Minor League Spotlight: Summer Wrap, Part 2

This post first appeared on BaseballDigest.com

This is the second installment of the Summer Wrap for the Minor League Spotlight, Click Here for the first installment.

During the 2010 season, the Minor League Spotlight examined baseball all over the country, including the far reaches of the Alaska Baseball League. As we did in May, we checked in with Jesse Jack of 49th State Hardball to see how the ABL’s 2010 season shaped up.

Michael Maher: You did fairly well with your predictions on where the teams in the ABL would end up at the end of the 2010 season, were there any surprises during the season with players, teams, or the league in general?

Jesse Jack: “I guess the biggest surprise was that I was as close on my predictions. Though one prediction I made didn’t pan out at all, which was that all the teams would finish the season fairly closely. I was way off on that one. The league was basically split; the Miners, Goldpanners and Oilers were all in the race down to the last few days, with the Miners and Goldpanners tied for first heading into the last game of the season. On the other hand, the Bucs, Fire and Glacier Pilots got beat up pretty badly all season long. I was afraid the Pilots wouldn’t even break into double-digit wins at one point. I was definitely surprised that those teams didn’t do better, but the nature of summer ball is such that next year it’ll be a whole new crop of players and anyone’s guess who will take the title.”

“One event that I thought was really awesome, that I had never done before, was the Scout’s Showcase. Of course there are plenty of pro scouts who make their way through Alaska during the summer, but honestly, it’s kind of off the beaten path. The league puts on the showcase to make it a little more convenient. Toward that end of the showcase, they set aside a three-day weekend where every team converges upon Anchorage for a round-robin style event. It’s set up so that you can see every team three times in one weekend, and though it’s geared toward the scouts, it’s a great value for fans, too. A single ticket gets you into the park for a full day for three baseball games. Somehow I talked my wife into letting me spend a whole Saturday at the park, and it was probably one of the coolest days of my life, no joke.”

MM: The player video coverage and analysis of ABL players on the blog is great content, any plans to expand next season?

JJ: ” I’m glad the readers enjoy it, and I think this is an angle I really want to run with. A couple of my goals with 49th State Hardball are to offer something that you don’t get in the local papers — the score, the stat line, etc. — and at the same time connect with people outside of Alaska. I think this really covers that well. For example, fans outside of the state who might follow a particular MLB team and want to know something about a certain draft pick or free-agent sign, and discover the ABL for the first time when they come looking for a scouting report. On the other hand, the local fans, the die-hards who might have seen a certain player even more than I have, get a chance to leave their comments regarding a player and create a sort of crowd sourced scouting report.”

“To answer your question, I’m hoping to expand it, particularly the video. I’ve always been all about reviewing the scouting reports and opinions and such, but the video was something I started about halfway through the season. I was reluctant to do it at first, because I was worried that it would be just one more thing to add to the list of stuff to worry about. But after I took the camera to one game I became aware of something that seems so obvious now. That is, if I get something on video, I don’t have to struggle to pick up on all the little details as they happen live. I can focus on the big picture, and then take the video home, replay it, slow it down, and analyze something like the break on a pitcher’s two seamer or how a batter’s hands move. The video makes other things easier. So next year, I think we can expect not only more videos on more players, but also better video. I’ll have more footage to choose from and I can throw out the clips where I sneeze or a mascot walks in front of the camera — and also scouting reports on more players as a consequence.”

MM: The ABL season ended more than a month ago, but your blog has been churning out tons of great insight into prospects from the ABL and where they’re heading in MiLB. Do you have any big plans for the off-season?

JJ: “I think the big thing this off-season will be the push toward the draft in the spring. Of course the scouting video and reports fall under that category, because many of those players will be drafted in 2011 and I think people will want to know about the players that their favorite team drafts, so I’m going to keep that content coming at a fairly regular pace. But I’ve also started compiling lists of draft-eligible alumni from each ABL club, which will culminate in a big list of draft-eligible players and hopefully a draft prospect ranking. The other side of the coin will be, of course, the players who are coming into the league, so as the recruiting rosters come out and solidify a bit we’ll start looking at those.”

