Friday, February 6, 2009

The Top 30 College Baseball Recruits for 2010

In the final installment of our 2009 College Preview we take a look into a future as we provide the top 30 recruits for 2010. Of course, many of these players will sign pro contracts after being drafted in June and will never step foot on a college campus.

1) Tyler Matzek, LHP; Oregon – This projectable lefty boasts a polished four-pitch repertoire, including a 93-94 mph fastball.

2) Shelby Miller, RHP; Texas A&M – Rapidly rising up draft boards due to easy mid 90's velocity and much improved offspeed stuff.

3) Matt Purke, LHP; Texas Christian – Eerily similar to Matzek, however he's not as developed physically and his motion is more three-quarters.

4) Austin Maddox, C; Florida – Simply put, a beast. An intimidating presence both at the plate and behind it.

5) Jacob Turner, RHP; North Carolina – Well-proportioned power pitcher with two plus pitches and the command of a college upperclassman.

6) Donavan Tate, OF; North Carolina – The best athlete in the entire draft. Lethal bat, laser arm and blazing speed. Also a prized football recruit.

7) Zach Wheeler, RHP; Kennesaw State – His commitment to a third-tier program all but ensures that he'll head straight to the pro ranks.

8) Matt Davidson, 3B; USC – Coming off a down junior season, he torched showcase pitching all summer.

9) Luke Bailey, C; Auburn – The best all-around catcher in a loaded high school crop. Could easily start right now for most Division I programs.

10) Tyler Skaggs, LHP; Cal State Fullerton – Not as mechanically-sound as Matzek and Purke, but has just as much velocity with more room for projection.

11) Bobby Borchering, 3B; Florida – Displays startling power from both sides of the plate. An adequate fielder who should be able to stick at the hot corner.

12) Jonathan Walsh, C; Texas – Very athletic for a catcher. Smacks the ball from both sides of the plate and has exceptional mobility and a nice arm behind it.

13) Madison Younginer, RHP; Clemson – Superb mechanics and a picture perfect pitcher's build. Mixes a 90-93 mph fastball with a solid curveball and changeup.

14) Jeff Malm, 1B; USC – His smooth swing and slick fielding conjure up memories of a Casey Kotchman circa 2001.

15) Brian Goodwin, OF; North Carolina – His pure hitting/speed package elicit Curtis Granderson comparisons. A true center fielder.

16) Jiovanni Mier, SS; USC – Acrobatic fielder whose offense has started to catch up to the rest of his game. Enjoyed an excellent showcase season.

17) Mychal Givens, P/SS; Oklahoma State – Despite highlight reel ability at shortstop, his future's on the mound. Throws 95 mph easy with a good curveball.

18) Max Stassi, C; UCLA – Fantastic catch-and-throw skills, including a gun for an arm. Also displays surprising pop given his smallish stature.

19) Ian Krol, LHP; Arizona – A "finesse" lefty who has three plus pitches including a 90+ mph fastball.

20) Matt Hobgood, RHP; Cal State Fullerton – Already enormous and hasn't stopped growing. Rough mechanics could land him in the pen full-time.

21) Deven Marrero, SS; Arizona State – Silky-smooth fielder with an ideal shortstop's build. His bat lags behind his glove but is rapidly improving.

22) Jacob Marisnick, OF; Oregon – Projection oozes from his lithe, yet muscular, frame. A five-tool athlete who resembles Dale Murphy on the diamond.

23) Richie Shaffer, 3B; Clemson – A prototypical third baseman with a howitzer for an arm and immense power potential. Would likely start as a freshman.

24) LeVon Washington, 2B; Florida – The fastest player on this list who can play anywhere in the middle of the diamond. Potent bat with plenty of gap power.

25) Keyvius Sampson, RHP; Florida State – Live body and live arm. Already throws 92-94 mph and projects to throw harder once he matures.

26) Patrick Schuster, LHP; Florida – Has very similar mechanics to Purke, though his stuff isn't as crisp.

27) Chad James, LHP; Oklahoma State – Yet another lanky lefty whose three-pitch mix includes low 90's heat.

28) Slade Heathcott, OF; LSU – Can hit 94 mph from the mound, but his future lies elsewhere. Lightning quick bat and a strong, accurate arm from the outfield.

