Results tagged ‘ Chicago Cubs ’

“My goal is to get that float down Michigan Avenue”- Oneri Fleita

It’s not everyday that you get an opportunity to talk to the Vice President of Player Personnel for the Chicago Cubs. Oneri Fleita is guy who controls the future of over 150 minor league baseball players yet when you talk to him, he is one of the more down to earth guys you will ever meet.

While Fleita was in Boise, I had a chance to sit down with him and have a one-on-one interview about various topics regarding the Cubs minor league system. The Cubs farm system has begun to yield some great talent with the likes of Andrew Cashner, Geovany Soto, Starlin Castro, and Tyler Colvin. I wanted to figure out how such great talent was produced and hear about some of the new faces that may one day make it to Wrigley Field.

Fleita has served in various roles since he broke into baseball in 1988. He has been a coach, an instructional league manager, a scout, and even a third base coach.

“I coached third base. That was probably one of the highlights of my career in terms of having fun. I certainly was over matched and had no business coaching third base (laughs) but it was a lot of fun,” said Fleita. “I’ve always looked at myself as one of the lucky guys. I don’t know how it all happened, but I have been truly blessed to be around a lot of great people who have opened a door for me to do a lot of things in the game.”

One of the key components that has evolved since Fleita took this position in 2000 has been the development the Dominican and Venezuelan Summer Leagues.

“There were definitely huge challenges. I had only scouted one year in the Midwest League and I had only coached three years and managed three years, so I was learning on the job at the time,” said Fleita. “Sandy Johnson, who was with the Arizona Diamondbacks at the time, was a mentor to me and gave me a lot of advice on how to form a scouting staff. Little by little we built and signed players and 15 years later, we have had guys like Carlos Zambrano and Carlos Marmol come up and make it.”

One of Fleita’s primary responsibilities is assembling his minor league coordinating staff. From Athletic Trainers to Field Coordinators, Fleita has to make sure his athletes have the best staff to maximize all of their abilities. The process of putting this staff together is one that takes time and a good eye.

“Dave Bialas is my right hand man. He is responsible for all of the instruction and oversees all of our field staff (Mark Riggins, Dave Keller, Franklin Font, etc). We can’t have a weak link in our team because all of the base running, the hitting, and pitching has to be taken care of,” said Fleita. “The criteria for being a part of our team is that we look for good baseball people. Guys that we think fit what we are trying to get accomplished and contribute to winning. At the end of the day you are trying to make decisions that you know that when you go to bed a night, you are doing the very best for the players on the field.”

images.jpgCoordinating player movements and making sure that each farm team has enough adequate bodies to field a competitive team is a big task for Fleita. Fleita looks for various qualities when promoting a player, all of which vary based on the need.

“All the criteria is different. You want to first of all get to know the players. Some guys are not as confident as others and some kids may have not come from quality programs. With certain guys, you want to let them finish where they are,” said Fleita. “Case in point, look at Ramirez (Alvaro). He has a chance to win a batting title and he is having success. So rather than fool around and let him go somewhere where maybe he can go into a slump and end on a negative, I think you have to heir on the conservative side in that case and let him finish on a high note.”

It is no secret that the Cubs are still chasing after the World Series Title, something they haven’t been able to catch since 1908. Fleita offered his take on what needs to happen for the dream to be realized.

“We better get young players that can get to Chicago and contribute. You look at the Tampa Bay Rays and what they did with that young core of players that got to the bigs,” said Fleita. “You have to be able to develop young players. You look at Castro, Colvin, and Cashner and what they have done. If you get them up there in Wrigley Field and allow them to play and grow together, we hope that they can form that brotherhood and we can ride that float down Michigan Avenue.”

People already know about Castro, Colvin, and Cashner. People also know about emerging prospects in guys like Jay Jackson in Iowa and Josh Vitters in Tennessee. But there are some other prospects people don’t know about who can make an impact for the Cubs and improve those odds of getting that World Series parade on Michigan Avenue.

“Brett Jackson has had a phenomenal year. It’s his first full season and already he is in Double A. Tony Campana is on the same team and he has also had a tremendous year. Our Double A team has played really well,” said Fleita. “The list goes on and on. Christopher Archer, Hak-Ju Lee, Trey McNutt, Christopher Carpenter, and Casey Coleman. We feel like we have a huge core group of guys who can not only make it to the big league, but contribute to winning.”

Fleita has accomplished a ton since breaking into baseball in 1988. He has give opportunities to a score of baseball players and has developed many Latin programs that have produced many staples in the Cubs roster. But his ultimate goal is to one day bring that World Series Title home to a city that deserves it.

“I want to be a part of a World Series Championship team. Even if I am the guy who is raking the field during the game, I want to be a part of that team. I want one for the Chicago Cubs because I love the fans and I love the city. The Ricketts family has been wonderful and hopefully we can put everything together and get that championship,” said Fleita.

Till next time..

