Setting the Stage
Erie's northeast swing came to an end this past weekend with a three game set against the New Hampshire Fisher Cats – AA affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays. Despite a roster devoid of many top prospects, New Hampshire has managed to battle its way to second place in the Northern Division, while Erie is trying desperately to string together some wins and get back on top of the Southern Division. The Seawolves sent Jon Connolly, Jair Jurrjens, and Eddie Bonine to the hill looking for a successful conclusion to their road trip.
• Admittedly, I've been quite possibly the single most vocal critic of Kody Kirkland since I started writing for this site three-plus years ago; and I've always maintained that I'd be the first to sing his praises should his performance warrant it. Well, that time has come, as Kirkland appears to be starting to fulfill his loads of potential. Not only is he finally making contact at better rates, but he seems to be recognizing pitches better, not flailing at balls well out of the zone. His approach at the plate has improved dramatically since last season, and the game appears to be slowing down for him after a long battle. He is routinely driving the ball, incorporating the right side more, and generally demonstrating a willingness to wait out the pitcher and get a pitch he can drive hard. Defensively, his footwork is making strides, his throws are improving, and his confidence appears to be on the rise as well. Kody's still struggling a bit on the backhand side, but the rest of his game is coming along nicely. On top of all that, he finally looks like he's enjoying himself on the field – as he was seen joking and laughing with teammates regularly over the weekend. He deserves the praise that I've promised all along; and I'm glad the opportunity finally arose for me to follow up on that.
• Matt Joyce has had a rough start to his season. After wowing everyone in spring training and making the leap from West Michigan to Erie, he has struggled in a huge way. You wouldn't be able to tell he was struggling based on his demeanor, and he may finally be waking up at the plate in the process. In a weekend where he went 5-for-8 with two home runs, four walks, and only one strikeout, Joyce was Erie's standout offensive performer. He looks relaxed at the plate, his swing is quick and on target, and he's generating power with every swing of the bat. The home run he hit Friday night was a shot to deep right-center (more center than right). Not only did he look comfortable at the bat, but he also looked outstanding in right field. He tracked balls well, got great jumps, and generally made every play needed of him. Oh yeah, and he loves to show off his cannon for an arm. He came up gunning on a sharp single to right Friday night, holding a runner that started on second base; the throw never got over head-high all the way to Steve Torrealba at home plate. Let's suffice it to say he was throwing seeds from right field this weekend, and it was a joy to watch.
• Eddie Bonine's start Sunday was a tough one to watch. After getting through his warm-up pitches in the bottom of the first, the rains came, causing a delay of nearly 40 minutes. Once play finally resumed, you could tell he wasn't in his normal rhythm, and it took him until the second inning to settle down; unfortunately he'd already given up four runs at that point. It is an interesting dynamic to watch a pitcher work with an upper-80s fastball and a mid-70s knuckler. When the knuckler isn't quite working, he can work off the fastball, breaking ball, and change-up. Conversely (as was the case Sunday), when the command of the fastball is non-existent, he can work off the knuckleball to keep hitters off balance. It was fun to watch, and something you don't see very often. He's got a chance to contribute in a Major League bullpen someday.
• Jeff Larish looks lost at the plate right now; not overmatched, just lost. Without speaking with him, I'd guess he's just not seeing the ball out of the pitcher's hand; and when that happens, hitters are in trouble. Earlier in the year he was hitting everything in sight, and hitting it hard. Right now, it's just not clicking for him, and it's tough to watch. Manager Matt Walbeck sat him on Sunday – probably a wise decision.
• Matt Walbeck is one of the most energetic manages I've ever seen. He's constantly bouncing around the third base coach's box, encouraging his players, sharing inside jokes with guys in the dugout, looking in the stands during down time on the field, and generally enjoying himself on the field. I have to imagine it's contagious among his players, and that's a very good thing at the minor league level. I enjoyed watching him manage over the weekend. I picked up a couple possible tendencies over the weekend, but not something I'm going to advertise.
Anthony Tomey might just make himself into a big league reliever yet. Keep an eye on him over the next year or two….Joel Roa officially has no clue at the plate, I can't even describe it….A heads up play by Clete Thomas in the fourth inning kept Erie in the game for a while. He caught up to a bomb to left-center (terrible jump) and proceeded to double a runner off first base with a very strong throw to the relay….Seriously, I'm checking Matt Joyce for a permit for that gun on his right arm. I can't get over a couple of the throws he made this weekend….Andrew Kown and Dallas Trahern are absolutely two of the nicest young men I've ever met, and I wish them the best on and off the field, and I can't wait to see them down in Connecticut later this year….Chalk me up as a huge fan of the Seawolves' black alternate jerseys. There needs to be serious consideration given to making those the full-time road uniforms – they look sharp!....Kudos to the Fisher Cat fans this weekend! They showed great support of their team and filled that stadium all three days. It was a joy watching the games with them….
Next up 'At the Game' - Oneonta Tigers at Lowell Spinners.