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Colorado Rockies Opening Day Primer

2011 Record: 73-89 Manager: Jim Tracy

The Rockies started last season with some lofty expectations. But injuries and disappointments in the pitching staff led to the season unraveling early as they only won 8 games in May. With a loaded lineup and a younger (mostly) and retooled starting rotation, the Rockies could be a surprise playoff participant if things go well.

Player in the spotlight: Troy Tulowitzki SS

Tulo is always going to be in the MVP race, especially if the Rockies are competing for and making the playoffs. Write him down for his .300, 30, and 100 with the potential for more. No worries here as the Rockies have the best shortstop in the game.

Biggest question mark in the lineup: Todd Helton 1B

Todd Helton looked like his career was coming to an end a few years ago with his chronic injuries that seemed to keep him out of the lineup all of the time. But playing most of last season, getting spotted occasionally, Helton continued to hit over .300 and have an OPS over .850. But he’ll turn 39 in August and his creaky body will eventually give out. The Rockies just hope it isn’t this year. They also signed Mike Cuddyer to play right field, but he’ll likely spot Helton against many lefties.

Pitcher in the spotlight: Rafael Betancourt   Closer

The Rockies traded Huston Street to San Diego and gave the closer’s role to Betancourt. Betancourt has been really good since coming over from Cleveland in 2009 and should transition seamlessly to the 9th inning. In all likelihood, Betancourt is holding down the closer’s role until lefty flamethrower, Rex Brothers, is ready for the full-time role.

Biggest pitching question mark: Drew Pomeranz

Pomeranz headlined the Ubaldo Jimenez deal with the Indians last summer and the 2010 1st round pick is going to be expected to pitch well this year. The Rockies have a number of young starters and their playoff aspirations lie with the ability of Pomeranz and the others develop over the course of this season. The earlier they have success, the more likely the Rockies will be playing important games in September.

Prospect with a chance to make an impact this year: Nolan Arenado 3B

Arenado starts the season in AA and should be on the fast track if he continues to mash like he did in A ball last year. If he masters AA quickly, Arenado could find his way to Denver before August.

Prediction: 3rd in NL West

The Rockies are competing in a winnable division as the Giants lack great hitting to run away with the division and the Diamondbacks have some holes as well. So if the Rockies can get some early, sustained success out of their young starters, they have the best lineup in the NL West and should be able to remain in the hunt all season long. But that young rotation is the key and Coors Field is a tough place to develop pitchers which is why they are predicted to be 3rd here. With slightly below average starting pitching this is a 78-80 win team, but can get to 85 wins with average starting pitching and stay in the race to the end.

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Cleveland Indians Opening Day Overview

Cleveland Indians Opening Day Overview

Manager: Manny Acta   GM: Chris Antonetti

  Lineup:
1 CF Michael Brantley
2 SS Asdrubal Cabrera
3 RF Shin-Soo Choo
4 C Carlos Santana
5 DH Travis Hafner
6 2B Orlando Cabrera
7 LF Austin Kearns/Grady Sizemore
8 1B Matt LaPorta
9 3B Jason Donald(DL)/Jack Hannahan

 

Brantley came over a few years back in the Sabathia deal and got a chance to become established as the fulltime center fielder with Grady Sizemore’s injuries. To stay in the leadoff spot and in the lineup, he needs to improve his walks as his OBP was under .300 last year and has to get up over .350 in order for Brantley to be an effective leadoff hitter.

Asdrubal Cabrera broke out with a big season in 2009 but took a step back last season as his numbers dropped and he missed almost half of the season with a broken arm. At 25, the Indians have high expectations for Cabrera and a return to his 2009 production and some improvement would make for a successful season for him.

Choo performed like a star last season and then continued his great play in the Asian Games, leading South Korea to the title. That championship excused Choo from his military obligation. At 28, Choo should be in the middle of his prime and could improve his production even more with his increased comfort level in the US. In a lineup with more power, Choo might be better hitting second, but his .885 OPS is very good hitting third too. The Indians need him to take the next step and get over a .900 OPS to help them surprise this season.

