Results tagged ‘ Post Hype Prospects ’

Post Hype Prospect – Michael Pineda

This afternoon, news came out that Michael Pineda was diagnosed with an anterior labral tear and will miss the entire season surgery on Tuesday, May 1 at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York.  Pineda, who turned 23 in January, has come a long way since signing with the Seattle Mariners out of the Dominican Republic back in 2005.

Signed on December 12, 2005 for a paltry $35,000, Pineda made his professional debut in 2006 in the Dominican Summer League with the DSL Mariners, putting up a 0.44 ERA over eight games (three starts), striking out 14 batters in 20.1 innings.  In 2007, Pineda was still unable to get a visa, and again pitched for the DSL Mariners, putting up a 2.29 ERA across 59 inings with 48 strike outs.  Finally able to pitch in the U.S. in 2008, Pineda dominated in for the A level Wisconsin Timber Rattlers of the Midwest Leaue, putting up a 1.95 ERA across 138.1 innings with 128 strike outs.  Pineda started 21 games and relieved in five games in an attempt to decrease his workload, finishing the season with a dominating performance against the Quad Cities River Bandits, the St. Louis Cardinals Midwest League affiliate, with 14 strike outs, no walks, and only one hit in a complete game shutout.

Moved up to the High A California League High Desert Mavericks to start 2009, Pineda pitched well to start the season, but quickly encountered arm trouble.  After going 5, 6.1, 7, and 7.1 innings to start the season, Pineda was placed on the Minor League Disabled List for 15 days due to elbow soreness.  Activated on May 12, Pineda’s innings were limited, going 2 and 3 innings in his next two appearances before re-aggravating the injury and going on the Minor League Disabled List for approximately three months, only returning to the Rookie Level AZL Mariners for a 1 and 2 inning appearance in early August.  After being cleared, Pineda was returned to High Desert, where he pitched 13.2 innings over four starts, allowing four runs (three earned), while striking out 22.

In 2010, Pineda was assigned to the AA West Tenn Diamond Jaxx of the Southern League, where he absolutely dominated opponents.  Across 77 innings over 13 starts, Pineda struck out 78 and allowed only 67 hits.  The Mariners took notice and promoted him to the AAA Tacoma Rainiers of the Pacific Coast Leauge, where Pineda kept doing well.  Pineda struck out 76 in 62.1 innings with a 4.76 ERA.  Pineda, pitching a career high 139.1 innings, clearly tired.  In his last two starts, Pineda went 4.1 and 3.2 innings, allowing four and six runs (all earned), with eight hits in both.  Pineda’s numbers should also be adjusted to consider that he was in the hitter-friendly environment of the PCL.

After 2010, prospect prognosticators took notice and rated Pineda accordingly.  Baseball America ranked Pineda #16 overall (between Matt Moore and Freddie Freeman), Baseball Prospectus’ Kevin Goldstein ranked Pineda #24 (between Jacob Turner and Dustin Ackley), and’s Jonathan Mayo ranked Pineda #13 (between Kyle Drabek and Mike Montgomery).

Pineda opened the 2011 season as the #5 starter for the Seattle Mariners, immediately showing why he was considered a top prospect.  After a six-inning effort on July 4, Pineda had a 2.58 ERA over 108 innings across 1 starts with 106 strike outs and a sparkling .564 OPS-against.  Pineda struggled in his next six starts, putting up a 7.64 ERA over 33 innings until mid-August.  From August 21 through the rest of the season, Pineda seemed to pitch well, with a 3.60 ERA over five starts across 30 innings.  Overall, Pineda pitched very well, putting up a 3.74 ERA (103 ERA+) across 171 innings in his age-22 season, coming in fifth in the Rookie of the Year vote in a very stacked year.

The big trade of the 2012 off season occurred on January 23 when the Mariners dealt Pineda with prospect Jose Campos to the Yankees for ultra-prospect Jesus Montero and Hector Noesi.

In spring training, the big story was Pineda’s decreased velocity.  From ESPN New York’s Andrew Marchand:

But there was also this: scouts behind home plate had Pineda’s velocity at mostly 90-92.

When Pineda dominated in the first half of last year, he threw his fastball in the mid-90s. Last spring, at this time, Pineda was throwing 95-98 and his changeup was at 88.

