SweetSpot: Chris Cates

Fellow ESPN baseball writers Eric Karabell, Tristan Cockcroft and Jason Grey were all in Connecticut on Wednesday, so the four us spent a night at the ballpark in New Britain, watching Double-A baseball, discussing Kevin Gregg's alligator blood and trying to remember the two other players on Cal Ripken's rookie card. (We all correctly guessed Bob Bonner and I was sure Lenn Sakata was the third guy, but turns out it was actually Jeff Schneider.)

Jason was giving us scouting tips as he took notes on the game's starting pitchers -- Stolmy Pimentel for the Portland Sea Dogs (Boston's affiliate) and Deolis Guerra for the Rock Cats (Minnesota's affiliate). Both are young right-handers, both top prospects at one time or another. You may remember Guerra as one of the key guys the Twins acquired from the Mets in the Johan Santana trade. Unfortunately, ever since the trade he's had a distinct inability to get batters out. His career minor league ERA is 5.14, but he's still just 22 and still has a live arm. Pimental is a thin, 21-year-old Dominican with a nice fastball and upside. Unfortunately, he entered the game with an 0-7 record and an ERA over 8.00.

Neither pitched well on this night. Pimentel lost his focus and concentration in the second inning, giving up eight runs, including long blasts by Jair Fernandez and former first-round pick Chris Parmalee. Guerra tired, couldn't get his curveball over consistently and get knocked out in the fifth after surrendering 10 hits and seven runs. It was not a good night for prospect hounds.

It was a good night, however, to see one of my new favorite minor leaguers, New Britain shortstop Chris Cates. He's not really a prospect: While he can really pick it in the field, he's a career .231 hitter in the minors and he's been in the Twins system since 2007 and has never homered. Chris Cates is also 5-foot-3. That's two inches shorter than Fred Patek's listed height but may or may not have been the actual height of a White Sox shortstop from the late '70s named Harry Chappas.

Cates went 2-for-4 and had a hustle double after the Portland left fielder lollygagged a bit after a base hit. Portland led 12-9 after eight innings, it was getting late, so we called it a game to grab some dinner and trade stories about the best games we've ever seen in person. (Jason was in attendance for Roger Clemens' first 20-strikeout game and Kerry Wood's 20-strikeout game and both of us were at Game 7 of the 2001 World Series. Eric mentioned being at the infamous Fog Bowl NFL playoff game between the Eagles and Bears, where he couldn't see the guy sitting next to him, let alone the action on the field. Tristan said Game 6 of the 2000 ALCS, when the Yankees beat the Mariners, but I think he said that just to rub my face in it.)

Anyway, we asked Eric if he had been at the Wilson Valdez Game last week in Philly, but he hadn't. None of us could remember being at a major league game where a position player pitched.

So we left after eight innings. In the top of the ninth, Portland starts scoring a bunch more runs and guess what ... Chris Cates comes in to pitch to get the final two outs.

And that's why you never leave a baseball game early.

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