Santana had his promising rookie season ended with a knee injury in August, but is healthy and ready to break out this season. He’s possesses all of the skills at the plate as he already walks a ton and hits with power. Assuming his batting average increase this season, an OPS over .900 isn’t out of the question. Not even a full season in the majors and Santana already might be the best catcher in the AL, if not the entire major leagues.

Hafner got healthier physically and produced similarly to 2009 last season. The Indians are paying Hafner $13M per season this year and next and need him to produce at a similar level over 140+ games this year. If he can do that, the Indians should have some pretty good production in the middle of the order this year.

Orlando Cabrera comes from Cincinnati and moves to second base this year. At 36, he’s really not much of an everyday player anymore, but should hold down second until highly regarded prospect Jason Kipnis is ready in a few months. When Kipnis comes up, Cabrera can move to a utility role or maybe fetch a borderline prospect in a summer trade with a contender.

Kearns is getting the nod in left field at the start of the season and will probably share time with Brantley when Grady Sizemore comes off the DL. Kearns was solid last year with the Tribe before being traded to the Yankees for a formerly highly regarded prospect Zach McAllister. They would definitely take last year’s production again this season.

LaPorta has been an enigma since headlining the Sabathia deal in 2008. He’s clobbered AAA pitching in 2009 and 2010, but struggled mightily with the Indians. At 26, this is the year for LaPorta to fulfill his potential or the Indians will look in another direction. The good news is that he did improve his walk rate, but his batting average deteriorated enough to wipe out the OBP gains he made. He has to hit at least .260 and produce at his established power levels for the Indians to feel any encouragement about LaPorta’s future.

Donald starts the season on the DL and Hannahan takes over until he returns. But all of that might be moot if top prospect Lonnie Chisenhall hits well enough in AAA. It’s only a matter of when with Chisenhall and that should be sooner than later.

  Starting Pitching
1 RHP Fausto Carmona
2 RHP Carlos Carrasco
3 RHP Justin Masterson
4 RHP Josh Tomlin
5 RHP Mitch Talbot

 

Carmona heads the rotation again and is hoping to improve again on last year’s comeback season. He won 19 games on the ALCS losing team in 2007 before his ERA blew up in 2008 and 2009. If he really is over those two seasons and can improve his ERA to under 3.50, then Carmona could win at least 15 games and the Indians should be in the hunt for .500 or better.

Carrasco was one of the players acquired for Cliff Lee from the Phillies in 2009. He struggled in his 2009 call up but pitched decently last year when he arrived. He approached 200 IP with AAA and the Indians last year and the Tribe will hope that the 24 year old can approach it this season in the big leagues. If he can keep his ERA under 4.00, then the Indians should be pleased and Carrasco could win 12-14 games.

Masterson has walked too many hitters in his year and a half in Cleveland to be successful. He needs to improve his K-BB ratio to at least 3 to 1 if he’s going to be an effective starter. Mota will probably give him a month or so to see what Masterson’s got this year and if he struggles, he’ll probably be sent to the pen or AAA.

Tomlin had a solid year in AAA last year, but too many walks and homers made his 12 starts in Cleveland mediocre. If he’s better in those areas this season and can improve his strikeout rate, then Tomlin should be a solid back of the rotation starter for the Tribe this year.

Talbot was rather underwhelming last year with the Indians as he didn’t have many more strikeouts than walks. It’s going to be tough for him to improve his 4.41 ERA if he fails to get more K’s. If he doesn’t he’ll probably get sent to the bullpen or AAA.

  Bullpen
CL RHP Chris Perez
SET LHP Tony Sipp
  LHP Rafael Perez
  RHP Vinnie Pestano
  RHP Chad Durbin
  RHP Frank Herrmann
  RHP Justin Germano

 

Perez took over for Kerry Wood last year and did very well as he converted 23 of 27 save opportunities and had an ERA under 2.00. If he can do that again over a full season, the Indians won’t have any worries about a 9th inning lead this season.

