Phoenix Bats

The players gotta get their bats somewhere. Some get them from Michelle Ismaj.

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This is Michelle Ismaj, the pro player rep for the Phoenix Bat Company. That fella next to her is Yoenis something. I didn’t write it down.

Michelle’s job: set up a table with her company’s wares outside of teams’ clubhouses, trying to get them to order Phoenix bats. Watching her work for a while and then talking to her, I have decided that her job is both fun and impossible.

The fun part: talking to ballplayers, trying to convince them that the wood from the Plain City, Ohio-based company is simply better than that noise from Louisville and other companies. There’s fun attitude to it all. Like sales reps in any business, Michelle hands out swag. The best: t-shirts with the company’s logo which say “Singles Suck” (which is also the company’s slogan, based on the web page) and “Walk me and save the embarrassment.”  The former of which ruffled the feathers of former MLB’er and current Team Israel hitting coach Mark Loretta, who told Michelle that he made his living hitting singles, so don’t knock ’em. Oh well, can’t please everyone.

The impossible part: trying to get players, coaches, clubhouse attendants and the other folks who make equipment decisions to go with a different company when there are so many other options and when baseball players are, by their very nature, creatures of habit. It’s an additional challenge when Louisville is an official MLB partner and gets to set up inside the clubhouses instead of outside.

But Michelle has a couple of advantages. For one, she’s been in this business for a while, previously repping for a different company, so she knows the competition. Second: her parents are from Mexico City and she grew up with Spanish as her first language, so she has an edge with players whose English isn’t strong. I tried to use my rusty college-level Spanish to hear what she and Cespedes were talking about but lost the thread within ten seconds. The key part, though: Cespedes ordered some Phoenix Bats, so I guess it all worked out.

Michelle gets to the park at 6:30 AM and she’ gone by 11:30, off to a minor league facility or to go pick up sample bats she let someone test drive for a previous day’s game. The next day she’s at a different park. When the major leaguers break camp she hits the extended spring season and the Arizona League and then the Arizona Fall League. We all take mini-vacations to the Cactus League. For her it’s a full time job.

I like talking to people like Michelle. There are so many people who make baseball run besides the conspicuous players, coaches and media. They’re all over Arizona and Florida right now, helping teams get ready. Selling stuff. Buying stuff. Playing some part in an increasingly big and complex industry, most of which we never see.

Johnny Monell signs with KBO’s KT Wiz

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - JULY 06:  Johnny Monell #19 of the New York Mets runs back to the dugout after he scored in the ninth inning against the San Francisco Giants at AT&T Park on July 6, 2015 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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Former Mets catcher Johnny Monell signed a contract with the KT Wiz of the Korea Baseball Organization, per a report by Chris Cotillo of SB Nation. The 30-year-old originally struck a deal with the NC Dinos on Thursday, but the deal appeared to fall through at the last minute, according to Cotillo’s unnamed source.

Monell last surfaced for the Mets during their 2015 run, batting a dismal .167/.231/.208 with two extra bases in 52 PA before the club DFA’d him to clear space for Bartolo Colon. While he’s had difficulty sticking at the major league level, he’s found a higher degree of success in the minor league circuit and holds a career .271 average over a decade of minor league play. He played exclusively in Triple-A Las Vegas during the 2016 season, slashing .276/.336/.470 with 19 home runs and a career-high 75 RBI in 461 PA.

The veteran backstop appears to be the second MLB player to join the KT Wiz roster this offseason, as right-hander Donn Roach also signed with the club last month on a one-year, $850,000 deal.

Phil Bickford suspended 50 games for drug of abuse

SAN DIEGO, CA - JULY 10:  Phil Bickford of the U.S. Team pitches during the SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game at PETCO Park on July 10, 2016 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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Brewers’ right-hander Phil Bickford received a 50-game suspension after testing positive for a drug of abuse, per the Los Angeles Times’ Bill Shaikin. This is the second time Bickford has been suspended for recreational drug use, as he was previously penalized in 2015 after testing positive for marijuana prior to the amateur draft.

Bickford was selected by the Giants in the first round of the 2015 draft and was later dealt to the Brewers for lefty reliever Will Smith at the 2016 trade deadline. He finished his 2016 campaign in High-A Brevard County, pitching to a 3.67 ERA, 10.0 K/9 rate and 5.0 BB/9 over 27 innings.

Two other suspensions were handed down on Friday, one to Toronto minor league right-hander Pedro Loficial for a positive test for metabolites of Stanozolol and one to Miami minor league outfielder Casey Soltis for a second positive test for drugs of abuse. Loficial will serve a 72-game suspension, while Soltis will serve 50 games. All three suspensions are due to start at the beginning of the 2017 season for each respective minor league team.

Brewers’ GM David Stearns issued a statement after the Commissioner’s Office announced Bickford’s suspension (via Vince Lara-Cinisomo of Baseball America):

We are very disappointed to learn of Phil’s suspension, but we fully support the Minor League Baseball Drug Prevention and Testing Program and its enforcement by the Commissioner’s Office. Phil understands he made a mistake, and we fully anticipate that he will learn from this experience.