Pro Hitters I Saw in College

I thought I’d take a look at how some of the guys I saw in college are doing now that they’ve turned pro. These are players I saw during the 1998 and/or 1999 seasons. This time we’ll check out the hitters, next time, the pitchers.

The bad news is, I can’t say anything about Ryan Ludwick or Eric Munson, because for one reason or another I missed them when they came to San Diego. The good news is, I have seen some fine young hitters the past couple of years. Let’s take a look at a few of them and see how they did in 1999.

                          00                   99
 PLAYER             Org  Age  School  Drafted Lvl  AVG   G  AB   R   H 2B 3B HR RBI  BB  SO  SB CS   SLG   OBP  E
#Blakely, Darren,OF Ana   23  Hawaii   98(5)   A+ .251 124 510  88 128 38 10 12  63  36 159  23 13  .435  .323  3
 Bush, Brian,OF     Phi   23  Michgn   99(12)  A  .233  38 129  12  30  3  0  0   7   7  32   4  5  .256  .298  2
*Crosby, Bubba,OF    LA   23   Rice    98(1)   A+ .296  96 371  53 110 21  3  1  37  42  71  19  8  .377  .376  5
 Da Luz, Craig,1B   Det   25  Fresno   98(26)  A  .264  87 314  36  83 14  5  3  49  20  46   3  1  .369  .311  9
*Ford, Will,OF      Mil   23   Rice    99(11)  R+ .341  53 179  38  61 14  4  5  46  22  27   5  5  .547  .413  2
 Hodge, Kevin,3B    Min   23   Rice    98(19)  A  .240 125 425  65 102 30  3 13  73  78  85   6  6  .416  .361 28
 Owens, Ryan,3B     Ari   22  Fllrtn   99(7)   A+ .398  26 103  19  41  7  3  4  28   9  30   1  2  .641  .447  9
                                               AA .319  31 113  11  36  5  1  1  18   8  36   1  2  .407  .371  9
 Oborn, Spencer,OF  ChA   ??  Fllrtn   99(14)  SIGNED LATE -- DID NOT PLAY
 Pelaez, Alex,3B     SD   24   SDSU    99(42)  A+ .298 117 443  62 132 21  4  4  54  35  53   7  3  .391  .349  9
                                              AAA .308   5  13   1   4  0  0  0   0   0   2   0  0  .308  .308  1
 Quinlan, Robb,3B   Ana   23  Minnst   99(10)  A- .322  73 295  51  95 20  1  9  77  35  52   5  3  .488  .400 27
#Scales, Bobby,2B    SD   22  Michgn   99(14)  R+ .290  44 169  47  49 14  6  1  30  29  31   7  2  .462  .398 10
 Thames, Damon,SS   StL   23   Rice    99(9)   A- .228  47 180  22  41  5  1  0  16   7  42  10  5  .267  .271 25
#Williams, Charl,OF StL   22   Rice    99(5)   A- .244  28  90  16  22  4  4  2   8  19  25   3  5  .444  .382  3

* bats left; # bats both

Darren Blakely: I don’t remember much about Blakely from his college days except that he was very fast and looked like an excellent athlete. I saw him again this past summer in the California/Carolina League All-Star Game, and he still fits that description. Blakely is kind of a ‘tweener as a prospect. On the one hand, he’s got a nice combination of power and speed, and he’s a switch-hitter who can play center field. On the other hand, he doesn’t walk enough, strikes out too much, and was a tad old for the Cal League. Still someone to watch.

Brian Bush: Bush flies and covers a lot of ground in center field. His arm is decent but not great. Bush is a good bunter. Despite his lack of homers in his pro debut, he also showed the ability to drive the ball into the gaps when I saw him in college. But power isn’t his game; speed and defense is.

Bubba Crosby: Crosby’s complete lack of power (1 HR in his first 570 ABs) at the beginning of his professional career is surprising to me. When I saw Crosby at Rice, he hit from a George Brett-like crouch but with more uppercut and unloaded on the pitch as it arrived, generating tremendous power. He was recovering from a hamstring injury when I saw him, so he didn’t play the field but I’ve heard he’s a good outfielder. I’d hoped to see Crosby in the California Fall League this year but he didn’t get into the San Bernardino game I attended.

Craig Da Luz: I was charting Da Luz’ teammate, RHP Jeff Weaver, the night I saw him play, so my recollection of Da Luz is a tad fuzzy. I do recall someone asking me how he was doing; I said I didn’t know but someone else mentioned that he had two or three hits. A third baseman in college, Da Luz was old for the Midwest League and didn’t show the type of power expected from a corner infielder.

Will Ford: Ford began the 1999 college season as Baseball America’s #89 college propsect but saw his stock fall despite a solid showing. He has a nice line drive stroke and uses the whole field. Ford tore up the Pioneer League this summer. We need to see what he does in a full-season league but he looks like a hitter to me.

Kevin Hodge: I can’t find my notes on Hodge but STATS’ John Sickels identified him as a possible sleeper from the 1998 draft and so far, so good. Again, Hodge was a bit old for the Midwest League but he showed a nice mix of power and bat control. He’s playing for an organization that has frequent openings at the big-league level. Worth keeping an eye on.

Ryan Owens: Owens, the 41st best college player according to Baseball America’s preseason rankings, made quite an impression in his pro debut, hitting over .300 at both Single- and Double-A. High Desert and El Paso are both very good park for hitters, but still, for a guy to hold his own in the Texas League just months out of college is impressive. When I saw him play in college, he showed good balance at the plate and above-average speed from first to third. In the field, although Owens played some shortstop at Fullerton, he looked a bit stiff at third base when I saw him. A line drive machine, Owens could advance quickly through the Diamondbacks system.

Spencer Oborn: Oborn signed just before the minor league season ended and didn’t make it into any games. A transfer from BYU, he was Baseball America’s 85th best college player before the season. A straight-up hitter, Oborn has very quiet hands and generates doubles power with a compact, line-drive stroke. He runs well and is an adept bunter. He’s big enough (6’3″, 190 lbs.) to eventually develop 15-20 HR power. I’m really looking forward to seeing what Oborn can do in the pros.

Alex Pelaez: I saw Pelaez play numerous times but I never paid much attention to him because I was usually watching someone else on the other team. He had a decent year at Rancho Cucamonga but was a bit old for the league. Pelaez even filled in for a few games at Triple-A Las Vegas. In an organization that features Sean Burroughs, it’s hard to imagine him getting much of an opportunity but you never know.

Rob Quinlan: The younger brother of journeyman infielder Tom Quinlan, this Quinlan is a line-drive machine. He has the misfortune of being stuck behind Troy Glaus, who is the same age. Quinlan can hit, though, and guys who can hit have a way of creating opportunities for themselves, so don’t be surprised to see him in the Show one of these years.

Bobby Scales: Scales had a nice debut but before you get too excited, remember that he was a college draftee playing in the Pioneer League, so he should have performed well. Still, he appears to have made the transition to wood nicely. I like his walk rate and number of extra base hits. I’m guessing he’ll start 2000 at Ft. Wayne, in the Midwest League.

Damon Thames: Thames hit 26 homers in 268 at bats as a junior and was rewarded by being drafted in the 10th round by the New York Yankees. He didn’t sign and returned to Rice for his senior season, where he hit 9 homers in 287 at bats. Even when he was putting up the numbers, I wasn’t overly impressed with him. He had a long swing, and off-speed and breaking pitches appeared to give him trouble. But he sure can crush a fastball. Defensively, while he has decent range to both sides, his glovework and his arm can be erratic, as shown by his 25 errors in just 47 games at New Jersey. Thames has good raw power for a middle infielder, so anything is possible, but he really needs to tighten up his swing to kick his career into high gear.

Charles Williams: Williams’ stock rose dramatically just prior to the June 1999 draft. Baseball America said of him, “Most scouts see his present tools as solid across the board and disagree on how projectable he is.” When I saw him, the main thing that grabbed my attention was his ability to work the count. In an extremely limited sample, that ability appears to have translated to the pro game. As with many of these guys, we need to see him in a full-season league before we get too excited. I have a good feeling about Williams, though.

1999 California Fall League Wrapup

The initial season of the California Fall League recently drew to a close. The league, composed of prospects at the Single- and Double-A levels, was the successor to the Maryland Fall League and, before that, the Hawaiian Winter League. And although there are concerns about the viability of this league, as there were with its predecessors, the California Fall League did provide a good showcase for young talent.

The most impressive players that I saw were San Bernardino left fielder Ben Broussard; Rancho Cucamonga right fielder Marcus Thames; Lake Elsinore righthander Sean Douglass, center fielder Kory DeHaan, catcher Giuseppe Chiaramonte, second baseman Ty Wigginton, right fielder Doug Clark, and left fielder Robert Stratton; and Lancaster right fielder Michael Restovich.

