Tag Archives: spring training

Hard Work Pays Off, Just Ask Jeremy Hazelbaker

by Brendan Ripley-Barasch

It is pretty common to hear a feel-good story about a professional athlete, whether it is about them coming from a low-income family or overcoming a devastating injury. But Jeremy Hazelbaker’s story is a unique one, it is about perseverance, dedication, and dealing with adversity.

                                       Image via http://www.ksdk.com

Currently, baseball analysts are spending their time discussing Trevor Story’s historic start, but one player that has maybe been more impressive than Story is the rookie outfielder for the St. Louis Cardinals, Jeremy Hazelbaker. Similar to Story, Hazelbaker was only given a shot in the big league this year because of something that happened to another player. For Story, he was given the opportunity because Rockies shortstop Jose Reyes is on paid leave from the MLB stemming from a domestic violence case. In Jeremy’s case, he got his shot because of an injury that Cardinals shortstop Ruben Tejada suffered which opened up a spot for him on the 40-man roster. With that said, let it be known that Hazelbaker certainly earned his spot and it was not only because of the injury. In Spring Training, the prospect showed the team that he was capable of playing all three outfield spots, led the club with two homers, and was one of the top base stealers in the entire league.

This is one of those feel-good stories because not only did the Ball State alum earn a spot on the team on the last day of Spring Training, but also because he had been in the minors for the past seven seasons before finally breaking through this year. Originally a fourth round pick of the Boston Red Sox, the outfielder’s path to the majors included playing in 751 minor-league games where he had 3,104 plate appearances. At this time last year Hazelbaker was sitting at home wondering if he would ever get another chance in professional baseball after he was cut by the Los Angeles Dodgers. The only team to reach out to him after his release was the Cardinals, who signed Hazelbaker to a minor-league contract. He then went from AA to AAA in 2015 sporting an average above .300 at both stops. Hazelbaker was rewarded for his excellent play with a contract that paid him $18,000 a month, more than he had ever been paid before, and an invitation to Big-League camp. He made the most of his chance and as described before, eventually made the Major League club out of Spring Training.

As of Monday, the 28 year-old is batting .394 with three home runs, seven runs batted in, and an OPS of 1.239 through the first two weeks of the 2016 season. Those numbers are eye-popping for any player, let alone one viewed as a career minor-leaguer. The rookie has also earned praise from his teammates through his play. In an article from baseballamerica.com titled After Long Stay In Minors, Hazelbaker Arrives, writer Derrick Goold includes a quote from Randal Grichuk one of Hazelbaker’s fellow outfielders. Grichuk is quoted as calling Jeremy “the greatest hitter ever.” This is definitely a stretch but it is obvious that Hazelbaker has not only earned respect from the coaching staff but also his teammates.

The coverage of the (kind of) young outfielder hasn’t been the same as that of Trevor Story, but I venture to think this player maybe prefers it that way. As he has joined the MLB’s top hitters atop the leader boards, more and more stories are being written about him by the day. Hazelbaker’s story is very appealing to baseball writers because they know that we as fans crave these kind of feel-good tales about players overcoming obstacles to ultimately succeed at the highest level. Similar to myself, Jeremy hails from a very small town. He grew up in Selma, Indiana which has a total population of 858. There is no doubt that this man, who is one of the hottest topics of conversation in baseball, is the talk of the town and is serving as not only an inspiration to all the kids from back home but also to anyone who is at a cross-roads whether in sports or life in general.

It is pretty obvious that the player will eventually slow down in terms of his production but he has certainly impacted many from his dedication and humbleness. In an article from USA Today titled Jeremy Hazelbaker’s big league dream comes true with Cardinals, author Bob Nightengale includes a quote from the player himself where he demonstrates this humbleness. Jeremy is quoted as saying, “this is stuff you think about, even dream about…But at the same time, it’s not something you can prepare for. I can’t thank them enough for giving me this opportunity.” The stories that members of the media have wrote about the player have all been positive ones that emphasize the player’s determination and credit him for finally reaching the big leagues because of his incredible work ethic. It is my hope that Hazelbaker stays consistent throughout the 162-game season and I am confident he will, solely because of the motivation he has gained from his past failures.

