Results tagged ‘ Bobby Doran ’

‘Cat Watch: Catching up with former champions

In this week’s final installment of ‘Cat Watch, we look at the members of the 2010 NY-Penn League Champion ValleyCats that have moved on to higher levels of the Astros’ farm system.

2010 ValleyCats MVP Ben Orloff was the toughest player in the league to strike out last year, fanning once every 15 plate appearances. He’s up to his old tricks in the Sally League, with only three strikeouts in nearly 100 times to the plate. Orloff, who led the ‘Cats in hitting, is batting .341 with a .419 on-base percentage, though as usual, he has not provided much pop. The versatile fielder has split his time almost evenly between second base and shortstop.

Though he had tremendous power, right fielder Adam Bailey was a streaky hitter in his debut pro season; his play down the stretch of the regular season was critical for the ValleyCats to reach the playoffs, but he struggled to a .235 batting average for the full season. He has been hot for the first two full months of 2011, hitting .307 through 52 games. Anyone who watched a Bailey BP session knows that he has outstanding raw power, which he has put to good use this season, blasting a team-high 12 home runs. Bailey, who also possesses a strong arm, has already thrown out seven runners on the basepaths this year.

Catcher Chris Wallace, who was called up to Tri-City in August after two fantastic months at Greeneville and quickly became the Cats’ starting catcher, is becoming one of the hotter names in the Astros’ farm system. A 16th-round draft pick out of local University of Houston, Wallace leads the Lexington Legends with 37 RBI and has 24 extra-base hits in 50 games, including 10 longballs.

Mike Kvasnicka struggled in his transition to pro ball, bothered by occasional injuries in 2010, but he has recently shown the hitting skill that that the Astros foresaw when they selected him with the 31st overall pick of last year’s draft. The third baseman is hitting .304 and has driven in 32 runs, though the latter is also the product of hitting in the middle of a potent lineup.

For the second straight year, an outfielder drafted in the 20th round broke out at Tri-City. Dan Adamson showed an impressive combination of speed and power for the ValleyCats last year, and he has put up even better numbers in two months at Lexington, trailing only Orloff with a .329 batting average. Adamson, who fanned more than once per game in the NYPL last year, has struck out only 29 times in 43 games so far.

One of two ‘Cats invited to the 2010 NYPL All-Star Game, first baseman Tyler Burnett was also promoted to Lexington for the 2011 season. Burnett has upped his average by a few points but seen his walk rate take a hit from last year’s remarkable level, which was one of the league’s best.

Young hitter Telvin Nash, who joined the ‘Cats for the stretch run in 2010, suffered a wrist injury at the end of April and has yet to return to the field. It was a shame, as Nash – who showed as much power as any Tri-City hitter despite his youth – killed the ball for three weeks in the Sally League, hitting .310/.394/.603 while playing in both outfield corners and learning first base.

A fan favorite in 2010, Kiké Hernandez has struggled in his first stop in a full-season league, batting .244. He has shown much-improved plate discipline, drawing 10 walks in 23 games after taking only 14 all of last season, but the gap power he showed last season is gone, as he has only four extra-base hits, all doubles. Hernandez is still recovering from a sprained ankle, which took him out of action for four weeks between April and May.

The ace of the 2010 pitching staff, Carlos Quevedo, is having a strange season at Lexington. Known for his stingy nature at Tri-City, Quevedo has unbelievably lowered his walk rate this season, issuing just three free passes in 54.2 innings. Though he has increased his strikeout rate significantly (his K/BB is currently a ridiculous 15.33), Quevedo’s ERA has still risen more than two runs to a mediocre 5.27. The main culprit is that hitters are squaring up his pitches – opponents have racked up 12.5 hits per nine innings and have taken the righty deep 11 times. Part of this may be bad luck, but it’s not a good sign for someone who pitches up in the zone without an overpowering fastball.

Southpaw Alex Sogard has been finishing his share of games for the Legends, notching four saves in 12 relief appearances while also making one start. Sogard, who possesses a deadly curveball, has a 3.14 ERA and 29 strikeouts in 28.2 innings.

Jason Chowning, who joined the ‘Cats in early July last year, has been lights-out in his sophomore season. The righty has a 1.40 ERA, 33 strikeouts and eight walks in 25.2 innings pitched this season, the most effective member of the Lexington bullpen.

Flamethrowing righty Jorge De Leon, who posted a 0.64 ERA as the Cats’ closer last year, has saved six games for the Legends this season. The converted shortstop has fanned 19 batters in 21.2 innings while figuring out his control issues in his second season as a pitcher, issuing only four walks.

Outfielder Austin Wates was one of six ‘Cats assigned to high-A Lancaster for the 2011 season. The athletic outfielder, who was signed in August as a third-round draft pick, is hitting .303 for the Jethawks through two months. Wates, who swiped nine bags in just 12 games for Tri-City, has 11 steals and four unsuccessful attempts this year.

Catcher Ben Heath, who was called up to Lexington midseason and even spent a couple days in AA Corpus Christi, is hitting .260 at Lancaster. The fifth-round draft pick, who shows prodigious power in batting practice and led the ‘Cats with six homers at the time of his promotion, has gone deep four times for the Jethawks. But he has continued to struggle behind the plate, throwing out just three of 36 basestealers while allowing five passed balls.

The ValleyCats’ best pitching performance of 2010 undoubtedly belonged to Jake Buchanan, who threw seven scoreless innings in a 1-0 win at Batavia to earn a berth in the NYPL Championship Series. The righty, who gets good movement and keeps the ball down in the zone, has excelled at Lancaster this season, leading the team with a 3.15 ERA despite playing in a very tough pitcher’s environment. Buchanan has been extremely durable, throwing 74.1 innings in 11 starts, over 20 innings more than the next-best on the team. If he continues to perform like this, Buchanan will rise through the system quickly.

