Ellsbury Out With Separated Shoulder, and Happy Birthday, Ben Tincup!

The Boston Red Sox placed centerfielder Jacoby Ellsbury on the 15-day DL due to a separated shoulder suffered when he was removed in the front end of a double play against the Rays.  Ellsbury could miss at least six weeks, so if this is YOUR fantasy baseball team, you’ll want to know that Cody Ross will get the bulk of the starts, even though AAA outfielder Che-Hsuan Lin (more Lin-sanity???) was called up from Pawtucket.  Lin doesn’t have the minor league resume that screams out START ME! – but you never know.  He makes contact, he can run, and he covers ground in the outfield.  Bobby Valentine, in his “boy am I smart” way explained that Lin might not be here longer than the weekend. [MLB]

The Detroit Tigers activated infielder Brandon Inge, who will likely get a start at second base this weekend.  To make room, Detroit sent infielder Danny Worth to AAA Toledo.  Meanwhile, the Tigers gave an unconditional release to outfielder Clete Thomas, who was promptly picked up by Minnesota.  The signing of Thomas means that outfielder Ben Revere was optioned to AAA.  [MLB, ESPN]

It’s okay, I’ll still follow Revere on Twitter.  He seems like a nice kid.

Hurry Back!

Seattle placed reliever George Sherrill on the 15-Day DL with an elbow strain.  In his place, the Mariners have recalled lefty pitcher Charlie Furbush.

Welcome Back!

Washington outfielder Rick Ankiel came off the DL, which means that Brett Carroll was designated for assignment.

The Transaction Wire…

The Phillies signed free agent infielder Mike Fontenot.

The Angels called up David Carpenter from AAA Salt Lake City.  The Angels are looking for depth in the bullpen and Carpenter might be able to help immediately.  He has remarkable control, a great strikeout rate, and minor league hitters have batted just .207 against him.

Happy Birthday!!!

Those celebrating with cake, cards, and remembrances include:

(1893) Ben Tincup (See below)
(1927) Don Mueller (See below)
(1931) Kal Segrist (See below)
(1941) Pete Rose, the greatest singles hitter and baseball gambler ever.
(1947) Joe Lahoud – wow, he’s 65?
(1966) David Justice, Braves outfielder now portrayed in the movie Moneyball…
(1966) Greg Maddux, the best pitcher I ever saw…  I loved Clemens and Carlton, don’t get me wrong, but Maddux was an ARTIST.
(1969) Brad Ausmus, longtime catcher
(1970) Steve Avery – which means at least three Braves were celebrating birthdays on the same day each spring in the early 1990s.  At least for a couple of years, anyway…
(1976) Kyle Farnsworth

I’ve been writing this blog on and off for a long time, I guess…  This is an odd day in that I have actually written small biographies for two players on this list.  Go figure.

If you want to learn more about Giants outfielder Don Mueller, click here…

If you want to learn more about Yankee Infielder and Texas Tech baseball coach Kal Segrist, click here

Ben Tincup

A baseball lifer, Austin Ben Tincup spent fifty years playing and teaching baseball to thousands of kids all over the country – but not before he became the first Native American from Oklahoma to make it to the big leagues.

In doing the research, I found four different birthdays listed for Ben.  A couple of places, including FindaGrave.com and the Baseball-Reference.com Bullpen biography of Tincup, show his birthday as December 14, 1890.  Baseball-Reference.com has a main player page and a minor league player page for Tincup, too.  Those show April 14, 1893.  His obituary and his grave stone in Rose Hill Cemetery in Tulsa, OK says his birth year is 1894.  (You’d think that the findagrave.com mini-bio would want their data to match the picture, right?)  SABR and Retrosheet.org, as well as the database I use for compiling this data, say 1893.  Let’s go with that one…

Tincup was born on April 14th, we’re pretty sure, to James and Lucinda (Vance) Tincup.  A TSN article listed Ben’s birthplace as Sherman, TX, but other sources say Adair, OK.  (I’m tempted to go with Adair, mostly because the TSN writer probably read that Tincup came from Sherman when he joined the Phillies, but that was his minor league city and not his birthplace.)  Not long out of school, Tincup was signed to pitch for Muskogee in the Oklahoma State League, the first professional team to operate in Muskogee.  By the end of the 1912 season, though, he had been shifted to Sherman in the Texas-Oklahoma League.  He stayed in Sherman for 1913, figured things out, and won his last fourteen starts.

The winning streak got him noticed, and the Philadelphia Phillies brought him out for spring training to see how he’d fare.  Before long, the young Cherokee Indian was making relief appearances in May and June.  In July, he was given his first major league start against the Pittsburgh Pirates.  Tincup pitched a masterful game, winning 1 – 0, and holding the Pirates to just five hits – three of them by Honus Wagner.

Tincup became a bit of a celebrity and the newspapers called him The Millionaire Indian, one of many landowners who got rich when oil was found on a number of large farms in Oklahoma.  Ben countered, however, that the writers missed their mark.  “The stories were only half right,” said Tincup.  “I’m 100 percent Cherokee Indian and I own 500 acres of Oklahoma land.  But I’m the Indian who owns land where they didn’t find oil.”

Among the first Native Americans not nicknamed “Chief”, Tincup won two other games by shutouts: a 1 – 0 blanking of St. Louis and a 2 – 0 win over the Pirates.  However, he mixed in a few rougher outings, including a 13 – 5 loss to Brooklyn and 12 – 3 loss to Boston.  When the year was out, he finished 8 – 10 as the third starter on the roster.

