Two hints, before I get into talking about the game itself. If you're ever going to a minor league baseball game to get a bobblehead giveaway (and thank you, Woodman's Markets, for the Prince Fielder promo item), you might want to get to the game early. The line will still be obscenely long, but if you get there early enough, you might actually get the freebie. And see the first pitch. The second tip is, if the attendance is otherwise not very crowded, and your seats are in a crowded area, you might as well move a few rows to a different seat where you can have a bit of room. This became very important as the game started.
About the game: I'm starting with Jake Hannemann . He one-hopped the left-center field wall on the game's third pitch, and was in the minds of Beloit's pitchers for the rest of the night about ninety seconds later. He has Tony Campana game-changing ability, and is a better defender. While he didn't steal any bases, none of Beloit's pitchers kept any focus on the hitter when he was darting out to leads off base, or threatening to swipe second. He polished off the second inning on a batted ball that looked to all the world like a double. However, Hannemann tracked it, laid out, and made the play.
In the ninth, he was tossed for arguing a call at second. With one out, and the tying run on first, Hannemann singled to right-center for his fourth hit of the night. The right fielder was a bit slow and inaccurate with his throw, and as the toss missed the cutoff man, that was all the invite Hannemann needed. He slid (I'm pretty sure) safely into second, but was rung up. Both Hannemann and the manager were tossed arguing the call. For anyone who says game results aren't important in the minor league, yeah, they are. To the uniformed personnel, at least. Kane County clinched a playoff spot last week.
This was the kind of effort that earned Hannemann an overslot offer as the Cubs' third-round selection in 2013. On most nights, he would have been the best player on the field. However, not on this night.
Jen is my friend, Cubs confidante, and (for one night, at least) driver. I was telling her on the way up that Saturday's starting pitcher for Kane County (Jen-Ho Tseng) has one mild knock against him that I thought people greatly overstate. He isn't a strikeout pitcher. As Jen is a Greg Maddux devotee, she isn't hung up on strikeouts. They come when they should, and trying to focus on strikeouts leads to other problems.
However, Tseng brought his entire arsenal tonight. He has "three" pitches. The reason I put that in quotes is beacuse, at least on Saturday, he was changing speeds on everything, making it look like he had eight pitches working tonight. He tossed up a few pitches we still have no idea what they were. Maybe he's working on a knuckle-curve, or something.
His fastball generally sits low-90s, and was his third best pitch tonight. Not many people were able to get it out of the infield fair, mind you. But it was his third best pitch. He kept it low, spotted the corners, and used it to keep the hitters off the plate. His two walks over five innings were mostly working the corners or slightly missing with his off-speed stuff.
Remember my comment about him not being able to strike hitters out? Scratch that. He fanned leadoff man Herschel "Boog" Powell, who hits .337, and it was on. Of his eight strikeouts, five were looking. Many of them were on absolute knee-buckling curve (Did I mention he spotted his fastballs on the corners?) that the hitters wouldn't have swung at if they knew it was coming. Using a broom or a shovel. He also sported a change-up that came in at least two different speeds, and probably more. In the first, he had a hitter well out in front of one that was a swing-and-miss version. Very few of his pitches were straight, and could tail either way.
The only hit was a grounder to first that an Anthony Rizzo takes without assistance. I was happy to see Tseng busting it to get to first, even though the throw was never made. Pitchers fielding practice, y'all. As the last hitter in the fifth popped up on the infield, I gave Tseng a big ovation, as I won't see a 19-year-old pitch that well in a Low-A Ball game for quite a while. He had nothing left to prove for the night.
I mentioned moving to a less-populated area on the seats behind the plate earlier. In the second, when Chih-Fang Pan, the game's other player from Taiwan, batted, he seemed to have a cheering section just to our right. Some of them had iPads trained on Tseng, and they looked (this is a culturally tone-deaf American writing) a bit far-Eastern. They are friends of Tseng, and I had some delightfully charming people to talk to for the next few innings. As it turns out, one of them has a device full of links to some of his pitches, and I'm guessing he'll have more posted soon from last night. He spends time regularly at SB Nation's Lone Star Ball (Texas Rangers).
While the others went elsewhere when Tseng was pulled, he and I spent the rest of the game talking about pitch counts (Tseng's is 75), Nelson Cruz's defense (uggggh), and Steve Wilson's recruiting abilities in the Pacific Rim. The Cubs were unswayed by Tseng's WBC performance, as they'd seen him enough to see that as an outlier. As much as I anticipate Gleyber Torres and Eloy Jimenez, Tseng is the best pull from that IFA class.
As it happened, shortly after Tseng left, and the Cougars had a six-run sixth, I was done keeping score for the night. I had too much information for my article already, I watched the rest of the game without taking any more notes. However, Jordan Hankins (third base) is better than this league. He belongs in High-A Daytona, but I'm not sure where he will play. Trey Martin had a couple of well-struck doubles, and ran down a foul ball in foul territory down the left field line that showed of his CF defensive skills. The Cubs have some really solid OF glove-men coming through the system. And, yes, martin was in LF at the time. His range might not be that good to cover the LF foul line from CF.
That Beloit scored seven in the sixth and won on a walk-off homer doesn't really matter much, in the long run. The All-Star break starts after Sunday's game, and I've seen three Cougars starting pitchers this year. I've been very impressed by all of them. The next time I log onto The Zygote 50, I think Tseng may move up a spot. Come for the bobblehead, stay for Jen-Ho Tseng and Jake Hannemann.