Results tagged ‘ Chicago ’

Post Hype Prospect – Kerry Wood – @KerryWood

On Friday morning, word leaked out that Kerry Wood would be announcing his retirement but remain available to pitch for the Chicago Cubs during their weekend series against the Chicago White Sox.  This announcement brought about reminiscing about Wood’s career and the Chicago Cubs, and much consternation regarding Dusty Baker.

The career of Kerry Wood began before the Cubs drafted him in 1995, with Wood’s senior season at South Grand Prairie High School in Grand Prairie, Texas.  Wood posted a sparkling 14-0 record with a 0.77 ERA and 152 strikeouts in 81.1 innings, routinely packing the stands with scouts and baseball fans.  Wood verbally committed to nearby Texas Christian University, ratcheting up the stress of baseball teams, warning that he may go to college instead of entering professional baseball.

Viewed as a top prospect, scouts from many of the top teams watched Wood’s final start before the draft.  Wood’s ended up throwing 175 pitches in a doubleheader, putting the professional baseball scouting community in an uproar.  Wood, his father Garry, and Coach Mike McGilvray defended the pitch count, pointing out that this was not the first time Wood had thrown this much on a single day.  The Chicago Cubs drafted Wood with the 4th pick of the 1995 Rule IV draft behind Darin Erstad (#1/California Angels), Ben Davis (#2/San Diego Padres), and Jose Cruz, Jr. (#3/Seattle Mariners).  Despite the concerns over being overworked while in high school, the Cubs gave Wood a $1.2 million signing bonus and assigned Wood to the Rookie Level GCL Cubs in the Gulf Coast League.  Wood started one game and pitched three innings, walking one and striking out two, while not allowing a hit.  After the game, Wood was sent to the Short Season A Williamsport Cubs of the New York Penn League.  In Williamsport, Wood struggled, starting two games and allowing eight runs (five earned) over 4.1 innings, walking five, striking out five, and allowing five hits.

After the season, the accolades rolled in.  Baseball America ranked Wood the #16 prospect in all of baseball (between Bartolo Colon and Rey Ordonez) and the third-best prospect from the 1995 draft (Erstad #4, Davis #10, with Cruz #23).   In 1996, Wood was assigned to the Daytona Cubs of the High A Florida State League, where he dominated his opponents with a 2.91 ERA across 114.1 innings, striking out 136 and allowing only 72 hits.  On the flip side, Wood walked 70 batters, hit 14 more, balked 7 times, and threw 10 wild pitches, displaying wavering command that would often plague him throughout his career.  Unconcerned, Baseball America rated Wood the #3 prospect in all of baseball after the 1996 season, behind only Andruw Jones and Vladimir Guerrero, and ahead of Matt White and Travis Lee (as a side note the #100 prospect was Livan Hernandez, who would have the most impact on the 1997 season of all of the prospects).  Wood was selected as the Chicago Cubs Minor League Player of the Year.

In 1997, Wood began the season with the AA Orlando Rays, putting up a 4.50 ERA across 19 starts and 94 innings, striking out 106 (10.1/9), but walking 79 (7.6/9) while hitting 10 more batters.  Despite the mediocre numbers, Wood’s pure stuff impressed sufficiently to earn him a promotion to the AAA Iowa Cubs of the American Association, where he put up a 4.68 ERA across 10 starts and 57.2 innings, striking out 80 (12.5/9), but walking 52 (8.1/9) while hitting six batters.  For the season, Wood put up a 4.57 ERA across 29 starts and 151.2 innings, striking out 186 (11.0/9) while walking 131 (7.8/9), while hitting 16 batters, balking six times, and throwing 18 wild pitches.   Despite the scary walk numbers and high ERA, Wood’s season earned rave reviews as he struck out 186 batters despite turning 20 during the season.  Baseball America ranked Wood the #4 prospect in baseball, behind Ben Grieve, Paul Konerko, and Adrian Beltre.

In 1998, Wood made one start for the Iowa Cubs (now of the Pacific Coast League, as the old AA folded), striking out 11 in five innings, walking two and allowing one hit and zero runs.  On April 12, Wood made his debut for the Chicago Cubs, striking out seven, walking three, allowing four hits and four runs over 4.2 innings while picking up the loss.  In his second start, Wood again struck out seven, walked three, and allowed four hits, but did not allow a run over five innings, picking up his first major league win.  Wood got shelled in his third start, allowing seven runs in 1.2 innings, but bounced back in his fourth start, striking out nine across seven innings while picking up his second win.

Wood’s fifth major league start has become the thing of legends.  On May 6, Wood struck out 20 Houston Astros, a team led by Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, and Moises Alou, while allowing only one hit and hitting one batter (shockingly, it was Craig Biggio).  This was only the third time a pitcher had struck out 20 in a single game, after Roger Clemens did it in 1986 and 1996, and the first time a National League pitcher struck out 20, breaking the record of 19 held by Tom Seaver, Steve Carlton, and David Cone.  Wood threw 84 strikes and 38 balls while dominating the Astros (lost in the story is the complete game loss by Shane Reynolds, who struck out an impressive 10).  How dominating was Wood that day?

