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April 25, 2003

Prospectus Triple Play

Montreal Expos, San Francisco Giants, Toronto Blue Jays

by Baseball Prospectus

Montreal Expos

  • Star Performer: Jose Vidro gets the nod for the Expo du Jour award, or Expo de la Saison for that matter. Through Wednesday night he was hitting .347 with a .420 on-base percentage, slugging .653. Vidro may never walk at a Joe Morgan-like clip, but he's shown he has the plate awareness to wait for his pitch and drive it, to any field, on any count. On Tuesday night he connected for a solid first-inning single, cranked an opposite-field bomb over the left field wall on hanging slop at the outer edge, and ripped a screaming double up the gap in right-center on an inside pitch. More than that, years of hard work have turned him into something no one thought he'd ever become--a defensive asset at second base. Incredibly, the Expos actually brought in Mickey Morandini in spring training of 2000 to challenge Vidro for the second base job. Apparently Junior Noboa wasn't available.

  • Star Performer The Rest Of The Time: Vladimir Guerrero will drive you nuts if you watch him long enough. On Wednesday night he was thrown out trying to steal second with two outs in the 8th inning, down 6-2. He'll run into plenty more silly outs on the basepaths over the rest of the season. He'll commit needless errors by showing off his arm in ill-advised situations too. And you know what? You live with it. You live with it because he's slammed an amazing 410 extra-base hits over the last five seasons, and because he's one of the few players in the game who'll make you stop everything you're doing to focus all your attention on him.

    You also live with it because Vlad is slowly advancing down the Sammy Sosa career path. With nine unintentional walks in his first 65 at-bats through Wednesday night (tack on six intentional walks if you want to use his 81 plate appearances as your gauge), Vlad looks on his way to improving his walk total every year since his 1997 rookie season. Some of that's a function of pitchers who want no part of him, no question. But Vlad's also getting more selective as he charges through his uh, walk year, so to speak. Don't worry though: He'll still smoke a double off a pitch at his shoetops every so often, just because he can.

  • An Itchin' For Pitchin': The Expos rank second in the NL in team ERA, thanks to a red-hot rotation. While Livan Hernandez continues to show he's no more than a mediocre pitcher, Javier Vazquez, Tony Armas, Tomo Ohka and Zach Day have teamed up to form what's been a dominant front four in the season's early going. While the foursome will slow down as the year goes on--the groundball-inducing, defense-reliant Day in particular--the Expos' pitching could help offset the lineup's multiple weak spots, at least for a while.

    Better still, the pending return of the older and better Hernandez brother could give the Expos the depth they need to deal for a bat at first base or corner outfield (with Brad Wilkerson playing the spot not manned by the new guy). It may be tough for some GMs to admit they goofed, the way Omar Minaya would ostensibly be doing by closing the book on the lone bat in the Bartolo Colon deal. But Minaya's shown he can swallow his pride in such matters, so anything's possible.

  • Farm Aid: Despite recent rumblings, acquiring a bullpen arm/closer is both a secondary concern and potentially not a concern at all, with guys like Sun-Woo Kim, Claudio Vargas, and especially the recently unhittable head case Julio Manon waiting for the call at Triple-A Edmonton.

San Francisco Giants

  • Bonds Moving Fast: A new, swifter Barry Bonds has arrived in Pac Bell Park this spring. Bonds is noticeably faster this April than he was last year, and probably faster than he's been the past few years. He legged out a triple against the Rangers in spring training that had observers shaking their heads. He beat out an infield hit against the Dodgers last weekend on a play that would have seen him out by two steps last year. He's drawing rave reviews for his defense, covering lots of ground in left field. And he's a perfect three-for-three in stolen base attempts.

    In Baseball Prospectus 2003, we jokingly suggested that Barry could win the stolen base crown this season. Looks like we were closer than we thought.

  • In the Minors: The other 29 GMs should be wearing out the "Brian Sabean" buttons on their speed dials, trying to separate him from one or two of the impressive young pitchers he has on the farm. The Giants have a logjam in the making, with the top stable of young pitching talent in professional baseball, and no place to put them all on the big club.

    Pretty much all the Giants big minor league names are picking up where they left off last year. Kurt Ainsworth and Jesse Foppert have made it to the majors based on strong work in Arizona. Jerome Williams (1.29 ERA, 15 Ks and 8 BBs in 21 IP at Triple-A Fresno), Boof Bonser (1.62 ERA, 12 Ks and 7 BBs in 16 2/3 IP in Double-A Norwich), and Ryan Hannaman (3.18 ERA, 30 Ks and 10 BBs in 17 IP at High-A San Jose) are dominating their levels in the early going.

