Muckdogs Minutes from Hudson Valley

Brian Walton's notes from a three-game series played by the Cardinals' New York-Penn League club, the Batavia Muckdogs. News on Garrett Wittels, Yunier Castillo and much more!

I attended the Batavia Muckdogs' three-game series at the Hudson Valley Renegades (Tampa Bay Rays) on Tuesday, Wednesday (rainout) and Thursday double-header on August 2-4.

Look for in-depth interviews with Batavia manager Dann Bilardello and pitching coach Ace Adams this weekend. Also, there are several hundred player photos to prepare and load. In the meantime, here are some random notes from my travels.

DeJohn, Strom, LaRocque

Brass in attendance

Among the Cardinals staff in attendance for the series are senior adviser to player development Gary LaRocque, minor league field coordinator Mark DeJohn and minor league pitching instructor Brent Strom. In addition, Rays director of minor league operations Mitch Lukevics is also in the house.

LaRocque is in his normal role of scouting his own organization. For more about his job, check out this three-part interview from the off-season. Strom was videoing action and had an impromptu video session with Tuesday's starter Pat Daugherty before Thursday's game.

Game one thoughts

Kevin Jacob has a most unusual delivery (see photo). I would call him a knuckle scraper as his right hand almost touches the ground behind his feet during his windup. See the photo.

Virgil Hill had just one hit on the night, but it was a jack to left-center that hit an elevated advertising sign at least 20 feet above the wall at about 390 feet. He was modest about it afterward, saying, "Thanks, I was fortunate to catch one." Coaches complimented his attitude after he was sent down from Quad Cities.

Romulo Ruiz bats third for a reason. He slammed a one-hopper to dead center that jumped over the wall in the deepest part of the park.

Cesar Valera fanned twice and had trouble making contact. He made an excellent and very difficult play on defense look easy. He caught the ball over his shoulder while running full speed away from the infield in short left-center. Looked smooth on routine plays.

Big deal over Wittels

ESPN entourage
On Thursday, there were several tents set up right on top of the Cardinals bullpen mound down the left-field line. Turns out ESPN was in the house, taping an upcoming segment of "Outside the Lines," focusing on Garrett Wittels. In the photo, the infielder is walking up on the left while his lawyer is on camera at the far right. His parents were also present. The segment may run in 5-6 weeks.

I asked Wittels what he was asked by the interviewer. "Same stuff, but I was able to talk about it now, where I couldn't because of the legal stuff before." For about an hour, Wittels was asked very detailed questions about his baseball accomplishments as well as the specifics of actions that led to his since-dropped rape charges in the Bahamas.

Wittels was not in the lineup for game one of the doubleheader, so the ESPN crew eventually departed before game time. They are going to go to Batavia soon for some action shots, I was told.

One coach was extremely complimentary about Wittels as a player and team member. "In all my time here, he is the first player to call out encouragement to the others while in the field. He told me that he has always done it."

Game two thoughts

Catcher Kevin Moscatel told me his dad is the general manager of Caribes in the Venezuelan League. We were watching the Latin American bullpen players practicing interviews with each other so they would be ready for the real thing.

Starter Todd McInnis was the tough-luck loser in the first game of the double-header. He fanned the side in the first, only to yield a solo homer in the second. Carrying a 2-1 lead into the bottom of the sixth, the righty got into trouble and lost the game 3-2. McInnis sat 90-93 mph. (Velocities are from scout Stalker Pros as the stadium display was turned off.) Closer Danny Miranda came in for the last out.

Casey Rasmus started behind the plate. He is a smaller version of Colby. The catcher showed very good speed legging out an infield hit, but later was caught in a rundown off third base. The trailing runner, Roberto Reyes, reached third, but was quickly picked off. Those runs could have been the difference in the game.

Seth Maness was the starter in game two of the double-header and he allowed just one hit through four innings. Maness was throwing 87-91 mph.

The man of the day, Wittels, hit a sac fly up the middle for the first RBI of the game in the top of the fifth. Danny Stienstra had stolen second base and scored the run.

I was told that former shortstop and new pitcher Yunier Castillo averaged 90 mph and topped at 93 in his Monday professional mound debut. Even more impressive was that he got his strikeout on a breaking ball.

It didn't go nearly as well for Castillo on Thursday as he gave up the lead in the home fifth, but escaped with just one run home and two runners in scoring position. His line includes two singles, a double steal, and run scored on a ball four wild pitch. Nick Martini made a very nice catch on the track in center for the first out.

Roberto Reyes' double plated the lead runner, David Medina, in the top of the sixth but the second runner, Romulo Ruiz, was thrown out at the plate in a continuation play.

With closer Miranda having pitched in game one, Travis Miller set down the Renegades in the sixth and Javier Avendano picked up the save in the seventh, fanning the final two batters swinging for the 2-1 win.

Despite him being the least effective of the four Muckdogs hurlers, Castillo was awarded his first professional win. Maness only went four innings. Castillo took over in the fifth with a 1-0 advantage, coughed up the lead, but was still the pitcher of record when the winning run scored in the top of the sixth.

Brian Walton can be reached via email at Also catch his Cardinals commentary daily at The Cardinal Nation blog. Look for his weekly minor league column on Thursdays at Follow Brian on Twitter.

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