Wednesday, April 16, 2014

On the road, again


You've just been made a reporter for a day.

Your first assignment: Visit any Frontier League clubhouse and ask for opinions on the league's schedule and ways to improve it. It shouldn't take long to find somebody who has a complaint. The schedule always is highly scrutinized, and it seems as if every player and coach thinks either his team is getting shafted by the schedulemaker or some other team is getting scheduling favors from the league office.

To the Frontier League's credit, it has been willing to change its scheduling format to help teams cut down on travel time and costs, create more off days and eliminate some scheduling quirks. One thing I disliked years ago was teams playing all their games against an interdivision opponent in consecutive weeks. That has been eliminated, in part because of the 7-team divisions.

This year, the big change in the schedule is the significant increase in doubleheaders. There are 23 scheduled doubleheaders, including eight at Evansville and six at Washington. There are many reasons for this, from having to open the park fewer nights, to women's pro softball needing a date, to helping the Greys with their travel, etc. Only five of the 13 teams with home ballparks have scheduled doubleheaders. Three of those five -- Evansville, Traverse City and Normal -- finished in the top five in home attendance last year.

It will be interesting to see if the doubleheaders and added off days will hurt or help Evansville, Washington and Florence (five doubleheaders) on the field and at the gate.

One thing almost everybody complains about in the Frontier League is the travel. With teams spread from Pennsylvania to Missouri, and at least one interdivision game every night, scheduling easy and sensible road trips is not always possible. Whoever the poor soul is who makes the schedule, you have a difficult and thankless job. Everybody thinks they have a bad schedule compared to (fill in the blank with another team). You can't please everyone, no matter how hard you try.

So which teams have a bad schedule this year? One way of determining this is to check the miles each team will travel. The following chart is the mileage each team will travel along with the difference from 2013. When calculating the mileage for each team, I did not take into account if a team travels back and forth each night to play a close rival. For example, when Windy City plays at Joliet, it might opt to drive the 52 miles roundtrip each day of the series instead of one 26-mile trip and three-night stay in Joliet. I credit Windy City for one 26-mile trip.

Also, if a team has consecutive off days (something new to the schedule this year), I assume the ballclub will return to its home city on these days, even if it has a road game after the off days.

One other travel note: the Greys will be based this year out of Highland, Ill., located about 30 minutes northeast of St. Louis. In past seasons, they were based out of Avon, Ohio.

Miles       Team     (Difference from 2013)
11,888 -- Greys (102 fewer)
10,522 -- Traverse City (1,143 more)
 9,392 -- Lake Erie (2 more)
 9,171 -- Washington (1,243 more)
 9,090 -- Evansville (1,600 more)
 7,503 -- Rockford (199 more)
 7,410 -- River City (634 fewer)
 7,352 -- Southern Illinois (555 fewer)
 7,215 -- Florence (631 fewer)
 6,936 -- Gateway (261 fewer)
 6,675 -- Windy City (1,025 more)
 6,565 -- Schaumburg (448 fewer)
 6,287 -- Normal (610 more)
 5,766 -- Joliet (428 fewer)

Last year, only the Greys logged more miles than Lake Erie, and Windy City traveled the fewest miles. This year, seven teams will log more miles on the road than last year and seven other will do less traveling, though in the case of Lake Erie it's about 3 fewer minutes spent on the highway.

Scanning the schedule, there were a few things that stood out. One was that Traverse City's travel in the seasons' first half can be best described with one word: brutal. From the season opener through May 26, the Beach Bums will travel 1,414 miles. Over the same period, Gateway will travel 84 miles. And by June 6, Traverse City's bus will have logged 2,587 miles -- about half of what Joliet will travel all season -- while division rival Florence will have traveled only 775 miles at that point.

There is an odd situation with the Greys' schedule in August. They will play a series-ending doubleheader Aug. 3 at Washington, then have two off days before starting a series at Traverse City. If the Greys go directly to Traverse City, the league will be paying for two days of lodging for the team without it playing a game. If the Greys go from Washington back to Highland, Ill., for an off day before going to Traverse City, that trip will be a whopping 1,102 miles, which would be the record for miles traveled between series.