Broussard, the Cincinnati Reds’ 2nd round pick in the June 1999 draft, has a quick bat and showed nice power to the gaps. The left-handed hitter out of McNeese State reminds me a bit of Oakland’s Jason Giambi. A converted first baseman, Broussard appeared a bit tentative in the field at times but also showed surprising speed for a man his size (6’2″, 220 lbs.).

Thames, a 30th round pick of the New York Yankees in June 1996, showed good power to the opposite field. On defense he displayed a strong arm. The right-handed hitter out of a Mississippi junior college has a quick bat; his strong showing in the Cal Fall League could help him advance quickly.

Douglass, a 2nd round pick of the Baltmore Orioles in the June 1997 draft, is a 20-year-old out of Lancaster, CA. He has a great pitchers’ body (6’6″, 198 lbs.) and a nice, compact delivery. His fastball wasn’t overpowering but he showed a willingness to work inside to both left- and right-handed hitters. He looks like a back-end rotation pitcher right now but he’s young enough that if he adds a few MPH to his fastball, he could turn into something special.

DeHaan, the Pittsburgh Pirates’ 7th round pick in the June 1997 draft, reminds me of a Steve Finley/Andy VanSlyke type player, with perhaps less power. The Morningside College (Iowa) product features a slashing swing that produces an abundance of doubles. He runs well and plays a solid center field, getting good jumps and covering a lot of ground.

Chiaramonte, a 5th round pick of the San Francisco Giants in the June 1997 draft, out of Fresno State, has enormous power potential but needs to make more consistent contact. The right-handed-hitting catcher bats out of an extreme crouch, a la Jeff Bagwell, and has an explosive swing.

Wigginton, the New York Mets’ 17th round pick in June 1998, is very aggressive at the plate but has a smooth, short stroke that provides surprising power. The UNC Asheville product has an unusual build (6’0″, 200 lbs.) for a second baseman, and he looked a tad slow to his right when I saw him, but that was only one game, so it’s possible I caught him on an off day. Wigginton hits well enough that he could probably survive the move to a less demanding position, if needed.

Clark, taken by the Giants out of the University of Massachusetts in the 7th round of the June 1998 draft, has a line drive stroke from the left side and makes good, hard contact. He also has a terrific throwing arm.

Stratton was the Mets’ 1st round pick in June 1996. The right-handed hitter out of Santa Barbara, CA, has jaw-dropping power but injuries and a big swing have kept him from putting it all together. For someone 6’3″, 255 lbs., Stratton runs pretty well and generally looks like a good athlete. He needs to stay healthy and tighten up his stroke to take his game to the next level.

Restovich, the Minnesota Twins’ 2nd round pick in June 1997, is an outstanding athlete who was pried away from a Notre Dame football scholarship by the lure of playing for his home state team. Although he didn’t do much the night I saw him, Restovich clearly has an abundance of talent. He appeared to recognize pitches well and wait on the ball nicely. He had a tough time in the field that night, also, appearing to get bad reads on a couple of fly balls and overrunning a grounder. Again, it’s unfair to judge a guy based on one game. Restovich looked like what you expect to see when you go to see a prospect play.

Others worth keeping an eye on are Brewers shortstop Chris Rowan, Mets righthander Leslie Brea, Expos righthander Mark Magnum, Mariners second baseman Harvey Hargrove, Tigers catcher Brandon Inge, Rockies center fielder Juan Pierre, Pirates third baseman Rico Washington, Rockies righthander Justin Miller, Blue Jays first baseman Jay Gibbons, Indians outfielder Jon Hamilton, Blue Jays shortstop Mike Young, Padres righthander Jason Middlebrook, Yankees lefthander Scott Wiggins, Rangers catcher Luis Taveras and righthander Joaquin Benoit, and Braves first baseman A.J. Zapp.

Well, thanks for joining me on this look back at the inaugural California Fall League season. Remember to support your local team — there’s a lot of good baseball being played out there; it’s just a matter of finding it.

1999 California League Postseason Awards


Before I get started, I’d like to say that there were many terrific performances in the California League this past season. For the MVP award, there were basically five candidates: Jack Cust, OF, High Desert Mavericks (Diamondbacks); Jacques Landry, 3B, Modesto A’s (A’s); Chin-Feng Chen, OF, San Bernardino Stampede (Dodgers); Randey Dorame, LHP, San Bernardino Stampede (Dodgers); and Todd Mensik, 1B, Visalia Oaks (A’s):

PLAYER          AVG   G  AB   R   H 2B 3B HR RBI BB  SO  SB CS  SLG  OBP  E
*Cust, Jack,OF .334 125 455 107 152 42  3 32 112 96 145   1  4 .651 .450 12
 Landry, Ja,3B .311 133 508  92 158 46  6 27 111 47 128  18  4 .585 .373 32
 Chen, Chin,OF .316 131 510  98 161 22 10 31 123 75 129  31  7 .580 .404  6
*Mensik, To,1B .291 134 505  93 147 29  4 29 123 79 114   5  1 .537 .394 11

*Dorame, Randey 14  3 2.51 24 24  1   1  0 154.1 130 52 43  9  3 37 159  7 .230

Cust had an incredible season but played half his games in a very good hitters’ park. That doesn’t diminish what he did but it does need to be considered. Landry and Mensik had similar seasons but Landry played a tougher position. Chen basically dominated in his first season of pro ball in North America. For a guy to enter into an unfamiliar culture and do what he did on the field is simply amazing. Teammate Dorame had a fine season in his own right, but I’m going with Chen.

Pitcher of the Year

For best pitcher of the year, there were four legitimate candidates, Rick Guttormson, Rancho Cucamonga Quakes (Padres); Brian Lawrence, Rancho Cucamonga Quakes (Padres); Marcos Castillo, San Bernardino Stampede (Dodgers); and Dorame:

Guttormson, Ri  14  8 3.72 28 28  1   0  0 174.1 165 83 72 15  9 36 125  6 .248
Lawrence, Brian 12  8 3.39 27 27  4   3  0 175.1 178 72 66  6 10 30 166  7 .265
Castillo, Marco 14  9 4.10 27 27  1   1  0 167.0 182 90 76 14  8 48 130  6 .277
*Dorame, Randey 14  3 2.51 24 24  1   1  0 154.1 130 52 43  9  3 37 159  7 .230

Guttormson and Lawrence pitched very well in 1999, and Castillo threw a perfect game but this award clearly goes to Dorame, who put up remarkable numbers.

Best Power Hitter

While Chen takes home the MVP, this award goes to Cust. His all-around game isn’t as strong as Chen’s, but home field notwithstanding, a .651 slugging percentage is mighty impressive. He and Landry were the only players with 500 plate appearances in the California League who had at least half their hits go for extra bases.

Team of the Year

Without question, this title belongs to the Modesto A’s, which had identical 44-26 records in both the first half and the second half of the season, each good for best in the league. They also outscored their opposition at an impressive 872-734 clip.

California Fall League Report: Lancaster at Lake Elsinore

After fighting through some nasty traffic to get out of San Diego, my wife and I arrived at the Lake Elsinore Diamond in the 2nd inning of the season finale. This game was everything that my first California Fall League experience wasn’t: well played, well attended, and, well — more like an actual baseball game.

By the time we showed up, the home Land Sharks were already up, 1-0, thanks to a leadoff homer from Oriole outfielder Roberto Rivera. After receiving our complimentary set of Land Sharks baseball card, we quickly found our seats, in the first row, behind home plate. We sat in the section right next to all the scouts, with their radar guns, notepads, and cellular phones.

Oriole righthander Sean Douglass, from nearby Lancaster (coincidentally, tonight’s opponent was the Lancaster Stealth-the town, about an hour north of Los Angeles, is home to a large Air Force base, hence the name “Stealth”), was on the hill for the home team. Douglass is a 20-year-old stringbean (listed at 6’6″, 198 lbs.), with a nice, compact delivery. His fastball generally came in at 88-91 mph, and he was able to get it in on the hands of hitters, even lefties. He also featured a decent breaking ball.

Douglass was pretty much in control until the 4th inning, when he allowed a 1-out single to the Pirates Kory DeHaan. I’d been impressed with DeHaan at the Carolina/California League All-Star Game (actually, I’d seen quite a few of the players in tonight’s contest at that game); he struck me then as a Steve Finley/Andy VanSlyke type player, with perhaps less power. Back to Douglass. He then walked the next two batters, loading the bases for Pirate infielder Rico Washington. He fell behind Washington, 3 and 1, then threw two perfect pitches to strike him out. Douglass retired the next batter to end the inning, unscathed. That was the closest he came to allowing a run.

