Sunday, January 22, 2012

MLB Showdown Needs


From time to time I spend some discretionary income trying to fill in my MLB Showdown collection.  Below is a list of cards I still  need and HERE is a list of cards I have to trade.  Feel free to post in the comments section or email me to talk about trading like we used to do on the ShowdownCards Forum back in the day.

22000 Pennant Run: None


2001 Base Set: Mike Sweeney

2001 Pennant Run: Ramiro Mendoza

2002 Base Set: Albie Lopez,  Roberto Hernandez, Tom Goodwin, Nick Neugebauer,Michael Barrett, Kaz Sasaki, Darryl Kile, Bud Smith, Kelvim Escobar

2002 Trade Deadline: Billy Wagner

2002 Pennant Run: David Eckstein, Kenny Lofton, Vicente Padilla, Eric Hinske, Chipper Jones (’98 Braves Super Season), Randy Johnson (’95 Mariners Super Season), Roberto Alomar (’93 Blue Jays Super Season), Trevor Hoffman (’98 Padres Super Season)

2003 Base Set: None

2003 Trade Deadline: None

2003 Pennant Run: Jeremy Bonderman, Carlos Baerga (1993 Super Season),

2004 Base Set: NONE

2004 Trade Deadline: Bob Gibson

2004 Pennant Run:Danys Baez, Jim Palmer

2005 Base Set: David Ortiz, C.C. Sabathia, Aaron Miles, Ugeth Urbina, Armando Benitez, Brad Lidge, Cesar Izturis, Mike Piazza, Kenny Lofton, Mike Lieberthal, Eric Munson, Ramon Hernandez, Jason Schmidt, Ichiro, Jim Edmonds, Francisco Cordero, Justin Speier, Vernon Wells

2005 Trade Deadline: Brooks Robinson, Rod Carew, Nolan Ryan

Thursday, January 19, 2012

A Phillies Prospect Retrospective

Phillies fans used to think Carlos Carrasco was the next big thing.


The trade is perhaps baseball’s most fascinating event. The individuals involved suddenly have their lives uprooted and relocated somewhere entirely new, Twitter explodes, the Majestic factory in Easton, PA, begins minting never-before-seen jerseys and you venture to ESPN.com to berate Keith Law for his opinion on the trade because he invariably hates the team you root for. More often than not, these trades involve one party trading a known, short-term asset for one or more relatively unknown, long-term assets. We call these young players “prospects.”
Thanks to the internet, people know more about prospects than they ever have before. Sometimes this is lovely. Rangers fans know who Jurickson Profar is and have interesting discussions about what GM Jon Daniels will do with Elivs Andrus when Profar is ready for primetime. Roto freaks sit with their finger on the mouse waiting for Desmond Jennings to get called up so they can be the first to snatch him off waives and reap the financial benefits shortly thereafter. We also get to make jokes about Yeonis Cespedes’ core strength. That’s all fantastic. Inevitably, there’s also plenty of bad that comes with the obsession. People overreact, become prisoners of the moment and suddenly think the world of Junior Lake and very little ofDomonic Brown. Insufferable blowhards pester Kevin Goldstein, “How is Austin Romine not on this list? He’s a future star! Moron.” Just because you are passionate about something doesn’t necessarily mean you are well informed. Prospects teach us this all the time.
No matter how smart you are when it comes to prospects, you’re not that smart. None of us are. You’re predicting the futures of teenage children, many of who are simultaneously learning baseball and assimilating into an entirely new culture. Mistakes in judgment will be made. To show as much, I have compiled here a nice little case study. Thanks to the aggressive nature of General Manager Ruben Amaro (and his predecessor Pat Gillick) the Phillies have essentially traded away an entire farm system worth of talent over the past four years. This franchise’s sequence of events is prime for analysis. The Phillies went from a franchise suffering from a decade’s worth of mediocrity (Mike LieberthalTravis Lee!) and became one of baseball’s juggernauts. They’ve done a lot of this via “the trade.”
How did these trades shake out for each of the franchises involved? Did the prospects pan out the way we thought they would? With the Phillies, we have a large enough sample of deals and, most importantly, enough time has passed to talk about the principles involved with some degree of certainty. Hopefully you’ve been entrenched in prospectdom long enough to recollect your thoughts on these trades at their time of completion. In parentheses after each prospect’s name is their peak ranking in the Phillies system per Baseball America.
Phillies acquire Brad Lidge from Astros for Michael Bourn (Peak rank: #3), Geoff Geary and Mike Costanzo (#6)
Lidge had one magical season that undoubtedly helped the Phillies win a World Series. “Magical” is code for “he was very good but also very lucky.” Lidge has since suffered a drastic decline in stuff and physical health. Bourn became an above-average regular at a premium position, surpassing many a pundit’s expectations that he’d be a fourth outfielder. Astros GM Ed Wade traded him to the Braves this past season for too little. He’s an excellent player. Geary (a middle reliever) and Costanzo (who never saw the majors) are inconsequential. From a sheer regular season baseball value perspective, the Astros won this trade, but the Phils won a title, so we’ll call it a push.
At least Outman's stirrups are sweet.

