The Sounds Grow Up

Nestled in Nashville, Herschel Greer Stadium is the home of the appropriately named Triple A franchise called the ‘Sounds’. They have been to the top of the mountain as a Milwaukee Brewer affiliate. In 2005, a group of players including Rickie Weeks, Prince Fielder, Cory Hart and Nelson Cruz won the Pacific Coast League Championship. All four became All-Stars in the Major Leagues. Later, the Sounds had another interesting group of players, all capable of moving up to the major league club an hour airplane ride to  Milwaukee. Scooter Gennett, Sean Halton, Caleb Gindl, Khris Davis and Logan Schafer all made their mark in the ‘Athens of the South’. Gennett was the young second baseman who many figured would be some years away from making it into the Show because Rickie Weeks, an All-Star filled that position in the Cream City. Sean Halton was the first baseman. A star position in Milwaukee, the legacy of first baggers from Mike Hegan, an original Brewer via the Pilots to George ‘Boomer’ Scott, onto St. Cecil of Cooper to Richie Sexton, from Lyle Overbay to Prince, was a position the Brewers rarely changed.
Sean Helton (26), from Fresno, CA, is a first baseman and outfielder. He attended Lewis-Clark State College and was drafted by Milwaukee. In limited action with the big club, he hit .238, with 4 home runs and had 17 RBIs.
Caleb Gindl (25) from Pace, FL, an outfielder by trade, has been a minor league All-Star in nearly every stop he has made. He was an All-Star with teammate, Jonathon Lucroy in the Rookie League. He was an Arizona Fall League Rising Star. He hit .307 in Nashville. Last year, for half a season, he batted .242 with 5 home runs and 14 RBIs in limited action with the Brewers.
Schafer (27) with one of the most graceful left-handed swings in baseball and graced with blinding speed, hit only .219 with 4 home runs and 38 RBIs in 2013 seeing limited duty behind Gomez and Aoki in the outfield.
Scooter Gennett from Sarasota, FL, the youngest of this group (23) was the surprise of the season as he took over for Weeks at second base and batted .324 with 6 home runs and 21 RBI during the last part of the 2013 season with Milwaukee.
Khris Davis (26), an Arizona high school All-State player at Deer Valley High School playing outfield, turned down offers to sign with the Washington Nationals and attended Cal State Fullerton. He has been a .280 hitter in Single A Appleton and a .280 hitter in Double A Huntsville. In Nashville he found he could hit at a .310 level. While moving up to the Brewers last season, he hit .279, 11 home runs with 27 RBIs in limited playing time.
Five young ballplayers who have been top performers in the minors within the Brewers farm system and are now at the gateway to their future. Davis is being given the chance to win the left field position as management has traded away Aoki and moved Braun from left to right. Will he be the star player in left everyone believes he can be? Gennett will beat out Rickie Weeks this season if not injured. A huge fan favorite, the undersized second baseman could become the fixture that began with Gaintner which was passed down to Weeks. Now is Scooter’s time.
But the other three face a daunting task. Are they ‘tweeners’ or are they the stars of the future many believed they could become. Helton will have a tough job at keeping his roster spot as he will have to compete and excel above the recently acquired Mark Reynolds who is on the downside of his career. He will have to hope that Juan Francisco doesn’t learn the art of being patient at the plate. And he has to bang the cover off the ball in Spring Training when given the chance to play. And that will be an issue. He has to excel in the split games and make the Brewers want to put him in the lineup come the last two weeks of Spring.
Schafer will have to fly around the outfield like the gazelle he is and make all of those Carlos-type catches he can also make. He has to hit like he has never hit before in Spring Training. This is the make or break season for Logan. Is he an Oglivie or a Travis Lee? Is he a legit Big Leaguer or a Tweener?
Gindl may be the odd man out. He is not as fast as Schafer but he has proven he can hit. In baseball, that is the defining factor. He can and must hit to make this team and become a factor everyone thought he would be.
Of these three, who will make the Show this season or return to the music madness in Nashville? In a few days we will find out.
For those who do not, they may have to be  ready to call an end to their boyhood dream.
Play Ball!
For daily updates about baseball, go to: http://www.facebook.com/overtheshouldermlb or follow on twitter @overtheshoulde3

Jean Carlos Star

Jean Carlos Enrique Segura is a rising star. He began shinning in 1990 in San Juan, Dominican Republic. But this year, he has become a full-blown star of major proportion. In his first full season as the starting shortstop of the Milwaukee Brewers, he has played in nearly every game and leads the National League in hits (124) with an All-Star batting average of .326. In the last ten games, he is hitting .378.

There are plenty of players who have put up great ‘can’t miss’ minor league stats and never made it big in The Show. Segura is not one of them. Since he hit organized ball, he has proven to be one of the most valuable players. Drafted by the Angels, he was selected an All-Star in 2010 at Cedar Rapids of the Midwest League. The following year he was named Arizona Fall League Rising Star for the Scottsdale nine. Last year, he was  a Texas League All-Star in AA at Arkansas. Also last year he was a Futures Game Selection. This year he was an All-Star at Citi Field for the National League.

This is his first full season.

In batting, he reminds one of a young Henry Aaron at the plate. Lightening quick hands with unexpected power. Segura has hit 11 home runs in his first full season so far. In Henry’s first 1954 season, he hit 13 while batting .280. His All-Star streak began the following year when he batted .314 with 27 home runs. In fielding, Segura has committed 10 errors at shortstop while Henry had 7 errors playing left field (6) and right field (1).

