Promotions Leave Gulls With a Sinking Feeling
Former Ventura County Gulls Todd Stottlemyre and Rob Ducey were stretching on the outfield grass at Ventura College before a game late in May, talking about life in the minor leagues.
“We were saying that you never know how long you’re going to be around,” Stottlemyre said, “and sure enough, Rob gets called up to Knoxville the next day.”
Stottlemyre, who was leading the California League in wins and earned-run average, joined Ducey at the Blue Jays’ Double-A affiliate last Sunday, making him the latest in a line of key players the Gulls have promoted this season.
And Manager Glenn Ezell has been feeling the sting of those departures. The Gulls have dropped six of their last eight games, including Saturday’s 3-1 loss to the Salinas Spurs at Ventura College.
But moving up is what life is all about in the minor leagues. At least for most players.
Ducey, 21, already has found a new home as Knoxville’s regular right fielder, and Stottlemyre has earned a spot in the rotation with a 2-0 record.
Some former Gulls haven’t been so successful.
Ken Kinnard was batting .322 in 34 California League games when he was called up to Knoxville in early May. But the right-handed hitting outfielder has spent most of his time in the Southern League sitting on the bench.
“Ken’s been in the organization for years and he’s had his opportunity to play,” Knoxville Manager Larry Hardy said. “We’ve decided to give some of the younger kids a chance.”
At 25, Kinnard is no longer “young” in the minor leagues. A highly touted second-round pick of the Blue Jays in the 1980 June draft, he is much traveled. He has played on six Toronto clubs, been traded to the Phillies, released by the Phillies, and bought back by Toronto.
Kinnard had a good season with the Florence Blue Jays in the Class-A South Atlantic League in 1982, batting .263 with 8 home runs and 70 stolen bases. But somewhere along the way, he lost the “hot prospect” tag.
Jim Woodward, a scout for the New York Mets, said an organization has only so much patience with a .235 lifetime hitter such as Kinnard. “They’ll stay with a younger kid for a few years,” he said, “but if you’re getting to be around 24 or 25 and you’re a utility player in the minor leagues, you better start thinking about doing something else.”
Kinnard still believes he has what it takes to be a major leaguer, but he also says, the Blue Jays have “lost all interest.”
“Well, I can’t say all interest because they still have me, but it’s hard,” Kinnard added. “I’ve been a starter all my life, and it’s hard to get myself prepared to go in and play.”
Ezell understands Kinnard’s frustration.
“Any time you’re not playing every day, you don’t keep your timing, you don’t have the same stroke,” he said. “No matter where you are, it’s a heck of a lot more difficult when you’re not seeing good live pitching every day. When your timing is off, every pitcher looks like Cy Young.”
But in his 40-or-so at-bats at Knoxville, Kinnard has batted .333, with three home runs in his last two games. Still, Hardy said the only way he can break into the lineup is if one of the “young guys” is injured.
“I’d have rather stayed in Ventura, where I could play every day and improve my game,” Kinnard said. “But I had no choice in the matter.”
The Gulls could have used his bat Saturday. Salinas starter Don Neufelder pitched eight strong innings, giving up four hits and no earned runs to raise his record to 5-3.
The Spurs gave him a 1-0 lead in the first off starter Todd Provence, when Eric Fox led off with a walk and later scored on Greg Fulton’s ground out to second. Provence (2-3) was making his first start since early in the season after having back and shoulder problems.
Salinas added a run in the seventh inning and another in the eighth off reliever William Shanks.
The Gulls’ only run came in the top of the seventh, when Geronimo Berroa reached base on an error and later scored on a single by Domingo Martinez.