Saturday, November 5, 2011

Poll #3 - Camacho Top Pitching Prospect

In a hotly-contested poll, Seattle righty Eswalin Camacho got the nod as Major Leagues' top pitching prospect.

Camacho took 6 of 21 votes. Pittsburgh's top prospect, Keith Caldwell, was second with 5, Minnesota reliever Kevin Chong got 4, "Other" nabbed 3 votes, and San Diego's Joel Iorg garnered 2. Baltimore's Albert Velazquez rounded out the voting with a single tally.

Camacho set scouts' hearts aflutter last season when he hit the IFA list as a highly-advanced finesse pitcher from the Virgin Islands. Seattle won the lottery with a $20MM bonus, and after 97 Low A innings Camacho is in the Bigs. He's an immediate ROY and Cy Young candidate.

Friday, November 4, 2011

NL South Preview

Houston pulled away to win the division (3rd title in 5 years) by 11 games last year eventually falling to the Phillies in the NLCS. They lost one of this year's top FA's in 2B Miguel Javier; can the Cardinals and Braves close in? Can Florida get it together?

Houston (94-68, 4th in runs, 7th in ERA) countered the Javier loss with FA's Fernando Rivera and Edgard Garrido - decent players but not HOF caliber like Javier. The Astros don't have any real stars on offense, preferring to get contributions from a large cast of role players. The staff has an effective rotation lead by R.J. Garrido, but the plan seems to be to bring in Bailey Mercedes (15 wins in relief last year) early and let Chip Bowles and Albie Padilla close things out. They also have some reinforcements ready in AAA with 3B Fernando Posada (Sea 15 IFA) and RP Pedro Rondon (Sea 12 IFA).

St. Louis (83-79, 11th in runs, 5th in ERA) had a couple of pretty big FA losses (SP Lew Cannon and 1B P.T. Oliva); Elijah Perkins (Sea 12 #44) moves in at first, and I don't think the very deep rotation will miss Cannon - the Cards had 6 pitchers start last year and only 1 (Calvin Langston's respectable 4.19) posted an ERA above 3.74. The bullpen has plenty of good arms, too: Andre Monahan (44 saves) closes, with Dante Little (1.33 ERA) and Hugh Taylor (2.53 ERA) setting up. Swingman Richie Lloyd (Sea 13's # 18 overall) starts in AAA but looks like he could step in if anyone falters.

Atlanta (82-80, 10th in runs, 4th in ERA) Jae Nakano's still the Braves' best hitter - he needs some help. RF Dioner Pettit has some potential but wasn't terribly impressive in his 9-game cup of coffee last season. AAA 2B B.J Colbert might bring a little pop, but their best hitting prospect, SS Jumbo Bravo, is at least a season away. Pitching they're hip-deep in. Hades McDermott (14-8, 3.45 last year) heads the rotation, while Alex Silva and Andrew Burnett lead the closer committee.

Florida (56-106, 16th in runs, 12th in ERA) Long mediocre (1 winning season), the Marlins got worse last year to try to get better. They're starting to bring up some decent young ML players (Michael Brown, Theodore Haney, Sammy Quevedo), and have some better ones in AAA (C Jim Fasano, SP Grover Thames, RP Esdra Moreno - all with 4 minor league seasons). I don't think anyone's raising eyebrows yet, but with a ML payroll of $13.5MM this year the Florida fans may start to question management's commitment to winning.

Forecast: Tough race to call - I don't think the Astros will run away with it, but it's hard to see the Cardinals or Braves scoring enough runs to make a big move. I'll go with the bold prediction and say the Cardinals' pitching is even better than last year, and they win it by a game over the 'Stros. I'd love to see the Marlins make a move up to competitive status (maybe 70-75 wins), which I think they can do if they promote their 3 big AAA prospects early.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

AL East Preview

Let's take a look at the AL East, where it's been 4 seasons since anyone finished within single digits of the Yankees. The Bronx Bombers won the division by 14 last year (but fell to Seattle in the second playoff round)...can anyone make a run at these guys?

