Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Know the Giants' Non-Roster Invitees: The "Veterans"

In lieu of Byun-Hyun Kim and Horacio Ramirez being signed by the Giants to Minor League contracts yesterday, I figured it would be interesting to analyze the Giants' players who are coming to Spring Training, but aren't "currently" on the active 40-man roster. First, I will look at "veterans" (e.g. guys looking for second and third chances) and then "prospects" (e.g. players who will be playing Spring Training games, but may be a year away from playing in a Giants uniform).

In terms of non-roster "veterans", in the past couple of years, Sabean has made a few of these signings pay off. Two years ago, they got surprise contribution from Jose Castillo and Keiichi Yabu, who reported to Arizona as non-roster invitees. Last year, they got GREAT production from Juan Uribe and Justin Miller, who both were signed to Minor League deals before Spring Training after no team deemed them worthy of a Major League contract the whole off-season.

So, who could be this year's Miller Or Uribe? Here are some candidates:

Byung-Hyun Kim:
Kim has been out of Major League Baseball since 2007, and has been in Korea trying to regroup for a comeback. Kim burst onto the scene with Diamondbacks in 2001, where he saved 19 games for the World Series-champion Arizona Diamondbacks. However, during the 2001 World Series, Kim struggled immensely, as he blew two saves to the Yankees and sported a 13.50 ERA and 2.10 WHIP during the Fall Classic.

Kim had a bit of a comeback in 2002, where he saved 36 games. But like Shannen Doherty coming back to an Aaron Spelling show like she did in "Charmed", Kim fell off the wagon again in the playoffs for a second-straight series. Against the Cardinals in Game 3 of the NLDS, Kim allowed two runs on two hits and three walks in his only appearance of the 2002 playoffs.

After that postseason flameout, Kim has bounced around between Boston (no success), Colorado (some success), Arizona again (if you consider a 23.62 ERA and a 4.875 WHIP success) and Florida (not terrible, but not great) trying to be a Major League starting pitcher instead of a reliever. Kim never really found a niche as a starter, and it's assumed that if he makes the Giants roster, it will be as a reliever.

Kim isn't exactly young (he's 31), and his layoff from Major League Baseball for two years makes one wonder if he really has what it takes to make a comeback. While Kim does have a deceptive delivery, his lack of firepower behind his fastball (he averaged 88.3 MPH on his fastball in 2007) and his lackluster K/BB ratios during the last couple of years of his career (he had a 1.57 ratio in 2007) certainly doesn't bode well for Giants fans who think that they will be the Kim who was retiring Giants hitters in 2001 and 2002.

At least though his prospects may be better than Chien Ming Wang's (but he doesn't have as great a commercial though as Wang).

Horacio Ramirez:
Ramirez has never really been a great Major League pitcher. In fact, I wonder if he ever really was a good one to be honest. He had a decent season in 2002, his rookie year, where he won 12 games and sported a 4.00 ERA and 1.29 WHIP. His season in 2004 was passable as well, for he won 11 games and had a 1.39 WHIP again.

However, Ramirez just fits the prototype of the pitcher who doesn't have great stuff, but has had a long career in the Major Leagues because he got lucky for a couple of years. In his "career" seasons in 2003 and 2005, Ramirez had K/BB ratios of 1.39 and 1.19 respectively. Furthermore, his FIP numbers were also high at 4.72 and 5.24, in 2003 and 2005, respectively.

The bottom line? Ramirez got awfully lucky a couple of years as a pitcher, and hitters (as well as general managers and managers) have seen through his okay Win-Loss numbers. Ramirez most likely will find a role like Ramon Ortiz had last year: he'll be in Triple-A, and may post good numbers with the Grizzlies, but won't see the MLB level in 2010.

Santiago Casilla:
Casilla in 2007 was a very good relief pitcher for the Oakland A's. He posted good strikeout numbers (9.24 K/9 rate) and a solid WHIP (1.30). Many thought that Casilla was the kind of guy who could have been a major cog in the A's bullpen for years to come.

However, after lackluster 2008 and 2009 season, Casilla finds himself across the Bay in San Francisco, just trying to make a MLB team.

As I mentioned in a Fall/Winter League Winners post, Casilla made some progress by having a solid season in the Domincan Winter League. However, in order to make the Giants roster by Opening Day, Casilla needs to continue to progress and have a strong showing in Spring Training. With a bullpen chock full of arms as it is, he won't be given much slack in Cactus League play.

Tony Pena, Jr.:
Pena is an interesting case mainly because he broke into the league as a shortstop, failed miserably, and now is trying to revive his career as a pitcher. Pena has only pitched in 10 games in his career (only one of them was at the Major League level), so he is indeed a MAJOR work-in-progress. To think that he will be a contributor to the bullpen in 2010 might be a stretch.

However, Pena does offer some upside: he has put up decent strikeout numbers over his 10 games as a pitcher. Last season, in 14.1 IP with the Royals' Single-A organization, Pena had an 8.79 K/9 ratio and a 0.91 WHIP. Granted, he stills struggles with control (he had a 3.14 BB/9 rate last year) and he has benefited from good defense and luck so far in his pitching career (his FIP in Single-A was 3.41 and he had a BABIP of .209). That being said, Pena is a very interesting player to watch for the Giants come Spring Training. If he shows some improvement, and builds on his solid (though not great) Winter League season in the DWL, Pena could be a guy pitching for the Giants in the future.

(Though that future will most likely be 2011 at the earliest.)

Denny Bautista:

Bautista is an interesting case, plain and simple. He has good velocity on his fastball (he averaged 94.1 MPH on his fastball last year with the Pirates), but he doesn't, historically, have good strikeout numbers. He only averaged a K/9 rate over six twice in his six seasons at the Major League level: in 2007 (where he had a 8.31 strikeout rate with the Rockies) and last year with the Pirates (where he had a career-high 9.88 strikeout rate).

That being said, despite his recent strikeout success, Bautista suffers from the same problem almost all hard-throwing relievers suffer from: control. Bautista had a 4.61 BB/9 rate and a 2.14 K/BB ratio in 2009, and those numbers for him were his best outputs in those categories at the Major League level.

There may be a lot to like about Bautista, and he may be on the upswing of his career in terms of finally getting it together as a pitcher. However, Bautista seems to be a Merkin Valdez 2.0, only older and without the funny first name. (Hint: Google Merkin.)

Eric Hacker:
Not much has been expected out of Hacker over his baseball-playing career. He was a 23rd round pick in 2002, and was drafted by the New York Yankees, which is the equivalent of Baseball Purgatory for any prospect because of how active the Yankees are in terms of singing free agents every year.

That being said, despite not having great stuff (his fastball averages 90.1 MPH), Hacker did show some promise after being traded to Pittsburgh last year. Hacker was named the International League Player of the Week (of the week ending August 9) and pitched a few games for the Pirates, (even though his stats during those three games were atrocious; he had a 6.00 ERA and a 2.00 WHIP).

Is Hacker a longshot to make the Giants active roster? Yeah, (Jennifer Love Hewitt has a better chance of winning an Academy Award in the next two years in my opinion). However, Hacker, who seems to be a career Quad-A player (Triple-A guy who can't make it to the next level, ala Todd Linden), is an interesting player to watch mainly because he has drudged in a lousy farm system (the Yankees) for so long. So, perhaps a change of scenery could turn it around for him in 2010 (though he's going to need a lot of "turning around" to be an MLB pitcher).

Steve Holm/Osiris Matos:
What? Steve Holm's not on the active roster? You're continuing to harp on Matos? What gives? They were on that roster last year! Of course they got a shot! (This is other fans saying this and not me by the way.)

Well, Matos and Holm fell so out of favor with the Giants' organization last year that they were cut loose by the Giants at some point last season. And, to make matters worse, they were so unwanted by other teams around the league that they are back with the Giants, only this time fighting to make a roster spot.

What can I say about the two? Holm's a decent defensive catcher and had an okay year at the plate in 29 games 2008. That being said, with Buster Posey on the way, Bengie Molina keeping the seat warm for Posey (supposedly) and Eli Whiteside providing "intangibles" to the pitching staff (though I don't really know what they are...I guess he has a better "catching no-hitters" ratio than Molina or Posey), Holm just seems like the odd man out and most likely will be in a different organization by the end of Spring Training.

A .242 average, .297 OBP and a .691 OPS 2009 in FRESNO will do that to you I guess.

As for Matos, well, I think he looks good when he warms up. Other than that, I just can't support him. He had decent numbers in 2009 in Fresno (1.27 WHIP, 7.95 K/9 rate) and on paper, his ERA makes him look a lot worse in 2009 than he probably was (he had a decent K/9 rate at 7.50, and he had a K/BB ratio of 5.00). However Matos just seems to give up too many runs (career 5.74 ERA at the MLB level) every game he pitches in.

I think Matos has a better chance than Holm in terms of making the team at this point, but with a lot of strong young arms like Henry Sosa, Waldis Joaquin and Dan Runzler most likely going to be in the bullpen in 2010, Matos just seems expendable at this point.

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