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.

  • JCubs79

    Lucky you Brett. The last time I went to KC was last year to see Almora play and they got blown out 20-2 or something like that. You got the opposite of what I got.

  • miggy80

    Back in 92′ I had my first MLB experience when I went to an exhibition game, Cubs Vs. Twins. As a 12 yr. old I was amazed by how far apart they ended up when playing catch while warming up. I thought they were just giants and that was the preferred distance. Know I realize I was probably watching some pitchers warming up with the “Long toss” method.

  • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

    Minor league stadiums often have a radar gun that reads a little off from reality – often a little slow. I don’t have any concrete info about the Dayton gun, but I’d not be surprised if it was off a little.

    Remillard was praised coming out of the draft for his good arm behind the plate. Hopefully he keeps hitting as well.

    • AA Correspondant

      The Smokies radar gun is 3 MPH slower than reality.

  • Dustin S

    Going to a Cubs minor league game is a good time for sure, plus it can be nice therapy from the big league rebuilding frustrations. Most A-level ballparks have improved a whole lot too compared to 10-20 years ago.

  • DarthHater

    You should visit your cardiologist immediately, Bert. 😛

    • Karl Groucho

      I thought conventional wisdom was that a platoon of nachos and corn dogs avoided the down side of each…

      • Karl Groucho

        Completely missed the text below that picture. The Kcal rate of oreos and funnel cake are gonna really hurt, platoon be damned.

      • DarthHater

        I don’t like platooning. Corn dogs should be eaten every day, so you can find out what they’re capable of.

  • Darth Ivy

    But they don’t digest well against lefties

    • Darth Ivy

      Damn it, that’s a reply to darthhater.

    • http://bleachernation.com woody

      Just wondering if you are the alter ego of Darth Hater?

  • JulioZuleta

    I might have told this story once before here: Back in about 2000, when I was 11 or 12, I won a contest through my northwest suburban little league. The prize was one of those “Win a day at the park” thingys with the Cougars (they were a Marlins affiliate at the time). I got to do the whole thing: hitting lessons, pitching lessons, front row seats, run the bases after the game, visit the locker room with the team, get a whole bunch of autographs, etc. Anyways, I was given a sort of mentor player for the day, a starting pitcher that was off that day. He gave me a 30 minute-ish pitching lesson, a bunch of Cougars gear, and came over to talk for a really long time during the game. I had no concept of “top prospects” back then and had no clue who the guy was until that day. Anyways, he was super nice, and I made my dad take me to see him pitch 3 or 4 times the rest of the year. He always remembered my name and always said hi and chatted as long as he could. Always be a Josh Beckett fan.

    • JB88

      And this story is why baseball is America’s past time. I hope/wish that more players acted that same way. We wouldn’t have to worry about the long term health of the game if more players gave kids memories like that for life.

      • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

        A lot of players do.

        One the awesome parts of the minor league games is seeing the completely unscripted encounters between player and kids.

        In Tennessee last year Justin Bour in particular appeared to be great at this kind of thing.

    • Brocktoon

      On the other hand fuck Josh Beckett and the 2003 Marlins

  • http://www.facebook.com/sharingaspare mysterious4th

    I have two comments

    A) the best minor league ball park ive ever seen is the Pensacola Blue Wahoos. From home plate the batters can see some ocean. Theres not one bad seat in the park. I was very impressed the first time i caught a game there. The Wahoos (Reds AA affiliate) take on the Tennessee Smokies. The Cubs smacked them around in the first game I saw.

    B ) I am very much for the long toss. I used it from the age 7 thru all of college. It actually helped my speed increase from 45mph in HS to around 60 in HS (I played softball all year around for a better part of 15 or 16 years)