 

 

Yankees Notes: The Unusual Situation for Rob Refsnyder

by Brendan Ripley-Barasch

It has been a disappointing Spring Training for young Yankees infielder, Rob Refsnyder, to say the least.

                               Image via riveraveblues.com

The former 5th round pick was a favorite to make the big league roster as a backup infielder this spring. After being brought up at the end of last season and having an immediate impact (hitting .302 with two home runs) it is easy to see why some people would think this way. He would have been even more of a lock to make it if the team would not have made one particular offseason move.

Going into this offseason, fans and media were interested to see what player would emerge as New York’s every day second baseman this year with the forthcoming departure of Stephen Drew (who had an abysmal year). Would they just hand the job over to Refsnyder, sign a big name free agent, or perhaps make a trade? The team decided to go with option C.

In December, the Yankees and Cubs agreed to a trade in which New York would receive recently converted second baseman, Starlin Castro in return for swingman pitcher, Adam Warren and utility infielder, Brendan Ryan. Many saw this trade as a win-win for both teams. A win for the Yankees because Castro has five years of experience at the Major League level while only being 26 years old, he is a three-time All-Star, and addresses the need of a productive second baseman immediately. Also a win for Chicago because with the signing of star free agent 2B Ben Zobrist (who previously played for Cubs manager Joe Maddon in Tampa Bay) and the rising of 2B prospect Javier Baez, Castro’s talents were no longer needed and the club received a proven pitcher who could help strengthen either the bullpen or the rotation in Adam Warren and a backup infielder with Brendan Ryan to help take some of the pressure off the starters.

While fans and media rejoiced about the arrival of Castro and claimed the change of scenery was exactly what he needed to get back to his All-Star form. One person was not celebrating, and that person was Rob Refsnyder. It was also later revealed that the Yankees had previously tried to trade for Castro before they even gave Ref a chance. In an article on Pinstripeally.com, a popular Yankees blog, Caitlin Rogers writes, “the Yankees failed to trade for Castro, then decided that the best option was to continue to play Drew instead of Refsnyder, and Drew was terrible.” This further proves some fans theories that the New York Yankees are doing all that they can to not have Refsnyder on their roster, but why would they feel that way?

Fast-forward to the beginning of Spring Training for the New York Yankees. There were many storylines going into camp including who would step up and replace Adam Warren and Justin Wilson in the bullpen? who will the backup catcher be? And who the fifth starter would be? It seemed like most had already forgot about Refsnyder and were focused on Castro being the team’s second baseman for years to come. Even with the arrival of Starlin Castro and the spotlight being on him now, this did not stop Ref from working, improving, and striving to earn a roster spot on the New York Yankees. An article on nj.com quoted Refsnyder discussing the current predicament, “It didn’t change much about how I go about my business. I was raised to work hard and make the most of the situation.”

The former Arizona Wildcat certainly did all he could to try and make the Big League roster and that included trying out a new position. Now that the club had Castro at second with veteran utility player Dustin Ackley serving as his backup, speculation around Yankees camp was that they were going experiment with Ref at third base. Rob began the spring at his traditional position of second but after a week the coaches had moved him across the diamond to third base. The goal for Refsnyder now was to learn quickly and make the roster as a backup to 3B Chase Headley (who took his lumps at third this past season after appearing in the most games since his 2012 season). At the beginning it seemed like Rob was a natural at third and the experiment was successful. Just a short week ago he carried a .250 average including a home run and had only committed one error at the hot corner where he had played 90% of the time this spring. But the last week of Spring Training where success was pivotal in order for him to earn a spot, was not kind to him.

The struggles came this past Friday and Saturday where fans and media saw two plays where the ball took a bad hop and struck Refsnyder in the face, causing him to leave early in both games. Also in the two games combined, Ref committed three errors. He ended Spring Training with a slightly disappointing .242 average and a demotion to AAA followed shortly after. For one player (who was originally an outfielder converted to second base) to learn third base in a month span is an almost impossible task. Although Rob may not have made the Big League roster, this spring has certainly been an encouraging one to Yankees coaches and management in terms of Ref showing them he was willing to do anything to be a part of this team.