“I’m also strongly considering doing some video blog type posts, but we’ll have to see if I can pull them off without it being ultra-cheesy, so no promises! Other than that, there will be a lot of the same types of posts that I’ve done in the past: covering players in winter leagues, tracking college transfers, maybe doing some “all-star” style awards at various levels, and looking back to the history of the league with stories on some of the legendary players who got their starts playing in Alaska. So, in other words, there’s plenty of irons in the fire and the only question is how much of it I can get cranked out by June.”

Be sure to check out Jesse Jack at 49th State Hardball throughout the off-season for great insight into baseball up north.

In early May, the Minor League Spotlight focused on the Rochester Red Wings, one of the most storied franchises in all of baseball. Jim Mandelaro, co-author of Silver Seasons and A New Frontier along with Scott Pitoniak, took some time out to answer a very important question following a dismal season for the Red Wings.

MM: The Rochester Red Wings had a remarkably disappointing season, yet they had several players who were capable of providing a great offense. What went wrong?

Jim Mandelaro: “If you look at the Red Wings’ lineup, you’d never guess they would finish with such a horrible record. It wasn’t Murderer’s Row, but it wasn’t the ’62 Mets, either. The pitching, however, was atrocious.”

“I’ve never seen a team with more underachieving players than the 2010 Red Wings. I’m not sure why; the team seemed to get along just fine. I feel like somewhere along the way, probably early June, the Red Wings decided they were a losing team and this became their persona. They accepted losing quite easily. Manager Tom Nieto never balled them out, to my knowledge, and I never saw a player knock off the postgame spread.”
“The Twins deserve a mulligan, because they’ve generally been pretty good for Rochester. But they will have to step out of character and sign some “4-A” free agents. They prefer to build through the farm system, but Double-A New Britain was even worse this year (if you can believe it). The 2011 season will be very interesting in Rochester.”
Thanks to Jim for taking time to answer a question about the Rochester Red Wings. You can follow his coverage of the Red Wings at his Extra Bases blog at the Rochester Democrat And Chronicle.
The final installment of the MLS featured the Frisco RoughRiders, a Double A team that had a major role in the Texas Rangers reaching the 2010 World Series. Chris Moore wrote about the Frisco RoughRiders for Examiner.com during the 2010 season and took some time to answer a question for the summer wrap up prior to the World Series.

MM: The Lee trade and a few other trades depleted the Texas Rangers organization(in particular the RoughRiders), but it also bolstered the big league club for their first postseason appearance in more than a decade. Do you think the moves by the team were good decisions in the long term, and if you had to guess, how far do you expect the Rangers to go on this run?

Chris Moore: “The Cliff Lee trade definitely had a major impact on the RoughRiders, as they went from a team that dominated the Texas League in the first half to one that lost the opening playoff round to a .500 team. It wasn’t just that trade, however. The Rangers made multiple deals leading up to the deadline, and it cost the Riders a number of key players, including their top two starting pitchers in Blake Beavan and Tanner Roark. Technically, Beavan was sent to AAA before the trade, but part of me wonders if that was done intentionally to up his trade value.”

“Of course, the Rangers organization’s primary objective has to be improving their own major league ball club, so they have to do what’s necessary. To be honest, I’m a bit concerned about whether or not the moves they made will pay off. Lee has not shown himself to be the anchor of the staff unless he’s pitching against the Yankees or another team that one would think he wants to sign with. There have been suggestions by some national media members that Lee is not happy in Texas, and while I don’t want to believe that, he hasn’t done a lot to disprove it.”

….

Thanks to Chris Moore, who covered the Frisco RoughRiders all season at Examiner.com which is worth checking out as the team had a rollercoaster season. As well, another thanks to all of the great writers that helped make the first season of the Minor League Spotlight a success. The minor leagues feature a plethora of great talent not only on the field, but with the people who follow, write about and work with these teams each summer.

The off-season will not have weekly installments, but there will be occasional Spotlights for readers to enjoy. First up, a review of “Time In The Minors”, a documentary by Tony Okun about two minor leaguers with big league dreams. Be sure to check out Baseball Digest.com’s affiliate website, I70 Baseball, and their recent interview with the director on I70 Baseball’s Radio Show. The Minor League Spotlight on Tony Okun and “Time In The Minors” will appear on BaseballDigest.com next Tuesday, so check back here for a full review.

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