One of my favorite sights at Camelback Ranch occurred early in the morning, on the back fields where minor leaguers took batting practice. In full uniform, leaning against the cage, stood 84 year old Tommy Lasorda.
If you've never had the pleasure of seeing Tommy close up, it's quite an experience. The passion he has for the game affects everyone around him. It's contagious. In a good way.
While I was only present at a few of his "tutorials," he made a serious case for a select few prospects to succeed this season.
His first pupil was Nick Akins. The 24 year old outfielder was drafted twice by the Dodgers and three times overall. He finally signed with LA as a 19th rounder in 2009. Over his first two seasons, he looked like a masher, but the environment of the Midwest League caught up with him in 2011.
In 85 games for the Loons, Akins hit just .219 with a .707 OPS. However, he was the victim of some bad luck, as his BABIP with Great Lakes was just .248, well below league average. He also smacked 11 doubles and 12 home runs, walked in 10.5% of his PA's and struck out 21.9% of the time.
There's a good chance he bounces back in the Cal League this season, especially if Lasorda is right about him. "You belong in Triple A," said the skipper. That may be a little premature, but if Nick turns things around this year, it's not out of the question that he could reach Triple A by 2013.
Another one of Tommy's disciples was big Jake, Chris Jacobs. The 6'5 257 lbs first baseman is an imposing figure, but that didn't stop #2 from tossing some barbs his way. "You don't got the brains," Lasorda proclaimed. Luckily, the 23 year old who's nearly twice the size of Lasorda, just smiled.
Drafted out of a North Carolina high school as a 17th rounder in 2007, big Jake put it all together last season to post a line of .288/.393/.521 in 65 games with the Loons in 2011. He'll join Akins in High A Rancho Cucamonga to start 2012.
The last anecdote I wanted to share involved Tommy and Jesse Bosnik. Bosnik was drafted in the 13th round in 2010 and started his career in Ogden, where he batted .253 in 55 games. In 2011, he struggled with the Loons, batting .232 with a .646 OPS. But don't let the numbers fool you, as one insider believes in the 23 year old.
"You oughtta be in Double A," says Lasorda. And while his recommendation for Akins was merely a suggestion, Tommy's appraisal of Bosnik was far more serious.
Sitting in a golf cart, not 10 feet away from me, was De Jon Watson, the man who decides where these players are assigned. Lasorda was well aware of this fact, made evident by his following statements.
"If this kid doesn't start the year in Double A, there's gonna be an investigation." Tommy was speaking loud enough for Watson to hear, though not directly to him. Expecting a response but not receiving one, Lasorda repeated himself. Silence. He then directed his gaze at De Jon, repeating himself a second time.
"The paperwork is in my office," Watson finally responded. Lasorda made his way over to the fence and shared a lighthearted exchange with the assistant general manager. I'm sure Tommy wasn't serious, but...
The Great Lakes Loons released their 2012 opening day roster yesterday and, listed under "Infielders" was the name Jesse Bosnik. To that, all I have to say is...
Let the investigation begin!
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