Chad Bates
Media Relations Assistant
Boise Hawks  

“We are the first one’s in and the last one’s out” Part 2

In order to maintain consistent productivity on the field, diets are something that the organization has focused on at the minor league level. That, along with proper weight training techniques, have been key components that the staff has emphasized.

“We are a big believer in prehab. It’s a long season and there are plenty of factors that can affect the players during the season (long bus rides, fast food joints, etc). The guys that eat better tend to fatigue less and their bat doesn’t slow down or their arm doesn’t slow down. This decreases the chances of them getting injured,” said Sharpe. “You try to educate the players as much as you can and help them make better choices.”

“As far as lifting weights and running, we stay on top of that a lot more in our role because that is a more controllable component,” said Chiang. “We are not trying to over-work one part of the body. The goal is to not get bigger in terms of muscle mass but to make sure that each muscle functions the way it’s supposed to.”

Chiang, Yi Chang.jpgOne of the things that makes the Chicago Cubs unique is that they have a really good relationship with their players. Developing better communication with the players makes prehab and other duties easier.

“The better and stronger the relationships grows, the easier it is for them to trust me and it makes my job easier,” said Larson. “I am able to help them with their injuries more and enable them to get through the grind of the season.”

The Hawks deal with a lot of players as soon as they graduate college. One of the main goals is to keep them healthy, but help them get adjusted and in the “big league” frame of mind.

“That’s one of my favorite parts of this position is to get guys into the system, who just got drafted. Everyone has some kind of background in terms of keeping themselves in shape,” said Jarrow. “When these guys come in, I am not a dictator but I let them know they have to listen to me too. We have a program in place that is designed and proven to keep them healthy.”

One of the other duties with an athletic trainer is setting up travel arrangements and incorporating new players into the fold.

“Trainers deal with some of the unseen things. When new guys come in, we show them ropes and set out expectations. This helps build trust because this is new for a lot of guys that come here and professional baseball is very different from collegiate baseball,” said Larson.

One of the interesting aspects of minor league baseball is the fact that all of the players are competing with each other to advance to the next level. The competition is a good thing, but it can force some players to try to play through pain.

“I think it’s natural for any athlete to want to play through pain and injury. Guys at this level who are fighting for jobs and are highly competitive will do that in order to keep their job,” said Sharpe. “As the role of an educator, it’s my job to educate them on what they can play with and manage and what are things that in the big picture, can hurt their overall career.”  

If the staff is successful at helping a player manage his health and maximize his potential, there is a lot of reward in watching that player shoot through the ranks. But like the athletes, the ultimate goal in this profession is to advance to the major league level.

“The most rewarding part of this job is seeing the guys advance through the levels. Two years ago we had Andrew Cashner here and now he is in the big leagues. It’s satisfying to see a guy that you worked with advance whether it’s Daytona or Peoria,” said Chiang.

“I just enjoy watching the guys play baseball everyday. This has been my first year with the team and I have enjoyed it,” said Larson.

Even a minor league coordinator has aspirations of making it to the majors, which is one of the hardest things to do. With only 30 spots out there, it’s even tougher to be an Athletic Trainer or the Strength and Conditioning Coach for a big league team.

“Everyone has aspirations of making it to the big league level. For Athletic Trainers, it’s tough to do because there are not that many spots available,” said Sharpe. “You just try to work as hard as you can and do things that will get you noticed and get that big league job.”

“In my field there are two positions that everyone shoots for; my position and the major league Strength and Conditioning Coach that travels with the Cubs. I’ve done both jobs in Los Angeles and here in Chicago,” said Jarrow. “I’m perfectly happy where I am at and I have enjoyed seeing the success thus far. Our ultimate goal is to get that World Series ring and it starts in the minors.”

The team has had four guys go to the DL, with two of them already coming back from injury and getting promoted. Given the hands they are in, it’s obvious why they made a quick and successful recovery. With guys like Chiang, Jarrow, Larson, and Sharpe, the players are in good hands from a physical stand point. Once the talent begins to gel, ending that World Series Title drought is a definite possibility.

Till next time..

Chad Bates
Media Relations Assistant
Boise Hawks

“We are the first one’s in and the last one’s out” Part 1

It’s not an easy job keeping an athlete healthy, especially a minor league baseball player. Between the the intense 76 game schedule, the blazing heat of summer, and a diet that contains a lot of fast food, there are plenty of obstacles that stand in the way.

But for the individuals that I interviewed, it’s just another day at the office. The Chicago Cubs have a staff dedicated solely to the health and wellness of the players both in the major and minor leagues. Yi-Chang Chiang, Doug Jarrow, A.J. Larson, and Justin Sharpe are some of the faces you don’t see often but are responsible for keeping the Boise Hawks as physically fit as possible.

The process of becoming a Trainer or a Strength and Conditioning Coach is one that takes a ton of education and love for the game.

“In order to become a certified trainer, you have to have so many hours of clinical hours (I believe it is 800) in order just to sit for the exam,” said Larson, who is the Boise Hawks Athletic Trainer. “You can pretty much be tested on anything and it’s a pretty grueling exam. If you don’t pass, it’s about $300 to retake the exam and you can only take it once every two months.”

