Pick your poison. Two of the game's oldest stadiums, two of the Majors most passionate fans. On one hand you have 35,008 fans in attendance to catch the World Champions in the season's first Interleague series. On the other hand you have 39,334 fans in the game's other old stadium, in maybe the loudest regular season series that Wrigley hosts.
Either way, their debuts were not going to be easy. But, this was not the first time the pair had overcome the odds, as neither was chosen in the draft's first three rounds. In fact, Brandon McCarthy was not selected from Lamar Community College until the 17th round in 2002, which is looking more like a steal everyday. Kyle Davies was, comparatively, chosen early -- the 4th round -- though Davies is the first of the seventeen pitchers chosen in that round to make the Majors.
Both players were handled delicately by their organizations, as they pitched in short-season ball for two seasons. Their performances were similar, as Davies put up a 2.94 ERA between the Gulf Coast and Appy Leagues, while McCarthy was at 3.26 in the more hitter-friendly Arizona and Pioneer Leagues. Control was a problem for neither, with both showing K/BB rates of over 3/1 in the two leagues, with McCarthy's 2003 Pioneer performance at 125/15 in just 101 innings.
Where it took Kyle Davies two seasons to go from low-A to the Southern League, it took McCarthy just one. Both players pitched in the Sally, Carolina and Southern Leagues during that journey, with Davies throwing a total of 283.2 innings, and McCarthy hurling 172. Double-digit strikeout rates for both during that time, as well as solid control and HR/9 rates around 2.00. Two peas in a pod. In fact, they were born just 64 days apart.
Their debuts, however, were one day apart, as Davies narrowly beat his counterpart to the Majors. Neither was pitching fantastically in the International League, where again it was McCarthy's better control that separated their numbers from looking exactly alike. Coming into the weekend, statistically the two had few differences. At the Major League level, we might have predicted similar results.
Scouts, on the other hand, might have seen the two a little differently. What would have given it away was the five-inch difference in height, though Davies made up for it in weight. Their fastballs were similar in velocity, and both threw good curveballs, and McCarthy's was known as one of the best in the minors. Davies threw four pitches, showing confidence in a change and slider as well. McCarthy didn't have the slider, though in addition to his four-seam fastball, he also threw a two-seamer.
No matter how you slice it, the two always come out similar. And their debuts followed the trend, as both pitched very well.
Kyle Davies' performance comes out on top, since he was the man that ended up in the win column. Davies shut out the world champs in five innings, throwing just under 100 pitches and allowing seven baserunners. McCarthy got the no-decision, as Luis Vizcaino blew the game (and what would have been a one run game for McCarthy) after allowing a Jason Dubois home run. Still, just five baserunners and six strikeouts in 5.1 innings is everything that could have been expected from who I called the best sixth starter in the game in our recent White Sox chat.
For both I charted their first three innings pitched in the big leagues. Davies threw 49 pitches in the three innings, very unmethodical, though he allowed just two Johnny Damon singles and one walk. Of his total pitches, Davies threw 67.3% fastballs (33), 18.4% curves (9), and 14.3% changeups (7). Six of the seven changes that Kyle threw were with two strikes, as he registered both his strikeouts with that pitch. From a velocity perspective, his fastball was 88-92, the curve at 75-79, and the change 80-82mph on the TBS radar gun. I came away impressed by Davies curveball, but it is a bad sign in my eyes that in 49 pitches just one time did he register a swinging strike. To Mark Bellhorn.
Surprisingly Brandon McCarthy was equally as unmethodical during his three innings, throwing 46 pitches. It would have been far more if not for a Corey Patterson bunt and Henry Blanco home run that came on first pitches. McCarthy did not throw the change that had been mentioned in scouting reports during the game, throwing 73.9% fastballs and 26.1% curves. It looked as if he threw the curve in two different ways, both the low-70s looping variety and a tighter curve in the high-70s. His two-seam fastball was thrown predominantly to Derrek Lee, and was registered in the high 80s, while the four seamer peaked at 93. McCarthy has a delivery that seemed a hybrid of Mike Mussina and Jack McDowell, for whom he has long been compared.
It is unlikely that McCarthy and Davies will be able to survive after El Duque and John Thomson return from injuries. But for now the White Sox and Braves are among the lucky few teams that won't get bit by the injury bug, as their top pitching prospects were more than ready. Expect more of the same from both these two in the future, maybe even the same stats.
Notes from the Minors
- Another debut that has not generated enough publicity is that of Jeff Fiorentino, a surprise call-up from the Carolina League by the Orioles. The 22-year-old center fielder is excelling in Camden Yards, less than 400 AB since he was at Florida Atlantic University. Fiorentino has started in seven of the Orioles last eight games, and has a solid .792 OPS over his first 32 at-bats. While the CF job will still likely belong to Luis Matos when he returns, expect the former third rounder to go to AA or AAA instead of the Carolina League when he is optioned down.
- Another centerfielder making a lot of noise is Felix Pie, who looks to finally be having that breakout season in AA. After showing great speed and defense in previous years, Pie is putting it all together this season, already with 13 steals and ten homers. With Corey Patterson entering arbitration soon and never living up to his potential, it might be smart for the team to start considering trading the former first rounder over the winter.
Something must be in the water in Jackson, Tennessee, as Pie isn't the only one currently entertaining a breakout season. Matt Murton, acquired in the Nomar Garciaparra trade, has been flirting with .400 since the beginning of the season. Either he or Jason Dubois must be the Cubs next option in left, and with Pie could economically allow Jim Hendry to spend a lot on right field. On the mound, Rich Hill has been fantastic, striking out 77 in 51.2 innings, and creating some buzz that he'll be the next Cub to start a game should anyone get injured.
- It seems a battle has developed for the minors third spot in the hot corner rankings between Billy Butler and Andy LaRoche. Butler, the Royals first rounder last season, is currently hitting over .350, has 10 home runs, and now 27 walks. LaRoche now has six home runs in his last four games, bringing his season total to 17 in the FSL, in addition to his .361 average. The edge still goes to Butler because of his youth and patience, but LaRoche is definitely making me look good for putting him on my breakout prospect list.
Both players also face the problem of organizational depth at their position. Butler is in Kansas City where the team currently is sporting Gold Glove-caliber Mark Teahen, and will likely draft Nebraska third baseman Alex Gordon in a couple weeks. LaRoche is currently in high-A, and the Dodgers have Willy Aybar and Joel Guzman ahead of him. For Butler the move should be across the diamond to first, as they keep Teahen at third, put Gordon in left and Justin Huber at DH. It's too early to tell what the Dodgers should do, though promotions for Guzman and LaRoche -- and a position change for Aybar -- seem to be on the horizon.
- Last season low-A's two best hitters were probably Ian Stewart and Daric Barton. So far this season, in the hitter-friendly California League, the two are not living up to expectations. Stewart now has a .233 average, and a 5/30 walk-to-strikeout ratio in just 86 at-bats. Barton is not doing much better, just 11 XBH, and a recent hot streak has raised his average to a modest .278. Their great 2004 seasons will allow both players a bit of room for error this season, but both were expecting to be generating consideration for promotions by now.