Hop Ten from ’14, #1: “We Got This”

Date posted: June 16, 2015
Date of game: Sept. 7, 2014, Ron Tonkin Field in Hillsboro
Hops vs. Vancouver Canadians

Zac Curtis (Craig Mitchelldyer / Hillsboro Hops)

Zac Curtis (Craig Mitchelldyer / Hillsboro Hops)

With the Hops’ 2015 season just two days away, what better time to relive the events of 2014?

On the afternoon of Sept. 7, 2014, prior to Game Two of the Northwest League Championship Series, a Hops player or coach — or someone — posted a sign on the clubhouse wall at Ron Tonkin Field which read, “One more! One more win! WE GOT THIS! Let’s go, boys!”

About five hours later, they DID get it.

Below, you can relive the final half-inning. And then the memorable postgame celebration, including interviews with manager J.R. House, pitching coach Doug Drabek, hitting instructor Mark Grace, GM K.L. Wombacher, owner Mike McMurray, and players Jordan Parr, Elvin Soto, Taylor Ratliff and Zac Curtis.

First, the final half-inning:

And now the postgame celebration:

So, just WHEN does Dansby Swanson make his Hops debut?

By now, you probably know that the Arizona Diamondbacks — the parent club of the Hillsboro Hops — took Vanderbilt shortstop Dansby Swanson with the number one overall pick in the 2015 draft. But what are the chances that he plays in Hillsboro? And when?

The fact that Swanson is a college shortstop is huge. For the uninitiated, high school draft picks almost never make their debuts in the Class-A Northwest League. In fact, in the eight years I’ve called Northwest League baseball (six in the 1990s, plus the last two with the Hops), off the top of my head I can think of only one high school player whose career began in the NWL — pitcher Ryan Castellani with last year’s Tri-City club, a second-round pick of the Colorado Rockies. (There are probably a few others I don’t remember, and the Diamondbacks have had at least one, third baseman Matt Davidson with Yakima in 2009, when I wasn’t in the league.) Bottom line: high school picks are almost always sent to Rookie ball, a level below the Northwest League. College players are much more likely to be sent here.

Another big plus is the facilities here in Hillsboro. The Diamondbacks have been more willing to send a top pick to the Northwest League than they were in their final few years in the aging ballpark in Yakima.

Take a look at the charts below. The first one shows where the D-backs’ college first-round picks have made their debuts; the second shows where their first-round high school selections have begun their professional careers. (In some years, they had multiple selections in the first round and supplemental first round).

Arizona Diamondbacks’ COLLEGE first-round draft choices 2005-2014, and where they made their professional debuts (number in parentheses indicates overall selection number):

2013: (15) Braden Shipley, college RHP: Hillsboro (Short-Season Class A)
2013: (36) Aaron Blair, college RHP: Hillsboro (Short-Season Class A)
2011: (3) Trevor Bauer, college RHP: Visalia (Advanced A)
2011: (43) Andrew Chafin, college LHP: AZL D-backs (Rookie)
2010: (6) Barret Loux, college RHP: Did not sign
2009: (17) A.J. Pollock, college outfielder: South Bend (Long A)
2009: (45) Mike Belfiore, college LHP: Missoula (Rookie)
2008: (26) Daniel Schlereth, college LHP: Missoula (Rookie)
2008: (43) Wade Miley, college LHP: Yakima (Short-Season Class A)
2007: (50) Wes Roemer, college RHP: Yakima (Short-Season Class A)
2007: (61) Ed Easley, college catcher: Yakima (Short-Season Class A)
2006: (11) Max Scherzer, college RHP: Visalia (Advanced A, debut in 2007)
2006: (34) Brooks Brown, college RHP: Yakima (Short-Season Class A)
2005: (31) Matt Torra, college RHP: Yakima (Short-Season Class A)

Arizona Diamondbacks’ HIGH SCHOOL first-round draft choices 2005-2014, and where they made their professional debuts (number in parentheses indicates pick number in first round or supplemental first round):

2014: (16) Touki Toussaint, high school RHP: Missoula (Rookie)
2012: (26) Stryker Trahan, high school catcher: AZL D-backs (Rookie)
2011: (7) Archie Bradley, high school RHP: Missoula (Rookie)
2009: (16) Bobby Borchering, high school 3B: Missoula (Rookie)
2009: (35) Matt Davidson, high school 3B: Yakima (Short-Season Class A)
2009: (41) Chris Owings, high school SS: Missoula (Rookie)
2007: (9) Jarrod Parker, high school RHP: South Bend (Long A, debut in 2008)
2005: (1) Justin Upton, high school shortstop: South Bend (Long A, debut in 2006)

As you can see, in the final five years of the Yakima franchise, none of the Diamondbacks’ college selections began their pro careers there. (Though, interestingly, the aforementioned Matt Davidson, a high school pick, did.)

