News and Transactions –Cueto, Esposito and Slowey

It wasone and out for Johnny Cueto, sent back to high Single–A Sarasota on Wednesday
from the Triple-A International League. It wasn’t what I expected after viewing
the results, but I can’t protest too much. It’s likely the right move for
development reasons, his high-minor start possibly related more to the lack of hitting
in the International League than prowess. Other than overage college draft
picks, few can afford to skip the Double-A test. I’m guessing there will be a
few changes to the Reds situation between now and the All-Star break; Cueto
will probably be the recipient of a permanent promotion at that time.

 

The Cardinals
called up Brian Esposito from Triple-A Memphis to replace Yadier Molina who will
be out 4-6 weeks with a fractured left wrist. Garry Bennett will likely assume
the regular catching duties for the time, and Esposito will be the back up.
Ironically, Esposito profiles a little like Bennett as the 28-year-old is an
outstanding defensive catcher who can’t hit a lick. He might someday be the
back up to Bryan Anderson, the Cardinals offensive catcher of the future who is
currently hitting .284 with three home runs for Double-A Springfield.

 

The Twins made it official on Wednesday,
purchasing the contract of Kevin Slowey, optioning Julio DePaula to Triple-A
and placing Jesse Crain on the 60-Day DL. I spoke about this on Sports Byline
USA Radio
Wednesday afternoon. Slowey is the second best pitching prospect to
be called up this year, but unlike Tim Lincecum, I think some — most notably
fantasy leaguers — may end up disappointed. The skill set of Slowey doesn’t
suggest his numbers will be great in 2007. He’s in training, developing at the
major league level. The pitcher he’s often compared to by others is Brad Radke, and
I’m not certain how many remember how badly he struggled when first called up
as a 22-year-old prospect back in 1995, not becoming a consistent pitcher until
1997. I won’t go as far as to suggest it’ll be Radke-bad, certainly Slowey is
an improvement over Ramon Ortiz at present, but there’s much in evidence to
suggest a lengthily learning curve.

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Reds’ Johnny Cueto Makes Triple-A Debut

Cueto, promotedto Triple-A from the high Single-A Florida State League when Bobby Livingston
was called up to the majors, received the win pitching six innings allowing two
runs on five hits (one HR) striking out a half-dozen while not allowing a walk.

 
Cueto is
a name you should get familiar with, if you’re not already. He’s just 21 and has
now tasted a little success in the high minors; his first start without any
Double-A experience. I’m not certain what the plans are but would wager a guess
he won’t be sent back down if he continues to pitch like this. And frankly I
expect him to, noting I’m not overly wowed by the overall quality of hitter in
the International League at present.

 
He wasn’t
overpowering the Florida State League prior to the promotion, and he isn’t the
most prominent pitching prospect in the organization at present, but he could
be next year. The free agent Dominican Republic free agent singing from 2004
has a live arm; a mid 90s fastball and project-able ‘badass’ slider, with a quickly
developing change that could wind up a plus pitch.

 
I often temper
expectations for the young, slightly built type with high velocity reports as
they tend to breakdown, often before they reach the Triple-A level. He’s fairly
fluid and doesn’t overthrow like many of this class; a three-quarter delivery dissipates
this concern to an extent. He may have issues with the long ball at the higher levels
as he has had a tendency to get a little over-aggressive, needing to pitch lower in the strike zone at times; the
when and where a natural part of the development.

 
I like
him feeling he’ll need to further his repertoire quickly, or
possibly become a closer with the stuff to succeed in the role. He should be
watched carefully this season as a possible high-ranked pitching prospect for
next year’s list.

 
And Josh
Hamilton
(gastroenteritis)
went 1-for-3 with a home run in the same
game suggesting he’s likely to return from the DL when first eligible on June 5.
    