Douglass struck me as the kind of kid scouts love — great pitcher’s body, decent stuff with good movement, and young enough to fill out a bit and add a little something to his fastball. In other words, he’s the kind of guy who could end up in the back of a big league rotation or, if he picks up some velocity, perhaps in the middle of one. Sort of like the Padres’ Buddy Carlyle. I liked the way he threw the ball, and I was particularly impressed with the way he was able to get out of trouble in the 4th inning. I don’t want to overstate the significance of that moment, but it’s always good to see a kid who doesn’t fold under pressure. I’ll be keeping an eye on him next season.

Douglass also earned himself a little extra cash by striking out the side in order one inning. After the inning, the PA announcer had ushers “pass the hat” for Douglass. Fans were invited to drop a $1 bill into a brown envelope, which was then presented to the young hurler at the end of the game. A nice touch, and a reminder of what a struggle it is for most of these kids to play at this level — a far cry from some out-of-shape millionaire sitting in the clubhouse playing cards while his team is being eliminated from the playoffs.

Other Lake Elsinore players impressed me as well. Mets righthander Leslie Brea worked the 9th inning to seal the victory. He came in with a 9-0 lead, and surrendered two runs. He’s not a big guy (5’11″, 190 lbs.) but his fastball comes in at 93-95 mph. It must not have much movement, or maybe hitters were just sitting on the one pitch, because he gave up back-to-back doubles to Seattle infielder Bo Robinson and (check?) that were hit like bullets. He also struck out Twins infielder Mike Ryan to end the season. Brea has a terrific arm. It remains to see whether that translates into success.

Expos righthander Mark Mangum worked two scoreless innings. The 20-year-old from Texas didn’t throw very hard (86-89 mph) but seemed to have a good idea of what he was doing. At his age, and at 6’2″, 165 lbs., there’s always a chance that he, like Douglass, could add some velocity and turn into something.

Giants catcher Giuseppe Chiaramonte played the final 3 or 4 innings. I’d seen him once before, a couple years ago, when he was playing for San Jose. I didn’t remember much about him except that he was from the area and thus a fan favorite. Tonight he only batted once and struck out. But he did hit an impressive foul ball–not for its distance but for its height. In the batter’s box, he’s practically squatting, a la Jeff Bagwell, and when the pitch arrives, he absolutely uncoils. Chiaramonte is a very strong kid and I’m sure when he hits the ball on a line, it goes a long way.

Infielders Chris Rowan (Brewers) and Ty Wigginton (Mets) also showed some promise. Rowan has good power for a shortstop but will swing at just about anything. The main thing he’s got going for him right now is his age — he spent a full season in the California League as a 20-year-old. Still, he’s got to develop some semblance of plate discipline before he is taken too seriously as a prospect.

Wigginton, a second baseman, reminded me a bit of Braves prospect Marcus Giles, a fellow San Diegan who doesn’t quite look like he belongs out there. At 6’0″, 200 lbs., Wigginton looks more like a fireplug than a middle infielder. He looked a bit slow in the field, particularly to his right, and I have doubts that he’ll remain at second base. If he has the arm, a move to third base wouldn’t be out of the question. He’s got the bat for it. Wigginton is extremely aggressive at the plate. On more than one occasion, he took a vicious cut at (and missed) the first pitch he saw, then worked the count in his favor before taking another vicious cut. One of his swings resulted in a line drive homer 410 feet to left center (for which he was rewarded by another passing of the cap). Wigginton probably won’t be able to get away with being that aggressive when he moves up the ladder and faces pitchers who can locate a little better, but his stroke is reasonably short and he appears to have a plan.

Outfielders Doug Clark (Giants) and Robert Stratton (Mets) also caught my eye. Clark is sort of a Paul O’Neill type hitter — line drives, good power to the gaps. He also has a terrific arm in right field, twice making nice throws to second base (one for an out, the other just a tad late). Stratton commands attention because of his 6’3″, 255 lb. frame. He’s also got prodigious power potential, although he didn’t show any of that tonight. He reminds me of Rob Deer — big, strong, faster than you expect, and lots of holes in the swing.

A few Lancaster players are also worth mentioning. In addition to the previously discussed DeHaan, southpaw Mike Gonzalez (Pirates) and righthander Kevin Sheredy (Cardinals) showed promise. This was the second time I’d seen Gonzalez. He left the same impression this time as he had the first — live arm for a lefty; spotty command and control. He should get lots of chances to succeed. Sheredy consistently hit 91-93 mph but didn’t appear to have a reliable second pitch. He did well in his first inning of work but was touched up a bit in his second.

Infielders Bo Robinson and Rico Washington showed the ability to handle the stick. Robinson played first base tonight (he also plays third base) and displayed a nice inside-out stroke that provided surprising opposite-field power. He’s also fun to watch. Just before he comes to the plate he takes a practice swing in which he ends up in a fencing-like pose. I half-expected him to say “en garde” to the pitcher.

Washington is a short, stocky kid who hits from the left side. He didn’t do much at the plate but in the field, he showed good instincts at third base — quick feet and a strong arm. He’s also played some second base this fall and he spent part of the regular season behind the plate. Washington reminds me a bit of Lenny Harris in terms of body type, ability to play multiple positions, and general peskiness. He’s not as fast as Harris, though.

Finally, outfielders Juan Pierre (Rockies) and Michael Restovich (Twins) looked promising. Pierre is a lefty-swinging centerfielder who slashes at the ball, puts it in play, and runs like crazy. He takes pitches, bunts well, and generally looks like a guy who could prove useful to Colorado down the line.

At 6’4″, 233 lbs., Restovich is built like a football player. In fact, until recently, he was a football player. But since being drafted out of a Minnesota high school by the Twins in 1997, he’s focused his attention on terrorizing opposing pitchers. He shows good patience at the plate and stays back nicely on breaking balls. He came into the game about halfway through it, so I only got to see him bat twice. The first time, against starter Sean Douglass, he fell behind 0 and 2 on good sliders (took the first, swung and missed at the second), then worked the count full before being called out on a perfect slider that painted the outside corner. His second time up, Restovich took the first pitch low, then grounded a breaking ball to third base. He appeared to recognize the pitch well and made a good pass on the ball. Running down the line, he looked a bit awkward and slow. I didn’t get to see him run the bases but I expect he looks better going from first to third.

On defense, Restovich provided quite the adventure in right field. I can only recall three balls being hit in his direction, and they were all more interesting than they needed to be. On one play, he charged right past a ground ball single that saw the batter end up on third base and a second run score. Another time he took a bad angle on a ball and ended up jumping into the wall while the ball landed about 10 feet to his left (in his defense, this was not an easy chance). Even the one ball he did catch almost ended up going over his head. Either he was having a bad night (always a possibility) or he has a lot of work to do in the outfield. Whatever the case, Restovich sure carries himself like a guy who’s going to make the Show and by all indications, the talent is there.

Well, that does it this time around. The inaugural California Fall League has come to an end. I hope it has been deemed enough of a success by the powers-that-be to return for another year. In the meantime, thanks for joining me and be sure to support your local team, whoever and at whatever level they may be.

Padres Farm Report: Buddy Carlyle

Righthander Buddy Carlyle, a former 2nd round draft pick of the Cincinnati Reds, was obtained by San Diego at the end of spring training 1998 in exchange for hard-throwing righthander Marc Kroon. Kroon has long since been released, and Reds GM Jim Bowden readily concedes this trade was a mistake. Padres GM Kevin Towers calls “the strike” Buddy Carlyle’s best pitch. In 1999, an improved changeup led to a dramatic increase in strikeouts. Following are notes I made after watching him pitch earlier this year, as well as random, assorted comments.

April 30, 1999: Calgary at Las Vegas

Unusual delivery, with slight hesitation just after he breaks his hands. No radar, but his fastball looked about average. Good overhand curveball and changed speeds well. Threw a lot of off-speed stuff to set up a high fastball. Struck me as an unusual m.o. for a guy without a blazing fastball, but for the most part it worked tonight. Struck out 6 in 6 innings. Decent pickoff move but with Ben Davis behind the plate it doesn’t matter much. The guy can throw out anyone. Carlyle also appeared to have a clue at the plate. Bats lefty; fouled off a bunch of pitches from Calgary southpaw Brent Billingsley. Surprisingly tough out.

