October 2005

The best AFL pitchers no one knows

It’s true that this is another offensive year in the Fall League. But with high-profile arms like Jered Weaver, Angel Guzman, Adam Miller and Wade Townsend on rosters at the start of the season, it seemed like there would be some outstanding performances by the top pitching prospects in the game.

And, to be fair, guys like Adam Loewen and Glen Perkins have lived up to billing and/or draft status. But perhaps the two best pitchers in the AFL this season are guys you may not have been aware of before this fall.

First is Shane Komine. Known as the "Hawaiian Punchout" to some — and you gotta love a nickname like that — Komine was taken in that famed 2002 draft in the ninth round. With his five scoreless innings today (he hadn’t pitched since Oct. 18 because of some neck stiffness), his ERA dropped to 0.96. In 18 1/3 innings, he’s struck out 14 and walked two. Considering he tossed just under 50 innings during the season as he recovered from Tommy John surgery in July 2004, it appears that he’s recaptured the form that put him on the map in the College World Series a few years back.

The other guy is Jamie Shields, another success story — or so it seems — from injury issues. Shields was a pretty hot commodity in high school, getting attention from plenty of scouts and from colleges. A back problem limited his ability to pitch his senior year, dropping him to the 16th round in 2000. The D-Rays lured him away from college with a big bonus, a move that looked like it was going to backfire when he missed the entire 2002 season. He then spent parts of two seasons in the California League, then parts of two more in Double-A. This past season he was in Montgomery for most of the year, making a brief appearance in Durham. For the season, he went 8-5 with a 2.97 ERA, striking out 110 and walking 34 in 115 1/3 innings. He’s kept it up and then some this fall, leading the league in innings (25) while striking out 25 and walking just two. He’s officially second in the AFL with a 1.80 ERA and recently became the first AFL pitcher this year to go six innings in one outing.

Me thinks the A’s and Rays will have to find room for these pitchers on their respective 40-man rosters.

And now for some league stats updates:

All-time batting average record: .292 (2004)
2005 average: .297 (under .300 for first time)

All-time worst ERA: 5.32 (2004)
2005 ERA: 5.51

All-time homers: 243 (1997)
2005 homers: 147 (on pace for 214)

Note on homers: The record for homers per game is 1.82, set in 2001. This year, balls are going out at the rate of 2.22 per game.

All-time runs per game: 12.07 (2004)
2005 RPG: 12.53

Who's hot, who's not so much

We’re into the second half of the AFL season (keep an eye out for my midseason All-Stars on the AFL site soon). There’s been plenty of time for cold starters to right themselves and the red-hot starters to cool off considerably. Here’s a couple of nominees for the "hot" and "not so much" list.

HOT

Nick Markakis: Heading into Thursday’s action, he was riding an eight-game hitting streak during which he was hitting .577 (he picked up a base hit to extend his streak to nine on Thursday).

Brad Snyder: Even though his five-game hitting streak was snapped on Wednesday, he still has hit .425 since Oct. 11 when he was hitting .167. Now he’s up to .345. Since the 11th, Snyder also has 11 runs scored with five of his seven extra-base hits coming in that 11-game span.

Eric Patterson: The Cubs’ second base prospect has been carrying a hot stick over the last five games, going 9-for-19 (.474) in that span.

Denard Span: The Twins’ outfielder has gone 11-for-27 (.407) over his past seven games to raise his average more than 80 points.

Howie Kendrick: Hot in perpetuity, Kendrick is still over .400 for the season. He’s only played in three games in which he didn’t get a base hit, and one of those was a pinch-hitting deal. He’s had 12 multi-hit games.

NOT SO MUCH

Dan Uggla: Uggla started out like a house on fire, homering in his first three games. In his last nine, however, he’s gone 5-for-33 (.152).

Daric Barton: On Oct. 11, Barton was hitting .353. Since, he’s gone 5-for-26 (.192) over eight games.

Stephen Drew: Despite homering on Wednesday, his bat has cooled considerably. Over his last nine games, he’s hit .143 (4-for-28).

Brandon Wood: His overall power numbers still look impressive, but keep in mind he had eight homers in his first six games. His last 12? Not as impressive: 9-for-46 (.196).

Garrett Jones: In his past seven games, Jones has hit .192 (5-for-26), cooling off considerably from his .346 average before the slide.

