A look at how former prospect Esmil Rogers has begun to get his career back on track
When a pitcher throws in the mid-to-upper 90s, teams tend to give that player every chance to succeed. In the case of Esmil Rogers, the Rockies gave him 184 2/3 innings before deciding it was better to accept cash from the Cleveland Indians for the services of the out-of-options flamethrower. The issue for Rogers in Colorado tended to be his inability to find the strike zone on a consistent basis. He had a 20 percent strikeout rate and just an 8 percent walk rate in 2010 but then went 16 and 12 in 2011 and 22 and 14 in 2012 before the Rockies pulled the plug on the live-armed hurler in early June.
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The next hard-throwing right-handed Tigers reliever has made great strides this season and isn't far from Detroit.
Bruce Rondon entered professional baseball in 2008 as a member of the Detroit Tigers’ Venezuelan Summer League club. At the time, he was just another kid, a 17-year-old with a fastball that sat in the high 80s and low 90s and a fringy slider. He struggled to command his pitches and, as a result, spent all of 2008 and most of 2009 in the VSL. In 2010, his velocity ticked up and his slider became an average offering, helping him build some steam as a prospect. By 2011, Rondon had a fastball that consistently received grades of 75 and 80 from scouts.
Not surprisingly, scouts and player development officials really like Rondon. While some envision him as a future closer waiting for the right opportunity, others liken him to a former Tigers flamethrower who excelled in a setup role. “He’s pretty similar to a guy they had a few years ago, Joel Zumaya,” one scout opined. Rondon is a classic fastball/slider pitcher, but his ability to harness triple-digit velocity makes him stand out. “The stuff is all there,” the scout added. “He just needs to show better command.”
Homer Bailey and Dillon Gee get the Sporer-style VP treatment this week.
Leaving Ervin Santana(Yahoo! 67%, ESPN 66%, CBS 87%) has finally seen his ESPN percentage surge, leaving him available in very few leagues now—as it should be in light of his May performance (2.91 ERA in 34 innings), although the timing here isn’t the best as he comes off his worst start of the month during which he walked seven Mariners while allowing four runs in five innings. Everyone is entitled to a hiccup here and there, though, even if it is against Seattle (just ask Derek Holland), and the important part is that he has allowed just three home runs for the month after allowing 10 in April.
Tall guys, short guys, and even starters can all profile as potential bullpen pieces.
Relievers are the byproduct of deficient starters, much like second basemen are to shortstops, or left fielders are to center fielders, or reality television “stars” are to the failures of human development. However, inherent deficiency doesn’t preclude potential value, because let’s face it, somebody has to pitch in relief (and be good at it), and somebody has to slide over to second base, and somebody has to get paid for candid promiscuity and binge drinking for our amusement.
When it comes to ranking relievers, I wanted to step away from the establishedconstruct and craft specific tiers to compartmentalize such an abstract pool of talent. After all, every pitcher in the minors could be considered a reliever, depending on the evaluation linked to each player. For this exercise, I spent a week talking to scouts, asking them about current relievers, current starters that could become relievers, and failed position players that have become relievers. If a scout mentioned a potential relief future, I documented it. If a scout failed to mention a reliever, despite his sparkling numbers, or your admiration for his services, I didn’t force the name into the mix. This article would require 10 parts to properly detail every arm that could have an impact in relief. That wasn’t the goal.
What can the recently retired Todd Wellemeyer's debut tell us about the prospects of pitchers who succeed in their first outings?
Todd Wellemeyer retired last week in a muted fashion well-suited to a nondescript pitcher. The journeyman label might be applied too often, but it does fit Wellemeyer—a flamethrower without much idea of where his pitches would wind up—who broke into the majors with the Cubs and spent time in the majors with the Marlins, Royals, Cardinals, and Giants. Wellemeyer inked a minor-league deal with the Cubs this offseason, but he chose to walk away after making one ugly Triple-A appearance.
My Wellemeyer moment came in his first big-league appearance. After I got home from school, I flipped the television to WGN, where the Cubs were battling the Brewers. Kerry Wood was on the mound and went seven strong, striking out 13 batters while allowing five baserunners and no runs on 121 pitches. However, Antonio Alfonseca and Joe Borowski blew separate leads, as they were wont to do at times, propelling the game deep into extra innings. The contest lasted long enough that Dusty Baker had to use Shawn Estes as a pinch-hitter and allowed both Juan Cruz and Kyle Farnsworth to go three innings apiece.
An unlikely Blue Jay mars Justin Verlander's run at perfection but can't make his team into a contender, and the rest of the updates from around the division.
As J.P. Arencibia, the Toronto Blue Jays’ highly-touted first-round pick from 2007, dug in against Justin Verlander in the eighth inning of Saturday’s game, he wasn’t the batter anyone would have picked to spoil a chance at perfection with patience. In his young major-league career, he had walked just eight times in 123 plate appearances, and in the minors, he was a free-swinger known more for his home runs than his patience.
What followed was an epic battle, as Arencibia fended off a pitcher who was perfect to that point and facing just his 23rd Blue Jay with one out in the eighth inning. The Tigers flamethrower jumped ahead quickly with three foul balls, mixing his 99-mph heat with a devastating curve. Arencibia didn’t give in, taking ball one low and away and ball two (another heater) just off the inside of the plate. Four balls later, the count still stood at 2-2 when Verlander unleashed another errant breaking ball. Arencibia fouled back the 11th pitch of the at-bat before Verlander missed the outside corner by a whisper or two. The Blue Jays had their lone baserunner of the night.
The Mets' fireballing setup man can hit 100 mph on the radar gun, but it's his improved slider that he hopes will give him an unstoppable arsenal.
