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My Farewell: Scouting Tim Melville

Last Sunday I was able to take in one of Tim Melville’s starts against the Potomac Nationals at the local Pfitzner Stadium. Melville’s obviously a big name and one of the top arms in Kansas City’s farm system so I made it a point to see him after returning home from a challenging set of final exams to wrap up the semester.

The Royals popped Melville in the fourth round of the 2008 draft after he fell considerably down the board due to signability concerns and a lackluster senior season at Holt High School. Rumor has it that his family sent out a letter to scouts before the draft instructing them what type of dollar amount it would take for Melville to sign. Teams appeared to scurry and it looked more and more likely that Melville would end up becoming a Tar Heel.

He almost did but the Royals ponied up and signed him to a well-above slot $1.25 million deal right before the signing deadline. Melville received the biggest bonus in the fourth round that year.

The Royals limited Melville to 100 innings during his first professional season in 2009 at low Class A Burlington. He made 21 starts and only averaged 4.2 innings per start. Melville’s ERA matched up well with his peripherals last year as he had a 3.98 FIP and struck out nearly a batter per inning. He didn’t display pin point precision as evidenced by his walk rate which hovered around 4.

Through seven starts before Sunday’s outing the 20-year-old’s ERA stood out like a sore thumb at 9.76. I have been following Melville’s box scores all season long and that number just hasn’t looked right. He still displayed a solid set of peripherals and was striking people out and not allowing an inordinate amount of home runs. But his control continued to be a problem for him and has plagued him through his first tour of the Carolina League. I came to the ballpark expecting to see Melville somehow lower that ugly ERA.

Melville came out of the gates firing. He caught the P-Nats lead off hitter, Steve Lombardozzi, looking and organizational solider, Brian Peacock, went down hacking. The Blue Rocks were on the road but Melville had a bunch of friends and family in the stands today. Their chants almost reminded me of being at a high school baseball game.

Melville and the Royals dodged a huge bullet in the second inning when third baseman, Tim Pahuta (AKA “The Big Pahuta” which has got to be one of the best nicknames in the minors), hit a rocket right back at Melville. Melville didn’t even try to make a play on the line drive and tried getting out of the way as quick as possible by dropping to the ground. He made it to the ground unscathed by mere instants which was a big sigh of relief. Especially for Melville’s collective friends and family behind the Wilmington dugout.

Melville has a great pitchers frame at 6-foot-5 and 210-pounds. The right hander has a great pitchers body that is likely closed to being maxed out and he easily passed the eye test for me. During his windup he brings his glove over his head and fires straight over the chute and easily creates downhill plane. He has clean mechanics and creates good balance in his delivery. Melville also repeats his delivery very well.

In the early innings Melville exhibited a plus fastball that sat in the 90-92 range with good life. I saw him spike 93 a few times as the game progressed. At times Melville’s command of his fastball escaped him and caused him to prolong opposing hitters at-bats. He walked two during his outing.

Melville also utilizes a nifty 12-6 curveball with good break that is definitely a plus pitch for me. I only saw him fail to get on top of it and hang the pitch a few times during the game and he used it quite often. It’s definitely his best secondary pitch and he isn’t afraid to pitch backwards to hitters and throw it for strike one.

Melville also has a big spread on his curveball. He threw the pitch ranging from 70-78 mph during the game and that isn’t a typo. His ability to take off or add a little velocity to his curveball was very impressive especially for a 20-year-old in his second professional season removed from high school.

Melville didn’t flash a third pitch very often during this outing. The progress of his changeup will be a big part of his development going forward. I see the big key to success for Melville being the command of his fastball. It can be a plus pitch but when his command goes his pitch count increases and he starts walking people. This likely attributes to his poor 5.43 walk rate this season.

Melville holds runners very well when they reach base. But he might be trying to hold them too well and shouldn’t let them become too big of a distraction and focus primarily on going after the hitter at the plate.

For the first time this season, Melville, almost completed six full innings. He was pulled after allowing a run and recording two outs in the sixth inning. Potomac only mustered four hits against Melville and scored two runs off of the right hander. Melville walked two and struck out five.

After the game Melville’s ERA fell to 8.64. His stronger set of peripherals (8.7 K/9, 5.43 BB/9, 0.81 HR/9) to date signify that his ERA obviously doesn’t tell the entire story (heck, when does ERA tell the entire story?) and the high A club’s defense isn’t doing him any favors either. Melville has a .373 BABIP this season.

Overall, I was very impressed with Melville. His sturdy frame and two plus pitches will bode well for him. There’s a variety of things to like about Melville. The command of his fastball and development of his changeup will be a big part of his development and route to the majors. He could take a big jump soon up prospect lists when/if those two aspects of his game improve. He’s only 20 and there’s an ample amount of time for him to figure those things out.

Don’t let Melville’s poor minor league numbers thus far this season fool you. He’s a legit arm and his perfect world projection is that of a number two starter if everything pans out exceptionally well. Since it’s unfair to expect prospects to erase all of their weaknesses I would say Melville most likely has the ceiling of a number three starter that chews up innings due to his durable frame. His numbers should improve as he advances up the minor league ladder and pitches in front of better defenses. I’d give him 2-3 years to work his way through the minors with an ETA of late 2012/2013. I’m expecting him to become a valuable commodity in keeper leagues and if you have the chance to get him cheaply you should act now while his numbers look disappointing.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Melville finds himself on a few top 100 prospect lists after this season. He only made one of the four (BA, Keith Law, FanGraphs, BP’s top 101) lists. Kevin Goldstein at Baseball Prospectus had him at #93 on his top 101.


