Ethan Martin Scouting Report

Ed. Note: This was originally scheduled to run prior to the start of last night’s Braves-Phillies game, but Eric had trouble getting WiFi at the airport.

Tonight marks the debut of Ethan Martin, a 6’2” righty who was the primary return in the Shane Victorino trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers last summer. Martin has one of the better arms in the system but also has a few issues that could prevent him from pitching as a starter long term. I’m writing this post in the Philly airport, waiting to board for a flight to Florida, so bear with its length, which is considerably shorter than you’re used to seeing from me.

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Longenhagen Scouts Williamsport, Gonzalez updates, bites from Reading

Scouting lower level talent is my favorite endeavor because the dream of youth and projection is alive everywhere you look. The Williamsport Crosscutters roster has it in spades. I ventured out there (and will go back again before the season is over) during a weekend series against the Lowell Spinners. Here are most of my notes.. Continue reading…

Crash Bag, Vol. 63: Some Massive Betrayal of the Faith

Some free advice to anyone who drives a mid-2000s Toyota Corolla. If you have an FM adapter for your iPod (which you all should, since Toyotas of that vintage have neither a tape deck nor an MP3 plug-in, you can make your steering wheel sound exactly like a cowbell. Just hold the wheel with your left hand at 9 o’clock and bang the adapter against the wheel at around 4 o’clock. It makes a sound like a cowbell and you’ll hum “Low Rider” to yourself every time you get behind the wheel.

Your questions:

@asigal22: “Crashbag Question: If the phils trade Papelbon and M. Young, but sign Utley, that is a win-win?”

The Phillies, according to Baseball Prospectus, have a 6.3 percent chance of making the playoffs and about half that chance of winning the division. And while that’s certainly not a precise number and it’s not literally impossible for them to come back, it’s probably not too far off the truth. And if you’re one of those people who thinks wanting to reload for next year (to say nothing of years to come) in the face of overwhelming evidence your team is beaten is some massive betrayal of the faith…in other words, if you’re one of those people who decides to forge ahead in the face of the overwhelming likeliness of defeat, spouting all the while that idiotic line from Dumb and Dumber, then maybe you hang on, win 82 games instead of 81 and lose Young for nothing at the end of the season. But major league GMs are paid to make smart decisions based on significant available information, not to shield you from have to confront a state of the world you find inconvenient.

The Phillies bought low on Young, and he’s played okay so far this season–.288/.344/.414 is well above average for an on-base guy this season, even though his defense has been so bad as to beggar belief. Scuttlebutt is that teams are interested in Young, and as a veteran right-handed bat, he could be quite a useful pickup for a team with designs on a playoff run. Would you get a top-100 prospect for him? Almost certainly not, but the Phillies are just now rebuilding a farm system that was decimated in service of building five consecutive division winners and if Ruben Amaro and his men have their eye on a sleeper prospect in the farm system of an interested team, absolutely trade him. Besides, even if you can’t do math and think the Phillies are still in it, they could plug Kevin Frandsen in at third base and probably not lose a whole lot in terms of 2013 production.

Papelbon may actually be at the peak of his trade value right now. Relievers, particularly relievers with lots of career saves, are overvalued at this point in the season, as general managers of contending teams 1) get nervous and try to just add any extra talent or 2) actually view another good relief pitcher as the last piece of a championship team. Even with his ridiculous contract and declining fastball velocity, someone would give up an asset for Papelbon, plus you’d clear upwards for $40 million from the team’s books by trading away the rest of his salary for 2013, plus the next two years, plus his vesting option in 2016. Which you know he’d hit because whoever has the most career saves is the closer until his arm falls off.

Now, to Cliff Lee. He’s still one of the best, most consistent, most durable starting pitchers in the game. Yes, he’s getting paid $25 million for the next two seasons, plus a $27.5 million vesting option in 2016, his age 37 season, if he pitches 200 innings in 2015 or 400 in 2014 and 2015 combined. Which, considering that he’s done so or is on pace to do so in eight of the past nine seasons, looks likely. It’s a lot of money.

And you know what? I’d pay it to him if I had plans to win a World Series in that time, particularly considering the increasing scarcity of bankable free agents. Lee is the Phillies’ most valuable realistic trade chip, the only player they can move for multiple significant assets, and that’s why he’d be a good player to trade, not as a salary dump but as a piece to move for younger, cheaper players. But considering Lee’s repertoire and durability, maybe it’s worth keeping him around and seeing if you can rebuild in the next three years. I’d at least listen to offers, but if nobody ponies up something too good to turn down, there’s no harm in keeping him.

Which brings us to Utley. Utley is 34 and has a checkered injury history, and could be a massive upgrade at second base for Oakland, Baltimore or Los Angeles. Even Tampa, if they wanted to bolster their chances, could move Ben Zobrist elsewhere on the diamond if they wanted Utley. You couldn’t get multiple impact prospects for him, but I bet you could get one good player, someone who would fit in with Jesse Biddle, Maikel Franco and Adam Morgan as a back-end-of-the-top-100 type, or somewhere thereabouts. Odds are Utley won’t be a significant contributor to the next good Phillies team even if they do keep him, so the rational thing to do would be to trade him.

But that’s where my rationality ends and my fandom begins. Utley’s never played anywhere else, he was the best player on the best stretch of teams in franchise history and the closest thing to a true Phillies Hall of Famer for 20 years in either direction. He’s said he wants to stay. So I’d extend his contract, even if it’s not the best thing to do for the team on paper.

So I think the situation you described–trade Papelbon and Young, re-sign Utley–is my ideal scenario, again, depending on what kind of offers they get for Cliff Lee.