However, the fourth starter was lefty Eppa Rixey, a fine thrower out of the University of Virginia.  Rixey roomed with Tincup for a year while the rookies found their way through the league.  In 1915, Rixey made the step forward, joining Grover Cleveland Alexander and Erskine Meyer and New York Giant import Al Demaree.  The new rotation helped propel the Phillies to their first pennant in 1915.  Tincup was reduced to a marginal reliever, making just ten appearances, and hardly contributing to the 1915 National League championship.  In fact, Tincup was voted just a half-share of the team’s post-season take.

The Phillies chose to dispatch Tincup to the minors for a little more seasoning.  In 1916, Tincup went 16 – 11 for Providence in the International League.  Moved to Little Rock in 1917, Tincup threw a perfect game against Birmingham in the Southern Association.  He kept a ball and the press clippings for years – the ball finally being donated to the Will Rogers Museum in Claremore, OK.

St. Louis claimed Tincup for the 1918 season, but the National Association ruled that Tincup still belonged to the Phillies, who called him up for a few outings.  Tincup decided to retire and went off to join other Americans in the US Army who were fighting in Europe during the first World War.

When he came back in 1919, he was declared a free agent.  Bill Neal, who had scouted and signed Tincup for Philadelphia, was now associated with the Louisville Colonels in the American Association.  Neal signed Tincup for more money than he might have made with the Phillies – and Tincup became a minor league lifer.  For the next twelve seasons, Tincup was a regular starter and later a reliever for the Colonels.  He won 20 twice; the first time he went 20 – 14 in 1922, and two years later he won 24 games.  And he could hit, too.  One year, he played left field when he wasn’t pitching and wound up hitting .331 with 16 doubles, 16 triples, and eight homers.  He missed the batting crown by four points.  However, the next season manager Joe McCarthy and Tincup decided pitching was the right thing to do – and Tincup only played the outfield in emergencies.

The 1921 team won the American Association and challenged Baltimore in the Little World Series, a battle between the top minor league teams.  Louisville won, in part, behind the pitching of Tincup.  Tincup outdueled Lefty Grove to put Louisville in charge of the series.

In 1922, Harry Davis, the old Athletics first baseman, was sent to scout the team.  He was looking at two players, Brewers outfielder Al Simmons and Colonels outfielder Earle Combs.  Davis asked Tincup to really bear down on Simmons to see what he could do.

“I brushed Al back with a high, inside pitch.  I had plenty on it, believe me,” said Tincup.  “I wanted to scare Simmons, but he didn’t scare at all.  Instead, he just just dug in and dared me to come back with the same pitch.  I did.  He didn’t move an inch.  The next ball was a dandy curve.  Simmons whacked it over the first baseman’s head for a triple.  I figured he just had beginner’s luck.  The next time he came up he lined a double to left…  Some time later I read that Simmons had been sold to the Athletics for $100,000.  I wasn’t surprised.  When I saw Davis later, I told him that I had helped ‘sell’ Simmons to the A’s the day I pitched to him.  Davis had a smart comeback.  ‘You’re right, Ben.  But I made a mistake.  The day we bought Simmons, we also should have bought Combs.'”

Combs signed with the Yankees – and years later, well after he was done playing, Tincup would join the Yankees, too.

In the winters, Tincup would play ball in Cuba.  The 1925 Marianaos Gray Monks may have been the best team of his generation, featuring players such as Freddy Fitzsimmons, Jess Petty, Otto Krueger, Mike Griffen, Charlie Dressen, Eddie Brown, Mark Koenig, Walter Christensen, Tiny Chaplin, Bill Burwell, and Jim Cooney.  Some of those names we still recognize today – others, we’d probably have to look up.

Toward the end of his Louisville career, Joe McCarthy was with the Cubs – he needed a temporary reliever.  He called for Ben Tincup, who got a couple more appearances in the majors.  Then, he was returned to Louisville.  As he got older, Tincup left the rotation and became a quality reliever.  According to a TSN article:

“Manager Allan Sothoron this spring decided that the veteran redskin could best serve his team in the role of relief chucker, and in this capacity Ben has proved invincible.”  He would finish the season 14 – 3 in relief, and another article claimed that he “…saved approximately 13 games, for which other pitchers received credit.”  Jerome Holtzman hadn’t yet coined the term “Saves.”

1930 was Tincup’s last hurrah.  He had a rough year (7 – 16) in 1929 and was given a pay cut.  After 1930, he wanted a raise and Louisville ownership didn’t agree.  Before long, Tincup was cut and scooped up by Minneapolis.  The next year, Tincup was pitching in Sacramento in the Pacific Coast League, but he was pretty much done as a pitcher.

Instead, he was signed as am umpire by the American Association – a job that barely lasted two months.  Per a blurb in TSN:

“Ben Tincup, veteran Indian pitcher formerly with Louisville, has been released as an umpire in the American Association by President Thomas J. Hickey.  Tincup made his debut as an arbiter this season, but there were so many complaints over his decisions on balls and strikes that his release resulted.”

He went back to his farm in Oklahoma for the next three years.

However, guys who knew Tincup needed scouts and coaches – and Tincup was hired by the Cincinnati Reds to manage their farm team in Paducah, a member of the Kitty League.  In his first season, Tincup led Paducah to a first-half crown and a trip to the playoffs.  However, Tincup argued that two pitchers that helped Union City to a second half crown should have been ineligible.  When that protest failed, he began to lose favor with his Paducah owner, B.B. Hook.  Tincup next complained that he had to play night games in Union City, when his team only played day games at home.  That, too, failed.