*1B Eric Hosmer-That lasik eye surgery really has done wonders.. While he went hitless in the game that I saw there were still good things to like. He has a good, athletic body. Hosmer has an imposing presence at the plate with a stance that’s slightly open. P-Nats starter, Brad Peacock, fed him a steady diet of fastballs away (he also got him to whiff against a solid breaking pitch) and Hosmer still put some good swings on them. He drilled a liner back into the catchers mask and just got under another that resulted in a pop that was in the air for nearly seven seconds…just another reminder that Hosmer’s raw power is still there despite only two homers on the year.

*C Derek Norris– Norris is a little short and stocky but the bat is impressive. He tracks pitches well and showed the ability to hit the ball to all fields. He singled off Melville in his first plate appearance. Norris DH’ed on Sunday but I saw him catch earlier in the week. It wasn’t pretty. His hands and receiving skills still need a bunch of work. Too many balls scooted by him to the backstop. He isn’t as bad as Jesus Montero back there but where do the Nats put him if he can’t stick behind the plate? Unfortunately, he can’t DH in Washington and a return to the hot corner where he played in high school doesn’t seem probable with franchise icon, Ryan Zimmerman, doing everything right at third.

*RHP Brad Peacock– Peacock opposed Melville on Sunday and some sloppy defense and cheap hits did him in during the 5th inning. He pitched much better than the box score indicated (4.2IP 5R 3BB 6K). Peacock has a simple, repeatable delivery. His fastball sits in the low 90’s and it’s an average to above-average pitch. He displayed fringy breaking stuff today. He could sniff the big leagues as a back of the rotation starter or swing man.

*OF Michael Burgess– He has big plus power and a nice plus arm in right field…but I’m just not a big believer here. He doesn’t move too well at all and he’s got a long swing. His pitch recognition needs work and Melville made him look silly in a four pitch at-bat. Melville fed him three breaking balls that Burgess swung and missed at each time. It didn’t look pretty. He’ll hit some baseballs a long way but I see his swing as an all or nothing proposition. If he doesn’t figure it out quick I could see him flaming out quickly. His best bet might be to try making it to the big leagues as a home run threat off the bench.

*C Salvador Perez– Perez is an advanced defender and he’s a good receiver. He’s 1.95 down to second base and I had him at 1.38 to third base on steal attempts. He’s a good, defensive minded catcher and organizations can always use those. He may become a back up catcher in the big leagues some day.

*OF Jamar Walton– He looks pretty good in a baseball uniform at 6-foot-4 and 195-pounds. The athletic body stands out but unfortunately for Walton…not much else tools wise does either…

*3B Tim Pahuta– He may not be much of a prospect and more like organizational fodder. But he does have two things going that really stand out about him. The Seton Hall product is 27-years-old and in high A ball! That’s awfully old and you’ve got to give the guy credit…he sure does have a plus name.

I also have some more bittersweet news for you. I recently accepted an internship with a baseball team and this will be my last post for RotoGraphs. While I will miss the scene here I am very excited about my new position. I’ve always aspired to work for a team and this is another step in the right direction. I’ve had a great time writing here and sharing my analysis and opinions with all of you. It’s been a great experience for me and also a fantastic learning tool. The feedback has been great too.

I apologize for the sporadic posts over the past few months. If I had it my way I would have written much more over the past couple months but unfortunately academics kind of ran into the way. RotoGraphs has really picked up this season and I’m sorry to just be leaving the party now. I’m confident that the rest of the staff will do a great job. This is a great website for baseball analysis and it always seems to be getting better and better.

I would like to thank Marc Hulet and David Appelman for extending me this fantastic opportunity last November. David G, my fellow Duquesne Duke, was also instrumental in getting me over here to write. Much thanks to them and the rest of the RotoGraphs and FanGraphs staff for everything during my stay here.

Feel free to stay in touch via email or Twitter @danbudreika where you can find me talking about baseball, quotes, or life in general. Thanks for reading and I hope you all enjoy the remainder of the season. Be well!

The Scoop on Scutaro

For Marco Scutaro the 2009 season was a career year for him on many fronts. His triple-slash of .282/.379/.409 marked career highs for him in each category which earned him a rather pleasant wRC+ of 117. Coupled with solid defense at shortstop, Scutaro, was worth 4.5 WAR. Not bad at all. This earned him his first lucrative free agent contract with the Boston Red Sox, a two-year deal worth $12 million.

Scutaro will be 34-years-old this season and what can we expect from the new shortstop entering the shortstop carousel in Boston?

First off, his .304 BABIP in 2009 may suggest regression upon first glance when you consider that Scutaro’s career BABIP is .289. Enter the Hardball Times BABIP Calculator and the system spits out an xBABIP of .311. While it’s useful to look at career BABIPs and recent trends it’d be hard to penalize Scutaro for his BABIP with the calculator confirming his 2009 score especially when we consider his altered approach at the plate.

Scutaro’s plate discipline statistics here are quite telling. Simply put, Scutaro stopped offering at so many pitches in 2009. His z-swing (55.5%-61.6% career) and swing percentages (34.5%-40.3% career) took big dips compared to his career and 2008 rates. This coincides with his career high 13.2% walk rate. Maintaining this new approach will be pivotal for Scutaro going forward as it seemed to take his performance to a different level and boosted his OBP to a very nice .379.

He also set career highs in homers (12), slugging percentage (.409), and stolen bases (14). Expecting around ten stolen bases next year looks like a reasonable assumption and lucky for Scutaro his new approach and power at the plate are two skills that don’t figure to erode as quickly with his age.

