Checking Into the 2012 Albuquerque Isotopes

Last year at this time, I look a look at how the roster was shaping up for the Triple-A Albuquerque Isotopes. Considering how set the MLB roster seems to be at this point, it’s a whole lot more interesting to look at the minors, so let’s do it again. A year ago, we were excited at the prospect of seeing Dee Gordon, Trayvon Robinson, and Jerry Sands all playing together at the highest minor-league level. This year, there’s a different crop of interesting offensive prospects to keep tabs on, though not likely a whole lot of interest on the mound.

C: After parts of four seasons in Triple-A, dating back to 2008 with Las Vegas, A.J. Ellis is out of options and finally set to get a shot in the bigs. There’s little question here that Tim Federowicz will be the regular Isotopes backstop, since the 102 plate appearances he received with Albuquerque last season were his first above Double-A. Last year’s primary backup, Damaso Espino, is an unsigned free agent, so it’s likely that recently-signed veteran Josh Bard joins Federowicz in New Mexico, with a decent chance we’ll see either prospect Gorman Erickson or recently-signed and well-traveled Salomon Manriquez making appearances at points as well.

1B: Scott Van Slyke, 2011′s Dodger minor league hitter of the year, moves up from Double-A Chattanooga; he could still see some time in the outfield corners, but is mainly seen as a first baseman. Fun stories John Lindsey and Corey Smith are each unsigned and probably won’t be back; Jerry Sands could see some time here as well as in the outfield if he ends up not breaking camp with the big club.

2B: I’m still not convinced that he won’t be traded this winter, but the Mark Ellis signing eliminated any chance that Ivan DeJesus was going to make the Dodgers, so he’ll likely return to Triple-A for a third consecutive season. You have to wonder when Jaime Pedroza, owner of a .370 OBP in parts of two Double-A seasons, could get a shot; in addition, Justin Sellers might be the primary shortstop but should still see time at second and third as he attempts to keep his positional flexibility fresh for his future career as a utilityman.

3B: Russ Mitchell has no shot of making the Dodgers barring a string of injuries, and Pedro Baez & Travis Denker are hardly pushing him from behind, so he’ll return for his third Triple-A year at the age of 27. We’ll see him in the bigs again, as we always do, and he’ll be underwhelming as usual. Did you know the ‘Topes had thirteen third basemen last year? Okay, seven played in fewer than five games, but still.

SS: Sellers probably gets the initial look, though I’ll guess he won’t play the majority of games at shortstop since he’ll both be at second and third for Albquerque and probably spend a decent amount of time in the bigs once the elderly begin to break down. Recent minor-league invites Luis Cruz and Lance Zawadzki should collect plenty of time filling space until Jake Lemmerman is ready, perhaps in 2013.

LF: This largely depends on Sands, because if he’s in the minors, he’s playing every day. Primary 2011 left fielder Trayvon Robinson is of course gone, so there should be an opening for what could be a hilarious season out of Kyle Russell. Russell has been known for his massive power and nearly-as-impressive difficulties in making contact, so that package in ABQ should present some Triple-A fueled numbers that’ll have us all pretending like he’s the next big thing by June.

CF: Alfredo Silverio was added to the 40-man roster earlier this offseason after a solid season in Chattanooga, and with both regular center fielders gone from 2011 – Robinson to Seattle, and Jamie Hoffmann to Colorado – there’s a big hole here for Silverio to fill. Non-roster invite Cory Sullivan probably also fits into the mix here.

RF: Well, I don’t think Jay Gibbons is coming back. Alex Castellanos, impressive in a short look with Chattanooga after being acquired for Rafael Furcal, is likely to start the season as the primary Isotope right fielder; Russell and Sullivan could see time here as well.

Bench: Other than the guys I’ve already mentioned – Bard, Cruz, Zawadzki, & Sullivan – corner infielder Jeff Baisley will probably be an Isotope, plus perhaps 2B/3B Joe Becker, who got into 70 games with the club last season. In the outfield, expect to see Trent Oeltjen or someone else like him, and at some point, Albuquerque native Brian Cavazos-Galvez should make his hometown debut.

