Tuesday, October 25, 2005

On Kahrl and Victor

Last week Christina Kahrl (who I'm a huge fan of) got a couple of questions about the Mets first baseman or lack thereof in a chat she did on BP. She indicated that she thinks the Mets should give Victor Diaz the job. I like Diaz. I was a proponent of him as Major Leaguer before the season and I still am. However, I think she's giving his bat more credit than it deserves. He's got a very good bat for a second baseman, but he'd be overmatched as an everyday corner infielder.

On the season he hit .257/.329/.468 in the Show. That would make him a pretty subpar first baseman. However, it would make him an excellent 4th outfielder/pinch hitter. The presence of Mike Cameron in right field (should he be able to recover fully from his facial surgery) means that the Mets are one of the few teams that don't need anybody who can cover center field on the bench. They can just slide Cameron over into Beltran's spot and insert their backup into right field. Diaz is pretty bad in the outfield and could not cut it as a center fielder, but he isn't going to embarrass himself on a corner.

Another thing to mention is the fact that the Mets are one of the teams that most need a 4th outfielder who can hit. Cliff Floyd played in 150 games in 2005, but his career record tells you that's not likely for the foreseeable future. He's injury prone and always have been. Now he's entering his mid 30's, when that kind of thing is likely to become worse. The Mets need a backup plan for him, and that means they need to keep Diaz free to be that backup plan.

So just as long as they don't overpay and do something stupid like taking on the majority of Jim Thome's contract, give an overpriced, long term contract to Lyle Overbay, or give away Lastings Milledge or Yusemiero Petit, they should go out and get a real first baseman. A player like Overbay would be a big upgrade on what they got from the position last year. Diaz is fine as an outfield reserve and primary pinch hitter, but he's overmatched as a regular first baseman.

Friday, October 07, 2005

John Danks Report

John Danks, LHP, Texas Rangers
Drafted 9th Overall, 2003 Draft, HS, Round Rock, TX
Bats L/Throws L
20 YO, 6'2", 190 lbs

What took me so long to get to Danks? You would have figured with the number of Rangers fans I tend to surround myself with (we Royals fans need someone around who can share our pain) that I would have profiled this high profile prospect a long time ago. Well, here it is.

Danks gets into the low 90's. He could even add a couple MPH onto that in the next couple of years. However his breaking stuff is probably what gives him his upside potential. He has a killer curveball and the makings of a quality changeup.

2005 Bakersfield: 2.50 ERA, 53 K, 16 BB, 50 H, 5 HR, 58 IP
2005 Frisco: 5.49 ERA, 85 K, 34 BB, 117 H, 12 HR, 98 IP
2005 Totals: 4.38 ERA, 138 K, 50 BB, 167 H, 17 HR, 156 IP
MiLB Career: 4.19 ERA, 285 K, 101 BB, 285 H, 26 HR, 286 IP

I don't know if it's just me, but whenever I think about Danks, I think about Barry Zito. He has that same kind of profile where his fastball is better than people will give him credit for. And he has alright command, but nothing to write home about. I don't have reports telling me so, but I imagine that sometimes he has trouble spotting his curveball in the strikezone. I expect that because it is pretty typical of this kind of arsenal. When you have quite a bit of movement on the curve, sometimes it goes out of the zone. He also has a reputation of trying to nibble on the corners, which is something that can be worked out with a good pitching coach, say like Orel Hershiser.

Danks struggled in his first exposure to AA, but that's not completely unexpected for somebody his age. He dominated batters his own age with his stuff and now he's running into more advanced guys that will force him to make adjustments and work on these weaknesses. One thing that does give me pause is the number of home runs he gave up, especially in Frisco. It has the potential to be a problem in Arlington, where fly balls have a tendency to fly over the fence more than just about anywhere outside of Denver and Mexico City. It's not a dealbreaker but it is something to watch.

Expect Danks to start back in Frisco next season and do well enough to move onto Oklahoma City or possibly to the Rangers rotation. But that's if things go really well. If things don't go so well, it pushes his time table back a year. His ceiling is as a solid #2/average #1 starter. His downside is like all pitchers, injury and the obscurity of former prospectdom.

ETA: Late 2006/Early 2007
4 Stars

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Kendry Morales Report

Kendry Morales, 1B, Anaheim Angels
Signed as an Undrafted Free Agent, 2004, Cuba
Bats B/Throws R
22 YO, 6'1", 220 lbs

Morales ended up having a pretty decent season split between the California League and the Texas League. It didn't live up to pie-in-the-sky hopes of him challenging Dallas McPherson for the starting third base job in Anaheim, but those were unrealistic expectations anyways.