The question now becomes what the Bronx Bombers plan to do with this prospect in the future. There are multiple situations that the team could be mulling over in regards to Rob, including sending him back to AAA to further gain experience at third base so he could help take some of the workload off of Headley later in the year or continuing to give him reps at multiple positions (3rd, 2nd, and OF) in order to boost his trade stock. It is unknown if Yankee management includes Rob Refsnyder in their group of prospects who are “untouchable” in trade talks along with OF Aaron Judge, SS Jorge Mateo, C Gary Sanchez, and P James Kaprielian. In an article from the NY Post titled Rob Refsnyder’s weekend from hell ends with sad demotion, Manager Joe Girardi is quoted as saying, “Our feeling is that we want him to play more at third. For him to be valuable to us, if he can do them both [second and third], he would be valuable to us.” So the plan for now is in place.

Personally I think Ref is going to be a great player and I’m rooting for him to excel at third or any other position the organization wants him to try. His work ethic is going to be key to his success and progression as a player and it was on display this spring with the 25 year-old showing up weeks early at the Minor-League complex in Tampa to train. He is not concerned about being buried in the depth of the organization, he is only worried about continuing to improve and will be waiting for his opportunity.

It remains to be seen who the Yankees will keep as the backup infielder to Headley at third, now the players that are in the running for the job and are still at camp include Pete Kozma and Ronald Torreyes who both have at least some Major League experience. The team could also turn to a player who has been cut recently from another team or even make another trade and bury Refsnyder even more. Whatever option the team goes with it will be a short-term fix and Ref will still be seen as the long-term answer as long as he continues to improve. Who knows, Castro or Headley could struggle down the stretch this year and the Yankees may look to Rob Refsnyder as the replacement (wishful thinking).

 

A Rod Trying to Fly Under the Radar

By Ellen Chlumecky

April 3, 2015

The day has come back where Alex Rodriguez of the New York Yankees returns to the grand stage during spring training to debut what he’s been doing during his suspension. Many Yankees fans and baseball fans recall the trial regarding Alex Rodriguez. For almost two whole years, Alex Rodriguez denied he ever used banned substances from a Coral Gables anti-aging clinic. In 2013, he finally admitted getting testosterone creams, lozenges laced with testosterone and human growth hormone injections from the fake doctor Anthony Bosch. Anthony Bosch not only lied to him about what the drugs would do, but he also gave him tips on how to beat the MLB’s drug testing.

In 2013, Alex Rodriguez was reduced from a 211 game suspension to a 162 game suspension. He received the longest suspension of all the MLB players. Rodriguez’s statement fortified the criminal steroid case against Bosch and indicated his cousin as the middleman. He also admitted that he had used performance-enhancing substances as a member of the Texas Rangers in 2001-03. Recently he wrote a handwritten apology letter to his fans. He’s trying to cover all his basics before coming back this season. I am not sure that he has everyone convinced though.

Media constantly question Yankee manager Joe Girardi about Rodriguez’s return to spring training. Their main question is if Alex Rodriguez has been a distraction during spring training. Girardi is of the opinion that no one is bothered by the media. He said none of the players are bothered or distracted either. Girardi thinks things will be fine and will return back to normal quickly. Sounds plausible, right?

As far as we know, Girardi’s intuition was correct. Rodriguez has settled comfortably back onto the Yankees. While the media has been hounding them, it’s nothing that they’re not accustomed to already. Girardi believes that the media doesn’t believe Rodriguez is high up on their radar right now.

However, it almost seems scripted on how Rodriguez has been responding to the media. He has recited general thankfulness and obedience to the Yankee staff every day he’s been interviewed. He expressed a want to just play baseball and to perform well for the team. He said, “I’ll tell you that I’m a lot more happy, fortunate, and grateful than I was twelve months ago.” He is acting in a professional manner as I’m sure his superiors told him to act.

It’s odd to see his transition. He went from suing the league to sticking the “mistakes were made” defense now to the loyal, devoted player. So far so good for A Rod, but we have the whole season to see what unfolds.