But is it too early to judge a rookie? Not necessarily so. Honus Wagner in his rookie season, and probably ranked as the greatest shortstop of all time, in his first full season in 1898 for St. Louis had 10 home runs and batted .299. Strangely, he never played shortstop in his first year as most of the time he was at first base (75 games), at third base (65) and second base (10). Then there is Alex Rodriguez. During his first full season in 1996 for Seattle he set the standard with a league leading batting average of .358 while smacking 36 home runs. He committed 15 errors. He too became an All-Star in his inaugural full season. He comes back into the Yankee lineup this week in Texas. Then there is Derek Jeter, today’s Captain of the Yankees. His first full season was also in 1996 when he hit 10 home runs while batting .314. He committed 22 errors in his first full season.

Cal Ripken Jr. hammered 28 home runs in his first full season in 1982 for Baltimore while hitting .264. He had only 13 errors all that season playing shortstop. Luke Appling of the Chicago White Sox in his first full season in 1932 (judging a season with over 100 games played) he batted .274 and hit 3 home runs in cavernous Comiskey Park located at 35th and Shields. He had 49 errors, with 37 coming at shortstop, 6 at second base and 6 at third base.

Yet in Milwaukee, every player who ever plays the shortstop position is judged from a point of reference called Robin Yount. In his first full season (1974) he hit .250 with 3 home runs. He matched his uniform number in the field, committing 19 errors.

The beauty of baseball is that comparison are inevitable.  It is part of the game.

This season, all are experiencing the excitement of a rising star. Look for him at shortstop at Miller Park. He is a remarkable young ballplayer.

Play Ball!

This Is The Week

For a number of springs, the son of Jill and Kerry from Scottsdale, AZ, has attempted to make his dream come true. In 2003, he became the first round draft choice of the Angels. It was a golden future that laid ahead. While this trip is never easy, few have been more difficult. It takes a special person to continue to believe in ones self so strongly that after another strike out or another word from a manager that says, ‘Sorry. We’re going to make room for someone else on the roster.’ you continue to hold your head up, practice harder, turn down invitations to play in the World Baseball Classic for Australia and continue that dream of landing on a big league roster again and make the magic come alive.

Brandon Wood is a rarity in sports. A really good guy who can really hit the ball a mile if given the chance to be himself and not a version someone else sees in the former ‘5 tool guy that can’t miss’. He turned down a scholarship at the University of Texas to grab the chance within the Angels system to play shortstop. At Rancho Cucamonga in the California League he played in 130 games, hit .321, hammered 43 home runs with 51 doubles and 4 triples and smashing in 115 rbi. He was 20 and was the #3 major league prospect according to Baseball America. The next season, he hammered 25 home runs in Double A while generating a .907 OPS and then hit 23 dingers the following season in AAA at Salt Lake, again having an impressive .835 OPS. The following year, again in Salt Lake with the Bees, he smashed 31 home runs with a .970 OPS in only 103 games. He became the first known minor leaguer to have more than 100 extra base hits in one year. That was 2008. In 2009 he joined the Anaheim-Salt Lake City train, back and forth…forth and back. In 2010 the Angels finally gave him an opportunity to earn the starting job at third. Forgetting he was a shortstop that earned All-Star status on a number of occasions while in the minors, it was a new position. He struck out a lot. But that’s what power hitters do. In the infinite wisdom of management, they had everyone and their brother giving him advice on how to hit. HOW TO HIT? He was perfectly fine before all of the ‘pro’ advice from the ‘experts’ in Angel management. It didn’t work out well. He hit .146 and was sent down again. After a cup of coffee in early 2011, he was cut by the Angels. The golden boy of their organization, the bright new shining star, was cut loose. Baseball is a cold, heartless business.

But it is also a forgiving business. Second and third chances abound. The lowly Pittsburgh Pirates grabbed him. But in 99 games, he could not bring the Pirates from losing 90 games and hit only .220 with a .347 OPS in limited action. They released him after the season.

Third chance. In 2012, the Colorado Rockies  signed him to a minor league deal. Like the Angels in the past, they had their hitting coach tell him exactly what it was they saw to correct him. HE KNOWS HOW TO HIT. But experts are experts. In 16 at bats in spring training, he hit .438 and had an OPS of .813. As his manager, Jim Tracy said, “He’s a very intriguing guy. Rest assured what Brandon Wood has done: He’s played himself into the picture. He’s gone from below the radar to playing himself onto the radar.” Despite all of those nice words, Brandon never saw the light of day in The Show with the Rockies in the entire 2012 season. The radar Tracy was using must have broke. Tracy finally resigned.       In five previous seasons, Brandon had been at bat in the Major Leagues 700 times with 130 hits for a .186 batting average but with an OPS of .513. Most players would quit at this point. But not Brandon Wood.

This is the week to see if the dream will finally be realized whether he can make yet another Big League roster, this time for the talent loaded Kansas City Royals, and fulfill the promise those scouts raved about all those years. “Can’t miss.” “Great 5-tool player.” As of today, he has been to bat 31 times in this Spring Training in 17 games. He has 10 hits with 2 home runs and 9 rbi while putting together a most respectable .323 batting average and an amazing 1.021 OPS. Not many can do that. Not many have done that. But Brandon knows, life’s journey’s sometimes takes unexpected turns.

Will he make it? This is the week we will all find out.

Here’s to Brandon Wood. Baseball needs a great guy like this. Come on, Kansas City. Let’s see how ‘up to date’ you really are. All Brandon Wood needs is a chance to play regularly and the promise will show through. Ned. It’s up to you.

Play Ball!