Friday, July 11, 2008

Cubs Countermove

On Monday, July 7th, the Milwaukee Brewers traded for pitcher C.C. Sabathia to try and help their chances of passing the Chicago Cubs in the NL Central. The very next day the Cubs countered with a pitching addition of their own, trading for the Oakland Athletics’ Rich Harden and Chad Gaudin. Four players were sent to Oakland: pitcher Sean Gallagher, outfielders Matt Murton and Eric Patterson, and catcher Josh Donaldson. All but Donaldson can help the A’s right now.

The Cubs get two pitchers who will contribute immediately in Harden and Gaudin. Harden has tremendous ability and can be one of the more dominating pitchers in the league – when he’s healthy. The problem is that he’s had a hard time doing that. He’s made 13 starts so far this year and it’s the first time he’s made double-digit starts since 2005. To date, 2004 is the only season that he’s been able to put in a full-season’s workload. But the idea of what a healthy Harden could mean for the Cubs was too much to pass up. Although, he is signed through 2009, so an injury wouldn’t be the end of the world because they’d still have next year for him to contribute. However, it’s obvious that this deal was made with 2008 in mind.

Don’t forget about Chad Gaudin, who isn’t just a throw-in. He’s a solid arm for their bullpen with the ability to start as well – he spent all of 2007 in the A’s rotation. That versatility should be valuable for the Cubs. You never know when they’ll need another starter, especially with Harden’s injury history.

The players headed back to the Athletics have a different flavor than the ones the Indians got in the Sabathia trade. None of them have the upside of Matt LaPorta. Sean Gallagher is a nice pitching prospect though. He’s a 22 year old righty with good size, at 6’-2” 225 lbs. He throws a good low 90’s fastball and an above average curveball. His change-up has been progressing nicely as well. He’s more than just a prospect though, having already thrown 58-2/3 innings this year over 10 starts and 2 relief appearances. He’s played pretty well with a 3-4 record and 4.45 ERA. He should have a nice future as a middle of the rotation starter.

Matt Murton has a good approach at the plate and hits lefties very well. When he first came into the league I thought he could be a 20-HR guy, but it looks like he’s settling into the 15-20 range, and that’s if he got regular playing time, which he doesn’t. That power range and the righty/lefty split peg him as a platoon player. I think he could surprise some people if he’s given a chance to play everyday, but even if he doesn’t he’s still useful.

Eric Patterson used to be a second baseman, but has played himself off of that position and into the outfield. He doesn’t have the arm for right field so he’s limited to center and left, but he isn’t ideal for either. He’s sort of a tweener with a below average arm for center and below average power for left. He has a solid skill set though, and even if he doesn’t start for any championship clubs, he has a good shot at being more successful than his brother Corey.

Murton and Patterson both have talent, but it’s most likely that neither would be starting on any playoff teams.

Josh Donaldson is the wildcard. He was drafted 48th overall in 2007 and played extremely well in his first taste of professional baseball. He hit .335/.460/.590 with a 39:38 BB:SO ratio, spending almost the entire season in low Single-A. He’s still a work in progress defensively (he didn’t start catching until 2006) but he’s athletic and has the potential for above average arm strength from behind the plate. The reason he’s a wildcard is because the wheels have come off in 2008. Thru 68 games at Single-A, he’s hitting .217/.276/.349 with 17 walks and 41 strikeouts.

In my opinion, this deal is harder to evaluate than the Sabathia trade and that is due to the erratic value of headliner Rich Harden. If he stays healthy, this trade will be a major boon to the Cubs playoff aspirations. If he gets hurt, Oakland GM Billy Beane will once again look like a genius for trading him while he still had value. The package of players Beane got is solid, but unspectacular for someone with Harden’s ability, and his health risks are the #1 reason for that.

One thing I’d like to point out as an Orioles fan is the timing of this deal for the Athletics. They’re currently 50-42, only 5 games out in the AL West. However, Beane looked at his roster and saw that they were playing over their heads and weren’t really in the position to make a playoff run. This sounds familiar, doesn’t it? The Orioles aren’t even in contention (already 10.5 games back), and there are still fans saying that we shouldn’t look to trade major pieces off to aid the rebuilding efforts, because it’ll pull the rug out from under the team. I wouldn’t trade any of our starting pitching because we have no depth there right now, but there aren’t many other players that I would consider off limits – essentially just Nick Markakis and Adam Jones.

Monday, July 7, 2008

The Brew Crew Gets a 2nd Ace

Today, the Brewers parted ways with their #1 prospect and 3 others for Indians' ace C.C. Sabathia and a chance at the playoffs. They gave up outfielder Matt LaPorta, pitchers Zach Jackson, Rob Bryson and the infamous PTBNL (player to be named later). In the words of Brewers' GM Doug Melvin, "We're going for it."

Sabathia joins Ben Sheets at the top of the rotation, giving the Brewers one of the best 1-2 punches in the league. The Cubs are currently leading the NL Central, but the Brewers have been gaining (now only 4 games back) and the Cubs have got to be feeling the heat even more now.

The Brewers have got to like their chances now. Their offense has really started to click, as they've led the NL in SLG% over the last month and ranked 4th in runs. That's not to say that they've been winning simply by out-slugging everyone, though. Over those same last 30 days, the pitching staff has the NL's 2nd best ERA. What does a team that is playing as well as anyone need? A 2nd ace starting pitcher of course.

I especially like the fact they went and made the deal now, as opposed to waiting until closer to the deadline. Sabathia is a starting pitcher, so his contributions are limited to once every 5 days, so the earlier they get him in their starting rotation the better chance he has of actually making a difference.

Many "experts" around the country have said that the package of prospects given up for Sabathia is less than he could have netted. LaPorta is a top 5 hitting prospect, but he's the only elite prospect heading the Indians' way. Most predicted Sabathia to require 2 top notch prospects. I don't really think that would've happened though. One of the biggest reasons why the Indians chose to deal him was because of his interest in testing free agency. I don't know if you could expect someone to give up two of their best prospects for someone that they don't have much of a hope of signing past the 2 month rental period. The recent firing of Seattle GM Bill Bavasi could possibly be in the backs of other GM's minds as well. There are many things that factored into the Mariners' collapse this year, but Bavasi's decision to trade away as much talent as he did for Erik Bedard was definitely one of them.

All in all, it seems like a pretty fair deal all around. The Brewers get a big boost to their playoff aspirations and the biggest prospect they gave up was blocked at the major league level. The Indians get an elite prospect in LaPorta, two arms for system depth in Jackson and Bryson, and a PTBNL - could possibly be 3B Taylor Green. Here's a quick run down of the prospects included:

Matt LaPorta could probably step in and help Cleveland in leftfield or firstbase, where he played in college, right now. He has big time power, and it's not raw-future-projection power. It's here and now. He's now hit 32 HR in his first 114 professional games. He's a smart player, with a good approach at the plate, and a tremendous work ethic. He's the type of hitter you dream about penciling into your 3-4 spot for years to come.

Zach Jackson is a lefty with stuff that can play at the major league level, but hasn't been able to find success in the majors yet. A change of scenery could help him, but it didn't really help him last time, when he was sent to Milwaukee from Toronto in the Lyle Overbay trade.

Rob Bryson is a 20 year old reliever in Single-A with a good power fastball/slider combination. He's racking up strikeouts and has a chance to become a starter, (he made 4 starts last year and 5 so far this year) but his future likely lies in the bullpen.

The PTBNL will be one of two players. They have until the end of the minor league season to decide which one it will be. There is a rumor that it could be Taylor Green, who hit .327/.406/.516 at Single-A last year and is hitting .295/.380/.444 at Single-A Advanced this year. He also has a solid 93:107 BB:K ratio over the last year and a half. I can't imagine that 4th player getting any better than Green.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

2008 Draft Recap

I know, I know - the draft was over a week ago. First I put it off to see if some of the players would sign quickly (bad idea - most won't), and then I lost track of time. At this point, if you're actually interested in the draft, you've probably already read plenty of information on the draftees from other sources. Hopefully, you can take something out of this review.

The headline of the Orioles draft is, obviously, 1st rounder Brian Matusz, a left handed starter from the University of San Diego. The 2008 draft would be deemed a success even if Matusz is the only player that pans out, and he's one of the safer bets. That's not to say that he doesn't have upside. He immediately becomes the Orioles #1 pitching prospect, and on my personal prospect list, the #2 prospect overall behind catcher Matt Wieters. The more I hear about Brian Matusz, the more excited I am about him. He should be a fixture in the Orioles rotation for years, and with good command of 4 pitches, 3 of which are above-average or plus, he should move quickly. I even heard one scout say that he probably won't be challenged until he reaches the Major Leagues. That might be a little bit of a stretch, but I expect a Wieters' like dominance if he starts his pro career as low as High Single-A Frederick.

I have to admit that I was leaning slightly towards first baseman Justin Smoak with the Orioles pick, but I love the pick of Matusz, as well. I'm excited to see Matusz start pitching for the Orioles.

I'm also excited to see how the rest of the Orioles draftees perform. Scouting director Joe Jordan brought in more speed, athleticism and projectability than in years past. As a result, it will take several years to get a good read on how successful this draft will be.

