Tuesday, February 1, 2005
AMERICAN IDOL THOUGHTS
FELIX THE MARINER??
The Seattle Mariners lost 99 games last year. It was a complete implosion for a proud franchise that had averaged over 98 wins over the previous four season, including that record setting 116 win 2001 season. As the season progressed, and some players who had been performed at an All-Star level for many previous years were performing far under their expectations, wins were few and far between, and little good was in sight. So, by mid-season the team released Rich Aurilia and later John Olerud. Freddie Garcia was shipped to the White Sox. Young players like Jose Lopez, Bucky Jacobsen, Justin Leone and Jeremy Reed got a lot of playing time. Long-time Mariner legend Edgar Martinez is now retired. Jamie Moyer is going to be 42 years old in 2005.
One would think that the Mariners would go into full-blown rebuilding mode. However, in this offseason, the Mariners spent over $110 million to bring in Adrian Beltre and Richie Sexson. The only positive for the Mís 2004 season was the record-breaking season of Ichiro Suzuki who will be a table setters for the new bashers. The team hopes for a return to stardom for Bret Boone in his contract year. Raul Ibanez is a quality veteran. With the additions to the lineup of Jeremy Reed and Miguel Olivo, the offense should be just fine in 2005. The addition of free agent Pokey Reese will solidify the defense as well.
The Mariners current pitching staff looks to be Jamie Moyer, Joel Piniero, Gil Meche, Ryan Franklin and Bobby Madritsch. Moyer has been a quality starter for more than a decade. The others have each shown flashes of major league abilities, so with some offensive assistance and early season success, they could all have good seasons.
BASEBALLíS TOP PROSPECT
However, it is very possible, maybe even likely, that the best pitcher in the Seattle Mariners organization is not one of their five starters, but none other than Felix Hernandez. So why, you ask, is he not in the current Marinerís plan for their starting rotation? The lone reason that he is not a lock to make the trip north at the start of the season is that Hernandez was born on April 8, 1986, hence he is just 18 years old. Yesterday, I read a very interesting article on Hernandez in the Seattle Times written by Blaine Newnham titled Mariners should move Hernandez up to majors.
So, clearly, the biggest decision that the Mariners have to make this season is when to bring up their top prospect. If we are being honest, he has to be considered the best pitching prospect in baseball right now. Actually, I donít think it is even close. In my prospect ranking (which is just my opinion), Hernandez is the clear #1 prospect. But I donít think that is anything new or surprising as Iím sure Baseball America and many other reputable sources would rank him at the top of their lists as well.
Felix Hernandez was signed by the Mariners at the age of 16 in 2002 from Valencia, Venezuela, the birthplace of former Twins SS Alvaro Espinoza. In 2003, he started with Everett of the Northwest League. There he went 7-2 with a 2.29 ERA. In 55 innings, he struck out 73 hitters, and walked 24. He then moved up to Low A at Wisconsin, in the Midwest League where he made two starts. He did not factor into either decision, but he struck out 18 batters (walked 3) in 14 innings with an ERA of 1.93.
The 2004 season for Hernandez began at Inland Empire, High Class A, in the California League. He went 9-3 with a 2.74 ERA. In 92 innings, he struck out 114 while walking just 26. That performance forced the Mariners to move him up to AA San Antonio. By far the youngest player in the league, Hernandez continued to dominate. In 10 starts, he went 5-1 with a 3.30 ERA. In 57 Innings, he struck out 58 batters, with 21 walks).
The scouting report on Hernandez includes a 100 mph fastball with great control for such a power pitcher. He is also blessed with a big, Bert Blyleven-esque curveball to go with a changeup. The righty is listed at 6-3 and 180 pounds.
So, to summarizeÖ Felix Hernandez has the tools, the necessary three-pitch mix, and he has dominated four minor leagues where he was the youngest player in the league.
So now the question is, "Should Felix Hernandez be in the Marinerís starting rotation?" Sadly, there are a number of factors that the Mariners manager Mike Hargrove and General Manager Bill Bavasi will factor into this decision, some that have nothing to do with baseball.
The reasons that he should be on the team are obvious. The Mariners are a team that could contend in the AL West in 2005 and hence, should field the best team possible. Should Hernandez prove in Spring Training that he is ready to contribute to the team, then common sense would tell us that he should make the team. The Mariners did not spend all that money on Adrian Beltre and Richie Sexson to rebuild, right?
It is generally believed and accepted that Hernandez has the physical tools to compete at the major league level already. To compare him to someone, he is much like Lebron James of the NBA. Physically, James had the NBA body. Tall enough, strong enough, Ďtoolsyí enough. Hernandez is big enough and strong enough, and he has the necessary pitching repertoire to pitch in the major leagues.
Many top pitching prospects skip AAA all-together. I have mentioned on numerous occasions that I think the best prospects come up from AA. Twins fans will remember that Brad Radke was called up from AA.
