Archive for March, 2009

Chipper Locked Up

The Atlanta Braves and Chipper Jones agreed to a three year contract extension today, virtually assuring that Jones will retire as a Brave. The details on this contract are a little extensive so bear with me here. Jones will get a base salary of $13 million for 2010-2. In addition, he will receive bonuses of $750,000 each if he passes the 135 and 140 games played milestones. Those are curiously close together. Of course, Jones hasn’t tallied 140 games since 2003 and hasn’t reached 135 since 2004.

When 2013 rolls around, Jones has a vesting option of $9 million with the same pair of $750K bonuses. The option vests if Jones manages to appear in at least 123 games during the 2012 season or if he averages at least 127 games in 2011 and 2012. The base salary increases by $1 million at each of the following levels: 128, 133, 138, 140 games in 2012 or averages of 132, 137, 138, 140 games in 2011-2.

Got all that? Great. For purposes of evaluation, we’re going to keep it simple and evaluate it at three years and $42 million, his base salaries. We’ll assume that if he plays enough to reach his various bonuses, that he’ll be worth them. Now, on the face of it, it seems like a lot of money to guarantee a player for his age 37-9 seasons. However, according to our values, Chipper was worth $34 million last year alone!

It’s pretty unlikely for Jones to repeat his high level of performance from the past few seasons both because of expected regression and advancing age, but all five projection systems listed here expect him to post a wOBA of at least .405 this coming year. The Braves will be paying Jones at about a 3 to 3.5 win level, a level Jones has met or greatly exceeded in every season we record.

Given his decent defensive numbers, Jones’ offense could fall back to 2004-level, when he was the victim of some really harsh BABIP, and he would still be worth his salary. Throw in the sentimental value in keeping Chipper Jones in a Braves uniform and this looks like a risk worth taking for the Braves.

Sheffield in Philly?

Well, it didn’t take long for Gary Sheffield rumors to start flaring up. The Philadelphia Phillies just released outfielder Geoff Jenkins and GM Ruben Amaro confirmed that they have spoken to Sheffield’s agent. Sheffield has already said that his preference would be for an east coast contender, and the Phillies fit the profile on both marks. However, there’s one thing the Phillies can’t give Gary Sheffield – a DH spot.

Gary Sheffield played 47 innings in the outfield last year. He played 106 innings in the outfield in in 2007. He played 165 innings in the outfield in 2006. Over the last three years, he’s worn a glove for 318 innings, or about 25% of one season.

The idea that a 40-year-old Gary Sheffield is still capable of playing the outfield regularly without breaking down is pretty wacky. If the Phillies sign him, he’ll be listed as an outfielder on the roster, but in reality, he’d be a right-handed pinch hitter. Now, he’s not a bad right-handed pinch hitter, and in the National League, that’s a role that could have some value. But, given the construction of the Phillies roster, I have to wonder how this would all work.

As it stands, the Phillies have Shane Victorino, Jayson Werth, Raul Ibanez filling the outfield, with Matt Stairs as the fourth outfielder. Maybe I should put quotes around that last word, because Stairs is 41 years old and not really capable of running after fly balls anymore. In the last three years, Stairs has amassed 515 innings in the outfield… and posted a -30.0 UZR/150. Negative Thirty. Given his age and body shape, we shouldn’t really be surprised that Stairs is a cover-your-eyes defender, but he’s not exactly anyone’s definition of a classic fourth outfielder.

Now, if you add Sheffield to the roster, you essentially are going with an outfield of Victorino, Werth, and three guys who belong at DH. You could put Ibanez, Stairs, and Sheffield side by side in left field and still have a below average defense out there. And Ibanez, at 37, is the spring chicken of the bunch. What do you do in late game situations when you have the lead – you won’t be using Stairs or Sheffield as a defensive replacement for Ibanez, that’s for sure.

Worse, what do you do if Werth or Victorino get banged up? Now you’re starting Ibanez and Stairs or Sheffield in the outfield corners. That’s… it’s hard to imagine a team chasing a World Series title would leave themselves with those kinds of options. And we’re not talking about long shot reserves who won’t see the light of day, here – Werth and Victorino aren’t exactly the new age Cal Ripken.

