Friday, January 29, 2010

The Paul Janish Conundrum

I've always liked Janish and what he brings to the table, but if he's going to be the every day starter, then he has to bring just a bit more on the offensive side. Not a ton more, but a bit.

When you play elite defense at a premier defensive position, then you can get away with minimal offensive production, especially in the first three years of your MLB career. The efficiency of production in a young player is difficult to match.

So, what about Janish's offensive game? Is there hope?

Some additional thoughts on Janish.

Obviously, there is a lot to like about his glove work, but there are a few things to like about his offensive game.

First, I'll say I like his approach at the plate. He uses a calm approach and a compact swing that gives him a short path to the ball and allows him to stay balanced throughout his swing. And, his swing generates a lot of line drives. It's not award winning, but it should/could be serviceable.

Hitting is about walks, contact rate, and the type of contact.

1. Janish has good plate discipline. In the minors, his career OBP was 0.90 points higher than his batting average, which is impressive, especially so for a middle infielder.

So, he knows how to control the zone and draw a walk.

2. For his MLB career, Janish is making contact when he swings 83.9% of the time. Not great, but certainly not bad. In addition, his K/AB percentage at the MLB level is 17.3%, so he strikes out less than 1 out of every 5 at bats. Again, very respectable.

3. As for type of contact, Janish again is surprisingly strong, as evidenced by his MLB career line drive rate of 19.8%. When he makes contact, he hits a lot of line drives.

When you add those factors together, you have the makings of a productive hitter. He draws his fair share of walks, makes contact at a good clip, and when he makes contact he hits a high percentage of line drives.

So, why is hitting a paltry .211 when he doesn't strike out an exorbitant amount and hits line drives at a good clip? Given his components, one would think that he would be a bit more productive. His BABIP was .230 in 2008 and .247 in 2009, but I'm not sure we can chalk it up to luck.

Here, in a nutshell, is the real problem with Paul Janish: infield fly balls.

In each of his 2008 and 2009 seasons, his infield fly ball rate was 16%, which is very high. So, when he hits the ball in the air, 16% of the time it stays on the infield. And, unfortunately, infield flyballs are the absolute worst type of ball in play you can have, as they result in an out 95%+ of the time. In essence, it's an automatic out.

The question is why does he hit so many infield flyballs and is it going to be a consistent problem?

Obviously, a lack of power has something to do with it. He simply doesn't drive the ball with much authority, so it doesn't leave the infield. Still, that's not entirely it, as Rocco Baldelli is another hitter who consistently posts high infield fly rates (15% for his career), but one who has no shortage of power. So, it's not just a lack of power and it's not likely a problem that is going to go vanish on its own.

I don't have any evidence to support it, but I suspect that he simply chases too many high fastballs. He doesn't have the bat speed or power to effectively handle and hit the higher fastballs. Whatever the reason, if he can chop that rate down by a handful of percentage points, then all of a sudden his walk rate, contact rate, and line drive tendencies will work more effectively to raise his level of production. It sounds simple, but I suspect cutting down on the infield flies would be enough of a difference maker to make him a viable starting shortstop at the MLB level. It could raise his batting average and OPS just enough to exceed the threshold level to be a viable every day player.

As it stands now, Paul Janish might be the least effective hitter in all of baseball when he hits the ball in the air. His 16% infield flyball percentage and his dreadfully low 1.7% HR/FB mark indicate that he should hit the ball in the air as infrequently as possible. He rarely hits homeruns and frequently doesn't get the ball past the infield. Unfortunately, it's not just the percentage of flyballs that don't leave the infield that give him problems, but also the overall percentage of balls that he hits in the air.

To compare Janish to a couple of players, David Eckstein and Adam Everett, who boast similarly atrocious power, it's clear that Janish just hits the ball in the air all too often.

Player: LD%, GB%, FB%, IFFB%
Janish: 19.8%, 36.6%, 43.6%, 16.0%,
Eckstein: 21.3%, 46.8%, 31.9%, 12.6%
Everett: 18.8%, 39.5%, 41.7%, 16.7%

The obvious problem is that Janish isn't hitting enough balls on the ground. David Eckstein also lacks any semblance of power, but he's smart enough to recognize this and respond accordingly by hitting the ball on the ground at very high rate. And, ultimately, there really isn't all that much difference between Janish and Adam Everett.

Of course, that only deals with the type of contact and omits the rate of contact (Eckstein: 92.2%, Everett: 82.4%, and Janish: 83.9%). Obviously, Eckstein is a more effective hitter because of both the contact rate and the type of contact he generates. On the other hand, there isn't much difference between Paul Janish and Adam Everett. Janish has a better contact rate and higher line drive percentage, but Everett has a bit more power and hits the ball on the ground a bit more.

Ultimately, it would seem to me that Janish, with a tweak or two in his approach, could improve his production to get to an acceptable level. It seems like hitting more balls on the ground is the type of change that could actually be made with the help of some good coaching. Now, even the end result wouldn't be a Barry Larkin type level, but rather an absolute bare minimum level of competence with the lumber. Everett and Jack Wilson are similar glove-first type players and they have gotten away with career OPS marks of .648 and .684 respectively. Not much higher than where Janish is now and just a bit of improvement would get Janish to that level.

Obviously, there is a risk that Janish doesn't take a step forward on offense, but by that time Zack Cozart, Chris Valaika, or another option will likely present itself.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Paul Janish v. Orlando Cabrera

The latest news radiating off the hot stove:

Tim Brown of Yahoo! Sports reports that free agent infielder Orlando Cabrera is "choosing between offers" from the Rockies and Reds.
The Reds can offer much more playing time, but the 35-year-old Cabrera may prefer to play for a potential contender like the Rockies. He batted .284/.316/.705 last season with nine home runs and 77 RBI in 708 plate appearances between the Athletics and Twins and earned $4 million. Jan. 28 - 8:13 pm et

For the Reds sake, let's hope that he chooses the Rockies and the Reds are "forced" to use Paul Janish. Cabrera is on the wrong side of 30 and is coming off a poor 2009 season. Here is how he performed last year:

2009 Orlando Cabrera (Age 34 Season)

BA/OBP/SLG/OPS: .284/.316/.389/.705

Defensive Metrics
UZR/150: -13.7
+/- Runs Saved: -29 which ranks him 35th among qualifying shortstops.

