This will be the first of a four part series focusing on players of interest in several levels of the Orioles minor league system. Today, the first part of this series will focus on players we assume will be playing for the Delmarva Shorebirds. At this level there are a number of young players who are going to be thrown into the fire and challenged (i.e. Mychal Givens, Matt Hobgood) or are trying to make good on solid short seasons or rookie ball (i.e. Vito Frabizio, Jake Cowan).
After the jump, top five guys to keep a tab on.
1. Matt Hobgood RHSP Bluefield
27.2 IP 3.18 FIP 5.2 k/9 2.6 bb/9 2.21 GB:FB -21 FIP(L)
Matt Hobgood probably has had one of the worst looking professional debuts from those who signed last year, but it really was not that bad. He came in throwing about five miles per hour slower than he did in mid-season form as a prep, so a month of buffets probably did not help him. When he finally showed up at Bluefield, he did one thing well and another not so well. He induced groundballs, which is good. His 2 seamer will be what gets him to the Majors. At this level, though, groundballs wind up for hits at a much greater rate than they do at higher levels with better fielding. What Hobgood did not do so well at was missing bats. 5.2 k/9 is not going to get you anywhere near Norfolk much less Baltimore.
As mentioned in an earlier post, Hobgood has devoted himself to conditioning and is in better shape now than he was when he was pitching last year. He also claims to now be back past 90 mph with his fastball, which he will need. With a pitcher's palace like Delmarva's stadium (though it is more helpful for flyball pitchers like Cole McCurry), Hobgood should see a great change in his fortune and how Baltimore fans regard his selection in the 2009 draft. Although the general consensus among the national publications has him as the 8th best prep arm in last year's draft behind Chad James . . . I think some opinions might change. He is a great pitcher to look for when you are thinking about attending a Shorebird game.
2. Jake Cowan RHSP Aberdeen
25 IP 3.41 FIP 9.7 k/9 4.0 bb/9 1.16 GB:FB -30 FIP(L)
Cowan was another pitcher selected in last year's draft. Somewhat overlooked by many casual fans, several of us were actually quite pleased with the selection. In Aberdeen, Cowan threw a few innings and showed that he is capable of missing bats and inducing some ground balls, which are both hallmarks of successful pitching. His main problem in that short amount of innings was command of his fastball. It should be an offering that develops significantly as his body fills out. He also has a pretty remarkable slider. If he can develop more consistency, he and Hobgood could make for a pretty devastating 1-2 tandem at Delmarva.
3. Mychal Givens SS
Did not play
Givens signing was a little tumultuous with him demanding more money than he has previously indicated to Jordan and some confusing words he sent out to the media. Joe Jordan at one time publicly announce that Givens was not signing and that the money budgeted for him would be spent elsewhere. Eventually, Givens relented and Jordan asked Andy MacPhail for a budget extension (as he had spent the money on other talents). By the time this happened, it was said that Givens was not in game shape (having not played all summer) and would be shelved until next season.
Here at Camden Depot, we have seen Givens more as a solid backend bullpen arm. The Orioles view him differently. As a SS, his form at short is a bit rough. His footwork is not ideal and that often leaves him slightly out of position with him swiping at the ball. We also feel that his lower body is going to thicken out and hurt his range. His bat is also a work in progress. He showed poor contact skills at the high school level and not much power. In short, the Orioles will need to teach him how to play short and how to hit. This is not a typical second round selection. As a power arm, he would be much better suited to reach the Majors at an earlier date.
So, this makes it very interesting to see how he does at Delmarva. With a great deal of instruction on his fielding and hitting, we should be able to either see some amazing progression as the season unfolds . . . or we may see the beginnings of doubt and a few omens that call him to put away the glove and break out his mid-90s heat. I hope I am wrong about him at short. The Orioles future is a bit simpler if he does belong there.
4. Vito Frabizio RHSP Bluefield
76 IP 3.61 FIP 8.2 k/9 2.1 bb/9 1.38 GB:FB +39 FIP(L)
Frabizio is another player that is very intriguing. He is a player who the Orioles signed as an undrafted free agent, largely overlooked because he had dropped out of high school. In his second year of pro ball, he showed he was able to miss bats, not give up walks, and induce more ground balls than flies. It was very impressive. If he is able to continue that in Delmarva, he may establish himself as a solid top 10/15 prospect in the Orioles system. He is certainly someone you should remember.