After an inconsistent start to the season, Bobby Doran found his command and was one of five Tri-City starters to excel in August, kick-starting the Cats’ pennant run. He has not transitioned well to full-season ball, however, allowing 54 runs and 71 hits in just 44 innings at Lancaster. He is not missing bats – only 22 strikeouts – and his control, such an asset last season, has faltered, as his walk rate has nearly quadrupled to 3.9 per nine innings.

Andrew Robinson, a righty who spent time as a reliever and starter last season, has split time between the roles again for Lancaster. He was called up for two spot appearances in Corpus Christi, becoming Houston’s first pick from the ’10 draft to reach AA, but quickly returned to Lancaster within a week. Robinson has a mediocre 5.17 ERA despite strong control numbers.

A 33rd round draft pick, Michael Ness was by far the lowest-regarded member of Houston’s 2010 class among the six players in Lancaster. The righty, so successful as the Tri-City closer last year – and the man on the mound when the ‘Cats won the 2010 NYPL Championship – has allowed a 6.40 ERA in his sophomore season. His fastball-cutter combination has not kept California League hitters off-balance, as he has allowed 13.4 hits per nine innings.

Kevin Whitaker

Pennant Chase Postmortem

Me, on 7/5:

Given how strong Vermont has looked – the Lake Monsters are off to an unbelievable 14-3 start, with eight consecutive wins – the ValleyCats’ slim playoff hopes probably rest on the wild card.

Me, on 7/15:

Vermont has already all but clinched the Stedler Division. […] The ValleyCats’ playoff hopes look awfully slim, despite [the good run differential] – their recent bad fortune has left them 4.5 games back and behind seven other teams in the wild-card race, which is a very difficult hurdle to overcome under any circumstances.

Me, on 7/28:

[The ValleyCats’] playoff chances, however, are still very remote. Even if the ValleyCats played like the league’s best team in the second half, they would finish at 41-35 or so. Five teams are currently on pace to have a better record than that, and another two aren’t far behind, so they would still probably have no better than a 50-50 shot at reaching the postseason.

Evan, on 8/13:

If you had told me back in the beginning of July that, come August, the ValleyCats would have a shot to win the division, I would have had you declared officially insane. […] It was July 10 and most fans were already hoping for the wild card.

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One month into the season, it was not exactly likely that the ValleyCats would be playing meaningful games in September. They stood at 11-18 on the morning of July 19, 9.5 games behind Vermont. The Lake Monsters had cooled off slightly – it would have been impossible to do otherwise after a 14-3 start – but still had a firm hold on the Stedler Division. Tri-City was also well behind Connecticut in the division and trailed several teams in the wild card, and looked headed for a third-place finish.

There were some signs that things might turn around. The ‘Cats were unlucky in close games, and their strong run differential portended better things for the future. Meanwhile, their offense was bound to improve, while their pitching staff was one of the league’s best.

You can trace the ValleyCats’ turnaround to a late-July game at Vermont. Nearing the end of a seven-day road trip that had proven less than fruitful to that point, they found themselves in a 7-3 hole to the Lake Monsters, after ace Carlos Quevedo suffered his worst start of the season. But the ‘Cats battled back, striking for three runs in the seventh and two on a Mike Kvasnicka single in the eighth to win a 10-8 slugfest. Bobby Doran picked up his first win the next night to complete an unlikely sweep.

After the great weekend, fellow VCN member Chris Chenes proclaimed that the ValleyCats would make the playoffs. Evan and I thought he was crazy. We were both optimistic about their future, but the math seemed too daunting – they still trailed the Lake Monsters by 7.5 games (with only two head-to-head matches left), and the wild card was looking less and less attainable as the Pinckney Division teams pulled away from the pack. 

Recent history doesn’t matter a whole lot in the minors – teams change almost completely from year to year. What little difference it does make, however, certainly seemed to go against the ValleyCats. Tri-City was coming off three consecutive last-place finishes, and indeed no Houston affiliate had reached the playoffs since 2007*. But Chris stuck to his guns, and would eventually be vindicated. 
*The manager on that pennant-winning Salem Avalanche? None other than our own Jim Pankovits.

Tri-City was in danger of losing its next series, a three-game home set against Lowell, when they trailed the rubber match 5-1 in the seventh inning. Such a loss, particularly on their home field, would have been very disappointing for the ‘Cats, as the Spinners had not yet won a series all season. But Adam Bailey belted the team’s first (and only) grand slam to tie the game, and Dan Adamson sent the fans home happy, leading off the 11th inning with a walk-off homer.

The ‘Cats swept another two-game set with Vermont early in August, then embarked on a six-game road trip to Mahoning Valley and State College. They lost slugger Ben Heath to promotion midway through the trip, yet ended it on a high note by winning the last two to split the six games. Tri-City allowed just eight runs over the final five games of that trip, which manager Jim Pankovits credits as the point where his team really started its comeback:

About that time, we had made some adjustments to the rotation and started to go to a more regular lineup, and I think we just got on a roll. We played very well that series, and it continued to a couple more series when we came home. The game of baseball is a really streaky game, and we got on a really good hot streak about then.

The ValleyCats then returned to Joe Bruno Stadium, where they won 11 of their final 15 games, and won series against Williamsport – then leading the Pinckney Division – and Staten Island. The All-Star break did little to cool their momentum, as they swept Connecticut on the road, pulling back to .500 for the first time since the first week of the season. More importantly, they passed Connecticut to take second place in the division, and stood only 1.5 games back of the Lake Monsters.

That paved the way for a thrilling, topsy-turvy stretch run:

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Shown above are my playoff odds on each day for the final two weeks. The ValleyCats swept a home-and-home with Connecticut – taking the latter on a heartbreaking two-error eleventh inning by shortstop Brett Anderson – pushing the Tigers three games back and seemingly knocking them out of the race. But Connecticut would not quit, proceeding to take three at Vermont while the ValleyCats dropped three of their own at Hudson Valley, an extremely unlikely turn of events that left the Tigers right back int he thick of things. The division was still completely up for grabs heading into the last week of the season.

The ValleyCats more or less saved their season in their home finale, pulling out a 14-inning thriller on the heels of a 12-inning defeat to Hudson Valley. Two extra-inning losses would have left the ‘Cats deep in third place and in an unenviable position to embark on a season-ending, six-game road trip.

