Posts tagged ‘Adam Warren’

Wednesday: 06.22.2011

The Next Wave: 11 AAA Pitching Prospects

Just over a week ago, I wrote up a bunch of AAA hitting prospects who we could see make an impact throughout the summer and now it is time to take a look at a group of pitchers who could do the same.  As with the hitters we have already seen a large group of pitchers come up such as Danny Duffy, Rubby de la Rosa, Juan Nicasio, Brad Hand, Andrew Oliver, Charlie Furbush, Alex Cobb and Alex White.

We have also seen Randall Delgado, Mike Minor & Julio Teheran from the Atlanta Braves, but they have bounced back and forth from minors to majors.  All three are currently down right now, but since they have already been up, you won’t see them on this list.

This list is thinner than the 21 hitters that were discussed, but that actually works out just fine given how plentiful pitching has been this year in the dramatic new pitcher’s era that has carried over (and accelerated) from 2010.

Todd Redmond (ATL) – It is just ridiculous how much major league-ready pitching this organization has right now.  How often does a 26 year old in AAA with a 2.52 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 6.9 K/9 and 3.1 K/BB have almost no chance at making it to the majors with his current team?  Not very often, but when your parent club runs five deep on their rotation followed by three blue-chip prospects ahead of you, it is tough sledding for big league playing time.  Perhaps they will consider moving Redmond in a trade and he will get a shot with a new team.

Felix Doubront (BOS) – The backend of the Red Sox rotation is very much unsettled and there is no certainty that recent call-up Andrew Miller will be the savior which could open a chance for Doubront and his strike-per-inning arm.  He has a sub-3.00 ERA over his last 117 minor league innings (2.89) combining this year and last with 112 strikeouts.  I hope he does get a chance to prove himself as a starter because he can miss bats and induce groundballs at a strong rate; keep the southpaw on your radar.

Kyle Weiland (BOS) – Another hard thrower, Weiland also has a strong sinker and has put together a strong debut in AAA striking out nearly 10 per game though control is a bit of an issue (4 BB/9).  He has induced a lot of groundballs at every stop including at a 48% clip this year.  He profiles a little more like a reliever than Doubront for me mainly because of the control, but there is no denying that Weiland has been one of Pawtucket’s best starters.

Duane Below (DET) – The Toledo Mud Hens has a strong rotation earlier this between Below, Furbush and Oliver.  Furbush has come up and stabilized the bullpen at the big league level and Oliver got a quick two-start look before returning meaning perhaps Below is next?  Phil Coke has hardly been special in his conversion from reliever to starter and while I much prefer Oliver long-term, Below could get a look and perhaps contribute for the rest of 2011 while Oliver continues to work at AAA.

Below (25) is two years older than Oliver, but it has been a deliberate ascension through the minors for the lefty.  Coming off of 2009 Tommy John Surgery, his strikeouts have tumbled from strikeout-per-inning stuff to a craftier 6.6 K/9 level, but he has improved his control significantly to compensate.  I don’t see star potential, but he could come up and be a deep mixed league or AL-Only league asset thanks to a solid, though unspectacular skill set.

Mike Montgomery (KC) – The 2011 season has delivered the first bit of real adversity in Montgomery’s career as a pro as he pummeled every level up until AAA with ERAs of 2.61 or better at every level save a 3.47 at AA.  He had shown impeccable control and command at every level up until AA, too, when his walk rate pushed 4.0 per game (3.9 in 60 IP) giving him his first sub-2.0 K/BB.  Those struggles have amplified and continued at AAA as he has a 5.3 BB/9 and 1.4 K/BB leading to a very ugly 5.83 ERA and 1.55 WHIP.  He could turn it around, go on a stretch and be in the majors in a flash which is why he is included on this list, but things haven’t gone exactly according to plan for Montgomery.

He looked pretty sharp when I saw him back in April, but that was also his best month by far (2.67 ERA) and yet he wasn’t as crisp as he looked in Arizona Fall League.  Pitcher growing pains are nothing new so just be patient if you own him in a league with minor league rosters and prepare for the very real possibility that he doesn’t hit the majors in 2011 or only gets a cup of coffee in September.