Scutaro is also moving to a friendly hitters park which figures to assist him and pad his line even if he isn’t as good as he was last year. He’s spent the majority of his career in Oakland and Toronto which are two prominent run suppressing environments.

Consider his home and road splits over the past three seasons according to wRC+.

2007: Home-76. Road-100.
2008: Home-88. Road-96.
2009: Home-105. Road-129.

This further cements the notion that the move to Fenway park is only going to help Scutaro. He is already familiar with the AL East and should enjoy spending half of his games at Fenway.

Scutaro may have peaked at a later age but if he can maintain the approach at the plate that he displayed last season then we should expect another solid season from Scutaro in 2010. He should also benefit from the strong forces around him in the line up. I’m very underwhelmed by THE FANS .272/.351/.379 projection for Scutaro. I like ZiPS’ .297/.378/.420 projection much more despite their super optimistic batting average.

While Scutaro isn’t a great fantasy option by any means he’s a good, cheap option if you’re bare at the shortstop position. He’s currently only owned in 58% of ESPNs leagues and is being drafted towards the very end of drafts. He should be owned in much more leagues. Don’t let Scutaro’s rare, late performance peak fool you. He’s in a good situation to excel in Boston and has a great chance of putting a stop to that shortstop carousel in Beantown for the next two seasons.

Brad Bergesen: Servicable or Bust?

Brad Bergesen’s player profile here at FanGraphs has been playing mind games with me for a few days. Simply put, it’s tough to get a good handle on what to expect from this guy. I really do enjoy writing with conviction and drawing strong conclusions based on the data that is available here and at many other great baseball sites online. I believe in what I write and for many reasons.

But Bergesen is different. Rather than picking a side and determining if he can be successful or unsuccessful because of reasons X, Y, and Z there are good reasons on both sides of the ledger when it comes to Brad Bergesen. The former fourth round pick is coming off of a nice rookie year where he posted a 3.43 ERA in 19 starts before succumbing to a leg injury after taking a line drive off his shin on July 30. His peripherals tell another story…he had a 4.10 FIP and 4.42 xFIP.

xFIP is likely selling him short because his home run rate is being normalized. I personally don’t think that’s fair because Bergesen’s a sinker ball pitcher and has always prevented the long ball at each level of professional baseball save for a 17 inning High-A stint in 2008.

Bergesen is not a strikeout pitcher by any means but his minor league numbers may suggest that we could see a small uptick in strikeouts next season from his meager 4.74 strikeout rate. He’s always had plus-control and showed that skill last year in the big leagues. And then there’s his impressive 50% ground ball rate in 2009 which agrees with his minor league rates. Steady defenders Cesar Izturis, Brian Roberts, and Adam Jones up the middle of the diamond figure to assist Bergesen and his ground ball tendencies. His BABIP and left-on-base rates also check out quite normally.

There’s reason to believe that Bergesen could be a serviceable contributor towards the back end of your fantasy team’s rotation due to his plus-control, sinking fastball, home run suppression, and strong defense surrounding him. He has the makings to become a better version of beltway foe and Washington National, John Lannan. That’s all the good stuff.

When we shift to the other side of the ledger we see Bergesen’s very low and alarming strikeout rate in the big leagues accompanied with his fringey fastball velocity. And one has to wonder whether he can maintain a home run rate around 0.80. Even if that rate creeps up closer to the league average of 1.05 his numbers are going to suffer (as xFIP shows).

His plate discipline stats here show that he wasn’t fooling many major league hitters last year. Batters made contact with his pitches at a very above-average clip last season.

It’s going to be awfully interesting to see what Bergesen does this season and pitching in the AL East against superior opponents will not make his job any easier. As I’ve combed through above…he has his own set of pros and cons. After recovering from the freak leg injury he suffered a strange and funny injury over the winter but looks to be on schedule and should be a part of the Orioles rotation come opening day.

Perhaps we’ll be able to say a lot more about Bergesen next winter if he completes his first full season in the majors this year. This could all have boiled down to simply needing more data but for fantasy purposes we should be focusing most on what he can bring to the table this season. If Bergesen takes a few chinks in the armor this season (HR/9 or worse batted ball stats) then he will likely become a negligible pitcher in fantasy baseball.

But if he maintains a similar profile to last year then he’s certainly a serviceable pitcher (and much more valuable in real-life) at the back of your rotation and even more valuable in deeper leagues. I think the ball could fall on either side and it’ll be interesting to check back on The Bergesen Case next year. Nonetheless Bergesen is quite a fascinating pitcher and he’s likely to be found loitering on the waiver wire.

Up and Down: Stephen Drew

The highly touted Stephen Drew exploded onto the big league scene with Arizona towards the end of the 2006 season with a .367 wOBA in 59 games. An inflated .394 mark on balls in play aided his slash stats but we’ve seen three full seasons from Drew since then.

Those first three full seasons have been like an elevator ride for Drew at the plate. Below are his wRC+’s and coinciding BABIP’s since he became the D-Backs regular shortstop:

2007: 76
2008: 111
2009: 90

2007: .267
2008: .322
2009: .288

It’s evident that he’s experienced some goofy BABIP fluctuation. As his BABIP has increased or decreased so has his overall batting line. With the help of the Hardball Times expected BABIP calculator we can adjust Drew’s triple-slash lines after we come up with a new expected BABIP figure. Below are Drew’s expected BABIPs courtesy of the calculator:

2007: .304 +.37 from actual BABIP
2008: .310 -.12 from actual BABIP
2009: .309 +.21 from actual BABIP

Interesting. The range from these three seasons worth of expected batted ball data is only six. Now I’ll show you Drew’s adjusted slash stats assuming that all the extra hits added or subtracted were graciously singles:

2007: .275/.350/.407
2008: .279/.321/.490
2009: .282/.341/.449

Suddenly, Drew looks like a much more consistent player save for the power spike in 2008 when he launched 21 homers. In 2008 Drew gobbled up fastballs for a 16.9 run value. His performance versus fastballs likely attributed to his increase in long balls.

