Angels catcher Hank Conger will miss at least two to four weeks to rehab a slight tear labrum tear in his right shoulder. If the rehab is not successful, Conger could miss the 2008 season to have shoulder surgery.
A switch hitter, Conger said swinging from either side doesn’t bother him, but he cannot throw and will remain in extended spring training for a few weeks instead of heading to (high) Class A.
Conger, the Angels’ No. 4 prospect and their first-rounder in 2006, hasn’t been durable since he signed with the Angels. He missed six weeks last year with lower-back and hamstring problems, then missed instructional league with more hamstring issues. He missed most of his first year as a pro with a broken hamate bone in his right wrist. Conger hit .290/.336/.472 in 320 plate appearances last year with low Class A Cedar Rapids as a 19-year-old.
Murphy, a third-round pick by Oakland in 2002 from Cal State Northridge, has been traded three times in his career for veterans, the first time to the Marlins for Mark Redman in December 2003, then to the Dodgers and Diamondbacks on successive days near the 2004 trade deadline.
In three seasons with Triple-A Tucson, Murphy has struggled to a 9-11, 4.67 record in 114 games (39 starts), but has struck out 261 batters in 302 1/3 innings. Unfortunately, he also issued 159 walks and gave up 314 hits, leading to an ugly 1.56 WHIP.
Working mostly out of the pen in ’07, Murphy had his finest season for Tucson, striking out 102 opponents, against just 43 walks, in 100 innings. His 3.68 ERA and 1.36 WHIP were his best marks since his 20-game stint with Double-A Carolina in 2004.
FORT MYERS, Fla.—Deolis Guerra didn’t have any problems making positive first impressions with his new organization. The most highly ranked of the four prospects Minnesota received in exchange for sending ace lefthander Johan Santana to the Mets, Guerra is an excellent fit for what the Twins look for in a young arm.
"He’s young, his body’s grown a lot faster than he has," Twins pitching coordinator Rick Knapp said. "He competes, he can change speeds, and he’s got a plus-plus fastball. This is the kind of guy we’re trying to profile."
"First impression is intimidation with the size that he has, and youth on his side," said Twins minor league coordinator Jim Rantz. "He’s got a good arm."
A pleasant surprise for the Twins has been the feel Guerra has shown for his curveball. Projected as an average offering, Guerra has been consistently able to throw curveballs from his high arm slot with a good feel for changing speeds and how to spin the ball. However, some are concerned that trying to be too high with his arm when throwing curveballs may affect his fastball and changeup, his two primary pitches. [...] Continue Reading »
After the Pirates converted Steve Pearce from a first baseman to a full-time outfielder earlier this spring to get his bat into the major league lineup, the team has sent him and nine other players down to minor league camp.
Center fielder Andrew McCutchen and third baseman Neil Walker, the team’s top two prospects, were also sent down. McCutchen, Walker and Pearce should form a formidable trio of Baseball America Top 100 prospects in Triple-A Indianapolis to begin the year.
Shortstop Brian Bixler, second baseman Luis Cruz and righthanders T.J. Beam, Bryan Bullington, Brian Rogers, Marino Salas and Ty Taubenheim were the other seven Pirates sent down to minor league camp.
Pirates outfielder Andrew McCutchen’s No. 14 ranking in the BA Top 100 list is more a reflection of McCutchen’s considerable tools, bat speed, athleticism and above-average fielding in center field than of his current level of offensive polish. McCutchen hit just .258/.327/.383 as a 21-year-old last year with Double-A Altoona, but the Pirates think he has the raw ability to improve rapidly if he can stay disciplined within the strike zone.
"The focus for Andrew is to continue to control the strike zone, identify the pitch he wants depending on the situation and execute that plan," director of player development Kyle Stark said. "This comes down to pitch recognition, strike-zone recognition and staying within his plan consistently."
Specifically, it means steering clear of the slow stuff many pitchers have been successful in getting him to chase.
"He needs to refine his ability to recognize and lay off tough breaking balls early in the count, as well as chasing those pitches later in the count," (general manager Neal) Huntington said. "And he has to attack his pitch when he gets it."
"Pitchers at our level test that with young players," (Triple-A Indianapolis manager Trent) Jewett said. "Do I have to throw you a strike? And, if so, what portion of the plate is yours, and where can I have success? Andrew gives you the feeling that he can make those adjustments and that he can make them faster than most young players, and we did see some of that last year."