Phillies acquire Joe Blanton from A’s for Adrian Cardenas (#2), Josh Outman (#4) and Matt Spencer
Blanton, his injuries and his conditioning have all been frustrating of late, but he too played a role that led to Philadelphia’s 2008 championship. Outman reached the majors and looked like he’d be a nice back-end starter until Tommy John surgery sucked some life out of his fastball. He was traded to the Rockies this week. His role is up in the air, but it’s safe to say he’s at least an un-embarrassing placeholder while the Rockies develop upgrades. Adrian Cardenas was named High School Player of the Year by Baseball America in 2006. At the time of this trade, he was the centerpiece. A once potential middle infielder with a plus bat, Cardenas isn’t good enough defensively to play anywhere in the infield (other than 1B) and his bat isn’t good enough to profile in left field. He’s only 23, but he looks like an extra guy at best. Spencer was a throw-in and has never made it to the majors.
Phillies acquire John Mayberry Jr. from Rangers for Greg Golson (#2)
Your classic change of scenery trade, Mayberry had been a first-round pick of the Mariners during Gillick’s tenure in Seattle but decided not to sign and went to college at Stanford instead. He was redrafted by the Rangers a few years later, again in round one. When you’ve been drafted twice in the first round, you’ve got tools to succeed. Mayberry clearly hasn’t optimized his talent for one reason or another (Stanford is notorious for irreparably altering hitters’ swings) but the change of scenery did him some good. He’s a fine fourth outfielder or platoon bat and showed some chops in center field last year. Mayberry whacks lefties, plays every outfield position pretty well and can moonlight at first base in a pinch. To get that for six years at a very low cost is a bargain. Golson had one of the most impressive tool packages you’ll ever see but could never sort it out at the dish. He’s an extra guy.
Phillies acquire Cliff Lee and Ben Francisco from Indians for Lou Marson (#3), Jason Donald (#4), Carlos Carrasco (#1) and Jason Knapp (#10)
I don’t have to tell you what Lee has been up to. Carrasco has always had top-of-the-rotation stuff but had the most glaring on-mound makeup issues I’ve ever seen. As soon as something went wrong, he’d unravel. While Carrasco has gotten things together enough that he’s not a basket case, he’s no world beater, either. He might yet put it together and yield above-average results, but it’s hard to believe he was once the crown jewel of the Phillies system. Knapp was the other piece in this deal with any real upside. A plus-plus fastball and a workhorse build meant Knapp had top-of-the-rotation potential as long he could be kept healthy and develop secondary stuff. That hasn’t happened. Knapp threw just 28 innings in 2010 and didn’t pitch in 2011. There’s still time for Knapp, he’s only 21, but it’s now much more likely he’s just a reliever. Marson has become a fine defensive catcher but profiles as a backup. Donald can’t play shortstop well enough to play every day and doesn’t hit enough for anywhere else. He’s bench fodder.
Phillies acquire Phillippe Aumont (#2), Tyson Gillies (#8) and JC Ramirez (#5) from Mariners for Cliff Lee
The Phillies found out in 2010 what the Mariners had known since 2008 had ended: Phillippe Aumont’s control issues relegate him to the bullpen. The control issues, which stem primarily from Aumont’s size and lack of athleticism to overcome it, are still there and rear their ugly head in frustrating spurts. The stuff, however, is nasty. Mid-90s heater with sink and a plus curveball mean Aumont will be a fine late-inning arm. He’ll arrive in Philly sometime this year. Gillies is still a work in progress after chronic injury issues derailed 2010 and 2011 for him. His slappy swing could mean he’ll have on-base issues in the future. He looks like a nice extra outfielder but if the approach somehow holds up and the defense is either elite in a corner or average in center, he’d be a decent regular. JC Ramirez has regressed to a point where it’s tough to consider him a prospect at all right now. His strikeout rate has plummeted. On a side note, I find it amusing that Seattle now employs both Justin Smoak and Jesus Montero, the prospects they were essentially deciding between when they ultimately chose to send Lee to the Rangers in 2010.
Phillies acquire Roy Halladay from Blue Jays for Michael Taylor (#3), Travis d’Arnaud (#4) and Kyle Drabek(#2)
