I had the opportunity to chat on the phone with Boise Hawks manager Gary Van Tol from the Under Armour Performance Center at Riverview Park in Mesa.
The skipper talked about the Cubs new digs in the desert, about the success of former Hawks up the ladder, and gave some insight as to how Extended Spring Training is going and dropped a couple names that might make the trip North.
Any new hotels? Any new restaurants? Any new affiliates? Any good promotions during the summer?
The little things for a broadcaster on the road that gets the juices flowing during a long summer.
The one thing about the Northwest League, however, is it is one of the rare circuits in the minor leagues where things remain status quo more often than not. All seven road hotels will remain the same. all seven road affiliates are the same (haven’t been a change in the league since Toronto came to Vancouver in 2011), and all seven other broadcasters are also back. That makes it easy to know what ammenities you need for a trip and what options are close.
One of the things I enjoy is finding a go-to restaurant for a trip – especially one that I can get a good lunch and have left-overs for a postgame snack and also work well with the per diem. Though I haven’t found any new restaurant openings near the seven hotels, I’ll definitely be scouting the lay of the land to see if any can replace –
Eugene (The Jail – enormous portions of teriyaki chicken); Everett (Buzz Inn – great comfort food); Hillsboro (McMenamins Roadhouse – Chipotle – love their bowls), Salem (Lucky Fortune – huge Chinese portions), Spokane (Panda Express), Tri-City (Panda Express), Vancouver (Dollarama/Fruiticana – Dollar Store to Stock the Room/Fresh Vegetables).
On to the promotions – excited for some of these:
June 19 in Eugene – Rodeo Night (should I bring my cowboy hat); June 23 in Spokane (Smokey the Bear Night – “Only you can prevent forest fires”); June 29 in Tri-City (Sunglasses Giveaway); July 3 in Tri-City (3rd of July fireworks); July 11 in Eugene (Duck Dynasty’s Mountain Man will be there – my son loves Duck Dynasty); July 12 in Eugene (Soccer Scarf Giveaway – actually something I don’t have); July 24 in Everett (Seahawks hat giveaway); July 26 in Everett (Turn Back the Clock Night); July 27 in Hillsboro (D-Baxter Appearance – Arizona Diamondbacks mascot appearance); August 15 in Hillsboro (Food Truck Rally – food trucks at the yard); August 19 in Vancouver (Shawn Green appearance); August 20 in Vancouver (Socks Giveaway – first-time I’ve seen this one).
There will also be post-game fireworks in Salem-Keizer, Tri-City, Spokane, Everett, and Vancouver.
1. You doing the Hawks again (which is funny, when you’ve been calling games since 2003)…
2. When’s the Hawks season start (June 13)
3. Who is on this year’s Hawks team? (These questions start in January)
As you can see, I can answer the first two questions, but that third one is always something that I am seeking out up until the front office receives the email (used to be a fax) from the Cubs with the initial roster – somewhere during the second week of June.
With the MLB First Year Players Draft set again just one week before the short-season clubs begin play, expect initially, a roster of 24-26 players, made up of either repeat Boise players, or young prospects making their first-ever trip to an affiliated club – last year, there were a total of zero 2014 draft picks on the initial.
The biggest question, to me, is which of the former players will survive Extended Spring Training. One of the toughest things I watch all season (and off season) is the Baseball America minor league waiver wire – to see which players are traded and/or released. With six players currently in Mesa that have been to Boise before, some already with two years of MILB experience, the thought to me is that they will either be the veteran guys to start the year with the Hawks, or will be released.
TheCubReporter.com writer Arizona Phil provides the only in-depth coverage of Extended Spring Training on the web – and gives a great assist into who is progressing/regressing in Mesa – and confirmed a lot of the speculation that I had.
On the mound, look for Trevor Graham, Tyler Ihrig, Trevor Clifton to break with the club to the Northwest League – all have been solid all Spring (and all are candidates to jump to Kane County, as Josh Davis, Zak Hermans, and Michael Wagner have, however Davis has been returned to Extended and may be a candidate to head to Boise). All are 2013 draft picks (Graham in the 12th Round, Clifton in the 13th, Ihrig in the 23rd) and pitched in the AZL. A 2013 Top-10 pick, David Garner, of Michigan State may be a candidate as well as former Hawks Scott Frazier (pictured right), Corbin Hoffner, Trey Lang, and Jasvir Rakkar. A bevy of players from Latin America are also in the mix, including Carlos Llano (DSL-Cubs closer last season, 6-1 2.95 6 SV), Francisco Carillo (8-3 2.09 ERA in VSL), and lefty Alberto Diaz (3-0 2.18 ERA in VSL). A lot can change down in Mesa (call-ups, injuries, being released) in the final three weeks of Extended.
