22 November 2011

2012 Top 25 Prospects: #6 Nicky Delmonico

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Player: Nicky Delmonico
Position: third base/first base
Ht/Wt: 6-2/200
B/T: L/R
Age at 11/2011: 19y4m
2011 level(s): N/A
2011 statistics: N/A

Grades - Now (Future):
Hit: 35 (50)
Power: 35 (55/60)
Arm: 40/45 (45)
Defense: 35/40 (45/50)
Speed: 40/45 (40)
Feel: 40/45 (50/55)
Overall Future Potential: 47-53
Prospect Grade: B

*Click here for primer on Grades

Background:
6th Round selection in the 2011 draft, out of Farragut HS (Knoxville, Tenn.). Signed for mid-1st Round money, receiving a $1,525,000. Heavy bloodlines;.

Physical Description:
Strong, thick build. Broad shoulders and wide through hips with muscular core and trunk. Lacks projection but athletic and already looks the part.

Hitting:
When everything clicks, Delmonico shows an easy swing and generates good leverage and power. He takes an impressive BP and is capable of spraying balls from line-to-line. In-game, he shows a good approach for a prep talent, though he has yet to be challenged by advanced stuff on a day-to-day basis. On good days Delmonico shows balance and good whip in his barrel. On bad days, he creates too much length in his load, gets uphill with his swing plane and can extend early causing some drag in his barrel.

Defense:
Delmonico spent his scouting circuit summer and senior spring behind the plate, but consistently struggled with his transfer, footwork and throws. Mechanics aside, Delmonico's throws show consistent bow and it is far from certain that he will have enough arm strength to make all the throws from the hot corner -- his announced position on draft day. Additionally, Delmonico's lower-half could give him trouble in the infield, though his hands should play well at either of the corners. Defense is an area that can develop quickly under pro instruction and a full-time baseball schedule yielding plenty of reps. He should get a couple of seasons to knock around the infield while Baltimore determines if there is a long-term fit at third. If not, his future success will ride entirely on the development of his bat.

Discussion:
Delmonico represents a significant draft investment, netting the largest ever bonus paid by the Orioles outside of the 1st Round. There is big offensive upside that could come by way of a solid average defensive third baseman, but that tantalizing package is spotted with risk. Delmonico has not been able to produce in-game showings indicative of his natural talent on a consistent basis since the first half of the summer before his senior year of high school, and it is worth considering whether his bonus will serve as a relieving influence on his game or added pressure to produce.

With the skillset to grow into a legit .285/.360/.525 bat, Delmonico could provide an impressive compliment to the Machado/Schoop pairing scheduled to reach Baltimore at some point in 2013 or 2014. Given his background, the expectation should be that his transition to the pro ball lifestyle should be a smooth one, though concerns over his uneven results under the draft scrutiny of his senior year have some evaluators convinced that Delmonico would be better off easing into his first pro season in extended spring training. He'll turn 20 next July, so there is some sense of urgency to get him going.

Were Delmonico a year younger or a better bet to stick at third base, he could easily have snuck into the Supplemental-1st Round, even with his rocky spring. But there are a number of potential pitfalls facing the Tennessee native and, given his limited defensive profile, an immense amount of pressure on both his hit and power tools developing into impact weapons. Outside of Dylan Bundy, he may have the highest ceiling in the 2011 draft class -- albeit with a weighty boom/bust profile.

Ceiling: Above-average third baseman on first division team
Floor: Non-prospect
Projected: Fringe-average first baseman on second division team

21 November 2011

2012 Top 25 Prospects: #5 L.J. Hoes

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Player: L.J. Hoes
Position: left field/second base
Ht/Wt: 6-1/185
B/T: R/R
Age at 11/2011: 21y8m
2011 level(s): Advanced-A Frederick; Double-A Bowie
2011 statistics: Baseball-reference; Minor League Central

Grades - Now (Future):
Hit: 40/45 (55/60)
Power: 40 (45/50)
Arm: 50 (50)
Defense: 45 (50)
Speed: 50 (50)
Feel: 45 (50)
Overall Future Potential: 48-54
Prospect Grade: B

*Click here for primer on Grades

Background:
3rd Round selection in the 2008 Draft, drafted out of St. John's College HS (Chevy Chase, Md.).

Physical Description:
Medium frame but bloodlines and body type to project some strength. Solid athlete, though lower-half can drag at times. Average runner.

Hitting:
Hoes is a natural hitter, utilizing good balance, quick hands and a compact swing. Already in possession of a strong core, Hoes continues to firm-up his physique and could be capable of fringe-average to average power in the future, with 2012 standing out as a potential "jump" year in power production (setting aside the pitching-friendly confines of Norfolk). The only real knocks that prevent him from projecting to a true plus hit tool are some tendencies for defensive at bats and an inability to consistently match swing plane to pitch plane. He can improve in both areas, but even if he doesn't he should make plenty of contact, work walks and hit for enough pop to keep pitchers honest.

Defense:
Hoes was shifted out to left field upon arriving at Bowie. While Baltimore staff has indicated that they still view second base as a viable option for him, he will project as an outfielder until the organization decides to commit time to him at second base. A center fielder as an amateur, Hoes could provide average or a tick above-average defense in left, with enough footspeed to cover the gap, an adequate arm and solid feel. Further, he is worth at least a look in center field come March.

Discussion:
While the overall ceiling is lower, Hoes' hit tool may rank with Machado and Schoop. He shows easy command of the strikezone and the high level of comfort in the box that often belies a successful Major Leaguer. While a shift to a corner position traditionally puts more evaluative emphasis on the power tool, Hoes could get on base enough to provide solid value without hitting 20+ homeruns a year. That notwithstanding, the developing strength in Hoes' core and hands combined with his ability to discern pitches to drive could help him to realize a jump in power production as early as next summer.

Defensively, Hoes would clearly be more valuable as an up-the-middle glove. If the switch to left field proves permanent, however, he could still be capable of providing solid defense out of the seven-spot. Aside from the additional pressure on the bat, Hoes may need to do the little things on the bases to ensure that the total value package adds up to starter-quality.

Hoes will likely get knocked by a number of prospectors due to the position switch, but he so long as he continues to hit he will continue to get the benefit of the doubt here. 2012 should show whether the organization is interested in returning to the experiment with second base, or if Hoes is in left field to stay. To the extent he is stuck in the corner, he will look to prove he has enough pop to keep Triple-A and Major League arms honest, and that his success at Bowie wasn't simply a product of his .354 BABIP. With minimal growth, you can squint and see a Gerardo Parra-esque profile.

Ceiling: Average left fielder on first division team
Floor: 4th or 5th outfielder; bench bat
Projected: Fringe-average left fielder on second division team

2012 Top 25 Prospects: #4 Bobby Bundy (rhp)

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Player: Robert "Bobby" Bundy
Position: right-handed pitcher
Ht/Wt: 6-2/215
B/T: R/R
Age at 11/2011: 21y11m
2011 level(s): Advanced-A Frederick; Double-A Bowie
2011 statistics: Baseball-reference; Minor League Central

Grades - Now (Future):
Motion: 45/50 (55)
Fastball: 45/50 (55)
Curveball: 40/45 (55/60)
Slider: 40/45 (50)
Change: 35/40 (50)
Control: 45/50 (50/55)
Command: 35/40 (50)
Feel: 40 (50)
Overall Future Potential: 51-56
Prospect Grade: B

*Click here for primer on Grades

Background:
Drafted in the 8th Round of the 2008 Draft, out of Sperry High School (Sperry, Okla.), and signed for overslot bonus of $600,000. Top 100 talent that dropped in the draft in large part due to knee injury during basketball season. Played his senior year with younger brother Dylan Bundy(rhp), who subsquently transfered to Owasso HS (Owasso, Okla.) and was the fourth overall selection in the 2011 Draft, also by Baltimore. Bobby spent 2011 as a starter for the Frederick Keys (Advanced-A, Baltimore system) before finishing the season at Bowie (Double-A, Baltimore system).

Physical Description:
Strong, workhorse build on broad, athletic frame. Thick throughout, with even distribution. Solid athleticism and body control. Moves reasonably well off of mound.

Motion:
Long arm action on the backside creates an inconsistent launch point as Bundy begins to rotate through. It is possible this could be addressed through utilization of a straight drop arm to begin his arm circle, as opposed to his current approach of swinging into it. In any event, it is an issue that development staff will likely address. The rest of his mechanics are generally uniform and repeatable, with a smooth plant and follow. The result is solid control but an inability to consistently hit his spots within the zone. His three-quarters slot works well for all four of his offerings, and there is obvious athleticism in his actions.

Stuff:
Fastball - Upper-80s to low-90s heavy heater that can run in to righties, as well. Will flatten up in the zone some, and Bundy isn't as precise with the pitch as he will need to be in order to reach his mid-rotation ceiling.

Curve - Power breaker that will flash plus on a 12-to-6 trajectory, but can grade as low as below-average when he loses his release. The inconsistencies in this pitch are likely a direct result of his varying launch points.

Slider - Like his curve, Bundy's slider is plagued by inconsistencies due to his issues with repeating his release point. At it's best, it can be an average to slightly above-average pitch right now and pairs well with his sinking fastball when he is able to keep it down in the zone.

