Top 100 Baseball Blog

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Mike Ekstrom: Determined Pitcher Still Pursuing His Goals

Getting to the major leagues can be a monumental task, but staying there can be just as difficult. Just ask pitcher Mike Ekstrom, who has alternately pitched on baseball’s biggest stage and in the high minors for the past six seasons.

The right-hander pitched collegiately at Oregon State and Point Loma Nazarene University before becoming a 12th-round draft choice of the San Diego Padres in 2004. He rapidly became a top prospect, winning 13 games in just his second professional season.

Ekstrom converted from starting to relief in 2008 and took off from there. He made his debut with the Padres on September 8, 2010 against the Los Angeles Dodgers, throwing two scoreless innings of relief in a losing effort. However, he did have the highlight of whiffing Dodgers’ slugger Manny Ramirez in the seventh inning of the game. He went on to go 0-2 that season with a 7.45 ERA in eight appearances.

Although he in the minors for most of 2009, he did spend more time in San Diego, posting 6.38 ERA in 12 relief appearances. Unfortunately, following the season, he was placed on waivers because a full-time spot couldn’t be found for him.

Since his time with the Padres, Ekstrom has pitched for the Tampa Bay Rays, Colorado Rockies, Oakland Athletics and Los Angeles Angels organizations. He has spent much of that time in the minors, but did have stints in the majors in 2010-11 (Tampa) and 2012 (Colorado).

All told, he has appeared in 51 big league games, all in relief, going 0-3 with a 5.61 ERA while striking out 45 in 61 innings.

In 10 minor league seasons, he has gone 66-49 with a 3.80 ERA and 11 saves.

The 30-year-old split this past season in the minors for the Athletics and Angels, going 3-3 with a 5.14 ERA in 38 relief appearances.

Most recently, he joined the Perth Heat of the Australian Baseball League for his winter ball. He has pitched well and put himself in position to seek a major league job in 2014.

Ekstrom answered some questions about his baseball career back in 2012. Due to negligence on the part of myself, it is only getting presented now. Take a look and get to know this determined pitcher better. After all, there’s a good chance he could be pitching at a stadium near you in the near future.

Mike Ekstrom Interview:

Who was your favorite player when you were growing up, and why?: Ken Griffey Jr., Jay Buhner, and Greg Maddux. I grew up in Oregon, so the Mariners were my hometown team. Griffey was everyone's favorite player in my neighborhood. 

When did you start feeling confident that professional baseball was going to be a possibility for you?: Not until about a month before the draft my junior year in college. I didn't receive letters from pro teams in high school, and through college pro baseball was never a major focus of mine. Honestly, I never really dreamt of being a pro baseball player when I was little (I was thinking more weatherman). It's been a great opportunity that popped up after college, but it was never really in my plans. 

Can you describe what your draft day experience was like?: When draft day came I knew I'd be drafted, I just wasn't sure when. I was back home in Oregon sitting on the couch waiting to hear when I'd be taken. Once the draft got into the eighth round or so my phone started ringing, and finally I was picked to start the twelfth. 

How difficult was it to adjust from being a starter to a reliever?: It was actually a pretty smooth transition for me. I was pitching so poorly as a starter in 2008, I looked at being sent to the bullpen as an opportunity to finish my season strong and create a new identity for my career. Luckily it worked out. At the time, it was June and I had about a 6.00 ERA in Double-A as a starter and by September I was called up to San Diego. It's crazy how baseball works out sometimes. 

Which pitches do you throw, and which is your best and which do you believe needs the most work?: Fastball, slider, and changeup… I feel like I can get outs with any of the three pitches, depending on the situation. Some days my slider is best, sometimes fastball, and sometimes the changeup works well. I throw mostly sinkers and sliders, but I'm confident in my changeup, I just don't use it as much.  

Can you talk a little bit about how you found out that you had been called up the major leagues for the first time (2008) and how that felt?: Obviously it felt great. It was a big surprise at the time. All my teammates were happy for me and it felt great to call family and friends to let them know. Especially making my debut in San Diego was awesome. My mom's from there and I went to college there, so I had a lot of fans at the game. 

What do you remember about the first hitter (Matt Kemp) you faced in the majors?: First pitch out… Supposed to be a fastball away, but missed my spot by about two feet and jammed him with a fastball in. I think it was a ground ball to short or third. 

What is your thought process like having pitched in the majors in parts of five seasons, but not yet finding a permanent spot?: Of course I'd like to be a five year established MLB vet at this point, but I'm pretty happy with how my career has gone. Baseball's brought a lot of great opportunities and experiences along the way. It can be frustrating to go up and down so many times (I think I've been DFA'ed five times and optioned about ten times), but it's a tough lifestyle to beat. I'm not gonna say it's totally taken away the thrill of getting called up, but I definitely have a different perspective about things than I did in 2008. If you don't have a positive outlook on things, it won't take long for the game to chew you up and spit you out. 