So, Tincup told his team to play but he was going to stay home to protest the league’s decisions.  After Paducah lost to Larry Irvin (one of two players Tincup felt should not have been eligible to pitch) and Union City in that first game, seven other players decided to side with Tincup.  The series was forfeited to Union City and National Association President W. B. Bramham chose to put Tincup and the seven players on the ineligible list.  That ban lasted about four months, and Tincup was signed to manage a different Reds farm team, this one in Peoria, Illinois.

While there, Tincup traded for a pitcher who had been successful for him in Paducah, Gene “Junior” Thompson.  Thompson was the ace of the Peoria staff and the Reds soon promoted him to the big league team where Junior (he hated that nickname) helped the Reds win the 1940 National League Pennant.  Thompson’s ascent and Tincup’s role in his development earned Tincup the reputation as someone who could mold young pitchers.

Tincup was a proponent of throwing strikes, saying that the biggest problem young pitchers have is not being willing to hit the catcher’s glove.  “They’re so scared somebody is going to get a base hit they throw all around the target but seldom at it,” said Tincup.  “What they don’t realize is that even when you put across a perfect strike with nothing on it, the batter won’t hit it safely more than three times out of ten.  That’s proved in batting practice.”

By 1938, he was taken by Larry McPhail from Cincinnati to Brooklyn to become a roving pitching instructor and coach.  In 1939, young kids would have seen an advertisement for a California baseball camp where young ballplayers could learn from coaches like Leo Durocher, Charlie Dressen, Bill Killefer, and Ben Tincup.  On the other hand, some things from his minor league days didn’t go away as quickly.  Tincup earned a fine in his last days managing Paducah in 1939.  When he tried to step on the field as a coach in 1940, the league told him he had a $10 fine due and Kennesaw Mountain Landis wouldn’t let him on the field unless he paid that fine.  A wire was sent, and Tincup was allowed to coach.

After two more seasons as a coach, Tincup took a short hiatus to join the war effort for World War II – this time helping build boats on the docks of the Ohio River at Jeffersonville.  During that time, he ran into an old friend – Ray Kennedy.  Kennedy was Tincup’s catcher when Tincup tossed that perfect game in 1917 for Little Rock.  Now, Kennedy was the General Manager for the Pittsburgh Pirates.  Kennedy knew a few people – and by 1946, when the war was over, Tincup was a scout for the Boston Braves.

Tincup’s scouting and coaching career meant he went all over the place for a bunch of different teams.  He left Boston to join the Pirates.  Roy Hamey had brought him into the Pirates organization, and when he left for the Yankees, he took Tincup with him there, and then to the Phillies.  “We had him traveling around the farm clubs and working with the pitchers,” said Hamey.  “He helped fellows like Bob Friend and Vernon Law so much that when I moved over to the Yankees, I talked George Weiss into bringing him to New York.  He did such a good job with the Yanks that I had a tough time getting him for the Phils.  But I told Weiss I needed him worse than the Yankees did, so George turned him over to me.”

During his time with the Phillies, a prized prospect was a young Yaqui Indian out of Arizona named Phil Ortega.  Hamey assigned Tincup to handle the negotiations, figuring that one Native American might be better able to relate to another Native American than the other scouts.  The Dodgers, however, countered with a bigger bonus check.  Buzzie Bavasi wired Hamey when he won.  “How dumb can you get,” Bavasi asked. “Don’t you know Ortega’s and Tincup’s tribes have been at war for 300 years?”

The Yankees got Tincup back when Ralph Houk, who had used Tincup as a pitching coach in the middle 1950s, asked for him to coach his 1961 squad.  Joe Falls wrote about it in the Detroit Free Press:  “The Yankees have signed Ben Tincup, a 73-year-old Cherokee, as their minor league pitching coach…  And this is the team that fired Casey Stengel because he was, at 70, too old.”

If Tincup was 73 in 1961, that would put his birth date at 1888…  Another option…  I don’t think so.

Anyway… Eventually baseball’s tribal elder called it a career and returned to the Tulsa area.  He was inducted into various Halls of Fame in Oklahoma, including those celebrating Native Americans in sports.  In 1980, he was staying at the very hotel in Claremore, the Will Rogers Hotel, where his perfect game baseball would have been on display.  Sometime in the night on July 5, 1980 Tincup was called to pitch on the great ball field in the sky.

Sources:

The Sporting News
“Finishing Second No Small Honor in A.A.” The Sporting News, Oct. 7, 1920, Page 5.
“Colonels Carry On and Never Say Die.” The Sporting News, July 14, 1921, Page 3.
“Didn’t Start A One But Has Won Seven.” The Sporting News, June 19, 1930, Page 4.
Williams, A. W. “Louisville Releases Tincup.” The Sporting News, July 30, 1931, Page 3.
“Ben Tincup New A.A. Umpire.” The Sporting News, January 19, 1933, Page 2.
“Tincup to Pilot Paducah” The Sporting News, March 26, 1936, Page 7.
“Bramham Punishes Paducah ‘Strikers’.” The Sporting News, September 24, 1936. Page 7.
“Long Arm of the Law.” The Sporting News, May 23, 1940, Page 3.
“Tincup Donates No-Hit Ball.” The Sporting News, April 10, 1941, Page 11.
“8-Game Streak Has Almendares Out in Front.” The Sporting News, November 17, 1948, Page 20.
The Sporting News, March 8, 1950, Page 14.
“Old-Time Ben Tincup Back; Gives Advice to Phils’ Kids.” The Sporting News, March 7, 1956, Page 33.
Notes, The Sporting News, January 1, 1961, Page 12.
Obituaries, The Sporting News, August 9, 1980, Page 50.
“Phils Forgot Tribal Wars When They Bid for Ortega.” The Sporting News, June 27, 1964, Page 26.

