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Saturday, April 13, 2013

Waiting for the Call

Wild on Sports
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Waiting for the Call
By Wild on Sports MLB Analyst Aaron Dorman

Every year, due to MLB’s complicated rules regarding service time and free agency, teams elect to keep a promising young player in AAA for reasons that have little to do with baseball. The new CBA rules will exacerbate this tendency as there is very little available compensation for free agents, meaning teams will do whatever they can to hold onto their young stars for as long as they can. Even a rich team like the Angels makes foolish decisions about roster construction: last year they waited to call up Mike Trout, too long it turned out as their 6-14 start pre-Trout was the difference between a playoff berth and October golf. Here are some players who will be called up shortly, or perhaps by June when they lose “Super Two” status:

1. Nolan Arenado, Rockies 3B- Arenado, 22, put aside questions about his commitment and effort with a great spring training, but the Rockies went with incumbent Chris Nelson instead. Although Nelson had a fine year last year, he has nowhere near the upside of Arenado, who is off to a great start in AAA. He’s 10-for-21 (.476) with 2 HR in his first 8 games there, and the Rockies should harbor any delusions about competing this year. Nelson is hitting over .300 in the early going, but he profiles long term as a utility-man, and at the very least he is not the kind of player to keep a top prospect down for very long. Arenado could be the next Coors-boosted hitting star. Or he could be Ian Stewart. But the Rockies have to find out.

2. Trevor Bauer, Indians RHP- Bauer would have been the Indians’ best starter (apologies to Justin Masterson, off to a fine start) were it not for Scott Kazmir’s miraculous comeback, and Brett Myers less-than-miraculous hold on another rotation spot. Bauer did get one start in place of Kazmir, and he was spotty, walking 7 batters in 5 IP, but even a team like Cleveland that has the offense to compete needs to see if Bauer can help them now. How disappointing would it be if Cleveland wasted a season because they were too busy giving chances to also-rans like Myers or Ubaldo Jimenez? Bauer may have some shaky starts here and there but he’s likely to show flashes of dominance right now, the kind that everyone else on the Indians (Masterson possibly excepted) can only dream of.

3. Gerrit Cole, Pirates RHP- Cole was the top pick in the draft two years ago, and he’s done nothing to hurt his status as a potential ace. He was given serious consideration for a call-up but ultimately the Pirates made the right decision to send him down to AAA. Cole had only one start in AAA last year and threw 59 IP in AA, so it made sense to give him more seasoning in the high minors. Also, there are a handful of lesser-but-still-interesting guys the Pirates have on hand, and they owe it to themselves to see if these less-than-sure-things can become complements to Cole, who might be as much of a sure-thing as pitching prospects get. I’m talking about Jeff Locke and Kyle McPherson, not Jonathan Sanchez, who once threw a one-hitter but no longer has the ability to pitch for a major league team.

4. Travis D’Arnaud, Mets C- The Mets were seriously considering having d’Arnaud start the season in New York, and he had a strong spring, receiving raves from the coaches and pitching staff. However, two factors beyond the service time kept him in AAA: one, he is coming off a serious injury and the Mets wanted to make sure he is healthy. Two, the Mets have a full-time catcher on hand in John Buck, one they are paying $6 million, and even if they want to trade him, it makes sense to let him play for the Mets for a while. D’Arnaud has played in AAA, but his major league debut could be stalled until June depending on the status of Buck, who has suddenly turned into Mike Piazza for the first ten days of the season. Buck, who is slugging .824, has become only the fourth player to ever start the season with 19 RBI in the first 10 games; the others are Lou Gehrig, Manny Ramirez…and current Oriole Chris Davis. No matter what D’Arnaud does in hitter’s haven Las Vegas, the Mets need to let Buck continue to slug it out for them. He’ll either help them win games, or give them a piece that they can trade for a real prospect. But don’t be fooled; D’Arnaud is a good hitter and he’s the Mets’ catcher of the future.