Change-up - While Bundy has grown his offspeed since his high school days, it still remains the weakest of his offerings and leaves him without a suitable weapon for handling lefties.

Discussion:
Bundy has made steady progress through the Orioles system, and 2011 served as a breakout year for the righty from a production standpoint. A likely unsustainably low BABIP against left-handed hitters (.267 against lefties; .313 against righties) kept his left/right splits more balanced than they should have been. Even then, lefites out OPSed righties to tune of the following slash lines: .221/.313/.392/.705 against lefties; .263/.317/.375/.692 against righties. Perhaps most telling, Bundy's SO/BB ratio against lefties (1.81) is less than half of that against righties (4.27).

The good news is that Bundy's issues appear to be fairly easy to identify. In order for his command in the zone to increase, and the consistency of his secondaries to increase, Bundy will need to find a way to hit is backside checkpoints more consistently. The second glaring weakness is his lack of a consistent weapon with which to attack lefties. His change-up is improving, and provided he is able to clean-up the backside of his arm action some, he should have little trouble growing it into at least an average offering. Further, improved command and execution of his secondaries will lead to more missed bats, as it will lead to fewer spots missed and more frequent effective showings of his power curve and slider.

As a 21-year old in Advanced-A ball, Bundy put together a very strong year. As encouraging as his final stat line was, the fact that he cruised through the season with very few issues until his late season promotion to Bowie is cause for great optimism. The only real hiccup was his June, which included five starts and an FIP of over 5 (as opposed to his April, May and July of 1.36, 3.59 and 3.11, respectively). He reached 136 innings pitched in 2011 and is poised to break the 150 innings threshold in 2012. He projects as a durable 200-plus innings eater with a chance for two above-average pitches and four usable Major League offerings. If his command and his secondaries do not improve over the next two seasons, he still has value as a swing man or a middle-reliever that could bump the mid-90s in shorter stints.

Ceiling: #3 starter on first division team
Floor: Middle-reliever/swingman
Projected: #4 starter on first division team

20 November 2011

Oriole Rule 5 Target: Thomas Pham

Lots of hay in the Rule 5
Yes, I am going to waste your time.  I am going to write about a player who is eligible for the Rule 5 draft.  There is a type of player who might be the best to focus on.  That type is the player who was injured the year before.  In the previous column, I mentioned Cody Satterwhite and his labrum tear that limited him to ten innings last year as he rehabbed in rookie ball.  Another player who was limited was the 23 year old Cardinals' center fielder Thomas Pham.

In 2006, Thomas Pham was a name everyone knew coming out of high school in Las Vegas.  His Baseball America scouting report at the time mentions him as a prospect who could be seen as either an infielder or a pitcher.  He threw in the low 90s and flashed a plus slider.  He was seen more as an offensive hitter, drawing comparisons to Scott Hairston.  He hit the ball solidly and used his plus speed on the base paths.  Baseball America's assumption was that he would go sometime in the top five rounds and be overslotted.  However, there were some doubts about his maturity.  Pham was considered lackadaisical on defense and walked back on a commitment to Arizona State.  In the end, Pham was selected by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 16th round and signed for 325k (roughly 3rd/4th round money).

The Cardinals tried him out at shortstop, but that last only for rookie ball.  For 2007 and onward, Pham was positioned almost exclusively in center field.  By all accounts, he did not take naturally to the position, but has improved with time.  His plus speed and a better understanding of route running has made him passable in center field.  His plus arm helped him record an assist once every 7 games last year.  He would not look pretty in the majors in center field, but those two attributes should be passable.

Pham also had difficulty showing himself to be a bat first prospect.  He struggled with the Mendoza Line in rookie ball, low A, A, and high A ball.  In his second pass through A ball in Quad Cities, he mashed 17 home runs in 346 plate appearances as a 20 year old.  However, he batted .218 and struck out 36% of the time.  The Cardinals kept pushing him up the ladder though and everything seemed to click performance-wise in AA.  His K rate dropped to 22% over 2010 and 2011 which works nicely with a maintained walk rate of about 11%.  His AA line has been 314/398/527.  If he had not broken his wrist 40 games into the 2011 season while go after a potential home run ball, I think he would have been protected.

How could the Orioles hold onto him for a season?

The Orioles need a fourth outfielder.  Pham is likely not to be league average, but he has the tools to be adequate in any of the three outfield slots.  He has experience in center and left while Reimold has spent time in both left and right.  Pham also has plus speed and has shown some ability to use that speed on the base paths.  Those qualities could make him workable in a pinch if an outfielder goes down for a few weeks.  He 306 plate appearances at AA do not suggest he is ready to make the leap to MLB, but he has shown good gap power and improved contact.  Pham would be better served by spending the year in the minors, but it may be worth it for a bad team to try to use him.

The alternative to Pham is using Kyle Hudson or Matt Angle in the outfield.  Hudson has more talent than Angle and Angle has more skill than Hudson.  Neither are likely to be anything more than fringe fourth outfielders.  Angle has a better chance to stick because he can play plus defense in center.  Pham, though, has the ability to be useful in center and carry an average to above average bat if everything clicks.  Additionally, if his broken wrist is still a problem, the Orioles might be able to stash him on the DL for a while.

As I mentioned earlier, the Rule 5 is full of unfulfilled potential, broken bodies, and guys who have one moderately amazing tool.  Any player you select is highly unlikely to provide any value to your team.  That does not mean there are no players of value.  It means that the ability to discern potential talent and be blessed (cursed?) with the opportunity to hold onto that talent is miniscule.  Pham is likely to not be a contributor at the MLB level now or perhaps even in the future.  He is a fringe top 20 prospect.  That said, maybe he is worth a look.

19 November 2011

Assortment of Rule 5 Eligible Players

Cesar Cabral could be taken again in Rule 5.
The Rule 5 draft is one of those things that irritate me.  It is an event that has lost any meaning it use to have and is merely discussed because, simply, it takes place.  For instance, there has been concern that a Pedro Viola remains on the Orioles' 40 man roster while someone like Orioles Minor League Pitcher of the Year Tim Bascom was not protected (unprotected for the second year in a row).  There are a few things to be understood:
  1. Being left off the 40 man roster does not mean that the organization does not value you.  It can sometimes mean that the organization thinks you are just too raw to be able to stick with a MLB team through the entire season (Rule 5 players cannot be demoted, only play in the Majors for someone or be returned to the parent club's minor league system).  By not protecting him, you save a spot on the 40 man roster and you wind up having an extra year to keep said prospect in the minors.
  2. Players who are currently on the 40 man roster may not be planned to be there for long.  Many players, including guys like Pedro Viola, remain on the roster until free agents are signed and then are designated for assignment.  It is a good idea to take a step back before using a player occupying a 40 man roster spot as the lynchpin of an argument.  However, if you think Oliver Drake is less talented than someone else eligible for protection...type away.
  3. Drake leads us to this (and I like Drake)...we are talking about relatively worthless prospects.  Ever since the last collective bargaining agreement tacked on an additional year of protection before MLB teams had to keep a guy on the 40 man roster, the rule 5 is now full of incredibly uninteresting players.  Who of importance have the Orioles lost in the past five years?  Pedro Beato.  He was probably the best Rule 5 selection last year and he had an ERA+ of 87.  That is about 20% worse than the average relief pitcher in the NL.
What the above should impart upon you is that the Rule 5 is much ado about pretty much nothing.  The only truly interesting guys are those who are low minors with injuries that have prevented anyone from getting a good handle on the player.  This largely means relief pitchers and on rare occasions you have a utility player.  The only time you find a bonafide plus player in the Rule 5 now is if he is a reformed drug addict who had not played meaningful ball in four years.

However, I will provide a list of a few players who might be of interest to the Orioles.  This is not intended to be a comprehensive list, but one that is merely a bit targeted.  I expect Baseball America will produce something more thorough in the next week or two.

Cody Satterwhite, RHRP
25 years old
Detroit Tigers
Rookie 10 IP, 9 k/9, 1.8 b/9, 45.2% GB, 60% contact, 3.08 SIERA

Satterwhite was a second round selection of the Tigers in 2008.  He was a reliever with a mid 90s fastball, a sharp slider, and control issues.  He was struck with a torn labrum, which is a death knell for most pitchers.  He missed all of 2010 and was limited to 10 innings for the rookie GCL Tigers team.  I do not have any notes on him from this summer, but he might be someone to take a flyer on.

Johan Yan, RHRP
23 years old
Texas Rangers
A+/AA 68 IP, 8.74 k/9, 2.9 b/9, 66% GB, 66% contact, 2.86 SIERA

Yan came into the Rangers organizations as a 16 year old signee with a plus arm.  He was considered a promising shortstop.  However, he had no ability to use a bat and was flipped to the mound after four difficult seasons.  After switch to a side arm release, he has had a great deal of success in the low minors.  His fastball sits in the high 80s and it is reported that his slider is about average.  He also showed particular aptitude to getting out right handed batters.  In AA, his stuff was a bit more hittable, but he still managed to induce a lot of poor contact.  A team could hide potentially hide a righty specialist in the pen.

