Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Tuesday Talk: Graveman, offense, and ballparks

Is it time for Tuesday Talk with Jesse and Trey?

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It is!

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Kendall Graveman, Midwest League Pitcher of the Week – discuss.

Jesse Goldberg-Strassler:   Pitching isn’t easy… but Kendall’s sure making it look easy.  He’s hitting his spots, he’s varying his pitches, he’s receiving some pretty darn good defense behind, but most significantly:  Kendall Graveman is not excelling in the sort of way that would make you think this is a mere hot streak that’s bound to cool off.  In Beloit, he wasn’t throwing Strike 1 to the majority of hitters his first time through the order, and it didn’t matter.  In Lansing, he – brace yourselves – gave up a run.  In general, he’s pitching like the polished professional he is.  When the right spot opens up above him in the Blue Jays’ system, he’ll likely get the call.  Until then, if he stays focused, there’s no reason he can’t remain the Lugnuts’ (and Midwest League’s) best starting pitcher.

Trey Wilson:  Jesse is right.  Pitching. Ain't. Easy.  And Lansing pitchers have had struggles to open this season. The Lugnuts are last in the Midwest League in strikeouts and near the bottom with a 4.35 overall ERA.

This year has been especially tough on Lugnuts starters, with the only SP win belonging to Kendall Graveman, and starters have rarely survived the first four innings of each game. But Graveman has provided a bright spot for the Lugnuts, and he was rewarded with a W and national attention for taking a no-hitter into the ninth inning on Friday night.

As Jesse said, Graveman may not be long for this level if he keeps up these brilliant performances. Enjoy it while you can, Lugnuts fans.

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Jesse Challenge Question:  Fill in the blank.  We haven’t seen it yet, but the Lugnuts are really good at _______.

Jesse:  Hitting home runs.  The Lugnuts have five homers this year, two from Dickie Joe Thon and one apiece from D.J. Davis, Jason Leblebijian and Matt Dean.  As the weather warms, we’re going to start seeing more and more power from this lineup:  Dawel Lugo, Matt Dean, D.J. Davis, Mitch Nay, Santiago Nessy and Carlos Ramirez are all capable of belting double-digit roundtrippers during the summer.

Trey:  Hitting, period. The Lugnuts are now hitting .250 as a team, but that is on the rise. Mitch Nay and Derrick Loveless are each hitting .333, and Matt Dean is creeping behind them. Dickie Joe Thon has been in and out of hot streaks, and DJ Davis has shown the ability to go on mini-tears. Jason Leblebijian, Santiago Nessy, and Jorge Saez have been making some solid contact and having hits drop in here and there. It's now up to Carlos Ramirez and Dawel Lugo to join the party. They have both shown that they can hit in the past, but it's time to make in translate in 2014.

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Trey's Challenge Question:  What is your favorite Major League ballpark that you have visited?  Which stadium sits atop your ballpark bucket list? 

Trey:  It's hard to get to Major League games while working in the Minors, but I was lucky enough to knock two parks off of my MLB checklist in the last week, going to Miller Park in Milwaukee during the snowed out series in Appleton, and heading to Comerica Park in Detroit for the off day on Sunday. I am now a quarter of the way through visiting all 30 active ballparks, having seen games in Washington, Atlanta, Baltimore, Cincinnati, Philadelphia (The Vet & Citizen's Bank), Pittsburgh, Detroit, and Milwaukee.

Out of the ballparks I have been able to visit, I would have to say Camden Yards in Baltimore ranks at the top of my list, closely followed by PNC Park in Pittsburgh. Great scenery surrounding the stadium adds so much to the atmosphere of a ballpark, and the warehouses and Baltimore skyline have always made for a cozy experience for me. Not to mention the fun pregame environment of Eutaw Street.

Of course I would love to visit the classic parks like Wrigley Field and Fenway Park, but AT&T Park in San Francisco tops my personal bucket list. The scenery of the ballpark is hard to top, and the Giants' fans provide a great stadium atmosphere every single game.

Jesse:  I'm partial to Comerica Park in Detroit, since I grew up a Tigers fan, and Oriole Park at Camden Yards.  Camden Yards is just so great.  I admit, though I haven't been visited too many.  (Fenway, Rogers Centre, Nats Park, Progressive Field, Arlington, and a host of defunct parks:  Montreal, The Vet, Three Rivers, Memorial Stadium, RFK, Shea Stadium.)

