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Monday, September 1, 2014

Nick Travieso: Cincinnati Reds' Fast Tracked Pitching Prospect

The Cincinnati Reds have had good fortune developing their own starting pitching in recent years, churning out the likes of Mike Leake, Tony Cingrani, Homer Bailey and Johnny Cueto. There is another hurler emerging who appears to be on that same track, and his name is Nick Travieso.

The right-hander attended Archbishop McCarthy High School in Southwest Ranches, Florida. Poised to attend the University of Miami, his designation as the 14th overall selection in the first round of the 2012 draft by the Reds was enough to make him change his mind and start his professional career.

Like many players fresh out of high school, Travieso started slowing going 0-2 with a 4.71 ERA in eight 2012 starts in the Arizona Rookie League. He won seven games the following years but has truly blossomed in 2014.

Playing for the Single-A Dayton Dragons, the 20-year-old is 14-5 with a 3.03 ERA in 26 starts. He has struck out 114 in 142.2 innings while permitting just 123 hits and 44 walks. He has been particularly fiery hot of late, as evidenced by his 7-0 record and 1.22 ERA in his last nine starts. More information on his statistics can be found here and here.

This past offseason, Travieso was gracious enough to answer some questions. Keep reading on for more on this prospect who seems to be on the fast track for the Cincinnati starting rotation.

Nick Travieso Interview:

Who was your favorite player when you were growing up, and why?: Growing up I idolized Roger Clemens. I loved how he went after every hitter regardless of who was at the plate. He always had fire in him, even when he knew his career was coming to an end.

What went into your decision to go pro opposed to attending the University of Miami?: Throughout high school I had all intentions of attending the University of Miami. I knew I wanted to play college ball there since I started playing coach pitch at the age of seven. The "U" was part of my home, and therefore a part of me. It wasn't until I got drafted that things got a little tricky. As much as I wanted to attend Miami, playing baseball was where my heart was. My family and I sat down and talked about it, and I decided that I wanted to make a living doing what I love. That’s when I decided I would play professionally for the Reds.

Can you describe the kind of attentions you got from teams leading up to the draft?: Everything was sort of in the air. It wasn't like I was getting more attention from one team than the others. I had heard that some liked me and some didn't. I wasn't sure where or even if I would get drafted. I always just tried to go out and play my game and not worry about the scouts or the draft.

What pitches do you throw and which do you think you need to work on the most?: I'm a fastball, slider and changeup guy. My changeup is definitely the pitch I need to work on most mainly because I hardly ever threw it before pro ball. In high school all you need is two pitches. But when you move to the next level you need to be able to have a feel for a third pitch, and I'm in the process of that now.

Who has been the most influential coach or manager you have had, and why?: In pro ball so far the most influential coach I've had is the Dayton pitching coach Tony Fossas. He pitched in the big leagues for 12 years but what a lot of people don't know is that he spent just as long in the minors. I think it's great to have a coach like that who knows what you are going through because he was there one day. He's had the biggest impact on my professional career on and off the field.

Do you follow the major league transactions? If so, do you a lot of thinking of how they might impact you?: I like to keep up with it a little over social media, but not extensively. I wouldn't say that I think about how they would impact my career but I guess sometimes you have to. When your organization is making moves up top, it's kind of exciting to know that one day possibly you could be getting moved up to fill a spot.

What has been your proudest moment as a professional player?: My proudest moment thus far would probably be when my parents came out to watch my first game in Dayton. I didn't get the win, but I pitched well and it just made it a whole lot better seeing them out in the stands like they have since day one back in tee ball.

What are some things you like to do away from baseball?: I consider myself a professional fisherman in the offseason—haha. I usually go out almost every morning and go fishing whether it be in a lake or even in the ocean. It's always a fun and enjoyable experience every time I go even if I don't catch anything. I just like to go out and relax and not have to worry about anything else. It's kind of my escape from baseball.

You can check me out on Facebook or follow me on Twitter @historianandrew

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Oakland Athletics’ Prospect Nick Rickles: What's It Like Rehabbing a Baseball Injury?

