The Most Impressive Draft Haul of 2007
A number of teams had the benefit of multiple draft picks in the first two rounds (plus the supplemental first round) of the 2007 draft, including the Texas Rangers (six picks), Toronto Blue Jays (seven picks), San Diego Padres (eight picks), and San Francisco Giants (six picks). With apologies to all the rest, the Blue Jays have had the greatest success (so far) with the extra picks:
The club's college-centric approach is well known around baseball so it was a bit of a surprise (and a relief from fans’ perspectives) to see the club take a risk or two with some raw, but toolsy, players - as well as some prep position players.
Kevin Ahrens, 3B, Memorial high school (Houston)
Hitters: AVG/OBP/SLG | AB | Hits | HRs | BB% | K% | BABIP
Pitchers: ERA | IP | Hits | K/9 | BB/9 | HR/9 | AVG | FIP
First round (16th overall)
2007: .230/.332/.321 | 165 | 38 | 3 | 13.2% | 28.5% | .304 (Gulf Coast League)
2008: .272/.349/.420 | 169 | 46 | 1 | 10.6% | 25.4% | .360 (Midwest League)
Kevin Ahrens has not been flashy this season but he’s been consistent and his teammates say he has the “it” quality to be a star. The switch hitter has hit .262 against southpaws and .276 against right-handers. He has only one homer, but the Midwest League is perhaps the toughest full-season league to homer in. Ahrens does have 14 doubles and four triples. Defensively, he has made a smooth transition from shortstop to third base.
J.P. Arencibia, C, University of Tennessee
First round (21st overall)
2007: .254/.298/.377 | 228 | 58 | 3 | 5.8% | 24.6% | .325 (New York Penn League)
2008: .312/.337/.527 | 186 | 58 | 8 | 3.6% | 18.8% | .350 (Florida State League)
J.P. Arencibia has been the hottest hitter in the system and has batted .422 in his last 10 games with 19 hits, three homers and 18 RBI. The right-handed batter is hitting only .210 against left-handers. The catcher has also shown improved defensive skills, which should put to rest any talk of moving him off the position.
Brett Cecil, LHP, University of Maryland
Supplemental first round (38th overall)
2007: 1.27 | 49.2 | 36 | 10.15 | 1.99 | 0.18 | .204 | 2.05 (New York Penn League)
2008: 1.74 | 10.1 | 6 | 9.58 | 1.74 | 0.87 | .171 | 2.91 (Florida State League)
2008: 4.63 | 23.1 | 21 | 8.87 | 3.86 | 0.77 | .242 | 3.76 (Eastern League)
The Jays organization has been aggressive with promotions this season for top picks, including 2006 first rounder Travis Snider (who is now at Double-A at the age of 20) and Brett Cecil. The left-hander was slowed this spring by a wonky shoulder and he still is on a restrictive pitch count. Regardless, he dominated High-A ball (after skipping a level to begin the year) and was going well at Double-A before back-to-back poor outings in late May. He should join Shaun Marcum, David Bush and Casey Janssen as college relievers that the Jays have successfully converted to starters.
Justin Jackson, SS, Roberson high school (North Carolina)
Supplemental first round (45th overall)
2007: .187/.274/.241 | 166 | 31 | 2 | 10.8% | 26.5% | .242 (Gulf Coast League)
2008: .248/.365/.383 | 141 | 35 | 2 | 15.6% | 34.0% | .363 (Midwest League)
Justin Jackson was considered raw coming out of high school, but his father Chuck Jackson played in the majors, so he has been around the game all his life. He hit .323 in April but has slumped to .190 in May and also missed time with an injury, which may have contributed to his struggles. Jackson has shown the makings of a solid leadoff hitter, if he can tone down the strikeouts (34 percent), as he has scored 37 runs in 40 games and has stolen eight bases in nine tries. He has also played outstanding defence at shortstop.
Trystan Magnuson, RHP, University of Louisville
Supplemental first round (56th overall)
2007: Did Not Play
2008: 8.69 | 29.0 | 36 | 4.66 | 5.90 | 0.93 | .306 | 5.79 (Midwest League)
Trystan Magnuson, a college senior, was the biggest reach of the first few rounds for the Jays and the Canadian might have been a signability pick. He was a closer at Louisville and the Jays have been working him as a starter. He has allowed 16 runs in his last three appearances, spanning seven innings, because of poor control. For a college senior, he is still very raw.
John Tolisano, 2B, Estero high school (Florida)
Second round (85th overall)
2007: .246/.340/.437 | 183 | 45 | 10 | 12.4% | 21.9% | .263 (Gulf Coast League)
2008: .250/.328/.378 | 164 | 41 | 1 | 10.4% | 23.2% | .320 (Midwest League)
John Tolisano was considered an advanced high school player and he led the Rookie League with 10 homers during his debut season. Homers are much harder to come by in the Midwest League but Tolisano has not let that phase him, as he has been consistent all season. His power can be seen in the five triples that he has so far. The switch hitter is batting .225 against lefties and .258 against righties.
Eric Eiland, CF, Lamar high school (Texas)
Second round (88th overall)
2007: .216/.303/.284 | 176 | 38 | 1 | 11.1% | 35.2% | .327 (Gulf Coast League)
2008: .289/.373/.289 | 45 | 13 | 0 | 11.8% | 28.9% | .406 (Midwest League)
Eric Eiland was the rawest of the Jays top picks and he struggled in his debut. He was recently recalled from Extended Spring Training and has been busy showing that he belongs with the rest of the top 2007 draft picks. He has five extra base hits among his 13 hits and has gone four-for-four in stolen base attempts. The left-handed batter is hitting only .167 against southpaws.
Toronto also received good value from some later picks in RHP Alan Farina (third round), LHP Brad Mills (fourth round), LHP Marc Rzepczynski (fifth round), RHP Randy Boone (seventh round). If not for depth issues, all four pitchers would be in High-A ball right now, rather than A-ball.
In 2008, the Milwaukee Brewers possess the greatest number of draft picks in the early rounds of the draft - six picks in the first two rounds. The New York Mets, Philadelphia Phillies, San Diego Padres and Minnesota Twins have four each. It will be interesting to see which organization makes the most of its extra selections.
Be sure to check back all next week for our ongoing pre-draft coverage. Also, check us out on Draft Day, June 5, as we blog live during the draft. We’ll also provide post-draft coverage.
Just as we intend to this season, Baseball Analysts profiled a number of soon-to-be draftees ahead of the 2007 Amateur Draft. We interviewed three position players and three pitchers, all drawing varying degrees of interest from Major League ball clubs. Among others, there was the uber-prospect, the seasoned college player, the signability guy and the player who had performed but failed to overwhelm scouts.
Let's check in with each of them to see how their professional careers have started out.
Matt LaPorta, 23, Huntsville Stars/Milwaukee Brewers, OF
PA H BB AVG OBP SLG
Rk 28 7 1 .259 .286 .519 (2007)
A 102 28 7 .318 .392 .750 (2007)
AA 223 53 27 .288 .399 .592 (2008)
Prince Fielder clamored for a lucrative extension this Spring while Ryan Braun got one. Both young studs seem like the type you want to lock up but with LaPorta seemingly not far on the horizon, you can understand Milwaukee's hesitancy to lock up Big League dollars at LaPorta's position. He's raking and has already been named the Player of the Week in the Southern League twice this season.
Brian Rike, 22, Asheville Tourists/Colorado Rockies, OF
PA H BB AVG OBP SLG
A- 223 55 32 .296 .404 .441 (2007)
A 219 48 32 .267 .393 .483 (2008)
The Colorado Rockies selected Rike with the 72nd overall pick in the 2007 draft and so far he has not disappointed. A Louisiana Tech product and the 2007 WAC Player of the Year, Rike seems to be the real deal thus far in his professional career.
Josh Vitters, 18, Peoria Chiefs/Chicago Cubs, 3B
PA H BB AVG OBP SLG
Rk 31 2 1 .067 .094 .067 (2007)
A- 23 4 2 .190 .261 .190 (2007)
A 14 3 0 .214 .214 .429 (2008)
Ranked the finest prospect in the Chicago Cubs organization by Baseball America, Vitters has unfortunately been battling tendinitis in his left hand. He went 3-for-4 with three doubles in his first game this season, then went hitless in his next 10 at-bats. He hasn't seen action in over a month. While Vitters has yet to display the hitting prowess he exhibited as an amateur, the sample size and hand injury are more telling than the stats. There is not much to say at this point other than that the Cubs hope he gets healthy sooner rather than later.
Phillippe Aumont, 19, Wisconsin Timber Rattlers/Seattle Mariners, RHP
IP H BB SO ERA
A 31 20 9 29 1.74 (2008)
The 11th overall pick of last season's draft, Aumont has not disappointed pitching for the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers of the Midwest League. The 6-foot-7 native of Canada didn't allow an earned run in his first six appearances covering 17.2 innings. We will need to see quite a bit more of Aumont's professional body of work before we project him with any measure of certainty but so far, so good.
Jack McGeary, 19, Vermont Lake Monsters/Washington Nationals, LHP
IP H BB SO ERA
A- 2.2 3 5 4 13.50 (2007)
McGeary made only two appearances in 2007, both in September. He has yet to play this season.
For details on McGeary, I will let the Washington Post take it away. The Nationals picked McGeary in the fifth round of last year's draft, gave him a $1.8 million bonus and also agreed to pay his tuition at Stanford University. For a glimpse into his life at Stanford, here is an excerpt from the piece:
Depending on the hour or the day of the week, he could be going to run on the track, sometimes at 6 a.m. He could be going to yoga. He could be going to the weight room. He could be going to throw on campus. He could be driving some 15 miles to Santa Clara University where, unlike at Stanford, he is welcome to use the baseball team's facilities, to throw with their players. Toss in what could be a crippling courseload -- Greek mythology; Hannibal; children, youth and the law; and a literature course to which he might relate, "Epic Journeys and Modern Quests" -- and it's safe to say that he'll be unique among pitchers in the New York-Penn or South Atlantic league this summer.
This (short) season will be a telling one for McGeary, as the Nats will get an opportunity to evaluate whether or not their gamble is paying dividends. Sure he has been hitting the books, the weight room and even the practice fields at Santa Clara. But he is not living the life of a professional. Whether this most unusual arrangement will work out for Washington or not will not ultimately be determined for some time, but keep an eye on McGeary's first chunk of Minor League ball this year.
Adam Mills, 23, Lancaster JetHawks/Boston Red Sox, RHP
IP H BB SO ERA
A- 35 32 9 37 2.04 (2007)
A 53 60 10 30 4.10 (2008)
On the one hand, Mills has weathered the pitcher's nightmare that is Lancaster quite capably in 2008. In fact, after allowing 13 ER in his first 13 IP, Mills has settled down and allowed given up 11 ER in his last 39.2 IP. He has struck out 13 batters without issuing a free pass in the past three games.
On the other hand, Mills is 23 years old and advanced for this level of play. Still, I think it is fair to say that the 5-11, 190-pounder out of UNC Charlotte is doing what he needs to do to pass the required tests in order to climb the Red Sox Minor League ranks. How he fares once promoted to AA Portland will be the tell-tale sign as to whether Mills is the performance analyst's pipe-dream or a legitimate "if he is good he might be good" success story.
As mentioned above, we will profile a few players and live blog the draft once again. We plan once again to provide first class draft coverage so for those of you interested, we hope we have earned our way into your draft coverage rotation.
College Baseball: The Road to Omaha
The Miami Hurricanes (47-8), which regained the No. 1 spot in the final regular season Baseball America, Collegiate Baseball, and USA Today/ESPN polls released on Monday, were selected as the top seed for the 64-team NCAA Division I Baseball Championship that begins this Friday. Miami, making its 36th straight tournament appearance to extend its NCAA record, will host one of 16 four-team, double-elimination regionals.
In order, the other national seeds are North Carolina (46-12), Arizona State (45-11), Florida State (48-10), Cal State Fullerton (37-19), Rice (42-13), LSU (43-16-1) and Georgia (35-21-1). These teams automatically host a super regional if they advance past the first round.
Four Atlantic Coast Conference schools (Miami, North Carolina, Florida State, and North Carolina State) were chosen as regional hosts. The Big 12 (Nebraska, Oklahoma State and Texas A&M) was second among conferences with three schools hosting four-team regionals, while the Big West (Cal State Fullerton and Long Beach State), Pac-10 (Arizona State and Stanford), and Southeastern Conference (Georgia and LSU) each had two schools named as host sites. The other regional hosts are Coastal Carolina, Michigan, and Rice.
The SEC leads all conferences with nine teams, followed by the ACC and Big 12 with six apiece, the Pac-10 and Conference USA with five, and the Big West with four.
Two-time defending champion Oregon State was inexplicably left out of the field. The Beavers (28-24) failed to receive an at-large bid even though it won five series against teams in the 64-team field, including #1-seeds Arizona, Arizona State and Georgia, and #2-seeds Pepperdine and UCLA. OSU, the first defending champ to miss the tourney in 17 years, was robbed of the opportunity to win a third straight national title, a feat no school has achieved since USC won five in a row from 1970-1974.
In the meantime, Oklahoma (34-24 overall with a 9-17 record and an eighth place finish in the ten-team Big 12) was given an at-large berth. The Sooners did not win a single series against any of the 16 schools selected to host a regional and went 18-20 against the top 100 RPI teams, yet it received a #3 seed. Nonetheless, it is a slight that the Pac-10 and other baseball programs from the West have come to expect from a committee that has consistently favored schools in the ACC, SEC, and Big 12 for at least the past two decades. To wit, Oregon State was left on the outside looking in while Arizona was the only #1 seed not allowed to host and Cal was given a #3 seed (rather than a #2) in one of the toughest regionals in the field.
If the past is prologue, Miami will find the going difficult. Only one No. 1 overall seed has won the College World Series since the field was expanded to 64 teams in 1999 and that was none other than the Hurricanes in the first year of the new format. Meanwhile, no top-eight seed has won it all since Rice in 2003.
The winners of each regional will advance to the super regionals on June 6-9. The winners of the super regionals will comprise the eight spots in the College World Series, which starts Friday, June 14 at Rosenblatt Stadium in Omaha, Nebraska.
Here is a sneak preview of the 16 regionals in order of the top eight national seeds (and their companion in the super regional), including regional seeds, season records, top prospects (as determined by Baseball America's rankings of draft-eligible collegians), key stats, and an overall tournament outlook.
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Coral Gables Regional
#1 Miami (Fla.) (47-8) vs. #4 Bethune-Cookman (36-20)
#2 Missouri (38-19) vs. #3 Ole Miss (37-24)
Top Prospects: RHP Aaron Crow, Missouri (#5); 1B Yonder Alonso, Miami (#12); 2B Jemile Weeks, Miami (#27); OF Dennis Raben, Miami (#34); RHP Cody Satterwhite, Mississippi (#77); RHP Carlos Gutierrez, Miami (#82); RHP Lance Lynn, Mississippi (#83); CF Blake Tekotte, Miami (#85); RHP Scott Bittle, Mississippi (#97); 3B Mark Sobolewski, Miami (#150).