Given that Ibanez is starting in one outfield spot and the fourth OF spot is filled with a guy who shouldn’t ever wear a glove, it would seem to be that the Phillies are more in need of a legitimate defensive player than another pinch-hitter. Sheffield could still make sense for the Phillies, if he’d agree to a reduced role and they’d kick Miguel Cairo to the curb to make room for him, but if he’s actually going to fill the spot vacated by Jenkins and masquerade as an outfielder, I feel really bad for the Phillies pitching staff.

2009 Prospect Mine: Atlanta Braves

The Atlanta Braves system has a few bigger names in the top half of the system, but the strength is in the depth. Things could look even better by the end of 2009 if a few of the sleepers wake up.

Tommy Hanson has already been written about a fair bit around here. He had a breakout 2008 season during both the regular season and in the Arizona Fall League. He pitched at both High-A and Double-A with 70 hits allowed in 98 innings at the senior level. He also posted rates of 3.77 BB/9 and 10.47 K/9. The only thing that is keeping him from breaking camp with Atlanta is the veteran depth in the starting rotation. It’ll be a miracle if Tom Glavine throws 180 innings, so Hanson will get his shot sooner or later in 2009.

Jordan Schafer is moving in the opposite direction of Hanson. After the recent trade of center fielder Josh Anderson to Detroit, it appears as though Schafer has won the starting-day outfield gig in Atlanta, although the club has yet to confirm it. Schafer had an off year in 2008 by hitting just .269/.378/.471 with 10 home runs and 12 stolen bases in 297 Double-A at-bats. He has had a nice spring with a .373 average and five stolen bases. The 16 strikeouts in 17 games is a bit disturbing, though.

Brandon Hicks is a shortstop in the mold of former Cub Jose Hernandez: A powerful bat that will likely produce a low-ish average and a ton of strikeouts. The former third round draft pick is a better defender, although his size may eventually force him to third base if he remains a regular at the MLB level. Last season in High-A, Hicks batted .234/.335/.480 with 19 homers and 14 stolen bases in 342 at-bats. He also hit .241 in 54 Double-A at-bats.

Cole Rohrbough played at two A-ball levels in 2008, but the southpaw still missed significant time due to injury. In 31.2 High-A innings, Rohrbough allowed just 27 hits and posted rates of 2.27 BB/9 and 7.96 K/9. His repertoire includes an 89-94 mph fastball, plus curve and change-up. He’s expected to be fully healthy this spring and should begin the year in High-A.

Another talented southpaw, Jeff Locke had a down year in A-ball in 2008. The 21-year-old hurler allowed 150 hits in 139.2 innings and posted rates of 2.45 BB/9 and 7.28 K/9, which was by far his lowest strikeout rate of his career. He has excellent control for his age and he has the potential to have three very good pitches, with a fastball that can touch 94 mph, a curveball and a change-up.

Outfielder Jason Heyward is a name you should remember in 2009. He had a solid first full season in the Majors after being a first-round pick out of high school in 2007, but he could blossom into a future superstar. The 19-year-old slugger hit .323/.388/.483 with 11 home runs and 15 stolen bases. He also earned 22 at-bats in High-A ball late in the year. Still in his teens, Heyward is an athletic 6’4” 220 lbs and his strong arm is well suited to right field.

Another talented outfielder, Gorkys Hernandez was obtained from Detroit in the Edgar Renteria trade, which also netted the club Jair Jurrjens. Hernandez does not have anywhere near the power that Heyward does, but he stole 20 bases in 2008 with his above-average speed. He struggled a bit in his first season in the organization and hit just .264/.348/.387 with five home runs. Hernandez, 21, also posted rates of 10.6 BB% and 19.5 K%. He needs to play small ball more consistently and he could be headed to a fourth-outfielder future in Atlanta because he’s not going to push Schafer out of center and he does not profile well in the corners.

Outside of Heyward, Freddie Freeman has the most impressive bat in the lower minors. The first base prospect had an exciting first full season in pro ball after being a second round draft pick out of high school in 2007. In A-ball, Freeman hit .316/.378/.521 with 18 homers and 95 RBI in 491 at-bats. He also posted rates of 8.6 BB% and 17.1 K%. Defensively, the left-handed hitter is above-average.