Expect a bounce back season from the soon-to-be 27-year-old. The Fans .280/.336/.459 projection with 17 home runs looks awfully accurate (good job FanGraphers) and closely resembles his xBABIP adjusted line from 2009. He also offers a little more upside after the expected BABIP regression. If Drew runs into a few more fastballs like he did in 2008 it’s very possible that he pops 20+ home runs. The cozy hitting confines of Chase Field can only help him too.

Drew’s had varying success at the plate through his first three full seasons and this may make fantasy players a bit gun shy when it comes to selecting Drew during their drafts. Fantasy owners should not fear Drew and he’s a solid shortstop option come the middle rounds of drafts. Don’t be afraid to pull the trigger on Stephen Drew.

Desmond in the Rough

Ian Desmond is one of the last successful draft picks in Montreal Expos history. He was nabbed by the then Expos in the third round of the 2004 June draft and signed for $430,000. That would be the last draft before the Expos moved to Washington D.C.

Desmond appeared in spring training with the big league club as just a 19-year-old in 2005 and instantly started making good impressions. Then manager, Frank Robinson, said he’d be in the big leagues in a few years and Desmond even drew a few flattering Derek Jeter comparisons.

Despite these reviews Desmond struggled with his bat in the minors and battled some injuries along the way. He’s always drawn praise for his good range and plus-arm at shortstop. Desmond missed the first two months of the 2009 season recovering from surgery that removed the hamate bone from his left hand. This injury typically lingers and is known to sap power but it didn’t appear to bother Desmond.

Before 2009 Desmond shortened his swing and changed his approach at the plate. It seemed to work as he exploded onto the scene in Double-A in his return from injury. In 42 games Desmond had a .396 wOBA after a .319 mark in 2008 in 93 games a year prior at the same level.

This earned him his first promotion to Triple-A where he didn’t slow down. In 55 games he hit .354/.428/.461 (.408 wOBA). High BABIPs of .425 in AAA and .371 in AA fueled Desmond’s triple-slash lines but those can’t all be attributed to good luck. He did mash the ball harder at higher levels in the system.

In September the Nationals gave Desmond a September call up and he responded quite well. In his big league debut spanning 21 games and 82 at-bats he hit .280/.318/.561 with four homers. There his BABIP sat at just .292.

It’s worth nothing that Desmond’s strikeout rates have consistently sat in the low to mid 20 range throughout his minor league career. But in 2009 they dropped from 23.5% in Double-A to 17% in his AAA and big league stints. While we are dealing with a small sample size here the progression is still interesting and inspiring.

Baseball America recently ranked Desmond as the Nationals fourth best prospect a few months ago. Here is a portion of the glowing scouting report they have on him:

“If Desmond’s bat continues to develop, he has a chance for average or better tools across the board. His quick hands and strong forearms generate plus bat speed and average power, and he has done a good job shortening his swing and becoming more patient at the plate. At shortstop, he has good range and a 65 arm on the 20-80 scouting scale.”

Desmond is 24-years-old this year and after his success in AAA and Washington many assumed he would begin 2010 as the Nationals starting shortstop after the organization informed Cristian Guzman late last season that he would be shifting to second base in 2010. But then the Nationals signed veteran Adam Kennedy to play second and appear to have a change of heart regarding Guzman after he had shoulder surgery.

As of now Desmond would be squeezed out of a starting position with the big league club at the outset of the season. Manager Jim Riggleman has indicated that Guzman will be the starter at shortstop and Kennedy at second as long as Guzman’s healthy this spring.

The club is considering Desmond to become a utility man in the majors this season but that hasn’t been approved by everyone in the organization. Senior Advisor Davey Johnson voiced his concerns over that plan and wants Desmond to be in the starting line up.

I’d have to agree with Johnson here and would like to see Desmond in the starting line up to start the season. For what it’s worth…EVERY SINGLE projection system here at FanGraphs is projecting Desmond (looking at wRC+) to hit better than Guzman AND Kennedy this season. The Fans have him projected at an even 2.0 WAR for the 2010 season.

Hopefully Desmond is granted the opportunity to display his abilities regularly in D.C. this season but it’s likely that it occurs at some point or another this year even if he starts the season in Triple-A or on the bench due to the inferior regulars. He has the makings of an average to slightly above-average hitter (think .280/.340/.440) at the shortstop position with good defense.

Once Desmond receives the opportunity to have regular at-bats in the Nations Capital you should jump on the opportunity to grab him from the waiver wire. He has the makings to become a cheap source of solid production and could be a big help if you’re in a pinch at the shortstop position.

Projecting B.J. Upton

Two years ago it seemed as if B.J. Upton was on top of the world. He had just concluded his first full season in the big leagues at age 22 and he posted a .387 wOBA in 129 games. Then the Devil Rays became the Rays and Upton hasn’t been the same since.

Upton didn’t match his 2007 performance in 2008 but he clubbed seven homers in October to help Tampa Bay reach the world series. He experienced some shoulder woes that year and had surgery after the Rays were defeated by the Phillies in the series.

