Your 2011 Albuquerque Isotopes (Updated)

Thanks to Christopher Jackson of the Albuquerque Examiner and the Isotopes themselves, we now know what the Opening Day roster for the 2011 AAA squad will look like. Keep in mind, of course, that Tim Wallach’s 2010 edition ran through approximately 287 players, so the crew you see today will hardly resemble what we see ending the season, thanks to injuries, promotions, and trades. They haven’t yet announced the actual roles of the pitchers, so I’m going to do my best guesses on that. Since it’s AAA in a high-offense environment, I won’t bag on them too badly for going with the dreaded 13-man staff.

Starting Rotation (5)
R Tim Redding
R John Ely
L Dana Eveland
R Carlos Monasterios
R Jon Link (who apparently made it through waivers after being DFA’d)

Relievers (8)
L Scott Elbert
L Randy Keisler
R Roman Colon
R Travis Schlichting
R Merkin Valdez
R Oscar Villarreal
R Jon Huber
R Ramon Troncoso

How about that – each member of the 13-man staff has seen previous big-league time. That’s either a very good thing (experience) or very bad thing (no highly-touted young prospect coming up), depending on how you look at it. This collection might change before the season even starts, of course, if Redding or Ely need to start in place of Jon Garland in San Diego this weekend.

Hitters (11 + 1 DL)
C JD Closser
C Damaso Espino
C Keyter Collado (DL)
1B John Lindsey
2B Justin Sellers
SS Dee Gordon
3B Russ Mitchell
IF Juan Castro
LF Jerry Sands
CF Trayvon Robinson
RF Jamie Hoffmann
OF Trent Oeltjen

Only six of the eleven bats – Closser, Lindsey, Mitchell, Castro, Hoffmann, and Oeltjen – have MLB experience, though that’s likely to change by season’s end. I didn’t expect that Gordon would start off in AAA, but the idea of having him, Sands, and Robinson all in the lineup together is going to make me want to catch more than my share of Albuquerque baseball. This lineup is likely to change shortly as well, with Ivan DeJesus almost certainly headed back to AAA this week when Casey Blake returns.

As you may remember, a few days before Christmas I took a shot at predicting what the Opening Day roster might be. Of the eleven bats, I nailed eight: Closser, Lindsey, Sellers, Mitchell, Sands, Robinson, Hoffmann, and Oeltjen. I’m taking a mulligan on two others; DeJesus would be here if not for Blake’s injury and will be here anyway soon enough, and A.J. Ellis would be here if Dioner Navarro hadn’t hurt himself in the last week of spring. I whiffed on Castro not going to AAA and Gordon starting in AA, assuming that Eugenio Velez and Travis Denker or an NRI would be there instead.

On the pitching side, I successfully got eight: Ely, Eveland, Monasterios, Link, Elbert, Villareal, Schlichting, and Troncoso. Redding, Colon, Keisler, and Valdez all signed after my post. I’ll take it.

Overall, the Isotopes seem to have an interesting collection of experienced – though not that exciting – pitchers, and young – and very exciting – bats. So there’s plenty of reasons to watch the ‘topes this year, considering you can expect to see at least five of these pitchers as fill-ins in LA later in the season, you can gauge the progression of Sands, Robinson, Gordon, & DeJesus, and you can root for Juan Castro to strike out every time so no one is tempted to recall him back to the big club yet again. Should be a fun season.

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Where’s Josh Lindblom? He’s not listed on the Isotope roster, nor does he appear on the AA roster of the Chattanooga Lookouts (which does feature Rubby De La Rosa and Chris Withrow, among others). He pitched just two innings in big league camp, though I don’t recall hearing about any injury. My guess, for the moment, is that he’s going to remain in Arizona getting some work in until a roster spot opens up with the Isotopes.

(Update: lovely blog commenter c.lo points out that Lindblom is indeed on the updated AA roster. That can mean one of two things; either that it’s a procedural thing, and he is just getting some extra work in Arizona without taking up an AAA roster spot, or that his 2010 – 6.54 ERA, 13.5 hits/9 – was so dreadful that he’s being demoted back to AA for the first time since 2008.)

Who Will Make Up the 2011 Albuquerque Isotopes?

Last weekend, my friends at River Ave. Blues took a stab at predicting what the AAA roster for the Yankee farm club in Scranton might look like in 2010. I found it interesting, and I liked it, so I’m going to shamelessly steal the idea and apply it to the Dodgers. 

Let’s be clear that it’s not even Christmas yet, and this is all subject to change. Trades could happen. Injuries could happen. Prospects who we expect to see in AAA could start the year in AA, or vice-versa. More veterans can (and almost certainly will) be invited to camp on non-roster contracts, and while some will end up in ABQ, some will wash out entirely.

