29 March 2006

Pending Pinstripes: Mr. Bean, Austin LOOGY, and Other Bad Movies...

I somehow forgot to mention it yesterday, but the latest in the long line of Posada's Pursuers is Keith McDonald, acquired from the Texas Rangers on Saturday for a PTBNL. McDonald is a 33-year old journeyman minor league catcher who's only got eight games of experience in MLB, none since 2001. His career batting average in the minors is .264 and his career slugging percentage is an even .400, neither of which is particularly good. Unless you happen to be suing him for palimony or something like that, this is probably the last you'll ever hear of him. Keith McDonald's on the farm, E-I-E-I-O!

On Monday the Yankees sent RHP Colter Bean to Triple-A Columbus and sent RHP Mark Corey and LHP Dusty Bergman to Minor League camp.

Bean's Propsect of the Week report can be found here, but this is all you really need to know about Bean's chances of making it with the New York Yankees:

PLAYER  W  L  S   ERA  G GS   IP  H  R  HR  BB  SO
C Bean 0 0 0 0.00 1 0 1.0 0 0 0 0 1

One game.

That means that Colter bean got only slightly more of a look this spring than George Pipgras, and he's been dead for 20 years!

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28 March 2006

Pending Pinstripes: Six Catchers and Kevin (Rakin')

Recognizing an abundance of outfielders named "Kevin" in Camp, the Yankees sent both Kevins down to the minors this Sunday.

Kevin Thompson, for whom I wrote a Prospect of the Week report, was shipped off to Columbus after hitting .383/.420/.532 in spring training 2006, with one homer, four doubles, 10 runs scored and and nine RBI in 47 at-bats over 23 games. He walked three times and struck out seven times, and stole only two bases in seven attempts. Note to Mr. Thompson: If you ever get to The Show, stay on first. There are few things for which Mr. Torre has less patience than rookie mistakes like getting picked off or caught stealing. As expected, Thompson will be stowed away in AAA as an insurance policy in case the entire Yankee outfield decides to take an ill-advised trip to the Sunni Triangle during the All-Star Break and doesn't make it back.

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22 March 2006

All-Baseball.column: 2006 Phillies Predictions

Well, it's officially Spring.

Birds are chirping. Flowers are blooming. Everybody and their uncles are heading to hardware stores to start home improvement projects. The major leagues are officially sleepwalking through a bunch of meaningless games, trying to get in shape for the real season.

And the Philadelphia Phillies are preparing for yet another year of disappointment.

Let's analyze how it will happen this year, but first, let's see if I had any idea what I was talking about when I've done this in the past:

In 2005, I predicted a second-place finish, and the Phillies won 88 games, finishing within two of the NL East Champion Braves. If they had the NL West as competition instead of the East, they'd have won their division easily. I predicted that no more than two starting pitchers would rack up 200 or more effective innings, and there were exactly two such pitchers: Brett Myers, (215 IP, 3.72 ERA) and Jon Leiber (218 IP, 4.20 ERA). Cory Lidle was also reasonably acceptable, in 184 IP.

I predicted that Pat Burrell would hit something like .275/35/100 with 180 strikeouts, and he hit .281/32/117 with 160 strikeouts.

I predicted that Chase Utley, if he got the play all year, would hit .270 with 25 homers. He hit .291 with 28 homers.

I predicted that Mike Lieberthal would hit .270 with 15 homers in about 130 games. He hit .263 with 12 homers, in 118 games.

I predicted that David Bell would regress to something close to his career line of .260/.320/.400 and would be hitting 8th by the end of the season. He hit .248/.310/.361, more often in the #7 hole than anywhere else.

I suggested that the Phillies lineup might lead the NL in strikeouts, but the Reds ran away with that one, with the Phillies only 9th, though hey were closer to being third than 10th. I also suggested they might lead the league in runs scored, if not for Colorado, but I did not anticipate the effect that the Great American Ballpark would have, pushing Cincinnati to the top of the NL in run scoring (and allowing), while Colorado's AAA team finished a distant 5th.

In 2004, I didn't make any predictions, and the Phightin' Phils won 86 games, ten behind Atlanta.

In 2003 I predicted that they'd make the playoffs, and instead they won only 86 games and finished 3rd in the NL East, behind 101-game winner Atlanta and eventual World Series Champion Florida. That was the year that Joe Table imploded so badly they thought Mike Williams would be a help. Pat Burrell hit .209, Jimmy Rollins stole only 20 bases (getting caught 12 times), and David Bell hit below the Mendoza Line for three months before getting hurt and missing the other three months of the season. Didn't see that coming.

Anyway, so I did a pretty decent job of prognosticating in 2005, though in 2003...not so much.

Let's see how I do for 2006...

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21 March 2006

Pending Pinstripes: Eric Duncan, Melky Cabrera Among Weekly Spring Yankee Reassignments

Another Sunday in March, another round of cuts from the Yankees' Spring Training camp.

This week, the Yankees sent RHP T.J. Beam to AA Trenton,
Coincidentally, I wrote the following about Beam in December, when the Yankees added him to the 40-man roster:

RHP T.J. Beam is 25 years old and has not gotten past Single-A, where he has spent the last three years. Generally, a 22-year old pitcher drafted out of an NCAA I-A college like UMiss would be expected to advance past A Ball quickly, if he spent any time there at all. Beam pitched OK at low-A Staten Island in 2003, then struggled in the Midwest League, also A-Ball. Ditto for 2004, though the struggles were not as pronounced as they had been in 2003, and he pitched about twice as many innings. In 2005, he was “promoted” to Charleston, in the South Atlantic League, and turned primarily into a relief pitcher. Perhaps it had been his stamina, as he only averaged about 5 innings per start, or perhaps it was thought that his lanky, 6?7? 215 lb. frame would be too prone to mechanics issues to ever thrive as a starter, but it worked. Beam pitched a total of 77 innings between the Sally League and the High-A Florida State League, striking out 105 batters and walking only 25, allowing only four home runs and 17 runs total, for a 1.99 ERA. He’s pretty old for A-Ball, but the Yankees obviously think he’s got something if they added him to the 40-man roster. They’ll likely promote him to AA Trenton in 2006, and perhaps even as far as AAA if he succeeds there, but at this point it’s too early to project him any farther than that.

And as I had suspected, Beam was in fact sent to Trenton. He had only pitched in two official games this spring, allowing three runs in three innings, but he did strike out four batters. As I mentioned, he's not young, so he's really got to get it going and make it to AAA by the end of 2006 if he wants to have a major league career.

They also sent OF Melky Cabrera and LHP Sean Henn to AAA Columbus, who followed RHP Matt DeSalvo and RHP Jeff Karstens, sent there earlier in the week.

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14 March 2006

Pending Pinstripes Prospect of the Week:Kevin Thompson

For those of you who've been watching Spring Training instead of the World Baseball Classic, especially Yankee fans, please calm down. (For that matter, those of you who have been watching the WBC and are getting upset about the fact that the United States has not doen as well as hoped, you should really calm down. Think of it this way: The sooner the U.S. loses and gets eliminated, the sooner your favorite player will have to return to Spring Training and get ready to play some games with real meaning. But tha's a story for another time.)

I'm talking about the Spring Numbers Myth, specifically in reference to Kevin Thompson, this week's prospect study. MLB.com's beat writer for the Yankees, mark Feinsand, wrote a piece about Thompson yesterday, and it occurs to me that this is exactly the sort of powder-puff writing that tends to get Yankee fans unnecessarily and inappropriately excited about a player who stands about as much chance of being an impact player for the Yankees as I have of suddenly growing a third arm (though that would make it easier to scratch my own back...)

Kevin Thompson (c. MLB.com)

Thompson's having a nice spring, hitting .400 with a homer, four RBI and five runs in 12 games, but I'm reminded of Jim Bouton's exchange with the Yankees' pitching coach in the spring of 1960something, as related in Ball Four. The coach tells him that he's having a better year than Dooley Womack, and that they're considering bringing him up with the club, to which he responds something like,

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13 March 2006

Pending Pinstripes: Hughes, Rasner Among Five Yankees Sent to Minors

On Sunday the Yankees reassigned several players to their minor League Camp. These were:

RHP Philip Hughes

Phil Hughes, ranked the #1 prospect in the Yankees system by Baseball America, was 1-0 with a 5.41 ERA in spring training this year. He had given up two walks, one hit and one run in 1.3 innings in a win over the Blue Jays on March 5th, the Yankees' first win and Hughes' first outing this spring. He then surrendered three hits, a walk and a balk in two innings, allowing one run and striking out two during a relief appearance against Cincinnati on Friday, March 10th, a loss to the Reds. On Sunday he was optioned to the minor league complex, which was no surprise, as Hughes has not yet pitched above Single-A Tampa, and isn't expected to be ready for the majors until at least 2007.

