If April were a fish.

I’ve been away for a while, so what have I missed the last couple of weeks with the Biloxi Shuckers?  Turns out, not much!  In the last 17 games, the Shuckers have an underwhelming 6-11 record, including a God-awful home field MGM Park record of 2-8.  They sit one game off the bottom of the Southern League standings, thanks only to the more God-awful Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp, and to Biloxi’s first back-to-back wins since the start of the season.

[And my guess is that the Jumbo Shrimp aren’t all that upset over their start, seeing how they are the darlings of Minor League Baseball with their new, even-more-cutesy-than-“Shuckers” branding, and are making tons of money off their Jumbo Shrimp branded merchandise.]

I took a closer look at the box scores of the games, as well as accounts from Chris Harris, The SunHerald, and WLOX, to see what has been going on – or hasn’t been going – to see what’s gotten us to this point.

Oh my Lord, it is blindingly obvious.  Where the heck is Shuckers hitting?  In these past 17 games, in which we have gone 6-11, we scored 3 or fewer runs in 12 of those games.  We sit at the very bottom of Southern League team batting, ranking dead last in batting average (.205), runs, hits, doubles, triples, home runs, total bases, slugging percentage, and RBI’s.  We are second to last for OBP.  Game after game I see where we produced nothing with runners in scoring position.   Victor Roache, Johnny Davis and, most shockingly,  Jacob Nottingham are all hitting below .200.  And MGM Park seems to provide no advantage at all to this team, so far. [Average attendance through the ten games has been 2771, which is not that bad considering school is still going, and the team has not been giving the fans much to cheer about.]

The pitching has been better, if not stellar.  The Shuckers are in the middle of the pack as far as team ERA goes, at a respectable 3.03.  A bright spot on the staff has been starter Jorge Lopez, who has a top ten ERA of 1.73, and is third in the league in strikeouts.  What we really need, though, is another left-handed reliever – to augment the Nick Ramirez experiment – and a LH starter or two.  [Yeah, I know, they grow out back in the garden. Excuse me a minute while I go pick a couple off the tree…]  I can’t help but think a couple / three more southpaws on the squad would give us a few more wins.

What we really need, though, is for our bats to finally awaken.  You know this has to have the Brewers organization’s attention.  Victor Roache is hitting 50 points below his career average.  Johnny Davis is hitting 80 points below his career average.  And Jacob Nottingham is inexplicably hitting 50 to 100 points below his career numbers.  If these guys, along with the rest of our bats, can just get back to where they have been in the past, then the team will start getting more W’s.  I hate to go there, but is having the manager’s brother on staff as the hitting coach not working out any more?   Perhaps as they get their second look at opposing pitching?

If our batting remains absent, this could be a long, long season.

 

Anxieties, alright

What was I saying about anxiety?  Jeez.  After being blasted 13 to 6 last night to the Montgomery Biscuits, my anxieties over the Biloxi Shuckers has changed from the “are we really this good, or are they really that bad?” variety, to “OMG, can these guys just suddenly drop all attention and effort on a dime?”

You’ve all heard a score, then be told “it wasn’t that close.”  Well, that’s true in this case.  It was 11 to 1, in the second inning.  The Shuckers got 3 runs in garbage time in the ninth.  Nine errors. Nine!

Last night during the game I joked the Shuckers were so eager to get back to Biloxi for the home opener, they’ve left for the bus three hours early.

Let’s get this one behind behind us as quickly as possible.  And guys, if you want to ever make The Show, you’ve got to show you can maintain focus and effort every night, every inning.

Winning Streak Anxieties, and What Folks Are Saying About Louis Ortiz

I have to admit, I’m not so sorry the Biloxi Shuckers lost yesterday.  After three straight wins to start the season, there was a part of me that was, ironically, beginning to worry. We have charged out of the gate doing so well, that I wondered if it wasn’t all because we are so good, but that the Montgomery Biscuits were really that bad.  Had we caught them as flat as the Mississippi Delta?  Well, yesterday’s 6 to 1 smack down put an end to any of that thinking!  We should be able to put that L behind us easily, since we’ve won this series regardless of what happens tonight.

BTW, did anyone else catch this little nugget on the team’s website article about yesterday’s game?