May 31, 1999: Las Vegas at Albuquerque

Caught a little bit of the Stars/Dukes game on TV this afternoon. Carlyle pitched, looked good — I like his approach; he really comes after hitters. Not afraid to work inside, despite lack of great stuff. Doesn’t back down. The way he pitches, you’d never guess he’s 21. Doesn’t seem awed by the fact that he’s working against guys who’ve played in the Show. He ended up giving up 5 or so runs in about 6 innings, but I believe all but 2 of the runs were unearned thanks to some really shaky defense — dropped flyball by Aaron Guiel and misplay by 3B Carlos Garcia. Yes, that Carlos Garcia. But Carlyle was very stingy with the hits–the only balls hit hard were a double by Paul LoDuca, followed by a wind-and-altitude-aided homer to right center field by Adam Riggs. Buddy eventually tired and started to lose command of his pitches but overall he looked very good. Nice deception on his delivery and fearlessness on the mound. Statistically speaking, he’s keeping the ball in the park, which isn’t always easy in the PCL, and his K rate is way up this year over last. I really like this guy long-term, as a mid-rotation starter.

The Numbers

Carlyle’s minor league season can be split into three parts: a strong beginning (April to June), a dismal middle (June and July), and a decent finish (July and August).

Thru June 5 6-2 3.41 11 11 0 0 0 71.1 70 34 27 8 3 17 55 2 .259
June 6-July 11 2-2 8.33 6 6 0 0 0 35.2 55 35 33 9 2 9 37 3 .357
July 12 onward 3-4 4.58 8 8 0 0 0 53.0 55 30 27 8 1 16 46 1 .268
Total 11-8 4.89 25 25 0 0 0 160.0 180 99 87 25 6 42 138 6 .286

A couple quick observations here. First, even during that disastrous six-game stretch, Carlyle’s K/BB was excellent. His problem was that he was getting hit, and getting hit hard. But he never stopped throwing strikes. Second, despite that stretch, Carlyle still finished the season with an ERA below the team average. Cashman Field, as I’ve noted on more than one occasion, is an absolutely terrible place to pitch. I don’t have the park factors, but to give you some idea, games in which the Las Vegas Stars played in 1999 averaged 11.23 runs. The Colorado Rockies averaged 11.94 runs. The National League average was 9.95 runs per game. A sub-5.00 ERA in Cashman Field is actually pretty impressive.

Buddy Carlyle held his own in nine big league starts. His overall numbers weren’t too good but he didn’t look overmatched on the mound. Appeared to be fighting his control more than in the minors but that’s not surprising for a young pitcher. He also supposedly had added a couple feet to his fastball by the end of the season (he was clocked at 94 MPH in Arizona — I’m a bit skeptical of this, but even 90-91 would be good).

There is, as you might expect, a wide difference of opinion within the organization about Carlyle’s future role with the Padres. Towers loves the guy because of his Hershiser-like refuse-to-back-down approach to pitching. Others see a guy with a so-so fastball and think he’ll end up in middle relief. Personally, I expect he’ll be a real nice #3 or at worst #4 guy. How soon he arrives depends a lot on what San Diego does this off-season with Andy Ashby, and how quickly and effectively Brian Boehringer returns from shoulder surgery.

I’ve actually got quite a bit more to say about Buddy Carlyle but I didn’t want to throw everything out at once. If you haven’t grown tired of this report yet, feel free to read more about him. [Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your perspective), the file containing further information on Carlyle has been lost. Of course, it doesn't much matter now that he's pitching in Japan. Still, it wouldn't surprise me to see him eventually have a big-league career. --7 June 2001]

California Fall League Report: San Bernardino at Rancho Cucamonga

This was not a day for driving. Ninety-eight degrees Fahrenheit at 11 a.m. So of course I was driving the 90 minutes north on I-15 toward Rancho Cucamonga, to catch a baseball game between two teams with players nobody’s ever heard of.

As is my custom, I arrived in the middle of the second inning. This isn’t my plan, mind you, it’s just that regardless of my proximity to a given ballpark, I’ll invariably get there in the middle of the second inning. Doesn’t matter whether it’s 2 hours or 2 minutes from my house. I’ll find a way to arrive late. I paid $2 for parking and a Sunday LA Times which I didn’t really want. It was a package deal. What the heck, they need to make money. This is a league that couldn’t survive in Hawaii or Maryland. Anything I can do to help is okay, even if it means buying a paper I won’t read.

When I arrived at the Epicenter (a great name for a ballpark that houses a team called the Quakes during the summer), there were three softball games going on at the fields outside the stadium. The city of Rancho Cucamonga has set aside this space as a municipal recreation area, so even on days without a baseball game, the place is hopping with folks playing softball or soccer at one of the many surrounding fields.

I dropped $5 for a ticket and headed inside. After a quick stop at the gift shop (where I saw Todd Pratt on TV being mobbed by Mets teammates after homering in the bottom of the 10th to knock Arizona out of the playoffs) and the concession stand for a hot dog and a bottle of water, I attempted to locate my seat. Box 4, Row E, Seat 14. I didn’t look very long, as it very quickly became evident that I could sit pretty much anywhere I wanted that didn’t already have a body in it (except for the “upper deck,” which was entirely devoid of humanity). So I found myself a spot in the shade, started in on my hot dog, and got to watching the Surfers and the San Bernardino Sand Dragons battle it out in the heat.

The box score claimed there were 365 people in attendance that day. They must have been counting the players and the stadium workers, and assuming that everyone who showed up had bought a ticket for someone else who couldn’t make it. Realistically there were about 100 folks there, about half of whom, according to a member of the Rancho Cucamonga staff, were scouts. I counted at least six JUGS guns and saw one guy with a stopwatch.

The game itself was fairly sloppy, as could be expected. It was slightly below what you might expect to see at a California League game during the summer. On three separate occasions, a batter reached first base by laying down a decent (but not great) bunt that the first baseman fielded but couldn’t make a play because the pitcher was very slow getting to the bag (twice no throw was even attempted). Maybe it’s because most of these guys have never played together before, or maybe it’s been a long season and they want to go home. Who knows. Whatever the reason, there were a lot of fundamental mistakes made.

A couple of southpaws started. Jacob Whitney, of the Astros organization, worked for Rancho Cucamonga; Mike Spinelli, a Boston farmhand, got the call for the vistors. Both looked like typical lefties — okay fastballs, lots of breaking stuff. Whitney, in particular, had a nasty slider that often got the better of his catcher, the Astros’ Mike Rose. Spinelli had a pretty good pickoff move.

One thing about this league is that players wear the uniforms of the organizations they play for during the summer (presumably to save the cost of making actual uniforms — though they try to sell it as “An All-Star Game Every Day”), so it’s a bit tricky sometimes to figure out who’s on which team. Plus the numbers don’t always match up to what the roster sheet says, and occasionally a player shows up who isn’t even on the roster sheet. For instance, a guy wearing a Rangers jersey with the number 7 on it pitched the final 2 innings for San Bernardino. According to the roster sheet, that’s infielder Jason Romano (which is how the announcer called it, too). According to the box score it’s a guy identified as “D Meliah,” who doesn’t show up anywhere on the roster sheets. Baseball America lists a “David Meliah” as a second baseman who played for the Rangers’ Savannah ballclub this year. Perhaps we’ll never know who closed out the game for the Sand Dragons that day. Whoever he was, he pitched well.

San Bernardino had some good-looking players on its team. Cubs’ infielder Jason Smith played well at shortstop and hit some line drives, though he had precious little to show for them. Mark Fischer, Red Sox, had a couple hits and made a great throw to the plate from right field to almost nail a guy I thought he had no chance at getting. Quincy Foster, a centerfielder in the Marlins chain, impressed me with his ability to play the game according to his skills. Fast, but not very big, Foster choked up on his bat and focused on slashing the ball past the shortstop. He also layed down a nice bunt for a hit and displayed a good arm for a centerfielder.

The guy who really impressed was Reds left fielder Ben Broussard. A 1999 draftee, Broussard has a quick bat and showed power to all fields. He appears to see the ball well, as he was able to wait until the very last moment before committing himself to a swing — even against lefties. Broussard went 4 for 4, with 2 doubles and a triple. The left-handed hitter drove pitches with authority, off the wall in left field, up the gaps — basically “where they ain’t.” He appeared a bit tentative in the field, but showed surprising speed for a man his size (6’2″, 220 lbs.), stealing a base and moving very well from first to third.

On the other side, Yankee farmhand Marcus Thames, who is absolutely tearing up the league, had another fine game at the plate, going 2 for 4 with 2 doubles and 3 RBI. Like Broussard, Thames showed a quick bat and opposite field power. He also displayed a strong arm in right field, though he appeared a bit lackadaisical in chasing after balls, and at least once kicked one. But the guy can hit. Victor Valencia, another Yankee, also impressed at the plate. A catcher by trade, Valencia served as the DH this game. He showed a good knowledge of the strike zone and a nice, compact stroke.

Not everyone played well, of course. Atlanta prospect A.J. Zapp looked confused at the plate, especially on breaking balls and off-speed pitches. He struck out 3 or 4 times in 5 at bats. He has a nice stroke, so it’s probably just a matter of learning to recognize pitches, or maybe he was just having a bad day. Toronto infielder Mike Young also appeared overmatched at the plate. His swing was way too long for a leadoff hitter. Most of the pitching was pretty nondescript. Whitney looked like he had an idea of what he wanted to do. Tampa Bay’s Nathan Ruhl got the attention of the guys holding the JUGS guns, but had trouble finding the strike zone and was hung with the loss.

The game was enjoyable, if you like watching guys who might make it to the Show one day and don’t mind the complete absence of cute mascots and anything of a promotional nature. Former Dodger shortstop Bill Russell kept things lively by hamming it up with the crowd after a spectator (probably a friend of his) got on him for not making the play on a ground ball hit to him in the third base coaches box.

After the final out, I walked back toward the parking lot alongside several players, still in full uniform (I guess they figure they can shower after the short ride back to San Bernardino — probably another cost-saving measure). Dodger outfielder Bubba Crosby, who didn’t make it into the game, and a friend were talking about plans for later. A young kid asked Crosby for his autograph. Crosby, hauling his own equipment, stopped and obliged. The kid walked away smiling. Crosby, a former 1st round pick out of Rice University who struggled in his pro debut, hopped on the team bus and headed out to the next stop on his dream of playing in the big leagues.

Did Somebody Report a Fire Sale?

Before the 1999 season started, the popular conception among media types and, unfortunately, many San Diegans was that this year’s Padres would bear a strong resemblance to the Florida Marlins of the previous season and would go from the World Series to stinking up the league quicker than you could say, “Richie Garcia.” According to this theory, the Padres had “broken up” their ballclub in a “fire sale.”

Reality, of course, paints a very different, if less colorful and marketable to the masses, picture. Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Tenth Edition, defines a fire sale as “a sale of merchandise damaged in a fire; also a sale at very low prices.”

If the Padres had indeed conducted a fire sale prior to the 1999 season, then one would expect them to have “sold” their assets for less than what they were worth. In baseball terms, such “selling” generally takes the form of (at least outwardly) lopsided trades. But is this really what happened? Before we answer this question, let’s take a look back at a real fire sale.

The Great Fire Sale of 1993

Once upon a time the Padres were owned by a man who didn’t care at all about baseball. This owner, whose name is not uttered in San Diego, had a bright young general manager named Randy Smith, who was under orders to slash payroll as quickly as possible, without regard for the impact it would have on the team’s performance. The owner went public with these orders, so that every team in baseball knew precisely what Smith had to do, thus severely compromising Smith’s bargaining power.

The Padres made four significant trades that season:

  • Just before Opening Day, they traded Darrin Jackson to Toronto for Derek Bell. Jackson was 29 years old and had hit 38 home runs the previous 2 years with San Diego. Bell, age 24, was the Blue Jays’ Minor League Player of the Year but didn’t get along with then-manager Cito “Death to Rookies” Gaston. This deal was made solely for financial reasons. Jackson went on to miss much of the season due to illness and was eventually traded to the New York Mets; except for one bizarre season with the White Sox, he hasn’t done much to distinguish himself since. Bell, in the meantime, established himself as a solid big league center fielder before moving on to Houston in a trade.
  • They traded Gary Sheffield to Florida for Andres Berumen, Trevor Hoffman, and Jose Martinez. Sheffield had one monster season with the Marlins, went to the World Series the following season, and then was shipped off to Los Angeles as part of another fire sale. Berumen and Martinez made cameos with the Padres, while Hoffman has become one of the elite closers in the game. At the time of the trade, Sheffield was 24 years old, coming off a season in which he made a serious run at the Triple Crown, and due to be a free agent in the near future. The three pitchers in the deal had minimal big league experience.
  • They dealt Fred McGriff to Atlanta for Donnie Elliott, Vince Moore, and Melvin Nieves. McGriff, at age 29, was good for 30-35 homers a year back when that could lead a league, and drew tons of walks. But he was expensive, and Elliott, Moore, and Nieves were young, cheap, and, as fate would have it, really lousy ballplayers.
  • The final trade is probably one of the more impressive ones I’ve ever seen made given the circumstances. The Padres traded Greg W. Harris and Bruce Hurst to Colorado for Andy Ashby, Brad Ausmus, and Doug Bochtler. Harris was a promising young pitcher with a reasonable track record, and the expansion Rockies were desperate for pitching. Ashby had a career ERA of 7.44 in 133 innings with Philadelphia and Colorado before coming to San Diego. Ausmus was a rocket-armed catcher plucked out of the Yankees system. Bochtler was a minor league reliever with a funky delivery. Randy Smith insisted that the Rockies take Hurst, an injured, aging, and expensive left-hander, in the deal, and the Rockies complied. Hurst never barely pitched an inning for Colorado (or anyone else). Ashby learned how to pitch and became one of the better starters in the game.

Thanks to some brilliant work by Randy Smith, the Padres made out very nicely in three of the four deals.

Back to the Future, er, Present

This is all very interesting, but what’s the point? It’s simple, really. Now that we know what a fire sale looks like, we can examine what the Padres have done in 1999 in its proper context. More importantly, we can get an idea of whether Randy Smith’s successor, wunderkind Kevin Towers, has improved the club’s chances in the long run.

After the Padres’ improbable 1998 World Series appearance (remember, they had finished last in the NL West in 1997), the frenzy of fans (diehards and bandwagoners), and a show of civic pride in voting for a new baseball-only stadium downtown, the masses of San Diego felt more than a little betrayed when minimal effort was made by management to re-sign this crew of aging veterans whose best years were behind them and who, despite the odds, had collectively assembled a magical team that refused to bow to allegedly superior teams before finally succumbing to the New York Yankees, hailed by some as the greatest baseball team ever (although, according to Bob Costas, we’ll never know, because they weren’t tested in the World Series by a worthy opponent — sorry to disappoint you, Bob).

The 1998 Padres were a great team and a great story, a collection of misfits who played better on the field than they should have on paper. They were old, expensive, and they overachieved their way into a World Series. They had a big parade downtown, and then they let their old, expensive, overachieving “stars” sign elsewhere as free agents.

The knee-jerk reactions, that the Padres were conducting a fire sale and were a disgrace to the game, although very popular among members of the media who had latched on to a similar story in Miami the year before, as emblematic of the idea that excess in professional sports (as opposed to, say, in the movie industry, in the music industry, in the automobile industry, etc.) is somehow evil and to be avoided, and among some San Diegans whose understanding of the great game of baseball could best be summarized as “that thing that happens on the field while we’re eating nachos and doing the wave,” had nothing to do with the facts at hand.

The Numbers, Please

Frustrated and disgusted at the popular notion that the Padres were a minor league team and had given all their alleged superstars away, I began posting comparisons of the ex-Padres and their replacements on one of the AOL boards earlier in the season. I’ve updated them fairly regularly, and here is what they look like at the All-Star Break:

Stats through games of July 12, 1999

Player         99 Salary ($M)  Age     G    AB    R    H   2B  3B  HR  RBI   BB   AVG   OBP   SLG
Steve Finley       5.375        34    87   331   51   89   19   5  17   63   29  .269  .331  .511
Ruben Rivera       0.265        25    78   226   33   50   12   1  15   32   21  .221  .291  .482

Greg Vaughn        5.615        33    78   288   49   67    8   2  20   54   41  .233  .329  .483
Reggie Sanders     3.700        31    65   232   56   73   12   2  15   37   35  .315  .412  .578

Ken Caminiti       4.500        36    36   130   18   38    5   0   2   17   18  .292  .373  .377
Dave Magadan       0.575        36    67   183   16   54   11   0   2   25   24  .295  .370  .388

Former Padres     15.490       34.3  201   749  118  194   32   7  39  134   88  .259  .337  .477
Current Padres     4.540       30.7  211   641  105  177   35   3  32   94   80  .276  .356  .490
Player         99 Salary ($M)  Age    W   L   PCT    G  SV     IP    H    R   ER  TBB   SO    ERA
Kevin Brown       10.714        34    9   6  .600   19   0  132.2  122   63   52   35  114   3.53
Matt Clement       0.201        24    5   8  .385   17   0   96.0  101   63   51   47   64   4.78

Joey Hamilton      4.250        28    1   5  .167   13   0   49.1   75   47   47   21   28   8.57
Woody Williams     3.000        32    4   7  .364   18   0  112.0  121   60   56   40   67   4.50

Former Padres     14.964        31   10  11  .476   32   0  182.0  197  110   99   56  142   4.90
Current Padres     3.201        28    9  15  .375   35   0  208.0  222  123  109   87  131   4.72

Note. Magadan is listed as the Padres’ third baseman because he has gotten the majority of at bats, although George Arias technically is the starter. Other, “lesser” players involved in the various deals (e.g., Damian Jackson, Mark Sweeney, Carlos Almanzar) are not included.