Outlook: While Miami is the #1 national seed, you wouldn't know it by looking at the competition. Missouri, ranked 12th in the country by Baseball America, went 10-6 vs. Top 25 teams and is one of the toughest #2s in the entire field. Mississippi is a sleeper and even Bethune-Cookman is far from a pushover. Both Missouri and Ole Miss have the pitching talent and depth to pull an upset here. The Hurricanes, however, are the team to beat. They were ranked at or near the top of the polls all year long and enter the Regionals having emerged victorious over Clemson, Georgia Tech, North Carolina State, and Virginia to capture the Atlantic Coast Conference title for the first time since joining the league.
The Hurricanes have three players – Yonder Alonso (.380/.454/.799 with 21 HR), Jemile Weeks (.373/.454/.660), and Dennis Raben (.314/.426/.541) – who are likely to be chosen in either the first or supplemental round of the amateur draft next week. Freshman southpaw Chris Hernandez (11-0, 2.44 with 97 SO and 14 BB) and junior righty Carlos Gutierrez (4-2, 2.92 with 11 SV and 60 SO in 40 IP) are the go-to starter and closer, respectively.
Ann Arbor Regional
#1 Arizona (38-17) vs. #4 Eastern Michigan (25-32)
#2 Michigan (45-12) vs. #3 Kentucky (42-17)
Top Prospects: RHP Ryan Perry, Arizona (#26); RHP Zach Putnam, Michigan (#50); LHP Daniel Schlereth, Arizona (#60); OF T.J. Steele, Arizona (#115); SS Jason Christian, Michigan (#117); RHP Scott Green, Kentucky (#118); OF Colin Cowgill, Kentucky (#194).
Outlook: This Regional is up for grabs. Arizona, playing outside of its region as the #1 seed, is a heavy favorite over Eastern Michigan in the opener. However, U of A is 25-5 at home and only 11-12 on the road this season. As such, beating Michigan on its home turf or even Kentucky will be a much more difficult task.
Kentucky's Chris Rusin (6-2, 2.85), a 6-2, 190-pound lefthander, is expected to face Michigan's Zach Putnam (8-0, 2.64), the Big Ten Pitcher of the Year, in the opener. The Wildcats are led offensively by Sawyer Carroll (.416/.507/.756 with 16 HR) and Collin Cowgill (.359/.487/.687 with 18 HR), while senior 1B-C Nate Recknagel (.372/.466/.758 with 23 HR) headlines the Wolverines offense. Chris Fetter (10-1, 2.39), a 6-8, 230-pound junior RHP, gives Michigan the best 1-2 punch in the Regional.
The winner of the Coral Gables Regional will face the winner of the Ann Arbor Regional in the Super Regionals the following week.
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#1 North Carolina (46-12) vs. #4 Mt. St. Mary's (21-32)
#2 UNC Wilmington (42-15-1) vs. #3 Elon (43-16)
Top Prospects: RHP Brad Holt, UNC Wilmington (#98); RHP Stephen Hensley, Elon (#157); C Tim Federowicz, North Carolina (#169).
Outlook: Three schools from North Carolina and a patsy from Maryland. Mount St. Mary's is in the tournament for the first time. The Mountaineers finished fourth in the Northeastern but received an automatic invite by virtue of beating regular-season champ Monmouth twice in the conference tourney. North Carolina, the #2 national seed, looks like a shoo-in to host a Super Regional the following week. The Tar Heels, which lost to Oregon State in the championship game in Omaha the past two years, are led by perhaps the best contingent of young players in the country, including four sophomores – RHP Alex White (8-3, 2.86 with 87 SO in 72.1 IP), 1B Dustin Ackley (.399/.497/.588), OF Tim Fedroff (.383/.448/.634), and INF Kyle Seager (.365/.426/.627) – and highly touted freshman righthander Matt Harvey (7-2, 2.50 with 71 SO in 57.2 IP). According to Baseball America, Harvey was "throwing heavy mid-90s heat, a hammer curveball and even some very good changeups" in the ACC tournament this past weekend.
#1 Coastal Carolina (47-12) vs. #4 Columbia (22-28)
#2 East Carolina (40-19) vs. #3 Alabama (34-26)
Top Prospects: RHP Pete Andrelczyk, Coastal Carolina (#150).
Outlook: While generally unknown outside of college baseball circles, Coastal Carolina won its second consecutive Big South tournament championship and ninth overall. Only one program (Florida State) won more games and just three schools (FSU, Arizona State, and Miami) lost fewer than Coastal Carolina this year. Although the Chanticleers don't play a particularly tough schedule, they were 2-1 vs. top 25 teams. East Carolina won 13 consecutive games in March, 7 straight in April, and had a 9-game streak halted in early May when it was swept by Tulane at home. Alabama, which finished second in the SEC West, has as good of a shot at winning this Regional as any #3 seed in the tournament. Meanwhile, Columbia is in the field for the first time since Lou Gehrig played there. Well, not quite. The Lions haven't been to the playoffs since 1976.
The winner of the Cary Regional will face the winner of the Conway Regional in the Super Regionals the following week.
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#1 Arizona State (45-11) vs. #4 Stony Brook (34-24)
#2 Vanderbilt (40-20) vs. #3 Oklahoma (34-24-1)
Top Prospects: 3B Pedro Alvarez, Vanderbilt (#1); 3B-1B Brett Wallace, Arizona State (#20); 1B Ike Davis, Arizona State (#30); SS-3B Ryan Flaherty, Vanderbilt (#68); C Petey Paramore, Arizona State (#114); RHP Brett Jacobsoen, Vanderbilt (#159).
Outlook: Arizona State, which was reportedly given consideration as the No. 1 overall seed, finished atop the Pac-10 and went 12-3 vs. top 25 teams. The offense is led by juniors Brett Wallace (.412/.527/.764 with 20 HR) and Ike Davis (.378/.451/.773 with 16 HR), while sophomore righthander Mike Leake (9-2, 3.18 with 94 SO and 16 BB in 104.2 IP) and senior reliever Tommy Rafferty (11-0 in 31 appearances) head the pitching staff. Vanderbilt's Pedro Alvarez (.312/.424/.591), projected as the No. 1 draft pick before the season began, missed several weeks with a hamate bone injury but returned in time to hit well in conference (.400/.481/.700). However, Vandy lacks the pitching to pose a serious threat in this Regional. Look for ASU to steamroll its way into the Super Regionals.
Long Beach Regional
#1 Long Beach State (37-19) vs. #4 Fresno State (37-27)
#2 San Diego (41-15) vs. #3 California (33-19-2)
Top Prospects: LHP Brian Matusz, San Diego (#2); RHP Tanner Scheppers, Fresno State (#10); 1B David Cooper, California (#31); RHP Tyson Ross, California (#35); 1B Shane Peterson, Long Beach State (#75); RHP Andrew Liebel, Long Beach State (#91); LHP Josh Romanski, San Diego (#110); RHP Vance Worley, Long Beach State (#121); SS Danny Espinosa, Long Beach State (#141); RHP Bryan Shaw, Long Beach State (#147).
Outlook: Four California teams hook up in what arguably may be the toughest Regional, top to bottom, in the country. Long Beach State received an automatic invite when it won the Big West championship by taking two of three from rival Cal State Fullerton during the final weekend of the season. The Dirtbags have a deep corps of pitchers, including two starters – senior Andrew Liebel (8-3, 1.81 with 92 SO and 17 BB in 109.2 IP) and junior Vance Worley (7-3, 4.41) – and one reliever – Bryan Shaw (2-1, 1.29 with 8 SV and 34 SO and 5 BB in 28 IP) – who will likely be taken in the top five rounds of next week's draft.
San Diego, ranked 7th in the country by Baseball America, should have received a No. 1 seed. The Toreros won the WCC regular season and conference tournament championships and beat fellow West Coast powers Cal State Fullerton, Long Beach State, UC Irvine, and UCLA in non-conference tilts. There is no better pitcher in the country than Brian Matusz (11-2, 1.88 with 131 SO and 21 BB in 96 IP), and he is backed up capably by junior lefthander Josh Romanski (9-0, 3.76) and freshman righthander Kyle Blair (7-4, 4.12). Third baseman Victor Sanchez (.281/.357/.522), a freshman, slugged two home runs earlier this season in a mid-week game at Blair Field.
Cal is the sleeper in this Regional. Although the Bears have won only six of their last 15 games, they swept Long Beach State and took two of three from Arizona and Stanford, all of whom garnered #1 seeds. However, with a road record of 9-10, it remains to be seen whether Cal can beat the likes of Long Beach State, San Diego, and Fresno State away from home. If not for an injury to Fresno State's Tanner Scheppers (8-2, 2.93 with 109 SO in 70.2 IP), this Regional would undoubtedly offer the best overall pitching talent in the country.
The winner of the Tempe Regional will face the winner of the Long Beach Regional in the Super Regionals the following week.
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#1 Florida State (48-10) vs. #4 Bucknell (29-22-2)
#2 Florida (34-22) vs. #3 Tulane (37-20-1)
Top Prospects: C Buster Posey, Florida State (#4); RHP Shooter Hunt, Tulane (#11).
Outlook: Florida State, the #4 national seed, will be making its 31st consecutive appearance in the NCAA Baseball Tournament, including 29 straight under coach Mike Martin. The Seminoles are led by Buster Posey, who may go 1-1 in the First-Year Player Draft next week. The 6-2, 200-pound junior currently leads the nation in AVG (.471), OBP (.571), and SLG (.858). The catcher has thrown out 41.5 percent of would-be base stealers while picking six runners off base. The hard-throwing righthander has also made eight appearances on the mound and is a perfect 6-for-6 in save opportunities. He has struck out 10 batters and has not allowed a run in 7.1 innings of work.
Florida finished second in the SEC East but had a dismal record of 7-13 on the road. Look for Tulane to beat Florida in the opener if Shooter Hunt (9-3, 2.45 with 119 SO and only 49 H in 91.2 IP) is given the start. Bucknell, which earned an automatic bid by virtue of winning the Patriot League Championship, is a good bet to go two-and-out.
#1 Oklahoma State (42-16) vs. #4 Western Kentucky (33-25)
#2 Wichita State (44-15) vs. #3 Texas Christian (43-17)
Top Prospects: 3B Conor Gillaspie, Wichita State (#23); RHP Andrew Cashner, TCU (#24); SS-RHP Jordy Mercer, Oklahoma State (#64); RHP Aaron Shafer, Wichita State (#84); LHP Anthony Capra, Wichita State (#152); SS Dusty Coleman, Wichita State (#185).
Outlook: A strong case could be made that Oklahoma State deserved one of the national seeds. Ranked sixth by Baseball America, the Cowboys went 12-7 vs. top 25 teams, while sweeping Arizona and Texas and taking three of four from Nebraska. Oklahoma State's 26-4 record at home gives them the nod over highly competitive Wichita State and Texas Christian clubs. The Shockers are led offensively by junior Conor Gillaspie (.421/.506/.708) and the starting trio of Rob Musgrave (10-1, 1.96 with 92 SO and 18 BB in 96.2 IP), Anthony Capra (9-0, 2.47), and Aaron Shafer (10-3, 2.74). The Horned Frogs counter with sophomore RHP Tyler Lockwood (7-1, 2.21) and 6-foot-6, 180-pound reliever Andrew Cashner (8-3, 1.80 with 9 SV and 74 SO vs. 19 H in 50 IP), a fireballer who consistently hits 96-98 on the radar guns and possesses what Baseball America terms an "electric" slider.
The winner of the Tallahassee Regional will face the winner of the Stillwater Regional in the Super Regionals the following week.
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#1 Cal State Fullerton (37-19) vs. #4 Rider (29-26)
#2 UCLA (31-25) vs. #3 Virginia (38-21)
Top Prospects: LHP Tim Murphy, UCLA (#63); 2B David Adams, Virginia (#102); SS Brandon Crawford, UCLA (#134); RHP Jacob Thompson, Virginia (#161).
Outlook: Cal State Fullerton let the Big West title slip away last weekend but still earned a #5 national seed and the right to host a Regional, as well as a Super Regional if it can survive the likes of UCLA and Virginia this week. The Titans swept the Bruins this season, outscoring them 32-11 in three games. For its part, UCLA, which finished third in the Pac-10, nosed out Cal for a #2 seed when it shut out its conference rival on back-to-back days last weekend. Virginia may be the darkhouse, and it should be noted that the Cavaliers' 5-10 record on the road includes six losses to Miami and Florida State.
#1 Stanford (33-21-2) vs. #4 UC Davis (34-22)
#2 Pepperdine (36-19) vs. #3 Arkansas (34-22)
Top Prospects: C Jason Castro, Stanford (#21); RHP Brett Hunter, Pepperdine (#51); 3B Logan Forsythe, Arkansas (#76); OF Eric Thames, Pepperdine (#90); C Jake Jefferies, UC Davis (#133); RHP Justin Fitzgerald, UC Davis (#192); RHP Bryan Evans, UC Davis (#196).
Outlook: Three of the four schools are from California. It is the only Regional in which all four teams received at-large berths. Stanford and Pepperdine finished second in their conferences, while Arkansas placed fourth and UC Davis sixth. The Aggies will be making their inaugural appearance in the NCAA tournament. Arkansas is well rested, owing to the fact that the Razorbacks didn't make it into the eight-team SEC tournament last week. Yes, that's right, Arkansas finished ninth in its conference and yet earned a #3 seed. The best player in the Regional is Stanford's Jason Castro (.369/.418/.592 with 11 HR), who ranks as one of the premier catchers in college baseball and is a surefire bet to be taken in the first round of the upcomng draft. Meanwhile, Pepperdine's Brett Hunter (1-0, 3.68 in only 14.2 IP) has missed nearly all of the season with an arm injury. His draft status is a huge question mark at this stage.
The winner of the Fullerton Regional will face the winner of the Stanford Regional in the Super Regionals the following week.
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Houston (Rice) Regional
#1 Rice (42-13) vs. #4 Sam Houston State (37-23)
#2 Texas (37-20) vs. #3 St. John's (N.Y.) (41-14)
Top Prospects: RHP Bryan Price, Rice (#47); CF Jordan Danks, Texas (#86); LHP Scott Barnes, St. John's (#128); OF Kyle Russell, Texas (#153); LHP Cole St. Clair, Rice (#162).