To break it down even further, here is how he handled plays in different situations:
To his right: -26
Straight on: -4
To his left: -11

Groundballs: -41
Flyballs: +2
Total: -39

2009 Salary: $4M

Here is another nugget to be considered, Total Runs.

"Originally published in The Fielding Bible Volume II, Total Runs calculates a total value for each player based on his contributions on offense and on defense. There are four elements to Total Runs: runs created, runs saved, baserunning runs, and a positional adjustment that enables a comparison of players across positions."

Paul Janish Total Runs (2009)

Runs Created: 22
Runs Saved: 11
Baserunning Runs: -1
Positional Average: 15
Total Runs: 47

Orlando Cabrera Total Runs (2009)
Runs Created: 76
Runs Saved: -32
Baserunning Runs: 1
Positional Average: 35
Total Runs: 80

So, in 2009, Orlando Cabrera had a total value of 80 runs to his teams, while Paul Janish had a total value of only 47 to the Reds. So, O-Cab was roughly 41.3% more valuable to his team than Janish. Impressive, no? Well, given that O-Cab had a significant playing time advantage over Janish, I'd say that no, it isn't impressive at all. Total Runs is not a rate stat, so it is dependent on playing time. The more you play, the more opportunities you have to be of value to your team. So, you have to take into account the amount of time a player is on the field.

In 2009, O-Cab got 708 total plate appearances and 1388.2 defensive innings at shortstop, while Janish received 292 plate appearances and 592.1 defensive innings at shortstop.

So, O-Cab got 58.8% more plate appearances and 57.3% more defensive innings than Janish.

So, in sum, in order for O-Cab to be 41% more valuable to his team than Janish, he had to receive 59% more plate appearances and 57% more defensive innings. VERY IMPRESSIVE!!!

That's not even taking into account their respective salaries in 2009 and their likely salaries in 2010. Or, the fact that Janish was a rookie who hasn't reached his "peak" seasons yet and O-Cab is going to be 35-years old in 2010 and is clearly on a steep down slope.

Or, to put it more simply, O-Cab's Wins Above Replacement (WAR) in 2009 was a paltry 0.6, while Janish posted a 1.1.

By just about any measure, Paul Janish was BETTER than Orlando Cabrera in 2009 and given that Janish should be trending up and O-Cab should be winding down, I fail to see how that's going to change in 2010. The only way O-Cab would be an improvement for us is if he wasn't as bad defensively as he showed in 2009 and Janish wasn't as good. Anyone want to bet on the 35 year old over the rookie in a "regression to the mean" wager????

Obviously, there is still a bit of fog in defensive metrics, but I think they are at least in the right ballpark. This is the type of analysis that the Reds should be using. Taking into consideration the entire player to properly value what they bring to the table.

In summary, it's difficult to "improve" by adding more expensive, less productive players. Why pay more for name recognition when Paul Janish would bring at least as much production at a lower cost? Fact remains, Aroldis Chapman is the way we should be spending our money. Ramon Hernandez, Willy Taveras, and Orlando Cabrera are a complete waste of resources. Put the resources into players who *could* be significantly above league average, not into guys who are, at best, only marginally better than league average or even replacement level.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

2010 Top Prospect List: #17 Danny Dorn, 1b/of

Danny Dorn
Height 6-2, Weight 190, B/T: L/L, DOB: 7/20/1984
2009 Redlegs Baseball Prospect Ranking: #8

Danny Dorn has two things working against him in professional baseball: timing and inertia.

Timing. It's an under-appreciated component of success in life and baseball. I sometimes wonder how many potentially quality Major League careers have been wasted for want of an opportunity. It's better now because of the Rule V draft, free agency, and the greater number of teams, but in the old "reserve clause" days prospects were stacked up 3 deep at each position in the minors. Even so, good timing is undoubtedly a determining factor in a successful career.

Maybe Al Pacino's character in Any Given Sunday said it best:

"Because in either game - life or football - the margin for error is so small. I mean, one half a step too late or too early and you don't quite make it. One half second too slow, too fast and you don't quite catch it. The inches we need are everywhere around us. They're in every break of the game, every minute, every second."

Timing looms large, especially for fringe prospects. Players who could prove valuable if given the right opportunity and right role. Star players will force an organization to alter their plans, while fringe players have to find a way to fit into the existing plans of the organization. Non-elite prospects are always in need of a window of opportunity.

As for inertia, that, too, plays a significant part in organizational decision making. Picking up on the Kris Benson discussion from the Devin Mesoraco write-up, the initial opinion formed by the baseball establishment about a player and his future is difficult to shake. That works to the advantage of highly drafted players like Kris Benson and to the disadvantage of 32nd round draftees like Danny Dorn. In short, Benson will always get the benefit of the doubt when his performance differs from his draft position, while Dorn will just get the doubt.

If Dorn had been able to build off his stellar 2008 season, then he may have been able to overcome the inertia working against him to take advantage of the opportunity that timing may have afforded him. In 2009, events were unfolding that may have given Dorn a shot, as the Reds suffered through injury and inconsistent performance in the outfield. They were looking for a better outfield option than Darnell McDonald and company. Unfortunately, Dorn started out the season slowly and never performed well enough to be considered.

At this point, it's not difficult to conclude that Dorn's window of opportunity slammed completely shut during the 2009 season. Unfortunately, it can happen just that fast.


Dorn entered the 2009 season coming off the best season of his professional career. In 2008, he was producing at the kind of level of which I always suspected he was capable, lighting up double-A pitching to the tune of .277/.367/.539/.906 with 21 doubles, 21 homers, and a 84/42 K/BB ratio. His overall numbers were better in his first season with the rookie league Billings Mustangs, but given the level of competition it's hard to top his 2008 season.

