Tagged: Hank Blalock

Spring Fling: Week 1

As I’m writing this Mike Stanton just jacked his 2nd homer of the spring, and Dan Uggla followed him with a solo shot of his own against the Astros. A sight I haven’t seen much of so far is that raw power to hit home runs. The most unlikely of names have been hitting it over the fence including Bryan Peterson and Emilio Bonifacio (no, that’s not a typo).

These young prospects with power like Stanton and Peterson have been turning heads early this spring, and could definitely see playing time somewhere during the 2010 season. Stanton is only 20 years old at this point, so a September call-up is probably the soonest you’ll see him. The talent is there and he looks just as good as Jason Heyward, you just don’t want to rush him. Although, I wouldn’t be shocked if Cameron Maybin’s groin injury lingers, Cody Ross moves to CF and Stanton takes RF by Opening Day.

If anything, the player who looks like he’s being rushed into the majors is Logan Morrison. The first baseman’s performance so far has not been promising and Gaby Sanchez seems to be handling the role a lot better. Of course, Gaby has a sprinkle of experience under his belt from last season and it shows with his average at .400 a week into the spring. Logan doesn’t seem to be adapting to any pitchers, carrying a .071 average in his couple appearances (although that one hit was a triple that produced 3 RBIs).

Don’t count out Jorge Jimenez to take over 3B, pushing Gaby and Logan out of the way for Jorge Cantu to play 1B again. Jimenez is looking to start the season on the Opening Day lineup, seeing as the Red Sox kept him off their 40-man roster. If he can’t secure the starting 3B job, he can still battle for the left-handed bat off the bench role. Jimenez has competition there though against veteran Mike Lamb, who has also shown signs of why his minor league deal should be purchased. Also, Hank Blalock decided to sign a deal with the Rays and made the choice a little easier by not coming to Marlins camp.

The pitching staff as a whole hasn’t done anything too drastic to cut themselves from the team, but I will tell you the highs and lows so far…
 
The lowest moment was the outing Seth McClung had on Monday against the Mets making me rethink his signing altogether. He pitched 2/3 of an inning and allowed 6 earned runs on 2 hits (one being a solo HR) and 3 walks. It’s early but in the bullpen you only get so many opportunities to impress with so many arms out there.

The highest moments were a tie between…
1) The pitching of Clay Hensley on Saturday against the Cardinals going 3 innings with 4Ks allowing 1 hit and no runs.
2) Rick VandenHurk coming into a 5-0 deficit against the Red Sox throwing 3 scoreless innings, 1 hit, 0 runs, 2Ks. Worthy noting VandenHurk is my dark horse pick, he looked better than Andrew Miller and Sean West influencing me to consider an all right-handed rotation.

The Marlins are going to start making cuts soon and should eliminate the youngsters and high scoring comebacks all around the league. I know no lead is safe but during Spring Training you see the 2nd and 3rd string players come out to blow the scoring wide open for better or worse. Starting the spring 3-0 was nice but ending the 1st week 5-3 wasn’t too good, so let’s hope this 2nd week they kick it up a notch.

UPDATE: Thursday morning the Marlins made some moves with a few pitchers, right-hander Ryan Tucker was optioned back to AAA-New Orleans, and lefty Jay Voss sent to minor league camp.
 

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Decisions, Decisions…

All those off-season questions should be answered within the next few weeks of Spring Training as roster spots, starting positions, and rotation vacancies are given to those who stand out. There are a significant amount of team members returning but nothing is set in stone, especially with the rotation and bullpen.

Besides the 1-2 punch at the top (J.J. & Nolasco) there are several talented pitchers vying for starter job. I think Anibal Sanchez is finally healthy and can put up a solid season like his stellar rookie campaign [10-3 with a no-hitter]. Chris Volstad has got to be over his sophomore slump by now because giving up as many home runs as games started [29] is unacceptable. If that leaves one more spot open it should go to a lefty, either Sean West or Andrew Miller. Both show sparks of being able to handle 7+ innings, but inconsistencies and inexperience need to be improved now that everyone knows their name and what they throw. The dark horse candidate would be The Incredible Hurk AKA Rick VandenHurk. He made big strides at the end of last season and you can’t go wrong with (future Hall Of Famer) Bert Blyleven as your personal pitching coach. That leaves Hayden Penn (who I don’t trust in the rotation) to become more of a middle relief like Burke Badenhop and Ryan Tucker, if not released altogether.

Another decision to make is who will fill that lefty off the bench roster spot. As early as it is in the spring the top 2 strongest candidates are Rule 5 draft pick Jorge Jimenez and veteran Mike Lamb. It seems manager Fredi Gonzalez has taken a likening to Jorge Jimenez and if so that could put the other Jorge (Cantu) back at 1B with his diminishing arm. On the other hand, in only 2 games Mike Lamb has 3 hits including a pinch-hit RBI single.

To throw another hat into the circle, Hank Blalock has still has yet to make a decision on which team he would rather play for this season. Blalock is choosing between the Rays and Marlins, so if he ends up signing with Florida he could very well snatch up that last roster spot over Lamb and Jimenez.

