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May 21, 2003

Prospectus Triple Play

Baltimore Orioles, Colorado Rockies, New York Mets

by Baseball Prospectus

Baltimore Orioles

Colorado Rockies

  • Power Outage: The Rockies need to lead the league in runs in order to compete in the NL West. As of this writing, they've scored several fewer runs than the Braves, who lead the NL. Considering the difference between the two teams' home parks, it's safe to say that the Rockies won't be making the playoffs unless they end the season with many more runs than the Braves.

    Colorado's main problem, somewhat surprisingly, has been power, or rather the team's lack of it. The Rockies have the second-highest batting average in the league, and lead the league in walks by a large margin--these aren't your grandfather's Bichette/Castilla Rockies--so the team is getting on base at a very healthy clip. But the Rockies haven't hit with anywhere near the amount of power one would expect. The Rockies are ninth in the league in home runs. They are sixth in the league in doubles. As a result of this outage, the team is fourth in the league in slugging average, 31 points behind the league-leading Braves.

    What, or who, is behind this lack of wattage? The biggest underperformer may be Larry Walker, who has been playing with an injured shoulder and received a cortisone shot last week which has kept him out of the Rockies' last few games. Though Walker has resisted blaming his injury for his problems at the plate, he's obviously been weakened at the plate. Unlike most of his teammates, he hasn't even be able to keep his batting average up, and his OPS is 200 points below his normal level.

    Todd Helton, the Rockies' other veteran star, has kept his average up but has gone without hitting a home run since April 25th. After failing to homer in last night's game, Helton set a new standard for the longest home run drought of his career. His power was also down substantially last season, reportedly as a result of physical ailments, but Helton claims his previously ailing back isn't responsible for his pop-gun hitting this year.

    The offense's savior so far has been Preston Wilson, who leads the team in virtually every offensive category except walks and on-base percentage. Wilson came over from the Marlins in a trade over the winter, and he has prospered so far this year. His career in Florida had more or less treaded water over the last four years, possibly because of a preoccupation with his high strikeout totals, but so far this year he has been spectacular, both in and out of Coors. It's a small sample size, of course, but an improved strikeout/walk ratio that has come along with the improved production is a positive sign that at least some of Wilson's improvement is real. And since no Rockie other than Wilson managed to homer between April 29th and May 17th, the Rockies need Wilson to continue to produce.

    The only other player to produce any real power for the Rockies has been Jay Payton. Payton is more or less the player he's always been, but he's gotten a big boost from Coors, where he's slugged .554 this season. One positive sign is that he has been slightly more patient at the plate than he's been in previous years. Other players who the Rockies expected to produce some power, though, have produced none. Charles Johnson and Jose Hernandez, who have hit hit for moderate power in recent years, have combined for a total of six Coors home runs and two road homers.

  • Schedule: The Rockies spend the next two weeks playing home and away games with San Francisco and Los Angeles, the two teams currently ahead of them in the NL West. If the Rockies continue to struggle offensively, they could end up buried too far beneath the pack to make any kind of run at the playoffs later in the season.

New York Mets

  • The Big Story: Mike Piazza's groin injury, first thought to sideline the All-Star catcher for six to eight weeks, may keep him out all season.

    The Mets might be better off if they can write off Piazza. With the prospect of a midsummer return, they'll be tempted to hang on until he gets back, convincing themselves that a wild-card run is imminent once he rejoins the lineup. This team, even with Piazza, isn't good enough to reach the postseason--or .500, for that matter--and if it takes losing its best player to kick-start the rebuild, it's a small price to pay in the big picture.

    Much will be made of the defensive improvement the Mets will enjoy with Vance Wilson and Jason Phillips sharing catching duties. Perhaps, but Piazza was in the midst of his best throwing season in years, gunning down 12 of 46 basestealers (26.1%, sixth in the NL). Maybe it's Tom Glavine, maybe it's Jae Seo, but whatever the reason, the fact is that Piazza's throwing--the core of all complaints about his defense--wasn't a detriment to the Mets this season.

  • Minor League Report: The Mets' hope for the future rests largely in the hands of five top prospects. How are they doing six weeks into the season?

    Aaron Heilman has continued to get hitters out at Triple-A Norfolk. He's 5-2 with a 3.12 ERA in 10 starts and 60 2/3 innings, having allowed 57 hits, 21 walks and 44 strikeouts. While that strikeout rate isn't impressive, he's keeping the ball down, with just four home runs allowed. Jae Seo's performance keeps him at Norfolk, but once a suitable home is found for Pedro Astacio or Steve Trachsel, Heilman will ascend to the major-league rotation.

    Jose Reyes hasn't taken as well to Triple-A. He's at .257/.328/.367 in 109 at-bats, with 11 walks and 17 strikeouts. Remember that he's the youngest player in Triple-A, playing solid defense at shortstop (four errors) and ripping it up on the bases--19 steals in 21 attempts. If the Mets allow him to have success before promoting him, he should step into a fine career in the majors.

    Down in the Florida State League, the Mets have two guys doing very good work. Catcher Justin Huber is hitting .281/.373/.430 with 12 walks and 19 strikeouts in 121 at-bats. For the FSL, that's very good, and remember that Huber is just 20 years old. Teammate David Wright has improved his glovework at third base (six errors) and is hitting .281/.371/.438 in 178 at-bats. Wright's secondary skills have been excellent for a third baseman: 13 doubles, five home runs, 26 walks and six stolen bases.

    Finally, 2002 first-round pick Scott Kazmir is pitching in the New York Penn League. In seven starts he's thrown just 20 2/3 innings, allowing 15 hits and 14 walks, striking out 29 and posting a 2.61 ERA. He's at least three seasons--and probably one surgery--away from the major leagues, and while he's often included with the other four in discussions of the Mets' system, he probably shouldn't be.

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