kane county cougarsLast night, I took a little drive down to Dayton to see the Chicago Cubs’ Low-A affiliate, the Kane County Cougars, take on the Dayton Dragons at Fifth Third Field. It’s quite a venue, as far as minor league ballparks go, and, having just been at Cubs Park in Mesa, Arizona, I was surprised at how much the ballpark felt like a really nice Spring Training stadium.

My buddy and I were watching the Cougars warm up on a grassy berm along the third baseline – ooh, stretching! ahh, jogging! – when an older gentleman asked if we had seats. We weren’t technically in the lawn area our tickets designated, so I thought he was going to boot us. We explained we were supposed to be over there in the outfield (I bought the tickets nearly a week before the game, and it was entirely sold out except for a tiny patch of outfield lawn space – they do well there in Dayton). Instead of chiding us, he gave us a couple tickets for seats in the grandstand. How about that? I grew up in the Dayton area: nice people are everywhere. That’s why I’m such a peach.

Before heading to our seats, we watched starting pitcher Daury Torrez warm up. As he threw to his catcher, and moved progressively back, and back, and back, I realized: Torrez was using long toss to warm up. We haven’t heard much about long toss since Derek Johnson came from Vanderbilt to be the Cubs’ new minor league pitching coordinator, but you may recall that he came at a time when long toss – literally the act of throwing from extremely long distances to warm up and strengthen the arm – was pretty controversial. Some folks swear by it, while others thing it’s awful for young arms. There were hints that Johnson was a proponent, and, while I won’t make any blanket assumptions based on one pitcher using it, I’ll simply note: Torrez was using it.

The game started with a long top of the first, with the Cougars putting a ton of runners on against Reds pitching prospect Amir Garrett (6’5″ lefty, mid-90s fastball, short-arm motion), and scoring one on a punch-to-the-right-side single by Yasiel Balaguert, which brought home catcher Ben Carhart (DH’ing in this one), who had doubled to deep right center. Balaguert clearly has a solid bat, but not so much with the speed – he’s a bigger dude – as he was thrown out from first on a double off the wall in right, despite running from first with the pitch.

Torrez finally got to take the mound, and he was obviously perplexing Dragons hitters from the get-go. He was only in the 90/91/92 range, but he was almost exclusively using his fastball, getting strikeouts and groundouts. I note the long top of the first inning, because that became a regular thing – the Cougars batted so much and so long that I couldn’t believe Torrez kept coming out there after sitting for so long. But, each inning, he came out, and each inning, he mowed the Dragons down.

Not a scout scouting comments on Torrez: he’s a very tall young man with very long legs, so I would have expected a little more drive and extension using his legs in his delivery. Instead, it looked to my very untrained eye like everything he had was coming from his arm. That is to say, I would describe his delivery as having some effort in it. But, clearly it was working. Get this: although Torrez struck out just four in his eight innings of work (one run, two hits, one walk), he got 17(!) groundouts versus just two flyouts. That 90/91/92 range? Although I couldn’t see the movement from where I was sitting, I’d bet just about anything it was actually a two-seamer (sinker) with fantastic downward movement. That’s just an insane number of groundballs.

As for those long offensive innings, man, I haven’t really seen anything like it. The Cougars scored their 13 runs on 19 hits (just 4 walks), and none of ’em were homers. It seemed like everything they hit to the outfield found grass, which is not to say they weren’t hitting line drives – they were. Even after Garrett departed, it didn’t really seem to matter. Line drive, hit. Line drive, hit. A notable exception was a bunt single by Jacob Hannemann, on which he showed off his speed. He also stole a base in the game, but I have to confess: visually, I didn’t get a gauge on just how fast it looked like he was. He looked fast, but, at least last night, it wasn’t, “Holy crap, did you see that guy?” fast.

Defensively, David Bote looked fantastic at third base, constantly making tough plays look easy (and, with all the grounders, he had plenty of opportunities). Will Remillard, who had four hits in the game, has a really nice arm behind the plate. Low trajectory, quick release, good accuracy.

A few Twitters for your Twittering:

For the record, I also had (well, shared) funnel cake and fried Oreos. My stomach feels … off.



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