The stage was set last year for Upton to put together a huge season but the exact opposite happened. He missed the first week of the season and the left shoulder that he had operated on in the off season never regained full strength. This all amounted to an extremely frustrating season for Upton as he wrapped up the year with a paltry .310 wOBA over 560 at-bats. His .241/.313/.373 triple-slash was very underwhelming.

Upton has regressed over each of the past three seasons at the plate. Below is his wRC+ trend line over the past three seasons:

2007: 139
2008: 119
2009: 89

That’s a consistent and scary trend. Upton’s production has decreased heavily from each season to the next since 2007 and it’s extremely unlikely that he continues such a dreadful trend in 2010.

Luckily for the Rays his plus defense still makes him a valuable player but if he could ever rediscover his stroke at the plate then he would be an extremely valuable player again.

Upton’s entering his 25-year-old season and there is much reason for optimism. A strong and healthy left shoulder should be helpful but there’s also some interesting and telling information that lays in the data. Upton will always strike out at a healthy clip but his career-low 9% walk rate is a point of concern. He walked at higher rates over the prior two seasons.

Upton’s BABIP cratered to .312 last season. Where is his true talent level? That’s hard to tell from his varying samples over the past three seasons. But the helpful BABIP calculator from the Hardball Times tells us another story. Here are his xBABIPs over the past three seasons according to the calculator:

2007: xBABIP- .338. Actual- .399. Difference- +61
2008: xBABIP- .353. Actual- .351. Difference- -2
2009: xBABIP- .338. Actual- .312. Difference- +26

The calculator cuts down on Upton’s BABIP spread over the past three years. The range of his xBABIPs is 15 while the range of his actual BABIPs is 87. There’s no doubt his 2007 BABIP padded his numbers and it set the performance bar pretty high for him at the time.

Despite the exact same (.338) xBABIPs in 2007 and 2009, Upton, hit the ball with much more authority in 2007. He slugged 24 homers in 2007 compared to just 11 last year and he had a career-low 15.4% line drive rate in 2009. His line drive rate was 19.6% in 2007. He also hit a career-high 13 pop ups last season.

All of Upton’s varying and perplexing batting lines can’t be chalked up to just lucky or unlucky BABIP variations. While it played a role there are reasons for such drastic performances and they cannot be easily explained. We may have a true conundrum on our hands and more data will be essential in determining who the real B.J. Upton is. These varying performances do suggest that his bum shoulder really could have played a big role in his lackluster production.

We do know from our nifty run values that Upton battered and bruised fastballs during his banner 2007 campaign. He’s never hit them so well ever since and this does help explain his performance dip. Perhaps that shoulder could have plagued him when he tried to get around on fastballs?

Upton also has funky O-Contact percentages over the past three seasons similar to his varying BABIPs. He’s made contact at a very below-average rate (except for 2008) when he offers at pitches outside of the strike zone. He was actually above-average in 2008 when he had a solid campaign at the plate.

Finally, what can we expect from Upton going forward? It’s hard to exactly say what Upton will do in 2010. He’s always had the ability, athleticism, and a mouth watering set of tools. Some scouts may not be surprised if he unleashes an MVP like season now that he’s in good health.

I think Upton’s 2008 season (.273/.383/.401) would be a nice modest projection (minus some OBP) for Upton and many of the projection systems here at Fangraphs have him projected in that area. It’s playing it safe but his BABIP should recover and that would push him closer to his 2008 totals.

Upton’s a toolsy player and he should be entering his prime. Barring health I’d expect the power to play and it’s fair to project him to drop around 20 homers next year. The 100 Fan Projections currently available have nailed The Upton Case right on the button. The Fans have him at .273/.363/.442 with 40+ stolen bases and I think that’s a very fair and accurate projection.

If you can grab Upton in the middle rounds of your draft then he would be a steal. But don’t be afraid to pop him a bit sooner than that. He’s ready to put that nightmarish 2009 to rest.

Under the Radar: Jeremy Bonderman

It’s easy to forget that Jeremy Bonderman is only 27-years-old. He was placed in Detroit’s rotation and made 28 starts as a 20-year-old during their horrific 43-win season in 2003. Bonderman was allowed to develop at the big league level and quickly became a young workhorse. He would make 151 starts for the team from 2003-2007 averaging 30 starts a season. His banner year would come in 2006 (3.29 FIP in 214 innings) and this led to a four-year extension that he signed in December 2006 worth $38 million that covered his last two arbitration years and bought out his first two eligible free agent seasons.

Bonderman has been a massive disappointment since he signed that extension and injuries have decimated his past two seasons. A scary blood clot in his throwing shoulder altered his mechanics and cut short his 2008 season after 12 sub-par starts. Bonderman slowly regained his velocity this season as he struggled to fully recover from the prior surgery on the blood clot. He made 15 appearances in the minors and eight at the big league level where was relegated to relief duty down the stretch. This is the last year of his contract and he has much to play for. Bonderman is slated to be the teams fourth starter in 2010.

Health is definitely the biggest concern with Bonderman but no set backs have been report thus far this off season. Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski was quoted in the USA Today about Bonderman and his health earlier this off season:

“He’s healthy. His velocity was fine at the end of the year. He just took a long time to bounce back from his surgery, but that’s healed now.”

Throwing strike one will be a big key for Bonderman in 2010. His first-strike percentage took a very noticeable dip in 2008 from his career norms. The blood clot seemed to hinder his pitch velocity and his velocity will be something to keep a very close eye on in spring training.