C Jason Brown is a career, journeyman minor leaguer. He’s 31 now and played last season at AA Trenton, hitting .248 with 4 homers in 51 games. He did have a .500 OBP this spring, but getting a walk in two trips to the plate is, as they say in France, a small sample size. Brown never had a shot of making the team anyway. He’ll probably end up in AA again, Crash Davising Phillip Hughes and/or Tyler Clippard.

OF Chris Prieto, also a journeyman minor leaguer, got a cup of coffee with the LAnafornia Angels in mid-May 2005, However, he didn’t have a chance to drink it, as he only saw action as a defensive replacement, going 0-2 in two games, and was promptly sent back to Salt Lake City, where he hit .317/.418/.457 with 26 steals but only 3 homers in 97 games. Now 33, Prieto can potentially be a useful fifth outfielder on a team that needs a little patience and speed off the bench, but not much else. Don’t expect to see him in Yankee Pinstripes this year.

RHP Darrell Rasner, claimed off waivers from the G-Nats last month, had a 1-0 record and a 2.08 ERA in two games (4.3 innings) this spring. He had given up 5 hits but no walks and only one run, striking out four. The win came against the Pirates on March 8th, when he pitched 2.3 innings, allowing four hits (including a homer to Ryan Doumit) and one run, walking none and striking out three. He had also pitched two scoreless innings against the Reds on march 4th, allowing one hit and striking out one. Rasner has an outside chance of seeing some action in the Yankees’ bullpen this year, but he’ll likely spend the year at AAA Columbus unless several of their starting pitchers go down with injuries.

IF Danny Garcia was 25 last year, but must have been injured, as the Baseball Cube reports that he played only two games at AAA Buffalo, in the Indians organization, in 2005. He had played a little for the Mets in 2003-04, mostly at second base, hitting .227 in fewer than 200 total at bats over tow seasons. I’m guessing that he’s a good defensive player, because nothing in his minor league batting record indicates that he’ll be able to hit in the majors. His career line is .273/.343/.392 in 320 games and almost 1300 plate appearances over 4 years. He’s not particularly patient, walking only once every 12 at-bats or so, doesn’t hit for power (13 homers in 1185 at-bats) and doesn’t steal bases (35 steals in four years, with 14 times caught). So I’m guessing it’s defense he’s known for, though he’ll need to prove he’s healthy before he can even get a chance to solidify his place on the Columbus roster.

In any case, none of these were surprises. Being among the first players cut from the Yankees’ spring training roster, these five players whittled the players in camp “down” to 57. Now they can get back to their regularly scheduled development processes in the minors.

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09 March 2006

Pending Pinstripes Prospect of the Week: C.J. Henry

C.J. Henry, ss
Born: May 31, 1986
Height: 6-3 Weight: 205
Bats/Throws: Right
High School: Putnam City High School (Oklahoma City,OK)
Drafted by Yankees in 1st round (17th overall) of 2005 amateur entry draft (June Regular Phase)

This week's spotlighted prospect is C.J. Henry, who's too young to have a nickname better than his initials. The Yankees selected him as their first round pick last year, directly out of high school. Like fellow 2005 Yankees draftee Austin Jackson, Henry came out of high school wanting to play college basketball, and having the athletic tools to do so, if he wanted. As a result the Yankees did what they always do when they have a problem: they threw money at it, er...him, to the tune of a $1.6 million signing bonus. That worked, and Henry reported to the Rookie Level Gulf Coast League.

 G   AB   R   H  2B  3B  HR  RBI  SB  CS  BB  SO
48 181 32 45 9 3 3 17 17 4 17 39

Avg Obp Slg Ops
.249 .333 .381 714

What's He Got Going For Him?

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08 March 2006

All-Baseball.column: Soriano Not Selfish Enough

The Alfonso Soriano soap opera should not exist.

The reasons for this are manifold. For one thing, the Nationals should have just asked him if he would mind playing the outfield, and one way or the other, this wouldn't be a discussion topic at this point. For another, if Soriano thinks that by staying at second base he'll drive up his value in free agency, he's got another think (or two) coming. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let me back up:

Former Yankees and Texas Rangers secondbaseman Alfonso Soriano was traded to the Washington Whatevers in December, for outfielders Brad Wilkerson and Termel Sledge and minor league pitcher Armando Galarraga. Galaragga's a 24-year old prospect who's not yet had any success above Single-A ball, but Baseball America now considers him the Rangers' 7th best prospect. Sledge has been a reserve outfielder to this point, but he's got a little pop, a little speed, a little patience, and therefore some potential. Wilkerson, therefore, was the only "established major leaguer" on that end of the trade, and the differences between the two are not as great as you think. Wilkerson suffered through a season in one of the worst hitters parks in history, while Soriano played half his games in the best hitters park in the American League. On the road, Wilkerson's OPS was actually over 100 points higher than Soriano's (751 to 639) in 2005, and if that's any indication of their "real" skills, Alfonso will have a lot of trouble adjusting to the unfriendly confines of RFK Stadium in 2006, no matter what position he plays.

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03 March 2006

All-Baseball.column: The 1919 Chicago White Sox and the “Dead Ball Era”

With the reigning World Champion Chicago White Sox about to begin defending their first title since World War I, I got to thinking about the significance of the 2005 team. They were the first team in decades to have four complete game victories in a playoff series (the ALCS). They ended the second-longest World Chamionship drought in baseball history. They beat a team, swept a team, that had never been to the World Series before.

And that's about where the interest stops. Sure, they finally excised the Curse of the Black Sox, but this team, in and of itself, just wasn't that interesting. They weren't some kind of offensive or defensive or pitching juggernaut. They didn't have any individual regular season or even postseason performances for the ages. They didn't have a lot of future Hall of Famers. Mark Buhrle would need about ten more years of pitching like he has for the last five to even merit discussion on the issue, and their only likely eventual Cooperstown enshrinee, Frank Thomas, didn't play.

So I decided to write a column about the 1919 team instead.

Worse yet, I decided to make a list. Because they're easy.

Ten Things You (Probably) Didn't Know About the 1919 Chicago White Sox and the "Dead Ball Era"

10. They threw the World Series.

Just kidding. You probably already knew that. But seriously, a lot of people think that the players, especially Shoeless Joe Jackson, were just victims in all of this, when in fact the evidence exists to show that they (and he) did just that. This is an excerpt from Joe Jackson's grand jury testimony:

Q: Did anybody pay you any money to help throw that series in favor of Cincinnati?
A: They did.

Q: How much did they pay?

A: They promised me $20,000, and paid me five.


Q: How much did he [Chick Gandil, ringleader of the scam] promise you?

A: $20,000 if I would take part.

Q: And you said you would?

A: Yes, sir.

Sounds like an admittance of guilt to me.

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02 March 2006

Pending Pinstripes: Car Shopping and Minor Leaguers

I went car shopping this weekend.

I don't actually "need" a car at this moment, but that's sort of the point. My car's already 12 years old, rapidly approaching 200,000 miles, and probably due for some major components to start breaking down. If that happens, my car will suddenly become less than worthless, and I'll be hard pressed to find a suitable replacement for it in time to get to work the next day.

But this blog isn't about car shopping. It's about baseball prospects. And given that I'm overdue for a column on Pending Pinstripes (as I often am for Boy of Summer or All-Baseball.com) I got to thinking about prospects, and it began to occur to me that the search for a car is not so different from looking for baseball players. The analogy is far from a perfect one, but I think it's worth exploring.

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23 February 2006

First Book/IHOP Blogger Conference Call With HoF Pitcher Jim Palmer

Last week, I was privileged to receive an invitation to take part in a Blogger Conference Call" on Tuesday, 22 February 2006, with Hall of Fame Baltimore Orioles pitcher Jim Palmer. The call was sponsored by First Book, a non profit organization that works toward literacy for underprivileged children by providing them with new books, and they're receiving support from the International House of Pancakes. Kyle Zimmer, President and Co-Founder of First Book, hosted the call and asked some questions of her own, and there were some others there, though no list of participating blogs was provided, unfortunately.

Jim "Cakes" Palmer, who received the nickname due to his penchant for consuming pancakes before games he pitched (268 of those being victories), seemed a logical spokesman for such a venture, and Palmer will be
doing so on February 28th, which is National Pancakes Day (also Mardi Gras, Shrove Tuesday, or if you live where I do, Faustnaught Day. It's a Pennsylvania Dutchy thing. Don't ask.) If you're interested to hear the call, you can download the audio in mp3 format from First Book's web page, here. And just in case that eventually drops off their homepage, I've got a copy of it here as well.

So, if you've ever wondered what the voice of your favorite blogger sounds like, well, I can't really help you. You'll have to go to David Pinto's website and hear one of his many audio posts here to do that. But if you're interested in hearing the voice of your, say, 37th or 49th favorite blogger, you're in luck!

