Three down, twenty-five to go.
Although the Wahoos’ first roster is weeks away from completion, the team can finally pencil in its coaching staff for 2014. Delino DeShields returns as manager with a pair of fresh faces; Jeff Fassero joins the Reds organization as Pensacola’s pitching coach while hitting coach Alex Pelaez gets the nod from within the minor league system.
At a glance, it is evident that major league influences will linger far beyond a March exhibition with the Reds. The crew boasts nearly thirty seasons of playing experience on baseball’s greatest stage, including five postseason appearances. They’re also fairly well-traveled, donning the uniforms of twelve teams during their prolific careers.
DeShields, of course, is a first-round selection of the former Montreal Expos who spent thirteen seasons in the big leagues. He shared a clubhouse with Fassero for parts of five seasons, beginning with Montreal’s 1991 campaign. It was the first of many for the journeyman southpaw, who pitched in over seven hundred games while registering two thousand innings of work. Fassero spent the bulk of his service time as a starter, collecting double-digit wins on five occasions. His 15-11 effort in 1996 earned Cy Young considerations, finishing ninth in the voting behind John Smoltz.
Eight teams and ten years later, Fassero retired as a member of the San Francisco Giants. The former Cub joined Chicago’s minor league staff in 2010, first in the form of a short-season stint in Boise and a trip to Peoria one year later. He ascended to Double-A during the Wahoos’ inaugural season, facing off against the Fish as a member of the Tennessee Smokies’ staff. Under his eye, Kyle Hendricks earned postseason All-Star accolades with a league-best 1.85 earned run average. Tennessee rocketed to a 42-27 second-half mark, punctuated by Eric Jokisch’s no-hitter on August 6.
On the hitting side, Pelaez represents another coach who remains firmly fixed in the DeShields circle. To say that their paths have crossed would be an understatement. DeShields and Pelaez found themselves in the same roles before, first with the Billings Mustangs (2009) and later the Dayton Dragons (2010-12). His lengthy minor league career was punctuated with a cup of coffee in San Diego; Pelaez played in three games as a Padre, claiming his first hit on the night of his debut. A career .292 hitter on the farm, the infielder notched three All-Star honors and hit above .300 in four seasons. Quickly climbing the ladder to the higher levels, Pelaez — a former Mobile BayBear — spent the majority of his career at Triple-A, finishing his career with the Louisville Bats.
Pelaez started with the Gulf Coast League but soon earned a promotion to Class A. His 2011 squad led the Midwest League with a .264 clip while topping the circuit in runs scored. In his latest efforts, he shaped Seth Mejias-Brean in his first full season. After a .190 start in April, the organizational All-Star batted .328 as a Dragon before a late promotion to Bakersfield. A twelve-game hitting streak netted Player of the Week honors for the 2012 eighth-round selection, who is expected to reach Pensacola in the near future.
Fans will get their first look at the Wahoos, coaches included, when the Cincinnati Reds travel to Pensacola for the March 28 exhibition game. Stay tuned as updates are released and as always go to bluewahoos.com to learn the latest news.
In an exclusive press conference held Wednesday, the Blue Wahoos announced their intentions to host the Cincinnati Reds and christen their third season in Pensacola. The two teams plan to meet at Pensacola Bayfront Stadium for a friendly competition on March 28, 2014, three days before the Reds’ home opener and less than a week before the Wahoos kick off a new campaign.
The city last witnessed major league play on April 3, 1958, when the Chicago White Sox competed against the St. Louis Cardinals. It was against that backdrop –- one of Pensacola’s storied baseball history -– that owner Quint Studer sees the game as a focal point in the Wahoos’ upcoming season.
Studer went into further detail in a media release yesterday:
I have loved hearing from people who remember a half-century ago when they had the chance to see Major League players play in Pensacola. Having a Double-A affiliate team in Pensacola, the highest level of professional baseball in the City’s history continues to open up opportunities and experiences that were previously not available to the community.
…It looks like 2014 is going to be a very special year, and we’re grateful to the Reds organization and the Blue Wahoos’ sponsors and fans for making this game possible.
Pensacola Bayfront Stadium will also accommodate two college baseball games during March, beginning with Florida-Southern Mississippi on March 4 and Alabama-Troy on March 25.
While the preseason game will provide an opportunity to see what both teams will bring to the table in 2014, the squads represented in the exhibition won’t necessarily match the Opening Day rosters. Cincinnati will trim their active roster to twenty-five players before the start of the season, assigning another twenty-five to Pensacola while scattering the rest across the remainder of the minor league system. With several former Wahoos enjoying success with the parent club, fans could have the opportunity to watch Tony Cingrani and other alumni when the Reds come to town.
Ticket information will be released at a later date.
This story will be frequently updated following the live address at 2:00 PM.
With seven games left in second-half play, the title is still anyone’s for the taking — but time is running out.
After a touch-and-go race for second place between Mississippi and Mobile, the Blue Dynasty has hit another hot streak and overtook Jacksonville for the division lead last night. The Suns were the team to beat for all of August, nearly slipping up in Pensacola before a ninth-inning grand slam on August 10 propelled a winning tear. But with losses in six of their last seven games, Jacksonville finally tumbled in Montgomery to hand the BayBears the crown.
Mobile has been victorious in eight straight games, good for a league-best 16-9 clip in August. In fact, we might be looking at a case of déjà blue when we consider their first-half luck. The BayBears used a four-game series victory in Pensacola as a springboard up the standings, winning twenty of twenty-nine games to climb the ladder and eventually clinch the South Division in the final game of the half. Could Mobile be poised for a sweep?
