On Wednesday evening, I got out of the house for a change and drove the 50 or so minutes to get to American Legion Post 325 Field for a doubleheader between the Greenville Astros and Danville Braves. The Braves won the first game – an exciting affair that ended with a runner gunned down at the plate and a near-fight. The nightcap was lost 2-1 in extra innings. I had some thoughts.
Danville’s WOW Midseason Top 50 Prospects
Like most of Atlanta’s minor league teams, you first want to see them for their star power. Each team with the exception of the DSL squad has seen one of our Top 10 prospects play for them. Danville currently has six in our Top 50 and five of them played Wednesday.
|Maitan | Tommy Poe, Walkoffwalk.net|
4. Kevin Maitan
It was Maitan’s third game with Danville following his promotion. He got the start at shortstop and hit fifth. As part of Danville’s big six-run fourth, Maitan laced a ball the opposite way and later scored in the inning. It was his only hit in four trips to the plate and he also struck out. At the plate, Maitan has a quick swing after hiking up his leg to drop his weight back. There’s a lot of bad intentions when he brings all of his strength forward. Like most 17-year-olds, the pitch recognition and selection simply aren’t there – yet. Maitan also corked a ball right off his shin, which he walked off to stay in the game. He wears a guard, but it looked as if he hit right between the guard and his knee. No worries as Maitan was back in the lineup last night. Defensively, I don’t think he’ll stick at shortstop. The Braves will let him stay there as long as he can, but his instincts and range probably will force the already-anticipated move to third base. Currently, he does have some decent speed. During the big rally, he looked like he might score on a base hit, but with Danville down big, they played it conservatively. Maitan got the nightcap off.
16. Kyle Muller
Didn’t play as he was scheduled to pitch Thursday’s game. He did catch a ball from a local dentist as the ceremonial first pitch of the game.
|Waters | Tommy Poe, Walkoffwalk.net|
22. Drew Waters
First, let me talk about the good because there isn’t much of it. Waters looks comfortable in center field and shows good range and solid instincts. He had a few hard-hit balls his way that were difficult to immediately read, but he did very well getting to them. And that’s the good. The bad was that Greenville had his number. Of their eight strikeouts during the first game, half were of Waters. There are some who call that the Golden Sombrero. He was swing-happy and was struggling with Kit Keller Syndrome, named after a character in film history who couldn’t hit the high fastball, yet couldn’t lay off of it. Unlike Keller, Waters didn’t prove the scouting report wrong at any point. Twice in the same at-bat, he swung at a pitch and lost his bat. The first time, it actually went up the tunnel in the D-Braves’ dugout. The second time went high into the stands. Fortunately, as you can see from the pic I shared, the crowd was sparse to begin the first game on a hot day. This was Waters’ worst professional game. He’ll bounce back, though. Like Maitan, he sat out the night game.
27. Derian Cruz
Of his first 47 games played this year – including 29 at Rome – Cruz has played shortstop all but three times and that trio of appearances came as a DH or PH. When Maitan joined Danville, Cruz moved to second base. Even though Cruz played the night game without Maitan in the lineup, he stayed at second base. He had a nice sequence in the second inning. The first batter of the frame hit a squibber that Cruz had to range both in and to his right on to field it. With no time to settle himself, he threw to first to get the runner with Hagen Owenby making a nice stretch. After a walk, a flyball to right field was misplayed by Gary Schwartz. Alertly, Cruz retrieved the ball and got the runner at second for the force. He just seems more comfortable and confident at second base. I still wonder if he has soft enough hands to play the infield, but I do like him better at second base. At the plate, Cruz went 0-for-4 with a good deal of weak contact.
|Lugbauer | Tommy Poe, Walkoffwalk.net|
44. Drew Lugbauer
The former Wolverine started the first game behind the plate. Defensively, I’m just not seeing it. Not that he can’t play the position better moving forward, but he just doesn’t look like a natural behind the plate. Perhaps he can do a passable enough job to be a backup option behind the plate with the versatility to play elsewhere. I will say that the Braves got a good deal of called strikes with him behind the plate that the Astros batters definitely disagreed with. That could suggest some good framing or a minor league umpire doing a minor league umpiring bit. At the plate, he has an open-stance without a lot of wasted movement. Quickly, he pushes back with a brief leg kick before pushing forward. There does appear to be a bit of an uppercut in his swing. His big swing led to his one hit during the game. The CF immediately went back and couldn’t recover in time to get to the ball.
