Thursday, June 10, 2010

Ex-Yankee Prospect Vizcaino Excels, Exacerbates Vazquez Woes

June 10, 2010
By Anthony Tripicchio

Javier Vazquez is a free agent after this season, but a reminder of his acquisition may haunt the Yankees long after he's gone.

Arodys Vizcaino, the 19-year-old Yankee pitching prospect given away in the trade for the embattled Vazquez, is annihilating his competition at Rome, Atlanta's Single-A affiliate.

Vizcaino is 9-3 with a 2.34 ERA and those numbers don't begin to tell the story of how dominant he's been.

Striking out 66 in 69 1/3 innings, Vizcaino has walked nine. Tantamount to his freakish strikeout to walk ratio is Vizcaino's 0.99 WHIP. He hasn't issued a walk since May 6 and he's thrown 33 2/3 scoreless innings over his last five starts.

As devastating as those numbers must be to GM Brian Cashman and the Yankees' organization, Vizcaino remains about three years from reaching the bigs.

The jump from A-ball to Double-A is generally regarded as the steepest as prospects climb in the minor leagues so Vizcaino still has some hurdles to clear. However, Vizcaino's rapid progress is an ominous sign for an already ill-fated offseason.

Receiving Vazquez and Boone Logan from the Braves, the Yankees shipped Melky Cabrera, left-handed pitcher Mike Dunn, Vizcaino and $500,000 to Atlanta in the Dec. 23 trade.

Incidentally, Dunn is also turning heads in Triple-A. Dunn is 1-0 with a razor thin 0.67 ERA over 26 2/3 innings at Gwinnett.

Considering the inconsistency of the Yankees' middle relief, Dunn might have fit well as a useful lefty in the bullpen.

The Vazquez deal isn't all roses for the Braves right now. Cabrera is proving to be the fourth outfielder he is with a .243 average, one homer, 14 RBI and a pathetic .616 OPS in 169 at-bats.

In fact, it's the unheralded former Yankee and 2002 AL Rookie of the Year Eric Hinske making more of an impact in the Braves' lineup. Protecting red hot Troy Glaus, Hinske is batting .306 with four homers and 22 RBI in limited duty.

Improving, Vazquez has been torched in only one of his last five starts. With that said, it's fair to assert that Yankees' GM Brian Cashman would like a mulligan on this one.

If the season ended today, Vazquez would be on the outside looking in at the Yankee playoff rotation. CC Sabathia, Andy Pettitte, AJ Burnett, and Phil Hughes are all markedly better options.

Meanwhile, Vizcaino is painting a picture of his future and it's an intimidating image for the Yankees.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

MLB Draft: Reviewing Pinstripe Picks of Years Past

June 6, 2010

By Anthony Tripicchio

The NBA Draft is always a much anticipated extravaganza while the NFL's selections are so heavily scrutinized they've been thrust into prime time.

On the eve of the 2010 MLB Draft, baseball has yet to experience similar success with its entry draft and there are plenty of reasons that explain why.

First, there's a sense of immediacy to the NBA and NFL drafts, respectively. The high picks, in most cases (sans a few quarterbacks), will play right away.

In contrast, only two out of 32 players selected in the first round of last year's MLB Draft are currently on major league rosters. The impending call-up of Stephen Strasburg will make three.

In our culture of instant gratification, people simply don't want to wait three or four years for players to develop.

Unless your name is Mike Leake, you have a far greater development curve in baseball than the other two major sports. Obscurity is the name of the game in the minors as many fans are unaware of the state of affairs with their major league team's affiliates or they don't find those events relevant.

Secondly, the vast sea of players selected in the MLB Draft is enormous in comparison. The NBA Draft is a terse two rounds and the NFL features a seven-round event. MLB holds a marathon 50-round happening.

Observers are devoid of the necessary attention spans to see it to a conclusion. Further compounding matters is the fact that most of the players procured are unknowns.

