Tagged: Nationals

More Mike Marshall


1974 Cy Young Award winner Mike Marshall, who now resides near Tampa, researches the physics of pitching mechanics.

 

A year ago, I interviewed Dr. Mike Marshall, the 1974 National League Cy Young Award winner who later became a controversial advocate for a radical overhaul of pitching mechanics. You can learn more at his web site, DrMikeMarshall.com.

Since then, Dr. Marshall has contacted me from time to time for advice about video editing. He let me know yesterday that his first newly edited video is now available on YouTube. Click on the arrow below to watch the video.

 

 

I found particularly interesting how Mike put stripes or dots on a ball to make it easier for you to see in slow motion the rotation on a pitched ball.

Keep the Cubs!

I just returned from a week-long trip to Phoenix to cover the Angels’ fall instructional league for my other web site, FutureAngels.com.

Driving around Mesa, I saw signs promoting or opposing Proposition 420, a ballot measure designed to keep the Chicago Cubs’ spring training and minor league complex in the city.

As with the Nationals here in the Space Coast, the Cubs have made noises about moving elsewhere. They threatened to leave Arizona altogether, courting business groups in Naples, but those interests finally decided to stop playing the game last July once the Cubs reached a tenative agreement with Mesa.

The Mesa scheme relies on a ballot initiative that would allow the city to sell 11,000 acres of surplus land in Pinal County which would help pay for stadium construction, with the Cubs responsible for any cost overruns.

KeepTheCubs.com is the web site for Prop. 420. The site claims, “Prop. 420 keeps $138 million in Mesa & Az each year; no new or increased taxes!” In a cursory search of the web site, I was unable to find any explanation of how the $138 million figure was reached, or assumptions made about the value of the land to be sold.

“A Yes vote Proposition 420 will boost Mesa’s economy by launching a project worth tens of millions of dollars in jobs and revenue to the city and making certain the Cubs stay in Mesa for another generation,” the site claims. Again, no explanation for how that conclusion was reached or what was the methodology.

An October 13, 2010 editorial in the East Valley Tribune endorsed Prop. 420.

As you’re deciding which way to vote on Nov. 2, ask yourself this: Which is greater, the amount of money the city wants to spend on a new spring training facility, or the amount of revenue it will generate? The answer is clearly the latter.

Again, no explanation for how they reached the conclusion that it would generate more money than it costs.

The complex would be surrounded by a retail district called Wrigleyville that is described by the paper as another Downtown Disney. But it’s unclear to me who would be the ultimate property owner — the City of Mesa, or the Chicago Cubs. If it’s the city, then it would appear the property will be leased to the Cubs, and therefore not generate any property tax revenue.

This is one of my main concerns with publicly-funded ballpark schemes. They promise untold wealth for the community, but such promises are often based on dubious assumptions, and rarely are other uses ever debated.

The opposition web site is VoteNo420.com, a domain name that links to a blog called Mesa Spring Training Stadium. It’s much more modest than the pro-420 site, lacking fancy graphics or any content other than a series of blog posts.

Driving around Mesa, I saw signs for both sites, but clearly the pro-420 people have larger and more numerous signs throughout the community. It would be interesting to visit Mesa City Hall to find out who is paying for the pro-420 web site and campaign signs.

The Mesa negotiations should be a case study for what may happen here in Brevard County as the Nationals start moving in the direction of their own ultimatum for a state-of-the-art facility, threatening to go elsewhere in Florida or even Arizona. I’ve never understood why a multi-billion dollar industry expects subsidies from local taxpayers. Does Wal-Mart expect a city to pay for their building? Of course not. But baseball barons can always find some starry-eyed elected official willing to compromise the public interest in exchange for attaching a professional baseball team’s name to their community.

A Teachable Moment

‘Tis the season for fall instructional league, one of the most overlooked and least understood annual rituals of the baseball calendar.

Instructional league is often confused with the Arizona Fall League, but one has nothing to do with the other.

For openers, the Arizona Fall League is, well, in Arizona.

Instructional league runs in the Florida or Arizona minor league complexes of major league organizations.

The instructs end around the time the AFL starts. While the AFL usually has many of the top prospects in the upper levels of minor league baseball, instructional league rosters feature mostly players who were drafted or signed last June.

The AFL was created as a finishing school of sorts for top prospects, an opportunity to showcase them and accelerate their progress to a major league roster the next year. The instructs are more like extra homework for selected students.