In his next start, Pineda silenced critics and hit 94 on the radar gun, as the Yankees’ General Manager, Brian Cashman, said that Pineda is 20 pounds overweight.   After the game, Pineda told Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News: “I know I can throw harder, but it’s getting better. My arm feels good.”  On the eve of the season, Pineda is put on the 15-day Disabled List with shoulder inflammation and tendinitis, which is never a good omen.  Then, just today, the bombshell hit: Pineda will undergo surgery next Tuesday to repair an anterior labral tear, which will keep him out for the entire 2012 season, and possibly part of 2013.

What will happen to Pineda from here?  Surgery then rehabilitation is for sure, how well his “stuff” comes back is another story altogether.  While many pitchers have come back from elbow surgery (such as ulnar collateral ligament surgery, more commonly known as Tommy John surgery) with flying colors, such as Stephen Strasburg and, well, Tommy John, shoulder surgeries, especially ones on the labrum, have a less successful track record.  As State’s Will Carroll wrote:

Leading baseball surgeon Dr. James Andrews estimates that 85 percent of pitchers make a full recovery after an ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction, aka the once risky Tommy John surgery. (USA Today has even called the surgery the “pitcher’s best friend.”)  But if pitchers with torn labrums were horses, they’d be destroyed.  Of the 36 major-league hurlers diagnosed with labrum tears in the last five years, only midlevel reliever Rocky Biddle has returned to his previous level. Think about that when your favorite pitcher comes down with labrum trouble: He has a 3 percent chance of becoming Rocky Biddle. More likely, he’ll turn into Mike Harkey, Robert Person, or Jim Parque, pitchers who lost stamina and velocity—and a major-league career—when their labrums began to fray.

So what can we expect?  It’s entirely possible that this may be the end of the career of Michael Pineda, which would be unfortunate for every baseball fan, as Pineda’s talent is worth the price of admission.  But Pineda may return, and he may return to form, but only time will tell.

So does this mean that the Mariners won the trade?  It probably does.  While the Yankees may end up striking gold with Jose Campos, Jesus Montero was a lot to give up for a 19-year old pitcher in A-ball.  In the end, we will need five years to evaluate the trade, but early returns give the Mariners a big advantage.  And remember, TNSTAAPP.

Update: Curt Schilling has said that he thinks Pineda “can be back better than he has ever been in 10 months.  Maybe less, because he is younger. It is going to be 100 percent on him.”  Mark Mulder, who had a labral tear and a rotator cuff injury never felt the same after coming back from surgery.

Update #2: Baseball ProspectusJay Jaffe has written a great article discussing the results of pitchers who have had similar surgeries, and I suggest you read it .  Jaffe notes that:

On the other hand, five pitchers (Roger Clemens, Curt Schilling, Al Leiter, Chris Carpenter, and Gil Meche) threw more than 1,000 innings following the surgery, and another six (Scott Elarton, Jason Isringhausen, Ted Lilly, Jon Rauch, Anibal Sanchez, and Jose Valverde) have topped 400 innings.

So it appears that there is significant precedent for a successful return for Pineda – but not one without risk.

Until next time, follow me @HypeProspect.


Post Hype Prospect – Colby Rasmus

Colby Rasmus has been as controversial player as there is in the major leagues over the past few years (without committing a crime).  An ultra-talented center fielder with plus power, great range, and a canon throwing arm, Rasmus has the potential to be the next great player.   After a great 2010, Rasmus seemingly took a few steps back in his development, followed by a trade from St. Louis to Toronto.

Born in Columbus, Georgia, Rasmus moved to Phenix City, Alabama when he was young.  In Phenix City, Rasmus was a star pitcher and first baseman in Little League, leading his Phenix City Little League team to the finals of the 1999 Little League World Series, losing to Hirakata (Japan) Little League in the finals.

After a great career at Russell County High School in Seale, Alabama, Rasmus was selected by the St. Louis Cardinals in the first round of the 2005 MLB draft, #28 overall.  A number of very good players were selected prior to Rasmus, including Justin Upton (Arizona, 1st round/1st pick), Ryan Zimmerman (Washington, 1/4), Ryan Braun (Milwaukee, 1/5), Ricky Romero (Toronto, 1/6), Troy Tulowitzki (Colorado, 1/7), Andrew McCutchen (Pittsburgh, 1/11), Jacoby Ellsbury (1/23), and Matt Garza (Minnesota, 1/25).  Rasmus signed for $1 million and was assigned to the Johnson City Cardinals, the Cardinals Rookie Level affiliate in the Appalachian League.  Rasmus put up an impressive 296/362/514 line in 62 games in Johnson City.

