April 11, 2003
37 Guys We MissedBaseball Prospectus 2003.
Click on the player links at the beginning of each comment to peruse each player's PECOTA card, free for all 37 of these not-in-book players. To get access to PECOTA cards for all other major leaguers, plus hundreds of minor leaguers, click here to sign up for BP Premium.
Horacio Ramirez, Braves
Ramirez came back from Tommy John surgery last year and pitched well for three months at Double-A. He was impressive this spring, snuck into the Braves rotation and could turn out to be this year's Damian Moss. On the other hand, he has only a half-season's worth of experience above A-ball, and is beginning his first full season after his surgery. His inexperience and/or the physical demands of a six-month schedule very well could catch up with him at some point. Says one insider: "Great feel for pitching, knows what he's doing out there, average fastball but locates it very well. No one can explain why he never strikes anyone out."
Mike Mordecai, Marlins
We received scads of email from readers who noticed we inadvertently left Damian Miller out of BP2003. As for omitting Mike Mordecai... uh, not so many. Like MLB's version of the Grinch, owner Jeffrey Loria took everything that wasn't nailed down to the floor when he fled Montreal for warmer climes. A few months later, Loria realized he had left one inanimate object behind and sent for Mordecai. Lackey Torborg has dutifully found a way to keep Mordecai on the Marlins' 25-man roster ever since.
Tommy Phelps, Marlins
While considerably short of ex-Marlin Joe Strong's 16-year odyssey, Phelps' minor league apprenticeship reached double digits before he cracked Florida's 25-man roster this spring. A pedestrian left-hander, Phelps is very hittable and indistinguishable from dozens of other southpaws in Triple-A and the independent leagues. Phelps is going to need a series of lucky breaks to have any sort of major league career, but could be a regular in the "Minor League Transactions" section of Baseball America for another decade.
Gerald Williams, Marlins
A few years back, as a D-Ray, Williams charged the mound after Pedro Martinez hit him with a pitch in the left wrist. This was ridiculous on two levels. For starters, Ice was leading off the bottom of the first inning. But more to the point, you're Gerald frigging Williams, for chrissakes. Get your mediocre ass down to first base.
Luis Ayala, Expos
Signed out of the Mexican League late last August, Ayala threw just eight innings for the Lynx before the year ended. Arizona, who scouts Mexico as heavily as any organization and has a thing for sidearmers, signed him as a minor league free agent after the season. The Expos didn't anticipate that happening and wanted to keep Ayala, so they snatched him back in the Rule 5 draft. Frank Robinson turned spare parts like Scott Stewart and Joey Eischen into useful bullpen weapons; expect him to get good work out of Ayala, too.
David Cone, New York Mets
The unusual thing isn't that David Cone is pitching in 2003. The unusual thing is that he didn't pitch in 2002. Cone's 2000 season with the Yankees was a disaster, but he showed enough with the Red Sox in 2001--115 strikeouts, 57 walks in 135 2/3 innings--that it was surprising he didn't generate more interest afterwards. Art Howe will have to manage him carefully, because Cone can't pitch every fifth day or go more than 90 pitches or so. Bringing back the "Sunday starter" concept once Aaron Heilman or Shane Reynolds claims a rotation spot would be the best way to maximize Cone.
Damian Miller, Cubs
The bleacher bums are overjoyed to have any name besides 'Hundley' written into the lineup, but as consistent as his offensive numbers have been for the past three years, Miller is not a pickup without risk. His availability was curtailed last year by back problems, something not likely to be resolved for a 33-year-old who spends half the game squatting behind home plate, and a rising strikeout rate is frequently a sign of declining bat speed. Still, this is exactly the sort of player who seems to thrive under Dusty Baker, and his plate-blocking ability will be an asset with wild-and-wooly pitchers like Kerry Wood, Kyle Farnsworth, and Carlos Zambrano on the staff.
Raul Chavez, Astros
Just like you'd expect from a third catcher, Chavez has won universal praise from his minor league managers for his game calling, plate blocking, and stolen base neutralizing (at New Orleans, he threw out about 40 percent of Triple-A runners trying to steal on him). Also like you'd expect, he can't hit a lick. Chavez might be the perfect caddy for a team with a Mike Stanley- or Mickey Tettleton-type, but as a third catcher on a team starting Brad Ausmus, he has about as much value as an Enron stock certificate.
