Tagged: Naming the No-Names

1/2 Chac

The dice are feelin’ the pitchers so far, I tell you what. Today I rolled Ramon Ramirez, one of the two relief prospects Colorado received from the Yankees in the Shawn Chacon trade. I didn’t expect very much from either Ramirez or his cohort Eduardo Sierra, so frankly I haven’t looked at their stats all year. Was I right to be so dismissive?

Well, according to the early returns on Ramirez…yes. The righthander started the season as a starter with AAA Columbus, where he gave up 32 hits and nine walks in 27 innings. That "earned" him a demotion to AA Trenton, where he continued to start and was 6-5 with a 3.84 ERA and an improved 1.28 WHIP. He reported to Colorado’s Tulsa affiliate 7/28 and worked as a swingman. His ERA jumped back up to 5.33 (coincidentally the same number it had been in Columbus) and his WHIP trended back upwards. He’s in the Arizona Fall League playing for Peoria, again as a swingman, and he’s been no better, posting a 7.53 ERA in seven games (one start). The AFL is a notorious hitters’ league but his WHIP is back near 2.00 and that’s not good anywhere.

The good news about Ramirez is he’s not super old (24) and wherever he goes, he strikes guys out when he’s not getting pounded by them (a composite 8.27 K/9 on the year). Sporadically effective righthanded middle relievers, however, are just about the least valuable commodity in baseball. I haven’t looked at Sierra’s numbers yet (the dice haven’t told me to), but unless he’s pitching like Felix Hernandez the Rockies got out and out rooked by NYY.

Update: Tracy Ringolsby says that Colorado could be a possible landing place for ousted Dodgers GM Paul DePodesta. One word: yes. Do this! I promise, adding DePodesta’s player evaluation acumen to O’Dowd’s respected old-school scouting skills would do more to make the Rockies better than any possible free agent player signing you might care to name. Pull the trigger on this one, Dan! We Rockies fans accept that we don’t sign superstar players any more, so give us a superstar front office guy.

Here Comes the Sun

Today the dice say we’re going to look at Sun-Woo Kim, but first, a few words on the Dodgers’ firing of general manager Paul DePodesta. According to owner Frank McCourt this move is an attempt to restore order to a franchise that’s been largely in disarray the past few seasons, but it’s likely that it will only set off another volley of power struggles. The timing is peculiar, too. McCourt let DePodesta fire Jim Tracy, a good manager, because the two had ideological differences. If you’re going to fire DePo anyway, why not try to keep Tracy? The other alarming thing is that venerated Dodger relic Tommy Lasorda has apparently recaptured the owner’s ear. Lasorda doesn’t want to come out of retirement to serve as manager or GM, but he does apparently want to choose who will fill those positions, from which no good can come. If Tommy gets the next Los Angeles management team their jobs, it only stands to reason that he will expect them to always take his advice as well. McCourt and only McCourt should make the decision — as he seemingly did with DePodesta, only to dramatically flip-flop.

Paul DePodesta only ran the Dodgers for two years. One of those years, they won a division title. This year, they managed to stay in contention (sort of) with an injury-ridden team that had only Jeff Kent, Oscar Robles, and eighteen guys named "Jason." OK, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that J.D. Drew, DePodesta’s big offseason signing, got hurt. But can you really criticize the man for declining to pay Adrian Beltre $64 million to be less valuable than So Taguchi? Or for trading notorious first-half player Paul Lo Duca for much-needed starting pitching? Whatever you want to make of DePodesta’s big league moves, you can’t judge a GM’s overall impact in just two years. You can’t make a judgement on any of the guys DePo drafted in that short a time. For what it’s worth, the farm system’s overall ranking from Baseball America went up from 14th in Dan Evans’ last year (2003) to 2nd last preseason.

But if the Dodgers want to fire their young, dynamic guys and bring in retreads (Lasorda wants Pat Gillick and Bobby Valentine), that’s their business. The Angels, who have been better run for a while and now also spend more money, will continue eroding their fanbase. Hey, it took Kenny Williams a few years to figure out what he wanted to do and get the guys he needed to do it. How long will the Dodgers get before Gillick "retires" again, then tries to run the franchise from the shadows as he attempted in Seattle? This all comes as great news for the Rockies, as a divisional rival with a glorious history, superior resources, and better-looking uniforms has basically defused itself for the rest of the decade. Right on.

