September 21, 2005
James' promotion isn't exactly a surprise, since he was going to have to be added to the 40-man roster after the season anyway. He'd already earned the roster space with his having pitched his way up through High-A, Double-A, and Richmond, capping his season with a fourth level with this last promotion. Although a slight lefty better known for a certain brio than for his dominating repertoire, he did more than earn his keep, allowing one run per nine in A-ball, two per nine in Mississippi, and three per nine in Triple-A. I guess that means we can all expect four runs for every nine innings pitched in the majors, right? Probably not, but that's why we all rely on Clay Davenport to sort these things out. More basically, James struck out 193 hitters in 161 1/3 IP, against only 38 walks, and I don't care how pedestrian your assortment may be, those numbers mean he's obviously doing something right. He's here as left-handed understudy to help fill in while the Braves wait for John Foster's elbow to stop aching, although they do still have Macay McBride to actually slot in the LOOGY role.
On the other hand, as far as guys with reps for good stuff, Vasquez seems to have dropped off of the map's edge. He was promoted to Atlanta in June after a nice start to his season closing for Mississippi, didn't embarrass himself in nine innings spread over his month in the majors before a July demotion, and then he completely imploded at Richmond. I guess they can risk losing him in the Rule 5 draft (I don't think he'll be a minor-league free agent until after 2006), and he's worth picking if his arm is sound, but something must be amiss for the Braves to discard him so easily after trading Eli Marrero to get him, and with folks buzzing about his good fastball and slider before the season started.
Some New England mysteries are less mysterious than others. I don't know why our federal government is trans-shipping ice from New Orleans to Maine, and I've never understood the frenzied local fascination with Hanley Ramirez as a prospect. Okay, that's not entirely fair, I think we know why: he's young, (21), youngish, still being carded, a spring chicken, and hey, did I mention he's young? I am perhaps more guilty than most when it comes to a fascination with the young in the game, singing noisily and frequently about the virtues of good young players. It isn't particularly brilliant, because it's usually true, and usually an important part of every growing organization's breakfast, and if you're a true cynic, you might not be far off if you accused me of being someone as likely to jump on a backup quarterback's bandwagon in every QB controversy as I am to call for bringing in the new and throwing out the old on the diamond. It's easy to understand the addiction to newness; it's probably a symptom of a consumption-driven society, and let's face it, Justin Timberlake's more likely to inspire shrieking crowds than, say, Paolo Conte. No, there really is no accounting for taste.
Anyway, I still don't understand the fascination with Ramirez, and I say that knowing full well he's on our prospect list in this year's edition of the annual. But when I see that he's someone who hit .271/.335/.385 in Double-A as 21 year-old, I wouldn't call that a blue-chip season, I'd call it a nice little year. Merely nice. To put that production in perspective, Kenny Perez hit .270/.323/.420 in the same park last year as a 22-year-old; Perez is not considered a top prospect, and for good reason. Perhaps Ramirez's defense finally started resembling adequate work at shortstop, but perhaps it didn't. There's a time to curb your enthusiasm, however addicted to new things we might all be, and where Ramirez is concerned, that time is now.
Similarly, I'm not wild about Hansen right now this very instant, since he's up with an awful lot of St. John's experience to balance out against his whopping ten appearances as a pro. He looked good in his debut, which was appropriately made against the Devil Rays under near-major league conditions, and he does already have a big league contract, he does dial up mid-90s heat, and he does seem over the dead arm, so I suppose there's no harm in letting him see the elephant under such a controlled circumstance.
Recalled OF-R Marcus Thames and RHP Mark Woodyard from Toledo; purchased the contracts of RHPs Jason Grilli and Jason Karnuth from Toledo; transferred OF-L Bobby Higginson from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [9/15]
Designated RHP Andrew Good for assignment. [9/18]
You have to feel a bit badly for the two outfielders, both for Thames and for Higgy. Higginson was the lone glimmer of hope for the entire farm system in the early '90s, and this may have been his last season in a Tigers uniform. I do hope he at least gets a last shot somewhere in spring training, but he seems an old 35. Thames just seems to have been crowded out again, having hit in the minors again, pasting 22 more home runs in 71 more minor-league games. If he doesn't escape the organization this winter, he may well get his 1000th minor-league game in a Mudhens uniform, and I wouldn't wish that on most people.
