Plenty of Good Baseball in the Eastern League This Past Season!

By Rodger M. Wood

One run games, close Northern and Southern Division pennant races, extra inning playoffs, a multitude of top prospects playing good baseball, lots of low run pitching and clutch hitting thrilled AA – Eastern League fans all 2008 season.

Beating Akron 3 games to 1. Yankees AA- Trenton Thunder won a second consecutive Eastern League championship,

Top Yankees prospect CF Austin Jackson was named EL Playoff MVP hitting 259 with two HR and a team high 7 RBI during the playoffs and making a couple unbelievable catches in game 3 that could have been HR that tilted the course of the championship playoff series in favor of Akron.

 

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Austin Jackson
In the final game, RHP Jason Marquez pitched 1-run ball for 6 IP and Jason Jones pitched shut out ball the last 3 innings.

 

After a fantastic season, MLB Advanced Media named the Trenton Thunder 2008 winner of the “Minor League Yearly Award for the Best Team at Double A Level.”

Led by first year AA- manager, Mike Sarbaugh, Southern Division Wild Card Champions, Cleveland Indians AA – Akron Aeros were good runner-ups to Trenton after beating Bowie 3 games – 1 in the division playoffs.

Major league rehab, Travis Hafner and top prospect OF Matt LaPorta, who came over to the Indians in the CC Sabathia trade, hit decisive HR in division series games.

 

LaPorta Matt 

Matt LaPorta
Doing what he had all regular season, Indians 3B prospect, Wes Hodges gobbled up every ball he could get his hands on at the hot corner and got some clutch hits.

 

Baltimore Orioles Bowie Bay Sox played all their cards during the regular season coming up short in the division playoffs to a tough Akron team.

RF Nolan Reimold ensured a victory with 3 homers and a career high 8 RBI to power Bowie over Akron in Game 2 of the division series.

Up from Fast A Frederick to Bowie June 27th, C Matt Wieters hit 365 BA, 12 HR, and 51 RBI in 65 games, helping the Bay Sox win the regular season Southern Division title by four games over second place Akron. For his heroics during the regular season, Baseball America named Matt Wieters, “2008 Minor League Player of the Year.”

 

Wieters Matt 

Matt Wieters

Rodger’s Diary – Louisville Bats 2008

Triple A – International League – Cincinnati Reds

I saw Louisville play just once this season at The Diamond in Richmond VA on a Saturday night before my grandson Sebastian’s first birthday party the following day.

Through the years, probably as far back as 1993, I’ve seen Louisville play at the old Fairgrounds Stadium in Louisville, Cooper Stadium, Columbus, and a lot at The Diamond in Richmond, VA, which is only about 145 miles southeast of my house.

In fact, I shot Louisville photos when they were still a St. Louis Cardinals AAA – franchise with Todd Zeile catching behind the plate.

I can remember once deciding to shoot only action shots of outfielder and football safety Neon Deion Saunders rather than humble myself by asking the very egotistical player to pose for my camera.

Another aside about Saunders – one time taking photos by the batting cage during New York Yankees warm ups at old Baltimore Memorial Stadium, I decided to put my camera down while he hit because I thought . he swung the bat so badly I’d be wasting my film taking photos of a player who could not hit a lick in practice.

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View the Louisville galleries.

This season is a special one for Louisville as they have the BA #1 prospect in minor league baseball, Jay Bruce, playing right field for them.

Rodger’s Diary – Frederick Had Good Pitching But Not Lots of Timely Hitting Punch This Year!

After winning the Carolina League Championship in 2007, the Frederick Keys, plagued by call ups, injuries and inconsistency, came up way short both halves in 2008.

They finished with an overall 63 – 76 W-L record, a third place finish with a 34-36 record n the Northern Division the first half, and a last place fourth place finish with 29 – 40 the second half,, both halves 8 games behind the division leading Potomac Nationals.

While the overall performance was sub par, individual performances were not all bleak this season.

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Brandon Snyder hit 315 BA, 13 HR, drove in 80 RBI, was the second leading hitter (BA) in the Carolina League and was named Carolina League Player of the Month of August with a 388 BA, 7 2B, 3 HR, and
18 RBI.


