Friday, April 22, 2016

WJPA, Wild Things end broadcast partnership


If you want to listen to Wild Things games this season, then you will have to switch to a different electronic device. For the first time since the Frontier League debuted in 2002, broadcasts will be available only online.

WJPA-FM (95.3) had been the home radio station for the Wild Things since their inaugural season, broadcasting home and away games. The station opted not to continue with the partnership.

“It has been a good relationship with the Wild Things and we enjoyed the 14 years,” WJPA sports director Bob Gregg said, “but we have baseball on the AM (1450) with the Pittsburgh Pirates. That’s a lot of baseball. It was decided that we should concentrate our summer evenings with music on the FM side. We put a lot of time and resources into developing our music and regular programming, and we felt that it was best to concentrate on that instead of baseball.”

To access the games this season, Wild Things fans will have to visit washingtonwildthings.com and click on a link that will be embedded on the website. According to Chris Blaine, the Wild Things’ director of marketing and communications, broadcasts of all home and away games will have audio and video. The video streaming feature is a first for Wild Things games. Washington opens the season May 13 in Sauget, Ill., against the Gateway Grizzlies.

“We decided that we wanted to be more cutting edge and utilize technology, and be a leader in the league in this area. So there will be live streaming of both home and away games,” Blaine said.

Washington will not be the first Frontier League or independent team to offer video streaming of games. The Southern Illinois Miners have been video streaming their home games for several years. The independent American Association and Can-Am Leagues offer webcasts of selected games.

The loss of WJPA and the move to internet broadcasting leaves uncertain the status of Randy Gore, who has been the voice of the Wild Things since 2005. When WJPA dropped the Wild Things from their programming plans, Gore hoped to remain involved in the team’s broadcasts. Gore owns the PAC Sports Network, which provides webcasts of Presidents’ Athletic Conference games in various sports, and had made an offer to the Wild Things for his company to stream Washington’s 96 regular-season games.

Gore said he had made an offer for webcasting to the Wild Things but the deadline he set for a deal has passed. The Wild Things said the production of the webcasts will be done in-house and they have not yet chosen a broadcaster for the 2016 season.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Roster update

Trevor Foss

Since our last roster update on April 1, the Wild Things have been busy signing players recently released from minor-league spring training camps. Most of those players have been pitchers who likely will play more than casual roles with Washington this summer. You would think that relying heavily on recently released minor leaguers can be a good thing for an independent team, but that's not always the case (more on this in an upcoming blog post).

The players signed by the Wild Things since April 1 include:

* Pitchers Tyler Bolton, Trevor Foss, Zac Grotz, Connor Kendrick and Andrew Woeck. These are players who bounced around the rookie and Class A leagues the last two years. An exception is Kendrick, who was a 9th-round draft pick of the New York Yankees in 2013 out of Auburn and won six games in the high-Class A Florida State League in 2014, then was organizational filler last year, pitching in 14 games in Class A, two in Class AA and one in Class AAA. Grotz has something going for him in that he's an R2, which makes him more valuable when talking roster limitations. The player whose numbers impressed me most is Foss. He had a very good senior year at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and won 13 games in three years in the L.A. Angeles' system.

* Catcher Kyle Pollock. He might have the biggest impact of any player signed this month. The only other catcher on the roster is Eddie Sorondo, who played in just four games with Washington last year after John Fidanza was placed on the disabled list. According to the transactions on the Frontier League website, Fidanza has not yet been re-signed for 2016. This means Pollock, who had a nice career at the University of Evansville and spent two years in the Kansas City Royals' system, has to considered the likely starter.

Meanwhile, pitcher Luke Wilkins, who led Washington with eight wins last year, was placed on the suspended list along with outfielder Ryan Mathews. Players on the suspended list can be activated but they are usually on that list simply to prevent them from signing with another Frontier League team. They rarely play again, which means it's unlikely that Wilkins will make it back to Washington from Australia.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Where are they now?

Stewart Ijames

Three notes about former Wild Things:

* Pitcher Vidal Nuno (2011) made the Seattle Mariners' opening day roster as a relief pitcher. The only former Wild Things player to appear in a major league game, Nuno had a 1-5 record with a 3.74 ERA last year in 35 outings with Seattle and Arizona. He did strike out 81 batters in 89 innings. Nuno has pitched in 71 major league games over three seasons.