Instead, Chris Wallace doubled to the left-field wall in the 14th, his third huge hit of the series. Bailey followed with his third hit of the game, a single to right field, and Wallace slid home just inches in front of the tag. Bailey was far from the ValleyCats’ most consistent hitter this season – his batting average was just a point above the Mendoza Line entering that game – but he would be critical down the stretch, racking up a league-high 14 hits in the final week of the season.

The ValleyCats then swept Lowell, while Connecticut improbably did the same to Aberdeen to remain a half-game back. Vermont, meanwhile, dropped four of five at Brooklyn to be all but eliminated from the race. The two teams switched places on Friday, setting the stage for a remarkable Saturday. The ValleyCats took an 8-7 slugfest at Brooklyn – with the key hit, naturally, provided by Bailey – wihle the Tigers finally lost at Aberdeen.

That left the ValleyCats needing only a win or a Connecticut loss entering the final day of the season. Connecticut and Aberdeen began 2.5 hours before Tri-City took on the Cyclones, but the ‘Cats still didn’t know if they needed a win as their game started, because Connecticut forced extra innings. The Tigers twice threatened to make the Tri-City game decisive, scoring in the 11th and twice in the 13th. They entered Sunday with a league-best 19-10 record in one-run games, and a 6-2 record in extras, and it seemed like they would pull another victory out of nowhere (Connecticut finished above .500 despite being outscored by 44 runs).

But this time, they came out on the short end of an improbable defeat. The Ironbirds put two runners on with two outs, and #3 overall draft pick Manny Machado tripled off the right-field wall. Kipp Schutz, who hit a walk-off grand slam against the ValleyCats back in July, ended Connecticut’s season with a game-winning single, and the ValleyCats were free to celebrate.

In the end, the ValleyCats won with incredible pitching. Their 17-11 August was fueled by a 2.56 ERA and 81 runs allowed, both best in the league. Vermont, meanwhile, posted a 5.45 ERA while allowing 159 runs in August, going just 9-17 to blow a seven-game lead. Connecticut fared slightly better on that end, allowing 119 runs with a 3.57 ERA, but hit a league-low .212 for the month.

All five regular starters had a terrific month, posting ERAs below 3.00. David Martinez, a mid-season conversion from the bullpen, fared the best, allowing just four earned runs in 30.1 innings and fanning a team-high 31 batters. Bobby Doran (3-1, 2.41) and Jake Buchanan (2-3, 2.97) rebounded from slow starts with strong months, while Carlos Quevedo (3-1, 2.97) and Andrew Robinson (2-2, 2.74) continued excellent seasons in August. On the other side, the mid-month additions of Marcus Nidiffer (.317/.386/.540 in August) and Austin Wates (.368/.500/.474 in 19 at-bats) boosted an offense that saw some of its regulars drop off a bit, while the arm of Chris Wallace (14/25 CS with Tri-City) proved a valuable asset behind the plate.

The ValleyCats make the playoffs, and will be a tough match for a strong Batavia squad in the first round. All four playoff teams are very good, which should make for a very fun week.

So, Chris: You were right, and I was wrong. And I couldn’t be happier.

Kevin Whitaker

Notebook: Another Attendance Record

Recent visitors to Joe Bruno Stadium have seen their share of excitement: the ValleyCats have played six consectutive one-run games at home. They’ve won three, improving their record in one-run contests to a respectably 9-12, but although they had their chances, the ‘Cats couldn’t pull one out last night.

5,445 fans showed up at the ballpark last night – enough to break the single-season attendance record for the seventh consecutive season – and they certainly got their money’s worth. The early Sunday start time of 5 pm proved to be a big plus, as most of the fans were still there when the game was decided nearly four hours later. The ‘Cats surrendered a twelfth-inning run and lost 5-4, falling to 3-8 this season in extra innings.

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Six runners reached for the home team from the ninth inning on, but the ValleyCats weren’t able to bring any of them around to score. Marcus Nidiffer led off the eleventh inning with a double and stood on third with one out, but Jacke Healey’s fly ball was too shallow to tag on and Ben Orloff also flew out to center. A 12th-inning double by Tyler Burnett – who also doubled in the ninth – gave the ‘Cats some hope of tying the game and forcing more baseball, but closer Austin Hubbard bore down and retired the next two batters to end the game.

The ‘Cats may look back on this one with regret. Vermont lost at Aberdeen, so if the ValleyCats had been able to push one of those runners across, they would have been all alone in first place for the first time this season. Instead, they currently sit in third place, a half-game back of both the Lake Monsters and Connecticut. I still project the ValleyCats as a slight favorite, due to their still-strong run differential and the fact that they have three games remaining with Lowell, but it’s pretty close to a three-team tossup: Tri-City 38%, Connecticut 33%, Vermont 29%. If the ‘Cats had won, they would be above 60% right now. (Connecticut was the big beneficiary, seeing its odds rise by more than 20% after last night’s games.)

Bobby Doran gave up a run on a pair of two-out hits in the first inning, and for a minute I feared we might be seeing a repeat performance from Tuesday, when he allowed nine hits to the Tigers. Instead, he settled down and did not allow another score in his five innings, sending the Renegades down in order in the final two frames.

Murillo Gouvea opened the season quite poorly, and after allowing four runs in a little more than an inning against Brooklyn in mid-July, his ERA stood at 12.71. Many of us wondered if Gouvea would be sent down to a lower level to get straightened out. But whatever pitching coach Gary Ruby did to Gouvea certainly worked, as he’s allowed just three runs in 19.1 innings since. The Brazilian righty was lights-out last night, allowing only one hit in 3.1 innings and fanning eight Renegades – including four in the 11th inning, when Dio Luis reached after whiffing at a wild pitch. Gouvea now ranks second on the team with 50 strikeouts, and he’s thrown less than half as many innings as the team leader, Carlos Quevedo.