Ourfielders Chris Vinyard (240 BA, 16 HR, and 65 RBI) and Brandon Tripp (236 BA, 17 HR, and 69 RBI) provided some power hitting.

RHP Jake Arrieta was named Carolina League Pitcher of the Year, and the team‘s lone all star with a 6-5 W-L Record and a 2.87 ERA before helping the U.S. Olympic team win the bronze at Beijing.

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RHP Brandon Erbe finished the season strong, allowing no runs in 3 of 5 August starts and back to back shutouts his last two starts while compiling an overall 10-12 W-L, 4.30 ERA record.

Right hander Jacob Renshaw (9-11, 5.11 ERA), Kyle Schmidt (4-4, 3.57), and Jeff Moore (5-3, 3.63 ERA)
kept the Keys in most games.

Rodger’s Diary – Salt Lake City Bees and Pacific Coast League – Go West Young Folks, Go West!

If I were a younger person starting all over, I’d consider making that long trek west to raise my young family in Salt Lake City, Utah.

While not a Mormon as many in that city, I have to respect people, who against all odds, went west to a then desolate area to practice their religion and strong family values, which still characterize the area over 100 years later.

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View the Salt Lake City Bees galleries.

You can eat off the streets there, they are so clean and get lost in the solitude of surrounding mountains if you want some spiritual comfort.

Money is not the driving force behind everything. You don’t have to check your back pocket for your wallet every time someone says help “hello” to you.

People talk to you there because they are genuinely interested in you as an individual and still enjoy people gatherings just to be with each other.

You can suck the air deep into your lungs and drink the water without fear of poisoning yourself.


And you can go to Franklin Covey Stadium to enjoy the family environment at a Salt Lake Bees ball game and not have to cope with the belligerent folks and drunks who frequent Thirsty Thursdays back East and are found elsewhere in droves at many other major sporting events.
Wood
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View the Tacoma Rainiers and Sacramento Bees galleries.

While there in July, I saw three Pacific Coast League ball games, enjoying the home team Salt Lake Bees, who are the Triple A Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim affiliate play three games, Tacoma Rainiers, the Seattle Mariners AAA, two games, and Oakland A’s Sacramento River Cats, one game..

I saw my adopted cousin, Salt Lake SS, Brandon Wood, Sacramento 1B, Casey Rogowski, who graduated from Detroit Catholic Central, the same High School I did many moons ago, and many other of my favorite ball players.

Special SL Photo 1

Brandon promised to hit and did hit a homerun so I could get a photo of his perfect swing in action, and Casey assured me he was behaving himself so I didn‘t have to turn my head next time I saw the priests and brothers who taught us at our old alumnae and whom I had promised to keep an eye on this youngster so he wouldn’t succumb when confronted with the rigorous challenges of professional baseball.

Rodger’s Diary – Boise Hawks 2008

I finally made it to Boise!

Considering I had started off there twice by car from Ogden, Utah, only to turn around when it dawned on me it was too far to drive there in one or two days. I was overjoyed when my plane landed at Boise Airport even though it was July 13th

It had been embarrassing to tell my former Vine Line and one of my favorite editors, Jim McArdle, I had failed him twice, and I didn’t want to repeat that ordeal with my new editor, Michael Huang, so this time I had to beat the odds by taking a plane which got me there in less than an hour.

Josh Vitters
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View the Boise Hawks galleries.

It was also the first time I would see a Rookie A – Northwest League game and while Tacoma and Fresno may be further, Boise was close to the furthest I had ever traveled to see a minor league baseball game.

After a nice Sunday steak and Idaho potato dinner at a blue blood restaurant, which was the first decent dinner I had in a week of travel having dined on ball park franks other evenings, I drove by the Hawks’ Memorial Stadium to get a feeling for where it was and how it looked. I was pleasantly surprised that it was a small park with a small park intimacy that would serve my photography quite well.


I got to the ball park early the next day but not before the Boise Hawks who were there surprisingly early considering they had just come a long road trip the day before.

