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 Results from the AFL on Larish, Wells, etc.

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PostSubject: Results from the AFL on Larish, Wells, etc.   Sun Nov 23, 2008 1:00 pm

JON PAUL MOROSI
Larish has hit when it counts
Stance questioned, but job gets done

BY JON PAUL MOROSI • FREE PRESS SPORTS WRITER • November 23, 2008

MESA, Ariz. -- Even now, some scouts wonder about Jeff Larish. They see the batting stance -- head turned, hands still, bat askew -- and cannot fathom how someone with such an unorthodox stance could have success in the big leagues.

I can understand why they feel that way. I have had my doubts about Larish, too. But this is baseball. Ultimately, there is some salvation in the statistics. And now, the numbers say Jeff Larish is a pretty good hitter.

Better yet: He's a pretty good clutch hitter.

In 42 games with the Tigers this season, he batted .375 with runners in scoring position.

In 31 games in the Arizona Fall League, he batted .375 with runners in scoring position.

He hits when it matters. Managers like that. "Two-out RBIs are big," said Rocket Wheeler, repeating the words with a raised voice: "Two-out RBIs."

Wheeler, manager of the Mesa Solar Sox, watched Larish drive in 29 runs this fall, tied for second in the league. The first baseman batted .331 and has hit six home runs. Larish added two hits, including a home run, in Saturday's AFL championship game.

Larish is a more complete hitter than he was last year, when he batted .264 with one home run in the AFL. He already has been to the major leagues. He has listened to the instruction of Tigers hitting coach Lloyd McClendon, who has helped him get his hips and legs in a better position to hit.

"I finally feel like I've been able to do that and be a little more consistent," Larish said this month.

However subtle that adjustment may have been, it is significant. Larish is best described as "effectively stubborn." It's not that he resists coaching. It's that he believes very strongly in a set of hitting principles that he has practiced for years. And now that he is succeeding with them at baseball's highest levels, he's more certain that his way is the right way.

"I think I'm more convicted in what I'm doing," Larish said. "That's No. 1. You can say all you want about mechanics, but if you're not convicted in what you're doing, it doesn't matter. You're not going to be successful.

"A lot of people don't like my style, but it's something that works for me. I make little adjustments here and there. I've got a pretty good understanding of what I need to do, and I'm sticking to it, no matter what people say."

Ultimately, the skeptics may notice the same things about Larish that one Hall of Famer already has.

"He has a game plan, an approach he sticks with, and he's shown me that he can be productive," said Ryne Sandberg, who has worked with Larish as the Mesa hitting coach. "He's pretty steady, right there in the middle of the lineup."

Of equal importance, Sandberg has been impressed with Larish's defense. The Tigers planned for Larish to work at third base in the AFL as a way of expanding his skill set. The results, while in a limited number of games, have been encouraging.

"I like him on defense," Sandberg said. "He's got good hands at third and first -- a good glove and a strong arm."

Where will that lead Larish in 2009? It's not likely that he will have an everyday role with the Tigers -- to start the season, at least.

The team has said that Brandon Inge will be its third baseman. But what if Larish puts up big numbers at Triple-A Toledo while Inge bats .205, as he did this year?

What if Larish's play at third base, while inferior to Inge's, is noticeably better than what the Tigers saw from Carlos Guillen and Miguel Cabrera last year?

Tigers president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said Friday that he doesn't think he would put Larish at third base and Inge at shortstop next season. Yet, he did not dismiss it entirely. That is a tribute to Larish's development.
And while it's unclear how much Larish will play in the big leagues next year, we know exactly how he will swing the bat.
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PostSubject: Re: Results from the AFL on Larish, Wells, etc.   Sun Nov 23, 2008 1:09 pm

Casper Wells changes Tigers' opinion of him

BY JON PAUL MOROSI • FREE PRESS SPORTS WRITER • November 23, 2008

MESA, Ariz. -- The Towson University baseball team was eating breakfast together one Sunday morning several years ago, when idle conversation turned into a dare.

A challenge was issued. It went something like this: See that window ledge? Think someone could chuck this sausage up there?

Ryan Schreiter knew there was only one person with the talent, moxie, and do-anything-in-the-name-of-laughter attitude to pull it off: his roommate, Casper Wells.

Wells took aim at the sill, some 15 feet away in the Glen Dining Hall. And with an arm that could fire fastballs more than 90 m.p.h. -- in addition to laser throws from the outfield -- he flipped the patty right on target.

And it stuck.

"Bam!" Schreiter recalled Friday, laughing at the memory. "There it went."

Wells, an outfielder who was added to the Tigers' 40-man major league roster Thursday, has changed little in the intervening years. He remains part prankster, part prospect. And that has done wonders for him.

