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March 24, 2010
More Prospect Wipeout!
Optioned RHPs Michael Bowden and Ramon Ramirez and 1B-R Aaron Bates to Pawtucket (Triple-A). [3/23]
The fact that the Sox shipped out the other Ramon Ramirez (cue Scooby-Doo, it's "Ram-Ruh!?") shouldn't surprise, and like Bates, the organizational soldier, he's among the likelies as far as who gets bumped from the 40-man by any subsequent decisions to add veteran relievers Joe Nelson and/or Brian Shouse. (And perhaps Alan Embree later still.) But rain falls on the prospect-y as well as those less so, as Bowden's fate and a third return to Pawtucket reflects. In any one of a number of second-division camps, Bowden would be vying for a rotation slot after spending most of the last three years at Double-A or higher. Considering that he's only 23 years old and that he's got a low-90s fastball and a good changeup, it's not like he's the next David Pauley. The challenge is to see if he tightens up his breaking stuff to the point that he becomes a better prospect, or if, failing that, he has to eventually head to the pen, where he could still be an asset. Whether he succeeds or fails, his real problem as far as making it back to The Show and sticking around is the organization he has to call daddy. The Red Sox have little space for the middling or not-quite-ready to help them in their quest for a playoff slot, with six solid starters already available to staff the big-league rotation, plus multi-year commitments to five of them (excepting free agent-to-be Josh Beckett), and with Junichi Tazawa already apparently hop-skotching past him on the organizational depth chart. Bowden's best bet is to knock the socks off people's paws as a PawSock, and see if that makes him an in-season fill-in or a Pittsburgh Pirate by August.
Optioned RHP Carlos Torres and C-R Tyler Flowers to Charlotte (Triple-A). [3/23]
Say what you will for April showers, but given that the clip at which the Sox are expected to score runs—currently projecting for 10th place in the AL—I'm not sure even that trickle will bring forth Flowers as early as May. Not that there's any reason to love a plan involving Mark Kotsay and Andruw Jones as any club's DH platoon, but the organization's marker is down on Flowers being their eventual regular catcher, and he'll catch regularly in Charlotte. As Kenny Williams suggested yesterday, there's also work to be done as far as his hitting approach, which isn't massively surprising for a player with less than 120 games above A-ball. He'll be back at some point this season, and perhaps that will help stock the DH slot with another worthwhile bat in their mix-and-match by design solution, with Flowers or A.J. Pierzynski getting a few starts there. The interesting question is whether that happens in just a couple of months, or in July or August, because the team doesn't have a great selection of alternatives if (or when) Juan Pierre, Mark Teahen, Kotsay, and Jones struggle to contribute much on the scoreboard.
Optioned RHP Jess Todd to Columbus (Triple-A). [3/23]
Optioned RHP Rafael Rodriguez to Salt Lake (Triple-A). [3/22]
Signed LHP Ron Mahay to a minor-league contract. [3/23]
Not unlike the Rockies' decision to sign up Joe Beimel at this late juncture, the Twins seem to have a pretty good sense of the fact that their only established lefty reliever is Jose Mijares. Francisco Liriano might be the nominated candidate in some quarters to replace Joe Nathan this season, but he's also looking like the best bet for filling the fifth slot in the rotation, and he remains their best high-upside possibility among their front five starters. Brian Duensing's stretch-drive heroics aside, he's optionable and not a great bid for anything more than middle-innings work. Non-rostered veteran Mike Maroth might get a look sometime this season, but like Mahay, that's going to depend on what he does in the next month or so as far as engendering some confidence that he's healthy and ready. So, whatever they decide with Liriano, they have a range of alternatives expanded by one as a result of recycling Mahay.
Optioned 2B-S Reegie Corona and SS-R Eduardo Nunez to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (Triple-A). [3/22]
Optioned OF-R Chris Heisey to Louisville (Triple-A). [3/22]
They also returned the non-rostered Todd Frazier and Zack Cozart to their minor-league camp, so the boys are definitely not back in town—they're going to be in Kentucky. Beyond the team's automatic selections at catcher, the starting infield, and the four outfielders who we can fairly refer to as locks (Jay Bruce, Drew Stubbs, Jonny Gomes, and Chris Dickerson), sorting through the remaining guys in camp with more than courtesy invitations gives you this collection, with the NRIs italicized:
Dusty Baker will get to pick at least three from this list, but even from that group there are some obvious demotions. Francisco, for example, so that he can play third base everyday, or possibly stop fighting what some see as the inevitable and shift out to left field; either way, he'll be better off getting regular playing time than waiting on the bench for the next Scott Rolen injury.
