Blocked Prospects Rumors

Baseball Blogs Weigh In: Jenkins, Twins, Eveland

On this date 11 years ago, Orioles lefty Jesse Orosco set the Major League record for career relief appearances when he came into the 8th inning of a game against the Yankees to face Tino Martinez and Paul O'Neill. It was his 1,051st career appearance, surpassing Kent Tekulve's record. The then-42-year-old Orosco went on to pitch another four years after setting the mark, and retired with 1,252 career appearances, 74 more than anyone else. 

Here are a few links from around the baseball blogosphere…

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Blocked Prospects: Jesus Montero

In 20-year-old catcher Jesus Montero, the Yankees have what is arguably their best offensive prospect since Derek Jeter. But there's a problem: they don't have an obvious place to put him.

Both Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus' Kevin Goldstein ranked Montero as the 4th best prospect in the game, while ESPN's Keith Law had him 10th. He is clearly one of the game's brightest young minor leaguers, but as Baseball America said in their 2010 Handbook, "the Yankees no longer talk abut him as an every day major league catcher" because he "is somewhat stiff and lacks agility behind the plate." Despite his defensive woes, Montero hit .337/.389/.562 with 17 homers in 92 games across two levels last year. His season ended prematurely because of a broken finger suffered while he was behind the dish.

In most other organizations, Montero would simply move out from behind the plate and learn how to play first base. Of course, the Yankees already have Mark Teixeira penciled into the position for the next seven years. A corner outfield spot may be a possibility, but scouts are skeptical because his lack of athleticism might not allow him to be anything better than below average out there. Designated hitter is less than ideal since he's so young, not to mention that they'll need the spot for some of the older players on the team's roster.

If they so choose, the Yankees could look to trade Montero for a piece to help the big league roster, something they're known to do with their prospects. In fact, they offered Montero to the Blue Jays for Roy Halladay straight up last year. Jorge Posada is under contract through 2011 and isn't getting any younger, so they could try to ease Montero in as a back-up catcher/part-time DH at first. Montero started the season at Triple-A, and it's worth remembering that he'll be just 27-years-old when Teixeira's contract is up.


Blocked Prospects: Yonder Alonso

The Reds have successful drafted and developed their first baseman of the future, and it's not 2008 first round pick Yonder Alonso. Joey Votto, a second round pick back in 2002, has emerged as one of the game's best young hitters, posting the fourth highest OPS (.981) in baseball last year. Tim mentioned Votto as a young player with a chance to receive a contract extension, and went so far as to find some comparables.

Baseball America ranked Alonso the 45th best prospect in the game, while ESPN's Keith Law had him 76th. Baseball Prospectus' Kevin Goldstein left him off his Top 101 Prospects List entirely. In their 2010 Handbook, Baseball America rated Alonso the team's second best prospect (though that was before the Aroldis Chapman signing) and wrote that he is "the purest hitter in the system and has above-average power." Though he missed a big chunk of the 2009 season with a hamate injury, Alonso hit .292/.374/.464 across three levels.

As the 7th overall pick in 2008, Alonso received a Major League contract that put him on the 40-man roster immediately and will pay him $4.55MM through 2012. The clock is ticking on Alonso's three option years, which will expire after the 2011 season, however it's worth noting that he'll qualify for the rare fourth option because his original three will be used before his fifth pro season. Regardless, Cincinnati is in a bit of a pickle because they have a highly touted first base prospect ready to start the season in Double-A, and a 26-year-old franchise player at the same position.

Rumors swirled last year that the Reds would try Alonso behind the plate, but he doesn't have the body for it and it's a position that takes quite some time to learn. MLB.com's Mark Sheldon reports that Alonso will play left field this year, which is exactly what the Padres did with Kyle Blanks when he approached the big leagues blocked by Adrian Gonzalez. If the experiment in left doesn't go as planned, Alonso will be a prime piece of trade bait.

When it comes to comparable prospects being traded, the first name that comes to mind is Matt LaPorta. The Brewers selected him in the first round despite having Prince Fielder in the big leagues, but used him to headline a package for CC Sabathia, who helped them get to the playoffs. If the Reds contend this year or next, Alonso could be the guy to get them the piece needed to put them over the top. For now, he'll try out left field and continue to develop at Double-A.



Blocked Prospects: Wilson Ramos

Twins catching prospect Wilson Ramos, according to Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus, became "one of the better trade chips in baseball" when Joe Mauer signed his eight-year extension.  Goldstein ranked Ramos #65 overall among prospects.  Baseball America put him at #58, while ESPN's Keith Law has him at #42.

