It takes a Silver Mine to make a Gold Mine.

Mexican Proverb

The Lugnuts start the second half of the season by hosting the best team in the league for a four-game set. Thursday’s game will have a giveaway (sports bottle) and a Dash for Cash; Friday’s will have fireworks. Thursday’s game will be televised on WLNS (Lansing Channel 6).

The Timber Rattlers are affiliated with the Seattle Mariners and are owned by many local shareholders.

FanLink’s Rattlers Page [long since gone] is a typically excellent Jeff Williams production. The Mariners Farm System pages [also gone] have some information. The Timber Rattler Index [still another missing link] is less useful. There’s a National Association page [link broken], and it’s like all their pages.

The Rattler’s manager is Mike Goff. Coaches are Joaquin Contreras and pitching coach Pat Rice. Goff also managed this team last season.

Worth noting: Lugnuts Manager Brian Poldberg managed this team in 1988 and 1989, when it was affiliated with the Royals and known as the Appleton Foxes. He coached in Appleton in 1987.

The Ballpark

Fox Cities Stadium was new last summer. It seats 4,000 (plus lawn seating) and its outfield dimensions are 330-400-330. STATS says it favors neither offense nor defense, though it does favor home runs somewhat. I haven’t seen it, so I won’t attempt a description.

There’s a review of this ballpark in Dustin Schubert’s Single-A Ballparks page [gone, and sorely missed].

Directions: The park’s actually in Grand Chute. Leave US 41 at Wisconsin Avenue; go west. Turn right at Casaloma. Parking is inexpensive.

The Team

All-Stars: Jose Amado (3b), Joel Ramirez (ss), Karl Thompson (c), Luis Tinoco (of), Brent Iddon (p), Greg Wooten (p).

Statistics quoted are thru Sunday, June 16.

The Timber Rattlers are the best team in the league, judging by their first-half record. Their 46-20 (.697) record won the Central Division by nine games. This team has excellent hitting and spotty pitching; the hitting has so far overcome the shortcomings of the pitching staff.

The Mariners’ farm teams were not particularly successful last season. Only Everett, Washington’s team in the short-season Class A Northwest League, finished in the first division. Many of this year’s Timber Rattlers played for that team.

Every starting position player hits well. Outfielder Scott Smith has power and speed, while first baseman David Arias is near the league’s lead in extra-base hits. Outfielder Luis Tinoco is having an excellent offensive year. Second baseman Chris Dean is the most potent base thief, but many of the players are dangerous on the bases. Other players with generally excellent numbers include third baseman Jose Amado, outfielder Joe Mathis, and catcher Karl Thompson. In general, an excellent offense; everyone can and does score runs and knock them in.

The Rattlers use their pitching staff differently than many teams; while the workload’s not evenly spread, everyone gets a lot of work. The best pitcher is Brent Iddon (a truly strange stat line, though); Greg Wooten is also excellent. These two are among the best in the league. Denis Bonilla and Aaron Scheffer seem to be closers, but used differently and differently successful. Beyond these pitchers, there’s chaos; lots of wins, but obviously more due to good offense than the pitchers’ skills.

On paper, this looks like a stronger version of our team. Probably their defense is better, but I haven’t got those numbers, and their offense is a notch more productive. But this team can be beaten; that pitching staff….


June 17: Off Day

June 18 and 19

  • East, 10-4
  • Originally scheduled for the eighteenth; postponed, rain.
  • Our guys did good:
    • Quinn 3 ab, 1 run, 2 hits (a double), 1 rbi
    • Cepeda 4 ab, 1 run, 1 hit (a double), 0 rbi (played whole game)
    • Rocha 2 ab, 0 runs, 1 hit, 0 rbi
    • Thorn pitched a scoreless inning
    • Melito was still hurting
    • Mull watched; pitched the next day
  • South Bend’s Jeff Liefer was the game’s MVP (2-2-2-3; one double)
  • I can’t find any information on the home-run contest, except that it was held

I thought it might be instructive to look at the Lugnuts the way I look at the opposition. I do this mainly by studying the current stat sheets, with some looks to other places; if I happen to know something about a specific player, that generally shows up as well.

Lansing Lugnuts

The Lugnuts are affiliated with the Kansas City Royals and are owned by a small, Chicago-based partnership. Last year this franchise played in Springfield, Illinois and was known as the Sultans of Springfield, where they drew less than 600 fans per game. At Lansing their attendance has improved; their average attendance is nearly 7,000 fans daily.

The Lugnuts are managed by Brian Poldberg and coached by Curtis Wilkerson and Mike Mason (pitching).

All-Stars: Blaine Mull (P), Todd Thorn (P), Jose Cepeda (3B), Mark Melito (SS), Mark Quinn (OF), Juan Rocha (OF).

