Updated: July 9th 2006
As the Mets continue to seduce their fans with their winning ways, a true ‘summer of love’ has begun at Shea. Because of the solid job Omar Minaya has done in his short tenure as GM, the outlook should only get brighter through July and the dog days of August.
While signing Pedro Martinez and Billy Wagner and trading for Carlos Delgado and Paul Lo Duca have certainly personified Minaya’s stalwart work thus far, one should not overlook the fantastic job he has done in continuing to rebuild a minor league system that was all but vanquished just a few years ago.
Two of Minaya’s more publicized maneuvers, drafting pitcher Mike Pelfrey and signing Cuban defector Alay Soler, have helped to build a sense of depth and hopefulness in a starting rotation that is ladened with age. But thankfully, Omar has not forgotten the need to develop new blood and more depth for the oftened overworked Shea bullpen. Today, we will highlight the development of flame thrower Henry Owens, who Minaya snatched from the Pirates in the 2004 Rule V Draft.
A little over a year and a half ago while most of New York was oohing and aahing over the bombshell free-agent signing of "The Maestro" Pedro Martinez, the Mets were busily deciding on what players were worth signing from the minor league left-overs every club makes available each December in the Rule V Draft. The Flushing scouts decided only one player was worth the modest investment, relief pitcher, Henry Owens.
A year and a half later, Owens is one of the Mets’ top pitching prospects. At 27 years of age one would think Owens is well passed the hot-prospect label. But, this late bloomer has been held back by factors that have nothing to do with talent or skill. Owens was originally a catcher who spent his college career at Division II Barry University in Miami. In June 2001, he was more concerned with preparing himself for a career as a doctor than he was about getting drafted. As the 2001 amateur baseball draft unfolded Owens name was never called, just as he expected. As far as he was concerned his baseball career was over, "My focus throughout college was going to medical school, that was my intention… My intention was not to play professional baseball. I didn’t think I had a chance." But, because of his incredible arm strength the Pittsburgh Pirates came calling and took a chance on him. They signed him as an undrafted free-agent pitcher later that summer.
In the beginning, all Owens could do was rear back and throw his natural gas. He spent the
next three years in the Pirates’ low minors developing complementary pitches to his formidable fastball. By 2004 he had begun to transform an erratic curve ball into a potentially dangerous slider. His fastball was also becoming more dangerous as he was now mixing two-seamers in with his natural four-seamer, and was topping the radar gun regularly in the mid-90’s.
Just as Pirates’ scouts were starting to get excited, Owens suffered a long bout of elbow tendinitis and his progress was further hampered by chronic back problems. Owens fought through the 2004 season, but his control suffered and eventually the Pirates decided a pitcher who was 25-years old, and a converted catcher with elbow problems wasn’t worth protecting on their 40-man roster.
The Pirates’ misfortune was about to turn into one of Omar Minaya’s shrewdest moves when the Mets drafted him on December 13th, 2004. Owens was assigned to High-A (St. Lucie) for the 2005 season. This is where Owens began a string of dominating performances. From June through September of 2005 Owens allowed only 3 earned runs (ER) in 26 Innings pitched (IP) while posting a 1.04 Earned Run Average (ERA). His success led to a short stint in the Arizona Fall League where he was recorded topping the radar gun in the high-90’s. Building on his success in Arizona, he flew over to play Winter Ball in the Puerto Rican League. Owens handled the elevated competition with aplomb and began to work on a third pitch, a split-fingered fastball.
As the Mets opened camp this past spring, Owens was ready to open some eyes. And that’s exactly what he did. During his performance in spring training he wowed his big league teammates with his fire breathing fastball regularly topping 98 mph. As spring training wound down, the local NY media began to shine a light on his sensational camp.
On April 23rd, Owens celebrated his 27th birthday. For the first time in his career Owens would not be pitching in A-Ball. He was assigned to Binghamton, the Mets’ AA affiliate. Very quickly, Owens established himself as the closer. Besides a minor hiccup that sidelined him for much of May with a
strained elbow ligament, Owens completely devastated hitters in the
Eastern League. In 25.0 IP this season at Binghamton, he struck out a ******** 51
men allowing only 8 hits, 8 walks and 3 ER while garnering 11
saves. His ERA was 1.08 and hitters hit .106 against him.
While he continues to rely on a fastball that is thrown harder than any in the Mets’ entire system, his slider has evolved into a nasty strikeout pitch that some scouts have called Brad Lidge-like. He will occasionally mix in his two-seam fastball with his four-seamer whenever he wants to give the batter a different look, and he is starting to throw his splitter more often when he needs to induce a ground ball.
Because of the flame thrower attached to his right shoulder, Owens has completed his quick ascension through the Mets’ system. He was called up to Shea last Thursday. In two games Owens has tossed 3 shutout innings so far.
