Atlanta Braves: It’s hard to believe that Wilson
is included in discussions of the rookies that have helped keep the Braves in the hunt for their 14th straight division title. It seems
Betemit has been around forever–he was signed by the Braves as an amateur
free agent way back in 1996, but will only turn 25 in late July.
Betemit was a popular draft pick in fantasy leagues last century, a former
can’t-miss kid who lost the luster on his star after eight years toiling
in the minors. Although labeled a dud, Betemit quietly got better with
each crack at Triple-A, improving from 2002 to 2003 and from 03 to 04, a
trend that has continued this year in the majors:

Player         AB  XBH BB SO  AVG  OBP  SLG VORP
Wilson Betemit 150  19 16 35 .300 .367 .507 12.4
Chipper Jones  156  22 34 28 .282 .411 .513 17.4

After Chipper Jones went on the DL June 6 with a
ligament strain in his left foot, Betemit took over at third base and has
been a revelation for Atlanta, contributing 0.305 runs
over replacement
per game, not far below Jones’s 0.387 mark. Thanks
to the superiority of Betemit’s glovework to Jones’s shoddy defense,
the gap between what the Braves were getting at third and what they’ve
received has been even smaller–so far this year Jones has compiled 1.8 wins
above replacement
and Betemit 1.5.

With Betemit playing well and Andy Marte waiting in
Richmond until he can permanently seize the third base job, Jones’s
inevitable shift down the defensive spectrum has been accelerated. First
base looks to be an inviting target for Jones, whose still-potent bat,
lack of defensive ability and proclivity for injury seem to make him a
good fit for the position. Adam LaRoche has put up decent
numbers at first: .275/.337/.478 in 247 at-bats, good for a 0.105 marginal lineup value rate. When you adjust
for the premium offensive position LaRoche plays, however, his value
rate drops to 0.060, just 15th best among NL first basemen; the fact
that LaRoche is strictly the left handed side of a platoon also limits
his value. With 11 home runs and 52 RBIs this year, LaRoche could fetch
valuable parts for GM John Schuerholz in trade if Jones consents to
play first. Depending on the attitude of management towards Rafael
, Betemit could also be shifted to shortstop to open
third for Marte. Furcal has had a down year to this point, and will have
compiled the six years of major league service time needed to qualify
for free agency following the season, which could make him expendable and
Betemit a cheaper and younger long term option.

Left field also seemed a possible destination for one of the three
Atlanta third basemen, but Kelly Johnson, called up from
Richmond on May 29 to replace Raul Mondesi, has put an
end to that idea:

Player         AB XBH BB SO  AVG  OBP  SLG VORP
Kelly Johnson 132  12 25 31 .258 .376 .447  7.4
Raul Mondesi  142  12 12 35 .211 .273 .359 -4.8

Corner Outfield Adventure-Atlanta Edition clearly wasn’t a
roaring success. However, the Braves knew before the season that both
Mondesi and Brian Jordan (who with a -3.4 VORP
in 209 AB hasn’t fared much better) were transitory place holders. The
fact that both disappointed has actually worked to Atlanta’s advantage,
advancing younger, better players without burdening the rookies with
excessive expectations. Johnson was promoted after he showed he was ready
for a crack at the Atlanta outfield, tearing up the International
League to the tune of a .310/.438/.581 line in 155 AB with Richmond,
improving his average, on base and slugging percentages for a third straight
year. With six home runs in his first 37 games, Johnson has provided a
significant boost for the offense and a worthy outfield partner for the
revitalized Andruw Jones. In right field, rookies
Ryan Langerhans (.247/.332/.412 in 182 AB, 3.3 VORP) and
Jeff Francoeur (two homers in his first 13 at bats after
jumping from Double-A Mississippi) are on the verge of ensuring the injured
Jordan remains a bench player upon his return. With the increased
production Atlanta will now receive from left and right field, the rest of the
NL East will soon be wishing Mondesi and Jordan could have hung around
a little longer.

Caleb Peiffer

Kansas City Royals: When it came time for Royals GM Allard Baird to trade hot commodity Carlos Beltran last season, many people criticized his decision to only listen to those teams offering both a young, major-leage ready third baseman and a young catcher. The thinking here was that he should have taken the best players available, rather than limit himself to those two positions that had become increasingly difficult to staff with quality offensive players. Baird wound up with Mark Teahen and John Buck (plus pitcher Mike Wood), and handed the center-field job over to rookie David DeJesus. These young players haven’t magically created a winning ballclub out of rookie goodness alone, so let’s see if Royals fans should be optimistic about their futures.

