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General info from the Huntsville trip

Hopefully you have already checked out my article at the Hardball Times about some of the players I saw during my trip but there was too much stuff to fit into that article so I am adding some general thoughts and a few more player reviews here.

First, some background about Huntsville. Huntsville is off the main interstate, I-65, that goes through the state north and south by some distance so I was a bit concerned what the city would be like but when my wife and I got to Huntsville we were pleasantly surprised. Because NASA and Boeing both operate out of Huntsville it is kind of an oasis compared to other cities its size down south.  They had a Japanese, Korean, German, and two Indian restaurants and an assortment of other large chains like Olive Garden and such. They had plenty of nice hotels and two college campuses (a relic from the segregation days) besides Marshall Space Center.  That said, there was the occasional Larry’s Jewelry and Guns with a shooting range out back and the bail bondsman who offered a free T-shirt with each bond posted.

The main strip, which Joe Davis Stadium is on, is called the Parkway and it is sort of an expressway with two frontage roads running on the side.  These roads have frequent stops so you don’t want to be on them too long which makes navigation a little bit tricky.  Google Maps also has a bit of trouble with this and has you getting off the expressway an exit too late to get to the stadium for instance.  The city is extremely spread out so you will have to drive wherever you want to go and with the heat there you probably would be anyway.  Needless to say it is hot, hot, hot, but pretty much everything has AC so it isn’t as bad as it could be.

Like I mentioned, the Stadium is off the Parkway but until you are right on top of it there are no signs that I could see advertising it.  You can only enter if you are heading south on the Parkway so if you are coming from the north it is very tedious to have to turn around and get pointed in the right direction.  If you miss the turn to the stadium you also are very screwed as going around the block is going to take you a long time.  Parking at the stadium is a pretty ridiculous $4 but there is ample parking in the lot.

Joe Davis is more than 20 years old and kind of shows it age.  It isn’t falling apart like the stadium in Nashville but it certainly doesn’t look as nice as many of the AA or even A stadiums around.  Apparently though the team facilities are in good shape and the field looked pristine (though it really should be with the weather they get).  Getting tickets the day of the game isn’t a problem at all as only 1,700 and 2,000 people showed up for the games Wednesday and Thursday night.  The Stars obviously have a very interesting team that is winning and was playing the team they were trying to chase down in the Tennessee Smokies (Cubs) so I was pretty disappointed in the turnout.  They did advertise during the home run derby and on NPR so the team is trying but not really being too successful at getting people to the stadium.  There were no schedules at the hotel we stayed at nor at any of the local businesses we ate at.  I was able to pick one up at the stadium itself and it features Ryan Braun on the cover.  While Braun is obviously a very good choice I would think that a collage of Braun, Fielder, Weeks, Hart, Gallardo et all might be a better choice.

In fact here is an interesting conversation between my wife and one of the locals.

Local: What are you two going to do tonight?

Wife: We are going to watch the Stars play.

Local: Who are they?

Wife: The minor league team in town.

Local: Oh I have seen them play before.  I don't think they are playing tonight though.

Wife (very concerned): Really it says they are playing online.

Local: Yeah I think they only play during the weekends.

Wife: ...

In the stadium there were six radar guns going at all times (one Brewers, one Cubs, and four scouts, two NL teams and two AL teams).  If you sit up high (like row 7-9) and on the aisle in sections G or I you should have no problem reading over their shoulders.  The box seats themselves didn’t give you a lot of room and they weren’t covered by an awning which would have been helpful in the heat.  The tickets were fairly cheap ($6 for box seats less for bleachers) and food was reasonable priced.  If you are going for fun Thirsty Thursdays offer $1 beer and soda and the Stars run a decent amount of promotions other nights.  BP starts around 5:00 for the home team and I think they don’t open gates until 6:00 so unless you have a connection you won’t be able to watch that.  If anyone has any questions about the setup or anything like that let me know.

Ok on to some more players.  I’d like to write about Michael Brantley but he was suspended during the two days I was there.

Lorenzo Cain

Cain got sent to AAA and then back to AA when LaPorta got traded.  Despite posting decent numbers at Brevard County I really didn’t expect much out of Cain when I got to the stadium.  All you read about him generally was how raw he was coming to baseball at a late age.  Let me tell you he has grown up in a hurry this year.

Cain looked absolutely great at the plate.  In the second game he batted lead off and had at bats where he saw 10, 5, 6, 2, and 4 pitches.  In his previous four at bats the night before he hadn’t swung until he had strike one on him and that trend continued until his forth at bat of the second game where he started 1-0 and the pitcher grooved a BP fastball down the middle which Cain jumped all over and hit an absolute laser to left landing just in front of the left fielder.  He has two other hard hit balls that night which both were caught which hide how impressive he looked.  He only swung and missed once in both games and I had him only swinging at two balls (both with two strikes) that clearly were out of the zone in comparison to say Salome who swung at a lot of junk.  He did seem kind of pull happy with every ball in play going to the left side but that is something that hopefully he can work on.

In the field he showed very good range but didn’t get the best jumps and took a couple of not great routes on a few balls.  One play in particular was a high fly over his head in center.  He proceeded to over run the ball to his left, turn around, over run the ball to his right, turn around, and then made an over the shoulder catch.  So he probably needs some more time in the outfield and center in particular but he has the tools to be able to play there.  He needs more seasoning but he definitely deserves his high rating on Battlekow’s prospect list.

Michael Garciaparra

Garciaparra sure has fallen since his days as a first round draft pick by the Mariners in 2001.  He is on his third organization and while I have no problem taking a flyer on him I just don’t see him panning out.  He does make contact at the plate but has very little pop in the bat.  The ball sounds very differently when it comes off his bat and not in a good way.  He booted a ball at second but did turn a nice double play later in the game in the field.  While he isn’t completely washed up at 25 the clock is ticking and I wouldn’t be surprised if he never played a game in the show at this point.

Brae Wright

Wright is a left handed pitcher who I was actually looking forward to see when I came on the trip.  It is no secret that the Huntsville team doesn’t have great pitching but Wright put up good numbers in the FSL last year and has followed that up with some pretty healthy numbers this year in Huntsville so I wanted to see what he brought to the table.  He isn’t too old for the league which I thought was another good sign.

The first pitch of the game was on the outside corner at 80 on the radar gun.  I was tracking each pitch and writing down the pitch type, location, and result for each pitch on a score sheet I developed last year so I proceeded to write down change up strike on the corner.  The next pitch was in a similar spot but lower at 81 so I wrote down change up low and away.  Well I think you can guess where this story is going, that wasn’t Wright’s change up it was his fastball.  He did end up getting it up to 84 later in the game (pitcher fatigue in action) and he did have some ok sink on the fastball but 84 is pretty much the happy zone for MLB hitters.  He has a good change up (shocker I know) which was around 76 and a slurvy slider in the upper 70’s.  He pretty much shut down the Smokies but you have to wonder how that will translate as he moves forward.  Obviously a good comp would be Lindsay Gulin but I would take Gulin over Wright at least right now in their careers by a pretty hefty margin.  I wonder if a move to the bullpen might be in his future because if he can get his fastball up to say the upper 80’s with decent sink he might be able to make it as a LOOGY who isn’t terrible against right handed batters in a pinch because of his change up.