Comets, Smokies Swap Starters

There’s a trading arms race afoot in the Patriot League.

Recently, the Jackson Hammerheads have pulled off a string of deals, leading to owner/whiz-kid GM Steven Butler dubbing himself the “Sultan of Swap.”  Apparently, the Hammerheads’ rival and last year’s trading kings, the Knoxville Smokies, aren’t going to give up their title without a fight.

No sooner had the smoke cleared on Jackson’s two-deal day than Knoxville announced a trade with the Carolina Comets.  In the deal, the Smokies acquired right-handed starter Scott Green and C Dustin Hoffman in exchange for southpaw Tom Trane and 2B Danny Kurland.

“We got younger and deeper without giving up any front-line players,” said Smokies owner Jeremy Mills.  “It was a no-brainer from our perspective.”

Scott Green

For the Smokies, the big prize in the deal is Green, a 25-year-old who pitched last season in Korea, posting a 19-11 record with a 3.09 ERA.  The righty immediately becomes one of the harder throwers on the Knoxville staff, having compiled 199 strikeouts in 245 innings last season; however, he also displayed excellent control, yielding only 44 walks.  He is considered a likely candidate for the Smokies’ rotation.

“I got me another live one!” crowed Smokies manager Snuff Wallace.  “This kid’s got a thunderbolt for an arm, and I’ll bet he looks real good in orange.  Them Jackson boys may as well give up now and save themselves the embarrassment of us whuppin’ up on ‘em again.”

Dustin Hoffman

Hoffman, meanwhile, gives Knoxville some extra depth behind the plate, although he is likely to begin the season in the minors.  The 22-year-old batted .255 with 16 homers and 79 RBI in his senior season at Northern Indiana, and displayed above-average skills as a fielder and pitch framer.  He was nicknamed “Rain Man” by his teammates because of his name, although he is no relation to the famous actor.

“Believe me, I heard all the jokes,” said Hoffman.  “Probably my favorite was every time I got a base on balls, my teammates would start yelling, ‘Hey, I’m walkin’ here!’”

Tom Trane

In Trane, the Comets acquire an experienced and versatile pitcher, although one who had a down year in 2015.  The 30-year-old lefty started the year as a starter for the Orlando Calrissians, but after a rough first month found himself exiled to the bullpen.  Shortly thereafter, he landed on the disabled list with a strained oblique.  Once he returned from the DL, Orlando sent him to the minors, where he remained buried until the trading deadline.

At the deadline, Knoxville picked him up from the Calrissians along with fellow ex-starter Rick Tomblin.  While Tomblin seemed reborn in Knoxville orange, Trane continued to struggle in a long relief role for Knoxville.  He finished the year with an 0-2 record and an 8.66 ERA.

“I got bounced around like a ping-pong ball last year,” said Trane.  “I had a couple bad starts, then I got bumped to the pen, then I got hurt, then I got buried in the minors, then I wound up with a new team down the stretch.  I never really found my footing.  I’m hoping that being with an expansion team, I’ll have some stability and a bit longer leash, so I can just relax and do my job without looking over my shoulder.”

Outside observers believe Trane has a decent shot to make Carolina’s rotation, though he said he is willing to start or relieve.  “All I want is a shot, a real shot,” said Trane.

Danny Kurland

Carolina also picked up a second-base prospect in Kurland, a 22-year-old native of Calgary.  Kurland played only sparingly for Knoxville last year, batting .267 in only 8 games, and he does not have a strong reputation with the glove.  But with light-hitting former Salt Lake second sacker Quincy Gaytan the projected starter, Kurland should get a strong shot at the starting job.

“There ain’t no guarantees on this team,” said Comets manager Taylor Ashy.  “Everything’s up for grabs.  If you play hard, drink hard, and do a job, you’re all right by me.  If Danny comes here and does a job, the sky’s the limit.”

Given the past trading history of Mills and the Smokies, it’s unlikely that this is the last deal for the defending division champs.  The owner implied as much at the press conference announcing the trade, saying that he was “just getting warmed up.”  Can the King of Trading regain his throne?  Only time will tell.

Smokies Strike Twice at Deadline

king_j11
Jeremy Mills, King of Trading

The Patriot League trading deadline was today.  Most observers predicted that the Knoxville Smokies and Jackson Hammerheads would be the most active teams at the deadline, since they’ve been by far the most prolific dealers all season long.  Unsurprisingly, they kicked off the deadline swap meet by making a trade with each other.