The whole "show" is only about 25 minutes, and mercifully, I don't speak for very much of it. I did, however, get to ask two of the four quesitons from bloggers, including the first one. This either means that

A) Almost nobody else was invited to this thing, or

2) ...almost nobody else showed up, or...

Thirdly, maybe the lines were jammed but John Perricone and Mike Carminati and Alex Belth and Aaron Gleeman and everyone else was just too awestruck to ask a question. Somehow, I doubt that.

In any case, below is a transcript of the first half or so of the call, including my first question and Jim Palmer's response. (I only transcribed half of it because it took me over an hour to do 15 minutes of audio, which ended up being four pages long, and besides, it kind of defeats the purpose of having the audio.)

If you'd rather just listen to me on the audio, and don't want to muddle through all the "pre-game ceremonies" you can find my questions at 11:00 minutes and 16:30 minutes, and Jim's (did I mention that Jim and I are on a first-name basis now?) responses immediately after each.

In all, I thought it was very interesting. If you listen to the audio, to his response to my second question, you'll learn how Jim actually got injured and managed to miss a season and a half early in his career, and it's something you'd never guess. Jim seems to have a keen grasp of the meaning of numbers in the game, though I didn't get a chance to ask his opinion on sabermetrics and such, as I had hoped.

Also, it's certainly a good cause. With a wife who's an elementary school teacher, I can appreciate the need for children to start reading and to learn the skill at an early age if they are to succeed in life, and Jim spends a lot of time talking about "success" at least in response to my question. So, without further ado...

Kyle Zimmer: Thank you all for coming. I just wanted to welcome everybody on behalf of FirstBook and make a quick statement before we get to the start of the show. FirstBook, for those of you who don’t know us yet, we are a national non-profit organization with a very simple mission: We provide brand new books to the most disadvantaged children in the country, and we’re here today to celebrate National Pancakes Day.

National Pancakes Day actually dates back to England in the 1500’s and marks the beginning of Mardi Gras. Now this year, on Tuesday, February 28th, IHOP is marking this occasion by celebrating National Pancakes Day and they’ve designated FirstBook as their principal charitable partner. So on this day IHOP will be giving away a free, short stack of pancakes to restaurant patrons and encouraging their guests to donate what they would have spent on pancakes to FirstBook.

And this is where we really need your help. FirstBook runs a very tight ship and we don’t have advertising dollars. But this kind of campaign can have tremendous power, and can really be the element that puts books directly into the hands of children. So we’re asking you, as members of the media and as bloggers in your own right, to please put this on your site, to please get the word out, so that we can fill those restaurants and fill those collection boxes so that kids in hundreds of communities around the country will have their very own first book.

Now with that, I’d like to take this amazing opportunity that I have to introduce everybody to Jim palmer, and this is certainly somebody who the phrase “needs no introduction” completely applies. Nonetheless, I was reading your biography, Jim, and I just can’t resist because some of the things I didn’t even know. At 18, Jim signed his contract with the Baltimore Orioles, and in 1966 he became the youngest player ever to pitch a World Series shutout game. Jim Palmer is also the only American League Hall of Famer to win the Cy Young Award three times, as well as four Gold Glove Awards, and there are so many more accolades and accomplishments than I could possibly list and many of the callers on the phone already know your credentials inside and out because they’re gigantic fans. We’re just here to say, “Kids need heroes like Jim Palmer”. There are kids around the country and around the world that Jim has been, and continues to be, a terrific hero for. They need heroes and they need books, and we’re here to celebrate both of those things in this call today, so, I thought, I will be quiet now and introduce and allow Jim, if you wanted to share some thoughts, and then we can go on to the Question and Answer period.

Jim Palmer: Well, thank you very much, Kyle. I think a lot of people have asked me, “Why would you be interested in something that IHOP is doing in National Pancake Day?” I guess it’s kind of an amusing story about when I first started my career. You mentioned I actually signed when I was 17 and played one year with Cal Ripken, Sr. Of course, we all know his son, Cal Ripken Jr., who broke Lou Gehrig’s record, but I played for his team in Aberdeen, South Dakota and the next year I actually played in the major leagues at age 19. That year, that following, the year you talked about when we were in our first World Series ever for the Orioles, which was 1966, we had acquired Frank Robinson, who went on to be one of the best outfielders in the history of the game, 586 home runs, won a Triple Crown in 1966. But that year I became a starting pitcher for the first time. The year before I had kind of pitched in relief and also was a spot-starter, but in 1966, at age 20, I was our youngest starter. I won, I had some success early on and then we left Anaheim to go to Kansas City, and we left early in the morning on a commercial flight to fly on the day of the game and I didn’t have a chance to really eat breakfast except on the plane…I missed my…I was eating pancakes and I was winning baseball games. When I lost that night in Kansas City, Curt Blefary, who had been Rookie of the Year, he was one of our young outfielders, said, “Well, what do you expect? You didn’t have your pancakes!” So I became really known as Jim “Pancake” Palmer. I think the first endorsement I ever did was for a small pancake company in Baltimore/Washington, Washington Pancake Company, and you know, they had a picture of me eating a stack of pancakes before I pitched in the World Series. I pitched against Sandy Koufax. It was his last game, my first World Series game. He actually pitched very well. Willie Davis dropped a couple of fly balls, we won six to nothing, and kind of the rest is history. But for the rest of my career, my nickname was “Cakes” because I used to eat pancakes so much, and you know, it’s just part of my daily ritual when I was pitching.

And of course, over the years, I think everybody’s eaten at IHOP. They’re everywhere. I think they’re in about 1300 communities and when I heard that they were doing something for literacy and I think back and I remember my early years. I don’t know if I really remember my first book. I remember my grandmother used to read me Pinocchio, because then she knew that I wouldn’t lie because my nose would start growing, but I think back, and when you’re growing up in the early ‘50s, mid- ‘50s, television certainly wasn’t as prevalent and you didn’t have DVDs and things like that. So I was a big sports fan. I grew up in New York and for some reason I idolized the Yankees. I used to run down to the end of the drive way and read the sports section of the Daily Mirror, which is now the New York Post. But I think I kind of started, I remember reading Beauty and the Beast, Black Beauty, and some of the Rudyard Kiplings, the Jungle Book, and things like that. So, at an early age, I think, my parents used to tell me to go to bed and I’d put the covers over me and get my reading light and read for another hour until I fell asleep. SO I know how important it is, as a child, to have books, to be literate, and to be able to sometimes escape and dream of certain things. For me, of course, it manifests itself in becoming a baseball player. I had a chance to play with some of the greatest players and against some of the greatest players and to play on some of the best teams in the ‘70s and the ‘80s.

Kyle Zimmer: Boy, it’s fabulous, Jim. And of course those players had the benefit of playing with you. I know that we want to get to questions quickly, and Jordan, I thought I would take the prerogative of tossing in the first question, if you don’t mind.

Jordan: Absolutely.

Kyle Zimmer: And then we’ll go on to those folks who are cued up. I think you know, there is, being involved in the Little League or team sports an all these things and reading…these are sort of the wonderful pillars of great childhood experiences, and I wondered, did you play in the Little League, and do you have any advice to parents who have kids like I do, little boys who love baseball and can’t wait for spring time to come around so they can get a hold of their bats?

Jim Palmer: Well I think, it’s interesting, you know, I grew up in New York and I was adopted and my dad was in the dress business and my mother had come from Council Bluffs, Iowa actually had a job in a little dress shop and she met my dad, but he put her youngest brother through the Juliard School of Music and he went on to play with Tommy Dorsey’s Band. So I come from a background where it was kind of really in the clothes business. My dad was a big sports fan but he passed away when I was 10 and we moved from New York to California. I ran into a man who used to sell my dad all these piece goods, he was kind of, really like an uncle, and he said, “Well, you know your dad loved baseball but he never would have expected you to have been a player.” But you when I would go to summer camp in New York, you know, I’d play all the sports. You know, of course, when you go to camp you swim and you hike and you do all those kind of things. I remember going down to watch the “big boys” play once and they needed a catcher and I said, “I’ll catch.” I was like ten years old, and of course that was the last time I ever caught because it was not something I wanted to do, but when I moved to California I played in the Golden State League and I had to make my first club. I think it’s the only club I was never felt that I wasn’t going to make. But I got into organized sports for the first time and, you know, I was just as nervous as anybody else. You know you end up in the Baseball hall of Fame, but when you’re ten years old, you’re trying to impress people and you’re not really comfortable and you don’t really know a lot of kids, but I found out that it’s a great way to sort of integrate yourself into your community. You learn the exhilaration of winning but also the disappointment of losing. Of course if you’re going to play professional sports or really do anything in life you’re going to have to encounter those things and deal with them.