Official stats are kept by the AFL, although how much they mean is debatable. The AFL is a part-time job as everyone plays a couple times a week, but few play every day. The dry desert air turns these games into high-scoring affairs — Coors Field with cactii. Some players try harder than others, and quietly everyone hopes they don’t get hurt. Although the original concept was to feature top prospects, in reality many organizations send players who project as setup relievers, utility infielders, or backup catchers. Each team has players from five organizations, so to field a normal lineup a team needs “niche” players.

No official stats are kept or reported at the instructional league. The reason is the games are more like a glorified practice. Rules are loosely enforced. If a young pitcher falls behind in pitch count, his manager can simply call an end to the inning and the other team takes the field. It’s not uncommon to see ten-man lineups with two designated hitters. The DHs might take the field mid-game, with two position players becoming the DHs. Although the home team has won, the bottom of the 9th might be played anyway to get extra practice.

This year, the Oakland A’s are fielding two teams in the Arizona instructional league, the first time I’ve seen an organization field two squads. That’s another reason not to put any value in statistics. What happens when they play each other? Certainly players can move back and forth between the two rosters.

Stats are kept internally, of course, but under the above circumstances you can understand why they wouldn’t be “official.” Another reason is more basic — no official scorer is present at these games. There’s no neutral party to keep score and report it to Major League Baseball Advanced Media, which now keeps official stats for MLB and the minors.

I was at the Washington Nationals’ complex in Viera, Florida for their September 23 instructional league opener against the Atlanta Braves. Major league catcher Jesus Flores underwent shoulder surgery last fall and missed all of 2010. He was in the lineup but was scheduled to play only three innings. He homered in his first at-bat, but going into the bottom of the 3rd it appeared unlikely his slot in the lineup would bat in the inning. So the Nats simply sent him to the plate again, to get him an extra plate appearance.

Click here to watch video of Flores’ homer. Windows Media Player and a broadband (cable modem, DSL) Internet connection required.

The game was also the professional debut of Bryce Harper, the 17-year old selected #1 overall by the Nationals in the June 2010 draft. Matt Lipka, chosen by the Braves in the supplemental phase of the first round (#35 overall) was in Atlanta’s lineup.

Click here to watch video of Harper’s debut.

Click here to watch other highlights from the September 23 game.

For many of the players, this is their first opportunity for intense instruction in the ways of professional baseball. The Nationals’ coaching staff is headed by Bobby Henley, the minor league field coordinator. He answers to others in the Nats’ hierarchy, including Bob Boone, assistant general manager and vice-president of player development. Boone was also present at the opener.

The Nationals schedule runs through October 13, with the last home game on October 9 against a team from China training in Vero Beach.

The experience is fascinating for a baseball fan, because a player’s day isn’t focused on winning the game that afternoon. It’s about teaching how to win. And it’s here on the minor league fields of an organization’s complex that the teaching begins.

For a fan, you can walk in for free and watch the training up close. You can learn alongside the players.

Nationals Play Chess with Brevard County

Florida Today baseball writer Mark DeCotis broke the story on August 6 that the Washington Nationals have contacted Osceola County about moving their spring training complex to Kissimmee.

If the Nats move, the irony is that it would be the second time Brevard County has lost a major league club to Kissimmee. The Astros left Cocoa Expo Stadium in 1984 for Kissimmee.

I wrote on April 3 about Florida Today reporting that Nationals officials were touring a facility in Ft. Myers that’s currently used by the Boston Red Sox.

Nationals officials have not commented publicly on their dalliances with Osceola and Lee Counties, but a letter obtained by DeCotis made it clear the Nationals were interested in exploring a move to Kissimmee.

Washington Nationals President Stan Kasten sent a letter to Osceola County officials last month expressing interest in possibly moving the team’s spring training home from Viera to Osceola County Stadium in Kissimmee.

Kasten sent the letter to Osceola County Manager Don Fisher. In the correspondence dated July 26, Kasten wrote to Fisher: “It was nice speaking to you last Thursday and it was very interesting hearing about the potential for a new spring training complex in Osceola County.

“I would certainly be interested in meeting with you and hearing more about your plans in greater detail, as we consider our own future spring training plans. In the event Osceola County is interested in moving forward, please let me know.”

If you’re of a conspiratorial bent, it would be reasonable to assume that Kasten knew full well any written correspondence he sent to Osceola would be a public document and potentially leaked.

The July 26 letter might have been intended to pressure Brevard officials into approving improvements for Space Coast Stadium. Florida Today reported on August 4 that county commissioners approved $316,000 in improvements for 2011. The letter was sent a week before the Brevard vote.

