Cody Bellinger Rises Above on Defense

Dodgers prospect could be elite at first base, has outfield versatility

By Sam Dykstra, MiLB.com

The Dodgers seemed unwilling to part with Cody Bellinger under any circumstances. A big reason? He is as promising defensively as first base prospects come. His prowess at first base goes beyond his career .991 fielding percentage at the position.

Cody Bellinger

Ranked by MLB.com as the No. 13 prospect in baseball and No. 1 at first base, Bellinger is the only player among the top 10 at the position who has a 70 grade for his fielding ability on the 20-80 scouting scale. Of course, a tool can only be considered plus-plus if it's above and beyond his peers, but such a grade is a rarity at first base, a position dominated by sluggers who bring value with their bats rather than their gloves.

Bellinger himself defines the role of a good defensive first baseman pretty simply: the guy who makes everyone else's job easier.

"For me, it comes down to saving errors, keeping innings shorter," he said. "For pitchers, if you can save them a couple throws over or even a couple pitches with all they do, that can be big. Really though, if I can keep everything in front of me and dig out a few balls, then I've done my job."

A pair of Dodgers coaches who spent 2016 watching Bellinger believes he goes beyond those basic rubrics.

"I don't think there's any measure on how good he was at first base this season for us," said Double-A Tulsa manager Ryan Garko, who made .367 starts at first base in the Majors with the Indians, Giants and Rangers. "He's got great hands and a strong, accurate arm, and I think he's got a good feel around the bag. The amount of runs he's saved for the club, I just don't think we have a measure for it in the Minors. There's no limit for how good he could be. He's going to be as good defensively as anyone at first."

"First, the ease at which he does it, I think we take that for granted sometimes," Dodgers field coordinator Clayton McCullough added. "He's got a big (6-foot-4, 210-pound), long-levered body, and that makes for an awesome target over there. Left-handed hitters like him sometimes have this real smoothness to them at the plate, but he has something like that defensively. ... With the other infielders, you see him save an errant throw and it helps the other end's confidence, knowing he can do that. He instills confidence in others with his ability."

That's high praise for any first baseman, particularly one with impressive offensive potential, as evidenced by his .271/.365/.507 line and 26 homers in 117 games last season. But Bellinger has shown even more, having played 34 games (26 starts) in the outfield in 2016. He made 11 starts in center field -- almost unheard of for a first baseman -- along with 10 in left and five in right. Both Garko and McCullough said Bellinger handled his duties out on the grass admirably. "You're not going to lose games with him in the outfield," McCullough said.

The 21-year-old was an outfielder until his junior year at Hamilton High School in Chandler, when a growth spurt spurred a move to first, the position at which the Dodgers selected him in the fourth round of the 2013 Draft. For his part, Bellinger remains a little more confident in his abilities at his original position.

"It's honestly like riding a bike," he said. "I feel like I could be a Major League outfielder right now. ... I'm all for it, if it means I have a faster route to the big leagues."

Cody Bellinger

Therein lies the rub for both Bellinger and the Dodgers. His 2016 season ended with a postseason run with Triple-A Oklahoma City and a trip to the Arizona Fall League, moves that signal a Major League debut is imminent in 2017, if his development continues. That's great in a vacuum, but the Dodgers have five-time All-Star and clubhouse leader Adrian Gonzalez signed to play first base through the 2018 season.

There's evidence Gonzalez is on the decline -- namely, his 1.3 WAR, according to FanGraphs, was his lowest since 2005, and his Defensive Run Saved metric dipped into single digits (three) for the first time since 2010. But with Gonzalez owed $43 million over the next two years, he could be anchored to first base in Chavez Ravine for a while. Bellinger is prepared for that scenario.

"It's out of my control, obviously," he said. "I'm completely open to whatever they need. The good thing about the outfield is that there are three positions out there, so there are some more chances for me. With Adrian, he's a leader on and off the field, and you can't replace that. I'm happy I can learn from him whenever we're together. I think the organization is in a good spot."

No matter where Bellinger ends up in the short term, both Garko and McCullough said they are convinced his future is at first base, where he can have a greater defensive impact. There's more work to grow in that aspect -- both coaches mentioned that preparation, focus and pitch-by-pitch positioning were key to his growth going forward -- but everyone involved sees gold in Bellinger's future.

"His highest ceiling, by far, is at first base," McCullough said. "I mean, he really has a chance to be elite over there. To hold down an outfield spot, that's something he's capable of handling. But he's got a real opportunity to be a plus-plus over at first. ... He's a smart guy who knows the landscape. Guys in our organization get their opportunities when they show they're ready. When you have a good athlete like Cody, that won't be far off."

Photographs by Shane Roper, MiLB.com; and Think Blue LA




Dave Elmore Named 2016 King of Baseball

Elmore Sports Group founder involved in Minor Leagues for 36 years

By Minor League Baseball

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Minor League Baseball has announced that David G. Elmore, owner and founder of Elmore Sports Group, has been named the 2016 King of Baseball. The King of Baseball is a long-standing tradition in which Minor League Baseball recognizes a veteran of professional baseball for longtime dedication and service.

