Monday, March 30, 2009

Giles released; Mayberry and Carrasco optioned

The Opening Day 25-man roster is starting to take shape. The Phillies released Marcus Giles today, and optioned John Mayberry Jr. and Carlos Carrasco to Triple-A Lehigh Valley. Giles was hoping to resurrect his career with the Phils, but may find an opportunity with another team.

The Phillies felt giving Mayberry regular at bats in the minors, rather than a few pinch hit appearances a week, would be more beneficial to him in the long run. He joins top prospects Carrasco and catcher Lou Marson to play for the Iron Pigs, at least for the start of the season.

The team also informed infielder Pablo Ozuna, outfielder Jason Ellison and pitcher Mike Koplove they will not be on the 25-man roster at the start of the season. They will be on hand in Philadelphia for the on-deck series at the end of this week against Pat Burrell and the Tampa Bay Rays.

After trading catcher Ronny Paulino to the Giants, who was then traded to Florida, the position players are taking shape. Infielder Miguel Cairo is the only extra man with a shot at making the team, unless the Phillies pick-up an extra right handed bat as teams make cuts to finalize their rosters in this final week before the 2009 season.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

NL East Preview Week 7: Center Field

The NL East has a few established stars in center field, and a few budding stars to round out an interesting group of candidates.

Carlos Beltran of New York is the best in the division and is among the best in the league. Beltran has his faults and flaws, but the talented switch hitter can beat you in several ways. With a career .281 average, Beltran also has plenty of power; he hit a career high 41 home runs in 2006, and followed with 33 and 27 in 07 and 08 respectively. He averaged 113 RBI each of the last three seasons, and 22 stolen bases a year. He’s also a very smart base runner, only being caught stealing a total of eight times during the same three year span. While not a perfect outfielder, Beltran is very solid in the field and sports a .985 career fielding percentage. Beltran is a very streaky player. He has carried the Mets on his back over the course of a month, and he’s also shrunk out of the limelight on many occasions. A veteran with his talent should be a team leader, but it is difficult to consider him as one. It’s doubtful anyone had ever heard him speak until he tried to pull a J-Roll, announcing New York as the team to beat in 2008. Apparently he meant we’re the team everyone will beat; unbeknownst to New Yorkers at the time. Beltran made a small effort to step up and be a leader at that moment, but disappeared immediately after that. What was he saying down the stretch? He is not vocal, and he just quietly goes about his business. Not that doing that is a bad thing, but someone of his stature and with his experience should step up and be a leader to a team with a bunch of young rising stars. That aside, most teams would take his production on a yearly basis. Beltran is backed-up by about twelve players on the Mets depth chart, not that it matters much. Beltran is remarkably durable and has managed to stay relatively healthy throughout his career.

Shane Victorino has developed into one hell of a ballplayer. He won’t hit .350 or slug 25 home runs, but he will be a table setter for a potent Phillies’ lineup once again, and contribute in every way day in and day out. The Flyin’ Hawaiian has a .281 average in his short career, but expect that to rise as his career progresses. Victorino hit a career high .293 last season. He also hit a career high 14 home runs and 58 runs batted in. His power certainly comes in streaks, as seven of his home runs came in July. Victorino has also stolen 37 and 36 bases in 2007 and 2008 respectively. He hit 30 doubles and eight triples in 2008. He also won a Gold Glove and has a .994 career fielding percentage. His right arm is a cannon, as he can throw any base-runner out at any time. Shane is simply a very good five-tool player that can beat a team in many ways. He was tremendous during the 2008 postseason, carrying the Phils to a few wins, nearly singlehandedly. Another great thing about Victorino; the best is yet to come. Jayson Werth is listed as his back-up, which makes for a very strong center field but weaker right field if Werth must cover for Shane.