Okay then. Sun-Woo "Sunny" Kim was picked up off waivers from Washington in August and was pressed into starting duty immediately for the makeup doubleheader against Florida August 8th. Kim had been pretty bad for the Nationals predominantly in a middle relief role but as soon as he got to Colorado his ERA began to trend downwards. How about that? Pretty much all of his stats improved upon joining the Rockies, including K/9 (6.41 from 5.22) and opponents’ OPS (.728 from .853). I don’t think this indicates that Kim possesses Reverse Coors ability so much as he just prefers starting to relieving. Thanks to injuries and Jamey Wright’s sublime Jamey Wright-ness, Kim got to start for most of the balance of the season. He stayed good, peaking with a complete-game shutout win over the Giants at Coors on 9/24.

Kim, now 28, was signed out of South Korea by Boston in 1997. The Red Sox traded him to Montreal for Cliff Floyd in 2002, and he moved with the Expos when they became the Nationals. There’s no accounting for why Sunny found pitcher-friendly RFK Stadium not to his liking (although public questionings from the cantankerous Frank Robinson likely did not help matters along) and acclimated so well to Coors, but now that he’s here let’s enjoy it. He’s still in his arbitration period and should be a cheap, and therefore very appealing, rotation option for the Rockies. He’s better than Mike Esposito, in any case.

The prospect guides aren’t real excited about Kim’ raw stuff, although he does mix a bunch of pitches (fastball, curve, slider, change) and must be doing something right as his strikeout rate is consistently decent. If there’s one red flag in Kim’s career, it’s the inconsistent usage pattern, which could be either the problem or a symptom. He’s likely to get a crack at a fourth starter spot with the 2006 Rockies, assuming he doesn’t utterly crater in spring training. There are worse options, and for a team working on a budget such as Colorado’s you have to be both creative and lucky to win. It didn’t cost them anything to pick up Kim beyond the price of a waiver claim, and he’ll make so little that they won’t hesitate to let him go as easily as they brought him on. Kim isn’t going to work super-deep into games regularly, but he’s not afraid of Coors and he has a clean injury history. His dicey record as a middle reliever decreases his flexbility, but let’s hope that’s a bridge we won’t have to cross.

Cooking

Welcome to the TGTBATB’s 2005 offseason coverage! We’ve got plenty of time between now and Spring Training, so I figured we’d just go down the 40-man roster. I didn’t have any particular feeling as for where to start, so I just rolled some percentile dice (if you know what percentile dice are, pat yourself on the back and give yourself one nerd point). I got a 4, which corresponds to Aaron Cook. That’s lucky, because it means we’ll start our look at the 2006 Rockies with a guy who ought to be the MVP of the pitching staff next year.

Before we crunch the numbers on this very good pitcher, though, a news item about a very bad one: the Rockies confirm interest in signing Shawn Estes, most recently of Arizona. There’s not much point in spending a lot of time on this. Shawn Estes is lousy. He’s not worth the veterans’ minimum, let alone whatever seven-figure salary some stupid team will lavish upon him. Let’s not be that team, OK? Here’s a rule of thumb for Colorado with regard to free agent starters. Is he better than Mike Esposito? Esposito will work for cheap and is not terrible. Shawn Estes is not better than Mike Esposito.

Hopefully, that unpleasantness is now behind us for good. On to Aaron Cook. Cook’s line from last year: 7-2, 101 hits, 16 walks, 34 earned runs, 8 home runs, and 24 strikeouts in 83 1/3 innings pitched. Other than his first major league start of the year 7/30 against the Phillies, Cook was consistently the ace of the Colorado staff. The Rockies were 9-4 in his starts. Cook was never a big strikeout pitcher, but the key to his success in 2005 was control amazing for a player who missed nearly a full season.

Many experts say the secret to pitching at Coors Field is having stuff that sinks, and Cook has a sinker that’s good at any altitude. When everything is working, his groundball to flyball ratio is more than 3 to 1. Aaron allows more than his fair share of hits (.301 opponents’ BA in ’05) but the combination of not giving up free passes, keeping the ball in the park, and coaxing double plays out of hitters led to a very respectable 3.67 ERA. Cook was actually slightly better at home (.750 OPS allowed) than on the road (.801). He must feel more confident at Coors, as he walked more than twice as many batters on the road as he did at home.

Never before in the history of the Colorado Rockies has there been a starting pitcher you could in good confidence recommend to a fantasy baseball owner. Well, next year, that all changes. Aaron Cook isn’t going to win a strikeout crown, but his ERA will be strong and he could easily win 16 games. His injury was both freak and not arm-related (Cook had a rib removed to improve his circulation). The only thing to worry about is for a guy who gets so many ground balls, the Colorado infield defense could stand to be a whole lot better.

Pun Not Required, Name Already Silly

SpilborghsYou probably all about Ryan Spilborghs if you frequent the more prospect-centric Rockies sites, but I like to take the nobody-cares-until-you-make-the-majors approach befitting someone who has attended hundreds of MLB games and exactly zero minor league games. (I swear I’m going to make it to Colorado Springs sometime this year. Maybe.) Spilborghs forced his way into AAA with a .341/.435/.525 line at Tulsa and didn’t slow down at the Springs, hitting .355/.412/.581 to earn a promotion to the major league team. Well, nominally major league.