Starting Pitching

It helps, somewhat, that the Dodger starting rotation and bullpen are all but set, so there’s no worry about ten guys fighting for that fifth rotation spot. On the other hand, the Dodgers have shown a pattern of trying to keep their top pitching prospects away from the high-offense PCL, preferring to promote them directly from Double-A instead, so these are informed guesses and little more.

SP1: Being the #1 starter on this list doesn’t mean “ace” as it would in the bigs; rather, it’s just the order in which I consider them most likely. John Ely, owner of 25 starts for the Isotopes last year and a few stints with the Dodgers, is almost certainly headed back for another year of Triple-A. He’s roster depth at best – great to have around, never someone you want to count on.

SP2: Will Savage had a reasonably successful season for the Lookouts last year, striking out few but showing excellent control. Hardly a top prospect – 28 next year, and has been a minor-league free agent more than once – he’ll likely turn his invite to big-league camp into a season spent in New Mexico.

SP3: Like Savage, Michael Antonini is hardly a name to know – he was acquired for Chin-lung Hu for chrissake – but he’ll be 27 next year, was invited to the offseason developmental camp, and has a few games of Triple-A experience under his belt from his time with the Mets.  He’s been a bit homer-prone in the lower levels, which is somewhat terrifying to think about in Albuquerque.

SP4: I went back and forth on this one, which is why he’s SP4, but I’ll guess that Nathan Eovaldi does head to Triple-A rather than Double-A. That’s partly because the Chattanooga rotation looks like it could be getting full, but also because Eovaldi was decent in his time in the bigs, and sending him back down two levels could look like an insult. Besides, if you’re going to succeed in the NL West, you have to learn how to win in Colorado and Arizona.

Others: Alberto Bastardo and Randy Keisler combined to make 34 starts last year; each is currently a free agent and might not be back. Tim Sexton was awful last year, largely as an injury fill-in, and don’t forget that Carlos Monasterios should be back from elbow surgery at some point. There’s probably also going to be another Dana Eveland-like veteran that we don’t know about yet, and it’s possible that younger arms like Allen Webster, Chris Withrow, and Stephen Fife could push their way up if the organization doesn’t try to keep them away from Albuquerque.

Relief Pitching

Take your pick. It’s possible that none of the top three Isotope leaders in games pitched from 2011 – Jon Link (already signed with Baltimore), Travis Schlichting, Merkin Valdez – returns. The fourth was Ramon Troncoso, who might make the Dodgers but is far more likely to be DFA’d since he’s out of options. Josh Lindblom could appear if he doesn’t make the big team, but the entire collection of recently signed fungible veterans – Angel Guzman, Fernando Nieve, Jose Ascanio, Ryan Tucker, Shane Lindsay, Alberto Castillo, Matt Chico, Scott Rice, John Grabow, Wil Ledezma – are candidates to make up the bullpen, as again, the Dodgers try not to put their better prospects like Shawn Tolleson, Steve Ames, and Josh Wall here.

Remember, the Isotopes have used 49, 56, and 52 players going back to 2009, so this is an extremely high-level look; needs change as the big club makes their own moves.


MSTI’s 2011 in Review: Shortstop

2011 should be remembered as a year of transition in the world of Dodger shortstops, since we said goodbye to one of the best shortstops in Dodger history and hello to a hopeful future star, with a healthy dose of solid fill-in work from Jamey Carroll. Also, Justin Sellers! Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, though: the Dodgers had an infield position that ranked in the lower third of baseball by OPS, this time coming in 21st at .697. Funny how it’s hard to score runs when your infield is consistently below average, isn’t it?

Dee Gordon (B+)
.304/.325/.362 .686 0hr 24sb 0.5 WAR

Let’s simply start with this, illustrating the differences between Dee Gordon‘s two stints (the latter interrupted by injury) in the bigs:

Split PA R H 2B SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1st Half 85 11 19 2 9 2 16 .232 .250 .280 .530
2nd Half 148 23 49 7 15 5 11 .345 .367 .408 .776

Well, then. But does anyone remember just how far away we thought he was at the beginning of the season? Remember, when Rafael Furcal first injured himself in April, people started pounding the drum for Gordon, and I wasn’t exactly on board at the time:

It’s not going to be Dee Gordon. Sure, it’d be fun, it’d be exciting – and it’d also be a terrible idea. Gordon is absolutely not ready right now, and I’m of the opinion that I’m not sure he’s even going to be ready for next year. It’s not good for him, and it’s not good for the team. It shouldn’t happen, and it won’t.

