Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Does anybody still come here anymore, wondering if I've come back from the dead? Just curious.


Wednesday, April 16, 2003

The Sore Shoulder, Part I

Well, I did predict that a nefarious sore shoulder would come up sometime soon, I just thought it would be a month down the road. Dave Veres is onto the 15 day DL today with it, and the early word is that Alan Benes will be the guy coming up from Iowa to take his place. Rod Beck probably should be the guy to get the call, but since whoever comes up will be pitching more long relief (with Joe Bo's emergence as the closer), Benes seems more apt to fill that role than Beck. Don't be surprised if Beck then asks for his release.

Apologies to Estes since perhaps I too hastily requested his release. He still has to prove it over a couple of starts, but he was obviously very very good yesterday. Did anybody else see the focus on Estes last night on Baseball Tonight? I didn't get to see the game yesterday, but was pleased to be able to watch some of the clips. Estes had excellent command of his change, something he hasn't had most of the year and was able to pitch in and out with the FB/change combo to the righties, while mixing in the curve to the lefties. His two seamer also had good movement, resulting in lots of ground ball outs. I'm not ready to jump onto the bandwagon just yet, but this is certainly an excellent step. Bobby V made the point last night that as the #4 or #5 guy, his stuff is better than 90% of the other #4 or #5 guys in the NL and so the matchups should favor him. I'm not sure how much I buy into that, but you can't argue with the results from yesterday.

Bellhorn had another good day yesterday and hopefully is shaking off the rust.

Choi hit another home run, but it seems to me that if he keeps hitting the ball to left center, he's just going to get pounded inside more and more. What he needs to do is open up on a fastball and just kill it to right field and hope that Baseball Tonight shows the clip, then maybe he'll get some more fastballs away from him that he can drive to left center.

More soon.

Tuesday, April 15, 2003

Korey Part II

I really wanted Corey Patterson to succeed.

After being down 5-1 to start the frame, the Cubs scored 2 in the bottom of the 6th last night and had second and third with nobody out with Patterson up. Bob Boone summoned lefty Kent Mercker from the pen, and I summoned the slightest hope that Corey could have a productive at bat against a lefty. Mercker fell behind 2-0, at which point (i'm not kidding) the guy ahead of me said "Corey is taking more pitches these days." Of course, I laughed hard at that one, given that the first pitch bounced and the second one almost hit him. Oh well.

2-0 went to 2-1 - a pitch I predicted he would swing it if it were close (he fouled it off). Then 2-1 and a side arm 2-2 pitch were stared at for a backwards K, and it was all downhill from here.

Coming up again in the 8th, Patterson fell behind 0-2, at which point I told my friend about our new game: counting the number of close pitches that Patterson takes with two strikes that end up being balls. I figure he might take one per game, but never more. Yesterday I was right. The 0-2 pitch from Riedling bounced about 5 feet from the plate. Then the 1-2 pitch was again looked at for strike three. I think I'm going to keep a running tally and I'll call it TSCPTBP, or Two-strike close pitches taken by Patterson... perhaps I should add a "that did not result in a backwards K." If you have a better moniker, feel free to let me know.

It was a frustrating loss since errors and defense cost us at least three runs, and we had tons of chances against the soft tossing Jimmy Andersen.

Still, I saw some good things. Among them:

Mark Bellhorn showing a more compact swing on his way to a few hits... Prior pitching without his best fastball and still pitching well enough to win - if Bellhorn gets a glove on the double in the second inning, and if Prior doesn't make the error in the 6th, it's a different ballgame... Eric Karros is the slowest man alive - it's almost painful watching him run the bases... Also, Karros deserved an assist on Prior's error for not being able to stay on the bag -- the throw really wasn't that bad... Exhibit #2, your honor, on why Juan Cruz should not close was his fine display of command last night... Baker brought Mike Remlinger in to face Adam Dunn in the ill fated 6th, which was a fine move except for the fact that he gave up a 2 run single -- Remlinger seems to be struggling with his breaking ball, and until he sharpens it a bit, we can probably expect some more outings like last night where he handles the righties just fine with inside fastballs and good changes away but can't put away the lefties... Hats off to Sergio Mitre - after skipping high A ball, he tossed 7 scoreless AA innings last night with 9 Ks - I always did like his sinker...

Monday, April 14, 2003

Corey or Korey?

