Padres announce TinCaps coaching staff

The Fort Wayne TinCaps will be managed by Francisco Morales this year, the San Diego Padres announced today.

“I’m excited to be joining the Fort Wayne community and to work with the TinCaps family,” Morales said in a press release. “I feel blessed to have the opportunity to manage, especially at a place with such a great ballpark and front office. I can’t wait for the season to get here. I’m ready to go.”

Morales was the hitting coach of the Double-A San Antonio Missions last year. Prior to joining the Padres organization, he coached three seasons in the Cleveland Indians system and four seasons in the Arizona Diamondbacks organization. He was the hitting coach of the South Bend Silver Hawks from 2008 to 2010.

Morales played 12 seasons in the minor leagues, for the Chicago Cubs, St. Louis Cardinals, Montreal Expos, and two independent-league teams. He also played 11 games in the Mexican League. When he was a Cubs farmhand, he played 19 games with the Peoria Chiefs, batting .204 with 3 HR and 11 RBI.

Morales replaces Michael Collins, who managed the TinCaps to a 63-76 regular-season record and the second round of the Midwest League playoffs last year. Collins will manage the Lake Elsinore Storm, San Diego’s High-A affiliate in the California League, this year.

Joining Morales on the TinCaps coaching staff are Burt Hooton and Lance Burkhart.

This will be Hooton’s third season as Fort Wayne’s pitching coach. Hooton is a veteran of 15 major-league seasons with the Chicago Cubs, Los Angeles Dodgers and Texas Rangers. Before joining the Padres organization in 2013, he served as a pitching coach for the Houston Astros, at the major-league and Triple-A levels.

Burkhart will be Fort Wayne’s hitting coach. His older brother, Morgan Burkhart, was the TinCaps’ hitting coach the past two seasons, and will serve in that same capacity for the Double-A San Antonio Missions this year. Lance Burkhart was manager of the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs of the independent Atlantic League last year, and was hitting coach of the Atlantic League’s Lancaster Barnstormers the previous four years.

Lance Burkhart’s 13-year minor-league playing career included two stints in the Midwest League. He batted .282 with 17 HR and 64 RBI in 58 games with the 2000 Beloit Snappers. He also played three games with the 2003 Clinton LumberKings, going 2-for-9 in 12 plate appearances.

Posted in 2014 Playoffs, Atlantic League, Beloit Snappers, California League, Clinton LumberKings, Fort Wayne TinCaps, Lake Elsinore Storm, Lancaster Barnstormers, Midwest League, Peoria Chiefs, South Bend Silver Hawks, Southern Maryland Blue Crabs | Leave a comment

Dodgers announce new Loons manager

The Los Angeles Dodgers announced today that former Baltimore Orioles outfielder Luis Matos will manage the Great Lakes Loons this year.

From the Loons’ press release:

Matos fills the vacancy left when Bill Haselman, the Loons manager in 2014 , was moved up to Advanced-A Rancho Cucamonga after Rancho’s manager, P.J. Forbes, resigned two weeks ago. Before Forbes’ resignation, Haselman was targeted to manage the Loons again this season.

The 36-year-old Matos is the sixth manager in Loons history, joining Lance Parrish (2007), Juan Bustabad (2008-10), John Shoemaker (2011-12), Razor Shines (2013) and Bill Haselman (2014).

Matos was originally assigned to the Loons as a third coach on Haselman’s staff along with pitching coach Glenn Dishman and hitting coach Jay Gibbons. But the Dodgers offered him the manager’s position after Haselman went to Rancho Cucamonga.

“It was a surprise, because this was going to be my first year coaching (in the U.S.), but when they asked if I wanted to manage, how could I say no?” Matos said. “It’s a challenge and I like that.”

Matos, a native of Bayamon, Puerto Rico, was the hitting coach for Criollos de Caguas of the Puerto Rican Winter League this past season, and helped the team compile the league’s best regular season record. He’s also managed in a league for elite young prospects in his home country.

Originally selected by the Baltimore Orioles in the 10th round of the 1996 draft, Matos logged seven seasons in the MLB (2000-2006) and played in 508 major-league games — all but 14 with the Orioles. He finished with a .255 career batting average, 30 home runs, 140 RBI and 72 stolen bases. He finished his career in ’06 with the Washington Nationals.

The only Midwest League team that still hasn’t announced it 2015 coaching staff is the Fort Wayne TinCaps, a San Diego Padres affiliate. Some Fort Wayne media outlets reported late last week that the team will get a new manager this year.

