Time for Schenn to Shine?

Time for Schenn to Shine?

Last spring,
there were few bright spots in the Flyers' playoff appearance. They
bounced a hated bunch of Buffalo Sabres in the first round, but at no
point during the regular season's stretch run nor their two rounds of
postseason play did they resemble a team that could win the Stanley Cup.
The "run" will forever be remembered for the club's inability to settle
on a goaltender, a problem they immediately sought to remedy in the
off-season to follow. 

The one true positive we could take from the playoff
experience was the elevated play of James van Riemsdyk. JVR was at
times the best player on the ice, and nearly always the best Flyer. He
was dominant with the puck, using his size to shield off defenders while
also showing great stick skills, scoring seven goals in 11 games. The
tallies came when it really counted too, with a goal in each of the last
three games of the Buffalo series, followed by three goals over the
first two in the Boston matchup, when the team was in shambles around
him. 

After the Flyers were bounced and Paul Holmgren
overhauled the roster, the hope was that JVR's progress would continue
in his third NHL season. For a variety of reasons, most notably
injuries, it did not. But a number of players have stepped up their
games, including veterans like Scott Hartnell, Max Talbot, and Wayne
Simmonds (still just 23, but technically a vet) while Claude Giroux
brought his to the Hart Trophy level. For the Flyers to enjoy any
success this regular season and in the playoffs though, their deep cast
of rookies will need to be major contributors. 

Surprising rookie Matt Read is a big part of the
Flyers' scoring depth and will be called on to continue lighting the
lamp, while first-round pick Sean Couturier will be charged with slowing
the league's hottest attack. Along with Eric Wellwood, a handful of
rookies are critical to the Flyers' chances for eliminating the Penguins
and could prove to be breakout performers in the playoffs, but for the
purposes of this post, let's take a look at why Brayden Schenn should
continue his rise when the bright lights are on, emerging as a
difference-maker like JVR did last year.

Pedigree and Stepping Into PotentialMike
Richards is one of the league's best two-way forwards, gritty, and the
club's former captain, so the price for his services was going to be
high. Schenn was seen as an elite NHL prospect when the Flyers acquired
him along with Simmonds, and we've lately begun to see why. He picked up
a huge goal against the Pens in the season finale before the game went
to the zoo, and he played some of his best hockey of the season. Harry Z
may have been the name added to the lineup when Giroux was scratched,
but Schenn took it on himself to be the force that replaced G. 

Not just a scorer, Schenn's shown no reluctance in
mixing it up. You may have seen a clip or two about him nonchalantly
crosschecking Sidney Crosby to the ice
in the penultimate Flyers-Pens
game of the season series.

Briere's BackAlthough he had a down
season production-wise and has had to battle injuries up to and
including the final week of the season, Danny Briere is a primetime
playoff performer. He makes those around him excel too, as we saw when
he centered the previously quiet Ville Leino and the previously slumping
Scott Hartnell two springs ago. They went on to be among the most
productive lines in Flyers postseason history. Now flanking Danny? A
versatile power forward having a career year and a fifth overall pick. 

Hopefully Danny is healthy after taking a jarring hit from Pittsburgh's Joe Vitale. He is expected to be ready for game 1.

Wayne TrainSimmonds
has been crashing crease parties like a boss, resulting in some tip ins
and garbage goals for #17 (not to mention one off his FACE), but also
some screened efforts from others. He's also been tireless in pursuit of
pucks along the boards. Both could result in some good opportunities
for Schenn, as well as Briere.

Shadow of the G UnitThe Penguins will be
trying to get their best defenders on the ice when Giroux, Hartnell, and
Jaromir Jagr take their shifts. That should provide a slightly better
set of matchup circumstances for Briere's line. Every skater will be
feeling the pressure of postseason hockey and the energy of a packed
building, but there could be an advantage to not being the guy
everyone's expecting to carry the team.

In all, the Flyers appear ready to dress six
rookies: Schenn, Read, Couturier, Wellwood, Zac Rinaldo, and defenseman
Marc-Andre Bourdon. Reliance on rookies isn't often cited as a means
toward a successful Stanley Cup run, and the Flyers are certainly
counting on young players not to wilt in a playoff battle against the
team believed by many to be the favorites to win it all. 

Will these rookies have enough to hold off a veteran
group that includes some of the league's elite, players who know what
it takes to win for two spring months? 
Who do you think is the most likely Flyer to have a breakout performance in the postseason?

Hopefully this isn't one long jinx for Schenner...