5. Aaron Wirsch LHSP
18 IP 3.10 FIP 9.0 k/9 5.0 bb/9 3.37 GD:FB +62 FIP(L)
Some think it might be aggressive to put him in Delmarva. The other option would be extended spring training and then slotting him into the Aberdeen rotation. I think though that Wirsh, a 7th round pick last year out of El Toro HS, is advanced enough that he would be able to pitch in LoA. He needs to fill out and when he does that his fastball should break into the low 90s. He also has two secondary pitches which show some promise. If the Orioles do aggressively promote Wirsch, his development this year will be quite exciting.
Others to watch:
Tyler Townsend 1B - disappointing season last year, needs to establish his hit tools
Gery Helmick 2B - showed remarkable patience at the plate and could stick at second
Enrico Jimenez RHSP - never heard of him, but his peripherals in DSL are very promising
Jesse Beal RHSP - local amateur scouts love him, great GB:FB, does not miss a bat though
Reminder: Evaluations of these players are composites of public chats as well as consensus data collected from multiple trade journals. Specific evaluations by me or others at Camden Depot is typically mentioned specifically.
12 March 2010
11 March 2010
Posted by Jon Shepherd at 22:00
Just a short post here. I really disagree with the names that Tim Dierkes and Dan Moroz have brought out as potential replacements for Brian Roberts. I think they rely a bit too much on salaried lists. I think the focus should be more on potential no option players who could be had for cheap or nearly nothing. On the O's options we agree.
Eric Patterson - A's
Joe Inglett - Brewers
Hernan Iribarren - Brewers
Jeff Baker - Cubs
Eugenio Velez - Giants
Clint Barmes - Rockies
Ramon Santiago - Tigers
Sergio Santos - White Sox
Eric Patterson - A's
Joe Inglett - Brewers
Hernan Iribarren - Brewers
Jeff Baker - Cubs
Eugenio Velez - Giants
Clint Barmes - Rockies
Ramon Santiago - Tigers
Sergio Santos - White Sox
10 March 2010
Posted by Jon Shepherd at 05:56
This will be the first of perhaps many posts looking at the Orioles option in the draft. Today's exercise is to try to determine who might be available and who might the Orioles select in the draft . . . and, more specifically here, at 1:3.
It has been long supposed that JuCo phenom Bryce Harper will be selected by the Washington Nationals. That he and Strasburg will provide the Nationals with a solid 2009 and 2010 draft value and, hopefully, lead to a renaissance or, more apt, a beginning for the Nationals franchise. Lately though, there has been some backlash against Harper's value, which was to be expected. The Sports Illustrated article took to hyperbole and created a "Bryce Harper" for everyone to focus on. Also, if the world is dedicated to him as being a phenom then scouts and journalists can zero in and magnify any imperfections. To a lesser extent, I think this happened to both Tyler Matzek and Grant Green.
Jonathan Mayo, prospect analyst for MLBlogs.com, rated Harper as the 4th overall prospect to begin the amateur season. He placed Anthony Renaudo, Drew Pomeranz, and Jameson Taillon ahead of Harper. I can understand Renaudo (seems like a sure thing) and Taillon (great potential), but think Pomeranz might be given too much credit. We'll see about that. BP's Kevin Goldstein said in a chat, "I've talked to a lot of scouts, scouting directors and front office people who have seen Harper. His power is absolutely friggin' unreal, no doubt about it, but there are questions about his barrel control, the length of his swing, and his ability to be anything more than a 1B down the road." That concern was later repeated by Buster Olney who mentioned that many scouts doubt that when Harper finishes growing that he may not have the quickness to catch up to MLB quality fastball.
That said, I still think he goes number one. Why might he not and how does that affect the Orioles? After the jump.
Here is what goes against Harper being drafted by the Nationals.
Drafting Harper does not fit the M.O. of the Nationals front office.
Mike Rizzo and Kris Kline seem unlikely to draft expensive "prep" players. Harper may be a JuCo, but age-wise he is a Junior in high school. He is also likely to see something in the neighborhood of 7.5MM dollars (about a 20% increase from Donovan Tate's bonus). With potential changes to draft bonus structure, I think Harper would not press too much for money similar to Strasburg's. Rizzo/Kline are more likely to select a solid/elite college prospect, an established JuCo, or a slot prep. Who are those guys?
Anthony Renaudo . . . the right hander will cost about 8MM or so with Boras calling the shots. He should be a fast riser and be a solid arm to slot right next to Strasburg. I think he rates out more as a workhorse number 3 pitcher. I am assuming his arm discomfort is not a long term issue. If the injury does become an issue, then the next closest ones fitting this mold are Drew Pomeranz and Deck McGwire. Neither of those profile quite the same way as a healthy Renaudo.
