More Scouting Notes

Just a few notes before the weekend:

Jerry Hairston and Brian Roberts

Hairston has finally returned from his dislocated knuckle and seems to be suffering no ill-effects.  He's already hit his first home run and stole a base in his first 3 games back.

I've been asked by a number of people what the O's are going to do with both of those guys.  Obviously, I don't know for certain. 

But the O's are saying now that they will try Hairston in the outfield, likely center in addition to DH duties and some second base.  I'm not convinced that will last. 

First, if the O's do that with an eye toward upgrading Hairston's trade value, they're making a mistake.  I don't think any team that has seen him play defense at second will seriously consider moving him anywhere else on the field.  He has one of the quickest first steps on any infielder and has better range than just about any second baseman I've seen since Robby Alomar was in his prime.  He gets two more full steps than Roberts on any grounder. 

Second, moving Hairston off second to accomodate Roberts hurts their team defense, especially with Tejada getting a little nicked up in the early going.  Last year, the O's starters ERA improved by almost a run with Hairston fielding behind them.  That is huge, and Roberts isn't a bad fielder. 

Third, Roberts has slightly better offensive potential so if it comes between choosing which one gets to DH in order to stay in the line-up, Roberts is the one who should get the nod.  I don't think Hairston will have much trouble making the adjustment to utility, but Roberts is more suited to it since he's already made one position change in his career.  If Luis Matos' bat doesn't heat up in the next month, he will be in danger of losing at bats to one of these two until they make a trade. 

I do think the O's will trade one of them by the deadline.  Everyone talks about a deal with the Yankees but I just don't see what the Yankees have in the minors that the O's would want. 

Slight Adjustments

It's amazing what a slight adjustment can do for a pitcher.  Jorge Sosa was sent down to the minors to work on his mechanics.  Before, he was dropping down and pushing off - similar to the way Tom Seaver pitched - and the result was that his pitches tended to stay on a flat plane, allowing hitters more time to react.  So after his demotion, the Devil Rays had him stand more upright in his delivery and work on getting on top of the ball.

The results were spectacular -  13 innings pitched, 11 hits allowed, 4 earned runs allowed... zero walks and 23 strikeouts!!

In his first action back in the bigs, he was brought in with runners on first and second with no outs and protecting a two run lead.  He overpowered Alfonso Soriano with his fastball, got Herbert Perry to fly out to center and popped up Brian Jordan.  It's not Carl Hubbell striking out 5 straight Hall of Famer immortals (Ruth, Gehrig, Foxx, Simmons and Cronin) in the 1934 All-Star game, but it's a very good sign that he has much better control of his 96 mph fastball, and that's always a good thing.

Two Rookies

Two rookie starters made their debut on Thursday and impressed a lot of folks.  Daniel Cabrera started for the Orioles in the first of a double header in Chicago, Felix Diaz started for the ChiSox in the nightcap.

Cabrera stands 6'7" and has a fastball that he uses from 88-95 mph.  He also has a pretty good curve ball.  In his last start before the promotion, he pitched 7 innings, allowed 1 hit and no walks and struck out 11.  The kid has stuff.

He also has a good game plan.  He held the White Sox in check for the first three innings without throwing his curve once and only sparsely showed it in the 4th.  It wasn't until the 5th inning that he put his full repertoire on display.  Smart kid - showing just enough to stay ahead of the hitters, making adjustments as the hitters started to find his release point.  And at 6'7" that release point is a bit closer than most pitchers they face. 

My one reservation about him is that because he is tall and very young, he has trouble repeating his delivery.  The statistical evidence is in his AA numbers this year where he struck out 33 in 34.1 innings, but also walked 20.  He'll have some outstanding starts this year, but he's also going to have some where he just can't find the strikezone.  However, he's a pretty good keeper candidate.

(editor's note: I was looking at the wrong pitching line.  Cabrera had allowed only 12 walks.  upgrade from pretty good to excellent. )

Diaz also looked good, but not for as long.  He dominated the O's for three innings until the wheels came off in the 4th.  The biggest difference between the game Diaz threw and Cabrera's is that Diaz showed everything he had in the first couple of innings so the O's had made adjustments by the second time through the order. 

Although Diaz posted spectacular numbers in AAA, I don't expect him to repeat his success in the majors right away.  His fastball topped out around 90, but was mostly in the 87-88 range and it didn't seem to have consistent life.  For a hitter looking for a fastball, that's batting practice.  Diaz does have a very good change-up so he should be able to give the White Sox 5 or 6 decent innings, but there's little chance that he will dominate the way he did in Charlotte.  He's still young and should develop into a quality 3rd or 4th starter.

Simon Pond

I learned a hard lesson today: never tout a player and especially, never bid on him in an experts league until you have actually seen him play.  Sometimes, the numbers don't explain the performance and Simon Pond is just such a case.

His numbers in AA looked pretty good last year and his performance this spring was eye-popping.  So I bought into the idea that this guy might be a nice little big league hitter if he got a chance.

Well, after seeing him bat, I'm not sure he has a chance to get a hit, much less be a nice little hitter. 

In his batting stance, he holds his arms almost straight out over the plate waiting for the pitch.  Once the pitch is delivered, he swoops down on the ball with the bat and finishes with an uppercut.  This not only means he has almost no margin for error on his swing to make contact (a level swing offers the most chance for contact), but more often than not, when he does make contact he will simply pound the ball into the ground.  What's worse, because his arms are extended before the pitch is released, he has almost no shot on anything inside.  In short, he has the perfect swing for making outs. 

In the minors, that kind of swing can work because pitchers either don't have great stuff or the don't have great location.  Either way, it makes for a healthy number of mistake pitches to smack.  Major league pitchers don't often make that many easy mistakes.

So I'm out $3 in FAAB on Pond and I'll like get a big donut for the week out of my DH slot.  Until his hitting coach pulls him aside and says, "kid, it's time we talked about your swing..." don't make the same mistake I did.