Glorious 2015 Baseball Season!
By Rodger M. Wood
I hated to see the 2015 baseball season, my 32nd as a professional sports photographer, come to an end.
Getting an earlier start on my photography and being able to see 61 ball games, 37 different teams and shoot and edit over 45,000 photos in 12 different venues, ranging from down south in Kodak, Tennessee and Zebulon N.C. , northeast to Erie Pa, Syracuse, NY, and Burlington VT, and nearby in Frederick, Bowie, Aberdeen and Hagerstown, MD, Potomac, VA, Harrisburg, PA, and Washington, DC, in mostly nice bright day light, made it a glorious season.
I also felt extremely responsible, more animated with energy, and good about my photography shooting all those photos for Baseball America, Boston Baseball, Sporting News, Orioles Kids Magazine, Vine Line, Reds Report, and Leaf Baseball Cards.
At a Nationals game in May, I enjoyed meeting up with some old friends (but younger than me) Matt LeCroy, Randy Knorr, Steve McCatty, Michael Taylor and several other National players whom I saw grow up in the minors, including 2015 MVP Bryce Harper who feasted on Miami Marlins’ pitchers that day with three homers.
At the NY/PA League All Star Game at Aberdeen, MD in August, probably because I was the oldest photographer there and representing “Baseball America,” I loved being treated with the upmost respect and consideration by the many other press corp members and team representatives there. I enjoyed running the four young Lowell Spinner Boston Red Sox all stars, Josh Ockimey, Chad DeLaGuerra, Luis Alexander Basabe, and Victor Acosta, New York Yankees outfielder Jhalen Jackson, and Orioles shortstop Ricardo Andujar through my photography antics well before the game and later taking low light shots of other players during the game just like the good old days when I did that a lot.
I enjoyed taking action photos of the AAA – Pawtucket Red Sox for “Boston Baseball” at Syracuse NY, action and posed of the Rookie A Lowell Spinners at Burlington, VT, and Aberdeen MD, Low A Greenville Drive at Hagerstown MD, and Fast A Salem Red Sox at Zebulon, NC, Frederick MD, and Potomac VA . I go way back to 1992, with the BB Managing Editor and Publisher, Michael Rutstein and always get hyped up when working for him and that Sports Illustrated quality magazine, which seems to get better and better every season.
I also enjoyed taking action shots of the young Cubs prospects at AA Tennessee Smokies at Kodak TN, and Fast A- Myrtle Beach Pelicans for the Chicago Cubs archives, Steve Green, Cubs team photographer, and Vine Line, the Cubs team magazine.
I enjoyed taking photos of young Orioles prospects, Trey Mancini, Parker Bridwell, and Mike Yastrzemski at Fast A- Frederick, Low A-Delmarva, AA Bowie, and Rookie A Aberdeen for editor Joe Cooney and the “Orioles Kids” Magazine.”
I enjoyed shooting my Bradley Zimmer prospect photos at Harrisburg PA and Lynchburg VA for my friends, Scott Smith, managing editor and Scott Greig, my photography editor at Sporting News Baseball Annal.,
I enjoyed seeing and taking photos of the young Washington Nationals prospects at AAA Syracuse NY, AA Harrisburg PA, Fast A Potomac, Low A Hagerstown MD, and Rookie A Aberdeen for possible use by the Washington Nationals in their “Minor League Report” which was shown on the big tele screen every home game at Nationals Stadium.
I enjoyed spending time with lots of old friends including Billy Gardner, AAA Syracuse manager, Mark Harris, AA Harrisburg hitting coach, Franklin Bravo, pitching coach at Fast A – Potomac, Keenie Steenstra pitching coach at Frederick Keys, Blaine Beatty, pitching coach at Low A – Delmarva, Alan Mills at AA Bowie Bay Sox, Ryan Minor manager at Low A Delmarva, Charles Poe, hitting coach and JR Perdue pitching coach at Fast A Winston Salem, Steve Luebber pitching coach at Fast A –Wilmington. Paco Figueroa, Fast A Frederick hitting coach, Carlos Febles manager, Jon Nunnally hitting coach Paul Abbot pitching coach, and Mickey Jiang, coach with the Salem Red Sox, and lots of other good friends it would take pages to list.
