Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Texas signs Dutch teen

Jason Cole passes along a link to an article noting that TX has signed 18yo Dutch MIF Nick Urbanus, whose family has a storied history in Dutch baseball. Here is an excerpt from the press release:

Mike Daly (Director of International Scouting) and Jim Colborn (director of Pacific Rim Operations) are enthusiastic about the choice of Urbanus for the Texas Rangers. “The Texas Rangers are very excited to get a player with his abilities and character” said Daly. “Urbanus is such a famous name in the history of Dutch baseball and we are delighted to have been able to add Han’s grandson and Charlie’s son to our organization as our first European player,” added Colborn.


UPDATE:
European scout Rene Saggiadi (the only European scout on twitter that I know of) has some back and forth about the kid with Jason Cole and Jason Parks - to sum up: 6.1/165, 19yo a/o 3/11, LH, could stick at SS but if he moves it will be to 2b and not 3b or LF. Raggiadi has seen him over the last 3 years, and likes him it seems, but is keeping his evaluation as a hitter and infielder close to the vest (as a contracted scout for ML teams).

Saggiadi also had this to say about his stats:
Had great stats there. Dutch stats not as indicative. Level is good (single A) for his age, and environment is pro-pitchers.

Here I think he is talking about his play at the World Port Tournament in Rotterdam for the SR national team (2009, age 17). IF so, that's not too shabby.

UPDATE3
Here is an interview that Patrick Newman did with Rogier van Zon about the Dutch amateur league Honkbal Hoofdklasse




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Texas signs NPB pitcher

Texas signs NPB RH sidearmer Yoshinori Tateyama to a 1 year deal with 2 option years of some sort per multiple sources. As a member of the Nippon-Ham Fighters, maybe he's our secret "in" to a future Yu Darvish signing! He is only 5-10/170 and will turn 35 at the end of the year. He had the best SO rate of his career in 2010 at age 34 after but wasn't much of a SO pitcher in previous years. Hopefully TX has more success with him than they did with Kazuo Fukumori.

Tateyama looks like a specialist of some sort at this stage of his career though he closed some games in 2003 and began 2007 as a starter but missed most of the year due to injury (7gs/41ip) Patrick Newman at NPBT had this to say about him, which was not much:

Righty reliever Yoshinori Tateyama is planning to exercise his right to global free agency this offseason and make a move to MLB. I don’t think I’ve seen him pitch (if I have, he didn’t leave much of an impression), but he’ll be 35 on December 26, and had a 1.80, 59 strikeouts and 11 walks in 55 innings this year. He throws from a low three-quarters position, and is primarily a fastball/slider pitcher.

I wonder if TX is just taking a look-see on another guy with a deceptive arm angle who doesn't throw hard? Taking a look at NPBT's pitch f/x he's mainly a 2-pitch guy (fastball and slider-like pitch) who often pitches backwards, tossing his slider more than 50% of the time, which probably won't play well in the states unless it is a plus pitch. His velo range is anywhere from 84-91 but generally sits in the 86-88 range with his fastball and 70-73 with his slider. He might also mix in a changeup(?-69-70), shuuto (?-84-86), and/or sinker(?-80-82) pitches (and a really slow pitch at the low 60's). A note in wikipedia suggests that he throws a screwball(forkball) vs lefties so as usual the pitch f/x data might be suspect. It should also be noted that he only pitched back-to-back days about 6 times per season over the last 2 years and averaged a little less than 1 inning per appearance in 2010. Could he be the odd RH lefty specialist? (Probably not as TR Sullivan notes his success vs RHP: "Opposing right-handers hit just .186 (26-140).")

Here are a few links to his outings last year:

4/8/10
5/16/10
6/15/10
7/13/10
8/4/10


UPDATE
Kevin Goldstein adds this note per one scout, who says he throws a CB and has a decent changeup. We'll have to see what Yoshinori says he throws during ST it would seem:

Scout on #Rangers Tateyama: 86-91, sidearm w/ life, tons of strikes cmd/control, solid curveball & change. Everything moves, good deception

UPDATE2 (from durrett or Andro)
Tateyama throws sinker, curveball and changeup. JD says breaking ball and sinker are two best.

UPDATE3
Yoshinori has signed a split contract so that should indicate that he is not a front-runner to make the staff. He likely ends up in AAA to provide depth for the team. He could supplant someone like Nippert especially if TX elects to keep Harrison and Kirkman in AAA as starters. Harrison has one option left I think, which is useful given his continued inconsistency.




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Free Agent Notes

If Texas is unable to re-sign Cliff Lee or trade for a premier starter, I wonder if TX would be inclined to sign someone like Carl Pavano or trade for someone like him. I wouldn't be opposed to signing Pavano who has pitched 420 innings the last 2 years with an average FIP of 4. Given Texas' tendencies over the last few years, they might instead opt to go with a high risk/upside reclamation project like Brandon Webb or Jeremy Bonderman.

A lower upside RECPRO might be Kevin Correia. Despite his struggles this year, some of which are due to the death of his brother in May, my gut tells me that he might be worth the risk. Other RECPRO candidates: Chien-Ming Wang, Aaron Harang, Jeff Francis, Brad Penny.

I would bet that TX acquires a reliable #3_#4 innings eater should it prove unable to acquire a top shelf guy, trading away some of the depth in the low minors. They will probably also sign a RECPRO.

As I've stated previously, I think taking Feliz out of the bullpen in 2011 would be a mistake. I also think that all the talk by national writers who are "sourcing" insiders claiming that TX would likely move him to the rotation if they fail to acquire a top arm is exaggerated if not bogus. This would be a questionable move for a championship-caliber team. However, I also think that the criticism of Feliz' secondary stuff by some is also exaggerated. While his secondary stuff is inconsistent, it still flashes plus (just take a look at last year's Futures Game if you have forgotten). I also have to think, for my own sanity, that the rumors about Texas considering Alexi Ogando for the rotation are also exaggerated or bogus, given that he has never started a game in his entire career. Though I often forget how ridiculous the off-season rumor-mongering can get, particularly among national writers, I am, without fail, quickly reminded of this fact each and every year right around the time of the Winter Meetings.

Anyways...If the team was hoping to upgrade in CF, the only way to do this would seem to be via trade. BJ Upton and Jacoby Ellsbury are rumored to be available, but I bet TX elects to stick with a Borbon/Hambone platoon in CF next year, despite the risks. I just don't see many other viable alternatives out there. You can't have the best players at every position and Borbon's struggles at the plate can be compensated for by effectively filling the other spots in the lineup that can be improved upon and sitting him vs LHP. His defense is above average and he presence keeps Hambone out of CF for 100games, which is enough of a contribution in my book with a balanced lineup.

As for the DH spot, I previously wrote that I wouldn't mind if Vladdy came back, and while I prefer him over a David Murphy/TBD platoon arrangement that some have expressed some puzzling enthusiasm for, I'm a little less keen on the option now. I'm more concerned about his declining performance against RHP during the last 2 years than his second half swoon: 907; 831; 807(OPS). Not great.

What is the first option at DH on the FA Market. Adam Dunn (now) it seems. Though Adam Dunn sucked vs LHP in 2010 (719; 781 prior 2 yrs)and his walk rate took a nose dive (to a still AA 12%), it will take a monster deal to sign him one would imagine. I didn't consider him an option previously but he is reportedly willing to play DH now for the highest bidder. I just think it will be too much $$$ tied up in a spot with zero defensive value that can usually be jury-rigged to league average production each year. I don't want a lot of money tied up at the DH spot I guess. Call it a first principle. Unless you want to sign him to be your 1B...


