In the previous installment of our preseason minor league options saga, we examined seven position players who had reached a crossroads in their careers. Because each was out of options for the first time in his career, he either stood poised to make the big league team . . . or he served as trade bait. These decisions take on added significance with the conclusion of spring training just days away.
We turn our attention this time to pitchers, touching on those from all walks of lives—starters and relievers; righties and lefties; domestic and international. As was the case last time, each pitcher's composite left/right and home/road splits for his time at Triple-A is present. In addition, you'll find a synopsis of his strengths and weaknesses as well as an educated guess as to his fate for this season.
For the pitchers included here, the minor league performance sample is not intended to present conclusive evidence of anything. These pitchers did not accumulate nearly the amount of time in Triple-A granted to their position-player counterparts. The reason, one surmises, is that teams do not often hesitate to call up a promising pitcher to the big leagues if he has proven himself for a few months in the high minors. Some pitchers get hurt, while others lose effectiveness for no apparent reason, so clubs are always on the lookout for fresh arms. Position players, particularly corner outfielders and first basemen, have fewer such opportunities.
Unintentional as it was, the highlighted position players could comprise a functioning team. Around the horn: Jake Fox at first base, Alexi Casilla at second, Joaquin Arias at short and Brandon Wood at third. In the outfield: Eric Patterson in left, Mitch Maier in center and Josh Fields in right. Actually, we could sub in the Rockies' Carlos Gonzalez in center and move Fields to DH and Maier to right. At catcher, I'd select the Angels' Bobby Wilson. All nine of these players are out of options for the first time this spring.
A key to the pitcher abbreviations: total batters faced (TBF), strikeout-to-walk ratio (K/BB), isolated power (ISO), strikeout percentage (K), walk percentage (BB), ball-in-play average (BIP), weighted on-base average (wOBA), walks-plus-hits-plus-hit batters per inning (WHIP), groundout-to-flyout ratio (G/F), left-on-base percentage (LOB), fielding-independent ERA (FIP). Detailed explanations follow this post. And for more on league context, see 2009 Minor League Averages, which we published last September.
• Mitch Talbot, rhp, Indians
Age: 26. Usage splits in AAA: 67 starts (100%).
Optional assignments: 2007-09 with Triple-A Durham.
Last Prospect Handbook appearance: No. 16, Rays, 2009.
Career Transactions: Selected by Astros in second round of 2002 draft; signed Aug. 20, 2002 … Traded by Astros with SS Ben Zobrist to Devil Rays for 3B Aubrey Huff, July 12, 2006 … Traded by Rays to Indians, Dec. 21, 2009, completing deal in which Indians traded C Kelly Shoppach to Rays for a player to be named (Dec. 1, 2009).
|MITCH TALBOT • 2007-09 TRIPLE-A SPLITS
Merits: Talbot snapped a remarkable run of consistency last season when elbow trouble limited him to just 15 starts. In his previous five seasons, he had taken 27, 27, 27, 29 and 29 rotation turns—and that's before considering playoff appearances. To make up for lost time, Talbot spent a month in the Arizona Fall League, going 3-0, 4.37 in six starts. He struck out 15, walked six and allowed just two home runs in 23 innings. It proved to be a warm-up for spring training this year. A December trade transported Talbot from the Florida-based Rays' spring training site to the Indians' complex in Goodyear, Ariz., where the thin air made it hard for Talbot to grip his signature pitch: the changeup. "Here in Arizona, I've worked on just locating my fastball and my slider," Talbot said in a recent phone interview. "I don't get as good a grip on the changeup here, so I've been pitching without that. The dry baseballs here have caused the change to kind of slip out of my hand." His performance against lefthanded batters while with Durham attests to the quality of his changeup.
Drawbacks: Talbot's low-90s sinker and slider are occasionally very good, but he'll really need the breaking ball to keep batters off his sinker/change repertoire. Though he rarely walks righthanded batters, Talbot has allowed a few too many hard-hit balls to same-siders. Despite his durability, track record and three-pitch mix, he never received a real shot to make the Rays' stacked rotation. That's not necessarily a knock on Talbot, seeing that it took Wade Davis and Jeff Niemann more than 200 innings apiece at Durham to break through to St. Petersburg.
