Yogi Berra famously said, “It ain’t over ’til it’s over.”
Well, it’s over.
Salt Lake and Arkansas have been eliminated from post-season contention, and finish their regular season schedules today.
Rancho Cucamonga and Cedar Rapids also finish their regular season schedules today, but they’re going to the post-season.
Despite a poor year, the Quakes are in the post-season due to how the California League playoff system works. High Desert won both halves of the South Division, so the second- and third-best teams by overall winning percentage play in a best-of-three series while the Mavericks get a bye. So the Quakes (61-78) will host the Storm (73-66) on Wednesday, with Games #2 and (if necessary) #3 Thursday and Friday at Lake Elsinore.
The Kernels (77-60) play Peoria (80-57) in a best-of-three series starting Wednesday at Peoria. Games #2 and (if necessary) #3 will be Thursday and Friday at Cedar Rapids. The Kernels get the home field advantage because they qualified in the first half but Peoria didn’t.
The Orem Owlz (47-24) play through Friday 9/11, then begin their three-game series against Ogden (41-30) on Saturday 9/12 at Orem. Games #2 and (if necessary) #3 are Sunday and Monday at Ogden, which won the first half title.
The Tempe Angels (38-18) qualified for the playoffs but lost to the Scottsdale Giants (39-17) in the Arizona League playoffs.
Here’s an update on where each affiliate stands in their pursuit of the post-season.
Salt Lake — The Pacific Coast League is a full-season league, no split-season schedule, so the Bees must win their division outright to qualify for the playoffs. I’d given them up for dead when they lost three straight August 24-26, but they just beat division leader Colorado Springs three straight to move within 4½ of first place. The Bees are 65-69, the Sky Sox are 69-64. Tacoma (69-66) is in second place, one game behind Colorado Springs. The Bees have nine games left, including today’s game at Colorado Springs and then four on the road at Tacoma. They ain’t dead yet.
Arkansas — The Travelers finished 28-42 in the first half, ten games behind Springfield in the Texas League North Division. They’re currently 28-33 in the second half, five games behind Northwest Arkansas (33-28). Tulsa (32-29) trails Northwest Arkansas by a game. The Travs and Springfield are tied at 28-33. They have nine games left on the schedule — two against Springfield, then four at home at Northwest Arkansas, and finally three on the road at Springfield. The Travs remain on the periphery with a little more than a week to go; if they go off on a hot streak they still have a chance.
Rancho Cucamonga — The Quakes finished 30-40 in the first half, 13 games behind South Division first-half winner High Desert. The California League has rather unusual post-season eligibility rules. The first-half winner in each division get a bye, while the second-half winner faces the team with the next best overall record in a best-of-three series. If High Desert wins both halves, then the teams with the second and third best records will face each other. In the second half, the Quakes are 29-33, six games behind the Mavericks (35-27). They’ve won three of their last four but lost power-hitter Matt Sweeney in the Scott Kazmir trade. They’re currently two games behind Lake Elsinore (31-31) and two games ahead of Lancaster (27-35). In the overall standings, after the Mavs the Storm (70-62) have clinched the second-best record so the Quakes (59-73) must finish third overall to qualify for the wild card. They currently have a two-game lead over Inland Empire (57-75) with eight games to go, none of them against division opponents. To make it simple, the Quakes have to hold that third-place lead through the rest of the regular season to make the playoffs.
Cedar Rapids — The Kernels finished 40-30 in the first half, good enough for second place one game behind Kane County, so under Midwest League rules they’re in. They’ll face the Peoria Chiefs in the first round of the West Division playoffs.
Orem — Tom Kotchman does it again. The Owlz’ 20-18 first half record in the Pioneer League’s South Division was only good enough for third place, so they need to win the division outright in the second half. As Kotch teams almost always do, they kicked into high gear in the second half for a 22-3 record so far and a seven-game lead over Idaho Falls (15-10). Rival Ogden won the first half. The Owlz have 13 games left in the second half, so short of a total collapse they’re going to the post-season. Garrett Richards continues to emerge as the staff ace, striking out eight and walking none in eight shutout innings last night at Idaho Falls.
Tempe — The Tempe Angels beat the Scottsdale Giants 1-0 last night in 12 innings in their regular season finale, to finish in a 20-8 first-place tie with the Giants. They meet tonight at 7:00 PM MDT at Scottsdale for a one-game playoff to determine the East Division champion. The winner goes on to play the West Division champion Peoria Mariners on Monday for the Arizona League title. Tempe’s overall record for the season was 38-18, one game behind Scottsdale (39-17).
|The Angels traded Alex Torres (left) and Matt Sweeney to Tampa Bay on Friday for pitcher Scott Kazmir. A third Angels player is to be named.|
Once the Rays’ game in Detroit ended last night, the rumored trade was officially announced. The Angels acquired LHP Scott Kazmir from Tampa Bay in exchange for Arkansas Travelers’ LHP Alex Torres, Rancho Cucamonga Quakes’ third baseman Matt Sweeney, and a player to be named later (PTBNL).