Cesar Cabral, LHRP
22 years old
Boston Red Sox
A+/AA 53 IP, 11.4 k/9, 3.6 b/9, 52% GB, 56% Contact, 2.89 SIERA

In last year's Rule 5 draft, the Tampa Bay Rays selected Cesar Cabral.  He was placed on waivers, then claimed by the Toronto Blue Jays, and then reclaimed by the Rays.  The Rays tried and failed to work out a deal with Boston and was then returned to the Red Sox.  Based on the reports that I have, Cabral worth with a fastball around 90 mph, a slurve, and a changeup.

Terry Doyle, RHSP
26 years old
Chicago White Sox
A+/AA 173 IP, 6.4 k/9, 1.7 b/9, 48% GB, 76% contact, 3.85 SIERA

Doyle is your more typical player that mainstream press notices.  He is a minor league inning eater who gets by with solid control of the strike zone.  It is one of those things where performance does not exactly relate well to performance against higher caliber players.  This off season Doyle has been pitching in the Arizona Fall League and has permitted every team to get a good look-see on him.  As a starter, he sits in the upper 80s and sometimes gets it up to 91 or 92 mph.  According to Kevin Goldstein, he survives off a cutter and keeps pace with an average curveball and change up.  I could see someone taking a chance on him as a fastball/cutter/curve middle reliever who could rack up innings.

The players above fit pretty much the expected archetypes.  You have the once promising pitcher who has had severe injuries issues.  There is the young international signing who was switched from the field to the mound.  A lefty who has shown promise in the low minors, but lacks stuff.  You also have the low ceiling inning eating righty who is showing off his wares in the AFL.  On the batting side you have players like Jordan Danks who is a very athletic outfielder who has improved with his hitting from when he was drafted, but is likely at best a fourth outfielder.  If the Orioles lacked Matt Angle or Kyle Hudson, I could see Danks as a potential selection there.  I do think he has more upside than either.  There are also strong bats like Kody Hinze who is about a year away from being considered as potentially a useful backup player.

18 November 2011

Interview with an Arm Injury Researcher, Part II


 by Will Beaudoin
Will is a freelance writer who has written for Camden Depot previously.

Long Toss Mechanics (Picture from Dick Mills' site.)
During my discussion with Dr. Fleisig, I asked him for a few examples of compelling research in the field of biomechanics from the past year. Interestingly enough, he directed me towards two articles he had a hand in creaing—“Biomechanical Comparison of Baseball Pitching and Long-Toss: Implications for Training and Rehabilitation” (Fleisig, Bolt, et al, 2011; Ed. note: Camden Depot discussed this article briefly in a previous post) and “Risk of Serious Injury For Young Baseball Pitchers: A 10-Year Prospective Study” (Fleisig, Andrews, et al, 2011).

The first piece, concerning itself with the somewhat controversial training and rehabilitation practice known long-toss, Fleisig et al. (2011) set for the hypothesis that there are “kinetic…differences in the throwing shoulder and elbow” in long-toss when compared to pitching off a mound (p. 297). More than a dozen college-level pitchers were asked to long-toss from 37 meters, 55 meters, and from a “maximum distance”. For the 37 meter and 55 meter throws, the pitchers were required to throw with little to no arc, while no such restriction was placed on the “maximum distance” toss. Data from this session was collected using a motion capture device. On a separate occasion, the same pitchers were asked to throw their “standard” fastball from a mound, again whilst recorded by a motion capture device.

As Orioles fans, this is a study that should interest us considering the controversy surrounding Dylan Bundy’s own long-toss program around draft time and it’s potential long-term physical effects. While this particular study doesn’t provide any conclusive evidence in regard to long-term injury outlook, the study does show that both “shoulder and elbow torque increase with throwing distance” (p. 302). This leads the researchers to believe that long-toss, especially “maximum” distance long-toss may in fact be harmful to a pitcher—perhaps something to keep in mind when thinking about Bundy’s long-term health.

The article titled, “Risk of Serious Injury For Young Baseball Pitchers: a 10-Year Prospective Study”, focused on pitching injuries in young pitchers and seemingly dispels the widespread belief that youth pitchers shouldn’t throw breaking balls for fear of injury. A long-term study, the researchers monitored nearly 500 pitchers under the age of fourteen over a ten-year period. After hundreds and hundreds of interviews over the course of a decade, it was discovered that it wasn’t so much the pitch-type that led to injury, but rather the amount of pitches and innings thrown. Over the course of the study, Fleisig et al. discovered that pitchers who threw more than 100 innings in a single year “had about 3.5 times as much chance of serious injury as those who pitched less” while they couldn’t “determine whether pitchers who started throwing curveballs before age 13 years [had] a higher chance of injury” (p. 256). While not necessarily directly applicable to the major league level, research such as this only goes to show that so much of injury prevention lies within the rather simple philosophy of volume management.

I also had the chance to talk briefly with Will Carroll in regard to pitching injuries. Will, who got his start at Baseball Prospectus, now writes for Sports Illustrated, and has authored several books dealing with sports injuries, was kind enough to answer a couple of my questions.

A common theme when discussing pitching injuries on the Internet is the phrase “inverted w.”  Do you have any thoughts on the validity of inverted w's being dangerous to a pitcher's health?
I'm not a proponent of the Inverted W. Back when I was first learning about biomechanics, I talked to a lot of the top minds in the game and I felt like I knew enough to just look and see things. Well, as with umpires and the strike zone, sometimes our eyes lie. I want more than just observations - I want data. With biomechanics analysis, we can figure out how much stress a pitcher is actually putting on joints, how much force they're exerting, and then we need to move to fatigue and recovery. Few teams are doing the first part of this and fewer are doing the second. Should we wonder then why baseball has lost over a BILLION dollars to pitcher injuries in the last ten years? Moneyball talked about ASMI and their biomechanics lab, but you know how many teams use it now? Maybe two. 

Tommy John surgery has seemingly reached a point where we expect the pitcher to make a full recovery after 16-18 months. However, shoulder tears are still viewed as the boogey man of injuries. Will this always be the case? Can we expect to reach a point in the (relatively) near future in which pitchers who suffer labrum tears are expected to fully recover?
No. Dr. Neal ElAttrache was on a panel with me this summer and he's the guy for shoulders. (Once, Jim Andrews was asked what the first thing he does when he sees a torn labrum case and he said "call Neal for a consult.") Neal gave a great explanation which might still be up at the SABR site [Ed. Note: Audio of the panel can be found here] - the panel was at their annual convention - about how the shoulder is so complex, that its like putting together a puzzle without the box top. The elbow is a hinge. It moves one way. Look at how many things the shoulder can do and how many structures it takes to do it. Just move your shoulder around and pay attention to what it takes to move through various motions and you'll understand why it’s so tough to get it back to original condition.

16 November 2011

Orioles Up for Rule 5 Draft

Orioles' best Rule 5 selection: Paul Blair
The Rule 5 draft was implemented in 1959 as part of a roughly two decade effort to provide an equal footing to all teams.  The concern had been that clubs with a good deal of money were signing up high quality prospects and then letting them fester in the minor leagues.  The first major action against this practice was the bonus rule which 'prevented' teams from demoting signees who had received a large signing bonus.  The bonus rule proved unsatisfactory because teams figured ways around it and there were considered better ways to redistribute talent.  The Rule 5 draft was considered that mechanism.  It works similarly to the Rule 4 draft, but instead of amateurs being selected the teams choose from unprotected minor leaguers.

The current form of the Rule 5 draft was determined with the signing of the 2006 Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA).  This year's may alter how the Rule 5 is carried out, but I have yet to hear about it.  In 2006, the major change was that an extra year of protection was provided and that enabled teams to evaluate their players for an extra year before exposing them.  In this scenario it would be unlikely to see guys like Johann Santana anymore because that extra year of evaluation will allow the team to see their player grow for another year and determine how he best fits into the organization.

If the CBA rules remain, player eligibility will be:
  • Players who were signed at age 19 or older and have been in professional baseball for three years or more (this means players who signed from the 2008 draft or IFA)
  • Players who were signed at age 18 or younger and have been in professional baseball for four years or more (this means players who signed from the 2007 draft or IFA)
  • All players on the 40 man roster as exempted from the Rule 5 draft
In the remainder of this post, I will touch on a selected few players who were eligible last year and again this year as well as list all of the individuals who are eligible for their first Rule 5 draft.

Previously Eligible
Pat Egan - Brewers selected him last year, but he failed to stick and was unimpressive this year.
Steve Johnson - He is a pitcher who has to learn at every step. Off hand chance he is selected.
Billy Rowell - He has yet to be released from the organization, so he is eligible again.
Wynn Pelzer - Someone might be intrigued, but he is incredibly wild.
Brandon Waring - No one will have space for a poor contact home run hitter who cannot field or walk well.
Tim Bascom - As a 26yo in Bowie, his PoTY season is not incredibly impressive, but he shows more value now than before.  He will likely need to be protected.
Joe Mahoney - Hard time believing he could stick a year in the majors.
Brandon Cooney - Had issues with control this year, but is on a few teams' radar.
John Hester - Good technical catcher with occasional pop.
Cole McCurry - Lefty dominated AA and held his own at AAA.