Some may argue that the injury-risk would be greater if he was brought up too early. I guess that I look at it the opposite way. If he is in the major leagues, the Mariners will be able to more closely monitor Hernandezís innings pitched and pitch counts. Also, the Mariners went the cautious route with one of the top pitching prospects in all of baseball for about a four year period, Ryan Anderson. They kept him down in the minor leagues and he never made it to the major leagues because he had arm surgery after arm surgery.
Did you know that if Hernandez made the Mariners roster and was their #4 starter, he would make his major league debut on April 8, 2005, his 19th birthday.
The Mariners have a history with bringing up young players successfully. Donít forget the 19 year old Ken Griffey Jr came to spring training in 1989. He wasnít supposed to make the team, but he played so well that he forced his way onto the roster and into the everyday lineup. I donít think that the Mariners regret that decision for a day.
For as many reasons as there are to promote Felix Hernandez to the Mariners right out of spring training, there are also many reasons to keep him down at AA or AAA for a while.
One reason is that Hernandez has really yet to struggle at any of his professional stops. Maybe spending some time against AAA pitching will allow him to respond to adversity.
Along with his physical talents, Lebron Jamesí biggest attributes seem to be his intelligence, team play, and leadership abilities. He has the strong mental makeup to make it as a star in the NBA, even at a young age. He has the maturity that many players years older may never have. Does Felix Hernandez have the mental makeup to deal with a small strike zone, or giving up some big hits, or losing a couple of games? Does he have the self-confidence to know that he deserves to be in The Show? These are the types of questions that Mike Hargrove really needs to find the answers to before calling him up.
The minor league affiliates do have to follow the advice of the big league club. If the team is so concerned about over-using Hernandez, they could keep him at AA and tell the manager there to keep him on a very specific pitch count every game. Wins and losses are not as important in the minor leagues, so they could do a better job of this. It would be a way of attempting to prevent injuries.
The third and most unfortunate consideration that should be factored in is money. If Hernandez comes up to the big leagues at the start of the 2005 season, he will be arbitration eligible by age 22. He will be a free agent by the age of 25. Imagine, if he is the pitcher that many believe he will become, how much a 25 year old dominating starting pitcher could get on the open market in 2011.
Maybe it would be best to rebuild for one year and wait to bring Hernandez to the big leagues until 2006. With Pokey Reese and Bret Boone likely free agents at year's end, the M's will likely start Jose Lopez and Yuniesky Betancourt up the middle in 2006. Those three would be a good building block for years to come, along with Jeremy Reed.
FOR COMPARISON SAKE
I just wanted to take a look at some of the best pitchers in baseball, guys who have been dominant starting pitchers for the last decade. I wanted to see if they started their big league careers at an early age, or if they came up later. I also wanted to see how these pitchers performed in their first opportunity.
Greg Maddux passed the 300 win plateau last season. Maddux came up to the Chicago Cubs in 1986 at the age of 20. In í86 and í87, Maddux combined to go 8-18 with an ERA above 5.50 each year. Since age 22 (1988), Maddux has had no less than 15 wins in a season, and won four Cy Young Awards. For his career, he is 305-174 with a 2.95 ERA.
Randy Johnson did not come up to the major leagues until he was 24 yeas old in 1988. He wasnít actually good until 1990, at age 26. He wasnít a great big league pitcher until 1993 when he was 29. He now has a 246-128 record with a career ERA of 3.07. He is #3 on the all-time strikeout list. He has won five Cy Young Awards, and finished in the top 3 nine times.
Curt Schilling came to the big leagues at age 21. He pitched in 100 games in his first four seasons, making just five starts. He really wasnít a very good pitcher until age 30. Since that time, he has become dominant. His career record is 184-123, with a 3.32 ERA. Although he has not won a Cy Young Award, Schilling has finished second three of the last four seasons (losing to Johnson twice, and Johan Santana in 2004).
Pedro Martinez made his major league debut in 1992 with the Dodgers at the age of 21. In two seasons in LA, Martinez made just three starts in 68 appearances. He became a starter in 1994 at the age of 22, with the Montreal Expos. He has won three Cy Young Awards (and finished in the top 4 seven times) on his way to a 182-76 record (with a 2.71 ERA).
The Braves brought Tom Glavine up to the big leagues in 1987 at the age of 21. He played on two really bad Braves teams his first two seasons and hence generated a record of 9-21 in 43 starts between the two seasons. Since then, he has won two Cy Young Awards and won 20 or more games five times in his career. He is a career 262-171 with a 3.44 ERA.
What do we get from these few examples? To me, it proves just one thing. There is no set rule that tells a team exactly what it takes to produce a top pitcher. There is no right time to call a guy up. From this list of four Hall of Fame caliber pitchers, we have four guys that were called up in their early 20s and struggled before becoming great. Randy Johnson was a late developer and it took him a few years to be great. It took Schilling almost ten years to become great.