Oh, and one more thing: it also helps that Hillsboro is part of a major market. If you were a member of the Diamondbacks’ player development department, wouldn’t you want to come to the Portland area to see your top pick play?

So the fact that Dansby Swanson is a college shortstop, and the fact that we have these pristine facilities in a major market, our chances of seeing him play here (for at least a little while) are pretty good.

But, if he does come here, when?

This is where the speculation truly begins. Let’s go under the assumption that there isn’t a long, drawn-out negotiation, and that he signs a pro contract within a couple of days after Vanderbilt’s final game. (Aside: 2015 draft picks have to sign by July 17th if they’re going to sign at all.) He would then go to Arizona to have a physical and take part in all the pomp and circumstance that surrounds a first-round draft choice, especially the top overall pick. He’d probably take part in a pregame workout with the parent club. And after a couple of days there, he’d be ready to head to his first pro assignment.

Vanderbilt’s sweep in Illinois in the Super Regional means that the defending College World Series champions are headed back to Omaha. Vandy plays Cal St. Fullerton this Sunday (6/14), and their second game will be against either LSU or TCU on Tuesday (6/16). Let’s say the Commodores went two-and-out. That’d give him exactly one week to sign his contract, be poked by docs and feted with praise in Arizona, and report to Portland for the Hops’ home opener on Tue 6/23. (If he is indeed assigned here.)

Unlikely, at best, right? Slightly likelier is a debut date of Wed 6/24 or Thu 6/25. (Note: unlike pitchers — such as Braden Shipley and Aaron Blair in 2013 — position players don’t have to go through an extended throwing program before making their pro debuts. Presumably, Swanson could show up and play that day or the next.)

If Vanderbilt wins at least one of their first two games in Omaha, they’ll play again on Thu 6/18 or Fri 6/19… and if they make it to the CWS best-of-three championship series, it’s possible their season gets extended to Wed 6/24.

Now back to the Hops. After their three-game opening homestand 6/23 to 6/25, Hillsboro heads north of the border to Vancouver B.C. for a five-game series from June 26-30. (Another aside, this one to Dansby Swanson and his family if they happen to be reading this: if you don’t have a passport, fill out the paperwork now and see if you can get one expedited!)

I digress.

It’s also improbable, though certainly possible, that the D-backs could send Swanson to make his debut with the Hops while they’re in Canada. What is likelier—and, all things considered, the likeliest possibility of all—is that if Dansby Swanson gets assigned to Hillsboro, he would play his first game at Ron Tonkin Field during the second homestand of the year.

So get your tickets for the July 1-3 series at home against Eugene.

Again, I’m shootin’ from the hip with all this speculation. Swanson may not sign right away. He may take extra time in Arizona once he does. Or he may not be assigned to Hillsboro at all.

But it’s fun to take a stab at it.

Hop Ten from ’14, #2: “The Comeback”

Date posted: May 5, 2015
Date of game: Sept. 6, Nat Bailey Stadium in Vancouver
Hops vs. Vancouver Canadians

Stryker Trahan

Stryker Trahan

Yes, the Hops had swept Boise in the first round of the playoffs. Yes, they had won six straight. And yes, they had captured 16 of their previous 19 games.

But none of that mattered as they awoke in Vancouver B.C. on the morning on September 6. That night, they would open the best-of-three Northwest League finals against the three-time-defending-champion Vancouver Canadians. Moreover, they would open in front of a hostile crowd of more than 5,000. The Canadians and their fans had become used to winning in the playoffs, especially at home — in fact, dating back to 2011, Vancouver had won seven straight at Nat Bailey Stadium in the postseason.

With all that stacked against them, things looked bleak when Vancouver jumped on the Hops’ ace, Ben Eckels, for three runs in the first… and even worse when they scored two more runs off reliever Jared Miller in the second. The Canadians led 5-0, and they had one of their studs on the hill, righty Chase Mallard, who had a 2.75 ERA in a dozen games during the regular year.

Were the Hops fazed? Not this bunch.