Outlook: Three of the four schools call Texas home. Although Rice, the #6 national seed, went 0-2 in the Conference USA tournament, the Owls had won 10 straight and 22 of 23 prior to last week's debacle. Moreover, Rice is 11-3 vs. top 25 teams. Two of those losses were to Long Beach State in the opening series of the year and both defeats were by one run. After a disappointing campaign, Texas heads to Houston on a hot streak. The Longhorns have won 12 of its last 14 (including a 4-0 run vs. Texas A&M) and swept its three contests in the Big 12 conference championship last week. Freshman righthander Chance Ruffin (7-3, 2.04 ERA with 72 SO and only 47 H in 70.2 IP) heads the pitching staff. St. John's finished first in the Big East but got walloped in the conference tournament by Villanova and Seton Hall. Sam Houston State received an automatic invite by winning the Southland tourney.
College Station Regional
#1 Texas A&M (43-16) vs. #4 Illinois-Chicago (34-20)
#2 Dallas Baptist (37-17) vs. #3 Houston (39-22)
Top Prospects: RHP Kyle Thebeau, Texas A&M (#168); LHP Wes Musick, Houston (#177).
Outlook: This Regional looks like one of the weaker ones to me. Texas A&M, the host and #1 seed, was the regular-season Big 12 champ, yet it has lost eight of its last nine games. Dallas Baptist is the only Division I independent to make the field of 64 this year and will be making their first-ever trip to the NCAA Tournament. Houston won the Conference USA tourney in upset fashion after Rice got bumped in its first two games. Illinois-Chicago won the Horizon tournament and an automatic bid. This Regional is Texas A&M's to lose, and it should be viewed as a gift from the selection committee.
The winner of the Houston (Rice) Regional will face the winner of the College Station Regional in the Super Regionals the following week.
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Baton Rouge Regional
#1 LSU (43-16-1) vs. #4 Texas Southern (16-32)
#2 Southern Mississippi (40-20) vs. #3 New Orleans (42-19)
Top Prospects: 2B Johnny Glovatella, New Orleans (#127).
Outlook: Look for Lousiana State, the #7 national seed and the hottest team in the country with 20 consecutive wins heading into the Regional, to pummel Texas Southern in a matchup of Tigers and to face Southern Missisippi or New Orleans in the finals over the weekend. Texas Southern is one of the worst teams in the field. TSU, which only won a third of its games this season and finished 7-17 in the Southwestern Athletic, swept the conference tournament and earned an automatic bid. Prior to its strong finish, Texas Southern had lost 21 of 24 contests, including a stretch in which it was on the wrong end 11 games in a row. LSU is led by sophomore outfielder Blake Dean (.346/.425/.628 with 16 HR) and junior first baseman Matt Clark (.328/.426/.727 with 22 HR), a transfer from Riverside CC (CA) and the son of former major league pitcher Terry Clark.
#1 Nebraska (40-14-1) vs. #4 Eastern Illinois (27-28)
#2 UC Irvine (38-16) vs. #3 Oral Roberts (46-12)
Top Prospects: RHP Aaron Pribanic, Nebraska (#89); RHP Scott Gorgen, UC Irvine (#183).
Outlook: Nebraska enters the playoffs with a mixed record. While possessing fine overall and conference (17-9) marks, the Cornhuskers have lost five of their last six games, including 1-2 in pool play at the Big 12 tournament. Nonetheless, Nebraska (28-3-1 at home) is always tough in Lincoln and is a slight favorite over UC Irvine to capture the Regional. Senior Johnny Dorn (6-1, 2.38), a 6-3, 210-pound righthander, is the team's ace and may be saved to pitch game two against the winner of the UCI-Oral Roberts opener. The Anteaters and the Golden Eagles, on the other hand, won't be in a position to save their #1s for Nebraska. UCI's Scott Gorgen (10-3, 1.90 with 109 SO and 57 H in 104 IP) will likely face Oral Roberts' Jerry Sullivan (9-2, 3.61 with 104 SO and 23 BB in 99.2 IP) to earn the right to play Nebraska in the winner's bracket. Senior OF-DH Brian Van Kirk (.421/.509/.751 with 17 HR), a transfer from the University of Tennessee, just might be the best hitter in the Regional.
The winner of the Baton Rouge Regional will face the winner of the Lincoln Regional in the Super Regionals the following week.
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#1 Georgia (35-21-1) vs. #4 Lipscomb (32-28)
#2 Georgia Tech (39-19) vs. #3 Louisville (41-19)
Top Prospects: SS Gordon Beckham, Georgia (#6); RHP Joshua Fields, Georgia (#18); 3B Chris Dominguez, Louisville (#119); OF Charlie Blackmon, Georgia Tech (#142); RHP Trevor Holder, Georgia (#148); LHP David Duncan, Georgia Tech (#151).
Outlook: While Lipscomb, making its first tournament appearance ever, and Louisville might argue otherwise, this Regional should come down to Georgia, the #8 national seed, and Georgia Tech. The Bulldogs have the home-field advantage but come into the weekend having lost four of their last five games, including an 0-2 showing in the SEC tournament. Georgia lost two of three to Georgia Tech during the season and were outscored 22-8. However, Georgia's Gordon Beckham (.394/.507/.798 with 23 HR and 17 SB) and Joshua Fields (2-2, 1.52 with 16 SV and 53 SO vs. only 9 H in 29.2 IP), both likely first rounders, could prove to be the difference makers in the battle of state supremacy.
#1 North Carolina State (38-20) vs. #4 James Madison (38-17)
#2 South Carolina (38-21) vs. #3 Charlotte (43-14)
Top Prospects: 1B Justin Smoak, South Carolina (#8); SS Reese Havens, South Carolina (#29); 3B-OF James Darnell, South Carolina (#58); RHP Clayton Shunick, North Carolina State (#170).
Outlook: North Carolina State finished second in the ACC Atlantic with an 18-11 record, then went 1-2 in pool play and was bounced from the conference tournament. Led by junior Clayton Shunick (7-5, 2.12 with 100 SO and 21 BB in 89.1 IP), the Wolfpack is 26-8 at home and figures to be a marginal favorite over South Carolina. The Gamecocks are spearheaded by juniors Justin Smoak (.377/.502/.745 with 21 HR), Reese Havens (.363/.490/.637 with 16 HR), and James Darnell (.310/.385/.584 with 18 HR). North Carolina Charlotte (Atlantic 10) and James Madison (Colonial) possess outstanding records but come from weak conferences and were automatic invites.
The winner of the Athens Rouge Regional will face the winner of the Raleigh Regional in the Super Regionals the following week.
News and Views
News and views from around the majors on this Memorial Day weekend . . .
News: The Dodgers called up SP Clayton Kershaw from Jacksonville (AA) to start on Sunday at home against the St. Louis Cardinals.
Views: Kershaw's highly anticipated MLB debut was a huge success. The 20-year-old lefthander was loose ("I really wasn't that nervous"); he repeated his delivery consistently; his fastball sat at 94, hit 95-96 in his final inning of work, and touched 97; and his youtube.com-famous curveball buckled several knees. Kershaw struck out Skip Schumaker, the first batter of the game, and had a sheepish grin when he tossed the ball to the dugout after someone called for it. The home crowd, which included 23 family members and friends, gave him a standing ovation at that point, and it seemed as if the big Texan lost his concentration when he walked the next batter, Brian Barton, on four pitches. However, the Dodger rookie allowed only one free pass all afternoon, while striking out seven Redbirds en route to a five-hit, two-run outing that should have been four hits and one run if not for a couple of misplays by first baseman James Loney and third baseman Blake DeWitt in the sixth inning.
Kershaw threw 102 pitches (including only 42 in the second through fifth innings) on a cool afternoon at Dodger Stadium in front of 46,566 fans. He is scheduled to make his next start this Friday in, of all places, New York in the second game of a long weekend series vs. the Mets.
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News: The Dodgers placed CF Andruw Jones on the 15 day disabled list and designated SP Esteban Loaiza for assignment.
Views: The Jones and Loaiza signings were two of the biggest wastes of money in the past year. (Note: Barry Zito was signed more than a year ago.)
Jones, who will have arthroscopic knee surgery on Tuesday, signed a two-year contract worth $36.2 million last December even though he was coming off a season in which he hit .222/.311/.413. The deal was praised by a few, including Joe Sheehan of Baseball Prospectus, who called it "one of the great bargains of recent memory" and "far and away the smartest thing any team does this winter."
Well, Jones has gotten worse – not better – this year. Maybe his bum knee is partially to blame. Or his weight. Perhaps it's possible that Jones is older than his listed age of 31. All I know is that Jones was "hitting" .165/.273/.271 when he landed on the DL. He isn't expected to return until after the All-Star break. In the meantime, the Dodgers can flush the first $9 million of his contract down the toilet.
Loaiza was selected off waivers by the Dodgers from Oakland on August 29, 2007 in one of the biggest gifts ever bestowed upon A's GM Billy Beane. Los Angeles agreed to pay $1.17 million of Loaiza's remaining 2007 salary and assume responsibility for his $7M salary in 2008 plus the $7.5M option or $0.375M buyout in 2009. As such, the Dodgers paid the 36-year-old righthander $8.545 million for 46 2/3 innings, 50 hits, 36 runs (all earned), 21 walks, 24 strikeouts, 12 home runs allowed, and an ERA of 6.94.
What makes the Loaiza acquistion even more troublesome is the fact that the Dodgers drafted Kyle Blair, a righthanded pitcher out of Los Gatos HS (Los Gatos, CA), in the fifth round last June and failed to sign him. A first-round talent, Blair reportedly was seeking a bonus of $2 million. The Dodgers supposedly offered him a million. As the deadline approached last August, it was said that Blair had lowered his demands to $1.5M. However, L.A. chose not to meet him in the middle and let $500,000 stand in the way of inking a highly regarded prospect. Two weeks later, the Dodgers picked up Loaiza off waivers and are now stuck with a bill that will cost them more than $7M above and beyond what it would have taken to sign Blair, who has posted a 7-4 record and an ERA of 4.12 with 90 Ks in 67.2 IP in his freshman season as the third starting pitcher for the University of San Diego.
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News: The Rockies placed SS Clint Barmes (sprained medial collaterial ligament in his right knee), RF Brad Hawpe (sore right hamstring), and LF Matt Holliday (strained left hamstring) on the 15 day DL. In addition, 3B Garrett Atkins (stiff neck) and CF Willy Taveras (bruised knee) were out of the lineup on Saturday and Sunday.
Views: The defending National League champions have struggled all season long with injuries and poor play. Troy Tulowitzki, who finished second to Ryan Braun in the NL Rookie of the Year balloting in 2007, went on the disabled list on May 3, retroactive to April 30. He is not expected to return before the All-Star break. Barmes, who took over for Tulo and was raking to the tune of .343/.376/.582, has been replaced in the lineup by Omar Quintanilla, a 26-year-old light-hitting middle infielder.
With Atkins and Taveras hoping to avoid the Disabled List Inn, manager Clint Hurdle went with a lineup yesterday that included Scott Podsednik (CF) and Jonathan Herrera (2B) hitting 1-2, Ryan Spilborghs (LF) batting fourth, Seth Smith (RF) fifth, Ian Stewart (3B) sixth, and Quintanilla eighth. Cory Sullivan (CF) was the first player off the bench. That said, the Mets (23-25) are going so badly that this non-descript lineup, as well as complete-game gem by Aaron Cook, stifled them 4-1 in the finale of a three-game set in Colorado on Sunday.
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News: The Nationals signed INF Pokey Reese to a minor league contract.
Views: Reese wasn't good when he was good. What makes Jim Bowden think the 35-year-old infielder can play now when he hasn't performed in a big league game in four years?
Pokey has a career rate line of .248/.307/.352. His .659 OPS translates to an OPS+ of 68! His single-season high is 86 back in 1999. It had never really registered with me – or I had forgotten – that Reese won Gold Gloves in 1999 and 2000 when he was a second baseman for Cincinnati. I was also surprised to find out that he played more innings at shortstop for Boston in their World Series championship season in 2004 than anyone else. Orlando Cabrera was second and Nomar Garciaparra third. Although Reese had lost the starting shortstop job to OC late in the season, he played in 10 postseason games, mostly as a defensive replacement at second base for Mark Bellhorn.
Maybe Reese will never see Washington and the sole purpose behind his signing was to fill a minor league vacancy. If that is the case, fine. However, if it is Bowden's intention for Reese to help the big league club this summer, then it will be a misguided move.
Open Chat: Are Willie Randolph's Days Numbered in New York?
With a losing record after having been swept four games in a row by the Atlanta Braves, a divided clubhouse, and no public support from the owners, how long will it be before embattled New York Mets manager Willie Randolph is fired? Can general manager Omar Minaya escape the heat?
Should Willie and/or Omar be fired? If so, why, when, and who would you suggest as the new skipper and GM? If one or both should not be fired, tell us why?
Let's hear it from our readers.
The Good and Bad of A-Ball
We read an awful lot about the Salt Lake Bees after the club's record-breaking month of April. Now two-thirds of the way through May, it is a good time to take a look at how some of the other affiliates around Minor League Baseball are doing. As such, let’s take a look at the good and the bad from A-ball.
The Best: San Jose Giants (San Francisco) and Stockton Ports (Oakland) 29-16 (.644)
The Worst: Rancho Cucamonga Quakes (Los Angeles AL) 19-26 (.422)
The Giants organization certainly isn’t known for its prospects, but the club still has the best record in the California League. Catcher Pablo Sandoval is leading the team in hitting with a line of .409/.469/.708. He’s hitting right-handed pitching at a .455 clip. The 21-year-old switch hitting catcher looks a little bit like current Giants catcher Bengie Molina with a 5-11, 245 pound body. 2007 first round pick Tim Alderson is having a nice first full season in the minors. He is currently 6-1 with a 3.14 ERA. The 19-year-old hurler has allowed 46 hits in 48.2 innings and has walked 19 and struck out 36. Not bad for a 2007 draftee out of high school who skipped A-ball and went right to High-A ball.
The Ports are led by two high 2007 college draft picks: first baseman Sean Doolittle and shortstop Joshua Horton. Doolittle is hitting .368/.454/.693 with 12 homers in 163 at-bats, which isn’t bad for a player who was supposed to be more Mark Grace and less Paul Konerko. Horton is hitting .308/.425/.390 and has 28 walks compared to 25 strikeouts in 146 at-bats. He does not have power (zero homers) or speed (zero stolen bases) so he needs to hit for a high average to have an impact. Right-handed pitcher Trevor Cahill, a 2006 first round pick out of high school, is currently 5-1 with a 2.96 ERA. He has allowed only 36 hits and 14 walks in 54.2 innings. He has struck out 68.
Outfielder Peter Bourjos, 22, is doing his best to help the Quake turn its season around. He is hitting .335/.367/.468 in 158 at-bats. He has also stolen 24 bases in 26 attempts. He needs to walk a little more (he has only eight) given his style of play. Former 2005 second round pick P.J. Phillips has had trouble turning potential into reality but could be a late bloomer like brother Brandon Phillips of the Reds. The infielder is hitting only .238/.269/.369 in 168 at-bats and has only four walks to go along with 49 strikeouts.
