Milwaukee’s Double-A Huntsville club was a nightmare for Southern League pitchers in 2008.
Huntsville routinely rolled out a prospect-heavy lineup, mixing in Matt LaPorta, Mat Gamel, Angel Salome, Michael Brantley, Lorenzo Cain and Cole Gillespie throughout the season. The final product was an offense that led the league with 733 runs scored in 140 games, outscoring the league’s second-highest scoring team by 52 runs.
With all the young talent and the huge offensive years from LaPorta and Gamel, scouts and managers who watched Huntsville last season often came away saying the same thing: the team’s best prospect is Alcides Escobar.
Playing for Cardenales de Lara this winter in his native Venezuela, Escobar batted just .224/.289/.302 in 128 plate appearances, though he maintained a solid 11-13 BB-K mark. Even though the hits weren’t falling for Escobar, that didn’t stop scouts who watched him from gushing over his defense at shortstop.
"He can do it all in the field," said one scout. "He could play in the major leagues right now at shortstop if given the chance. He’s got that looseness where everything comes easy for him at shortstop."
As mentioned, the Puerto Rican League was full of more veterans than prospects in its return, but it still had plenty of storylines.. Consider:
IAN KENNEDY, RHP, YANKEES
Kennedy had as bad a year in 2008 as he had in 2007, when he shot through three minor league levels and finished his first full pro season in the major leagues. In 2008, he began the year in the Yankees rotation and finished it in the doghouse, posting an 0-4, 8.17 mark.
Sent to Puerto Rico in an attempt to salvage something of his season, Kennedy went 2-2, 1.56 in 34 2/3 innings. He also struck out 31 and issued 12 walks. [...] Continue Reading »
Used to be, winter league baseball in Puerto Rico and Mexico brought out the stars and the crowds, with many of the game’s top-flight minor leaguers on display, too.
Indeed, the 1960s and into the 1990s were the good old days—a period of time that seems to get better by the year whenever old-timers sit around and reminisce.
In 2008, however, the Mexican Pacific League and the resuscitated Puerto Rican League hardly overwhelmed scouts and others with long-time ties to both circuits. [...] Continue Reading »
This installment considers all transactions reported by MLB between Jan. 17 to 23. The previous installment is available here.
Signed: C Alvin Colina
Traded: RHP Randor Bierd to Red Sox for RHP David Pauley
Traded: RHP Henry Williamson and LHP Garrett Olson to Cubs for OF Felix Pie
Boston Red Sox
Traded: RHP David Pauley to Orioles for RHP Randor Bierd
Traded: RHP David Aardsma to Mariners for LHP Fabian Williamson
Casualties of Boston’s active winter, Aardsma and Pauley both were designated for assignment last week to make room for free agent imports John Smoltz and Takashi Saito. If you’re looking for thumbnail scouting reports on the talents of Bierd, an Orioles’ big league Rule 5 pick last season, and Williamson, here’s what BA had previously published about them:
"Another sleeper, and one of my favorite names ever, is Erie RHP Randor Bierd, sinker-slider guy, good size, pretty strong middle relief profile." (—John Manuel, Eastern League Top 20 Prospects chat, Oct. 5, 2007)
"A 22nd rounder in ’06 who signed too late to play that year, Williamson had a great season with Pulaski this year, striking out 67 in 53 innings, but he succeeded more with pitchability than stuff. That’s not a bad thing—it just means he has more to prove as he moves up. Reports from the Appy League indicated an 87-91 mph fastball and a nice curveball, which he already throws for strikes. Williamson also made improvements to his changeup." (—Matt Eddy, Mariners Top 10 Prospects chat, Dec. 5, 2008) [...] Continue Reading »
Ismael Guillon, one of the top international amateur free agent signings of 2008, is still a Cincinnati Red. He just has a little less cash in his pockets.
The Reds voided Guillon’s contract after finding a problem with his physical that raised a red flag for the club. The team then re-signed Guillon for a lower bonus amount than the original $600,000 that the two sides had agreed upon in October.
Guillon, who signed as a 16-year-old from Venezuela, was going to begin his career as a lefthanded pitcher. However, some teams liked Guillon better as a corner outfielder or a first baseman. Reds scouting director Chris Buckley didn’t say whether Guillon would begin his career on the mound or with a bat in his hands, but the Reds are still sold on his potential. [...] Continue Reading »
The Rangers’ 2009 season is already starting to look eerily similar to that of 2008.
Eric Hurley, a righthander that Texas eyed for a starting rotation slot, is likely to miss the season after undergoing surgery Wednesday to repair a torn rotator cuff, according to The Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
Hurley, a first-round pick in 2004, had spent the offseason trying to get his shoulder ready. This after the Rangers shut him down in August shortly after a July 27 start in which the Athletics battered him for six earned runs in only two innings. [...] Continue Reading »
Royals third baseman/first baseman Jason Taylor had helped regain his prospect status with a solid 2008 season, but his long-term future is once again in doubt after Major League Baseball announced he will miss the first 50 games of the 2009 season after testing positive for a drug of abuse.
