Retro Prospect Spotlight: Homer Bailey

January 31, 2009

Name: Homer Bailey | Organization: Cincinnati Reds
Position: Pitcher | Drafted: 2004 #7 overall pick
Bats: Right | Throws: Right | Height: 6-4 | Weight: 205

Bailey still hasnt lived up to all the expectations (Larry Coor/Flickr).

Bailey still hasn't lived up to all the expectations (Larry Coor/Flickr).

[Below is the original “Prospect Spotlight” that I wrote about Homer Bailey back on March 9, 2007. The point of these retro series is to bring back important players, drafts, events or games and look at them from today’s perspective. Not that two years is a long time ago, but I think it’s long enough ago to look back at a pitcher who was supposed to be the next big thing and has still yet to pan out. While Bailey has yet to fulfill his legacy, he still may be able to reach some form of stardom but it may be in another uniform as the former prospect may need a simple change of scenery. Here’s how Bailey looked almost two years ago to myself as well as many other people in the world of baseball.]

Bailey looks to find his place (Larry Coor/Flickr).

Bailey looks to find his place (Larry Coor/Flickr).

Before the start of every new season it seems as if everyone rolls out their own “Top Prospects” list. While everyone’s differs in some way, shape, or form, there has been one thing that has been consistent across the boards this season. No matter who it is doing the list, the top two pitching prospects are always some variation of Philip Hughes and Homer Bailey. I personally feel that Bailey is the better pitcher, however Hughes will probably end up seeing more success due to the fact that as long as he’s wearing Yankee pinstripes, he’ll always have a powerful lineup behind him. But one thing is for certain, no matter which one you believe is superior, you can’t argue the abilities of the Cincinnati Reds’ top prospect Homer Bailey.

History: The tall right hander was chosen with the seventh overall pick straight out of high school in the 2004 draft. He entered the draft with high accolades and many scouts singing his praises as the best high school pitching prospect in the country. In fact, despite Bailey pitching against some of the toughest competition in the country, he still dominated on mound and went on to be named Baseball America’s High School Player of the Year.

After the Reds drafted the Texas born fireballer, Bailey would go on to have a rough first year as a pro. Bailey would end up struggling a bit with his command and was forced by coaches to rely heavily on his changeup (his weakest pitch) in order to help develop it further. Despite his struggles it was still obvious that he had the skills of a superstar in the making. That became very apparent in 2006 when he had a breakout season and named Baseball America’s top prospect in the Florida State League as a member of the Sarasota Reds and in the Southern League as a member of the Chattanooga Lookouts. 2006 was a huge year for Bailey as his performances helped etch his name as one of the top overall prospects in all of baseball.

Reds fans still hope Bailey finds his way (Larry Coor/Flickr).

Reds fans still hope Bailey finds his way (Larry Coor/Flickr).

Scouting Report: Bailey has all the pieces to be a number one starter for years to come. He’s tall with a big league frame and superb arm action. He has a 3/4 slot motion that allows him to stay tall along with two plus pitches (fastball at 89-97 mph with good movement and a curveball at 75-80 mph with a dominant 12-to-6 break) which when he has working makes him virtually untouchable. He has been trying to develop his changeup which is currently below average, but the Reds hope he will be able to improve it with another year of seasoning in the minors. The only concern scouts have had with this youngster is his lack of control at times. Most of these worries were put to rest last year as he improved immensely from his rocky 2005 season. Bailey has the makeup of a true work horse and once he is able to improve his changeup, will have quite a strong arsenal of pitches at his disposal.

As I said earlier, I believe Homer Bailey is the top pitching prospect in the game of baseball. He will be a number one starter for years to come and should be able to overcome the hitter’s heaven known as the Great American Ballpark. Despite having an unfortunate first name for a pitcher, Bailey has the build, potential, tools, and confidence to be one of the best pitchers in baseball in the next few years.

By Matthew Whipps
The Diamond Cutter
Major & Minor League Baseball Columnist
mlbdiamondcutter@gmail.com

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Top 5 Prospects: San Francisco Giants

January 29, 2009
Buster Posey and Tim Alderson are the future in San Francisco (Dave Nelson/Flickr).

