The James Loney Call Up

TheDodgers called up James Loney from Triple-A Las Vegas and designated Brady Clark
for assignment. Loney is a solid prospect but didn’t get the call based on
merit having posted a .279/.345/.382 performance in the Pacific Coast League
with one home run and 48/25 K:BB ratio in 56 games.

 
I’m unsure what’s going on in Los Angeles as
playing time has become a commodity with Matt Kemp having been recently
recalled to go with prospect Tony Abreu, Andy LaRoche having been demoted. Abreu
–- a second base prospect — is the starter at the hot corner at present over Wilson
Betemit, Kemp fights for time with Andre Ethier, possibly moving to centerfield
as the Dodgers have become disenchanted with Juan Pierre’s inability to get on
base or play the position  to the
standard of a centerfielder earning $44 million through a five-year stretch. Loney
could play the outfield in a pinch but is best suited to first base, where
veteran Nomar Garciaparra can be found struggling with offensive woes, one home
run and a .273 batting average in 231 at-bats.

 
Nomar and
Vlad Guerrero are the anti-Christs to the plate discipline disciples. In the past
10 years both have used their unique abilities — profound eye-hand coordination
in combination with superlative reflexes – to ignore the notion of taking
pitches; hitting for both average and power without the need for a strike to be
thrown. But has Nomar’s time come and gone? I’ve long suspected age-slide
issues would be quick and severe for these two, Nomar more than Vlad for a host of
reasons. There’s a case to be made Nomar, at age 33, has begun to deteriorate.

 
I’ll help
disclaim this incidental statistical analysis by pointing out I’m comparing two
months of data against three years, at times 10. Small sample size disclosed, here are the
results….

 
As
mentioned Nomar annually displays a hit-first approach, and is normally on the
bottom of the pitchers per plate appearance stat, one that can be used to point
to an age-slide; as a player’s reaction slow or his eye becomes less than, he’ll
have a tendency to take more pitches and this increase, in combination to a contact
rate reduction, and possibly a swing in his usual GB/FB rate, is an indication his
best is behind him. Ignoring his small sample rookie call up, his 3.49 pitches
per plate appearance is higher than any of his prior years, well above his
career average of 3.19. He’s a notorious first-ball hitter, his average this
year is .405 on 0-0 counts –- career .336 –- yet he’s made contact just 16.02 percent of the time, again well
below the 22.75 percent he posted the three years subsequent. These in
combination with a groundball-skewed rate of 1.46, the highest of a career that
has averaged a highly neutral 1.01 suggest his career is in quick-slide.

 

Perhaps
the Dodgers are hoping to trade him the Loney call up seems to indicate
something is afoot.

Draft Rules Need To Change

With the 2007draft now complete, the results are in; the new draft and follow rules and signing
deadlines have had an effect. I won’t go on here, but would like to mention the Rick Porcello pick. The 18-year-old was easily the best high school
pitcher in the country; possibly the best in upward of 10 years. But he fell to
27th overall to the Tigers, who seem willing to meet his agent’s
demands for what some believe is an eight-figure signing bonus.

 

First – Good
on the Tigers. Ignoring the slotting issue for a moment, Detroit has not sat on their laurels or played
the disassembling game the Marlins have made famous; taking apart a championship
team twice in the past 10 years, pocketing the playoff revenue then looking for
sharing funds in the subsequent season. The Dave Dombrowski led organization has
taken the money from their 2006 season and reinvested it back into winning
another. With this pick they’re showing a willingness to invest beyond just this
season. And why shouldn’t they? The team has a storied history and Detroit and area does not fall under the auspice of small market. They should bring the fans to their new-ish facilities,
and they should be willing to compete annually.

 

Having a Porcello
fall to the American League Champion defeats the purpose of the draft ranking,
and goes against the steadfast philosophy of the rules that prevent the trade
of draft picks. It’s time to revisit this as it’s become obscene in combination
with the pressures MLB puts on the clubs to remain within their guidelines of
what a drafted player should receive as a bonus. I’ll use a revisionist look
into recent history to make this point.

  

In 2004 the top player in the country
was shortstop Stephen Drew out of Florida State. The Padres
had the first overall pick in that year, but Drew, a Scott Boras client, was
going to be a difficult sign. So the organization went the safe route attempting
to comply with the MLB prescribed signing guidelines, making a surprise choice
in another shortstop, home grown high-schooler Matt Bush. A sign-able pick, he
received a $3.15 million bonus, and Drew slid to the Diamondbacks at No. 15,
who got into a complicated arrangement, giving Drew $4 million as a bonus with up
to $5.5 through a five-year contract period. For the sake of this argument, we’ll
say they paid $6 million more, with the notion the sum is approximately nine
percent of their (and the Padres) current salary costs. And how did it play out?

