Anaheim Angels

  • K-tastic!: Following up from last season, when he was lights out from June onward, Francisco Rodriguez has once again put the ‘filth’ in ‘filthy’. After allowing 29 hits in his last 70 innings last year, here’s his line so far this year: 19 IP, 12 H, 4 BB, 31 K and a 0.47 ERA. Not quite the K/BB ratio of Eck in his prime, but then again Eck’s K rate was never this good (14.7 K/9IP) With Rafael Soriano wrestling with nagging injuries thus far, Rodriguez can make a good case as the best young reliever in baseball. After splashing on the scene at the end of 2002, last year’s impressive campaign got missed by a lot of people (partially because it was hard to top his performance in 2002 down the stretch and in the playoffs, and partially because he got off to a rough start. Many times, we get caught up too much in a pitcher’s first 20 IP or a batter’s first 100 AB when that player’s obviously out of line with expected performance. Hey, what is happening to Ramon Castro this year, anyway?)

    Another product of the Anaheim reliever factory, Kevin Gregg has been similarly impressive, posting the following line: 27 IP, 20 H, 6 BB, 25 K and a 1.33 ERA. His performance has certainly helped fill the void left by the injury to Brendan Donnelly. Once Donnelly returns, the Angels’ pen should be a semblance of its former self.

    As good as the Angels’ relief corps (primarily K-Rod & Gregg) has been, the rotation has been decidedly…well, blah. They haven’t been that BAD, mind you. It’s hard to get excited about your rotation, however, when your best two pitchers (according to VORP) are relievers (K-Rod and Gregg). Put another way, if Aaron Sele is your most effective starter…hey, how about that K-Rod and Gregg?

  • Can’t Glaus Over This: In this space, we had hoped to effusively praise Troy Glaus at some point this year. He looked like he was starting to have that monster season we’d been waiting for since he mashed to the tune of .284/.404/.604 at the tender age of 23 in 2000. Fate is a fickle fiend, however, and now he’s going under the knife to repair a torn labrum. It’s another unfortunate turn of events for Glaus and the Angels. He was off to a fantastic start, leading the league with 11 HR in his first 108 AB, slugging close to .700. One wonders if we’ll ever see that season we’ve expected where Glaus goes ballistic on the league. Best wishes to Troy for a full recovery.

  • The Erstad Watch: When Darin Erstad went down, the collective wails of a thousand souls were heard throughout the land. Yes, those are the hopeful HACKING MASS owners seeing their dream of a Bud Selig autographed picture go down in flames.Having lost–at least temporarily–the cornerstone of their franchise, they must now seek out another avenue as an outlet for their Byzantine frustrations.

    The upshot in all of this is that Casey Kotchman gets the call from Double-A Arkansas. One has to wonder if Erstad would get Wally Pipped if it weren’t for his albatross of a contract; Kotchman’s one of the best prospects in the game, and once he settles in ought to be a solid 1B for the next decade. His swing gets some people all teary-eyed, but the results are there as well. At Double-A, he was hitting .368/.438/.544 (BA/OBP/SLG), good for a translated major league EqA of .271. That’s already a far cry better than Erstad, provided he can keep it up. Erstad has become practically the definition of ‘sunk cost.’

  • The Arkansas Trinity: In addition to Kotchman, the Halos have a couple more members of a group that evokes memories of the Blue Jays’ juggernaut at Double-A last year–Alexis Rios, Gabe Gross, John-Ford Griffin and Guillermo Quiroz. The Angels have (or had, now that Kotchman’s up) a holy trinity of their own at Double-A Arkansas, with Kotchman, Jeff Mathis and Dallas McPherson. Mathis is still a little ways away, hitting .297/.363/.486. He’ll likely claim Los Dos Molinas’ job(s) by 2006. McPherson’s shown some impressive pop, and if Glaus needs to move left along the defensive spectrum (1B) because of his shoulder problems, that opens the door at 3B. McPherson hit .298/371/.504 so far this year; only concerns about his defense are likely to keep him from Anaheim for too long. He could even be up as soon as this year.