Unfortunately, he simply couldn't carry that level of performance into the 2009 season. It's not at all surprising, as Dorn has proven to be something of an atrocious early season hitter over the past few seasons. In 2009, he posted a slash line of .207/.250/.293 in April and wasn't much better in May with a .213/.288/.394. Of course, June was a different story as he got white-hot to the tune of .338/.370/.649. Of course, at that point, the damage had been done. He finished up strong with a July line of .291/.381/.418 and an August line of .362/.422/.517. When it was over, his 2009 season tallied up as follows: .275/.337/.457/.793 in 357 ABs with 21 doubles, 14 homeruns, and a 78/30 K/BB ratio.

While the jump from A-ball to double-A is widely considered the most difficult, Dorn struggled much more with the jump to triple-A. His walk rate dropped from 10.9% at double-A to 7.6% at triple-A and his homerun total dropped from 21 to 14 despite receiving 10 more plate appearances at triple-A. In 2008, he posted his lowest percentage of groundballs at 30%, which helps explain his increased homerun rate, as he was getting a bit more loft on the ball.

Dorn's defense is usually discounted, but he does a solid job out in leftfield. In both 2008 and 2009, Dorn grades out as a being a tick above average by the total zone metric. As rated by the Runs/150 stat, he was a +12 in 2008 and a +5 in 2009. So, he's not without skill out there and certainly wouldn't be a liability.


Dorn starts out with a wider than shoulder width stance, which gives him a very stable foundation. He has a quiet and calm pre-pitch approach. When the pitcher is ready to deliver the ball, Dorn takes a small stride, but one that effectively cocks his hips to create potential energy. His front hip rotates inward to allow him to load up during the swing.

His swing is compact and efficient, which allows him to be quick to the ball and handle even the best of fastballs. The shorter swing path to the ball allows him to wait a split second longer and let the ball travel a bit deeper, which enhances his ability to control the strike zone. The longer you can wait on a pitch and the deeper you can let it travel, the more time you have to identify the pitch and decide whether to swing. Ultimately, the most important part of hitting is getting a good pitch to hit.

What makes Dorn a good hitter is that his upper and lower body consistently work in perfect unison, which makes him highly efficient in imparting energy to the baseball. His good body control and the strong tempo to his swing create a strong hitting foundation and prevents him from getting out of balance.

When Dorn does fire his swing, his lower and upper body work well together and remain in sync. He keeps his head down and on the ball as he brings the bat through the hitting zone, getting good extension. On his follow through, he remains in balance and typically keeps both hands on the bat to ensure stability and bat control.

Overall, his tempo, balance, and body control give him an efficient and effective swing, which gives him a good chance to consistently drive the ball with authority. Being able to generate good power without sacrificing control is less common than one might expect, but Dorn is a player who can do just that. Ultimately, there is a great deal lot to like about both the approach at the plate and the mechanics of the swing.

You can find his MLB draft video here.


As much as I like Dorn at the plate, there are some issues that work to drag down his overall value.

1. Lack of Athleticism

First, Dorn lacks athleticism. Baseball requires a highly specific skillset, which is why some tremendous athletes struggle to play the game of baseball. It's not just about great tools, but rather translating those tools into baseball specific skills. However, if you lack good tools, then you are still at a disadvantage, even if you are highly skilled at translating those tools into skills.

Dorn has a nice approach at the plate and a very fundamentally sound swing, but he is not a great athlete. His arm strength, footspeed, and power will never open any eyes. Over the years, Dorn has effectively refined his baseball skills, but he is limited by a lack of underlying tools and athleticism.

2. Lack of Positional Value

Second, Dorn's lack of athleticism limits him to the traditionally offense-first positions of leftfield and firstbase. His bat would play much better at a premier defensive position and is a bit fringy at left and first. The lack of defensive flexibility will be a big obstacle going forward, as prospects like Juan Francisco, Chris Heisey, and others will be ahead of him on the depth chart.

3. Platoon Split

Dorn, like many lefties, struggles against southpaws at the professional level. It's not unusual for a left-handed hitter to perform poorly against lefties, as they simply don't see many quality southpaws in the amateur ranks. Given time and experience, many lefties can improve their level of performance. Thus far, Dorn hasn't taken a step forward against lefties, but it's still possible that one is on the horizon. However, until it happens, it's another limiting factor to his game.


At this point, Dorn likely needs a change of scenery to have any real chance at reaching the majors. It's unclear whether the Reds ever really viewed him as a serious prospect, but, at this point, it is safe to say that they do not. He was left unprotected and went undrafted in the Rule 5 draft and recently was not given an invitation to spring training for 2010.

Dorn may ultimately be a casualty of timing, but he strikes me as a player whose bat could be an asset to a team if given a chance. As of now, his best hope may be for a change of scenery, but I'm pleased that he's still in the organization. Now all he needs is an opportunity to show what he can do. A better start to, and more consistency throughout, the 2010 season would go a long ways towards reestablishing his standing in the Reds organization.

For now, he checks in at #17 on the list.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

2010 Top Prospect List: #16 Devin Mesoraco, c

Devin Mesoraco
Height 6-1, Weight 220, B/T: R/R, DOB: 6/19/1988
2009 Redlegs Baseball Prospect Ranking: #7

Rob Neyer once wondered whether there was a "statute of limitations on an opinion." Neyer was asking the question in regards to Kris Benson, who continually earned big MLB money despite poor production by living off his status as the #1 overall pick in the draft. In the near future, we may be asking a similar question about Devin Mesoraco. But...not just yet.

Mesoraco, who has really struggled in adapting to the professional game, is still worthy of mention because of his tools. His reputation heading into the draft was as a fast rising prospect due in part to five solid tools and good makeup. At this point, he hasn't lived up to his draft position and he no longer looks like a solid five-tool guy, but there's still reason for hope.