And most of all, I enjoyed talking with, teasing, and watching the young ball players, some of whom are designated below as “Rodger’s Picks,” develop their skills, die a million deaths with each bounce of the ball, and grow up playing the sometimes very cruel business and game of professional baseball at an early stage in their young lives. Not many of these young men will make the majors and it is sad to see most of them drop off the prospect radar but at least they can say they tried and enjoyed the opportunity of playing professional baseball at a level far in excess of most other folks playing the game, and stuck it out to the end.
I am going to list my top twelve (12) 2015 Season Rodger’s Picks below, who were my selections based on some valid and invalid criteria: talent, performance, likeability, hustle, hard play, and sportsmanship.
2015 Top Twelve (12) Rodger’s Picks
1. Trey Michalczewski, 3B, Fast A, Winston Salem Dash, Chicago White Sox
Trey first got my attention one day in July at Frederick MD when I saw the 20 year old dive to the ground to field a shot hit to his right, just inside the 3B bag, get up in a flash and throw the runner out at first. I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was a fantastic play, the best defensive play I had seen all season. He also hit for average (259 BA) and showed signs of power (35 2B 4 3B 7 HR) last season in 127 games played at Winston Salem against older, more savvy Fast A Carolina League pitchers. I think this youngster will be heir apparent to the Chicago White Sox hot corner in a couple seasons, even though they just traded for Reds 3B and home run and rbi leader Todd Frazier.
2. 2. Keon Bynum, 1B, Fast A Winston Salem Dash, Chicago White Sox
Twenty-two year, White Sox 1B and DH prospect Keon Bynum was the only hitter I photographed last season who was smiling when he ripped a double down the first base line for extra bases. Tested by tough Fast A Carolina League pitchers, he hit 24 2B, 9 HR, and drove 67 RBI in 105 games played at Winston Salem in 2015. In a season or two, after he shortens his swing and cuts down on strike outs, he will win a job with the parent White Sox. He has the power to be both a home run hitting first baseman or designated hitter.
3. Bradley Zimmer, CF, Fast A- Lynchburg Hill Cats, and AA Akron Aeroes, Cleveland Indians
You will to hear the name, “Bradley Zimmer” a zillion times in the near future. This twenty -three year old, 2014 Indians #1 draft pick has 5-tool talent. He runs like a gazelle, he throws accurately for distance, is a ball hawk in CF, and hits for average and power.
In only his first full professional season, he sped through Fast A Lynchburg and AA Akron and will probably start the 2016 season at AAA Columbus before getting a call up to the Cleveland Indians. He could be a franchise player.
T Eastern League MVP, 1B Trey Mancini helped his Bowie teammates win their first ever AA Eastern League championship in 2015. He is a proverbial 1B, clutch hitting for power and fielding all grounders hit his way. The 23 year old, Notre Dame alumna hit 359 BA, 13 HR, and drove in 57 RBI in 84 games played his first exposure to AA ball. In 52 games played at Fast A Frederick, he hit 314 BA, 8 HR, and 32 RBI. He’ll start the 2016 season at AAA Norfolk and make Orioles’ fans forget Chris Davis by mid season.
Raudy Read is a Washington Nationals’ “diamond in the rough.” After making his debut at Low A Hagerstown in mid May, hitting 244 BA, 5 HR, and 36 RBI in 82 games played, he kept adding glimmer to his play, until the 22-year catcher was making making throws to nail runners at 1B, 2B, 3B, handling pitchers like a vet, and hitting the ball with extra base authority. He finished the 2015 season at Fast A Potomac dazzling the fans there too with his increasing brilliance.
This 20-year old 2B bubbles with enthusiasm every time he steps onto a baseball field. At Fast A Salem in 2015, he 27 2B, 2 3B, 6 HR, and drove in 47 RBI and was hitting #3 in the lineup by the end of the season. You can’t help liking the way he plays the game day in and day out. He hustles, is quick to get balls hit wide to his left, executes the double play well, and hits a heavy ball hard to all parts of the field. He is fast enough to be a base stealing threat as well as strong enough to punch balls over the fence.. Almost ready to blossom on the Boston Red Sox’ horizon, Wendell could become a fan favorite of Fenway Park partisans someday soon.