On my bucket list:  I've been to Fenway, so now I need to get to Wrigley.  But, really, the modern big three of stadiums are Oriole Park, PNC in Pittsburgh, and AT&T Park in San Francisco.  My father's a Giants fan, and so the top of my bucket list would see me attend a San Francisco Giants home game with him.  Trey and I agree -- it's got to be AT&T Park.  Honorable Mention:  I've heard that Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City is really nice.

Friday, April 18, 2014

A Day in the Life of an MiLB Employee

From on-field emcee Greg Monahan comes this awesome video of what it's like to work for the Lugnuts:

Let's talk about losing

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The Lugnuts have lost seven consecutive games, pushing their record down to 3-10.
(The Bowling Green Hot Rods have lost 11 straight games.  Their 2-11 record leaves them one game back of the Lugs for the Eastern Division cellar.)
It is not breaking new ground to say that winning is fun and losing is not.  Losing seven games in a row is most definitely not.  The Beloit Snappers, who defeated the Lugs last night, know a little something about this.  That victory snapped Beloit's own seven-game losing streak.
Why are the Lugnuts losing?
Offensively, they're not hitting (.239 avg.), they're not scoring runs consistently, they're not hitting for power (3 homers), they're not stealing bases successfully (4 for 12 so far), and they're not drawing walks (34).
Defensively, they've committed 12 errors -- tied for second-least miscues committed in the MWL -- but those errors have lead to 16 unearned runs, more than anyone else in the league.has given up.  (The Lugnuts are also tied for the league lead with five passed balls.)
With regard to pitching, the Lugs rank 14th with a 4.49 ERA, which hasn't been helped by 51 walks, 10 home runs allowed, and five blown saves.  Those home runs have been given up by unlikely candidates, too:  Jeremy Gabryszwswki allowed zero home runs last season in 76.2 innings, but he's given up three this season (including two yesterday).  Alberto Tirado had only allowed one homer in his career entering this year; now you can make it two.  Chase De Jong had allowed two homers total in two professional seasons; like Gabryszwski, he has also served up three homers this year.
The most important part about noting what has gone wrong for the Lugnuts during their early season struggles is understanding what is unlikely to continue.  The weather will warm.  Ian Parmley (.067), Justin Atkinson (.125), Carlos Ramirez (.178), and Jason Leblebijian (.179) will raise their batting averages.  The bullpen will settle down and find its rhythm.  Command pitcher Tom Robson will sharpen up, as will Jairo Labourt (who had only 14 walks all of last year, but 13 already this year).
We're already seeing glimpses of positives:  Chase De Jong's four scoreless innings in Wisconsin; Alberto Tirado's three scoreless frames with six strikeouts; the early-season hitting success for D.J. Davis (.326); the bullpen work of Alonzo Gonzalez and Griffin Murphy; the steadiness of Kendall Graveman.  In the coming weeks, we'll add even more names to that list.
In the meanwhile, look:  The Midwest League is supposed to be a challenge.  It is the first full-season experience for many of these players.  It is characteristically a pitcher's league, with stadiums (like Lansing's Cooley Law School Stadium) that swallow up many a promising deep fly.
Perhaps even more significantly, struggles are valuable for a player's mental strength.  At every level from this point on, he is going to slump, or play beneath what he knows to be his own talent level.  Exterior factors press in:  poor weather, lack of playing time, umpiring decisions, poor luck.  It is easy for his doubts to rise.  If he can grind it out and persevere, it will develop and prepare him for the greater tests to come.
Development, after all, is what playing in the Minor Leagues is all about.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Brady Dragmire, Tom Robson, and the weekly schedule!

Even if no update pops up here one day, rest assured that Trey and are working hard to bring you the latest in Lansing Lugnuts information!
Every Monday, we'll name a Player of the Week.
Every Tuesday, you can expect the latest Tuesday Talk.
Every Wednesday, expect the latest conversation with a Lugnut.  This week:  pitcher Brady Dragmire.
Every Thursday, we'll post a Lugnuts player profile.  Today, meet pitcher Tom Robson.
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And every Friday, you can expect the latest episode of Around the Nest!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Tuesday Talk: Jackie, Snow, and Ueck

