Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Surprises & Red Herrings

Every season at least one or two players come out of nowhere or the neighboring zip code called relative obscurity and put together a fine season. Chris Coste was last year’s poster boy followed closely by Shane Victorino. My nominee for this year’s Phillie who will surprise to the upside is Matt Smith.

While all of us wring our hands over who is going to be the set-up guy in the bullpen, Smith is there right under our collective noses. To be a candidate for Pleasant Surprise of The Year, a player must have little or no major league experience that would indicate good things are in the offing. Smith’s resume? Twenty-six games with 20.2 innings pitched. Check. To surpass all expectations a player must have shown flashes of brilliance or at a minimum coolness under fire. Matt Smith versus Houston, September 25. Squeezed by all accounts. Check.

This guy has the tools and the bet here is he is about to get the experience.

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A number of bloggers have pointed out the Phillies like Carlos Ruiz’ bat a lot, his glove and arm a little less so and his command of English nearly not at all. Well, I am going to assume he won’t need a consecutive translator to put down one or two fingers, wag them, point toward or away from his thigh or set a target. Exactly how much is Ruiz suppose to say to veterans like Jamie Moyer or Jon Lieber at this point in their careers? And precisely how much that he might say to Brett Myers if he could is going to get through that guy’s head anyway? Does Cole Hamels pause long enough between pitches to even have time to listen to a catcher? As for Adam Eaton, surely during his stints in Texas and San Diego he picked up some Spanish.

The language thing is a red herring. The Phillies don’t trust Ruiz despite evidence he can handle the job and bringing in Rod Barajas is hardly going to improve the Panamanian’s confidence.

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Wiser heads than I have cautioned against counting out the Atlanta Braves this coming season. Certainly any team with the Jones boys, Jeff Francoeur, and Brian McCann will score some runs if they all remain healthy, always a question with Chipper, but the rest of their lineup is hardly formidable especially since they inexplicably traded away Adam LaRoche. In the end, health is really the watch-word for this entire team. Tim Hudson, John Smotlz and Mike Hampton all have a lot of mileage on their arms and must remain in the lineup let alone healthy or it will be a long, hot season at Turner Field. I see them finishing fourth. Last place is already written in stone for the Nationals, who might be better off given all of their top minor league prospects a long look at the big league level.


J. Weitzel said...

Smith is going to see plenty of action, probably not as a setup man, but darn close being the club's only major-league ready left-handed reliever. Smith was an exception to the rule last year - a young guy they trusted enough to mix him into tight spots. Aside from the majors, he's seen all kinds of top action, starting in college with Oklahoma State. Manuel said he likes his size; and I think he looks good als. He throws moderately hard. He's got a good hard slider. Don't know how that would translate against major-league right-handers, but it's time to find out. He's definitely ready for the show.

RickSchuBlues said...

Smith looked like the pitcher the Phillies had always wanted Rheal Cormier to be (but rarely was) at the end of last season. Agreed that he will likely be near the league lead in appearances. Let's put it this way - if he's *not* a pleasant surprise, they're in some trouble.

Great point about the language issue with Ruiz - perhaps this is the missing link in my inability to figure the Phillies' lack of belief in him. It might not be that he can't 'call' a game, but that he can't communicate with the pitchers. I suppose they have a point. I wonder if it's a coincidence, then, that they brought in Barajas - to be a tutor both in the finer arts of catching, as well as English?

I'm afraid of the Braves. I can see them roaring back in a big way this year.

J. Weitzel said...

I'm afraid of the Braves as well. They've got a much better bullpen this year, Andrew Jones is in his walk year. McCann is a stud. And under Smoltz and Hudson, they've got a pain in the neck in Chuck James.

Tom Goodman said...

A lot of Braves have to remain healthy or recover their health or avoid their usual trips to the DL for this team to be contenders again. I think the LaRoche trade may have been the worst one Schuerholz (sp?) has made in years.

J. Weitzel said...

The LaRoche trade itself was one-sided, but signing Craig Wilson right after made sense. Bullpen has killed Atlanta these last few seasons. This is a team that might have just enough prospects to surprise baseball and acquire Baldelli, Crawford or someone like that. Like someone on my site once said, I tend not to question Schuerholz.

Tom Goodman said...

Well, the additions of either Baldelli or Crawford would certainly alter my opinion of the Braves' fortunes. The acquisition of either by the Phillies would alter my opinion of their chances, too!

Deanna said...

Eh, I don't think the command of English is a big deal at all. The Mariners just dealt with an entire season of having a Japanese catcher (with a Puerto Rican backup catcher), and as far as I can tell, he did just fine -- and even caught Jamie Moyer for half of last year.

Also, yes, the Braves are scary. Craig Wilson could make a huge difference with a team that actually knows how to use their players.