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Minor League Roster News

Posted by Jason A. Churchill on March 30, 2007

Jeff Clement and Rob Johnson are both going to start the year in Triple-A Tacoma, sharing time again.

We’ll probably see Adam Jones, Jeremy Reed, Wladimir Balentien and Mike Wilson share three outfield spots and the DH role, though it’s possible that Balentien or Wilson heads back to AA for a month or so.

The Double-A roster isn’t so exciting but the infield isn’t terrible; Marshall Hubbard at first, Luis Valbuena at second, Chris Minaker at short and Matt Tuiasosopo at third.

Draftees from 2005 Robert Rohrbaugh and Justin Thomas headline the rotation while the bullpen consists of solid arms such as Mumba Rivera, Jose De la Cruz and Craig James.

In two surprises, righties Doug Fister and Kam Mickolio will open the season in West Tenn, and Joe Woerman is making the transition to the rotation.

In High Desert, Austin Bibens-Dirkx, Marwin Vega and Jason Snyder headline the pitching staff, while the infield consists of Johan Limonta at first, Ron Garth at second, Jeffrey Dominguez at short while Jeff Flaig and Reed Eastley fight for regular time at third.

Mike Saunders, Chris Colton, Josh Womack and Casey Craig are the outfielders, with Adam Moore and JB Tucker sharing the catching duties.

In Wisconsin, where the most interesting roster lies, Anthony Varvaro, Steve Uhlmansiek, Tony Butler and Chris Tillman headline the pitching staff.

Kuo-hui Lo will return and join Greg Halman and Carlos Peguero in the outfield. Gerardo Avila and Manelik Pimentel are the first baseman and Alex Liddi is at third.

If the rumors are also true that Carlos Triunfel and Mario Martinez are joining the T-Rats as well, I’ll become jealous of that fanbase, and Chris Mehring, wo’ll get to call each of their ABs.


Posted in Seattle Mariners | 93 Comments »

Quick Look at the AL West

Posted by Jason A. Churchill on March 30, 2007

Texas Rangers

Yeah, they can hit. Michael Young, Hank Blalock, Mark Teixeira and Ian Kinsler are all above-average offensive players for their position and provide the Rangers with plenty of sock.

But this team still has major pitching deficiencies. Kevin Millwood is solid and Vicente Padilla should eat innings, but after that it’s less than a crap shoot.

How will Brandon McCarthy do in his first full year as a starter in the big leagues? Robinson Tejeda and Kameron Loe are pitch-to-contact types, which rarely bode well for the hitters paradise that is Rangers Ballpark at Arlington.

Loe is a groundball pitcher, but how will his stuff hold when he’s going through the lineup a second and third time? Last season, Loe’s first year starting in the majors, the 25-year-old righthander allowed a .904 OPS after the 6th inning and a 1.222 OPS after pitch No. 75.

Tejeda is a flyball pitcher. Ouch. And Padilla is no surefire solidification to the rotation. He’s just as likely to implode as he is to repeat his decent 2006 season and the team’s ace, 32-year-old Millwood, is and always will be a candidate to spend extensive time on the disabled list.

The bullpen is a little bit better with Akinori Otsuka, Frank Francisco and Eric Gagne expected to anchor the relief corps. Otsuka was very good in ’06 as the team’s closer but will begin the year as the setup man to former closer-extraordinaire, Gagne, who has thrown just 15 innings over the past two seasons combined.

CJ Wilson does give new skipper Ron Washington a viable left-handed option, as does veteran Ron Mahay. But if the rotation doesn’t get them into the 7th consistently, it won’t matter much.

A ton has to go right for Texas to boast enough pitching to win more than 80 games, including health, luck with the journeymen and a few kids stepping up and taking a role by the horns.

The Rangers’ defense is also nothing to brag about, though catcher Gerald Laird has gold glove capabilities. Blalock and Teixeira are a tick above average at the corners, and Young is below average at shortstop. Kinsler, a former shortstop, is solid at second but the outfield is very ordinary without a plus defender in the group.

Ultimately, the Rangers will again need to outscore their opponents, and yet again that will likely leave them on the outside of the postseason, looking in from their living room televisions in October.