The final three are all up and coming players in MLB, and who among them flourishes and who struggles truly remains to be seen. The player with the most upside is probably Florida’s Cameron Maybin. He could be a Juan Pierre of the past for Florida, and should be a solid lead-off hitter for them for years to come. Maybin came up from the minors for a cup of coffee last season and hit .500 in 32 at bats with two doubles, two RBI and four stolen bases. Maybin will always be a threat to run on the bases, he will makes things happen on his speed alone and will be a good center fielder. If he can consistently put the ball in play, and hit grounders and line drivers, Maybin will be a very good player. If for some reason he develops Marlins’ fever and swings for the fences too much, he will turn into a mediocre player at best. It is likely he will know his role and be a strong hitter atop Florida’s lineup, which may have just gone from dangerous to potent. Alejandro De Aza, whom the Marlins hold in high regard, is second on the depth chart. The biggest problem with Florida’s center field situation is an inexperienced player backed-up by an inexperienced player. They have a question mark out there for sure, but Maybin appears to be the real deal, and if anything, they could just run 27 prospects out there until they find one that sticks.

Lastings Milledge had a coming out party in Washington last season, after being traded out of a reserve role in New York. The young prospect showed signs of his potential during his time with the Mets, but excelled in his first full season in the everyday lineup. Milledge hit .268 in 2008, with 14 dingers and 61 knocked in. He also swiped 24 bags and amassed a .986 fielding percentage. Last year was certainly not his full potential and as he develops, Milledge will be a strong outfielder in Major League Baseball for a long time. The Nationals have a few interesting candidates as replacements in center, with Elijah Dukes and Willie Harris. Both are solid players overall and provide depth behind Milledge.

Atlanta has a fairly unknown commodity in Josh Anderson, although in his short time in the big leagues he has done very well for himself. After playing in just 21 games for Houston in 2007 and hitting .358, Anderson came to the Braves in 2008 and appeared in just 40 games. He did hit .294, with three home runs and 12 RBI. He also stolen ten bases and was caught only once. Anderson appears to have a nice mix of speed and pop, and he undoubtedly has the ability to put the ball in play and hit for a high average. Anderson should develop into a good everyday player for the Braves, and it will be interesting to see how he adjusts to playing every day in the Majors. Gregor Blanco fills in nicely behind him, but also lacks experience.

Washington and Florida both appear to have rising stars occupying center field at the moment, but could find themselves in precarious positions should either player falter, due to a combined lack of experience at the position. Center field is a position to keep an eye on during the 2009 season.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Ruiz, Coste Likely Catchers of '09

It appears the Phils are content to enter 2009 with Carlos Ruiz and Chris Coste behind the plate, once again. The team is reportedly shopping catcher Ronny Paulino, and it is unlikely they are looking for a catcher in return. Ruben Amaro Jr and Charlie Manuel are discouraged by Paulino's .185 spring average after a putrid 2008 in which he hit .212 with two home runs and just 18 RBI; or as Harry Kalas would say, "He hit tweleve points over the Mendoza Line."

The Phils payed a fairly steep price in acquiring Paulino from Pittsburgh, shipping catching prospect Jason Jaramillo to gain his rights. Upon determing Lou Marson to be the catcher of the future, the decision to trade Jaramillio was much easier, but still leaves one to ponder exactly what they were looking to accomplish in acquiring Paulino.

This move could open a spot with the big league club for Marson, should Coste struggle and the Phils have no other option as Ruiz's back-up.

Tune into MLB.TV at 1pm today to see two future staff aces take the ball, as Carlos Carrasco toes the rubber for the Phils and opposes Joba Chamberlain of the New York Yankees.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

NL East Preview Week 6: Left Field

Left Field should be an interesting position in the NL East this season, with a few familiar faces and a few new ones looking to make an impact.

This was a difficult decision to make, but the Phils just may have the best left fielder in Raul Ibanez. A solid all around player, Ibanez should fill Pat Burrell’s shoes nicely, as a better all inclusive player. He has a career average just under .290, averaged 26 home runs and drove in more than 100 runs each of the last three seasons, and is a better defensive player. Ibanez is just the best overall, all around player at his position in the division. His adjustment to a new team and to the NL could change things, but Ibanez is a veteran and true class act and should adjust nicely. His back-up could be anyone from Geoff Jenkins, Matt Stairs, John Mayberry or Eric Bruntlett. However it unfolds, the Phils are in good shape.