I listened to a debate over the weekend about the progress of CF Corey Patterson. Sitting in the upper deck during Kerry Wood's 13 K gem on Saturday, a couple of guys in front of me were talking about Patterson and one of them specifically mentioned his batting average as it was posted on the scoreboard (.300 +). The other guy then responded that Patterson was a complete bust and should be doing his striking out at AAA, to which the first guy laughed incredulously and said "you're gonna send a .300 hitter down to the minors?"

Interesting debate, even if neither of them seemed to have a clue about Patterson's progress.

First, before yesterday, Patterson had 8 RBIs, 7 of which came on opening day. I'm too lazy to look it up, but his batting average since opening day has also been pretty abysmal. This pokes a few holes in the "he's hitting .300 with 2 HRs and 8 RBIs" argument. I don't think I need to get into this any further with the readers of this site.

Second, one might look at yesterday's boxscore and say that he's making progress. I'm here to tell you that this is another example of how numbers in boxscores don't always tell you the whole story. Like I said, I was at the game Saturday (and will be tonight) and I watched every pitch of yesterday's game. On Saturday, each time Patterson got two strikes, I told me dad who was sitting next to me that Patterson would swing at a pitch outside of the zone for strike three. Both times he did exactly that. Patterson would swing at a pitch on the moon if you threw it to him with two strikes. Sure he rocketed a double in one at bat, but he did it before the pitcher could get a couple of strikes on him. His judgment does not seem to have changed at all from the kid who walked only two times in the second half of last season. Then yesterday, I'd like to caution against reading too much into Corey's two walks. On paper they sure look nice don't they? But in reality, his walks weren't exactly tough walks. What does that mean? It means he didn't have to take any borderline pitches in order to get them. I can hear the natives now, saying I'm splitting hairs and blahblahblah. But the fact is that Kip Wells couldn't find the plate and each of the pitches that Corey took was nowhere close to the zone. When he doesn't have two strikes, he's actually pretty good at laying off those (sarcasm intended). But in neither walk was Patterson forced to actually make a decision on a pitch that was within six inches of the zone.

Third, after the game yesterday, Steve Stone talked about what a great move it was by Dusty Baker to show Patterson some confidence by sticking with him when Sauerbeck came into the game. #1 - We don't have any other center fielders who aren't left handed. #2 - Baker didn't do the same with Hee Seop Choi, so I'm not sure how much credit we should give him.

This piece could easily be mis-interpreted as one that is much too harsh on the kid, but it shouldn't be. I really like Patterson. I am excited by his tools and his speed and his power potential. The Cubs haven't had a prospect like him in a long, long time. Still, that excitement isn't going to make me turn a blind eye to the things I still see on the field, and I'm still seeing little strike zone judgement and NONE when he has two strikes. Next time Corey gets to 0-2 or 1-2, see how many close pitches he takes for balls. If he's able to start doing that, then maybe I'll come around and say he's making progress. Let's face it - anybody could stand up there and go draw a walk when the pitcher throws 4 balls in the dirt or above your head as Wells did yesterday. It's the tough walks (a friend thinks I should start a new stat - I think more people should just understand baseball better so a stat like that isn't needed) where the pitches are six inches off the plate that show true recognition of the zone and, in Patterson's case, true maturity.

Friday, April 11, 2003

The Natives are Getting Restless

Alright, alright, enough already.

A combination of craziness at work, travel and personal illness has kept me from writing as much as I would have liked over the past couple of weeks, but please don't take that to mean that I am done. I certainly have not retired, though one would think I would have to get paid for this gig first before I could retire (ala Eric Crouch retiring before ever playing?). You see, I'm an attorney by day and that's what pays the bills. I don't get a single penny from doing this, and I certainly don't get any money from my relatively few but pretty loyal readers. So, while I appreciate the encouragements to write again, I can't say that the sarcastic emails I received really had much of an effect on me -- it's certainly not motivating me to do this again. I particularly find amusing the notes from people acting as if I somehow am depriving them of something that is rightfully theirs - perhaps there was a check in the mail that never made it me? Alas, more than anything in the world I would rather talk about the Cubs for a living, but for the foreseeable future, these little breaks are going to happen, you can bank on it.

I wonder if anyone has written to the Lansing Lugnuts and sarcastically told them to get off their collective duffs and play?

Ok, there's plenty to talk about so I'll get right into it.