Obituary:
Claremore (OK) Progress (July 8, 1980)

Baseball Digest:
Bryson, Bill.  “The Indian Glove Call.” Baseball Digest, Feb 1964, Pages 67 – 73.
Levy, Sam.  “Simmons First Steps to Hall.” Baseball Digest, April, 1953, Pages 25 to 27.

Websites:

FindaGrave.com
Baseball-Reference.com
Retrosheet.org

2010 Season Forecast: Florida Marlins

Last Five Seasons:

2009: 87 – 75 (2nd, NL East)
2008: 84 – 77
2007: 71 – 91
2006: 78 – 84
2005: 83 – 79

Finally people started seeing the Marlins for what they are – a talented team despite the low payroll who, when healthy and getting a modicum of pitching, can hang with anybody.

Runs Scored: 772 (5th, NL)
Runs Allowed: 766 (11th, NL)

Like in 2008, the Marlins edged opponents on the scoreboard but came ahead on the deal in terms of wins and losses.  The reason for this is because the bottom of their pitching is ATROCIOUS, and when they lose they tend to get pounded.

Season Recap:

The Marlins won 11 of 12 to open the season because six games were against the Nationals when the Nationals really stunk up the joint.  I remember sitting in the office talking about this with Jose Gomez – the Marlins were about to play the Pirates and we were talking about how they could be 14 – 1 and heading home.

Instead, they lost a lot – losing 24 of the next 32 games.  This was because only Josh Johnson was winning any starts and Ricky Nolasco, who SHOULD be an ace, needed a trip to the minors to find himself.

When Nolasco returned, that gave the Marlins two decent arms the rest of the way.  Then, Hanley Ramirez and Chris Coghlan started getting two hits every night (or so it seemed) and the Marlins climbed back into the race by the end of August and made a run at a wild card slot before running out of time.

All along, it seemed like the Marlins were just two players away from being as good as anybody in the NL.  They needed one more starter and one more really good reliever.  No – they don’t have ALL the firepower of the Phillies, but with a core of Ramirez, Cantu, Uggla, and Coghlan setting the table, that’s a lot of runs to work with.  The helpers – Cody Ross, both catchers – Ronny Paulino and John Baker, Cameron Maybin, and bench hitters like Wes Helms and Ross Gload – all contribute.

Two more pitchers.

I digress.

Pitchers:

A completely healthy Josh Johnson pitched 209 impressive innings, winning 75% of his decisions and saving his team 33.7 runs.  Ricky Nolasco, as mentioned earlier, found his mojo after a trip to the minors and finished the season by striking out 16 batters and nine in a row in his final start.  If you look at his numbers, you’d never know he had a 5.06 ERA – winning record, solid K/BB numbers, and not hit TOO badly.  He did give up hits in bunches, though, and that was his problem.

After that, Chris Volstad gave up 29 homers in 159 innings, pushing his ERA over 5.00.  Sean West was tolerable but a little green in his 20 starts.  Anibal Sanchez pitched half a season of okay ball – an ERA under 4, but watching him start is excrutiating because he always seems to be pitching his way out of trouble.  Andrew Miller made 14 starts and got worse as the season progressed, eventually hitting the bullpen and then AAA.  Rick VandenHurk made the Netherlands WBC team, and had eleven okay starts.

Looking forward, that’s the problem the Marlins face with the rotation.  Nolasco will be better, but can Sanchez make 30 starts?  Will West improve?  The Marlins made a late acquisition, picking up Nate Robertson from Detroit – and he HAS to be better than Andrew Miller (also, formerly of Detroit).  If Robertson can make 30 reasonably good starts, this is a step up.  I like the potential of improvement here – but they still require a lot of bullpen help.

Let’s look at that bullpen.  The Marlins tried Matt Lindstrom as a closer, but he got hurt during the WBC and his 100 MPH fastball seemed very flat and hittable.  Leo Nunez, a decent 8th inning guy, became the closer and was okay because he doesn’t really have the control needed.  They combined for 41 saves, but a lot of chewed nails.

The Marlins did find their usual surprise and cheap help in the middle relief corps…  Kiko Calero allowed just 36 hits in 60 innings, but 13 were homers (must have all be solo shots), which led to a very surprising 1.95 ERA.  Renyal (1972 Ford) Pinto is a wild lefty who had more good innings than bad ones.  Florida even has a legitimate long reliever in Burke Badenhop – a guy who looks good the first time through the lineup but gets killed in the fourth and fifth innings – so he becomes a reliever who frequently makes multiple inning runs when the team needs it.  Brian Sanches and Dan Meyer were solid most of the season.  Even Brendan Donnelly came over and gave the team 25.1 good innings.  So, there was a lot of depth in the pen – there just wasn’t a shut down closer and a lot of relievers always seemed like they were living on the edge.

Looking ahead, Calero is gone – in his place will be Clay Hensley.  I’m not sure I get it – he has little control and couldn’t keep his ERA under 5.00 in the spacious confines of Petco Park in San Diego.  The rest of the pitching staff returns with just those two additions (Hensley, Robertson) and two subtractions (Lindstrom and Calero).  So, while the rotation should be 30 or 40 runs better, the bullpen could give half of that back.