Washington finally has a true power hitter to anchor the middle of that lineup in Adam Dunn. Dunn can hit the ball to the moon and back, but is your “typical power hitter.” He is a 40 home run hitter each of the last six years, and is good for about 100 RBI as well. Dunn’s career average is just .247 and his strikeout total will end up around 170-200 each season. He is not athletic overall, and ranks below average in the field. Dunn has the ability to carry a team on his back during stretches though, and should provide some thunder in our Nation’s capitol. Former Marlin Josh Willingham fills in very nicely as Dunn’s back-up, and will see some time in the Nationals’ outfield throughout the season.

The Braves made a great pick-up in the offseason, acquiring veteran outfielder Garrett Anderson from the Los Angeles Angels. His power numbers have declined since early in the decade when he was slugging about 30 a season, he’s good for about 15-17 now; but he still hits around .300 and can spray the ball to all fields. Anderson has an incredible .989 career fielding percentage, and will be a major upgrade in several ways for Atlanta. They picked up a great clubhouse veteran, and very strong player in all facets of the game.

Florida’s Jeremy Hermida is a difficult player to figure out. The only thing putting him in fourth place is New York’s Daniel Murphy's lack of experience. After two average seasons in the big leagues, Hermida exploded in 2007, hitting .296 with 18 home runs and 63 runs batted in. He followed in 2008 by hitting just .249 and increasing his strikeout total. As many Marlins are, Hermida is a below average defensive player. Hermida has the ability and potential to be a good player, but inconsistency has plagued him throughout his short career. How he adjusts to playing left instead of right field remains to be seen. Rookie John Raynor backs Hermida up at the moment, giving Florida no depth whatsoever.

New York could easily be ranked ahead of Florida, because Murphy will likely be a better player and the Mets are deeper at the position. With just 131 career at bats, Murphy hit .313 with two home runs and 17 driven in last year. Murphy could develop into a star player for the Mets, but ranking him based almost strictly on potential is difficult. The revived Fernando Tatis is second on the depth chart, and can step in to hit some long balls when needed. If Murphy struggles through stretches, the Mets feel confident letting Tatis step into the starting lineup.

The Phillies, Nationals and Braves all have solid veteran players in left field that can help the team in several ways; while the Marlins and Mets are banking on young guns to come around and contribute on a daily basis. It should be interesting to see how the veterans hold up, and how the kids develop.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Utley hits 1st Homer in 7-6 Win

Chase Utley's game tying two run home run in the 7th inning off B.J. Ryan today was a major stride toward his recovery from hip surgery. His first homer of the spring; Utley's swing is improving on a daily basis as he prepares to start on Opening Day. The Phils won the game 7-6, after scoring three runs in the ninth inning.

Chan Ho Park finished after four innings, three earned runs on four hits and one walk. He struck out seven. After an off day tomorrow, the Phillies will host the Yankees on Thursday in a game that can be viewed on MLB.TV.

Kendrick Demoted, Fifth Spot Up for Grabs, Hamels gets Good News

Kyle Kendrick has officially been demoted to the minors, creating a two-man race for the fifth and final spot in the rotation. While Kendrick is vowing to return, Chan Ho Park will take the ball against Toronto this afternoon. He looks to build upon his already strong spring, in which he's gone 1-0 with a 1.54 era in 11.2 innings pitched. His competition, J.A. Happ's spring era has risen a bit over his last few outings. He has no decisions with a 3.15 era in 20 innings. Happ was off to a tremendous start, but his performances have averaged out over the last two weeks. If Park keeps pitching as dominantly as he has, the spot will likely be his and Happ may become a left-handed reliever. There's plenty riding on Park's start this afternoon, so keep an eye on that.

The Phillies website is also reporting that Cole Hamels will make his season debut, if all goes according to plan, on April 10 in Denver against the Rockies. This is Philadelphia's forth game of the season, which should set the first week's rotation as Brett Myers on Opening Night, Jamie Moyer and Joe Blanton closing out the series against Atlanta, and then Hamels and Park/Happ taking the ball in Colorado. This is encouraging news and hopefully Hamels stays on track and is ready to go come opening week.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Lots Happening with Phils

There's plenty of news coming out of Clearwater surrounding the Phils. Chase Utley made his grapefruit league debut yesterday, leading off against the St. Louis Cardinals and going 0-2 with a strikeout. Utley had played in a minor league game the previous day, picking up two hits including a double, and two strikeouts in four at bats. All signs point to Utley being ready to take the field on opening day in Philadelphia.

