Saturday, December 30, 2006

The Crystal Ball: Corey Patterson

Although I am a die-hard O’s fan, the Cubs are my NL team and I have followed them for years. When drafted, Corey Patterson was going to be a Gold Glove centerfielder with 30-30 ability and the next big star for the Cubbies. That never materialized primarily because Corey never developed any kind of plate discipline, striking out at an alarming rate and walking rarely. It got so bad that Patterson was sent down to AAA Iowa in the middle of the 2005 season.

The O’s acquired him in the offseason and I was cautiously excited. I still thought he had a great upside but there certainly was evidence that he had fallen apart. He had hit only .215 for the Cubs in ’05 and you never know how a guy might react to that kind of failure. Still, I thought he would play a great centerfield, hit around .250 with 15 HRs and 25-30 SB which would have been a great improvement over Baltimore’s previous set of centerfield candidates.

Corey Patterson exceeded expectations, even the most optimistic, by hitting .276 with 16 HRs. He scored 75 runs, drove in 53 from way down in the order and put up an OPS of .757. His plate discipline was poor but much improved over his career baselines. He bunted more, for hits and sacrifices. He stole 45 bases at an excellent 83% success rate. As expected, he also played like a Gold Glover in center posting the second highest Range Factor of any AL centerfielder not named Joey Gathright.

Will this performance continue or will he regress? That’s the big question. If you believe Terry Crowley worked some magic by adjusting Corey’s approach to focus his aggressive nature more to his benefit and less to his detriment, you have to love this addition and see a centerfield solution for years to come. If you think it was a fluke or a career season, then this guy will add to the centerfield teases of recent years. (Are you listening Luis Matos?)

If he keeps bunting, hitting it on the ground and legging out singles (note to Orioles ground crew: Let that infield grass grow a bit long this year) he should be able to maintain his batting average in the .265-.275 range. His speed will be the key to making up for the strikeouts. I like his contribution from the 7 spot. It would be nice to sit him against tougher lefties as he hit only .207 vs. LHP last year.

All in all, I expect Patterson to at least approach his offensive numbers and continue to play a fantastic centerfield.

Random Notes from an Ottawa Lynx Game

I was watching an archived game of the Ottawa Lynx vs. the Red Barons from July 29th of this past season. Here’s a few random thoughts:

Keith Reed – When you see him in person as I did in Spring Training last year, he sends you scrambling for your roster sheet to see who he is. He is very tall, very fast and very thin. Reed was drafted in 1999 with the O’s first pick. They probably thought he would fill out more, provide more power but evidently he never has. 6’4” and 210 pounds. A beanpole. Lousy base stealer for the speed that he has. Gets lousy jumps on the ball in centerfield too. Guess he’s no more than AAA filler at this point.

Val Majewski – He may no longer be considered a prospect after his injury but the guy plays a great right-field. Good instincts, very good range, great cannon for an arm. Perhaps he will still develop into a fourth outfielder for the organization but a .260 average and a sub-.400 slugging percentage at AAA won’t do it.

Hayden Penn – There really isn’t anything left for this guy to prove at AAA. He’s got great breaking stuff. He went 7-4 with a 2.26 ERA in 14 starts for Ottawa. 86 K’s in 89 innnings. A WHIP of 1.12. He’s earned it. The O’s just need to stick this guy in the 5th spot (provided he beats out Loewen in Spring Training) in the rotation and let him and Leo work it out in the majors.

Baltimore Sun Reports Agreement with Huff

Just a few minutes ago, a story appeared online on the Baltimore Sun website. The reported deal is for three years and $20 million.

The money is a bit high for the risk that he will rebound and hit 25-30 home runs but I liked him the best of the free agent options linked to the O's. As I've said before, Camden Yards rewards lefty power. This should relegate Jay Gibbons to DH this year with Millar platooning at first and DH. He is also an insurance policy in case Mora gets hurt or needs a day off. This makes the O's offense a bit more formidable.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Prospects for Mr. Newhan

A blog post in the Baltimore Sun with a brief talk with David Newhan.

I liked Newhan as a utility man but even Jay Payton will be quite an upgrade in left. Best of luck to him.