Oakland Athletics

Every year, or every other year at least, Billy Beane’s ballclub takes a serious hit via free agency or financially-forced trades. Jason Giambi and Miguel Tejada left for the money. Beane traded veteran starters Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder for younger arms and prospects.

Through last season it’s worked for the A’s, who have had a winning campaign seven years in a row, even after the major losses the roster has endured.

But something is different about 2007.

Let’s compare and contrast.

When the A’s dealt Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder, they received Dan Haren, Kiko Calero and a strong first base prospect in Daric Barton. Haren has outpitched both Hudson and Mulder both seasons in Oakland and he’s done for a fraction of the price.

After losing offensive juggernauts in Giambi and Tejada, both former AL MVPs, the A’s went to younger bats that came through and supported the pitching staff to somewhat satisfactory levels.

Bobby Crosby, Eric Chavez and savvy role players have gotten the job done in the absence of superstars. Last season, Nick Swisher showed signs of becoming a long-term run producer who can slug .500 year-in and year-out.

Joe Blanton and Rich Harden have helped Haren replace Hudson and Mulder and the A’s haven’t missed a beat. But who’s going to make up for the loss of Barry Zito and Frank Thomas?

I think the economics of the game may have finally caught up to the A’s, as Mike Piazza and Chad Gaudin have very little chance to make an impact in the wake of Zito and Thomas.

Sure, guys can step up and take up some of the slack, but what if Harden spends more time on the disabled list and Piazza continues to decline? Can Chavez and Swisher carry the club offensively surrounded by complimentary hitters?

Just as the Texas Rangers would have to be as lucky as a drunken Irish rabbitts foot on St. Patty’s Day to compete with that pitching staff, so would the A’s to stay healthy enough and get the necessary max performances they require to score enough runs and pitch adequately enough to sustain winning streaks and stave off the long-suffering struggles of a baseball team that just isn’t all that good otherwise.

This could be the year that Oakland takes a step back, barring full seasons from Crosby and the entire pitching staff. There aren’t any ML-ready impact bats in the minors and the pitching well is as dry it’s been in the Oakland system in years.

If all goes right, they could sniff the 90-win mark. But chances are they’ll endure the bumos and bruises that most clubs do, and end up somewhere in the low-to-mid 80s – at best. A bad break or two on top of that and the first losing season of the decade could be on the horizon.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Another team with a lot of concerns health wise, Anaheim is still the favorites in the division. But with Bartolo Colon sure to miss time as he continues to eat his way out of baseball and lose velo on his heater, the Halos need Jered Weaver to get healthy fast and stay that way.


John Lackey is among the most underrated pitchers in the game and Kelvim Escobar, again – when healthy – is on that list, too, and each right-hander needs to log major innings to save the still-solid Anaheim bullpen.

Hector Carrasco can stand in for injured starters, but isn’t likely to match the effectiveness of any of the projected starting five. Southpaw Joe Saunders was strong last season and will be on speed dial from Triple-A Salt Lake if he doesn’t make the club out of spring camp.

Ervin Santana is solid, but struggles away from home. He’s still got room to develop and is a solid No. 3 starter in the making. The pen is as good as ever with K-Rod, Scot Shields and Justin Speier leading the pack.

Offensively Anaheim will need the kids to step up, starting with either Kendry Morales or Casey Kotchman at first base. With Chone Figgins to miss time with an ankle injury, Dallas McPherson or Brandon Wood will need to step in and produce to protect Garret Anderson and Vlad Guerrero. Guerrero seems to be breaking down a bit physically, but he’s as productive as ever and swiped 15 bags in 2006.

The key may be the top of the order with youngster Howie Kendrick, free-agent signee Gary Matthews Jr., and Orlando Cabrera the leading candidates to hit in the top two spots.

Only Kendrick has the plate skills to put up solid on-base numbers but that’s nothing new to a lineup card signed by the best skipper in the AL, Mike Scoscia.