 

Drew is currently
a major leaguer  –called up in 2006 –
being paid a base salary of $750,000, the amortized contract amount already covered
in the six-million tag; a star of the future. And Bush, who lost the home grown
spin potential when he instantly ran afoul of the law, has posted a .221/.291/.276
from Rookie ball through low Single-A, his bat and defense so dismal the Padres
are attempting to convert him into a pitcher. A 21-year-old newfound pitching prospect
with a 90 mph fastball? A potential middle reliever in a few years. The end analysis
shows the Padres have lost three million dollars, in a first overall selection,
strictly due to their willingness to comply with major league baseball, and not
spend nine percent of their salary budget; the Diamondbacks have a bargain on
their hands for a few years.

 
It’s nowhere
near as simple or clear-cut, the trials and failures go back and forth as the years
wear on. The one certainty is the Padres did a poor job. But they lost because
they couldn’t trade the pick and get something of value, instead choosing to
take a hit that many, myself included, predicted. The trade rules have to
change, and again it’s not all black and white.

 
If
baseball is America’s pastime, then the occupation is
the maintenance of the capitalist system. Any move to allow draft pick trades,
would have to be carefully configured with concise legislation. Baseball does
not want to have Scott Boras and co. have any more effect on the draft than
they already do. The ability to manipulate the market is Boras’ job and he does it well. At
present high school draft picks have leverage with college commitments, college
picks have leverage if they have NCAA eligibility left. Some argue that’s
already too much power. But at present the small market teams are not getting
anything in the first round for their draft ranking, choosing the player they
can sign, leaving the best talent to those teams whose financial circumstances make
them better situated and with more juice to ignore the MLB guidelines.

 

Something has give. The have-nots cannot
continue to watch both the Hot Stove League and the draft process from the
sidelines.

Sean Gallagher Call Up

WithAngel Guzman possibly headed to the DL with tightness in his right forearm, MLB.com is reporting Sean Gallagher
is a possible replacement to fill a middle relief role. The 21-year-old is 7-2
with a 3.39 ERA in 11 starts for Double-A Tennessee, outstanding in his last outing.

 
Gallagher
is a solid prospect, one of the Cubs better ones at present, featuring a three-pitch
repertoire; a plus curveball, a fastball that has gained in velocity –- up to
94 mph — since his 12th round selection in 2004 , with a change up
still in development but showing signs of improvement this year. I like him as
a potential No. 4 down the road; an issue in mechanics and motion still
unresolved at this point, his 54/24 K:BB ratio in 61 Double-A innings the first
of many items suggesting he’s not ready for the majors.

 

The Cubs
have made the mistake of calling up prospects too early in the past, usually to
fill a bullpen need; Carlos Marmol the most recent in 2006. To be fair there’s
no quote from the organization in the report, and I can’t believe they’re
considering Gallagher who is currently a starter, a legitimate prospect, and
not on the 40-man roster. If they were to look to the minors for a middle reliever
to add to the 40-man, why not Triple-A Iowa’s Carmen Pignatiello? The
24-year-old has needed an adjustment period at each level but excelled and is
now the statistically the best pitcher on the squad. After five scoreless
outings at Double-A he’s had 17 appearances in the Pacific Coast League posting
a 0.92 ERA in 19 and two0-third innings with a 17/3 strikeout-to-walk ratio,
opponents hitting him at a .200 clip. The nicest thing that’s ever been said
about him is a comparison to Kirk Rueter for his pugnacious-ness; the ability
to battle without legitimate stuff. But isn’t that the ideal middle relief
candidate? Even southpaw Clay Rapada would be a more viable option than
Gallagher, who’ll be major-league fodder in his present state of development.

 
I
didn’t believe the Cubs were entertaining the notion, but then it happened Wednesday morning. It seems like a reach trying to replicate someone with Guzman’s stuff (Gallagher is slightly less in that department
). 
 