Kyle Gibson (MIN) – Hey, a groundball-heavy strikethrower, how original Minnesota.  Gibson pounds the zone as those in the Twins organization are wont to do and his slider and changeup not only induce plenty of weak on the ground contact (55% GB rate this year; 54%+ at all four stops as a pro), but also generate a lot of swings & misses allowing him to pile up enough strikeouts for a 9.4 K/9 in 76 innings at AAA.  He might be what I wish Scott Baker and Kevin Slowey were all these years which is a combination of the best parts of themselves (pinpoint control, above average strikeout rates) and Carl Pavano essentially trading their fatal flaw of a flyball lean (which leads to gopheritis) for Pavano’s primary asset: a near-50% groundball rate.

I couldn’t believe he didn’t get a call up when they were floundering, but now their resurgence has been starting pitcher driven which could keep him down until late July, if not later.  I continue to have zero confidence in Nick Blackburn though there isn’t a shortage of smoke or mirrors in the United States so he might be fine, but Brian Duensing is better as a reliever and Gibson really should already have his spot at this point.  I would keep a close eye on Gibson’s progress and Minnesota’s transaction log because I think he could make an instant impact.

David Phelps (NYY) – Phelps has 156 strong innings at AAA the last two years yielding a 3.7 K/BB so I’m not sure why they even wasted their time with Brian Gordon, who had the impressive debut, but got obliterated on Wednesday in Cincinnati.  He is a 32-year old journeyman reliever and they are in the midst of a pennant race so Phelps or the next guy on this list, both college arms, probably should have gotten the nod there.  But that has passed.

The fact is that the 60% of their rotation is a question mark and you could make a case for as much as 80% given how unreliable AJ Burnett is start to start.  How much can Bartolo Colon deliver when he gets back from injury?  They can’t patchwork the entire rotation with rookies and so they will probably make a trade or two, but Phelps should get a chance at some point this year, especially if Phil Hughes doesn’t show marked improvement when he returns after two more rehab starts.

Adam Warren (NYY) – You can essentially re-read the above and fill in Warren for Phelps while tamping down the expectations a few notches as Warren hasn’t quite been as impressive.  He has just a 5.7 K/9 and 1.6 K/BB so don’t let his better ERA (3.07 to 3.38) fool you.  Still, Warren is a higher rated prospect within the org and minor league numbers don’t always tell the whole story so you will need to keep a close eye on the situation to know who is leading if/when another chance for promotion comes up.

Neil Ramirez (TEX) – How unexpected is Ramirez’s season?  He came in as the 27th ranked prospect in the org according to Baseball America and he was slated to start the season at High-A.  He did and in his only start there he struck out nine in 4.7 innings allowing just a hit and zero runs.  The AAA club needed an arm five days later so he got what was supposed to be a spot start.  After throwing six shutout innings against the blue chip-laden Kansas City Royals AAA affiliate allowing just three hits with five strikeouts and zero walks, the decision was made to keep him at AAA.

He hasn’t disappointed at all striking out 10 batters per game in his 62 innings and maintaining a strong 2.4 K/BB (the walk rate is a little high at 4.1) en route to a 3.65 ERA and 1.33 WHIP.  He has unquestionably been the best starter for the AAA team, but whether that means he will get the call at some point this year remains to be seen.  He isn’t without flaws.

Though he can pile up the strikeouts, the walks are an issue as I mentioned and he has a heavy flyball lean (never more than 40% GB at any level including 38% this year) which could be problematic in Arlington during the middle of the summer.  The way he has responded to being thrust into AAA this year makes me like his long-term prospects, but in the short-term he could be Derek Holland-esque with some tantalizing starts as well as some flameouts.  He is far from the Rangers’ best pitching prospect, too, which tells you how well they are set up going forward.

Brad Mills (TOR) – He was in the midst of a great season showing that perhaps it wasn’t so hard to pitch in the PCL with a 2.86 ERA in 85 innings halfway through June.  He has hit one helluva rough patch the last two outings combining for just 11 innings allowing 13 runs (11 earned) thanks in large part to four home runs pushing his season ERA to 3.57 in an 11 day span.  His skills still remain quite strong though with an 8.1 strikeout rate, 2.3 walk rate and 3.6 K/BB rate in 96 innings of work.

Yet somehow Zach Stewart leapfrogged him from AA to replace Kyle Drabek in the rotation.  With only Ricky Romero pitching anywhere near expectations, Mills should get another shot (he has 30 MLB IP over the last two years) at some point this summer.  He picked a nice time to finally have a breakout season in the minors and tame AAA hitters after two unsuccessful tries in 2009 and 2010.

Tom Milone (WAS) – Speaking of breakout seasons, this mid-tier organizational prospect has exploded at the AAA level enhancing his already brilliant control while amping up his strikeouts a bit to post a Cliff Leeian 16.4 K/BB rate in 76 innings (Lee was at 16.3 after 139 innings last year, but a late summer swoon pushed him all the way down to 10.3, 2nd-best in MLB history).  Milone was quite impressive last year at AA, but he has taken it to another level this year allowing as many homeruns as he has walks (5 apiece).

He doesn’t have overpowering swing & miss stuff so it would be a minor miracle for him to post anything near a strikeout per inning at the big league level, but he can no doubt be a backend of the rotation asset as a control artist who spins a gem every once in a while.  We have seen several guys with this kind of profile do some good things in the majors, especially this year with offense down so much.  I think he can be a John Lannan-plus trading some of Lannan’s big groundball rate for a strikeout rate better than Lannan’s nearly unusable sub-5.0 marks of the last three years.  I hope Milone gets a call soon as I am eager to see what he can do in the majors and how much of his gaudy statistical profile will come with him.  They are really putting something together in Washington.  It’s not always *only* about the blue-chippers as you need glue guys like Milone.

Tuesday: 05.24.2011

Fixing the Contenders – American League

As we near Memorial Day (less than a week away) and turn the calendar to June, we usually see the MLB standings start to stratify a bit with the contenders separating themselves from the rest of the pack.  That may not happen in the 2011 season, at least not for a while.  Right now there are just three teams who are 10+ games out two of which are the Minnesota Twins and Chicago White Sox, a pair of teams many still refuse to bury given the uncertainty of the Cleveland Indians and the expectations on those two teams coming into the season.

The other is the Houston Astros who were out of it before the season started.  Only three other teams are more than five games away from .500 (Padres, Dodgers and Cubs) so there could be a dearth of sellers as trading season in the MLB heats up.  Nobody really thought Seattle was going to be much of anything this year, but alas their rotation is running five deep headlined by two aces (Felix Hernandez & Michael Pineda; Erik Bedard, Jason Vargas & Doug Fister round out an impressive rotation) meanwhile Jamey Wright, David Pauley and Aaron Laffey have been nails out of the pen masking the fact that they still have a completely horrible offense.  The pitching has them just one game below .500 and a game and a half out of the division lead.

Similarly, expected bottom-feeders Arizona (23-23), Pittsburgh (22-24), Kansas City (22-24) and Baltimore (21-24) continue to linger.  While the league lacks a truly great team, there are still a group of contenders to be found within the 30, teams that should be focusing their attention on 2011 and doing what they can, whether internally or through trade, to get those October playoff tickets printed as soon as possible.

Today, I will go through the contenders who are ripe for a trade and identify the potential move(s) they could make.  I have seven teams on the list.  There are eight other contenders who I didn’t feel needed to make a significant trade because they are either getting some significant pieces back from injury and/or have the available talent in their minor leagues to fill their holes.  Or, at least in one case, I simply didn’t see a move to be made.  That doesn’t mean that it is a perfect team, just that their path to improvement is either a minor trade or sticking with what they have already.

