Before we jump into talking about players why don’t you introduce yourself and where people can find your writing?
I write a column called “Kram’s Korner” for the Horn and Bell Blog of the Lehigh Valley Noise Nation. “Kram” is an old joke–backwards for my real name–which just kind of stuck. And, it helps keep my baseball life separate from my real life. The 209 in my twitter handle refers to my section at Coca Cola Park in Allentown. I’ve been a full-season ticket holder there since the 2009 season. Web: www.noisenation.wordpress.com Twitter: @Kram209
It was not a great year for the Ironpigs statistically or in the standings, but we all know that doesn’t tell the whole story in the minor leagues. Can you quickly sum up the season for everyone out there?
2014 was the “season of change” for the IronPigs. The AAA roster was subject to 166 roster transactions over our 144 game schedule. The turnover was most pronounced at home, with our proximity to Philadelphia and Reading. I believe this was responsible for our league-worst home record. The away record, however, was among the league-best, as the roster galvanized a bit on the road trips. While there were plenty of home losses, we saw many players play, and the team continued to play hard throughout the season. I did feel we had a chance to win every night. There were seasons in the past where that wasn’t the case.
Who was the top hitter you saw for the IronPigs this year?
“Top Hitter” was something that changed throughout the season. With so much roster change, any moment it could be somebody different. As the season began, C Cameron Rupp was hitting home runs, and CF Clete Thomas and C Koyie Hill were hitting doubles. As they cooled, Util Tyler Henson began hitting everything. When Cameron Perkins first came up from Reading he was hitting well–at least for average. However, he cooled tremendously until the last week or two of the season. Young Maikel Franco had his struggles early on, but was really fun to watch in August–hitting a couple walk-offs, including a home run, and hitting for the cycle.
Who was the top pitcher for the team?
This is a similarly difficult question. At different times, different pitchers did well. I’ve got to start with Luis Garcia, though. He held down the back end of our pen virtually the entire season. Kenny Giles made a stop here, and did well. The fastball was a thing to see, but I could tell right away that the slider was the key to his ultimate success. Justin De Fratus has a successful stop here and MAG (Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez) looked good at times. Among the starters, David Buchanan did well, of course. Jon Pettibone did OK before his injury–even obviously laboring, he was still getting guys out. The veterans had their moments–Greg Smith, Sean O’Sullivan, Brad Lincoln, Justin Marquis, Barry Enright, Chris Bootcheck–but none ultimately proved consistent enough to challenge for a spot on the next level. Overall, it was that kind of inconsistency which led to the record we had.
By the time players get to AAA fans often at least know their name, but is there anyone on the Ironpigs that is still not getting enough press for what they do either as a major league prospect or helping to prepare prospects for the major leagues?
As a “prospect” Leandro Castro continued to progress. He was really raw last season, but seemed to have a better approach at the plate and put himself in position to see some better pitches this season. But, perhaps not consistently enough. I bet he makes it to the majors–somewhere–next season.
Tyler Henson came up through the Orioles system and reached AAA before getting injured and leaving that organization for the Phillies last season. He spent most of his time in Reading as a 3B/1B type. Over last off-season he remade himself as a “super-utility” by losing weight and gaining speed. He played 3B, SS, 2B, RF, CF, and LF this season for us. He also stole about 20 bases. While he’s far from an “up the middle” player, he was serviceable in all the corners. Unfortunately, he tailed off a bit at the plate at the end of the season, and the 40-man crunch squeezed him out of a September call-up. He would have been a nice candidate and a fan favorite. Reminded me a little of Kevin Frandsen.
Over the past few years AAA has transitioned from the final stop to the majors to a place to store extra major league pieces. How has the change affected the game on the field?
Occasionally that results in players thinking more about how they should be in the Majors, rather than on their performance vis-a-vis helping the AAA squad win games. It can be uninspiring play at times. However, the past several seasons have been pretty good: Most players wanted to play well for Ryne Sandberg when he was here, and the influx of some younger players has created a pretty good atmosphere in the clubhouse lately–and competitive baseball on the field, if not always winning baseball.
AAA is often the end of the line for players just missing that last little bit to stick in the majors, whether it is a skill or just not fitting a certain role. The IronPigs have seen some fan favorites end their Phillies career this year, is there anyone in particular you want to talk about their time in Allentown?
Yeah, we had to say good-bye to Steve Susdorf this season. He came up through the organization and did nothing but hit on every level. Ultimately, lack of power and lack of positional flexibility cost him his roster spot half way through the season. He was a great clubhouse guy, friendly with the media and the fans as well. Having it happen in the middle of the season made it tougher–saying good-bye to the guy as well as the player. We’ve bid farewell to players in the past–Andy Tracy, Rich Thompson, to name a couple–but those happened a bit differently.
Returning to off the field, talk a bit about Noise Nation and the IronPigs/minor league community.
Well, we don’t make as much noise as we used to–folks come and go and interests change. But, through our blog we still provide a source of information about Lehigh Valley professional sports: IronPigs, Phantoms hockey, SteelHawks indoor football, and even roller derby and bicycle racing when we can. While we hold media credentials for many events, we’re fans first and also purchase our own season tickets as well. We’ve won local “Best of” blog awards several times, and gotten involved in some charitable fundraising; however, ads that appear on our site have been done as a courtesy for friends. We don’t sell advertising or make money from this endeavor–it’s been done for fun, and to help our fellow fans enjoy the games more by knowing who the players are and where they are in their careers. There’s been great fan support here in the Lehigh Valley for the IronPigs and SteelHawks, and as the Phantoms begin play here this fall, I expect the same. They’ve sold a very large number of season tickets already.