lot of leagues, with a lot of organizations.

Call him lucky. Call him blessed. Call him persistent. Or as the old joke in baseball goes, what do you call an old righty pitcher? Coach. How about an old lefty pitcher? Crafty. Let’s face it, lefty’s sometimes get picked on, teased, and in years past, were forced to be right handers in school and jobs. But in baseball, they still come at a premium, and if there’s a chance they can help your club, they’re worth taking a look at it. That’s exactly what the Texas Rangers did on January 10, 2018. They offered him a minor league contract and assigned him to the Round Rock Express, their AAA affiliate in the Pacific Coast League.

Brandon Mann has a 15 year resume of minor league pitching and has held every job a pitcher can have; starter, long relief, set up, and occasional closer. Through all of his leagues and travels he owns a 59-91 record. A 4.34 ERA and 1.40 WHIP. He’s recorded 4 saves and has 1052 strikeouts in 1274 innings pitched. Brandon Mann wasn’t even on the Rangers 40 man roster. So why make a roster move and purchase the contract of a 34 year old rookie? Surely the Rangers must have a qualified player, righty or lefty, already on their 40 man capable of relief duties. Rangers manager Jeff Banister said. “The command of his fastball, command of his delivery, secondary stuff, how he was handling hitters, all our scouts felt he was a solid option.”

The baseball Gods have smiled upon Brandon in 2018. In his 12 appearances with Round Rock, he has pitched 17.1 innings, posting a 1-0 record, with 13 strikeouts, a 1.04 ERA, 0.75 WHIP, and has kept opponents batting against him to a .133 AVG. A small sample size in the beginning of this AAA season, but arguably his best start to a season and statistics in his pitching career.

On May 13, 2018, 3 days before his 34th birthday, he got the call that all minor leaguers long to hear. His contract had been selected by the Texas Rangers and he had been called up to pitch in the Major Leagues. He would now share a locker near veteran pitchers Cole Hammels, Doug Fister, and Bartolo Colon. He would join the Rangers bullpen and get prepared for when he was to be called upon. In his first ever Major League game (5/13/18), he was summoned from the bullpen and pitched 1.2 innings of relief. He allowed 1 hit, 0 runs and registered no walks or strikeouts. He put up the the same exact stats in his next appearance on 5/15/18.

What does the future hold for Brandon Mann? No one knows. Baseball is a beautiful game but can also be fickle and cruel. He could spend the rest of the season finding his groove and filling a role with the Rangers in the big leagues. He could be DFA, have to clear waivers, and/or be claimed by and play for yet another team and another league. Whatever it may be, you must know by now that Brandon Mann will face any challenge thrown his way. Work as hard and diligent as possible. Be prepared for whenever he is needed and in whatever situation that may be. And of course, Brandon Mann will never give up.

Please follow Mark Firkins on Twitter @thefirkster for more MLB prospect news and updates!

Captains of the Midwest League

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Screen Shot 2018-04-28 at 5.49.15 PMWritten by Mark Firkins

Minor League Baseball has started. With three weeks of play behind us we’re starting to see trends appear from some of the games younger talents. It seems like an eternity since I last visited a baseball stadium. However now that the weather seems to be turning in my favor, I’m making the most of it. I’m getting out to the ballpark as often as I can and visiting as many teams and cities as my schedule allows this season.

It’s no secret that North East Ohio is a favorite road trip of mine. There’s plenty of Major and Minor League baseball in and around Cleveland. Located only 15 minutes east of Cleveland, in East Lake, Ohio, is Classic Park. Home of the Lake County Captains, the Cleveland Indians A affiliate of the Midwest League. Plenty of the Indians current roster have made this a stop on their way to big leagues, including Jason Kipnis, Jose Ramirez, and Francisco Lindor.

A lot of the players on this years Captains roster are familiar to me as I saw plenty of them in action last season in their rookie years with the Mahoning Valley Scrappers of the NY PENN League. Their manager Luke Carlin is also a familiar face. Carlin managed the Scrappers last season and led them to the NY PENN League playoffs and finals. It was wise of the Indians to promote Carlin as the Captains manager as well. He’s familiar with most of the roster, the players have a good rapport, respect, and will continue to develop with him for another year.