US Presswire photos

Thinking man's pitcher, Phillies prospect Cole Irvin enjoying time with Clearwater

Thinking man's pitcher, Phillies prospect Cole Irvin enjoying time with Clearwater

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Clearwater Threshers pitcher Cole Irvin is a student of baseball, but maybe the word “student” – simply stated and in its base meaning – describes the young left-hander best.

A graduate of the University of Oregon who completed his undergraduate degree in sociology in just 3½ years, Irvin has applied a studious, methodical approach to his work on the mound, where he starred as a freshman and senior for the Ducks as a regular Friday night starter.

His 2014 collegiate season was marred by Tommy John surgery, but he reflects on it now as being an important part of him staying in college and obtaining his degree. He remained in Eugene another semester after getting drafted by Pittsburgh in the 32nd round, his second time getting selected.

“I look at it as a positive. I wouldn’t have been able to finish my degree at Oregon if I didn’t have the surgery,” said Irvin, who was drafted in the fifth round by the Phillies last June.

“Sociology covers so many topics. It’s a great degree to have. My studies varied from the population of salmon affecting society to the study of social media. There was so much I learned in so many diverse topics. I like interacting because everyone’s opinion mattered.”

The sociological background also easily translates to the diamond for the 6-foot-4, 190-pound Irvin.

“It’s the same in baseball. The more information you have about the opposing team, our team, if we’re doing the shift and other things… now you have all that collected information. Now you just go do your thing. I think I apply (sociology) to so many different aspects of what I do,” he said.

Sociology aside, Clearwater pitching coach Aaron Fultz has been impressed with the mental approach Irvin has displayed.

“Very (much so),” replied Fultz when asked if the southpaw is the quintessential cerebral pitcher. “He’s a no frills guy and he’s here to work.”

Fultz broke in to MLB and played three seasons with the San Francisco Giants – 2000 to 2002 – and the former big leaguer said Irvin reminds him from a work ethic standpoint of a Bay Area teammate of his.

“He kind of reminds me of Jeff Kent. He comes here and he wants to work and get better,” said Fultz of Irvin, who also bears a slight resemblance to the five-time all-star and 2000 NL MVP of the Giants.

That industrious attitude worked well for Irvin in his first spring training camp in the Grapefruit League in February. He broke camp by bypassing Low A Lakewood and joining the Threshers. Then he proceeded to overwhelm hitters in the Florida State League.

Irvin, 23, was 3-1 in four starts in April, posting a 1.04 ERA. In 26 innings, he allowed 22 hits, struck out 20 and walked just three. His WHIP stood at 0.96.

“His first four or five starts, I thought he was the best pitcher in the league,” Fultz said. “Since then, we’ve had a little hiccup here and there about location and just giving up some hits. He’s had some bad luck, too.

“But I love the way he goes about his business. He gets the ball and he’s ready to pitch. He has a very good idea and is a smart kid. He doesn’t throw 95, but he’s left-handed – that helps – and he has a really good change-up. His stuff is better than average, but his tenacity and the way he goes after hitters is a really good selling point for him.”

Irvin said he tries not read what is written about him or the multitude of numbers baseball produces.

“The past three outings haven’t gone the way I’ve anticipated, especially after the first five starts of the year,” said Irvin, who is 3-5 with a 3.20 ERA after four straight losses starting on May 4 against Jupiter.

He will try to break that winless skid on Tuesday when he faces Florida back in Clearwater.

Of his standout first pro season at short-season Williamsport last year (5-1, 1.97 in 10 games), Irvin admitted he doesn’t look at the stats, saying, “Honestly, I don’t know the numbers. I don’t get ahead of myself and look at stats. Every once in a while, I’ll look at media stuff, but I try not to follow that stuff.

“Once it gets in your head, you start to get anxious about moving up and thinking about things you’re not supposed to be thinking about. I’m supposed to be thinking right now, ‘What can I do to get better and get to the big leagues?’ It’s not about being in the minor leagues; it’s about being in the big leagues.”

Irvin has enjoyed his season so far and, like a good sociology student, is harvesting his own data.

“There’s a lot to build off of. It’s my first full season, so it’s exciting to spend a whole year playing baseball and doing something you love and is fun. It’s something I’ve dreamed of as a kid,” he said.

“I never thought I’d be here this quick, so I’m taking it one day at a time. I can only focus on this day, and tomorrow will come tomorrow.”
 
Three questions with Cole Irvin

You throw a one-seam fastball. What does it do?