What are the other alternatives? The DH pool is rather unimpressive when you dig a little deeper so it would seem that the best value at the DH spot this winter would be to sign a couple of platoon players. Jim Thome had an OPS of 1.2 vs RHP last year (872 and 881 prior to that) while Paul Konerko (825; 1.01; 1.1) mashed lefties. Johnny Gomes was also alright vs LHP the last 2 years at 914/881. Those are the only 3 players that really do it for me and Konerko won't likely sign on to a platoon role and less than a 3 yr deal. So that leave Thome and Gomes as the best FA platoon bats to pursue in my book.

Everyone else is uninspiring. Matsui is not impressive enough vs RHP nor are Ordonez (injured to boot), LaRoche, Lee and Berkman. Troy Glaus is or should be done. Russell Branyan and Jack Cust are not really dominant enough vs RHP (~855) to warrant putting up with their contact issues. Jermaine Dye hit 890 vs LHP in....2009.

So the pickings are slim at DH it would seem, and unless TX goes the platoon route, they might just elect to re-sign Vladdy, instead of caving into the contract demands of someone like Dunn or Konerko, who don't seem worth the price. Hopefully Texas finds some platoon arrangement that will offer up league average DH production (809 OPS, min 12 players/400pa) over the course of the entire season.

I think it would be wise if TX could find a RHH platoon bat to pair with Moreland as well unless it feels he can put up league average 1B numbers in 2011 while staying in vs Lefties, which they didn't allow him to do during his debut. The league average OPS for AL 1B with a minimum of 420pa was 811 in 2010. I don't think he will be productive enough to man that spot alone but fringe average numbers (say 770ops; 700/810, L/R splits) will be better than what Davis and Smoak put up last year by a long shot. So I would still consider Moreland an upgrade, who, when paired with a platoon partner would make a for a nice 1B combo, though I think his ISO will plummet or at least his HR rate is likely too.

What they will do about the need for a RHH outfielder is anyone's guess.


UPDATE:
Dunn is angling for 4/60 per some reports. PASS.


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Monday, November 29, 2010

Yorvit Torrealba signs

Yorvit Torrealba signed with TX today for 2yrs/3.25. I was going to post something today about catcher defense ratings on available catchers and then boom, Torrealba signs. It was possible that Ronny Paulino or Russell Martin and maybe a few others might have been non-tendered by Thursday so I thought TX might wait to get a catcher deal done a bit later. Whatever the case, this is a good signing for a number of reasons.

Texas catchers had a combined OPS of .599 last year so just signing a catcher who was fringy league average at the plate is going to give you an improvement of 80 points or so. A .599 OPS is unbelievably bad (but not bad enough for Evan Grant to think that Kevin Cash is a viable backup catcher it seems). The average OPS for a catcher in the AL in 2010 (min 12 players/300ab) was .740. It is possible that if you signed 2-3 replacement level players, they would combine to hit about that much (think 3 Kevin Cashes).

Torrealba has a career OPS/WOba of 708/308 which is just fringe average at the plate. His career splits are deceiving at 765/686 L/R but in a good way. He hit LHP well early in his career but hasn't fared nearly that well the last 4 years (710; 739; 610; 698). Why is that good news? Well, he has shown dramatic improvement at the plate against RHP over the last 2 years (over about 160g) sporting an OPS of 778 and 729 (vs 695 and 669 in 07/08) while improving his walk rate to about ~9%.

I think that 2 years sample size is big enough to think that he can exceed his career OPS over the next 2 years, say 725ops/318Woba. That is close to league average and would be a huge improvement on the cavalcade of failed prospects that TX has trotted out there the last 3 years. I bid thee farewell, lineup black hole.

Having said that it is clear that TX needs to find a backup or platoon partner who does a decent job against lefties or who has relatively even (if unimpressive splits). There are a few guys out there who hit lefties well (Varitek, Paulino, Molina, Martin) or who have decent splits (Barajas). Salary and Playing time demands will likely determine who TX signs or trades for. Varitek is coming off of ankle surgery and a 4m salary. Martin will likely want to start. Barajas would likely accept a platoon role; Paulino might but someone is likely to sign him as a starter. Just for good measure, Treanor, Teagarden and Ramirez (no longer a ML catching prospect) are all abysmal vs LHP (542; 564; 469) so none of them are really good platoon partners if you want to have a platoon arrangement to run out a guy who hits lefties better than Torrealba. Given that it might take a multiyear deal for Paulino (if he is non-tendered this week, if not trade before then) Varitek might be a good get for a one year deal.

Signing Torrealba also maintains Texas' commitment to "catchability" in that he was the top-ranked FA catcher by various measures (with Barajas right behind him)and is reputed to be good at managing/calling a game. Given the team's commitment to game fundamentals over mashing, I think it was important if not necessary to sign a catcher with above average catchability. The only possible drawback of the signing is his iffy throwing arm due to an injury to his shoulder which required surgery in 2006 (?). He had abysmal CS #s last year but was fine this year. A note up at the Rangers' team site noted that his good footwork and quick release have made up for his loss of arm strength over the last couple of years and he controlled the running game well in SD last year. Time will tell on that point I guess.

Good start to the off-season for Texas.


NOTES:
On the bad news tip, Jorge de la Rosa signs a 3yr/~33m deal with the Rockies. I would do that deal for 2 years but not three. Other than Lee, the only way a team will acquire a decent starter this off-season is via trade.

Check out this Story on the kidnapping of Torrealba's son in VZ last year (h/t lsb).




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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Couple of NYT articles

World Bank, the Boras Way

Michael Lynn's Chamber Pot



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Lots 'O Rangers news

Josh Hamilton wins the MVP award. Wow. I thought the fact that he only played in 133g might have played more of a factor but he won going away. How impressive is it that Josh won the ward despite only playing in 133g? Since the both leagues expanded to a 162 game schedule in 1962, only 13 position players have won the award playing fewer than 140 games, 5 NL MVPs and 8 AL MVPs. Joe Mauer (138g) was the first player from either league to do it in almost 15 years when he won last year. Who was the last player to do it before him? Juan Gonzalez won it in 1996 after only playing in 134 games. In fact, 4 of the 6 MVP awards given by both leagues between 1994-1996 seasons were awarded to players with less than 140 games. During the other 46 years, only 9 position players from both leagues won the MVP with fewer than 140 games. Very impressive accomplishment.

Texas hires Thad Bosley to replace Clint Hurdle as hitting coach. Bosley was a coach wit the Athletics for 5 years, 4 of them as the hitting coach, between 1999-2003. Texas liked him last year when he interviewed for the position, which is probably the reason for the quick hire. Washington was also on the Oakland staff during Bosley's stint there, so they know each other well it would seem. Bosley was coaching for a couple of small baseball programs over the last 3 years but I'm not sure what kept him out of MLB altogether during the last 7 years, especially after his success as Oakland's hitting coach.

Franky Francisco was offered arbitration today and TR Sullivan indicates (though what he says is not always reliable) that he is leaning toward accepting it. That would be good news in my opinion as having him return to a bullpen with the likes of Ogando, Feliz and Lowe would make for quite a dominant unit, and the #s would mitigate against the effects of losing Franky to injury. Losing him this year proved nearly catastrophic in the playoffs as we all know. Some have tossed around the idea that this is a sign that TX will move Feliz to the rotation. Nonsense (for 2011 at least).

