Around the MinorsJuly 02, 2008
Expansion Time: The Pitchers
By Marc Hulet

One of my favorite activities as a kid was to create Major League "expansion teams" with my baseball cards. My teams would not have been confused with any All-Star squads. I was never a fan of the super stars in sports, and always found myself gravitating to the Bill Pecotas, Mark McLemores and Randy Readys of the world. This activity occurred before my love of minor league baseball developed (thanks to the Internet) and the only prospects I knew of were the ones in my 1989 Score factory box set, which was ordered out of the back of a magazine.

When Junior Felix made his Major League debut with the Toronto Blue Jays in 1989 (taking everyone by surprise, including the baseball card manufacturers), I cut his picture out of a magazine and created my own baseball card, complete with biographical information and statistics on the back. Felix was one of the members of my first expansion team.

Today, I have access to thousands of baseball players on my computer. But let's narrow things down to about 600 players or so and create an expansion team with the best Triple-A players who are not considered among each organization's top 20 prospects and still have something to contribute at the Major League level.

The Starting Rotation:

SP - Charlie Zink, RHP
Pawtucket Red Sox (Boston)
Age: 28
MiLB Seasons: Seven
MLB service: None

Who doesn't love a knuckleballer? Charlie Zink's value is at its highest since 2003, thanks to improved "command" of his knuckler. He currently has a 2.63 ERA and has allowed 78 hits in 102.2 innings of work. He is durable and still has some upside, which makes him a perfect fit for this expansion club.

SP - Tyler Clippard, RHP
Columbus Clippers (Washington)
Age: 23
MiLB Seasons: Six
MLB Service: Eight games

Tyler Clippard has never been regarded as a top prospect because he has fringe-average stuff. The former Yankees prospect came over to the Nationals in a minor trade in the off-season and has continued to put up solid but unspectacular numbers. He currently sports a career 3.51 ERA and has struck out 699 batters in 670 innings. Clippard has also allowed just 7.83 H/9 in his career.

SP - Kei Igawa, LHP
Scranton/Wilkes Barre Yankees (New York AL)
Age: 29
MiLB Seasons: Two
MLB Service: 16 games

Kei Igawa is a veteran of seven seasons in Japan's top league and really needs to get out of New York. He is not an overly expensive player, either, considering the Yankees have already paid out the $26 million to negotiate a contract with him. The expansion team would be on the hook for $4 million a year through 2011 but the marketing possibilities should outweigh that cost. Igawa has consistently put up solid Triple-A numbers, including 8.56 K/9.

SP - Billy Murphy, LHP
Syracuse Chiefs (Toronto)
Age: 27
MiLB Seasons: Seven
MLB Service: 10 games

Bill Murphy has been around the block since being drafted in the third round of the 2002 draft by Oakland. He has always had pretty good stuff for a lefty but control issues have plagued him throughout his career. Regardless, Murphy is a smart pitcher, whom some have said will eventually make a very good pitching coach, which brings added value to my expansion team. If you take out three ugly starts in the last seven games (11 innings, 19 hits, 23 earned runs, 15 walks), Murphy is having a nice season: 81.2 innings, 71 hits, 38 walks, 72 strikeouts, and a 2.88 ERA.

SP - Matt DeSalvo, RHP
Richmond Braves (Atlanta)
Age: 27
MiLB Seasons: Six
MLB Service: Seven games

The former non-drafted pitcher has done well just to make the Major Leagues. Matt DeSalvo was a late addition to my team, as he takes the spot of John Parrish, who was just called up by the Toronto Blue Jays making him ineligible for this team. DeSalvo has put up OK minor league numbers despite fringy stuff but he needs to improve his control. He should serve as an OK fifth starter on this expansion team.

The Bullpen:

RP - Randy Wells, RHP
Iowa Cubs (Chicago NL)
Age: 25
MiLB Seasons: Seven
MLB Service: One game

Randy Wells was originally drafted as a catcher but was converted to the mound after one minor league season. He was selected out of the Cubs' system in the winter of 2007 in the Rule 5 draft and actually made the Toronto Blue Jays' opening day roster. However, when the Jays faced a 40-man roster crunch, Wells was sent back to Chicago after making just one Major League appearance. He has OK stuff and gets his fair share of ground balls. Wells' ability to pitch as a starter or reliever is also of great value to an expansion team with some questionable starting pitching depth.

RP - Wes Whisler, LHP
Charlotte Knights (Chicago AL)
Age: 25
MiLB Seasons: Five
MLB Service: None

A former two-way player at UCLA, a number of teams considered drafting Wes Whisler as a hitter due to his plus raw power. The White Sox, though, liked his left-handed arm on the mound. My expansion team wants a little bit of both, in the mold of Brooks Kieschnick. Whisler is probably never going to be an impact arm on the mound, despite being drafted in the second round. He currently has a career rate of 4.88 K/9 and has averaged more than 10 hits per nine innings. While being allowed to DH in his first pro season, Whisler hit .289/.308/.421 in 38 Low-A ball at-bats.