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Snow in Wisconsin, your thoughts?
Jesse Goldberg-Strassler:  It just figures, after winter was so wicked for week after week, that there was one more snowstorm left up its sleeve.  What people might not understand about baseball players is this:  Yes, a rainout every now and then, especially during a long stretch of games, is good for a player to relax, recharge, and convalesce.  But baseball players are in it to play.  Batters need to hit, pitchers need to throw.  Days without baseball get everyone antsy.  This team isn’t ready to spend days away from the field yet, especially not after a slow start that has left everyone (except maybe Kendall Graveman) knowing there’s so much more they can do than they’ve shown so far.
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If you're confused about the weather, imagine how this tree feels.
Trey Wilson: Seriously ... I thought we were done with all of this snow nonsense. But this is my first trip to Wisconsin, and I've been told I should've almost been expecting it. It's a rude interruption to a baseball season that had just started flowing along.  But in an attempt to make the most of it, I was able to travel a couple hours south last night and catch my first game at Miller Park. Great ballpark. I highly recommend it to everyone.  Enough of this snow and cold. Bring on some warm weather and let's play ball.
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Miller Park, home of the Brewers
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Trey's Challenge Question:  What are your favorite rainout (or snowout) pastimes? 
Trey: If there's baseball around, find it (see above). Otherwise, movies and naps are great for passing the time.
Jesse:  I'm a rainy day movie-watcher.  Get me together with friends, pop some popcorn, cue up a great comedy, and I'll forget all about the weather.
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Jesse’s Challenge Question:  Today is Jackie Robinson Day.  Whether through what you’ve read, what you’ve experienced, or simply the movie 42, what are your thoughts on today for baseball?
Jesse:  I grew up in a neighborhood that still participated in desegregating busing, and so what Jackie Robinson (and Branch Rickey, for that matter) represents is very close to my heart.  If Jackie had been any less in any way – in his character, in his strength, in his game-changing ability – it would have been so much harder to break baseball’s color line… and it was plenty hard enough as it was!  But he succeeded against overwhelming pressure and life-threatening opposition, and baseball became so much better for it.  In the immediately ensuing years, youngsters Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, and Ernie Banks were signed to contracts by the Giants, Braves, and Cubs respectively and became, I’d argue, the best players in the history of those storied franchises.  Robinson’s success opened a door, too, for Roberto Clemente, signed originally by the Dodgers and snatched up by the Pirates, and Clemente’s success keyed a growing scouting interest in Latin America.  Today, the obstacle to a player’s journey to the Major Leagues is not his skin color or his background, but merely the extent of his talent.  70 years ago, that would have been a shocking thing to say. 
Trey: I think Jesse nailed it. How much different would not only baseball be, but our country today without Jackie Robinson breaking through with the Dodgers? Growing up with a diverse group of teammates and opponents on the field was something we had no second thoughts about when I was a kid, so it's great to see the progress made over a couple generations. 
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Road Restaurant Review:  The Machine Shed
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Just around the corner from the Microtel Inn & Suites, with the Cracker Barrel down-home country feel.  The serving staff wears overalls to add to the atmosphere.  Jesse had pancakes and eggs, Trey had bacon and sausage.  Solid breakfast place, with tiny mason jars for glasses.  Bon appetit!

Monday, April 14, 2014

It's April. Honest.

Every Monday, we'll name a new Lugnuts Player of the Week.  Here's our very first honoree this year, and well deserving after two excellent outings to open the season:

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A brief season recap:  The Lugnuts won their first game of the season at Lake County, then lost three in a row.  They came on home and won two in a row against Quad Cities, then dropped the next four.
After the homestand ended (culminating in a three-game sweep by Cedar Rapids), the Lugs boarded the team bus, rode off to Appleton, Wisconsin, and discovered this scene when they woke up:
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The series opener is canceled tonight against the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers at Neuroscience Group Field at Fox Cities Stadium, and the temperatures are not getting warmer any time soon.
Here's how the field looks:
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Happy April!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The Crosstown Showdown: glimpsing the future