Feliz is an elite closer right now, and there is no reason to believe that Ogando will be one next year given the way he performed last year or that Fx2 can remain healthy for a full season to merit a return to the closer role. Take these 4 arms into next season and you have an elite bullpen. Put Feliz into the rotation next year and what you have will be question marks both with the bulllpen and with the rotation. It normally takes a couple of years for a rookie starter to to begin having success at the ML level. In Feliz's case, he has had success in the pen already but hasn't started a game since early June of 2009. There is no reason to believe that Feliz is ready to start right now but more importantly there is no reason to believe that he can make a bigger impact as a struggling starter than as a dominant closer, a dominant closer on a world series team no less.


Cliff Lee was also offered ARB while both Molina and Guerrero were not. I'm not at all among those who oppose bringing Guerrero back on a 1 year deal as long as the other holes in the lineup are plugged. Catcher and DH are the obvious holes. The FA catchers worth noting have dwindled to Victor Martinez and to none at all after he got a monster contract today from Detroit (4/50m!). There are a # of DH candidates out there who could be had for a 1 year deal, who profile as more patient hitters than Vladdy. I would prefer one of those types of hitters but I am ok rolling with Vlad as long as he is not hitting cleanup anymore.

However, the Texas staff also need to make some important decisions about the outfield and first base. First, is Moreland good enough to be a full time first baseman or does he need a platoon partner? Texas did not start Moreland against any LHP during the regular season that wasn't an exigency so it would seem that TX does not have confidence in him to be a FT player. Washington does like to protect rookies however so it might be premature to conclude that Moreland is projected by the staff as a platoon hitter. Wash did choose to start him against elite lefties during the playoffs, though they were admittedly left with little choice after they elected to bench Cantu. So do we really know what the Texas coaches think about Moreland? Are they confident enough to roll with him without a platoon partner next year? They might not make a call on that until the end of ST.

Second, what to do with Julio Borbon and David Murphy? Texas needs a RHH outfielder like no one's business and it also needs a CF like Borbon to keep Hamilton in LF 90% of the time to help keep him healthy. I think the OF situation will be the toughest to address. My fear is that TX does nothing and plays Hamilton far too many games in CF in 2011. The cleanest solution is simply to trade for or sign RHH CF but the off-season FA frenzy rarely follows the rule of parsimony as we know.

My general stance on signing free agents, especially old ones, is to avoid doing it if at all possible. This is much easier to do if you have a strong farm system and a few young players on the 40 who can be used as trade pieces. In terms of strategies that are the best for both the acquisition of controllable young players as well as the long term financial health of the franchise, trading for talent almost always trumps signing free agents. Texas has a strong farm system but this strength lies only at the lower levels. Most trades to acquire an above average, young, controllable, major league player will have to include major league ready talent _at worst _ if not also players with major league experience.

If Texas is to pull off a trade for any above average player (an Ace, a #1 or #2 SP, a catcher, a center fielder, a first baseman), no team is really going to want a bunch of prospects who are 2-3 years away from making their debuts. Whoever thinks that you can throw in Craig Gentry and Leury Garcia in a package to get Zach Greinke is a fool. A team will expect players who will start now, during the year or 2012 at the latest. The players that TX would have to include given their lack of minor league depth at the upper levels of their systems would leave holes in their roster as they are all penciled in to fill prominent if not starting roles in 2011: Holland, Hunter, Ogando, Moreland, Borbon, Murphy, Harrison, Kirkman. The only players of interest in the high minors in this system would include: Scheppers, Martin Perez, F. Castillo, and Engle Beltre. Throw in players with major shortcomings might be: Teagarden, C. Davis, Strop, Omar Beltre.

So while I think that trading for players is the most sagacious way to fill roster needs both in the short and the long term, the weakness at the upper level of the TX farm system will make this more difficult. In addition, given that most of Texas' major league ready talent is already on the 40, any trades designed to upgrade the roster will also be painful because some of those players will have to be included in any trade, players who would have played a prominent role on the 2011 roster to begin with. So while upgrading one position, you create a hole in another or at least fill it with a less capable player and further depleting your depth.

Given the problems that Texas will confront in pulling off multiple trades for elite talent this off-season, I'm very interested to see what plan B will be, a version of which we might see in on only a couple more weeks - the winter meetings start December 6th. I expect that Texas will still find creative ways to fill their team needs without dolling out crazy FA contracts to over the hill players. The most likely scenario to unfold should they miss out on Cliff Lee will be to trade for a starter who might be a fringy #2/solid #3 starting pitcher capable of and reliable for 200 innings. It wouldn't surprise me if TX traded for a fringe-average catcher with AA catchability. Both moves would cost you some talent, but trading for a lower ceiling starter would allow you to throw in some more lower level but high ceiling prospects, the strength of Texas' minor league system.

So I guess if I had to make a prediction, I would say that TX will make the following moves by Jan1: Makes a failed bid for Lee; trades for a 2_3 starter and a fringe average catcher (both upgrades compared to last year's opening day roster); signs a free agent DH. I would imagine that any changes to the composition of the OF or the acquisition of a right-handed hitter will wait until the spring. One remote trade possibility would to acquire an above average RHH center fielder but those are pretty hard to find.





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Saturday, November 20, 2010

Jose Julio Ruiz

Tampa Bay released Cuban 1b Jose (Jorge?) Julio Ruiz on Friday, declining his option (which was apparently 4yr/4m) and releasing him. Texas was rumored to be interested in him at some point this year.



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Friday, November 19, 2010

DePaula signs

Yankees Agree To Terms With DePaula

Posted Nov. 19, 2010 4:07 pm by Ben Badler
Filed under: International, News

The Yankees have agreed to terms with Dominican righthander Jose Rafael DePaula, one of the top pitchers available on the international market.

DePaula's contract with the Yankees is still contingent on him passing his investigation with Major League Baseball and subsequently obtaining his work visa. In DePaula's case, that's a fairly significant contingency.

One of the top unsigned pitchers in Latin America since 2008, DePaula was suspended for one year in May 2009 by MLB for misrepresenting his date of birth, which he had presented as April 1, 1992. This June, DePaula came forward with a new date of birth—March 24, 1991, making him 19—and a new name, switching from Rafael DePaula Figueroa to Jose Rafael DePaula.

While DePaula still needs to pass his investigation and acquire a work visa for the deal to become official, his talent made him one of the most sought-after pitchers in Latin America regardless of questions about his age. DePaula, who is around 6-foot-2, 190 pounds, has a plus fastball that has been clocked in the mid-90s. He also flashes a good breaking ball with sharp bite and shows solid mechanics.




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Barret Loux

Multiple sources are reporting that Texas has signed Barret Loux for $312k. That amount appears to be slot value for the Ranger's 21st pick in the 3rd round (Akins got slightly more than slot at 350k). Seems like quite a bargain to get a first-round caliber talent at that price even with the questions surrounding his health.

After reading over BA's draft profile on the kid, I'm not sure why AZ had him ranked as a first rounder unless he showed a lot of improvement in the second half on one of his breaking balls:

The Tigers spent heavily to sign high school pitchers Rick Porcello ($7 million contract in the first round) and Casey Crosby ($748,500 in the fifth) in 2007, and thought they also met the $800,000 asking price of Loux, their 24th-rounder. He changed his mind about signing and instead opted to attend Texas A&M, where his 2009 season was halted by bone chips in his elbow. After having the chips removed, Loux is healthy again and racking up strikeouts with a 90-92 mph fastball that touches 95. The 6-foot-5, 220-pounder throws with such ease that his fastball appears even harder. If he had a standout second pitch, he'd be a first-round pick, but he may have to settle for the sandwich round because his curveball and changeup are merely effective. His curveball was his best pitch in high school but hasn't been as sharp since his elbow surgery. He'll show an average changeup, though not on a consistent basis. Some teams have medical concerns about Loux, who missed two months of his high school senior season with a tender shoulder.


