Protect Your Pujols

June 20, 2009
Pujols drops another bomb on his opponents (SD Dirk/Flickr).

Pujols drops another bomb on his opponents (SD Dirk/Flickr).

I know that wasn’t the classiest title to a blog post, but hopefully you got a bit of a chuckle. But in all seriousness, this is a major issue for the Cardinals and could cost them more than just a few at-bats.

Heading into Friday’s games, baseball’s best hitter Albert Pujols had walked 51 times on the season which was good for third in all of baseball. Very understandable as not only do teams like to pitch around him whenever possible, he also has an incredible eye at the plate.

Now where the problem comes in for the Cardinals is in his intentional walks category. Atlanta Braves third baseman Chipper Jones has been walked intentionally nine times here in 2009 which is good for second in the majors. Albert Pujols on the other hand has been walked 21 times.

That’s a huge difference…

(click here to continue reading this article on Baseball Daily Digest…)

Matthew Whipps is a writer for Baseball Daily Digest and co-writes the new blog The Minnesota Sports Guys. If you would like to contact him via email you can reach him at whipps15[at]gmail.com

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Top Prospect #12: Brett Wallace

March 14, 2009

12
NAME: Brett Wallace
POSITION: Third Base
AGE: 22 | BATS: L | THROWS: R
ORGANIZATION: St. Louis Cardinals

2008 STATISTICS
LVL AVG R HR RBI OBP SLG
MiLB .337 41 8 36 .427 .530

Scouting Report: Wallace’s greatest asset is his approach at the plate. He has very good plate discipline considering his age as it generally takes some time to get everything in synch. But Wallace is the type of hitter who refuses to expand his strike zone and waits pitchers out, forcing them to throw him something he can make solid contact with. Wallace also does a great job in plate coverage thanks to his batting stance which crowds the plate. With his advanced approach, Wallace has the potential to translate his success to the pros and could end up being a perennial on-base machine. I project him a .280-.300 hitter, around .380-.400 OBP and a slugging percentage in the upper .500’s. Then add in his 25-30 homers and 100+ RBI and you have a pretty strong offensive weapon that Albert Pujols will love having hit behind him. With all that said, he is an average defender at third (I view him higher than most) who would be better suited to play first, but with that position locked up, he will do just fine at the hot corner (read my extended scouting report on Wallace with his “Prospect Spotlight“).

By Matthew Whipps
The Diamond Cutter
Major & Minor League Baseball Columnist
diamondcutter@columnist.com

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Top Prospect #14: Colby Rasmus

February 16, 2009

14
NAME: Colby Rasmus
POSITION: Center Field
AGE: 22 | BATS: L | THROWS: L
ORGANIZATION: St. Louis Cardinals

2008 STATISTICS
LVL AVG R HR RBI OBP SLG
MiLB .252 58 12 38 .351 .401

Scouting Report: Colby Rasmus projects all plus tools and is the superior, impact-type prospect the St. Louis Cardinals organization has been waiting for ever since Albert Pujols was plucked from it. Some people are worried that Rasmus won’t be the same man since his injury last season, but there’s no proof of that. Rasmus is a perfect example of a five-tool player as he can run, throw, field, hit, and hit for power. He has very quick hands which gives him excellent plate coverage. Projects to have plus power and should be able to put up a fantastic stat line. Excellent bat speed, good pitch recognition, and plus runner. Not sure how much St. Louis will allow him to run once he reaches Majors but could have 20+ stolen bases per year. He’s doing an excellent job on his move to center field which is where the Cardinals desperately need someone ever since Jim Edmonds’ departure.

By Matthew Whipps
The Diamond Cutter
Major & Minor League Baseball Columnist
diamondcutter@columnist.com

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Prospect Spotlight: Brett Wallace

February 7, 2009

Name: Brett Wallace | Organization: St. Louis Cardinals
Position: Third Base | Drafted: 2008 1st Round (13th)
Bats: Left | Throws: Right | Height: 6-1 | Weight: 245

Brett Wallace will put up some great numbers as a pro (phxwebguy/Flickr).