The Nationals’ lease runs through December 31, 2017, so if they leave “the club must reimburse the county for Space Coast Stadium construction-bond payments until another team moves in, said Shannon Wilson, assistant county attorney.”

As for Lee County, the Ft. Myers News-Press reported on August 6 that “the county remains interested in the Nationals.”

Jeff Mielke, executive director of the Lee County Sports Authority, wasn’t surprised to hear the Nationals are showing interest elsewhere.

“We all thought the Nationals would shop around,” Mielke said.

He believes it’s likely that the Nationals could leave Florida’s east coast. Miami, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach and Vero Beach all had spring training teams but no longer do. That makes for few convenient road trips for the Nationals.

“I don’t think it’s any secret that the east coast is getting a little tougher,” Mielke said.

The Nationals are hardly the only major league team to play hardball with a municipal landlord.

Most recently, the Chicago Cubs played Mesa, Arizona against Naples, Florida, hoping to extort stadium improvements out of Mesa. But Naples withdrew in July, leaving the Cubs without their leverage.

In November 2003, Los Angeles Angels owner Arte Moreno threatened to move the team’s spring training complex from Tempe, Arizona across the Phoenix valley to Goodyear, where Moreno was a partner in a residential and commercial development. The extortion worked, as one year later Tempe agreed to finance $20 million in stadium improvements, including a new minor league complex.

The local financial benefits are questionable for a municipality to host a major league baseball spring training.

Studies will often cite gross revenue and other indirect impacts. One example is this 1999 study by the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council which concluded that the “Total impact of the nine teams on Florida’s economy is $227 million.”

But the study failed to look at the costs accrued by cities, counties and the State of Florida to build and maintain publicly owned facilities. Nor did they consider alternate uses of public land that might generate more revenue. Public land is not subject to property tax, while private land is.

Neither do these studies mention that most of these facilities include a minor league complex that will operate almost year-around, with games played from March through October. No revenue is generated from those games, as no admission or parking fee is charged, but municipal landlords are responsible for maintenance and rehabilitation costs unless otherwise specified in the lease.

Should the Nationals threaten to leave, Brevard County should conduct a thorough economic study that weighs these other options. In the long run, would the county receive more revenue from another land use at Space Coast Stadium? One scenario might be to raze the ballpark, and sell the land for residential and commerical use. The minor league complex might be preserved for use by amateur adult and youth sports.

The orphan in most of these scenarios would be the Brevard County Manatees of the Florida State League. The Manatees are a Milwaukee Brewers affiliate, not a Nationals affiliate. Space Coast Stadium’s 8,000-seat capacity is way too much for the Manatees’ needs. The Manatees are averaging about 1,300 per game in 2010; even in their best years, they rarely average more than 2,000.

The Manatees would be best served by construction of a 2,500-seat capacity stadium. An excellent location, in my opinion, would be the current site of Cocoa Expo at the I-95 and the 520 highway. But either the county would have to buy the site, or investors would, and neither scenario seems likely right now. So if the Nationals leave, it might mean the eventual departure of the Manatees franchise to elsewhere in Florida.

I’ve always felt that baseball teams should pay for their own facilities, but there seems to be an endless supply of municipalities willing to subsidize a multi-billion dollar industry for ego or pride. Many taxpayers think these facilities are paid by the same funds that pay for police and fire, but that’s simply not true. The typical scheme is the creation of a special enterprise fund that raises money from a local hotel tax, a slice of ticket sales and parking fees, perhaps state economic development funds. But regardless of the funding source, I wish more municipalities would tell these billionaires to stick it.

Build It or They Might Leave

Florida Today broke the news on March 30 that the Washington Nationals would tour City of Palms Park in Fort Myers, Lee County.

The Nationals wouldn’t comment, but clearly Lee County officials viewed this as an opportunity to lure the major league team’s spring training and minor league operations away from Viera.

The Boston Red Sox currently occupy the facility, but are moving to a nearby complex in 2012.

Space Coast Stadium, the Nats’ current spring home, is owned by Brevard County and leased to the team. The Nationals sublease the facility to the Brevard County Manatees of the Florida State League, a Milwaukee Brewers affiliate independently owned by a local group.

Florida Today reported the next day that county officials were caught unaware of the Nationals’ interest in Fort Myers. “The Nationals are under contract to play at Space Coast Stadium in Viera through Dec. 31, 2017,” the paper reported.

The article quoted Kevin Reichard of Ballpark Digest as ranking Fort Myers inferior to Viera. The ballparks at both sites are about the same age, but the minor league complex in Fort Myers is two miles away while the Viera fields are adjacent to Space Coast Stadium.

