Baseball BeatApril 10, 2010
Get 'Em While You Can
By Rich Lederer

If Pedro Alvarez and Carlos Santana are still available in your fantasy baseball pool, you might not want to wait much longer to pull the trigger on them. Facing each other, the two highly touted prospects homered in their minor-league debuts and both have already jacked three home runs in only two games.

From CBS Sportsline:

News: Pirates 3B prospect Pedro Alvarez is wasting little time making a huge impact for Triple-A Indianapolis of the International Leauge. In just his second game on Friday, Alvarez hit two homers and drove in five runs. He has already gone deep three times and driven in seven runs. He is also hitting .333.

Meanwhile, Pittsburgh's third baseman Andy LaRoche is 1-for-13 with no extra-base hits and four strikeouts. Manager John Russell has placed LaRoche in a tough spot by batting him seventh, one spot in front of the pitcher. He walked three times on Wednesday and has already seen 76 pitches in 17 plate appearances. LaRoche's 4.47 P/PA is tied for 12th in the National League.

Look for Alvarez, the second overall pick in the 2008 draft, to be playing in Pittsburgh no later than June 1 when teams are basically free to call up players and retain them for an additional three years before these so-called "Super Two" prospects become eligible for arbitration. It's possible, however, that Alvarez could force himself on the Pirates sooner if he continues to rake and LaRoche doesn't greatly improve upon his .227/.314/.348 career line.

News: Carlos Santana went 4 for 5 with two home runs and four RBI as the Columbus Clippers (Triple-A) smashed the Indianapolis Indians, 17-4, Thursday night.

Santana performed his magic on his 24th birthday. After two games, he is 6-for-10 with three HR and two doubles. He was the MVP of the Eastern League (Double-A) in 2009 and California League (High-A) in 2008. The only catcher standing between the switch-hitting Santana and the majors is Lou Marson (0-for-8 with 0 BB and 2 SO). A former third baseman, Santana has the arm to work behind the plate. However, he still needs to enhance his receiving and game-calling skills and is unlikely to be rushed to the big leagues despite a bat that could hit in the middle of the Cleveland order right now.

Lastly, for anybody who has been living on Mars, Stephen Strasburg will make his professional debut on Sunday. The No. 1 draft choice in 2010 will start for the Harrisburg Senators, the Washington Nationals' Double-A affiliate. He will face the Altoona Curve (Pittsburgh Pirates). The game will be streamed online via ESPN3 and broadcast on MiLB Gameday Audio at 2 p.m. ET. (Aroldis Chapman will begin his professional career at the same time as Strasburg, starting for Cincinnati's Triple-A Louisville Bats against Detroit's Toledo Mud Hens. This game will also be available via ESPN3.)

Strasburg, who pitched nine innings and allowed two runs while striking out 12 batters and walking one this spring, is expected to throw 85-90 pitches. According to Washington Post writer Dave Sheinin, money will trump talent and performance in determining when Strasburg gets called up by the Nats.

"Beyond just the baseball factors -- even the greatest prospects can benefit from some time in the minors -- the Nationals have a strong financial incentive to hold off on Strasburg's big league debut until at least late May, in order to delay his reaching free agency and arbitration eligibility.

...All they would have to do is keep him in the minors for at least 20 days, which would prevent him from gaining enough service time to qualify for free agency at the end of his sixth season, thus retaining his rights through 2016, instead of 2015. This isn't being cheap. It's being smart. And every team does it."

I recommend reading the article in full as it is an excellent primer on arbitration and free agent eligibility, including the Super Two status I referred to above.

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Update (4/11/10): Strasburg pitched five innings and allowed four hits, two walks, and four runs (one earned) while striking out eight batters. He was credited with the win as Harrisburg beat Altoona 6-4. Strasburg survived a wobbly opening inning, giving up a double, single, and walk after retiring the first two hitters. The righthander retired the side in order in the second and third innings, striking out the final two batters in both frames. He was a victim of poor fielding in the fourth when Altoona scored three unearned runs, then worked a 1-2-3 fifth to finish his assignment for the afternoon.

Overall, the fireballer threw 82 pitches with his fastball sitting at 97-99 through the first three innings and touching 100 a few times (according to the stadium gun as reported by the play-by-play announcer). His 83-mph hammer curve was generally effective and he flashed an 89/90-mph changeup with diving, tailing action that resembled a two-seam fastball. With three "plus to plus-plus" offerings, Strasburg's stuff is unrivaled in both the minors and majors. While money considerations will dictate the timing of Strasburg's MLB debut, his command will determine whether he is just the best pitcher on the Nationals or one of the best hurlers in the National League this year.

While I didn't watch Chapman, his pitching line (4.2-5-1-0-1-9) suggests that he dominated Toledo batters at times. According to an article, the Cuban defector "fired 10 pitches that read 99 mph or faster and five that traveled at least 100 mph." Mud Hens outfielder Brennan Boesch struck out twice on 101- and 100-mph heaters.

Louisville manager Rick Sweet said, "No debut compares to that at this level. As soon as the radar gun hit 100, you could hear the buzz in the ballpark."

Toledo manager Larry Parrish, who spent 15 years in the majors, was impressed with the 6-foot-4, 185-pound southpaw's arm strength but noticed mechanical flaws in his delivery. "He wasn't J.R. Richard or Nolan Ryan out there. Today, he walked one. In the big leagues, he would've walked eight. Would you like to have him? Heck yeah, but he's just not a finished project yet."

Well, the kid is only 22 with one professional game under his belt. Give him some time. As Sweet opined, "He could probably pitch in the big leagues right now and have success. The timetable is nothing more than him getting his whole game together. He's got some things to work on other than pitching."


I'm curious about why it would be more difficult to hit in front of the pitcher rather than in any other lineup spot. Have there been any studies done on this issue or is it just an old baseball cliche?

Pitchers are more apt to work around hitters (especially those who can actually do damage) who bat in front of pitchers, particularly in certain situations than they might otherwise. I'm not aware of an article on this subject per se although this article from The Hardball Times re pitchers batting eighth is a worthwhile read and has a number of links that may be of interest.