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March 15, 2011

Divide and Conquer, NL West

Everyone Was Young and Promising Once

by Geoff Young

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When I was in Peoria last week, a few young Padres caught my eye. One such player is first baseman Anthony Rizzo.

Rizzo came to San Diego in the Adrian Gonzalez trade and is an imposing figure. I have a natural suspicion of prospects from large media markets (hype much?), and the Padres ruined this body type for me with Allan Dykstra, who isn't the Jim Thome we were looking for and who probably isn't even Rob Nelson.

But it's good to keep an open mind, a fact I tried to keep in mind while watching the left-handed hitting Rizzo flick batting practice fastballs off the wall in left-center field. Padres.com beat writer Corey Brock commented that Rizzo's opposite field power reminded him of Gonzalez. Although that is a dangerous statement to make, it's also a difficult one to refute.

Rizzo batted just once in the game I attended and didn't make a strong impression either way. A few days later, I caught part of a game against the Cleveland Indians on television and saw Rizzo inside-out a Carlos Carrasco fastball over the wall in left-center. It wasn't a bad pitch, and even the Cleveland broadcasters seemed surprised at how well the ball carried. Yes, it's Arizona, but still...

Left-handed hitters typically struggle to hit for power at Petco Park. Those who have succeeded--Gonzalez and, to a far lesser degree, Will Venable--have done so by driving the ball to the opposite field. Rizzo figures to spend most of 2011 at Triple-A Tucson, but when he does arrive in San Diego, the approach he has demonstrated this spring should serve him well.

As a caveat, Kevin Goldstein notes that the Padres' third-ranked prospect can get "pull-conscious" at times. Tucson manager Terry Kennedy and hitting coach Bob Skube therefore must make sure that Rizzo keeps using all fields, thus maximizing his chances to succeed when he reaches the big leagues.

* * *

Just up the I-5, former Padres right-hander Jon Garland strained his oblique muscle during a game against the Seattle Mariners. The Dodgers are hopeful that Garland will miss only a couple of starts, but obliques are a tricky beast for pitchers.

When San Diego's Chris Young suffered a strained oblique in July 2007, he was in the midst of a dominant season. Although he missed only a couple of starts, he was not the same pitcher after returning from the disabled list:

 

GS

IP

ERA

BA

OBP

SLG

HR/9

BB/9

SO/9

pre-injury

20

118.2

1.82

.184

.257

.267

0.30

2.96

8.65

post-injury

10

54.1

5.96

.208

.329

.365

0.99

5.47

8.78

Granted, this is a small sample and no two snowflakes are alike, but Young struggled with his command after the injury. The Padres were in the thick of a pennant race and may have been anxious to re-add a key component of their pitching staff (he was out 15 days; Dodgers skipper Don Mattingly acknowledges the need for 30 or so days to recover from such an injury), but this piece of admittedly anecdotal evidence seems to point in favor of exercising caution with Garland. The Dodgers, meanwhile, are looking at Jon Ely or Tim Redding to fill Garland's spot in the rotation.

On a more bitter note, I drafted Garland early in the BP Kings Scoresheet League largely on the belief that health is a skill. This is, after all, a guy who made 32 or more starts in each of the past nine seasons. Among active pitchers, only Javier Vazquez (11), Barry Zito (10), and Livan Hernandez (10) have longer runs. Take away Garland's ability to eat innings and, well, you take away his game.

In news that has nothing to do with Garland, Assistant GM Kim Ng has left the Dodgers to work with Joe Torre in the commissioner's office. Current New York Mets GM Sandy Alderson held a similar role in the past, and the pioneering Ng could follow Alderson's path toward her eventual goal of becoming a big-league GM.

* * *

Continuing along the California coast (after stopping for Thursday night's Farmer's Market in San Luis Obispo, of course), we find another young first baseman enjoying a fine spring. The Giants didn't make many changes over the winter, so there isn't an immediate opening for Brandon Belt. Then again, Belt put up ridiculous numbers (.352/.455/.620) at three stops last year in his pro debut. That's the sort of performance that tends to create openings, even for a manager as averse to playing young position players as Bruce Bochy has been.

The Giants' top prospect elicits comparisons to former San Francisco first baseman Will Clark, and although it's premature to start fantasizing about 284 big-league homers, there's a lot to like. Belt finished 10th in the California League last year in walks despite playing just 77 games there. Sure, his plate discipline declined as he moved up the ladder and faced savvier pitchers, but it didn't disappear:

Level

PA

BB

SO

BB%

BB/SO

High-A

333

58

50

.174

1.160

Double-A

201

22

34

.109

.647

Triple-A

61

13

15

.213

.867


Belt also has been compared to current Giants catcher Buster Posey, another former phenom who advanced rapidly through the minors. For a franchise that has been searching for offense since Barry Bonds wasn't invited to play baseball anymore, a core of Posey and Belt would go a long way toward complementing an already dangerous pitching staff.

* * *

Meanwhile, Colorado right-hander Greg Reynolds, taken second overall in the 2006 draft (one pick before Evan Longoria, five before Clayton Kershaw, nine before Tim Lincecum), is getting a long look. Reynolds made 13 starts for the Rockies in 2008 and the results (8.13 ERA) weren't pretty.

Reynolds missed almost all of 2009 and made just 19 starts last year. His career minor-league 5.2 SO/9 isn't inspiring, and there's not much reason to believe that at age 25, he'll suddenly figure out how to put the ball past hitters. Still, with Aaron Cook's situation going from bad (sore right shoulder) to worse (broken right ring finer), an opportunity could arise sooner rather than later.

Esmil Rogers appears to be the favorite to replace Cook, and there are other competitors vying for the spot, but just because you don't make the team now doesn't mean you won't be there at some point. If Reynolds continues to impress, he could see action in Denver this summer and make Rockies fans forget about Longoria, Kershaw, and Lincecum.

Well, not that last part.

* * *

Finally, in the Diamondbacks camp, Russell Branyan reminds us not to place too much stock in spring training stats. The veteran lefty masher was hitting .464/.500/.857 in 10 games through Saturday, but with only two strikeouts.

When is the last time Branyan went 10 games with only two strikeouts? I don't know; it's never happened at the big-league level. He's had three strikeouts over a 10-game stretch a few times, most recently from July 27 to September 27, 2008. On the other hand, when your career ISO is higher than that of Mark Teixeira, Harmon Killebrew, and Willie McCovey (among many others), the inability to make consistent contact shouldn't stand in the way of anything.

Branyan and Wily Mo Pena, who has impressed manager Kirk Gibson, are fighting for spots on the Arizona bench. Pena hasn't played in the majors since hitting .205/.243/.267 in 64 games for the Washington Nationals in 2008. The still-only-29-year-old hit .324/.390/.556 in 40 games at Triple-A Portland in the Padres system last year.

Pena hit 26 homers for the Reds at age 22. Seven players in big-league history have hit that many at that age. Here they are, in descending order of career home runs:

Player

Year

Team

Career HR

Hank Aaron

1956

Mil

755

Andruw Jones

1999

Atl

407

Adam Dunn

2002

Cin

354

Darryl Strawberry

1984

NYN

335

Eric Chavez

2000

Oak

230

Hal Trosky

1935

Cle

228

Wily Mo Pena

2004

Cin

77

Someone's got a little catching up to do...

Related Content:  The Who,  Jon Garland,  Terry Reynolds

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