Stories From Camp That I’m Reading, pt. 5
Even though minor league camp has opened up, news has been limited. I don’t know what to tell you. There’s still plenty of commentary on the few pieces I do have, so let’s get on with it.
• The injury bug has been making its rounds of late. I already talked about Robles and his loose bodies a couple of days back, but there was also news that Matt Mangini still has a quad strain and will begin the season on the DL, courtesy of Larry LaRue and his cats. Mangini was injured around the second half of last season and it kept him out of the winter leagues, even though he tried to play through it for months. Once he recovers, we could see both the hitting and the defense improve provided there are no lasting effects.
• My favorite story of the week, from a prospecting standpoint, was a Divish piece on catcher Steve Baron. Pretty much from the time he was drafted, all of us who had seen or watched videos on Baron were claiming that while the catch-and-throw stuff was certainly smooth and aesthetically pleasing, Baron’s swing was awful and needed significant work to be anything passable. The latest BA Prospect Handbook noted that they wanted him to incorporate his lower half more into the swing, and this was something that I thought was promising. After all, Mangini had the same issue until last season and he seemed to be pretty good last year. Guess what? Baron does have a new swing now, engineered from video playbacks and everything, which isn’t just upper body only and that’s what’s been paying dividends for him thus far. He’s also regaining confidence after last season’s disastrous campaign. I don’t have a great gauge on what his ceiling should be at the moment, but he has a lot of helium right now (which means, from the way he looks at least, that his voice may be quite squeaky).
• Here’s another story that interests me for different reasons. We all know Erik Bedard pitched for us yesterday (yay) and if you’ve been following his particular spring closely, you’ll also know that earlier last week, he pitched a game against our minor leaguers and gave up two dingers to Rich Poythress. Poythress for me is a fascinating player, not necessarily for his skills so much as how we respond to him. In the annual, I was comfortable enough with his ability to rank him in the top ten coming into the season, something that I think now was a bit ambitious. As the season unfolded, more and more people seemed to be down on him in various ways, and I came up with a few myself, noting that his road home runs were coming in favorable parks early in the season. Other complaints ran the gamut. He inside-outs the ball too much, or he started pulling the ball in the second half and it’s hard to tell if that was the right move considering his power to all fields, or he saw time at third but is really only good enough to DH, etc etc. Most people came away unenthusiastic, simply asserting that Poythress is not their type of player.
I wonder, in light of this, what our expectations were of him coming into the season. To lay out his finer points, he hit thirty-one dingers (second most on the team), did not have the alarming home/road splits of Chavez (hardly any splits at all beyond the cheap parks thing that I mentioned), hit left-handers better but was not lacking against right-handers (1.124 vs. .903 OPS), walked second-most on his team, just cracked triple digits in Ks for a system that was otherwise plagued by them, and showed adjustments within the season while only exhibiting one truly bad month. Also, for those out there who care about such things, he led the minor leagues in RBI (I don’t encourage caring about such things because most minor league record holders are no-names). I don’t know how much more he could have done that it would have been able to satisfy us. For a lot of people, it seems to come down to the fact that he plays first while other touted hitting prospects are positioned in places that are more critical defensively. As a guy who spent only six games in the rookie leagues as a tune-up and no time at all in Pulaski, Everett, or Clinton, Poythress seemed to do all right for himself. I don’t know if we collectively as observers are missing something or if there’s something in Poythress that isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, but it’s one of the major stories I’ll be interested in for Jackson this season.
• Larry Stone has been talking a lot lately about the supposed youth movement, and most recently how it may not be all it’s been played up to be. It’s an article that makes a few valid points, but lacks a bit of context that seems necessary. Going into the ’08 season, when Zduriencik eventually took over, out top ten prospects via BA were listed as Jeff Clement, Phillippe Aumont, Chris Tillman, Carlos Triunfel, Wlad Balentien, Saunders, J.C. Ramirez, Mark Lowe, Hyphen, and Tui. A week later, Tillman was gone, and Aumont and Ramirez departed a year after for the Phillies and neither of them have amounted to a whole lot. Clement never was able to catch and recently had trouble holding down a job for the worst team in baseball. The following year was the year Halman was ranked #1, and the list also had Mario Martinez and Jharmidy DeJesus in the top ten, neither of which have done much outside of short season, and Dennis Raben, whose knees have not been good thus far.
The gist of what I’m getting at here is that player development for a while was pretty bad and not inclined to yield many good players. When the farm system is a shambles, it’s hard to have a proper youth movement. We knew that coming in and that a number of players were going to be brought in as stopgaps while others developed internally, such as Jack Wilson and arguably Milton Bradley. But in baseball, more than other sports, it seems reckless and short-sighted to claim that a youth movement isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, a year or two into it and after a long bad stretch for the farm system.
• It wouldn’t be a wrap-up without a whole slew of Pineda articles. Geoff Baker concludes that the battle is really between Pineda and French and mentions some of the issues Pineda had with the change-up. Kirby Arnold got Wedge’s take on Pineda’s secondary offerings and a few additional comments from Pineda on the quality of his change. Larry LaRue focuses on the Weeks at-bat and mentions Pineda’s resizing in the media guide (he’s bigger now). The comments overall are a lot more positive than I really expected them to be given that he was clearly rattled in that one inning and is still working third pitch that is widely asserted as being necessary. I don’t really have a problem with running out the improved Luke French in the five spot for a month or two while Pineda gets a better grip on that change-up, but the sense I’m getting from all the articles I’m reading is that Pineda will really have to pitch his way out of the competition before French gets a leg up.
• If you’re really after minor league specific news, I recommend checking out the subscriber articles at Prospect Insider, where Churchill has been making his rounds at the minor league camp and getting some good info back which makes one hopeful for guys like Paxton and Triunfel, along with others further down the chain.