The enjoyment that professional baseball provides is only because of the hard work and sacrifices made by the players. Unfortunately, this can sometimes lead to injuries because of the rigorous physical demands on the body. When this happens the process of getting healthy and back on the field can be an arduous process. Nobody knows this better than Oakland Athletics’ minor league catcher Nick Rickles, who has been forced to sit out the entire 2014 season.

The 24-year-old Rickles was a 14th-round draft choice of Oakland in 2011 out of Stetson University. In his three professional seasons, he showed himself to be a promising prospect by hitting a combined .254 with 15 home runs and 106 RBIs in 224 games. His defense has also been impressive, as he has nabbed 43 percent of those attempting to steal bases. Most importantly, he progressed a level each year, including reaching Double-A in 2013.

2014 appeared to be a critical year for Rickles. Having just debuted in the higher reaches of the minors, he was possibly a strong season away from reaching the majors. A torn labrum has delayed those aspirations but not dampened them. With an amazing sense of dedication and determination, it’s a sure bet that the young catcher will be on the field and better than ever in 2015.

Many baseball players experience injuries and the road of rehabilitation back to health. But what is that like, both physically and emotionally? Rickles was kind enough to recently share some insight to that process in the midst of ongoing recovery.

Can you briefly describe the injury you had, how you suffered it, and what is your prognosis?: I tore my labrum during spring training. I'm not really early sure how I tore it but it was originally thought to not be as serious, however we went and got a MRI and found out it was torn unfortunately. Rehab is about a year, and I'm 16 weeks in this week. Everything is going great.

Can you describe the feelings, as a minor league prospect, of being told you will miss significant time because of injury?: This injury was a first for me of this kind of magnitude. I was sad, angry and confused but my dad helped me keep my head on straight. There are a lot of major league baseball players that have had this same surgery and have come back stronger than they were prior to the injury. I would say I had negativity in my head leading up to the surgery, but post surgery it was time to work and I had to focus and put the extra effort in to make sure coming back fully healthy and stronger is a reality.

How difficult is it to commit yourself to the rehab work, and from where do you get your inspiration?: It hasn't been hard to put the work in. We have an amazing staff headed by Nate Brooks that makes sure we understand time tables and set realistic expectations and goals for ourselves. I was raised to never give up, so even though this speed bump in my career might be a mountain, if I work hard enough I'll make it to the top and come out on the other side stronger.  

I get my inspiration from family and roommates. Derek DeYoung had Tommy John surgery around the same time, so we have had each other’s back from day one pushing each other to go the extra mile. As far as moral support Chris Kohler, also my roommate, has been here working with me on a diet so we both stay healthy. I still can't say enough of about my dad, mom, and brother who have flown out a couple times to keep my head straight.

What is the biggest thing you have learned about yourself while dealing with this injury?: That I have more fight than I thought. Being injured is never an easy thing but missing an entire season is not something I was prepared for. But just like baseball, life is a game of adjustments, so I've had to make the necessary adjustments to stay positive and work my tail off to get better.

Has this injury made you think more about your "baseball mortality," and if so, how has that impacted you?: This injury has made me realize how much I love the game. I miss it every single day, hitting, throwing, catching, drills and even conditioning. I look back at myself and wonder how I could have prevented it and there really isn't a correct answer to that. I know that once I'm able to play again I will never take a single pitch, inning, or game for granted. I didn't take anything for granted before the injury but this just puts everything in perspective to show you how quickly things can change in life and in your career.

How do you bounce back and reassert yourself in the ever-changing landscape of baseball player development?: I just have to believe in the system. I'm not the first person in baseball to tear my Labrum and I won't be the last, and our training staff with the Athletics know what they are doing. I have to remind myself to stick to the plan and not deviate from what plan is set for me. I have to do things right to make sure I have the opportunity to come back healthy or stronger. Resetting myself won't be a problem because I am itching to get back on the field now. I might have a little timidness towards throwing at first but it’s in my head and I have to put the fear behind me. 

What are your goals for the 2015 season?: To get healthy as soon as possible, work harder than any time in my life, stay healthy, strengthen my arm and get back into game shape. They goals will be less statistical for the rest of my career. Getting stronger, working hard and doing this the right way will lead to the career I want.

