Twenty-two inches separate Beloit teammates Van Mil, Cates
BELOIT If the Beloit Snappers’ Chris Cates hears the song “Short People” by Randy Newman playing as he walks up to the plate, he’ll know that his 7-foot, 1-inch teammate, Loek Van Mil, has taken control of the Pohlman Field sound board.
The 22 inches between the top of Cates’ head (5 foot, 3 inches) and Van Mil’s is likely the largest differential between two teammates in baseball’s minor leagues. But to the two of them, it is not such a big deal.
“We just have fun with it,” said Van Mil.
Cates just shrugs off the added attention when he’s around Van Mil, a native of Oss, Nord-Brandt, in the Netherlands, who passed up law school at the University of Amsterdam to take a shot at playing professional baseball.
“Loek and I had some photo shoots to do last year when I was in Elizabethton,” said Cates, who comes from Tampa, Fla., and played at the University of Louisville. “I’m used to it because my entire college pitching staff was real tall.
“They like to pick on me, which is fun, but I’m a little quicker than them because I’m smaller.”
The size differential was dramatic enough to catch the eye of Baseball America, one of the premier national minor league prospect publications. The magazine did a feature on the two players when they were in Elizabethton, Tenn., with the Twins’ rookie organization in 2007.
Van Mil’s advantage becomes apparent to batters who expect the ball to come in perpendicular to the plate.
“My stride is larger, but that’s not the biggest thing,” he said. “The angle of the ball coming into the zone is different from other pitchers, which makes it difficult for them to pick it up.”
Van Mil finished last year 2-2 with a 2.62 ERA in the Appalachian League. He appeared in 13 games, pitching 24 innings.
He says his fastball comes in around the low-to-mid 90s, and he would like to get it higher this year. He also is hoping to develop his off-speed pitches.
“Last year, my velocity went up a lot, and my change-up went up too much,” he said. “So I’m changing my grip and positioning.”
But looking beyond Van Mil, most other members of the Snappers’ pitching staff also tower over most of the rest of the team.
Eight of the 14 pitchers on the 2008 Snappers stand 6-5 or taller. Not a single one is shorter than 6-1.
For pitching coach Gary Lucas, that height is a clear advantage.
“If we get rained out of too many games here, I think we should consider taking on the opposition in basketball,” he said. “It looks like a basketball team on paper.”
Joking aside, a taller pitcher is better able to distract and confound batters, Lucas said.
“Most of the time, when you have the long lanky arms with loose muscles and long legs, the angle and leverage can add some deception to the delivery,” he said. “But they still have to throw it over the plate, whether they’re 6-9 or 5-9.”
Beloit manager Nelson Prada plans to use a more traditional five-man rotation this season, he said.
Some minor league teams have started using a piggyback system with a seven-man rotation as a way of getting more pitchers into the games. The Snappers will likely see a couple of teams with that set-up this year. But the Twins’ organization is hoping to develop several of its starting pitchers with an ability to go several innings, Prada said, and is sticking with the more typical rotation.
Right-handerDavid Bromberg gets the season-opening start for the Snappers in tonight’s 6:30 home game against the Kane County Cougars. The Los Angeles native was 9-0 for Elizabethton in 2007 with a 2.78 ERA in 58.1 innings.
Infielder Chris Cates
Height: 5 feet, 3 inches
Shoe size: 8 1/2
Hat size: 7 1/8
Resides: Brandon, Fla.
Pants length: 30 inches. “But I like them baggy.”
Pitcher Loek Van Mil
Height: 7 feet, 1 inch
Shoe size: 12
Hat size: 7 1/2
Resides: Oss, Nd.-Brandt, Netherlands
Pants length: 41 inches