May 06

The return of the Cool-a-Coo?

Dodgers at Cubs, 11:20 a.m.
Matt Kemp is resting a tight left hamstring but is available to pinch-hit, according to pregame reports. Kemp has started 123 consecutive games, according to Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A., and played in 392 in a row.

However, the start of today’s game is delayed by rain. 

Dee Gordon, SS
Mark Ellis, 2B
Andre Ethier, RF
Juan Rivera, LF
Jerry Hairston Jr., 3B
James Loney, 1B
A.J. Ellis, C
Tony Gwynn Jr., CF
Aaron Harang, P

Apparently, a Cool-a-Coo resurrection is possible after all.

All my research had shown that Cool-a-Coos, the greatest dessert treat in sports history, had disappeared when the company had gone out of business, but according to Bill Shaikin of the Times, they’re being manufactured by a small company under the name of “Mr. Cool.”

If it’s the real deal, then the Dodgers absolutely need to bring them back as soon as possible. And please, don’t try to sell me on the Its-It. It’s not the same thing.

Elsewhere …

  • Looking ahead: After today’s game, the Dodgers have four consecutive series against their four National League West rivals. Three of those series are at home.
  • According to the Elias Sports Bureau (via ESPN Stats & Information), Chris Capuano had an 0-1 count on 20 of 26 batters he faced Saturday.
  • Teams are starting to shift against Matt Kemp, writes Christina Kahrl for ESPNLosAngeles.com – taking into account his tendency not to pull the ball.
  • John C. McGinley will play Red Barber in the upcoming Jackie Robinson movie 42, writes Dave McNary of Variety.
  • Tommy John surgeon Dr. Frank Jobe, Jim “Mudcat” Grant, and Luis Tiant have been elected to the Baseball Reliquary’s Shrine of the Eternals. They finished in the top three by receiving at least 33 percent of votes. Just missing election this year were Lefty O’Doul (32%), Dizzy Dean (30%), Manny Mota (29%), Don Zimmer (29%), Steve Bilko (27%), Charlie Finley (25%), and Glenn Burke (24%). Induction day is July 15.
  • Steve Dilbeck of the Times becomes the latest to wonder why Jerry Hairston Jr. wouldn’t be the Dodgers’ regular third baseman even when Juan Uribe is healthy. The argument is that Hairston would wear down – the response would be whether Uribe isn’t already worn down.
  • Alex Castellanos and Scott Van Slyke were named Triple-A all-stars for the month of April by Baseball America.
  • Wrightly or wrongly, third baseman David Wright, an obvious trade target for the Dodgers, is likely to remain a Met, writes Ken Rosenthal of FoxSports.com.
  • The Cubs have designated Blake DeWitt (.305 OPS) for assignment.
  • A shoutout to Scott of venerable Rancho Park Pharmacy, thanks to Scott mentioning these words last week when I picked up my prescription: “R.J. Reynolds.”

 

Apr 24

Guerrier hits disabled list, Antonini called up

Here’s some unexpected bullpen news: Matt Guerrier has gone onto the 15-day disabled list with right elbow tendinitis, retroactive to April 19, the Dodgers announced today.

The team has recalled lefty Michael Antonini from Triple-A Albuquerque. Antonini, who came to the Dodgers in exchange for Chin-Lung Hu in December 2010, would be making his major-league debut. He has a 4.26 ERA with 15 strikeouts against 24 baserunners in 19 innings with Albuquerque this season. In 2011, he had a 4.01 ERA with 8.0 strikeouts per nine innings for Double-A Chattanooga.

Update: More disabled list news comes from the Isotopes, who have placed Alex Castellanos on the sidelines with a left hamstring strain.

Apr 24

Castellanos/Van Slyke/Sands postscript

Christopher Jackson, who covers the Dodgers’ Triple-A affiliate in Albuquerque for the Albuquerque Baseball Examiner, stopped by the Dodger Thoughts comments Monday and offered the following reaction to my post about Scott Van Slyke, Jerry Sands and Alex Castellanos.

