Sunday, October 25, 2015

CPBL: A Historic Game 7 for the Ages

When thinking of Asian import players during the offseason, most tend to search the Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) of Japan or the Korean Baseball Organization (KBO), and for good reasons too. The NPB has produced talents such as Ichiro and Masahiro Tanaka, with many fans in the States with their eyes on current Japanese aces Kenta Maeda and Shohei Otani. The KBO has made waves this year, with Jung-ho Kang making a successful transition and the possible posting of slugging third baseman Jae-gyun Hwang this winter. However, one major Asian league on par with the two other leagues and not nearly as well scouted is the CPBL in Taiwan. The acronym stands for the Chinese Professional Baseball League, which is kind of misleading since it is the baseball league in Taiwan with no ties to mainland China. But this blog is about baseball, and not politics, so let's carry on. While Taiwan has produced multiple successful major leaguers such as lefty Wei-Yin Chen, the CPBL has produced just one player in the MLB, former left handed reliever Fu-Te Ni, who had one solid season before his elbow gave out and required Tommy John. The Taiwan Series, or the CPBL equivalent of the World Series, however, holds some of the top CPBL talent who could make the transition to the MLB soon.

The high-offense Lamigo Monkeys (think the Blue Jays) had a lineup loaded with power up and down. They boasted the CPBL's first 30-30 player this season, infielder Chih-Sheng Lin, a soon-to-be free agent due for a big payday who also won the Home Run Derby this year at the age of 33. He slashed a ridiculous .380/.469/.689 with 30 stolen bases, blowing away his career highs and tying a career high 31 home runs. He was protected by Hong-Yu Lin, a catcher/DH who also set career highs with a .353/.443/.581 with 24 home runs and rookie sensation Po-Jung Wang, who hit .324/.377/.640 and 9 home runs in just 111 at bats, including this one (skip to 1:00) where he went opposite field 12 rows up the stands. The Monkeys also had Yen-Wen Kuo, a former Reds prospect, who despite an unorthodox swing has great bat to ball skills, slashing .297/.349/.418 including a league record 34 game hit streak, and Chun-Hsiu Chen, a big Indians prospect a few years back who swatted 25 long balls this year. The pitching was led by Pat Misch and Jared Lansford, who had a 2.96 and 4.15 ERA, respectively. One of the better native pitchers on the island, lefty Yi-Cheng Wang, struggled for the first time in his young career, with a 6.13 ERA, but he would later come up huge in this series.

The Lamigo Monkeys hype video:


The Chinatrust Brothers are a storied franchise, one of the original teams in the CPBL known as the Brother Elephants before Chinatrust bought the team this past offseason. The pitching was lead by former Brewer Mike McClendon and Victor Garate, as well as a lock-down bullpen with top set-up man Ta-Yuan Kuan and former Cubs prospect and current closer Hung-Wen Chen. The heart of the lineup had former superstar Cheng-min Peng, a 15-year veteran who, despite the drop-off in power production still managed to maintain his contact skills and excellent plate discipline. It also included veteran outfielder Szu-Chi Chou, who hit .349 with 15 home runs, bouncing back from a bad 2014 where he OPS'd just .686. The big threat in the lineup though, was second-year corner infielder Chi-Hong Hsu. With his solid arm, plate discipline, plus raw power and bit of swagger, he hit .319/.432/.535 with 13 home runs, earning the nickname "Taiwanese Manny Machado."

Chi-Hong Hsu going opposite field:

The Taiwan Series began with the Monkeys rallying behind former Giant and Met Pat Misch, who scattered eight hits and three runs over seven solid frames. Rookie of the Year candidate Po-Jung Wang (more on him in a later post) and Hung-Yu Lin both homered off Brothers' Victor Garate, beating them 8-6. But the Chinatrust Brothers came back, winning Game 2 behind a late rally, Game 3 with an 11 inning walk-off by shortstop Sheng-wei Wang, and a Game 4 12-7 slugfest. Yet the Monkeys then came back with a complete game by Yi-Cheng Wang in Game 5 to send the series back to Taoyuan, the home of the Monkeys. Game 6 was a thriller, with the Monkeys starting Cesar Valdez, who lost game 2, and the Brothers countering with Bryan Woodall. The Brothers led 3-2 in the top of the third and two outs when Lamigo manager Yi-Chong Hong made a pivotal decision. He brought in Game 3 starter Jared Lansford on just three days rest, and he pitched 5 gutsy innings while Lamigo rallied back, taking a 5-3 lead in the eighth when Lansford loaded the bases. Manager Hong then made one more big decision. He brought in Pat Misch, who started Games 1 and 4, in on two days rest to face the lefties. He walked in a run, but then struck out Chi-Hong Hsu to end the threat and keep the lead at 5-4, which is how the game ended.