With the sudden attention, Wood pitched well through August.  After throwing 133 pitches on August 26 and 116 pitches on August 31, Wood woke up on September 1 with his elbow throbbing.  Despite being in the middle of a pennant race, Wood did not pitch again until game 3 of the National League Division Series, going 5 innings and allowing only one run, against the Atlanta Braves.

For the season, Wood put up an impressive 3.40 ERA (129 ERA+) across 26 starts and 166.2 innings, striking out 233 batters.  Wood led the Major Leagues by allowing only 6.3 hits per 9 innings pitched and 12.6 strike outs per 9 innings pitched.   Wood won the NL Rookie of the Year, beating out Colorado’s Todd Helton 128-119.

During spring training in 1999, Wood was still experiencing a sore elbow and was diagnosed with a torn ulnar collateral ligament which would require ulnar collateral ligament replacement surgery, more commonly known as Tommy John Surgery.  After surgery, Wood missed all of 1999 and came back firing in 2000.  After three starts in the minor leagues to start the season, Wood made his return to the Cubs on May 2, allowing only one run over six innings against the Houston Astros.  Often pitching on extra rest, Wood struggled, putting up a 4.80 ERA across 137 innings, striking out 132 and walking 92 batters.

Wood increased his workload in 2001, with 174.1 innings across 28 starts, striking out 217 to go with a sparkling a 3.36 ERA and a 124 ERA+.  In 2002, Wood was back to a full workload, with 213.2 innings over 33 starts, striking out 217 batters and walking 97, while putting up a 3.66 ERA.

In 2003, Wood, paired with second-year fireballer Mark Prior, and rising star Carlos Zambrano, Wood threw 211 innings across 32 starts, striking out a Major League-leading 266 batters (Prior was second with 245), putting up a 3.20 ERA (136 ERA+) to go with a career high 100 walks and 21 hit batsmen.  Wood logged another 17.2 innings in the playoffs over four starts, striking out 31 while walking 14, as the Cubs lost to the eventual World Series Champion Florida Marlins.  Wood’s 2003 season, while amazing, was an incredible example of the use, or complete lack of use, of pitch counts.  The Cubs new manager, Dusty Baker, had Wood, along with Prior, throw an inordinate number of games with more than 120 pitches, 13, and Wood threw at least 101 pitches 25 times.  Wood threw a season-high 141 pitches on May 10 against the St. Louis Cardinals.  More amazingly, Wood threw 952 pitches in 8 starts from April 6 through May 15 and 728 pitches in his final six starts of the season.  All in all, Wood threw 4,008 pitches in 36 starts (playoffs included) in 2003, an average of 111.3 pitches per start.

In 2004, Wood had a good season (3.72 ERA) but only pitched 140.1 innings across 2 starts, as he was sidelined for nearly two months with a strained triceps.  In 2005, Wood missed time with right shoulder bursitis, a joint problem caused by repetitive movement and excessive pressure.  Wood missed all of May, made only one start in July, and became a middle reliever for August before being shut down for the season at the end of August.   At the end of August, Wood had surgery to reinforce his labrum and debride his rotator cuff and bursa sac in order to remove dead tissue to promote healing.   In March 2006, Wood had surgery on the meniscus in his right knee during spring training.  After two rehabilitation starts in the minor leagues, Wood made his 2006 Major League debut  on May 18 against the Washington Nationals.  Wood made four starts, putting up a 4.12 ERA over 19.2 innings before being shut down for the season with a partially torn rotator cuff.  After the season, the Cubs decided not to exercise their option on Wood for 2007, choosing instead to pay Wood $1.3 million and make him a free agent.

With Wood’s injury history, the best offer was to return to the Cubs in 2007 as a relief pitcher for a 1-year, $1.75 million contract with a significant number of performance bonuses.  After missing time in training camp with a triceps strain, and was put on the disabled list at the beginning of the season with right shoulder inflammation.  Wood made eight successful rehabilitation appearances in the minor leagues before being activated from the DL and making his debut on August 5, allowing one hit and striking out one in one inning against the New York Mets.  Wood pitched well in his relief role, putting up a 3.33 ERA over 24.1 innings across 24 games in August and September.

After the season, Wood filed for free agency and received offers from a number of teams, but remained with the Cubs by signing a one-year, $4.2 million deal.  Wood pitched well in 2008, putting up a 3.41 ERA (141 ERA+), while striking out 84 batters in 66.1 innings, making 65 appearances and raking up 34 saves.

