Will he be back in Norfolk next season?
Not if the decision is based solely on on-field performance. Mitchell is the Wes Timmons of the Orioles. He’s spent the last six seasons with the Orioles AAA affiliates — 2005 and 2006 in Ottawa; and since 2007 in Norfolk. He’s gotten consistently worse — in 2006, his ERA was in the 2′s; 2007, in the 3′s; 2008, in the 4′s; 2009, in the 5′s; and last season in the 6′s. He’s a sidearmer without great stuff, so unless he keeps his pitches way down he can’t be effective. Last season, he gave up almost 2 hits an inning (63 hits in 32 2/3 innings) and it wasn’t all his defense.
On the other hand, Mitchell is willing to cooperate with the team — he spent much of the season on the Aberdeen roster, which basically meant he hung around with the Tides but couldn’t pitch. He may have dreams of becoming a coach. The Orioles obviously like him. If he’s willing to continue doing what he’s been doing, he may be back.
Could he be a major-league regular?
Probably not a good one. He’s established that he can dominate AA pitching, and he’s been a pretty good hitter in AAA over the last few years. As a regular, he’d probably be a .270 hitter with 10-15 home runs. He’s not a bad outfielder, but he’s not a real good outfielder either.
He’s another player who is almost certainly more valuable than the twelfth or thirteenth pitcher on a staff, but won’t get a chance to prove it. If you’re an American League team, and you carry twelve pitchers, you’ve basically got five spots for the bench/DH. Montanez probably isn’t good enough of a hitter to be any more than a spot DH. You need to have a backup middle infielder and a backup catcher. Montanez is competing for one of the two remaining spots. He can’t play center field or third base, so you have to decide if you can carry a corner outfielder/first baseman who’s NOT an outstanding hitter. Most teams will decide that they can’t.
What does he have to do to get a real chance?
Stay healthy and avoid the bad luck he’s had. Moore, who believe it or not played 2010 at age 26, was Detroit’s first-round draft pick out of high school back in 2002. He was rushed to A-ball, in two of the worst places to hit in all the minors. When he predictably struggled, the Tigers shipped him to the Cubs as part of a Kyle Farnsworth trade. The Cubs wisely had him repeat the Florida State League, and he hit .281/.358./.485. Since he was only 21, he wasn’t too old for the FSL, and he continued to hit as he moved to AA at age 22 and AAA at age 23.
Unfortunately, he was a third/first baseman in the Cubs organization in 2007, and he wasn’t likely to beat out Aramis Ramirez or Derrek Lee. So the Cubs traded him to Baltimore in late 2007, and he did well enough in a September cameo to warrant a good chance.
And since then he’s managed to get hurt just when he has an opportunity. In 2008, he was hurt at the start of the year, and Melvin Mora rebounded from a bad 2007 to drive in 104 runs. In 2009, Mora slumped — but Moore hurt himself early in the season and missed most of the season. In 2010, Moore was showing he was recovered from his injury — but first Miguel Tejada and then Josh Bell were given third base.
Moore’s not the most disciplined hitter, but he’s a good-fielding third baseman who should hit 25 home runs. If he’s healthy, he deserves a chance.
When the Orioles traded Miguel Tejada, they promoted Josh Bell to play third base. Should they have tried Moore instead?
In a simulation world, definitely. It should have been clear to everyone in the organization that Bell, despite playing well at the time of his callup, would benefit from more polish and sustained success. The Orioles weren’t going anywhere. In a simulation world, where you’re dealing only with impersonal representations of players, there’s no downside — if Moore plays poorly you haven’t lost anything, and if he plays well you have another asset either for your bench or for trade.
In the real world, though, I’m not so sure. Josh Bell may have thought he was ready for the majors; giving Scott Moore the audition may have been seen as a vote of no confidence. But even worse, the Orioles are grooming Bell as the third baseman of the future and aren’t interested in grooming Moore — which makes some sense since Bell is three years younger. If Moore plays well, he creates undesirable uncertainty. Do you give Bell the job next year? If you don’t, that will certainly reduce Bell’s value. How long do you stay with Bell if he plays poorly? How do you justify taking Moore’s job away after he’s played well? These are the sorts of questions real organizations, with real people involved, would just as soon avoid. By giving Bell the look, you (1) find out exactly where he is in his development and (2) avoid Bell vs. Moore problems.