In their 2010 Handbook, Baseball America wrote that Ramos is "almost big league-ready and has significant upside."  All three outlets consider him an aggressive but above-average hitter with a cannon for an arm.  Though Ramos missed almost three months with injuries in '09, he hit .317/.341/.454 at Double A and played well in winter ball.

Asked what the Twins should do with Ramos, Law recently said, "Trade him. And I don't mean for Heath Bell."  Austin Jackson, Tim Alderson, Carlos Carrasco, and Jason Donald, Chris Perez, and Aaron Poreda are examples of prospects ranked in the #40-60 range on 2009 prospect lists who were recently traded for veterans.  Each deal had its own nuances and additional parts, but the prospects named were typically headliners.  They were used to acquire Curtis Granderson, Freddy Sanchez, Cliff Lee, Mark DeRosa, and Jake Peavy, veterans with varying contract situations. 

Clearly Ramos can help bring in a major piece for the Twins.  As Law indicates, it's not worth spending that chip on a reliever.  A third baseman or an ace starting pitcher would make more sense, but at this point I can't find an appropriate name for the Twins to pursue.  They may choose to let Ramos spend all of 2010 at Triple A and evaluate their needs in the offseason.


Blocked Prospects: Joe Koshansky

25 year-old first baseman Joe Koshansky played for the same University of Virginia team as Ryan Zimmerman and Mark Reynolds. Like Reynolds he was drafted in 2004, falling (to the surprise of some) to the sixth round (pick 190).

He’s moved steadily through the Rockies system and in 2005 was named Baseball America’s Rockies Minor League Player of the Year after hitting .291/.373/.603 with 36 home runs in 453 A ball at bats. He’s maintained similar averages at Double-A Tulsa and Triple-A Colorado Springs, although his power has steadily declined.  On top of that, Koshansky plays at the highest elevation of any pro park in the country

He’s also a bit of a stikeout artist — once every four plate appearances through his minor league career. In this sense he’s the antithesis of Todd Helton, the guy currently occupying first for the Rockies. Unless Helton (signed through 2011 for a mountain of money) goes into severe mid-30s decline or is injured Koshansky is officially blocked at first.

Koshansky has said he’s open to moving to a corner outfield position, but with Brad Hawpe having signed an extension, and ongoing talks to sign Matt Holliday long term, a switch to the outfield is even less likely than getting past Helton. For the time being he’s stuck in Colorado Springs where he’s currently leading the team in both HRs and total bases to go along with a .441 OBP.

Time to cast this line out and see who’s biting. With Franklin Morales off to a terrible start and Mark Redman being Mark Redman, one would think the Rockies might be on the lookout for a starter come July. Flipping Koshansky could be the ticket.  The Rox were able to snag a couple of live arms back in ’06 when they traded Ryan Shealy to KC. 

Aaron Shinsano writes for East Windup Chronicle.


Blocked Prospects: Brent Lillibridge

One of the key components of the Adam LaRoche to Pittsburgh deal in early 2007 was shortstop Brent Lillibridge, who came over to the Braves along with Mike Gonzalez. Lillibridge, who had a decent shot of making the Braves as a utility player this spring, was one of the team’s final cuts and will start the year in Richmond.

Lillibridge’s instincts have always drawn raves and he’s matured quickly. Many would argue he’s Major League ready now. But for the foreseeable future he’s blocked by Yunel Escobar, himself a newly appointed starter. Lillibridge managed a .400 OBP during two Class-A stops in 2006. In 2007 he hit 10 homers in 87 games at Triple-A Richmond and projects as a 15-20 HR guy in the bigs. He’s got good, but not blazing speed. Yet in 309 minor league games he’s swiped 105 bases, including 28 with an 85% success rate in Richmond. It’s the instincts, man.

However, with Escobar’s fantastic close to the 2007 season there was little doubt who the Braves starting shortstop would be going into 2008. Lillibridge had a shot to make the team as a utility player, and in early March was even given a surprise start at third by manager Bobby Cox despite not having played the position since the 2004 Cape Cod summer league. "He can play, man," said Cox after the game when questioned about the move. Lillibridge also saw time at second and in center (where he spent two seasons in college) during the spring.

The reason he didn’t head north with the team this year was partly because he hit just .224 this spring (and led the team with 18 whiffs), but also because the team would like to get him regular at bats, something that wouldn’t happen if he’d made the team as a bench player. At the very least a late season callup seems in order, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility that he’d get some starts in center should Mark Kotsay‘s back flare up.