2005 Rancho Cucamonga: .344/.400/.544, 3 2B, 5 HR, 6 BB, 11 K, 90 AB
2005 Arkansas: .306/.349/.530, 12 2B, 17 HR, 17 BB, 43 K, 281 AB
MiLB Career: .315/.362/.534, 15 2B, 22 HR, 23 BB, 54, K, 371 AB

Well, it looks like he can hit. You have to like the batting average and isolated power. The Arkansas numbers are especially impressive since the Texas League is no filled will nothing but bandboxes. To be honest, there really isn't a single one remaining now that El Paso's franchise has moved to Missouri. Arkansas isn't exactly Wilmington or PetCo Park, but it isn't the worst place in the world to pitch either. So the power is for real. And there are no real red flags telling me that the batting average is a fluke either. The only real thing that I have to complain about is the walk rate, which is clearly subpar. That's just something to start working on though. I think that he should continue to hit and if he improves his selectivity at the plate, he has the chance to be a very nice major leaguer. Watch out for an offensive breakout if he starts the year in Salt Lake City next year because unlike Arkansas, that is a bandbox, aided by a pretty high elevation.

There are other thing to talk about as well. I'm on the record as not trusting Cuban birthdates, so I'm skeptical of the promise that his age brings. He'd still be a pretty good prospect and a probable major leaguer if he is really 25 years old instead of 22. But it would greatly diminish his ceiling. The other things that needs to be discussed are defense and baserunning. Both are question marks. The Angels are sticking to the party line stating that they think his defense is perfectly fine and that he only needs more work. I'm skeptical due to reports that his range is awful and his footspeed is nonexistent. It certainly looks like the hopes that he'd be a third baseman was just a case of wishcasting. He won't steal bases. If they move him to the outfield, he will be restricted to a corner spot and probably won't have very much range there either.

Morales's bat will definitely carry him. If he can make adjustments in AAA and the Show, he'll be successful. If he doesn't adapt at the plate, he'll end up being a really overpriced AAAA slugger pounding fastballs out of places like Nashville, Rochester, and Nagoya.

ETA: Late 2006/Early 2007
4 Stars

Friday, September 30, 2005

2000 Cal League Prospects

I was looking at BA's Cal League Top Prospect List and I spotted their "5 Years Ago" window.

1. Antonio Perez, ss, Lancaster (Mariners)
2. Ryan Ludwick, of, Modesto (Athletics)
3. Jerome Williams, rhp, San Jose (Giants)
4. Mike Bynum, lhp, Rancho Cucamonga (Padres)
5. Brad Cresse, c, High Desert (Diamondbacks)
6. Willie Bloomquist, 2b, Lancaster (Mariners)
7. Nick Neugebauer, rhp, Mudville (Brewers)
8. Tony Torcato, 3b, San Jose (Giants)
9. Jeremy Owens, of, Rancho Cucamonga (Padres)
10 Elpidio Guzman, of, Lake Elsinore (Angels)

Wow. That's a pretty awful group, isn't it.

Perez is salvageable I guess as a borderline 2B or a bench bat. Ludwick is somewhere between a AAAA slugger or a platoon bench guy in the majors. Injuries have killed him too. Williams is the keeper of the group, which is a scary scenario. He has his moments, but he's had some injury issues and he fell off the map for a while. Bynum and Cresse look like washouts. Bloomquist is now infamous as a guy who is on a major league roster for no good reason at all. I guess he has some use as a glove that you can use anywhere other than catcher, but if he can't hit then that limits his usefulness. Neugebauer never did find his control and then he blew out his shoulder. Torcato has turned into a poor man's Lance Niekro, which is damning with faint praise. Owens is a 4th outfielder...in Pawtucket. And Guzman put up a .281 OBP last season in Tacoma.

So you have 1 ML level starter, 6 complete washouts, 2 guys who may end up being good bench bats, and a guy who has more service time than any of the rest (maybe more than all of them put together to be honest) and didn't deserve any of it.

Now I mention this to serve 2 purposes. The first is to remind everybody that this isn't an exact science. I feel great when one of the players I tout comes in and produces just like I expect he will. However, the other side of that coin comes up more than we ever want to let ourselves admit. Always be cautious. Major League teams need to hedge their bets and if you're in a keeper league or sim league, you should too.