29) Will Myers, 3B; South Carolina – Accomplished athlete who has both caught and pitched in high school. Has undeniable power potential.

30) Danny Aldrich, OF; Wake Forest – A picture-perfect left-handed stroke. MVP of the '08 Summer World Wood Bat Tournament.

2009 Preseason College Baseball All-Freshman Teams

The 2009 College Preview continues today with our Preseason Freshman All-America Teams.

First Team

Catcher – Jordan Swaggerty, Arizona State – Will initially share catching duties with JuCo transfer Carlos Ramiriez and should also see time in Coach Murphy's bullpen.

First Base – Danny Hultzen, Virginia – He very easily could have made this list as a pitcher, but he swung the Cavaliers' most potent bat in the fall.

Second Base – Tony Rendon, Rice – His athletic ability will enable him to play all over the diamond for Coach Graham. Looked great in fall ball.

Shortstop – Andy Burns, Kentucky – Highest ranked high school prospect in Colorado held his own as a 17-year-old in the Northwoods League last summer.

Third Base – Zack Cox, Arkansas – Has prodigious raw power from the left side and a cannon arm at the hot corner. Will be draft eligible as a sophomore.

Outfield – Brian Humphries, Pepperdine – If he develops more power he has more upside than any other position player on this list. Should lead off in '09.

Outfield – Zach Cone, Georgia – Breathtaking five tool potential yet still very raw. Might see only limited playing time this year.

Outfield – Chase Davidson, Georgia – Has the most power in the entire freshman class, however he's streaky. Runs well for his size and has a strong throwing arm.

Designated Hitter – Harold Martinez, Miami – Will try to reverse a disappointing end to his high school career. Expected to start immediately at third base for the Hurricanes.

Pitcher – Gerrit Cole, UCLA – The most highly touted member of his class. Turned down $2 million from the Yankees and will bring his 97 mph heater to Westwood.

Pitcher – Sonny Gray, Vanderbilt – An arm injury and an ironclad Vandy commitment severely hurt his draft stock. Will probably begin as a weekday starter.

Pitcher – Alex Meyer, Kentucky – He turned down $2 million and a trip on Red Sox owner John Henry's private plane for a chance to pitch for his mother's alma matter.

Pitcher – Michael Palazzone, Georgia – Lanky projectable build with best curveball in '08 high school class. Also features a 92-94 MPH fastball.

Pitcher – Mark Pope, Georgia Tech – Will break in as G-Tech's closer, but he's too good to remain in the bullpen for his entire college career.

Second Team

Catcher – Ben McMahon, Florida – Will start immediately for the Gators and contribute both on offensive and defense.

First Base – Ricky Oropesa, Southern California – USC's lone marquee freshman should be a fixture in the middle of the lineup right out of the gate.
Second Base – Riccio Torres, Arizona State – Joins older brother Raoul in the Sun Devils' infield. Already has enough plate discipline to be an effective lead-off hitter.

Shortstop – Brandon Loy, Texas – He leveraged an excellent fall into a starting assignment in the spring. A defensive whiz.

Third Base – Shane Kroker, Wake Forest – A defensive standout who could probably start at shortstop for most teams. However, questions about his bat remain.

Outfield – Cory Farris, Kentucky – This former All-Kentucky running back showcased his exceptional strength with mammoth home runs in fall ball.

Outfield – Bryan Haar, San Diego – Uber-athletic middle-of-the-field player who enjoyed a banner summer in Alaska.

Outfield – Austin Stadler, Wake Forest – Had an eye-opening fall, hitting .396. Should also see time on the mound, where he led the Deacons in scrimmages with 21 strikeouts.

Designated Hitter – Zack Wilson, Arizona State – Will see action all over the diamond in '09. Hits the ball with authority to all fields.

Pitcher – Daniel Marrs, Wake Forest – Improved conditioning has allowed him to tighten up his body and improve his endurance. Should see action as a weekend starter.

Pitcher – Nick Maronde, Florida – Excellent mound presence and moxie are overshadowed by three quality pitches, including a low 90's fastball with tailing action.

