When is a suspension not a suspension – and injuries by the dozen…

Phillies pitcher Cole Hamels plunked Washington Nationals rookie outfielder Bryce Harper to “welcome him to the big leagues.”  Major League Baseball decided to give Hamels a five game suspension – which really is a slap on the wrist for a guy who usually only plays once every five days anyway.  [SI]

Bryce Harper will move from left field to right field for the next three months…  Jayson Werth‘s attempt to snare a sinking liner resulted in Werth’s breaking his left wrist.  Surgery means a three month healing and recovery period.  [SI]

In the span of three pitches, the Angels lost two relievers…  Scott Downs left with a bruise in the back of his knee, the victim of a liner back up the middle.  His replacement, Latroy Hawkins took a liner that broke his pinkie finger and could be out between three and six weeks.

Another team dealing with a slew of injuries is the Milwaukee Brewers.  Last week, Mat Gamel tore his ACL chasing a foul pop up.  Centerfielder Carlos Gomez strained a hammy, and now Alex Gonzalez, starting shortsop, heads to the DL with a season ending ACL injury suffered when sliding into second base.  [SI]

Javy Guerra‘s blown save against the Cubs, the third of the season, cost him his closer gig.  Manager Don Mattingly handed the gig to Kenley Jansen.  [ESPN]

Hurry Back!

  • Justin Morneau, Twins first baseman, is on the DL with an injury to his left wrist.
  • Rockies pitcher Jhoulys Chacin went on the DL with shoulder inflammation.
  • The Mets placed infielder Ruben Tejada on the 15 day DL with a strained quad.
  • Aaron Cook heads to the DL with a lacerated knee.  Boston replaced him with pitcher Andrew Miller.
  • Brewers centerfielder Carlos Gomez heads to the DL with a strained left hamstring.
  • It’s a bad time to be a closer – the Padres placed Huston Street on the DL with a lat strain.

Welcome Back!

  • The Tigers activated Doug Fister from the DL.
  • The Giants welcome back Aubrey Huff from the Dl – anxiety treatments.
  • The Reds activated Miguel Cairo from the DL, which cost Willie Harris a major league gig.
  • The Mets welcomed back reliever D. J. Carrasco.

Good Riddance!

Guillermo Mota heads to the restricted list following a second positive drug test for performance enhancing drugs.  Mota’s agent said that Mota tested positive for Clenbuterol, which he described as having been a trace amount found in a children’s cough medicine, and he plans to appeal the decision.  What are they putting in Vicks 44 these days?  [SI]

Happy Birthday!

Those celebrating with cards, cake, or remembrances include:

(1896) Tom Zachary – he served up Babe’s 60th homer in 1927.
(1929) Dick Williams – Hall of Fame manager.
(1970) Brook Fordyce – one time Mets prospect
(1982) Conor Jackson
(1984) James Loney

I haven’t been daily in my writings…  Here’s a few birthdays we missed.

May 6

(1940) Bill Hands – great fastball and member of the 1969 Cubs.
(1953) Larry Anderson – former Astros and Phillies pitcher
(1968) Phil Clark – one time Padres slugger Phil Clark
(1990) Jose Altuve – Baseball Prospectus Podcast favorite…

May 5

(1857) Lee Richmond – he threw baseball’s first perfect game.
(1871) Jimmy Bannon (see below)
(1884) Chief Bender – Rube’s teammate on the early 1900 Philadelphia As
(1935) Jose Pagan
(1941) Tommy Helms – Reds infielder traded to Houston for Joe Morgan
(1947) Larry Hisle
(1956) Ron Oester
(1967) Charles Nagy
(1971) Mike Redmond – one of my favorite backup catchers…

Jimmy Bannon

I never got done, which kept me from making a full blown post on the topic…  Jimmy Bannon was one of about ten Bannon brothers who all played baseball between, say, 1890 and 1910.  Jimmy and Tommy made it to the big leagues, at least four others played in the minors, and the others were on some very good semi-pro teams.

Jimmy went to Holy Cross and in 1893 was signed to be the right fielder for the St. Louis Browns where he hit .336.  However, for some reason he fell on the wrong side of owner Chris Von der Ahe.  Forced into being the starting pitcher during a double header, he gave up double-digit runs in four innings and along the way injured his leg.  A few days later, Von der Ahe released him.

Bannon signed with the Boston Braves, where he became the third outfielder alongside the heavenly twins – Hugh Duffy and Tommy McCarthy.  Bannon cleared .300 in back to back seasons, even hitting .350 in 1895.  Though rather popular, he got involved between Duffy and Billy Nash – Duffy wanted Nash’s captaincy.  When Bannon slumped to .251 in 1896, he was released into a life of an eastern seaboard minor leaguer.

Bannon was still a very good player and eventually a player-manager.  When his career was over, he ran hotels and restaurants and even served a couple of years in the New Hampshire state legislature.  In the 1920s and 1930s, he was an active leader in the minors, even selected as president at one point.

I would think his life in baseball was pretty cool – so I’ll try to lock down a better biography later.  I do have one piece of trivia –  Bannon was the first player to hit grand slams in consecutive days in 1894.

