It was a fun win, but Burlington Bees manager Jack Howell didn’t have time to enjoy it.
Moments after Franklin Torres had hit a walk-off home run in the 10-9 victory over the Cedar Rapids Kernels on June 3 at Community Field, Howell and pitching coach Jonathan Van Eaton had news to deliver.
Van Eaton came to get pitcher Simon Mathews, who was told by Howell that he was being promoted to the Los Angeles Angels’ Advanced-A affiliate at Inland Empire in the California League.
Then Van Eaton came to get reliever Kyle Halbohn, who was informed by Howell that he was being released.
Two pitchers — one moving up, one leaving.
It’s life in the minor leagues, especially at this time of year. Room is being cleared out in extended spring training for last week’s picks in the MLB draft. Players are being promoted, demoted, or let go.
It’s something that brings about mixed emotions for a manager. It’s something Howell has dealt with as a manager, and as a field coordinator. It’s fun to tell a player he’s promoted, it’s not fun to tell him that his time with the organization — and maybe his time in professional baseball — is over.
“Moving guys up is the part of the game that makes you feel proud about your job,” Howell said last week. “You know you’ve pounded development and pounded the process, and they’ve been productive enough to move to the next level. That’s what keeps you showing up every day.
“The releasing part, you never — and this is the part I told myself when I became field coordinator — you’re never going to be OK with releases, they are going to hurt.”
Howell said he is always “straightforward” with players who are being released.
“I also told myself I was going to be OK with releasing a guy because you preached to always give 100 percent so that, on the day you’re released or they tell you you’re done or you’re retiring, you know you looked in the mirror and gave everything you had,” Howell said. “My point is, I don’t pull any punches and I let them know if you do the right things, and you’re in the right place at the right time, it’s going to be about your talent and you’re going to move up. At some point, the talent is going to be the difference. On the other hand, at some point, you’re going to be told you no longer fit in our system or we no longer have room for you or we think your talents are done in this situation. You can stand up and say, ‘Thank you for the opportunity, I gave it everything I had.’
“The hardest one is when you have to release a guy and you know he hadn’t caught on to that, that there were other things out in the world more important to him or he just didn’t have the desire to work hard. That’s the one that really hurts, especially if you saw some talent there. But I’ll tell you what, most of the time, very seldom do you have to release a guy that you know deep down inside he didn’t give his all. Most of the time you feel for them because they gave everything they had, but they were limited in ability and we ran out of room for them.”
Howell has told several players this season that they were moving up — Halbohn was the first release from the Bees. Howell was on his mandatory vacation in mid-May when Brandon Marsh, ranked the No. 4 prospect in the Angels’ organization, was promoted to Inland Empire. But a few nights later, Howell got to tell outfielder Jo Adell and first baseman David MacKinnon that they would be joining Marsh.
Adell, a 19-year-old, was the Angels’ first-round pick in the Major League Baseball draft last year, while MacKinnon, 23, was picked in the 32nd round. MacKinnon and Adell had become friends, and Howell appreciated the relationship between the older player and the young prospect.
“MacKinnon was always one who kept (Adell) grounded,” Howell said. “He would tease him, saying, “I got your bats, Jo. I’ll carry your bats today.’ Or, ‘Jo, they’re are fans out there who we need to sign (autographs) for, we need to take time for them.’ He kind of acted as his agent, kind of his mentor, which was really cool.”
The Bees had just lost at Clinton, 4-3 in 10 innings, in the May 21 game when Howell decided to deliver the news to Adell and MacKinnon in front of the whole team.
“I said, ‘I’m tired of this. Some things are going to change around here,’” Howell said, reflecting on his mock anger. “And I pointed to Adell, and I said, ‘You!’ — and I think everyone’s eyes lit up — and I said, ‘You’re going to IE, you’re out of here.’ Everyone was juiced. And then I turned to MacKinnon and I said, ‘MacKinnon, you’ve been his agent for the last month, month and a half. You OK with that? Do you think he’ll be OK?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, he’ll be OK.’ And I said, ‘I’ll tell you what, why don’t you go with him to make sure.’ He was freaking out, he had to call his wife. It was really fun.