I think that the best comparison to make for Felix Hernandez is with a young Dwight Gooden. Gooden was brought up as a 19 year old pitcher in 1984. He was the National League Rookie of the Year after he went 17-9 with a 2.60 ERA. In 31 starts, Gooden threw 218 innings and have a strikeout/walk ratio of 276/73. He came back in 1985 even better. He started 35 games and threw 276 2/3 innings. He struck out 268 and walked just 69 batters. He was 24-4 with a 1.53 ERA. In his third season, at age 21, Gooden went 17-6 with a 2.84 ERA. He made 33 starts and threw 250 innings. He struck out 200 and walked 80. In his first eight big league seasons, Gooden went 132-53. For his 16 season big league career, Gooden was 194-112.
When people think of those early Dwight Gooden years, most think that he was all fastball. But truth be told, Gooden had a sharp breaking curveball that had batter's knees buckling. He was the complete package already at age 19. Now, if Hernandez has a changeup to add to his big curveball and near-100 mph fastball, he becomes the right handed equivalent to fellow Venezuelan and reigning AL Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana who has command of all three pitches as well.
Of course, Gooden had the well documented drug problems in the Ď80s and early Ď90s the essential ruined his Hall of Fame career. That had nothing to do with his physical abilities, or the fact that he was brought up as a 19 year old. I chose to blame the individual for problems with drugs, no one else. Also, how many players in the mid-80s had cocaine problems and suspensions? Lots! In other words, I believe that Gooden was really hurt by his era and his city. I donít know, but I donít think that the hard drug scene is at all prevalent in big league baseball today.
What does this all mean for Felix Hernandez? Really, it all means absolutely nothing. It just tells me that if he is ready physically and mentally to compete at the major league level, he should be brought up. Will he become a Hall of Fame level pitcher? Who knows? I mean, the odds are not good. It does appear certain that he will be a better-than-average big league pitcher. But, every pitcher is different, and knowing when to call up a pitcher (or a hitter for that matter) should have more to do with when they are ready than what it says on their birth certificate. To me, if Felix Hernandez is lights-out in spring training, he deserves to be on the Mariners Opening Day roster.
Do you have any thoughts on Felix Hernandez, the Mariners, or anything related to this article, please e-mail me.
For some great pictures of Twins Fest, be sure to check out both the Twins Chatter and Batgirl sites today.
Aaron Gleeman starts his State of the Twins series with a look at the Twins Catchers.
The Twins Geek discusses the huge raise that Kyle Lohse will receive through arbitration despite having a horrendous 2004 season. He comments, and I agree, that even if Lohse wins his arbitration case and gets $2.4 million in 2005, he will still be underpaid. As the Geek says, "Starting pitchers who are just 25 years old, and have averaged 190+ innings per year donít grow on trees. They are worth several million dollars per year."
Over at Twins Killings, Andy writes a great article on Joe Mays called Joe Mays: Lowered Expectations. They also have an article and pictures on Twins Fest as well.
Stick and Ball Guy Discusses seven interesting items.
Gordon Wittenmeyer of the Pioneer Press wrote an incredible article on the Twins missing out on Miguel Cabrera. Fascinating stuff! Jason Williams of the same paper writes an article on how Joe Mays' plans to earn his $7.25 million contract this season.
Be sure to vote for the Twins Hall of Fame!!
AMERICAN IDOL THOUGHTS
One quick thought as American Idol auditions will continue tonight on Fox. Remember Leroy Wells? He is the man in New Orleans who did what he could to get 'ya'll crunk up,' and "Can You Dig It?" Well, the first thing I have to mention is that when he appeared on TV last Tuesday, Wells was sitting in jail for his January 5th arrest on charges of assault and firing a weapon. He is also waiting for a trial on drug charges. He pleaded guilty to marijuana possession in 2004. He also pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct in 2003. In all, he has been arrested seven times.
Now, if you didn't see last week's New Orleans episode, be sure to click here for the full audio version of Wells' audition. It cracks me up!
Click here to vote on whether Leroy Wells will be this season's William Hung.
And of course, you can also go to www.Leroy-Wells.com. to see his audition.
I suppose to be fair, I should mention that Brent at BrentNet writes today that "Reality TV is ruining television as we know it." I, of course, disagree. I say that networks put on what people are watching, and right now, that is reality TV. If more sitcoms could get better ratings, they would stay on. But that isn't happening, a trend that has been more and more prevalent in recent years. I think maybe a comment could be made about our society with these ratings (ie- we're all voyeurs who take pleasure in seeing other people's pain), but I don't think that the networks can be blamed. I admit, there are some really bad Reality shows (Who's Your Daddy and Trading Spouses come to mind!) Just my opinion. Check out the forums to voice your opinion. Oh, and he made fun of my man Breckin Meyer, and that's what really set me off to write this!! I really liked Inside Schwartz! But he has also been in movies like Road Trip, Can't Hardly Wait and Clueless. Yeah, I won't mention Garfield because that was an awful, un-finishable movie! Plus, he too is from Minnesota.
Have a great day and week! If you have any questions, comments, or ideas for future articles, please e-mail me. I am still checking my e-mail frequently.
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