David's Blog

On this page, I'll share my thoughts, and any articles or information I think are of interest.  Feel free to use the comments section to join in the discussion!


“I have no personality. I just take care of business.' "

 

 

Dan Otero the 'glue' in A's bullpen

Susan Slusser

Friday, June 27, 2014

 

Miami --

Oakland has many versatile players, and many great stories. Dan Otero fits both categories, making the right-handed reliever perhaps the ultimate A's player.

Oakland claimed Otero from the Yankees early last season, and since then, he has become a key figure in the bullpen, second only to closer Sean Doolittle, though even Doolittle refers to Otero as the unit's "glue."

"I can't talk enough about Dan Otero," catcherStephen Vogt said. "He's one of the most valuable relievers in the game. It's amazing what he's doing, at any moment, in any role, and no one outside this clubhouse is aware of it.

"Other teams are like, 'Otero is in the game, who is he?' We know what he's got. We know how valuable he is."

Now, Otero goes to Miami to play professional baseball in his hometown for the first time, and his family, including his beloved 93-year-old grandmother, Dolores, will be there. Dolores, a former math teacher who still can help Otero's brother, Ryan, with difficult equations as he gets his engineering degree at Miami, was the impetus for the Otero family leaving Cuba in 1960 because she didn't like the way the country was heading under Communist rule.

"She's looking forward to talking to Yoenis Céspedes' mom (Estela Milanes) again, because they can talk for innings and innings about Cuba," Otero said. "She still remembers every street, every shop."

Otero, 29, was overlooked by many teams because he didn't throw in the mid-90s. He has more of a low-90s fastball, with an effective sinker, a decent slider and an OK curveball. What the A's saw, though, was a pitcher who didn't walk many hitters and gave up few home runs. He'd also improved his changeup immensely after being sent down by theGiants in 2012, helped by then-Triple-A Fresno pitching coach Pat Rice.

"He was throwing strikes as well as anyone at that level," said A's assistant general manager David Forst, who was the driving force in acquiring Otero. "He commanded the strike zone. (Scout) John McLaren liked the way he went about things. He had no fear, and we were looking for depth, trying to strike lightning. ... He's been everything we hoped for."

Otero is calm, measured and intelligent, a Duke graduate (history) and baseball player in a family consisting largely of champion Princetonian swimmers. His grandfather, Alberto, played baseball in Cuba, though, and Otero's father, Jorge, grew up obsessed with the sport. Otero credits Jorge with making him throw strikes - when Otero was in Little League, his dad told him to throw nine-pitch innings because if he threw too many pitches, he wouldn't let him stay in the game.

Now, Otero does it all. He leads all major-league relievers with six wins, and through Wednesday, he was tied for first with the Mets' Carlos Torres in relief innings pitched, 46 2/3 ; his teammates say he has the proverbial rubber arm. Otero even earned his first career save this month.

Vogt would like to see more emotion out of Otero; the catcher keeps telling him he'd like to see a fist pump after big outs or at the end of an inning. "He won't, though," Vogt said, "so I'm doing it for him."

Otero's longtime friend Mike Cassel, a Fort Lauderdale, Fla., attorney who has known Otero since high school, said he, too, has tried to get Otero to be more demonstrative.

"He is just so chill," Cassel said. "I've been trying to get him to develop some kind of gimmick; look at all the commercials Brian Wilson gets with that beard. Dan says, 'No, my gimmick is I have no personality. I just take care of business.' "

Even as a big-time athlete in high school - Otero was a terrific hitter, could throw a tight spiral and he's a scratch golfer who Cassel says can shoot par using only a 7-iron - Otero was unassuming.

"All of Dan's friends would tell him he'd be a professional baseball player some day, and he's so humble, he'd say, 'Hah, I don't think I will ever make it,' " Cassel said. "Now we're like, 'You're so awesome. We told you!' "

Cassel expects 100 or more friends and family members will support Otero during the three games against the Marlins. Cassel even had T-shirts made up with a cartoon of Otero and "Yo Quiero" on the front and "Otero" on the back.

