Rockpile Rumblings Spring Training- Rain Go Away, It’s Time to Play!

On Saturday, we played San Francisco’s A club which may be future Augusta Greenjackets.  We saw two very good pitching performances from Daniel Winkler and Alex Gillingham. Winkler has been impressive all spring, attacking hitters, keeping the ball down and pounding the strike zone. He went three innings of scoreless ball.Gillingham followed with three innings of solid pitching as well. We took the lead when Robert De La Cruz hit a solo HR to put us up 1-0. With the score tied 1-1 in the 8th, the Giants scored 5 runs on only 1 hit, 3 walks and an error. De La Cruz also had a single making him the only multi-hit player going 2-2. There wasn’t much offense today. Once again, in spring training games, we mix and match a lot of players in the game to get them at bats and much needed innings on defense. I believe there are no better teaching tools than the actual game itself. Yes, we can discuss certain situations, we can simulate a game situation by setting up runners on base with a specific number of outs, but nothing is like the real speed of the game when you have to see it, think it and react to it as quick as you can. We constantly talk about a pre-pitch thought process that is mandatory before every pitch. Simply, it’s about understanding how to play the scoreboard. This will be discussed over and over all season. The scoreboard creates the situation. Nothing can be solved until we have an exact idea of what the scoreboard is telling us. It sounds wacky, but the next time you watch a baseball game, follow the board and watch how the game is played according to the scoreboard.

On Sunday weather kept us from playing any games. We all met in the weight room, had our group meeting and then everyone went to the cages. Now, you have to realize we have around 140 to 150 players in camp and they all have to get there work in on this rainy day.  First, all the live pitching took place with hitters standing in the box. The pitchers simulated a game; therefore, all of the pitchers that threw on this day, were the pitchers that were suppose to pitch in games. This keeps them on track for preparing for the season. Next, we had staff batting practice. There are 10 very large cages that we use. The big league club used the 1st four cages and the minor league club occupied the rest. After batting practice, we had meetings inside and the day concluded. Hopefully, we can get our games in today (Monday). A day of rest is great, but these players really need to play in games because once again, there is no better practice than games.

Until then, take time to help someone today and don’t take any day for granted!!!

May God Bless and Never Surrender!!!

-Joe Mikulik

Rockpile Rumblings Spring Training- Intra-Squad Games!

     The last two days were filled with early work and intra-squad games between the Asheville work group and Modesto. Yesterday, we played 3 1/2 innings and then had a very important meeting to go to afterward, well if you call golf important.  Every spring, we include an annual staff golf tournament. My team included Dave Hajek, Bill Swanson (Director of Employment Assistance), Scott Muryama and myself. We enjoyed a beautiful afternoon and came up short shooting a 60, 10 under and missing out on 1st place by two strokes. We did eagle two par 5’s on the front nine but on the back missed a couple of shots and putts that cost us.

    In today’s intra-squad game, we saw the Tourists defeat the Modesto club 11-7. When playing in these games, we design certain situations when the inning starts and then continue the inning from there. In the 2nd inning we placed runners on 1st and 2nd with no outs and put the bunt plays on. In the 4th, we placed a runner on 2nd with no outs and the hitter had to work on moving the runner over any way possible, via bunt or hitting the ball to the right side of the infield or outfield. We also put a runner on 1st and work on the hit and run. This gives not only the hitters an opportunity to work on things but also the defense has to execute the play with pre-pitch communication and alignment. Last year’s Tourists Bryce Massanari hit a 2 run home run for Modesto. One of our top prospects Trevor Story made an incredible diving stop to his right got up and threw a runner out at 1st….”web gem.”  Rossel Herrera had two singles. Jordan Ribera had a 2 out rbi triple, he also stole 2nd twice and he is a power hitting 1st baseman. Taylor Featherston also had two singles. David Kandilas made a nice diving catch coming in on the ball in leftfield and he had an rbi single.

    Thats all for today.  Take time to help someone today and don’t take any day for granted!!!

May God Bless and Never Surrender!!!

-Joe Mikulik


Rockpile Rumblings Spring Training- Game One Play Ball!

