Padilla vs Baek, 7:05 pm.
Finally back at Safeco Field and facing a pretty lousy Rangers team.
Standard line-up applies.
It’s the first of the month, and the major league team is frustrating to talk about, so that means it’s time for another Future Forty update, where we can focus on the future of the franchise rather than the present. Escapism at its finest.
May was quite a different month on the farm than April. Guys who started the season fell apart, while others found their form and surged ahead. I’ve gathered quite a few scouting reports from guys who have been scouting for a long time, and what they’ve seen has shifted my opinion a bit on a few players. So, let’s get to the guys who have made some waves, one way or another.
Wladimir Balentien’s OPS in May is 250 points lower than in April. That’s a huge dropoff in production, but also highlights why looking at value statistics such as OPS for minor leaguers will lead to flawed conclusions. Take a look at the numbers that reveal his secondary skills:
April: 10.1% BB/AB, 19.1% K/AB, 36.3% XBH/H, 1:1 HR/2B, 5 SB/1 CS
May: 11.0% BB/AB, 18.3% K/AB, 32.2% XBH/H, 1:1 HR/2B, 5 SB/1 CS
The walk and strikeout rates are statistical ties, and the XBH/H rate is basically the same. He’s split his extra base hits right down the middle between doubles and homers each month. He’s even stealing bases at the same clip. The massive drop in OPS is due entirely to the fact that balls that were going for singles in April became outs in May. There’s no less consistent skill in baseball for a hitter than the ability to hit a single, as the difference is often a couple inches here or there. It’s a ball falling in or sneaking under a glove. Hitting a lot of singles is rarely a sign of actual skill, with Ichiro being an obvious exception.
So, if you were to look at Balentien’s BA/OBP/SLG splits by month, you’d come to the conclusion that he was a significantly better player in April than he was last year. In terms of helping the Rainiers win, you’d be right. In terms of evaluating his talent level, which is really what prospect analysis is all about, you’d be missing the point, though. However you felt about Balentien at the end of April should be exactly how you feel about him now, because he just had the exact same month, just with a significantly smaller dose of luck.
I won’t talk too much about Adam Jones here, because we’ve covered the topic already, but he’s ready for the majors. 17 of his 33 hits in May went for extra bases, including 8 home runs. He’s improved his approach at the plate and he’s crushing mistakes. His defense is also vastly improved over where it was last season. If he was on the 25 man roster, he’d be the Mariners fifth best hitter and second best defensive outfielder. He’s a significantly better player than Raul Ibanez, Jose Vidro, Ben Broussard, or Richie Sexson right now. If the Mariners are serious about winning games, they should find a way to get him at-bats in the major league line-up.
And finally, from Tacoma, Jeff Clement. There are things to like in his statistical profile. 19 of his 42 hits have gone for extra bases and he’s drawn 20 walks in 172 at-bats. He’s running an .859 OPS in May, a huge upgrade over the .681 mark he posted in April and the .668 mark he put up in Tacoma last year. Behind only Ben Broussard, he’s got the second most left-handed power in the organization. So, there are reasons to be somewhat optimistic.
Good luck finding a scout who thinks he’s going to be much of a major league player, though. The reports on him from the first two months of the season have been absolutely brutal. Everyone says he’s swinging a very slow bat, can’t get around on fastballs on the inner half, chases pitches up in the zone, and is only effective when he knows he’s getting a fastball from a guy who can’t get it up there faster than 92. I haven’t gotten a good explanation for why his bat has slowed so much since college, but everyone agrees that it has. He hasn’t made the transition to wood bats well, and at this point, his offensive production is a question mark. To boot, pretty much everyone has given up on him as a major league catcher. He’s DH’ing more often, and his major league position now looks like first base or designated hitter.
For a guy who turns 24 in a few months and has lost his defensive value, he needs to be tearing the cover off the ball in the PCL. He’s just not, and not many people think he’s going to start doing so any time soon. I’ve downgraded him on the list, and he’s now more of a guy the M’s hope might be able to help them as a role player next year than any kind of catcher of the future. If the team could have that pick to do over again, I’m pretty sure they’d go another direction.
Okay, enough Tacoma stuff. Let’s talk about Tui’s struggles the last month. Remember what you read about Wlad a few paragraphs ago? Yea, same thing. He’s actually jumped his walk rate up by 50% during his slump, is getting XBH at the same rate, but all those April singles have turned into May outs. He’s not a .370 hitter, but he’s not a .205 hitter either. The lack of power is still a problem, but the improved approach at the plate is a significant development, and I’m still very happy with the first two months he’s put together. The ball will start finding holes again, and if Tui can learn to drive the ball more often, he can still turn himself into a useful major league player.
Down in High Desert, Chris Tillman made his second start last night since getting promoted from Wisconsin, and it didn’t go well. It was never a good idea to put him in the California League at this point, and the early results are about as bad as we feared they would be. The M’s still believe in making their prospects fail at an early age – we still disagree with that idea of player development. No point rehashing the argument here, but needless to say, I feel bad for Chris Tillman. A promising season from a young kid was just flushed down the drain in lieu of seeing how he overcomes artificial adversity.