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Mariano Rivera Blows Out Knee During Practice…

Wow…  Not sure where to begin.  The news, of course, is that during batting practice, while shagging fly balls, Mariano Rivera – perhaps the greatest reliever ever – got a cleat stuck in the turf at Kaufmann (Royals) Stadium, twisting his knee and tearing both his ACL and meniscus.  An ACL tear is pretty severe and not something one easily recovers from.  Rivera’s season is over, and many fear that we may have seen the last of Rivera’s days as a pitcher.

I can’t say any more than what any of the national baseball writers and sports reporting icons are already saying.  For about two decades, Rivera has been the most visible and dependable relief pitcher we’ve ever seen.  He’s in practically every post season and usually closing out Yankee victories.  Unlike his teammate, Derek Jeter, Rivera is quiet and serene and you never read about him dating famous models or selling posh apartments.  I guess, like many others, to see him carted off the field after a freak injury just seems unfair to someone who should be allowed to go out closing out another win and getting the endless cheers of 50,000 or more fans who have watched him.

Here’s hoping for a speedy recovery so that in 2013, we get at least one more glimpse of his greatness.  Until then, the #42 will not be seen in baseball stadiums except on outfield walls and Jackie Robinson day…

In his stead, either Rafael Soriano or David Robertson will be called upon to close games.  Soriano has experience as a closer, while Robertson has shown improving and devastating stuff.  Both may get chances, I think either one could be successful – but that’s a pretty big microscope…  [MLB]

Hurry Back, Panda!

Giants Pablo Sandoval has a broken left hand and will be out at least four to six weeks.  Kung Fu Panda has been hitting everything the first month of the season – we’ll see how he does when he comes back.  There was no specific incident – Panda’s not sure when he may have broken it.  Last year, he had a broken right hand and missed six weeks…  Aubrey Huff to third?  Not sure I like that option, but the Giants have to figure something out.  Huff is already on the DL with anxiety issues, so Conor Gillaspie was called up from Fresno for the short term.  [ESPN]

Welcome Back!

Returning from the DL?  Kerry Wood and Ryan Dempster of the Cubs.  The Cubs need all the help they can get.

Hurry Back!

Headed to the DL?  Jim Thome (PHI) and Kevin Youkilis (BOS) have lower back strains.  Evan Longoria (TB) is out a while with a torn hamstring – ouch – and Miguel Olivo (SEA) heads to the DL with a strained groin – hopefully his own.

I’ve Never Heard of Them Either…

The Padres traded pitcher Ernesto Frieri (no relation to Guy Fieri) to the Angels for Donn Roach and Alexi Amarista.  On the other hand, I’m thinking Guy Fieri has had to deal with a roach or two during his Diners, Dives, and Drive-Ins shows…

UPDATED at 2:38 PM!!!  Here’s an article explaining that Frieri is a reliever, and apparently a pretty good one, added to give the Angels some depth in the bullpen.  The other two are lower level prospects who have some work to do before they get a shot at the majors.  [ESPN]

Happy Birthday!

Man – the database lists a ton of names I have never heard of…  Time to start doing some research again.  (Except I am REALLY enjoying my guitar lessons!)

1945 – Rene Lachemann
1956 – Ken Oberkfell
1957 – Rick Leach
1971 – Joe Borowski
1974 – Miguel Cairo
1976 – Ben Grieve
1984 – Kevin Slowey

Am I the only guy who thinks of Rick Leach as a quarterback for the Michigan Wolverines?

Is David Wright Mr. Met? A Slew of Injury News, too…

The Yankees recently acquired pitcher, Michael Pineda, will miss the rest of the 2012 season following surgery to repair a torn labrum in this right shoulder.  He could be back around Spring Training.  Meanwhile, Seattle GM Jack Zduriencik says that Pineda wasn’t damaged goods (Yanks GM Brian Cashman said there were no pre-trade signs of injury) even though Pineda (a) lost eight MPH on his fastball after the all-star break last year and (b) showed up to spring training camp about 20 pounds overweight.  [SI/ESPN]

Boston Red Sox outfielder Carl Crawford is seeking a second opinion on his ailing elbow and heads off to the office of Dr. James Andrews.  Crawford is also still recovering from surgery on his left wrist.  [SI/CNN]

The San Francisco Giants placed Aubrey Huff on the 15-day DL after Huff was treated for a severe anxiety attack.  Huff hasn’t played well recently and also had to play second base for the first time in his major league career – it may or may not be related – and the Giants are giving him time for Huff to respond to the treatments.  [SI/CNN]

Jeremy Bonderman, who has had part of a rib removed, various other shoulder and arm ailments, and STILL is trying to make a comeback is now recovering from elbow-ligament replacement surgery in hopes of making a minor-league camp in 2013.  Hey – you only get one life…  Do the best you can with what you have.  I’ll root for a comeback.  [ESPN]

Transactions:

A quick list of transactions I missed having spent more time sorting baseball cards than blogging…

The Baltimore Orioles signed Bill Hall.

