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Happy Jackie Robinson Day, Julio Becquer!

April 15th, 2015

 

With Jackie Robinson Day upon us, I wondered who was the first black player to play for the Angels.  After digging around in the internet the other morning, I found the answer: Julio Bécquer.

The Angels selected Bécquer with the 49th pick of the December 14, 1960 Expansion Draft.  He was a 5-foot-11, left-handed first baseman from the Washington Senators.  He had played in 419 games for the Senators from 1955 to 1959, batting .247 over that span.  He was mostly known for leading the American League in pinch hits in 1957 and again in 1959.

Before he could join the Angels in Palm Springs for spring training in the February of 1961, however, he had to officially and permanently leave Cuba.

Bécquer was born in Havana in 1931 and was a student at the University of Havana when he was discovered by the Senators’ scout Joe Cambria. In 1952, Cambria signed Bécquer for $300.  Since the color line had not been broken yet in Florida, where the Senators’ minor league B-level teams were, Bécquer had to spend his first season in professional baseball in Canada with the C-level Drummondville Cubs in Québec.  At the end of that season, and for the next eight seasons after that, Bécquer would always return home to Cuba for the winter. But in January of 1961 relations between Cuba and the United States deteriorated to the point where the US officially ended diplomatic ties with the island.  Bécquer and all of the other Cuban major leaguers, a group that included Camilo Pascual and Minnie Miñoso, had to choose between professional baseball and their homeland.  Those who chose baseball left Cuba for the last time and went to Mexico where they stayed for a week before the legalities were all worked out and they could enter the United States.

Bécquer reported for spring training that February with the Angels on time.  When he had first heard the news that he had been drafted by Los Angeles, he hoped that this would be his chance to finally become a regular, everyday player. But in camp he saw Steve Bilko and Ted Kluszewski and he knew that he was going to be the third first baseman on the depth chart.  (Another man in camp was pitcher Tom Morgan, against whom Bécquer recorded his first big league hit against back in September 1955.)

Bécquer broke camp with the Angels and appeared in nine games as a late-inning defensive replacement or as a pinch hitter. But when May 10 came around and all teams had to trim their rosters from 28 men down to 25, the Angels let Julio go.  He was picked up right away by the Phillies who in turn sold his contract to the Twins a month later.

On July 4, 1961, Bécquer added to his pinch-hitting reputation when he stepped in for third baseman Bill Tuttle with two outs in the bottom of the ninth and belted a grand slam to deep right field to win the game for the Twins, 6-4, over the White Sox.

The ’61 season would prove to be Bécquer’s final campaign in Major League Baseball, sort of.  In 1963 Twins owner Cal Griffiths found out that Bécquer was just one week short of having enough service time to qualify for the Major League Baseball players’ pension, so he had the Twins sign him to a contract at the end of the season.  Julio suited up for a week and manager Sam Mele even put Julio into a game, on September 18th, against the Tigers.  He pinch ran for catcher Earl Battey who had just drawn a two-out walk in the ninth inning of a 9-0 game Minnesota was winning.  The very next batter hit a double, allowing Bécquer to score all the way from first base.

After his baseball career Bécquer and his wife remained in Minnesota, where they still live. Bécquer is now 83 years old.

Last Week on the Angels’ Farm

April 14th, 2015

 

Ed. note – In an effort to keep you abreast of how things are going with the Angels minor-league system, this season Jeff Mays will be providing brief, weekly updates on notable performances at each level down on the farm. Expect the format to evolve and expand as the season progresses.

 

Salt Lake Bees

Andrew Heaney

Andrew Heaney’s first start in Salt Lake was a resounding success.

The Angels’ Triple-A club is in 4th place with a 1-4 record.  They lost a 6-5 game against Sacramento in the 18th inning.  Seven of the game’s runs came in the last inning.