The athletic infusion started immediately after Matusz. The 2nd thru 5th rounds were all spent on athletic players with speed: (in order) highschool centerfielder Xavier Avery, highschool outfielder L.J. Hoes, Univ. of Illinois centerfielder Kyle Hudson, and Univ. of Virginia shortstop Greg Miclat. Some of these players seem like reaches, primarily Hudson and Miclat. I think they would have been available a little bit later.

Hoes could be a slight reach, but the Orioles are talking about converting him to second base. He did play some third in high school, and did well in a private workout before the draft. This could be important when projecting his future value, because he probably doesn't have quite enough speed to play centerfield and not enough power to play a corner. His offensive profile could fit very well at second.

Avery is not a reach and is someone who could be very exciting to watch play. He has top end speed and has received some Carl Crawford comparisons. His competition in high school was below what you like to see for a top prospect, but he has played very well on the summer circuit against some of the top high schoolers in the country. And get this - he has a scholarship to the University of Georgia to play football as a running back. If we have a hard time signing Avery, it will be because of football. But don't worry too much. He is expected to sign.

Miclat may have been a slight reach, but I'm glad to have him in the system. He's a switch hitter (I love that) who plays great defense at short and has good speed. He reminds me a lot of Ohio State centerfielder Matt Angle (O's 7th round pick in 2007). Both play great defense, play the little man's game well, have speed and know how to use it.

Kyle Hudson probably figures to be an even closer comp to Angle, as their offensive game is almost identical and they both play centerfield. The biggest difference is in their arm strength - Angle has good arm strength and Hudson is below average.

I've always been a big fan of Joe Jordan and been confident in his decisions. One thing I like is that he's confident in himself and his staff, and he's not afraid to go after "his guys" as opposed to who the scouting industry in general would have them take. So I'm not too worried about players who are perceived as reaches. If Jordan liked them enough to take them there, then I'll wait to see how they progress before declaring anyone a bad pick. The only change I would have made, were I in the draft room, is I would have taken shortstop Tyler Ladendorf with our 2nd round pick. He's a personal favorite of mine and still would have fit Jordan's focus on athletic guys with speed. Avery wasn't a bad choice though. We'll just have to wait and see who was the better choice.

The draft is 50 rounds long, so there just isn't enough time to go over all of them. Most of them won't amount to anything at the major league level anyway. There are a few sleepers though.

7th rounder Caleb Joseph is an athletic catcher with some pop. If he can't stay behind the plate a move to third base or even second base is a possibility. He's already been signed and will start the year in Aberdeen.

8th rounder Robert Bundy is a wonderful talent. The 6'2" highschool RHP was a top prospect before he suffered a knee injury last winter. It limited him greatly during the season as he had to wear a bulky knee brace. Supposedly, he's back to full strength now and is looking as good as before the injury, maybe better as the knee brace forced him to adopt a quieter pitching motion. He'll be a big boost to the draft class from the 8th round if Jordan can get him signed. I'm optimistic.

20th rounder Ronnie Welty, an outfielder from Chandler Gilbert Community College, could be someone to watch as well. He can kind of do it all, with some power and speed, and could have gone several rounds earlier. He's already signed as well. I haven't heard yet where he'll play this summer.

There are 3 long shots to get signed, all high school pitchers - Keith Landers (18th rd.), Jarret Martin (19th rd.) and Kevin Brady (44th rd.). Landers and Martin are both left handed with projectable frames, 6'7" and 6'3". Both can throw in the low 90's with breaking balls that project to be above-average or plus. Landers throws more of a slurve while Martin has a true downer of a curveball. Consistency is the only thing holding them back from being top prospects. Brady is a 6'3" right hander with a similar repetoire as Martin, but Brady has been more consistent than either of the lefties. Brady is the toughest sign of the three as he turned down an offer from the Red Sox in the 3rd round (they called him during the draft and made an offer, saying they'd pick him there if he'd accept it). I'll be happy if the Orioles can get one of these players signed.

There are a few locals that were picked by the O's as well.
-3rd rounder - (OF/2B) L.J. Hoes - St. John's College HS, in Washington D.C.
-22nd rounder - (RHP) Patrick Kantakevich - College of William & Mary
-37th round pick - (C) Charles Durakis - University of Maryland
-43rd round pick - (RHP) Oliver Drake - US Naval Academy
-44th round pick - (RHP) Kevin Brady - Gaithersburg HS

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

2008 Draft Preview

Tomorrow's the big day. Many casual baseball fans probably don't know this, but tomorrow is the MLB First-Year Player Draft. The MLB draft may not have the same level of immediate impact and it definitely doesn't have the same amount of publicity as the NFL and NBA drafts, but it's just as important to the success of each MLB franchise.

I've been following many of the draft eligible players and draft rumors pretty closely, but I don't want to get too detailed right now. For a more in-depth draft preview, check out Right now I want to focus more on the Orioles' draft day philosophy.

The two main decision makers for the Orioles on draft day are president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail, and scouting director Joe Jordan. Normally, the scouting director has the most influence on decision making on draft day, but this is MacPhail's first draft with the O's and it's unclear how much influence he'll have. What makes it more interesting is the fact that their views don't really match up.

Both Jordan and MacPhail will say that the O's need to take the best prospect and not worry about position or whether they fill a need or how far away they are from the major leagues. However, this is really just one big cliche. Sure, you don't want to focus on any one of those things, but all of those things also go into determining who "the best prospect" is (except filling a need, which should never enter the equation). Joe Jordan has expressed verbally and with his track record, that he likes to take hitters early and find pitchers later in the draft. He also has a thing for players with power. MacPhail, on the other hand, preaches that you can never have enough pitching. So the two main philosophies we have competing against each other are: you can never have enough pitching, and take hitters early (especially ones with power) and pitchers later.

Wouldn't you know it, but those philosophies fall right in line with the two players rumored to be selected by the Orioles at 4th overall: San Diego pitcher Brian Matusz and South Carolina first baseman Justin Smoak.

Brian Matusz is a tall projectable lefty (6-5, 200 lbs) with 3 above average to plus pitches. He throws his fastball in the low 90's and has arguably the best curveball and changeup in the draft. He also throws an average slider. He projects as a middle of the rotation starter at worst, and has the upside of a staff ace. Scouts' concerns are that he doesn't pitch off his fastball, opting to use his plus offspeed pitches to set up his fastball, and some small mechanical issues. He has a relatively short stride for a pitcher of his height, his arm action can get a little stiff, and he sometimes lands on a stiff front leg. All of this is correctable, but it may not be a good idea to change everything. He has had consistent success with these mechanics, with plus command, and it has also added some deception to his delivery. Then again, some scouts worry about the injury risk if left alone. If selected by the Orioles, he would instantly be among their best pitching prospects, if not THE best.

Justin Smoak is a switch hitting power hitter with no discernable splits. He has great pitch recognition and can hit any pitch for power to all fields. Depending on who you talk to, he's an above average to plus defender at firstbase as well. He sounds like the real deal, and very well could be. He has been a 3 year starter at South Carolina and has shown big power every year. The summer after his freshman year he played in the Collegiate Cape Cod League and showed that his power translates to wooden bats. The only blemish on his career is his time with Team USA last summer, where he struggled. I wouldn't call it a blemish, but it is also worth pointing out that the 2008 season is really the only time he has hit for average. He hit .303 and .315 his freshman and sophomore seasons, before hitting .383 this year. The power is definitely real though. If selected by the Orioles, that would mean they've taken a switch hitting middle of the lineup bat with their first pick two years in a row, along with Matt Wieters. Interesting fact - Wieters and Smoak were actually high school teammates.

Both Matusz and Smoak are top notch prospects and the "6th tool" (makeup) is supposedly a plus for both young men. They would both be great additions to any farm system. I'm hoping that one of the top talents (preferably Georgia highschool shortstop Tim Beckham) falls to the Orioles, but if everything goes as predicted (HA!), I'm pulling for Justin Smoak. It will be interesting to see how Joe Jordan and Andy MacPhail work together on draft day.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Roster Moves on the Horizon?

Thru May 26th, the Orioles have played .500 baseball, which is significantly better than most anyone would have expected preseason. That doesn't mean there isn't room for improvement, right? I believe that a few roster moves could help to improve the team and also take another step forward with the youth movement.

The Orioles' biggest weakness so far this year has been on offense. They rank 27th in team BA (.245) and 25th in team OBP (.315). Of course as I write about how bad the Orioles' hitting is, they are playing home run derby with the Yankees. They've hit 5 HR thru the first 5 innings. Anyway, back to improving this offense.

There are 2 players who stand out in Norfolk - Luis Terrero & Oscar Salazar. Terrero is hitting .322/.393/.517; Salazar is hitting .305/.352/.482.

Looking at the 25 man roster, Terrero looks like he'll have to wait until Jay Payton is no longer an Oriole before he gets a shot at the 4th outfielder spot. We need to make sure Payton gets plenty of playing time, and with a 12 man pitching staff, there is no need for a 5th outfielder.

