News and notes from the Twins interdivision rivals:
Chicago White Sox
The White Sox appear poised to enter the season with a 12-man pitching staff, the final spot belonging to former Twins farmhand shortstop, Sergio Santos.
ANALYSIS: Santos, converted to a reliever in ’09, has a fastball that hums in at 96-98 MPH. In his 24 minor league innings last season, he proved that pitching takes more than velocity – you also need command. His 16 walks are of concern. Still, the Sox appear to love the radar gun readings along with his improved 11/5 K/BB ratio in 6.2 spring innings.
Phil Rogers thinks that catching prospect Tyler Flowers’s unimpressive spring training may have paved the way for an AJ Pierszynski contract extension.
ANALYSIS: Flowers, 24, was acquired from Atlanta in the Javier Vazquez trade in the 2008 offseason and was considered the team’s catcher of the future. Baseball America ranked him 99th on the Top 100 list thanks to his career .293/.406/.495 batting line. He’s demonstrated a good deal of power and patience at the plate but has only accumulated 119 plate appearances over AA ball. Also, after allowing 112 stolen bases in ’08 (catching 28%), it was clear that he was going to need some work as a receiver. Reports are that he’s improved defensively but his 2-for-18 spring leaves some uneasy about handing the reigns over to him in 2011. Say what you will about AJ, he’s been a catcher you can count out. His defensive skills are eroding and he’s never been one to post outstanding on-base percentages, yet he’s been around a 2+ WAR catcher for the Sox while slugging .420 in the past five seasons. At the same time, Pierzynski will be 34 years old after 2010 and looking for a raise over his $6.25 million annual salary. For an organization that is tethered to the hefty contracts of Jake Peavy and Alex Rios while rumored to be interested in acquiring first baseman Adrian Gonzalez from San Diego, they should be considering swapping to the cheaper alternative.
Ozzie Guillen was demonstrating some of his built-for-speed-not-for-comfort moves this past week, implementing a hit-and-run with backup catcher Ramon Castro on first and later had Gordon Beckham execute a suicide squeeze during Wednesday’s spring training game.
ANALYSIS: Putting the hit-and-run on with Castro, a player who was -11 bases as a runner in ’09, is probably ill-advised. Wasting a Beckham at-bat on a suicide squeeze is probably ill-advised. Naturally, it is only spring training and he could be testing the new car out to see how she handles. Guillen finally had some of his lumbering lugs from past teams off out of his lineups (Thome, Dye, etc) and has added speed but this small ball fetish might come at the expense of several runs over the course of the season. Even last year we saw a glimpse of what that would be like as the Sox steals of second base rocketed from 54 to 105 between ’08 and ’09. Of course this offseason Chicago lost Chris Getz and Scott Podsednik, two proficient base-stealers that were responsible for 55 of those swindles, so Ozzie is going to need to identify new motormen.
Paul Hoynes reports that DH/1B Russell Branyan will start the season on the 15-game DL with his back injury.
ANALYSIS: Back injuries can be tricky and often times linger. Ask Joe Crede. Nevertheless, last season Branyan showed the baseball world that he could be a full-time player. It was always assumed that he was a left-handed platoon candidate but Seattle gave him the opportunity at 33 years old to prove he was capable of tagging southpaws. After getting only 328 plate appearances in ten years against the sinister, he received 185 with the Mariners and hit .222/.321/.481 with 10 home runs. Not bad. Trouble now is keeping him healthy long enough to prove that he can do it again.
The Indians fifth spot in the rotation comes down to Carlos Carrasco or David Huff reports MLB.com’s Anthony Castrovince.
ANALYSIS: Okay, so “comes down to” isn’t entirely accurate. Carrasco pretty much imploded in his outing on Sunday, walking six and giving up five runs in 3.2 innings of work. Said manager Manny Acta after the outing: "How can we make a decision when we haven't even seen the other guy pitch? You guys will know the decision the second after Huff pitches." At times, the 23-year-old prospect acquired from Philadelphia in the Cliff Lee trade last year has shown flashes of his potential. After posting a 36/7 K/BB ratio in 42.1 innings in AAA Columbus, he’s got a 22/15 K/BB ratio in 19.1 spring innings. The left-handed Huff has had a tumultuous spring as well, allowing 22 hits in 16.2 innings with an 8/5 K/BB.