The Otero fans need to stay in their seats the entire game; they could see their favorite pitcher in just about any situation. Otero is the everything bagel of the bullpen, and unlike most relievers, he's more than fine with a nebulous job description.

"I love it, I absolutely love it," he said. "Every time the phone rings, I think it's for me. I truly, honestly do, from the first inning, second inning on. My heart races every time. You know you can never get comfortable."

"He's the kind of guy every bullpen needs to make it work," Forst said. "He's the whole package with his ability to succeed in any role."

http://www.sfgate.com/athletics/article/Dan-Otero-the-glue-in-A-s-bullpen-5583179.php

 

“The story is different when it's your living room, and your boy, and your heart too.”

 

Matt Shoemaker goes from overlooked, undrafted to Angels starting pitcher

 

 

By Tim Brown June 25, 2014 Yahoo Sports

ANAHEIM, Calif. – Matt Shoemaker, 21 years old, college graduate, right-handed pitcher, closed his laptop computer and looked up at his father.

"But I don't understand," he said.

David Shoemaker thought back over the scouts, the handshakes and the phone calls. The assurances. The father and his only son had watched the computer, followed two days of a draft that called 60 teams worth of players not so different from Matt Shoemaker, RHP, Eastern Michigan University. Fifteen-hundred-and-four of them to be precise. David Shoemaker did not understand either, beyond how the finality of No. 1,504 played in a living room in Trenton, Mich., and then in his inability to fix it.

"I'm very sorry," he said.

It happens, the story of the overlooked and undrafted player, of the one in a thousand who wouldn't be talked out of trying, of the one in who-knows-how-many who fooled them all and became something more, maybe something way more. The story is different when it's your living room, and your boy, and your heart too.

When the story starts there and then barely five years later that boy is walking your way in a tunnel beneath Angel Stadium, where he's just thrown five shutout innings for the home team, well, he'd look like such a grown man now.

"You know," Matt said, "everybody has some type of journey like that, whatever it is, whether it's baseball or life. And my dad wanted the best for what I wanted to do."

From maybe a hundred feet away, still that much ground to cover, they smiled at each other and began to cry. That day in the living room wasn't so long ago then, and neither were the backyard games of catch (David being a pretty fair ballplayer in high school himself), or the twice-weekly pitching lessons with the local pro, or the summer vacations chewed up by travel ball, or the split-fingered fastball they'

Forgotten and undrafted, he'd gone off and signed with the Angels for $10,000, which wasn't bad considering, and left his last year of college eligibility and the early work on a graduate degree for some other day.

 

He'd not gone bitter. He'd not shown up to prove the world wrong, to throw muscled fastballs past an unfair system. Matt Shoemaker went to pitch, to learn, to begin the journey alongside the unforgotten, however long the odds.

On a mid-September night those five years later, getting late, he had called home. His father, half-asleep, picked up.

"Dad," Matt said, "we made it."

"Made what?"

"The big leagues. We're going to the big leagues."

He'd said "we." And then there he is in a big-league uniform on a big-league mound pitching to other big leaguers, and getting them out, and then walking down a dark hallway wiping his eyes because you can believe all you want for as long as you can, it's different when it's real.

"I didn't know if that was going to be the only time he ever stepped on that field," David said. "I savored the moment in case we didn't have it again."

Matt Shoemaker is older than most rookies, at 27. He has a good fastball, not great. In his dark, groomed beard, old-soul eyes and quiet temperament, he projects more English professor than starting pitcher. Once, back in '08, nobody thought enough of him to risk a draft pick. He'd put one foot in front of the other for long enough, believed long enough, listened well enough, worked hard enough, however, to take his shot at this. He'd been given the ball once last September, and now 12 more times – seven of them starts – this season.

So, on Sunday morning at Beacon Baptist Church in Taylor, Mich., a pastor announced to his congregation, "In case you didn't know, one of our own will be on ESPN tonight."

David grinned and thought, "Oh please, let him do OK."