Instead, the ValleyCats’ loss came due to poor command by a couple unlikely sources: Alex Sogard and Michael Ness. Sogard had not allowed a run in the previous four weeks, a stretch spanning 14 innings. But he got into trouble right away in the sixth, walking Nick Schwaner and allowing a double to Steven Tinoco. (Schwaner and Tinoco killed the ‘Cats last night, going a combined 6-for-9 with three walks.) A line drive found Orloff’s glove and Sogard froze Mayo Acosta with a curveball, and it looked like he might escape the jam. But Dio Luis drove a 2-1 pitch to the right-center-field wall, driving in two and scoring himself as the ‘Cats kicked the ball around.

Ness had not issued a walk in three full weeks and had only six on the season, but he struggled to find the plate in the 12th inning last night. He hit Chris Winder with his first pitch of the night – Ness’s first HBP of the year – and then issued two-out walks to Schwaner and Tinoco. (With bases open and the go-ahead run on third, he was wisely being careful to both batters, particularly Tinoco, once he fell behind in the count.) Derek Dietrich then lined a shot to first that Nidiffer gloved but could not catch cleanly, and the Renegades had the run they needed.

The ValleyCats have had a lot of trouble figuring out the Hudson Valley pitching staff, scoring only 12 runs in five games. The lone hitter who seems to have it figured out is Chris Wallace, who doubled to score the eventual game-winning run on Saturday and came up big again last night. Wallace scored Mike Kvasnicka with a fifth-inning homer – the ‘Cats’ first hit of the game – that was crushed to right-center. Wallace later walked and laid down a nice sacrifice in the eleventh.

Burnett finished the game with a pair of doubles, which will hopefully give him a bit of a spark – he had only three hits in his previous 30 at-bats. Dan Adamson has also been slumping a bit – one for his last 14, and the hit was a routine grounder last night that Elias Otero played too deep on – and will get a rest tonight.

Adamson’s spot in centerfield will be taken by Austin Wates, who made his first appearance last night since being hit on the hand in Tuesday’s contest. Wates pinch-hit in the ninth and smacked a hard line drive with a man on, but it went right at Otero, who had moved to second base. Tonight marks his first appearance in the field with the ValleyCats.

I can’t believe it’s this time of year already, but tonight marks the last regular-season game at “The Joe.” Hopefully the ‘Cats make the playoffs and come back here next week for some postseason baseball.

Kevin Whitaker

Sweeps Notebook

The ValleyCats pretty much knocked Connecticut out of the playoff race, taking all four games from the Tigers in a one-week span. Even after defeating Vermont last night to pull within two games, Connecticut’s odds of reaching the playoffs are still in the 2-3% range. Usually, I find claims of “must-win” games this far out to be hyperbole, but Connecticut probably can’t make the playoffs unless it takes the next two to sweep the Lake Monsters.

Bobby Doran was coming off five spectacular outings (29 IP, 5 ER combined), but didn’t have his best stuff on Tuesday. He uncharacteristically left his fastball up and in hittable places often. Back when he was throwing low-90s early in the year, he might have been able to get away with that command, but last night he was 87-89 (and lower for the first couple batters, though that could have been a radar gun issue) and gave up nine hits. Three doubles in the fourth inning led to two runs, tying the game at 3-3.

Doran went to his curveball often and early in counts, getting a pair of strikeouts on hooks in the third inning. As usual, Doran didn’t walk anybody; he has allowed only seven unintentional free passes this year, for the second-best walk rate in the league (behind only teammate Carlos Quevedo).

Second baseman Alex Nunez made a pair of terrific plays in the early innings. He robbed Ben Orloff of a base hit, diving fully extended to his left and just barely snaring a grounder. He also made a great play coming in on a grounder off the pitcher’s foot making a quick throw while falling to get Mike Kvasnicka on a bang-bang play.

Dan Adamson continued to demonstrate his ridiculous power, getting a 1-2 curveball in the first inning and absolutely crushing it to left field. The blast landed right underneath the scoreboard, some 410 feet from home plate.

Travis Blankenship came on for Doran in the fifth with two outs and two runners in scoring position, and needed just one pitch to get out of the jam. Blankenship fanned lefty Eric Roof in the next inning with three curveballs away and continues to look very strong out of the bullpen.

Scary moment in the fifth: Austin Wates was hit on the right wrist by a 3-2 pitch by Josue Carreno. Wates went down quickly and stayed there for a couple minutes, eventually leaving the game. Things worked out pretty well, however. Pinch-runner Wilton Infante stole second and eventually scored on an infield single by birthday boy Kik&eacute Hernandez, while X-rays on Wates were negative.

Wates, who has a reputation as a terrific hitter, has been performing as advertised since joining the ValleyCats. We watched his first round of BP and it was not pretty – he was slicing balls around the cage, nearly hitting the visitors’ clubhouse a few times, and only squared up one or two well – but he needed no time to adjust, getting five hits in ten at-bats before leaving Tuesday’s game. He sat last night and I don’t know when he will rejoin the lineup, but this does not look like a serious setback.

Carreno came out after the fifth inning and had already thrown 90 pitches. I believe that’s the most we’ve seen from a starter at JBS this year.

Blankenship wasn’t the only reliever to have success on Tuesday. Brandt Walker wasn’t throwing quite as hard as usual – 92-93 instead of 95-ish – but got three strikeouts in 1.2 perfect innings. Meanwhile, Alex Sogard was consistently throwing 92 mph, as hard as I’ve seen all year. Sogard fanned the first four hitters he faced and then got four ground balls; two went through the left side for hits, but the next one was a tailor-made double play ball to escape the 10th.

The ValleyCats stranded seven runners between the 7th and 9th innings, any of which would have won the game. They loaded the bases in the ninth on a two-out rally that did not involve a hit; Ramon Lebron, consistently at 95-96 mph, walked Kik&eacute to load the bases but got Adamson to swing through a fastball up in the zone to force extras. Lebron struck out the side in the tenth inning and got two quick outs in the eleventh. But a walk to Ben Orloff sparked another two-out rally that again did not involve a hit; Hernandez reached base on a throwing error by shortstop Brett Anderson, and Burnett’s grounder went off Anderson’s glove into left field (his fourth error of the game) to bring home Orloff with the winning run.