But then the Hammerheads struck a deal with the California Sharks, one that threatened to make Jackson owner/whiz-kid GM Steven Butler the king of the deadline.  But Smokies boss Jeremy Mills wasn’t about to let Butler steal his crown without a fight.  In the final hours before the deadline passed, Mills made a pair of deals that may or may not have made the Smokies the team to beat in the East, but definitely ensured that Mills remained the top trader.

“We’re always looking for ways to make the team better,” said Mills, still visibly twitching from the adrenaline that trading always gives him.

The first deal that Knoxville struck was with the East’s last-place team, the Orlando Calrissians.  The Smokies acquired a pair of left-handed pitchers, Rick Tomblin and Tom Trane, from Orlando in exchange for LF Titus Maben, lefty reliever Oliver Jones, and a 3rd-round draft pick.

The Smokies have the best team ERA in the league (3.47), so it might seem odd that they were looking to add pitching.  But they opened a hole in their rotation when they traded knuckleballer Todd Warrant to Jackson in their earlier deal.  In Tomblin and Trane, they get a pair of possible replacements, although both had a rough ride with the Calrissians.

Rick Tomblin
Rick Tomblin
Tom Trane
Tom Trane

Both Tomblin and Trane began the season in Orlando’s rotation, but both were bounced out after the Calrissians suffered through a disappointing April.  The 22-year-old Tomblin compiled an 0-1 record and a 15.26 ERA in three starts before being banished to the minors.  The 29-year-old Trane was sent to the bullpen after being bumped from the rotation, but he struggled in that role as well before going down with an oblique strain, then winding up in the minors on his return.  Overall, Trane compiled an 0-2 record with a 9.82 ERA in nine appearances with Orlando.

“Tom and Rick are both solid hurlers,” said Smokies manager Snuff Wallace.  “They ran out of chances with Orlando, but I’m sure they’ll both be ready to help us lift that championship trophy.  Rub a little of the Snuff magic dust on ‘em, and they’ll be good.”

According to team sources, it is likely that Trane will work out of the bullpen for Knoxville, giving the Smokies another long-relief arm to supplement Jerry Tile.  As for Tomblin, he seems destined to bump the recently-acquired Nico Library out of the rotation.  Although Knoxville insists that Library will get a start against Jackson, his unimpressive minor-league numbers suggest that he is not destined to remain with the big club for long.

Titus Maben
Titus Maben
Oliver Jones ORL
Oliver Jones

Meanwhile, the Calrissians have made no secret of their desire to rebuild around young players.  While they did make the somewhat curious decision to part with a young arm in Tomblin, the Calrissians received several promising pieces in return.  The 23-year-old Maben headlines the package coming to Orlando.  Although he scuffled in limited action with Knoxville, compiling a .125 average in 32 at-bats, Maben profiles as a quality corner outfielder and potential top-of-the-order bat.  The Calrissians have had major struggles in the outfield, and now they have another prospect to join teenage slugger Bart Law in their stable.

In the 19-year-old Jones, the Calrissians land a capable, hard-throwing young arm that might bring some stability to their wobbly bullpen.  The young southpaw began the season in Salt Lake, where his numbers suffered from overuse.  He was dealt to Knoxville in June, and was slotted into a lower-usage role that allowed him to thrive.  He compiled a 1-1 record with a 3.71 ERA in 16 appearances with the Smokies.  Like a lot of young pitchers, Jones struggles with his control – he has allowed 48 walks this season while recording only 26 strikeouts – but he is considered a highly promising prospect in an area where Orlando is sorely lacking.

“We really wanted a look at a young outfielder, and we liked Maben,” said Calrissians owner Brian Aufmuth.  “But it was the draft pick that pushed us over the edge.  This gives us a real shot to build for the future.”

After completing the deal with Orlando, Mills turned around and struck a bargain with the California Sharks, acquiring LF Rucky Virella in exchange for 3B Max Ortiz.

Rucky Virella
Rucky Virella

The Smokies were looking to add a young player after dealing away several prospects in recent deals, and Virella fits the bill.  The 24-year-old is a versatile young player with decent pop.  After a brief stint with California at the start of the season, he has spent most of the year with the minors, where he compiled a .234 average with 6 homers.  He is capable of playing all three outfield positions and first base, although he does not have a reputation as a good fielder.

Max Ortiz
Max Ortiz

Meanwhile, the Sharks were looking to strengthen their infield, and Ortiz provides what they were looking for.  The veteran can play either corner infield position, and he is known for a solid power bat.  He was relegated to pinch-hit duty with the Smokies, putting up a .208 average in 48 at bats, but he should get much more opportunity with California.  The team plans to start him out in a platoon with Johnie Oller at first, and if he thrives, he may also split time with struggling 3B Karl Mote.