2007 Draft
Tyler Kolodny - not ready
Justin Moore - not ready

2008 Draft
Greg Miclat - could be useful utility player or fill in at second for a few weeks.

Richard Zagone - may be seen as a lefty reliever.
Caleb Joseph - may be seen as a backup catcher.
Nick Haughian - potential lefty reliever, but not overpowering.
Nathan Moreau - same as above.
Jason Gurka - intriguing lefty arm, possible selection.
Bobby Stevens - not ready
Ronnie Welty - intriguing athleticism, potential 4th outfielder.
Eddie Gamboa - not ready, good organizational arm.
Ryan O'Shea - not ready
Buck Britton - not ready
Oliver Drake - breakout in Frederick tempered by Bowie.



Players I think need to be protected:
Oliver Drake
Greg Miclat
Tim Bascom
Steve Johnson
Cole McCurry


That written, I do not really feel strongly about any of these players. 

15 November 2011

2012 Top 25 Prospects: #3 Jonathan Schoop

Follow us on Twitter: @CamdenDepot

Player: Jonathan Schoop
Position: third base/second base
Ht/Wt: 6-1/185
B/T: R/R
Age at 11/2011: 20y1m
2011 level(s): A Delmarva; Advanced-A Frederick
2011 statistics: Baseball-reference; Minor League Central

Grades - Now (Future):
Hit: 40/45 (55)
Power: 40 (50/55)
Arm: 55/60 (60)
Defense: 45 (50/55)
Speed: 40 (40)
Feel: 50 (55/60)
Overall Future Potential: 56-59
Prospect Grade: B+

*Click here for primer on Grades

Background:
Signed as an international free agent in 2008 out of Curacao, and the highest ranked international prospect in Camden Depot's four years of prospect coverage. Among the youngest players in the Class A South Atlantic League and the Advanced-A Carolina League. Selected to the 2011 MLB Futures Game, International Team, participating during 2011 All-Star Weekend.

Physical Description:
Medium build with even distribution. Potential to add core weight and trunk weight, which will keep him a below-average runner. Will tighten physique as he continues to mature. When all is said and done, could resemble Chase Utley or Evan Longoria build, depending on how things fill out.

Hitting:
Schoop benefits from maintaining a compact path from load through contact, which allows him to deliver an economically accelerated barrel to the ball. As his trunk and core thicken, he is generating more and more bat speed and manifesting more and more in-game power. He will continue to improve consistency in his balance and weight transfer, which will aid him in squaring off-speed offerings from more advanced arms. As with many younger bats, he needs to do a better job identifying pitches, but he is already reasonably advanced at spotting hitter friendly situations and adjusting his approach accordingly. His offensive ceiling is a bit lower that that of Machado, as he lacks Manny's plate coverage and bat speed. Still, Schoop may be a slightly safer bet to hit at the highest level, given his knack for contact and compact cuts, and plenty of managers would take Schoop over Machado if they need a "right now" at bat.

Defense:
Schoop has athleticism to spare and were it not for below-average foot speed he might even project to shortstop as a Major Leaguer. His footwork and arm strength play-up at third base, but his highest value is as an offensive-minded second baseman. He is comfortable in his skin and moves easily around the bag as well as while ranging to his left and right. He sees the field well and should be a solid to above-average defender at either the five- or four-spot.

Discussion:
The fall-off between Machado and Schoop is less than the fall-off between Bundy and Machado from a ranking standpoint, but all three are potential above-average first division regulars with star upside. For Schoop, the difference maker will likely be the development of his power tool, which projects well but will be dependent upon how his physicality manifests.

If he can continue to increase core strength without getting too bottom heavy, Schoop could be an above-average defender at second base with mid-20s homerun power. Conversely, he could see a jump in core/trunk strength limiting his side-to-side agility but bumping his power grade up to 30-homerun potential.

Additionally, Schoop signifies the type of potential Latin American impact talent that has been sorely missing in the Baltimore system over the past ten-plus years. Continued success for him and Machado up-the-middle could be a boon for the Orioles, particularly if the two of them are able to provide above-average power production for the middle-infield slots.

Ceiling: Above-average second baseman on first division team
Floor: Fringe-average third baseman on first division team
Projected: Solid average second baseman on first division team

2012 Top 25 Prospects: #2 Manny Machado

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Player: Manny Machado
Position: shortstop
Ht/Wt: 6-3/185
B/T: R/R
Age at 11/2011: 19y4m
2011 level(s): A Delmarva; Advanced-A Frederick
2011 statistics: Baseball-reference; Minor League Central

Grades - Now (Future):
Hit: 40 (55/60)
Power: 40 (55)
Arm: 60 (65)
Defense: 45/50 (50/55)
Speed: 50 (45/50)
Feel: 50 (60/65)
Overall Future Potential: 57-62
Prospect Grade: A-

*Click here for primer on Grades

Background:
Drafted third overall in the 2010 Draft, out of Brito Private High School (Miami, Fla.). Among the youngest players in the Class A South Atlantic League and the youngest in the Advanced-A Carolina League. Selected to the 2011 MLB Futures Game, US Team, participating during 2011 All-Star Weekend. 2011 progress was slowed some due to about a month's worth of missed time due to a patella subluxation of his left knee, and there is potential for lingering issues.

Physical Description:
Long, angular, broad frame. Certain to add lots of size over the years, particularly in legs and chest/shoulders. Athletic actions and agility -- impressive given current disposition on growth curve. Fringe-average speed and likely to slow as he continues to thicken. Knee will need to be monitored and consistently strengthened.

Hitting:
Starting from an open stance, Machado utilizes good hip rotation and quick hands to generate bat speed and produce loud contact when he squares. An advanced understanding of the strikezone, as well as well above-average hand/eye coordination allow the young shortstop to barrel plenty of balls and help his hit tool to project to a potential plus weapon as he continues to refine his game. With the addition of significant bulk on the horizon, Machado also has the potential to grow into plus power, though right now his swing is a little more tailored to shooting the gaps and spraying line-drives pole-to-pole. He will also benefit from better identifying pitches he can drive and working to get those pitches from at bat to at bat. Machado has the mental aptitude and physical ability to blossom into a .300/.380/.480 bat, which would easily play as above-average at shortstop or at third.

Defense:
Machado's hands are soft, his arm is an easy "left side" arm, and his body control is highly impressive given his borderline gangly frame. He shows little difficulty charging the ball and will make his throws from all the angles. Around the bag he is smooth and confident. The main obstacle to his sticking at shortstop, long term, is his size. Already a broad build whose range can be stretched in-game, Machado risks losing his playable zone coverage as his lower-half gets thicker and stronger and he gets more bulk and less flexibility in his shoulders and chest. Should he shift to third, he should be an above-average defender there. If he sticks at short, he should be adequate to the edges and above-average in the meat of his zone and with his pivots.

Discussion:
Machado has all the raw natural talent in the world, and an impressive understanding of the game and how to approach it. Among the youngest prospects in full season ball last season, Machado showed some susceptibility to expanding the zone at the plate and hitting a few too many "pitcher's pitches". As he continues to log innings at the pro ranks, he should quickly tighten-up his at bats and is likely to produce even more consistent hard contact, as well as more in-game power.

His ceiling is that of a perennial all-star candidate at shortstop -- something fans in Baltimore formerly claimed as a birthright but have been deprived of since #8 rode off into the sunset. It is a lot to put on a young man, to refer to him and Ripken in the same sentence, but if any Orioles position prospect over the past decade carries that level of talent, it's Manny Machado.

While Machado is more likely to top out as an above-average producer at the hot corner, he is young enough, projectable enough, and talented enough to dream on the best case scenario. His knee will be a wildcard, but the hope is that proper strength and flexibility training will render the concern moot. He could start 2012 back in Frederick or make the jump to Double-A Bowie, and figures to be ready for a shot in Baltimore by mid- to late-2013.

Ceiling: Perennial all-star shortstop on first division team
Floor: Average third baseman on first division team
Projected: Above-average shortstop on first division team; mid- to late-20s shift to third base

14 November 2011

2012 Top 25 Prospects: #1 Dylan Bundy

Follow us on Twitter: @CamdenDepot

Player: Dylan Bundy
Position: right-handed pitcher
Ht/Wt: 6-1/200
B/T: B/R
Age at 11/2011: 19y0m
2011 level(s): N/A
2011 statistics: N/A

Grades - Now (Future):
Motion: 55 (60)
Fastball: 55/60 (65/70)
Curveball: 45/50 (60)
Change: 40 (55/60)
Cutter: 50/55 (60/65)
Control: 45/50 (60)
Command: 40/45 (55/60)
Feel: 45/50 (60)
Overall Future Potential: 58-62
Prospect Grade: A-

*Click here for primer on Grades

Background:
Drafted fourth overall in the 2011 Draft, out of Owasso High School (Owasso, Okla.). Brother Robert “Bobby” Bundy (rhp) pitched most of 2011 as a starter for the Frederick Keys (Advanced-A, Baltimore system) before finishing the season at Bowie (Double-A, Baltimore system).

Physical Description:
Thick, sturdy build. Strength concentrated in thighs/butt, but well proportioned throughout. Athlete with impressive physique and strength but limited physicality and projection.

Motion:
Bundy generates his velocity and big spin on his breaking balls through a quick arm and explosive lower-half. He gets quick drive out of his powerful legs and butt, rotating through with a strong core. Additionally, Bundy uses a low ball drop to start his arm circle, which gives him extra time to accelerate the ball through release (think of a car accelerating in a straight line, measuring speed once at 200-feet and once at 500-feet). Bundy is strong and athletic, showing little trouble maintaining his mechanics and little effort past what you would expect out of an arm throwing in the mid-90s.