Nathan Haynes and Kevin Slowey

NathanHaynes got the call on Monday; the one he’s waited on 10 years. I profiled
Haynes at quononbaseball.com as the “Anti-Prospect,” leading the baseball world
with an at-the-time .400-plus batting average. The Angels optioned Tommy Murphy
to Triple-A Salt Lake and waived Phil Seibel to get Haynes on the 40-man roster.
The former first round draft pick got his first major league at-bat on Monday,
a pinch hit single in the eighth inning, in his 11th season of
professional baseball; knee, back, shoulder and hand injuries cumulating into eight
surgeries as well as a stint in the Independent League now ancient history.

 
He was
hitting .391 with 99 total bases in 43 Triple-A Pacific Coast League games at
the time of his call. I don’t know exactly how the Angels intend on using him;
he’s a competent three-position outfielder with a little speed, showing more
pop in his bat this season than ever before. He’s similar to Reggie Willits in many
ways, probably a little less on the base paths, a little more in the way of gap
power. I assume the Angels are viewing him as a fourth outfielder type; capable
of filling in at every outfield spot to give the regulars a rest, maybe face
some tough right-handers in place of Willits who has slowed a fair bit at the
plate of late, possibly a result of a minor hamstring injury.


Kevin
Slowey is expected to replace Ramon Ortiz in the Twins rotation, although it’s
still unofficial at this time. I wrote the how and why here, and would now like
to focus on the projection at hand.

 
While I
like Slowey and write on him in glowing terms, he never made my Top-50 Prospect
list
. The truth is I’m not surprised by his Triple-A dominance this season, but
don’t see him as an ace in the making. He’s owned the International League this year; a 6-2 record with a 1.54 ERA in nine starts proof of that. His control
is fantastic, his stuff is not. He features a low 90s fastball that he spots at
will and I understand his changeup is vastly improved this season, although the
times I saw him (on TV) he didn’t need it much. He pitches ahead in count; the splits
this season show 29 innings in this position against 11 behind, and his makeup and mound
presence is everything it’s been reported as. And he’s fluid, less likely to
break down. But he’ll never strikeout major league hitters at the same rate as potential
rotation mates Boof Bonser, Johan Santana, Matt Garza, or even Scott Baker. He’s
a groundball pitcher — although not in the severe category — that will rely on
control and defense ala Greg Maddux. Despite all the accolades he’s not the
greatest fit for the home park, and could struggle at times as the season wears on.

 Coming up to the majors as a top prospect on a
high? Advantage pitcher, until the hitters have a good read and an advanced
scouting report; the adjustments going forward from there are perpetual. I like
him for the long term, but slot him as a No.3 behind two of the stereotypical
power types in the organization, maybe a No.2 later in the career to break the high
velocity up.

Marlon Byrd, Paul McAnulty and Scott Livingston – Callups

A pleasantslow-paced weekend and I thought I’d use Monday to catch up on a few
transactions from the obscure and curious files.

 

Marlon
Byrd was called up by the Rangers and has gone 2-for-8 starting in two consecutive
games. I wrote on Byrd’s quick start here, noting I didn’t see him getting the
call with the Rangers outfield situation being convoluted; both major league and prospect
wise. But — I know some of my prospect brethren and colleagues are gonna hate
this — he deserved the call up over Jason Botts and deserves the playing time
over Nelson Cruz. Byrd outperformed Botts at Triple-A by a wide margin, and Cruz
has issues.

 

I admit
to not really being in the corner of Cruz or Victor Diaz. Cruz has a hole in his
swing that is currently being exploited by major league pitching; I think a
demotion is in order before this season is lost developmentally. Diaz has never
struck me as a guy who is anything but a role player.

 

I’ve
always liked Byrd’s skill set; at the very least he’s a decent bench player
with a little speed on the base paths, some pop in his bat, and the ability to
play three outfield positions. At age 29, he has much to prove and no time. I’m
not betting the farm on success in 2007 as the odds against are less than
favorable, but I will say I like his chances this season over Cruz or Diaz. At
bats for the half-season necessary to gauge seem improbable with the injured likely
to return, noting perhaps the Rangers have brought him up with the idea of trading
Kenny Lofton while he’s healthy.

