Monthly Archives: July 2013

Getting An Eye on the Ball

What it takes to capture action over the plate

Whenever I go somewhere or see something interesting, I like to try to capture the experience in photographs. I’ve done this all over the world at major events, famous landmarks, tourist attractions, and natural landscapes. Every experience poses its own unique challenges and baseball is no different. With limited access and equipment to work with though, there are only a few good opportunities for capturing on-field action. Luckily, one of them is where most of the action happens: home plate.

Eyes, ball. Ball, eyes.

Here’s one of dozens of pictures I’ve taken at minor league games over the last two years showing the ball directly over the plate. For the most part, these are calibration shots for me, indicating that I’m set to capture the action when it happens. When you think about it, just about everything that happens at the plate will be during the time when the ball is (or should be) in the vicinity of the plate. Hits, swinging strikeouts, HBPs, etc. are all at their most interesting in this very narrow window. Just how narrow is it? As the numbers will show, it’s too small for brute force or random chance to result in success.

Read more »

25 July 2013 – Brooklyn Cyclones at Lowell Spinners

Rain, rain, go away, the Cyclones won’t be back here on any other day

While the rain stopped in time for Tuesday’s game, the weather wasn’t quite so cooperative tonight.  The rain started around 3pm and was well underway by the time the gates opened at 6pm and all of the Jack Kerouac bobbleheads were snapped up by people who probably weren’t planning on watching the game anyway.  By the time I got there, the only way to describe the stadium, the field, and the few die-hards ready to see a game was “soggy mess.”

Box Score

By game time, with the rain picking up, the announcement we were all waiting for was made.  The tarp wouldn’t be coming off the field, the game was cancelled, and you can try your luck exchanging your tickets for tickets to an upcoming home game.  (But only in person at the box office, which is open weekdays from 10am-4pm.  In Lowell.  Not exactly what I would call convenience.)  With no more Cyclones games on the schedule and not a whole lot of room in the NYPL schedule to cram another game in, this game will not be made up.  Good thing I got my Gavin Cecchini and L.J. Mazzilli autographs on Tuesday.  Barring something unexpected, this concludes our minor league game coverage for the year.  See you next year.

23 July 2013 – Brooklyn Cyclones at Lowell Spinners

Missed opportunities abound in the Cyclones’ return to Lowell

The last time the Cyclones visited Lowell, they had a rotation full of all-stars,  This time around, the arms aren’t quite as hot.  This is the New York Penn League though, so you don’t really need a 95mph fastball and precise control to get the job done, just one or the other is usually more than enough.  Last night, Spinners starter Mario Alcantara brought the heater while Cyclones starter Seth Lugo had the control, combining for four scoreless innings en route to a 2-1 Cyclones loss.

Box Score

Yeah, it was that kind of game

Offense is at a premium in the NYPL and the Brooklyn Cyclones should be reminded of that with their return to Lowell.  After all, they scored only a single run in each of the three games they played here last year.  You have to go back to September 1, 2011 for a game with multiple runs, a 7-1 victory to close out the Spinners’ home season.  So when Alcantara walked the first two Cyclones batters to start the game, it was the perfect opportunity to take control of the game and not add another 1-run game to the streak.  The first of several opportunities to be squandered over the course of the game.  Three outs later, it was Lugo’s turn to show his stuff.

That stuff isn’t particularly overpowering, but it will get the job done at this level.  Lugo’s speed tops out at 90mph, but his control gives him an edge with plenty of called strikes.  And balls put in play.  It’s the swinging strikes that aren’t part of his repertoire that prove to be a problem for Lugo, but some solid defense, particularly from second baseman L.J. Mazzilli, went a long way toward keeping the Spinners off the board.  Mazzilli watched a grounder roll into the outfield in the bottom of the first (which is listed as a fly ball in the play-by-play for some reason, must be one of those really low-flying ones…) but was otherwise on the mark for the rest of the game, fielding seven ground balls and one pop fly out of the 18 balls put in play for outs.

Familiar sights at last night’s game

Lowell threatened again in the second with a pair of two-out singles, but that would be the end of the offense in the first four innings except for a throwing error that put Alex Sanchez on second with two outs in the top of the fourth.  Brooklyn once again couldn’t make use of a runner in scoring position and then Lowell went down in order in the bottom half, the second of five times they would end an inning without a runner.