CORRECTION: I evidently had a World Series-sized brain cramp last night. While discussing the AFL alums playing in the Fall Classic, I left one guy out. It seems Jermaine Dye sharpened his tools in Arizona back in 1995. Guy only won the WS MVP, so I don’t feel too bad.

And now, some league-wide stats:

All-time batting average record: .292 (2004)
2005 average: .301

All-time worst ERA: 5.32 (2004)
2005 ERA: 5.68

All-time homers: 243 (1997)
2005 homers: 130 (on pace for 219)

Note on homers: The record for homers per game is 1.82, set in 2001. This year, balls are going out at the rate of 2.28 per game.

All-time runs per game: 12.07 (2004)
2005 RPG: 12.93

AFL in the World Series

It’s the 5th inning of Game 4 of the World Series as I write this, and it dawns on me that this is a perfect opportunity to show how successful the AFL has been in generating quality Major League players. We’ve mentioned the nearly 1,200 AFL alums who have logged big league time, but it’s interesting to note that both the Astros and White Sox have several former Fall League participants playing important roles in the Fall Classic.

Let’s start with the Astros, even if they’re all but done. The guy on the mound tonight (and throwing up zeroes to this point), Brandon Backe, played for Maryvale back in 2001 when he was still in the Devil Rays’ system. Starting shortstop Adam Everett, who helped keep Backe’s shutout intact with that wonderful barehanded play in the sixth, called Mesa his home during the 1999 AFL season. Perhaps Mike Gallo (a two-time AFL player in 2002 and 2003) will come in out of the bullpen and Chris Burke (ended with Team USA in 2003) will pull off some more postseason heroics. Willy Taveras used his time in Scottsdale just a year ago to prepare himself for his possible Rookie of the Year campaign (he’d get my vote if I had one, but I digress).

In the other dugout, perhaps the best player throughout the postseason is an AFL alum. Joe Crede played in Phoenix back in 2000. Closer Bobby Jenks made two appearances in Arizona, as a starting prospect with the Angels, in 2001 and 2002. The other Everett, Carl, was a Yankee farmhand when he played for Phoenix in 1992. Back in 1997, the Mariners sent a Minor League starter by the name of Damaso Marte to Peoria. He moved to the pen a few years later, the role he’s in now for the ChiSox. Shortstop Juan Uribe played for Peoria in 2000 when he was still part of the Rockies organization.

So 10 players in the World Series. Not too shabby, huh?

How're you feeling?

It’s a question asked frequently all year in baseball. But in the AFL (and in winter ball, too), there are always a fair share of players attempting to come back from injuries, playing after the regular season to make up lost at-bats or innings. I figured it was time to take a look on how these comeback candidates were doing.

The list is almost endless when you consider anyone who missed a considerable amount of time this season due to injury and is trying to catch up with some extra play in Arizona. By no means complete, here is a list of players (a lot of pitchers) who went to the AFL to make up for lost time: Larry Broadway, 1B, Nationals; Taylor Buchholz, RHP, Astros; Angel Guzman, RHP, Cubs; Luke Hudson, RHP, Reds; Michael Johnson, 1B, Padres; Adam Miller, RHP, Indians; Greg Miller, LHP, Dodgers (already shut down because of shoulder problems, though he was examined and found to be ok); Clint Nageotte, RHP, Mariners; Humberto Sanchez, RHP, Tigers.

I’m sure I’m missing some people, so don’t be shy about letting me know who — the more comments the better. At any rate, using the above list as my guide, here’s my AFL comeback kid Top 5:

Clint Nageotte: He missed two and a half months with a forearm strain and then did the yo-yo thing between Tacoma and Seattle a bit as a reliever. He’s been getting a shot to start again in the AFL, with terrific results:  A 2.25 ERA in 12 IP with only one walk and 12 K’s. He may only be starting to get more innings in, but at least he’s putting himself back into the M’s plans next year.

Humberto Sanchez: Sanchez might be mentioned along with the other young flame-throwers in the Tigers system — Verlander and Zumaya — if he could stay healthy. He didn’t make his debut until June 5 because of a groin injury and the 22-year-old put up uneven numbers in 64 2/3 IP. But he still struck out more than a batter an inning. Thus far in the AFL, the Solar Sox hurler has a 2.77 ERA in three outings, striking out 15 in 13 IP.

