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Posts Tagged ‘charleston

Know Your Prospects: Slade Heathcott, CF, New York Yankees

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If you’ve played sports, whether recreationally or professionally, chances are you’ve come across a player like Slade Heathcott. You know, the kind of player who has all the talent in the world, but just comes off as a total, well, there’s no easy way to say it, unlikable dick. You worry if their immaturity is going to derail them (Milton Bradley), or if they’re going to harness it and figure it out (Josh Hamilton).

And one of the major knocks ever since the New York Yankees drafted Heathcott with the twenty-ninth pick in the 2009 amateur draft has always been that immaturity. In high school, he was arrested for driving under the influence, was booted from his Texarkana, Texas, high school baseball team for academic reasons, and even pulled a gun on his father (who, I’ve heard, is not a saint either).

Still, Heathcott really turned things around after the Yankees sent him to Alcoholics Anonymous as a nineteen-year-old.

His first full professional season sent him out of AA and to the low-A South Atlantic League’s Charleston RiverDogs where he posted fairly pedestrian offensive numbers (.258 average, 2 homeruns, and 30 RBI in 76 games) but showed plus speed, range, and arm strength: inklings of the player he could be. Watching him last year left me divided; one day I saw flashes of first-round talent, and then the next, someone who looked to be pressing at the plate, trying to live up to his billing. But when the season finally winded down, I was more on the skeptical side. This guy’s right behind only Montero, Romine, and Vizcaino in Baseball America‘s Yankees’ list and we get a .250 average, 2 dingers, and 15 stolen bases, along with 10 caught stealings?!

But this year, I’ve been more impressed with Heathcott across the board. He’s become more patient at the plate. He’s taking walks in places where he should take walks, instead of trying to be the hero. As a result, he’s amongst South Atlantic League leaders in on-base percentage (.394), average (.314), and total bases (68). With the patience, has come power, or at least signs of it: through 34 games, he already has more homeruns (3) than he did through 76 games last year.

His stance and swing are unique. For a power/speed guy, he’s more upright and open than one would expect, and it’s allowed him to put more of an upswing on the ball than last year. He’s not quite Craig Counsell, but he stands tall in the box and consistently puts the ball in play hard. His swing is still somewhat erratic; he has games where drives or flies the ball every time and games where he only chops, grounds, and slashes it. Whatever he’s doing, it’s working: he’s four off the pace in doubles (11) and two off the pace in triples (2), some of which will turn into homeruns as he develops.

His play in center has never been questioned. He’s got great range and is athletic enough to make difficult plays look routine. His arm, considered among the best in the entire Yankees’ system, is outstanding even after 2010 off-season shoulder surgery. Just tonight, he nabbed the Augusta Green Jackets’ Raynor Campbell, a guy with six stolen bases already on the young season, on a play at home…in the top of the 11th inning with his team already down by two. And god, do I wish I had video of it!

He’s become a force at the top of the RiverDogs’ lineup and in the outfield, and I know that my time to watch Heathcott develop and flourish is dwindling.

But for all the positive developments in Heathcott’s game, there is a huge elephant, which is somehow standing under a black cloud, in the middle of the room, and it might just keep him from a mid-season promotion: that damn immaturity.

Back on Friday, May 13, Heathcott positively imploded, exploded, went postal—whatever you want to call it—starting a bench clearing brawl, after just the first pitch of the game, which pitted his Charleston RiverDogs and the Greenville Drive against each other. He was subsequently suspended for five games.

And I could see it coming.

On May 9, I saw a glimpse of Heathcott’s renewed hotheadedness before the now-infamous brawl. In a bases loaded situation with his team down against the West Virginia Power, he was picked off by right-handed pitcher Elias Diaz for the third out. He threw his helmet down, walked over to the dugout, and waited until someone brought out his glove and hat. During his between innings throw-arounds, he was angrily whipping the ball to the leftfielder, routinely overthrowing him, and making him run all the way to the Power’s bullpen to get it. And then after making a routine putaway on a flyball, Heathcott did the same thing in a game situation and overthrew the shortstop cutoff. It was childish.