Buster Posey and Tim Alderson are the future in San Francisco (Dave Nelson/Flickr).

The San Francisco Giants have seen some incredibly rough times over the past few seasons. Between the circus that Barry Bonds brought with him to an offense that disappeared when he left. From a depleted farm system to a horrible contract for a pitcher (Barry Zito whom I complained about way back when the contact was born) on a fast decline in his stuff. But that was then and this is now. With a fantastic, young one-two combo in their rotation now and a slew of great young players that have been stock piled in their system, the Giants are starting to turn things around. Here’s how the revamped organization looks:

1.) Madison Bumgarner
Position: Pitcher | Statistics | Video | 2008 Rank: NR
Bats: Right | Throws: Left | Height: 6-4 | Weight: 215
Scouting Report: Unbelievably the left-handed Bumgarner started his pro career with only one pitch. As hard as that is to believe, it was (and is) a plus-plus fastball that sits in the mid-90’s (very good for a lefty) which is at least a good place to build from. He since has began to add a few more pitches including an average curve and change as well as a slider which has made the most progress and has become a solid out pitch. Bumgarner throws from a bit below a 3/4 arm slot with a short arm action. He has fantastic control on both sides of the plate and commands attention with a fantastic presence on the mound. Bumgarner has made huge strides with the addition of his new pitches and now projects to be the coveted left-handed ace for the Giants.

2.) Buster Posey
Position: Catcher | Statistics | Video | 2008 Rank: NR
Bats: Right | Throws: Right | Height: 6-2 | Weight: 195
Scouting Report: Posey is an incredible plus defensive catcher who possess all the tools to be a star behind the plate. Part of what makes him so athletic behind the dish is that he is a converted shortstop which also helps explain his plus arm (well that and he used to be a pitcher). Moves around effortlessly and is able to block balls in the dirt with ease. But while Posey is showing signs of being a great defensive catcher, what makes him standout is his bat. At a position that doesn’t see it too often, he has an advanced hitting approach with a compact swing, solid bat control and a great knowledge of the strike zone (could be an OBP star). While not a huge power threat, he does have some pop which will translate into a lot of doubles both in the gaps and down both lines. Posey’s combo of offense and defense makes him truly special.

3.) Tim Alderson
Position: Pitcher | Statistics | Video | 2008 Rank: NR
Bats: Right | Throws: Right | Height: 6-7 | Weight: 210
Scouting Report: As good as Alderson is, he keeps getting forced into comparisons with Bumgarner which isn’t fair because he doesn’t have the stuff he does. But what Alderson does have is plus-plus command which translates to an almost non-existent walk total. His pitch repertoire includes an average fastball which sits in the low-90’s, an average change and a curve that continues to get better and better and has become a plus pitch. Alderson has quite the mound presence especially considering he’s 6 foot 7 with a very unorthodox delivery. His delivery is very deceiving and fortunately does not cause any issues with his control. Alderson looks to project to be a solid number two starter with incredible control.

4.) Angel Villalona
Position: First Baseman | Statistics | Video | 2008 Rank: NR
Bats: Right | Throws: Right | Height: 6-3 | Weight: 200
Scouting Report: The former third basemen turned first baseman has projections that are all over the map. Some see him as a hitter that could turn into a premier slugger in the game while some see him as someone who’s conditioning will limit him to a short career. I personally find him somewhere in the middle with the potential to be a big slugger with his plus-plus raw power. I also see him falling into being an average hitter at best as he needs to work on plate discipline. Villalona struck out 118 times in 123 games in 2008 and posted a measly .312 OBP. He needs to improve in this area for him not to be a liability for the Giants down the road. Luckily he’s still very young and has time to work out these kinks and live up to his potential.

5.) Conor Gillaspie
Position: Third Baseman | Statistics | Video | 2008 Rank: NR
Bats: Left | Throws: Right | Height: 6-1 | Weight: 200
Scouting Report: Gillaspie isn’t like most third basemen as he doesn’t have a whole lot of power in his bat. But what he does have is pure hitting ability. He is a hit machine that makes up for the lack of power with an incredible knowledge of how to handle himself at the plate. On the defensive side, he plays an average third base with an average arm. He won’t help his team much defensively but he won’t hurt them either. I couldn’t agree more with the Bill Mueller comparisons he has drawn considering he has a solid bat, lacks power and has average defense. His bat and base running skills (despite average speed) give him a good fit to be a number two hitter down the road for the Giants.