5. Wil Myers, Rays OF- The prize of the James Shields trade, this trade was made not just with an eye towards the future, but with the goal of boosting their offense in the outfield this year. Myers was “Baseball America’s” Minor League Player of the Year after slugging 37 home runs in the high minors. The 22-year-old could give the Rays a second major young offensive star behind Evan Longoria, but with their payroll restrictions, they could ill afford to lose a year of service time. He’s off to a 9-for-27 start (.333) in seven games in AAA, and he’ll be called as soon as Tampa Bay is tired of pretending Sam Fuld is an everyday player. I also wouldn’t be surprised to see Myers get a quick long-term deal that buys out some free agency years, like what they did for Matt Moore and Longoria.

6. Mike Olt, Rangers 3B- Olt is already 24 but he’s nominally blocked at the corners by Adrian Beltre and Mitch Moreland. The latter is hardly a real road-block, but nevertheless Olt was the subject of trade rumors all winter and hardly got consideration for the majors this spring. Olt may still be best served by a trade; his best position is third (he’s a strong defender) and his low-average, Three-True-Outcomes Approach (strikeouts, walks, Home Runs) would be less valuable at first base. He’d be an upgrade over Moreland, but you’ll just have to trust me as his 3-for-31 start in AAA isn’t going to get him a call-up anytime soon. Despites his readiness, there’s a chance Giancarlo Stanton or Andre Ethier is a Ranger before Olt is.

7. Yasiel Puig, Dodgers OF- Puig, a high-profile Cuban defector signed to a seven-year-deal last year, was just crazy-good in the spring, and the Dodgers were seriously considering calling him up if Carl Crawford wasn’t healthy. But Crawford has since played and performed well every day for the Dodgers. Puig was instead sent to AA, probably a smart move considering he had less than 100 PA anywhere in pro ball before this year. He hasn’t stopped hitting however, going 9-for-20 (.450) with 1 HR for AA Chattanooga. Before he can be called up, one of either Andre Ethier or Crawford will need to be dealt or injured. It’s still a good “problem” to have for the contending Dodgers.

8. Jurickson Profar, Rangers SS- 20-year-old phenom Profar is another Rangers stud with no place to play. His situation is slightly more complicated than Olt’s, as Profar is better but he’s also blocked by better players. Andrus is a premium defender at shortstop, who just got an eight-year deal, and Ian Kinsler is a perennially underrated asset at second base. Profar has a .438 OBP so far in AAA, showing that the last piece of his game-plate discipline-is firmly in place, but something has to give first with the Rangers. The most probably outcome, or at least the one that doesn’t involve a trade, is to have Kinsler move to first base and to slot Profar at second. Other scenarios involve trading him for a young outfielder like Stanton or Oscar Taveras. Personally, I am skeptical a talent as premium as Profar will be traded; the Rangers are going to find a place for him on the major league roster.

9. Tyler Skaggs, Diamondbacks LHP- Skaggs had a mediocre spring, thus losing out to Pat Corbin, who has less upside, in the battle for a rotation spot. Still, he’s ready for the majors. Skaggs was great in the high minors last year and he threw six shutout innings (4 K) in his first start of the season for AAA Reno. Arizona has a strange rotation clog, with only Ian Kennedy standing out as more than a mid-rotation starter, but about six or seven guys on the depth chart who are very solid and don’t deserve to be demoted to the bullpen. Injuries can and do happen. Brandon McCarthy, for instance, has never lasted a full major league season. Skaggs is the kind of pitcher whose performance may force Arizona’s hand. Or, as they did with Bauer, they can trade him for a minor league shortstop.

10. Zack Wheeler, Mets RHP- Wheeler had a nagging issue with a blister on his thumb last week, but even before then, the Mets feel that although he could pitch in the majors right now, he has some command issues that he is better off working through in AAA. The Mets must feel like they have a comfortable precedent considering they did the same thing with Matt Harvey, who fine-tuned his game in the minors for much of last year, before coming up to dominate for the Mets then and now. The Mets are essentially hoping that Wheeler works out his kinks in the minors and is ready not just to hold his own, but to THRIVE, in the majors. All indications are he’ll be worth the wait.

11. HONORABLE MENTION- Jonathan Singleton, Astros 1B- Singleton was all set to start for the Astros as their Opening Day first basemen…except he got busted for marijuana and is suspended for the season’s first 50 games. Instead of Singleton, the Astros will see if Chris Carter can hit over .220 and show enough power to overcome his limitations. Singleton might get some games in AAA when he returns just to log some time and shed rust, but it would be a huge surprise if he did not end the year as the Astros’ first basemen.

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