AL Central - Surprise Roster Additions

Myworld takes a look at the AL Central.  Despite the hot start by the Cardinals and their four game lead we are still not tempted to put them in first place.  It is a long season in a race that is won by those running a marathon rather than a sprint.  Of course, as I write this the Cardinals maul the Brewers 13-1.

Milwaukee Brewers (1) 9-11

Hot Button Issue: The loss of Prince Fielder left a hole in their lineup.  They hope to address his loss of production with the signing of Aramis Ramirez to play third, keeping the pressure off of rookie Matt Gamel, who is expected to fill his position.   Ramirez has gotten off to a slow start, hitting just .211 with one homerun and eight RBIs in 19 games.  Gamel is doing a little better with a .262 average, one homerun and six RBIs.  One thing the Brewers did not count on is their speed as the two have combined for a perfect 5 for 5 in stolen bases.

Surprise Roster Addition: Travis Ishikawa didn’t get much of a chance with the Giants, used more in a backup role.  That will be his role with the Brewers.  He is currently hitting .211, but with two homeruns.  Cesar Izturis only got to play 18 games last year with the Orioles because of an injury that ended his season early.  He is more a defensive player with a career OPS of less than .650.  He made the team as a utility player.

Top Prospect Performance: Jed Bradley did not give up an earned run in his first three starts covering 19 innings.  He got hit hard in his fourth start for seven runs, four earned, but his ERA still sits at 1.50.  Tyler Thornburg also got off to a quick start, giving up only two earned runs in his first three starts.  After five starts his ERA is 1.93, with a 7/33 walk to whiff ratio in 28 innings and a .172 opposition average.  Jimmy Nelson is another pitcher with five quality starts resulting in an ERA of 1.76 ERA.  Jimmy is in the same Florida State League rotation as Jed while Tyler is in AA.  Scooter Gennett won the player of the week honors with his second week of hitting, but a slump has dropped his average to .312.  The big concern with him is his 2/16 walk to whiff ratio, not what you want to see from a leadoff hitter.

Significant March Transactions: None

Cincinnati Reds (2) 9-11

Hot Button Issues: They had hoped to move Aroldis Chapman to the starting rotation.  His arm issues and the injury to Ryan Madson have put him back in the pen.  Without a third pitch his best role may be out of the bullpen, with a possible opportunity as the closer.  In eight appearances he has yet to give up a run and has a 2/20 walk to whiff ratio in just 11 innings of work, limiting the opposition to a .105 average.  The one concern is his inability to pitch in back to back games.  He doesn’t seem to have a lot of bounce back.

Surprise Roster Addition: Alfredo Simon was released by the Orioles.  The Reds must have seen something that the Orioles didn’t because they picked him up on waivers and he is now in the Reds bullpen.  Don’t expect that to last long.

Top Prospect Performance: Many wondered how many bases Billy Hamilton could steal if he could hit for average.  To start 2012 he is hitting .377 with 23 stolen bases in just 20 games.  He has also drawn 11 walks for a .456 OBA.  That is the ideal leadoff hitter.  Didi Gregorius is a premium defensive player, but if he can keep his average at .337 while playing AA the Reds may have to find a position for him in the major leagues.  Zack Cozart is his biggest impediment at shortstop and Brandon Phillips just signed an extension to his contract.  Tony Cingrani has been unhittable with a 0.39 ERA after four starts in High A.  Three of his four appearances have been shutouts covering 19 innings.

Significant March Transactions: None

St. Louis Cardinals (3) 13-7

Hot Button Issue: They didn’t resign Albert Pujols.  In fact, Albert felt he was insulted by their offer.  The team may be better off without him, using the extra money to purchase a number of different pieces to fill their roster and moving Lance Berkman to first base, a position he is more suited for than right field.  The biggest loss may end up being the retirement of Tony Larussa.  So far, Mike Matheny has put them four games in first place.  Time will tell whether he can keep that pace.

Surprise Roster Additions: Erik Komatsu made the team as a Rule V selection.  He was acquired by the Nationals from the Brewers in the Jerry Hairston Jr. trade but now the Cardinals will try to use his defensive abilities in the outfield to overtake the Brewers.  Matt Carpenter has been a pleasant surprise, replacing the injured Lance Berkman at first base.

Top Prospect Performance: Oscar Taveras is continuing his assault of minor league pitchers, hitting .318 with 5 homeruns and 19 RBIs in AA.  Last year he hit .386 in Low A so the Cardinals felt pretty confident in his abilities by having him skip High A.  Teammate John Gast has four quality starts to put his ERA at 1.71.  The opposition is hitting him at a .198 pace.

Significant March Transaction: They did release veteran infielder Alex Cora.

Pittsburgh Pirates (4) 8-11

Hot Button Issue: Nothing can be hotter than breaking that 19 year losing streak.  No profesional franchise, regardless of the sport has seen such ineptness.  While the Pirates have a burgeoning farm system, based on the current roster it does appear that they will have to see a 20 year losing streak before they can even think of breaking .500.  Once Gerritt Cole, Jameson Taillon and Starling Marte arrive that losing streak should became a streak of the past.