This is Taylor’s first MLB-sanctioned suspension for drugs, but he also missed the entire 2007 season after the Royals sent him home for disciplinary purposes. He had helped his cause with a solid return to the game in 2008, as he hit .242/.372/.418 for low Class A Burlington. He also stole 40 bases in 54 tries. But with the suspension, he will now miss a significant portion of the 2009 season, and faces a 100-game suspension if he fails another drug test.
Coming out of a Virginia Beach, Va., high school, Taylor was not projected to go until later in the draft, but the Royals selected him with the first pick of the second round in 2006, and signed for $762,500. Taylor has played third base during most of is career, but he moved to first base when paired in Burlington with Royals’ top prospect Mike Moustakas.
The preliminary rosters for the second World Baseball Classic were released tonight. While most of the mainstream coverage will focus on the Major League players on the lists (and for all the provisional rosters, click here), here at Baseball America, we’re scouring the lists for prospects (what else would you expect?). Keep in mind that these 45-man rosters are just provisional and that when the final, 28-man rosters are released on Feb. 24, not all of these guys will make the cut. That doesn’t mean we can’t have some fun in the meantime, though . . .
This installment considers all transactions reported by MLB between Jan. 13 to 16. The previous installment is available here.
Removed from 40-man roster: LHP Francisley Bueno
A native of Cuba who signed with Atlanta in 2006, Bueno was excised from Atlanta’s 40-man roster to make room for free agent acquisition Derek Lowe, who signed a four-year, $60 million deal.
Signed: RHP Blair Johnson, LHP Bobby Livingston, 1B Craig Brazell, SS Chris Gomez
Brazell, if you’ll remember, led the minors with 39 home runs and 326 total bases in 2007. (Pop quiz: Can you name the minor league home run champ for ’08? How about for ’05 or ’06? Answers to follow.) A member of the Royals organization in ’07, Brazell, then 27, also ranked third among minor leaguers in slugging (.601), hits (171) and extra-base hits (77). His exploits earned him a coveted gig with Japan’s Seibu Lions for the ’08 season. There, the lefthanded slugger batted .234/.294/.446 with 27 homers and 87 RBIs, but he also racked up 139 strikeouts in 130 games.
Answer: You were correct if you guessed Brandon Wood (43 in ’05), Kevin Witt (36 in ’06) and Dallas McPherson (42 in ’08).
Boston Red Sox
Signed: RHP Charlie Zink
Traded: OF Mickey Hall to Indians as player to be named in trade for RHP Paul Byrd
Perhaps things would have worked out differently for the knuckleballing Zink had he not given up eight runs in 4 1/3 innings of his big league debut. His career record remains untarnished, however, because the Red Sox rallied to defeat the Rangers 19-17 in that game. The signing of Rocco Baldelli pushed Zink off the 40-man, and he re-signed with the organization. [...] Continue Reading »
The commissioner’s office announced 50-game suspensions for Mets farmhand Junior Guerra, a righthander Junior Guerra, and Red Sox farmhand Cristopher De La Rosa, an outfielder, for testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs. [...] Continue Reading »
Sift through the pile of stats coming out of the Dominican League, and it’s almost too good to be true.
Pablo Ozuna, a 34-year-old third baseman, must have found the fountain of youth. What else to make of his time there? When the playoffs got under way, he was the regular-season batting champ and led in on-base percentage and was third in slugging in finishing .390/.467/.568.
But on the website BA uses to check the Dominican League’s official stats, the names of the ERA leaders are, well, absent. And maybe that’s to protect the innocent.
The Dominican League’s runs per game came in at a whopping 5.9 this year. That was a full two runs more than a year ago, and 1.7 runs more than in 2006. More surprising, consider hits from last year (2,355) compared to this year (2,963), and consider home runs from last year (126) to home runs this year (289).
So what gives?
"The pitching was down, and the umpires were awful," one National League scout said. "The pitchers were kind of forced to lay it in there. And there were comments like, ‘We’ve never seen this before.’"
[...] Continue Reading »
Fernando Martinez’s winter-ball season may be over. But at least this time his absence is not being brought about by injury.
The Venezuelan League’s Caracas Lions announced today that they have released the 20-year-old Martinez, who this offseason repeated as the Mets’ No. 1 prospect. (You can read a rough translation of the story in Caracas’ El Universal.) Replacing Martinez on the roster is 37-year-old Armando Rios, a native of Puerto Rico who hasn’t played affiliated ball since 2004.
The VL is engaged in the round-robin portion of its playoffs, after which the winner will represent Venezuela in the Caribbean World Series, which begins on Feb. 2.
Martinez, a Dominican who signed with the Mets for $1.4 million in 2005, batted just .160/.276/.320 in 25 at-bats for Caracas, the team he joined at the outset of the VL playoffs. Most of that damage was done in his first game, however, in which he went 2-for-4 with a double and a home run. Outside of that game, Martinez was 2-for-21 with zero extra-base hits. In eight games, he scored four runs, drove in one and compiled three walks and seven strikeouts. [...] Continue Reading »
This installment considers all transactions reported by MLB between Dec. 24, 2008, and Jan. 12, 2009. The previous installment is available here.
