WTNYMay 24, 2004
Back Where I Belong
By Bryan Smith

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Last time I was at Wrigley Field, the team had a different catcher, a different first basemen, second basemen, shortstop, centerfielder, right fielder, and set-up man than they did last night. But, Wrigley is still the same, home to where my love for baseball begun, and always the best baseball park on earth.

Electric. That was my one word answer to what Wrigley Field was like last season, and that has remained over the year. Clement was in a first inning jam yesterday, and with a full count and two outs, the stadium was rocking like it was a playoff game. Sure, there are still the oblivious fans that are more worried about the fights in the mezzanine or where the nearest beer vendor is, but in crunch time there isn’t a place more fun on Earth.

Last night was a really weird day for a game, as the weather was changing all game. I drove into the city with promise of rain all around me, as clouds covered the Chicago skyline. Then as we entered Wrigleyville, the heavens cleared and the sun came out for the first time all day. But alas, it did pour about an hour before game time, despite the sun alongside it. At 7:05 the rain was long gone, but clouds darkened the place so much the lights had to be turned on. We heard there were tornado warnings at one point, and the clouds then started to turn red. But, I managed to stay dry all game, as thunderstorms managed to hit just the lake, and avoid us avid baseball fans.

I won’t go too much into the game, All-Baseball does have this one blog completely entitled to that. But, I’ll give a bit of an overview. I don’t call myself a sabermatrician by any means, I’m way too unattached for statistics for that. Sunday’s game will show why stats don’t always tell the truest tale, and while we should all remember that it’s the actual game we love, not the numbers that complement it.

People will open their newspapers today, and read Matt Clement’s line: 6 IP, 3H, 3 ER, 3BB/6K, and think he pitched well. But, I’ve seen most of Clement’s starts this year, and this was one of his worse games. The Cards could not get a beat on him, but he was not the pitcher that almost threw a no-hitter only weeks before. I’ll go as far to say that Matt Morris, the man he beat, pitched better than him. Morris struggled in the first inning, but after that was golden, simply subject to a bad offense.

Despite all the craziness in Cubdom, I went to bed last night a happy Cubs fan. Sure, Kerry suffered a setback, Sosa sneezed, and Ricky Nolasco can’t handle AAA. But heck, Moises and Aramis are hotter than a sauna, countdown to Prior is nearing, and we’re a game ahead of the Astros. But please, will someone explain to me who these Reds guys are? I mean seriously, they have a starter’s ERA nearing 5.00 (4.85)!

But I digress. This site is quickly becoming the home for young players and the minor leagues, so I’ll stick on that topic.

With that being said, there is no other way to start this entry than by saying the future is now in Kansas City. Having little other options, Allain Baird and Tony Pena decided it was time to bring up the phenom formerly known as Zack Greinke. In my Royals preview at THT, I attempted to draw comparisons on Bret Saberhagen and Greinke, and wrote this on Saberhagen:


In the June 1982 amateur draft, the Royals selected a high school pitcher named Bret Saberhagen in the nineteenth round. They sent the right-hander to their high-A affiliate in the Florida State League to start the 1983 season, and after sixteen starts there, he finished with eleven AA Southern League starts. He was 19 in 1983, and then at 20, broke in as a reliever with the Royals, getting moved into the rotation late in the 1984 season. By 1985, he was the ace.

It’s interesting that this time around, Kansas City did not take the relief route. Instead, Greinke was sent to Omaha, where he started six games before his call up. Greinke had a 2.51 ERA in 28.2 innings, which included 25 hits, six walks, 23 strikeouts and two home runs allowed. I didn’t see Greinke’s start, I really have to get MLB TV, but I heard he pitched in the low-90s with pretty good control.

Note that Saberhagen’s 1984 season was not exactly as I described it at THT. He made 38 appearances that year, 18 of them he had started. While I assumed this meant he was broke in as a reliever, Saberhagen’s role had been undefined all year long. His first start came on April 19, and he started seven in a row between April 28 and June 4. He was used sparingly until September, when his last three appearances were all starts, including a complete game shutout of the Angels. Saberhagen’s ERA was 3.48 that year, similar to what I think Greinke might do in about 20 starts this year. While I didn’t buy into this comparison much last year, the two are actually strikingly similar, and Kansas City fans should begin praying Greinke doesn’t fall victim to the same injury that Bret did.

Two other ‘prospects’ were recalled to the majors this week: Justin Morneau for the Twins and Anastacio Martinez of the Red Sox. Both had been playing great at AAA, with Morneau’s SLG and Martinez’s K/9 both alarmingly high. Morneau will get consistent playing time due to the rash of injuries on the Twins front, while Martinez will only be used in low leverage situations. Justin could be this year’s Miguel Cabrera, but that’s a topic we’ll have to explore down the road.

Speaking of the Red Sox, I noticed on the transaction page that they re-signed David Ortiz to a two-year extension, as Theo moves quickly and quietly to decide his plan for this coming off season. I’ve never been quiet about my guess, which is that Nomar returns to New England, while Pedro is left to find a home elsewhere. The team will opt not to bring Bill Mueller back, instead choosing the aging catcher Jason Varitek. That leaves the 2005 lineup as pretty similar:

C- Jason Varitek
1B- Kevin Millar
2B- Mark Bellhorn???
SS- Nomar Garciaparra
3B- Kevin Youkilis
LF- Manny Ramirez
CF- Johnny Damon
RF- Trot Nixon
DH- David Ortiz

But, Theo will be left to acquire a couple of starters, as I see only Schilling, Wakefield, and Bronson Arroyo as possible members of the rotation. Speaking of acquisitions, it was announced this week that Andrew Brown was the second half of the pot that Mark Shapiro landed for Milton Bradley in Spring Training. I might be bias (considering I met Shapiro only months ago), but this means that Cleveland beat out Paul DePodesta further in what is his first major deal as a General Manager.

First, there is Franklin Gutierrez, the main haul. He’s been everything that was promised at AA, hitting .320/.382/.458 in 153 AB, albeit a little low in homers with two. Brown did well in the Southern League, striking out a league high 58 batters in only 40.1 innings. This, mixed with a WHIP under 1.25, would make Brown a very good prospect. But, he’s allowed five home runs already, likely the reason to blame for his 4.02 ERA. There is obviously some work to do here, but Brown has the makings of a very special pitcher.