50. William Contreras
Every time I see Contreras, I come away more and more impressed. I ranked him #46th in the midseason rank, but he could reach Top 30 in my book by the end of the season. He has a cannon for a right arm and he knows it, too. He doesn’t like to lolly-pop a throw when he can come up firing. After strikeouts, he would throw the ball to third with a pop as if he was trying to throw out a fictional runner. He also likes to throw down to first to keep runners honest, though he bluffed more than threw partly because of the first baseman, Owenby, is a catcher learning the position and wasn’t thinking along with Contreras. He did “give up” a steal, but I don’t see how. The throw was there with plenty of time for Cruz to tag the runner. Either his tag was late or the ump missed the call. Contreras’s throw, though, was right on the money. He’s smooth behind the plate and looks to be decent at framing. Can you tell that I like him a lot? He had two of Danville’s three hits in the nightcap and was the only hitter who really looked good during the evening for the D-Braves. His swing gets through the zone quickly and makes a lot of solid contact for liners into the outfield.
|De La Cruz | Tommy Poe, Walkoffwalk.net|
-De La Cruz was wonderful before the promotion from the GCL, but he didn’t look good in game one of the twin-bill. He worked around a double in the first and walked two in the second before getting a talking-to by Kanekoa Texeira, the first-year Danville pitching coach. He struck out the final batter in the inning to strand a pair in scoring position before breezing through the third with two strikeouts. That inning was easily his most impressive frame and gave me some hope for a strong finish for his Danville debut, but he went to pieces in the fourth. An error to open the inning didn’t help, but De La Cruz wasn’t able to retire one batter in the inning. He left with the bases loaded and five runs in. Sidearmer Cutter Dyals did him a solid by getting a double-play, which helped to shorten the inning.
Conversely, Javier looked wonderful. I saw him pitch a couple of weeks ago and he struggled with his control that game. Not so much in Wednesday’s start. He doesn’t have great stuff, but he comes at hitters and isn’t afraid to pitch inside. In fact, many times, he had Astros’ players moving out-of-the-way. Javier kept them uncomfortable throughout his five innings. The only run he allowed probably shouldn’t have been allowed at all as came after the “steal” on Contreras I already mentioned. The next batter doubled in a run. Other than that, Javier was wonderful and even got a pair of strikeouts looking.
|Dyals | Tommy Poe, Walkoffwalk.net|
Relievers: I mentioned Dyals already and the job he did to save De La Cruz from even worse damage – though he allowed one of the two runners he inherited to score while inducing an inning-shortening double play. He was replaced by Jesus Heredia, who made his fourth consecutive shutout outing. Heredia is a guy with some iffy mechanics. The ball seems to drag behind him and he’s always trying to get his release point just right. He did get a pickoff after throwing over three consecutive times. Good move to first and good velocity otherwise. Landon Hughes picked up a save, but his outing was rocky and he was bailed out by two big defensive plays (I’ll get to that in a second).
In the second game, John Curtis entered to throw two really impressive innings. An 8th rounder last month, Curtis does a wonderful job hiding the ball and is very deceptive in his delivery. He throws a low-90’s fastball, but it appears to jump at hitters because they pick it up late. He also threw what I believe was a curveball that got a batter looking. In fact, all three of his strikeouts were of the backward K variety. Of the Danville pitchers I saw during the evening, Curtis was the most impressive. Finally, there was Kelvin Rodriguez. Time to talk about why you don’t make things harder on your pitcher. Rodriguez had runners on second-and-third and two outs. The Braves intentionally walked a batter to load them. I get the strategy side – create a situation where there is an out at every base. The problem is you give your pitcher no margin for error. Predictably, Rodriguez walked in a run next. The inning could have been worse, but he got a liner back to him to end the inning. Greenville set the D-Braves down in order next to win the game. Would have liked Nestor Perez to let his pitcher at least get a chance to get the hitter out before giving the Astros first base.