The Best: Potomac Nationals (Washington) 27-15 (.643)
The Worst: Lynchburg Hillcats (Pittsburgh) 17-27 (.386)
Chris Marrero, a 2006 first round draft pick, has found Potomac to be a difficult place to hit. He is currently hitting only .236/.329/.419 in 148 at-bats. The Potomac pitching has been more successful. Ross Detwiler, a 2007 first round pick, is currently 3-2 with a 4.12 ERA. He has allowed 40 hits in 39.1 innings of work, along with 21 walks and 41 strikeouts. Jordan Zimmermann, taken in the second round in 2007, had a 3-1 record and a 1.65 ERA in 27.1 innings before a promotion to Double-A. Starter Cory Van Allen, a fifth round from 2006, was also promoted to Double-A after going 3-0 with a 1.65 ERA in 27.1 innings.
Third baseman Jim Negrych is making the most of a bad season for Lynchburg. He currently has a line of .372/.444/.468 but lacks the power necessary to play the position long-term with only one homer in 156 at-bats. The 23-year-old University of Pittsburgh product was drafted as a second baseman in 2006. Daniel Moskos, the club’s 2007 first round pick, is holding his own. He has a 3-2 record and 4.89 ERA in 42.1 innings. He has allowed 41 hits and 10 walks. He has struck out 28 batters.
Florida State League
The Best: Fort Myers Miracle (Minnesota) 29-16 (.644)
The Worst: St. Lucie Mets (New York NL) 9-36 (.200)
Fort Myers has some interesting pitching prospects, although many are allowing a few too many hits to fall in. Tyler Robertson has an ERA of 3.04 in 50.1 innings. He has allowed 55 hits, although only two of those have left the yard. The 20-year-old lefty has walked 19 batters and struck out 49. Jeff Manship, 23, is a workhorse-type pitcher who won 15 games last season between Beloit and Fort Myers. Back in Fort Myers thanks to the Twins’ solid pitching depth, Manship is 5-1 with a 3.62 ERA in 49.2 innings. He has allowed 49 hits and 16 walks. He has struck out 51 and is probably due for a promotion. Alex Burnett, 20, has a 3.18 ERA in 45.1 innings but has allowed 52 hits. He has walked 13 batters and struck out 24, while allowing just one homer.
St. Lucie has few true prospects playing on the squad this season. It has by far the worst record in A-ball and the club was pounded by Dunedin for 15 runs on Monday night. First baseman Lucas Duda, a seventh round pick from 2007, has been one of the more impressive bat for St. Lucie. The 22-year-old is currently hitting .288/.367/.407 in 177 at-bats but the left-handed batter has a .152 average against southpaws. Starters Nicholas Carr and Eric Niesen are a combined 1-10 on the season. Despite allowing 50 hits in 43.1 innings, Carr has also struck out 42 batters. Tobi Stoner is the only pitcher on the team (four appearances or more) that has averaged fewer than one hit per inning pitched and he has allowed 26 hits in 26.1 innings.
South Atlantic League
The Best: Asheville Tourists (Colorado) 31-15 (.674)
The Worst: Lexington Legends (Houston) and Rome Braves (Atlanta) 13-31 (.295)
Third baseman Darin Holcomb is a long way from the majors but he is raising some eyebrows. He currently sports a line of .329/.397/.532 with seven homers in 173 at-bats. He also has walked 18 times with just 16 strikeouts. The 22-year-old was drafted in the 12th round of 2007 out of Gonzaga University. Everth Cabrera is a 21-year-old Nicaraguan with his currently hitting .295/.388/.382 in 173 at-bats. The second baseman has walked 24 times to go along with 32 strikeouts. He has stolen 27 at-bats in 31 tries and looks like the next Corey Wimberly or Eric Young Jr. Right-hander Jhoulys Chacin, 20, has also been making people sit up and take notice. So far this season he is 6-1 with a 1.77 ERA in 61 innings. He has allowed 41 hits, 17 walks and has struck out 54 batters. He is also average more than 2.5 groundballs for every flyball.
Houston is another organization that is not known for its prospects and Lexington is suffering as a result. Scrappy Matthew Cusick is leading the club with a line of .351/.436/.568 in 148 at-bats. He has walked 22 times with only nine strikeouts. Although he has a 1.004 OPS, he has little power and doesn’t run much, which limits his ceiling. Houston is slow at promoting prospects and the 2007 10th round pick out of USC should probably be in High-A ball. Sergio Severino is one of Houston’s few pitching prospects but he also turns 24 later this season. He has a 2.27 ERA in 47.2 innings and has allowed 30 hits and 21 walks. Severino, a southpaw, has struck out 50 batters.
The Rome offence is being led by 18-year-old offensive monster Jason Heyward, who was also Atlanta’s first round pick out of high school in 2007. Heyward is hitting .320/.359/.469 in 175 at-bats. He has hit five homers and stolen eight bases, which has helped him score 33 runs. That’s not bad for a teenager who is 6-4 and 220 pounds. Despite a 1-6 record Chad Rodgers has had a nice season. The 20-year-old lefty has a 3.47 ERA in 46.2 innings. He has allowed 45 hits and 12 walks to go along with 43 strikeouts. Freddy Freeman, an 18-year-old first baseman is showing power potential with 16 doubles and four homers. He has a line of .278/.318/.456 but needs to improve his patience. He has walked only nine times in 169 at-bats this season. He walked only seven times in 224 at-bats during his pro debut last season.
The Best: Clinton LumberKings (Texas) 30-11 (.732)
The Worst: Peoria Chiefs (Chicago NL) 15-30 (.333)
The youngest team in the league also sports the best record. The offence is led by Ian Gac, a slugging first baseman. He has a line of .346/.459/.738 and has hit 14 homers in 130 at-bats. He has struck out 33 times with 22 walks. Gac also has 40 RBI. Pitcher Neftali Feliz, obtained in the Mark Teixeira deal, has a 2.53 ERA in 42.2 innings of work. The 20-year-old has allowed only 28 hits, along with 16 walks. He has struck out 49 batters. Blake Beavan, a 2007 first round pick out of high school, began the year in extended spring training. Since moving up to Clinton, the right-hander has posted a 4.50 ERA in 20 innings. He has allowed 21 hits, one walk and struck out eight.
Peoria is a team suffering from a lack of prospects. The top hitter is Jovan Rosa, a first baseman who is hitting .305/.372/.482. The 20-year-old has just two homers in 142 at-bats. Catcher Josh Donaldson was a supplemental first round pick in 2007 who caught people’s attention by hitting .346 in short season ball last year. He has struggled mightily in 2008, though, and has a line of .196/.252/.318 and is hitting .176 against righties.
The Night Grady Little Destroyed Byung-Hyun Kim
As a Red Sox fan, I will confess to having my pets. Amongst my friends, I catch a lot of heat for this. As it relates to the current edition of the Sox, I have been accused of being a J.D. Drew "apologist" and heck, maybe I am. I loved Mark Bellhorn (remember, he was actually booed in Fenway Park during Games 4 and 5 of the 2004 ALCS). Heck, I was clamoring from the hilltops for Roberto freaking Petagine to be given an honest-to-goodness chance as Kevin Millar lumbered through his hangover 2005 season. Petagine, who was given just 36 plate appearances for the big club in 2005, hit .327/.452/.635 for Pawtucket that season while Millar hit .272/.355/.399 for Boston. Newly acquired John Olerud rendered Petagine useless down the stretch in 2005 as far as Terry Francona was concerned.
Another such player was Byung-Hyun Kim, a guy I could not have been happier to root for after Boston acquired him on May 29, 2003, especially given that he was traded for the likes of Shea Hillenbrand. The addition of Kim paid immediate and season-long dividends for the Red Sox. He was phenomenal, as shown below.
IP SO BB H WHIP ERA ERA+
Kim 79.3 69 18 70 1.11 3.18 147
And yet, as good as he was for the Sox in 2003, here is how he is remembered around these parts:
This shot was taken before Game 3 of the 2003 ALDS. Keep in mind the above numbers. You might also consider that from September 1 on in 2003, Kim had allowed opponents a batting line of .136/.208/.182. He had been tremendous down the stretch. And yet, he was crushed by the home fans when his name was announced. Why? A fanbase already weary of a player who had failed so famously at Yankee Stadium, remembered his four Blown Saves during 2003 better than they did his stellar performance on the whole for the season. Moreover, he was tagged with a Blown Save in Game One of the series and Boston returned home on the brink of elimination, down 2-0 to a powerful Oakland Athletics squad.
So what happened in Game One? Staked to a one-run lead heading into the bottom of the ninth, Little hands Kim the ball to nail the win down. He promptly induces a Ramon Hernandez fly-out before walking Billy McMillon and hitting Chris Singleton. With men on first and second, he then strikes out Mark Ellis. With two outs, two men on and his best relief pitcher on the hill, what does Grady do? He pulls Kim in favor of Alan Embree with lefties Erubiel Durazo and Eric Chavez set to hit.
Here's what Little might have considered; Embree that season yielded a .696 OPS against lefties, compared to Kim’s .664. Further, Kim had been Boston's Closer and had just struck out Ellis! With one out remaining and a one-run lead in the ninth, Grady opts for Embree, who promptly gives up a single to Durazo which plates the game tying run. Because the run is charged to Kim, he gets the Blown Save. Oakland wins in the twelfth.
Of course after losing Game 2, a feisty (and dare I say a tinge racist) Boston crowd greets Kim for Game 3 with a chorus of boos. Grady capitulates and fails to use him for the remainder of the post-season. Yes, the very same Grady Little who would leave Pedro Martinez in the game too long in Game 7 of the ALCS just 12 days later.
Kim would never be the same after 2003, his age 24 season.
Prospects or Suspects? (Part Two)
In Part One of Prospects or Suspects? we profiled four players – Daniel Bard, Jay Bruce, Jamie D'Antona, and Mike Hessman – who are enjoying outstanding starts to their 2008 campaigns. Today, we are going to take a look at another foursome. However, unlike yesterday's piece, these youngsters are experiencing highly disappointing seasons to date.
Matt Antonelli, Colby Rasmus, Travis Snider, and Neil Walker are featured in Part Two. Can they recover and maintain their top prospect rankings or is it time to rethink their status and longer-term potential? Between yesterday and today, eight players on eight different teams. Some of them are progressing, while others are regressing.
Let's take a closer look at Antonelli, Rasmus, Snider, and Walker to determine if the change in direction is temporary or more permanent.
After a breakout season in 2007 in which he hit .307/.404/.491 with 21 HR in High-A and Double-A, Matt Antonelli is finding the going much more difficult this season in his Triple-A debut at Portland in the Pacific Coast League. He has failed to hit at home (.205/.347/.308), on the road (.177/.297/.355), vs. LHP (0-for-17) and RHP (.220/.326/.374). His batting average and power are both down. The only saving grace is that he has walked more than he has struck out and his BB/SO ratio is roughly in line with his career norm.
G AB H 2B 3B HR BB SO AVG OBP SLG
37 140 27 6 2 3 26 25 .193 .325 .329
Drafted as a third baseman out of Wake Forest in the first round of the 2006 draft, Antonelli was converted to a second baseman last season. A line drive hitter, the 6-foot, 200-pounder's bat plays better at his newer position. The power that Antonelli displayed in 2007 appears to be an aberration as he rarely, if ever, hit home runs in college, in the Cape Cod League, in his professional debut in 2006, or in the Arizona Fall League last year. The 23-year-old excels at recognizing pitches and making contact, making him a classic #2 hitter if he can maintain his walk rate and improve his batting average toward his career mark of .280. Look for Antonelli to do just that as his BABIP (.214) is unlikely to remain this low for long.
With San Diego second baseman Tadahito Iguchi signed to just a one-year deal, Antonelli is the favorite to earn the everyday job for 2008. He is definitely more prospect than suspect but expectations need to be toned down as it is becoming painfully obvious that his power surge in 2007 was more of a fluke than not.
Two months ago, Colby Rasmus had a legitimate shot at breaking camp and earning the everyday job in center field for the St. Louis Cardinals. Although Colby batted .273 with 2 HR and 3 SB during the spring, he was sent to the club's Triple-A affiliate in Memphis of the Pacific Coast League for more seasoning as the 21-year-old sweet-swinging lefthanded hitter had never played a single game above Double-A.
Whether Rasmus went down with a bad attitude or not is tough to say, but he has strugggled from the get go and his numbers have been getting increasingly worse by the week. To wit, he is in the midst of an 0-for-19 skid with 7 strikeouts and is now "hitting" .133/.194/.200 in May. His overall numbers leave a lot to be desired with only his HR and BB rates showing any signs of hope.
G AB H 2B 3B HR BB SO AVG OBP SLG
44 165 30 3 0 6 21 38 .182 .270 .309
Is it time to give up on Rasmus? No, not by any means. A five-tool player who projects as a 20 HR/20 SB type in the majors, his résumé includes leading his high school team to a national championship, being taken 28th overall in the First-Year Player Draft, a Futures Game, Minor League All-Star, Team USA, and universally ranking among the top ten prospects in baseball (with a #3 ranking on our list of best 21-year-olds in February). Furthermore, his BABIP is only .198 so it is quite possible that he has been hitting in tough luck thus far, perhaps adding to his problems.
Although Rasmus has hit .300 just once in his minor league career, he accomplished this feat in the Midwest League, one of the most difficult hitting environments in professional baseball, in 2006 as a 19-year-old. His .885 OPS compared to a league-wide average of .690. The kid can play. Time is on his side, as well as the organization's. With Rick Ankiel (.285/.370/.483), Chris Duncan (.255/.365/.406), Ryan Ludwick (.350/.427/.772), and Skip Schumaker (.287/.353/.389) performing well at the big league level, there is no need whatsoever to rush Rasmus at this point. Let him develop his skills, regain his confidence, and see what he can do with a full year of AAA under his belt.
Toronto's Travis Snider has had an up and down season. Only 20, he started the year at Dunedin in the Florida State League (High-A), hit .279/.333/.557, was promoted to New Hampshire of the Eastern League (AA) where he started off 8-for-56, but has regained his footing and gone 11-for-35 with 2 2B, 2 HR, and 7 BB in his last nine games.
A first round pick out of Jackson HS (Mill Creek, WA) in 2006, Snider's combined stats are as follows:
G AB H 2B 3B HR BB SO AVG OBP SLG
42 152 36 7 0 8 23 60 .237 .341 .441
Snider is young for his level and should put up good numbers just like he did in 2006 and 2007 when he impressed scouts and analysts alike by hitting for average and extra-base power. However, there are a few items that raise questions. At 5-11, 245, Snider's body is a negative. Secondly, he has only DH'd this year. Thirdly, Travis has had a prospensity to strike out more often than one would like for somebody who has been labeled – by myself no less – as one of the best pure hitters in the minors.
A prospect for sure but someone whose value will be tied to his hitting prowess and little else. Think of Snider as a lefthanded-hitting Billy Butler, and I don't think you will go wrong.
