Baseball Skinny: Youth is Served

Matt Romig
Yahoo! Sports

CLOSER HOT SEAT

NEW YORK METS RED HOT
1st Chair: Braden Looper
2nd Chair: Victor Zambrano, Aaron Heilman
Skinny: Actually, you can list any number of Mets relievers in the second chair. Looper blew his second straight save chance Thursday, and following the game manager Willie Randolph admitted that he would start trying pitchers in new roles down the stretch. Zambrano may get a shot at closing and so could Heilman, though both may factor into the team's starting rotation plans for 2006. Randolph has been intrigued by Shingo Takatsu – and may give him a chance to regain the magic he displayed last season with the White Sox. Danny Graves is also in the picture. In other words: the situation is a mess. And Randolph hasn't flat-out said that Looper is a goner, either.

PITTSBURGH PIRATES RED HOT
1st Chair: Mike Gonzalez
2nd Chair: Salomon Torres
Skinny: "He was nasty," is how interim manager Pete Mackanin described Gonzalez' stuff after the lefty got out of a jam he inherited from Torres on Sept. 14. He struck out Reggie Sanders and got So Taguchi on an easy grounder with the tying runs in scoring position to preserve a 5-3 win. The previous night Gonzalez struck out the side – a side that included Albert Pujols – in a 5-4 loss. Though he has been victimized by two homers this month, opponent's are hitting .182 off Gonzalez and he's punched out 14 in nine innings. Torres, of course, has been equally filthy, so both are likely to get their chances down the stretch. Still a job share here, but if I had to own one, it would be Gonzo.

BOSTON RED SOX RED HOT
1st Chair: Mike Timlin
2nd Chair: Keith Foulke
Skinny: With Foulke, we've reached the point that progress is measured not in saves, but in successful bullpen sessions. His latest on-field test was pitching in back-to-back games, and he failed miserably – walking two batters and allowing two hits in a lone inning against Toronto. Timlin, meanwhile, is quietly getting the job done. There's simply too much at stake in Boston for manager Terry Francona to make a loyalty-move with Foulke. According to the Providence Journal, closer of the future Craig Hansen may get called up now that his minor league season in Maine is over. Fantasy owners will want to get a look at this kid, who boasts a fastball in the mid-90s and a slider that can touch 90 on the gun.

CHICAGO WHITE SOX HOT
1st Chair: Dustin Hermanson
2nd Chair: Bobby Jenks
Skinny: Manager Ozzie Guillen has often said he'd have no problem using Jenks, a rookie just two months removed from the minors, to close games. Tuesday he backed up those claims by letting Jenks pitch the final two innings in a 6-4 win over Kansas City. On Sunday, concerned Hermanson owners reached panic mode when Guillen gave Jenks the ball again to protect a 2-1 lead. The fireballer earned his second and third saves. Hermanson has a loss and a blown save in his past two outings. His season numbers are still solid, but Guillen has shown in the past that he's more than willing to shift responsibilities in his bullpen and he told the Associated Press that "you're going to see a lot more [of Jenks]."

DETROIT TIGERS WARM
1st Chair: Fernando Rodney
2nd Chair: Franklyn German, Craig Dingman
Skinny: Don't read too much into the fact that Dingman got the save for the Tigers Thursday. Rodney was attending to more pressing details – namely the birth of his first child. Well, from that you can gather that Dingman would be manager Alan Trammell's first option if Rodney falters. Rodney did blow a save Saturday, but he inherited two base runners while protecting a one-run lead on the road against the Angels. Not exactly a high-percentage opportunity. The door is open for Troy Percival's return next season, as the injured closer learned he will not need surgery on his elbow.

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS WARM
1st Chair: Jose Valverde
2nd Chair: Brandon Medders, Tim Worrell
Skinny: Another typical month so far for Valverde, who strikes out a batter per inning and holds opponents well under .200 at the plate – all this while doing fantasy owners very little good. His save Saturday was just his third of the month, and while he hasn't blown a save since mid-July, he has only six since then. Medders continues to impress as a rookie, but the veteran Worrell remains Valverde's primary set-up guy.