According to the Southern League rules, Mobile’s theoretical second-half win would activate the wild card. The team with the second-best overall record (currently Mississippi) would take the second and final playoff spot. However, a tie at the top would require a one-game playoff following the regular season.
The Wahoos are still a serious threat even three-and-a-half games back, but a legitimate postseason push would require a fair share of victories down the stretch. Each win would have to come before the elimination number runs down to zero; it sits at four entering tonight’s game. Like the flip side of a magic number, a combination of Mobile wins and Pensacola losses would eliminate the Fish from September considerations. So long as the bats can connect against southpaw Spencer Arroyo, the Wahoos have a chance for a series victory tonight. The starting nine bat .265 (159-for-599) against lefties this year compared to .238 (441-for-1852) when facing right-handers.
It also helps that the top of the lineup is streaking. Ryan LaMarre leads the charge on offense with knocks in nine straight, gunning for the team high tonight while chasing his mark of eleven games set last season. Devin Lohman has hits in five of his last six games entering tonight, while a trip to first base for Mike Costanzo could build on a streak broken just yesterday. Costanzo tied a franchise record with a nineteen-game home on-base streak, going 0-for-4 and whiffing three times last night as the record fell. Workhorse Josh Smith gets the start for Pensacola and seeks his record-setting tenth victory; only eleven other Southern League pitchers have hit double digits in 2013. He set seven Barons down on strikes back on August 5, a 6-2 triumph that cemented the last series.
The prospect of a title run is far from laughable, but the Blue Wahoos need to keep their winning ways alive if they want a fighting chance.
RUNDOWN: Pensacola Blue Wahoos (32-30) vs. Birmingham Barons (30-33)
Site: Pensacola Bayfront Stadium — Pensacola
Time: 7:00 PM CST
On the Mound: RHP Josh Smith (8-8, 3.86 ERA) vs. LHP Spencer Arroyo (8-6, 3.37 ERA)
On-Air: 1450 ESPN Pensacola, now on 101.1 FM | TuneIn Radio
Social Media: @BlueWahoosBBall | @wahoosblog | Facebook | Instagram
BIR Lineup: Wagner 2B, Puckett 3B, Thompson RF, Black 1B, Jacobs LF, Blanke C, Herbek SS, Manzella DH, Walker CF; Arroyo LHP
PNS Lineup: LaMarre CF, Lohman SS, Costanzo 1B, Rodriguez RF, Barnhart C, Mattair 3B, Short LF, Wimberly DH, Chang 2B; Smith RHP
It’s easy to understand why the team’s outlook appeared bleak last week. Gloomy weather aside, the Blue Wahoos had dropped six straight home games while suffering a four-game sweep against Mississippi. Since August 10, Pensacola had been haunted by a ninth-inning grand slam that set a sixteen-inning nightmare into motion and reversed the squad’s course. Before a six-game set against the Stars, the Fish had been outscored 29-10, outhit 62-42 and held to a 6-for-50 clip with runners in scoring position since that fateful splashdown.
The Wahoos were looking at their biggest deficit of the second half as they boarded the bus to Huntsville, but a successful week has all but changed the tune. Boosted by a resounding series victory, the Fish are back above .500 after taking five from a gritty North Division foe and trail the first-place Jacksonville Suns by four games. The kicker? Pensacola has been stuck in fourth place for the past two weeks, and the team is down to their final ten games of the 2013 season.
That’s not to discount the magnificent comeback effort of a team that began the month 7-2 before the fortunes flipped. In fact, much of the month’s early momentum came with a strong showing against the Birmingham Barons. Pensacola set franchise records in the first meeting and finished with sixteen runs on seventeen hits, ultimately claiming three games at the newly-christened Regions Field. The feat is hardly a small one against a Barons’ offense that cruised to a first-half division victory in June and currently boasts seven of the top twenty prospects in the Chicago White Sox organization.
However, the Barons have been stuck in a tailspin this month, garnering a 6-15 record in August while losing eleven of their last fifteen games. Birmingham, who has spent just fourteen games below .500 this season, has lost some significant luggage along the way as slugger Marcus Semien departed for Triple-A Charlotte at the start of the month. A team with the best record in the Southern League has mustered just the fifth-best batting average on the circuit, a foreboding sign with the postseason knocking on the door.
What can the Wahoos expect with the playoffs approaching? Put simply, the Fish can allay these concerns so long as they keep winning; a convincing series victory, paired with a stroke of bad luck for Jacksonville, can delay the issue to the season finale in Mobile. This winning combination is spearheaded by Ryan LaMarre, who has worked a season-best hitting streak of six games in his return to the leadoff spot. Daniel Renken also returns to the rotation in place of departed hurler Tim Crabbe. The former has turned around a 2-6 record in the season’s first three months to a 4-2 clip since, but the latter will be hard to replace. Crabbe was a perfect 3-0 this month before he earned a promotion to Triple-A Louisville last night.
In the words of Yankees legend Yogi Berra, “It ain’t over ’til it’s over!”