OK, here’s a quick run-down on the minor leagues:

- Right now, B.J. Upton is the top prospect in baseball. Upon promotion to AAA, Upton continues hitting, slugging four homers in his first 39 at-bats. He’s also stolen two bases in his first ten games, so it appears the Durham manager is more apt to send him than his Montgomery coach was. B.J. is special, and will be up full-time by July.
- I spent some time today thinking of a good comparison for David Wright. There have been only 29 seasons with a third basemen stealing 30 or more bases, and few mix that with power and patience. A more patient Howard Johnson or a more powerful Paul Moliter at this point, and Wright has become my second favorite prospect in baseball, behind Jeff Francis, who is still going strong thank you very much.
- In third base news, note that Andy Marte is coming on strong, raising his average to above .260 in the last week. I predicted Marte to be this year’s Miguel Cabrera, so I guess there is still a month (Cabrera debuted on 6/20) for the Braves to be convinced to call up Andy. Also, former top pick Jeff Baker of the Rockies is destroying the California League.
- Ryan Howard is leading the Eastern League in home runs, and is very attractive trade bait if you ask me. Fellow first base prospect Prince Fielder has been terrible his last ten games, which has led to his average dipping below .270. Yikes.
- Brad Thompson finally allowed a run, some time around when Chuck Tiffany threw a perfect game.
- And finally, Cole Hamels and Lastings Milledge each debuted this last week, so keep your eyes and ears open for those two.

Keep your eye on Baseball America, as they have been increasing draft coverage of late. Would anyone here really choose Niemann over Weaver or Drew at this point? Hell, I’d take Townsend over Niemann if given the choice. But I guess that’s the sabermatrician side of me.

Baseball BeatMay 23, 2004
15-and-Oh So Close!
By Rich Lederer

After a two-week hiatus, Rich's Weekend Baseball BEAT returns to bring you the latest on Jered Weaver. I was fortunate to be among the sell-out crowd of 3,036 fans at Blair Field in Long Beach Friday night in my usual seating area behind home plate surrounded by major league scouts to witness Weaver's latest dazzling performance.

The junior right-hander was one strike away from throwing a complete-game shutout and winning his 15th game without a loss this season when arch-rival Cal State Fullerton rallied with a back-to-back double on an 0-2 pitch and a run-scoring single to tie the game in the top of the ninth. Weaver was removed from the contest at that point, having thrown 120 pitches and Long Beach State went on to lose 2-1 in 10 innings. (Box Score)

Weaver vs. CSUF:

             IP   H   R   ER   BB    K
Weaver      8.2   8   1    1    0   11

Kevin Towers, the General Manager of the San Diego Padres, was in attendance to keep tabs on his prized prospect. Weaver, as has been predicted here for months, is likely to be chosen by the Padres with the #1 pick in next month's amateur draft.

In fact, if Weaver signs a contract with the Padres in June, I wouldn't be at all surprised if he ends up pitching in the big leagues this year. If he pulls a Mark Prior and signs later in the summer, then it wouldn't be feasible for him to pitch for the Padres until early 2005.

Health permitting, only Jake Peavy (with a league-leading 2.01 ERA) is a lock to remain in San Diego's rotation all year. Ismael Valdez (4.47 ERA with only 15 Ks in 44 1/3 IP) is the most likely pitcher to be replaced by an early Weaver signing. However, Adam Eaton (5.23 ERA with 10 HR in 53 1/3 IP) and Brian Lawrence (4.56 ERA and a 1.70 WHIP despite his six wins) have been spotty as well.

Weaver would give the Padres another starting pitcher for the stretch run. He has an unusual delivery and could be effective in his first go round the league. It might be perceived as a risky move but one that I wouldn't put past the Padres, who have a reasonable shot at the post-season for the first time since 1998.

I have been impressed not only with Weaver's power and command but also his makeup. He has the guile, guts, and determination that makes him a special talent. When Jered has his best stuff, he simply dominates Division I hitters. When he isn't on top of his game, he still finds a way to beat the opponent with a mound presence rare for any pitcher--much less a 21-year-old.

Weaver can reach back and rise to the occasion when needed. On Friday night, the youngster who wears the number 36 on his back stranded four Titans at third base, getting out of minor jams with a popup in the first inning, a soft lineout in the second, two strikeouts in the sixth, and three punchouts to end the eighth.

The hard-throwing Weaver has a knack for challenging left-handed hitters inside in a manner that reminds me of a young Frank Tanana, a lefty who could bust a fastball on the hands of right-handed batters as well as anyone I've ever seen during his heyday in the 1970s. And to think that Weaver is doing so against hitters with aluminum bats says a lot about his confidence.

Weaver's year-to-date stats are simply phenomenal. A strikeout-to-walk ratio of 13:1 is unheard of at any level of competition. Opponents are batting a lowly .151 against him with a .195 on-base percentage and a .218 slugging average.

Season Totals:

            IP    H    R   ER   BB     K    ERA    W-L
Weaver     122   63   20   17   14   182   1.25   14-0

The All-American has struck out 10 or more batters in 12 of his 16 starts; K'd at least 14 on seven occasions, including a school record 17 one game and 16 in only six innings against Wichita State; and whiffed the first 10 in a game twice (USC, BYU). Weaver has also hurled two complete-game shutouts; retired 21 and 18 consecutive batters; and strung together 23 1/3 consecutive scoreless innings at one point during the season.

The pride of Simi Valley High School has been named Collegiate Baseballs National Player of the Week a record six times (2/9, 2/16, 3/8, 3/15, 3/29, 5/10) and is a strong candidate for three Player of the Year honors (Baseball America, The Dick Howser Award, and the Golden Spikes Award) plus The Roger Clemens Award, given to the top collegiate pitcher.

Rich's Weekend Baseball BEAT and Jered Weaver have been joined at the hip this year. Although Weaver is synonymous with Weekend Baseball, there still isn't a team this year that can say they BEAT perhaps the best pitcher in the history of college baseball.