Educated Guess: The Indians announced on March 29 that Talbot had sewn up a spot in the rotation. He had a fine spring—11 1/3 innings, seven strikeouts, one walk, eight hits, one run—helping to make Cleveland's decision an easy one.
• Homer Bailey, rhp, Reds
Age: 23. Usage splits in AAA: 45 starts (100%).
Optional assignments: 2007-09 with Triple-A Louisville.
Last Prospect Handbook appearance: No. 2, Reds, 2008.
Career Transactions: Selected by Reds in first round (seventh overall) of 2004 draft; signed July 22, 2004.
|HOMER BAILEY • 2007-09 TRIPLE-A SPLITS
Merits: Bailey has been in and out of the Reds' rotation during the past three seasons, making 37 starts for Cincinnati and 45 for Louisville, but it wasn't until the tail end of last year that he found sustained success with the big club. In his final nine starts, Bailey went 6-1, 1.70 with 53 strikeouts and 24 walks in 58 1/3 innings. He allowed just two home runs in that span. Of course, scouts will tell you that because of fluctuating talent levels, the most dangerous times to evaluate players are in spring training and in September. And wouldn't you know it—Bailey has run up a 3.09 ERA in three starts this March, albeit with just modest peripherals. He's out of options now, so it's either sink or swim. A few indicators paint a positive light, chiefly the restoration of his fastball velocity to the 94-96 mph range. It had dipped to about 92 in 2007-08. Second, he seemed to finally tame big league lefthanded batters (.776 OPS last year), for which he may owe a debt of gratitude to minor league veteran Justin Lehr for teaching him the splitter.
Drawbacks: Cincinnati's Great American Ballpark is a hostile place to pitch. Apparently, so was Louisville's Slugger Field. For whatever reason, Bailey pitched better on the road during his three years in Triple-A. Much better. He compiled an ERA a full run lower, a strikeout rate of two more per nine innings, a walk rate of one fewer per nine innings and a home run rate half as harmful. Sure, his strand rate was a bit elevated, but that makes sense given his stronger strikeout rate. Bailey's fellow Louisville pitchers fared marginally better on the road in the past three seasons (3.71 ERA vs. 3.73 ERA at home, with nearly identical peripherals). The only notable difference can be discerned in the average on balls in play—at home it was .312, while on the road it was just .301.
Educated Guess: The Reds will proceed with Bailey in their rotation. This may be the year he rewards them with a full-season of at least average pitching. One wonders how perceptions would be altered had he had matched his Triple-A road output while pitching at home in Louisville these past three years.
• Luis Mendoza, rhp, Rangers
Age: 26. Usage splits in AA & AAA, 2007-09: 41 starts (98%), 1 relief game (2%).
Optional assignments: 2008-09 with Triple-A Oklahoma and 2005 with high Class A Wilmington.
Last Prospect Handbook appearance: No. 24, Rangers, 2008.
Career Transactions: Signed as nondrafted free agent by Red Sox, July 12, 2000 … Claimed on waivers by Padres from Red Sox, July 8, 2005 … Claimed on waivers by Red Sox from Padres, July 27, 2005 … Traded by Red Sox to Rangers for RHP Bryan Corey, July 30, 2006.
|LUIS MENDOZA • 2007-09 DOUBLE-A & TRIPLE-A SPLITS
Merits: Mendoza might have lost his precarious perch on the Rangers' 40-man had it not been for his incredible run in the Mexican Pacific League over the winter. Pitching for Obregon in his native land, he made 14 starts (plus two in the playoffs) and pitched a league-leading 90 1/3 innings, going 7-4, 2.89 with 82 strikeouts and 27 walks. He allowed eight home runs in the hitter-friendly circuit, but balanced that with a 2.10 groundout-to-flyout ratio. Mendoza bounced back from an injury-plagued ’08 campaign (blister problems, shoulder inflammation) to make 18 starts for Triple-A Oklahoma City last year. (He even threw a nine-inning no-hitter on Aug. 14.) The long-limbed, durable righty sits at 88-92 mph with his sinker, his bread-and-butter pitch.