Kevin Whitaker

Notebook: Two pitchers

Bobby Doran and Jake Buchanan got their seasons off to slow starts, but both have turned things around in their past three or four outings, the biggest reason why the ValleyCats are now in the playoff hunt. Doran picked up his third win in four starts by dominating Williamsport, while Buchanan had an okay outing and fell victim to poor run support. The Crosscutters beat Buchanan and Tri-City on Thursday, snapping the ‘Cats’ four-game win streak (five at home) and avoiding a sweep.

Doran was making his first home start in over five weeks after six consecutive outings on the road. He was a slightly different pitcher than we saw at the beginning of the year. Early on, Doran would sit 92-93 with his fastball and dialed it up as high as 95; on Wednesday, he was 88-91, mainly 87-88 in the later innings*. He’s probably feeling the effects of a long season – between college and the pros, he’s up to 140 game innings at this point, with some throwing in a couple weeks off between seasons – so it will be interesting to see how he throws at the beginning of next season. The reduced velocity was no problem, as he had his best outing of the season, scattering five hits in six shutout innings.

*That’s right – the radar gun is back. I suppose it’s possible that there’s some bias – that the gun is reading differently than it was at the beginning of the season – but the other readings seemed right, and Doran’s drop in velocity was confirmed by the scout we’ve talked to.

Doran pitched off his fastball, going almost exclusively to a curveball for secondary stuff. He got a pair of strikeouts with his hook – a 75-mph to fan Cesar Hernandez in the third, and one 77 to get Edgar Duran swinging in the sixth. The other three whiffs came on his fastball – Duran chasing away in the first (88), Cusick chasing low in the fifth (87), and Lanning watching a 90 mph heater on (okay, off) the inside corner.

One thing stands out about Doran: he works extremely quickly. I don’t think I’ve seen a pitcher all year who goes as fast as Doran. I put a stopwatch for him on a couple pitches, and he was consistently releasing his next pitch within 7-8 seconds of recieving the ball from the catcher. (Usually, 10-11 seconds makes a pitcher something of a fast worker.)

Doran kept the ball down really well, showing great command. He has walked just seven batters in 50.1 innings – the third-best walk rate among NYPL starters.

Buchanan didn’t pitch poorly, but it wasn’t his best outing – three runs, two earned, in 4.2 innings. He was sitting 88-89 with his fastball, but went to his secondary offerings early and often – a 75-80 curve and 80-81 change. In particular, he threw quite a few more changeups than usual. All four strikeouts came on curves.

The earned runs came on one swing, a 3-0 pitch that Domingo Santana absolutely crushed to left. The other five hits were generally harmless.

Kik&eacute Hernandez saved a couple other balls from becoming hits with his best defensive game of the season. He made a diving grab of a fourth-inning liner and a nice sliding backhand on a grounder up the middle in the eighth, plus he came in nicely to make a play on a ball off the pitcher.

We got our first look at John Frawley yesterday – his first two appearances came on the road. He doesn’t exactly blow you away with his stuff – righties with an 83-mph fastball aren’t in high demand – but he sent the Crosscutters down in order in the eighth, getting a strikeout with a curveball (71 mph).

Tyler Burnett’s streak was finally snapped on Thursday: 37 consecutive games reaching base. He won’t be too broken up over losing the streak, which is nine games longer than anyone else in the NYPL has managed to date – he has not wanted to talk about it, and has actually said he hasn’t felt great as far as hitting goes. The streak ended in a disappointing way, though – in the eighth inning, he swung through a 3-2 pitch that was probably high. His 32 walks are good for second place in the league.

Burnett wasn’t the only one to struggle – the ‘Cats managed only five hits and one walk. Starter David Buchanan was the better of the Buchanans, allowing two runs and one earned in six innings. This Buchanan also threw his changeup often and had lots of success with it, keeping the ‘Cats off-balance all night. Two relievers held them hitless over the final three, also mixing their speeds well.

A couple other random great defensive plays: Mike Kvasnicka went way to his left to grab a Miguel Alvarez grounder in the hole yesterday. Wednesday night, Ben Orloff made a great turn on a 6-4-3 double play (off a very slow roller), getting the release while being taken out at second. Tri-City turned five double plays in the Williamsport series.

Kevin Whitaker

Independence Day Notebook

July 4th is always a big day at Joe Bruno Stadium, and last night was no exception. 6,124 fans came to “The Joe” to see some baseball and fireworks, and they got an exciting contest. The ‘Cats won 8-6 behind Dan Adamson’s tie-breaking homer in the eighth inning.

The offense pounded out 13 hits, setting a season high (previous had been 12 on Opening Day). After a three-game shutout sweep at Vermont, the ‘Cats were hitting .197 and we were wondering if they would ever score runs. But in four games since coming home, they’ve averaged 6.5 runs and more than 10 hits per game. Their batting average is up to .220, no longer last in the league (ahead of Lowell and Mahoning Valley). Tri-City won’t be among the league leaders at the end of the year, but fortunately it doesn’t look as inept as it seemed early in the year.

The ‘Cats get a very tough test tonight against Batavia’s Andy Moss. Moss has a 1.69 ERA in 16 innings this season, with 18 strikeouts. He went seven perfect innings in his last start against Mahoning Valley, striking out the side in the seventh. In particular, his command seems likely to pose a problem to Tri-City’s patience-heavy offense – he has walked only one batter this season. If the ValleyCats approach ten hits again tonight, they’ll really be on fire.

Nobody has been better over this homestand than Ben Orloff – the infielder is 5-for-9 with five more BB/HBP, and playing his usual strong defense now that he has recovered from last year’s elbow tendonitis. He was 3-for-3 last night, including his first extra-base hit of the season, a double to bring home Frank Almonte in the fifth inning. Orloff now leads the team with a .370 batting average and a .485 OBP. After the game, manager Jim Pankovits praised the veteran, saying, “it’s no coincidence we’ve been winning more since Orloff has been in the lineup.”