Statistics quoted are through Sunday, June 16.

The Lugnuts finished last in the Eastern Division for the first half-season with a 29-40 (.420) record, 9.5 games behind West Michigan and two games out of fourth place. The team has generally good hitting and a generally poor pitching staff.

Besides the Sultans, the Royals fielded low-minors teams in Spokane and the Gulf Coast League last summer. The Spokane Indians finished 6th of 8 teams in the Short-Season A Northwest League in 1995, with a 36-39 (.480) record; the Rookie GCL Royals topped their 16-team league at 47-12 (.797!). The Lugnuts’ current roster draws from all of those teams, with one player down from Wilmington in the Carolina League.

This team is a generally good-hitting team with no real stars. They score lots of runs–they’re second in the league in runs scored–and steal lots of bases. Outfielder Mark Quinn (.333-4-35) is near the top of the league’s batting race, but doesn’t lead the team in any other categories. Third Baseman Jose Cepeda (.282-0-36) is having a good season but shows little power. Outfielder Juan Rocha (.286-11-43) is a power threat. Second baseman Carlos Febles (.281-2-17; 4 triples, 18 steals) has excellent speed, as does outfielder Pat Hallmark (.267-4-31, 4 triples, 12 steals). Power threats include DH Doug Blosser (.205-5-18), first baseman Gary Coffee (.228-6-35), and catcher Matt Treanor (.239-5-23). Virtually everyone is a threat to steal, to score runs, to knock in runs.

This team’s pitching has a few bright spots but is pretty bad. Except for starters Blaine Mull (6-5, 2.60, 56 Ks), Michael Robbins (4-4, 3.63, 45), and Todd Thorn (6-3, 3.25, 58), no pitcher appears reliable. Reliever Jose Santiago has some decent but hardly breathtaking numbers, while reliever Scott Key has a decent strikeout rate in a relatively few innings pitched. New starter Kevin Hodges (with High-A Wilmington last year) looks decent after three starts, but has no decisions. Beyond these pitchers, this team is weak.

Emiliano Escandon has relatives in Spokane; they are sending me notes about the (former) Lugnuts who’ve been reassigned to their team and the newly-signed players. I’ll pass along what they say. The word, so far, is that Beltran is playing well and Villarreal is working on his confidence. More to come….

June 15: Off Day

June 16

  • Battle Cats 1 game, Lugnuts 0 games
  • Lugnuts are 29-40 (.420)
  • Fifth (and last) place, 9.5 games behind the Whitecaps.

Another sorry ballgame. Enough said.

The Midwest League plays a split schedule, and the first half of the season ended with Sunday’s games. West Michigan (Eastern Division), Wisconsin (Central), and Quad City (Western) are now guaranteed playoff slots in September’s championship series. A new half-season begins on Thursday, and divisional champions will be decided for that half around Labor Day. Those six teams will be joined by the two remaining teams with the best season-long records (typically about .500 ball will qualify them). There are tie-breaking schemes, but I’ve only got last year’s at hand and I’m sure the details have changed.

The playoff series will begin after Labor Day and will run for three rounds. The league’s champion will be crowned in mid-September. This is a modified “Shaughnessy Playoff,” named after long-time minor league player, manager, and executive Frank Shaughnessy.

I generally think this sort of playoff scheme abominable; it creates artificial championships and gives the first-half winners what amounts to a half-season bye. On the other hand, it gives talented teams afflicted with youth or bad luck (some local team comes to mind) a chance to start anew, from zero.

June 11 thru 14

  • Lugnuts 2 games, Wizards 2 games
  • Lugnuts are 29-39 (.426)
  • Fifth (last) place, ten behind the Whitecaps and one behind the Battle Cats.
  • The Nuts and the Caps have each played 35 home games. Attendance:
    • Whitecaps: 242,203 (avg 6,920)
    • Lugnuts: 242,196 (avg 6,920)

Yes! That’s better; real baseball, well-played. Three good games and one great game; unfortunately, we lost the pitcher’s duel. But it was wonderful, and [Kevin] Hodges deserved to win. So did the team.

[Carlos] Febles has been hot. [Juan] Rocha’s been hotter. [Mark] Quinn’s been hot when he’s been healthy.

Rumor is that [Carlos] Beltran will be assigned to Spokane when he gets healthy. That makes sense, under the circumstances; which outfielder would you bench in order to get him in the lineup? KC would likely bench Rocha, and that would be silly.

The rosters for the Spokane and GCL clubs are being settled this weekend; both teams will begin league competition early next week. Those guys are Lansing’s immediate future; I’ll give you a rundown in a few days and keep my eyes on the stats. Both teams will likely consist mainly of recent draftees, with a sprinkling of folks who played on one team or the other last summer.

