May 2012

Robbie Erlin Interview, May 20, 2012

Former RoughRiders pitcher Robbie Erlin started 2011 with High-A Myrtle Beach. He was promoted to Frisco. During his time with the ‘Riders he posted five wins and two losses with a 4.32 ERA, striking out 61 in 66.2 innings of work. Midway through the season he was traded to the San Antonio Missions. We interviewed him before the game yesterday to see how this season is going.

Shot by Michael Damman and Jarah Wright

Interview with Chris McGuiness

Chris McGuiness talks to Frisco broadcaster Alex Vispoli about the intricacies of hitting, the difference in pitching, and how military school has helped him in professional baseball.

Vispoli: We’re joined by the first baseman for the RoughRiders, Chris McGuiness, who drove in a run with a double (Monday) night. Chris, you drove it in against a lefty who throws pretty hard. You’re a left-handed batter. That was a heck of a job considering he had not given up a hit all year.

McGuiness: Yeah. He’s one of those guys, you know, he’s got two good pitches, a fastball and a slider and both are good pitches. He’s kind of one of those guys you got to pick a pitch and maybe pick a side of the plate you think you can handle and put your money in that spot and if he throws it there you can’t miss it. Luckily, I was looking for something out over the plate and he threw there and I was able to get the barrel on it so it worked out good for me.

Vispoli: You don’t have a ton of success against lefties this year but you have picked your spots. You hit a home run off of Robbie Erlin, your old teammate.

McGuiness: Yeah. I’ve always been like that. I didn’t hit off lefties much in college so, you know, it’s one of those things, hit or miss. It’s different but lefty starters are one thing but guys out of the pen specialize in getting left-handed hitters out and San Antonio has a few of them. Corpus does too so it makes it kind of tough but then you only see them one time so it’s  kind of a hit or miss thing but it’s part of the game and that’s their job to get us out.

Vispoli: Your approach when facing a lefty, I was talking to Jason Hart that really any left-handed batter when he faces a lefty, he really has to go middle away. Is that what you try to do?

McGuiness: Yeah, generally that’s the typical approach. You have some guys that come in from San Antonio or whatnot that don’t throw very hard, that throw more breaking balls per say so you might change your approach a little bit there but being a left-handed pitcher in college, I knew how I pitched left-handed batters and I’d throw a fastball away or a breaking ball so those are the kind of the two things that I hone in on and depending what his better pitch is, you pick one and sit on the other.

Vispoli: Chris, (Monday) night’s ballgame, it was an entertaining one. I guess you could say something about it but it was a bizarre ninth inning. Tell me about everything that you saw from your perspective. You’re standing right there near the first base umpire when he threw Profar out of the game. What was the chatter going on as far as you can tell us?

McGuiness: It all started with the missed bunt play where it was pretty clear to me and, you know, most people in the stands that the guy went to bunt. Profar thought the same thing too and he was chirping at Alex over there a little bit and from my understanding, it was all in Spanish of course, Profar was chirping. Alex told him he’d heard enough and then G-Rod got in the middle and said hey, you know leave him alone. I’ll take care of him. Alex said alright. Profar kept chirping, he said so he thought he heard Profar say more stuff so he tossed Profar. It was the second time when we’ve had guys chirping back to them where he thought he heard stuff so I’m sure he was a little aggravated but it’s a tight situation. Everybody’s on pins and needles at that point in the game and it’s one of those things that happen and you got to move on with it.

Vispoli: Tough for either team to lose a ballgame like that. I know it looked like there was light at the end of the tunnel there in the ninth inning. You get ahead 0-2, bases loaded, two outs, and just can’t get it to go your way.

McGuiness: Yeah. You know that game up in the, I think it was the bottom of the top of the ninth that had a right-handed reliever in and I got in a good hitter’s count. I thought, you know, I hit a ball that could have went either way. If that gets through up the middle, that’s one run and we got guys at first and second with one out so it completely changes the face of the ballgame but that’s baseball and we catch a break with the guy getting picked off of second base so we thought we were back in the driver’s seat but you know we had a guy on the mound that we wanted out there that can, he’s another left-handed specialist and they got a left-handed hitter and (Shane Peterson) hit a good pitch to left field that drove in the run so you know, he deserved that.

Vispoli: When you hit a line drive like you did in the ninth inning and it settles in the pitcher’s glove like that, you know there’s some satisfaction in being able to hit the ball hard in that situation but also the frustration of having it go to the exact wrong spot. What are you feeling in that spot?

McGuiness: It’s just mixed. It happened so quick but I don’t know if, I’m sure every hitter feels that but I feel like finding gloves so much out on the field that it’s frustrating but you kind of get used to it. You know, it’s part of the game. They say it all evens out so maybe I’ll get a hit here or there or get one to bleed in but it would’ve been nice to have that one fall for sure last night.

Vispoli: That said you still have done a nice job raising your average around .250 or so based on where it was a couple of weeks ago and you seem to be settling into a pretty good spot here in the Texas League. Describe what the difference in pitching that you’ve seen has been like versus 2011 in the Carolina League.

McGuiness: Everything last year was a whirlwind. Being hurt, guys in High-A are still good, you know, so you take me being hurt, them being on their game, those are kind of the same as they are here. You know it’s a step up in competition. I feel like everybody here throws 95 so if you don’t throw 95, you got to have good secondary stuff and then they do throw 95 and have good secondary stuff. There’s been maybe one or two days that we face guys who are like oh, this is a guy you got to really get your hits in because you don’t see guys like this too often in Double-A but those are normally the guys you come back to the dugout 0-4 and mad at yourself about more than the other guys. It’s tough but you get thrown in that situation all the time, you start to get acclimated to it a little bit more. I feel a little bit more comfortable so I feel good at the plate, not overmatched. It’s just getting to pitch the ball when they do and going up there and trying to have a good at-bat every day and stick to your approach and let the balls fall where they lay.

