2014 Pulitzer Prize Winner
  • Sky Sox see perfect example of Astros’ rebuild

    Wed, July 2, 2014 by Brent Briggeman with no comments

    Much been made of the Houston Astros organizational makeover, and a perfect example of it took the mound in Colorado Springs on Wednesday.

    Mike Foltynewicz is impressive. He’s 6-foot-5, 220 pounds and slings his fastball at 99 mph (he recorded more pitches of 100 mph last year than anyone in the minor leagues). I knew all this about Foltynewicz coming in. What I didn’t anticipate was a breaking ball he tossed in the upper 70s and a mid 80s change-up.

    He’s far from unhittable, as the Sky Sox had eight hits against him in six innings. But you can see how every at-bat against him is a challenge. Over time, that will favor him more often that not – particularly as he continues to develop as a pitcher.

    So, how did Houston get him? By realizing what they weren’t.

    Jose Valverde had saved 69 games for Houston in from 2008 and 2009 when his contract expired. The Astros made a qualifying offer when he reached free agency, but didn’t bother trying to compete in the bidding with the Detroit Tigers, who paid Valverde more than $22 million to close games over the next three years.

    The move made sense for Detroit, which used Valverde in postseason series in 2011 and 2012. He saved 49 games in 2011 and 35 more in 2012, not counting four more in the playoffs.

    Houston understood that closers are a luxury that rebuilding teams need not possess. What use is protecting a lead if you rarely have one?

    In losing Valverde, they gained the 19th pick in the 2010 draft as compensation. They used that pick on Foltynewicz.

    As Foltynewicz is putting up a solid Triple-A season and preparing to become a fixture in Houston’s rotation, Valverde is rapidly deteriorating. His ERA has climbed for four straight years and he currently has a 5.66 ERA in 21 games for the Mets. The 36-year-old will not be playing much longer.

    It was interesting to see such a concrete example of how this franchise turnaround is taking place, and to see it in person.

    I’m not saying the Rockies need to follow this example, either, as their situation has consistently been so different.

    While Houston clearly had one generation face at the same time – Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell, Lance Berkman at the middle of it – setting the stage for an obvious rebuild, the Rockies have consistently refreshed their roster with a trickling stream of young talent. Troy Tulowitzki was followed closely by Carlos Gonzalez, who was followed closely by Jhoulys Chacin and Wilin Rosario, who were followed closely by Nolan Arenado and Corey Dickerson. The temptation to fill in any gaps with free agents like Justin Morneau, Michael Cuddyer and Drew Stubbs is perfectly understandable and it saves fans from total throwaway years like those experienced by Houston.

    So, there’s no right or wrong way to do it. But maybe if that day comes when Gonzalez and others are traded or depart for more money elsewhere, perhaps the reaction should not be one of panic. Sometimes the calm comes after the storm.

  • McBride near return from injury suffered after home run

    Mon, June 30, 2014 by Brent Briggeman with no comments

    Matt McBride would have had one of those all-time embarrassing injury stories had what was rumored to happen actually happened.

    As the story goes, the Sky Sox slugger broke the metatarsal bone while in his home run trot in April.

    That’s not the war wound you want to have to tell your grandchildren about.

    However, it wasn’t that simple. First, McBride wasn’t in a trot. The ball barely cleared the wall, so McBride was in a full sprint as he rounded first, which is when the injury occurred. Also, he had fouled a pitch off his foot a few days earlier, sending him down in pain. It is likely that something in the foot was already injured, and a misstep simply finished the job.

    “It was like I got shot,” McBride said afterward.

    McBride, who has added a mustache, is back with Colorado Springs, going through workouts with the Sky Sox. He said he’ll be sent out on a rehab assignment at short-season Grand Junction on July 3 or 4.

    “So ready to get back,” he said.

    The injury was the latest setback for McBride, who last year had to have two vertebrae fused after a herniated disc pushed up on his spinal cord.

    That one was particularly rough, as McBride was tearing through the Pacific Coast League with a .328 average, 15 home runs and 45 RBIs through 48 games.

    This was nearly as frustrating, as the Rockies have had an almost constant need for help from Colorado Springs. McBride’s defensive flexibility – an ability to play in the outfield, first base or catcher – would have made him a likely candidate for a promotion.

  • Sky Sox record league-best seventh shutout, a surprise for many reasons

    Sat, June 28, 2014 by Brent Briggeman with no comments

    The Sky Sox recorded their Pacific Coast League-leading seventh shutout of the season on Saturday.