Julio Teheran, 18, generated a lot of buzz in 2008 even before he threw a pitch in North America. Unfortunately, his 2008 season did not play out as planned due to shoulder problems which were luckily not deemed serious. Teheran allowed 18 hits in 15 innings in rookie ball and posted rates of 2.40 BB/9 and 10.40 K/9. He has a good fastball that can touch 93 mph, a potentially plus change-up and a developing curveball.

Randall Delgado, 19, showed very well in his North American debut. In 69 rookie ball innings, the right-hander allowed 63 hits and posted rates of 3.91 BB/9 and 10.57 K/9. He can hit 93 mph with his fastball and also has a good curveball and change-up.

Up Next: The Boston Red Sox

Sheffield Hits The Road

As the last days of spring training wind down, teams will begin to pare their rosters down in order to finalize their 25 man opening day roster, and sometimes, those cuts are rather interesting. Today, the most interesting of all comes down, as the Tigers decided they’d rather pay Gary Sheffield $14 million to go away than to keep him around in 2009.

Sheffield, at age 40, might have a tough time finding another job. He hit .225/.326/.400 last year, good for a .323 wOBA. As a DH-only, that’s not particularly valuable. His 2008 season was worth 0.3 wins above replacement, and given his personality, teams aren’t going to be knocking down his door to get that kind of production when his mouth comes along with it.

After all, this is a market where Jim Edmonds, Frank Thomas, and Ray Durham can’t find a job, and all three were more productive and less annoying than Sheffield last year. Upon being released, Sheffield claimed “this isn’t it” for him, but he’s not in a position to make that call. This very well could be it for Sheffield – he’s now joining a glut of Hall Of Famers looking for work and finding slim pickings.

So, if this is it for Sheffield, the question now becomes whether he’s accomplished enough to get into Cooperstown. He’s a career .292/.394/.516 hitter, racking up an impressive 570.9 wRAA and a 62.80 WPA/LI. His wRAA total ranks 34th all time, just ahead of Larry Walker and right behind Jim Thome. According to Sean Smith’s Wins Above Replacement from 1955-2008, Sheffield ranks 52nd among position players in that time frame.

Sheffield was a great hitter in an era of great hitting. Did he do enough to get into Cooperstown? I’m going to guess the answer will turn out to be no. Much like Larry Walker and Edgar Martinez, I think he’ll be viewed as a good but not great player, and the baseball writers will keep him sitting on the sidelines.

Does he deserve to get in? If you had a vote, is Sheffield going to Cooperstown?

Manny Ramirez != Barry Bonds

Patrick Sullivan at Baseball Analysts already paid homage to Ken Tremendous on Jon Heyman’s latest column, but that won’t stop me from looking at this line:

[Manny Ramirez] could have replicated the years of Barry Bonds, with comparable productivity, less controversy and more good cheer.

I’m a fan of greatness, so Barry Bonds has a place in my heart despite the moral and legal issues associated with his legacy. Outside of crushing Rays pitching, I don’t believe I have too many bad things to say about Manny Ramirez either. Still yet, let’s analyze this step by step.

First up;

“Could have replicated the years of Barry Bonds”

The obvious response is “Oh, Manny’s playing for another decade?” Since, you know, Bonds spent quite a while in San Francisco. Second thought, Jon Heyman is out of his mind. Over the last three years, Manny has wRAAs of 49.2, 21.1, 56.3. Bonds last three seasons were 39.5, 33.2, and 4.3 – if you discard 2005, then you get 2004’s 108.8 wRAA season. CHONE has Manny at 38.3 and ZiPS says 35.5. We’ll call it 37. Of 15 seasons with San Fran, 37 wRAA would’ve ranked as Bonds’ fourth lowest offensive output. Manny is great, he’s not Bonds.

“comparable productivity”

See above, but if we’re talking present day Bonds, sure.

“less controversy”

Can’t argue against that one…

“and more good cheer”

Okay wait. Is this the same Manny Ramirez shipped out of Boston because Red Sox management was less than decisive on his option one way or the other which lead to him throwing constant temper tantrums? The same Manny who got into at least two shoving matches last year, including with a clubhouse attendant? The same Manny who invented the “Manny being Manny” motto after yearly trade requests? To recap:

Was a prick in the clubhouse and took PEDs which might have made him a better player, therefore helping his team.