Vispoli: I want to ask you a little bit about your college background. You went to The Citadel which is the military school in South Carolina. For folks that don’t know, how did you end up going to The Citadel?

McGuiness: I had a lot of buddies go there the year before that so I knew a lot of the guys on the team. I grew up playing ball with the head coach’s son Freddie Jordan and his son Kyle and we played ball together. I knew I had a good relationship with all the coaches. The Southeast, on the East coast more so, even throughout the United States still has a good reputation. They got a really good degree and if you wear that ring, it opens up some doors so that all weighed into it. Money was a big factor of it. You know, my parents also have to worry about money and stuff but to have that much money thrown at you and you have to take out student loans and stuff like that and would it be a loan that the pros definitely outweigh the cons. I’ve gone there and I don’t regret it. It was a good experience. I learned a lot there.

Vispoli: What military school commitments do you have at that school, if any?

McGuiness: After we’re done, you don’t have to serve. As far as at school, you know, you’re a regular cadet.  I woke up at 7:11 every morning. We had a 7:15 formation. It gives me four minutes to get ready which they didn’t like it too much because I didn’t look very good in my uniform but, you know, it’s kind of clear, athletes who go there for athletics and other guys go there for the military instruction stuff so we had to march to breakfast, lunch. We had to march to class my freshman year wearing our uniform every day so it was, you know, the five o’clock runs and all that stuff. It was pretty tough but it’s nothing you can’t do. It’s just you have to be tough, more so mentally tough than physically tough.

Vispoli: Did that sort of experience help prepare you for professional ball where it really is a self-starter thing? You come to the ballpark and there is a regimented program for you to do but in terms of off-season work and everything that goes into the time that you spend building your game outside of the ballpark, does that sort of discipline that gets built into you at The Citadel help you in professional ranks?

McGuiness: Yeah, absolutely. The days just melted together. A Monday was the same as a Saturday. It felt like you got up every day and did the same kinds of stuff, get up, breakfast, class, weight-lifting, practice, eat, do homework, and go to bed. Minor league ball is kind of the same thing. You get to the park and you have a routine that you do every day. You come in. You play. You eat dinner. You go back to sleep and you wake up and do it all over again and that’s basically what the off-season is for me. I lift Monday through Friday around the same time. I hit around the same time so that structure, getting into a routine and sticking to it and finding out what works for you. I have definitely benefitted from being at The Citadel. It was a good fit.

Vispoli: Chris, congratulations on the good game last night. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out in your guys’ favor but go out there and get them today. Thanks for the time.

McGuiness: Thanks.

Interview with Jared Prince

Frisco broadcaster Alex Vispoli talked to RoughRiders outfielder Jared Prince about the beginning of this season, Brad Hawpe as a mentor, growing up in Washington, and the secret to making diving catches.

Vispoli: We’re joined by outfielder Jared Prince who homered in Sunday’s game [May 13} against the Corpus Christi Hooks. Jared, first of all congratulations. I know that home run didn’t come at a key spot in the game but sometimes, it’s difficult to keep your concentration late in games like that when the team is down but you managed to do it.

Prince: Yeah you know in that situation, this team, we’re always fighting so any way we can get something going. We didn’t end up doing it but any way you can get something going to come out, even getting some momentum coming into [Monday] helps out.

Vispoli: It almost feels like a loss in a series when the team only wins two out of four. It’s been amazing this team has won every series but the two that they’ve played in Corpus.

Prince: Well yeah. They’re a competitive group over there and we’re a competitive group and we don’t lose that much and we battle. We love to win so you know even when we split, it kind of feels like we lose and that’s usually not the case. That’s probably a good thing I guess.

Vispoli: Does this feel a little bit like the start of the Myrtle season last year when you guys were just tearing up the Carolina League?

Prince: Absolutely, just the formula is right there with the first and foremost the good pitching and good defense behind it and the timely hitting and just a bunch of competitors from the pitchers and position guys all around. It feels a lot like the Myrtle season.

Vispoli: Tell me a little bit about your manager Steve Buechele. He’s in his third year in Double-A. It seems like he does a great job keeping you guys in tune with the game and rotating guys throughout the season. What’s it like playing for Steve?

Prince: Bue is great. He’s very positive and he keeps us going and I mean I have a lot of good to say about Bue so far.

Vispoli: Well another way that this season sort of feels a little bit like last season for you is that it has not gotten off to the strongest start and I saw you last year. I know the kind of ballplayer you’re capable of being and you know the same but what is it about the early part of the season for you that just have a hard time getting going?

Prince: I wish I could tell you. I don’t know. It’s just April and the early part of May is just a tough time for me to kinda get in my groove and once I capture it, though, I ride it and really don’t look back so I’m feeling good and looking to capture that feeling and go with it.

Vispoli: Do you think that maybe part of the reason is because you haven’t been out there every single day because with Brad here, getting him playing time, getting Val playing time, you’re not penciled in there every single day. Is that a little bit of an adjustment for you to make as well?

Prince: Absolutely. Yeah. Last year in Myrtle, off to the slow start but I was in there every day so I kinda got to figure things out and now when I figure something out, maybe I’m down the next day. It’s just an adjustment I got to make and other guys need playing time so when I’m in there, I need to take advantage of the time that I get.

Vispoli: That said, what is it like playing alongside a guy like Brad Hawpe, a player who spent eight years in the big leagues, over a hundred home runs. He’s been a big league all-star the last time he was healthy for a season. He must just be amazing to see the way he goes about his business and someone for you to look up to as a role model.