He pitched into the eighth inning and beat the Texas Rangers. On the tail end of the Angels' rotation, he was 5-1 with a 3.42 ERA over 50 innings maybe few saw coming, but plenty saw that night. In a season in which high-end starters across the league are stricken with bad elbows and shoulders, in which rotations everywhere are running thin, 50 taut innings amount to something. He's been good. He's won ballgames. He's used four pitches – fastball, slider, split-change and a curveball he developed a couple years back when a cutter proved unreliable – and entrusted them all with the strike zone.

Jake Boss Jr., coach at Eastern Michigan before leaving for Michigan State, recruited Matt out of high school and four years later found himself making phone calls, reminding big-league teams they'd missed one in the draft. He watched Matt pitch through the Rangers' lineup a few times Sunday night, watched him win another ballgame, recognized the arm action and attitude and marveled at the distance he'd traveled.

"When he signed with the Angels I don't know if you could have predicted he'd be in the big leagues," Boss said. "I'd love to tell you, ‘I told you so,' but I can't do that. It's an awesome story. It really is."

There are others, plenty of others, whose paths weren't so direct either, whose draft days went without streamers and toasts and television trucks at the curb, whose careers looked over before they'd begun. Some get there anyway, and they don't hit a ball farther than everyone else, and they don't throw a ball harder. They trust. They have to. They lean on their families. They have someone like David, a mom like Karen, a wife like Danielle, even a bulldog named Samson. And they believe too, because the alternative ignores the fight, and the possibilities in the fight, and the ballplayer amid the possibilities.

Six years ago, he might have gone back to school, or become a teacher, just forgotten it all. Hardly anyone would have noticed. Instead, on Tuesday afternoon he sat in a dugout in Anaheim, the story – his story – both behind him and still out there somewhere.

"I thank God every day," Matt said. "It's still a dream. Being here, it's a dream. It's surreal and I'm trying to hold onto it."

The night of his debut last September, the night Matt walked the corridor toward his family, the son and the father knew nothing was promised after that. But they'd both been there before.

So they let the joy run down their faces, and finally they hugged, and knew again not so much had changed in the years that had passed. That, they understood.

"I'm so proud of you," David whispered. "So proud."

http://sports.yahoo.com/news/matt-shoemaker-goes-from-overlooked--undrafted-to-angels-starting-pitcher-160211401.html

 

"Come get your feet wet."

 

Short-season leagues offer first taste of pro ball

Setting also provides clubs with initial look at players' ability to adapt to new conditions

By Jonathan Mayo / MLB.com

They are the lowest levels of professional baseball. But the short-season leagues, which have started in the past week or are getting going today, are an extremely important part of the player development process.

If there was going to be a motto for these leagues, which run from now until the end of August, it might be, "Come get your feet wet." Whether it's the more advanced New York-Penn and Northwest Leagues, rookie levels like the Pioneer and Appalachian Leagues, or even the lowest rung that is the Gulf Coast and Arizona Leagues, this is where players often get their first tastes of professional ball.

Some -- especially the younger high school draftees or international signees -- spend multiple summers, moving one step at a time. Others, often advanced college players, use a short-season stop as a quick springboard to the higher levels. Case in point: This year's No. 4 overall Draft pick, Kyle Schwarber. The Cubs' top selection signed quickly and was able to start with Boise in the Northwest League. After five games that featured four homers, 10 RBIs and a .600 average, the Cubs had seen enough and moved the University of Indiana product up to the full-season Midwest League.

2014 DRAFT SELECTIONS IN SHORT-SEASON LEAGUES

*-Promoted to Midwest League

Pick

Club

Player

Team

League

4

Cubs

Kyle Schwarber*

Boise

Northwest

5

Twins

Nick Gordon

Elizabethton

Appalachian

8

Rockies

Kyle Freeland

Grand Junction

Pioneer

12

Brewers

Kodi Medeiros

Brewers

Arizona

13

Padres

Trea Turner

Eugene

Northwest

20

Rays

Casey Gillaspie

Hudson Valley

NY-Penn

21

Indians

Bradley Zimmer

Mahoning Valley

NY-Penn

24

Pirates

Cole Tucker

Pirates

Gulf Coast

28

Royals

Foster Griffin

Burlington

Appalachian

"I want to get the baseline, see what it takes to be a professional," Schwarber said shortly before his promotion. "I need to work on a lot of things offensively and defensively. There's always room for improvement. I'm happy to have the opportunity with the Cubs and work with great coaches and players."

