On November 18, the Chicago White Sox made a splash into the free agent market with the signing of LHP Zach Duke. After a solid 2014 season with the Brewers (5-1 with a 2.45 ERA), Duke signed on with the South Siders for three years. With Duke, the White Sox get a solid left-handed option out of the pen. He also struck-out a remarkable 74 batters in 58.2 IP last season for the Brew Crew.
Two days later, the White Sox added another lefty reliever — this time on a Minor League contract.
Joe Savery — a former Philadelphia Phillies farmhand — signed a Minor League deal with the White Sox on November 20. A product of Rice University, Savery spent the majority of the 2014 season with Triple-A Sacramento. In 43 games, the 29-year-old southpaw posted a 7-1 mark with a 2.84 ERA and two saves. He also made three appearances in Oakland with the A’s and gave up just three hits over four shutout innings.
Drafted by the Phillies in the first round (19th overall) in the 2007 draft, Savery made his professional debut with the Williamsport Crosscutters (A) in 2007 and posted a 2-3 record with a 2.73 ERA in seven starts. That Williamsport team also featured 2014 Charlotte Knights slugger Michael Taylor, who was also taken by the Phillies in the 2007 draft (5th round). Both Savery and Taylor would play on a number of the same teams over the next few years in the Philadelphia organization, as well as in the A’s system (2014 with Sacramento).
The 2009 season was a solid one for Savery — who compiled a 16-6 record with a 4.40 ERA combined over 28 games with Double-A Reading and Triple-A Lehigh Valley. A year later, he spent the entire campaign with Triple-A Lehigh Valley and began to show off his hitting skills. He posted just a 1-12 mark with a 4.66 ERA on the mound, but he hit .348 (16-for-46) with one home run and six RBIs for the ‘Pigs in 36 games that season. The Houston, TX native then spent the offseason transitioning to a hitter — and the following season (2011), he made a brief transition to hitting full-time.
That season (’11), Savery went down to Clearwater (A+) and hit .307 (63-for-205) in 54 games — including 12 games in left field and nine at first base. He scored 22 runs, hit nine doubles, three triples, two home runs, and drove home 25 runs for the Threshers.
After a successful stint, he was then promoted to Reading that season and hit just .200 with one home run and six RBIs in 19 games. He also pitched for the R-Phils, however, this time as a reliever. He put up a 1-0 record with a 1.00 ERA in six games, which earned him a chance to go back to Lehigh Valley, where he continued to dominate out of the ‘pen — going 4-0 with a 1.80 ERA in 18 games.
On a side note — I was the Media Relations Director for the R-Phils in 2011 and saw Savery hit and pitch up close that year. He was dominating on the mound in six games, four of which came at FirstEnergy Stadium in Reading, PA. In his last outing (July 11, 2011), he fanned three batters in an inning — allowing just one hit.
His successful transition back to pitching — and into the bullpen — led him to Philadelphia, where he made his Major League debut with the Phillies on September 20, 2011. He did not allow a run in four games with the Phils that year.
The next two seasons, Savery split time with the Phillies and Lehigh Valley. He had more success on the mound in 2013 than in 2012 — posting solid numbers with both the Phillies and IronPigs that year. He went 3-1 with a 3.80 ERA and two saves in 20 games for the IronPigs and 2-0 with a 3.15 ERA in 18 games for the Phillies. Despite the solid numbers, Savery was designated for assignment by the Phillies on February 16, 2014. A day later, he was claimed by the A’s and shined in their system last season.
Now, Savery is in the White Sox system after signing that Minor League deal. His former manager — Mark Parent — is the bench coach for the White Sox. Parent managed Savery briefly in 2011 with Reading when the former Rice star struck-out 14 batters over nine good innings.
In eight Minor League seasons, Savery owns a 44-34 record with a 3.97 ERA and eight saves over 584.2 innings pitched. He’s also 3-2 with a 3.83 ERA in 44 games at the Major League level in parts of four seasons.
For the past three seasons, LHP Donnie Veal spent time with the Charlotte Knights out of the team’s bullpen. Recently, Veal was signed by the Atlanta Braves to a Minor League contract.