This set up an epic Game 7, one that will be remembered in CPBL history for years to come. Having used Valdez and Lansford the night before and Wang two games ago, the Monkeys brought back Pat Misch to start the championship game after starting Games 1, 4, and relieving in Game 6. The tall lefty sat at 86-88 mph with a changeup at 82-83 and a 77 mph slider. He pounded the zone all night long, striking out the side in the second, mixing fastballs and changeups down and away against lefties, a sequence that worked for him the whole game. He retired the first 12 batters he faced before he walked Cheng-min Peng, but quickly erased him with a double play ball. The Monkeys were on offensively all game long. A first inning opposite field home run from MVP candidate Chih-Sheng Lin started the offense, and they exploded for 5 runs in the bottom of the third for a 7-0 lead. Lin started the rally again as the Brothers pitched around him, walking him with 2 outs in the third. This proved costly when Hong-Yu Lin followed up with a rocket line drive to right to put runners on first and second. Yen-Wen Kuo then doubled them both home with a gapper to left center, which chased Brothers starter Ping-Rei Chiu. The Brothers made the interesting decision to pitch spot starter Chiu in this big game 7 over scheduled starter Victor Garate, who was hit hard over two starts in the Series but solid overall. A reliever came in but the Monkeys were not done. Po-Jung Wang then lined an RBI single to right, setting a single-series record 14 hits. After yet another single by Chun-Hsiu Chen, the Monkeys scored 2 more when De-Long Yu, a fan-favorite village kid known for his speed and defense, hit an RBI double over the left fielder's head, making the score 7-0.

The Chinatrust Brothers, down 7-0 and still without a hit, tried to get something started off Misch with a bunt attempt to start off the 6th, but it went foul. Misch continued to stay in control with his fastball and changeup and mixing in his slider, getting ground balls and strikeouts as he threw another 1-2-3 inning. The Monkeys, in the bottom of the eighth, leading 9-0, decided to pinch hit Chin-Feng Chen, a CPBL legend who will likely retire at the end of the season. Back in 2000, Chen was the top prospect in the Dodgers farm system, rated  the #17 overall prospect in the MLB. After several excellent campaigns in AAA from 2002-2004, the Dodgers never gave him a shot, and he returned to Taiwan to play in the CPBL and be closer to family. He is arguably the best Taiwanese hitter of all-time, but injuries and age have slowed him down. He received just 52 plate appearances all year, but he made the most out of his possible final stand. He ripped a line drive single to right center, and later scored on a sac fly. Meanwhile, on the defensive side, Misch was still dealing. Having faced the minimum through eight with just a walk to blemish his record, he faced the 7-8-9 part of the Brothers lineup. After retiring the first hitter on a groundout, Sheng-wei Wang gave him his first real scare on the night. He drove the ball to deep right, but Po-Jung Wang raced back easily and made the catch. On his 99th pitch off the night, pinch hitter Jian-Yu Kuo hit into a 6-3 groundout, giving Pat Misch the first postseason NO-HITTER in CPBL history. He was in control all night long, retiring the minimum 27 batters with 7 strikeouts. This series was truly the epitome of baseball: anything can happen to any team, anywhere, at any time. The Game 7 performance by Pat Misch and the collective effort of the Lamigo Monkeys to come back in this series will forever be etched in CPBL history books.


video



Thursday, October 22, 2015

State of the Farm: Houston Astros

Hello Everybody! The Astros, with their strong draft position in the last few years coupled with the trade acquisitions by general manager Jeff Luhnow, currently possess one of the best farm systems in the MLB. Along with the young core in the major leagues right now, the Houston Astros may be scary for years to come.