Taylor Buchholz: The Astros right-hander managed to throw just 76 1/3 innings in Triple-A this year while dealing with shoulder issues. This fall, he’s got a 1.80 ERA in 10 IP.

Larry Broadway: A knee injury kept Broadway out of action from mid-May until July. Looks like his swing is just fine. He was ninth in the AFL as of Tuesday with his .368 average and was third with a .490 OBP (his .553 SLG ain’t too shabby, either).

Michael Johnson: Once upon a time, Johnson was a big prospect. A 2002 second-rounder who went back to college but signed before re-entering, he’s stalled out largely because of injuries. Last year, he was a big disappointment and got into only 90 games due to several maladies. This year, the now 25-year-old was back in the California League for a third year, but played in only 73 games because of a broken hand (at least he finally hit well in the league with 21 homers in 288 at-bats). This fall, he was kind of average (.269 AVG, 1 HR, 7 RBIs in 14 games) until he unleashed the kind of raw power on Tuesday the Padres saw when they drafted him: Johnson homered three times and drove in five runs in Game 1 of the Javelinas’ doubleheader.

I promise an update on the league-wide stats and perhaps something on those red-hot Javelinas tomorrow…

Let's hear it for Howie

First Minor League Baseball and now the AFL have been abuzz this year because of Brandon Wood’s remarkable season.  Well, Wood just endured one of his longest homerless streaks of the season, six games (He hit his 10th HR of the AFL season on Monday).

In the meantime, his double play partner from Rancho Cucamonga, Howie Kendrick, keeps on hitting and hitting and hitting. … well, you get the idea.  With a ton of attention on Brandon, we’ve decided to provide some perspective on Howie’s season — and not just because he’s penning an exclusive AFL journal for MiLB.com — by looking a little deeper into the numbers he compiled this year.

Combining his totals from Rancho, Double-A Arkansas  and Surprise in the AFL, Kendrick is hitting .374 with 199 hits in 123 games. That’s an average of 1.62 hits per game. Just how impressive is that? It happens to be one-hundreth of a point shy of Ichiro’s hit rate when he broke the MLB record for hits in a season last year. 

Kendrick began the AFL season with eight straight multi-hit games and has recorded more than one hit in 10 of the 13 contests he’s started.  Perusing the stats from his regular season, you’d see that Kendrick had 35 multi-hit games in 63 starts for Rancho and 22 multi-hit games in 46 starts for Arkansas.  That’s a grand total of 67 multi-hit games in those 122 starts.

By comparison, in his record-setting season, Ichiro tallied more than one hit in 80 of 162 contests. Project Kendrick’s total over a full Major League season and that’s 88 multi-hit games…88 folks! Unreal.

Think Howie’s just a garbage-time hits compiler.  Think again. He hit .371 (56-151) over the three levels with runners in scoring position. Think the right-handed second baseman only hits lefites?  Think again. Howie has managed to hit righties at a .384 (158-411), while lefties held him to a .339 average (41-121). A true model of consistency, Kendrick never went more than three consecutive games without a hit and that streak occurred during his first two weeks at Double-A.

With his Double-A average sitting at .283, Kendrick decided it was time to silence the doubters as he then ripped off a 20-game hitting streak for the Travs. During the streak, he hit .404 (34-84) and, of course, had 13 multi-hit games. Only a singles hitter?  No shot. Kendrick tallied a total of 77 extra-base hits.

About halfway through the AFL season, Kendrick has continued his torrid pace. He ranks second to Brendan Harris among the AFL batting leaders as Kendrick has 27 hits in 14 games. That puts him on pace for 59 hits. The AFL single season record of 68 hits was set by Steve Pegues in the League’s inaugural season of 1992.  This year’s AFL season is shortened because of the pre-Olympic qualifer so Mr. Pegues is probably safe for another year.

Here’s how Kendrick’s exploits have helped impact the league-wide numbers (as of Monday):

All-time batting average record: .292 (2004)
2005 average: .303

All-time worst ERA: 5.32 (2004)
2005 ERA: 5.80

All-time homers: 243 (1997)
2005 homers: 102 (on pace for 213)

Note on homers: The record for homers per game is 1.82, set in 2001. This year, balls are going out at the rate of 2.22 per game.