He wasn’t, but that only lasted until early June when Gordon, surprisingly, got the call:

All of this takes us to Gordon, and I must admit that I am torn. He’s the most exciting player the Dodgers have in their system, and a roster spot used on him rather than Castro pushes the team light-years ahead as far as watchability and interest. Yet, the speed of his promotion is difficult to wrap my head around. Many observers, myself included, expected him to start 2011 in AA, and were somewhat surprised that he was pushed to ABQ to start the year. In an offense-heavy environment, he has a good-but-not-stellar line of .315/.361/.370. (Lest you think I’m being too harsh, remember that this is the team on which career nothing JD Closser is hitting .298/.389/.529.) Not a single reputable analyst expected him here this quickly, and when I interviewed Christopher Jackson, who covers the ‘topes daily, he joked that if Gordon were put in the majors right now, he’d break Jose Offerman‘s errors record. As we’ve all heard so many times, Gordon, who didn’t play baseball seriously until high school, is an extremely raw prospect, and not the type likely to be rushed.

At the time, we were pretty sure what we’d get from Gordon, and that was uncertain offense, no power or plate discipline, inconsistent defense… and mind-blowing, game-changing speed. In no way was that initial expectation wrong, because even though he hit just .232/.250/.280 in 22 games before being sent back down for Furcal in early July, and had games like this

Gordon was speeding around the bases for a triple, beating a perfect throw home on a sacrifice fly, effortlessly making outstanding defensive plays… and booting a relatively simple grounder to start the 7th inning, an inning in which the Reds scored four to put the game away. That came after a play in the second inning in which Gordon mistimed his approach to the bag on a sure double play ball, and only got one out; with the runner safe on second, the Reds ended up getting their first run of the game later in the inning.

…he also left us with a season’s worth of highlights in his few weeks up with the big club. On June 14, he put on such a show in one game against Cincinnati that I’m sure I crashed all of your browsers with the amount of animated GIFs I put together. It’s worth clicking through to see all of them, but I can’t not show my favorite here, a bunt in which he blew down the line to first so quickly several readers refused to believe I hadn’t manipulated it:


When he was sent back down, I was okay with that, yet optimistic about what we’d seen:

The Dodgers haven’t made it official yet, but we all know that Gordon is getting sent down later today to make room for Rafael Furcal, and that’s fine by me. Gordon has been basically exactly what we figured he’d be – overmatched offensively, inconsistent defensively, and occasionally completely breathtaking on both sides of the ball. For a player who was never supposed to be up this early, he showed the talent was real, even if he has much to work on. I look at his first taste as a success, and hopefully he can take that back to the minors with a better idea of what it takes to be a big league ballplayer.

That’s basically what happened, though not without some hiccups. Gordon returned on July 31 once Furcal was traded to St. Louis, and made it only a week before seeming to seriously injure his shoulder on a botched rundown play in Arizona. He missed just one full game before re-injuring himself on August 9 against Philadelphia, first in attempting to avoid a Ryan Howard tag and then on a swing; he was placed on the disabled list the next day and missed about three weeks, time which probably saved Eugenio Velez from a DFA.

Though the repeated injuries raised concerns about his durability, the best was yet to come. When he returned on September 1, he had two hits, then three the next day, a double in his only plate appearance the following day, and then three more the next day. After an 0-5 on September 6, he picked up seven more hits over his next two games, on his way to a .372/.398/.451 September (buoyed by an unsustainable .404 BABIP) that pushed his season average over .300.

It was a smashingly successful end to his season, though it wasn’t all gravy; in addition to the defensive lapses, of the 325 MLB players who had as many plate appearances as Gordon, only three drew fewer walks than his seven. This is a large part of why I’m not sure I see him as a leadoff hitter despite his speed, though as I noted in September, I didn’t mind getting him as many plate appearances as possible in a lost season. Let’s hope that next season he can be moved lower in the order, though that’s probably not all that realistic.

Still, considering that we were positive that he was rushed and that even seeing him next year wasn’t a given? Yeah, I’d say that ended up going pretty well.