In November 2008, the Cubs signed Kevin Gregg to close games, causing Wood to look elsewhere.  Wood signed a two-year, $20.5 million contract with the Cleveland Indians, with a $11 million option for 2011 that vested if Wood finished 55 games in 2009 or 2010.  In 2009, Wood was, literally, a league average pitcher with a great strikeout rate.  Wood had a league-average 4.25 ERA with 63 strike outs in 55 innings (10.3/9) while picking up 20 saves.  In 2010,  Wood was getting shelled during his time with the Indians, with a 6.30 ERA before he was traded to the New York Yankees for Andrew Shive and Matt Cusick.  Wood dominated in his time in the Bronx, putting up a microscopic 0.69 ERA while striking out 31 batters in 26 innings.  Wood allowed only 4.8 hits per nine innings pitched, the lowest total of his career.

After 2010, Wood returned to the Cubs with a 1-year $1.5 million contract and pitched well, putting up a solid-if-not-spectacular 3.35 ERA in 51 innings across 55 appearances while pitching in relief.  After signing another 1-year contract worth $3 million with the Cubs, Wood struggled in 2012, with an 8.64 ERA in nine appearances.

But today, on May 18, rumors of Wood’s retirement have stoked the fires of past potential.  Once nearly universally viewed as the next great power pitcher in the mold of fellow-Texan Nolan Ryan, Wood struggled with arm problems and chronic misuse at the hands of his managers.  We should not place all of the blame on them, however, as the job of a Major League manager is to win and their overuse of Wood was due to his ability to maintain velocity late in games.  Many often take a pot shop at  Dusty Baker, and his amazing overuse absolutely deserves some of the blame, but Jim Riggleman did the same thing in 1998, as Wood had eight outings with at least 120 pitches and 21 outings with at least 100 pitches.

So what do we learn from Kerry Wood?  Should pitchers be babied?  Was it an issue with his throwing motion?  Is there really no such thing as a pitching prospect?  I think it is all of them – the human arm was not meant to pitch like Ryan did and managers must be careful, but at the same time pitching is an inherently risky activity.  Well built pitchers with seemingly perfect throwing motions break down before they can become stars and undersized pitchers with unorthodox throwing motions can dominate while winning multiple Cy Young Awards and remaining healthy.

In the end, no one knows what to do so maybe it makes sense to do what Riggleman and Baker did – overuse pitchers to try to win a World Series, because flags fly forever.

Until next time, follow me @HypeProspect.

Sources:–001ker,0,5284008.story (Scroll down)

Post Hype Prospect – Phil Humber

On Saturday, Phil Humber threw the 21st perfect game in Major League Baseball history, throwing only 96 pitches to retire all 27 Seattle Mariners.  Despite once being a top prospect, Humber’s path to the perfect game was filled with injuries, demotions, a blockbuster trade, demotions, being released, and finding success for the Chicago White Sox.

Humber grew up in Nacogdoches, Texas and attended Carthage High School in Carthage, Texas.  In the Texas University Interscholastic League Class 4A semifinals, Humber struck out six, walked one, and allowed three hits.  Humber was drafted in the 29th round of the 2001 Rule IV Draft by the New York Yankees, a pick Humber considered more of a “draft-and-follow,” than anything else said Humber.  Humber continues, “I wasn’t mature enough to go into pro ball then. They made a pretty decent offer to try to sign me away from Rice, but I’m glad I chose [Rice].”

As Humber said, he went to Rice University, where he was part of one of the greatest pitching staffs in college baseball history, teaming with Jeff Niemann, Wade Townsend, and David Aardsma to come in 5th in the 2002 College World Series, win the 2003 College World Series, and come in 11th in the 2004 College World Series.  To say Humber was dominant in college is an understatement.  Humber put up a 2.78 ERA across 110 innings with 130 strike outs in 2002, a 3.30 ERA across 128 innings with 138 strike outs in 2003, and a 2.27 ERA across 115 innings with 154 strike outs in 2004.

Going into the 2004 draft, Humber was considered a top prospect and rumors swirled regarding which team would pick Humber.  Matt Bush was picked #1 overall by the Padres and twice flamed out spectacularly.  Justin Verlander was picked #2 overall by the Detroit Tigers, and has done very well, including two no hitters, Rookie of the Year (2006), Cy Young (2011), and MVP (2011), and four All Star Game appearances.  The Mets were focusing on three college pitchers, Jered Weaver, Humber, and Verlander.  Then-Mets General Manager, Jim Duquette, said that “[e]verybody who went in to see [Humber], including myself, thought he was going to be a 200-inning, year-after-year type of pitcher.  [Humber] had a good frame and a lot of the elements you’d look for in a top-of-the-rotation starter.”  The Mets passed on Weaver and took Humber with the #3 overall pick, with Weaver falling to the Angels at #12 due to bonus demands.

Humber was not the only Rice Owl to be picked in the first round of the 2004 draft, as teammates Jeff Niemann (#4 overall to the Devil Rays) and Wade Townsend (#8 overall to the Orioles, though he didn’t sign) were also selected, the first time three teammates were selected with the first eight picks of the draft.