Bad guy.

Whined about his contract annually and gave questionable effort at times until he forced his way out of town.

Good guy.

The difference; their agents, silly.

Ohman Signs! Ohman Signs!

Well, folks, it is official: Will Ohman has inked a contract, saying goodbye to the free agent market for at least one more season. After much speculation with regards to who he would end up pitching for this season, Ohman signed an incentive-laden minor league deal with the Dodgers, essentially replacing former lefty specialist Joe Beimel. As recently as two weeks ago, up to six teams were interested in his services, but it had to be on their terms, resulting in Ohman’s asking price taking a significant hit.

The deal with the Dodgers will apparently be worth a base of $1.35 mil should Ohman make the team, with up to $200K in incentives. It also features an option for 2010 valued at $2 mil, with the ability for Ohman to be bought out at $200K.

Ohman realistically should have no problem making the team as he has been one of the better relief pitchers over the last few seasons. Granted, the small sample sizes of innings prevents relievers from accruing solid win values totals, but Ohman has averaged +0.7 wins the last three years while improving his K/BB ratio and FIP and GB/FB. In fact, for the first time last year Ohman actually induced more grounders than flyballs.

Ohman has been dynamite against lefties over the last four years, even holding the same-handed hitters to a paltry .200/.257/.314 line. His projection for 2009 looks similar to the numbers posted in 2006, producing somewhere in the +0.6 to +0.8 win range. At any interval he would more than earn the max $1.55 mil stipulated in his contract, regardless of how much the average dollars/win rate may have fallen this year.

It may seem odd that one of the better relievers, especially one whose asking price consistently lowered, would not be given a guaranteed contract, but Ohman should have no trouble ensuring that he earns all of the money available. Joe Beimel left the Dodgers and after an almost equally long wait, signed a $2 mil deal with the Washington Nationals. The Dodgers were able to replace his services with Ohman, a better strikeout pitcher with an advantage in the walks department as well as a history of more stable home run rates unlike Beimel’s 0.13 and 0.00 HR/9 marks the last two years, and they were able to save at least $450K.

All in all, a great signing, I’m glad it’s over, and in any other year I would be shocked it took so long, but this has not been your typical offseason by any stretch of the imagination. When Chan Ho Park is given a guaranteed $2.5 mil and Will Ohman has to make the major league team to get a base of $1.35 mil, you know something is up.

Brandon Morrow Abdicates Rotation

The playoff hopes for the Seattle Mariners, both in 2009 and beyond, took a dramatic blow yesterday when it was revealed that Brandon Morrow, the 5th overall selection of the 2006 draft, was moving to the bullpen full time. A myriad of reasons have been postulated for the move including health concerns over his arm, health concerns from his diabetes, a preference for closing and a sense that he would be more valuable as a reliever.

No matter which way you slice it, this is bad news for the Mariners. Brandon Morrow has the stuff to be an above average starting pitcher in the Major Leagues, someone capable of posting seasons worth three or four wins. Moving to the bullpen simply offers him no realistic shot at attaining levels that high. Even if Morrow morphed into a dominant closer, a big if, the likes of Joe Nathan, Mariano Rivera or even his now predecessor J.J. Putz, that level tops out at just over 2.5 wins a year on average. 2.5 wins is basically what an average starting pitcher tossing 200 or so innings would compile.

And remember, that would represent Morrow’s absolute best case as a closer. In pointed fact, those top notch closers have shown a much better track record of command and a higher ability to generate ground balls than Morrow ever has. A more realistic, but still optimistic, projection for Morrow would have him around the two-win mark. Suffice to say, Morrow is costing himself and the Mariners value by abandoning the role of starting pitcher.

Of course, it’s not so simple as to just leave it at that, because the health concerns are for real. Morrow’s Spring was under delay this year because of forearm issues. He also suffered from pronounced dead arm after moving into the rotation at the end of the 2008 season. He also has to battle Type 1 diabetes, an ailment that requires constant monitoring of his blood sugar level and one which is exacerbated by prolonged physical activity.