Brett Wallace will put up some great numbers as a pro (phxwebguy/Flickr).

In December 2007 I did my first collegiate list ranking the top five hitters of the NCAA Junior class. I had a great time doing this as the months prior gave me a great opportunity to start digging deeper into college baseball.

My results were very much a mixed bag amongst readers as everyone agreed about the names on the list, however not everyone agreed on my rankings. My list from 12/8/07 had big names from this past summer’s draft including the top two on the list which caused the most discussion. Many people thought the young slugger from Vanderbilt, Pedro Alvarez, was the top hitter while I thought the more well rounded hitter, Brett Wallace, deserved the top spot. Needless to say there was a lot of good debate on the subject.

While that was over a year ago, I still stand by my original statement and believe Wallace was the best overall offensive player from the group. In fact, in college Wallace was the 2007 Pac-10 Player of the Year as a sophmore when he won the Triple Crown. The best part of Wallace’s success and make-up is that his game will translate very well to pro ball.

Scouting Report: When discussing Brett Wallace’s game we have to first start with his bat. There really isn’t any other direction to go since it is what makes him worth talking about. As I mentioned earlier, despite people who have strongly disagreed with me, I believe Wallace is the best offensive player that came from the 2008 MLB draft. While he may not have as much power of some of his fellow draftees, his overall offensive game is the strongest.

First let’s start with his approach at the plate. Wallace has very good plate discipline considering his age as it generally takes some time to get everything in synch. But Wallace is the type of hitter who refuses to expand his strike zone and waits pitchers out, forcing them to throw him something he can make solid contact with. Wallace also does a great job in plate coverage thanks to his batting stance which crowds the plate. With his advanced approach, Wallace has the potential to translate his success to the pros and could end up being a perennial on-base machine with OBPs around .400.

With having such a fine tuned eye at the plate, Wallace’s ability to be productive in the pros is pretty much set. But when you include his swing and the power he generates, you end up piecing together why he has the potential to be so special.

We now move on to what happens when Wallace finds his pitch. As I mentioned earlier, Wallace tends to crowd the plate which gives him great reach for the entire plate. This allows him to reach the outside corner and his short stroke allows him to turn on inside pitches. He also keeps his hands held high in the air and keeps his weight back allowing him to help generate power and use as a timing mechanism. Wallace’s short stroke goes right through the ball which follows up with a very hard uppercut swing. His swing is built to be a line drive, gap-to-gap hitter but he is strong enough and has the bat speed to hit homer totals into the 30’s.

Wallace has a fantastic appraoch (mwlguide/Flickr).

Wallace has a fantastic appraoch (mwlguide/Flickr).

If I were going to portray his skills to what they would translate to in the majors, I would say he is a .280-.300 hitter, around .380-.400 OBP and a slugging percentage in the upper .500’s. Then add in his 25-30 homers and 100+ RBI and you have a pretty strong offensive weapon that Albert Pujols will love having hit behind him.

On the defensive side however, things aren’t quite as rosy. Wallace’s offense has never been questioned but his defense has always been something he’s criticized for. Wallace would be best suited to play first base but we all know that position is going to be held down for quite a while in St. Louis. So third base looks to be where this kid will be saddled while with the Cardinals. Many don’t think he is athletic enough to stay at this position but unless the Cards intend on trading him, there really aren’t many options with no DH rule in the National League.

By simply looking at him you would automatically assume he won’t be able to play the hot corner. Sometimes I wonder if this is as deep as many scouts dig into his defensive abilities and just label him as a liability there. But the truth is Wallace does have some quickness and the feet to play an average third base. He also has pretty good hands and a fairly strong arm. Not exactly a glowing recommendation, but it is what it is.

While all this translates to an average third baseman, where I worry is in his ability to react to hard hit balls. I mentioned earlier how he has some quickness, but perhaps not enough to compensate on balls that are smashed in his direction. This could partially be counteracted by where he positions himself depending on the hitter, count and situation, but you really can’t coach reaction time which could be a giant flaw in his game. Basically I don’t see him killing his team with his defense, but I don’t see him helping at all either.