Out on Kindle, it's the 2nd edition of my Baseball Thesaurus!
The print edition will be arriving shortly, via August Publications.
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Make of this what you will.
This year is the eighth Crosstown Showdown, presented by Auto-Owners Insurance, pitting the Lansing Lugnuts and the Michigan State Spartans.  During the past seven seasons, over 70,000 fans have come in through the gates, watching the Lugs build a 5-2 record in the series against MSU.
The Blue Jays, as the Lugnuts' parent club, began the series playing things relatively straight: Starter Kyle Ginley worked a good five innings in 2007, relieved by Nate Starner for the next 3 2/3, with closer Julio Pinto locking up a Lugnuts win.  The starting lineup featured the regulars, including young Travis Snider (0-for-1, 3 walks).
In 2008, however, the Jays made a decision that they've stayed consistent to till this day.  Instead of using members of the Lugs pitching staff, they sent up younger - and perhaps rawer - guys, who weren't quite ready for the Midwest League yet.
2008:  Joe Wice, Marcus Walden, Tim Collins, Kyle Walter, Brad Cuthbertson
2009:  Scott Gracey, Willy Mendez, Chris Holguin, Jason Roenicke
2010:  Sam Strickland, Shawn Griffith, Ruben De La Rosa, Juan Hernandez, Casey Beck
2011:  Note - instead of pitchers, outfielder Chris Hawkins and infielder Matt Nuzzo flew in for the game
2012:  Roberto Osuna, Daniel Norris, Kevin Comer
2013:  Chase De Jong, Alberto Tirado, Adonys Cardona, Justin Jackson
2014:  Mark Biggs, Yeyfry Del Rosario, Francisco Gracesqui, Adaric Kelly, Garrett Pickens, Jesus Tinoco
Let's discuss this briefly.
*  Tim Collins is now an above-average Major League reliever and Marcus Walden is a Triple-A sinkerballer knocking on the door of the Big Leagues.
*  Matt Nuzzo would go on to hit one of the most dramatic home runs in team history, leading to the playoff elimination of the great 2011 Dayton Dragons.
*  Drew Hutchison, now in the Majors, started the 2011 CTSD.  Aaron Sanchez, now the Blue Jays' top prospect, started the 2012 CTSD.  Both could easily become MLB All-Stars down the road.  If you were a fan at one of those games -- or, heck, if you were one of the Spartans who batted against them -- you have a story to tell.
*  The 2012 sequence of Lugnuts pitchers could look awesome with the passing of time:  Aaron Sanchez, Roberto Osuna, and Daniel Norris, pitching in a game televised on the Big Ten Network, in front of a stadium-record crowd of 12,997.  Kevin Comer was a 1st-round supplemental pick who was given a lot of money and then traded to Houston.  He hasn't distinguished himself yet, but stay tuned.
*  The 2013 CTSD serves in retrospect as a perfect preview of the 2014 Lugnuts, with Chase De Jong, Alberto Tirado and Adonys Cardona all ascending to Lansing's starting rotation this year.  There was also this video:

*  As for this year, I'd advise you to keep a long-term eye trained toward 18-year-old Jesus Tinoco.  It's a good sign for anyone that young when the Blue Jays trust in him enough to send him in for a game like this.  At the very least, this is going to be a great experience for a young gun who has never pitched above the Gulf Coast League.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Tuesday talk, with Jesse and Trey

