Yes, it’s that time of the year again when we get to vote for the very best of Minor League Baseball this past season. As usual, a few of the local players made the list. I’ll be voting as much as possible, and hoping some of them can bring home an award or two.
Top Offensive Player: Former Great Lakes Loons short stop Corey Seager had a fantastic season for the High-A Rancho Cucamonga Quakes. He led all of the minors with 50 doubles, and was tied for first with a .349 batting average. Throw in 20 home runs and 90 RBI’s, and you have a player worthy of being named a top offensive player.
Breakout Prospect: Most Tiger fans knew outfielder Steven Moya was a top prospect going into the season, but he really earned that moniker in 2014. Hitting .276 with the Double-A Erie Seawolves, he also belted 35 home runs and drove in 105. He also showed some speed, stealing 16 bases this season. Those stats were good enough to be named the Eastern League MVP, but will they be good enough to be the breakout prospect? As a former West Michigan Whitecaps, he’ll be in completion for that crown with hurler that pitched for the ‘Caps this season. Kevin Ziomek quickly moved up the Tigers prospect list with his accomplishments this season. A member of a rotation stacked with top prospects, he led the Midwest League with a 2.27 ERA, and his 152 strikeout were second in the league. With is 10-6 record, he can certainly be considered a breakout prospect.
Photo of the Year: No monkey business here, as the ‘Caps are up for the photo of the year award. The above photo was taken during one of the promo nights (Team Ghostrider) where the monkeys ride around on dogs and heard sheep. We didn’t get to see the act this season, but last year in West Michigan. It’s a funny photo and I’m voting for it to win! You can vote for your favorites HERE.
Seager and Ziomek photos property of Minoring In Baseball
Monkey photo courtesy of MiLB.com
This past season I was lucky enough to see the Dodgers second ranked prospect Corey Seager play a couple of games with the Great Lakes Loons. Seager had a solid season in his first full year of pro ball, hitting .309 with 12 home runs, 33 extra-base hits, with a .918 OBP to boot. The 19-year-old was promoted to the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes (Single A Advanced) for the second half of the season. He’s currently playing in the Arizona Fall League for the Glendale Desert Dogs, and took part in last weekend’s Fall-Star Game. Having two brother also playing professional baseball must add to the pressure, but he seems to handle himself pretty well. Here is the interview from MiLB.com by Josh Jackson:
MiLB.com: It seems like this was a really big year for you on a lot of different levels, with you doing what you did in your first full pro season, with the Dodgers having the season they had and with the success of both of your brothers. Have you felt like it’s all been kind of a magical stretch?
Corey Seager: Yeah, you know, it feels like it’s been really crazy, actually. This was [Kyle’s] second full year in the Majors and he was looking to have a good year like he did. For me, I didn’t really have any expectations for myself other than to just play hard every day all season, and I ended up having a good year. I was just trying to get through the season. And it was awesome to see my middle brother get drafted and go to the Mariners and be in Kyle’s organization.
MiLB.com: How much are you able to pay attention to what they’re doing on any given night or week during the season?
Seager: I checked up on my eldest brother [Kyle] every night. We texted or talked every night or almost every night. I kept up with my middle brother [Justin] every week, usually on the weekend. When he was in school, it was hard to follow what he was doing when he had games in the middle of the week. But I’ve gotten really close to both my brothers over the last couple years. We’ve spent more time talking to each other and keeping up, and it’s been really fun.
MiLB.com: And what about following what goes on at the big league level? Obviously, your job is to stay locked in on your game, but, for example, when the Dodgers went on a 42-8 run, how tuned into that were you?
Seager: Yeah, I definitely follow the Dodgers. I was checking the box score every night. My brother [Kyle] gave me the good advice not to ever look ahead. He told me, ‘Make every level your Major Leagues. Don’t push, stay in the moment.’ That’s really good advice. I definitely checked the box scores but not for any other reason to see what they were doing. I checked, but I didn’t put much thought into what might be going on with them.
MiLB.com: Having so much going on on the periphery could be overwhelming for some players your age. Do you have to get into a certain mind-set to only take from that stuff the time and energy that will help you?
Seager: Yeah, for sure. You never want to root against anybody or anything like that, but you can’t get caught up in somebody else’s game. You root for everybody, but you really need to remember that the most important thing, by far, is to handle your own business.
MiLB.com: Since Justin joined the Mariners system, are you feeling a little outnumbered in the family? Are your parents going to root for Seattle harder than L.A.?
Seager: I’m pretty sure I’m going to get ganged up on during the holidays. That’s probably going to happen. But I was really excited for [Justin] when he got drafted. And I’m really looking forward to working out with both of them during the offseason. That should be good.
MiLB.com: Have you guys ever been on different teams in the same league growing up or did the age differences keep that from happening?
Seager: I’ve never played against them. I played with my middle brother in high school for two years but never against either one of them. If that happens, it definitely will be weird.
MiLB.com: Speaking of high school, when you were drafted last summer, were you tempted at all to go the college route? Or after you went where you went in the first round, did you know you wanted to jump in and start working on improving your game full-time?
