Category Archives: Altoona Curve

Mitch Keller (#2 Pirates prospect) and Michael Chavis (#3 Boston prospect) in action at Portland

Pittsburgh Pirates #2 prospect Mitch Keller

Michael Chavis (Boston Red Sox #3 prospect)

I love going to Hadlock Field in Portland, Maine for a Sea Dogs game.

Why?  The atmosphere is so unpretentious.  There are no airs put on.  The players hustle and their recognition by the fans is minimal.  Top draft pick?  Who cares?  Let’s see some baseball played.

Today’s noon game had perfect summer weather to boot.

A big attraction at Portland is the concession stands.  The smell of pizza and French fries is overwhelming.  And there I am on a nutritarian diet in which such things are totally avoided!

While others fail to take note of top draft picks, I don’t.  I can trace that “noticing” back to a game I covered in New Britain (CT) in 2012.

I somehow became aware that Gerrit Cole (#1 draft pick the year before) would be at the Twins former AA site representing the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Altoona team.

Shortstop Cole Tucker was the Pirates #1 pick in 2014

So I went to New Britain with a specific goal of getting a good Gerrit Cole picture.  I managed that and also added shots of Brock Holt (leading Eastern League in hitting) and Aaron Hicks (New Britain outfielder).

Therefore, with that background, my latest visit to Hadlock included prospect chasing.  Getting Rafael Devers earlier this summer convinced me that chances may end quickly.

Portland currently has 2014 first-rounder Michael Chavis on their roster while visiting Altoona has 2014 first-rounder Cole Tucker on theirs.  Portland also has Josh Ockimey (5th round) and Mitch Keller (2nd round) from the same year.

Pitcher Mitch Keller was the important one.  He is now the Pirates #2 prospect.  He started in Bradenton this season moved to Altoona on August 4th.  He is a pitcher on the rise.

Michael Chavis is a 22-year-old third baseman for Portland.  He’s rated 3rd in the Red Sox prospect list.  Where Michael fits into the Boston team of the future is a bit of a mystery.

Cole Tucker is ranked fifth by the Pirates and is a shortstop.

Josh Ockimey is Boston’s #10 prospect.

I had my first look at Boston’s Josh Ockimey.  The tall first baseman has not been in AA very long.  He’s rated the 10th Red Sox prospect.

I have now seen Michael Chavis twice.  His ability put in quality at-bats reminds me of Rafael Devers.  Neither player seems to be over-matched by pitching and both can hit the ball hard.  I did not have the same vibes last summer with Yoan Moncada.  Way too many swings-and-misses and that still seems to be the case for Yoan.

Another player who has impressed me during my recent Hadlock visits is outfielder Danny Mars.  Again, trying to imagine an outfield future in Boston with the young B’s strongly entrenched is a stretch but you never know.  Danny plays the position well and is hitting over .300 in his full season in Portland.  I figure him for Pawtucket in 2018.

The star of the game I saw Thursday was Portland pitcher Trey Ball.  Trey was a RS first-rounder in 2013.  He looked exactly like he deserved to be that high pick with a 9-strikeout, 7-inning performance in Portland’s 2-0 win.  It was likely the lefty’s best effort of the year.

The Big Event for me is always Slugger’s race against the very young.  I continue to believe that a win is in his future and I want to be there when it happens.

As today’s race unfolded I couldn’t help but think that Slugger’s life-long losing streak was about to end.  The big guy blazed around second leading by five yards.  Around first he went on the final stretch still in good shape.  But suddenly the big fellah ran out of gas.  Too fast a start, I suspect.  He just wilted near the first-base box and hit the ground.  Meanwhile, the opponent, who was so young he had to be guided by a staff member, kept a race-long even pace and won easily.  What’s the problem? It was a bit warm but it is obvious that Slugger is spending too much time walking the aisles of Hadlock greeting fans.  His legs were shot by the time the race took place.  An earlier race start would improve Slugger’s chances.  Maybe my hero is being set up to lose every time?  That would be outrageous.

More thanks to Chris Cameron for arranging Thursday’s visit.

Play at the plate

3B Michael Chavis

Cole Tucker

Play at second

Danny Mars

Chad De La Guerra

Cole Tucker

Baserunner

Pitcher Trey Ball was impressive against Altoona. He is a former #1 Red Sox selection (2013)

Michael Chavis

Chad De La Guerra

 

 

 

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Xander Bogaerts and Gerrit Cole sighted in Portland as Sea Dogs edge Altoona Curve, 2-1

Jackie Bradley streaks home with the eventual game-winner for Portland in the sixth inning.

