Saturday, June 14, 2008

Liddle living the dream

Walking down Main Street on this picturesque day in mid-June, you realize how much this town has missed its ballplayers.

"It's been a long winter," says Bob Prophett, owner of Dawson Seafood. "We're ready for baseball."

Luckily for Prophett, the wait is finally over. In just a few hours, the Gatemen will square off against the Falmouth Commodores in the Cape Cod Baseball League season opener, which means summer has officially begun.

Outside the town fire station is a painted sign that reads "Gatemen home tonight 7:00 p.m." and team posters hang in store windows to remind everyone that the boys are back, as if they hadn't been counting down the days already. Sure, the players will be different, but what they represent is the same.

"I love their innocence," says Demetrios Kalkanis of Minerva Town Pizza, which has been open since 1969. "That's the greatness of it. It's pure baseball. Triple distilled, as they say."

Click here to the read the rest of my feature on Vanderbilt outfielder Steve Liddle and his experience in the Cape Cod Baseball League.

Liddle is playing for the Wareham Gatemen, while Russell Brewer and Curt Casali are playing for Hyannis, Mark Lamm and Caleb Cotham are with Brewster and Andrew Giobbi is with Harwich. I'll be catching up with these guys throughout the summer so make sure to check back here often for updates.

Baseball receives great news

There's a reason they say it's hard for major league teams to pry recruits away from their Vanderbilt commitment.

Following in the footsteps of David Price and Pedro Alvarez, third baseman Jason Esposito turned down a contract offer to play for the Kansas City Royals and will enroll at Vanderbilt University this fall, according to the NH Register.

The Royals drafted Esposito in the seventh round of this year’s draft and offered the Gatorade Connecticut Baseball Player of the Year a whopping $1.5 million signing bonus over two seasons. Think about how much money that is -- just for playing baseball.

“I wanted to take it,” Esposito said. “But then emotions settled down and you put things into perspective. Do I want to go off and play professional baseball at 17 years old? This is the best possible situation. It will benefit me in long run.”

This is great news for the Commodores, who are looking to replace Alvarez and Ryan Flaherty on the left side of the infield. Esposito should start at shortstop from day one after fellow recruit Anthony Hewitt was drafted in the first round by the Philadelphia Phillies.

“I love the program and what they have to offer,” Esposito said. “I’m not going to get any worse going there, I’m only going to get better.”

Thanks to New York Dore for sharing the link. On another note, I was in Wareham yesterday covering the Cape Cod Baseball League season opener and met a scout for Perfect Game, who coincidentally lives in Connecticut. He could not say enough good things about Esposito and actually thought that he was going to sign (like we all did).

He added that coach Tim Corbin took a trip to Connecticut earlier in the week to visit (or persuade) Esposito. Looks like it paid off.

Make sure to take a look at my 2009 projections, which will be updated soon since I had wrongly assumed that Esposito would sign after he told Connecticut Post that "Looks like I'm not going to school" after receiving a "life-changing amount" of money.

Something tells me Corbin showed Esposito the same spiral-bound booklet he gave Alvarez back in 2005.

[Perfect Game]

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Keegan Bell hates robots

Let me preface this by saying that I'm a big fan of Keegan Bell and wish him nothing but the best at UT-Chattanooga. He has a passion for the game of basketball, a "gym rat" if you will, and I have no doubt that he will have a fine collegiate career.

Still, I couldn't help but laugh when I came across this article from The Huntsville Times. Let's try to attack this piece Fire Joe Morgan style (lines from the actual story in bold).

Unhappy with Vandy's 'robotic' style, he seeks freedom at new school.

Basically, coach Kevin Stallings is a big fan of The Jetsons and made his players watch old episodes instead of game film to become more like robots on the court. Also, he got a kick out of handcuffing Keegan to one of the baskets after practice so it's easy to understand why the point guard desperately wanted to be free.

Despite the allure of playing SEC basketball, point guard Keegan Bell needed a change.

Plus he really wanted to give the Dores an extra scholarship to sign point guard Brad Tinsley.

Though he was in line for a starting role with the Commodores next season, Bell didn't feel suited for Stallings' style of play.

"(The guards) became more robotic, more slow style," Bell said. "Fast-break and more up and down is what I want to do. I have a certain style of how I play."

Yeah, remember when Jermaine Beal was in the middle of executing a fast-break and stopped on a dime to do the robot? That was tight.