At least the pitchers might plausibly represent a happier lot. Although more a journeyman these days, Grilli is the local boy made good, earning the promotion after helping Toledo win the pennant. He's already deep in the ruts of the Dave Eiland career path, so I wouldn't expect much more than seasons like the one he just had, winning a dozen games and helping an affiliate do something. Similarly, Karnuth is a minor-league vet being rewarded for a nice season as Toledo's closer. Woodyard's sort of a John Van Benschoten Lite, a coveted amateur hitter converted to pitching. After six years on the mound, he's been reduced to a relief role, and while he has decent velocity, he has yet to really dominate on the mound, and he'll turn 27 this winter. As much as youneverknow with pitching, I guess I don't see him being much more than the new Justin Lehr a much less heralded conversion project, and still far off from, say, Felix Rodriguez.
Recalled UT-R Joe Dillon from Albuquerque. [9/17]
I think it's nuts that Dillon wasn't up sooner, but now that Damion Easley appears to be done for the season, he's unfortunately only here now to help keep the infield stocked and take charm lessons from Lenny Harris. Dillon isn't much of a glove at first, second, or third, but he does hit, having topped last season's .325/.400/.665 season at Albuquerque by hitting .360/.459/.631 this year. Unfortunately, the Fish are about as old-fashioned as it gets in crafting solutions for their problems in the lineup. Defensively, they obviously favor Robert Andino to play short and catch and throw (it's what he does), so anything wacky, like suggesting that they could see if Mike Lowell might do at short on the days when guys like A.J. Burnett pitch is obviously pie-in-the-sky stuff. As is, they aren't willing to look at Josh Wilson instead of Andino, so wishcasting's a fool's errand. However, less defensible from any point of view is Jack McKeon's equally formulaic decision to let Jeff Conine do that veteran thing he does in the everyday lineup. The Fish need runs, not the weak-kneed "Oh Captain, My Captain" rapture of worshipping at the altar of Mr. Marlin. So no, Jeremy Hermida, no Dillon, and probably no runs. At least Alex Gonzalez should be playing by the end of the week, erasing Andino, but Conine's a problem that won't be fixed, let alone identified.
Recalled OF-R Charlton Jimerson from Round Rock. [9/14]
Sometimes, when people say numbers lie, they're borrowing from a throwaway bon mot about statistics and fibbing, but this is a circumstance where I agree, numbers do lie. The Astros have promoted all sorts of outfielders this year, and the sheer number of them might make you think they had a lot of worthwhile outfielders. But human waves aren't the same thing as quality, and Jimerson's just another toolsy Astros farmhand who isn't actually a prospect despite putting up superficially impressive raw numbers. Consider the cumulative value of little bits of info, like his stealing 26 bases, or that he hit 16 home runs, those sound good, right? That's counting stats for you, they're not actively misleading as much as they simply don't convey any context. What matters is that Jimerson is a day short of 26, and guys who hit .259/.317/.442 at Double-A haven't mastered the level. As short-handed as the Astros are in the outfield (particularly on the days Lance Berkman is at first), Jimerson isn't the antidote for Jason Lane, or Luke Scott, or Willy Taveras. At least Chris Burke is hitting these days, but lineup-wise, the Astros are still short-stacked while playing for their (postseason) lives.
Now that the Nashville Sounds are the champeens of the PCL, a few good men get rewarded for their efforts. Glover and Durrington aren't prospects, but each has his virtues, Glover for still having a live arm, and Durrington for his speed and willingness to play anywhere. I know, I'm overly enamored with Durrington, but hitting .300/.389/.409 when you can play eight positions (including catcher) and pinch-run... that's not such a bad way to use that last spot on the bench, not in a world that gives us Carlos Baerga or Lenny Harris or Gerald Williams. Returned to the rotation once he was demoted, Glover was actually a pretty decent workhorse for Nashville, and while I wouldn't encourage anyone to get overly worked up about him, there are worse guys to bring to camp and consider for your fifth starter's slot.