Castellanos is not ready for the big leagues. He can chew up and spit out the lousy pitching in the PCL, but he is very prone to chasing stuff on the outside part of the plate. Big-league pitchers will eat him alive, a la Sands last year with the inside pitches. The good news is Castellanos knows he’s not ready. I asked him if he’d heard the rumors people were tossing about when Uribe was hurting, and he told me everyone’s getting ahead of themselves. He knows for his development that a full season (or at least close to a full season) at Triple-A is a must. And no, folks, he’s not going to solve the 3B dilemma. The Dodgers are focused on him playing 2B, period.

Van Slyke, besides being one of the funniest guys on the team (his stories about life in baseball as a kid are outstanding), is a solid hitter and someone I could see going up to the big leagues in the second half. He can hit to all fields, he will take pitches at the plate and defensively he seems fine in the outfield (first base, well, there’s a reason the Dodgers moved him off there this spring).

Sands and the Topes’ coaching staff are confident he can turn things around, but lordy, that boy seems stubborn. They tell him “lay off the first pitch” and he goes up and swings away from the start. In most games his early plate appearances are hard to watch, then he starts to settle down. I think if anything he’s trying too hard; he’s overthinking at the plate. It’s frustrating for everyone involved, and you want to root for the guy since he is a good kid. You just wonder that if he can’t turn things around in the next month or so what the Dodgers are going to do. They want him to succeed, they need him to succeed, but right now …

Oh, and best bet for first Tope to be called up: Scott Rice. The kid is legit as a lefty reliever. Might spare you all from MacDougal/Coffey sooner rather than later.

Jackson is on Twitter: @TopesWriter.

Apr 23

Castellanos hot, but Van Slyke might make better case for callup

Braves at Dodgers, 7:10 p.m.
Dee Gordon, SS
Mark Ellis, 2B
Matt Kemp, CF
Andre Ethier, RF
Juan Rivera, LF
James Loney, 1B
Juan Uribe, 3B
A.J. Ellis, C
Chris Capuano, P

So, are you wondering about Alex Castellanos? If not, should you be?

The Dodgers’ hottest high-level minor-league hitter is Castellanos, who has a .483 on-base percentage and .757 slugging percentage for Albuquerque this year. His numbers have actually been better on the road, so while you have to take Pacific Coast League stats into account, it’s safe to say he’s been doing some of this on his own.

It’s hard to believe the lopsided Los Angeles lineup couldn’t use a guy like Castellanos, but the situation is a bit complicated. The 25-year-old has spent this year being converted to second base, which is not one of the Dodgers’ trouble spots right now. Mark Ellis has a .730 OPS (111 OPS+) and has been fielding well. You might make a case that Castellanos would provide an offensive boost, though I’m not so sure — but in any case, I’m not sure anyone would be ready for a double-play combo of Castellanos and Dee Gordon.

Castellanos hasn’t played a professional game at third base since 2009 — not even this year, when the Dodgers have had such uncertainty at the position. So I think you can dismiss the idea of him being called up to play there.

Left field, on the other hand, is a different story. Castellanos has spent most of his pro career in the outfield (albeit in right), while Juan Rivera is very quietly off to a start notably worse than the more publicized James Loney. Rivera has a .298 on-base percentage and .314 slugging percentage and provides none of Loney’s defensive value — indeed, Tony Gwynn Jr. comes off the bench at the earliest opportunity to replace Rivera.  In the heart of the order, whether batting between or after Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier, the 33-year-old Rivera is problematic to say the least, and when he comes out, that leaves Gwynn (or, in case of a double switch, a relief pitcher) in the meat of the lineup.

That’s not to say Rivera might not kick it into gear offensively starting tonight, but essentially we saw last summer the best that he can provide, and we know it doesn’t last long. He’s broken a .750 OPS in a full season once since 2006.

Now, we wouldn’t even be having a Rivera conversation had Jerry Sands not had a miserable March, which happens to have been followed by a miserable April (.316 OBP, .318 slugging so far with the Isotopes). Sands reminds us how hit-and-miss the leap from Triple-A stardom to the majors can be.