Important Note: Jered Weaver's next outing may be shown live on College Sports Television. CSTV has moved the Dirtbags nationally televised game at Miami to Thursday, May 27 at 7:00 p.m. EST. It was originally scheduled for Friday, which is normally Weaver's night but it is likely that Jered's start will be moved up to Thursday to kick-off the three-game series with the University of Miami Hurricanes.

NCAA Playoffs: The sites for the NCAA Regionals will be announced on Sunday, May 30. The field of 64 for the NCAA Tournament will be revealed on Monday, May 31 with Regional play beginning on June 4. The Super Regionals will commence on June 11 with the College World Series opening on June 18.

Photo Credit: Matt Brown

WTNYMay 17, 2004
When Bad Teams Make Me Think
By Bryan Smith

I’m not a big fan of tooting my own horn, but I’ll make one exception, and ask any of you that haven’t to read my piece on the Southern League at the Hardball Times. It’s always been hard for me to judge the number of fans that truly love the minor leagues, but I see it as the Internet’s most uncovered baseball topic, and I’ve set out to change that. Whether I have a fan base or not remains to be seen...

As someone noted in the comments section last week, Dustan McGowan has joined the list of players that are out for the season. McGowan’s arm injury should take him out until mid-July, but as Will Carroll points out, it’s really only the second injury the Riccardi regime has faced. This hurts the 2005 Blue Jays that were leaning on McGowan, but he could be ready as early as 2006.

In other minor league news, Brad Thompson extended his scoreless streak to over forty innings with six scoreless innings on Friday. Retiring one out his next time on the mound will give him the Southern League record, and at this point, I think you can bank on that. Whether the Cardinals are simply waiting for him to give up a run to get a promotion, or don’t think he’s ready, Thompson should be in Memphis later this month.

Also, while I think there are holes in the article, Jim Callis has a nice breakdown of polish vs. stuff over at Baseball America. They make out Jered Weaver to have no stuff, and from what I hear from Rich Lederer, he seems a little underhyped. Players like Jeremy Sowers deserve that title more than someone like Weaver, especially with those strikeout numbers. We’ll see how Tim Stauffer’s career turns out, but his first two months have been better than those of Kyle Sleeth. And believe me, Weaver’s stuff isn’t as far behind Verlander’s as Stauffer’s is to Sleeth’s.

While I hate to sound repetitive with what I wrote in THT Live, watching Ben Sheets yesterday just reminded me while I follow this game so closely. Sheets was absolutely perfect, striking out the final six hitters, all of whom were facing him from the left side. The ump was being very generous with the outside corner, almost causing Johnny Estrada to be ejected two pitches before Sheets struck him out to end the game.

Before this year, the Sheets vs. Zito debate has been non-existant. Sheets career ERA+ of 96 has been unexceptional, although his peripherals showed great improvement in the last year. This season Sheets has shown why he was once a first round pick. How? Well, his pinpoint control has further improved, all the way to only walking nine batters in his first fifty-nine innings. In that time, Sheets has also allowed only forty-six hits, but has struck out 66 batters.

But, Sheets is just one of many Brewers that have pushed the club’s record over .500. I predicted the Brewers to finish fourth in the NL Central before the season, and despite the Reds current push, I stand by my prediction. The combination of Ned Yost and Mike Maddux seems great to me, and the Brewers show more energy than most teams, and sometimes that can be enough to win 80 games.

A bigger surprise than Sheets this season has been Lyle Overbay, the stud first basemen that has made Milwaukee fans forget about some guy named Sexson. Overbay’s line of .369/.414/.638 has led to of a Wilson/Overbay/Thome debate for the National League All-Star vote. Lyle’s 21 doubles and 38 RBI are enough to garner my vote, and while I don’t think he’ll keep this up, fifty doubles isn’t out of the question.

In fact, only two first basemen in the last twenty-five years have had seasons with more than 50 doubles and less than twenty-five home runs, John Olerud and Mark Grace. The latter is fitting, as Overbay has garnered comparisons to Grace since his minor league days. Lyle is definitely playing over his head, but in the very least, he should allow the team an extra year to develop Prince Fielder.

And it’s prospects that make up the future of this team. Sure, there have been problems, Rickie Weeks hasn’t shown a ton of power and J.J. Hardy has been lost for the season, but the future remains bright. Junior Spivey and Keith Ginter will allow Weeks all the time he needs, and even Bill Hall has become a serviceable shortstop.

Another amazing Brewers factoid is the fact that through 37 games, Scott Podsednik has twenty stolen bases, against zero times being caught. He has an off chance at 90 steals, and looks to be Doug Melvin’s best minor addition of his career. His .356 on-base percentage could go up, but Podsednik has yet to turn on the jets.

Whether is was Ben Sheets yesterday or just some weird intuition, I’m jumping on the Brewers bandwagon. No, not for this year, but rather for years down the road. This system is too good for the Brewers not to make an impact as early as 2006, and each year this team is learning more and more about their club. If you have a chance, I recommend watching Sheets pitch soon, and maybe his fastball/curveball combination will inspire you to think about Milwaukee as well.

Going from one bad team to another, I couldn’t say anything shocked me more this weekend than discovering Jose Vidro had signed a four-year extension to stay with the Montreal Expos. This is following a three-year extension given to ace Livan Hernandez only weeks before. I’m not the first to imply this, but there is no question Montreal will not be the home of Les Expos next year. Oh, and if you get a chance, head over to Senators and Sabermetrics, a great new blog I’ve seen with a great twist. I’m telling you, find your niche and you’ll make it, what it is I haven’t quite figured out yet though...

Moving back to the Expos, I think those two extensions ensure that Orlando Cabrera will be dealt midseason. I know the Cubs will be interested, maybe as early as July, but the Giants, Dodgers, and maybe even the Twins could all be on the phone with Minaya as well. Signing Jose Vidro probably cost them Dioner Navarro and another prospect, but they also signed one of the better second basemen from the last fifteen years. While he’s started out a bit slow, Vidro’s OPS has improved .063 this month.

Well, that’s all for now. Last week I made a mid-week post on minor league injuries, and I think that’s a direction I’ll go in more and more. Anything you hear interesting on the draft or the minors drop into the comments, and heck, it might even spawn a post, even a Brewer could do that.