In contrast to BA's profile, MLB's profile suggests that Loux's Changeup is plus as is his command.


ESPN Insider praised his pitchability:
Loux has been one of the top-performing pitchers in Division 1 this year despite his lack of a plus pitch, instead getting outs by changing speeds and throwing strikes.
Loux's fastball is in the low 90s, touching 94 occasionally, with some downhill plane on it. His best offspeed pitch is a hard changeup at 83-86 with late but sharp tailing action; he throws a slider and a spike curveball, neither of which is sharp, with the slider ahead of the curve at the moment. He throws strikes with the fastball and change, but can't command the curve, typical of guys who throw the spike.
His arm action is clean but there's no deception in the delivery; he takes a moderate stride that could be a little longer after he drifts through his balance point. If he junks the spike and either gets more consistency on the slider or switches to a traditionally-gripped curveball, he'd project as a mid-rotation starter, with the downside of a two-pitch reliever who'd probably sit at 94 or better.



John Manuel had this to say on draft day:
I think it's safe to say this is the first pick we don't like. Texas A&M righthander Barret Loux goes to the Diamondbacks at No. 6 overall, and that's a reach. Loux has reached 96 mph and turned down six figures out of high school from the Tigers, who made a late run at him. But at Texas A&M, Loux has had bone chips in his elbow and has failed to develop his secondary pitchers. He has an excellent fastball, though, pitching off the fastball and usually dominating off it, ranking fourth in the nation in strikeouts.

But Loux's secondary stuff is light for the sixth overall pick. He was not considered a consensus first-rounder, and his selection is a mild surprise, though Jim Callis said he'd heard Loux rumblings the last few days. The Diamondbacks have gone conservative in recent drafts for the most part and did it again in 2010.

The Diamondbacks already have commented in a release. “We’ve scouted Barret since high school and have seen him grow as a pitcher and as a person at Texas A&M, where he was the team’s Friday night starting pitcher this season,” said D-backs’ scouting director Tom Allison. “He had a successful season this year and is now in the midst of leading his team in a must-win game against the University of Miami tonight to advance to the NCAA Super Regional against Florida this weekend. We believe Barret has all of the physical and mental ingredients to be a starting pitcher in the Major Leagues and look forward to him joining the D-backs soon.”



Miscellany
Loux is the second player Texas has inked this year who failed his physical. The first? - Victor Payano, whose 990k deal was voided when the BoSox found some issue with his shoulder. He signed with TX for 75k.

Texas has drafted 2 players with known elbow issues the last 2 years: Kevin Castner (2009- also drafted by TX in 2008) and Steven McKinnon (2010). Castner had TJ surgery in August of 2009.

Loux has actually had surgery on his arm whereas Scheppers has, to date, not. There are various reports about what AZ found during their physical for Loux, none of which, by the way, whatever they were, prevented Loux from having a dominant season in 2010. Some say that it is the elbow that is the main problem, while others say it is the shoulder? Some say both while some say that surgery for one problem is more imminent than the other, while others say surgery for both is a certainty whatever the case.

What is the truth of the matter? Who knows. If only one thing was demonstrated by all the ridiculous hype surrounding the health of Schepper's shoulder before he finally signed with TX, it was that one should generally ignore sports writers when they are making proclamations about a players particular injuries. Why say this? There "sources" will always be, by definition, off the record as Medical records are private. If there really were sources who had actually read Schepper's medical files and evaluations (supplied by who, various team doctors?), sources who then had the temerity to leak private medical information (which is a felony right?), to a sports writer no less, there is, in my estimation, _ZERO_ reason to trust this kind of third order information.

As we speak, Scheppers is healthy, a "ticking time bomb" only by virtue of small-minded self-serving fiats it would seem. As for Loux, the only thing commentators can say for certain is that he had elbow surgery in 2009 and that TX thinks he is worth 3rd round money. Other than that, worrying about whether Loux will implode via elbow or shoulder, as a starter or reliever, seems to be so much folly.





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No Winter ball for Cruz

I came across a note in one of the Dominican papers in which Cruz said that TX has not given him permission to play in the Dominican this fall but that he hoped (perhaps jokingly?) to revisit that decision before the end of the season. Texas should just say no. Cruz got injured there last year (ankle or leg) and that is a mistake that they should not make again.



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4 added to 40

TR Sullivan reports that Texas has added Fabio Castillo, Engel Beltre, Miggie de los Santos, and Wilmer Font to the 40 man roster for the purpose of protecting them from selection in the Rule 5 draft. Unfortunately, we also get word the Wilmer Font's elbow problems, which shut him down mid-season, were much worse than we knew. He had TJ surgery on 10/1 so if he pitches at all in game action next year it won't be until instructs or during the AFL.

Texas also announced an additional AAA sign, in addition to the 2 we knew of in Esteban German and Kevin Cash: CF Doug Deeds. All three received invites to spring training.



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Thursday, November 18, 2010

Enterprising Youth: "Si, somos hombres de negocio..."

Nice article today over at the NYT about the increasing privatization of the academy system in the Dominican, and the banal if not shocking "free enterprise" mystifications that undergird entrepreneurial support of a system which traffics in adolescent bodies (sometimes behind barbed wire). (edit: corrected link)

Here's a link to the accompanying video. Though brief, it is quite the indictment of the American investor abroad, illustrating their often confused ideological mantra of "opportunity, profit, and goodwill" combined with an astonishing amount of retrograde paternalism.

The interview excerpts with Greg J. Maroni (agent/founder, California Sports Management, financed by his Dad, with an Academy in Don Gregorio a/o 2007) are simply amazing, as we watch him try to convince himself about the socially progressive aspect of his venture. The last shot is a a great argument for keeping the camera rolling and letting your subject talk (for all you budding documentarians) as he looks away, somewhat distracted, as if reciting a script, his sentence trailing off with "...for the better.."

Here is a link to the Arias and Goodman Academy in San Pedro de Macoris (home of the Texas academy) and La Academia (and here, and here)




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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Liga Paralela

Mark Anderson, over at (Scout's) Tigtown.com, was kind enough to offer up a thumbnail sketch of the Liga Paralela, which runs concurrently with the LVBP season:


(Me)... I wonder if you could explain just what the Liga Paralela is. I've heard it described as a VZ minor leagues but how does it differ in both form and function from the VSL (other than time of year)? I've also heard that in terms of talent level, the LP is somewhere between the VSL and rookie ball. In terms of the players on the LP rosters, could you characterize their age/experience level generally? Just going out on a limb here, it seems that LP serves as a minor league for both MLB and LVBP. What say you?


(Mark) The LP originated as a minor league for the LVBP. Since they often "draft" guys so young, they wanted somewhere to have them play and develop. As it evolved a little more, teams like the Tigers started putting their own teams in the league. Many of their players will play in the LP if they are not playing for their home club in the LVBP.

The VSL is very similar, except it is purely affiliated players....guys under official contract to the MLB clubs. The LP often has local guys that may or may not be under contract, and the MLB teams may be utilizing young kids that they are working out and considering signing.