On a less positive note, World Series MVP and ace starting pitcher Cole Hamels will have his elbow examined in Philadelphia tomorrow. He has experienced discomfort and tightness, and the team is calling it simply, "a little soreness or tightness." The Phillies are speculating, and likely using wishful thinking, because it's clearly concerning enough to send him back to Philadelphia for examination. Ruben Amaro Jr. acknowledged that Hamels' status for opening day could be in jeopardy. Let's hope he doesn't miss any significant time, if any at all.

Brad Lidge, Pedro Feliz and Chad Durbin all made their Spring debuts; great news as all three will be an integral part to the Phils' success in 2009.

Ryan Howard is punishing the ball, and may be on track to the fastest start to the season of his career if he continues hitting this way. Jason Donald is also impressing nearly everyone, as he has done it all. He's hitting, fielding and running the bases extremely well, and will make it a very difficult decision should the team executives decide to send him to the minors at the start of the season.

With just 20 days until opening day, there's a lot going on with the Phillies, and look for more to come as the Major League roster takes shape as we approach the start of the season.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

NL East Preview Week 5: Shortstop

No one can refute that the NL East is stacked with the best shortstops in Major League Baseball. Whether you’re searching for a base stealer, superb defense, a ton of runs scored, a contact lead-off hitter or even a power hitter; the NL East is the place to look.

Arguably, the Florida Marlins have the best there is in Hanley Ramirez. He has four of the five tools required to be considered a “five-tool player,” and needs to improve his glove work to truly earn that reputation. Ramirez is a career .308 hitter and in his three years with Florida, has averaged 26 home runs, 69 RBI, 43 doubles and 46 stolen bases a season. He is a dynamic player that can hit for average and power and steal bases. He has thrived in the lead-off spot, but can also hit in the middle of the order and could occupy the three hole for Florida this season. Ramirez is a below average fielder, as most of Florida’s star players are, averaging 24 errors a season. Ramirez is still young and is likely to only improve upon his skills and numbers as he matures and progresses as a ballplayer. Within the next few years, look for Hanley to improve defensively or possibly move to the outfield. For now, Florida will gladly take his run production at the plate and on the bases.

Jimmy Rollins places second in the division and in MLB, for both his talent and clubhouse leadership. J-Roll is a spectacular defensive shortstop, an excellent base stealer, and the table setter for an extremely potent offense. Rollins was not quite himself at the plate in 2008 after an early season injury, but still played well and came through for the club when needed. Rollins followed his 07 MVP campaign in which he hit .296, 30, 94 with 41 stolen bases in 47 attempts by hitting .277 11, 59 with 47 stolen bases in 50 attempts. Rollins is the best base stealer of the bunch, combining his lethal speed with good decisions on the bases to limit his caught stealing totals. He has power, but is really going well when he is smoking line drive base hits to all fields. The gold glove shortstop made just seven errors last season, and has a career .982 fielding percentage. As they say, “When Rollins goes, we go,” and that couldn’t be more true. There are a plethora of ways Rollins can beat you; with his bat, legs, arm or glove, or even just his attitude and swagger in the clubhouse and dugout. Rollins is a five-tool player without many limits. His value to the Phils is difficult to match. Eric Bruntlett fills in nicely as Jimmy’s back-up, and if there were to happen to Rollins, Jason Donald could see a promotion.

Jose Reyes has all the potential to be a tremendous player, and in many ways he already is, but struggles with consistency and attitude problems. Reyes is lightning fast, has power spurts and is difficult to strike out. He hit .297 in 2008 with 16 home runs and 68 RBI. He steals a ton of bases, but is not an outstanding base runner in general. Reyes led the league in 2007 with a whopping 78 stolen bases. However, he was thrown out 21 times. Reyes ran at inopportune times, attempting to amass a large number of steals for his personal statistics, but hurt his team in the process. He ran the Mets out of innings at times, and stole bases when it had no impact on the game. In 2008, he stole 56 bases and was caught 15 times. Reyes could develop into an outstanding base runner, but needs to be smarter about picking his spots. Reyes has lost focus in the field as well, resulting in 17 errors in 2008 and a few hissy fits that caught the attention of manager Jerry Manuel. Manuel threatened that if Reyes had another on field fit and threw his glove to the ground again; he would go onto the field and cut Reyes because Manuel considered himself a “gangster.” Reyes does a whole lot of things well, and puts up more than solid numbers, but needs to smarten up to develop into the shortstop he could and should be. Alex Cora is also listed as back-up at shortstop, and his veteran presence could help the team and Reyes.