     Play Ball!  Today was game one of our exhibition season.  We traveled to Goodyear to face theCincinnaticlub.Ashevillecame out on top today by a score of 8-6. TheModestoclub, combined of mostly last yearsAshevilleclub won 10-8. After a slow start in the first inning, Peter Tago settled down and pitched better in the 2nd inning. In the first, control problems ran his pitch count up but got out of a bases loaded jam with a ground ball 4-6-3 double play performed by Jose Rivera, Trevor Story (2011 2nd pick) to Harold Riggins (former NC State product). The Tourists scored 2 runs in the 2nd inning on a RBI double by Dylon Thomas and Riggins. In the very next inning, Julian Yan hits a grand slam HR to put us up 6-1. Yan was the only player to have 2 hits.

  We were pleased with what we saw today. Tago, Geoff Parker,KyleRoliard, Brook Hart and Russel Brewer all got work on the mound today. Brewer looked very good closing out the last 2 innings of scoreless ball.

    In these exhibition games, first and foremost we try to get everyone as much work as possible. As for the lineup, it is a mix and match of 18 position players. Today 15 saw action. 3 different catchers worked 3 innings each. As the games go on, we try to evaluate to the best of our knowledge, formulating an opinion of who and where players will play during the season. Yes players are auditioning for jobs. Although some jobs have already been secured by performances of last season, there are still positions that need to be filled. One thing to remember and this is what I told the team today, even if you don’t make this club coming out of spring, you have a chance to impress us to when we need a player in a month or so, or it could be a couple of weeks, the impression you leave with us will be important in the future.

   Also in these games, we try to let the players play and showcase what they can and can’t do. I will let them freelance if you may, in order to be creative and aggressive to show us what type of player they are. From allowing them to perform in this manner, we get a better understanding of what direction we need to go with the player in a specific area. What I really find out is if the player can lead, think outside the box or is he passive and reluctant to think on his own. We play in a very low pressure arena in spring training. Although many peers watch and cast out opinions, there are not many fans, music, no scoreboards and National Anthems. Mostly, all players get to a point in spring when they all are curious where they will be headed out of camp. A saying around camp is when you hear the National Anthem on opening day, you know you’re not inScottsdale.

   Tomorrow is a fun day, intra squad against theModestoclub, yes the team I had last year and then we have our annual staff Golf Tournament. My team consists of Dave Hajek, Bill Swanson, Scott Muryama and myself. We always look forward to this outing.

   Until then, take time to help someone today and don’t take any day for granted!!!

May God Bless and Never Surrender!!!

-Joe Mikulik

Rockpile Rumblings Spring Training Days 14 & 15 – Live Batting Practice

     Two more days go by; pitchers facing hitters began to be a bit more of game like situations. Yesterday, pitchers were calling pitches so the hitters were aware of what was coming. Today the catchers called pitches and the hitters were on their own. The pitchers threw more strikes today. The first five pitches were fastballs then they had the option to mix in other pitches with a 35 pitch count. After three days of facing live pitching, the hitters are getting more comfortable at the plate. One more day of live batting practice and then games start on Wednesday.

    Our team fundamental yesterday was pickoffs and rundowns, plus catchers pickoffs at each base. A proper rundown if executed is performed preferably with one throw and tag. Today was cut offs and relays. The main focus today was proper alignment, making sure the two infielders are lined up accordingly to the correct base. It is important to understand the speed of the base runner as well as the speed of the batter running. There will be times when you will have to redirect the throw to a different base according to the speed of the runners and how the outfielder gets to the ball. Then, we had pop up priorities. Hitting pop ups all over the field with a situation in play. Understanding the high sky, sun and wind plays factor in this fundamental. Communication between the outfielders and infielders are so important. When calling for the ball, we practice in a loud manner, simulating a packed house in a big league stadium.

    We also had our individual defensive work. I worked with the outfielders today, hitting them fly balls so they can go back on the ball and at times having to take their eye off the ball and run to a spot where they feel the ball will end up.

   One more day of this and then we get to start games.  Until then, take time out to help someone today and don’t take any day for granted.  May God Bless and Never Surrender!!!

-Joe Mikulik

Rockpile Rumblings Spring Training Day 13- Full Squad Workouts!

   And away we go.  After an hour and a half group meeting including the entire minor league staff, front office personnel, 140 players that all met out in center field on field three, we started our first day of full squad workouts. The meeting took place covering all aspect of rules and standards of the organization.

    Today’s workout included individual defense.  For 30 minutes, all respective positions infield (double plays, backhand/forehand), outfield (footwork drills/reading balls off the bat at a short distance), pitchers and catchers have their time to work on defensive skills set up by each coordinator.

    Team fundamental of the bunt defense followed. Our team fundamental begins where we all meet on field 6 to go over all 4 plays demonstrated by a select group of players. After the short demonstration, we all break to our fields to work on this drill for 30 minutes.