WTNYMay 12, 2004
Injuries
By Bryan Smith

I didn't write on it in my last post, but as you may have heard, Jeff Allison is on a leave of absence from the Florida Marlins. Mike Berardino reports that Allison has a dependency problem on a painkiller, and may be out for a year. Allison is the definition of a stud high schooler, and would have been a top five pick last year had it not been for big bonus demands. Allison was the Marlins top prospect, but now Josh Hamilton-like concerns surround him. Let's hope that Allison can get over his problem, and maybe one day live up to the expectations that he once garnered.

Allison isn't the only big-name prospect that will be missing 2004, try J.J. Hardy. The Brewers top shortstop prospect has injured his shoulder, and season-ending surgery will cut his 2004 short. I've compared Hardy to Royce Clayton on this site before, so I don't see this as a monster-sized loss. Bill Hall is serviceable, and maybe the team will try Junior Spivey or Keith Ginter at short. Doug Melvin is just thanking his lucky stars that this wasn't Weeks or Fielder.

Last, but surely not least, my favorite pitcher and fantasy ace Kerry Wood left yesterday's game with tightness. Watch TCR and WCW for more, but this worries me greatly. See ya Monday...

WTNYMay 10, 2004
AL ml Report (pt. 2)
By Bryan Smith

As a Cubs fan, things are on the up and up. Mark Prior has a date set, so the Sergio Mitre AAA countdown can officially begin. It’s not that I don’t like the guy, I just can’t help wondering what things would be like if #22 was on the mound every time he pitches.

But luckily, everyone else in the rotation is pitching magnificently. And even with an ERA over 5.00, Greg Maddux has been very good lately. In fact, in his last four starts: 27IP 27H 22K 3BB 3.00ERA. That is exactly why the Cubs signed Maddux, but unfortunately, the offense has not been generous enough, and I worry about Greg’s chances at yet another 15-win season.

A friend recently asked me if I thought Carlos Zambrano was better than Kerry Wood. I laughed at this notion immediately, but later noticed that Z is pitching fantastically this year. Save a bad performance at Arizona and Carlos has been untouchable, especially his last sixteen innings: five hits, three walks, seventeen strikeouts and ZERO runs. The Cubs have so many aces it's insane, and their ability to stay within three games of the Astros by the Pirates series (June 4-6) will have a huge bearing on this race. It’s great to see Derrek Lee doing well, isn’t it?

Last week I started on an AL minor league report, but never finished it. I promised to get it up during the week, but other obligations made that impossible. So today I’ll finish it, and I hope that every week I’ll tackle half of the league, completing a full cycle every month. Enjoy...

Kansas City

Before the 2003 season, Royals fans would have predicted a 2004 with Alexis Gomez in right field and Mike Tonis behind the plate. Plans have drastically changed in Kansas City, and now those two are seeing their chances of reaching Kauffman Stadium decrease. Gomez is hitting a paltry .161/.223/.276 at AAA, while Tonis is hitting .177/.230/.253 at AA. Last season’s first-round choice, Chris Lubanski, is hitting .202/.311/.303 in the Midwest League, rounding out the bad hitters in the system.

But the worst of all comes on the mound, where former first-rounder Colt Griffin looks like a complete bust. The first high schooler to hit triple digits on a radar gun, Griffin is 1-2 in the Carolina League, with an 8.78ERA, thirty hits and 21 walks in only 27.2 innings. It’s unknown Dusty Hughes that is capturing headlines by allowing only one run in his first thirty-two innings, good for a 0.28ERA in the Midwest League.

And yes, there are more good things. Mitch Maier, a supplemental pick last June, is hitting .306/.364/.490 while moving from behind the plate to the hot corner in low-A. David Murphy, a second basemen in the Carolina League, is hitting .337/385/.471 for Wilmington. Finally, outfielder Byron Gettis has been hot the last two weeks, raising his overall AAA line to .287/.427/.483, and will make a case to up-end the ridiculously hot Ken Harvey at some point.

Zack Greinke watch: 0-1 3.38 17/18.2 15/4
Calvin Pickering watch: .299/.441/.770

Minnesota

While things are once again looking good at the Major League level, the Twins have reinforcements if needed in the minor leagues. Aaron Gleeman would love for Jason Bartlett to replace one of the Twins terrible middle infielders, as Bartlett is hitting .339/.412/.504 at Rochester. Top unhurt prospect Justin Morneau is destroying the International League, hitting .386/.433/.711, making every Twin fan on Earth wondering why the Hell he’s not in the Major Leagues yet. Jesse Crain, the final piece of the AAA puzzle, is doing OK, allowing seventeen hits in 15.2 innings, but also striking out twenty in that time. We’ll see him once Joe Nathan cools off a bit.

Jason Kubel, an unheard prospect with a career .310 average, is doing magnificent in the Eastern League, hitting .388/.453/.660, mainly thanks to double-digit doubles. There is no spot on the Twins roster for Kubel, making me think the Twins could be like the Braves of the 1990s, but trading outfielders rather than pitchers. J.D. Durbin is the other New Britainer looking great, with a 2.08ERA through 34.2 innings.

In the Florida State League, the Fort Myers Miracle have managed a winning record (15-14), despite only THREE home runs. It’s been all pitching, with acquired hurlers Francisco Liriano (A.J. Pierzynski) and Matt Yeatman (Matt Kinney) leading the way.

Things look the most bleak at low-A, where prospects Denard Span, Matt Moses, and Evan Meek are all struggling terribly. Both former first-rounders, Span (.228/.333/.267) and Moses (.239/.341/.451) can’t make consistent contact. Moses is a little more intriguing thanks to the ISO over .200, but time will tell with him. Meek has been terrible on the mound, walking fifteen men while striking out only three in just over five innings. Yikes.

Anaheim

A hoard of hitting prospects shot the Angels up organizational rankings in the past year, and that group should start to arrive in the O.C. in the next few years. In fact, Darin Erstad’s injury has opened the path for Casey Kotchman, who was hitting .368/.438/.544 in the Texas League. Kotchman has had injury issues his entire career, but if he stays healthy, Erstad might be moving back to the outfield upon his return. The team also has potential replacements for Ben Molina, Adam Kennedy and Troy Glaus in Jeff Mathis (.312/.350/.462), Alberto Callaspo (.312/.353/.368) and Dallas McPherson (.300/.376/.473).