Pitcher – Brett Mooneyham, Stanford – Will compete for a spot in the Cardinal's weekend rotation. His father, Bill, pitched in the majors with Oakland.

Pitcher – Brian Busick, Stanford – A pro body with four above average pitches. A near lock to be a weekend starter in 2010. Will serve in the bullpen until then.

Pitcher – Anthony Fazio, Rice – He'll compete with fellow freshman Taylor Wall for the Sunday starter role. The loser will start mid-week.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

College Baseball Second Team Preseason All-Americans

We continue our college preview by presenting our Preseason Second Team All-Americans. As was the case with the First Team, all players selected for this squad are done so based on their performance as well as their pro potential.


Micah Gibbs, Sophomore, Louisiana State – A cerebral catcher in the Jason Varitek mold. Also is a switch-hitter, like Varitek, with pop from both sides of the plate. His compact body allows him to effectively block pitches in the dirt. Has the strong arm and quick release necessary to stop any running game.

First Base

Hunter Morris, Sophomore, Auburn – The most imposing power hitter in the sophomore class. Makes surprising contact for the style of hitter he is and has showed the ability to work a walk. An average first baseman with soft hands but substandard footwork and range.

Second Base

Kyle Seager, Junior, North Carolina – An excellent pure hitter who makes plenty of contact with hard backspin. His swing rarely gets long due to his simple, mechanically sound approach. A former shortstop, he has more than enough arm for second and is adept at turning the double play.


Rick Hague, Sophomore, Rice – A physical shortstop in the same mold as Green. He centers the ball well and has good loft in his swing. Is sure-handed with plenty of range and a cannon arm. Missed summer ball due to shoulder surgery, but should be ready to go by spring.

Third Base

Chris Dominguez, Red Shirt Junior, Louisville – By far the most power of any collegiate. First player on the Cape to hit three homers in one game since Frank Thomas in 1988. A solid fielder but will probably outgrow third base. Returned to school after being selected in the 5th round by the Rockies.


Brett Jackson, Junior, California (Berkeley) – Perhaps the best raw athlete on either team, he was a standout football player in high school. Started to put it all together last summer on the Cape, where he flashed an intimidating power/speed combo. Should be able to stay in center field as a pro.

Brett Eibner, Sophomore, Arkansas – Earned more accolades as a pitcher in high school but has tremendous upside as a hitter. Though still somewhat raw, he's showed good power to all fields as well as the ability to hit for average. His speed/arm combo enables him to play anywhere in the outfield.

Matt den Dekker, Junior, Florida – A dynamic all-around player. A line drive machine who's developed more punch as he's filled out. Has had difficulty hitting with wood, however. Has blazing speed in addition to being an intelligent base runner. A true center fielder with an adequate arm.

Designated Hitter

Marc Krauss, Junior, Ohio – The second-best pure hitter in the college ranks after Ackley, but lacks Ackley's athleticism. Stung the ball the entire summer on the Cape and was especially proficient going the other way. Has an average arm, but poor speed could result in a move to first base.

Starting Pitchers

Kyle Blair, Sophomore, San Diego – Should battle Harvey as the best collegiate pitcher in 2010. Reminds many scouts of Kevin Brown due to his build and terrific command of a mid 90's power sinker and vicious slider. Sat out most of last summer because of a heavy spring workload.

Brandon Workman, Sophomore, Texas – Was unhittable at times on the Cape last summer, mixing a boring 93-95 mph fastball with an above average slider and developing changeup. His large, sturdy build should enable him to become a front-of-the-rotation horse at the next level.

Chance Ruffin, Sophomore, Texas – The son of 12-year major league veteran Bruce Ruffin, he has the moxie and poise you'd expect from someone with such a pedigree. He also has first-rate stuff, including a fastball he can dial into the mid-90's, a hammer curve and serviceable changeup.

Mike Minor, Junior, Vanderbilt – Compares favorably to former Commodore Jeremy Sowers. Throws the kitchen sink at hitters -- a 88-91 mph fastball, spike curveball, slider and circle changeup. Not an intimidating mound presence, but should evolve into a reliable #3 in pro ball.

