Friday, April 27, 2007
Yeah, that’ll be tough …
The way that I see it, the N.L. East race is evolving into a race between two teams … the Braves and the Phillies. Forget about the Mets. The Mets are the beneficiaries of a lot of luck so far. At the moment they are allowing just 3.45 runs per game, best in the N.L. Don’t think this is the product of good pitching. The Mets Fielding Independent Pitching ERA is worse than the Phillies, and we are giving up nearly a run and a half more per game. The Mets, at the moment, are playing absurdly good defense. This is shielding people from realizing that their pitching staff is really struggling. The Mets will crash back down to earth in May and June and will be out of the playoff picture in July. The Marlins will likewise slump and falter. The race for the N.L. East title is a race between the Phillies and the Braves.
Alright, today’s edition of the Farm Report turns its eye towards the Jersey shore to look at how the Lakewood Blue Claws are doing. The Blue Claws, the Phillies Single-A minor league affiliate, are well into the 2007 season and hope to duplicate their 2006 South Atlantic League (SAL) Championship. The ’06 Blue Claws boasted one of the strongest pitching staffs in the minor leagues, featuring heralded pitching prospects Josh Outman, Carlos Carrasco and Matthew Maloney. Here is how they did in 2006:
Maloney: 16-9, 2.03 ERA
Carrasco: 12-6, 2.26 ERA
Outman: 14-6, 2.95 ERA
Largely thanks to the trio’s exceptional performance the Blue Claws easily took the SAL Championship three games to one. Maloney’s complete game shutout in the final game was the 20th shutout that the Blue Claws hurled in 2006. The trio have since moved on, Maloney to the Double-A Reading Phillies while Carrasco and Outman advanced to the Advanced Single-A Clearwater Threshers.
It will be interesting to see if the Blue Claws can come close to repeating their 2006 dominance on the mound. Key to this will be the development of the Phillies first pick in the 2006 draft, Kyle Drabek. Drabek, a nineteen-year old right-hander from Victoria, Texas, is coming off a rough start with the Phillies. After the 2006 Draft Drabek was assigned to the Phillies Gulf Coast League (GCL) affiliate to cut his key playing rookie ball. Drabek struggled in the GCL, going 1-3 with a 7.71 ERA in six starts. In twenty-three and one-third innings of work Drabek struck-out fourteen while walking eleven. The numbers were not an auspicious beginning to Drabek’s career with the Phillies.
Drabek was promoted to Lakewood this season and is off to a strong start. In three starts this season Drabek is 1-0 with a 3.50 ERA. Impressively, Drabek has transformed himself this season:
Lakewood / GCL
ERA: 3.50 / 7.71
HR/9: 1.50 / 0.77
BB/9: 1.50 / 4.24
K/9: 9.50 / 5.40
K/BB: 6.33 / 1.27
I’m a little surprised, though Drabek’s 2006 campaign was based on just 23 innings of work.* Now that he’s getting steady work, he’s responding quite well. After his rocky start in the GCL there were real concerns that he’d make it in the majors, but Drabek's start with the Blue Claws strongly suggests that he has a chance.
* In case you didn’t know how this worked: draft picks are sent to either Short-Season Single-A ball or to Rookie League ball depending usually on their experience. High Schoolers like Drabek go play Rookie League ball and college players go to Short-Season A. This season’s Blue Claws are almost exclusively drawn from the ranks of the GCL Phillies and the Batavia Muckdogs, the Phillies old Short Season Single-A affiliate in the New York – Penn League (NYPL). The Phillies new NYPL affiliate are the Williamsport Crosscutters.
Anyway … At the moment the Blue Claws … Who have one of the best logos in the minors, by the way, if I can make another brief digression … I never thought that a crab could be cute and cuddly, but it is… The Blue Claws are 8-8 (.500) and sit in third place in the SAL North, five and a half games behind the 14-3 (.824) West Virginia Power, the Milwaukee Brewers SAL affiliate. Interestingly the Blue Claws inflicted two of the Power’s three losses. The Blue Claws aren't hitting particularly well, but they are fifth of sixteen teams in the SAL in terms of ERA.
Also joining the Blue Claws from the GCL is Adrian Cardenas, the absurdly talented shortstop who hit very well in the GCL, with a .384 OBP (.318 batting average with 17 walks) and displayed a lot of speed (four triples and thirteen of sixteen steals). Cardenas is a rising star in the Phillies system and reminds me a lot of Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins, middle infielders with a nice combination of speed and power. Like Drabek, Cardenas was a first-round pick of the Phillies, and like Drabek, Cardenas was a very heralded high school player. Baseball America named Cardenas their 2006 High School Player of the Year.
Cardenas has so far struggled in the SAL, hitting just .258 with a .288 OBP (just three walks). Despite getting on base nineteen times (three walks, thirteen singles and three doubles), Cardenas has just one steal in two tries and hasn’t hit a triple yet. Very disappointing.I have confidence, however, that Cardenas will improve dramatically.
Other players of note ...
Jason Donald, another 2006 Phillies draft pick, is also on the Blue Claws roster. Donald, a shortstop out of the University of Arizona who hit .263 with a .347 OBP in Batavia last season, is hitting .299 with a .365 OBP. I’m not inclined to give Donald’s performance a clean bill of health, however, because Donald has hit just one triple this season and has been caught all five times he’s attempted to steal a base. Last season he hit two triples and swiped twelve of the thirteen bases he tried to take. Still, I think Donald has a future with the Phillies because he seems like a player with a good batting eye.
Quintin Berry, the Blue Claws centerfielder, is a player to watch as well. A 2006 draft pick out of San Diego State University, the left-handed Berry has seven steals in nine tries, something in line with his nineteen steals in twenty-three attempts with the Batavia Muckdogs in 2006. I am somewhat skeptical about his major league chances given that his OBP is just .315.
Finally, Edgar Garcia, a free agent the Phillies picked up. Garcia pitched well in Batavia, with a 2.98 ERA and 46 strikeouts compared with ten walks. I don’t think many realized how good Garcia was because his record was a paltry 3-5. So far this season Garcia is off to a hot start, at 1-0 with a 2.95 ERA. His opening start of the year was a masterful seven-inning victory that saw him surrendering just one run on four hits, while not walking anyone and getting five strikeouts. Along with Drabek, the Blue Claws have a potent 1-2 combination in the rotation that will make them one of the most formidable pitching staffs in the SAL.
There you go, the 2007 Lakewood Blue Claws. We’ll check back with them later in the year and see how they are doing.
Have a nice weekend. Here is the tentative schedule of posts for next week:
Monday: The Month of April, a recap
Tuesday: Farm Report, Reading
Wednesday: Charlie Manuel vs. Bobby Cox
Thursday: What’s Wrong With __________? (player to be named later)