Down on the Farm? has put out a 2006 post-season list of the top 50 minor league prospects. Not one Oriole on the list. Nice drafting!

The Crystal Ball: Kris Benson

I’ve tried. I’ve really, really tried.

I’ve tried to look for hints that Kris Benson will rebound next year. I’ve looked at his career stats, peripherals from last year, recent trends and anything that suggested he turned a corner last season that may carry over into next year.

I’ve got nothing folks. What we saw is probably what we’re going to get.

When the Orioles traded for Benson last off-season, it was hoped that he would be a number 1 or 2 in the rotation. Compared to what was in that rotation to begin with, it did not look like an unreasonable expectation. Instead, he had a 4.82 ERA and gave up 33 homers over 30 starts. His last three months were worse than his first three months. He had a WHIP of 1.40.

Here are the few bright spots:

1) He had a 3.95 ERA at Camden Yards. For some reason, he likes pitching here.
2) He induces a fair amount of ground balls.
3) He eats up some innings. 183 IP last season with three complete games.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the $8.3 million a year 4th starter for your Baltimore Orioles!

I didn’t mind the trade of Jorge Julio and John Maine for this guy. (BTW, John Maine is not that good and will regress this season but that’s another article) It was certainly worth a shot to see if Mazzone could coax something out of the guy. Unfortunately, Leo’s going to have to coax about 13 or 14 homers back in the park for this to work out for the Baltimore faithful. I am hopeful but not optimistic.

(edit: I did read this article over at the Hardball Times that suggests Benson was a bit unlucky as far as his homer totals go but 26 homers still means you're getting hit hard.)

Thursday, December 28, 2006

If You Bothered To Find This Blog... already know everything about Cal Ripken, Jr. you need to know. But a nice article on as Cal's HOF induction approaches.

Free Orioles FanFest Pass

I have one but live 4 states away. It's on January 14th in Baltimore. If anyone wants it, let me know and I'll mail it to you.

Help at First?

An interview by with Jon Knott, a minor league free agent signed by the O's this offseason. He had a .280-32-113 line at AAA Portland last year. Even in a league known for its offense, Knott had the 3rd best SLG and 6th best OPS. I'd keep an eye on him in Spring Training...

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Where Are They Now?: The 2001 Oriole Draftees

“Where have you gone Joe Dimaggio? A nation turns its lonely eyes to you.” - Simon and Garfunkel

Where have you gone Christopher Smith? O’s nation trains its weary eyes on you.

Orioles fans love to vilify Peter Angelos for various reasons. I love to vilify Peter Angelos for continuing to ignore player development as part of the O’s plan for success. To be fair, the decline of the Baltimore farm system started many years before he took over but he has done nothing during this time to reverse the decay of what once was one of the premier minor league systems in baseball.

GM’s come and GMs go but Mr. Angelos remains. I’m going to shine a spotlight on various amateur drafts during the past 10 years or so to highlight the Orioles futility in replenishing their young talent. Young talent means cheap young talent. If you have a couple homegrown guys who can fill out your roster at $350,000 a year, leaves you a lot more money to chase the premier free agents, right?

Now, I know the draft is a crapshoot, you never know exactly how young players will develop (if they develop at all). For as much a disappointment as Jeffery Hammonds was, he was a success story given the long odds of even drafting a first rounder who will have a meaningful career. While Hammonds never developed into the star he was hailed as at draft time, he did play in the majors for 12 years, even if much of that was in a platoon capacity. (Cases like Hammonds BTW are a perfect example of why I never get too excited about the draft. I’d rather see a player’s progression through the minor leagues before I get my hopes up.)

I’m going to present the top ten draft picks of each year and see where they are now, try to assess what value they added to the organization and scan the rest of their draft to see if the O’s have any skill finding that diamond in the rough.

With that, I present the O’s 2001 Amateur Player Draft:

Christopher Smith – LHP – 1st Round
Yeah, I don’t remember this guy either. Drafted out of Cumberland University, he was often injured and over the course of 5 minor league seasons only pitched in 24 games. He rose as high as Class A Delmarva in 2005 and is now out of baseball.