In 2006, Rasmus who not ranked in Baseball America’s Top 100, was assigned to the Swing of the Quad Cities, the Cardinals’ A-level Midwest League affiliate, where he excelled.  Rasmus was putting up a 310/373/512 line across 78 games for Quad Cities, when he was promoted to the Palm Beach Cardinals, the Cardinals’ High A affiliate in the Florida State League.  In the notoriously pitcher-friendly Florida State League, Rasmus displayed power with a mature approach, putting up a 254/351/404 line as second youngest player in the Florida State League.

As a result of his excellent 2006 season, Rasmus’ stock skyrocketed, as Baseball America ranked him the #29 prospect, but Rasmus’ talent had only started to shine through.  In 2007, Rasmus spent the year playing for the Springfield Cardinals of the AA Texas League, putting up a 275/381/551 line, showing significant development of his power with 37 doubles, 3 triples, and 29 home runs.  Tulsa Drillers’ Manager, Stu Cole waxed poetic in discussing Rasmus’ ability:

“If there was a five-tool player in the league last year, Rasmus was the one.  He brought everything to the table.  If the ball was in the air, there was a chance you were going to see something exciting.”

In December 2007, the Cardinals dealt incumbent center fielder Jim Edmonds to the San Diego Padres for David Freese, clearing the way for Rasmus.  Rasmus was ranked the #5 prospect by Baseball America (behind Jay Bruce, Evan Longoria, Joba Chamberlain, and Clay Buchholz), and prospect prognosticators praised his power, plate discipline, range in centerfield, and cannon throwing arm.  Rasmus was invited to spring training and played reasonably well, but was sent to the Pacific Coast League’s Memphis Redbirds, where he immediately went into a deep offensive funk, hitting .186 through his first 172 at bats.  Rasmus ended up with a respectable 251/346/396 line in 90 games for the Redbirds, missing time with a knee injury.  Presciently, comments attached to his father, Tony, a former minor leaguer in the then-California Angels system, emerged, showing Tony’s disagreement with the actions of the Cardinals.  Tony stated that the Cardinals were trying to alter Rasmus’ swing, publicly displaying a rift between the Rasmus family and the Cardinals.

Despite the lackluster season and the injury, Rasmus’ solid showing after the slow start and potential convinced Baseball America to rank him the #3 prospect, behind Matt Wieters and David Price.  The Cardinals requested that Rasmus play winter ball to get additional at bats to get ready for the season, but Rasmus declined.  Rasmus, apparently having never seen Crash Davis’ conversations with Nuke LaLoosh, reported to spring training asserting that he would go north with the Cardinals and could be the teams center fielder, irking a number of veterans including Rick Ankiel and Chris Duncan.

On Opening Day, Rasmus batted second and played right field (Ankiel was in center) and made a great debut – going 2/4 with a walk in his major league debut in the Cardinals’ 9-3 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates.  Rasmus put up a solid 251/307/407 line in 2009, starting 104 games in centerfield while only starting 10 in left field and right field.  Rasmus placed eighth in the Rookie of the Year Award vote (Chris Coghlan won) and was the inspiration for one of the greatest YouTube videos of all time:

Rasmus came into 2010 hoping to build on 2009 and exceeded expectations, putting up a 276/361/498 (132 OPS+) line.  Rasmus began 2011 crushing the ball.  After a 3/5 day against the Cubs on May 12, Rasmus goes into a tailspin, putting up a 194/282/377 line across 57 games until his late July trade to the Toronto Blue Jays.   In early July, Cardinals’ Manager Tony La Russa said that “[w]hat [Rasmus is] working on is something that he thinks will help him and it comes from someplace else.”  That “someplace else” was Rasmus’ father, Tony.  While La Russa said that “it’s not unusual” for a player to seek familiar coaching, it was unusual to totally exclude the hitting instruction provided by the team, in this case Hitting Coach Mark McGwire.

The war of word continued between La Russa and Rasmus, culminating in a trade on July 27 with Trevor Miller, Brian Tallet, and P.J. Walters for Octavio Dotel, Edwin Jackson, Corey Patterson, and Marc Rzepczynski.  Both sides seemed pleased with the deal, the Blue Jays picked up the ultra-talented Rasmus and the Cardinals picked up two solid bullpen arms, a starter, and a backup outfielder.  It was the ultimate “change of scenery” trade.

