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Down On The Farm Wrap

Posted by Jason A. Churchill on April 11, 2006

There are five senses that we humans use on a regular basis. We use them to gather information. it's really that simple.

We see, we hear, we touch, we smell, we taste. Not necessarily in that order.

Last night, I used all five of those wonderul senses to collect some pretty good 411 on a couple of prospects.

I saw Jesse Foppert tossed two decent innings and two very mediocre-to-awful innings, walking four, throwing a wild pitch and displaying a very inconsistent release point – which is only half of his problem.

Since coming over in the trade fromS an Francisco, Foppert has been working on shortening his stride toward home plate so he can more effectively stay on top of his pitches, creating more of a downward plane. This would, in theory, also increase his velocity, as he'd be able to use his body for better leverage.

Well, it's not working, none of it.

Foppert tossed 68 pitches last night, only half for strikes, and the replacement umpires, especially the pudgy little man that was calling balls and strikes last night, have extremely wide strike zones.

His release point was all over the map, though everything else was pretty consistent. His plant foot was repeating the same mark, and his upper body was following his lower half on a regular basis.

His slider has nice movement, but the lack in velocity separation is hurting its effectiveness. He's not using the split a lot right now, but his change has good action, though his command is not there with that pitch, either.
I touched the shoulder of one Bobby Livingston and asked him about Foppert's velocity. His response was not encouraging. "Lemme see… 86 to 88, couple of 89s," said B-Liv.

Yuck.

If this was mid-May I'd take those results and flush them down the pipe with all the hope of Foppert ever returning to form. But since it was his first start, the weather was pretty chilly, and he'd only thrown 45 pitches since his disaster in spring training, I'll hand the 6-foot-6 Bay Area native a mulligan.

But it's been nearly two years since surgery and not only has Foppert's velocity remained in the high 80s, but his command is still spotty at best.

On to better news…

Left-hander Ryan Feierabend tossed five strong innings last night for Double-A San Antonio, allowing just four hits and two walks while fanning six.

At just 20 years of age, the M's 2003 third round pick took a nice step toward a solid season.

One special assistant GM of an AL club was sitting nearby when I mentioned to Livingston that Feierabend pitched well and I heard his reply.

"He's going to pitch well for a very, very long time, too."

I responded "You like him a quite a bit, eh?" His quick answer was "yeah, I do."

Later, the same former scout who used to patrol the West Coast for a couple of West Divisions teams said that Feierabend "has a feel for pitching, like Blackley. This is something no coach alive can teach. He competes and isn't afraid of anything and I think he is going to get bigger and have more velocity. I see a possible No. 3 starter in the ML in 2-3 years."

Feierabend made a lot of progress last season with his curve ball and one thing he'll look to improve this season is his effectiveness against left-handed hitters. His slider is still a work-in-progress but he may end up adding cutter in the near-future.

Both Travis Blackley and Thomas Oldham use a cutter, though in much different style.

Blackley uses his against any hitter, left or right, and he saws off a lot of bats when he comes in on righties.

Oldham uses his cutter against lefties, in lieu of the slider. Feierabend may choose to use it either way, or both, but he's got time to develop his slider as well. It's very possible he keeps his slider and adds the cut fastball, too. Blackley throws both, though he's so in love with his cutter right now I'm not sure how much he's throwing the slide piece.

The most exciting thing about Feierabend is that he's 6-foot-4, almost 200 pounds, and he's only 20, tossing pitches to far more experienced bats in the Double-A Texas League. Sound familiar?

Yeah, Blackley was also 20 when he steamrolled the Texas League in 2003. It wouldn't be fair to expect a 17-3, 2.61 ERA campaign out of Feierabend, especially when you consider that Blackley didn't lose a start after May 24 that season – including two starts in the postseason – but Feierabend has talent, intelligence, the physical skills, and may be developing that "it" factor I have spoken about on occasion.

I've comp'd Feierabend's ceiling to Milwaukee Brewers southpaw Doug Davis, who is one of my favorite pitchers in the league. Davis' command goes haywire on occasion, but his low 90s heater, above average change and plus breaking ball allow him to get his share of whiffs as well. he'll walk 80-90 guys a year, but he's also getting 175-190 strikeouts, too.

If Feierabend continues to build on his 87-90 mph fastball, and improves his command, the Mariners will have a tough customer to go to in a few years.

[I wonder how many are reading this and thinking to themselves, or gosh forbid out loud somewhere, 'how in the heck is Jason going to incorporate the last two senses into this thing?']