Barret Loux, Sophomore, Texas A&M – A big, flamethrowing Texan in the same mold as Workman, He uses an electric mid-90's fastball to set up his power curve and above average changeup. A well-conditioned athlete who maintains his velocity well into the late innings.


Jason Stoffel, Junior, Arizona – Strong, compact build with especially thick legs. Throws a low 90's fastball with good movement as well as a power curve. Perfect closer mentality -- never gets rattled and has a short memory. Threw a plus changeup in high school but hasn't needed it in college.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

College Baseball Preseason First Team All-Americans

In today’s column we continue to prepare for the upcoming college season by presenting our Preseason First Team All-Americans. Just one note, however. The players selected for this team are done so based on their performance as well as their pro potential. This is especially important for position players, who will have to make the transition from aluminum bats to wood once their collegiate days are over. As a result, preferential treatment is admittedly given to hitters who have enjoyed success swinging wood bats in summer league play.


Ryan Ortiz, Junior, Oregon State – An offense-first catcher who has made significant strides defensively. Extremely quick to the ball. Has also added power as he's filled out. His quick release compensates for a fringe average arm. Needs more work blocking pitches in the dirt.

First Base

Ben Paulsen, Junior, Clemson – Generates terrific power with a balanced left-handed stroke. Unlike most home run hitters, he has almost no uppercut. His swing does get long at times, however, which leaves him susceptible to high, hard stuff. A slick fielder with exceptionally soft hands.

Second Base

Robbie Shields, Junior, Florida Southern – Don't let the Division II school fool you. He derives outstanding bat speed from strong wrists and forearms, which results in power to all fields. Currently a shortstop, but his lack of range will likely force a move to second. His bat also projects at the hot corner.


Grant Green, Junior, Southern California – A new generation, five-tool shortstop in the mold of Troy Tulowitzki. Gets good extension on his swing with the ability to hit for both average and power. Sure-handed in the field with a cannon arm. Should be a top five pick in June.

Third Base

Derek Dietrich, Sophomore, Georgia Tech – A strong left-handed hitter in the Robin Ventura mold. Has undeniable power but is also adept at shortening his stroke with two strikes. He might outgrow shortstop, but his arm plays anywhere on the diamond. A probable first round pick in 2010.


Dustin Ackley, Junior, North Carolina – A hitting machine who sprays line drives all over the field with a short, crisp swing. Boasts great speed. Should be ready to man center field in '09 after undergoing Tommy John Surgery last summer. The second-highest ranked position player after Green.

Kentrail Davis, Sophomore, Tennessee – Draft eligible sophomore has a potent left-handed bat capable of scorching line drives to all fields. Runs very well despite stocky build, though he's expected to slow considerably once he reaches his late 20's. A poor fielder whose weak arm limits him to left field.

A.J. Pollack, Junior, Notre Dame – Despite two solid seasons in South Bend, he didn't gain notoriety until he hit .377 on the Cape in '08 while flashing an impressive mix of power and speed. A solid center fielder who could enhance his value by moving to second base in the pros.

Designated Hitter

Blake Smith, Junior, California (Berkeley) – An interesting two-way player. At the plate he reminds scouts of Ryan Klesko with his light-tower power. On the mound he hits 93 mph on the gun and also features a sharp curveball. He currently profiles best as a rifle-armed, power-hitting right fielder.

Starting Pitchers

Stephen Strasburg, Junior, San Diego State – The most complete college pitching prospect since Mark Prior in '01. Throws a fastball which reaches the high 90's, a hammer curve and solid changeup, all with extraordinary command. Has a large, durable frame and sound mechanics.

Alex White, Junior, North Carolina – Another premier pitching prospect. Repertoire features a fastball in the mid 90's and a wicked slider, though he must work on his command and fine tune his changeup. Accomplished athlete with the stamina necessary to maintain his velocity deep into games.

Kyle Gibson, Junior, Missouri – The latest stud in a long line of Missouri aces. Already hits the low 90's with his fastball and should add a few more ticks once he fills out. Also throws the best slider in the college ranks. However, he still needs to tighten his motion and refine his mechanics.

Andrew Oliver, Junior, Oklahoma State – Eligibility is in doubt due to alleged relationship with a pro agent. Still, his talent is evident every time he takes the mound. Throws a heavy 92-93 mph two-seamer as well as a cutter. Curveball and changeup also show promise. Pinpoint control.