That leaves Salazar as the more likely man to be called up. He can contribute at both infield corners and DH. In the past, manager Dave Trembley has talked about bringing Salazar up to serve as a versatile right handed bat off the bench when the O's enter interleague play, but I see no reason to wait that long. Luis Hernandez has become the forgotten man on the bench, slotted behind Freddie Bynum and Alex Cintron at shortstop. The Orioles should option him back to Norfolk for a more useful bat, like Salazar. I would expect Hernandez to pass waivers easily.

In contrast to the offense, the pitching has been a pleasant surprise. The staff ERA is 4.05, good for 13th in the MLB. That's middle of the pack, but inside that number is a 3.27 bullpen ERA, which is worlds better than the nightmare that was last year's bullpen. The weakest link in what has been an improved pitching staff has been the aged veteran, Steve Trachsel. In his 8 starts he has failed to complete more than 3 innings 4 times. At this point, he isn't really contributing anything on the field and it would be best to keep him off of it.

If you want to bring a starter up from Triple-A Norfolk, Radhames Liz is the best choice. After a slow start (4.55 ERA in April), he's starting to turn things around (3.73 ERA in May).

The other choice is to bring up a reliever and give long reliever Matt Albers a more permanent spot in the rotation. This route offers several arms to choose from, but none of them will knock you off your feet. Greg Aquino struggled in Baltimore to start the year, but has pitched well in Norfolk. He could find himself getting another chance. Jim Miller is another option. He's pitched at both Bowie and Norfolk this year and is holding opponents to a .175 BA. If you want to stick with the true "prospects", then recalling Bob McCrory might be more to your liking. But he still isn't showing the control that I'd like to see, so it might be better to let him get comfortable in Norfolk before yanking him back up to the Major Leagues.

It looks like the Orioles are waiting as long as they can to make this decision though. It's been announced that Steve Trachsel's next start will be skipped. If he isn't on the mound getting ripped, then there isn't as much pressure to remove him from the rotation permanently.

If it were up to me, I'd be looking closely at Radhames Liz and Jim Miller.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Yu Darvish

Earlier this month, Jim Caple wrote a great article for ESPN about Yu Darvish, a 21 year old Japanese pitching phenom. I highly recommend it. It offers plenty of info on Darvish and insight into the culture of baseball in Japan.

There are definitely some things that we can learn from each other. Kids in the USA could learn something from the kids in Japan, where they are ingrained with a high level of respect for the game and their teammates. Their hard work also makes American kids look lazy.

The MLB equivalent in Japan, the Nippon Professional League (NPL), should take a closer look at how MLB team owners run their franchises. If you think the MLB teams are slaves to the almighty dollar, you haven't seen the NPL team owners. Every team is owned by a major corporation and the team's main focus is to promote the corporation. It's no wonder that many NPL teams finish in the red every year.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Continuing the Contract Trend

The rising trend is for organizations to lock up their young stars well before they reach free agency. It continued this week as both Ryan Braun, from Milwaukee, and Scott Kazmir, from Tampa Bay, inked contract extensions.

Ryan Braun’s is a record setting deal – 8 years and $45 million. It’s the largest contract in club history and sets a new high for players with less than a year of Major League service time. I was shocked to see 8 years, but if you’re to buy out any of his free agent years, it’s got to be more than 6. So it buys out 2 years of free agency and keeps Braun’s average salary to $5.625 million. For someone who won the NL Rookie of the year last year with 34 HR in only 113 games and could possibly be considered one of the best hitters in the league following this season, it’s a great deal for Milwaukee. It’s a good deal for Braun, too, as he’ll be making millions of dollars several years before he would have been able to, and he got a no-trade clause in the deal (full no-trade for the first 4 years and limited no-trade after that). Milwaukee gets cost certainty and cost reduction in the long run. Braun gets a big raise now and has control over his future.

Scott Kazmir signed a 3 year extension worth $28.5 million. The deal includes a team option for a fourth year worth another $11 million. In the past, Kazmir has been hesitant to sign long-term with Tampa Bay because he didn’t like the direction of the team. That shouldn’t be a problem anymore as the Rays are currently in first place in the AL East and Kazmir is only the most recent of many young stars being locked up by the Rays.

So how do these deals affect Baltimore?

Well, the Kazmir signing is obvious. Now we know for sure that “Kid K” will be striking out Orioles on a regular basis for the next 3 or 4 years. The Rays are on top of the AL East right now and by locking up all their stars, they’re looking to make this an extended run. That starts with good pitching. They’ve just locked up Scott Kazmir and in January they signed James Shields to a 4 year deal with 3 one year options. That gives them a lefty-righty combination at the top of their rotation that will be tough to beat. If the Rays are added to the Red Sox and Yankees as “Beasts of the East”, it only makes the O’s rebuilding effort more difficult.

The impact of Ryan Braun’s deal on the Orioles is more indirect. Every time there is a record setting deal, it raises the price for other deals that have yet to be struck and the Orioles have their own young star that they would like to sign long-term - right fielder Nick Markakis. The O’s tried to reach an agreement with him over the off-season, but failed to do so. They should be kicking themselves, because now you can bet it will cost more. Markakis won’t challenge Braun’s record deal. He just isn’t on the same level as Braun as a hitter, but Markakis is closer to arbitration and that will close the gap a little.

EDIT: I feel like I need to go back and clarify what I said about Markakis' possible future contract. When I said that Markakis won't challenge Braun's record deal, that's only partly true. Markakis won't set any records, but he'll most certainly get a contract that pays more per year. That's the power of arbitration, and being close to free agency. Markakis will be eligible for arbitration after this season, so he's only 3 years away from free agency. Whether his deal is worth more than Ryan Braun's $45 million deal depends on how many years of free agency the Orioles want to buy out. If the Orioles want to buy out more than 1 season of free agency, Markakis' deal will be worth more. A good benchmark for a Markakis deal would be the one given to Blue Jay's right fielder, Alex Rios, who signed a 6 year-$64 million deal. Rios is a few years older, but as far as experience and talent, they are very similar.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Is Patience Finally Paying Off?

Wow, it’s been awhile since I posted here. Sorry about that. Sometimes life gets busy and it’s hard to keep up with everything. When that happens, hobbies are always the first thing to get neglected. Thanks for being patient. Now on to my first post in forever…

I used to be a fan of Daniel Cabrera. His intimidating size and raw power made him a dreamboat of a pitching prospect. The problem is he never gained any type of consistency. He would come close to a no-hitter one game and then walk every hitter in the lineup in his next start. Anyone without the patience of a monk became irritated at the mere mention of his name.

If Cabrera had been on a winning team, he would have run out of chances to stick in the rotation a long time ago. Good thing for him that the O’s are stuck in a 10 season losing streak. I wouldn’t have protested if the O’s had decided to trade Daniel Cabrera, but how much could we really expect to get back for him? The answer is not much. Not once it became apparent that he was an enigma. So the Orioles kept giving him the ball, hoping he would figure it out. We’re a losing franchise anyway, so why not let him take his lumps and see if something special happens. Right now I’m wondering if that patience is starting to payoff.

Last night, against the Kansas City Royals, Daniel Cabrera had his most dominant start of the season and one of the best of his career. He threw a complete game, allowing 3 H, 1 R, 1 BB and 7 SO. To make it more impressive, he kept the ball on the game all night - 18 of his outs came by groundballs and only 2 were flyouts. I’m still not convinced that he’ll be an ace. Yes, he’s got the stuff, but he still isn’t consistent enough for that. Look to his start on April 28th for proof, as he walked 7 batters in 6 1/3 innings. With that being said, he has been much more consistent this year. Don’t look now, but Cabrera has rattled off 6 consecutive Quality Starts. If he keeps this up he could find himself as a long-term option for the Orioles. Of course, his success could also make him a trade candidate in July. He won’t be a free agent until 2011.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Cedeno Seizing Spotlight

During the saga that was the Orioles-Cubs trade talks, Cubs infielder Ronny Cedeno was mentioned in pretty much every leaked, rumored, or daydreamed trade proposal. There was a time when he was considered a top prospect, but he had stagnated somewhat. He was a nice piece to the trade proposals, but far from a centerpiece. It was almost as though his inclusion was merely due to a lack of a better alternative (among middle infielders).

Cedeno made the Cubs' Opening Day roster as a utility player, but recently he has been starting at shortstop, due to an injury to starter Ryan Theriot. Cedeno's play has been well above expectations - hitting .345/.406/.552 with 10 runs scored, 3 doubles, 1 HR, 13 RBI, 1 SB, 3 BB & 5 SO in 13 games (29 AB). He's played the part of hero the last two games, coming up with a clutch 2-out 2 RBI single on Monday, and hitting a Grand Slam today. With this type of play, how much do the Orioles wish it was coming in an O's uniform?

Well, I'm sure the O's would like to see that kind of production from a shortstop in Baltimore, but it's still too early to say whether or not holding off on the Brian Roberts trade was a good idea (sorry for the cop out). However, it is worth keeping an eye on. If trade talks resurface mid-season, they will most likely involve many of the same names, including Ronny Cedeno.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Ticket Sales Are Up & So Are the Prices

When the Yankees are in town, ticket sales always go through the roof. That's the way it is every time they or the Red Sox are in town. The problem is, most of the increase in ticket sales is due to the migration of Yankee and Red Sox fans to Oriole Park at Camden Yards. From their point of view, it's a great thing. Getting tickets to Fenway Park or Yankee Stadium can be difficult and pricey. Why not just make the drive down to Baltimore and buy a much cheaper seat in a half empty stadium? An added bonus is being able to turn an away game for your team into a home game. That's got to be pretty cool.