Humber signed a 5-year major league contract with the Mets in January 2005 worth $4.2 million, including a $3 million signing bonus.  Ranked the #50 prospect by Baseball America before the 2005 season, Humber immediately clashed with Mets’ pitching coach Rick Peterson, who wanted Humber to change his mechanics and stand taller on the mound.  Humber was assigned to the high-A St. Lucie Mets of the Florida State League, where he put up a 4.99 ERA across 70.1 innings with 65 strike outs.  Promoted to the AA Binghamton Mets of the Eastern League, Humber made one start on July 11, allowing three runs and four hits over four innings while striking out two.  Humber left the game early due to pain in his elbow and was quickly diagnosed with bone spurs and a torn ulnar collateral ligament.  Humber underwent Tommy John surgery and missed the rest of the season.  Humber returned to action in under 12 months, being assigned to the Rookie level GCL Mets on June 22 for one start, then being sent back to the St. Lucie Mets, where he made seven starts over 38 innings, striking out 36 and putting up a sparkling 2.37 ERA.  Promoted to AA Binghamton on August 4, Humber kept the good times rolling, putting up a 2.88 ERA across 34.1 innings while striking out 36.  As a reward for his season, Humber was called up to New York, where appeared in two games and did not allow a run.

Humber reappeared on Baseball America’s top 100 list, ranking #73 with the comment: “Blew out his elbow 15 starts into his pro career in 2005, but bounced all the way back last year.”  Humber began 2007 pitching for the New Orleans Zephyrs, the Mets’ AAA affiliate in the Pacific Coast League and performed reasonably well, putting up a 4.27 ERA across 139 innings, striking out 120.  While these numbers do not seem particularly good, the PCL is notoriously hitter-friendly.  Promoted to the Mets in September, Humber appeared in three games, including one start, and put up a (small sample size alert!) 7.71 ERA across seven innings.

In February 2007, Humber was dealt by the Mets, along with Kevin Mulvey, Carlos Gomez, and Deolis Guerra, to the Minnesota Twins for Johan Santana.  The Twins assigned Humber to the Rochester Red Wings, the Twins’ AAA affiliate in the International League. In 2007, Humber put up a 4.56 ERA across 136.1 innings, striking out 106.  Humber received his annual September call-up and appearing in five games as a reliever, putting up a 4.63 ERA across 11.2 innings.  In 2008, Humber broke camp with the Twins as a reliever.  After putting up a 12.46 ERA across 4.1 innings, Humber was sent down to Rochester.   After putting up a 5.34 ERA across 119.2 innings as a starter, Humber was recalled by the Twins, where he put up a 3.86 ERA across four relief appearances over 4.2 innings.

After the 2009 season, Humber’s career took a number of unexpected turns.  In October, Humber was granted free agency, as the Twins did not offer Humber a contract.  Humber was signed as a free agent by the Kansas City Royals in December.  Assigned to the Omaha Royals of the PCL, Humber appeared in 21 games (21 starts), putting up a respectable 4.47 ERA across 118.2 innings.  Humber appeared in 8 games for the Kansas City Royals, primarily as a long reliever, though he did start one game, logging 21.2 innings to go with his 4.15 ERA.  In December 2010, Humber was selected off waivers by the Oakland Athletics, then in January 2011, the Chicago White Sox selected Humber off waivers from the Athletics.

Humber opened the season with two relief appearances (and a 9.00 ERA after two innings), but the White Sox, led by Manager Ozzie Guillen, showed patience, giving Humber time to find his way.   Humber responded with a great showing, holding a 2.69 ERA after his seven inning start against the cross town rival Cubs on July 2.  Humber seemed to struggle after that start, putting up a 7.52 ERA over his next five starts.  On August 18, Humber was struck in the face by a line drive and immediately taken out of the game.  Humber was, largely, unscathed by the ball, as he only had a face bruise.  Humber made one rehabilitation start for the Charlotte Knights, the White Sox’s AAA affiliate, and returned to the White Sox for the duration of the season.  Humber returned with seven shutout innings against the Twins in his first start after being taken off the Disabled List, then made four more starts for the White Sox.  The 2011 season was a major success for Humber, as he put up a 3.75 ERA (112 ERA+) across 163 innings.

Humber opened 2012 as the #5 starter for the White Sox and has dominated.  After going 5.1 innings and allowing only one run in his first start against Baltimore, Humber threw just 96 pitches (67 strikes) in his way to pitching a perfect game against the Mariners over the weekend (if this is news to you then how did you find this article?).

So what is ahead for Humber?  No one knows.  Congratulations have come from all over, including former teammate, Mike Pelfrey, apparently every person who knows his cell phone number, and former manager Ozzie Guillen, but not White Sox fan President Barack Obama.

At this point, the best way to describe what Humber went through would be something he said in June 2011, when asked to discuss his career after being traded by or released from four different organizations:

“I’ve been through everything you can go through in baseball so far.  I’ve had Tommy John surgery, been the hot prospect, been a bust, been given a lot of opportunities and been given up on. You get to the point where you say, you know what, baseball’s not my whole life and if I’m going to play it I’m going to play because I enjoy it. That’s where I am.’