The enigmatic Fausto Carmona threw seven scoreless innings against the Arizona Diamondbacks on Saturday.
ANALYSIS: "Pretty impressive by Fausto," said manager Manny Acta. "Seven innings in 70 pitches. Pitch ahead in the count, pound the strike zone and amazing things will happen. It's not a secret." The same could be said about Carmona all spring. After walking 70 batters in 125 innings in ’09 leading to a 6.32 ERA, the righty has given up only one run in his 20 spring innings - more importantly - walking only two. He’s shown as recently as 2007 that his sinking fastball can front a rotation but he’s been spotty with his command ever since.
MLB.com’s Jason Beck says Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski is getting numerous calls on the availability of some of his pitchers.
ANALYSIS: Obviously, the three likeliest to be moved are Jeremy Bonderman, Dontrelle Willis or Nate Robertson who are all owed $10 million or more in 2010. Who is on the other end of the phone and interested in the damaged (and pricey) goods is a mystery. The Mets are always up for some bad decisions. With Cliff Lee and Erik Bedard injured, the Mariners might consider picking up someone like Robertson – his groundball tendencies would play well with Jack Wilson patrolling short. If any of the three are moved, it’ll basically be a payroll reduction for Detroit and a wing-and-a-pray for the new team.
Manager Jim Leyland has officially announced that Austin Jackson will be the starting center fielder and bat leadoff on Opening Day for the Tigers.
ANALYSIS: Jackson made an all-out assault on spring training, going 19-for-56 with seven extra base hits. Unlike his minor league track record, Jackson has demonstrated patience at the plate and solid contact, walking seven times and striking out only eight. That’s not the Austin Jackson from the Yankees organization a year ago. In 2009, Jackson walked in just 7.2% of his plate appearances while striking out in 24.4%. Jackson attributes his improvement to a modification in his batting stride which is allowing him to pick up the ball better. If the Tigers want to place that at the top of the order all season long, more power to them, but you have to assume that Jackson’s major league numbers will wind up replicating his minor league ones rather than the spring training sample.
The Detroit Free Press’s John Lowe notes that Jim Leyland is hinting that Joel Zumaya will be back in the bullpen to set up the newly acquired closer Jose Valverde.
ANALYSIS: Zumaya hit 101 on the radar gun this spring. That’s a good sign for Detroit that he’s humping it up there following shoulder surgery last August. Still, he’s got an extensive medical history and has not made more than 30 relief appearances since 2006. If he can make it through the All Star break without hitting the DL, I’ll be shocked.
Kansas City Royals
Bob Dutton from the Kansas City Star says that Gil Meche had no shoulder stiffness after throwing in a simulated game on Sunday.
ANALYSIS: A week ago, Meche was sidelined with stiffness after coming off a 2009 season in which “shoulder fatigue” shut him down last August. The Royals have definitely taken advantage of Meche’s rubber arm. After throwing consecutive 200-plus inning seasons in ’07 and ’08, manager Trey Hillman had him throw over 120-pitches in three games in ‘09. His 132-pitch June 16th complete game against the Arizona Diamondbacks seems to be the Typhoid Mary of his pitching injuries – his productions dropped off significantly before reporting the fatigue ten days later. When healthy, Meche gives the Royals two above average starting pitchers and an outside chance of competing in the AL Central. If he’s unable to perform in 2010, Kansas City fans will have a long summer of watching pitchers shuttle in from Omaha every other week (as if that is any different from every other year).
Newly acquired center fielder Rick Ankiel was scratched from Saturday’s game with an ankle injury.
ANALYSIS: The team is uncertain of how long Ankiel’s injury could last and are preparing for using either Mitch Maier or Willie Bloomquist in center if Ankiel is unavailable by the start of the regular season. Neither is ideal but Maier held his own defensively in nearly 600 innings in center in ’09. What’s interesting is that Maier has shown an odd platoon disadvantage against right-handed pitching since being called up to KC. In his short career, the left-handed hitting Maier has a .755 OPS and struck out in 16% of his plate appearances against southpaws but holds an even low .610 OPS and a 21% strikeout rate against righties. Probably just a sample-size anomaly, but strange nonetheless.