Other Cool Things I Saw on Monday…

Adam Jones' transition to center field is not going to take two years, like some, including myself, originally estimated. His instincts are already above average and though he did misplay one liner last night, his first week of full-time play in center has been pretty solid.

Jones made a really nice running catch heading out toward the right-center field wall (his left) with an outstretched glove. The misplayed ball was a deep liner about 10 steps to his left and headed for the warning track on a hop. His first step, the most important one, was delayed as he froze to further analyze where the ball was heading. That split second cost him the catch, because the route he took was perfect. Jeremy Reed probably makes the catch, as does T.J. Bohn. But it's one that not the average defender out there gets to.

Jones showed me more in a line out to center later in the game. The ball was hit to average center field bout 20-25 steps to Jones' right. There was a man on third and one out. Not only did Jones catch the ball, which wasn't routine, but he positioned himself to make a throw to the plate in the little time he had to maneuver while the ball was airborne.

The throw was a little offline but no arm in the system, including Ichiro's throws out the runner in that situation. But the fact that he had the wherewithall to center the ball to make the throw was impressive. Remember, he's played 28 games at the position in his entire life, and in nine of those, he spent just half the game out there. He's still under 200 innings as a center fielder.

One more thing… okay two, and this first one is for you, dawg.

Asdrubal Cabrera has been labeled by some scouts, and by Baseball America as a gold glove fielder who lacks on-base skills. I've always called B.S. on that, because he's always been patient at the plate and rarely swings at bad pitches.

His walk numbers don't reflect his actual ability to get on base and thus his moderate gap between his batting average and his OBP.

But the 20-year-old Venezuelan certainly has those skills and is showing them off in the PCL. Through five games, the switch hitter has drawn four walks, which leads the team, and has struck out just three times in 19 plate appearances.

He's hitting .357 and though he's yet to scrape up an extra-base hit, remember, he's just 20. He's about 180 pounds and nearly 6-feet tall, so he's not physical incapable of boning up and hitting one 400 feet, but his stroke is engineered for line drives, and that's what he's doing.

I fully expect Cabrera to finish the year with a very respectable offensive line. He's much more suited to handle the challenge of Triple-A baseball than Jones.

Lastly, Rob Johnson is for real, people. His bat needs time, but defensively, he has every physical tool, including the most important – the brain.

His throwing arm is more accurate than I ever thought it's be, even at full development. He's gunned down five runners trying to advance, three would-be base stealers and two more runners trying to move up a base on a pass ball/wild pitch.

Catching guru Roger Hansen is here in Tacoma this week, so I'll try and get to him to ask about Clement and Johnson.

But boy, can Johnson throw. Arm strength is above average and so far his accuracy has been perfect.

Oh, I almost forgot.

I smelled the BBQ Chicken Sandwich, and then I tasted it, too. I needed it to use the other three senses properly. Just ask Darrin Beene of The News Tribune. He needed a BBQ Beef Sandwich in order to function.

— J

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28 Responses to “Down On The Farm Wrap”

  1. dnc said

    My first Prospect Insider shoutout. Woot!!!

    Seriously, I don’t know why there isn’t MAJOR buzz about Cabrera. The kid’s an absolute stud and I’ve been saying that since he was in Everett. That he didn’t make BA’s top 100 prospects still blows my mind. I love the kid, and see big things in his future.

    It’s going to be very interesting to see who our middle infielders are on opening day 2008.

  2. ShipHimToDetroit said

    Nice wrapup. That’s some pretty discouraging news on Foppert’s gun readings. I guess even after all the good news that came after the Foppert part I’m still trying to rinse that bad taste out of my mouth.

  3. The reason why Cabrera doesn’t get bigtime pub is because he isn’t a plus hitter.

    Ask any scout and they’ll tell you that the toughest things to find in baseball are healthy left-handed starting pitchers and middle of the order bats.

    Of the offensive players in the top 100 over at BA, check out how many are guys that are either catchers, or MOTO hitters.

    Very few middle infielders are included, unless they, too, have that plus bat.

    When defensive metrics are polished up more, guys like Cabrera and Navarro will get more tout.

    Everyday, I like Navarro more and more, too. He’s terrific defensively and his bat isn’t bad, either. He’ll have less gap power – in the long run – than Cabrera, but he also has a bit more speed and is a better base stealer.

    Cabrera, to me, is a morph of Cesar Izturis and Carlos Guillen. Which is a pretty darned good MLB player.