So for sports, I think back, and if you’re a Hall of Fame baseball player, you didn’t get there by yourself. You had tremendous coaches and you had organizational people who went out and drafted you and you had people that worked in the front office and you had your family, whether it’s your parents or wife and children and all that that were very supportive. It all started in Little League. So I guess my advice, and it’s kind of a long answer, is basically: You know, when it’s football season I played football, when it was basketball I played basketball. I got a chance to play different sports and decide what I wanted to do. I suppose because so many of the influential people early in my life were coaches, I would have been a coach if I hadn’t been a professional baseball player.

Kyle Zimmer: Well, Jordan, shall we open it up?

[…Instructions from Operator…]

Operator: Our first question comes from Travis Nelson.

Travis Nelson: Hello, Jim?

Jim Palmer: How are you?

Travis Nelson: I’m good, how are you?

Jim Palmer: Oh, I’m excellent.

Travis Nelson: Great to talk to you. I was looking at your stats on Baseball-reference.com. You won 20 games eight times. That’s as many as Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz combined. Who, in your mind, besides Roger Clemens, is the greatest pitcher you ever saw, if in fact Roger Clemens doesn’t fit that bill?

Jim Palmer: Well, I mean, Roger Clemens certainly has a lot of success. I think the one thing about baseball is, before we got into the so-called “Steroid Era”, when you’re comparing hitters or even pitchers because they had to pitch in that era, the great thing about baseball is you can compare one generation to the other. Times have changed a little bit so I think that maybe the numbers are somewhat distorted, but I think if you go back, of course when you’re a kid you’re pretty impressionable. Whitey Ford, of course, wasn’t overpowering but he played on all those great Yankee teams with one of the best earned run averages and winning percentages ever. Sandy Koufax, I talked about him and he pitched, what, I think five no-hitters. Juan Marichal, Bob Gibson…I had a chance to actually pitch against them and see them pitch in person. But, you know, Randy Johnson, I think if you think of the modern day people. In think for somebody that looks like he’s going to sell you life insurance, Greg Maddux has had the most success. I think he’s gone 15 years or 16 years winning more than 15 games until last season. Tom Glavine’s had a lot of success. Guys that are not overpowering and when I talk to young pitchers, that’s what I try to tell them. These guys throw barely 90 mph but they know how to pitch, they’re smart, they’re good hitters because they’ve played their careers in the National League. They have great change-ups, they can pitch when they don’t have their best stuff, and you know, they pay attention. They’ve always been on winning teams and they’ve been a major part of the reason the teams they’re on have won. But when you talk about dominating guys, and you talked about a guy like Clemens who’s won seven Cy Young Awards and at age 43 still had an excellent year, you’re talking about one of the great pitchers ever. You know, Roger was a guy that had arm surgery in 1984 and I think a lot of people thought that maybe his career would be short circuited, but he’s had a lot of success. I think, again, Steve Carlton was a kid I pitched against when we were both 18 in A-Ball, and he ended up winning over 320 games, and I had a chance to not only see, as a broadcaster, but also play against some of the great pitchers in the era of baseball.

Travis Nelson: Great!

OK, so I didn't have much to say after that, but my good friend Jim had plenty more to say, and you can hear the whole thing, here.

And when you're done listening, make some plans to go out next Tuesday, have some free pancakes, and help buy some books for kids who need them.

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20 February 2006

All-Baseball.column: Say it Ain't Sosa! Sammy Retiring?

Though no official announcement of Sammy Sosa's retirement has yet been made, his agent has been quoted as saying that Sosa's career is "clearly over". The difficulty of his 2005 season is not something that Sosa wants to re-live, at least not for a paltry half-million guaranteed dollars. For a million, he'll talk.

There are nearly as many opinions of Sosa's legacy as there are Sosa home runs (588 to be exact, more than all but four players in history), so it's not as though mine makes much difference in the landscape of baseball writing. Travis Nelson's opinion is just one more "happy little tree" on the great Internet canvas, whereas someone like Dave Pinto or Rob Neyer is probably a mountain or the brook.

ESPN is Bob Ross.

Come to think of it, I'm probably not even a "happy little tree". I'm more like a crow or a snail or something you can't even see from more than five feet away, or maybe just a blotch of paint on the palette.

Fortunately for me, though, you're at a computer, only two or three feet away, and (amazingly) you're still reading, so I'll get back to Sammy Sosa.

Read the rest at All-Baseball.com...

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15 February 2006

Pending Pinstripes Yankee Prospect of the Week: Tyler Clippard

Tyler L. Clippard, RHP
Tyler Clippard
Born: February 14, 1985 in Lexington, Kentucky
Height: 6-3 Weight: 170
Bats/Throws: Right
High School: J.W. Mitchell HS, Trinity, Fla.
Drafted by Yankees in 9th round (274th overall) of 2003 June amateur draft

It's a two-for-the-price-of-one week here at Pending Pinstripes, as you get an additional prospect profile based almost entirely on the fact that this one just had a birthday on Tuesday. That's right, for the first time in his life, Yankees prospect Tyler Clippard could celebrate both his birthday and Valentines Day with alcohol and not get arrested for it.

But can he pitch?

In a word? You bet your bippy!

Tyler Clippard was drafted by the Yankees out of high school in 2003, and though I’m not necessarily a fan of drafting high school pitchers in the first round, a 9th round pick seems like a worthwhile risk, and Clippard has not disappointed. His lanky frame is not atypical of such a young player, and it’s only a matter of time before he fills out a little more. The above height comes from The Baseball Cube. Baseball America’s scouting report has him even taller, at 6′4, but still only 170 lbs. (Side note to Tyler: Don’t worry. When I was your age, I was also 6′4", 170 lbs. After I turned 21 my metabolism changed and I started gaining weight. I’m up to about 250 lbs now, but my “fast”ball still wouldn’t be pulled over for speeding on the Interstate. If you’re lucky you’ll at least get to keep most of your hair.)

Baseball America’s scouting report also called Clippard’s 2005 “a breakthrough season” but frankly, I don’t see that. His numbers for the last three years are shown below (though he did pitch 6 innings in Low-A Charleston, striking out 10, before his promotion to High-A Tampa in 2005, and he pitched one inning at AAA Columbus as well).

Year Team Age Lev W L ERA G GS IP H R ER HR BB SO
2003 GCL Yankees 18 Rk 3 3 2.89 11 5 43.7 33 16 14 3 5 56
2004 Battle Creek 19 A 10 10 3.44 26 25 149.0 153 71 57 12 32 145
2005 Tampa 20 A 10 9 3.18 26 25 147.3 118 56 52 12 34 169

To me, his 2005 numbers look almost exactly like his 2004 numbers and for that matter, no so very different from his 2003 numbers in the Gulf Coast League. His games pitched, innings pitched, walks, homers allowed, earned runs and strikeouts are all very similar, if not identical, and the rates of walks, homers and strikeouts are quite close to those 2003 GCL numbers, though they were compiled in only 44 innings. The only real differences from 2004 are the number of hits he gave up and the number of unearned runs allowed, both of which dropped off considerably. Whether either of those trends is sustainable remains to be seen, but at this point Clippard is showing the Yankees exactly what they want to see: A high school pitcher dominating at the low levels of the minors and moving up the ladder, one level per year.

What’s he got going for him?

According to BA, Clippard worked with Nardi Contreras this year to improve the consistency of his mechanics, giving him a more repeatable delivery and thereby improving all of his pitches. Speaking of which, he throws four of them for strikes, an 89-92 mph fastball that occasionaly flirts with 94 mph, a “plus” curve, a slider and a change-up. And of course, he throws them all for strikes pretty consistently, as his walk rates (roungly 2 per nine innings) will attest. He also strikes out about a batter per inning, and rarely surrenders a home run, which are both excellent indicators of long-term success.

What’s he got going against him?

Clippard is making progress, yes, but is still very young, just having turned 21 yesterday, as I mentioned. You could probably pave I-95 from Florida to New York with the resumes of pitchers who’ve had this kind of success in Single-A ball and never saw the Big Leagues, so don’t mortgage your house to place a big bet on Clippard starting the 2008 season in the Yankees rotation. He’s got talent, yes, but AA and AAA ball are both big hurdles to overcome, even for someone who looks this good right now.

In addition, as I mentioned, Clippard is so skinny that when he pitches from the wind-up he becomes nearly invisible to the people at home plate. He’s likely to gain some weight over the next couple of years (hopefully not 80 lbs, like me) and that will affect his delivery, so we’ll have to check back in and see if he learns to use that weight gain well. If he doesn’t gain weight, it’s hard to imagine someone this thin NOT breaking down with an arm injury or something of that nature. There just isn’t enough of him to withstand the kind of abuse to which a major league pitcher’s body is subjected.