Until next time, follow me @HypeProspect.


Post Hype Prospect – Angel Guzman

Angel Guzman, a minor leaguer in the Los Angeles Dodgers organization, was suspended 50 games by Major League Baseball today for 50 games for a second violation of the minor league drug prevention and treatment program for a drug of abuse, as was announced by the commissioner’s office.  Guzman made 88 appearances, 14 starts, with the Chicago Cubs from 2006-2009 with a 3-10 record and a 4.82 ERA.  While this may seem like another player trying to get back to the show, but this was nowhere near the case.  Guzman was once considered a top prospect with a significant chance to become something special.

In March of 1999, Guzman was signed out of Venezuela by the Kansas City Royals, but his signing was voided due to concerns over the health of Guzman’s arm.  Sensing an opportunity, the Chicago Cubs signed Guzman in November.  While working on a visa in 2000, Guzman pitched in the Venezuelan Summer League for La Pradera (which means the prairie, for those of you who don’t habla espanol), and put up a solid 1.93 ERA across 32.2 IP.  In 2000, the Cubs assigned Guzman to their Short Season A affiliate in the Northwest League, the Boise Hawks, where Guzman immediately showed promise, putting up a 2.23 ERA cross 76.2 innings.  While he only had 63 strikeouts (7.4k/9), he also displayed good control, only walking 2.2 per nine innings.   In 2002, Guzman started the season with the Daytona Cubs, the Cubs’ Low A affiliate in the Midwest League and found immediate success, putting up a silly 1.89 ERA over 62 innings, and was promoted to the Daytona Cubs, the Cubs’ High A affiliate in the Florida State League.  Guzman kept dominating in Daytona, putting up a 2.39 ERA across 94 innings.  After the 2002 season, Guzman was ranked the Cubs’ #2 prospect by Baseball America (Mark Prior was the top Cubs prospect, ranked #2 overall) and the #47 prospect in all of baseball.

In 2003, the Cubs kept pushing Guzman, assigning him to the West Tenn Diamond Jaxx of the AA Southern League.  Guzman responded by dominating, putting up a 2.81 ERA over 89.2 innings while striking out 87 batters.  Guzman was selected to appear in the All Star Futures Game in U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago.  Unfortunately, Guzman hurt his labrum (a piece of cartilage that surrounds the joint between the humerus and the shoulder blade) and had surgery in mid-July for the injury.  The injury would slow Guzman, but it was believed that he would bounce back from the surgery.  After the 2003 season, Baseball America ranked Guzman the #1 prospect in the Cubs’ system and the #26 prospect in all of baseball.  Guzman was even ranked the #9 prospect in the Southern League by Baseball America, despite only playing of the half season (which is not uncommon, as rankings are often done based upon performance while in the league and many players do not spend full seasons on one minor league team).

In 2004, Guzman was kept back in extended spring training until May, when he was assigned to the Daytona Cubs of the Florida State League.  Making his first appearance on May 13, Guzman looked good, even if his ERA was not spectacular.  Guzman struck out 40 over 30 innings (12K/9) despite his 4.20 ERA.  The Cubs saw enough, promoting him back to the West Tenn Diamond Jaxx of the Southern League.  Guzman did not do as well for the Diamond Jaxx, putting up a 5.60 ERA across 17.2 innings, striking out 13.  While Guzman’s prospect status was beginning to fade, it was still burning quite strong.  Baseball America ranked Guzman the #4 prospect in the Cubs’ farm system and the #88 prospect in all of baseball, and given the “Best Fastball in the Cubs System” superlative.

Guzman complained of forearm stiffness in April of 2005, and did not pitch until August where he made four starts for the Rookie level AZL Cubs, followed by two starts for the Peoria Chiefs of the Midwest League.  Predictably, Guzman dominated the Arizona League for the AZL Cubs, striking out 17 across 12 innings while allowing just three runs (two earned).  In Peoria, Guzman struck out 7 in 6.1 innings while allowing five runs (three earned).  The Cubs were impressed enough to assign Guzman to the Iowa Cubs of the AAA Pacific Coast League to start the 2006 season.  Guzman showed off his impressive stuff, striking out 77 in 75.2 innings across 15 starts while putting up a 4.04 ERA, which is respectable considering the offense-friendly environment of the PCL.  Promoted to the Major Leagues in early August, Guzman struggled, putting up a 7.39 ERA across 15 games (10 starts), while striking out 60.  Guzman’s undoing was his control, as he walked 37 (5.9 BB/9), but allowing 68 hits (10.4/9) did not help.