June 7 thru 10

  • Snappers 4 games, Lugnuts 0 games
  • Lugnuts are 27-37 (.422)
  • Still in the cellar, eleven games behind the Whitecaps and one behind the Battle Cats.
  • Roster changes: Infielder Ricardo Montas up from extended spring; pitcher Craig Sanders down to Spokane.
  • DL: Still Beltran, Blosser, and Schaffer.

Four losses: Not good. Only Saturday’s game was really awful, though Monday’s certainly didn’t show either team’s pitching to advantage.

New Lugnut Montas is a 19-year-old Dominican who batted 28 times in 21 games in the Rookie Gulf Coast League last summer. I don’t know what to make of those numbers. He seems to have some power and a strong arm; plays all infield positions.

I guess we didn’t get a new KC draftee after all.

Brian Poldberg’s been writing lineups around the DL, minor injuries, and illnesses; there are some real difficulties and it’s certainly affecting the team’s performance. The players who’ve remained healthy have also played virtually every day, which has real costs. I’m not conceding everything, though; I think the lineups I’ve been watching have been as good as the teams they’ve been playing. The players obviously don’t think that, and so belief becomes truth.

It’s a clean slate after the All-Star break. This team can win in this league.

Now’s the season of the scouts. College and high school seasons are about done, as is the player draft, so they come watch each others’ prospects. Look for them in the handicapper seats behind home, in the regular seats in that vicinity, and wandering around the park. They’ve got radar guns, they’ve got clipboards, they consult stopwatches, they take notes–and they’re quite a bit older than the Lugnut and opposition pitchers doing the same things.

I entertained myself this weekend by watching Luis Salazar run the Snappers. He manages his team like a big-league manager, always playing for today’s win. He pinch hits, he makes defensive changes, he pads the lead. This is different from most MWL managers, who rarely pinch hit and mainly make defensive changes if someone pulls a muscle.

This is partly Salazar. But it reflects something I know about the Brewers organization: they believe in fielding championship teams at all levels in their farm system. This is an organizational strategy based on the assumption that winning breeds winning.

There’s a more common player-development strategy in use in our league. It assumes that a crisis on the field is a teaching opportunity, and that all the players can profit by them. It’s clearly not better to cope with a dangerous hitter (Mike Kinkade? Mario Valdez?) by relieving Jeff Wallace if the result is that Wallace never works under pressure. Jose Cepeda’s not going to learn to make reliable throws to first if we convert him to a right fielder. Tony Longueira needs to learn to hit with runners at first and third quite as much as Mark Quinn. There’s a reason for this strategic approach. The farm directors want the teams to win, but they want other things as well; there’s a risk and a cost in every strategic decision.

Brian Poldberg’s not working in a vacuum, and he’s not the only person making decisions about which players play or how Brian plays them. I presume–I stress that I have no inside information–I presume he’s got instructions to play some players virtually every day, however well or poorly they perform. I presume that the patterns I see in the use of pitchers reflect decisions made in Kansas City more than they reflect game situations; in fact, I hope that’s the case, because some of the other explanations are absurd.

Brian obviously enjoys his job, and since the Royals keep assigning him to teams in the low minors I have to believe they’re satisfied with his work, even though he’s never posted a winning season. I do know that Brian typically passes his players to John Mizerock (now the manager in Wilmington, but previously in our league) and that Mizerock finds ways to make those players win. I expect that’s a testimony to things learned from both managers; it’s obviously not a failure for the organization.

I still sputter about the team. I want to see them improve, and I want to have fun at the ballpark. Both are easier with a winning team.

June 5 and 6

  • Lugnuts 1 game, Chiefs 1 game
  • Lugnuts are 27-33 (.450)
  • Still in the cellar, seven behind the Whitecaps and one behind both the Battle Cats and the Silver Hawks.

A good game (for a loss) against one of the league’s best starters, then they won a rather strange game in extra innings. This is pretty good; the Chiefs are an excellent team. (I’ve lowered my expectations a bit; our team’s just not going to develop a good defense.)

[Emiliano] Escandon’s health is recovering, and so is his offense. That’s good.

The division (now minus our participation) continues to play intramural games, with some effect on the standings. West Michigan continues to lead, easily; the rest of the teams are just beating each other up. In a few days they’ll start over.

