2012 Season Forecast: Philadelphia Phillies

2011 Record: 102 – 60 (1st in NL East, Best Record in NL)
Runs Scored:  713, (7th in the NL)
Runs Allowed: 529, (Best in the NL)

Season Recap:

With three aces firing on all cylinders, the Phillies were hot out of the gate, hot in the summer, and hot all the way into the playoffs, until they ran into a team that got REALLY hot – the Cardinals.  When the season ended, the team looked old and out of it – and their most productive hitter was unable to crawl to first base as Ryan Howard blew out his Achilles tendon.

Starting Pitching:

Nobody brings the aces like the Phillies, with Roy Halliday, Cliff Lee, and Cole Hamels going 1 – 2 – 3.  They had Roy Oswalt in the four slot – and he wasn’t horrible – and when Joe Blanton couldn’t make decent starts, the club turned to Vance Worley, who went 11 – 3.  Even Kyle Kendrick was above average in terms of runs prevented.

In 2012, the big three return, albeit a year older.  Roy Oswalt is gone, so Blanton or Kendrick will get the fifth slot behind Worley.  This still still a talented group.  I’m not 100% convinced that the big three will be as good as last year – Instead of averaging 40 runs saved per starter over 220 innings each, they could still be in the top ten and save just 30 runs per slot.  Worley had a nice record, but it was a tad too good.  Kyle Kendrick is a candidate for a big drop in production.  They will still be the best starting pitchers in captivity – they just might not be as dominant.

Relief Pitching:

Ryan Madson was solid again – he’s never really had a bad year – and for that, he was summarily told to look elsewhere for work.  In his place, the Phillies tossed millions toward former Red Sox closer, Jonathan Papelbon.  Relative to the league, Madson was a couple of runs better, but essentially this is a wash.  The question is what will the rest of the bullpen look like.  Last year, Antonio Bastardo, Michael Stutes, and David Herndon were pretty good – and, thankfully, little used.  Danys Baez struggled – the weak link in an otherwise decent bullpen.  Another change?  No more Brad Lidge, who moves to Washington.  Look for someone like Brian Sanches, an NRI pitcher, to get a shot at middle relief.

Catching:

Carlos Ruiz was remarkable – arguably the best catcher in the NL other than Yadier Molina – and added a .280+ batting average and +.370 on base percentage.  Back up Brian Schneider struggled, though – batting all of .176.  This will remain a strength so long as Ruiz is on the job.

Infield:

Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, and Placido Polanco all provided decent production.  Even saying that, Ryan Howard fell off to fewer than 100 runs created (33 – 116 – .254, with a .349 OBP and sub .500 slugging).  Chase Utley’s knees are problematic.  Jimmy Rollins was above average at the plate but remains a liability in the field with below average range.  Polanco’s batting is now an issue – his batting average fell to .277 with just 19 extra base hits.  His fielding is fading, though the heavy lefty rotation kept Polanco’s stats in check.  The problem with this foursome is that they are old and fading.  Howard isn’t going to be 100% and there is no date yet for his return.  Utley is seeing a specialist regarding his knee, and both Rollins and Polanco are fighting father time.

To help out, the Phillies brought in former power source Jim Thome, who would be great in a limited role but might have to play a bit more first base than planned.  John Mayberry is likely going to be his platoon partner – Mayberry hits a little like Ryan Howard, but not like the old Howard.  It’s hard to see this group providing as much offense as last year – and if rookie Freddy Galvis can’t hit when playing for Utley, this could be a 50 – 75 run fall off from last year.  Another option might be Ty Wigginton, who can play all infield positions if necessary.  His defense might not be as good as Polanco’s, for example, but he can put more runs on the board these days.

Outfield:

The Phillies have had productive bats in the outfield for years now, and 2012 will be no exception.  Hunter Pence remains in right field – a bit of a liability defensively, but a solid bat that can be found anywhere from third to sixth in this lineup depending on who is playing that day.  He could move to left field to accommodate Domonic Brown, who should get a full-time shot in the outfield now that Raul Ibanez is gone.  Brown has a decent enough arm, youthful range, and room to grow.  Shane Victorino nearly generated 100 runs of offense with his speed and power – 27 doubles, 16 triples, and 17 homers.  He remains the Phillies best leadoff option.