2013: Pensacola leads season series 3 games to 2
Next meeting: May 10-14, 2014 (Birmingham)
Wahoos/Barons all-time game record: 12-5
Series record: 3-0-0
In Birmingham: 7-2
In Pensacola: 5-3
Friday: RHP Carlos Contreras (2-2, 2.81 ERA) vs. LHP Scott Snodgress (11-9, 4.44 ERA)
Saturday: RHP Daniel Renken (6-8, 3.62 ERA) vs. RHP Scott Carroll (0-2, 6.35 ERA)
Sunday: RHP Jon Moscot (2-1, 4.95 ERA) vs. RHP Chris Beck (0-2, 5.54 ERA)
Monday: RHP Josh Smith (9-9, 3.51 ERA) vs. LHP Spencer Arroyo (8-6, 3.37 ERA)
Tuesday: RHP Robert Stephenson (0-1, 1.64 ERA) vs. RHP Chris Bassitt (4-2, 2.11 ERA)
WHEN LAST THEY MET
Black: 4-for-13 (2B, HR, 2 RBI, 4 R)
Jacobs: 5-for-21 (2 2B, HR, 4 RBI, 2 R)
Puckett: 9-for-18 (3 2B, 2 HR, 5 RBI, 6 R)
McCray: 1-0, 0.00 ERA (8.0 IP, 0 R, 2 H, 2 BB, 6 K)
Fun Fact: Puckett, a member of the inaugural roster, leads Birmingham hitters in August with a .304 average (21-for-69) in twenty-one games.
BARON TO WATCH
Dan Black, 1B
Bats: S Throws: R
Black may be out of prospect range at 26, but the veteran farmhand has been a powerful addition to Birmingham in his first Double-A season. The infielder looks to build on his third year of one hundred hits or more after claiming the Carolina League MVP award last season. Black lead the circuit with 157 knocks and finished in the top five of several statistical categories, including average (2nd, .315), RBI (2nd, 88) and on-base percentage (3rd, .392). The switch-hitter, twice named one of MiLB.com’s leading organizational All-Stars, holds the active Barons lead with a .287 average in addition to fifteen longballs and seventy-seven RBI entering Friday’s action.
Despite suffering their third straight loss yesterday night, the Blue Wahoos still have plenty to smile about. For one, Pensacola has beaten the odds to win their last three series, opening August with victories in seven of their first nine bouts. The opponents weren’t slouches, with division-leading Jacksonville and first-half champs Birmingham and Mobile standing among the vanquished.
The Fish set a few franchise records along the way, including an onslaught on the road. Batters slashed sixteen runs on seventeen hits in their first game at Regions Field, including eight extra-base knocks. But the most recent mark is one that players and fans alike would rather forget. In a five-hour marathon that stretched for sixteen frames, Pensacola saw a six-run advantage disappear on three late-inning blasts. The Suns carried that momentum into the matinee game, muting the Wahoos’ bats and earning back some lost ground.
With the season winding down and twenty games left on the schedule, it’s time for a realistic assessment of the team’s playoff hopes. Even though the squad is stationed in fourth place, they are hardly out of the hunt. The Fish are five games behind the lead and trail the M-Braves (28-23) by less than three games as the set progresses. However, this series with Mississippi is the last shot the Wahoos will have of directly challenging the South Division until they close the season in Mobile. Pensacola would have to continue their winning ways against Huntsville and Birmingham, both North Division teams.
The biggest number to track this week is the team’s elimination number, which is essentially the opposite of a contender’s magic number. That figure is sixteen, which trickles down to zero with a combination of Wahoos losses and Suns victories. That’s not to say that the Suns will cruise to the title, nor does it suggest that our time is up. But the team needs to continue stroking the baseball and stringing together victories to ensure that they live another night.
The final push will have some added intrigue as fireballer Robert Stephenson joins the rotation. The 20-year-old has breezed through two levels of Class A baseball and finds himself in Pensacola after his first-round selection just two years ago. After a rough start in Dayton, Stephenson — the Reds’ top pitching prospect and the nineteenth-best in baseball per MiLB.com — has been lights-out since May, garnering a 7-2 record and just a 1.80 earned run average after dropping three early decisions. His fastball, which has been documented at 100 miles per hour, has earned honors from Baseball America as the best in the system. His curveball is pretty formidable too, claiming the same honor while helping the righty net 118 strikeouts, the second-most on the Reds’ farm.
Josh Fellhauer, added yesterday night in a domino chain stemming from Cincinnati, will add a hot bat to the lineup in the thick of the playoff chase. The outfielder extended his hitting streak to nine games with a double last night, during which the former Fish has slapped four extra-base hits while adding four RBI. Fellhauer set the team’s single-season record with a .314 batting average in 2012, powered by a .372 mark in August and a .375 clip in the campaign’s final two months.
The M-Braves will counter with some offense as well, especially off the bat of Christian Bethancourt. The former Brave to Watch set a franchise record with a first-inning single last night, reaching base in his thirty-ninth straight game while extending his hitting streak to a season-long fifteen games. Dan Brewer and Mycal Jones aren’t far behind with on-base streaks at a respective twenty and eighteen matches.
A series victory in June set the pace for a quick second-half rally, while close affairs in July set the tone for the never-say-die mentality keeping the Fish fighting in August. The club is finding ways to win, and the playoffs are still a possibility so long as the offense keeps connecting with the baseball.