The trade was originally announced on AngelsBaseball.com as just Torres and Sweeney, but then that press release was deleted and replaced by one which said that the trade fell through. Mark Topkin of the St. Petersburg Times wrote that “The leak from the Angels’ side enraged Rays officials and nearly led them to call it off because it aborted their protocol of notifying their player first.”
There’s no doubt that Kazmir has issues. I wrote on May 10 that the critics who bashed the Angels for selecting Joe Saunders over Kazmir in June 2002 had been proven wrong. Since then, Saunders has struggled but we learned that it was due to shoulder tightness which has been apparently corrected by a stint on the disabled list and a cortisone shot. Kazmir, however, has had ongoing battles with mechanical problems that have led to repeated DL visits.
Martin Fennelly of the Tampa Tribune published an article today that calls Kazmir “the Ace Who Never Was.” Fennelly couldn’t resist also taking a cheap shot, writing:
The word from Detroit is the Rays beat the space shuttle to the punch by launching Scott Kazmir into space. Well, not space, but a place just as spacey, the left coast, and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, or whatever they’re called.
Infantile insults aside, Kazmir at age 25 remains one of the most promising young pitchers in baseball. A rare left-hander with mid-90s velocity and a wicked slider, his best seasons were during and after Mike Butcher worked with him in Tampa. Butcher was a long-time Angels minor league pitching coach who was hired by Joe Maddon to be the Devil Rays’ pitching coach in 2006. When Bud Black left to manage the Padres, Mike Scioscia brought home Butch to become the Angels’ major league pitching coach. Kazmir’s best ERA year was 2006 at 3.24, and in 2007 it was 3.48. Reuniting Kazmir with Butcher might solve whatever problems are going through his young head.
As for what the Angels gave up … You can read about Torres and Sweeney in the many articles published this morning on various newspaper sites, as listed on FutureAngels.com. Torres is about the same in physical build as Kazmir, although he lists as about two inches shorter (5’10”). He put himself on the prospect radar this year, although you won’t find many star left-handed pitchers of his stature in the big leagues. As for Sweeney, he was always a potential power hitter but he missed all of 2008 with a leg injury and part of 2009 with a hip injury, and his defense has always been suspect.
When the trade was “unannounced,” rumors abounded that a PTBNL had been added to the deal. Normally a PTBNL is chosen later from a list of players agreed upon at the time of the trade, but it appears in this case that the player’s name is already known. Topkin wrote, “The one not named is considered closer to the majors and someone Maddon, a former Angels coach, called “a very interesting player that I’m very excited about.”
HalosHeaven.com claims it’s Jordan Walden, based on Walden not appearing on the Arkansas Travelers’ roster. But Walden hasn’t been on that roster for weeks. He’s been on the Tempe Angels’ roster since August 16 while on rehab assignment for a recurring forearm injury. The Tempe rosters are on FutureAngels.com.
Flawed logic aside, if the player is already known but hasn’t been announced it could be for several reasons. MLB rules prohibit trading a player while he’s on the disabled list, unless the player approves. Another rule prohibits trading a player within the first year after he signs. Topkin says it’s someone closer to the majors than Torres or Sweeney.
If I were the Rays, I’d be asking for Trevor Reckling, Will Smith or Ryan Chaffee. None of those, however, are disabled, so there’s no reason not to include them now in the trade. So it could be Walden despite the flawed reasoning of the HalosHeaven.com post. It could also be a position player pending some other transaction.
When I originally heard it was just Torres and Sweeney, I thought the Angels were getting off cheaply. But as the saying goes, “You get what you pay for,” and Kazmir is worth more than those two. When the other cleat drops, we may think twice about this deal.
UPDATE August 29, 2009 4:45 PM PDT — In discussing the PTBNL with someone on the Angels MLB.com board, we realized that the PTBNL could be someone on the 40-man roster who isn’t on the 25-man roster. That opens a new list of possible names. Among those are Brandon Wood, Sean Rodriguez, Matt Brown, Terry Evans, Sean O’Sullivan, and more. They also include two major league pitchers on the disabled list, Scot Shields and Dustin Moseley. These players would have to pass through waivers first, which could explain the delay.
If you’re looking for clues, it was pointed out that Matt Brown didn’t play the last two nights for Salt Lake. You’d think that the Rays wouldn’t want to risk an injury to a future employee by letting him play while he passes through waivers.
What if the player is claimed on waivers by another team? That would complicate matters. It would seem likely that the Angels and Rays would have a “backup” list if that happens. Or they could simply wait until season’s end when waivers are no longer required and then complete the transaction.
Multiple media outlets report a trade about to happen between the Angels and the Tampa Bay Rays. The Angels would acquire 25-year old LHP Scott Kazmir from the Rays for Arkansas LHP Alex Torres and Rancho Cucamonga 3B Matt Sweeney.