The Mets’ bullpen has been one of their brightest spots this season. But, with Aaron Heilman scuffling, Jorge Julio now in Arizona, and Duaner Sanchez in desperate need of a blow, Owens arrival provides a much needed boost to the Mets’ overworked bullpen.
Cabbie Scout Notes
Command (++1/2) Fastball (++++)
Competitiveness (++++) Slider (+++)
Intelligence (+++) Splitter (++)
+ below average
+++ above average
++++ lights out!
Big Papi and the BoSox are in town as they attempt to draw first blood in this fierce and fabled rivalry. But, if numbers mean anything, the Yankees should be more concerned with Jason Varitek than David Ortiz. The current Red Sox roster has had limited exposure to the Johnson Express, but when they have faced him their track record isn’t so hot. Here are the Career Batting Records of the Red Sox hitters vs. the Big Unit. Alex Gonzalez and Varitek are the only hitters who have an average over .200 (Min. 5 AB):
AVG AB H HR RBI BB K
Alex Cora .333 3 1 0 1 0 0
Coco Crisp .333 3 1 0 0 0 2
Alex Gonzalez .250 20 5 1 3 0 6
Mark Loretta .079 38 3 0 1 3 14
Mike Lowell .167 30 5 1 3 3 11
Doug Mirabelli .083 12 1 0 0 1 7
Trot Nixon .000 3 0 0 0 0 1
David Ortiz .167 18 3 0 0 0 4
Wily Mo Pena .000 4 0 0 0 1 3
Manny Ramirez .194 36 7 3 11 2 11
J.T. Snow .154 26 4 0 0 4 11
Jason Varitek .278 18 5 2 3 1 4
Kevin Youkilis .500 2 1 0 0 1 0
Dustan Mohr .000 10 0 0 0 1 5
*Gary Sheffield, the only current Yankee with any regular season at bats against Red Sox starter Josh Beckett, was put on the 15 day DL today.
Congratulations to the MLBlogosphere on our one year anniversary. For this blogger, it has been and continues to be a great experience. And now onto some random thoughts about the going ons in major league baseball.
Where Have All The Pitchers Gone?
Boy, with the type of offensive outbursts that have been taking place this April you’d think everyone was on steroids or something. Pitchers are always behind the hitters this early in the season, but it seems that they are a little more behind than normal. I mean it’s one thing to see guys like Albert Pujols, Jim Thome and Paul Konerko going deep- I’ll even tip my cap to the sensational numbers Chris Shelton is putting up, but Ty Wigginton with 5 home runs already, and how about pitcher Bronson Arroyo going yard twice in two starts. Elias Sports Bureau has reported that there haven’t been this many home runs hit in the first two weeks of the baseball season since 2001, and haven’t been this many runs scored since 1962.
Could it be that the pitchers are missing their little green pep pills? Maybe the Padres weren’t the only ones to move their fences in this season? (Teams are always pretty low key when reporting any dimensional changes). Maybe we’re in a time capsule and have returned to 1987 when the Rawlings folks in Costa Rica were confusing golf balls for baseballs? Or maybe the simple truth is that pitching in general is just getting worse.
While a few teams around the league have two dominant starters, many don’t even have one. And I can’t think of a team that has three. The days of the A’s with Hudson, Zito and Mulder or the Braves with Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz could return though in Chicago if Mark Prior or Kerry Wood can ever get back on the mound to join Greg Maddux and Carlos Zambrano. Wherever the Rocket, Roger Clemens, decides to drive his hummer to this summer should also provide a team with a stellar trio. But, for now we will just have to watch some very mediocre three, four, and five guys try to stem the flood of the seemingly endless procession of home run happy hitters.
Jim Edmonds, one of the best center fielders in the game, has already surpassed his error total (two)
from last season with three crucial misplays in back to back games. Now, his shoulder is ailing again. While many in St. Louis are fretting about Scott Rolen’s health holding up, Cards’ fans might just have to accept that Edmonds days as a great hitter and glovesman are slipping away and fast.
Three On Three
While I was working the other night inputting some St. Lucie data into my computer, I was peripherally watching the Rangers/A’s game. ‘Crack’, I turned and Eric Chavez was rounding the bases after a laser shot off Vincent "launching" Pad-illa. Hmm, wish I had Mr. Chavez on my fantasy team. As I turned back to my computer, ‘Crack’, I thought they were showing an instant
replay, but there was Frank Thomas lumbering around the bases after launching another laser out into the stratosphere. I wasn’t sure if the game was live at this point or if they were just showing highlights. Anyway, I turned back to finish putting Alay Soler’s top of the fifth stats into my program, when I heard ‘Crack’ again. The crowd, which was less than sparse, was making more noise than a sellout at Yankee Stadium. This time Milton Bradley was pumping his fist as he watched a skyrocket leave the park— Back-to-Back-to-Back home runs, seemed too quick to be live. But, then I see Padilla with a dismayed look on his face and I hear the announcer say, "three home runs on three pitches and the A’s have come all the way back to take the lead". Now, I’m not sure about this, but I have never seen three guys hit dingers on three consecutive pitches in my life. Maybe some Elias loving data-head can confirm this for me.