As an Oriole fan, it's not very cool. It's downright frustrating. On a sports radio talk show, I heard someone call-out Orioles fans to make a point of going to these games - to reclaim our home park from the Yankee fans. That's an honorable idea. It's a matter of principle, and I'm as likely to get caught up on the principle-of-a-thing as anyone. However, before I endorse this movement to reclaim Oriole Park at Camden Yards, I need to see it start from somewhere higher up - the Orioles' front office.

Right now, owner Peter Angelos and the Orioles' front office don't seem very concerned with who fills their seats. As the owner of a professional sports team with game attendance on the decline, Peter Angelos should be concerned with generating and keeping a faithful fanbase. There are many things that contribute to this mission, but varying ticket prices depending on the visiting team is not one of them, and that is exactly what is happening.

If you look at the Orioles schedule you'll see that every home game against either the Boston Red Sox or the New York Yankees is designated as a Prime Game. Ticket prices for a Prime Game are higher than other games; up to 50% higher depending on the seat. This is entirely the wrong message for Angelos to be sending Baltimore. It says that he acknowledges the visiting Yankees and Red Sox as a bigger draw than the hometown Orioles and wants to make some extra cash for those games. It says that he's more concerned with making money than developing a fanbase or even winning. As a local, you can go to any game you want, so why would you go to a Prime Game where the prices are higher? Most people would rather save the money, so that opens up more seats for the migratory Yankee/Red Sox fans. When the cheers for the visiting team equal or overpower the home team, it's not much of a home game, is it? Therefore the home team advantage is minimalized.

The Orioles aren't the only ones that do this. Both the Toronto Blue Jays and Tampa Bay Rays raise ticket prices when New York and Boston are in town. Many fans moan about the media bias towards the Yankees and Red Sox. The hike in ticket prices only affirms that the AL East belongs to New York and Boston. It's their world, we're just living in it.

If Peter Angelos and the other AL East owners want the fans to get excited about their teams, they need to convince them that the home team is worth getting excited about. Acknowledging the visiting team as the bigger draw is like saying that the home team isn't good enough. Whether that's true or not, you don't say that to your fans.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Tejada Lied About His Age

It wasn't a fear of turning the big 3-0 that made Tejada lie about his age; this happened much earlier. On Thursday, he admitted that he's actually 2 years older than we've thought all this time, making him 33 years old.

The deception came back when he was just a poor kid in the Dominican Republic trying to catch the eye of pro scouts. He told them he was 17, instead of 19, thinking that was the only way to get himself signed. These kids lying about their age is a common thing, but it is a little strange that Tejada's lie is just being found out now. It's not uncommon for these discrepancies in age to come out after just a few years in pro ball, and Tejada's career has been under intense scrutiny as of late with the George Mitchell report, and the current investigation by the Department of Justice.

Why do I feel the need to bring this up? I don't miss seeing him in Baltimore and with his hot start (.328/.375/.586 with 3 HR & 11 RBI) I like hearing off the field things like this to validate my feelings.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Minor League Update

The Orioles are playing well right now, but the future of this rebuilding franchise still lies in its player development. Let’s take a look at how some of the baby birds are doing.

You may remember back to my 2008 Season Preview post where I predicted LHP Garrett Olsen would win the 5th slot in the starting rotation. Well, that one didn’t pan out. Throughout the spring he battled control problems and eventually got sent back to minor league camp. His first start of the regular season (for the Triple-A Norfolk Tides), the control problems were still there. He was constantly pitching out of trouble, but somehow managed to only give up 1 run in 4 IP. He continued to be his own worst enemy, walking 6 batters. In his two starts since then, he’s been making his case for being the first starter called up to Baltimore – 11 1/3 IP, 9 H, 2 ER, 1 BB & 13 SO.

The middle infield in Norfolk is getting interesting. Scott Moore, who was just recently sent down, is seeing some time at shortstop. He was drafted as a shortstop back in 2002, but was quickly moved to third base. If he proves capable of at least being a reserve at the position he could offer an intriguing possibility, like only keeping one of the weak-hitting-tandem of Luis Hernandez and Brandon Fahey on the big league roster.

Eider Torres should be drawing a little more attention as well. He was never really considered as an in-house replacement for Brian Roberts, but the 25 year old second baseman has been the best hitter in Norfolk, hitting .356/.434/.422 in 45 AB’s. He probably won’t be considered a long term replacement for Brian Roberts, if he were to be traded, but if he keeps hitting like this he could be a stop gap or at least a useful bench player providing depth.

Jumping all the way down to Single-A Advanced, there are some top prospects getting attention for the Frederick Keys. The consensus is that 2007 5th round draft pick, RHP Jake Arrieta, was a first round talent (he fell due to sign-ability issues). He signed too late last year to get any professional innings, but the O’s sent him to the Arizona Fall League as a reliever to give him a taste of pro ball. He responded by pitching 16 scoreless innings. In 2008 he has picked up right where he left off. His 1st start was short due to low early season pitch counts, but it was an impressive line – 4 IP, 2 H, 1 ER, 1 BB & 9 SO. His 2nd start was humbling – 2 2/3 IP, 4 H, 4 ER, 4 BB & 2 SO. He responded with another superb outing last night – 5 2/3 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 3 BB & 7 SO. Arrieta should move quickly and is a nice addition to a farm system full of highly rated pitching prospects.

2007 1st round draft pick, C Matt Wieters, has been the most impressive player in this young season. He was named Carolina League Player of the Week (4/4-4/13) and is one of the hottest hitters in the country. He started his professional career off with a bang, hitting 2 homeruns in his first game, and has continued to rake ever since. He is hitting .478/.618/.913 in 23 AB’s, with 3 HR, 7 RBI and a 10/3 BB/SO ratio. He’s making quick work of the opposition and fans are already calling for him to be promoted to Double-A Bowie. However, he may not get promoted until mid-season so that he can focus on learning to play everyday over a long season, something he’s not accustomed to his first year out of college.

One quick thought on the Major League team:
I was very happy to see manager Dave Trembley stick with Adam Jones after his bad game on Sunday (0 for 4 with 4 strikeouts) and was even happier to see Jones rebound with a good game the next day (3 for 3 with 1 walk). Jones has a good head on his shoulders and admits that this is a learning time for him. As long as he keeps that in mind and doesn’t put too much pressure on himself to be a star right away, it’ll help greatly to shorten the slumps he’ll go into.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

How the Tables Have Turned

One week ago Orioles fans were bracing themselves for a long, painful season, void of any sunlight, as we expected to be locked in the basement of the American League East. Now everyone is bubbling with excitement as the Orioles ride a 5 game win streak and are tied for the best record in baseball at 5-1.

I like to think I’m an optimist, but I am not a believer, yet. I’m having a hard time looking past 2 things that make me think this fast start is unsustainable.

  1. Who did we play? We swept the Seattle Mariners. A sweep is an achievement against anyone, but in my opinion, the Orioles are getting more credit than they should because it was the Seattle Mariners, who are being overrated in the general public’s eye. Yes, they went 88-74 last year, but they played over their head. They were actually outscored last year, but they were outstanding in close ballgames because of a great bullpen. Using some fancy Pythagorean formula and their runs scored vs. runs against, the expected W-L record for Seattle in 2007 was 79-83. This formula is usually very accurate. The only other team who was more than a handful of games better or worse than their expected W-L record in 2007 was Arizona, who was basically the NL version of Seattle. They were outscored, but used a great bullpen to win a large amount of close games resulting in a 90-72 record instead of 79-83.

    If Seattle’s bullpen is so strong, you’d think that all of our comeback wins would make the sweep more impressive, but that’s not quite true. Their bullpen is a shadow of last year’s. Their All-Star closer (J.J. Putz) is on the DL and their best setup man is now the Orioles’ closer (George Sherrill). Their second best setup man last year (Brandon Morrow) is in the minor leagues. What is left is a below average bullpen.

    The Orioles didn’t sweep a playoff contender. They swept a team with an average offense, an average starting rotation (it would be much better if we had faced Erik Bedard), and a below average bullpen.

  2. The workload on the bullpen. The Orioles bullpen has thrown 21 1/3 innings so far in 6 games, an average of about 3 ½ innings per game. This doesn’t seem too bad because we’re dealing with a small sample size and the last two games the Orioles starters lasted 7 and 6 innings. In the previous 4 games Orioles starters only managed to finish 5 innings twice. Getting our starters consistently deep into ballgames was expected to be a challenge coming into the season, and nothing has been done to disprove that. If the starters can’t provide consistent innings, the bullpen will be counted on to bail them out time and time again and could very easily get burned out by mid-season. We’ve seen that happen before and it can get ugly. They do have some guys back there who can give multiple innings and that will make burn-out easier to avoid, but they’ve got to be careful.