Jamey Carroll (B+)
.290/.359/.347 .706 0hr 1.8 WAR

Pretty much all of our Carroll-related discussion over the winter was pointing out that he was one of the few Dodgers who could be relied upon to get on base, particularly important after adding low-OBP players like Juan Uribe and Rod Barajas. That ended up working out exactly as we’d hoped – Carroll finished third on the team in OBP, behind Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier – but one thing we weren’t quite sure of was what Carroll’s role would be, since the arrival of Uribe to play second base seemed to relegate Carroll to a bench role.

That question lasted for all of about two weeks, until Rafael Furcal injured himself yet again, pushing Carroll into service as the everyday shortstop on April 11. Between then and Furcal’s return in late May, Carroll hit a typical .303/.357/.359, nearly mirroring his season total, and with the rest of the offense stagnant in the early going, I started including him in the “big three” along with Kemp and Ethier (though a brutal error in Florida on April 25 only served to increase the growing furor around Jonathan Broxton).

When Furcal returned, Carroll returned to his bench role, seeing plenty of playing time at both middle infield positions. As you can see by his midseason review in July, we were more than pleased with his contribution:

Last season, Carroll had a .718 OPS and was largely hailed as the team MVP for stepping in to cover for Rafael Furcal at shortstop for nearly the entire season. For a 36-year-old career backup who had played in more than 113 games just once, it was quite the impressive feat. More impressive? The fact that he’s exceeding that this year, currently with a .734 OPS. In a lower run scoring environment, that’s good for a 111 OPS+. Once again, the team has been crushed by injuries. Once again, Jamey Carroll has risen to the occasion and more. I’m not sure what the future holds for Carroll in Los Angeles – this is the last year of his contract, and unsurprisingly teams are showing trade interest – but he has consistently outperformed expectations. I’ll miss him when he’s gone.

Carroll fell off in the second half – that .734 pre-break OPS was not quite matched by a .662 post-break mark – and since Dee Gordon got the call when Furcal was injured again and then traded, the main interest in Carroll the rest of the way is just when exactly we’d be saying goodbye to him, since several teams were showing strong interest in him at the deadline. At the time, I argued that it was best to trade him, and when it didn’t happen, I didn’t seem to be the only one who was disappointed, according to this story from ESPN/LA’s Tony Jackson:

An hour or so later, when it had become clear to everyone that Carroll wasn’t going anywhere, he was inserted into the game, replacing the still-hitless Eugenio Velez, who probably was in the starting lineup only because the Dodgers were discussing a trade with some team that was interested in Carroll — there is strong evidence that team was the Atlanta Braves. But that trade never came together before the 1 p.m. PT deadline for players who had waiver claims on them, and there is no doubt Carroll was one of those players.

Later, in the clubhouse, Carroll had a look on his face like that of someone who had just been told he had won the lottery, then told that it was a mistake. But then, that’s kind of the way the soft-spoken, ever-stoic Carroll looks all the time.

“Am I still a Dodger?” he asked as two reporters approached him at his locker.

Told that he was, Carroll wasn’t about to publicly admit to being disappointed by that fact.

So what next? Carroll far outperformed the modest two-year contract that we weren’t so sure about when he received it in the 2009-10 offseason, and I need not remind you that second base and OBP are still giant holes for this club. But though I was certainly proven wrong about giving a multi-year deal to a 36-year-old, I’m not sure I can feel any better about it for a guy who is going to turn 38 in February (and yes, there will be enough teams interested that he should be able to pull another two-year deal if he wants). Regardless of what happens, Carroll has been an unbelievably valuable Dodger, and as tough as the last two seasons have been, I can’t imagine how much worse it might have been had he not been available to step in as needed. Wait, yes I can; we saw it in 2008 when we had to live with Angel Berroa and even the corpse of Nomar Garciaparra to step in at shortstop when Furcal was out. If this is it for Carroll as a Dodger, he will certainly be missed. Best of luck, Akbar.

Rafael Furcal (D-)
.197/.272/.248 .520 1hr -0.5 WAR

Furcal’s recap probably reads a lot like that of Casey Blake‘s, in that he was a popular and long-tenured Dodger who had little chance of staying healthy all year, didn’t, and contributed little in the time he was available.