Two names from last season that are off to an impressive start this season are SS Ernie Clement and Starting Pitcher Eli Morgan. Ernie Clement is not a name that most baseball fans are familiar with, yet. After being drafted in the 4th round by the Cleveland Indians with the No. 132 overall pick in the 2017 Draft, Clement has flown under-the-radar a bit. Those who do know about him are excited for his future with the Indians.

In his first MiLB season, he split time between second base and shortstop. In 149 innings at second he fielded a perfect 1.000 FPCT. At SS, he played 187 innings, with a .951 FPCT.  At the plate Clement went 49 for 175 for a .280 AVG. So far in 2018 Clement has appeared in 14 of the 16 Captains games as their SS. He’s off to a fast start with the bat, going 20 for 59, a .339 AVG. Clement is definitely a tough out for opposing pitchers. He has an excellent batting eye and rarely strikes out. He has an open batting stance, quick level swing, squares the ball on the barrel, and makes hard contact. He features the potential for a being a top of the order table setter with good base running skills and the ability to steal a few bases.

Clement is known for his enthusiasm and extreme work ethic. I caught up with Ernie during a rain delay, before a game last season and asked him what it was like to be a player in the Indians farm system. He answered “It’s been amazing. First of all the organization has treated me so well. From the coaches to the strength and conditioning department, everyone is fully invested into your development as a player. And then all the guys around me on the field are amazing. Every teammate I’ve had so far has been positive and wants to work hard. It’s really cool to be a part of. I just love playing the game. I have fun and try to make that positive energy contagious. It’s not a job for me, I look forward to showing up to the park every single day.” With a positive attitude like that, strong work ethic, and the skills he has, Clement is likely to have a stellar season with the Captains.

Elijah Morgan was an 8th round pick by Cleveland in 2017. Last season for Mahoning Valley, Eli went 3-2, with a 1.03 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, and struck out 58 batters in 35 innings of work. So far in 2018 he has started 4 games, has a 1-0 record, 1.74 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, and 27 strikeouts through 20 2/3 innings. Morgan mixes a four-seam fastball that sits in the low 90s with a hard slider and a change-up that rates as on of the best in the Indians’ farm system. Morgan is a classic power pitcher who is not afraid to challenge opposing hitters. He idolized Pedro Martinez growing up and said he likens his approach to pitching like Pedro did. “The guy wasn’t afraid of any batter, he threw hard strikes, challenged them to swing at his stuff, and had swagger on the mound.”

Morgan has learned a lot from former MLB catcher and now manager Luke Carlin and his fellow pitchers from last season at Mahoning Valley. He has confidence in himself and teammates after their 44-29 record and run in the NY PENN League playoffs last summer. “The pitchers we have here this season dominated last year at Mahoning Valley. Our goal is to do the same this season in the Midwest League and win a champion-ship.” Morgan’s confidence and abilities will make him a positive addition to the Lake County pitching staff.

Spring baseball has just begun. Summer is just around the corner. One that promises to be one full of adventurous road trips. New stadiums, cities, and exciting baseball at different levels of play for me to view. The opportunity to see how players I’ve enjoyed in the past mature and develop. The chance for me to watch new players show off their baseball skills all summer long.

Please follow Mark Firkins on Twitter @thefirkster for more MLB prospect news and updates!

Opening Day in AAA Rochester

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Red Wings logoWritten by Mark Firkins

While the calendar may say April, Winter obviously didn’t get the memo in the North East. Many home openers in the region were canceled, postponed, and will have to be made up later in the season. Temperatures dipped below freezing. Snow, ice, and tarps covered what were supposed to be manicured fields of green grass and groomed dirt infields. Like so many of my friends and fellow Western New Yorkers, I was aching to get outside, sit in the stands, enjoy some good ballpark food, and witness live baseball again.