The hottest hitter in the organization resides in Wisconsin, where Kuo-Hui Lo began the season 22 for his first 120, a paltry .183 average, with all of 3 extra base hits, 7 walks, and 23 strikeouts in his first 31 games. Struggling didn’t begin to define it. But he’s reminding people why they like the bat, as he’s now 15 for his last 35 with 5 extra base hits, 4 walks, and 4 strikeouts in his last 10 games. He’s driving the ball, working the count, and showing that there is life in his bat.
And no Future Forty would be complete without a note about my underaged mancrush, Carlos Triunfel. He hit .326/.357/.424 in May, as a 17-year-old in the Midwest League. He showed some real power, driving 7 extra base hits, and actually drew walks in back to back games. His game is still ridiculously raw (he’s been picked off of first base four times in two months), but the bat is just so very special. He’s now only the second Mariner prospect ever to receive a 10 reward rating on the Future Forty. He’s still all projection at this point, but the ceiling is basically limitless. He’s got a real chance to be the next great Mariner hitter, and it’s been a long time since we had a prospect we could write that about.
If you weren’t down after today’s game, well check this out!
Tuesday, manager Mike Hargrove said he wanted Weaver to face some live batters in game competition. But when Weaver declined to go to the minor leagues for a rehab start, the issue became pitch count.
Weaver, who threw a simulated game Monday, will throw a bullpen session Thursday in Seattle before the Mariners open a homestand with a game against Texas. He’ll then throw another simulated game Sunday, the last day of the series against the Rangers.
With the second simulated game behind him, Weaver will go back into the rotation, Hargrove said Wednesday.
I’m looking at my old CBA (helpfully provided by the MLBPA) and I’m not seeing the exact rule I want to quote, but then I’m tired.
I don’t understand why Weaver would want to do this, though, or why the team wants him back in the rotation. It seems like until they can tell that he’s a better option than anyone currently in the rotation, they would want to hold off. And for Weaver, he draws salary whether he’s getting rocked in the majors or the minors, and he’s likely to get a better view on his suitability to return to action in the minors than side sessions. The only reason I can see for him to refuse a minor league rehab assignment is if Weaver believes… I don’t know. That the minors are that horrible?
I don’t get it. And I don’t look forward to it.
Felix vs Weaver, 7:05 pm.
Happy Felix Day. The M’s couldn’t ask for a better day to have their ace on the mound than the series finale with the team they are chasing for first place and the Mariners teetering on the verge of contention. Win tonight, cut the lead to 3 1/2 games, and head into June with a goal of cutting into that lead even further. Lose tonight, fall 5 1/2 back, and you’re looking at a tough climb to get back in this thing.
The M’s need the King to show up tonight. I have a feeling he will. This could be a lot of fun.
Felix starts tonight in the third game of the series against the Angels… and, by wild coincidence, I have a book event *at almost the exact same time* at Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park. The last time I was scheduled to do an author appearance there, I ended up in the ER in Bremerton.
I’m sure some helpful soul will smuggle in his laptop, or whatnot, so we’re not entirely deprived.
Update! As msb suggests, the new secret plan is to do the reading/signing and then hustle over to the nearest TV at the Mexican restaurant (is it Torero’s?) if the game’s still interesting for general tomfoolery.
I’m happy to take suggestions on parts to read from.
I posted a brief review of my feelings on Ryan Feierabend’s performance in the game thread last night, but I figured I should put up something with a little more detail today, for those who didn’t catch his season debut.
The fastball was consistently 86-90, all of the four seam variety, and usually up in the zone. It’s easy to see why he’s a predominantly flyball pitcher, as he lived above the belt with the fastball. From his arm slot, he got a decent amount of run in on right-handed pitchers, though the mistake to Shea Hillenbrand showed what will happen if his location isn’t good.
He threw two offspeed pitches – a slow, slurvy curveball that came in at 76-78 with little downward break and generally floated into the strike zone. It had a good amount of left to right break, and he generally tried to locate it on the inside corner to right-handers. It actually got a decent amount of called strikes as he threw it in a couple of fastball counts and caught hitters off guard, but the pitch itself was basically a meatball. Without any real biting movement, the ball stayed on the same plane that it was on when it left his hand, making it an easy target for hitters. He also left it up in the zone far too frequently. As the scouting report on him gets around the league, he’s going to have to throw that thing less, or get better downward movement on it, because the curveball he threw last night wasn’t a major league pitch.
His change-up, on the other hand, was terrific. He consistently got it down in the strike zone at 77-79 MPH, keeping a consistent arm speed with his fastball and adding to the deception. The pitch showed good fade away from right-handed hitters at times, and he commanded it better than either his fastball or curve. It was clearly his best pitch, and the only thing he threw that could be considered an out pitch.
His pickoff move came in with the billing of being the best in the organization, and it didn’t take long for him to confirm that. He comes very close to driving his front foot towards the plate before the step over, but he’s mastered the art of getting as close to a balk as possible without violating the rule. It’s a great pickoff move, similar to Andy Pettitte’s, and is one of the best in baseball.