Here are the short highlights:

And the longer version:

Hop Ten from ’14, #3: “Independents’ Day”

Date posted: April 28, 2015
Date of game: Sept. 3, 2014, Ron Tonkin Field in Hillsboro
Hops vs. Boise Hawks

Markus Solbach

Markus Solbach

Throughout the 2014 season, Hillsboro benefited from the Arizona Diamondbacks’ continual mining of the independent leagues — baseball’s nether regions — for hidden gems. This resulted in a number of people who proved they deserved a shot at higher levels, including players like reliever Dustin Loggins and infielder Steve Nyisztor.

Also on that list was late-season addition Marcus Solbach, formerly of the Twins organization, and more recently of the independent Frontier League. What made Solbach interesting was this: he grew up playing baseball not in Florida or California or the Dominican Republic… but in his native Germany.

Yep. There is baseball in Germany. Not much, but it can be found. And not only did Solbach prove to be a valuable addition to the Hops, he was fluent in English, always positive, and a great guy to have around.

Solbach had made four appearances for Hillsboro (including three starts) entering game two of the best-of-three series against Boise. And though he allowed his first home run as a Hop — a two-run second-inning shot by Justin Marra — Solbach worked seven strong innings. Along with Solbach and Nyisztor, fellow former indy-leaguer Stewart Ijames came up big as the Hops sought the two-game sweep.

Here is the final out:

And some extended highlights:

Former Hops: an early-season look

The Arizona Diamondbacks’ four long-season affiliates are not quite two weeks into their seasons, and former Hops are sprinkled on the Class A, Advanced A and Double-A teams. (No Hops are on the Triple-A Reno or major-league rosters.) Here is an early-season report on former Hops, as well as a recap of off-season releases, and a list of players who are currently in extended spring training (increasing the likelihood they could return to Hillsboro in 2015):

Position players with Class A Kane County:
Grant Heyman: 11g, .311 avg./0 hr/3 rbis, 1×2 SBA
Stryker Trahan: 12g, .135/1/7

Pitchers with Class A Kane County:
Brent Jones: 3 starts, 0-2, 5.60, 17.2ip, 17h, 7bb, 17k
Brad Keller: 2 starts, 0-1, 3.27, 11ip, 10h, 3bb, 12k
Jared Miller: 3 starts, 1-1, 5.27, 13.2ip, 14h, 6bb, 10k
Markus Solbach: 2 starts, 1-0, 0.77, 11.2 ip, 9h, 5bb, 9k
Nick Baker: 4 games in relief, 1-0, 1.80, 10ip, 8h, 1bb, 8k
Zac Curtis: 5 games in relief, 0-1, 1.69, 1 save, 5.1ip, 2h, 2bb, 8k
Cody Geyer: 5 games in relief, 0-0, 0.00, 7ip, 1h, 3bb, 5k
Mason McCullough: 4 games in relief, 0-0, 0.00, 2 saves, 4ip, 1h, 3hb, 3bb, 5k
Luis Ramirez: 4 games in relief, 0-0, 1.80, 1 save, 5ip, 2h, 4bb, 7k

Position players with Advanced A Visalia:
Tyler Baker: 6g, .308/1/4, 1×1 SBA
Kevin Cron: 12g, .260/4/11
Todd Glaesmann: 7g, .419/4/9, hit for cycle on 4/14 before promotion to Double-A
Stewart Ijames: 9g, .281/4/6
Daniel Palka: 12g, .304/0/6, 2×3 SBA
George Roberts: 10g, .303/1/4, 1×1 SBA

Pitchers with Advanced A Visalia:
Ryan Doran: 2 starts, 1-0, 4.91, 11ip, 15h, 0bb, 6k
Blayne Weller: 2 starts, 0-1, 4.76, 11.1ip, 11h, 5bb, 16k
Daniel Gibson: 5 games in relief, 0-0, 0.00, 4.1ip, 1h, 0bb, 7k
Jose Jose: 4 games in relief, 0-1, 3.18, 5.2ip, 8h, 0bb, 8k
Johnny Shuttlesworth: 3 games in relief, 0-0, 0.00, 5ip, 1h, 1bb, 4k

Position players with Double-A Mobile:
Ryan Gebhardt: 8g, .182/0/1
Todd Glaesmann: 2g, 2×7/0/1

Pitchers with Double-A Mobile:
Aaron Blair: 2 starts, 1-0, 4.50, 12ip, 10h, 6bb, 7k
Braden Shipley: 2 starts, 1-0, 0.77, 11.2ip, 9h, 4bb, 9k
Will Locante: 4 games in relief, 0-0, 0.00, 3.2ip, 3h, 5bb, 3k
Jimmie Sherfy: 4 games in relief, 0-0, 4.50, 4ip, 6h, 2bb, 4k