• 4/9  - SP Adam Wilk:  5 IP, 1 H, 0 ER, 2 BB, 4 SO
• 4/10 – SP Andrew Heaney:  7 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 8 SO
• 4/11  - UT Grant Green:  4-for-8, all singles
• 4/11  - RP Cam Bedrosian:  2 IP, 1 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 5 SO
• 4/13 – 3B Kyle Kubitza:  3-for-5, 1 3B

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I’m So Tired of the Royals

April 13th, 2015

 

Game 1: KCR 4, LAA 2 | Game 2: KCR 6, LAA 4 | Game 3: KCR 9, LAA 2

 

The Kansas City Royals came into town this weekend and looked every bit the defending American League champions.  They dazzled with their defense.  They were aggressive and confident at the plate.  Their pitching looked as strong as ever.  Their two biggest off season additions, Kendrys Morales and Alex Rios look like they are going to be significant upgrades over Billy Butler and Nori Aoki.  Even the guys on the bottom of their roster, guys like late-inning blow-out relief pitcher Chris Young and second string-outfielder Reynaldo Nehemiah Paulo Orlando, look like winners.

At this point in the season, the Angels are not that team.  They were one step behind the Royals all the way in the first two games and then got blown out in the third, but the season is young.  Weaver will find his release point.  Cron will start to feel comfortable in the box.  Et cetera, and so on.  It will be interesting to see if the Angels will be that championship caliber team the next time the two clubs meet up again on August 13th, 107 games from now.

 ***

Game One:  One Step Behind

The Angels never had the lead in this game, though they were always within striking distance.  Eric Hosmer had an RBI single in the first, which was answered back by a Kole Calhoun RBI double in the third.  But then Lorenzo Cain knocked an RBI single in the fifth, and our old friend, Kendrys Morales, sporting a Robinson Canó beard, hit a solo home run in the sixth to give the Royals a 3-1 lead.  The Angels got within one again after David Freese hit a homer in the bottom of the sixth.  In the ninth, Lorenzo Cain walked with the bases loaded to score one more for the Royals that wasn’t necessary at all, not when you have a Wade Davis to come in and strike out the side in the ninth.

Stat Sunday: Weaver’s Fastball Woes Contagious?

April 12th, 2015

 

10.3%

 

…is the Whiff/Swing rate for C.J. Wilson’s four-seam fastball through two starts this year (i.e. 3 whiffs on 29 swings), which is a decrease of five whole percentage points from his career norm and at the far low end of the scale among his peers. This wouldn’t be much of an issue if the four-seamer wasn’t a major part of his arsenal as a starter, so naturally he’s throwing more of them than ever this year. Because of course he is.

Thirty-seven percent of Wilson’s offerings so far this season have been four-seam fastballs, up from 33 percent last year. This has been accompanied by an even larger increase in sinker usage (from 20% to 31%), meaning his off-speed and breaking pitches (26%) are at an all-time low. This heavy dose of fastballs might be an easy and effective way for him to lower his walk rate — his only free pass thus far was intentional – but it’ll also limit his overall effectiveness on the mound; breaking balls have always been Wilson’s best out-pitches by a long shot, so throwing fewer of them will presumably make him worse. Only a select few have found prolonged success as pitch-to-contact guys.

This potential problem didn’t rear its head in C.J.’s first start of the year, thanks in large part to good fortune with BABIP, but it sure did on Sunday. Of the 18 Wilson fastballs that were put in play on the afternoon, nine fell for hits. And “fell” is being generous. I don’t know if Wilson just lacks confidence in his off-speed stuff right now or if his new-found love for the fastball is a conscious effort to expand his #brand. Whatever it is, let’s hope he stops it soon.

 

Angels Take Opening Series From M’s

April 9th, 2015

 

Game 1: M’s 4, Angels 1 | Game 2:  Angels 2, M’s 0 | Game 3: Angels 5, M’s 3

 

The Angels not only managed to get the regular season off on the right foot for once, winning their first season-opening series since 2008, they also did so against a team that stands to be their fiercest competition in the AL West. Seattle showed glimpses of what could end up making them great – that pitching staff is absolutely nails — but exposed a couple potential weaknesses as well:

1) As noted in our season preview, the M’s might have trouble getting guys on base to drive in. They drew just three walks as a team in the series, and one of those was intentional.

2) The roster depth is paper thin. One minor injury to Seth Smith forced the club to start noted awful defender Nelson Cruz in right field Wednesday and left them without a lefty bench bat to face Joe Smith with the go-ahead runs aboard in the eighth, perhaps the most important moment in the game.

The two teams get a whole month of games to battle through before facing each again, so it be interesting to see where things stand then.

To the games!

***

 

Game 1: Weaver Goes Full Moyer

 

The following tweet/image combo tells you pretty much everything you need to know about Jered Weaver’s first start of 2015:

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