Will Inman- The Florida State League Strikeout King

More Brewers
hype – Many of Milwaukee’s better prospects are already in the majors and succeeding;
my best in system coming into this year — Ryan Braun — recently called up
with Yovani Gallardo more than ready and dominating the Triple-A Pacific Coast
League waiting for a chance to ply his trade at the next level. Lost in the
shadows of all this talent  – which includes
the comeuppance of J.J. Hardy and 23-year-old Prince Fielder tied for the major
league lead with 20 home runs  – is the
early results for arguably their third best prospect; Will Inman, the current
strikeout King of the high Single-A Florida State league.

 

The
20-year-old third rounder from 2005 has blown through both of the two lower levels
coming into the year, thus his performance in the FSL — 4-2 in 11 starts with
a 1.33 ERA, a .202 batting average against, and an 84/18 strikeout-to-walk
ratio in 67 and two-third innings – could hardly be viewed as a shock. He is,
after all, a legitimate pitching prospect pitching at the correct level for his
age. Not overpowering, he’s currently getting by with a low-90s fastball and an
improved curve, a changeup still in development. His control is sound, his
stuff is better than described with good life, but the issue is the development
of his secondary pitches.  

 

He’s due
a promotion this summer, and some have expressed concern his stuff won’t translate
to success at Double-A. I doubt this is the case, while echoing similar concerns
when projecting him as a major league starter. He should have success at Double-A
as well but the lack of overpowering velocity without another above-plus pitch
is an issue. I’ll wait another year before making a prognostication, simply
noting he’s at present in development. He’ll likely succeed, but to a lesser
extent, at Double-A; the need for further refinement of his changeup imperative,
a fourth pitch not present at this time, but possibly an option.
      

Homer Bailey to Make His Major League Debut This Weekend

Comingoff one of his worse starts of the Triple-A season – a six-inning outing in which
he gave up four runs on seven hits and three walks –   Bailey
is likely to be called up this weekend, according to MLB.com. And despite the
lukewarm showing on Saturday, it’s not a bad decision should it come to pass.

 
It’s
still unconfirmed at this time but the signs are in place, and manager Jerry Narron
has not ruled it out, suggesting a decision has been made, just not announced.
Earlier I wrote on this Blog that the time wasn’t right but things have changed,
most notably in his past three starts where he’s done everything right, putting
the International League hitter way at a more efficient rate. One could argue
that three starts isn’t enough innings, but the opportunity presents itself
now, as soon as Friday.

 
As to
what to expect should the report prove to be true? It’s always a hit-and-miss proposition
when pitchers first get called up. I’m one of the few that thought Bailey was
the best pitching prospect in baseball coming into this year. A previous
admission
on Tim Lincecum included, I still like Bailey more, feeling his long
term prognostication is higher for both control and injury issues. As mentioned, most first-starts for top pitching prospects are good; they tend to
degrade later, after the hitter and advanced scouts have a read on them, and I
don’t think Bailey is going to be called up for a one and out. He should have
enough success to make Eric Milton’s return from injury irrelevant.

 A realistic projection should be similar to Lincecum’s
season thus far; at times great, while other starts show they’re still in
development mode. The one concern short term is the ability to put the higher
class of hitter away. If he’s hitting the acceptable strikeout-per-nine rate of
around 7.00 in his third or fourth start, it should be a decent year. While the
Giants prospect has the advantage in deception and a nastier fastball, velocities
are basically neutral (both can get to the high 90s at times), and Bailey has
the superior overall repertoire and is less likely to have control problems. The
end numbers could look similar; the best saved for next decad
e.

Yunel Escobar to Play Third Base for the Braves in the Absence of Chipper Jones

Thescuttlebutt is that Escobar will get the bulk of time in Jones’ absence, the
veteran will be placed on the 15-Day DL Saturday with a hand injury; concerns
are there may be ligament damage. The Double-A Mississippi Braves have
announced shortstop Brent Lillibridge has been promoted to
Triple-A Richmond to take Escobar’s place.

 

Escobar has been hot in the Triple-A International League
hitting .351 in the month of May, a .333/.379/.456 performance on the season;
fifth in the IL batting title race. The 24-year-old has decent defensive skills,
and the ability to make contact evidenced by a 27/14 K:BB ratio in 46 games
this year, has hit the same in every situation throughout his career. He has
gap-to-gap power capable of using the whole field with good speed on the base
paths, but not a burner with upper theft abilities; a fine shortstop prospect
in the Orlando Cabrera mold – slightly below defensively — but has
disappointed many for never driving the ball for home run potential, possibly a
byproduct of his swing-first approach at the plate. While he’s the best option
for the Braves at present he’s not a good long-term fit as a third baseman. His
skills lend themselves to the middle position, possibly a utility player at
worst.