Just to add a thought for people going through injuries, I know it's hard at first and your might feel like giving up is the best option, it isn't. Life is crazy at times but in my opinion life is what you make it. You take whatever life throws at you and try to find a positive out of it. There are always things you can do to challenge yourself. I did the diet thing and have never felt better about myself in my life. Your mind can be your worst enemy or your best friend; what happens next is always in your hands.

You can check me out on Facebook or follow me on Twitter @historianandrew

Sunday, August 17, 2014

A Review of No No: A Dockumentary

On June 12, 1970, Pittsburgh Pirates’ right-handed pitcher Dock Ellis no-hit the San Diego Padres 2-0 while under the influence of LSD. For many, this type of incident would define a career or a life. Incredibly, this was just another moment in the fascinating story of Ellis, which is beautifully told in the new documentary film, No No: A Dockumentary (directed by Jeffrey Radice and distributed by The Orchard).

Ellis was a pitcher of moderate talents, winning 138 games with a 3.46 ERA over 12 major league seasons with five different teams. However, by his own admission, he was in the throes of drug and alcohol addiction throughout, making the success he had all the more remarkable.

Radice’s film redefines the career and legacy of Ellis from the guy who once threw a no-hitter while on acid into something much more complex and meaningful. Shot with a trove of original footage and interviews with numerous family, friends, former teammates, colleagues, and with Ellis (who passed away in 2008) himself, No No does a wonderful job of taking the viewer through the life and times of the complicated hurler.

Ellis, who was African American, played on former Negro League pitcher Chet Brewer’s youth team as an adolescent, using his tutelage and connection to the Pittsburgh Pirates as stepping stones for his own baseball ambitions. He signed with Pittsburgh in 1964 and was in the majors by 1968—becoming an important part of their franchise for the better part of the next decade.

From the very beginning, Ellis was a brash young man playing a game that was still relatively fresh off integration, and in a country that was embroiled in the midst of the Civil Rights movement. Radice moves beyond the stats and standings to detail the pitcher’s outspoken behavior (dressing flamboyantly, saying what was on his mind, wearing curlers in his hair, etc…) to show what a firebrand he was in such a transformative time—including the horrible racism he and his black teammate faced on a regular basis.

Although Ellis developed close relationships with his teammates, especially Hall-of-Fame outfielder Roberto Clemente, he came to have an increasing reliance on substances as his career progressed; a proclivity he shared with some of his mates. His problems only worsened following the tragic 1973 death of Clemente in a plane crash.

Like many players of the era, his dalliance with illicit substances began with alcohol and stimulants (greenies). Unfortunately, he veered into other drugs like marijuana, cocaine and LSD, later admitting that every game he pitched in his career was done while he was under the influence.

Ellis’ no-hitter has been the stuff of baseball legend for years, with only his own admission and the observances of his teammates to verify the veracity of the story. In the film, he admits, “During the time I was pitching the no-hitter in San Diego, I really didn’t see the hitters. All I could tell was if they were on the right side or the left side. As far as seeing the target, the catcher put tape on his fingers so I could see the signals.” His numbers from the day bear that out, as he walked eight batters and hit another, walking a veritable tight rope though nine no-hit innings.

It would be easy to keep this film’s focus on the positive attributes of this colorful personality. To the contrary, Radice makes sure to fully expose him to the viewer, the good, the bad and the ugly. This includes the time he threw at every batter in the Cincinnati Reds’ lineup until he was finally pulled from the game, and even darker behavior like the fits of violence he committed against his ex wives while high or drunk.

Ultimately, when Ellis’ playing career ended, he came to understand what a problem he had. To his credit, he sought treatment, got clean, pursued an education and began to help others who had their own issues with substance abuse. With the narrative coming full circle like this, it allows Ellis to be both the hero, the villain, and finally the hero once again in his own story.

It’s not easy to both root for a person and loathe their actions in the same film. This is accomplished here pretty seamlessly. The obvious impact Ellis had on so many comes pouring out on the screen from the many interview subjects who touch base on every imaginable angle of Ellis’ life.