The Los Angeles Times reported the trade, then MLB.com reported the trade fell through, and now the St. Petersburg Times says the trade may still happen but the hangup may be the Rays wanting a third minor leaguer to be named later.
Updates when available.
I wrote on August 18 a review of where each Angels minor league affiliate stands in the pursuit of the post-season. I’ll update this each week until the regular season ends.
Salt Lake — The Pacific Coast League is a full-season league, no split-season schedule, so the Bees must win their division outright to qualify for the playoffs. The Bees are currently 62-66 and trail Colorado Springs by six games with 15 games left, including five at Colorado Springs August 26-30. Tacoma is now a half-game ahead of the Bees; Salt Lake is at Tacoma August 31-September 3.
Arkansas — The Travelers finished 28-42 in the first half, ten games behind Springfield in the Texas League North Division. They’re currently 24-30 in the second half, 5½ games behind Tulsa. Northwest Arkansas trails Tulsa by a game. They have 16 games left on the schedule, including four August 25-28 at Tulsa and four at home September 1-4 against Northwest Arkansas. While it’s not impossible for the Travs to win the division, it’s rather unlikely unless they go off on a really hot winning streak, and they did shave two games off their deficit this last week.
Rancho Cucamonga — The Quakes finished 30-40 in the first half, 13 games behind High Desert in the South Division, which won the first half. The California League has rather unusual post-season eligibility rules. The first-half winner in each division get a bye, while the second-half winner faces the team with the next best overall record in a best-of-three series. If High Desert wins both halves, then the teams with the second and third best records will face each other. In the second half, the Quakes are 26-30, five games behind the Mavericks. They had a poor week, going 1-5 to fall behind Lancaster (27-29) and tie with Lake Elsinore (26-30). In the overall standings, after the Mavs it’s Lake Elsinore (65-61) with a nine-game lead over the Quakes (56-70), and then Inland Empire (53-73) and Lancaster (53-73) three games behind the Quakes. At this point, with fourteen games left, it looks like Rancho’s best bet is to finish third in the overall standings and make the playoffs as a wild card. One oddity in their schedule is that they end the regular season on the road in the North Division for seven games, so their ability to knock off rivals down the stretch will be limited. Clear as mud?
Cedar Rapids — The Kernels finished 40-30 in the first half, good enough for second place one game behind Kane County, so under Midwest League rules they’re in. It’s way too early to say who’ll they’ll face in the first round of the West Division playoffs. In the second half, the Kernels are 30-26 with an overall record of 70-56, second-best in the division behind 72-52 Peoria.
UPDATE August 25, 2009 — According to Jeff Johnson at the Cedar Rapids Gazette, the Kernels will probably face Peoria in the first round of the Midwest League playoffs.
Orem — Tom Kotchman does it again. The Owlz’ 20-18 first half record in the Pioneer League’s South Division was only good enough for third place, so they need to win the division outright in the second half. They ran off a fifteen-game winning streak and now have an 18-2 record with a six-game lead over Idaho Falls. Rival Ogden won the first half. The Owlz have 18 games left in the second half, so short of a total collapse they’re going to the post-season. One big factor is that Kotch’s top starting pitcher prospects are stretching out their innings, with Garrett Richards perhaps emerging as the staff ace.
Tempe — The Tempe Angels have been great, but the Scottsdale Giants have been greater. Scottsdale won the Arizona League’s East Division in the first half by one game over Tempe, which finished 18-10. In the second half, Tempe is 16-7 but trails Scottsdale (18-5) by two games with five games left. If Scottsdale wins both halves, they get a bye and the Angels are out. Tempe can help themselves by beating the Giants in the two games they have against each other, starting tonight at Scottsdale. If the Angels don’t win tonight, it’s pretty much over. If they end up tied in the second half, then to go to the playoffs the Angels would need to have won the head-to-head series this season against the Giants. The Angels lead that series 4-3, so if they can knock off the Giants in both games then they’ve looking pretty good. But they really need to win tonight.
With about three weeks left to go in the minor league seasons, here’s the playoff picture for each of the Angels affiliates.
Salt Lake — The Pacific Coast League is a full-season league, no split-season schedule, so the Bees must win their division outright to qualify for the playoffs. The Bees are currently 59-64 and trail Colorado Springs by 5½ games with 21 games left, including five at Colorado Springs August 26-30.
Arkansas — The Travelers finished 28-42 in the first half, ten games behind Springfield in the Texas League North Division. They’re currently 21-28 in the second half, 7½ games behind Northwest Arkansas. They have 21 games left on the schedule, including four at home against Northwest Arkansas. They’d also have to leapfrog Tulsa, which is two games out of first; they have four games next week at Tulsa. While it’s not impossible for the Travs to win the division, it’s rather unlikely unless they go off on a really hot winning streak.
