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One of the best parts about baseball blogging is finding out information that you never thought you'd ever have the chance to find out. With this interview, I sought out to do exactly that.
I have always been interested in the Atlantic League and in my opinion, the league is very under reported.
But luckily for me and hopefully you, Matthew Tymann is one of the best at covering the Atlantic League, specifically the Camden Riverharks. Matthew runs a fantastic blog on the Riverharks called The Deep End and was kind enough to give us a very in depth look into life in the Atlantic League.
So please, take some time and read Matthew's thorough responses. Trust me, it's worth the read...so good that there will be a part 2 later today.
Jorge Says No! Interview With Matthew Tymann Jorge Says No!: Are there any players on the Riversharks that MLB teams should be keeping an eye on?
Matthew Tymann:Until last weekend, I would have pointed you right toward starting pitcher Nate Bump, who has previously spent some time with the Florida Marlins, including in their championship season of 2003. He was phenomenal for the Riversharks this season, racking up an 8-2 record, with a 2.49 ERA. But last weekend, the Detroit Tigers' organization figured all this out, and signed him. He's now playing for their AAA affiliate, the Toledo Mud Hens.
There are a few other guys on the team who have the talent to really help a Major League organization, but no one I'd recommend as wholeheartedly as I would have Bump. Dewon Brazelton might be first on the list, but that's primarily because he's a former first-round draft pick (3rd overall) of Tampa Bay back in 2001. It also doesn't hurt that he's just 29. But at the same time, while he's pitched well for us this year, he hasn't exactly been overwhelming. Tom Davey (8-2, 2.25) has awesome numbers, but he's 35 years old, and doesn't have great velocity anymore. He does have experience at the highest level (with the Blue Jays and Mariners in 1999, and Padres from 2000-02), but I'm not sure how much sense he makes as a Major League prospect at this point in his career. Jose Leon and Jon Knott are two guys who can really hit, but each is limited defensively and in terms of speed. Given that they're not going to be middle-of-the-order guys on Major League teams, I don't know how attractive they'd be either.
One guy who has really played well for us, who is young enough that he should at least be in an organization somewhere, is catcher Jason Jacobs. Catcher was the one spot on the roster that was probably the biggest question mark heading into the season, but Jacobs has really solidified the position. He's only hitting .258 now, but he's gone through some stretches where he's hit the ball very well, and his eight doubles are pretty impressive for a guy without great speed. He has also been a standout defensively, which is obviously paramount for a catcher. Perhaps most importantly, he's just 25 years old. Given that the Mets let him go after last year, and that he's never even been to AA ball, I do question my judgment on this one (or the potential flukiness of his good season). But at the same time, I can't imagine this guy isn't good enough to find a spot somewhere in affiliated ball, and considering his age, I would think he's worth a shot.
Jorge Says No!: Are there any players in the Atlantic League right now who you believe could make an impact this season at the major league level?
Matthew Tymann: This question is tough to answer. I see every Riversharks' game, but I don't see enough of the rest of the league to really feel like an expert on every other team. There are definitely players that have impressed me, but the possibility always exists that they've gone through their best stretch of the season against the 'sharks. Plus, a few of the guys I really like around the league aren't the type that could make an impact THIS season. And beyond that, there are guys who probably could make an impact, who almost certainly will not. In this last category rests a player like Carl Everett, who can still hit at age 39. And I mean, really hit: he's got a .947 OPS, and might be the scariest player to face in a key spot in the entire league. I'm pretty convinced this guy could at least be a Matt Stairs-type in the Majors, but I wouldn't find it at all likely that he'd get signed...or maybe that he'd even want to get signed at this point. I might also throw Felix Rodriguez of the Riversharks in that group...he's a long-time Major League veteran, and can still throw a fastball in the mid-90s. I would think he's good enough to be in the bullpen for a team in the Majors, but I don't think he has much interest in that lifestyle anymore. He's 36, and lives with his family near Camden. I honestly think he'd turn down a Major League offer to stay with the 'sharks.