The Reds selected Mesoraco with the 15th overall pick in the 2007 draft. He hasn't panned out yet, but it's difficult to fault the selection too much. Despite some quality talent in the top 10 or so picks, not many players after the 14th pick have developed. Unfortunately, potentially the best player in that draft was selected right before the Reds picked, as the Braves snapped up hometown prospect Jason Heyward, leaving Devin Mesoraco for the Reds.

Despite the slow start to Mesoraco's professional career, his circumstances have always necessitated patience. Mesoraco was drafted out of Punxsotawney High School in Pennsylvania, which quite obviously is a cold weather state. Prospects are much more frequently and easily found in warm weather states, where the weather simply allows for longer baseball seasons and greater opportunities to hone baseball specific skills. In addition, Mesoraco injured his elbow and required Tommy John surgery, which cost him a year of development in high school. Finally, as a catcher, his development curve was already going to be longer than that of other position prospects, so the Reds will continue to need patience with Mesoraco's development.

Mesoraco stands 6-1, but has added bad weight to his lower body (compare the high school photo with the Sarasota Reds photo). It happens with young catchers, due in large part to the physical demands of the position. Lower body strength can help reduce the stress on the knees, but also adds bulk to the lower half. Additional weight in the legs can rob a prospect of a bit of lateral quickness and agility, as the legs get thicker and slower. It's also something that can show up at the plate, as the changing body type can lead to changes in the swing. Ranger catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia seems to be an example of this, as he has added weight to his legs and his swing no longer looks as fluid as it did with the Braves. Maybe it has more to do with Salty's shoulder injury, but even before that injury came to light his swing simply wasn't the same. Fortunately, Mesoraco has maintained a pretty solid swing.


Mesoraco spent the entire 2009 season at high-A Sarasota, which continued the Reds deliberate development pace for him. After he was drafted, Mesoraco spent the 2007 season in the Gulf Coast League. In 2008, he spent the entire 2008 season at low-A Dayton. He has made a one level jump in each professional season.

In 2009, Devin was assigned to high-A Sarasota. In 312 ABs, he hit .228/.311/.381/.692 with a 76/35 K/BB ratio and 8 homers. On the plus side, he was in a tough environment for hitters, collected 22 doubles, and got stronger later in the year. Before the All Star break, he hit .200/.307/.343/.650, but after the break he hit a more respectable .263/.315/.431/.746. His best month was July, when he posted a borderline impressive slash line of .271/.330/.458/.789. In addition, he hit line drives at an impressive 20% clip, which should have resulted in a higher BABIP than .276.

Behind the plate, he continues to show a strong arm and signs of being a good defensive catcher, which will only help his cause as he climbs the ladder. In addition, he continues to show a strong work ethic and good character, which could help emerge as a leader in the clubhouse.

Obviously, his overall level of production wasn't inspiring, but his peripherals do give some reason for optimism. His walk rate was solid, he consistently hit line drives, and also flashed a bit of extra base power. Add in the fact that he finished up strong and will be in a home park that is more friendly for hitters in 2010 and the potential is there for a long awaited step forward.


As an amateur player, Mesoraco utilized very little stride in his swing, instead he used a rocking motion in his pre-pitch setup to load up for the swing. As the pitcher delivers the ball, he transferred his weight from back to front to meet the pitch. In utilizing this approach, he occasionally got out on the front foot to early, leaving him susceptible to good offspeed pitches.

In the professional ranks, Mesoraco made changes to the lower body action in his swing. Instead of the rocking motion to trigger his weight transfer, Mesoraco switched to a more traditional stride. The stride he uses is short and towards the plate, which closes up his stance a bit as the ball is delivered. His stance starts off square to the plate, but his stride closes him off a bit. Despite the change, he still doesn't incorporate the lower body into the swing all that effectively, relying more on his upper body and arms. His limited lower body action reduces his load and the torque generated by the rotation of the hips, which makes it difficult to envision him ever hitting for significant power.

Mesoraco utilizes a fairly upright and slightly wider than shoulder width stance. He uses a high pre-pitch hand position, as he holds his hands up at or even above ear level. In addition, he also uses a very high back elbow, which is at or above the level of his shoulders. At times, a high back elbow can make it more difficult to be quick to the ball, as the back elbow must drop before the swing can fire. Once the swing gets underway, he gets good extension out to and through the ball and finishes with one hand on the bat. His swing can get a bit long at times, which when coupled with a slightly closed off hitting position could leave him susceptible to good fastballs in on the hands, but generally speaking he does a nice job of centering the ball on the bat.


As each year passes, it's gets more difficult to be optimistic regarding Mesoraco. Even so, the circumstances surrounding his development warrant an additional year of patience. He was always the type of prospect that would have to travel a longer development curve, because of the additional layer of unpredictability inherent in catcher development. And, he did show signs of improvement in 2009, so he may be starting to figure it out. Fortunately, as a catcher, his bat doesn't need to improve too much for him to carve out an MLB career, but he does need to show something more in 2010. If he doesn't take a step forward next year, then he'll slide off this list completely.

Patience has been warranted, but now is the time for Mesoraco to make good on his ability. If not now, then it becomes increasingly unlikely that he'll ever take the necessary steps forward. For me, the statute of limitations on this particular opinion is one more year, but for now Mesoraco checks in at #16 on the list.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

2010 Top Prospect List: #13 Brad Boxberger, rhp

Brad Boxberger
Height 6-2, Weight 200, B/T: R/R, DOB: 5/27/1988
2009 Redlegs Baseball Prospect Ranking: Not Ranked

In the early rounds of the 2009 draft, the Reds focused on rebuilding the pitching depth in the system. They selected Mike Leake and Brad Boxberger, both of whom were polished college pitchers and came with a lower degree of risk. Given the lack of pitching depth in the system, the philosophy of acquiring lower risk pitching prospects made sense.