The Cincinnati Reds placed Bill Bray on the 15-Day DL with a strained groin – hopefully his own groin.

The Mets placed Mike Pelfrey on the 15-Day DL with swelling in his right elbow…  So much for making the top ten in wins this year…  (See below)

The Mets also placed Jason Bay on the 15-Day DL with a non-displaced rib fracture.  When you get into your middle 30s, as Bay is, you find out that the ground is much harder now than it used to be.

 

Who is Mr. Met?
David Wright‘s game winning homer to beat the Marlins last night put the New York Mets third baseman on the top of the list for most RBIs by a Met in their 50.1 season history.

Heading into the season, Wright is well off the record for games played, but is in the top 10, having recently passed both Darryl Strawberry and Mookie Wilson for sixth place.

1853 – Ed Kranepool
1322 – Bud Harrelson
1235 – Jerry Grote
1201 – Cleon Jones
1154 – Howard Johnson
1122 – David Wright

Wright is already second in runs scored behind the recently departed Jose Reyes, and should pass Reyes around the all-star break.

735 – Jose Reyes
699 – David Wright (at season start)
662 – Darryl Strawberry
627 – Howard Johnson
614 – Edgardo Alfonzo

With 171 hits this season, Wright would take over the top spot on the all-time Mets hit list.

1418 – Ed Kranepool
1300 – Jose Reyes
1248 – David Wright (at season start)
1188 – Cleon Jones
1136 – Edgardo Alfonso

Wright is a couple of solid seasons away from the club homer mark – a reasonably different list from the others…

252 – Darryl Strawberry
220 – Mike Piazza
191 – Howard Johnson
183 – David Wright (at season start)
154 – Dave Kingman

I probably shouldn’t have been surprised by this – but he’s near the top of the list in stolen bases, too.

370 – Jose Reyes
281 – Mookie Wilson
202 – Howard Johnson
191 – Darryl Strawberry
152 – Lee Mazzilli
151 – David Wright (at season start)

Having looked this over, it’s pretty clear that the best player in Mets history is likely David Wright.

What is certain is that the career list for this team pales in comparison to the same lists for other teams that started since 1962.  The Royals career lists would include George Brett, Frank White, Amos Otis, Willie Wilson, and Hal McRae.  The Astros would boast Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell, Bob Watson, Jose Cruz, and even guys with partial careers like Cesar Cedeno.  The Padres at least have Tony Gwynn.  The Expos had Dawson and Raines and Carter for longer periods of time.  Colorado has Helton at the top of most lists – with much higher numbers than the Mets history.  The only two teams with shallower team histories are the two most recent teams – Tampa and Florida/Miami.

At least the Mets have some quality pitchers who, while not having complete careers in a Mets uniform, spent enough quality time to make a mark or three.

Wins:

198 – Tom Seaver
157 – Dwight Gooden
140 – Jerry Koosman
99 – Ron Darling
98 – Sid Fernandez

Saves:

276 – John Franco
160 – Armando Benitez
107 – Jesse Orosco
101 – Billy Wagner
86 – Tug McGraw

Strikeouts:

2541 – Tom Seaver
1875 – Dwight Gooden
1799 – Jerry Koosman
1449 – Sid Fernandez
1172 – David Cone

Even in saying that the pitching list is stronger, there really isn’t much depth on their lists, again, because nobody played an entire career in New York other than Ed Kranepool and Bobby Jones.

The active leader in Ks for the Mets is Johan Santana (496).  With a reasonable season, he’s going to pass Tug McGraw for 11th on the list and if he plays two season, should move past Bobby Jones into ninth.  Mike Pelfrey, with 50 wins, could have a great season and pass Steve Trachsel (66) to crack the top ten list in wins.  Santana (40) needs two years, likely, to crack that list and if Pelfrey makes it he’d need to get past Jones (74), too.

At some point, the Mets need to get their act together and build a core of players around Wright that can last longer than, say, four seasons with the Mets.  Give the fans something to remember other than blips of greatness.

 

Happy Birthday!

Those celebrating with cake, cards, and remembrances include:

1888 – Ray “Rube” Caldwell
1900 – Lewis “Hack” Wilson (191 RBIs for the Cubs in 1930)
1903 – Dale “Moose” Alexander
1917 – Sal “The Barber” Maglie and Virgil “Fire” Trucks
1927 – Granville “Granny” Hamner
1947 – Amos Otis.  Wow – Otis is 65!!!  (Andy Finch – do you feel old today?)
1960 – Steve Lombardozzi
1961 – Curtis Wilkerson
1969 – Ricky Trlicek, who, like Kent Hrbek before him, needed to buy a vowel.
1973 – Geoff Blum
1977 – Kosuke Fukudome
1978 – Joe Crede

Whatever happened to Joe Crede?

I missed the 4/25 birthday list, so belated greetings to:

1950 – Bill Greif
1959 – Tony Phillips
1966 – Darren Holmes
1975 – Jacque Jones
1984 – Robert Andino

Winning and Losing Streaks

With the new season off and running, the first thing we look at in the standings is the last “0” on the board.  Texas edged Seattle last night to become the first team to five wins (5 – 0), while Cincinnati joined Baltimore at 4 – 0 last night.  The Reds are the last NL team to remain undefeated as the Mets topped Philadelphia last night.