Does this mean that we should expect the Orioles to start crashing and burning any time now and resume their post as the whipping boy of the American League like so many “experts” were predicting? I give a cautiously optimistic - No. The Orioles are definitely playing better than expected. They’re playing with a ton of confidence and the bullpen is indeed a huge upgrade over last year. The “experts” thought we’d flirt with 100 losses, but if team morale stays out of the gutter and the starters can give consistent innings, the Orioles could have a shot at a .500 season. This is assuming we keep the same players all year, as well. I don’t expect us to be in the running for a playoff spot come July, so pretty much anyone is still trade bait. Brian Roberts will be the hardest to replace if he gets traded. He’s the spark plug who gets the engine running and without him the offense will suffer.

These are all big “IF”s so don’t cross your fingers, but couple this surprise with the team actually having a direction (rebuilding) and the Orioles could be fun to watch this year.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

And Then There Were Two

There was a time when I thought that I would never be a blogger. Why should I take the time to write down and "publish" my thoughts? Why should I expect others to care or feign interest?

Well now I've got two blogs. I've been brought on as a staff member at I'll be helping the creator, Greg Pappas, by supplying another voice and maintaining a blog there. Check it out if you have any interest in those who play the great sport of baseball for free, or if somehow you've come to like my writing.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Luis Hernandez is Winning Me Back

Tonight the Orioles won the first of four games against the Seattle Mariners, 7-4. A quick look at the box score would make you think that the game was decided by an offensive barrage by the Orioles with 3 homeruns - one each by Kevin Millar, Melvin Mora and Ramon Hernandez. Those were important, but what stood out to me was good defense and Luis Hernandez.

The Orioles were able to make several plays defensively to keep the Mariners from gaining any momentum. There were two double plays, one of the 4-6-3 variety and a strike ‘em out throw ‘em out double play.

Mora showed great reactions at third, making several diving stops, and Luis Hernandez showed why he’s the starting shortstop. It looks like he’s recovered from his case of the yips and ditched the moniker Luis “Throw-Away” Hernandez. How fickle am I? He showed good range and a strong arm tonight, and has been solid defensively so far in this young season.

Defense is the reason Luis has a job. I was more impressed with him at the plate. He went 0 for 1 with 2 sacrifice flies, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. The first sacrifice fly was a wonderful at bat, taking it to a full count and fouling off several pitches before getting a pitch that he can elevate. His second sacrifice fly was an “at’em” ball. He squared it up real nice and it looked great off the bat, but was hit right at left fielder Raul Ibanez. He still needs to be more consistent – on one swing in his first at bat against starter Jarrod Washburn he looked overmatched with his 88 mph fastball – but if Luis Hernandez can keep battling pitchers and not throw away at bats, it’ll go a long way towards silencing the questions of why the Orioles put up with his lack of a bat. A slick glove can only do so much.

One unrelated note: you know things have changed when the Orioles’ post-game show also gives updates on the minor league games that day. There was some great news tonight, like 2007 1st round pick C Matt Wieters hitting homeruns in his first two official at bats of the season, and 2007 5th round pick RHP Jake Arrieta striking out 9 through his first 4 innings pitched. Both are playing for the Single-A Advanced Frederick Keys.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Cintron In - Angelos Out

Lost in the hubbub of Opening Day was the free agent signing of infielder Alex Cintron. The Orioles had shown interest in the 29 year old during Spring Training, but Cintron decided to sign with the Cubs instead. Only after being cut at the end of March did he come crawling back to sign with the O’s.

Seriously though, Cintron adds some valuable depth to the organization. He can play shortstop, second base and third base. He’ll start the year in Triple-A Norfolk as the starting shortstop, but you can count on seeing him with the Orioles sometime soon, assuming he stays healthy – not a given considering Cintron’s track record.

Cintron’s best season came in 2003 with the Arizona Diamondbacks. He played in 117 games, had 448 at bats, and hit .317/.359/.489 with 26 doubles and 13 homeruns. He saw more playing time in 2004, getting 564 at bats in 154 games, but regressed - hitting .262/.301/.363. Since then he’s struggled with injuries and his playing time has decreased every year, down to 68 games and 185 at bats last year for the White Sox.

That last part of the title, “Angelos Out”, confusing you? Well, yesterday Inside Charm City posted a blog discussing a rumor that Peter Angelos is thinking about selling the team after this season. It even mentions the possibility of the Orioles becoming a community-based, group-owned organization like the Green Bay Packers. I’m not sure how that would work out, but don’t sweat the details…it was only a cruel April Fools joke! I’m telling you about it, because I fell for it and wanted to share my pain. Dashed to pieces, my hopes are.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

The Orioles Use Common Cents

In a world that is ruled by the all-mighty dollar, the Baltimore Orioles have just made a decision that doesn't fit the status quo - releasing Jay Gibbons.

Jay Gibbons is owed $11.9 million over the next 2 seasons and the Orioles will be paying Gibbons 100% of that money whether he signs with someone else or not. Financially, it's a tough decision to make, but it makes sense in just about every other way.

Gibbons has shown a complete inability to stay healthy and productive. Orioles manager has also stressed the importance of having players that are NOT one dimensional, which is exactly what Jay Gibbons is. He doesn't offer anything defensively, and he hasn't hit well since the first half of 2006. If Trembley doesn't want too many one dimensional players, he definitely doesn't want someone with zero dimensions.

By cutting Gibbons, the Orioles also get to keep the younger Scott Moore on the roster. Moore has much more of a future with the rebuilding Orioles and he's much more versatile. Gibbons is limited to DH and a horribly played left field. Moore has played at third base, first base, second base and left field this spring. I would expect most of his playing time to come at the infield corners, but it's nice to have him available at the other positions.

Other roster battle updates:
LHP Brian Burres has been named the 5th starter, meaning RHP Matt Albers will be in the bullpen as the long reliever. Manager Dave Trembley has said that they'll use the open date on Tuesday, April 1st, to skip the 5th spot, so for the first week of the season Burres will also be available out of the bullpen.

As for the shortstop position: "Can you keep a secret? So can I." That's what Trembley said to his coaches regarding who will start at shortstop on Opening Day. I guess we'll all just have to wait until the lineup card gets posted.

Neither Luis Hernandez nor Brandon Fahey leave me dreaming of the 6-4-3 double play. It's more of a pick-your-poison situation, but Trembley keeps giving evidence that he's leaning towards Luis "Throw-Away" Hernandez. Trembley says that he's going to go more off of what he saw during the regular season last year than what he saw in spring training. That's all well and good, but it's obvious that Hernandez is pressing. Regardless of who Trembley wants to start, you have to wonder if Hernandez will deal well with the pressure of starting on Opening Day. It may be a good idea to start Fahey on Opening Day and then give them each equal playing time over the first few weeks and see who settles in - play the hot hand. Trembley keeps citing Fahey's versatility as a reason to keep him as a utility player, but Hernandez can play both middle infield spots and as long as we've got Jay Payton and Scott Moore on the team, there shouldn't be any reason to play Fahey in the outfield.

Edit: Trembley just announced that Luis Hernandez will bat ninth and play shortstop tomorrow. Fahey will serve as the utility man. The article from The Sun does mention the possibility of Fahey splitting time with Hernandez as the season progresses, so maybe my idea will happen after all, but with a different Opening Day starter.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Last Minute Decisions

With Opening Day less than a week away, there is still competition for certain roles and even roster spots for the Baltimore Orioles. The two main questions surrounding the team are: who will be the 5th starting pitcher, and who is the starting shortstop?

The battle for the 5th starter spot, which once included pretty much everyone in camp, has been narrowed down to LHP Brian Burres and RHP Matt Albers. Whoever doesn’t get the starting spot will most likely enter the bullpen as the long reliever. Burres has made a strong argument for himself, saving his best spring outing for his last, beating the Marlins with 5 1/3 innings pitched, 6 hits allowed, 0 runs, 0 walks and 4 strikeouts. His biggest problem last year, in my opinion, was his lack of control--he had 66 walks in 121 innings. This spring he only has walked one batter in 13 innings, so that is promising, but he may end up in the bullpen anyway. Going into that last game against the Marlins, Albers was the favorite to get the starting nod, and Burres’ performance may not be enough to change that. It’s unclear how the handedness of each player will affect manager Dave Trembley’s decision.

On a related note, the Milwaukee Brewers released starting pitcher Claudio Vargas on Tuesday. I haven’t heard anything regarding Oriole interest in him, but it would be prudent to at least “kick the tires”. The Orioles are not exactly set in the starting rotation and Vargas could eat some innings for us this year. He would be a similar gamble to current O’s pitcher Steve Trachsel, only 8 years younger. It’s very possible that of the 5 guys who make the starting rotation in April, only Jeremy Guthrie and Daniel Cabrera will pitch more than 160 innings in the major leagues this year, so getting innings anywhere we can find them would be a wise move. Maybe president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail just plans on burning a lot of fuel busing our minor league pitchers in and out of town all summer.

The most glaring position battle, and one without an obvious answer, is at shortstop. Luis Hernandez was the favorite coming into the spring, but he’s playing like he doesn’t want the job. No one expected him to hit, but he’s been giving away outs like it's Christmas. The only other in-house option is Brandon Fahey, who (I never thought I’d say this) deserves to start. Well, let me rephrase that: he doesn’t deserve to be playing behind Luis “Throw-away” Hernandez. Fahey has had a good spring and I’ve heard rumors that he’s gained some weight over the off-season, so maybe he’ll be able to hit the ball as opposed to just letting the ball hit his bat.

