Via Dogs That Chase Cars comes this video featuring golf legend Gary Player and his potentially dirty balls. It appears to be outtakes from a bit he's doing with UgMO, a local company whose product uses "wireless underground soil monitoring technology to provide real-time data on the soil’s temperature, moisture and salinity. This data is then analyzed by UgMO’s intuitive web interface that tells users how to improve soil conditions while reducing the use of water, fertilizers and pesticides." It's also used on the famed Merion Golf Club. I wonder how Carl Spackler would feel about all of this? [video below]
It's been a while since we checked in with everyone's favorite former Phillie, Chase Utley. And let's be honest: it's not good to go too long without a little Chase in our lives.
Utley was traded from Philadelphia to Los Angeles last summer and it took the Philly faithful a while to get used to seeing Chase wear Dodger blue. That said, I think there were plenty of Phillies fans who oddly found themselves rooting for Utley in last year's postseason, specifically against the New York Mets.
It's Utley's return to New York this weekend that brings him back up on our radar, thanks in large part to a nice article in the L.A. Times by Andy McCullough about Chase returning CitiField where he will play the familiar role of villain, this time for breaking Ruben Tejada's leg last October.
Phillies fans may still get nostalgic about Chase, but Utley himself is no nostaglia act for the Dodgers. After signing a one-year deal to return to L.A. this season, he's leading the Dodgers with a .379 on-base-percentage hitting out of the leadoff spot and is absolutely loved in his clubhouse. The latter is certainly no surprise.
Phillies fans likely remember Roy Halladay writing an ode to Chase last summer which ended with the former ace suggesting people tell their kids to model their play after Utley. Chase hasn't even been in L.A. the equivalent of a full season, but he's having the same sort of influence there.
“Even people who give him credit don’t realize how much he brings to this team,” third-base coach Chris Woodward said.
Utley inspires hyperbole all around. Clayton Kershaw suggested if he had a son, he would instruct his child to study Utley to learn how to play baseball. Utley, he explained, “is always doing the right thing.” Bench coach Bob Geren, a member of the Mets coaching staff last October, offered Utley his version of the ultimate compliment.
“I’m trying to think, in all my years, if I know anybody I’ve ever either played with or coached or managed that’s a better baseball player,” Geren said. “I can’t think of one.”
There's also some fun -- and not at all surprising -- tidbits of how Utley pretty much bends the rules as far as possible to get every single edge he can while playing.
Utley hunts for the tiniest edge. One day last week, he struck out on a pitch that bounced away from the catcher. Utley dropped his bat in between the catcher and the baseball, so the catcher had to make a more difficult play while stepping over the lumber.
“I’m in the dugout like, ‘Did you see that?’” Geren said. “It’s the littlest thing. But that’s who he is.”
Miss you and your dirt, Chase.
J.P. Crawford is settling in at Triple A, Jorge Alfaro and Dylan Cozens continue to show power, and Zach Eflin threw seven more shutout innings for the IronPigs.
All of that and more in this week's Future Phillies Report:
C Jorge Alfaro (AA)
The home run Alfaro hit Monday in Reading was such a no-doubter that Erie centerfielder JaCoby Jones didn't even turn around. Alfaro's blast landed on the top of the hill in center at FirstEnergy Stadium, his third of the season.
The hard-hitting catcher continues to impress at Double A. He's gone 11 for 29 (.379) with a homer and five RBIs since our last check-up, posting four multi-hit games in his last seven. Alfaro is up to .353 on the season with an .897 OPS that would be higher if he had walked more than twice on the year.
Alfaro has never been the most patient hitter. He has one goal at the plate and that's to do damage, and so far this season he's been Reading's top run producer. Alfaro has 11 extra-base hits and 21 RBIs in 24 games.
He also continues to stand out behind the plate. Alfaro has thrown out three more base-stealers over the last week to make him 8 for 18 on the season.