If we the public were informed that these reasons were the reasons Morrow was moving to the bullpen, I would have no qualms with it and would actually applaud Morrow for being willing to speak up when it came to his own health. The iffy part is that we are not sure those are the primary motivators. Morrow’s own words over the past few days have expressed a desire to return to the bullpen for the thrill of closing. If that, instead of his health, is why he’s making this decision, then it’s almost clearly a wrong call at this point in time. However, it seems unlikely that we will ever know and for now, the Mariners will have to move forward with their closing situation likely solved, but a severe blow to their upside in the rotation.

Career Year, Meet Gary Matthews Jr.

Following the 2006 season, Gary Matthews Jr. signed a much maligned 5-yr/$50 mil contract with the Los Angeles California Angels of Los Anaheim. The deal was predicated on the assumptions that Matthews’ performance level over 147 games in 2006 could be sustained, and that he had finally come into his own, increasing his win values total from +2.1 to +3.1 to +4.4. Ironically, Matthews went from being a somewhat underrated player to arguably the most overrated player in the game thanks to his tremendous career year.

What happened in 2006 should have been taken with a bit more than a grain of salt, though, as Matthews defied his general modus operandi. Up until that point, he had been a solid example of a no-hit, all-field player. Since a run is a run is a run, Matthews still produced at an above average clip from 2002-05, averaging +2.3 wins/yr. In 2006, though, Matthews became the full time centerfielder for the Rangers and saw his UZR drop significantly. Normally the difference could be written off thanks to positional adjustments but since Matthews had played centerfield for extended periods earlier in his career and had spent plenty of time at all three outfield spots, his adjustment swing was not nearly as dramatic as the -7.5 runs for LF/RF compared to the +2.5 for CF would suggest.

Despite the defensive dropoff, Matthews made “the play” that season, a majestic home run robbing catch that likely needs no further explanation. Offensively speaking, Matthews and his .349 BABIP produced one heck of a season with the bat, putting together a .313/.371/.495 line with a career best .367 wOBA. So now it makes perfect sense: he had cemented himself with a reputation for being a great fielder the previous several seasons, benefited from insane highlight reel catches despite an overall defensive decline, and put up very appealing offensive numbers. This isn’t to say that the aforementioned reasoning completely justifies the acquisition, but at least we can see how the decision may have come to be.

In his first season with the Angels, Matthews saw his defense slip further, this time to -9 runs. Couple that with the expected offensive regression hovering around the league average and a +0.9 win player emerges. Perhaps convinced that the signing was a mistake, the Angels decided to rectify the situation by signing Torii Hunter to a 5-yr/$90 mil contract that very offseason. With Garret Anderson and Vladimir Guerrero already in the mix, Matthews lacked a permanent position last season, splitting time between the three outfield spots. His aggregate defensive mark stayed poor, at -7 runs, and his hitting worsened to -10 runs, making Matthews the fourth least productive position player in baseball last season (min. 450 PA).

This season, the Angels will return Hunter and Guerrero, have replaced Anderson with Bobby Abreu, and will also need to delegate plate appearances to the re-signed Juan Rivera. Matthews has virtually no shot at an everyday job but has expressed his distaste for anything but such a role. Even though Abreu, Guerrero, and Hunter are all in their decline phase, they are more productive players than Matthews. Unfortunately, Matthews projects to post offensive numbers similarly to his first year as a Halo, placing his upside somewhere in the +1.2 to +1.4 wins range. With 3 yrs/$33 mil remaining on the deal, teams are simply not going to be inquiring about Matthews’ availability unless the Angels pay a big chunk of the salary.

Raul Ibanez, a more consistent player, received a similar contract this offseason and even that was considered to be in poor taste relative to the market. Matthews benefited greatly from a career year and will be paid handsomely to boot, but if the past two seasons are any indication he is no longer a major league starter and his ego needs to regress just like his numbers.

First One To 85 Wins It

Mediocrity is the new black, at least on the west coast. After last year’s debacle of a division called the NL West, where the Dodgers won the division by finishing 84-78, the parity-by-lousiness looks to be shifting to the American League West this year. The Replacement Level Yankees blog just finished up their simulation extravaganza for the American League, and the aggregate of the CHONE/PECOTA/ZIPS/THT/CAIRO/MARCEL simulations (6,000 in all) has the Angels leading the division with an average of 85.4 wins. The A’s come in at 81.1, the Mariners at 77.8, and the Rangers at 72.1.