You get the feeling Cox would like to find a place for Lillibridge. His name often surfaces in trade talks, but that probably has more to do with other GMs coveting him than any willingness to deal on the part of the Braves. Still, it’s fun to think about what an "intangibles" kind of player like Lillibridge might fetch. He could end up being a key piece to the Braves getting a top player for the stretch run.

Aaron Shinsano writes for East Windup Chronicle.


Blocked Prospects: Steve Pearce

During 2007 Pirates prospect Steve Pearce hit a combined .333 with 31 home runs, 40 doubles, 113 RBI, and a .622 slugging percentage. The soon-to-be 25 year-old was named both Offensive Player of the Year by MiLB.com and the Topps Minor League Player of the Year. He ranks #43 on Kevin Goldstein’s Top 100 Prospects list for 2008 and received a callup last September. Yet, as of Monday he was reportedly sweating it when the team announced several cuts.

Pearce had played first base since he was drafted, but with the Pirates looking to locking up Adam LaRoche long term the team rerouted him to the outfield. The Pirates flirted with the transition late last year, giving Pearce 10 games in right prior to his call-up. Once in Pittsburgh he started 17 games in right field and only two at first. He hit .294/.342/.397 over 68 plate appearances; his bat appears nearly Major League ready.

Jason Bay and Xavier Nady await, each simmering on the hot stove. It’s a poorly guarded secret the Pirates would love to ditch Nady, but a recent chat with the Mets didn’t go anywhere. Bay was also the subject of several trade talks during the offseason and would likely come closer to fetching the young pitching prospects GM Neal Huntington craves (his short list is unlikely to include Scott Schoeneweis).

This all puts Huntington in a fairly comfortable position. He can afford to send Pearce back to Indy to get a few more reps at the new position while he waits for the right deal. But with Pearce’s bat looking to be big league ready, how long are Pirates fans willing to wait?

Aaron Shinsano writes for East Windup Chronicle and can be contacted at eastwindupchronicle@gmail.com


Blocked Prospects: Reggie Willits

As a 26 year-old with roughly one full season worth of Major League experience, Reggie Willits may not technically be a prospect.  But with Torii Hunter signed through 2012, Vladimir Guerrero through 2009 and likely to stay longer, and Gary Matthews Jr. through 2011, Willits certainly qualifies as blocked.  Terry Evans and Nathan Haynes are similarly impeded, and the latter is out of options.  But let’s center on Willits.

I want to focus on Willits because he is capable of playing center field.  In their 2007 handbook, Baseball America called him an "above-average center fielder with an average arm and plus speed."  So he clearly won’t embarrass himself with the glove. 

Offensively, Willits profiles as the ideal leadoff hitter.  In 576 big league plate appearances, he’s drawn 80 walks.  A walk rate near 14% and a .393 career OBP makes for a valuable center fielder, even with no power.  Baseball Prospectus sees him dipping to .269/.353/.354 this year, a performance worth $5MM even if he plays only two-thirds of a season.  He’s also a switch-hitter with no discernible split.  And for the next two seasons, Willits will earn less than a million bucks total.

I’ll assume another team would look to maximize Willits’ value by using him in center.  He could help the Twins, A’s, Braves, Marlins, Cubs, and Padres to various degrees.  The first four teams do have more interesting long-term options in center though.  The idea of Willits to San Diego has come up before; that’s the best fit.  The Angels are going with internal options at third base and shortstop as well as in the rotation.  If any of those fail, Willits, Evans, and Haynes could become primary trading chips.


Blocked Prospects: Eric Patterson

Time for a new series here at MLBTR called Blocked Prospects.  We’ll name some position players with Double A or better experience who seem to be buried on their current team’s depth chart.

One such player is Cubs second baseman/center fielder Eric Patterson, who turns 25 in April.  Patterson hit .297/.362/.455 in Triple A last year.  Baseball America applauds his speed and surprising power, but isn’t keen on his defense.  Patterson is able to draw a walk, something his brother Corey never figured out.  Patterson is behind Mark DeRosa, Mike Fontenot, Ronny Cedeno, Sam Fuld, and Felix Pie in the eyes of the Cubs; repeated tardiness last year didn’t help.

With a .268/.332/.422 projection from Baseball Prospectus, Patterson’s bat would be league average at second base or center field.  He could make sense as Brian Roberts‘ replacement in Baltimore.  He could be useful in Minnesota, where center field and second base are unsettled.  Patterson could provide competition for Jose Lopez in Seattle.  The Giants need any kind of position-playing talent, though their outfield is more than full.  San Diego is somewhat feasible, especially since Kevin Towers and Jim Hendry often match up for deals.  What kind of future do you see for Eric Patterson?