Colton Plaia singling to put runners at the corners

James Roche set things back up the way they were left in the top of the 4th with a leadoff double to start the 5th.  Colton Plaia followed with a fly ball to shallow center that nobody could get to, putting runners at the corners with no outs for Anthony Chavez, who struck out.  Patrick Biondi followed that with a broken bat single, plating Roche and sending Plaia to third.  After either an attempt to steal home or a botched hit and run was stopped by a foul ball, Biondi pushed his luck with his second stolen base attempt of the night and Juan Gamboa struck out to end the inning.  Three times in the first five innings, Brooklyn stranded a runner in scoring position.  With Alcantara exiting the game after the 5th inning, they wouldn’t get another chance.

If in the 1st you do succeed, don’t try again in the 5th with a runner on third

By the bottom of the 6th, Lugo clearly didn’t have his best stuff anymore.  He had his best pitch sequence in the 5th on a 74-90-79-82 with two called strikes, a ball, and a swinging strike to finish the strikeout.  In the 6th though, his speed was down around 85 and his control just wasn’t there anymore.  The Spinners got their leadoff man on with a slow roller that Lugo and Mazzilli both tried for but couldn’t reach in time to get the out.  The apparent confusion on that play proved costly as a sac bunt and a groundout put the tying run on third with two outs and Lugo issued his first walk of the night.  With nobody warming in the pen, it was up to Lugo to get out of this mess.  He responded by giving up a two-run double that gave the Spinners the lead.  Lugo ended the inning on a called strike three, but Brooklyn’s one run wouldn’t be enough anymore.

Kevin McGowan pitching a 1-2-3 8th inning

And that was pretty much the game.  If not for some substandard fielding from the Spinners, there wouldn’t be anything else to say.  Lugo put the Spinners down in order in the 7th thanks to the defense behind him and Kevin McGowan did the same in the 8th with a pair of strikeouts and the requisite groundout to Mazzilli.  Gamboa singled for Brooklyn in the top of the 8th, but then Mazzilli hit a double play ball that for some reason Lowell second baseman Cleuluis Rondon couldn’t hold on to long enough to make the throw to first.  Oberste hit a routine grounder to short with one out in the top of the 9th, but Lowell shortstop Tzu-Wei Lin forgot to put his glove under the ball.  Both times, the runner was stranded at first, leaving the final score 2-1 Spinners.

Matt Oberste putting one just under the shortstop’s glove for the final Brooklyn baserunner of the night

Product Spotlight: 2013 Topps Pro Debut


The first of the year’s minor league releases, Pro Debut gives us the rare chance to see logos from farm teams on the familiar base Topps design.  Brandon Nimmo with the Brooklyn Cyclones, Wilmer Flores with the Binghamton Mets, Travis d’Arnaud with the, um, Buffalo Bisons?

Card Design

So many things wrong with this card…

Pro Debut uses the same design we’ve seen in Topps Series 1 and Topps Series 2, which I really should have gotten around to reviewing by now.  So here it is in all its glory, the standard white border with a bit of color and a small spot of design by the name and team logo.  While the design won’t exactly turn any heads, the choice of team might.  Travis d’Arnaud never played for the Buffalo Bisons and the Bisons never used this logo as an affiliate of the New York Mets.  So what the heck is going on here?  Given how forthcoming Topps has been lately regarding its numerous problems, we may never know how this oddity came to be.  So I guess that leaves it to me to come up with a few crackpot theories to explain its origin.

Lead Times

The simplest way to explain errors like this are the long lead times in sports card production.  Sometimes you just have to get the photos out the door way ahead of release and hope for the best.  It is possible that the photo deadline fell somewhere between November 20, 2012, when the new Bisons logo was unveiled, and December 17, 2013, when Travis d’Arnaud was traded to the Mets.  But for a product released on June 26, 2013?  Six months is an eternity in this business, so this one doesn’t make much sense.

Risk Management

A somewhat more likely scenario involves the lead times not for the photography, but for the manufactured logo patches.  These would be needed in advance of card printing, so it makes sense that they would be ordered before the photography has been finalized.  Based on the delays Topps apparently encountered in receiving the logo patches for 2012 Topps Heritage Minor League Edition (last-minute redemption cards were issued in their place), a solid risk management strategy would have been to order the next batch well in advance, potentially in the one-month window during which it looked like d’Arnaud would be playing for the Bisons.  It wouldn’t do to have the player shown with a different team and it would be confusing to show a player with two different teams in the same product, so there’s a decent amount of logic here.  And the logo on the patch isn’t the 2013 Bisons logo but the 2012 Bisons logo in 2013 colors, indicating that the ordering deadline was too soon after November 20 to do a full logo redesign.  But with the error apparent so far in advance, wouldn’t ordering an updated patch have been a feasible option?  We’re talking about less than 100 tiny pieces of cloth here.

Work of Art

Enough with logic, maybe they were so impressed with their artwork that they didn’t want to let it go to waste.  After decades of uniform manipulation, they finally got one right, then the guy gets traded!  Screw it, we’re keeping it the way it is.  This one makes no sense, which is why it is my favorite option.

Token Bison

Maybe we’re overthinking this.  Travis d’Arnaud is the only player from the Buffalo Bisons in 2013 Pro Debut (two mascots in the Mascot Patch insert set are the only other Bisons).  It’s possible that the Bisons needed to have at least one player in the product and d’Arnaud was it.  Without a replacement, Topps could have found themselves in a tough spot.  A quick fix of showing d’Arnaud with the Bisons and calling it a Mets affiliate doesn’t make much sense but technically checks off the box.


Or maybe this was just a colossal screw-up resulting from the many people responsible for different parts of the card not all working from the same notes.  Imagine if you’re doing the final layout with the deadline fast approaching and, on card number 200, you get a picture showing a player with one team and a description showing him with a different MLB team’s affiliate.  The clock is ticking, you still have 20 more cards to finish off, and you’re not being paid enough to care.  In reality, that’s how cards like this are made, so this scenario wouldn’t surprise me at all.

Player Selection

2013 Topps Pro Debut: Now with 25% pro debuts!

As for the rest of the set, there’s a mix of players from Kingsport to Las Vegas.  It’s mostly first-round draft picks and top prospects here, so we’ve seen most of these guys before.  Many, many times.  You’ll note that Gavin Ceccini and Luis Mateo are the only ones with the Pro Debut medallion, because they’re the only ones who made their pro debut last year.  That’s a bit disappointing for a product called “Pro Debut.”  Brandon Nimmo and Michael Fulmer are in Pro Debut for the first time, but as first-round draft picks, they’ve been around in Topps products before.  Zack Wheeler, Wilmer Flores, Noah Syndergaard, and Travis d’Arnaud have all been in Pro Debut two or three times before this (and, along with Fulmer, had insert cards in 2013 Bowman), so you would think they would have aged out of this product by now to make room for younger guys like Gabriel Ynoa, Kevin Plawecki, Darin Gorski, or Cory Mazzoni.  At least Luis Mateo (the one in the Mets system, not to be confused with the other Luis Mateo) gets his first professional cards here, though I would have preferred Ynoa.

Gold Parallel

As usual, every base card has a gold parallel numbered to 50.  Also as usual, I have all of them except the Wheeler.  While most of these are available for less than $5 shipped, the Wheeler sells for $15-20.  Or at least it would if anyone selling one would ask less than $25.  So we’re at a stalemate, which will end with anyone who wants to buy one not caring anymore before anyone considering selling one accepts reality.  And so the only people who will own them will be people who don’t really want them.  And that’s this crazy hobby in a nutshell.

Futures Fabric

I think I own about half of this jersey by now…

Following the usual script, 2013 Pro Debut has more pieces of 2012 Futures Game jerseys first cut up in some of last years late releases.  Wilmer Flores is the only Met here, with jersey swatches (plus gold parallels numbered to 50 and printing plates numbered to 1) and jumbo logo patches (numbered to 5).  Zack Wheeler is conspicuously absent, indicating that his material may be needed in another product later this year (Finest maybe?).

Logo Patches

Yes, that’s a 51s player in a 2013 Bisons jersey next to the 2012 Bisons logo in 2013 Bisons colors

Like last year, we have an assortment of logo patches from Mets minor league teams, including Wilmer Flores with the Binghamton Mets, Zack Wheeler with the Las Vegas 51s, and, um, yeah.  Eh, two out of three ain’t bad.


You don’t want to think about this #SandysMess

Everyone loves mascots, so after the first-ever mascot autographs in 2013 Topps Opening Day, the minor league mascots got some recognition in a manufactured patch insert set.  The only Mets affiliate mascot in the bunch is Sandy the Seagull from the Brooklyn Cyclones (two Bisons mascots appear as they did in the Bisons’ Mets days, with the Blue Jays Bisons logo, so, um, I don’t know how to count that).


As with most of this year’s Topps releases, the value per box is fairly negligible, with the manufactured patches being worth more than most of the autographs and memorabilia cards (which are largely worthless).  Most of the cards here could be obtained fairly inexpensively, making this a good source of prospect cards, though most of the prospects here are no stranger to Topps products.  Notable cards are Luis Mateo’s first Topps card and Noah Syndergaard’s first base card as a Met.  And the Travis d’Arnaud abomination.  Yes, this product is most notable for an inexplicable freak of a card.  That’s the minor leagues for you.

7 July 2013 – Binghamton Mets at New Hampshire Fisher Cats

Dude, where’s my strike zone?

The Fisher Cats brought out the big guns for this game

Coming off a pair of close games and a blowout win, you might expect a decent performance in game 4.  Then again, your SAT prep class may have taught you how to complete this sequence: one-run win, one-run loss, 11-run win, …  Sometimes, life follows predictable patterns.

Box Score

One of the few breaks the B-Mets would catch in this game

Like last night, Daniel Muno started things off with a ground ball to the shortstop.  Unlike last night, the play was made without incident.  Josh Rodriguez managed to beat out the throw for an infield single, but that would be the last Binghamton baserunner until Muno came up again in the third.  Like Rodriguez, Muno would be stranded at first.

Erik Goeddel was never really expected to get this far.  Drafted out of college in the 24th round, Goeddel was a longshot to succeed as a starting pitcher into the high minors.  His performance, while not stellar, has been consistent at each level and has even gotten him a Bowman autograph card (something that Rafael Montero can’t boast, though Reese Havens and Brad Holt can and we’ve seen how they turned out).  If he continues like this though, he could be on a trajectory more like Brad Holt than Rafael Montero.

Tovar knows how to position himself

Goeddel made it through the first two innings without incident, largely due to getting balls put weakly into play, like a pair of pop flies to Wilfredo Tovar in the bottom of the first.  His fastball was steady at 92mph, but his command was erratic from the start.  The Fisher Cats could count on at least three balls in every at bat, a fact they took advantage of with two walks in the bottom of the second.  This continued into the bottom of the third when Goeddel loaded the bases on three more walks for Clint Robinson.  You may remember Robinson from his 3-run home run off Noah Syndergaard that accounted for all of New Hampshire’s scoring in their 14-3 loss.  Nobody was terribly surprised to see him hit a grand slam this time.  Goeddel escaped the inning on two strikeouts and a groundout to Tovar, but things were not looking good.

Allan Dykstra, after going 0-4 with 4 strikeouts the night before, put the B-Mets on the board with a solo shot in the 4th.  Travis Taijeron would do the same in the 7th, with 10 straight outs between them.  While not quite as bad as the 12 straight outs in the previous game, the lack of sustained offense on either end kept the Mets in a big hole.  One that kept getting deeper.

Wilfredo Tovar was removed from the game for unknown reasons in the 4th, with Daniel Muno shifting to shortstop, Josh Rodriguez taking over at second, and Richard Lucas entering the game at third.  Rodriguez’s range to the left was quickly tested by a ground ball he couldn’t get to, but the inning ended without incident.  Two walks in the 5th set up a big rally for the Fisher Cats, with an RBI single chasing Goeddel from the game.  Goeddel’s fastball was still sitting at 92, but he just couldn’t get it into the strike zone.  His 75mph curve had more success, but Goeddel kept going back to the fastball and paid the price.  Ryan Fraser picked up where Goeddel left off with two more hits driving in three more runs and the game starting to get out of hand.

And then the bottom of the 7th happened.  Taijeron’s home run in the top half cut New Hampshire’s lead to a mere 6 runs.  That’s a reasonable amount to negate in one inning, as the Fisher Cats would go on to demonstrate.  Two walks, a HBP, and two home runs was all it took to knock Fraser out of the game.  For the second night in a row, Adam Kolarek was called in for mop-up duty, though this time with a 10-run deficit instead of an 11-run lead.  A single and a home run later, we were back where we started.  Which was an Andy Burns solo home run.  Can’t anyone on this pitching staff give up fewer than 3 runs?

Meanwhile, the B-Mets offense wasn’t quite ready to give up.  A wild pitch followed by a single by Daniel Muno chipped away at the Fisher Cats’ lead in the top of the 8th.  It would all come down to the 9th, but the Mets would need three outs to get there.  The solution would come in the form of a familiar face from years past.

Pedro Feliciano: Arm still attached

Pedro Feliciano wanted the ball day in and day out.  In his days in the majors with the Mets, he set the team’s record for appearances in a season and then set out to break his own record.  He broke himself in the process, as the Yankees found out when they signed him to a two-year contract and gave the Mets a compensation pick that they turned into Michael Fulmer.  Feliciano never pitched for the Yankees; his overuse finally caught up to him once he changed uniforms.  With nothing to lose, the Mets brought Perpetual Pedro back on a minor league deal to see if he had anything left.  What he has is an 83mph offering that isn’t going to miss many bats but can result in outs on balls in play.  Feliciano retired the Fisher Cats in order in the 8th on 10 pitches.

Xorge Carrillo with the final RBI of the night

The Mets wasted little time in the 9th setting things up for a comeback.  Three singles loaded the bases with one out for Xorge Carrillo, who drove in a run with yet another single.  A passed ball on a swinging strike two to Richard Lucas advanced the runners and brought in another run.  Lucas would strike out, leaving it up to Daniel Muno.  With the score 16-5, Muno grounded out to leave the series even at two games and 31 runs apiece.

6 July 2013 – Binghamton Mets at New Hampshire Fisher Cats

The B-Mets hold a home run derby on MLB All-Star selection day

Over, and over, and over, and over, and over…

The first few at-bats of a game can set the tone for the rest of the night. That was certainly the case last night when the B-Mets recorded two home runs before the Fisher Cats recorded the game’s first out. Noah Syndergaard, due to start next Sunday’s Futures Game for the USA team, made his Manchester debut against his former franchise in the Saturday night spotlight previously held by Rafael Montero. A two-out home run in the bottom of the 6th gave the Fisher Cats three runs and would have made this a close game, if the Fisher Cats had managed to retire 27 straight Mets batters after the opening act. They only managed to get 12 before the game got out of control.

Box Score

Runner on first? Big mistake.

While the Mets took almost half of the game off offensively after their first two home runs, the Fisher Cats didn’t fare much better against Syndergaard. The Fisher Cats singled off of Syndergaard in the first, third, and fourth, but Syndergaard answered back each time with either a pair of strikeouts or a double play. With a fastball that started at 95 and only got better as the game went on, the Fisher Cats just couldn’t keep up. Syndergaard almost seemed bored if there wasn’t a runner in play.

Wilfredo Tovar, power hitter?

The fifth inning would be Syndergaard’s first real test of the night. Well, the top of the fifth anyway, which went on long enough to make inactivity a concern. Blake Forsythe broke the streak of 12 straight Mets outs with a double off the outfield wall and Joe Bonfe drove him home with a single. Wilfredo Tovar, not known for his power, cleared the bases with his first home run as a B-Met. A walk and two singles loaded the bases with no outs, but somebody flipped the switch back to “outs” and three straight ended the inning.

With Syndergaard’s fastball cooled back down to 95, New Hampshire got a runner to second base for the first time of the night with a pair of singles in the bottom of the 5th. That was as far as they would get though, as Wilfredo Tovar tagged the lead runner out on the next play and Syndergaard ended the inning on a strikeout. He opened the bottom of the 7th with another strikeout, changing speeds from 79 to 96 and back down to 78. Wilfredo Tovar then misjudged a ground ball on the bounce to put Brett Lawrie on base, followed by an A.J. Jimenez single. Syndergaard went back into strikeout mode on Brad Glenn, but Clint Robinson was able to send an 80mph curveball over the right field wall for three unearned runs. Another strikeout ended the inning, but the B-Mets had lost half of their lead.

Until Darrell Ceciliani added a pair of runs on yet another home run in the 7th. The Fisher Cats tried to rally back in the bottom half with a single and Syndergaard’s first walk of the night, but we know how this one goes. A strikeout (Syndergaard’s 7th of the night) and a double play (3rd of the night, line drive straight to Wilfredo Tovar and a short toss to Muno to get the runner at second) ended the threat and Syndergaard’s night. But at 8-3 after 7 innings, this game was far from over.

A bit too far for many of the fans who were waiting for the postgame fireworks show. Part of the problem was the top of the 8th, which is when all hope for a Fisher Cats comeback was lost. Two pitchers, 5 walks, one strikeout, a home run, a triple, a single, and a sac fly. I probably lost your attention with just that sentence, imagine what it was like to be there in person. The next six outs went by quickly with just a HBP worth noting (erased on a double play). And we’re on to the bottom of the 9th.

Bottom of the 9th, two outs, bases loaded, down by 11. This is not exactly the situation you dream of when you’re a kid. With Adam Loewen facing Adam Kolarek, the Fisher Cats had done their best to deny their fans a short wait for fireworks. Loewen watched strike three from Kolarek and that was the game.