05 July 2014

Ivan DeJesus Jr. -- International League All-Star

In the late 1980's, Bill James identified what he named the "Ken Phelps All-Stars", players who "are ... available ... whose real limitations are exaggerated by baseball insiders, players who get stuck with a label - the label of their limits, the label of the things they can't do - while those that they can do are overlooked." [The Bill James Baseball Abstract 1987, p.233] Since then, analysts and serious fans have grabbed onto this concept. The more-sophisticated and understanding of these analysts have advocated that teams need not overpay marginal players to fill holes. The less-sophisticated have used this to buttress their old-school beliefs that players are overpaid, that there's no need to pay for talent, that there's plenty of players capable of playing high-quality major-league baseball who can be acquired for next to nothing.

Which brings us to the Orioles.

It's probably no surprise that the Orioles infield is likely to be filled with question marks over the next season or two. What will become of J.J. Hardy? Should Manny Machado remain at third base, or move to shortstop? Not to mention that the Orioles' second baseman are currently among the worst in the league; an easy way for the Orioles to improve is to improve their second basemen. So, Orioles fans are looking at infield options.

And, for the most part, acquiring an infielder at high cost isn't an option. The Orioles believe that their payroll is maxed out; signing an expensive free agent or taking on an unwanted contract - no matter how good the player - isn't likely. And the Orioles don't have any assets to trade that (1) have value; (2) they are willing to trade; and (3) won't open up another hole somewhere else. Jon has proposed trading a starting pitcher for Nick Franklin; the objections are (1) trading a starting pitcher leaves them very vulnerable to starting pitcher injury and/or ineffectiveness and (2) we don't know that Franklin is any better than a replacement-level infielder anyway. So, desperate Orioles fans are looking to the available-player pool, hoping for a low-cost solution who might become a future Ken Phelps all-star.

Which brings us to Ivan De Jesus Jr.

Ivan De Jesus Jr. has spent the 2014 at the Orioles AAA affiliate in Norfolk after being signed as a minor-league free agent. He was drafted and signed by the Dodgers in 2005, and moved steadily through the minor-league system; he had an outstanding .324/.419/.423 season as a 21-year-old in AA. Then he suffered a serious broken leg and essentially missed all of 2009; he came back slowly in 2010 and although he put up superficially impressive offensive numbers in 2010 and 2011, he was playing at Albuquerque which is one of the top hitters' parks in AAA. By then, he had been passed by Dee Gordon in the Dodgers' plans and was sent to the Red Sox in the 2012 Adrian Gonzalez trade. In the 2012 offseason, he was one of the four disappointments sent to the Pirates for Joel Hanrahan and Brock Holt; he played 2013 at Indianapolis where he hit well but with the rather strange combination of 104 games, 345 plate appearances. The Pirates didn't add him to their 40-man roster and the Orioles signed him.

He's played well so far. He started the season as Norfolk's deep-reserve utility infielder behind Jemile Weeks, Alexi Casilla, Cord Phelps, and David Adams. However, after promotions, ineffectiveness, and injuries opened an opportunity, he's been the regular shortstop for the past two months. He's hitting well, batting .298/.376/.411 through July 3. He's been named as the Tides' representative to the AAA All-Star game (partly because the only other Tide playing well is Steve Clevenger, who has played 30 games.) So, dreaming Orioles fans are wondering if De Jesus might be at least a partial answer to the team's infield questions.

Based on his 2014 usage, I don't think that the Orioles are considering him to be a viable solution. De Jesus was drafted as a shortstop but there were questions about his ability to stick there. After his injury, the Dodgers began to play him more at second base. After his trades, the Pirates played him mostly at second in 2013. Yet, in 2014, the Orioles have moved him back to shortstop, where he's played 62 games as opposed to 2 at second and 1 at third. The Orioles aren't grooming De Jesus as a future utilityman a la Steve Lombardozzi or Jemile Weeks; and it's strange that after four seasons of playing mostly second they would move him back to short. He's playing AAA shortstop apparently out of organizational need, but major-league teams adjust their minor-league doings to the needs of the players they want to develop, not the other way around.

I've seen De Jesus play 20 games this season, and one thing that is immediately obvious is that he doesn't have the speed you would like a player with his (lack of) power to have. The following table, which shows the distribution of defenders who fielded the ground balls he's hit, illustrates that point:

Fielder
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
Base Hit
0
0
0
0
0
1
3
0
1
Out
3
0
1
5
3
5
0
0
0

Focus on columns 1 through 6 for now, which are the ground balls fielded by infielders. He's hit eighteen ground balls to an infielder and only one has been an infield hit. That confirms the scouting reports which state that he's a below-average runner. The good news is that he doesn't hit a lot of soft ground balls, which are more likely to be beaten out.

On the other hand, he doesn't hit a lot of hard ground balls, which are more likely to find their way to the outfield. He's hit four ground-ball base hits to the outfield out of 22 total ground balls. When he hits a ground ball, it tends to be a routine ground ball to an infielder.

The next table show a similar pattern for his fly balls:

Fielder
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
Base Hit
0
0
0
1
0
0
0
2
2
Out
0
0
2
1
0
0
5
5
4

(His out-of-park home runs are included in the above table; based on who would have caught it had it been caught.) The pattern is the same albeit not as strong; when De Jesus hits what I consider a fly ball (as distinct from a line drive), it's typically a routine out.

On the other hand, his line drives result in base hits.

Fielder
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
Base Hit
1
0
0
0
0
0
6
2
5
Out
0
0
0
0
0
1
0
0
4

(He hit one line drive off the pitcher that ricocheted into no-man's-land.)

Perhaps more than most players, De Jesus must hit line drives to be a successful batter. Most players are most successful when they hit line drives, so that's not unusual, but it is unusual for him to be so unsuccessful when he doesn't hit a line drive. To be successful in the major leagues, he's going to have to be able to hit line drives consistently, and he hasn't shown that he's good enough to do that. I think Ivan De Jesus Jr. has a ceiling of AAA lifer.


4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Let him show what he's got.
To me I think the biggest issue now is why is Buck letting Davis play on?

Anonymous said...

What about Buck Britton?

David said...

I would love to see the Orioles make a move for a second baseman. Seems like they should be able to make it happen on the relative cheap with so many guys out there potentially available. Zobrist, Murphy, and Utley would all be upgrades, Beckham and Hill would potentially be upgrades. Seems to me, however, that Buck likes Flaherty as evidenced by the fact that he's still on the team despite his obvious limitations. I think they would be more likely to add another pitcher.

Joe Reisel said...

#Anon- Buck Britton is 28 and still hasn't established himself at AAA.

#David - We're going to have to face facts. If the Orioles are going to improve the second-base play of the major-league team, they're going to have to give up one of their top pitching prospects. And most fans aren't willing to do that.