Prior to injury Bonderman was coming into his own and portraying good command along with healthy strike out rates. He’s always been a little homer prone save for his career year in 2006 but he was still producing good FIPs. He’s always had some higher BABIPs and left on base rates but these have become career norms for Bonderman. He has a career .317 BABIP and 67.7% LOB rate which are both below average. Bonderman just isn’t as good with runners on base and it’s not proper to adjust these stats.

With Bonderman appearing free to go in 2010 he has the potential to bring back big returns to fantasy owners. Detroit’s defense was very good in 2009 according to UZR and will be an asset for him and his ERA in 2010. He would be a nifty dollar starter or late round pick. He has big upside and had developed a very solid set of controllable peripherals prior to the blood clot.

Bill James’ 2010 projection (4.22 FIP in 185 innings) sounds very realistic to me. I think the 3.06 walk rate that James is projecting is too high and I’d expect that number to sneak into the 2.80’s based off his prior form. This would help lower his FIP and make for a rosier projection.

Remember that Bonderman is only 27-years-old and he still has many years ahead of himself. He’s a snoring sleeper pick and make sure that snore wakes you up. Bonderman could be paying big dividends for your fantasy team next summer.

Sleeper Alert: Charlie Morton

Charlie Morton never lit up prospect lists nor was he once deemed an impact player in the Atlanta Braves minor league system. Last year he found himself traded away to the Pirates in the Nate McLouth deal and he made 18 starts in Pittsburgh. These 18 starts were encouraging and Morton figures to slot into the back end of the Pirates starting rotation this year. He will be 26-years-old this season and now it’s time for Morton to run with a consistent starting opportunity at the big league level.

It appears that Morton is ready for this opportunity. He steadily climbed through the Braves system and since 2008 he has mightily improved his once very shaky control. Morton overcame plaguing walk rates that consistently sat in the mid fours and a few seasons where he split or spent more time in the bull pen than in a starting role. He’s also displayed a good knack for keeping the ball on the ground. Morton’s sinking fastball has induced good ground ball rates (58% and a silly 63% in AAA during 08 and 09) in the upper minors and big leagues.

Morton’s recently harnessed his command in Triple-A where he posted a 3.28 BB/9 rate in 2008 and a 2.23 BB/9 in 2009. He’s also shown a strong tendency of preventing the home run. In 2008 he didn’t surrender a single home run in 79 Triple-A innings. His average home run rate per nine over eight minor league seasons in 0.5 and save for a brutal 2006 season (1.26 HR/9) he has never had a HR/9 rate above 0.5 in the minor leagues. Morton’s ground ball and home run prevention tendencies are quite appealing.

In 2008 Morton made his major league debut in Atlanta and it didn’t go so well. He was afforded 16 appearances (15 starts) and he was tarred and feathered for a 5.14 FIP in 75 innings. His improved control disappeared (4.94 BB/9) and for the first time in a long time he surrendered more home runs than usual (1.08 HR/9). His .304 BABIP was not out of line but his 60.7 LOB% figured to improve.

Morton was dispatched back to Triple-A to start 2009 and he made the most of the opportunity in 10 starts before the trade. He had a 2.94 FIP and he turned in his best walk rate (2.23). Then came the trade to Pittsburgh and this time around Morton prevented the home run in the majors like he had in the minors (0.65 HR/9) and exhibited passable control (3.71 BB/9) with a 5.75 strikeout per nine that could use more improvement. His BABIP and LOB% looked very normal in Pittsburgh. He had a 4.15 FIP and 4.55 ERA. But that ERA would stand at 3.66 if you subtract his abysmal one inning start in Chicago on August 14 where he surrendered ten earned runs.

Morton’s strong ground ball rates have translated to the big leagues as well. During his rough go round in Atlanta he still had a 50% ground ball rate and last year in Pittsburgh it sat at 49%. It appears that he’s got the ability to have an above-average ground ball rate and possesses an average to slightly above-average ceiling on controlling his pitches within the strike zone in the big leagues.

The sinking fastball Morton utilized in 2009 has strikingly similar movement and velocity to the fastball that fellow sinkerballer Mike Pelfrey used in 2009. Pelfrey’s ground ball rate was 51% last year and is 50% over his big league career and the similiar movement and velocity on their pitches is no coincidence. Their sinkers stay on the ground.

The Pirates had a solid defense in 2009 that helped their pitchers out. Their team UZR checked in at 30.1 but there was a lot of turnover on the field last year. Pitchers will miss the slick fielding Jack Wilson up the middle but Ronny Cedeno appears close to an average defender at shortstop (according to UZR but The Fans Scouting Report thinks he’s better) and Akinori Iwamura is slightly above average at second base. Pirates pitchers better be hoping last years nasty injury has no effect on his defense. Andy Laroche is a defensive asset at the hot corner and Andrew McCutchen will be a solid defender in center field this year with an improved Lastings Milledge in left. There are definitely some capable gloves that will be helping out Morton and Pirates pitchers in 2010.

The downsides with Morton are his lackluster strikeout rate and the troubles he has had with left handed batters at the big league level. Morton will be no top of the rotation starter by any means but his true strikeout skill may lie between the 5.75 K/9 in the majors and 7.65 and 8.20 K/9 rates he had in Triple-A over the past two seasons. Morton has been dinged for not having a big out pitch. Baseball America did rate his curveball as the best in the Braves system in 2005 and last year in Pittsburgh it had a nifty pitch value at 4.1 runs above average. This is an encouraging sign.

Morton’s platoon split thus far at the big league level is a concern. Last year lefties had a .923 OPS against him in the big leagues and a .939 OPS versus him in 2008 with Atlanta. Things check out nicely against right handers.