    Again, Colorado Springs – which plays in the highest altitude park in the country – leads the PCL in shutouts.

    It’s been a strange season.

    Keep in mind, the Sky Sox (35-47) have largely struggled during a season in which their roster has seen 84 transactions in 89 days. Included in those moves were the exits of four of the team’s five starting pitchers this month.

    Still, thanks to five innings from Brett Tomko and two relief innings from Leuris Gomez and Brooks Brown the Sky Sox were able to put up a gooseegg against an Iowa team that torched them for 16 runs the day before.

    “There are always nuggets to be found,” Colorado Springs manager Glenallen Hill said. “This has been a real trying season. We’ve had a lot of injuries, you can see that our roster has changed a lot, as well as a lot of teams. You could see how that has affected us, but we just keep on pushing. Showing up and giving effort.

    “So, seven shutouts? That’s nice.”

  • Looking back, the Rockies were right to call up Arenado so quickly

    Sat, June 28, 2014 by Brent Briggeman with no comments

    Nolan Arenado (AP PHOTO)

    Nolan Arenado (AP PHOTO)

    Seeing Nolan Arenado take the field for the Sky Sox brings back the fresh memories of a debate held 14 months ago, when the start third baseman was last in Colorado Springs.

    It was in late April of 2013 that the Rockies called up Arenado after he had played just 18 games in Triple-A.

    This was too soon, many argued. Sure, Arenado’s talent was beyond dispute. He was a second-round draft pick, the top prospect in the organization and, at the time, was batting .364 with a .667 slugging percentage over a tiny Pacific Coast League sample.

    Still, he hadn’t been in this league long enough to experience the kind of failure that would require an adjustment. He was also fresh off a lackluster season in Double-A in which he slugged just .428 with 56 RBIs in 134 games. Those aren’t bad numbers, to be sure, but they are also not necessarily predictive of superstardom (though Troy Tulowitzki slugged .473 with the Drillers and Todd Helton slugged .486 in Double-A – so Arenado’s number wasn’t that far off).

    The other issue to consider was Arenado’s reputation as being somewhat immature. The Rockies, of course, should have had more insight into this than anyone else, so maybe they knew it was something to either disregard or something they felt he had quickly outgrown.

    With all this taken into account, the Rockies called up Arenado after just three weeks with the Sky Sox to open the 2013 season and he made his big-league debut on April 28.

    Looking back now, it was such an obvious choice.

    Arenado finished seventh in Rookie of the Year voting. He won a gold glove at third base. His 3.9 wins above replacement – according to Baseball-Reference.com figures – ranked behind only Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez among Rockies position players and place him behind just David Wright and Juan Uribe among National League third basemen.

    Perhaps most important, that season gave Arenado some big-league experience heading into 2014, as season he started two weeks before turning 23.

    He came into this season carrying the look of a veteran and continued to play elite defense while adding an advanced bat. He was batting .305 with six home runs and 17 doubles when he went down with a broken hand after 49 games. He also put together a 28-game hitting streak.

    Now, Arenado is back with the Sky Sox on a rehab assignment. Through the first four innings he had already gone 2-for-3 with a double and a highlight-reel stab of a line drive at third base.

    On a night in which the Sky Sox are honoring Star Wars, it’s perhaps most fitting to say the Nolan Arenado we saw last year was like the Luke Skywalker from Episode 4. The one who arrived on Saturday was the Return of the Jedi version.

    The Rockies obviously saw the potential of this, or they wouldn’t have called him up so quickly. After all, most teams wait until they are sure with a prospect of his caliber, rather than putting them at risk of the confusing, sometimes detrimental process of yo-yoing back and forth between the majors and minors.

    Arenado was ready, even if we didn’t know it then. Seeing him again makes that fact all the more clear.

  • Heroes Classic returns with Brooks Robinson, Lee Smith and your’s truly

    Tue, June 17, 2014 by Brent Briggeman with no comments

    I’ll always remember stepping into the batter’s box against Rollie Fingers.

    My girls will always remember meeting Sox the Fox for the first time.

    The community, hopefully, will remember some good that came of the night.

    Last year was my first opportunity to play in the Heroes Classic, a charity softball game hosted by the Sky Sox that is now entering its third year.

    I felt a little funny and unworthy as one of several media representatives taking the field with so many sports “heroes,” guys like Fingers, Dave Henderson, Jim Tracy and Vinny Castilla; along with actual heroes like local firefighters and policemen. But when you’re asked to participate in something like this that can bring some good to the community and give you a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to play alongside guys who had previously existed in real life only as photos on baseball cards… well, you don’t turn it down.