A starting pitcher is expected to be added to Biloxi’s active roster in advance of the finale

So we’ve got new pitching coming?  Great!  I really hope it’s a lefty.  Our grand experiment Nick Ramirez is the only LHP on the roster presently, and while he has done wonderfully so far, you just can’t compete consistently these days in pro ball without more options in left-handed pitching.  The last thing Nick needs is to be over used, his performance lag as a result, and his prospects drop as a result.

 

Now, onto Louis Ortiz.  MLB Pipeline has our RHP ranked at number 60 in the Top 100 Prospects for 2017.  MLB Pipeline has also said the Brewers had the league’s #1 overall farm system following last summer’s trade deadline.

60. Louis Ortiz. Scouting grades: Fastball: 60 | Slider: 60 | Changeup: 50 | Control: 50 | Overall: 55

Ortiz combines stuff and feel better than most young pitchers. His strong build allows him to maintain his 92-97 mph fastball deep into ballgames, and his low-80s slider gives him a plus second pitch. Ortiz threw his changeup sparingly as an amateur, but has developed it enough as a pro to where scouts view it as a potentially average pitch. Meanwhile, a clean and repeatable delivery has helped to make Ortiz an accomplished strike-thrower early in his career.

Much like Brinson, Ortiz impressed last summer in his brief Brewers debut, posting a 1.93 ERA over six starts at Double-A Biloxi. He lacks projection in his physical 6-foot-3 frame and needs to stay healthy, but Ortiz has both the stuff and command profile to develop into a No. 2 starter.

“A No. 2 starter”?  That’d be alright!

 

I also found Ortiz in John Sickels list of top 200 MLB prospects, coming at #120:

120) Luis Ortiz, RHP, Brewers, Grade B

 

Can’t wait for the team to finally get home to Biloxi.  Being a weeknight, school night, I really hope the turnout Wednesday is good.  The Biscuit fans came out, lets hope the Shucker fans do, too.

What Folks Have Been Saying About Mauricio Dubon

First off, about last night’s win, the second straight against the Montgomery Biscuits, to start the new year.  Jorge Lopez was excellent on the mound (6.0IP/0H/0ER/7SO), and the Shuckers got 11 hits off Biscuits pitching: our biggest feasters were Victor Roache (3X5/2RBI), Michael Reed (2X4/1HR/2RBI), and Mauricio Dubon (2X4). And Jacob Nottingham made this great throw to ixnay a SB attempt.  Can’t help to feel good about what we’ve seen so far.

OK, now on to Mauricio Dubon.  Patrick Magee at the SunHerald wrote this very good introductory article about our new shortstop, but I always like to see what other folks around baseball – not necessarily those within the Brewers organization or writing for hometown fans – have to say about our players.  Here’s three that I found.

First, Trevor Hetzer at FOXSports.com back in December listed Dubon along with past Shucker Brian Woodruff and future Shucker(?) Lucas Erceg as three players who “could shoot up the prospect charts” if they were to repeat the successes they had last season.

 

John Sickels of MinorLeagueBall includes Dubon in his list of top 200 MLB prospects for 2017, placing him at number 118, with a grade of B, and this comment:

Dubon is probably the outlier here but I think he made real progress with his hitting in 2016.

 

And the suburban-Milwaukee newspaper The Gazette had this report on Dubon’s very nice progress during this year’s spring training.

 

He’s gone 3X9 in his first two games with us, so he’s certainly starting out fine.  Here’s hoping this keeps going, and the comparisons to Orlando Arcia begin!

Shuckers 6 Biscuits 2 On Opening Night

Now that’s a nice way to start the season! The Shuckers weathered the Biscuits’ pitching uber prospect Brent Honeywell, then feasted on their bullpen to turn the opening-night festivities in Montgomery rather sour for the home team, by beating them 6 to 2.  Radio announcer Chris Harris was reporting he was even hearing a smattering of boos by the end of the game.

Honeywell only allowed three hits in his six innings of work for Montgomery, but the Shuckers made good use of one of those hits, by turning a walk and a hit-by-pitch into two runs.

Our Aaron Wilkerson more than matched Honeywell, allowing only one earned run, and striking out eight in his 5 2/3 innings of work.

The first appearance of Nick Ramirez in his grand pitching experiment went quite well, as he got us through a scoreless inning despite walking two.

I love the fact we stole four bases last night, in five attempts. I would be delighted if this became a regular feature of our team.

And it was very satisfying to see Jacob Nottingham starting the season going 2 for 3 with an RBI, and Angel Ortega going 2 for 4, with 3 RBI.