The second reason is to illustrate a point that I've made before. Extreme environments lead to misleading results. I'm not fond of the Cal League because of the hitting environment that dominates the circuit. It muddies the stats and makes random marginal players look like studs. For a while there it seemed like every season there would be another Mariner shortstop who benefits from Cal League goofyball hijinks and becomes a big name before moving on to the high minors and getting the bat knocked out of his hands. Now 2000 was probably a worse year than usual. And the biases that are inherent in BA's approach to rating prospects, such as a willingness to overlook Neugebauer's severe control problems probably compounds the situation and makes this list look worse than it really should have been. But you still have the underlying problem of trying to figure out how much of what should be chalked up to context and what is real progress.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Rick Ankiel Report

Rick Ankiel, OF/LHP?, St Louis Cardinals
Drafted 72nd Overall (2nd Rd), 1997 Draft, HS, Port St Lucie, FL
Bats L/Throws L
26 YO, 6'1", 215 lbs

I trust that anybody who is reading this blog knows the Rick Ankiel story. Brilliant young left pitcher whose command (which was never his strong suit to begin with) completely deserts him on national TV, he struggles in the minors for a while, has Tommy John surgery, attempts to come back, shows signs of life but the same old problem keeps coming back time and time again. He wants a fresh start and becomes an outfielder. And here we are.

2005 Quad Cities: .270/.368/.514, 10 2B, 1 3B, 11 HR, 27 BB, 37 K, 185 AB
2005 Springfield: .243/.295/.515, 7 2B, 10 HR, 10 BB, 29 K, 136 AB
2005 Total: .259/.339/.514, 17 2B, 1 3B, 21 HR, 37 BB, 66 K, 321 AB
MiLB Career: .262/.337/.532, 18 2B, 2 3B, 23 HR, 49 BB, 94 K, 455 AB

That's an interesting line with essentially a full minor league season of data. It's pretty obvious that he'll turn on a cripple pitch. He's also flashed some hints of plate discipline. On the other hand his plate discipline waned in the Texas League and drug down his batting average along with it. He was way too old for the Midwest League so he should have been putting up numbers with Quad Cities. On the plus side, in the interviews I've read, he seems to have a solid understanding of hitting, emphasizing swinging at good pitches and laying off junk outside the zone.

Ankiel is a unique case in all respects. As a pitcher he's unique in that he's all given us hope a dozen times and then crushed that hope with a repeat of his problems. He has talent but monumental flaws. As a hitter, he has decent numbers, but you have to balance his age with his inexperience. I honestly don't think he has the talent to make it back to the majors as a pure outfielder. His bat looks decent, but not good enough to get him over the hump. If he's going to make it back to the show, it will be either as a pitcher or as a better Brooks Kieschnick, filling in as a reliever here and there while doubling as a pinch hitter du jour. Then again, he could surprise us by adapting well and ending up as a starting right fielder for a few years with the Cards. Ya never know.

Other things of note that you might be interested in would be his defense and baserunning, both of which are works in progress. He didn't attempt a steal all season. In fact, I don't have any record of him ever attempting a steal as a professional baseball player. His defense will probably limit him to an outfield corner. He has some athleticism, but not THAT much.

ETA: ?
2 Stars

Monday, September 12, 2005

Week One football Rant/Miscellaneous Other Rants

With all due respect to Will Carroll, this report is powered by a brand new Dell.

-So we're in the 2005 season and we've now had plenty of time to deconstruct 2004 and the Patriots dynasty, yet somehow there's still this perception out there that football is being dominated by a latter day interpretation of the 2000 Baltimore Ravens. The Patriots are still seen as this gritty, gutty team that doesn't have much talent but gets by with some tough defense and an offense that refuses to give the ball away. It is true that their defense is remarkably effective. However, this is a very effective offensive team. I mean look at the numbers. They were the 4th highest scoring team in football. They've packed their offense with a very good line, a capable back, some talented young receivers, and Tom Brady, who is the lightning rod for the franchise.

Tom Brady has been defied by the press and the general public, yet because of WHY they have defied him, they UNDERRATE him. The story is the same for the team as a whole. Brady has improved his arm strength and accuracy, opening up the field. He's not a better version of Trent Dilfer back in those glory days for the Ravens. He's a playmaker. Sure he's great at reading defenses and dumping it to the right guy, but he's more than that now.