I think the talent varies throughout the course of the LP season. Early in the year, the MLB teams in the league are often simply using their VSL rosters....but as players who may have been stateside (and away from home) all year, go home and get some rest, they begin to join the LP rosters, which increases the overall talent level. In addition, some players will play for their home town team, before the more advanced minor leaguers or big leaguers begin playing for them, and when they do join, the young kids head over for more playing time in the LP.




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Miscellany

On the heels of my note about the likelihood of TX re-signing some of its upper level minor league free agents, they did just that yesterday, inking Esteban German to a minor league deal. They had previously re-signed Guilder Rody, Travis Adair, Adalberto Flores and Chris Mobley before they were declared free agents.

The 40 man roster must be set sometime by midnight this Friday, 11/19. The annual Rule 5 draft takes place during the Winter Meetings, which will be held December 6-9 this year.



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Linkalicious

Couple of links:

Talk of Jose Iglesias, a teenage Cuban SS TX had interest in before he signed with Boston (4/8.25), the guy with the golden glove who pundits said couldn't hit.

Martin Perez's winter ball stint is over per prior agreement with the club (h/t ming).

El Cubano Interview, 2/10

Interview MLB camp Italy, 9/10

Interview with Peter Bjarkman, 3/07

Helfgott's International Game, 1/08



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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Beisbol Invernal

ESPN3 and ESPNDeportes normally broadcast at least one VZ or DR winter league game per week and old broadcasts are archived.

If you go to the Dominican league's website, and click on the "transmision" tab right below the site search box, there are links to live broadcasts. If you register for the site, you can access archived broadcasts through their "multimedia" section (apparently).

Ignacio Serrano has a nice blog on the LVBP.

Taylor Teagarden and Chris Davis will arrive in the Dominican together on Wednesday and be available to play for Estrellas as early as Friday.

Omar Beltre made his 2010 debut for the Toros del Este pitching a scoreless inning and will apparently be stretched out over his next few starts and plugged into the rotation. He was 92-94, getting zero swinging strikes while giving up some hard contact (single, deep AO to CF, shallow AO to CF, CS). Not sure if this is good news given his extensive injury history over the last 2 years (which began, not coincidentally, during winter ball 2008). As a refresher, let's just recount his injury history the last 2 years (see here and here): injured toward the end of his Dominican season in 2008; missed all but the last week in 2009; shut down again after only a few innings during the 2009 Dominican season; missed all of spring training with TX 2010. During his time with OKC in 2010, he was on and off the DL all season, moved between the rotation/bullpen - presumably in an attempt to manage his arm - and skipped over in at least one start due to shoulder stiffness.

If you buy the argument that pitching in relief is less stressful on the arm, then the likelihood that Beltre will put in a full season as a starter in 2011, either in the minors or the majors, remains highly doubtful. It would seem prudent (beginning even last year perhaps) to consider him a bullpen arm from here on out given his age and injury history, and it is a little puzzling that TX still thinks of him (turns 30 in August) as a starter. Beltre has never thrown more than 100 innings in his entire 10 year career, never. His innings totals from the last 5 years, 2006-2010: 96, 74, 50, 11, 92. Even if you consider that he was pitching in leagues with shorter seasons - the DSL and the Dominican - this still has to give one pause. Why take a chance?



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Instructs Reprise

Jeff Wilson has some belated notes up about Fall Instructs over at BA. The one that surprises me is that Luis Sardinas - the best shortstop in the TX system - had his FIL stint cut short due to a dislocated shoulder. To early to call it a trend yet (injured out of EST as well):

"(Profar is) a good looking shortstop with all the tools you'd want to see, but he's got that something-extra, an awareness, an internal clock, that not everyone has," Daniels said. "He's an exciting young player."

Daniels was impressed with his quick look at the players in the instructional league.

"We were a really young group out there this year," Daniels said. "But everyone that went out there—the coaches, the scouts—were really excited about the talent level and the makeup of the guys out there."

Another 17-year-old switch-hitting shortstop, Luis Sardinas, saw his run through the instructional league cut short by dislocated right shoulder, but the Rangers expect the Venezuelan to be ready for spring training.




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2011 Roster Projections

I've just taken a stab at projecting next year's minor league rosters. Texas has a lot of personnel decisions to make in the lower levels, particularly the two A-ball squads, as both the pitching and position depth is off the charts deep. As for the upper levels of the system, well, it's not all that pretty and the lack of major league ready minor leaguers will make it difficult for TX to make trades this off-season without also poaching players from the big club. You can find it in the "2010 System Rosters" workbook in the sidebar.

I've also got a list there of all the players who are playing winter ball that I know of, in addition to a list of players who might be protected on the 40 before this year's draft. There are not a lot of difficult choices to make in that respect. You protect Beltre, Castillo, and, err, well, then you just have to decide which of our starting pitchers who pitched in A ball last year might get selected and stashed on a big league roster for the year. I say it is unlikely that any are close enough to the bigs to merit a Rule5 selection. In general, relievers are the primary pitching crop of the Rule 5, and other than maybe Hamburger or one or more of the numerous lefties in the upper minors (B.Jones, Ben Snyder, Kasey Kiker) there just aren't a lot of decisions to be made so far.

In terms of managing the pitching depth in the lower levels, TX took a slightly different approach during the 2010 season. Instead of leaving their younger 1st or 2nd year pitchers in extended, waiting for rotation spots to open, or, using a split-start system (2 starters splitting 1/2 a game), they actually put the younger players in the rotation to begin the year, and put the older 1st/2nd year college starters in the bullpen.

To manage the younger starter's innings they were moved to the bullpen in late July and the college starters moved into rotation spots. So, I'm assuming they will do this again in 2011. Essentially I think it boils down to this: because of he perennial quality of their pitching depth in the lower levels they have decided to place the 12-13 best pitchers on full-season clubs to begin the season, period. So, to begin the 2011 season it is once again likely that starters will largely comprise the bullpen of the two A-ball clubs while bullpen arms proper will likely begin in extended.

This still doesn't make sense to me really as it seems to clog up the promotion pathway for starters throughout the system. I guess TX figures that pitchers can still progress apace no matter their role or level, and likely think of them in terms of a 2 year plan rather than worrying where they are or what role they are in during any single season. At least, that is how the seem to be viewing the situation now.

As for the upper levels, there is a depth problem in the infield (like last year) so I think you will see TX sign a few veteran middle infielders with some ML experience for AAA (like last year, think Petit, German, Iribarren), and sign some career minor leaguers for AA or take a couple of them in the minor league phase of the Rule 5 (in addition to at least 1 catcher per usual practice). They also need a few outfielders for AAA; that club has been stripped, so expect to see a lot of journeymen there next year, or a few of the minor league free agents from the club re-signed.

Just as an aside, I was very disappointed to learn that Danny "Meathead" Gutierrez's injury (unspecified as yet per Jason Cole) prematurely ended his AFL stint. Well, actually, I was disappointed that such a low-character guy was essentially gifted a coveted AFL roster spot when so many better human beings in the system merited one in his stead. Whatever the case, my disappointment lies of course, in part, with his injury, as you never like to see a player injured of course, but primarily because it likely eliminated the possibility that he would be selected in this year's Rule5 draft and ushered out of this organization. If you still believe that character is unrelated a to a talented player's ceiling (or injury history in fact), DGut is the exemplary counterargument, and a consistent reminder that the TX scouting staff and front office failed to observe their own "high character" mantra that we've heard for the last 2-3 years when they made the decision to trade for him.