Veal, 30, was originally drafted by the Chicago White Sox in the 12th round of the 2003 draft, but he did not sign. He would however become a White Sox player nine years later.
A native of Jackson, Mississippi, Veal was drafted again two years later — this time in the second round by the Chicago Cubs (2005 Draft). He signed with the Cubs and went on to play four seasons in their Minor League system. On December 11, 2008, Veal was taken by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the Rule 5 Draft.
He would work his way through the Pirates’ system and make his Major League debut with the club on April 7, 2009.
While Veal spent three seasons in the Pirates organization, he appeared in just 19 games in the Bigs — all in 2009. He signed with the White Sox as a free agent in November of 2011 and would go on to become a mainstay in the Charlotte bullpen. He would also appear in 81 games with the White Sox over that three-year span.
With the Knights, Veal appeared in 89 games over the course of that three-year stretch (2012-14) — winning 13 games and compiling eight saves (140 K’s over 128.2 IP). His best overall season with Charlotte came in 2012 when he posted an impressive mark of 7-3 with a 2.08 ERA and two saves (35 games).
While 2012 was superb, he followed that up with a solid 2013 campaign as well. In 17 games for the Knights during the final season at Knights Stadium, Veal went 2-2 with a 2.70 ERA.
Now, Veal will get a chance to work his way back to the Majors with the Braves, who have been in the market for pitching so far this offseason. Atlanta signed 2014 Charlotte Knights hurler Chien-Ming Wang, which I wrote about here. They also recently dealt Jason Heyward to the Cardinals for Shelby Miller.
The Atlanta Braves recently announced a few Minor League free agent signings. Two of the players that they signed spent time with the Charlotte Knights last season — pitchers Chien-Ming Wang and Donnie Veal.
Overall, Veal spent three seasons with the Knights. I’ll take a look back at Veal’s career with the Knights in another Knight Fever blog this offseason — stay tuned.
As for Wang, he made his first start with the Knights on July 18 at BB&T Ballpark against his former team — the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders. It was his second career start at BB&T Ballpark, however, as Wang pitched against the Knights on June 26 as a member of the Louisville Bats — who he started the season with. Wang, a former Major League standout, began the 2014 season in the Reds’ organization, before coming to the Knights in mid July.
The Taiwanese native posted an 8-5 record with a 3.70 ERA in 19 starts for the Bats before making his way to the White Sox organization. He officially opted out of his deal with the Reds and he signed a free agent deal with the White Sox. He was assigned to Charlotte, where he played the remainder of the season.
With the Knights, Wang compiled a 5-3 mark with a 5.06 ERA in nine starts. He won two of his games with the Knights at home, while his three wins came on the road. He did beat the Knights as a member of the Bats on June 26 as well.
Overall for the season, Wang went 13-8 with a 4.12 ERA in 28 starts for both Louisville and Charlotte. He finished second in the IL in wins (13), first in games started (28), and first in innings pitched (172.2).
The 34-year-old is a good signing for the Braves, who are in need of pitching depth. In eight seasons combined at the Major League level, Wang owns a 62-34 record with a 4.37 ERA. While he’s a number of years removed from his back-to-back 19-win Major League seasons with the Yankees (2006-07), Wang could still be a serviceable pitcher at the big league level. If he’s not in the Majors, we could potentially see him with Gwinnett when they come to Uptown Charlotte in April.
On November 3, the Chicago White Sox claimed outfielder J.B. Shuck off waivers from the Cleveland Indians. Shuck, 27, appeared in 38 Major League games last season between both the Indians and the LA Angels of Anaheim. Originally drafted by the Houston Astros in the sixth round of the 2008 draft, Shuck hit .167 (14-for-84) in 22 games with the Angels last year. He hit .077 (2-for-26) with the Indians in 16 games.
Shuck put together a solid 2013 season in the majors — hitting .293 in 129 games for the Angels. He finished fifth overall in the American League Rookie of the Year voting that season.
In parts of three big league seasons, Shuck has a .264 (166-for-628) career batting average over 204 games.