That being said, I still expect MacPhail to be working hard to find another shortstop somewhere. It’s looking less likely that the Brian Roberts trade will be happening before Opening Day, so it probably won’t be Ronny Cedeno, the guy we all thought would be our shortstop by now. That’s a shame, because those rumored Cubs deals would have netted us not only a possible starting shortstop, but also another pitcher or two to compete for starts this year.

The bench spots are falling in place as well. Catcher Guillermo Quiroz and outfielder Jay Payton are locks. The loser of the Hernandez-Fahey competition will be the utility guy (wow, I hope we bring someone else in). That leaves one remaining spot. It belongs to Jay Gibbons only because of his contract, but he’s expected to start the year on a 15 game suspension. While he’s away, his roster spot will be taken by either outfielder Tike Redman or utility player Scott Moore. Moore has been hitting the cover off the ball this spring and is showing much more versatility than expected, seeing time at third base, first base, second base and left field. He should be the favorite, unless the O’s decide they want him to get more playing time and send him to Norfolk to get it.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

A Look Ahead at the Rule 4 Draft

Did you know that the First Year Player draft in June is also called the Rule 4 draft? Until recently, I didn’t either.

For years, when you watched the Orioles play, what you saw on the field was all you had to hope for. There was no help on the way (at least in-house) as the farm system was barren and player development did not receive nearly enough attention. Thankfully, that is all changing. Joe Jordan, who became the Orioles Scouting Director before the 2005 season, has done a good job turning things around. It certainly wasn’t easy as he wasn’t given much to work with in the beginning, but that shouldn’t be a concern now that Orioles’ President of Baseball Operations, Andy MacPhail, is on board – he is showing some serious devotion to player development.

Most of our promising young players are pitchers, such as Radhames Liz, Chris Tillman, Jake Arrieta, Chorye Spoone, Pedro Beato, and Brandon Erbe. Baseball America recently ranked the Orioles minor league pitching 3rd in the league. The hitters are lagging behind, pulling our overall talent ranking to 16th. There are still a few hitters worth watching though, such as Nolan Reimold, Bill Rowell, Brandon Snyder, Mike Costanzo, Brandon Tripp, and most of all Matt Wieters.

Like I said the Orioles are on their way up, and it should only get better this year as they have the privilege (and shame) of picking 4th in the 2008 Rule 4 draft. The teams picking ahead of us, in order, are the Tampa Bay Rays, the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Kansas City Royals. The exciting thing is that there are more than 4 draft eligible players that I - and most anyone who’s been paying attention – would love to get into our farm system.

Here’s a list of the best of the best that the Orioles will most likely be choosing from come June. The scouting reports and pictures are courtesy of Greg Pappas.

Key: *=lefty, #=switch-hitter, LHSP=left handed starting pitcher,
RHSP=right handed starting pitcher, (x) = age at the time of the 2008 Draft.

1. *Pedro Alvarez {College 3B, Vanderbilt} (21). The third-baseman, from the same college (Vanderbilt) as last year's overall #1 pick David Price, is the consensus #1 rated player after stellar Freshman and Sophomore campaigns. Alvarez is well put together at 6' 2 225 lbs., bats left, throws right and plays a decent third base. However, it's his bat that most feel have him at the head of the class.

Alvarez has comparables to Alex Gordon, with a .300+ BA and middle of the lineup production (25+ HR, 100+ RBI) very possible. He is the kind of player that if he develops as projected, could be a franchise player, whether at 3B or with a potential switch to 1B. He runs fairly well, although it's unlikely he'll be much of a stolen base threat.

Alvarez is an on-field leader, playing outstanding in stints for Team USA, and should become an easy top-5 choice this Draft, barring an unforeseen setback.

Since this report was written, Alvarez broke the hamate bone in his wrist. He is expected to miss about half of the college season and he may not be back to normal before the season ends. But the hamate bone is an injury that is well documented and shouldn’t scare people away. He may slide slightly because of this injury, but he is still expected to go in the top 5.

2. Aaron Crow {College RHSP, Missouri} (21). Missouri right-hander Aaron Crow really burst onto the scene during his dominating Cape Cod season (Collegiate Wood Bat League) this past fall. At 6' 2 215, he is not overly big, but is a solid athlete and easily repeats his mechanics, which may contribute to why his command of a low to mid-nineties fastball (which has hit 98 occasionally) has been outstanding. Crow led the league with a miniscule ERA of 0.67 and has a solid repertoire of secondary pitches, with a slider and change both grading out as average to above-average.

While his Cape campaign was very impressive, his college season was merely good. The sophomore was the Tigers' Friday night starter (#1) and threw 117.2 innings in 18 starts, striking out 90.

If he picks up where his Cape stint left off during the coming college season, he has the chance to go #1 overall.

3. Tim Beckham {High School SS, (GA)} (18). Beckham, with continued progress, profiles as an All-Star caliber SS, both with the glove and at the plate. He is an athletic defender with graceful actions and a very strong arm. Unlike many High School SS's, Beckham will stay at short. He is filling out his 6' 2 build and should add more strength to an already formidable offensive skill-set. He's fast AND quick, a combination more uncommon then most realize, and he's a great and instinctive base-runner to boot. Beckham has played well in wood bat tournaments and along with Eric Hosmer is considered among the very best hitters in the HS ranks.

He has been compared to BJ Upton and that is high praise indeed. Considered by most as the premiere High School prospect, and by some as the overall #1 player available, Beckham should come off the board very, very early. (photo courtesy of Baseball America)

4. #Justin Smoak {College 1B, South Carolina} (21). Justin was a borderline 1st rounder as a High School senior, and the switch-hitting first sacker has done nothing to disappoint the South Carolina fan base since his freshman campaign in '06. Smoak is well built at 6' 3 200 lbs., with sound swing mechanics from both sides of the plate and generates both good average and good power. He has played very well in the Cape Cod League (Collegiate Wood Bat League) and projects quite well as a big leaguer. Justin has a decent eye, but can be a bit undisciplined. However, he does play a very good 1B.

The comparisons to Mark Teixeira have been and will be there, but Smoak should make his own 'mark' on the game he loves. I project Smoak as an outstanding defensive first baseman, with the following line a rough estimate of his hitting abilities> .285/.365/.510 with 30'ish HR's and good run production - a very solid choice for any team looking for an advanced college bat.

5. *Brian Matusz {College LHSP, San Diego} (21). Matusz (pronounced MAT-is) is one of those pitchers that just has ML'er written all over him. The University of San Diego junior stands 6' 4 and weighs in at 195 lbs. He employs a sweet combination of crafty lefty with a low nineties fastball and consistently throws three quality pitches for strikes. He will pitch from 87-92 and can hit 94 when necessary, but it's his assortment of high-grade secondary stuff that has scouts excited about his future. His curve and change are both outstanding, and his athleticism and easy arm action plants him squarely in line to be a high first-round selection.
Because he doesn't necessarily profile as a true #1 ace, Matusz doesn't get the drools from the scouts as last year's #1 David Price had, but in time Matusz may prove to be about as good.
(photo courtesy of Baseball America)

I think the biggest reason Matusz isn’t being seen as a possible ace is because he doesn’t throw as hard as many other phenoms, but since when is a low 90’s fastball (up to 94) with up to 3 other average to above average pitches (also throws a nice slider) with control not good enough to dominate hitters?

6. *Eric Hosmer {High School 1B, (FL)} (18). For me, Hosmer may be the single best 1B prospect in the last 20 years and while some discount his value for being a 1B'man, I have him as the overall best prospect in the draft. He is big at 6' 4 200, and strong enough to launch massive shot after massive shot throughout both batting practice and in the games he plays. Already a very good defender at 1B, Eric profiles as a middle of the order beast. With perhaps the sweetest swing in the draft he won the WWBA (World Wood Bat Association) Tourney MVP back in October, adding to an impressive collection of accolades.

While High School phenom Tim Beckham gets the most rave reviews for being the next great 5-tool talent, it is Hosmer that has been the most consistent player. Coupling tremendous defensive and offensive skill-sets makes Hosmer a legit threat to go in the top 5.

Other than Alvarez’s wrist injury, none of these players have done anything to discourage teams from picking them early and paying them lots of money. If you wanted to mess around with a mock draft, you could easily predict these 6 players going in any order at the top of the draft board – although you’d have some explaining to do if you were to put Hosmer in the top 4. Normally I wouldn’t include Hosmer in this list of possible Orioles targets, but he does have the upside to warrant a high draft pick and Pappas loves him. I think he would take Hosmer with the 1st overall pick if he was given the chance. My favorite is Tim Beckham.

