Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

The name is Bond, Brock Bond

Unsung Fish has knack for getting on base

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As the Goldeyes drive into the second half of their season, it seems like a fine time to spill a little ink on some of this roster's unsung heroes.

For instance, a tip o' the hat to second baseman Brock Bond. Look, it's not too often that headlines swoon over a walk, so most of the conspicuous glory tends to get gobbled up by stingy pitchers and high-powered hitters. Bond is definitely not among the latter -- he's hit just seven homers in his eight-season career -- but he has a knack for plate discipline that's followed him from affiliated ball, right into the Goldeyes organization.

Heck, in his first 17 games after joining the Fish on the road last month, Bond took 15 free trips to first base.

Meanwhile, he struck out just five times in that span, which put him at the highest walk-to-strikeout ratio of any current player in the league.

Of course, it's a small sample size. Bond has kept his cool deep in counts: In both of his two full triple-A seasons, he walked more often than he struck out. Combined with consistent batting, that's helped him keep a career on-base percentage of .400.

In that regard, Bond came as advertised for manager Rick Forney.

"That's just kind of his make-up," Forney said.

"For the most part, he forces people to pitch to him. I didn't sign him looking for him to come in and hit 10 home runs in half a season, that's just not reality. But I knew I'd sign a guy who would come in and give me a professional at-bat."

Bond isn't the only super-savvy hitter on the Fish. There's also the case of Luis Alen, who has taken 206 walks in his time versus just 131 strikeouts: Last season, he took 32 walks to just eight kills at the plate.

He keeps his lips zipped on his approach though, so whatever secrets Alen has will stay safely in his head. Either way, they are the only two regular Fish hitters who have walked more than they've let pitchers strike 'em down.

The value of that speaks for itself. "You need to have those guys on your roster," Forney said.

"You can't have a bunch of sluggers who aren't really going to produce a lot of on-base percentage. If you don't have guys who can get on base in front of the sluggers, then you're not going to be a consistent run-scoring team. So you need some guys who are willing to take that walk when it comes.

"You also need guys who are willing to take pitches, because if not, that starting pitcher you're facing that night is going to go six or seven innings against you every time."

 

All-stars to be unveiled

Ballots were due Thursday for the 2014 American Association All-Star teams, as managers and broadcasters from around the league picked their top performers.

This is of special interest to Goldeyes fans, of course, as Shaw Park is set to host the two-day celebrations starting on July 28. The results will be unveiled in a special webcast on Monday at 1 p.m.

But it's safe to say that Goldeyes first baseman Casey Haerther should be a lock, with his fantastic first-half campaign, and shortstop Tyler Kuhn has been outstanding, too.

 

Canuck chucker gets shot

When Taylor Bratton got the tap to come out of the bullpen on Wednesday night, sure, there were some nerves. Still, the rookie pitcher settled in to throw two innings. He faced eight Sioux City batters, walked one, and gave up two hits but no runs -- though the Goldeyes were already well on their way to a 9-2 loss.

For the 23-year-old out of Oakville, Ont., it was the first taste of what it's like to pitch in front of almost 6,000 fans.

"That's new to me," Bratton said. "It probably would have been a little more nerve-wracking if we were winning. Still, I guess it's good to do that in a game like that so I can kind of adjust, and get used to it."

Because although Bratton wrapped his senior season at the University of West Alabama with a 2.92 ERA this year, this is a whole new ball game now. In the American Association, he said, it's like facing his top college opponents every time a batter takes the plate.

But after going undrafted by major league organizations this year, Bratton is hungry to show he can hang in professional baseball.

With that in mind, he started emailing independent teams, hoping one would give him a shot. One day, Forney called him up, and put him on a plane to Quebec where the Fish were on the road last month.

"I wasn't ready to stop playing," Bratton said. "I was playing in a men's league back home, just to stay in shape in case something happened... When (Rick) gave me the opportunity, I had to jump on it. I didn't want to wait around, and miss it, and wonder what would have happened if I had gone."

Bratton is the second Canadian rookie who's been gunning for a spot this season.

The Fish started training camp with another Ontarian, David Hatt, in the mix. He wasn't able to stick -- and Bratton knows he'll have an uphill battle to prove that he can.

"I expect to get hit around a little bit," he said. "I've learned that's going to happen, it happens to everybody. You can't be afraid to pitch to contact. As long as I come out and I'm throwing strikes, I'll be happy."

melissa.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 12, 2014 C8

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