Rancho Cucamonga — The Quakes finished 30-40 in the first half, 13 games behind High Desert in the South Division. In the second half, the Quakes are 25-25 and only one game behind the Mavericks. The California League has rather unusual post-season eligibility rules. The first-half winner in each division get a bye, while the second-half winner faces the team with the next best overall record in a best-of-three series. If High Desert wins both halves, then the teams with the second and third best records will face each other. If the Quakes win the South Division in the second half, they would face the team with the next best overall record, which would currently be Lake Elsinore at 61-59 (followed by the Quakes at 55-65). If High Desert wins the second half, again the I-15 rivals would face each other. Rancho has 20 games left, and three other teams are within four games of them in the second-half standings, so for now it’s anybody’s race.
Cedar Rapids — The Kernels finished 40-30 in the first half, good enough for second place one game behind Kane County, so under Midwest League rules they’re in. It’s way too early to say who’ll they’ll face in the first round of the West Division playoffs. In the second half, the Kernels are 27-24 with an overall record of 67-54, second-best in the division behind 68-51 Peoria.
Orem — What would the post-season be without Tom Kotchman? The Owlz’ 20-18 first half record in the Pioneer League’s South Division was only good enough for third place, so they need to win the division outright in the second half. That’s what they’re doing, as they’ve won eleven straight to post a 12-1 record and a 4½ game lead over Idaho Falls. Rival Ogden won the first half. The Owlz have 25 games left in the second half, with three at Idaho Falls on August 28-30, so it’s a bit early to declare them the second-half winner. But given Kotch’s track record, I wouldn’t bet against him.
Tempe — The Tempe Angels have been great, but the Scottsdale Giants have been greater. Scottsdale won the Arizona League’s East Division in the first half by one game over Tempe, which finished 18-10. In the second half, Tempe is 13-6 but trails Scottsdale by 2½ games. With two teams added to the AZL this year, divisional playoffs are new so it’s unclear to me what happens if the same team wins both halves. Let’s assume the team with the next best record goes to the first-round playoff for the division title. In that scenario, the Giants at 34-12 are 3½ games ahead of the 31-16 Angels, and the 27-20 Mesa Cubs trail the Angels by four games. Tempe has nine games left in the regular season, so their post-season chances look pretty good. They have two games left with the Giants, at Scottsdale on August 24 and at Tempe to close the season on August 29.
UPDATE August 19, 2009 1:00 PM PDT — Per the Angels staff in Tempe, if Scottsdale wins both halves of the AZL East Division then they get a bye in the first round, so Tempe has to win the second half to go to the post-season. Tempe is currently three games behind Scottsdale with nine games to go, including two with the Giants.
Mark Trumbo’s home run last night at Midland was one of the longest hit this year by an Arkansas Traveler.
Back on June 25, I wrote that Mark Trumbo appeared to be emerging from a season-long funk. At that point, in his last thirteen games (starting with Game #2 of a June 12 doubleheader) his AVG/OBP/SLG were .385/.396/.558.
During last night’s game at Midland, Mark hit a two-run dinger that Travs broadcaster Phil Elson described as perhaps the longest homer he’d seen hit this year. In his second at-bat, with the bases loaded, Trumbo hit a shot that required a miracle catch by RockHounds center fielder Archie Gilbert to avoid clearing the bases. He finished the night 3 for 5 with 3 RBI.
So I wanted to revisit Mark’s numbers and see how he’s done since that June 12 marker.
That period covers 25 games. In those games, his AVG/OBP/SLG were .384/.404/.566 in 99 at-bats. He had only 15 strikeouts, or one every 6.6 at-bats, an excellent ratio for a power hitter.
Mark has never been one to take a lot of walks, and that’s still true. He had only four walks in that 25-game period. But you can’t argue the rest of the results, other than perhaps last night’s dinger was his first since June 4.
I e-mailed Angels farm director Abe Flores to ask why Trumbo was more successful in the last month. He replied that Mark had shortened his swing and “matured” in the batter’s box; by that, he meant that Mark was letting bad at bats go, being more conscious of his body language, staying positive and focusing on the next at-bat.
As I’ve written many times, Dickey-Stephens Park, the Travs’ home field, is the most pitcher-friendly park in the Texas League. It’s very important, therefore, to look at the home/road splits for Travs hitters to see how badly DSP has impacted their overall numbers. Here are Mark’s overall splits for 2009:
Home: .248/.310/.416 (137 AB)
Road: .294/.324/.436 (163 AB)
Mark’s splits during his last 25 games:
Home: .315/.345/.481 (54 AB)
Road: .467/.478/.667 (45 AB)
This is the same pattern I noted in last November’s 2008 FutureAngels.com Top 10 Prospects report. Mark’s 2008 home/road splits in the Texas League:
Home: AVG/OBP/SLG: .209/.225/.358 (67 AB)
Away: AVG/OBP/SLG: .357/.410/.661 (56 AB)
In the latest issue (#0915) of Baseball America, columnist Peter Gammons comments on whether pitch recognition and plate discipline can be taught in the minor leagues.