* Outfielder Stewart Ijames has been assigned to the Reno Aces, the Class AAA affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks. I believe that when Ijames makes his Reno debut, he will be the first former Wild Things position player to play above Class AA. Ijames batted. 273 with 21 home runs and 56 RBI (talk about hitting a lot of solo homers) between Class A Visalia and Class AA Mobile last year. I find it interesting that Ijames will be the third former Washington player to appear on the Reno roster. Both Nuno and Troy Marks pitched briefly for the Aces last season.

* Former Wild Things manager Darin Everson is the manager of the Hartford Yard Goats, the Colorado Rockies' Class AA affiliate in the Eastern League. Hartford is the relocated New Britain Rock Cats. One of Everson's players last year at New Britain, Trevor Story, hit two home runs in his major league debut last night for Colorado against Arizona.

* UPDATE: Former Wild Things pitcher Chris Smith (2011-12) has been assigned to the New Hampshire Fisher Cats, the Toronto Blue Jays' affiliate in the Eastern League.

UPDATE No. 2: Outfielder Quincy Latimore, the former Pittsburgh Pirates prospect who played for the Wild Things in 2013, is back in the Eastern League and Class AA for the sixth year in a row. Latimore is playing for the Bowie Baysox (Baltimore) for the second consecutive season.

Also, pitcher Michael Hepple, who played briefly for the Wild Things in 2013, is with the Binghampton Mets in the Eastern League. Hepple was very good (3-2, 2.51 2 saves) as in the Class A Florida State League last year and pitched in seven games last fall in the prestigious Arizona Fall League.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Signs you are a true Wild Things fan


Recently, I saw a Facebook post entitled "16 Signs You're a True Wild Things Fan." It came, of course, from the Wild Things, and it contained some uniquely Wild Things items such as "You know what the 5th inning means ... hot and fresh from the oven cookies and milk behind home plate." I don't know if that means the milk is fresh from the oven or not.

There are a lot of things that were left off the list. I thought the readers of this blog could add a few. I'll get it started:

* You remember when they would give away a used car before the Friday night fireworks.

* You hear "There goes another customer for ProTech Auto Glass" in your sleep.

* You figured out that former manager Darin Everson put on the hit-and-run about 95 percent of the time when the count was 2 and 2.

* You hosted a Wild Things player or two ... or four .. as a host family.

* You've been told 15 years in a row that this is the season the Wild Things will win the Frontier League championship ... and you still believe.

* You remember Trinity High School athletic director Ricci Rich as the original Wild Things on-field between-innings MC.

Now, it's your turn. Time to add your "Signs you're a Wild Things fan" ...

Friday, April 1, 2016

Two more added to roster

Davis
The Wild Things added an outfielder and a pitcher Thursday.

Washington signed lefty pitcher and Ohio native Devon Davis, and outfielder Brandon Rawe. Both players were recently released from minor-league spring training camps.

Davis spent two years in the Chicago White Sox organization after being signed as a nondrafted free agent out of the University of Montevallo (Ala.). He had a 5-6 career record with a 4.07 ERA. Davis pitched in 34 games last year with Chicago’s two Class A teams, in Kannapolis and Winston-Salem, and the Class AA affiliate in Birmingham.

Davis is a native of Mason, Ohio.

Rawe
Rawe was Miami’s 34th-round draft pick last spring out of Morehead State, where he holds the school record for hits in a season. Rawe, a former All-Ohio Valley Conference first team selection, batted .218 in his only year of professional baseball, playing for the Marlins’ affiliate in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League and Batavia of the short-season New York-Penn League.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Two infielders signed

Bryan Haar
The Wild Things are trying to replace starters at second base and third base. They recently signed two players with multiple years of professional baseball experience to be candidates to fill those positions.
The Wild Things have signed infielders Bryan Haar and John Ziznewski.

Haar has four years of professional experience and Ziznewski spent two years in the minor leagues.
Haar, a 26-year-old native of San Diego, was the Minnesota Twins’ 34th round draft pick in 2012 out of the University of San Diego, where he was a teammate of Kris Bryant, the National League’s Rookie of the Year last season.

Haar, who can third base and first base, had his career with the Twins reach the high-Class A level. He’s a .264 career hitter. His best season was 2014, when he hit .267 with 14 home runs and drove in 68 runs for Cedar Rapids of the Class A Midwest League.

