December 2009

Coaching Staff Returns

The news that Tim Wallach, Jim Slaton, and John Moses were coming back to Albuquerque next season was a great Christmas gift for ‘Topes fans, since not only are all three great coaches, but they’re also great guys who work great together. 

It’s never easy being a manager at Triple-A, but Wallach did a phenominal job in his first season, earning accolades like PCL Manager of the Year and Best Manager Prospect by Baseball America.  This speaks as much to Tim’s baseball acumen as it does his personality, as his even-keel demeanor continually kept players focused and motivated despite a long season’s worth of distractions. Plus, he almost immediately established a great rapport with Isotopes fans and media. 

Of course, Tim relied heavily on Slaton and Moses, who each did a great job with the team’s pitchers and hitters, respectively.  Isotopes pitchers last season posted the lowest team ERA in team history, while ‘Topes hitters continued to pound the ball.

Dodgers.com has a great article on Tim here

All of us here at the ballpark are extremely thankful that all three are coming back!   

Mitch Jones Inks Deal With Braves

Mitch Jones, the reigning home run king in Minor League Baseball, has signed a deal with the Atlanta Braves that includes an invite to Major League Spring Training.  Obviously, Atlanta is enamored with Jones’s power potential, and has a good chance of winning a spot as the Braves fourth outfielder. 

As for the Dodgers, they’ve been busy the last couple days as well, signing a number of players to Minor League contracts with invites to Big League camp.  Most notable on the list is Doug Mientkiewicz, who made the Dodgers last year as a utility infielder but separated his shoulder diving into second in April, an injury that sidelined him for nearly five months.  Mientkiewicz did play in 11 games for the ‘Topes on a rehab assignment before re-joining Los Angeles in late September. 

Former American League Rookie of the Year Angel Berroa has also inked a deal with the Dodgers after splitting last season between both New York teams.  The 2003 ROY with the Royals started the season in the Yankees organization (where he played 16 games for the champs), was released on July 7 and was snatched up by the Mets, with whom he played eight games before getting hurt.  Berroa is also familiar with the Dodgers organization, having played parts of 2008 in Los Angeles. 

Here is a complete list of those players signed so far to Minor League contracts with invitations to Major League camp (2009 clubs): 

Luis Ayala – RH Reliever (Minnesota, New Orleans)
Angel Berroa – INF (Scranton / WB, NY Yankees, Buffalo, NY Mets)
Francisco Felix – RH Reliever (Chattanooga, Albuquerque)
John Lindsey – 1B (New Orleans)
Doug Mientkiewicz – IF (Los Angeles, Albuquerque)
Justin Miller – RH Reliever (San Francisco)
Juan Perez – LH Reliever (Gwinnet)
Prentice Redman – OF (Tacoma)

(Source – LA Times)

L.A. Times Dodgers beat writer Dylan Hernandez also has an interesting tidbit in his blog about the possibility of Chin-lung Hu being a part of a potential deal for Reds pitcher Aaron Harang. 

The hot stove is sure to heat up over the holidays!

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Strick Signs With Fish

Closer Scott Strickland, who last year set an Albuquerque professional baseball record with 32 saves for the ‘Topes, has signed a Minor League contract with the Florida Marlins that includes an invitation to Major League Spring Training camp. 

The right-hander came just one save from tying the Pacific Coast League record of 33 set by Colorado Springs’ Ryan Speier in 2007. 

Of course, the biggest news of the day is that the Dodgers have traded Juan Pierre to the White Sox for two players to be named by January 7, 2010.  That means that, barring another outfielder acquisition, former Isotope Jason Repko will have a very good chance to win the fourth outfielder’s job next spring.   

Signings Galore

There has been a flurry of activity involving Dodgers signings, including a few names familiar to Isotopes fans.  Pitchers Tim Corcoran and Francisco Felix, both of whom played in Albuquerque in 2009 (Corcoran also played for the Isotopes in 2008) are back with the Dodgers organization. 

Corcoran joined the ‘Topes on August 12 after Charlie Haeger was called up to Los Angeles and was excellent, going 2-0 with a 4.71 ERA in six games (five starts).   Felix, meanwhile, was a key component of the Albuquerque ‘pen down the stretch, going 1-0 with a 3.38 ERA in 14 games after joining the club on July 25. 

Other notables include right-handed pitcher Josh Towers, who split time between the Yankees and Blue Jays last year, culminating in two September appearances for the Yanks.  Primarily used as a starter at Triple-A, Towers went 7-6 with a 2.74 ERA in 19 games (18 starts) for Scranton / Wilkes-Barre.  On September 6, Towers made the first of two long relief outings for New York, posting a total ERA of 3.38 (2 ER / 5.1 IP). 

