Some light Tuesday morning reading

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As we get closer to opening day, there will be more re-assignments of players to minor league camps, players either getting optioned or released, and so we’ll have more stuff to look at and try and figure out. I still plan to write a few more player profiles before the season starts, but I want to address the news as it comes and try to figure out how it will impact guys in the minors going forward. Also, there are plenty of articles and fluff pieces out there about various minor leaguers, but I’m not very interested in that stuff, I’m more interested in analysis and substance. With all of that blathering out of the way, let’s get into it.

Chris Roberson was the first of the “big names” optioned to the minors this spring. A guy like Kyle Drabek doesn’t really count, since everyone knew he was going down anyway. In this piece, it talks about his mental lapses on the field this spring, and how the coaches were disappointed with what seemed to be a lack of focus on his part.

“Any player may have those thoughts,” Arbuckle said. “But the one thing a backup player has to be is fundamentally sound. You can’t have backup players who aren’t fundamentally sound.”

There was a feeling in the organization that Roberson relied more on his spectacular physical gifts – gliding speed, a fine arm, potential power from both sides of the plate – more than he worked on the simple aspects of making the smart throw and making contact.

“I think that’s apt,” Arbuckle said. “It’s not only about ability. It’s about production.”

Well, a few things here. First, Arbuckle identified Roberson’s role correctly….a backup. 5th outfielders are fairly fungible, as evident by guys like Greg Dobbs and Karim Garcia, despite poor histories, in major league camps getting a shot at a 25 man roster. Guys who don’t hit a whole lot, don’t have a ton of power, and aren’t defensive specialists generally are interchangeable and replaceable. Roberson’s minor league track record is a mixed bag, to say the least. The second thing is, the author of this article clearly hasn’t examined Roberson’s numbers if he thinks he has “power potential”. Potential is a word often used when trying to project a 19, 20 or 21 year old, not a 27 year old that turns 28 in August. Roberson is what he is, there isn’t much projection there or really much “potential”. In nearly 2,000 minor league AB’s, Roberson has 25 home runs and 86 doubles. Those aren’t power numbers, those are weak hitting outfielder numbers. So, Roberson offers you a defensive replacement in late innings, because he is a solid runner, and that’s about it. Roberson is a career .281/.355/.395 hitter in the minors, that just doesn’t have a whole lot of value at all. The biggest thing, though, is that he still had an option left, so sending him down is a no brainer.

This article gives a full list of those who were re-assigned.

Roberson and pitcher Anderson Garciahave been optioned to minor-league camp. The Phillies also reassigned catchers Tim Gradoville, Jason Hill, Jason Jaramillo andLou Marson; infielder Andrew Beattie; outfielders Lou Collier and Greg Golson; and pitchers Jim Crowell, John Ennis, Jeff Farnsworth,Yoel Hernandez and Brian Mazone.

No surprises here, really. Garcia, a waiver wire pickup in the fall, probably wasn’t ready for the majors just yet, but could see some action this season depending on injuries. Gradoville, Hill, Jaramillo and Marson were no surprise, all are going to spend at least all of 2007 in the minors, Jaramillo has a shot to maybe get a look in September. Beattie and Collier are roster filler, and Golson clearly wasn’t going to be kept around, he’ll likely head to Clearwater once the season opens. Crowell, Ennis and Farnsworth are roster filler as well and probably won’t see the majors this season. Hernadenz is an interesting case. Some buzz was building about him at this time last season, but he struggled a bit early on in the season, then went down with an injury and missed quite a bit of time in 2006. He’s 27 now, you have to think time is beginning to run out on him, at least in the Phillies org. Mazone pitched well last season, and nearly got his cup of coffee before his scheduled start was rained out. He’ll likely pitch at AAA Ottawa, and who knows, he may get an emergency start at some point this season, but you’d have to think James Happ, Zach Segovia, and Justin Germano are all ahead of him in the pecking order.

Finally we have an article about James Happ. This article contains one of my pet peeves, which is this:

He doesn’t overpower hitters. His fastball is consistently in the high 80s and will hit 91 to 92 m.p.h. on occasion.

“People like to say I’m not overpowering, but at the same time I feel my fastball plays better than my velocity,” Happ said. “I think I’ve averaged a strikeout per inning, and I think that’s pretty good for not being a power-type pitcher. It’s just control and getting ahead. That’s the whole thing. I didn’t do that today.”

From everything I’ve read since October, Happ’s fastball no longer sits in the 87-90 range, instead more in the 90-92 range. That may not seem like a big deal, but it is. Happ isn’t a soft tosser, and after the mechanical adjustments the Phillies made with him after this season, his fastball velocity increased. That’s a big deal, because he already possesses the best changeup in the organization, and a curveball that needs work. At lower levels, you can get by with an average or below average fastball if you have good command, but at AA, where the competition is much better, Happ still thrived. You can’t expect reporters to have accurate info all of the time, but I think they should at least make an effort.

There has been quite a bit of talk about whether to use Happ in relief this season in the major league pen. Personally, I could go either way on this one. I think his greatest value to the team is going to come as a starter, and honestly, I see him as a fine #3/#4 starter, based on everything he’s done up till this point. He’s going to need to refine and better his curveball, but he hasn’t had to use it as much in the lower minors, and as he throws it more, it should tighten up and become at least an average pitch. His fastball/changeup combination is good enough to pitch in relief now, but I worry how that might impact his future going forward. If the Phillies do decide to use him in the bullpen, my hope is that they keep him there all season, and then figure out what his 2008 role will be after the season. I think moving a guy from bullpen to rotation mid-season can have an adverse affect not only on his concentration/mental aspect of the game, but also the health of his arm. Routines for warming up/preparing for a game are much different for a starter as opposed to a reliever, and I worry how that could affect his arm strength.

Either way, Happ will be an asset to this team, whether it be waiting in AAA for his chance to start, or out of the pen. His ability to pitch on a downward plane, as well as keep hitters of balance means he should have success at the highest level, but his ultimate value will be determined by the viability of his curveball. I’m curious as to where people stand on Happ and what role they see for him in 2007 and beyond.

Lastly, thanks to reader BC for posting this article on recent signing Mike McTamney. He definitely sounds like an interesting guy, and this was a no risk-all reward type move for the Phillies.

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