“I am delighted to have Max on our team,” said Sharks manager Eduardo Aponte, who was teammates with Ortiz in the Mexican League several years ago.  “He is a delightful storyteller, a dangerous bat, and he will be a good mentor for our younger players.”

With the deadline now past, Mills and the Smokies are officially done dealing for the season.  Now they’ll just have to wait and see if these tweaks were what the team needed to stay on top, or if the revolving clubhouse door will wind up dooming them.

PBL Transactions, 5/18/15 – 5/24/15

The following transactions occurred in the Patriot League over the last week:

 

Jackson Hammerheads

 

Jackson Hammerheads: Activated SP Luke Danton from the 15-day disabled list.

 

Jacksonville Dragons


Jacksonville Dragons:
Placed SP Kyle Palmer on the 15-day disabled list.  Demoted 3B Lautaro Perez and RP John Longroofan.  Called up SS Alexis Popejoy and RPs Emilio Abbas and Elias Rosado.

 

Orlando Calrissians


Orlando Calrissians:
 Activated SP Tom Trane from the 15-day disabled list and demoted him to the minor leagues.

 

Silver City Outlaws

 

Silver City Outlaws: Called up RP Zeke Foster.  Demoted RP Trip Hawkins.

 

 

Calrissians Trade For Crofoot, Sign McNally

The Orlando Calrissians, mired in a season-long slump and stuck at the bottom of the Eastern Division, shook up their roster with two big moves today.  First, they acquired DH Erasmo Crofoot from the Jackson Hammerheads to bolster their feeble-hitting lineup.  Next, they signed veteran starter Charles McNally to add experience to their rotation.

“It was time for us to make a change on both sides of the ball,” said Calrissians owner/GM Brian Aufmuth.  “The way we’ve been playing this year is not acceptable.”

Erasmo Crofoot ORL
Erasmo Crofoot

The 30-year-old Crofoot has been a pleasant surprise for the Hammerheads.  Claimed off the waiver wire during spring training, Crofoot slugged his way near the top of the league leaderboard with 14 home runs.  He also became a fan favorite in Jackson for his all-or-nothing swing and the lifelong globetrotting journey that brought him to the league.  But the Hammerheads’ team concept de-emphasizes raw power, and the front office was reportedly concerned that the slugger was too one-dimensional a player to succeed in the long term.  Crofoot batted a mere .220 for Jackson, he has had no doubles or triples, and he had more strikeouts (35) than hits (29).

But for the Calrissians, who have hit only 28 home runs as a team, Crofoot’s power would be a blessing.  He is expected to play second base, his natural position, in Orlando.

“Well, I’m used to moving around, so what’s one more stop?” said Crofoot.  “It’s good to know that there’s somebody that wants me enough to trade for me.  I want to thank the Hammerheads organization for giving me a shot to chase my dream.”

Hilton Sircy
Hilton Sircy

The Calrissians did not acquire Crofoot cheaply, giving up relief pitcher Hilton Sircy in exchange.  The 23-year-old Sircy, who came to Orlando via the Polynesian League, was the Calrissians’ most effective pitcher by far, posting an 0.96 ERA.  He appeared in only 5 games for the Calrissians, however, and some scouts have raised questions about his durability.

“While we appreciate everything Erasmo Crofoot has done for this team, we felt we had to make this deal,” said Hammerheads owner/GM Steven Butler.  “A reliever of Sircy’s caliber is hard to find, and we could really use another lockdown arm in our bullpen.”

Charles McNally ORL
Charles McNally

Shortly after striking the deal to acquire Crofoot, the Calrissians claimed McNally off the waiver wire.  The 37-year-old is best known in Patriot League circles for the locker-destroying tirade he went on after being released by the Jacksonville Dragons in spring training.  The Calrissians hope that he can bring some veteran experience to a rotation that is long on potential but short on results.  McNally replaces Steve Gardner, a 21-year-old right-hander who has shown flashes of great promise along with serious inconsistency.  Gardner compiled a 2-4 record and a 6.30 ERA with the Calrissians.  In his last start before being sent down, he allowed 10 runs to California, including 8 in the first inning.

“I’ve been sitting at home waiting for the phone to ring,” said McNally, who reportedly turned down coaching offers.  “I know I’ve still got some gas left in the tank, and I’m gonna show the rest of the league that they were wrong to pass me over.  Especially Jacksonville.  I can’t wait to pitch against them.”

In an unrelated move, the Calrissians placed left-hander Tom Trane on the disabled list with a strained oblique.  Trane injured himself during Wednesday’s game against Milwaukee.  Orlando called up 21-year-old lefty Aron Filippi to replace Trane.