Mayberry remains to play left field or right field, and Laynce Nix is in town as a fifth outfielder – not a bad player to have around.

Bench:

With Wigginton and Mayberry the Phillies have plenty of flexibility, and Brown might be able to give you a few innings in center.  You’d like a little more offense out of Brian Schneider, but the Phillies don’t seem to have another option.  The Non-Roster Invite list in Spring Training is pretty thick with potential bench options (Scott Podsednik, Juan Pierre, Dave Bush, Brian Sanches, Kevin Frandsen, Pete Orr), but I can’t see them all sticking…

Prospects:

Most of the guys who played at AAA Lehigh Valley (Go Pigs!) are guys who have had enough cups of coffee or playing time to warrant their own Starbucks franchise.  The only real prospects to go through there are Brown and Galvis.  Pitcher Justin De Fratus could help in the bullpen – with Lehigh he went 2 – 3 with a 3.73 ERA, but 56 Ks and 11 BBs in his 41 innings there.

Looking at AA Reading, Matt Rizzotti had a solid year – (24 – 84 -.295) and was able to get a taste of AAA.  He’s a bit old for a prospect, but not as old as Mike Spidale, who hit .326 and reminds you of Juan Pierre.  Since the Phillies have the real Juan Pierre, having Spidale seems redundant.  Another outfielder who can hit appears to be Steve Susdorf, who was a late round pick in 2008 out of Fresno State and when given at bats in AA batted .339 – which is what he always seems to do.  Unlike Spilale, though, he doesn’t seem to have speed and may run out of gas at AAA.  The arms look better – Austin Hyatt made 28 starts and finished 12 – 6 with 171 Ks and 49 BBs in 154.1 innings.  Tyler Cloyd made 17 starts, went 6 – 3, and fanned 99 to just 13 walks in his 106.2 innings.  And Phillippe Aumont passed through AA on the way to AAA and was dominant as a reliever.

A+ Clearwater featured 1B Darin Ruf, a hitter – 43 doubles and 17 homers, batting .308 – and Cesar Hernandez, a 21 year old second baseman with speed and a decent glove.  Catcher Sebastian Valle hit .284 and might make the MLB roster in 2014.  The staff featured Trevor May (208Ks in 151.1 innings) and Julio Rodriguez (168Ks in 156.2 innings, 16 – 7 record) – they are now old enough to drink after games.

2012 Forecast:

Teams that win 100 games don’t often repeat that level of success.  Defensively, this team is going to slide because it’s getting older in the infield and the guys replacing Howard at first won’t be as good as Ryan is – and he’s just league average.  Domonic Brown will help the outfield some, but the catching – even as good as it is – is reaching a point where age is going to catch up.  There isn’t a lot of upside in the batting order – most every one here has peaked, except Domonic Brown who can’t be expected to do WAY more than Ibanez. In truth, this team could lose 50 runs in offense and 30 – 50 runs on defense.  If it’s 30 runs on defense, the team likely wins 95 games, which could be enough to win the division.  If it’s 50 runs on defense, the team wins 92 games, which might not be enough considering the Marlins, Braves, and Nationals are all chomping at the bit.

My fear is that it’s going to be the lower number – the Phillies will be in it and might take a wild card slot, but I think 92 wins will be a good season.

Advertisements

Trade Analysis: Halliday, Lee, and Seven Kids Sent Packing!

It’s a couple of days later and the dust has settled on the first – maybe the biggest – blockbuster of the 2009/2010 Hot Stove season.  The Toronto Blue Jays, having peddled Roy Halliday for six months, finally moved their ace to the Phillies for three prospects – flipping one of them to the Oakland As.  The Phillies, having added Halliday and signed him to a three-year extension – and having moved seven top prospects in six months – next sent Cliff Lee to Seattle for three more prospects.