LeVon Washington . . . Washington just is not a quality number 1 pick and would be something Washington would do if it focused on being slot. Two things stand out against Washington: a severe arm injury (some say he currently rates as a 20, but that is sure to improve though not certain to what degree) and that he is largely without a position (most likely profiles as a LF, but some may try to shoehorn him in as a 2B). If the Nationals do go slot, I could see something more like Zach Cox or Chris Sale from the college ranks or a prep.
Prep for slot?
AJ Cole . . . he would be the signing here if the Nationals wanted to go for slot here. I don't think they do. Cole is a solid arm with projection left in his frame and offerings. As a pro, he profiles as having a great fastball and a potentially plus curve.
So, the only potential pick I see for them outside of Bryce Harper is Anthony Renaudo. For this to happen, Renaudo needs to bounce back from his elbow discomfort and show it is of no concern.
What does Pittsburgh do?
Pittsburgh has shown two styles with their draft: spend big on a polished, elite college player or go slot. Thinking this, I cannot see Bryce Harper being drafted by the Pirate brain trust. He has enough chinks in the armor for the small market Pirates to shift cost elsewhere. I'm sure a lot of gnashing of teeth will happen in lazy writers' columns across America, but it makes some sense and is a logical perspective.
Renaudo would be the obvious elite, polished prospect that the Pirates would attach themselves to. In his absence, I could see them pursuing Deck McGwire (RHP, Junior, Georgia Tech), Drew Pomeranz (LHP, Junior, University of Mississippi), or Christian Colon (SS, Junior, Cal State - Fullerton). I could also see LeVon Washington going here if the Pirates believe his arm is sound.
Now what do the Orioles do?
At this point, Bryce Harper has passed by the Nationals and the Pirates who probably both fear that he commands more in a signing bonus than what he is worth. Industry sources seem to think that the Orioles are willing to spend top dollar on an elite prospect, but there is some concern over the Matusz and, particularly, Hobgood picks that there may be some cost restraint. I can see this going three ways with the third way being a bit hard to determine.
Scenario 1: Fans Rejoice
Bryce Harper is selected by the Orioles and given a MLB contract in exchange for accepting a 6.5MM signing bonus. This leaves the Orioles with about 2.5MM left in their budget and they go slot for the rest of the draft with one or two moderate overslots. There would be nothing similar to the deals handed to Michael Ohlman and Cameron Coffey. If not selected here, I have a hard time seeing him get past the Royals.
Scenario 2: Fans Grumble
Jameson Taillon is selected and signs for 6.5MM to a MiL contract. Again, the rest of the way the Orioles choose to go slot. Taillon is a big, tall righty who is certainly an elite talent. He is current the player who most analysts assume the Orioles will select (with Harper going first). If not selected here, Taillon will probably go to either the Royals or may slip all the way down to 15 to the Rangers. He will demand a big pay day or else will go off to college.
Scenario 3: Fans Froth and Take to the Streets
The Orioles think that Harper's worth is severely limited if he is stuck at first base. They may also think that paying north of 6MM for Taillon is a poor use of their budget. In this case, they may go slot just like the Pirates. I can see them also being interested in McGwire, Pomeranz, and Colon. I could also see them being interested in AJ Cole or Stetson Allie (RHP, Senior, St. Edward HS OH). In this scenario, they would pay about 3MM to sign their player and then aggressively pursue several overslot prospects. Most of those this year will again be pitchers. In general, the talent level in this draft class is not considered as deep as last year's.
What do I think right now about this course of events?
I think they select whoever Joe Jordan can get for less in order to be able to sign one or two overslots later in the draft. There just will not be enough viable overslots in my opinion for that route to be taken. I think the Orioles will rate Harper and Taillon as 1A and 1B. Jordan leans toward pitching in his evaluation, so I think Taillon has the edge here. Jordan also seems to really focus on personal interaction with draftees. If Taillon players up his commitment, it might turn Jordan off even though it would be obvious that it would be a ploy. Taillon cannot earn more money by going to college. In part, I wonder if that is why the Orioles downgraded Matzek to such an extent. So, I haven't answered the question . . . Bryce Harper. He wants to sign. Though, he wants to sign for a lot of money.
08 March 2010
Posted by Jon Shepherd at 02:23
To many in the United States, Japanese baseball is a rather vague concept. We are aware every once in a while of an impressive player like Yu Darvish, but often only pay attention when an individual is being posted or is an unrestricted free agent. It is rare for most MLB fans to pay attention to any player's career as it unfolds. Difficulties include finding comprehensive analysis packaged for a reader of English as well as just a basic understanding in the differences between the game in Japan and in the United States.