All-time runs per game: 12.07 (2004)
2005 RPG: 12.8

A hitting haven? Peshaw

Take a look at the update on the league-wide stats below. Sense a trend? That’s right…pitchers are staging a comeback, baby!

Since I last updated the numbers a few days back, batting average has dropped 12 points; ERA has plummeted below 6.00, a total of 0.60. Runs and homers are down, too. Since I first started tracking this stuff, the league ERA has dropped more than a run.

What gives? Since Monday, the league ERA is 4.14. While that may not seem earth-shattering, it is a vast improvement. The reason could just be averages falling back to a mean — things evening out some as pitchers get more comfortable. Remember, most pitchers in the AFL are ther to work on specific pitches. Hitters are just hitting. Now, after a few weeks, perhaps some progress on these pitches have been made and the hurlers are getting outs with them instead of having them pounded. This isn’t exactly definitive proof, but pitchers have won three of the last five MiLB.com AFL Stars of the Day, with stellar performances by Adam Loewen, Steven White and Steve Andrade being honored. Loewen and Brian Bass have yet to give up an earned run. Three others are at a buck fifty or better. By the time we’re done here, maybe all these records won’t fall. Come on hitters, it’s time to step up to the plate — figuratively and literally.

All-time batting average record: .292 (2004)
2005 average: .302

All-time worst ERA: 5.32 (2004)
2005 ERA: 5.70

All-time homers: 243 (1997)
2005 homers: 92 (on pace for 221)

Note on homers: The record for homers per game is 1.82, set in 2001. This year, balls are going out at the rate of 2.30 per game.

All-time runs per game: 12.07 (2004)
2005 RPG: 13.00

Kevin C. tours Zona

Driving around the greater Phoenix area, from Mesa to Peoria to Surprise and then back to Mesa, sometimes all in one day, has proven to be an eye-opening experience. Much of Arizona, it seems, is one big strip mall, at least the part that isn’t desert or the Grand Canyon. It seems wherever they can slap up a shopping center, they stick one in, building up the area at an astonishing rate. When I travel to parts of the country I don’t often see, I try to look for something that makes it unique. Other than some beautiful sunsets and how some of the mountains take on an wonderful coloring late in the day, there is nothing unique here

That is, unless, you stop to consider the Arizona Fall League. The circuit has proven to be everything its reputation says it is. The players are talented and exciting, the scouts and front office types can’t stay away and the baseball is pretty darn good. I got to Peoria and Mesa today, with a chance to look at four of the six teams in the league.

Josh Fields extended his hitting streak to 10 games — eight behind what is believed to be the league mark. He seems like a great guy from the few minutes I spent with him. He was able to poke fun at himself and came off as very humble, not trying to be a BMOC that he clearly could have been after being a two-sport star at Oklahoma State.

I also got to talk to Gary Pettis, who was the Mets first base coach for two of the years I covered the team.It was great to catch up with him, get his take on the league and what its like to be a manager.Keep an eye on him, he could be a big league manager before long.

A real slam Duncan

Everyone knew it was just a matter of time. Eventually, Eric Duncan was going to move from third, what with that big A-Rod sized obstacle in New York and all.

He’d worked out there in the spring, but never actually played a single inning there all year (a typo in a Trenton boxscore late in the year had some hearts a flutter, but it turned out that Minor League vet Shelley Duncan, not Eric, played first. Amazing what an ‘E’ instead of an ‘S’ can do.).

Then, quietly, it happened. On Oct. 7, Duncan played first for the Grand Canyon Rafters. He’s done it twice more, including yesterday (the 18th). The pressures of a new position don’t seem to be bothering him any: Duncan’s gone 8-for-13 (.615)as a first baseman and .367 (with all five of his homers) at the hot corner. Not that fielding percentage is a true measure, but Duncan hasn’t made an error in three games (that’s 1.000 if you’re scoring at home) and has recorded 22 putouts. Assuming all goes smoothly and he continues to rake like that, it’s not inconceivable that he sees Yankee Stadium a little sooner than originally anticipated.

Elsewhere on the position switch front, things seem to be going well for Adam Jones. The one-time Mariners shortstop prospect is playing center field for the Javelinas and it’s so far, so good. One M’s official who was recently in Arizona saw him for a couple of games and thought he looked good.