Gammons quotes an unnamed general manager as saying, “I think plate discipline and recognition can be honed and developed. But I think it is an innate skill.”
Howie Kendrick is cited by Gammons as someone struggling to figure out pitch recognition:
But if a young player doesn’t have to address pitch recognition and plate discipline in the minors, can he learn on the major league level? The Angels are going through that process with Howie Kendrick, a potential batting champion whose inability to deal with the strike zone had resulted in a .229 average.
The sabermetric world tends to think that taking more walks results in better plate discipline, when in fact it’s the reverse. Walks are a byproduct of better pitch recognition and plate discipline. This was a point made by Mike Scioscia and Mickey Hatcher last April in an article by sportswriter Mike DiGiovanna in the Los Angeles Times. Kendrick in particular was one subject of the article.
Do Trumbo’s numbers over the last 25 games indicate better plate discipline even though he’s still taking few walks? That’s a question that may not be answered until he faces major league pitching.
But he’s certainly trending in the right direction.
Mark Trumbo may be emerging from a season-long funk. He’s batting .385 in his last thirteen games.
I went over to Space Coast Stadium last night to watch the Brevard County Manatees host the Dunedin Blue Jays. The Manatees won the Florida State League’s North Division first half title with a 40-24 record, but got blown out last night 12-1.
I couldn’t help but think of Orem Owlz manager Tom Kotchman after a play in the top of the first. Dunedin leadoff batter Sean Shoffit tripled. The next batter, Raul Barron, grounded to third. No way Shoffit should have scored, but Manatees third baseman Zelous Wheeler fielded the ball and threw to first without first checking Shoffit. This is the time of year that Kotch is teaching his new recruits in Orem the proper way to play pro ball, and a mental mistake like that would have Kotch coming out of his cleats.
Brevard is a much more modest operation than their Angels counterpart in Rancho Cucamonga. I walked up with my ticket to the gate, and handed it to the ticket taker. I’d called last week to establish diplomatic relations with the GM, and said I’d find him when I got to the game. So I asked the young man, “Where can I find Kyle?”
“I’m Kyle,” he replied
Meanwhile, in the Angels world …
Trevor Reckling was named today to the U.S. roster for the Futures Game July 12 in St. Louis, but as I wrote on June 19 he’s been suffering lately from wildness. In his last four starts, he’s walked 21 batters in 23 1/3 innings (19 strikeouts). Hopefully it’s just a mechanical issue, but it bears watching.
In my June 22 article looking at the 2008 FutureAngels.com Top 10 Prospects, I mentioned signs of Mark Trumbo coming out of his slump. That trend has continued. In his last 13 games, he’s 20 for 52 with seven doubles and a triple. His AVG/OBP/SLG are .385/.396/.558. Keep going, Mark.
Ryan Chaffee was ranked #6 last November on the FutureAngels.com Top 10 Prospects list. He’ll represent the Cedar Rapids Kernels in the Midwest League All-Star Game.
The 2008 FutureAngels.com Top 10 Prospects report was published last November. We’re now about halfway through the 2009 season, so let’s take a quick look at how they’re proceeding.
A disclaimer … Prospect rankings are always shifting, whether it’s a professional analysis by Baseball America, or semi-pro reporting by those such as Baseball Prospectus, John Sickels and myself. They’re simply a snapshot in time. Some may claim their expertise is infallible (those would be the amateur/fan sites), but the truth is we’re all guessing based on the facts as we have them at the time, and what’s most important to us for the future. I have the advantage of following the Angels full-time, while those others scatter their resources across thirty organizations.
Presented in reverse order, just as they were last November:
10. Luis Jimenez 3B — I wrote last November that “Lucho” had been relegated to DH duty since August 8 after injuring his throwing shoulder in a game. He wound up undergoing labrum surgery and is currently on rehab at the Angels’ minor league complex in Tempe. When I visited during extended spring training, the scuttlebutt was that he might DH the rest of the year, but so far he’s still disabled. How well he recovers may determine if he remains at the Hot Corner or moves to a corner outfield position.
9. Matt Brown 3B-1B — Brownie turned heads in spring training when he posted an AVG/OBP/SLG of .468/.527/.787 (47 AB), but he’s just another example of how much caution should be used when analyzing spring numbers. Matt hit just .189 in April with only one homer. He’s picked it up a bit since then, but overall his numbers are still just .223/.324/.429. Originally a third baseman, he’s played mostly first base to give him another position on the résumé. He turns 27 in August and can be a six-year minor league free agent this winter if the Angels don’t protect him on the 40-man roster.