Since the Journal forgot we might be interested in the results of Kansas City’s draft, I’ll post what little I know:

  1. Dermal [Dee] Brown, OF, Marlboro Central HS, Marlboro, NY Brown’s reported to be an excellent athlete; has a football scholarship at Maryland (running back). May play both sports, at least for a while.
  2. Taylor Myers, RHP, Green Valley HS, Henderson, NV Same coach as Greg Maddux, and a similar pitcher. (That’s asking too much, really.)
  3. Chad Durbin, SS-RHP, Woodlawn HS, Baton Rouge, LA
  4. Corey Thurman, RHP, Texas HS, Texarkana, TX A big, strong thrower who needs lots of work.
  5. Jeremy Hill, C, W.T. White HS, Dallas, TX
  6. Jeremy Giambi, OF, Cal State Fullerton
  7. Scott Mullen, LHP, Dallas Baptist U
  8. Javier Flores, C, U of Oklahoma
  9. Jeremy Morris, OF, Florida State U A raw talent; former Seminole football player….
  10. Steve Houston [actually Hueston], RHP, Long Beach State U

My source for all of this is Baseball America.

We’ll certainly see some of these players over the next couple years, though most of them will probably get assigned to one of the short-season teams if they sign. None of these are obviously replacements for Doug Blosser; perhaps we’ll see Giambi.

This stuff is more interesting than it’s important. Don’t hold your breath waiting for these guys to show up in Lansing….

Some short notes, comments, and impressions about the Lugnuts’ pitchers.

A Short Essay on Evaluating Pitchers

Pitchers are harder to figure than position players. One obstacle is the pitching rotation: you don’t see these guys every day. But a bigger obstacle is far more basic: Young pitchers are more difficult to evaluate.

It’s nearly always obvious what the pitcher’s strengths are: He’s got a terrific fastball, or a nasty breaking ball, or his pitches are always near the strike zone. But almost every pitcher in this league has equally obvious faults: There’s a hitch in his delivery, or he routinely forgets to cover home, or every seventh pitch is way off target, or he tips the batter about his next pitch, or (most common) he only throws two pitches, and the second is a weak sister. That’s the evaluation problem; they’re in this league more to eliminate the flaws than to improve the strengths. If the strength alone is sufficient, pitchers don’t usually spend much time at this level.

I can tell you how each guy throws. In some cases I can say what he does wrong. I can toss some numbers your way. What I can’t do is tell you whether they’ll fill in the missing pieces; that’s more a question of character than ability, and I’m not really in a position to judge that. I do know, from years of watching, that pitchers in this league often suddenly see the light and start pitching well. I never know which pitcher that’s going to happen to. Often it’s a surprise to the manager and the pitching coach, as well.

The Pitchers

Except as noted, all stats quoted are thru the season’s end. The original pitcher comments date from early June, and are italicized.

Justin Adam, 8/22/74 (22), 6’2″, 190#, bats & throws right, Windsor, Ontario

7th round draftee in 1992; played for Spokane last summer
46 games (no starts); 80.0 IP; 3 wins, 7 losses, 1 save
ERA 5.18; Opponents BA .276
Per inning: Hits 1.05; Walks 0.73; Strikeouts 0.76; HR 0.09; Hit Batter 0.04; Wild Pitch 0.18
Justin had an awful season, for not-very-obvious reasons.

June 5 comments: Justin’s a big overhand righty who always pitches from the set position. Early in the season he was dreadfully ineffective; he’d come in and come completely apart. Seems better now, though he’s not dependable enough to trust with a close game.

Manuel Bernal, 4/29/74 (22), 5’11”, 155#, bats & throws right, Los Mochis Sinaloa, Mexico

Non-drafted free agent, 1994; played for GCL Royals and the Sultans last summer
34 games (6 starts); 95.0 IP; 2 wins, 4 losses, 2 saves
ERA 4.55; Opponents BA .315
Per inning: Hits 1.29; Walks 0.17; Strikeouts 0.43; HR 0.07; Hit Batter 0.03; Wild Pitch 0.02
Bernal coils his body before he pitches; he gets momentum from unwinding the coil. I’m not sure if his motion changed during the season or I just understand it better now. He was fairly effective in relief but extremely unsuccessful as a starter. Great control, but gives up a lot of hits.

June 5 comments: Bernal appears to pitch mostly with his arm and wrist, rather than using his whole body to generate momentum. He was a starter early in the season, but Poldberg’s been using him in middle relief lately; he’s been reasonably effective. He’s effective as long as he keeps the ball down; if the other team starts getting the ball in the air, he gives up runs. (Brian’s now pulling him when that occurs.)

Richard Boring, 7/23/75 (21), 6’5″, 205#, bats & throws right, Nacogdoches, Texas

Started the season with the GCL Royals
1996 draftee from Texas A&M
3 games (no starts), 3.0 IP; 0 wins, 0 losses, 0 saves
ERA 3.00; Opponents BA .364
Per Inning: Hits 1.33, Walks 0.67; Strikeouts 0.67; HR 0.00; Hit Batter 0.00; Wild Pitch 0.00
1.90 ERA, 1 win, 1 loss, 4 saves, 10 Ks, 28 IP at GCL Royals
Didn’t see him pitch often enough to form an impression.

