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April 23, 2003

Prospectus Triple Play

New York Mets, Colorado Rockies, Baltimore Orioles

by Baseball Prospectus

New York Mets

  • Star Performer: Ty Wigginton was the surprise winner of the third base job this winter, essentially by default after Steve Phillips' various machinations petered out one deal short, similar to some of his past mass reliever acquisitions. However, this might turn out for the best. Wigginton's glovework has been solid, as he's flashed some good anticipation on starting double plays. With work, if he's finally allowed to settle into the position, the former college shortstop might become an asset at third, similar to how Robin Ventura, Scott Brosius, or Eric Chavez eventually grew into being among the best gloves at the position over time. But perhaps even more surprising has been Wigginton's continuing patience at the plate. In his first season above A-ball in 2000, he drew all of 24 walks in almost 500 plate appearances, but he'd drawn 56 in 1999 in the Florida State League, and followed that with walking at a decent clip in both 2001 and 2002. This season, he's already drawn a dozen walks, none intentional, and none the product of hitting in the #8 slot. If he can keep doing that and play some solid defense, he'll be more than just an organizational soldier done good, or the new Ron Coomer.

  • Noteworthy Prospect(s): OK, it isn't even May, so the Mets aren't dead, but they're not exactly alive while drifting through life with people like David Cone and Mo Vaughn and all the other ex-celebrities. On the other hand, their farm system, while notably slim in terms of depth, does boast a nice fivesome of top-tier prospects. How are they doing in the early going?

    Shortstop Jose Reyes is doing adequately in Norfolk, hitting .281 and a perfect 13-for-13 in his stolen base attempts. Less fortunately, he's drawn all of two walks in nearly 70 plate appearances, so there's still some work to be done. Nevertheless, his early performance translates to a .250 Equivalent Average in the majors, and Rey Sanchez isn't inspiring much in the way of confidence. Aaron Heilman is giving nobody any reason to think he's anything other than ready, allowing only six runs in four starts and 26.1 IP, striking out 22 and winning three games. Justin Huber's off to a slow start in St. Lucie while struggling with a shoulder problem, but David Wright is pasting the ball at a .352/.425/.592 clip. The prematurely uber-touted Scott Kazmir is being kept to a light workload, pitching only six innings in his three starts and facing 28 batters. He's been an anti-DIPS pitcher in terms of getting most everything done at home plate, punching out 12 and walking seven, not to mention uncorking four wild pitches.

Colorado Rockies

  • Wretched Performer: It's a tie between the ace and the closer. The Rockies are 8-1 at home, 12-7 overall, and in second place. If the season ended today they'd make the playoffs, easily. They have done it without Denny Neagle and Dennis Stark, and in spite of Jason Jennings. Last season's Rookie of the Year is 1-2 with an ERA of 8.05. He's allowed two baserunners per inning and has yielded five homers in only 19 innings. This isn't a Coors effect--he won his only home start, 8-3.

    On April 2, Jose Jimenez entered the game in the ninth inning with the Rockies up 7-3 over the Astros. In 1/3 of an inning he put seven men on base, and the Rockies lost 8-7. His manager said that the first three hits were on seeing-eye groundballs that just as easily could have been outs. Jimenez didn't allow a run in any of his next six games...then he gave up four over 1 1/3 innings in consecutive appearances against the Diamondbacks. In 9 1/3 innings he has allowed 22 hits and six walks. He has only five strikeouts. His ERA is 8.68.

  • Star Performer: Improbably, it's Shawn Chacon. He was one bad April away from being cast out of Coors permanently, and now he's 3-0 and allowing less than one earned run per game. All four of his outings have been Quality Starts, and he hasn't allowed an earned run since April 10. He doesn't nearly have the stuff to back this up, and his ERA could still close the season near 6.00, but with Jennings going so bad, and Neagle and Stark disabled, Chacon's amazing start could be the most valuable contribution the Rockies will get this year.

