Help is on the way   (05/18/00)

The next 6 weeks are probably the most important quarter of the season, for both real baseball and fantasy.  With the first quarter of the season done, no one is too far behind to make a run and no one is too far ahead to feel comfortable.  Everyone is looking for help and now they have a better idea of where they need it.  Some teams will have to make trades to address their needs.  Others have help on the way, either in the form of minor leaguers who are ready for the show or veterans coming of the injured reserve and rehab stints.  This is a look at some of the major league teams that have help waiting in the wings.

St. Louis
The Cardinals got off to a great start thanks in large part to a favorable schedule.  But now they've come back to the pack and it's clear they are going to need more pitching, both in the rotation and in the bullpen.  Alan Benes and Matt Morris are on rehab stints after long layoffs due to injury.  Once he gets back to full health, Morris will undoubtedly return to the Cards' rotation.  Benes might supplant either struggling Pat Hentgen or Garrett Stephenson in the rotation, or he might settle into some role in the bullpen.  A longtime Tribe prospect, 26-year old lefty Mike Matthews has been a good starter so far in AAA Memphis and could probably fill in nicely as the lefty set-up man or spot starter.   The Cards could also use some depth in the outfield with Ray Lankford performing well below expectations and the bench providing little or no relief.  In AAA, journeyman OF Ernie Young, who always had tremendous power, is showing increased discipline at the plate.  In AA, 24-year old Cuban defector Bill Ortega is mashing the competition, showing the power that was expected of him when he signed with the Cards in 1997.

    PLAYER          LVL         AVG   G  AB   R   H 2B 3B HR RBI  BB  SO  SB CS   SLG   OBP  E
    Ortega, Bill    AA         .340  40 159  29  54  6  4 11  41  13  19   0  3  .635  .391  3
        Young, Ernie    AAA        .323  34 124  26  40  7  0 14  35  19  37   3  0  .718  .425  0

    PITCHER         LVL   W-L    ERA    G GS CG SHO SV  IP     H   R  ER HR HB  BB  SO WP   AVG
    Benes, Alan     AAA   1- 1   3.97   7  7  0   0  0  34.0  33  20  15  4  1  13  23  3  .256
   *Matthews, Mike  AAA   3- 0   2.57   7  7  0   0  0  42.0  26  12  12  3  0  22  42  2  .181
    Morris, Matt    AAA   0- 2   7.45   2  2  0   0  0   9.2  12   8   8  1  1   5   4  0  .343

The Phillies insist that Rico Brogna is their first baseman.  It's funny, but the very day that he broke his wrist, the Phillies' AAA Scranton club moved their uber-prospect Pat Burrell from left field to first base.  Before the move, the 23-year old Burrell was struggling to make contact, although his walk rate was very good.  Since the move, he has been tearing the cover off the ball, batting .400 with 3 homers and 12 RBI in a little over a week.  The Phillies could also use some help in the bullpen, even with Jeff Brantley and Mike Jackson returning from injury.  Lefty Bryan Ward has done a respectable job at Scranton as the part time closer.

    PLAYER           LVL        AVG   G  AB   R   H 2B 3B HR RBI  BB  SO  SB CS   SLG   OBP  E
    Burrell, Pat     AAA       .288  36 125  26  36 11  1  4  22  31  33   1  1  .488  .427  1

    PITCHER          LVL   W-L    ERA    G GS CG SHO SV  IP     H   R  ER HR HB  BB  SO WP   AVG
   *Ward, Bryan      AAA   2- 2   3.44  14  0  0   0  4  18.1  17  10   7  1  1   4  14  3  .246

The Cubs bullpen is in shambles.  They've already blown more than half of their save opportunities (9 of 16).  Rick Aguilera looks as though he's lost it and his supporting cast doesn't look much better.   However, all is not lost.  Matt Karchner has been brilliant at Iowa there since his demotion after a rough start.  The Cubs also have a couple of great pitching prospects in AA who will almost certainly help settle the rotation in the coming years and might be able to help in the bullpen as soon as this season.  Mike Meyers split last year between A ball and AA.  He dominated both levels with a Maddux-like repertoire and control, finishing the season with an ERA of 1.73.  Still just 22, he's back in AA this year and hasn't missed a beat.  It's almost a given that he will be promoted to AAA and finish the season with a major league call-up.   Also in AA is 19-year old Carlos Zambrano, who is making a strong bid to move up quickly.  His 97 mph fastball could definitely be useful in relief, at least until he's ready to join the rotation.

        PITCHER           LVL   W-L    ERA    G GS CG SHO SV  IP     H   R  ER HR HB  BB  SO WP   AVG
    Karchner, Matt    AAA   0- 0   1.10   6  1  0   0  1  16.1  12   3   2  1  0   5  15  1  .207
    Zambrano, Carlos  AA    2- 1   1.40   7  7  0   0  0  45.0  30  12   7  2  2  13  34  3  .184
    Meyers, Mike      AA    5- 1   2.17   8  8  3   1  0  54.0  31  15  13  4  4  24  49  2  .170

San Diego
The Padres have been a veritable MASH unit so far, especially their pitching. Only 6 weeks into the season, they've already had 6 pitchers go on the DL.  Some of them, like Carlton Loewer, will make it back by the AllStar break.  But others, like Steve Montgomery and Rodney Myers, might not see action again this year.  However, the Pads are not short on arms in the minors.  For the past two years, they've been loading up on quality arms, either through the draft or through trades and some of those guys are close to being ready.  The Pads have 3 guys who could step in and will definitely be a significant part of the team that opens the new stadium in 2002.  21-year old Junior Herndon is stifling AAA batters in a very difficult park to pitch in.  Herndon could see some spot starts later in the year if the Pads don't get Brian Boehringer back.  22-year old Adam Eaton and 21-year old Wascar Serrano are doing a similar job in AA.  Both could help in the bullpen until they are ready to fall in behind Matt Clement and Herndon in the rotation some time next year.  21-year old Mike Bynum, he of the Carlton-esque slider, is probably not quite ready to face big league hitters, although what he's doing to single A hitters in a hitters' league should be against the law.