After that, things haven’t been great in the Anaheim system. Top pitching prospect Ervin Santana has yet to take the mound, while Bobby Jenks has an ERA over 8 in his first twelve innings. Intriguing right-hander Rafael Rodriguez has gotten off to an equally bad start in the Midwest League, allowing sixteen hits and ten walks in his first thirteen innings. Only one-time Padre prospect Eric Cyr has been good on the mound, going 4-0, 1.70ERA in the Texas League.

There are a few more lower-level hitting prospects, but they have mixed results so far. The best has been from California League shortstop Erick Aybar, who is hitting .364/.430/.503 with eleven stolen bases thus far. Last year’s first rounder, Brandon Wood has struggled, hitting .238 in his first 100 or so at-bats. His double-play partner, Howie Kendrick, is hitting .309, but bad plate discipline has his on-base percentage at only .327.

Oakland

Things are not going well for what will forever be labeled as the Moneyball draft. Two of the more talked about players in the book, Nick Swisher and Jeremy Brown are struggling terribly after their first month. Swisher has been unspectacular in the Pacific Coast League, hitting .228/.374/.443 so far. Swisher is proving to be a very hot and cold hitter, and I am beginning to think the team has rushed it with him. Jeremy Brown, the catcher that doesn’t wear jeans, has been the worst of the group hitting .167/.257/.267 at AA. Brown should never have been in the Texas League last year, first establishing success in one of the A’s A-ball factions.

Others from the Moneyball draft are struggling as well. Steve Stanley, an outfielder from Notre Dame, is hitting .237/.345/.289 alongside Swisher at AAA. At AA, both Mark Kiger (.250/.363/.313) and John McCurdy (.247/.286/.424) are hitting below expectations, while Ben Fritz (5.29 36/32.1 23/17) has been awful.

Only Joe Blanton and Mark Teahen are making Billy Beane look respectable, saving millions of readers from lighting Micheal Lewis’ book on fire. Blanton has a 2.39ERA so far at AAA, and it won’t be long before he and Rich Harden switch places, or Harden moves to the set-up role in the bullpen a la Rafael Soriano. Teahen has been the Texas League’s best third basemen, hitting .347/.437/.535 through the first month.

But yes, I will talk about non-Moneyball draft players as well. Dan Johnson (.283/.382/.566) should be taking the Oakland first base job before too long, and Mark Ellis’ injury has opened the other right-side slot for former Cub Adam Morissey (.318/.395/.500). Moving to high-A, a few first-round picks from last year have not been great for Mr. Beane thus far. Houston right-hander Brad Sullivan has been awful, boasting a 13/16 K/BB with an ERA over 5.00 in the California League. Highly touted players Marcus McBeth (.177/.235/.242) and Omar Quintanilla (.259/.315/.431) are struggling as well.

Finally, there are the low-A players that you’ve never heard of. David Castillo hit .398/.475/.686 at Oral Roberts University in his final year, and now is hitting .323/.467/.531 behind the plate at low-A this year. The catch? He’s 23. Behind Teahen and Eric Chavez on the Oakland 3B chart is Eric Snyder, currently hitting .296/.415/.408 for the Kane County Cougars. Finally, the organization’s second-best pitcher has been Brad Knox, a former Central Arizona College right-hander with 52 strikeouts in only 37.1 innings.

Seattle

Honestly, when going through the different teams for the Mariners, I found very few players to actually report things on. This surprised me as I had believed the Mariners to have a good system, but this practice has made me believe they lack any depth in the system.

Three of the team’s better prospects are currently at AAA. Jose Lopez, still young at shortstop and looking to take the job next year, is hitting .293/.340/.535 at his first go-around the PCL. Travis Blackley is not faring so well, with an ERA at 4.71 and having allowed 38 hits in 28.2 innings with only sixteen strikeouts. Even top prospect Clint Nageotte isn’t doing too well, his ERA is 4.15, and his WHIP is nearing the dangerous 1.40 range.

At AA, only Shin-Soo Choo (.286/.369/.551) was worthy of note. Choo will have a chance at the centerfield job next year, possibly getting Randy Winn traded this coming offseason. In the California League, 18-year-old Felix Hernandez is grabbing all the headlines. Hernandez has an ERA of 2.56 and 41 strikeouts in his first 31.2 innings, all against 25 hits and nine walks. Fellow Inland Empirer Bobby Livingston has been better, allowing only 25 hits in his first 41.1 innings, with an ERA of 1.31. In the Midwest League, only first-round pick Adam Jones (.238/.319/.295) bad season is worthy of note.

Texas

Rather than focus on the usual bunch, I’m going to go straight to A-ball, and detail some players that few have heard of so far. Vince Sinisi would have been a top-15 pick from Rice last season, right in Michael Aubrey’s range, if not for his signing demands. The Rangers had to bite, and Sinisi is repaying, hitting .317/.383/.483 thus far. Anthony Webster, a centerfielder in last year’s Carl Everett deal, is also doing well at Stockton, hitting .282/.373/.427. Stanford right-hander John Hudgins, who didn’t do well with the Cardinal until his Senior year, is continuing his success, going 1-0, 2.76ERA, with 25H in 29.1IP against 33 strikeouts and nine walks.

At low-A Clinton, there are more never-before-heard names. The one big name, last year’s first-rounder, John Danks is trying to become this year’s Scott Kazmir. Danks is doing a good job, having struck out 32 in his first 21.1 pro innings, during which his ERA is only 2.11. Another pitcher, Matt Lorenzo, is doing well (1.93ERA, 14H/28IP, 42K/5BB), justifying his fifth-round selection. And late-round pick Ian Kinsler has been great, hitting 20 doubles in his first 110AB.

That’s all for now...

Baseball BeatMay 09, 2004
A Tribute To My Mom
By Rich Lederer

Tuesday, August 28, 1928. Lefty Grove threw a shutout, defeating the Chicago White Sox, 1-0, at Shibe Park in Philadelphia. Grove was in the midst of a great season in which he led the American League in wins (24) and strikeouts (183) while finishing third in ERA (2.58).

