Cubs’ Lineup Starts to Take Shape

January 17, 2010

Byrd looks to solidify the Cubs' lineup (Keith Allison/Flickr).

One of the most mind-boggling batting orders that I can ever remember is when the Chicago Cubs have decided to hit outfielder Alfonso Soriano in the leadoff spot. Just the idea of having a guy with a career .326 OBP (with a horrible .303 in 2009) atop your lineup in the spot you expect the guy to get on to set your table gives me fits. It just doesn’t make sense.

Apparently Cubs manager Lou Piniella has had an epiphany over the winter as he has stated that Soriano will now hit in the sixth spot this upcoming season. Finally the world makes sense again.

This comes on the heels of the Cubs signing another outfielder, free agent Marlon Byrd, who Piniella says will slide into the ever important five spot to backup Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez. This will be a major upgrade over Milton Bradley who spent most his time hitting fifth for the Cubs where he provided almost no protection at all for the middle of the order.

I think this is a step in the right direction for the Cubs who are in some desperate need for all the help they can get in an improved National League Central. It’s not going to be an easy task for the Cubs to win the Central this season with the Cardinals locking down Matt Holliday last week and the Brewers solidifying their rotation with Randy Wolf. If the Cubs are going to succeed they are going to need help from everyone and need to avoid the injuries and internal implosion they experienced a year ago.

The first step is getting some stability to their lineup and I believe this is a step in the right direction.


Drew Stubbs 2010 Outlook

January 17, 2010

Stubbs should win the starting CF job coming out of spring (Barbour/Flickr).

The Cincinnati Reds are one of those teams that you can see beginning to boil. A team that you feel as if you can look down the railroad tracks and see a giant steam engine storming towards you. At least that’s how the rest of the National League Central should be feeling.

Very similar to how we could see the Tampa Bay Rays beginning to form a few short years ago, the Reds too have been quietly assembling an army of incredible young talent. From a dominating starting rotation with Edison Volquez, Johnny Cueto and now Aroldis Chapman to a starting lineup full of great bats like Joey Votto, Jay Bruce and now Drew Stubbs.

Stubbs is the guy the Reds hope can develop into a legitimate lead off hitter to set the table for Brandon Phillips, Votto and Bruce. While Stubbs is not a guy who projects to be a .300 type hitter, he has worked on his plate discipline to the point that he could draw enough walks to keep his OBP high enough to warrant the top of the order spot. Stubbs also has some pretty good gap-to-gap pop that can develop into home run power, especially in the home run friendly Great American Ballpark.

All these things are great but what makes Stubbs so special is his game changing speed. This is why being able to get that OBP high is so critical for this club. Stubbs is a distraction on the base paths and has the 40-50 stolen base potential. This will only go higher the higher he can get that on-base percentage to climb. Stubbs can be a game changer.

So what can we expect from Stubbs heading into his first full season in the big leagues? Here’s a look at how Bill James, CHONE and I, the Diamond Cutter, project his numbers to look:

Bill James .267 76 11 51 51 .726
CHONE .251 62 10 42 26 .708
Diamond Cutter .270 82 14 48 50 .724

All three of us see him as essentially an everyday player. Bill James and I see him as more of an impact player this season than CHONE does in many areas. I believe that if he earns that everyday spot that manager Dusty Baker will allow him to run wild on the base paths. Chances are good he won’t start the season as the lead off hitter for the Reds, but he could very well see that change if he can get off to a hot start. Remember what I said, his OBP is key.

And if it is between Stubbs and Willy Taveras (who had an embarrassing .275 OBP in 2009) to see who will play center and lead off, I don’t see too big of a struggle.

2010 Top 5 Prospects: Tampa Bay Rays

January 16, 2010

Wade Davis is one of three future aces the Rays have in waiting (mwlguide/Flickr).

1.) Desmond Jennings
Position: Outfield | Statistics | Video | 2009 Rank: #5
Bats: Right | Throws: Right | Height: 6-1 | Weight: 185
Scouting Report: People questioned my putting Jennings in my top five last season due to the history of injuries he has suffered including a season ending shoulder surgery at the end of 2008. But when Jennings is healthy he’s a fantastic ball player. While his power has been slow to develop, he brings fantastic speed and a bat that produces laser line drives. Thanks to his plate discipline he should put up a pretty good on base percentage. His speed not only comes in handy on the base paths but also in center where he is able to cover a lot of ground. If he can shake the stigma of being “injury prone” Jennings should be able to have a solid Major League career.

2.) Wade Davis
Position: Pitcher | Statistics | Video | 2009 Rank: #3
Bats: Right | Throws: Right | Height: 6-5 | Weight: 220
Scouting Report: Davis rounds out one of the best collection of young arms in any Minor League system. Davis is a hard thrower with a fastball in the upper-90’s and a sharp moving plus curve. He is currently working on refining one more pitch (between a cut fastball and change up) to help in his battles and to make his other two pitches that much more effective. At first I saw him a middle of the rotation type guy with a ceiling of a number two starter. I’m now coming around more to him being a number two starter with the possibility of becoming an ace type if he can harness one more plus pitch and hold on to his command.