On the other side, Boston lost to Cleveland (a game I listened to on the ride home) to fall to 0 – 4, their worst start in about 15 years.   The Tampa Rays start a series with the Angels tonight hoping to avoid a fifth straight loss to open the season.  The lone NL team without a win is Houston, who faces the undefeated Reds tonight.

In  other news…

Andrew Cashner impressed Cub fans in his first start of 2011 (his fastball sits in the mid-90s and occasionally tips 98 MPH), then left in the sixth inning with tightness in his shoulder.  He was immediately shipped out for an MRI.  [MLB]

Matt Holliday will definitely avoid the DL, as will Marlins outfielder Mike Stanton who is available as a pinch hitter and expected to start by the weekend.  Stanton is nursing a tight hamstring.  [FoxSports]

FoxSports scribe Ken Rosenthal thinks that Brandon Belt may be the odd man out when Cody Ross returns to the Giants.  Aubrey Huff needs to get out of the outfield, which means first base – which would cost Belt a gig.  I watched the Giants the other night when they were playing the Dodgers.  He has a very professional approach to batting, very patient.  In the late innings of a game, he worked a walk to keep an inning alive.  Miguel Tejada, long time veteran, followed Belt and impatiently ripped at the first pitch, popping up and ending the inning.  [FoxSports/YardBarker]

Transaction Wire

The Pittsburgh Pirates signed former Marlins (and As) lefty Dan Meyer.  Meyer was effective in 2009 as a 7th or 8th inning option, but struggled through a calf injury in 2010.  He throws a low 90s fastball that tends to sink, a hard slider, and a change up that Meyer doesn’t always seem to control very well.  In his career through the minors and few stops in the majors, control has been his problem…  The Pirates could use a little depth, though, so if he fares well in a AAA stint, he may join the bullpen in Pittsburgh at some point this year.

60 Years Ago In The Sporting News

The front page story on April 4, 1951 was a feature about the Red Sox, and how everyone liked to pick the Sox as the team most likely to win the AL Pennant, only to fail.  On page three (and continuing for a couple of pages) there was a nice feature about a young Yankee centerfielder who looked like the obvious successor to Joe Dimaggio, a kid from Commerce, Oklahoma named Mickey Mantle…

Happy Birthday!

Those celebrating with cake, cards, or remembrances include:

Smokey Joe Williams (1885)
Mickey Cochrane (1903) – Hall of Fame catcher
Ernie Lombardi (1908) – Hall of Fame catcher and Hall of Fame nose
Phil Regan (1937) – The Vulture, so named for stealing wins in relief
Marty Pattin (1943) – Pitcher, University of Kansas manager for a long time.  I still remember getting his baseball card from one of those old corner stores near my grandparent’s house in Chicago.
Bert Blyleven (1951) – Like Don Sutton, very good for a long time, but just doesn’t SEEM like a Hall of Famer.
Bret Boone (1969) – Very good second baseman who was named as a steroids user in the Mitchell Report.
Lou Merloni (1971) – Utility infielder who claimed that Boston physical trainers would give lessons in safe steroid use to players, making it seem like the Red Sox management were okay with players using PEDs in the late 1990s…

2010 Season Forecast: Baltimore Orioles

Last Five Years:

2009: 63 – 98 (5th AL East)
2008: 68 – 93
2007: 69 – 93
2006: 70 – 92
2005: 74 – 88

The Baltimore Orioles have had a worse record each year since winning 78 games in 2004 and haven’t posted a winning season since 1997, when they won 98 games.  What in the name of Earl Weaver is going on here???

Runs Scored: 741 (11th, AL)
Runs Allowed: 876 (Last, AL)

Season Recap:

Another year of rebuilding, another year of trying out prospects, and another year of being battered in road games, where the Orioles were 25 – 56.  Ouch.

Despite this, the Orioles are starting to show signs that they are accumulating the type of talent that will make them competitive – which would be good enough in the AL Central, but not in the AL East.

Just looking at the monthly splits, the team batted pretty well all year but had power surges in May and August.  What really happened was that the team slugged enough to help the pitchers in the beginning of the season, but the  pitching really left them after the all-star break.  The team ERA was a tolerable 4.55 in July when the Orioles were off – winning just 9 of 25 decisions.  Then it went to 5.30 in August as Baltimore lost 20 of 30 games, and finished at 6.22 (!) in September when the team lost 20 of 26 decisions.  Were it not for a four game winning streak in October, the Orioles would have lost 100 games.

So – looking ahead quickly, the Orioles need to figure out how to make up for a 135 run gap between offense and defense that would allow them to get to .500.

Pitching:

Jeremy Guthrie, who would look good on most teams, got to 200 innings in his 33 starts and wasn’t horrible despite his 10 – 17 record.  He’s not a league average pitcher in part because he doesn’t strike out enough batters – just 110 on the season.