The past few years, we have seen more interest in international baseball as MLB teams are reaching into Europe, India, and with a rapid influx of Cuban talent after Dayan Viciendo signed. Greater awareness has also turned to Japan where youth (Junichi Tazawa) is beginning to trickle into the States. This has created a much broader and informed group of fans that actively search out information about baseball in these regions.
Earlier we discussed the game in Cuba with Cubano and today we are interviewing Gen, the author of the Japanese Baseball Blog Yakyu Baka. This web site is a great source of information for those of us who are taking more of an interest in the Japanese game. I suggest everyone to check it out.
After the jump, Gen answers several questions quite extensively. It is a great read.
Camden Depot: Can you introduce yourself, your background, and explain what you do with your website?
Gen: My name is Gen. I was born and raised by Japanese parents in New York. I was a huge Yankee fan (since the 1980s) before moving to Japan 6 years ago. I now find that I'm spending less time following the Yankees / MLB and more time following Japanese baseball.
I started providing daily coverage on as much as I can about Japanese baseball (or yakyu) about a year ago, beginning with the WBC. It wasn't until later that I started doing it under the Yakyubaka title. I'm just a one man show so there are obviously limits in what I can do, but I try my best. I'm also not a professional analyst, just a really big fan of baseball.
CD: When the Orioles' Koji Uehara was signed, it was mentioned that he threw a shuuto. It was roughly explained to me that a shuuto is similar to a screwball. It also appears that any Japanese pitcher that throws one, abandons the pitch when he moves over to Major League Baseball. Is this accurate? Why do you think the pitch is more effective in Japan?
G: The shuto (or shuuto) is a tough pitch to put your finger on. Mostly because different people have different opinions on it. If you talk to baseball people in the US, they'll probably say that the shuto looks like a sinker or a two-seam fastball. If you talk to baseball people in Japan, some will probably say there is no US equivalent, while others might agree that it's similar to a two-seamer. You'd figure by now that there would be some sort of general consensus, but that doesn't really appear to be the case. To make things even more complicated is that not every pitcher throws it the same exact way.
I found this video that might help explain the shuto a bit more. It's in Japanese, but I think you can get a feel for what they're saying just by watching. This particular video explains the shuto as being something opposite to the slider. Incidentally, during the graphic where they show the grips, they also mentions that some pitchers don't use the seems at all.
As for why pitchers might abandon the pitch... There's a difference in the style of play between the MLB and the NPB. Perhaps the following will help illustrate the point a little better.
Yu Darvish (Nippon Ham Fighters), Hideaki Wakui (Seibu Lions), and Masahiro Tanaka (Rakuten Eagles) are likely in the top for pitchers in the NPB right now. They're also all under 25. I suppose it should also be noted that they pitch in the Pacific League.
Now, as for why I bring them up, it's because of the following stat (from the 2009 season):
Darvish threw his fastball 34% of the time. Wakui 36%. Tanaka 38%.
While there are pitchers in Japan that throw a lot of fastballs, the fact that three of Japan's top pitchers throw the fastball less than 40% of the time shows a different trend than in the US.
To extend the thought further, according to data posted at Data Stadium's blog [ http://www.plus-blog.sportsnavi.com/input/article/70 ], the fastball was thrown 46% of the time (the data is for 2009 and only through to July 1). In comparison, based on what I could gather at Fangraphs [ http://www.fangraphs.com/teams.aspx?pos=all&stats=pit&lg=all&&type=4&season=2009&month=0 ], the fastball was thrown close to 60% of the time in the Majors in 2009. It seems pitchers in the NPB also throw a lot more sliders as well: 25% vs the MLB's 14% or so.
Of course, this is over just one year. And not even a complete year for the NPB, but I think its a good start in terms of showing how differently the game is played in Japan.
One other thing: I wonder if it might be possible that the shuto is getting "lost in translation" when it hits the Majors. In other words, how do we know if Japanese pitchers are abandoning their shutos if they're throwing two-seamers and sinkers? Couldn't it be possible that those pitches are just re-packaged shutos?
Incidentally, that Baseball Stadium chart also lists the shuto at 6%.
* for those that don't know, Baseball Stadium is the company that records / stores baseball data for the NPB.
CD: It has been mentioned (most recently with Dice-K) that rest between starts, pitches thrown per game, and pitching loads differ between Japan and the US. Could you elaborate on the differences that a pitcher might face?