Friday, April 6th was the scheduled home opener for the AAA Rochester Red Wings (Minnesota Twins). A few inches of slushy wet snow-covered Frontier Field. Opening day would be moved to Saturday, April 7th. Saturday brought light rain and temperatures in the mid 30’s, no way the field would be dry to play on by the 1:05 scheduled start. Sunday, April 8th would now be opening day. Sunday brought sunshine and mainly clear skies, unfortunately the temperature never got above freezing that day. A three game opening series against our I-90 rivals, the Buffalo Bisons (Blue Jays) wiped out.

Monday, April 9th was now opening day! A new series with another I-90 rival, the Syracuse Chiefs (Washington Nationals), would begin. Monday brought clear skies and low temperatures, the 6:05 game start temperature was a brisk 34 degrees, but baseball would be played that night.

I enjoyed most of the game from the comforts of the press box above home plate. As seen being played out in many other ballparks so far this spring, when the temperatures are that cold, hitting is a luxury. The crowd (announced at 3,286, but I’m guessing the actual number was closer to 500) was not treated to an offensive explosion, but to a classic Pitchers duel.

Rochester Opening DayThe Red Wings started Aaron Slegers, a 2013, 5th round pick by the Minnesota Twins. In 4 MiLB seasons in the Twins organization Slegers has posted a 43-29 record, 3.48 ERA, with 448 strike outs in 107 games. In 2017 he was the Red Wings Ace and showed his best minor league season, starting 24 games, going 15-4 with a 3.40 ERA. On a frosty night in Rochester, Slegers pounded the strike zone and worked 6 solid innings. He allowed 5 hits, walked and struck out 1 and allowed 1 ER. He worked ahead in the count almost all night, throwing first pitch strikes to 20 of the 24 batters he faced. An admirable effort on a bone chilling night.

Relief pitcher, Tyler Duffey entered in the 7th. Duffey was a 5th round pick of the Twins in 2012. He has spent the past few seasons with the big league club. In 2016 he started 26 games and posted a 9-12 record with a 6.43 ERA. 2017 saw him pitch out of the Twins bullpen, where he threw 71 innings of relief in 56 appearances, going 2-3 with a 4.94 ERA. While the Twins aren’t closing the door on Duffey returning as a starter, working in the bullpen as a multi inning reliever will probably be his quickest way back to the big leagues.

In his first relief appearance of 2018, Tyler Duffey was almost perfect. He tossed 3 innings, giving up 0 hits, 0 walks, 0 ER and 1 K, but took the loss. In the 9th inning, with one out, Syracuse SS, Adrian Sanchez hit what appeared to be a routine fly ball to CF. The ball hit Rochester CF Zack Granite’s glove on the heel and popped out, resulting in a 3 base error. Second baseman Irving Falu hit a sacrifice fly to RF to score Sanchez. Rochester threatened in the bottom half of the 9th, but wasn’t able to respond. The Red Wings, after 3 days of delaying their home opener, lost 2-1 on brilliant starting and relief pitching.

This pitchers duel game went by quick and was played in 2 hours and 37 minutes. Thank goodness, as the temperature on the RF scoreboard showed 29 degrees at games end. I give credit to the few hundred die hard fans still left at the end of 9. Sooner or later, warmth will come to my corner of the world. Ski hats will be replaced by ball caps, scarves for shorts, pitchers will lose their advantage of cold bats and baseballs will fly again in the summer air.

Please follow Mark Firkins on Twitter @thefirkster for more MLB prospect news and updates. Also, check  out our collection of autographed photos on eBay!

MiLB players to watch in 2018

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McKenzieWritten by Mark Firkins Photo by MLB.com

Winter and the off-season is no more. The Cactus and Grapefruit Leagues are done playing. Spring training 2018 has come and gone. MLB and MiLB stadiums and fields have been prepared for the fans to enjoy again. Center Field by John Fogerty can be heard again. Baseball season,  IS –  FINALLY –  HERE.

As the 2018 season begins, I look back on the articles and players I have enjoyed researching and wrote about in the off-season. Here’s an update on their status. These up and coming players will start their seasons:

Mitch Garver – C (Minnesota Twins)

After an impressive season in AAA Rochester (International League), Mitch earned a call up to the big leagues last summer. He entered spring training as the solid choice to and will back up Twins established catcher, Jason Castro in 2018. Look for Mitch to take over catching duties when the Twins face an opposing lefty. The Twins are expected to adjust their line up against lefties, and spelling the left-handed hitting Castro follows the Twins logic.