Prince: Absolutely. Brad is great. I try to pick his brain as much as I can and you know he’s very insightful and yeah he’s a tremendous role model. He’s a great guy first and foremost. He’s just a good dude and he’s been a real treat to have here.

Vispoli: Is there anything specific that you have been able to glean from him?

Prince: Just picking apart his brain. Getting in there about the little things that he does, tricks of the trade, and stuff like that and stuff that has worked for him in the past and currently and stuff that he’s seen guys do. Believe me, I’m all in his brain trying to get as much as I can out of him while he’s here.

Vispoli: Well one thing that I think that you don’t need any help with is the way you dive for balls. You just have made so many highlight catches this year. Engel Beltre has made a lot of the, I think, more graceful ones but I compare you to a grinder, a dirt dog with some of the catches that you make. It seems like whenever you go down near a warning track, there’s a trail of dust kicking up because you’ve landed on it and more often than naught, you’ve come up with a catch.

Prince: Well here’s the secret. I’m going to let you in.

Vispoli: I’m all ears.

Prince: When I was growing up in Washington, me and my dad used to go out when the tide was out. We used to go and dad would hit tennis balls with a tennis racquet and we would dive, me and my brother would dive into tide pools and make diving catches so every time I make a diving catch or something like that, dad said was it really that good of a catch. I said nah. It was just like I’ve done a hundred times on a beach with a tennis ball and tennis racquet.

Vispoli: Sounds a little dangerous. You ever get like a sea urchin or something on the other side?

Prince: You know sometimes there’s crabs and stuff in there you gotta look out for. Sometimes we’d dive on a shell or something like that. We’ve gotten cut up but it was all good fun.

Vispoli: Tell me a little bit about growing up in Washington. You told me you’re a big Seattle Mariners fan. Griffey was your guy, a tough guy to emulate because he’s so special. Was there anything you would watch and try to do exactly like Griffey?

Prince: Well when I was young, I’d do everything like Griffey. I’d do the stance. I’d do the showboat way he used to catch the ball, all that stuff but I just love going to the games. I’m a big homer, big Seahawk guy, a big Sonic guy. Hopefully they come back soon but I just love watching the game and me and dad would play catch every day and hit whiffle balls and stuff like that and you know, make use of growing up in a kind of unusual spot. We’d go down to the water. We’d take batting practice. He’d flip rocks and you know, like I said diving in tide pools and stuff like that so we just kind of, not the traditional way of practicing but we got it done. We practiced.

Vispoli: It sounds like the hard knocks way of trying to catch a fly ball, diving into rocks, catching things in tidal pools. You went to college on the other side of the state at Washington State in Pullman. First of all, what was Pullman like? It’s in the middle of nowhere it seems.

Prince: Yes. It is very in the middle of nowhere. It’s cold. It is about an hour and a half from anything but that also adds a little bit to its charm because you’re in a small town, kind of a feel you don’t get at a lot of schools but it’s very intimate. You can say that but it was a good experience.

Vispoli: What are your thoughts on the Mike Leach hire for the football program?

Prince: Oh gosh, couldn’t have had a better hire there. It’s a great hire. He’s brought a lot of buzz to the program and they’re going to do some good things.

Vispoli: Being on the other side of the state and you’re from the Seattle area, do you get a chance to get back there very often since you finished up there?

Prince: I try to get back to one game a year and I’ve been able to do that the last few years so it’s a long trip over there. It’s five and a half hours so it takes awhile and it’s tough roads and everything like that but yeah, I do try to get over there once a year and catch a game. I got a lot of people over there that I still really like and like to see.

Vispoli: Well Jared congratulations on the home run on Sunday {May 13} and the best of luck out there the next time you’re in the lineup. Thanks for the time.

Prince: Alright, thank you.

The Anatomy Of A Hitting Streak

Frisco shortstop Jurickson Profar currently has a 24-game hitting streak going into today’s game against the Midland RockHounds. The hitting streak began on April 19 against the Corpus Christi Hooks. Since then he has posted 16 singles, 11 doubles, 4 triples, and 1 home run. Here’s the breakdown of Profar’s hit parade by game.

Jurickson Profar high fives Brad Hawpe on his way to the dugout after scoring. (Alex Yocum-Beeman)

April 19: Profar hit a single to right field in the top of the sixth inning against Hooks pitcher Erick Abreu.

April 20: In the top of the ninth, Profar singled to center field against Corpus Christi closer Kevin Chapman.

April 21: A double to right field in the top of ninth versus Jake Buchanan scored Guilder Rodriguez and gave Profar another hit.

April 22: Facing former RoughRider and current Hooks pitcher Adalberto Flores, Profar doubled to right field in the top of the eighth inning.

April 23: Profar doubled to right field in the bottom of the sixth inning against San Antonio Missions’ pitcher Keyvius Sampson.

April 24: In the bottom of the first inning, Profar tripled to right field off of Andrew Werner.

April 25: Profar started the game with a single to right field in the bottom of the first against Hayden Beard.  A triple to the same place in the bottom of the seventh versus Jeff Ibarra gave Profar his second hit of the game.

April 26: Wrapping up a 4-game series against San Antonio, Profar hit 2 doubles. His first was in the bottom of the third inning against former RoughRiders pitcher Robbie Erlin. The second double came in the bottom of the twelfth against Jeremy McBryde.

April 27: The lone hit of the game for Profar was a triple to center field off of Hooks’ starter Jarred Cosart in the bottom of the first inning.

April 28: Facing starter Ross Seaton, Profar singled to center field scoring Engel Beltre in the bottom of the third.

April 29: Profar singled twice against Jose Cisnero en route to a win over the Corpus Christi Hooks. First, to center field in the bottom of the third and then again in the bottom of the fifth.

