Weekend Preview: March 14-16
THIS WEEK 1. Scouts break down two marquee pitching matchups. 2. Ole Miss and FIU face big road tests as conference play gets rolling. 3. Notes from other series around [...]
Baseball America's Daily Dish
Complete Daily Dish Archive
Compiled by Kevin Goldstein, Chris Kline and Matt Meyers
Coming into this season, the Indians' top picks in 2001 weren't exactly living up to expectations.
All sorts of questions surrounded righthanders Jake Dittler, Dan Denham and J.D. Martin as to what their ceilings really were. Dittler and Denham struggled in Double-A last year, while Martin returned from an elbow injury in 2003 to lead high Class A Kinston to the Carolina League championship with a strong second half. Despite the solid finish in his second straight season in Kinston, no one really knew how effective he'd be in his first year at the next level.
The three have made big time impressions this year--all with Double-A Akron, although Martin, a 2001 first-round pick, has been sidelined since April 30 with elbow discomfort. Before that, he dominated the Eastern League in his first three starts, going 1-0, 1.40 with 34 strikeouts in 26 innings.
"This time, there was no strain, no tear,'' Aeros manager Torey Lovullo told the Akron Beacon Journal. "It was just a little hot spot in there. I think he changed his delivery a bit in trying to compensate for it, and that's what caused the flare-up.''
Dittler fell off the prospect map somewhat last year, as he went through several nagging injuries that contributed to inconsistent command and struggled in his first season in with the Aeros.
But the second-round pick in 2001 showed he was completely healthy in the Arizona Fall League, putting up a 3.00 ERA in 30 innings in what is regarded as a premiere hitter's league. His changeup was back to its old self and his fastball command was outstanding--and he's carried that AFL performance over into this season.
In his last four starts, Dittler is carrying a 1.29 ERA at Akron; and overall he is 3-2, 2.30 in 59 innings.
"We tried sliding him over more to the first base side of the mound and he's been tremendous," farm director John Farrell said. "The fastball command--going away to righties and in to lefties has been exceptional. And the changeup has become an above-average pitch for him again."
Meanwhile, Denham, a first-rounder in 2001, has gone through a resurgence of his own. Some in the organization felt he would be bound for the bullpen this season due to a disappointing 5.33 ERA and only 50 strikeouts in 76 innings in Double-A last year, and then a downright dismal 14.68 ERA in the Fall League.
But Denham is proving the doubters wrong this season, going 3-1. 2.68 in 50 innings--and is still in the rotation.
Denham worked with former big leaguer Steve Ontiveros as a personal instructor during the fall to give his changeup more depth. While that pitch still isn't the kind of weapon it could become, it's now more than a show-me pitch. But it's the command and control of a brand new cutter that has instilled much needed confidence in the 22-year-old righthander.
"The cut fastball has developed into a plus pitch for him," Farrell said. "He now has more ability to move the ball off the bat head. Now, he doesn't have to feel like he has to be pinpoint and trust what he has. His mound presence is outstanding. We're just trying to limit the number of cutters he throws and equalizing his entire repertoire."
With Erik Bedard on the disabled list with a strained ligament in his left knee, the Orioles called up righthander Hayden Penn from Double-A Bowie yesterday. Penn, who went 3-3, 3.12 with 58 strikeouts in 49 innings, will start tomorrow at Camden Yards against the Tigers. "We were planning on him being here some time this year anyway," O's pitching coach Ray Miller told the Washington Post.
In other Indians news, after Kevin Millwood went down with a groin injury yesterday, the club called up lefthander Brian Tallet to the big leagues, and lefty Billy Traber was promoted to Triple-A Buffalo to replace him. Both pitchers had Tommy John surgery at the end of the 2003 season, and Tallet's return has been faster than Traber's. At Buffalo, Tallet was 3-1, 2.53 in 46 innings. Traber started the season in Kinston and made five more starts in Akron, where he went 3-2, 2.65 in 34 innings.
The Baseball America office was brimming with excitement yesterday, and it wasn't just all the work we are doing with the draft just two weeks away--John Olerud was in town. It turned out we had to squeeze all that excitement into five innings, however, as Olerud and catcher Kelly Shoppach were called up to Boston last night. Olerud was 3-for-8 with Triple-A Pawtucket--his first appearance in the minor leagues in his 16-year career. Shoppach went 2-for-3 with an RBI in the Paw Sox' 6-4 loss to Durham. He was hitting .279/.392/.571 in 140 at-bats and was tied for second in the International League with 11 homers.
Double-A Erie righthander Joel Zumaya continued to stay hot yesterday--turning in 7 2/3 no-hit innings and striking out 14 in a 4-0 win against Akron. The 11th-round pick in 2002 out of Bonita Vista High in Chula Vista, Calif., has allowed three earned runs over his last three starts, and he seems to be getting more under control in the zone as well. While he still leads the Eastern League in walks with 36, he's struck out 32 and walked 11 over his last 21 innings. His fastball topped out at 99 mph yesterday, and his changeup was in the 83-84 range. The Aeros managed just one hit in the game--a single by outfielder Jason Cooper against closer Edwin Almonte.
For the Mariners Chris Snelling, there is good news and there is bad news. The good news is that he was not injured by the pitch he was hit by last week as the x-rays were negative. The bad news is that by going 1-for-4 last night, his average fell below .400 and now sits at .397 for Triple-A Tacoma.
If you can make one criticism of Conor Jackson's season thus far, it is that he has not hit for much home run power. But that is like criticizing Shaquille O'Neal for not hitting three-pointers. Jackson hit his fourth bomb of the season yesterday as part of a 2-for-4 night. The Diamondbacks first base prospect is now hitting .399/.497/.608 at Triple-A Tucson and is hitting .632 in his last seven games.
The Sally League is proving to be a breeze for the Indians Tony Sipp. The lefthander from Clemson is now 2-1, 1.58 for Lake County after shutting down West Virginia last night as he allowed two runs over six innings. Sipp now has 47 punchouts in 46 innings.
Jeff Allison has been of the feel good stories of the season so far, but there could be problems on the horizon. The Greensboro righthander was sent to the Marlins' complex in Jupiter, Fla., with reports of a tender rotator cuff. Allison is scheduled to pitch again on Monday in Charleston, SC.
Nationals' No. 1 prospect Mike Hinckley was expected to be promoted to Double-A Harrisburg after his last start at high Class A Potomac, but he's remaining a P-Nat for the time being. Hinckley struggled again last night, giving up seven runs--three of them earned--in 10-5 loss to Salem. In four starts this year, Hinckley is 0-2, 7.90 with an 8-8 strikeout-walk ratio in 14 innings. "We're going to keep re-evaluating after every start," farm director Adam Wogan told the Washington Times. "There's no rush. I'm sure he's putting pressure on himself, but it's about him wanting to get better, not move up."
Lefthander Ryan Anderson, the 1997 first-round pick of the Mariners who has been plagued by shoulder problems, pitched in his first organized game since 2000, striking out two in a hitless inning for high Class A Brevard County in their 4-2 win over Lakeland last night. Anderson, 25, was the Mariners top prospect from 1998-2002, but he missed the last four years while recovering from three shoulder surgeries. Released by the Mariners in spring training, Anderson was signed by the Brewers last week after he threw in the low 90s with a good curve in an exhibition game for Surprise in the independent Golden League.