Catchers:

John Baker and Ronny Paulino shared the job in 2009 and will do so again – at least until Brett Hayes is ready for a test drive.  Both hit enough and are natural platoon partners; Paulino was tolerable against the run – but otherwise are rather bland catchers.  Neither is known for handling the staff (and who would take credit for last year’s pitching) or avoiding mistakes.

Infielders:

Defensively, not very good.  Offensively, as good as you might want.

Jorge Cantu was solid at first – but then looked out of practice playing third base when Nick Johnson arrived last year.  Johnson has NO range as a first baseman – so he was allowed to play DH for the Yankees.  Cantu will move to third base to give Gaby Sanchez a shot.  Sanchez hits like Pete O’Brien in a good year, about .280 with mid range power.  I just don’t know that Sanchez will be that much better defensively.  He will be better than Johnson, though.

Dan Uggla rips homers, got on base despite a dip in his batting average, and started to look slow defensively.  A late bloomer, Uggla makes more good plays than bad ones, but a slipping range means that he’s a candidate to be moved if the Marlins start to fall out of the race.

Hanley Ramirez is one of the two best players in the NL right now – the best hitting shortstop (heck, as good as anyone except, perhaps Pujols or Braun) in baseball and a tolerable fielder.  He’s very deliberate as a fielder, as if trying not to make throwing mistakes, but he doesn’t have the acrobatic range of the really good ones.  Hitting .340 with power, though, nobody seems to care.  Except, perhaps, the pitching staff.

Last year, Emilio Bonifacio played a lot of third, but he’s really better suited as a bench player.  Wes Helms is a solid bat off the bench and plays third and first well enough.  Mike Lamb comes over to replace Ross Gload as a veteran lefty bat off the bench.  Gload was impressive last year – so he’ll be a challenge to replace (and will be missed).  Brian Barden also made the club, but I don’t know where he’ll play with this lineup.  Perhaps he’ll be a late inning defensive replacement for any of these guys…

Looking forward, I see the defense slipping another ten runs but the offense holding steady.

Outfield:

Chris Coghlan is a hitter, an amazing collection of line drives – patient at the plate and has good enough speed to sneak 30 steals.  He’s just not much of a left fielder.  Eventually, he’ll have to move – but he’ll bat leadoff until he’s 40.

Cameron Maybin earned the starting nod last year, got off to a slow start with the bat, and needed a trip to AAA to get his swing back.  He’ll get a second shot – and hopefully he’ll stick.  I see him as the new Preston Wilson, and if he ever puts it together, that’ll be just fine.

Cody Ross is a shaved head bundle of energy and smiles – and can play a decent right field and back up Maybin in center.  He has decent power but you wish his batting average was closer to .280 than .250.  You need guys like Ross on the team…  Fan friendly, contributes in many different ways, and compliments the stars on the field.

Brett Carroll and Emilio Bonifacio will provide bench support.  Carroll is actually a pretty good fielder, but doesn’t appear to have MLB hitting skills.

I like this unit to be much better than last year – possibly 30 – 50 runs better offensively and 20 runs better defensively because (a) Maybin is an AMAZING fielder and will be here every day and (b) Coghlan will be more comfortable out there than last year.

Prospects:

The best hitters at AAA are already on the Marlins – Sanchez, Coghlan, and Maybin.  And, there weren’t a lot of pitching prospects in New Orleans to write home about.

Sean West came out of AA Jacksonville, as did Chris Leroux.  West may stick for a while, but Leroux will probably not be a future star.  He has decent enough control, gets a few strikeouts, but at 25 is not really a young prospect.  Jacksonville must be a tough place to hit.  The top average was Bryan Petersen‘s .297, a 4th round pick in 2007 out of Cal-Irvine.  Look for him to get a shot at AAA, and be a fourth outfielder before too long.

The big prospect at AA was Mike Stanton, whose batting average stunk, but has SERIOUS power and is only 20.  He’ll be among the first guys to get a shot at right field if Cody Ross gets hurt.  Logan Morrison is another first base prospect who has Mark Grace-like skills – good OBP and a little power.

A+ Jupiter featured Stanton (for a while) and another teen – Matt Dominguez who will be a future third baseman on this team by 2012.  Looks like a young Mike Lowell right now, but it’s still early.  Check him out in Jacksonville in 2010.  All of the really good Hammerhead pitchers throw strikes, but few better than Elih Villanueva, who walked just 18 in 158 innings, striking out 110.  He’ll be moved up to AA as well.

Forecast:

For two years, the Marlins played better than the ratio of runs scored to runs allowed would have suggested, and that’s a problem.  It means they could be unlucky this year.  On the other hand, there is room for improvement.  The team should allow 40 fewer runs and possibly score 30 more.  Marlins ownership EXPECTS a playoff team, and I see them on the fringe of that – 89 wins.  My HUNCH is that they’ll be over .500, but closer to 84 wins – but the Marlins fan in me hopes my system is right.

