Chatting with Tony La Russa, Mike Bell

Tony La Russa

Believe it or not, the All-Star Break is right around the corner. After wrapping up a series in Chattanooga against the Lookouts, the Generals have just ten more games until the midpoint of the 2017 campaign.

After a quick 19-9 start to the season, the Generals have slowed down some. Going into the finale in Chattanooga Thursday night, the team is just a game above .500 and 3.5 games back in the North Division. The team is still alive for a playoff spot, but they’ll need to make a run quickly.

Even with the team scuffling some, things have been good around the Generals. We were fortunate enough to have both Tony La Russa and Mike Bell in town for the series against Mississippi. La Russa doesn’t need much of an introduction, especially in West Tennessee. He ranks third all-time in managerial wins among MLB skippers, has three World Series Rings and is in the Hall of Fame. He has been in Arizona’s front office since 2014.

La Russa could not have been nicer or more welcoming. I know the coaches and players enjoyed having him around. He took ample time to chat with me in the interview below.

Mike Bell is the Vice President, Player Development for the D-backs. He is in charge of all things minor leagues in the organization. I spoke with him about some of the standout performers for the Generals in the First Half of the season and what we can expect to see as the year goes on.


The 2017 Southern League All-Star Game is Tuesday, June 20 in Pensacola. Six Generals were named to the initial North Division roster earlier this week. Congrats to those guys!

 

Generals Hot at Home, Diaz Dominant in Relief

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Hello again! It has been too long since we’ve posted here. Things have been a little busy recently, but the good news is the Generals are still scoring more runs than the other team! Jackson is off Tuesday, and right now the Generals are atop the Southern League with a 27-17 record.

Much of the team’s success is coming at home. The Generals are 17-6 at The Ballpark at Jackson after winning 23 home games all of last season. The team is 5-0 in home series after winning just four series in West Tennessee last year. The turnaround has been remarkable.

The team is coming off taking four of five from Chattanooga. The Generals finally got a comfortable 7-0 win in Monday’s finale, but the team has made a habit of winning close games this year. They are 16-6 in games decided by two runs or fewer. On Sunday, it was Tim Lopes completing a comeback from three runs down with a walk-off single in the 11th.

On Monday, the team won by more than three runs for the first time since May 5. The team’s ability to win six of 12 in a stretch where it failed to score more than four in a game is quite impressive. The offense seemed to find itself in the finale thanks in large part to D.J. Peterson who had three hits including this moonshot.

If Peterson starts to hit like he has been consistently, the offense goes from good to great. In the last four games of Jackson’s series against Chattanooga, Peterson went 8-for-16 with two doubles, a home run and three RBI. He raised his average from .213 to .242.

The Generals embark on a big road trip Wednesday morning. The team currently leads Montgomery by 3.5 games in the North Division. The Generals and Biscuits are set to play six games in Montgomery before Jackson plays five against the Tennessee Smokies. This trip will play a big role in whether or not the Generals can win the First Half.


The offense came through against Chattanooga, but the pitching has been splendid of late for the Generals. Monday’s win was the team’s seventh shutout of the season, the most of any team in the Southern League. Ryan Yarbrough pitched seven scoreless frames to give the Generals their 17th quality start of the season. Last year, Jackson had 11 shutouts and 29 quality starts all season long.

Jackson has lowered its team ERA to 3.51, good for fourth-best in the league. Three pitchers — Dylan Unsworth, Ryan Yarbrough and Edwin Diaz — rank among the top ten in the league in earned run average.

The staff has a new look, as top pitching prospect Edwin Diaz was moved to the bullpen at the beginning of the month. This move surprised some, but his stuff plays up in relief and I think he has a real shot to make it to the majors later this season. The early returns are good. In six outings, the lanky right-hander has allowed just an unearned run on three hits while striking out 11 and walking no one. This is a guy that hadn’t pitched in relief since 2012, his first year as a pro.

David caught up with Edwin and talked to him about the adjustment and some of the changes he has had to make.