The Ohio State University product had a remarkable offensive season in Triple-A last year. Shuck hit .320 (130-for-406) with the Triple-A Salt Lake Bees in 102 games –finishing fourth in the Pacific Coast League in batting average. He had 130 hits, 64 runs scored, 18 doubles, nine triples, five home runs, 57 RBIs, and nine stolen bases.
In six career Minor League campaigns, the Ohio native owns a .304 career batting average in 660 games.
Taylor Thompson, who posted a 3-0 record with seven saves and a 2.14 ERA with the Charlotte Knights over 39 games in 2014, was claimed off waivers by the Oakland A’s on November 4. He struck-out 68 batters over 59 innings pitched, while allowing 48 hits.
A 44th round selection of the White Sox out of the 2009 draft from Auburn University, Thompson made his way to the Majors for the first time in his career last season.
A native of Montgomery, AL, he made his Major League debut with Chicago on July 20 against the Houston Astros at U.S. Cellular Field. He allowed just one hit over 1.2 scoreless innings pitched in relief of starter John Danks. Thompson fanned two batters. Overall, he appeared in five games with the White Sox last season and went 0-0 with a 10.13 ERA (5.1 IP).
The 27-year-old right-hander owns a career Minor League mark of 18-8 with 55 saves and a 2.55 ERA in 189 games over six seasons.
It was just a few days ago, but it is still fresh in my mind. Maybe that’s because I live for baseball — and I certainly live for the excitement of playoff baseball.
Travis Ishikawa etched his name in baseball history on Thursday, October 16, 2014 with a game-winning, walk-off, three-run home run. Much like Bobby Thompson did in 1951 — it was a home run for all the marbles. Both home runs led to — “the Giants win the pennant”. I wasn’t alive to watch the 1951 home run — are you surprised? I’m not that old! Even so, I know all about Bobby Thompson’s home run. Sometimes, history repeats itself. It did last week.
With that home run, Ishikawa will go down as a playoff hero for many years to come — much like Thompson.
So, who is Travis Ishikawa? Charlotte Knights fans should know that name. Right?
Ishikawa played for the Charlotte Knights in 2013. He wasn’t with the team very long — just 34 games. He wasn’t new to the daily grind of Minor League Baseball at that point — it was his 10th season in the minors in 2013. It was also his 9th different Minor League team since 2002. He was a veteran and he was working his way back to the majors — a place where he had already spent parts of six seasons.
At the age of 22, Ishikawa made his Major League debut with the San Francisco Giants as a pinch-hitter. It was April 18, 2006. I’m sure it’s a day he’ll never forgot.
Drafted by the Giants in the 21st round of the 2002 draft, the Seattle, Washington-born slugger earned that spot in the majors. In 2005 with High-A San Jose, he hit .282 with 22 home runs and 79 RBIs. Add in his 28 doubles and seven triples and it was a successful season for the 22-year-old. His 122 hits in 127 games were a career-high.
While it has been a long road for Ishikawa since those days, it was fitting that he was the one who hit that home run. Nearly out of baseball — a few times — the Giants gave him a chance this season after he was designated for assignment by the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Giants — the team that drafted him over 12 years ago — gave him one more shot at the majors.
He appeared in 71 games for the Fresno Grizzlies this season (San Francisco’s Triple-A affiliate). He showed power — hitting 11 home runs over that span. An injury to Michael Morse in July meant that he would get one more shot at the majors. This time, he was called on as an outfielder — switching from first base.
Ishikawa played for the Giants at a great time of the season. San Francisco was in the midst of a playoff run. He hit .274 with two home runs and 15 RBIs in 47 games.
Then, there were the playoffs. Then, there was that home run.
Game one of the World Series starts Tuesday in Kansas City and as a baseball fan, I can’t think of a better time of year! This year’s World Series features the Kansas City Royals against the San Francisco Giants in what should be a World Series for the ages. Yes, really.
As a baseball fan, this is a great matchup. The Giants are building a dynasty, while the Royals are in search of postseason success for the first time in 29 years. The Royals have won all eight 2014 playoff games they have played so far. They play small ball, defense, and have an outstanding bullpen. They want to win for their fans — for that city. They have “Big Game James” too!