Alfaro finds himself in a tricky situation. He's hitting enough to warrant a call-up to Triple A, but the Phillies aren't going to promote him and create a logjam behind the plate at Lehigh Valley with Andrew Knapp. And even if Knapp may eventually have to switch positions, it's in the Phils' best interest to keep developing both players as catchers in the meantime.
Instead, look for Alfaro to stay at Double A, where the Phillies will hope he can stay healthy and build confidence by continuing to torch Eastern League pitching.
SS J.P. Crawford (AAA)
Six games into his Triple A career, the Phillies' top prospect is 6 for 20 (.300) and has walked four times. Of course he has. Crawford's walked nearly once a game this season, with 34 in 42 games, one every 5.6 plate appearances.
He's converted all 16 defensive chances in his first week with the IronPigs.
Crawford earned the promotion last Friday after hitting .265 with a .398 on-base percentage four Double A Reading. This is his last stop before the majors, which Crawford figures to get a taste of this September. From there, you could see him battle for the Phillies' opening day shortstop job next spring.
Crawford has been batting second for the IronPigs, a lineup spot he figures to occupy once he sticks in the majors. Crawford doesn't have a ton of speed, but his ability to work counts, make contact and reach base at a high clip make him a prototypical No. 2 hitter.
He's faced some solid pitching prospects so far at Triple A. Crawford went 3 for 4 Friday in a game started by lefty Henry Owens (Red Sox). Earlier in the series against Pawtucket he faced left-handers Eduardo Rodriguez and Roenis Elias (Red Sox). Crawford went 1 for 2 with two walks over the weekend against Toledo's Daniel Norris (Tigers).
RHP Zach Eflin (AAA)
Ho-hum, another dominant start from the Phillies' 22-year-old right-hander speeding toward The Show. Seven more shutout innings from Eflin Tuesday at Pawtucket improved him to 5-0 with a 2.05 ERA in eight starts. He's struck out 45 and walked eight in 52⅔ innings and held his opponents to a .182 batting average.
Lefties are hitting just .191 against Eflin with one extra-base hit in 71 plate appearances. In fact, he's allowed just seven extra-base hits all season, or one every 28.3 plate appearances.
Eflin's 0.80 WHIP leads the International League.
The 6-6 sinkerballer just continues to go deep into games and pitch low-stress innings. In his last three starts, Eflin has pitched 21 innings and allowed one run on just 10 hits. He's walked one batter each game and struck out 17. He's been very efficient, averaging 14.7 pitches per inning.
Eflin is six months younger than Aaron Nola, who debuted with the Phillies last season a month after turning 22. Eflin could follow suit this summer. If he keeps rattling off performances like this, he could eventually crack the Phillies' rotation. A spot would open if a pitcher is injured, if Jeremy Hellickson is traded, if Adam Morgan struggles or if the Phillies limit Vince Velasquez's innings.
RHP Jake Thompson (AAA)
Thompson gave up three home runs last Friday and another on Thursday, but all were solos. He followed an eight-inning, three-run, eight-strikeout performance last Friday by allowing three runs on 5⅔ innings Thursday.
After allowing 13 earned runs in his first four starts, Thompson has given up just seven in his last five. He has a 1.93 ERA and a .193 opponents' batting average over that span, and his groundball rate has risen from 35 percent to 48 percent.
The homers Thompson allowed last Friday were to Casey McGehee, Tyler Collins and Chad Huffman. The one he allowed Thursday was to Rusney Castillo. All have played in the big leagues at some point.
Thompson was not sharp early on Thursday but eventually settled in, as he did last week, jamming lefties in and utilizing a two-seam fastball that broke down and in to righties.
In nine starts with Lehigh Valley, Thompson is 3-4 with a 3.48 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 7.0 strikeouts per nine innings and 2.7 walks.