No No: A Dockumentary is the profile of one of baseball’s most colorful and memorable baseball players. But it is also much more than that. It’s a story of struggle and redemption nestled in a baseball setting. Most importantly, it’s the profile of a man who experienced highs and lows of extreme levels that few ever get to truly know. To see his journey through this extraordinary life, and how those around him saw him and his actions, is quite the feat, and the way Radice pulls it all off is nearly as special in film as Ellis’ no hitter.

Theatrical Release Date: September 5, 2014
VOD Release Date: September 2, 2014

Disclaimer: I was provided with a free copy of the film but received no payment or other consideration for this review.

You can check me out on Facebook or follow me on Twitter @historianandrew

Sunday, August 10, 2014

The "Firsts" of the Boston Red Sox

There is a youth movement afoot with the Boston Red Sox. Deals that sent a number of veteran players packing at the trade deadline have turned the 2014 season into giving opportunities to the young players to see who will be important building blocks of a successful future.

Already, Mookie Betts, Christian Vazquez, Anthony Ranaudo, Garin Cecchini and Alex Hassan have all made their major league debuts this year. Additionally, youngsters like Jackie Bradley Jr., Xander Bogaerts, Rubby De La Rosa, Brandon Workman, Allen Webster and Heath Hembree have all received varying degrees of playing time after graduating from their former statuses as top prospects.

The future success of a young player is built piece by piece from a good game here and first moment there. It’s something every player goes through. Looking back, here are some important firsts from members of the Red Sox.

First Major League Home Runs:

Mookie Betts: July 2, 2014- two-run home run off Carlos Villanueva and the Chicago Cubs.

Xander Bogaerts: September 7, 2013- two-run home run off Jim Miller and the New York Yankees.

Jackie Bradley, Jr.: June 4, 2013- two-run home run off Justin Grimm and the Texas Rangers.

Yoenis Cespedes: March 29, 2012- two-run home run off Shawn Kelley and the Seattle Mariners.

Allen Craig: July 19, 2010- solo home run off Kyle Kendrick and the Philadelphia Phillies.

Brock Holt: May 31, 2014- two-run home run off Jake Odorizzi and the Tampa Bay Rays.

Mike Napoli: May 4, 2006- solo home run off Justin Verlander and the Detroit Tigers.

Daniel Nava: June 12, 2010- grand slam off Joe Blanton and the Philadelphia Phillies.

David Ortiz: September 14, 1997- two-run home run off Julio Santana and the Texas Rangers.

Dustin Pedroia: September 9, 2006- solo home run off Luke Hudson and the Kansas City Royals.

David Ross: September 2, 2002- solo home run off Mark Grace (yes, that Mark Grace) and the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Shane Victorino: September 22, 2005- three-run home run off Tim Hudson and the Atlanta Braves.

Will Middlebrooks: May 6, 2012- grand slam off Tommy Hunter and the Baltimore Orioles.

First Major League Wins:

Burke Badenhop: May 7, 2008- Beat Dave Bush and the Milwaukee Brewers 6-2.

Craig Breslow: May 14, 2009- Beat Bobby Seay and the Detroit Tigers 6-5.

Clay Buchholz: August 17, 2007- Beat John Lackey and the Los Angeles Angels 8-4.

Rubby De La Rosa: May 27, 2011- Beat Clay Hensley and the Florida Marlins 3-2.

Joe Kelly: June 22, 2012- Beat Vin Mazzaro and the Kansas City Royals 11-4.

Tommy Layne: September 4, 2012- Beat John Ely and the Los Angeles Dodgers 6-3.

Edward Mujica: August 11, 2008- Beat Rocky Cherry and the Baltimore Orioles 13-8.

Anthony Ranaudo: August 1, 2014- Beat Chris Capuano and the New York Yankees 4-3.

Junichi Tazawa: August 11, 2009- Beat Chris Lambert and the Detroit Tigers 7-5.

Koji Uehara: April 8, 2009- Beat Chien-Ming Wang and the New York Yankees 7-5.

Allen Webster: July 4, 2013- Beat Eric Stults and the San Diego Padres 8-2.

Alex Wilson: May 17, 2013- Beat Josh Roenicke and the Minnesota Twins 3-2.

Brandon Workman: July 30, 2013- Beat Joe Saunders and the Seattle Mariners 8-2.

You can check me out on Facebook or follow me on Twitter @historianandrew