Monday Morning Links
We’ve almost made it through winter, and now the baseball fan must contend with the February doldums between the big free agent signings/winter ball box score-watching and actual spring training games. This is baseball purgatory, when we get moderately excited about Mariners, future Mariners and future played-with-future-Mariners doing laps.
I don’t mean to dampen the enthusiasm over pitchers and catchers reporting, as I’ll take mid-February over early January any day, but since Roy Oswalt has no intention of using the M’s as a decoy, much less signing with them, we’re going to have to make do with stories like this one. So here are, uh, several stories like that one.
1) Hisashi Iwakuma will throw his first bullpen today, but signed lots of autographs under the watchful eye of “a few dozen” members of the Japanese media on Sunday.
2) Harrison Crow has a post at SodoMojo comparing the various Mariners prospect lists. This table helps show just how much consistency there is in the prospecting world concerning Seattle’s (excellent) top 5, and how much volatility there is when it comes to ranking everyone else. This isn’t a bad thing, really; each list is the product of different person, and, often, a completely different idea about what these lists are *for*. Some focus on upside and downplay risk, figuring that, given the overall attrition/failure rate, it’s better to identify the guys who could be impact talents than have a slightly better rate at predicting future bench bats. Others think there’s so little independent information to go on – and what little statistical data we have is of questionable value – with international free agent signings and rookie leaguers, or that guys who are close to the majors are intrinsically more valuable when assessing a team’s minor league depth. Obviously, each person mixes and matches, and so you’ll see Erasmo Ramirez anywhere from 7th to 19th (I lean closer to 7th than 19th, by the way), and you’ll see the M’s system ranked #1 to #11.
A couple of quick comments about the lists – I think a lot of people may be underestimating Erasmo. Didn’t put up great numbers, but he was very young, and his stuff’s developing. This isn’t a guy with a change-up and a high-80s fastball who’d get killed in the majors, he’s got more velocity than is often expected (prospect lists overrate guys with 94 velo when they sign at 16/18, and underrate guys who grow into 94 velo later on. We’ll call this the Pineda Postulate.). I also think the various ranking-gurus have ID’d a pretty good sleeper in RHP Carter Capps. The division 2 starter looked very good in the wood-bat Cape Cod league, and could move very quickly as a bullpen arm (though I hope he has the chance to start at some point; I wouldn’t mind seeing him get some experience in both roles this year).
3) OK, OK – so teams aren’t officially done with free agents. Sure, Johnny Damon’s still looking for a job (and he can still hit a bit, too), the big positional players names are a pair of Cubans: Yoenis Cespedes and Jorge Soler. The former’s seen as an athletic CF/RF who’s relatively close to the majors (he’s 26). After dominating the Cuban league last year (.333/.424/.667, 33 HRs in 90 games), he defected to the Dominican Republic, where he’s worked out with former Seahawks running back Ahman Green (?). Some believe Cespedes is a 4 or 5 tool talent who’d be a bargain at $40-50 million plus, but others, including our vacationing overlord, think he’s a risk and may not be worth whatever he eventually signs for. We haven’t talked about him a lot here as he very quickly narrowed down his list of suitors, and the M’s weren’t on it. Miami remains the favorite, but the Cubs/White Sox/Indians are still in the running.
UPDATE: Hours after I posted this, the Oakland A’s snuck in and signed Cespedes to a 4-year, $36m contract that will allow Cespedes to be a free agent after the contract expires. This has been, to put it mildly, a strange off-season for Oakland. I understand why they thought they needed to move Gonzalez and Cahill, and it’s nice that they now have something like 8 of the top 100 or so prospects, albeit 7 or 8 questionable prospects, but their player development group absolutely needs to step up and develop MLB-ready players. The move to get Cespedes seems like a way to stabilize their outfield and get a potential impact bat who’s close to the majors. While it’s still a huge risk, I understand the A’s offseason a bit more now.
Jorge Soler is a 19 year old CF with what everyone seems to agree is plus batspeed and decent power. There’s no consensus on his ultimate position, with many arguing he’ll outgrow CF and end up in a corner. Many articles discuss his signing bonus vis a vis the $!5+ million the Rangers gave another Cuban CF, Leonys Martin, last year, but it seems that the two aren’t really good comps for one another. Martin’s a great defensive CF who won’t hit for much power but may have very good contact/average skills. Soler may grow into a big corner OF with plenty of HR pop. Again, it looks like the M’s aren’t in the running, and Kevin Goldstein tweeted that the Cubs may be in the driver’s seat for now, but several teams
– including the A’s – have been linked with Soler in the past. (After getting Cespedes, you’d think the A’s won’t be in on Soler. That said, no one had them linked with Cespedes, so who the hell knows?)
4) As you’ve probably heard from Greg Johns of the M’s (or Matthew’s post on Lookout Landing), Mike Carp and former Rainier/feel-good story Brodie Downs made t-shirts to honor their former teammate, Greg Halman. Here’s a look at them; Geoff Baker mentions that the may be available in M’s team stores with proceeds going to benefit Halman’s family.
5) It’s not exactly a “best shape of his career” story, but Justin Smoak has apparently decided to make a major sacrifice and give up burritos and pizza to try and improve his fitness/strength. There are always stories like this, but Mike Carp’s dietary changes last year may have helped him go from organizational player to potential starting LF/DH. Smoak needs to have a big year if the M’s are going to hang around .500, so, uh, good luck with the diet. The thought of giving up burritos is making my right arm twitch; typing is increasingly difficult.
6) The other side of the “best shape of his life” stories are the long-shot come-back attempts. Today’s installment: former DRays/Angels pitcher Scott Kazmir.
7) Another top 100 (er, 101) prospect list today: Kevin Goldstein’s at Baseball Prospectus. Don’t need a subscription to see it here. Jesus Montero comes in at #7 and Taijuan Walker’s at #14. Overall, 4 Mariners made the cut with Nick Franklin an honorable mention.