Sunday, February 28, 2010

Ten Stories That We’ll be Following in Spring Training

Logan Morrison will be in one of the most interesting position battles this spring

Spring Training games get underway on Tuesday, so it is a good time to take a look at the things that we, here at Diamond Futures’, will be watching most closely over the next few weeks. We make a lot of lists here, and decided that the best way that we could share this with you is another of our Top Ten lists. So without further ado…

1) What are the Nationals’ going to do with 2009 draftees Strasburg and Storen?

This is number one for us, because Strasburg is the most intriguing player to come along in more than a decade. He has a solid frame, sits in the high-90s with his plus-plus fastball, and has two plus secondary offerings to compliment it--all with exceptional control. We have little doubt that he could step into the Nationals’ Big League rotation and would immediately be one of the fifty best starters in the game. That said, we would be shocked if that is what happens. Can he do enough in his limited spring appearances to make it impossible to keep him off the roster—as that is the real question? As to Storen, we were both surprised that the Nationals took him with the 10th pick and further surprised that he performed like he did after signing—especially in the AZFL. We saw him a number of time in college, and never expected a fastball that would consistently sit in the mid-90s. Add to that his slider is better than he receives credit for. One could make the argument that, given his mental makeup, Storen is closer to being Major league ready than is Strasburg. While we don’t expect him to close right away, we wouldn’t be surprised to see Storen make the club.

2) What happens in Cincinnati on the corners?

The Reds believe they have a legitimate shot at contending in the N.L. Central this season, which further complicates this situation and also led to the short-term shortstop fix of signing Orlando Cabrera. But Cabrera is clearly in decline and the Reds are loaded at the corner. We believe in playing for a championship in the season you can win it, and 2010 isn’t that year for the Reds. Which is why we would be positioning this team for a legitimate championship run in 2011. So, the Reds need to use every opportunity to assess how Juan Francisco, Todd Frazier, Yonder Alonso and Joey Votto fit into three positions (1B/ 3B/ LF). Chris Dickerson and Wladimir Balentine are solid ‘reserve’ outfields, but neither one of them will hold down a starting role—especially LF, on a Championship club. At age 34 and with a gimpy back, don’t expect Rolen to be contributing full-time on a pennant run in 2011 either. So one of the aforementioned four is trade bait to net you a legitimate shortstop. If Francisco can defensively handle either LF or 3B, we would send him back to AAA and let him get comfortable there. Although we find Frazier the most questionable from this quartet, his versatility may make him a keeper as well. But this Big League camp is vital for the Reds—not for 2010, but for 2011.

3) How many cars will Jason Heyward dent this Spring?

There is a reason that Heyward was named our #1 prospect, because he has as much offensive upside as any player to come through the Minor Leagues in more than five years—perhaps longer. His batting practice displays have already forced the Braves to put up OF netting in a facility that has been in use for over a decade. The comparisons he is drawing from veteran players and coaches are the makings of ‘lore’. Matt Diaz is not enough reason to keep him out of the starting RF role on opening day—but he still could. Don’t get us wrong, Heyward will have his struggles, but the Braves are going nowhere this year and now looks like as good as time as any to get Heyward’s Major League career rolling.

4) Can Gaby Sanchez hold off Logan Morrison for at least the first half?

Yes, Jorge Cantu is still in the mix as well, but since the Marlins are playing for some year in the future, to us, it would seem silly to put him in the way of either of the other two, as at least Sanchez appears to be ready. While we see Gaby Sanchez as a nice player, he doesn’t have the upside of Morrison, and is almost certain to end up as trade bait before this time next year. But there are rumblings that the Marlins are seriously giving Morrison a shot to win this job this spring. We don’t believe this would be in anyone’s best interests, but how Sanchez performs will really dictate how long Morrison has to wait.

5) Can Dustin Ackley really become a second baseman?

Somewhat under the radar, as few people believe this is really going to happen, but Dustin Ackley has the potential to be a premium offensive talent in CF, and an above average offensive talent in LF or at 1B. But if the Mariners can somehow transform him into a second baseman, his offensive upside is off the charts. Both us and the computer love Ackley’s potential as a future Batting Champion and OBP machine, but we’d drool at the thought of him putting up Ryne Sandberg-esque offensive numbers (potentially better) from the middle of the diamond. We still feel this is unlikely, but what a thought.

6) Is there a significant concern about Madison Bumgarner’s velocity?

Bumgarner had arguably the best raw ‘stuff’ of any prep pitcher in the 2007 draft. When he showed he had the ability to harness it in 2008, his prospect stock climbed through the roof. But Bumgarner spent the second-half of 2009 with a fastball that was barely above 90MPH. The Giants’ have dismissed the concern as arm fatigue and nothing to worry about, but Bumgarner doesn’t have the secondary offerings—or the command to be a special talent without a mid-90s heater. We hear that early outings haven’t seen the velocity return, and while the Giants have him tentatively penciled in as their #5 starter, this is a bigger story than whether or not he breaks camp in the rotation.