Larson, Aaron.jpgChiang started out as an intern, but earned a full-time position this season. Aside from the education, Chiang also sites a passion for the game is critical when working in baseball.

“During the season you go non-stop, every single day. You really have to have a passion for this job because for eight months out the year, you are taken away from your family and friends,” said Chiang who was been in the Cubs organization for three seasons.

The Cubs, like many organizations, have coordinators who are in charge of the entire minor league system. Sharpe is the Minor League Athletic Training Coordinator for the Cubs and Jarrow is the Minor League Strength an Conditioning Coordinator for the Cubs. Contrary to popular belief, this is a position that has only evolved within the last six years.

“Baseball has evolved over the last few years and as you invest in players more, additional administration is needed to make sure everything is running well,” said Sharpe. “About six years ago, the Cubs were the first organization to have one person in charge of rehab and another person in charge of minor league athletic trainers. It’s come about based on the increase of demands in this sport and profession.”

For Jarrow, it has been a journey that started since he played baseball as a kid.

“I played baseball my whole life into college and I could read the writing on the wall and knew where my talent was going to cap out at (laughs),” said Jarrow. “Two loves of my life have been baseball and the human body (kinesiology). I was able to take my under-graduated degree in sport science and marry that with baseball and here I am today.”

One of the biggest responsibilities for these men is to maintain the players health and prevent injuries from happening.

“When people think about this role, they think it’s only abut the weight room. We try to keep them healthy and put the players in a position to succeed. Baseball is a grind even in the short-season, where you only have 76 games,” said Chiang.

“A lot of my duties center around maintenance and keeping up with injuries. We work to keep the small injuries from not becoming bigger problems,” said Larson.

From Sharpe and Jarrow’s standpoint, it’s all about making sure the system runs as well and efficient as possible. They are also in charge of making sure the athletes maintain their health and recover from injuries, while looking long term and not short term.

“You want to look long term. When a player gets hurt, they focus on the here and now. If you have a guy who requires surgery and a nine month recovery, they may delay surgery two weeks and that could mean the difference between breaking with a team out of Spring Training or staying in Extended Spring Training,” said Sharpe. “We want everyone to end up happy nine months later and a lot of that starts after the initial injury.”

“I have seven guys who work for me and my goal is to implement our program and philosophy of strength and conditioning throughout the entire Cubs’ minor league system,” said Jarrow. “I have to keep an eye on 180 athletes. I rove throughout the minor league system during the season and make sure our program is doing well. I just came to Boise from our Double A affiliate in Tennessee “

Check back for part 2 of this installment!

Till next time..

Chad Bates
Media Relations Assistant
Boise Hawks

“I decided to get behind home plate and started doing the “Chicken Dance”- Micah Gibbs

It’s one of the most difficult things to accomplish in sports and since 1947 only 24 teams have done it; win a College World Series Title.

Boise Hawks Catcher Micah Gibbs is one of the few people that can say that (and wear the hardware). In 2009, Micah was apart of the Louisiana State University (LSU) Tigers team that went to Omaha, Nebraska and won their 6th College World Series Title.

“It’s one of the hardest things in college baseball to do (make it to Omaha). In the pre-season, Coach Paul Mainieri kept saying “let’s make it back to Omaha”, but all of the us players were like “no, we are winning the National Championship”,” said Gibbs. “We knew we had the pitching, defense, and offense to compete in arguably the toughest conference in college baseball. We felt that would give us the training and preparation that we needed.”

The difficult task for the Tigers that season was to do something that had not been done since 2003; be a nationally ranked team to win the College World Series Title. The Tigers also faced the challenge of losing several coaches, including pitching coach Terry Rooney and hitting coach Cliff Goodwin.

“We found out right before we were getting on the plane to leave Omaha in 2008. Javi Sanchez, who was a volunteer-assistant, stepped up as the hitting coach. David Grewe, who was the head coach at Michigan State, was brought in to be the pitching coach,” said Gibbs. “It was a different phase for our pitchers because Grewe and Rooney have two different plans of attack.”

While Gibbs said that both methods worked well, Coach Grewe had more of a pro-ball mentality that made it easy from Gibbs’ role.

“I think the one thing that coach Grewe did well was that he had a laid back personality,” says Gibbs. “Because of that, I was able to work more with the pitchers in the Fall and figure out who could do what.”

The laid back mentality and approached also helped Gibbs with some of his fellow teammates. Pitcher Matty Ott, who was one of the top closers in the SEC, has benefited from the laid back approach.

“Matty set LSU single-season saves record in 2009. In his first appearance, which wasn’t a save situation, I could tell he was kinda nervous,” said Gibbs. “I tried to calm him down as much as I could with words, but I could still tell he was nervous. As I was jogging back to home plate, the “Chicken Dance” was playing. So I was like “why not” and I got behind home plate and started doing the “Chicken Dance”. He started laughing and I could tell all the pressure went away.”

