Is he ready to be Baltimore’s first baseman in 2011? How good a prospect is he?
No, he’s not ready; and right now, he’s a very marginal prospect. Two years ago, he was described as a right-handed-hitting Sean Casey. Last year, I thought he might become a right-handed-hitting Sid Bream. Now, I think he might become a right-handed-hitting Gerald Perry, which has no value.
Over the past season-and-a-half, Brandon Snyder has had 673 AAA plate appearances — about one major league season’s worth. His slash stats — .253/.321/.384. Granting that Norfolk is a terrible place to hit, and especially bad for a player of Snyder’s skill set, a player at that level of production (OPS+ of around 92) isn’t going to cut it as a first baseman. I’ve watched him fairly regularly for that past season-and-a-half, and those slash numbers really do tell how well he’s performed.
Brandon Snyder can be used as the subject of a philosophical debate about minor league promotions. He had had pretty good years at age 20 in Low-A and age 21 in High-A, and was being talked about as a prospect. In 2009, at age 22, he was assigned to AA Bowie, where he hit lights-out for the first two months (.343/.421/.597). It was here that the philosophical debate could/should have occurred. On the one hand, you could argue that Snyder had clearly established that he was too good for AA, and should be promoted to AAA. On the other hand, he was exceeding his established performance level by so much that he should be kept in AA to see if his improvement was for real, or just a hot stretch. Snyder was promoted, and has struggled ever since.
I think that for Brandon Snyder to have a major-league career, the Orioles should send him to AA, and keep him there for four months. For his sake, I hope he has a long period of success and develop habits that become ingrained into his person. Snyder needs to have some sustained success, and I don’t think he’ll get that at AAA or in the majors.
Could he be a regular catcher?
No. He’s a good defensive catcher, and he’s hitting .273 with a .344 OBP with the Orioles. But, (1) he’s 27, the most common age for fluke years; (2) he has a .300 slugging percentage; (3) it’s in 122 plate appearances; (4) he hit .162 with Cincinnati in 2009; and (5) he hasn’t much in the minor leagues.
Is he a good backup?
He’s fine as a low-cost backup for Matt Wieters, playing once a week. If Wieters went down for a month or two, Tatum wouldn’t be adequate. The Orioles AA catcher, Caleb Joseph, was a prospect but had a terrible year at Bowie. Of course, the Orioles have more important things to worry about than what to do if Matt Wieters gets hurt.
Why has he been so ineffective in the major leagues? Will he be stuck as a 4-A guy?
From April through July of 2009, Chris Tillman was the biggest star among the Orioles’ pitching prospects. He was a 21-year-old dominating AAA and there wasn’t any reason why he wouldn’t be a star. Since then, he’s been terrible in the majors and less impressive in the minors, and there’s beginning to be some question as to whether he’ll ever make it.
In the majors in 2009, he was getting hammered — 15 home runs in 65 innings. In the majors in 2010, he’s cut his home run rate — 5 in 40 innings — but his control has gone to pot; a 28-22 BB/K ratio. I’m guessing that in 2009, he tried to pitch the way he had in Norfolk and failed; in 2010, his second chance so to speak, he became a nibbler, trying to make perfect pitches.
Most observers pencilled him in to the 2010 Orioles rotation, but he was optioned to Norfolk at the end of spring training. He didn’t pitch badly in Norfolk, but aside from a couple of outstanding games (including a no-hitter) he wasn’t nearly as dominant as in 2009. I can see three possible explanations for his decreased effectiveness:
- He physically matured and his body doesn’t work the same way at 22 that it did at 21. That one year is around 4% of his entire life, and physical changes may be just enough to throw him off.
- Emotionally, he didn’t react well to his first real failure. Yes, he pitched poorly at 19 in 2008 at High Desert, but that’s High Desert; no one pitches well there; his major league experience in 2009 was his first real failure. He may have reacted to that by vowing to throw perfect pitches.
- Dumb luck.
There are a lot of pitchers who overcame failure on their way to success or even stardom – Burt Hooton and Dave Stewart come to mind. Perhaps the most optimistic parallel for Tillman is Curt Schilling, who pitched even worse in the big leagues at 21 and 22 (albeit in fewer innings.) At 23, Schilling pitched effectively as a middle reliever/emergency starter in the majors; he was traded at 24 and struggled; he was traded again and eventually morphed into the Curt Schilling we remember. I think Tillman should become a good major-league pitcher; he may need (1) a year in a low-pressure role and/or (2) a trade.
Who is he?
Jonathan Tucker is a small (5’8″) second baseman-outfielder. From the fact that he’s a second baseman-outfielder, you could conclude that (1) he’s not much of a second baseman and (2) he probably doesn’t have the range or arm for shortstop or third base; hence he doesn’t have a future as a utility infielder. From his batting statistics (.226/.314/.306 at Norfolk, .264/.349/.356 career), you could conclude that he’s not going to hit enough to make it as an outfielder. From his age (26), you could conclude that he’s not going to get much better. From all of that, you could conclude that his chances of having a major league career are only slightly better than the chances of Ke$ha having a hit single with Nights in White Satin.
Could he play in the major leagues?
When Brian Roberts went down with an injury in spring training, the Orioles had several options to fill in. They could have just plopped Ty Wigginton there, but they decided Wigginton didn’t have enough glove and would be more useful as a corner utility player. They decided to acquire an out-of-favor veteran, Julio Lugo, which didn’t work out real well. They should have given the job to Justin Turner.
Turner was a .300 hitter at Norfolk. He didn’t have a lot of power, or speed, and didn’t draw many walks. He wasn’t a brilliant fielder at second; didn’t have the range for shortstop, and didn’t have the arm for third base. .300 is nice, but there’s not a lot to go with it.