So the question is, do you call up Castellanos for a role that would push Rivera to the bench, where the latter might be a decent No. 1 pinch-hitter against lefties (not surprisingly, he hits them better than righties)? I think that depends on how you view the Dodgers’ future at second base. If Castellanos truly can learn to hold down that position, that would ultimately make him more valuable to the franchise, which is fairly thin in middle-infield talent. But when would he get to play there? Ellis is signed through the end of 2013, but he turns 35 in June. If he wears down, the Dodgers might need to replace him this summer, but if he pulls a Jamey Carroll, the Dodgers might not need a new second baseman for two years.

Here’s what I might recommend:

Though he’s not quite at Castellanos levels this year, 25-year-old Scott Van Slyke with little fanfare has followed his outstanding 2011 by starting strong in 2012: .443 OBP, .600 slugging and more walks than strikeouts. Try Van Slyke in left field, Rivera on the bench and Adam Kennedy on an outbound train (with Justin Sellers and Jerry Hairston Jr. picking up the infield time taken by Kennedy, whose signing to a guaranteed contract this past winter never made sense). That gives Van Slyke a taste of the majors and the Dodgers hope for increased production in left field and off the bench, while buying time for Castellanos to continue to grow acquainted with second base and for Sands to figure out what’s gone wrong.

Calling up Van Slyke has a pretty good chance of making the Dodgers better in the short term and the long term. What’s not to like?

(Footnote: Castellanos came to the Dodgers in exchange for Rafael Furcal, who is for the time being hale and hearty. Furcal leads the National League with eight doubles and has a .423 OBP and .523 slugging in 72 healthy-for-now plate appearances in 2012.)

Feb 08

Interview: De Jon Watson looks at Dodger prospects

Though the Dodger farm system certainly has its less fallow spots, it also certainly has its fertile areas, which were enough for ESPN.com’s Keith Law to rank it 12th in the majors, higher than I’ve seen elsewhere.

For a closer look at some of the Dodger developing prospects, I interviewed Dodger assistant general manager in charge of player development De Jon Watson recently for a piece that is running in full at ESPNLosAngeles.com. Here’s how it begins …

The patchwork roster surrounding established Los Angeles Dodgers stars like Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw this year would hint at a dearth of minor league chips to play with, but De Jon Watson would encourage you to ante up.

The Dodgers’ assistant general manager in charge of player development has more than a poker hand’s worth of serious starting pitcher candidates rising through the system, and would even argue for a few wild cards among the position players.

“It’s been good stuff, man,” Watson said of the franchise’s depth at starting pitcher. “Our kids are coming. It’s great to have that type of competition. … If you have a hiccup or someone goes down for a little bit, you have a legitimate option waiting in the wings. The key is being as sharp as they can possibly be when that opportunity arises so you really don’t miss a beat.”

That doesn’t change the Dodgers’ pattern of leaning toward veterans at the start of the season. With Hiroki Kuroda leaving as a free agent and the team’s 2010 minor league pitcher of the year, Rubby De La Rosa, recovering from Tommy John surgery, the Dodgers signed Aaron Harang and Chris Capuano rather than hand a starting rotation slot to Nathan Eovaldi, who had a 3.09 ERA in six starts at age 21 late last summer.

Shortstop Dee Gordon is the only 2011 Dodgers rookie who has the inside track on a starting spot with the team this season. Gordon, who had 24 stolen bases in 56 games and a .325 on-base percentage (.398 in September), will look to capitalize on his hot finish.

“The biggest thing to look for from him is going to be his on-base percentage,” Watson said, “because his speed is going to change how they pitch to the guy that’s behind him. He’s going to apply pressure both from an offensive standpoint and a defensive standpoint for the opponent. So he has to get on base. For us, his key is understanding what type of hitter he is, understanding the strike zone.” …

In addition to Eovaldi, De La Rosa and Gordon, Watson also provides a status report on Jerry Sands, Zach Lee, Garret Gould, Allen Webster, Chris Withrow, Shawn Tolleson, Steven Ames, Scott Van Slyke, Alex Castellanos, Chris Reed and Pedro Baez.