Sipp took a step back last season as his walk rate continues to haunt him. But what really hurt him was the increase in home runs allowed to 12. No reliever can have an effective season giving up that many long balls and in order for Sipp to become a reliable 8th inning setup man, he’ll need to cut that HR rate by more than half and improve his K-BB ratio to better than 2 to 1 this season.

Perez could end up as the 8th inning guy if he can revert back to his pre-2009 form. Last year his ERA improved to 3.25 from his disastrous 2009 season but there was a lot of luck involved. This year he needs to be the dominating force he was a few years back.

Pestano had a very good year closing in AA and AAA last year and could emerge as a setup man if he’s able to adjust to big league hitters. Durbin is a quality pitcher who is best in middle relief but who could spot start if needed. Herrmann lacks the strikeouts but doesn’t walk too many hitters. His problem is the long ball. Germano pitched fairly well in limited time last season for the Tribe, but will provide long relief.

  Farm Prospects who could help in 2011
1 3B Lonnie Chisenhall
2 RHP Alex White
3 2B Jason Kipnis/OF Nick Weglarz

 

Chisenhall is a hitting machine and should be in Cleveland sometime around Memorial Day if Tribe fans are lucky. White is the top pitching prospect and should get the call if he dominates AAA the way he’s done in both of his stops last year. Kipnis and Weglarz are both potential call ups this season as well especially if Cabrera struggles to hit at second base and Weglarz could be called up if Brantley struggles.

Three Questions:

1. Can this Indians lineup score enough runs to get the Tribe to .500?

  • This lineup has some very good potential, especially if they can find a leadoff hitter with an OBP over .360. They should be solid all season and will get a boost with additions throughout the year. Grady Sizemore should return by the end of April, Lonnie Chisenhall should debut around Memorial Day, and Jason Kipnis could take over at 2B sometime in the summer. This lineup could be one of the best in the AL by season’s end and a top 3 offense in the AL in 2012.

2. Will the Indians be able to develop enough pitching to match their hitting?

  • Developing top pitching talent is difficult for any team and the Indians are no exception. Trading free agents to be CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee in 2008 and 2009 restocked the farm system but left the Tribe with a major void in their rotation. Fausto Carmona hasn’t regained the form that made him a 19 game winner in 2007 and none of their prospects have enjoyed prolonged success. The Tribe’s offense is going to be very good, but their pitching is what will lead them back to meaningful October games. Out of Justin Masterson, Carlos Carrasco, Josh Tomlin, Alex White, and Jeanmar Gomez, they need two or three to become established, above average starters this season. Next year, highly regarded prospect Drew Pomeranz could be ready as well.

3. Will Chris Antonetti trade Grady Sizemore when he returns and reestablishes his ability?

  • Sizemore only has an option year remaining on his contract. At $8.5M, it was a no-brainer for the Tribe to pick it up two years ago. But injuries have robbed Sizemore of over a season’s worth of games over the past 2 years and his production wasn’t good when he did play. If he can come back and be pre-2009 Grady, they have to keep him for another year, right? Or do they try to strike while the irons hot and sell him high? The standings will most likely play the biggest role in this decision as if the Indians are in striking distance and Sizemore is playing well, it’s doubtful that another big trade will be made this summer.

 

Projection

The Indians have a lot of potential, but their lack of established starting pitching is alarming. If their young pitchers can finally fulfill their potential, this team has a good chance of getting over 80 wins. If they are within 4 or 5 games at the end of July, Antonetti will be in a challenging position, try to make a deal to win now or just let the kids play. With great depth on the farm, the Indians should be aggressive to add players if they’re in the hunt. This will be an interesting season in Cleveland no matter what. It kind of has a 1993 feel to it with all of the young talent and questionable pitching. That team was two years away from the World Series. Is this team?