Can Improv Theater Save Matt Murton? Calling Todd Stashwick!!! And Other Baseball News…

The Phillies tried Ryan Madson as the closer last night (Lidge had pitched in four consecutive games and wasn’t available as it was) and blew the save anyway…  No worries – Lidge will keep his job until his arm or knee falls off.  [Multiple Sources]

A little good news earlier in the broadcast…  Hiroki Kuroda threw a successful bullpen session and is closer to returning to the Dodgers.  He is expected to throw a simulated game in a few days, then a rehab start.  Kuroda is healing quickly after suffering a concussion when nailed in the side of the head by a drive off the bat of Rusty Ryal a couple of weeks ago.  [MLB]

Brad Penny asked for, and received, his release from the Boston Red Sox – surrendering his roster spot to Billy Wagner.  Penny will start looking for a team that wants a healthy but disappointing pitcher.  I always liked him – works fast, threw strikes.  He needs Dave Duncan – but the Marlin fan in me wouldn’t mind letting him find his routine as a long reliever back home in Florida where it started for him  [ESPN]

With no fear that this was going to get any better for him, Milton Bradley says he feels “hatred” from Cub fans – fans who are disappointed that the usually dependable hitter (if undependable personality) had struggled through most of his first season in Chicago.  Bradley says the only place he feels any love is at home with his family, and apparently gets booed in more places than just Wrigley – like restaurants, bars, grocery stores, gas stations, and knitting clubs.  Do you think that many people recognize Milton Bradley at first glance?  Or is he just paranoid?  [ESPN]

Moving across town, newly acquired White Sox starter Jake Peavy’s start on Saturday will be postponed.  His elbow is still sore and swollen, the effects of being hit by a line drive in his last rehab start.  [ESPN]

Speaking of sore elbows, Detroit starter Armando Gallaraga goes to AAA for rest (and not the DL?), giving his sore throwing elbow a break.  To replace him, Nate Robertson gets the call.  Robertson has been on the DL with an elbow injury himself…  [ESPN]

Yankee catcher Jorge Posada will miss a few games after taking a foul ball squarely on his left ring finger Wednesday night; the finger is swollen but not broken.  [ESPN]

Another Mets pitcher is heading to surgery…  Oliver Perez’s sore knee requires a scalpel and sutures to repair his right patella tendon.  Look for Pat Misch or Lance Broadway to get his starts.  (I know – Broadway in New York…  Broadway was picked up in May for backup catcher Ramon Castro in a trade with the White Sox.)  If you were counting, this is 14 Met players on the DL.  [ESPN]

FoxSports is reporting that LaTroy Hawkins was placed on waivers, but claimed by someone.  So, Houston recalled Hawkins’ name from the list and now cannot be traded until after the season.  [FoxSports]

For the second time in five years, the Cleveland Indians bus was involved in an accident or incident on the way to Kaufman Stadium in Kansas City.  The driver of the car hitting the bus was injured, but the Indians won the game anyway…  [SI]

A Federal Appeals court ruled that federal investigators were wrong for seizing the list of players who had tested positive in the now infamous “sampling” tests done in 2003 to determine if baseball needed a stronger anti-PED policy.  Prosecutors wanted information about ten players involved in the BALCO investigation and wound up with 104 players instead…  The leaks are more famous than the list itself.  The Fed was asked to return the list, but one wonders if this means that the leaks will end.  [SI]

In an odd twist, three umpires worked home plate in last night’s Toronto/Tampa game.  Jerry Crawford left with back spasms.  His replacement, Tom Hallion, took a Scott Kazmir fastball in the chest (Travis Snider swung and missed, and Greg Zaun had no idea Kazmir was throwing a fastball and missed, too).  Hallion chose to stay out there – but moved to third base instead, meaning that Brian O’Nora had to finish the game.  I’m betting that hasn’t happened before.  [FoxSports]

Welcome Back! Justin Upton returned to Arizona, Juan Rincon returned to Colorado, Joe Saunders is back with the Angels, and Tim Wakefield is back with Boston – all four coming back from DL stints.  Brett Carroll is back with the Marlins with Nick Johnson heading to the DL.  Carroll is the best fifth outfielder they have…  Drew Macias made his seventeenth trip between Portland and San Diego this week…  I’ll root for him forever now.

Is it Over? I sure hope not.  Matt Murton was designated for assignment by Colorado.  The kid could hit, but never keep a job.  Murton isn’t Russell Branyan – a power hitter without a home because he never gets more than 100 at bats in a month to get his groove on.  He’s more of a .280 – .300 hitter with middling power type.  If he could pinch hit or tell jokes or dance during the seventh inning stretch, he’d be Jay Johnstone and hang around on benches forever.  Todd Stashwick (my favorite actor) – you probably don’t read my blog, but if you could teach him to be more clever and work on his impromtu humor so he could be a guest on pregame, postgame, and rain delay shows, Matt Murton could stay in the majors.

Hurry Back! Pirates pitcher Jeff Karstens heads to the DL with a strained back.  Shane Loux (Angels), Daniel Schlereth (D-Backs), and Collin Balester (Nationals) are heading back to AAA.

Afterthoughts… Is it me, or do ESPN Radio hosts get more vacation time than anyone?  Mike and Mike in the Morning should be renamed “Maybe Mike and Mike, but probably Erik Kuselius in for one of them, in the Morning”…  And nobody’s show is less frequently hosted by the named star than the afternoon drive show of Doug Gottlieb.  He is NEVER on his own show.  In fact, I’m used to the radio bump “You’re Listening to the Doug Gottlieb Show…  In for Doug, Ryan Racillo.”  Does somebody keep stats on this???