Guzman began the 2007 season in the Cubs bullpen, but was sent down to Iowa to get more consistent work and be available as a starter should the need arise.  The results in Iowa were disastrous; Guzman allowed 14 runs (all earned) across 10.1 innings, good for a 12.19 ERA.  Despite this, the Cubs called up Guzman in May and used him as a starter for three games; where Guzman pitched well, putting up a 3.52 ERA across 15.1 innings.  After this, Guzman was sent to the bullpen, where he pitched well, with a 4.70 ERA (one bad outing on May 30 made his ERA explode) across 7.2 IP.  In June, Guzman felt pain in his forearm again, and was put onto the DL.  While rehabbing for the AZL Cubs, the pain continued.  Guzman had torn his ulnar collateral ligament and had Tommy John Surgery, not appearing in another game until August 2008, with the Daytona Cubs of the Florida State League.  Guzman appeared in two games for the Daytona Cubs, then one game for the West Tenn Diamond Jaxx, followed by four appearances with the Iowa Cubs.  Appearing in his first Major League game in over a year on September 2, Guzman pitched one scoreless inning, allowing one hit and walking one.  Guzman pitched poorly in 2008, putting up a 5.59 ERA across 9.2 innings, while striking out 10.

Guzman spent most of the 2009 with the Cubs, putting up a spectacular 2.95 ERA across 61 innings over 55 relief appearances, striking out 47 (6.9K/9) to go with a sparkling 1.049 WHIP.  Guzman missed some time in late June and early July due to an upper arm strain, and was shut down in September due to the same issue.

2010 was a terrible year for Guzman.  In January, his brother, Daniel Guzman, a drummer for a rock band back in their native Venezuela was traveling in a Jeep Grand Cherokee in Caracas when three armed men intercepted the SUV in which he was riding and shot him.  Daniel died shortly after sustaining the gunshot wounds, and the motives and identities of the shooters are still unknown.  In February, Guzman had surgery on his meniscus and in March Guzman had surgery on his right (throwing) shoulder.  Guzman missed the entire 2010 season recovering from the surgeries.

After the season, the Cubs removed Guzman from the 40-man roster and signed him to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training.  After two starts for the Peoria Chiefs in the Midwest League (his fourth time in the Midwest League) to start the 2011 season, Guzman made 19 appearances (17 starts) for the Daytona Cubs of the Florida State League (also his fourth time in the FSL), putting up a 4.26 ERA while easing back into pitching by only throwing 31.2 innings.

In the off season, Guzman signed a minor league contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers with an invitation to spring training.  Despite pitching 5.1 scoreless innings in spring training while giving up only one hit, Guzman was never considered a serious candidate to make the Dodgers and was assigned to the Albuquerque Isotopes, the Dodgers’ AAA affiliate in the PCL, but did not make an appearance.  Today at 3:45pm EDT (not EST, as the press release states), this release was made:

Dodgers Minor League pitcher Guzman suspended

The Office of the Commissioner of Baseball announced today that Los Angeles Dodgers Minor League pitcher Angel Guzman has received a 50-game suspension after a second violation of the Minor League Drug Prevention and Treatment Program for a drug of abuse.

The suspension of Guzman, who is currently on the roster of Triple-A Albuquerque of the Pacific Coast League, is effective immediately.

This suspension for a violation, which is not steroids but a “drug of abuse,” will probably end Guzman’s career.  Guzman had been released from the 40-man roster by the Cubs after the 2010 season and the Dodgers were merely using him as an insurance policy, which is never a good sign for a pitcher.

Which begs the question:  What happened to Guzman?  The answer is simple: injuries.  Whenever Guzman seemed to get on a roll, he hurt his arm.  Guzman had Tommy John surgery and shoulder surgery, his arm was not what it once was and his performance bore out the decrease in ability.  In the end, Guzman spent over a decade being paid to play baseball, but, in the end, it’s the “what ifs” that hurt the most.  Guzman could have been an amazing pitcher, and the great “what if” was what could have happened if he had just stayed healthy.

Until next time, follow me @HypeProspect.


Post Hype Prospect – Mark Prior and Joe Mauer

If one was to look at the 2001 MLB Rule IV Draft without any knowledge of the change in the baseball landscape over the past decade, it would be likely that it would make sense that Joe Mauer was picked ahead of Mark Prior (though one might wonder why Mark Teixeira and David Wright went as late as they did). Mauer and Prior have become inextricably linked due to the Minnesota Twins’ overt refusal to pay Prior’s bonus demands and the veracity of the old adage: there’s no such thing as a pitching prospect (or, TNSTAAPP, for short).

Leading up to the 2001 draft, Mark Prior was viewed as the complete package. Prior, a 6’5” 230 pound righty at the University of Southern California, was the winner of the Dick Howser Trophy, given annually to the national college baseball player of the year by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association after a season where he went 15-1 with a 1.70 ERA while striking out 202 batters, walking 18, and allowing 100 hits in 138 innings. Prior’s pitching motion appeared to be clean and easy, while he threw mid-90s fastballs, coupled with his curveball, slurve, and a changeup. Viewed as nearly ready for major league baseball, Prior was rumored to want a record-setting contract and made it publicly know, albeit through back channels, that he did not want to be drafted by the Minnesota Twins. The Minnesota Twins, often claiming that they could not financially compete with the larger market teams despite their owner, Carl Pohlad, being one of the richest owners in all of sports (his estimated wealth in 2006 was $2.6 billion), had a decision to make. Potentially blow the #1 pick in the draft or take another player. Another top college player, Mark Teixeira, represented by Scott Boras, was rumored to be seeking a similar bonus to Prior, was not an alternative.