3.) Tim Beckham
Position: Shortstop | Statistics | Video | 2009 Rank: #2
Bats: Right | Throws: Right | Height: 6-0 | Weight: 188
Scouting Report: With the first overall pick in 2008 the Rays once again added an incredible player to their organization with Beckham. Beckham is a five tool player in the truest sense of the word and has an incredible feel for the game. With tremendous bat speed and a lot of power potential, Beckham will most likely be able to hit for a high average with the chance to develop some fairly substantial power. He also brings a little above average speed with the ability to steal bases. What makes him even more valuable is the fact that he has all these offensive tools and yet has the defensive aptitude to stay at shortstop unlike many others before him. He’s very athletic which leads to very good range at short with a solid arm and great hands. Even with all these tools, Beckham still is a bit raw and has some areas to smooth out mechanically with his swing which we saw in 2009.

4.) Jeremy Hellickson
Position: Pitcher | Statistics | Video | 2009 Rank: #4
Bats: Right | Throws: Right | Height: 6-1 | Weight: 185
Scouting Report: Jeremy Hellickson has plus command of his three pitches which enables him to confidently throw them all at any point in the count. He throws a fastball in the low to mid 90’s and a better than average change up and curve. He has very impressive strikeout to walk ratios which will translate well to the major league level if he can continue it. Staying along this path will make him anoter strong upper part of the rotation guy for the Rays down the road.

5.) Reid Brignac
Position: Shortstop | Statistics | Video | 2009 Rank: NR
Bats: Right | Throws: Right | Height: 6-3 | Weight: 195
Scouting Report: Reid Brignac is a strange case. In 2008 he was on my Tampa Bay top five list only to fall off in 2009. I questioned his ability to play shortstop and a need to move to third. Well just as the pendulum can swing one way, it can just as easily swing back for a player. Brignac improved his defense enough to bring him back to life. The key to this kid is his bat which is good enough to warrant a spot in the big leauges if not for the large roadblocks standing in his way. Brignac needs the Rays to trade him in order to earn playing time because Longoria and Beckham aren’t going anywhere.

Kyle Blanks 2010 Outlook

January 15, 2010

Blanks is a true masher (SD Dirk/Flickr).

There are a lot of fantastic young players who will get a crack at playing their first full season in the bigs this year that I am very excited about. One of those young guns is a 6-foot-6 masher named Kyle Blanks of the San Diego Padres.

Blanks was drafted all the way in the 42 round of the 2004 draft out of Yavapai Community College in Arizona. The big, lanky right handed slugger is generally thought to be a first baseman but is able to handle himself in the outfield. This is a good thing considering there’s currently a giant road block at first base by the name of Adrian Gonzalez.

The really intriguing thing about Blanks is his proven ability to hit for both average and power – something someone his age and stature generally don’t carry hand-in-hand. He has continually improved his plate discipline which is the key to him reaching his full potential which I see as a Frank Thomas/Jermaine Dye type hitter. That’s a pretty high standard to live up to.

Blanks is one of those guys who I am very excited to see how he progresses this, his first full, season in the big leagues. In only 172 plate appearances last season for the Padres, Blanks put together a solid line of .250/.355/.514 with 10 HR, 22 RBI and .264 ISO. Pretty impressive start.

Now I want to turn our attention to some of the projections out there. The main two I want to look at are the Bill James and CHONE projections (all courtesy of FanGraphs). Alongside them will be my projections for Blanks in the upcoming season:

Bill James .277 25 79 .362 .475 .198
CHONE .265 16 50 .353 .459 .194
Diamond Cutter .275 30 90 .365 .490 .212

As you can see CHONE isn’t projecting Blanks as highly as Bill James and I are. CHONE also has him only having 416 plate appearances too where James and I both see him being essentially an every day player. I really do see Blanks being an annual home run force and competing for the crown on a yearly basis with this year being his coming out party.

I also see Blanks’ batting average and on-base percentage growing in the coming years and giving Padres fans something to cheer about with the impending loss of Mr. Gonzalez in the next couple seasons.

Even big old PetCo can’t hold this monster.

Beltran Screws Mets

January 14, 2010

Has Beltran screwed the Mets? (Keith Allison/Flickr) The New York Mets are upset Carlos Beltran had knee surgery this week after the team asked him to wait while management discussed options with its medical staff.

Diamond Cutter Spin: Wow, talk about slapping your team in the face. I don’t recall ever hearing about a player going behind his team’s back, against their wishes, and having a surgery that will keep him out of action for a good chunk of the beginning of the season. That takes some brass ones.