Jurickson Profar got a day off on April 30 and watched as the RoughRiders defeated the Hooks 9-4.

May 1: Profar tripled to center field off the arm of Robbie Erlin in the top of the sixth inning during the series opener in San Antonio.

May 2: In his first at-bat of the game, Profar hit a double to center field versus Juan Oramas.

May 3: A single in the top of the ninth inning against Ryan Kelly gave Profar his only hit of the night against the Missions.

May 4: In the series finale Profar hit two singles. Facing Andrew Warner in the top of the third, Profar hit an infield single to the shortstop. In the top of the fifth inning, he followed up with a single to center field.

May 5: Profar went 1 for 4 against Midland with a single to second off of a pitch by Murphy Smith.

May 6: In the second game against the RockHounds, Profar battled against Jonathan Ortiz in the top of the ninth inning before hitting an infield single to second base.

May 7: A line drive to center fielder off of A.J. Griffin allows Profar to double in the bottom of the fifth inning.

May 8: Profar’s only hit of the last game of the series against Midland resulted in a line drive single to right field against Daniel Straily.

The RoughRiders had a day off on May 9, which allowed them to travel to Corpus Christi to face the Hooks for a four-game series.

May 10: Profar went 2 for 6 in game one against the Hooks. Facing Arcenio Leon in the top of the fifth, Profar singled to left field. His second hit would come two innings later with a double to left field off of Erick Abreu.

May 11: In the top of the third inning, Brett Oberholtzer would allow a Profar single to short. Profar would come up big with a solo home run in the sixth inning.

May 12: Profar would hit 3 doubles during a 12-inning battle against Corpus Christi. His first would come in the fifth followed by one in the tenth and the twelfth.

May 13: Facing Hooks’ starter Jarred Cosart, Profar would only go 1 for 4. His only hit was an infield single in the first inning to first base.

May 14: With Sonny Gray on the mound for Midland, Profar singled to right field.

Today the Midland RockHounds will have Shawn Haviland on the mound to face the RoughRiders roster as Profar looks to extend his hitting streak to 25 games. His hitting streak is currently the longest hitting streak in the Texas League so far this season.

Written by: Jarah Wright

Interview with Jeff Andrews

Pitching is a key ingredient to a team’s success. Alex Vispoli interviewed pitching coach Jeff Andrews on May 10 to talk about the early success of the RoughRiders pitching staff this season.

Vispoli: We join you from Whatburger Field with the pitching coach of the RoughRiders Jeff Andrews. Jeff, the first month of so of the season, the numbers would seem to indicate the pitching staff is doing a terrific job but I know you have a more critical eye as to what you’re looking for from these guys so give me an idea what you think of the first month, the way your pitchers have performed and what would you like to see more out of them?

Andrews: I think in the first month, like you said, performed. I think they’ve performed very well. As far as the results and their responsibility to the team and getting outs, not walking guys and doing that thing, I think they’ve done a nice job. Yeah, there are areas where you always want to get better and I think recognizing hitter’s swings and recognizing game situations and where we’re at in the game and who’s up and what part of the lineup is up. I think those are some of the things that these guys kind of need to get a grasp on as the season goes.

Vispoli: An example of that might be the other day where first two men are retired and number eight or nine batter is coming up and a walk to the number eight or nine batter starts to bring up the top of the order. Are those the sort of situations that you’re referring to?

Andrews: Yeah absolutely and knowing what part of the lineup is coming up next inning and pitching around a guy as opposed to, you know, pitching to a guy, understanding, you know, who has power on the other team, who doesn’t have power and all those little nuances that go on when you have to think and especially think on your feet while you’re playing the game. I think we can improve on that.

Vispoli: Now when we spoke to you last on the air, you talked about how you really haven’t worked with some of the guys that were on this team breaking camp, just the way spring training is. Now that you’ve had a month with these guys and maybe with some of the newer guys a little bit less than that, but now that you’re built up a certain amount of time, do you know how you can reach them because everyone’s a little bit different in terms of their personality, who responds to what or what is your method is terms of teaching and getting a guy’s attention when he’s out there on the mound?

Andrews: Well I think paying attention to him is the biggest key. If you can give him evidence and give him examples, for example when you pitched to the third guy last inning this is what happened or when you’re long-tossing this is what happened and you’re not bouncing back maybe because this is what happened or your breaking ball, you’re not being able to get it down and away because you’re over throwing it with two strikes. You’re too excited. Things that you just get while you’re watching the guys and be able to quote certain instances and be able to tell them this is what happened and this is the reason why and that kind of gets their attention. It kind of lets them know that you are watching and you are paying attention and you can bring up certain things and it’s always kind of a double-edged sword in the fact that, you know, you can kind of lead them down the path that you want them to go by giving them the examples that you want them to see and want them to feel.

Vispoli: Tonight’s starter Barret Loux is trying to make it seven wins in seven starts here to begin the season. On the whole, you look at his numbers 6-0, 2.20 ERA but some of his starts have been dramatically better than others. He’s gotten a good amount of run support in some of the outings that he has not been as sharp. What have you seen from Barret when things are going well and when things are not going well? What are the key differences between those two?

Andrews: Obviously when things are going well you’ll have a tendency to work quicker. You’ll have a tendency to take less time between pitches which results in good defense. He’s had great defense behind him, great run support and the relievers that have come in behind him have obviously held every lead that he’s left with. I think he understands that he can pitch better. I think he understands that he can execute better. I think he understands a lot of little, marginal things that he could probably do better. As far as when you get done with the game and just evaluate how he threw the ball and did he throw it where he wanted to and did he change speeds enough, you know, all those things that you’re looking at from a pitching standpoint rather than just the scoreboard, I think he realizes there’s room for improvement. He’s been fortunate to be where he’s at.