Sam Perez – P (Miami Marlins)

2017 was a tale of two seasons for Perez. In 17 games for the Greensboro Grasshoppers (Carolina League), Sam posted a 2-1 record, 6.21 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, and pitched out of the bullpen. He was assigned to the Batavia Muckdogs (NY PENN League) in June, started 14 games, went 4-2, with a 2.21 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, and struck out 53 batters. How the Marlins will use Perez in 2018 is a mystery. Some Marlins officials project him as a high leverage pitcher with a good fastball, curve and change-up and suited for the 6th and 7th innings. Others describe him as a durable starter who eats innings, keeps the ball in the park, and will give a solid start every 5th day. Sam will start the season for Batavia in June where we will find out if he’s on the mound at the start of the game or get called out of the bullpen for relief.

Thomas Jones – OF (Miami Marlins)

The Marlins #26 prospect will stay in extended spring training and play for the Batavia Muckdogs (NY PENN League) when their season begins in mid June. Jones is arguably one of the best athletes in the Marlins system. He’s a speedy OF who played the majority of his games in CF last season in Batavia, but with his strong and accurate arm can also play the corners. With a year of NY PENN League experience behind him, expect Jones to improve on the offensive side. Jones has a good eye, takes walks, and can swipe bases. Time at the top of the order will probably be seen. He has a quick and level swing and Marlins scouts feel power should develop as Jones matures.

Kyle Nelson – RP (Cleveland Indians) 

Hard throwing Lefty relief pitcher Kyle Nelson will see more action in 2018 as he will be assigned to the Lake County Captains (Midwest League). Nelson is a guy who gets players out from both sides of the plate equally. With a blazing, spinning fastball and excellent off speed slider, Kyle isn’t just a lefty specialist, he is guy you call on to get outs in tough situations and get them out quickly. Dare I say that Kyle Nelson reminds me of another high-profile, Lefty relief pitcher, employed by the Indians, Andrew Miller.

Nolan Jones – 3B (Cleveland Indians) 

Currently the Indians #4 prospect, Nolan will look to continue his impressive batting with the Lake County Captains (Midwest League) in 2018. Captains manager, Luke Carlin, will be patient with Nolan and no doubt help him to improve his defensive skills at the hot corner, as this is only his second season at 3B. A full season of baseball in Lake County will give Nolan plenty of extra at bats and chances in the field to showcase his skills.

Logan Ice – C (Cleveland Indians) 

Logan will move up another level this year and play for the Lynchburg Hillcats (Carolina League). A true defensive catcher, excellent at blocking balls, has a strong and accurate arm, and who pitchers trust and respect calling their games. At the plate, look more at Ice’s OBP than AVG. He’s got a little pop in his bat and can find the wall and gaps, but equally important, is smart enough to take walks and just get on base. Logan has caught for some of the Indians top pitching prospects in his short MiLB career. Playing in the High A Carolina League will get him even more of these opportunities. Logan Ice is the Indians #21 prospect.

Tristan McKenzie – P (Cleveland Indians)

Currently the #2 prospect in the Indians system, the potential is real for Tristan McKenzie to develop into a frontline MLB starter. The 2017 Carolina League Pitcher of the Year winner started 25 games for the Lynchburg Hillcats. He posted a 12-6 record, 3.46 ERA, kept opposing batters to a .203 AVG and struck out 186 batters in 143 innings. The Indians will place McKenzie at Lynchburg to start the 2018 season, but should he continue to meet the Indians expectations, a placement to challenge him further at AA Akron (Eastern League) could be in order.

Matt Foley – C (NY Mets) 

The little engine that won’t quit, Matt Foley, vowed to return to spring training with the Mets organization with a work ethic and determination to advance his career. Playing mostly in the Gulf Coast League the past three seasons, Matt will stay in extended spring training and report to the Brooklyn Cyclones of the NY PENN League when play begins in June. Matt looks to build on his 2017 season where he batted .290 and proved he is a defensive gem behind the plate. Look for this 40th round pick (2015 – Marlins) to give you 100% effort, 100% of the time, and surprise you at the ballpark with his natural abilities.