“It’s literally across one seam, holding it with one finger. It depends on the wrist. If it’s on the side of the ball, it’s going to fade (versus righty batters). But if your wrist is more on the inside toward your body, it’s going to cut. I only use it as a strikeout pitch. [Laughing] I’d say it’s a wipe-out pitch, but I don’t have wipe-out stuff like most of the guys on this team. It’s an effect pitch, where there’s a little uncertainty where it’ll go.”

You’re from Yorba Linda, CA, the birthplace of Richard Nixon and home of the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum. Have any good Nixon stories?

“Actually, I do. When I was 12, I had to do community service for the high school I was going to go to. I had to have so many hours. The library was looking for someone to clean the helicopter – Air Force One helicopter or whatever it was called. Every Sunday morning I’d show up at 5:30 a.m. to clean that helicopter. I had to go through the Secret Service back door and security checks. I was 12, so there wasn’t much information on me. I spent four or five Sundays cleaning that helicopter. It was so much fun.”

As an Oregon Duck, you were able to play in the Civil War against the Oregon State Beavers and New York Mets outfielder Michael Conforto. Any success?

“My senior year was the first time we’ve ever gone to Goss Stadium and won a series at Oregon State. I pitched against Conforto and also played with him on the Team USA collegiate team that had (Chicago Cubs star Kyle) Schwarber. Honestly, Michael’s one of the great guys to know and talk to. He’s just a world-class, awesome guy.”

Now on Phillies' bench, Ty Kelly looks back fondly on Team Israel experience

Now on Phillies' bench, Ty Kelly looks back fondly on Team Israel experience

Ty Kelly is currently the 25th man on the Phillies' roster, a utility man who has all of two starts with the club this year.

But two and a half months ago, he was one of the headlining players on the Cinderella squad of the 2017 World Baseball Classic.

Kelly was the starting third baseman for Team Israel, which made a surprising run to the second round with a perfect run through Pool A. The team began the WBC with an upset over host South Korea before wins over Chinese Taipei and the Netherlands. Israel beat Cuba in the next round in Japan but fell to Japan and the Netherlands handily.

Unlike most MLB players who spent their spring in Florida, Kelly got to experience two major Asian cities -- Seoul and Tokyo -- while getting his preseason at-bats.

"It was a great experience, trying the food and all that and seeing all the sights," Kelly said.

However, he wasn't too adventurous with trying the local cuisine compared to his teammates.

"Some of the guys were really trying to seek out the native food," Kelly said. "I wanted to do that as much as I could, but at the same time, you're still trying to get ready for baseball games in a tournament, so you've got to do what's best for your body.

"Chicken sandwiches for me were the way to go for the most part," he added with a laugh.

Kelly's participation with the squad began in the middle of 2016, when Peter Kurz, the President of the Israel Association of Baseball, emailed him and asked if he had a Jewish grandparent. Kelly's mother's side of the family is Jewish, making Kelly eligible.

Last year was also the end of Kelly's long road to the major leagues. Drafted by the Orioles in 2009 out of UC Davis, Kelly was traded multiple times, once straight up for current Brewers slugger Eric Thames before Thames went to Korea and back. Kelly wound up with the Mets and finally made his MLB debut two months shy of his 28th birthday. He played 39 games for the Mets at six different positions and got a hit in his only postseason at-bat, which came vs. Madison Bumgarner no less.

Kelly still had to make the Mets this spring, which could have made joining the WBC a tough decision. However, the organization was on board with Kelly playing in the tournament.

"It made it difficult, but I talked to the Mets about it and they were all for me going over there and still playing and getting experience," he said. "People were still watching, so once I got the go-ahead from them, it was an easy decision."

Kelly made the Mets out of the spring but had just one at-bat before he put on waivers and was claimed by the Blue Jays. Eight days later, he was traded to the Phillies. He has four hits (three doubles) in 19 at-bats with the Phillies and had the game-winning RBI single two weeks ago in the front end of the Phils' doubleheader with the Nationals.

He's the only player from Team Israel to have played in the majors this season. Ryan Lavarnway and former Mets 1B Ike Davis are in Triple A while the roster also included former MLBers Nate Freiman, Sam Fuld and Jason Marquis.

While none of his WBC teammates have parlayed Team Israel's run into MLB time, Kelly still thinks the team caught the eye of people in the game.

"There was definitely a lot of fandom around our team," Kelly said. "A lot of people rallied around us, including people in front offices I think. Of Jewish descent or not, I think a lot of people liked what we did.

"Being a part of that definitely looks good for me, which is just an added bonus."