Pedro Ruiz: selected in minor league phase of Rule 5 Draft by Angels, December 11; 6 games with Advanced A Inland Empire, .214/0/1, 0x1 SBA

Off-season releases/other:
Kyle Anderson: declared free agency, October
Taylor Ard: released October 22
Alex Byo: released October 22
Zach Esquerra: released October 22
Yorman Garcia: released October 22
Justin Gonzalez: released March 28
Yosbel Gutierrez: released October 22
Dustin Loggins: released March 21
Jake Mayers: released October 22
Grant Nelson: released October 22
Steve Nyisztor: released March 25
Jordan Parr: released March 25
Austin Platt: released October 22
Jonathan Pulley: released January 21
Taylor Ratliff: released December 17
Jake Roberts: released December 17
Bennie Robinson: released October 22
Kyle Schepel: released March 28
Tyler Toyfair: released October 22
Rob Wort: released March 21

Players currently in extended spring training:
Mike Cetta
Galli Cribbs Jr.
Ben Eckels
Nate Irving
Felipe Perez
Nate Robertson
Dan Savas
Scott Schultz
Elvin Soto

Hop Ten from ’14, #4: “A Bold Prediction”

Date posted: April 21, 2015
Date of game: Sept 2, 2014, Memorial Stadium in Boise
Hops vs. Boise Hawks

Stewart Ijames

Stewart Ijames

Though the second half of the season was gravy — as first-half-champions, the Hops were already in the playoffs (see #5) — Hillsboro didn’t treat it that way.

In fact, they played even better. Hillsboro’s 26-12 second-half mark was the best half in the Northwest League since Everett went 28-10 in the first half of 2012. And the Hops entered the playoffs on a high, having won 14 of their final 17 regular-season games, and capturing the second-half flag as well.

Yet this was the postseason, and if there is anything that history can tell us, it’s this: when it comes to playoff baseball, anything can happen. (In fact, just the previous year, Everett and Salem-Keizer had each dropped their opening-round playoff series in spite of winning both halves in their respective divisions.)

Not only that, but Boise can be a tough trip. After concluding the season with a win (in a night game) at home against Eugene on September 1, the Hops bused overnight to Boise, grabbed a couple of hours of sleep (maybe), and headed to Memorial Stadium to open the playoffs on September 2.

Boise took a 2-1 lead into the top of the sixth. At that time, as I was broadcasting the game back to the Portland area from Memorial Stadium, an interview I had conducted the previous day entered my mind. Before you hear the highlights of the game, listen to the interview, with Hops hitting instructor Mark Grace, and the bold prediction he made for the postseason. The entire interview is posted, and the prediction comes toward the end, about seven minutes in:

And now, some highlights of Hillsboro’s first-ever playoff game. First, the quick call of a big hit in the top of the 9th inning:

And an extended version of the highlights from throughout the game:

Hop Ten from ’14, #5: “Thanks, Don’t Mind if We Do,” part 2

Date posted: March 18, 2015
Date of game: July 20, P.K. Park in Eugene
Hops vs. Eugene Emeralds

George Roberts (Craig Mitchelldyer / Hillsboro Hops)

George Roberts (Craig Mitchelldyer / Hillsboro Hops)

The very next night (see #6), with the pennant hanging in the balance, Hillsboro trailed 2-0 and had just one hit through five innings. They clawed for a run in the sixth on an RBI ground-out by Steve Nyisztor, and a game-tying run in the seventh on a double by George Roberts.

Roberts would come to the plate in the top of the ninth, with the game still tied. This time, it was Eugene manager Robbie Wine who seemed to be in a giving mood. Again, the Hops were happy to accept.

Here is the short version, including a brief highlight from the top and bottom of the ninth:

And here is the long version — the entire ninth inning, top and bottom:

Twenty-seven minutes after the final out, Boise lost at home to Salem-Keizer, and the Hops were the first-half champions. The playoffs wouldn’t begin for 44 days… but Hillsboro knew they were in.

Hop Ten from ’14, #6: “Thanks, Don’t Mind if We Do,” part 1

Date posted: February 18, 2015
Date of game: July 19, 2014, P.K. Park in Eugene
Hops vs. Eugene Emeralds

Steve Nyisztor (Craig Mitchelldyer/Hillsboro Hops)

Steve Nyisztor (Craig Mitchelldyer/Hillsboro Hops)

Like #8, this one needs a little context.