2009 Season Forecast: Florida Marlins

Florida Marlins
2008: 84-77 (3rd NL East, 7.5 games back)

At some point, the people who regularly pick the Marlins to finish 71 – 91 are going to finally understand that General Manager Larry Beinfest knows what he’s doing.  Florida has fielded a competitive team every year but one in the last six seasons.  This year, management feels like it has a young staff that rivals the team that won the World Series in 2003 (Burnett, Beckett, Willis, Penny), and returns the core of a batting order that features three players who might all hit 30 homers.  This year, the outfield will be more mobile, the infield will have more experience, and the young arms will have a chance to shine.

Looking Back on 2008

The Marlins were one of the surprise teams in baseball (again), getting off to a solid start in April and May, and finding themselves in first place for a good chunk of the spring.  A weak June, where the hitting slowed and the starting pitching struggled mightily, sent them back to third place.  However, the Marlins wouldn’t fall to the bottom.  Instead, they rifled through July to hang near the top of the division.  After the all-star break, the bats slowed – Dan Uggla, Josh Willingham, Jorge Cantu, Mike Jacobs, and Jeremy Hermida all tanked – just as the rotation was overhauled.  So, despite replacing Rich VandenHurk, Burke Badenhop, Mark Hendrickson, and Andrew Miller with Josh Johnson, Chris Volstad, and Anibel Sanchez (to go along with Ricky Nolasco and Scott Olsen), giving the Marlins a strong rotation and having the best single month ERA, the team struggled to win 11 games.  The bullpen didn’t help either – Kevin Gregg’s balky knee and Reynal Pinto’s return to earth appeared to end Florida’s chances.

Even then, the Marlins wouldn’t die.  In late September, the Marlins won nine in a row and looked like they might suddenly repeat the Rockies Run of 2007 only to lose to Philadelphia and finish in 3rd with 84 wins.  With the strong finish and the improved rotation, the Marlins looked forward to 2009.

Tell me about that offense

If nothing else, the Marlins hit a LOT of homers.  They have one or two guys who can run, they have one or two guys who might hit close to .300, but they have a lot of guys who put the ball in the seats.

The infield offense was a single Jorge Cantu homer away from being the first to have all four starters hit 30 homers.  Hanley Ramirez is an offensive force, a 30/30 man who added 92 walks to his stat sheet, and scored 125 runs.  Dan Uggla had an unbelievable May that was so good (12 homers, .347 average) that it made up for two months of nothing (July, August).  The new Kansas City Royal, Mike Jacobs, hit for power but not much else.  Jorge Cantu looked like the hitter he was for Tampa Bay in 2005 and might be heading into his prime.  No other infield, including Philadelphia’s three MVP candidates, had such a broad impact on the offense.

The outfield, however, struggled to keep up.  Josh Willingham had only one good month.  Jeremy Hermida, coming off a 2007 where it looked like he might live up to his first round draft pick status, lost his way after the all-star break.  Cody Ross was a pleasant surprise and should have played more.  The usual centerfielder was the amazing Alfredo Amezega, who doesn’t do much other than hit a few singles.  The fifth outfielder, Luis Gonzalez, hit like a player who used to hit well.

Behind the plate, Matt Treanor struggled with injuries, Mike Rabelo played indifferently and was sent to AAA.  Part of the team’s success was finding John Baker, who hit .299 and reached base 40% of the time during the last two months of the season.

Defensively:

In 2007, the defense was the weakest part of the Marlins game.  In 2008, they battled it to a draw.

The catching was below average and mistake prone, and neither Baker, Rabelo, or Treanor could stop the running game.  Baker was the worst of the throwers, but his bat makes him the first choice to start in 2009.

The infield was slightly better than average.  Uggla and Ramirez were both slightly better than average in terms of range.  Uggla was especially good making many more good plays than bad, and helping turn two.  Ramirez cut down on his errors and made a few more plays.  If you watched both Jacobs and Cantu, you’d think they weren’t very mobile.  They’re not.  But the statistics show that they weren’t awful.  Cantu was dead even average in terms of range but makes a few too many errors, while Jacobs was just slightly below average at first and not helping in terms of being dependable.  Of the backups, only Andino (at second base) looks like a truly better defender, and since everybody who started hit, the defense provided was gravy.

Amezega is a surprisingly good outfielder; when you see him every day you realize just how skilled a fielder he is.  Cody Ross is mobile enough to play center, and solid in left or right.  Jeremy Hermida is mobile but awkward.  The primary backups, Luis Gonzales and Josh Willingham aren’t mobile, though Willingham gives good effort.  Putting Maybin in center, who looks truly amazing, and moving Ross to right will make what was a reasonably solid outfield even better.

Now Pitching…

The rotation featured only two guys who didn’t miss starts, Ricky Nolasco and Scott Olsen, and rotated out weaker starters once Josh Johnson and Anibel Sanchez got healthy and Chris Volstad was ready to go.

Nolasco started getting his curve over for strikes, becoming the staff ace and winning 15 games.  Scott Olsen kept the ball in the park, appeared to mature on the mound, and kept his team in games.  While Nolasco was 22 runs better than the average starter in his 212.1 innings, he gave up a few homers.  What helped was having stunning control (only 42 walks against 186 strikeouts).  Olsen, on the other hand, was just a good number four starter.  He wasn’t special but he was steady.

The rest of the rotation improved when the Marlins switched out Andrew Miller (-22) and Mark Hendrickson (-18), and no longer needed to use Burke Badenhop (-9) when Josh Johnson (+9) Chris Volstad (+14), and Sanchez joined the rotation.  Sanchez was not nearly as solid (-8), but was still a step up over Miller or Hendrickson.

