February 2012

Top 10 Bizarre Minor League Baseball Promotions

The sport of baseball is in itself, romantic. Fans pile into stadiums to escape from the real world and watch America’s past time. This means getting to watch a gorgeous sunset over center-field wall, see tomorrow’s up-and-coming baseball stars and compete in spam carving contests.

You can’t make that up.

While Minor League Baseball is known for its greatness on the field, it’s becoming quickly known more for its “greatness” OFF the field. And I’m by no means complaining. Where else could I go to get a free Noah (Yes, the Bible Noah) bobblehead (Hickory Crawdads) or register to win a pre-planned funeral prize pack (Hagerstown Suns)?

It’s now become the genius, or lack thereof, behind nightly promotions that have driven ball clubs to sell tickets.  Whether it be human-organ colored jerseys (Memphis Redbirds) or Britney Spears Baby Safety Night (Newark Bears), Minor League Baseball is known to have the most outlandish promotions.

And here at The Lab, we think we’ve found 10 of the strangest, most bizarre, you-actually-have-fun-at-but-don’t-want-to-admit-it-to-your-friends themed promotions in all of Minor League Baseball.

10. Circle of Life Weekend (Quad Cities River Bandits)
Quad Cities promotional night included funding a birth (a night for expectant mothers), school (a one-year scholarship for college), marriage (an all-expenses paid wedding) and death (expenses paid funeral) over the course of a weekend homestand. (After winning all of that, I guess the only thing left to do is actually watch the game)

9. Zubaz and a Monkey Night (St. Paul Saints)
St. Paul brought in a real, live monkey dressed in Zubaz pants (from Screech Powers) to perform the jobs of the regular staff members. The monkey attempted to drag the field with a rake or even manage the concession stands. (Try explaining the importance of your job after watching a monkey handle it for you)

8. Backstabbers Night (Augusta GreenJackets)
In response to the LeBron James “Decision” on ESPN, the GreenJackets hosted a Roast of the former Cavaliers star. Anyone with an Ohio driver’s license was admitted for free and seated in a specially designated section that was staffed by a grief counselor. Augusta inducted James into the Backstabbers Hall of Fame and concluded the evening with Manager Dave Machemer announcing on live TV where he was going to dinner that night. (Fans now wear GreenJackets jerseys while they watch the Super Bowl for fear of being outcasted by the team)

7. Anti-Doping Night (Vero Beach Devil Rays)
The Devil Rays held this event in preparation for their own Olympic Night to “ensure their Olympic Competition will be a fair, clean event for all participants, and discourage the use of drugs or steroids in any form.” The kicker was the first 200 fans received free urine sample cups. (Should have paired with Thirsty Thursday to save trips to the bathroom)

6. George Costanza Night (Fort Myers Miracle)
The Miracle honored the hilarious lifestyle of “Seinfeld” character George Costanza (making decisions by doing the opposite of his instincts) by running a baseball game in the opposite of normal routine. This meant the scoreboard ran from the ninth inning to the first, fans were paid money to park, teams wore the opposite home/road uniforms and the players asked the fans for autographs. (“If every instinct you have is wrong, then the opposite would have to be right” – George Costanza)

5.  Salute to Indoor Plumbing Night (West Virginia Power)
Initially, the team planned to close all of the restrooms and have everyone use portable toilets. Luckily, if there’s such a thing as luckily in this promotion, health code concerns forced the Power to resort to other means to appreciate their local plumbers. This includes, and sadly not limited to, dressing the employees in overalls, serving mashed up brownies that look like… and hosting a “Poo Toss.”  (There were no winners in this competition)

4. Nobody Night (Charleston RiverDogs)
Fans who purchased tickets and paid for parking were treated to being locked out of the stadium for this promotion. The RiverDogs padlocked the doors until the fifth inning to set a Minor League Baseball attendance record of zero. This promotion ensures the RiverDogs will have the lowest single game attendance record of all-time, and a spot in the lower half of our promotions countdown. (The big question is, how many people actually stuck around to get into the stadium when the doors were unlocked)

3. SPAM Carving Night (Reading Phillies)
Reading implemented this promotional night to raise money for a local charity. Contestants were supplied with knives and toothpicks (and stripped of their dignity) but were encourage to bring their own carving tools to carve a slab of SPAM for a panel of judges. The team’s press release warned that “exposure to elements will quickly transform SPAM’s appealing pink-tinged luster to a distressingly monochrome shade of brown.” (And who said there wasn’t anything to do in Reading)