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Thursday, November 21, 2013

Ty Buttrey: Boston Red Sox's Pitching Prospect Primed for Big Things

High school baseball prospects can be difficult to gauge, especially when they are pitchers. After all, these youngsters are usually not yet finished growing or filling out their frames. Nobody can truly tell what they will be when they reach full maturity.

Whenever a team covets a high school player enough to do whatever they can to lure them away from college in order to being them into the organization, it’s safe to say it’s because they possess special talent. Keeping that in mind, the Boston Red Sox must think awfully highly of pitcher Ty Buttrey.

The big right-hander attended Providence High School in Charlotte, North Carolina. He always stood out among his peers, but it all really culminated as a senior when he went 9-2 with a 0.91 ERA and 100 strikeouts. Naturally, he drew a lot of attention from colleges and was primed to attend the University of Arkansas.

Buttrey’s decision to be a college man was destined to be a difficult one. He was considered one of the best high school pitchers in the country when the Red Sox drafted him in the fourth round (151st overall selection) in 2012.

Determined to not let the talented young pitcher go, the Red Sox gave Buttrey a big bonus to convince him to start his professional career. Already possessing a fastball in the low-to-mid 90s and developing secondary offerings, it was a good gamble.

Following four games in the Gulf Coast League in 2012, he put in his first full professional season this year with the Lowell Spinners of the New York-Penn League. The 20-year-old showed why the Red Sox were right to be so high on him, as he went 4-3 with a 2.21 ERA in 13 starts. He struck out 35 batters and didn’t allow a home run in his 61 innings.

Having seen him pitch and also put in his work before games, I can attest to the serious nature in which Buttrey hones his craft. If he keeps defining his game as he progresses through the minors, the Red Sox will have another prominent prospect that will help them maintain their ranking as the top farm system in baseball, according to a recent Baseball America feature.

The pitcher recently took time out during his offseason to answer some questions about his career. Read on for a better look at one of Boston’s players of the future.

Ty Buttrey Interview:

Who was your favorite player when you were growing up, and why?:
My favorite player growing up was Roger Clemens because of his dominant presence on the mound, and how he attacked the strike zone and wasn't afraid of anyone.

How did you first find out that the Red Sox were interested in you?: I knew the Red Sox were interested in me when the area scout Quincy Boyd came to my house for an in-home meet and I answered questions and filled out forms.

What pitches do you throw and which do you think you need to work on the most?: I throw a four-seam, changeup and spike curve. The pitch I need to work on the most is my changeup because that makes every other pitch better.

What do you consider to be the primary strengths of the Boston organization?: The Red Sox have so many positive things going on for them that I can't pick just a few. They do a great job of putting me in the best position to succeed and the coaching is amazing.

How difficult is it to handle the attention that comes with being a top Red Sox prospect?: It's not difficult because I don't think of myself as a top prospect. I am just another player in the minor leagues and the goal is to get to the MLB. Nothing in the minors matters if you don't reach that goal.

What are your personal goals for 2014?: My personal goals for next year is to worry about things I can control and go out there and give it my best every game. Focus on getting ahead of the count and learning a better feel for my off speed.

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Monday, November 11, 2013

Danny Bethea: Boston Red Sox Catching Prospect Answers Some Questions

There is fierce competition in the farm system of the Boston Red Sox simply because of the impressive collection of talent the team has amassed in recent seasons. In particular, catcher is a position of great depth, as Ryan Lavarnway, Dan Butler, Jon Denney, Blake Swihart and Christian Vasquez are just a few of the young receivers of note. They aren’t the only ones however, as Danny Bethea has thrown his catcher’s mask into the ring in the hopes he will one day be calling games behind home plate at Fenway Park. 

After graduating from La Costa Canyon High School in California, Bethea enrolled at NAIA Grand Canyon University, where his father Pete had once been an All American. Danny played in 49 games during the 2010 season, hitting .329 with two home runs and 23 RBIs.
The following season, he attended Palomar College and really blossomed as a catcher. Appearing in 25 games, he hit .418 with eight RBIs and threw out an impressive 62.5 percent of base runners.

Joining his third school in as many years, Bethea enrolled at St. Johns as a junior. In two seasons as a member of the Red Storm, he played in a combined 107 games, hitting .270 with four home runs and 58 RBIs. His cumulative college career was enough to get him noticed by the major leagues, and the Red Sox made him their 34th-round selection in the 2013 MLB Draft.

The 23-year-old right-handed hitter endured some struggles during his first professional season. Playing with the Gulf Coast League and the short-season Lowell Spinners, he logged 45 total games, hitting a combined .227 with a home run and 24 RBIs. He was sound defensively but threw out only four of 36 base runners, something he will need to improve upon moving forward. In total, he was able to get his feet wet and find out what he needs to work on as he heads into his first spring training this winter.

Bethea recently answered some questions, so come and get to know the Boston prospect a little better.

