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April 13, 2008

Every Given Sunday

Impact Call-Ups

by John Perrotto

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Last week we looked at the surprise names on Opening Day rosters. This week, let's take a look at 10 players who did not make the final cut in spring training and are not currently on major league rosters who should make an impact at some point this season (listed in descending order of their projected WARP for 2008, according to PECOTA):

  1. Jay Bruce, Reds (4.6 WARP): The 21-year-old center fielder is considered the best prospect in the minor leagues by BP's Kevin Goldstein and nearly every other person who ranks such players. The Reds didn't put Bruce on the Opening Day roster because they didn't want him to bat leadoff and signed free agent center fielder Corey Patterson instead. At some point, though, Bruce will force his way onto the roster, perhaps when even manager Dusty Baker tires of Patterson's low on base percentage.

  2. Colby Rasmus, Cardinals (4.3): Another 21-year-old center fielder, Rasmus showed plenty of patience in spring training, as he drew 13 walks despite never having played above Class Double-A. The Cardinals want him to get a little more polish and a little less major league service time, but he'll eventually push past all the outfielders on their roster not named Rick Ankiel.

  3. Brandon Wood, Angels (4.0): His ability to play both shortstop and third base while hitting with power should eventually get him into the Los Angeles lineup. He might have a hard time unseating Chone Figgins at third base, but shortstops Erick Aybar and Maicer Izturis are hardly an imposing tandem. An injury at another position could also give Wood an opening, since Figgins can be moved to multiple positions.

  4. Josh Fields, White Sox (3.3): With Joe Crede healthy again after back surgery last season, there was no room at third base in Chicago for Fields, even though he hit 23 home runs to lead all major league rookies last season. Crede, though, figures to be traded in July if the White Sox are out of contention.

  5. Nate Schierholtz, Giants (3.0): All he has done is hit, hit, and hit some more throughout his professional career, but San Francisco continues to deny him a major league job. Even when left fielder Dave Roberts went on the disabled list this past week after having knee surgery, outfielder Clay Timpner got the call from the minor leagues. Eventually, the Giants will either stop ignoring Schierholtz's production or trade him.

  6. Ben Francisco, Indians (2.9): He won the International League batting title last season at Class Triple-A Buffalo and had a big spring, but failed to make the club because corner infielder Andy Marte was out of minor-league options. Considering the Indians are getting next to nothing from their left-field platoon of David Dellucci and Jason Michaels, they should eventually be compelled to give Francisco a shot.

  7. Carlos Gonzalez, Athletics (2.9): Oakland is eventually going to need a center fielder, as it is quite debatable if Ryan Sweeney or Chris Denorfia can handle the position on a regular basis, although whether Gonzalez can play out there either is also questionable. Gonzalez has the highest ceiling of the six players the Athletics got back from Arizona in the Dan Haren trade last winter, and talent always wins out in the end.

  8. Max Scherzer, Diamondbacks (2.7): Scouts who saw him pitch this spring in the Cactus League felt he was ready for the major leagues if Arizona wanted to use him in relief. The Diamondbacks have enough pitching depth that they don't need Scherzer now. However, he will eventually force his way onto the roster when the pennant races heat up.

  9. Chase Headley, Padres (2.6): He made a seemingly smooth transition from third base to left field in spring training, but San Diego wants him to gain some minor-league experience in the outfield. Considering Scott Hairston and Paul McAnaulty have been splitting time in left field, it seems certain that Headley, last year's MVP in the Class Double-A Texas League, will get a call to the big leagues sooner rather than later.

  10. Matt Murton, Cubs (2.4): He got squeezed off the roster after the Cubs signed outfielder Reed Johnson, who was released by Toronto, late in spring training. There is little question that the righty-hitting Murton could start in an outfield corner for some team with his sweet swing. It likely won't be for the Cubs, but he will be their prime trading chip when it comes time to fill holes for the pennant race.

---

No owner was more opposed to the Montreal Expos moving to Washington and becoming the Nationals prior to the 2005 season than the Baltimore Orioles' Peter Angelos. Quite simply, Angelos didn't want a second team in the Washington/Baltimore market. However, Angelos has softened his stance and says he now does not mind if Orioles' fans cross over and catch an occasional National League game at new Nationals Park.