The bullpen was tolerable.  Kevin Gregg was great for four months, and not so good down the stretch, but Matt Lindstrom picked up some of the slack in September.  For three months, Reynal Pinto avoided problems caused by his lack of control until it caught up to him in August and September.  As good as Joe Nelson and Doug Waechter were, they were negated by Ryan Tucker, Taylor Tankersley, and Eulogio De La Cruz, who were scary bad in major league tryouts.

Forecasting 2008:

There is a lot of optimism in Florida, and I would tend to agree.  Let’s start with the pitching.

Josh Johnson is great, but has never made it to 160 innings.  He potentially could be twenty runs better than average.  Realistically, he’ll be five runs better than average for every 50 innings he pitches.  Nolasco was amazing last year – let’s hope he stays equally solid, but he might fall back just a little from last year.  Volstad could be a pretty solid third starter.  If he keeps his quality for 180 innings, he would be solid and likely 15 runs better than average.  It’s the bottom slots featuring Sanchez and Miller that make me nervous.  Miller hasn’t been that good and seems to be off his game until the third inning.  Sanchez was good as a rookie and seems to have mound savvy, but before his injury wasn’t very good and at the end of last year, he wasn’t all that great either.  Either could improve, but I’m not confident both will.  If both pitch 180 innings, they’ll cancel each other out.  Granted, there will be no Hendrickson, which is a huge benefit, and if they only need to get 10 starts out of Badenhop or someone else, that’ll be good.  The optimist says an improvement of 30 runs over last year.

The bullpen will feature some lively young arms.  Lindstrom hits 100 once in a while, but his fastball is flat.  If his slider stays strong, he’ll be okay.  Former Royal Leo Nunez might be okay here, and Kensing might help.  Badenhop should be better as a long relief option – his pitches moved so much he had a hard time finding the strike zone, something that hadn’t been a problem in the minors.  He may start the year in AAA.  Scott Proctor was signed to a one-year deal.  Last year with the Dodgers, Proctor suffered through elbow tendinitis, having his first off season as a professional, but it was after two strong seasons where he appeared in 83 games each year.  Still, Gregg wasn’t bad and a few othes were really good (Joe Nelson, Doug Waechter, and Arthur Rhodes, all of whom are gone).  Just like 2008, though, there will be a few undependable arms, so the net result will likely be no change.  Jose Ceda looks like Lee Smith, but he’s a year away.

Defensively, there is a chance for improvement just by getting Maybin in the lineup and Willingham or Gonzalez off the field.  Also, if Gaby Sanchez plays first instead of Jacobs, the infield could be even more airtight.  The gain could be an additional ten run improvement.

Offensively, the Marlins have a formidable lineup.  Ramirez, Hermida, Cantu, Ross, Uggla, and Baker will hit.  Sanchez looks like a Mark Grace type, but for all the power Jacobs provided, he hit .243 with a low On Base Percentage.  So, it will be a wash at that position.  The potential for Hermida to improve will probably wash out with any decline by another player (Cantu?  Uggla?), and if Maybin is slightlyover matched as a hitter, it’s not going to be a huge loss since Amezega isn’t a run producer anyway.  I’m not as convinced that the bench hitting will be as strong.  The 2008 Marlins had some depth, while the 2009 Marlins look a little thin offensively.  Emilio Bonafacio and Jay Gibbons are around (Gibbons got a Non-Roster Invite to spring training), Wes Helms is still here.  If the Marlins get someone else – perhaps Dallas McPherson – to contribute, it might be okay.  But I think the offense will lose ten runs from last year.

All things considered, though, it’s a team that should win 85 games and be in the hunt for a wild card spot, and that shouldn’t be a surprise anymore.  They have been in the hunt more often than not over the last six seasons.  (I see that Peter Gammons finally agrees with my assessment, telling a Baseball Tonight preview show audience that they will be in the hunt into the final week of the season as his long shot pick.  It’s a safe long shot pick.)

Down on the Farm…

The Marlins moved their AAA franchise a bit closer to home, leaving Albuquerque for New Orleans.  That means when a prospect hits .300, he’ll be a legitimate prospect.  In New Mexico, everyone hits about .320 with some power.  The best hitters there were guys who had failed in previous trips, including Brett Carroll, who is not an awful fifth outfielder.  Only Eulogio De La Cruz really pitched well there and earned a trip to the bigs.

The AA Carolina Mudcats provided the real home for prospects, such as Gaby Sanchez (17 – 92 – .314) and Cameron Maybin.  Chris Volstad made the roster after a strong start, but Ryan Tucker (5 – 3, 1.58) and William Glen (9 – 4, 2.01 87Ks in 94 innings) actually fared better.  One of these guys will replace somebody in the rotation if he gets a strong run in AAA.  Chris Mobley fanned 70 in 58 innings as the closer and will eventually make a roster in the future.  This year’s AA franchise will be a bit closer to home, moving to Jacksonville, FL.

Logan Morrison was the top hitter for the High A Jupiter Hammerheads (13 – 74 – .332).  Teen Michael Stanton (39 homers) and Bryan Peterson mashed the ball for the Low A Greensboro Grasshoppers, but so did a lot of guys (and the pitchers were equally mauled).  The best lower level pitcher may be Georgia Southern grad Andrew Battisto, who fanned 101 in 81 innings and walked only 11, winning eight and losing just one for the Grasshoppers.  What made that season especially impressive was a strong ground ball/fly ball ratio – so not only did he strikeout a lot of batters, but the batted balls were kept in the park.