You're both broadcasters.  Which Lugnuts names are giving you pause for thought?
Trey Wilson:  Thankfully, I have had several years of practice pronouncing Jeremy Gabryszwskis name. I can certainly see some early struggles trying the handle the pronunciation of Jason Leblebijian. Leb-leh-BEE-gee-an. Leb-leh-BEE-gee-an. Leb-leh-BEE-gee-an. Even seasoned veterans like Jesse Goldberg-Strassler get tripped up on that one.
Names like those make you thankful for the simplicity of Matt Dean. 
Jesse Goldberg-Strassler:  Jairo Labourt:  Long vowels and soft consonants work for me.  (I'm not too happy about Trey bringing up the past here.  I practiced week after week in 2012 to get Jason Leblebijian's name right... and now it's as routine to me as saying "Dickie Joe Thon.")
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Which of the 2014 Lugnuts are you looking forward to seeing?
Jesse:  Jimmy Cordero.  The right-hander has worked only one game above the Gulf Coast League, and yet here he is, jumping up to Lansing to show off a 94-98 mph fastball as the Lugnuts' closer.  I'm also intrigued by my fellow Marylander, Scott Silverstein, a 6'6, 260-lb lefty with a Virginia Cavalier pedigree.
Trey:  As a Bluefield College alumnus, I always like to see fellow NAIA guys having success, which this years Lugnuts squad features a pair of: Relief pitcher Phil Kish was a closer and shortstop at Southeastern University (Fla.) Fire, and catcher Jorge Saez was a catcher for NAIA-powerhouse Lee University (Tenn.) Flames. (There is a pun buried somewhere in there about fire. Find it.)
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Jesse's challenge question:  Who is poised to dominate the Midwest League?
Trey: This team has some serious talent on the mound and at the plate. I know I am not alone in this thought, but I think Mitch Nay is going to have a big year. 
Jesse:  The returning Kendall Graveman in the starting rotation, and catcher Santiago Nessy and outfielder Carlos Ramirez in the starting lineup.  A second year in the Midwest League should bring increased production from all three.  For Graveman, that means ground balls, strikeouts, and shutout frames.  For Nessy, that means power and defense.  For Ramirez, it means everything:  He has the full five tools.  Now he just needs to be consistent.
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Trey's challenge question: I have never been to most of the cities and ballparks in the Midwest League (and I haven't been to a couple of the states we will see). What is your favorite Midwest League destination?
Jesse:  In the past, Fort Wayne wins out over West Michigan, Dayton, and Great Lakes.  With our hotel there changing, though, I might have to change my answer to Great Lakes (Midland, Michigan).  The food is top notch, the trip is easy, the company is excellent, and the hotel is right next to a movie theater and a mall.
Trey:  Lake County. Lovely scenery up there. 
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Tweet your questions for next week's Tuesday talk to @jgoldstrass and @treywilson757!

Monday, March 31, 2014

The 2014 Lansing Lugnuts

From the press release:
"In conjunction with the Toronto Blue Jays, the Lansing Lugnuts announced a loaded 2014 Opening Day roster headlined by center fielder D.J. Davis, third baseman Mitch Nay and frontline pitching talent.

Third-year manager John Tamargo, Jr. will direct a Lugnuts squad that features eight returning players alongside 10 of Baseball America's Top 30 Blue Jays prospects - including six of the Jays' 12 best minor-league talents. The top of that list belongs to the fleet Davis, drafted 17th overall in 2012 and rated #3 in the system, and the powerful Nay, a 2012 first-round supplemental pick rated #4...
Here's the roster in PDF form for your consideration.  To make it all clearer, though:
(Don't read anything into the order of the starting rotation.  There's no #1, #2, etc.)
SP:  Jairo Labourt/Alberto Tirado
SP:  Chase De Jong/Adonys Cardona
SP:  Jeremy Gabryszwski
SP:  Kendall Graveman
SP:  Tom Robson

BullpenCloser - RHP Jimmy Cordero
Lefties - Alonzo Gonzalez, Griffin Murphy, Scott Silverstein
Righties - Brady Dragmire, Roberto Espinosa
C:  Santiago Nessy, Jorge Saez
1B:  Matt Dean
SS:  Dawel Lugo
2B:  Dickie Thon (don't be surprised to see Thon at SS and Lugo at 2B)
3B:  Mitch Nay
UT:  Justin Atkinson, Jason Leblebijian
OF:  D.J. Davis, Derrick Loveless, Ian Parmley, Carlos Ramirez
(I suspect we'll see Davis in CF and Ramirez in RF)
We'll have much more info as the week moves onward.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Check the bulletin board

Anticipation is rising in Lansing, as it is across the country's full-season minor league sites:  A time is coming soon, perhaps today, when every team learns its 2014 Opening Day roster.  (For a few teams, that time arrived Wednesday.)  With us, we'll receive an email from the Blue Jays and leap into action -- putting forth an Opening Day roster and press release, creating game notes and player bios, and preparing for the team's arrival at the start of next week.  I am living on the verge of utter busyness.
That's our side.
The other side is the player's side.  They've been waking up early in massed conditions, drilling for hours upon days upon weeks, all under the heavy watch of coaches and rovers and executives.  They are side by side with their greatest competition, applying pressure to every pitch, let alone every at-bat.  Some players will be rewarded with a promotion to the next level, perhaps even skipping a level; some will be kept at the same level they played last year; and some will be released.  The writing is literally on the wall.
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Meet the Team is next Wednesday at 6:30 p.m.  The Crosstown Showdown, presented by Auto-Owners Insurance, is on Thursday at 7:05 p.m.  The home opener is on Tuesday the 8th.
Here we go.