See DGut discursus: here, here, here, here, here.

Speaking of low character guys, one would have to imagine that Christian Santana is a candidate to be released when his PED suspension expires at the end of April. Another candidate who might (should?) be released: suspended (yet again) outfielder Miguel Velazquez, who should probably plan to ply his trade in Puerto Rican winter ball from here on out.



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Teagarden

Teagarden will reportedly play for Estrellas in the Dominican while Elvis Andrus will not be playing fall ball in Venezuela. I'm hoping that Cruz sits this one out as well.



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Sunday, November 14, 2010

Andres Blanco...the catcher?

We saw the rumor a week or so ago that suggested Chris Davis was going to try his hand at catching while in the Dominican. Shortly after that rumor there was a confirmation that this wasn't the plan at all, rather, and to everyone's complete surprise, he will be playing first base.

Now we have a report from the VZ league that Andres Blanco has been told that he must move off of the middle infield if he wants to make the TX roster next year, which seems crazy given what a perfect utility infielder he is and the nice D that he plays in that role.

Having read the article, Blanco does seem to suggest that this might be the case. However, moving him from the middle infield doesn't really fulfill a need for TX and makes zero sense. So I suspect that he will be trying out catching like Esteban German tried out catching, that is to say, as an exigent option. He's more likely to see action in the outfield but only as a 5th OF, which is to say, hardly at all. This is actually the normal course of affairs with utility infielders with TX (if not with all teams). However, Blanco's value lies in his defense and he'll play up the middle in 2011 just like in 2010.

I can only assume that the context of his comments may have been misunderstood by the reporter (or something) especially given that the main point of the article is simply to introduce Blanco and describe his first week with the team.



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International Scene

SI's Melissa Segura seems to be covering LA again (via twitter at least).

She notes that there is another Dominican league opening up this month around the same time the DPL season opens. I'm not sure that it really sounds like a league proper as she says it will only feature players from the "top trainers." She offers no further info.

She also notes the formation of MLB's unfortunately named "Latin American Oversight Committee."

Just as an aside, there are some parroting the (evasive) front office meme from this summer that the 2010 j2 market was "weak" as a justification for the limited activity of King Preller this year. I think there is little objective documentation to support this uncritical claim because: (1.) that meme emerged when TX had zero money to sign any players and when the sale of the team was in question; (2.) now that all of the 7-figure caliber players have signed, the market really is thin so TX probably does have little interest (now); (3.) the current market has more 7 figure signs than last year though it might not have an elite hitter like Gary Sanchez (and maybe Sano, but there could also be an elite pitcher in Luis Heredia); (4.) to claim that TX/Preller has some keener insight into this year's class than the other ~10 clubs who are really active in the LA market and who also have excellent LA scouting depts, all of whom were as active this year as in previous years, is stupid; (5.) to date this class will comprise fewer 6 figure signs than in, well, a very long time; (6.) it is not clear that TX is willing to sign intl. free agents (especially hitters, and given there dismal track record, would you want them to?) for 2 million or more unless said player is considered a once in a decade type talent (like they thought Ynoa was) so it probably never mattered that that there were not any 3 million dollar players in this class, though there were more than a few 2.5 million dollar players.

It will be interesting to see if TX believes it worthwhile to be annual players in that area code of the market beginning next year now that they are flush with cash. I say that they haven't been players before for the most part but I bet they will be staring next year. They were never reported to be in on Sanchez, Sano or Mateo when all were heading toward 3m. And this is just a supposition, and, as you know, I like to make those on occasion, but I think TX got outbid for Pimentel last year _rather_ than stilted for the kid or stolen by Seattle; I bet they simply weren't interested in the kid (or anyone) for 2m. The only other possible exception besides Ynoa that I can think of (and Tazawa doesn't count, who was already semi-professional and began in AA) is Adys Portillo who the club might have gone 2m on but were outbid.


UPDATE
Richard Durrett or someone had an article up over the last few days that claimed TX had spent the monies from their j2 budget for the acquisition of big league players. If you remember, in late May or June, TX front office folk had made it clear that their j2 budget remained normal, as it an item in the 2010 budget. Of course, once the sale of the club dragged out, and the club needed additional monies to make big league player acquisitions , they had to raid the fund to accomplish their goals. So it should be clear to most, that TX was forced out of this year' j2 market by Tom Hicks and MLB and not because it was a "weak class" or other such nonsense.




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Thursday, November 11, 2010

International FA update

Jorge Arangure suggests that Seattle is the leader to sign 2b/3b prospect E. Peguero. Earlier in the summer, Seattle signed DR OF Phillips Castillo for 2.2m along with at least 2 others, totaling a combined 3.5m..

Oakland, of course, has just won the rights to negotiate with Hisashi Iwakuma, and also just signed Dominican CF prospect Vicmal de la Cruz for ~800k. It also signed Venezuelan prospects Renato Nunez (3b, 2.2m) and Argenis Raga (C) - along with a few other VZ kids - around the deadline.

Both de la Cruz and Peguero are represented by the American owned and operated La Academia de Beisbol Internacional or "La Academia" and HERE.

To date, both rival AL West clubs have announced between 5-6 2010 j2 signings totaling at least 3.5m in monies.

By contrast, Texas only signed its first j2 prospect this week, Dominican 2b/ss prospect Luis Marte for ~215k. Texas' Latin American operation seems to be asleep at the wheel at the moment but did sign 3 2009-eligible j2 players players for 7 figures. Around the deadline, Texas tried to spin their inability to sign people as a lack of interest in the 2010 market but that was largely a PR diversion. This year there are at least as many 7 figure signs as last year even in a slow year due to more a more stringent screening process in addition to the recession. It isn't clear however why TX hasn't been more interested in the market post sale as money is no longer an excuse.

As a side note, at least half of the top 40 Dominican j2 prospects tested positive for PEDS prior to the 2010 deadline though Melissa Segura has noted that a majority passed the dob/identity portion of MLB's new screening process.

In other news, the MLB has suspended 7 Venezuelan prospects, for age/identify fraud, signaling a move toward greater monitoring of that "market" despite a more restricted access to it.

For those who still care, Melissa Segura notes that 19yo Jose/Rafael DePaula touched 97 two weeks ago in a showcase at the Rays DR academy.

Two of the top Dominicans for the 2011 j2 period should be Ramon Guzman and Ronniel Demorizi, both on the summer Under Armour roster.

I'm too lazy to see if I posted links to these articles before, but here are a few that discuss beisbol FA:

Struck Out with Replies

Segura on Esmailyn Gonzalez

107 contracts thru Aug 10



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Tuesday, November 9, 2010

More on Iwakuma

Not sure how I missed this Fangraph piece by Patrick Newman. The most interesting thing that PN and others note is that Japanese pitchers with small hands can't throw the forkball (split or split variation) stateside as the NPB uses a smaller ball.

Newman notes how critical that pitch is for Iwakuma as it is his best pitch, with a 19% (!) swinging strike rate. If he can't throw that pitch, he will have problems to be sure. Also note that in contrast to other profiles, his take on the data shows that Iwakuma doesn't rely on a cutter or a shutto all that often after all. However, given the questions surrounding the accuracy of the pitch data(in addition to a possible confusion by some US commentators between a cutter, a shuuto and a changeup), we'll just have to wait and see which profile turns out to be closer to the truth. It was said by some that Colby Lewis threw a shuuto that he learned in Japan but that proved not to be the case, as he learned a traditional cutter and altered his pitching mechanics _before_ he pitched overseas.

