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Game Recap: Charleston RiverDogs vs. Rome Braves 4/25/10

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TANGENT ALERT!

I ravenously devoured Matt McCarthy’s Odd Man Out over the last two days. The Million Little Pieces-like book is a humorous and often painful look into the turbid and unforgiving world of Minor League Baseball. For any baseball fan, it’s a must-read. It will open your eyes as to what it’s like to be a minor league player and I promise you, you will never heckle a A-baller again. It’s an odd combination of Jim Bouton’s revealing Ball Four and the refreshingly honest and invigorating movie Sugar.

As soon as I finished the book, I knew it was time to take in a South Atlantic League game. The newfound respect I garnered from the book made me immediately more interested in and intrigued by the lives of minor leaguers. And for some, the South Atlantic is a step in the long and arduous ladder to the majors, but for others, it’s just a flash-in-the-pan story they’ll be able to tell their grandkids.

Either way, the South Atlantic League is full of Odd Man Out stories just waiting to be written.

There are plenty of sites out there that write about Sally League prospects, but most of them do it from a distance. However, there’s some that do it from behind home plate. Mike Newman’s Scouting the Sally is, by far, the most comprehensive and honest look into the league. His coverage of the Savannah Sand Gnats conveys an undying loyalty to the game and he’s not afraid to go against conventions. Check it out.

I, however, will be covering the Charleston RiverDogs, the New York Yankees’ low-A affiliate. When I go to the games, sure, I’ve got my 2010 Baseball America Prospect Handbook with me, but I never let it influence my evaluations. So if you see me rip someone who you’re sure is a huge star in the making, it could be a product of small sample size. And if I tout a guy who you think is a dud, well then, we’ll see who comes out right in a couple years.

Today’s game featured the Charleston RiverDogs and their anemic offense and the Rome Braves and their deep system of possible impact prospects (mostly pitchers). The pitching matchup was Charleston’s Sean Black versus Rome’s Brett Olberholtzer. Black has done nothing but get beat around lately, while Olberholtzer has looked good, with an ERA under 2.00.

The ‘Dogs won 3-2. Here are the notable players from the game.

Brett Olberholtzer, LHP, Rome – Olberholtzer is a big, burly dude. During his bullpen warmups, the 6’2″, 230 pounder (I’m thinking he’s closer to 245), showed good command of a hard, sinking fastball, a slider with good lateral movement, and a changeup. He looked much older than 20-years-old.

Olberholtzer was dominant through the first four innings, getting nine of 12 outs through groundballs. He pounded the bottom half of the strike zone during the early goings, but almost immediately, it became clear that he lacked secondary stuff. His changeup looked purely awful and he rarely hit the zone with it. By the fifth, he worked almost exclusively with just his fastball and slider.

He gave up eight hits in the outing, but gave up just one earned run. He was helped out by leftfielder Juan Flores, who gunned down two overzealous Charleston runners at home.

Overall, Olberholtzer’s outing was encouraging. I saw some stuff I liked (the downward movement on his fastball is incredible), but other stuff I hated (his changeup left a lot to be desired).

Sean Black, RHP, Charleston – Black, on the other hand, didn’t seem to feature anything eye-popping. With a free and easy motion, he comes almost-straight overhead with an average fastball, a good dipping change, and another offspeed offering that I couldn’t get a good read on because it was so inconsistent. Rome batters, who as a whole looked awful tonight, still chased the pitch, which was consistently out of the zone.

Black cruised through 7.1 innings, giving up just five hits and striking out four. I wouldn’t expect these results everyday though, as it looked like Rome was running late for 8:00 dinner reservations.

Christian Bethancourt, C, Rome – I got a good look at Bethancourt while he was catching Olberholtzer in the ‘pen. For a catcher, Bethancourt is extremely lean and muscular. Based on physique and the projection left in that physique, he’s a guy that’s extremely easy to dream on. His on-the-field play, however, was a mixed bag with equal parts “Wow” and “Huh.”

Bethancourt is a rare type of defensive catcher. On the first assist from Flores, Bethancourt caught the ball on a leap and twisted mid-air to catch the runner at the plate. On the second, he positioned himself perfectly over the plate to apply the tag. For a catcher with a different body type, the play may have been harder to make, but Bethancourt’s long legs cover a ton of territory on such close plays. Simply put, Bethancourt can make plays that traditional “bad body” catchers can’t.

His arm is perhaps his best asset, but I didn’t get to see it in action as Charleston runners didn’t attempt to steal on him. In itself, that may be a testament. This is a runner’s league, but no one dared test him.

For all that he did on defense, Bethancourt looked like a different player offensively. He was much too aggressive, recording first pitch outs in two of his at-bats. His AB in the seventh displayed promise as he covered the plate well and fouled off a few before knocking a single down the third base line. I’ll look to see how he hits tomorrow before making a snap judgment.

Kyle Rose, CF, Rome – Rose was easily the player I was most excited about in this game. He’s a diminutive righthanded hitter with just one tool: blazing fast speed. Rose, however, looks like he’s developing at Rome, batting .369 through today’s game. I’m hesitant to call him a breakout candidate, but his season thus far is certainly intriguing.

And in this game, Rose did it all. A basket catch in deep right-center field in the eight to prevent a run. And he added a wicked stand-up triple in the rightfield alley during the same inning. His route running looked good all around and he made consistent contact. He may be the team’s most dynamic player.

Rose’s best asset looked like his worse tonight though. He was thrown out trying to steal in the first inning. It was the ninth time in this early season.

Other notes: Rome’s RHP Cory Rasmus has a great fastball and shows good aggressiveness within the strikezone. He struck out four in two innings of work. Rome’s RHP Thomas Berryhill warmed up in the eighth inning, but didn’t get into the game. His fastball is ranked as the best in the Braves’ 2009 draft and I can testify to that. It’s positively sizzling. His delivery is maximum effort, however, and looks exhausting. He could be a great bullpen arm. Mycal Jones, Rome’s shortstop, has had a terrible season thus far. He showed good speed on a bunt single to first base early in the game, before looking positively awful on an offspeed K later in the game. Charleston first baseman Luke Murton is amidst an 11 game hitting streak and is one of the lone bright spots offensively for the club. Charleston 2B Emerson Landoni has been a spark offensively for the ‘Dogs since coming to the team and has sured up the middle infield, a glaring weakness in the early goings of the season.

Thomas Berryhill

More to come tomorrow as the ‘Dogs take on the Braves in game two of the series.

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