Overall, Feierabend did a good job attacking the strike zone with his pitches and not throwing in a predictable pattern. The fastball is a bit below average, but the change-up is well above average, and he should be able to mix those two pitches enough to keep hitters off balance when he’s ahead in the count. The problem will come when he falls behind hitters, however. He doesn’t have a fastball he can throw by hitters and the breaking ball he showed last night needs an awful lot of work.
Feierabend is going to rely heavily on commanding the strike zone early in counts to get into good pitcher’s counts, where his change-up and fastball will be enough to put hitters away. He’s going to run into trouble when he doesn’t start out strike one, because he doesn’t have the stuff to put away a hitter who is able to load up for a fastball in a particular count.
If Feierabend can improve the breaking ball or master the command of his change-up to where he feels confident throwing it for strikes in any count, he’s got the makings of a solid #5 starter, a guy who is a perfect fit for Safeco with his flyball tendencies and left-handedness. On days where he doesn’t have the feel for his change-up, however, he could get pounded early and often, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he had a few disaster starts along the way.
In an ideal world, he could hang out in Tacoma this year, working on improving the curveball and mastering his command of the change-up, but the Mariners need competent starting pitchers, and Feierabend showed enough stuff and command last night to constitute an upgrade over Jeff Weaver and Horacio Ramirez. The M’s are going to want to get a return on their significant offseason investments in that pair, but if they’re more concerned with winning games than salvaging some value out of guys they would have been better off never acquiring, then they should leave Feierabend in the rotation. Right now, he looks like the 5th best major league starting pitcher in the organization, and in a pennant race, the team can’t afford to have that guy not pitching every five days.
Feierabend v Santana.
I predict Mr. Feierabend will have trouble getting his name spelled right. (Wow, Aaron Hill just stole home on Pettitte to take a 2-1 lead. Awesome play.)
M’s lineup is the same as last night, the Angels (per Baker) throw out something significantly different:
CF-B Matthews Jr.
I missed the weekend while shooting a friend’s wedding in Kentucky, so it’s a stream of consciousness post as I play catchup on what I missed.
1. Adrian Beltre is obviously on fire. 11 for 21 with 7 extra base hits in his last 5 games, giving him a .275/.321/.495 line for the season. It’s stretches like this, along with his defense, which is why we’re Adrian Beltre fans. For all the complaining people do about the guy when he’s not going well, and for all the grief his contract gets from national writers, Beltre is entrenched as a top three 3rd baseman in the American League. The only guys with any kind of credible arguments as better players are Alex Rodriguez and Mike Lowell. The M’s have a competitive advantage at the position over every other team in the A.L. except Boston and New York.
2. Richie Sexson on this road trip: .333/.419/.593. No, he won’t hit this well all year, but it’s nice to have regression to the mean going in the M’s favor for once.
3. If Kenji Johjima doesn’t make the all-star team, I’m going to demand a criminal investigation. He’s a RH pull hitting catcher playing in the worst park in baseball for a right-handed pull hitting catcher, and he’s running an .870 OPS.
4. Turbo homered!
5. Hello Ryan Feierabend. You might not be ready for the major leagues, but you have a pulse, so you’re an upgrade over Horacio Ramirez. May you pitch well and stick around.
6. The M’s three high leverage relievers all have sub-2 ERAs. Remember when people were concerned about George Sherrill in Peoria? Yea, spring training performances don’t matter at all.
7. The M’s have raised their playoff odds from 3% to 20% in the last 7 days, per the calculations from coolstandings.com. BP’s playoff odds report has them at 28%, up from 15%. That’s a good week, but there’s still work to do.
8. The A’s are theoretically contenders, right? Did you know Jason Kendall is hitting .182/.227/.194 and is still playing everyday. He’s their Jeff Weaver.
9. From the Remember When These Guys Were Good category, the following players are all running an OPS of less than .700 this year: Eric Chavez, J.D. Drew, Brian Giles, Ivan Rodriguez, Nomar Garciaparra, Michael Young, Scott Rolen, Carlos Delgado, Mike Cameron, Jim Edmonds, and Bobby Abreu. 2007 may go down as the year of the Collapsing Veteran. I’m not sure I remember this many high profile players all falling off a cliff at one time.
10. Did you know the draft is nine days away? We have been less focused on it this year since the M’s pick 11th instead of 5th, like last year, but we’ll ramp up the coverage this week and fill you in on what it looks like the Mariners are going to do.
Batista v Colon. 6:05, FSN. Dun dun dunnnnnnnnnn.
I’d like to declare, as today’s game thread benevolent dictator, just as an experiment, this thread a funk-free zone. Thanks for your understanding.
From ESPN.com’s Enrique Rojas.
*Disclaimer: He defines greatness as Jose Reyes and Derek Jeter. Not that I’m bagging on either one of those guys. If Betancourt turns into either one we should all do backflips down Edgar Martinez Drive.