By Matthew Whipps
The Diamond Cutter
Major & Minor League Baseball Columnist
mlbdiamondcutter@gmail.com

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News and Notes: “Lyons and Tigers and Bears, Oh My!”

January 28, 2009

Here’s a short and sweet edition of News and Notes covering a slow past few days:

• The Tigers’ recent signing of former Diamondbacks closer Brandon Lyon has brought about a lot of discussion on whether or not Lyon will be handed the Tigers’ closer role in 2009. My answer to that: it depends on whether they want to win the division or not. If they do, Lyon will not be their closer.

I however seem to be in the minority with this decision. As former Tigers’ closer Todd Jones thinks he will do great (and for some reason Lyon is flattered by the comparison between the two) as does Tom Gage from The Detroit News. Perhaps they haven’t seen these stats Lyon posted last season:

+------+-----+----------+----+-------+------+------+----+----+------+
| YEAR | AGE | TEAM     | G  |  W-L  | ERA  | ERA+ | SO | SV | WHIP |
+------+-----+----------+----+-------+------+------+----+----+------+
| 2008 |  28 | Arizona  | 61 |  3-5  | 4.70 |   98 | 44 | 26 | 1.48 |
+------+-----+----------+----+-------+------+------+----+----+------+
Lyons and Tigers dont mix (MPR529/Flickr).

Lyons and Tigers don't mix (MPR529/Flickr).

Those aren’t exactly glowing stats for anyone, let alone your closer. Granted his season was a tale of two halves posting a 2.43 ERA in the first half of the season and an unsettling 8.46 in the second consequently losing his closer job. Plus this isn’t a fluke season as Lyon’s career ERA is 4.46. Again, doesn’t really put you at ease when you have lacked a real closer for years and intend on competing in your division.

Bottom line, if the Tigers are going to rest their ninth inning hopes on Lyon I have a feeling it’s going to be another rough season for them.

• It looks as if Jon Garland and the Arizona Diamondbacks are about to come to terms on a one-year deal. According to reports Garland, who won 14 games with the Angels last season, is set to make $6.25 million with the option year paying him $10 million. I’m not a huge fan of Garland and his 4.90 ERA, 237 hits allowed and 1.51 WHIP from 2008 (he has always given a lot of hits) but at a $6.25 million, one-year contract I can live with if he’s your fourth or fifth starter. I’m not thrilled with it, but I can live with it.

• Along the same lines as my first bulletin, a very interesting article was posted over at Baseball Analysts by Patrick Sullivan where he discusses yet another example of a supposed respected member of the media not taking time to research facts or statistics before making a statement. We see an increased number of these things around Hall of Fame time as every baseball writer likes to give reasons why a player does or does not deserve to get in. I, like Sullivan, like to keep these writers in check and accountable for pouring misinformation out for readers to digest. It’s a sensitive spot for me as I don’t like irresponsible journalism.

• Now moving on to a brighter subject as things are going to be changing around here in the coming weeks. Not only will I be bringing forth more features and series of articles (deeper prospect coverage, historical articles, live game casts, forums, etc) but the look of The Diamond Cutter will be making drastic changes. The site you have grown to know and love will be becoming sharper, sleeker, more user friendly and a lot more colorful. I hope you like what’s coming up as I couldn’t be more excited.