LSU went into the season with a lot of pressure and hype, being the preseason number one. With a big target painted on their back, the Tigers had all people gunning for them and their number one ranking.

“Every single time someone comes into Alex Box Stadium (LSU’s Home Stadium), they play their best game and that helps us play our best game. We face guys that throw a certain velocity and then they come to Baton Rouge and they throw even harder,” said Gibbs. “When you have 10,000 to 12,000 screaming fans, everyone’s adrenaline is going to be kicking in.”

Gibbs.jpgWhen I asked Gibbs about the team’s defining moment, he talked about a series that had taken place the year before. With the majority of the team returning from the 2008 season, the 2009 team had been impacted by a tough series against the number one seed in college baseball, the Georgia Bulldogs.

“The one that stands out the most was the series we didn’t win against Georgia in 2008. They were number one or two in the nation at that time and they were pretty much on top of the world. That was the team that had Gordon Beckham and Josh Fields,” said Gibbs. “They were the best of the best and we were going to find out how good we really are. We hung in well with them and we almost beat the number one team in the country. That got our confidence up.”

LSU advanced to the College World Series Final and had to take on a team that had already been there 33 times and won six titles, the Texas Longhorns. The Longhorns were the top seed in the tournament and gave the Tigers all they could handle. The series went to a third and final game, in which the Tigers won 11-4.

“We just wanted to go out there and have fun. We knew this could be our only chance at a National Championship and we didn’t want to go in there and be real tight and nervous,” said Gibbs. “That final game we had Anthony Ranaudo on the mound, who was one of the top pitchers in the country that year. When we got off the bus we knew we were going to win, we just didn’t know how it was going to happen.”

Once the final out was recorded, it was all emotion from there.

“There was so much excitement and adrenaline that people were yelling in the dog pile on the field,” said Gibbs. “Louis Coleman, who was the SEC Pitcher of the Year, closed it out for us. I don’t think there is anyone in baseball who was more of an automatic win than him. When we were in the dog pile it’s kinda funny; he kissed me on the forehead and said “I love you man” (laughs). It was a little weird.”

One of the interesting things we talked about was the fact that Gibbs grew up as a fan of Texas baseball, not just LSU baseball. Gibbs is from Pflugerville, TX and being a native, he always had dreams of playing for Texas. The irony of playing Texas in the Championship Series and beating them was bitter-sweet for Gibbs.

“I went to Texas baseball camps and LSU baseball camps when I was a kid. When it came time LSU called me and Texas didn’t, so it wasn’t too hard of a decision. After we beat Texas, a bunch of my friends back home gave me a bunch of crap for it,” said Gibbs with a chuckle. “I don’t think there is a team I would have rather beaten for the College World Series Title than Texas.”  

Gibbs is one of the few who can say he owns the hardware. But before his baseball career is over, there is one other piece he would like to have; a World Series Ring.

“It’s definitely going to a memory that I carry with me for the rest of my life. Until I win a World Series Title for the Chicago Cubs, I don’t think there is anything out there that could top a this,” said Gibbs.

Till next time..

Chad Bates
Media Relations Assistant
Boise Hawks

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“True Life: I’m a Boise Hawks Rookie” Part 2

It’s not easy moving from life as you know it and going to a place (that’s kinda in the middle of no where) and starting a career. It’s even tougher when you 18 to 22 years old and trying to accomplish this.

I had a chance to sit down for a round-table discussion with six of the Boise Hawks baseball players and talk to them about life as a rookie. In this interview we look at the transition from college to the pros, life with their host families, and we even discuss life after baseball.

The six players I sat down with include 2B Pierre LePage, SS Elliot Soto, OF Matt Szczur, LHP Eric Jokisch, RHP Aaron Kurcz, and C Micah Gibbs.

Does the professional game move faster or slower than college?

PL: “The game is definitely faster but sometimes you might think it is slower because you don’t have the same action with wooden bats as you would metal bats. The defense is better and pitchers are making better pitches and getting out of innings quicker.”

EJ: “I think you pitch different at this level. The wooden bat is definitely a big thing because you pitch more inside and try to get on their hands. The hitters are definitely better. It’s the best of the best from the college and high school ranks so you have to concentrate more on hitting spots and making the right pitch.”

AK: “The biggest thing that I have learned is that first-pitch strikes are a big priority. If you can get that, you have a better chance of getting the guy out and throwing what you want to throw to him.”

MG: “The game is definitely a lot faster because from the catcher’s role, you don’t get to look into the dugout and get signs for which pitch to call. I like it because it has helped me grow up and you are more into the game. I feel like I am able to work more the pitcher and I have to know who is hitting, who is on deck, and who is in the hole so I know how to pitch the guys that are in there. It speeds the game up so much.”

How has the transition been from aluminum to wooden bats?

ES: “We have all used wooden bats at one point or another. We know how it is but to hit it consistently, you have to tweak your swing a little bit and square the ball up.”