That’s not good, and it gets worse – these projections are likely too optimsitic for the top three teams.

The Angels are going to open the season with John Lackey, Ervin Santana, and Kelvim Escobar on the disabled list. There are legitimate questions about how well and how often those three will be taking the hill, and an Angels rotation without those three isn’t much of a rotation at all.

Justin Duchscherer is undergoing arthroscopic surgery next week – how long he’ll be sidelined is up in the air, and it wouldn’t be surprising to anyone if his innings pitched for the season was something approximating zero. With Duchscherer out indefinitely, the A’s are essentially counting on five starting pitchers who have never pitched a full season in the big leagues.

The Mariners ability to take advantage of the injury bug hitting the two division favorites took a hit yesterday when Brandon Morrow announced that he wanted to head back to the bullpen and the team shipped Jeff Clement back to Triple-A to start the season.

The only team that hasn’t experienced a recent bout of bad news is the Texas Rangers, but they’re also the only team who the projection systems didn’t think had a real shot at winning the division this year – their simulated playoff odds were 3%.

This division is bad. Four flawed teams fighting for one playoff spot that none of them will deserve. Bad rotations, bad line-ups, bad defense… there’s no shortage of problems floating around the American League West this year. The only thing the division currently has an abundance of is injured pitchers.

2009 Prospect Mine: Toronto Blue Jays

A number of prospects have risen swiftly though the system for the Jays in the past year. The club has also re-committed itself to finding prospects in Latin American, as well as Australia. The system is better than some think it is, but there is still a lot of work to be done. There are some interesting sleeper prospects in the low minors.

The club has three southpaw starters that could see significant time in Toronto in 2009: Ricky Romero, Brad Mills, and Brett Cecil. All three received long looks this spring with Romero and Mills still under consideration for starting rotation spots. Romero, a former sixth overall draft pick out of college, has had a relatively disappointing career to this point, although he is making strides with his fastball command. He split 2008 between Double-A and Triple-A. Mills was selected in the 2007 draft as a college senior and he pitched at three levels last year and posted ERAs of 2.55, 1.35, and 1.10. Overall, he made 27 starts and succeeds by being aggressive and attacking the strike zone with average stuff. Cecil has an above-average repertoire for a southpaw and was a good college closer before being converted to a starter by the Jays. He needs to work on his fastball command but he could be ready by the middle of 2009. Cecil was slowed in 2008 by injuries but he still pitched at three levels and topped out in Triple-A.

Travis Snider should be considered an early favorite for the AL Rookie of the Year award, especially with fellow rookies Matt Wieters (Baltimore) and David Price (Tampa Bay) beginning the year in the minors (What a good year for rookies in the AL East). Snider, 21, will be the everyday left fielder for Toronto. He was slowed at the beginning of 2008 by a bum elbow but he still managed to play at three minor league levels before making a 24-game appearance in the Majors where he hit .301/.338/.466 with two homers in 73 at-bats. Snider likely won’t hit for a high average early in his career thanks to high strikeout totals (32 K% in 362 Double-A at-bats), but he should provide plenty of power and he is a better outfielder than many think.

J.P. Arencibia is another powerful bat for the Jays. The catcher was selected in the first round of the 2007 draft out of college and split last season between High-A and Double-A. He hit .315/.344/.560 in 248 at-bats before a promotion to Double-A, where he posted a line of .282/.302/.496 in 262 at-bats. Arencibia tied Wieters for home runs with 27 but drove in more runs with 105. The downside to his offensive game is that he walked just 18 times last year, including a walk rate of just 2.6 BB% in Double-A. Arencibia will have to improve upon his patience if he is going to be an impact player in the Majors. He has made significant strides in improving his defense.

Scott Campbell began his pro career as a second baseman but is penciled in at third base for the Triple-A club in 2009, which will help add to his versatility. The left-handed hitter cannot hit southpaws at all and he has limited power so his future is likely as a platoon infielder or bench player. Campbell’s defense at second base was nothing to write home about. Offensively, though, he skipped over High-A ball in 2008 to play at Double-A and had his best offensive season. The 24-year-old infielder hit .302/.398/.427 with nine home runs in 417 at-bats. He posted rates of 13.7 BB% and 15.1 K%.