And what style is that exactly, Keegan? The one where you make 32 percent of your shots and hoist ill-advised 3-pointers? Or the one where you get beat so badly off the dribble that you force the team to play zone, which makes it harder for you guys to rebound and therefore fast-break?

And one more thing. I came across an old interview where you said, "And then the style of play, I really liked how they push it up." Except that you weren't talking about UT-C; you were talking about those robotic Dores. Weird.

After Stallings granted Bell his release, the transfer drew interest from Notre Dame, Oregon and Oklahoma State. But an April meeting with University of Tennessee-Chattanooga coach John Shulman won over Bell and convinced the Hazel Green High graduate that he could thrive at a mid-major.

Riiight. And besides, those other schools play like robots anyways.

"I mean, Keegan was a top-20 point guard in the nation, a starter on the varsity since eighth grade, and the big boys were after him," Shulman recalled. "He was like a high school folk hero."

Yup. Just like Tim Tebow. Only better.

Toward season's end, however, he felt Vandy's guards were given less freedom to create.

I always thought the reason for Vandy's struggles were because its guards couldn't defend, but what do I know?

"You can't argue with the success Coach Stallings has had there, but Vandy's very structured, and we're not as structured," Shulman said.

By not as structured, I think you mean not as good, but whatever. And, Shully, please don't go where I think you're about to go. If you watched Vandy play AT ALL, you would know that it no longer runs the offense that begins with "P."

Consider this fact: the Dores had the third highest adjusted tempo/pace in the SEC, behind only Tennessee and Ole Miss. Or how about this: the Dores were second in the SEC in scoring with 80 points per game. So again, I'm warning you.

"We're more of a ball-screen, motion team - not the Princeton offense that Vandy runs."

As Mark Jackson would say, "You're better than that!"

"With us, we can ball-screen for Keegan, and he can create and make plays."

Exactly. Because Stallings would fine players for setting ball-screens for Keegan (once he made Keegan's roommate and good friend A.J. Ogilvy cry after he fined him $3,200 for setting 32 screens in one practice). And, of course, "making plays" was out of the question.

Bell absorbed message-board criticism on a Vandy fan site after calling himself "a flashy player," comparing his style to Phoenix Suns guard Steve Nash, and saying that Stallings wasn't receptive to plays such as "between-the-leg passes."

Hey, he's talking about us! We're famous!

That confidence didn't fluster Shulman, who on two occasions Tuesday referred to Bell as "a Steve Nash-type player."

In all seriousness, please stop with the Steve Nash references. Yes, they are both white. We get that. But, Steve Nash is a two-time MVP and a future Hall-of-Famer, one of the best point guards to ever play the game. Keegan Bell is ummm....not. And besides, Nash said he's a big fan of Astro.

Bell expects wide-open game at Chattanooga [Huntsville Times]
Photo [USA Today]

Homecoming in store for Foster?

How sweet would it be to play alongside Chris Paul? And, on top of that, for your hometown team? Shan Foster may get the chance.

Vanderbilt's all-time leading scorer and the 2008 Southeastern Conference Player of the Year impressed the New Orleans Hornets in a predraft workout Tuesday. The Hornets have the 27th pick in the NBA Draft, which takes place on June 26.

Foster, who struggled somewhat during the NBA predraft camp in Orlando, seems to be a good fit for the Hornets, according to coach Byron Scott.

"We think (starter) Mo Peterson did a heck of a job, but we really need a shooting guard that's really athletic and can get up and down the floor," Scott said.

"He can flat out shoot it, and he moves extremely well without the ball. He has a very high, good IQ on the basketball court, knows how to play. He was pretty good all the way around, but when we went three-on-three, he was even better. So that was very exciting just to see this kid come out and play.

"When you get MVP or Player of the Year in the SEC, that says a lot, as well. It holds a lot because you know he's probably basketball-ready, especially for the NBA."

Foster, who grew up in Kenner, La., and attended Bonnabel High School, would undoubtedly be thrilled to play in front of friends and family, and, of course, to be drafted in the first round.

"The thing with Shan that is so impressive is that he has had an outstanding career at Vanderbilt," said Hornets general manager Jeff Bower. "He has great combination of experience, size and scoring ability, and those are all big assets for him."

Foster will work out for several teams over the next two weeks as he tries to secure a spot late in the first round or early in the second. While Foster's ball-handling needs improvement, NBA teams are looking for role players who have certain skill sets and there is no question that he can shoot it with the best of them.

Often times people tend to focus much on what players aren't, instead of what they are. What Shan Foster is is a terrific shooter with good height and athleticism, which is something that all teams are looking for.