Hope you enjoy reading the full story

Continue reading

Nov 18

Dodgers remove Ely, Monasterios from 40-man roster

Ahead of the deadline to protect players from the Rule 5 draft, the Dodgers outrighted pitchers John Ely and Carlos Monasterios to Triple-A Albuquerque in order to make room for five first-timers on the 40-man roster.

Two came at the trading deadline: outfielder Alex Castellanos and pitcher Steven Fife.

  • Alex Castellanos, the 25-year-old outfielder who came from the Cardinals in exchange for Rafael Furcal and had a combined .958 OPS in 534 plate appearances at Double-A.
  • Stephen Fife, a 25-year-old righty who came from the Red Sox in the Trayvon Robinson trade and had a combined 3.74 ERA with 95 strikeouts in 137 innings at Double-A.
  • Chris Withrow, a 2007 first-round draft choice who had a 4.20 ERA with 130 strikeouts in 128 2/3 innings as a starter at Double-A Chattanooga.
  • Michael Antonini, a 26-year-old who came from the Mets organization last winter in exchange for Chin-Lung Hu and had a 4.01 ERA with 131 strikeouts in 148 innings as a starter at Chattanooga.
  • Josh Wall, a 2005 second-round draft choice who had a 3.93 ERA with 57 strikeouts in 68 2/3 innings as a reliever at Double-A Chattanooga.

After spending all of 2010 with the Dodgers, Monasterios was injured most of 2011, pitching only four innings with the Isotopes. Ely never recovered his Elymania form of 2010, though he was mostly effective in very short spurts with the Dodgers in 2011.

Both players could easily remain in the organization for 2012, depending on the interest they receive elsewhere.

For more on the state of the 40-man roster,  as well as some names that were left unprotected from the Rule 5 draft, check out this post and this post from True Blue L.A.

Oct 20

Walter O’Malley congratulates Don Larsen

Walter O’ Malley can be seen receiving a signed baseball from Don Larsen after the Yankee pitcher’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series, in this unpublished Life Magazine photo. I found it after looking through this unpublished photo gallery of candids from the 1961 Yankees, that I visited thanks to a link from Baseball Musings.

Elsewhere …

  • Former Dodger Tracy Woodson, who can be seen bear-hugging Kirk Gibson after his 1988 World Series home run, is now the baseball coach at Valparaiso. Phil Stanton of College Baseball Insider has an interview with him. If you want more, here’s a 2008 conversation with Woodson.
  • A left oblique strain ended Alex Castellanos’ Arizona Fall League season, according to Ken Gurnick of MLB.com. Gurnick now writes that the Dodgers have considered moving Castellanos to first base, which seems more feasible but less sensible all at once. Not sure what to make of that.
  • Former Dodger executive Kim Ng will interview for the Angels’ general manager job. Mark Saxon of ESPNLosAngeles.com makes the case that she would be a great hire for the Angels.
  • Bronx Banter founder Alex Belth published a guest piece from his brother Ben on playing ball with his son in the suburbs.
Oct 13

Meet me at the fair

As I wrestle with the question, are the St. Louis Cardinals really going to take two barely qualified teams to the World Series in six seasons?

Jul 31

More reviews of Dodgers’ new prospects

Alex Castellanos

“… A 25-year-old right-handed hitter, he has mediocre tools but has put up big numbers this year. His plate discipline needs work, and despite the line at Springfield I’d rate him a Grade C prospect at this point, with a chance to be a bench asset.”
– John Sickels, Minor League Ball

Tim Federowicz

“… Federowicz is a catch-and-throw specialist who isn’t likely to produce enough at the plate to be an average regular, but is plus across the board behind the plate (including a career 34 percent caught-stealing rate) and is no worse than a good backup in the majors.”
– Keith Law, ESPN.com