Wow.  That’s a lot of dust.

Toronto Gets:

In a period of rebuilding, Toronto adds young players to the mix.  Kyle Drabek is a former first round draft pick who finally appears to be maturing from a kid with a good pedigree (his dad, Doug, was a solid pitcher 20 years ago for the Pirates) to someone who might actually be able to pitch.  Now, a good season at A+ Clearwater and holding his own at AA Reading does not an ace make.  And, Toronto may be forced to get this guy in the rotation in 2010, but I’d like to see Drabek get a full season at AAA.  What you like is his overall minor league record – 19 – 10, good ERA, solid K/W numbers.   I’m not certain he’ll turn into Halliday, but he might turn into Jim Clancy – and that wouldn’t be all that bad.

Travis D’Arnaud is another first round pick, a catcher who appears to be a fair hitter and decent backstop.  Last year was his first really full season, and for an “A” ball guy he looks – well – okay.  At 13 – 71 – .255, D’Arnaud has room to grow but it’s early in his career.  John Buck will be around a couple of years and by then we’ll know more about where D’Arnaud’s future will be.

The third player Toronto got was Brett Wallace, a third baseman who looks like a HITTER – and with Edwin Encarnacion as the incumbant, I’d think that Wallace will get a shot as early as 2010 to show what he can do.  I think he’ll be a step up offensively, but not necessarily turn heads with his glove.  He MIGHT be someone you should take with your fantasy team because in an AL only league, he’ll be one of the top performers at his position by mid-summer.

Philadelphia Gets:

Roy Halliday has been a horse for years now; he’s better than Cliff Lee (and I like Cliff Lee) though he is a few years older.  Nobody eats up innings like this guy and in the NL, where he’ll get to face #8 and #9 hitters who can’t touch him, he’s a candidate to have a 2.00 ERA, wouldn’t you think?  At 32, Halliday is entering his prime “horse” years – and assuming it’s three (or four) years of the same, I see no reason other than an arm injury to think he won’t get 80 wins in the next four years and cement his legacy as one of the greatest pitchers of his era.  He’s very nearly the Christy Mathewson of the 2000s.

The best thing Philadelphia did was restore some youth to the prospect list having dealt seven away in the last several months.  In trading Cliff Lee – who apparently wants a really big contract after he becomes a free agent at the end of the 2010 season – the Phillies acquired three young players, two of which might be of service in the next three years.

Philippe Aumont is a tall Canadian who throws hard but is still a little raw.  He strikes out batters but occasionally gets wild and was hit around a little at AA West Tennessee (though in just 15 games).  Two years from now, he could be a decent reliever, and four years from now could be a closer for somebody.  It’s just a little early to tell.

Tyson Gillies has surprising power, a lot of speed, and is similar to Michael Taylor a couple of years ago (with a touch less power and a touch more speed).  You have to like a guy who hits for a decent average and draws walks.  In three years, he could become a centerfielder/lead off hitter somewhere.  Look for him to replace Shane Victorino in 2013.

Juan Ramirez is a toolsy Nicaraguan kid who, at this point, is very raw and can be seen as “organizational depth” until he breaks out in AA or something.

Seattle Gets:

Having landed Chone Figgins and now Cliff Lee, Seattle has BUZZ.  They might only get Lee for one year, but with Lee and King Felix at the top of the rotation, you have to like how this sets up for 2010.  While I like Aumont and Gillies could be fun in a couple of years, Seattle looks like it’s gearing up for a run at the 2010 AL West crown and sell a lot of tickets this year.  They still need punch in the middle of the lineup, but you’ll be reading about the Mariners as a contender in every magazine.

Now, let’s cut to the chase.  Before we anoint Seattle as the team to watch in 2010, remember that they were actually outscored by their opponents by more than 50 runs last year.  They still could use an outfielder who can hit, and Russell Branyan broke out but one could fear that, at his age, he might not repeat.  There are a LOT of holes in the lineup.  I don’t think, at least at this point, that Seattle is a candidate to win more than 80 games.