The off-field distractions of Matthews, injuries to the pitching staff and the continued decline of Anderson make the keys to the Angels season the young bats. Kotchman, Kendrick, Napoli, Mathis, Morales, McPherson and Wood; At least two of them have to give the defending division champs a spark in order to hold off the three mediocre clubs in the west.

They are talented enough to win 90 or more. They are implosive enough to lose that many.

What gives?

Posted in Baseball Analysis, Spring Training | 22 Comments »

Final Roster Cuts Shape Minor League Rosters

Posted by Jason A. Churchill on March 28, 2007

Today’s cuts that included the optioning of outfielder Jeremy Reed and catcher Rene Rivera to Triple-A Tacoma and Double-A West Tennessee will assist in the forming of the minor league rosters and make for some interesting decisions ahead for the player development department.

If Reed had made the big-league roster, or been traded as was expected by many this winter, Tacoma’s outfield would have likely consisted of Wladimir Balentien, Mike Wilson and Adam Jones, with Jon Nelson a backup.

With Reed warranting regular time, several things could happen that would not have otherwise, such as the release of Nelson, who has no future with the major league club.

It’s possible that Wilson or Balentien is sent back to Double-A. It’s also possible that Reed is still dealt to a club in need of an outfielder as the rosters around the league shape up.

Rivera’s presence in West Tenn doesn’t mean as much as one might think. The organization is obviously convinced that Rivera isn’t ready to hit in the majors, and they should be convinced that he never will. So, where does that leave Rob Johnson and Jeff Clement?

Maybe in the same exact place they were before today – Double-A West Tennessee for Johnson and Tacoma for Clement. The decisions are being made this week on the minor league rosters as well, though they have a few more days to sift through their plan for 2007.

Clement and Johnson are both much better off on different rosters. Having two catchers with a future in the bigs share time isn’t the best idea ever, and it seems the M’s are turning in a different direction than a year ago.

It’s not out of the realm of possibility that both begin the year in the same spot, whether it be West Tenn or Tacoma, but more signs point the other way. It’s a wait-and-see.

Eric O’Flaherty was also sent down today, which means that Sean White, Jon Huber and Brandon Morrow are the three battling for the last spot in the pen, since Rhodes is almost certain to make the club. Morrow is a foregone conclusion, though there has been no announcement, and Mike Hargrove and Rafael Chaves are considering taking eight relievers north with them to give them an ample supply of arms for the first month of the season.

Yeah, I know, it’s stupid… but they are considering it. If they do, two of the three make it, likely Morrow and either White or Huber, and the big-league pen looks like this – Putz, Reitsma, Morrow, Rhodes, Sherrill, Mateo, Huber OR White, Woods.

Guessing the M’s keep White, since if they don’t they have to send him back to ATL, who have made it clear they’d like to have White back, and Huber has options left, Huber is probably the odd-man out.

Huber could combine with Ryan Rowland-Smith, Eric O’Flaherty, Sean Green, Carlos Alvarado, Renee Cortez, Aaron Small and Justin Lehr to make up a pretty darned good bullpen for the Rainiers. Lefty Brad Thomas is also a possibility here.

The Rainiers rotation should include Travis Blackley, Cha Seung Baek, Ryan Feierabend, Jorge Campillo, and possibly Robert Rohrbaugh, Small, Justin Thomas or Jim Parque.

The Infield — Bryan LaHair at first, with Oswaldo Navarro, Michael Garciaparra and Yung Chi Chen the likely infield starters, with the possibility that Jesus Guzman gets the nod as well.

Clement or Johnson will share time behind the plate with either Luis Oliveros or the other catching prospect, just as they did a year ago, and Guzman, Gookie Dawkins, Rey Ordonez, Mike Morse, Nelson, Ismael Castro and Tony Torcato are other options for DH and utility spots.

Ordonez and Morse are battling it out for the final spot on the major league roster.

That outfield might be really fun to watch, though, since Reed will be playing left with Jones in center. That’s a pretty solid defensive club with Navarro at short and Chen at third.

The Minor League Rosters should be released by the weekend, if not before, and while I won’t be making 400 phone calls to find them, if I get a hold of them before they are published, I’ll get them out as soon as possible.

Posted in Seattle Mariners | 43 Comments »