Wayne Franklin, Brewers
Traded from the Astros in the Mark Loretta deal, Franklin had been a reliever for virtually his entire professional career, before being tried as a starter in New Orleans last year. Surprisingly, he not only held his own, but improved his strikeout rate, added a changeup, and made the PCL All-Star team. The conversion came too late in his career for him to ever have a big arbitration payday, but as a cheap fifth starter on a team that desperately needs one, the Brewers could do worse.
Scott Podsednik, Brewers
This refugee from the Mariners system is not a prospect, but a role player in mid-career who contributes good speed, credible defense in center field, and a passable on-base percentage against right-handed pitching, but doesn't have the power bat or the breakout potential to merit a starting role. Sound familiar? Problem is, the description also fits Alex Sanchez, the Brewers' incumbent, to a tee. Podsednik could provide some value in a roto league if Sanchez's ankle problems manifest again, but that's about it.
Cal Eldred, Cardinals
Back from the Dead. There's no great mystery here: Eldred still has chronic elbow problems, including the world's most celebrated five-inch screw. He never had great command even in his healthy years, and it's not clear that he's an efficient enough pitcher to achieve any success with a finesse repertoire; he was reluctant to throw his curveball in spring training. It's easier to say now after a disastrous couple of outings in the first week of the season, but Eldred is not a good bet to make it past the 15th of May. But hell, you have to admire his resolve. If Eldred hadn't tried his best to return to normalcy, then Phil Garner would have won.
Lance Painter, Cardinals
Back from the Dead, Part II. Painter is one of three pitchers who made the Cardinals' roster despite not having pitched competitively last year. In this case, the problem was Tommy John surgery on his pitching elbow, which Painter underwent in October 2001. Painter's peripheral numbers were awful in 2001, and if that was owing to injury problems from which he is now recovered, he could exceed his PECOTA forecast by a little bit. But that's not usually how these things work, and even in his healthy seasons, Painter didn't post the big platoon splits you'd expect out of a lefty specialist.
Russ Springer, Cardinals
Back From the Dead, Part III: Being Jose Rijo. Springer hasn't pitched in the big leagues since suffering a 'shoulder strain' in May 2001 that the he tried for two months to rehabilitate; it turned out to be a small tear in his rotator cuff that worsened as he tried to pitch through it. He made the Cards' roster after a good spring training in spite of a fastball that wasn't quite as fast as it used to be. Springer's Achilles' heel has always been his proclivity to the gopher ball, so any loss of velocity could have Jim Edmonds on the 15-day with whiplash after turning his neck to see another ball fly over his head.
Robby Hammock, Diamondbacks
A jack-of-all-trades, Hammock spent most of his time in 2002 switching positions at Double-A El Paso--that is, when he wasn't hitting for a decent average and drawing walks. In 122 games, he spent 56 games behind the plate, 38 in left field, 21 in right field, and 11 at third base. A backup to starting catcher Chad Moeller, Hammock will do his best to follow the Gregg Zaun career path.
Stephen Randolph, Diamondbacks
After years of posting solid ERAs but uninspiring peripherals, Randolph took a big step forward in 2002, posting the lowest ERA of his career since reaching the PCL. Not exactly a prospect at 29, he's going to need to cut his walk rate in order to be effective at the major league level. Nevertheless, like so many journeymen before him, there's always the chance that he'll put it together for 40-some-odd innings and pull a Brendan Donnelly.
Scott Service, Diamondbacks
An OK reliever for most of his career, Service's problem has always been with walks and homers, never with Ks. At 36, he's unlikely to make a significant impact, but will likely accumulate more innings than John Patterson before the All-Star break, which is perhaps Bob Brenly's greatest crime against humanity.
Javier Lopez, Rockies
No, not that Javier Lopez. This Javier Lopez, a 25-year-old lefty who pitched quite well for El Paso in 2002--47 strikeouts in 46.1 innings--actually started camp with the Red Sox this season before being acquired by Colorado. Like so many pitchers before him, he'll begin the season as the Rockies' second lefty out of the pen, waiting for his chance to get whiplash.
Dan Miceli, Rockies
A mediocre pitcher for most of the '90s, Miceli will most likely be remembered for his comments about manager John Boles, and his lack of experience in the major leagues. Or not. Weird Fact: Miceli's best performance as a pitcher came in 2001, when he was traded to Colorado. His ERA that season? 2.21. His ERA, outside of Denver, for the rest of his career? 4.89. Weird, huh?
Tom Martin, Dodgers
A poor man's Lance Painter, Martin appeared in just two games with Tampa Bay in 2002 before being placed on the disabled list with a strained left rotator cuff. Now part of that deadly tag team of Dodger lefties featuring himself and Troy Brohawn, Martin is looking to hold down a regular job for the first time since 2000. He's a southpaw, so even if his effectiveness is below par, chances are that you'll hear from him again.