G: Most teams in Japan tend to go with a 6-man rotation. And with at least one day off each week, that means pitchers usually have one start per week. There's also usually no such thing as a pitch limit, unless there's concern for an injury. For example, during Spring camp this year, there were pitchers that threw 200+ pitches in one bullpen session. I'm guessing that's something you would never see happen in the US. But in Japan, it shows fighting spirit and is considered one of the best way to improve stamina.
There are other things to take into consideration like longer travel times, longer seasons, different timezones, different diets, different training programs, different cultures, language barriers... All of these things can add up and create fluctuations in a pitcher's stamina.
I think there's also something to be said of the size of the balls and the mounds as well.
While the basic requirements for baseballs between the two countries are basically the same, Japanese baseball makers (ZETT, Mizuno, ASICS, Kubota) tend to make baseballs based on the minimum values while the US baseball maker (Rawlings) tend to make them based on the maximum values. This is why you hear lot about MLB baseball being bigger than Japanese baseballs. MLB baseballs also tend to have smoother surfaces with stitching that more pronounced. Depending on the pitcher, they may abandon certain pitchers based on whether or not they can comfortably throw it.
For a comparison, take a look here:
As for the mounds, based on things I've read, Japanese mounds tend to be softer than their MLB counterparts. I have no idea which is actually better for the leg, but it would seem a softer landing surface would be better suited to absorbing shock. I wouldn't be surprised if the harder mounds were causing more strain (or at least different kinds of strain) which could maybe explain why Japanese pitchers get tired more quickly.
These are just guesses though. Someone that knows more about muscles and surfaces would be better suited to diving further into this topic.
And to take all of this further, I think I might go so far as to say that NPB pitchers will never have pro-longed success AS STARTERS in the Majors. Age will of course determine length -- the older player is when they get to the Majors, the fewer years they'll have, in general, to have good years. But more than that, I think that by the time an NPB pitcher gets to the Majors, it's almost too late to re-program their bodies.
Maybe that's an extreme view to take. The jury is still out on Daisuke Matsuzaka. He could certainly break the mold.
A couple of players I'll be watching this season, with keen interest, will be Colby Lewis and Junichi Tazawa.
Lewis played under Marty Brown so there might not be much different with him (in terms of conditioning), but he did have success in Japan. I'm interested in seeing how that translates in the Majors. As for Tazawa, I hear the Red Sox might give him a look as a reliever. That could actually work out in favor of Tazawa. Let him get used to the rigors of the MLB as a reliever and once he does, shift him into the rotation when a spot opens up.
In fact, just on a whim, I think it might make more sense to start Japanese pitchers as relievers and then move them out once they get a hang of pitching in the Majors. It would take more time, but it would give them the prep time to make the conversion. Tazawa may be young, but he grew up playing baseball in Japan. If you think NPB practices can be tough, high school practices can sometimes be even tougher.
CD: What are your thoughts on the Gentleman's Agreement between the leagues in which MLB has agreed not to sign Japanese amateurs? From what I have seen (particularly with Junichi Tazawa) that teams will eventually ignore the agreement. What would that mean for Japanese baseball?
G: This is a tough one for me because I really love watching Japanese baseball. The last thing I want to see is the domestic talent pool drained because of the MLB. I don't know think that will necessarily happen, for a number of reasons which I won't get into here, but the fact that it can does bother me a little.
At the same time, I also understand why players would want to go the MLB -- more money, more security, better competition.
The biggest problem with the NPB faces right now is the 4 player limit on foreign players (you can also never have all four spots taken up by just pitchers or just position position players). If the NPB can either increase that number or get rid of the limit entirely, it would like boost the level of play across the board.
While I can't ever imagine the NPB removing the limit completely, I think even a slight increase, to say 6 players, could change things drastically.
CD: Long-term, what do you think will be the state of Japanese baseball? Some have compared it to the Pacific League in the 1940s and 1950s, which rivaled MLB until MLB relocated and established franchises on the West Coast of the United States.
G: This is a tough question. I think if nothing changes, the NPB will be in serious trouble (financially, it already sort of is). I tend to see the glass half-empty in these kinds of situations, so maybe things aren't quite as dark as I think they are, but I honestly do feel that what happens over the next 3-5 years will help determine which direction the NPB is really going. After all, there's only so many years a league can operate in the red. The NPB is hoping international tournaments can help bring in some extra revenue, just like the WBC did in 2009, but I think that's just a temporary solution to a much larger problem.
CD: Thanks again for your time, Gen.
Gen is the author behind the blog Yakyu Baka.