Dave Elmore

Elmore received the King of Baseball Award at the Baseball Winter Meetings Banquet on Sunday, December 4, at Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center in National Harbor, Maryland. Elmore is pictured here receiving the Freitas Cup for the 2016 Northwest League champions. "This is a truly amazing honor to be named King of Baseball," said Elmore. "There is nothing I have enjoyed more than being a part of Minor League Baseball for these past 36 years and realizing the great good our teams do to bring our communities together and provide countless charitable benefits."

"Dave Elmore has had a long and illustrious career as a Minor League Baseball owner and operator, and he has served Minor League Baseball in a number of roles over the years," said Minor League Baseball President & CEO Pat O'Conner. "He has truly earned this honor through all of his hard work and tireless efforts for the betterment of the game and it is my pleasure to present him with this award."

Elmore founded the Elmore Sports Group in 1969, which now consists of six Minor League Baseball teams, including the Colorado Springs Sky Sox, San Antonio Missions, Inland Empire 66ers, Lynchburg Hillcats, Idaho Falls Chukars and Eugene Emeralds. The company also owns hockey and soccer teams, along with facility management, travel, hospitality, special events and concession companies.

Elmore has served on the Joint Professional Baseball Agreement Committee, which consists of four Minor League Baseball team owners and four Major League Baseball team owners. Together, they work to identify and address issues between both leagues while discussing possible amendments to the Professional Baseball Agreement.

Elmore was inducted to the Pacific Coast League Hall of Fame and Texas League Hall of Fame for his contributions as an owner. He is also the Pioneer League representative for the Minor League Baseball Board of Trustees.

Prior to joining the sports and entertainment industry, Elmore was a partner with a law firm in Chicago from 1958 to 1968. In addition, the White House appointed him to the Travel and Tourism Advisory Board in the Department of Commerce in 1983. Elmore was a member of the Young Presidents Organization from 1969 to 1984, and he served as president of the International Fraternity of Phi Gamma Delta, which consists of more than 85,000 members.

Photograph by Jared Ravich, MiLB.com



Minors, Umpires Union Reach Collective Bargaining Agreement

MiLB Umpire Development, AMLU agree to deal through 2021

By Minor League Baseball

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Minor League Baseball has announced that Minor League Baseball Umpire Development, one of its subsidiaries, has reached a five-year collective bargaining agreement with the Association of Minor League Umpires (AMLU).

Takahito Matsuda

Minor League Baseball was notified by the AMLU on January 9 that its membership voted to approve the agreement, which replaces the previous five-year agreement that expired following the 2016 season. Pictured here, Eastern League umpire Takahito Matsuda calls a strike at Canal Park in Akron, Ohio.

"We are glad that the two sides were able to work together on an agreement that will ensure labor peace through the 2021 season," said Minor League Baseball Vice President of Baseball and Business Operations Tim Brunswick. "This agreement allows us to continue to manage the costs involved with hiring, training, developing and evaluating the professional umpires that preside over games played between our 160 teams in the United States and Canada."

Minor League Baseball's negotiating team was made up of Brunswick, International League President Randy Mobley, Minor League Baseball Umpire Development Director Dusty Dellinger and Mekesha Montgomery from the law firm of Frost Brown Todd.

"I couldn't be more pleased with the work of the negotiating committee, and we look forward to another five years of developing strong umpires and hopefully watching many of them graduate on to Major League Baseball assignments," added Brunswick.

Photograph by David Monseur, MiLB.com



Carson Kelly Wraps Up 2016 Texas League All-Star Year

St. Louis Cardinals catcher played in TL showcase, Futures Game, Fall Stars

By Josh Jackson, MiLB.com

Whatever happens during the rest of his Arizona Fall League campaign, Carson Kelly will be able to look back on 2016 with pride.

The 11th-ranked Cardinals prospect got his first crack at Double-A at the start of the season and played well enough to be named a Texas League All-Star. Two weeks later, he took part in the All-Star Futures Game at San Diego's Petco Park. Four days after that, he debuted with Triple-A Memphis. In September, he was promoted to St. Louis.

Carson Kelly

After all that, one would believe Kelly would have nerves going into Saturday's Fall Stars Game -- his third best-of-the-league exhibition during the 2016 season.

"You'll still get those butterflies because it's a big game," the 2012 second-rounder said. "You're being showcased in front of MLB Network and all these tremendous players get to go out and play in this one game. They're my friends, some of them, and you don't get a lot of these opportunities through the Minor Leagues, playing with friends, in a big game, one that's on TV. It's special to get out there and have the chance to showcase yourself, which is what it's all about really."

Kelly went 1-for-2 with two RBIs and a run scored after coming into the break hit, batting .206/.361/.440 with 14 RBIs (second in the league to Peoria's Zach Vincej with 15), two homers and three doubles. He recorded a pair of those two-baggers Friday, reaching three times in his fourth multi-hit game since the circuit's Opening Day, when he also went yard.