All that said, I still would have given Moore the job, primarily because I don’t think Bell is a sure thing to be the Orioles third baseman of the future.
Could he still emerge as a regular in the major leagues?
There are worse players who have jobs, but Patterson is now remembered as (1) a guy who was never as good as he was supposed to be and (2) a guy whose biggest flaw — his willingness to swing at anything – happens to be under the spotlight right now. Believe it or not, he played the 2010 season at age 30.
Is he still a useful bench player?
It depends on how you want to use your bench. As an offensive player, Corey Patterson isn’t an in-game tactical weapon. He doesn’t get on base, so you can’t use him to start an inning; he doesn’t have real power, so he’s not someone you can use to finish the rally. His offensive skills are useful, but they’re more useful as a regular part of an offense rather than in special situations. So, if you’re an in-game situational substitution kind of manager, like Bobby Cox, Patterson’s not much use. But, if you don’t care/need to use your bench in-game, but to rest regulars or as a semi-platoon, Patterson’s very useful. He’s fast, plays good defense, and hits enough to be useful in the 6-7 spots in the order.
OK. The real question — how good could he have been?
After the Cubs plucked him with the #3 overall pick in the 1998 draft, Patterson started his professional career in the Midwest League. At 19, Patterson slugged .592 in a full season in the Midwest League. He instantly became one of the best prospects in baseball. The next year, at age 20, he didn’t fare quite as well, but still slugged .491 in AA.
The next year, in 2001, the Cubs found themselves as contenders. Sammy Sosa had perhaps his greatest year in RF, but they had no one playing well in center. Rondell White was playing extremely well in LF, but he got hurt midway through the year. So, desperately short of outfielders and desperate for a center fielder, the Cubs recalled Patterson. Everyone knew he wasn’t ready, and they were right — but he didn’t play badly enough to fall out of favor. Corey Patterson was given the Cubs center field job.
The problem was that the Cubs didn’t really have a classic leadoff man. Don Baylor, the manager, was a creature of the 70′s. He saw Patterson’s speed and decided that this 22-year-old kid, whose weakness was getting on base, would be a good leadoff man. He wasn’t.
And for the rest of his Cub career, Corey Patterson was continuously pushed in and out of the leadoff spot. Either he’d start the year in the leadoff spot, fail, and then get dropped to sixth or seventh; or he’s start the year in the sixth or seventh spot, the anointed leadoff man would fail, and Patterson would be dropped down. No wonder he got messed up.
Corey Patterson was never going to be a guy who walked a lot, with a good on-base percentage. He could have been a speedy hitter with line-drive pop, a consistent 20-20 guy. He was a very good defensive center fielder. If the Cubs had let him develop more normally and accepted what his role could be, there’s no reason he couldn’t have been Devon White. He might have become Willie Davis.
But, the Cubs being the Cubs, they had to try to force Corey Patterson to be something he couldn’t be. They have nothing to show for him now.
Is he still a prospect? Hasn’t he been around since the Clinton Administration?
It seems that way, doesn’t it? But Patton only turned 25 at the end of the season. He was drafted out of high school and pitched very well at age 19, with a 2.18 ERA at two levels of A-ball. That got him on Baseball America’s top 100 prospects list, and he stayed on it for the next two seasons while he pitched fairly well. Then he blew out his elbow, and missed the 2008 season as he underwent surgery. He’s spent the last two years — well, not exactly rehabbing, but trying to get back to where he was. He’s still a prospect; probably in the C/C+ range.
Is he a candidate for the Orioles 2011 rotation?