Can we release Sean Estes already? His comments in the paper today come perilously close to the drivel that made Steve Trachsel famous. You know - the "well we lost, but I didn't pitch too bad" or "I only made one bad pitch - I kept us in the game." Estes today says that he was making his pitches and starting to get back to what he used to do, but he really sounds like a guy who is making every excuse in the book for more time. Perhaps he's feeling the pressure? Perhaps he was secretly happy when Juan Cruz gave up a few runs in relief of him? I doubt that, but still, if the rest of the staff keeps throwing like we think it will, he'll be the easy answer to "which one of these things is not like the other?"

Juan Cruz. Great stuff. Should he be a closer? Count me as one of those guys who says NO. Exhibit #1, your honor, is his display of frustration yesterday during and after allowing two runs in an inning of work. Cruz was not sharp yesterday, which proves that he is human. According to Pat and Ron, he was visibly upset on the mound after a walk. Sign of maturity = being able to pitch without your best stuff. It really doesn't tell you very much about a guy's psyche when he mows people down with a 97 mph heater. It tells you about his arm and his stuff, but not his psyche. What I care about is what happens when the cards are on the table and the heater is suddenly at 92 and the slider is rolling instead of breaking. Does he have the guts to get through it? If I had a penny for every out Rod Beck has ever gritted through, I'd make as much as Dave Veres this year. Cruz is a huge part of our future, but I think he's more apt to succeed as a starter, and I hope that Dusty keeps using him this year in the mid/long relief role.

Mike Kiley says that Dave Veres' velocity is down so far this year and that the Cubs are a little concerned. This is interesting news, because while I really have no reason to doubt Kiley or his sources, I could have sworn that Veres threw at least one pitch at 88 in the game last Friday night where the Cubs came back from a huge deficit but lost by one late. I think the point is a good one, that the extra 2-3 mph will give him a larger margin for error. I hope Rod Beck is listening, but I doubt it will make much difference. But mark it here first - when Alfonseca comes back, I'll bet they create space on the roster by putting somebody like Veres (or maybe Guthrie or Remlinger) on the DL with a "sore shoulder" or some other vague reference to being old and not throwing hard. It'll buy 2 weeks of time if nothing else.

This just in: David Kelton can mash. He could probably play third right now for the Cubs and hit .260 with power. I know it won't happen, but I'm a big believer in promoting players when their confidence is at its highest - it gives them the best chance to succeed. Hopefully, if the decision is made to give Kelton a shot, they'll do it after he's hit 3 home runs in a week and has a 10 game hitting streak.

Unfortunately, Kelton suffered a hamstring injury in last night's I-Cubs loss and had to leave the game. I'm still digging, but I don't have any additional information on how long he might be out.

Elsewhere in the minors, the offense has been, well, very Cub like. If you'll remember my reports from Arizona, I speculated that the Daytona offense would be pretty weak and largely it has been. However, Micah Hoffpaiur has been on fire this young season, to the tune of a .375 average and an .814 slugging percentage. My notes on him were that he is a strong looking guy with a pretty level swing, but he looked bad on breaking stuff a number of times. Perhaps he's figuring it out, or more likely he's seeing lots of fastballs in the early going.

Sergio Mitre had a successful AA debut, proving that good sinkers are pounded into the ground by good and bad prospects alike.

Don't look now but reliever Eric Brown has 10 Ks 7 innings, included 7 over 4 innings the other night.

Is that Bobby Hill is see fading down the prospect drain? Just kidding. I hope his slow start (3/20 and only 1 BB) ends soon.

I'm going to be releasing a revised Top 30 prospects list now that I've returned from my annual trip to Mesa. Look for at least a few surprises next week when I post it.

Thanks for coming back and reading. Email me at

Tuesday, April 01, 2003

Just returned from another trip - this time to NY for opening day.

I will write more soon. Thanks for bearing with me.

Sunday, March 23, 2003

Days 2 and 3 at Fitch Park

I was tired last night and decided to wait and post a double batch today. So sue me.

Yesterday I again saw the two A-ball teams play games. Today, Fitch was home to the AA and AAA teams. Lots of info, so I'll dive right in to yesterday's games. One note from yesterday: the working groups seem to be more accurate than I thought. While there will certainly be some more player movement before all is said and done, most players are with the groups they will eventually be playing with.