Wells, who turns 24 today, began the year at Class A West Michigan, earned a promotion to Double-A Erie and has punctuated the season with a strong showing in the highly competitive Arizona Fall League.

In all, Wells has batted .277 with 35 home runs and 102 RBIs in 148 games. Ray Burris, the Erie pitching coach, said he believes the season has changed Wells' "whole perspective on his career." It has also transformed the Tigers' opinion of him.

"He's had a tremendous year," president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said Friday. "We like him a lot. He's really jumped up to the prospect level.

"He's taken significant leaps -- and he's going to continue to improve, because he plays hard and has a lot of ability."

An injury here, a trade there, and Wells could be next year's Matt Joyce, an outfield prospect who plays in the big leagues earlier -- and far more regularly -- than many anticipated.

Ryne Sandberg, who has worked with Wells as the hitting coach of the AFL's Mesa Solar Sox, described Wells as a five-tool player who has "one of the better arms I've seen in the whole league."

Wells went 2-for-4 with a double Saturday, as Mesa lost to the Phoenix Desert Dogs, 10-4, in the AFL championship.

"When he makes contact, good things happen," Sandberg said. "The ball jumps."

But even as his career has blossomed, Wells has held true to a certain belief that having fun and playing professional baseball are not mutually exclusive.

He has nicknames for every teammate and a ready supply of one-liners to keep the dugout at ease. He invents song lyrics -- "Off-the-cuff and usually inappropriate," teammate Will Rhymes said -- and rattles off the lines from funny movies. "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" is a recent favorite.

Late in Erie's season, he adopted a zany ritual: Less than one hour before each game, Wells would set his cell phone to play a recording of Phil Collins' "Sussudio" in the clubhouse.

"At least once," Rhymes said with a smile, "and usually on repeat."

"We'd be dancing, jamming out to it, getting ready for the game," Wells said before one AFL game this month. "It was fun. It helped us out. Over the last month and a half of the season, our team did really well."


This season, Wells often has been at the center of what his teams have done, on and off the field. But that was not always the case.

Entering this year, he had a .240 batting average over three minor league seasons, spending the vast majority of that time in the lowest levels of the Tigers' farm system.

The reason: He needed time to mature.

Wells had been the Colonial Athletic Association player of the year in 2005, when the Tigers selected him in the 14th round of the amateur draft. He expected an assignment with the short-season Class A Oneonta Tigers -- near his hometown of Schenectady, N.Y. -- after he signed.

Instead, he played in the Gulf Coast League, with its sparsely attended games and early, unforgiving start times.

He batted .220.

"I didn't mentally handle that too well, playing down in Florida," Wells said. "Having a better attitude would have probably led to better production on the field. But I was immature. I was 20 years old. I was new to the game of professional baseball. It's a lot different than college and high school."

Schreiter, a former Towson catcher, has kept in touch with Wells and could tell that he "wasn't his normal, chipper self" during those years. "But," Schreiter said, "I knew it was just a matter of time before he showed everybody what he could do."

In 2007, Wells regained control of his career. He became an everyday player at Oneonta and developed a strong rapport with manager Andy Barkett.

"I saw a big change in Casper, from the beginning of extended spring training until the time he went up to Oneonta," Barkett said. "I was really impressed. The maturity process started and carried on through the end of the year."

Along the way, Wells' colorful personality -- subdued by the intermittent playing time -- reemerged. The patty-flipper was back, but with better judgment about when to lead, crack wise, or simply stay quiet and play hard.

"He kind of learned, 'Let me talk a little less and do a little more,' " Barkett said. "That's the part about becoming a professional. Some guys get that. Some guys don't. It's part of the growing-up process."

Burris said: "He has the greatest mind-set you could ever imagine for a young player. He comes to play. He wants to be in that lineup."

Wells has not spent a day at Triple A, but it's reasonable to wonder how he might fit into the Tigers' plans -- if not in 2009, then likely in 2010. At the very least, he will be in big league camp next spring in Lakeland, Fla.

With his locker beside the big names like Cabrera, Ordoñez and Sheffield, he might be a little more understated in the clubhouse than he has been this year. But his skills will be the same, which should be enough to earn him notice among the veterans.

"The thing about those guys is that they're going to respect his game," Barkett said. "They'll have an appreciation for the way he plays, because you know Casper's going to play hard."

Contact JON PAUL MOROSI at 313-223-4097 or jmorosi@freepress.com . Check out his Tigers blog at www.freep.com/sports


“It takes pitching, hitting and defense. Any two can win. All three make you unbeatable.”    
–Joe Garagiola
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PostSubject: Re: Results from the AFL on Larish, Wells, etc.   Tue Dec 02, 2008 8:21 pm

Larish could become an RBI machine..... Yay2
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