Josh Miller and Jim Magrane are two pitchers who could potentially make an impact. Both guys play for the best team in the league, Somerset, and both have been in AAA within the past two years (Miller with Round Rock in 2008, Magrane with Columbus in 2007). Miller is 8-3 on the season, with a 2.47 ERA, and Magrane is 9-2 with a 2.52. But I'd be lying to you if I said I was going more on personal viewings than on stats and pedigree. Each has been good when I've seen him, but I've only seen each guy once, and neither completely blew me away. Still, the numbers all suggest they can make an impact, and they certainly have been good. Both guys are 30, by the way.
Before I move on to the rest of the questions, let me mention two players around the league who I really like, who probably don't fit into any of these categories: Travis Garcia of Southern Maryland, and Salomon Manriquez of Newark. Garcia is a shortstop who doubles as one of the best hitters in the league. He needs to be more patient at the plate (as his 10 walks in 279 plate appearances evidence), but his .562 slugging percentage tells you what he can do with the bat. He's in the top-5 in the league in average (.338), home runs (12), and RBI (53). He's also looked good at shortstop every time I've seen him, though he does have 15 errors in 66 games. At the same time, he's been out of affiliated ball since 2004, and there has to be a reason for that. He's just 27 years old, so there's still hope, but it's probably the case that I'm missing some major flaw that the scouts aren't. Still, he's fun to watch, and easily one of the most valuable players in the league. Manriquez is another guy who hits from a position where players often don't: catcher. He's leading the league in hitting with a .367 average, and he currently sports a .974 OPS. Most impressive of all (and maybe a hindrance to his potential Major League career): he's just 6'0'', 170, tiny for a catcher. He certainly seems capable of doing the job, but I'm always impressed when I watch him play so well behind the plate (both with the glove and the bat), with such a slight frame. Manriquez has reached AA with four different organizations, most recently with Binghamton (Mets) in '08. I don't think he'll be making an impact on the Major Leagues this season, but I'm definitely rooting for him down the line. Oh yeah, and he's just 26. Jorge Says No!: What type of payroll do the Riversharks operate with?
Matthew Tymann: The maximum contract in the Atlantic League is $3000 per month. Two guys on our team make the max, though I'm guessing I'm not at liberty to say who they are. Other than that, I know very little about our payroll. I know some guys make more than others, but I'm not really sure what our total payroll for the 25 players is. If I had to guess, I'd guess around $60-$65,000 per month.
Jorge Says No!: How does the Riversharks management lure top talent to play in the Atlantic League?
Matthew Tymann: Players generally want to come play in the Atlantic League. It's regarded as the best independent league in the country, so anyone not playing in affiliated ball would have to consider playing in the AL, especially those living close geographically. I don't get the impression that any of the teams have any difficulty finding willing and very talented players to play in the league every year, or mid-season (as there are a lot of roster moves mid-season).
With regard to the Riversharks specifically, a lot of our players have been garnered through connections. If you look up and down our roster, you'll find quite a few guys who played for the San Diego Padres organization in the early 2000s. That's because Joe Ferguson, our manager, worked for the Padres during that time. He developed relationships with players like Brian Burgamy, Tom Davey, and Jon Knott, and that's a huge part of the reason they're all playing in Camden this year. Some of our other players had some prior baseball relationship with Jeff Scott, our pitching coach, and that's why they're here. Others, like Vito Chiaravolloti, Val Majewski (since signed by the Angels' organization), Felix Rodriguez, and Mike Flannery, live close by, and saw Camden as the most logical and convenient place to continue their baseball career. And in some cases, the 'sharks sign a player through sheer dumb luck. Dewon Brazelton, the former third-overall pick by the Devil Rays back in 2001, showed up completely unexpected to our open tryout in early April. He paid his own way, and even brought a paper resume and everything. Joe and Jeff recognized him for who he was, and signed him on the spot. He's been a staple in our rotation ever since.
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