MG: “From the catching stand point, I am able to call fastballs a lot more because of the pitching staff we have. Not everyone I played with at LSU got drafted, so what that is saying is that you are able eliminate some of the guys that can’t throw as hard or don’t have as good of off-speed stuff. As you move up, pitchers stuff is getting better and you can beat people with wood bats a lot easier.”

Do you plan on going back to school and getting your degree?  

EJ: “There is no doubt I plan on going back to school. I went to Northwestern because of it’s academics. I’m not going to waste the three years I was there. I am going to finish my degree while I am playing baseball and work in sports psychology if baseball doesn’t work out the way I want it to.”

PL: “I want to go back and finish my degree as soon as possible. I think the longer you wait to get it, the more guys get weeded out on going back and getting their degree. I plan on going to law school is baseball doesn’t work out for me.”

ES: “I was studying communications at Creighton University. I will more than likely head back but if I don’t for whatever reason, I will probably work in our family business. We own a Mexican restaurant.”

When you told your friends and family that you were a professional baseball player, did they have any misconceptions?

PL: “When I told a lot of my friends I was going to be a professional baseball player they were like “I’ll see you in Chicago” (laughs). I think a lot of people have a mis-conception about the farm system and how many steps there are to get to “The Show”. It’s a long road and a journey more than anything.”

EJ: “It’s a long road and there are only a few “Stephen Strasburg’s” who can go out there and jump through everything that quickly. It’s a learning process in terms of how the game is played on the professional level.”

What’s your biggest area of opportunity in terms of your game?

AK: “I think having Jeff Fassero as a pitching coach is going to help me a lot. He played in the big leagues for over 15 years and having a person with the kind of knowledge as my pitching coach is big. I can ask him about what I am doing wrong or doing right and he can help me out a lot more than anyone else who has coached me before.”

ES: “Being able to play with these guys and learn from people who know far more about the game than I do is going to help me. Plus, it’s nice to focus on just baseball and not worry about anything else.”

What do you plan on accomplishing before you leave Boise?

EJ: “Our goal is to just improve and make ourselves worthy of playing at the next level. The ultimate goal is to keep improving until we can’t anymore.”

PL: “Improve everyday on everything you can. When I leave here, all I want and all I ask for is that people remember me as someone who played hard and played the game the right way.”

MS: “Pierre sprints out of the dugout to second base every time no matter what kind of at bat he had. It’s awesome to play with a player who is like that because you know he will do anything for the team to win.”

AK: “The goal is to just become a better player and learn things that I have never learned before in order to get guys out.”

Does the baseball community, both major leagues and minor leagues, over-value stats?

EJ: “I think there is a place for them and as a player you shouldn’t worry about stats. If you let that get in your head too much, it can hurt you more than help you. It’s not always a good measuring stick because you could be out there trying to improve on something and you may give up two or three runs trying to do that. If you ERA goes up, people will begin to look at you and think “this guy can’t pitch”.”

ES: “I think with position players, stats can be a little mis-leading. If you ground out but advance a runner on base, then you did your job and moved the runner.”

PL: “There are a lot of team players out who don’t necessarily fill the stat books but they bring an element to the team that can everyone better (as opposed to a guy who hits .300). There is way more to the game than just stats.”

MS: “When I got here, I thought everyone was going to be selfish and no one would be a team player. It was a reality check for me because when I got here, every one on this team cares more about the team than themselves and guys here don’t worry about stats as much.”

AK: “As long as you go out there and keep getting the job done for your team, that is all that matters. If you have an ERA that is high, but you still got 10 saves, that’s 10 times you got the job done and helped your team win.”

MG: “To be honest, I truly hate statistics because I over-think them way too much. I think they are over-rated because you see a lot of people get those infield singles and guys get hits when there is no one on base. They need to have a statistic for getting the job done that needs to be done for the team.”

What has been the tough transition; high school to college or college to professional?

EJ: “I came from such a small school (I had 25 people in my graduating class) so there wasn’t much competition and I was able to throw fastballs and do whatever I wanted. Once we got to college, the kids got bigger. I mean, look at that guy (points to Matt Szczur, everyone laughs). Guys are big like him and they can hit the ball farther.”

ES: “I think in high school
kids are a little more relaxed about the game and are just playing for a bunch of other reasons. College players are there because they love the game and they take it seriously.”

MG: “College to professional has been tougher for me because you have a wood bat in your hands and it is a little less forgiving. The guys in college that you play with are going to be the same guys you play with for two to three years, so that helps. Another thing that is rough is that a lot of the foreign players use a splitter and that can be tough to catch because no one at LSU threw that and it is a pitch that I am not used to seeing it or catching it.”

Till next time..

Chad Bates
Media Relations Assistant
Boise Hawks

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“True Life: I’m a Boise Hawks Rookie” Part 1

It’s not easy moving from life as you know it and going to a place (that’s kinda in the middle of no where) and starting a career. It’s even tougher when you 18 to 22 years old and trying to accomplish this.