And then tonight, that same night where he went 2-for-5 with a walk and threw out a Green Jackets’ runner at home, it popped up again. On the first pitch of an at bat late in the game, Heathcott was brushed back by the Augusta Green Jackets’ Tom Vessella. Nothing big. But then with a two-ball count, he was brushed back again, and this time the pitch was a little closer. Heathcott avoided the pitch, but threw up his hands and exchanged words with catcher Jeff Arnold. Nothing came of it, but for someone who knows his history, and knows what it could have become, it was something.

Of course I stopped recording preemptively.

Did I mention it was just his third game back from suspension?

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What’s eating Bobby Cox?

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Well, that headline’s just a little misleading because nothing’s eating Bobby Cox.

In fact, Bobby Cox is eating.

Or at least he was.

You see, my girlfriend works at Magnolias restaurant in downtown Charleston, S.C. It’s a popular place with tourists, and for some reason, celebrities seem to flock to it whenever they’re in town. Hello, Bill Murray!

Last night Katlyn asked me if I’d heard of someone named Bobby Cox: “He’s a manager of a baseball team or something. He’s coming in for lunch tomorrow.”

“YOU MEAN THE ALL-TIME LEADER IN MANAGER EJECTIONS AND ALSO THE MANAGER OF FOURTEEN CONSECUTIVE DIVISION CHAMPIONSHIP TEAMS WITH THE ATLANTA BRAVES?”

Cox was in town because he was the guest speaker at the Charleston RiverDogs’ Hot Stove Banquet on Friday. I had wanted to go to the event, but unfortunately I’m not exactly shitting out twenties right now.

So as a consequence, I had trouble sleeping last night, thinking of the life-changing things that I would say to Bobby Cox when I inevitably stalked him during his low-key lunch: “Mr. Cox, thank you for everything,” “Mr. Cox, the game won’t be the same without you.” I’m not the kind of person who gets worked up about celebrities; I’ve actually seen Murray at a Halloween costume shop in West Ashley, and I ignored him. But Bobby Cox—this was a totally different story. He’s a baseball man, someone who’s spent the last 50 years toiling in the game I love. He’s a four-time Manager of the Year, he’s the fourth winningest manager in Major League Baseball history, and he was at the helm of the team that featured the best rotation in Major League Baseball history. Outside of some old-time players, Bobby Cox is one of the few on a short list of players/managers who I’d actually like to sit down with.

“His reservation is at 12:45.”

So around 12:00 p.m., I drove from Mount Pleasant to downtown Charleston. As soon as I hit East Bay Street, I saw Bobby Cox. Or I thought I did. I wanted to see Cox so badly that I turned every single old, wobbly man on the street into the Atlanta Braves’ manager. There was an old man wearing sweat pant jeans, and I was sure it was him. I couldn’t stop to confirm it from the car though, so I kept driving to Magnolias.

I was seated by 12:45, the time he was expected to appear.

He never came.

So I decided to have a few beers.

Next thing I know, a couple hours passed (I think it was now about 2:30 p.m.) and there was still no sign of Bobby.

Just as I was about to leave, in walks Bobby Cox, about two hours late for his reservation. He was wearing slacks, a blue shirt, and a black leather jacket. It turns out you can’t think you see a celebrity; when you see one, you know. It turns out he wasn’t wearing sweat pant jeans at all, and he looked exactly like you would expect Bobby Cox to look. He was with three other people, a man who looked like his brother and a pair of older women.

The bartender told me, “There you go, stalker!” and I just sat there, frozen.

I didn’t say anything to him. I didn’t try to get a picture with him. I didn’t try to get a picture of him.

My girlfriend doesn’t understand why I don’t take pictures, or why I’ll fight tooth and nail before I take one on our anniversary, while we’re in Disney World, or while I’m lifting a two-ton car.

Truth be told, I don’t need to prove that I was sitting next to Bobby Cox, that I met Bobby Cox, or that I didn’t meet Bobby Cox. The memory is ingrained in my brain for life, and I’ll never forget it. For an hour today, I sat ten feet from one of the most accomplished and respected figures in baseball history and didn’t say a word. For some people, that would be what’s called a “wasted opportunity.”

For me, it’s a damn good day.

Written by dylansharek

January 29, 2011 at 6:57 pm

College of Charleston sweeps Radford in season’s opening series.