Then, there are the mighty Giants. Led by Madison Bumgarner on the mound, Pablo Sandoval, Buster Posey, and Hunter Pence, the Giants have been the class of the National League for the past five seasons. They have former Charlotte Knights reliever Javier Lopez out of the ‘pen. Their game two starter also wore a Knights jersey — Jake Peavy. He rehabbed with Charlotte in 2009 and 2011 while with the White Sox.
Then, there is Travis Ishikawa. Baseball is made up of great stories. His story is one of them.
There are a number of former Charlotte Knights players, as well as a former manager, currently with one of the eight teams playing in the 2014 Major League Baseball postseason.
Let’s take a look at the Baltimore Orioles, who are facing the Detroit Tigers in the ALDS.
Alejandro De Aza (10-11, 12*) – Outfielder
Selected by the Chicago White Sox off waivers from the Marlins on October 21, 2009, De Aza began his Knights career in 2010 and was a solid addition to the team that season. De Aza appeared in 79 games for the Knights that season and hit .302 (96-for-318) with 53 runs scored, 21 doubles, four triples, five home runs, 49 RBIs, and 16 stolen bases. The Dominican native followed up that performance with an even better one a year later.
In 2011 with Charlotte, De Aza hit an International League high .322 (124-for-485) and was named to the Topps Triple-A All-Star Team at the end of the season for his outstanding season. Overall, De Aza appeared in 99 games for the Knights and had 64 runs scored, 29 doubles, five triples, nine home runs, 37 RBIs, and 22 stolen bases. He was called up to Chicago in August and hit .329 in 54 games with 12 stolen bases and 18 extra base hits.
De Aza was traded to the Orioles on August 30, 2014 and playing in 122 games for the Sox this season. In 20 games for the Orioles during the regular season, De Aza hit .293 (24-for-82) with five doubles, three triples, three home runs and 10 RBIs. he proved to be a solid upgrade for the O’s and should help them in the playoffs.
Brian Graham (94 manager) – Director of Player Development
The Charlotte Knights were affiliated with the Cleveland Indians for just two seasons — 1993 and 1994 — and won a Governors’ Cup Championship in their first season with the Tribe (93). It was also the first season as a Triple-A affiliate for the Knights after jumping from Double-A.
Much has been made about the 1993 squad, which featured IL MVP Jim Thome, a young Manny Ramirez, slugger Sam Horn, and many other future Indians prospects. That team was led by manager Charlie Manuel. Knights Stadium drew its highest crowd ever in a season — 429,132 fans. But what about the 1994 team?
Still affiliated with the Cleveland Indians, Manuel, Thome, and Manny left for Cleveland, while a new crop came to town. At the helm of the 1994 team was Brian Graham, who led the squad to a 77-65 record — a second place finish behind Richmond (80-61). Still, the Knights made the playoffs — but lost in the semi-finals.
Graham managed just the one season in Charlotte as the Knights and Indians ended their affiliation after the 1994 season. The Knights became affiliated with the Marlins from 1995-98.
A former Minor League player, who was drafted by the Oakland A’s in the fourth round of the 1982 draft, Graham managed 1200 games at the Minor League level and has a career record of 709-491. He is currently the Director of Player Development for the Orioles and has helped put together a solid Baltimore team.
Wayne Kirby (93) – First Base Coach
Kirby spent just one season with the Knights — but it was during the club’s most historic season — and he made history.Kirby has the distinct honor of being the first Knights player — as a Triple-A franchise — to homer at Knights Stadium. He launched the Triple-A Knights’ first home run in the bottom of the first inning during the club’s home opener in 1993. He appeared in just 17 games with the club that year and hit .289 (22-for-76) with six doubles, two triples, three home runs, and seven RBIs.
Kirby, who was originally drafted by the LA Dodgers in the 1983 draft (13th round), spent parts of eight seasons in the majors from 1991-98. In fact, his longest season in the majors came during the 1993 season when he appeared in 131 games for the Tribe that year. He compiled a .269 batting average with 71 runs scored, 19 doubles, five triples, six home runs, 60 RBIs, and 17 stolen bases. A very solid season indeed. Unfortunately for Kirby, Manny Ramirez was also in the organization and he became the team’s right fielder the next season (1994) and never looked back. What about left field or center field? The Indians had Albert Belle in left field and Kenny Lofton in center.