First baseman John Lindsey is also back in the Dodgers organization after a successful campaign in New Orleans (Florida Marlins), where he batted .251 with 22 doubles,  19 homers, and 83 RBI.  In 2007 and 2008, Lindsey played in the Dodgers system and in ’08 enjoyed a superb year at Triple-A Las Vegas, batting .316 with 36 doubles, 26 homers, and 100 RBI. 

Minor League camp opens on March 10 when pitchers and catchers report, followed by position players reporting on March 12, which means the Minor League free agent signings will come fast and furious.    

(Source- Baseball America)

DeWitt Getting Ready

Dylan Hernandez has an excellent article in today’s L.A.Times about Blake DeWitt, who is getting ready this off-season to be the Dodgers’ starting second baseman in 2010. 

Last season, DeWitt was also slated to open the season as the team’s full-time second baseman until a late signing of Orlando Hudson pushed DeWitt to Albuquerque.  Even though he bounced back-and-forth between the ‘Topes and Dodgers six times, DeWitt batted .256 in Albuquerque with a team-high nine triples, 21 doubles, seven homers, and 47 RBI.  DeWitt also played 45 games at second, 39 at third, and even logged seven games at short, committing just eight total errors.

 

Hoffmann Taken In Rule 5

Last season was a bit of a whirlwind for outfielder Jamie Hoffmann, who started in Double-A and by the end of May, was making his Major League debut.  Most of his year, however, was spent in Albuquerque, where Hoffmann was a vital cog in helping to lead the ‘Topes to a division championship.  In 68 games for the Isotopes, Hoffmann batted .284 with 14 doubles, three triples, eight homers, and 48 RBI.  By the end of the season, when the Dodgers were looking to get Jim Thome, it was Hoffmann’s name that kept surfacing as the player Los Angeles would potentially send to the White Sox. 

Hoffmanncrop.jpg

Well Hoffmann didn’t get traded then, but he was left unprotected by the Dodgers and was immediately snatched up in this morning’s Rule 5 Draft at the Winter Meetings.  Hoffmann was the first player taken, a selection made by the Washington Nationals, who then traded him to the New York Yankees as the player to be named in the Brian Bruney deal that was completed when the Meetings began. 

In Jonathan Mayo’s article on the Rule 5 draft at milb.com, Yankees GM Brian Cashman has some very complimentary things to say about Hoffmann. 

“We’ll see where it takes us,” Yankees GM Brian Cashman said. “We feel he’s got great makeup, he’s got ability, and we project him in the future as an everyday type player. It will be interesting to see how he mixes in.

“This guy has got some thump. He’s a big boy. He can play center, right or left as a plus defender. He’s been rated in the last few years as the Dodgers’ best defensive outfielder. He’s got a hockey mentality, a Minnesota kid. In our roster situation, where we’re at in terms of competing, he’s a guy that we’re hoping can be No. 25 on this roster and give [manager] Joe [Girardi] some choices.”

And with that, the 2009 Baseball Winter Meetings have come to a close.  The Isotopes contingent will head back today after a great week of seeing old friends and colleagues.  So, taking us out on this bittersweet moment is the ultimate in early 1990s soul – Boyz II Men and their sad a cappella anthem It’s So Hard To Say Goodbye To Yesterday.  Indeed it is. 

Justin Miller Signs

The Dodgers have officially inked a Minor League contract with relief pitcher Justin Miller, who will also get an invitation to Major League camp.  If the name sounds familiar, it’s because Miller played for the Isotopes in 2007 and was dominant, posting a 1.50 ERA with six saves in 11 games before joining the Marlins in May.  With Florida, the right-hander was just as excellent, going 5-0 with a 3.65 ERA in 62 games.  Miller battled through injuries the next season, making one last appearance for Albuquerque in 2008 before he was released by the Marlins. 

Last year, he was picked up by the Giants and went 3-3 with a 3.18 ERA in 44 games before again he was sidelined by injuries.  In September, San Francisco placed Miller on the 60-day disabled list and the reliever underwent arthroscopic elbow surgery in October. 

 
 

millercrop2.jpgFans might also remember Miller’s extensive sleeve tattoos, which necessitated he wear a long-sleeved shirt when he pitched to keep from distracting hitters. Of course a hard-rockin’ guy needs a hard-rockin’ songso here’s Symphony of Destruction by Megadeth.  

Charlie The Fourth?