You won’t find much about this guy in any of the major prospect books, probably due to his age (25). Also he hit .259/.357/.385 in a full season at Visalia last year, which is pretty bad for a corner outfielder. The last time he even managed to show up on Baseball America‘s depth chart for Colorado right fielders was 2003. Sickels granted him a writeup in 2004, grading him a C and commending his walk rate. "There’s a chance he’ll hit at higher levels, but it’s less than 50/50…Rockies fans should watch him on the off chance he does develop." Maybe he did develop; maybe he’s a minor league player having a career year thanks to some very friendly hitting environments. Either way, he’ll get some looks this year.

Spilborghs was drafted in the seventh round in 2002. He played college ball at UC Santa Barbara (a very pretty campus, by the way, my college band played there several years ago). He’s 6’1", 190, and was born 9/5/1979. He’s never been much of a home run hitter (career high of 15 in ’03 at Asheville) but has seen his doubles total explode this season. One thing he definitely knows how to do is walk, posting high OBPs wherever he’s gone. What the Rockies really need is an outfielder who can hit home runs at sea level, but if this guy takes playing time away from Dustan Mohr, it can’t be a bad thing. Best of luck to you, Ryan.

Quintanilla!

OmarThe more I read about Omar Quintanilla, acquired along with Eric Byrnes from Oakland for Joe Kennedy and Jay Witasick, the more I like him. Quintanilla’s reputation in Oakland might have been tarnished somewhat by the fact that he doesn’t walk a lot and he put up his best numbers in extremely offense-friendly environments. Well, now he has a shot to play every day in the best hitter’s park this side of the Mexican League. The results could be interesting.

Omar Quintanilla, 5’9", 190, was born 10/24/1981. He played his college ball at Texas and was selected in the supplemental round of the 2003 draft by the Athletics. Quintanilla swings lefty and has played short his whole college and pro career. All of the prospect books project him as a major league second baseman, however, due both to his perceived lack of range and the presence in Oakland of Bobby Crosby. This fits in right with Colorado’s plans, as we have a gaping void at second compared with a rather long list of shortstop candidates.

Quintanilla started hitting — .341 at Vancouver in ’03, .315 at Modesto and .351 at Midland in ’04 — as soon as he became a pro. This year at Midland (AA) his average has gone down but he’s increased his walk rate. The number that stands out with Omar is 64 doubles in about 1000 at-bats. The experts say that he makes up for his lack of selectiveness by making ringing contact with nearly everything he swings at. This could translate very well to Denver baseball, although thinking pessimistically it could also mean brutal home/road splits.

The authority most bullish on Omar Quintanilla’s future prospects is John Sickels, whose Baseball Prospect Book 2005 provides a qualified rave: "The sort of player who can get away with a mediocre walk rate due to his high batting average…. I am extremely confident in his bat…. My bet is that Quintanilla will be ready for a Major League job in 2006. He could see action sooner than that if there are are injuries in the infield. He looks excellent to me and should be near the top of your list if you’re looking for a second baseman for the future." Baseball America has him 10th in the loaded A’s system (ranked 8th overall): "he would profile as a solid second baseman."

The doom-and-gloom Prospectus is the least excited about his prospects, likely due to that walk rate: "Making contact in Midland is bound to make you look pretty good, and his power in the Cal League is pretty pedestrian afer you make allowances for it being a high-octane hitting environment." Of course, they had no way of knowing this spring that Quintanilla’s future would hold even more high-octane environments in Colorado Springs and Coors. I like this guy’s chances a lot. If only Todd Helton could take Aaron Miles out ATV-riding so we can see him sooner rather than later.

I Couldn’t Think of a Clever Punning Title

Piedra As penance for my not realizing he was even back with the big club until he had several at-bats under his belt, here’s your Jorge Piedra Naming the No-Names report.

Jorge Moises Piedra is a rarity, an American high school player who went undrafted and yet made his way to the major leagues. Born 4/17/79 in California, Piedra signed with the Dodgers organization in 1997. After hitting well for average but not much power in single A, Piedra was traded to the Cubs for Ismael Valdez mid-2000. His career in the high minors has been somewhat erratic. He began to hit for power in AA West Tenn in 2001, but his on-base skills abandoned him. A poor start in 2002 saw him traded to the Rockies and demoted to High-A Salem, where he managed to consolidate his power (13 homers) and average (.301).

