An Arizona Rookie league game is a familiar but unique experience. It’s familiar because it’s the same baseball game you see everywhere being played in the summer with a 7 p.m. start time by boys and young men with dreams, mostly from the United States and Dominican Republic.
It’s also familiar because these young men are wearing the uniforms of major league baseball teams you’ll see each night around the country. And finally, it’s played in some familiar Cactus League stadiums many of you have been to before, with such names as HoHoKam, Camelback Ranch and Tempe Diablo.
An AZL game is unique, though. It’s a Thursday evening in the middle of July in Tempe. It’s about 7 pm and warm-ups have been completed. The Angels are playing the visiting Maggots (little baby A’s) at Tempe Diablo. Once you walk through the gate to take your seat, you start noticing the differences.
First, it’s hot. This is the place of the ‘dry heat’. The high today in Phoenix was 115 F, but thankfully by game time, it’s cooled down to 110 F at first pitch.
The next thing is it’s free – they don’t sell tickets and there’s no stadium personnel to greet you. If you have ever been to spring training practice, you’ll see about 10 people from the City of Tempe to control crowds, provide security and direct you around - and again, that’s just a February practice day. Tonight, I see one Tempe man there sitting in the shade to provide a minimum level of Staffing.
There also aren’t any vendors – no one selling programs, no one selling beer or peanuts, no one selling water – bring your own. And you can’t tell the players without a scorecard… so well, you can’t tell the players; the MiLB AZL Angels website is the best bet and there’s always a water drinking fountain if you’re thirsty. And like hot water.
Also, there aren’t any people. Well, ok, I see about 30 people here: 10 are staff/scouts from the Angels, 10 are staff/scouts from the visiting Maggots, and about 10 fans. A week ago, four of the ten are parents of the players. Oh and Bobby Knoop is here too. He’s like the Godfather now (aka Local Organizational Coach/Scout) and he was like The Sundance Kid to Jim Fregosi. But the real Sundance Kid was not an AL All Star & did not win 3 Gold Gloves for the Angels. Knoop is one of the only links to the 1960’s Angels.
I’ve been in a situation like this myself. Sort of. Playing baseball on a summer night? Check. In the desert and game time temperature is over 100F? Check. Where the Angels big club plays its Spring Training games? Check. Only my games were in Senior League (Age 13-15) in Palm Springs and I didn’t have much talent (but my games drew bigger crowds, even Sonny Bono once).
These young men on the field tonight, have talent, have scouts to watch them, are getting paid to do this and have an ever-so-slight chance to be playing in The Show. Also Jordon Adell and Jacob Pearson just graduated high school and received more money than I’ll see in my career. You don’t know how lucky you are, boys.
One last thought about the heat and then I’ll stop, even though it dominates the environment. Last week I spent three days camping at El Moro State Beach on the Newport Gold Coast between Newport and Laguna. We hung out in Corona Del Mar, and shopped on the streets of Balboa Island, and had lunch at a sidewalk café in Laguna.
As nice as that sounds, the best part was this: I didn’t see the sun for those three days – I left Arizona where it was 122 F and five hours later, it was 66 F and that’s as hot as it got. I love June gloom. I know most of you live in OC and see this every day. Brandon Marsh escaped to Orem to play this summer. You don’t know how lucky you are, boys.
Back to the ballpark. While the stadium and its lack of humanity are noticeably different, the field looks the same (except it is browner and patchier than you are used to seeing it) players on each side taking warm-ups and filling the dugout, coaches checking on everyone, the umpires getting ready.
So what have we here with these 2017 Arizona League Angels? First as a team, for the first time in quite a while, they are an AZL power house, sitting at 9-2 and leading the league. The most familiar names to those who follow the Angels drafts are Jordon (Jo) Adell, Jacob Pearson, and Nonie Williams.
Adell is debuting tonight at DH and was the 10th overall pick this year out of high school in Louisville. He is younger than my daughter, Miss UCDavis. Pearson was a 2017 third round draft choice (85th overall) out of West Monroe, LA and the Louisiana Player of the Year.
He now has a $1 million dollar bonus and was in the line-up for 4 straight games all at CF. Pearson has had a decent start with 3 hits, 2 runs, 1 SB and 2 RBI in 14 ABs. He is also Kole Calhoun’s kid brother.
Nonie Williams has also been playing regularly all at DH and after a slow start is now hitting OK too, batting .250 with a .740 OPS. He was a 3rd round choice last year and listed as a 6’2” 200 lb SS. Neither Pearson nor Williams are playing tonight, though I saw Williams play last week – he hit the ball hard.
If you’re a MLB Draftnik and you are expecting to see all the High School kids you know that were picked a few weeks ago, you won’t recognize most of the other cherubs on the roster. One unfamiliar kid who’s been playing a lot this year and is playing well is Jimmy Barnes. He is a lanky 19 yr old and 11th round choice in 2015. Or Johnny Morell (P) who is a local kid from Chandler Basha High, also from the 2016 draft (31st Round)- he’s buds with Ryan Madson and saw him start last week. I met his stepmother at one game and she said they were from Temecula and only played his senior HS year in AZ.