    The next Giant hurler to show up on prospect lists is going to be Merkin Valdez, a 21-year-old Dominican righty who came over in the Russ Ortiz deal. Valdez has overmatched Sally League hitters, striking out 36 in 22 1/3 innings(!) while walking only two(!!) in compiling a 2.01 ERA. One Sally League observer says that Valdez is the most impressive pitcher he's seen in his three years of covering the league.

  • Rounding the Bases: When Felipe Alou told the team in spring training that he would never punish a player for being too aggressive on the basepaths, Giants fans were understandably concerned. After all, this was the man who taught Vlad "I never met an extra base I didn't like" Guerrero everything he knows about baserunning. And when the Giants had runners thrown out at home plate on consecutive nights against the Dodgers, cries of "Bring back Sonny Jackson!" could be heard around Pac Bell Park.

    But so far, any concerns about the Giants running themselves out of innings look misplaced. The Giants have actually been one of the stingiest teams in the majors with making outs on the bases, with those two aforementioned runners the only two the Giants have had thrown out stretching for an extra base (not counting fielders' choices). Here are the top out-makers through Tuesday's games:

    
    Team         Outs
    Braves          8
    Diamondbacks    7
    Royals          7
    Dodgers         6
    Marlins         6
    Orioles         6
    

    Alou's aggressiveness is paying off in the basestealing department as well. The Giants are second in the NL with 15 steals, and they've been caught only four times.

Toronto Blue Jays

  • Star Performer: The AL East sports some pretty good backstops: Jorge Posada is the best catcher in the league, Jason Varitek is a solid performer when he can stay healthy, and Toby Hall put up big numbers in the minors and will soon do so in the majors.

    Twenty games into the season, the extremely affordable Tom Wilson/Greg Myers platoon is keeping pace with all of them. The duo is quietly doing good work at the plate as well as behind it, and they've been an important part of the success the Jays have had offensively this season. Wilson is an old BP favorite who consistently produced in the minors but didn't make it to the majors until he was 30. Myers, a member of the small fraternity of lefty-hitting catchers, is tattooing right-handed pitching--he batted cleanup for the Jays against Jorge Sosa on Thursday.

    
                     AB   R   H  2B  3B  HR RBI  BB  SO   AVG   OBP   SLG
    Greg Myers       42   5  12   1   0   2   7   7  12  .286  .388  .452
    Tom Wilson       40   8  12   5   0   2   5   6  13  .300  .391  .575
    Frankencatcher   82  13  24   6   0   4  12  13  25  .293  .389  .512
    

    At just over a million bucks combined for 2003, Myers and Wilson have been a very good deal for the Blue Jays thus far.

  • Wretched Performer: There are several pitchers on this team that aren't pulling their weight, but closer Kelvim Escobar takes the cake here. He's giving up over two hits per inning, and missing from his stat line is the back-breaking go-ahead single he allowed on Wednesday to Rocco Baldelli.

    Escobar got off to a late start this year; he didn't get in the work he usually does during the offseason with the unrest in his native Venezuela, and that might be part of the problem. He's sporting a bloated 14.21 ERA, but he's only gotten 7.1 innings of work so far, as save situations have been few and far between for the Jays. The minute Escobar is back to his normal walk-strikeout-complain self, trade rumors will again be flying around the mercurial talent.

  • In The Minors: Right-hander Jason Arnold, part of the booty acquired in the Felipe Lopez trade, is off to a great start (0.52 ERA in 17.1 IP, with 16 K and 7 BB at Double-A New Haven), and heralded outfield teammates John-Ford Griffin (57 AB, .263/.364/.526) and Gabe Gross (59 AB, .322/.444/.407) are both playing fairly well.

  • Schedule: The Jays are off to an inauspicious start, but getting in a street fight with the Yankee buzzsaw will do that to you--a 1-6 record against New York accounts for most of the damage the Jays have incurred. After a three-game stint against the Royals, this year's official Pod Person team, the Blue Jays play a dozen against Anaheim and Texas. Provided his black eye proves to be nothing more serious, Carlos Delgado has a good chance to come out of that stretch as the AL's ranking home-run hitter.

    All bets are off if SARS hysteria causes any tomfoolery with the schedule.

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