Results tagged ‘ Mike Foltynewicz ’

Notebook: Toaster trouble

As fans were filing into Joe Bruno Stadium about an hour before Sunday’s game, there was an awful stench coming from the concourse. It did not take long to locate the source of the chaos: someone in the home clubhouse had left a piece of bread burning in the toaster.

Apparently, this is not the first time that the ValleyCats have struggled with a toaster. Earlier this season, corner infielder Tyler Burnett had a similar toaster-related mishap in the players’ dorms at RPI, setting off the fire alarms in the wee hours of the morning.

As much trouble as the ValleyCats have had figuring out kitchen appliances, it pales in comparison to the difficulty they have had figuring out Lowell pitchers. Aside from the unbelievably wild Randy Consuegra, the Spinners pitchers have had tremendous success against Tri-City.

The line so far for Lowell pitchers, sans Consuegra, against the ValleyCats:

34.2 IP, 19 H, 35 SO, 14 BB, 3 ER, 0.78 ERA, .156 BAA

Right from the start, it was clear that yesterday would be tough for the Tri-City offense. Lefty Hunter Cervenka dialed it up as high as 94 mph and hit every one of his spots early on. He was perfect with five strikeouts through the first two innings, needing only 23 pitches to make the home team hitters look foolish. Cervenka got a little looser with his command in the third and the ‘Cats made him pay, taking advantage of a walk, a hit batsman and an error to tie the game at 1-1, but still could not hit balls hard.

Cervenka took a no-hitter into the fifth inning, when veteran first baseman Nick Stanley broke up the bid with a one-out single after fighting through an eight-pitch at-bat. Stanley’s safety was not particularly well-hit – a Texas Leaguer to the opposite field – but it fell in the right place. The hard-throwing lefty was then removed from the game, as he had already reached surpassed his limit with 72 pitches.

“[Cervenka’s] command was real good,” Ben Heath said. “He pitched against us over at Lowell, and he was also really good there.”

“I don’t know what it is with that kid, but we didn’t swing the bats well against him over there,” manager Jim Pankovits said of Cervenka. “Lowell is kind of a strange team – [tonight it was] a different team than you saw last night, that’s for sure.”

Reliever Stephen Fox was just as effective. The righty only reached the high 80s with his fastball, but went to his 75-77 curveball early and often, keeping Tri-City hitters off-balance. Fox retired the first ten hitters he faced, and the first hit he allowed was similarly soft: Dan Adamson hit a grounder to first and beat the pitcher to the bag for an infield single.

The only well-struck base hit the ValleyCats had all game came in the ninth inning, when Heath lined an 0-1 slider over the Tri-City bullpen in left. The catcher leads the team with a pair of longballs, both ninth-inning blasts.

Lost in the shuffle was the fact that Tri-City starter Jake Buchanan threw very well. Pankovits said after the game that Buchanan isn’t yet where he’d like to be, and that’s undoubtedly true in terms of stamina – he was pulled after three innings and 50 pitches. But I was very impressed with the righty’s performance last night.

Buchanan was sitting 88-89 with his fastball, but hitters were still swinging late often, possibly out of respect for his changeup and curveball. He had good run to the arm side as well; shortstop Oscar Figueroa was the main beneficiary of this, picking up three 6-3 assists in the first two innings.

The eighth-round draft pick out of NC State did walk two hitters, but it wasn’t as if he showed a complete lack of control – he issued a bases-empty walk to Kolbrin Vitek in the first on a full count, and Nick Robinson worked an 11-pitch walk in the third inning. Robinson’s would prove more critical when Felix Sanchez followed with a line drive single up the middle – the first hit of the game – and Buchanan hit Jose Garcia on a 2-2 couint, loading the bases. Vitek hit into a fielder’s choice at short, but it was too slow to complete the double play and Robinson scored.

Chris Blazek came on for the fourth, and was brilliant as usual, consistently at 88 mph with his fastball. He did allow his second hit of the season, but it was a lazy fly ball to left that could have been caught if Renzo Tello had made a better read on it. Blazek retired the next two hitters in order, throwing a dirty 79-mph changeup to send David Renfroe down swinging. His season line: 4.2 IP, 2 H, 1 BB, 10 SO.

Blazek is too good for this level. But don’t tell that to anyone in the Houston front office, because I really enjoy watching him pitch.

It was the other Tri-City relievers who uncharacteristically struggled. David Martinez came into the game with a perfect ERA in 6.2 innings, but the Lowell ofefnse woke against him immediately. Felix Sanchez reached on a one-out bunt single – his second of the two-game series – and stole second base; Jose Garcia advanced him 90 feet with a line drive to left. Martinez got Kolbrin Vitek to fly out to shallow right field and could have been out of the inning, but while Adam Bailey’s throw was in plenty of time to catch the speedy Sanchez, it was too far up the third-base line for Heath to make the tag. Two more line-drive hits, the last a shot to the center-field wall by Brandon Jacobs, and the Spinners had a 4-1 lead.

Martinez had a strong second inning, but the meat of the Lowell lineup feasted on Brendan Stines. Garcia hit a line drive into the Lowell bullpen, and Vitek and Miles Head followed with base hits, tacking on two more runs.

Brandt Walker came on to finish the game. His line wasn’t pretty – five hits and a run in two innings – but I would not worry much about the five hits – they were all singles and each one was a grounder that found a hole. The four outs in play off Walker were also ground balls. When you can hit 92-93 like Walker can (and he flashed a nice curve to fan Garcia) with that kind of sink, you’re usually going to have success as a pitcher. Walker did issue a four-pitch walk to Vitek and a five-pitch free pass to Robinson, each of which loaded the bases.

The box score shows a poor game for Heath defensively, as he fielded the bunt single and allowed stolen bases to Sanchez and Vitek. But although I’ve been critical of Heath’s defense before, that wasn’t the problem last night: Sanchez is fast as hell, his bunt was perfectly placed, Vitek stole on a breaking ball and both runners got good jumps off the pitcher. I’ll continue to keep an eye on him behind the plate as the season progresses, but I have no complaints from last night.

I got a chance yesterday to talk with Heath about making the transition to pro ball as a catcher:

Anytime you have a new staff, it’s an adjustment. But it’s also exciting to catch guys who have really good stuff. A lot of guys here throw heavy sinkers – a lot of times, you see a guy throwing 88-90 and think it’s not huge velocity, but if he has sink on the ball, you can’t really tell from the side. It’s definitely a different level than college. But we have a great pitching staff, and it’s fun to catch.

A couple other news items from the weekend:

The 19th overall draft pick, Mike Foltynewicz, made his debut for the Greenville Astros on Saturday. He threw one inning, allowing a hit but erasing the runner with a pickoff. He will be in rookie ball all season, according to reports, so he will not be a ValleyCat in 2010.

And we have reports that third-round pick Austin Wates will sign with Houston soon. Houston will reportedly try Wates out at second base. Given the similarities between Wates and Mike Kvasnicka – advanced bats with positional questions – I would have to think there’s a good chance he comes to Troy. If he does, Wates could be an impact bat for the ValleyCats right away – something it looks like this team could use.

(Update: apparently that report was false.)

Kevin Whitaker

MLB Draft Recap – Winners and losers

The 2010 MLB Draft concludes today with rounds 31-50, but at this point the draftees are either organizational filler or unsignable high school players. Most of the interesting action happened on Monday and Tuesday, in the first 30 rounds. You can replay our live coverage of Day 1 and Day 2 here on ‘Cats Corner.

We’ll have much more information on Houston’s draftees later in the week, but here’s a general review of how the draft went:

The first pick, as everybody expected, was 17-year-old phenom Bryce Harper. But there was an element of surprise to the pick. Harper has grown up a catcher, and his position is part of the reason why he has been so hyped. Yes, he offers more potential at the plate than any prospect in years, but that becomes even more special if he can do it while playing the hardest position on the field. There were always concerns that Harper would be forced to a different position eventually, because players of his size generally break down after years of catching – but it was generally expected that the Nationals would try him out behind the plate first. However, there Bud Selig was up there on the podium, announcing Harper as a right fielder.

I tend to agree with the majority opinion on this one – the Nationals should have seen how he could handle catching first. Reasonable minds can disagree – Harper can get to the major leagues more quickly as an outfielder and might enjoy a longer career – but his offensive production would be so much more valuable if he could sustain it while catching 120-130 games.

It didn’t take long for more surprises to come. Jameson Taillon went #2 to the Pirates and Manny Machado #3 to Baltimore, as everybody expected. But with the fourth pick, Kansas City took shortstop Christian Colon – a player absolutely nobody had connected to them until an hour before the draft.

Then came a run on college starters, although ones with much different backgrounds. Cleveland took lefty Drew Pomeranz with the fifth pick, Arizona followed with safe and polished righty Barret Loux, and the Mets went with a riskier choce, Matt Harvey of UNC.

That brought Houston up at #8. The Astros had been tied to some highly-rated power hitters, Michael Choice and Josh Sale, but instead went took a player with the opposite profile: Delino DeShields, Jr. The son of the former major leaguer is possibly the fastest player in the draft, but even if he fills out a little, power will not be his strongest suit. The Astros say they see him as a second baseman long-term, but he will see significant time at center field as well.

The next ten picks were all over the place. Teams that got great value included San Diego at #9 (polished and projectable high school starter Karsten Whitson, one of my favorite players in the draft), Cincinnati at #12 (ACC Player of the Year Yasmani Grandal), the White Sox at #13 (LHP Chris Sale, a projected top-five pick as late as draft day) and Tampa Bay at #17 (Josh Sale). Meanwhile, due to financial restrictions and an unprotected pick, Texas took unheralded outfielder Jake Skole at #15, while the Cubs went way off the board and shocked everybody with Division-II starter Hayden Simpson with the sixteenth pick.

The Astros became the first team to pick twice, sitting at #19. They too went with an unexpected choice, high school pitcher Mike Foltynewicz. The righty is well-built and can already hit 96 on the gun, with good movement on his fastball, and combines it with a good changeup. But the lack of a strong breaking ball and a definite out pitch caused most scouts and analysts to expect Foltynewicz to drop to the supplemental or second round.

The back half of the round was full of surprises. St Louis finally ended the descent of Arkansas infielder Zack Cox – who was seen as the most big-league-ready hitter in the class and a projected top-ten pick until he came out with an outrageous bonus demand the day before the draft – while the Rays again got great value, nabbing high school catcher Justin O’Conner. The Angels took three Georgia high schoolers in the first round alone. The Dodgers turned a lot of heads by drafting potential LSU quarterback Zach Lee – the most cash-starved team in baseball taking the least signable player in the draft – while the Yankees went with an unexpectedly low-profile selection in Rochester-area shortstop Cito Culver.

Houston had one more first-day selection, the first pick of the supplemental round. The Astros chose Michael Kvasnicka, from the University of Minnesota. Kvasnicka’s position is still very much unclear – he played mainly right field at Minnesota, was seen as a catcher entering the draft and was announced as a third baseman – but he should be able to hit at a big-league level.

The second day was filled with some intrigue early on. Pittsburgh added to its stash of flamethrowing high school pitchers by choosing Stetson Allie at #52, seen by many as a top-15 talent. But some other big names fell much further. One of the top prep pitchers, A.J. Cole, fell to the Nationals at the top of Round 4 due to signability concerns. James Paxton, caught in limbo after the NCAA declared him ineligible to return to Kentucky and exiled to an independent league, was drafted by the Mariners with pick #132. 

A couple local products heard their names called: Shaker graduate Thomas Kahnle (Lynn University) by the Yankees in the fifth round and Greg Holle of CBA (TCU) by Milwaukee in the 11th. The Dodgers spent their sixth-round pick on another player expected to cost a lot, prep pitcher Kevin Gausman, immediately followed by Boston fittingly drafting an outfielder named Kendrick Perkins. The day’s biggest faller was California-area outfielder Austin Wilson, who dropped all the way to the Cardinals at #379. Wilson was seen as a top-25 talent but didn’t perform very well this spring, and teams felt he would be impossible to sign away from a strong Stanford commitment.

There were a few clear winners in this year’s draft. Although they went relatively safe with Ball St 2B/OF Kolbrin Vitek with their first selection, Boston then made it a point to sign a lot of over-slot players who dropped because of financial reasons. If they can sign most of these picks – including pitchers Anthony Ranaudo and Brandon Workman, as well as outfielder Bryce Brentz – they’ll have the most talented group of prospects by far. St. Louis also had a very good draft, grabbing Cox and Tyrell Jenkins well after they were expected to be off the board and getting a potential ace reliever in the second round, Jordan Swaggerty. I was a big fan of Tampa Bay’s draft; they got some great prep talent in the first without committing too much money, as neither Sale or O’Conner are expected to be particularly expensive signings, and got some nice value in Day 2. And Pittsburgh’s top three picks were sensational; they got the two hardest-throwing pitchers in the draft, Taillon and Allie, plus a top-50 talent in Mel Rojas Jr.

The losers are a little harder to pinpoint. Neither New York team had a very good draft: the Mets went primarily for low-ceiling players after Harvey, while the Yankees spent three of their first five picks on players originally from upstate NY or the tri-state area – drafting local kids works okay if you’re the Angels or Braves, but doesn’t make much sense for a cold-weather team. The White Sox and Brewers played things fairly safe, while the Dodgers will sign very few players if they are as desperate for cash as they have acted over the past year.

How did the Astros fare? I was not a fan of their Day 1 performance, but they redeemed themselves in the later rounds and did a good job of adding talent to a very thin system. Houston loved DeShields all spring, but I thought there were better players they could get at #8, and although I like Foltynewicz a lot more than I did right after hearing his name called, other players could have offered at least as much value at that spot. Kvasnicka is a good pick at #33 if they see him as a catcher, less so if they’re serious about third base. 

Scouting Director Bobby Heck has had success so far with some unconventional selections – such as Jason Castro with the 10th pick in 2008 and Jordan Lyles at #38 that year – so Astros fans have some reason to give these prospects the benefit of the doubt. But these picks will be under scrutiny by other people in the baseball world. 
Houston performed very well on Day 2, however. Second-rounder Vincent Velasquez is relatively raw and was seen as primarily a shortstop until excelling at a showcase event this spring, but has very good stuff and a smooth delivery. Austin Wates was almost universally loved as a third-round selection; his eventual position is in doubt, but he’s the best pure hitter the Astros drafted. They went with another Big 10 catcher in Round 5, Ben Heath, who slugged .747 for Penn State this season but also might not end up behind the plate. Houston raised some eyebrows with the Heath pick and catcher Roberto Pena in the seventh – they already have a young but big-league-ready backstop in the minors, top prospect Jason Castro – but catchers are a valuable asset and the Astros have very few good assets in the system. If one or more of these recievers pans out and Castro is still going strong, Houston will deal with it then, and teams are always looking to trade for good catchers.

A couple signability picks have the chance to turn a solid Astros draft into a great one. I love Adam Plutko in the sixth round. He doesn’t have ace-caliber stuff, but his command was rated the best of all the high-school arms in the class. It’s not like he’s a complete softballer either; he can throw up to 93-94 and throws a very solid changeup. He dropped to the sixth round because of a strong commitment to UCLA that significantly raised his price tag, but if he really wants to play pro ball, three years in college isn’t going to do much to help the stock of a pitcher who’s already as advanced as Plutko. The other big-name pick is Jacoby Jones, a high school shortstop from Mississippi that dropped all the way to the 19th round. He has a strong commitment to LSU and will demand a large bonus – early reports had his price tag around $1.5M – but if the Astros are willing to pony up, they could have the steal of the draft.

Kevin Whitaker
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