Another highly touted prospect who got off to a poor start, Neil Walker has begun to turn his season around with a 10-for-33 streak during the past 10 games.
G AB H 2B 3B HR BB SO AVG OBP SLG
41 150 32 8 4 5 9 30 .213 .258 .420
A former catcher, Walker has been playing third base full time since the beginning of 2007. However, he has never hit anywhere close to his hype. Call me skeptical, but the former first round draft pick has produced an .800 OPS only once at nine different stops (with the Altoona Curve of the Eastern League last season). His career OPS (.754) is less than 5% better than the league OPS (.720). Sure, he is only 22, but the 6-foot-3, 217-pound switch-hitter lacks patience at the plate, doesn't run particularly well, and has been prone to making errors in the field since moving to the hot corner.
I'm going to go out on a limb and call the Pittsburgh native no more than a decent – rather than a top – prospect. While he should play in the majors for a number of years, I will be surprised if he ever becomes a star.
Prospects or Suspects?
The links to organizational statistics in our sidebar on the left have been updated for the 2008 season. Thanks to Baseball-Reference.com, you can access any player's major or minor league stats with one click. Go to the section labeled Reference, choose a team, then click on either "Bat" or "Pitch" and you will be taken to that club's complete list of major and minor league hitters or pitchers.
Using the above tool, I have identified four minor leaguers having outstanding seasons and will cover four more who are struggling in tomorrow's edition. Some of these players are clearly prospects, others suspects, and a few may elicit mixed opinions. In alphabetical order, I present a quartet putting up exceptional numbers through April and May.
Boston's Daniel Bard was promoted to AA over the weekend and struck out the side in order in his first appearance for the Portland Sea Dogs of the Eastern League yesterday. Check out his combined minor league stats to date:
YEAR G IP H R ER HR BB SO ERA K/9
2008 16 29 12 2 2 1 4 46 0.62 14.28
After a horrific professional debut as a starter in 2007 (7.08 ERA with 78 BB and 47 SO in 75 IP at Class-A and High-A), Bard was converted to a reliever and the first-round pick out of North Carolina in 2006 has dominated minor league hitters this year. A fastball/curveball pitcher, Bard's heater has been sitting at 96-98 all season long. If the 6-foot-4 righthander can maintain the command he has shown this year, his electric velocity and heavy life means he could be an effective set-up man for Jonathan Papelbon as early as this September and certainly by next year.
Jay Bruce, Baseball America's Minor League Player of the Year in 2007, is tearing up the International League (AAA) once again. I'm not sure what Bruce has left to prove playing for Louisville. Although the 12th overall pick in the 2005 draft just turned 21 last month, he has produced 48 extra-base hits (including 20 home runs) in 376 plate appearances. Bruce has hit for average and power while stealing 9 bases in 12 attempts.
YEAR G AB H 2B 3B HR BB SO AVG OBP SLG
2007 50 187 57 12 2 11 15 48 .305 .358 .567
2008 42 156 56 9 5 9 11 38 .359 .390 .654
If Bruce has a weakness, it is his uninspiring BB/SO totals. His walk and strikeout rates are a little bit lower and higher, respectively, than desired. However, he is young and has played and excelled at a higher level for his age ever since he was promoted to AA and AAA last season. Cut him some slack here as this kid has top prospect written all over him. Look for him to become a permanent part of Cincinnati's outfield before the All-Star break.
Jamie D'Antona is hitting .430 for Arizona's Tucson affiliate in the Pacific Coast League (AAA). Yes, FOUR THIRTY.
YEAR G AB H 2B 3B HR BB SO AVG OBP SLG
2008 40 142 61 17 0 6 3 19 .430 .445 .676
Primarily a third baseman, D'Antona has also played first base and catcher this year. At worst, he profiles as a backup corner infielder and emergency catcher for a major league team. A second-round pick out of Wake Forest in 2003, D'Antona led the short-season Northwest League with 15 home runs that summer, then hit .315/.353/.531 in a half-season at high Class A Lancaster in 2004. Promoted to AA, he struggled (.211/.233/.282 in 73 plate appearances) for the first time, showed minimal progress (.249/.322/.385) at the same level in 2005, repeated at Tennessee as a 24-year-old in 2006 and rebounded to hit over .300 with 17 HR.
The 6-foot-2, 220-pound free swinger moved up to AAA last season and put up an .861 OPS. Blocked by Mark Reynolds and Conor Jackson, he returned to Tucson and is drawing more attention than walks for his eye-opening batting average. However, D'Antona is hitting .470 on balls in play in a favorable ballpark and league environment. I think he is a tweener but, in light of the fact that journeymen Luis Maza and Terry Tiffee are also hitting over .400 in the PCL, I would discount D'Antona's batting average quite a bit and classify him more as a suspect than a prospect at this point.
Mike Hessman, a 30-year-old third baseman for Detroit's Toledo entry in the International League, has cranked 18 home runs or one every 10 plate appearances thus far. His season-to-date totals are as follows:
YEAR G AB H 2B 3B HR BB SO AVG OBP SLG
2008 43 161 47 9 2 18 21 47 .292 .374 .708
The 6-foot-5, 215-pound minor league slugger went yard 55 times in 767 at-bats in 2006 and 2007. Over the course of his MiLB career, Hessman has ripped 272 HR in nearly 5000 AB and leads all active minor leaguers in four baggers. Unfortunately, he has struck out 1561 times against only 482 walks. His career rate lines in the minors (.229/.300/.452) and majors (.191/.253/.397) also leave a lot to be desired. He probably deserves another shot at the big leagues but is definitely more suspect than prospect.
We will cover four more players on Tuesday, all of whom have put up disappointing numbers in the early going of the 2008 season. Are they still prospects or have they become suspects? You can find out tomorrow.
Lastly, speaking of our sidebar, we have also updated the 2008 Draft Order. This information is courtesy of Baseball America. We will add to our draft coverage to date in late May and early June. Stay tuned.
As opposed to Foto Friday (as we have run in the past), today is known as Friday Fotos. The following shots are from the baseball trip of a lifetime that my son Joe and I took to the northeast last week. We spent two days in Boston, two days in Cooperstown, three days in New York City, and two days in Philadelphia.
Inside the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum
1936: The First Class of Hall of Famers
Top: Christy Mathewson and Honus Wagner. Middle: Ty Cobb. Bottom: Babe Ruth and Walter Johnson.
Standing with the Plaques of Two All-Time Greats: Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson.
My Two Favorite Pitchers Ever: Sandy Koufax and Nolan Ryan.
Left: Me 'n' Satchel Paige (Notice the Resemblance?) Right: Two Catchers - Joe and Roy Campanella.
The New Yankee Stadium
The New Stadium is Literally Across the Street from the Old Stadium.
Inside Monument Park at Yankee Stadium - Lou Gehrig on the Left and Mickey Mantle on the Right.
Rained Out at Shea Stadium: Me, Alex Belth, Joe, and Darren Viola (aka Repoz).
The Lederers and the O'Briens: Kevin, Dave, Rich and Joe After a Round of Golf in Philly.
Meeting up with Sully and his wife Johanna in Boston. Breakfast with Bill James and Jared Porter before a game at Fenway Park. Cooperstown. The Hall of Fame. Lunch with Bill Deane at the Cooperstown Cafe. Yankee Stadium. Riding on the subway with Cliff Lee. Playing catch with Alex Belth in Central Park. Going to a Mets game with Alex and Repoz at Shea Stadium. Hanging out afterwards with Bob Klapisch at John's Pizzeria in Times Square. Playing golf with my old buddy Dave O'Brien and his son in Philadelphia.
Yes, Joe and I had a great time, made all the better by the fact that it was a father-son trip that we will never forget. Thanks to everyone who had a part in it.
Just How Good Is Chipper Jones?
Whose career has been more productive – Ken Griffey or Chipper Jones?
Ken Griffey Jr. is about to hit his 600th home run. He has had a tremendous career and is a walk-in Hall of Famer. Griffey’s career has been lauded as one of the best ever. Rightfully so – Griffey is a terrific player, and has been most of his career. It will be great for him to reach 600 home runs and join a very small group.
Griffey is in the last year or so of his career. After the various PED scandals, Griffey is often anointed as the clean one from the era, and so he’ll get to be the face of “the best player” for the 1990s and 2000s. Mostly because he is much more popular than Alex Rodriguez.
Griffey has also been a centerfielder with the hitting career of a first baseman. The hitting he’s provided at his position only serves to maximize his value. He has always had a big defensive reputation, although many analyses have shown him to be just okay in his early career and downright awful in center late in his career. He’s been moved to right field, which helps his defense, but also increases the “requirement” on his batting performance at a time when his production is waning. Griffey’s bat has still been good coming into 2008, around average and above replacement level.
What does this have to do with Chipper Jones? Chipper is hitting a ton to open 2008, and even though it is just mid-May, articles have cropped up about the possibility of him hitting .400 for the season. Now, that is silly enough in its own right. The good news is it puts the spotlight on Chipper and gotten people to consider the quality of his career.
Chipper Jones is a great third baseman. He’s always been a top tier hitter and a solid fielder. While Chipper’s prowess with the bat is never questioned, his rank among great third basemen has. The problem is traditional metrics have shown Chipper to be a poor fielder. His Range Factor (Assists plus putouts per game) has routinely been below league norms. In the face of a significant groundball pitching staff with Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, and lots of left-handed pitcher innings, Chipper “should” have seen many more chances than league average. To be converting fewer outs than league average could only mean he is a poor defensive third baseman. Chipper being moved off third base in 2002 to a weak fielder position in left field demonstrated that even the Braves recognized Chipper’s shortcomings.
Traditional metrics are wrong. Chipper’s defensive play is one of the most misunderstood performances in baseball. Chipper’s defense has been below average exactly twice in his thirteen-year career. He’s averaged about +4 defensive runs per season. For his career, he’s about 50 runs above average defensively.
What does this have to do with Ken Griffey? Griffey is going to be considered one of the greatest centerfielders ever to play. He’s going to be mentioned alongside Mantle, Mays, Cobb, Speaker. Chipper may or may not end up being mentioned alongside Schmidt, Mathews and Brett. He could end up being mentioned with Brooks Robinson and Pie Traynor, or worse, Ron Santo.
Ken Griffey is playing his 20th season, and he’s had a great career. He has accumulated over 1000 VORP (Value Over Replacement Player from Baseball Prospectus) in runs. Griffey hasn’t been great overall with the glove, and he averages just -4 runs, plenty of that coming from his last few years in center. For Griffey’s career, which has seen its decline phase, he has 1017 VORP runs and -79 defensive runs saved. He will head to the HoF with approximately 938 runs to his credit, as he’s unlikely to improve either of those marks significantly.
Chipper Jones is headed toward summer hitting over .400. Well over .400. He has 888 VORP runs and 52 defensive runs saved. He’s got quite a few more runs to pile up this season, and will play several more seasons. Chipper already has 940 runs. In Chipper’s decline phase, his defense may regress, but he’s going to pile up many more offensive runs.
So what is a good VORP over twenty years? Griffey is number four in total VORP over the last 20 years, behind Bonds and Frank Thomas and ARod. Everyone over 800 VORP is a future hall of famer, with the exception of Rafael Palmiero. The top players:
Ken Griffey Jr.
Ken Griffey Jr., rightfully, will be recognized as one of the greatest players of this, or any generation, and will forever be lauded as one of the finest players ever – possibly inner circle. Chipper Jones has been every bit as good and so many people are unaware of what they are watching. Chipper isn’t just good, and he isn’t just great. Chipper is an all-time great RIGHT NOW. Hopefully he can chase .400 long enough so everyone remembers him that way.
Chris is a pharmaceutical research manager, which is good, because as a Mets fan, he knows where to find the anti-depressants. Turn-ons: Mets, defensive analysis, vodka. Turn-offs: The F'N Cardinals, feel-good stories, any form of adjusted Range Factor. His writings can be found at Baseball Think Factory. Consider yourselves warned.
(Ed. Note: For another exemplary Chris Dial work, have a look at this piece over at BTF on advanced defensive metrics.)
Looking to Avoid the Sophomore Jinx: NL
The 2007 season saw a number of exciting players come into both the American and National leagues. The junior league received some intriguing young pitchers, while the senior circuit welcomed some promising offensive players.
We are more than a month into the 2008 season so now is a good time to take a look at how the 2007 rookie class, now a collective group of sophomores, is doing. Are you as curious as I am to see how many of the promising 2007 rookies have been bitten by the dreaded sophomore jinx? Last time I looked at the American League, so let's have a look-see at the National League.
2007 NL Rookie of the Year Voting (10 points or more):
Milwaukee 3B Ryan Braun 128
Colorado SS Troy Tulowitzki 126
Houston OF Hunter Pence 15
Arizona OF Chris Young 10
Others: Kyle Kendrick (Philadelphia, RHP), Yunel Escobar (Atlanta, SS), James Loney (Los Angeles, 1B)
Let’s take a closer look at those players:
Hitters: AB AVG OBP SLG OPS+
Pitchers: IP AVG K/9 BB/9 ERA+
2007 451 .324 .370 .634 153
2008 156 .288 .321 .545 122
You had to know Braun wasn't going to maintain the torrid pace he set in 2007. He's improved his strikeout rate by five percent, but his walk rate has dropped to 4.9 percent, which just isn't acceptable. A move from third base to left field has improved his value to the team, even if his offensive numbers are a little off. A little more protection from teammate Prince Fielder might also help Braun's 2008 numbers.
2007 609 .291 .359 .479 108
2008 105 .152 .226 .238 019
Before he went on the disabled list, Tulo was looking like the poster boy for the sophomore slump. A lot of it was probably bad luck, as he had a .172 BABIP and his 2008 walk rate was similar to 2007, while his strikeout rate was actually significantly lower.
2007 456 .322 .360 .539 130
2008 136 .279 .320 .441 099
Pence's 2008 numbers are a little close to what people expected of him, based on his minor league and college numbers. His on-base rate is disappointing and his strikeouts have risen a bit in 2008. He'll likely put up pretty good numbers for a while, and maybe even appear in an All-Star game or two, but he's not going to be a star.
2007 569 .237 .295 .467 089
2008 151 .238 .335 .470 105
With every passing day Young is looking more and more like the second coming of Mike Cameron. That's not a bad thing, but you get the feeling there is more ability just waiting to be tapped into. Young has intriguing power and plays nice defence but he just can't get that average above .250. Maintaining a .330-plus on-base average (his walk rate is up five percent) would also go a long way to increasing his effectiveness.
2007 319 .326 .385 .451 119
2008 135 .319 .399 .437 123
A lot of people felt Escobar's rookie season was a fluke but he is maintaining his rates quite well and has made everyone forget about Edgar Renteria. Escobar is also showing some improvements with his patience at the plate and he has been driving in more runs. The list of successful major league Cubans is not a long one and Escobar could find his way to the head of the pack before long.
