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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Catching up with the CF prospects of 2009

Two years ago I wrote a post about the top center field prospects in baseball.  In that post I gave a basic rundown of the skills each player was expected to bring to the table as well as my best guess as to win they'd make their MLB debut.  In September I revisited the issue with an overview of how each player fared during the 2009 season but I've failed to look at these guys as a collective group since.  I've been in a bit of a rut so why not bring it up now?

Below I've ranked the eight players discussed in the two previous installments by their performance thus far (along with their career totals).

Andrew McCutchen, Pit: 326 G .287/.370/.465 75 2B, 16 3B, 38 HR, 67/87 SB, 10.9 WAR
McCutchen continues to exceed my expectations. After finishing a distant fourth in ROY voting in 2009, he duplicated his success in 2010 showing everyone it was no fluke.  This year he's elevated his game to a whole new level. He's already mashed 10 HR and stolen 12 bases while improving his defense to the point where not winning a gold glove would be a gross oversight by the voters. As of today he ranks third in the National League in WAR meaning he's achieved superstar status. Give the man a raise!

Drew Stubbs, Cin: 261 G .261/.333/.435 37 2B, 8 3B, 39 HR, 60/72 SB, 9.4 WAR
Once allowed to play everyday, Stubbs immediately brought power and speed to the lineup. Last season he hit 22 home runs and stole 30 bases. Not bad for a guy playing in his first full season. And currently, he leads the NL in runs scored although that is more a result of him being installed as the leadoff hitter than him being a great on-base man.  I noted earlier he plays excellent defense but he's actually better than that. While defensive stats are often questionable for single season data, Stubbs earned 5.2 defensive WAR last year alone! Whether that's perfectly accurate or not, it puts him in the category of Defensive God.

Colby Rasmus, StL: 355 G .264/.340/.448 62 2B, 11 3B, 44 HR, 20/30 SB, 7.1 WAR
I have not changed my stance on him one bit. This guy is going to be great. Luckily for Cardinal fans he's not far away from achieving it.  In 2008 he hit 16 home runs but only had a .307 on-base percentage to go along with his .407 slugging percentage. He did play a very good center field and put up a total WAR of 2.8.  Last season he was even better and hit 23 home runs while upping his percentages to .276/.361/.498. His defense did slip but he still put up 4.3 WAR - an excellent number for a center fielder. The only nitpick right now is he still struggles versus left-handed pitching.

Austin Jackson, Det: 218 G .282/.338/.393 47 2B, 15 3B, 7 HR, 37/45 SB, 4.7 WAR
Jackson narrowly lost out on winning the A.L. Rookie of the Year last season. A hot start catapulted his candidacy early but he couldn't avoid a summer fade. Jackson hit 34 doubles and 10 triples last year while stealing 27 bases. Speed has never been an issue but contact is as he also led the league with 170 whiffs last year. An average defensive player, as long as Jackson maintains his speed he'll be valuable. If he can up his walk to strikeout ratio (47:170) he'll be even more than that.

Cameron Maybin, SD: 220 G .251/.317.390 32 2B, 8 3B, 18 HR, 26/33 SB, 3.1 WAR
It seems like forever ago when Maybin made his debut with the Tigers, right? That was 2007 and he's been traded twice since then. Now in San Diego and still only 24, Maybin appears to have landed with an organization whose willing to let him learn through his struggles instead of sending him back down to AAA. He's never been expected to hit for average but he'll need to up his walk rate for teams to take him seriously.  There is power there but that's just one of the many aspects of his game that remains inconsistent. I can't say what to expect out of him anymore but I think at worst he can stick around in the league as a fourth outfielder.

Dexter Fowler, Col: 337 G .255/.349/.391 62 2B, 29 3B, 10 HR, 42/66 SB, 2.1 WAR
Fowler is a guy I was convinced would turn out to be an impact player. With his gap power and excellent speed, I felt like he was the perfect fit for Coors Field. Though he did lead the league with 14 triples in 2010, Fowler has really struggled since becoming a starter in 2009. He's still not a great base stealer and he's prone to stretches where he makes no contact (100+ strikeouts in '08 & '09 and 66 already this year).  Fowler desperately needs to find consistency or the Rockies may be forced to look elsewhere for a player who will provide more help to their playoff aspirations.