Make sure to check back here for more NBA Draft coverage over the next two weeks.

Foster impressive in workout
[The Times-Picayune]
Third Saturday in Blogtober [Photo]

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

A revised look at the 2009 season

As Aram pointed out, the 2008 MLB Draft was not particularly kind to the Commodores.

Coach Tim Corbin probably expected to lose shortstop Anthony Hewitt, who went in the first round to Philadelphia, but there is a chance he could end up losing three or four other recruits who had a chance to contribute right away. Let's take a look at how Vanderbilt projects in 2009.

First, let's see who is gone:

Catcher: Shea Robin, 20th round (Houston Astros)
First Base: Brad French (graduation)
Second Base: Alex Feinberg, 43rd round (Colorado Rockies)
Shortstop: Ryan Flaherty, No. 41 overall (Chicago Cubs)
Third Base: Pedro Alvarez, No. 2 overall (Pittsburgh Pirates)
Left Field: Jonathan White and Parker Hanks (graduation)
Center Field: David Macias, 19th round (Chicago Cubs)
Right Field: Dominic de la Osa, 11th round (Minnesota Twins)
Pitcher: Brett Jacobson, fourth round (Detroit Tigers)
Pitcher: Nick Christiani, 32nd round (Cleveland Indians)

The recruits have until the end of the summer to sign, but here's an educated guess at who stays and goes:

SS Anthony Hewitt, first round: Gone
SS/3B Jason Esposito, seventh round: UPDATE (stays)
OF/P Ryan Westmoreland, fifth round: More than likely gone
OF Adam Milligan, sixth round: More than likely gone
OF Matt Marquis, 28th round: Most likely stays
3B Joe Loftus, 29th round: Most likely stays

The rest of the recruits were either undrafted or drafted very late and thus it would be shocking to see any of them sign.

Now, onto a look at your 2009 Commodores (with the analysis taken from an earlier post):

Curt Casali (SO)
Andrew Giobbi (R. JR)
Dylan Pratt (JUCO Transfer)
Drew Fann (R. FR)

Analysis: Casali is a star in the making and showed flashes of brilliance in limited action this season. He'll be playing for the Hyannis Mets of the Cape Cod League this summer and will take over for Robin as the starter, while Giobbi should have no problem shifting from first base to behind the plate on occasion. Pratt, meanwhile, is a catcher/outfielder who played his freshman season at Walters State CC along with Milligan.

First Base
Andrew Giobbi (R. JR)
Aaron Westlake (SO)

Analysis: Giobbi should hit in the middle of the order after a breakout season as the Commodores will look to Giobbi for increased production, as well as leadership, in 2009. Westlake, meanwhile, should be healthy after his season ended early due to a blood clot in his right shoulder.

Second Base
Brian Harris (JR)
Riley Reynolds (FR)
Alex McClure (JUCO Transfer)
Andrew Harris (FR)

This is probably Brian Harris' job to lose and I would be surprised to see anyone else starting at second to begin the season.


Jason Esposito (FR)
Gabe Ortiz (R. FR)
Riley Reynolds (FR)

Analysis: They went from having two to seemingly none, before ending up with one. The Commodores lost SS Anthony Hewitt and appeared to lose Esposito too before the Connecticut Player of the Year changed his mind and decided that he wasn't ready to become a pro. That's great news for Vandy, which will now be able to start two talented freshmen on the left side of the infield, just like they did with Alvarez and Flaherty back in 2006.

Third Base
Joe Loftus (FR)
Westlake (SO)

Analysis: Loftus was drafted by his hometown Twins, which means that there is still a chance he could sign. Still, I'd bet that Loftus doesn't get the money he's looking for and enrolls at Vandy, where he should become the starter from day one. There's also a chance that Westlake slides over to the hot corner from first base.

Left Field

Steven Liddle (R. SO)
Jordan Wormsley (R. SO)

Center Field

Adam Milligan (JUCO Transfer)
Ryan Westmoreland (FR)
Alex Hilliard (R. SO)

Right Field
Matt Marquis (FR)
Joey Manning (SO)
Dylan Pratt (JUCO Transfer)

Analysis: The outfield could either be very good or very mediocre depending on what Milligan, Westmoreland and Marquis decide. Liddle is a potential star and should start every game in left field in 2009. After that, however, we're going to have to wait and see. Marquis has one of the prettiest swings I've seen and should see immediate playing time. Milligan is a power bat who should also be ready to contribute right away if he doesn't sign with Atlanta. Manning is a specimen and has the chance to start, while Westmoreland is an outfielder/pitcher who may receive seven figures from the Red Sox. If the Dores lose two or three of their OF recruits, that could open up more opportunities for Hilliard and Wormsley, two redshirt sophomores who could thrive if given the chance.

