It was interesting to see Cleveland manager Eric Wedge make an early declaration that Casey Blake, and not Garko, would be the Tribe’s Opening Day first baseman, despite the latter’s .292/.359/.470 line in 50 games there last season. Not that Blake is a bad player, as his .282/.356/.479 line in 2006 was nearly identical to Garko’s, but Garko would seemingly be the guy deserving of a shot as the team’s first baseman of the future, a job that Blake is ineligible for because he turns 34 this August. This might be moot, as Blake will likely also see some time in both outfield corners, freeing up first base for Garko, who could also get at-bats at DH. Why the team would even make such an announcement is a bit of a mystery, unless they felt Garko needed some kind of challenge.
The Twins have made some early indications that top pitching prospects like Garza and Perkins–two guys who certainly seem ready–will begin the year in the minors in deference to Sidney Ponson and Ramon Ortiz. Which is the kind of thing that must be giving Twins fans flashbacks… the bad kind. Ponson is fat, damaged goods, and has a combined ERA north of six over the last two years. Ortiz has more than twice as many hits allowed than strikeouts over those same two seasons. Yes, rookies are unpredictable and risky–but when your known quantities are so known and awful, if makes little sense not to put Garza and Perkins in the rotation. The Twins’ bullpen is fairly strong, and can make up for any lost innings. Last year, the Twins got off to a 25-33 start, much of it because they had the wrong guys on the left side of the infield and in the rotation. The kind of comeback we saw last season isn’t on the menu every year, and one would think there would be a lesson learned.
For now, the Royals are saying all the right things–like how Alex Gordon is not guaranteed the Opening Day job at third base, and that he has to have a good spring. But then they ruin it all when Buddy Bell says that he wants to see how Gordon reacts to adversity, which sets up the opportunity to portray a so-so spring performance into a good one. Then George Brett–the historical face of the franchise–is quoted as saying Gordon is a better hitter than he was at the same age. Make no mistake: Gordon will be the Opening Day third baseman, and there is no need for subtlety or cliché–just let the guy go out there and be the star everyone knows he is going to be.
If one peruses the daily output from camps, everyone is in the best shape of their lives, and everyone looks great throwing off the mound or hitting in batting practice. Such is the case with Adam Loewen, who is drawing raves early on in Orioles workouts. He’s not technically aprospect anymore, but he’s still an unproven regular after putting up a 5.35 ERA last year in 22 appearances. There are things to like here–he turns 23 in April, and his combination of size, stuff, and left-handedness is pretty rare. Control has always been Loewen’s bugaboo, and like power with hitters, it’s often the last thing to arrive in lefty power pitchers. So while I usually brush off the early reviews on players, for Loewen I believe it, and he’s one of my breakout picks for 2007.
A year ago at this time, Lowe was an obscure organizational soldier in the Mariners system. Then he showed up in camp pumping mid-90s heat and a plus-plus slider while converting to a bullpen role. After dominating for a few months in the California League, a promotion to Double-A San Antonio really presented no additional challenge; by the end of the season, he was arguably Seattle’s best reliever at the big league level. Then disaster struck: Lowe’s season ended before September with a sore elbow, and the diagnosis was a severe problem that’s seen more frequently in other sports. Lowe’s problem revolved around the cartilage in his elbow, particularly around the fact that he didn’t have any. To fix it required a procedure called microfracture surgery. This is more in Will Carroll‘s circle, but it’s a brutal-sounding undertaking that involves injuring the joint in order for the body to heal it in a certain way that actually creates cartilage. As it was, his return was unsure, but now he requires a second procedure to create more cartilage and clean up scar tissue from the first surgery. The most optimistic of outlooks has him throwing again by summer, but we really don’t have a track record to go on. It’s a shame, because he looked like he was on the verge of doing something special.