8. Kevin Jepsen RHP — Jepsen injured his lower back early in the season and went on the disabled list April 21 with tightness and spasms. The Angels sent him to Salt Lake first as a rehab assignment and then outright when he came off the DL, but his 9.00 ERA and 2.56 WHIP (Hits + Walks)/(Innings Pitched) in 18 innings showed little to suggest progress. The Angels recalled him anyway on June 10 when they demoted Jose Arredondo; in five innings, he’s allowed four runs on eight hits, struck out four and walked none.
7. Peter Bourjos CF — Bourjos has fulfilled expectations with Double-A Arkansas, earning a spot on the Texas League North Division All-Star team. Due to a sprained left wrist suffered during batting practice on June 4, he won’t be able to participate, but up to that point his numbers were excellent for a 22-year old in Double-A. His AVG/OBP/SLG were .316/.366/.454; because his home park is so pitcher-friendly, it’s important to note that his home/away splits are very similar so there’s no reason for “adjustment” to his overall numbers. Pete could improve his OBP by taking more walks, and he could work at reducing his strikeout rate (once every 5.2 AB), but those are common nitpicks for young hitters at upper levels. In the stolen base department, he was 14 for 20, a bit of a slowdown in his usual theft rate. His defense in center field has been excellent, having not committed a single error and among the league leaders in outfield putouts when injured.
6. Ryan Chaffee RHP — I took a lot of grief from the amateur/fan sites for this one, but so far Chaffee has shown he deserved the recognition. Drafted in the third round of the June 2008 draft, Chaffee was unable to pitch professionally last year due to a broken foot that eventually required corrective surgery. His winter workouts in Tempe drew rave reviews. Although he was projected to report to Rookie-A Orem in June, he was assigned out of extended spring training to Class A Cedar Rapids in April 25 as pitching promotions cascaded throughout the organization in the wake of injuries at the parent club level. Chaffee didn’t disappoint. Despite his late arrival, he was voted by league managers onto the Midwest League West Division All-Star team. His overall numbers to date are a 2.83 ERA in 11 starts (60.1 IP) with a 66:29 SO:BB ratio. His groundouts to all other outs (GO/AO) ratio is an outstanding 3.38, and his AVG against is .176. Ryan turned 21 on May 18; I won’t be surprised if he gets a promotion to Rancho Cucamonga after the All-Star break, certainly before season’s end.
5. Nick Adenhart RHP — Despite a poor 2008, Nick made the parent club roster out of spring training after the Angels lost John Lackey and Ervin Santana. He made his first start on April 8 in Anaheim against Oakland, and pitched six shutout innings. Later that night, he was killed by an alleged drunk driver. The loss to baseball is insignificant compared to that suffered by his family, loved ones, and the many people whose lives he touched.
4. Hank Conger C — The first question to be answered was, “Will Hank Conger ever catch again?” The answer is yes. He’s caught in 40 of the 58 games in which he’s appeared this year, having twice caught in seven straight games when he was in the lineup, so no questions are left about his shoulder holding up. His defense has been acceptable too — a .980 fielding average, only six errors so far, and he’s thrown out 14 of 39 runners (35.9%), which ranks third among Texas League regular catchers, although the caught-runners stat is dependent upon the ability of a pitcher to hold a runner on base. So let’s talk about his offense. That aspect of his game has been disappointing, although it’s important to remember he’s a 21-year old only two steps from the majors; there will be guys younger than him starting their pro careers this week at Orem and Tempe. His overall AVG/OBP/SLG are .265/.318/.352. I’ve written many times that the Travelers play in perhaps the most pitcher-friendly park in the league, yet surprisingly his offense numbers are much better at home (.296/.346/.417) than on the road (.234/.282/.287). One good sign is that his strikeout rate is excellent for a power hitter, once every 5.8 AB. He may wind up repeating the Texas League in 2010 if the power numbers don’t pick up, but that was the one aspect of his game no one worried about until now. Everything else is looking good.
3. Mark Trumbo 1B — There was every reason to think Trumbo would have a good 2009 with the Travelers. In 132 AB at the end of 2008, Mark posted an AVG/OBP/SLG of .276/.311/.496; on the road, those numbers were .357/.410/.661 (61 AB). But so far, he’s failed to repeat that performance in his first full Double-A season. His overall numbers are .238/.288/.383 (240 AB), with his road numbers .242/.278/.371 (124 AB). He’s shown some life in his last ten games, batting .333/.350/.513 with five doubles and a triple. Defense is always hard to measure statistically, but if you compare his numbers to the league leaders they’re very competitive. Hopefully he builds on his recent streak into the second half.
2. Jordan Walden RHP — Walden missed a month (April 21 to May 19) due to an inflamed right elbow muscle, so it’s hard to get a read on how much that’s been affecting him. His overall numbers are a bit lackluster — 4.12 ERA, 1.63 WHIP, .298 AVG — but in June they’re much better — 1.90 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, .258 AVG. In his four June starts, he’s struck out 27 in 23.2 IP, suggesting the elbow problem may have passed. I like that he’s given up only three homers (one in June), which is a good sign as when he’s going well he rarely gives up dingers.