“There’s a great example of a high pick that deserved to move, and then an older college kid that had done everything we asked of him and he was getting a chance to move up. You couldn’t ask for two diverse (situations), yet they were two who were mingling together and had a relationship. That’s cool stuff. That’s what the game is about.”
TORRES STAYS HOT
Franklin Torres has seen just about every part of the Bees’ infield this season.
Torres has played 21 games at first base, 21 at second and 14 at third.
Playing different spots hasn’t affected his hitting. Torres is batting .455 in June, with two doubles, a home run and five runs batted in.
Torres has a four-game hitting streak, going 8-for-15 (.533) in the current stretch. He leads the Bees with 56 hits and is tied for the team lead with eight doubles.
“He’s really been consistent,” Howell said. “Pretty consistent at bats. He stays aggressive. If he swings at pitches out of the zone, he calms it down a touch and laces a line drive somewhere. You can’t tell if he’s 0-for-4 or 4-for-4, the same guy shows up every time.
“He’s been that way defensively, too. We’ve played him a lot at first since MacKinnon left, and that just makes him more versatile. Turns the ball pretty well at second. When he’s at third, for the most part he’s in the right place at the right time. Quick feet, quick hands.”
• Adell is the youngest player in Minor League Baseball to hit 10 home runs so far this season.
Adell is batting .230 at Inland Empire since his promotion, with four home runs and 10 RBIs.
• David Fletcher (2015) is the leading vote-getter at shortstop in the Pacific Coast League for the Triple-A All-Star Game, and it’s no surprise why.
Fletcher, with the Angels’ affiliate in Salt Lake, has 88 hits, the most in Triple-A. His 36 extra-base hits, 25 doubles and 141 total bases are also best in Triple-A. Fletcher has scored 54 runs, the most in the PCL.
• Jahmai Jones (2017) has been putting his up his best numbers since June 1. Jones, moved to second base this season, is hitting .344 in June at Inland Empire, after batting just .232 in April and .239 in May.
Jones had a six-game hitting streak snapped on Saturday.
• Tyler Stevens (2017) picked up the win in relief in Double-A Mobile’s 6-4 win over Chattanooga on Monday. A two-run home run by Jared Walsh (2016) in the top of the ninth was the game-winner.
• Brennan Lund (2016-17) had a double and triple and drove in three runs in Mobile’s 11-5 win over Chattanooga on Tuesday. Lund then drove in three runs in Mobile’s 17-4 win the following night.
• Sean Isaac (2018) made his first start of the season on Wednesday night, striking out 11 and allowing just two hits in five innings in Inland Empire’s 4-3 loss to Lake Elsinore on Wednesday.
• Zach Houchins (2014-15) had three hits and drove in four runs in Mobile’s 9-7 win over Chattanooga on Thursday.
• Alex Klonowski (2015) moved to 3-0 on the season with a win in relief in Mobile’s 4-3 victory over Jackson on Saturday. Klonowski struck out five in 3 ⅓ innings. Conor Lillis-White (2016) got his third save.
THE WEEK AHEAD
• At Beloit (5 p.m. Monday, doubleheader) — The Bees and Snappers were rained out on Sunday, and they’ll face off for the last time in the first half tonight.
• Wisconsin (6:30 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday) — The Bees play host to the Timber Rattlers in the final home series of the first half. It’s the first time Wisconsin has been to Community Field this season.
• At Quad Cities (6:35 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 1:15 p.m. Sunday) — The first half ends with three games against the River Bandits, who are in the hunt for one of the two Western Division playoff spots. Quad Cities is three games out of first place, but just one game behind second-place Peoria.