Hot start aside, Schwarber seemed to understand right away what the short-season experience is all about. Producing is always nice, but it's really more about getting that first sense of making a living on the field.

"It's that first transition from playing baseball to 'This is your career, what does that mean?'" Pirates assistant general manager Kyle Stark said. "There are the newly drafted guys, new to the system, in their first taste of pro baseball. The second group of players are guys already in the system, and it's their first time getting a taste of competition either in the United States or under the lights. It's a transitional thing for both into thinking, 'Hey, this is going to be my career.'"

"Under the lights" has several meanings. There's the literal one, of course. If a player spent a summer or more playing in the GCL or AZL, the complex leagues, they only competed in afternoon games. Dominican Summer League games are played in the morning. So heading to Boise in the Northwest League or Hudson Valley in the New York-Penn League is actually the first time those players will get the chance to play night baseball.

The phrase has a deeper meaning, though. It also implies a greater sense of pressure and expectations. In the complex leagues, players live in dorms at Spring Training facilities and play all their games at those facilities, without any fans present. A move to short-season for those players is a big step in terms of independence and freedom. The same holds true for a player going from high school or college to one of these circuits.

"There's the adjustment to night baseball, the adjustment to fans, the adjustment to different stadiums, the adjustment to no longer being babysat at the dorms," Stark said. "How do they deal with that freedom, balance those things needed to be a professional? That first jump, we tell our guys, 'We trust you. We'll see what you can do.'"

As much as it's a first taste for the players, that's a two-way street. Getting players signed and out to one of these leagues is the first time the organization gets to see what their newest acquisitions can do in such a setting. That usually means just letting them go out and play, worrying about things like long-term defensive position later. Schwarber, for example, saw time behind the plate and in the outfield with Boise, and the Pirates were having comp-round pick Connor Joe play the outfield in the New York-Penn League, with plans to get him work behind the plate later on at instructionals.

"We don't touch the hitter until they come to us," said Cardinals Minor League field coordinator Mark DeJohn, who has managed several years at the short-season level. "That first year, we try to let them play. If he's struggling and he says I need some help, then we'll try to help him. We try to do the same with pitching.

"Let's see what the scouts saw in you and then we'll go from there. Let them play, introduce them to the organization, make them feel as comfortable as possible so they can perform at a high level."

Doing that in the New York-Penn or Northwest Leagues doesn't guarantee long-term success. The converse is also true. DeJohn managed the 2006 State College Spikes, a team where a young Allen Craig made his pro debut and hit .257/.325/.400. But it laid a foundation for Craig in terms of learning what it took to be a professional. Other transitions aside, that is often the toughest hurdle to clear: understanding the preparation needed to compete on a daily basis. A college player, DeJohn points out, will have played about 65 or so games during the past amateur season. Then he hits pro ball and gets to play approximately 75 more, but without the breaks that come in the college schedule.

"It's the grind part," Schwarber said. "That's been the biggest adjustment. I wanted to sign early, the Cubs wanted me to sign early, to get out there to see what it was going to be like as my career progresses. It's a big thing playing at this level, taking care of your body. It takes a toll. You have to be ready for that daily grind."

http://mlb.mlb.com/news/article/cin/short-season-leagues-offer-prospects-first-taste-of-pro-ball?ymd=20140620&content_id=80647764&vkey=news_mlb

 

"A lot of times when I go into slumps, which are inevitable, I feel very uncomfortable in the box," 

 

Howard Megdal

ANATOMY OF A SLUMP

ANATOMY OF A SLUMP

June 26, 2014

NEW YORK -- David Wright, who recently snapped the longest slump of his career, didn't feel like he was in a slump, if you only evaluated his process. "A lot of times when I go into slumps, which are inevitable, I feel very uncomfortable in the box," Wright told me in the Mets clubhouse, prior to Wednesday night's game against the Athletics. "I don't see the ball very well, I swing at a lot of pitches outside the zone. Therefore I strike out a lot.