2013: Mississippi leads season series 9 games to 7
Next meeting: April 24-28, 2014 (Pensacola)
Wahoos/Braves all-time game record: 14-16
Series record: 2-4-0
In Mississippi: 9-10
In Pensacola: 5-6
Wednesday: RHP Tim Crabbe (6-8, 3.44 ERA) vs. RHP Gus Schlosser (6-4, 2.37 ERA)
Thursday: RHP Josh Smith (9-8, 3.60 ERA) vs. RHP Mitch Atkins (4-1, 2.65 ERA)
Friday: RHP Robert Stephenson (0-0, — ERA) vs. RHP Michael Lee (7-8, 4.02 ERA)
Saturday: RHP Carlos Contreras (1-2, 3.12 ERA) vs. LHP Ian Thomas (7-7, 2.62 ERA)
WHEN LAST THEY MET
Jones: 8-for-18 (2B, 2 RBI, 3 R)
Bethancourt: 5-for-16 (3 RBI, 2 R)
La Stella: 7-for-20 (2B, 2 RBI, 2 R)
Martinez: 5-for-16 (2 RBI, 2 R)
Pedroza: 5-for-17 (RBI, 3 R)
Fun Fact: Bethancourt’s batting average has jumped from .242 to .291 over his 39-game on-base streak.
BRAVE TO WATCH
Tommy La Stella, 2B
Bats: L Throws: R
The infielder has established himself in the annals of M-Braves history with a 23-game hitting streak from July 5 to August 5, upsetting a record that stood for six seasons. Overcoming injuries and moving quickly past a seven-game stint in High-A Lynchburg, Atlanta’s fourteenth-best prospect made the most of his Double-A debut with a three-hit night on May 7. La Stella, a heavy hitter at Coastal Carolina University, batted .349 in the heart of his hitting streak and has knocks in twenty-eight of his last thirty games entering tonight.
Leading Mississippi with a .336 average, La Stella’s biggest threat comes with runners on base. The 24-year-old bats .352 with players on the basepaths and .404 with a man in scoring position. In fifty-seven opportunities given the scenario, La Stella has whiffed just nine times when the pressure mounts.
The Blue Wahoos welcomed C. Trent Rosecrans of the Cincinnati Enquirer to Pensacola last week as the Fish hosted the Mobile BayBears. The recently-minted Reds beat writer, whose work has graced Baseball America and CBSSports.com, enjoyed some down time following the All-Star game with a system check on the organization. His minor league jaunt took him from Cincinnati into the heart of the Southern League, winding up in Florida for a long weekend on the beach.
In an exclusive interview, Rosecrans discussed the state of the Reds after the break and dishes some predictions on the 2014 season, including updates on the former Wahoos you know and love. The writer also issues a glowing report on a prospect briskly rising through the Reds’ ranks, even if his talent will be confined to the lower levels until next year.
Here is the full piece conducted last week:
Pensacola was one stop of many for you during a summer tour of sorts. Interestingly, you have ties to the city that extend beyond the nature of your job with your sister living just minutes from the ballpark. Having visited a slew of stadiums, how would you describe the local scene to a typical Reds fan?
First of all, I was overwhelmed not only by the stadium and the atmosphere, but Pensacola as a whole. My sister’s lived there for twelve years now and I don’t know that I ever spent time there like I did this time. I know I’m not telling your readers anything they don’t know, but it’s the perfect vacation spot — great place to watch baseball, beautiful beaches, not too crowded, an improving downtown. Plus it’s about a ten-hour drive from Cincinnati, not right around the corner but certainly manageable. Along the way, there are six other minor league ballparks — Louisville, Bowling Green, Nashville, Huntsville, Birmingham, and Montgomery — plus Mobile just down the road. My wife also raved about her ballpark experience as a fan, from the way everyone treated her to the food. She said the shrimp she ate at the ballpark were the freshest-tasting and best she had her entire week in Pensacola.
Let’s talk baseball. As we go to press, the Reds find themselves in the middle of the NL Central pack: unfamiliar confines after last year’s division win. Cincinnati stands ten games above .500 but six-and-a-half games back of the red-hot Pirates. Should Reds fans be worried about their chances in October, or would you say that expectations are high after last year’s success?
Well, once you get to October, it’s a crapshoot — even more so with the new playoff format. I’m of the mind that if you made the playoffs, you had a pretty good season. After just making it in two of the last three seasons, I may be in the minority opinion in the 513 area code.
It seems evident that Tony Cingrani has a long future ahead of him in Cincinnati, but in what capacity does Dusty Baker want to use him? Could he break into the rotation full-time next year?
Oh, I think he’ll be in the rotation next year. It seems a natural fit with Bronson Arroyo hitting free agency and likely to get more than the Reds would like to pay.
What is the latest evaluation on Billy Hamilton’s future? Assuming Shin-Soo Choo is signed to a long-term deal in 2014, can fans expect another campaign in Triple-A Louisville?
I wouldn’t assume the Reds could re-sign Choo. If I were assuming, I’d say he will not re-sign with Cincinnati. If he is, that’s good news, but it’s far from a slam dunk, much less even probable. Hamilton has always needed some more development. He took large strides last year but hit a wall this season. There was optimism at one point that he’d be ready for 2014, but I’m not so sure that’s the case now. He likely needs more time in Triple-A before he’s ready to play every day in the big leagues. I’ve gotten extremely positive reports about his defense in center field, but the offense still needs work. It will be interesting to see what they try to do to fill that hole for next year.
On the subject of Choo, how would you rate the deal that sent then-prospect Didi Gregorius to Arizona?
The Reds identified their number-one problem to be a leadoff man. To get someone like Choo, you certainly needed to give up a quality prospect. The Reds thought they had a quality prospect in Gregorius, and he was a player coveted by Arizona. While Choo’s cooled off a bit from his hot start, he had a very good July and stands second in the NL in on-base percentage (.417) and fifth in oWAR (offensive wins above replacement, 4.1). That’s a big-time player. Gregorius is having a fine season and is certainly having a better season than Zack Cozart, but without dealing Gregorius, this team wouldn’t have Choo. It was a risk, and it may hurt the team down the road, but it was the way this team saw to manage a glaring weakness. To get quality, you must give up quality.