Almonte had the biggest hit of the early stages of the game, a two-run homer to right in the third. It looked like a lazy fly ball off the bat and right fielder Adam Melker expected to catch the ball, but the wind (which always blows out to right field here) carried it a few feet over the wall.

Batavia starter Kevin Siegrist could not find the zone in the first inning, walking four batters in the frame. He threw 31 pitches – only nine of which were strikes – and the damage might have been worse had Frank Almonte not grounded a 2-1 pitch at his hands to short. All of the lefty’s pitches were missing to the same spot – down and in to a right-handed batter (which the Tri-City lineup was filled with yesterday). But he calmed down a little bit afterwards, only allowing one walk in his final two innings. He was pretty much limited to one pitch, as he could find the zone with neither his curveball nor his changeup.

‘Cats starter Bobby Doran left the game in line for his first win of the season. Working quickly, he retired the side in order in the first inning, getting some help from Kik&eacute Hernandez, who showed nice range to his backhand to stab Colin Walsh’s grounder. Doran hit 90 mph on the nose with most of his fastballs, but showed 92 and fanned Joey Bergman with 91 to end the first.

Doran got a little unlucky in the second, as a Jon Rodriguez chopper went over Mike Kvasnicka’s head at third for a double, putting two runners in scoring position with nobody out. Three groundballs limited the damage to just one run. 10 of the 12 outs on balls in play off Doran, and four of the seven base hits, came on grounders.

The righty located pretty well, pitching mostly off his fastball but giving up seven base hits. Two more balls could have easily been hits, but the big Doran got in the way: a fourth-inning line drive that he got his glove on, knocking the ball down and making the play at first; and a one-hop comebacker in the fifth that he fielded cleanly with two on.

Doran flew through the fourth, needing only nine pitches (all strikes). He showed his offspeed chops, fanning Jon Rodriguez with a 76-mph curve. He got in some trouble in the fifth, when two clean singles, a bloop single and a whild pitch brought home two, but froze designated hitter Geoff Klein with an 88-mph fastball to get out of the inning.

The ‘Cats stranded eight runners in the first four innings, 12 for the game. Wilton Infante appeared stranded in the fourth, but reliever Chris Corrigan made a play I don’t believe I’ve ever witnessed – he fielded a soft grounder off Kvasnicka’s bat, had all the time in the world so he lobbed the ball softly to first…except the ball landed 20 feet past first base, allowing Infante to score.

Kvasnicka went 0-for-5, bringin him to 5-for-50 since his first two at-bats. But if he keeps swinging like he did last night, he’ll break out of his slump soon: he hit a hard line drive right at the center fielder in the first inning, and pulled a shot towards the hole with two out in the fifth, but Rodriguez made a terrific diving grab at first. Kvasi also made a couple nice plays at third base, picking a hot grounder to start a 5-4-3 double play in the seventh inning.

The most interesting pitcher we’ve seen here at “The Joe” is Houston Summers, who came in to pitch the sixth and seventh. Summers is a knuckleballer; it was amusing to see the radar gun read 53-58 and be accurate, while the righty lit up the gun with fastballs anywhere from 72-80 mph. But he was certainly successful – Orloff’s bunt single was the only hit the ‘Cats could manage in two innings (Infante also drew a walk). Neither of the players I talked to after the game, Orloff and Dan Adamson, had ever faced a knuckleballer before, and they were amused by the experience.

Alex Sogard wasn’t terribly sharp in his two innings, throwing only 14 strikes in 27 pitches, but the only run he gave up was Rainel Rosario’s line drive longball to left. Joan Belliard came into the eighth inning with a spotless ERA and a .103 BAA, but gave up a single to Bergman and then a moonshot homer to Rodriguez, tying the game.

The offense picked up the bullpen for once, as Adamson took a 1-1 fastball over the fence for a tie-breaking homer. The ball was gone off the bat, landing just below the Metroland sign in left-center. Three singles later, the ‘Cats had picked up an insurance run for the final margin.

Jorge De Leon came on for the save, thrilling the crowd with plenty of heat. He was 92-95 with his fastball, dialing it up to 96 to strike out star Muckdog Nick Longmire looking (to be fair, the pitch was 5-6 inches off the corner). He showed some wildness, walking Walsh and falling behind Bergman. But he got the latter to fly out to center, and then struck out Klein with a 95-mph fastball to end the game.

Given how strong Vermont has looked – the Lake Monsters are off to an unbelievable 14-3 start, with eight consecutive wins – the ValleyCats’ slim playoff hopes probably rest on the wild card. On that front, they got good news last night, as all four Stedler Division teams won on the first day of inter-divisional play.

Kevin Whitaker


Notebook: Vermont roundup

I meant to post this before tonight’s game, but some World Cup-related distractions got in the way, so it’s now a little dated.

Well, the last two games went a little differently than the first six. The biggest difference was that the ‘Cats actually hit the ball. The stats:

-Tri-City had 10 hits in each game, 20 total – as many as the four games before that combined.
-The ValleyCats were batting .197 after six games, but raised that average to .222.
-5 runs on Thursday tied the season high to that point, which was then broken by Friday’s seven-run output.

Adam Bailey and Nick Stanley each broke out of slumps in big ways, getting three hits apiece. Stanley picked up all three in the first six innings – the last of which drove in Mike Kvasnicka to pull Tri-City within three – and walked in his fourth plate appearance. Stanley, meanwhile, drove in the game’s first run with a sacrifice fly in the second and doubled with two out in the tenth, but most will remember his game-tying two-run homer in the eighth.

Bailey’s homer was gone from the moment it hit the bat, easily clearing the second fence in right field. There’s a Dunkin’ Donuts cup of coffee with a giveaway if anyone hits it, and the sign has been mocked for its distance (at least 450 feet away in right field, maybe more). But if Bailey’s shot had been hit another degree or two to the left, it would have landed within 5-10 feet of the sign. I’d be shocked if anyone else comes closer to hitting it all year.

