Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Adam Harben Report

Adam Harben, RHP, Minnesota Twins
Drafted 452nd Overall (15th Rd), 2002 Draft, Westlake Community College
Bats R/Throws R
21 YO, 6'1", 205 lbs

Harben is a nice surprise for the Twins. They didn't expect much when they drafted him out of a JuCo. He's developed into a real prospect. His stuff has become pretty filthy, with a mid 90's fastball with a slider and change complimenting it. He's put up excellent strikeout rates everywhere he's gone. He doesn't allow many hits. And he's done a very nice job of keeping the ball in the park. However, as I've said with probably 75 pitchers before him, this guy needs to improve his command and control. He walks too many batters and if he plans on climbing the ladder, he needs to stop giving out free passes.

2005 Ft Myers: 2.97 ERA, 62 K, 34 BB, 48 H, 3 HR, 64 IP
2004 Quad Cities: 3.09 ERA, 171 K, 68 BB, 114 H, 5 HR, 143 IP
mL Career: 3.42 ERA, 337 K, 145 BB, 280 H, 13 HR, 318 IP

All reports indicate that he's a good athlete and his mechanics look good. He just needs to figure out how to put the ball in the zone. If he does that, then he stands a good chance of riding the express elevator to one of the best pitching staffs in baseball. The Twins have a very good minor league system and guys like Harben are a big part of that. They have great depth and even if most of these guys flame out, they'll still have a handful of very nice young players. Harben is a lottery ticket. If he works out, the Twins have hit the jackpot and can boast another #1 starter and all it cost them was a 15th round pick and a nominal bonus. If he doesn't work out, you might not hear from him again.

ETA: 2008ish
3 1/2 Stars

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Fernando Cabrera Report

Fernando Cabrera, RHP, Cleveland Indians
Drafted 317th Overall (10th Rd), 1999 Draft, HS, Bayamon, PR
Bats R/Throws R
23 YO, 6'4", 225 lbs

Cabrera's been absolutely lights-out for Buffalo this season. He's probably been just about as good as any reliever you'll find. He has an ERA under 1, a Brad Lidge-like K rate. He's not walking anybody. And he's even listed about 30 pounds heavier than he was last season. Let's put it this way, he's shaved off a quarter of a run on his ERA in 38 innings while going over the 400 career inning mark. How's that for effective?

Cabrera has a closer's stuff. He gets up into the mid 90's with his fastball, carries a great splitter (can we go back to calling it a forkball?), and a developing changeup and slider. I haven't been able to ascertain whether part of this improvement is due to refinement of one of his secondary pitches, improved velocity on the heater, or just better command and control over his fastball/forkball combo.

2005 Buffalo: 0.95 ERA, 53 K, 7 BB, 26 H, 2 HR, 38 IP
2004 Buffalo: 3.84 ERA, 92 K, 43 BB, 57 H, 9 HR, 75 IP
mL Career: 3.52 ERA, 435 K, 159 BB, 358 H, 31 HR, 412 IP

Some caveats apply. 38 innings isn't conclusive proof of anything. And he is repeating the level. On the other hand, this just looks like one of those situations where everything seems to come together, the control improves, the strikeouts jump, and all of a sudden the guy turns into a dominant closer. He's had good scouting reports for years, boasting velocity and a closer's approach. The biggest thing holding him back was the command.

Bob Wickman is likely to be traded this season and when he does, Cabrera will get a chance to first fill the role of setup man and possibly side over to closer if he does well there. He should be considered along with Ryan Wagner, Mike Gonzalez, Chad Orvella, and Jeff Farnsworth as closers in waiting. I actually like his chances of success a little more than that of Wagner and Gonzalez.

ETA: Mid-Season
4 Stars

Sunday, June 19, 2005

USGP Weekend/F1 Primer

This weekend is the Us Grand Prix here in Indy, and F1 racing is my OTHER great love in sports. Today will be the first time in 4 years that I haven't attended the race. I went to the practice and qualifying sessions yesterday and the day before. So pardon the non-baseball interlude. Here's a brief baseball fan's guide to F1.

F1 has a lot of parallels with MLB. Both are among the more capitalistic organizations in sports. There are definitely the haves and the have-nots. Here's an easy guide for what team is what.

Ferrari=Yankees

They're the richest teams in their sport, and the glamour team. They've also been dominant over the last decade, but they're both struggling a bit this season. The each have the highest paid athlete in the sport (Michael Schumacher and A-Rod) and an iconic uniform (pinstripes and the NY and Ferrari red with the prancing horse logo). If you like to root for the evil empire, you'll probably love to root for the guys from Maranello. Still, nothing epitomizes the glamour and excess of F1 quite like this team. One place where the comp breaks down is in the decision-making process. Ferrari is organized, disciplined, stable, and extremely competent. There is no George Steinbrenner looming over everybody like the Sword of Damocles.


McLaren-Mercedes and Williams-BMW=Giants and Dodgers

They are the traditional powers of F1, and also bitter rivals. They are also mega-rich and driven to succeed with big fanbases. Here in Indy, you're likely to see a lot of McLaren gear since Indy is annually dominated by Columbians, who root for their favorite son, Juan Pablo Montoya.

Also note their rival German engine suppliers. This has surely upped the stakes of their rivalry over the last few years, but it won't be this way for much longer. BMW and Williams have been bickering at each other and will surely go their separate ways at the end of the season. The hot rumor is that BMW will buy the Sauber-Petronas team and make the engines AND cars. No word yet on who Williams would recruit to build their engines.


Renault=Twins

Renault has risen to prominence over the last few years on the strength of their smarts. They've developed a car that has incredible stability and efficiency. And while they're still likely to spend piles and piles of cash, the emphasis is never on their budget but rather their ideas and their ability to develop great designs.