Boxberger made his professional debut in the Arizona Fall League after a successful collegiate career for the USC Trojans.


With the 43rd overall pick in the 2009 draft, the Cincinnati Reds selected University of Southern California pitcher Brad Boxberger.

Boxberger was a draft eligible junior who is listed at 6-2 and 200 lbs and both bats right and throws right. He joined Mike Leake to give the Reds a one-two punch of polished college pitching prospects in the first two rounds.

Boxberger certainly has the bloodlines for success, as his father Rod went 12-1 with a 2.00 ERA and earned College World Series MVP award for the 1978 national championship USC team. Brad was drafted out of high school by the Royals in the 20th round of the 2006 draft, but he decided to follow in his father's footsteps by attending USC.


Boxberger jumped right into the starting rotation as a freshman and quickly proved that he belonged. He started 14 games and worked in 90.0 innings posting a 3.20 ERA with a 72/34 K/BB ratio in a tough Pac-10 conference. His performance was so strong that he took over the Friday night starter duties for the Trojans.

His sophomore season didn't go quite as well, as he split time between the rotation and the bullpen. Over 18 total games and 9 starts, Boxberger posted a 6.12 ERA in 50.0 innings with a 52/26 K/BB ratio. He missed roughly 3 weeks due to elbow soreness and ultimately ended the season as the team's closer.

During his junior season, Boxberger showed no lingering effects of his elbow injury. He went back to starting fulltime, making 14 starts and tossing 94.0 innings. He posted a 3.16 ERA with a 99/50 K/BB ratio. His performance was strong enough to earn him All-Pac-10 honors and reestablish his MLB prospect status.


Boxberger made his professional debut in the Arizona Fall League for the Peoria Saguaros. It was far from smooth sailing, as he worked in 12.2 innings and posted a 11.37 ERA. On the less disturbing side, he posted a 13/7 K/BB ratio and a 1.18 GB/FB ratio. His longest outing of the AFL season was 3.0 innings, so he was limited to short outings.

Of course, it's not as bad as it might seem, as the sample size is very small, the pitchers are typically fatigued after a long season of throwing, and the AFL is a notorious hitter's league. So, his performance should be taken with a grain of salt. At the very least, he got his feet wet and has a better understanding of what it takes to succeed at the professional level. Hopefully, he'll be better prepared when the 2010 season gets underway.


Boxberger works with three solid pitches that have plus potential. He throws a 91-93 mph four seam fastball with good movement that touches 94 on occasion, a 78-80 mph curveball, an 82-84 mph slider, and a circle changeup that has good late sink to it. He needs to demonstrate more consistency with his pitches, especially his offspeed offerings. His overall command also needs improvement, as it tends to come and go. But, he has a good feel for pitching, which should help his development. Even so, his stuff may play better in the bullpen where he doesn't have to hold anything back, which could improve his velocity a tick or two. In his short stints in the AFL, his fastball velocity has topped 95+, even reaching up to 97 mph.

On the mound, Boxberger uses fairly conventional mechanics. To start his delivery, he moves his left foot forward and rotates his right foot on the rubber. He then brings his left leg up into his leg kick, which includes significant hip rotation. In fact, his leg kick includes so much hip rotation that he almost points his knee at the second base and shows his back to the hitters. It's not quite that extreme, but it's certainly heading in that direction.

Here's a look at him in action:

He keeps his hands up near his chin until after his leg kick and he breaks his hands. He has a good arm swing and keeps his elbow in good relation to his shoulder. Despite his significant hip rotation, his lower body drive off the mound isn't strong and his stride is rather short, both of which result in him bleeding potential energy from his delivery. In addition, his shorter stride leaves him with a very upright delivery and follow through. Ultimately, his lack of a strong push off the mound prevents him from utilizing his body as effectively as he could in his delivery, which is somewhat surprising because of the significant hip rotation that he uses.

Boxberger isn't very tall, so he doesn't have the advantage of pitching on a downward plane. In addition, he doesn't come completely over the top, but rather utilizes a high three-quarter arm slot with a free-and-easy arm action. In fact, his arm action is so loose that at times it looks like he slings the ball to the plate, which could help explain his inconsistency.

Here is another great look at Boxberger in action during the AFL courtesy of David Pratt on Vimeo:

Bradley Boxberger - Arizona Fall League - 2009 from David Pratt on Vimeo.

Overall, his pitching mechanics are fairly clean and there aren't any significant red flags, but he could do a better job of throwing with his body to minimize stress on the arm. In addition, he has a bit of looseness to his overall delivery that could cause problems with consistency. The fact that he suffered from an elbow injury in college isn't a great sign, but it wasn't serious and he doesn't seem to be suffering from any lingering effects.


Boxberger has the ability and repertoire to work as a starting pitcher, but may ultimately profile better as a high leverage reliever. Still, the Reds will give him every chance to work as a starter, which would be better for his development and give him more value to the organization if he can stick in that role.

For now, Boxberger's polish and varied repertoire earn him the #13 slot on the list.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

2010 Top Prospect List: #25 Josh Ravin, rhp

Josh Ravin
Height 6-4, Weight 220, B/T: R/R, DOB: 1/21/1988
2009 Redlegs Baseball Prospect Ranking: #24

Picking up on my Comments from the Matt Klinker post, Josh Ravin is an example of a pitcher whose development may not follow the path of predictable, incremental improvement, but one who still could make a significant breakthrough to a new level of performance. Position prospects typically follow a more standard, linear development curve, one with incremental, steady improvement. On the other hand, pitching prospects are much more volatile and unpredictable, which makes them capable of more rapid and unexpected improvement.

Despite the struggles in his early professional career, Ravin will head into the 2010 season at the ripe old age of 22, which is the equivalent of a senior coming out college, so he has time to develop into an MLB caliber pitcher. He still has a long way to travel on the development curve, but he certainly took a small step forward in 2009.

