Baseball Beat/WTNYApril 13, 2005
One on One: First Impressions
By Rich Lederer & Bryan Smith

Our Wednesday feature shifts from Two on Two to One on One. From previews to reviews of the early going. Having watched numerous games via MLB Extra Innings and MLB TV, we began to kick it around and decided to share our observations. We may or may not be right, but you can find out what we had to say right here, right now.

Rich: We're a week-and-a-half into the new baseball season. What has jumped out at you the most?

Bryan: While sample size caveats apply, I have definitely been intrigued by the parity we have seen. Towards the bottom of every division in the standings right now are teams that were picked at season's beginning: both New York teams, Cleveland, St. Louis, Oakland and San Fran. Now I'm hardly naive enough to think these teams will be in the basement all season, but to see teams like Toronto and the White Sox come out swinging puts a smile on my face. Soon enough we'll see the Yankees start winning two of every three games, and the standings will look somewhat like we all expected. But for now, I love that I can dream about NFL-like cinderella stories.

Rich: For me, I loved seeing the Yankees on the top steps of their dugout, clapping and showing respect for the Red Sox while they were getting their rings. That showed a lot of class. I give Joe Torre and his troops credit for showing such sportsmanship. Very refreshing.

On the other hand, I cannot for the life of me understand why MLB would schedule the Yankees and Red Sox twice during the first two weeks of the season. I think having two series like this in the first ten days is absolutely silly. I mean, this isn't NASCAR. I can understand the first one and would chalk that up to just being good for baseball. The second one? Redundant. Unnecessary. Anti-climatic. Overkill. Did I also say that it was just too much, too early?

Bryan: So what about individual players? While stats aren't ready to be evaluated yet, which players have caught your eye through eight or so games?

Rich: The Marlins starting pitchers have been very impressive. Three complete games already. Josh Beckett looks like a world beater. I won't remind everybody that I picked him to win the Cy Young. Oh well, I guess I just did. Hey, I don't want anyone to think I jumped on the bandwagon after the fact. He just flat out pounded the strike zone in his last outing. I saw him throw a 97-mph heater past Brad Wilkerson for his tenth strikeout of the game in the eighth inning. Very, very impressive. 15 innings, 17 Ks, and no runs.

Dontrelle Willis and AJ Burnett also had complete game victories. Although Burnett lost his first start vs. Atlanta, I thought he outpitched Tim Hudson. AJ just got a couple of bad breaks, but he looked really good. I wasn't surprised at all to see him mow down the Phillies Tuesday night. He kept his pitch count down by getting ahead of the hitters. He is virtually unhittable when he throws his fastball (which sits in the upper 90s) and knee-buckling curveball for strikes.

Bryan: Only two strikeouts behind Beckett on the season, and far more surprising, is Brett Myers. This is a guy that was one of the best pitching prospects in baseball a few years back, but like top Phillie prospect Marlon Byrd, has been nothing short of disappointing. Myers already has logged two quality starts, and looked great in the process. His curveball has bite like never before, and it appears he is starting to control his fastball. Could Myers be a 21st century version of Pete Harnisch, meeting expectations with a Cy Young age 24 season? After witnessing him pitch against the Marlins on the 11th, I am sold that this might be the year for Brett Myers. And if Rich is bragging about his Cy Young pick, might I mention Gavin Floyd -- my Rookie of the Year choice -- started the season magnificently against the mighty Cardinals?

Rich: Which hitters have made you sit up and take notice?

Bryan: I'll give you two players that reincarnated themselves by each losing twenty pounds over the winter: Carl Everett and Ivan Rodriguez. Everett is quickly making Chicago fans forget about the Big Hurt, and as I said when returning from Arizona, I think that is due to an increased work ethic. This team will have to make a big decision when Frank returns to the lineup, benching either Rowand or Podsednik.

Rodriguez drew praise from the announcing crew like crazy on Opening Day, after a winter in which he hired a dietician. I'm not so sure there is much more power left in Pudge's bat, but he can still contribute to the Tigers in a big way. If this is a guy that can hit well over .300 and continue to scare baserunners from stealing against him, the Tigers are getting enough bang for their buck.

Rich: Pat Burrell looks like he did three years ago. He had a month's worth of home runs and RBI in his first seven games. Three of his jacks were even hit on the road. For those who thought Miguel Cabrera might fall victim to a second full-season slump, let me tell you something -- you can fuhhgetaboutit. This guy is the real deal. I liken him to Manny Ramirez. Same position. Well-below average defensively. Raw power. Huge ceiling. A .300+, 40-HR guy in the making. Perhaps as early as this year. Put me in charge though and I would throw him in, in, and in. If advance scouts see what I see, Cabrera's biggest challenge will be in making the proper adjustments.

Bryan: So on to my favorite, the youngsters. Which young player -- bonus for naming a rookie -- has impressed you the most so far?

Rich: Danny Haren. I'm biased though. I drafted him for my fantasy team. I expected big things so I'm not at all surprised. In fact, like Joe Sheehan, I believe Haren will outpitch Mark Mulder this year. The guy throws a nasty splitter to go with his 93-95 mph fastball. I don't think he is the type of pitcher like a Beckett or a Burnett who will dominate, but I see him as a solid #3 type guy. He will undoubtedly have his ups and downs before the year is out, but I think his numbers will be just fine come October. This might turn out to be one of those trades people talk about years and years from now if it plays out like I think it will.

Bryan: I'm going to toot an unusual horn: Jorge De La Rosa. Currently the Brewer southpaw has the second-most strikeouts for a reliever, after a splendid two-inning, five strikeout performance on Sunday. De La Rosa had Len Kasper and Bob Brenly drooling as he went through the heart of the Cubs order in front of a packed Wrigley crowd. He struck out two batters with his big fastball (94-96 mph), and one with each of his other three pitches: slider (84-86 mph), change (83-85 mph) and a big curve (76-78 mph). His tendency to fall behind hitters makes me think he'll work better in the bullpen than the rotation, and with Mike Maddux's teaching, could be Milwaukee's answer at closer.

Rich: Interesting. OK, changing gears here, have you seen any bloopers thus far? Any plays that teams may leave on the cutting room floor when they put together their highlight reels for 2005?

Bryan: Sure, I'll give you two. First, the Opening Day disaster that was Braden Looper. It's quite sad that Beltran, Pedro and Jose Reyes are playing so well, and are surrounded by such a horrid bullpen. But the worst is undoubtedly Jason Ellison in the Dodgers-Giants game yesterday. Ellison, who came in as a defensive replacement in the eighth, completely missed a ball in left field that rolled to the wall for a Dodger victory. One of those one-in-a-million plays that makes us all wonder why baseball players make so much money. Either that, or it serves as a reminder why Ellison makes the minimum.

Rich: Well, I have seen some putrid fielding, too. Jason Giambi flat out dropping a pop foul ball the other day takes the cake for me because it just goes to show that Joe Torre won't be able to continue throwing Giambi's glove out there. Tino Martinez isn't the answer either. Where's Don Mattingly when you need him?

Speaking of first basemen, I also witnessed Jim Thome and Nick Johnson getting thrown out at home on two-out doubles. Man, these guys are slow. Thome and Johnson both looked like they were carrying pianos on their backs. Thome is a great player, and I don't want to demean him per se, but it makes me think that Johnson had better hit for more power if he is going to amount to much as a big-league first baseman.

Bryan: Let's close this out with a prospect evaluator's favorite: the comparison. Any players that have made you think you are seeing double in the early going?

Rich: David DeJesus reminds me of Johnny Damon. DeJesus is a bit older than Damon was in his second season, but they are both lefties who play CF with similar bodies, skillsets, and approaches at the plate. Rather than replacing Carlos Beltran, I see DeJesus as Damon reincarnated ten years later.

Bryan: I'm going to go with one I have wanted to make for awhile: Gustavo Chacin and Jarrod Washburn. Chacin has come out of the gate well in this season, and since learning a cut fastball shortly before the 2004 season, has been a very good pitcher. Washburn has always been said to throw his fastball well over 75% of the time, relying heavily on the heater. Neither will intimidate hitters much with their offspeed stuff -- both curveballs and change ups -- and must have control to succeed. Expect Chacin, who also has shown a bit of propensity for the home run, to have moderate Major League success. With little onus on him to sit atop the rotation, unlike Washburn in Anaheim, Chacin could flourish in the middle.

Rich: Thanks, Bryan. I'll check back with you next Wednesday. In the meantime, I'm curious what our readers have observed thus far?


Wasnt Aaron Boone supposed to be a defensive upgrade to Casey Blake? They virtually are the same player offensively, and being a Tribe fan I hope Boone's defense improves or thats gonna be one error prone left side of the infield in Cleveland with Johnny Peralta next to him.

What have I observed thus far?
Just one small and quick item, and it is only based on one three game series in NY, but, I think Miggy Tejada's game in the field is suffering. He looked like he had no range and I'm pretty sure that I heard a "clang" at least once when a ball hit his mitt. Maybe it's nothing? Then again.....

What would you expect from Jhonny Peralta? Heck, his parents even made an error spelling his first name.

To me, it is crazy that the Indians are not platooning Cora and Hernandez at shortstop. These were great, inexpensive signings by Shapiro, and Eric Wedge is hardly using them. Peralta, the 2004 IL MVP surely would have helped Shapiro add some more pitching depth on the trading blocks.

As for Miggy, I guess that wouldn't surprise me considering the hit that Nomar has taken. Sure he was never that fantastic and injuries have helped, but Garciaparra could almost be described a liability in the field. Hopefully for the Orioles having a middle infield player at the hot corner will help Tejada not need a ton of range to his right.

One guy who jumps out at me is Al Reyes, the 35-yr old journeyman reliever for the Cardinals. He's been sort of a Ken Phelps All-Star for years, and La Russa is giving him a real shot. He's struck out 8 guys in only 4.1 innings, (mostly with a + slider) and he could be a fine replacement for Kiko Calero in the pen.

And great job as usual, guys, on the post. I've always thought there wasn't much to say one week into the season, but you've proven me wrong.

Thanks, Brian. You are right about Reyes, he is about as traveled as one gets, as the Cardinals are his eighth team since signing with the Expos in 1988. This is a guy that blossomed when Montreal moved him to the bullpen, and was a Dan Kolb-like find by the Brewers in 1995, when he pitched in 27 games with a sub-3.00 ERA.

But from 1996-2000, Reyes appeared in more than 170 innings with just a 4.61 ERA. What the Dodgers did to reincarnate his career in 2000 is beyond me, but since landing in that organization, he's back. He deserved full-time relief jobs with the Dodgers in 2001, the Pirates in 2002, and the Yankees in 2003.

The Cardinals understand relief pitching, and the ease in finding the next solid reliever. This is the kind of mentality that allows a team to focus big dollars on the important parts, and builds offenses like the Cards have.

Rich, let's not forget that the Angels have played the Rangers in 6 of their first 9, that the Brewers have played Pittsburgh in 5 of their first 8, or that Cleveland has played the White Sox in 6 of their first 9. The schedule appears to be very unbalanced early for a lot of teams so it's possible that MLB isn't just trying to showcase as much Sox-Yanks as possible.

Complete game #4 for the Marlins...

Pitchers IP  H  R ER BB SO HR  PC-ST   ERA 
D Willis  9  3  0  0  1  7  0  114-74  0.00

Is Jeff Torborg back?

The Marlins staff is looking like a monster awakened from it's slumber.

One other NL East tidbit to point out is that the Braves corner outfielders, one #$%@&^# grand slam notwithstanding, have been as awful as expected: Jordan with a .509 OPS, Mondesi with a .416!

Makes you wonder how soon we're going to see Marte?

Just as long as Marte (or Francoeur) replaces Mondesi. I have Jordan on my HACKING MASS squad!

Even though the sample size is extremely small, the biggest surprise to me is the very slow start by some of the best hitters in the game, namely Rolen, Manny, Mora and Pujols. A pleasant surprise has been how comfortable Glaus looks at the plate and on the field.