The Fort Myers News-Press reported today on yesterday’s Nats tour of Fort Myers. The tour was described by a Lee County commissioner as “just looking” and emphasized that no negotiations are being held with the Nationals.

So what’s up?

Baseball organizations always keep an eye on what other teams are doing, as they might see an idea they like and incorporate it themselves.

But that doesn’t seem to be the case here. Fort Myers is hardly state of the art, and it’s a turnoff to have practice fields so far away. Perhaps Lee County can build new practices adjacent to their facility; I’m not familiar with the complex.

The Nats’ lease of Space Coast Stadium runs through the end of 2017, but that doesn’t mean they couldn’t try to find a way to break the lease, or simply buy their way out of the balance.

Major league organizations play hardball when it comes to spring training facility upgrades. They’ll play towns against each other, hoping to extort the best deal possible from taxpayers’ elected representatives.

The Chicago Cubs are the most recent example. The Cubs have been in Mesa, Arizona for 32 years, and HoHoKam Park for the last 14. But the Cubs have floated the idea of moving to Naples, Florida after their HoHoKam lease expires this year. Politicians trying to keep the team in Mesa have floated the idea of a Cubs Tax in which all patrons of Arizona spring training games would pay a fee on their tickets to pay for HoHoKam improvements.

Analysts have questioned whether the presence of major league organizations provides long-term financial benefits to a community more than other potential uses. A stadium doesn’t provide property tax revenue if it’s owned by the municipality, for example. Most jobs are temporary or part-time — ushers, vendors, and ticket-takers. Might a shopping mall or an industrial complex provide more jobs and revenue to a community in the long run? Possibly. But most politicians find it easier to promote the ego boost of big league ball with their town in the byline instead of a mall.

The Nationals could assuage local concerns here in Brevard County simply by explaining the reason for the Fort Myers tour. They’ve chosen to remain silent.

It could simply be no more than a machination to extort more taxpayer-funded improvements at the Space Coast Stadium complex, hoping to frighten Brevard County elected officials into thinking they’ll leave if they don’t get some shiny new toy. If Brevard says no, might they try to leave? Possibly.

I doubt many people in the Space Coast would miss the Nationals, but I do worry about what happens to the Manatees.

If the Nats leave, they would lease the stadium directly from Brevard County. With a capacity of 8,000, Space Coast Stadium is way too big for the Manatees. A park with a capacity of about 2,500 would better suit their needs.

I haven’t seen the numbers, so this is just my speculation, but if the Nats leave I have to wonder if Space Coast Stadium becomes too expensive for the County to keep and they demolish it to sell off the land. That would leave the Manatees homeless, unless the County builds them a new park elsewhere.

That could create a scenario where the Manatees’ franchise could simply leave town and move elsewhere in Florida.

Brevard County has a rich professional baseball history going back to the Cocoa Fliers in 1941. Cocoa Expo Stadium began life as Cocoa Colt Stadium in 1964, the spring training home for the Houston Astros (born Colt .45s). But the Astros left for Kissimmee in 1985, and if it wasn’t for the National League adding the Florida Marlins in 1993 we wouldn’t have either Space Coast Stadium or the Manatees, a new Florida State League franchise added as the Marlins’ Advanced Class-A affiliate.

Hopefully elected officials in Brevard County start thinking ahead about what they’ll do should the day come when the Nationals issue their threat to build a cutting-edge facility for them or else. My preference would be to see the County build a new park for the Manatees, perhaps financed by selling off the land where Space Coast Stadium currently stands. But we’re not at that point yet.

D.C.’s State Secrets


Nationals minor leaguers engage in a baserunning drill.

 

The Washington Nationals for the last few years have been considered one of the worst organizations in baseball.

It was a year ago that Nats general manager Jim Bowden resigned amid allegations that scouts had skimmed money off the signing bonuses of Latin American prospects.

In their five years since moving to D.C. from Montreal, the Nationals have gone from 81-81 in 2005 to 59-103 in 2009. Their record over those five years was 342-466, a .423 winning percentage.

About all they have going for them is a progressive new GM in Mike Rizzo and the #1 draft pick overall in the June 2010 draft, Stephen Strasburg.

So you’d think an organization with such a bad reputation, an organization viewed as a joke by much of the baseball world, would go out of its way to nurture better relations with media, wouldn’t you?

Wrong.

I haven’t said anything publicly until now, but for the last couple months I’ve quietly explored every avenue to play by the rules and obtain a credential so I could shoot photos and video at the Nationals’ minor league complex in Viera.