The real name to note is Cruz's. Picked up from the A's in what's looking like a steal of a deal by Doug Melvin, Cruz slugged .537 between Double-A Huntsville and Nashville, bopping 27 home runs and 32 doubles, drawing 61 walks, and even swiping 19 bases between the two levels. While everyone's noted the ascension of prospects like Prince Fielder, Rickie Weeks, and Corey Hart and J.J. Hardy in the second rank, Cruz might give the team a corner outfielder with enough sock to let them comfortably let Carlos Lee walk after next season, assuming they don't deal him (or better yet, Geoff Jenkins) by next season's deadline first. Moving Jenkins would be better still when you consider that scouts believe Cruz has the arm for right field. However, the cautionary note that needs to be struck is that Cruz is already 24, not old at all, but old enough that he shouldn't be kept waiting in Triple-A for too long.
Purchased the contract of INF-B Anderson Hernandez from Norfolk; designated LHP Dae-Sung Koo for assignment. [9/18]
Activated SS-R Bobby Crosby from the 15-day DL. [9/19]
This time of year, it's rare to have to talk about pennant-significant roster moves, since almost everything is tasters, teasers, and parting gifts, but in this article, this is the one move that matters. Not that Marco Scutaro has been worthless; as I've said in this space before, he's played a much better short than I thought possible. But he's also not someone you want in the lineup every day. As much as we've already written and everyone's commented on the difference in this team with and without Crosby and Rich Harden, if such is fate's choice, better to at least get the everyday player back for the last couple of weeks, assuming things are as worthy of Will Carroll's qualified optimism. There's talent on the pitching staff, and Joe Kennedy isn't costing the team games since he stepped into the rotation. It's the lineup that's desperate for help now that Jay Payton has gone back to being a pumpkin, and with neither Dan Johnson nor Scott Hatteberg doing much to put runs on the board. Hopefully, Crosby and (eventually) Bobby Kielty can help do something about that.
Recalled C-R Ronny Paulino and 3B-R Jose Bautista from Indianapolis; activated LHP Zach Duke from the 15-day DL; purchased the contracts of RHPs Matt Capps and Bryan Bullington and LHP Tom Gorzelanny from Indianapolis; transferred OF-L Chris Duffy from the 15- to the 60-day DL; released LHP Cory Stewart. [9/16]
There's such an amazing amount of talent in this call-up that I don't know where to begin. Paulino's 24, a catcher who can play the position and who hit 19 home runs between Double- and Triple-A this year. Bautista's the once-lost prospect that Dave Littlefield wisely reacquired last summer; his hitting .283/.364/.503 at Altoona should squelch any thought of launching a Ty Wigginton publicity campaign. You know about Duke, I believe his name's been in the papers a bit lately. On the mound, Bullington is the former first-round pick who's put some of the luster back in his prospect rep by having a pretty decent summer in Indy. I've been a booster for Gorzelanny for months, not simply for the nifty splitter Will Carroll has mentioned, but for the results it generates: 124 Ks in 129 2/3 IP this season, against 46 walks and 114 hits allowed, and with only six home runs surrendered all year. In the organization's firmament of promising arms, I'd rate Gorzelanny with almost all of the others, perhaps even Duke. I don't if Littlefield and Pete Mackanin are looking at everyone for next year, but it's certainly a team to watch now, through the winter, and most definitely next spring.
The guy who might seem like a bit of a relative mystery is Capps. A high-school pitcher picked in the seventh round of the 2002 draft, the young fireballer struggled as a starting pitcher. Moved into a relief role this summer, he posted an insane 65/6 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 73 2/3 IP, allowing 2.8 runs per nine and two home runs all season between A ball and Altoona. He already had good command before this season, but now he's 22, throwing in the low 90s and supplementing it with a good slider, and not so far off from making it to stay. If you're a Pirates fan and all of the more notable prospects weren't already reason enough to get excited, here's just one more name to keep you warm over the winter.
