Hello and welcome to the new Wait ‘Til Next Year. What used to be a daily blog has been insufficient of late, with posts that come sparingly, and just not the type of work that All-Baseball deserves. So, at the suggestion of reader Tom DeCola, I have decided to join the Lederer ranks and write weekly articles. My commitment to the Hardball Times, as well as a busy schedule on the side, has left me to think this is the best option.
In these weekly articles, I hope to encompass everything that I do well as a writer. I’ve never wanted this to be a traditional website, and that will not change now. The things you’ll see on a weekly basis:
- First of all, thoughts and updates on the minor leagues. This is the single most uncovered area of on-line ‘blogs’
And that’s it. These articles will appear on Mondays, so check back each week, and please, leave your comments below. Enjoy the first ever edition of Wait ‘Til Next Year Weekly...
So I turn on Sunday Night Baseball yesterday, excited to see a former Cub try and extend his scoreless streak. Dontrelle pitched well, starting a little shakily but getting hotter as the night went on. Much to my chagrin, another former Cub, Hee Seop Choi, was on the bench for the start of the game. Choi was traded to the Marlins for Derrek Lee, a deal I was very excited for when it happened. Many Cub fans were disappointed, seeing the potential that Choi had, but I knew that Lee’s present day value outweighed Choi’s future value.
And then the season began, and I was getting made fun of right and left. Why? Well, because by April 15, Choi’s ninth game as a Marlin, he had already hit 5 home runs. Lee’s power still hasn’t piqued, as he currently sits at two home runs. I still remain optimistic about the trade, but in a fit of panic, had to consult the SBE to predict exactly what Choi might become.
After looking into sub-25 players with very bad seasons, I ran across three players. Jason Thompson, the most fitting example, was a big left-handed first basemen with Detroit in the mid-70s. After a .218/.328/.376 rookie season, Thomspon bounced back to hit 31 homers his next year, good for a .487SLG. Thompson played eleven seasons in total, and would manage to hit more than 200 homers for his career. Despite being opposite than Choi in build, Mo Vaughn is a decent example. In 1992, Boston gave the first basemen 355AB, and he produced for a .234/.326/.400 line. The next year Vaughn exploded, hitting .297/.390/.525, including 29 home runs. Finally, Andre Thornton split the 1976 season between Chicago and Montreal with a sub-.700 OPS, and an average below the Mendoza line. Thornton would hit 28 jacks the next year, improving his slugging from .373 to .527.
There is a pattern here. After very poor seasons, all three of these players saw massive improvements in their slugging percentage, and hit between 28 and 31 home runs. None of the bunch lasted long, including Thompson, who was out of baseball before turning 32. I look for Choi to follow a similar trend: about 30 home runs this year, and around that number for the better part of eight to ten seasons. Then look for a big decline in batting average and power late in his career, finishing at about the age of 35. The media might make the Lee-Choi trade look bad for years to come, but Hendry was completely defensible in the move, no matter where the Cubs finish in 2004.
OK, let’s venture into the minors, where the top 3 ranked teams enjoyed very nice weeks. No matter how you rank it, the Angels, Dodgers and Brewers should have been the top ranked organizations this offseason. Los Angeles was ranked highly mainly for their pitching, in which they boasted Edwin Jackson, Greg Miller, and Joel Hanrahan. But since then, Jackson didn’t make the Dodgers and has struggled in AAA so far, Miller has gone under the knife, and Hanrahan is rumored to be the player to be named later in the Milton Bradley trade. But, the organization is still faring well, but this time with a different trio of arms: Andrew Brown, Chad Billingsley, and Chuck Tiffany.
Brown has been the best thus far, striking out an amazing thirty-six batters in a little over nineteen innings, while walking only five in the Southern League. Brown, along with Colorado Rockie right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez, have easily been the best two pitching prospects so far. Billingsley, a controversial choice in the first round last season, is making the Dodgers look very good with a 1.69ERA in his first sixteen innings. Tiffany has only started twice in the South Atlantic League, striking out eleven in his first eight innings. All three look very promising, and only adds more depth to a great Dodgers minor league pitching staff. A little ironic that Paul DePodesta’s organization has the most high school arms in the Majors?
