Baseball is peaks and valleys. So is life. How’s that for a cliché dump? It’s true. Ups and downs. Thing is, most baseball fans only see the slight undulations, the smaller blips in an otherwise fairly consistent set of results. That’s what you see at the major league level. Generally by the time a fella has managed to paddle the foaming rapids that make up the minor league experience, he is what he is. At the big league level it’s a series of slight adjustments to counteract other slight adjustments made against you. But in the minor leagues, you see the valleys. You see the peaks, but you see the valleys. I’m not ready to say for sure that Cody Buckel is in a valley, but suffice to say, he’s not having any fun. We’ve been a little spoiled around these parts with a few rather precocious talents popping onto the scene and fearlessly adjusting, on the fly, to levels that are typically beyond their years. These wunderkinds are the exception, not the rule. Cody has now started two games following a Spring Training in which he was invited to play with the big league club before struggling badly with his command and being shuffled back over to his teammates on the minor league side. I’ll just give you the stats for his first two starts of 2013: 4.1ip | 5h | 9er | 11bb | 5k | 1hr | 18.69 ERA. Even if you are not statistically obsessed, (and with prospects, you shouldn’t be), it looked uglier than the line tonight. The strikes were few and far between and the pitches out of the zone were often really out of the zone. According to Scott Lucas, of Buckel’s 50 pitches, 38 were taken, of those 29 were balls. Cody walked or hit 7 of the 11 batters he faced and left with the bases loaded and 2 outs in the 2nd inning. Now, for the good news. Cody is 20 years old and to our current knowledge, he isn’t injured. He didn’t just forget how to pitch. Yes, he’s missing badly, yes, his body language sucked tonight as he grew exceedingly frustrated, and yes, he has a TON of work to do. Something is wrong and no one knows that more than Cody, and Steve Buechele, and Frisco pitching coach Jeff Andrews, and roving pitching instructor Danny Clark (who was in the dugout tonight) and Director of Minor League Operations Jake Krug and Pro Scouting Director Josh Boyd and Player Development and International Scouting Assistant Paul Kruger who were all in the house tonight as well---phew! The point is, they all know and they’re all going to work their tails off to fix it. Cody knows more so than everyone. He’s a cerebral pitcher and he’s ridiculously young and ridiculously talented. So as a conduit between some of the minor league minutiae that we all love and the realities of the game, it’s in my best interest if I remind everyone (especially myself) to just calm down. He’ll be fine. This is just how these things work. It’s just peaks and valleys man, peaks and valleys.
Before I get to some of the other notes from Frisco’s home opener, here’s some vijeeeo of Cody warming up.
Cody Buckel 4.11.13 (via Tepid Participation)
Paid attendance was 9,267 (there weren’t that many people present, but who cares) It was pretty cold, but the Mandalay mouth that roars opened the season with aplomb. It’s simply a helluva good time out there. I’m not just saying that because they are nice to me and put up with my eccentricities and my endless demands to have the green m&m’s removed from the sample bowl in the press box, but rather because it’s the truth. The park looked fantastic today, it’s eleventh opening day. New food items, which are a bit cheaper than last year, and considerably cheaper than the 3-tiered stadium where the older guys play, seemed to be going over well. It's a horse I've beaten into submission, but I can't recommend this experience enough. Go. Stop thinking about it, and just go. Buy tickets online or just walk your happy tail up to the gate. If you don't have a good time you either took a foul ball to the face or you are a terrible, incorrigible person who is destined to be a real pain in the ass when you get old. So there.
I watched Kaleb Cowart and CJ Cron (the Angels' #1 and #3 prospects respectively according to Baseball America) take BP and infield. They are impressive. Cowart's lefty swing is nearly identical to the righty version and they both have a nice downward motion and good bat speed. Cowart's very balanced and looks ready to hit at all times. I've now seen both of the Cron brothers this season (CJ's "little" brother is TCU's 6'5" 260lb first baseman) and the contact from CJ's bat is loud. It was only a single BP session, but the ball jumps. It jumps because he is freakin' huge and strong. I don't know what ANA will do with a giant slugger positionally limited to 1B, but maybe they can give him a 10yr $250million contract.
I walked down to the field level to watch Ben Rowen pitch two scoreless innings in which he allowed 1 hit, 1 walk, and struck out Cron swingin'. It's so weird, it's gonna take me a moment to process it. I'm diving into his Pitch F/X and his fastball has considerably more vertical movement than his curveball. Told you it was weird.
Other things I noticed:
-when a bushel of young kids began rehearsing their sparkling rendition of The National Anthem, the live mikes just a few feet from the back of the cage were picking up the sound of the Travelers' bats during BP. The loud, amplified sound of the crack was ungodly cool.
-The Travs warm up in a navy blue pullover T-shirt with an overlapping "LR" on the front. After watching and admiring Kaleb Cowart's BP and noticing his clean buzz cut and fierce stubble that indicates a big boy's ability to grow a serious beard, I was just about to hug him before he did something that would have instantly turned 2/3 of you off. He trotted into the dugout because he was chilly and wanted to keep pliable the muscles he'd just warmed, there he located and yanked on a bright red pullover with that silly, haloed capital "A" on the front. It was a reminder.
-Buckel still does that remarkable long-toss routine before the game. I don't know exactly how far it is, but at its maximum breadth, he is standing on the warning track in dead right field (directly in front of the swimming pool) and heaving it in the air to his partner a few feet in front of the left field foul pole. It's kinda insane, but very casual and done at a very leisurely pace. You'll just have to see it.
-I had a nice conversation with a scout about some of Frisco's departed 2012-ers. Positive on Olt, very positive on Engel Beltre. The funny part was the description of Julio Borbon. This scout has covered the Rangers for a number of years and said (about Julio) "he just doesn't play hard. He jumps around the dugout and stuff, but he doesn't play hard. He'll get a chance somewhere, but it won't be with us."
-Randy Henry showed a little sumpin' sumpin'. Most notably he showed composure mopping up after Buckel and even more notably, he showed a really nice cutter that got him 6Ks in 3.1 scoreless innings.
This recap was/is too long. But what the hell do you want from me, do you know how long I've been waiting to get back to the park? Super fun. I'll see you out there.