Anyways, per Newman, Iwakuma's pitch frequency breaks down like this:

Four seam
37.5
Slider
25.7
Forkball
22.2
Shuuto
10.8
Curveball
2.9
Cutter
1.0



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Monday, November 8, 2010

AFL Rising Stars f/x

Here is the AFL rising stars box. Fabio pitched the 5th, sitting 93-96+97 on his fastball, much as he has all season. Ben Revere saved a run for him making an outstanding catch, running into the CF wall, after Castillo had a slider crushed. His next 2 outs were groundouts on the same pitch. He didn't throw a single changeup, which is actually his #2 pitch. Castillo wields an impressive groundball rate of 3.2 his first AFL stint and I would imagine that working on his breaking ball (which used to be a curveball) has been a big part of his winter work.

He is a lock for the 40 and could quickly make it to AAA in 2011 after only making a few appearances in AA in 2010. They key for him is maintaining consistent mechanics which he and the Texas staff managed to iron out for the first time in 2010.


UPDATE:
Jason Grey has some nuggets on the game for Insiders (while Castillo gets no mention at all from Keith Law). Here is his note on Castillo, which is notably more pessimistic about his mechanics than anyone else has been this year. It is almost like Grey is talking about Pre-2010 Castillo when his weird mechanics were an issue without addressing the reasons for his progress this year (assuredly some mechanical adjustments). Grey's note on the possibility that Castillo's delivery makes him a legit injury risk is the first I've heard anyone make such an unequivocal statement:

I was also asked about Texas Rangers reliever Fabio Castillo, who "really came into his own this season," according to one scout I talked to who follows the Rangers' system extensively. Castillo has been between 94 and 96 mph and touched 97 multiple times here at the Fall League, and the 21-year-old righty struck out 65 in 51 2/3 innings, walking just 26 and allowing just two homers, in a tough pitching environment in the Class A Cal League this past season. Castillo's fastball has good late movement, running in on right-handed hitters. I've heard he calls his breaking ball a hard curve, but it looks more like an 86-88 mph slider that projects to be a solid-average pitch. He also throws an 86-88 mph straight changeup that he will occasionally tip by slowing his arm speed, though he does throw strikes with it. The negatives are that Castillo has below-average command of his fastball right now, and his delivery is scary, flying open as he whips the ball toward the plate with a huge amount of recoil and a ton of stress on his arm. It's intriguing raw ability, and he profiles as a potential setup man for fantasy purposes, but it's hard to see his arm staying healthy over the long haul with those mechanics.


UPDATE:
Chatting with Jason Cole over at Lonestar Dugout about Castillo and he mentions that Castillo's breaking ball is indeed his second pitch at the moment, as opposed to his changeup. He also notes that his breaking ball has a different shape to it now than in the beginning of the season. Cole is planning on interviewing Brad Holman this week - Castillo's pitching coach in Hickory in 2009 - who will likely provide some insight into Castillo's nice 2010. Check out Jason's site (fee based, with some free content) if you haven't already.

As a side note, I have been impressed with the amount of sliders and changeups that Castillo has mixed into his ~7 AFL outings thus far, though he didn't throw any changeups in the Rising Stars game. In the AFL games with pitch f/x, both pitches have missed bats and induced groundouts, with an excellent GO rate (SSS to be sure). In his last few outing his strike rate hasn't been that great, but his ability to induce grounders has enabled him to get out of innings with a low pitch count and he can still dial it up to 97 when he needs to.

As a caveat, the significance of AFL #s shouldn't be exaggerated, for hitters or pitchers. They are by definition short sample size and the AFL is also a place where players are working on aspects of their game per the instruction of their parent club with the cooperation of their respective AFL coaching staff. If I had to guess, Castillo's AFL homework included mixing in his changeup more, even to the detriment of his #s (but to no ill effect so far), keeping the FB low in the zone, and inducing groundball outs. How these things are interrelated with his mechanics, I can't be sure. It will be interesting to see what Holman has to say about the nature of Castillo's progression over the course of the last year: does he have a new breaking ball, a new grip? Why has his change been more effective, mechanics, a new grip? Why is he now more consistent with his FB command and velo?




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Sunday, November 7, 2010

Iwakuma Update

Patrick Newman intimates that Rakuten will accept the high bid for Iwakuma which "might exceed 16m." An earlier story but Rosenthal quoted a source suggesting that the Texas bid was "light" but then an even earlier source suggested that Texas might have had the high bid.

UPDATE:
Various sources report that Oakland has put in the high bid for Iwakuma.

UPDATE Dos:
Hayman reports that the Oakland's winning bid was ~17k. I thought that on overall package totaling 48k seemed about right (16k bid, 4yrs, 8m/per). I'm interested to see what the contract is...

John Shea says ~15m...

UPDATE Tres:
MLBTR notes a Kurkijian piece about the imminent posting of the top NPB position player, Tsuyoshi Nishioka (2b and/or SS). He's only 26, so it is unique for such a nice player to be posted so young. It will be interesting to see what it takes to bring him over. Patrick Newman has a piece up at Fangraphs.

UPDATE Four:
I found it a little disturbing that Oakland already has sort of a staff exchange program set up with NPB's Rakuten, allowing them great insight into Iwakuma's performance over the last 2 years and how that might translate stateside. I would think that they have as good a feel for him as anyone, so if they think his is worth it, I wouldn't bet against them. Elaborating one's contacts in this manner - creating a semi-permanent presence in Pacific Rim countries that exceeds mere scouting - might be the best way to create the inside track on future postings and FA signings. The Yankees, Cubs, Giants and Dodgers are a few of the clubs who have that kind of presence in Japan and/or Korea. They sponsor tournaments, workshops, traveling teams, and staff exchanges. To my knowledge, Texas' only presence in the Pacific Rim is Colburn and his staff which might not be enough.



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Saturday, November 6, 2010

DPL on Luis Marte

Here are a couple of blurbs from the DPL and a brief bp video. Luis Marte played in the DPL last year (the season was November 2009 - June 2010) so all interested teams had a good look at him. It should be noted that a # of Dominican prospects tested positive for PEDS prior to this year's j2 deadline (most names have not been leaked to my knowledge) so some players who sign late for less or who have yet to sign might be among them:

Blurb One plus Vid
Luis Marte, SS, has signed a $215,000 with the Texas Rangers. Marte was a consistent force for the Patriotas de Santo Domingo. Luis is 6'1 170lb, wiry athletic body with room to fill out frame. Luis is a true SS that will stick at the position as he developes. Clean solid fielder that does it effortlessly, avg to plus arm, running 6.6-6.7 60 yrd, solid avg range and athletic enough to make tough plays seem easy. He combines his solid defensive play with a solid offensive approach, hitting .286 with occosional power. Luis is considered by many scouts a top ss for july 2nd.

Blurb Two
According to Christian "El Niche" Batista a number of teams have been following the SS with strong interest (BOS, OAK, NYM, TOR, TEX COL). Batista says his player stands alone as the best SS available on the island this July 2nd; "He combines everything you want in a SS and does it easy; he has the tools, athletic ability, projection and determination the position demands , he also posses raw power that with age and development will be considered part off his offensive game". Batista has voiced to various sources he's looking for $3.5 million for the plus tools SS. After being hit by a pitch Marte is recovering from a small hand injury but he hasn't lost sight of his goals. Batista says Marte will be ready to go in 7-10 days and will be placed on DPL roster soon after. For much of the DPL season Marte has been the team leader in every statistical category and among league leaders in H/2B, showing impressive hitting approach, fielding and running ability. Marte should be ready for the upcoming DPL showcase in efforts to get teams to further evaluate him as they wind down their selection process.