I had a chance to sit down for a round-table discussion with six of the Boise Hawks baseball players and talk to them about life as a rookie. In this interview we look at the transition from college to the pros, life with their host families, and we even discuss life after baseball.

The six players I sat down with include 2B Pierre LePage, SS Elliot Soto, OF Matt Szczur, LHP Eric Jokisch, RHP Aaron Kurcz, and C Micah Gibbs.

When you found out you were drafted by the Chicago Cubs, what was your initial thoughts?

PL: “At first I was just excited to be drafted. Then when I found out it was the Chicago Cubs, I figured it would be a great organization to move up in because we haven’t won a World Series in so long (group laughs). I was just happy to finally make it and get to where I’ve wanted to be my whole life.”

EJ: “I was actually worried. I have been a St. Louis Cardinals fan my whole life and I grew up in Chicago and went to Northwestern University. A lot of my friends got on me pretty good about being a Cardinals fan drafted by the Cubs.”

ES: “I’m from Illinois and I have been a die hard Cubs fan my whole life. I was shocked when I found out.”

What was life like from the time you got drafted to the time you went to Mesa, AZ (rookie ball)?

MS: “My deal was a little different because I am going to be playing football in the Fall. I had to wait for the commissioner to sign off on my contract, so I was actually kinda nervous and worried. During the summer, I was getting paid a salary and I didn’t know if it was going to go through. I just wanted to come out here and get my feet wet so if I come back and play after the football season is over, I know what to expect.”

MG: “I talked to Jim Hendry (Cubs Vice President/General Manager) a couple of days after the Draft and he told me to take a couple of weeks off. I played 63 of 65 games in college and he wanted me to have a rest.  I wanted to come out here right away but he told me he wanted me to take two weeks off. A week before I headed off to Mesa, I went lifting, running, and began to hit to get myself back into shape.”

AK: “During the season it was hectic because there were a ton of scouts at every game. Once the Draft and everything played out, things began to settle down. I spent time with family and friends and got myself ready to play ball.”

What has been you general impression of Boise, ID?

EJ: “It’s a very clean city. There are very supportive fans at the stadium everyday and anytime you go out and say you play for the Hawks, they know who you are.”

AK: “When I first heard about Boise, ID I didn’t how big the town was. I figured it would be a town of 10,000 people. But it’s a nice town and there is always a good crowd at every game.”

PL: “It’s more of a populated town as opposed to a city because it is very clean and it is beautiful out here with the mountains. This is a great atmosphere to play baseball. Having all of the fans, it makes the grind easier. We play 76 games with four off days. If we only had four fans in the stands each game, it would be harder to get out of bed and play the game. It makes us have more of a team atmosphere and really go out there and win not just for our team, but the crowd that’s behind us.”  

How has the host family program helped you in this transition from home?

MS: “My host family has been wonderful. They make me breakfast in the morning, help me with my laundry, and they even make my bed for me. It’s actually a little better than life at home (laughs). They are great people who are willing to do anything for you, so it’s definitely an awesome thing to have.”

MG: “My host family has been great. Anything I could ask for, they pretty much have it or if they don’t, they get it in a day. They asked me to make a list of things I wanted to eat and I was hoping to get a few things out of the list and they pretty much got everything on there. They have exceeded all of my expectations.”

AK: “It’s a lot nicer going back to a home than a hotel in Mesa, AZ.”

EJ: “Life in Mesa wasn’t as good because you are in a hotel room until it’s time to go play baseball. Up here, there are things that you can go do in the little amount of free time that you have and I think that is necessary to keep you wanting to play the game.”

Do you miss home and how often do you get to talk to your families?

EJ: “All of us went to college, so we have been away from home for quite some time. Right now it feels a lot like summer baseball but next year when it is full-time thing, it will sink in a little more.”

ES: “I talk to my family every couple of days. It’s nice just to talk to them and see how things are gong with them and they always ask me how things are going out here. Due to the time change, I usually try to talk to them in the morning.”

With 13 non-US born players on this roster, how has communication on and off the field been?

EJ: “The game is played the same way pretty much everywhere, so you have faith in your infield and outfield to make the plays. I don’t think the differences in languages or countries should matter.”

MS: “It’s a lot of fun to communicate with this guys and figure things out. We use a lot of hand signals and Kyung-Min Na speaks English and Spanish, so he helps me out in the outfield.”

MG: “It’s been fun trying to learn their language and communicate with them. On the field, we are lucky to have at least one guy in the infield who can help translate some things for me. In baseball, there are some universal words that help out like fastball, curveball, slider, and change up. The hardest part is trying to get signs with a guy on second base. A lot of people want to go with the first sign and they can pick that up pretty easily on second.”

Till next time..