The rest of the rotation struggled.  Rich Hill, brought in as sort of a reclamation project, gave the Orioles 13 awful starts (7.80 ERA), David Hernandez was called up for 19 starts that were a bit better, but he was whacked around to a 4 – 10 record.  Koji Uehara started off okay, but went down to a shoulder injury.  Prospect Jason Berken didn’t look ready – 24 starts and a 6.54 ERA.  Adam Eaton was added to the rotation and was predictably awful (2 – 5, 8.56).  Mark Hendrickson was allowed to start 11 times but was better in relief.

However, Brad Bergesen came up and won 7 of 12 decisions, and saved his team 16 runs over 123.1 innings.  Brian Matusz was given 8 starts and was league average, winning five of seven decisions.  Chris Tillman wasn’t awful.

The bullpen had George Sherrill‘s 20 saves and a solid 2.40 ERA, but shipped him to Los Angeles, putting Jim Johnson in the closer position where he was barely tolerable – not necessarily helping down the stretch.  Danys Baez gave the Orioles 72 decent innings.  Brian Bass was asked to work a lot of long relief.

Working against those four were Matt Albers (5.51 ERA), former closer Chris Ray (7.27 ERA) and a few other small time tryouts.

Looking ahead to 2010, the Orioles have to start by finding 400 better innings of pitching.  Kevin Millwood was acquired from Texas – Millwood was solid for five months and if he can keep his ERA under 4.50, would represent a 40 run improvement over 2009.  Guthrie gets the second spot, and Bergesen and Matusz will get more starts.  If they stay healthy and make 30 starts, that’s another 40 runs better.  Chris Tillman is expected to be a prize – and certainly will be better than eight Adam Eaton starts.

So, a realist sees the potential to make up at least 60 runs on last year, and an optimist might see 100 runs of improvement.

The bullpen adds former Braves reliever Mike Gonzalez to the closer spot.  Gonzalez CAN be a good closer, and he CAN be a bit inconsistent.  Still, adding the healthy arm to the mix will be a step up.  Former Padre Cla Meredith will also help out, taking on the Baez innings.  Will Ohman comes over from the NL – and I would rather see him than, say, Matt Albers, who is still around and on the active roster as of 4/1.

I don’t see the bullpen being that much better than last year – and certainly nowhere near as deep as the top three teams in the division.

Catching:

Matt Wieters is here – the cover of Sports Illustrated in March – and could EXPLODE on the scene and make the all-star team.  Wieters didn’t disappoint as a rookie, showing a little power and hitting .288.  He represents a step up over Chad Moeller and Greg Zaun, and has far more upside.  The new back up is Craig Tatum.  Wieters does need to improve is caught stealing rate (barely league average) but is more mobile and made fewer mistakes per game than the two veterans in 2009.

Infield:

Last year, Aubrey Huff was merely ordinary and not producing at the rate the Orioles had hoped – just 13 – 72 – .253.  First baseman are supposed to create 100 runs of offense, and Huff was responsible for just 55.  Michael Aubrey and Garrett Atkins are around now.  Aubrey is an oft-injured Indian farm hand who was stuck behind Travis Hafner and Victor Martinez (among others), but could be a surprise performer.  Atkins has been in decline for a few years and when asked to backup Todd Helton at first looked awkward.  I’d rather play Aubrey and keep Atkins on the bench.

Brian Roberts remains a remarkably productive offensive force at the top of the lineup, but his bad back is affecting his already below average range.  The Orioles don’t really have another choice (Robert Andino could field it, but not hit), so they have to hope that Roberts can keep his back loose and mobile.

At short, Cesar Izturis provided a great glove with no bat in the mold of Mark Belanger – hitting .253 with no power and, even worse, drawing just 18 walks in 114 games.  At least he keeps the pitchers happy.

Melvin Mora looked very old last year – only eight homers, and barely generating 50 runs of offense.  In his place, the Orioles are returning former Oriole Miguel Tejada (who is older than Mora) to play third.  Tejada had a solid season at short for Houston last year, but agreed to the move here.  Mora is usually pretty solid defensively, but Tejada could be his match and will certainly provide a bit more offense.

Looking at this pragmatically, and assuming Michael Aubrey gets the first shot at first base, there could be 30 more runs here (35 more at third, 15 more at first, offset by a potential decline at second base).  If Atkins plays, it’s probably only 15 runs better than last year, and that’s offset by Atkins bungling the position defensively, too.

Outfield:

With Nick Markakis, Adam Jones, and Felix Pie or Nolan Reimold, the Orioles have a pretty productive group here.

Markakis is a dependable source of hits and runs, though his range isn’t enough to make up for his rocket arm.  I do believe, however, that this will be his breakout offensive season.  Jones needs to play 150 games, and if he does, will make a run at 20 – 20, if not 30 – 30.  Pie can field any of the three positions and isn’t a problem with the bat, though he’s not a well rounded hitter.  However, Nolan Reimold showed power and patience and if given 500 at bats, might hit 25 homers.  Fifth outfielder Luke Scott gets to be the DH – a power source from the left side of the plate, though he needs a platoon partner.