There are a number of former Charlotte Knights players, as well as a former manager, currently with one of the eight teams playing in the 2014 Major League Baseball postseason.
Let’s take a look at the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, who host the Kansas City Royals in game one of the ALDS on Thursday night.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim:
Jason Grilli (04) – Pitcher
Grilli started 25 games for the Knights in 2004 and posted a 9-9 record with a 4.83 ERA in 152.2 innings pitched. He tossed two complete games and one shutout. This season, Grilli began with the Pirates, where he was coming off an All-Star campaign in 2013. The former Knights hurler saved 33 games for the Pirates in 2013, but was traded by the Pirates this year after posting a 0-2 record with 11 saves and a 4.87 ERA in 22 games.
Since coming over the Angels, Grilli has regained his form out of the ‘pen. In 40 games with LA, he went 1-3 with a 3.48 ERA and one save in 33.2 innings pitched. He struck-out 36 batters over that span and has become a solid fixture out of their bullpen. In parts of 12 Major League seasons, Grilli has a 22-32 record with a 4.16 ERA and 50 saves in 446 games.
Hector Santiago (12) – Pitcher
In just three games with the Knights in 2012, Santiago went 1-0 with a 0.00 ERA (no runs allowed in 14.2 innings pitched). He fanned 13 batters over that three-game stretch and worked his way back to Chicago. Originally a 30th round pick of the White Sox in the 2006 draft, Santiago was traded on December 10, 2013 as part of a three-team trade (White Sox, Angels, and Diamondbacks). Chicago received Adam Eaton in that trade.
In 30 games with the Angels this season, Santiago went 6-9 with a 3.75 ERA (127.1 innings pitched). He was 2-0 with a 0.00 ERA in six games out of the bullpen (nine innings pitched). The Newark, NJ native started 24 games – with his last start of the season coming on September 24. He tossed 5.1 shutout innings that day in a win over the Oakland A’s.
Gordon Beckham (09, 13 rehab) – Infielder
Beckham was a first-round pick (8th overall) of the Chicago White Sox in the 2008 draft. The University of Georgia product made his Knights debut in 2009 and appeared in just seven games before making his way to the Majors. He hit .464 (13-for-28) with two doubles and five RBIs over that short period.
Beckham briefly returned to the Knights in 2013 on a Major League Rehab assignment from Chicago and hit .333 (12-for-36) in eight games for the Knights. A year later, (August 21, 2014), Beckham was dealt to the Angels for a player to be named or cash. In 26 games for the team, he hit .268 with three doubles, two home runs and eight RBIs.
Jerry Dipoto (93-94) – General Manager
Dipoto was one of the most successful relievers in Charlotte Knights franchise history. Currently the GM of the Angels, Dipoto played for the Knights in 1993 and 1994 when the club was the Triple-A affiliate of the Cleveland Indians. The 1993 squad was managed by Charlie Manuel and featured the likes of Jim Thome, Manny Ramirez, and Sam Horn.
In 1993, Dipoto went 6-3 with a 1.93 ERA and 12 saves for the Governors’ Cup Champions. He finished 27 of his 34 appearances and struck-out 44 batters in 46.2 innings. Dipoto was back in 1994 with the Knights and he compiled a 3-2 mark with a 3.15 ERA and nine saves in 25 games. Overall, he ranks sixth all-time in Knights franchise history in saves with 21.
Dipoto took over as the GM of the Angels nearly three years ago (October 28, 2011). Previously, Dipoto was interim GM of the Arizona Diamondbacks from July 1, 2010 to September 22, 2010.
It was a remarkable first season in Uptown Charlotte for the Charlotte Knights and the city of Charlotte. After opening the 2014 campaign at BB&T Ballpark on Friday, April 11 — to a packed house — the Knights led all of Minor League Baseball in attendance with an impressive mark of 687,715 fans in 71 regular season home games. Add in the Gildan Triple-A National Championship Game on Tuesday, September 16, and BB&T Ballpark welcomed 696,601 fans through the gates — nearly 700,000 fans overall. That’s an astonishing number considering the highest attended season in Charlotte Knights history at Knights Stadium was in 1993 with 429,132 fans through the gates.