2. Silent Night (Charleston RiverDogs)
The RiverDogs’ second appearance in our countdown attempted to meet their lowest attendance record from Nobody Night by posting the “quietest game ever” with Silent Night. During the first five innings of the game, no talking was allowed. Many fans Duct Taped their mouths shut and some of the more creative attendees brought signs to cheer, boo or perhaps most importantly, a “HEY BEER MAN!” sign.  The team staffed librarians and golf marshals with “Quiet Please” signs in place of the regular ushers. (How do you drink a beer with Duct Tape over your mouth anyway)

1. Awful Night (Altoona Curve and Salem Red Sox)
The best and worst promotion in Minor League Baseball (it IS called awful night) begins with the giveaway of “awful” promotional items like a noisemaker, air guitar, free compliment from an employee or bottomless cups. The terribleness continues with music from David Hasselhoff and William Shatner, video clips from Ben Affleck movies, a non-celebrity autograph session and in-game contests like helium balloon toss, a dry water slide, staring contest with the mascot and musical chairs with an abundance of chairs. To cap off the grand celebration, fans are treated to a fireworks display. On the video board. (Imagine the fans if the team loses on top of all this)

With ideas like this, you can’t put a price on the entertainment value at the ballpark. Not only are fans given nine innings of the greatest sport in the world, they may also be in for a “terribly awesome” night of promotions. So grab yourself a hot dog, sit back, relax and enjoy the magic of Minor League Baseball.

Unless of course you’re at the Charleston RiverDogs and find yourself locked out.

Zubaz and Monkey Promo Night

Russ Mitchell Clears Waivers, Outrighted to Isotopes

Call it an early birthday present for Russ Mitchell, who turns 27 on February 15. After being placed on assignment last Monday, the Los Angeles Dodgers utility infielder has cleared waivers and will return to the Dodgers Organization in 2012. The reigning defensive player of the year for Triple-A Albuquerque will be invited to camp to compete for a roster spot with LAD, but has been outrighted to the Isotopes as of this week.

Mitchell, 26, was not claimed on waivers by any of the 30 MLB clubs during the two business day signing period. He will remain on the roster list for now, and likely will serve as depth for the Dodgers while beginning a third consecutive stint with the Isotopes. Mitchell’s 2011 season ended with wrist surgery on September 27 to repair torn cartilage, and he is still progressing towards a full recovery.

Fans most commonly know Mitchell as an all-around utility fielder for the Albuquerque Isotopes. In 92 games last season with the ‘Topes, he made appearances at first, third, left and right, recording 22 errorless games at first base. Overall, Mitchell committed only seven errors in 352 defensive chances during the 2011 campaign.  The nine-season veteran has also begun developing his catching skills to increase his versatility for the Dodgers.

At the plate, Mitchell posted a very unique stat line for Los Angeles in 2011, making 43 outs in 58 at-bats, but smacking four homeruns with his 15 hits. At the Triple-A level, he hit .315 and .283 in 2010 and 2011 respectively, slugging over .500 in both seasons. Mitchell currently holds Isotopes batting records for most runs scored in a game (4), most walks in a game (6) and most consecutive at-bats with a hit (8).

With increased plate discipline, an even wider skill set in the field and a little luck, Russ Mitchell may see more and more time at the major league level.  And while Isotopes fans would hate to see him go, it seems a safe bet to know exactly what Mitchell will be wishing for Wednesday.

Prospects 2010-12: Comparing Hype To Success

With MLB.com releasing their top prospects list for each club in the National League West in 2012, it’s time to take a look at previous year’s predictions and how they panned out.

We’ll first examine MLB.com’s top three prospects entering the 2010 season to compare their actual performance from earlier seasons against MLB’s predicted success in 2010. The same for 2011, with the prospect’s previous seasons compared to predicted success in 2011.

Each player’s final stats from that season are listed for you to judge if the prospect performed up to the hype.

The 2010 class included: Ivan DeJesus (SS ), Scott Elbert (LHP) and Dee Gordon (SS)
The 2011 class included: Zach Lee (RHP), Allen Webster (RHP) and Chris Withrow (RHP)

So let’s take a glance at how accurate the predictions have been, as well as who to expect in Albuquerque in 2012. (Chance to see with the ‘Topes is predicted on a 1-5 scale, 5 being the most likely to play for the team)

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MLB.com – Top 3 Prospects 2010: Ivan DeJesus, SS | Scott Elbert, LHP | Dee Gordon, SS

1. Ivan DeJesus, SS

(2009) Entering his fifth season in the big leagues, DeJesus was poised for a comeback run after suffering a season-ending broken leg injury during Spring Training. The talented, young middle infielder had posted some gaudy numbers the previous year for Double-A Jacksonville, posting a .419 on-base percentage and hitting .324 in 463 at-bats. At the conclusion of the 2009 season, DeJesus made a strong enough recovery to appear in a few games of rookie ball and 10 games in winter ball.

