Put That Man Down!
November 10, 2009

It's alive, It's ALIVE, IT'S ALIVE!!!  Yes, I am still alive.  It's been a while since I've posted here - the College World Series, it seems, so that would make it June - but rest easy I have not completely forsaken baseball nor the readers who insist I have something worthwhile to say.   I'll just say I've been delinquent because of other committments, namely a novel that has required quite a bit more research than I had originally anticipated.  Nevertheless, I have been following baseball well enough to have a few comments on the upcoming year, even before this offseason gets a head of steam.

First of all, I have to wonder what the Twins are thinking, or rather aren't thinking.  They're abandoning the dome that has been their home for more than two decades in favor of an outdoor stadium.  Correct me if I'm wrong but that's the situation they had when they first arrived from DC - they were the first Washington Senators franchise to defect to another locale.  I don't know for sure, but I imagine that one of the reasons they opted to build a dome for baseball and other sports was because it was too cold outdoors for them to play in spring and late fall.  I don't know what the actual numbers are for it - one guy who would is Rick Wilton who writes for a number of sites about injuries - but my guess is that injuries occur more frequently in cold weather than in warmer weather, at least in baseball.  Cold weather tightens muscles up and sudden movements, like pitching a baseball or swinging a bat, put more stress on the muscles, thus leading to more strains and pulls.  At least that seems like a logical conclusion.  And then there's the physical fact that balls travel less distance in cold weather than it does in warmer weather, and that grass slows balls down more than turf.  So a team that was built on putting the ball in play, using it's speed to get runners in scoring position and finishing off rallies with the occasional home run...  like the Twins have been for the last 20 years... well, those kind of teams aren't going to fare as well playing on grass in the cold.   It just seems to me that the ownership would have taken that into consideration before designing and building a new facility for their team.  It's been shown numerous times that winning teams make more money, so I'm failing to see the logic of building a stadium that sets up a smaller market team to lose more games.  It's not like there's a long waiting list of people and companies in the Twins Cities that can afford skyboxes.  And it takes more than a year to rebuild a team to play to a new stadium, if only because it takes more than a year to determine how the stadium plays.  Maybe Target Field will play just like the HHH Dome, but given the changes I kinda doubt it.

I just returned from Phoenix where I got to see a number of prospects.  I'm sure those of you in keeper or dynasty leagues already know about highly touted prospects like Jason Heyward, Mike Stanton and Steven Strasburg.  I didn't get to see any of those three play when I was in Arizona but I have seen them play this year.  All I can say is feel lucky if you've already rostered them and if you haven't had the chance, grab them as soon as you can and enjoy.  Heyward was the most lauded of the prospects this season and I think he will be a good player but I think there is one big red flag to be cautious: injuries.  He has had a very difficult time staying healthy, even for more than a few months the past two years.  Most of his injuries have been strains and pulls, the kind of injuries you really can't shake off as a one-time thing.  These are recurring and I suspect this will be part of his modus operandi henceforth: great production when he's healthy, but more than 130 games a season might be expecting more than he can deliver.  He reminds me a lot of Cliff Floyd in more ways than one.  I saw Strasburg pitch twice this year and both times he impressed me.  That doesn't mean he doesn't have plenty to learn still, so don't go drafting him in single universe re-draft leagues thinking he's going to be as good as Tim Lincecum his first season.  He might, but thats a bit too much on which to place the fortunes of your team.  In keeper leagues, I would look for more of a learning curve like Clayton Kerhsaw or Felix Hernandez - a couple maybe even three or four years growing pains and then you'll start to see the signs of greatness.  As for Mike Stanton, he still has some issues with what he can and can't handle but what I've seen at every level is that he is always learning.  If you look at his numbers from 2008 , he finished the season with a ton of strikeouts, but what you don't see is that over the last two months of that season he wasn't striking out much more than he was walking.  He struggled upon his promotion to Double-A this year but by the end of the season he was beginning to show improvement. Depending on how good he looks in spring training, I suspect he'll start the season in Double-A and force a look in the majors by September.  He'll probably struggle for a year or two but I do think he'll be a star in a couple of years.   Think Adam Dunn but with good defense