One last note: Even with all the doubleheaders and consecutive off days in the schedule, only three teams will be traveling extra miles because of these (on the road, return home for 2 off days, then go back on the road). Those teams are Normal, Gateway and the Greys.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Where are they know? Part II

Basically because there is not much happening from a roster standpoint on this rainy Friday, I decided to post another list of former Wild Things players and what has happened to them after they hung up their spikes.

The first edition included many players who went into coaching. This list features former players who have decided to step away from baseball and, as former Steelers coach Chuck Noll would say, "get on with their life's work."

Here goes:

L.J. Biernbaum - The right fielder for the 2004 team, Biernbaum went on to play six seasons in the Atlantic League. He currently works in residential remodeling sales for the Power House Remodeling Group in the Philadelphia area.

Matt Bok - Former Notre Dame player was a catcher who hit a couple of big home runs during the stretch drive in 2004. Bok did some coaching in the Big East at Georgetown before becoming a reporter for Bloomberg News. He currently works in media production as a web editor and producer for Bloomberg LP. He lives in London.

Joel Buchenauer - Backup infielder for the 2003 and '04 teams, Buchenauer is Production Data Analyst and Plant Manager for CloudBlue Technologies, Inc., which is described as a company that provides onsite data destruction and e-waste recycling services

Phil Butch - The small but hard-nosed guy who played left field for the 2008 team is now Dr. Phil Butch, a chiropractor in Ravenna, Ohio.

Ryan Ditthardt - Third baseman on the 2011 team, Ditthardt is the CEO of Athletic Improvement Company in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. I was unable to find out what Athletic Improvement Company is, but I'm guessing it's a baseball academy or athletic training center.

Ryan Ewin - A tall, lanky pitcher with a plus-changeup on the 2004 team, Ewin has passed the bar exam and is an attorney in San Diego. He worked in the baseball operations department of the Los Angeles Dodgers and was a broadcast services intern for the San Diego Padres.

Kevyn Feiner - Played the final season of his seven-year career as an infielder with the 20011 Wild Things. He is a personal trainer at San Prairie Athletic Club in De Forest, Wisc., which is in the Madison area.

Ryan Groth - Was a key late-season acquisition who played the outfield for the 2009 team. Groth is general manager at FollowUpPower.net, a cloud-based computer software company in Miami.

Eric Holt - A Trinity High School and Waynesburg University graduate, Holt pitched for the 2004 and '05 teams. Holt is a police officer in South Strabane Township.

Brandon Ketron - Was a catcher for part of the 2006 season before having his contract purchased by the New York Yankees. He spent two seasons in the Yankees' system and then played one season back in independent ball in the Atlantic League. At last check, Ketron is Operations Manager for HouseVending, which I believe is a Real Estate service in Tennessee.

Jon Kourie - Was an outfielder for the 2010 team under manager Darin Everson. He provides financial services as mortgage loan originator for PowerHouse Solutions in Great Neck, N.Y.

Mark McGonigle - The right fielder for the 2010 team, McGonigle retired after playing for the Wild Things and returned to his native Texas. He is a senior audit assistant at Deloitte & Touche LLP in Katy, Texas.

Billy O'Conner - Catcher for the 2010 team, O'Conner is in his second stint as an assistant coach at his alma mater, Xavier University. He also coached for one season at Northern Kentucky.

Corey Ohalek - Lefty relief pitcher was on the 2005 and '06 teams. He did some college baseball coaching and attended law school at Capital University in Ohio. He is an attorney and associate general counsel for Vrable Healthcare.

Fred Wray - One of the original Wild Things, a pitcher on the 2012 team. Wray has had an interesting career after his playing days. He is now a player agent for Octagon Sports. Among his clients are the Seattle Mariners outfielder Logan Morrison, Houston Astros catcher Jason Castro and L.A. Angels pitcher Garrett Richards.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Joe, we hardly knew 'ya

The Wild Things acquisition of third baseman Joe Poletsky from the Can-Am League was simply a paper move. Washington traded Poletsky one day after acquiring him. Poletsky was sent to the Frontier League Greys for a player to be named.