Accordingly, the Twins turned their attention to a local option, St. Paul’s Joe Mauer. A multi-sport standout at Cretin-Derham Hall High School in St. Paul, Minnesota, Mauer was the USA Today High School Player of the Year in football (2000) and in baseball (2001), and had committed to play both sports at Florida State. Additionally, Mauer had appeared in Sports Illustrated’s Faces in the Crowd feature (not entirely relevant, but pretty cool).

With the #1 pick in the 2001 Rule IV draft, the Minnesota Twins picked Mauer, a move that, to the casual observer, looked like a total cop-out move. But would time bear out their pick? Yes, but not for the reasons considered at the time.

Mauer signed quickly in 2001 and appeared in 32 games for the Elizabethtown Twins, the Twins Rookie level Appalachian League affiliate, putting up a 400/492/491 slash line splitting his time between catching and DH’ing. Prior didn’t sign until August and failed to appear in any league games.

In 2002, Baseball America‘s Top 10 looked like this:

1. Josh Beckett, rhp, Marlins

2. Mark Prior, rhp, Cubs

3. Hank Blalock, 3b, Rangers

4. Sean Burroughs, 3b, Padres

5. Carlos Pena, 1b, Athletics

6. Juan Cruz, rhp, Cubs

7. Joe Mauer, c, Twins

8. Wilson Betemit, ss, Braves

9. Drew Henson, 3b, Yankees

10. Mark Teixeira, 3b, Rangers

In effect, Baseball America said that the draft order should have gone Mark Prior, Joe Mauer, then Mark Teixeira (who went #5 to the Rangers, after the then-Devil Rays picked Dewon Brazelton at #3 then the Phillies picked Gavin Floyd at #4).

In 2002, Prior dominated the minor leagues. In six starts with the AA West Tenn Diamond Jaxx of the Southern League, he struck out 55and walked 10, while putting up a 2.60 ERA in 34.2 innings (14.3 K/9). In May, he was promoted to the AAA Iowa Cubs of the Pacific Coast League (Iowa is on the Pacific coast?) and was nearly as dominant, striking out 24 and walking 8 in 16.1 innings, while putting up a sparkling 1.65 ERA. On May 22, Prior made his big league debut, striking out 10, and allowing only four hits and two runs in six innings, to pick up his first big league win. Prior put up a solid 3.32 ERA (122 RRA+) in 19 starts over 116.2 innings. Prior came in 7th in the NL Rookie of the Year Award voting (despite having the second highest WAR).

Mauer’s 2002 season was also impressive, as he hit 302/393/392 for the Quad Cities River Bandits, the Twins’ A-level affiliate in the Midwest League. Mauer caught 81 games, played 13 at first base, and spent some time at DH, impressing scouts with his talent. After 2002, Prior was no longer eligible to be on any top prospect lists, but Mauer moved up to #4 on Baseball America’s list (behind Mark Teixeira, Rocco Baldelli, and Jose Reyes, just slightly ahead of future first ballot Hall of Famer Jesse Foppert).

Prior’s 2003 is the stuff of legends (or nightmares for Cubs fans, who watched Dusty Baker make Prior and Kerry Wood throw as many pitches as humanly possible), as Prior went 18-6 in 30 starts, logging 211.1 innings, while striking out 245 batters (10.4/9) and placing third in the NL Cy Young Award voting (behind Eric Gagne and Jason Schmidt, despite having the highest WAR of any pitcher in the NL). The Cubs came a mere out from making it to their first World Series since the Truman Administration. Mauer had another banner season in the minor leagues. Starting the year playing for the Fort Myers Miracle of the High-A Florida State League, Mauer put up a 335/395/412 line while splitting time between catcher and DH. Promoted to the New Britain Rock Cats of the AA Eastern League, Mauer’s numbers improved, hitting 341/400/453, playing almost exclusively behind the plate. Mauer put also walked 49 times and struck out 49 times, showing a mature approach to go with his pure talent. Mauer also took part of the 2003 All-Star Futures Game at U.S. Cellular Field.