Overall Brett Wallace is going to be a solid player for the Cardinals for many, many years. If they can just get adequate defense from him at third they will have found themselves an All-Star offensive weapon that will be able to protect Pujols in the lineup.

Maybe we’ll even be able to say “Pedro who?”

By Matthew Whipps
The Diamond Cutter
Major & Minor League Baseball Columnist
diamondcutter[at]columnist.com

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2008 Division Predictions: NL Central

March 24, 2008

Fielder stands tall (Gbfan/flickr)

The Prince reigns supreme over the NL Central. (Gbfan / flickr)

Today marks the start of a new week as well as the continuation of my 2008 division, playoff and award winner picks! Today we’ll continue covering each division (one division per day) with the order they will finish along with some brief statements about each team and the standout players from that division. Once all of the divisions are done we will talk playoffs and then finally the 2008 award winners. As always, let me know your opinion on each one!

(click here to continue this article on Baseball Digest Daily)

Catch my “Diamond Cutter” major league coverage now featured on Baseball Digest Daily and my prospect coverage on Big League Futures!

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2008 Top 5 Prospects: St. Louis Cardinals

February 15, 2008

As we lead up to both the start of the 2008 season and our “Diamond Cutter” top 100 prospects list, I will be taking a look at the top five prospects from every single Major League team. Each team will have its top five prospects along with a brief scouting report on each player that I have pulled from my scouting notes. Today we wrap up the NL Central with the St. Louis Cardinals. As always, let me know how you feel about the rankings in the comments section below or via email.

1.) Colby Rasmus, OF: Colby Rasmus projects all plus tools and is the superior, impact-type prospect the St. Louis Cardinals organization has been waiting for ever since Albert Pujols was plucked from it. Rasmus is a perfect example of a five-tool player as he can run, throw, field, hit, and hit for power. He has very quick hands which gives him excellent plate coverage. Projects to have plus power and should be able to put up a fantastic stat line. Excellent bat speed, good pitch recognition, and plus runner. Not sure how much St. Louis will allow him to run once he reaches Majors but could have 20+ stolen bases per year. He’s doing an excellent job on his move to center field which is where the Cardinals desperately need someone ever since Jim Edmonds departure.

2.) Chris Perez, RHP: Chris Perez projects to be the future closer for the St. Louis Cardinals. Perez has a fantastic mid-90’s fastball with good sinking action on it. He also offers up a plus slider that reaches the mid to upper 80’s. This combination of pitches is perfect for a power closer and should make it much easier for him to be successful. The problem however is that when Perez makes mistakes, he makes them up in the zone which leaves his pitches very vulnerable and can get hit very, very hard. He needs to work on keeping the ball down (especially in a crucial save situation where you only have a one to three run cushion) and if he can he will make a solid closer.

3.) Jamie Garcia, LHP: Garcia is an excellent athlete who has run into some elbow injury problems recently. Garcia has a plus curveball that he tends to get a little curveball-happy with and it started wearing on his arm (may miss most or all of 2008). He will need to cut back a little bit on his curve and start relying more on his change-up and plus fastball with great sinking action that sits in the low to mid-90’s. The sinking action is so solid on his fastball that he has made himself one of the best ground ball pitching prospects in baseball. If not for his injury and the upcoming significant time he will miss, he would probably be in the number two spot on this list.

4.) Bryan Anderson, C: Bryan Anderson is a few ticks above average as a catcher with some areas to work on. Overall he’s decent but he does have some polishing to do in terms of his game. On one hand he is improving on calling a game and has a strong arm but he does need to work a little on blocking balls in the dirt. Offensively he has a nice, smooth left handed swing which generates a lot of line drives. He doesn’t have much power to speak of but then again he won’t ever really be thought of as an offensive catcher.