By Matthew Whipps
The Diamond Cutter
Major & Minor League Baseball Columnist
mlbdiamondcutter@gmail.com | Facebook

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Top Prospect #17: Trevor Cahill

January 26, 2009

17
NAME: Trevor Cahill
POSITION: Pitcher
AGE: 20 | BATS: R | THROWS: R
ORGANIZATION: Oakland Athletics

2008 STATISTICS
LVL G IP W-L ERA SO GO/AO
MiLB 21 124.1 11-5 2.61 136 2.43

Scouting Report: Cahill is a very talented athlete (former shortstop) who has a lot going for him on the mound. He has plus makeup, plus stuff and plus mound presence which all goes into making him as dominating as he is. A large part of that domination comes from his plus-fastball which has mind-blowing sink to it. It is incredibly heavy and causes most hitters to swing right over it. He counters his fastball with a slider, curve and change. While Cahill doesn’t have the best control or feel for any of these pitches, he has vastly improved on them, particularly his change. Cahill is a workhorse and I project him to be better than his counterpart, Brett Anderson, and should be a top of the rotation pitcher very soon for the Athletics.

By Matthew Whipps
The Diamond Cutter
Major & Minor League Baseball Columnist
mlbdiamondcutter@gmail.com | Facebook

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Top Prospect #18: Brett Anderson

January 25, 2009

18
NAME: Brett Anderson
POSITION: Pitcher
AGE: 20 | BATS: L | THROWS: L
ORGANIZATION: Oakland Athletics

2008 STATISTICS
LVL G IP W-L ERA SO GO/AO
MiLB 20 105.0 11-5 3.69 118 1.92

Scouting Report: We saw an incredible improvement from Anderson from a year ago after showing a lot of growth on the mound. Anderson has always had superb command of his pitches and can work them on either side of the plate. His fastball saw a slight increase hitting as high as 95 mph but sitting more consistently in the low-90’s. What makes him even more effective is the fact that his secondary pitches – a curve, slider and change – can be used as both out pitches or thanks to his confidence in them, at any point in the count. At this point in time it’s difficult to project where he will fall in the rotation. Originally he looked to be a middle of the rotation guy, but thanks to his improvement in his fastball (and his command being his greatest asset) he is able reach higher as a top of the rotation starter.

By Matthew Whipps
The Diamond Cutter
Major & Minor League Baseball Columnist
mlbdiamondcutter@gmail.com | Facebook

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Top Prospect #19: Brian Matusz

January 25, 2009

19
NAME: Brian Matusz
POSITION: Pitcher
AGE: 22 | BATS: L | THROWS: L
ORGANIZATION: Baltimore Orioles

2008 STATISTICS
LVL G IP W-L ERA SO WHIP
NCAA 15 105.0 12-2 1.71 141 1.00

Scouting Report: The Orioles have two of the best pitching prospects in the game today with this youngster edging out Tillman. Matusz has a quick, live arm and fantastic command of his stuff. While his fastball can reach the mid-90’s, what makes him so dominant is how he keeps hitters off balance by mixing in a strong change up, power curve and a deceptive 3/4 arm slot. He also throws all three of these pitches for strikes on both sides of the plate which just adds to his effectiveness. The fact that he has harnessed all of these traits at such a young age displays what a strong presence he has on the mound. Look for him to get better and better and become a front line starter for the O’s.

By Matthew Whipps
The Diamond Cutter
Major & Minor League Baseball Columnist
mlbdiamondcutter@gmail.com | Facebook

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GM for a Day: Texas Rangers

January 23, 2009
My plan will bring the post season back to Arlington (Rich Anderson/Flickr).

My plan will bring the post season back to Arlington (Rich Anderson/Flickr).

The original goal of my “GM for a Day” series was to focus on teams that are on the cusp of the playoffs and what moves could push them over the top. I started this with my first two, the Cubs and the Braves, but veered another direction when I attempted to start rebuilding the Pirates back towards respectability. This edition brings us back to a team who just needs a bit of a boost to make themselves a contender and we will revisit teams who need to rebuild later down the road.

