|Brendan Donnelly began his Angels career with Double-A Arkansas in 2001.|
Brendan Donnelly was just another minor league journeyman when Angels GM Bill Stoneman signed him in January 2001. At age 28, the Angels were his eighth organization, and he’d already served two stints in independent ball, hoping to just keep his career alive. He’d even signed as a replacement player during the 1995 major league baseball strike, a stigma that would catch up with him later.
Nearly six years, a successful career and a World Championship later, Stoneman traded Donnelly yesterday to Boston for Phil Seibel, a left-handed reliever who turns 28 next month. Seibel has his own journeyman story, an eighth-round choice by the Montreal Expos in the June 2000 draft who was traded to the Mets as a a throw-in for Bruce Chen, then claimed by the Red Sox on waivers eighteen months later, released and then re-signed a year after that, and finally befelled by an elbow ligament injury requiring “Tommy John” surgery in the autumn of 2004.
Seibel’s minor league numbers were good but never great. Before the surgery, he had a career ERA of 3.99 in 456 innings, mostly as a starter, with a career opponents’ average of .266 and a 341:141 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Seibel appeared in the Baseball America 2002 Prospect Handbook as the Expos’ #27 prospect, describing him as “a crafty lefthander with three solid pitches. He has an 87-89 mph two-seam fastball that produces ground balls, a 78-80 mph slider and a plus 79-80 mph changeup.”
The 2003 BA handbook ranked Seibel the #11 prospect in the Mets system, noting that he’d added “an improving curveball” to his repertoire. But he dropped off the radar after the Red Sox acquired him on waivers, and his elbow surgery sent his career to Tommy John limbo.
Many “Tommy John” survivors resume their careers in the bullpen, where studies show that working in short frequent intervals tend to develop the repaired arm rather than pitching in five-day intervals as a starter.
But Boston began his rehab as a 27-year old starter with Greenville, South Carolina, in the Low-A South Atlantic League (probably to begin his comeback in a warmer climate). In four starts last April of five innings each, he struck out 19 and walked none in those 20 innings against overmatched youngsters.
The Red Sox promoted him in late April to Double-A Portland (Maine), where he faced more experienced players, yet continued to show success. Seibel continued to work five innings a start, and continued to dominate. And so it was that in late June, the Red Sox promoted him to Triple-A Pawtucket.
Where he joined the bullpen.
Seibel made nine relief appearances for the PawSox, but was shut down in early August after experiencing tightness in his elbow. According to the Pawtucket Times, “A MRI revealed that the injury was a Grade 2 strain. Seibel had been rehabbing down in Florida,” but returned to Pawtucket in late August after a hurricane threatened the Red Sox’ minor league camp. Seibel made two more appearances in early September, just before the minor league season ended, working three relief innings. He allowed only one base runner on a hit, struck out two and walked none.
So now Seibel becomes another in a long line of Bill Stoneman relief corps reclamation projects. Some pitchers, such as Donnelly and Ben Weber, turned out to be gems. Others, such as Jason Bulger, broke down again and departed.
With the addition to veteran relievers Justin Speier and Darren Oliver, and with the earlier acquisition of Chris Resop from Florida for Kevin Gregg, Stoneman has solidified a bullpen that for years has ranked among the best in the big leagues. But it showed some fraying around the edges in 2006, as poor defense in the first half extended and finally exhausted the starting rotation, placing a heavier burden on the relievers.
Speier and Oliver will allow Seibel and perhaps Resop to return to Triple-A for some final polish. Should they falter, the Angels may rely on Chris Bootcheck and Greg Jones as options. Double-A flamethrower Jose Arredondo, a converted middle-infielder, needs a lot more work but is eventually destined for the bullpen. And Kevin Lynch, a 23-year old submariner who posted a 2.40 ERA and .206 average against at Rancho Cucamonga this year despite missing a month due to an ankle injury, may be on the horizon as a sleeper.
The moves Stoneman made this winter have built a solid and deep pitching foundation for the Angels, in 2007 and beyond. If Casey Kotchman and/or Dallas McPherson come back healthy, the offense will be much better, certainly good enough to provide the runs for a superior pitching staff to win ballgames.
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