Anaheim is seen as the opposite of Los Angeles, as they are high-ranked mainly due to their hitting. At catcher they have Jeff Mathis, who is hitting .333 in AA. Casey Kotchman had a huge week, and is hitting .350 with seven extra-base hits in sixty at-bats. Alberto Callaspo, a surprise choice for the AA roster, is struggling a bit, as he doesn’t have an extra-base hit yet. His possible future double-play partner, Erick Aybar, is doing well in high-A. And Dallas McPherson continues to give the Angels a reason not to re-sign Troy Glaus. The one negative aspect of the past week for the Angels was Bobby Jenks, who last his last start due to elbow pain, uh-oh.
Milwaukee is considered a very stacked organization, and the Major League team should begin to feel the fruits of their labor very soon. Ben Hendrickson has began the year very well in the International League, and I look for him to break the rotation in Miller Park very soon. Corey Hart has done very well, and if Ben Grieve struggles, should land the right field spot at some point. J.J. Hardy is struggling big time, but double play partner of the future Rickie Weeks has reemerged from his slump in AA. Finally, it’s Dave Krynzel, who is blocked by Scott Podsednik, is dominating the International League, giving the Brewers a little trade bait come July.
Speaking of International League center fielders, Krynzel isn’t the only prospect in that terrain. Indians top prospect Grady Sizemore, the White Sox’ Jeremy Reed, and Toronto’s Alexis Rios are all in the same league. Of that bunch only Sizemore isn’t doing well, as he just topped the Mendoza line this week. Both Reed and Rios are above .350, and both should be fighting for Major League spots soon.
Though Sizemore isn’t doing well, it’s a former Indians top prospect, Corey Smith, that has started off the season well. Smith has caught fire in the last week, and has hit five home runs in fifty-four at-bats this season. The third basemen is hitting .333, and also has five doubles to make a slugging percentage of .704. Another former hot corner prospect, Tony Blanco, is also off to a powerful start for the Cincinnati Reds. Blanco, part of the Scott Williamson deal, is hitting only .226, but leads the Carolina League with six home runs in 53AB.
Finally, I want to turn our attention to last year’s draft, in which many players are doing well. Both Kyle Sleeth and Tim Stauffer had their best starts of the year this week, looking to justify top-five selections for the Tigers and Padres. Vince Sinisi and Conor Jackson, two college sluggers, are both off to hot starts in the California League, and both have moved to the outfield from their original positions. John Danks is doing his best Scott Kazmir impression in the Midwest League, striking out more than twenty hitters in just over eleven innings. And post-first round players Omar Quintanilla (Athletics) and Xavier Paul (Dodgers) also started to warm up this week. I’ll chart this draft as the year goes on, so keep reading.
With that being said, let’s talk about this year’s draft. The talk now seems to be that Justin Verlander is the second best prospect overall, meaning the Tigers could take the right-hander with the second choice. I see this as a large mistake, looking at Stephen Drew, who hit his tenth homer this week, as the second best player in this draft. Drew is a refined hitter with great plate discipline, handles the shortstop position well, and could advance through the system quickly. Verlander is as raw as a college arm gets, boasting big strikeout numbers as his only draw. In fact, I can see arguments for Wade Townsend and Phillip Humber before Verlander as well. But this likely won’t happen, and you’ll see both Verlander and Jeff Niemann be chosen before his other two Rice teammates.
Finally, I want to turn your attention to a recent Chris Kahrl chat at Baseball Prospectus, highlighting this question particularly:
This only reminds me of an odd 2B situation around the Major Leagues, in which the Whtie Sox and Cardinals both have unidentified problems. Arizona, Los Angeles, Oakland, and Boston could all be cited as places that have 2B issues, but I do see help on the way. Baltimore will look to deal either Hairston or Roberts at some point this year, and Milwaukee would be stupid to hang onto Junior Spivey. Russ Adams will allow J.P. Riccardi to deal his least favorite Jay, Orlando Hudson, and the Phillies might unload Chase Utley in a trade. Finally, the top player might be Jose Vidro, who the Expos could unload if they are in a bad spot at the All-Star Break. I can already see the lines forming for Vidro, particularly a battle between DePodesta and Theo Epstein.
That’s all for this week, mainly because with a six-game winning streak, I have no bitching about the Cubs. Take care, and thanks to both Lee Sinins and Kevin Goldstein for their daily work, without which there would be no Wait ‘Til Next Year. I leave you with a list of leaders, the leaders of innings pitched given an ERA of 0.00...
1. Rodrigo Lopez- 12.2IP