"It's always good to get a homer right out of the gate, in the first game," Kelly said. "After that, everything slows down for you a little bit. It's good to get the first one out of the way and then you can go back to playing baseball."

Over the course of the regular season, Kelly hit .289 with a on-base percentage in 96 Minor League games, but the 10 games he played in the Majors provided him with the experience he's building upon in the AFL.

"It's a tremendous opportunity," said Kelly. "There are a couple things I wanted to work on offense and a couple on defense."

"On defense, it's taking everything I learned up in the big leagues in September and putting that into play. It's the same kind of thing with hitting -- a little general things. This is a great opportunity to put them into play. They're the little things not many people are going to notice. When I was up in the Majors, I looked at a lot of video and you see a lot of tiny details. I'm trying to enhance and tweak those little things, because it's something where I'm getting to the point where minor adjustments are what's going to make me more successful and more effective."

Having developed his game to that point, of course, is what earned Kelly the promotions and All-Star contests he enjoyed participating in this year.

"It's really a blessing, with all the hard work I've put in," said Kelly. "When I got called up, and my family and everybody was there, I kind of looked back on all the stuff I've gone through -- getting drafted, high school, the road trips, the stuff I've sacrificed to get there. It's something you're very happy and excited for. Now it's to the point where I'm over that, and it's all about how to get there and stay there. It's about making the most of those opportunities."

Photograph by Buck Davidson, MiLB.com



MLB and Players Union Kills Officially "Manual" Intentional Walk

Two-minute limit for replay reviews; teams cannot use chalk or markers

By USA TODAY Sports; and Dayn Perry, CBS Sports.com

Major League Baseball and the players' association jointly announced a set of anticipated rules changes on March 2, officially killing the "manual" intentional walk, imposing a two-minute limit for replay reviews, and even ruling that teams cannot use chalk or markers to better position its fielders.

Managers signal

MLB said the "no-pitch intentional walk" will now be awarded after "the defensive team's manager signals a decision to the home plate umpire to intentionally walk the batter. Following the signal of the manager's intention, the umpire will immediately award first base to the batter.

Managers also must decide within 30 seconds whether or not to issue a replay challenge, and replay umpires at the New York city command center must render a decision within two minutes. MLB indicates that the rule will "allow various exceptions" to the two minute rule. And replays initiated by the crew chief after a club has exhausted its challenges won't begin until the eighth inning, a switch from the previous seven-inning plateau.

But perhaps the most unusual new rule prohibits "the use of any markers on the field that could create a tangible reference system for fielders."

That concept came to light in May last season, when Mets general manager Sandy Alderson denied the Los Angeles Dodgers' request to paint marks on the Citi Field outfield grass during a series in New York.

The Dodgers acknowledged the use of lasers and GPS devices to optimize the position of their fielders, using marks in left, right and center field to serve as a central point for their fielders. Manager Dave Roberts said they granted other teams' request to paint similar marks at Dodger Stadium, but the Mets balked.

"You just don't go paint somebody else's field," manager Terry Collins said at the time.

Now, it's officially outlawed.

Here are those seven changes:

* The start of a no-pitch intentional walk, allowing the defensive team's manager to signal a decision to the home plate umpire to intentionally walk the batter. Following the signal of the manager's intention, the umpire will immediately award first base to the batter.

* A 30-second limit for a manager to decide whether to challenge a play and invoke replay review.

* When a manager has exhausted his challenges for the game, crew chiefs may now invoke replay review for non-home run calls beginning in the eighth inning instead of the seventh inning. Pictured here waiting for the response are Bob Davidson (61) and Jerry Lane.

Umpires

* A conditional two-minute guideline for replay officials to render a decision on a replay review, allowing various exceptions.

* A prohibition on the use of any markers on the field that could create a tangible reference system for fielders.

* An addition to Rule 5.07 formalizes an umpire interpretation by stipulating that a pitcher may not take a second step toward home plate with either foot or otherwise reset his pivot foot in his delivery of the pitch. If there is at least one runner on base, then such an action will be called as a balk under Rule 6.02(a). If the bases are unoccupied, then it will be considered an illegal pitch under Rule 6.02(b).

* An amendment to Rule 5.03 requires base coaches to position themselves behind the line of the coach's box closest to home plate and the front line that runs parallel to the foul line prior to each pitch. Once a ball is put in play, a base coach is allowed to leave the coach's box to signal a player so long as the coach does not interfere with play.

The new intentional walk rule, which will allow free passes without any pitches being thrown, has been much discussed, and now it's official. As well, the 30-second rule on manager challenges has been an anticipated step, as is the limit on how long replay officials can take. The change to Rule 5.07 noted above may be considered a response to Carter Capps' much-discussed pitching delivery.

Photographs by Harry How, Getty Images; and Reinhold Matay, USA TODAY Sports



Phils' Dylan Cozens Receives Joe Bauman Home Run Award

No. 6 prospect has 40-game season and a trip to Dominican Republic

By Sam Dykstra, MiLB.com

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. --- Dylan Cozens might be done with the 2016 season, but the 2016 season had one last thing for him on Monday, December 5.