Looking ahead, I see no reason that this group can’t find 50 more runs of offense by (a) staying in the lineup, and (b) continuing to show progress.

Bench:

Robert Andino and Garrett Atkins in the infield and Felix Pie in the outfield are joined by super sub Ty Wiggington, who could also be a regular first baseman and help the club.  Luis Montanez gets to be an extra outfielder when needed.

Prospects:

The best guy not already listed above that played at AAA Norfolk might be second baseman Justin Turner.  Turner hit .300 with a .362 OBP and has tolerable speed.  He’s NOT as good as Brian Roberts, but if he is forced to play, I think he will outhit Andino and might surprise you with how good a fielder he is.  He’s certainly better with the glove than Roberts at this stage.  Turner is a Cal State Fullerton grad, and a former Reds draft pick (7th Round, 2006).

The best pitchers in Norfolk were Chris Tillman and David Hernandez, who had solid runs and shots with the parent club last year.  Another option is reliever Kam Mickolio.  They all have the tools, they just need to put things together, which isn’t as easy as it looks – especially in the AL East.

A couple of Bowie Baysox (AA) pitchers to look for will be Brandon Erbe (44 hits allowed in 73 innings, but control issues) and Jacob Arrieta (70 Ks in 59 innings across 11 starts).  Give them a year or two and they might round out the Orioles rotation.  Another young reliever, Steven Johnson, might start the year at AAA.  The best hitter going through AA was Brandon Snyder, who pounded pitchers to a .343 batting average with 10 homers in 201 at bats, but appeared a bit overmatched at AAA.  A former catcher (and 2005 #1 pick), Snyder is getting time at first base now and if both Aubrey and Atkins aren’t producing in June, Snyder is just a hot start away from making the roster.

Richie Hebner managed former Wofford College slugger Brandon Waring and the Frederick Keys in 2009.  Waring is a third baseman who hits the ball a LONG way, and seems to be making progress in reducing his strikeout numbers.  Another former Reds prospect, Waring is still a couple of years away and should be ready for a look when Tejada hits 40.  Former FAU grad Robert Widlansky hit .340 for Frederick, but this was the first time he had played this well.

Among the pitchers, Brian Matusz already made it from Frederick to the bigs, and 22-year-old Zach Britton looks ready to try on AA after a year with 131 Ks in 140 innings.  Reliever Pat Egan still showed great control, but may not have enough gas to make it to the bigs.

Forecasting 2010:

You have to like Baltimore’s chances of moving the wins needle back in the right direction.  The potential to shave 60 – 80 runs defensively is there, and if Tejada doesn’t turn out to be 45 at third base, the offense could improve by 75 to 90 runs.  What is working against the Orioles is the top of the division – three teams all worthy of 90 wins.  I think the Orioles are extremely capable of winning more games than they lose – but might not just because they are in the AL East where good isn’t good enough.  So, even though the system says 83 – 79  I think 79 – 83 might be more in line with the final record and I am going to go against what the system says.

AL Designated Hitters

Rather than rank them, I’ll just sort by team – especially since some teams didn’t really have a standard DH (Detroit, for example).

Baltimore:  Luke Scott got 89 games, the rest were mixed.  Scott is an above average offensive player with legitimate power and enough patience to help out (55 walks in 128 games).  Scott is not really an outfielder, but he can back people up in right field if required.  (73.3 Runs Created)

Boston:  David Ortiz played 139 games.  We know about his horrible first two months, but he finished strong – 28 homers and 99 RBI.  I don’t think he can rebound to being a .300/.400/.550 guy again, but if he gets off to a quicker start and hits close to .260, he’ll remain valuable.  (81.0 Runs Created)

Chicago:  Jim Thome played 98 games before being traded…  Still a great hitter and the Twins will like him.  Is Carlos Quentin the first choice in 2010?  Thome was productive – more so than Ortiz per 27 outs, but played far fewer games.  (61.7 Runs Created)

Cleveland:  Travis Hafner played 88 games…  He and the Indians are still recovering.  The rest were shared amongst the other teammates.  Hafner may never hit 25 homers again…  (61.6 Runs Created)

Detroit:  Didn’t really have a regular – Marcus Thames got 50 games, Carlos Guillen 33, Aubrey Huff 28 brutally bad games down the stretch.  Magglio Ordonez should have the job because he’s been an immobile object in right for several years now.