Yesterday's Daytona game featured Carmen Pignatiello on the mound. He's not a big guy, maybe 6 feet tall at best, but he's also one of my new favorite players. He's a smart, smart pitcher. His fastball was anywhere from 83-88, mostly sitting at 86 or so. He has good movement on the ball, and I got the impression that he could probably throw a little harder but sacraficed some velocity for location and movement. He also showed an above average change and a decent breaking ball. He is around the plate all day and successfully pitches inside with regularity, even getting a number of called strike threes with inside fastballs. He pitched 5 innings and only gave up 1 run on 3-4 hits. He probably had 7 or 8 strikeouts in those 5 innings. I really liked the way he pitched - he didn't walk anybody and he was rarely behind in the count. Occasionally he got a ball up or hung a breaking ball and it got hit, but he was able to work out of jams when he needed to. His mechanics are smooth and his command with the fastball is very good. Maybe he'll get hit in AA, but I would expect him to succeed in Daytona this year. At least right now, he looks to be in the rotation.

Foli was the next pitcher. He's also not very tall and was effective if unspectacular. He threw in the high 80s pretty consistently and showed a pretty nice change at times, but he left a number of balls over the plate and gave up a couple of runs. He threw strikes and was around the plate, but he seemed to lack that real "out" pitch.

The lineup for the game was loosely: Weston RF, Greenburg CF, Bouras 1B, JJ Johnson LF, Cedeno SS, Montanez, 2B, Slavik 3B, Wells C. I'm forgetting somebody else who hit 5th. Obviously it was interesting that Cedeno played short and Monty was over at second, but the day before Monty played short, so I don't think anything is set in stone just yet. Notes:

Greenburg can flat out run - he's a shorter, stocky guy, but he's got a real quick first step and was talking with roving instructor John Cangelosi about baserunning a couple of times... JJ Johnson looked healthy and had a couple of singles, but both were on meaty fastballs... Cedeno and Monty both had a couple of lined singles, but Monty was also thrown out stealing pretty easily... Defensively, both Cedeno and Monty made a couple of nice plays, and neither made an error... When the game was tied at 4 starting the bottom of the 9th, Weston single handedly ended the game -- he beat out a chopper up the middle for an infield hit, took second on an infield ground out, stole third on the next pitch, and scored when the catcher's throw went into left field. There are definitely some players on the team, but I think they will probably struggle to score runs unless Johnson really starts hitting or Bouras becomes the next Jason Dubois -- not alot of pop in the lineup.

On the Lansing side, the starting pitcher was Andy Sisco. Sisco's a tough looking kid - obviously pretty imposing at 6-9, but also because his first few pitches zipped in at 95. He threw 5 scoreless innings and was only in trouble once. His mechanics look a little rough around the edges in that it's obvious he fights them a bit. He has good mechanics, don't get me wrong, but he doesn't always look 100% comfortable. Still, the Cubs have really simplified his delivery and it serves him well. He's got a pretty free arm action and makes good use of his very strong legs in the power positions of his delivery. Over the course of his 5 innings, the velocity on his fastball ranged anywhere from 89 to 96. He started out very strong, lost a little steam in the middle, and then blew gas by all three hitters in the 5th. I was a little underwhelmed with his split, however. He got some foul balls with it, but didn't get very many swinging strikes with it, as it was mostly in the dirt. Still, it was an effective change of pace pitch to right handed batters. In the middle innings, he seemed to nibble around the corners with his breaking ball (I'd call it slightly above average) and split and what looked like a straight change. In the fifth, he threw almost all fastballs and dialed it up to as high as 96, getting two swinging strike threes and a weak popup.

He's clearly got incredible potential, both because of his size and his velocity. He was usually around the plate, but sometimes would rely on his fastball a little too much when behind in the count - something that may hurt him later. But it was clear that he was the focus of attention at the park - most of the coaches in thebox paid close attention, and I even heard Dave Bialas say that he might not stay at Lansing too long if he throws like he did on that day. I'd like to see him refine his breaking ball a bit more so it's a real weapon against left handed hitters and improve his split to the point that it is a strikeout pitch to right handers. Maybe it is and he just had an off day with it, or maybe he just wanted to focus on his fastball more, but he's going to need it as he gets to higher levels. I so no evidence that the Cubs were restricting which pitches he could throw. He's going to make a real nice ace of the staff for Lansing this year -- they could really go far with the staff that will likely be there.