My new favorite is Artemis Kadkhodaian with the 80 name. I met his mother too last week. He wasn’t even drafted and had just signed as a free agent from the University of West Georgia. Now he’s been playing SS ever since in Tempe and doing well, hitting in the 3rd spot.
There is a decent contingent of players from the Dominican Republic too that have been bumped up from the DSL Angels. Johan Sala is an OF, has an OPS of .851 and brings a lot of energy encouraging every one, and smiling.
The Angels signed Sala as a 16-yr old for $300,000 a few years ago and he’s a player you’ll immediately like. The catcher is Mario Sanjur from Panama and I would see him pick off runners at both 1st and 3rd bases tonight; maybe that’s why the Angels didn’t draft catchers in 2017.
Tonight’s game (pictures): the Angels won again, 6-4. In the first inning, Jo Adell hit in the second spot and hit a soft liner to short on the second pitch he saw from Osvaldo Berrios of the Maggots in his second start; Berrios was Billy Beane’s 2017 20th round pick from Puerto Rico. The next inning the Angels took a 1-0 lead on a lead-off Sala bunt single, a Barnes double and then Sanjur hit a deep sacrifice fly to score Sala.
In the third inning, Adell started the rally with a sharply hit single through the hole between SS and 3rd. Again, it was the second pitch he saw. After leaving the box, Adell’s athleticism really showed – this big dude can flat out run and he does it so smoothly with huge, graceful strides.
The next batter was Kadkhodaian and he hit a double play grounder to the Maggots’ 3rd baseman. The only problem was a 6’2” Kentucky thoroughbred was charging toward the 2nd baseman and he wanted no part of either the runner or the bag, so after he caught the 3B man’s throw, he headed toward Avondale and then threw late to first too. Instead of no one on and 2 out, the Angels had two on and no one out.
After a wild pitch, Adell was on third and AK was on 2nd. Both would end up scoring on consecutive ground outs and it was 3-0 Angels.
Adell was finished for the night. He went 1-2 with a run scored and was a weapon on the base paths. He saw four pitches and swung twice. Both times he swung, he hit the ball on the nose to the left side, but without a lot of velocity.
He will soon be hitting the ball very, very hard and I would not want to be the baseball. But if the baseball likes to head to Mill Ave., it’s got a bright future because Jo Adell will be getting it there rather quickly. And often.
On the defensive side of the game, the big highlight was pitcher Jose Soriano. He’s 18 and listed as 6’3”, 168 lb. I heard one of the coaches call him ‘Flamingo’. He dominated the Maggots, with 4 innings and just giving up 1 run and three hits. This kid now has a 1.13 ERA and 0.75 WHIP in 8 innings. He has a future. Jessica DeLine will be calling him a ‘Stud’ every week for the next three years in her Cow Tipping column.
The A’s would tie the game up at 3-3 in the 5th inning after Soriano left. Pitching for the Angels was lefty Jon Malmin, a 31st round pick out of Texas this year. Malmin started with Orem in June and saw some action there, but now has landed in Tempe. He gave up back-to-back lead-off walks, and then it got even messier with an error behind him and a balk.
Luckily he had a typical Angel catcher cannon arm backing him up as Sanjur picked off his 2nd runner of the game at 3rd base. The Maggot rally was bazooka-ed. #TheHaloWay - this is how we roll.
Things stayed quiet until the 7th inning but these Angels are the class of the AZL and would not be stopped tonight. And they would do it in a way that would make Uncle Billy and Papa Scioscia proud. Julio Garcia (3B) led off with a single, was sacrificed to 2nd and took 3rd on a wild pitch.
After Stephen Kerr walked, Dalton Blumenfeld (2016, 12th Round) scorched a line drive over third base and both Garcia and Kerr scored. Blumenfeld would come around to score too before the inning was over and it was 6-3 Angels.
The Maggots threatened in the 9th with a lead-off double. Then Austin Beck, the 6th pick overall in 2017 draft out of Lexington, North Carolina HS hit the ball hard. He went four picks higher than Adell and so he has $1 million more in bonus money ($5.3MM vs $4.3MM). In his last AB, Beck belted a deep drive to straight away center field.
Rayneldy Rosario, the Angels 5’8”, 139 lb CF, started heading towards Mill Ave. He stopped right in front of the 420 ft mark in CF, back against the wall and caught the ball. (He also stopped because he looks like he’s 16 yrs old and would not get into a bar on Mill Ave.) Beck was out and would finish 0-4. Eventually the runner on second scored but that was it.
Closer Issac Mattson (2017, 19th rounder out of Pitt) did his job nicely and Game Over (box score). Light up the Halo. Beating the A’s: #TheHaloWay. And it cooled down to 105 F by the end.