(Portland ME) I went to get my first look at Boston’s #1 prospect (Xander Bogaerts) and have the pictorial evidence to show that I succeeded.
And as it turned out there was more for me on this special Thursday night at Hadlock Field:
(1) I saw the Sea Dogs win a close one (2-1) over Altoona, (2) I got a look at the baseball’s top draft pick in 2011 (Gerrit Cole), and
(3) I spent several innings in conversation with The Curve’s engaging closer Vic Black.
The weather turned good about 5PM for the 6PM game and superb collective effort the Sea Dogs’ staff removed the infield coverage and everything started as if it hadn’t rained most of the day.
Since the Eastern League All-Star break the Sea Dogs have thrived at Hadlock (16-4) and their current overall record (58-65) can only reflect on how poorly they played in the first half.
In this game Portland got some more great pitching as starter Jeremy Kehrt and reliever Jason Urquidez who combined for one run/six hits/eleven K’s. Urquidez, the 30-year-old from the Lancaster Barnstormers of the Atlantic League, hit the first batter he faced but went on dominate Altoona in three innings of work.
The Sea Dogs scratched out the two runs they needed in the sixth inning off of Gerrit Cole to offset Christian Marrero’s solo homer in the second inning.
The speed of Jackie Bradley was huge in the two runs scored. After Christian Vazquez singled, Jackie hit a chopper over the mound. Shortstop Oscar Tejeda (former Sea Dog) charged the ball and tried for the short-hop pickup (because of Jackie’s speed) and ended up with a deflection into the outfield. Jackie was awarded a hit and went to second on the error (deflection) while Christian moved on to third.
With the Altoona infield back, Marquis Smith’s grounder to second brought in Christian with the Sea Dogs’ first run and Jackie moved to third. A two-out wild pitch by Gerrit Cole allowed Jackie to easily score what turned out to be the winning run.
Gerrit was not a bit pleased at the end of that inning. I was at the end of the Altoona dugout and heard him yell, “that was not the time for that,” referring to the wild pitch. He also punished his glove and the dugout bathroom door shortly after that.
He had reason to be frustrated because of his 3-5 record with Altoona and because he deserved a better result for his evening‘s work. In this game, without the Oscar Tejeda error, Marquis Smith’s grounder to second could have been an inning-ending double play. And without his wild pitch the inning would have ended tied 1-1.
There were some take-away positives for Gerrit in this game. He retired the first fourteen and ended striking out nine in six innings. His heat was impressive. He hit above 95 a couple of times in the early going and I asked a coach in the Portland dugout if the readings were accurate. He told me they were and that Cole can reach 100. Sure enough, he hit that mark a number of times during the innings he pitched.
That same Portland coach was keeping track of some hitting stats for the team. I heard Bryce Brentz jokingly tell him after one of the early innings to forget about those stats because we had no batting practice (rain) and now we’re facing a guy who throws 100.
By the way, Bryce made the defensive play of the game with a diving, stretched-out catch of a line drive to right. That ball was heading to the wall and Altoona had a runner on first at the time.
Another defensive play of note was left fielder Peter Hissey’s throw to the plate that nailed Charlie Cutler in the fifth. Christian Vazquez applied the tag.
And then there was the very engaging Vic Black. He was sitting down in the photographers’ end of the Altoona dugout when I switched over there after a few innings in the Portland dugout.
My instincts tell me not to be any kind of a distraction to players but Vic was friendly and we chatted for several innings.
I did not realize who he was at first and mentioned that the last time I had seen Altoona was in New Britain. That was game the Rock Cats’ Chris Colabello hit a 3-run, 2-out walkoff homer in the ninth off an Altoona reliever. Vic immediately pointed at himself and smirked. The homer was off him! He explained to me what he had been trying to do in that situation and that he learned more in that outing than he had in the numerous good outings he has had. He added with a laugh that after the walkoff gopher pitch he was so stunned that he waited for another baseball not realizing that the game was over.
The 24-year-old said that he was really enjoying the minor leagues but hoped next year to bypass Indianapolis (AAA) and make the Pirates.
I did a little research on Vic after the game and learned that he was drafted in the supplemental first round in 2009. In mid-2010 he developed shoulder problems and his velocity dropped. It seemed to me that he had been very inactive since then until this season.
He told me that the long bus rides didn’t bother him because he was glad to be with the team contributing after being unable to pitch for so long. His velocity is now 96 and up and he said he’s feeling good.
I assumed that he wasn’t going to be pitching in the game we were watching since he was in the dugout. He said, however, that he’d rather hang in the dugout because he could watch the game better. He said that he had only thrown thirteen pitches the night before could be used. When The Curve went behind in the sixth, and never caught up, there was no call for Vic the closer.
Vic told me that the hardest part of the minors is the ups and downs that teams go through. He said that you want to come back positive after streaks of losses but it’s hard. Altoona has now lost ten straight on the road with their last win on July 24th in Reading. They are 21-40 on the road this season.
As I mentioned at the top, my main reason for arranging this Portland visit with Media Relations boss Chris Cameron was to see Xander Bogaerts (pronounced Zander Bowgarts).
Xander looks young (he turns twenty in October) but is not out of place with AA Portland. The 6-3/175 shortstop can hit (had double off Gerrit Cole) and field. I suspect he will fill out some and probably play in the outfield at the next level.
Xander is from Aruba and received a $510,000 signing bonus in 2009 as a 16-year-old. I learned, doing some homework on Xander, that he only played baseball on the weekends in Aruba but obviously that was enough to impress the Red Sox scouts.
Incidentally Xander was the first teenager to make the Portland Sea Dogs since they have been a Red Sox affiliate. Another teenager played in Portland in 2002 when they were a Marlins’ affiliate and that was Adrian Gonzalez.
Again, my thanks to Chris Cameron for arranging my visit.
(The pictures above and below enlarge considerably if you click on them.)