    I’ve been asked to play again, and just like last year, I jumped at the chance. The game starts at 7 p.m. Saturday at Security Service Field. Fingers won’t be back (I think I scared him away with a groundout to third that was struck with some authority), but in his place will be Brooks Robinson, Darrell Evans and Lee Smith – to name a few.

    All of the players will be signing autographs and the special police and fire jerseys will be auctioned after the game.

    There will also be postgame fireworks.

    Money raised this year will go to the Wounded Warrior Project as well as Colorado Springs Fire Protective Association and the Police Foundation of Colorado Springs.

    I would expect this year’s game to be much like it was last year, a fun, personal setting to celebrate our community, raise some money and watch some stars of yesteryear once again put on a jersey and glove.

    The atmosphere the Sky Sox create is one that makes you forget you’re raising funds for worthy causes and more like you’re just enjoying a unique and memorable night at the ballpark.

    If you like baseball, Colorado Springs and the idea of doing something worthwhile and charitable with your Saturday night, you really should think about attending.

    I’ll be bringing my family again, though the more she sees me play it’s going to be increasingly difficult to convince my wife that I actually was a decent ballplayer in high school.
    I’m excited and a little nervous to see what will transpire on the field for me this time around. The good news is that no matter how much I might embarrass myself next to some former baseball greats, my three little girls will be so excited that their daddy was on the same field once again as Sox the Fox.

  • Help us find the player most synonymous with each team

    Tue, June 17, 2014 by Brent Briggeman with no comments

    The death of Tony Gwynn has sparked many conversations and has brought to light many incredible facts (he never struck out in 107 at-bats against Greg Maddux!). But one element of Gwynn’s legacy far more difficult to quantify is the way, even 13 years after his playing career, fans still associate his name with the San Diego Padres organization.

    So, we’re posing the question: Which player in baseball history is most closely associated with a particular organization.

    To find that answer, we’re asking for your help. Just copy the below list of teams, fill in the first player that comes to your mind for each club and paste the results into an email to brent.briggeman@gazette.com. I’ll tabulate the results.

    There is obviously nothing scientific about this. The mere mention of Tony Gwynn probably already skews the results in his favor. Still, we think it’s an interesting discussion and are curious to see the results. If we get enough participation we’ll print the results in The Gazette and perhaps spread this out to other sports.

    And what we’re after is pure name recognition. Please don’t research this. We’re not looking for each organization’s all-time leader in Wins Above Replacement or Fielding Independent ERA; just the first name that pops to your head when thinking about each team (and go as far back as necessary; for example, it doesn’t matter if the Dodger you think of played in L.A. or Brooklyn).

    HINT: If this takes you more than 2 minutes, you’re thinking too hard. This should be the name that pops in your head first.

     

    PLAYER ASSOCIATION POLL

    Arizona Diamondbacks:
    Atlanta Braves:
    Baltimore Orioles:
    Boston Red Sox:
    Chicago Cubs:
    Chicago White Sox:
    Cincinnati Reds:
    Cleveland Indians:
    Colorado Rockies:
    Detroit Tigers:
    Houston Astros:
    Kansas City Royals:
    Los Angeles Angels:
    Los Angeles Dodgers:
    Miami Marlins:
    Milwaukee Brewers:
    Minnesota Twins:
    New York Mets:
    New York Yankees:
    Oakland Athletics:
    Pittsburgh Pirates:
    Philadelphia Phillies:
    St. Louis Cardinals:
    San Diego Padres:
    San Francisco Giants:
    Seattle Mariners:
    Tampa Bay Rays:
    Texas Rangers:
    Toronto Blue Jays:
    Washington Nationals:

    Click here to see Brent Briggeman’s picks

  • Christian Bergman returns to the mound for the Sky Sox after bittersweet month

    Mon, June 2, 2014 by Brent Briggeman with no comments

    Christian Bergman will take the mound on Tuesday for the first time in June.

    His May will go down as probably the most bittersweet in Sky Sox history.

    In that month, Bergman made his starts, pitching a Pacific Coast League-best 40 2/3 innings and compiling a 2.21 ERA. He struck out 25, walked nine and gave up 30 hits.

    He also went 0-3.
    The Sky Sox scored no runs in the 40 2/3 innings while Bergman was on the mound. That’s right. Zero.