Tim Grieve, 8/17/71 (25), 6’0″, 180#, bats & throws right, Arlington, Texas

Finished the season in Wilmington
Played for the GCL Royals in 1994; did not play last summer
3 games (no starts); 3.0 IP; 0 wins, 1 loss, 0 saves
ERA 3.00; Opponents BA .000
Per inning: Hits 0.00, Walks 2.00; Strikeouts 1.67; HR ?.??; Hit Batter ?.??; Wild Pitch 0.00
1.31 ERA, 4 wins, 1 loss, 4 saves, 30 Ks, 34 IP at Wilmington
I saw Tim pitch once with the Nuts; he was ineffective but looked terrific. Evidently that’s all the Royals were expecting. He pitched pretty well for the Blue Rocks.

Kevin Hodges (Majors), 6/24/73 (23), 6’4″, 200#, bats & throws right, Spring, Texas

Finished the season in Wilmington
Drafted (I presume) 1991; played for Wilmington last summer
9 games (9 starts); 48.1 IP; 1 win, 2 losses, 0 saves
ERA 4.66; Opponents BA .261
Per inning: Hits 0.98; Walks 0.40; Strikeouts 0.48; HR 0.06; Hit Batter 0.13; Wild Pitch 0.06
5.35 ERA, 2 wins, 4 losses, 8 starts, 15 Ks, 39 IP at Wilmington
Kevin pitched regularly while he was in Lansing. His first start was his best; his last was also excellent. In between he was adequate.

June 5 comments: Unfortunately, I missed his first game, which was possibly the best game the Nuts played this season.

Brent Kaysner, 4/23/74 (22), 6’6″, 235#, bats left, throws right, Bothell, Washington

Drafted in the 29th round of the 1994 draft; played for Spokane last summer
38 games (no starts); 44.1 IP; 2 wins, 3 losses, no saves
ERA 5.08; Opponents BA .233
Per inning: Hits 0.86; Walks 1.30; Strikeouts 0.89; HR 0.07; Hit Batter 0.30; Wild Pitch 0.32
A miserable season. Usually a pitcher’s per-inning statistics remain nearly constant for the entire season, but Kaysner’s collapsed in August. I’d hate to be the starter he relieved in a close game.

June 5 comments: Brent’s a tall, thin right-hander with an easy overhand motion. He seems like he should throw harder than I think he actually does. Poldberg’s been using him mainly in the ninth inning, so I guess he’s being used as a closer; he started the season on the DL. Kaysner always lets runners get on base, then has to work out of the resulting situation. Sometimes it works out.

Scott Key, 10/4/76 (19), 5’10”, 162#, bats & throws right, Cantonment, Florida

Kansas City’s 33rd draft choice in 1995; played for the GCL Royals last summer
42 games (no starts); 61.2 IP; 1 win, 5 losses, 5 saves
ERA 5.40; Opponents BA .231
Per inning: Hits 0.84, Walks 0.75, Strikeouts 0.98, HR 0.07, Hit Batter 0.21, Wild Pitch 0.23
Scott’s delivery is now very peculiar; the mechanics cannot be better than his original motion. Next season will tell. He’s got a really strange stat line; the high strikeout ratio and low opponent BA don’t fit well with the high ERA.

June 5 comments: Francis Scott Key, III, is an extreme sidearm thrower, rather like Jim Bunning was. Besides delivering the ball from around knee level, he throws hard. Baseball’s accepted wisdom is that this sort of pitcher can be quite effective but most such pitchers are wild. Key is reinforcing that stereotype; he has appearances where he’s unhittable and appearances where he can’t find home plate. Poldberg generally brings him in as a mid-inning reliever, probably on the assumption that the next batter won’t handle the transition. When he throws well, that works. To all appearances the team’s trying to move his delivery to a somewhat less horizontal position, probably to improve his control; I’m not sure what I think about that.

Luis Matos; 6/13/78 (18), 5’11”, 185#, bats & throws right, Santo Domingo, PR

Returned to Extended Spring in early May; evidently he’s since been released
Non-drafted free agent; apparently an amateur in Puerto Rico last summer
8 games (no starts); 17.0 IP; 1 win, 1 loss, no saves
ERA 6.35; Opponents BA .324
Per Inning: Hits 1.35, Walks 0.53; Strikeouts 0.59, HR 0.12, Hit Batter 0.00, Wild Pitch 0.41
There’s some confusion about this player’s age. Regardless, I never saw him look good on the mound; the word that comes to mind is “insecure”. I hope someday to see him pitch again under more comfortable circumstances.