High school baseball's popularity pales in comparison to that of its basketball and football counterparts; just check the bleachers near you for verification. Exasperating the issue, the dearth of interest in amateur baseball continues at the college level, where football and basketball rake in significantly more revenue.

Television exposure launches power conference players in football and basketball into the public consciousness, whereas the major prospects in baseball never enjoy the same publicity except on a smaller scale in the College World Series.


Since we won't be able to gauge the quality of the Yankees' 2010 draft for at least four years, we will instead evaluate years where we have enough evidence to comment on the results.

Due to the mammoth amount of players selected, the focus will be the top 10 rounds and we'll specify if someone of note was uncovered later.

2006 Picks:

1. Ian Kennedy (21st overall), RHP, USC
2. Joba Chamberlain (44th), RHP, Nebraska

3. Zach McAllister (104th), RHP, Valley Central HS, Illinois

4. Colin Curtis (134th), OF, Arizona State

5. George Kontos (164th), RHP, Northwestern

6. Mitchell Hilligoss (194th), SS, Purdue

7. Tim Norton (224th), RHP, UConn

8. Dellin Betances (254th), RHP, Grand Street Campus HS, NY

9. Mark Melancon (284th), RHP, Arizona

10. Casey Erickson (314th), RHP, Springfield College

13. Daniel McCutchen (404th), RHP, Oklahoma

17. David Robertson (524th), RHP, Alabama

20. Kevin Russo (614th), 2B, Baylor

47. Charles Smith (1416th), C, Second Baptist School, Texas

Analysis: As comical as people may find this assertion, the Yankees typically are at a disadvantage as far as positioning is concerned in the drafts. Because they are perennial World Series contenders, they often select late in rounds which makes it more difficult to find players. They use their deep pockets, however, to offset this problem when players drop to them due to signability issues.

2006 is a year the Yankees scored with their early picks. Besides Brett Anderson, who went 55th overall to the Diamondbacks, there are very few arguments to make. They may regret dealing Kennedy in the long run, but that's another story.

Chamberlain, although inconsistent at times, has shown flashes of brilliance and the Yankees are grooming him to be the heir to the throne when the immortal Mariano Rivera retires.

McAllister appears ticketed for a major league rotation as soon as near year. So far in Triple-A, McAllister is 5-2 with a 3.90 ERA. New York could have an opening with Javier Vazquez's contract expiring after this season.

Robertson and Russo are contributing in The Show with the Yankees right now and were good late finds.

Melancon, although struggling to stick with the big club, has passed challenges on every level in the minors.

Charles Smith is only listed because any team from New York should know to avoid a guy named Charles Smith. Go up strong!

This was a weak draft pool overall so the Yankees did well.

Draft Grade: A

2005 Picks:

1. Carl Henry (17th overall), SS, Putnam City HS, Oklahoma

2. James Cox (63rd), RHP, Texas-Austin

3. Brett Gardner (109th), CF, Col. of Charleston (SC)

4. Lance Pendleton (139th), RHP, Rice

5. Zachary Kroenke (169th), LHP, Nebraska

6. Douglas Fister (199th), RHP, Fresno St.

7. Garrett Patterson (220th), LHP, Oklahoma

8. Austin Jackson (259th), CF, Billy Ryan HS, Texas

9. James Cooper (289th), LF, Loyola Marymount

10. Kyle Anson (319th), 3B, Texas St.

Analysis: In a year of one of the most talent rich first rounds in the history of the MLB draft, the Yankees missed badly with Carl Henry. Colby Rasmus, Matt Garza, and Jacoby Ellsbury highlight a list of current stars that were on the board when New York opted for Henry.

The second round wasn't much better when the Yankees selected James Cox over Chase Headley, Kevin Slowey, Yunel Escobar, and a potential future ace in Jeremy Hellickson.

Finally, New York got a player in Brett Gardner in the third round and he was obviously an excellent pick.

It also nabbed Doug Fister, who is having a breakout year with Seattle, in the sixth but were unable to sign him.