Chad Bates
Media Relations Assistant
Boise Hawks

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“I’m glad to get out of Arizona. It was hot down there…”

Well, the sun is finally beginning to shine in Boise and the temperature is finally hitting the 80’s. I know what you are thinking; perfect baseball weather. Well, for the first time since September, we can finally watch someone other than the Boise Hawks office staff take the field (and trust me, this is a blessing!).

The Hawks 2010 roster flew into the city today around 12:53 p.m. and they were welcomed with “GO HAWKS” chants and plenty of cameras and microphones (one of those microphones happened to be mine). For 15 returning players, this is pretty much business as usual. But there are a handful of newcomers that will get to show Hawkstown just how much skill and talent they possess, and I for one am looking forward to next Monday (Opening Night).

The complete roster is online at http://www.boisehawks.com, but I wanted to take a few minutes and give you a rundown of some the guys I talked to and what they had to say about the upcoming season.

One of the first guys I interviewed was pitcher Austin Kirk. Austin only spent a week and a half in Boise last year, going 1-1 with a 5.40 ERA in two appearances. “I enjoyed my time in Boise last season while I was here. I am looking forward to being back here and finally playing in front of some fans,” said Kirk, a 2009 third round draft pick.

Austin was not the only pitcher that I had a chance to talk to. Rookie pitcher Joseph Zeller, who was drafted in the 28th round of this year’s Draft, has been getting his frequent flyer miles in the last couple of days.

“I’m excited to be playing professional baseball, but it has been kind of a whirlwind because I just got to Arizona and then a couple of days later, I flew out here,” said Zeller.

Infielder Brandon May is also experiencing Boise for the first time. Brandon spent a lot of time in Mesa, Arizona last season in the Cubs rookie league, after being drafted in the 36th round of the 2009 Draft.

“I’m just excited to play in front of fans again and have that real minor league baseball experience. I went to the University of Alabama and we had a great fan base there. And from what I have heard, Boise has a great fan base too and playing in front of that is exciting,” said May.

One of the hardest things to do in sports is predict the outcome of the season before a game is even played. Even worse, it’s hard to know what product you will put on the field after only having met these guys for 15 minutes in a crowded airport terminal. This team on paper looks like it has the potential to win a lot of games this season and give people their money’s worth. These guys have the power hitting (OF Runey Davis, IF May), the speed (OF Kyung-Min Na, IF Arismendy Alcantara), and the pitching (Kirk, John Mincone) to make the 2010 season a good one.

Till next time..

Chad Bates
Media Relations Assistant
Boise Hawks

Expect the Unexpected: Chicago Cubs 2010 Draft Recap

1,500 picks, three days, and countless hours of scanning the Internet trying to figure out who these guys are! But, after many cups of coffee and getting nearly cross-eyed from staring at my 24″ computer screen, the 2010 First-Year Player MLB Draft is finally over.

Now the $64,000 question; why would a member of Hawkstown care about the Draft? The answer; many of these guys could be making their way to Memorial Stadium in less than a month. So for those of you who want a break from the NCAA Conference realignment talk, here’s the rundown on the prospects and what they bring to the table (and hopefully to the Boise Hawks).

The Chicago Cubs have been an unconventional team in the past and after Monday night, they kept that reputation in tact. After most of the big names were off the board, the Cubs threw a “Bugs Bunny” like curve ball when they selected Southern Arkansas pitcher Hayden Simpson with the 16th overall pick. The 6’0″ Simpson, who was rated 191st in the prospect listings, accumulated a 35-2 mark and set a school record with 323 strikeouts. Simpson is know for his fastball, which generally hits around 95 mph and  most scouts like how he maintains his velocity on his pitches.

Cubs Amateur and Professional Scouting Director Tom Wilken selected Simpson on the recommendation of area scout Jim Crawford. “I feel Hayden is a potential starter who has four average-to-plus pitches and is very athletic with a good feel for pitching,” said Wilken. Did anyone notice the key phrase in that quote? It has been his reputation since he started this job in 2005, so if anyone wonders why he took Simpson, there is your answer.

I hope Simpson turns out to be the real deal. It would be a great thing for the Cubs as well as the Hawks. My only reservation is that he comes from Division II and except for Andrew Cashner (and the book is still out on him), the Cubs have not found a ton of success with pitchers in the first round. The key with him, like many young arms who are not named Stephen Strasburg, is give him time to develop.

I could rundown each and every pick, but I won’t do that. I doubt I could hold anyone’s attention for that length of time. But here are a few guys to keep an eye on that could really make waves this summer:

Reggie Golden, CF, Wetumpka High School (AL)

Golden no doubt embodies the term “high risk, high reward”. Some scouts feel that he is the most complete five-tool player in this year’s Draft. He has great speed and raw power, but has a swing that is going to need a lot of work. The Cubs might have found a gem if they can influence him enough to not sign with Alabama University. With time and training, Golden could turn out to be one of the best positional players taken in this Draft.

Micah Gibbs, C, Louisiana State University

This year’s class was thin at the catcher position, but the Cubs landed a good one in Gibbs. He is arguably the best defensive catcher in the Draft and he has a little pop in his bat, but does he have enough to be an everyday catcher? If he can develop a consistent swing, he could a depth to a position that is very thin.