In review, here's an early look at the 2009 Commodores:

C: Casali, Giobbi, Pratt, Fann
1B: Giobbi, Westlake
2B: Harris, Reynolds, McClure, Harris
SS: Esposito, Ortiz, Reynolds
3B: Loftus, Westlake
LF: Liddle, Wormsley
CF: Milligan, Westmoreland, Hilliard
RF: Marquis, Manning, Pratt

Now, onto the pitching staff, which has the potential to be dominate. I doubt Vanderbilt has ever had as many quality arms as it does right now.

The Commodores will probably lose Christiani and Jacobson, but that's it. Sonny Gray went in the 25th round to the Chicago Cubs, but has been adamant about coming to school, and Navery Moore went in the 26th round to the Boston Red Sox (leave us alone, Theo), but he has reportedly enrolled in summer school already. Additionally, Jack Armstrong (36th round), Will Clinard (36th round) and Grayson Garvin (45th round) should all enroll.

So, here's a look at the staff:

Mike Minor (JR, LHP)
Expect Minor to return to his freshman-year form and be the ace that the Dores need and expect, especially as he looks to improve his stock for the 2009 MLB Draft.

Caleb Cotham (R. SO, RHP)

Cotham was a pleasant surprise in 2008, emerging as a dependable No. 2 starter. He's got a plus fastball with good command and a solid breaking ball and should be even better in year two. Pitching on the Cape this summer will only help.

Russell Brewer (R. SO, RHP)
There was no better story this season than Brewer's. The former third baseman wasn't expected to contribute much if anything on the mound, but after an impressive summer and fall, Brewer found himself closing games. After a summer on the Cape, the right-hander should come back even stronger in 2009.

Chase Reid (SO, RHP)
I'm a big fan of Reid, whose curve ball is as good as they come. The right-hander had an impressive freshman campaign (42 Ks in 37.2 innings, 4.30 ERA) and should see an even bigger role as he improves his command.

Drew Hayes (JR, RHP)

Hayes flew under the radar somewhat in 2008, but I think he has a chance to be very, very good. In fact, he already is. It took Hayes some time to settle down, but once he did, Hayes was one of the Dores' best pitchers. He finished the season with a 3.51 ERA and had 53 strikeouts in just 41 innings (a sign that he's got great stuff). Furthermore, opponents hit just .212 against him. The only concern was the 29 walks, but I think that is easily correctable.

Taylor Hill (SO, RHP)

Of the true freshmen, sources told me that Hill has the biggest upside. He showed flashes of it in 2008, finishing 5-2 with a 4.60 ERA in eight starts. If the Dores had more depth, Johnson would have been able to bring Hill along more slowly. Instead, Hill was forced to learn as he went and still managed to hold his own.

Richie Goodenow, (R. SO, LHP)

Goodenow should be valuable as a left-handed specialist out of the bullpen.

Mark Lamm (R. SO, RHP)
I envision Lamm being a solid middle reliever or possible midweek starter for the Dores. He's got good stuff (3.98 ERA, 28 Ks and just 23 hits in 31.2 innings, .211 opp. BA) and should only get better.

Sean Bierman (SO, LHP)
Ben Blanton (R. FR, LHP)
Kellen St. Luce (SO, LHP)

I grouped these three left-handers together because I have not seen enough of them to project where they will fit in in 2009. Bierman chose the Dores over Virginia, Tulane and Arizona State and was ranked No. 172 by Baseball America. Blanton was a late signee in 2007 as was St. Luce, who "has a big, strong body that resembles Dontrelle Willis of the Florida Marlins," according to Perfect Game. I think all three will have an opportunity to contribute and it will be interesting to see how much they progressed over the past year, particularly St. Luce.

Now, onto the recruits:

Sonny Gray (RHP, Smyrna, Tenn.)

Gray is considered the best Tennessee High School prospect since David Price. Fortunately for the Dores, he is following in the same path, already telling major league teams not to draft him. Gray is a 5'10'' right-hander with a power arm that tops out around 96 mph and a dominant 84-86 mph slider, and has a chance to be a weekend starter right away.