Blaine Mull, 8/14/76 (20), 6’4″, 190#, bats & throws right, Morganton, North Carolina

6th round draftee in 1994; pitched for the Sultans last season
28 games (all starts); 174.2 IP; 15 wins, 8 losses, no saves (1 CG)
ERA 3.25; Opponents BA .276
Per inning: Hits 1.07, Walks 0.23, Strikeouts 0.66, HR 0.05, Hit Batter 0.05, Wild Pitch 0.03
The June comments are probably still appropriate. Was successful in August, but wasn’t pitching well.

June 5 comments: Despite a couple bad recent outings, the Lugnuts best pitcher. No particular traits worth mentioning; just stands out there and gets the batters out. Not particularly fast. Gets outs on the ground or in the air, without much pattern. His control’s much better than last year, for whatever that’s worth.

Carlos Paredes, 5/10/76 (20), 6’0″, 170#, bats & throws right, Sabana de la Mar, Dominican Republic

Evidently a 1995 free agent signee; pitched for the GCL Royals last summer
23 games (all starts), 118.2 IP; 7 wins, 8 losses, no saves
ERA 4.85; Opponents BA .296
Per inning: Hits 1.17, Walks 0.58, Strikeouts 0.61, HR 0.02, Hit Batter 0.06, Wild Pitch 0.13
This pitcher figured things out, and got much better in August. Nothing obvious changed. He just stopped throwing away games when things went wrong.

June 5 comments: Carlos looks like a little power pitcher out there; a long stride and a simple overhand throw. He started the year in extended spring training, then was promoted to our team when it became clear we needed to move a starter or two into the bullpen. He’s effective so long as the other team hits grounders; when they start getting the ball into the air he’s nearly always done. His last outing was by far his best, which I hope means something; we need him.

Jason Ritter, 7/16/74 (22), 6’2″, 185#, bats & throws right; Tulsa, Oklahoma

Jason’s been released by the Royals
27th round draftee in 1994; pitched for the GCL Royals, Spokane, and the Sultans last summer
13 games (no starts); 17 IP; no wins, no losses, no saves
ERA 9.53; Opponents BA .429
Per inning: Hits 2.25, Walks 0.58, Strikeouts 0.50, HR 0.25, Hit Batter 0.00, Wild Pitch 0.00

June 5 comments: Jason’s a three-quarter overhand righty and he was (as you can see) extremely ineffective for the Lugnuts. Seems to have decent control, but nothing to fool the other team.

Michael Robbins, 2/7/74 (22), 6’1″, 190#, bats & throws left; Oakland, California

9th round draftee in 1995; pitched for Spokane and the Sultans last summer
25 games (15 starts); 116.1 IP; 9 wins, 6 losses, no saves
ERA 3.40; Opponents BA .276
Per inning: Hits 1.05, Walks 0.32, Strikeouts 0.66, HR 0.04, Hit Batter 0.05, Wild Pitch 0.05
The June comments are a fair summary of Mike’s season.

June 5 comments: Robbins is now being used as a starter; Poldberg used him in every conceivable role early in the season. He’s been pretty effective however he’s been used. He gives up a few hits too many, but balances that with excellent control.

Allen Sanders, 4/15/75 (21), 6’3″, 195#, bats & throws right; Deer Park, Texas

7th round draftee in 1995; pitched for the GCL Royals and Spokane last summer
5 games (all starts); 31.1 IP; 3 wins, no losses, no saves
ERA 4.31; Opponents BA .309
Per inning: Hits 1.23, Walks 0.06, Strikeouts 0.16, HR 0.10, Hit Batter 0.10, Wild Pitch 0.00
4.53 ERA, 5 wins, 2 losses, no saves, 5 starts, 19 Ks, 44 IP in Spokane
Allen’s a big, strong guy who throws hard and seems to have good control. The no-decisions could have been wins; both had one very bad inning but were otherwise strong outings.

Craig Sanders, 7/31/72 (24), 6’4″, 225#, bats both, throws right; Lincoln, Nebraska

Finished the season on Spokane’s roster.
35th round selection in the 1995 draft; pitched for Spokane last summer
8 games (no starts); 15.0 IP; 2 wins, 1 loss, no saves
ERA 4,80; Opponents BA .204
Per inning: Hits 0.67, Walks 1.13, Strikeouts 1.00, HR 0.13, Hit Batter 0.13, Wild Pitch 0.20
10.32 ERA, no wins, 1 loss, 1 save, 5 Ks, 11 IP in Spokane

June 5 comments: Except for the walks, those are decent numbers. I’ve only seen Craig pitch a couple times, so I won’t offer any comments.