Special Focus: Shean Michel…Only three Danville players were in both games and Michel did quite a lot with his playing time. In the first game, he walked and stole a base. He also put the D-Braves on top in the sixth. Michel lined one the other way and it landed in fair territory. He never stopped running and reached third for his second triple of the year. A wild pitch scored him for the go-ahead run. Like I said, he also played the second game.
But before that, let’s talk about the seventh inning of the first game. I mentioned Hughes a second ago. I’ve seen him twice this year and the first time I did, he was uber-impressive. He threw the ball with confidence and overpowered his opponent that day, the Princeton Rays. This time, he seemed to let the idea of getting a save get the best of him. He overthrew quite a few pitches and only got strikes on 9-of-19 pitches. After a leadoff walk and a K, he gave up a double to Patrick Mathis. Leudys Baez, playing right field, retrieved the ball and – with his momentum taking him toward foul territory – made a tremendous throw from the warning track to Griffin Benson, who turned and gunned down the runner at home for the second out. The next batter, Ruben Castro, hit a hard single to left field. Michel charged and unloaded to the plate, beating Mathis. Lugbauer blocked the plate and tagged the runner out – who also tried to go for the glove. Lugbauer pushed him and with the game over, both benches emptied and a few words and shoves were exchanged, but nothing too bad.
Michel also had one of Danville’s three hits in the nightcap. After Derian Cruz was retired next, Contreras singled to center field. Michel cut the second base bag and hustled to third. The CF considered a throw to third but ultimately threw it into second. However, the throw was at the cut-off man’s feet and got by him. It then skipped past the catcher, allowing Michel to score. It was the only way the D-Braves could plate a run in that game. Michel also got an outfield assist in the nightcap to match his first-game one (though much less dramatic). Playing center field, Michel backed up on a diving attempt by Justin Smith, who was playing left. Smith missed, but Michel got the ball and threw it into the infield, picking up the cut-off-man Riley Delgado, who threw to third to get the guy who had originally hit the ball to begin with.
This is Michel’s third season since signing out of Curacao. He spent a year-and-half in the DSL before earning a promotion mid-summer last year. Strangely, he’s struggled the most in the GCL, hitting close to .200. He was pushed up the ladder to Danville to replace the former NFL player, Sanders Commings, a few weeks ago and has done nothing but hit .390/.444/.512 over his first 45 PA. He won’t keep up that level of success, but he’s worth continued coverage.
Other notable players…Nick Shumpert is fast and scores highly in baseball instincts. As part of the game one comeback, Shumpert was dancing up the line at third base. Facing Lugbauer, Ian Hardman threw a hard breaking ball in the dirt. The ball squirted away less than ten feet, but Shumpert rushed home and beat both the pitcher and the ball as the catcher tried to make a play. He doesn’t score without taking a big lead off the bag. Shumpert probably doesn’t have the profile to be a starter in the major leagues and is a little stretched at third base – Danville really lacks a natural third baseman (well, there’s Maitan…) – but Shumpert does have a lot of little tools that could get him to the bigs in a reserve role. He’s fun to watch regardless
Hagen Owenby made a lot of people’s sleeper list coming out of the draft among those selected by the Braves for some plus power and skills behind the plate. I have yet to see him catch, but the ball does jump off his bat. In an earlier game this year, he hit a long fly ball to right field that could have been an out had the outfielder not crashed into the wall so hard that it dislodged the ball. The outfielder later had to be removed and the opposite-field smash turned into an inside-the-parker and not because Owenby has any wheels to speak of. Owenby joined Michel and Delgado as the only players to play both games and like both of them, Owenby played a pair of positions – DH and 1B. He looks uncomfortable at first base for the most part but with so many young catchers, except him to keep getting starts elsewhere.