Jack Armstrong (RHP, Jupiter, Fla.)
Armstrong, whose father pitched in the majors from 1988-94, is the top right-hander in Florida and the No. 28 player nationally by Perfect Game. He is 6'7'' and extremely athletic (a talented basketball player) with a low-90s fastball.

Navery Moore (RHP, Franklin, Tenn.)

Moore was considered one of the nation's top prospects before undergoing arm surgery last spring. He is fully recovered and should be able to pitch immediately thanks to his mid-90s fastball.

Grayson Garvin (LHP, Suwanee, Ga.)

Garvin is the top lefty in Georgia thanks to terrific command, a 86-90 mph fastball and a very good changeup. He is the No. 55 ranked high school prospect by Baseball America and has a lot of upside.

Will Clinard (RHP, Cross Plains, Tenn.)

Vandy does a great job recruiting in-state. Clinard is the fourth-ranked prospect in Tennessee. He's 6'4'' and consistently throws 88-92 mph.

Corey Williams (LHP, Huntsville, Ala.)
Williams, the No. 4 prospect in Alabama, has good command of three pitches. This year he sported a 1.92 ERA, while striking out 86 and walking 29 in 54.2 innings.

The 2009 season could not come soon enough. Make sure to stay tuned this summer as we follow the players in their summer leagues (you can see the list here) and learn what the recruits ultimately decide.

Photo [VU Commodores]

Video of the Day: Ryan Flaherty Highlight Reel

Ryan Flaherty was drafted as the 41st overall pick in the country by the Chicago Cubs, a team that has lately been concentrating more than most major league clubs on selecting college players with more experience than those just out of high school.

The shortstop had an outstanding three-year run with the Commodores, batting .349 with 20 home runs and 169 RBIs for his career.

In the 2008 campaign, Flaherty showed a knack for power, hitting 14 home runs and driving in 63 runs, leading the team in both categories.

VUCommodores put together a highlight reel of some of his best defensive and offensive moments from 2006 to 2008.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Draft a Disaster for Vandy

Last Thursday and Friday were supposed to be days for Commodore fans to celebrate the careers of former greats Pedro Alvarez, Ryan Flaherty and others, instead it turned into an absolute catastrophe for Tim Corbin and Vandy baseball's future.

In 2006 1b Lars Anderson was rated the 40th best prospect in the draft by Baseball America. Due to bonus demands reaching seven figures and a strong commitment to play at the University of California at Berkeley, Anderson lasted until the 18th round where he was selected by the Boston. Two months and $825,000 later Anderson was the newest member of the Red Sox organization. Anderson is currently hitting over .300 with 7 hrs and 32 rbi's and is a likely top 15-20 prospect in baseball. In the same draft a former top 10-15 prospect was thought to need Tommy John surgery. The injury combined with a commitment to North Carolina dropped Nick Adenhart all the way to the 14th round where he wound up signing with the Angels for $710,000. He opened the season ranked as the #24 prospect in baseball and has already made his major league debut this season.

These are the two most prominent of the many players who have turned down commitments to play at top universities when big market teams and their money came calling. This is bad news for the Commodores, who had many recruits drafted by big market franchises. Ryan Westmoreland (5th round), Navery Moore (26th), and Matt Marquis (28th) went to Boston, Sonny Gray (27th) went to the Cubs, and Will Clinard (37th) was taken by the Dodgers. Also, there were pre-draft rumors that Westmoreland, who is from Rhode Island, had agreed to a deal with the Red Sox and Moore is a similar story to Adenhart seeing that he fell partially due to TJ surgery performed last year.

More bad news is that potential starting SS Jason Esposito was drafted in the 7th round by the Kansas City Royals. The 7th round is the first of the 2nd day of the draft. As Keith Law suggested in his chat last Friday, this can often mean that a team has a deal in place with the draftee. Looking back at the 2007 7th round, every HS player drafted wound up signing, highlighted by OF David Mailman who was signed away from UNC for $550,000 by who else, the Red Sox.

To top all of that, probable starting 3b Joe Loftus was drafted by the hometown Minnesota Twins. I fully expect to see Loftus on campus next year, but the allure of playing at home may be just enough to sway him to take the money.

I'm not saying all of these guys will sign or even that many of them will (Gray almost certainly will not), but it was basically the worst case scenario for a team that already knew SS Anthony Hewitt was likely to leave after he was drafted in the 1st round by the Phillies. It's only going to take a few of these big market teams doing what's right for their futures by offering amounts that can't be turned down for a team that had Omaha in its sights in the next couple of years to be in a position to be fighting for a spot in Hoover.