Draft Position and Physical Build

The Reds selected Ravin in the 5th round of the 2006 draft with the 144th overall pick. Ravin was selected out of Chatsworth High School in California, which has a very strong baseball program, producing former first rounders Mike Moustakas and Matt Dominguez.

Ravin has a very good build for a pitcher, standing 6-4 and tipping the scales at 220, which gives him good height and a strong core. He incorporates his lower body effectively in his delivery and reduces the stress on his arm with a strong lower half.

Professional Career

In 2009, Ravin took a significant step forward in his development. The Reds sent him back to low-A Dayton, the level where the wheels came off the wagon in 2008. In 2008, Ravin pitched 56.1 innings for Dayton, posting a 7.19 ERA, 1.86 WHIP, and a 47/50 K/BB ratio. His walk rate was almost unbelievably bad at 8.0 BB/9. He completely lost the plate and was ultimately demoted down to the rookie league Billings Mustangs.

Fortunately, his repeat engagement went much more smoothly. In 2009, Ravin tossed 81.0 innings compiling a 3.67 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, and a 66/40 K/BB ratio. His command and control were dramatically improved, as evidenced by his 4.4 BB/9 mark, which was roughly 3.0 fewer walks per nine innings than in the previous season. And, he continued his high strikeout ways, posting a strong, but career low, K/9 mark of 7.3. His performance was legit and represented a breakthrough to a new level of performance, as his components were strong and supported the ERA and WHIP that he posted. His FIP was a solid 3.88, his BABIP was a bit low at .273, and his strand rate was also a bit low at 65.1%.

The high point of his season was his June 14th start against Lansing when he tossed 6.0 innings of two hit ball. In the game, he gave up 0 runs and posted an 8/2 K/BB ratio. That start was fairly typical of his performance in the month of June, which was by far his best month of the season.

In April, Ravin tossed 20.0 innings, posting a 4.50 ERA with a 16/8 K/BB ratio and a .211 batting average against. In May, Ravin struggled with his command, working 31.0 innings posting a 4.94 ERA with a 25/22 K/BB ratio and a .233 batting average against. In June, his game took off, as he worked 30.0 innings with a 1.80 ERA, 25/10 K/BB ratio, and a .213 batting average against.

Unfortunately and perhaps a bit surprisingly, Ravin's season was cut short by a right elbow strain. He was originally expected to miss only a single start, but it ended up costing him the season. While an elbow strain can occasionally be the precursor to a more serious injury, reports are that he's fine and is ready to roll when the 2010 season starts. In light of his strong pitching mechanics, it's somewhat curious to see Ravin succumb to injury. Even so, it's a good example of the principle that strong mechanics merely reduce injury risk, not eliminate it entirely. In Ravin's case, his struggles with his command make him rather inefficient with his pitches, which in turn increases his workload and, subsequently, the stress on his pitching arm.

It's unfortunate that the injury arrived at a time when he was pitching his best baseball of the season and, perhaps, his career. Hopefully, to start off the 2010 season Ravin will be able to pick up right where he left off in June of 2009. If so, he'll be ready to take the next step in his development.

Pitching Mechanics and Repertoire

Ravin throws a good, heavy fastball with late life that sits around 92-94, but can touch 95+. He also works with a solid, but inconsistent curveball that has plus potential and throws a change-up. Part of his struggles come from an inability to consistently spot his curveball. If he can't get the curveball over, then he becomes overly reliant on the fastball, which makes him easier for the competition to figure out. He needs to become more consistent with his secondary offerings to keep the hitters off balance. An effective curveball with two plane break would enable him to change the eye level of the hitters.

Ravin has some of the best pitching mechanics in the system. He has an easy, fluid tempo that he maintains throughout his delivery. He starts his delivery with a very small step with his left foot, which is really nothing more than shifting his left foot in order to unweight his right leg. He can then rotate his right foot down onto the rubber. Once he has shifted on the rubber, he brings his left leg up into a high leg kick. He brings his knee up past parallel with the ground and utilizes hip rotation to generate additional energy to unleash in the delivery. As he uncoils his leg kick, he drives his momentum to the plate. The higher leg kick and taller frame enables him to more easily generate additional energy as he drives towards the plate.

In the photos below, you can see that he is in textbook position. He has a good stride length and position, as his stride isn't closed and doesn't force him to throw across his body. His balance is strong, due in part to his good tempo and body control. He is getting a good push off the rubber to drive his momentum to the plate. His plant foot has landed and his pitching arm is up in throwing position, which is indicative of a throwing motion that keeps the upper and lower body in sync. His pitching hand is in good position, as he is "showing" the ball to second base. The shoulders are level, he's not a pitcher who uses forced scap loading to increase his velocity, and the pitching elbow is in good position relative to the shoulders.

In the photo below, he is just a bit further along in his delivery. He has just pushed off the rubber with his right leg and is driving his momentum towards the plate. His upper body is effectively out over his lower body. You can also see his arm slot, which is a high three-quarter delivery that is free-and-easy.

Once he releases the ball, Ravin's follow-through is very well controlled. He finishes up in perfect fielding position and maintains good body control throughout his delivery. One of the more impressive aspects of his delivery is the ability to generate plus velocity without losing any control of his body. He's got a very smooth delivery and an easy arm action, so he's definitely not a max effort pitcher. He doesn't have to put so much effort into his delivery to generate velocity that he loses control of his body and loses his balance. He maintains his tempo and balance throughout the delivery, which should, at least in theory, help with consistency and reduce his injury risk.

Overall, Ravin remains one of my favorite pitchers to watch simply throw the ball. His tempo and balance are very strong and his arm action is smooth. I think he is very solid mechanically, which should enable to be more effective than he has been thus far in his career. Hopefully, he'll start maximizing the benefits to be reaped from his potentially plus stuff and pitching mechanics. To do so, he might need to improve his mental approach on the mound. He needs to be able to grind through innings where he doesn't have his best stuff or command. He is the type of pitcher who is susceptible to the big inning, so he needs to learn how to not let the inning get away from him. Learning to overcome adversity to be successful is a pivotal part of player development and an area where Ravin needs to improve.

