So, as many of you know, I attended the home opener for the Peoria Chiefs, the Class A affiliate of our favorite ball club. As usual, I was equipped with my Samsung Galaxy S4 (unfortunately, I don't have the same agreement with Samsung as Big Papi or I would have made sure to get a selfie with Homer) so I was able to take a lot of videos. We'll get to those in a bit, but first I wanted to spend a few words on the experience.
Dozer Park - Peoria, IL
First of all, Dozer Park, formerly known as O'Brien Field, is a very nice A Level Park. I have heard it is one of the better ballparks in the Midwest League. Honestly, I can only compare it to Fifth Third Bank Ballpark in Geneva, IL, home of the Kane County Cougars and Dozer is head and shoulders better. Unfortunately though, that's the only other Midwest League stadium I have visited. Nevertheless, it's a nice ball park with some really great food options. Some of the best burgers you'll ever get at a restaurant, let alone a baseball stadium. And a great selection of beers.
But I'm not here to do a review of the stadium. Although, if you go, you will have a nice time. Great food. Great beers. $10 tickets. It's a good package.
Just don't look around. I mean the place is clean, don't get me wrong. It's just that even in year two, you'd still think the Chiefs were a Chicago Cubs affiliate from the "Friendly Confines" sign along the balcony in left field, to the "Legends Landing" area where all of the names are former Cubs to Harry Caray singing Take Me Out to the Ballgame during the 7th inning stretch. I gave them a pass last year, but all of this in year two is just embarrassing. I simply do not get the city of Peoria's desire to emulate everything Chicago.
Now on to the product on the field. Obviously what we all care about the most, right?
To start, the organizational message of "Build the outfield and the starting staff and the rest will follow" definitely made it down to Peoria. Peoria has a very talented and very athletic outfield that is going to be the source of a lot of excitement along the Illinois River this summer. Here is the starting lineup the Chiefs went with on opening night:
CF - C.J. McElroy
2b - Mason Katz
C - Carson Kelly
RF - Ronald Castillo
DH - Kenny Peoples-Walls
LF - Matthew Young
1B - Jake Stone
SS - Juan Herrera
3B - Michael Schulze
P- Nick Petree
A couple of holdovers from last year in Carson Kelly and C.J. McElroy. Kelly, starting this year in Peoria due to a change of position from 3B to Catcher and C.J. McElroy, starting in Peoria probably due to a couple of reasons. The first being that the entire organization has a log jam of outfielders and the second reason being that after starting last year at EST, McElroy didn't exactly light it up offensively while splitting time with Charlie Tilson.
Anyway, there is about 8 or 9 guys really worth keeping an eye on. Of those not in today's lineup, the first on the list would have to be SP Alex Reyes. I had every intention of going to the game today to get some vids of his start, but alas, the game was rained out. I promise, I will be at a start of his very soon.
Anyway, on to the impressions and videos!
(I just realized, McElroy, while hitting leadoff all season, has not taken a walk yet....)
McElroy has a lot of speed and hits the ball pretty hard. He really didn't get tested in center at all outside of some routine fly balls, but he looked comfortable when the ball was hit to him.
1st At Bat
2nd At Bat
Unfortunately, I missed his attempted triple. There was a "game show" type promotion going on on top of the dugout next to me and the guy was taking forever to answer the questions. This distracted me and as soon as they finished, the inning started and McElroy ripped a ground ball over the third base bag and into the corner on the first pitch. It's a shame too, because the guy was absolutely flying around the bases. Unfortunately for him, the Dragons, Reds affiliate, had one of their organization's top prospects in Phillip Ervin playing left field who made a great throw on a line right to the 3rd base bag and McElroy was out by a few steps. I'm not sure there are many guys in the Midwest League who would have made that throw.
Katz is a second baseman in the Dan Uggla mold. He's stocky and packs a whollop with the bat. Defense? Well, if he were to make the majors and hit .270 - .290 and 20-25 home runs, then we can cut the guy a little slack. Unfortunately, he hasn't quite masted the whole "hit .270" aspect of what it means to be Dan Uggla. Then again, I'm not sure Dan Uggla knows how to do that anymore either. Anyway, Katz will be one to keep an eye on. The power is real with this dude.
Katz AB 1
Katz AB 2
Katz AB 3
This one is interesting. The opposing starter got Katz to a 3 and 2 count and then had to come out of the game due to injury. So, here is Mason Katz, with a 3-2 count facing a brand new pitcher. I'd like to note that during warmups, he immediately walked back to the on deck circle with Carson Kelly and the two did nothing but watch the new pitcher and talk about what he was throwing.
As most of us know, Kelly is undergoing a major position change being moved this year to catcher after being a life long 3rd baseman. The jury is still definitely still out on whether he can handle the position, however we have to always remember he is going to have some growing pains with this. Catching is a very difficult position to master. If he can, his bat will play tremendously at this position. I noticed that he was attempting to block everything. Any ball in the dirt, he attempted to block it. Didn't matter if there were no runners on base or if a relief pitcher just came in and was still warming up. Kelly was attempting to perfect his skill behind the plate. I also took a few pop times on his throws to 2nd. If you don't know what a "pop time" is, it is the time elapsed from the pop of the ball hitting the catcher's mitt to the pop of the ball hitting the 2nd/SS mitt at 2nd base. He was freakishly in the 2.19 range (I got that exact same result on 3 of the 5 throws I clocked). However, I had a hunch a guy was going to steal later in the game so I got ready and got a good read on a live throw down of 1.85 seconds. This is pretty good considering Kelly is new to the position. The throw was dead-on accurate too. I also noted that Kelly has filled out since last year. I remembered him last year as being on the thin size. This year is much different. He's no Matt Holliday by any stretch of the imagination, but he's begun to fill into his frame.