Nationals lefthander Ross Detwiler, taken sixth overall last June, and Rangers outfielder Julio Borbon, taken 35th, both were assigned to high Class A to begin the season. Each is on his club’s 40-man roster, Detwiler by virtue of being called to the majors last September to pitch one inning of relief, and Borbon because he was one of four ’07 picks to sign big league pacts.
Detwiler will open with Potomac of the Carolina League, while Borbon embarks for Bakersfield of the California League.
We learned last week that high Class A also will be the April destinations for two other ’07 draftees: righthander Rick Porcello (Tigers) and lefty David Price (Rays), the No. 1 overall selection. Like Borbon, Porcello and Price were signed to major league deals, as was Yankees righthander Andrew Brackman, who’s slated to miss the season after having Tommy John surgery.
This week’s installment considers all transactions reported by MLB between March 1 and 14. Previous transactions available here.
More than half of the spring-training slate has elapsed, meaning that plenty of 40-man roster members have been optioned to minor league camp. Read on to learn the destinations of that first wave. Oh, and the completion of the Super Register should mean a return to a more regularly-scheduled transactions blog.
Released: RHP Osbek Castillo, LHP Craig Pfautz, LHP Mark Romanczuk, C Julio Parra, SS Shea McFeely
Optioned to Triple-A: RHP Max Scherzer, RHP Esmerling Vasquez, 1B Javier Brito, 1B Josh Whitesell
Whitesell, a sixth-round selection by the Expos in 2003 from Loyola Marymount, has been kicking around the minors for five years now, but he gets a new lease on life with his move to Arizona on a waiver claim. He quietly had a fine year in the Double-A Eastern League in 2007, finishing second with 87 walks and a .425 OBP and fourth with a .512 slugging percentage. He’s 26, doesn’t run and doesn’t make a ton of contact, but he might be a cheap on-base source for the D’backs beginning now. He’s also lefthanded, making him a complement to Conor Jackson at first base.
Signed: RHP Vladimir Nunez
Optioned to Triple-A: RHP Charlie Morton, RHP Zach Schreiber, RHP Phil Stockman
Optioned to Double-A: RHP Jairo Cuevas
Optioned to Triple-A: RHP Fredy Deza, RHP Bob McCrory, RHP Hayden Penn
Boston Red Sox
Granted free agency: RHP Lincoln Holdzkom
Optioned to Triple-A: RHP Devern Hansack, RHP Edgar Martinez, RHP David Pauley, OF Jonathan Van Every
Optioned to Double-A: RHP Kyle Jackson, SS Argenis Diaz [...] Continue Reading »
The final three teams to qualify for the Olympics had already been determined before the day’s games began, but the last day of the final Olympic qualifying tournament provided the closest set of games yet.
Canada, South Korea and Taiwan had already clinched Olympic berths at the tournament with the three best records in the tournament, but Canada put its stamp on the tournament with a first-place finish after defeating Germany 2-1. South Korea also finished with a 6-1 record by beating Taiwan 4-3, but Canada held the tie-breaker with a win over South Korea earlier in the tournament.
The Diamondbacks announced today that they claimed first baseman Josh Whitesell on waivers from the Nationals and placed him on their 40-man roster.
Whitesell, who turns 26 next month, has always been relatively old compared to his level since the Nationals drafted him in the sixth round of the 2003 draft. Whitesell is a patient, power-hitting first baseman with a propensity for striking out. He struggled in his first taste of Double-A in 2006 as a 24-year-old but performed well with Double-A Harrisburg last season.
|JOSH WHITESELL 2005-2007
The Diamondbacks optioned Whitesell to Triple-A Tucson and made room for him on the 40-man roster by designating lefthander Bill Murphy for assignment.
Baseball America correspondent Marc Topkin reports that the Rays will send lefthander David Price, the top pick in the 2007 draft, to high Class A Vero Beach to begin his career.
Price skipping over low Class A was certainly no surprise, but there was some speculation that Price would get a chance to begin the year in Double-A Montgomery. Price is the No. 2 prospect in the Rays system and the No. 10 prospect in the BA Top 100.