Jose Santiago (Majors), 11/5/74 (21), 6’3″, 200#, bats & throws right; Loiza, Puerto Rico

70th round selection in 1994; pitched for Spokane last summer
54 games (no starts); 77.0 IP; 7 wins, 6 losses, 19 saves
ERA 2.57; Opponents BA .263
Per inning: Hits 1.01, Walks 0.27, Strikeouts 0.71, HR 0.05, Hit Batter 0.06, Wild Pitch 0.04
Jose was excellent in July and better in August. He throws harder than my June comments gave him credit for, has good control, and doesn’t let the game situation get to him.

June 5 comments: Jose’s the Lugnuts closer; he’s the only dependable pitcher in late innings. His early stat line was badly distorted by a single painful outing in Wisconsin. He’s not an overpowering pitcher, but he throws strikes with the game on the line and he looks real impressive on the mound.

Todd Thorn, 11/4/76 (19), 6’2″, 175#, bats & throws left; Stratford, Ontario

Player of the Month for August
26th round selection in the 1994 free agent draft; pitched for the GCL Royals last summer
27 games (all starts); 170.2 IP; 11 wins, 5 losses, no saves
ERA 3.11; Opponents BA .249
Per inning: Hits 0.94, Walks 0.20, Strikeouts 0.63, HR 0.08, Hit Batter 0.03, Wild Pitch 0.05
An excellent season; arguably it was better than Mull’s. This pitcher is always effective, which I take as a sign of intelligence.

June 5 comments: Todd’s a lefty who mainly throws breaking balls; his fastball’s decent but not overpowering. Thorn’s style assumes the defense will assist him; with this team, that can be pretty costly. In Battle Creek in late May the Cats always seemed to know his changeup was coming, and keyed on it. He’s doing quite well, regardless.

Modesto Villarreal, 10/29/75 (20), 6’4″, 170#, bats & throws right; Panama City, Panama

Finished the season in Spokane
Non-drafted free agent signed in 1993; played for Spokane last summer
15 games (5 starts); 42.0 IP; no wins, 5 losses, no saves
ERA 6.21; Opponents BA .318
Per inning: Hits 1.28, Walks 0.28, Strikeouts 0.69, HR 0.14, Hit Batter 0.10, Wild Pitch 0.05
5.74 ERA, 2 wins, 4 losses, 3 saves, 3 starts, 35 Ks, 47 IP at Spokane
Modesto’s problems were mental, not physical. I hope they give him another chance.

June 5 comments: Modesto began the season as an ineffective starter, now being used as an ineffective middle reliever. Villarreal looks terrific out there, with a high leg kick and a pretty delivery. I want to believe the appearance, not the stat line; it’s fun watching this man pitch. But we always lose….

Jeff Wallace (Majors), 4/12/76 (20), 6’2″, 235#, bats & throws left; Paris, Ohio

25th round draftee in 1995; pitched for GCL Royals last summer
30 games (21 starts); 122.1 IP; 4 wins, 9 losses, no saves
ERA 5.30; Opponents BA .294
Per inning: Hits 1.15, Walks 0.54, Strikeouts 0.69, HR 0.08, Hit Batter 0.06, Wild Pitch 0.10
On his best days, Jeff’s an incredibly good pitcher. But he had lots of bad days. I can see him as Mickey Lolich. Or Lee Smith. Or Ryne Duren. Or Steve Dalkowski.

June 5 comments: Jeff’s a heavy-set southpaw who seems to throw easily; he’s got a good fastball that he only uses in spots. If I had to guess which one pitcher’s going to find his form this summer, I’d bet on this one. But he’s not there yet.

June 1 thru 4

  • Silver Hawks 3 games, Lugnuts 1 game
  • Lugnuts are 26-32 (.448)
  • Fifth (last) place, seven games behind the Whitecaps, one behind the fourth-place Hawks.
  • Pitcher Kevin Hodges has been assigned to the Lugnuts.
  • Beltran, Blosser, and Schafer (again) are on the DL. Beltran is working back into condition.
  • Lugnut All-Stars:
    • Jose Cepeda, 3B
    • Mark Melito, SS
    • Juan Rocha, DH
    • Mark Quinn, OF
    • Todd Thorn, P
    • Blaine Mull, P

Kevin Hodges pitched for Wilmington (the next team “up” from Lansing) last summer, but I can’t find that he’s pitched for any Royals team this season. I expect there’s some physical reason for the absence, but don’t know it. By this team’s standards this nearly 23-year-old is an old man.

This series was better, although the results still are pretty poor. Except for one inning, the Saturday game was well-played. Sunday’s was awful, but no one really thinks the team’s that bad. Monday’s win and Tuesday’s loss were excellent games, without serious reservation. In general, the Hawks just outplayed the Nuts; that’s bound to happen sometimes. (I could get to like watching Mario Valdez; that’s real talent.)