(2010) As the 2010 season approached, DeJesus was ranked as the top upcoming prospect for the Dodger’s organization by MLB.com. The scouting report listed him as a “solid defender with terrific instincts and a great approach at the plate.” The Triple-A Isotopes slotted him as an everyday starter, but citing a limited defensive range, switched DeJesus to second base early in the season. Ivan finished the season ranking second on the Isotopes in games played (130) and base hits (158), but saw a decline in overall plate discipline.

2010 (AAA) Final Stat Line: 130 GP | .296 BA | .335 OBP | .405 SLG
*Chance to see with the ‘Topes in 2012: 5

2. Scott Elbert, LHP

(2009) Elbert was consistently ranked top in Dodger’s prospects from the year he was drafted. He played across the board during the 2009 season, making appearances for Double-A Chattanooga (62 innings), Triple-A Albuquerque (33 innings) and Major League Los Angeles (19 innings), including a post season roster spot with the Dodgers. The left-handed pitcher’s arsenal featured a mid-90s fastball complimented by a deadly slider that lead to a 9.6 strikeouts-per-nine-innings pitched at the MLB level.

(2010) The lefty’s 2010 campaign was abruptly cut short when he left the organization because of “personal issues.” Elbert told the media, “It was just a lot of personal stuff I had to take care of, and that’s about it.” Adding to the confusion, the hurler had switched from a starting pitcher, to a reliever, then back to a starter over the previous few years, leaving his role in the rotation even more uncertain. Scott Elbert returned at the conclusion of the 2010 season to strike out 15 batters in 11.2 innings with the Desert Dogs of the Arizona Fall League, but still raised concerns over his lack of control on the mound.

2010 (AAA) Final Stat Line: 1-1 | 4.98 ERA | 43.1 IP | 45 SO
*Chance to see with the ‘Topes in 2012: 1

3. Dee Gordon, SS

(2009) The sky was the limit for the 21-year-old shortstop, who many dubbed as the 2010 prospect with the most upside. His 2009 season was decorated with numerous accolades including All-Star SS in MidWest League (MWL), MWL Prospect of the Year, Co-MVP of the MWL and Topps MWL Player of the Year. His awards came on the back of a .301 season at the plate with 73 stolen bases, and he left scouts drooling with his “80 speed on a scale of 20-80.”

(2010) Continuing on his successful trajectory, Gordon played in 133 games with the Chattanooga Lookouts in 2010. “Flash Junior’s” stats weren’t as impressive on paper during his promotion, but scouts saw the raw talent within the young prospect. He improved his defensive ability (despite 37 errors) to be named the Dodger’s best defensive infielder by Baseball America. Scouting reports of 2010 said Gordon, although very talented, “does need to be more patient at the plate and learn to take more walks.”

2010 (AA) Final Stat Line: 133 GP | .277 BA | .332 OBP | .355 SLG
*Chance to see with the ‘Topes in 2012: 1

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MLB.com -Top 3 Prospects 2011: Zach Lee, RHP | Allen Webster, RHP | Chris Withrow, RHP

1. Zach Lee, RHP

(2010) The Dodger’s first round pick of the 2010 MLB Draft was high school phenom Zach Lee. The McKinney, Texas native mowed down batters his senior year to win 11 games, post a 2.15 ERA and fan 90 batters. Lee had originally signed to attend Louisiana State University on a dual football and baseball scholarship, but after being selected with the 28th overall pick in the amateur draft, headed to Single-A Great Lakes to begin his professional career.

(2011) The right-handed pitcher made an immediate impact on the Great Lakes Loons by starting 24 games in his rookie season. Using textbook mechanics, he packs a mid-90s fastball, breaking ball, slider and the occasional changeup. In addition, scouts have continuously praised the rookie’s body build and attitude, noting “he’s very athletic and brings a football-like competitiveness to the mound.” For future success, experts agree that Lee needs to continue to improve his command of his pitches and add some velocity to the fastball/slider combination.

2011 (A) Final Stat Line: 9-6 | 3.47 ERA | 109.0 IP |91 SO
*Chance to see with the ‘Topes in 2012: 2

2. Allen Webste, RHP

(2010) 2010 marked Allen Webster’s first full season outside of Rookie ball. The former 18th round selection answered the call by pitching in 131.1 innings for Single-A Great Lakes and posting a 12-9 record during the season. He was a Midwest League All-Star selection , but scouting reports suggest he lacks the potential upside of his fellow pitching prospects. Webster employs a five-pitch mix with a consistent delivery to appear a safe-bet to eventually become a Major League starter.