There are also two sleepers who could force their way into consideration for the top 5 spots – high school RHP Tim Melville, who could possibly have the best arm in the draft, and high school SS/3B Harold Martinez. Martinez plays short now but most seem him moving to third and being a great defender there. Crazily enough, he has gotten Alex Rodriguez comparisons but still doesn’t profile in the top 5 picks. He just hasn’t shown enough power yet to justify that high of a draft slot, but if he does start to show more power his senior year he’ll sky rocket up the amateur rankings.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Ballpark Talk

One thing that makes going to an Orioles’ game such an enjoyable experience, even when the team stinks, is Oriole Park at Camden Yards. It’s a beautiful ballpark: the ivy wall in centerfield that serves as the batter’s eye, the cityscape above that (which isn’t what it used to be now that that big hotel is built), and of course the warehouse.

I am a big fan of having features (such as the warehouse) that make your ballpark unique and different from other parks. When someone sees a picture of it, they should know right away which ballpark it is. Is there a huge green wall in left field? That’s Fenway Park! Is there a big hill and flag pole within fair territory in center field? That’s Minute Maid Park! Do the outfield walls not have any padding, just ivy covered brick? That’s Wrigley Field!

I love going to games regardless of whether or not the stadium is unique, but it adds something else to the experience if there is some originality there. That’s one of the reasons Camden Yards is one of my favorite ballparks. They managed to make it aesthetically pleasing and unique.

Don’t look now, but Camden Yards could have some competition for the RFBP award (Ryan’s Favorite Ballpark).

Those Tampa Bay Rays, who are looking to pass the O’s in the standings this year, are also trying to win over my park affections. They have come up with a ballpark design so fascinating that I may seriously consider following the Orioles down there on a road trip to see it. If you don’t normally click on the links I put in my blogs, change your ways and click on this one. You have to see it for yourself.

It’s right on the water and tries to blend in with the adjacent harbor by having its own giant sail - sort of. The Rays’ current ballpark is a dome, and while it is nice to watch a game in A/C when it’s in the middle of a Florida summer, I just don’t care much for domes. This design is a clever compromise.

It has a huge column beyond centerfield that supports cables running to various points above the upper deck. These cables will support a retractable sail roof. The sections that are closest to the seating are permanent, offering shade, and the rest of the sail roof will be used in inclement weather. The great thing is that when the roof is on, the sides of the ballpark are still open, letting bay breezes come through, so you still feel like you’re outside.

I’m impressed by this design and think it could be my favorite Major League ballpark. Of course, I’ll have to visit it myself before I can say that for sure. I’ll have to wait awhile - it is scheduled to open in 2012.

Friday, March 7, 2008

See You Next Year

It’s official. Prospect Troy Patton will undergo season ending shoulder surgery to repair a small labrum tear. This shouldn’t be much of a shock. The Orioles have been dragging their feet on this since Spring Training started.

The question is - does this change your opinion of the Miguel Tejada trade? I don’t think it should. I know, I know; Patton was the top prospect to come back in that trade and an injury to him should hurt the value of the trade more than an injury to anyone else we received. However, it’s too early to tell how this will affect things in the long run, and that was what the trade was made for - the long run. We also knew that he had some kind of injury when we traded for him. We just didn’t know if it would require surgery or only rehab. The question surrounding Patton’s shoulder enabled us to wrestle extra players from the Astros. It’s easy to imagine some of those other players surpassing expectations and making up for Patton’s fall, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

The tear in Patton’s shoulder is a small one and the doctors are confident that he can make a healthy comeback for the 2009 season. Patton will only be 23 next season, so he’ll still be a young left-handed pitcher on the brink of playing in the major leagues. That sounds good to me.

There is also a chance that he’ll be a better pitcher when he comes back. In 2006 he struck out 139 batters in 146 innings pitched. In 2007 he struck out 101 batters in 164 innings pitched. From the beginning of 2006 thru 2007 he rose from Class A Advanced all the way to the Major Leagues. Because his declining strikeout rate accompanied his fast rise through the Minor Leagues, many saw it as a sign that he wouldn’t be as effective against more advanced bats, but maybe it was that pesky shoulder.

When asked about his impending surgery, one thing that Patton mentioned was looking forward to coming back completely healthy with "a little bit more velocity than [he's] been pitching with". That makes me think that his shoulder was contributing to his declining numbers.

I’ll be looking forward to 2009 and a healthy Troy Patton.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

How About Some Perspective?

Nick Markakis is one of many pre-arbitration players around the league who has had his contract renewed in the last week or so. The Orioles and Markakis were not able to come to a long-term agreement and had to settle for another one year deal - $455,000, a $55,000 raise from 2007. He'll be eligible for arbitration for the first time following the 2008 season and should be looking at a sizable pay raise. Nevertheless, Markakis was disappointed that they couldn't get a long term deal done now. Such a deal would have paid him much more than the $455,000 he'll make this year.

Some players have come to long term agreements in their pre-arbitration years. Rockies shortstop, Troy Tulowitzki signed a 6 year, $30 million contract in January, which buys out his last 2 pre-arbitration years and all 3 years that he would be arbitration eligible. Deals such as these are usually good for both the player and the club. It gives the player security and a much quicker road to big bucks. The advantage for the club is that while they are paying more now, the yearly salaries agreed to during the arbitration years could end up being much less than the player would have received if he had gone to arbitration.

Contracts like Tulowitzki's are becoming more commonplace, but are still far from the norm. However, some players are showing a sense of entitlement to a big pay-day.

Brewers first baseman Prince Fielder and Phillies pitcher Cole Hamels have both openly spoken to the press about how they feel about their contract renewals. Fielder says that it's about respect, and he's not getting enough. Hamels called it an insult, a low blow. C'mon guys! Prince, the Brewers renewed your contract for $670,000; 50% more than they were required to. You need to sit back, look at where you are and try to gain some perspective.

This is how the system works, fellas:
The first 3 full seasons that you are in the Major Leagues, you are only paid the major league minimum or slightly more. There might be slight increases; I'm not sure. Oops, I didn't do my homework. Anything more than that that your employer decides to pay you is just gravy. Be grateful and keep working.

After those 3 seasons, you are eligible for salary arbitration. Each year you will exchange figures with your employer. You will say what you think you are worth, and your employer will do the same. You are more than welcome to compromise and meet somewhere in the middle. In fact, most do. If you don't compromise, then it goes to court. A neutral arbitrator will listen to your arguments for why you deserve the salary you suggested and your employer will argue for the salary they suggested. The arbitrator will then decide which salary you deserve. It's one or the other now; there is no compromise.

After those 3 years of salary arbitration, you are a free agent and you can sign with any team you want, for however much money you can get from them.

This is the system that YOUR union, the MLB Players Association, agreed to. If you don't think the system is fair, take it up with them. If you're as good as you think you are, you'll still be around 4-5 years from now and you'll get your pay-day.

In the meantime, why don't you take advice from veteran Braves pitcher John Smoltz, who said, "It happens to everybody. Just [play]." The game is challenging enough when you're not upset.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

B-Rob Isn't the Only One

99% of Orioles related trade rumors right now pertain to Brian Roberts, but that could be changing. Two players who I didn't think we'd be able to get rid of - Jay Payton and Kevin Millar - could be gaining interest from the New York Mets.

The Mets are thinking playoffs right from the start, but that doesn't mean they don't have question marks. They are interested in a right-handed hitting outfielder who they can platoon with new left-handed hitting rightfielder, Ryan Church. The only backup outfielder they have who isn't a left-handed hitter is Angel Pagan, who is a switch hitter. He may be playing well this spring, but he's there fighting for a bench spot, not semi-regular time. There are other players available who would be a better fit, such as the Cubs' Matt Murton, but Payton could find himself in the center of the Mets' interest depending on what the Mets are looking to give up. Murton would most definitely take more.

Kevin Millar has been mentioned on some rumor websites as a possible solution as a back up outfielder, too, but that would be an adventure. He's pretty much limited to first base now. However, Millar is still an option for the Mets as a back up first baseman. Carlos Delgado is no spring chicken anymore - he turns 36 in June. He declined sharply last season, hitting .258/.333/.448 with 24 homeruns, down from .265/.361/.548 and 38 homeruns in 2006. This spring he's showing his age again, being bothered by an impingement in his hip. There is a void at first base behind Delgado, so picking up someone who can give him some additional days off and cover for him if he misses an extended period of time could be a good idea.

Now, if you paid attention during the Johan Santana trade rumors, you'll remember that the Mets don't have a very strong farm system, especially after the Santana trade. However, if they want to pursue Payton or Millar, I doubt it would cost much - as far as players are concerned. It would cost some money as they would probably have to pay the entirety of their contracts ($4.5 million for Payton & $2.75 million for Millar).

If I were Andy MacPhail, I might be interested in 25 year old middle infielder Anderson Hernandez. Orioles manager, Dave Trembley, keeps saying that the Orioles want to rebuild around pitching and defense. Hernandez fits that mold. He's a slick fielder with a strong arm who can play both shortstop and second base well. At the plate he's a switch hitter whose game revolves around spraying the ball around and using his above average speed. Hernandez and some low level/high upside prospects could be a workable deal.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Thoughts on Brian Roberts & the Back of the Rotation

Many people think that Brian Roberts will be traded to the Cubs before the end of Spring Training. Andy MacPhail insists that there are several clubs still expressing interest in Roberts, but the Cubs are the only ones we hear about and are the most likely destination. I’d love for the Rockies to get involved, but that doesn’t seem to be happening. I have gone back and forth on whether or not I believe it’s wise to trade Roberts now or wait until mid-season, or even next off-season. Part of that reservation has been my doubts of how well the Cubs available players really match up with our needs, and part of it has been my fear of what taking Brian Roberts out of our lineup would mean.

