Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Delmarva at Asheville: May 7th and 8th

As the big club struggles, it is difficult to maintain your passion for baseball. 13 losing seasons, going on 14 is tough to take. Especially as offseason decisions continue to, predictably, blow up in the front office's face.

But if you need your baseball batteries recharged, leave it to minor league baseball to get it done. Not AAA ball. Too many retreads and broken dreams. If your head is in the wrong place, it can be even more depressing. 

But AA or lower? It's fantastic.

I drove up to Asheville, NC this weekend to watch the Delmarva Shorebirds take on the Asheville Tourists. Ideally, I was going up to catch young phenom Manny Machado. But he hurt his knee and was not going to be playing. 

But that didn't matter for many reasons.

First there was the setting. The games were played in McCormick Field, an old field that has been in use since 1924 (it was renovated as recently at 1991). It's a gorgeous little park and it's just cozy.

Second, there was actual winning baseball being played as the Shorebirds won on both Saturday and Sunday.

Third, it's great to watch a bunch of guys who are still having a ton of fun playing ball. You can really see it. And it makes you smile

Some observations on a few of the players

SS/3B Jonathan Schoop
Big kid and won't turn 20 until October. Looks smooth and natural at short where he is filling in for the injured Manny Machado. Big arm in the field and effortless power at the plate. More on Schoop over here.

2B Mychal Givens
Givens has a batting line of .152/.235/.171 on the season so I was expecting to see some brutal at bats from him this weekend. But I didn't. He has a good approach at the plate, worked the count and seemed to have a good eye. He only went 1 for 6 but squared up the ball and hit it hard on a regular basis and walked three times over the two games. He has a lot to work on but if he puts is together with the bat, that approach will take him up the organizational ladder pretty fast. 

His speed was just OK, not a blazer. 

In the field, he was was very smooth at second, especially turning the double play.

LF Ty Kelley
The more I see of Ty Kelley, the more I like him. Of course, I like him better at second base where he played last season but the influx of infield prospects has pushed him to left field. He did show off some good range in the outfield but has an arm like a wet noodle.

Looks good at the plate though, slapping singles to the opposite field and showing some gap power when he pulled it. Only one double to show for it this season but he hit 30 doubles for Delmarva last season. He's hitting .329/.383/.342 and will turn 23 in July. It's probably time to see what he can do in Frederick.

C Justin Dalles
My latest minor league catcher crush, Dalles is back in Delmarva after suffering through injuries in 2010, most brought about by two nasty collisions at the plate. Perhaps that's still in his head as he took a step up from the plate, away from the baseline, to field a throw from the cutoff man during a play at home.

But Dalles looks in complete control behind the plate. I can't put my finger on it but there are guys who look like they know exactly what they're doing when they call the game and Dalles is one of them. He's OPSing .768 with 3 homers. Just one walk though. He needs to get his walk rates back closer to last year and the 22-year old will probably end up in Frederick by season's end.

LF Kipp Schutz 
Schutz is 23...too old for low A but his bat has come out of nowhere in his full seaosn league debut. Schutz's last two season in Bluefield and Aberdeen have been kind of "blah" and now he's one of the offensive stars of the Sally League.

He has very good pull power. He jumped on a first pitch fastball, turned on it and just hit a rainbow shot over the 36 ft wall in right field. But he swings a lot. He draws some wlaks but seems to get by in many at bats by fouling off pitches and waiting for one to hit. You have to think that will be tougher to do as he moved up the line. Still, a guy who's hitting .368/.424/.561 is pretty fun to watch.

LHP Jacob Pettit
I didn't think there was much to watch on the pitching front in Delmarva season but I was lucky enough to get to watch two of the guys I was interested in seeing. Jacob Pettit was one of them.

Pettit seemed to get stronger as the game went on.  His fastball was sitting at 87-89 mph (these are stadium gun speeds) during the first inning but was sitting at 90-91 by his last inning while toughing 93. But his offspeed stuff was what was getting the swings and misses. He has good control, always staying around the plate and gets a fair share of groundballs. If he was a righty, this would not be that impressive. As a lefty, he's kind of interesting. On the season, he has a 2.89 ERA with 28 Ks, 9 BBs and 2 homers. (37.1 IP)

He's not very athletic fielding his position but does have a pretty good move to first base.

RHP Ryan Palsha
20-year old Palsha had a fastball that sat at 92-94 and he was getting plenty of swing-and-misses from it. He is striking out opposing batters at a 10.0 K/9 rate. Like a lot of the Shorebird relievers, he also walks a ton of guys too (8.2 BB/9). 

RHP Scott Copeland
Copeland is out of the University of Southern Mississippi and looks the part of a power pitcher. He is big and he throws hard, sitting in the mid-90's the day I saw him. However, he also had no idea where it was going and when the batters caught up to the fastball, they were able to hit it a long way. 5.8 K/9 and 5.0 BB/9. Not thick enough for a 22-year old in low-A.

C Michael Ohlman
I've been trying to get to a game where Ohlman was actually playing for two seasons now. Ohlman was an overslot signing taken in the 11th round in 2009. He scuffled at the plate last year and I was curious to see how he was adapting in year two of professional ball.

You know all those things I wrote about Dalles looking completely in control behind the plate? I saw very little of that in Ohlman. He made two throwing errors, he dropped a ball that Schoop fired into the plate that should have been a sure out and he looked downright uncomfortable catching Scott Copeland. The only way I can describe it is that he looked like a guy who wans't used to catching the caliber of stuff that Copeland had. But Copeland was wild and he probably just wasn't comfortable because he didn't know where the ball was going. All in all, Ohlman did not look good behind the plate.

At the plate was a different matter. After hitting .208/.302/.293 between Bluefield and Delamrva last season, Ohlman was having a much better season at the plate before his start on Sunday. He looked completely in control and confident with his bat. He worked counts and didn't make an out all day. He had two singles, a double and a grand slam hit over the centerfield wall. He ran the bases well, had good speed and looks way more athletic than you would expect from a catcher. Ohlman is hitting .310/.388/.510 over 20 games and looks to finally be fulfilling the promise he had when the O's drafted him out of high school. He doesn't turn 21 until after the season. He needs work on his defense but it's a nice bat.

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