The ValleyCats are now hitting .222 and are no longer last in the league. Even that understates their offense to some degree – their team OPS of .662 ranks 10th of 16 teams in the NYPL. Offensive numbers in this league are always going to be lower than they are in MLB, because many players are in their first year learning to use wooden bats. For example, while the MLB league batting average is generally in the .260-.270 range, the NYPL average is .243 so far this year.

So…I don’t want to say I told you so, but I kinda did. But seriously, the last two games don’t mean the ValleyCats’ offense will be good any more than the previous two meant it was terrible, and so it’s important to keep an eye on the bats moving forward. But now I think we can all relax a bit after their cold start.

Yes, the bullpen was bad last night, giving up six runs and 11 hits in five innings. But it had a 0.70 ERA coming into the game. That was never going to last. The regression came at a bad time, but I still like it to be a strength going forward; a couple bad pitches ended up in bad places against a good-hitting team, but I loved how Belliard and Champion got out of the two-on, one-out jam in the 8th to keep the ‘Cats in the game, and I’m confident the relievers will continue to be strong.

I’m going to keep writing a lot about Mike Kvasnicka, because there’s a lot of interest in how he develops, particularly among Astros fans. Kvasnicka broke out of an 0-for-16 slump with a line-drive single in the first inning of Thursday’s game, also his first base hit right-handed this year. He still hasn’t been lighting things up offensively, but his swing has looked better from both sides, and he is pretty much where you expect him to be in his development. The first-pitch home run on Opening Day was nice, but he still has work to do. One encouraging sign is his plate discipline – he walked four times in 11 plate appearances against Vermont.

Defensively, things were mixed for Kvasnicka at third base against Vermont. He made a nice play in the second inning Thursday, picking up a slow roller and throwing across the diamond. But in the seventh inning of that game, he overran a foul popup, getting to the dugout only to see it fall five feet away, back towards the field. That play really just showed his unfamiliarity with the position – anyone who has ever tried to field a popup from third or catcher knows how difficult it is to judge a ball spinning back towards the field. Later that inning, Connor Rowe hit a hard worm-burner to his right; Kvasnicka got in front of it and gloved it, but couldn’t pick it off the ground, committting his first error of the season at third base. He got another chance with two outs and runners on the corners, redeeming himself on a hard two-hopper right at him. Last night, Marcus Jones hit a ground-ball double down the third-base line that Kvasnicka might have been able to knock down, but he reacted too slowly. Kvas is back in right field tonight.

Another player with positional questions is catcher Ben Heath. He’s still a backstop and will be for the forseeable future, but people have wondered if he has what it takes to stay behind the plate in the big leagues. He really hasn’t made strides towards answering that question yet this season. Heath was behind the plate for two wild pitches by Robert Doran two days ago and a third by Gouvea yesterday, all of which looked blockable. (On the final one, he reached out to scoop a backhand off the bounce instead of getting his body in front of it). He was also slow getting out from behind the plate in the first inning on Friday, allowing Blake Kelso to reach base on a bunt single. I’m not a scout and don’t know if he’ll end up catching in the big leagues, but he’ll have to work hard defensively to get there.

Renzo Tello made a couple of beautiful throws from left field to kill baserunners in Wednesday’s game, but came up short in a critical spot on Friday. Connor Rowe’s tenth-inning single was a soft grounder through the 5-6 hole, and Tello was playing relatively shallow in left. He came up throwing and would have had plenty of time to get Hendry Jimenez at the plate, but it was too far up the first-base line for Heath to make a play. Tello almost made a sensational play in the ninth, leaping to catch Stephen King’s line-drive homer, but missed it by inches (and was shaken up on the play).

But overall, the defense has been very strong recently. Kvasnicka’s fielding error was the only miscue of those two games for Tri-City. As well as he hit on Friday, I was just as impressed with Nick Stanley in the field. I have been critical of Stanley’s defense before, after two subpar games to open the season, but yesterday’s performance makes me think those might have been an aberration. He made a great play in the fourth inning, sliding to backhand a ball in the hole and completing the 3-1 play. A couple batters later, he started a 3-6-1 double play to get out of the inning.

Of course, the two best defensive plays were made by Lake Monsters. In the eighth inning of Thursday’s game, Frank Almonte hit a line drive to left field that looked like a sure double, but speedy outfielder Chad Mozingo raced back and made a terrific diving catch on the warning track. Renzo Tello was already past second base, expecting the ball to drop; Mozingo was able to get the ball back to the infield in time for the relay throw to double Tello off at first. And yesterday, Enrique Hernandez drove a one-hopper off the mound, but second baseman Blake Kelso dove to his right and snared the ball off the bounce, recovering to throw Hernandez out at first.

We had a scary moment in the third inning of Thursday’s game when shortstop Oscar Figueroa and center fielder Wilton Infante collided going after a popup in the middle of the field. Infante made the catch and was fine, but Figgy went down hard and stayed there for a couple minutes. He remained in the game and it didn’t seem to affect his play much, but he was still feeling the collision in his shoulder the following day.

Some other assorted notes on Tri-City pitchers:

Robert Doran had a very good outing Thursday night. His final line is okay – 4 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, 3 SO, 1 BB – but it really could have been a lot better than that. Only one of those was really well-struck, though – a line-drive double to center by Wilfri Pena that scored a run. Pena only batted that inning because Doran slipped going after a nubber towards third, and while the other hits weren’t as lucky as that one, they could have easily been outs. A pair of ground balls found holes, and Justin Miller hit a ball in the gap that looked like an easy out off the bat but carried forever, going with the wind for a double. It’s a shame Doran was pulled after four due to his pitch count (57); he deserved the win in that game.

Doran was sitting 89-91 for the game, showing an 80 changeup fairly often. More impressively, he threw first-pitch strikes to the first 16 hitters he faced. Astros County picked up on this as well, and it’s by no means unusual within this staff. The day before, Carlos Quevedo went FPS on 15 of the first 16; on Opening Day Quevedo started out 12/12.