Here are the records of the Padres and the teams that are supposed to have benefited from the Padres fire sale:

                  W   L   Pct    GB
Cincinnati       49  36  .576    -
Houston          50  37  .575    -
Arizona          48  41  .539   2.5
Toronto          47  43  .522   7.0
San Diego        43  43  .500   6.0
Los Angeles      39  47  .453  10.0

All these teams, with the possible exception of the Dodgers, are very much in the hunt for a playoff spot.
We’ve Seen the Numbers, Now Tell Us What to Think

After a terrible start offensively, in large part due to his skipping out on Winter Ball (which he now admits was a mistake), Rivera has been making tremendous strides at the plate. He’s seeing a lot of pitches, and if you throw out the first month of the season, his OPS is over 900, very nice for a center fielder. On defense, I used to believe that Rivera was Finley’s equal but I was wrong. Rivera is better, and it’s not close. He covers more ground, and he’s got a much stronger arm. Rivera is probably the best defensive center fielder in the game not named Andruw or Junior. From a financial and a baseball standpoint, it made no sense for the Padres to offer Finley the kind of money he was seeking as a free agent when they had a younger, cheaper, and frankly better alternative waiting in the wings.

As expected (by some of us, at least), Sanders is outperforming Vaughn both offensively and defensively. Again, the Padres got younger, cheaper, and better with this move. Oh yeah, and they got Damian Jackson, too.

Magadan isn’t much of a third baseman but Caminiti’s pre- and post-San Diego career has been mediocre. I cannot dismiss Caminiti’s contributions to the Padres while he was here, but truly, other than in the clubhouse, his departure has been no great loss. Caminiti is being paid an awful lot of money to spend his days on the disabled list. Better that the Astros should flip the bill than the Padres.

The departure of Brown hurts but not as much as paying him $10.7 million would have. The Padres knew when they traded for him that they wouldn’t be able to sign him after the season — that’s why he came so cheaply.

Hamilton was injured and lost his job in the rotation for a while but has come back strong of late. Williams pitched very well early in the season before getting bombed on Planet Coors. Since then he’s been in self-destruct mode, and he does have a history of fading in the second half, so the jury’s still very much out on him. Still, Williams clearly has outpitched Hamilton thus far. This was the one move I was critical of during the off-season but right now it looks pretty good.

The evidence has been presented. Now let’s answer our original question: “Did the Padres conduct a fire sale this off-season?” The answer to this is a resounding, “No!” They made two trades, in which arguably they got the better end of the deal now and for the future. They also let three free agents, ages 34, 34, and 36, walk for just over $20.5 million this year. There is a good, two-word term for this course of action, but it’s not “fire sale,” it’s “common sense.”

The bottom line is this: The 1999 Padres aren’t as good as the 1998 club (which was better than it “should” have been), but it’s doubtful that the players and their $22,713,000 who departed San Diego would be contributing enough to make this year’s team any better than it already is. That doesn’t fit too well with the “greed is evil” agenda some would foist on the masses but it is an accurate assessment of reality, which is what we are (or should be, in my opinion) interested in, anyway.

The big-name players who chose to leave San Diego or were shown the door after the 1998 season are being paid exponentially more, are older, and generally have been no more succesful than their replacements. On an emotional level, it is easy to understand why some folks were disappointed to see “their guys” move on to different cities. Change is often met with resistance, especially when it follows success. The old adage, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” is quaint and does have its place in the world, but in this case, it was very much to the Padres’ advantage to “fix” the ballclub before it broke: a little preventive maintenance. 1998 was a great ride for the Padres and their fans, and it will always be cherished by those who were associated with and/or affected by it, directly or otherwise. But it’s over now, and the 1999 version is a very different club. The notion that the same personnel somehow would have brought the same results has no basis in reality and is nothing more than an attempt to preserve the unpreservable.

After the facts have been examined thoroughly, it’s quite obvious that the Padres took the actions necessary to ensure the long-term health of the organization and that nobody was cheated. For a team that has made only two World Series appearances in over 30 years, the suggestion that ownership somehow committed a transgression against the people of San Diego and baseball in general not only is an extremely ungrateful and misguided position to take but also smacks of hidden agendas that are best left outside the stadium.

Fire sales can and do happen in baseball and other sports, but there is no evidence of one having occurred in San Diego, in 1999. This was simply, to perhaps overextend the metaphor, a false alarm.

California/Carolina League All-Star Game

Last month the all stars from two Class-A leagues clashed at the Lake Elsinore Diamond to display their talents and bring victory to their league. My wife and I left work early and drove the hour or so up I-15 to the check out the game.

We parked in a dirt lot (overflow parking for the big crowd) adjacent to the stadium, and as we made our way into the state-of-the-art facility, the home run hitting contest was just getting underway. After the obligatory stop at the gift shop to pick up a Lake Elsinore Storm cap, we stood in the concourse and watched Chin-Feng Chen, of the San Bernardino Stampede (Dodgers), knock a ball out of the park. Visalia Oaks (Athletics) first baseman Todd Mensik ended up winning the contest.

We bought hot dogs and a soda, and made our way to our seats, about five or six rows back of the third base dugout. The atmosphere was festive — more like a parade than a ballgame, with all the players from both squads getting together and talking with one another and with the fans. Lots of autographs and smiles.

During the pregame introductions, when players were announced they’d emerge from the dugout and throw a commemorative cloth baseball into the crowd. I almost caught one but some guy came over my back and snatched it out of my hands. He was a season ticket holder, and what the heck was I going to do with a cloth baseball, anyway?

After the teams were introduced, The Cowsills, a pop group from the 1960s and 70s, came out to sing the National Anthem. What was interesting about this is that Brendan Cowsill, who pitches for the Storm, joined his family at the microphone. Usually I have pretty low expectations for singers of the National Anthem — I’m happy when they doesn’t completely botch it or do that horrible diva thing — but these guys were outstanding.

Next came the honorary first pitch, which according to the game program was to be thrown by three legends of Southern California baseball, former Dodgers first baseman Steve Garvey, former USC coach Rod Deadeaux, and former Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda. As it turned out, only Garvey and Deadeaux made it, with the latter lobbing the ball 20 feet or so to the former, who relayed it to the catcher. I later noticed that Lasorda was the featured speaker at the All-Star luncheon earlier that afternoon, so maybe he’d eaten too much pasta. Or maybe he was on the horn with Kevin Malone, trying to convince him to deal Adrian Beltre to the Rockies for Dave Wainhouse and some Rocky Mountain oysters. Whatever the reason, Lasorda was a no-show.

As for the game, it was won, 10 to 6, by the visiting Carolina League. Both teams featured a mix of prospects and minor league veterans who were taking out years of frustration on younger players, hoping for one last shot at glory or whatever else life might hold for them.

Of the prospects (two whom I’d hoped to see, White Sox righthander Kip Wells and Royals outfielder Dee Brown, were promoted just prior to the game), more than a few caught my eye. Of course, it’s impossible to get a good read on someone after seeing him only once, but here are my impressions of several promising young players I saw.

Among pitchers, Rancho Cucamonga’s (Padres) Wascar Serrano and Wilmington’s (Royals) Jeff Austin, a couple of righthanders, were the most impressive in terms of pure stuff. Both hit 94 MPH on the gun with regularity and spotted the ball well. Austin, Kansas City’s first round pick in the 1998 first-year player draft, is by far the more polished of the two, as he is able to change speeds fairly effectively. Others worth mentioning are Modesto’s (Athletics) righthander Jim Brink and southpaw Chris George, of Wilmington. Brink and George were both selected in the 1998 draft, the former being taken in the ninth round and the latter in the first. George, just 19 years old, hit 92 on the gun and showed a nice assortment of pitches, though he had trouble locating them this night and was touched for 3 runs on 3 hits in his only inning of work. Lefty Randey Dorame and righty Marcos Castillo, both having outstanding seasons at San Bernardino, didn’t show much in terms of velocity but both are only 20 years old and have had good results at a young age, in a tough league for pitchers, so they’re worth keeping an eye on. If they can add a 3-5 MPH to their fastballs and successfully negotiate the jump to Double-A, they might show up in LA one of these years.

Behind the plate, both prospects played for the Carolina League squad: Frederick’s (Orioles) Jayson Werth and Lynchburg’s (Pirates) Yamid Haad. Both have since been promoted to Double-A, with Haad even jumping up to the big club for a few games after Jason Kendall’s horrific injury while the Bucs figured out what to do with their catching situation. Werth, as you may know, is the son of former big league backstop Dennis Werth. The younger Werth is a tall, rangy kid who looks like a terrific athlete but somewhat miscast as a catcher. It looked like he was swinging a lot with his arms in this game, sort of like Dan Wilson in his days with the Reds. But he does run well, and if he adds 15-20 pounds to his frame, he could develop power. Just based on what I’ve heard and seen of him, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see him move out from behind the dish, a la Dale Murphy, and become a star at a less demanding position. Haad, from Colombia, replaced the more heralded Werth in the 7th inning and singled in his two at bats, once to right and once to left. The right-handed hitter is built like a fireplug and has a slashing line drive swing that should generate tons of doubles and, if he alters the angle of his swing a bit, eventually 15-20 homer power. I hadn’t heard much about him prior to the game, but he sure looks like he knows what he’s doing at the plate.

On the infield, Lynchburg’s sweet-swinging first baseman Eddy Furniss showed a decent eye but little else. He’s also a bit old (23) for the league. San Diegan sensation Marcus Giles, of Myrtle Beach (Braves), also showed good patience and a short stroke. Given his size and his hitting approach, I find his 37 homers of last year more than a little mystifying. But clearly the guy can hit, and he didn’t embarrass himself at second base by any stretch. On the California League side, High Desert (Diamondbacks) second baseman Belvani Martinez displayed a nice stroke. He’s hitting well this year and he’s very fast but his plate discipline leaves a lot to be desired. Still, he’s young (20) and he’s big (5’11″, 172 lbs.) for a middle infielder, so he bears watching.

In the outfield, the Carolina League featured three youngsters who could make it to the Show. Lynchburg center fielder Kory DeHaan, a 1997 draftee, has a slashing swing with gaps power and good speed. On defense, he was getting good jumps and covering a lot of ground. DeHaan is a lefty swinger, with a lean body and an aggressive approach. He reminds me a bit of a young Andy VanSlyke. Salem’s (Rockies) Jody Gerut (pronounced “Garrett”) has a compact stroke and looks like he has a plan at the plate. Strangely enough, the Rockies haven’t produced many homegrown hitters of note. Their second round pick of a year ago could help change that. Luis Matos, then of Frederick, showed a good line drive stroke and speed to burn. He singled twice, turning one of them into a double with pure hustle, and also had two stolen bases in the game, including one of third. The young Puerto Rican possesses an exciting set of skills, including some power. He could stand to walk more for a top-of-the-order-type hitter, but otherwise he looks quite promising, in a Devon White sort of way.

Among California Leaguers, Lake Elsinore’s (Angels) Darren Blakely, the aforementioned Chen, and Bakersfield’s (Giants) Doug Clark looked like they might have futures. Blakely, a switch-hitting center fielder drafted in the fifth round last year out of the University of Hawaii, can absolutely fly. I actually saw him play in college and I don’t remember much about him except that any time he reached first base and there was nobody ahead of him on the bases, it wasn’t long before he was on second base. He’s a good bunter and he’s big enough (6’0″, 190 lbs.) to hit the ball with some authority. Like Matos, Blakely reminds me of Devon White, not in terms of body type — Blakely looks like a football player — but in terms of playing style. As for Chen, he was probably the single most impressive hitter in this game. He walked his only two times up, but he showed a very quick bat and in the home run contest he flexed his muscles a bit. Chen also runs very well and aggressively; he stole second after one of his walks, before being thrown out attempting to steal third. Clark had an outstanding game this night, singling, walking twice (once intentionally), and hitting an absolute bomb some 430 feet to dead center field. Like Furniss, Clark is a lefty with a sweet swing, and like Furniss he is 23. The Giants’ seventh round pick in the 1998 draft will need to advance quickly to have a shot. The way he’s playing right now, he might do just that.

Well, this article has gone on a lot longer than I’d intended it to. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. Before I go, I’ll leave you with the names of a few more players who made a positive impression on me at the All-Star Game but not enough to ramble on at length about them: Rick Guttormson, RHP, Rancho Cucamonga; Mike Gonzalez, LHP, Lynchburg; and Josh Kalinowski, LHP, Salem. Keep an eye out for them.

Thanks for stopping by, and I’ll see you at the game!

Anatomy of a Winning Streak

Now that it’s over (though not without a fight — down 7-0 after 2 innings at Coors Field, the Padres came storming back, only to lose, 12-10), I thought I’d take a closer look at the Padres’ 14 game winning streak. My primary focus is on starting pitching. I’ll examine wins, Ron Shandler’s Pure Quality Starts, and issues of endurance and control. In addition, I’ll also take a cursory look at the Pythagorean Theorem as it relates to the streak.
Raw Starting Pitching Data

San Diego            IP    H  R ER BB  K HR  BFP Pit   B-S     ERA  OpBA
Hitchcock (W 7-6)     8    7  3  3  3  2  2   33 116  46-70   4.25  .239
Clement (W 5-7)       5.2  5  3  2  5  3  0   28 106  49-57   4.66  .275
Boehringer (W 5-1)    5    7  2  2  4  3  1   24  89  38-51   2.85  .249
Ashby                 7.2  4  3  2  2  4  1   28 102  40-62   3.39  .246
W.Williams (W 4-5)    6    8  3  2  2  3  0   28  96  32-64   3.59  .260
Hitchcock (W 6-6)     8    6  2  2  1  8  2   31 117  39-78   4.33  .240
Clement (W 4-7)       6    7  4  4  2  3  1   27  96  34-62   4.76  .279
Boehringer (W 4-1)    7    4  0  0  1  4  0   26  97  35-62   2.77  .238
Ashby (W 7-4)         6    4  1  1  1  4  0   23  66  19-47   3.49  .253
W.Williams (W 3-5)    8    5  2  2  2  4  1   32 107  40-67   3.63  .256
Hitchcock (W 5-6)     6.2  6  1  1  1  7  0   28 104  35-69   4.52  .243
Clement (W 3-7)       6    7  3  3  3  2  1   26  99  38-61   4.66  .279
Murray                6    5  4  4  2  3  0   27 106  41-65   4.50  .285
Boehringer (W 3-1)    5    6  2  2  0  4  1   21  81  24-57   3.24  .250


Padres starters worked at least 5 innings in all 14 games of the winning streak. Their collective record during that period was 12-0, with the only no-decisions coming from Ashby (who did have a key hit on a fake bunt that kept the Padres in the game) and Murray. Of the 14 starts, 9 were quality starts (i.e., at least 6 IP, no more than 3 ER).

The average line of a starting pitcher during the streak was as follows:

IP    H  R ER BB  K
 6.2  6  2  2  2  4

Here is the wins distribution:

Hitchcock: 3
Clement: 3
Boehringer: 3
Ashby: 1
Williams: 2

Pure Quality Starts

The pure quality start (PQS) is a measure developed by Ron Shandler for evaluating individual starting performances (and, by extension, a series of starts over the course of a season). The methods are not perfect but I believe this metric is a better reflection of a starter’s overall performance than is the more traditional quality start. The criteria are as follows:

  1. The pitcher must have gone a minimum of 6 innings. This measures stamina. For a 6 IP performance, the pitcher gets 1 point. If he goes less than 5 innings, he automatically gets a total PQS score of zero, no matter what other stats he posted.
  2. He must have allowed no more than an equal number of hits to the number of innings pitched. This measures hit prevention and earns him 1 point.
  3. His number of strikeouts must be no fewer than two less than his innings pitched (IP minus K must be 2 or less). This measures dominance and earns him 1 point.
  4. He must have struck out at least twice as many batters as he walked. This measures control and earns him 1 point.
  5. He must have allowed no more than one home run. This measures his ability to keep the ball in the park and earns him 1 point.

Here are the PQS scores during the streak:

Hitchcock: 2, 5, 4
Clement: 2, 2, 2
Boehringer: 1, 4, 3
Ashby: 4, 5
Williams: 2, 4
Murray: 3

A score of 5 indicates an excellent start, whereas a score of 0 indicates a terrible start. Of the 14 starts during the streak, 2 were excellent (Hitchcock, Ashby), 4 were very good (Hitchcock, Boehringer, Ashby, Williams), 1 was pretty good (Boehringer), 5 were decent (Hitchcock, Clement x 3, Williams), 1 was mediocre (Boehringer), and 0 were terrible.