There are so many things that I will never forget about the first season at BB&T Ballpark. I’ll certainly never forget Opening Knight. All eyes were on the Knights and BB&T Ballpark and what a “Knight” it was. I’ll never forget when Jordan Danks became the all-time Knights hits leader. I’ll never forget when Eli Shenise signed a one-day contract, and I’ll never forget when Philip Elmore caught his daughter’s first pitch.
Throughout this offseason, keep an eye out to http://www.charlotteknights.com as I will rank the “Top 10″ moments in BB&T Ballpark’s first season. There are so many more than just 10, but we’ll start there!
In the meantime, send me your favorite moments from BB&T Ballpark’s first season and I’ll share that here in the “Knight Fever” blog. You can send your favorite moments to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can tweet them to me at @Tommy_the_V on Twitter!
Also, in the upcoming weeks, I will have weekly blogs as I will follow along with all of the Major League Baseball playoff action. I’ll give my predictions later this week. Also, there will be Alumni Reports, Knight Lights (features), and starting this week, I will be hosting a Charlotte Knights Weekly Podcast.
The Durham Bulls became the first team to take a two-games-to-one lead in the Triple-A Finals on Thursday — beating the Pawtucket Red Sox by a score of 4-3 at home in Durham, NC. With the win, the Bulls are now just one win away from repeating as Governors’ Cup Champions. They are also one win away from competing on Tuesday at BB&T Ballpark in the Gildan Triple-A National Championship Game.
The PCL was off on Thursday and the series shifts to Omaha tonight for game three. That series is all tied up at one game apiece. If Omaha goes on to win, and the Bulls end up getting one more win, it will be a rematch of last year’s Triple-A National Championship game from Allentown, PA.
Let’s take a look back at Thursday’s game and a brief look ahead to Friday’s matchup:
Durham starter Matt Andriese earned the win after allowing two runs on five hits over six innings. Andriese allowed a run in the second inning, as well as the third inning, but was solid the rest of the way. He was saddled with a 2-0 deficit to overcome, and he was quickly helped by his offense in the bottom of the third inning.
Justin Christian led off the bottom of the third frame with a double and Cole Figueroa then reached base to put runners on the corners with no outs. Two batters later, the Bulls added their first run of the game courtesy of a Jeremy Moore RBI single. The Bulls then broke-open the game thanks to Tim Beckham — who ripped a two-run double, which gave them a 3-2 lead at that point.
All three runs in the third inning came off Pawtucket starter Henry Owens, who was dealt the loss after giving up three runs on three hits over four innings. Owens also walked three and fanned five.
Durham second baseman Nick Franklin added an insurance run in the sixth inning — which proved to be huge in the game. Franklin ripped a solo home run in the sixth off reliever Noe Ramirez, which made it a 4-2 ballgame at that point. Franklin finished the game 2-for-3 with a double and a home run. He’s hitting .417 (10-for-24) over seven playoff games. His 10 hits and his .417 batting average (tied with Emmanuel Burris of Syracuse) are tops in the IL Playoffs this year.
Things got interesting in the top of the ninth inning as the PawSox rallied and pulled within a run. Reliever Josh Lueke came on in the ninth and retired the first batter he faced — Alex Hassan — but then ran into a bit of trouble. Lueke struck-out Ryan Lavarnway, but he reached base on a passed ball, which brought the tying run to the plate. Garin Cecchini then followed with a big RBI double to make it a 4-3 game. With the PawSox down by just one run, Lueke got Corey Brown to ground out and Blake Swihart to pop out to end the game. Lueke went on to earn his first save of the playoffs and the Bulls took a major step forward.
On Friday, the Bulls and PawSox will battle in game four. Durham will send LHP Mike Montgomery to the hill as they look to wrap up the series and keep the Governors’ Cup in Durham. Montgomery and the Bulls will have to face Pawtucket LHP Eduardo Rodriguez, who is making his Triple-A debut. First pitch is set for 7:05 PM from Durham Bulls Athletic Park.