While there is still a lot of time before we can fully judge the trade, it appears that St. Louis did much better than initially perceived.  Rasmus put up a terrible 173/201/316 (37 OPS+) line over the final 35 games in the season, and has a 200/256/343 line (small sample size alert!) through 10 games in 2012.  The Cardinals, however, caught fire after the trade, winning the Wild Card on the last day of the season and winning one of the most exciting World Series in recent memory.

How do we evaluate Rasmus?  He’s still (somehow) only 25 and loaded with talent.  Though reports have indicated decreased range, he still has the tools to be a middle-of-the-order hitter and center fielder.  But how did Rasmus get here?  Has he failed to actualize his talents?  Are his father’s attempts to help hurting him?  Is there another factor that is causing problems?  No one seems to be quite sure – if anyone knew the problem they would be able to solve the problem.  In the end Rasmus may figure it out and reach his potential or he make it onto the long list of ultra-talented players who had initial success in the Major Leagues but were unable to make the necessary adjustments.

Until next time, follow me @HypeProspect.


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.


Non-Hype Prospect – Heath Bell

It is often said that Americans love the narrative of the underdog.  That is only partially true: the whole world loves the underdog.  We root for the upset; we root for the improbable; we root for the statistically improbable.  There’s nothing the world loves more than David taking out Goliath (unless, of course, we have Goliath on our fantasy team).  The prospect equivalent to David is the undrafted free agent.  A player so undesired, whose desire to play professional baseball is so unrequited, that no team values them highly enough to say their name on a conference call.  Many of these players are signed and never make it out of A ball, but a select few make the show and become stars including, but not limited to, Larry Bowa, Kevin Mitchell, Bobby Bonilla, and Jim Leyritz.

Much has been made about how Mike Piazza was drafted in the 62nd round in 1988, but he was drafted (albeit as a favor to his father by his godfather, Tommy Lasorda).  The subject of this article is three-time All-Star Heath Bell, a pitcher who placed 8th in the 2010 National League Cy Young Award vote.  Despite lettering in football, basketball, and baseball while attending Tustin High School in Tustin, California, Bell failed to impress scouts and was not drafted.  Bell attended Santiago Canyon College and was named a freshman All-American in 1997.  The Tampa Bay Devil Rays selected Bell in the 69th Round of the 1997 draft.  The 69th round had a total of three picks (neither of which appeared to play any professional baseball at any point), the final of which was Bell.   Bell didn’t sign with the Devil Rays and made two appearances for the El Dorado Broncos in the National Baseball Congress World Series.  Alas, Bell was not drafted in 1998 and signed with the New York Mets as an undrafted free agent in 1998.

Bell impressed from the start, a 2.54 ERA and 61 strike outs in 22 games (46 innings) at Kingsport of the Rookie Level Appalachian League in 1998 earned him a promotion to the Mets full season A affiliate for 1999, the South Atlantic League’s Capital City Bombers.  In Capital City, Bell put up a 2.60 ERA with 68 strikeouts across 62.1 innings.  In 2000, Bell appeared in 48 games for the St. Lucie Mets, the Mets’ affiliate in the High A Florida State League.  In St. Lucie, Bell continued to excel, striking out 75 in 60 innings while putting up a sparkling 2.55 ERA.

Bell hit his first bump in 2001, when he was promoted to the Mets’ affiliate in the Eastern League, the Binghamton Mets.  Bell appeared in 43 games, striking out 55 and putting up a 6.02 ERA.  Bell returned to Binghamton in 2002 and put up an electric 1.18 ERA while striking out 49 in 38 innings.  Bell was promoted to the Norfolk Tides, the Mets AAA affiliate in the International League, and pitched reasonably well, putting up a 4.26 ERA with 28 strike outs in 31.2 innings.  In 2003, Bell put up a lackluster 4.71 ERA at Norfolk, while striking out 44 in 49.2 innings.  After the season, it was revealed that Bell had a stress fracture in his right arm that Mets team doctors failed to diagnose.

After one two-inning appearance in Binghamton to start 2004, Bell was promoted to Norfolk, where he put up a 3.12 ERA with 68 strikeouts in 55.2 innings, earning Bell a September call up to the Mets where he put up a respectable 3.33 ERA with 27 strikeouts across 24.1 innings.  In 2005, Bell began riding the “Heath Bell Express”, as he was shuttled between AAA Norfolk and New York as the Mets whenever the Mets needed another bullpen arm.  Bell put up a 1.69 ERA in Norfolk and a 5.59 ERA for the Mets.  Bell clashed with Mets’ Pitching Coach Rick Peterson, who put the kibosh on Bell’s weight-losing in-line skating that helped him lose weight during spring training.  In 2006, Bell resumed riding the “Heath Bell Express” as he put up a 1.29 ERA in Norfolk and a 5.11 ERA for the Mets.

