DENVER, 14 October - David Kandilas. Rocket arm, speedy legs, savvy recruiter.
Ok, so that last one might not be the type of note you'll see in a scouting report on the Sydney Blue Sox outfielder, but the Melbourne Aces are happy for it.
While playing for the Class A Advanced Modesto Nuts this North American summer in the Colorado Rockies organisation, Kandilas helped to get the ball rolling for the Rockies to send their first two imports ever to the Australian Baseball League. Catcher Ryan Casteel and outfielder Tyler Massey will don the red and blue of the Aces for the 2013/14 ABL campaign. Rockies Senior Director of Player Development Jeff Bridich is eager to point out that the Kandi man was a key piece of the puzzle.
"I have to give a shout out a little bit to David Kandilas," Bridich says, "because he was a teammate of both these guys all year this year. He said [to Casteel and Massey], 'You guys should really come out and do this. I think it would be a really good experience for you.' And so he played a part in it, as well."
Of course, a major league organisation's decision to invest in the ABL doesn't start with just the word-of-mouth recommendation of one of their own. That certainly doesn't hurt, but the time and energy put into the Rockies' choice goes deeper. Casteel, a 2013 California League postseason All-Star, and Massey, an outfielder with a wealth of flexibility, were the right men for the job.
"They definitely wanted to do it," Bridich says of his organisation's first non-Australian ABLers. "It's something that they voiced that they would have value in in terms of where they're at in their lives and their careers and what they would try to get out of it. We spoke about that directly. And also, we value these leagues that exist. We value the Arizona Fall League. As of right now, where these two guys are at in their careers, they were not quite ready to be considered for the Arizona Fall League, and so trying to help them find a place to play and get better in the offseason, [the ABL] seemed like a natural fit."
The player development opportunities afforded by the ABL fill a void in the offseason plans for many major league organisations with their minor league talent, and for the first time, the Rockies are stepping up to the plate with the league now entering its fourth season.
"It's just kind of been something we've never really done before," Bridich notes. "There's never been a huge reason for it. Some of it's been budget-related, some of it's just been that there's been other opportunities in the past such as the Hawaiian Baseball League and our own instructional league program [in Arizona].
"There have been some changes in the way that we're running our instructional league. The Hawaiian Baseball League no longer exists. There were a couple guys that this year seemed to fit real well into what the ABL has to offer, so it all came together at that point."
The Rockies have been on the ground in Australia for years, signing Melbourne's Shane Lindsay in 2003 and, more recently, signing players like Kandilas and Canberra catcher Robbie Perkins. Colorado's Victorian connection lies in scout Phil Allen, a Melbourne man who gives the Rockies a comfort level and a sharp eye of oversight watching the development of their players down under. With the level of relative complexity it takes to monitor players in Australia versus at developmental stops like the Rockies' offseason instructional league or leagues in the Dominican Republic or Venezuela, Allen is a lifeline.
"That's why Phil Allen being down there is such a comfortable blanket," Bridich says. "You don't really have to worry. There's no concerns about the guys' best interests being looked out for. Phil's such a good baseball man that you know that what he's seeing and what he's experiencing with those guys is going to be the truth, and he's going to come with the honest truth whether it's good or bad or otherwise."
Casteel and Massey will break the mold of Rockies prospects' offseason work when they step onto the field for the Aces this season, and Melbourne supporters can expect to see two solid bats and two versatile defensive players among their ranks in 2013/14. Catcher Casteel, drafted by the Rockies in the 17th round of 2010, was tabbed a California League post-season All-Star in 2013 as a member of the Nuts. Over the course of 108 games with Modesto, the 22-year-old from Cleveland, Tennessee batted .270 with 22 home runs and 76 runs batted in.
Massey has the ability to play anywhere in the outfield, adding a dimension in the field that will be a luxury for Aces manager Phil Dale as his team looks to capture its first Claxton Shield premiership in the new ABL. A 14th-round draft selection in 2008, Massey, also from Tennessee, batted .267 for the Nuts while homering 11 times, driving in 53 runs, and scoring 63.
Bridich offered up his own scouting reports on two of the newest Aces and what Melbourne fans can look for this season.
On Ryan Casteel
"[Ryan] had a pretty good season in a lot of ways. He turned himself into an offensive catcher, and he really did a nice job. He changed his body, if you go all the way back to last offseason right around this time. He showed up to spring training this year and had lost some weight and put on some good weight, and the ball was coming off his bat very well in spring training, much different, much better than it ever had been. He carried that right into the season. I think he had a lot of confidence.
It's a nice player development story. He's developed right before our eyes which is nice. Solid catcher, can throw the ball. Some of the catching stuff, the finer points, the consistency, the throwing mechanics is stuff he'll be working on down there. Sometimes there are offensive holes when catchers are in the lineup, wherever they're placed in that lineup, but Ryan Casteel should be able to provide offence as well as defence for that team."
On Tyler Massey
"Tyler Massey, incredible work ethic and a lot of versatility on the field, can play all three outfield spots, can play first base, can hit pretty much anywhere in the order. A left-handed bat who has progressively gotten better and better each year, he's kind of had a mixed minor league career so far. He's bounced around a little bit, but the last two years, he's really done a nice job and been a very consistent performer for us. Looks can be deceiving a little bit. He doesn't look like necessarily the prototypical centre fielder, but his reads and jumps and angles all that to the ball in centre field are very good."
The Aces will take the field for the first time on 31 October at Canberra, clashing with the Claxton Shield-champion Cavalry on ABL Opening Night at Narrabundah Ballpark.