Josh Hamilton is finally back in the game.
Well, we’ve reached the All-Star break – the unofficial split in the season’s halves. By now, you should have a pretty clear idea of whether you’re in the race or not. Just like what major league teams face, the next couple of weeks will have you either buying, selling or waffling. It’s also time to pay close attention to serious big league trade talks that could have a huge effect on the value of your own players. In short, this is an exciting, but nerve-wracking and tumultuous time of the season. So let’s get to it with some Spikes Up analysis.
The Return of the Prodigal Prospect
Yes, we had a Josh Hamilton sighting last week. It’s been four years since he last played a professional baseball game (not including a brief five at-bat stint at Spring Training in 2003), but the former No. 1 overall pick is back. Tuesday night the outfielder made his season debut at Low-A Hudson Valley of the New York Penn League. The last time Hamilton played for the Renegades was in 1999, when he was an 18-year-old hotshot prospect who was the toast of the baseball world.
A career .295 hitter in four professional seasons, Hamilton reached Double-A by the age of 20 before his career petered out thanks to injuries and personal issues (read: drug problems). It was no small task getting the troubled Hamilton cleared to play minor league ball again.
He’s now 25, so it’s still conceivable that he could carve out a career for himself, but at this point he makes for a better story than Fantasy prospect. I suppose if you like long shots (perhaps you’re the owner in your league who drafted Rick Ankiel as an outfielder?), then Hamilton’s your man. But at this point, just getting back to Double-A by the end of this season would be a monumental task for him, so don’t be looking for any help from Hamilton in 2006.
Rumblings at Wrigley
The Cubs’ swoon this season has been monumental and the repercussions are about to come en masse. General Manager Jim Hendry says he’s still evaluating things, but with a mere 30 wins to date (.361 winning percentage) and a fifth place posting, 11 games back of the fourth place Brewers, the situation is about as dire as a North Korean missile testing. There’s going to be a really, really big explosion soon, and a hell of lot of people are going to be affected by it. And given a 2-8 record over the past 10, it’s not as though the club is doing anything to diffuse the situation.
Speculation is rampant about possible axings in the coaching staff and the organization’s ability to develop players in general has come under fire. The poster boy for these failings is Corey Patterson.
As recently as two years ago, Patterson looked like a rising star with the Cubs. He was in the midst of a breakout season that would see him score 91 runs, hit 24 homers, swipe 32 bases and bat .266. Yeah, his on-base skills needed work, but the future looked bright. Last year, however, the wheels came off for Patterson. He hit just .215 with a butt-ugly .254 OBP in 126 games. He stole only 15 bases and was caught five times. It got so bad that he had to be sent down to the minors. Manager Dusty Baker was criticized for his handling of Patterson.
Well, the Cubs rid themselves of the enigma, dealing him to Baltimore in January for minor leaguers Nate Spears and Carlos Perez.
The Cubbies’ trash has definitely become the Orioles’ treasure. Patterson is back, playing as solidly as he did in 2004, with 10 homers and 31 steals through 75 games. He’s batting over .280, and at the age of just 26, there’s still plenty of upside to come for Patterson, especially in the power department.
Oh, and those players the Cubs got in return? Well Spears, a second baseman, is batting just .235 through 200 at-bats at High-A Daytona. But don’t worry, he’s got power: a .275 slugging percentage. Uh, yeah. But Perez, the pitcher, perhaps he’s good? Maybe not. He’s also at Daytona, starting and working out of the pen, but just not working out in general. He’s 1-4 with almost as many walks as strikeouts and opponents are batting .316 against Perez. Uh, yeah. Hey, Cubs fans: how about those Bears?
The ‘Best-Known’ Flop
Last week we discussed the difficulty in drafting offensive catchers for keeper leagues. An even more complex process, fraught with danger, is drafting young pitching. It has always been the most calamity-laden task in building a keeper team. For every Mark Prior, it seems, there is an Adam Johnson. Every Dontrelle Willis is counterbalanced by a Brien Taylor.
Along with the difficulty of developing pitching is the danger of bragging that your team is stocked with pitching prospects. We’ve got an owner in our league who loves to tout his wealth of young pitching. He spends hours telling us how great a rotation he’ll have one day. However, several of his young arms have succumbed to injury as young arms are wont to do.
Sure, trash talking is part of the game, but let’s all remember the lesson of Ryan Anderson, once billed as the next Randy Johnson. And it wasn’t just the press that was pumping him up. He did a pretty good job of promoting himself. He actually had the gall to say this at his first press conference back in 1997: “I feel I’ll be the best-known pitcher in baseball when I’m done.”
Three shoulder surgeries and exactly zero major league innings later, the Mariners finally released him last season.
So be careful what you say, but be even more careful who you draft.
And Yet More Failed Prospects
We have a theme this week, apparently. And while we’re thinking about prospects that didn’t pan out, how about one-time Dodger prospect Chin-Feng Chen? He was supposed to be a big-time power hitting outfielder, but he could never cut it at the big league level (not that he ever got a real extended look, mind you).
After the 2005 season, Chen decided to head back to Asia. He is now playing for LaNew Bears of the CPBL and he’s excelling, batting .321 through 41 games and 156 at-bats with 35 runs, 11 doubles, nine homers and five steals. He’s slugging a robust .564 and getting on base at a great clip (.384).
Chen wanted to be closer to his parents, so it’s doubtful that the 28-year-old will give major league baseball another shot any time soon. The final tally for Chen was an unimpressive .091 BA in 19 big league games. In 830 minor league games, he smoked 146 home runs, but could never show that pop with the Dodgers.
This week, Brett wanted to know about some young NL pitchers.
I’m in an NL-only league and was wondering what you thought about Chuck James and Juan Cruz? I also traded Jorge Julio for Tom Gorzelanny — I got Gorzo — what do you think about that deal? I have Brad Lidge and Chad Cordero already and I’m in a keeper league. Thanks for your time.
Brett Klein, Harrisburg, PA
I am stoked about the future of James. I think he’s a tremendous keeper. I also really like Cruz, but he has been shackled by lack of opportunity and a seemingly frail body. So between the two, I prefer James’ long-term prognosis.
Great deal nabbing Gorzelanny for Julio. Julio is running on borrowed time. Wait until you see how I slagged him in our mid-season kit for which I wrote the Diamondbacks’ report. Good move for a keeper league. You sold high, and that’s always smart. I like Gorzelanny’s long-term prospects, assuming he can avoid the injury bug that seems to have befallen many of the young Pirate arms (like Sean Burnett and John VanBenschoten, for instance).
You done good, my man!