Taylor was immediately spun to Oakland for Brett Wallace and has been a disappointment. He’s never had the kind of raw power you’d expect from someone built like an NFL tight end (thanks again, Stanford) but had average-or-above tools across the board. Billy Beane re-signed Coco Crisp and acquired Josh Reddick andSeth Smith this winter. Those aren’t exactly endorsements of Taylor’s future. Drabek, his plus fastball and power curveball in tow, looked like a future #2 starter. The Phillies certainly thought so, they deemed Drabek untouchable for quite a while before begrudgingly parting with him in order to land Doc. Drabek reached Toronto last year but couldn’t find the strike zone. He had some embarrassing walk rates before being sent back down to the minors. He’ll need to be rebuilt. Travis d’Arnaud is going to end up being the best player in this trade. The young catcher won Eastern League MVP this past year and looks like he might contend for big boy MVPs one day. In an online environment where we probably talk about prospects too much, we don’t talk about d’Arnaud enough.
Phillies acquire Roy Oswalt from Astros for JA Happ (#8), Jonathan Villar (#22) and Anthony Gose (#6)
Oswalt was miscast as an “ace” when he got to Philly. He’s now a mid-rotation guy whose fastball velocity has dipped enough that it can no longer make up for what he lacks in downhill plane. Teams seem hesitant to give him even a one-year deal thanks to natural decline and his balky back. Happ was always a back-end starter at best. Thanks to some great luck on balls in play, good run support and Ed Wade’s ineptitude as a GM, the Phillies sold way high on Happ after a nice rookie year. Shortstop Villar was just 19 years old at the time of the trade. He remains a bit of a project at the plate but strides are being made. Villar posted a .767 OPS at high-A Lancaster last year before being moved up to double-A as a 20-year-old. The defense will stick at shortstop, so if he can hit even a little bit, Villar will be a fine big leaguer. He’s still a work in progress, perhaps the least polished member of this entire piece. Upon acquiring the uber-toolsy Gose, Ed Wade immediately flipped him to Toronto for … Brett Wallace, again. Toronto made some mechanical alterations to Gose’s swing to improve his performance at the plate, lengthening his stride a bit. I’m relatively bearish on Gose, I just don’t believe in the bat, but he’s one of the toolsiest athletes I’ve ever seen. Gose’s defense in center field is good enough that he’d likely be a nice player no matter how anemic his offensive output might be. Just something to keep in the back of your mind should Gose crap out completely: The lefty touched 97mph on the mound in high school.
Phillies acquire Hunter Pence from Astros for Jonathan Singleton (#2), Jarred Cosart (#4) and Josh Zeid
Jonathan Singleton is just 20 years old, but all indications are he’s going to be a monster. The physicality, the swing, the approach, it’s all there. After struggling a bit at the beginning of last year (the Phillies were tinkering with his swing a bit), Singleton dominated high-A. He hit .333/.405/.512 after this trade. Polished for a hitter his age, Singleton could see a cup of coffee with the Astros at the end of 2013. Cosart has a nasty three-pitch mix, a mid- to upper-90s heater with arm side run, and a curve and change that flash above average. It’s top-of-the-rotation material. Enthusiasm for Cosart is curbed by his violent delivery, which some see as a harbinger of doom as it pertains to his health. He has had arm issues in the past. Zeid is a nice middle-relief prospect.
I spent three intro paragraphs alluding to the importance of objectivity and patience when it comes to talking about these young kids. Then, I revealed my unbridled zeal for Singleton and d’Arnaud. Does this make me a hypocrite? Yes. Yes, it does. I can’t help it, we’re talking about prospects. But look at what we have here: almost a trade a year for five years. Players of almost every career arc imaginable. Established big leaguers (Bourn), relative disappointments (Taylor, Aumont), future studs (d’Arnaud, Singleton), guys teetering between disappointment and stud (Drabek, Gose), change-of-scenery guys who worked out (Mayberry) and didn’t (Golson), and young kids about whom we still have plenty to learn. The ripples from this series of trades will be felt for the next decade or so. I hope this has shown you how volatile even the most highly regarded prospects can be and changes, for the better, the way you perceive them.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Oscar Taveras Scouting Report