The young Cubbies were eager to get their photos taken for Vine Line, the official Chicago Cubs team magazine, that I have free lanced for the past 15 seasons. I scheduled much of the team to have their photographs taken after batting and infield practice so I wouldn’t interfere with their work priorities.

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Much of the future Chicago Cubs’ infield may be playing at Boise this season.. The top 2008 Cubs BA prospect, Josh Vitters, is at 3B hitting 344 BA, 2 HR, and 18 RBI and fielding like he’s Brooks Robinson in the 1970 World Series. Drafted this past June in the first round supplemental out of Vanderbilt University, SS, Ryan Flaherty is hitting 280 BA, 2 HR, and 7 RBI. Drafted out of Cincinnati U in the 6th round, Josh Harrison is at 2B, and a dark horse 16th round pick, Ryan Keedy, out of Alabama Birmingham, is at 1B.
hitting 308, 1 HR, and 21 RBI.

Kyler Burke is hitting for power with 3 HR, 20 RBI at the same time he is showing good range in right field.

I was very much impressed with LHP Jeff Beliveau DNA as well as his pitching. He is a great nephew of Montreal Canadiens hockey great, Jean Beliveau, and is 2-1 W-L, 3.86 ERA in relief. RHP Chris Carpenter, a third round draft out of Kent State, is 1-0 W-L, 1.69 ERA in 5.1 IP. and the pitching staff work horse, Herol Tolentino, is 3-0 W-L, with a 3.09 ERA in 32.0 IP.

Rodger’s Diary – Asheville Tourists – 2008 – More June 8- 9th

In an earlier article, “Look Homeward Angel,” I told you how great I thought the city of Asheville and surrounding mountains were. If I had my druthers, I would have been content to stay and shoot
photograph of the Low A – Rockies Asheville Tourists and other SALLY teams visiting Asheville all summer.

Tourists General Manager Larry Hawkins and the front office staff, team manager Joe Mikulik (although he didn’t like my Oklahoma cap very much because he‘s a diehard Texas fan), pitching coach Doug Linton, hitting coach Houston Jimenez, and all the Tourist players were great to me during my three day stay.
I want to say, “thank you,” to you all for a good time. You’re good people!

JhoulysDarin
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View the Ashville Tourists galleries.

Very near to clinching the Southern Division SALLY League first half championship with a 46-24 W-L record, yet unbelievably only a game in front of the Yankees’ Charleston River Dogs, the Tourists are pitching and playing almost flawless baseball offensively and defensively.

Seven Tourists were named to the league’s Southern Division All Star team: pitchers Jhoulys Chacin, Joey Williamson and Randall Taylor, infielders Darin Holcomb and Everth Cabrera, and outfielders Brian Rike and Michael Mitchell. Joe Mikulik will serve as manager, and Doug Linton, pitching coach. In recognition of his 10-1 W-L record, 2.10 ERA in 98.2 IP, RHP Chacin was named Southern Division starting pitcher.

The Tourists are also blessed with Baseball America Colorado Rockies’ top prospects: #14 OF Brian
Rike, #18 RHP Jhoulys Chacin, #23 SS Helder Velaquez, #26 C Lars Davis, #29 RHP Connor Graham, and #30 RHP Cory Riordan.

I think overlooked for prospect status and playing good ball are position players, 3B Darin Holcomb, who is hitting 332 BA, 9 HR, and 53 RBI in 265 AB, CF Michael Mitchell, who is hitting 325 BA, 3 HR, 27 RBI in 246 AB, Kevin Clark, 309 BA in 188 AB, 8 HR, 33 RBI, and 1B Jeffrey Cunningham, who is hitting 260 BA, with 12 HR and 54 RBI in 242 AB. RHP Sheng-An Kuo (8-4, 3.82 ERA), Joey Williamson (2-0, 1.90 ERA), and Randall Taylor (1-1, 2.57 ERA) are also deserving some recognition.

On Saturday, I saw Asheville Mayor Terry M. Bellamy, and Tourists’ GM Larry Hawkins present retired Tourists’ #50 jersey to former SALLY President, John Henry Moss in recognition of his 50 years – service as league president.

Rodger’s Diary – Ogden Raptors 2008

You wouldn’t believe the fun I had with the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Rookie A Pioneer League Ogden Raptors the two days I was at Lindquist Field in July.