    Live batting practice followed with hitters now facing live pitching. Pitchers threw 30 pitches, 15 out from the wind up and 15 out of the stretch. Each hitter saw 5 pitches each. Overall, pitchers were ok and surprisingly the hitters were not far off.

    All of this will continue for the next 3 days until games begin.  Until then, take time out to help someone today, and don’t take any day for granted!!!

May God Bless and Never Surrender!!!

-Joe Mikulik

Rockpile Rumblings Spring Training Day 12- FUN!

     You got to have fun, find ways to be creative, find ways to have fun with a fine line of getting your work done in a quality manner. Today was the last day of the pitchers wheel. All stations of fundamentals were fine tuned in order to prepare for our team fundamentals starting tomorrow. Making sure all pitchers know their responsibilities on bunt plays, pick off situations, run downs and backing up bases. There were no bullpen sessions, giving them a chance to rest their arms, because live batting practice will take place tomorrow.

     Today we had our annual Rag smash contest. Rag smash is a fielding fundamental for the pitchers, with a coach hitting sharply a same size softer ball at a fairly short distance. Bruce Kern and Coty Woods were in the finals after all pitchers went through the drill for a few days. Woods came out the winner in a fun battle. Coty took his talents to the big league side and a host of pitchers with our big club.  Coty battled, but the overall winner was Guillermo Moscoso. 

     The catchers worked on catching pop ups off a life bat that I hit. This is a fun drill, taking the catchers to the outfield and smashing pop ups straight up simulating a pop up in a game. With the high sky and sun to contend with, it made some of the pop ups somewhat difficult but our catchers did a fine job with the drill.

    Tomorrow we start our full squad workouts.  Until then, take time to help someone today, don’t take any day for granted!!!  May God Bless and Never Surrender!!!

-Joe Mikulik

Rockpile Rumblings Spring Training Day 11 – Ground Hog Day!

     Groundhog day!  Or is it…well, it may be too early for that, but these are the days when during conversations we are just about on the same page of saying “can’t wait for games to start.”A couple of days ago, I talked about repetition. There are so many subjects to cover before games, plus pitchers have to work up their pitch count to be prepared for games.
      Pitchers are up to 45 pitches. They also worked on reviewing signs, discussing situational pitching, pick offs at 1st (backdoor), picks at 2nd (inside move and daylight pick) and a station once again for bunt plays. To explain the daylight pick, it can be put on by either the shortstop or second baseman. Either player has the option to perform the pickoff. If the shortstop or 2nd baseman sees an opportunity to pickoff the runner, he shows the pitcher his glove or open hand and moves to the bag, the pitcher then turns and delivers the ball to 2nd. Most of the time, the play is designed to at least keep the runner from getting a big lead or jump in order to score. If we pick the runner off, that’s a bonus.
     Catchers worked on fielding bunts and throwing to 1st base. Down the 1st base line a dummy model of a player is set up and the catchers have to move their feet to make the throw around the dummy. They continued to work on setting their feet to throw to 2nd and 3rd.  Another drill (double steal drill) was set up with a machine at 2nd.  The catcher receives the ball, comes up and throws to 2nd and awaits the ball out of the machine to apply the tag at the plate with another coach tossing a blocking dummy at the catcher to simulate a collision at the plate.
     To focus on setting up to block the plate, receiving the ball and applying the tag is a constant repetition for catchers. Catchers then hit off a machine.  Yesterday was curve balls and today was hard fast balls at around 85 mph. Understand that with a machine 85 is like 90+ because you don’t get to time a live arm.
     Until tomorrow, take time to help someone today,  and don’t take any day for granted!!!
May God Bless and Nevery Surrender!!!
-Joe Mikulik

Rockpile Rumblings Spring Training Day 10- Did you know?