  • When Beltran took his .278/.366/.534 act to Houston, many were pleased to see DeJesus step in and perform admirably, posting an impressive .287/.360/.402 line in his rookie campaign. He hasn’t improved on that line so far this year, however:
                        AVG/OBP/SLG    VORP
    DeJesus, 2005     .284/.352/.414   15.2
    DeJesus, PWM      .283/.367/.434   23.5
    DeJesus, 50th     .279/.361/.429   17.5
    Beltran, 2005     .264/.319/.431   13.2
    PWM = PECOTA weighted-mean forecast for 2005, over 420 AB
    50th = PECOTA 50th percentile forecast for 2005, over 423 AB

    That Beltran is struggling doesn’t make the booty obtained for him any more bountiful. DeJesus hasn’t lost anything significant from his rookie season, but Royals fans may have hoped for more improvement. His PECOTA comparables include Matt Lawton on the plus side, Terrence Long on the minus side. Since the Royals already have Long, there’s obviously an expectation that DeJesus becomes something more.

    On the other hand, keep in mind that players rarely develop in a smooth fashion, with injuries, streaks and random fluctuations all conspiring to bump the numbers up or down in a given year. Still just 25, DeJesus needn’t be held up to Beltran’s stratospheric standards, nor chastised for merely matching his ’04 performance. Further development down the road, however, would be a welcome sight.

  • The decision not to trade David Wright for Beltran was a good one, as the Mets would eventually wind up with both. From the Royals’ standpoint, it’s a big step down from Wright to Teahen, for whom they settled:
    Player       AVG/OBP/SLG    VORP    EqA
    Teahen     .251/.302/.353   -1.2    .229
    Wright     .281/.369/.470   22.7    .289

    In a February chat, Nate Silver mentioned the lack of power as the ultimate undoing of high-OBP, low SLG corner infield guys like Sean Burroughs and Teahen. This makes intuitive sense: if a hitter is going to pass on all the junk being thrown his way, patiently waiting for a good pitch to drive, but never getting around to actually hitting the ball out of the infield once that good pitch comes, pitchers have no incentive to throw junk. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy, in a way. PECOTA agreed, and tagged Teahen with a 39.7% collapse rate (contrast that with Burroughs’ 46.1% collapse rate against just a 2.1% breakout rate).

    Teahen’s minor league line of .287/.368/.411 shows more power than his 2005 line indicates, but not much. That he was given a 13.9% breakout rate and a 32.6% improve rate at least offer some hope that some power is on its way. Some positives: he’s seeing 3.8 pitches per plate appearance (28th in the AL if he had enough PAs to qualify), and he’s hitting a promising number of line drives, thus keeping his BABIP a tidy .321. Unlike Burroughs, there are some underlying indicators that suggest Teahen might have more of a future. If he does develop some power, there’ll be less of an offensive difference between Teahen and Bill Mueller than you might think.

  • What is it this year with young catchers? Here’s a list of all catchers under 26 who have gotten more than 30 PAs:
    Player          Team      Age      PA     AVG/OBP/SLG     VORP
    Humberto Cota    PIT       26     180   .250/.306/.433     9.0
    Rene Rivera      SEA       22      35   .353/.371/.529     5.0
    Brian McCann     ATL       21      37   .303/.378/.485     3.6
    Yadier Molina    STL       23     277   .249/.285/.356     3.1
    John Buck        KCA       25     230   .227/.270/.356      .8
    Chris Snyder     ARI       24     237   .276/.308/.316      .3
    J.D. Closser     COL       25     169   .205/.308/.336    -0.3
    Koyie Hill       ARI       26      61   .212/.311/.231    -1.3
    Ryan Doumit      PIT       24      81   .194/.272/.292    -2.6
    Miguel Olivo     SEA       27     133   .148/.173/.250   -11.5

    Seattle’s Miguel Olivo doesn’t fit the parameters for this discussion, but his season’s so horrendous that he deserves to be on our young catcher Table of Shame. You also have to feel bad for Koyie Hill; all he had to do was outhit Chris Snyder, and he couldn’t even do that.

    But Buck’s performance, while subpar, is hardly an anomaly among rookie catchers. And this crop isn’t terribly out of line with last year’s rookie catchers (Joe Mauer notwithstanding, and Victor Martinez wasn’t a rookie). Buck’s 2004 was also disappointing, as he hit just .235/.280/.424 in 238 ABs. He showed a little pop, though, hitting 12 home runs in just over half a season.

    But he hasn’t built off of whatever positives you can find in his 2004 performance. It’s not too late for Buck, of course, but when one looks at what he’s been able to do in two partial major league seasons, coupled with his deteriorating BB/K numbers since A-ball, it doesn’t look good:

    Year     Level    BB/K
    1998     Rk       .6
    1999     A        .5
    2000     A        .7
    2001     A        .4
    2002     AA       .3
    2003     AAA      .3
    2004     AAA      .5
    2004     MLB      .2
    2005     MLB      .3

    Teahen lacks power, but has a history of both hitting for average and controlling the strike zone. Buck is almost the opposite. A career .271/.337/.431 hitter in the minors, he has a history of a little power, moderate BA, and strike zone judgment that has gotten worse each time he’s advanced. Buck is starting to look an awful lot like A.J. Hinch with a little more pop, and no Stanford pedigree.