Chicago Cubs

  • Something to Sneeze at: Sammy Sosa’s sneeze heard ’round the world–or the Loop anyway–has landed him on the 15-day DL, retroactive to May 15. BP’s Will Carroll gives the diagnosis as a strained intersegmental ligament. Anatomy fans, click the link and enjoy. Roster construction fans, get ready for more Todd Hollandsworth than you’d ever hope to see. In the meantime, David Kelton looks like the most likely candidate for a call-up to take Sosa’s roster spot, of course that ignores a player who’s…

  • …Down on the Farm: First, the warts: He’s old for a prospect. He was returned by the Blue Jays (one of the analytically-minded teams) in the Rule V draft last year. He may turn into a pumpkin at the major league level.

    Now, the good stuff. Having slugged his way through the minor leagues, 25-year-old Jason DuBois is doing more of the same this season. At last count, he was putting up a line of .315/.396/.662, with 12 HR in 130 ABs for Triple-A Iowa. That’s good for a .293 translated Major League Equivalent Average. He may not be much more than a fourth OF for the Cubs right now, but he’d sure be a good one.

    The other possible extra OF bat belongs to Dave Kelton, but he hasn’t done nearly as well at Triple-A, posting .264/.320/.464 numbers to date. Barring an unforeseen breakout, it’s looking like he’ll be looking forward to a career as a fourth outfielder if he’s fortunate. DuBois may be the better choice as Sammy’s replacement.

  • Wood Chipped: After waiting all season for Mark Prior to return amid rumors and innuendo, Cubs fans must have collectively gasped when Kerry Wood came out of his last start with inflammation in his triceps. So far, so good. It looks like the Cubs are simply taking the cautious route (as with Prior) and Wood should be back pitching fairly soon. If the Cubs can address their SS problem (even after Alex Gonzalez returns), they’d look quite formidable going down the stretch.

    In the meantime, in addition to the early excellence of Matt Clement, Carlos Zambrano has been otherworldly, giving up less than a baserunner an inning, with an ERA under 2. He certainly doesn’t seem to be showing any ill effects after running out of gas at the end of last season. Any team would love to have to call Zambrano & Clement their fourth and fifth starters–the way they’re pitching so far this year, most would love to call them their #1 and #2 starters. The fifth starter title really belongs to Greg Maddux once everyone’s healthy; how many people thought you’d hear that before the season was all said and done?

  • Bothersome Borowski: Despite all the protests to the contrary, Joe Borowski just doesn’t seem like the same pitcher he’s been the past couple seasons. His velocity’s widely reported as being down, and the numbers bear it out: 14 2/3 IP, 18 H, 11 BB and 12 K with a 6.14 ERA. About the only silver lining in that cloud is he’s still striking out almost a man per inning. However, he’s getting hit hard and his control’s gone AWOL. He seems to be getting by on guile, guts and deception, but he’s having to be awfully fine to do so. In the meantime, let’s hope Dusty doesn’t get fixated on Borowski’s magic closer pixie dust and realizes LaTroy Hawkins and Kyle Farnsworth are more than capable of stepping into that role.

  • Bye-Bye Ben: We’ll miss him. Not in the way we’d miss Nuke Laloosh, who plunked a mascot to put the fear of ‘effectively wild’ into the batters’ head–no, that was funny and cute. We’ll miss him more in the way that we miss the clubbing of baby seals.

    Ben Christensen is done. Stick a fork in him. Perhaps there is some justice in the world, after all, though that still won’t bring back Anthony Molina’s health or his prospects for a career in baseball. For those of you who need a refresher, here’s an update.