     Have you heard about the facilities at Salt River Fields? First of all, it is the first and only major league spring training complex on Native American land. This is the second year for spring training at this location.  Here is more information from Wikipedia about the complex:
     The field turf is made up of a specially engineered Tifway 419 Bermuda Grass grown in Eloy, Arizona.[5] There are 7,000 fixed seats in the grandstand and 4,000 lawn seats for a total estimated seating capacity of 11,000, however opening day attendance is listed as 12,514. There are also luxury suites, three party pavilions, and a kids zone. Each team has a 85,000-square-foot (7,900 m2) clubhouse (with offices, fitness, and locker rooms), six full size practice fields (one with the same dimensions as the respective teams home stadium), two infield only practice diamonds, batting cages.[6] The Diamondbacks occupy the facilities along the left field and the Rockies are in the right field area. Several points of access to the stadium bring visitors in right through the middle of the practice fields and batting facilities. Additionally the complex also boasts two lit soccer fields and a three acre man made lake which is home to 17,000 fish.[7]
    Coming to work at this facility everyday is  unbelievable. Every aspect of this place has been well planned out, with precise judgment of how a spring training complex will benefit an orgainization. You have to see it to believe it.
     Pitchers worked up to 45 pitches today. Gaining momentum to the start of the season. Also, pitchers continued to work on their defense, going over bunt plays and other aspects to better their skills. So far, knock on wood, injuries have been at a minimum. That can be a good sign at these early stages.
    The catchers did a 4 corner drill, standing 60 feet apart, at all 4 bases and for 1 minute threw the ball around the horn in one direction, 30 second rest, then fired it the other direction for a minute, 30 second rest, then threw to random bases for a minute. That followed by working on communicating a relay throw with an instructor firing balls with a machine, a cutoff man and the catcher yelling to either cut the ball or by saying nothing, the ball goes to home. Once again, these are the little things constantly worked on to hone skills necessary to become proficient in this game.
    Oh yes, and the early position players that are here, continue to get ready for the start of their campaign which is Saturday.
    The weather held off, kind of cool but pleasant.
     Until tomorrow, take time to help someone today, don’t take any day for granted!!!
     May God Bless You and Never Surrender!!!
-Joe Mikulik

Rockpile Rumblings Spring Training – Day 9 “OUCH”

Ouch!  Watching catchers block balls will make you appreciate the position of a catcher. When blocking balls, the catcher has to make an attempt to control the ball in front of his body and quickly find the ball and get ready to either throw a runner out or pounce on the ball to prevent the runner from advancing. At times, the ball ricochets off the plate or ground and doesn’t always hit off the chest protector. It may hit off your unprotected part of the body that never feels good. Working with catching instructor Marv Foley has truly been a pleasure. He continues to instruct, motivate and challenge the catchers. Everyday we go over a mental aspect of the game, as far as being a leader, putting on signs and being vocal so everyone on the field understands the situation. The catchers are an extension of the coaching staff. A certain aspect of a solid relationship between the manager and the catchers is vital for the team. This is the first spring that I am actually in the catchers group and I feel even after all these years, it will benefit my managing progress.
    The pitchers again continued with 40 pitches in the bullpen. They also had the wheel to work on the slide step to control the running game, the 3-6-1 double play (ground ball to 1st, throw to 2nd and the pitcher covering 1st), then worked on the wild pitch drill, covering home. At the Double A level, pitchers start to hit. In camp they work on bunting skills, slug bunts and hitting.
   We are working towards our first full squad workout and are eagerly awaiting games to start.
Until tomorrow, take time out to help someone today and don’t take any day for granted!!!
May God Bless and Never Surrender!!!
-Joe Mikulik

Rockpile Rumblings Spring Training – Day 8 “Repetition”

    Did I say repetition? The game of baseball is all about that. To become proficient at any task, one needs to perform a routine with quality sound effort, to perfect the fundamental. The early stages of spring training is exactly this. Not only do we do this during spring training, we carry this out throughout the season. Being creative and adjusting to the schedule is a way to break up the monotony.
     With only four days left until full squad workouts, pitchers are up to 40 pitches in the bullpen. Saturday will be the first day of live batting practice. Building up arm strength and endurance is the plan to get ready for the season. Pitchers continue working on fielding their position, bunt plays, covering 1st, etc. One piece of advice to young pitchers when either fielding a bunt or fielding their position, you need to slow down your minds down and execute the throw. The issue at times is when you rush, don’t set your feet and fail to make a proper throw. It may seem monotonous to do these drills over and over but hopefully it will make a difference during the season.
    The catchers worked on blocking home, but today the machine was set up in right field to work on the throw coming in from another angle. They worked on the wild pitch, where a sliding pad was down, a ball was placed beside it and catchers will run, slide, pick up the ball and quickly put themselves in a position to feed the ball back to the pitcher that covers home.
    The weather here has been very pleasant. The winds may pick up some tomorrow but at 74 degrees, we really can’t complain.
     Until tomorrow, take time to help someone today, don’t take any day for granted.
May God Bless and Never Surrender!!!!
-Joe Mikulik