"I’m trying to be a better contact hitter," said Balentien, who went down swinging in a pinch-hit appearance in Seattle’s 3-3 tie in 10 innings with the San Francisco Giants on Thursday at Peoria Stadium.
"Every year, it’s getting a little better. Last year, I stuck out 105 times and it was the lowest I’ve ever had. This year, my goal is to have less than 100."
* * *
"When I’m working on my soft toss, I can work on my plate discipline," said Balentien, who has struck out five times in 34 spring at-bats. "To know which kind of balls I can hit and which kind I can’t."
Criticisms of Balentien’s pitch recognition and control of the strike zone have followed him throughout his professional career, but he’s shown that he’s making some improvements to make more consistent contact.
|WLADIMIR BALENTIEN 2005-2007
The trend is a good one for Balentien, especially considering that he’s striking out less frequently even while facing more advanced competition. He still chases too many balls out of the strike zone, so whether 2007 was an aberration and he regresses this year to his previously established marks remains to be seen.
Aaron Poreda is the White Sox top prospect, but the hard-throwing lefthander was a 2007 draft pick and only pitched in the Rookie-level Pioneer League last year. The team’s next two prospects–righthanders Lance Broadway and Jack Egbert–are closer to the major leagues. White Sox assistant general manager Rick Hahn commented on what Broadway and Egbert will have to do to take that next step in their development.
"Perhaps the best suited for our ballpark of the (alternates), Jack has had great success inducing groundballs and strikeouts over the past two seasons," Hahn said. "The key for him is getting him healthy and back the path he was on at the end of the 2007 season.
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"(Broadway) added a sinker to his repertoire last spring training that has increased his ability to get groundballs and makes him better suited for our ballpark," Hahn said. "Consistency with that pitch — and his putaway curveball — will be the key to his success."
Egbert has an excellent sinker that helps keep the ball on the ground, as he induced a 1.93 groundout/airout ratio (a GO/AO of at least 1.5 in a large enough sample is a good general barometer of a groundball pitcher) and allowed just three home runs in 161 2/3 Double-A innings last year.
What’s unusual about Egbert is that, despite a fastball with fringe-average velocity that sits in the high-80s, he averaged 9.1 strikeouts per nine innings last year. Egbert had five games last year with at least 10 strikeouts, including a seven-inning stint against Jacksonville in which he had 13 strikeouts, no walks and two hits allowed.
He’s basically Bizarro Jeff Samardzija.
Baseball America correspondent Roch Kubatko reports that an MRI on the throwing shoulder of Orioles righthander James Hoey revealed no structural damage, but that the team still doesn’t know when he will return to action.
"We got a good report on Jim," Orioles president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail said. "I don’t know how long it’s going to be, but the MRI didn’t reveal anything of any structural concerns. I don’t know whether it’s a week, three weeks or what. All I know is there is nothing in there that’s a concern long term."
Hoey, one of the hardest throwers in the minors, had been feeling some soreness in his shoulder–never a good sign for a pitcher. Hoey, 25, had 69 strikeouts and 14 walks in 45 2/3 innings between Double-A Bowie and Triple-A Norfolk last year. He struggled with his control in a brief callup to Baltimore, walking 18 batters in 24 2/3 innings, and was competing for a spot in Baltimore’s bullpen in spring training.
With Canada’s 4-3 victory over South Korea and Taiwan’s 4-0 win over South Africa, the final three teams for the 2008 Olympics are set.
Canada and Taiwan will join South Korea, which qualified earlier in the tournament for the Olympics, along with the United States, Cuba, China, Japan and the Netherlands at the 2008 Beijing Games in August. This year will mark the first time since baseball was introduced as a medal sport in 1992 that four Asian countries will be competing.
Canadian outfielders Nick Weglarz and Matt Rogelstad each homered to help Canada hand South Korea its first loss of the final Olympic qualifier. Rogelstad, a Nationals farmhand, hit a two-run homer in the first inning before Weglarz, the Indians’ No. 6 prospect, added another run in the fourth with his third home run of the tournament. South Korea entered the top of the ninth inning trailing 4-1 and was able to score two runs in the bottom of the ninth before Canadian reliever Michael Kusievicz recorded the final out.