Roberts is our lead-off hitter, our catalyst, and he is very good at that job. He does all the things that are expected of a lead-off hitter and he does them well; he hits for average, has a good OBP, makes pitchers work, sees a lot of pitches, he steals bases and does it with a high success rate. The problem is that there is no one else in the organization even close to major league ready who shows this skills set. Finding his replacement is a daunting task.

I know that as a rebuilding club we shouldn’t worry about this too much. We just need to stockpile as much talent as we can, regardless of where they play and what they do well. We can put the pieces together and complete the puzzle later. But with Roberts gone, the best in house alternatives would be Melvin Mora, if he can rebound a little, or Nick Markakis, if we wanted to move him out of the 3 spot where the O’s envision him being for years to come.

However, a player who may have surfaced briefly in the beginning of Roberts/Cubs rumors has resurfaced and peaked my interest. He is second baseman/outfielder Eric Patterson. I had dismissed him early on, thinking he wasn’t worth pursuing. The knock on him was that many baseball people don’t see him sticking at second base. That’s why he’s started to see some time in the outfield, but his arm isn’t very strong so he’s best suited to left field, where we want to start playing someone with power, such as Luke Scott or prospect Nolan Reimold. But if the Orioles think Patterson can stick at second base, or at least are interested in giving him every chance to do so, he would make a lot of sense for the Orioles. Patterson would become the best candidate for the lead-off spot. In the minors he has shown a lot of the same offensive skills as Brian Roberts, with maybe a little more power. All he needs to do is prove he can stay at second base.

Update on the competition for the back of the rotation:

RHP Matt Albers and LHP Garrett Olsen pitched in intra-squad scrimmages today, throwing two innings a piece. Each had their moments, good and bad.

Albers’ velocity impressed and he pelted the strike zone throwing 20 of his 26 pitches for strikes. He also gave up a long homerun to Kevin Millar. He could be someone to watch. Troy Patton was and is looked at as the best pitcher in the Tejada trade with Houston, as he is polished and a good bet to fulfill his potential as a middle of the rotation starter. But many insiders think that Albers has a higher ceiling. He has better stuff. He just needs to work on his command and polish up that change-up. Without it he essentially throws only 2 pitches and will be destined for relief.

Olsen needs to improve if he wants to make good on my prediction of him making the rotation. He has displayed great control in the minors, but during his big league audition at the end of last year he didn’t show any confidence in his stuff and started nibbling around the plate, falling behind hitters constantly. Nothing has changed as he only threw 14 of his 30 pitches for strikes today. He also hit two batters. However, he did hold the opposition scoreless.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

2008 Season Preview

Spring training has begun and season previews are starting to pop up as different publications start giving more coverage to Major League Baseball, so I figured I would do my own preview.

The 2008 season is taking shape as one filled with hope for the future, as the Baltimore Orioles are finally showing a commitment to rebuilding; a movement far overdue as 1997 was its last winning season. The question will be, how painful will the typical pains of rebuilding be for the Orioles? A team who is forsaking the present for the future will have deficiencies on the major league club, and the Orioles are no exception. There are young players that will be worth watching, but not as many as fans would like. On fan sites and message boards, many fans are crying out for certain veterans to be traded and/or cut. Sometimes it just isn’t that easy, as some players have too large a salary to cut or don’t have enough trade value to gather interest from other clubs. The two issues are often tied together to form a particularly frustrating situation. The result for the Orioles in 2008 will be a roster with a few young budding stars and plenty of veteran stop-gaps spread around the field. Let’s take a look, position by position, and see who I think makes the final 25 man roster.

C: Ramon Hernandez (32) – he was a little out of shape and struggled with injuries last season, but looks fit and ready to go this spring.

1B: Kevin Millar (36) – this steady veteran will man first base, but he’ll see a little time at designated hitter, too.

2B: Brian Roberts (30) – trade rumors surround him, but for now he’s one of our star players and one of the best lead-off men in the game.

SS: Luis Hernandez (24) – he’s great with the glove, but not so great with the bat. I can already hear opposing teams chanting, “easy out… easy out”.

3B: Melvin Mora (36) – this aging starter needs to prove that the real Mora is the one who hit 12 homeruns in the first half last year, not 2 homeruns in the second half.

LF: Luke Scott (30) – acquired in the Miguel Tejada trade, he should provide a power boost in left, something we’ve lacked for quite some time. He has impressed Dave Trembley in the cages so far this spring.

CF: Adam Jones (22) – the centerpiece in the Erik Bedard deal, he is a 5-tool star in the making; a cornerstone of the rebuilding effort in Baltimore.

RF: Nick Markakis (24) – voted team MVP in 2007, Markakis is a star on the rise and, should Brian Roberts be traded, the face of the franchise.

DH: Aubrey Huff (31) – he had surgery in January for a sports hernia, but should be ready to go before Opening Day. He’ll be looking to rebound after breaking his streak of 5 straight seasons with 20+ homeruns in 2007. He needs to play well for the fans to forget about some offensive comments he made over the winter. He'll also be backing up Millar and Mora at the corners.

Guillermo Quiroz (26) – obviously you need a back-up catcher, and this former top prospect (with the Blue Jays) is the front runner.

Freddie Bynum (28) – gets a spot due to his versatility. He has great speed off the bench and can back up both middle infield positions and play the outfield. Brandon Fahey (27) could challenge him for this spot, as he’s a better infielder, but his one option remaining (compared to Bynum’s none) is working against him.

Jay Payton (35) – this veteran is a good 4th outfielder, who can play all three outfield positions. There is some concern that he might become a malcontent if he doesn’t get enough playing time, which wouldn’t help his need to rebound after a subpar year in 2007.

Jay Gibbons (31) – as much as we might not want to see Gibbons in an Orioles uniform, he doesn’t have any trade value and he’s very popular in the clubhouse, so he’ll be a fixture on the Orioles bench, seeing time in left field and at DH; that is, after he serves his 15 game suspension for purchasing illegal PED’s. That suspension opens the door for someone like OF Tike Redman (31) or 3B Scott Moore (24) to start the year on the Orioles, but Gibbons will be back.

Starting Rotation:
RHP Jeremy Guthrie (29) – he was a brilliant waiver claim last season, but hit a wall late in the season. He needs to show that he’s the real deal and work on his stamina.

LHP Adam Loewen (24) – he’s being pegged as a future ace, but coming back from a stress fracture in his throwing elbow and only having thrown 147-2/3 innings in the majors, he has much to prove.

RHP Daniel Cabrera (27) – possessing some of the nastiest stuff in the league, he’s loaded with potential, but has been nothing but frustrating. On a positive note, he did throw over 200 innings last year.

RHP Steve Trachsel (37) – the club wants the veteran to make the team in order save some younger arms the innings, but he could get pushed out if enough of them impress this spring.

LHP Garrett Olsen (24) – the rookie has a great track record in the minors, but had a rough time in his call-up last season. This last spot is very much up for grabs, with many candidates fighting for it, but I predict that Olsen’s plus control will win him the job. LHP Troy Patton (22) would be the favorite to win this spot, but he’s got some issues with the labrum in his shoulder and is behind the other starters this spring.

LHP George Sherrill (31) – acquired in the Bedard trade, this left handed specialist is the favorite to become the Orioles closer. In order to be successful he needs to find a way to be more successful against righties, who have hit .261/.384/.352 off him for this career, compared to .167/.227/.291 against lefties.

RHP Chad Bradford (33) – this extreme sub-mariner excels at keeping the ball in the park (only 2 homeruns given up the past two years) and will be matched up against opposing teams’ best right handed bats.

LHP Jamie Walker (36) – this situational lefty led the team in appearances in 2007 with 81, and was second on the team in ERA with a 3.23 mark.

RHP Dennis Sarfate (27) – his power arm was acquired in the Tejada trade. He doesn’t have any options left, so he should make the team. Thankfully, early reports from Fort Lauderdale are that he is throwing well. No one has ever questioned his stuff. It’s his command that will determine how effective he can be.

RHP Greg Aquino (30) – this waiver claim has a slight advantage over younger competition, and he has a good arm. The problem is, his fastball doesn’t move so he’ll have to be fine with his location to be successful. Aquino could be one of the first to get bumped from the bullpen if a young player impresses, such as RHP Jim Hoey (25) and RHP Bob McCrory (26).

RHP Randor Bierd (24) – he was a Rule V draft acquisition so he has to make the 25 man roster, or be offered back to the Tigers. He was dominant in Class AA in 2007 and I hope that the Orioles give him every chance to stay.

LHP Brian Burres (27) – with the state of our starting rotation it is imperative that we have a good long man in the bullpen. Burres showed promise in that role last year, but the role could go to RHP Matt Albers (25), another starting pitcher with relief experience.

Looking over the roster, and the others in the AL East, it’s tough to envision the team not finishing last in our division. But sometimes things have to get worse before they can get better, and things definitely look like they’ll be getting better.