I’m not going to name names, nor will I divulge private conversations with those who tried to get the Nats’ media relations to see reason.

The bottom line is that their media relations don’t seem to know how to handle legitimate media requests from the cyberworld.

Media credentials will only be issued to mainstream newspapers and television stations.

I’ll fully acknowledge that they have the legal right to control who sees their product.

On the other hand, courts ruled long ago that a baseball game is a news story and therefore Major League Baseball is limited in what access they can restrict.

Baseball and the media have courted each other for over a century. A newspaper story is free advertising. In the minor leagues, many teams are desperate to get any news coverage. In the majors, both sides have a common interest — money. A newspaper’s sports section generates revenue, and it gives the ballclub free publicity.

Some organizations fear the cyberworld, though, because individuals and small businesses running web sites and blogs are not part of that common interest. The cyberworld poses a clear and present danger to mainstream journalism. Newspaper subscriptions have plunged in recent years, forcing most papers to cut back on their coverage. One D.C. paper, the Washington Times, closed its sports department in January.

So you’d think the Nationals’ media relations people would welcome cyberworld writers and videographers to fill the gap.

Nope.

I walked into minor league camp today, figuring no one would mind if I’m just shooting photos and video of the morning drills, especially since there was nothing happening on the major league side at Space Coast Stadium.

I was doing my thing for about fifteen minutes when an older gentleman wearing a Nats cap and jacket, with a Bluetooth in his ear as his only apparent badge of authority, rudely tapped me on the shoulder and stuck his finger in my face. He told me that unless I had a credential, I would have to stand behind a chain link fence to observe.

So I left.

I won’t come back for their spring training activities, major or minor league, even as an observer. I’ve no reason to care now.

Some of you may know that I’ve run another web site, FutureAngels.com, since 1998. I’ve gone to minor league spring training camps around Arizona for twelve years.

Never once did I see a guard demanding credentials of someone shooting photos or video, much less a credential being required.

Other organizations are more than happy to find someone actually cares about their minor league operation, because baseball people know the minor leagues is where they develop their future. They’re proud to show off their baseball acumen.

Let’s also note they understand the desire of players’ parents and loved ones to see their sons pursuing a dream thousands of miles away from home. That was one big reason I started FutureAngels.com all those years ago, to allow parents to see their sons playing ball while they were away from home for six months.

The Angels went through this cyber insecurity about six-seven years ago. I remember a media relations person saying to me, “The problem is we can’t control you.” It was explained that because I didn’t work for them, they couldn’t control my message. A baseball executive said he was concerned because all the coaches and players knew me and trusted me, therefore I might see something I shouldn’t.

Implicit in those remarks was the suggestion that they thought they had the mainstream media under control. Newspapers and TV stations had been co-opted into the publicity machine. They understood that if they wanted privileged access, the scoop or the exclusive, they’d have to “play ball,” pun intended.

Some web sites and bloggers might be willing to co-opt themselves, but because they’re excluded from access they have no vested interest and therefore write with impunity. They can howl at the moon if they want.

That scares the bejeezus out of some P.R. people who are so concerned with controlling the spin.

But the Angels outgrew that insecurity. Today they arrange credentials, access and interviews for established Angels fan web sites and blogs. A blogger establishes a working relationship with a media staff person, submits a request for an interview or whatever and the staff person arranges it if appropriate. The Angels media relations have arranged for a couple fan sites to have recurring gigs on local sports talk shows. In 2009, one fan site was even granted credentials to access the Angels clubhouse post-game.

If you go to the Angels’ minor league spring training, you’ll find dozens of fans walking around glimpsing the team’s future, even on an off day for the parent club. Read fan sites and you’ll find that a lot of people know not only the top prospects, but also the guys on the fringe and even the organization players with no meaningful future. The Angels also draw three million fans a year.

Contrast that with the Nats’ minor league camp today. I saw no one other than three or four autograph collectors standing by the clubhouse ambushing players as they walked by.

If media relations doesn’t want anyone to care … mission accomplished.

Click here to watch a Nationals minor league baserunning drill filmed before I left. Windows Media Player and a broadband (cable modem, DSL) Internet connection required.

Mike Marshall’s Quest


1974 Cy Young Award winner Mike Marshall, who now resides near Tampa, researches the physics of pitching mechanics.

 

Is he right?

I’ve no idea.

Mike Marshall certainly believes he’s right, though, and he’s amassed a large body of evidence on his web site, DrMikeMarshall.com.