Houston Astros


TOP THREE PROSPECTS


1. Alex Bregman, SS, 6'0" 186 lbs. R/R

Alex Bregman, the Astros top draft pick in the 2015 draft at number two overall, is a polished shortstop out of LSU. He provides an above average hit tool and good plate discipline with a short, sweet stroke tailor-made for spraying line drives to all fields. Power might not be the biggest part his game right now, but he could be a doubles machine with room to mature into some more pop as he develops and moves up the organizational ladder. He possesses slightly above average speed and good fielding instincts at shortstop to go with his strong arm. Scouts describe his game with the cliché scrappy and gritty, a grinder that hustles and puts in plus plus effort and work ethic. Bregman could develop into a .280/.360/.410 hitter that, with his athleticism, could play all around the field with Carlos Correa ahead of him at shortstop.




2. A.J. Reed, 1B, 6'4" 240 lbs. L/L

Standing at 6'4" 240 pounds, A.J. Reed is a big, big, man. He has some of the best pure power out of anyone in the minor leagues, bashing 12 home runs in just 68 games after the 2014 draft, then following that up with an astounding 34 dingers in his first full pro season in 2015. While he may not replicate the insane .340 batting average he posted this past season, he has a solid hit tool that won't be completely exposed by big league pitching and avoid striking out at an extreme clip. As a former pitcher who could sit 88-91 on the mound in college, Reed also possesses a good arm, although he won't get too many chances to show it off at first base. While he is an average defender at first with a strong arm, he is limited to first base due to left-handedness and lack of mobility. His bat alone will make him a fine major leaguer, and any good defensive showing at first base will just be the cherry on top. It is not unreasonable to expect Reed to put up a .260/.340/.520 line in his prime.



3. Mark Appel, RHP, 6'5" 220 lbs. R/R

Mark Appel's struggles in the minor leagues are tough to explain. While he is not the greatest athlete, his arsenal contains a 98 mph fastball and a plus slider than can put major league hitters away. He also has an above average changeup. Appel has solid control and can throw all three pitches for strikes, as evidenced by his reasonable 2.9 BB/9 throughout his minor league career. What his problem might be however, is not control, but command. There have been rumors, both by scouts and fans who witness his starts, that while he throws in the strike zone, he has trouble hitting corners and making quality pitches within. He has been inconsistent throughout his career, sometimes dominant yet often hittable, and much of this could be attributed to his inability to command the zone. His stuff however, has always been maintained, and is seemingly one simple fix away from contributing to the Astros playoff runs in Houston.



THE REST OF THE FARM


There are several other hard-throwing right handers in the farm system deserving a mention in the top 3 such as Francis MartesJoe Musgrove, and Michael Feliz. Martes was a throw-in from the Jarred Cosart deal with Miami that emerged this season as possibly the top piece of that deal, pitching at three levels to the tune of a 2.04 ERA and an 8.7 K/9. Musgrove, the Astros minor league pitcher of the year, is another rising name, with 99 strikeouts to just 8 walks in 100 2/3 innings to go with a miniscule 1.88 ERA, also at three different levels. Feliz has been a big name for some time and making his major league debut this season. He is a power arm who can run the fastball up to 96 mph with quality slider and changeup, and you can expect him to play a big role for an MLB team very soon. One other fast riser this season is Akeem Bostick, who gets groundballs and limits the walks, and his projectable frame suggests more velocity and strikeouts to come. Keegan Yuhl, who has a similar profile to Bostick, had one of the greatest seasons in high-A Lancaster history, posting a 1.74 ERA on the season. Several power arms to keep an eye on are David Paulino and relievers Jandel Gustave and Reymin Guduan, each of whom can hit 100 mph. Some finesse right handers include changeup specialist Chris Devenski, strike-throwing Brady Rodgers, sinkerballers Mike Hauschild and Kyle Westwood, and Asher Wojciechowski. The big names for immediate relief options include power righties James HoytJordan JankowskiTyson Perez in AAA and Tyler BrunnemannTravis Ballew, and Aaron West in AA. Lefty relievers in the upper levels of the farm system include Luis CruzChris Cotton, and Tommy Shirley.


