Some days on the road are relatively uneventful and this was one of those days. We stayed the night at the home of former Baseball Prospectus prospect writer, and current intern for the Angels, Chris Rodriguez. Chris’ hospitality was appreciated, especially after he let me whoop him in FIFA, or so he claims. You learn something new everyday, and we learned that apparently some Mexican people put corn in their pancakes. And you know what? It was pretty good.
After scarfing down our corny breakfast, we carpooled with Chris out to go watch his Inland Empire 66ers take on the Lancaster Jethawks in some crazy Cali League action. The drive from L.A. to Lancaster was a bit over an hour, but it felt like an entire world away. Chris, a true Cali League roadwarrior, told us that Lancaster’s stadium was a complete joke of a hitters park; the unrelenting winds turn the park—which has fairly large dimensions—into a total bandbox. We came into the game expecting a boatload of runs and that’s exactly what we got. —Jake Mintz
After winning the Astros Minor League Player of the Year in 2014, outfielder Brett Phillips has returned to Lancaster for a full season of California League action. Phillips played the final month of the 2014 season with the Jethawks and built on his tremendous offensive success in the Midwest League, finishing the year at .310/.375/.529 across levels. He’s continued to perform in 2015, hitting .329/.395/.545 going into last night’s game. He took some time before the game to talk to us as a few of his teammates pelted him with chicken nuggets.
On signing with the Astros after committing to North Carolina State:
I had a pretty good scholarship to North Carolina State, so I told all 30 teams that I was draftable in the first four rounds, you know, that slot amount of money. The Astros gave me fourth-round money in the sixth-round, so I ended up signing. I wanted to play pro ball ever since the start of my senior year. So I kinda put college in the background…but if I had to go back and play college baseball, it would've been fine too.
On not hitting a home run in his first two professional seasons before hitting 17 in 2014:
That's the question of the year: How do you go from zero to 17? In high school I didn't hit many home runs…I was pretty small. The offseason before last year, I made it a priority to get after it in the weight room and try and get as big as possible. I put on 20 lbs. I got more mature; as we get older, we get stronger. Once I hit that first home run, I had the image in my head of the swing and the pitch I did it with, then I just looked for the pitch the rest of the year and kept having that success.
On playing his first full season in the Gulf Coast League with Carlos Correa:
Carlos was my roommate my first year. He's a great guy. Right when he got drafted, it was clear that he was born to play professional baseball. He's got the size, the athleticism, he's a great guy off the field…it was good playing with him, I hope one day I can play with him again.
On the most ridiculous thing about playing in the Midwest League:
Getting on a bus to travel about 12 hours is pretty rough…and then you gotta play that day. We got snowed out…I'd walk outside and it'd be snowing. My first full-season I didn't know what to expect so I kept an open mind.
On the word that eliminated him in his 4th grade spelling bee:
"Miscellaneous." Miscellaneous got me. The double "L" got me. I think I was a word away from being on ESPN in the National Bee. Believe it or not, after that spelling bee, I had a baseball tournament to go to, so I didn't even care that I lost.
The stadium known as The Hangar is notorious for its consistently strong breeze blowing in no particular direction. It certainly lived up to its reputation this afternoon game, as routine fly balls were carrying to the warning track or over the fence with regularity. The craziest Lancaster Wind Moment of the game was in the fourth inning when Jethawks left fielder Danry Vasquez sliced a fly ball down the left field line, seemingly into the seats, until it suddenly dropped a few feet into fair territory in between a couple bamboozled Inland defenders. It was one of those plays that made you wish minor-league stadiums were properly equipped with replay technology, because witnessing this absurdity once with merely the naked eye wasn’t nearly enough.
The 66ers, a Los Angeles Angels affiliate, have a 24-year-old outfielder named Mike Fish. Mike Fish went 2-3 with a walk, boosting his season average to .304. Mike Fish is okay. Mike Fish is not Mike Trout.
Inland Empire leadoff hitter Bo Way led off the game with a failed bunt single attempt. While that particular event was inconsequential, Way found a way to leave a lasting legacy on the game. Whoever was running Jumbotron forgot to switch the stats after Way’s at-bat so every player for both teams was featured with a statline of a .231 average, 1 HR and 16 RBI. That statline is nearly identical to 2009 Angel Berroa. Lancaster first baseman AJ Reed was hitting .286 with 11 bombs and 35 RBI…but not yesterday. Yesterday, he was 2009 Angel Berroa. We were all 2009 Angel Berroa.
When we saw third baseman Kaleb Cowart last year in Double-A, we were underwhelmed to say the least. With his status as a premier prospect all but completely faded, the 22-year-old Cowart has returned to the California League after two full seasons at Double-A Arkansas, where he hit .222/.286/.312 in 258 games. Despite returning to the hitter-friendly confines of the California League, Cowart has continued to struggle, hitting .210/.288/.357 going into last night’s game. It’s kind of incredible the Angels haven’t decided to scrap the hope that Cowart ever becomes a competent major-league hitter and put him on the mound. He has an easy plus-plus arm at third and some teams preferred him on the mound coming out of high school. Cowart’s only 22, but it’s hard to imagine his time as a position player lasting much longer.
-Meals at In-N-Out: 1
-Mexican Food Meals: 4
-Dr. Peppers consumed: Jake – 14/Jordan – 12
-Times we listened to Ali Bomaye by The Game: 1
In 2013, at the Baseball Prospectus event at Nationals Park, we asked XM Radio’s Mike Ferrin what we should expect to see at the Clinton Lumberkings stadium in Iowa, where we were roadtripping to that day. “Clinton is bad,” he said “really, really bad. Easily one of the worst. But nothing is as bad as Bakersfield.”
Tomorrow, we go to Bakersfield.
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