5.) Adam Ottavino, RHP: Ottavino looks to have a very strong set of developing pitches in his repertoire. Currently he has a plus fastball that sits in the low to mid-90’s (at times can crank up to 98 mph) and a set of developing pitches including a quality slider (on the brink of being a consistent plus pitch) and curve. One of the biggest things holding him back right now with these pitches is his control. He tends to struggle a bit with this and might be able to clean it up with some work on his mechanics. If he’s able to fix his control problems, he projects to be a high as a number two starter but my guess is he’ll be more of a mid-rotation type guy.

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2007 Preview: NL Central

February 9, 2007

It’s Friday so that means my 2007 preview series continues. If you’d like to see what I have to say about the other division’s I’ve covered, you can read about the NL West and the NL East. Next Friday we’ll finally start to get into the American League and see how they will fair in 2007.

This week’s topic: National League Central

Before we dive into the individual teams, I want to start out by saying that this is hands down the most difficult division in baseball to pinpoint where everyone will place. Not only do they have more teams than any other division in the game, but they also have the most teams with common strengths and weaknesses. The NL Central also has another distinct characteristic. For me, any one of the six teams could walk away with the division crown and it wouldn’t shock me. That’s saying a lot about them. So looking at the central, here’s how I see it shaking down:

1.) CHICAGO CUBS
If the Cubs stay healthy and play to their abilities, then they will run away with the division. That’s the bottom line. They have too much talent on this team, especially offensively, for them not to. The addition of Alfonso Soriano (.277/.351/.560, 41 SB, 46 HR, 95 RBI) to the lineup was the biggest signing by any team this off season. You know what you are going to get from him as he is one of the only men in the game able to reach 40-40-40 (2B-HR-SB). If the addition of Soriano isn’t enough, a healthy Derrek Lee may be even bigger. Lee’s freak injury that made him miss all but 50 games in 2006 shouldn’t be a problem at all this upcoming season. The Cubs look for him to return to his Triple Crown threat numbers of 2005 in which he hit .335/.418/.662 with 46 HR and 107 RBI. Then to make things worse for opposing pitchers, the Cubs also re-signed third baseman Aramis Ramirez who despite a very slow start and no one hitting around him, still hit .291 with 38 bombs and 119 RBI. When healthy, the Cubs lineup is heads and shoulders above the rest of the division.

The question mark to this team that could end up being their downfall is their pitching. Aside from ace Carlos Zambrano, nobody really knows what to expect. The Cubs signed free agents Ted Lilly (15-13, 4.31 ERA) and Jason Marquis (14-16, 6.02 ERA) to help fill out the rotation. Lilly should enjoy his move from the AL East now that he won’t have to face the Red Sox and Yankees lineups numerous times per year. Marquis on the other hand bounced over from the Cubs arch rival St. Louis Cardinals so he knows most of the players he will continue to face. The largest question mark of all the starters is what the Cubs will get from Mark Prior. Prior is the wild card in this equation. If he can return to his form of 2003, the Cubs will not only win the division, but you can also pencil them in for the World Series. If he continues to be plagued with injuries, just chock it up to another player who’s true potential will never be fully realized.

2.) Houston Astros
The Astros went into the off season with one glaring need. They desperately needed a big right handed bat for the middle of their lineup to help protect Lance Berkman. They did just that when they signed free agent Carlos Lee who year in and year out puts up huge numbers. Lee blasted 37 homers and drove in 116 RBI between Milwaukee and Texas. While those are big numbers, it pales in comparison to what Lee is capable of doing in hitter friendly Houston. With a short porch in left field, don’t be surprised if Lee knocks out 50 or more home runs this season and gives much needed protection for Berkman. If Morgan Ensberg can return to his 2005 numbers (.283, 36 HR, 101 RBI) and put behind his 2006 (.235, 23 HR, 58 RBI), the Astros lineup should be able to put up some runs which has been a big problem for them the past few years.

Where the Astros are solid is their rotation. The off season saw a large chunk of the top of their rotation head north. But the Astros addressed this issue and brought in Jason Jennings (9-13, 3.78 ERA) from Colorado and Woody Williams (12-5, 3.65 ERA) from San Diego. Williams is coming off a very solid season last year and should fit in nicely to the rotation. Jennings on the other hand finally will be out of the grips of the horrible pitcher’s nightmare known as Coors Field. Despite being in Colordao, Jennings was able to overcome the thin air and post a respectable 3.78 ERA in 2006. Many have wondered how he would do outside of Coors and it looks as if we will finally be able to see how good he can be.