Oscar Taveras is a rare talent, but still a long way off. (Jeff Cook/Quad City Times)
Oscar Taveras (St. Louis Cardinals outfielder)
Height: 6’-2”
Weight: 180 lbs
DOB: 6/19/1992 (He’s 19, so you don’t have to do the math in your head)
From: La Republica Dominicana
Cardinals fans are undoubtedly searching for some solace after losing Albert Pujols via free agency. Sure, the Cards just won the World Series and every fan pretends there’s some sort of unspoken grace period shortly thereafter, but this is a façade. Fans want to win every year and any justification of their team’s failure due to recent success is an exercise in self deception. After all, denial is the first stage in the Kübler-Ross model.
Cardinals fans are hurting right now. I wish I could be optimistic about their short-term prospects (pun intended) but between losing Pujols, Adam Wainwright’s inevitable rust, a host of aging vets, the “win now” moves the Reds have made and a catalog of other issues, the Redbirds might have a rough year. Other thanShelby Miller, true impact players are a long way off and almost all of them are arms (I’m not a Zack Cox fan). One bat to get excited about is that of teenager Oscar Taveras.
That’s OH-skar, not AH-sker, which means his name grades out as at least a 60.
Offense:
Taveras spent 2011 at low-A Quad Cities of the Midwest league, his first season above rookie ball. He was a force of nature, batting .386 with a .444 OBP and a .564 SLG. While statistics from 19-year-olds at such a low level are often misleading or of little importance (at that age you’re still primarily looking at tools and projectability), a line like that is overwhelmingly impressive.
Taveras flirted with a .400 batting average in 2011 thanks to a drool-inducing swing I spent a week of Arizona Fall League ball gawking at. The plate coverage is excellent as is the bat speed. One concern with Taveras’ swing is that it has a ton of effort. He goes full bore on every cut, and high-effort swings like this raise concerns about excessive swing-and-miss potential. It seems to work for Oscar as his impressive hand-eye coordination overcame that malady. He only struck out 52 times in 347 plate appearances this past year (re-insert caveat about teenagers and statistics here). Taveras’ secondary skills obviously need refining. He’s advanced for his age but not advanced when you consider the grand scheme of things. There are signs of a two-strike approach (he shortens his stride), but his general plate discipline needs work. Several times in the AFL, I saw him lunging at unhittable pitches off the plate away. Part of Taveras’ proclivity to chase might stem from his excellent plate coverage. He might be over confident in his reach.
You’re going to want to watch and see how the power develops. At a wiry 6’-2” and 180 lbs, Taveras has some room to grow. He had better do it. Right now, there’s not a lot of raw power in the swing or the body. I have it graded out as a 40 right now. As he develops, Oscar is going to have to do at least one of two things: He can either squeeze more power out of his swing as he gets a better feel for getting backspin and loft on the ball or he can get more power out of the body by getting bigger and stronger. If he does both, he could run into 25-30 home runs annually. The chances are Lloyd Christmas/Mary Swanson slim but are non-zero.
Defense
Oscar has spent time in all three outfield positions. His above-average arm is good enough to play anywhere in the outfield. The question moving forward is whether or not he can stick in center field. With slightly-above-average speed, Taveras’ routes in center would have to be quite crisp for him to profile there. Right now, they are not. While this is something that could come with time, you have to consider the quandary Cardinals player-development people face here.  Do you tell Taveras to hit the weight room, bulk up and hope it improves his power, knowing that his fate lies in an outfield corner? Or, do you try to keep him as agile as possible and potentially sacrifice some offense in order to keep him at a more valuable position?
Taveras has the tools to make some all-star rosters and maybe do some batting-title things one day. Do players like this often realize their full potential and maximize their output? No. That’s part of why this is so fun. I just spent 750 words telling you about a guy that might amount to nothing. Look for Oscar in a Florida State League ballpark near you in 2012.