But the most important development that day--at least from my perspective--was the birth of another lefty. Patricia Ann Donovan.

While Grove went on to become the best southpaw in baseball history, Patricia Ann Donovan went on to become the best Mom a guy could have.

My Mom was born in Grand Island, Nebraska and grew up in Des Moines, Iowa during the depression years. After graduating from high school, she delayed college for a year to work and save a little money. In August 1947, my mother moved to Long Beach, California (which was affectionately known as Iowa by the Sea in the post-War years). She applied to UCLA but the out-of-state tuition was prohibitively expensive, prompting her to attend the more affordable Long Beach City College instead.

Going to LBCC turned out to be a blessing in disguise. My Mom met the love of her life while working at the college newspaper, The Viking. My Mom and Dad were engaged in February 1949 and married six months later on her 21st birthday. George and Patricia Lederer. They began married life with my Dad working nights in the sports department of The Independent (one of the two Long Beach newspapers at the time) and my Mom working days for the Yellow Pages. They managed without owning a car--unheard of today, especially in California.

My Mom and Dad had four children. My older brother Tom was born in 1951, my sister Janet in 1954, and my younger brother Gary in 1962. I was born in 1955--the middle child, if there can be such a thing among four.

The love affair between my family and baseball began in 1958 when my Dad was assigned the job of covering the Dodgers in the team's inaugural season in Los Angeles. March Madness around our house was the month my Mom also played Mr. Dad while our father was in Vero Beach each spring with the Dodgers.

My brothers and I played organized baseball all through our youths. It seemed as if we lived at the ball fields. If we weren't at the Coliseum or Dodger Stadium, we were at Heartwell Park (home of our local Little League, Pony League, and Colt League), Lakewood High School, or Blair Field. On many a day, we ran (well, I should say drove now that we had a car) from one game to the next. In any event, these ballparks were our home away from home.

When my Mom wasn't cooking us a homemade meal, we were grabbing a Poor Boy at the snack shack. And perhaps a Big Hunk or Look candy bar for dessert with a few Pixy Stix in between. All the while, my Mom was not only our chauffeur and number one fan but team mother, league secretary, and/or in charge of the Ladies' Auxiliary.

Although my Dad attended as many of our games as he could, his job covering the Dodgers prevented him from being there as often as he would have liked. Nonetheless, it was always reassuring to at least see my Mom in the stands. And in the stands she was--every game.

Like a lot of women from that era, my Mom chose to shelve her personal ambitions in devotion to the most difficult, important, and exhausting job in the world--being a loving mother to her four children. Yet, as I approached college, my Mom went back to work--putting in half days at the Child Study Center at the local community college in order to help pay my tuition to USC.

At about the time my Dad died from melanoma at the age of 50 in 1978, my Mom went back to college and earned the Bachelor's degree that brought her out to California in the first place nearly 30 years earlier. My brothers, sister, and I were all very proud of her. In 1980, she accepted an invitation to teach pre-school and kindergarten in Japan for a year. When my Mom returned home, she resumed her career here and taught for about ten years before retiring.

My Mom. Three quarters of a century old and still going strong. Nearly half of that century as my Mom. Lucky me. My Mom--parent, teacher, confidant, ardent supporter, and friend all wrapped up in one package. Thank you for being there for me, Mom. You're the best.

Happy Mother's Day!

WTNYMay 04, 2004
AL mL Report (Pt. 1)
By Bryan Smith

As promised, this is the second edition of Wait ‘Til Next Year weekly, and just a day late at that. Today, largely due to the desire of my readers for minor league content, I will give a report on how American League prospects are currently faring. Let me say that over the last year I have become a huge prospect nut, and find it to be the most uncovered area of the ‘blogworld’. Hopefully places like this can turn into discussion forums for prospectdom, if such a place exists.

Before starting on the team-by-team detail, I want to give my bit about my Major League team, the Chicago Cubs. Unfortunately, the cross-town White Sox are riding a hot streak that has placed the Cubs as Chicago’s number two team, but that shouldn’t last for long. Houston, despite Roger Clemens, is just not taking advantage of injuries to Mark Prior and Mark Remlinger, two huge pieces of this team. Prior will stabilize this rotation like no one else can, and Remlinger, even with his BB/9 that’s too high, will likely offer more control than Kent Mercker.

In last week’s article, a reader asked my opinion on the Felix Sanchez for Jon Connolly trade. Ruz touched on this a little at Transaction Guy, calling Connally a “genuine prospect.” In my opinion, that’s a little over-the-top, as Connolly never seems to shock scouts enough to be on prospect lists. He was the minor league ERA leader last year at 1.41, but didn’t get any press, missing out on the Tigers Baseball America Top Ten. Pat Caputo, the man that compiled the Tigers’ prospect rankings, reasoned that with this bit:


Connolly doesn't throw hard nor is athletic. He has excellent command and is able to dominate with it at lower levels. At higher levels, the hitters are more patient will wait him out. Then we'll see if he has enough "stuff.'' He could be another Andy Van Hekken.

The throwing hard is irrelevant, although I do worry what higher levels could do to Connolly. This trade is a Moneyball v. Scouting deal, with the Cubs getting the former. Sanchez is a hard-throwing southpaw that just doesn’t have the name to crack the Chicago roster, and probably never will. Left-handed relievers are fairly easy to come by, so this deal really has no risk. But should Connolly, or the player to be named, turn out, this was a fantastic move. Connolly’s system debut went beautifully, as he went five innings, allowed two hits and no walks, all while striking out eight. I’ll try to chart his progress, along with the red-hot Rommie Lewis (acquired in the Juan Cruz trade...hitting .354/.416/.646 in 21 AA G) in the coming weeks.

Let’s move now to the promised topic discussion, my minor league report. Let me start out by saying that all numbers I use come from Baseball America on Saturday. Overall numbers have changed a bit in three days, but I hope everyone can bear that ‘problem’. Enjoy...

Baltimore

Top to bottom, the Baltimore organization is suffering from one huge problem: control. I touted this as the most changed organization before the year started, pointing to many trades the two-headed GMs had made to acquire minor league pitching. But, TINSTAPP has applied the first month, as very few of their prospects have been able to consistently throw the ball over the plate. In fact, John Maine has been the best player, allowing only seven walks in 21 innings (and 26K and 13H) at AA.

Adam Loewen, Baseball America’s top Oriole prospect, has walked fifteen in 20 innings. Rommie Lewis has walked 13 in 18.1 innings. Don Levinski, in the Jeff Conine deal, has walked fourteen in 17.1 innings, against only nine strikeouts. The other part of the Conine trade, Denny Bautista, has walked twelve in 18.1 innings. The worst has been Ryan Hannaman, the southpaw acquired for Sidney Ponson, who has walked 14 in only 11.2 innings. This has worked out for an 8.49ERA, and while it’s early in the year to stick a fork in him, he’s setting his own table at this point.

Moving to the hitting side of things, things aren’t so bright there. Last year’s first-round pick, Nick Markakis, a pick I wasn’t too fond of, is hitting .241/.302/.310 at low-A. Maybe they should move him back to the mound, eh? A reader last week asked me in the comments section to mention Mike Fontenot, a second basemen that might pressure Hairston or Roberts. I don’t think we are looking at the same numbers, as Fontenot has simply been an empty batting average, hitting .297/.320/.352 in 91AB. No, I think Brian Roberts should be feeling pretty safe right now. Finally, Tripper Johnson has been the best hitter, as the third basemen is hitting .250/.353/.536 at high-A. With Melvin Mora currently making an error-a-day at the position, the Orioles will really be pushing for his arrival.

Boston

Theo Epstein has a lot of decisions to make this offseason on which of his many free agents to re-sign. The team was likely hoping that Kelly Shoppach and Kevin Youkilis would step up and make the Jason Varitek and Bill Mueller decisions easy. But neither has really done so. Shoppach started the year a little late, and still is hitting just .224/.286/.397, and the Greek God of Walks has an unspectacular line of .291/.380/.443. Both of these players must start hitting the ball harder, or Theo will have no dough for Pedro (rhyming not intended).

If Pedro leaves, the Red Sox will have an open rotation slot though, right? While the team would be likely to fill that hole through a signing, I don’t think Theo would mind having a prospect change his mind. Charlie Zink, Baseball Prospectus’ 50th prospect, is knuckleballing well, with a 2.86ERA in 22 innings at AA. Abe Alvarez, an early round choice last year, has an ERA of 4.26, with some decent peripherals. I like Alvarez, a southpaw from Long Beach State, and think he might turn out to be the best of last year’s draft bunch.

While that might be so, Matt Murton will give Alvarez a run for his money. Murton is dominating high-A, to the tune of .311/.381/.608, including six home runs. Murton plays the corner outfield slot, and should finish the year in AA. If he continues onward with his torrid pace, a 2006 arrival is probable. Hanley Ramirez, who I balked at for inclusion on my prospect list, is struggling horribly, hitting only .278/.337/.380. But who knows, maybe some GM will help make Theo’s decisions easier this winter if Epstein relinquishes Hanley.

New York

Things are bad in the New York system, leaving the Yankees with very few players to trade this All-Star Break. Robinson Cano was almost in the A-Rod trade, but instead is continuing his annual ritual of starting off the year red-hot, Sean Hillenbrand-like, hitting .338/.385/.606 in AA. Dioner Navarro, the stud catching prospect that got some pub last year, was hitting .281/.379/.386 Saturday, not displaying the power numbers that Omar Minaya was hoping for (see Jose Vidro trade, 7/31/04).

There isn’t a lot of pitching in this system, but it’s all in AA. Sean Henn has a 2.78ERA and has struck out 21 in 22.2 innings, and Chien-Ming Wang has a 1.53ERA there. After reading Alex Graman’s name on a Yankee roster, I’m thinking anything’s possible.

While Baseball America did a feature story on the Yanks’ minor league futility, there is signs of hitting at the lower levels. Outfield prospect Bronson Sardinha is hitting .349/.433/.442 in the Florida State League, attempting desperately to become this year’s Jeremy Reed. Moving to the Midwest League, centerfielder Melky Cabrera (.318/.347/.420) and third basemen Eric Duncan (.291/.384/.465) are exciting Yankee brass. Maybe so much that they’ll find themselves being mentioned by the Transaction Guy this year.

Tampa Bay

Everyone expected the two big names to produce this year, but no one saw it coming from a host of unknowns. Yes, B.J. Upton is living up to his billing, hitting .323/.405/.492 at AA. Delmon Young on the other hand, has left a little to be desired. He has walked just twice in 22G, and also hit just .267, good for a .287 average. His power is just .411, so numbers are down across the board. The third prospect, Joey Gathright, is doing well, hitting .360/.467/.480 at AA. At this pace, maybe he’ll de-throne Rocco Baldelli, or at least move him to right.

And now for the unknowns. Few pitching prospects are hotter than Chris Seddon, a southpaw that’s simply dominating the California League. Chris has a 0.82ERA, and has allowed just fourteen hits and three walks in 22 innings, all against twenty-two strikeouts. Battling Seddon for pitcher of the month is reliever Chad Orvella, who has the minor’s most disgusting line in the Sally League: 17.2IP, 2ER, 5H, 2BB, 27K. Wow. Stealing Delmon’s hitting line has been third basemen Vince Harrison, currently hitting .349/.414/.619 for Bakersfield.

Toronto

Pardon Blue Jays fans for having high hopes prior to this season, but we all felt it was justified. The Major League team was promising to give the Boston/New York combo a run for their Wild Card money, and the minors were said to be filled with more prospects than anyone else. A month into the season, fans are gasping for air as the Blue Jays are hanging on for life and the team’s upper-level hitting prospects can’t hit.

Russ Adams, supposed 2005 replacement for Orlando Hudson: .243/.345/.378.
Alexis Rios, supposed 2005 replacement for Reed Johnson: .270/.293/.461.
Guillermo Quiroz, supposed 2005 replacement for Kevin Cash: .241/.344/.407.
Aaron Hill, 2003 first-round pick: .207/.347/.224
Ty Godwin, ex-first round pick: .154/.214/.215
John Ford-Griffin, ex-first round pick: .190/.320/.262

OK, I’ll stop the beating, we’ll look at some positives. Dustan McGowan has been the hottest starters of any of my top 50, sporting a 1.21ERA at AA, including only twelve hits in 22.1 innings. Josh Banks has a microscopic 0.41ERA at high-A, with a WHIP well below 1.00 and 27K in 22IP. Francisco Rosario has bounced back well, striking out twelve in twelve innings.

Vito Chiaravalloti continues to defy scouts, hitting .300/.389/.525 in the Florida State League. Digging deeper, both outfielder Mike Galloway (.321/.379/.566) and second basemen Ryan Roberts (.387/.519/.629) are dominating the Sally League. The moral? If you dig deep enough, there is always hope, even for Canadian baseball fans.

Chicago White Sox

I already mentioned him in this piece, so I figured I should start the Sox report on Jeremy Reed. The latest numbers are in, and Reed is hitting .322/.361/.422 at AA, which is in my mind, good enough to replace Aaron Rowand soon. But before that happens, Reed should improve his BB/K, seeing as it’s only 4/13 right now. On the other end of the spectrum, it’s Joe Borchard with the insanely low BA (.218), but the high walk total (10). Never thought you’d hear that, huh?

Things seem to be going well in Birmingham, as Arnie Munoz must be making some Sox higher-up happy. Someone decided to move Arnie to the rotation, and well, it’s working. Munoz has a 1.46ERA so far this year, allowing 11 hits and striking out 25 in 24.2 innings. Felix Diaz might be making a run at that White Sox 5th starter’s job at AAA, but Munoz must garner some competition at some point. Another is Tetsu Yofu, a Japanese swingman with a 2.31ERA in AA. He’s only walked four in 23.1, and should make one helluva middle reliever some day, if not soon.

Who would have thunk it, but shortstop is turning out to be a good position for the White Sox. Michael Morse, an unheard of, is hitting .325/.365/.638 at AA, and Sox brass is already plotting his ETA. Jose Valentin is a free agent at the end of the year, Willie Harris stinks, so why not 2005? Well, I wouldn’t bet on it happening that way. The other shortstop is the quick Robbie Valido, the low-A middle infielder with ten stolen bases in 21G.

Cleveland

Things are not always as they appear. Sure, Grady Sizemore looked like a can’t miss prospect and Brandon Phillips looked washed up before the year, right? Wrong. Phillips is back to the ’02 version, hitting .369/.455/.508 at AAA, while Sizemore’s OPS hasn’t topped .800. But hey, he’s not been as bad as say, Jeremy Guthrie, who in his second go-around in AAA has an ERA of 7.91.

In AA, people are all living up to expectations. Franklyn Gutierrez is hitting over .300, and Corey Smith has revived himself with a SLG over .600. Francisco Cruceta has a great ERA with 2.70, but is managing to keep those K numbers down, striking out only 13 in thirty innings. Jake Dittler has been fabulous, with his ERA at 1.59 in AA. But no one has matched Adam Miller, the right-hander looking to become this season’s Greinke. Miller has a 1.44ERA this year in low-A, allowing only 14 hits in 25IP, with 31K and 7BB.

Detroit

Dave Dambrowski isn’t catching breaks. After seeing his Major League team defy expectations in the first two weeks, the team is slowly waning below .500, slipping place-by-place on the division standings. And all the while, Dambrowski just simply can’t buy himself a prospect, I mean, even first rounders can’t be counted on.

Apparently, low SLG are a necessary part of being a Tiger. Curtis Granderson has a .339SLG at AA (against a .418OBP!), Scott Moore has a .371, Brent Clevlen’s got a .361, and Kody Kirkland is a organization low with .274. Only middle infielders David Espinosa (.553) and Tony Giarratano (.458), are escaping the low SLG bug.

With Connolly gone, I see only three note-worthy pitchers in the organization. Kyle Sleeth is struggling at high-A, currently pitching with an ERA of 4.43. Joel Zumaya is worse at 5.40, largely because of his sixteen walks in 26.2 innings. Finally, Kenny Baugh is struggling with his comeback from arm surgery, allowing 28 hits in 22 innings. Any team thinking about drafting a kid from Rice, watch out, they really ride those arms.

I’m barely half way through, but have touched the 2,500 word mark. Another six teams and I’ll be pushing 4,000, but with no readers left. So, how about I’ll make a second post this week (we’ll shoot for Thursday), and open the comments section up for any prospect that was left out, or any non-mentioned American League team’s prospect that I should talk about on Thursday.

WTNYMay 03, 2004
One More Day
By Bryan Smith

Yes, I know this is only the second edition of my weekly postings, but this post is being written to announce that WTNY weekly #2 will be tomorrow. Personal matters have taken me away from the baseball world all weekend, and you must give me today to get myself back into the swing of things. Tomorrow you can expect a full length minor league report for all American League teams, so check back on Tuesday. Thanks!

Baseball BeatMay 02, 2004
No Baloney
By Rich Lederer

Upon further research, I discovered that Jim Maloney was the first pitcher in modern baseball history to hurl no-hit ball for 10 or more innings twice in the same season.

On June 14, 1965, Maloney did not allow a hit for ten innings against the New York Mets. He lost his no-hitter when Johnny Lewis led off the top of the 11th with a home run. Roy McMillan also singled later in the inning. Maloney struck out 18 batters and only walked one in the 1-0 heartbreaker.

On August 19, 1965, Maloney tossed a complete-game, 10-inning no-hitter vs. the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. Leo Cardenas hit a game-winning HR off the left-field foul pole in the top of the 10th before Maloney polished off the Cubs in the bottom half of the inning to secure the 1-0 victory. The final frame was the only one in which the 6'2", 200-pounder failed to strike out a batter. The Cincinnati ace threw 187 pitches--including 14 full counts--while fanning 12 and walking 10.

In addition to the three no-hitters, Maloney hurled five one-hitters and nine two-hitters during his career. The flamethrower also pitched six innings of no-hit ball against the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1964 (before leaving with a pulled muscle), and he retired all 19 batters vs. the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1967 (exiting with an injured ankle).

On April 16, 1970, Maloney severed the Achilles tendon in his left leg while running the bases against the Dodgers. Maloney's career effectively ended right then and there as the 29-year-old never won another game in the majors.

Source: BaseballLibrary.com