"We knew he runs well and throws well," he said. "From what I’ve seen, he’s taken to the position. And from what other people who have seen him more than I did, have told me, he’s doing really well out there. "

So fantasy nuts, take note. We have the makings of a new first baseman and center fielder out in the desert.

There was only one game last night, so I’ll wait to update the league-wide stats until tomorrow (though the game, a 3-0 pitching duel, would bring everything down some).

Kevin C. brings rain out west

Gee, you would think if there was any place in this country I could get away from the rain it would be Arizona. After spending the last week and a half getting waterlogged in New York, the idea of coming out to the fun and sun of the Arizona Fall League couldn’t have been have been more appealing. But what happens when I get off the plane Monday afternoon — it starts to rain.

And if that isn’t bad enough, the rain continued Tuesday morning and on into the afternoon. It was enough to cancel the game here in Surprise, much to my surprise. Who ever heard of rainouts in the desert? Sand storms, yeah. But rain? Go figure. The sun is peeking in and out of the clouds as I type this blog but the forecast is calling for thunderstorms and hale throughout the afternoon.

There are still some large puddles on the infield here, so it’s probably a good thing that they didn’t try to get this one started. No sense in anyone getting hurt because they tried to get in a game on a wet surface. Hopefully tomorrow will bring better weather and I’ll actually get to see some baseball.

The players did some work in the batting cages this morning and a few even braved the raindrops to play catch in the outfield. Otherwise the day, unexpectedly, was a wash. Here’s to hoping for drier weather tomorrow.  — Kevin Czerwinski

All-time batting average record: .292 (2004)
2005 average: .314

All-time worst ERA: 5.32 (2004)
2005 ERA: 6.30

All-time homers: 243 (1997)
2005 homers: 83 (on pace for 241)

Note on homers: The record for homers per game is 1.82, set in 2001. This year, balls are going out at the rate of 2.52 per game.

All-time runs per game: 12.07 (2004)
2005 RPG: 14.12

Heading into week three

Greetings, blog fans. Hope you had a restful weekend…and I hope your favorite football team didn’t lose in as excruciating fashion as my Steelers did.

But again, I digress (I might just re-name the blog this). We’re heading into the third week of the AFL season. Ten games is enough to draw some conclusions, right? OK, maybe not, but that’s what the ability to update this puppy regularly can fix. So here are some things I definitely see:

  • The Saguaros will not win the AFL Championship. At 1-9 and six games out., it’s best to look at individual achievement on that club. And there has been some, with Brendan Harris leading the league with a .542 average to top a club with seven hitters over .300. And on the pitching side…ummm, well, Randy Beam has a 2.08 ERA in two outings. His is the only ERA on the team under 5.50 (the Saguaros have a 10.59 team ERA). I’m not sure, but I think that’s not very good.
  • Brandon Wood will break the AFL homer mark. I know, daring, considering he needs just three to tie. Rumor has it the Angels shortstop prospect hit three out while playing a video game during his day off on Sunday. Nine homers in 10 games. At that rate, Wood will hit approximately 27 homers.
  • Josh Anderson will not draw a walk. … or strikeout. The Astros speedster has hit .471 in eight games. He has yet to draw a walk or strikeout while going 16-for-34 at the plate and a perfect 4-for-4 in steals.
  • The Solar Sox will catch the Scorpions. I don’t know, I just wanted to fuel the fire for that huge Surprise-Mesa rivalry.

OK, enough  musings for today. I’ve added some new league-wide stats to track,  in addition to ERA and batting average (thanks to AFL media guide author Michael Holden for that). Hope it adds to your enlightenment and education. Kevin Czerwinski is heading to the desert for some MiLB.com coverage and will blog on site for us from time to time in the near future.

And, if you didnt’ see it yet, be sure to bid on the great Derek Jeter autographed ball MLB.com is auctioning off to raise proceeds for the second annual Dernell Stenson Sportsmanship Award. Bidding runs through the end of October.

All-time batting average record: .292 (2004)
2005 average: .313

All-time worst ERA: 5.32 (2004)
2005 ERA: 6.21

All-time homers: 243 (1997)
2005 homers: 77 (on pace for 246)

Note on homers: The record for homers per game is 1.82, set in 2001. This year, balls are going out at the rate of 2.57 per game.

All-time runs per game: 12.07 (2004)
2005 RPG: 14.2

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