Also an issue if he doesn’t gain some poundage, with those ears, is that a stiff breeze might come through the infield and woosh!, it’s time for a call to the bullpen…

Prognosis for 2006:

Clippard will start the 2006 season at AA Trenton, where I hope to get to see him pitch at least once. He’ll be one of the youngest players on is team, and will have his work cut out for him, both in retiring Eastern League batters and in drawing the organization’s attention away from #1 prospect Phillip Hughes, who could move up to New Jersey from Tampa by mid-season if he’s successful down there.

Personally, I hope to get to see Tyler pitch in Trenton early in the season, as I’m not sure he’ll still be with the Thunder come July or August. Success in Trenton will get him a call up to Columbus, where we’ll get to see (wait for it…)

Clippard the Clipper!

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13 February 2006

Pending Pinstripes Yankee Prospect of the Week: Darrell Rasner

The New York Yankees claimed RHP Darrell Rasner off waivers from the Washington Nationals this weekend.

Darrell W. Rasner, RHP
Born: January 13, 1981, Carson City, Nevada
Height: 6-3 Weight: 210
Bats/Throws: Right
High School: Carson City High School (Carson City,NV)
College: University of Nevada
Drafted Expos in 2nd round of June 2002 amateur draft

Rasner had struck out more than a batter per inning in his senior year as a starter at the University of Nevada in 2002. He threw in the low 90s back then but there are reports that his fastball has dropped into the mid 80s, and concerns about the health of his arm led the Nationals to waive him. Recognizing that he's still been getting batters out, regardless of his actual velocity, the Yankees picked him up. His strikeout rate has dropped considerably, from 10 to 8 to 6 per nine innings in the last three years, but it seems to have leveled off in that range. On the other hand, he's also walking batters much less frequently, establishing a personal record low with 1.74/9IP in 150 innings in 2005.

What’s he got going for him?

Like I said, Rasner gets batters out. He’ll probably never blow anybody away, but he’s had pretty consistent success at three different Single-A levels and in two years at AA Harrisburg, though he’s gone about it in differnet ways. The player comments in Baseball Prospectus indicate that he has a three-pitch repetoire, fastball curve and change, and his obviously good control (i.e. low walk rate) indicates that he knows how to use those pitches. Health does not seem to be an issue either, as he has pitched at least 100 innings in each of the last four years (combining his numbers in college and the NY-Penn League for 2002).

What’s he got going against him?

Rasner’s a pretty good sized guy (I know better than to say that he “throws hard“), but right handers who only throw in the mid-80s have a tough time getting into the majors. Scouts and front office personnel have inherent biases against pitchers, especially right-handers, who either aren’t at least six feet tall or don’t throw very hard. Jay Tessmer, long-time Yankees organizational soldier, kept runners off the bases and saved minor league games for eight years without ever getting more than a cup of coffee in the majors, simply because he threw underhand and therefore rarely broke 85 mph with his fastball. Rasner doesn’t throw submarine style, so at least he’s not tabbed with the “Weird” label, just the “Slow” one, which may be worse.

Prognosis for 2006:

BP’s 2006 weighted mean projection (4.77 ERA in 123 innings) suggests that Rasner could be a league-average pitcher right now, but I suspect that the Yankees will stow him away at AAA Columbus. He just turned 25, and while it would be nice for a college pitcher like him, especially a second-round pick, to have already mastered the highest level of the minors, Rasner’s progress is both encouraging and undeniable. Having him in AAA will serve the dual purposes of helping him refine his skills at a higher level (he did get a cup of coffee with Washington last year, but hasn’t pitched an inning in AAA yet.) and giving the major league club another option should their aging rotation again suffer the injury/ineffectiveness problems that plagued them in 2005.

If, as he says, Rasner’s just chosen not to throw as hard, recognizing that he can get batters out with his smarts instead of speed, and therefore save his arm for the rest of his career, then kudos to him for remaking himself. Lots of pitchers suffer injuries because of trying to do too much and are forced to re-learn pitching, later in life, with a different skill set. Rasner was smart enough to prevent that scenario in the first place. The only question now is whether he has enough “stuff” to get by in the Big Leagues. Given the injury history and age of the starters in the Bronx, I’m guessing that it’s just a matter of time before we get to see if Rasner’s a real talent or not.

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10 February 2006

All-Baseball.column - Orioles in Oh-Six?

A recent ESPN.com feature discussed the possibilities of "surprise" teams for 2006. Jerry Crasnick, ESPN contributor and author of License to Deal, discusses the Brewers and Twins as teams that could, in his estimation, do much better than expected and possibly make the playoffs. Personally, I don't think the Twins are a particularly brave pick for that role, as they had won their division for three straight years before 2005 and underperformed considerably last year. They still won 83 games despite the fact that firstbaseman Justin Morneau flopped in his second full season, catcher (and Rookie of the Year candidate) Joe Mauer missed 30 games, and the rest of the infield provided almost no offense at all. The Twins were so desperate that they actually tried Bret Boone for a while in mid-summer, to no avail. Based on regression to the mean alone, the Twins should bounce back and improve their offense considerably, which has nowhere to go but up after scoring the fewest runs in the AL last year.

My pick? The Baltimore Orioles.

Baltimore hasn't had a winning season since 1997, the last time a team other than the Yankees won the AL East. I'm still picking the Yankees to continue that streak, but I think that the Orioles could surprise people and win the Wild Card, or at least contend for it. How? Glad you asked...

Read the rest at All-Baseball.com...

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07 February 2006

Pending Pinstripes: Mike Vento Signs with G-Nats

Lee Sinins reported today that the Washington Nationals signed former Yankees farmhand Mike Vento, former Red Sox farmhand Anastacio Martinez and erstwhile D-Backs and Tigers prospect Andrew Good (who, ironically, isn't) to minor league contracts with invitations to Spring Training.

Mike Vento had been in the Yankees farm system for eight years. He was born in Albequerque and then made a left turn and went to Santa Ana College in California. The Baseball Cube doesn't discuss him being drafted, so I'm guessing that the Yankees signed him as a minor league free agent or something like that.

Read the rest at Pending Pinstripes...

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02 February 2006

Pending Pinstripes Yankee Prospect of the Week: Austin Jackson

Austin Jackson, OF

Born: February 1, 1987
Height: 6-1 Weight: 185
Bats/Throws: Right
High School: Ryan High School (Denton,TX)
Drafted: by NY Yankees in 8th round of 2005 June amateur draft

Happy Birthday to Austin Jackson, who turned 19 years old yesterday. If he's good, it should be just a matter of time before the pundits start calling him 'Action' Jackson, except that I doubt any of his teammates in the Gulf Coast League are old enough to remember that awful movie. Good for them.

Baseball America lists Jackson as the Yankees’ 5th best prospect this year, and notes that they spent an 8th round record $800K to sign him and make sure he didn’t go to Georgia Tech to play basketball instead. His first year in professional ball wasn’t bad, especially considering that he was all of 18 years old:

G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO Avg Obp Slg Ops
40 148 32 45 11 2 0 14 11 2 18 26 .304 .374 .405 779

Though he didn’t quite make the listings on The Baseball Cube, Jackson was near the GCL leaders in runs scored, doubles, steals and walks, all good signs for souch a young player. He hit for average, showed some patience and speed, and didn’t strike out every three trips to the plate. He also didn’t ever get a chance to jog around the bases, with zero homers in 148 at-bats.

What’s he got going for him?

Jackson’s very young, and the organization has known about him for a long time. He was first scouted by the Yankees when he was 12(!) That’s right: In the time of life during which you and I were delivering newspapers and trying to figure out how many sets of pegs we could get on our BMX bike at the same time, Austin had scouts from the Yankees coming to his Little League games. Just doesn’t seem fair.

Anywho, so he’s young. He’s also patient, which is not typical of youngsters in any industry, so much less with baseball players. Baseball America reports that he’s got good bat control and an “inside-out” stroke not unlike Derek Jeter’s.

What’s he got going against him?

Youth, ironically. Except it’s not so much a strike against Jacklson’s talent as it is a detriment to our ability to evaluate that talent. It’s so early, with only 40 games on his record, that anything can happen to this guy before he ends up in The Show, which might not be for another five years or more, for all we know. The other issue is his lack of power, as he failed to hit a homer in any of those 40 games. Most 18 year olds are not yet “filled out” and so when Jackson gains some years and some weight, we’ll have to see if he can also gain some power without losing all that speed and patience.

Prognosis for 2006:

Jackson will get some action in Class A, probably in Charleston of the Low-A South Atlantic League. River Dogs’ hitting coach Torre Tyson will try to teach him to pull the ball there, which is ironic because in his 5-year minor league career, Tyson was also a speedy, patient slap hitter who never had more than 3 homers in a season. Jackson might go as far as High-A Tampa by the end of the year, but not farther than that this season.