Seager: You know, I was really excited to go to [the University of] South Carolina and I had a good relationship with South Carolina. I told them ahead of time, if it happens that I’m drafted between this spot and this spot, I’m going to sign. It did happen that I got drafted in those spots and once it happened, I was really glad it wasn’t [on the cusp of my limits], because that would have been a hard decision and I would have really had to think about it.
MiLB.com: Did you know what you wanted to study, if you were going to go to South Carolina?
Seager: Not really. That was something I was still kind of thinking about, still deciding.
MiLB.com: What you’ve been able to do as a pro shows you were ready. You had a pretty darn good first full season. Looking back, is there anything you would have liked to have done differently or any particular part of your game you wish you’d been able to develop more?
Seager: I had a pretty good year, fortunately. There’s not one specific thing I can look at and say I wish I’d done much better. Obviously, you’re always looking to improve on everything. I want to get faster on defense, get to some more balls and just kind of my overall game — there’s all kinds of things I want to improve on overall.
MiLB.com: Is that really what this experience in the AFL is all about for you?
Seager: Yeah, it’s a little bit of a quicker game. I’m getting used to that and working on improving everything against better quality players.
MiLB.com: I’ve heard that the AFL can be especially tough on guys who haven’t faced Double-A pitching before, because there are so many pitchers who can get younger batters to chase breaking pitches that start in the zone. Has that been kind of a challenge?
Seager: Yeah, for sure. Everybody here is a top guy in his organization. Every pitcher has good quality off-speed stuff and throws well and hits his spot. There’s a real difference with the control they have over all their stuff. I’m always hoping to swing at a strike, and [facing this high-quality pitching] changes your approach a little bit. You’ve got to be a little quicker. And you’ve also got to be quicker on defense. I think this is really improving where I’m going defensively.
MiLB.com: Is it kind of weird to be down there playing right now? The World Series just ended and now you guys are kind of the only game in town, the only pro ballplayers still playing competitive games in the States.
Seager: Well, I don’t know. It’s just, my year hasn’t ended. I’m grinding out the year. It’s definitely a little weird, kind of a weird feeling.
MiLB.com: And for a guy who’s just had his first full season — you’ve been playing almost every day for about eight months now, right?
Seager: This is definitely the longest I’ve ever played consistently. Everybody here is a little bit nicked up or has a little bit of fatigue. We’re all just trying to grind out at-bats and play the game right. A little fatigue is a part of it for everybody here.
MiLB.com: What’s the most fun you’ve had with a team?
Seager: Probably making the playoffs [this season], after playing that long season and then to get there. That was really fun.
MiLB.com: Did you go to a lot of Minor League games in Kannapolis growing up?
Seager: I went to a few Intimidators games but not many, really. I was pretty busy all the time playing ball as a kid, plus both my brothers were playing, so we were pretty busy during the baseball season.
MiLB.com: Did you have a favorite Major Leaguer growing up?
Seager: Derek Jeter, probably. I’d have to say Derek Jeter.
MiLB.com: Yeah, for a shortstop, that’s probably going to be the answer, right?
Seager: Well, yeah, he’s a good guy and he’s a good all-around player — he does everything right on the field.
MiLB.com: And if you weren’t a pro ballplayer, do you know what you’d want to be doing for a living?
Seager: Not really. No, I can’t answer that question for you. Sorry.
Photo property of Minoring In Baseball
Midland, MI-July 2-3: The first two game of the series were played at Dow Diamond. In game one, ‘Cap second baseman Harold Castro’s ninth inning home run broke West Michigan’s losing streak with a 4-3 win. He was 2-4 in the game, while Zach Kirksey was 2-3. For the Loons, Aaron Miller hit a home run of his own in the sixth inning, to tie the game at three. He was 2-4 on the night, also, while third baseman Leo Rodriguez went 3-4. On the mound, Angel Nesbitt earned the win to improve to 3-1, while Corey Knebel got the save. Arismendy Ozoria took the loss for the Loons. Great Lakes would take conrol the next night, however, pounding the Whitecaps 8-0. Shortstop Corey Seager went 2-3 with four RBI’s to lead the Loons offensively. Rodriguez and Miller each went 2-4, also. The Whitecaps only managed four hits during the game, with 16-yr-old Julio Urias getting the win. He pitched six shut-out innings while striking out eight. Endrys Briceno took the loss for the ‘Caps, giving up four earned runs in three innings of work.