Vispoli: Justin Grimm, who also has six wins, obviously off to a tremendous start. It was fun watching him and Griffin go at it the other day, one versus two in ERA, but one thing that I know Justin is trying to work on a little bit is developing a two-seam fastball. Explain the thought process behind that and where he is in terms of his development.

Andrews: His pitch repertoire right now and his arsenal right now is kind of a group of fastball, changeup, curveball, that all kind of stays on the plate. We’re looking for something that can either run to the hands of the hitter or run off the end of the bat and we’re just kind of starting with the sinker to give him that option, to be able to take it to the end of the left-hander’s bat or run it in on a righty. He’s going to need it somewhere down the line and he’s going to need to add some other things as we go but he’s got such a wonderful base right now: the size, the arm strength, the delivery. He’s got such wonderful attributes that it’s fairly simple as far as adding something. You know that you kind of have an idea that it’s going to work before you even ask him to try something.

Vispoli: A few of the relief pitchers, I want to ask you about. Johan Yan, he’s got eight saves this season. He ran into a little bit of trouble in his last outing but Johan, again, he’s one of those pitchers where the numbers would indicate that he’s lights out but he’s gotten into a few situations this year that have been pretty sticky ones. You think back at San Antonio, loading up the bases in a two-run ballgame before eventually working out of it. For Johan, is it purely about making batters swing and miss at his stuff or at least develop little contact because he’s not a hard-throwing guy, a guy who really relies on movement, and it seems like if he is not at least displaying his pitches for strikes then batters are going to wait on him until he does throw something that’s a little bit more hittable.

Andrews: Yeah, that’s pretty good Alex. He’s going to be a guy, it’s just how serious and ready he is to pitch. If he’s ready to pitch and he’s ready to locate the ball, he’s going to have no problem. If he goes out there and he’s not fully locked in and he falls behind in counts and he walks guys and he’s not paying attention to what he’s doing, he’s going to struggle just like any other pitcher but you’re right, he has been what I call lucky in the last few outings and I hope that he takes that to heart and understands why it is and not the fact that he just looks at his numbers.

Vispoli: One pitcher who has not necessarily been lucky, he’s just been good ever since he gave up a home run in his first appearance with us is Chad Bell. I think he’s been terrific over multi-inning stints. He’s put up good numbers throughout his career. What have you seen in what Chad has shown in his first few appearances with Frisco?

Andrews: I think the thing that stands out with me with Chad is he’s been very aggressive with his fastball. That’s kind of the thing, through the grapevine and through the organization, he hasn’t been as aggressive as he needs to be and that’s always been the pushing point to him is to throw the ball over the plate earlier, throw it over the plate more often and he’s done that. He’s been very efficient and he’s throwing two innings in 23 pitches and striking out two or three guys so he’s been very efficient and he is being aggressive. He’s just going to see how he’s going to do when somebody bites back, when somebody, you know, starts to hit him, what’s he going to do. Those are all things that they’re here for, we’re here for in the minor leagues is to see how they react and then be able to use that as a teaching point.

Vispoli: You look at your experience and it doesn’t just include the minor leagues. You were up with Pittsburgh in the big leagues for a bit. I know from talking to the pitchers on the staff that they highly respect everything that you say. Talking to Trevor Hurley, he called you a genius with some of the things that you were telling him but do you think that you’ve just built up so much experience here over the last couple of decades, everywhere you have been, that that helps you connect with guys.

Andrews: I think in a sense yeah. I mean I’ve been doing it for a long time and it’s just like any other business, any other thing you do for a living, the amount of years that I’ve done this. You see you have a tendency to be able to put things into perspective quicker than you used to and put things in perspective as far as what these guys need to advance, what they need to do to become better pitchers, what they need to do to survive at whatever level they’re at talent-wise and those are nice words by Trevor but I don’t know if they’re completely accurate. Maybe old guy would be better than genius but it’s nice to hear that the guys will listen and that they want to get better.

Vispoli: Well as long as you’re at the top of the Texas League in ERA and runs allowed, maybe the tag can apply for you.

Andrews: Well they’re doing that. I mean they’re pitching out of jams and they’re doing a wonderful job of attacking hitters and pitching out of jams and doing all those things. They really are. Bue does a wonderful job of getting them in in the right spots and getting them innings against the right type of hitters that we think these guys can, you know, gain a little confidence and gain some success that’ll lead to, you know, better things down the road.

Vispoli: Jeff, a terrific first month for the pitching staff. Hopefully we see four more months just like the first. Thanks a lot for the time.

Andrews: My pleasure Alex.

Si or No

The RoughRiders take the field for batting practice. The cage is set up behind home plate. The first group of batters takes turns rotating in and out to work on laying down bunts. After all the guys in the group practice bunting, it’s time to hit away and the real fun begins.

Catcher Jose Felix hits away after a pitch by Jeff Andrews. (Jarah Wright)

‘Riders infielder Alex Buchholz steps in to take some cuts. He hits a ball deep to left field. While the ball is in the air several of the guys start shouting “Si or No? Si or No?” Buchholz says no and when the ball sails over the fence, he promptly moves to the side of the cage and does ten pushups.

Chris McGuiness does ten pushups after guessing incorrectly. (Jarah Wright)

It has become a familiar scene during pre-game at Dr Pepper Ballpark. Frisco catcher Jose Felix said the tradition of playing Si or No goes back farther than this season.

“We started doing it at spring training last year and it’s caught on,” Felix said. “We’ve been doing it here for the last two weeks. It’s a way to gauge your power and you have to know your power when you hit.”