Dylan Cozens

The Phillies' No. 6 prospect was given the Joe Bauman Home Run Award as part of the Minor League Baseball awards luncheon at last year's Winter Meetings. Cozens hit 40 homers for Double-A Reading during the season, earning an $8,000 check -- $200 for each long ball -- as his reward. He is pictured here participating in the 2016 Eastern League Home Run Derby in Akron.

"It felt great," Cozens said after the luncheon. "Just kind of reflect on the season I had, and the season we had as a team. I'm definitely honored to get the award."

This isn't Cozens' first award of the season. MiLB.com named him the winner of the Best Offensive Player in MiLB Award back in October, and he was also named a Phillies Organization All-Star, taking one of the system's three spots in the outfield. Both awards came as a result of the 22-year-old leading the Minors in not only homers but also extra-base hits (81) and RBIs (125) while hitting .276/.350/.591 with 21 stolen bases for Double-A Reading.

The left-handed slugger had to fend off Fightin Phils teammate and No. 12 Phillies prospect Rhys Hoskins to take the Bauman Award. The two were neck-in-neck on the Minor League home run leader board for most of the summer before Cozens pulled away at the end with his 40 to Hoskins' 38. No one else in the Minors hit more than 36 during the 2016 campaign. Cozens is pictured here hitting a two-run home run for the Fightin Phils on May 9, 2016.

Dylan Cozens

"It's amazing to have a teammate like that, one that you're competing with for the same award," Cozens said of Hoskins. "I also feel like he played a really big part in me getting the award with him hitting behind me, giving me some protection and helping with the way some pitchers pitched to me, It's a great honor. I'm sure he's proud of me as well."

Cozen's season didn't quite end with Reading's semifinal loss in the Eastern League playoffs, either. Starting on October 20, the Arizona native traveled to the Dominican Winter League to play for Aguilas Cibaenas, finishing his run of 25 games on November 21. Over that span, Cozens, who made winter league journeys to Australia and Puerto Rico each of the past two off-seasons, hit .165/.265/.353 with four homers, four doubles and 10 RBIs.

Despite the drop in short-term performance, Cozens noted his focus was in facing more left-handed pitching (against whom he hit all four of his home runs over 38 at-bats) and improving his walk rate (which rose from 10.4 percent at Reading to 12.4 in the much smaller Dominican sample.

"It was different, a completely different game," he said. "You're facing a lot of guys you've never seen before. You don't have the luxury of video like you do in the States. So it was a lot different. I didn't know what to expect. But it was a good experience. I played against a lot of older guys. it was a lot of fun."

Dylan Cozens

Cozens' trip to the Dominican wasn't all positive as reports came out that he was involved in an altercation with Aguilas teammate Boog Powell, though the former noted Monday that the incident was overblown, using the term "boys will be boys," and that the two became friends afterwards.

What, of course, still stands out about that trip to the Caribbean remains Cozens' power, as pictured here. Despite not having played in the Dominican Republic in two weeks, the powerful Phillies prospect remains tied atop the circuit's home run leader board with his four long balls. Perhaps to no one's surprise, he was tied with Hoskins, who went deep four times for Gigantes del Cibao during his time in the winter league.

"It's tough to put the ball out there with the big fields and the humidity," he said. "It's crazy. I can't believe no one else is hitting home runs since I left. But that's cool."

The next step for Cozens won't come until the spring. The Phillies have announced before the Rule 5 deadline that they were adding Cozens to the 40-man roster, and though it's likely he will start 2017 at Triple-A Lehigh Valley, he's excited at the prospect of being one step closer to the City of Brotherly Love, when he arrives at the Major League camp.

"It was very short," said Cozens. "I was just talking to Joe Jordan, the Phillies director of player development, and he congratulated me. I didn't have a very good service, so it was pretty short. Definitely a happy moment for me ... The 40-man roster, there's no restrictions. Whenever you're ready, they're not going to hold you back. They're going to let you go."

Photographs by David Monseur, MiLB.com; and Tom Boland, Reading Eagle



Tim Tebow to Start MLB Season with Mets' Single-A Affiliate

By USA TODAY Sports; and The Score

Tim Tebow's time with the New York Mets' major-league side has officially come to an end. Tebow's first stop on what he hopes will be a journey to the major leagues has been determined.

Tim Tebow

After constantly changing their mind regarding the former NFL quarterback, the Mets revealed on March that Tebow will open the upcoming season in Single-A with the Columbia, South Carolina Fireflies in the South Atlantic League. They also have a higher-A-ball club in Port St. Lucie, Fla., where Tebow has played for the major league club in Grapefruit League exhibitions this spring.

The average age of pitchers in the South Atlantic League last year was 22. Tebow, 29, will be up to a decade older than some players he faces, although far less experienced from a baseball standpoint.

Tebow has not played a full season of baseball since 2004, his junior year of high school. Nonetheless, he has acquitted himself with dignity in Grapefruit League play, getting four singles in 18 at-bats, with five strikeouts.