Mike Fontenot – 2B – 1st Round
Drafted out of LSU, Mike was able to rise through the system, reaching AAA Ottawa in his third season. With Brian Roberts in his way, I guess the O’s thought he was expendable. They traded him with Jerry Hairston and Dave Crouthers to the Cubs before the 2005 season for one year of diminished Sammy Sosa. Had a cup of coffee with the Cubs in 2005. At age 26, hit .296-8-34 for AAA Iowa in 2006.

Bryan Bass – SS – 1st Round
Drafted out of high school as a shortstop, now moved over to third base. In his sixth season, he finally made it to AA Bowie last year. Hit .220-6-44 between Frederick and Bowie. He must be a hell of a fielder since he has only hit .228 with little power over his minor league career.

Dave Crouthers – RHP – 3rd Round
Traded for Sosa before the 2005 season. Went 30-25 with a 4.07 ERA over four seasons rising as high as AA Bowie in 2004. Out of baseball.

Rommie Lewis – LHP – 4th Round
After 5 seasons only has risen to high A ball in Frederick. Working in relief in 2006 he went 5-3 with a 2.09 ERA and 36 Ks in 51.2 innings .

Jamie Johnson – RHP – 5th Round
Drafted out of high school, Johnson spent the entire year in Bowie last year going 13-6 with a 4.44 ERA and 124 Ks in 156 innings.

Eli Whiteside – C – 6th Round
Rose to AAA Ottawa in 2005 and also had a call-up to Baltimore. Hit .241-11-47 for Ottawa in 2006.

Joe Coppinger – RHP – 7th Round
Went 2-3 with a 5.47 ERA over 9 starts for Delmarva in 2005. 18-20 with a 4.59 ERA fro his minor league career. Out of baseball.

Chris Britton – RHP – 8th Round
Pitched in Baltimore in 2006. The rookie went 0-2 with a 3.35 ERA in 52 appearances. 41 Ks in 53.2 innings. Traded to the Yankees in the off-season for Jaret Wright and cash.

Dustin Yount – 1B – 9th Round
Rose to AA Bowie last year after a nice start in Frederick. Hit .228-5-20 in 54 games for the Baysox.

Top Ten Draft Picks Stats

Number that are regular contributors for the Orioles: 0
Number still in the organization: 5
Number traded for regular contributors: 1
Number out of baseball: 3
Diamonds in the rough: 0


Fontenot and Crouthers were shipped to Chicago but I won’t count the lousy season from Sosa as getting production back for them. Britton would’ve been a regular contributor and if Jaret Wright is a quality middle of the rotation guy, you can call that pick a success as the organization got a good return on their investment. Almost six years later, none of the other prospects appear poised to take even a small role for the big club next year. Judge for yourself.

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Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Efforts in Futility

This story got me thinking of the similiar protest staged by O's fans this past season.

What an enormous waste of time.

I guess these efforts may make the participants feel better but the bottom line is this: You put money in the owner's pocket by staging this protest. You bought a ticket. You probably paid for parking. Maybe even had a hot dog before you left. Do you think Peter Angelos even remembers this? Has anything changed? You were summarily dismissed by Mr. Angelos as not understanding his business. Pointless.

Stay away from Camden Yards. That's the best protest you can stage. Money talks and when the team's performance begins to affect the financial statements, that's when things will change.

Who's on First?

I am dreading the decision the O's are about to make regarding who will man first base this season. Hey, if free agent contracts with Craig Wilson, Carlos Pena or Aubrey Huff don't scare you, what will? The pickings are slim for what should be a premier offensive position. Here are the players listed in order of desirability (at least in my opinion).

Adam LaRoche - It looked like this deal might actually get done but now looks dead in the water. The rumor was that the O's would send Brian Roberts and Hayden Penn for Marcus Giles and Adam LaRoche. I like Brian Roberts a lot but in all honesty, Marcus Giles probably would have replaced his offensive numbers and defense and they are both the same age. I like Hayden Penn too but would have parted with him for a 27 year old power-hitting lefty who is just now arbitration eligible. LaRoche's 32 homers in 2006 could have been 40 with Camden Yards' shorter right-field fences. Alas, although the Braves seem inexplicably determined to trade LaRoche, the O's don't seem to be in the running any longer.