In a few days there will be a clearer view of things like Hank’s choice of whether to play in Tampa Bay or Miami, the “Race at First Base” between Logan Morrison and Gaby Sanchez, and the plethora of pitchers fighting for bullpen spots will dwindle because of injuries or lack of production. Check back after the weekend…

Get Frugal With MacDougal

The time is finally here for all baseball maniacs to get excited, as pitchers and catchers are reporting to Spring Training all this week. And for a team that hasn’t made many off-season acquisitions, it’s not surprising the Marlins picked up another piece for their bullpen before everyone starts working out. Of course the big money went to 9 arbitration eligible players (Cody Ross just won his case for $4.45 million), so the Marlins are still being thrifty about who they want to bring into camp.

Former All-Star Mike MacDougal has been given a minor league contract with a Spring Training invite by the Marlins. The deal is worth $700K if he makes the big league roster, including $75K in performance bonuses. Without any major league deals outside the organization, MacDougal was offered the 2nd highest amount of money this off-season on a minor league contract (Seth McClung gets $800K for making the team).

Pitching most of his career in the AL with the Royals and White Sox, MacDougal was very hit or miss. In 2003 he reached All-Star status grabbing 27 saves for Kansas City and 21 more in 2005, but was eventually traded to Chicago mid-2006. By 2009 he had a 12.46 ERA after 5 games and was released by the White Sox, eventually getting scooped up by the Nationals in mid June. The switch to the NL was just what the reliever needed, as most pitchers perform better within the land of no DH. MacDougal was thrown into the closer role in Washington after they ran out of options (trading Joel Hanrahan to Pittsburgh and Joe Beimel to Colorado). He then converted 20 of 21 save opportunities with a 3.60 ERA on a last place team.

Having already hired Randy St. Claire as the new pitching coach (Washington pitching coach ’03-’09), the decision to bring MacDougal aboard makes total sense. He has experience closing games if everything doesn’t work out with Leo Nunez in that role. Hopefully changes don’t need to be made and these newly acquired relievers like MacDougal, Derrick Turnbow, and Seth McClung will be signed and help bolster our bullpen.

Also, the Marlins are inviting some position players to camp hoping to fill that lefty off the bench role. It’s not anyone like my suggestion of Hank Blalock (although keep your eyes on him), but names you might not of heard from in a while.

Mike Lamb was invited to camp, who you might remember from his Houston Astros days when he averaged 12 HR/60 RBI from ’04-’07. He last played in the majors in 2008 splitting time between Minnesota and Milwaukee for their playoff push. Lamb signed with the Mets last season but never got the call back up to the big leagues. For all the injuries the Mets had through out the year they should’ve taken a chance on him since he plays 1B/3B/OF.

Jason Lane is another former Astros outfielder trying to re-emerge from the trenches. He last played in 2007 for Houston, then was given to San Diego as part of a conditional deal playing in only 3 games the rest of the year. Since then he signed with the Yankees and Boston in 2008, as well as Toronto in 2009 with no luck of a roster spot.

The Marlins aren’t just giving away bench positions though, so it should be a tight race between the veterans. If none of them work out, I can see a trade during Spring Training to bring in some talent. 
 

The Grab Bag Effect

Remember going to card shows and each person’s station had larger packs of cards wrapped in paper bags? They usually contained a bunch of cards with mediocre players or the vendor already had 4 copies of it. You would also get a chance for insert cards once in a while, but most likely got to pick out 5 more grab bags than receiving any card with significant value. The Marlins are selecting those grab bag-esque players, hoping for a raise in value over the next year. Most of the players aren’t the most recognizable names, yet some carry a reputation that needs rebuilding or even a foundation.

The Marlins lineup is only looking for a few pieces to fill up their returning cast. These low-risk/high reward players are a perfect fit to sprinkle in some bullpen help as well as bats off the bench. Players like Derrick Turnbow, Seth McClung, Jose Veras already have big league experience with speculation of improving the team along with themselves in a new environment. Kiko Calero was last year’s example of bullpen help resurrecting a career and adding value with his 1.95 ERA in 67 games (1 HR allowed). As expected, he jumped back onto the market for more dollars and had to be replaced.

Another puzzle piece that needs to be added before Opening Day will be a left-handed pinch hitter that can take over in the late innings. Wes Helms secures the right-handed bench role and still works 3B/1B very well. Ross Gload was last year’s lefty who could play 1B/OF and led the league in pinch hits with 36, although he signed with Philly this off-season after the Marlins declined his $2.6 million offer. Russell Branyan was a name popping up recently that sounded intriguing with his 31 HR in 2009, but ultimately was diminished without an offer being made.

So who would be a good option for a veteran lefty off the bench? A lot of names are disappearing by the day as were days away from pitchers and catchers reporting. Names like Adam Kennedy, Chad Tracy, Frank Catalanotto are gone; Jim Edmonds came back after a year so how about Geoff Jenkins or Cliff Floyd? The list is small on players who won’t cost much, but as it gets closer to Spring Training the prices will come down if they are desperate for a job somewhere.

Try this name on for size, Hank Blalock. He’s a 2 time All-Star that has yet to find a team willing to take a chance on a 1B/3B/DH averaging 27 HR/95 RBI a season and is only 28 years old. His batting avg dropped in 2009 to .234 but raised all other stats after 2 down years in Texas. The National League may be a good move for him, as he’s already used to the heat and needs to find a job. Who else could the Marlins pull out of the grab bag to fill this bench role?