"You know, this last time, it wasn't like that," he continued. "I felt comfortable. I wasn't getting the results that I wanted. I was having some decent at-bats, without results, so maybe I started tinkering with some things I shouldn't have, instead of just riding it out for, you know, two series, seven or eight days, just riding it out. But I think maybe by tweaking some things, changed some things I shouldn't have changed, I might have prolonged it, maybe dug myself a deeper hole."

Wright hadn't been hitting with his customary power for the Mets, but he still posted a .304/.349/.415 line through May 28. Then, from May 29 to June 16, Wright hit .130/.256/.159. The guy who started the year with a career .888 OPS saw his 2014 mark drop to .678.

His peripheral numbers back up the assertion that his process wasn't broken. Even through that awful 18-game skid, Wright still walked 11 times and struck out only 16 times in 82 plate appearances, in line with his career rates in both areas. "Right, that was one of the things I checked for," Wright said. "We have a lot of numbers guys here, so I'll check for: Am I chasing pitches outside the zone? What am I doing? And my chase rate was about normal for what it's been throughout my career. So that gave me comfort, at least, knowing I'm not getting myself out."

Still, expecting Wright to sit still in the face of poor results is probably silly. He may not be quite the same person he was in the minor leagues, when the Mets noticed he was hitting far better on the road than at home, eventually determining that Wright was tiring himself out with extra batting practice in his home park. But he's just not the patient sort, and it's fair to assume that at age 31, he never will be. It's worked out pretty well for him so far. Through age 31, Wright has the seventh-best OPS+ of any third baseman, ever (minimum 1,000 games). Of the six ahead of him, five are Hall of Famers: Eddie Mathews, Wade Boggs, Mike Schmidt, Home Run Baker and George Brett. The sixth, Chipper Jones, should join them in Cooperstown soon.

"Well, I know one thing. I know he's been in slumps throughout his career, everybody does," Mets manager Terry Collins said prior to Wednesday's game. "But he went after this one pretty hard. About three weeks ago he started. He was here early, he was in the video room constantly, comparing swings from the past to now, working in the cage, trying to get it worked out."

Wright seemed to question his own hyperactive approach to troubleshooting, and Collins endorsed it. Veteran Mets outfielder Bobby Abreu came down somewhere in the middle. "He's a hard worker," Abreu said, sitting in front of his locker. "He knows how to make adjustments. He's hit for his entire career. So it's going to be about getting back to his normal approach. He'd been making good contact, so it was just a question of, sometime soon, the balls are going to be getting down. And in St. Louis, he became the same guy we all know."

Abreu said something else that other major league hitters point out as well. There's a moment that comes before the point when the balls start falling in (or flying out of the park) when you know, as a hitter, that you've latched onto something. "You see it when things start to happen," Abreu said. "For some reason, it happens sometimes when there are runners in scoring position, and everything starts to turn around your way … You've just been working on the field, trying to do everything right. And it's just like a little click, that turns around everything." Abreu smiled as he said it.

Still, both Wright and Abreu, with 4,107 career hits between them, acknowledged that actually getting the results on the field is what makes you feel truly unburdened. "You can tell yourself all you want that the process itself is what's important," Wright said. "But if you don't get the results … this game is based around results. So I think that's the thing that gives you the confidence."

Abreu echoed this. "This is a different emotion, because everything is starting to go your way, the way you want it to be," Abreu said. "You just enjoy every single part. Every single part, you just enjoy, you just be a part of all the good things that happen to you."

For the manager, that click isn't audible. He needs to see the results to know the slump is over. "I think it just started to pay off in St. Louis," Collins said of Wright, "when he hit those balls, his bat stayed in the zone longer, hit more balls on the barrel."