"There's no law against visiting the other franchise," Angelos told the Baltimore Sun. "One's a National League city and one's an American League city. Originally, I said they (Washington and Baltimore) were very close to each other. Nonetheless it is the nation's capital and the team is there and it ought to be supported, and hopefully both franchises will provide successful baseball."

Of course, Angelos has a pretty good reason to want the Nationals to be successful--money. He negotiated with Major League Baseball to gain the television rights to Nationals games before they landed in Washington. Angelos insisted he needed to secure those rights in order for his team to be viable financially over the long haul. The Mid-Atlantic Sports Network is owned primarily by the Orioles, with the Nationals holding only a small stake.

"We definitely want them to succeed," Angelos said. "We're partners in the MASN baseball network, and we have an excellent relationship with the Lerner family (who own the Nationals) and with (club president) Stan Kasten, who is an old friend of mine."

Angelos can only hope that more people are watching the Orioles and Nationals on television than in person. The Nationals' second game in their new digs drew an announced crowd of 20,487, while the Orioles had a record-low attendance of 10,505 in their second home game of the season at Camden Yards. Angelos blames the lackluster early-season ticket sales on cold weather.

"We would have had very substantial crowds, the way we've been playing, had it not been for the weather," Angelos said.

---

Last week, we touched on San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy gambling with the talented young right arm of Tim Lincecum by scratching him from a start when rain threatened to delay a game against the Dodgers, using him in relief, and then bringing him back to pitch after a delay. New York Yankees manager and faithful BP reader Joe Girardi did something similar with a young pitcher of his own this past Wednesday, as he decided to scratch Ian Kennedy from his start at Kansas City.

Just before the playing of the national anthem, Kennedy was told to stop warming up. The rain in the area and an unfavorable forecast convinced Girardi that he wouldn't be able to get five or six innings from Kennedy. Instead, reliever Brian Bruney made his first major-league start and went two innings. Billy Traber pitched the third inning, and Kyle Farnsworth worked the fourth and fifth for his first multi-inning appearance since 2006. Kennedy then came on at the start of the sixth and pitched the final three innings. The plan didn't work, though, as the game went on without interruption and the Yankees lost.

"I didn't get fooled," Girardi insisted after the game. "It said once it started raining, it would be moderate-to-heavy. We knew if we started Ian we could only get two innings, and we might have trouble getting through the game."

Kennedy was less than thrilled by the whole situation.

"The best way I can describe it is just different," Kennedy said. "It was weird. I don't like it."

---

The Diamondbacks have set Pythagoras on his ear through the first two weeks of the season. Arizona has outscored its opponents 72-32 while getting off to a 9-2 start. Last year, the Diamondbacks bucked the Pythagorean theorem by winning the NL West despite being outscored 732-714 while finishing 14th in the 16-team league in runs scored. The Diamondbacks are averaging 6.55 runs a game so far this season, albeit in a small sample size, after scoring just 4.41 last year.

"We know the team is built on pitching and defense. You put an offense with that, it's a powerful combination," Diamondbacks left fielder Eric Byrnes said after his two-run, game-winning single this past Wednesday against the Dodgers. "We've been playing well, coming up with timely hits. We have a pretty good thing going. We think we are going to win every day. That's the attitude we have. This isn't a shock to anybody in here, especially when you see the offense come alive."