Cabbie Blue Light Special
Ryan Madson– After two very solid seasons as a top set-up man, Madson at 26 is just entering his prime. Madson is a towering presence (6’6") who throws a low to mid-90’s fastball which he offsets with a bedeviling change-up. Madson’s tight curve gives him three legitimate pitches that will help him to get through lineups more than once or twice. He’s off to a good start and has a lineup behind him that can really pack a punch.
Carl the Cabbie
The little engine that could, George Mason, has been derailed and with their defeat the spotlight of the sports world will shift to opening night of the 2006 baseball season. The Chicago White Sox will begin defense of their title Sunday night at 8:00 PM (EST) against central division rival, the Cleveland Indians. So, here are a few last minute tips for all you fantasy owners as you solidify your opening day rosters.
The Young And The Restless
Three young potential closers chomping at the bit to be their teams’ saviors will have to wait a bit longer for their opportunity. After a solid second half in 2005 and the trade of Danys Baez, Chad Orvella was thought to be the Devil Rays’ closer for 2006, but a new manager came aboard. Unfamiliar with Orvella, all Joe Maddon had to go on was spring training. The sun might have been shining in Florida, but not for Orvella. Chad struggled mightily in his Grapefruit League appearances and it cost him. He’ll begin the year at AAA Durham, while veteran Dan Micelli takes a crack at being the lead fireman. Don’t expect this situation to last, Orvella could very well be the closer by the end of April.
Joey Devine was the opposite of Orvella this spring- he dominated opponents and was clearly their best arm out of the bullpen. For some reason though Bobby Cox remains fixated with Chris Reitsma and his very average arsenal. Joey will open the season as the closer for AAA Richmond. Devine will almost definitely get a shot at some point to live up to his name, but it might not be until May or June.
For some reason the Reds are set on giving everyone and their grandmother a chance at closing for
them except for Ryan Wagner, who might be their best option. After a nice debut at the end of 2003, Wagner seemed to regress the past two years. But, that really isn’t the case. A shoulder injury in July ended his 2005 campaign and the former first rounder (2003) was clearly rushed through the minors by the pitching barren Reds. Ryan is still only 23 years old and has electric stuff. He’ll start the year at AAA Louisville mainly because he has options left. If he continues to build on his strong spring he should return to the major league club the first time one of the Reds’ creaky veteran relievers gets hurt. Don’t be surprised if he emerges as the Reds’ main man by the All-Star break.
Drum roll please… here are a few rookie hitters who could make a big splash immediately:
Casey Kotchman (1B)– He has tremendous power and might be the Angels’ second best hitter.
Ryan Zimmerman (3B)– Zimmerman is the first position player since Pete Incaviglia (1986) to be given a starting job with a major league team in the same season he was drafted (2005). This National can clearly rake and could be the David Wright of 2006.
Josh Barfield (2B)– The Padres are all giddy about Jesse’s kid after a monster spring. Barfield has all the tools to succeed and will be hitting in the two hole ahead of Brian Giles– which should boost his fantasy value.
Ian Kinsler (2B)– Kinsler had great success in the minors and has line drive written all over his bat. Playing in one of the friendliest hitters’ parks in the majors, Ameriquest Field, Kinsler could approach 20 home runs.
With Jason Larue beginning the season on the DL, Javier Valentin will be the Reds’ opening day
catcher. A switch-hitter, Valentin murdered righthanded pitching last season- 12 of his 14 home runs were from the left side of the plate where he hit .301 in 183 at bats. If you are weak at catcher, try giving Valentin a shot at least on a platoon basis, as he will garner most of the at bats against righties even after Larue returns.
Mets’ fans wait with bated breath for young studs Mike Pelfrey and Phillip Humber to arrive on the scene, there’s another youthful gun who has a lot more to do with the Mets immediate future than the two aformentioned fireballers. He is the offspring of former Major League Baseball pitcher (the #1 overall pick of the 1976 draft) Floyd Bannister. Should anything bad happen to any members of the Mets’ aged and fragile quintet this spring, then 25-year old Brian Bannister would find himself on center stage at Shea. Bannister is the Mets’ next best option. He’s their Bobby Jones (famous 76ers’ bench player in the 1970’s), their Ramiro Mendoza, their ‘sixth man’.