“… The best defensive catcher in the Red Sox system, with the catch-and-throw skills to be a big league regular. His pure arm strength is average, but it plays up because he has smooth footwork and a quick release. He has thrown out 36 percent of basestealers this year in Double-A, and also has shown off his receiving ability by committing just one passed ball. Federowicz’s bat will determine how much he plays when he gets to the majors. He ability to hit for average and control the strike zone is decent, and he has some gap power. He runs well for a catcher and has more athleticism than most backstops.”
Baseball America

“… A top-flight defensive catcher, he has a strong throwing arm, plenty of mobility, and excellent leadership skills behind the plate. A weak stick has kept him off prospect lists. … He probably won’t hit enough to be a major league regular, but he could last a long time as a defense-oriented reserve. He turns 24 this week. Grade C.”
– John Sickels, Minor League Ball

“… He’s a very good catch-and-throw guy, with a quick release and strong arm. He’s also worked very hard to improve his blocking. At the plate, he uses a middle-of-the-field approach and has average pull power. Most see him as a defensive-oriented backup at the big league level, but he could become an everyday guy if he hits a bit more than expected.”
– Jonathan Mayo, MLB.com

Stephen Fife

“… Fife probably profiles as a right-handed reliever rather than a starter because he lacks the out pitch to start; he’ll touch 95 as a starter with a fringe-average curveball.”
– Law

“… Didn’t start pitching regularly until he was a high school senior, but after three years of college ball at Utah he worked himself into the third round of the 2008 draft. His best pitch is an 88-93 mph fastball that features good sink. He lacks an above-average secondary pitch, with his changeup (which has some splitter action) ranking ahead of his curveball. His control and command are average, and it’s more likely that he develops into a middle reliever than a starter.”
– Baseball America

“… His stuff is average across the board: 88-92 MPH sinking fastball, average changeup and curveball, but he throws strikes and keeps the ball low in the zone. … In the majors, he projects as a fifth starter or more probably a long/middle reliever. I’ve see him as a sleeper in the past but he’s never quite woken up. Grade C.
– Sickels

“… Fife is a solid right-handed starter with a three-pitch mix. An Eastern League All-Star this season, Fife can run his fastball up to 93 mph with some sink. His curveball can be an out pitch, and he’s also got a pretty good feel for a changeup. He mixes his pitches well and can change speeds, but he also has enough velocity to put hitters away at times.”
– Mayo

Juan Rodriguez

“… Rodriguez has a plus fastball, no average second pitch and below-average command and control – a nice arm to add to your system but a reliever at best and not a high-probability guy, either. Unless Robinson was somehow burning a hole in the Dodgers’ pockets, this (trade) doesn’t make a ton of sense to me, as they didn’t get any prospect as good as he is in the exchange.”
– Law

“… He still has room for projection in his 6-foot-5, 195-pound frame, and he already throws 93-95 mph coming out of the bullpen, enabling him to rank second among South Atlantic League relievers with 13.42 strikeouts per nine innings. There’s a good deal of effort in Rodriguez’s delivery, which hampers his control and command. His slider and changeup are fringy pitches, so his ceiling is as a late-inning reliever rather than as a starter.”
– Baseball America

… His command is spotty and his slider is mediocre, but his 92-95 MPH fastball has movement and his K/IP ratio is excellent. He needs to sharpen up his command and add polish, but he’s an interesting arm at least. Grade C, but has some upside.”
– Sickels

“… Rodriguez is a raw, tall and lanky right-hander with plenty of arm strength. Pitching out of the bullpen for Greenville in the South Atlantic League, he’s shown plus velocity, up to 98-99 mph at times. He’s got a slider that’s below average, and he’s working to develop a better feel for an offspeed pitch. He generally throws strikes, but he needs to find more consistency with his fastball command. That, and development of his offspeed stuff, will be key. But the power and arm strength that many teams covet are definitely there.”
– Mayo

Jul 31

Castellanos comes to Dodgers with power, but also strike-zone issues

Outfielder Alex Castellanos, in the midst of a strong season in Double-A for Springfield in the Texas League, is coming to the Dodger organization to complete the Rafael Furcal trade, according to Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com.