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01 February 2006

All-Baseball.collumn - Unfinished Business: Piazza Catching on With the Padres

Two California teams signed once-great players, now in the twilights of their respective careers, to one-year, free agent contracts this weekend. The San Diego Padres picked up Mike Piazza, easily the best hitting catcher in history, and to the north, the Oakland Athletics picked up Frank Thomas, possibly the best right handed hitter in history, easily in the top ten for that distinction. Rob Neyer has already written eloquently (and more concisely than me) on the latter of those signings, so I won't get into the Thomas signing, at least this week, but the Piazza signing interests me. Of course, any time a future Hall of Famer changes teams and/or coasts it interests me, and Piazza's such a colorful and controversial player that one can't help but pay attention when he does something like this. The Mets may not have wanted him, but Mike's convinced that his career isn't over yet, and so he'll take his Tools of Ignorance and his still-useful bat across the country to take care of some unfinished business.

Mike Piazza, C
Age: 37
2005 Numbers: .251/.326/.452, 19 HR, 62 RBI in 129 games

Read the rest at All-Baseball.com...

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27 January 2006

Pending Pinstripes Yankee Prospect of the Week: Kevin Reese

Kevin Patrick Reese, OF
Born: March 11, 1978
Height: 5-11 Weight: 195
Bats: Left Throws: Left
College: University of San Diego
Drafted: San Diego Padres' 27th round pick in 2000 amateur draft

Kevin Reese, as I mentioned in yesterday's post, was named the 2006 Columbus Clipper of the Year, and now, as an added bonus to his resume, he'll be made the 27 January 2006 Pending Pinstripes Prospect of the Week! I'm sure his family is very proud.
2006 Clipper of the Year and Pending Pinstripes Prospect of the Week Kevin Reese

Read the rest at Pending Pinstripes...

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26 January 2006

Public Announcement: Columbus Clippers' 2006 Winterfest

Today, Thursday, January 26th, is the

Columbus Clippers' 2006 Winterfest.

The Columbus Clippers invite you to meet new manager Dave Miley and Clipper of the Year Kevin Reese at the Arena Grand Theatre.

Reservations are $10 and are Buy One Get One FREE!

There will be a question and answer session for Dave and Kevin beginning at 6:45 PM and will be followed by the new movie Glory Road. Your reservation is good for both the Clipper of the Year Reception and the movie. Complimentary soft drinks and popcorn will be served. All guests must check in at the Clippers table to gain entrance.

Parking is on the Clippers when you park in the Arena Grand Parking Garage. Redeem your parking ticket when you check in at the Clippers table inside the theatre lobby.

The theatre has a limited number of seats, so it is first come first served basis. For reservations call (614-462-5250) or stop by the Clipper ticket office at 1155 West Mound Street. (Technically you should have signed up by Monday, but since I only got this notification via email yesterday, there's not much I could do about that. If there's room, I'm sure they'll still be accomodating.)

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24 January 2006

All-Baseball.collumn: Red Sox Ripe for Return to Rest of League

The Boston Red Sox are reportedly nearing deals for Indians outfielder Coco Crisp and former Marlins shortstop Alex Gonzalez. This Alex Gonzalez is not to be confused with Alex S. Gonzalez, former Toronto, Cubs, Expos and Devil Rays shortstop and thirdbaseman. Actually, come to think of it, you can confuse them all you want. Aside from the fact that the other Alex Gonzalez is about three and a half years older than this one, the two players have almost exactly identical skill sets, which is to say that neither of them can hit his way out of a paper bag.

Coco Crisp, on the other hand, is a pretty solid player.

Read the rest at All-Baseball.com...

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Boys of Summer National League Team Nickname

To Whom It May Concern:

Whomever has been looking for multiple variants of "Boys of Summer National League Team nickname" for the last two days, the answer is "The Brooklyn Dodgers".

Former Brooklyn beat writer Roger Kahn wrote a book of that title and the nickname, though it originally referred to baseball players in general, came to be associated nostalgically with the Brooklyn club. (The book was published after the team moved to Los Angeles.)

Not that I mind the traffic you're bringing my website, but I thought it might be nice if you just had a direct answer right here.

Hope that helps.


Travis M. Nelson

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20 January 2006

Slow Week for Baseball News...

Is it my imagination, or has this been an exceedingly slow news-week for the baseball world? The following were among the most prominent headlines today and during the past week:

Red Sox Re-Hire Epstein, Position Undetermined

The man who engineered the first Red Sox World Series Title since the end of World War I just walked away from the best job in the business two or three months ago. Everyone sorta figured he'd be back because, really, where could he go that would have been better than what he'd been doing in Boston? Right? So that actually happens, and it's "News".

Alex Rodriguez Decides to Play for U.S. (Again) in WBC

That's right, A-Rod will challenge Hasim Rahman for the World Boxing Council's heavyweight championship. No, wait. That should be the World Baseball Classic. Never mind.

Seriously, though, is anyone really going to watch this? Will anyone really care who wins? And if not, who cares who plays for which team? I mean, Ron Villone will be pitching for Italy, and he was born in New Jersey! At least Nomar Garciaparra can justify playing for Mexico because he was born in California, which is part of Mexico. Isn't it?

Cuba Allowed To Compete in WBC

"...And in this corner, sporting the green fatigue trunks and a cigar, Fidel Castro!!!!" OK, sorry. I'll stop with the boxing jokes. Since the US Treasury Department decided to "allow" Cuba into the WBC, we'll get to see a bunch of AA_level players you've never even heard of competing against some of the best players in the world! Most of them on the Dominican team! Of course, I'm not any sort of fan of Communists, per se, but then neither am I sure the U.S. Treasury Department should have any more jurisdiction over who plays in this thing than, say, the Nevada Boxing Commission. In either case, as I mentioned previously, does anybody really care?

Pete Rose Wants Second Third Another Chance at Hall of Fame; No, Really

That's right. Difficult as it may be to believe, in early January, just after the Hall of Fame announced its induction for 2006, Pete Rose announced that he too would still like to get in somehow. And he even (wait for it...) gave an Exclusive Interview to discuss the issue, in which he mentioned that he was "...shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here." And did he mention that he wrote a book last year?

Dontrelle Willis Wins Warren Spahn Award

Did you even know that there was a Warren Spahn Award? I didn't. I think it goes to the left-handed pitcher with the highest leg-kick, but I can't be sure.

Joe Torre Not Getting Fired

Whew! That's a relief. It's good to know that a guy who's under contract for two more years and hasn't missed the playoffs, well, ever, since he's been the Yankee Skipper, has some job security. Bob Klapisch must have been under heavy pressure from his editor to write something by Friday afternoon. It was either this story, or

"U.S. Department of Transportation Bans Iran From WBC; Iranian President Ahmadinejad Denies Baseball Ever Happened "

Anywho, I sure hope something actually happens next week...

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19 January 2006

Pending Pinstripes Yankee Prospect of the Week: Eric Duncan

See? I told you that you'd be hearing more about Eric Duncan!

Eric Anthony Duncan

Position: 3B
Born: December 7, 1984
Height: 6-1 Weight: 205
Bats: Left Throws: Right
High School: Seton Hall Prep High School (West Orange,NJ)
Drafted: New York Yankees, 1st round (27th overall) of 2003 June draft

Duncan, as I mentioned last week, is the Yankees' #2 prospect, according to Baseball America. The Yanks took him with their first pick in the 2003 draft, right out of Seton Hall Prep, and according to The Baseball Cube, by making it to AA ball he's already advanced farther than anyone else ever drafted from that school. Yep, all six of 'em.

Duncan was immediately sent to the Yankees Gulf Coast (Rookie) League affiliate and hit OK, but nothing special (.278/.348/.400, with only 2 homers in 47 games but 18 walks). They promoted him to Staten Island of the short-season New York-Penn League (Low-A) and he tore the cover off the ball, hitting .373/.413/.695 in his 14 games there. Hard to blame him for wanting to get away from Staten Island as soon as possible. That got him sent to Low-A Battle Creek to start the 2004 season and a solid performance there got him sent to High-A Tampa.

Take a look at his combined line in A-Ball from 2004:

129 461 75 119 43 4 16 83 7 3 69 131 .258 .360 .473

OK, so a .258 batting average doesn’t look all that exciting, and striking out once a game even less so, but he also walked more than once every other game and he piled up 63 hits for extra bases, including 43 doubles. All of this at the tender age of 19! That made him the Yankees’ #1 prospect in Baseball America’s 2004 list, so why is he only #2 this year?

Bad Luck, essentially.