On a cold, dreary day in Indianapolis, we need some musical sunshine to warm us up and who better to provide this lift than Randy Newman and his iconic I Love L.A.  Of course, this choice is also twofold, since last night the Dodgers held their annual reception in which they thanked all of their Minor League affiliates. Nearly every Major League team hosts a reception of some sort at the Winter Meetings, which basically consists of commandeering a room at the hotel or convention center for a couple of hours for free drinks and finger foods.  As you’d expect, the Dodgers do things a little different.  They secured a bus that picked everyone up from the hotel and took them to Scholar’s Inn Restaurant, a very chic spot in downtown Indy. Once there, in addition to free food and drink, Los Angeles General Manager Ned Colletti and Assistant GM / Director of Player Development DeJon Watson spoke before turning things over to Tommy Lasorda, who delivered one of his classic pep talks. 

While the whole first class affair was a lot of fun, the Dodgers still have work they’d like to do at these Winter Meetings, namely finding a starting pitcher.  In his story in today’s L.A. Times, superb Dodgers beat writer Dylan Hernandez suggests former Isotopes All-Star Charlie Haeger may be in line to be the fourth starter in the Los Angeles rotation behind Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley, and Hiroki Kuroda. Another name in the mix for a possible fifth rotation spot is Josh Lindblom, who was used mostly as a reliever in Albuquerque last year but will be converted to a starter next year.  If Lindblom doesn’t crack the L.A. rotation next spring, ‘Topes fans can count on the right-hander being the ace and anchor of Albuquerque’s rotation.    

Calm Before the Storm?

This installment’s music interlude will be provided by the song Graveyard Shift by the seminal band Uncle Tupelo. Perhaps no band in history has been as influential yet remains largely anonymous to most except die-hard music fans.  In the middle of the grunge wave of the early 90s, Uncle Tupelo burst onto the scene combining punk rock and country, creating an entire genre.  After the group’s acrimonious break-up in 1994, two other great bands were formed in Son Volt and Wilco.  

Unlike the raucous songs of Uncle Tupelo, the 2009 Baseball Winter Meetings have started very quietly.  So far, the only big move is Brad Penny signing with the Cardinals, while the fates of players like Matt Holliday, John Lackey, and Roy Halladay remain unknown.  It will also be interesting what action (if any) the Dodgers take this Winter Meetings.  While it’s quiet now, no doubt things will heat up as the Meetings continue. 

Other than baseball, a topic drawing hot debate among travelers to Indy is who is the bigger sports legend in the state of Indiana, Larry Bird or Peyton Manning?  It’s an interesting comparison. Bird of course grew up in the state and became one of the best to ever play the game of basketball, which is more religion than sport in the Hoosier State.  Even though Bird played professionally in Boston, he came back to run the state’s NBA team, further cementing his legend here.  You’d be surprised, though, how close Manning is to Bird’s popularity, despite the fact he is not a native Indianan.  Maybe it’s because we’re in the middle of football season, but there are Manning jerseys everywhere.  In fact, I’m convinced Manning could run for governor as part of the communist party and win in a landslide. 

One correction to pass along.  Morden1399 astutely pointed out that our news a couple days ago on Dee Brown signing with Winnipeg was not in fact the same Dee Brown that played in Albuquerque last year.  After some further checking, he is absolutely correct, and our Dee Brown has not signed with anyone yet this off-season, so we’re holding out hope that he’ll be back in the Querq in 2010.  Thanks for having our back on this, Morden!   

Bagged Me A Homer

First, let’s cue the music.  For this installment, we’re going to play Bagged Me A Homer by Lurleen Lumpkin.  Longtime fans of The Simpsons will remember the episode in the third season when Homer became the manager of Lurleen, much to Marge’s dismay, and helped guide her to country music stardom.  Anyway, it’s a fitting tune because at today’s annual awards luncheon, ‘Topes slugger Mitch Jones was officially awarded the Joe Bauman Award for hitting the most home runs in Minor League Baseball.   

Jones Trophycrop.jpg

As you can see, in addition to the $200 he received for each of his 35 home runs ($7,000 total!), Mitch got a handsome trophy that he can also use to serve punch out of at the next Jones family get-together. 

In all seriousness, it’s a pretty impressive achievement to lead all of Minor League Baseball in home runs and it’s even more amazing when you consider he missed nearly a month while making his Major League debut with the Dodgers.  His exploits certainly gave ‘Topes fans a thrill and he’s a great guy and great family man in addition to being a terrific player. 

Jones has not signed with anybody yet and is still entertaining offers from a number of clubs.  Here’s hoping that next spring Mitch is hitting home runs out of a Big League ballpark instead of The Lab.     

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