Signed: 2B Guillermo Reyes
Signed: C Robby Hammock, C Guillermo Quiroz, 3B Jolbert Cabrera, OF Justin Christian
Released: RHP Aubrey Miller, RHP Marcus Moore, RHP Robert Neigebauer, RHP Kyle Touchatt, LHP Aaron Odom, C Zachary Dillon, C Justin Martin, C Michael Pierce, C Josh Tarnow, SS Jason Altenhof, SS Malcolm Crowley, OF Danny Heller, OF Francisco Mejia, OF Nick Ray
Reinstated from inactive list: RHP Andrew Barb
The Orioles still don’t have a catcher on the 40-man roster, with Minor League Player of the Year Matt Wieters looming as the team’s 2009 starter. Hammock (479 at-bats) and Quiroz (234) have big league experience, with Quiroz serving as the O’s backup last year, but neither should stand in Wieters’ way. (John Manuel)
Boston Red Sox
Signed: 2B Nick Green, SS Angel Chavez
Released: RHP Kyle Foster, RHP Jimmy James, RHP Scott Lonergan, LHP Daniel Buller, LHP Michael Tomoleoni, C Matt Cooney
Removed from 40-man roster: RHP Charlie Zink [...] Continue Reading »
The Arizona Fall League is considered the place to be for prospects when the regular season ends, but the Caribbean leagues are peppered with plenty of prospects still playing ball.
And leagues like the Venezuela League offer advantages over the AFL, one of which is the length of the season. While the AFL season ends after 38 games and managers have to shuffle their rosters around to get all of their prospects adequate playing time, the Venezuela League’s regular season spans 63 games, the equivalent of 45 percent of the 140-game minor league regular season.
Most of the league’s best prospects are native Venezuelans, though some U.S.-born prospects, such as Seattle’s Mike Carp and Shawn Kelley, are also in the league. The league is a mix of prospects, a few big leaguers and ex-big leaguers (Rich Garces led the league with 19 saves, just for example). Scouts and player development officials say hitters often see a steady stream of offspeed pitches relative to what they’re used to seeing during the minor league season, giving teams an opportunity to challenge players who need to improve their approach or learn to stay back against breaking balls and changeups.
With the regular season in Venezuela over and the league’s playoffs underway, we’ll start things off today by updating the progress of a few prospects playing in Venezuela. Throughout the rest of the month, we’ll check back in on other prospects playing in Venezuela and on prospects in the other Caribbean winter leagues.
It looks like the Giants are going to move Pablo Sandoval from catcher to either first or third base, with general manager Brain Sabean telling BA correspondent Andy Baggarly in November that Sandoval could get the majority of playing time at third.
But should the Giants totally abandon Sandoval’s development behind the plate?
Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve seen that Sandoval has ranked as one of the game’s best at erasing base stealers the last two seasons and only committed nine passed balls per 120 games in 2008. And that’s despite playing only one game at catcher between 2005-2006, as the Giants moved Sandoval from catcher after 33 games there in the Rookie-level Arizona League in 2004 before re-converting him to a backstop for 2007.
Yet Sandoval spent time at first and third base in his big league callup in 2008, is playing exclusively at first base this winter in the Venezuelan League (where he has lambasted the league with a .396/.449/.677 line in 214 plate appearances) and appears likely to be headed to a corner infield spot in San Francisco in 2009. So why the rush to move Sandoval away from catcher?
Sandoval, 22, is listed at 5-foot-11, 245 pounds, and having seen him in person, that looks accurate. He’s not tall, but he has a very thick build. If you trust the accuracy of height and weight information (and if this is any indication, maybe we shouldn’t), then there has never been a starting catcher who has weighed at least 245 pounds.
That doesn’t mean it can’t happen.
Before 6-foot-4 Cal Ripken Jr., there were only a handful of shortstops in baseball history who were at least 6-foot-3. Since then, Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Troy Tulowitzki and Hanley Ramirez have come along.
I was flipping through a magazine the other day when an advertisement caught my attention.
The ad was for a product that promised me the ability to be able to slam dunk a basketball. All I had to do was I follow this company’s training program designed to increase my vertical jump and buy its specialized sneakers designed to build strength in my calves, presumably growing them into full-blown cows.
Now, I’m about 5-foot-10. The only hoop I’m ever dunking on is one that says "PlaySkool" on the backboard. I might add a couple of inches to my vertical leap if I worked at it, but my physical limitations mean I’ll never Be Like Mike.
Even some of the best athletes in the world have their limitations to how much they can improve, and in baseball that might be especially true at a position as physically demanding as catcher. Certain aspects of catching—agility, footwork, hands, body control—can improve to various degrees, but scouts say that there’s a limit to how much room for growth they feel comfortable projecting a player in different areas. A 19-year-old catcher with a 40 arm on the 20-80 scouting scale might be able to improve his arm strength a tick or two, but he’ll almost never develop a 70 arm. A big, lumbering young catcher might be able to make some strides with his lateral mobility, but he probably won’t get much more agile with age.
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