The complicating factor is that the roster's already at 40 and there are no obvious choices to go to the 60-day DL (especially since Edinson Volquez is already there). Adding one of Nix or Cairo will take some squeezing as far as the 40-man, and keeping both might prove impossible before we even get to whether or not they'll also have to make room for Justin Lehr or Kip Wells if either end up winning a job in camp. And, as I noted last month, Balentien's out of options, so he either makes the team, gets dealt, or visits the wire, and somewhat makes his fight with Nix for a roster spot something of a zero-sum game.
Signed LHP Joe Beimel to a minor-league contract; optioned RHPs Samuel Deduno and Jhoulys Chacin to Colorado Springs (Triple-A). [3/23]
Beimel's decision to renew his engagement with the Rockies is probably for the best. Why play High Plains drifter when the benefit of avoiding a season in Flushing seems self-evident? After all, time spent awash in the Mets' morass could well be a dose of self-dipping into the devil's bathtub, without the ambience or the view. So, the latest high-profile free-agent leftover signs up with a club he can help, not least because whatever happens with Franklin Morales' roles over the season—closer, set-up man, fifth starter?—the only immediate alternative for a lefty in the pen is the well-traveled Randy Flores. Flores may be a situational southpaw with considerable experience, but he's also one with considerably less success. Failing their reacquiring Beimel, there's some danger that they might have to turn to Matt Reynolds, a viable option, but one with barely two months of experience at Double-A; there's also the expectation that Greg Smith might eventually work best in a relief role, but he's coming back from surgery and seems set to stick as a starter with the Sky Sox in the interim. Hence the need for Beimel. However the early-season injury picture unfolds, an eventual Roxpen featuring Huston Street, Rafael Betancourt, Morales, and Beimel in the high-leverage innings sounds as good for this year's run as it did last.
Released RHP Mike MacDougal; optioned LHP Hunter Jones to New Orleans (Triple-A). [3/23]
Reassigned OF-R Mike Stanton to their minor-league camp. [3/24]
The Fish pen is somewhat set already, since there are already at least five locks, starting with Leo Nunez, Burke Badenhop, and Brian Sanches for right-handed help, and including lefties Renyel Pinto and Dan Meyer. So as a third lefty, Jones simply didn't have much opportunity to stick, however well he pitched. MacDougal really has no one to blame but himself, having been characteristically wild in camp while coming back from his latest date with the surgeon this past offseason. It's something of a pity for MacDougal, as the field of right-handed options for the Fish is a bit more flexible—Sanches might be a sure thing to have a big-league job on Opening Day, but he's a 32-year-old low-velocity journeyman whose track record is hardly one that suggests he's a lock to keep it. Jose Veras might seem set as well, but he's washed out from his previous spins with the Yankees and Indians, and he's just one non-roster invite among many, with fellow retreads Clay Hensley, Scott Strickland, and Seth McClung all hanging around as well. From the 40-man, there are also Tim Wood and the increasingly unlikely Hayden Penn, and then there's the potential spillover from the rotation, because between Hensely, Chris Volstad, Rick VandenHurk, and Andrew Miller, there can only be two initial winners. From that crowd, there will be two guys getting relief jobs, but if anybody struggles, the commitments can be as transient as the performances dictate.
As for Stanton getting sent down, he's delivered his calling card, having mashed a trio of Grapefruit League homers as a 20-year-old with less than a half-season of Double-A under his belt. Projecting his upside gets you into four-win territory in the not-so-distant future, which really shouldn't surprise you when he's clean while drawing a young Jose Canseco and a young Juan Gonzalez as his top comps. That's not just wholesome, it's exciting, so while nellies nag about his punch-out problem, this isn't just the next Rob Deer on his way up.