Royce Lewis – SS (Minnesota Twins) 

The Twins #1 prospect will begin his 2018 season with the Cedar Rapids Kernels (Midwest League). Lewis earned a promotion to Cedar Rapids in August last season and proved he belonged. In 18 games he batted .296, scored 16 runs, and blasted his one Midwest League HR in his first game. Look for Royce to continue hitting for good average and driving the balls to the gaps for extra bases. Derek Jeter is who he inspires to be. Lewis has a good work ethic and aspires to improve his defense and replicate his hero. There’s no doubt that Lewis will be an exciting and fun player to keep an eye on this season.

Nick Gordon – SS/2B (Minnesota Twins) 

The Minnesota Twins #1 pick in 2014 and current #4 Twins prospect will begin his 2018 season with the Chattanooga Lookouts (Southern League). In 2017 for AA Chattanooga, Nick batted .270, with 9 HR’s, 29 doubles, and 66 RBI’s. A SS through most of his career, Nick will be shifted over to 2B for the majority of his playing time this season. Nick is a very quick infielder with excellent range and a good throwing arm. With Brian Dozier the Twins current 2B, expecting to become a free agent after this season, the shift to 2B for Gordon could be his path to the big leagues.

Emmanuel Tapia – 1B (Cleveland Indians)

Last year’s Midwest League Masher, “Manny” Tapia will move up another level to the Lynchburg Hillcats (Carolina League). Manny led the Midwest League in home runs (29) and RBI’s (71) last season. A powerful, Dominican player who can definitely not just hit for power but also average. Look for Manny to improve his pitch recognition, lay off out of the zone pitches, and take some walks. Still somewhat new to 1B, Manny is a hard worker who will take any extra fielding practice he can get and wants to improve all facets of his game.

Ulysses Cantu – 1B (Cleveland Indians)

Strong and athletic are the two perfect words to describe Cantu who will advance to the Lake County Captains (Midwest League). There’s no doubt Cantu has all the tools of a good, professional hitter. He sees the ball well from the pitcher, recognizes pitches, and rarely gets fooled. Where he’ll play on the field in 2018 is a little bit of a mystery. A catcher by trade, who can play 3B but due to all of the Indians prospects there, was shifted to 1B. A 6 foot, righty, first baseman doesn’t translate well. If Cantu’s bat can do the talking, a position will be found for him.

Austin Wynns – C (Baltimore Orioles) 

Austin was assigned to the Norfolk Tides (International League) on March 25th and will begin his first full season at the AAA level. The textbook definition of a catcher; a career .994 FPCT, throws out would be stealers, calls an excellent game, handles his pitchers with respect, and is a natural leader on the field and clubhouse. A decent hitter, who is smart at the plate, structured and disciplined, and gets the job done. Placed on the 40 man roster by the Orioles to protect him from the November rule 5 draft, Austin should be the 1st catcher called up to the O’s should something happen to Caleb Joseph or Chance Sisco.

Chance Sisco – C (Baltimore Orioles)

The Orioles top prospect is ready for the majors. All he has done at every level in the minors is hit for high average, drive in runs, hit doubles, and get on base. In his first full spring training with the big league club, Chance did nothing but impress. He batted to the tune of .429, with 2 HR’s and 10 RBI’s in 35 AB. Look for him to learn the craft of being a solid defensive backstop from veteran catcher Caleb Joseph and ex MLB catcher (now Coach) Einar Diaz.

Alex Murphy – C (Baltimore Orioles)

Drafted as a catcher in 2013, The Orioles asked Alex to learn and play some first base in 2016 and 2017. He did just that and will now call that home for the Frederick Keys (Carolina League) to start the 2018 season. Murphy is just fine with that, “anyway to get to the big leagues” is his attitude. Murphy is a strong right-handed batter with power to all fields. Since learning first base, Murphy has seen a spike in his home runs, bashing 27 of his 35 in 2016/17. With the Orioles thin on first base prospects this may be the perfect opportunity for Murphy and his attitude to succeed.