The left-handed Tim Collins is generously listed as 5’7” which is why he went undrafted out of high school. General manager J.P. Ricciardi’s father noticed the pitcher at a high school game and tipped off his son, which allowed the Jays to buy Collins, 19, away from a junior college offer late in 2007. Last season in A-ball, the southpaw used a plus curveball and average fastball to allowed just 36 hits in 68.1 innings of work. He also posted rates of 4.21 BB/9 and 12.91 K/9.

Yet another southpaw, Luis Perez was a late blooming Latin America prospect who did not come over to North America until he was 22. Although he started off very poorly at A-ball in 2008, Perez turned things around. He allowed 136 hits in 137.1 innings and posted rates of 3.34 BB/9 and 8.98 K/9. In 212.2 innings in North America, the Dominican hurler has allowed just four home runs and he induces a ton of ground balls, along with the healthy number of strikeouts.

Second baseman Brad Emaus opened some eyes in his first full season. Originally viewed as a future utility player in the Scott Spiezio mold, Emaus now looks like a future regular, whose offense could possibly be strong enough to warrant a move to third base. In 2008, Emaus hit .302/.380/.463 with 12 home runs and 12 stolen bases. The 23-year-old also played well in the Hawaii Winter Baseball league with a .333 average and 17 walks (with just seven strikeouts) in 81 at-bats.

David Cooper was the club’s 2008 first round draft pick out of college. Cooper, a first baseman, was considered a step below the Top 3 first sackers in the draft: Justin Smoak, Brett Wallace (now a full-time third baseman), and Yonder Alonso. Regardless, Cooper had a stunning debut and played at three levels, topping out in High-A ball. The left-handed hitter hit .300 or more at each level and batted .304/.373/.435 with one home run in 92 High-A at-bats. Cooper has the skill to bat .300 in the Majors but his power is no better than average for the position and he needs a fair bit of work on his defense.

Raw+Toolsy+Prep = Exactly the type of player Toronto historically avoided under general manager J.P. Ricciardi. Justin Jackson, though, represented a departure from that stance, and Toronto is glad it made the change. The athletic and gifted fielder is still raw but he has displayed some promising skills at the plate and on the base paths, as well as in the field. The 20 year old shortstop hit just .238/.340/.368 with seven homers and 17 stolen bases in 454 at-bats, but he was one of the better hitters on his A-ball club in the first half of the season before tiring in his first full pro season.

Eric Eiland is another raw high schooler who was signed in 2007, like Jackson. Eiland though did not join Jackson in A-ball until later in the season after beginning the year in extended spring training. Once he reached A-ball, Eiland hit .233/.334/.305 with 23 stolen bases in 249 at-bats. He needs to work on his approach at the plate after posting a strikeout rate of 32.1 K%. His walk rate was a reasonable 12.9%.

Kevin Ahrens was the club’s first pick of the 2007 draft out of a Texas high school but he has fallen down the depth chart below both Arencibia and Jackson, two players drafted after him. Ahrens, like Jackson, struggled mightily in the second half of his first full pro season. Overall, he hit .259/.329/.367 with five home runs in 460 at-bats. Defensively, he is still getting accustomed to manning third base after playing shortstop in high school.

Antonio Jimenez and Carlos Perez highlight a deep crop of catchers in the lower levels of the system. Jimenez was selected out of a Puerto Rico high school during the 2008 draft, while Perez was a quiet Latin America signing in 2007. Jimenez appeared in just 19 games after signing and hit .191/.255/.234. His defense is considered ahead of his bat and he is very athletic for a catcher (He stole five bases in seven attempts). Perez opened some eyes in his first pro season in the Dominican Summer League in 2008 and hit .306/.459/.378 in 196 at-bats. He also walked 52 times with just 28 strikeouts. His defense is not as strong as Jimenez’ but he is good enough to remain behind the dish long term.

The organization significantly improved its middle infield depth with the 2008-09 signings of Gustavo Pierre, Garis Pena and Nick Bidois. Both Pierre and Pena were signed out of Latin America for six-figure contracts, while Bidois was inked out of Australia. All three teenagers will move slowly and Pierre had Tommy John surgery during the off-season.

Up Next: The Atlanta Braves