“Haar’s signing is exactly what we were looking to add,” said Washington manager Gregg Langbehn. “He plays both corner infield spots and his bat should produce for us in the middle of the order.”

John Ziznewski
Ziznewski is a 24-year-old native of Staten Island, N.Y., and played college ball at Long Island, where he led the Northeast Conference in home runs, hits and RBI in his final season. The Chicago White Sox drafted Ziznewski in the eighth round in 2014. In two years in the Chicago system, Ziznewski batted. 261. He played 70 games for Kannapolis of the Class A South Atlantic League last year and saw most of his playing time at second base and third base.

“We are thrilled to be adding Ziznewski to our infield mix,” Langbehn said. “He has the versatility we look for, the ability to play all four infield positions. His bat and experience are positives we wanted to address.”

Washington third baseman Sam Mende has retired and second baseman Matt Ford was placed on the suspended list, leaving those two infield positions vacant. Shortstop Austin Wobrock and first baseman Jimmy Yezzo each have re-signed.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Fan experience in Southern Illinois

Here is a link to a story from The Southern, a newspaper in Carbondale, Ill., that covers the Southern Illinois Miners. It's about how attendance has dropped for the Miners though their on-field product has remained strong, and how the organization plans to improve the fan experience this year at Rent One Park. Some comparisons can be drawn between the Miners and Wild Things, when the latter was their 10th season. Washington, however, hasn't been able to get fans to flock back to Consol Energy Park.

http://thesouthern.com/sports/miners/winkeler-winning-back-miners-fans/article_a1633508-363c-50cb-bbd8-62f5087fc90d.html

Friday, March 25, 2016

Bob Bozzuto & Bill Stewart

Bob Bozzuto
One of the unusual aspects of the Frontier League is the length of its offseason. We're in a sports era in which offseasons, preseasons, regular seasons and postseasons seem to morph into one. The golf season seems to be 12 months long. The NFL postseason runs directly into OTAs, mini-camps, preseason and then the regular season. The NHL runs from September to June. Even high school football is starting earlier this year.

The Frontier League, however, is different because it has only a four-month regular season and an eight-month offseason. That allows one plenty of time to reflect, over-analyze and draw comparisons.

One day this winter, when I had way too much free time (probably the only day I had free time), I was thinking about the one-year-and-one-month run of Bob Bozzuto as manager of the Wild Things. Bozzuto had plenty of plus marks during his time as manager. He kept the team together and focused on baseball during a wacky, to say the least, 2014 season. He had a playoff win, which is something five other Wild Things managers cannot claim.

But it's how Bozzuto became the manager, some of the things that happened during last season and how his stint on the coaching staff ended that had me thinking the comp (that's a word too often used by baseball scouts) for the Bozzuto era is that of, not of another baseball coach, but rather former West Virginia football coach Bill Stewart.

Let me explain with some comparisons:

* Bozzuto became the manager in August of 2014. That was the year Bart Zeller began his his second stint as manager but resigned one game before the all-star break, with the team in first place. It came one night after some sort of altercation in the dugout with pitching coach Kevin Gryboski, during a game against Florence. Washington did not immediately promote somebody to manager. Instead, the Wild Things used a "coach-by-committee" approach with Gryboski, Bozzuto and Bob Didier for two weeks.

When Didier, a former major league player and coach, and a former manager in Triple-A, packed up and left the team in August, apparently unhappy that he wasn't named the manager, it left Bozzuto and Gryboski as the only coaches on the staff. Bozzuto, who had eight years of sweat equity in the team and extensive Frontier League knowledge, was named manager. He was originally hired as the interim manager but in the midst of an interview with this reporter announcing Boz's hiring, owner Stu Williams suddenly changed his mind and told an employee who was writing the news release of Bozzuto's hiring to strip the word "interim" out of the release. As we have come to know, all head coach/managers are interim, and Boz's tenure didn't last long.

Bill Stewart
Stewart was hired as WVU's head coach under similar bizarre circumstances. When Rich Rodriguez fled Morgantown for for the head coaching job at the University of Michigan following the Mountaineers' famous 13-9 loss to Pitt in 2007, Stewart was one of the few WVU assistant coaches Rich Rod didn't take with him to Ann Arbor. Thus, Stewart was named interim coach for WVU's game against Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl. WVU ended up blowing out Oklahoma. Sometime during the late hours of that night, during the postgame celebrating, WVU officials opted to remove the interim tag from Stewart and hire him as the head coach. It proved to be a lesson for all athletic administrators -- do not drink and hire.