Cincinnati was silent in the latest go-around as the trade deadline came and went. Can the Reds still be buyers down the road?
Sure. They don’t have the depth in the system to make huge noise, but they were not unlike most of MLB — [Reds general manager] Walt Jocketty called it the most boring trade deadline in history. He wasn’t wrong.
Robert Stephenson is putting up strong outings in High-A Bakersfield, and the Reds have their 2011 first-round pick on the fast track in his third season. Is he as good as advertised, and could the Wahoos see him late in the season?
Stephenson moved from Dayton to Bakersfield after missing a month with a hamstring injury, but has seemingly recovered well. His stuff is fantastic, and he also knows how to control it. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if he were named the team’s number-one prospect going into next season, and that would certainly be deserved. He’s fantastic. I don’t know that the Reds will move him again this year. He’s only made three starts at Bakersfield, and with a month to go, it seems unlikely they’d promote him again this late in the season. He’s also from California, so I’m guessing he’s enjoying being back home. I’d expect him to start next season in Pensacola, but you’ll likely have to wait until then to see him. And trust me, it’s worth the wait.
Is two the Wahoos’ magic number? The Mobile BayBears were hit with a triple dose of déjà blue with Pensacola capturing three 2-0 victories en route to their first series victory over their rivals. After a display of might in Pensacola, the team hits the road and has their work cut out for them as they begin a fifteen-game, sixteen-day jaunt against a ferocious schedule.
With Birmingham, Jacksonville, and Mississippi on the docket, the Fish make their first stop in Alabama to face off against the Chicago White Sox affiliate. Perhaps graciously, Pensacola has been spared this goliath matchup until August. Just how good have the Barons been? Their 67-43 clip, good for a .609 winning percentage, is the second-best in Minor League Baseball. Birmingham trails only Durham (72-41) while tying South Bend and Binghamton. Bound for the playoffs for the second time in three years, the squad finished eighteen games above .500 in the first half and clinched the title with a week to spare.
This set can be defined by fresh starts on both sides of the field. Jon Moscot gets the ball for Pensacola in his first Double-A start tonight. He struggled in High-A Bakersfield, garnering a 2-14 record with a 4.59 earned run average, but those stats aren’t too bad if you read between the lines. First, consider that the distance from home plate to the wall in center field at the Blaze’s Sam Lynn Ballpark is 354 feet; this wanes by roughly thirty feet approaching the foul poles. A hitter-friendly park in a hitter-friendly league, Moscot took most of the damage at home (0-11, 5.81). His numbers were far more respectable on the road, cutting his ERA in half and holding hitters to a stingy .188 average (2-3, 2.74).
Moscot is actually a pretty polished player, plucked from Pepperdine in the fourth round of last year’s draft. He jumped over Dayton between his two professional campaigns and finds himself in Double-A just thirteen months after his first game. With a solid low-nineties fastball and deceptive slider, Moscot racked up an organization-high 112 strikeouts in Bakersfield. Per Blaze play-by-play man Dan Besbris, the right-handed hurler only got “rattled” once all year, a stunning characteristic considering his poor fortune.
Meanwhile, Birmingham looks to continue their second-half success without slugger Marcus Semien. The infielder was a shoo-in for the Southern League MVP, leading the circuit in hits, runs, walks, on-base percentage, and total bases at the time of his departure. Semien’s video-game numbers powered on offense that pulled in the league’s second-best average (.252) and slugging percentage (.380) as well as the top on-base percentage (.349). The Barons have also been quick to score, average 4.75 runs per game and dominating the RBI column. Scott Snodgress, an eleven-game winner, anchors a lights-out rotation that boasts a league-best twelve shutout bids.
Besides watching the Barons, fans who make the trip will be rewarded with sweeping downtown views courtesy of the brand-new Regions Field facilities. After visiting the stadium during a Southern League tour in June, this blogger can say that Birmingham built a Triple-A quality ballpark for their Double-A affiliate. From modern lighting methods to luxury boxes spanning the basepaths, the $64 million complex is a sight for sore eyes, and the Barons have christened it with a 38-17 mark at home.
We’ll be keeping close tabs on first-place Jacksonville, who tangles with North Division leader Tennessee this week. The Wahoos can benefit from the Suns’ shortcomings against the Smokies, and the Fish would appreciate as much breathing room as possible before they host the Golden Skillet foes starting Wednesday.
Wahoos/Barons all-time game record: 9-3
Series record: 3-0-0
In Birmingham: 4-0
In Pensacola: 5-3
Friday: LHP Spencer Arroyo (8-4, 3.16 ERA) vs. RHP Jon Moscot (0-0, — ERA)
Saturday: RHP Stephen McCray (9-7, 3.49 ERA) vs. RHP Daniel Renken (5-7, 3.37 ERA)
Sunday: RHP Michael Nix (3-3, 4.76 ERA) vs. RHP Tim Crabbe (4-8, 3.39 ERA)
Monday: RHP Chris Bassitt (2-1, 3.18 ERA) vs. RHP Josh Smith (8-8, 3.90 ERA)
Tuesday: LHP Scott Snodgress (11-7, 3.70 ERA) vs. RHP Carlos Contreras (1-1, 2.87 ERA)
NEW DIGS FOR A FORMER FISH
One surprising facet of the Wahoos’ second season is the scope of our former players. A handful of players from the 2012 squad have found niches in the higher levels, and an equal amount have moved to new organizations. Among the journeymen is Cody Puckett, who garnered a .268 average in thirty-seven games with Pensacola last season. Puckett was promoted to Louisville in May 2012, finishing the season with the Bats. Free agency brought him to the White Sox, who started him in the Southern League before giving Puckett a taste of Triple-A Charlotte. The utility man has found most of his time in the infield this season, but he might be used during the series as a designated hitter.
