Notes from the California League

This isn't Pirates-related, so I'll keep this short, but I just wanted to share a few notes from the California League, which seemed so distant and exotic when I lived on the East Coast:

A buddy and I went to High Desert on Saturday night, then drove to San Bernardino, crashed, watched the first period of the Pens game, and then headed out to see Inland Empire. Then we drove to Lancaster for an early-evening game.

High Desert has a reputation for being one of the toughest parks to pitch in in the minors. The park looks like it has the dimensions of a little league field until you're inside it, at which point it looks pretty normal, except the outfield gaps are enormous, and the wind was blowing hard. It's out in the middle of nowhere and the game was poorly attended; the grass in the infield looked awful and the batter's eye in the outfield looked like a giant piece of plywood that someone had kicked a bunch of times at the bottom. It's a Mariners affiliate now, but it keeps getting passed from team to team, and between the stadium quality and the difficulty in assessing the players due to all the scoring, I can't imagine anyone wanting their affiliate to be there. I still had a good time, though, and I have to give the stadium sound team credit for playing some of the most inanely wimpy music ever when opposing batters walked to the plate. ("Total Eclipse of the Heart" was a good one.)

Inland Empire and Lancaster were much nicer--the crowds were much bigger, the food was reasonable, and the stadiums were both beautiful. Here's the thing, though--they looked like they were built from the same blueprint. The bathrooms, for example, appeared to be exactly the same. And this was part of a broader trend toward a sort of standardized ballpark experience--all three parks used the same "if this opposing batter strikes out, tiny cups of crappy beer are a dollar" promotion, and five of the six teams we saw wore red or blue. In fact, Lancaster and Lake Elsinore came out to face each other wearing practically identical red uniforms. 

It's weird. At some point five or ten years ago, major league teams decided to turn to less adventurous, classic-looking attire, with unis like this replacing ones like this. For the big leagues, I think that's fine, but would it kill the minor leagues to admit that they're, you know, minor, and stop pretending like their uniforms have to look perfect? I mean, this is a great-looking uniform, but the High Desert Mavericks have "Desert" right in their name--wouldn't it be cooler to come up with some desert-themed uniform? I personally don't really like wearing MLB-themed clothing because it's too obvious (although I definitely wear my Craig Wilson away jersey when I come to PNC), but I'm interested in having some cool minor league gear. The problem is that a lot of it looks exactly the same. (There are, fortunately, some teams who let their freak flag fly, like the State College Spikes, who have a weird purple, gold and red thing going.)

Anyway, here are a few players who struck my buddy and me as interesting, for you serious prospect hounds:

-Will Smith, Rancho Cucamonga (Angels): Big lefty starting pitcher with what appeared to be good velocity, good command and some idea how to pitch--he fell apart near the end of his start, but he had High Desert's middle-of-the-order hitters looking pretty silly a lot of the time.

-Johermyn Chavez, High Desert (Mariners): An outfielder who came to the Mariners in the Brandon Morrow / Brandon League swap; the ball jumps off his bat. 

-Tony Delmonico, Inland Empire (Dodgers): Catcher with a very advanced approach at the plate. Went 3-for-3 with a homer against Visalia, although it was his first of the season.

-Alexi Amarista, Rancho Cucamonga: Amarista is listed at 5'8" but appears to be at least a couple inches shorter, so he probably won't appear on too many prospect lists, but he has good gap power and is a terror on the bases. He's easily the player I had the most fun watching.

-Not a player but an observation: Lancaster is an Astros affiliate, so it might not surprise you to hear that they were really bad. Their starting pitcher, Brad Dydalewicz, is one of two players born in 1990 on the team (Jay Austin was the other), but they both should probably be a level lower, in my opinion. (Austin played well in this particular game, but Dydalewicz got pelted.) Lancaster only has two players on the team with OPSes above .800, which isn't easy to do when you play in the southern half of the Cal League and particularly when you play in Lancaster, which is a serious launching pad. They also made a couple of pretty silly fielding gaffes. 

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