  • Streak: With the Rocks at 8-1 at Coors, Clint Hurdle has the best home winning percentage of any Rockies manager. Colorado always has a lot of home wins, but they have never won more than 36 road games. For the Rockies to win a pennant, it would be much more important for Hurdle to have their best road winning percentage.

  • Injury: It's looking like Scott Elarton might have to satisfy himself with the face value of his $300,000 contract. In four games on the road for the Triple-A Colorado Sky Sox he has an ERA of 5.40, and he has yet to pitch at altitude. He has allowed 36 baserunners in 23.1 innings. But there is good news; he's given up only two home runs and he's striking out a batter per inning. The Rockies often have one of the most effective bullpens in the league, and Hurdle uses his relievers as frequently as any manager, so Elarton will be recalled this summer. What happens when a player with an incentive-dependent contract realizes early in the season that he won't make his marks? If he loses the incentives, does he lose a little motivation?

  • Upcoming schedule: The Rockies have played 10 straight games against the Padres and Diamondbacks, but they're about to be tested. This week they start a 25-game stretch against the Central and East. It begins in Philadelphia, where the Rockies will send Darren Oliver, Jennings, and Aaron Cook against the league's third-best run-scoring lineup. When the Rocks come home for a weekend series against the Cubs, the league's top two offenses will be facing each other in history's best hitting environment, and the weather should be conducive to plenty of scoring.

Baltimore Orioles

  • Schedule: The Orioles look OK at 9-9, but they have benefited from a soft schedule so far, and have more of the same for the next month. Through May 20, the Orioles will have had only one team, Boston, on its schedule that had a winning record last season--and two of those seven scheduled games against the Red Sox were rained out. They've gone 2-3 against the Red Sox (who are 11-4 otherwise), 3-3 against Cleveland (4-9 when not playing the O's), and 4-3 against Tampa Bay (who are 2-10 elsewhere). In the next month they will get another home-and-home with Tampa Bay, and they will also get the Tigers, White Sox, and Royals--granted, those seven games with K.C. don't look nearly as cheesy right now as they did in March.

  • Finance/Economics: Peter Angelos bought the Orioles 10 years ago when they were rebounding from the depths of the 80s, playing in what was then the new Oriole Park at Camden Yards, envy of all others. The Orioles under Angelos have been like a well-made car that didn't get any basic maintenance. The car will run pretty well for a few years, but down the road those things are going to catch up with you. After years of incompetent management, the farm system is barren and the major league team is basically an old junker, filled with parts reclaimed from other team's salvage yards. Some of them are still in pretty good working order, but they are all well known commodities, described with adjectives like "dependable" and "capable." There's no "outstanding," "MVP," "exciting"--and the only thing that's worse than a mediocre team is a boring one. Don't think the people of Baltimore haven't noticed. In their third game of the season, the Orioles drew their smallest crowd since moving to Camden Yards; this week they broke that record again. Their TV ratings have dropped so much that for the first time in five years a substantial number of games (15) are not scheduled to be shown at all; last season, only one game went untelevised. On top of that, they face the very real possibility that the Expos will move into their back yard.

  • In the Minors: A year after being the worst full-season team in organized baseball, the Frederick Keys (Carolina League, High-A) have allowed 109 runs in their first 116 innings--their 7.06 ERA is more than half a run worse than any other team in the minors. Top prospect turned rehab case Matt Riley was bombed on Opening Day in Double-A Bowie, but has since pitched 10 scoreless innings, allowing just three hits and striking out 14. Top prospect turned head scratcher Jack Cust is hitting just .190 in Ottawa, but leads all Triple-A hitters with 18 walks in 15 games. Meanwhile, the team still has hopes of being able to sign Adam Loewen. He was their first-round pick last year, and since he went to a community college they still have negotiation rights, but they are reportedly still more than a million dollars apart. If they don't lock him up he'll be somebody's first-round pick again this year--and could be the draft's #1 pick.

  • Personnel: David Segui can still hit. B.J. Surhoff can't.

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