Will Benson – OF (Cleveland Indians) 

1st round pick in 2016 and current #7 Indians prospect, Will Benson will play a full season of baseball for the Lake County Captains (Midwest League). Benson lead the NY PENN League in home runs last season and will look to build his offensive capabilities at the next level. Benson has all of the tools you need in an OF, speed, strong arm, alertness, and agility. Benson played most of his games in RF last year but can and probably will learn to play all three OF positions this year.

Conner Capel – OF (Cleveland Indians) 

Capel moves up another level of baseball this season and is assigned to the Lynchburg Hillcats (Carolina League). Conner brings a little bit of everything to his game; good arm strength and can play all three OF spots equally well, has speed and can steal bases, at the plate features a smooth left-handed swing, good batter’s eye, and decent power (22 HR’s & 61 RBI’s in 2017). Currently ranked #12 on the Indians prospect list, watch for Conner to continue his success and development in the Carolina League in 2018.

Mitch Longo – OF (Cleveland Indians)

Mitch pummeled his way through the Midwest League’s pitchers last season showing a slashline of .361/.431/.530  – He covers the entire plate and strike zone with his swing and places the ball in all parts of the field. Mitch has excellent speed and stole 20 of 21 bases. Longo’s speed and arm strength make him a natural fit for RF, where he played all of his games defensively last season. Mitch earned a late season call up to the Lynchburg Hillcats (Carolina League), impressed in his short stint there, and will be assigned to for the 2018 season. Mitch ranks #27 on the Indians prospect list.

Zack Littell – P (Minnesota Twins) 

Zack Littell will begin his second season in the Twins organization with the AA Chattanooga Lookouts (Southern League). Zack has done nothing but impress in his short time in AA baseball. He has gone 19-1, with a 2.21 ERA and 1.12 WHIP. He is a RHP with excellent command, rarely gives up a walk, and has finesse. His pitch arsenal features a cut fastball, flashy curveball, and deceptive change-up. Zack gets ahead early in the count, mixes his pitches well and produces a lot of ground ball outs. Zack Littell is currently the #15 prospect in the Twins system.

LaMonte Wade – OF (Minnesota Twins) 

Wade will begin another season with the AA Chattanooga Lookouts (Southern League). Since being drafted in the 9th round in 2015, Wade has performed above average at every level he’s played. Through three MiLB seasons, Wade shows a .295 AVG, .404 OBP, 24 home runs, and has stolen 27 bases in 34 attempts. Wade’s alertness and speed has played him defensively mostly in CF and LF. Launch angle and leverage are key buzz words you’re hearing from successful MLB batters lately. The Twins want to teach those mechanics to Wade and see the results turn into more power and HR’s. LaMonte Wade currently places #13 in the Twins prospects rankings.

Jim Curtis – RP (Minnesota Twins)

Curtis will look to build on the success he had at AAA Rochester (International League) last season and start the year there. The Twins brought in some quality veteran arms in Addison Reed, Zach Duke, and Fernando Rodney to replace retired closer Glen Perkins and traded away reliever Brandon Kinztler. If Curtis produces similar results at AAA like he did last year, there’s no doubt that his services will be one of the first called upon, should the Twins bullpen need some help. Curtis currently is ranked as the #21 prospect in the Twins farm system.

Please follow Mark Firkins on Twitter @thefirkster and check out our eBay store for autographed Minor League Baseball cards and team sets. Thanks!

Firkins

Spring Time in AAA Rochester

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Rochester-Red-WingsWritten by Mark Firkins Photos by MiLB.com

“Baseball, it happens every Spring.” I’ve seen that phrase on posters, social media posts, and captioned on photographs with beautiful blue sky, green grass, and Rawlings baseballs lying lazily somewhere near a base line of a freshly prepared spring training field. To me, that phrase means a little bit more. Living in Western New York, near the shore of Lake Ontario, winter hangs around a little longer. We get teased by some mild weather days in March, only to be brought back to reality by a fresh round of snow and ice the next few days. Then the process repeats, sometimes until April (even May, don’t laugh, I have experienced snow on Mother’s Day).