Fun fact: Puckett’s last games in a Blue Wahoos uniform were played against — you guessed it — Birmingham.
BARON TO WATCH
Brandon Jacobs, OF
Bats: R Throws: R
Jacobs, a former Auburn football signee, has found success on the diamond as he continues his fifth season in professional ball. The tenth-round pick was originally signed by Boston, who reaped the benefits through mid-July. The 22-year-old collected two straight seasons of 100-hit ball entering the year, batting .303 with Low-A Greenville in 2011.
Jacobs, the eleventh-best Boston prospect in the preseason, jumped to Double-A Portland after a strong start in High-A Salem. He spent only three games in the Eastern League before the Red Sox dealt him for Chicago’s Matt Thornton. In an unprecedented start, Jacobs is riding a fifteen-game hitting streak to begin his Barons career. A quick check of his player profile reveals that, yes, that would represent at least one hit in every game with Birmingham. Bumped to number eight in the Chicago system, Jacobs has a hot bat which netted him twenty-four doubles and eleven home runs with Salem. The extra-base pop is already evident in his new digs, good for thirteen RBI and a .429 slugging percentage.
MiLB.com covers the details of Jacobs’ trade in the Southern League notebook, so we’ll leave that to the analysts. You can read more about Jacobs in his changing of Sox by clicking here.
The quest for the South Division second-half title will be one for the record books.
Even though the Blue Wahoos find themselves in fourth place after dropping two games at the hands of their chief South Division rivals, the logjam is poised to continue through August as all five teams jockey for position. The axiom “control(s) their own destiny” is one of the most misused and worn-out sayings in the world of sports, but the Fish may be the best practitioners of the phrase. Pensacola hosts two division foes in the heart of the month, playing ten games in eleven days against Jacksonville (August 7-11) and Mississippi (August 13-17). They flip the page with a bang as well, journeying to Mobile for what could be the most influential set of the season.
As for July, the Wahoos may have fared better without the All-Star break. Pensacola wrapped up a four-game series victory in Montgomery, their first such triumph of the season, before sending a handful of representatives to Bragan Field. Unfortunately, the Fish have lost their last two series with a chance to reverse their fortunes with a win tonight.
The month as a whole was one of Pensacola’s finest, finishing just two games under .500 for the closest margin of the year. The pitching staff lowered their team ERA from 3.87 to 3.70 — the second-best gap of the month behind Huntsville (4.45 to 4.27). There was no stopping their offensive jump, though, as their five-point improvement was the league’s best in July. That’s why we’ve nominated eight players for the two monthly honors, prospects who showed marked improvement even if the winning percentage doesn’t reflect it.
Our analysis goes beyond a glance at a batter’s average, home run count, and RBI stash; a pitcher’s win-loss record and ERA; or a team’s spot in the standings from one year to the next. July was one of the Wahoos’ strongest in some time, and that spells success in August if they can keep the ball rolling.
vs. North Division: 2-7
vs. South Division: 10-7
Place: 4th, SOU South
Games Behind: 4.0
Last 15: 6-9
Last 10: 5-5
Last 5: 2-3
vs. North Division: 12-21
vs. South Division: 31-43
Average per opening: 4,609 (51)
July 1: C Tucker Barnhart placed on the disabled list with a left hamstring strain; C Danny Vicioso transferred from High-A Bakersfield
July 4: RHP Chad Rogers transferred to Triple-A Louisville; RHP Trevor Bell transferred from Triple-A Louisville
July 8: C Danny Vicioso transferred to High-A Bakersfield; C Tucker Barnhart activated from the disabled list
July 10: LHP Wilkin De La Rosa released; LHP Lee Hyde transferred from Triple-A Louisville
July 11: C Matt Kennelly transferred to Triple-A Louisville; C Chris Berset transferred from High-A Bakersfield. INF Marquez Smith placed on the disabled list with a right lateral meniscus injury; INF Mike Costanzo signed and assigned to Pensacola
July 18: LHP Ryan Dennick transferred to Triple-A Louisville; RHP Carlos Contreras optioned to Pensacola from High-A Bakersfield. RHP Brian Pearl placed on the disabled list (right shoulder strain) retroactive to 7/14; RHP Parker Frazier acquired from Colorado in a trade for Armando Galarraga and placed on Pensacola roster
July 22: INF Brodie Greene placed on the disabled list with a fractured tibia; INF Humberto Valor transferred from Low-A Dayton
July 31: INF Humberto Valor transferred to Dayton; OF Brandon Short signed and assigned to Pensacola
Game Balls: Vote for Hitter and Pitcher of the Month
It’s no secret that Tucker Barnhart has been one of Pensacola’s top hitters, but July was the backstop’s best month yet. Working an eight-game hitting streak across two months — bridged by a week on the disabled list — Barnhart batted .333 with thirteen RBI but a more impressive strikeout total. Barnhart whiffed only five times in forty-eight at-bats.