The Texas Rangers exhibited a very strong offense in 2008 with very little pitching help. This wasn’t a real big surprise as that has been the story in Texas for pretty much their entire existence. When you scratch the surface and look at the breakdown, the Rangers scored 5.6 runs per game last season (the best in the AL West) and let up 6.0 runs per game (the worst in the AL West). But if you look closer, here’s win contributions breakdown:

+------+---------+----------+---------+---------+
|      | OFFENSE | STARTERS | BULLPEN | DEFENSE |
+------+---------+----------+---------+---------+
| WPA  |   0.6   |   -4.8   |   2.2   |  -4.0   | 
+------+---------+----------+---------+---------+

As the table above shows, the Rangers defense was almost as big of a liability as the starting pitchers were. These are two big areas the Rangers need to attack heading into 2009. With a huge crop of great young players being cultivated in the minors, the Rangers need to start making strides to have a solid club behind them. They are in a very winnable American League West division with a now weakened Angels club, an improved Athletics team and a still floundering Mariners group. Here’s what I would do if given the reigns for a day:

Luckily the Rangers wouldnt have to rely on Sheets bat (Jibby7/Flickr).

Luckily the Rangers wouldn't have to rely on Sheets' bat (Jibby7/Flickr).

1.) Sign Ben Sheets to a multi-year contract laced with incentives surrounding his durability.

Look, I know that Ben Sheets has an injury filled past with the Brewers. I get it. But if you look closely at his stat lines, he’s improved in the amount of games and innings pitched over the past three seasons including just a hair under 200 last season.

+------+-----+----------+-------+-------+------+-----+------+----+
| YEAR | AGE | TEAM     | IP    |  W-L  | ERA  | SO  | WHIP | GS |
+------+-----+----------+-------+-------+------+-----+------+----+
| 2006 |  27 | Brewers  | 106.0 |   6-7 | 3.82 | 116 | 1.09 | 17 |
| 2007 |  28 | Brewers  | 141.3 |  12-5 | 3.82 | 106 | 1.24 | 24 |
| 2008 |  29 | Brewers  | 198.3 |  13-9 | 3.09 | 158 | 1.15 | 31 |
+------+-----+----------+-------+-------+------+-----+------+----+

When Sheets is healthy and in the rotation, he’s been one of the best pitchers in the game (for a scouting report I wrote on him, click here). The Rangers desperately need a true ace to head up their very questionable rotation and Sheets is just the guy to do it.

In recent years, the Rangers have tried filling their rotation by throwing their money at players that really didn’t have much chance of filling the void. Just look at the two best examples in recent memory. First there was the large contract they threw at Chan Ho Park to be their ace when he was never really any better than a number four starter with the Dodgers and ended up being horrific in Texas. Then they tried to fit Kevin Millwood into that role when he came from Atlanta where he was a number three. So Sheets is really the closest thing to a true ace as they have had in my memory. Throwing him in front of Millwood and Vicente Padilla will go a long way in helping solidify the Rangers’ staff. It won’t make them great, but it will sure help.

2.) Sign Omar Vizquel to a one-year deal and slowly introduce Elvis Andrus into the everyday role.

Yes I know the Rangers already signed Omar Vizquel to a contract, but in all honesty I suggested this a while ago (believe it or not). This makes sense on so many levels. First, Elvis Andrus is a huge piece of your future as a star at the top of your order and you want to slowly get him acclimated to the big leagues without throwing him to the wolves (after all he is currently the ripe old age of 19). Secondly, what better way than with a mentor as highly regarded as Omar Vizquel? He can teach him the ins and outs of the position which is so important for Andrus considering his defensive woes he experienced last season in AA committing a woeful 32 errors. Hopefully Vizquel can help Andrus work through these difficulties as the Rangers can’t afford to weaken their already rough defense.

If Andrus can begin to tighten up on his defense, he has the potential to be a perennial All-Star for years to come as his offensive abilities have been well established. Take a look at his stats from the past couple of seasons.

+------+-----+----------+-----+-----------+----+-----+-----+----+
| YEAR | AGE | LEVEL    | AB  |  AVG/OBP  | HR | RBI |  R  | SB |
+------+-----+----------+-----+-----------+----+-----+-----+----+
| 2005 |  16 | Rookie   | 184 | .293/.380 |  3 |  21 |  29 |  8 |
| 2006 |  17 | Single A | 437 | .265/.324 |  3 |  50 |  67 | 23 |
| 2007 |  18 | A - Plus | 495 | .257/.338 |  5 |  49 |  78 | 40 |
| 2008 |  19 | Double A | 482 | .295/.350 |  4 |  65 |  82 | 54 |
+------+-----+----------+-----+-----------+----+-----+-----+----+

As you can see Andrus has made significant strides towards becoming a more well rounded hitter. His improvement in batting average and on-base percentage is the most notable as these are such important categories for a top of the order hitter. His increase in OBP translated to more stolen bases attempts for the speedster which the Rangers will really love in front of their sluggers. Andrus is just the tip of the iceberg for the fantastic group of prospects the Rangers have coming up through their system.

