Who Are These Guys?   (04/25/01)

Rather than look at the surprising teams so far and analyze their chances of continued success (or failure), I thought it might be more helpful to analyze some of the surprisingly fast starts of particular players.  It's certainly more interesting for me as predicting teams is pretty much a hit-and-miss proposition as their are infinitely more variables involved.

So, let's get to it... who's for real and who's just hot.

Albert Pujols - Pujols was a phenomenal prospect last year, jumping from A ball to the AAA World Series.  Just one year removed from being the Cardinals 13th round pick, he displayed skills and maturity far beyond his 21 years.  He was the talk of the Arizona Fall League last year and has continued his impressive ascent against major league pitchers this spring.  There's no question this guy has this kind of talent.  He has tremendous power and a very discerning eye at the plate.  It surprising that he is doing this well this quickly, but then again, it's kind of a surprise anytime a hitter goes from A ball to the majors in just a year.  No one questioned Raphael Furcal last year.  There's no reason to question Pujols.  Hitting .280 with 15 homers the rest of the way is certainly feasible.   REAL DEAL

Wade Miller - Miller has always had great stuff and pretty good control.  His problem has been staying consistent with his mechanics.  His first go around in the majors last year doesn't look all that great but in 6 of his 16 starts he struck out 7 or more batters.  The new generous strikezone - it's taller AND wider than ordinary strikezones - should help him reduce the number of walks he issues and improve his strikeout numbers.  Will he continue on his current pace and strike out 350 hitters?  Probably not.  But more than 200 is a very good bet. REAL DEAL

Julian Tavares - In addition to quality starts from Kevin Tapani and Kerry Wood, the Cubs are getting great results from Julian Tavares and Jason Bere.  Tavares came to the majors as a reliever when he was 20 years old.  It wasn't until last year at age 27 that he got his first regular work as a starter.  The Cubs acquired him with that role in mind.  In the minors, he was actually a very good starter, posting 2 very good years in 1993 and 1994 before making the majors for good in the pen.  Walks have been troublesome for him and it doesn't look like he's conquered them yet (11 in 24+ innings).  So it's unlikely that his ERA will continue to stay so low.  It'll probably end up somewhere near 4, which isn't bad for a guy who pitches at Wrigley. HOT

Jason Bere - Bere was the next great arm when he came up in 1993.  In his first 2 years he posted a record of 24-7 with an ERA of 3.64.  Arm problems derailed his progress and he's been battling with his mechanics ever since.  Last year seemed to be the turning point for him, though.  Hidden by a yucky 5.47 ERA and 89 walks in 169+ innings, are 4 brilliant starts including a 13-strikeout gem against Philly, and 8 more good starts where he held the opposition to 2 runs or less.  The talent is there.  He just needs to find consistency.   REAL DEAL

Todd Hollandsworth - After Winning the Rookie of the Year Award in 1996, Hollandsworth fell off the face of the earth, at least in baseball terms.  In his sophomore season, pitchers discovered several holes in his swing and exploited them to the fullest.  He made a nice comeback last year after he was traded to Colorado.  His home runs numbers in the thin air will probably still be decent, but he still swings at just about everything, meaning his batting average will most likely drop precipitously and that his current 45 home run pace is considerably optimistic. HOT

Jeff Fassero - With Tom Gordon nursing his arm injury, the Cubs needed a closer.  Jeff Fassero was about the only guy that Don Baylor had yet to try that had not failed in the role so he was the default choice.  Fortunately for Baylor, Fassero began his major league career as a reliever in an excellent Montreal bullpen that had John Wettleland, Mel Rojas and Jeff Shaw.  Fassero got 11 opportunities to close games his first year and converted 8 of them.  While he won't finish the year among the elite closers, Fassero can still get most hitters out with guile.  His current ERA is largely the result of one awful outing against the Phillies in which it was so cold he couldn't feel his fingers.  That shouldn't be a problem the rest of the way.  REAL DEAL (or at least, he can close)

Jose Mesa - Back in 1995, Joe Table (Jose Mesa translated from Spanish) was the best closer in the game.  He dominated hitters with a 97 mph fastball and a couple of show-me pitches.  His fastball doesn't have the zip it did then, topping out at 94 these days.  While his strikeout numbers look impressive right now - 11 in 8+ innings - he's allowing nearly 2 baserunners per inning.  Larry Bowa won't tolerate that kind of excitement for long, especially if he has alternatives, which at the moment he does as Wayne Gomes and Ricky Bottalico are pitching well. HOT

Jay Witasick - Call me crazy but I really like what this guy brings to the mound.  ESPN and STATS Inc minor league guru John Sickels really liked him too when he was coming up in the Cardinals and A's systems.  He has an above average fastball and as wicked a breaking pitch - it starts like a big breaking curve but tails like a slider at the end - as you'd ever want to see.  His minor league strikeout rates are not too far out of line with what he's doing now.  He credits Trevor Hoffman for teaching him how to keep focus and intensity.  While he's flourishing in the pen, he could get another shot at starting as it's only a question of how long the Pads can tolerate Kevin Jarvis in the rotation.  REAL DEAL

David Ortiz and Corey Koskie - Both Ortiz and Koskie come with good minor league pedigrees, showing power and discipline up until the moment they first made Tom Kelley's roster.  Their performance to start this year is actually what Twins' brass expected of them when they were first promoted.  It's just coming a year or two later. REAL DEALS

Albie Lopez - Lopez has been a good but not great reliever for the past three years.  Before that, he was an ineffective starter for 2 years.  And before that, he was a good but not great reliever for 3 years.  Now he appears to be a very good starter.  However, he was never a really good starter in the minors (except for one year in the Sally League) and hasn't shown great control of his stuff for the majority of his major league career.  This year doesn't appear any different as he's walked 17 batters in 38 innings.  The only way he'll continue his early success is to continue holding opposing batters to a .195 average, a number well below any mark he's posted in his major league career. HOT

Esteban Loaiza and Chris Carpenter - Both guys have always been a puzzle to scouts and GMs alike.  How can guys with their stuff not be successful at the major league level.  Who knows?  Both guys have shown flashes of brilliance but never had it going on consistently.  Until now.  Both Loaiza and Carpenter have solid minor league records which support their early season performance.  Whatever it was - the new strikezone, a new manager, the incredible number of yummy doughnut shops in Toronto - something clicked for them this spring and they both began to realize their full potential. REAL DEAL

Chris Michalak - Thirty-year old rookie left handers are about as rare as a Luis Castillo home run.  Michalak set the Grapefruit League on it's ear with a terrific spring, then topped it off by shutting down the Yanks in Yankee Stadium in his first start.  He's been pretty credible since then too.  However, his minor league numbers are rather ordinary, so unless he's discovered some new kind of pitching pill that makes regular guys into aces, expect a let down.  HOT

Willis Roberts - Roberts is like Michalak in that his minor league numbers are kind of ordinary.  The rumor is that he throws in the mid-90s, but I've seen him twice and he's topped out at 94.  Most of his fastballs were around 92.  The minor league numbers don't necessarily mean that he can't succeed; just that it's not likely.  Another thing that doesn't look good for him is that in the last 2 years he has been released by Detroit and Cincinnati, two clubs that are desperate for pitching.   HOT