2007 344 .331 .381 .538 131
2008 140 .286 .340 .450 103
He's not sexy and he's not loaded with power like some other first basemen but players like Will Clark, Mark Grace and Don Mattingly still had pretty nice careers at first base. Even though he doesn't hit the long ball, Loney has driven in 27 runners this season and could develop into a reliable RBI man.
2007 121.0 .274 3.64 1.86 119
2008 038.1 .312 4.23 2.82 089
Kendrick was surprisingly effective last year but a lot of his success was as smokescreen and his overall numbers were not that good. This season has been much of the same but with an uglier ERA. He's allowing more hits and more walks, but striking out a few more batters. However, his strikeout rates are still well below average and suggest he's a career No. 5 starter.
Overall, Braun and Tulowitzki are still the most likely players to have Hall of Fame careers, or at the very least multiple All-Star game appearances. But you have to credit Escobar for proving a lot of people wrong, at least so far. Kendrick, unlike Toronto's Jesse Litsch who had similar 2007 numbers, just hasn't shown much improvement and is the most likely player to disappoint. Young remains the most frustrating because his approach lends itself to a low batting average.
A's & Rays Here to Stay?
There are two standout, surprise teams in the American League thus far in 2008 and they are not your garden variety May 13 standout clubs. The Oakland Athletics sit atop the AL West with a 23-16 record, also good for the best mark in the junior circuit. If only we lived in a pythag world, the A's would find themselves staked to a 4.5 game lead. By just about any advanced peripheral measure of the brand of baseball they have played, Oakland has been head-and-shoulders above the rest of the West. As it stands, they sit a half game up on the Los Angeles Angels.
Tampa Bay is 22-16 and their record more or less reflects the quality of their play. While the Rays got off to a start that seemed to affirm at least somewhat the optimism that some showed before the 2008 campaign began (hat tip to BP's PECOTA who were all over Tampa Bay), they have really begun to turn heads over their last five games. In one game north of the border in Toronto, three against the Angels and last night against the Yankees, Tampa Bay has won five straight. In the process they outscored their opposition 27-9.
A good quarter season, while not meaningless, tends not to portend what fans of hot-starters would like to think it does. Still, there are some measures we can take a look at to try and determine if Oakland and Tampa Bay's level of play might be sustainable. Put more accurately, we can analyze the parts of their play to date in 2008 that can be attributable to luck and/or flukiness, and which positive elements of their team composition appear legitimate and sustainable.
So let's dig in a little bit:
AVG OBP SLG OPS+
OAK .254 .340 .366 102
TBR .258 .328 .395 101
Both teams thus far have featured slightly above average offensive attacks, not excessively influenced by batting average, a figure that can tend to mask deeper problems as team batting average will tend to settle into a narrow band. There is nothing in here that would seem to be of concern. Both teams should be able to sustain their respective batting averages, and Oakland in all likelihood has some upside opportunity in the slugging column.
Looking a bit more closely at items that can prove to be artificial determinants when applied over the long haul, we see that the A's are sporting a red flag of sorts.
OAK .295 .309
TBR .292 .277
AL .292 .271
Oakland is hitting .254 as a team, the league hits .271 with men in scoring position and Oakland is hitting .309 in these situations. It's unsustainable and minus improvement in other areas offensively, Oakland's run scoring will suffer. Fortunately for Oakland, there are reasons for optimism. Their 172 walks are best in the American League by a healthy clip. This suggests their fundamental approach at the plate is sound.
As far as specific individual improvement candidates go, the one that stands out the most is Travis Buck. He hit .288/.377/.474 in 2007 but in 71 PA's has mustered just a .154/.197/.277 line. He is in Sacramento now, and in limited action there he has yet to find his stroke. Continues regular time in AAA might help speed up a return to form by Buck, which would go a long way in mitigating any impending regression from others. Another hitter in the A's lineup from whom we can expect more is Daric Barton, the highly touted rookie. Barton is hitting a respectable .237/.342/.348 but keep in mind, this is someone who slugged .639 in his first 84 MLB plate appearances as a 22 year-old. He slugged .459 in his Minor League career while playing the majority of that time in very hitter unfriendly Sacramento.
For Tampa Bay, catcher Dioneer Navarro will not continue at his .362/.397/.449 pace but then Carlos Pena will not finish 2008 hitting just .209. Eric Hinske figures to cool off as well, but then Tampa Bay has received no production whatsoever from a middle infield that should improve significantly. Add up the good with the bad for this club and it all nets out to a place where this offense stays about as good as it has been; hovering around league average.
On the run prevention side, both clubs have been remarkable. Below we can take a look at their ERA+, their Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) numbers and their respective Defensive Efficiency Ratings (DER). Though I imagine many Baseball Analysts readers do not need this primer, here are definitions of the latter two statistics from The Hardball Times stat glossary:
Fielding Independent Pitching, a measure of all those things for which a pitcher is specifically responsible. The formula is (HR*13+(BB+HBP-IBB)*3-K*2)/IP, plus a league-specific factor (usually around 3.2) to round out the number to an equivalent ERA number. FIP helps you understand how well a pitcher pitched, regardless of how well his fielders fielded. FIP was invented by Tangotiger.
Defense Efficiency Ratio. The percent of times a batted ball is turned into an out by the teams’ fielders, not including home runs. The exact formula we use is (BFP-H-K-BB-HBP-Errors)/(BFP-HR-K-BB-HBP). This is similar to BABIP, but from the defensive team's perspective. Please note that errors include only errors on batted balls.
ERA+ FIP DER
OAK 118 3.49 .706
TBR 109 3.90 .713
AL 100 4.17 .699
As you can see, both teams look entirely legitimate with regard to keeping runs off the board. Their peripheral numbers look great and they both appear to play very good defense. Keep in mind, too, that Scott Kazmir has made just two starts for the Rays while Rich Harden and Justin Duscherer (ok, maybe to nobody's surprise) have both missed time. One potential regression area for Oakland may be their bullpen (do yourself a favor and have a look at the season Santiago Casilla is having).
It's hard to imagine but it looks to my eyes at least that both Oakland and Tampa are entirely legitimate. They will both have tough fights on their hands in order to qualify for post-season play in the highly competitive American League but they have started the season on the right foot and both sure seem to feature the make-up of clubs capable of fighting through to the end.
Looking to Avoid the Sophomore Jinx: AL
The 2007 season saw a number of exciting players come into both the American and National leagues. The junior league received some intriguing young pitchers, while the senior circuit welcomed some promising offensive players.
We are more than a month into the 2008 so now is a good time to take a look at how the 2007 rookie class, now a collective group of sophomores, are doing. Are you as curious as I am to see how many of the promising 2007 rookies have been bitten by the dreaded sophomore jinx? Let's have a look at the American League today.
2007 AL Rookie of the Year Voting (10 points or more):
Boston 2B Dustin Pedroia 132
Tampa Bay OF Delmon Young 56
Kansas City RHP Brian Bannister 36
Boston RHP Daisuke Matsuzaka 12
Los Angeles OF Reggie Willits 11
Others: Hideki Okajima, Josh Fields, Joakim Soria
Let’s take a closer look at those players:
Hitters: AB AVG OBP SLG OPS+
Pitchers: IP AVG K/9 BB/9 ERA+
2007 520 .317 .380 .442 112
2008 163 .307 .343 .411 104
Pedroia is the type of player that doesn’t have too many highs or too many lows; he’s just incredibly consistent and a great complimentary player to the big boppers in Boston. He should be good for quite some time and could be one of those players who gets better as he ages, in the Mark Loretta mold.
2007 645 .288 .316 .408 91
2008 133 .271 .312 .308 76
The more I think about it, the less I like the idea of Young being a Minnesota Twin. The Twins, in general, aren't exactly known for being a patient team; they have always employed athletic, toolsy players that like to hack (Torii Hunter, Jacques Jones). Young might be better off on a club that forces him to be more selective. You can’t be a superstar with his type of approach (there is only one Vladimir Guerrero).
2007 430 .293 .391 .344 096
2008 011 .455 .538 .545 201
Willits has been hurt by the Angels’ position player depth and really hasn’t received a fair shot at following up on his solid rookie season. Regardless, he probably played over his head in 2007 and is a solid fourth outfielder, similar to the Cubs’ Reed Johnson.
2007 373 .244 .308 .480 101
2008 000 .000 .000 .000 000
Already stuck at Triple-A (and hitting .240), Fields has been sidelined by patella tendonitis, which never a pleasant injury for baseball players (just ask Mark McGwire). Continued low averages and on-base percentages will likely continue to hinder his major league success.
2007 165.0 .251 4.20 2.40 121
2008 042.3 .265 5.10 2.13 096
Bannister is probably a little over-hyped right now, which is hard to imagine for a major league pitcher that throws in the upper 80s and plays for Kansas City. He should probably be a solid starting pitcher for the next few years, but the loss of even a couple of miles an hour on the ol’ fastball could spell doom, regardless of how smart or observant he is.
2007 204.2 .249 8.84 3.52 108
2008 047.2 .172 7.55 5.66 176
With a repertoire like Matsuzaka’s it is hard to believe that he's been pitching away from contact, but that is exactly what he's been doing OR his command is really, really off. Ironically, as of the writing of this article he leads the majors in fewest hits allowed per nine innings… So what is he worried about? Someone needs to remind him that he is pretty darn good.
2007 69.0 .204 8.22 2.22 214
2008 18.0 .191 7.50 2.00 865
Okajima was an almost invisible free agent signing out of Japan before the 2007, but he has been absolutely outstanding coming out of the bullpen for the Red Sox. But we also have him to thank for teams going wild by signing mediocre Japanese middle relievers prior to the 2008 season; some of those have worked out, but others haven't.
2007 69.0 .191 09.78 2.48 189
2008 13.3 .096 10.13 0.68 INF
There were quite a few scouts that felt Soria would be one of the more successful Rule 5 picks in 2007, but I don't think there were many that thought he’d be quite this good. Soria has helped to solidify a previously inconsistent (OK, terrible) Royals bullpen. He shows no signs of slowing down.
Of the player above, we know Pedroia took home the actual award and he is as good a bet as any of the 2007 rookies to have a great 2008 and a very successful career. Soria is probably the best bet among the pitchers to have a long, productive career. As for over-hyped players, I'd pick Fields or Young.
I’ll be back later this week to take a look at the sophomore seasons for the top National League rookies of 2007.
A Mother's Trip Down Memory Lane
I'm Rich's mother and agreed to "do" this story for Mother's Day. He and his son Joe are flying home today after spending a week on the east coast, attending games at Fenway Park, Yankee Stadium, and Shea Stadium, as well as visiting Cooperstown for a couple of days.
My credentials – I probably should say credential – are having been married to a sportswriter for thirty years. There were definitely some perks.
Receiving four season tickets to the Dodgers games during the eleven years (1958-68) George covered them for the Long Beach Press-Telegram. These tickets probably had a lot to do with our immense popularity at that time.
Rubbing elbows with the players. Unlike today's multi-millionaire players, the athletes in the sixties were very approachable. We carpooled back and forth to and from the airport with the likes of Gino Cimoli and Stan Williams; played bridge with the Roebucks and Ginger Drysdale. Drove to spring training games in Phoenix with Jeri Roseboro, bought flatware from one of the Sherry brothers during the off-season (can't remember which one), received an etched-glass invitation to Frank Tanana’s wedding (didn’t go, can’t imagine now why not), were guests of the Drysdales at their Hidden Hills home and traded recipes with Pat Reiser (as in Mrs. Pete).
Receiving a color television set for Christmas from the Dodgers after they won the World Series in 1959! We were the only ones in our large circle of friends (remember the season tickets?) to own one and we certainly were popular the following week during the Rose parade! Think that would be a conflict of interest today? The Dodgers even handed out meal money to the writers before every trip. In cash!
Accompanying George on a road trip. That was an event! I flew on the "Kay O" Dodger plane with the team. As an interesting aside, the plane landed to refuel on a distant tarmac in Grand Island, Nebraska. I loudly shared (shouted?) that I was born in Grand Island, Nebraska. Some wag loudly proclaimed, "Nobody was born in Grand Island, Nebraska!" The trip included stops in St Louis, New York, Philadelphia and San Francisco. The World's Fair was taking place near Shea Stadium, and I was able to view Michelangelo's Pieta from a moving sidewalk before going to a game. Highlight! One day, after a game in New York, Maury Wills took George and me on a tour of Greenwich Village. We stopped in several bars where he was well known and in the last one he was invited to play Banjo with the small jazz band. Incredible!
Richard has written about the two pair of shoes, complete with pitching toes that Sandy Koufax gave to our left-handed pitching teenager, Tom, when he retired. Only one shoe has survived. And the priceless souvenir that is the official scorer's (George) score card, framed along with Walter Alston's lineup card that hung in the dugout of Sandy Koufax's perfect game. Cooperstown wants that, but we are hanging on to it!
It seemed like George was on the road so much during those years – six weeks each spring in Vero Beach and every road trip during the season – that we jokingly referred to him as "Uncle Daddy." But those were wonderful times, the memories of which we will treasure forever. Happy Mother's Day to me and all the other baseball wives and widows!
A Bite Out of the Big Apple
After a memorable subway ride and visit to Yankee Stadium (to see the old and the new) on Wednesday, Joe and I had the "day off," if you will, on Thursday.
In addition to going to three ballparks (including our first and last visit to Yankee Stadium) and to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, one of my motivations for this trip was to meet up with Patrick Sullivan in Boston; Alex Belth and Darren Viola (known as Repoz to readers of the Baseball Think Factory) in New York; and my longtime pal Dave O'Brien in Philadelphia (which remains the last leg of our trip this weekend). Seeing people has always been more important to me than seeing places and this cross-country adventure was no different.
I met Dave for a long lunch at Pershing Square on 42nd Street and Park Avenue. A former Athletic Director at Long Beach State, Temple, and Northeastern, Dave heads up the sports management program at Drexel University, teaches sports law, and is involved in a couple of other sports ventures as well. We caught up on old times and both of us are looking forward to a round of golf with our sons on Saturday afternoon at Dave's club in Philly.
A couple of hours later, I emerged from the canyons of Manhattan and walked to Radio City Hall to meet up with Alex . A lifelong resident of New York City, Alex was anxious to show me some landmarks in and around his old stomping grounds. On our way to Central Park for a game of catch, we passed Rockefeller Center at 30 Rock and Saks Fifth Avenue, next to St. Patrick's Cathedral, an old and glorious church. We walked back to 6th and up to the park where we stopped and tossed the ball around for about 15 minutes while softball games were going on all around us. We passed Tavern on the Green in the park as we exited onto Central Park West. We proceeded north on CPW to 72nd Street where Alex pointed out the Dakota, John Lennon's old and John Madden's current residence, and the filming location of "Rosemary's Baby." From there, we headed over to Broadway where Alex showed me the famous Ansonia Hotel, where Babe Ruth and John McGraw lived at one time. The hotel was featured in "The Sunshine Boys" and "Single White Female."