7) Will Aroldis Chapman be the Reds’ #5 starter in 2010?

There is little doubt about Champan’s upside, but there have been significant concerns about his Major League readiness. As we have mentioned previously, it is our belief that the Reds should be positioning things for a 2011 run, where Chapman and a potentially healthy Edison Volquez could provide them with the deepest rotation in the National League. So we would be using 2010 to get Chapman accustomed to the culture and the U.S. game—not trying to sell tickets. That said, the reports from the Reds organization about Chapman have been ‘glowing’ from the moment that he signed, and all indications are that they are going to seriously consider him to fill a major hole in their rotation this year.

8) How much more will the Giants try to mess around with Buster Posey?

We try to stay away from picking fights with Major League organizational decisions, but the Giants continue to try our patience. While we have a lot of respect for Brian Sabean et al., the decisions emanating from San Francisco over the last 18 months can only (optimistically) characterized as puzzling. We grant you that the 2010 NL West we be a competitive division, but it is only competitive due to its mediocrity, and it is unlikely that the eventual NL pennant winner comes from here. Buster Posey, Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Pablo Sandoval and potentially Madison Bumgarner are the future of the franchise, and to screw with one of them because of some delusional dreams for 2010 is just insanity. Bringing back Molina when Posey would provide more help to an anemic offense just doesn’t make sense. Having Posey take away focus from his developing backstop duties by learning other infield positions makes even less sense. We will be curious to see if this plan is just idle chatter, or if Sabean has really flipped.

9) Who will emerge as the Ranger’s 4th and 5th starters?

The Rangers have a legitimate shot to win what could be baseball’s most competitive division this year, and proven talent in their rotation appears to be their biggest question mark. Rich Harden, when healthy, is a good start at the top—‘when healthy’ being the key. While we aren’t convinced that 2009 was anything less than a career year for Scott Feldman, he has earned the number two spot. Brandon McCarthy is what Brandon McCarthy is and it isn’t that bad and it isn’t that good, but that is where things get interesting. Tommy Hunter pitched well last year, but of the four possible options (Holland, Feliz and Harrison) he has the least long-term upside. Derek Holland would seem to be a lock for the #4 spot if we were assured that he would be healthy enough to get into season condition—a situation that should be monitored closely. Which leaves us with Neftali Feliz and a slimmer, healthier, Matt Harrison. While there are many that will disagree with us, Feliz hasn’t shown the depth to his repertoire nor the ability to carry his velocity deep enough into games for us to change our belief that he should be viewed as a ‘lights out’ closer in the mold of a young K-Rod. We’d be giving Matt Harrison a long look for the last spot, and it bears watching to see if the Rangers do. In any case, the Rangers will likely need six starters as much as any team in baseball and what they decide to do with Feliz appears to be the key.

10) Who will get the Orioles #4 and #5 rotation spots?

The Orioles are another of those clubs that should be going into 2010 with an eye toward the future moreso than the present. There is an interesting nucleus here, but they play in baseball’s toughest division and have no hope of competing with the Red Sox, Yankees or Rays, this season. Yet, their management has created some interesting, if unnecessary situations by acquiring a couple of aging veterans—namely Kevin Millwood, Miguel Tejada and Garrett Atkins. But for us, the real curiosity lies in the rotation makeup, as the Orioles have significant young arms competing for essentially two spots behind Millwood, Guthrie and Matusz. Chris Tillman should take one of those spots at some time during the 2010 season, but he is being slowed right now by some back soreness. Brad Bergesen pitched adequately last season, and is currently the favorite to win one of the spots, but he is experiencing shoulder soreness, and let’s face it, he doesn’t have the kind of stuff that should stand in the way of the other arms. Jake Arrieta is in the Orioles’ longer term plans, but he would have to really ‘wow’ people to have a legitimate shot to break camp with the team. To us, the answer that makes the most sense is 24yo David Hernandez, who was the Minor’s strikeout leader over the period of 2006-2008.

Other Situations That We Will Be Watching…

With Carlos Santana healthier than expected, how long before he takes over as the Indians’ everyday catcher?

Is Jaime Garcia the Cardinals #5 starter?

Who emerges between Scott Elbert, James McDonald and possibly Josh Lindbloom for the Dodgers #5 spot?

Are Austin Jackson and Scott Sizemore really ready to assume Major League starting roles in Detroit?

How serious is Justin Duchscherer’s health issues and who follows Sheets, Anderson and Braeden in the Oakland rotation?

Do the A’s really believe that Chris Carter can play LF…and are they seriously willing to try it?

Hector Rondon is the Indians best option for the 5th starter role, but how long will it take the Indians to realize that he is a better option than either David Huff or Aaron Laffey?

1 comment:

  1. Pretty damn premature to say the Braves are going nowhere this season, don't you think?