The Rookie’s Smile [Guest Post]


[The following is a guest post by Chris Kamler, a columnist for the Platte County Landmark and operator of the Rambling Morons blog. He’s also the host of The Ballgame on ESPN 1510 every Wednesday at 4 p.m. CST and a former co-host of the Kansas City Baseball Vault. Oh, he was also The Fake Ned for a while but now is available on Twitter at @ChrisKamler.]

His smile betrayed him.

Baseball players, especially professional ones, at all levels of baseball are programmed for humility.  Baseball, at its nature, is a humbling game. A 70% failure rate qualifies one for the Hall of Fame after all.  So ballplayers, outwardly at least, must stay grounded.

Buddy Baumann on the mound for the Naturals. 5/12/13. Photo: Michelle Meade

Buddy Baumann is not a name that most Royals fans would know unless you were buried deep into scouting reports or read every word on Baseball Prospectus.  Saturday night, Baumann made his AAA League debut for the Omaha Storm Chasers. “Along with the strikeouts, I did walk two people. That’s something I need to work on. I need to continue to live around the strike zone,” Baumann said after the 9-4 loss to the Las Vegas 51’s. Baumann faced 8 batters, and struck out four of them with no hits allowed and two walks.

The Storm Chasers are muddling around the .500 mark this year with a roster missing the prospect names that Royals fans used to recognize like Wil Myers and Jake Odorizzi.  This year’s team is struggling to have the same success that the wire-to-wire PCL American-North division winners last year had.  Kansas City isn’t using as many players this year either with their winning ways at the Major League Level.  To date, they’ve only used two players from the AAA Roster, OF David Lough to replace the injured Jarrod Dyson and  LHP Will Smith who was brought up under 26th Man rules for two doubleheaders.

Minor league games are deceptive to watch. While they are still team games that determine a winner and a loser, it is an added level of complexity when you can monitor the upward or downward movement of each player on the field.  The catcher who makes two errors in a game is not only disappointed he affected his team’s chances to win, but also looking over his shoulder at the backup catcher salivating for a window to perform and move up the depth chart.  Such is the case with Adam Moore, who made two costly errors in Friday night’s game, a 7-3 loss to Las Vegas.

A player who can’t get a shot at the next level might work at a different position to increase his marketability, (or tradability) such as the case with Johnny Giavotella, who has been playing games at third after he failed to win the Major League second base job with Kansas City.

Baumann was one of those players in the middle of the organization’s depth chart.  Drafted in the 7th round of the 2009 draft out of Missouri State, Bauman, a lefty, showed good command at all levels, but lacked the name recognition of other arms in the Royals’ system like MIke Montgomery, Jake Odorizzi or Yordano Ventura.  Baumann pitched the last two years at the Double A Northwest Arkansas level and was moderately impressive with a 1.3 WHIP and an ERA over 4.00 in the Texas League. He also was the organization’s 2010 Mike Sweeney Award Winner for the best representation on and off the field by his work in the community.

Baumann was due to break camp with the AAA team when he was injured trying to avoid a collision and started the season on the Disabled List.  Unable to break camp with a club, Baumann was reactivated last week, but back down at the AA level.  Players could easily be stuck down in AA for the rest of the season in an event like this.

As is the case with any non-phenom in the Minors, getting to the next level is a combination of dedication and luck.  When Jarrod Dyson turned his ankle in Anaheim last week, David Lough was called up from the Storm Chasers creating a hole for Baumann.

Buddy Baumann walking off the field after a three inning performance. 5/12/13. Photo: Michelle Meade

“I was happy to see him back up here,” said Mike Jirschele, manager of the Storm Chasers. Baumann got the call while he was with the NWA Naturals and within hours of arriving back in Omaha, he reunited with his wife and Jirschele wasted no time getting him into the game.  “I liked how we went right at hitters. He did have the two walks, but he’s going to get the ball a lot up here.”

But Baumann’s smile in his postgame interview told the rest of the story.  “I was pumped when that phone call came.  Two nights ago when I got that call I was ecstatic.”  In AAA, the spotlight is brighter and continued good outings will likely catch the attention of the Royals.  When asked what Buddy needs to do to get up to Kansas City, in true baseball player form, he said, “I need to throw strikes.”

Minor league baseball is a tough, tough endeavor.  The days are long, the work is hard and there are few moments that you can truly feel great about your position in the organization.  But a two-inning, four strikeout performance in your AAA debut will be one of those moments for Buddy Baumann.  Baumann knows there is still much work to be done. He does have to limit his walks and continue to pound the strike zone.  And all those other little things in order to make the jump from triple A to the Big Leagues.

But you needn’t hear him tell the story.  His smile tells it all.