April 23, 2008
AL Central Notebook
Poreda Outshined by Fellow '07 Draftee: The top prospect in a bad system, left-hander Aaron Poreda's 2.35 ERA at High-A Winston-Salem doesn't reflect the true story of his initial struggling this spring. Carolina League hitters are batting a healthy .302 against the former University of San Francisco star, as he continues to live off of his fastball, showing little in the way of secondary pitches and allowing his opponents to simply sit back, dead-red. The development of his slider is the key to his future, and so far, it still needs a lot of work. The more impressive performance in the Warthog rotation is coming from righty John Ely, a third-round pick last summer out of Miami (Ohio). Known more for his command and his changeup than any kind of overwhelming stuff, Ely has a legitimate 1.89 ERA in three starts and a fantastic 15-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 19 innings. His upside doesn't come close to Poreda's, but he could be a quick mover who is ready for an audition for the back end of the big league rotation in 2010.
Whither Josh Fields? When Joe Crede went down last year, Fields did a more than credible job by slugging 23 home runs in 100 games in Crede's place. A closer look at the statistical line does find cause for concern, however, as Fields hit just .244 while striking out 125 times in 373 at-bats. With Crede healthy and productive so far this year, Fields finds himself back at Triple-A Charlotte, where he's come out of the gate slowly with a .254/.333/.356 line in 15 games with just one home run. With Crede's impending free agency, Fields could be taking over again soon, but one veteran scout I spoke to is convinced that Field's isn't going to make many more improvements: "What'd he hit last year in the big league? .240? That's about as good as he can get if you ask me," he concluded. "There are just a ton of holes in that swing."
Can Sowers Help Again? When the Indians made Jeremy Sowers the sixth overall pick in the 2004 draft, he was seen by many as almost a left-handed Greg Maddux--a pitcher whose exceptional command and control, along with an excellent feel for his craft, made up for average-to-good stuff. Early in his career, Sowers lived up to those high expectations, dominating minor league hitters en route to reaching the big leagues by mid-2006, and putting up an impressive 3.57 ERA in his first half-season. Since then, he's struggled in a major way, putting up a 6.42 ERA with the Indians in 13 starts last year before getting sent back to the minors, where he got beat up for 112 hits in 96 2/3 innings at Triple-A Buffalo. He wasn't even seen as much of a candidate for a rotation job this spring. Now, back in Buffalo again and almost 25, Sowers has been up and down so far for the Bisons, with a 3.18 ERA in four starts, but eight walks in 22 2/3 IP--not bad for somebody else--is bad news for a pitcher like Sowers. "I just don't know about him," said one veteran scout. "This is a total guess, but I think he might be asking himself what's going on a little too much, and that's creating its own blockage that's keeping the light from coming on." The scout finished with his theory on fastballs and why Sowers needs to find his once pinpoint command: "When you have a 70 (on the 20-to-80 scouting scale) fastball, you don't need a ton of command, but Sowers has a 30 fastball, so his command has to be a 70, and it's not there right now." Whatever his troubles, Sowers might get another shot this week in the big leagues with Jake Westbrook going to the DL.
Talent Beyond Porcello at Lakeland: Even if you're the best high school right-hander to come along in years, a pro debut in High-A is an aggressive assignment. Nevertheless, Rick Porcello has more than held his own in four starts, allowing just 13 hits in 20 innings while striking out 16 and walking five. What's even scarier is that he's still stretching out his arm, and pitching mainly off of his fastball, which is rarely hitting his normal mid-90s velocity, and he's even more rarely employing his plus curveball. That means the best could be yet to come.
While the offseason moves gutted what was only a mediocre system to begin with, there is another player catching the eyes of scouts in Florida. A sixth-round pick last year who got nearly $1.5 million to sign, shortstop Cale Iorg is taking little time to wear off the rust from a two-year Mormon mission, batting .290/.364/.507 in his first 18 games while also earning good reviews of his defensive work. Like his brother, Astros outfielder Eli Iorg, Cale's mission forces an aggressive timetable, as he'll already be 23 in September, but he's generally considered a superior talent to his older sibling. One player who enters the year with far less hype than Porcello and Iorg--but remains one of the more interesting sleepers in the system--is catcher Jamie Skelton. Scouts aren't sure what to make of him; at 165 pounds he's about as skinny a catcher as you'll ever see, and while he doesn't have power, he's coming off of a .309/.402/.448 season in the Midwest League, and is reaching base at a .452 clip so far in 2008. On-base skills and athleticism should be enough to make him some kind of prospect.
The Bubble Starts To Burst: Last year, left-hander Rowdy Hardy went 15-5 with a 2.48 ERA at High-A Wilmington. He became a bit of an internet favorite among that increasingly small section of statheads who still like to "free" players and print t-shirts every time some guy puts up great numbers while getting hammered by scouts. Now, Double-A batters are hammering his low/mid-80s fastball for a .422 average, with 27 hits and 14 runs allowed over 14 innings. He's still getting groundballs in bunches, and he's only walked one batter, but with that kind of stuff, it just doesn't matter.
Where Are The Bats? The Royals' Double-A affiliate at Northwest Arkansas is 5-12. High-A Wilmington is 6-10, and Low-A Burlington is 8-9, and that's only because their pitching staff has been fantastic, with a team ERA of 3.24. Basically, the system's entire hitting corps beyond the Triple-A squad has been more like a hitting corpse. Check out these numbers:
Lvl Team R/G AVG OBP SLG AA NW Arkansas 2.9 .204 .277 .288 A+ Wilmington 3.4 .223 .320 .311 A- Burlington 3.5 .211 .289 .321
While the Royals don't have a ton of hitting prospects, pick one on any of these three teams and chances are he's doing nothing. Prime offenders include catcher Adam Donachie (.156/.182/.188) at Double-A, second baseman Jeff Bianchi (.136/.208/.182), shortstop Chris McConnell (.127/.238/.200), and outfielder Derrick Robinson (.196/.297/.196) with the Blue Rocks, and top prospect Mike Moustakas (.204/.271/.204) in Burlington.
The New Guy: While Carlos Gomez hasn't been the most productive guy in the world during his on-the-job training in the big leagues, the best prospect received from the Mets in the Johan Santana deal is off to a blistering start down at Ft. Myers in the High-A Florida State League. All of 19 years old, Deolis Guerra has a 1.42 ERA in his first four appearances while allowing just 14 hits in 19 innings. One scout who caught an early start walked away very impressed despite the fact that Guerra's stuff was not all there yet: "His velocity was down for me--he was averaging about 88 mph so I didn't see the big fastball. But what I did see was a good plus projectable curve, and a projectable plus-plus changeup that's big league average right now." Beyond the stuff, the scout had high praise for Guerra's pitchability, observing, "He's only the same age as a college freshman, but he has a real feel for pitching that is well beyond his years. He has that big league approach where he works in and out on the plate, but never in the middle, and it's rare to find a player this young with a three-pitch attack plan." The scout added that he believes Guerra will add velocity to his projectable frame, projecting the youngster to become an above-average big league starter with a solid fastball and excellent secondary stuff. "That changeup could be tremendous," he said.