7. Dale Carey, Low A-Hagerstown Suns, Washington Nationals
D You can’t help but hope this young Washington Nationals outfielder succeeds at the game. He hit 18 2B, 2 3B, 8 HR, and drove in 52 RBI at Low A Hagerstown and he hustled on every play, learned from every mistake, and got better at the plate and in the outfield every game he played last season. The parent club will let Dale develop in the minors at his own pace but he has all of the tools to be a good center or right fielder. When he gets better plate discipline and lays off the hard to hit pitches he could develop into an ideal lead off hitter and accelerate through Fast A Potomac, AA Harrisburg, and AAA Syracuse to fill the needs of the parent club..
8. Mitch Horacek, Fast A Frederick Keys, Baltimore Orioles
B A south paw myself, I’m bias about Orioles left hander Mitch Horacek Plus, he likes my pictures. But dismissing those invalid reasons for judgment of his baseball skills, I have to say Mitch pitches with a lot of heart and soul. He has the potential to be a major league starter with the parent club once he is fine tunes his pitch command and location. He threw 154 innings last year at Fast A- Frederick, striking out almost an average of one hitter per inning (146 K) while walking only 52 batters. Under the capable tutelage of Orioles minor league pitching coaches, Blaine Beattie, Kennie Steenstra and Alan Mills, Mitch will learn the pitching trade and succeed at AA Bowie, AAA Norfolk, to find himself pitching off the mound at Camden Yards.
A Drew is a big raw boned 21 -year old Oklahoman 3B with an unlimited potential to be an outstanding major league ball player. In 111 games last season at Fast A – Potomac, he showed a good glove and strong arm at the hot corner and hitting 6 HR and driving in 47 RBI, flashes of power at the plate. Like most young ball players, he has to learn how to out think opposing pitchers, who in the Carolina League were typically more mature and savvy than the pitchers he faced at lower levels.
Twenty three old Drew Dosch is another hard nosed young 3B who can make it big in the majors guarding the hot corner at Camden Yards..He is quick enough to field hot shots to his right or left, on his feet, or on the ground. No slouch in power at the plate, he drove in 34 RBI in 55 games at Fast A Frederick and 1 HR and 21 RBIs in 68 games after advancing to AA Bowie. After more seasoning at Bowie and AAA Norfolk next season, he may be ready to assume Orioles Hall of Fame 3B Brooks Robinson’s hot corner legacy at Camden Yards.
11. Tony Renda, 2B, AA Harrisburg Senators and AA Trenton Thunder, New York Yankees
Tony Renda is a pleasure to watch on a baseball field. He hustles, plays hard, puts out 100 percent effort, and shows respect for the game of baseball every play he makes on the field. He started off last season with Nationals AA Harrisburg, by mid season was traded to the Yankees where he played at AA Trention, and in December, was one of five prospects the Yankees traded to Cincinnati for reliever Arodis Chapman. His BA hovered around 270 in 127 games played in 2015, Mark my words, down the road, this twenty -four year old 2B may prove to be a steal for the Reds and be the best of all the 2015 Rodger’s Picks listed, as he has the sheer will power to work hard, be the best and get ahead
12. Cole Tucker, SS Low A West Virginia Power, Pittsburgh Pirates
Less than a year out of Phoenix AZ Mountain Pointe HS, 19-year old SS Cole Tucker has demonstrated that he is a bonafide
candidate for major league shortstop. Mature beyond his years, the Pittsburgh Pirates 2014 #1 hit 283 BA in his first full professional season with Low A West Virginia Power. He has quick hands and is fast enough to play the shortstop position as well as steal some bases. He will be an ideal candidate for lead off or #2 hitter in the batting order, will be comfortable on the big league stage and will soon become a fan favorite in Pittsburgh or wherever else he may play.
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