Aside from Bregman and Reed, the Astros system includes plenty of other intriguing bats, including two college bats drafted along side Reed, power hitting third baseman J.D. Davis and toolsy outfielder Derek Fisher, both of whom have 25 home run pop. Some other names with loud tools include Teoscar Hernandez and his plus speed and power combo, sweet-swinging outfielder Danry Vasquez, and Jason Martin, the plus defender with a potential-laden bat. On the other end of the spectrum, the system possesses some lumbering mashers who aren't the top athletes. Lefty Jon Kemmer, who hit .327/.414/.574 in AA and righty Tyler White, who slashed .325/.442/.496 in AA and AAA combined. Another prospect from the Cosart deal is third baseman Colin Moran, who has arguably the best hit tool in the system. On the other side of the diamond is former Vanderbilt first baseman Conrad Gregor, another line-drive bat with developing power. Some defense first players to note include catchers Tyler Heineman and Roberto Pena, outfielder Andrew Aplin, Korean infielder Chan Moon and former first-rounder shortstop Jio Mier. One name who could be poised for a 2016 breakout is middle infielder Nolan Fontana. Fontana has some of the best plate discipline in all of baseball, leading to extremely high OBPs with just enough power so pitchers won't challenge him right down the middle. Expect him to start next season in AAA Fresno, but a strong start could force his name into the discussion for the utility role in Houston.


In the lower levels of the minors, there are more intriguing bats to note. Chase McDonald and his gigantic frame quietly smashed 30 HRs in high-A Lancaster. OBP machine Jamie Ritchie may be the best catching prospect in the system, and Ronnie Mitchell and Ramon Laureano have some big tools that have been hidden with the depth of the system. Centerfielders James Ramsay and Bobby Boyd have had solid seasons both at the plate and defensively, and Nick Tanielu had a huge season in low-A Quad Cities, spraying doubles all around the field. Some younger Latin American kids to follow include Kristian Trompiz, who spent the entire season in Quad Cities at the age of 19, Hector Roa and his raw power potential, and former bonus babies Wander Franco, Joan MauricioBryan De La Cruz, and Reiny Beltre. Some of the interesting arms include Elieser Hernandez, who dominated the competition with his 94 mph fastball, slider, and changeup, and Cuban defector Rogelio Armenteros. Further down the pipeline there are high ceiling guys such as Franklin Perez and Juan Robles, who at 17, ended the season at low-A Quad Cities against hitters 5 years older than him.


THE 2015 DRAFT


This season's draft may go down in history as one of the top draft classes by any team in history if it all pans out. Alex Bregman is an obvious top talent, but the Astros also nabbed two of the top 5 outfielders in the draft with high-ceiling high schoolers Kyle Tucker and Daz Cameron. Tucker has an unorthodox swing, yet he has great bat-to-ball skills and plus raw power to match, as well as the ability to play solid defense and even steal some bases. Cameron's calling card is his speed and plus defense, which plays well with his solid hitting ability and developing power. The Astros also nabbed Thomas Eshelman, one of the best control pitchers in college baseball history. Other picks that could move quick include third-rounder fireballer Riley Ferrell, and lefty reliever Michael Freeman. A very intriguing player in this year's class is 12th-rounder Myles Straw, a centerfielder that possesses 80-grade speed and could soon become the Astros version of Terrance Gore. The highest ceilings of this class, excluding the first rounders, are outfielder Nestor Muriel and left handed pitcher Patrick Sandoval. Some strong performers to note include pitchers Trent ThorntonAlex Winkelman, Steve Naemark, and Chris Murphy, and hitters Drew FergusonAaron Mizell, Johnny Sewald, and Brooks Marlow. The strongest performer of the class however, is former Arkansas third baseman Bobby Wernes, who batted .346 en route to a NYPL batting title.

Bonus Video: Nestor Muriel showing off his defensive tools and sweet swing.


Thanks for reading, and if you have any comments feel free to let me know!

Thursday, October 15, 2015

WELCOME TO THE BLOG!

Welcome to Baseball: More Than Just A Game! On this blog, we will explore the many parts of the baseball world, from current MLB to the minors, the amateur ranks, the international studs waiting for a transition, and maybe even some independent league noteworthy news. This is your site for baseball opinion, projections, and players to keep an eye on the future. If you would like to contribute to writing for the blog and muse your thoughts, feel free to comment or contact me at jteng.baseball@gmail.com if you would like to publish your content here. Thank you!