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Texas in on Hisashi Iwakuma

Ken Rosenthal and Patrick Newman have reported that Texas Seattle and Oakland are among those teams who submitted bids for Hisashi Iwakuma. The best overview of his career is at Wikipedia. He seems to profile like a mid-roto caliber starter, sitting 89-90 with his 4s (86.5-92.5), coupled with a shuuto (89), slider (84) and forkball(89). He has a "show me" CB that he uses less than 5x/game. He is a ground ball pitcher in contrast to Colby Lewis. Newman reports that he can get a little extra on the fastball when needed, flashing 94-95, but he maxed out at 92.5 in a majority of starts, flashing 93-94 in September. It appears that his 4s was harder during the WBC in 2009, sitting 91 and flashing 95 by some accounts. He pitched 200 innings last year with solid peripherals all around: 28gs(4cg/1so)/2.82/201/184/11hr/36/153.

Just a word about the NPBT pitch tracker. I did a piece on Colby Lewis in January using info from that pitch f/x and it seems that the info is more unreliable than we are used to. The sources used for NPBT routinely confused all 2-seam pitches (slider, sinker, cutter, changeup) and slightly mischaracterized Lewis' profile in my opinion. This also affects the velo ranges on everything but in this instance his ave velo and velo range were a couple of tics higher using this data (which might also point to juiced guns maybe?) than he showed in his return to TX. It turns out that while Lewis does throw a cutter, he slows a slider much more and his 4s also has natural cutting action. He also still throws his CU. So, as a word of caution, it could be that Iwakuma might be slightly different than advertised once we actually see him throw and hear him (and the coaches) talk about what his throws.

Here are a couple of other info items that I came across or that have been posted elsewhere. Note how skinny this kid looks in the video:

NPBT March 2009
BP Nov 2
Amazin' Ave Oct 10
Groundballin' Jan 09 UTube
HBT March 2009


The posting fee that Rakuten was looking for in order to cede his negotiating rights to an MLB team was rumored to be (steep) at 16-19 million. I haven't heard any figures tossed around for his yearly salary demands, but if the posting fee is $16m and he gets, say, $8m over 4yrs that comes out to 48/4 or $12m/yr. That is quite a lot of money for a mid-roto arm coming over from Japan. However, maybe our sense of "value" has to change now that this club can spend money and take the risks that a big market team normally would take. We just aren't used to that yet.

And the risk here, when weighed against the possibility of missing our on Cliff Lee (and the difficulties of trading for an elite starter generally) and the stellar caliber of the starting rotations for both LAA and Seattle in 2011, might be well worth it, and the price, after some consideration, might be just right, or at least, it might be the price of returning to the World Series.

Iwakuma does seem to come with some risk. He pitched with a sore shoulder in 2005 then only pitched 129 innings over the next 2 years. He had his elbow scoped during the 2007 off-season and then put together a nice 3 year run. He appears to have missed some time due to injury all three of these years however, only making 24 starts in 2009 and missing almost 5 weeks in 2010, despite pitching 200 innings.

In looking over his pitch f/x during 2010, and mulling over his profile over the last 3 years, he appears to be similar to Colby Lewis, sans the plus plus pitch. Iwakuma doesn't throw as hard as he did when he was younger and before his injury problems, attacking hitters with an average 4s but pitching inside very well with both his 4s/shuuto combo and getting a lot of groundballs and giving up minimal HR. His walk rate is above average if not plus at times but not as stellar as that of Lewis' rate 2008/2009. Both pitchers have a 5 pitch mix but Lewis misses more bats with his repertoire. There are mixed reports on the quality of Iwakuma's slider ranging from average to above average while the take on his split is that it is an above average offering. His cutter seems to be an above average pitch while his 4 seamer seems just average (movment/velo) though his velo range seems to indicate that he changes speeds well on both of his fastball offerings.

I would hazard a guess that Iwakuma will be a solid mid-rotation starter who can pitch 180-200 innings if he can stay healthy. I think that Colby Lewis has better stuff and command - maybe he has more movement and/or deception coupled with the reemergence of the excellent curveball from his youth to go along with his plus slider - but that Iwakuma is worth the gamble in the unusual situation that is the NPB posting process, that is to say, you can't really compare it economically to the going rate for a #3 in the current FA market. So yes you have to over pay in this scenario, but the going rate for someone who does perform like that would be about 10 million right? Not a great difference when the team has the need and the money to spend (not to mention the accrual of Pacific Rim karma that might come in handy in the years to come). The biggest risk in my estimation, and it is something that no one has really focused at this juncture of the process, is INJURY. I assume that he will have to pass a physical in order to validate any contract so it looks like the medical staff will be a critical part of attesting to his long-term value and reliability. This fact alone makes me a might uncomfortable should he come our way.

I've linked to a couple of pitch f/x charts from NPBT detailing a sampling of his 2010 starts. I should note that he appeared to pitch injured the first 2 weeks of June (pitching limited innings) and was finally shut down for almost a month (mid-June to mid-July) and was skipped over for a start at the end of July:

April25
May16
August11


UPDATE:
Keith Law had him rated at the #16 FA this offseason in his insider report. Like many, he thinks of him as a #4 starter, whereas I think he can put of solid #3 numbers based on his command, pitchability and decent secondary offerings to go along with his nice cutter. After all, Colby Lewis pitched like a top rotation arm with a 4-seamer that sat 89-91, so, clearly, velo isn't everything, even stateside. We will have to see if Law's assumptions about "pitching/hitting Japanese" will out during his transition to the bigs. I'm betting that the problems that those differences create are exaggerated while a good pitcher's ability to make adjustments are undersold. It seems to me that the biggest problem that Japanese pitchers have in their transition to the bigs is simply staying healthy, and I think that is, once again, the case in this instance. Keith Law also noted that he thinks Iwakuma pitches backwards at times but with the limited reliability of the pitch f/x data this remains to be seen:


Iwakuma projects as more of a mid- to back-of-the-rotation guy than an ace despite his record in Japan, which includes a Sawamura Award (their equivalent to the Cy Young). He pitches differently than most of the Japanese pitchers who have come over, with a more conventional delivery and a pitch-to-contact approach that yields ground balls and few walks but not many strikeouts. He's 6-foot-3 and strong, getting good downhill plane on the ball, and likes to pitch backward, throwing a lot of sliders early in the count. He has a plus two-seamer, a splitter and a big slow curveball, as well as a four-seamer that's mostly 88-92. He tries to pitch down in the zone, only elevating the ball to change a hitter's eye level, and has been more effective against left-handed hitters, throwing two-seamers away and sliders at their back feet. However, he missed most of 2006 and part of 2007 due to injury, and like most Japanese starters has a history of very heavy use. In addition, Japanese hitters are taught to swing down at the ball, which works to his advantage, but he won't have that benefit when facing MLB hitters who are geared to hit line drives. Guys who don't miss bats in an inferior league worry me, but I like Iwamura's approach and willingness to use his off-speed stuff in any count, so for a team looking for a potential No. 4, he's a solid option.



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Friday, November 5, 2010

From Ben Badler

#Rangers sign 16-year-old Dominican SS Luis Marte for $215K. 6-1, wiry, RH-hitter, clean actions in the field



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