I drove over to Dr. Marshall’s home in Zephyrhills, near Tampa, where we recorded a 70-minute interview. Click here to watch the interview. Windows Media Player and a broadband (cable modem, DSL) Internet connection required.

Marshall first became known to the baseball world thanks to Ball Four by Jim Bouton. Marshall was a cerebral pitcher knowledgeable about players’ union issues, and Bouton’s chess-playing buddy. They were two members of the Seattle Pilots, a 1969 American League expansion team that moved next spring to Milwaukee and became today’s Brewers.

For Marshall, baseball was just a way to pay for his graduate school studies at Michigan State. He earned a Masters of Science in 1967 in physical education, and a Doctorate in 1978 in Exercise Physiology. He used baseball as his research tool, to test how his body performed and apply that to his growing knowledge of biomechanics. According to his web site, his doctorate dissertation was, “A Comparison of an Estimate of Skeletal Age With Chronological Age When Classifying Adolescent Males for Motor Proficiency Norms.”

Mike applied what he was learning to his pitching mechanics. He began his minor league career as a shortstop in 1961 — he hit .304 with 14 HR for Magic Valley in the Pioneer League in 1963 — but switched to the mound in 1965. His career was unremarkable until 1972, when at age 29 he posted a 1.78 ERA in 56 relief appearances (116.0 IP) for the Montreal Expos. In 1973, he posted a 2.66 ERA in 92 games (179.0 IP).

The Expos traded Marshall that winter to the Dodgers for veteran outfielder Willie Davis. Mike appeared in 106 games (208.1 IP), all in relief, helped the Dodgers to the World Series, and was named the National League’s Cy Young Award winner.

Marshall credits a total overhaul of his pitching mechanics, applying what he’d learned at Michigan State. During this time, as he blossomed into perhaps the league’s best reliever, he was an adjunct professor at MSU.

Much has been written over the years about Mike’s theories. The baseball establishment seems to have rejected his proposal to totally change pitching mechanics. Major League Baseball is hidebound on its best days, so it’s unrealistic to expect them to abandon the way pitchers currently throw for a radically different approach.

Mike is fiercely passionate, but also fiercely logical, about the subject. He approaches the issue as a researcher, as a scientist. He argues quite rightly that a lot of money is wasted on creating a major league pitcher only to have him break down. We’ve all seen plenty of free-agent pitchers hit the jackpot only to break down before their contract ends.

The Nationals signed #1 draft pick Stephen Strasburg to a four-year $15.1 million contract. I showed Marshall a clip I filmed last October of Strasburg’s pro debut in fall instructional league. Strasburg hadn’t pitched in game competition for four months, so this wasn’t Stephen at his best, and I told Mike that. In the interview, Mike comments briefly on what he saw, although he acknowledged off-camera he would like to observe Strasburg from multiple angles with a super-slow motion camera to make a more informed judgment.

In any case, Strasburg is an example of a massive investment by a major league organization, which carries with it a massive risk. But I can’t imagine the Nationals sending Strasburg to Zephyrhills to have Marshall overhaul his mechanics. How would GM Mike Rizzo explain to the press that he’d invested $15 million in a guy whose mechanics were so bad he had to be rebuilt from scratch? The end result, of course, is unforeseen. And there are hundreds of pitching coaches and scouts around organized baseball who, trained to teach the traditional mechanics, would strenuously disagree with Marshall’s theories — not because he’s wrong, but it’s all they know.

I’m certainly no expert when it comes to pitching mechanics, much less kinesiology and biomechanics. Marshall is right when he says baseball needs to find a way to reduce pitcher injuries, given the millions and millions of dollars invested in their development. Are Mike’s theories the answer? I can’t tell you. More knowledgeable people than me have tried. But it’s certainly a debate worth having, and if MLB was more visionary they would finance research towards reducing pitcher injuries.

It’s just a lot easier to shovel millions of dollars to an ace pitcher and leave the egghead stuff for someone else.

This article also appears on FutureAngels.com, our affiliated blog.

Rule 5 Results

The 2009 Rule 5 draft took about a half hour Thursday.

No Manatees were claimed by other organizations. The Brewers claimed LHP Chuck Lofgren from the Indians in the major league phase, but you won’t see him playing for the Manatees as he has to be on the Brewers’ parent club roster all of 2010 or else he must be offered back to Cleveland.

The Nationals lost some players and claimed some players.

In the major league phase, the Nats lost RHP reliever Zech Zinicola to the Blue Jays. Zinicola split 2009 between Double-A Harrisburg and Triple-A Syracuse.