Stuff:
Fastball - The fastball is big and loud, clocking regularly in the mid-90s, with an ability to climb to 97/98 mph (and some reports have him hitting triple-digits in Spring 2011). He commands the pitch well to both sides and does a solid job working down in the zone and elevating as needed. There is some question as to how easy it will be for Bundy to maintain the velocity on shorter rest over a longer season, but it's a potential plus-plus pitch.

Cutter - Bundy's cutter is an out pitch now, with borderline slider depth and late life. He brings the pitch in the 86 to 88-mph range, allowing it to serve as a change-of-pace offering. It has developed into his most effective pitch and could be plus or better as he continues to develop as a pro.

Curve - Bundy's curve flashes plus right now and is “on” more often than not. At its best it is a hard 12-to-6 breaker with good depth and hard snap. He can tighten the pitch with more use, giving it more consistent bite and shape. The foundation is here for a third plus-or-better weapon in the armory.

Change-up - Bundy used his change-up more as a junior, and the summer prior to his senior year at Owasso, before his cutter took a big step forward. He has shown feel for it in the past, but will need to spend some time bringing it up to speed with the rest of his repertoire. There is already enough here to hang a future “50” on it, and perhaps better considering the young flame-thrower’s overall feel for the craft.

Discussion:
Bundy had one of the more impressive high school seasons in recent memory leading-up to Draft Day, and separated himself as the top right-handed high school arm in a draft deep in pitching. Despite having yet to throw an official pitch in professional ball, Bundy has more "now" stuff than any other arm in the Baltimore system and fits comfortably as the top overall prospect -- lofty praise considering the Oklahoman turns just 19-years old this month.

His advanced feel for three offerings and a chance for a forth pitch that is at least average, combined with steady and repeatable mechanics and a famous work ethic and training regimen, give him a reasonably high floor for a prep pitcher. He has an even demeanor on the mound, and is well equipped to tackle the challenges of transitioning to pro ball, including a debut assignment in full-season ball.

The two slight knocks on Baltimore’s 2011 first-rounder are his size and past workload, and while his spring numbers were eye-popping they came against uneven competition (as with many prep arms). As of today, it is difficult to envision Bundy falling shy of a front-end spot in a Major League rotation, but if workload and shorter rest prove problematic he could thrive as an elite power arm out of the pen. In fact, you could stick him in a Major League pen right now and feel fairly confident he could keep his head above water.

Ceiling: #1 starter on first division team; true “ace”
Floor: Power closer on first division team
Projected: #1/#2 starter on first division team

MiL Free Agent Pitchers of Interest

Miguel Socolovich
The Orioles mentioned recently that they are paying attention to the MiL free agent market.  It was not exactly the news many Orioles fans were craving.  MiL free agents are typically a motley assortment of players who either do one or two things kind of well, used to be highly rated, or simply provide organizational depth.  All three can be useful.  A player with one or two tools may be able to develop those established tools well enough to overcome a lack of ability in other areas.  A formerly high rated prospect may simply need more time or a different line of instruction to turn the potential into actual performance.  An organizational player is important because he simply allows your other prospects to perform.

In this post I will be focusing on ten MiL free agent pitchers.  My approach is a simple one.  I am looking for players who are 26 or younger and have shown ability to miss bats, strike guys out, or induce a lot of ground balls.

Brendan Wise, RHRP
26 years old
(AAA) 5.7 k/9, 4.2 b/9, 62% GB, 84% Contact, 4.08 SIERA

Wise is a Tigers draftee from the 2005 draft.  He basically lives off a solid two seamer that has been reported as coming in at 90 mph.  He also uses a workable slider as a change of pace pitch.  Wise could be a solid option by keeping the ball on the ground for a team like the Orioles whose home stadium is kind to fly ball hitters.

Leyson Septimo, LHRP
26 years old
(AA) 9.6 k/9, 6.6 b/9, 40% GB, 78% Contact, 4.39 SIERA

Septimo was a promising IFA from the Dominican Republic in the Diamondbacks' organization.  He was blessed with a strong arm, but not much of a bat.  In a way to get some value out of him, the team flipped him over to the mound.  Arizona gave up on him last year and he was claimed by the White Sox.  After a terrible stretch with them, they let him go as a free agent.  A hard throwing lefty can be a special thing.

Miguel Socolovich, RHRP
25 years old
(AAA) 11.5 k/9, 4.4 b/9, 33% GB, 65% contact, 3.08 SIERA

Socolovich was originally in the Red Sox organization, but was dealt to get David Aardsma from the ChiSox.  I do not really know much about him as I tend to largely overlook relief arms.  A Sox Prospect report says he predominantly uses his fastball, sitting around 88 - 92 mph.  However, that would have to be a rather old report and I am not sure how accurate it was.  Just looking at the numbers, Socolovich looks very interesting with a high strikeout rate and batters swinging and missing 35% of the time.

Will Inman, RHSP
24 years old
(AAA) 9.1 k/9, 4.2 b/9, 42% GB, 82% contact, 3.93 SIERA

Inman's 5.61 ERA looked awful, but his peripherals were decent.  He is not the top 100 prospect Baseball America thought of him as in 2007, but there is still potential there.  He will not overpower batters and will often sit in the high 80s with his fastball.  He would do well to fill out a MiL AAA rotation.

Jose De La Torre, RHRP
26 years old
(mix) 9.6 k/9, 4.8 b/9, 49% GB, 66% contact, 3.72 SIERA

De La Torre has been somewhat injury prone during his career with arm and back ailments.  He is known for throwing a very good slider of which he does not exactly have the best control.  He is another player I think is worth a flyer.

Jake Stevens, LHRP
26 years old
(mix) 7.8 k/9, 3.6 b/9, 43% GB, 73% contact, 4.19 SIERA

Stevens pitched for the Orioles organization in 2009.  They had picked him up after poor performance and injuries derailed his career with the Atlanta Braves.  He was considered a top 100 prospect by Baseball America in 2005.  The report on him then raved about the makings of his curveball.  He is the second and last LHP on this list.

Jhonny Nunez, RHRP
26 years old
(AAA) 9.6 k/9, 3.5 b/9, 37% GB, 74% contact, 3.40 SIERA

Nunez has been sitting in the ChiSox organization for the last couple years and has been relatively successful there.  He features a mid to low 90s fastball and an average slider.  As expected, it translates to him being lights out against righties and quite hittable against lefties.  There does seem to be potential here.

Daryl Thompson, RHSP
26 years old
(AAA) 8.1 k/9, 2.6 b/9, 34% GB, 77% contact, 3.74 SIERA

Thompson has had a couple cups of coffee with the Reds and they have not gone well.  He commands a straight 90 mph fastball quite well and uses an inconsistent curveball.  He also uses a simple change of pace change up.  He is hittable and lefties do a little more damage against him.  I would think a shift to relief pitching might be able to put a little more velocity on his fastball and make him more useful.

Conclusion

If I was the Orioles, I would look to bring in Daryl Thompson, Will Inman, Miguel Socolovich, Leyson Septimo, and Jake Stevens.  This grouping would give them more depth with young starting pitching that has a slight chance for improvement.  Socolovich provides a promising right handed arm that misses a lot of bat.  Septimo and Stevens can be useful lefties out of the pen.  They each have a tool or two that gives hope for more than replacement value at the MLB level.  However, none of these are definites.  I would actually like to sign all of these guys and distribute them among Bowie and Norfolk because there are pitcher within our system that are interesting.

It is awfully early to make such pronouncements, but I would envision Norfolk's pitching as this:
RHSP Steve Johnson
RHSP Daryl Thompson
RHSP Will Inman
LHSP Chris Tillman (though I would prefer him in the Orioles pen)
RHSP Tim Bascom

RHRP Sean Gleason
LHRP Cole McCurry
RHRP Wynn Pelzer
LHRP Zach Phillips
RHRP Pat Egan
RHRP Miguel Socolovich
LHRP Leyson Septimo
Bowie's pitching:
RHSP Oliver Drake
RHSP Bobby Bundy
LHSP Richard Zagone
LHSP Nick Haughian
LHSP Jacob Petit

RHRP Zach Clark
RHRP Brandon Cooney
RHRP Dan Klein
LHRP Jason Gurka
RHRP Kenny Moreland
LHRP Chris Petrini
RHRP Ryan Berry
As you may notice, all of the Bowie pitchers are from within the organization.  I don't think what is left above is all that much better than what is already here.  Part of that is the state of the Orioles' system, but another part is that simply there is often little talent available coming from six year free agents.  I would consider moving Zach Clark down to Frederick to be a relief pitcher for another lefty, so maybe Jake Stevens could fit in here.  Or probably better would be to drop Septimo to Bowie and have Stevens up in Norfolk.

13 November 2011

Primer: Scouting scale and prospect grade scale

Description of 20/80 scout scale:
The Scouting Scale works from 20-80, with 50 being Major League Average. The scale operates loosely on a bell curve, so the further you move from 50 the fewer grades you'll find among ML players (e.g. Justin Verlander's fastball, Ichiro Suzuki's arm strength, Mark Reynold's power and Albert Pujols' hit tool would all be 80 grade). A 60 grade is sometimes referred to as plus and a 70 grade is sometimes referred to as plus-plus.