Baseball America indicates that he got off to a slow start at AA Trenton and then, to make matters worse, got hit in the head with a pitch. That generally screwed him up for the rest of the year, but he did hit .362/.423/.734 with 8 homers and 27 RBI in only 23 games to win the MVP of the Arizona Fall League. (NOTE: Another Yankees prospect, recently acquired 2B Kevin Howard, won the AFL batting title with a .409(!) average in 25 games. Howard looks like a fringe prospect at best, and had never hit over .296 in a season of his minor league career, so AFL numbers should be taken with a grain of salt. Maybe a whole shaker full of it.)

What’s he got going for him?

Duncan’s still very young, having just turned 21 a month ago. He hits left-handed, always a good fit for Yankee Stadium, and has power that is already above average and developing. His homer totals have gone from 4 to 16 to 19 in his three years of pro ball, and those 19 bombs in 2005 came despite a .235 batting average. He’s also shown some patience, walking at a reasonable rate, which is impressive considering his youth. “He’s coachable and willing to make adjustments,” according to John Manuel of BA.

What’s he got going against him?

His batting stroke generates power, but isn’t particularly short, so he strikes out a lot. Even while piling up those pretty numbers in the Arizona Fall League, he also struck out 29 times in 23 games. Like most young players, he has some trouble with good breaking stuff, part of the reason his numbers suffered at AA Trenton last season.

Defensively, he has two problems:

1) His arm isn’t really strong enough to play the position in the majors (which contibuted to his Eastern League-high 27 errors) and…

…he’a already got the Best Thirdbaseman on the Planet and reigning American League MVP in front of him on the organizational food chain.

Prognosis for 2006:

Given his impressive performance in the Fall, the AFL website speculated that the Yankees may be more willing to push Duncan up to AAA Columbus to start 2006, but I doubt that. Most of the players with whom he competed in November were also AA-level players, and heck, it was only a month. He still seems to have some work to do, both on offense (bringing up that average and bringing down the strikeouts) and on defense (moving across the diamond to first base, a switch he began in Arizona). It makes more sense for the Yanks to allow Duncan to work on both issues in Trenton next year, where he may be a little more comfortable, and where he’ll still be among the younger players in the league (only 21, remember). If he hits like crazy for two or three months and learns First Base quickly they may move him up to AAA, but Rodriguez’s continued excellence and the re-emergence of Jason Giambi as an offensive contributor mean that there’s no rush to get Duncan to the show this year.

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17 January 2006

Trending Upwards: Future Hall of Famers?

Last week the National Baseball Hall of Fame announced the lone inductee of the Cooperstown Class of 2006: Bruce Sutter. Normally, I would use this space to lament the fact that Richard "Goose" Gossage, a relief pitcher roughly half again as good as Sutter was, did not get elected. However, as people with more influence than me, namely ESPN's Rob Neyer and the Goose himself, are already doing that, I suppose I don't need to echo them. The half-dozen or so of you who read my work with any regularity already know what I think about Goose's qualifications, so I won't belabor that point. What's more interesting than my opinion, however, is whether or not Gossage (or Bert Blyleven, or Jack Morris, or Jim Rice, or anyone else for that matter) ever will get the call from Cooperstown.

The truth is that Sutter only made the grade in 2006 for two reasons: For one thing, the rest of the ballot was pretty weak. Nobody on the 2006 list had gotten more than Sutter's 344 votes (66.7%) in 2005, and nobody new with any clout was going to be on the ballot. (Indeed, Orel Hershiser got the most votes of all the first-timers in 2006, with only 58, good for 11.2% of the vote, or roughly 330 votes short of those needed for enshrinement.) The second reason is that there were some pretty substantial media personalities campaigning for him.

If those two items are the main criteria next year, then things are not looking good for Gossage or any of the other holdovers who may have his hopes set on a 2007 induction. In the 2007 election, Cal Ripken, Tony Gwynn and Mark McGwire (not to mention Harold Baines, Jose Canseco, and Bret Saberhagen) will all be eligible for induction for the first time, will probably all be elected easily. That is, barring a "tell-all" book by a source more credible than Jose Canseco that proves that McGwire really did use steroids, Tony Gwynn's 5.5 hole was artificially enlarged and/or Cal Ripken's "streak" was due to hair dye. (Of course, finding a source more credible than Canseco is not such an accomplishment. Stevie Wonder could probably say he saw McGwire take steroids and more people would believe him than believed Jose.)

Historically, though, does the advent of two or three super-qualified applicants really detract from another player's candidacy?

Continue reading at All-Baseball.com...

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12 January 2006

Pending Pinstripes Yankee Prospect of the Week: Philip Hughes

Baseball America just released its list of the Top Ten Yankee Prospects last week, so this seems like a good source of material for my own analysis/commentary. The list is as follows:

1. Philip Hughes, rhp
2. Eric Duncan, 3b/1b
3. Jose Tabata, of
4. C.J. Henry
5. Austin Jackson, of
6. Eduardo Nunez, ss
7. Marcos Vechionacci, 3b
8. Christian Garcia, rhp
9. Jeff Marquez, rhp
10. Tyler Clippard, rhp

Most of these guys, excepting perhaps Duncan at #2, will be completely unfamiliar to most of you. Duncan's name came up in trade rumors last summer, which is the only reason you'd have heard of him, but as he is still with the Yankees and is considered their second-best prospect by a pretty substantial source, you'll be hearing a lot more of him soon. Let's look at Hughes first though...

Philip J. Hughes, rhp
Born: June 24, 1986
Height: 6-5 Weight: 220 Bats/Throws: Right
High School: Foothill High School (Santa Ana,CA)
Drafted: NYY 1st round (23rd overall) of 2004 amateur entry draft (June Regular Phase)

W  L   ERA   G   IP    H   R  ER  HR  BB   SO   h9    hr9   w9    k9   whip
9 1 2.07 20 91.3 58 25 21 1 20 101 5.72 0.10 1.97 9.95 0.85

What’s he got going for him?

Hughes reportedly throws a 92-94 mph fastball and can throw even harder if necessary. His curveball is supposedly above average and his slider, which was his best pitch before the Yankees forced him to develop the curve in 2005, bites late and hard. His command of the fastball and solid mechanics have led one Yankees official to refer to him as “Mark Prior lite”, but it should be noted that historically the Yankees tend to hype their own prospects more than anyone else does.

What’s he got going against him?

In a word: History.

Hughes was drafted out of high school last year, which may not bode well for him. A lot of organizations with higher draft picks than the Yankees decided to focus on college pitchers, and with good reason. In the 2004 draft, only 7 of the 28 pitchers selected in the first round were drafted out of high school, and only 3 of the 14 pitchers taken before Hughes were high school pitchers. There is a movement away from the high risk/high reward idealogy associated with drafting pitchers this young.

For example, the last time the Yankees used their first pick to draft a pitcher out of high school was 2002, when they took Brandon Weeden. His stats looked much like those of Mr. Hughes after his first two years in the minors:

W L ERA G IP H R ER HR BB SO h9 hr9 w9 k9 whip
4 4 2.70 23 80.0 60 36 24 1 39 68 6.75 0.11 4.39 7.65 1.24

Admittedly, not quite as good, with slightly worse hit, walk and strikeout rates, but still looking like a decent prospect. Unfortunately for the Dodgers, they thought so too, and they took him (along with Jeff Weaver and Yhency Brazoban) in the trade that sent Kevin Brown to New York. For whatever reason, Brandon regressed considerably and started weedin’ himself out of the Dodgers’ talent harvest, going 9-18 with an ERA around 5.50 in the last two seasons for the Columbus Catfish of the Low-A Sally League.

A better illustration of this might be found by looking at the comparative numbers of draft picks that actually have major league careers from either high school or college. I looked at the 1999 amatuer draft because it was convenient, the Yankees drafted a pitcher in it, and it was long enough ago that anyone who graduated from high school that year is now 25 or so, and probably already in the majors if he ever will be. Here’s what I found:

Total Players Drafted: 51
Pitchers: 36
High School Pitchers: 15
College Pitchers: 21

Of the 15 high school pitchers, only four (27%) have made it to the majors:

Jimmy Gobble (14-14, 5.27 ERA, 254 innings in three MLB seasons)
Jerome Williams (23-22, 3.92 ERA, 383 innings in three MLB seasons)
Casey Daigle (2-3, 7.16 ERA, 49 innings in one MLB season)
Josh Beckett (41-34, 3.46 ERA, 609 innings in five MLB seasons)

Of the 21 college pitchers, 11 (52%) have made it to the majors. They include:

Mike “Mac the Ninth” MacDougal, who has closed most of the few games the Kansas City Royals have won since 2003. He’s got 49 saves and a 3.97 ERA in 170 MLB relief innings.

Jason Jennings (49-43, 5.02 ERA in 729 MLB innings, all with the Rockies), who was the 2002 NL Rookie of the Year.