A third go-round in AA proved to be the charm, as Piedra connected for a career-high 18 home runs and put together a .275/.342/.513 line. The rarified air of Colorado Springs helped to continued improvement (.334/.372/.557) and a first audition with the parent club (3 homers, .297/.340/.484 in 91 ABs) in 2004.

Cory Sullivan beat Piedra out for a roster spot entering this season, although Jorge managed a pinch hit during a brief cameo in Denver after Dustan Mohr’s April injury. A further setback came April 11th when Piedra was suspended for 10 days under the terms of the new performance-enhancing drug agreement. He accepted the suspension and responsbility for taking painkillers he claimed he was unaware would cause a positive test result.

His season has since proceeded without incident, as he’s compiled a .312/.372/.527 line at Colorado Springs with 6 homers and 45 RBIs. The experts are divided on Piedra, as you would expect from his inconsistent minor league record. "I’ve seen him twice," writes John Sickels in The Baseball Prospect Book 2004, "and one time he looked like a future batting champion, and the other time he looked like he couldn’t hit himself out of a wet paper bag." The 2005 Scouting Notebook expresses confidence in Piedra’s offense (seeing him as a fourth outfielder or even the lefty half of a platoon) and defense (believing him to be able to play center in the majors, which the Rockies apparently don’t). The tools hounds at the Baseball America Prospect Handbook haven’t seen fit to rank him in their top 30 for the Rockies’ organization three years running, although he doesn’t fit the profile of the sort of players they like.

Piedra’s biggest asset at this point is his age (26). He’s probably not going to edge out Sullivan, Hawpe, or Holliday for a starting job, but his versatility afield and left-handed bat could make him an extremely useful bench player. He’ll get plenty of opportunities to prove he belongs in the majors later this season after Preston Wilson (certainly) and Dustan Mohr (probably) are traded. At the moment, his existence in the system begs the question of why the Rockies are periodically playing Luis Gonzalez in the outfield. Who knows why this team does anything they do.

Frisbee Toss

Fuentes Brian Fuentes isn’t a first-year player, but having spent nearly his whole career as a Colorado Rockie, he still maintains a certain anonymity. Given his recent performance (a 2.57 ERA and 26 strikeouts in 28 innings pitched on the year), this shouldn’t continue. Fuentes’ unique motion makes him an effective pitcher even in the rarified air of Coors Field, and he’s done an exemplary job filling in as closer after the injury to Chin-Hui Tsao (five saves in six opportunities). Fuentes will be a first-year arbitration player after this year, and is definitely a guy the Rockies want to hang on to as they look towards assembling a contender for 2007 or 2008.

Brian Fuentes was born August 9th, 1978 in Merced, California. He went to high school and junior college in the town of his birth and was drafted by the Seattle Mariners in the 25th round in 1995. He spent six undistinguished years in the Seattle farm system, getting a cup of coffee with the big club in 2001 after being abruptly shifted to a relief role when he reached AAA. After that season he was traded to Colorado with Jose Paniagua and Denny Stark for Jeff Cirillo (who had a disastrous year at Safeco in ’02). Fuentes finally made a big league roster in 2003, when he had his best year as a professional for the Rockies, posting a 2.75 ERA and 1.30 WHIP in 75 1/3 innings pitched. He struck out 82.

2004 was a step backwards, as his ERA ballooned to 5.64 and he spent two months on the disabled list with a strained muscle in his back. While Fuentes was effective against lefties and righties alike in ’03 (and has been again so far this year, with righties hitting .200 against him and lefties only .176), his platoon split in ’04 was dramatic (258 points of OPS, as the 2005 Prospectus notes).

The key to Fuentes’ effectiveness is a deceptive sidearm motion with a lot of moving parts. Fuentes ***** his arm with his elbow bent at a right angle, freezes it, and begins rotating his body with his arm still held in place. At the last minute he flips his arm out and tosses the ball like a discus thrower. Fuentes hides the ball extremely well. I would not want to be left-handed hitter facing him for the first time. He also throws in the low 90s, which is amazing considering the apparent inefficiency of his motion. The 2005 Scouting Notebook indicates a weakness holding runners on with the peculiarities of his motion, but at the game last night Fuentes demonstrated a decent move to first, where his upper body mimics the beginning of his delivery to the plate while his feet stay still. All in all, things could be much worse — he is still a lefthander.

If the ’03 Brian Fuentes and the one we have seen so far this year are the genuine article and 2004 was an injury-fueled outlier, he’s a guy we need to secure for a few years. We have the whole season to determine the truth. I’m not implying that Colorado should load up on guys with gimmick deliveries, but Fuentes has shown both a knack for pitching effectively at Coors and the killer instinct it takes to close. He could combine with Marcos Carvajal and a healthy Chin-Hui Tsao to be the anchor of a very good bullpen a few years down the line.