Activated RHP Gil Meche from the 15-day DL. [9/16]
I know these are themes already worn thin by a summer's worth of discontent, but Choo and Rivera are up because the Mariners are still short of help in the outfield and behind the plate. Happily, although Rivera looks like yet another crash test dummy in shinguards, Choo still has promise. He is only 23, and having moved up a level a year each of the last four without faltering, he's certainly worth looking at. Although his hitting .282/.382/.431 at Tacoma means he didn't deliver the power spike we were hoping he'd have before the season, he does have a good eye and none of the health concerns that have handicapped Chris Snelling and Jamal Strong, and he's younger than either of them. And if Choo simply joins them in their capacity to disappoint, I guess Mariners fans will just have to hope that Wladimir Balentien is the real deal, lest their organization is going to wind up with the rep that the Blue Jays had in the late '80s and early '90s, when waves of overhyped outfielders would rocket up to Syracuse before turning out to be major-league disappointments.
Just a quick add of a lefty bat on the bench. Clark didn't really have a notable season at Fresno (.316/.367/.483), but he's put in eight years with the organization since being picked in the seventh round of the '98 draft (including almost five years at Double-A), he can run a bit (29 steals in 41 attempts), and it's a better gesture to reward someone like this than hoping that Alex Sanchez might come back and play for a fruit basket. Maybe Clark thwacks something in a pinch-hit. Maybe he steals a base that leaves Pads fans pulling out their hair. It's a straw, and Giants fans might have to clutch at them this late in the game, but it's worth hoping for. At the very least, he's probably a better bet to make contact than Todd Linden.
Although it would be easy to claim all-knowing wisdom on the subject of Junior Spivey's failure as a pickup meant to shore up the Nats' bid for contention, on this score I've been credited with powers of clairvoyance that I frankly lack. For the reasons I mentioned at the time of his acquisition, I felt Spivey's pickup was a bad idea, and however poor his performance during the first 90 plate appearances or so of his brief Nats career, it's his loss to injury that is the reason why I would not say I'm any more right about getting him than we can "prove" that Dayn Perry was wrong in his defense of the move. That's not to say that I think Dayn is right on the subject, then or now. I remain confident when I say that Spivey's not the player his defenders wish he was. He isn't a defensive asset or anything more than a decent lefty masher, and for myself, I prefer meat to potatoes in the lineup. The Nats needed to shore up their lineup this summer, to be sure, so you can sort of credit Bowden with trying to do something. Certainly, the mostly-bare cupboard that Bowden inherited from Omar Minaya didn't help, but Spivey was no more of a good add-on than Preston Wilson was in-season. The conclusion to draw from the Nationals' machinations remains that the team's lineup drowned in its curdled present as well as in its desertified past.
As for Armas, I would suggest that the time has come to non-tender him this winter. It sure seems like he's been the unhealthiest non-Mariner hurler on the planet, and the franchise will already have to endure the costs sunk with the decision to claim the execrable Ryan Drese off of waivers with a year to go on his equally execrable contract. The surprising good fortune has been what's gotten wedged into the rotation like something loose sucked into a vacuum in his absence: Hector Carrasco, of all people. He's done nice work in a couple of desperation spot starts, helping to fill out a rotation already burdened with the hard lesson of what happens when you try to make do with John Halama.
At any rate, come the winter, I would hope that the Nats recognize that their ballpark makes them an attractive destination to the aspiring retread, so that they might shake something loose off of waivers or by dipping into the free talent pool. It would spare those of us in the area for too much more cleverness of Halamian or Drese-y stripes. As temporarily cool as it might be that the Nats are basically using a four-man rotation, it's more a matter of running out of alternatives than a matter of design. Necessity might be the mother of invention, but when Necessity's getting around this much, you almost want to bring up the subject of abstinence.