Still – getting Lee is COOL for the franchise.  The Mariners SOUND like a team, and READ like a team that’s going to be serious and a contender.  Let the games begin.

Oakland Gets:

Michael Taylor, who has more or less averaged a 20 – 20 season while batting .312 since being drafted by the Phillies out of Stanford in 2007.   His power is going to develop, he’s already got a little patience at the plate – he could turn into Bobby Abreu without the really high walk totals.  Oakland needs him – he’s an upgrade over Rajai Davis or Ryan Sweeney in the outfield.  Having added Jake Fox from Chicago, Brett Wallace was reasonably expendable so this was a good flip of prospects for the A’s.

Look – Oakland’s record wasn’t that great, but the young pitchers looked decent and the A’s actually scored nearly as many runs as they allowed in 2009 – which means with a little luck and a step off offensively, Oakland becomes a contender for the AL West crown.  Don’t be too surprised if this happens.

And the Winner is?

I like what Philadelphia did, and I like what Oakland did.  The jury is out on Toronto and I think Seattle’s buzz will end quickly if they open the season 10 – 15.

Halliday, Lee in Three Team Trade; Lackey to Bosox

Wow – the potential for a HUGE deal…  All baseball sources are reporting on a potential deal that would send Toronto ace Roy Halliday to the Phillies for prospects, while Cliff Lee would go from Philadelphia to the Seattle Mariners for a couple of prospects – one of which might go to Toronto as well.

In listening to the experts, the talk is that Cliff Lee wants a big deal after the 2010 season when he becomes a free agent – possibly Sabathia money – and the Phillies didn’t want to do that.  Meanwhile, Halliday has expressed an interest in playing in Philadelphia and would accept a “below market” deal (how is a $60 million, three-year extension really below market?) to go there.  Among the names included in the trade are outfielder Michael Taylor, pitcher Kyle Drabek, and catcher Travis D’Arnaud.  These three would head from Philadelphia to Toronto, while the Phillies would receive Phillippe Aumont and Tyson Gillies from Seattle.  In this way, the Phillies still keep young talent while maintaining a top of the rotation anchor.  The Mariners get a two-headed monster at the top of the rotation for 2010 (King Felix and Cliff Lee – wow), and Toronto does a service for its star while loading up on young talent and building for 2012, I guess.

Well that’s a lot of stuff to review.  Once the deal is final, we’ll get you a complete run down of the players involved, some info on the prospects, and all that stuff.  Should be a gas!!!

Not the Only Big Deal…

Meanwhile, the Boston Red Sox appear to have agreed to terms with pitcher John Lackey – five years and $85 million – pending a physical.  Lackey has been nicked up the last couple of years but appears to be healthy and was a horse for the Angels down the stretch.  He didn’t miss a start for the first six years of his career, which includes 102 wins and a 3.81 career ERA.  (Retrosheet shows that Lackey hasn’t necessarily been real successful in Boston, with a 5.75 ERA and a 2 – 5 record in Fenway, but he’s facing a really good Red Sox team, so it’s all relative.)  You have to like the top end of the Red Sox rotation with Lester, Lackey, and Beckett.  That’s 600 strikeouts if they all make 33 starts.  [SI]

The Sox weren’t done, working through a possible two-year $15 million deal with outfielder Mike Cameron.  I guess Jason Bay isn’t coming back.  Cameron isn’t an awful outfielder, and he’ll occasionally hit one out or take a walk – but we’re talking about a .250 hitting 37 year old guy now who has a lot of mileage on the tires…  It’s a step down in production from Manny to Bay to Cameron.  [SI]

The Angels did make their own move, coming to terms with Hideki Matsui on a one-year, $6 million deal.  Matsui was pretty solid as a DH in New York last year, but I don’t see how this is going to be THAT great a deal for the Angels.  They already have a DH outfielder in Vlad Guerrero and another DH outfielder in Bobby Abreu – and all three are limited in range, up there in years, and not guaranteed to play 120 games.  I guess between the three they have about two full time players.  They certainly have one of the older outfields in baseball.  [SI]

God bless old outfielders.  I’m one.

