Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Miguel Gonzalez is a Robot

Take a look at Orioles' starting pitcher Miguel Gonzalez' 2012 stat line:

Through essentially the same amount of innings, he allowed essentially the same amount of hits (92 vs 94), essentially the same amount of homers (13 vs 14), essentially the same amount of walks (34 vs 35), essentially the same amount of strikeouts (77 vs 79).

But he's only hit two batters instead of five last season. So he's got that going for him.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Marlins Are Building Something... Again.

The Miami Marlins have been really easy for me to ignore for most of the 2013 season.
The owner, Jeffrey Loria, executed a shameless firesale of just about every contract on their books (Hanley Ramirez, Anibal Sanchez, Omar Infante, Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle etc.) less than a season after being handed a new publicly funded stadium. As a result, the team was left with essentially just Giancarlo Stanton, Ricky Nolasco, Logan Morrison (if that can be counted as a positive), Juan Pierre's ghost and nothing beyond that.

Even from the group remaining, Nolasco - the only player making over $2.75 million - has since been shipped off for spare parts. However, while the business practices are cringe-worthy and ensure a minimal fanbase, the baseball operations have somehow pieced together a promising future.

Any conversation about Miami's future starts with Giancarlo Stanton. He's the face of the franchise and a legit middle of the order bat with elite power at the age of 23. This is the cornerstone team president Larry Beinfest should be building the team around. Actually, if it were up to Beinfest, I'm sure Stanton would already have a Longoria-esque extension into his 30's, unfortunately, that's not how Loria rolls.

Beyond Stanton, they're building from the ground up. The most encouraging evidence of Beinfest & Co's skill in this regard is the current starting rotation. 20 year old Jose Fernandez has emerged as one of the better pitchers in the National League in his freshman campaign and there's really no reason he can't be the team's #1 starter for years to come. Beyond Fernandez, Miami boasts a trio of 22 or 23 year old righties acquired for their veterans (see paragraph one) in Nathan Eovaldi, Jacob Turner and Henderson Alvarez who all have been lauded as prospects, have tremendous stuff and despite mediocre peripherals have had real success in 2013. Some combo of these three and highly rated left-hand starting prospects Andrew Heaney and Justin Nicolino could form one of the best young rotations by the end of next season.

The offense isn't quite as easy to be optimistic about. In fact, it's historically bad this season. On the bright side, the Marlins actually boast a stable of young outfielders that rival that rotation of theirs. Led by Giancarlo, center and left field will be up for grabs between three top prospects. Christian Yelich was just called up today and is the favorite to grab one of the spots; he's regarded as one of the sweetest swings in the minors and profiles as a high-average, medium-power bat somewhere on the spectrum between James Loney and Joe Mauer.  Jake Marisnick was also called up today along with Yelich and came over in the same deal with Nicolino and Alvarez from Toronto. Marisnick is a super athlete with all five tools who is just now putting it all together in the minors for the first time. He could be a special center fielder or a toolsy fourth outfielder. The final competitor here is Marcell Ozuna. Just 22, he's spent most of this season in the majors, collecting 287 plate appearances. He started off hot, showing off some of his power/speed combo but also proving he isn't quite ready yet and was sent down to AA in place of Yelich. Even if one of these players is traded (Stanton) or doesn't pan out (the other three) the Marlins should have a young talented outfield in the years to come, if not an exciting middle of the order.

Well, it takes more to win than a rotation and an outfield, and therein lies Miami's problem to solve over the next year or so. There's a chance Morrison, Derek Dietrich, Adeiny Hechavarria or Rob Brantly can establish themselves in the infield, but realistically, maybe one will stick around. The Marlins nabbed advanced college third baseman Colin Moran in the June draft and could rise quickly through system to contribute at the hot corner eventually. But, it looks like Larry Beinfest is going to have to call on some more magic to fill in the rest of the infield. Regardless, he'll have a few years to work on the weakness.

The Marlins are quietly collecting the talent for another run at the World Series and while any success is a ways away, it might be closer than we think. So keep ignoring Miami, but it may not be too long before they force their way back into our collective consciousness.

Monday, July 8, 2013

What Do The Twins Have In Plouffe?

At this point in the season, I'm just looking for any small positives. Mostly, those have been generated by the minor league system. However, there are a few minor bright spots on the major league roster as well. Ironic that the major leaguers are more minor reasons for optimism, but I digress. Oswaldo Arcia has been just what we expected, Aaron Hicks has shown flashes of excellence and continues to improve, Mauer has stayed healthy and Sam Deduno and Brian Dozier have developed into serviceable major leaguers. The player who interests me today, however, is Trevor Plouffe.

I've talked about Plouffe before, but he's been a mystery for most of his career. A mystery to me, at least. He came up through the minors as a  light hitting shortstop -- I expected a good defensive utility guy. In 2011 he crushed AAA pitching -- I thought he could be a four corner (1B, 3B, RF and LF) right handed bat off the bench. Then between 2012 and 2013 he grabbed a hold of third base. Perhaps that language is a bit strong as he hasn't had much competition to fend off, coming in the form of Jamey Carroll and Eduardo Escobar.

But here we are with Trevor Plouffe having a firm grip on third base and as the top right-handed bat in the lineup (with Willingham hitting the DL this past weekend). In fact, he's been the third best hitter on the Twins according to wOBA (a fairly complete measure of offensive contribution) behind just Mauer and Arcia. He's cut his strikeout rate to an above average  16.3% clip which bodes well for his batting average. I wouldn't be overly surprised if he ended the season at or above .270, which for the record, is actually very good (league average is .254). Unfortunately Plouffe still doesn't walk much at all but makes up for it with above average power. His power has dropped off since his thumb contusion in July of 2012. However, he still boasts 25 double and 20 homer power.

His offensive game is pretty clearly Plouffe's strength with his third base defense lagging behind. He just doesn't have a quick first step and his arm is erratic. Then again, JJ Hardy didn't necessarily have a great first step and still played a mean defensive shortstop. And maybe he can learn to make the throw across the diamond more consistently. The tools are there to become a decent third baseman but as of now he's below average at the position.

Combined, his above average offensive profile and below average defensive profile grades Trevor out to be a solid-average third baseman with the potential to improve from there. Unfortunately, he won't have much time to make these improvements as Miguel Sano is flying up the minor leagues with a 2014 ETA and will almost certainly supplant Plouffe at third, leaving him to either find a new position or multiple as a super-utility, power-hitting, right-handed bat. Regardless of exactly where he ends up, he'll be a valuable piece for the Twins until he reaches free agency 2018.