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Please Don’t Get Sexy: Jarred Cosart

A half decade has passed and an entire farm system’s worth of Phillies prospects have been shuttled to one team or another in exchange for a litany of significant big league pieces. Of those sent packing, almost none have gone on to do anything significant. Hell, Carlos Carrasco was DFA’d last week. But now Jarred Cosart, one of the few ex-Phils prospects likely to make an impact of some kind at the big league level, has been summoned from the minor leagues. And he’s already made some pretty serious noise.

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The Future is Unwritten: Maikel Franco Scouting Report

Before you read my scouting report on Maikel Franco, I ask that you read the next few paragraphs.

“They’re not all (Buster) Posey.”

Those were the words spoken to me by a front office executive at a game I was at last week. We were discussing The Struggle, the nearly inevitable punch in the face every baseball player receives at least once on their climb toward the Major League stability. There comes a time for nearly all prospects when the horse that has taken them to whichever level they have risen can no longer pull the weight of the professional baseball buggy (Austin Wright is learning this right now, but that’s another show). Prospects that ascend to the Major Leagues unscathed by their own inadequacies are the rarest of the rare. Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Buster Posey, Felix Hernandez… players that navigate the minors without experiencing failure are the exception. It’s far more common for players to arrive in the big leagues bearing scars of development and adjustment like Jeff Samardzija, Carlos Gonzalez and Domonic Brown do.

And yet, we don’t seem to understand this. Our culture is accustomed to things happening very quickly. Our information, our food, our travel and now, seemingly, our prospects. We want him to be good and we want him to be good fast. We want to read reports on that player that reaffirm our own ideas about him. We ask questions that lead to misleading answers like, “When can we expect him in the big leagues?!?!” and “What’s a player in the Majors right now you would compare him to so I can get a grasp of what he’s like as soon as possible?!?”

This alters the prospect writer’s relationship with the reader in a way that, ultimately, does the reader a disservice. You do not want to read about how I think Jesse Biddle is a #3 starter (which, by the way, is pretty damn good). You don’t want me to write a full OFP on Royals prospect Kyle Smith, who is destroying the Carolina League this year, and tell you I think he might make it as a reliever. You want me to tell you how great I think Cody Asche is or that I think Kyle Crick has a #1 starter ceiling. That sort of sensationalism, the kind that appeases the audience, gives birth to phrases like “Baby Aces.” I don’t know how this started. Maybe readers craved these embellished, surreal evaluations and altered the way writers delineated things. Maybe writers chose to melt the prospect clocks themselves in effort to gain readership and are now left to try to feed the beast they created. It is irrelevant. It’s a chicken or the egg puzzle I don’t’ care to solve. But, at the risk of sounding like a dick, I won’t be part of it.

Stop peeking at your presents. Stop thinking you’re getting a Ferrari cake when you’re probably getting an Acura cake. Be Happy with your Acura cake, Acuras are really nice. Realize that the Acura cake takes time to make. Now you can read about Maikel Franco who, in my opinion, is going to be a pretty badass player. Which, given what you’ve just read, should mean a hell of a lot to you.

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Prospect Pu Pu Platter

I spent Tuesday night in Lakewood at the South Atlantic League All Star Game and Wednesday night in Reading to see, among other things, Chase Utley rehab against Anthony Ranaudo. I’ve got nine pages of handwritten notes from those two days and a few more back logged from other games I’ve been to lately. I want to get this information out (not just the Phillies stuff, it’s time I dust off my own little site and write up non-Phillies stuff, too. I am scouting and taking notes on everyone so i may as well put it to use) so here’s a quick summary on the guys I’ve seen recently, excluding the guys that I think require full reports (except for Mecias). These start out as very conversational reports and gradually de-construct into shorter, more scouting report-like blurbs. We’re going to do a scouting mailbag in the near future so if there’s jargon you don’t understand, hold that question for next week sometime.  Continue reading…

Crash Bag, Vol. 59: Move Along Home

Very few questions this week, but a spectacular crop. Let’s dive right in, like a hyperactive toddler into the ball pit at McDonald’s.

@SoMuchForPathos: “Speak, if you would, on the parallels between Chula and baseball.”

And there are many. Chula, for those of you who don’t remember, is a board game played by a species called the Wadi in an early episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. There are five players: one who sets a strategy and rolls the dice, and four others who are transported into the game and made to overcome various puzzles and physical challenges, descending down the levels of the board to home.

I know that the episode of DS9 that featured Chula, “Move Along Home,” was almost universally decried as terrible. Like, the conceit is that the Wadi are the first species the Federation made contact with and brought back through the Wormhole, so you’d think they’d be important, but they get written out after one episode. But think about the game–one person calls the strategy and literally rolls the dice, leaving the outcome not only up to his in-game players, over whom he has no direct control, but largely to chance. Those players go from one level to another, trying to go home…does this sound familiar to anyone?

Which brings me to the real point of this whole exercise. The games are similar enough that you could probably get the Wadi leader, a boisterous, charismatic, mustachioed huckster named Falow, to do color commentary on a baseball game with little to no prep time. Would this not be the best thing ever?

Tom McCarthy: “Revere on first, nobody out, Phillies down 2-1 in the eighth inning. Michael Young to the plate. What do you think–does Charlie Manuel call a bunt or a steal, or does he let Young swing away?”
T-Mac: “Stammen takes the sign, the pitch…and Revere takes off! The throw from Ramos…not in time!”
Falow: “Double their peril, double your winnings!”
T-Mac: “1-0 the count to Young. Stammen with the offering–and Young lines it into the gap in right! Revere around third, the throw from Harper is not in time! Tie ballgame!”

Hey, people who think baseball is boring? I’ve solved it. Completely. Continue reading…