In mid-November, the Mets dealt Heath Bell and Royce Ring to the San Diego Padres for Ben Johnson and Jon Adkins.  Acquiring Bell paid immediate dividends for the Padres.  After putting up a 2.02 ERA over 93.2 innings in 2007, Bell put up a 3.58 ERA over 78 innings in 2008.  In 2009, longtime Padres closer Trevor Hoffman signed with the Milwaukee Brewers and Bell became the closer, racking up a National League-leading 42 saves to go with his sparkling 2.71 ERA.  Bell’s success has continued, as he put up 47 saves to go with a 1.93 ERA in 2010 followed by 43 saves and a 2.44 ERA in 2011.

After the 2011 season, Bell became a free agent for the first time and signed a three-year contract worth $27 million (with a vesting option for a fourth year worth another $9 million based upon games finished) with the Florida Miami Marlins.  While Bell has not been perfect to start the season (or, even, particularly good), there is no reason to suspect Bell will be anything other than the top-tier closer that he has been for the past three seasons.  On a personal note, I must say I am happy for him.  I always felt that the Mets misused him, though some of that may have been a result of his outspoken ways, as first reported in an article by Tim Kurkjian:

“Everything in New York was so serious,” Bell said. “I should keep my mouth shut, but I never do. In 2005, I didn’t pitch for 28 straight days. I don’t know if I did something to Willie [Randolph, then the manager of the Mets]. I didn’t always get along with [then pitching coach] Rick Peterson. I don’t know if they wanted to make me the scapegoat. It was a bad situation. I was an undrafted player. I was a walk-on. I was the last guy to get to the big leagues. I came in with [former manager] Art Howe, then went to Willie. I was with [former general manager] Steve Phillips, then [former GM] Jim Duquette, then [current general manager] Omar Minaya. No one really saw me. But they heard about me in the papers.”

Alas, the first question is: What happened?  How did every team miss on Bell (twice, as he was not drafted in the 1998 draft)?  The answer is that drafting baseball players is incredibly difficult and the level of play between high school and college are an ocean away from the level of play in the major leagues.  This difference of play requires scouts to make projections about players four to six years into the future, a difficult task at best. The Mets should get credit for giving Bell a chance, but should be severely dinged for the fact that, once he showed the ability to thoroughly dominate AAA, never giving Bell a chance to succeed at the major league level.  Further, former Mets General Manager Omar Minaya should be excoriated for his trades prior to the 2007 season.  Dealing Bell and Royce Ring to the Padres for non-factors Ben Johnson and Jon Adkins was just the start of the problem.  Minaya continued by dealing relievers Henry Owens and Matt Lindstrom to the Marlins for Jason Vargas and Adam Bostick (which would have worked out well had Minaya not dealt the solid Vargas to the Seattle Mariners in the ill-fated J.J. Putz deal), then dealing reliever Brian Bannister for Ambiorix Burgos, who pitched poorly, got hurt, then committed a number of crimes (assaulting his girlfriend, hit an run, then kidnapping and poisoning his ex-wife).

The second question is: How did Bell figure it out?  Clearly the Mets felt Bell was little more than a middle reliever or, possibly even gave bell the dreaded 4A label.  Maybe Bell was better than the Mets believed, but I feel that Bell learned a lot from one of the greatest closers of all time, Trevor HoffmanAs Bell put it:

“Trevor taught me a lot, including, ‘let’s have fun,'” Bell said. “He taught me that we have to be serious, but we’re allowed to have fun before and after games. Before the position players arrive every spring, the pitchers play games with comebackers [balls hit back to the box] and we play a game where we hit in the cage with fungos. It’s fun. San Diego has allowed me to be me. When the game starts, I want to tear your head off, but I’m one of the nicest guys I know. In Philadelphia last year, a fan screamed at me from the stands, ‘How many cheesesteaks did you have today, four?’ I yelled back, ‘Only three, why don’t you get me a fourth?’ Another guy yelled, ‘Hey, fatso.’ I yelled back, ‘Tell me something I don’t know. C’mon, this is Philly, you’re supposed to be better hecklers than that.'”

In the end, Heath Bell made it his own way and we should all be rooting for him, the true underdog.

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:


%d bloggers like this: