James and the Double Decker Bus

When last we checked in on the San Antonio Missions, they were destroying the Texas League. Nothing much has changed since then except the particulars. As a reminder, I’m pretty much going by what I hear on the radio. My notes are a mess, so proceed with caution…

* * *

James Darnell finally struck out against a left-hander. It happened twice on April 27 against Frisco’s Miguel De Los Santos, who fanned 10 batters that night. Both times, Darnell chased pitches out of the zone.

This is out of character for Darnell, a selective hitter who has 22 walks against 10 strikeouts. Give credit to De Los Santos, owner of an eye-popping 14.3 K/9 in 202 innings of pro ball.

The U-T’s Bill Center notes that the organization is deep at third base. Darnell himself points out that this is not a bad thing:

There’s nothing wrong with having a lot of good players battling for jobs. It’s when there’s no competition that nothing is gained.

Darnell also says that last year’s hand issues, which sapped his power, are gone. The way Darnell is playing, it’s hard to imagine he’ll spend the entire season at San Antonio.

* * *

Jaff Decker has been caught stealing third base a couple of times this year. Both times, he was being aggressive in trying to take the extra base on balls in the dirt. He wasn’t trying to swipe the bag, per se, just maybe didn’t read the ball well.

Also, for someone who has the reputation of being slow and unathletic, Decker draws a lot of pickoff throws. You know what I think of his reputation… apparently Texas League pitchers agree.

In the Missions’ April 29 victory over Midland, a 19 mph wind was blowing in from right field at Wolff Stadium. Decker crushed a ball to right in the fifth that the radio announcers said would have left the yard in more favorable circumstances.

On a less positive note, Decker and teammate Cody Decker (no relation) have been battling for the Texas League lead in strikeouts. They’ve also been battling for the league lead in home runs, and Jaff is tied for second (with Darnell) in walks.

Despite being one of the youngest players in the league, and despite playing half his games in a mausoleum, Jaff is hitting a ton. More specifically, he is hitting .284/.424/.684.

My favorite plate appearance by Jaff this week came in the sixth inning of a May 2 contest against Midland right-hander Jared Lansford. With the bases loaded and one out, this happened:

  1. Called strike
  2. Called strike
  3. Ball
  4. Ball
  5. Foul
  6. Ball
  7. Foul
  8. Ball — RBI walk

* * *

Returning to the April 29 game, Decker wasn’t the only hitter robbed of a home run by the elements. In the first inning, on the eighth pitch of his at-bat, Kyle Blanks drove a ball hard to left-center that according to the announcers would have been a homer if not for the wind.

Blanks was reinstated from the disabled list on April 26 and optioned to Double-A San Antonio, where he can continue to get reps away from the immense pressure of replacing Brad Hawpe. As Padres GM Jed Hoyer said:

Kyle has just started the playing process. He’s not in position to help us right now.

Blanks agrees with Hoyer’s assessment:

It’s not too bad. It’s pretty loose, but the strength is not exactly where I want it to be. I need more repetitions, because I missed out on a lot of repetitions over the last eight months.

The numbers agree as well, although as John Conniff notes, Blanks is getting there. He hit his first home run on May 2 against Midland.

* * *

Also in that May 2 game, Dan Robertson hit for the cycle and drove in six runs from the leadoff spot. After being ejected the previous night for arguing a called third strike, maybe he was a little fired up, you think? Robertson got the start in center field in this one because Blake Tekotte had an unspecified allergic reaction and was a late scratch.

* * *

Tekotte, for his part, has been a pest. I don’t have hard data, but it seems like he’s constantly having eight- and nine-pitch at-bats.

In a May 4 loss at Frisco, he led off with a single against rehabbing Rangers closer Neftali Feliz, whose fastball was clocked at 97 mph. Feliz won the 2010 American League Rookie of the Year Award, holding the planet’s best hitters to a .176/.246/.269 line in the process.

Tekotte later tripled to deep right against another rehabbing Rangers hurler, Tommy Hunter. And although Hunter is no Feliz, he’s still a solid big-league pitcher who didn’t yield much to the Missions on this night.

* * *

Casey Kelly started opposite Feliz and worked seven strong innings. It was the second time he’d worked seven innings as a pro (the first coming on June 27, 2009, while with the Salem Red Sox). Kelly needed just 92 pitches, walking none and striking out four. Texas League hitters are batting .284 against Kelly, who is averaging a pedestrian 6.2 K/9.

* * *

I should interject something about the big-league club. The Padres lost again on Wednesday to the Pirates in one of those 3:35 starts that is neither a day game nor a night game and that in general make as much sense as Mickey Rivers.

The Padres are 5-12 at home, which is appalling.

Hawpe and Eric Patterson hit meaningless home runs in the ninth to make the outcome look more respectable than it was and cause embarrasment to Pittsburgh right-hander Jose Veras. With his blast, Hawpe matches Mat Latos’ home run total.

As for Patterson, he’s showing a little more power than the man for whom he was traded:

                 PA HR
Eric Patterson   36  2
Adrian Gonzalez 128  2

If only Gonzalez had the luxury of playing half his games at Petco Park…

* * *

Sorry, I had to get that in there before it becomes laughably irrelevant. Returning to the Missions, as you might expect of a team that is dominating its league, they’ve been making opposing pitchers work very hard. I’m tracking a few things that you may find interesting. These numbers are through Wednesday, May 4, and are for opposing starters only.

 G   1st   IP  Pit   P/IP
26 20.73 4.27 77.50 18.15

I have no idea what league norms might be, but making the starter throw an average of nearly 21 pitches in the first inning (including 30 or more on four separate occasions) strikes me as a good recipe for success. So does getting into the bullpen in the fifth inning.

The Missions have knocked the starter out before five full innings in 15 of 26 games. Granted, one of those was Feliz, who worked only one scheduled inning before departing, but still…

* * *

If my arithmetic is correct, the Missions have outhomered opponents at Wolff Stadium, 26-11. Last year’s Missions hit 40 homers at home in 70 games… so, yeah, that’s gonna fall.

* * *

Remember that crazy game at San Antonio where Brad Brach served up an apparent go-ahead home run that later was ruled a double? One of the Frisco players involved in the ensuing fracas with drunken fans has gotten himself into a bit of trouble… and not for the first time.

* * *

Meanwhile, down at Fort Wayne, Donavan Tate is out until June and Everett Williams is out for the year thanks to their collision in the outfield during an April 9 contest. Both were expected back within days but the injuries turned out to be, according to Director of Player Development Randy Smith, “far worse than our original assessment.”

Outfielder Luis Domoromo has joined the TinCaps. Domoromo, whose walk-up music is “Mr. Roboto” by Styx (think about it), was one of the high-profile international signings the Padres made in 2008 under Sandy Alderson’s watch. Another of those, Corey Adamson, also spent time in the Midwest League before being transferred to extended spring training toward the end of April.

* * *

Also at Fort Wayne, 19-year-old right-hander Adys Portillo continues to search for his command. Here’s the line from his most recent start, May 4 against Lansing:

 IP H R ER HR BB SO HBP BK WP SB CS
3.1 3 7  7  0  5  4   1  1  3  5  0

Call Portillo a work in progress.

* * *

Tate and Williams aren’t the only injured prospects. Shortstop Drew Cumberland has yet to play this season due to vertigo-like symptoms. There is no timetable for his return.

We talk sometimes about health as a skill. Tate and Cumberland, for all their various talents, have yet to display that skill on a consistent basis. It’s way too early to give up on either, but I’m reminded of Kellen Kulbacki, who saw his hitting ability erode as the result of injuries and who now hopes to resurrect his career in Indy ball.

* * *

Speaking of health, Tucson shortstop Everth Cabrera has a broken bone in his right hand that is expected to keep him out for six weeks. He has been replaced on the roster by Alex Cintron.

Meanwhile, Orlando Hudson’s hamstring injury was severe enough to land him on the disabled list. Logan Forsythe has been recalled to take Hudson’s spot on the roster. I don’t know how much action Forsythe will see with the big club, but he impressed the heck out of me this spring.

* * *

This is where the end should go. Okay. The end.

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26 Responses »

  1. Thanks for finding that article on Kulbacki. I’d been looking for something that shed some light on his release but had come up empty. My outsider view was that he and Antonelli deserved at least one more year in the system, but apparently Jed and the guys, obviously operating with more info than I have, thought differently.

  2. So the Padres lose two out of three at home to the Pirates…and the Missions are lighting the texas league on fire! Is it too early to say call up all the Kids! – j/k

  3. Maybe too early for Tate, but is it really too early for Cumberland? I’m thinking it may be too late. :-(

  4. Cumberland is barely 22. He has had trouble staying healthy, but it is not too late especially with how thin we are at SS.

  5. maybe Cumberland will get all his health problem out of the way and get healthy finally and be ready and improved to be with the next Padres playoff team. that could happen still and i hope it does.

  6. Thanks for the Poz link, Didi … best line is last line …

    That said, if you want to know how much offense is down in 2011: Albert Pujols is hitting .233/.309/.417, which is stunningly bad for him. His OPS+? It is exactly 100 — league average.

  7. @zmac: Barely 22 and never played a full season in the minors. Never had one healthy season. Hasn’t even been on the field this season.

  8. Pat, I get that, but lucky for him there are zero SS in the Padres system. The health issues concern me a little, but when he is healthy he plays well. That is reason enough not to give up on him and 22.

  9. @zmac, it looks as if there are zero SS at the major league level as well.

  10. zmac / SteveC … I think things are bad enough that we don’t need to exaggerate … I think Everth and Beemer are still prospective major leaguers … and I don’t think Bartlett is the problem with the Padres, is he? OK … I just checked … http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/b/bartlja01.shtml … ya, OPS+ = 55 … that’s below expectations (which were low to begin with) … sigh …

  11. Wow, check out BA’s “Blast from the Past” …

    http://www.baseballamerica.com/today/prospects/prospect-hot-sheet/2011/2611699.html

    … our very own Sean Burroughs! … ug …

    Also …

    Hot: Gyrko, Rizzo
    Not: Castro

  12. Well, too early, maybe, but definitely not WAY too early for Cumberland. Aside from the year he was drafted, which would be a partial season by definition/circumstance, this is his fourth year of pro ball and he’s not been able to stay healthy yet. That is an established, I’d say well established, pattern.

    Also, it’s not just one thing like a bad knee. He’s out for all sorts of different reasons. Vertigo for crying out loud. Wow! The kid just seems to be fragile. How much has his development been retarded by these injuries? How far behind an average 22 year old prospect is he? How much playing time will he get this year and how much further behind will it put him?

    I don’t know or I wouldn’t ask the questions. :-) But I think at this point, with his track record, it’s definitely something to be concerned about. Sure, he’s very good when he’s on the field, hits for average, good plate discipline, plays the field well from what I’ve read, but he’s not on the field enough to be a productive player.

    I won’t give up on him just yet, but I don’t hold out much hope for him either.