Aroldis Chapman, the Cuban teen with the triple digit fastball, has a $15 million offer from the Red Sox, according to sources.  We’ll see what comes out of a workout in Houston this week…  [ESPN]

Among the dozen teams angling for Pirates free agent closer Matt Capps?  The Cubs.  But, with so many teams showing interest, Capps and his agent are biding their time.  [ESPN]

Houston signed fourth outfielder Jason Michaels to a one-year, $800K deal.  Seems cheap…  Former Toronto pitcher Gustavo Chacin signed a minor league deal with the Astros…  [SI]

The Rockies signed Chris Iannetta to a multi-year deal to stay and catch in Colorado.  Ianetta gets three years and $8.3 million, with a club option for 2013.  [SI]

Could Colby Lewis be joining a team near you?  The one time Texas prospect has been pitching – and pitching well – in Japan for the Hiroshima Carp.  However, he’s ready to come home and be closer to his family.  [MLB]

Could Chien-Ming Wang become a Met?  I’d give him a minor league deal first, but you never know…  [MLB]

My favorite AAA+ pitcher, R.J. Swindle, signed a minor league deal with Tampa.

The Team Voted Most Likely to Party…

David Freese was arrested under the suspicion of a DUI – the fourth member of the Cardinals in this situation since spring training, 2007.  Freese is a third baseman and a pretty good prospect…  I guess if your chief sponsor is Anheuser-Busch, this is going to happen.  [SI]

Happy Birthday!

Remember the Hit Dog?  Mo Vaughn, once a feared hitter, turns 42 today.

Others celebrating with cake, cards, or remembrances include:  Jay “Nig” Clarke (1882), Eddie Robinson (1920), Haywood Sullivan (1930), Jim Leyland (1944), Stan Bahnsen (1944), Art Howe (1946), Doug Rau (1948), Mike Proly (1950), Rick Helling (1970) – the Texas union rep when nearly everyone on the Rangers was using steroids, Aaron Miles (1976), and Michael Wuertz (1978).

Afterthoughts…

Ron Santo got a three-year deal to stay on as the radio color commentator for the Chicago Cubs.  I don’t know if you listen to WGN, but he’s certainly a fan of the Cubs and has a good sense of humor.  As for his insight – well, he’s a fan of the Cubs.  I love Sanot, though.  The deal gives him a bit more freedom to deal with his health – as a diabetic, Santo has had both legs amputated and is working through issues with his new legs.  [MLB]

2009 Season Forecast: Seattle Mariners

Seattle Mariners
61 – 101 (Last, AL West 39 games back)
Runs Scored: 671
Runs Allowed: 811

2008 in Review:

Many, many teams saw the acquisition of Erik Bedard and thought the Mariners would be really, really good – a contender for the AL West crown.  Instead, they had a hard time scoring runs, a harder time preventing them, and even won fewer games than they should have considering that they had the largest gap in runs allowed to runs scored (opponents outscored the Mariners by 140 runs) than anyone in the AL.

In short, they were a team with odd splits, some bad decisions, and the worst record in the American League.

Actually, the Mariners should have been around .500 in April and June, but they underperformed.  An 8 – 20 May put them well out of the race in a hurry, and by the All-Star break, they were working to acquire some warm bodies.

Decisions that didn’t work out?  Erik Bedard was a good acquisition, but he missed more than half the season.  But someone should be held responsible for racing out and giving millions to Miguel Batista (4 – 14, 6.26).  Ouch.  And who’s idea was it to sign Carlos Silva?  (4 – 15, 6.46).  Yes – Silva doesn’t walk anybody, but he’s VERY hittable.  And, some prospects aren’t panning out…  Wladimir Balentien and Jeff Clement combined to hit about .212 in more than 440 at bats – a lot of outs.  Throw in two or three more off seasons, and you can see where this is headed.