(2011) As he climbed the baseball ranks, so did his ERA. Allen Webster began the 2011 season with nine successful outings (2.33 ERA) before being promoted to Double-A Chattanooga. With the Lookouts, the slinger saw 91 innings of action but gave up 101 hits and seven home runs with a 5.04 ERA. Webster’s success relied upon his continued command on his changeup, perhaps the best of any of the Dodgers’ pitching prospects. Like most upcoming pitchers, reports insist upon adding velocity to help his chances of making the MLB squad.

2011 (AA) Final Stat Line: 6-3 | 5.04 ERA | 91.0 IP |73 SO
*Chance to see with the ‘Topes in 2012: 2

3. Chris Withrow, RHP

(2010) Chris Withrow is the opposite style of pitching prospect than his two counterparts Lee and Webster. Scouts are excited about the unharnessed potential in Withrow, but his command and mechanics still require work if he’s to be promoted to the next level. Withrow’s 2010 campaign resulted in below average numbers with flashes of potential. The pitcher went 4-9 with a 5.97 ERA in 129.2 innings of action and recorded one shutout. His performance and potential leave scouts excited, but he continued the following season with a third appearance in Double-A.

(2011) Last season marked Withrow’s third stint with the Lookouts. His developing fastball and curve left hitters guessing while he continues to develop his changeup. The right-handed pitcher lowered his ERA to 4.20 and collected 130 strikeouts with a 6-6 record. Although his control improved from the 2010 season, reports are still concerned with his overall pitching ability at this stage in his career, and some consider moving Withrow to a potential reliever out of the bullpen.

2011 (AA) Final Stat Line: 6-6 | 4.20 ERA | 128.2 IP |130 SO
*Chance to see with the ‘Topes in 2012: 3

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MLB.com’s predictions have been strikingly accurate over the past few years, with most prospects reaching Double-A leagues by the end of the predicted season. This could mean good news for Albuquerque fans, as the ‘Topes are the next and final stop before the Big Show. This year’s selection includes Zach Lee (RHP), Nathan Eovaldi (RHP) and Allen Webster (RHP). Although some players coming to Triple-A may seem like a long shot, keep your fingers crossed to see a few of these quickly rising prospects here in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Isotopes Roster Update: Mitchell To Waivers: De Jesus, Troncoso Make Initial Cut

On Monday the Los Angeles Dodgers designated infielder Russ Mitchell for assignment in accordance with the 40-man roster limit. This move was processed to free up space for newly acquired pitcher Todd Coffey.  Mitchell’s status remains on waivers, and if no team shows interest in the infielder within two business days, he can return to the Dodgers, most likely being outrighted to the Isotopes.

Mitchell, 26, split time between the Dodgers and Triple-A affiliate Albuquerque Isotopes last season. The utility fielder hit .283 with 16 home runs in 336 at-bats with the ‘Topes,  and appeared in 25 games with the Dodgers collecting eight hits and three RBI. In 40 career games at the Major League level, Mitchell has hit .151 in 93 at-bats.

Russ Mitchell’s standout moment  occurred on May 20, 2011 with Los Angeles playing the first of a three game interleague series against the Chicago White Sox. Later dubbed “The Fog Game,” the Dodgers  trailed the White Sox 2-3 in the 9th inning. Mitchell, who was penciled in the roster because of infield injuries, smashed a two-out, solo home run to tie the game. He again proved clutch in the 10th inning with a full-extension, diving snag at third base to prevent the game-winning runs from scoring. The Dodgers eventually went on to defeat the White Sox in a 6-4 final, largely due to the late-inning heroics of Russ Mitchell.

Still remaining on the 40-man roster are second baseman Ivan De Jesus Jr. and pitcher Ramon Troncoso. De Jesus spent the majority of the 2011 season with the Isotopes, hitting .310 with 29 extra-base hits and 59 RBI in 387 at-bats.  The 24-year-old also proved a consistent glove in the field with a .989 fielding percentage with only four errors. Troncoso, 28, went 2-4 with a 5.05 ERA in 57 innings of work with the Isotopes in 2011, and posted a 6.75 ERA in 22.2 innings with the Dodgers.

De Jesus and Troncoso will be competing throughout Spring Training for a spot on Los Angeles’ final 25-man roster. Pitchers and catchers are set to report on February 19 and full squads on February 24. The exhibition games are scheduled from March 6 – April 1 at Camelback Ranch in Glendale, Ariz.

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