After sifting through Morton’s splits in the minor leagues (dating back to 2005) there was nothing alarming about his performances against lefties. His absence of a third pitch may be a big factor with his struggles against lefties at the big league level but it’s possible the numbers may even out as the sample (321 MLB at-bats) increases over time.

Morton’s sinking fastball, low home run rate, and improved control make for an intriguing package. He held his own in the big leagues last year and there’s reason for optimism in 2010 especially behind a solid defense. He’s been overlooked and if his numbers improve against lefties his value can only shoot up.

See how he fares at the start of the season and if you’re in need of a starting pitcher Morton could be your guy especially during a hot streak. He’ll likely be available in all formats and could become a helpful starter on your team that seemingly came out of nowhere.

In a Big Way: Beltre to Boston

Adrian Beltre is Boston bound after reaching an agreement on a one-year deal for $9 million with a 2011 player option for $5 million. Beltre fits Boston’s plan and comes at a bargain price. The Scott Boras camp also makes out well as the player option protects Beltre if the shoulder continues to hamper him and/or he has a disappointing year in Boston. But if things go as planned and he has a good year then he can enter the free agent market again with enhanced value. Now that’s the art of a good deal and a mutually beneficial situation for both parties involved.

Beltre will be entering his 31-year-old season in 2010 and the performance arrow is pointing up. He struggled in 2009 with a disappointing .265/.304/.379 line with only eight homers in 449 at-bats. For the first time in many years Beltre missed significant playing time due to injuries. He appeared in a career low (since he became a starter) 111 games in 2009 as he battled shoulder woes and a very rare yet painful injury to the groin area. The shoulder surgery caused Beltre to miss over a month of time mostly during July and the groin accident forced him to miss nearly three weeks of time in August.

If Beltre’s shoulder cooperates with him in 2010 we can expect him to have a big season in Boston that boosts his prospective value on the free agent market next season. One thing that jumps out about Beltre’s 2009 is his diminished walk rate which sat at 4.1% after this number never seeped below 6% during his prior four seasons in Seattle. This change cannot be precisely explained as his plate discipline statistics varied during his five seasons with the Mariners. Beltre found different ways to be successful at the plate but his Z-Swing percentage (71.2%) was a bit heavier than years past. He swung at more pitches inside the strike zone but the difference is likely minimal or just static but could explain his lighter walk rates.

Beltre’s 2009 BABIP of .302 seems to be in line if not a bit padded than his career BABIP of .293. His best BABIP as a Mariner came in 2009 after the number typically sat in the .290’s save for the aberration (.279) in 2008.

Interestingly enough the Hardball Times BABIP calculator pegs Beltre’s estimated 2009 BABIP at .315 based on his batted ball profile. A .315 BABIP would have given Beltre this triple-slash assuming that all the extra hits were singles:


That looks better but even this rosier picture fails to push Beltre above the .400 slugging percentage marker. I’m not convinced that this adjustment is even proper because Beltre’s 2009 BABIP seems to be in line with his career and Seattle norms. You can use it at your own discretion.

The injuries may have taken the largest toll on Beltre’s power output. Perhaps the shoulder woes sapped some of his bat speed as fastballs uncharacteristically ate up Beltre in 2009. He had a -7.5 run value below average against fastballs in 2009 after always appearing in the black against the pitch dating back to his 2003 season. Beltre’s success against fastballs in 2010 could be a telling tale next season and with a healthy shoulder there’s reason to expect improvement.

On top of a clean bill of health Beltre is moving to the much more friendlier Fenway Park.’s park factors had Safeco Field as the tenth-best run suppressing environment in 2009. On the contrary, Fenway Park ranked as the eighth-best run enhancing park in 2009. That big green wall in Boston also figures to help out Beltre. Leaving Safeco Field may be one of the best things to happen to Beltre. Here are his pronounced home/road splits since he joined Seattle in 2005:

2005 home: .263/.312/.382. OPS=.694
2005 away: .248/.295/.440. OPS=.735

2006 home: .251/.310/.467. OPS=.777
2006 away: .283/.343/.462. OPS=.805

2007 home: .264/.319/.426. OPS=.745
2007 away: .288/.320/.538. OPS=.858

2008 home: .240/.303/.400. OPS=.703
2008 away: .292/.349/.512. OPS=.861

2009 home: .250/.283/.364. OPS=.647
2009 away: .279/.324/.393. OPS=.717

And for good measure here are those home road splits over the past three seasons:

2007-2009 home: .252/.304/.399. OPS=.703
2007-2009 away: .287/.331/.488. OPS=.819

There’s no doubt that Beltre has enjoyed his time away from Safeco field over the past five seasons. He’s slugged the ball with much more authority and his two .500+ slugging rates on the road before his injury-plagued 2009 campaign are downright tantalizing.

A great deal of Beltre’s 2009 success will hinge on his health but Beltre’s still in his prime and he’s going to be in a great environment and line up to do some big damage in 2010. The spotlight won’t be on Beltre unlike the beginning of his last contract in Seattle and he has a lot to play for since he knows a huge season could lead to a big pay day next off season.

Expect Beltre to hit in the .280-.290 range and I believe he’s going to hit 30+ homers next year if he’s on the field. As crazy as it may sound a home run total nearing 40 is not out of the question with the friendly confines of Fenway Park. The Fans (121 ballots cast) project Beltre to hit .274/.327/.470 with 23 homers in 140 games in 2010 and I’d imagine these projections will start moving upward with Beltre now moving to Fenway.