Up on 79th Street, Alex highlighted another lovely old apartment building, The Apthorp. We walked up Broadway, past the Beacon Theater (where Steely Dan is performing), and saw Fairway, Citarella and Zabars, the food emporiums on our left. Finally, we ate at a deli called Artie's where I enjoyed a pastrami sandwich and a Dr. Brown's Black Cherry while Alex plowed down a couple of hot dogs and a ginger ale. After dinner, we walked over to West End Avenue and then one block further west to Riverside Drive, where we stopped and chatted at the edge of Riverside Park with the lights from New Jersey across the river shining through the green leaves on the countless number of trees that line the park.
Alex hailed down a cab for me and asked the driver to take me by Lincoln Center on my way back to the New York Helmsley. We also passed the New York Library, the theatre district, Times Square, and I caught a glimpse of the Empire State Building in all of its green glory at night. Not bad for twenty bucks.
Tonight promises to be another special night on our nine-day trip to the northeast. Alex, Repoz, Joe and I are going to the Reds-Mets game at Shea Stadium. Alex is planning on meeting us outside our hotel around 5:45 p.m. (that's Eastern Time) and the three of us are going to take a short stroll to Grand Central where we will hook up with Repoz, rain or shine, on the platform for the 7 train at 6 p.m.
Keep your fingers crossed for us as the weather forecast calls for showers with temperatures ranging from 47 to 56 degrees. Joe and I want to extend our streak of great weather for a few more days. But there's a reason why I brought my rain coat. It just may be the day to finally bring it out of the ol' garment bag.
To THE Stadium and Back
I'm planning on putting up a follow-up post regarding our second day in Cooperstown, complete with photos and a few personal stories. However, for purposes of timeliness, I want to skip ahead to Wednesday night when Joe and I attended our first game at Yankee Stadium or THE Stadium as Yankee fans like to call it.
Those of us from Southern California call our ballparks Dodger Stadium and Angel Stadium. But, then again, we also succumb to easterners when it comes to describing the time. We say "Pacific Time" when conversing with folks outside our time zone whereas people on the so-called right side of the country would never add "Eastern Time" in describing when something was going to take place. Oh well, I'll be sure to schedule an appointment with a psychiatrist to talk about my inferiority complex when I get back home.
In the meantime, Joe and I did some Cliff Hangin' last night on our way to the game. We caught the 4 Train from Grand Central (or the Iron Horse as Alex Belth told me insiders call it) to Yankee Stadium. After getting a bite to eat in the food concourse, we hopped onto the subway at about 3:45 p.m. (Eastern Time). Our car was crowded so we found ourselves standing in the middle, holding onto the rails for safety. After we got situated, Joe whispers to me, "I'm 95% certain that's Cliff Lee standing next to you" (notice the arm of my brown jacket in the foreground). I look up and, sure enough, it looks just like the Cleveland lefthander. I turned back to Joe and remarked, "I think you're right." He then says, "I'm 99.9% certain." While I'm not into star gazing per se, you have to admit that it's an incredible coincidence that a player from the opposing team – much less the starting pitcher THAT night – would be riding the subway to the park *and* at the same time as Joe and me *and* standing next to us for the entire trip.
In any event, while making eye contact with Lee, I make a pitching motion with my left hand as if I were throwing a breaking ball. He gives me a quizzical look so I mouth "Cliff?" He nods his head. Conscientious that I'm wearing a NY hat for the first time in my life, I point to it and tell him that I'm from Long Beach, California and not really a Yankees fan. Lee smiled and shook his head. I explained that Joe and I were on a father-son baseball trip and had already been to Fenway Park the previous weekend and were going to our first Yankees game that night, and to Shea Stadium on Friday night.
There wasn't a single person other than Joe or me who had any inclination that Cliff Lee was standing on the subway, holding onto the rail tightly with his left arm. The 29-year-old southpaw stands about an inch shorter than me (although he looked a tad shorter than that) but with more facial hair and was wearing a beige LaCoste shirt with a green alligator on it, designer jeans, comfortable shoes, and a silver Rolex on his right hand – the only real Rolex on the entire subway. In fact, I'm quite sure I could have bought two or three along the way for much less than what Lee paid for his watch (or it it a time piece?).
Having garnered Lee's full attention at this point, I told him that ESPN was calling that evening's game "the pitching matchup of the season." Going into the game, Lee was 5-0 and Chien-Ming Wang was 6-0. Cliff responded modestly, "It's still early." I nodded and said, "Yeah, but it must feel good." Lee agreed, "It does." I winked as if to say, "Good job," and he smiled back as if to say, "Thanks."
I left it at that and we rode in the rest of the way, exiting at 161st Street. Lee hurried off the subway and departed into a sea of commuters and early-arriving fans. Joe and I walked down the stairs and onto the street and there they were: the new Yankee Stadium directly in front of us and the old Yankee Stadium across the street and slightly to the left. We took several photos before going to Gate 2 and getting in line to tour Monument Park inside the stadium prior to the game. (I will put up photos as time permits later today or tomorrow.)
I don't need to tell Yankee fans how the game turned out. Lee threw seven scoreless innings and picked up his sixth victory without a loss while lowering his ERA to 0.81. Did I mention that Lee has 39 strikeouts while only allowing 2 walks? I'm sure these same fans (Alex included) wish I had tripped Lee on his way out the subway. Heck, ballplayer or no ballplayer, I wouldn't do that to someone I was just hangin' with.
(As an aside, how did the Indians do in that trade where they sent Bartolo Colon to the Expos for Lee, Grady Sizemore, and Brandon Phillips? Although Lee hasn't performed to expectations and Cleveland never capitalized on Phillips' late-blooming career, Sizemore has been one of the best center fielders in baseball the past several years and Lee is pitching as well as – or better than – anyone in baseball this season.)
Are the Salt Lake Bees Worth All the Buzz?
As just about every minor league fan knows by now, the Salt Lake Bees of the Pacific Coast League (Triple-A) have been very, very good this season. The club was 23-2 in the month of April. The Bees have had a little tougher going in May with a 2-4 record and the club is now 25-6, but still eight games up on Tacoma in the Pacific North Division.
In April, the Bees collectively were first overall in average (.320), on-base percentage (.395) and runs scored (190). It was also second in slugging percentage (.506) next to Albuquerque, and third in homers (34) behind Albuquerque and Omaha.
We know what the team is doing, so let’s take a look at some of the individual players:
SS/3B Brandon Wood (.273/.333/.614)
Wood, 23, has been on the prospect landscape since 2003, when he was drafted in the first round out of high school. People really started to take notice after he slugged 43 homers in 536 at-bats a Rancho Cucamonga (a very good hitting stadium in a very good hitting A-ball league). That season may be the worst thing that every happened to him, as he has been unable to live up to that since. He hit “only” 25 and 23 homers the next two seasons, which were viewed as disappointments despite being solid totals, especially given his age at the time (21 and 22). One of the biggest knocks on Wood is his lack on contact, as he struck out 149 times in 453 at-bats in 2006 and 120 times in 437 at-bats in 2007. He needs the chance to play every day at the major league level.
IF Sean Rodriguez (.250/.429/.531)
Rodriguez has been overshadowed by Wood, but he was also taken in the 2003 draft as a high school shortstop (third round). Rodriguez’ career has been plagued by inconsistencies and ups-and-downs. In 2004, he hit .338/.486/.569 in 225 short season at-bats and then his offence all but disappeared the next season. He returned in 2006 and slugged 29 homers between High-A ball and Double-A. Then in 2007 he slumped again down to .254/.345/.423 at Double-A. Many scouts predict a utility player future for Rodriguez but if he can find a little more consistency he has enough power to make an intriguing regular at second base, even if it’s just for a few years.
3B Matt Brown (.382/.424/.699)
Brown, 25, is more suspect than prospect; don’t let the numbers fool you. He’s a former 10th round pick out of high school from the 2001 draft. He spent seven seasons in the minors prior to 2008 and batted a combined .264/.347/.449 in more than 2,500 at-bats. He has average power at best for a third baseman and he hit 19 homers in 391 at-bats last year for Salt Lake. He spent time in the outfield, as well as at third base, first base and second base in 2007 and Brown is likely best-suited to be a utility player at the major league level.
C Bobby Wilson (.325/.391/.434)
With a lot of other clubs, Wilson would be a major league back-up already. But thanks to the presence of Mike Napoli and Jeff Mathis, two solid young catchers, Wilson, 25, is still biding his time riding the shuttle between Triple-A and the majors as the third-string catcher. He has a solid offensive ceiling for a back-up catcher and has a career line of .282/.335/.426. Wilson split 2007 between Double-A and Triple-A and was solid, albeit unspectacular. He also has some experience at both first base and third base so that versatility could serve him well down the road.
1B Kendry Morales (.291/.320/.470)
The former Cuban free agent signing has not solidified his role in the majors as quickly as the Angels originally thought he might. That said, he has spent 100 games in the majors over the course of the past two seasons and hit .256/.308/.411. Unfortunately, he is not great defensively at first base or in the outfield and he is inconsistent with the bat. He has hit above .300 at every stop in the minors but his lack of patience hurts him at the major league level (his OBP is .085 higher in the minors, in part due to his .334 career minor league average). He also needs to show more usable power at the major league level as he has hit only nine homers in 316 at-bats.
IF Freddy Sandoval (.346/.390/.570)
Sandoval has been the second-best hitter on the club so far this season. The former eighth round pick out of San Diego State in 2004 is a solid minor league hitter with a career line of .282/.366/.415 but he is miscast as a third baseman. He has only 20 career homers in 1,330 at-bats. His second-best position is first base, which is really no help to his prospect standing. If he were a shortstop or a second baseman, Sandoval, 25, would have a much brighter career outlook. That said, there is hope for a major league bench role, especially if he can make his way to the National League.
Here is how those hitters are doing so far in May:
Brandon Wood 0/0 | ---
Sean Rodriguez 0/4 | .000
Matt Brown 2/17 | .118
Bobby Wilson 6/21 | .286
Kendry Morales 9/27 | .333
Freddy Sandoval 4/24 | .167
Pitching-wise in April, the club was first in ERA (3.34), shutouts (five), and runs allowed (97). The Bees organization was also third in saves (eight) and home runs allowed (20), fourth in fewest hits allowed (229).
Let’s take a look at some of the individual pitchers:
RHP Nick Adenhart (4-0, 0.87 ERA)
The top pitching prospect on the club, Adenhart recently made his major league debut and struggled mightily against the Royals. It should be a shock considering his low strikeout totals this season (5.52 K/9) and high walk rate (4.35 BB/9). The most impressive number in the minors this season was that he had allowed only 18 hits in 31 innings, but he had an incredibly low BABIP (.208), which suggests that number is the result of luck. Adenhart has the stuff to be a very successful pitcher, but he’s only 21 and has just 31 games of experience above A-ball.
RHP Nick Green (3-0, 3.38 ERA)
Green has some promise but his chronically low strikeout totals (360 in 507.2 career innings) limit his ceiling. He does, though, have above-average control (1.88 BB/9 in his career). The 23-year-old pitcher has struggled against lefties this season (.293 average) and has allowed a lot of fly ball outs (GO/AO of 0.69). Green is probably a fourth starter at the major league level.
RHP Shane Loux (4-2, 3.79 ERA)
Loux, a former Tigers prospect, is your typical overachieving veteran minor league hurler. The 28-year-old is a former second round pick out of high school who posted ERAs of 5.29 and 5.75 the last two seasons at the Triple-A level. He also has a career rate of 5.42 K/9. He allowed eight earned runs over five innings in his first May outing.
Jose Arredondo (8 saves, 2.40 ERA)
Arredondo, 24, has had his share of ups and downs but may have finally settled into a comfortable role in the bullpen. The former non-drafted free agent out of the Dominican Republic looked to be on the verge of a breakout as a starter in 2006, only to end up getting beaten up by Double-A batters. He has also butted head with coaches and others in the organization.
The Angels do have some interesting players on the Salt Lake club, but it seems clear that the club significantly over-achieved in April and we are already beginning to see the players come back down to earth in May. Regardless, the future still looks bright for the likes of Adenhart and Wood.
New York State of Mind
Some folks like to get away,
take a holiday from the neighborhood.
Hop a flight to Miami Beach or Hollywood.
I'm taking a greyhound on the Hudson River line.
I'm in a New York state of mind.
– Billy Joel
After spending the weekend in Boston, my son Joe and I rented a car and drove to Cooperstown on Monday. We brought our California weather with us as it was mid-60s and sunny for the entire 240-mile trip. Aside from breaking our piggy bank to pay for the multitude of tolls (what's up with that?), the drive mostly along Interstate 90 could not have been better. Traffic was non-existent, the leaves on the trees were gorgeous, and the final 50 miles or so of back roads was a fun experience for a couple of city slickers from Long Beach. My only regret was that we didn't have an extra day to stop at the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts en route to Cooperstown.
We checked into the Cooper Inn about 2:45 p.m. and headed directly to The National Baseball Hall of Fame, knowing full well that it was closing at 5:00 p.m. The Cooper Inn, a classic federal brick landmark built in 1812 as the private residence of publisher Henry Phinney, is located on the northeast corner of Main Street & Chestnut Street and is convenient to all attractions in "America's Most Perfect Village."
Cooperstown is a quaint village situated next to Lake Otsego, Leatherstocking Golf Course, and beautiful old-fashioned homes. If not for the winters, I think I could retire in this town, although I'm sure I would miss having a major-league baseball team – or two – within driving distance of my home. Like all eastern time zone locales, the offset is that you can work a full day and still watch two games on TV at night – as long as you're willing to stay up late (which might not be a very good idea after all if, in fact, you were going to work the next morning).
For a more complete report on Cooperstown, be sure to read Dave Studenmund's highly informative article at The Hardball Times. Dave's mother was raised in Cooperstown, his older brother Woody was born there, and the family owned a summer house in town. As such, Studes spent his summers in Cooperstown while growing up and later honeymooned there (just like my older brother Tom). In the department of "It's a Small World," Dave's brother Woody and I first knew each other in the mid-70s when we both competed in the Greater Los Angeles APBA Association. Woody is also a charter member of the Northeast League, the longest-running baseball table-game league on record. The name of his team? The Cooperstown Phillies. Dave and Woody both have bricks with dedications inscribed at Doubleday Field in Cooperstown.
Dressed in walking shorts and short-sleeve shirts, we entered the Hall of Fame, picked up our passes courtesy of Jeff Idelson, the new president, and headed upstairs to the second floor where a timeline history of baseball exhibits and rooms are filled with baseball memorabilia, as well as game-used equipment and uniforms. Hamming for the camera, I'm acting as astonished as can be when viewing the oldest-known baseball jersey (Baraboo Base Ball Club in Wisconsin, circa 1866) in existence.