Scout to prospect grading scale with descriptions:
66 and over / A+ / Potential top prospect in baseball; potential generational talent
63-65 / A / Elite prospect; perennial all-star candidate
59-62 / A- / Top tier prospect; above-average first division starter; front end starter
55-58 / B+ / Good prospect; first division starter; mid-rotation starter; top tier reliever
51-55 / B / Solid prospect; second division starter; back-end starter; good relief arm
46-50 / B- / Prospect with questions; fringe starter; useful bench player or platoon; fringe reliever
40-45 / C+ / Flawed prospect; fringe bench player
35-39 / C / Significantly flawed prospect; limited utility; AAAA placeholder or injury insurance
30-34 / C- / Fringe prospect; significant hurdles to Majors
20-29 / NP / Non-prospect; organizational player

MiLB Year in Review: Bowie Baysox and Norfolk Tides

Hoes showing offensive maturity; Nary a nugget at Norfolk

It is not a strong class of Orioles prospects at AA and AAA. Currently, the group lacks a projected standout impact player and tops out with some potential fringe regulars. At the same time, there is value in finding utility players, relief arms, fourth outfielders and back-end starters on the cheap when you are looking to build a cost effective Major League team -- and particularly when you have some young impact talent at the Major League level that will soon be hitting arbitration and considered for extension.

Bowie By the Numbers:
Record: 75 - 66
Top Arm: Dan Klein (2010 Draft, 3rd Round)
Top Bat: LJ Hoes (2008 Draft, 3rd Round)

Player of the Year:
LJ Hoes (387 PA, 338 AB, .311/.385/.420, 17 2B, 1 3B, 6 HR, 43 BB, 55 SO)

Camden Depot made (minimal) waves in the blogosphere in 2008 when we listed LJ Hoes as the 9th best Orioles prospect after his first professional season. Since then, he has steadily climbed prospect lists across the board, topping out at #3 for the Depot last year and #4 for the world renowned Baseball America.

In 2011, Hoes made the jump to Bowie after a sluggish start in Frederick. Accompanying his promotion was a position switch from second base to left field. While the Orioles' brass insists this was out of team need, rather than a decision that Hoes could not handle second, there were grumblings from pro scouts that the former St. Johns HS standout was not making the expected progress at the four-spot a month into his third full pro season. Ideally, he would shift back to second base in Bowie to start 2012 and Baltimore could get one last look at his outlook there. Hoes has the athleticism to stick in the infield, but has been tripped-up some by some finer points in the field, including set-up in his lower half, footwork around the bag, and lines.

Offensively, Hoes remains one of the top hit tools in the organization. He is very compact to contact, with a simple and quiet load, balanced lower-half and quick-twitch core. A keen batting eye helps Hoes to maintain a solid OBP while utilizing the whole field in attacking the ball in all quadrants. He has started to manifest in-game pop, and could see a breakout in that department next summer. While there isn't tons of physical projection left, he will hang a little more muscle on the frame, and the stronger hands and wrists at contact will marry with his bat speed to send some more balls to the gaps and over the fence. While some prospect reports were down on his 2011, Hoes still profiles as a potential everyday player -- be it at second base, third base or left field.

Players to know:

Xavier Avery remains an upside prospect with promise, despite completing his third full season with strikeouts in over 20% of his plate appearances. The reason for optimism is simple -- he continues to be promoted by the O's and remains one of the youngest players in the league, year-in and year-out. He will start 2012 at age 22, and could get a bump to Norfolk following a solid AFL campaign and provided he shows well in the spring. A speed-first talent, Avery is among the fastest prospects in the system (along with Kyle Hudson and Glynn Davis -- all "80" runners on the 20/80 scouting scale). His heavy left/right split could spell a future as part of a platoon. If he can tighten-up his routes in center field, he should have easy value as a fourth outfielder. His ability to improve against lefties and to learn to more consistently ID off-speed will determine if he can become a regular at the highest level.

2011 Baltimore MiL Pitcher of the Year (Jim Palmer Award) winner Tim Bascom likely tops as a relief arm or swingman, despite the hardware earned off the solid 2011 stat line. Bascom projects to fringe-average across the board, with solid command and some idea as to how to sequence. His fastball is below-average and his breaking ball is generally short, soft or somewhere in between. His stuff leaves very little room for error, and he could be in for big statistical regression when he reaches Norfolk and has to go to work against a large number of hitters with Major League experience. His profile says "shrug", but you should still know a little about the Minor League Player of the Year for 2011.

Caleb Joseph followed a disappointing offensive 2010 with a similarly "meh" 2011. His command of the strikezone remains solid, but his bat control is lacking and the consistent hard contact simply is not there at Double-A. Around draft time he was projected to grow into average or slightly above-average power, but that growth has not come. He falls into a one-piece swing and too often makes contact out in front, sapping his power and leading to a fair amount of soft contact. Behind the plate, Joseph continues to improve. He blocks well, has quieted his receiving and has improved his catch-and-throw to the tune of an increase in his caught stealing from 26% in 2010 to 38% in 2011. Jospeh profiles as a back-up catcher with a bottom-third bat. Not an uncommon offensive profile for a back-up, but a bit shy of the potential shown in his first couple of seasons.

Dan Klein was a shutdown closer at UCLA with a history of shoulder issues. Baltimore saw the advanced four-pitch mix and sturdy 6-foot-3, 190-pound build and decided to develop him as a starter. The result was 32.1 dominant innings of baseball between Advanced-A Frederick and Double-A Bowie, including 10.3 SO/9 and just 1.7 BB/9, and a season-ending shoulder surgery. That means it has been four years now since Klein has surpassed 52 innings of in-game work -- the last time being his performance between his high school team and summer ball. It may be time to shift Klein to the pen full-time, where he could top out as a solid set-up man or second-division closer. When healthy, his low-90s fastball is a solid average pitch that serves to set-up and above-average 12/6 curve and mid-80s change. He has shown growth in his off-speed since his junior year as a Bruin, where he periodically left the pitch flat and up, where it was drivable. Klein will also flash a fringe-average slider with minimal depth and bite, but enough differential from his fastball to force soft contact if set-up properly.

Joe Mahoney is a bat-first corner defender likely to end-up at first base or designated hitter, full time. He has some length to his swing, a not-insignificant leak entering his weight transfer and a moderate to heavy backside collapse, depending on the at bat. Prognosis? It's unlikely contact will be Mahoney's strong suit, and he could be quickly exposed at the Major League level, if not Triple-A. He projects as a bench bat or Four-A player.

In this, Greg Miclat's first full season at Double-A Bowie, the former Cavalier showed why he was signed by East Coast Area Scout Dean Albany for an overslot $225,000, in spite of significant shoulder and elbow issues through his sophomore and junior years at UVA. Miclat baffled opposing pitchers and catchers to the tune of a 54-of-57 stolen base record and top-of-the-order-worthy .371 OBP. While Miclat easily has the glove, arm and footwork to be an everyday second baseman, he likely tops out as a second-division regular or a first-division utility bat, due to the absence of any power. He'll be challenged early and often by ML arms, which will bite into his walks and likely limit him to a bottom-third bat profile.

Ronnie Welty has long been a Camden Depot favorite, after being inked in the 20th Round of the 2008 Draft by Area Scout John Gillette. Welty's promise has always been in his power potential, and over the last two seasons he has shown that pop -- launching 31 homeruns between Frederick and Bowie. Unfortunately, Welty's big leverage comes with an aggressive approach. That has equated to a strikeout about every three at bats, in 25-30% of his plate appearances. He is still drawing walks (with a BA/OBP delta of almost .100), but more advanced arms will be better equipped to play to Welty's weaknesses without having to pitch around the power. He should play an adequate right field at the highest level, and possesses more than enough arm to keep baserunners honest. He will attempt to hit the reset button on his offensive production in 2012, likely back at Bowie.

Rick Zagone may have reached his breaking point as a starter, struggling to miss bats while seeing his BB/9, H/9 and HR/9 rates increase with his promotion to Bowie. The side-arming lefty still has some potential as a lefty specialist, with righties making more hard contact against him than did lefties. Zagone also suffered through a tough July, showing signs of tiring out -- not surprising considering the increase in physical and mental demand inherent in a pitcher of his profile attacking Double-A line-ups twice through every five days. He should shift to the pen in 2012 and could begin his season either in Bowie or Norfolk.


Norfolk By the Numbers:
Record: 56 - 87
Top Arm: Troy Patton (2004 Draft, 9th Round (Houston))
Top Bat: Ryan Adams (2006 Draft, 2nd Round)

Player of the Year:
Ryan Adams (415 PA, 377 AB, .284/.341/.454, 28 2B, 3 3B, 10 HR, 30 BB, 103 SO)

In 2008 Camden Depot rated Ryan Adams as the 25th best prospect in the system with a Four-A floor, a ceiling as an above-average offensive second baseman and a projected outcome as a below-average everyday second baseman. Three years later that evaluation remains spot on, as the former New Orleans High Schooler has slowly worked his way through the system, making his Major League debut this summer. While his 2011 at Norfolk was more "solid" than "eye popping", he essentially maintained his production from Bowie while cleaning-up his infield defense.