Austin Jackson was tabbed in the eighth and was a centerpiece in the Curtis Granderson trade.

The first two rounds were awful, but the Yankees rebounded to choose three current major leaguers with their next six picks. Although that fact salvages some face, the Yankees turned up zilch in the later rounds.

This draft had far too much talent to justify the Yankees producing so little.

Draft Grade: C-

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Breakout Pitchers in 2010

June 1, 2010
By Anthony Tripicchio

Unveiling a list like this is entertaining, but it can also be controversial. As a result, let's be clear about who qualifies and what the criteria is.

Casual fans might have trouble recognizing some of the names to come. Pitchers you'll encounter throughout this group may have been standout prospects, but had not yet enjoyed consistent success on the major league level prior to this year. If they are established, then they have catapulted themselves to a higher rung on the ladder.

Without further ado, here we go.

10. Luke Gregerson, San Diego (1-1, 1.63 ERA)

Setup men need love too.

Gregerson, 26, was stolen from the Cardinals as the player to be named later in the Khalil Greene trade. He's beginning to make a name for himself as one of the premier eighth inning relievers in baseball and, in the process, has fortified the bridge to closer Heath Bell.

If you're trailing the Padres after the seventh inning this year, good luck.

In 27 2/3 innings, Gregerson has struck out 32 while walking just two. His 0.43 WHIP is obscene. Although he had his 18 1/3 innings scoreless streak snapped on May 14, he's promptly picked up where he left off and has thrown eight scoreless frames since.

9. Ian Kennedy, Arizona (3-3, 3.38 ERA)

The forgotten man in the Curtis Granderson blockbuster deal is blossoming into the frontline pitcher the Yankees once envisioned him as.

Kennedy, who has recovered from an aneurysm last year, is a victim of poor run support on a last place team. Still, the lack of wins shouldn't overshadow his performance.

Kennedy, 25, has whiffed 57 and walked 23 which equates to a tremendous 2.48 strikeout to walk ratio. He's keeping runners off the basepaths with his 1.17 WHIP and has been conclusively better than both Max Scherzer and Diamondbacks' teammate Edwin Jackson, the other two ballyhooed starters involved in the offseason swap.

The only alarming statistic to monitor is the 11 homers he's surrendered. Of course, if his WHIP rises and he continues to give up the gofer ball at this rate, his ERA is destined to inflate.

8. Mat Latos, San Diego (5-3, 3.08 ERA)

Notice a trend as we advance to our third straight NL West pitcher? Latos doesn't turn 23 until Dec. 9 and that's a scary thought for his division foes.

Amidst a streak of six straight quality starts, Latos is 4-1 with a 1.54 ERA as we close the books on the month of May.

Imposing doesn't do justice to Latos who stands 6-6, 225 pounds. For a power pitcher, he's not suffering through any control issues that you might expect from a youngster (he's walked 15 in 61 1/3 innings).

Posting a .207 batting average against and a minuscule 1.01 WHIP, Latos is demonstrating how
dominant he can be. PETCO Park is a pitcher's heaven and coupled with Latos' nasty stuff, the combination could concoct some epic numbers in the coming years.

7. Ricky Romero, Toronto (5-2, 3.14 ERA)

Romero is one of a few exciting greenhorn pitchers on the Blue Jays' staff. A trio of Shaun Marcum, Romero, and Brett Cecil is the makings of a formidable rotation. Unfortunately for the Blue Jays, they play in the stupendous AL East where finishing third would be a notable accomplishment.

Marcum is the ace, but Romero is working on closing the gap. He's averaging more than a strikeout per inning and is holding hitters to a meager .230 BAA despite the fast turf in Toronto that often transforms routine grounders on grass into base hits in the Rogers Centre.

6. Mike Leake, Cincinnati (4-0, 2.45 ERA)
The magnitude and rarity of Leake's accomplishments thus far are startling. Leake, who entered 2010 with no professional experience of any kind, is mowing down the opposition like he's done it for a decade.

