Archive for the ‘Weekly Updates’ Category
How long does it take before a player becomes accustomed to a new level of play? And how do you tell when they just need more time to get acclimated, or have reached the most of what they can do? Managers and players alike must wonder as they ponder when to promote or demote those who are struggling or performing well. Take Taylor Cole, for example. He pitched very well last year for Vancouver in the Northwest League (A short season), earning a 0.81 era. This year he is still fairly good (3.99 era), but has struggled at times, basically alternating a good start with a start in which he struggled — kind of like his first year in Vancouver (5.88 era).
Given this past week’s performance, it looks more like Cole is just becoming better accustomed to the new league. He struck out 7 in 7 innings without giving up a walk and just 2 earned runs (both solo home runs) for his 4th win of the season. Keep it up, Taylor, and managers will have to believe you’ve become accustomed to this level of play.
Lets be honest. The expectations of backup players are lower. You don’t expect a better batting average. You don’t expect a lot of home runs. You expect a solid player who can do the job when needed and perhaps hit in a clutch situation. And you are very pleased when the backup comes through. So the Royals are likely very pleased with Elliot Johnson this week. He was 7 for 18 (.389) with 5 runs, 4 rbis and 2 stolen bases. And, yes, he hit a 3-run home run against the Red Sox, his 2nd of the year.
It may not be quite right to call Johnson a backup player—he has played 2nd base about 40% of the time behind Chris Getz, whose numbers aren’t much better than Johnson’s — and, in fact, his performance at the plate isn’t quite as good—Johnson is hitting .252/.286/.346 compared to Getz’ .212/.273/.288. And Johnson has 10 stolen bases vs. Getz’ 4 and his proportion of stolen bases to plate appearances would put him among the best in the majors on the base paths. If Johnson could keep hitting as well as he has, Getz may end up taking the backup role.
If summer hasn’t arrived yet, can we be in the “doldrums of summer?” I don’t think so, but if you look at the Mormons playing in baseball’s minor leagues, you might think that we’re in some kind of doldrums. It doesn’t seem like anyone is playing very well, with some few exceptions.
One of them is Marcus Littlewood, the catcher for the Clinton Lumber Kings (Midwest League – A). Littlewood was 5 for 16 (.313) during the week, scored 4 times, earned 3 rbis and hit his 2nd homer while striking out just 3 times. The performance brings his season average up to a respectable .253 over 75 at bats.
Royals’ starter Jeremy Guthrie finally notched his 6th win of the season last week, after struggling through much of May and losing 3 games in a row. This game brought his season era down to a respectable 3.66, but still quite a bit above the phenomenal 2.28 era he held on May 9th after his 5th win.
Guthrie’s pitching was perhaps bested among the Mormons pitching in the majors by both Matt Lindstrom and Brandon Lyon, relievers who each pitched 3 or more innings during the week without giving up a run. Lindstrom (White Sox) is perhaps slightly more impressive, with a season era of 2.96 over 27.1 innings, but Lyon (Mets) has a 19-6 strike out-to-walk ratio, much better than Lindstrom.
Returning from the DL is sometimes a struggle, and sometimes its rejuvenating. Where some return and struggle to get back to form, other players start hot, as if the break put them back at the top of their game. With his strong return, Mitch Maier must be feeling great. During the week since he rejoined the Pawtucket Red Sox (AAA), Maier has hit .353, including 5 runs, 6 rbis and 2 home runs, while managing 4 walks and a stolen base. His average for the season is now .333 — among the best in the league, except for the fact that he hasn’t enough plate appearances to make the stats lists.
The Red Sox’s Jacoby Ellsbury wowed fans last week at the plate, and more importantly on the base paths. In four games against the Phils Ellsbury was 9 for 18 with four runs scored and 2 rbis. His heroics for the week culminated in last Thursday’s game, in which he set a new team record: 5 stolen bases in a single game. But Ellsbury’s fantastic performance came to a screeching halt that same game: his groin tightened up. He was benched for the next three games last week, against the Yankees, but not put on the DL.
The Dayton Dragons’ Jeff Gelalich (pronounced JELL-ah-litch) is pretty good. Among the various Mormon prospects inthe minors, he now has the best batting average (although he is playing in the single A Midwest League). He also has scored 31 runs, walked 21 times and stolen 12 bases in 172 at bats. So should he be promoted to AA?
Unfortunately, he’s not so good that he is on the Midwest League’s leader boards, which might be a signal that he should be promoted. But he might be good enough for promotion, if there was a need. And it is the “need” part of the equation that is hard to judge in the minors. If the players in AA all have more potential, surely the management won’t send them down to make room for Gelalich. And those players may be in AA for the same reason — there are already strong AAA prospects, who are also waiting for something to happen to make the majors—in this case the Cincinnati Reds. Unfortunately, its not just about how good you are, its also about other players and how well they are playing. So everyone in the minors waits and watches and tries to play their best so that when the need is there they can be promoted. Still, with Gelalich’s numbers, especially with his .360 average last week, a promotion to AA later this year seems possible.
The utility infielder has to be one of the more difficult positions on a team. You don’t now where you will play in the field on a given day, whether you will start or come in late in the game, whether or not you will even play on any given day. In a game where consistent performance is prized, such a position makes success difficult. So when Elliot Johnson manages to get his batting average up to .281, it is perhaps a bit more impressive.
This past week Elliot was particularly strong at the plate, going 5 for 15 (.333) with 2 stolen bases. His season batting average (.281) comes in just 64 at bats, about 1/3rd of what an every day player would have at this point. What remains to be seen is whether or not Johnson can keep up a .281 average, or whether or not he will slip back to last year’s .242 or the .194 of the previous year.
Former BYU pitcher Matt Neil was promoted by the Marlins to their AAA club, the New Orleans Zephyrs, and pitched well in his first AAA start, lasting six innings while giving up just 2 hits and 1 run. The move puts Neil on the same team with vetran pitcher Mitch Talbot (also Mormon), who has returned to the U.S. after playing in Korea. Talbot is currently on the DL, and hasn’t played since April 7th.
Neil’s pitching performance was matched by another prospect, but in the AA Eastern League. Nik Turley, currently with the Yankees’ affiliate Trenton Thunder, also lasted 6 innings and gave up just 1 run, but Turley struck out 6 and walked 2 in his outing. And with Turley on the Yankees 40-man roster, he seems more likely to make an appearance in the majors.
Also pitching well this week was the Blue Jay’s Josh Johnson, who lasted 3 innings in a rehab assignment with the Dunedin Blue Jays (Florida State League, A+) and gave up just 1 run while striking out 5.
The Cubs have been patient with Darwin Barney. After spending the first two weeks of the season on the DL, he did not perform well at the plate, hitting just .154 in his first 78 at bats (23 games). But when the press asked if Barney would be demoted, Cubs GM Jed Hoyer said the team would be patient with him.
Last week that patience paid off, as Barney went 7 for 21 (.333) with 2 rbis and a home run in games against the Rockies and Mets. Since he has hit above .250 in the past two seasons, it seems reasonable to expect that Barney will continue to hit better than he has so far this season.
Barney wasn’t the only one to do well at the plate last week. The A’s backup infielder Eric Sogard was 5 for 11 (.455), scoring three times and earning an rbi last week. Sogard and fellow A’s backup infielder Adam Rosales (also Mormon) essentially share the backup duties, and seem to be trading off who is hot at the moment.