Toyota=Angels

Toyota just showed up a few years ago and have spent more than anybody besides Ferrari over that period of time. It's starting to pay dividends too. They had been milling around at the back of the pack until this year, and now they're in the fight for poles and race wins. Jarno Trulli won the pole yesterday. Like Arte Moreno, they have deep pockets and a deep desire to win.


BAR Honda=Phillies

They show flashes here and there of being a really, really fast team, but it always seems to fall short. Even last year when they finished 2nd in the constructors championship, they seem to have been overshadowed by Renault and the ever-present Ferrari.

One BAR note, I remember a race weekend several years ago where they were blowing engines like they had an unending supply. And it isn't just that they were trashing motors, it's the way in which they were blowing them up, in explosive, smoky glory. It was like they were fogging for insects. I think they ended up going through half a dozen engines in 3 days with 2 cars. Unbelievable. When you're at 19,000 RPM, you don't get a check engine light and a funny smell.


Sauber-Petronas=Blue Jays

They're the best of the perennial backmarkers. They run Ferrari engines and have a rich owner in Peter Sauber, however they don't spend the kind of money they need to spend in order to catch up to the big boys.


Jordan=Pirates

They were pretty good a long time ago. At this point they've resigned themselves to being just another team that very few people pay attention to. If you want some entertaining follies, watch the Jordan drivers try to keep their cars on the road while the car desperately tries to spin like a top.


Minardi=Devil Rays

Hopeless. Unlike the Rays, they're content with where they are. They know they're not going to compete with their fellow Italians. They'd settle for just not coming in last. Recent meltdowns by Jordan have started making that a reality.


Other notes from the Grand Prix:

-I don't want to hear anybody gripe about how drivers aren't athletes because all they do is drive a car, and anybody could do that. That's a steaming pile of it. Driving a competitive F1 car has about as much to do with your daily drive to the megamart as playing put-put with your 5 year old has to do with playing a round with Tiger Woods. It's a demanding, harrowing activity and the closest experience you'll ever find to flying with the Blue Angels. They see G-forces that push close to the limits of the human body. 3-5 lateral G's in high speed corners, 4+ G's under breaking, and then a G or two in acceleration. They burn about the same number of calories as your average pro tennis player in a 3 hour match. Almost all of them train year-round, relying heavily on building very lean muscle and maintaining great cardio fitness. For instance, the IRL's Tony Kanaan runs triathlons in his spare time.

-Columbians are fun. They turn the race into a big soccer match. Sometimes I wonder if there's anybody left in Columbia or if they asked Peru to watch their stuff while they're gone.

-There can't be more than 2 or 3 sports facilities in the country that have more planes fly over them than IMS. Shea Stadium is probably one. Seriously, every time I go to the track, there's a plane that flies just south of the track about every 5 minutes. Sometimes they're close enough that you can tell what carrier they are. I spotted 2 FedEx's and a Southwest. The airport is about 15 miles away on the west side. However, due to FAA regulations, you won't see planes around there on raceday. 9/11 rears its ugly head.

-The facility is huge. If you go there, wear comfortable walking shoes because you'll probably walk at least 5 miles per day.

-Also if you go, try to use the least traveled route to the track. Go up or down interstate 65 to the 29th/30th street exit and go west towards the track. You'll end up at the north gate where you can park for free on Friday and Saturday, or for a nominal fee on raceday. I forget how much it is (maybe 10 bucks?), but it sure is cheaper than the $20 you'll pay to park in some guy's yard and the traffic, while busy, is still easier to deal with than on Crawfordsville Road and 16th street.

-Lastly, if you go, bring your own snacks and drinks. In general, come prepared. Me and the wife usually bring a cooler filled with 2 cans of soda for each of us, a container of fruit, some carrot sticks, and 2 bottles of water. And we bring a backpack with a can of chips, a camera, a pair of binoculars, and earplugs. You save a ton of money by not buying overpriced drinks 4 or 5 times a day, though if you're a beer drinker (which I am not), you could justify a few oversized cans of Fosters. And the earplugs are important. Protect your ears and have fun.

Martin Prado Report

Martin Prado, 2B, Atlanta Braves
Signed as an Undrafted Free Agent, 2001, Venezuela
Bats R/Throws R
21 YO, 5'11", 188 lbs

Prado is a fairly typical middle infield prospect, maybe with a little higher offensive ceiling than most, but he doesn't look like a GREAT prospect. Her profiles as a #2 hitter at this point, with some speed and a contact-related approach. He hits for average and has added a little power.

2004 Rome: .315/.363/.422, 25 2B, 6 3B, 3 HR, 30 BB, 47 K, 14 SB, 10 CS, 429 AB
2005 Myrtle Beach: .302/.353/.409, 11 2B, 3 3B, 3 HR, 22 BB, 44 K, 9 SB, 6 CS, 242 AB
mL Career: .306/.366/.399, 60 2B, 20 3B, 7 HR, 118 BB, 170 K, 64 SB, 36 CS, 1300 AB

While his plate discipline isn't great, it's not awful, and to be honest, it's par for the course with young infielders in A-ball. The power has a long way to go. Last season he added some doubles, but it still got his isolated slugging percentage up over .100, not particularly impressive. He also needs to work on getting better jumps on steal attempts. That success rate isn't really acceptable as far as I'm concerned.

What gets the scouts all weak in the knees is Prado's defense, which rates as exceptional by most all observations. He has great range, a better than average arm, and doesn't make too many mistakes.

If everything works out his way, he could end up being a good source of OBP and speed at the top of the order while also making ground ball pitchers look good. If things don't work out, he'll look a lot like Pokey Reese.

ETA: 2008
3 Stars

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