Cleveland Indians (30-15)

Team Needs: 3B, SP, RP

Let’s start with the league’s best team record-wise.  Wow, that reads weird when in reference to the 2011 Cleveland Indians, but you can’t deny the fact that they have the best record in the baseball after 45 games.  If this team stays as is, I can’t see them holding on for 162.  I just don’t buy in the pitching outside of Justin Masterson, and he isn’t without his flaws (lefties still destroy him).  I think Masterson can be a solid pitcher, but their “best” pitcher to date, Josh Tomlin, will not hold up at all, in my opinion.  The 1.2 HR/9 will soon bite back in a big way and the 4.5 K/9 is just too low for this kind of success.

Jack Hannahan’s hot start (hitting .284 w/.837 OPS on May 3rd) has bought Lonnie Chisenhall some time to try and iron out his issues against southpaws (.208 in 48 AB), but now Hannahan has returned to Hannahandom (.238, .691) and it is time to give Chisenhall a shot.  It actually works out where they wouldn’t have to throw him in the fire right away against lefties as Hannahan is actually crushing them with a .387 average and 1.135 OPS in 31 at-bats.  They could run a straight platoon and improve their lineup.  Currently rated 4th or better in runs, average, on-base and slugging, the Indians lineup is performing beautifully to date, but you can never have too much offense.

To fix their starting pitching, I think they need to focus on someone who can miss some bats. With Alex White and his team-best 7.8 K/9 headed to the disabled list for up to three months with a finger injury, Masterson is the leader with a 6.7 K/9.  That is barely above the AL average of 6.5 among starters, so they should call up the Astros and inquire about a trade for an arm.

TRADE: Prospects Joe Gardner and Zack Putnam to the Houston Astros for Wandy Rodriguez – A pair of upper minors arms who ranked 9th and 17th in the org. list from Baseball America for the 32-year old lefty.  With two years left on his contract plus a 2014 option, Wandy won’t come cheap, but given his age the Astros should be open to trading him as he won’t be a part of their next great team.  Their minor league system is disgustingly low on talent so it’s time to start replenishing in earnest via trade.

They might still need to shore up the bullpen a little bit, too.  But that may be handled internally with the recent call up of Josh Judy, who struck out 20 in 17 innings at AAA prior to his call up.  Elsewhere, Nick Hagadone, their #10 prospect, has recently hit AAA after striking out 24 in 23 innings at AA and he could be there to shore up the relief corps early in the summer.

Moves:

  1. 3B – Promote Chisenhall up to platoon w/Hannahan
  2. SP – Trade Gardner & Putnam for Rodriguez, W
  3. RP – Judy recently called up; Hagadone en route

New York Yankees (25-21)

Team Need: SP

The Yankees are having the exact issue that everyone thought they would back in Spring Training with C.C. Sabathia as their top starter and a giant question mark after that.  Bartolo Colon has been a godsend with a strong ERA (3.77) and WHIP (1.20) and great skills (8.8 K/9, 3.7 K/BB) backing the rates up, but how long will it last for the 37 year old?  A.J. Burnett and Ivan Nova have been up and down while Freddy Garcia, filling in for Phil Hughes, has been better (3.12 ERA) than his skills suggest as a 34-year old journeyman.

There is nothing at the AAA level that stands to be any better than what they have and Manny Banuelos in AA has gone more than five innings just once in his eight starts so he isn’t the savior that fans want him to be after seeing him excel in Spring Training.  That leaves the trade markets.  And while delusional fans might think Felix Hernandez is available, he’s not.  But they should venture out for a trade.

TRADE: Prospect Adam Warren to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Hiroki Kuroda – The 36-year old veteran is a free agent after this year so despite how well he has pitched since coming over to the States in 2008, he won’t net the Dodgers an overwhelming return of prospects.  That said, Warren was just outside of the top 10 on org. lists and the Yankees system is a deep one so that’s not chopped liver.  He has struggled with his control at AAA (27 K, 24 BB in 45 IP), but he is still just 23 years old and the Yankees have moved him aggressively (just 54 IP in AA).