President/Chairman Dave Baggott, GM Joey Stein, and Marketing Adam Turner greeted me cordially at the door, manager Mike Brumley, batting coach Michael Boughton, and pitching coach Craig Bjornson gave me the right away to take my photos, and the Raptors treated me like a member of the family, joking around before games, inviting me to sit in their dugout to shoot pictures during the game, showing me how they could raise their caps with hot air coming out of their ears, and generally making me feel at home. I hated to leave Lindquist Field for Salt Lake City, Orem, and Boise when it was time to go.

While 19-19 W-L and 500 the first half, I think the Raptors will come back strong the second half. Mike Brumley and his staff will develop these youngsters into strong contenders.

WattGeison
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They have a pair of strong starters in RHP Geison Aquasviva, (3-2 W-L 3.35 ERA) and RHP Michael Watt (4-3, 3.46 ERA).

They’re strong up the middle with catcher Matt Wallach (293 BA, 3 HR, and 20 RBI), shortstop Devaris Gordon (304 BA, 1 HR, 16 RBI), outfielder Kyle Russell (306 BA, 7 HR, and 34 RBI) and at the hot corner with Dodgers’ #10 BA prospect, Pedro Baez (276 BA, 6 HR, and 33 RBI).

And they are stacked with lots of high 2008 draft picks – #3 Kyle Russell out of Texas, #5 RHP Jon Michael Redding, out of Florida CC, #8 OF Nick Buss from USC, #9 Steven Casceres from James Madison, #12 3B Austin Yount, who you can look at and tell immediately is a Yount, from Stanford, #14 Clay Calfee, OF from Angelo State (Texas), and #23 Brian Ruggiano 2B out of Texas A&M, all of whom could find themselves again before the end of the season.

Rodger’s Diary – You Gotta Like The Billings Mustangs This Year!

I love rookie ball! If I had my druthers, I would stay out west all summer to photograph young Pioneer League ball players at Ogden and Orem every day. They are new to professional baseball, enthusiastic, and anxious to do well. They put out 120 % effort but still make little league mistakes, which make the games more exciting.
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Playing with lots of heart and talent, college kids who Reds brass filled the roster of their Pioneer League Rookie A Billings Mustangs up with this season are making them look good.

Led by experienced savvy veteran manager Julio Garcia, pitching coach Tom Browning, who’s been to the show a few times, and batting coach Tony Jaramillo, these youngsters are playing heads up ball and won the first half Pioneer League Northern Division title.

Their every day lineup is packed with some hitting punch and sound defense.

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#6 draft pick, Alex Buchholz out of Delaware University, is showing a good glove at 2B and hitting a ton (366 BA, 3 HR, and 20 RBI in 82 AB).

Pioneer League player of the week, OF Tony Brown is the team slugger with 10 HR, 35 RBI, and a respectable 270 BA.

Catcher Kyle Day, drafted out 12th of Michigan State, is strong behind the plate and hitting 324 BA, 1 HR, 7 RBI in 74 AB in 20 games played.

Outfielders, #9 David Sappelt, from Coastal Carolina, is playing flawless defense and hitting 318, 4 HR, and 23 RBI, while OF Tyler Stovall , out of Central Michigan, is holding his own, hitting 349 BA, 1 HR, 13 RBI in 106 AB

A grandson of one of my favorite pitchers in the 50s who was also the ace of the 1950 Philadelphia Whiz Kids, 1B Mike Konstanty, #19 from Albany U, is showing power at the plate, hitting 314 BA with 5 HR, and 24 RBI.

The key to Billings’ strength is steady pitching, which Coach Browning has patiently nurtured along this season. RHP Jamie Arneson (4-1, 4.43), RHP Leonardo Astorga (3-1, 2.45 ERA in 40.1 IP), RHP Dan Zeffiro (2-0, 2.84 ERA in 25.1 IP), RHP Lance Janke (3-1, 4.31 ERA in 39.2 IP) and RHP Randall Linebraugh RHP 1-2, 3.14 ERA in 14.1 IP) are bearing the fruit of his labor.