1. Will Smith LHP — Another controversial ranking for which I caught grief, but overall I’m still confident about his top ranking. (I will note, though, that last November I predicted Chaffee could be #1 for 2009.) Will’s numbers are a bit deceiving, because he got hurt early when he strained his left hamstring in his second start on April 18. Smith returned three weeks later on May 7 and got bombed, which I dismiss because he hadn’t pitched in a while. If you look at his numbers since then, he’s had eight starts, 54.1 IP, a 2.98 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 48 strikeouts and 10 walks. Not quite the insane 76:6 SO:BB ratio in 73 IP last year at Orem, but still very impressive for a 19-year old in the Midwest League. (He turns 20 on July 10.) The injury probably cost him a nomination to the All-Star Game. A defensive note — six of nine runners against him have been caught stealing, but that could be credited to his catcher as well as Will. In any case, this 6’5″ southpaw (with room to grow) continues to look as if he may evolve into a dominant pitcher, with a late-season promotion to Advanced-A Rancho Cucamonga not out of the question.
UPDATE June 23, 2009 10:30 AM PDT — This morning’s Cedar Rapids Gazette had a lengthy article about Ryan Chaffee and the other Kernels chosen for tonight’s Midwest League All-Star Game. Kernels manager Bill Mosiello had this to say about Chaffee:
“He needs to make a lot of changes,” Kernels Manager Bill Mosiello said. “He needs to not try and trick every hitter and pitch around everybody. Like the other day, he gives up one run but throws 98 pitches in five innings. If he continues to do that, he’s not going to be able to pitch very long.
“But he’s been good since day one. Sometimes in their minds, they are developing. Maybe they’re not physically showing it, but I think he’s learning … He’s going through the process, still learning. It’s like I told him, it’s pretty neat to learn like that giving up only one run. Hopefully he’ll make the adjustments in his next start and as he gets older.”
Kernels second baseman Alexi Amarista will play in Tuesday’s Midwest League All-Star Game. He’s batting .310 and has 22 stolen bases.
The first half for most full-season minor leagues ends this weekend. I’ll wait until then to take a mid-season look at the players listed last November in my 2008 Top 10 Prospects report.
Let’s take a look at guys who might have made my list had I possessed a working crystal ball:
RHP Matt Palmer was a journeyman pitcher signed by the Angels over the winter as a six-year minor league free agent from the Giants’ system. Palmer found himself in the big leagues only because of a rash of injuries to the Angels’ starting rotation. The Angels lost John Lackey, Ervin Santana, Kelvim Escobar, Dustin Moseley and Shane Loux, and worst of all the death of Nick Adenhart. At age 30, Palmer is no one’s idea of a future Hall of Famer, but he provided quality innings at the back of the rotation when it was desperately needed. As of this writing, he has a 6-0 record and a 4.13 ERA in 56.2 innings.
LHP Trevor Reckling appeared on many Top 10 lists. He almost made mine — if there’d been a #11, it would have been him — but I wanted to see how his mechanics held up over another full season before I gave him Top 10 status. Trevor began 2009 at age 19 with High-A Rancho Cucamonga. He made only three starts before Nick Adenhart’s death rippled through the organization. Sean O’Sullivan moved up from Double-A Arkansas to Triple-A Salt Lake, and Reck moved up to fill Sully’s spot. He’s responded beyond all expectations, becoming one of six Travelers named to the Texas League All-Star Game. He turned 20 on May 22, one of the youngest pitchers in the league. Reckling has been shaky in his last three starts, walking 15 in 17.1 innings, which could be mechanical issues, fatigue or just the league catching up with him. It’s also important to note that Dickey-Stephens Park is very pitcher-friendly; it you look at his home/road splits, his home ERA is 1.72 (36.2 IP) but his road ERA is 4.57 (21.2 IP). The second half will be key, to see if fatigue catches up to him and if the extreme home/road split continues.
RHP Trevor Bell, a supplemental draft pick after the first round in June 2005, was generally considered to be a disappointment coming into 2009. Last season found him demoted from Rancho Cucamonga to Cedar Rapids as a disciplinary action, and when he returned to the Quakes he was in the bullpen. There was little reason to think he’d step it up in 2009, join Double-A Arkansas in the starting rotation, be named to the Texas League All-Star Game and be promoted to Triple-A Salt Lake before mid-season. Bell posted a 2.23 ERA in 11 starts (68.2 IP) with 51 strikeouts and 20 walks. But how’s about that home/away split we talked about? Good news. His home ERA was 2.25 (44.0 IP), his road ERA was 2.19 (24.2 IP). He gave up only one homer in the first half, and that was at home. In his first Triple-A start on June 16, Bell went the distance at home against Colorado Springs, pitching a two-hit shutout in hitter-friendly Spring Mobile Ballpark.