Xander Bogaerts

(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.

Gerrit Cole pitched very well in a tough loss for Altoona.

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.

Charlie Cutler about to be tagged out on a throw from left fielder Peter Hissey to catcher Christian Vazquez in the fifth inning.

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.

Xander Bogaerts

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.)

Xander Bogaerts

Bryce Brentz

race against the mascot

Xander rounds third

Matt Curry

Jason Urquidez

Xander Bogaerts

Jackie Bradley

off comes the tarp

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Number One Prospect Gerrit Cole (Pittsburgh Pirates) sighted in New Britain Rock Cats walkoff win over Altoona Curve

2011 #1 draft pick Gerrit Cole rests in the Altoona bullpen after a pregame workout.

Chris Colabello won the game for New Britain with a 2-out, 3-run homer in the bottom of the ninth.

(New Britain CT)  That Chris Colabello is even playing for AA New Britain is a big story.

Last night, Chris (28-years-old) enhanced that “big story” resume with a 2-out, 3-run homer in the bottom of the ninth inning to give the Rock Cats a thrilling 5-4 win over the Altoona Curve on Friday night.

The victory keeps New Britain ½ game ahead of Reading in the battle for the second playoff spot in the Eastern League Western Division.

Chris (from Milford MA) spent seven years in the Independent Canadian-American League playing for the Worcester Tornado before getting a tryout with Minnesota after being Player-of-the-Year in the Can-Am League.

Chris’ homer (17th) over the right-centerfield fence was off of Altoona reliever Vic Black who hadn’t surrendered a homer all season up to that point.  The fireworks display at New Britain Stadium after the game seemed extremely appropriate.

pre-game dance team

My love affair with minor league baseball continues.  I found the atmosphere at New Britain Stadium in my first visit to be very  patron-friendly with plenty of food and excitement close at hand.

I enjoy the dispositions of the players at the minor league level.  You can sense their excitement and optimism as they hope to make a favorable impression and move up to the next level.  Most of them are under twenty-five and just plain happy to be where they are.

My goal at minor league games is to get pictures of prospects from either team.  The had-to-get for me was 2011 #1 draft pick pitcher Gerrit Cole of Altoona.  He was not pitching this game but with the help of an autograph seeker I learned which one he was.  I got several shots of him warming up before the game.  I assumed that he would be in the bullpen during the game but he wasn’t since he’s pitching on Sunday.  I ended up with a pretty good closeup of him in the Altoona dugout.

Other prospects I succeeded in getting were: Altoona’s Brock Holt, Kyle McPherson, and Matt Curry and New Britain’s Aaron Hicks, Joe Benson, and Oswaldo Arcia.

Brock Holt – top hitter in the Eastern League

Brock is leading the Eastern League in batting.  Aaron was the Twins #1 pick in 2008.  Joe is the Twins second-best prospect according to Baseball America.  Joe saw some action in the majors in 2011.  Oswaldo is a 21-year-old from Venezuela.

My assumption is that the majority of the fans on hand are unaware of the prospects on each team.  However, the ten-fifteen, card-carrying autograph seekers I saw were not in that number.  They knew the newcomers and actively positioned themselves before this game for the chance to get signatures.  The recent release of the 2012 minor league team sets provides a face to match up with a signature.

I learned that New Britain has had minor league baseball since 1983 and were early-on a farm team of the Red Sox. They have been connected with Minnesota for eighteen years and recently signed on for two more years.

In my pre-visit reading I discovered that New Britain outfielder Aaron Hicks’ father (Joe) was drafted by San Diego and played in the minors.  However, Joe was hit by a pitch and his career ended.  The experience soured Aaron’s dad on baseball and he never mentioned his baseball past to his son, in fact, encouraged Aaron to play golf.  Aaron later came upon a bat of his father’s and his passion for baseball began.

Also regarding Aaron Hicks,  I read that the drafting of outfielder Byron Buxton in the first round in the 2012 draft has lit a fire under Aaron since then.  Aaron may be hearing footsteps.  Aaron is already a terrific fielder.  He needs to get his bat going to move on to AAA.

I thank Jeff Dooley (15-year Voice of New Britain Rock Cats) and Pat O’Sullivan for arranging my visit.  I enjoyed it a lot.

(The pictures above and below enlarge considerably if you click on them.)

Gerrit Cole

Nate Hanson (12) forces Quincy Latimore (22) at second

play at second

Oswaldo Arcia

Nathan Hanson hit a two-run homer

Joe Benson

Aaron Hicks

Matt Curry

Jeff Dooley interviews Dakota Watts

Kyle McPherson

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