The Nationals had the #1 pick overall in the major league phase, but bargained that away earlier in the week when they acquired reliever Brian Bruney from the Yankees. The Yankees used the Nats’ pick to select Dodgers’ Triple-A outfielder Jamie Hoffman.

In the Triple-A phase, the Blue Jays selected RHP Ruben de la Rosa, who pitched for the Nationals’ 2009 Gulf Coast League team in Viera. The Mariners claimed RHP Terry Engles, who split the year between Hagerstown and Potomac. He pitched for the GCL Nats in 2005. The Nationals claimed Arismendy Mota from the White Sox; he’s pitched only in Chicago’s Dominican academy, so you might see him at Viera in 2010 although he turns 23 in February.

In the second round of the Triple-A phase, DC claimed 27-year old lefty reliever Mike Wlodarczyk from Tampa Bay Rays. He had a 5.40 ERA in 47 games with Double-A Montgomery in 2009. In the third round, the Nats selected CF Nick Moresi from the Astros. He hit .208 for Double-A Corpus Christi this year.

In the Double-A phase, the Mets selected RHP Johan Figuereo from the Nationals. Figuereo was on the Vermont roster the last two years; in 2007 he pitched one inning for Viera in the GCL.

As we discussed on December 9, most Rule 5 picks amount to nothing, although once in a while a player will blossom with another organization.

Rule 5 Rules


The Tampa Bay Devil Rays lost Josh Hamilton in the 2006 Rule 5 Draft.

 

One of the more arcane events of the baseball calendar arrives tomorrow when Major League Baseball holds the annual Rule 5 Draft. It’s an event only a true baseball wonk could love.

The basic idea is to liberate players who’ve been buried in one organization’s minor league system, so they have a chance to play elsewhere. It’s called “Rule 5” because in the Professional Baseball Agreement — the document governing relations between the thirty major league organizations — it’s the fifth section or “rule” after Rule 4, which details the June draft, and before Rule 6, which governs selected players.

You’ve probably heard of the 40-man roster. With the exception of September, major league clubs can only carry 25 players (not counting those who are on the disabled list). The 40-man roster includes up to 15 players who are not on the major league roster, but are protected from claims by another club. Any player not on the 40-man roster as of November 20 may be claimed in the Rule 5 draft, if he’s eligible under certain criteria.

To quote from Baseball America:

The criteria centers on the player’s age on the June 5 preceding the date of his contract. If a player is 19 or older on that date immediately preceding the player’s signing, the player is subject to selection at the fourth selection meeting that follows. It’s five selection meetings for those that are 18 or older that sign on that date.

Clear as mud?

The claimant team must pay the other organization $50,000 and carry the player on its 25-man roster all of the next season. (One way around the rule is to place the player on the disabled list if he’s legitimately injured.) If the claimant doesn’t want him, then he must be offered back to his old team for $25,000; if the old team declines, then the claimant may keep him.

Clear as mud?

Few people know about the Rule 5 Draft, but even fewer know there are minor league phases too. To quote again from Baseball America:

There are Triple-A and Double-A segments of the Rule 5 draft, with price tags of $12,000 and $4,000 respectively. Minor league players not protected on the reserve lists at the Double-A and Class A levels are subject to selection, but almost no future big leaguers emerge from this process. It’s basically a tool for major league teams to fill out affiliates rather than obtain talent.

Clear as mud?

Most players selected in the major league phase don’t amount to much, and several wind up back with their old teams. But a few players are glorious exceptions.

The classic example is Roberto Clemente. Originally signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers, he was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in November 1954. The rest is history.

Pitcher Johan Santana was originally signed by the Houston Astros. The Florida Marlins drafted him in December 1999, then immediately traded him to Minnesota for Jared Camp, who’d just been selected by the Twins with the preceding pick. The Marlins sent Santana and cash to the Twins for Camp. Johan spent all of 2000 in the big leagues with Minnesota, posting a 6.49 ERA working mostly out of the bullpen, but four years later he was a 20-game winner.

Outfielder Josh Hamilton was selected #1 overall by Tampa Bay in the June 1999 draft. After multiple suspensions due to his well-chronicled drug problems, the Devil Rays left him off the 40-man roster and he was claimed by the Chicago Cubs in the 2006 Rule 5 draft. The Cubs immediately sold him to the Cincinnati Reds, and in 2007 he re-established his career. The Reds then traded him to the Texas Rangers in December 2007 for pitcher Danny Herrera. Hamilton hit 32 homers for Texas in 2008, but tailed off in 2009 due to injuries.