Jared Prince watches James Vilade throw to the third group of hitters during batting practice. (Jarah Wright)

The game has become a feature of batting practice with several players taking part. Buchholz said he likes playing and it’s one way to stay relaxed at the plate during practice.

“The game is great. It’s a good way to loosen up during batting practice,” Buchholz said. “Everybody has fun with it.”

Written by: Jarah Wright

All-‘Riders Team: Center Field

2012 marks the RoughRiders’ 10th season as a franchise, all as the Rangers’ Double-A affiliate. Since 2003, there have been hundreds of talented players come through Dr Pepper Ballpark, but some have stood out more than others.  With the help of Michael Damman, the RoughRiders’ Director of Statistical Research, we’ve come up with the All-’Riders Team: the best player at each position in franchise history.  Today we continue with the RoughRiders all-time best center fielder.

Taken in the 10th round of the 2006 amateur draft out of the University of Arkansas, Craig Gentry spent a full season in the minor leagues before joining the Frisco RoughRiders in 2008. Gentry spent the 2007 minor league season between low-A Clinton Lumberkings and high-A Bakersfield Blaze. Gentry hit .273 with a .705 OPS during the 2007 season with 31 doubles, 1 triple, and 4 home runs. He stole 42 bases in 52 attempts.

Gentry joined the ‘Riders in 2008 as part of perhaps the most talented Frisco RoughRider team. Gentry played in 76 games for Frisco that season and hit .276 with a .705 OPS. He hit 17 doubles, 4 home runs, and stole 16 bases in 24 attempts before getting the promotion to Triple-A Oklahoma City, where he hit .203 in 18 games.

Gentry re-joined Frisco in 2009 and played in 127 games for the ‘Riders. Gentry showed improved power with 8 home runs and hit .303 for the season with an impressive 49 steals in 55 attempts. He walked 49 times, which was nearly double the total he walked the previous season. Gentry’s .378 on base percentage and .796 OPS for Frisco were both minor league career highs at that point.

Craig Gentry ranks among the top ‘Riders of all-time in hits (5th), doubles (10th), triples (7th), and stolen bases (1st). Over his time with Frisco, Gentry hit .293 with 238 hits, 38 doubles, 7 triples, 12 home runs, 143 runs, 65 steals, and 66 walks to 119 strikeouts. He was a valuable contributor, as a top of the order hitter and a player who could play all three outfield spots, on Frisco’s 84 win team in 2008 and 72 win team in 2009.

Since leaving Frisco in 2009, Craig has had 424 plate appearances in Triple-A, but more importantly, has had 245 plate appearances for the Texas Rangers in the major leagues. Gentry’s batting line over that time is .235/.314/.320/.634, but he has a .695 OPS over the last two seasons with 21 steals in 22 attempts.


Next Up: Right Field

Interview With Harry Spillman

The development of minor league baseball players is crucial for any major league baseball club. It’s been especially important in the transformation of the Texas Rangers over the last five years. Geoff Arnold had a chance to interview Texas Rangers Special Assistant for Player Development, Harry Spillman. Here is the transcript of their conversation.

Geoff: Harry, you’ve been in  town for a couple of days so far, what have been some of your impressions of the RoughRiders?

Harry: Well so far they’ve got a young team here, and they’re off to a good start, and I’m seeing some good things. I look forward to seeing them a little bit later in the season to see how much they’ve improved.

Geoff: It’s a young team, but talking with some of the older guys in the clubhouse, it is a very mature team, do you think that has played in role in their success?

Harry: Well that’s the good thing about having veteran guys like Hawpe and Majewski, they bring some big league experience to the team. I’m sure it’s rubbing off on Profar, Garcia, and Beltre and those kind of guys it’s a good mix between the veteran guys and the young guys.

Geoff: Speaking of Profar, he’s really been off to a good start, only 19, based on watching him for a couple of days, how good do you think he can be?

Harry: You know just looking at him he’s obviously a gifted kid. He’s got great hand eye coordination, he’s a middle infielder, and a switch hitter. He’s holding his own here, and we just look for him to get better and better.

Geoff: He’s also hit for some power, and can really drive the ball to the gaps. Last night we saw him put a good piece of wood on the ball for a double,  do you think he will hit for more power as he bulks up?

Harry: He will. He’s a 19-year-old kid, probably a year out of high school. He’s come a long way in the last couple of years, and he has a surprising amount of pop. It’s like the ball he hit to right-center last night, you project that ball to be a home run in two or three years.

Geoff: Talking about a guy with a lot of pop, Mike Olt already has seven home runs on the year thus far. What have you seen from him early?

Harry: It’s unfortunate that he banged his thumb and didn’t get to play last night. We’re expecting big things from him. He’s an excellent defender at third base, so that’s a big plus too. He just has to play.

Geoff: Plus he’s learning how to plus first base too. Do you think that will be a challenge for him as he continues to grow and develop?

Harry: Not really. He’s a good athlete, and he can always move over towards first base. Hopefully we’re trying to develop him as an everyday third baseman, and hopefully that happens. It’s like everybody else here, it depends on how he hits. You project these guys to be everyday big league players and hopefully that happens.

Geoff: You work in player development with the Rangers, and you move around from club to club. What do your day-to-day responsibilities entail?

Harry: Just seeing what we have in the system. Talking to the coaches about what they see, and what’s the best for these guys. Then I report back to Tim Purpura, the Rangers Farm Director. I also talk to Jon Daniels (Rangers GM) and Nolan Ryan (Rangers President and CEO) also. It’s been good for me to travel around, see what we have on the system, and give my opinion on certain guys.

Geoff: You also were a coach for quite a long time. At one point you were the major league hitting coach for the Astros. How is different working with guys at the Double-A level, then guys in the big leagues?