The guy who did get the win Thursday, lefty reliever Chris Blazek, did pitch even better. Blazek pitched in Troy way back in 2005 and was last seen in Corpus Christi in 2008, but sat out last season with a labrum tear in his pitching shoulder. The 25-year-old is working his way back up the ranks, and probably won’t be with the ValleyCats much longer if he continues to throw like he did against Vermont. Blazek struck out the side in order in the fifth inning, throwing a dirty changeup to fool Jimenez for the second out. He was just as perfect in his second inning of work, getting two strikeouts and a harmless grounder to first. The southpaw only sits around 85-87 (touched 88), but he hides the ball very well in his delivery, making it hard to pick up out of his hand. Opponents also have to respect his offspeed stuff – the change that got Jimenez clocked at 80, while he throws a breaking ball in the mid-70s – so even though his fastball doesn’t have great velocity, it gets on hitters quickly. As much as I’d love to see Blazek here as long as possible, I would imagine he’ll get promoted sometime in the next couple weeks.

Possibly the most interesting Tri-City pitcher this year is Jorge De Leon, a converted shortstop with an incredibly live arm. The closer was stretched out for a two-inning save on Thursday and got five-sixths of the way there, but walked the final two hitters and had to be replaced by Michael Ness. De Leon didn’t have great command that night, walking two and hitting a third. But he still showed flashes of dominance, freezing King on a curveball to open the eighth and then sawing off Jason Martinson with a 91-mph fastball on the hands. He never hit the 97 that he’s capable of on Thursday, but was in the low-90s and ramped it up as high as 95.

Murillo Gouvea did not command the ball well in his first start, losing a lot of pitches at the batters’ eyes. He had some more bad at-bats on Friday, but overall his control was much better, and he walked only one in five innings of work. Gouvea was again hurt by the longball, though; he gave up his second homer of the season, a two-run shot to Rowe in the fifth. That was about all the damage Gouvea allowed, however – he gave up a run in the fifth on a walk, bunt single, sacrifice bunt and sacrifice fly, and didn’t allow anyone else past second base.

I’ll have more analysis from tonight’s crazy game, hopefully tomorrow afternoon before the 5 pm start.

Kevin Whitaker

Other links: Fan blogger Jim Davey talks about Heath’s game-tying homer and some fans he encountered at “The Joe”

VCN’s Elliot Travis has video from Thursday’s game:

And from Friday:


2010 ValleyCats Roster

In case you missed the news yesterday, we have an official roster for the 2010 ValleyCats. Here’s the press release.

We’ll be providing plenty of information on each player throughout the season. In the meantime, here’s some more information on the roster:

A total of 14 college players will be making their professional debut with the ValleyCats, after being selected in last week’s amateur draft. Foremost among them is Michael Kvasnicka of Minnesota, taken with the 33rd overall pick and signed yesterday. Kvasnicka played the outfield and caught for the Gophers, but Houston sees him as a third baseman, so Tri-City fans will get to watch his transition to the hot corner firsthand. He’s also listed as a utility player, which means we’ll probably see some of him in the outfield, and I wouldn’t be shocked if he gets a few innings at second base. I wrote more about Kvasnicka after the draft.

A couple of other high draft picks will be joining Kvasnicka in Troy this week. Texas Tech pitcher Bobby Doran and Penn State catcher Ben Heath – selected in the fourth and fifth round, respectively – also were assigned to Troy. Two other pitchers taken in the first ten rounds will don ValleyCats uniforms this year: NC State righty Jake Buchanan and Xavier lefty Thomas Shirley. I also wrote about these Day 2 selections last week.

Buchanan should not be very lonely at Tri-City this year, as he joins a pair of former teammates on the ValleyCats. Left-handed pitcher Andrew Sogard was also drafted out of NC State this season in the 26th round. And first baseman Nick Stanley played for the Wolfpack before being drafted in the 25th round last season.

Eleven foreign players add an international flavor to this season’s roster. Five ValleyCats hail from Venezuela and five from the Dominican Republic, while pitcher Murilo Gouvea is from Brazil. Perhaps the most interesting of these players is Jorge De Leon. In his fourth professional season, the righty played 66 games between Tri-City and Lexington at shortstop, but batted just .206/.246/.286. This offseason, Houston decided to convert him to the mound, and he will be pitching for the ValleyCats this year. His fastball has reportedly been clocked at 97 mph this spring, making him one of the most interesting members of the pitching staff.

Five other members of this year’s roster spent time in Troy in 2009. Stanley played in 63 games for the ValleyCats in his first professional season, batting .230/.308/.354 at first base. Joining Stanley in the infield is middle infielder Ben Orloff, who batted just .165 in 97 at-bats before finishing the season at Greenville, and 1B/U Oscar Figueroa, who appeared in two games last season. Centerfielder Renzo Tello will also return to Troy after playing 45 games for Tri-City last year. The only true pitcher to return to the staff is Brendan Stines, who went 3-0 with a 4.93 ERA out of the bullpen in 2009.

Some other related links:

VCN was able to talk with Astros GM Ed Wade at Yankee Stadium last weekend, when Houston came to New York for interleague play. Here’s Wade’s take on the draft and what to expect at Tri-City in 2010:



The Hardball Times breaks down the 2010 MLB Draft. Houston split evenly between pitchers and hitters, but drafted 25 high school players, more than all but three teams.

John Sickels of Minor League Ball posted a review of Houston’s draft, with mostly positive impressions. Sickels is a big fan of one of our 2010 ValleyCats, fourth-round pick Robert Doran.

Former Astro Morgan Ensberg had an interesting piece describing what went through his head when he was drafted.

Tonight is the Rensselaer County Chamber of Commerce Baseball Challenge. The annual event lets Chamber members “be a ValleyCat for a day,” dressing in locker rooms, taking batting practice and then playing a seven-inning game at The Joe. VCN will be running a full-scale production of the game in preparation for Opening Day, so stay tuned tonight for a glimpse of the coverage we’ll be bringing you this season. (Update: Team Niagara wins, 2-0. Read about it here.)

Kevin Whitaker

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