The odd splits?  The Mariners won just one road game in both May and September, and just one home game in June.  Those three splits combined for a 3 – 38 record.  Oh, and lefties couldn’t get left handed hitters out.  In that situation, opponents hit .300, with a .371 on base percentage.

Tell Me About the Offense…

Lousy – and in need of a serious facelift.

The infield featured Richie Sexton, who was released after hitting .218 with 11 homers in half a season.  His replacement, Jeff Clement, hit .227 with only 5 homers.  Bryan LeHair didn’t hit much, either.  Mike Sweeney would have been an improvement if he could stay off the DL – but he can’t.  He’s usually only asked to DH – and his back won’t let him do that much any more.  Jose Lopez was surprisingly productive at second, with 41 doubles and 17 homers.  However Yuniesky Betancourt needed an amazing September to close with production that remains below league average.  At least Adrian Beltre hit well, 25 – 77 – .266, but has never hit anything like that 40+ homer season that got his big contract.  Miguel Cairo played a lot of positions and didn’t help the offense too much.

Ichiro Suzuki continues to slap hits all over the field, generating more than 100 runs of offense by getting on base, but he’s not one of the great offensive dynamos in right field.  He has no power at all, with a .386 slugging percentage.  And his OBA is .363, not .400.  Raul Ibanez is their best hitter – driving in 110 runs without missing a game (you’d never know he was closer to 40 than 30).  He’s in Philadelphia now, and will be very, very difficult to replace.  The third outfielder was a disappointment – Brad Wilkerson, Balentien, Jeremy Reed.  Willie Bloomquist got on base a little, but after that does little to help an offense score runs.

The catchers, led by Kenji Johjima and his power-free .227 batting average didn’t put any runs on the board.  And, the DHs – the retired Jose Vidro – were hopeless.  (Except the rare Mike Sweeney days.)

Defense:

Johjima and Jamie Burke weren’t horrible.  For all the baserunners allowed, few stole second.  Clement didn’t stop anybody from stealing, but his best shot is to find his swing and play first base.  Overall, they score poorly because the team record and ERA were awful, and they don’t score well in terms of mobility (assists per game that aren’t stolen bases).  Maybe teams didn’t need to bunt off of these guys (and they didn’t).

The infield wasn’t too bad, but they had holes.  Sexton is an awful fielder and the infield got better the minute he moved out of town.  Lopez has a bit of range, but is error prone.  Beltre appears to have lost a step, and Betancourt’s range is slightly below average – and his reputation for not hustling isn’t going to help his range.  He makes a lot of errors, too.

The outfield is okay – Suzuki’s range in center was pretty good, but his range in right (despite his speed) was actually below average.  Ibanez is league average – impressive for his age.  Balentien is okay in right, but neither he nor Jeremy Reed are really any good in center.  Bloomquist covers a lot of ground in center, but didn’t get too many innings there.

Now Pitching:

The rotation should have been better.  Felix Hernandez made 30 starts and was solid.  Bedard was okay for 15 starts, but missed the rest of the year with a bum shoulder.  Jarrod Washburn was disappointing and either needs to learn another pitch or accept that he’s fifth starter material.  His record was poor (5 – 14), but some of that was offense, too.  However, Batista was 27.5 runs worse than the average pitcher, and Silva was even worse – 32 runs below average.  Ryan Feierabend would have been in that league, but he only made eight scary starts.  R.A. Dickey looks like a young Miguel Batista, and that’s not going to help any.

The bullpen lost closer J.J. Putz, but Brandon Morrow was solid in his place.  Roy Corcoran had a solid season in middle relief, though his lack of strikeouts makes me think it was a fluke.  Mark Lowe isn’t long for the majors if he pitches like this, but Ryan Rowland-Smith was very good pitching as a starter or reliever.  I’d put him in the rotation.  Sean Green pitched a lot – but won’t be here as he was signed by the Mets.