Harry: In the big leagues you have the veteran guys. Those guys know their swing. But as a big league coach you always want to make yourself available, and find out what works for each of them. It’s kind of like in the minor leagues you have to find out what works for each of these young guys. It’s about the daily progress of these guys and hoping that some will become big league players.

Geoff: You mentioned you were actually a teammate of Nolan Ryan’s, and that he was a big reason why you came over to the Rangers Organization.

Harry: Nolan and I are good friends. So once he got involved, I came over and started doing this job, and I’ve really enjoyed it.  The Rangers are an excellent organization, and we’re hoping to get that championship ring.

Geoff: Playing with Nolan, what was he like as a teammate?

Harry: Same as he is now. He’s a good person, a great teammate, and a great competitor. You enjoyed playing behind him or sitting on the bench watching him. He was a special, special pitcher, and a special person.

Geoff: Did you ever hit against him in batting practice, or see one of those fastballs in a spring training game?

Harry: A couple of times. It was a challenge. But that’s how you approached facing any big league pitcher: as a challenge. And you enjoyed the challenge.

Sundays with Steve Buechele: May 6

Every Sunday Frisco broadcaster Alex Vispoli sits down with manager Steve Buechele to talk about important events that took place during the week. Learn about what Buechele said about the series against Midland and San Antonio, Mini-Me, and the athletic approach to pitching.

Vispoli: Steve, last night’s game was a little bit of a strange way that it turned there in the seventh inning but I think it says something about the way this team has just been able to pull out these one-run games, the blowouts, the close games. It’s just a team that can win in any sort of fashion.

Buechele: Well yeah it was a little unique last night. We gave them the go-ahead run on a wild pitch and they come right back and give us the tying run on a wild pitch and then we battle. We get a couple, you know, soft singles but that’s what we needed at the time and give the guys credit. They never hung their head or gave up last night and it was a well-pitched game on both sides and I think you’ll see that in the series. They’re a much-improved team over last year. They’ve got some pitching this year.

Vispoli: And this is a team that you’re going to be fighting with for first place during this first half it looks like. These two teams Frisco and Midland are the two that have sort of separated themselves here through the first 30 or so ball games. Does it set any sort of standard here, the way you move forward? Is this a tone-setting series moving forward?

Buechele: You know, I don’t know. I think the kids in the room, the players, they know where they stand. I think they keep an eye on it and so do we. I mean we look at it and I’m not really concerned at this point. The fact that we’re playing good baseball that, you know, we saw Jake Brigham battle against one of the best pitchers from Midland who’s one of the tops in the league and Briggie is one of the tops in the league too and he battled him pitch for pitch and you know our guys did what they had to do to win. It was certainly a nice sign to see that.

Vispoli: You look at the way the bullpen has pitched and they’ve been tremendous this season in maybe getting into situations but getting out of them, it seems, has really been the key for them. Joseph Ortiz last night five batters, five up, five down, a couple of strikeouts to get out of that eighth inning. It seems like Ortiz can come into a game at any spot whether it’s set-up or end of ballgame, he can pitch in those pressure spots and he does it with the unconventional stature that you don’t normally see of a baseball player.

Buechele: Yeah. You’re right. We call him Mini-Me. Mini has been very good and it certainly gives us another option for someone to close the game out after Yan. Jeff likes to rest the guys and I’m in full agreement with that too and you’ll see Yan go back-to-back days every now and then but he had a 28 pitch load the night before in San Antonio and an inning and a third I believe and, you know, warranted a day off yesterday so we knew we would close with Mini and he did a great job but give a lot of credit to the bullpen and the starters. I couldn’t be happier with the way our pitching has gone but like you said the bullpen has come into some pretty tough situations, worked their way out of it and they’ve also created some tough situations for themselves but had enough composure and poise to work themselves out of it as well.

Vispoli: With Ortiz, where does it seem like his 92 mile an hour fastball comes from a guy who does not have that standard frame that you look for in a pitcher but he throws pretty hard and for a left-hander?

Buechele: Yeah, well he’s got a good arm. I think sometimes you get the shorter stature pitchers that when they throw hard and the ball doesn’t have the tilt, sometimes it looks better than it really is when the ball’s up. I think what separates Mini or gives him a great chance to succeed is he has a very good slider that he can throw to lefties or righties and he’s shown a really good changeup which I haven’t seen, I didn’t see in spring training. It’s kind of popped up these last couple outings but it’s also very good so he has three good pitches.

Vispoli: Earlier this week you won three out of four in San Antonio. You were remarking to me a little bit that that had been a house of horrors over the last few seasons. I looked up the numbers, 5 and 15 over the last 20 ballgames. It’s big to go in there and get a couple of wins and there were all really hard-fought victories.

Buechele: Yeah and that’s how that field plays. The wind blows in scoring runs, comes at a premium there and they’ve had good teams the last couple of years. We’ve played good but found a way to kind of squander it or give up one or two late in the game. To leave there with three out of four was like I had told you a really good feeling. After winning two of them, you almost felt like shoot two of out four is going to be a nice road trip there but to come away with three was great.

Vispoli: Your starter in the series finale Barret Loux, you look at his numbers. Six starts and he’s the only pitcher in major or minor league baseball to get six wins out of his first six starts. He has joked that he has been the pitcher who’s thrown on the run-scoring day and he has had a lot of those games where the team has really inflated the run support numbers for him but to his credit he’s pitched well and he’s been able to, without having his lights-out stuff, be able to be effective and seemingly only give up one or two runs a ballgame.

Buechele: Yeah and we need to support them all that well but came through with some runs when we needed to in the last one but he is, he’s a guy that gosh dang it he throws strikes and he stays away from the middle of the plate and he’s very composed on the mound. He doesn’t seem to get flustered but I think what sets him aside is, you know, he keeps things off the middle. These young guys when you talk about command and you hear everybody talk about it, you know, that’s not putting the fastballs or hanging breaking balls over the middle of the plate. The ones he did, they hit for home runs but when he’s throwing good, he’s been really good.

Vispoli: That must something that you and Jeff really appreciate, a guy who’s around the plate but not leaving them right over the plate. He’s doing exactly what I’m sure a pitching coach would like.

Buechele: Yeah for sure. There’s no question about that. You know we have confidence in him as with the other guys as well but they’re going to go out there and suck up some innings for us and we’ve given them a little, light loads these last couple of outings. Briggie’s six last night, Loux I think was five the other day and Grimm was five the other day too because they have been going so many innings so we’ve decided to maybe give them one inning off shorter than we normally would with the off day coming up they should be ready to go and be even better.

Vispoli: This team that you’re facing here, Midland, leading minor league baseball in walks and I’m sure that’s not necessarily lost on you and the rest of the coaching staff. Does that change at all the way that you approach pitching to this squad? Does Jeff tell the pitchers anything in particular or is it just more going about playing your own game and trying to do what the game plan is anyway and throw strikes that aren’t hittable pitches?

Buechele: You know I think maybe they’ve changed as an organization, their approach of maybe taking a few more pitches but it certainly doesn’t affect our approach as pitchers. Mike Maddux stresses it and Jeff does here as we do at all the levels that strike one is the most important to get ahead of these guys and make them swing the bat. They walk a lot. They strike out as well so I think working ahead and getting favorable counts for the pitcher is huge and Briggie was great last night. I think he had two strikes on something like 18 out of 21 hitters that he had faced so you know I think getting ahead of these guys and then making them hit your pitch is key.

Vispoli: I’m interested in your take on that, not necessarily for what you think about what Oakland does with its approach but what you think about taking pitches at this level. I’ve heard two different ways of thinking. You take a lot of pitches. You put yourself in a position to get on base, the more saber metric way of looking at things and then there’s the thought well if you don’t swing at this early point in your development, you’re not going to learn how to swing enough when you get up to the big leagues. What is your thought on taking pitches and when do you get into more of the nuance of your at-bats versus discovering where you’re swing is?

Beuchele: Well I don’t know if I have the right answer or if I even have the answer at all for that one. To me, 0-0 count is a great count to hit, you know, and you don’t see very many guys taking advantage of that first pitch fastball. I think it becomes an individual thing as to how they develop. You can be an Ian Kinsler and take a lot of pitches or you can be a Josh Hamilton and go up there and swing at the first couple ones so I think it’s an individual thing and we obviously stress swinging at strikes and I think that’s the key to the whole thing. If you’re swinging at balls, you’re going to get yourself in trouble. If you’re ready to hit strikes, you’re going to be successful.

Vispoli: Well today’s ballgame you got Tim Murphy going. Last two starts, he’s looked like a completely different pitcher. He says he is taking a more athletic approach to pitching which I’m not quite sure what that means but you have to have liked what you’ve seen from Tim in the last two.

Buechele: Yeah, the athletic approach to pitching was a quote that came from Greg Maddux by the way and I don’t know what it means either other than it’s going out there and competing. I think that’s what Tim is saying and I think that’s what Greg means too is your going out there and just competing as an athlete and you’re right. His last two starts have been very good and it’s really nice for him to come back today and I expect he’ll do the same.

Vispoli: Well Steve, as always thanks a lot for the time and best of luck out there.

Buechele: Thanks.

Photo Credit: Alex Yocum-Beeman

You Want Me To Pitch?

As we mentioned in yesterday’s blog, both Baltimore and Boston had to resort to position players to pitch after using up most of their bullpens. The Red Sox turned to left fielder Darnell McDonald who pitched one inning and picked up the loss. The Orioles called on former RoughRiders first baseman Chris Davis. Davis pitched two shutout innings and picked up the win as Baltimore took the game 9-6.

With this in mind, I began to wonder which position player Frisco would put on the mound. I set out to ask current ‘Riders to see who they thought would be the best fit.

For the pitcher’s perspective, Trevor Hurley was our guy.

“Jurickson Profar. He was initially offered to sign as a pitcher,” Hurley said. “We all know he’s good.”

Profar was a pitcher growing up. He was scouted by many teams including the New York Yankees and Atlanta Braves to pitch but he decided he wanted to be a shortstop instead. The Rangers were the only major league team who wanted to sign Profar to play shortstop.

For the catcher’s perspective, we turned to Zach Zaneski.

“Jared Prince threw in college. Leury Garcia throws 90 plus off the mound. Profar was going to sign with the Yankees as a pitcher,” Zaneski said. “I think those guys are good candidates.”

When asked about him catching for a position player, Zaneski laughed.

“They might be a little wild but it would be fun.”

The last person on our list was Val Majewski who knows a thing or two about moving from position player to pitcher in the middle of a game. In 2010, he pitched an inning for the Midland RockHounds allowing one hit and one strikeout while picking up the save. Last season, Majewski pitched an inning for the Round Rock Express where he picked up another strikeout. He said he’d be a good one to put on the mound but doesn’t necessarily want to.

“If you can see my track record, the stats speak for themselves,” he said with a smile on his face. “I only allowed 1 hit, struck out 2, and have a 0 ERA. I’m not anxious to do it again. I’d rather sit back on my numbers.”

Not only are the RoughRiders covered on pitching, but many of Frisco’s pitchers have had experience as position players as well. For example, Johan Yan was also scouted as a shortstop. With Frisco quite literally having all bases covered, it seems the team is prepared to tackle any challenge.

Written by: Jarah Wright