The Futility Infielder

A Baseball Journal by Jay Jaffe I'm a baseball fan living in New York City. In between long tirades about the New York Yankees and the national pastime in general, I'm a graphic designer.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

 

Yo, Baby!

I came off the bench to pinch-hit for one of my Baseball Prospectus colleagues yesterday. The fruits of my labors can be found in my latest New York Sun piece, about the fall of the Cardinals, the recovery of the Brewers, and some bad behavior and worse spending by the Cubs. A quick taste:
It didn't take genius to foresee the collapse of the World Champion Cardinals. With a poorly-executed off-season plan and a nearly barren farm system, general manager Walt Jocketty did little to upgrade a club that limped into last year's playoffs with an 83–78 record before their unlikely title run. With ace Chris Carpenter sidelined by bone spurs in his elbow since Opening Day, plus sluggers Albert Pujols, Jim Edmonds, and Scott Rolen all off to slow starts, it's been clear for weeks that a repeat performance just isn't in the Cards.

Filling the power vacuum in the NL Central so far have been the upstart Brewers. Storming out to a 24–10 record behind the potent 1-2 punch of first baseman Prince Fielder and shortstop J.J. Hardy, the Brewers opened up a 6.5-game lead on the retooled Cubs before the latter's irascible new manager, Lou Piniella, had earned his first ejection. Even when gravity brought the Brewers back to earth — they lost 19 of their next 28 games — neither the Cubs nor any other Central team seized the initiative; Milwaukee's lead never dwindled below 4.5 games.

That lead is back up to seven games, and if you were in the vicinity of Miller Park Monday night, you may have heard the window of opportunity slam shut on the rest of the division. Yovani Gallardo, considered one of the top 20 prospects in the minors by both Baseball Prospectus and Baseball America, put together an impressive major league debut, limiting the Giants to four hits and three runs over 6.1 innings. Rickie Weeks doubled twice in his return from the disabled list, and Fielder socked his NL-best 26th homer to give the Brewers their sixth win in eight games.
That ought to make the in-laws happy. I didn't see more than brief highlights of Gallardo's start, but by all accounts he's the real deal. After leading the minor leagues with 188 strikeouts in 155 innings last year, he had put up a 2.90 ERA with a 110/28 K/BB ratio in 77.2 innings at Triple-A Nashville before his recall. My BP colleague Kevin Goldstein ranked him 14th in his Top 100 Prospects list, while Baseball America had him 16th. Here's Goldstein's tale of the tape from his Top 10 Brewer prospects piece last December:
Yovani Gallardo, rhp
DOB: 2/27/86
Height/Weight: 6-3/215
Bats/Throws: R/R
Draft: 2nd round, 2004, Texas HS
What He Did In 2006: 2.09 ERA at High A (77.2-54-23-103), 1.63 ERA at AA (77.1-50-28-85)
The Good: Very good stuff plus excellent command equals outstanding pitching prospect. Pitches off a heavy 91-93 mph fastball that touches 96, as well as two plus breaking pitches – a hard-sweeping slider and a downer curveball. Throws strikes and has advanced polish well beyond his years.
The Bad: Changeup is an average pitch, but that's nitpicking. Body doesn't offer the same projection as other top pitching prospects. That's nitpicking as well.
The Irrelevant: Are groundball ratios fluky? Gallardo was nearly 2 to 1 (83-43) in the Florida State League, yet gave up more flyballs (79) than grounders (61) at Double-A.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: A No. 2 starter and occasional All-Star.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Low – Gallardo will turn 21 in Spring Training, yet he's ready for Triple-A, and the Brewers don't think he'll need a full season there in preparation for the big leagues.
The bottom line is that Brewers fans have every reason to be as excited about him as Yankee fans are about Philip Hughes, with the bonus that Gallardo's actually healthy, and his team is in first place. Can't beat that with a baseball bat.

• • •

With the next installment of our Spirit of '77 series stuck in the pipeline, my partner in correspondence Alex Belth pitched in with his poignant Bombers Broadside 2007 memoir, "Dad, Reggie and Me." You don't need me to tell you it's a must-read.

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