Here are links to my posts about the managerial assignments for the other 14 Midwest League teams:

Beloit Snappers (Oakland Athletics)

Bowling Green Hot Rods (Tampa Bay Rays)

Burlington Bees (Los Angeles Angels)

Cedar Rapids Kernels (Minnesota Twins)

Clinton LumberKings (Seattle Mariners)

Dayton Dragons (Cincinnati Reds)

Kane County Cougars (Arizona Diamondbacks)

Lake County Captains (Cleveland Indians)

Lansing Lugnuts (Toronto Blue Jays)

Peoria Chiefs (St. Louis Cardinals)

Quad Cities River Bandits (Houston Astros)

South Bend Cubs (Chicago Cubs)

West Michigan Whitecaps (Detroit Tigers)

Wisconsin Timber Rattlers (Milwaukee Brewers)

The 2015 Midwest League season opens Thursday, April 9.

Posted in Beloit Snappers, Bowling Green Hot Rods, Burlington Bees, California League, Cedar Rapids Kernels, Clinton LumberKings, Dayton Dragons, Fort Wayne TinCaps, Great Lakes Loons, Kane County Cougars, Lake County Captains, Lansing Lugnuts, Midwest League, Peoria Chiefs, Quad Cities River Bandits, Rancho Cucamonga Quakes, South Bend Silver Hawks, West Michigan Whitecaps, Wisconsin Timber Rattlers | Leave a comment

Former Foxes first baseman rejoins Braves

The Atlanta Braves announced Monday that they added a pair of former big-league first basemen as special assistants, including one who played in the Midwest League.

Both have previous connections to the Braves. Fred McGriff was the team’s first baseman from 1993 to 1997, including when Atlanta won the World Series in 1995. Greg Walker served as the team’s hitting coach the past three seasons, but resigned after the 2014 season.

Both men will serve as instructors during spring training. Afterward, McGriff will serve as a scout and Walker will be a roving instructor in the Braves minor-league system.

Although he was drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies, Walker played the majority of his major-league career with the Chicago White Sox. After the White Sox claimed him in the 1979 Rule 5 draft, Walker spent the 1980 season playing first base for the Midwest League’s Appleton Foxes (now known as the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers). He batted .280 with 21 HR and 98 RBI in 135 games.

The cover of the Appleton Foxes souvenir program in 1980, the year Greg Walker played for the team. (From the Rattler Radio blog)

The cover of the Appleton Foxes souvenir program in 1980, the year Greg Walker played for the team. (From the Rattler Radio blog)

Posted in Midwest League, Wisconsin Timber Rattlers | Leave a comment

Report: Morales to be new TinCaps manager

The Journal Gazette reported this afternoon that Francisco Morales will manage the Fort Wayne TinCaps this year.

Morales was the hitting coach of the Double-A San Antonio Missions last year. Prior to joining the San Diego Padres organization, he coached three seasons in the Cleveland Indians system and four seasons in the Arizona Diamondbacks organization. He was the hitting coach of the South Bend Silver Hawks from 2008 to 2010.

Morales played 12 seasons in the minor leagues, for the Chicago Cubs, St. Louis Cardinals, Montreal Expos, and two independent-league teams. He also played 11 games in the Mexican League.

When he was a Cubs farmhand, Morales played 19 games with the Peoria Chiefs, batting .204 with 3 HR and 11 RBI.

Michael Collins managed the TinCaps last year.

Posted in Fort Wayne TinCaps, Midwest League, Peoria Chiefs, San Antonio Missions, South Bend Silver Hawks, Texas League | Leave a comment

Padres announce minor-league roving coordinators

The Padres have yet to announce the Fort Wayne TinCaps coaching staff, but fans of San Diego’s Midwest League affiliate now know some faces to keep a look out for during the 2015 season.

From a Padres press announcement released Wednesday:

The San Diego Padres today announced the club’s roving minor-league instructors for the 2015 season. New to the Padres’ staff of minor-league roving instructors for the 2015 season are Special Assistant, Player Development Moises Alou, Player Development Consultant Dave Snow, Field and Hitting Coordinator Luis Ortiz, Pitching Coordinator Mark Prior, Minor League Pitching Instructor Eric Junge, Catching Coordinator Ryley Westman, and Outfield/Baserunning Coordinator Tarrik Brock. Returning to San Diego’s staff will be Infield Coordinator Eddie Rodriguez, Latin American Instruction Coordinator Evaristo Lantigua, Strength and Conditioning Coordinator Jordan Wolf, Rehab Coordinator Ryan Bitzel, and Medical Coordinator Joseph (JoJo) Tarantino. In addition, Gorman Heimueller also returns to the Padres for his second season with the organization and his first as roving pitching instructor.

Of all those men, only Prior and Heimueller played in the Midwest League.

Prior pitched four games in the Midwest League, all during rehab assignments. In two starts for the 2004 Lansing Lugnuts and two starts for the 2006 Peoria Chiefs, he collectively posted a 2.51 ERA (four earned runs in 14.1 IP) and 21 strikeouts.