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It’s hard to believe it was snowing here in Charleston, South Carolina, just a week ago.

Because today it feels like spring. I’m finally wearing shorts (beware the glow!) and the anoles have emerged from their winter hiding places and are torturing my dog by running just fast enough to stay out of her reach.

And that means one thing, folks: it’s officially baseball season.

Major League Baseball’s pitchers and catchers reported on Thursday and the NCAA baseball season began nationwide on Friday.

The College of Charleston Cougars (hereby ordained “C of C”) opened with a non-conference series against the Radford Highlanders at nearby Patriot’s Point Park in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina.

In the Southern Conference coaches’ poll, the Cougars were chosen to finish fourth. The media, however, picked them to finish third. Baseball America, my favorite source for college baseball information, has ’em finishing second.

The consensus favorite to capture the SoCon league title is Elon, a team filled with dominant pitchers and an above-average group of hitters.

And while it will be hard to wrestle the title from Elon, C of C has all the trappings of an extremely competitive, even championship caliber, team. They’re arguably the best offensive team in the league, their defense is solid, and their pitchers have good upside.

Everything came together for the team during the opening weekend, as they swept Radford in dominating fashion to start the season 3-and-0. They won the first game 8-4, the second game 9-1, and the third 11-3.

The offense was explosive and the pitching was good. There were few scouts at the first game, at least three at the second (Texas, St. Louis, and San Diego) and one at the third (Atlanta).

That means it’s time for a rundown of the team’s top players thus far. For fun, I’ll throw one Radford player into the mix.

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Note to self: Adult softball leagues are for losers.

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I got pink-slipped from my softball league last Wednesday.

I'm actually not sad.

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Getting in touch with Riverdog’s president and baseball legend Mike Veeck.

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I’m obsessed with baseball. I mean, really obsessed.

If I didn’t have a girlfriend, I would still be living in my mother’s house collecting baseball cards, playing fantasy baseball, and Tivo’ing every game I could. It’s really good that Katlyn’s here to keep that in check.

Trust me, I know I’m a weirdo. And I’m okay with it.

So for the past couple months it’s been eating me up inside that the President of the Charleston Riverdogs, Mike Veeck, lives in the same town as me. I mean, it’s been really, really bothering me.

I’ve met Veeck at the Old Village Post House, where we shared some small talk about cutting bread. In an effort to not ruin his night and to leave him alone, I didn’t mention that I was one of the few people in this town who knows what he and his family means to baseball.

His grandfather was one of the owners of the Chicago Cubs when they were first losing. And his father, well it might be better to not get me started on his father. I mean, we’re talking about the slightly-off, one-legged, once owner of the Browns, Indians, White Sox, and Brewers, who sent a midget up to bat in a major league game, invented the exploding scoreboard, and signed the first black player in the American League, Larry Doby, to the Cleveland Indians in 1947. I could go on and on…

The fact that a Veeck offspring is living in the same town as me and isn’t mobbed by hordes of fans wherever he goes is mindblowing to me. I want to scream at people on the streets, “DON’T YOU KNOW THAT THIS GUY IS RESPONSIBLE FOR DISCO DEMOLITION NIGHT?! WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE?!” It would be a breakdown similar to Smykowski’s in Office Space.

The fan riot cost the White Sox a forfeiture of Game 2.

Mike Veeck owns parts of six major league clubs, ranging from Massachusetts to Florida. His promotions (Tonya Harding Bat Night, Silent Night, No One Night) are some of the most popular and hilarious ever perpetrated on the baseball community. He no longer lives in the shadow of his grandfather or father, but is a bonafide force in the baseball world, earning recognition for his “Fun Is Good” way of business and for his soaring successes.

So the other day, I broke down. I sent an email to him basically confessing that I had no reason to email him other than to email him and let him know I existed. Looking back, it was extremely creepy and almost cryptic. It read:

My name is Dylan Sharek. I live and die with baseball. It’s my own form of Seasonal Affective Disorder.

If I didn’t take the time to contact you, I would never have been able to forgive myself.

So I bit the bullet and sent this strange email.