John Erhardt

Texas Rangers: Let’s check in on two breakout performances in Texas:

  • David Dellucci is mashing. In a formidable lineup featuring four bona fide stars, Dellucci tops them all in OPS (.940) and Equivalent Average (EqA of .322). At first glance this performance is staggering, but last year’s power spike in his Arlington debut (17 HR in 331 AB) went largely unnoticed.

    Also note the enormous strides in patience. Not only has Dellucci steadily seen more pitches with each passing year…

    Year  PA  Pitches/PA
    1997  32   3.88
    1998 453   3.52
    1999 123   3.59
    2000  54   3.63
    2001 241   3.84
    2002 261   3.84
    2003 248   3.90
    2004 387   4.11
    2005 291   4.31

    …but he also leads the American League in walks per plate appearance, by no small margin.

    Player           BB/PA
    David Dellucci   .182
    Mark Bellhorn    .146
    Gary Sheffield   .144
    Travis Hafner    .139
    Bobby Kielty     .136
    Richie Sexson    .132
    Bill Mueller     .129
    Alex Rodriguez   .128
    Bernie Williams  .126
    David Ortiz      .123

    When Dellucci was snatched away from Baltimore as the 47th pick of the 1997 Expansion Draft, BP lauded Arizona’s pick. Most of his career since then, he’s been one of the better backups in the game, but wasn’t considered much more than that. In his utility role, he was good, providing league-average outfield defense to boot.

    Yet now, as Texas’ primary DH and leadoff man, Dellucci’s been almost totally relieved of both his duties in the field and against lefties. His mission is simple–to destroy righthanded pitchers–and the results have been delicious. Consequently, Adrian Gonzalez‘ path is blocked for the time being, perhaps even to the point of becoming trade bait.

    On the other hand, Dellucci has been avoiding doubles like the plague. There’s some level of flukiness in the allocation of extra base hits in a given season, so the 32-homer pace is probably a bit over his head, especially considering the hitters’ Eden that is Ameriquest Field. Also, the bump in walks has coincided with more strikeouts. Dellucci is whiffing himself into Adam Dunn and Mark Bellhorn territory, but his batting eye (BB/SO) is easily a career best. For two years and $1.8 million, John Hart will take it.

    While some have measured Dellucci’s emergence against Luis Gonzalez‘s at the same age (31) several years ago, a better comparison might be to John Vander Wal, another lefty who served in a similar outfield and pinch-hitting role for the majority his career. Vander Wal was 34 when he peaked for Pittsburgh in 2000. Much like Dellucci, the power spike Vander Wal enjoyed–24 home runs in 384 at-bats, .263 isolated power–corresponded with an improved batting eye that involved a massive number of walks and strikeouts. Both players had shown flashes of their ability and skills growth in the years leading up to their dream seasons. Ultimately, increased playing time either caused their improved numbers or their improvements led to more playing time. Dellucci is likely to regress to the mean somewhat, but this kind of a career year is far from unprecedented.

  • In Tuesday’s edition of the always fabulous Prospectus Hit List, Jay Jaffe alluded to Chris Young‘s downturn over the past five starts. During this stretch, Young has yielded eight home runs in 23.1 innings, a symptom of the 0.55 groundball-flyball ratio. Prior to those struggles, Young allowed just four homers in 77.2 IP and had a 0.90 GB/FB.

    Young’s command might be most remarkable. The 166 strikeout pace would be the most by a Ranger since Aaron Sele (186 in 1999). He’s shown excellent control: 2.36 BB/9 IP in his big league career, and 2.31 BB/9 in the minors. It’s clear that Young is an extremely gifted pitcher, and if this year’s BP annual was correct in saying, “he’s still considered very raw,” it’s downright scary to see him this good and this polished this fast. Remember when you mull the 4.01 ERA: a) he pitches in Arlington, b) he’s striking out plenty of batters to keep the ball out of play, c) his ERA was 2.78 a month ago, and d) he’s still a rookie! In light of Young’s Jekyll-and-Hyde quality, and with Kenny Rogers‘ leave of absence, Young is already Buck Showalter’s most important pitcher in keeping the Rangers alive in 2005.

    As pitching coach Orel Hershiser continues to work Mazzoneic miracles, Young stands as a building block for the rotation. It’s an exciting time for the Rangers because it appears there might finally be some pitching–real pitching–ready to blossom. TINSTAAPP, of course, but as John Danks and Thomas Diamond keep rocketing towards the Bigs, the day may yet come when the Ricardo Rodriguezes, Chan Ho Parks and John Wasdins of the world can pack their knapsacks and ride the rails of the International, Pacific Coast, or Frontier League circuits as they ought.

    Speaking of which, Adrian Gonzalez is raking again at Triple-A Oklahoma, and so is Jason Botts, Gerald Laird, and to some degree Ian Kinsler. Hart will have plenty of ammunition if he chooses to pull the trigger and acquire some pitching. (Should the Rangers fall out of contention, Dellucci himself might draw plenty of trade interest as a white-hot hitter with an affordable contract.)

Dave Haller

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