Optioned RHP Josh Butler and UT-R Adam Heether to Nashville (Triple-A. [3/22]
Released LHP Scott Schoeneweis; optioned RHP John Axford to Nashville. [3/23]
Schoeneweis might be eminently root-worthy, but the Brewers obviously weren't feeling it, and decided to stick with just Mitch Stetter for designated lefty relief help for now. While there's always the likelihood that late-March roster crunches might yield up that second southpaw everybody treats as the must-have accessory for a big-league bullpen on the go, the Brew Crew may instead elect to push a couple of the losers in the fight for the last two slots in the rotation to the pen. In that case, the equally left-handed Manny Parra and Chris Narveson represent obvious alternatives to anything the wire might yield up, especially since both are having good camps. There's still the question of whether or not they'll work up the nerve to release or attempt to outright the repeatedly drubbed Jeff Suppan, and reduce the rotation rumble to a three-way combat between Parra, Narveson, and David Bush, but keep in mind that the pen seems to have a half-dozen relievers already in place: Stetter of course, plus closer Trevor Hoffman, set-up man LaTroy Hawkins, and righty middle men Carlos Villanueva, Claudio Vargas, and Todd Coffey.
As for the decision to demote Heether and apparently hand the utilityman's chores to Joe Inglett, on top of the decision to sell off Matt Treanor and make George Kottaras the team's backup backstop, this creates the interesting phenomenon of the Brewers' bench seemingly being entirely made up of left-handed batters: Kottaras and Inglett, plus Craig Counsell, Jody Gerut, and Jim Edmonds. Since all three starting outfielders bat righty, and so do the starters at second, third, and short, this isn't a bad idea, especially since it seems likely that Counsell will get plenty of starts in the infield to put a right-handed hitter on the bench now and again, and Edmonds should get some playing time at Carlos Gomez's expense in center.
Optioned RHP Tobi Stoner, 1B/OF-R Nick Evans, and CF-L Jason Pridie to Buffalo (Triple-A). [3/23]
Optioned LHP Mike Zagurski to Lehigh Valley (Triple-A). [3/22]
Optioned RHPs Kevin Hart and Chris Jakubauskas and 3B-S Neil Walker to Indianapolis (Triple-A). [3/23]
Well, there I go again, jinxing a guy by talking up his virtues. So, no Neil Walker for you, or for me, and instead we're confronted with the increasing likelihood of something really ghastly, like Bobby Crosby platooning with Jeff Clement at first base, and no-longer-a-prospect and no-longer-young young man Ryan Church on the bench in right field behind Garrett Jones. There is also the decision to hand the fifth slot in the rotation to Daniel McCutchen as the upshot of sending down Hart, but since Hart's long-term future probably rests in the bullpen, that's not exactly a spectacular development as much as identifying a certain limited reality. I suppose there's always the satisfaction to be taken in all of those McCutchen jersey sales, and how a tough-luck fan base has warmed to a former Yankees farmhand a bit long in the tooth. What do you mean, "initials?" Who needs 'em? If folks are wearing Pirates jerseys with 'McCutchen' on the back and somebody else's number on them, can we really blame the guy for seeing what he wants to see?
Optioned RHP Joe Martinez and LHP Madison Bumgarner to Fresno (Triple-A). [3/23]
Bumgarner's send-down might seem shattering for some, since the expectation was that the job was his to lose. But between control problems, poor performance, and ongoing concerns over his missing velocity, lose it he did, and the Giants sensibly chose not to force things. If there's the added benefit of controlling his service time, here again, it was within Bumgarner's control to keep that from being a worthwhile factor, and he did not. If I feel badly for anyone, it's Martinez, but that's because the guy's bean was creased by a liner last season, and he was hampered by an elbow problem this spring. He may only end up being a swingman knocking around at the back end of a bullpen or a rotation, but that's a lot of ill fortune for somebody who doesn't seem to command nearly as much fascination as, say, the reliably missing Noah Lowry. Bumgarner's opportunities will arise again, given that he's only 20; Martinez is already 27, and the clock's ticking.
With this pair packed away, the fifth slot should now belong to Todd Wellemeyer, although the entertaining alternative is organizational strike-thrower Kevin Pucetas, a 2006 17th-rounder from South Carolina with a sharp curveball who didn't implode until his last spin through the PCL after the Giants aggressively skipped him past Double-A after 2008. With a 42-13 record in the minors plus a 362/117 K/UBB ratio in 500
Optioned C-R Matt Pagnozzi to Memphis (Triple-A). [3/22]