RP - Ron Flores, LHP
Memphis Redbirds (St. Louis)
Age: 28
MiLB Seasons: Nine
MLB Service: 53 games

You can never have too much left-handed pitching, which is where Ron Flores comes in. Despite iffy control, Flores has always posted OK numbers and has a career rate of 8.36 H/9.

RP - Mark Difelice, RHP
Nashville Sounds (Milwaukee)
Age: 31
MiLB Seasons: 11 seasons
MLB Service: 10 games

Optioned to Triple-A just in time to make the team, Mark Difelice has been my radar for years, as a pitcher who can act a swing man and makes the most of his above-average command. In more than 1,200 minor league innings, Difelice has a rate of just 1.60 BB/9. In 13.2 Major League innings, he has yet to walk a batter and has 16 strikeouts.

RP - R.J. Swindle, LHP
LeHigh Valley Iron Pigs (Philadelphia)
Age: 24
MiLB Seasons: Five
MLB Service:None

R.J. Swindle is an interesting player who has been on my radar since his final college season at Charleston Southern University. The Canadian southpaw was drafted in the 14th round in 2004 by the Boston Red Sox. He is a soft tosser, but posted a 1.94 in his debut in the New-York Penn League and posted rates of 7.41 H/9, 0.71 BB/9 and 9.88 K/9 in 51 innings. Even so, he was released by Boston in the off-season and spent parts of the next two seasons in independent baseball before signing with the Yankees. He spent three-quarters of a season with the organization and posted an ERA below 1.00, as well as similar rates to those of his debut season. But again he began the next season in independent baseball before being signed by the Phillies organization in mid-2007. This season, he posted a 0.54 ERA in 11 Double-A games and was promoted to Triple-A where he currently has a 1.93 ERA in 18 games, along with just five walks and 32 strikeouts. Left-handers are hitting .129 against him.

RP - Sergio Santos, RHP
Rochester RedWings (Minnesota)
Age: 25
MiLB Seasons: Seven
MLB Service: None

You may recognize Sergio Santos as the former top prospect (and former No. 1 draft pick) of the Arizona Diamondbacks, and later the Toronto Blue Jays... as a shortstop. Santos has one of the strongest infielder arms in the minor leagues but has proven for three straight seasons that he cannot hit Triple-A pitching. It's time to cut bait and move his powerful arm to the mound, where he features a mid-90s fastball, cutter and curve ball. The Jays organization took a look at Santos on the mound during side sessions at the end of last season.

  • Others: John Parrish (Toronto) and Steven Shell (Washington) were both considered for this team before being called up to the Major Leagues. Lee Gronkiewicz (Boston), who has deserved a spot on a Major League team for about three years, would have been added to the bullpen as the closer but he recently underwent Tommy John surgery.

    Tomorrow, I'll take a look at the hitters on my expansion team.

  • Comments

    Interesting idea. I think a lot of the players you'd pick for said expansion team would also be canidates to come play in Asia (where I live) as Tom Shearn and Justin Lehr of the Reds recently have. I might have added Shearn to this list -- although both he and Lehr have had a hard time in Korea thus far.

    Yanks fan here, which means I have a decent feel for 3/5 of that starting rotation.

    Igawa has pretty k/9 but he gets hit HARD. He pitches up in the zone with fringy stuff. His command is poor. In the NL West, maybe he'd be vaguely useful.

    Clippard I'd have a little more hope for - it all hinges on his command. DeSalvo is similar, but not as good as Clippard. Tyler at least shows pretty consistently good minor league results. Not so with DeSalvo (rooting for him, though).

    Anyway, just sticking to Yankee farm hands, what about Jeff Karstens? He's better than Desalvo for sure, and I think he's better than Igawa as well. No way he's a top-20 prospect.

    Swindle may no longer be eligible for your expansion team. He was called up by the Phillies yesterday.

    Did you consider Dale Thayer for your bullpen? I don't think he is considered among the top 20 prospects in the Rays' organzation but has had stellar numbers throughout his minor league career. He has had over 20 saves in every one of his 5 full seasons giving up 7.26hits/9, 3BB/9, 9.43K/9 and only allowed .46 HR/9.

    I don't know what kind of stuff he has but his numbers have been good and he seems like the type of pitcher who might be given a chance by an expansion team.

    At what point would Anthony Reyes of the Cardinals be considered for your team?

    I would grab Anthony Reyes over DeSalvo... but he is currently in limbo as to eligibility for this exercise.

    I noticed Swindle was stolen away from me right after I posted the article... Considering everything that he's been through, it is a great story.

    You really know how to dig for the overlooked info that makes good story material.