After Sisco was fellow left hander Clinton Rapada. Rapada had a tough act to follow, and is more of a finesse lefty. He's not exactly a soft tosser, since I saw at least one pitch at 88, but he also seemed to struggle putting hitters away. He got a number of ground balls and effectively threw low fastballs to both lefties and righties. He's a pretty thin guy and might add some velocity as he fills out. For now, he's a projectable lefty that didn't look too exceptional in either velocity or stuff.

Because I was watching the Daytona game a little more closely, I didn't watch the Lansing hitters quite as much. Hitters on the team included Creighton, Craig, Medlin, Miller. Felix Pie did not play, and Francisco was in a completely different group.

Now onto today's AA and AAA games.

For the third straight year, I got to see a game pitched by Todd Wellemeyer, who started on the AA side. Welly just flat can pitch. He was consistently 92-93 with a couple in the 94-96 range. He has good command of his fastball and I love how he just peppers the strike zone with knee high fastballs. He still has the excellent change and still has a good idea of how to setup a hitter. I loved one instance where he got ahead of a hitter with an inside fastball and came back with his change. The hitter took the change just outside for ball one. Welly then came back with another change and the hitter did not expect it at all, swinging and missing by a mile (this is known as "doubling up"). Welly then finished him off with a fastball on the outer black for a called strike three (the hitter seemed to be looking inside).

His breaking ball is still just average to slightly above average, but he used it well. He looked as if he was throwing a slider or a cutter and I only saw one pitch that looked like a real curve, so I'm not sure if he's still throwing that or not. His slider doesn't give him another strikeout pitch, but since his change is so good, he doesn't need it to be and he used it effectively against right handed batters. Like all pitchers, Welly got hit when he left his fastball up in the zone. However, since his change is already a plus major league pitch, and since his velocity is where it is, he's got enough wiggle room so that he doesn't have to be perfect with every pitch. I think he'll have another good year and be knocking on the door before the year is up.

Wellemeyer was followed by a left named Jensen who got hit pretty hard in an inning, though I didn't watch too closely. Then Jared Blasdell came on for an inning. Blasdell is pretty thin and wirey and has a high effort delivery, slinging the ball from a low 3/4 arm slot. He has pretty good deception and has alot of life on his slider, especially against right handed hitters. However, while his arm slow generates some run on his fastball, it was only 86-88 today. That was good enough to get a couple of jam shot ground balls, but it was also slow enough to be hit pretty hard when it was not in on the hands. He strikes me as the typical successful low A reliever - good stuff and one dominant pitch (here the slider) but really not good enough to succeed alot at higher levels. I hope I'm wrong - maybe he'll turn into Steve Reed.

Finally, John Leicester came on and pitched the final two innings. I asked one of the players nearby if he would close this year and he thought that Leicester would definitely be in late relief, if not the closer. He threw 93 pretty consistently with easy mechanics. I'll note that this was a good 3-4 mph faster than he threw at this time last year. His two innings went by pretty quickly. Most of the outs came on fly balls against his fastball and I almost walked away disappointed in his stuff until he unleashed a couple of wicked hooks to the last batter he faced. It was a hard, biting curve ball that froze the right handed hitter on a 1-1 pitch and made him wave at it 1-2. I hadn't seen such a good deuce from him before that, so I left thinking that the potential certainly is there for him to put it all together in relief. He lacks Wellemeyer's polish and command around the plate, but has a real live arm. He's a project, but one that is well worth the time.

Also of interest: Reynel Pinto was with the AA team.

The lineup for the game was Sadler CF, Shrager 2B, Velazquez 1B, Dubois RF, Sing 3B, Tucker LF, Arteaga DH, Goldbach C, Ortiz SS. Notes:

Sadler roped a couple of doubles but also popped up on first pitches... Velazquez hit a mammoth home run and struck out twice... Dubois and Sing hit back to back doubles in the first off the wall in left center... Dubois also worked a 2 strike walk and singled up the middle... Shrager seemed a little overmatched in a few at bats... Mike Dzurilla took over for Sing in the 6th and had a single...

I'm going to have to wait and write up the AAA report another time. Tomorrow will be my last day in AZ and my last day at Fitch. I believe that AAA and AA teams will be there again, but I'm not sure. Since I'll be getting back to Chicago late tomorrow night, there won't be an update until Tuesday evening probably. Thanks for reading.