In a recent story at Baseball America.com, members of the front offices of the Yankees and Giants discuss the role that professional scouting departments play on the success of their major league clubs. To wit: the signings of veteran righthanders Bartolo Colon, Freddy Garcia and Luis Ayala (by the Yankees) and Ryan Vogelsong (by the Giants) have contributed to the effectiveness of those clubs' pitching staffs.
A third major league executive, on the condition of anonymity, agreed to share his thoughts on Colon, Vogelsong and some of last offseason's minor league pickups who have contributed positive value in the major leagues, in some cases to playoff contenders. All of these players were available to all 30 teams as free agents. It was up to each organization, led by its pro scouting department, to find the right fit.
"I’m shocked by Vogelsong and a bit surprised by Colon just because he was so old," the executive said. "Vogelsong we didn’t like at all in Triple-A (in 2010) . . . but to me he's the best story, coming out of nowhere to make the all-star team. It’s such a cool story that if he keeps it going, it could literally become a movie. The big thing is, without Barry Zito being hurt, no matter how well (Vogelsong) pitched (for Triple-A Fresno) he wouldn’t have gotten an opportunity.
"And that’s also sort of the theme (for Colon and Garcia). The Yankees lost out on Cliff Lee, and Phil Hughes has been hurt and ineffective—those factors provided opportunities for Colon and Garcia.
"Colon is interesting because of all the biological implications associated with the treatments he had [Editor's note: Colon had his own fat and bone marrow stem cells injected into his elbow and shoulder to aid in the repair. ME]—what effect it had, whether it will be outlawed by MLB and whether other players follow suit. (My thinking is: Big, no and yes.) Garcia has been solid, just what the Yankees hoped for as somebody who won’t overpower but will pitch and keep them in games."
The executive also weighed in on a pair of first basemen who signed minor league deals and are now in the midst of fine seasons in the big leagues: the Rays' Casey Kotchman and the Rockies' Jason Giambi.
Casey Kotchman, 1b, age 28, Rays
Back Story: Batted just .242/.309/.358 in 888 plate appearances for three big league clubs in 2009-10, including a dreadful .616 OPS campaign for the Mariners last season. Settled on minor league deal with Rays in late January.
Opportunity Knocks: Tampa Bay recalled Kotchman (after one Triple-A game) when Manny Ramirez suddenly retired in April. He quickly pushed aside Dan Johnson at first base and is batting .336/.397/.466 through 290 PAs.
Jason Giambi, 1b, age 40, Rockies
Back Story: Served as backup first baseman/pinch-hitter for Rockies in 2010, batting .244/.378/.398 in 222 PAs.
Opportunity Knocks: Colorado has carried Giambi since Opening Day and he's filled in admirably as a part-timer (19 starts thus far), batting .278/.377/.667 with 10 homers in 106 PAs.
"Kotchman and Giambi aren’t that surprising to me . . . because they are both guys with past hit histories who signed with their teams because it’s where they wanted to play," the executive said. "Kotchman is a Tampa native and (the Rays) had a need (in terms of depth at first base), whereas Giambi loved Colorado and reportedly turned down major league offers to sign a minor league deal to stay with the Rockies. His deal is almost like a major league deal to me—it's just that Colorado wanted to delay adding him to the roster so they could figure out their own 40-man situation.
"Kotchman has always hit and caught the ball, but his lack of power hurts his profile at first base. Giambi has always been a great pinch-hitter, and I expected him to do this, and so did the other teams that tried to sign him to a major league deal."
A half-dozen other players who signed minor league deals have made contributions to big league clubs short on depth. The notable first-half performers:
Jose Veras, rhp, age 30, Pirates
Reliable set-up man has done most of his pitching in the eighth inning and sports 3.19 ERA, 1.13 WHIP and 9.4 strikeouts per nine innings through 47 appearances for first-place Pittsburgh
Reed Johnson, of, age 34, Cubs
Filled in admirably for injured center fielder Marlon Byrd and has batted .326/.364/.550 in 141 PAs—in other words he's the perfect fourth outfielder
Aaron Miles, 2b/3b, age 34, Dodgers
Has helped shore up a creaky Dodgers infield by making 47 starts at second and 11 more at third while hitting an empty .315 (eight walks, 12 extra-base hits) through 264 PAs
Jack Hannahan, 3b, age 31, Indians
Brought defensive stability to third-base position, but hit just .220/.308/.343 in 269 PAs to cede position to top prospect Lonnie Chisenhall
Endy Chavez, cf, age 33, Rangers
Played in just eight games during an injury-wracked 2010 campaign, but carved out role on Rangers bench this season by batting .342/.372/.526 in 124 PAs while filling in for injuries to Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz and Julio Borbon
Adam Kennedy, 2b/3b, age 35, Mariners
Not quite as relevant now that Dustin Ackley and Kyle Seager are in Seattle, but Kennedy helped bridge the gap by batting .259/.305/.388 in 277 PAs—and that equates to a 97 OPS+ in Safeco Field
"Our reports on all of these players except Giambi and Kotchman were not particularly good," the executive said. "It was a case of players getting opportunities and making the most of them, and credit needs to be given not only to the teams but to the players themselves for overachieving. Often times, it’s better to be lucky than good."
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