Sidelined for much of the season by two serious injuries – 37 games in April and May with a fractured left thumb on a head-first slide and 26 games in June and July with a strained left oblique – Furcal played just 37 games as a Dodger. It probably says a lot about his Dodger tenure that 37 games isn’t even the fewest he played in a season, as he got into just 36 games during his 2008 season which was ravaged by back trouble. In between, he never really got going, with the fourth-worst wOBA of any shortstop with as many plate appearances as he had – and two of the guys below him lost their jobs. When he was traded to St. Louis at the end of July, it seemed like less of a trade worth analyzing and more of a foregone conclusion at the end of a nice Dodger career. (Though it was lost somewhat in the Trayvon Robinson excitement, outfielder Alex Castellanos hit .322/.406/.603 after joining AA Chattanooga in return for Furcal, raising hopes that he might be slightly more than the fifth outfielder which he’d been profiled as.)

Despite the injury-filled and unproductive end to his time as a Dodger, Furcal leaves as the best shortstop in Los Angeles Dodger history and arguably the best in team history alongside Pee Wee Reese. I’ve seen some suggest that perhaps he could come back to Los Angeles to play second base, but I think it’s more likely that some team that misses out on Jose Reyes or Jimmy Rollins will buy an ill-advised lottery ticket for multiple years to try and fill their own shortstop hole.

Justin Sellers (C-)
.203/.283/.301 .583 1hr 0.6 WAR

And the curse of first impressions strikes again: Justin Sellers comes up, hits a three-run homer in front of his hometown crowd in his third career game, and all of a sudden my Twitter feed is lighting up with people suggesting that Dee Gordon be traded so that Sellers can be the everyday shortstop going forward. Of course, after that… well,  you can see his line above, right?

But let’s first go back to spring training, when I actually was intrigued by having him on the club:

Sellers is someone who I’ve never talked about much around here, and I’ve been meaning to for a while. Despite looking like he’s about 14, his 2010 AAA stats were impressive: .285/.371/.497, with 14 homers. Don’t put too much stock into that, however; while I can’t say for sure because the great minorleaguesplits.com is no longer around, the power displayed is almost certainly a result of the Albuquerque environment, since he had just 17 homers in five previous seasons.

Still, there’s reason to like him. Most of the reports I’ve been able to dig up claim he’s an above-average glove, possibly making him the best defensive choice of these four, and he’s shown improvement in mastering the strike zone. In two seasons as a Dodger minor leaguer, he’s put up OBP of .371 and .360, thanks to a very good K/BB ratio of 115/99. In January, Baseball America gave him the title of “Best Strike Zone Discipline” in the Dodger system, and you don’t need me to remind you how starved this team is for that right now. Though it’s early, he’s off to a good start in the spring, having walked three times without a whiff. Unlike DeJesus, he did attend the winter development camp.

If there’s a knock against him, it’s that he’s been exclusively a middle infielder, though with Jamey Carroll and Juan Uribe both able to handle third base, that wouldn’t seem to be an issue. He’s not a highly touted prospect, clearly, so at 25 and on his third pro organization, I wouldn’t be all that worried about having him riding the major league bench as opposed to playing every day in AAA.

Sellers lost that competition and headed back to AAA, where he put up a superficially impressive .304/.400/.537 line with 14 homers, numbers that seemed nice, but which didn’t stand up when looked into further, as I did when he was recalled to replace Furcal on August 12:

I assume that by now I don’t need to tell you not to trust Albuquerque numbers, but don’t trust Albuquerque numbers. Never has that been more true than with Sellers, who should probably buy a home in ABQ (.387/.460/.737 with 11 homers) and never be allowed to put on the Isotopes’ road grays (.218/.338/.331). So you can imagine what that’ll look like in the big leagues.

And, well, that’s exactly what happened, isn’t it? I know I’m usually the guy saying “don’t judge a rookie by his first brief look,” but don’t forget that this is a 25-year-old rookie without much of a non-altitude-inflated minor-league track record while bouncing among three organizations. That’s not to say that Sellers has no future whatsoever, of course; as a plus glove who can play three positions for the minimum salary, he could be a reasonably useful bench piece for a few seasons. It’s just not someone I choose to think of as a possible starting solution, despite the gaping hole at second base.

******

Next! Jerry Sands makes his mark! The flaming catastrophe that was JaMarcus Gwybbons, Jr.! And Jamie Hoffmann and Xavier Paul exist, briefly! It’s left field!