    Yes, Christensen was the guy who beaned Molina in the head. It happens sometimes…if the hitter’s in the batters’ box. Only, in this instance, Molina was 20 feet away. Presumably, it was a ‘message’ or ‘punishment’ for trying to time Christensen’s pitches while on-deck. Maybe there are better ways to send a message–like missing by several feet or plunking him in the butt when he does get to the plate. Maybe there’s a bizarre form of justice in the world as well.

Milwaukee Brewers

  • Holy Sheets!: As previously noted in this space, Ben Sheets is doing his best Curt Schilling imitation. The homers are always going to be there to a certain extent, but he’s sure brought the rest of his game a long way. On the heels of his 18-strikeout, one-walk performance Sunday against Atlanta (91 strikes out of 116 pitches–78.4%!), Sheets’ line reads as follows: 59 IP, 46 H, 9 BB, 66 K, 6 HR and a 2.90 ERA. Truly Schilling-esque. (For now, we’ll brush aside the fact that Randy Johnson threw a perfect game the very next start against that same depleted Braves lineup.)

    Provided Sheets keeps up this trend, his biggest red flag to avoid will be the injury nexus: If he can handle the workload and the Brew Crew isn’t tempted to get too much of a good thing, Bernie’s Brewers might have a legitimate ace to build around as their young hitting prospects creep closer to the Show.

  • Overachieving Overbay: Knowing that Prince Fielder is destroying Double-A pitching and nipping at his heels, Lyle Overbay has kicked it into a higher gear. Overbay’s timing is impeccable, as he was at risk of becoming labeled Mark Grace-lite, with an expiration date of 2006.

    Overbay was never going to be the favorite son in Arizona; that much was obvious when he was more productive than Grace’s own creaky remains yet couldn’t push Gracie out of the lineup. But Overbay has answered his critics (so far) by adding some power to his game: His 21 doubles project to about 92 over a full season, and the five HRs project to 22. The .638 SLG isn’t going to hold up, but it’s a nice start.

    Visually, Overbay seems to have added a good amount of bulk; perhaps that’s in response to his critics. Let’s hope it doesn’t adversely affect his fielding too much. That said, if he keeps up a decent batting average, draws walks and slugs .500–well, you can live with that if the defense slips a little.

    Keeping in mind that Fielder’s on the way (and not that far off, as a 20-year old hitting .279/.368/.514 at Double-A), the Brewers could do worse than to get a decent year or two out of Overbay, then flip him for prospects, especially pitchers to balance out their plethora of position prospects.

    The Brewers are in a great position to leverage their existing roster into future benefit, all while making room for their next wave of young talent. Some pitching depth would be nice to complement Sheets when the others arrive.

  • Hardy-less: J.J. Hardy went down for the count in an incident similar to the Richie Sexson injury, finishing his 2004 season. Here’s wishing him a full recovery from surgery to repair the sublixation of his left shoulder. It’s a shame for the Brewers–not because they need him next month or anything, but because we don’t want to dim a light that might shine so brightly. Hardy had picked it up at Triple-A to the tune of .277/.330/.495 before getting hurt. Defense has been his calling card, so hitting that well at Triple-A as a 21-year-old had to be encouraging.

    Brewers fans have plenty of reasons to get excited about 2005 and beyond in the field; Hardy, Fielder, Rickie Weeks and possibly Corey Hart (no, we don’t know if he wears his sunglasses at night ).

  • Double Duty Kieschnick: Pitcher Brooks Kieschnick has been surprisingly effective, sporting a 1.47 ERA in 18 1/3 relief innings, having given up 13 hits to go along with seven walks and 12 strikeouts. Hitter Brooks Kieschnick…after running a .300/.355/.614 line last year (sample size warning: 70 ABs), he’s hitting .368/.429/.632 so far this year. You wonder what might happen if the Brewers let this experiment go a little further, for all they’ve talked about keeping Kieschnick in one role. Sometimes, you can’t ignore performance, and your hand gets forced.
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