My own pet theory is that this whole effect is a byproduct of the Cult of Clutch that we have in this country. In sports it seems to be clutch than it is to be great. Derek Jeter and Tom Brady are Gods walking among us because they produce when it counts and are the face of successful organizations. Joe Montana is known for being great in the playoffs, nevermind the fact that he was great whenever he happened to be playing. I don't understand the urge to gloss over everyday excellence in favor of sepia-toned postcards from high profile games. Actually, I do get it but I've never felt that urge to boil excellence to individual moments. If somebody's great, they're great on a regular occasion. But no, there's more of a love for the overachiever than there is the guy who was simply good enough and talented enough to kick your ass everyday of the week. Me? I'll take the '27 Yankees instead of the 2002 Angels.

-Next on my list is F1, where after buying the Jaguar team last year and rebadging it Red Bull Racing, they're buying Minardi and plan on keeping both teams. How is this possibly within the rules? Are they going to merge the two teams and form a 4 car team like they have in NASCAR and IRL? Or are they going to keep the two organizations separate? And if they are, are they going to fund actual improvement in the team formerly known as Minardi? I don't have answers to these questions, but I would like to get my hands on them. I can see definite advantages to RB owning Minardi if they improve the team. They could easily make things much more interesting back towards the back of the pack. It would also give American Scott Speed a race seat to fill and along with the new management at Midlands F1, it would put a temporary end to F1 seats being bought by drivers whose sponsorship is the driving force behind their career advancement. On the other hand, if they let the team just linger at the back, it just kicks the can down the road and nobody is better off.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

J.J. Furmaniak Report

J.J. Furmaniak, SS, Pittsburgh Pirates
Drafted 649th Overall (22nd Rd), 2000 Draft, Lewis University
Bats R/Throws R
26 YO, 6'3", 190 lbs

I'm writing the J.J. Furmaniak prospect report because in the words of Bill Simmons, it needs to happen. It has to happen. He's not all that as a prospect, but he has some upside as a utility infielder. He's as good a bet as anybody in baseball to be a fan favorite. He's a scrappy, dirty uniform white guy who has some pop in his bat, a pretty decent glove in the field, and a catchy name. I watched him a few times this season and I had no clue who he was or where he came from at first. I'll admit it. I'm not ashamed. I had no idea that the guy existed and I thought that the name had to have been a joke. It wasn't a joke.

Here's another reason why I need to write this report. He's a fellow GLVC alum. He's from Lewis University while I'm a graduate of THE University of Indianapolis. Also of note, he was the minor leaguer that the Pirates got in return for sending David Ross to San Diego.

2005 Portland: .266/.324/.437, 16 2B, 4 3B, 14 HR, 28 BB, 86 K, 9 SB, 5 CS, 387 AB
2005 Indianapolis: .288/.315/.410, 5 2B, 3 3B, 2 HR, 4 BB, 32 K, 5 SB, 3 CS, 139 AB
2005 Total: .272/.321/.430, 21 2B, 7 3B, 16 HR, 32 BB, 116 K, 14 SB, 8 CS, 526 AB
2004 Portland: .294/.348/.489, 24 2B, 4 3B, 17 HR, 33 BB, 86 K, 8 SB, 5 CS, 425 AB
MiLB Career: .275/.345/.430, 133 2B, 31 3B, 63 HR, 241 BB, 564 K, 65 SB, 2476 AB

There's a lot of data up there. It tells you a couple of things. First, he's a pretty decent hitter for a minor league shortstop, but not somebody who is going to develop into a first rate major leaguer because of the age and middle of the road plate discipline. Any shortstop who can consistently post AAA slugging percentages in the mid .400's can at least give you replacement level work at the ML level. One thing to watch is the contact rate. He struck out a lot this season, which can't help his batting average at the next level.

Defensively, he's average at shortstop, showing steady hands and more range than you'd expect out of a guy this tall. He did make a couple of nice plays when I saw him in Indy. He made a nice game-ending leaping grab on a smoked line drive that showed good reactions. I'd be interested to see if they can turn him into a true utility player by teaching him to play the outfield. If they can do that, they have a poor man's Rob Mackowiak on their hands, only with the ability to play a credible short. Maybe that's more like a really rich man's Willie Bloomquist. At any rate, he's already a better player than Bloomquist. And Mackowiak is probably his ceiling on offense.

ETA: Whenever the Pirates Get Around to Calling Him Up
2 1/2 Stars

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