"Sending Tim to a full season club is what we hoped to be able to do," Mets general manager Sandy Alderson told Marc Carig of Newsday. "And based on what he's done in spring training, and his whole body of work since last fall, we feel comfortable with him going to Columbia." The Fireflies open the season at home on April 6 against Augusta (Ga.), beginning a seven-game home stand.

"Tim Tebow will bring major excitement and national attention to the Fireflies and city of Columbia," Columbia President John Katz said in a statement on the club's web site. "Baseball fans, sports fans and Tim Tebow fans will likely come from around the southeast to see him play. We expect this to add to the energy at Spirit Communications Park and around downtown Columbia, especially during our opening weekend (April 6-9)."

After signing a minor-league deal with the Mets last season, the club assigned the 29-year-old to the Arizona Fall League where he mustered a .194/.296/.242 slash line in 62 at-bats, but the Fireflies look excited to have his name in their locker room for the upcoming campaign.

Alderson is satisfied with Tebow's performance both at the plate and in the outfield.

"He's obviously very athletic and he has adapted very quickly," said Alderson. "His approach at the plate is very solid. He doesn't chase pitches. People might say his hitting swing is a little long but the swing is professional. When he's made contact, it's often been hard contact. ... Defensively, it's still a work in progress but it's adequate. He's made some nice plays, again demonstrating the athleticism that everybody's seen he has."

Photographs by Scott Rovak and Steve Mitchell, USA TODAY Sports




Max Schumacher Inducted into International League Hall of Fame

By Indianapolis Indians

Max Schumacher will be enshrined in the International League Hall of Fame. An Indianapolis native, Schumacher has been with the Tribe since 1957, serving as president from 1969 until the end of last season.

"Since most of my career in Baseball occurred when the Indians competed in the American Association, I am particularly proud that my recent-year associates of the International League have conveyed the honor of including me in their Hall of fame," Schumacher said. "it is a superb League with quality management in every city led by President Randy Mobley.

"This honor is bestowed on me largely as a reflection of the skilled Indians staff that has made possible the consistently strong operation of the Tribe in recent years and record attendance by our loyal fans," Schumacher added.

Max Schumacher

Last November after 47 seasons at the helm, he turned over his day-to-day responsibilities and transitioned to a new role of chairman emeritus. His son, Bruce, is now chairman of the board and chief executive officer, and Randy Lewandowski is president and general manager. In this altered role, Schumacher provides mentorship for the Indians leadership.

"Indianapolis Indians baseball has been a big part of my life since I was a kid and that wouldn't have been possible without my dad," Bruce said. "His hard work, honesty and vision have defined his success for more than 60 years."

"Max spent his entire career focused on the success of the Indianapolis Indians," said Lewandowski. "Every day we try to follow the path that Max set for this organization. His hall-of-fame induction is a fitting tribute to the success he has achieved and the impact he's made."

Schumacher joined the Indians organization in 1957 as a ticket manager after playing baseball at Butler University and serving a two-year stint in the U.S. Army. In 1961, he was promoted to general manager. In 1969, he was named president and helped the Indians become one of the predominant faces of minor league baseball.

Under Schumacher's leadership, the Indians have been recognized twice as Triple-A Bob Freitas Award winners. Baseball America's Triple-A team of the decade for the 1990's, and the 2005 At the Yard Magazine Minor League Team of the Year. In 1996, Schumacher was also one of the key overseers in guiding the Indians' move to Victory Field in the heart of downtown Indianapolis. The American Association recognized him that year as its Executive of the Year. One year later, he earned the prestigious honor of being named the "King of Baseball" for his outstanding service to the game.

Schumacher has also been honored for his involvement in the Indianapolis community after serving as president of the Indianapolis Downtown Kiwanis Club, the American Business Club and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Indianapolis. In 2006, Schumacher was recognized with the Thomas W. Moses Good Scout Award for his dedication to community service, social responsibility and having a true "scout spirit."

Schumacher is joined in the International League Hall of Fame Class of 2017 by former Triple-A all-star closer Lee Gardner. A ceremony honoring Schumacher will be announced later in the 2017 season.

Photograph and artwork by the International League



MiLB Honors Dan Lunetta with Chief Bender Award

Annual prize recognizes distinguished service in player development

By Minor League Baseball

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. --- Dan Lunetta, the Detroit Tigers Director of Minor League Operations, has been selected as the recipient of the ninth annual Sheldon "Chief" Bender Award, presented to an individual with distinguished service who has been instrumental in player development. The award honors Bender as a long time front office executive and consultant who spent 39 years with the Cincinnati Reds.

Dan Lunetta

Lunetta received his award at the Baseball Winter Meetings Banquet on December 4 at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center in National Harbor, Maryland.

"I am deeply honored to be this year's recipient of the Chief Bender Award," said Lunetta."This could not have happened without the benefit of working with the many people I have over the years, including Chief Bender himself, a man for whom I have the utmost respect and admiration. I had the great fortune to work with Chief in 1989 while with the Reds organization, and it is a tremendous honor to join those who have preceded me in winning this award."