The Dodgers system has a crap-ton of pitching and while you can never have too much, they might opt for a bat instead and I could see a toolsy, raw bat like Melky Mesa being dealt for Kuroda.  Mesa has 16 extra-base hits out of just 30 (.204 avg in 147 AB), seven stolen bases but also caught seven times and 16 walks aiding a solid 83-point AVG-OBP split, but also 50 strikeouts (34% K rate).  The 24-year old has been much better lately (.290/.372/.507 in May) after a horrid April (.129/.209/.256) which may elevate his trade stock a bit, though front offices focus more on pure talent & projectability than stats when it comes to prospects.

The Yankees might need more than one starting pitcher so they could also be in for someone like Jon Garland, Livan Hernandez, Aaron Harang or Francisco Liriano, too.  Again, they have a remarkably deep system so trading for a second level arm like one of the above (can you believe Liriano is now regarded as a second level arm?!) as well as a bigger impact arm would be doable.

Moves:

  1. SP – Trade Warren or Mesa for Kuroda
  2. SP2 – Trade David Adams for Harang

Detroit Tigers (24-23)

Team Need: RP

Relief pitching was supposed to be a strength of the 2011 Tigers after signing super-setup man Joaquin Benoit and pairing him with Jose Valverde at the back end of the bullpen.  The constant stream of power arms drafted and traded for recently was supposed to fill any gaps from starter to Benoit with guys like Ryan Perry and Daniel Schlereth, specifically.   Al Alburquerque has been a pleasant surprise with a 15.3 K/9 in his 15 innings, but walks have been a problem (11) for the rookie.

Chance Ruffin is doing well in his debut season as a pro, but he is just 22 and in AA, so the chances of him as a savior are slim.  Plus, the bullpen is young enough already.  Charlie Furbush was just called up from AAA and thrown right into the fire on Monday night after a Phil Coke injury in the fourth inning left the Tigers scrambling.  He responded admirably with 3.7 shutout innings striking out three and walking one.

He has been huge strikeout guy as a starter in the minors (9.5 K/9 career, over 10 the last two years) and he has a legitimate shot to keep those kind of rates in short stints out of the pen.  But with no reliever toting a sub-3.00 ERA, the Tigers will need more than one arm to cure those bullpen woes.

Thankfully for the Tigers, relief pitching is usually one of the most plentiful items in the trade market year in and year out.  And oftentimes, it is the cheapest commodity to acquire, too.  The Padres seem like a great trade partner as I count five arms that could (and should) be up for trade ranging from ace closer Heath Bell to the reborn Pat Neshek.

TRADE: Bruce Rondon and a throw in C-rated (or lower) prospect to the San Diego Padres for Mike Adams – Rondon is a 20-year old flamethrowing reliever (14.6 K/9), but control is a big time issue right now (8.6 BB/9).  He is allowing next to nothing when it comes to hits (1.6 H/9), though, so he has a 1.62 ERA and 1.14 WHIP.  Adams is 32 years old and a free agent after this year.  Plus he comes with loads of injury risk having never put together back-to-back full seasons.

As such, I’m not sure the Padres could really ask for too much from a prospective trade partner even given how great he is when he does pitch, especially this year with his otherworldly 10.5 K/BB in 22 innings.  His 8.7 K/9 is pretty good, but it’s the disgusting 0.8 BB/9 that is powering his insane season.

Luke Gregerson is five years younger, but also a free agent after the season.  He might draw a little more in return than Adams, but he hasn’t been the Gregerson from 2009 and 2010 so far this year.  His strikeout rate has seen a precipitous drop from 10.2 to 6.0 and he has become a lot more hittable allowing 10.3 H/9 (after 5.4 last year).

I can’t see the Tigers trading for Bell as the cost would be too much and Valverde isn’t going anywhere while Neshek would be too much of an injury risk having pitched just 34 innings since 2008 including his 12 this year.

Moves:

  1. RP1 – Promoted Furbush
  2. RP2 – Trade Rondon + PTBNL for Adams, M

 

Oakland A’s (22-25)

Team Need: Bats… about nine of them.