---

NL Rumors and Rumblings: San Diego is content to go with Colt Morton, called up from Class Double-A San Antonio this past week, as its backup catcher while Michael Barrett recovers from an elbow injury. However, if Barrett winds up missing an extended amount of time, the Padres plan to pursue Damian Miller as a free agent after he failed to land a job in the offseason San Francisco has asked first baseman/outfielder Daniel Ortmeier to abandon switch hitting and to bat from his natural right side as the Giants continue to look for more power in their lineup The Giants are going to give Fred Lewis an extended look in left field now that Roberts is on the disabled list Manny Acosta and Peter Moylan will both likely get save opportunities for Atlanta while closer Rafael Soriano is on the disabled list with a sore elbow, an injury which leaves the Braves bullpen painfully thin While infielder Felipe Lopez has looked good as a temp in left field, he will go back to the bench once Wily Mo Pena comes off the DL, which will likely happen this week Geoff Blum will get most of the playing time at third base for Houston with Ty Wigginton on the DL Astros manager Cecil Cooper plans to break up the long-time battery of pitcher Roy Oswalt and catcher Brad Ausmus, because he wants rookie J.R. Towles to start catching the ace of the staff.

AL Rumors and Rumblings: Detroit is desperate for pitching help, particularly in the bullpen, but has little left in its farm system to offer in trade after dealing a gaggle of prospects to Florida for Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis last winter. Thus, the Tigers are interested in signing Kyle Snyder, who was designated for assignment by Boston, if he clears waivers, though Philadelphia and Tampa Bay also have interest Another player designated for assignment, Oakland first baseman Dan Johnson, has the Yankees and Rangers interested The Athletics are willing to trade right-handers Joe Blanton and Rich Harden, but want a large haul of young players in return While Boston called up top infield prospect Jed Lowrie when third baseman Mike Lowell went on the DL this past week, first baseman Sean Casey will get most of Lowell's playing time, with Kevin Youkilis moving from first to third Though Tampa Bay is going with a platoon of Nathan Haynes and Justin Ruggiano in right field with Cliff Floyd on the DL following knee surgery, the Rays are content with their outfield and not looking to make a trade Sammy Sosa, who spent last season as a part-time designated hitter with Texas, did not receive any interest as a free agent in the offseason but is still holding out hope someone might call if a need arises.

---

Interesting facts as Week 2 of the regular season winds down:

  • The Yankees have yet to steal a base in 12 games this season. The last time they went that deep into a season without a stolen base was in 1948, when Phil Rizzuto and Tommy Henrich pulled off a double steal in the 17th game.

  • Florida got walk-off home runs in two of its first four games, as Robert Andino and Mike Jacobs connected for game-winners. The Marlins are only the fourth team to have that distinction, joining the 1961 Cubs (Sammy Taylor and Al Heist), 1985 Mets (Gary Carter and Darryl Strawberry), and 1999 Dodgers (Raul Mondesi and Gary Sheffield).

  • St. Louis' Kyle Lohse pitched 12 scoreless innings in his first two starts after being signed as a free agent during spring training. He is the first pitcher to not allow a run in his first two starts with the Cardinals.

  • Toronto is the only team to have more than one of the 12 active players with at least 10 career grand slams--the Jays have both Frank Thomas and Matt Stairs. Of those 12 players, Thomas and Stairs are the only two with the distinction of their team having won every game in which they hit their slams.

  • Pittsburgh's Ian Snell pitched six innings, struck out 10, and walked none to beat Florida last Sunday. He became the first pitcher in the Pirates' 122-year history to win a game while pitching no more than six innings with at least 10 strikeouts and no walks. Three pitchers accomplished that feat in 2007: Randy Johnson, Haren, and Scott Kazmir.

---

Three series to watch this week, all within the NL Central, with rankings according to Jay Jaffe's Prospectus Hit List:

No. 2 Reds at No. 3 Cubs, Tuesday-Thursday April 15-17
Probable pitching matchups: Aaron Harang vs. Ryan Dempster; Josh Fogg vs. Carlos Zambrano; Edinson Volquez vs. Undecided

No. 4 Brewers at No. 8 Cardinals, Tuesday-Thursday April 15-17
Probable pitching matchups: Dave Bush vs. Braden Looper; Carlos Villanueva vs. Adam Wainwright; Manny Parra vs. Kyle Lohse

No. 4 Brewers at No. 2 Reds, Friday-Sunday April 18-20
Probable pitching matchups: Ben Sheets vs. Bronson Arroyo; Jeff Suppan vs. Johnny Cueto; Dave Bush vs. Aaron Harang

John Perrotto is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see John's other articles. You can contact John by clicking here

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