2B Alexi Amarista is charitably listed at 5’8″ 150 lbs., but the 20-year old Venezuelan has hit his way into the Midwest League All-Star Game for the Kernels. His glove got him named the Angels’ defensive player of the month for April, committing no errors in 77 chances (although he’s committed nine since then). Amarista has fallen back to earth in June, batting .261 to date. A left-handed batter, he generally lacks power with no homers and a .424 SLG, but he makes up for it with speed, notching 22 stolen bases to date in 32 attempts. His SO:BB ratio is nearly 1:1 (33:27 in 245 AB) and fits well into the Angels’ “Contactball” style of play, striking out once every 7.4 at-bats.
OF Chris Pettit roared out of the gate with an AVG/OBP/SLG of .424/.451/.636 in April for the Salt Lake Bees. The 24-year old outfielder was an unknown when he was selected as a college senior in the 19th round of the 2006 draft, but he’s hit well at each level and was well on his way to establishing himself as a legit prospect when he broke the hamate bone in his left hand on June 4 and may be out for the year. Although he’s seen action at all three outfield positions in his career, he’s best suited for the corners and played mostly LF for the Bees. I’ve written many times here about the importance of splitting out the PCL’s five hitter-friendly parks (Salt Lake, Colorado Springs, Albuquerque, Las Vegas and Reno) from the rest to get an accurate picture of a hitter’s performance; when we do that with Chris, his AVG/OBP/SLG in hitter-friendly parks were .393/.442/.580 (150 AB) and in the rest were .283/.306/.478 (46 AB). Those numbers suggest his offense was largely due to the parks, but we’ll have to wait and see after he returns from the injury if he can retain his prospect status.
OF Jeremy Moore is the quintessential “project,” a potential five-tool player if he can ever harness his raw talents. Last year at Cedar Rapids, his AVG/OBP/SLG were .240/.284/.478, the latter number reflecting an explosion of power (11 doubles, 12 triples, 17 homers). He stole 28 bases in 38 attempts, but his frightening 125:21 SO:BB (5.9:1) ratio suggested problems at higher levels. This year at Rancho Cucamonga, Moore has improved his AVG and OBP; his numbers are now .309/.352/.458. His SO:BB ratio of 70:14 (5.0:1) is better than 2008, but his strikeouts have increased with his walks. The Cal League is a notorious hitter’s league, so that should also be taken into consideration. His stolen bases are down too, with only seven in 18 attempts. The left-handed hitting Moore is batting .384 against southpaw pitchers (73 AB), .276 against righties (163 AB). He turns 22 on June 29 (Happy Birthday, J-Mo).
The Cedar Rapids Kernels bullpen deserves a lot of credit for the team qualifying for the post-season by finishing first or second in the first half (that’ll be decided this weekend). ERA isn’t always the best number to measure a relief pitcher’s success, so let’s go with WHIP (Walks + Hits)/(Innings Pitched). LHP Drew Taylor has a WHIP of 0.93 and AVG against of .132, RHP Michael Kohn has 0.89 and .165, RHP Jeremy Thorne has 1.12 and .226, and RHP Vladimir Veras has 0.96 and .163. Kohn and Veras close most of the time; Kohn has 11 saves and Veras has 10. Taylor is averaging 15.5 strikeouts per nine innings, Kohn 14.2 and Veras 10.5. Taylor, a 34th round pick, might move up fastest due to his age (23 in August) and the fact that he’s left-handed, but he struggled with Rancho in April when he had a 2.82 WHIP in five relief appearances before returning to C.R. Orem manager Tom Kotchman told me last year that Taylor was a great scouting job by Chris McAlpin, and may project as a situation lefty with 87-91 MPH velocity and a slider.
It’s no surprise that an organization that values pitching so highly should be so deep in pitching. Yes, there’s a lack of power hitters, but if the parent club ever sees the need to make a trade they certainly have a lot of pitching to offer in return, and baseball professionals will tell you that pitching is the coin of the realm.
UPDATE 2:30 PM PDT — I wanted to add a comment about Salt Lake outfielder Terry Evans. Terry made the 2007 FutureAngels.com Top 10 Prospects list after making his major league debut that year, but he missed most of 2008 after suffering a torn right labrum in a slide at home plate on May 6. Evans fell off the prospect radar but is trying to play his way back into the Angels’ plans. His overall AVG/OBP/SLG are .284/.330/.521, but as with Pettit we need to split his numbers into hitter-friendly and other parks. His hitter-friendly numbers are .292/.344/.536 (192 AB), and in other parks .261/.288/.478 (69 AB). This mirrored what I saw in 2007; Terry was never one to take many walks, but almost all of them were in hitter-friendly parks. Why he takes almost no walks in neutral/pitcher-friendly parks, I can’t explain. In any case, the “neutral” numbers along with his high strikeout rate (once every 3.4 AB) suggest he’s not quite ready for prime time prospect status just yet, and at age 27 he may be about out of time.