  4. BTW, I just want to say again that Adam Jones is going to be a good center fielder. He’s quicker than he is fast, and he’s got Cameron-esque speed, so…

  5. Yeah, we kinda got jipped on Opening Day, with Nageotte no-hitting the Sky Sox and all, and only 1 ball making it into the outfield (in Jones’ vicinity). Didn’t really get to see much out of Jones, defensively. He’s definitely streaky with the bat, though, not unlike the Mariners’ starting CF…

    I’ll probably get up there again this week, and while another no-hit outing by the starter would be sweet, I really would like to watch Jones more in CF. I’m a HUGE TJ Bohn fan, and I’m glad he’s holding his own. And Johnson’s not tooooo bad offensively.

    I always saw Carlos Guillen as underrated. I see Jose Lopez as a very similar player. A-Cab is definitely better defensively (like C-Izt), so I can see that morph, too.

    Looks like Nageotte, then, may have the leg-up on the race for Meche’s spot in the rotation over Foppert. Well, okay, they’ve each only had one appearance, and we can’t make too many valid judgments based on those appearances. I’ll be interested to keep an eye on how Nageotte does against a much-better Sacramento lineup.

  6. Willmore said

    So …. buh-bye Reed ?

  7. Or Reed slides over to left in a year or two. Jones is nowhere ready for the bigs.

  8. katal said

    This is my first comment here, so let me just say first off that I love your analysis.

    I was wondering a couple things:
    1. Where would Reed slide over in a year or two? I can’t see Ibanez or Ichiro going anywhere anytime soon, and there’s always the issue of Snelling coming back, too. It’s always seemed to me that Jones will end up being trade bait.
    2. On a similar note, presuming that neither Betancourt or Lopez falls apart, what will become of Cabrera once he’s no longer being challenged in Tacoma?

    Thanks. Again, lots of kudos to you.

  9. Well, Ibanez’s contract only goes through 2008, and he’s really a DH anyways.

    Everett won’t be here next year and if Jones is the CF in 2008, Reed just slides over into left. If Snelling has proven healthy and capable of playing left almost everyday, then the club has a decision to make. Reed or Snelling, one has to go in a deal.

    But that’s a nice issue to have and by then, the club will know exactly what it has in Reed.

    Same with Cabrera. When he’s ready for the bigs, the club has a decision to make. Betancourt and Lopez? Betancourt and Cabrera? Cabrera and Lopez?

    It’s a good problem to have.

    Same with the catching spot with Johjima, Clement and Johnson.

    Notice a trend here? Good up the middle. Lots of depth.

    If they only had similar depth on the mound, I’d be predicting several postseason berths over the next 10 years.

    Speaking of Cabrera, he was helped off the field in the bottom of the fourth after drawing a walk, his fifth of the year, and turning his ankle as he lunged back into the bag at first on a pickoff move.

    Cabrera is day-to-day with an ankle sprain and is expected to miss a few days. I expect closer to a week.

  10. Willmore said

    How fast can an organization build top depth at pitching ? Can 2-3 years of good college draftees fill that void ?

    Assuming that Nageotte is a potential #2 with his splitter, slider and fastball, how many Nageottes would we need for good depth in the organization ?

  11. It’s always nice when you have three or four ‘potential’ frontline starters scattered throughout the system.

    In a perfect world, one or two would always be a year or less from being ML ready.

    I think it will take the M’s two more years of good drafts to have a really strong farm system stock full of depth and blue chip talent.

    If Tui pans out as a regular, the system has enough position depth to be considered a strength.

    It’s pitching where the lack of legit arms resides.

    Nageotte, even though he had nothing tonight versus Sacramento, is the best option in the upper minors.

    Bazardo still has questions to answer and so does every other arm in the system.

    If Fontaine grabs a Max Scherzer or Ian Kennedy in this year’d draft, and maybe takes a shot at Tim Lincecum if he’s around in round three, and is able to get a top arm in the 07 draft, the M’s will be well on their way.

    If Andrew Miller was to somehow fall through the cracks of KC, and some think KC will not pay him the bonus, he still won’t fall all the way to number five.

    From what I can gather, KC is more than willing to anty up for Miller, just as they did for Gordon. Miller will go first to KC, so Scherzer and Kennedy are the next two arms in line.

    I’m not a big fan of Daniel Bard, Miller’s UNC teammate, and Brandon Morrow and prep star Jordan Walden do absolutely nothing for me at the No. 5 pick.

    Texas Longhorns center fielder Drew Stubbs should be a second rounder, not a top five pick, and Evan Longoria, the consensus top college position player, just doesn’t appear worthy of that spot.