 

Paul McAnulty
got the call on Saturday to replace Brian Giles, but it might be a short stint
with the injury to the regular right fielder not considered long term; more in
line with getting him some rest as the knee injury appears to have hurt his
production.

 

McAnulty,
a slow but steady riser since the Padres made him a 12th round pick
out of Long Beach State U., hasn’t had much success at Triple-A this year, his
second full season at the level. The 5-10, 230-pounder is now 26 and doesn’t
really profile as a major league regular; too short to be considered ideal at
first base, too short and slow-footed for third base, and too slow to decisively
cover Petco dimensions in the outfield. He’s a left-handed pull hitter with
power, but struggles against left-handed pitching and generates much of his
production as a mistake hitter. He’s been slow but successful at every level,
and he might surprise and become a decent bat as a corner outfielder, it just
isn’t likely to be in 2007 without a few changes to the Padres current roster;
a fourth outfielder projection with a little upside for improving this prognostication.

 

Bobby Livingston was recalled on Monday to replace Kirk Saarloos; sent down due to ineffectiveness. I profiled him here, when he was first called to make a start for Eric Milton. He was — as projected – both hittable and
serviceable. I thought to make a second note here as I like this call up for
his type of pitcher. As a slow-growth soft-tossing southpaw, time spent in a
long relief capacity –most likely to come in low-key situations – can be
invaluable. I think it’s a good call by the organization; we’ll see if they can
live with it and whether or not it ultimately provides fruit later.

 

Tim Lincecum –Prognostication Update

This is a
follow up on a piece I did prior to Lincecum being called up where I discussed erroneous
early assumptions on my part, his mechanics, and took a look to the future. At
one point I made reference to discussions on Lincecum with three professionals;
one of whom I made the reference “grinned like the
cat that ate the canary, hinted, but refused to share.” This was none other
than Will Carroll, who I’ve had dialogue with since he was exclusively with
Baseball Prospectus, me with Rotowire; the two baseball news organizations of
differing roots having had a relationship for years. At the time of our correspondence
Will had a contractual obligation to not say anything, a video piece for
MLB.com pending.

 

The piece is now out, found here, and discusses many of the issues
I touched upon, but going well beyond my little Blog entry. I love this work
for its simplicity; Will has taken the high-end topic and broken it down visually,
making it clear to every level of viewer. I personally like the time spent on
the hip turn as I’ve often drawn analogies to golf for generating force through
the turn, but mainly in reference to hitting; Lincecum’s extreme use a rarity
in a major league pitcher. The one problem area Will’s video illustrates clearly
is the strain on both the back and abdomen; my concern probably more to the
oblique muscles as the potential injury area short term.

 

My comparison to Sandy Koufax was also done better in the video,
later, Mr. Carroll threw a John Smoltz comp at me for a potential long term
career discussion. That’s a good topic for a later date, although it belongs in
an article more than a Blog post; mine are already too long. For now I’ll note
Smoltz as possibly the National League strikeout King in 2007 – the old guy
versus the young in Jake Peavy – but should yield the title to Lincecum in 2008
with the Big Unit finally showing his age and unlikely to make 34 starts a
season again. Despite this lofty view of his talent, Lincecum is unlikely to
win an ERA title or a CY Young award in the near future, the control issue at the
forefront of this projection. I’m still uncertain what the long-term future
holds; the injury issue still present in my mind, believing he won’t be able to
last as a starter into his 30s without re-inventing his mechanics to put a
little less stress on the right side of his trunk. For now, just enjoy the
ride, for he is the most exciting young pitcher to come up this decade, even if
he’s ultimately not the best. And I’m not known for tossing about this type of
accolade lightly.

Ryan Braun, Yovani Gallardo and This Year’s  Draft

RyanBraun gets his long-awaited major league debut on Friday. It’s time with the Brewers
“veteran-ness” experiment a flop, the pair of Craig Counsel and Tony Graffanino
managing 41 hits in 198 at-bats, a paltry nine extra bases and 16 RBI in almost
two months.