For his part, Wright appreciated that Collins gave him the space to figure things out on his own. "I think sometimes, it works against you, too, if people start talking to you about this and that," Wright said. "Because, you know, you never get called into the manager's office when you're going well. You never get called to the manager's office to have him say, 'You know, you're swinging the bat really well.' So when you get called to the manager's office, it's usually something not so good. So I think Terry does a good job of giving you your distance."

Collins probably had an easier time making that call with Wright, of course, since he's hardly in need of motivation. "I think it all came from that he worked extra hard to get to that point," Collins said. "'Cause it's not easy. It's not easy. And when you're that good, you get in a slump, you're bound and determined to get out of it. And the great ones? They get out of it. They figure out a way. And he figured out a way."

Still, Wright smiled and shook his head sadly, when asked if he'd learned anything from this slump and how it ended, when it came to avoiding the next one, or even if he could help himself when it came to pushing back against the on-field results. "No. I mean, I always tell myself to just stay the course, just go with the ride," Wright said. "It's a roller coaster ride, the whole season's not going to go the way you want it to. And you always tell yourself that. But when you get in the midst of it, you want to do something proactive to get yourself out of it."

http://www.sportsonearth.com/article/81659848/new-york-mets-david-wright-working-through-slumps#!4hX4l

 

“At first I was real skeptical. I’m not skeptical any more,”

 

Niklas Stephenson Finds 10 MPH, Becomes A Prospect

June 26, 2014 by J.J. Cooper



BURLINGTON, N.C.—When the Royals first approached Niklas Stephenson about trying weighted ball workouts last fall, he was a little hesitant.

But he didn’t have a whole lot to lose. The righthander was barely hanging on to a spot in pro ball. He had gone undrafted out of Sunset High in Encitas, Calif., before signing with the Royals as a nondrafted free agent in July 2012.

He’d posted a 7.47 ERA in two summers with the Royals’ Rookie-ball teams as a reliever. Lefthanders had hit an even .500 (20-for-40) against him.

With an 83-86 mph fastball, not much of a curveball and even less of a changeup, it would have been fair to wonder what a scout ever saw in Stephenson. It was even more remarkable that the Royals were asking him to come back for a third pro season.

So weighted ball workouts? Why not.

“At first I was real skeptical. I’m not skeptical any more,” Stephenson said.

Throwing a heavier-than-normal ball helped Steve Delabar go from the independent leagues to the Mariners’ and then the Blue Jays’ bullpen. It’s now taken Stephenson from afterthought to legitimate prospect.

In the first outing Stephenson threw in spring training for the Royals this year, he was throwing 93 mph. It was a massive jump for a pitcher who says he may have touched 90 mph once or twice in high school.

“It felt a whole lot better coming out of my hand, but it didn’t hit me until I looked at the chart at the end of my outing,” Stephenson said.

He’s throwing even harder now. In his first start at home this year on Wednesday night, Stephenson sat at 94-95 mph in the first inning then settled in to sit at 92-94 mph in innings two through five.

“The delivery has gotten better. He’s gotten stronger. He worked really hard in the offseason,” Burlington pitching coach Carlos Martinez said. “He’s jumped close to 10 mph. He’s come a long way. We signed him as a project and it’s paid off.”

He’s still got a long ways to go. His improved arm speed has sharpened his curveball, but he still throws too many loopy ones. His changeup is too firm, although thanks to his fastball velocity it does generate some groundballs. But it’s a lot easier to get hitters out when they have to gear up for 94 then when they are sitting on 84.

Stephenson allowed three hits and no walks while striking out two in five scoreless innings on Wednesday. Martinez said that Stephenson was even better in his first outing of the season. Stephenson touched 97 mph in that outing, striking out seven while walking one in 5 1/3 innings. In 10 innings, Stephenson has a 0.87 ERA.

Stephenson said he knows he needs to improve a lot to get from where he is now if he’s going to get to the big leagues. But a year ago, it seemed like an impossible dream. Now it’s possible.

http://www.baseballamerica.com/minors/niklas-stephenson-finds-10-mph-becomes-prospect/