3.) Cincinnati Reds
A lot of “experts” are saying that the Reds will be a disaster this year. I personally don’t think that will be the case. Sure they have become a team that lives or dies by the home run, but last season they finally were able to mix in some very good pitching. Within the past week, the Reds offered contract extensions to their two surprise pitchers from last season. Aaron Harang finished the year tied for a league best 16 wins, a 3.76 ERA, and a league leading 216 strike outs. The other man to step up was right hander Bronson Arroyo who finished with 14 wins, a 3.29 ERA, and 184 strikeouts. These two men were pleasant surprises and helped carry the Reds to compete for the Central division and wild card. The Reds ended up fizzling out late last summer, but still finished third in the division. These two men are crucial pieces to any hopes the Reds have in 2007.

4.) Milwaukee Brewers
The Brewers have been slowly putting together a very, very scary offense. The combination of Ricky Weeks (after recovering from injury), Prince Fielder, newly resigned Bill Hall, and top prospect Ryan Braun (who should join the club at some point this season) has made the middle of this Brewer lineup something to reckon with. With the continued injury problems of third baseman Corey Koskie (and no other third baseman on the roster), it shouldn’t be long before the young slugger Braun joins the lineup. For the young Brewers lineup to succeed, they will need to cut down on strikeouts as they seemed to be cursed by that last season. Hopefully this will soon pass after they all have gained another year of seasoning.

Pitching is one place the Brewers have always struggled in cultivating their own talent. It seems anytime they have a young, talented pitching prospect they end up getting hurt. That’s why its important for their ace Ben Sheets (6-7, 3.82 ERA) to stay healthy and lead this staff. They did go out and try to bolster their rotation by signing veteran Jeff Suppan fresh off his post season heroics. The only chance the Brewers have this season in the wild card or division hunt is if their rotation can stay healthy and be effective as we know the lineup will be able to put up some runs.

5.) St. Louis Cardinals
Now I know having the defending World Series champs finishing 5th in their division the following season is a bit of a stretch, but if you think about it, they barely won the division last season and if anything, have gotten worse rolling into 2007. Of course they always have the x-factor with Albert Pujols and Scott Rolen, but after them the rest of the lineup just isn’t that intimidating. Jim Edmonds’ numbers continue to dip as he continues to age and they really don’t know what to expect from Preston Wilson.

The same can be said about the rotation as after Chris Carpenter, there is just a list of question marks. Way too much is riding on whether or not Kip Wells (their number two starter) can live up to his hype. So far he hasn’t and the Cardinals can’t afford to have their season riding on such an inconsistent 2-5 starters. One thing that they do have going for them is that this is a franchise (like the Braves and Twins) that simply put, knows how to win. They are going to need to pull out the stops in 2007 in order to make it back to the post season especially in a division where every other team has improved.

6.) Pittsburgh Pirates
Now here’s a team that despite having a ton of talent will probably end up at the bottom of the division. You do have to tip your cap to them as they knew they needed a left handed power bat for the middle of their lineup, so what did they do? They went out and traded for Adam LaRoche in a move I loved. Now you have a very talent middle of the lineup with some combination of Freddy Sanchez (.344, 85 RBI), Jason Bay (.286, 35 HR, 109 RBI), and LaRoche (.285, 32 HR, 90 RBI), plus the ready to break out catcher Ronny Paulino. If they can get leadoff man Chris Duffy to realize his potential and get on base for them, this will be a very fun team to watch.

The rotation also has some young players who are on the verge of coming into their own. Zach Duke (10-15, 4.47 ERA) and Ian Snell (14-11, 4.74 ERA) have both shown great flashes of talent and just need to bring down their ERA a little. This should go a long away in picking up more wins as they now have a stronger offense to help carry the load.