Joe and I also took photos of one another standing next to some of our favorites, including Babe Ruth's Yankees locker and jersey, Lou Gehrig's locker and jersey, a Christy Mathewson jersey donated by his wife, Honus Wagner's coach's jersey and two thick-handled game-used bats, Shoeless Joe Jackson's jersey, cap, and glove, Jackie Robinson's Brooklyn Dodgers hat and jacket, Sandy Koufax's 1965 game-used home jersey, and Nolan Ryan's seven no-hitter hats (including four with the California Angels when my Dad and Joe's grandfather was Director of Public Relations and Promotions).
At Joe's request, I also took a snapshot of him standing next to the exhibit of Ted Williams and the Science of Hitting. The Splendid Splinter has been Joe's all-time favorite player since his boyhood days.
Before our first afternoon at the Hall of Fame was complete, we found ourselves in the "Records Room," which include, among other things, game-used baseballs from no-hitters (presented in chronological order). While looking for balls from Koufax's and Ryan's no-nos, we discovered the following ball and accompanying photo of the author of a no-hitter in 1977.
And to think I thought Bert Blyleven wasn't in the Hall of Fame! Shame on me.
Joe and I stayed until closing time at 5 o'clock, browsing through the gift shop as we exited the building. We proceeded directly to Doubleday Field, which is just a few short blocks from the Museum. The "birth place of baseball" is scheduled to host an exhibition game between the San Diego Padres and Chicago Cubs on June 16, 2008. Doubleday is a beautiful venue, complete with brick dugouts that are situated much closer to home plate than normal. The dimensions are on the small side (390 feet to center field) but certainly within the parameters of many old and modern-day ballparks.
At Dave's suggestion, we ate dinner at the Cooperstown Diner. Having passed on breakfast and lunch earlier in the day, I opted for the "three-inch thick burger" that Studes mentions in his article. Joe had a Denver Omelette. The food was excellent but the service was a bit slow, maybe because there were eight other people in the joint as well. Hey, it's a small town. And a great one at that.
We're heading downstairs to our Continental Breakfast and then off to the Hall of Fame for a full day where we will get a "behind-the-scenes" tour of the baseball library and spend lots of time in the gallery, scoping out where Bert's plaque will be permanently displayed within the next few years. It promises to be a great day.
Sunday in the Park and More
We were greeted by a rather cool and damp Sunday. Although it was drizzling throughout the morning, we were relieved to find out that the outlook was for clear skies later in the day. We kept our fingers crossed in the hopes that the Rays and Red Sox would play their scheduled game that afternoon.
After posting my travelogue for the previous day, we walked over to the Eastern Standard, which adjoins our hotel, to meet Sully; Jared Porter, Director of Professional Scouting; and Bill James, who needs no introduction on these pages, for breakfast. Joe and I were the first to show up and were followed shortly by Jared, who arrived by car; Sully, via a taxi; and Bill, by foot. Sully greeted us with a classic story. He took a cab from his apartment to the restaurant. There was a Walk for Hunger, a 20-mile trek to raise money for Project Bread (which funds emergency food programs in Massachusetts), that was progressing on Commonwealth Avenue and Pat's cabbie complained about the pedestrian traffic, "These people don't care about anyone but themselves." Yogi Berra couldn't have said it any better!
While I had the privilege of meeting Bill for breakfast at the winter meetings in Anaheim in December 2004, this was a first for Sully and Joe, who later told me hooking up with James was "like a professional dancer spending two hours with Fred Astaire," adding that "it'll be one of those moments I will never, ever forget."
The five of us talked nothing but baseball for a couple of hours – what did you expect...weather, politics, religion? We didn't draft or sign any players or make any trades, but we had a good time covering current events, swapping stories, and giving our opinions here and there. Oh, now that I think of it, we veered off course for a while when we talked about college basketball. This topic gave Bill the chance to talk about his Kansas Jayhawks, and he mused at how the media only gives KU credit for championships won in the era of the tournament, completely ignoring titles won by polls back in the 1920s.
At the conclusion of our breakfast, we walked to Fenway Park, braving a light drizzle for the five-minute stroll. Bill and Jared headed to their offices while Sully, Joe, and I picked up our tickets, shopped in The Souvenir Store on 19 Yawkey Way, walked around Fenway Park, snapping several photos, and stopping into one of the many sports bars surrounding the ballpark. It was my first trip back to Fenway in almost 20 years to the day. Back then, I was on a business trip and went to an Oakland-Boston game all by my lonesome but was treated like royalty when a lady in the front office handed me a front-row ticket directly behind home plate. Assisted by hometown fans hanging onto the screen and yelling profanities (in their best Boston accents) at Ron Hassey and the home plate umpire, the Red Sox beat the A's 4-1 in similar cold and wet conditions.
We made our way inside the stadium, Sully noticed Assistant GM Jed Hoyer walking by, and we greeted him and exchanged a few pleasantries. We took a few more photos near our seats and then sat down well in advance of Jon Lester's first pitch. The southpaw was coming off his best game ever in a matchup with Scott Kazmir, who was making his 2008 debut.
Sully's wife Johanna joined us shortly after game time. To show what a small world it is, Johanna and Joe went to middle school in Long Beach together and shared social circles, including Chase Utley, who is leading the majors in home runs and having an MVP-type season for the Philadelphia Phillies. Believe it or not but Sully and I became friends first without even knowing about the connection between his wife and my son. The friendship goes beyond our love for baseball and Baseball Analysts as my wife and I attended Sully's and Johanna's wedding in Long Beach in December 2006.
Lester and Kazmir threw a lot of pitches but the Boston youngster won the battle between the southpaws, allowing four hits, three walks, and one run over the course of six innings. Kazmir hit 93 on the gun but was working mostly at 91-92. He mixed in a few nifty changeups although the patient Red Sox hitters worked him for three walks and four runs (three earned) in just four innings. The game, which lasted 3 hours and 39 minutes, was highlighted by a Manny Ramirez double off the Green Monster, a Kevin Youkilis dinger to dead center, some excellent play in the field and at the plate by Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia, and another save by Jon Papelbon, who recorded the last four outs to preserve the 7-3 Sox win.
After the game, we went to The Baseball Tavern; then took a cab to Union Park, the quaint neighborhood where Pat and Jo live. After taking a quick tour of their apartment, we jumped into another cab to the north end, where we walked The Freedom Trail, stopping for photos at Paul Revere's home and the famous "One if by land, two if by sea" church. We had a delicious dinner at Cantina Italiana and spent a great three hours dining and talking good ol' times. It was a great way to cap a great day.
We're off to Cooperstown this morning. We have a long but pleasant drive ahead of us.
Saturday Near the Park
Joe drove up from San Diego on Friday night and spent the night at our house. We awoke at 5:00 a.m. on Saturday morning to catch a 7:10 JetBlue flight out of Long Beach Airport, a relic right out of the 1960s. My wife dropped us off at the airport about an hour before our departure time, we checked our baggage, headed to Gate 1, and boarded the airplane on time.
We had aisle seats in row 3, complete with extra leg room (at a price, of course). Both of us were also lucky that the seats next to us were empty (no extra price . . . just the luck of the draw) despite the fact that the plane was relatively full. We took off on time and arrived 30 minutes early. An Early Wynn for us (more on him later). All in all, the flight experience was as pleasant as possible.
If JetBlue can't spin much of a profit, I don't know how any airline can. As I like to tell clients who ask about investing in airline stocks, "Any time the market is open is a good time to sell these stocks." As it relates to JetBlue, a good company doesn't always equate to a good stock (JBLU).
The gentleman on my left was a UCLA provost and the woman on Joe's right was a mother of two students currently attending USC. We chit chatted with our aisle partners, then settled in switching between watching DirecTV – one of the greatest features on any airline – and listening to our iPods. To change up our choice of songs, we even exchanged iPods for part of the trip. I mean, if not then, when would I ever listen to Jay-Z and LBC's own Snoop Dogg?
While watching Jennie Finch pitching softball for Team USA on one of the scores of channels on DirecTV, Joe leaned across the aisle and asked me, "What do you notice differently about the catcher (she was lefthanded)?" Without hesitating, I said, "No cup?" Rim shot.
About two thirds into our flight, we played a name game, involving baseball players and personalities associated with the game. Using "Notes" on my iPhone, we typed in the following names in succession. The goal isn't to stump the other person as much as it is to pass the time while having fun and enjoying a few laughs. I typed "Sandy Koufax" and away we went...
Tim Raines Jr.
King Kong Kingman
Aaron Bleepin' Boone
Bucky Bleepin' Dent
Jim Ray Hart
Darren "Repoz" Viola
The game ended with – appropriately enough – Roger Maris. My Dad was at Yankee Stadium on October 1, 1961 when Maris hit his record-breaking 61st home run off Boston's Tracy Stallard. The Dodgers were on an east coast road trip and he flew to New York to cover this event. Forty-seven years later, Joe and I will watch games in Boston and New York.
Upon landing at Logan Airport, we took a taxi to the Hotel Commonwealth. It is directly across the highway from Fenway Park. The photo at the left was shot from the window of our room. After getting situated, we took a stroll past Boston University, then reversed course and walked to Newbury Street. We ate dinner at none other than Joe's American Bar and Grill. My son has no ownership stake in the restaurant.
We returned to the hotel around 8:00 and watched Tampa Bay and the Red Sox battle it out on NESN. It wasn't much of a battle as Boston blew out the Rays, 12-4.
Off to breakfast with Sully, Jared Porter, and Bill James, followed by a Sunday game at Fenway. I'll be back on later tonight or tomorrow morning.
Baseball Trip of a Lifetime
As Patrick Sullivan indicated yesterday in Welcoming the Lederers, my son Joe and I are flying from Long Beach to Boston today for the first leg of our nine-day baseball trip to the northeast. Our whirlwind adventure will take us to Boston, Cooperstown, New York, and Philadelphia, and it includes three games (Fenway Park, Yankee Stadium, and Shea Stadium), a behind-the-scenes tour of the Hall of Fame, a round of golf, and opportunities to meet up with baseball writers, executives, analysts, colleagues, and old friends.
The seeds of our trip began a year ago when I took my daughter Macy on a whitewater rafting trip to the Salmon River prior to her wedding in October. Although Joe is not about to get married any time soon, I decided it didn't make sense to wait until he got engaged to partake in a father-son trip. Heck, I wanted to go to a Yankees game at THE Stadium before it was demolished and what better way to do so than to share such a trip with my 29-year-old baseball-loving son? As it turns out, we are going to witness games at two stadiums in their final seasons, and they both just happen to be situated in New York. My wife is excited for Joe and me and will see us off at Long Beach Airport this morning.
I am planning on maintaining a daily journal of our trip on Baseball Analysts, complete with news, notes, stories, links, and photos. Feel free to ride shotgun with us as we make our way to two of the most historic ballparks in the country as well as to Cooperstown and more.
Our itinerary is as follows:
Saturday, May 3
Depart LGB @ 7:10 a.m.
Arrive BOS @ 3:42 p.m.
Sunday, May 4
Breakfast @ 10:00 a.m. with Patrick Sullivan, Jared Porter, Bill James at Eastern Standard Kitchen & Drinks in Kenmore Square.
Tampa Bay Rays @ Boston Red Sox, Fenway Park, 1:35 p.m. (with Sully and his wife Jo)
Monday, May 5 - Tuesday, May 6
Cooperstown/Hall of Fame
Wednesday, May 7
New York Helmsley
New York, NY
Cleveland Indians @ New York Yankees, Yankee Stadium, 7:05 p.m.
Thursday, May 8
Lunch with Dave O’Brien, longtime friend and former Athletic Director at Long Beach State, Temple, and Northeastern. Game of catch in Central Park with Alex Belth, followed by dinner at a restaurant of his choice.
Friday, May 9
Cincinnati Reds @ New York Mets, Shea Stadium, 7:10 p.m. (with Alex and Darren Viola, aka Repoz).
Saturday, May 10
Golf with Dave O’Brien and son at his country club in Philadelphia. (Joe was the captain of his golf club in high school and is currently the Assistant General Manager at Riverwalk Golf Course in San Diego.)
Sunday, May 11
Depart JFK @ 12:00 p.m.
Arrive LGB @ 2:49 p.m.
Mother's Day dinner with my favorite wife and Joe's favorite mom.
While it's always good to be back home, I think Joe and I are going to grin and bear the next nine days first. There will be a lot of grinning, I'm sure of that, and it looks as if we may have to bear a lot of bad weather – or just "weather" as those outside of Southern California call it.
Welcoming the Lederers
The first time Rich and I had occasion to meet up with one another was back in August of 2005. We took in a Red Sox / Angels game in Anaheim. Rich recapped that evening in this piece. The last time we got together was in February when I was in California visiting my wife's family. With my father-in-law and another friend of mine, we played golf at Trump National in Los Angeles (see below), a beautiful piece of property with all 18 holes overlooking the Pacific Ocean but a course design that leaves a bit to be desired (especially when you consider the exorbitant price).
In between, Rich attended both my engagement party and wedding (both in Long Beach, Rich's hometown), and we have been able to meet up a couple of other times as well when I was on the west coast.
Well, this weekend, Rich and I will be hanging out on my turf. Rich and his son Joe will be heading east for a dream father/son baseball trip that kicks off right here in Boston. Rich is posting his full itinerary tomorrow before he gets on the plane to Boston, but I just wanted to mention today that much of the next week's writings will be devoted to our time together here in Boston, and subsequently Rich and Joe's adventures thereafter.
It kicks off Sunday when we will be having breakfast with a few members of Boston's front office before the Rays/Sox tilt at 1:35. Check back tomorrow for more on the Lederers' trip east.
April's In the Books
In an effort not to further anger the estimable Buzz Bissinger, I think I am going to go with some straight data presentation today and steer clear of any opinion or interpretation. We are one month into the season, a fun point in time to look at the leaderboard, store it away and then revisit it once again in a few months and then again at the end of the season.
There are pretty much exactly six months in a MLB season. At the end of the year, it's fun to look at how teams and players fared on a month-to-month basis. A hot or cold June often goes unnoticed because it is just a portion of that team or player's productivity. June is no different than April, or at least it shouldn't be. What makes it different in terms of perception, however, is that one's April stats, on May 1, are his stats.
Anyway, just for fun, here are some miscellaneous leaders through the first month of the 2008 season.
AL Team Runs
LA Angels 134
White Sox 134
NL Team Runs
AL Individual OPS
M. Ramrz 1.029
NL Individual OPS
C. Jones 1.145
D. Lee 1.118
AL Individual Isolated Power
M. Ramrz .276
NL Individual Isolated Power
D. Lee .318
Pitcing / Defense
AL Team ERA
NL Team ERA
AL Individual ERA
C. Lee 0.96
King Felix 2.22
E. Santana 2.48
NL Individual ERA
AL Individual K/BB
NL Individual K/BB
AL Defensive Efficiency
NL Defensive Efficiency
What sticks out for me is just how much the cream has risen to the top in the National League early on while the AL leaderboard almost certainly does not look like what it will in September.
How about you? Who is for real? Who will fade?