Kansas City:  Mike Jacobs got the bulk of the work – 102 games – and it was crushingly unproductive.  49 Runs Created, less than four runs per 27 outs.  There just weren’t a whole lot of better options – the team needs to add DEPTH and add it fast.  (49.0 Runs Created)

Los Angeles:  Vladimir Guerrero stayed healthy enough for 93 games, the rest were split among friends…  Vlad is now in Texas, but  I would be concerned about his health, as his body is breaking down after a rather long and productive career.  Even last year, falling off as a hitter, he was still productive.  Hideki Matsui‘s job now…  (58.7 Runs Created)

Minnesota:  Jason Kubel got half, Joe Mauer used the position for his bat and resting his back…  As a hitter, Kubel was the second most productive of the DH regulars.  (98.1 Runs Created)

New York:  Hideki Matsui‘s primary job – 116 games.  Kubel may have created more runs, but Matsui created more runs per 27 outs (7.0).  Now an Angel, if he can stay healthy he’d still be productive even with losing 10 – 20% of his skills.  (87.0 Runs Created)

Oakland:  Jack Cust got 96 games, Jason Giambi – while in town – got 22 more.  Nomar Garciaparra also got 22 games here.  Cust struck out 36% of the time – a frightening number – and yet had a .359 OBP and created runs.  (78.5 Runs Created)

Seattle:  Ken Griffey‘s last job as a Mariner.  Mike Sweeney was his platoon partner.  They combined for 27 homers and 91 RBI – but the net batting average and OBP was rather pedestrian.

Tampa:  Pat (The Bat) Burrell‘s job 112 times, otherwise Willy Aybar.  Aybar was better…  When Burrell signed, I don’t think 14 – 64 – .221 was what they had in mind.  (48.5 Runs Created)

Texas:  Andruw Jones and Hank Blalock split 100 games, the rest were dished out with Julio Borbon getting 21 shots.  Nobody really helped the cause, which is why Vlad Guerrero was added to the roster.

Toronto:  Adam Lind, a born DH, was here 92 times.  Randy Ruiz got 30, and the rest were shared…  Lind was the best hitter of the bunch – 36 – 108 – .305.  He’ll play outfield from time to time, but in a few years, he’ll be Jim Thome for sure.  Randy Ruiz was just as good in his shot – 10 homers in 115 at bats and batted .313.

Top NL First Basemen in 2009

Albert Pujols (STL):  Far and away the best player in baseball, as he has been since he arrived nearly a decade ago.  Nobody approached his offensive production and he remains the best fielding first baseman in the game.  As such, his overall production exceeded 225 runs – a staggering total.  I show Pujols as about 50 runs better than the next most productive player in the game.  The question going forward will not be whether Pujols belongs in the Hall of Fame, but whether Pujols is the greatest player God invented.  (178.7 Runs Created, 46.8 Runs Saved = 225.52 Total Run Production)

Adrian Gonzalez (SD):  In most years, this kind of production would lead his league – much less his position.  Instead, he’s just the second most productive player in baseball.  No wonder the Red Sox (and everybody else) wants him.  Dependable and rangy at first base, hits for power and has a solid OBP.  And, he’s doing this in San Diego – the hardest place to put up decent offensive numbers.  It took a while for Gonzalez to reach his fullest potential, but you have to like the total package.  (143.3 Runs Created, 31.05 Runs Saved = 174.38 Total Run Production)

Ryan Howard (PHI):  Had a normal season for him (45 – 151 – .279), but seems to be getting more comfortable defensively.  Howard hit .207 with just 6 homers in 222 at bats – I have no idea why any team would let him face a righty (39 – 108 – .320 in 394 at bats).  By the way, his splits against lefties were WORSE than his career rate (.226 with 53 homers in 935 at bats).  So that’s not a good thing.  (127.6 Runs Created, 11.66 Runs Saved = 139.25 Total Run Production)

Prince Fielder (MIL):  The second most productive hitter in baseball, but his range at first base is now problematic.  In 2006, I showed Fielder as being slightly above average (where Ryan Howard is now).  In 2007 and 2008, he was about ten runs worse than average.  Last year, he was atrocious.  Some of this could have been his pitching staff (Corey Hart had lousy numbers in right field), but giving him 20 runs back still makes him about 10 runs worse than average.  Of course, when you create 150 runs of offense, you can live with the glove.  (157.9 Runs Created, -31.0 Runs Saved = 126.88 Total Run Production)

Pablo Sandoval (SF):  A third baseman, but probably should play first base instead.   If he played first base regularly, he’d rate here…

Jorge Cantu (FLA):  Had a surprisingly good season defensively – frankly, I’m stunned, but if you look at how few assists the rest of the infielders had and then see how many putouts he had, you realize that Cantu takes charge of the infield and makes the most of his time out there.  Additionally, he’s a reasonably productive hitter – an old school definition RBI guy, gets lots of chances and seems to drive in runs whenever called upon.  He’s NOT that productive a hitter – he’s good, but not that good.  However, if he fields like Derrek Lee used to, it’s a valuable package.  (84.9 Runs Created, 25.3 Runs Saved = 110.24 Total Run Production)

James Loney (LAD):  Looking at his stats, I can’t see a difference between Loney and Cantu.  Medium range power, RBIs when opportunities arise, solid defense.  (90.4 Runs Created, 17.58 Runs Saved = 108.03 Total Run Production)

