We are a fantasy baseball league whose draft is scheduled for April 23. That's a little late, even for us. But given the spate of players going on the DL...

Monday, December 13, 2004

Rays and Jays

Rays
Cantu Can-Do? Jorge Cantu presents an interesting dilemma for the Devil Rays. While he doesn't have the tools pedigree of, say, Alfonso Soriano, he did an excellent job imitating him last season. Below are his 2004 numbers, including the Mexican winter league:
Level G AB R H 2B 3B HR BB SO SB CS DP AVG OBP SLG
AAA 95 368 57 111 33 1 22 16 64 3 0 11 .302 .335 .576
Majors 50 173 25 80 20 1 2 9 44 0 0 5 .301 .341 .462
Mexican 41 168 24 52 8 1 9 11 37 0 0 1 .310 .357 .530
Cantu is just 22 (he turns 23 in January), and his bat has made rapid gains of late. Signed at 17, Cantu was one of the youngest players in Double-A in 2001 and 2002, and put up sub-.200 EqAs in both years. He's improved upon that with an EqA of .245 in a half-season at Triple-A in 2003 followed by a .262 there this year and a .270 in two months of major-league work.
It's not certain that Cantu's improvement is for real. So what? This is the Devil Rays, what do they have to lose trying to find out? They're in a position where they can be patient. As a second baseman, Cantu might be an outfielder, but they're better served finding that out than going to the alternative.
His Future DT pegs him at a .264/.317/.501 peak. If he can survive at second base and approach those numbers, he'll be one of the better players ever to come out of the Devil Rays' system, a reasonable bet to be the poor man's Soriano.
What's an "Orvella"? Quick--anyone have an idea who this is?
Lvl IP H HR BB SO ERA K/9 K/BB
Low A 47.1 28 4 5 76 1.33 14.45 15.2
High A 17.2 13 2 4 24 3.06 12.22 6.0
Double-A 7.0 0 0 0 14 0.00 18.00 infinite
Triple-A 1.2 1 1 1 2 5.40 10.78 2.0
Totals 73.2 42 7 10 116 1.73 14.17 11.6
If that's not a prospect, what is?
Chad Orvella rocketed through the D-Rays' system last year. He was drafted out of North Carolina State in 2003, where he was primarily a shortstop. The Devil Rays changed that quickly, and he's taken to his new role like a fish to water. Orvella works off of a late-moving fastball that reportedly peaks in the mid- to high 90s (92 to 94 mph consistently). His out pitch, though, is a fantastic change-up. The Devil Rays promote aggressively, so while he may start the season in Triple-A Durham, if he keeps this up it won't be for long.
The downside is that, for the time being, he's a reliever. As he hones his craft, one would hope he can become more consistent with his breaking ball. Nothing would be more exciting than watching him follow the Johan Santana career path through the bullpen to dominant starter.
When Is a Bad Signing a Good Signing? Recently, rumors have surfaced about Joe Randa signing with the Devil Rays to man the hot corner. On the surface, this sounds like a typical Devil Rays move, as Randa's upside is minimal and he's not going to be around for the next time...er, first time...they contend.
The odd thing is, signing Randa would be a good move. It would keep the Rays from moving B.J. Upton to third base, and that can only be a good thing. So what if they throw a few million dollars at Randa for a couple years? His consistent mediocrity is just what's needed to give Upton the time to work on his game and see if shortstop is in his future. Let's just hope Lou Piniella isn't looking when he makes an error while working out the kinks.
Toronto Blue Jays
Halladay's Heroes: Last year wasn't pretty for Roy Halladay. After two increasingly stellar seasons, last year was kind of like the fizzle going out of your Pop Rocks. What can we expect from him in 2005?
Let's look at his last three seasons (since he settled into a regular role). In addition to more conventional statistics, we've listed pitches per plate appearance (P/PA), batting average allowed (AVG) and groundball-to-flyball ratio (G/F):
Year IP H HR BB SO ERA P/PA K/9 K/BB AVG G/F VORP
2002 239.1 223 10 62 168 2.93 3.52 6.32 2.71 .244 2.75 66.1
2003 266.0 253 26 32 204 3.25 3.39 6.90 6.38 .247 2.70 69.1
2004 133.0 140 13 39 95 4.20 3.66 6.43 2.44 .272 2.27 26.1
Halladay missed two months with right shoulder fatigue. It looks like, perhaps related to that, he lost some of the otherwordly command that marked his 2003 campaign. Note the reduction in K/BB and G/F ratios, and the spike in P/PA. He became more hittable and threw fewer ground balls, leading to a jump in his ERA.
Curiously, PECOTA has always been pessimistic about Halladay. The one area where PECOTA seems to have hit the nail on the head is HR allowed, where it's been skeptical that he could keep his home-run rate at 2002 levels. So far, that's been the case.
Halladay certainly hasn't forgotten how to pitch. The primary concern at this point would be his health, and all accounts so far are that his shoulder will be 100% come Opening Day. We can't expect every year to be like 2003, but he's got plenty of life left in him. Prediction: Doc Halladay will be back to his old ways this season as the rotation anchor. The Jays will need it.
Dude or Dud? It's all about expectations.
Eric Hinske set a high bar for himself by winning the 2002 AL Rookie of the Year award. He continued to improve on the across-the-board performance he had shown in the minors, and seemed destined for stardom. How quickly things change.
Since Hinske and Vernon Wells signed similar five-year deals just before the 2003 season, they've taken divergent paths. Wells has produced a cumulative 101.8 VORP in the past two seasons with stellar defense. Hinske, however, has limped to to a combined 21.9 VORP with lousy glovework. A wrist injury bothered him in 2003, although he still banged out 42 doubles in the midst of a difficult campaign. Last year seemed a logical time for a rebound. Sadly, he fell so far short he hit negative VORP territory. His three-year progression:
Year G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG
2002 151 566 99 158 38 2 24 84 77 138 13 1 .279 .365 .481
2003 124 449 74 109 45 3 12 63 59 104 12 2 .243 .329 .437
2004 155 570 66 140 23 3 15 69 54 109 12 8 .246 .312 .375
That's a disturbing downward trend across the board. It's possible Hinske's not adjusting to the league as it adjusts to him. His walk rate and isolated power remained fairly constant from 2002 to 2003, so a lot of his dropoff there could be explained by a drop in batting average. The most disturbing part of the above line is the significant power dropoff last season; perhaps Hinske was masking another injury. He seems to have an old player's skill set, and as such there's a concern that he'll age prematurely.
The Jays reportedly have interest in Corey Koskie, who could push Hinske across the diamond to first base or perhaps to the trading block. While Koskie isn't all-world, he could be a strong value-signing if he comes at an affordable price. In comparison to Wells and Hinske, Koskie was good for a cumulative 73.3 VORP the past two seasons.
Since the Jays will want another bat, given the departure of Carlos Delgado, this would be a reasonable signing if Koskie is healthy. The Twins have offered Koskie arbitration, which may lessen the Jays' desire to pursue him.

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