Offensively, Adams will swing and miss a fair amount due to average bat speed, and top velocity will likely always give him trouble. But he keeps his swing simple and tight, and finds ways to get the barrel to the ball. His raw power is above-average, with potential average in-game applicability. He could carveout a spot as a 6 or 7 hitter in a first division line-up if he finds enough gaps and is able to produce 15 or so homeruns per year.

Defensively, Adams still struggles with his footwork, though he has made strides in cleaning-up the set-up on his throws (which in turn has improved his play-to-play accuracy). He is the type of player that will always need to work to maintain an adequate defensive disposition, but could be making enough progress to be passable at either third base or second base. Adams could be adequate as an inexpensive bridge to Miclat, Hoes or Schoop, but probably profiles best as a bench bat and occasional starter at either second or third.

Players to know:

Matt Angle has arrived at Baltimore with largely the profile expected of him since he entered the system in 2007. Largely devoid of power, the former Buckeye center fielder fits best as a 4th outfielder capable of plus defense and solid value as a pinch runner. Like Adams, he could slot in as a placeholder in a starting lineup, but it is unlikely he will be able to handle Major League velocity on the inner-half to the point that he maintains even a passable on-base percentage. He should have the inside track on the 4th outfield spot, depending on what transpires this off-season, and could see significant innings as a late-inning defensive replacement, pinch runner and Sunday starter.

Kyle Hudson, like Angle, made his Major League debut this summer -- starting eight September games and appearing in six more as a defensive replacement, pinch runner or pinch hitter. The hope is that Hudson will eventually provide 4th outfield value along the lines of Matt Angle (though he is unlikely to have the defensive profile of Angle, who's feel for the game drives his plus glove). Hudson is a burner with 20 power on the 20/80 scale and will likely struggle to barrel much of any Major League pitching as a result of his uneven pitch-ID. Hudson should begin 2012 back in Norfolk as the starting center fielder, and is worth keeping an eye on to see if he can grow into even gap power.

After shifting to the pen and keeping Triple-A hitters off-balance for around 40 IP, Troy Patton made the most of his first extended look with the Big Club. While he will never be a strikeout specialist, he does have an ability to miss some bats thanks to a solid four-pitch arsenal. His fastball is generally an upper-80s offering, and is best at 87-89 with some armside life, though he'll push 90-92 with his four-seam. His most effective secondary is an upper-70s to low-80s slider that has good armslot deception and does a solid job missing barrels. His change-up gives him a weapon against lefties, thanks to solid fade, and he'll drop a curve as well to keep hitters honest. While he isn't the sexiest of prospects, Patton could be a valuable 7th or 8th inning arm, and should be a cheap bullpen option for the O's for the next couple of seasons.

12 November 2011

Free Agents - Shortstop

This is the fourth of a series of posts on free agents.

C | 1B | 2B | 3B | SS | LF | CF | RF | DH | SP | RHRP | LHRP

Reyes is the jewel of the SS Market
For the sake of completeness, we will look at shortstop.

For the purpose of this post, we are using the following groupings:
Elite: Greater than 4.5 WAR / 600 PA
Good: 3.5 to 4.5 WAR / 600 PA
Above Average: 2.5 to 3.5 WAR / 600 PA
Average: 1.5 to 2.5 WAR / 600 PA
Poor Starter: 0.75 to 1.5 WAR / 600 PA
Backup: Below 0.75 WAR / 600 PA
No one below a projected 0.75 WAR should be offered anything more than a minor league contract with an invite to training camp.  The values were calculated by weighting performance of the past three seasons normalized each year to 600 PA.  This ranking does not consider injury status which will likely affect some players.

Elite (greater than 4.5 WAR / 600 PA)
Jose Reyes (4.7)
It looks as if the Mets will not be resigning Reyes.  Whoever signs him should have premium performance at short for several years.

Good (3.5 to 4.5 WAR / 600 PA)
J.J. Hardy (4.2)
If Hardy could actually get to the plate 600 times, he would projects as a 4.2 WAR player.  He could be the most valuable player on the team.

Above Average (2.5 to 3.5 WAR / 600 PA)
Jamey Carroll (3.2)
Carroll's ability to get on base along with his ability to play shortstop adequately makes him a potential option here.  However, tweeners like Carroll always teeter on being completely unable to competently play shortstop.
Nick Punto (3.1)
Punto's ability to rank high here is a primarily due to his offensive performance last year.  I doubt his ability to truly give above average performance at this position.
Jimmy Rollins (2.8)
Rollins' offensive has taken a hard turn downward, but he still plays a decent shortstop.  The low baseline for short keeps Rollins in the conversation as an above average shortstop.  His past performance though may encourage a team to pay him more than he is worth.
Clint Barmes (2.6)
Barmes can play SS solidly and show some power.  He could potentially be a decent starter.

Average (1.5 to 2.5 WAR / 600 PA)
Rafael Furcal (2.4)
This projection does not adequately account for his injury issues.  I would value him far less than this.
Ramon Santiago (2.2)
The Tigers do not see him as a starter, but the numbers suggest otherwise.  He could be a cheap and effective option for a team who needs to fill a hole at short.
Jerry Hairston Jr (2.0)
Hairston cannot defend the position well, but his bat carries him.
Edgar Renteria (1.8)
Renteria is on the downside of his career.  He will likely put up performance below this measure.

Poor Starter (0.75 to 1.5 WAR / 600 PA)
Alex Gonzalez (1.5)
Gonzalez has had one good season and two awful ones.  One is more probable than the other.
Robert Andino (1.2)
Andino does not field well enough or hit well enough.
Ronny Cedeno (1.0)
Cedeno is a utility infielder, no more.

The Rest (less than 0.75 WAR / 600 PA)
John MacDonald (0.7), Orlando Cabrera (0.7), Craig Counsell (0.4), Yuniesky Betancourt (0.2), Jack Wilson (0.0), and Cesar Izturis (-0.3).

10 November 2011

Evaluating the front office: Channel your inner Rumsfeld

"[T]here are known knowns; there are things we know we know.
We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some
things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don't know we don't know. ”

— Former United States Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld



As Andy MacPhail ends his tenure as President of Baseball Operations in Baltimore, and Dan Duqette takes over the front office reigns, a poll of the dwindling Orioles fanbase would reveal no shortage of opinions on both MacPhail's performance and the pros and cons of Duqette's selection as his replacement. Skim through an Orioles message board and you are sure to find a laundry list of misteps taken by MacPhail in his shaping of the organization and declarations as to what steps Duquette will be taking to point the O's in the right direction. This should not be a surprise, as the bloggers and message boarders have been vocal for the last month with strong opinions on "the right man for the job", despite the fact that 99% of these bloviators are not even sure what differentiates the various candidates (or current GMs, for that matter). The critiques do not stop at the top.

Scouting directors? Your draft classes are lambasted by fans before the second day of selections has been completed, and you can expect numerous blogs to explain just how good or bad a job you did by the end of the week (after reading-up on the draftees from the same three or four sources). Also, MLBDraftExperts.wordpress.com will explain to you why you never pick a high school pitcher between picks 6 and 22, and why you just "don't get it" when it comes to overslot spending.

Minor League development staff? God help you if your team's prospects do not show up on the right internet rankings (and there are a lot of them these days). Such a shortcoming will make it clear to all that you do not know how to do your job, and are incapable of developing true impact Major League talent.

Managers? Ignore the horde of Twitter users wring their collective hands over a stolen base attempt, pitching change or (gasp!) a post game comment that Player B was "clutch" for you this evening. Yes, apparently you are one of the least informed baseball minds around and have no business discussing baseball, let alone managing a Major League team. But that doesn't mean you should have to have that pointed out to you by @FutureGM, @MLBProspectGuru or @KingofDaBronx.

Players? You should not ignore Twitter. If you check-in during the game you will be instantly informed as to what is wrong with your swing/pitching mechanics by numerous experts who have all been studying the finer points of swing and pitching mechanics for several years via YouTube, MiLB.tv, fuzzy animated GIFs and some "scouting" articles from various internet hotspots. In fact, after striking out, your first move probably should not be a convo with your hitting coach or teammates, or a trip to the video equipment in the office just down the tunnel. It should be to your smart phone -- consider downloading the TweetDeck app.

The reverse is true as well. Get the right endorsement from the right sportswriter (usually someone who uses "WAR" and "xFIP" -- though not necessarily providing the proper context while doing so) and you will have an army of internet experts championing you on their blogs and podcasts. Once hired, you will be showered with the sort of whole-hearted adulation that can only sprout from a place of naivety. Is it important that Sportswriter's endorsement came, at least in part, because, well, you were one of the nice front office folk who would chat regularly with him and occasionally swap some info? Shrug.

It is commonly accepted that there is more information available to the public today than ever before. As a result, each year fans are presented with new statistical metrics for evaluating player performance, opinion pieces from internet sportswriters ranging from one-person shops to mega-corporations like MLB or ESPN, and more video and photographs than any one person could possibly know what to do with. Formerly-niche outfits such as Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus have ramped-up their coverage of Minor League prospects and stat-heavy analysis, respectively, which in turn has continued to spur more focused interest among the most zealous of baseball fans -- not coincidentally, these are the fans most likely to be Tweeting, blogging, message boarding and otherwise opining on baseball matters out there in the ether.