Heimueller pitched in nine games for the 1977 Cedar Rapids Giants. He posted a 1.80 ERA (three earned runs in 15 IP), five saves, and 15 strikeouts.

How Heimueller ended up pitching for Cedar Rapids is an interesting story. Here’s an excerpt from a 1993 Los Angeles Times story about him:

When no big-league team took a chance on Heimueller in the 1977 amateur draft, he went to Canada and played in semi-pro leagues.

Heimueller found an empty mound in Calgary and settled in, but not for long. Within two months, he was offered a chance to pitch for a Rapid City, S.D., team in a Wichita, Kan., tournament. Problem was, every airline in Canada happened to be on strike, and Heimueller was scheduled to pitch the next day.

Refusing to let a labor strike stand between him and a dream, Heimueller decided to hitchhike. Eventually he got a ride to Great Falls, Mont., and was able to make airline connections to Wichita, via Denver. But during a layover in Denver, Heimueller’s journey took a detour.

“My name was announced to come to the white phone,” Heimueller said. “I’m thinking, ‘Oh no, somebody’s died,’ but it was my dad. He said that the (San Francisco) Giants had called, that I should call Candlestick Park right away. They said they needed a pitcher (for their Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Class-A affiliate) and was I interested? I said, ‘Am I interested? If I could fly, I’d be there right now.’

“Here I was, living in Canada one day and thinking about staying there all year, and two days later I had signed my first pro contract. I think I got a Big Mac for my bonus.”

Heimueller finished the ’77 season at Cedar Rapids. In 1978, he moved up to a Double-A team in Shreveport, La., where he stayed through 1980. He got invited to the Giants’ camp in the spring of ’81, where manager Frank Robinson had him teach his pickoff move to veterans Vida Blue and Al Holland, among others. But before camp broke, Heimueller was released by the Giants.

Within a week of his release, Heimueller signed with the Oakland Athletics. He went on to pitch 98.1 innings in the major leagues for the A’s, in 1983 and 1984. He ended his playing career pitching in the Minnesota Twins organization.

Posted in Cedar Rapids Kernels, Fort Wayne TinCaps, Lansing Lugnuts, Midwest League, Peoria Chiefs | Leave a comment

Ex-MWLers Stairs, Koskie elected to Canadian Baseball HOF

Former Midwest League players Matt Stairs and Corey Koskie are among five men to be inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame this year.

They will be joined by Carlos Delgado, Felipe Alou and Bob Elliott as inductees into the Hall on June 13. Delgado, Koskie and Stairs played for the Toronto Blue Jays. Alou managed the Montreal Expos for 10 years (1992-2001) and played 19 games with the Expos near the end of his playing career. Elliott has written about the Expos, the Blue Jays and Canadian baseball since 1978, in newspapers and books and on the Internet. He currently is a baseball columnist for the Toronto Sun.

Stairs played in the Midwest League in 1989, batting .284 with 2 HR and 14 RBI in 44 games with the Rockford Expos. His manager was Mike Quade, current skipper of the Rochester Red Wings, Triple-A affiliate of the Minnesota Twins. A former Chicago Cubs manager, Quade is best remembered in the Midwest League for leading the West Michigan Whitecaps to their first MWL championship title in 1996. (You can read more about that here.)

Koskie played in the Midwest League in 1995, when he batted .310 with 16 HR and 78 RBI in 123 games with the Twins-affiliated Fort Wayne Wizards. His MWL teammates included veteran MLB catcher A.J. Pierzynski, who signed a one-year deal with the Atlanta Braves this offseason, and Javier Valentin, who was the 1995 MWL prospect of the year.

Corey Koskie's 1995 Fort Wayne Wizards baseball card

Corey Koskie’s 1995 Fort Wayne Wizards card

Posted in Fort Wayne TinCaps, International League, Midwest League, Rochester Red Wings, West Michigan Whitecaps | Leave a comment

Eight of top 11 prospects played in Midwest League

Two of baseball's top prospects, Carlos Correa (left) and Byron Buxton, at the 2013 Midwest League All-Star Game. (Photo by David Kohl/USA TODAY)

Two of baseball’s top prospects, Carlos Correa (left) and Byron Buxton, at the 2013 Midwest League All-Star Game. (Photo by David Kohl/USA TODAY)

The Midwest League continues to be a conduit through which many of baseball’s top prospects pass. The latest evidence of this comes from MLB.com’s recently-released list of top prospects; eight of the top 11 players are former Midwest Leaguers.

Of the top 11 prospects, only Chicago Cubs 3B Kris Bryant (No. 2) and Washington Nationals RHP Lucas Giolito (No. 6) didn’t play in the Midwest League.