Diaz is getting used to pitching more regularly, as he appeared in games one, three and five of the series against the Lookouts.

The staff managed to get even stronger Tuesday, as the Mariners announced that righty Andrew Moore would be making the jump to Double-A from Bakersfield. Moore led the California League in ERA (1.65), WHIP (0.90) and average against (.188) at the time of his promotion. Seattle took Moore with the 72nd overall pick in last year’s draft out of Oregon State.

Moore gets the ball in game one of the big series between the Generals and Biscuits. It’ll be exciting to see him in a high-pressure situation. Lets hope the Generals can put some distance between themselves and the anthropomorphic breakfast food.

Until next time!

More Interviews!

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Things continue going well for the Generals. As of this post, the team sits atop the North Division by 2.5 games over Montgomery and their 16-8 mark is only a half-game behind Biloxi for the best record in the Southern League.

Three players — Tyler O’Neill, Zach Shank and Tim Lopes — have active on-base streaks of at least 16 games. The rotation has turned in nine quality starts over the team’s first 24 games, which is the same total the team had in the entire First Half last year.

I could go on and one. Seriously. The stats that illustrate the turnaround from last year to this year are remarkable, but I don’t really feel like writing a novel at the moment. The architect of the change throughout the organization is Seattle’s new Director of Player Development Andy McKay. He stopped in Jackson last week and took the time to talk to me. It’s an interesting interview if you have the time.

Rick Waits was also in town. After spending the past two seasons as Seattle’s big league pitching coach, Waits is the minor league pitching coordinator. David got to pick his brain.


With a win tonight, the Generals would equal the number of home victories they had in the First Half last year. This is the last series for the team at home before May 19, as the squad heads on the road for 11 games starting Monday.

 

Dispatches From Peoria

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Hey, everyone! Hope you had a good weekend. Apparently, there was some entertaining basketball the past few days. I figured I would try and get everyone thinking about baseball again.

The Generals were nice enough to send me out to Spring Training a couple weeks ago, which was an awesome experience. I can’t say enough about how nice and welcoming the Mariners have been with me. The broadcast crew of Dave Sims, Mike Blowers, Aaron Goldsmith and Rick Rizzs were kind enough to let me hang around. I even got to hop on the broadcast with Aaron for an inning to talk about some of the Generals that were playing.

“Change is good” is a saying that often gets thrown around, but I really think it applies within the organization this year. The big storyline in Seattle is the new-look front office and coaching staff, and they appear to have infused everyone with confidence. There’s a newfound sense of hope that I felt while I was down there, and it’s evidenced by some of the guys I talked to in interviews below.

There’s a lot to look forward to this year, and I’m excited to get the season started.


While five members of last year’s Jackson squad started Spring Training as part of Major League camp, Tony Zych is the only one that remains. Tyler Smith, Dario Pizzano and Paul Fry were all reassigned to Minor League Camp, while Danny Hultzen is unfortunately dealing with more injury concerns (Something that will take another post to cover).

Despite that, a number of guys from last year’s team still make regular appearances with the big league squad. Some of that is even on video!

It’s great to see Pizzano getting regular reps with Seattle after missing the Second Half of last season with an injury. He was among the Southern League’s best hitters when he was sidelined just prior to the All-Star Game in Montgomery.

I got a chance to catch up with Dario to talk about his rehab and what being with the Major League team is like.


 

I also had the chance to talk with Tyler Smith and Daren Brown, who will manage the team this year. Smith brings an interesting perspective to the new regime in Seattle, as he actually played for new farm director Andy McKay in the summer of 2011 with the La Crosse Loggers of the Northwoods League.

Brown brings a wealth of experience to Jackson. He has seven years of experience managing Triple-A Tacoma, and he even skippered the Mariners briefly after Don Wakamatsu was let go in 2010. I’m excited to have him in the dugout this year.


 

I hope to provide you all with more good #content as the season approaches. Less than three weeks away from Opening Night!