Richie Sexson - I’ve never been a great fan of Sexson's game. He strikes out far too much to be of much use unless he's going to knock 40 HR for you. OK, I'm overstating that point a bit. He is a very useful hitter but has never been the star he is paid to be. But if he's healthy, you can pencil him in for 35 HR and he would be nice protection for Tejada.

Jay Gibbons - Of the likely scenarios, this is the one I like the best. Gibbons needs to be in the lineup anyway and I think he can help the team in the field if given the chance. If the team was willing to let Melvin Mora work out the kinks at third base, they should be able to show some patience with Gibbons at third. Hell, Millar is average at best in the field so I'm not sure why that's such a concern. The real concern is health and maybe that's why the team is looking like they will primarily put him in the DH slot. With Jeff Conine and Javy Lopez gone, his bat is needed somewhere and if healthy he'll knock in 25-30 HR.

Kevin Millar - Millar had his typical Millar-like season. A .272 - 15 - 64 line is pretty close to his career averages. I don't like him as a primary option at first base but for $2.75 million for one year, he will give you better production for less money than some of the free agents listed below. He is patient, makes good contact and gives you a little pop (41 extra base hits in 2006) at a discount price.

Aubrey Huff - Huff started out this off-season by reportedly asking for a three or four year contract at $7 million a year. It's not a big surprise he's still on the market given that his performances over the last two years have been at sub-Millar levels. Still, if you can get him for three years for $5 million a year or less, it's worth the risk for a lefty power hitter who is still only 30.

Ben Broussard - I have followed this guy for years and really thought he would develop into a nice power hitter in time. Sadly, he is at best a very nice platoon player who needs to sit against any lefty that can get the ball over the plate. If you can get him cheap, he would pair nicely with Millar or Gibbons to patch together some production for next year.

Craig Wilson - I don't get it. He'll cost more than nearly any other viable option and he probably will not outperform Millar. He's not even a lefty! Camden Yards loves lefty power and you can project a bit of improvement for a guy like Huff but with Wilson you'll get a free-swinging strikeout artist who'll hit .265 with 17 homers. Please O's, please pass on this guy.

Carlos Pena - Another one I don't get unless you can get him signed to a minor league deal with an invite to Spring Training. Maybe Terry Crowley can work some magic and turn him into a poor man's Richie Sexson but that's a real long shot at this point in his career.

Oh and Jay Payton at first? I'm not buying that as true option. Left field is his.

Hoiles to Manage the York Revolution...

...along with Tippy Martinez, Al Bumbry and ...Ryan Minor? Story is here.

It's a brand new independent team in York, PA (about an hour north of Baltimore) so this is really just a shameless attempt to lure O's fans north to boost ticket sales. But who didn't love Chris Hoiles? I wish him success and will be following his progress...

Will Tippy have his tacos for sale at the stadium?

O's To Keep Ft. Lauderdale as Spring Training Home

It appears that the financials have been settled and the O's will indeed keep Ft. Lauderdale as their Spring Training home after being courted by Vero Beach to inhabit the soon-to-be-Dodgerless Dodgertown. Link to the Miami Herald story is here.

I went to Spring Training last year and visited several camps including the Orioles'. The O's easily have the worst Spring Training facility I've ever seen. The stadium is dilapidated, there is still a Yankees plaque near the entrance gates (the Yankees trained in Ft. Lauderdale for over three decades but have been gone since 1996) and it is so cramped that there is no room for the minor league camp. Where are the prospects at? Sarasota. On the other coast. 213 miles away. Quite frankly, it's pretty embarrassing.

Initial warmups happen on the stadium field, then the pitchers followed Leo Mazzone out beyond the left field fence for the hurlers' workouts. No access for the fans at all beyond the primary field in the stadium, no way to watch Leo try to work his magic.

I enjoyed my day at O's Spring Training but that's due more to my enthusiasm for the team than the team's committment to provide a proper environment for the fans. Here's hoping that the new facility (which, BTW, is years away from completion) is more akin to the Mets, Dodgers or even the Nationals facilities and give the fans a more pleasant and accessible experience.