Drawbacks: Like many young Rangers pitchers, Mendoza has struggled to establish himself in Arlington. An extended look in ’08 yielded a startlingly-bad 8.67 ERA and 1.93 WHIP. In fact, he's turned big league opponents into a parade of all-stars. They've hit a cumulative .326/.390/.500 against him. Mendoza's slurvy breaking ball and changeup are average on their best days, and given his pitch-to-contact approach, he'll lean heavily on a strong infield defense. He's already been outrighted from a 40-man roster twice before, going from the Red Sox to the Padres and back to the Red Sox on waiver claims in July ’05. [Correction: Mendoza was outrighted off the Red Sox' 40-man roster only one time, on Aug. 3, 2005. In the instances cited, he had been designated for assignment but did not clear waivers. ME.]
Educated Guess: Mendoza has turned in a very ordinary spring (5.40 ERA in 11 2/3 innings with 15 hits allowed and just four strikeouts), though the Rangers have delayed making a decision on his future as they search for a suitor. He would seem to be a prime candidate to be traded or waived.
• Manny Parra, lhp, Brewers
Age: 27. Usage splits in AA & AAA: 27 starts (100%).
Optional assignments: 2006-07 with Double-A Huntsville and 2007, '09 with Triple-A Nashville.
Last Prospect Handbook appearance: No. 2, Brewers, 2008.
Career Transactions: Selected by Brewers in 26th round of 2001 draft; signed May 27, 2002.
|MANNY PARRA • 2006-07, '09 DOUBLE-A & TRIPLE-A SPLITS
Merits: Parra seemed well on his way to becoming a fixture of future Brewers rotations after his breakout ’08 campaign. After C.C. Sabathia and Ben Sheets, he arguably was Milwaukee's finest starter on the franchise's first playoff team in a quarter-century. Parra walked too many batters (4.1 per nine innings), sure, but he also also contributed a 4.39 ERA and 147 strikeouts over 166 innings. But all his peripherals went backward in ’09, and the Brewers burned Parra's final option in sending him back to Nashville in June. On the minor league side, he's been practically unhittable, especially by lefthanded batters. But with low-90s heat to go with a fine curveball and changeup, Parra dispels any notion of shoehorning him into a situational reliever role.
Drawbacks: Opposing managers like to stack their lineups with righthanded batters when facing Parra—and with good reason. Big league righties have tattooed Parra for a .297/.374/.450 line, and they account for 80 percent of his batters faced. All the walks issued at the big league level suggest that Parra struggles to execute his pitches when his back is against the wall. His four-seam fastball tops out at 93-94 mph, but he's much more effective when working down in the zone and at lower velocities.
Educated Guess: Perhaps new pitching coach Rick Peterson can wring a bit more out of Parra, because he's much too talented to simply discard. The same may not be true a year from now if he hasn't shown improvement.
• Rafael Perez, lhp, Indians
Age: 27. Usage splits in AA & AAA: 30 relief games (61%), 19 starts (39%).
Optional assignments: 2006 with Double-A Akron, 2006-07 with Triple-A Buffalo and 2009 with Triple-A Columbus.
Last Prospect Handbook appearance: No. 11, Indians, 2007.
Career Transactions: Signed as nondrafted free agent by Indians, Jan. 25, 2002.
|RAFAEL PEREZ • 2006-07, '09 DOUBLE-A & TRIPLE-A SPLITS
Merits: Perez completely wiped out lefthanded batters in his first two seasons with Cleveland (.450 OPS and .599 OPS), but they had their revenge in ’09, batting .412/.480/.588 in 85 at-bats. His track record of retiring them in both the majors and minors, however, points to a rebound this season. He has thrown his sweeping slider anywhere from 40 to 50 percent of the time in the big leagues, but he struggled to locate it last year and came to rely on it less and less. As a result, he made a 27-inning stopover in the Dominican League, where he worked primarily as a starter for Cibao. The results were encouraging: 3-0, 0.33 with 25 strikeouts, 10 walks and nary a home run allowed. Perez has more than enough fastball to combat righthanded batters as well as lefties.