* Bozzuto and Stewart, who died in 2012, have much more in common. They were longtime assistant coaches and loyal. The were "players coaches." In other words, the players liked them. They weren't overbearing. They were positive people. They were often the good cop to the head coach/manager's bad cop.

* To some, Bozzuto and Stewart never seemed able to shake that image of an assistant coach.

When Stewart was hired as head coach, Rodriguez's agent said, "They had a wonderful architect and they hired the painter to build the next house." Though Stewart's teams posted three-consecutive 9-4 records, they were considered underachieving and much of the blame was pointed at Stewart, who too often was caught on the sideline by TV cameras while fumbling with his headset or with a puzzled look on his face. It led to many people, even those in the WVU administration, to question Stewart's ability to lead a team. When Oliver Luck was hired in 2010 as WVU's athletic director, he decided it was time to make a coaching change and hired Dana Holgorsen as Stewart's replacement, in one of those "head-coach-in-waiting" deals.

In the Wild Things' first full season under Bozzuto, they went 42-54 last year and finished fifth in the East Division. They were never in serious playoff contention. There were problems from the start as one of the two assistant coaches was dismissed after the season's first road trip. The first one! One person in the front office told me, even before the season had reached the all-star break, that it was apparent Bozzuto was not the person to lead the team into the future.

* Another common part of the Bozzuto and Stewart eras was each did strange things with their rosters. Stewart didn't fill all of his recruiting classes and often had scholarships that were never used. Bozzuto went the other way. He wanted competition for roster spots among players classified as Experienced and for spring training signed far more than the Frontier League allowed during the regular season. The Wild Things tried to stockpile those who did not make the active roster by putting them on the suspended list, injured list or didn't have them on any list but allowed them to work out for several days before deciding what to do with them. During one game early in the season, the opposing manager counted about 35 players in Wild Things uniforms for batting practice. The Frontier League roster limit is 24.

* Bozzuto and Stewart didn't want to leave their job as manager/head coach. Stewart even went so far as to call two reporters and ask them to "dig up dirt" on Holgorsen in hope that the latter would be fired. That led to Stewart's forced resignation a season earlier than planned. The Wild Things announced last fall that Bozzuto was moving into a front office job. That job had not been created at the time. And Bozzuto, no matter what the company line was, didn't want to resign as manager. It wasn't his idea. Make no mistake about it, he was forced to resign.

Like Stewart, Bozzuto didn't seem to have the full support of higher-ups in the organization. Last season, Bozzuto shopped one position player in trade talks "every week," according to one league manager. When they'd have a deal, Wild Things management wouldn't let Boz pull the trigger on the trade, one person with knowledge of the situation said. Word is Bozzuto also wanted to release several players but was told he couldn't do that and was told to keep the players the entire season. Some players were promised certain roles/positions by the front office but Bozzuto wanted to use the player in a different way and couldn't do so. Some players, I've been told, were informed they were released before Bozzuto even had a chance to tell the player of the decision, which put Boz in a odd and uncomfortable situation, one that made his authority seem diminished.

While Bozzuto certainly deserved better, the Wild Things do appear to have done something right. The hiring of Gregg Langbehn has to be considered one of the few positive moves the organization has made in recent seasons. Langbehn is a former manager in the Houston Astros system and spent five years as manager of the Frontier League's Traverse City Beach Bums. He averaged 56 wins per year over the final four seasons with the Beach Bums.

The big question is, will Langbehn have the support of his staff and the powers-that-be within the organization that Bozzuto never seemed to have?

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Zaragoza to Mexico

Ernesto Zaragoza
In the previous post I mentioned that having Ernesto Zaragoza back at an R2 starting pitcher would be a plus for the Wild Things. Well, it looks like Zaragoza might not be in Washington in May.

Less than three weeks after re-signing with the Wild Things, Zaragoza has signed what was termed a "free-agent contract" with Rieleros de Aguascalientes of the Mexican League. The transaction was listed on Milb.com.