Perhaps the most bizarre claim was in 1988, when the Braves drafted a player from themselves. They neglected to protect pitcher Ben Rivera, but they had the first pick in the draft so they claimed him.

The most recent quirk came on December 7, when the Yankees sent reliever Brian Bruney to the Nationals for their upcoming first round Rule 5 pick. June amateur draft picks can’t be traded, but apparently that’s not the case with Rule 5.

The two best places on the Internet to follow the Rule 5 draft are MiLB.com and BaseballAmerica.com. Be sure to stick around for the minor league phases; if you’re a Manatees or Nationals minor league fan, some familiar names may go bye-bye. Or not.

Clear as mud?


UPDATE 5:00 PM ESTHere’s a November 21 article by Jonathan Mayo of MilB.com which provides the draft order. Jonathan notes that only teams with less than 40 players currently on their roster may draft, because as discussed above a drafted player must be protected for a year, therefore he must be on the claimant’s 40-man roster.

Welcome to Space Coast Baseball

Stephen Strasburg
Stephen Strasburg, the #1 pick in the June 2009 draft, made his professional debut October 5 at Space Coast Stadium. SpaceCoastBaseball.com was there to film it.

 

Welcome to Space Coast Baseball.

You must have questions.

The first one is probably, “What’s with the geeky Space Coast name?!”

Well, “Space Coast” is actually a term used by locals to refer to a region of central Florida that roughly aligns with Brevard County. It includes Cape Canaveral, Cocoa Beach, Merritt Island, Titusville, Cocoa, Melbourne, Viera, Rockledge and many other towns. As you might suspect, the name comes from Kennedy Space Center, which is five miles up the road from where I’m writing you now.

Your next question might be, “Which team do you cover?”

Space Coast Baseball doesn’t cover one team, it covers professional and amateur baseball in the Space Coast region.

We have a Milwaukee Brewers affiliate, the Advanced-A Brevard County Manatees in the Florida State League. They play in Space Coast Stadium in Viera, which is run by the Washington Nationals. The Nats have their minor league complex here, and a team in the Rookie-A Gulf Coast League.

Starting October 30, 2009, the Florida Winter Baseball League begins play. This is a new league formed by a group of investors who are trying to create a U.S. equivalent to the winter leagues in the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Mexico, and Venezuela. Ken Griffey, Sr. is the league commissioner. Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez is one of the investors. Former Reds/Mets slugger George Foster will manage one of the teams.

The Space Coast Surge, one of four FWBL teams, will play in Cocoa Expo Stadium. This historic facility was the spring training home of the Houston Astros from the mid-1960s through the early 1980s. It was also the spring training home of the Florida Marlins in 1993, until Space Coast Stadium opened for them in 1994.

We also have college ball at nearby Brevard Community College and Florida Tech, semi-pro ball and amateur leagues.

The Space Coast Baseball blog is an adjunct to my existing web site, SpaceCoastbaseball.com. The web site will have news, features, interviews, photos, audio and video. I suspect the video clips will be very popular. The latest video is of Stephen Strasburg’s pro debut October 5 at Space Coast Stadium. This isn’t the boring ESPN video shot from high up in the press box. This is me behind home plate with my camcorder filming through the net so you get the same perspective as the batter.

Click Here to watch the Strasburg video. You need Windows Media Player and a broadband (cable modem, DSL) Internet connection to watch.

This blog will be a complement to that main site, so you’ll want to bookmark both. The blog is more for every day commentary, although there will be crossover for sure.

A quick note on my background … I moved here in June 2009 from Southern California, where I was a lifelong Angels fan. Since 1998, I’ve run a web site FutureAngels.com that covers the Angels’ minor leagues. I also have an Angels blog here on MLBlogs.com called the FutureAngels.com Blog. You’ll see some Space Coast news over on the FutureAngels.com Blog, although now that this new blog is established most of it will be here.

Both FutureAngels.com and SpaceCoastBaseball.com are non-commerical enterprises. They are service-oriented sites, meaning they exist to be of help to those with an interest in those subjects. FutureAngels.com got its start years ago by providing photos and news for the Angels players’ parents, as well as fans who didn’t know much about the minors. Twelve years later, the Internet pretty much saturates us with anything we want to know about minor league ball, but since I enjoy documenting the history of the game you’ll see, hear and read a lot that normally doesn’t show up in mainstream media or fan sites.

So check out the SpaceCoastBaseball.com web site and stay tuned. This project is go for launch.