By my count, this takes Washington back to 35 players on the roster with 30 signed for 2014.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Heck, he's back

The Wild Things have made several roster moves, including bringing a player back to Washington, signing a former Pittsburgh Pirates minor leaguer and completing a trade that, quite frankly, I don't recall being made.

Zac Fuesser
Washington has re-signed outfielder Andrew Heck, who played parts of the last two seasons with the Wild Things. Heck was one of the few bright spots on the 2012 team, hitting a team-leading .310 with 14 doubles, 20 stolen bases and 27 RBI. He got off to an dreadful start last season, hitting only .182 in 15 games, and was released. Heck was signed later in the season by Traverse City and hit .200 in 11 games for the Beach Bums.

The Wild Things also signed left-handed pitcher Zac Fuesser, who was recently released by the Pirates. Fuesser played five seasons in the Pirates' system after being drafted out of the junior college ranks. Fuesser spent last year at high-Class A Bradenton, where he pitched in relief, compiling a 2-4 record with three saves, a 3.18 ERA and 52 strikeouts in 68 innings. In both 2011 and '12, Fuesser pitched for the Class A West Virginia Power, where he was used as both a starter and reliever, going 6-13 with 188 strikeouts in 200.2 innings.

Washington also acquired third baseman Joe Poletsky and a player to be named later from the Trois-Rivieres Aigles of the independent Can-Am League. Poletsky played college ball at Quinnipiac and has been in the indy leagues for two years. He played eight games for Bridgeport of the Atlantic League in 2012 and hit .255 in 45 games with Newark of the Can-Am League last year.

The odd thing about that trade is, I don't remember the teams ever making a trade that needed completing. The only player on Trois-Rivieres' roster who played in Washington is pitcher Sean Keeler, and he was released by the Wild Things and next played for a team in the Pecos League.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Analyzing the roster

C.J. Beatty takes the field.

The Wild Things will begin spring training in less than a month, so it's time to start analyzing the roster and try to figure out who is going to make the team and what positions still need to be addressed by signing affiliated guys who were released this week.

Manager Bart Zeller said the Wild Things will got to camp with approximately 37 players. By my count -- and with the help of the transactions page on the Frontier League website -- Washington currently has 28 players under contract for the 2014 season. The Wild Things also hold the rights to five players who apparently have not signed or returned contracts. Washington also is required to draft at least two players from the league tryout later this month.

Washington holds the rights to 15 players who are classified as Experienced by the Frontier League. This total is two over the league limit of 13. However, five of the 15 apparently have not signed contracts. They are pitchers Mike Barsotti (acquired in the Darian Sanford trade last year), Shawn Blackwell and Jhonny Montoya along with shortstop A.J. Nunziato and infielder Shain Stoner. It appears that Nunziato, who has the best hands I've seen on a Wild Things infielder -- did he ever boot or even bobble a ground ball? -- will not be back. He has apparently called it a career.

Among the 10 remaining Experienced players are pitcher Matt Phillips, who was placed on the 60-day disabled list in January, and pitcher Zach LeBarron and catcher Jim Vahalik, each of whom ended last season on the DL.

The Wild Things definitely have roster spots open to sign Experienced players who were recently released from minor-league spring training. Most of those openings are at pitcher, where the only Experienced guys signed and not on the DL are Scott Dunn, Tim Flight and Jonathan Kountis. Dunn was the marquee pickup in the offseason after he won the league's Pitcher of the Year Award last season while with Traverse City. Flight was signed out of the New York Yankees' system and Kountis spent the end of last season with the Greys after being Lake Erie's closer in 2012.

What Washington currently has under contract is a young pitching staff and one short on starters. Chris Phelan, who was acquired in the Shawn Sanford trade with Schaumburg last year, is a Rookie-2 who will be a starter. Tyler Elrod made three starts last year, and one of those was a complete-game shutout. Zeller has mentioned Barsotti in his "From the Manager's Desk" column on the Wild Things' website, so you have to think he will eventually be signed and given a shot at earning a spot in the rotation.