All the ingredients are there for Beltre to explode in 2010 and he’s a good bet to provide great value to your fantasy team in 2010. He will likely be on the board in the early middle rounds and don’t let him get past you.

Adrian Beltre could be your Fantasy Team MVP in 2010.

Forgotten: Lefty Jaime Garcia

Cardinals left hander Jaime Garcia almost opted for professional baseball in his native country of Mexico in 2005. But area scout Joe Almaraz convinced Garcia to sign with the St. Louis as a 22nd-round pick. Almaraz is quite the persuader as he also convinced the Orioles to draft Garcia in round 30 a year prior but they did not sign him. Almaraz left Baltimore after 2004 to scout with the Cardinals and he didn’t forget about Garcia.

Much of the Cardinals attention is currently focused on Matt Holliday these days after they signed Brad Penny to seemingly replace current free agent Joel Piniero. That leaves the Cards with four definite starters: Adam Wainwright, Chris Carpenter, Brad Penny, and Kyle Lohse. St. Louis may try bringing back veteran John Smoltz or someone else to plug the fifth spot in the rotation but it could very well be filled with an in-house candidate.

Mitchell Boggs and P.J. Walters figure to be some of those in-house candidates but then there is also the case of the intriguing Jaime Garcia. Garcia was cruising through the Cardinals system before elbow soreness cut short his 2007 season. He made 18 inspiring starts between Double-A and Triple-A in 2008 and received a call up to the big leagues in July 2008. Garcia served as a reliever and had a tough ten game trial (7.07 FIP) before it was determined that he needed Tommy John surgery on his left arm.

Garcia returned in 2009 and logged 38 innings in the minor leagues after surgery. He performed well in the postseason for the Triple-A Memphis club. Garcia attacks hitters with a sinking fastball that ranges from the upper 80’s to the lower 90’s and he has a hammer 12-6 curveball. Baseball America reports that he added a third useful offering last season in their recent scouting report, “He used his rehab to add a pitch that’s a cross between a cutter and slider”.

Garcia’s sinking fastball has induced ground balls at a mighty pace throughout the minor leagues. Here are his ground ball rates, courtesy of, throughout the Cardinals system.

2006: A ball (78 IP)- 65%. A+ (77 IP)- 62%
2007: AA (103 IP)- 56%
2008: AA (35 IP)- 62%. AAA (71 IP)- 55%. MLB (16 IP)- 63%
2009: Rookie (4 IP)- 85%. A+ (13 IP)- 71%. AAA (21 IP)- 55%

At every single level Garcia has induced ground balls at an amazing rate. His lowest ground ball rate is 55% in 92 combined innings during two Triple-A stints. Consider the top five ground ball percentages for 2009 MLB pitchers:

1. Joel Piniero– 60.5%
2. Derek Lowe– 56.3%
3. Jason Marquis– 55.6%
4. Chris Carpenter– 55%
5. Rick Porcello– 54.2%

Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright ranked #13 with a 50.7% rate. The Cardinals had three of their 2009 starters within the top 15 and two within the top 5. Piniero is likely signing elsewhere but that doesn’t mean the Cardinals won’t have another ground ball pitcher in their 2010 rotation.

There’s no reason not to believe that Garcia could induce ground balls at a very solid clip as a starter in the majors. His pitching repertoire would fit right into the Cardinals rotation. The Cardinals defense is very solid up the middle with slick fielding shortstop Brendan Ryan (10.6 UZR) and the rangy Colby Rasmus (8.9 UZR) is center field. Second base is the weak spot but the Julio Lugo/Skip Schumaker tandem may provide average defense with Lugo (-3.5 UZR in 168 innings) shifting over from shortstop. Schumaker (-7.7 UZR) will be spending his second season ever at the position after spending almost his entire professional career as an outfielder and there might be room for more defensive improvement.

It is also encouraging to know that with last seasons defense the Cardinals four primary starters and ground ball specialists had these BABIPS:

Adam Wainwright– .309
Chris Carpenter– .272
Joel Piniero– .293
Kyle Lohse– .300

The Cardinals defense certainly didn’t hurt these pitchers last season.

Garcia is entering 2010 with a clean bill of health and should get a long look during the Spring. He’s one of the Cardinals better pitching prospects and offers more upside over Mitchell Boggs and P.J. Walters. But that doesn’t mean he’ll be given the job. Since his professional career began in 2006 Garcia has never topped the 155 inning mark and he hit that career high in his first pro season in the lower minors. Below are Garcia’s inning totals:

2006- 155 IP
2007- 103 IP *season ends early due to elbow soreness*
2008- 122 IP *season ends with Tommy John Surgery*
2009- 38 IP *first season back from Tommy John Surgery*

It’s also worth noting that some fear Garcia’s pitching mechanics and Garcia really can’t be expected to fire 170+ big league innings next year from the Cardinals rotation. They will closely monitor Garcia and his innings total.

Keep a close eye on Garcia’s progress this Spring and the Cardinals plans. He might be ticketed to Triple-A Memphis to start 2010 but he could arrive to St. Louis’s rotation at some point during the year. He’d be a cheap pick up and worth the gamble if he’s ever presented with the opportunity to start at the big league level. If he makes the big league rotation on opening day I’d recommend picking him up but keep in mind that he likely won’t last in that role for the entire season due to his past inning totals and the fact that this will be his first full season back from injury.

Garcia fits the Cardinals overall pitching scheme and their defense is going to help him and his sinking fastball. Don’t be surprised if he’s grounding opponents with his sinker this summer in St. Louis.