We’ve met before but I didn’t want to interrupt your evening so I didn’t attempt the formalities. However, over the past couple months, knowing your family legacy, knowing we live in the same town, and taking into consideration my love for the game, it’s been eating me up.

I’d love the chance to sit down and have lunch with you, or just talk baseball, or maybe take in a Riverdog’s game together.

It’s uncomfortable for me to reach out like this, but it would really be an honor for me.

Thanks for your time.”

The next day, I received a phone call, not an email, from a living member of one of baseball’s most beloved, recognizable, and illustrious families.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t there to receive it.

The message said, in short: My name is Mike, not Mr. Veeck. Call back on June 1, I’m out of town. We’ll plan something then.

I can’t wait.

Scouting the Dogs.

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As a one year anniversary treat, my girlfriend and I are heading over to Joe P. Riley Park tomorrow to watch the Charleston Riverdogs (Yankees) take on the Asheville Tourists (Rockies).

Even though it’s Thirsty Thursday, which means $1.00 beers, I am going to try to be somewhat level-headed and scout some players. Each team has some guys who should make the majors in some capacity.

Minor league games intrigue me because I never know if I’m watching the next Albert Pujols or Johan Santana. The Riverdogs have been a part of the development of Josh Hamilton, BJ Upton, Carl Crawford, Rocco Baldelli, Delmon Young and more. These guys ain’t no slouches, so I know this year’s Riverdogs have a diamond in the rough, too.

It's amazing that these two played in my backyard.

But without further ado, however, I present to you the guys I’m watching.

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Charleston Riverdogs vs. Savannah Sand Gnats Recap

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My first trip to the Charleston Riverdogs on April 27 was a disaster from a blogging standpoint. I forgot my digital camera at home, I lost the game’s program, and many of the prospects I wanted to see didn’t play.

But from a pure I’m-going-to-a-baseball-game standpoint, it was damn awesome.

Our seats were in the first row behind the visitor’s dugout. The bullpen sat less than 15 feet from us and the warmup mound was directly in our view. If a ball slipped from the leftfielder’s hand while warming up, chances are I would have been hit in the face.

Our seats were also apparently “Tony the Peanut Man’s” preferred area. Not only does he peddle peanuts, but he’ll hurl insults at you, comment on your receding hairline, and make you look like an ass in front of hundreds. I’m sure some people hate it, but I thought it was a great touch. Oh and did I mention that there was beer for $1.50? I am not lying to you.

"Go completely bald!"

The Riverdogs played the Met’s low A team, the Savannah Sand Gnats. Being at this game was like being at a miniature Subway Series or something like a Subway Series of the Future. How cool is that?

Instead of right-handed uber-prospect Andrew Brackman, lefty Manny Banuelos took the hump for the Riverdogs. The Yankee’s #14 prospect is an unexciting and unassuming pitcher out of Mexico. He throws, from what I could tell, an average four seamer that sat at 90 mph, a curveball that he needs to learn how to control, and something resembling a changeup. I was shocked that his fastball was even clocking in at 90 because his motion was so free and easy. He pitched pretty well but it was obvious I was at an A-ball game; hitters were swinging and missing at way too many curves in the dirt and also the high cheese.

Banuelos, Brackman, and D.J. Mitchell: Future Yanks?

The Dog's Banuelos, Brackman, and D.J. Mitchell.

The only other prospects on the Yankee’s top 30 list in Baseball America that played were shortstop Carmen Angelini and outfielder Abraham Almonte. As my luck would have it, they both went 0-fer at the plate. Neither did anything particularly memorable in the field either.

On the Met’s side of things, the only real player of consequence was shortstop Wilmer Flores. According to Baseball America, Flores is their #2 prospect. Flores is still only 17-years-old, a shockingly young age for someone even at this level. He possesses quick and powerful wrists at the plate and one of the strongest arms in the system in the field. Like the two Yankee’s prospects, he posted a big donut while walking once. In the field, however, I do recall him making a great play up the third base side to nab the runner at first.

Overall, there was little on-field excitement. There was shoddy defense, no homeruns, and players were stealing bases like they were free. It was a solid baseball game though, dominated by the Riverdog’s pitching and the Sand Gnat’s four errors.

Final score: 6-1, Riverdogs.