The good news is that in 2010 Patton stayed healthy and in the rotation all year; he made 25 starts, 136 innings. That’s good for seventeenth in the IL, and impressive when you consider that he spent some time as a bullpen arm in Baltimore. On the other hand, Patton didn’t strike out a lot of batters; lots of balls were put into play. When he was on or had a good defense or was lucky, he was effective. When we was off or didn’t have a good defense or was unlucky, he was very ineffective. At this point, he hasn’t shown me that he’s going to be good enough to be a rotation starter.
The Orioles’ rotation is just as muddled now as it was at the start of 2010. Assuming Kevin Millwood is gone, the rotation right now would include Jeremy Guthrie, Brian Matusz, Jake Arrieta, and Brad Bergesen. The Orioles have been talking about adding a veteran rotation starter, but even if they don’t, Zach Britton and Chris Tillman would probably get the call ahead of Patton. However, if some of the candidates flame out, I can see the Orioles turning to Patton more or less out of desperation. If they do, and Patton is in a low-pressure, low-expectation mode, I wouldn’t be shocked if he put together a decent year.
For pitchers, success tends to breed success. If Patton does have a decent year in the rotation, there’s no reason why he couldn’t have a Bruce Chen-like career. And before you snicker, Bruce Chen went 12-7 with a 101 ERA+ for Kansas City in 2010.
What happened to him?
Nolan Reimold had a terrific 2009. He blistered International League pitching for just over a month and continued to play well when he was recalled to Baltimore. He was a fringe Rookie of the Year candidate until he got hurt and missed the month of September (.279/.365/.466 in 104 games). The injury was still affecting him in spring training 2010; he wasn’t able to get in top condition, played miserably, and was sent to Norfolk. At first, he was favoring his injury, then he started pressing. He was flailing at pitches out of the strike zone, hitting weak grounders and popups. Then, right around the All-Star break, he either got his timing back or relaxed. He took many more walks and hit the ball with more authority. He final Norfolk numbers (.249/.364/.374) aren’t good, but considering where we was, they’re not bad. When he was recalled in September, he played sparingly and unimpressively.
Ultimately, I think his off-year can be attributed to his 2009 injury.
Will he come back?
I think he can get back to where he was, if not necessarily to where Orioles fans thought he might be going. Remember that Reimold played 2010 at age 26; his 27th birthday is October 12. 2007 (his age 23 year) was another year wasted by injury. While I do think his 2009 season is legit, he probably doesn’t have much more room to grow. And while there are plenty of young players who missed a year with injury with little effect (Moises Alou, Chipper Jones, Larry Walker, to name three) once a player has that second serious injury, he becomes a question mark. I think as long as you accept that Reimold’s not going to be a star, he’s worth keeping around — he’ll plug the hole and/or be a useful bench part.
Is he destined to be a AAA lifer?
Salazar, who turns 30 at the end of November, had a terrific first half with Norfolk in 2010 and an equally terrible second half. Add it up, and he had a season well within his career expectations, although a hair on the low side.
Salazar hits left-handed and is at least a passable outfielder. He has a decent batting eye. However, he doesn’t hit for average and he hadn’t hit for power until he hit 16 last season. However, I suspect he was taking advantage of Norfolk’s short right-field porch, because he hit only 14 doubles.
He’s a generic AAA veteran. I didn’t see him do anything extremely well, nor anything extremely poorly. I expect that next season he’ll play in AAA, or Japan, or Korea, or somewhere else.
Could he earn a major-league job?
Salazar played two seasons as a reserve outfielder in the major leagues, and just didn’t hit enough to stick. The Rockies lost him to the Diamonbacks on waivers, after he hit .283/.409/.415 in a 67-PA trial in 2006.
His slugging percentage explains why he won’t move up. He doesn’t hit for a high enough average to make up for his limited power, and he doesn’t hit for enough power to make up for his limited batting average.
Should he be in the major leagues?