    The calendar turns for Bergman on Tuesday. Surely he’d like to continue his personal run, but it would sure be nice for him if his teammates could manufacture some runs of their own.

  • Sky Sox pitching coach recalls days of handling Yankees super-prospect Brien Taylor

    Sun, June 1, 2014 by Brent Briggeman with no comments

    Sky Sox pitching coach Dave Schuler has been asked this question before, and by a much larger group of media.

    Schuler talked about Tyler Matzek to a pair of reporters after a loss on Sunday and was ultimately asked if Matzek was ready to be a big-league pitcher.

    “Can’t answer that,” Schuler said.

    We’ll find out some day if the “can’t” was merely a substitute for “won’t,” which it has been in the past.

    Schuler coached super-hyped prospect Brien Taylor in Double-A in the Yankees organization in 1993. Taylor had been the No. 1 overall pick in the 1991 draft and dominated in his first professional season.

    His second year he was the top prospect in baseball and playing under Schuler.

    “They used to ask me that about Brien Taylor when I was with the Yankees – is he ready?” Schuler recalled. “I thought he was a green banana at that time, but you can’t tell the press that because New York City was waiting.”

    Injuries ultimately robbed Taylor of a big-league opportunity, but the lessons of dealing with a prospect have clearly stuck with Schuler.

    On Sunday he talked about Matzek’s mechanics, explaining why they led to Sunday’s poor performance. He wants to fix those, help Matzek develop some needed consistency and help polish him as a pitcher.

    At what specific point in that process Matzek is plucked by the Rockies is as much beyond Schuler’s control as it is Matzek’s. And if he feels strongly one way or another about Matzek’s current status, it would do him no good to reveal it now.

    That’s OK, he’ll answer his questions as best he can and continue to think about what he can do to fix Matzek’s fundamental foundation.

    “You have to have that as a base,” Schuler said of Matzek’s tempo. “If you have that consistently, all things are possible.”

  • Matzek planning on making Sunday’s start as call-up rumors escalate

    Sat, May 31, 2014 by Brent Briggeman with no comments

    Tyler Matzek

    Tyler Matzek

    As far as he knows, Tyler Matzek is starting for the Sky Sox on Sunday.

    The lefthander has been the subject of considerable speculation as Colorado Rockies approach a point where they could make a change in the rotation. Franklin Morales gave up six more runs on Saturday as his ERA rose to 6.03. The Rockies are 1-4 in Morales’ past five starts.

    It may be time to shake things up.

    Matzek knows this, but says he has paid little attention to it.

    “If I see a headline I’ll read it, but I try not to follow it more than that,” Matzek said on Saturday. “It’s just one of those things I can’t control.”

    Matzek, a former first-round pick, is 5-2 with a 3.20 ERA for the Sky Sox. A call-up would be the first for the 23-year-old lefthander.

    It is no given that the new member of the rotation – if a move is made – would come from the Sky Sox, or that it would be Matzek, but his pedigree and recent performance would make him a logical choice.

    Because the Rockies have an off day this week, Morales’ spot in the rotation won’t come back up until Friday. Because of that, it would make sense for Matzek to go ahead and start on Sunday even if a call-up is coming, as a start on Friday against the Los Angeles Dodgers would still mean he is pitching on the usual four days of rest.

    If something is brewing, Matzek doesn’t know. He threw about a dozen pitches in the bullpen prior to Saturday’s game before some conditioning drills. It was his normal routine the day before a start.

    If, however, Matzek is limited to pitch count that is shorter than usual on Sunday, it may be a clue that the organization has immediate plans for him beyond Triple-A.

  • Minor leaguer hits 400th home run, but none came against the Sky Sox

    Tue, May 20, 2014 by Brent Briggeman with no comments

    Mike Hessman hit his 400th minor league home run on Tuesday, a mark that surprisingly does not involve the Sky Sox.

    Hessman, who came up in the Atlanta organization, has hit most of his 290 Triple-A home runs in the International League (the Sky Sox play in the Pacific Coast League). In his one year in the PCL – 2012 with Oklahoma City – Hessman hit 35 home runs but did not hit any against Colorado Springs.

    Hessman, 36, became the sixth player to hit 400 home runs in the minor leagues. He is the first to reach the mark since Andres Mora, who played from 1971 to 1997.

    The record of 484 belongs to Hector Espinosa, whose minor league career ran from 1960 to 1984.

    Hessman has played in 109 major league games with the Braves, Tigers and Mets and has hit 14 homers in the majors.