Bryan Harper, LHP, College of Southern Nevada

Yes, he is the older brother of the 2010 number one pick, Bryce Harper. Although he’s not as good with the bat as Bryce, he does have plenty of weapons in his arsenal on the mound. He is a 6’5″ lefty who can throw 92 mph and has a good breaking ball and changeup. He can be a bit erratic at times, but many 20 year old lefties who are 6’5″ tend to have that problem early on. Bottom line with Harper; he has plenty of room to grow and with time, he could develop into a solid relief pitcher.

The hope is that somewhere in this group, there is a consistent, everyday player who can help the Cubs compete. Truthfully, when you select 50 players in three days, you are bound to a lemon here or there. There is a lot of risk in this Draft class for the Cubs but if one or three of these guys pan out, it’s worth it. Wrigleyville is starving for a World Series Title and truthfully, the Cubs need to add some young talent to what is left of a solid, yet older, major league roster. Now more than ever, the Cubs need to gamble and see if it can pay off.

Till next time…

Chad Bates
Media Relations Assistant
Boise Hawks

Will anyone but Mark Prior please stand up?

Hey guys!

First off, thank you for everyone that read my first installment. My first blog was a bullpen session, so it’s time for me to take the mound and start diving into topics that you care about.

To kick off my second installment, I want to talk about the MLB First-Year Player Draft, which is less than 48 hours away. The Chicago Cubs, who are the parent-team for your Boise Hawks, are sitting at pick 16 and needless to say, have plenty of options. The question on everyone’s mind is who will they go with; a young arm or will they follow suit and take an athletic, five-tool player?

That question will be answered by Tim Wilken, the Cubs Amateur and Professional Scouting Director. Since Wilken took over in December of 2005, he has had a pretty solid track record at finding good talent early. Outfielders Tyler Colvin and Brett Jackson have both been impressive in the minors and Colvin has been a solid bat for the Cubs this season, hitting .293 with 5 HR and 13 RBI. Wilken also cashed in on pitcher Andrew Cashner, who flew through the minors to earn a spot in the Cubs bullpen this season. Third baseman Josh Vitters is the highest rated prospect to ever make to Boise in 2008 and he did not disappoint, hitting .328 with 5 HR and 37 RBI. Vitters’ 25 doubles were the second most in Hawks history and he was the only unanimous for the Northwest League All-Star team that season.

With all of that being said, Wilken has several interesting options at pick 16. Wilken’s track record has always been selecting the best, positional athlete on the board. But according to MLB.com Draft expert Jonathan Mayo, he predicts the Cubs will go with a young arm this year in Asher Wojciechowski from The Citadel. Wojciehowski has 6’4″ frame and is known for his fastball, which registers around 94 mph. The word from many scouts is that he has a good slider, but his change up has been a little suspect and it is not a strong as his other pitches.

My take on Wojciechowski is this; just about any team can use a 6’4″ fireballer in the bullpen who can spell the closer or be the closer. My only hang up is that given the profile, Wojciechowski sounds a lot like Cubs relief pitcher Jeff Samardzija. If I am WIlken (given the current layout of my team), I would be looking more for a solid starting pitcher, as opposed to a relief pitcher. Given what we know thus far on Wojciechowski, it sounds like he is more suited for the bullpen than the rotation.

If I were Wilken, I would take a long look at pitcher Karsten Whitson from Chipley High School in Florida. Whitson has a great fastball that registers around 91-96 mph and a slider that resembles Wojciechowski’s. Where the two pitchers differ is in their off-speed pitches. Whitson has a very nice change up that hits between 80-82 mph and has enough fade to where that pitch could be a “plus pitch” for his arsenal. Anytime you can find a 6’4″ guy like Whtison with this kind of profile, it’s hard to pass on him. The biggest plus is that he is straight out of high school, so he has not hit his full potential yet. With great tools and the ability to grow, Whitson would be a great choice if he is still there at 16.

If Wilken is dead set on a skill position player, then Justin O’Conner is a name that could generate a lot of buzz. O’Conner, a shortstop/catcher from Cowan High School in Indiana, has the make up that a lot of Wilken’s picks have had; he’s a powerful, patient hitter who has great, raw athleticism. The most intriguing thing about O’Conner is the fact that he doesn’t really have a position. He has shown a cannon for an arm (pitching up to speeds of 95 mph) and some people think he is best suited at the catcher position, rather than his current position of shortstop. The only drawback is that he is very green at the catcher spot, so if the Cubs put him in that role, they will have to give him several years to develop.

Regardless of who the Cubs decide to go with, they should benefit in some form or another. Most of the players highlighted have the athleticism the Cubs seek and hopefully they can add even more depth to a minor league system that is producing big league talent. But then again, the name Mark Prior still resonates with many in Wrigleyville.

Till next time..

Chad Bates
Media Relations Assistant
Boise Hawk