"Dan Lunetta is one of the most well-rounded and experiences executives in baseball today," said Minor League Baseball President & CEO Pat O'Conner. "Dan's dedication to player development and his contributions to the game at the Major League level and the Minor League level throughout his career have been extraordinary, and it is my pleasure to present him with the Sheldon "Chief" Bender Award."

Prior to joining the Tigers in 2004, Lunetta served as a Special Assistant to the General Manager for the Montreal Expos for two seasons (2002-03). Lunetta spent 10 years with the Florida Marlins organization, beginning as the Director of Minor League Administration in 1991 before being promoted to Director of Major League Administration in 1998. Lunetta began his baseball career in 1980 as the general manager of Single-A Jamestown in the New York-Penn League and later spent time in Triple-A with Buffalo and Rochester.

In his current role as the Director of Minor League Operations for the Detroit Tigers, he oversees the day-to-day player development business/administrative operations of the minor league system, which includes the Tigers' six U.S.-based minor league affiliates. He is responsible for maintaining rules compliance and oversees the Tigers' baseball operations budget. Additionally, he supervises the Florida baseball operations at TigerTown in Lakeland, which includes Spring Training, extended Spring Training, the Gulf Coast League and the Tigers' Instructional League camp.

Lunetta, 60, his wife, Jhoanna, and sons Anthony Robert, 20, and Samuel Joseph, 15, reside in Lakeland, Florida. A native of Jamestown, New York, Lunetta is a graduate of State University of New York at Brockport. He was inducted into the Chautauqua County (NY) Sports Hall of Fame in 2014.

Photograph by MiLB.com




San Jose Giants Begin 30th Season as an Affiliate of S.F. Giants

By Joe Ritzo, mlblogs.com

The 2017 baseball season is a significant milestone year for the San Jose Giants franchise, as it will mark the 30th season as an affiliate of the San Francisco Giants. It is also the 75th anniversary of San Jose's home ballpark, Municipal Stadium.

San Jose logo

The San Jose Giants entered the 2017 campaign having qualified for the playoffs a remarkable 12 times in the last 13 seasons (2004-13, 2015-16). Over the course of the 29-year affiliation with the San Francisco Giants, San Jose has posted a winning record 24 times and claimed six California League championships. Most recently, San Jose has won back-to-back titles in 2009 and 2010.

A total of 190 former San Jose Giants have reached the major leagues during the 29-year run with 136 of those having played in San Francisco. The 2017 San Jose Giants feature a new manager as 2016 skipper Lipso Nava is now the hitting coach of the Double-A Richmond Flying Squirrels. Nava spent the last four seasons in San Jose serving as the hitting coach from 2013-15 before last year's stint as manager.

This year will also mark a major change to the California League. The Bakersfield Blaze and High Desert Mavericks franchises ceased operations at the end of the 2016 season and subsequently moved to the Carolina League. The result is the California League will be an eight-team league moving forward.

With Bakersfield and High Desert in opposite divisions, no realignment was necessary for the 2017 season. San Jose will continue to play in the North Division matching up with rivals Stockton, Modesto and Visalia. The four-team South Division features Inland Empire, Lake Elsinore, Lancaster and Rancho Cucamonga.

San Jose Stadium

With two fewer teams in the league, a new playoff format has been created. The California League has announced that four teams (instead of six previously) will make the playoffs --- the First Half winner of each division and the Second Half winner of each division. If the same team wins both halves, the club with the second-best overall record in the division receives the other playoff berth.

The new postseason format has eliminated the best-of-three Mini Series. The playoffs will now begin with two best-of-five Division Series, which will be played from Wednesday, September 6 through Sunday, September 10 (if necessary) this year. Following a scheduled off day on Monday, September 11, the two Division Series winners will face off in a best-of-five Championship Series beginning on Tuesday, September 12. Home field advantage (hosting games three through five) will continue to be determined on a rotating basis. The North Division owns home field advantage in the 2017 Championship Series before it flips to the South Division in 2018.

For a more detailed explanation of the new California League playoff format, including tiebreaking procedures and a full schedule, visit the California League website.

There are also two affiliation changes in the California League this season. The Colorado Rockies have switched affiliates from Modesto to Lancaster. Meanwhile, the Seattle Mariners, previously partnered with now-defunct Bakersfield, have signed on with Modesto. The Texas Rangers and Houston Astros no longer have affiliates in the California League with the two franchises shifting their Class-A advanced teams to the Carolina League.

Photographs by San Jose Giants/mlblogs.com



Lee Gardner Elected into International League Hall of Fame

By International League -- Durham Bulls

DURHAM, NC --- Former Durham Bulls relief pitcher Lee Gardner will be inducted into the International League Hall of Fame as a member of the Class of 2017. The right-hander, who was a member of the Bulls from 2000-2003 and 2005, was elected by a vote of living Hall of Fame members, longtime executives, broadcasters and members of the media.