Travis Mattair, 3B
The same Mattair that batted .122 after April posted his best month in Double-A. In fact, the Moose was one of Minor League Baseball’s best hitters since July 8, ending the month with a .330 clip and .406 on-base percentage. Entering August, he has plenty of time to chase all-time records for runs and RBI after cinching up the home-run title on July 30.
Ryan LaMarre, OF
Slowing down over his last three games, LaMarre has a strong case to make after collecting the Wahoos’ first Hitter of the Week title. With his stats bolstered by a strong series against the Biscuits, LaMarre picked up the title with three home runs, five runs and nine RBI from July 8-14. The common theme of “best month at the plate” continues as LaMarre belted a .269 average last month.
Corey Wimberly, UTIL
Wimberly’s tale of the tape is an intriguing one. The utility player had exactly fifty-eight at-bats in eighteen games in both June and July, but his average jumped more than 130 points. As detailed in our Biscuits series recap, Wimberly entered at .215 and left at .279 after slashing ten hits against Montgomery. With the Fish destined for Birmingham tomorrow, expect Wimberly to lead off as the designated hitter.
Lee Hyde, LHP
It’s hard to argue against a pitcher who hasn’t allow an earned run in two months. Hyde spent most of June and early July in Triple-A Louisville, dealing 7.1 zeros in the International League. In eight Double-A games, Hyde held hitters to less than .100 at the plate while extending his scoreless streak to 27.1 innings overall and a team-high 19.2 frames since May 21.
Chris Manno, LHP
Stop me if you’ve heard this one: a southpaw overcomes a tough start to shut down opponents in July, granting no runs across the month. It’s hard to say what was most impressive about Manno’s month: a .121 opponent average, an earned run average of 0.51 since June 21, or the 12:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio in seven games.
Josh Ravin, RHP
Ravin was nearly as unstoppable as the Wahoos’ lefties, allowing two earned runs on July 24 but little else. The fireballer’s 2.35 ERA in July was his best monthly mark, powered by five consecutive outings without issuing a walk. He finished with four free passes, a monthly low, with nine whiffs.
Daniel Renken, RHP
Renken is a changed man since the All-Star break, tossing seven quality outings in as many starts while working two straight scoreless stints. The starter registered three wins in July with a season-best 2.04 clip, allowing the fewest stash of earned runs (eight) over the highest inning count (35.1).
July 1-3 at Jacksonville: JAX, 3 games to 2 (series began June 29)
July 4-8 vs Jackson: JXN, 4 games to 1
July 10-14 at Montgomery: PNS, 4 games to 1
July 18-21 vs Huntsville: HVL, 3 games to 1
July 23-27 at Mississippi: MIS, 3 games to 2
July 28-July 31 vs Mobile: TIE, 2 games to 2 (series concludes August 1)
Photos of the Month
- Want More Wahoos?
Mark Serrano, a fixture on the Blue Wahoos’ roster for the whole of the inaugural campaign, is penned to take the start against his former team today.
The 27-year-old California native was used primarily out of the bullpen last season but found success in nine starts, collecting two victories and a 2.49 earned run average as part of the rotation. Serrano finished the 2012 season, his fourth, with a 7-4 record and 3.95 ERA in just over forty games.
The offseason was a strange one for Serrano, a former sixth-round pick. After a brief stint in Cincinnati’s Spring Training, the right-hander found himself out of work as the season began. In fact, he was still searching when we tracked down the 2012 Opening Day roster. Serrano wound up in the American Association, an independent league that once housed the Pensacola Pelicans. Following four seasons in the Reds organization, he was a Laredo Lemur for less than a month. Serrano found himself at home, dominating the experienced hitters to the tune of a 4-1 clip. His 2.41 earned run average was one of the best marks in his professional career, and it paid off with the Arizona Diamondbacks purchasing his contract on June 10.
He picked up the victory in his first game back in the minors, facing off against the Wahoos on June 14. After five appearances with the BayBears, the pitcher who was out of the game three months ago was just one step from the big leagues. In two starts with the Triple-A Reno Aces, Serrano won one decision and went the distance in his lone victory; he tossed seven innings of four-hit ball to claim a 6-1 victory against the Tacoma Rainiers.
Serrano, who has found equal time in and out of the bullpen in the pros, joined the Mobile rotation on July 19 and is thus far a perfect two-for-two as part of the six-man staff. He posted two straight quality starts along the way, striking out seven batters on each occasion and allowing just six hits in the cumulative effort.
On the opposite side of the field, Josh Smith looks to set a franchise record one night after Travis Mattair etched his name in the history books. Smith can collect the most wins in a single season with his ninth tonight, but he’ll have to best a sour history against the BayBears. The offspeed specialist is 0-3 with a 6.60 earned run average against Mobile with just one quality start, a 4-2 defeat on May 20. Pensacola, who ultimately dropped the season series with last night’s setback, still has two more chances to win their first set against their South Division foes in 2013 so long as they contain one of the most ferocious offenses in the league. In addition, the Wahoos are just three games out of first place behind the red-hot Jacksonville Suns, and a two-game surge can help them when he do battle with North Division leader Birmingham.