South Africa provided some competition for Taiwan, which mustered just five hits, but Taiwan ultimately prevailed with a 4-0 victory. Taiwan starter Chieng-Ming Chiang struck out six in six innings of work. South Africa starter and former Royals farmhand Barry Armitage pitched well in his third start of the qualifier, lasting seven innings and allowing three runs, but the game was the fourth of South Africa’s six games in the tournament in which it did not score a run.
The new Pirates management wants to see third baseman Neil Walker improve his stamina to be able to play well deeper into the season. Trent Jewett, who was Walker’s manager during Walker’s brief stint at Triple-A Indianapolis last year and will be his manager again this year, said that Walker wore down last season.
"A lot of Neil’s fatigue factor was probably mental because of all the newness," Jewett said. "He was facing players with five, six more years of pro experience. Those guys know how to get through the season. You have to deal with what it takes to put together a full season, from the travel to dealing with teammates to preparing to play. And I think he’ll be better prepared this year because of the crash course he just had."
First-year general manager Neal Huntington also noted that Walker, the team’s No. 2 prospect and the No. 61 overall prospect in baseball, will have to maintain his level of production from the beginning of the season to the end.
"Neil has to understand what it takes physically to play deep into October, which is where our franchise wants to get to," general manager Neal Huntington said. "He has to learn how to pace himself, maintain himself, have that in-season program of maintenance. And he has to understand how important that program is for him."
Walker’s poor second half could have just been a one-year fluke, but his performance undoubtedly dipped in the second half last year. Walker hit .308/.377/.542 in 376 at-bats through his first three months of Double-A last year, but his performance regressed once July came, and he hit .253/.337/.323 in 158 Double-A at-bats in July and August. In a brief promotion to Triple-A in mid-August, Walker hit .203/.261/.250 in 64 at-bats.
Back in 2006 when he was with high Class A Lynchburg, Walker performed better in the second half than he did in the first half, but he also missed the first six weeks of that season after hurting his left wrist in the Arizona Fall League. Walker’s move from catcher to third base should alleviate some of the defensive and durability demands that Walker previously had to handle.
Rick Porcello is still 19 years old and hasn’t pitched an inning in the minor leagues, but the Tigers have decided to skip Porcello over low Class A West Michigan and start him in high Class A Lakeland.
The Tigers drafted Porcello, who fell in the draft due to his contract demands, with the 27th overall pick in the 2007 draft out of Seton Hall Prep (West Orange, N.J), then signed him to a $7 million deal that included a club-record $3.58 million signing bonus and a major league contract.
Aside from Porcello’s combination of talent and polish, one of the other considerations that Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski noted was part of the decision was the favorable weather that Lakeland offers. The average annual temperature in Lakeland, Fla. in April is 73 degrees; the average temperature in Comstock Park, Mich. in April drops down to a cool 46 degrees.
Porcello is the team’s top prospect and the No. 21 overall prospect in baseball.
In a study released on Saturday of 44 professional baseball players, researchers found that only 45 percent of the players "were able to return to the game at the same or higher level after shoulder or elbow surgery." Of the 44 players studied, 35 were pitchers. One noteworthy finding that is consistent with previous research was that players returning from shoulder surgery were less likely to return at the same or higher playing level than those who had elbow surgery.
"In an ideal world, of course, we would get 100 percent of the players back to their pre-injury level or higher," says Steven B. Cohen, MD, assistant team physician for the Philadelphia Phillies and director of Sports Medicine Research at the Rothman Institute in Philadelphia. "But the fact of the matter is at this elite level of the sport, the physical demands of throwing have much higher requirements than the regular person on the street. The average person who has shoulder or elbow surgery can return to their regular activities. Throwing a baseball at the professional level puts a significant amount of stress on the shoulder and the elbow."
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"As a surgeon, obviously these statistics were disappointing and somewhat lower than what we would like them to be," said Cohen. "This may give us cause, however, to look at how we evaluate and treat these injuries to the throwing arm. Our goal is to get these elite athletes back to their premier pre-injury health. This is important both to the player who is making a living off his athletic ability and the organization that wants its players in top shape. We may need to examine if there is a way to ‘fine-tune’ these procedures to customize them for the demands of a professional baseball player."
Four years ago, BA’s John Manuel took an in-depth look at why shoulder injuries often cause more damage to a player’s career than an elbow injury would.