As for the guys I did see in Phoenix, I was most impressed by Jordan Danks, Chris Heisey and Starlin Castro.  Every time they came to the plate they had good at bats and generally squared up on any hittable offering.  The kind of focus that takes after playing a long season and fighting through the fatigue they experience in the AFL season bodes well for future success.  Danks look like a solid all-around outfielder with moderate power, contact and speed plus a good eye for what he should swing at.  Heisey was a revelation for me.  He was on every mistake and just crushing the ball everywhere.  When I looked at his numbers from last season I was not altogether surprised he had fared well given his age, but he really looked like a guy who could contribute next year in Cincy.  Starlin Castro reminded me a lot of a young Edgar Renteria with his poise but with much better command of the strikezone.  I thought Buster Posey looked pretty good too, although he was clearly tired.  I don't expect the power numbers that many people are predicting for him.  He just doesn't look like he has the build or the swing to generate 20+ homers a year, especially in San Francisco.  Tanner Scheppers was throwing very well, touching 99 mph a few times the outing I saw him, or at least that's what the stadium gun had him at.  His control and his secondary stuff still needs work but the Rangers really have no need to rush him given the quality youth movement they have in Arlington.  Another guy I liked was Brandon Snyder.  I don't know if he has the power to make it as an everyday first baseman, but I liked his approach and he showed some terrific glove- and footwork.  Although he's not an ideal size nor does he have overpowering stuff, Mike Leake showed that he does have really good instincts on the mound.  I don't know if that translates into a top of the rotation guy like Tim Hudson (of whom he most reminded me) or a bottom of the rotation guy, but I like the way he handled himself.  Josh Fields has terrific stuff, including a killer breaking ball - think Brad Lidge before the crushing Pujols homer a few years ago - but still has to deal with control issues.  If he figures that out, he could very well close for Seattle.

Ok, now the guys who didn't impress me... start with Dustin Ackley.  Yes, he commands the strikezone very well and yes, he makes contact.  But I did not see the speed that makes people think of Darin Erstad, nor did I see anything resembling power.  And given his slight build, he's going to have to put on a lot of muscle before I buy that he's going to develop double digit home run power.  He's also making a switch from first base to center field, so while he might have the physical ability to cover center, I didn't see the kind of instincts needed to be a plus player there.  Maybe he just had a bad three games though and just had trouble reading the ball off the bat when it was sunny, when it was overcast and when it was night.  I also was not impressed with Jason Castro, who clearly has a good arm behind the plate, but he looks a lot like the next Jason Kendall (the recent one but without the speed) to me - makes contact but with very little behind it.  There has been a little bit written about Grant Desme and his power barrage this year, but what I saw was a guy with a long swing lacking the ability to hit anything that wasn't straight.  He did make a beautiful throw to gun down Yonder Alonso at second after he hit what many thought was a sure double.  Ike Davis was a fan favorite and played good defense at first base, but like Desme really struggled against breaking pitches.  Domonic Brown has warranted a lot of ink after his productive year but the guy I saw in Arizona reminded me a lot of Doug Glanville.  He'll develop into more as he fills out; my comment was based strictly on his build and his gait.  Still, any predictions for superstardom are highly optimistic.  I have my doubts that Mike Moustakas will make it to the majors as a third baseman.  His build reminds me a lot of Hack Wilson - broad body with short legs, like a circus weightlifter.  Maybe he'll hit enough to warrant a first base spot or perhaps DH, but it's not certain.  Ian Kennedy will be lucky if he makes it as a 4th or 5th starter on any team, much less the Yankees.  He just doesn't have enough stuff or polish.  Likewise, Mike Minor looks like he's going to struggle.

I saved Drew Storen for last because there was both good and bad for him.  He pitched aggressively, even after giving up what turned out to be a game-winning homer.  I liked that and I think it bodes well for success in the majors once he makes it there.  However, there is the problem of giving up homers which is something I think could plague him, and that doesn't bode well for him becoming the National's closer very soon.  And the kind of homers he gives up aren't ones that are ballpark dependent; they travel far enough to require a flight attendant.  As wild as Mike MacDougal is, I just don't see the Nats handing the 9th inning to Storen until he better figures out how to keep the ball in the yard.

I'm currently working on a way anyone can contact me anytime and get an immediate response for their fantasy baseball questions.  I hope to be up and running with it by the end of this year.  It won't be like the once weekly chats where your questions might or might not get answered.  It'll be your time and you'll be able to ask me as many questions as you like.  There'll be a modest fee, but I'm hoping the one-on-one real-time exchange will be worth it.  Drop me a line at trace@longgandhi.com to offer your thoughts and suggestions.  Thanks.


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