The 5-foot-11, 180-pound Castellanos turns 25 next week, which puts him on the older side for Double-A, but he has made progress since being drafted out of Belmont Abbey College in 2008. This season, he has a .379 on-base percentage and .562 slugging percentage (sixth in the Texas League) with 19 homers, 21 doubles and 10 steals in 11 attempts in 93 games. He was named a starter in the Texas League All-Star Game (the story cited states that Castellanos, who played a little infield at the outset of his pro career but has been full-time in the outfield since 2010, has a “laser arm” in right).

The main problem with Castellanos is plate discipline: He has 24 walks and 94 strikeouts this season. In 384 minor-league games, he has 94 walks and 366 strikeouts. Those ratios are huge warning signs as far as major-league success goes.

Here’s what Future Redbirds had to say about him in April:

… Castellanos is off to a huge start in 2011, but at this point it looks slightly unsustainable because he has hit home runs on 16.1% of his balls hit in the air.  (Around 6.5% is average.)

Looking at the stats, it is pretty clear what type of player Castellanos is so far in his career.  He will swing for the fences and is happy to go down swinging while trying.  He will not try to work a walk and his OBP will not be much more than his (batting average). But when he hits the ball it will go very far and he has the ability to stretch a single into a double and double into a triple which helps his slugging numbers.  Once on base, he also has dangerous speed to steal bases at will.  Castellanos is an intriguing prospect based on his power and speed numbers, but will need to cut down on the strikeouts and add some walks to really push his prospect status to the next level.

Castellanos would appear to be an offensive upgrade over Kyle Russell, the Dodgers’ 25-year-old Chattanooga outfielder who is at .331/.473 with 36 walks and 129 strikeouts this year. Here’s how Castellanos compares to Jerry Sands and Trayvon Robinson, who were 22 at Double-A in 2010, not 24 as Castellanos is now. I’ve also thrown in former Dodger Xavier Paul and former Cardinal Colby Rasmus for added context.

Castellanos (24 in 2011): 93 games, .379/.562, 24 walks/94 strikeouts
Paul (22 in 2007): 118 games, .366/.429, 48 walks/112 strikeouts
Rasmus (20 in 2007): 128 games, .381/.551, 70 walks/108 strikeouts
Robinson (22 in 2010): 120 games, .404/.438, 73 walks/125 strikeouts
Sands (22 in 2010): 68 games, .360/.529, 33 walks/62 strikeouts

Take all these comparisons with a grain of salt, of course. The numbers for the Dodger minor-leaguers came in the Southern League.

One final comparison: Because this trade reminds me so much of the Milton Bradley-Andre Ethier trade, in that it involves getting rid of a player whom everyone knew had no future in Los Angeles for a Double-A outfielder, here’s how Ethier had performed leading up to that exchange. With Midland of the Texas League at age 23, Ethier had a .385 on-base percentage and .497 slugging percentage with 48 walks and 93 strikeouts.

Keeping in mind that getting Ethier for Bradley was at worst a minor miracle for the Dodgers and arguably a major one, Castellanos almost seems like a respectable exchange for Furcal. Unfortunately, being a little older than Ethier with less plate discipline doesn’t help Castellanos’ case. Baseball America is even less sanguine:

Castellanos was having a career year in Double-A (he ranks eighth in the Texas League in hitting, fifth in homers and fourth in runs scored), but he’ll turn 25 on Thursday and his tools don’t live up to his performance. He has some pop but he has a long swing and chases too many pitches out of the strike zone. His speed and defensive tools are fringy, and the former Belmont Abbey (N.C.) second baseman fits best in right field. Despite his 2011 numbers, he doesn’t have the bat to profile as a big league regular there. He signed for $70,000 as a 10th-round pick in 2008.

If that seems disappointing, consider that the alternative would have been that the Dodgers would be paying Furcal anyway while getting nothing in return. (MLB Trade Rumors calculated earlier in July that Furcal will not be a Type A or Type B free agent this offseason).

Knowing that Furcal could break down again at any moment physically the way Bradley could be counted on to mentally, it was always unlikely that the Dodgers were going to get a can’t-miss prospect for him. But it will be understandable that some will point to Ethier and wonder why not.