Luis Mejia played third base in the second game. In his third year, Mejia can play all over the infield but doesn’t really shine on defense. He looks like a strong character/strong leadership player. The physical skills really aren’t there, but you can tell the team respects him and follows his lead. He had one fun moment in the game. On a stolen base attempt, he was beat clearly by the throw, but slid past the bag without getting tagged and then reached back to get the bag before the fielder could get him. Ultimately, the next player walked which made the whole thing unnecessary, but it received a good ovation from a rapidly decreasing crowd.
|Maitan with Nestor Perez | Tommy Poe, Walkoffwalk.net|
Considering a game in Danville? Here are some overall thoughts about the park. It’s right off Highway 29, which makes it very convenient. It’s also in a recreation park with other fields and even a skateboard park – along with trails – so on a nice day, you could spend a day at the park and catch a game in the evening.
They run deals throughout the week (dollar menu Monday, $2 tickets/hot dogs/drinks Tuesday, Kids Free Wednesday, etc.). I was actually rather lucky as it was a Danville Dental Associates night at the ballpark and a guy was handing out unused vouchers for tickets. The prices for tickets are cheap, but it’s even cheaper when you are handed a free ticket as you go up to purchase one. A free ticket to a doubleheader? Like I needed any more reasons to be happy to be at the ballpark.
If you go a dollar or two extra, you can get a reserved seat. That puts you under the roof and gives you a chair with a back. Most of the seating is bleacher-style seating going up both the first-base and third-base lines. The sun sets behind third base. Netting extends from the ends of one dugout to the other so if you are hoping for a foul ball, you have to sit beyond the dugout – or just do as I did as a kid and stay in the parking lot. Eight-to-ten feet tall fencing extends from the dugout all the way to the bullpens, further limiting chances at foul balls. Sight lines can be bad in a few places, but as you can tell by the pictures I took from a crappy cell phone camera, you’re right on top of the action and can get a good seat on less-busy nights fairly easy.
The PA system is used frequently. Beyond just the walk-up music and names of players, they’ll use sound effects and other clips of music to go along with what is happening during the game. You get the typical minor league ballpark staples like “Sweet Caroline,” “YMCA,” and “Cotton Eye Joe” between innings along with more current selections. The PA announcer will occasionally point out big things in the game such as “that diving catch was made by Justin Smith” or “and your Danville Braves take the lead!” They also let a kid do player introductions for a half-inning each game. Oh, and if you’re into the racist hand thingy, Danville will implore fans to do the chop. The speaker down the third base line sounded like it had a short in it, which, to be honest, added to the rookie league feel.
There are your usual between-inning games for fans – dizzy bat race, steal a base in 20 seconds, race the mascot. They also do a “Let’s Make a Deal” where a fan gets a choice between receiving something for sure or taking their chance on the treasure box. Wednesday evening, Megan could have had a Kevin Maitan-autographed ball but chose the treasure box. She got a hot dog. Megan is dumb.
Speaking of concessions, they are pretty standard and overpriced, but to a lesser degree than you might see at other minor league parks. There are some BBQ sandwiches and Chic-Fil-A along with a Braves minor league staple, the bologna burger. The lines can get pretty bogged down – especially for random minor league games during the week. There’s only one true concession area, though there is another one for frozen snacks and another drinks-only area that carries bottled-drinks and beer. There’s a small gift area where you can purchase hats and so on and a bouncy house area that also has a place to throw a baseball at a batter/catcher cut-out, but be aware – it costs $5 per child. I had my kids with me last time and shelling out $10 for them to bounce for 20 minutes before the game was a bit much.
The crowd was weird. I don’t know if many knew there was a doubleheader, but the crowd was sparse at 5:00 when the first game began. The park started to fill up by the fourth inning for a good-sized crowd – in no small part because of the Dental Associates event. By the fourth inning of the second game, the crowd began to get smaller and smaller.
All told, it was a fun night for baseball even though the heat was nearly unbearable for much of the first game.