On paper, it looks as if Justin Marra (pictured left) will make a third tour of Boise, as he is the most experienced catcher currently in Mesa – though Ben Carhart (a player who is converting to catcher in Kane County) could move down to get more reps. Prospect Mark Malave, another player who the Cubs have moved around (has caught and played corner infield spots) would be in the mix, with the wild card being 2013 draft pick Tyler Alamo (similar build to 2013 Hawk Cael Brockmeyer) – though most feel Alamo will being in the AZL (but could be a mid-season call-up – similar to Dan Vogelbach).
It’s a safe bet that there will be returners on the infield, including Jesse Hodges – who never actually got an opportunity to see Boise. The third-baseman had two tours of duty with the Hawks – both series’ in Vancouver, just across the water from his home in Victoria, B.C. Another former Hawk, Rony Rodriguez (pictured right), has been playing a lot of first base in EST, joined by Roney Alcala, who won the 2013 Venezuela Summer League batting title. 2013 draft pick Zak Blair has been playing second base all spring and would figure to be the Hawks everyday second baseman to start, while shortstop could be interesting.
From reports in Mesa, Gleyber Torres is the top shortstop of the group in EST, but he is just 17 – which was the same age Jurickson Profar was when he played in Spokane – but I don’t see the Cubs pushing the talent. I could see Giuseppe Papaccio, who has been the roving utility middle-infielder this spring (time in both Daytona and Tennessee) bridging the gap until a 2014 college draft pick arrives – as I don’t see any infielders up the ladder (KC/DAY) returning to repeat Boise.
I really like the possible look of the Hawks outfield and could be one of the better defensive groups in a while. Two returners – Jeffrey Baez and Kevin Brown should make the trip North, along with Top-10 draft pick Charcer Burks. All can swing the bat, provide gap power, and run – which are all things needed early in the NWL season. A name that I’ve been intrigued with is Shamil Ubiera, a young player from the Dominican Republic, who put up huge numbers the past two summers in the DSL (.297 4 HR 41, 24 2B in 2012; .301 4 HR 56 RBI, 18 2B in 2013) and will be an asset either in Mesa or Boise.
I will chat soon with skipper Gary Van Tol, so look for that interview and plenty of pre-MLB draft coverage in the next three weeks.
Leading the group is 2013 alum, Kris Bryant, who is leading the Southern League with eight home runs for the Tennessee Smokies, with ’12 alum Stephen Bruno having a big start to May with Tennesse, as his batting average has climbed to .302 with a Southern League leading 11 doubles
At High-A, ’07 alum Marquez Smith is having a banner start for the Bakersfield Blaze of the Cal League, hitting .313 with six homers and a league-leading 35 RBI. ’12 Hawk Bijan Rademacher is hitting a team-high .366 with three homers and 13 RBI in Daytona, with ’13 Hawk Zack Godley getting a promotion to Daytona after going 1-1 with a 1.80 ERA and seven saves at Kane County.
Speaking of Kane County, ’13 alum Jordan Hankins is off to a quality start, hitting .290 with 11 RBI, with another ’13 product, Yasiel Balaguert, hitting .293 with a team-high 21 RBI.
And seven players are in the independent Atlantic League – including Ty Wright, Lou Montanez, and Matt Iannazzo.
A total of 19 former Boise Hawks players are currently playing in the Major League, while a record number of 34 players are currently at the Triple-A level through games played on Sunday night.
At the big league level – two of the oldest former Hawks are having an amazing start to 2014. John Lackey is 4-2 with a 3.72 ERA for the Red Sox, while Francisco Rodriguez has returned to K-Rod fame, having converted 14-of-14 save chances for the resurgent Brewers. Josh Donaldson has rebounded from a 1-for-19 start, hitting .277 with seven homers and 23 RBI.
At AAA – Justin Bour is off to a hot-hot start with New Orleans, hitting .330 with four homers and 22 RBI, with his former teammate Arismendy Alcantara pushing for a call-up to Chicago by hitting .275 with two homers, eight doubles, four triples and 15 RBI at Iowa.