All that said, I had a surprisingly easy time putting the 24-man (yes, 24) Isotope roster together, especially for a team that ran 66 players through town last year. Let’s check it out.

Offense

C: Seven players suited up behind the plate for the Isotopes in 2010, though the majority of the work went to Luke May, who’s now in Kansas City. With the signing of Dioner Navarro, A.J. Ellis likely starts his fourth AAA season as the main backstop. I like to think he has a chance of beating Navarro out with a good spring, but if the Dodgers were foolish enough to give Navarro a $1m MLB contract, they’re probably not cutting him short of disaster. Last year’s backup, JD Closser, was re-signed recently and is likely to fill the same role again. There’s a non-zero chance of Hector Gimenez, inexplicably added to the 40-man roster, pushing aside Closser, but we’ll stick with the veteran for now.

1B: John Lindsey‘s not DFA’d yet, but he soon will be to clear up badly-needed space on the 40-man roster. One would think that he’d be willing to sign a minor league deal to return, though it’s hardly a certainty. For now, let’s say that he will. Prospect Jerry Sands will see some time at first base as well.

2B: There’s still a chance that Ivan DeJesus forces his way onto the Opening Day roster in Los Angeles, moving Juan Uribe to 3B and Casey Blake to LF. I consider that to be less than a 50% chance, however, so it’s more than likely that DeJesus starts 2011 as the Isotope second baseman.

3B: Russ Mitchell made his Dodger debut in 2010, but he fulfilled low expectations by being pretty awful. Some may say that he’s in the running for a bench job in 2011; I just don’t see it, and there’s not really anyone behind him to play 3B in ABQ anyway. He starts here, at least in April.

SS: Here’s the first real question mark. Dee Gordon received an aggressive promotion to AA Chattanooga last year, and was good but not great. He noted on his Twitter recently that he had not yet been told whether he’ll start the year in AA or AAA. Much probably depends on his spring performance, and neither would surprise me; if I had to pick right now my guess is that he’ll probably start in AA and move up later in the year. That’d leave Justin Sellers, who hit an ABQ-fueled .867 OPS last year, to remain as the Isotope shortstop.

LF: Though he’ll play some first base as well, Jerry Sands likely sees the bulk of his time in left field. After his impressive tear through the minors last year, it’ll be fun to see what he can do at ABQ, and it’s not out of the question to think he can make it to Los Angeles by September.

CF: Joining Sands in the outfield will almost certainly be Trayvon Robinson, who had a very good year in AA last season and has nothing left to prove in Tennessee. He’s already on the 40-man roster, and he could also be a candidate for an MLB callup at some point in 2011.

RF: Jamie Hoffmann may have a better chance at winning a big league bench gig than you think. He’s right-handed, has big-league experience, and he’s a plus defender, attributes which fit perfectly on the current roster. Still, while we’ll see him at some point, I’m doubting it’s to start the season. Trent Oeltjen, who played 41 games in RF last year before being recalled, and who recently re-signed with the Dodgers, will also get plenty of time.

Bench: Former Giant Eugenio Velez, signed to a minor-league deal which I surprisingly did not hate, will battle for an MLB job but likely fills the role of AAA utility guy. He can play 2B and all three OF spots. Whomever isn’t starting between Oeltjen and Hoffmann on a given day will fill one spot, as well. Then there’s Juan Castro, who you may remember as one of the worst hitters in the history of the big leagues. I cannot imagine he makes the big league team, yet as I noted when he was signed, he doesn’t generally end up in the minors. So I’m going to say that he doesn’t go to Albuquerque, and the spot is filled by either a veteran NRI we’re not aware of yet or Travis Denker, who has some MLB experience and ended last season in Albuquerque. My guess is that’ll last only until Gordon is recalled, and Sellers is pushed into a reserve role.

Others: Xavier Paul & Chin-lung Hu are no strangers to AAA, and neither seems to have a spot saved for them on the big club. However, both are out of options, so expect one or both to be traded. Paul would have almost no chance of slipping through waivers, so he wouldn’t be back in Albuquerque; Hu may make it through, but even that’s unlikely.

C – A.J. Ellis
C – JD Closser
1B - John Lindsey
2B – Ivan DeJesus
SS – Justin Sellers
3B – Russ Mitchell
IF – Travis Denker / NRI
LF – Jerry Sands
CF – Trayvon Robinson
RF – Jamie Hoffmann
OF – Trent Oeltjen
UT – Eugenio Velez

Pitching – Starting Rotation

I’ve given 12 spots to offense, and that leaves 12 left for the pitching staff.