Atlanta places forth, only because of their depth. Yunel Escobar is a solid young player with plenty of upside. Last year, he hit .288 with 10 long balls and drove in 60. He is decent defensively, and should continue to develop into a strong player. Omar Infante is a nice back-up, hitting .293 last season. Infante has little power to speak of, since hitting 16 in 2004; he’s good for just a few home runs a year.

Washington’s Cristian Guzman is also a solid shortstop, with a career.270 average and very little power. Guzman puts the ball in play and has the ability to get on base. He is a solid defensive player as well. Alberto Gonzalez is listed behind him, with a .235 career average and very little experience. Washington is adequate at the position, but not very deep.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Kendrick Stuggles Again; Doesn't Deserve Spot

Kyle Kendrick can not be the fifth starter for this team. He lacks the composure and the consistency. Kendrick took the hill against Atlanta today, looking to rebound upon a poor outing in which he let his emotions get the best of him on the mound.

His line: 3 innings pitched, 10 hits, 8 runs, all of which are earned, 1 walk, 2 strikeouts, 2 home runs allowed, 14.29 era. Wow.

He is simply not competing and does not deserve a spot in the rotation. The four man race is down to two: J.A Happ and Chan Ho Park.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Mayberry Jr, Happ Impressive

John Mayberry Jr. is impressing everyone during camp, and it appears that amidst the team's search for a right handed bat off the bench, they had the perfect candidate right under their noses. Mayberry have shown tremendous improvement since working with Charlie Manuel and Milt Thompson, and has now shown the ability to put the ball in play and hit consistently, given its only been eight exhibition games. Mayberry has shown a nice power stroke, which could pay large dividends for the Phils if he develops into a consistent power bat off the bench. Mayberry is having the spring Greg Dobbs had a few years ago, and hopefully Mayberry proves it to be no fluke just as Dobbs has done.

Mayberry should make the team, plain and simple. If they employ a five man bench, Eric Bruntlett and Ronnie Paulino/Chris Coste will occupy two spots as right handed hitters. Dobbs and Geoff Jenkins will supply two left handed bats, which leaves Mayberry and Matt Stairs among a few other contenders. Stairs came up huge against the Dodgers in Game Four of the NLCS, but he is not going to consistently put the ball in play or impact many games. Mayberry has an immediate edge just being a right handed bat, which the Phils need, but he has more potential and talent. Stairs should be thanked for his contributions, receive his ring, and let go.

The fifth starter job should belong to J.A Happ. He excelled when in the starting rotation last season, Kyle Kendrick is struggling and showing no poise with his immature actions on the field, Chan Ho Park is better suited for the bullpen and Carlos Carrasco will open the season in Triple-A. Happ struck out seven Tigers yesterday in just three innings of work, and has been impressive during camp and his time in the big leagues. He is a nice compliment to the other pitchers in the staff, and would certainly fit in nicely as a fifth starter.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

NL East Preview Week 4: 3rd Base

The hot corner, often reserved for fielders with quick reactions and a strong arm, has produced tremendous offensive third basemen over the years as well. The NL East is no exception, with an abundance of premiere third basemen.

The Mets have the best third baseman, not on steroids, in the game. David Wright is an outstanding third baseman, with a tremendous bat. While he is criticized for not coming through in the clutch, Wright still manages to deliver some game winning hits and puts up outstanding numbers every year. Hitting .302 in 2008, he hit a career high 33 home runs and knocked in 124. He can also steal a base when he needs to, which is typically a rarity for third basemen. After swiping 34 bags in 2007, his total dropped to 15 in 2008. He has only been caught stealing five times, each of the last three seasons. Wright could stand to improve upon his overall fielding percentage, but should still be considered a strong defensive player. He makes an inordinate amount of spectacular stops at third throughout the year, but seems to lack focus at times and botch plays he should make easily. When all is said and done, Wright is as good as they come. Fernando Tatis is listed as the backup, which should scare Mets fans. No one knows if his offensive resurgence from 2008 will continue, and while he has experience at third base in the past, it is unlikely he could fit in anywhere but the outfield at this point in his career.

