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June 29, 2005
Wednesday EditionChicago White Sox: Some brief notes on a few White Sox infielders:
Detroit Tigers: As we wrap up the first cycle of Prospectus Notebook, a painful admission. Some of us miss the opening tag lines we used to insert in our articles when this project was called Prospectus Triple Play.
So when discussing the Tigers sending Carlos Pena down to Triple-A at the end of May, we're struggling against cheesy Motown references like "I Second that Demotion."
Pena was 16th among BP's Top 40 Prospects in 2001 (Ryan Anderson? Ouch!), and the 2002 trade that winter which brought him to the A's organization was hailed as a stroke of genius, a proactive measure to replace Jason Giambi at first base. Pena was expected to stick with the big club out of spring training, but wound up splitting his six months as an Athletic between Oakland and Sacramento, and wound up underperforming both in the big leagues and in the hitter-friendly environs of the Pacific Coast League. Then in July 2002, Pena was traded to Detroit...and stagnated.
After Pena posted
Derrek Lee has been in the news a bit over the last few days. With all due respect to the initial comparison, Lee's struggles came during his age-22 (.259 EqA) and 23 (.200 EqA) seasons. Pena's struggles weren't as deep, but they came when Pena's "baseball age" was 24 and 25.
Still, Pena managed a torrid August (.308/.422/.582 with 6 HR) and strong September (.233/.369/.533, 8 HR) last season. But after those promising two months, he's fallen flat on his face in 2005. At the time of his demotion Pena was producing 5.5 fewer runs than would be expected of a replacement first baseman. In short, he's a HACKING MASS All-Star.
Pena would have to hit .282/.362/.545 in 350 or so PA over the season to meet an already-modest PECOTA forecast. That's not completely out of the range of his abilities (he hit .250/.362/.513 in the second half last season), it is, however, outside of any reasonable expectations that he'll get enough playing time to salvage even a mediocre season. The Tigers have other options at first base-they have, on occasion, handed Dmitri Young a first baseman's mitt, and discovered that it still fits him. Former Rule 5 pick Chris Shelton, who has performed to the tune of a .309 EqA for the last month, can also play the position.
Pena's hitting well in Toledo: .326/.444/.516 with 11 extra-base hits in 89 at-bats. But if Shelton and Young stay healthy and productive, it may not avail him at all. Instead of turning into the next Derrek Lee, Carlos Pena may find himself the next Roberto Petagine, permanently tattooed with the Quadruple-A tag. Petagine's batting .336/.445/.684 with 12 homers for Pawtucket-and he hasn't seen the majors since 1998.
Unlike Petagine, who only ever had 365 major league plate appearances with which to prove himself in the Show, no one will be able to say that Pena has been shortchanged as he turns the corner from prospect to journeyman. After all, Pena's had over 1,700 major league plate appearances with which to prove his worth.
Seattle Mariners: You know you're having a rough season when...
A year has passed since the Freddy Garcia trade. White Sox GM Kenny Williams, in his annual scramble to fatten up the roster with proven veterans, assembled a tantalizing package of young talent. There was Miguel Olivo: young starting catcher, rifle arm, respectable bat. Jeremy Reed: big league-ready, pure and disciplined contact hitter, swift center fielder. There were throw-ins, too. Ben Davis had to be moved; after all, Olivo was on board, and Dan Wilson had been a Mariner so long, he once caught Rich Gossage and Bobby Thigpen. And Michael Morse, the hulking middle infielder who'd worn out his welcome with the Sox, was sent westward.
But baseball does funny things. This season, Mariner shortstops were downright insulting. Wilson Valdez put up a .489 OPS over 42 games before his reassignment and subsequent trade to the Padres. Willie Bloomquist, scrappy and popular as he may be, could still afford to take hitting pointers from Luis Ugueto. In just a few torrid weeks in the bigs (.395/.461/.513), Morse has squeezed a couple wins' worth of value above and beyond the anemic tag team of Valdez and Bloomquist. No longer is Morse the forgotten little brother of the blockbuster.
Chances are high, however, that Morse is merely a flash in the pan. PECOTA measured him last winter as a .242/.288/.392 hitter, and his Triple-A line of .253/.317/.407 (prior to his promotion) seems like a clear reflection of that. Between both leagues Morse has totaled .295/.350/.439, so much of his value is tied to his batting average. Since his call-up, an obscene 46% of the balls he's put in play have fallen for base hits (normal is around 30%), indicating a vast amount of luck. As the sample size issues peter out, the collapse will come.
On the other end, Olivo's disaster season has found no consolation in Tacoma. Sure, he's improved his OPS from .381 (the Show) to .633 (Triple-A), but that's like upgrading from a tricycle to Razor Scooter for highway driving. Since his disappearance, the Mariners have hosted a multigenerational troop of catchers with Pat Borders (age 42), Wiki Gonzalez (31), Rene Rivera (21), and Wilson (36).
Reed's full-season debut has been pedestrian. Thus far, he's checked in just a tick below his weighted mean for PECOTA, and his sound defense in center has realigned the outfield into a much more efficient weapon.
Adrian Beltre's struggles and Bret Boone's continued breakdown have both been detailed previously by BP authors, but the virtual absence of those two bats--which were entrusted to carry most of the Mariners' lumber--has had terrible effects.
The Mariners just arrived in the basement of the AL West. But take heart, M's fans: your team flashes some serious leather. They play in a spectacular ballpark. And it's not a lost season, at least as long as Felix Hernandez stays healthy.