Matt Harvey, Sophomore, North Carolina – Likely the #1 ranked pitcher in 2010. Throws a lively 92-94 mph fastball with late, darting life, in addition to a first-rate curve and changeup. Excellent mound presence. His lanky build and easy arm action leave plenty of room for projection.

Relief Pitcher

Kendal Volz, Junior, Baylor – Had far more success coming out of the bullpen for Team USA than as a starter for Baylor. Throws mid 90's heat with a power curveball. His lack of a changeup and intimidating mound presence could translate into a closer role in pro ball.

Monday, February 2, 2009

The College Baseball Preseason Top 40

With the college baseball season set to kick of later this month (Opening Day is Friday, February 20th across the country), now is an ideal time to switch gears and talk some ping. We’ll dedicate this week’s columns to previewing the 2009 college season. Here’s the lineup:

Today we’ll give our Preseason Top 40.

Tomorrow we’ll provide our Preseason First Team All-Americans.

Wednesday our Preseason Second Team All-Americans will be available.

Thursday we’ll uncover the Freshman All-Americans.

Finally, Friday we’ll cover the Top Thirty Recruits for 2010.

So, without further ado, here’s your Preseason Top 40 for 2009:

1) North Carolina -- No school has a 1-2 starting pitching tandem as intimidating as Alex White and Matt Harvey.

2) Louisiana State -- They have college baseball's most toxic lineup with a perfect mix of speed, power and high average hitters.

3) Rice – Will Rick Hague be next year's Grant Green?

4) Texas – Chance Ruffin, Brandon Workman, Cole Green, Cameron Rupp & Kevin Keyes give the 'Horns the best sophomore class in the nation.

5) Texas A&M – Barret Loux, Alex Wilson, Brooks Raley and Clayton Ehlert represent the deepest starting pitching quartet in the country.

6) Stanford – Brent Milleville, Joey August and Jeff Whitlow will add senior experience to an otherwise underwhelming lineup.

7) Clemson – Once again, Coach Leggett fields the deepest team in the ACC.

8) San Diego – The million dollar question -- Will Kyle Blair be able to replace Brian Matusz at the top of USD's vaunted rotation?

9) Georgia Tech – Coach Hall's decision to insert freshman Mark Pope into the closer's role speaks volumes as to the sorry state of the Yellow Jackets' bullpen.

10) Missouri – Max Scherzer, Aaron Crow………Kyle Gibson. Mizzou is developing quite a pitching legacy.

11) Cal State Fullerton – Gary Brown, Christian Colon and Josh Fellhauer are all locks to steal 20 bases in '09.

12) Oklahoma State – Much of their success will hinge on whether stud southpaw Andy Oliver is deemed eligible by the NCAA.

13) Baylor – This is the last chance for Kendal Volz, Aaron Miller and Dustin Dickerson to justify all the hype that surrounded them as incoming freshman.

14) Georgia – Growing pains? On any one day there might be as many as four freshman starting for Coach Perno.

15) Miami (FL) – The loss of Erik Erickson to arm surgery could have a devastating effect on the Hurricanes' pitching staff.

16) Arkansas – Brett Eibner is the best prospect no one's ever heard of.

17) Arizona State – Will this year's freshman crop be as good as the one from '06? It better be because the Sun Devils' fortunes depend on it.

18) Mississippi – After Arizona State's Carlos Ramirez, David Phillips will be the JuCo transfer to make the biggest impact in '09.

19) Florida State – Unlike highly-ranked FSU squads of the past, this year's version has no surefire early round picks.

20) Kentucky – The Wild Cats will get as far as the freshman trio of Alex Meyer, Andy Burns and Cory Farris take them.

21) Louisville – 6'4" 240 lbs man-child Chris Dominguez gives new meaning to the moniker "Louisville Slugger."

22) UCLA – Gerrit Cole is our early favorite for Freshman of the Year.

23) UC Irvine – Talk about underwhelming on paper -- we'd be shocked if ONE player from this team advances past Double A in pro ball.