Drawbacks: Perez's breakthrough ’07 season ended on a sour note when he allowed runs (eight total) in each of his three ALCS appearances against the Red Sox. He's given back a bit of effectiveness in the two subsequent seasons. Though his ceiling remains that of a one-inning reliever, he won't be effective in any role without his peak slider.
Educated Guess: An injury to Kerry Wood opened the door for Perez to close . . . it's just that the opportunity fell to Chris Perez. Still, after an 8-to-2 strikeout-to-walk ratio this spring, Rafael Perez could begin the season in the set-up role for the rebuilding Indians. It's hard to envision them parting ways with Perez given their reduced expectations this season. They can afford to let a talented pitcher like him work through his issues with the strike zone.
• Alberto Arias, rhp, Astros
Age: 26. Usage splits in AAA: 43 relief games (83%), 9 starts (17%).
Optional assignments: 2007-08 with Triple-A Colorado Springs and 2008-09 with Triple-A Round Rock.
Last Prospect Handbook appearance: Depth chart, Rockies, 2007.
Career Transactions: Signed as nondrafted free agent by Rockies, June 27, 2000 … Claimed on waivers by Astros from Rockies, July 31, 2008.
|ALBERTO ARIAS • 2007-09 TRIPLE-A SPLITS
Merits: Arias doesn't get too cute on the mound. He throws a 92-94 mph sinker to his arm side and a low-80s breaking ball to the other side of the plate. Like a lot of pitchers of his ilk, he's much tougher on same-side batters. In this case, Arias stifles righthanded batters, striking them out more than one-fifth of the time while allowing minimal power. He's a strong groundball pitcher overall, and a useful bullpen piece for Houston if spotted judiciously.
Drawbacks: Also like a lot of pitchers of his ilk, Arias has platoon split issues. Lefty batters see him well and make a lot of contact, a trend that was amplified in the big leagues (.871 OPS versus lefties, compared with .655 versus righties).
Educated Guess: Arias has logged just two innings this spring and he's probably headed to the disabled list with rotator cuff impingement and discomfort, according to former BA correspondent Brian McTaggart. Wish him a speedy recovery. He survived six seasons in the Rockies' pitching gauntlet—Casper to Asheville to Modesto to Tulsa to Colorado Springs to Denver—before mercifully being snagged by the Astros and making a positive impression as a rookie last year. Houston can delay its verdict until after Arias returns from his rehab assignment.
• Sean Gallagher, rhp, Padres
Age: 24. Usage splits in AAA: 23 starts (100%).
Optional assignments: 2007-08 with Triple-A Iowa and 2009 with Triple-A Sacramento and Triple-A Portland (also pitched for Double-A Tennessee in 2007).
Last Prospect Handbook appearance: No. 5, Cubs, 2008.
Career Transactions: Selected by Cubs in 12th round of 2004 draft; signed July 9, 2004 … Traded by Cubs with OF Matt Murton, 2B Eric Patterson and C Josh Donaldson to Athletics for RHPs Rich Harden and Chad Gaudin, July 8, 2008 … Traded by Athletics to Padres, July 28, 2009, completing deal in which Padres sent OF Scott Hairston to Athletics for RHPs Craig Italiano and Ryan Webb and a player to be named (July 5, 2009).
|SEAN GALLAGHER • 2007-09 DOUBLE-A & TRIPLE-A SPLITS
Merits: Gallagher boasts a sterling minor league track record, in which he's kept the ball on the ground and stifled righthanded hitters. He throws four pitches, favoring an 88-91 mph sinker and a mid-80s slider. He'll mix in a slow curve and a quality changeup. Gallagher works quickly, throws strikes and works his fastball to both sides of the plate.