    If Miller, Kennedy and Scherzer are all gone at five, the M’s might take Longoria, however.

    But they really want to snag a pitcher there, because that’s where the value is.

    To answer the question, I think it’ll take two more drafts and winter’s to stock the pitching prospects.

  12. dnc said

    Everything I’ve read lately has Lincecum sneaking into the supplemental first round if not the first round entirely. If we snag him in the 3rd round I’d be thrilled. Frankly, I’d take him in the 2nd, abuse issues, poor mechanics and all.

  13. niL said

    Nags has a split?

    Figured he had about 6 types of sliders and a fourseamer.

  14. I wouldn’t take Lincecum in the second, not when the M’s draft that high.

    And teams are cut down the middle. About half would take him between 35 and 60 and the other half think he’s only worth a 6th – 10th round pick.

    I’d take him in the third, but the M’s can’t afford to take that risk that high in the second round. They still need offense, too, and if Matt LaPorta slips anymore than he already has, he could be there. Or Cody Johnson, the prep project with massive raw power.

    The M’s aren’t as high in Lincecum as Baltimore, Boston, San Diego, San Francisco and both LA teams are.

  15. re: Nags

    Nags has been using a two-seamer since last June and he rarely uses his four-seamer anymore. But against Sacto tonight, his two-seamer was sliding and he couldn’t control it so he was forced to use his four-seamer, which would explain all the fly balls and the walks.

    He’s added a split finger this year, but it’s still developing.

  16. rdave said

    ” maybe takes a shot at Tim Lincecum if he’s around in round three”

    I’ve also read that Lincecum’s improved his stock a lot recently, and people are interested despite his stature and erratic control. Obviously, His recent pitching is helping.

  17. It’ll come down to money and his current health status.

  18. Darn, dude!

    I can smell that BBQ chicken sandwich all the way down here in Oly right now. I must be hungry or something…

  19. Have ya tried the BBQ Pork or Chicken at Cheney?

    It’s becoming legend.

  20. Willmore said

    I should get out to a minor league game if you put it that way.

    Maybe when Clement gets up there on a day that Nags, Livingston (he needs a short nickname), or the Aussie is pitching.

  21. Livingston’s nickname is B-Liv. Ya gotta believe in B-Liv.
    But why wait? Bobby is throwing tonight.

    Don’t be shy, don’t be lazy.

  22. Willmore said

    You mean I would have to miss a Gil Meche start on TV ? Never !!! 🙂

    Nah, I’ll pick some date in the future when I have a less busy schedule.

  23. Darn-it-all-to-h-e-double-hockey-sticks! (Or, as they might say in Dusseldorf: Gerpotenwogen!)

    Indeed “Doc” Livingston (as my Morsels mate, marc w, likes to call him) pitches tonight, and my wife won’t let me escape — even with the kid. I’ll probably drag the family (and the wife’s guest, who’s here all week, hence the reason I can’t make it up tonight) up tomorrow. Lemme guess — Baek’s on the docket for Thursday.

    I’ll probably be more likely to fork over the $1 for hot dogs tomorrow night, though, so my inevitable plunge into the Cheney BBQ addiction will have to wait for another day…

  24. Willmore said

    I might go to the 51s series in July if Chad Billingsley is pitching against one of our top guys.

    I love pitching duels, so, Jason, if there is ever a matchup of top young pitchers, tell me and I’ll do my best to make it to the game.

  25. hp17 said

    Seeing Rob Johnson on opening day was eye popping. He threw out every runner trying to steal. That was 3 or 4 times. Jones didn’t do much that day and took a bad route, but I have no doubt in his abilities. Cabrera looked great with the glove. Made a pick deep in the hole to his glove side and fired an accurate one hopper to Morse who made a pretty nice pick. Kid will be good. But who the heck is Morban and why is he in Tacoma? The kid looked lost everywhere he went. Is he really our best option at 2B in Tacoma? I pray we have no middle infield injuries.

  26. jp17 said

    Whoops my handle should be jp17

  27. jp17 said

    I can’t understand having Jones, Reed, and possibly Ichiro in the same outfield. Wasn’t the goal to add power to the outfield? Does Jones project to provide that power by the time he arrives? I think we are beginning to see that Beltre will not provide the kind of power we thought he would which makes the need for power in the outfield that much more prevelant.

  28. Jones is a guy who projects for 20 homers or so. He’s so young and still maturing physically, so it’s tough to say what his power ceiling is right now.

    I spoke to him for awhile today and he talked about adding even more weight.

    He’s at 206 right now.

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