RUNDOWN: Pensacola Blue Wahoos (18-19) vs. Mobile BayBears (19-19)
Site: Pensacola Bayfront Stadium — Pensacola
Time: 7:00 PM CST
On the Mound: RHP Josh Smith (8-8, 3.86 ERA) vs. RHP Mark Serrano (4-0, 2.18 ERA)
On-Air: 1450 ESPN Pensacola, now on 101.1 FM | TuneIn Radio
Social Media: @BlueWahoosBBall | @wahoosblog | Facebook | Instagram
MOB Lineup: Inciarte CF, Ahmed SS, Greene LF, Evans 1B, Freeman 2B, Court 3B, Gomez C, Broxton RF, Serrano RHP
PNS Lineup: Wimberly 2B, Costanzo 1B, Rodriguez RF, Lutz LF, Barnhart C, Mattair 3B, LaMarre CF, Chang SS, Smith RHP
The latest promotion centered on Pensacola adds a new face to a portion of the roster not akin to constant fluctuation: the field staff.
With Tom Brown away on a family matter until Tuesday, the Blue Wahoos have utilized Derrin Ebert as the interim pitching coach since the middle of the Mississippi series. If the name sounds familiar to serious theatergoers, you may remember the 36-year-old coach as a fixture in Moneyball. Ebert portrayed Oakland Athletics pitcher Mike Magnante in the award-winning blockbuster, whose directors sought as realistic of an approach to the game as possible.
He won the role through a mutual friend, a Little League buddy who also had connections to the film crew. “The casting director asked him if he knew any guys who used to play baseball because they wanted it to be as (realistic) as possible,” Ebert told The Hesperia Star in 2011.
Ebert’s eleven-year playing career took him through the heart of several organizations, beginning with Atlanta in 1994. It didn’t take long for the southpaw to climb the ladder, posting three straight seasons of double-digit wins to progress to Triple-A Richmond in just his fifth year. He debuted with Atlanta on April 6, 1999, collecting the unlikely save against Philadelphia in a resounding 11-3 win. In all, Ebert appeared in five major league games and picked up a 5.63 earned run average, dropping his final decision at the hands of the then-Florida Marlins on October 2.
After another full season in Richmond, Ebert spent time with farm systems in Boston and Milwaukee in 2001 and 2002, respectively. He played with three new organizations in 2003, tossing twenty-eight games from as low as High-A High Desert — a three-game stint — to the International and Pacific Coast Leagues. Ebert notched a winning season with the Royals’ circuit between two levels but hung up his cleats in 2005. He finished his prolific minor league career with a 85-73 clip and 4.22 ERA.
Thus came his return to baseball with Moneyball. Shooting three scenes, all but one ended up on the cutting room floor. Interestingly enough, the film executives were open to input, and Ebert’s word ultimately changed the screenplay. A locker room scene written by Hollywood legend Aaron Sorkin was abandoned when the former pro stepped in. “A lot of it, they let us ad lib, you know?” Ebert continued. “We’d look at the script, look at what they wanted and do it naturally. They’d always come back to us and ask us, ‘Does this look right?’”
Ebert couldn’t leave the game, coaching a travel team in his native Arizona before joining the Reds as a rookie-league coach. The pitching coach was in the heart of his second campaign in the Arizona League before the promotion, anticipating a return to his stomping grounds when Brown rejoins the Wahoos on Tuesday.
On to tonight’s preview, which pits the Fish against their chief South Division rival. Lost in the hubbub of a guest appearance (which we’ll reveal tomorrow) was a two-hit gem by the Pensacola staff, both limited to the third inning of a 2-0 shutout victory. The simple explanation as to why this stupendous statistic flew under the radar, however, was the glaring fact that the bullpen’s slow start in the stretch could have reversed the team’s fortune. Josh Ravin, who has settled down for a 2.70 earned run average in the second half and 2.35 clip in July, uncorked a wild pitch between a pair of walks to force Chris Manno into the game. A three-up, three-down inning could have kept the lefty on the shelf for another day, but the fireballer’s abrupt exit necessitated the move.
Granted, the sluggish start was an outlier in an otherwise strong month from Ravin; his two free passes upped his monthly total to four, which is on pace for his best strikeout-to-walk ratio all season. These early mistakes can still put the BayBears into scoring position, and the numbers favor opponents when more runners reach.
Daniel Renken takes the mound tonight and looks to continue his sparkling second-half campaign. The right-hander has tossed six quality starts in his last seven outings, culminating with Wednesday’s two-hit wonder. Renken threw six scoreless innings and struck out four before collecting a win on the road. Searching for his first win against Mobile, he faces off against David Holmberg, who yielded a home run in the first inning and nothing more in a June 17 complete-game marathon. The sixth-best prospect in the Diamondbacks system has good control of a four-pitch arsenal and looks to seal the Bay-to-Bay Series with a victory tonight.
RUNDOWN: Pensacola Blue Wahoos (17-18) vs. Mobile BayBears (18-18)
Site: Pensacola Bayfront Stadium — Pensacola
Time: 7:00 PM CST
On the Mound: RHP Daniel Renken (4-7, 3.56 ERA) vs. LHP David Holmberg (5-5, 2.92 ERA)
On-Air: 1450 ESPN Pensacola, now on 101.1 FM | TuneIn Radio
Social Media: @BlueWahoosBBall | @wahoosblog | Facebook | Instagram
MOB Lineup: Inciarte CF, Ahmed SS, Greene LF, Evans 1B, Martin RF, Freeman 2B, Court 3B, Perez C, Schultz RHP
PNS Lineup: Lohman SS, Bowe LF, Rodriguez RF, Costanzo 1B, Barnhart C, Mattair 3B, LaMarre CF, Chang 2B, Crabbe RHP