 

I wouldn’t expect too much this go-round, his approach at
the plate should find him behind and in trouble often against the better class
of pitcher; the learning curve issue for the aggressive types. Long term I
suspect he won’t be with the Braves with Edgar Renteria signed through 2008 and
Elvis Andrus — the younger and more highly-touted prospect — possibly ready to
challenge for the role then, but, opportunity has a way of changing these views. And I’d be remiss if I failed to note the aforementioned Lillibridge as a potential major league middle infielder in any long-term Braves discussion.

Projecting The Call Up – Jerry Owens?

Friday shouldfind the White Sox making a move to replace Darin Erstad (ankle). The
candidates from the farm appear to be Jerry Owens and Ryan Sweeney according to
Ozzie Guillen in the Chicago Sun-Times. Guillen said the organization was
leaning toward the speedy Owens because of his leadoff ability.

 

Sweeney
is the more prolific prospect but not one I’ve personally ever been 100 percent
sold on. Brian Anderson is the other Triple-A outfielder of note, but the
25-year-old failed to impress in 2006 and isn’t making much noise in the International
League at present with a .272/.350/.417 performance in 28 games; he went
3-for-5 with a double on Thursday.  All
three could play centerfield in a pinch although Sweeney has always profiled more
as a right fielder. The knock on him at present is a lack of power and his nine
extra base hits and three home runs (.400 slugging) suggests he’s not banging on
the door loud enough yet.

 

Owens
seems like the better fit for now; a legitimate leadoff type with speed. The
second round Expos’ pick in 2003 and former USC football player –- traded to the White
Sox for Alex Escobar –- has stolen 109 bases in three full pro seasons coming
into this year (23 this season), and had nine at-bats in the majors in 2006. As a late-bloomer
overage college pick he’s 25, but not a veteran minor leaguer. He’s a sold prospect
that should fit the team’s current need, capable of taking a walk and getting
on base, with plenty of speed for both centerfield and the base paths, but he
won’t give you much power, probably less than Erstad (short term) who has a .341 slugging
this year, a .371 the three years prior.

 

I like
Owens as a decent leadoff prospect and an exciting athlete. I’m looking forward
to him getting regular time, hoping he can change the manager’s mind on Erstad,
as Guillen has become overly fond of “veteran-ness” in recent days
.

News and Transactions –Cueto, Esposito and Slowey

It wasone and out for Johnny Cueto, sent back to high Single–A Sarasota on Wednesday
from the Triple-A International League. It wasn’t what I expected after viewing
the results, but I can’t protest too much. It’s likely the right move for
development reasons, his high-minor start possibly related more to the lack of hitting
in the International League than prowess. Other than overage college draft
picks, few can afford to skip the Double-A test. I’m guessing there will be a
few changes to the Reds situation between now and the All-Star break; Cueto
will probably be the recipient of a permanent promotion at that time.

 

The Cardinals
called up Brian Esposito from Triple-A Memphis to replace Yadier Molina who will
be out 4-6 weeks with a fractured left wrist. Garry Bennett will likely assume
the regular catching duties for the time, and Esposito will be the back up.
Ironically, Esposito profiles a little like Bennett as the 28-year-old is an
outstanding defensive catcher who can’t hit a lick. He might someday be the
back up to Bryan Anderson, the Cardinals offensive catcher of the future who is
currently hitting .284 with three home runs for Double-A Springfield.

 

The Twins made it official on Wednesday,
purchasing the contract of Kevin Slowey, optioning Julio DePaula to Triple-A
and placing Jesse Crain on the 60-Day DL. I spoke about this on Sports Byline
USA Radio
Wednesday afternoon. Slowey is the second best pitching prospect to
be called up this year, but unlike Tim Lincecum, I think some — most notably
fantasy leaguers — may end up disappointed. The skill set of Slowey doesn’t
suggest his numbers will be great in 2007. He’s in training, developing at the
major league level. The pitcher he’s often compared to by others is Brad Radke, and
I’m not certain how many remember how badly he struggled when first called up
as a 22-year-old prospect back in 1995, not becoming a consistent pitcher until
1997. I won’t go as far as to suggest it’ll be Radke-bad, certainly Slowey is
an improvement over Ramon Ortiz at present, but there’s much in evidence to
suggest a lengthily learning curve.