Drawbacks: Gallagher has pitched for three organizations and seven different clubs in the past three seasons. To further jumble the picture, he pitched just 41 innings last year while dealing with a knee injury. So we're left with a fractured performance record that features just 91 Triple-A innings. And it's not like Gallagher has dominated in his time in the big leagues, not with a 5.59 ERA and an .800+ OPS allowed to both sides. On the minor league side, Gallagher appears to have benefited from a good deal of luck versus lefty batters, with his .253 average on balls in play being Exhibit A.
Educated Guess: As a four-pitch pitcher, Gallagher seems a bit overqualified for a bullpen role, but that's how the Padres appeared to be leaning. He pitched just six innings for the organization after joining them in late July, so Gallagher's first extended trial for the Padres came in the Venezuelan League. He pitched poorly in compiling a 5.33 ERA with a 16-to-13 strikeout-to-walk ratio in six starts for Magallanes. With only Jon Garland likely to provide 200 innings for San Diego, plenty of spot starting opportunities should filter down to other Padres pitchers, including Gallagher.
And presented for your entertainment, the curious case of the Dodgers' Eric Stults, who offers us a study in minor league park effects. He spent five seasons in the Pacific Coast League, making 88 combined starts for Las Vegas, from 2005-08, and then Albuquerque last year. Las Vegas and Albuquerque are, of course, two of the most hostile parks for pitchers in all the minors. Alas, the Dodgers sold Stults, who was out of options, to Hiroshima of Japan's Central League on March 30, depriving us (for now) of the chance to see how he'd fare in a full season in the big leagues.
• Eric Stults, lhp, Dodgers
Age: 30. Usage splits in AAA: 88 starts (94%), 6 relief games (6%).
Optional assignments: 2007-08 with Triple-A Las Vegas (he also pitched there in 2005-06) and 2009 with Triple-A Albuquerque.
Last Prospect Handbook appearance: Depth chart, Dodgers, 2007.
Career Transactions: Selected by Dodgers in 15th round of 2002 draft; signed June 6, 2002.
|ERIC STULTS • 2005-09 TRIPLE-A SPLITS
So how good could a pitcher with a 5.21 ERA over 502 Triple-A innings really be? Check out Stults' road splits above. Away from Vegas and Albuquerque, he wasn't half bad. Dig that 4.26 ERA and 2.67 strikeout-to-walk ratio—and consider that those figures still include several starts in places like Colorado Springs, Salt Lake and Tucson, notorious hitter's havens all. Anyone have park factors for the Hiroshima Carp's ballpark?
Isolated power (ISO) measures a player's extra-base power, where .135 is in the average range for the Triple-A player. Here, we've counted triples as doubles because they measure speed just as much as they do power. I opted to use this for pitchers, too, because home runs or extra-base hits per plate appearance lacked perspective. Walk rate (BB) is figured per plate appearance. Eight percent is about average at Triple-A. Intentional walks are excluded in this case and also for walk-to-strikeout ratio (BB/K). Balls in play average (BIP) figures the rate at which struck baseballs—excluding home runs—evade defenses and are scored as hits. For pitchers, lower figures imply stronger defensive units behind them (and some degree of luck). The Triple-A average falls between .310 and .315. Weighted on-base percentage (wOBA) assigns a run value to common offensive outcomes (single, walk, double, triple, home run, hit by pitch) and scales it to plate appearances. The final number resembles on-base percentage, such that .330 to .340 is about average. Left-on-base percentage (LOB) estimates the rate at which a pitcher strands baserunners, giving some indication as to how well he pitches from the stretch. The big league average ranges from 70-72 percent, and figures well above or below that average can indicate good or bad luck. Pitchers exert control over their strikeout, walk and home run rates, so with that in mind, fielding-independent ERA (FIP) estimates what a pitcher's ERA would be assuming average defensive support on the balls he does allow to be hit into play.
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