New Jersey Scouting Report

Brian Walton caught the New Jersey Cardinals in action Saturday night and shares his impressions.

When the rain delay in Chicago Saturday afternoon stretched from minutes to hours in duration, I was faced with a decision. Do I stay with the television and watch the big club face the Cubbies or do I venture over to catch the New Jersey Cardinals game in person? I had hoped to do both, but now had to make a choice. I took the live action route and despite the 97-degree heat at game time, I am glad I did.

Saturday night, Tampa Bay's 2005 first-rounder, pitcher Wade Townsend, was the primary attraction when the Hudson Valley Renegades hosted the Cardinals in New York-Penn League action. Townsend was the eighth pick overall from Rice University after being unable to come to terms with the Baltimore Orioles, who selected him in 2004.

Starting at home, he was facing a .500 New Jersey club, who have seen much of their top talent moved up in the Cardinals' system in recent days. Coming into the game, Townsend had been most ordinary, posting a 4.40 ERA in his first seven professional contests, five of them starts.

Townsend's ERA took a major hit Saturday, as the Cards scored in three of his four innings on the mound. All told, they collected six runs on nine hits. Townsend walked one, uncorked three wild pitches and between he and catcher Matt Spring, yielded three stolen bases. Townsend did fan six, but seemed to consistently have problems getting his pitches down. He touched 94 MPH on the gun during his second inning on the mound.

Outpitching Townsend Saturday night was the Cardinals' Mitchell Boggs. Boggs was their fifth round selection and their ninth overall pick this season out of Georgia. He came into the game 3-3 on the season with a 5.10 ERA.

On this night, Boggs tossed a gem, pitching into the seventh inning. He yielded a single run on five hits, walking two and fanning six. Boggs was still hitting 91-92 MPH on the gun in the sixth and seventh innings, same as in the early going.

New Jersey leadoff man and centerfielder Sean Danielson is listed at 5'-8", but that is a stretch, literally. He plays big, however. Danielson has a very wide stance at the plate, but seems to put the bat on the ball. On Saturday, the switchhitter was 2-for-5 with a stolen base, his eighth of 2005 and came into the game hitting .280 on the season. The undrafted free agent from Texas has flown under the radar to date, but bears watching.

Catcher Brandon Yarbrough had a hit and a walk, stole a base and scored a run and is now hitting .303 for the Cardinals. It is easy to forget he is only 19 years old. Behind the plate, Yarbrough seemed to handle his pitchers fine, though Hudson Valley's first run scored via a wild pitch. I also scored a passed ball against him in the seventh, although I don't think the official scorer agreed.

Reliever Trey Hearne took over in the seventh for Boggs and looked good, collecting four of his five outs via strikeouts. He passed the torch to 6'-7" Jessen Grant with two outs in the eighth. Grant pitches with a whip-like motion that doesn't seem to leverage his size effectively. Still, his fastball hit 91-92 MPH on the gun.

Though it sounds like an excuse or perhaps a nit, the person controlling the PA system for Hudson Valley should be reprimanded. In the late going, between every pitch, some sound effect, song or noise was pumped out at a very high decibel level. In many cases, it continued until the pitch was made. That is bush league, in my book. I am convinced these shenanigans led to Grant being called for a balk, for example.

Though he came into the game with a stellar 1.85 ERA through his first 24-1/3 innings this season, Grant ran into other serious troubles in the ninth as he walked the bases loaded in a 7-1 game. Scott Vander Weg was called on and walked in another, then gave up a two-run double on a ball that shot over right fielder Matt Wilkerson's head.

Early on, cleanup hitter Wilkerson was the batting hero, slamming a 3-2 offering from Townsend over the 400 foot marker in dead center for the Cardinals' first two runs of the evening. In a good indication of the stark contrasts in his night, he also singled twice but fanned twice.

In the field, Wilkerson showed a strong arm in one case, but in another, air mailed a throw over the cutoff man that enabled a Renegades runner to score. On balls hit to right, his first step seemed to be in, even when he should have been going back. But, at this level, all players have chances to learn and improve and a one-game sample should not be taken as definitive.

First baseman Adam Rogers had a pair of hits and two RBI. Third baseman Randy Roth also had two hits and a run scored and is now hitting .318 on the season, tops on the squad. Designated hitter Sean Dobson singled twice but also fanned twice and was picked off first base. The pickoff bug struck again as second baseman Jose Delgado was victimized. Delgado was also charged with a caught stealing on the play. Yet, like the others, he had highlights, too. Delgado collected a pair of hits, scored a run and drove one in.

All in all, I was impressed with the scrappiness of the 26-26 New Jersey club and look forward to seeing them in action again.

Brian Walton can be reached via email at brwalton@earthlink.net.


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