Today Belongs to Justin Sellers


Not to diminish Hiroki Kuroda, who pitched seven scoreless innings in one of his finest outings of the season, or Matt Kemp, who continued to bolster his MVP case with his 28th homer and 31st stolen base, but if major league teams gave out “game balls” like they do in Little League, today’s would have the name “Justin Sellers” on it. That’s what happens when you take a 1-2 pitch with two on in the 6th inning of your third career big-league game and deposit it into the stands in front of your hometown crowd, thus setting off the demand for the the curtain call you see above.

With the sweep of the hapless Astros – and, look, I know it’s hard to underestimate a team that came into this series at 38-79, but holy lord are they atrocious – the Dodgers head off on a three-city, ten-game road trip that takes them through Milwaukee, Colorado, and St. Louis. As Vin Scully noted in the 9th inning of today’s game, the Brewers are 44-15 at home, which represents the most home wins in the bigs. The Dodgers leave today’s game at 55-64; I’ll predict they come home at 59-70.

******

Per a tweet by ESPN’s Buster Olney, Ted Lilly passed through waivers unclaimed, which is no surprise whatsoever, as anyone who claimed him would be responsible for the $28m or so left on his contract. The real question is, if someone had put in a claim, would Ned Colletti have let him go?

Justin Sellers Becomes Dodger #46

Well, he’s really wearing #12, but whatever. As was no surprise to absolutely any of us who were reading the tea leaves (or at least my comments section), Justin Sellers was promoted today to replace Dee Gordon on the 25-man roster, and he’ll be in the lineup hitting 8th in front of Nathan Eovaldi.

Back in the spring, Sellers was my early choice for the 25th spot, back when the contenders were the never-was Juan Castro, the never-will-be Ivan DeJesus, and Aaron Miles, before he was Aaron Miles. Here’s what I said about him at the time:

Sellers is someone who I’ve never talked about much around here, and I’ve been meaning to for a while. Despite looking like he’s about 14, his 2010 AAA stats were impressive: .285/.371/.497, with 14 homers. Don’t put too much stock into that, however; while I can’t say for sure because the great minorleaguesplits.com is no longer around, the power displayed is almost certainly a result of the Albuquerque environment, since he had just 17 homers in five previous seasons.

Still, there’s reason to like him. Most of the reports I’ve been able to dig up claim he’s an above-average glove, possibly making him the best defensive choice of these four, and he’s shown improvement in mastering the strike zone. In two seasons as a Dodger minor leaguer, he’s put up OBP of .371 and .360, thanks to a very good K/BB ratio of 115/99. In January, Baseball America gave him the title of “Best Strike Zone Discipline” in the Dodger system, and you don’t need me to remind you how starved this team is for that right now. Though it’s early, he’s off to a good start in the spring, having walked three times without a whiff. Unlike DeJesus, he did attend the winter development camp.

If there’s a knock against him, it’s that he’s been exclusively a middle infielder, though with Jamey Carroll and Juan Uribe both able to handle third base, that wouldn’t seem to be an issue. He’s not a highly touted prospect, clearly, so at 25 and on his third pro organization, I wouldn’t be all that worried about having him riding the major league bench as opposed to playing every day in AAA.

Sellers missed some time in 2011 due to a bruised right hand, though overall his line has been very good: .304/.400/.537 and 14 homers. I assume that by now I don’t need to tell you not to trust Albuquerque numbers, but don’t trust Albuquerque numbers. Never has that been more true than with Sellers, who should probably buy a home in ABQ (.387/.460/.737 with 11 homers) and never be allowed to put on the Isotopes’ road grays (.218/.338/.331). So you can imagine what that’ll look like in the big leagues.

Still, remember that Sellers is a stopgap solution, with Rafael Furcal gone and Gordon & Juan Uribe both injured. If he can lend a decent glove and a modicum of on-base skills, then maybe that’s enough to get this team through the season without folding, and isn’t that all that’s important right now?