Larry ‘Chipper’ Jones has been one of the best in the business for more than a decade, and continues to produce at a premium level for the Braves when healthy. Health is his biggest concern, but he has managed at least 400 at bats the last three years. Jones led the league in batting in 2008 with a .364 average, the best of his career. He hit 22 home runs and 75 RBI, his lowest totals in each category since 2005. His career .958 fielding percentage is impressive, he puts the ball in play and hits to all fields, and has a knack for key hits and driving in runs. Jones will continue to torment National League hitting in 2009 if he stays healthy. Martin Prado is once again listed as backup, and while he is solid, he can’t play three positions at once. If Atlanta needs Prado to step in at one position they will be in good shape, but may be in trouble if the injury bug hits them; there is not a whole lot of depth behind their starters.

Washington’s Ryan Zimmerman is the most difficult third base occupants to judge in the division. With all the potential in the world, Zimmerman has been maddeningly inconsistent. After bursting upon the scene in 2006 with a .287 average, 20 home runs and 110 driven in, and a solid .965 fielding percentage; his average dropped to .266 in 07 with a few more home runs but 19 fewer RBI, despite 39 more at bats. Zimmerman raised his average to .283 in 2008, but hit just 14 home runs and drove in only 51, but improved upon his fielding percentage, spiking it up to .967. Zimmerman is a solid third baseman and can certainly hit the ball, and whether or not he continues his inconsistency or develops into the star player he should be, will determine where he should be ranked. The Nationals are not deep behind Zimmerman, with Alberto Gonzalez and Kory Casto listed as back-ups. Gonzalez has just 115 career at bats with a .235 average and one career home run. He is a solid defensive player that can play multiple positions. Casto has a .194 career average in 217 at bats with two home runs. Washington absolutely needs Zimmerman to stay healthy, and develop into the consistent contributor he has all the talent and potential to become.

Florida places forth with the combination of Jorge Cantu and Dallas McPherson. Both players were left for dead and picked up off the scrapheap by Florida just one season ago, but they resurrected their careers in 2008. Cantu hit .277 with 29 home runs and 95 RBI, but maintained a putrid .937 fielding percentage as a third baseman. Cantu spent some time at first base, and fared better, with a .993 percentage. Cantu set a career high in home runs, and pounded the ball on a regular basis. Florida is hoping this is not a fluke, as Cantu had a great offensive year for Tampa Bay in 2005, but struggled until going to Florida last season. If Cantu hits the ball like he did and continues to play third base, the Marlins will have a tremendous middle of the order bat, and a well below average third baseman. McPherson spent most of 2008 in Triple-A, hitting .275 with 42 home runs and 98 runs batted in. He struggled defensively also, but not as badly as Cantu. McPherson could also be a serious power threat in Florida’s loaded lineup, but neither player uses the leather well.

The Phillies finish last, but deceptively so. Pedro Feliz is the best defensive player of the five, and had an off-year in his first season with the Phils. Prior to joining Philadelphia, Feliz had hit either 20 or 22 home runs for the Giants each of the last four seasons, playing in the huge ballpark in San Francisco. In 2008, Feliz hit just 14 home runs and knocked in only 58. His 425 at bats is the lowest total since 2003, and his .249 batting average was consistent with prior seasons. Feliz has a career .971 fielding percentage, and can really pick it at third. He is a tremendous defensive third baseman, and if healthy in 2009, should regain his power stroke a bit and hit around 20 home runs. Greg Dobbs is a great back-up to have. He puts the ball in play, hits for power at times, and is about an average defensive third baseman. Dobbs will continue to start games occasionally against right handed pitchers, and contribute in several ways on a consistent basis. The Phillies do place last at this position, but not for lack of talent of depth.