Danny Bethea Interview:

Who was your favorite player when you were growing up, and why?: I always enjoyed watching Joe Mauer play because he is an all-around great baseball player. He is a great catcher and runs the defense well. On top of that, he can hit for average and power, which is tough to do as a catcher. He makes the game fun to watch.

What was your back-up plan if you hadn't received an opportunity to have a professional baseball career?: If I didn't get the opportunity to play professional baseball, I wanted to do commercial real estate. I have taken a real interest in commercial real estate because it is my father’s profession and has been in my family since I was born. If for whatever reason my baseball career gets cut short, I still want to practice commercial real estate. I have always been intrigued by it.

How did you first find out that the Red Sox were interested in you?: I first found out the Red Sox were interested in me after a collegiate baseball game when I attended St. Johns University. After we got done playing Seton Hall, the area scout for the Boston Red Sox and I had a short conversation. He expressed that the organization was interested in me.

What was your draft experience like?: My draft experience was a bit of a nail bitter to say the least. Nothing is guaranteed in the draft and weird things happen all the time. I knew I was going to be a senior sign, so I knew my name wouldn't be called (if at all) until the late rounds. My father, my girlfriend (Caddy) and I were on the golf course trying to keep ourselves occupied during the last day of the draft. Needless to say, it was the worst round of golf I have ever played because I was nervous about what was going to happen the whole time.

The rounds got later and later and I grew more nervous. By this time we had just finished golf and headed to the car and I started to realize that professional baseball might not be in the cards. Just as I am loading the golf clubs into the car, my girlfriend pops around the corner and says ‘the Boston Red Sox just drafted you.’ I was relieved and excited at the same time, and it was a special moment; something I will never forget. I am very thankful to the Boston Red Sox for giving me the chance to live my dream.

What do you believe are some of the strongest aspects of the Boston organization?: I think that the Boston Red Sox organization is well rounded and efficient. Some of the strongest aspects of the organization is their player development. They really take the time to make sure all their players are getting the instruction they need to maximize their potential.

Another strong aspect of the organization is the state of the art facilities they have down in spring training. They recently built a new park in Fort Meyers, and it has everything anybody needs to get better, ranging from hitting cages to fields to training room equipment. The Boston Red Sox have a long line of tradition and history in its organization and it is a privilege to be a part of a winning tradition.

What is one part of your game that you hope to improve on the most?: The part of my game I hope to improve the most is throwing to second base. I need to become quicker and shorten my release to have a better chance of throwing runners out. I also have some improvements to do offensively.

What is one rule you would change in baseball?: I wouldn't change any rules of baseball because it sets it apart from other sports and makes it unique.

What things are you looking forward to as your first spring training approaches?: I am looking forward to a lot of things entering my first spring training. I am excited to meet new members of the organization and see friends I have made over my first year. Also, I look forward to working new members of the coaching staff and training staff. 

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Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Boston Red Sox Hot Stove: Initial Thoughts

It's hard to believe that the 2013 baseball season is over. Even though the celebrating of the Boston Red Sox winning the World Series has ended, it seems hardly a soul has stopped basking in the glory of their unexpected and vastly entertaining campaign.

There really is no down-time in baseball, and naturally the Red Sox are already hard at work planning their strategy for 2014. 

Here are some initial thoughts on their early movement in the opening days of the hot stove season:

Qualifying offers were extended to new free agents, center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury, shortstop Stephen Drew and first baseman Mike Napoli. Those are all sound decisions, as it's important to either have those players back or get the draft pick compensation that is now attached to them if they are signed by another team.

It will be a huge surprise if Ellsbury returns. He finally proved himself to be healthy this year and responded with a huge season. It's likely he will be able to get a deal that meets or exceeds five years/$100 million on the open market, which seems to be well outside of the more frugal deals Boston favored last offseason that paid off so well.

Ellsbury is also 30. His next contract will be more about rewarding him for what he has done in the past than what he will likely do in the future. If he is able to remain healthy moving forward, it's unlikely that he has more than two-three peak seasons left.

The $14.1 million, one-year qualifying offers were also shrewd moves to start with Napoli and Drew. It's doubtful Boston wants the shortstop for more than another year, with uber prospect Xander Bogaerts waiting in the wings. However, the veteran's steady defense and solid all-around play could be a help as the youngster is broken in in 2014.

With such a thin first baseman market out there, bringing back Napoli is a near must. The bearded slugger ran red hot and ice cold during various stretches of the season, but was a great defender, a perfect fit for Boston, and had more than enough production to warrant his return. The team must just make sure to not over-extend themselves financially because of sentiment or desperation to keep him around for team balance.

The one free agent who didn't receive a qualifying offer was catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Although he has really come on during his time in Boston, he still remains a very flawed player who struggles to make contact at the plate and is at best a mediocre receiver. The danger with giving him an offer was the slight possibility he may have accepted it. With David Ross expected to get a good share of at-bats next season, the $14.1 million would have been way too pricey for a not-quite full-time player with holes in his game.

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