Aaron Poreda, LHP, University of San Francisco
A number of quality college southpaws are lining up to be selected after Vanderbilt lefthander David Price goes at the top of the draft, possibly at number one. Poreda made his case on Friday; facing Sacramento State, leadoff hitter Patrick Cummins hit a cue shot single to third base to start the game, and would be the only base runner Poreda would allow. Finishing with eight shutout innings, just the one hit, seven strikeouts, and no walks, the 6-foot-6, 240 pound lefty sat at 89-94 mph with his fastball and flashed a decent slider to complement it. This year’s supplemental first round currently boasts a record 35 picks, and at this point, there’s no way a guy with the size and stuff of Poreda gets past it.
David Price, LHP, Vanderbilt
On Friday, Price scuffled a bit against Pittsburgh, who scattered some hits here and there, did a nice job of moving the runners and scored three runs in 5 2/3 innings. At the same time, Price showed why he’s the consensus number one talent in this year’s draft class by striking out 10 in the process. Despite a moderately disappointing 3.57 ERA in his first three starts, here’s all you need to know: 17 2/3 innings, 28 strikeouts. That’s dominant, and that’s what teams are looking for–a guy who can miss bats right now that can be groomed into a potential ace. Price’s velocity has been a bit off early in the year, but he’s sitting at 90-93 mph and touching 95, and that should probably gain a couple of ticks as we move into the warmer months. It’s just a bump in the road and he’s still on pace to go No. 1.
Wes Roemer, RHP, Cal State Fullerton
To describe Roemer in one word, you have to use “strike-thrower.” Which isn’t even one word, but it gets the point across better than anything else I can think of. How much of a control freak is he? Last year for the Titans, in 155 innings, he struck out 145 and walked seven. That’s not a typo: seven. As in one more than six. Roemer took the loss on Friday, as Fullerton dropped one to UCLA by the final score of 6-2, but it was Roemer’s line that really caught my eye: seven innings, 12 hits, 12 strikeouts. How weird is that? Well, on a big league level it’s pretty rare–and thanks to the work of our data guru Keith Woolner, we now know just how weird it is. Since 1960, there have been 204 games in which a pitcher had double-digit totals in hits and whiffs, but in the age of more bullpen usage it’s become more of an oddity, with just 11 such outings since 2000, and not a single one last year. How about 12 hits and 12 whiffs? That’s only happened twice since 1990, once by Todd Stottlemyre in 1995, and again by Curt Schilling in 2001. Roemer’s average stuff and over-the-top command should get him into the top 50 picks this year, but for now let’s forget about the scouting and enjoy the statistical oddity.
Joe Savery, 1B/LHP, Rice
The top two-way talent in the country, Savery had a giant weekend, hitting a walk-off home run on Friday, going 2-for-4 with a double and triple on Saturday, and delivering five innings on Sunday while allowing only one run. While his hitting is definitely professional quality, most scouts prefer him on the mound, and when he’s drafted in the first half of the first round in June, his hitting days will come to an end, unless of course he’s drafted by a National League team. Savery had some minor shoulder surgery in the offseason, but he’s looked sharp in his return, and what makes him so attractive to scouts is his complete arsenal. With an 88-92 mph fastball, a hard-breaking curve, and an impressive change, Savery already has three offerings that are at least average, if not more, and scouts see him similar to a left-handed Micah Owings. His ceiling might not be enormous, but the ability to move through a system quickly is there.
Matt Weiters, C, Georgia Tech
In the early parts of the college season, Weiters has recovered from a slow start to begin living up to the billing as the top college hitter in this year’s draft class. While it was only against Duquesne, Weiters went 7-for-14 over the weekend and scored six runs, upping his season averages to .326/.412/.605 in the process. He’s big, he switch hits, he’s got plenty of power, and a good approach. While he’s not Pudge Rodriguez behind the plate, he’s at least decent there–certainly good enough to stay there for now. He’s not in the same class as Alex Gordon, the first college player selected in 2005, and it’s impossible to project a stunning debut in the manner of Evan Longoria last season, but when next year’s Top 100 prospects is released, his name will be on it, and it will be pretty high.