ATLANTA BRAVES LUKEWARM
1st Chair: Kyle Farnsworth
2nd Chair: Chris Reitsma, Dan Kolb
Skinny: You'd be hard-pressed to find a more valuable closer than Farnsworth right now. He's 6-for-6 converting saves this month while holding opponents to a .103 average (his 0.46 WHIP isn't bad, either). The key has been command. Farnsworth has issued only two free passes since July, so when he gives up a homer like he did Thursday, the damaged is minimized. You also have to love the combustibility of a power-vs.-power matchup involving Farnsworth. He gave up a deep ball to Ryan Howard Thursday, the first homer he's given up since Albert Pujols took him deep on Aug. 7.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS LUKEWARM
1st Chair: Miguel Batista
2nd Chair: Justin Speier
Skinny: According to the Toronto Star, there has been grumbling in the clubhouse about Batista's performance of late. If the players are losing their patience, it's justifiable. Since the All-Star break Batista has put up Jose Mesa-like numbers: 4.35 ERA, 1.65 WHIP, .286 opponents average and three blown saves in his past seven chances. According to a separate report on MLB.com, Batista's job is secure for the remainder of this season. For now, that is.

CLOSER HOT SEAT

NEW YORK METS RED HOT
1st Chair: Braden Looper
2nd Chair: Victor Zambrano, Aaron Heilman
Skinny: Actually, you can list any number of Mets relievers in the second chair. Looper blew his second straight save chance Thursday, and following the game manager Willie Randolph admitted that he would start trying pitchers in new roles down the stretch. Zambrano may get a shot at closing and so could Heilman, though both may factor into the team's starting rotation plans for 2006. Randolph has been intrigued by Shingo Takatsu – and may give him a chance to regain the magic he displayed last season with the White Sox. Danny Graves is also in the picture. In other words: the situation is a mess. And Randolph hasn't flat-out said that Looper is a goner, either.

PITTSBURGH PIRATES RED HOT
1st Chair: Mike Gonzalez
2nd Chair: Salomon Torres
Skinny: "He was nasty," is how interim manager Pete Mackanin described Gonzalez' stuff after the lefty got out of a jam he inherited from Torres on Sept. 14. He struck out Reggie Sanders and got So Taguchi on an easy grounder with the tying runs in scoring position to preserve a 5-3 win. The previous night Gonzalez struck out the side – a side that included Albert Pujols – in a 5-4 loss. Though he has been victimized by two homers this month, opponent's are hitting .182 off Gonzalez and he's punched out 14 in nine innings. Torres, of course, has been equally filthy, so both are likely to get their chances down the stretch. Still a job share here, but if I had to own one, it would be Gonzo.

BOSTON RED SOX RED HOT
1st Chair: Mike Timlin
2nd Chair: Keith Foulke
Skinny: With Foulke, we've reached the point that progress is measured not in saves, but in successful bullpen sessions. His latest on-field test was pitching in back-to-back games, and he failed miserably – walking two batters and allowing two hits in a lone inning against Toronto. Timlin, meanwhile, is quietly getting the job done. There's simply too much at stake in Boston for manager Terry Francona to make a loyalty-move with Foulke. According to the Providence Journal, closer of the future Craig Hansen may get called up now that his minor league season in Maine is over. Fantasy owners will want to get a look at this kid, who boasts a fastball in the mid-90s and a slider that can touch 90 on the gun.

CHICAGO WHITE SOX HOT
1st Chair: Dustin Hermanson
2nd Chair: Bobby Jenks
Skinny: Manager Ozzie Guillen has often said he'd have no problem using Jenks, a rookie just two months removed from the minors, to close games. Tuesday he backed up those claims by letting Jenks pitch the final two innings in a 6-4 win over Kansas City. On Sunday, concerned Hermanson owners reached panic mode when Guillen gave Jenks the ball again to protect a 2-1 lead. The fireballer earned his second and third saves. Hermanson has a loss and a blown save in his past two outings. His season numbers are still solid, but Guillen has shown in the past that he's more than willing to shift responsibilities in his bullpen and he told the Associated Press that "you're going to see a lot more [of Jenks]."

DETROIT TIGERS WARM
1st Chair: Fernando Rodney
2nd Chair: Franklyn German, Craig Dingman
Skinny: Don't read too much into the fact that Dingman got the save for the Tigers Thursday. Rodney was attending to more pressing details – namely the birth of his first child. Well, from that you can gather that Dingman would be manager Alan Trammell's first option if Rodney falters. Rodney did blow a save Saturday, but he inherited two base runners while protecting a one-run lead on the road against the Angels. Not exactly a high-percentage opportunity. The door is open for Troy Percival's return next season, as the injured closer learned he will not need surgery on his elbow.