When your fastball has been clocked as high as 102.5 mph, you don’t necessarily need a plus secondary pitch. Much to the chagrin of National League hitters, Bobby Parnell has one, and it is getting better. The Mets closer-in-waiting has been fine-tuning his slider, and the offering may be what takes him from overpowering to almost unhittable.
The 26-year-old right-hander was already no fun to face in 2010, as he logged an 8.4 K/9 and an even more impressive 4.1 K/BB out of the New York bullpen. Despite an abnormally high .374 BABIP, his ERA was a strong 2.83. He promises to be an even bigger challenge for hitters this year with an improved slider augmenting his heater.
Better and Better
“His breaking ball is getting better, as I think everybody will see,” said Josh Thole, who has established himself as the Mets' primary catcher. “Toward the end of last year he started becoming more aggressive with it, and this year I feel he’s refined it a little bit. You can see how it has improved.
“He gets good action on his slider, down and in to lefties,” continued Thole. “He can use it as his put-away pitch. When you throw that hard, having a put-away pitch that you can bury in the ground and get some swings and misses—it’s a great thing to have in your repertoire.”
According to Mets skipper Terry Collins, the pitch could be a difference maker for the hard-throwing right-hander.
“He’s got one of those special arms where late in the game he can do some damage,” said Collins. “But he doesn’t have to throw 100. He’s worked very hard to make sure that his secondary pitches are effective, and I think that will really help him.
“You have to have something that breaks. Against major-league hitters, you need something that moves, you can’t go just fastball, changeup. You have to get something that’s going to go away from some of these guys, or in to some of these guys, so I think the slider is a good idea for him.”
More and More
Parnell threw his slider just 15.7 percent of the time last year, a number that should increase markedly in 2011. While a pair of outings represents far too small a sample size to give a meaningful projection, PitchFX data shows that he has thrown 41.4 percent sliders to the seven batters he has faced this season. The pitch has averaged 84.3 mph, down from 87.3 last year, and the increased frequency at which it been used has been by design.
“I’m throwing my slider more and in different counts than what I was used to,” explained Parnell late in spring training. “I’m using it as a pitch to get ahead of hitters instead of just trying to strike them out with. In the past it’s been an 0-2, 1-2 pitch and now I’ll even use it on the first pitch of a count."
“I’m trying to throw strikes with it more consistently," Parnell continued. "It’s the same slider, I’m just starting it out in a different location in order to throw it for a strike. I’m not going to float one in and give them something good to hit, but in the same respect, I’m not going to throw one in the dirt. I need to find that happy median and throw the same pitch that I throw on 0-2, for a strike.”
While opposing hitters can expect to see more sliders from Parnell, they can mostly stop worrying about his changeup. He hasn’t completely scrapped it, but it won’t be seen often.
“My changeup is still there,” said Parnell, “but it’s more of a third pitch now. In my situation, having two good pitches is better than having three average pitches, so I’m focusing on fastball-slider. If I’m facing somebody who has seen me several times, my split-finger changeup is something I might pull out of my pocket, but only on occasion.”
Faster and Faster
Parnell averaged 96.4 mph with his fastball last season, hitting triple digits numerous times. Even with the improved slider, it remains his signature pitch, as only five hurlers threw it with a higher average velocity in 2010. Despite that, the flamethrower downplays the importance of his radar gun readings.
“Velocity really isn’t all that important,” opined Parnell. “It’s a side factor for me, I think, more than anything. I have to focus on location and pitch movement to be successful. Velocity comes secondary.
“My four-seamer is going to run a little bit in on a righty, and the more you can make it move, the harder it is on the hitter to see it and hit it. Movement is very important for me, more so than velocity.”
Thole doesn‘t necessarily disagree, but he knows what makes Parnell such an intimidating presence on the mound.
“His fastball is hard,” said Thole. “Not too many guys can say they throw 100 mph. When you’re throwing a heavy ball like he does, it makes it tough on the hitters. He throws a sinker, too, where he takes a little off his velocity, but when you’re throwing a sinker at 96 and then you can go up top at the letters with a 100-mph fastball, you’re going to get a lot of swings and misses. Then you add in the slider, and what you have is a guy you’d rather not face.”
The race to get shortstops while the getting's good could put the Rays in the catbird seat with Jason Bartlett.
The shortstop market is probably the most dynamic component of the Hot Stove position-player market. Lots of teams are looking for help, especially where dire need has sucked unlikely candidates like Jerry Hairston Jr. or Miguel Tejada into the breach on one club last season—a contender, no less! And then there's the perpetuation of players like Yuniesky Betancourt, Cesar Izturis, or Tommy Manzella, easy fodder for die-hard contractionistas dug into Bud's bunker, as well as those grognards terminally committed to bellyaching about something about the game itself—why not the shortage of shortstops as the latest evidence that 30 teams is simply too much of a good thing?
Following in the steps of looking at how the Giants' roster was constructed, now we look at how the Rangers were put together.
Now it’s time to focus on GM Jon Daniels and former (arguably current) flamethrower Nolan Ryan’s creation, the Texas Rangers. We’ll start here with the one of the most potent and powerful offenses in baseball:
Team Salary: $55 million Average Salary: $1.9 million Total Years of Control: 90 Average Age: 28.6
They arrived as National League Central champions ahead of schedule but are they here to stay?
Kiss 'Em Goodbye is a series focusing on MLB teams as their postseason dreams fade—whether in September (or before), the League Division Series, League Championship Series or World Series. It combines a broad overview of this season from Buster Olney, a take from Baseball Prospectus, a look toward a potential 2011 move courtesy of Rumor Central and Kevin Goldstein's farm system overview. You can find all the teams on one page by going here.