Wednesday, March 31, 2010

MLBTR's Off Season in Review Series

Haven't paid attention to the off season? Want to see what your division rivals have been up to? Check out these off season reviews by the crew at MLB Trade Rumors.

White Sox

Up and Coming Catchers, Pt. 1

This is the first of what will be a four part examination of the AL Centrals glut of catching talent.

The position of catcher is one of the most difficult to fill in baseball. The job is extremely physically demanding and because of that, offense from the position is generally pretty rare - there is no position other than pitcher where players average a lower OPS. The players who are able to hit from that position are immediately thrust into the upper echelon. With that said, catcher will always be a defense first position. The catcher is responsible for putting together the game plan, calling the game, framing the pitches, controlling the running game, and serving as the pitchers therapist between innings.

The AL Central is lucky to be able to boast four of baseballs best young receiving prospects with Alex Avila in Detroit (Scouting Book #127), Carlos Santana in Cleveland (B.A. #10/B.P. #8/ESPN #3/ S.B. #14), Tyler Flowers in Chicago (B.A. #60/ B.P. #72/ S.B. #93), and Wilson Ramos in Minnesota (B.A. #58/ B.P. #65/ ESPN #42/ S.B #95).

Alex Avila

We'll begin with the lowest rated of the quartet, Alex Avila, and work our way up the lists. Avila got his first cup of coffee with the Tigers last year after sky-rocketing up the Tigers farm system (he was drafted in '08!). Avila had not yet played a single game at AAA, and had only 387 at-bats at AA before getting the call last year when the Tigers were in the midst of the playoff chase.

Defensively, Avila receives average to above-average grades. He threw out an impressive 44% of would be base stealers at AA last year but just 27% in the Majors and his game calling and receiving could still use some refinement. That said, Tigers Manager Jim Leyland loves Avila's tools and he'll definitely be the first option for a call-up should Gerald Laird - who was robbed of a Gold Glove last year by AL Central mate Joe Mauer - get injured or be ineffective.

Offensively Avila has shown terrific power potential, posting a .188 ISO in AA last year before raking 9 extra base hits (5 homers!) in just 72 at-bats with the Tigers last year for an ISO of .311. According to the scouts he still needs work against lefties, as he hit just .216 against them last year at AA. Also, as one might expect with someone pushed so aggressively, Avila has struggled mightily with strikeouts, doing so in 23.4% of his AA at-bats last year, and 29.5% of his at-bats in the Majors.

Avila's strong debut is being followed up with a similarly impressive spring training. This March Avila has hit .350 while raking 8 doubles in just 40 at-bats while showing an improved eye at the plate posting 7 walks against just seven strikeouts. That of course comes with the standard caveat that those are just spring training numbers and should be treated as such.

Avila is going to need some time in the minors to refine his game and learn how to hit breaking pitches as well as lefties, but if the Tigers are willing to be patient with him and let him make the adjustments that need to be made, he could have a very high ceiling given his power potential and solid defensive abilities. With another good season at AAA (where he can cut down on his strikeout rates), he'll vault to the upper reaches of the top prospects lists and be practically drop-kicking Laird into a job with another team next year.

If they rush him too much however, and he's never allowed to make the necessary adjustments, he's the sort of player who might never reach his full potential. While the Tigers will likely be in the thick of the AL Central race again this year, they'd be wise to play it as close to the vest as they can with this promising back-stop.

Scott Baker Shelled

Twins starting pitchers have all had generally phenomenal spring trainings... until today. Scott Baker got his world rocked by the Rays allowing 12 hits and 8 runs in just 2.2 innings walking one while striking out three. I'm hearing rumors he could've suffered a whiplash injury in today's game...

The Twins scheduled opening day starter had been on a roll along with the rest of his rotation mates this spring, posting an FIP line of 19.1IP/1HR/2BB/19K with a 0.93 WHIP and an OBA of just .219.

While his FIP line won't be hurt by his performance today, clearly something wasn't quite right. And while spring training stats should always be taken with a 10lb bag of salt, the performance in such close proximity to opening day should be taken note of.

Who will start at third for the Royals?

With Alex Gordon out to start the season with a broken right thumb, Alberto Callaspo has been the likely replacement. But now there are reports that he's hurting a bit with a potential oblique pull. Reports are that it isn't bothering him when he throws or when he bats right handed, but that he does feel it when he tries to hit left handed.