24) California (Berkeley) -- If Brett Jackson puts it all together he could emerge as the Pac-10's most dynamic player.

25) Florida – There's always next year. The Gators are the unanimous choice for the strongest 2010 recruiting class. However, that may change on draft day.

26) Oklahoma – As good as the Sooners are, they're only the consensus sixth-best team in the Big 12.

27) Fresno State – On paper, the Bulldogs look merely pedestrian. Then again, last year this time people were saying the exact same thing about the defending champs.

28) Southern California – He's still only 19, yet we've seemingly been waiting forever for junior Robert Stock to bust out.

29) Pepperdine – Seeing how newcomer Brian Humphries develops will be one of this year's most interesting storylines. He has a chance to be a five-tool superstar.

30) Coastal Carolina – If Scott Woodward hangs around for all four years he's almost a sure bet to swipe 200 bags.

31) Tulane – The Green Wave will battle East Carolina all season for the C-USA's second slot behind perennial powerhouse Rice.

32) Michigan – Chris Fetter is faced with the daunting task of replacing departed staff ace Zach Putnam.

33) East Carolina – Say all you want about Rice and its dominance, but sophomore Seth Maness could easily emerge as the C-USA'a top pitcher in 2009.

34) Alabama – Brandon May, Ross Wilson, Josh Rutledge and Jake Smith comprise college baseball's most talented all-around infield.

35) Nebraska – With six teams ranked in front of them in the Big 12, the Cornhuskers would have to put together a dream season to make it to the 64-team dance.

36) Auburn – Watching Kevin Patterson and Hunter Morris hit is in itself worth the price of admission.

37) Wichita State – The fact that Wichita State is ranked first in the MVC after losing its six best players speaks to the weakness of the MVC more than anything else.

38) South Carolina – Huge shoes to fill…..Justin Smoak, Phil Disher, Reese Havens and James Darnell took 79 home runs and 267 RBI with them to the pros.

39) Virginia – The Cavaliers have a solid core of underclassmen, but replacing David Adams, Greg Miclat, Jeremy Farrell and Jacob Thompson is a lot to

40) Oregon State -- If their pitching performs up to expectations, the Beavers could easily shock people and wind up in Omaha for the third time in four years.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Yankees and Royals: Birds of a Feather?

The New York Yankees and Kansas City Royals should NEVER be mentioned in the same column, let alone the same sentence or headline. The Yankees are baseball’s consummate high rent tenant, perennially fielding the sport’s best paid team while playing in America’s largest city and media capital. Oh, and they’re pretty good too, having made the playoffs in 13 of the last 14 seasons. The Royals, on the other hand, play in one of baseball’s smallest markets, continually have one of the game’s lowest payrolls and have finished over .500 just ONCE during those same 14 seasons.

Their differences aside, the Yankees and Royals actually shared the back page this morning when both teams made superb personnel decisions. New York signed veteran lefty Andy Pettitte to a bargain basement one–year contract worth $5.5 million plus incentives, while Kansas City inked young ace Zack Greinke to a four-year deal worth $38 million.

To state each of the reasons why the Pettitte move was a good one for the Yankees would be an academic exercise at this point as every media outlet from ESPN to has dedicated valuable time and effort to that very task. However, the one benefit of the deal we feel obliged to discuss is the tremendous amount of flexibility it gives Yankees skipper Joe Girardi.

In Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes, Girardi has at his disposal two young, ultra-talented right-handers. Yet both have serious questions as the 2009 season approaches. After bouncing from the bullpen to the starting rotation in ’08, Chamberlain’s assignment for this season is still somewhat murky, as is the general consensus regarding his durability as a starter.

Hughes endured a horrid ’08 campaign after logging only a handful innings in Triple A, and many in the game feel strongly that he needs more minor league seasoning before giving the big leagues another shot.

The re-signing of Pettitte allows New York greater latitude in dealing with Chamberlain and Hughes. Rather than having to once again force feed Hughes, the Yankees now have the luxury of giving Hughes all the time he needs in AAA. However, should the 22-year-old be lights out this spring and prove that he’s ready for primetime, Chamberlain can shift to the bullpen (where many analysts, including this writer, feel he belongs anyway), where he can serve as a caddy for Mariano Rivera. Rivera, it should be noted, turns 40 later this year and is recovering from shoulder surgery.