I’ve been blaming the Nuts’ play on the players, lately. I’m not going to retract the criticisms, but let’s admit to some other real explanations:

  • For most of the team, this is their first long season.
  • There have been lots of injuries, illnesses, and the like.
  • The weather’s been awful.
  • This team is real young.

All are true, but…

The amateur draft is going on. Our team’s future is being decided.

I was a South Bend fan first. I’ve been attending games at the Cove [Coveleski Stadium] since it was new, and my sister Debbie and I still split a package there every summer even though we now root for other MWL teams. Joan and I took in Saturday’s game until the rain stopped it, and had a good time. Although there were other Lansing fans in the park, we were scattered and I felt sometimes like I was encouraging our guys against a tide of Hawks fans.

When we all retreated to shelter, I had a short chat with another fan in a LugHat; turned out to be Jeff Wallace’s brother, in to watch the team. Evidently there were several members of Jeff’s family there (probably half of Paris, Ohio).

Our hotel, the Downtown Holiday Inn, is within walking distance of the park. Except in a heavy downpour; we got soaked returning to our room.

Let’s talk about the pitchers.

My first Iris are opening this afternoon, and almost everything is planted.

May 27 thru 31

  • Battle Cats 3 games, Lugnuts 2 games
  • Lugnuts are 25-29 (.463)
  • Third place, five games behind the Whitecaps, three behind the Battle Cats, in a virtual tie with the Wizards.

I think we can write off the half-season title; frankly, they look like they’ve lost interest. These games weren’t really horrible, but the team’s not playing anywhere near its potential. They’re stale. They come to the park and play the games, but there’s no fire there.

There are some bright spots: [Gary] Coffee’s getting some hits, and his defense has been terrific (ignore the stats; the errors were nearly all in April). [Mark] Quinn was hitting well all month, though his defense has weakened a bit. [Carlos] Febles has played excellent defense (he looks a little wacky, though) and has been getting on base a couple times per game. [Mark] Melito’s not exciting, but he’s steady.

There’s so much potential on this team. But it’s not being delivered well.

I watched Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s games in Battle Creek. Tuesday’s had one lousy inning, but [Larry] Wimberly was throwing really effective junk at the guys. ([Doug] Blosser, [Scott] Key, and [Mike] Robbins sat two rows in front of me, with the radar gun; it was interesting.) On Wednesday, [Mike] Spinelli wasn’t throwing junk at them and was really quite excellent.

C.O. Brown [Stadium]’s a short trip from Lansing, and good seats are nearly always available. I highly recommend the excursion.

The garden survived the freeze. We managed to get a lot weeded and planted over the weekend despite excursions to Saint Johns and South Bend. One blossom on the azalea….

May 25 and 26

  • Whitecaps 2 games, Lugnuts 0 games
  • Lugnuts are 23-26 (.469)
  • Third place, 5.5 games behind the Whitecaps, two behind the Battle Cats, and one ahead of the Wizards.

Saturday’s game looks like it was all right, but Sunday’s was a sorry affair. The Whitecaps played a poor game, but the Lugnuts let ’em win it anyway. WOOD Radio’s broadcast (1300 AM) of the game was on tape delay, so I got to hear the worst part of the game again from Whitecaps announcer Rick Berkey while I drove home. Can’t say I liked it any better the second time, but I like listening to Berkey.

The Journal says the Royals intend to fill the vacancy created by Blosser’s injury with a draftee. Perhaps they’ll find us some pitching, too.

The team’s reported attendance through Sunday is 171,263. That’s about what the Battle Cats [Battle Creek’s Midwest League team] drew for all of last season; their attendance was eighth (of fourteen) in the league. Obviously the teams have differing opinions about the importance of these things….

Here’s the best team attendance for each full-season minor league, through Memorial Day’s games:

American Association         Buffalo          193,437
International League         Richmond         165,040
Pacific Coast League         Salt Lake City   194,684

Eastern League               Trenton          135,101
Southern League              Birmingham       102,193
Texas League                 San Antonio      133,131

California League            Rancho Cucamonga 149,040
Carolina League              Durham           107,141
Florida State League         Brevard County    51,614
Midwest League               West Michigan    171,738
South Atlantic League        Delmarva          90,353

Obviously there is demand for minor league baseball in Michigan.

Lansing’s ticket sales, to date, have topped 450,000. I’m impressed; I think you can call this experiment a success.

A couple interesting things:

Dean Travel is offering a tour to see the Lugnuts visit the Rockford Cubbies on July 20. Call the team at 485-4500 for more information.

Manuel Delgado tells me he is selling photographs taken from above Oldsmobile Park on opening day (night). I haven’t seen them and offer this mention without comment or endorsement. Contact him for information at [link removed].