Reds’ Johnny Cueto Makes Triple-A Debut

Cueto, promotedto Triple-A from the high Single-A Florida State League when Bobby Livingston
was called up to the majors, received the win pitching six innings allowing two
runs on five hits (one HR) striking out a half-dozen while not allowing a walk.

 
Cueto is
a name you should get familiar with, if you’re not already. He’s just 21 and has
now tasted a little success in the high minors; his first start without any
Double-A experience. I’m not certain what the plans are but would wager a guess
he won’t be sent back down if he continues to pitch like this. And frankly I
expect him to, noting I’m not overly wowed by the overall quality of hitter in
the International League at present.

 
He wasn’t
overpowering the Florida State League prior to the promotion, and he isn’t the
most prominent pitching prospect in the organization at present, but he could
be next year. The free agent Dominican Republic free agent singing from 2004
has a live arm; a mid 90s fastball and project-able ‘badass’ slider, with a quickly
developing change that could wind up a plus pitch.

 
I often temper
expectations for the young, slightly built type with high velocity reports as
they tend to breakdown, often before they reach the Triple-A level. He’s fairly
fluid and doesn’t overthrow like many of this class; a three-quarter delivery dissipates
this concern to an extent. He may have issues with the long ball at the higher levels
as he has had a tendency to get a little over-aggressive, needing to pitch lower in the strike zone at times; the
when and where a natural part of the development.

 
I like
him feeling he’ll need to further his repertoire quickly, or
possibly become a closer with the stuff to succeed in the role. He should be
watched carefully this season as a possible high-ranked pitching prospect for
next year’s list.

 
And Josh
Hamilton
(gastroenteritis)
went 1-for-3 with a home run in the same
game suggesting he’s likely to return from the DL when first eligible on June 5.
    

Nathan Haynes and Kevin Slowey

NathanHaynes got the call on Monday; the one he’s waited on 10 years. I profiled
Haynes at quononbaseball.com as the “Anti-Prospect,” leading the baseball world
with an at-the-time .400-plus batting average. The Angels optioned Tommy Murphy
to Triple-A Salt Lake and waived Phil Seibel to get Haynes on the 40-man roster.
The former first round draft pick got his first major league at-bat on Monday,
a pinch hit single in the eighth inning, in his 11th season of
professional baseball; knee, back, shoulder and hand injuries cumulating into eight
surgeries as well as a stint in the Independent League now ancient history.

 
He was
hitting .391 with 99 total bases in 43 Triple-A Pacific Coast League games at
the time of his call. I don’t know exactly how the Angels intend on using him;
he’s a competent three-position outfielder with a little speed, showing more
pop in his bat this season than ever before. He’s similar to Reggie Willits in many
ways, probably a little less on the base paths, a little more in the way of gap
power. I assume the Angels are viewing him as a fourth outfielder type; capable
of filling in at every outfield spot to give the regulars a rest, maybe face
some tough right-handers in place of Willits who has slowed a fair bit at the
plate of late, possibly a result of a minor hamstring injury.


Kevin
Slowey is expected to replace Ramon Ortiz in the Twins rotation, although it’s
still unofficial at this time. I wrote the how and why here, and would now like
to focus on the projection at hand.

 
While I
like Slowey and write on him in glowing terms, he never made my Top-50 Prospect
list
. The truth is I’m not surprised by his Triple-A dominance this season, but
don’t see him as an ace in the making. He’s owned the International League this year; a 6-2 record with a 1.54 ERA in nine starts proof of that. His control
is fantastic, his stuff is not. He features a low 90s fastball that he spots at
will and I understand his changeup is vastly improved this season, although the
times I saw him (on TV) he didn’t need it much. He pitches ahead in count; the splits
this season show 29 innings in this position against 11 behind, and his makeup and mound
presence is everything it’s been reported as. And he’s fluid, less likely to
break down. But he’ll never strikeout major league hitters at the same rate as potential
rotation mates Boof Bonser, Johan Santana, Matt Garza, or even Scott Baker. He’s
a groundball pitcher — although not in the severe category — that will rely on
control and defense ala Greg Maddux. Despite all the accolades he’s not the
greatest fit for the home park, and could struggle at times as the season wears on.

 Coming up to the majors as a top prospect on a
high? Advantage pitcher, until the hitters have a good read and an advanced
scouting report; the adjustments going forward from there are perpetual. I like
him for the long term, but slot him as a No.3 behind two of the stereotypical
power types in the organization, maybe a No.2 later in the career to break the high
velocity up.

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