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS WARM
1st Chair: Jose Valverde
2nd Chair: Brandon Medders, Tim Worrell
Skinny: Another typical month so far for Valverde, who strikes out a batter per inning and holds opponents well under .200 at the plate – all this while doing fantasy owners very little good. His save Saturday was just his third of the month, and while he hasn't blown a save since mid-July, he has only six since then. Medders continues to impress as a rookie, but the veteran Worrell remains Valverde's primary set-up guy.

ATLANTA BRAVES LUKEWARM
1st Chair: Kyle Farnsworth
2nd Chair: Chris Reitsma, Dan Kolb
Skinny: You'd be hard-pressed to find a more valuable closer than Farnsworth right now. He's 6-for-6 converting saves this month while holding opponents to a .103 average (his 0.46 WHIP isn't bad, either). The key has been command. Farnsworth has issued only two free passes since July, so when he gives up a homer like he did Thursday, the damaged is minimized. You also have to love the combustibility of a power-vs.-power matchup involving Farnsworth. He gave up a deep ball to Ryan Howard Thursday, the first homer he's given up since Albert Pujols took him deep on Aug. 7.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS LUKEWARM
1st Chair: Miguel Batista
2nd Chair: Justin Speier
Skinny: According to the Toronto Star, there has been grumbling in the clubhouse about Batista's performance of late. If the players are losing their patience, it's justifiable. Since the All-Star break Batista has put up Jose Mesa-like numbers: 4.35 ERA, 1.65 WHIP, .286 opponents average and three blown saves in his past seven chances. According to a separate report on MLB.com, Batista's job is secure for the remainder of this season. For now, that is.

I need some help from the masses here. The Skinny attended Friday's Giants-Dodgers game – the one that featured Barry Bonds' first homer of 2005 – with a group of Yahoo! Sports colleagues. Upon seeing the out-of-town scoreboard update to register the last of Philadelphia's 13 runs, I logged in through my cell phone to see if Ryan Howard played a role in the onslaught. Sadly his contribution was minimal, but worse – a fellow Yahoo! saw what I was doing and proposed a fine for my actions.

Help me out here folks – we all bend over backwards to follow our teams, regardless of where we are, right? I venture to guess some of you are guilty of far worse transgressions, perhaps at a wedding (hopefully not your own), a piano recital or any number of events where other things should be on your mind. Bottom line: I wasn't out of line here, team outing or not. Was I? While you think it over, allow me to recap the other news I followed while the rest of the world enjoyed a weekend:

WEEKEND UPDATE: Need-to-know info from the past few days

  • Things have been fairly quiet on the prospect front since Jeff Francoeur and Felix Hernandez made their Major League debuts. The closest thing to a bang to come from the minor leagues in the past month or so (outside of San Francisco's Matt Cain) was a volley fired from Durham, NC by can't-miss phenom Delmon Young, who called the Tampa Bay organization "cheap" for not rewarding him with a September call-up. He's not out of line on this one – he should be in the majors (and on fantasy rosters) right now. He's that good, and with three series remaining against potential playoff teams, the Devil Rays could use a guy with 30-30 power to spice up the chase for October. Oh well, maybe this way he'll slide down the draft board a bit next year – assuming Tampa GM Chuck LaMar comes to his senses by then and lets him play.

We should be talking about Young right now, but instead lets circle back and reconnect with another outfield prospect who is actually getting a chance this year. Remember Curtis Granderson? He landed here in this column in July after homering in his first series of 2005. Well, he's back and getting regular at-bats for the Tigers down the stretch. He homered twice last week, had a stretch of four multi-hit games in a five-game span and then closed the week by going 5-for-5 against the Angels Sunday. He has all the credentials: success at every level, a .300 lifetime minor league average and recognition as the top prospect in the Detroit system from Baseball America. He isn't running yet, but he proved he can turn on the jets when he legged out an inside-the-park home run Thursday. Watch this guy if the Tigers turn him loose on the base paths.

