Good, consistent pitching is hard to find, and baseball organizations put a lot of effort into finding and training such pitchers. Is Taylor Mangum one? Mangum has moved up from the rookie leagues last year to the single A Midwest League, and so far the transition has gone well. He has appeared in 3 games, pitched 8 2/3rds innings and has a 1.04 era, courtesy of a single run he gave up in his first appearance (and only loss) of the season. He also pitched well last year, earning a 3.42 era over 26 1/3rd innings in the Arizona and Pioneer leagues. And so far this year he is putting up better pitching numbers than any other Mormon in the minors. Can he keep it up?
Of course everyone stumbles at some point, so I won’t be surprised at a bad outing or two this year. Out of the 20 or so outings he should have this year (baring injury), that still would be very consistent pitching — exactly what the major league teams are looking for.
Mangum wasn’t the only Mormon pitcher in the minors to do well this past week. Tyson Brummett pitched shutout ball with the AA New Hampshire Fisher Cats (Blue Jays), giving up just 2 hits in 5 innings. And Nik Turley gave up just one earned run in 5.2 innings with the AA Trenton Thunder (Yankees).
[Originally posted on Juvenile Instructor. Reposted here with permission.]
I make it out to the US most summers, but when I don’t, there is one thing I miss more than absolutely anything: a baseball game. I have many fond memories of exciting baseball games in the heat of summer, cheering on my beloved Oakland A’s or San Francisco Giants (we’re equal opportunity Bay Area supporters at my house). And since April is the month of Opening Day, I thought I’d round up something about Mormons and baseball.
For fans of Mormon players in baseball, the place to be this past weekend was CitiField in Queens, New York, where 20-year-old phenom Bryce Harper and the Washington Nationals lost two games to John Buck and the New York Mets. Buck hit a home run and earned an rbi in each of the three games, giving him the major league lead in rbis and putting him in a multi-way tie for 2nd place (along with Bryce Harper) in home runs.
How much longer can Buck keep doing this?
That has to be the question on the minds of the Mets brass as they enjoy results of John Buck’s surprising early performance. Buck, currently having the best start of his nearly decade long career will be looking to improve his contract prospects, since he is up for renewal this year. He is also making a case that at 32 he should keep his place as the Mets’ every day catcher. His performance would delay the arrival of the Mets’ heralded prospect Travis d’Arnaud, whose arrival in the majors was delayedthis past week anyway due to a foot fracture that will take 8 weeks to heal. In any case, the Mets, and fans of Mormons in baseball, should enjoy this performance while it lasts.
If there is a Mormon “Cinderella” player this year, it sure looks like it is Shane Peterson. After starting last year in AA, working his way to AAA, Peterson was invited to spring training and promptly tore up the ball, hitting .408 over 39 at bats and making a big impression on the Athletics brass. He started the regular season with the AAA Sacramento River Cats, and by last week he was again beating up the white spheroid, going 14 for 27 (.519) and scoring 9 times. So when the As were hit with injuries at shortstop and left field, they called up the outfielder Peterson—and had him play first base yesterday! Huh?
Apparently its temporary. The As regular first baseman, Brandon Moss, is out on paternity leave, and since Peterson has experience at 1st (64 games in AA in 2011) and was hitting better than the backup first baseman, Nate Freiman (current batting average .176), he got the job. What will happen next? I assume it depends on how Peterson adjusts and performs. Yesterday he went o for 4 with a strike out, but the As won the game and Peterson performed well in the field, so he has at least a few games—till Moss returns—to prove himself.
While this past week Peterson outperformed any other Mormon in the minor leagues, he wasn’t the only player making a difference at the plate.
After I returned home from my mission I attended a single’s ward in suburban Washington D.C. in which we had an unusual sacrament meeting one Sunday. One after another ward members came to the podium and delivered the words of the children’s song “I am a Child of God,” each in a different language, a language they knew personally. The effect was surprising; all of us were unified—no one was left out from being a child of God, regardless of race, creed, sex or language.
My family experienced a similar surprise several years ago when we arrived at Yankee stadium for a ball game in mid April. We arrived in the middle of the first inning and, after a while, we became a little confused—all of the players were wearing the same number. It took us a little while to figure it out, and when we did the impact was big. Symbolically every player was Jackie Robinson; everyone was number 42.
While everyone else seems to be cooling down (if they were ever hot this year), Eric Sogard managed to heat up this past week. The Oakland As backup infielder, lodged at second base since regular Scott Sizemore is out with a sprained left knee, went 5 for 15 last week, scoring 4 times and walking once, bringing his batting average up to a respectable .250 in the process.
Sogard was the only Mormon position player on the upswing this past week, but that doesn’t mean that others weren’t also doing well. Bryce Harper hit just as well (.333), but his average was coming down last week from the .400 he it the first week of the season. Harper also hit 2 home runs, earned 5 rbis, scored 4 times and walked 4 times—most of this before the Nationals ran into a stone wall and dropped three in a row to the Braves this past weekend. John Buck also managed to do well this week, hitting 4 home runs earning 10 rbis (!) and scoring 5 times. However, his batting average dropped to .238 for the week.
Somewhat surprisingly, the story of Mormons in the minor leagues last week was a pitching story. The assumption I ususally make is that pitchers need time to warm up to the season—they often don’t perform well for the first few games of the year. But the Mormon pitchers in the minors were split 50/50 for the past week—half pitching well and half poorly.
[Most of the Mormons (9 of 15 players) we know about in the minors are pitchers—likely because we don't have a very complete list.]
Perhaps the strongest performance last week was from the Lansing Lugnuts’ Taylor Cole, who struck out 7 and blanked the Lake County Captains over 6 innings for a win. But not far behind Cole was the veteran Mitch Talbot, currently with the New Orleans Zephyrs, who notched a win in 5 innings, also without giving up a run. And reliever Bryan Harper (Bryce’s older brother) earned a 0.00 era in 1 1/3rd innings of relief last week.
When the Yankees’ play-by-play radio announcer, John Sterling, says (as he does every game) “You just can’t predict baseball,” I can’t help laughing—because he says it so often. The thing is, though, he’s right.
And in the first week of baseball for 2013 I saw that he is right again. Who would have predicted, even given his strong performance in spring training, that the Mets’ John Buck would have the best batting average among the Mormons in professional baseball? Better than Bryce Harper? Better than Jacoby Ellsbury and Darwin Barney? But here we are, after a week of play, 20 at bats for Buck, he is hitting .400 with 9 rbis and 2 home runs.
Starting the season last week, I thought Harper was the one with the hot bat. He homered in each of his first two at bats for the season (what a hot dog!) and had to endear himself to fans when he checked with his team mates (because he didn’t want to seem cocky) after the second home run to see if it was all right to take a curtain call. Alright? Of course its alright! You just hit back-to-back home runs! when no one else on the team could hit Ricky Nolasco! Yes, Bryce, take the curtain call.
This April we begin the month looking forward to what comes from 12 men and a few more. We will watch what they do and say, perhaps learning some lessons from them. We may disagree and perhaps even be disappointed in what they do. But we will watch, and what we see will inform how we see the next six months. One of these men has already made a strong statement this week, raising our expectations for this year. Will our expectations be met?
If I have to pick one Mormon player as the strongest performer during this spring training, there is really little question about who should be picked: Bryce Harper. His performance has simply been stunning. During his last week of the spring, he hit .778! He led all batters (those with at least 30 at bats) in spring training in batting average with .478 and hit 3 home runs, and he did it with a respectable 67 at bats. You almost wanted his coaches to tell him to calm down and save something for the regular season. But Harper isn’t the only Mormon player to perform well in the spring.