Topping the list is Minnesota Twins OF Byron Buxton, who maintained his No. 1 rank despite an injury-plagued 2014 season. Buxton was the Midwest League Most Valuable Player and Prospect of the Year in 2013 when he batted .341 with 8 HR, 55 RBI and 32 SB in 68 games with the Cedar Rapids Kernels.

Houston Astros SS Carlos Correa is ranked third. He batted .320 with 9 HR and 86 RBI in 117 games with the 2013 Quad Cities River Bandits.

Coming in at No. 4 is Cleveland Indians SS Francisco Lindor, who batted .257 with 6 HR, 42 RBI and 27 SB in 122 games with the 2012 Lake County Captains.

Francisco Lindor played shortstop for the 2012 Lake County Captains. (Photo courtesy of the Lake County Sentinel)

Francisco Lindor played shortstop for the 2012 Lake County Captains. (Photo courtesy of the Lake County Sentinel)

Rounding out the top five is Cubs SS Addison Russell, who briefly played in the Midwest League as an Oakland Athletics prospect in 2012. He batted .310 with 9 RBI and 5 SB in 16 games with the Burlington Bees.

The Wisconsin Timber Rattlers' Nick Ramirez is out at second base against the Burlington Bees' Addison Russell during a Midwest League playoff game in 2012. (Photo by Dan Powers/The Post-Crescent)

Wisconsin Timber Rattlers runner Nick Ramirez is out at second base against the Burlington Bees’ Addison Russell during a Midwest League playoff game in 2012. (Photo by Dan Powers/The Post-Crescent)

A pair of Los Angeles Dodgers prospects, SS Corey Seager and LHP Julio Urias, are ranked No. 7 and No. 8, respectively.

Seager played with the Loons in 2013, batting .309 with 12 HR and 57 RBI in 74 games.

Corey Seager played with the Great Lakes Loons in 2013. (Photo by Craig Wieczorkiewicz/The Midwest League Traveler)

Corey Seager played shortstop for the 2013 Great Lakes Loons. (Photo by Craig Wieczorkiewicz/The Midwest League Traveler)

Urias also played for Great Lakes in 2013, going 2-0 with a 2.48 ERA and 67 strikeouts in 54.1 IP. The Mexican pitcher was only 16 years old when he made his professional debut with the Loons, making him a Midwest League rarity. He turned 18 last August.

Julio Urias made his professional pitching debut for the Great Lakes Loons at age 16. (Photo by Craig Wieczorkiewicz/The Midwest League Traveler)

Julio Urias made his professional pitching debut for the Great Lakes Loons at age 16. (Photo by Craig Wieczorkiewicz/The Midwest League Traveler)

New York Mets RHP Noah Syndergaard is ranked No. 10. As a Toronto Blue Jays prospect, he spent the entire 2012 season in the Midwest League after starting two games there in 2011. Overall he went 8-5 with a 2.64 ERA, one save, and 131 strikeouts in 112.2 IP.

Noah Syndergaard pitched for the Lansing Lugnuts in 2012. (Photo by Craig Wieczorkiewicz/The Midwest League Traveler)

Noah Syndergaard pitched for the 2012 Lansing Lugnuts. (Photo by Craig Wieczorkiewicz/The Midwest League Traveler)

The No. 11 prospect is Twins 3B Miguel Sano, who dropped from the No. 7 spot after missing the entire 2014 season due to Tommy John surgery on his right elbow last March. The Dominican slugger was the Midwest League prospect of the year in 2012, when he manned the hot corner for the Beloit Snappers. He batted .258 with 28 HR and 100 RBI in 129 games.

Miguel Sano slugs a 3-run homer for the Beloit Snappers in 2012. (Photo by Craig Wieczorkiewicz/The Midwest League Traveler)

Miguel Sano slugs a 3-run homer for the Beloit Snappers in 2012. (Photo by Craig Wieczorkiewicz/The Midwest League Traveler)

Only one other player dropped out of the top 10: Arizona Diamondbacks RHP Archie Bradley, who dropped from No. 9 last year to No. 15 this year. He pitched for the 2012 South Bend Silver Hawks, going 12-6 with a 3.84 ERA and 152 strikeouts in 136 IP.

Archie Bradley pitched for the 2012 South Bend Silver Hawks. (Photo by Craig Wieczorkiewicz/The Midwest League Traveler)

Archie Bradley pitched for the 2012 South Bend Silver Hawks. (Photo by Craig Wieczorkiewicz/The Midwest League Traveler)

Posted in 2012 Playoffs, 2013 All-Star Game, Beloit Snappers, Burlington Bees, Cedar Rapids Kernels, Great Lakes Loons, Lake County Captains, Lansing Lugnuts, Midwest League, Quad Cities River Bandits, South Bend Silver Hawks, Wisconsin Timber Rattlers | Leave a comment