The average PQS over the 14 games was 3.07.

In terms of PQS, the most effective starters during the streak were, in descending order:

  1. Ashby
  2. Hitchcock
  3. (tie) Williams/Murray
  4. Boehringer
  5. Clement

Oddly enough, two of the three starters who had the most wins (3) during the streak were Boehringer and Clement, who also had the lowest PQS scores. A quick glance at run support helps explain this phenomenon:

              GS  Runs   R/G
Hitchcock      3    24   8.0
Clement        3    25   8.3
Boehringer     3    25   8.3
Ashby          2     6   3.0
Williams       2    14   7.0
Murray         1     5   5.0

Endurance and Control

            BF/G   Pit/G   %Str
Hitchcock   30.7   112.3   64.4
Clement     27.0   100.3   59.8
Boehringer  23.7    89.0   63.7
Ashby       25.5    84.0   64.9
Williams    30.0   101.5   64.5
Murray      27.0   106.0   61.3

Note. BF/G, batters faced per game; Pit/G, pitches per game; %Str, percentage of pitches thrown for a strike.

Not surprisingly, Ashby was the most efficient, in terms of getting deep into games without throwing a lot of pitches. It also figures that Clement threw the lowest percentage of strikes (though this seems pretty good for him). Boehringer’s control was unexpectedly good. Hitchcock worked deeper into (and pitched more effectively late in) games than usual.
Pythagorean Theorem

The Padres outscored their opponents during the streak, 99-41. Using the most basic version of the Pythagorean Theorem (Winning Percentage = Runs2 / [Runs2 + Runs Allowed2]), we would expect the Padres to have won at an .854 clip, or roughly 12 of the 14 games.

Where did the two extra wins come from? Anecdotally, I’d speculate they came from outstanding relief pitching and defense, and extreme aggressiveness on the basepaths.

Open Questions

In addition to their having outperformed the Pythagorean by 2 games, I suspect that the Padres offense was more efficient during the 14 game winning streak than before. By this I mean that they probably scored more runs than a simple OBP x SLG x AB (or any other runs created) formula would indicate they should have. My reasons for believing this are based on purely anecdotal evidence, such as seeing speedy and aggressive baserunners steal bases at will, break up double plays, beat throws to first base, force opposing infields to play in to cut off a run, etc. When I have the time, I’d like to look at this in greater detail to see whether my hypothesis is correct. One of these days…

Draft Watch 1999: Rice University

[Disclaimer: I am not a professional scout, just a rabid baseball fan who likes to watch as many games as possible, at whatever level, and who is always on the lookout for potential future stars. The reports here are strictly one person's opinion, based solely on empirical (as opposed to statistical) data, often gathered from an extremely limited sample (possibly as little as a single game). These are not endorsements or recommendations for or against any particular player -- that's the job of scouts. My intent here is simply to point out some players who stood out in my mind based on what I saw and to introduce them to you, the reader, so that you (and I, for that matter) might remember their names further on down the road if and when they appear on the prospect scene. Also, I sometimes make comparisons between the players I see and current or former major leaguers. This generally refers to physical appearance, mannerisms, "type" of player, etc., and is not meant to project future performance; in other words, I am simply telling you who someone reminds me of, nothing more. Finally, if you're looking for some good, cheap entertainment, I highly recommend getting out to your local college or high school and supporting their baseball team. You can spend a couple bucks to sit in the sun watching a game without salary disputes, work stoppages, etc. What more could you ask for?]

Well, the draft is just about here, so let’s take one final look at some players who figure to be selected. The Rice Owls came to San Diego in March ranked #1 in the nation — no small feat for a school of about 3000 students. They fell out of the top spot shortly after leaving the West Coast but have since reclaimed it as the College World Series draws near.

Rice features several talented players, many of whom will be drafted. We looked at a couple of them in last year’s report on former Owl and current Los Angeles Dodger minor leaguer Bubba Crosby. Let’s check back in on junior righthander Jeff Nichols and senior shortstop Damon Thames.

Jeff Nichols RHP 6-3 190 lbs, B-R, T-R

4.98 14-3 21 20  3   1  0 123.0 150 82 68 40 105 32  5  5 497 .302 12  17  0   3   6

I had the opportunity to see Nichols pitch in 1998, as a sophomore, and he reminded me of Andy Ashby, in both body type and pitching style. He wasn’t overpowering but had an understanding of how to pitch, as well as good mound presence. After last season he pitched for Team USA, and I was looking forward to watching him again this year. Unfortunately, due to prior commitment I was unable to attend the game he started, so I can’t give you a first-hand report. I can, however, tell you that Baseball America rated Nichols their #52 college prospect coming into the season. In the latest issue (June 27) Nichols has slipped to the #32 prospect in the state of Texas. Even though he gave up a ton of hits this year, he did manage to keep the ball in the park. He’s got a good arm, he has an idea of what he’s doing, and scouts have liked him in the past. I’d still expect him to go in the first 10-15 rounds, and long-term I like his future.

Damon Thames SS 6-1 170 lbs, B-R, T-R

.387 68 287 80 111 23  5  9  65 171 .596 27   6 33   9 .444  4  5 14-15  103 212 21 .938

Thames, drafted in the 10th round by the New York Yankees last June, opted instead to return to Rice for his senior season. Despite his gaudy numbers in 1998, I was not overly impressed with Thames when I saw him play. Based on what I’ve seen of him this year, my opinion has not changed. He is very strong and can damage a fastball out over the plate. But he has a long swing and exhibits below average pitch recognition. Breaking balls and off-speed pitches are his kryptonite. Defensively he moves well to either side but his ability to field ground balls fluctuates, and his arm is neither strong nor accurate enough for a shortstop. He’ll move to second base as a pro. Ranked #51 among college prospects prior to the season, Thames’ disappointing power has caused his stock to drop. He is now rated the #30 prospect from the state of Texas and will probably be taken around the same time he was last year, possibly a little lower. Sometimes coming back for that final season helps, sometimes it doesn’t.

Now for a few new faces.

Mario Ramos LHP 6-0 165 lbs, B-L, T-L

2.15 13-1 22 18  6   1  2 142.1 105 44 34 43 135 13  1  6 505 .208  5  11  3   2   4

Short and with a small frame, Ramos bears some physical resemblance to fellow diminutive southpaws Ron Guidry and Jim Parque. Because of his size, stamina will always be a concern, real or imagined by those whose opinions most matter. His delivery to the plate is compact and smooth, and doesn’t appear to place too much strain on the arm. A little “hop” in his motion looks like it could lead to possible knee or hip problems down the line, but I’m not an expert on kinesiology, and Ramos’ legs are certainly orders of magnitude stronger than mine. Ramos features a plus fastball, which looks even better than it is because he sets it up with a sweet slow overhand curve. He’ll throw inside to righties, and his control is generally good. When I saw him pitch he seldom missed with the breaking stuff but occasionally left the fastball upstairs, especially from the 7th inning on, when he seemed to tire. Ranked the 39th best college prospect coming into 1999, Ramos is now listed as the #21 Texas prospect and is a good bet to go in the first 5 or 6 rounds. Baseball America says, “He’s an undersized pitcher and isn’t overpowering, making up for it with an advanced understanding of pitching.”

Will Ford OF 6-0 190 lbs, B-R, T-R

.399 64 238 59 95 21  3 11  68 155 .651 26   3 31   5 .459  3  6  4-7   90 4 3 .969

Ford began the season as the #89 college prospect in the nation. He ended it outside of the top 35 prospects from Texas, and I’m hard pressed to tell why. He has a nice line drive stroke and uses the whole field. He plays a passable right field. The only thing I can figure is that he’s one of those guys who doesn’t have any one tool that stands out — does everything okay but nothing spectacularly. He can hit, though, and someone should grab him.

Charles Williams OF 6-0 185 lbs, B-S, T-L

.366 68 295 76 108 21  8  7  47 166 .563 45   4 58   4 .454  2  1 10-13  114 7 4 .968

Williams has been getting a lot attention lately. Unfortunately my notes on him are pretty sparse. I know he batted leadoff and did a nice job of working the pitcher when I saw him play. Nothing else really stood out in his game, and yet he’s ranked #14 among Texas prospects. Baseball America calls him “…one of the highest potential picks that nobody seems to talk about. Most scouts see his present tools as solid across the board and disagree on how projectable he is.” Like Ramos, Williams will likely be drafted fairly quickly.

Amazingly, Rice has even more good players on the way next year, but we’ll deal with them another day. In the meantime, thanks for stopping by and good luck to your team in the draft!