Getting back to the title, Sellers will be the 46th Dodger to suit up this year, tying the club for 8th-most in team history. The record is 53 by the immortal 1998 club, and if you’re going to have Bobby Bonilla, Tripp Cromer, Matt Luke, and, sigh, Juan Castro on a team, shouldn’t you get a record out of it? As our season has devolved into trying to set obscure records – see the chase for the most left fielders and Eugenio Velez‘ march towards infamy – we might as well see about setting this one, too. Can we get seven more Dodgers? Considering how many Isotopes have already suited up in Los Angeles at some point this season, well, probably not. A man can dream, though. A man can dream.

Oddsmaking For the 25th Spot

Buried within the fifth paragraph of a story about Juan Castro‘s improbable homer yesterday, Tony Jackson may have inadvertently broken some news that could impact how the roster comes together (emphasis mine):

Castro is one of four candidates this spring, along with veteran Aaron Miles and prospects Ivan DeJesus and Justin Sellers, for the second utility-infield spot. Although the Dodgers are up to their chins in outfielders, some of whom can also play on the infield, general manager Ned Colletti now says there will be a second utility infielder on the Opening Day roster.

Though we’d long expected that would be the case rather than carrying a sixth outfielder, this is the first time I’ve seen it laid out so explicitly, and that qualifies as news. It would also seem to doom Xavier Paul to the waiver wire or the trade bin, though more on him in a second. If Jackson is right, that means that one of these four guys are almost certain to make the squad when it heads north. Who will it be? Let’s lay some early-March odds on this quartet.

Juan Castro: 65%. I’ve been over Castro what feels like dozens of times in the nearly four years this blog has been around, since he seemingly comes back more often than Brett Favre. I don’t think much of him as a ballplayer, but the man cannot be killed, and that gets him some credit, I guess. Seriously, though, I think I said all I needed to say about Castro when he signed his minor-league deal back in December:

I’m hardly breaking any major news by saying that he can’t hit, because everyone knows he can’t hit. He’s never come within sniffing distance of even a league-average OPS+ of 100, and he’s never actually even hit 90, and that’s what happens when you’ve never had a season where your OPS has topped .678. So Juan Castro is not a major-league quality hitter. We all knew that.

But what I was very surprised to find out is that Castro is one of the worst hitters in the entire history of baseball.

No, really.

Castro has somehow accumulated 2,834 plate appearances over his 16 big league seasons. 1,664 other players since 1901 can say they’ve had as many or more, lead of course by Babe Ruth’s superlative 206 OPS+. Castro, on the other hand, checks in with the 4th-lowest OPS+ of all time. Of all time!

Rk Player OPS+ PA From To Age G H BA OBP SLG OPS
1 Bill Bergen 21 3228 1901 1911 23-33 947 516 .170 .194 .201 .395
2 Hal Lanier 49 3940 1964 1973 21-30 1196 843 .228 .255 .275 .529
3 Tommy Thevenow 51 4484 1924 1938 20-34 1229 1030 .247 .285 .294 .579
4 Juan Castro 55 2834 1995 2010 23-38 1096 597 .228 .268 .327 .595
5 Bobby Wine 55 3467 1960 1972 21-33 1164 682 .215 .264 .286 .550

Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 12/12/2010.

I went on to explain that while his bat is atrocious, he got on for years by virtue of a plus glove… which is no longer plus. Look, you don’t need fancy stats or in-depth analysis to know that Castro was never very good, and at 38, is no longer a major league quality player. You know that.

So why the 65%? Because he’s a known quantity. Ned Colletti has already added him to the club twice during his tenure, and Castro’s .277 average in 2009 is probably seen as useful, even though it was completely empty (he had just five extra-base hits and drew six walks). Despite the declining defensive metrics, I’m guessing his reputation outweighs the facts, and as I joked on Twitter yesterday, the homer off Jeff Francis almost certainly carries more weight than it ought to. If anything, putting him at 65% might be too low.

Aaron Miles, 20%. With the exception of the Dodger history, you can – and I have – say a lot of the same things about Miles as you can about Castro:

No, really; among players who have had as many plate appearances as Miles had since he debuted in 2003, only three players in baseball have been less valuable. It’s a special kind of “not valuable”, though. If you’re simply awful, you don’t get to stick around for that long. Miles has really hit the sweet spot of being bad enough to hurt his teams for years, yet not so bad that he gets outright drummed out of the game. It must be his A+ levels of “grit” and “scrap”.