I covered the A’s a good bit last week specifically tied to them addressing their need of a bat (or several!) so I won’t do an entire re-hash.  Internally, I think Jemile Weeks should be called up soon because he is healthy for once and hitting really well in AAA while Mark Ellis is not.  Ellis had a stretch where he had multi-hit games in three out of six (10-for-24) and it moved his average up to a blistering .208.  That wouldn’t cut in 1968 much less now (OK, it might cut it in ’68… but it really doesn’t in ’11 even with the down hitting).

If they don’t want to try Weeks out just yet, then they should look to Adrian Cardenas, who continues to hit well having raised his batting average yearly since 2007 up to .357 this year while finally adding some pop, too, with a career high slugging percentage of .478.  He has shown a strong eye at the plate throughout his career as well, especially at the high minors with 136 walks to 150 strikeouts in 306 games at AA and AAA.  One of the two prospects deserves a look to jumpstart their anemic offense if they want to realistically contend this year.  I also think a trade is in order as they match up really well with another team in contention.

TRADE: Andrew Bailey to the Cincinnati Reds for Yonder Alonso – I covered this in great detail in this piece about Bailey a week ago.  Assuming he comes up back healthy and as good as we’ve seen him, this is a great fit for both teams involved.  Alonso doesn’t really have a future in Cincinnati being blocked by Joey Votto, Chris Heisey and Jonny Gomes and the Oakland bullpen is stocked.  Alonso can move directly into Daric Barton’s spot at first or into the outfield which would allow Josh Willingham to take Barton’s place.  Either way, Barton’s vomit-inducing .280 SLG has to get out of the everyday lineup.  They just can’t expect to win with that lack of production at a power position.  Hell, you can’t really take it on at any position, but especially first base.

The A’s could make another move closer to the deadline, but it would hinge on Brandon McCarthy and Tyson Ross coming back from their recent injuries to pitch like they were before getting hurt and recently returned Josh Outman to pick up where he left off in 2009 (which he showed he might do on Monday night with 7 strong innings).  That would give them some rotation depth which they could flip for another bat.

TRADE: McCarthy to the Detroit Tigers for Brennan Boesch – Starting pitching isn’t a primary need for the Tigers, but you really can’t have too much and the back end is tenuous with Phil Coke (who left his last start injured) and Brad Penny, meanwhile their outfield has developed some depth with Casper Wells and Andy Dirks joining the club.  Plus Magglio Ordonez will be back at some point which would give them six outfielders plus Don Kelly for three spots (DH is locked up by Victor Martinez most days).  This one would really be contingent on McCarthy’s health, of course.

Boesch isn’t tearing the cover off of the ball or anything, but David DeJesus has been awful and Boesch has at least shown the capability for some power in his time as a major leaguer.  McCarthy was a million dollar flier for the A’s and netting a 26-year old outfielder with some potential would probably be much more than they truly expected when they took the gamble on the former top prospect pitcher.

Moves:

  1. Bat1 – Trade Bailey for Alonso
  2. Bat2 – Trade McCarthy for Boesch

That covers the American League contenders.   I left out the Rays, Red Sox, Rangers and Angels, all of whom are contenders in my eyes, but don’t have an obvious trade scenario for a high-impact move.  The Rays, Red Sox and Rangers have pretty deep systems to attack needs or can be expected to play better once their current set of 25 begins to meet expectations (Evan Longoria, Dustin Pedroia, Carl Crawford; Josh Hamilton and Nelson Cruz returning from injury).

Meanwhile the Angels don’t have a glaring flaw they can attack via the market.  There aren’t any major first basemen available that would be a huge upgrade over Mark Trumbo.  If Vernon Wells performs anything like expected upon his return from the DL, he will help their power woes and they could shore up their pen via trade, but Scott Downs, Rich Thompson and Jordan Walden give them a solid trio and they can probably manufacture one more reliable arm without having to make a move.

Next up, the National League contenders.