Zaragoza had a 6-7 record and 4.19 ERA in 16 starts for the Wild Things last year. Zaragoza pitched in eight games in winter ball for Brisbane in the Australian League.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Time to think baseball


The basketball season, at least in the O-R coverage area, is over for the year and temperatures already have soared into the mid-70s. It's time to start thinking baseball, especially Wild Things and Frontier League baseball.

So, this is the first post of the new season. The best place to start is to examine the Wild Things' roster, who is returning, who is not returning and who remains unsigned.

The biggest change is in the manager's office. Gone is Bob Bozzuto (more on this one in the next blog post) after one season as manager. He has been replaced by Gregg Langbehn. Hiring Langbehn might be the best offseason move the Wild Things have made in several years. He spent five years in the Frontier League as a manager, with the Traverse City Beach Bums, and had a 267-212 record with one division title and one trip to the league championship series. He also coached and managed in the Houston Astros system and spent the last two years as the Cleveland Indians' "replay coordinator." In other words, he was the guy who told Indians manager Terry Francona when to challenge a call made by an umpire.

Mike Marshall, a former major league outfielder, will be the hitting coach. The pitching coach has not been announced.

Here's a breakdown of the roster:

Returning (13)
LHP - Tyler Ferguson - R2
RHP - Matt Fraudin - R2
RHP - Jeremy Holcombe - R2
RHP - Steve Sarcone - R1
*RHP _ Luke Wilkins - R2
RHP - Ernesto Zaragoza - R2
C - Eddie Sorondo - R2
INF - Austin Wobrock - R2
INF - Matt Peters - R2
1B - Jimmy Yezzo - Exp
OF - Andrew Heck - Vet
OF - Cody Herald - R1
OF - David Popkins - Exp
* Placed on 60-day disabled list

Newcomers (9)
LHP _ Pat Dyer - R2
RHP Sam Agnew-Wieland - Exp
RHP - Chase Cunningham - R2
RHP - Tyler Thompson - R1
INF - Justin Fox - R2
1B - Scott Carcaise - Exp
OF - Jamal Austin - Exp
OF - Ricky Rodriguez - R2
OF - Alex Simone - R1

California Winter League (3)
(The Frontier League announced today Washington's acquisition of these three players who were signed out of the recently concluded California Winter League)

LHP - Brian O'Keefe - R1
RHP - Alex Williams - R1
RHP - Tyler Garkow - R1

Option Held (8)
(The Wild Things hold the contract options for the following players who have not yet re-signed)

LHP - Kyle Helisek - Exp
RHP - Ryan Bores - Exp
RHP - Roman Madrid - Exp
RHP - Kolin Stanley - R2
RHP - Tyler Wilson - R1
C - John Fidanza - R2
SS - Ryan Kresky - Exp
OF - Ryan Mathews - Exp

Gone - Released/Traded/Suspended (10)
LHP - Steve Messner
LHP - Scott Silverstein
RHP - Tim Giel
RHP - Jon Klein
RHP - Jonathan Kountis
RHP - Matt Purnell
2B - Matt Ford
OF - C.J. Beatty
OF - Scott Kalamar
OF - Danny Poma

Washington has 25 players signed for 2016 with, by my count, only five Experienced players and the one allowed Veteran. That leaves a lot of room for Experienced players who will be released at the end of minor league spring training. A team can carry 13 Experienced/Veteran players during the regular season. One thing that former manager Bob Bozzuto did well last year was acquire Rookie pitchers for this season.

The most glaring needs at this point are top-of-the-rotation starting pitchers (doesn't every team have this problem?). A 1-2 punch, like Washington had with Ben Ally/Dave Bradley or Aaron Ledbetter/Tom Cochran or more recently with Zac Fuesser/Troy Marks, is needed. Fraudin and Zaragoza would be nice 3 and 4 guys in a rotation. I expect Washington to sign at least three starting pitchers who are let go from minor league spring training.

I also don't see a potential closer among the group of pitchers, so signing relievers with pro experience will be a priority in the coming weeks.

The Wild Things also are missing some impact bats, though Jamal Austin is a good pickup in the outfield. Another outfielder, a 2B or 3B, and another catcher (two if Fidanza doesn't return), are likely to be priorities. The Wild Things' offense last year was dreadful as they finished tied for last in batting average, 13th in runs, 11th in on-base percentage and 2nd in strikeouts. An overhaul of the everyday lineup is a must. New guys can't do any worse, can they?