Adam LaRoche (PIT/BOS/ATL):  Had a reasonably good year with the glove – better than any in recent years (since 2006, for sure).  Coupled with decent power and a fair eye, LaRoche was reasonably productive in 2009.  That he’s suddenly moving around more than a regional sales director makes me think his career will start moving downhill, but for now he’s still worth keeping around.  And, compared to what the Diamondbacks had last year, LaRoche is a significant step forward.  It would help him measurably if he could hit in April.  The Pittsburgh job now lands on Jeff Clement, a former Mariner prospect who hasn’t shown major league hitting ability yet.  (99.8 Runs Created, 7.7 Runs Saved = 107.5 Total Run Production)

Joey Votto (CIN):  Missed time this summer dealing with ailments both mental and physical, otherwise he would have rated higher.  Votto is a surpremely talented hitter and a tolerable fielder.  Mashed lefties and righties with equal aplomb in 2009 but gets more walks and power against righties.  I’d love to have him on my team – and he’s my pick to have a crazy breakout season.  (112.6 Runs Created, -5.2 Runs Saved = 107.33 Total Run Production)

Todd Helton (COL):  Still hits well – power stats like Loney but gets on base more often.  His fielding draws raves, but with a stiff back and older wheels, he’s really just a dependable ball catcher who doesn’t have much range anymore.  I wrote about how much Helton has been helped by playing in Colorado, but even at that, he’s been a good player for a lot of years.  When he comes up for the Hall of Fame ballot, it’ll be interesting to see how he fares.  (99.9 Runs Created, 0.8 Runs Saved = 100.69 Total Run Production)

Derrek Lee (CHC):  His back and neck must have really been bothering him as his defensive contribution – usually in the top three or four at first base – was actually among the worst fielders at the position in 2009.  His bat returned to form, however, and he’s been a good hitter (occasionally great hitter) for a long time now.  If I were a betting man, however, I’d be picking Lee as one player who might slip in 2010.  At the end of the season, Lee turns 35 – so time and various injuries are going to start working against him.  As a Derrek Lee fan, I don’t want to see this happen – but the Cubs will have to plan for replacing Lee in the next couple of years.  (114.7 Runs Created, -16.7 Runs Saved = 97.98 Total Run Production.)

Lance Berkman (HOU):  Already appears to have lost a step as a fielder and hitter and that decline contributed to Cecil Cooper’s firing.  Even having slipped, Berkman puts runs on the board.  Now 34, Berkman is in a race against father time…  Hey, Astros fans – who has been a greater player over his career:  Lance Berkman, Craig Biggio or Jeff Bagwell?  (98.9 Runs Created, -4.9 Runs Saved = 94.07 Total Run Production)

Adam Dunn (WAS):  Not much of a fielder here or in left field – but I think I’d rather him be at first base.  Offensively, he’s still a force – but he’s a poor man’s Prince Fielder.  (115.0 Runs Created, -33.54 Runs Saved – 81.45 Total Run Production)

Daniel Murphy (NYM):  Took over when Carlos Delgado could no longer play; he’s mobile and a fair hitter.  Considering what the rest of the league has above him, Murphy is going to have to step up considerably to help the Mets long term.  I think he can get up to where Cantu or Loney are, but he’ll never be GREAT.  At this point, the Mets would settle for solid.  (71.5 Runs Created, 10 Runs Saved = 81.45 Total Run Production)

Travis Ishikawa (SF):  A smooth fielder with middling power, at this position it’s not going to cut it – which is why the Giants acquired Aubrey Huff.  I think Ryan Garko would have been a better option for 2010, but they didn’t ask me…  Ishikawa might hang around for years as a pinch hitter, low cost option for the position.  (41.1 Runs Created, 23.26 Runs Saved = 64.34 Total Run Production)

Casey Kotchman (ATL/BOS):  A glove man who hits like Ishikawa, too.  Has moved around a lot because he doesn’t put many runs on the board.  Now in Seattle, I bet the Mariners fans will miss Russell Branyan by mid July.  (53.0 Runs Created, 5.1 Runs Saved = 58.1 Total Run Production)

Nick Johnson (WAS/FLA):  A coveted free agent, but I’m not sure why.  He gets on base, but doesn’t create a TON of runs because he has marginal power.  As a fielder, he’s abysmal.  Here’s an odd stat for you.  Nick Johnson’s defense at first base was so poor that he cost the Marlins more runs with this glove than he actually produced with his bat.

You think I’m kidding?  Let’s look at putouts per inning data.  When Jorge Cantu played first, he had 829 putouts in 850 innings.  When Johnson played first, he had 192 putouts in 260.2 innings.  In the same number of innings, that works out to 626 putouts – or 200 (!) fewer than Cantu had.  Does Johnson catch any pop ups, foul balls or line drives?  Apparently not.  Maybe he’s a ground ball repellent – when in the field, the pitchers only got fly balls to the outfield for outs.  I digress.

He’s a DH/#2 hitter – which I imagine might be his job with the Yankees in 2010.  (78.0 Runs Created, -23.3 Runs Saved = 54.7 Total Run Production)

Chad Tracy (ARI):  Got the most action there, but really only played half a season for the Diamondbacks.  He’s gone – thankfully – and Adam LaRoche will improve the output at this position immediately.  (28.4 Runs Created, -5.1 Runs Saved = 23.33 Total Run Production)