The Lost Letters: v3.0

I’ve decided that I want to publish what went unpublished at Baseball Prospectus while I was their AL Central columnist.

For those unaware, I submitted five columns, which consisted of about 20 hours of work for me, all of which went unpublished.

Today is the third of five columns in this series.

It’s Not Me, It’s You
slated to run 3/23/11

Hope springs eternal every year when teams convene in Florida and Arizona. Still, with roster sizes typical of NFL teams (and numbers issued that would normally go to defensive linemen), there are no doubt players destined to be cut from the day camp opens. Thus, it isn’t surprising when the young shortstop donning the number 88 has an empty locker after cut day. However, with spring training a mere week from completion, there have been some surprising cuts and demotions across the American League Central landscape.

When the Minnesota Twins announced Sunday that Pat Neshek had been claimed by the San Diego Padres via waivers, it took much of the fanbase by shock. Still on the comeback trail from the arm surgery that cost him most of 2008 and all of 2009, Neshek, a Brooklyn Park native, scuffled through the 2010 season after a mis-diagnosis of a finger ailment shelved him to start the campaign. He never truly recovered, fanning only 5.7 per nine innings in Triple-A before 11 ho-hum appearances to close out the season with the Twins. His spring was off to a superficially good start with a 4.26 ERA and five strikeouts in six innings, but in reality Neshek was getting hit pretty hard, as both eyewitness accounts and three home runs allowed would attest to.

It’s difficult to say what is more telling about Neshek’s situation. He still has an option left, and thus could have been sent to Rochester to work out any kinks before being called upon by the big club to fill a role in a completely revamped bullpen. A bullpen that is likely to feature some combination of Glen Perkins, Jeff Manship, and Rule-5 pickup Scott Diamond no less. Yet the Twins opted to place Neshek on waivers, perhaps trying to outright him off a 40-man roster that contains non-entities such as Drew Butera, Eric Hacker, and Deolis Guerra. To the club’s credit, Neshek made it through the AL waiver order and to a 90-win NL club, but it’s not easy to tell what exactly that indicates at a time in the schedule that mandates general managers to trim their rosters rather than beef up.

To Neshek’s credit, however, is that he was picked up by the San Diego bullpen factory. No, that’s not the official name of the building in the left field corner of Petco Park, but it could just as well be. In as stunning fashion as their East Coast contemporary in Tampa, the Padres have managed to build a fantastic stable of relievers that were otherwise largely unknown to many of the non-Goldsteins’ and Parks’ of the world. With names like Gregerson, Mujica, Adams, Thatcher, and Frieri, this band of largely unknowns combined to post a 2.81 ERA, punch out 544 hitters (9.6 collective K/9), and allow an unsavory 620 OPS against, all of which were tops in the major leagues. If a team with this relief pedigree has room for Neshek, it would almost have to be a boon for his perceived value.

Statistically, it’s hard to know what Neshek will show up in Petco. With a tip of the cap to Nick’s Twins Blog (one of the best Twins blogs going), the statistics would seem to indicate that Pat has been relatively pedestrian since taking the league by storm with his quirky delivery and toothy grin. Through his first calendar year in the majors, Neshek carried a sub-2.00 ERA, while fanning nearly 12 batters per nine. Since that time, his numbers are a much more mortal 4.79 ERAwith 8.3 whiffs per nine. Further alarming for Neshek is his steady decrease in velocity, from an average of 91.0 miles-per-hour on his heater in 2006, down to a stunningly low 85.6 last season. It would seem that this is what sealed Neshek’s fate, as he’s still yet to regain all of his velocity (Phil Mackey of ESPN1500 has Neshek topping out at 89 miles-per-hour this spring), and it would appear it’s not without good reason. Simply put, when Neshek isn’t dealing fastballs that break 90, he’s simply too hittable to keep around as his deception isn’t keeping AL hitters off-balance as it has in the past. It’s no doubt difficult for Twins fans to let one of their own go, but a team can’t necessarily wait forever for a 30-year old reliever to recapture the magic, either.

Over in White Sox camp, general manager Kenny Williams and manager Ozzie Guillen have allegedly toppled the salary-driven hierarchy at third base, announcing that Brett Morel would start at third base for the club this season. The latest to come out of Pale Hose camp was that Guillen’s statement regarding seeing more of Teahen in the outfield the last week of spring training was blown out of proportion, but all too often this is seen as the manager wanting to deflect heat from his players (see Ron Gardenhire and his war with Twitter for proof).