I'd recommend taking a look at his MLB draft scouting video, which you can access here.


Ravin remains a personal favorite of mine. He's got the combination of pure stuff, clean mechanics, and physical build that should enable him to be an effective pitcher in the professional ranks. And, the fact that he has struggled as much as he has in the professional ranks is a bit surprising to me. In 2009, he was in the process of taking the step forward that I have been waiting to see, but unfortunately injury in the second half derailed his season and limited his workload. So, it turned out to be more of a half-step, but still an encouraging sign for his continued development.

While Ravin's performance to date has been underwhelming, his raw abilities are strong enough to enable him to make a significant breakthrough when it all comes together. He's a light-switch type player, but it's time for him to flip the switch and emerge from the shadows to reclaim his prospect status.

It seems like he's been around forever, but he'll still only be 22 years old during the 2010 season. His breakthrough in 2009 and his natural abilities continue to give me a good deal of hope for the future. So, for now, he checks in at #25 on the list, but he'll need to have a strong showing in 2010 to avoid falling off the list entirely.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Quick Hits on Aroldis Chapman

I'll save the breakdown of Chapman the player until his prospect write up, but here's a look at the acquisition itself.

At first glance, I was warying of signing Chapman. I'm not high on Cuban arms. The Cuban people love their baseball and due to the political system in place on the island, they live in a somewhat isolated bubble. As such, I think the hype and reputations of the Cuban players frequently outpace the reality.

Still, the existence of the WBC gives these players a bit better exposure and gives teams a better measuring stick for evaluating them. They get to face a more established level of competition, so hopefully the Reds got a nice, long look at Chapman. Ideally, it'll merge the reputation and reality to a certain extent.

I was hoping to get a better breakdown of the contract he received. I've heard that he is going to receive $30.25M over 6-years. I've heard he's set to make only $1M in 2010, but also that he's receiving a signing bonus of $16.25M spread over 10 years. So, I really don't know how the $30.25M is going to be distributed.

At first, I was encouraged by the $1M salary in 2010, as I don't think he's ready for prime time. He's going to need some time to polish up his command and secondary offerings. In addition, he's going to have to adjust to the American culture, which is a bigger deal than we might think. So, it'll help that we aren't on the hook for much of his salary in 2010. Even so, given that it's all guaranteed money, it does little but increase the average salary of the next 5 years.

Even so, I must say that the price is certainly right. I'm a bit surprised that no other team was willing to go to that level. At first, I was concerned that the Red Sox, who are perhaps the best team in baseball at properly valuing players, were unwilling to go much past $15M. But, I suspect that has more to do with the BoSox bumping up against the luxury tax than anything else. To me, the Chapman contract makes sense even if he ends up being nothing more than a #4/5 starter. An annual salary of ~$5-6M isn't all that much for a back-end of the rotation starter, especially one that comes with Chapman's massive upside. He obviously can't be the bargain that Stephen Strasburg could be for the Nats, but that's the difference between draft eligible prospects and international free agents.

Another reason to like the signing is that it seems to fit in nicely with other aspects of their front office game plan. The Reds addressed an area of need, as they lacked much southpaw depth in the system. In addition, the loss of Stewart is less painful now that Chapman is in the fold. And, 2009 1st round pick, Mike Leake, makes more sense. He strikes me as more of a high-floor, lower ceiling type draft pick. So, the addition of a high-upside, higher risk type player like Chapman fits nicely.

Perhaps most importantly, this is another player personnel decision that really "moves the needle." It's the type of move that reverberates around MLB. Far too often, the Reds are completely ignored and marginalized. The years and years of poor play have made the Reds largely irrelevant in the mainstream media. So, it takes a jolt for them to even register across the country. This is a statement move and we haven't had one of those since the Josh Hamilton acquisition. A move that reminds the media that there actually are franchises that reside between the coasts.

It's hard not to like Chapman's upside. Personally, I don't buy the stories of a "102 mph fastball," but even 95+ mph is something special. He's obviously got the potential to be a stud and most pundits rank him among the top 25 prospects in all of baseball. So, the Reds just acquired a #1 prospect, which is pretty impressive. On the downside, rumor has it that they are going to pay for his contract out of the 2010 draft budget, which is potentially a significant opportunity cost which could drag down the value/impact of acquiring him.

Overall, it's a nice signing. It's not quite the bargain that you'll find in the Rule IV draft, but when you can add a player with his immense skills it's worth the risk. As for 2010, I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that he might be better served getting in some consistent work in the minors. It'll be tempting to rush him, but a bit of development time and polish would likely be best for all.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

2010 Top Prospect List: #15 Matt Klinker, rhp

Matt Klinker
Height 6-5, Weight 220, B/T: R/R, DOB: 10/8/1984
2009 Redlegs Baseball Prospect Ranking: Not Ranked

Matt Klinker is a student of the game and one of the headiest pitchers in the system. He has an intellectual approach to pitching that enables him to objectively analyze his game to identify weaknesses so that he can improve upon them. And, his hard work has really begun to pay off, as he has elevated his game to the next level. Odd as it may sound, Klinker has actually managed to improve his baseline level of performance while climbing the developmental ladder. It's rare to see a pitcher improve against more advanced and challenging competition. Obviously, performance usually tails off as the competition improves. Klinker, on the other hand, has gotten even better as the competition has gotten better, which may well be a testament to both his hard work and impressive pitching IQ.

Collegiate Career and Draft Position

The Reds selected Klinker in the 15th round of the 2007 draft with the 469th overall pick. Klinker has pitching in the blood, as his father was a pitcher for Purdue University. Klinker was a draft eligible senior out of Furman University when the Reds called his name. He is yet another tall pitching prospect, which, of course, gives him additional room for growth and physical projection.