Both Prior and Mauer spent significant time on the DL in 2004. Prior missed the first two months of the 2004 season with an injury to his Achilles tendon. Rumors swirled that Prior’s ulnar collateral ligament was injured and he would need Tommy John surgery, but both Prior and the Cubs denied the rumors. Prior ended up with a 4.02 ERA in 21 starts, finishing the season with a career high 16 strike outs against the Cincinnati Reds. Mauer, now ranked Baseball America’s #1 overall prospect, began the year as the starting catcher for the Twins, and went 2/3 with two walks. In his second game of the season, Mauer injured his left medial meniscus (read: cartilage in the knee), had surgery, and missed a month of the season. After a cup of tea in the minors (7 total games), Mauer returned to the twins and immediately began mashing. On July 15, Mauer had a 308/369/570 line when the pain and swelling in his knee forced an early ending to the 2004 season.

In 2005, Prior began the year on the DL and did not make his debut until April 13. Prior was pitching well when, on May 27, Prior was hit on his right elbow by a comebacker off the bat of Brad Hawpe, causing a compression fracture and sending Prior back to the DL. Prior returned on June 26 and made a total of 27 starts, putting up a 3.67 ERA in 166.2 Innings, with 188 strike outs. Mauer, still considered a rookie (he had 122 at bats in 2004, just eight shy of the required 130), was again ranked the #1 prospect in Baseball America and, again, began the year as the starting catcher for the Twins. Mauer appeared in 131 games, putting up a 294/372/411 slash line.

2006 is when it all fell apart for Prior, as he felt stiffness in his shoulder during spring training and was diagnosed with a strained shoulder. Prior’s debut did not occur until June 18, when the Detroit Tigers scored eight runs (seven earned) in 3.2 innings. Prior went six innings only once in 2006. Prior ended up making only nine starts, pitching 43.2 innings, striking out 38 batters (while a 7.8 K/9 is great for many pitchers, Prior averaged 10.6 K/9 his first four seasons), and earning a 7.21 ERA. On July 14, Prior was put on the disabled list for the remainder of the season with tendinitis. In 2006, Mauer appeared in 140 games, putting up a 347/429/507 slash line. Mauer’s .347 batting average led the Major Leagues (.003 ahead of the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Freddy Sanchez). Mauer was selected to his first All-Star Game, was awarded his first Silver Slugger, and came in 6th place in the AL MVP vote (teammate Justin Morneau won the award despite having the 19th highest WAR. Grady Sizemore, who came in 11th place led the league with a 7.3 WAR and Mauer, with a 7.0 WAR was in second place. Third place was held by teammate Johan Santana, with 6.9).

In the off season, Prior filed for salary arbitration for the first time, eventually agreeing with the Cubs on a $3.575 contract for 2007. In April, Dr. James Andrews performed exploratory arthroscopic surgery on Prior, and determined that he had injuries to his shoulder, and performed a debridement of Prior’s rotator cuff, and repaired labral and capsular injuries in Priors shoulder. Prior would be out the entire season, though reports at the time indicated that he could be back at full strength in 2008. Though not as extreme, Mauer also had injury issues in 2007. After agreeing to a four-year, $33 million contract with the Twins (with a $25,000 bonus for winning the Gold Glove), Mauer had a small stress fracture during spring training, followed by a left quadriceps strain in early June, which landed him on the 15-day DL. Mauer appeared in only 109 games, still putting up a solid 293/382/426 slash line.

Mark Prior would not pitch in an organized, professional baseball game until 2010, and only pitched a total of 24 innings before being beset by more injuries. Conversely, Mauer put up MVP-caliber numbers, with a 332/411/481 slash line from 2008-2011, while leading the AL in batting twice, and putting up a historic 365/444/587 slash line in route to the MVP in 2009. Though his numbers have come down significantly since 2009 (while his salary has skyrocketed), Mauer is still an elite defensive catcher with a potent bat (and great sideburns).

So what happened? Were the pundits incorrect? Yes, but It is easy to look back at a draft and think “I could have done better,” but it is nearly impossible to predict what a group of people under age 22 will do over the course of the next 15 years. The 2001 draft was seemingly filled with more landmines than most (Dewan Brazelton, the #3 pick has a -4.0 WAR, and 18 of the 44 first round or supplemental first round picks failed to reach the major leagues), but, in the end, it appears that going the “cheap” route worked well for the Twins, at least until they have to pay off the nearly $160 million left on Joe Mauer’s contract.

In the end, the best pick may have been one of the following:

  • A right handed pitcher from Pepperdine taken with the 28th pick of the second round (#72 overall) named Dan Haren;
  • A first baseman from Missouri State University taken with the 4th pick of the 5th round (#140 overall) named Ryan Howard;
  • A third baseman from the University of Cincinnati taken with the 17th pick of the 8th round (#243 overall) named Kevin Youkilis; or
  • A second baseman from the University of Memphis taken with the 22nd pick of the 11th round (#338) named Dan Uggla.

Either way, their result was better than Mark Prior. Maybe, just maybe, if a few things had been slightly different, we would have been mocking the Twins for being cheap and applauding the Cubs for being willing to spend money.

Until next time, follow me at @HypeProspect.
Update: The Boston Red Sox have signed Mark Prior to a contract, presumably a minor league deal, per a tweet from Jon Heyman:


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