So what? More information is always a good thing, right? Maybe si; maybe no. You can never have too much GOOD information. But without a proper filter, you run the risk of too much static in your data pool for it to be of any practical utility. Further, the presence of "information" across the web-scape has given the illusion to many that they have the evidence they need to reach conclusions about nearly every aspect of professional baseball. This includes in-game management, prospect rankings, player critiques at the Major League and Minor League (and even college/high school) levels, front office administration, draft strategy and execution, and the like. The reality is that most writers/message boarders do not have the RIGHT information to form strong opinions about many of these things -- this is particularly true when it comes to the front office.

Mr. MacPhail and Mr. Jordan were dinged left and right by bloggers by the end of their tenure in Baltimore. That can of worms need not be opened again, but it may be useful to look at the first week under Mr. Duquette to try and get a point across. The comments most frequently circulating the web regarding Mr. Duquette indicate that the internet experts consider him to be the right man to rejuvenate Baltimore's efforts in Latin America and to fix the player development system in order to provide a steady flow of Minor League talent to the Major League club. The evidence? Well, he signed a number of international free agents with Montreal back in the early-90s (including Vlad Guerrero) and there are a number of draft picks made under his watch in Boston that turned into Major Leaguers with some value (including Kevin Youkilis, Freddy Sanchez, David Eckstein, Justin Duchscherer, Carl Pavano, Adam Everett and Kelly Shoppach -- list compiled by "FrobbY", a message board poster at Orioles Hangout).

Setting aside the fact that the list is not as impressive as it is made out to be in the message board convos, what is known about this list? Channeling your inner-Rumsfeld you can quickly determine what this list tells you, and what it does not tell you. Then, you can figure out whether the info tells enough to act as a foundation for an opinion on the matter as a whole.

Things we know: These are players Boston brought into their system during Dan Duqette's term as General Manager. There is positive "WAR" value with this collection that is comparable or better than certain other GMs during that same time span. Baltimore has not been as successful (measured by WAR) in graduating Minor League talent to their Major League club over the last 14 years. The players listed had to be developed in some form in order to make the jump from draft day to their Major League careers.

Known unknowns (things that we know we do not know): What was Boston's process for identifying amateur talent at the time (division of responsibilities between area scouts, bird dogs, regional supervisors, cross-checkers, scouting director, general manager)? What role did Mr. Duquette (as general manager) play in creating the process used by Boston? To what extent did Mr. Duquette drive the decision to draft players in lower round (for example, one organization in particular operates such that the scouting director is the driving force in player selection, and he gives a lot of weight to the opinion of area scouts when it comes to lower round picks, as those scouts have seen more of the players in question than has the cross-checkers or scouting director)? Would Boston's process under Mr. Duquette still be effective in today's game? Would the Minor League player development process still be effective in today's game? What has changed? Of the "newer" philosophies relating to player (and particularly pitcher) maintenance, does Mr. Duquette subscribe to certain innings limits, pitch counts, focus on one defensive position versus two, and the like? Heck, what are ANY of Mr. Duquette's detailed thoughts on these issues? Who will his scouting director be? Who will his Head of Minor League Development be?

Unknown unknowns (things we do not know we do not know): Did you know that different organizations use different scout sheets and place different weight on different player attributes? Did you know some organizations literally chart every pitch of every game at large showcases/tournaments at the high school level? Did you know some organizations go out of their way to get specific video of players they are sitting on? Did you know some organizations have no formal process for charting games and no policy for recording video of players? Did you know that many, if not most, of the draft boards (preference lists) for Major League clubs do not look exactly like Baseball America's or Keith Law's? Did you know the approach to developing players varies across organizations to an incredible degree? Did you know that some organizations do not even have a uniform approach across levels for teaching the game?

If you are a savvy baseball fan you may know most or all of the "Unknown unknowns" listed above. Believe that the list of things the typical, or even knowledgeable, fan does not know is pages longer.

Taking your knowns, known unknowns, and unknown unknowns into account, what does the list of drafted players tell you about Mr. Duquette and his prospects for success in restoring Baltimore's draft/sign/develop system? If you are honest, it does not tell you much. In fact, anyone extrapolating any significant positive or negative vibes from the hiring at this point is likely doing so to fit a narrative they have already subscribed to. Maybe it is a desire to be optimistic about their team, particularly in a dark time in the franchise's history. Maybe it's a desire to be pessimistic about an organization that has jaded a majority of its fanbase. Maybe a prospect hound loves the idea of having an exciting system and wants to believe Mr. Duquette is potentially the key to creating such a system in Baltimore. And probably the most common impetus for many bloggers and message boarders, maybe an internet "expert" just likes to have a strong opinion and to appear in the know, regardless of topic.

This blog entry (self aware) is not intended to be a lash out against other bloggers, message boarders, sports writers or, more generally, sports fans. It is simply a call for all of us to take a step back and think about what evidence we really have when we decide to shoot out our opinions over the internet. Think about what you know, think about what you know you do not know, consider the existence of other info you might not know exists, and proceed with some thought and responsibility. Sports are meant to be fun, to spark conversations -- to excite. Drying up all sports talk because the participants are not 100% certain of their views is not the goal. You do not have to be 100% certain of anything before you share a thought.

When your thought involves mudslinging against front office execs, such as Mr. MacPhail, Mr. Jordan, and maybe even Mr. Duquette a year or two from now, however, you may want to get as close to that 100% as possible before hurling your insults. That, or curb the vitriol just a bit. At some point the internet put fans under the impression that running a baseball team is easy. It isn't, and the "fixes" for a troubled organization such as Baltimore are not nearly as obvious as they appear.

09 November 2011

Free Agents - Second Base

This is the third of a series of posts on free agents.

C | 1B | 2B | 3B | SS | LF | CF | RF | DH | SP | RHRP | LHRP

It is with sadness that I must say that I have no expectation that Brian Roberts will ever be a meaningful part of the Baltimore Orioles on the field.  Effort must be given to replace him at second.  In this post, we will look at available free agent options and who the Orioles have internally.

For the purpose of this post, we are using the following groupings:
Elite: Greater than 4.5 WAR / 600 PA
Good: 3.5 to 4.5 WAR / 600 PA
Above Average: 2.5 to 3.5 WAR / 600 PA
Average: 1.5 to 2.5 WAR / 600 PA
Poor Starter: 0.75 to 1.5 WAR / 600 PA
Backup: Below 0.75 WAR / 600 PA
Jamey Carroll might be a good target.
No one below a projected 0.75 WAR should be offered anything more than a minor league contract with an invite to training camp.  The values were calculated by weighting performance of the past three seasons normalized each year to 600 PA.  This ranking does not consider injury status which will likely affect some players.

Good (3.5 - 4.5 WAR / 600 PA)
Kelly Johnson (3.5)
I have thought well of Johnson for a while, but no one seems to think of him as a good player.  I might be missing something.

Above Average (2.5 - 3.5 WAR / 600 PA)
Jamey Carroll (3.2)
Carroll is another second baseman who has flown under that radar.  He provides very good defense and simply gets on base.  He is not flashy whatsoever, but he does the little things well.
Nick Punto (3.2)
Punto has always had an amazing glove.  It gives him a great deal of value.  Much of his projection here has to do with his hitting performance this past season.  I think the projection is overly inflated.  I think he is a good example of using projection as a rough number that needs to be used with other tools.  Statistics alone, or any tool alone, is not a good way to make decisions.  That said, a metric rating a player higher than you expected sometimes gives you pause and reconsider the players' worth.  Personally, I think he very good year at the plate last year does not accurately portray his true talent level and skews the projection.
Jerry Hairston Jr. (2.6)
Hairston has a decent bat and he can still provide above average defense at second.  He has recently been used as a super-sub, but he really belongs at second.

Average (1.5 - 2.5 WAR / 600 PA)
Clint Barmes (2.2)
Barmes provides some power and excellent defense at second.  It made little sense for the Astros making him untouchable during the deadline, but he can produce.
Mark Ellis (2.1)
During the summer, Ellis was rumored as a player the Orioles were scouting thoroughly with plans of signing him in the off season.  Hopefully, it would be cheap if they do engage because he will be 35 and coming off a poor season.
Aaron Hill (1.8)
After two underwhelming seasons, Hill bounced back last year.  It looked like a last hurrah to me.

Below Average (0.75 - 1.5 WAR / 600 PA)
Adam Kennedy (1.2)
His projection is due almost entirely to his 2009 season.  Not a good indication.
Willie Bloomquist (1.1)
Bloomquist is a more athletic version of Cuddyer with a much lesser bat.  He plays several positions and none of them well.
Robert Andino (0.9)
Andino's value here may be below his true talent level after his solid performance last year.
Ryan Adams (0.8)
The bats plays at second, the glove does not.

The Rest (less than 0.75 WAR / 600 PA)
Craig Counsell (0.5), Aaron Miles (0.3), Jose Lopez (0.2), Felipe Lopez (0.2), Orlando Cabrera (-0.3), Bill Hall (-0.5), Alex Cora (-0.7), and Cesar Izturis (-1.9).