As an aside, we feel Pettitte will have a strong year. Not only will he be supported by a better defense and lineup, as well as have the incentive of earning an additional $6.5 million in assorted roster/performance bonuses, but he’ll also be pitching for a shot at the Hall of Fame. With 215 career victories, a 15+ win season would probably convince the native Texan, still just 36, to stick around in 2010. And if he gets into the 240-250 wins range, his sterling 18-7 postseason record, would help him considerably.

Halfway across this great country of ours, the Royals’ signing of Greinke was received with pure glee. And with good reason, as GM Dayton Moore hasn’t exactly impressed anyone with the moves he’s made this winter. With new arrivals Willie Bloomquist, CoCo Crisp and Mike Jacobs joining Jose Guillen and Miguel Olivo in K.C.’s starting lineup, Moore will be paying over $24 million this year to five guys with career OBPs of .331 and under.

And then there’s Kyle Farnsworth, who was rewarded for his 1.53 WHIP last year with a two-year deal guaranteeing him almost $10 million.

But, alas, Moore finally got one right by locking up Greinke through his first two years of free agency. Greinke had a breakthrough 2008, finishing in the top ten in the A.L. in ERA, total strikeouts, strikeouts per nine innings and strikeouts-to-walks, and at 25 is poised to emerge as one of the Junior Circuit’s top pitchers.

The new contract will pay Greinke $3.75 million this year, $7.25 million in 2010 and $13.5 million in 2011 and 2012. Assuming Greinke remains healthy (not an unreasonable assumption since he’s never missed time due to arm trouble), he would be a very sound investment for Moore and the Royals.

To illustrate this point we’ve used the table below to compare Greinke’s metrics with other right-handers of the same body type (i.e. between six-feet and Greinke’s six-foot-three) and pitching style who earned more than $10 million in 2008. In the spirit of conservatism we’ve assumed that Greinke at 27 and 28, his prime years when he’ll be earning $13.5 million, will perform exactly as he did as a 24-year-old in ’08 and not experience the statistical spike most power pitchers do when they reach their late twenties.

Player Salary Innings ERA WHIP K/BB

Greinke $13.5mm 202.3 3.47 1.28 3.27

Oswalt $13.0mm 208.7 3.54 1.18 3.51
Hudson $13.0mm 142.0 3.33 1.16 2.13
Vazquez $11.5mm 208.3 4.67 1.32 3.28
Sheets $11.0mm 198.3 3.09 1.15 3.36

After examining the evidence provided, it’s clear that even with the conservative estimate of his future performance, Greinke is easily on a par with his contemporaries earning eight figures per season. Now throw in the fact that salaries will escalate between 2008 and 2011-12 (when Greinke is due his $13.5 million per annum) and it becomes obvious that the Royals got themselves one heck of a deal.

And for that they have the privilege of sharing the headlines with the vaunted Yankees.

At least for a day.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Trade Fair: All’s Wells for Yankees

The Yankees, by most accounts, had a tremendous offseason. After finishing out of the money for the first time since Bill Clinton’s first summer in office, the organization went on a $423 million spending spree which netted Mark Teixeira, C.C. Sabathia and A.J. Burnett. In addition, GM Brian Cashman traded for power hitter Nick Swisher.

Despite all the fun Cashman has had playing with the Steinbrenners’ money, his job is not finished. The Yankees still have several holes, the largest of which is in the middle of their outfield. In fact, if Spring Training started tomorrow, manager Joe Girardi would be faced with the daunting task of determining who from the motley crew of Brett Gardner, Johnny Damon and Melky Cabrera will patrol center field.

Frankly put, none of the three has any business logging significant time in center for a contending team. Gardner’s a gifted fielder who can fly, but he was overmatched in 127 big league at bats last year to the tune of .228/.283/.299.

Damon can still hit, as evidenced by his .303/.375/.461 effort in 2008, but chronic leg and ankle problems make his durability a big question mark. Plus, his popgun arm makes him a natural fit in left field.

Cabrera regressed significantly at the plate in ’08 and most scouts agree that his ceiling is that of a fourth outfielder.