New York (97-65, 4th in runs, 3rd in ERA): Should score plenty of runs - 2B Alejandro Cruz (and his career .399 OBP) is a top leadoff man, and there's plenty of lumber following him to drive him in (8 players had 18 or more homers last year - Miguel DeJesus paced with 42). No classic ace among the starters, but the top 5 (lead by Bartolo Escobar) could probably all be #2's in most rotations. The bullpen took a few free agency hits, but management responded with Roger Peterson (FA) and Pepper Webster (trade). No reason to suspect any drop-off.

Boston (83-79, 5th in runs, 9th in ERA): Plenty of power, with 4 players belting 30+ HR's last year (SS Max Gutierrez, 2B Roosevelt Thomas, 3B Enrique Rodriguez, and DH Todd Hines) - they might be in the market for a table-setter (top OPS was Gutierrez' .365). Ace Sam Griffin (20-9, 3.14 in a workhorse 240 IP last year) and ironman setup guy Reagan Knoblauch achor the staff; closer Eduardo Rosario keeps things exciting but usually gets the job done. Free agent SP Lew Cannon could be a key addition.

Cleveland (67-95, 13th in runs, 12th in ERA): has some nice centerpieces (SP's Armando Mendoza and Jumbo Mateo, RF Omar Villa) but seems to lack the supporting cast to advance. Budget FA additions Kent Simontachi (1B) and Gus Turner (SS) will help but won't be enough. This franchise has been slowly degrading for a number of seasons...time for a major shakeup?

Baltimore (67-95, 14th in runs, 6th in ERA): has also been in decline of late but the seeds of revival are in place: namely, young guns Benji Picasso (Sea 12 IFA who is 21-18 with a 3.51 ERA in his first 300 ML innings) and Albert Velazquez (Sea 14 IFA, who may debut this year). Throw in a 3rd great arm, Sea 11 IFA Rico Tejera and last year's first-rounder, Terry Helton, and you've got a decent chunk of a Grade A staff in 2-3 seasons. This year? If they promote Velazquez early on he could well be a ROY contender, and they'll take a big step up.

Forecast: The Yankees remain the class of the East and win again. Boston improves a little and contends for a wild card. Baltimore makes a nice jump up and passes the Indians for third.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Interview with a GM - Chase39

With the off-season and spring training coming to a close, we were able to sit down and talk with one of the biggest movers and shakers this off-season, Washington Nationals GM Chase39. Here is the interview with him.

"What are your expectations for this team this season?”

Chase39: Make the playoffs. Once in anything can happen. Last season I missed the last wild card by one game. I don't see that being a problem, this season.

Interviewer: "Well with that being said how long of a competitive run do you see this team having? Or do you have a plan/idea in place to keep this team competitive for many years to come?"

Chase39: 3 maybe 4 seasons I should be competitive. Depends if can keep adding to pieces to the group through the draft or free agency if necessary.

Interviewer: "Any areas of the team that you are still worried about?"

Chase39: My starting pitching is average at best. Definitely my team’s biggest weakness.

Interviewer: "Any last minute trades or free agent signings in the works to address the pitching staff or any other area of the team before the start of the season?"

Chase39: No I’ll give the team 30 games or so, that should give me an idea of what my team needs.

Interviewer: "Lastly, what was your strategy going into this off-season? Did you know you wanted to make a couple big splashes in the free agent market or was this all something that just sort of happened as the free agent time period progressed?"

Chase39: Yes this was planned ahead of time beginning last season. I had a lot of money coming off the books. I targeted Lindblom, Olivares, and originally Sanchez. After I made the trade with the Marlins, I no longer needed Sanchez. I went after Javier. I had to pay through the nose for all 3, but I got the players I targeted. I've improved my team at C, 3B, 2B, LF, RF, and in the bullpen. My starting pitching is weak, but I’ll take my chances against the rest of the league.