A 22-year-old right hander, Leake is a huge reason why the Reds are atop the NL Central. The former Arizona State Sun Devil has allowed just four homers on the season and has arguably been the Reds' best starter, even surpassing Johnny Cueto, who's been very good himself.

Leake will have his share of growing pains, but it's nearly unheard of for a pitcher to bypass the minor leagues and have such pronounced immediate success. Manager Dusty Baker will need to exercise caution with the green rookie as Leake's innings mount.

Baker's reputation isn't exactly one of a caretaker, but Cueto has developed under his tutelage.

5. Clay Buchholz, Boston (7-3, 2.73 ERA)

Given Josh Beckett and John Lackey's struggles, Buchholz and John Lester have done a lot of the heavy lifting for the Red Sox starting pitching this year. Boston may have expected such production out of Lester, but Buchholz's newfound dependability is a welcomed scenario.

Buchholz sports a high WHIP at 1.37 due to his penchant for handing out the free pass (28 in 62 2/3 innings), but he's already matched his win total from a year ago and since he's been a hyped prospect for so long, this could logically be a signal of growth from the 25-year-old right hander.

Boston needs him to be this good over the long haul; otherwise their playoff hopes are futile.

4. Jaime Garcia, St. Louis (5-2, 1.32 ERA)

Garcia is yet another Tommy John success story. Since rehabbing from the ligament replacement surgery, Garcia has returned as a godsend to the Cardinals rotation. Tony LaRussa was quoted as saying the southpaw had been his top pitcher and it's been accurate through May.

He's walking a little too many (27 through 61 1/3 innings), but it's a forgivable offense given his .206 BAA and considering he's allowed only one home run on the season.

Despite the fact that the Cardinals will certainly impose an innings restriction on the impressive lefty, he's a stellar addition to a rotation led by perennial Cy Young candidates Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright.

No one in the right mind expects him to sustain his ridiculous ERA over the full season, but rest assured, he's a legitimate pitcher.

3. Phil Hughes, New York Yankees (6-1, 2.70 ERA)

You may remember when the Yankees were touting a rotation including prized prospects Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, and Kennedy. Now that the dust has cleared, Hughes is the only one left on the starting staff.

It seems like ages ago that Chamberlain was regarded as the better pitcher because Hughes has definitively put that talk to bed for the time being.

Hughes actually stumbled a bit in two of his last three starts, but his overall body of work is eye-opening nonetheless. Displaying a 1.06 WHIP with .201 BAA, Hughes is a good bet to make an all-star appearance.

The Yankees will limit his innings to around 175 simply because he worked almost exlusively out of the bullpen last year and hasn't approached this workload in the past.

Hughes, 23, certainly looks like the first homegrown frontline Yankee starter since Andy Pettitte. Chien-Ming Wang had two great years, but lacked staying power.

2. David Price, Tampa Bay (7-2, 2.57 ERA)

Price was a relative disappointment in 2009 after he burst on the scene to stabilize the Rays bullpen for their World Series run in 2008.

He's an underachiever no more in 2010. While 27 walks in 66 2/3 innings is not great, his 1.14 WHIP and 2.57 ERA are. Pitching for major league leading Tampa Bay, anything less than 18 wins for Price would be surprising.

Rafael Soriano's presence in the Tampa Bay bullpen provides them the impetus they need to realistically contend for a championship and should continue to make most of Price's quality starts stand up.

1. Ubaldo Jimenez, Colorado (10-1, 0.78 ERA)

Honestly, Jimenez probably doesn't belong in this fraternity since he's proven to be an established major league starter already, but his numbers are too staggering to ignore.

Jimenez is the third pitcher in the history of baseball to win 10 of his first 11 starts with an ERA under one. The fact that he's doing it in the Coors Field setting is all the more dumbfounding.

His ERA is lower than his WHIP. If this dominance continues at anywhere near his current rate, Jimenez deserves the Cy Youngs from both leagues.