Mike Matthews, Padres
Where some organizations feel the need to pay top dollar for Proven Closers™ like Roberto Hernandez, teams like the Padres take their chances on guys like Matthews, who command little money, but have spent the past 130 innings getting hitters out. At 30, he's not a great candidate to improve a whole lot--especially if you believe in the power of PECOTA--but he's cheap and has a track record of effectiveness. What else could you ask for, really?
Shane Victorino, Padres
While Victorino saw his power take something of a dive in 2002, he upped his walk rate while limiting his strikeouts. A useful fifth outfielder because of his speed (92 SB over the last two seasons, with only 29 CS), Victorino can also handle center-field chores effectively. As a Rule 5 pick, he's somewhere between the A-baller hopelessly overmatched by big-league pitching and a find like Jay Gibbons. He's Chad Fonville with more playing time and a mean crossover dribble.
Jose Morban, Orioles
Morban was a shortstop in the Ranger system who was taken by the Twins in the Rule 5 draft following a .260/.328/.414 year in A-ball at age 22. The Twins waived him at the end of spring training and the Orioles claimed him, which means that they now have the Rule 5 responsibility for him. Morban is a tools guy without polish--speedy, but runs himself into outs; very good range, but makes a pile of errors; pop in the bat, but strikes out a ton. His DTs show that he's a major-league caliber fielder with an EqA in the .200-.210 range and a K/BB of 170:42 over 650 plate appearances. The Orioles have said that they will try to use him as little as possible...which means that in 2004 he'll be a 24-year-old who hasn't played above A-ball. Blargh.
On the other hand, if the Orioles hadn't grabbed Morban, their utility infielder would be Jeff Reboulet, who also isn't in Baseball Prospectus 2003, and should damn well stay that way.
Steve Woodard, Red Sox
Long a favorite of analyst Voros McCracken, Woodard returns to the major leagues with the same team that now employs the creator of Defense-Independent Pitching Stats. He's the same package he was three years ago: good command (55:9 K/BB in 65 Triple-A innings last year) and a little too homer-prone to be trusted with important innings. With so many of the Red Sox relievers one-inning guys, he'll be valuable for his ability to mop up, as well as pinch-pitch when Pedro Martinez has to miss a start. Woodard is as good a candidate as any to have a random Darren Holmes/Chris Hammond season.
Chris Latham, Yankees
Latham's agent did an excellent job of getting him into an organization with no center field depth. He has fair speed, a good eye, and can hit for power. He also strikes out in 30-35% of his at-bats, which is why he's spent the last seven seasons bouncing between the upper minors and the majors. The Yankees need someone to give Bernie Williams innings off in blowouts, and Latham got the job just by being there. Joe Torre doesn't rest his starters often, so Latham will make his $300,000 this year with a minimum of effort.
Bobby Seay, Devil Rays
One of four loophole free agents from the 1996 draft, Seay has battled minor injuries in every professional season. His career high in innings pitched is 132, and he's exceeded 100 innings just once. He has a good fastball/curveball combination that marks him as an effective two-inning reliever. Quite frankly, given the detritus the Devil Rays are running out there, Seay is one of the more talented members of their pitching staff, and should earn some high-leverage innings before the year is out.
Mike Venafro, Devil Rays
A left-handed Steve Reed, Venafro comes from the side and it at his most effective when he's getting lots of groundballs. His ERA has tracked his GB/FB ratio for four years; as he gets fewer groundballs, he's allowed more runs. Venafro has been shoehorned into the specialist role by the A's and D-Rays, but is probably better suited to be used not by batter but by situation, i.e., when the Devil Rays need a double play. He also needs frequent work, and longer outings, to make his sinking fastball most effective.
Al Martin, Devil Rays
Little more than a punchline at this point, the truth-challenged Al Martin is one of three releasees the Devil Rays picked up at the end of spring training. He forms, with Terry Shumpert, an "I Was Just Unemployed" DH platoon. Martin hasn't been a decent hitter since the first half of 2000, and is just taking up space better used on anyone else.
Doug Linton, Blue Jays
The Jays were aggressive in signing minor-league free agents last winter, with Linton near the top of their list off of his great season at Richmond. The veteran posted a 2.53 ERA in 174 innings, with a ridiculous 160:26 K/BB ratio. Brought in to serve as a veteran anchor for the Triple-A rotation, Linton pitched well enough in March to earn a roster spot. He'll serve as the long man and spot starter for Toronto, picking up innings when the young starters (Mark Hendrickson and Justin Miller) falter.
