Saturday, March 20, 2010

Spring Training: First-Half Returns (Part II)

Jaime Garcia is looking more and more like the Cardinals 5th starter

As most teams are cutting down their rosters to the point where only players truly in a fight for a roster spot are left, we continue our look at what we have learned from the first half of the 2010 Spring Training.

Orioles – The Orioles promoted a lot of young arms to the Major Leagues in 2009, and while many of them made solid debuts, they weren’t necessarily the players with the greatest long-term upside. This has made it an interesting Spring, as there are theoretically two roster spots open after Millwood, Guthrie and Matusz. Brad Bergesen was more than serviceable in 2009 and entered the spring with a solid grasp of one of these spots, but Bergesen doesn’t have the upside of the others in competition for the spots and he hasn’t looked particularly good (6.24 ERA) in 3 spring outings, which opens the door a bit for some of the others. Chris Tillman is the pitcher that has the most upside of this group and has been solid (3.75 ERA) but we find his 6Ks in 12IP cautionary. If we were placing bets, these would be the favorites for the final two spots, however, David Hernandez has been extremely impressive this spring with a 14:1 K:BB ratio in 10 innings. Hernandez is slated to pitch again on Sunday and will need another strong outing to stay in the hunt.

CardinalsJaime Garcia entered the spring as a bit of a longshot for the Cardinals 5th rotation spot, battling Rich Hill and Kyle McClellan. Hill has struggled with his well-documented control issues ( 6BB in 7IP), and although he was likely the favorite when camp began, he may now be on the verge of not making the opening day roster. Kyle McClellan has been solid, posting a 2.57 ERA and fanning 6 in 7 innings of work in his two starts, and may now be in the lead. Keep your eye on Garcia though, as he not only has the highest upside of the three, but he has been the most impressive pitcher in camp, with a 1.04 ERA and 12 strikeouts in just under 9 innings of work. Garcia got the nod as our Cardinal top prospect this past off-season and is slated to get his first start of the Spring on Sunday. A strong effort here will likely catapult him to the favorite position.

Dodgers – There weren’t many position prospects that had any real chance of making the roster with the Dodgers and the closest one, Ivan DeJesus, performed well, but was dispatched to Minor League camp with the first round of cuts. Things were a bit more interesting on the pitching side of things, however, as there is a wide-open race for the 5th starter spot, and both Josh Lindbloom and Scott Elbert were long shots for the position. Veterans Ramon and Russ Ortiz appear to be the front runners, and Elbert struggled, but Josh Lindbloom followed up last year’s eye-opening spring with another solid effort. We still think that Lindbloom likely profiles best in the bullpen, but the Dodgers remain very high on him. Still at least a year away, Chris Withrow generated tremendous buzz with his performance.

PiratesPedro Alvarez, Jose Tabata and Jeff Clement all have received extended looks in Pirates camp, with Clement entering camp as the favorite to see the majority of time at first base this season. Clement has struggled to a .615 OPS and has never been especially high on our list (#53 in 2006 and #95 in 2007). Not that it is the move that we would make, but wouldn’t Pedro Alvarez outhit Clement right now as the first baseman? Speaking of Alvarez, while he didn’t homer before the Pirates dispatched him to Minor League camp, he did post an .864 OPS in 30 PAs, although his 27% strikeout rate remains troubling. Look for Alvarez to make his Major League debut in June with Andy LaRoche shifting over to second base. Jose Tabata posted a so-so .706 OPS in his 28 ABs. 2010 will be a huge year for Tabata, as the whispers get louder about how old he really is, and he still is not showing the requisite power.

TigersAustin Jackson and Scott Sizemore were essentially handed starting roles coming into camp, and while Jackson’s .389/.476/.611 line has surpassed our expectations, we were never as high as most on Sizemore, and his .182/.325/.273 has done little to alter our opinion. The Tigers have little in the way of alternatives at second base, but we’d still be considering Ryan Raburn here. On the pitching side, Daniel Schlereth hasn’t looked especially good, but keep your eye on Robbie Weinhardt, who looks poised to make bullpen contributions at some point this year.

Athletics – It looks like Chris Carter will be back in AAA to start the 2010 season, as Daric Barton, Jack Cust and Eric Chavez haven’t given any reason to consider alternatives at 1B or DH. Carter has acquitted himself well, but it appears that he will still be waiting a bit longer. On the pitching side, the rotation still has tremendous uncertainty surrounding it—outside of Brett Anderson. Oakland rolled the dice with Ben Sheets, and one has to wonder if they are second guessing themselves yet. While it has only been 3 starts, Sheets has gotten absolutely hammered, and word is that his throwing sessions haven’t eased concerns much. While we doubt that he won’t open the season in the rotation, it isn’t as certain as it was two weeks ago. Justin Duchscherer insists he feels great, but has yet to appear in a Cactus League game. Coming into camp, the other two spots were expected to go to Dallas Braden and Trevor Cahill. Cahill has been solid in four outings this spring and appears to have a stronghold on one of the remaining spots. While Braden has been less impressive, and doesn’t have the upside of the other contenders, he hasn’t done anything that would cause us to believe that he won’t round out the rotation. While Vin Mazzaro and Clay Mortensen have done little to turn heads, the story isn’t the same for Gio Gonzalez, who has fanned 9 in 8.2 innings. Gonzalez still looks likely to open the year in AAA, but he could get a shot if one of the others falters down the stretch.

Astros – There is a fierce battle brewing in Astros’ camp between Jason Castro and J.R. Towels for the team’s second catcher position. With Humberto Quintero looking assured of getting one catcher spot, there is only likely one other one available. Quintero isn’t likely to catch more than 70-80 games this season, which will leave considerable playing time available for whoever wins this battle. We like both Castro and Towels better than Quintero, but it appears that the Astros aren’t considering that as an option. Thus far Towels appears to have a slight edge, as he already has Major League experience and has posted a .478/.538/.783 line. The Astros would benefit from delaying Castro’s debut, and he is ‘only’ hitting .400/.458/.450. Look for the winner of this battle to receive the most PAs by an Astros’ catcher in 2010.

Mets – The early returns from Mets’ camp are making our 2010 prospect rankings look very good, as we undoubtedly ranked Fernando Martinez, Jenrry Mejia and Rueben Tejada higher than most anyone. Martinez has carried over his strong Caribbean Series performance into camp, and looks poised to blossom into the player that has long been expected. In 36 ABs, Martinez has posted a .472/.447/.917 line, and has been the most impressive hitter in camp. With Jose Reyes likely to start the season on the DL, Tejada has been the biggest surprise in camp, as he has not only played a very capable shortstop, but he has posted a .368/.429/.447 line to go along with it. On the pitching side of things, Mejia is making it very difficult for the Mets not to keep him in the bullpen. He has been electric in his side sessions, and in five game appearances, Mejia has a 1.93 ERA and an 8:1 K:BB ratio. While we still believe that improved command is all that is likely standing in the way of him being a very good starting pitcher, it is conceivable that Mejia heads north with the team in a bullpen role.

Red Sox – The Red Sox roster looks to be fairly set and that doesn’t include room for Josh Reddick, but we would be remiss if we didn’t mention Reddick’s .438/.455/.750 batting line.

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