Comstock Park, MI-July 4-5: Both teams would re-unite at Fifth-Third Ballpark on Independence Day! The Whitecaps continued their defensive woes, however, and fell to the Loons 7-5. They committed two errors and one miscue that led to two Loons’ runs. Three of the Loons runs were unearned in the game. Left-fielder Robbie Garvey had a nice game for Great Lakes, though, going 2-4 with two runs scored and an RBI. For the Whitecaps, Jason King went 2-2, with two runs scored, and RBI, and two walks. On the mound for West Michigan, Chad Smith started the game, but Yorfrand Lopez took the loss, giving up three runs in just over three innings. Geoff Brown earned the win for the Loons, pitching five innings giving up one earned run and striking out five. In the final game of the series, the Loons would take a 2-0 lead early, but watched the ‘Caps roll off seven in a row. Zach Kirskey lead the offensive charge for the ‘Caps, going 1-3 with a home run, two runs scored, and three RBI’s. Helping out was Danry Vasquez, going 2-3 with a double and two RBI’s, and Jason King who went 2-3 with a home run, two runs scored, and an RBI. Malcolm Holland delivered a solid game for Great Lakes, going 2-3 with an RBI and two walks. For the ‘Caps, Charlie Gillies won his first game of the season in the 7-2 win. Arismendy Ozoria took the loss, giving up six runs in two innings. It was a good series for both teams, especially West Michigan, who has been struggling as of late. The Loons are in first place of the Midwest League East.
Bottom photos courtesy of Emily Jones/MLive.com
Dow Diamond–Midland, Michigan: The second game of our double-header was a little chillier, but we toughed it out anyway. The kids stayed warm on the playground, and trying to get a game ball, which Brian finally did! He also gave the ball to Trevor, which I thought was pretty nice. Lily stayed warm by visiting the Loons’ Loft gift shop and Trevor hung out by the fire pit to get some heat. After all that, the kids were still up for some cold ice cream…go figure. After the game Brian was able to run the bases at Dow Diamond, and he got a kick out of that, and being on the field with the mascots Lou E. Loon and Rall E. Camel.
The game itself was yet another low scoring pitching duel, with Ralston Cash taking the rock for Great Lakes. The Loons took an early lead this game, however, as Corey Seager singled in the second inning, than advanced to third on a Pat Stover single and a Captains’ error. Dashenko Richardo drove in the run with a sacrifice fly. In the fifth inning, James Baldwin got a bunt single, but advanced to third on another Captain throwing error. A Malcolm Holland singled scored the winning run. Cash earned the 2-1 victory for his team, going five and a half innings, giving up one run on one hit, and striking out eight. Luis Meza and Scott Griggs finished the game on the mound for the Loons. Final Score: Loons 2, Lake County Captains 1.
Photos property of Minoring In Baseball
Great Lakes Loons vs. Lake County Captains (Midwest League)Dow Diamond-Midland, Michigan: Despite having plans to attempt another Lugnuts game in Lansing, the weather report prompted the kids and I to head south over the weekend a little early to avoid the storms. Our journey took us to Midland, Michigan to attend a pair of Great Lakes Loons games, and I’m pretty sure we made the right choice! The weather was a little cool, but with not rain and sunny skies, it was fine for us. After the rain-outs earlier this month, is was just nice to watch baseball and get these first games in. The kids were happy that their Papa was able to make it over to the game, too. Brian headed right for Lou E. Lookout (playground) and the mascots Rall E. Camel and Lou E. Loon entertained the kids throughout the game. It was a fun game to watch, and good to get the first one in for the kids and I.
The game itself was a solid pitchers duel, with the score 0-0 going into the seventh inning, with Jharel Cotton getting the start for the Loons against the Lake County Captains. The seventh inning started off good for Great Lakes, as top prospect Corey Seager shot a single to right field. He then advanced to second on a nice bunt by Pat Stover. Outfielder Jeremy Rathjen then scorched a single to score Seager and give the Loons the walk-off victory! A great way to start the season for us, and a nice win for the home team.
After looking at the Loon’s opening day roster, it looks as if they have a pretty talent laden team. Manager Razor Shines, who has one of the coolest names in baseball, should have a successful season leading his charges at Dow Diamond. The team seems to have a pretty good mix of young talent and they return eight players from the 2012 roster. Possibly the player Loons fans may be most eager to see play, is infielder Corey Seager. The Los Angeles Dodgers‘ top pick of the 2012 draft, 18th overall, Seager will play his first pro season for Great Lakes. He’s ranked by Baseball America as the Dodgers’ 3rd best prospect, is the first position player since James Loney (2002) to be a first pick for L.A. With this assignment, Seager becomes the highest drafted position player to ever play for the Loons. He joins five other prospects currently ranked by Baseball America on the Great Lakes roster. Pitching prospects include Scott Griggs (ranked 18th), Zach Bird (19), Angel Sanchez (25), outfielders James Baldwin III (22) and Jeremy Rathjen (29). Baldwin and Griggs are two of the returning players, as well as pitcher Ralston Cash, Daniel Carela, Arismendy Ozoria, and Miguel Sulbaran, catcher Tyler Ogle, and outfielder Davin Shines, son of manager Razor. Sanchez also played for the Loons back in 2011. Also joining Shines in the dugout, are pitching coach Bill Simas and hitting coach Mike Eylward. The Loons open their season at home on April 4th, hosting the Fort Wayne TinCaps. I expect to see some great games between the Loons and Whitecaps this season, as both organizations have their games on the MiLB.tv network. Less than a week away from the season’s start, it already looks like it could be a very entertaining one, if mother nature ever decides to stop punishing us. With another blanket of snow dumped on us, and blistering cold wind, it seems more like December 1st than April 1st…I guess the joke’s on us here in Michigan.
Photos courtesy of the Great Lakes Loons