  • Of course, Granderson isn't the only call-up proving he belongs. It's easy for a manager to lavish praise upon prospects of his own, but listen to what Cincinnati manager Jerry Narron had to say about Paul Maholm after the Pittsburgh rookie shut his Reds down for eight innings Saturday: "Let me tell you," he told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, "Maholm and [Zack] Duke are definitely big-league." Granted the Griffey-less Reds aren't exactly rolling out a Murderer's Row these days, but the heart of the Cincy lineup went 1-for-13 with six strikeouts against Maholm. It was the rookie's fourth quality start in as many tries as a big leaguer. Like Duke, this lefty displays poise beyond his years. A 23 year old isn't supposed to allow the leadoff runner to reach base four times without getting scored upon, but that's exactly what Maholm did Saturday.

Maholm is a great spot-start candidate down the stretch – but maybe not his next time out. After four starts he has favorable numbers in every category (2-0, 1.24 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, .182 opp. average), but the tests have come against the Reds (twice), Diamondback and Brewers. His next start comes when the Pirates host Houston, a red-hot team that outscored Pittsburgh 34-8 in a four-game series the last time they paid a visit. Too risky for a guy that Baseball America didn't expect to see in the majors until the end of 2006. As recently as two weeks ago I was in Las Vegas singing the praises of Pirates prospect "Pat Mahomes" to some colleagues. In other words: the kid can pitch, but let him pay his dues. Target his final start at Wrigley Field in what should be a meaningless (and disheartening) final home series for the Cubs.

  • Keep an eye on Baltimore prospect Bernie Castro. This guy can fly – and the Orioles aren't hesitating to put that speed on display. He began this season with 197 career stolen bases in the minor leagues, but just a .280 lifetime average. This year, his first in the Baltimore system, he hit .315 with 41 stolen bases in 47 tries at Triple-A Ottawa, numbers that earned him MVP honors for the Lynx. In 11 appearances since his Sept. 1 recall, Castro already has five steals for Baltimore. Interim manager Sam Perlozzo is so anxious to get his bat (and legs) into the lineup that he started him out of position in left field Sunday. It didn't exactly work out (Castro made a costly error), but the 26-year-old did respond with two hits, including an RBI single.

Obviously Brian Roberts isn't going anywhere, but between DH duties and pinch-running, Castro should find enough playing time to make an impact in fantasy leagues, particularly those that are tightly bunched in the stolen base category. Willy Taveras has suddenly stopped running (only two steals/last 22 games), which makes guys like Castro and Joey Gathright (seven steals this month for Tampa Bay) even more valuable as the stretch run continues. You won't find this kind of speed potential sitting idly on the waiver wire for long.

BARGAIN BIN: Top players available in 50 percent of Yahoo! leagues

  • Ramon Hernandez, C, SD
    You have to feel for Hernandez, who in seven Major League seasons has already called two of the toughest hitter's parks in baseball home. He got by at the Coliseum in Oakland, hitting nine homers and driving in 33 runs at home in his last full season with the A's. His time in San Diego has been plagued by injury, but right now he looks pretty comfortable at Petco Park. Hernandez homered in back-to-back games over the weekend, and is now hitting .417 with three homers and eight RBIs in nine September starts. Don't forget that Ramon was a borderline top-10 catcher on draft day, so right now he's playing to expectations; not over his head. Bonus: San Diego begins a four-game set at Coors Field Monday.

  • Brandon McCarthy, SP/RP, ChW
    McCarthy has been a Skinny favorite of late – and why not? Manager Ozzie Guillen has asked a lot of this rookie, and the kid has delivered time and again since his recall in early July. He started two games and didn't allow a run in 14 innings. He struck out eight in 5.2 innings of long relief. Saturday he gave the team three more quality innings of relief. His next task, according to the Chicago Sun-Times, will be replacing the struggling Orlando Hernandez in the Chicago rotation. If that's the move, McCarthy will give fantasy spot-start aficionados a good reason to sign him once or twice down the stretch. His post-All-Star splits: 1.72 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, .190 opponent's average.

PROSPECT WATCH: Top players down on the farm

  • Anderson Hernandez, 2B, NYM (ETA – Recalled by Mets)
    Anderson is another repeat visitor to the Prospect Watch. New York's problems at second base have been well-publicized, but they are very high on Hernandez, who started the season at Double-A, then hit .303 in 66 games with Triple-A Norfolk. Just 22, Hernandez stole 35 bases in the minors this year and could team with Jose Reyes to give the Mets one of the fastest middle infields in baseball.