Dennis Sarfate was lights-out as the Tides’ 2010 closer, taking over after Alberto Castillo and Frank Mata were promoted to Baltimore. There is nothing to criticize about his performance in 56 innings — 72 strikeouts; 32 hits allowed, 4 home runs; a 2.73 ERA with only one unearned run; a 27-72 BB/K ratio. And he looked every bit as dominant as his numbers would indicate, with a mid-90′s fastball. It seems inconceivable that Alfredo Simon could serve as the Orioles closer, yet there’s not even room on the roster to give Sarfate a chance.
Yet, I have to wonder if 2010 was a fluke year. Sarfate faced 226 batters last season. Before 2010, Sarfate really hadn’t pitched well anywhere since 2003, as a 22-year-old in the Midwest League. He was hurt in 2009, pitching 16 minor-league and 23 major-league innings. He spent most of 2008 in Baltimore, and was as wild as Mitch “Wild Thing” Williams, and as hittable as he was wild.
There are examples of pitchers who suffered a serious injury and came back as a better pitcher. I don’t know of anyone who pitched with such poor control and bounced back to pitch with such improved control. I still think he pitched well enough to earn another chance.
Okay, why didn’t the Orioles call him up during the year? They called everybody else up.
I believe it’s because of some of the arcane transaction rules. Sarfate wasn’t on the 40-man roster during the season. If they called him up, they’d have had to create a spot for him. That wouldn’t have been the problem. However, if he pitched poorly, and they needed another spot on the 40-man, and they would have wanted to remove Sarfate, the Orioles would have had to put him on waivers and somebody would have claimed him. But it’s worse — Sarfate had already been dropped from the forty-man roster, and so would have the option of refusing the Orioles’ minor-league assignment and declaring free agency. He would almost certainly have done so and may have signed with someone else. So, the Orioles kept him in the minors primarily to prevent someone else from getting him.
Should he be in the Orioles’ closer mix for 2011?
Caveat: I did not see Simon pitch for Norfolk in 2010.
Simon earned 17 saves as the Orioles’ closer in 2010 over about three months. He became the closer because he was healthy and hadn’t pitched terribly at the precise moment the Orioles needed a new one because the first three they tried were all hurt. He survived for three months because the Orioles had bigger problems and he wasn’t pitching poorly enough to matter. Eventually, Koji Uehara took over the job.
Simon really doesn’t have any business being in the major leagues. Except for 17 innings at Norfolk in 2010, he hasn’t given up less than a hit per inning in the United States since 2004, at Clearwater in the Florida State League. He’s had a 5.03 ERA in AA, a 5.10 ERA in AAA, and a 5.64 ERA in the major leagues. He seems to have been living off 15 good 2008 Mexican League games.
Alfredo Simon’s 17 saves are why I don’t consider John Smoltz to be a no-brainer, automatic Hall-of-Famer. Smoltz’ career record is in the outstanding-but-not-automatic Hall-of-Fame class, like David Cone and Kevin Brown. All great pitchers, but below the automatic Hall of Fame pitchers of their generations (Maddux, Clemens, Glavine, Randy Johnson, Pedro.) Smoltz, however, pitched for just over three seasons as a closer, and thus accumulated 150+ career saves. Many commentators assume that those saves elevate him into the automatic Hall-of-Fame group.
To which I respond “Alfredo Simon was credited with 17 saves in three months with a bad team. How many of Smoltz’ saves would an Alfredo Simon have gotten, in the same opportunities? Since 17 saves in three months doesn’t demonstrate that Alfredo Simon is a major-league pitcher, 150 saves in three+ years by themselves don’t lift John Smoltz from the Hall-of-Fame bubble to an automatic selection.”
If I had a Hall of Fame ballot, most likely Smoltz would be a borderline candidate for me, along with Cone and Brown. We know the average save conversion rates for closers in all the various save situations — one-run lead in ninth inning with no one on, no one out; two-run lead in ninth inning with bases loaded and one out, etc. If I had to consider Smoltz, I would have to look at every one of his games during his closer years and determine how many saves a replacement-level closer – an Alfredo Simon — would have been expected to be credited with, and compare that to Smoltz’ total. If that revealed that Smoltz were a significant better-than-replacement closer, he would probably earn my vote. Right now, he’s on the borderline.