Rk Player WAR/pos PA G AB H 2B HR RBI BA OBP SLG OPS
1 Geoff Blum -1.0 2839 902 2592 635 131 59 303 .245 .298 .369 .667
2 Mark Teahen -0.7 2994 753 2713 727 159 63 318 .268 .330 .415 .746
3 Juan Encarnacion -0.3 2653 663 2431 656 136 79 358 .270 .320 .437 .757
4 Aaron Miles 0.6 2574 796 2373 668 93 16 184 .282 .321 .354 .675
5 Shea Hillenbrand 0.7 2647 648 2468 705 139 78 358 .286 .324 .444 .768

Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 2/7/2011But what’s really important here is the last sentence of the dodgers.com story above. Miles is likely competing with Juan Castro and Ivan DeJesus for a second backup infield slot behind Jamey Carroll. Since I don’t believe that DeJesus would get stashed on the big league bench over playing every day in AAA, that means you’re rooting for either the 4th worst player of the last seven years in Miles, or the 4th worst batter in major league history in Castro.

Um, yay. I don’t really see him beating out Castro without a scorching spring, though he does have that creamy veteran pennant-winning goodness Colletti seems to love so much, so…

Ivan DeJesus, 10%. We’ve talked about DeJesus a few times this winter, notably pointing out that he’s fallen completely off most Dodger top prospect lists, nor was he invited to the club’s winter development camp after not getting a September callup last year. Back in October, before Juan Uribe was signed, I looked at whether DeJesus should get a shot at the 2B job and decided that while I wouldn’t totally be against it, it seemed better off to have him in AAA or as utility man.

I’m no longer convinced that DeJesus has what it takes to be an everyday player in the bigs, though it should be noted that he impressed Don Mattingly in the AFL and has put time into learning how to play 3B as well. Still, he’s got an option left, and you know how much the club likes to hold on to as many players as they can. I think there’s also some feeling that after missing all of 2009, it’d be better to have him play every day in the minors rather than riding the big league bench. I’d still prefer him to Castro or Miles, but I can’t argue with that either.

Justin Sellers, 5%. Sellers is someone who I’ve never talked about much around here, and I’ve been meaning to for a while. Despite looking like he’s about 14, his 2010 AAA stats were impressive: .285/.371/.497, with 14 homers. Don’t put too much stock into that, however; while I can’t say for sure because the great minorleaguesplits.com is no longer around, the power displayed is almost certainly a result of the Albuquerque environment, since he had just 17 homers in five previous seasons.

Still, there’s reason to like him. Most of the reports I’ve been able to dig up claim he’s an above-average glove, possibly making him the best defensive choice of these four, and he’s shown improvement in mastering the strike zone. In two seasons as a Dodger minor leaguer, he’s put up OBP of .371 and .360, thanks to a very good K/BB ratio of 115/99. In January, Baseball America gave him the title of “Best Strike Zone Discipline” in the Dodger system, and you don’t need me to remind you how starved this team is for that right now. Though it’s early, he’s off to a good start in the spring, having walked three times without a whiff. Unlike DeJesus, he did attend the winter development camp.

If there’s a knock against him, it’s that he’s been exclusively a middle infielder, though with Jamey Carroll and Juan Uribe both able to handle third base, that wouldn’t seem to be an issue. He’s not a highly touted prospect, clearly, so at 25 and on his third pro organization, I wouldn’t be all that worried about having him riding the major league bench as opposed to playing every day in AAA.

The more I read about Sellers, the more I think he’s my choice, but I still don’t think he’s got any sort of a real shot here. Like DeJesus, he can be sent back to the minors, and with Chin-lung Hu in Queens and Dee Gordon unlikely to start the season at AAA, there’s playing time to be had. Unfortunately, I think we’re stuck with Castro. On the bright side, this roster spot is constantly churning, so hopefully it won’t be for too long.

******

As for Paul, this would seem to sign his death warrant as a Dodger. His only prayer is that he plays out of his head and Jay Gibbons totally chokes his job away, but that seems very unlikely. I can’t imagine that a guy with a .302/.380/.502 AAA line slips through waivers, so I expect him to be shipped off in the second half of March for a Delwyn Young-esque return. It’s too bad, because while he hasn’t been able to establish himself in limited MLB chances, he’s done nothing but produce. Is Gibbons really going to be better? Tony Gwynn? I’m not sure that’s so clear.