Brian was taken in the 7th round of the 2003 draft after a successful career as a USC Trojan. He has steadily improved each year and was the Mets’ most successful starter in the minors last season- posting an impressive 13-5 record with a 2.74 ERA while splitting time between AA (Binghamton) and AAA (Norfolk). Bannister’s repertoire will not kindle any memories of Dwight Gooden or Ron Darling or Jason Isringhausen. No, this Mets’ prospect is not a flamethrower. When talking about him, scouts are more likely to evoke names like Paul Byrd, Jon Lieber and even Greg Maddux. Bannister is all about command and control. He features four pitches, none topping out at more than 90 mph. Pitching coach Rick Peterson’s face was aglow early this spring when talking about Bannister, "He has four pitches that he can locate to both sides of the plate, and that’s exciting." His best pitch is his cut-fastball which breaks
late like a slider and hits between 84-86 on the gun. He uses a four-seam fastball (between 88-90 mph) with precision to get ahead of hitters. His curve breaks 12 to 6, but has a tendency to hang.
Peterson believes the key to his great success this spring has been the development of a changeup that barely breaks 80 mph. "I think he understands that young pitchers who settle into the big
leagues quickly settle in not because they’re fastball-curveball
[pitchers], but because they’re fastball-changeup." Though Bannister will almost definitely begin the year at AAA, the Mets are very confident in their sixth man’s ability to step into the spotlight should he be needed.
Yep, it’s true! Yesterday, during Astros’ batting practice, Poppa Clemens buzzed his own son- almost put him on his you know what. On the pitch before the brushback, Koby leaned into a very friendly fastball and with a flick of the wrist lifted it high over the leftfield wall. Then, as a sign of ultimate respect, the Rocket orchestrated some chin-music, knocking his son off the plate. The few fans and media in attendance broke into laughter. When asked what he had said after receiving his father’s calling card, Koby laughed,
"I said, ‘I hit the ball good, hit it out of the ballpark, and the next pitch is up and in, what’s the deal? We were joking with it. We just jab at each other once in a while."
"That was probably one of the harder fastballs I cut loose," the elder Clemens said. "He got my attention. I wish he was around for Round 3 when I was really hot, but for some reason he didn’t come back."
Koby Clemens & other famous children
of baseball legends
who are playing in the minor leagues
The count is 0 and 2 and Kaz Matsui has one more chance before he fades into major league oblivion. Hot on Matsui’s heels are youngsters Anderson Hernandez, Jeff Keppinger and long in the tooth Bret Boone. It appears that the switch-hitting Anderson Hernandez has the best shot of the three contenders at unseating Mr. Matsui.
In one of Omar Minaya’s underrated deals, Anderson Hernandez came to the Mets in early 2005 from the Tigers for backup catcher Vance Wilson. It was perfect timing— Vance was at the end of the line and Hernandez had finally mastered A-Ball pitching after 3+ years there. Between 2002-2004, Baseball America rated Hernandez as the Tigers best defensive infield prospect, but it wasn’t until he came to the Mets that he showed he could handle the bat in the upper echelons of the minors. In 2005, splitting time between AA-Binghamton and AAA-Norfolk, Hernandez hit .314 with 9 HRs and 54 RBIs in 534 AB. Hernandez is a better hitter from the left side of the plate, but because of his Punch-and-Judy style of hitting, there isn’t much of a difference when he bats righthanded. Partly because his bat speed is average at best, he likes to go the opposite way on most fastballs.
Hernandez was originally a shortstop but has adapted well to second base. He has excellent range,
extraordinary arm strength, and soft hands. His concentration needs to improve, mental lapses contributed to many of his 23 errors last year in the minors. Hernandez has shown potential as a base stealer, but has trouble getting good jumps. Last season he stole 35 bases, but was also caught stealing 18 times. With all-time stolen base leader Rickey Henderson in camp, Hernandez should improve on the basepaths.
After 5 professional seasons, Hernandez finally seemes to be learning better plate discipline— While playing second base in winter ball for the Dominican Republic League Champion Licey Tigers, Hernandez struck out only 19 times in 172 AB while garnering 12 Walks. His
improved patience helped him hit .302 and lead the Licey club into the Carribean Series Champonship, where he teamed with Angels’ hot-shortstop prospect Erik Aybar to form a dazzling defensive-duo up the middle. He had the winning hit in the opening game and demonstrated great poise throughout the rest of the series. Overall, he hit .333 (10-30) with a home run, a triple, and six runs scored.
Even if Matsui or Boone emerge as the starter at second base, Hernandez’s defensive wizardry and flexibility (plays short and second) give him a good shot at making the Met’s roster this spring. But, with veterans Chris Woodward and Jose Valentin in camp- it is more likely he will end up beginning the year at AAA, where he will have to play mostly shortstop because of second baseman Jeff Keppinger’s presence.
Carl The Cabbie