Kelly AB 1
Kelly AB 2
Castillo is a big, lanky guy with a lot of power. He's hitting cleanup right now and of late has been creaming the ball. He's also been playing in right field. Now, I didn't get a good read on him defensively. There was a ball hit over his head that I was a little screened on so I didn't get to see his jump or read and I don't remember how the arm looked. Lot's of help, right? He also didn't do a ton at the plate the night I saw him, but has since picked it up. Again, I'm hoping to get back soon to see Reyes and hopefully, I'll get to see a little more from Castillo as well.
Castillo AB 1
Unfortunately, Peoples-Walls was the designated hitter so I didn't get to see him play the field at all. Offensively, he showed he has good speed and hits the ball hard. One thing I noticed was this Chiefs team does not lack in speed or hustle. Honestly, Peoples-Walls was a little bigger than I imagined him. He's got some nice, athletic size.
Peoples-Walls AB 1
Peoples-Walls AB 2
Peoples-Walls AB 3
Interestingly, I couldn't find Young on Fangraphs. Anyway, Young was a guy who I admittedly knew very little about but after the game (actually after his first at bat), he had my attention. He's a little older than a lot of the guys on the Chiefs at 23, but he also plays like a guy who has a little more comfort on the field. Young is bigger than I would have guessed simply by looking at him. 6'3", 230 lbs. but runs surprisingly well for a big fella. He hit a ball in his first at bat off the top of the wall that kind of squirreled away from the centerfielder a bit. Young never slowed up, raced around 2nd and slid into 3rd base with an easy triple. I think he'll hit his fair share of homeruns this year, if the way the ball came off his bat on that play is any indication of the pop he's got. Defensively, he played left field and made some really nice plays on a couple of line drives hit over his right shoulder. Good jump, good turn and track. Looks very comfortable in the outfield.
Young AB 1
Stone is a bit of an undersized first baseman who probably isn't going to be able to hit for enough power to make much of an impact. Defensively, he looked good around the bag and made a couple of nice scoops on low throws. He probably is not going to cost you anything defensively, just whether or not he can hit will determine how high he climbs.
Stone AB 1
This is the guy the Cardinals got from the Indians in the Marc Rzepczynski deal. He's always been known as a good glove but the bat was a question mark. Herrera might actually be the first of a few deals/acquisitions that John Mozeliak has made specifically designed to deepen up the shortstop position in the organization. Anyway, I tried to keep an eye on Herrera as much as I could, but he didn't get tested much. He made a nifty play on a hard ground ball with runners on 2nd and 3rd and the infield pulled in to the grass. He cleanly scooped it, looked the runner back to 3rd, and then threw a strike to 1st base. Everything he did looked pretty solid defensively.
Herrera AB 1
Herrera AB 2
Schulze looks to have a little Mike O'Neill in him so far this year with 27 plate appearance with 6 hits (1 double), 7 walks and 1 strikeout for a 25.9% walk rate. Granted, he did nothing like this last year with State College. He looks to be a high average, low power type with a pretty good glove. Maybe like a Jermaine Curtis? Schulze made a couple of really nice plays at 3rd including a real nice stab and throw home to nail a runner at the plate to keep the score tied 0-0.
Schulze AB 1
Petree is a little on the short side (6'1") but has some deception or sneaky velo that kept hitters confused for some good stretches. My opinion was that he would lose focus from time to time and start walking guys one short counts (4 or 5 pitches). This was refuted by scadder21, also at the game, who thinks Petree was just nibbling too much and wasn't getting calls. Either way, when he got a couple of guys on one thing is certain, he was going to shut the inning down. As noted earlier, the Dragons had one of the Reds top prospects playing in the game named Phillip Ervin. Ervin hit 3rd in the lineup and I was able to get all 3 of his at bats against Petree, not a one of them a good at bat for Ervin, who was actually kept pretty much in check all night. Petree looks to me like he was throwing a fastball, change and a curve. Although, Dozer Stadium (one of my complaints) does not have a speed gun displayed in the stadium so it was difficult to differentiate some of his offerings. I also have no idea how hard he throws. But again, when runner reached, he would seem to wake up and simply destroy whoever walked to the plate. You could almost see a look of total helplessness on the hitters as they'd walk back to the dugout.
Petree vs Ervin AB 1
Petree vs Ervin AB 2
Petree vs Ervin AB 3
So there you have it. If you would like to see some of the videos I shot last year, they all can be viewed at my youtube page (for some reason, I am having difficulty linking to my youtube page). There are some interesting ones in there like Tyrell Jenkins, Patrick Wisdom, Breyvic Valera, Charlie Tilson, and Kurt Heyer, among others.
Thanks for reading! I obviously love going to the games and sharing my thoughts and experiences. I hope if anything, my videos help bring a better picture of some of these guys who are still a few years away from St. Louis.