But finally, I got to show some love for Thaddeus Krzus. We’ll miss the lovable geek and his updates during the radio breaks, and sometimes sharing the announcing booth with Harris. We hear he has moved on up in the biz, and is now the radio guy for another minor league team. All the best to him.

The “new” Thaddeus Krzus is Erik Bremer, who I know nothing about, but who did a fine job last night. I read somewhere he might be joining Chris Harris in the broadcast booth, so we’ll see how well they work together.

On our way 140-0, right?

Finally, a New Season: Catching up on Our Biloxi Shuckers.

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Well, a new season starts tonight for the Biloxi Shuckers, as they play their first game of the season up in Montgomery, against the Biscuits.  As for every minor league team, and for every minor league season, it takes a little bit of time to get reacquainted with returning players, and to get acquainted with the new players.

Now, local media does a fine job in getting us up and going as knowledgeable fans.  Shuckers radio announcer Chris Harris has a wonderful blog, and the SunHerald’s beat writer Patrick Magee likewise does a very good job in covering the team.  However, these guys have a home team perspective – which is absolutely fine – but as a fan I’m also always interested to hear what other writers with other perspectives have to say about our team.  National writers, and writers on up and across the Milwaukee Brewers universe also have a lot to say about the Shuckers, and I think it’s valuable to keep tabs on what they’re saying, too.

Across the off season I kept track of some of the things I saw written about the Shuckers, from reporters outside of Biloxi.  Over the next several posts, I’ll relay what I found.

For Biloxi Shuckers on the roster tonight, I have a couple articles each discussing Nick Ramirez and Jorge Lopez, and three articles each about Louis Ortiz and Mauricio Dubon.

But the player receiving the most attention, by far, in the off season press has been Jacob Nottingham.  No less than seven articles I saw included discussions about our returning catcher.  From what I read, the story seems to be how the Brewers organization is still counting on him to be their catcher of the future, but what he needs to do to overcome a lackluster 2016 season, and make a case to move beyond Double-A.

Jonathan Powell at OutsidePitch previewed Nottingham for the Arizona Fall League, by noting the fall-off of his performance from his 2015 numbers.  Powell’s assessment was that Nottingham’s “blocking and receiving skills still need considerable development.”

Before the 2016 season, Nottingham was ranked the No. 66 prospect by Baseball Prospectus (15thfor the Brewers) and for good reason.

During the 2015 season, he was on an offensive tear, batting .316/.372/.505 with 17 home runs, 82 runs batted in, and a pair of stolen bases in only 119 games. His defense, although admittedly raw, also began to develop, as he continued the trend of improving his fielding percentage behind the plate, up from .988 in 2014 to .993 in 2015. He also boasts a top notch 32 percent caught stealing rate throughout his minor league career.

But Nottingham still struggles in some areas and the weaknesses of his game have already started to manifest, starting last year and continuing into his first full season in Double-A — his blocking and receiving skills still need considerable development, as he allowed 19 and 21 passed balls in 2015 and 2016 respectively.

Offensively, he also experienced a down year since joining the Brewers organization in the Khris Davis trade in February. This year, he hit .234/.295/.347 with only 11 home runs and 37 RBI. On a positive note, he did also steal nine bases, a large uptick from a minor league career high of four.

The production may also largely be chalked up to poor offensive production all around, as the Shuckers produced the least amount of runs in the Southern League (471) by a large margin (next team up had 510) and also possessed the worst average (.235), on-base percentage (.304) and slugging (.338).

 

Matt Eddy at BaseballAmerica had this to say about Nottingham in a chat last October:

Yes, I do like Biloxi C Jacob Nottingham’s potential. I tried hard to justify getting a catcher on this list, and he turned out to be the candidate with the highest offensive ceiling with a strong chance to stay behind the plate. The SL was just too advanced for Nottingham — a 21-year-old high school catcher — but that shouldn’t be the case next season when he repeats Biloxi. It’s going to be all about putting in the time behind the plate and improving his footwork to improve his pop times. Nottingham, who caught a league-leading 98 games, should be able to hit about .250 with average to above power. He’s a good buy-low for fantasy players.

 

Also in October, John Sickels at MinorLeagueBall reviewed his performance for last season since he had ranked Nottingham as one of the top 50 hitting prospects at the top of 2016:

36) Jacob Nottingham, C, Brewers, Grade B+: Very shaky Double-A season, still just 21 but stock down.