We thank Chase39 for taking the time out of his schedule for this interview. It will be interesting to see how his off-season strategy pays off during this season.

NL West Preview

We now hop over to the NL West, which was the closest 1-to-4 race among all divisions - San Diego finished 10 back of division winner San Fran. The teams finished in the same order as Season 15's, but big win gains by both the Dodgers and the Padres tightened things up last year.

San Francisco (87-75, 8th in runs, 9th in ERA): returns mostly the same roster that won 87 last year. Perennial Cy Young contender (and 2-time winner) Luis Contreras headlines the staff; B.C. Arroyo, Kent Rolison and Matt Kieschnick form one of the best late-inning relief trios around. On offense, C Edgar Torres and RF Erik Jackson are the main run producers. They'll get a big boost when they bring up SP Ichiro Hara (Sea 14 IFA) and RP Lariel Blanco (Sea 14's #13 overall pick).

Colorado (83-79, 2nd in runs, 13th in ERA): had wholesale free agent losses, most notably SP Roberto Jacquez and RP Branch Cepicky. They countered with their own free agent signings (RP Bum Mercedes, RP Alex Smith, SP Octavio Boliver, SP Tommy McIntyre) and rookie promotions (SP Juan Javier, Sea 11's #46 pick), but I don't think those guys are the caliber of the lost pitchers. They have bats galore, led by RF Mark Payton (.298/68/152 last year)...lotta 13-12 games from the Rockies this year.

Los Angeles (82-80, 14th in runs, 6th in ERA): had a quiet off-season after posting a nice 14-win improvement last year. These guys need to find 3 or 4 hitters somewhere. 2B Carlos Melendez is a good bat, but the rest of the lineup is mostly under .310 OBP. The pitching starts but certainly doesn't end with SP Todd Leon (#2 in Major Leagues' career ERA) - Enos Campbell and Jorge Marichal are solid starters and closer Minnie Greenwood is money. To top it off, Season 13's #1 overall, SP Del Redondo, is chomping at the bit in AAA. How'd you like to be the team facing Leon and Redondo twice each in a 5-game series? But they have to GET to short-series's a crazy idea: trade Redondo for TWO top hitting prospects. I think that's probably doable.

San Diego (77-85, 13th in runs, 8th in ERA): Coming off a 16-win improvement, the young Padres had no significant free agent losses (although they did waive last year's best SP, Alex Rosado, apparently for salary cap purposes) They clearly need more offense, and they could very well get it from the 2nd-year quartet of 1B Dwight Loney, LF Nate Hood, CF Rico Guillen, and RF Babe Brett. The starting staff is unspectacular, but adequate for their big ballpark. The stars of the staff are relievers - Wascar Hernandez, Tori Broome, and FA Branch Cepicky.

Forecast: I just don't see anyone improving enough to challenge the Giants, who will pick up their 3rd straight division title. I like the Dodgers for 2nd - watch out if they can score a wild card (but I don't think they will - see NL East). The surging Padres may well challenge for awhile and will finish a close third. The Rockies will struggle with pitching and fall to 4th.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

AL North Preview

The AL North was the 2nd-tightest division, top to bottom (next to the NL West) last year, with only 14 games separating all 4 teams. With Toronto looking like it's made the most off-season improvement, things could tighten even more.

Chicago (85-77, 2nd in runs, 11th in ERA) needed to improve their pitching and did, signing FA relievers Sarma Nagy and Doug Bay. I think they'll miss Aaron Taylor at 2B, although new DH Don Stafford will bolster the offense. They were actually a little under their expected winning % last year...barring any big injuries they should push 90 wins.