Should the rumor prove true, massive props should go to the Williams-Guillen duo for having the cojones to go against the prevalent ‘wisdom’ spawned from the minds of the likes of Gardenhire and Jim Leyland. While they’re giving prominent roster spots to guys like Nick Blackburn and Will Rhymes, it’s certainly refreshing from a non-vested party’s point of view to see a team just attempt to make the correct decision right out of the gate rather than the safe decision.

Morel is by no means a superstar, but Teahen is a proven, known commodity. As 2006 becomes more and more of a distant memory, Teahen continues to put in his workman-like effort in the field. He’s almost exactly average at the dish (clearly diminished by the fact that he only plays the power positions in the field), and his glove is a Fred Flintstone hand-me-down. Still, he’s inexplicably due $4.75 million this year and $5.5 million next, so the brass have seemingly made a “best of a bad situation”-type decision to temper the amount that he can hurt the club by letting him spell guys in the corners to keep them fresh.

As far as Morel is concerned, he’ll likely be an adequate regular on a team that truly only needs him to play solid defense and round out the order. A .305/.354/.464 hitter in the minors, Morel has potential to show enough pop that he won’t be an embarrassment in the eight or nine spot, and he swiped 45 bases over three seasons at a decent clip to boot. He’s young, cheap, capable defensively, and just good enough to round out an order that will have plenty of thunder in the middle with the likes of Dunn, Konerko, Quentin, Beckham, and Ramirez in tow. The player forecaster isn’t insanely high on Morel, but this isn’t your older brother’s version of PECOTA either. A projection of .273/.307/.415 for Morel would grade him out at 0.7WARP, and the resulting 722 OPS would place him just beneath the 729 OPS compiled by AL third basemen in 2010. I think the White Sox would be just fine with that.

When the Tigers cut Scott Sizemore from its big-league camp Tuesday, Will Rhymes became the de facto starting second basemen in starter Carlos Guillen’s stead. For Sizemore, it had to be a disappointing development, as he clearly outplayed Rhymes to date this spring, with a 732 to 662 edge in OPS. Additionally, Sizemore’s ceiling is much higher, as Sizemore is only one season removed from a four-star prospect billing from Kevin Goldstein, while Rhymes is a non-prospect. Still, with neither player really lighting it up this spring, chances are Leyland opted to go with the lesser of the two evils in Rhymes for a number of reasons, varying from understandable to bewildering in their logic.

One likely reason is, fair or not, Rhymes was better in 2010. Rhymes triple-slashed .304/.350/.414 in his late-season audition with the Tigers, while Sizemore floundered out of the gate, winding up with a .224/.296/.336 mark of his own. Leyland generally isn’t regarded as a numbers-drive manager, but he no doubt remembers how well Rhymes played down the stretch, and that likely gives him the benefit of the doubt. It certainly doesn’t hurt that Rhymes appears to be a bit more accomplished defensively, having improved from a player who routinely committed errors numbering in the double digits to one who only committed five the last two seasons combined.

A palpable reason for demoting Sizemore is due to the fact that Guillen isn’t expected to be out for long. Thus, getting Sizemore consistent at bats in Triple-A is probably the preferred option, considering the club still seems to like Sizemore enough to give him at least one more extended shot to claim the job before looking elsewhere. With Rhymes, the club can just let him play out his time until Guillen returns, and shuttle him back and forth without fear of stunting him against his relatively low ceiling. If the club can find a taker for Guillen and his $13 million dollar salary, I wouldn’t be surprised if Sizemore were to become the full-time second baseman rather than Rhymes.

In the camps of the Royals and the Indians, there haven’t been many ceremonious cuts. Jeff Francoeur has been predictably bad in Royals camp, but he, much like 90 percent of the entire roster, is only biding his time. If PECOTA has its way, Kansas City will soon be the Kila City, as the burly 27-year old is projected to break out in a big way, with a .301TAv while flip-flopping between the DH and first base roles with Billy Butler. Only those two figure to be long for the Royals going forward, with the new crop of players spearheaded by Mike Moustakas expected to ascend upon Kauffman Stadium starting mid-season.

A disappointing development in Indians camp has been the continued bad luck of Jason Donald. The young infielder has been unable to duck the hand injuries that have plagued him in his short stint as a pro. The latest injury will shelve Donald into the regular season, which will no doubt put him well behind in an infield competition with more mouths to feed than a newborn litter. With no long-term option to start at short behind Asdrubal Cabrera, the Indians desperately need Donald, a .284/.371/.434 hitter in the minors, to provide some competition.

About Brandon Warne

Sportswriter trying to make it.
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