Lee Gardner

Over parts of five seasons with Durham, the Michigan native recorded a franchise record 77 saves, while notching at least 15 saves on three occasions. In 2003 he set a single-season franchise record with 30 saves, while also leading the league in that category. He saved 55 games between 2002 and 2003, the franchise's first two Triple-A titles, and struck out 108 batters in 102 appearances in that span. For his Bulls career he compiled a 15-13 record in 227 games, posting a 3.06 ERA and striking out 206 batters in 259 innings.

"What an honor it is to be a part of the Hall of Fame Class of 2017," Gardner said. "I had the privilege to play with great teammates and great organizations throughout my career, but Durham has always had a special place in mine and my family's heart. We are so excited to celebrate this honor back where it all began, and I am so thankful to be selected for this prestigious honor."

In total, the 42-year-old enjoyed an 11-year career, spanning four organizations. In addition to his time with the Bulls, Gardner also spent the 2006 season as a member of the Toledo Mud Hens in the Detroit Tigers' system. That season he went 5-5 with a 2.92 ERA, while compiling 30 saves in a season for the second time in his career. In his International League career, Gardner finished with 107 saves and posted a 3.03 ERA in 285 games, winning three Governors' Cups (2002, 2003 and 2006) and earning three International League All-Star nods (2002, 2003, and 2006).

"The entire Durham Bulls organization could not be happier for Lee," Bulls General Manager Mike Birling said. "Lee was an integral piece of two championship teams here in Durham, but it was his relationship with the fans that made him a fan-favorite. We're looking forward to welcoming him back to the DBAP, and celebrating this tremendous honor with him and our fans."

Gardner tallied parts of four seasons at the Major League level, appearing in a combined 17 games for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in 2002 and 2005, before making a total of 69 relief outings for the Florida Marlins between 2007 and 2008. He finished his MLB career with a 3.01 ERA in 86 outings with two saves.

The reliever becomes the fourth Durham Bull to be elected into the league's Hall of Fame, joining former managers Charlie Montoyo (Class of 2016) and Bill Evers (Class of 2012), and pitcher Dave Eiland (Class of 2012). Gardner will be presented with 'The Curtain Call' statue during an individual enshrinement ceremony at the DBAPO on a date that has yet to be scheduled.

Max Schumacher, the longtime General Manager, President and Chairman of the Indianapolis Indians, joins Gardner as a 2017 inductee. Each year the top three vote-getters who also receive a vote on the majority of ballots are elected to the Hall of Fame. In the 2017 election, Gardner and Schumacher were the only two candidates to receive a vote on the majority of ballots.

The Durham Bulls opened the 2017 International League season on Thursday, April 6, and host their first home game of 2017 on Monday, April 10 against the Charlotte Knights. Full-season, mini plan and group ticket packages for the 2017 season are on-sale now at durhambulls.com or by calling 919.956.BULL.

Photograph and artwork by Durham Bulls



Luke Weaver and Carson Kelly Win Minors Player of Year Awards

By Michael Leboff, MiLB.com

After spending much of the 2016 season as battery mates, Cardinals second-ranked prospect Luke Weaver and No. 11 prospect Carson Kelly have been paired together once again. St. Louis has named Weaver and Kelly as its 2016 Minor League Pitcher and Player of the Year respectively.

Luke Weaver

Weaver, who missed the first two months of the season with a fractured left wrist, came out of the gates flying and earned Texas League Player of the Month honors in June. After compiling a 6-3 record and a 1.40 ERA over 12 starts with Double-A Springfield, he was promoted to Triple-A Memphis on August 5. Weaver held opponents to a .206 batting average in 13 Minor League starts in 2016.

"Luke's impressive work in June earned him our Pitcher of the Month honors while in Springfield," said Cardinals director of player development Gary LaRocque. "Following his August promotion to Memphis , he soon after made his Major League debut for the Cardinals."

On August 13, Weaver's contract was purchased by St. Louis and the 2014 first-round pick made his Major League debut that day at Wrigley Field. The 2014 first-rounder went 1-4 and struck out 45 batters in nine appearances, including eight starts, for the Cardinals.

Kelly also made it from Double-A to the Majors in 2016. The 22-year-old catcher was a Texas League All-Star and was named to Team USA for the Futures Game during All-Star Week. In 96 games between Springfield and Memphis, Kelly slashed .289/.343/.395 with six home runs and 32 RBIs.

"After being promoted from Springfield to Memphis in July, Carson earned a Major League call-up in September," LaRocque said. "His productive season was also highlighted by his selection to the Futures Game and being named to the Arizona Fall League Top Prospects Team."

Kelly was promoted to the Cardinals on September 4. The 2012 second-round pick collected two hits, including a double in his first at-bat, in 13 appearances for St. Louis. He next headed to the Arizona Fall League, slashing .286/.387/.455 with three homers and 18 RBIs in 21 games for Glendale.

Photograph by John Raoux, The Associated Press



Eugene Emeralds Manager Jesus Feliciano Has Returned

By Steve Mims, The Register-Guard

After ending Eugene's Northwest League championship drought, Jesus Feliciano has returned to PK Park to try for a repeat.