Clay can prove himself in Texas (hardballwarriors.com).

Clay can prove himself in Texas (hardballwarriors.com).

3.) Trade Jarrod Saltalamacchia (and prospect) to the Boston Red Sox for Clay Buchholz.

Sure having an excess of talented young catchers that you project to be solid offensive weapons is nice, but the Rangers have a log jam of them with Taylor Teagarden, Max Ramiez and Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Despite being the shiny piece that came back in the Mark Teixeira trade with the Braves back in the 2006 season, I think Salty is the best of the group to move on. And the best fit is definitely the Boston Red Sox. This is especially the case if they don’t come to terms with Jason Varitek before the season starts. You don’t expect the Red Sox to start the season with Josh Bard as their starting catcher, do you?

I know some of you are questioning the Clay Buchholz portion of the trade as they have been so adamant about not trading him in the past. But with a slew of starting pitchers on the Sox roster heading into next year (Buchholz projects as a number 7 or 8 starter at this point) and a solid group of young pitchers who will be left out in the cold, the Sox need to make a move. Plus they were willing to ship him off to Florida last month in a package for their former prospect Hanley Ramirez (which was shot down after 10 seconds). So at least he isn’t marked “untouchable.” Buchholz would make a nice number four or five starter for the Rangers and would help bridge the gap until their super pitching prospects Neftali Feliz and Derek Holland are ready. We’d be looking at a solid, young staff heading into the next decade.

4.) Sign free agent Cliff Floyd to a one-year, $2 million contract.

If the Rangers are going to be serious about winning the AL West, they are going to need a deep bench and a strong veteran presence in the clubhouse. Cliff Floyd provided both of those things for the young Rays team that took the world by storm last season and he could be a key ingredient for the Rangers in 2009. He can also serve as a reliable back-up for DH Hank Blalock who has been limited to only 123 games combined over the past two seasons. It is these types of seemingly insignificant acquisitions that can make all the difference in a tight race over 162 games.

So with these additions to the bench and rotation, here is how the Rangers team would look heading into next season:

Floyd is the veteran this club needs (keithallisonphoto.com).

Floyd is the veteran this club needs (keithallisonphoto.com).

1.) Elvis Andrus, SS
2.) Michael Young, 3B
3.) Ian Kinsler, 2B
4.) Josh Hamilton, CF
5.) Chris Davis, 1B
6.) David Murphy, LF
7.) Hank Blalock/Cliff Floyd, DH
8.) Nelson Cruz, RF
9.) Taylor Teagarden, C

Ben Sheets, RHP
Kevin Millwood, RHP
Vicente Padilla, RHP
Matt Harrison, LHP
Clay Buchholz, RHP

Looking at that lineup and that starting rotation, it makes me feel a lot better about the Rangers chances to take the AL West. We all knew the Rangers had the offense to hang with anyone in the league so there wasn’t much reason to fix what wasn’t broken. Other than adding Floyd to deepen the bench (which is already fairly strong), the only thing that needed fixing was the rotation. Signing Sheets gives them an ace and trading for Buchholz gives them depth and a solid young arm for years to come at the expense of a position they are already extremely deep at.

While I’d like to add another pitcher from somewhere (via trade or free agency – Andy Pettitte if you really want to throw some money around) I think this is enough to start with. Hopefully they will be in position to be buyers at the trade deadline and can add an extra arm (Paul Byrd?) if needed.

The time is now to strike in the American League West as the former kings of the division have some major weaknesses that can be taken advantage of. And the Rangers are just the team to do it if they can just correct some issues that have plagued them for decades.

By Matthew Whipps
The Diamond Cutter
Major & Minor League Baseball Columnist
mlbdiamondcutter@gmail.com | Facebook

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