Tagged: Arizona Fall League

Billy Beane Has Been A Busy Boy This Month

Billy Beane has continued to make roster moves since I last posted here.  Some seem to be improvements for the team.  Others are downright puzzling.

Sheets Signs One-Year Deal:  Undoubtedly, the biggest move is the signng of free agent Ben Sheets to a one-year $10-million deal plus incentives, to anchor the starting rotation for 2010. 
Ben Sheets Head Shot.jpgThat makes it the largest 1-year contract the A’s have given to a free agent from outside the organization.

The 31-year old hurler didn’t  pitch at all in 2009 because he underwent flexor tendon surgery in his right elbow a year ago.  In his 8 years in the majors, he achieved an 86-83 record with a 3.72 ERA, and had double digit wins in 7 of the last 8 seasons.  In 2008 he went 13-9 with a 3.09 ERA in 31 starts.

On January 19th he threw a pitching session at the University of Louisiana at Monroe, and impressed scouts from several organizations, including Oakland, reportedly hitting the low-90’s with his fastball.  If he is healthy he’ll most likely be the #1 starter and will be an invaluable veteran presence for the younger guys in the rotation.

2010 Pitching Rotation:  The rotation will most probably line up as follows:  Sheets, Duchscherer, Anderson, Braden and Cahill, not necessarily in that order.  Spring training will shake this out when we see how Sheets, Duke and Braden do, coming of long stints on the DL and surgeries last year.  We can’t forget about Gio Gonzalez, Vin Mazarro, and Josh Outman who could pitch their way into the rotation, especially if one or two of the guys above don’t fare so well in Arizona.  The presence of Sheets will go a long way toward reducing the pressure on the young arms that was so evident in 2009.

Wuertz Returns to the A’s Bullpen.  The A’s rewarded Michael Wuertz for his outstanding work in the bullpen last year with a 2-year, $5.25 million contract. 
Michael Wuertz Doing His Thing.jpgThe team also has a $3.5M option for 2012, with a $250K buyout if the option is not exercised.  He is expected to earn $2.2M in 2010 and $2.8M in 2011. Wuertz was the A’s last arbitration-elligible player to sign.  His record in 2009 (6-1, 2.63 ERA, 74 appearances, and league-leading 102 strikeouts) was so good that the A’s violated their rule to tender only 1-year deals for arbitration-elligible players.

Monday, Feb 1st, Was a Busy Day.  The A’s signed free-agent outfielder Gabe Gross to a 1-year contract.  Gross hit .227 with 6 homers and 36 RBI’s in 282 at-bats last season for the Tampa Bay Rays. 

  
Gabe Gross in Rays Uni - cropped.jpgHe can play all 3 outfield positions, bats left, and has always been a solid defender.  “We just felt like he was a good fit for th team, whether it’s spotting some of our guys agains tough righties or filling at time since he can play both corner outfield positions.  We’ve always liked the way he plays,” said Assistant GM David Forst. His signing spelled the end of the speculation that Johnny Damon might resign with the A’s.

Also, last Monday, the A’s completed a trade with the Cincinnati Reds, obtaining infielder Adam Rosales and outfielder Willy Taveras for infielder Aaron Miles.  It was made evident that the key player in the deal for the A’s was Rosales, as they immediately designated Taveras for assignment. 

Rosales completes the infield picture for the 2010 A’s, as he can play all 4 infield positions, and will be used as a utility infielder and to spell Cliff Pennington at shortstop.  If any of the other infielders go down with injuries, he could get significant playing time.  “Our scouts have seen a lot of him over the past few years, and every single one of them just loves the way he plays the game and really likes his versatility,” said Asst. GM David Forst, who compared his energy to that of Eric Byrnes.

The A’s have until Feb. 11th to trade or release Taveras or they will be on the hook for $1.7M of his $2.3M salary for 2010.  The A’s are not in need of another outfielder, especially after the signing of Gross, so they will be looking to move him in the next week.  If they can’t and he clears waivers, he could go to the minors, most likely the Sacramento River Cats.

Finally, the A’s also designated for assignment infielder Gregorio Petit, and pitcher Dana Eveland (long overdue IMHO)

  
Dana Eveland.jpgHot off the wire, Eveland was traded today (Saturday 2/6) to Toronto for cash and a player to be named later, just 5 days after he was designated for assignment. 

They also claimed Twins’ minor-league infielder off waivers.  Tolleson, according to Forst, “…is another guy our scouts have liked since seeing him play in the  Arizona Fall League in 2008.  He can play a number of positions and helps add to the depth.”  Both he and Rosales have options left, giving the A’s lots of flexibility, esepcially of one or two of the regular infielders go down with injury (Chavez?). 

After the A’s acquired Aaron Miles, I became very curious about his role on the team as we didn’t hear his name mentioned at all in plans for the upcoming season.  Apparently, Miles know he might be used as trade bait when he was acquired by the A’s.  An Antioch native, he admitted, “It would have been nice to stay local and play for the hometown team.  But in the end, you gotta go with what’s best for your career, and I think that’s definitely in Cincinnati.”

Spring Training.  The A’s will have a lot of depth when they arrive at spring training later this month.  Is Billy Beane happy with who they have now?  Not so fast.  Forst said that the swarm of roster moves last Monday doesn’t necessarily mean the club is done wheeling and dealing.

MiscellaneaOC Signs:  Former A’s Shortstop, Orlando Cabrera signed a $3M deal with the Cincinnati Reds, which includes a $3M option for 2011 with a $1M buyout of the club doesn’t want to sign him for the additonal year.

A Higher Calling A’s Minor-League outfielder Grant Desme, the MVP of the 2009 Arizona Fall League, got a call, but it wasn’t from the A’s brass.

 
Grant Desme hits Homer at AFL 2009 - cropped.jpgHe resigned from professional baseball in late January to embark on the 10-year path to becoming a priest, starting with studies at St. Michael’s Abbey in Orange County beginning next August.  “It’s like I’m re-entering the Minor Leagues,” he said.

Sacramento River Cats Owner Dies:  Arthur Lynn Savage, the man who changed evenings in Sacramento and gave the River-City  baseball fans a home team to brag about, passed away at his East Sacramento home on Nov. 22, 2009.  He was 58.


Art Savage, Late River Cats Owner.jpgThe River Cats organization is one of the nation’s most successful minor league franchises. 
During the last 10 years, the River Cats broke attendance records every year, outdistancing 200 other minor league teams in the country. 

Mr. Savage was named the Sporting News Minor League Executive of the Year in 2000 and the franchise was honored with the Bob Freitas Award for Excellence in Minor League Baseball for the 2004 season.  He will be sorely missed by all who knew or played for him.

That’s all for now.  I’ll be at spring training with the A’s from March 17th to the 25th.  It should be lots of fun watching all that talent contend for the right to break camp with the A’s. 

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Arizona in the Fall: A Great Baseball Experience

I am almost reluctant to write about this topic, because one of the reasons the Arizona Fall League is so much fun is that the stands are pretty empty and you can hear everything said on the field.  It’s an intimate experience and I’d like it to stay that way.  Selfish me.  That said, I’ll go against my better judgment and share my experiences with you.

I first went to the Arizona Fall League in October of 2007.  At an A’s Booster Club luncheon in September that year, I talked to Jim Young, the Director of Media Relations for the A’s, and told him I wanted to interview some A’s pitchers for background for my novel.  He said it would be difficult for me to talk to the Major League players, but I should hop on a plane to Phoenix in October and talk to the minor league players in the A’s organization who would be pitching in the Arizona Fall League.  He gave me the name of Paul Jensen, his counterpart at the AFL, and suggested I contact him.

I made the trip and interviewed Jeff Gray, Brad Kilby and James Simmons in 2007.  The first two made it to Oakland this season and pitched extremely well for the A’s, and both have a good shot at making the opening day roster in 2010.  James should at least get a cup of coffee in Oakland next season. 

I made a return trip this year to talk to the new crop of AFL pitchers from the A’s.  Paul again set up interviews for me with Justin Friend, Mickey Storey, Sam Demel and an encore visit with James Simmons, who play for the Phoenix Desert Dogs in the AFL.Desert Dogs Logo.gif  All I can say is that the A’s farm system is brimming with good pitchers, now and  for some time to come.

I took my accustomed place in the first row of seats next to the Desert Dogs dugout at Phoenix Municipal stadium, the same dugout occupied by the A’s at spring training. 
 Rob Morse, one of Paul’s assistants, went into the clubhouse and came back with Justin Friend, who sat down next to me in the stands so we could talk.

Justin Friend at AFL 2009 - resized.jpg“I’d dreamed of playing professional baseball since I was a kid, and baseball gave me an opportunity to do things I wouldn’t have dreamed of doing, like getting a scholarship for college.”  He played for A’s pitcher Brett Anderson’s dad at Oklahoma State, where he majored in Education. Justin was drafted by the A’s after his junior year in the 13th round of the 2007 First-Year Player Draft.

We talked about the life of a ballplayer off the field–the info I need for my novel–what they do for fun, what they do in the offseason, etc.  All very enlightening for me.  Basically, he said that they work so hard during the season, that he just “relaxes and doesn’t do much.” 

Justin is a relief pitcher and spent most of 2009 playing for the Stockton Ports (Hi-A), where he had an era of 2.87.  He was called up to Midland (AA) for 9 games, and 1 game he’d like to forget at Sacramento (AAA).  He lives in Manteca, California, and gives pitching lessons to kids in the offseason to make a little money and give back to his community.

Next to emerge from the clubhouse was Mickey Charles Storey.

 
Mickey Story at AFL 2009 - resized 5x7.jpg
 
 Yes, he was named for THE Mickey Charles Mantle, who was his dad’s favorite player, even though he never saw him play (I did!).  “I didn’t have much of a choice.  My dad was into baseball.  I played baseball with him from the time I was old enough to walk.”  Mickey grew up in Florida in the Boca Raton area (he still lives there), and attended Florida Atlantic University.  He and his fiancee have an 8-month-old daughter.

Mickey was selected in the 31st round of the 2008 draft and started out with the Kane County Cougars (Low-A).   After he appeared in 13 games and posted a 0.54 ERA, he was promoted to Stockton and pitched in 22 games, earning a 2.28 ERA .  He was also called up to Midland for 4 games, and later by Sacramento for 2 games in which he pitched 3 innings and didn’t give up any hits or walks and had 4 strikeouts (0.00 ERA).

2009 was his first year as a relief pitcher.  “I’m fine with it,” he says.  He likes the chance to pitch more often because it “makes me feel more like a part of the team on a day to day basis.”  We’re fine with it too, with numbers he has posted.  Look for him to start out at Midland in 2010.

Sam Demel was my next victim.  I say victim because I had a complete brain fade and called him Josh.  Great way to begin an interview.  Anyway, Sam started playing baseball at age 8, “which was late for most guys.”  He was drafted out of high school by the Texas Rangers, but decided to go to Texas Christian University instead, where he majored in Communications.  After his 3rd year, he was drafted by the A’s in the 3rd round (120th overall) of the 2007 draft.

 
Sam Demel at AFL 2009 BEST - resized.jpg2008 was his first full year in the minors, spending the season at Stockton, where he posted a 3.36 ERA and had 18 saves out of 24 opportunities (2nd in the league), and limited opponents to a .227 batting average.  He’s a sinker-slider pitcher who gets a lot of ground balls, which accounts for the low opponents batting average. 

In 2009 he started at Midland, and, after appearing in 27 games and posting a 0.67 ERA, he was called up to Sacramento where he played the rest of the season.  He’ll most likely start out there in 2010.

Sam loves being a ballplayer.  “I get to play a game for a living, and they pay me for it.  It can’t get any better than that.”  He’s married and his wife visits him in Sacramento whenever she can.   “I spend all day outside [playing ball], so when I’m away from the ballpark, I’m a TV junkie. I watch Criminal Minds, CSI, things like that.”  He plays golf when he can and has a 9 handicap, but it’s hard for him during the season to get out on the links.  In the offseason, he plays 5 times a week.  “I do nothing but golf, watch TV and workout.”

He says he’s been a lucky charm for his fellow roommates on the road.  3 times last year his roommates got called up to the A’s:  Jeff Gray, Jay Marshall, and John Meloan.  He was supposed to room with Brad Kilby the day he was called up to the A’s. He’s hoping some of that luck will rub off on him in 2010.

My final interview was with James Simmons, whom I had interviewed in 2007 at the AFL.

 
James Simmons at AFL 2009-2 - resized.jpg
 It was fun to catch up with him, though I have seen him several times at spring training and this past season at Sacramento River Cats games, where he is often in the stands behind home plate charting pitches.  He read a draft of my novel and gave me invaluable input, even rewriting my lame attempts at ballpayer dialog to sound more like the real thing.  James had so much to say when I saw him this time that I will do a separate article on him in a day or so.

All of these fine young men told me that there isn’t much “off” in the offseason, especially if they are fortunate enough to be sent to the Fall League, which didn’t end until November 21st this year.  Spring training begins in mid-February, so they get a little less than 3 months “off.”  After a grueling long season, they need to have some down time.  11 weeks just isn’t enough time for a very tired body to recover. 

Most of them told me that the offseason is mostly spent getting in shape for the next season.  That’s the only time they can do any heavy lifting or other weight training to build up muscle and strength. All they can do during the season is maintain.  If they did more during the season, they’d get sore and wouldn’t be able to pitch.  And here I thought they just laid around and goofed off in the offseason.

So that’s it for today.  I would like to give a big thanks to Betty Dragon who supplied the awesome pictures in this article.

Stay tuned for upcoming articles: Sitting Down With James Simmons, The AFL Rising Stars Game and others.  I will be posting on an intermittent basis, so check back often.  Sign up for an RSS feed at the lower right or email me at beebee723@comcast,net and I’ll put you on my email list to notify you when I post a new article.  And thank you so much for reading my blog.