  • Craig Hansen, RP, Bos (ETA – Now)
    Not much new to report on now that the minor league playoffs are over, so we'll stick with Hansen again this week. According to the Boston Herald, Hansen will join the Red Sox as early as Monday as the team begins a series with the Devil Rays. As recently as a few weeks ago it looked like his big-league debut was on hold, but he shined during the playoffs for Double-A Portland, prompting the club to re-think their plans for this kid, who may take over as closer as early as next season.

MARKET MOVERS: Charting player values

Jack Wilson, SS, Pit – Last week's Bargain Bin player continues his return to 2004 form. Remember, he set a club record for hits a year ago. He's thriving in the No. 2 position in the Pittsburgh lineup, going 9-for-15 over the weekend with five runs scored and two stolen bases.

Matt Murton, LF, ChC – Murton hit a tie-breaking homer to center field Sunday, his fourth round-tripper in his past 38 at-bats. He hit a combined .343 at two minor league stops this season, and has seen only a slight drop-off with the parent club, where he's hitting .333.

Ben Broussard, 1B, Cle – Add Broussard's name to the list of Cleveland players who are stepping it up for the stretch run. After suffering through a 1-for-25 stretch, Broussard has homered three times and driven home nine runs in his past four starts.

Garrett Atkins, 3B, Col – What is this, a productive road trip for Atkins? The Colorado third baseman went 6-for-19 over the weekend with two homers and 11 RBIs as the team actually won a couple away from Coors Field. Fantasy owners won't complain that he's returning home for a seven-game stand, as Atkins is hitting .348 at home with 47 RBIs in 60 games.

John Buck, C, KC – The Royals have displayed a tremendous amount of patience with Buck, a guy Baseball America tabbed as a .275/20-homer catcher when they named him Houston's top prospect in 2003. Armed with a new hitting approach, Buck is starting to pay dividends. He doubled twice Thursday, homered Saturday and is now hitting .289 in September with three homers and six RBIs in 12 games.

Mike Jacobs, 1B, NYM – Yahoo! owners would love to see that little "c" appear next to Jacobs' name – you know, the one that signifies catcher eligibility? Well, that's not going to happen, but will a 440-foot homer off John Smoltz catch your attention? Jacobs homered in back-to-back games over the weekend (the other off Tim Hudson) just a few days after the club named him their top minor leaguer (he hit .321 with 25 homers) for 2005.

Robinson Cano, 2B, NYY – Maybe that .207 August wasn't a sign the league had caught up with Cano. All Cano did this weekend was go 8-for-17 with three homers, four doubles and a triple, driving in 10 runs in the process. He is batting .446 this month with favorable numbers in all relevant non-baserunning categories. Dare I say, he's even been better than Mark Ellis (.424) this month.

Gabe Gross, RF, Tor – Interesting stat: Gross hit more homers in spring training (8) than he did in 102 games (6) with Triple-A Syracuse this season. The Blue Jays still think Gross can be a decent power-hitting corner outfielder (the anti-Alex Rios, if you will), and they are giving him a shot to prove it. He finally connected off Matt Clement Tuesday for his first homer of the season and he followed that up with two doubles against the Yankees Friday.

Rick Helling, SP, Mil – Helling was masterful in seven innings of work at Houston Friday, allowing only one run on four hits while striking out five. In his past three starts, Helling is 1-0 with just that lone earned run allowed in 19 innings. Of course, like teammate Doug Davis, he gets no run support.

Matt Clement, SP, Bos – He suffered his third straight loss Sunday and his post-All-Star ERA is approaching 6.00. Hardly the same guy that was taking the hill in April for the Red Sox.

Chad Cordero, RP, Was – Manager Frank Robinson had some choice words for his closer recently, but he says he's sticking by Cordero despite his September struggles. He has three blown saves and a 12.00 ERA for the month.

Yahoo! Experts League Update
Funston continues to hold off all pursuers with a calm approach. While others furiously add/drop players in search of a hot bat or a quality spot-start, Funston gets by with his core guys. In fact, Y! Funston hasn't added a player since bringing Javier Vasquez aboard in mid-July. Just goes to show there's more than one way to attack a fantasy pennant race.

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