 

Jonathan Powell, in an excellent article including several notable past, present and future Shuckers, gave this update on Nottingham’s “improvement” in the Arizona Fall League:

The only catcher in the Brewers top 30 prospects, Nottingham has shown equal parts raw talent and rough around the edges.

He had a down year with Double-A Biloxi in 2016, batting .234/.295/.347 with 11 home runs, 37 RBI and nine stolen bases in 112 games after showing excellent potential the year prior – Nottingham’s poor numbers could possibly be attributed to Biloxi’s overall poor production, as they ranked last in the league in many offensive categories. By contrast, in 2015, he established a .316/.372/.505 batting line with 17 home runs, 82 RBI and two stolen bases in 119 games.

His talent is largely rooted in his offensive abilities, as he still has quite a bit of refinement behind the plate in terms of blocking and receiving skills, according to MLB Pipeline, but given that he is only in Double-A, still has time for improvement. If nothing else, he could see a move to first base, another position the team is short on in terms of high-potential young players.

So far in the AFL, he is showing improvement in terms of production but still has a modest line, batting .256/.268/.385 with one home run and five RBI. He’s taken only one walk to nine strikeouts.

 

Eddie Mathews gave this pretty succinct review of his 2016 season at BrewCrewBall.  Note his optimism for this year.

Jacob Nottingham spent the 2016 season in the AA Southern league with Brewers’ affiliate Biloxi. The Shuckers finished 72-67, and Nottingham was the regular catcher for the whole season, starting 94 of the 139 games. He also started 2 games a first base.

Jacob did not have a good season offensively. In 456 plate appearances he only walked 29 times and struck out 138. His 11 homers were a disappointment, and a slugging average of .347 was much lower than you would hope for.

One concern for Nottingham has been whether he will develop into a major-league capable defender. His 6’ 2” 230 lb frame is big for today’s catching model, and while he has been rated with an adequate to plus arm, his work at blocking balls and catching skills has been questioned. He had 21 passed balls last year, but the Biloxi pitching staff performed well enough, finishing third in the league in WHIP (1.26) and fourth in the league in ERA (3.59).

Indeed, the Southern League looks to have been a pitcher’s league last year. The most homeruns any team hit was 109, and the Shuckers hit 81. Nottingham’s total of 11 was actually the 6th most in the league (tied with the proverbial many). We would still like to see better production at the plate from a player we hoped was on track to become a starting catcher at the big league level, but the numbers are not quite as poor as they seem.

Nottingham is only 21, and the Southern League’s median age is 24. This was a big jump for him, and he was one of the youngest regular players in the league. It would appear that the Brewers are committed to Jacob at catcher, and we will probably see him repeating with the Shuckers next year. Continued defensive development, better plate discipline with a higher on base percentage, and better power numbers are the goals, and could lead him to AAA in 2018.

The Brewers are still wide open at catcher for the long term. Nottingham is not blocked by any player; his opportunity is real. A solid season this year and the deeper reading of his stat line will most likely keep him in the Top 10 Prospect list next spring. He is certainly a player to watch next year.

 

BrewCrewBall notes Nottingham landing at number 10 in MLB Pipeline’s list of top catching prospects. But they quickly add “That probably says more about the sad state of minor league catching than Nottingham’s ability, though.”  Ouch!

Power is Nottingham’s best tool, and he shows it to all fields thanks to a combination of strength, bat speed and a leveraged swing. Southern League hurlers exploited his aggressive approach and his strikeout rate spiked as a result, leading some scouts to question the future utility of his bat. They’re also divided on whether Nottingham can stick behind the plate, where he shows an average arm as well as solid catch-and-throw skills but lacks consistency in his blocking and receiving.

With Jonathan Lucroy no longer in the picture, the door is open for Nottingham to become Milwaukee’s catcher of the future. Provided he can get back on track this season in the Minors, Notthingham could be ready for his first big league audition in 2018.

 

The last article I have is also from BrewCrewBall, and in it Nottingham himself discusses his 2016 season:

“I know I have a lot more in me. It’s a grind. It’s a process, and that’s what people sometimes don’t understand. Obviously, I want to get there [to the Major Leagues], but I’m not going to do too much. I feel like I did that a little last year. That’s what I’m learning from.”

 

My next post will review what I found folks were saying about our new and highly touted shortstop Mauricio Dubon.