        PITCHER           LVL   W-L    ERA    G GS CG SHO SV  IP     H   R  ER HR HB  BB  SO WP   AVG
   *Bynum, Michael    A     3- 2   2.68   8  8  0   0  0  43.2  37  19  13  1  4  15  36  2  .226
    Eaton, Adam       AA    3- 1   2.80   8  8  1   1  0  45.0  36  16  14  2  1  13  44  3  .216
    Serrano, Wascar   AA    4- 2   3.38   8  8  0   0  0  45.1  36  20  17  7  2  24  37  1  .226
    Herndon, Junior   AAA   5- 2   3.09   7  7  1   0  0  35.0  26  12  12  3  0  16  23  0  .205

Before the season began, the Reds knew they would need help in the rotation this year.  Steve Parris and Ron Villone had only limited experience as big league starters and Pete Harnisch was still a question mark due to an iffy shoulder.  Harnisch is now on the DL and Parris has struggled mightily.  Left hand starter Eddie Priest has always had good stuff, but a series of arm troubles has sidetracked his career.  This year, he's healthy and producing good enough numbers in AA Chattanooga to get a looksee and maybe a few starts if the Reds can't make a trade for help.  He's still young enough (25) to develop into a solid starter.  The Reds could also use another bat as Dante Bichette, Michael Tucker and Sean Casey have fallen well below expectations.  Casey looks to be coming around and the emergence of Alex Ochoa will certainly offset the poor years from Bichette and Tucker.  Last year, the Reds took a chance on McNeese State University slugger Ben Broussard.  The 23-year old rewarded them with one of the most impressive hitting displays over a half season in years - 24 homers, 75 RBI and a.332 average (not to mention a .437 on base/.668 slugging) over 3 levels.  This year, he's torching AA at about the same pace.  Although not much with the glove, he could certainly get a chance to get some late season pinch hitting opportunities and spot starts at 1st or in the outfield.

    PLAYER            LVL        AVG   G  AB   R   H 2B 3B HR RBI  BB  SO  SB CS   SLG   OBP  E
   *Broussard, Ben    AA        .353  26  85  20  30  3  3  3  17  19  16   4  1  .565  .472  0

    PITCHER           LVL   W-L    ERA    G GS CG SHO SV  IP     H   R  ER HR HB  BB  SO WP   AVG
     *Priest, Eddie     AA    3- 3   2.41   8  8  2   1  0  52.1  52  21  14  3  1  18  49  5  .269

San Francisco
Dusty Baker has worn out just about all his young starters over the past 2 years.  Shawn Estes, Russ Ortiz, Livan Hernandez and now Joe Nathan have all been subjected to inordinately high pitch counts at a young age.  Whether they can overcome such abuse or not remains to be seen, but as long as the Giants offense and defense can keep them in the pennant race, Baker is going to need arms.  Don't be surprised if he dips into his AA reserves and brings up LSU alum Kurt Ainsworth.  Ainsworth does have an advantage over his antecedents - he's already blown out his arm once and had Tommy John surgery.  So his rebuilt arm should be more resilient to such abuse.  If the Giants can't kick the injury bug that's hampering their everyday players, 23-year old Mike Glendenning might be able to fill in.  Glendenning has always had terrific power and is developing a solid understanding of the strikezone.

    PITCHER            LVL   W-L    ERA    G GS CG SHO SV  IP     H   R  ER HR HB  BB  SO WP   AVG
    Ainsworth, Kurt    AA    5- 2   2.08   9  9  0   0  0  52.0  37  17  12  3  0  22  38  0  .199

    PLAYER             LVL       AVG   G  AB   R   H 2B 3B HR RBI  BB  SO  SB CS   SLG   OBP  E
    Glendenning, Mike  AA       .300  38 130  32  39  8  0 12  35  20  37   1  0  .638  .399  2

The Brewers probably don't have a whole lot to play for other than to avoid falling behind the Cubs for last place in the Central.  However, they do have a couple of nice pieces about ready to fall into place for next year's opening of Miller Park.  Catcher Raul Casanova, who's already been part of 3 different trades and twice a minor league free agent, is finally putting it all together.  The switch-hitting 27-year old is hitting for average and power in AAA and is solid enough behind the plate to play everyday.  The Brewers also have a couple of good arms just about ready to contribute.  John Snyder, who they acquired with Jaime Navarro for Cal Eldred and Jose Valentin, has been on rehab and should return to the majors for his first National League start sometime later this month.  The Brewers top prospect, 21-year old Ben Sheets is progressing nicely in AA Huntsville.  He should be ready for the rotation sometime next year and could get a September callup.

    PLAYER             LVL       AVG   G  AB   R   H 2B 3B HR RBI  BB  SO  SB CS   SLG   OBP  E
   #Casanova, Raul     AAA      .304  19  69  10  21  2  0  5  12   6   8   0  1  .551  .364  2

    PITCHER            LVL   W-L    ERA    G GS CG SHO SV  IP     H   R  ER HR HB  BB  SO WP   AVG
    Snyder, John       AAA   0- 1   2.57   1  1  0   0  0   7.0   6   2   2  1  0   0   5  0  .240
    Sheets, Ben        AA    3- 1   2.06   7  7  0   0  0  35.0  27   9   8  1  2  14  32  2  .211