As a result, the Yankees’ lack of a viable center fielder combined with the Blue Jays’ dubious financial situation (discussed below) paves the way for an intriguing intra-divisional blockbuster in which New York sends outfielder Xavier Nady, young starter Ian Kennedy and prospect Austin Jackson north of the border in exchange for center fielder Vernon Wells.

Let’s first dissect how this trade impacts the Yankees. In Wells, 30, Cashman has the opportunity to acquire one of baseball’s best all-round center fielders still in his prime. He’s a three-time Gold Glove winner, whose excellent instincts and cannon arm compensate for average speed.

Wells’ superb defense notwithstanding, it’s on offense where the Yankees would really reap the benefits of adding the two-time All-Star to the mix. While the addition of Teixeira will certainly instill fear in the hearts of opposing pitchers, that alone won’t completely offset the loss of free agents Jason Giambi and Bobby Abreu – two sluggers who have career OPS’ in excess of .900.

While Wells is not an on-base machine in the mold of a Giambi or Abreu, he’s a legitimate 30 homer threat (he’s hit 28 or more home runs in three separate seasons) who can hit for a high average while making consistent contact. He’d represent a huge upgrade over either Gardner or Cabrera and would be a perfect fit to hit in the five-hole behind Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez.

Wells’ contract also works for the Yankees. Although he’s owed $117 million through 2014, he’s due to earn “only” $10 million in 2009. Assuming Nady makes $6 million next season (he’s arbitration eligible for the last time in ’09), adding the incremental $4 million to the payroll would still enable Cashman to meet his goal of having an ‘09 payroll lower than last season’s.

Wells’ salary does rise dramatically over $20 million in 2010 and beyond, but it’s important to note that Hideki Matsui and Johnny Damon and their combined ‘09 pay of $26 million, all are eligible to come off the books after next season.

Earlier we alluded to the perilous financial straits the Blue Jays could find themselves in going forward. This is true for two reasons. First, the Canadian dollar has depreciated by over 20% against the greenback (a troubling development for Toronto since the ball club derives a majority of its revenue in the local currency). Second, team owner Ted Rogers passed away in December, creating a power vacuum at the top and much speculation that the team will be sold.

Given the economic plight the Jays might eventually find themselves in, trading Wells and the $117 million he’s owed is not out of the question. However, this trade is about more than simple dollars and cents as Nady, Kennedy and Jackson are all capable of making significant contributions.

Nady is coming off an impressive .305/.357/.510 campaign and entering his walk year. And if history is any indication, he should be primed for another big season and therefore able to easily match Wells’ .839 OPS from a year ago. Nady would slide comfortably into right field and enable Alexis Rios to move to center, his natural position.

By acquiring Kennedy, the Blue Jays would be adding to an already-impressive stable of young arms, which includes the likes of Shawn Marcum, Dustin McGowan, Jesse Litsch, Brett Cecil, and David Purcey. This is not insignificant given the fact that EVERY other team in the A.L. East – even the Orioles -- boasts a plethora of young, power pitching.

This trade would not just benefit Toronto in the long run, however. With the recent defection of A.J. Burnett (to the Yankees, no less) and injuries to Marcum and McGowan, the addition of Kennedy would provide the Jays with much needed pitching depth for 2009. Also, it’s important to note that Kennedy isn’t arbitration eligible until after the 2010 season.

Though Kennedy’s ’08 could be considered a lost year (0-4, 8.17), let’s not forget that he just turned 25 and his career WHIP and K:BB ratio in the minors are a world class 0.97 and 3.5:1, respectively. Perhaps all the laid back Californian needs to kick start his career is an escape from the New York pressure cooker.

Jackson, the final piece of the Jays’ haul, has a skill set that is eerily reminiscent of Wells’ about a decade ago. Like Wells, his ability to take excellent routes to the ball and strong arm make up for speed that’s maybe a tick above average. While his home run power hasn’t yet manifested itself, his bat speed and crisp stroke suggest that he should be good for at least 20 dingers a year once he fills out and adds strength. All in all, Jackson would be an ideal long-term replacement for Wells and fit perfectly between Rios and Travis Snider in Toronto’s outfield of the future.