Minnesota (81-81, 15th in runs, 1st in ERA) did it all with pitching last year, and added pitching in free agency (starters Dennis Forest and Jerry York, RP Cristobal Vizcaino). 1B Harry Rivera and RF Fred Leary both had off years; a return to normal for those 2 could add much-needed 20 HR's to last year's 178 total. I'd sure like to see them add a bat or 2 at some point, but as-is they could still gain few games on the Sox.

Detroit (71-91, 8th in runs, 13th in ERA) was pretty quiet in free agency, although they didn't have any big losses. Darwin Koch at 3B and SP Luis Perez should be at least marginal improvements over the departed Phil Hunter and Kane Delaney. The Tigers were pretty far under their expected winning % last year, so one would expect a few more wins. But I'm not convinced they've done enough to make a big run or even hold off the revamped Jays.

Toronto (69-93, 12th in runs, 15th in ERA) on the other hand, made wholesale changes. Perhaps the biggest was the trade that brought in C Pedro Caballero, although the cost was a pretty good starting pitcher (Tony Roque). I like the trade for the Jays - Caballero is 3 years younger and I love the consistent .400+ OBP. They turn to veteran Bo Benard to replace Roque, and may have piked up a key piece in LR Bailey Borders (obtained from Pittsburgh for C Miguel Julio). There were a host of smaller departures and additions...all in all, I think they've done enough to overhaul the Tigers for 3rd.

Forecast: I love the Twinkies' pitching, and I think they'll somehow scratch out enough runs to edge the Sox in a very close race. Toronto improves to finish 3rd.

Top Prospects Series - Pitchers

Get ready for a trend down in scoring the next few seasons - there are a LOT of really good pitchers starting their ML careers soon. Lots of close calls here - the poll on this one should be interesting.

1. Eswalin Camacho, SP (SEA, Sea 16 IFA - $20MM): I'm just guessing here since my ADV is useless and there's no development pattern to go by, but with just a little improvement in ratings from where he is now he'll be our top pitching prospect. Pinpoint control, almost un-hittable for righties, and a broad assortment of good (not great pitches). If he has weaknesses (and I'm not sure he does), it's that he's a mere mortal against lefties and he's somewhat a flyball tosser. ** Started writing this before he was promoted, so technically I guess he's not a prospect. But it's my post so I can break the rules if I want.

2. Keith Caldwell, SP (PIT, Sea 15 #1 pick): only 2 pro years and he'd be a quality ML pitcher now. Might end up with both splits 90+...4-seamer and cut fastball are grade A. Will rack up some pretty good strikeout numbers. Although his control will be OK, it's what will keep him from being the best of this crop.

3. Albert Velazquez, SP (BAL, Sea 14 IFA - $20MM): Features a splitter and slider that murder righties...very good control and velocity, and keeps the ball down well. Lefties will at least have a chance, but that's the only flaw.

4. Del Redondo, SP (LA Dodgers, Sea 13 #1 pick): tough lefty has everything. He has great control, is really tough on lefties and battles righties effectively. Sets up his out pitch - an unhittable old-school palm ball - with a good 4-seam fastball. Everything sinks - put a good infield defense behind him and he's going to put up great numbers.

5. Steve Davenport, SP/RP (KC, Sea 14 #2 pick): might have better stuff than some of the P's ahead of him here, but his STA/DUR is going to limit his innings some. But good pitching is good pitching - he brings outstanding velocity, great control, a killer vR and 2 exceptional pitches. Lefty batters will get their licks in occasionally, but it's a minor complaint.

Honorable mention: Midre Johnson, CHI; Sherman Lidge, TB; Chris McBride, HOU; Joel Iorg, SD; Kevin Chong, MIN

Poll 2 - Voters Confirm Santayana as Best Prospect

Major Leagues' owners confirmed Seattle's Alberto Santayana as the best overall position player prospect in Poll #2, but not unanimously by any stretch.

Santayana got 4 votes, with "Someone Else" tying for the lead. Philly phenom Hector Bennett pulled 2 votes and Dodger IF Jim Garcia took one.