In the second half of the 2013 season, Hillsboro was in the pennant chase, in a first-place tie with six games left in the second half, and preparing to face struggling Eugene in the final three home games  of the regular season.

And then — right cross, left uppercut — the Hops dropped two of the three, both by one run, to the lowly Emeralds. Though the Hops would win their final three games, in Boise, they missed the playoffs by two wins.

Fast-forward to 2014. Cue the Yogi Berra line about deja vu.

Hillsboro had held the outright lead in the South Division for 30 consecutive days. Then, with five days left in the first half pennant chase, they lost three of five at home — the final two by one run — to a pathetic Tri-City team which, entering the series, had lost four straight and was 11-19. A loss in the finale of that series dropped Hillsboro into a first-place tie with Boise with three games left — the first time in a month the Hops hadn’t been in sole possession of the lead.

The Hops held the tiebreaker over Boise, but Boise was red-hot and didn’t figure to lose at home to struggling Salem-Keizer. So common wisdom suggested Hillsboro needed to sweep the three-game series in Eugene, which began July 19.

That night, Eugene’s scatter-arm shortstop, Franchy Cordero, was in a giving mood. And the Hops and Steve Nyisztor were happy to accept.

You again have two options: just a few highlights… or, if you really want to go back, you can hear most of the top of the seventh and the bottom of the ninth (a little less than 15 minutes).

Here are the quick highlights:


And here is the extended version:


Boise won, so the Hops remained in a first-place tie with two games remaining.


Hop 10 from ’14, #7: “No! No no-no!”

Date posted: February 3, 2015
Date of game: August 13, 2014, Ron Tonkin Field in Hillsboro
Hops vs. Boise Hawks

Hillsboro Hops vs Everett AquaSox

Zac Curtis (Craig Mitchelldyer/Hillsboro Hops)

Okay, I’m just gettin’ greedy. I realize that. Many professional baseball broadcasters have long careers without ever getting to call a no-hitter. I’ve called four (including two perfect games). And yet, the night of August 13, 2014 still bothers me.

I thought I had a fifth.

In fact, Hops pitchers did combine to throw nine no-hit innings against Boise that night. Problem was, Hillsboro had just one hit, a fifth-inning single by DH Jake Mayers — yep, in NINE INNINGS, BOTH TEAMS COMBINED FOR ONE HIT — and the score was 0-0 through nine.

Boise’s David Bote doubled with one out in the top of the 10th — Hops right fielder Zach Esquerra made a headlong diving effort, the ball within reach (he later said he thought he should have caught it) — but was stranded at third base. It would turn out to be Boise’s only hit of the game

In the bottom of the 10th, Hillsboro notched their second and final hit — a leadoff single to center by Kevin Cron. And how they won the game was fitting for an odd night.

I highly recommend the extended highlights. But, if you don’t have much time, you have the short version too. Here’s the shorty:

And here’s the extended version:

Hop 10 from ’14, #8: “Putting the Ghosts to Rest”

Date posted: January 27, 2015
Date of game: July 6, 2014, Volcanoes Stadium in Keizer
Hops vs. Salem-Keizer Volcanoes

Pedro Ruiz (Craig Mitchelldyer/Hillsboro Hops)

Pedro Ruiz (Craig Mitchelldyer/Hillsboro Hops)

We’ll continue with the theme of the unlikely.

In 2013, division-rival Salem-Keizer had dominated Hillsboro, taking nine of the 12 games en route to winning both halves in the South. (Salem-Keizer had trailed Hillsboro by one game with seven to play in the second half of the 2013 season, but came back to win that flag as well.)

Well, as the first half of the 2014 season came down the home stretch, ardent Hops fans were surely thinking, here we go again.

The Volcanoes had beaten Hillsboro in back-to-back games the previous two nights (July 4-5), including a gut-wrenching loss on a game-ending single by Travious Relaford the night before. Salem-Keizer had vaulted into a tie for second, three games behind the Hops with 13 left to play in the first half.

Hillsboro was on the verge of being swept. And in the series finale in Keizer, the Hops let 3-0 and 8-5 leads get away, and trailed 9-8 entering the top of the ninth.

Yet, after this one, Salem-Keizer wouldn’t be a factor the remainder of the half, and as it turned out would miss the playoffs entirely in 2014.

Here’s how the top of the ninth unfolded — again, two versions, a shorter one and a longer one. The short version first:

And here is the longer version, which is most of the top of the 9th inning:

Hillsboro went on to win, 11-9, as Zac Curtis struck out the side in order in the bottom of the ninth.


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