Aquilino Lopez, Blue Jays
The Jays' top Rule 5 draft pick was one of the big losers in AgeGate, picking up five years and losing almost all of his prospect luster. He didn't let it affect his performance: Lopez had a 2.39 ERA at Tacoma last year, with 103 strikeouts and 27 walks in 109 1/3 innings. He's a three-pitch guy (fastball, slider, split-finger) who should develop into at least a major-league set-up man, and could eventually be a starter.
Trever Miller, Blue Jays
One of two left-handers of limited accomplishment named Tr---- Miller floating around, this one has worked as both a starter and reliever, and has been miscast at times as a lefty specialist. The Jays picked him up off his good year as a middle man at Louisville, when finally recovered from a shoulder injury, Miller posted a 3.18 ERA with 80 strikeouts in 82 innings. His curve is good enough to be a strikeout pitch against lefties, while the rest of his repertoire lets him face right-handers without being abused (which can't be said for the other Jays' lefty, Doug Creek).
Tim Laker, Indians
Josh Bard's backup to start the season, his job will likely be in jeopardy as soon as Victor Martinez is ready. A classic Quadruple-A catcher who has played parts of seven seasons in the major leagues without ever getting a real shot. There was a time when he probably deserved one, because he could always hit a little, but that time has passed. He's still a decent backup as long as he doesn't have to play too much.
Wilfredo Ledezma, Tigers
A hard-throwing, 21-year-old lefty from Venezuela, Ledezma was plucked from the Red Sox in the Rule 5 draft. Injuries to his elbow and lower back have limited him to 184 innings in five professional seasons. He has some upside (41 strikeouts and 8 walks in 34 innings in 2002), but the Red Sox were planning to return him to the Sally League. His roster spot represents a rather bold decision by the Tigers, though probably not all that surprising given their aggressive approach with Jeremy Bonderman.
Hiram Bocachica, Tigers
A decent utility man, because he can play both center field and (sort of) the middle infield. With the Tigers' problems up the middle, Bocachica might get a shot at a larger role at some point. Expos fans can still remember a time when Bocachica surged through the minors, showing power and patience at a young age, and looking like a possible middle-infield stud in waiting. Nothing that a few St-Ambroise Pale Ales can't wipe away in a hurry.
Danny Carrasco, Royals
Released twice already and toiling in the Carolina League at age 25, Carrasco was nevertheless picked by the Royals in the Rule 5 draft, and it was a solid pick. Carrasco is a soft-tosser compared to Mike MacDougal and Ryan Bukvich, but can still dial it up to 95, with an excellent slider to boot. His breakthrough in 2002 was primarily a function of throwing more strikes, as he cut his walk rate from a career mark of 4.78 per 9 innings through 2001 to just 2.22 per 9 last season. He's a cheap, low-risk solution for middle relief, and another of the growing signs that maybe, just maybe, Allard Baird knows what he's doing.
Mendy Lopez, Royals
The Royals have an exasperating tendency to bring old family members back into the fold, often after they've passed the point of usefulness. Unlike Michael Tucker and Brent Mayne, Lopez was never highly-regarded as a Royal, but he has slugged over .500 in Triple-A three times in the last four years. He also can play every position--he's the team's emergency catcher--and between Lopez and Desi Relaford, Tony Pena has an impressive amount of defensive versatility at his disposal.
Reynaldo Garcia, Rangers
With over 30 players in the Liars Club, AgeGate hit the Rangers' organization as hard as any in baseball. Garcia was among the most brazen, alleging to be four years younger than his real age. As a result, last year was a make-or-break campaign. Garcia passed muster with solid showings at Tulsa and Oklahoma City. He racks up strikeouts with a mid-90s fastball and nasty splitter, and should be a pleasant surprise out of the Texas bullpen Were baseball as non-PC as it was in the Deadball Era, Garcia, who is legally blind in his left eye, would be known as "Cyclops."
C.J. Nitkowski, Rangers
Left-handers out of the bullpen take on increased importance with the Rangers' all-righty rotation. A non-roster invitee to spring training, Nitkowski didn't so much win the second southpaw job as much as no one else stepped forward to claim it. While Nitkowski's personal life (as detailed at his web site, www.cjbaseball.com) has undergone dramatic changes recently, his professional problems haven't changed: his pitches don't find the strike zone often enough to succeed at the big league level.
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