Braun was
down for a bit early in the month with a couple of minor injuries but he’s hit
since his return, a 1.119 Triple-A Pacific Coast League OPS fair proof the offensive production at the hot corner is
about to improve. His currently raw defense should be a concern, but the giveaway-
takeaway comparison to the others should result positively.

 
I don’t blame
the Brewers for taking this approach early; they’re in a good spot now six games
up in the NL Central — the only team above .500 — and can afford the defensive
risk. I expect Braun to succeed at the plate where Alex Gordon is currently failing.
Both are top tier prospects, Braun’s power potential slightly better, Gordon
the better defender. The Brewers approach to let Braun have a little success at
Triple-A first will probably prove be the right development course of action.

 
Speaking
of the right course of action, I wrote on Yovani Gallardo prior to his last 10 K
start, believing he’s ripe after domination of the high minors. You’ll read
about it everywhere until it does happen. Don’t be surprised if it’s soon, and fantasy
leaguers should believe it’ll be both successful and permanent.

 

I
research the draft class every year, often begin the follow a year or two
prior, but historically my job has been to pontificate first in a lengthily article before
draft date, the true analysis beginning after they have a team. But every year
I get asked who I like, often from high-end dynasty and keeper fantasy players
who know I’m usually able to give them a different perspective for their
purposes, doing it for myself for more years than I care to disclose; for
the here and now, just two picks, hitter/ pitcher, and why.

 

Hitter

Matt Wieters,
C
Georgia Tech – A Scott Boras client, he’s expected to fall in
the draft to mid-to-late first round range, only because of sign-ability. But
for fantasy, he’s a catcher who’ll likely remain one as he develops, with strong
offensive skills and high-end power; Joe Mauer-lite without the batting average
and less injury issues for now, but with the greater 30-plus home run potential.

 

Pitcher

Rick
Porcello, RHP
Seton
Hall Prep – David Bryce is the consensus #1, the safer choice, but I like Porcello,
the high school pitcher for being more ace-like with upper-tier raw material. Dynasty
leaguers generally understand the additional
length of time and risk in a high school pitcher, but this is the guy I most
like for stardom. A college, higher-risk/ higher-upside type for me is North
Carolina State’s Andrew Brackman, who could ultimately join the many from this
decade who went from college to late-inning major leaguer in a short time frame;
definitely unrefined but he should bulldoze his way through the low minors quickly.

Tony Abreu Makes his Major League Debut

Abreu hasstatistically been down, up and down again this season at Triple-A Las Vegas,
and now finds himself up in the majors going 0-for-3 with an error playing third
base. He was hitting an overall .347 in the Pacific Coast League with two home runs and a
.503 slugging.

 
The
22-year-old has never garnered the same interest as many of the Dodgers’ sexier
prospects, but he profiles as a pretty decent player as an everyday second baseman
once Jeff Kent is no longer in the picture; solid gap/line drive power and quality defense. He won the high Single-A Florida State League batting title in
2005, less prolific in his Double-A performance last year, but enough development to warrant the
advance. He won’t be star or a home run king, but should hit enough at the
position in a year or two making him more than a defense-first type.


I’m
uncertain what the Dodgers plans are at present, noting Abreu is the third young
player and second call up from Triple-A to play the hot corner. Is the Andy LaRoche
era delayed based on a 30 at-bat sample?
If that’s the case it would seem he got about the same rope-length as Wilson Betemit. Abreu will need time in the the majors
before he’s ready to be an asset. Like many young Dominican-signed players he’s
not a patient hitter yet. He swings at first offering far too regularly, and
while he usually puts the ball in play, more discipline will be a requirement
he needs to address. A solid, not great, prospect that isn’t likely to help out
too much offensively without learning on the job; the notion the Dodgers will
trade for a big hot-corner bat still the talk of many rumor sites.