But regardless, what is done is done and now the Mets have a really big problem on their hands. Beltran, a man they are relying heavily upon to be successful in 2010, won’t be able to resume baseball activities for up to 12 weeks. Some reports I’ve seen are concerned he won’t be back until Memorial Day weekend. Some even speculate he will miss the entire season.

Now what? The Mets were crippled by injuries last season and were finally thinking they were on track for the upcoming year. But with Jose Reyes’ uncertainty of if he will be the same player with his leg injury and now this, the Mets are looking at another potential long year in a very strong and improved National League East.

It will be interesting to see the backlash of this. Will the Mets sue Beltran for going against orders? Will they make a quick and potentially rash acquisition to help weaken the blow of losing him? Will their poor fans ever get a break?

Honestly I didn’t see them being too good heading into 2010 anyway with the Phillies, Braves and Nationals all improving and the Marlins having an endless supply of young studs once again.

Let’s hear it for the un-amazing Mets!

Hot Stove: Moving Brett Wallace

December 15, 2009

Wallace is on the move again, this time to Toronto (mwlguide/Flickr).

So by now I’m sure you have received all the talk about the mega blockbuster trade between Philadelphia, Toronto and Seattle, but just in case your cable, internet and cell phone have all been broken over the past few days, here is a peek at what happened:

– Roy Halladay, RHP (from Toronto)
– Phillippe Aumont, RHP (from Seattle)
– Tyson Gillies, OF (from Seattle)
– Juan Ramirez, RHP (from Seattle)
– $6 million cash (from Toronto)

– Cliff Lee, LHP (from Philadelphia)

– Travis d’Arnaud, C (from Philadelphia)
– Kyle Drabek, RHP (from Philadelphia)
– Brett Wallace, 1B/3B/DH (from Oakland)

– Michael Taylor, OF (from Philadelphia via Toronto)

There it is in a nutshell. Like I said, you’ve probably heard all of it before. But the new pieces of the puzzle saw the Blue Jays have Kyle Drabek added as one of their players as well as turn around and send newly acquired Michael Taylor to Oakland for prospect Brett Wallace. To start, here’s a look at Kyle Drabek:

Diamond Cutter Scouting Report on Kyle Drabek:

Son of former Major League pitcher, Doug Drabek, Kyle may even be better than his old man. Despite a strong mid-90’s fastball, his money pitch is a devastating spike curveball that has a sharp, late drop that kills opposing hitters. Despite some off the field issues, the Phillies hope he enhances his work ethic and continues to blossom into what he is capable of.

As you can see, he was a very nice piece to have pried away from the Phillies who did not want to give him up. The second player I mentioned is a highly touted offensive prospect in Wallace. Here is my brief scouting report and a link to my long and detailed analysis of Wallace:

Diamond Cutter Scouting Report on Brett Wallace:

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“).

As you can see I think very high of the youngster and even ranked him at number 12 in last year’s top 25 prospect list. As I have seen more of him I’ve convinced myself that he may not be able to handle staying at third (apparently based on Oakland’s willingness to trade him they feel the same way) as he just has no range. This being said, a move to first in Toronto or preferably DH is what Wallace needs.

This trade has continued to build and become bigger and better every day.

Hot Stove: Halladay and Lee in a Mega 3-Way

December 14, 2009

Lee will now make the best 1-2 punch in baseball with Kind Felix (artolog/Flickr).

ESPN Report: “A three-way deal that would send Roy Halladay to Philadelphia and Cliff Lee to Seattle is “close” but “not done,” according to two sources familiar with the negotiations…Toronto would get highly regarded Mariners pitching prospect Phillippe Aumont, Phillies catching prospect Travis d’Arnaud and another Phillies prospect in exchange for Halladay. Indications are that the Phillies have balked at Toronto’s repeated requests for outfielder Domonic Brown, and the Phillies are offering highly touted outfielder Michael Taylor instead…Seattle would also send two prospects to Philadelphia in exchange for Lee, who is a year away from free agency.”

Diamond Cutter Spin: Wow, what a deal this is looking to be. If this ends up going through (which it looks like it will) the Phillies get an ace locked up for a few years, the Mariners get another stud pitcher to go with King Felix and the Blue Jays reload their farm system. Looks pretty good all the way around.

I have to say, while this is a good deal for the Phillies considering Halladay (click here for my coverage and scouting report on Halladay) is locked up for a few seasons in Philly, I am really impressed with how aggressive the Mariners have been this winter. They have now added Chone Figgins to the top of their lineup and Cliff Lee to the front of their rotation to go with Felix Hernandez. They are setting themselves up to give the Angels the fight of their lives especially since the Angels have now lost Figgins and their ace John Lackey (to Boston).

Now is the time for the M’s to strike while the Angels are weakened.