"We have two needs," Zeller said recently. "One is a starting pitcher. We'd like to find a guy like Shawn Sanford. That's a guy who has been around, has experience in affiliated ball and has gone through the ropes for three or four years.

"We're also looking for a designated hitter. That's something that's hard to do because nobody wants to be just a DH and not play the field."

Looking at the position players, it seems that Vahalik will be the catcher and newcomer William Beckwith at first base. With Nunziato likely gone, Ryan Kresky, who was picked up in a trade with Evansville, will be the shortstop. Yeury Tejada, a newly signed Dominican who has experienced at shortstop in affiliated ball, could play there but is likely ticketed for third base.

C.J. Beatty, who led the team in batting average, hits, home runs and RBI last season, is back. He is the wild card in the lineup. He could return to second base or be moved to the outfield -- he was an outfielder in the St. Louis Cardinals system -- or third base. If Beatty is moved from second base, then rookie Nick Ratajczak out of Louisville would have the inside track on the job.

The outfield returns Stewart Ijames, who had fantastic rookie season. Speedy Danny Poma was acquired in an offseason trade and could be the center fielder. Rookie Jordan Keur, a rookie who was injured during his senior year at Michigan State, is an interesting outfield candidate.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Two more former Wild Things released


The end of March can be a difficult time for minor league baseball players. It's when some dreams continue and others are dealt a shocking and quick end. Most major-league teams operate four affiliates in April after running at least six teams at the end of last summer, so there's plenty of jobs to be lost.

Two members of the 2013 Wild Things, outfielder Quincy Latimore and left-handed pitcher Al Yevoli, were recently caught in the roster cutdowns.

Latimore was in minor-league camp but had three at-bats (0-for-3 with a stolen base) with the Pittsburgh Pirates during major-league spring training. He was released over the weekend. Latimore was signed by the Wild Things last summer after being released from the Cleveland Indians' Class AA affiliate in Akron. He hit .232 with six home runs and 22 RBI in 41 games with Washington. Latimore signed with the Pirates, who drafted him in the fourth round in 2007, during the offseason.

A hard-throwing reliever, Yevoli was released by the Chicago Cubs. It was the second consecutive year in which Yevoli made it deep into spring training before being released.

Yevoli has played parts of two seasons in Washington. Last year, he had a 1-1 record in 20 games before having his contract purchased by the Cubs, who assigned him to Kane County, their affiliate in the Class A Midwest League. Yevoli was 0-0 with a 3.15 ERA in 11 outings with Kane County.

There are a couple of other former Wild Things who were in minor-league camps but I do not know their status at this time. I also am trying to locate the destinations of a couple of local players, J.J. Jankowski and Jim Rider, both from Peters Township. Jankowski is with the Houston Astros and Rider was traded during the offseason from the Pirates to the Boston Red Sox.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Nuno makes Yankees' roster for opening day

Vidal Nuno will become the first former Wild Things player to make an opening roster in the major leagues when the New York Yankees play at the Houston Astros Tuesday night.

Nuno, who was the Wild Things' opening day pitcher in 2011, has made the Yankees as a relief pitcher. The Yankees informed the 26-year-old Nuno on Saturday that he made the big-league club.

“It’s really, really special, just knowing that all the hard work I put in in the offseason has just paid off a little bit, but there’s a long season ahead," Nuno told reporters. "Just want to take it day by day now, so just like I did in spring training. ... It was unbelievable how everything just came true a little bit. Now, I gotta stick here and just produce. I can sleep a little bit better now, just knowing that I’m heading to Houston and then New York. It’s just a long journey, so I’m just really happy, really thrilled about how I got the news and now it’s back to work.”

In that opening day start for the Wild Things in 2011, Nuno gave up two earned runs over six innings and struck out six at Joliet, but he lost to the Slammers and their starting pitcher, Billy Petrick, who retired 19 consecutive Washington hitters at one point. Petrick was a former major leaguer, having pitched with the Chicago Cubs. That had to be one of the few Frontier League games in which both starting pitchers also pitched in the major leagues.