The Chicago Cubs named Feliciano manager of their short-season Class A affiliate for the second year in a row. Feliciano led the Emeralds to their first NWL title since 1980 and first outright championship since 1975.

Eugene Emeralds

Eugene set a franchise record by going 54-22 in the regular season and finished 58-24 after beating Hillsboro and Everett in the postseason. "Jesus' energy and attitude and the positive vibe he gives out to players and fans is tremendous," said Eugene general manager Allan Benavides. "Quite frankly, I'm really surprised he is coming back because I think he will be a huge star in the big-leagues some day, but I am thoroughly excited he will be back in town."

Eugene set the NWL record with a 15-game winning streak last season. The Emeralds defeated Hillsboro two games to one in the first round of the playoffs before beating Everett two games to one in the championship series.

Benavides said he usually finds out who his manager is in a message from the Cubs, but Feliciano called him last week to say he would return. "He is excited to come back because he really enjoys Eugene," Benavides said.

Gary Van Tol will return to Feliciano's coaching staff and spend a third straight summer in Eugene. Van Tol was Eugene's manager in 2015. "Jesus and Gary are probably the two best guys I've ever got to work with in pro ball," Benavides said.

Feliciano played 16 seasons of professional baseball from 1998-2013, including a stint with the New York Mets in 2010. He was Eugene's hitting coach under Van Tol in 2015 before being named a minor-league manager for the first time last year.

Van Tol will spend his 10th season in the NWL after working seven seasons for the Cubs' affiliate in Boise.

David Rosario is Eugene's new pitching coach after serving in the same role last season for long-season Class A South Bend, which had a 3.35 ERA. He spent four seasons as the pitching coach in Boise with Van Tol in 2009 and 2011-13.

Juan Cabreja was named hitting coach after serving as an assistant for long-season A Myrtle Point when it won the Carolina League last season. He previously managed five seasons in the Dominican Summer League and three in the Arizona League.

Photograph by Elmore Sports Group/Eugene Emeralds



Longtime Norfolk Tides GM Dave Rosenfield Passes Away

International League Hall of Famer spent seven decades in the Minors

By Tyler Maun, MiLB.com

Dave Rosenfield's life was as much a life in baseball as anyone's could be. From being the creative force behind generations of Carolina and International League schedules to his lengthy tenure as a team executive to an immortalized place at the intersection of the Minors and pop culture, Rosenfield was a Minor League luminary.

On Tuesday night, February 28, his baseball family said goodbye. The longtime Norfolk Tides general manager passed away. Rosenfield was 87.

Dave Rosenfield

"Our entire organization is devastated at this news," said Tides president Ken Young. "Dave was instrumental to the success of the Tides for over 50 years, and baseball in Hampton Roads won't ever be the same without him. Our thoughts and prayers are with Dave's family as we mourn the passing of a Minor League Baseball icon."

After joining the Tides front office in 1962 -- already six years into his Minor League career -- Rosenfield took over as general manager a year later and served in that role until 2011. Under his direction, Norfolk moved from the Class A Carolina League to the Triple-A International League in 1969. Rosenfield carried the franchise through the openings of two ballparks -- Met Park in 1970 and the team's current Harbor Park in 1993 -- and was named executive vice president and senior advisor to the president six years ago after stepping down from the GM role.

"Rosey's passing for the game of baseball was unmatched, and that was obvious to anyone who was ever fortunate to cross paths with him," Tides general manager Joe Gregory said. "His knowledge, guidance and friendship was appreciated by so many people across the baseball industry, and he will be sorely missed."

Rosenfield's list of Minor League honors is lengthy. He was tabbed IL Executive of the Year four times, was honored as Minor League Baseball's "King of Baseball" in 2004, was a member of the International League and Hampton Roads Sports Halls of Fame and last year was inducted to the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame.

Rosenfield also has one of the most unique designations among any Minor League executive. In a legendary 1990 episode of The Simpsons, Homer gets a job as a Minor League mascot before being fired. The name of the GM who lets him go? Dave Rosenfield. That episode was penned by former Tides broadcaster Ken Levine and was one of the earliest in a collection of classic baseball-themed Simpsons installments.

"Every time that episode reruns, I get a phone call from somebody," Rosenfield told MiLB.com in 2011.

Baseball wasn't Rosenfield's only passion. He also served as general manager of the short-lived Continental Football League's Norfolk Neptunes in the late 1960s as well as interim general manager of the American Basketball Association's Virginia Squires in the early 1970s and the Tidewater Sharks hockey team in 1975.

Beyond his work in the Tides' front office, Rosenfield carved a unique role for himself beginning in 1963 when he took on the task of creating the Carolina League schedule. He continued that job with the International League through last year, long after many leagues had moved to computerized scheduling.

"I just turned 86 -- how much longer am I gonna be around?" he told MiLB.com's Benjamin Hill in 2015. "But I don't want this league to have a bad schedule. Would I like to stop? Some days I say, 'Yes.' It's like a giant puzzle. I spend so much time on it because I know how important it is."

Photograph by Norfolk Tides



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