Forecasting 2009:

We’re talking about a team that has to close the gap between runs scored and allowed by 140 runs to get to .500.  Let’s see what we got.

A full season of Erik Bedard would help, and Rowland-Smith instead of Silva means the potential for 30 or 40 runs of savings.  Clement instead of Sexton could be 10 runs of improvement in the defense.  Franklin Gutierrez is a great outfielder, he might be worth 10 runs, too.  I just don’t see any other defensive option – unless whomever takes over in left field (likely Balentien) is going to that much better than Ibanez.  Besides, with Putz gone, is Brandon Morrow a closer or starter?  Batista could become a closer (I wouldn’t, though he did it a few years ago for Toronto), or you could try Mark Lowe or somebody.  But I don’t know how it’s going to be better than last year’s bullpen – I don’t see the depth.

Offensively, Balentien is no Ibanez – that could be 30 runs less in offense.  Franklin Gutierrez arrives to play the outfield from Cleveland – I like what brings.  He’ll help out some – he’s 15 runs better than Bloomquist and Reed combined, it not more, and plays better in the field.  I know Ken Griffey, Jr. is back – and that’s great for ticket sales, but he’s not an offensive force anymore.  Still, as badly as Jose Vidro was, he’s probably worth 20 runs of improvement.  The one BIG improvement might be giving Russell Branyan, a free agent signing, a shot to play DH.  He might be so happy to have a full-time job, he’d improve the offense 50 or 60 runs by himself by playing first or DH.  Clement or Johjima might do better at the plate – 10 more runs from the catcher’s spot.

Let’s add it up.  Instead of giving up 811 runs, they might get it to 751.  Instead of scoring 671 runs, they might score 735.  That means a record of about 79 – 83, which would still be a pretty solid improvement.  The lineup is better than what they had last year, and the rotation could be better, while the bullpen is a question mark.  I’ll buy 79 wins.

The real question is this:  If they are any good in July, are they going to make a run at winning the division, or sell off Washburn and Lopez and Beltre?  I sure hope not.  One more starter and a legitimate extra hitter might make this team the division winner.

Down on the Farm:

AAA Tacoma has a few players who, on the surface, look like they might help – but remember to discount stats in the PCL…  The best prospect was Jeff Clement, who was hitting .335 with power, but hasn’t yet panned out in the majors.  That means the 23-year-old Wladimir Balentien (.266 with serious power) shouldn’t be expected to hit .280, but more like .220.  Matt Tuiasosopo, son of Manu, may have a future as a third baseman, but he’s not ready yet.  If he raises his numbers from 13 – 73 – .281 to, say, 20 – 90 – .320, I’d say he’s ready.  He’s a kid though – just 23.  Infielder Luis Valbuena might be okay – just 22, gets on base, can run – but not a really high batting average.  If he gets on base, though, he’s a potential upgrade over Betancourt.

In terms of pitchers, the Mariners gave a shot to anyone with good control already (R.A. Dickey, Feierabend, Chris Jakubauskas).  None are legitimate prospects.

AA West Tennessee (the Diamond Jaxx) have one pitcher I like – reliever Shawn Kelley, who has control, power, and a little record of success.  He’s a future bullpen guy.  Catcher Adam Moore hit .319 with some power; if he’s going to take Johjima’s spot, he needs a solid year in AAA in 2009.  Michael Saunders is a young speedy outfielder with a future – could be a centerfielder or left fielder if he picks it up in AAA next year. 

The guys at High Desert (A+) to look for?  I like teenaged infielder Carlos Triunfel, who has a little power and a lot of speed – and a whole lot of upside.  Gregory Halman is 20 and already has signs of being a power hitter.  In Wisconsin, Michael Pineda looks like a potential ace starter (8 – 6, 1.95 – good K/W numbers), and Nathan Adcock is a starter with a live arm – perhaps too live (13 WPs).  2007 first round pick Phillippe Aumont is roaring through the minors with killer stuff.  He’ll be in the bigs by the end of 2010 at this rate.