"The shoulder is so complicated because it’s a multidirectional joint, and the more doctors and trainers get into the shoulder, more is learned," (Mariners trainer Mickey Clarizio) says. "You have the elbow, which is a hinge joint, and now we have a procedure like Tommy John surgery that has a good case history going. With the shoulder, the surgical techniques are great, but we’re not seeing the returns we’d hope to see. We don’t have a Tommy John procedure for the shoulder.
"If you’re having surgery, in essence your career is over. You’re having surgery to be able to throw again. And just because you’re having it does not mean you will come back. You’re only having it because your goal is to pitch in the major leagues, and if your shoulder is hurt, you can’t get anyone out.
One reason that the health history of amatuer and minor league players is so crucial for scouts and player development officials to consider is that those players are in developmental phases of their careers. While the advances in medical technology have led to procedures such as Tommy John surgery that allow a pitcher to come back after a year off, that pitcher has still missed a year of time to develop his command, streamline his mechanics (which may have been off in the first place to lead to the injury, thus leaving him vulnerable to further injury) and gain experience facing professional hitters. Couple that loss of developmental time and increased injury risk with a potential decrease in pitch quality due to the injuries, and the health history of a young player can be a key determinant in his future success.
Red Sox middle infielders Dustin Pedroia and Jed Lowrie seem like similar players. They’re both from the West Coast. They both went on to play college baseball at Pac-10 schools. Both were drafted by the same organization, Pedroia going 65th overall in 2004, and Lowrie going 45th overall in 2005. They played shortstop in the minor leagues, with scouts mixed on their abilities to stay at the position, and neither one is an above-average runner. They are patient hitters who derive much of their value from their abilities to get on base at high rates. There are plenty more similarities between Pedroia and Lowrie, but Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein pointed out some of the differences in the way the two players approach the game.
"They’re both polished middle infielders coming out of the draft who can help, but they’re different," Epstein said. "Dustin’s an outspoken, fiery, hardnosed gamer who gets in anyone’s face, thinks he can hit anyone, and isn’t afraid to talk about it, but Jed is more of a cerebral, almost intellectual type of player who’s a student of the game and is very polished because of his ability and athleticism."
Despite their different personalities, it’s difficult to find two players with more similar overall minor league performance records.
|CAREER MINOR LEAGUE STATISTICS
It’s not exactly an apples-to-apples comparison because Pedroia’s numbers include 556 more Triple-A plate appearances than Lowrie’s, but their outputs are remarkably similar.
One key thing that separates Pedroia is how difficult he is to strike out—a skill that translated well for him in his transition to the major leagues—thanks to his pitch recognition and hand-eye coordination.
|CAREER MINOR LEAGUE STATISTICS
Pedroia emerged last year as the American League rookie of the year, but Lowrie appears to be headed back to Triple-A Pawtucket to start the 2008 season with no immediate openings on Boston’s 25-man roster.
With two days left in the final Olympic qualifier in Taiwan, South Korea has already clinched a spot in the 2008 Olympics, while Canada and Taiwan are in the driver’s seat for the final two berths.
Taiwan picked up a key victory with a 5-0 shutout against Australia to improve to 4-1 and knock Australia down to 2-3. Taiwan did most of its damage in the bottom of the second, putting scoring four runs in that frame thanks to a pair of RBI-doubles at the top of the lineup from right fielder Chieh-Ming Chang and Red Sox center fielder Che-Hsuan Lin.
Taiwan righthander Chien-Fu Yang threw a complete game, finishing with six strikeouts, no walks and four hits allowed. Royals lefthander Paul Mildren got the start for Australia and struggled, allowing four runs in five innings. Twins righthander Liam Hendriks was effective in relief, allowing one run in three innings to go with five strikeouts and one walk.
An MRI on righthander Felipe Paulino showed no structural damage, but the Astros will not let their top pitching prospect throw for at least a month after Paulino was diagnosed with a pinched nerve in his upper right arm.
"When you think about everything that is happening, that’s not bad news," manager Cecil Cooper said. "Little disappointed to hear it, but at least there’s no structural damage."
The pinched nerve is the second health problem for Paulino this spring. Earlier in camp, Paulino had an infection cut out of his foot. The 23-year-old was competing for a spot in the Astros rotation, but now he may begin the year at Triple-A Round Rock instead.
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