For Furman, Klinker spent his freshman and sophomore season working both as a starter and a reliever. As a junior and senior, he worked almost exclusively as a starter. During his four collegiate seasons, Klinker was never a dominant pitcher, posting season ERAs of 5.80, 4.38, 3.90, and 4.57, BB/9 ratios of 4.7, 4.2, 2.6, and 2.7, and K/9 ratios of 8.0, 6.2, 6.7, and 7.3, respectively.

He obviously had some potential, but lacked the electric stuff that tends to turn the heads of the scouting world, which is why he was still on the board when the Reds selected in round 15.

Professional Career

In 2009, Klinker was another prospect in the Reds system who made the rather unusual three level jump (Logan Ondrusek being another). Given the Reds typically conservative player development strategy, it was a surprisingly aggressive course that they charted for Klinker. The truly interesting thing about Klinker is that he's pitching better than he has at anytime in recent memory, including his time at the collegiate level.

To open up the 2009 season, Klinker was sent to high-A Sarasota where he started 9 games. He worked a total of 42.1 innings in which he posted a 4.89 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, and a 42/8 K/BB ratio. Obviously, the ERA/WHIP are unimpressive, but his ratios (1.7 BB/9 and 8.9 K/9) were incredibly strong. His ERA was inflated by a poor hit rate, which was the result of poor luck (.391 BABIP). His groundball/flyball tendencies were pretty neutral at 1.13.

Obviously, the Reds looked beyond merely his ERA and WHIP in their decision to promote him to double-A Carolina. It didn't take long before he was making quick work of the more advanced level of competition. In 36.2 innings, Klinker posted a 2.95 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 3.2 BB/9, and 9.8 K/9. Despite his gaudy ratios, his FIP was only 4.29, as he was aided by a BABIP of .249 and a strand rate of 89.0%. So, he wasn't quite as strong as it appears at first blush, but it wasn't long before he was bumped up the ladder yet again.

For triple-A Louisville, Klinker worked 29.0 innings and posted a 2.48 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 4.0 BB/9, and 9.8 K/9. His FIP was a stellar 2.68 and both his BABIP (.298) and strand rate (73%), so his performance wasn't aided by luck, as his component stats were just as strong as his overall stats.

The surprising part of Klinker's performance in 2009 was that he posted the highest strikeout rate of both his collegiate and professional career. He had not previously topped the 9.0 K/9 mark at any level, but managed to do it against the advanced hitters in double-A and triple-A. His continued refinement of his offspeed pitches has improved his ability to generate swings-and-misses when he needs them. Not many pitchers improve as the competition improves, but the effectiveness of his riding fastball against wood bats and the continued development of his offspeed pitches has enabled Klinker to do just that.

Pitching Mechanics and Repertoire

Klinker features a two-seam fastball that he can effectively ride-in on the hands of right-handed hitters. This is actually a pitch that is more effective in the professional ranks, as it can break the wood bats. At the collegiate level, a pitch in on the hands can still be muscled into the outfield for a hit with the metal bats. His command of the fastball is one of his biggest strengths on the hill. He also utilizes a somewhat loopy 12-to-6 curveball. He has tightened it up and refined it as of late, which has improved its effectiveness, but it's still more of a slurve than a hard-biting off-speed pitch. He also uses a circle-changeup and has experimented with a split-fingered fastball to improve his effectiveness against left-handed hitters. Early in his professional career Klinker struggled to find a consistently effective offspeed pitch, but he has begun to improve his secondary offerings.

Klinker utilizes simple, straightforward mechanics that don't involve any wasted motion. He is very economical in his movements. He stands tall on the mound and begins his windup with a small step back while bringing his hands up to his chest. He then shifts his right foot down onto the rubber and brings his left leg up into his leg kick.

Klinker's leg kick rises up higher than parallel with the ground and his toe points down to the ground. At the apex of his leg kick he incorporates good hip rotation to build up energy to impart on the baseball. As he uncoils his leg kick and begins to drive towards homeplate, he gets a good push off the rubber. As he strides toward the plate, his glove-side arm rises up into a higher than normal position and his glove actually rises well up above shoulder level.

Klinker's arm slot is a three-quarter arm-slot, which prevents him from maximizing his ability to throw on a downward plane, but certainly seems to work for him. In addition, his arm action involves a slight cross-fire action.

His plant foot on the stride lands slightly closer to the thirdbase side, which is a slightly closed-off position. The position of his plant foot requires him to throw slightly across his body, which also results in him falling off to the firstbase side on his follow-through. Despite falling off to the first base side, Klinker generally maintains good balance and body control throughout the delivery.

There is one potential flaw in Klinker's delivery. The timing in Klinker's delivery is somewhat off, as his upper body isn't in sync with his lower body. His pitching arm lags behind his lower body, as evidenced by the photo to the right. In a perfectly timed delivery, the pitching arm is up in throwing position when the plant foot lands. In Klinker's case, his arm is horizontal to the ground, rather than vertical with the ball up around head level. The arm lag robs the throwing motion of efficiency, as the momentum drive towards the plate has to wait on the arm to catch up. It's not surprising that Klinker's timing is off, as taller pitchers frequently struggle to maintain good body control over the longer levers and torso. Despite being a taller pitcher, Klinker doesn't struggle very much with consistency in his delivery, but his arm does tend to lag a bit.

There are some really impressive photographs showing Klinker's pitching mechanics during a side throwing session available here.


Klinker may be the rare case of a late bloomer who has earned legitimate prospect status through hard work and study. As he continues to develop and improve his ability to locate his secondary offerings, he could continue to build on his breakthrough level of performance. While both he and Logan Ondrusek made stops at three levels in 2009, Klinker's much more impressive strikeout and walk ratios and the fact that he worked as a starter make him a better bet to sustain his breakout performance. Still, the 2010 season will provide an important data point on Klinker's career trajectory. It'll be interesting to see if he can maintain his new level of performance or if he'll regress and give back some of the gains he made in 2009.

Klinker is the type of pitcher who gets the absolute most out of his abilities, which when coupled with his refined secondary offerings is enough to land him at #15 on the list.