RHP Mark Appel (AAA)
Though Appel was having some early-season success in his first year in the Phillies' system, the number of men he was putting on base and stranding foretold some eventual regression and that's been the case his last four starts. Appel recorded just two outs on Sunday before exiting for Lehigh Valley.
Appel's velocity was down to the 88 to 90 mph range, which is problematic given the relative flatness of his fastball. If he's sitting in that range he is going to get hit around, period.
The trouble began when he walked Anthony Gose on a full count to start the game. Dixon Machado followed with a double down the left-field line on a high, 88 mph fastball. After a groundout, Appel hung a curveball that was nearly hit out of the park by Huffman for an RBI double. Three of the next four batters reached and Appel was removed for Severino Gonzalez, having allowed four runs on four hits and two walks in just two-thirds of an inning.
There was just nothing special about Appel's stuff. His velocity early in games had been 93 to 95 mph, which helped him avoid allowing any runs in the first inning prior to last weekend. But if you were to just arrive at the ballpark Sunday and watch Appel without knowing his name, you'd have never guessed he was a former first overall pick. Is it fair to mention his draft status after each start? Probably not, but that's part of the deal when you get taken first overall and make all that money before reaching the bigs. Appel is aware of that and doesn't fight it — he's learned to accept it.
Through eight starts with Lehigh Valley, Appel is 3-3 with a 4.46 ERA and 1.57 WHIP, and he's trending in the wrong direction. Let's put it this way: It's no fluke that he's put 60 men on base in 38⅓ innings.
OF Nick Williams (AAA)
Williams went 0 for 7 with four strikeouts in a 15-inning game for the IronPigs earlier in the week but has hit in all five games since, going 8 for 18 with three doubles and a homer. Good to see him finally striking the ball with authority. Prior to the last four nights, Williams had just one extra-base hit in his previous 33 plate appearances.
The 22-year-old is hitting .276/.311/.425 this season with seven doubles, two triples, four home runs, 20 RBIs, eight walks and 38 strikeouts.
He's holding his own against righties, batting .295 with an .807 OPS, but the left-handed hitting Williams was just 8 for 44 (.182) with one walk and 14 K's against lefties prior to Thursday. That continued a theme from last year, when Williams hit .330 against righties and .210 against lefties.
That's why his game Thursday was so promising. Williams went 3 for 3 with a double, a walk and a hit by pitch, reaching base five times against three different left-handers.
OF Dylan Cozens (AA)
From Williams we go to Cozens, who will not stop crushing the baseball. Since having his 11-game hit streak snapped last Thursday, Cozens has gone 6 for 23 (.261) with three doubles, three homers and 11 RBIs in his last six games.
The season numbers for the giant lefty are startling: 14 doubles, 13 home runs, 39 RBIs and a .938 OPS in 45 games. Cozens leads the Eastern League in homers and slugging percentage (.587) and is second in doubles and OPS.
Cozens is just 21, but he's powering himself up to Triple A. His success is adding intrigue to the Phillies' future outfield picture.
C Andrew Knapp (AAA)
Knapp is settling back in after a two-week slump, going 6 for 17 with three doubles and a homer in his last five games. The homer came against Tigers lefty prospect Matt Boyd, who went to Detroit from Toronto along with Norris in last summer's David Price trade.
It's pretty apparent that Knapp is going to hit his way up at some point. He has a hit in 12 of his last 13 games, and over the last two seasons is batting .321 with a .574 slugging percentage and 77 RBIs in 90 games combined between Double A and Triple A.
Knapp is working every day behind the plate to get better defensively. Reading manager Dusty Wathan has said his blocking has improved faster than his throwing. Base stealers are 15 for 18 this season against Knapp, who had Tommy John surgery in 2013.
RHPs Ben Lively, Nick Pivetta (AA)
Lively, the 24-year-old pitcher the Phillies acquired from the Reds for Marlon Byrd prior to the 2015 season, followed up his 12-strikeout effort with a quality start and win on Sunday. He allowed three runs on four hits over six innings to improve to 7-0 with a 1.87 ERA. He's struck out 49 batters in 53 innings and allowed just one home run.