Except. Norfolk is THE worst hitter’s park in AAA. .300 in Norfolk is .300 in the majors. Turner is almost an exact comp to another player who played in Norfolk about five years ago, in the Mets organization — Jeff Keppinger. Like Turner, Keppinger was a singles-hitting second baseman who wasn’t considered brilliant defensively. When Keppinger finally got a real chance to play, he proved he could be solid enough defensive and a legitimate .300 hitter. In fact, Keppinger got a real chance to play shortstop and handled it well enough. Other players similar to Justin Turner are David Eckstein and, for those with longer memories, Marty Barrett.
Turner doesn’t have any star potential. His upside is solid regular, and he’s more likely to top out as a marginal regular. But Julio Lugo doesn’t have even that upside. Even if Turner flamed out, the Orioles wouldn’t be any worse off. There’s no point in not giving him that chance, to see if a contending team needing a second baseman would offer more than the waiver price.
Uehara is a 35-year old Japanese star who emerged as the Orioles’ closer. He pitched two innings at Norfolk on injury rehab. I’m in no position to answer questions about him.
Can he help a major-league starting rotation?
Vanden Hurk was signed out of the Netherlands as a teenager, and pitched as a C&C (Command & Control) righthander in the Florida State League at 19. Then, he apparently hurt his arm, as he made only 12 starts combined at ages 20-21. After his recovery, he became more of a power pitcher, as his strikeout rated jumped from under 7 per 9IP to over 10 per 9IP. At ages 22-24, he made 32 major league starts and was pretty bad; in 166 major league innings, he walked 83 and gave up 28 home runs. In the minor leagues in 2010, he improved his control at the expense of his strikeout rate.
I saw him pitch one game for Norfolk, and he pitched brilliantly as a C&C righthander, giving up one run on four hits (with four strikeouts) in seven innings. If I saw the real Rick Vanden Hurk, then he could have a Rick Reed-like career, although he’d need to take advantage of his opportunities and not have a bad stretch until he’s established. Of course, he could also have a Ron Robinson-like career, one or two good years and then fade into ineffectiveness; or he could end up as an 4-A pitcher. I don’t think he’ll have success trying to blow hitters away.
Why did the Orioles keep him on the 40-man roster at the expense of players like Justin Turner, Scott Moore, and Lou Montanez?
Viola’s a left-hander with an outstanding fastball. It’s believed that left-handers with outstanding fastballs are valuable commodities in short supply, and the Orioles obviously felt that he’d be claimed if they tried to remove him.
Viola DOES have an outstanding fastball, but he doesn’t have a breaking pitch or a changeup. His fastball doesn’t move; it comes in straight and flat. He doesn’t have terrific control or command; at some point in nearly every at bat he has to come in with a fastball down the pipe. So, he walks a lot of people and/or gets hammered. With Norfolk, he really did pitch down to his numbers.
The Orioles hope that Viola will refine his game enough so that, with his fastball, he can be a devastating relief pitcher. Even though he’s 27, that could still happen, and I understand that the potential upside of such a project is worth a spot on the forty-man. And I understand that the players the Orioles removed from the roster aren’t going to be stars. But I think that Viola’s got about a 2% chance of being useful. When a team becomes good, it needs to keep spare parts on its forty-man. I’d be willing to let some other team take the chance on Viola.
Who is he?
A generic pitcher who pitched for the Tides in 2009 and the first half of 2010. He was traded to Oakland for Jake Fox, which tells you how much Oakland wanted to get rid of Jake Fox.
Wolf was drafted and signed by the Marlins in 2002, and signed with the Orioles as a six-year minor league free agent after the 2008 season. There is absolutely nothing distinctive about him; I don’t think I remember any of his appearances I saw. He gives up an average number of hits; has okay but not great control; doesn’t strike out a lot of hitters. His one positive is that he doesn’t give up home runs. He generally pitched when the starter got knocked out early or at the end of blowouts.
Can he pitch in the majors?
Probably, but he won’t get much of a chance unless (1) he somehow gets promoted into a higher-leverage AAA role; (2) pitches outstandingly in that role; and (3) gets called up and pitches outstandingly in the majors. Otherwise, at best, he’ll probably be limited to pitching twelve innings a year when the staff is overworked.
The Norfolk Tides’ 2010 season came to an end last Friday. Over the year, I scored 41 games for Baseball Advanced Media (BAM) or Baseball Information Solutions (BIS). Every one of those games were scored pitch-by-pitch, and consequently there’s a lot of information. There’s probably no more than five other people in the ballpark who have to watch the games as closely as I do — the BIS scorer(s) also working the game; the visiting team broadcaster (if there’s only one — some teams use two, even on the road; the Tides have two broadcasters who split the play-by-play on the radio, so neither has to watch every play); the scoreboard operator. Even the official scorer doesn’t have to watch every pitch; and at times will be looking at a video replay of a close decision.
This means that I’m in a good position to have informed opinions about most of the Tides. The Tides exist to develop players for the Baltimore Orioles, their current parent. And so, during the Tides’ off-season, I will be sharing my opinions about the 2010 Norfolk Tides. These opinions will be based on my observations and, in many cases, looking at baseball-reference.com for some context.
I will be using the format Bill James used in his Baseball Book 1991. He proposed ”basic questions” about each player and then answered them. The basic question for Nolan Reimold: Can he come back? The basic question for Brandon Snyder: Is he the Orioles first baseman of the future? The basic question for Chris Tillman: Will he ever stick?
Because these entries will be (presumably) read by Orioles and/or Tides fans, I’m going to assume that the readers know who most of these players are. While there will still be several players for whom the basic question is ”Who is he?”, there won’t be as many as there would be if I were writing this for a broader audience.