Michael Saunders, Sea: 191 G .203/.270/.318 17 2B, 5 3B, 12 HR, 14/20 SB, -0.3 WAR
No offense to Mr. Saunders but this is the one guy I wasn't sold on as a prospect.  Too many swings and misses with a below average walk rate meant he'd have to play good defense to stick. Unfortunately for Saunders, the Mariners have an elite defensive center fielder in Franklin Gutierrez, so Saunders was moved to left.  Newsflash sports fans: Michael Saunders doesn't hit well enough to be an everyday left fielder. Compounding matters is the fact that his GM is feeling a lot of pressure from the owner to put a competitive team on the field which likely reduces the amount of time Saunders has to prove himself. I'm sure he'll have a season or two where he manages to hit .250 with 20-25 home runs but that could be several years down the road and not in Seattle.

Jordan Schafer, Atl: 68 G .209/.312/.297 10 2B, 1 3B, 3 HR, 9/12 SB, -0.7 WAR
When Schafer was sent back to the minors in 2009 it was revealed he had a significant wrist injury that he tried to play through.  That injury not only cost him experience, it appears to have altered the type of player he will become. He no longer smokes line drives to the gaps or rips balls down the lines for extra bases. Instead he's relying more on speed; improving his bunting technique and excelling as a runner. Not that it's bad, but his defense hasn't been quite at the level that was expected either. A player with this skill set can play in the majors it just likely won't be with Atlanta. Still, with an injuries to the Braves outfielders an opportunity has presented itself for him to showcase his worth and prove his doubters wrong.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Ranking the AL Shortstops

It's no secret over the past few seasons the best shortstops have been in the National League. Hanley Ramirez, Jimmy Rollins, Jose Reyes, and Troy Tulowitzki are the names people tend to throw out first when talking about the best shortstops in baseball.  Long gone are the glory days of Jeter (age 37), ARod (35 and now a third baseman), Miguel Tejada (37 and mostly plays 3B), and Nomar Garciaparra (retired). Who then are the best shortstops in the American League?  After evaluating all fourteen A.L. starting shortstops, I've managed to rank them in different groups Bill Simmons style.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Observations from the Trop

Last Saturday I made my way down to Tampa to meet up with my family for the long weekend. While there we all went to the Rays game versus the Indians.  The game failed to reach the level of excitement I anticipated beforehand (though Avril Lavigne did her best to draw attention to the post-game activities). I talked up James Shields all morning about how he was the AL Cy Young frontrunner only to see him give up two runs in the first where he was actually hit pretty hard. The Indians piled on late in the game and held on for a 7-3 win. Below are some notes I took during the game:

Pre Game
  • Avril Lavigne throws out the first pitch. Not only is she tiny (Yahoo! says she's between 5'2" and 5'3" probably 100lbs soaking wet) but she can't throw. Standing a good ten feet in front of the mound she one hops the throw to the catcher at home plate.
  • Carlos Carrasco is warming up in the bullpen for Cleveland. Looks like he's throwing hard.
  • Evan Longoria is batting leadoff for the first time in his career. 
  • I'm excited Grady Sizemore is back in the lineup (though he's just DHing) after missing time with a knee injury. He's an exciting player when healthy
Top of the 1st
  • Shields gives up a hard hit single and a triple to the first two batters but does something I've never seen live before when he picks Asdrubal Cabrera off third base. The play was obviously planned as Longoria sprinted from his spot deep on the dirt to the bag to get Cabrera.
  • The next two batters single but Shields gets out of the inning when the Indians fly out to right on a hit and run play resulting in a double play.
Bottom of the 1st
  • Evan Longoria singles in his first career at-bat as a leadoff hitter. Nice.
Top 2
  • Casey Kotchman shows how he's managed to stick around in the bigs with a nice leaping play at first to rob Sizemore of a double
  • Matt LaPorta absolutely crushes one to right for an opposite field-line drive homer. Shields strikes out two but has already given up three runs and five hits.
Top 3
  • Shields appears to be making adjustments and now seems unwilling to give in. Makes it out of the inning without allowing a run but still walked two. 
Bottom 3
  • Longoria homers to dead center. I guess he likes this leadoff spot (even though he didn't lead off this inning).
  • Johnny Damon doubles into the right field corner. The guy can still pull the ball down the line. Three years ago he'd be standing on third.
  • Choo does a so-so job digging it out of the corner but shows off his strong arm by throwing a laser to the second baseman.
Bottom 4
  • Matt Joyce gets a hit to raise his AL leading average to .358. 
  • Kotchman - who also is miraculously hitting over .330 - hits a bleeder through the infield which advances Joyce to third.
  • Sean Rodriguez beatifully bunts down the first base line on a suicide squeeze. The official scorer rules it a hit which I think is a mistake. If Carrasco had thrown to first instead of home he would have gotten an out. Instead it's first and second for Tampa though they won't score again this inning.
Top 5
  • Shields has officially settled in. Whatever plagued him the first two innings has been remedied.  He now has eight strikeouts through five innings after striking out 2 in the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th.
Top 6
  • Creighton takes over scorekeeping duties as I pick at a poorly prepared Papa John's pizza. I think this will be the last pizza I grab at the Trop. It's hot dogs or Outback from here on out.
  • After a few unsuccessful attempts, a wave breaks out in the lower section. I hate the wave. I hate it even more than this pizza.
  • Creighton comments that Carlos Santana has a cool name.
Bottom 6
  • BJ Upton is completely lost. He's struck out twice and now grounded out. When he's on he's a superstar but when he's not he looks very, very bad.
  • Carlos Carrasco has been very effective this evening. The Rays go down 1-2-3 in the sixth without hitting the ball out of the infield.
  • Asdrubal Cabrera is a slick shortstop. He gets to almost everything and looks smooth. I can see why Cleveland was so high on him a couple of years ago.
  • Carrasco final line is 6 innings, 7 hits, 2 runs, no walks, and four strikeouts.
Top 7
  • Shields gets the Indians to go down 1-2-3 in the seventh. You really have to give it to him for keeping his team in the game after having a rough start.
  • Shields' final line is 7-7-3-3-8. A strong performance.
Bottom 7
  • With speedy Sam Fuld on second, Johnny Damon steps up to try and get a big hit. After working a 2-2 count with several foul balls, Tony Sipp throws one up and in which pushes Damon off the plate. Unfortunately in the process of moving out of the way Damon's bat crossed home plate for a swinging strike. Damon argues and a chorus of boos erupt from the Tampa fans. Good to see they're still awake.
Top 8
  • JP Howell makes another appearance. Howell missed all of 2010 and early parts of 2011 due to arm problems and still doesn't seem to be right. The Indians must think it's batting practice because they're getting some good swings.
  • After a Michael Brantley single, Asdrubal Cabrera hits a hard sinking liner to second. Zobrist doesn't get in front of it and boots it badly for an error. Wait, now it's a hit. Bad call.
  • Choo gets hit by a pitch to load the bases causing the Rays to go into an interesting defensive alignment with Travis Buck up. See the image below:
  • Howell gets lifted after Buck singles and Kyle Farnsworth comes in to finish the inning. The damage has been done though with the Indians plating four more runners.
  • Speaking of Farnsworth, the former Cub is having a career year with that 1.50 ERA he's sporting.
Bottom 8
  • Rays go weakly in the eighth as Tony Sipp mows them down in order.
Bottom 9
  • Casey Kotchman of all people leads off the inning with a double off Rafael Perez. Perez has never really been the same after Cleveland abused him during their 2007 post-season run.
  • Sean Rodriguez singles to put runners on the corners.
  • After Sam Fuld and John Jaso each hit infield pop-ups, Longoria walks to load the bases second. 
  • Chris Perez is called in because it's a "save situation". What a bunch of baloney. Yes, the bases are loaded but there's two outs and the batter is not the tying run. Leave him out there to finish the game!
  • Johnny Damon works a tough at bat and hits a hot shot down the line that LaPorta gets in front of but can't handle. Kotchman scores and Damon is safe on the error.
  • Evan Longoria evidently thought Rodriguez was going to score too because he sprints down to third base only to find...Rodriguez. Rodriguez, now in a run-down between third and home, does a great job of making the Cleveland infielders work even diving under a tag at one point to keep the pickle alive. Alas, he is tagged out and the game ends. Longoria, who had the offensive heroics to keep the team in the game early, makes the bonehead baserunning move late to end the game.
Final Thoughts
The Rays offense just never got going today while the Indians took advantage of a shaky James Shields early on. Though the Rays had the bases loaded in the 9th it's unlikely they would have won even without the baserunning blunder since they were already down to their last out. I love going to games and it's always a plus when you go with people you like. Thanks Mom!