Brett Myers (42-33, 4.47 ERA in 656 MLB innings). Last year his 3.72 ERA was 20th in the NL and his 208 strikeouts tied him for 3rd place in the Senior Circuit.

Ben Sheets (55-62, 3.83 ERA in 982 MLB innings over five seasons), who has won at least ten games in each of his five seasons in the majors despite not even pitching enough to qualify for the ERA title in 2005 or 2001, and despite pitching for the Brewers. His 2.70 ERA ranked 3rd in the NL in 2004 and his 264 strikeouts were second only to Randy Johnson.

Barry Zito (86-53, 3.50 ERA in 1209 innings over six MLB seasons), who won the 2003 AL Cy Young Award. He’s pitched 213 or more innings in each of the last five seasons, with a better than average ERA each season and a career ERA 29% better than the adjusted league average.

And Matt Ginter, who isn’t much of a pitcher but can play the banjo!

Anywho, that was a considerable digression, and only one of dozens of drafts, but you get the point: High school pitchers taken in the first round tend not to make it to the majors as frequently as college pitchers do, and once there, they don’t have the same success. College pitchers are older when drafted, have less “growing” left to do, know their bodies better, and have faced tougher competition, which makes them more polished. We can see some of these issues in Hughes already. Baseball America’s scouting report on him indicates that “the biggest hurdle he must overcome with regard to his health is getting to know his body better“. He has already been injured several times, with shoulder and elbow tendinitis, a tired arm and a stubbbed toe, at different times, all of which helped limit him to those 91 innings over two years. This may not be a bad thing, as young pitchers who throw a lot of innings have a tendencty to get seriously hurt. Perhaps it’s better to bring him a long slowly. Of course, young pitchers who get into bar fights tend to get hurt, too, so maybe it’s best to keep Hughes at the ballpark as much as possible.

One thing the Yankees’ organization did to help keep him healthy was to prevent him from using his slider. More important, this also forced him to develop his curveball, which has become a plus pitch when thrown hard enough. The Phillies did this with Brett Myers, banning his curveball to get him to work on his fastball and change-up, and it worked.

Prognosis for 2006:

Hughes is expected to start 2006 in High-A Tampa, but if his curve, slider and low-to-mid 90’s heater are all working, he’ll move up through the rankings quickly. John Manuel of Baseball America says, “…he should be in the mix for a rotation spot in New York in 2007—as long as he stays off the disabled list.” But I would add another caveat to that statement: As long as he doesn’t get traded, either. The Yankees have not drafted and signed a first-round pitcher who actually started more than one game for the major league club since…are you ready for this? Bill Burbach. You’ve never heard of him because he got drafted in 1966 and spent parts of three seasons with the Yankees from 1969-71 and then hung up his spikes for good. More often than not, Yankee draftees become prospects and then promptly become trade bait, as per Eric Milton and Scott MacGregor. So unless the Yankees are running away with the AL East division next July, look for Hughes to be dealt somewhere for pitching help. You heard it here first.

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10 January 2006

All.Baseball.collumn: The 2006 Hall of Fame Ballot

If Travis Nelson had a Hall of Fame Ballot…

In the Yard:

ALBERT BELLE: Belle will have a lot more trouble convincing the baseball writers of his Cooperstown worthiness than he does convincing me, mostly because he never threw a baseball atone of my co-workers. Belle was nothing if not surly, but that shouldn’t factor into whether or not he gets a plaque in the national Baseball Hall of Fame. He was consistently one of the best hitters in the league for a decade and he should have gotten more support in the MVP voting. He was every bit as good as Frank Thomas in 1994 and Juan Gonzalez in 1996, and he was better than Mo Vaughn (or anyone else, for that matter) in 1995, but lost votes due to his contentious nature and fiery relationship with the news media. A degenerative hip condition ended his career at age 33, but Kirby Puckett suffered the same fate due to glaucoma, and the BBWAA let him in on his first attempt.

Read the rest at All-Baseball.com...

For other opinions on the 2006 Hall of Fame Ballot, including David Pinto of Baseballmusings.com, San Diego Padres broadcaster Bob Scanlan and Bob Rosen of the Elias Sports Bureau (an actual BBWAA member and HoF voter), check out The Writers on Eric Mirlis' website, The Mirl...

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06 January 2006

Pending Pinstripes Prospect of the Week: Colter Bean

Colter Bean (Randall Colter Bean)
Position: P
Born: January 16, 1977
Height: 6-6 Weight: 255
Bats: Right Throws: Right
College: Auburn University
Drafted: Signed as undrafted free agent by New York Yankees in 2000

Colter Bean was added to the Yankees' major league roster in September 2005, during which he pitched only one game, two innings, allowing one hit and one run. He struck out two and walked two. That's just about as small a sample size as you can get, so it doesn't help us much. His minor league numbers, encompassing stints with six different teams over three levels in six seasons, should be more telling.

Level W L ERA G IP IP/G H/9 HR/9 W/9 K/9 WHIP
A 10 3 2.39 99 131.67 1.33 5.81 0.21 3.62 13.12 1.05
AA 0 3 4.96 16 16.33 1.02 9.37 1.10 4.96 9.92 1.59
AAA 17 12 2.70 168 223.33 1.33 7.01 0.52 3.59 10.52 1.18
Total 27 18 2.69 283 371.33 1.31 6.69 0.43 3.66 11.42 1.15

I’ve broken down his stats at each level, and as you can see he spent only about 16 innings at AA (over three seasons) so it’s probably best to mostly ignore that small sample as well. I have provided his rate numbers for Hits, Home Runs, Walks, and strikeouts per nine innings, as well as WHIP (Walks + Hits per Inning Pitched) and Innings per Game. I’m going to try to post at least one analysis like this every week, and I expect that this is the basic formula I’ll use, though for starting pitchers, I may include other complete games or something else.

What’s he got going for him?

Bean is a big dude, 6′6″, 255 lbs, but he doesn't throw hard. He relies on a funky sidearm delivery, and though his fastball gets up to about 87 mph once in a while, most of his offerings are in the 76-78 mph range. Despite the lack of velocit, his strikeout rates have been consistently high throughout his career, never dipping below one per inning for any whole season. His hit rates have generally been good, usually floating around seven per nine innings, which keeps his WHIP (baserunners per inning) right around 1.1, which is quite good. He’s never allowed many homers, with only 18 total given up in almost 400 minor league innings.

What’s he got going against him?

Colter will be 29 years old in a couple of weeks, which is pretty old to be calling him a “prospect” but he’s certainly got talent. The organization has not been high on him until recently, as his 2005 numbers at Columbus don’t look much different from his 2003 or 2004 numbers, and they didn’t bring him up then. He walks a good number of batters, 3 or 4 per nine innings in the minors, and of course major league hitters not named “Neifi Perez” generally tend to be more patient than those at AAA. Bean has been used exclusively as a relief pitcher in the minors (and he only started two games in his entire college career at Auburn) and has only been asked to get about four outs per game on average, so this is his lot. Statistically speaking, minor league closers don’t usually graduate into effective major league closers, but perhaps Bean has a shot as a setup man.

Prognosis for 2006:

With two other hard-throwing righties, Octavio “Don’t Ask” Dotel and Kyle “What do You Think This” Farnsworth, in the Yankees’ bullpen, Bean won’t likely see a lot of nail-biting action in the 7th and 8th innings, but he could get his feet wet with some mop up duty. I for one would love to see him succeed, but the reality is that he’ll probably have some growing pains and bounce back and forth between Columbus and the majors a lot this year. That walk rate makes me especially nervous. Bean may have been able to fool the novices in the International League, but the likes of David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez will simply wait for their pitch and clobber it if Bean makes a mistake over the plate. He’s going to need to improve that walk rate to have a major league career.

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02 January 2006

All-Baseball.collumn: Bronx Bombers Bolster Bullpen

The New York Yankees recently announced the signing of right-handed relief pitcher Octavio Dotel to a one-year, $2 million contract. Dotel had been with the Oakland A's but had Tommy John surgery in May on his pitching elbow and missed the remiander of the 2005 season. Dotel is not expected to be ready to join the team until May at the earliest, given that the usual rehabilitation timeframe for such a procedure is about one year. The Dotel signing, which was known about weeks ago but just became official recently, marks the completion of a completely revamped relief corps for the Yankees, who are looking to improve on an area the team considered a weakness in recent years.

Read the rest at All-Baseball.com...

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28 December 2005

All-Baseball.collumn: Pirates of Pennants?

The Pittsburgh Pirates have not had a winning season since 1992, when they took the last of three consecutive NL East titles, under the leadership of Jim Leyland. Since then, their "best" season was a 79-83, second place finish, five games behind the Houston Astros, who won a very weak NL Central Division in 1997. But as the great Mr. Zimmerman said (Bob, not Heinie), "the times, they are a-changin'..."

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