If Callaspo isn't ready to go, could the Royals turn to former White Sox prospect Josh Fields? Fields is the classic example of a AAAA player, and highlights precisely why high strikeout rates in the minors suggest significant struggles in the Majors.

Sowers Clears Waivers, sent to AAA

In a follow up to today earlier post about Jeremy Sowers having been waived, it appears that he's cleared waivers and will be assigned to AAA. Paul Hoynes has the news and more.

I'm definitely surprised that no one was interested.

Clete Thomas Optioned to AAA

With the Tigers announcement yesterday that Austin Jackson would indeed be the opening day center fielder, this doesn't come as a huge surprise. There is still one spot on the 25 man roster open and the odds on favorite appears to be Don Kelly.

Too bad, I like Thomas. He strikes out way too much, but posts respectable OBP numbers, plays solid defense at all three outfield positions, and can do some work on the base paths. Thomas will never be a star, but could make a decent career as a 4th outfielder.

That said, as utility players go, Kelly does provide fantastic flexibility with the ability to play pretty much everywhere. He's logged time at every position except for center field and catcher in his Major League career.

Offensively Kelly wont add much, I'd expect the same overall performance with the bat as Clete Thomas, though with fewer strikeouts.

Michael Brantley makes the cut

The Indians have decided they'll be taking top prospect Michael Brantley north with them when they break camp this year reports Anthony Castrovince.

Brantley may be a tad bit overmatched this season as he struggled last year in his brief stint with the Indians last year, posting an OPS of just .707 last year. He didn't perform much better at AAA, with an OPS of jusy .711. All the same, he's a player I'm high on.

Brantley combines plus-plus speed on the base paths, plus range in left, very solid strikeout to walk ratios, and solid gap power that seems to be improving. Look for Brantley to begin making an impact at the top of the Indians lineup within a year or two. He could become a force as a leadoff or number two hitter very soon.

Indians fans should be excited.

Denard Span attempts to kill own mother.

Just kidding! Kind of...

We all know foul balls are part of the game and it's never fun to see someone get hurt... I can only imagine how bad Denard feels.

On a positive note, Denard has had a fantastic spring. Between the Twins locking him up through his arbitration years and another strong performance in spring training, things are generally looking up for the young man, today not withstanding.

Jarrod Washburn to the Royals?

Jon Heyman is reporting that the Royals are showing, "strong interest," in free agent lefty Jarrod Washburn. Washburn of course was acquired by the Tigers from the Mariners last year and promptly imploded before hitting the operating room.

Washburn's mediocrity for the past few years is legendary and fans in Seattle grew quite tired of him before last year when a dazzling first half of the season built up enough value for the Mariners to deal him off. Prior to that, the Twins had claimed him off waivers in 2008, but the Mariners, instead of choosing to simply dump his 10m salary off on the Twins, decided that wasn't enough. They ended up making good on that in 2009.

Washburn operates in the high 80s, averaing 88.3mph on his fastball last year, while averaging 5.33 strikeouts per nine innings. He struggled with his control a bit before last year, but managed to post his best BB rate since 2004 last year at 2.51 per nine. Washburn is another fly-ball pitcher and the team who acquires him should either have a strong outfield defense or a stadium large enough to hold some of those fly balls in the park.

Would the Royals be that team? I should hope not. The last thing that organization needs is a mediocre veteran tying up more payroll. I'd imagine this report is probably inaccurate, but we'll have to wait and see.

Indians Waive Jeremy Sowers

Once a big part of the Indians long-term plans, the organization has placed soft throwing lefty Jeremy Sowers on waivers reports Ken Rosenthal.

Sowers has contributed to parts of four seasons for the Indians, beginning in 2006. He's made a total of 71 starts for 400.0 innings. He's typically shown solid control, but not nearly good enough to make up for his near complete inability to miss bats. He doesn't help himself by being a fly-ball pitcher.

The move itself doesn't come as a big surprise, most knew his days were numbered. The question is whether or not he'll clear waivers, which I personally doubt. I'll let you know who the Indians choose to fill the 40-man roster spot.

Look for an NL team that needs a back-end arm to make the pick up. Could the Padres make a play? He'd fit well in their stadium and would remain cost effective through the season.