Like a lot of baseball fans, I stare at the calendar and count down the days until opening day of baseball season. I live for that opportunity to sit outside and watch live baseball again. For me, that day comes around the first weekend in April. That’s when my hometown Minor League team, the Rochester Red Wings begins play. As stated, Rochester weather in April can be fickle. I’ve been to opening day in my winter gear and sat through snowflakes. I’ve gotten sunburn in shorts and T-shirts on those rare summer-like days. I’ve been to a game in every type of weather in between. The Red Wings have an excellent opening day promotion, their 50 degree guarantee. If the opening pitch temperature is under 50 degrees, your ticket is good for a free admission to any other game in April or May. I have received that “free” ticket offer at a 90% rate.

The Red Wings are the AAA affiliate (International League) of the Minnesota Twins, one step away from Major League Baseball. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing a lot of great Twins prospects and MLB stars. Denard Span, Justin Morneau, Joe Mauer, Michael Cuddyer, Francisco Liriano, Johan Santana, and Byron Buxton are some of the more notable alumni of the Red Wings.

The Minnesota Twins do an admirable job of drafting and developing their players. They are also very wily on recognizing players put on waivers from other organizations, claiming them, and unearthing their success. While I’m excited to see the entire team in action soon, I am especially intrigued to see the following players in a Red Wings uniform.

John Curtiss – Relief Pitcher

John CurtissWith his tall 6′ 4′ frame, downward angle, and fastball that ranges 95-98 mph, it’s clear that the back-end of the bullpen is where Curtiss’ future lies. He has also developed a slider that’s a true out pitch that misses bats. In 2017 Curtiss spent time in AA Chattanooga and AAA Rochester. In 49 innings pitched he posted a 2-0 record, 1.28 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, kept opposing batters to a minuscule .135 AVG, and converted 19 of 20 save opportunities.

The Twins added some quality veteran arms to their bullpen for the 2018 season (Addison Reed, Fernando Rodney, and Zach Duke) which will allow Curtiss to experience a full season at AAA and/or get ready for his call to Minnesota. It wouldn’t be any surprise if John Curtiss one day is the Twins valuable set up man or even closer.

LaMonte Wade – OF

LaMonte WadeWhen a 9th round pick continually performs at every level he’s assigned to, you have to take notice and start believing that this player is legit. Drafted in 2015, Wade has played his way up the Twins Minor League ladder. In 3 seasons of minor league ball, Wade has posted a .295 AVG, with 44 doubles, 12 triples, 24 home runs, and walks more than he strikes out. He has good bat speed that translates into a high average.

The Twins want to teach Wade to leverage the ball more, add a little extra power and some home runs. He has decent speed and can play all three outfield spots. LaMonte Wade could be that surprising player who can become an everyday guy; best suited for left field or be a solid, productive fourth or platoon outfielder.

Zack Littell – Starting Pitcher

Zack LittellZack Littell is the type of pitcher that maybe you call “in demand”. He’s been traded twice, first from his original team the Mariners, then to the Yankees after the 2016 season. The Yankees then traded him to the Twins for Jaime Garcia at the trade deadline in 2017.

Littell features an average fastball in the low 90’s. He also throws a flashy curveball as his secondary pitch and has developed a quality change up for a third offering. Zack’s success is largely due to his ability to get ahead early in the count and show good command. He mixes his pitches well and produces a lot of ground balls.

The past two seasons Littell has pitched extremely well at the AA level. In 2017 he posted an outstanding 19-1 record, 2.12 ERA, and 1.12 WHIP. Littell rarely gives free passes as shown by his 2.2 walks per nine innings ratio thus far in his minor league career. The Twins are no doubt excited to have Littell in their system for a full season and knocking on their big league door someday soon.

Frontier Field will soon be open. The sights, sounds, and smells of the ballpark will fill the air. Baseball will be played at 1 Morrie Silver Way and Spring in Rochester will officially begin.

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