Pivetta, 23, is 4-3 with a 3.99 ERA in nine starts for Reading with 8.7 strikeouts per nine innings. Lively and Pivetta, who was acquired from the Nationals last summer for Jonathan Papelbon, have flown under the radar the first two months because of how many other top prospects the Phils have acquired. But they add to the organization's list of capable young right-handed pitchers.
At some point in the next few years, some of these guys could be shifted to the bullpen. The Phillies won't have enough room in the rotation if most or all of their right-handers pan out.
WACO, Texas -- Baylor University's board of regents said Thursday that it will fire football coach Art Briles and re-assign university President Kenneth Starr amid questions over the school's handling of sexual assault complaints against players.
The nation's largest Baptist university said in a statement Thursday that it had suspended Briles "with intent to terminate." Starr will leave the position of president on May 31, but the school says he will serve as chancellor.
The university also placed athletic director Ian McCaw on probation.
Baylor asked a law firm last year to conduct a review of its handling of sexual assault cases following allegations that the football program mishandled several cases of players attacking women.
The university's statement said the review revealed "a fundamental failure."
Baylor has faced increasing criticism in recent months for its handling of reports of rape and other violent incidents involving football players and students. One victim has sued the university, saying it was deliberately indifferent to her allegations against a former player who was eventually convicted of sexually assaulting her.
Starr ordered an investigation last year but has been mostly silent amid mounting criticism over the school's handling of the complaints, which erupted under his leadership. He took over as the university's president in 2010, about a decade after the former prosecutor investigated former President Clinton's sexual relationship with White House intern Monica Lewisnky.
The football team, whose players were at the center of the upheaval, enjoyed unprecedented success under Briles' tenure, including two Big 12 championships in the last three years. That success brought a financial windfall, and in 2014, Baylor opened a new, $250-million on-campus football stadium. But Briles' program has also been criticized for recruiting or accepting transfer players without regard to the harm they might cause fellow students.
Starr rode the waves of the program's success, and often ran on the football field with Baylor students in pregame ceremonies. But as investigations began into the school's handling of sexual assault allegations against players, Starr provided only brief comments, even as criticism of the school mounted.
In a February statement issued by university, Starr said "our hearts break for those whose lives are impacted by execrable acts of sexual violence." And at a prayer breakfast last month, Starr told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: "I am in favor of transparency. Stand up, take your medicine if you made a mistake."
Baylor's Board of Regents was recently briefed by a law firm hired to investigate how the school responded to assault incidents, and the school on Thursday released a summary of its findings. Starr initiated the review in 2015, after former football player Sam Ukwuachu was convicted of sexually assaulting a female soccer player.
Ukwuachu, who was convicted in 2015, transferred to Baylor after he was dismissed from Boise State. Ukwuachu's former girlfriend testified during his rape trial in Texas that he had struck and choked her when he attended Boise State.
Ukwuachu's former coach, Chris Peterson, now the coach at Washington, said he "thoroughly apprised" Briles about the circumstances of Ukuwachu's dismissal. Briles disputed that account, saying he talked with Peterson and there was no mention of the incident.
The school is also facing a federal lawsuit from a former student claiming the school was "deliberately indifferent" to rape allegations levied at a former football player Tevin Elliott, who was convicted in 2014 of sexually assaulting the woman.
The uproar following Ukwuachu's conviction caused Baylor to initiate the review by the Philadelphia law firm Pepper Hamilton, and to announce a $5 million effort to improve efforts on how it responds to sexual assault, including adding another investigator and more staff.
But the Ukwuachu case was just the start of months of revelations of football players being involved in violent incidents with little or no repercussions. At least seven other woman have publicly come forward to say the school ignored their sexual assault allegations.
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