The rotation is a little easier to peg than in previous years, because there’s not a mess of guys competing for the 5th starter role on the big club. So while I do expect we’ll see someone like John Ely at some point in the season, he’s definitely starting 2011 in AAA. The same goes for Carlos Monasterios, now that he’s finished his Rule V status and is Dodger property; though he was more effective as a reliever in the bigs, he needs innings more than anything and so likely slots into the Isotope rotation.

They’ll be joined by veterans Dana Eveland, who signed a minor-league deal in November, and I believe Tim Corcoran, who started 18 games last year. I can’t find evidence of Corcoran having re-signed, but the Albuquerque Examiner refers to him as a “returning veteran”, so I’ll take that as close enough. (Update: in the comments, Chris Jackson of the Examiner directs me to this Baseball America link confirming Corcoran’s re-signing. Thanks, Chris.)

For the 5th spot… well, who knows. This is a great spot for an NRI, or an injured big leaguer who starts the year on rehab. I’m going to start with Brent Leach, who you may remember as a reliever with the Dodgers in 2009. He spent 2010 transitioning to a starter, and it didn’t go particularly well. Still, he’s 28 now, so it’s now or never. (Commenter Jeromy points out that Leach signed in Japan yesterday. Oh well.) Or maybe it’s Antonio Bastardo, who’s seen AAA time in each of the last two seasons but has never been able to stick. Maybe it’s Rubby De La Rosa, who had a breakout year last year but probably needs more than 8 AA games, or Mario Alvarez or Jesus Castillo, who each will be 26 and started 19 games in AA last year. Or even Chris Withrow, who started more games at AA than anyone last year and is still just 22, but had a pretty disappointing year. Likely, it’s some combination of all of them.

Remember, though, as often as the 5th rotation spot tends to change in the big leagues, it’s even crazier in the minors. The Isotopes had 22 starting pitchers last year, though several were rehab one-offs, so whomever begins as the final starter certainly won’t end that way.

Pitching – Relievers

The bullpen’s even tougher to predict. Are Travis Schlichting, Jon Link, and Ramon Troncoso likely going to be squeezed out by the overstuff big league staff? Most likely, but they’ll all almost certainly get their chances in LA as well as injuries mount. Throw in Josh Lindblom to that mix, who seems perpetually on the edge of breaking through but just hasn’t been able to make it happen, and Oscar Villarreal, signed as a veteran free agent. I’m also going to include Scott Elbert here, because even though I do think he has a chance to be the second lefty in the big league bullpen, his disastrous and mysterious 2010 makes it not the worst idea in the world for him to start off in the minors.

For the last spot? Pick a name out of a hat. Maybe it’s another veteran NRI, like Justin Miller last season. Maybe Jesus Rodriguez, who pitched 27 not-very-effective games for the club last year. Maybe former first-round pick James Adkins, who struck out 9.9/9 in AA in 2010, or Javy Guerra, who impressed for the Lookouts, or Wilkin De La Rosa, who just recently signed from the Yankees. Like with the #5 starter, this is a spot which will rotate constantly. I’m going to start with a dark horse, 28-year-old Jon Huber, who pitched in AA last year and re-signed last month. He has some big-league experience with Seattle and had a fantastic 48/11 K/BB with Chattanooga; I doubt he would have signed without a decent chance to move up a level. Again, we’ll see plenty of guys there.

SP – John Ely
SP – Dana Eveland
SP - Tim Corcoran
SP – Carlos Monasterios
SP - Bastardo / Alvarez / NRI

RP – Travis Schlichting
RP – Ramon Troncoso
RP – Scott Elbert
RP – Jon Link
RP – Josh Lindblom
RP – Oscar Villarreal
RP – Jon Huber / NRI

I don’t consider myself a prospect expert, so feel free to disagree with me, and we all know there’s still going to be some movement around the edges, but I think this is pretty close. And honestly, it’s not a bad group. There’s some star potential in Robinson and Sands – more if Gordon makes it – some decent offensive depth in Ellis, Hoffmann, Velez, and Oeltjen, and a ton of relief options. Really, the only weakness here is in the rotation, where Eveland and Corcoran are disposable veterans and neither Ely nor Monasterios offer high-ceiling potential. That said, Ely & Monasterios have each had their moments in the bigs and are far superior to last year’s Ortiz buffet plate, and with the way Ned Colletti has put together the big league staff, you hopefully don’t need to dip into the minors that often.

Update: Per MLBtraderumors, the Dodgers have signed someone named Scott Nestor to a minor-league deal. He’s got a high strikeout rate but walks approximately one billion per nine, and yep, he was in the Giants system last year. Toss him into the Isotopes bullpen mix as well.