Surprise Roster Addition: Yamaico Navarro is the biggest surprise since he bounced around two teams until landing with the Pirates because of perceived character deficiencies.  He is a player that has never been questioned for his talent, but his willingness to bring out that talent has always been a problem.  He had an impressive spring that put him on the roster as a utility player.

Top Prospect Performance: Top Prospect Jameson Taillon has gotten off to a good start in the Florida State League with a 1.93 ERA after four starts.  He has a 3/24 walk to whiff ratio in just 18 innings of work, limiting the opposition to a .176 average.  The Pirates have made no secret of the fact that if they had the first pick in the 2010 draft they would have selected Taillon over Bryce Harper.  Starling Marte is hitting .303 but he has nine stolen bases.  Many have said that when he makes the Pirates team Andrew McCutchen will have to move to left field.  Alen Hanson is bucking to become the next Starling with his .385 average and four homeruns.  He also has eight stolen bases.  On the downside, he has struck out 21 times in 21 games played.

Significant March Transactions: They traded Ryota Igarashi to the Toronto Blue Jays for cash then picked up pitcher Robby Rowland in a trded with the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Chicago Cubs (5) 7-13

Hot Button Issue: The arrival of Theo Epstein has created some excitement in Chicago, especially after he took the Red Sox to two World Series wins.  That excitement dissippated a little bit when he spoke of rebuilding.  He backed off the “r” word when he got negative press but if it smells like a pig, looks like a pig and squeaks like a pig it is a pig.  All of Epstein’s moves are indicative of a rebuilding club.  Now it is just a matter of time when he will trade Bryan LaHair to turn the first base job over to Anthony Rizzo.  Bryan gave himself some value by getting off to a hot start.  The trade of Marlon Byrd has left no African Americans on either of the 40 man rosters for the Chicago teams.

Surprise Roster Addition: One team’s garbage is another team’s diamond in the rough.  Scott Maine had just been released, but lefthanded pitchers tend to have many lives to make a major league roster.  The Cubs picked him up and he has been getting hitters out.  Blake DeWitt had been sent down by the Cubs when Darwin Barney had taken over his position.  The Cubs like him again as a utility player.  Ian Stewart has yet to show teams that he has discovered the art of hitting, but the Cubs like his defense for third base.  The Cubs are a collection of surprise roster spots.

Top Prospect Performance: Anthony Rizzo continues to rake minor league pitching at a .380 clip with seven homeruns and 21 RBIs.  Unfortunately for him, he has the equally hot Bryan LaHair occupying his position at first base in the major leagues.  Trey McNutt had a rough season last year, but this year his four starts have been a welcome sight (0.61 ERA).  He has only worked 15 innings in those four starts and walked seven, so there are still command issues that need to be addressed.

Top March Transactions: They signed Cuban defecter Gerardo Concepcion, who as an 18 year old was a top pitcher in the Cuban professional league.  In his first start in the United States he was lit up for five runs.

Houston Astros (6) 8-12

Hot Button Issues: This will be the last year for the Astros in the National League.  They have made no secret about their willingness to trade veterans Carlos Lee, Wandy Rodriguez and Bret Myers for prospects.  For Houston fans this could result in the worst record in baseball, but also give them a number one pick in a market that is clearly lacking a number one.

Surprise Roster Addition: We were surprised to see Rhiner Cruz make the roster.  When my world saw him pitch he couldn’t get anyone out.  He must have impressed someone with his velocity because he has made the team and is pitching well out of the bullpen.  Lucas Harrell had an excellent spring, outpitching Jordan Lyle to force the Astros to make room for him in the starting rotation.  Travis Buck has been a career minor leaguer that gets an opportunity on a major league club.  He has yet to play in more than 82 games in a year in the major leagues, a perfect role for a fourth outfielder.

Top Prospect Performance: There could be an opening at first base with the departure of Carlos Lee.  Jonathan Singleton is hoping to fill that role, hitting .375 with three homeruns in AA.  Mike Foltynewicz has a 1.98 ERA after five starts in Low A.  That is still a long way from the majors, but he could make issues interesting in 2013.  Paul Clemens time is now with his 1.59 ERA in three AAA starts.  He has not been quite as dominant as his ERA would indicate with only 13 strikeouts in 17 innings of work and a .233 opposition average.  Telvin Nash is crushing baseballs in the California League with nine homeruns in 20 games.  He has only driven in 15 runs and his .247 average and 28 strikeouts proves that he has contact issues.  Nick Tropeano is lighting it up in Low A with a 1.29 ERA in three starts and a 6/32 walk to whiff ratio in just 21 innings of work.

Significant March Transaction: They traded two pieces of their major league roster who would probably get limited playing time to acquire a young prospect from the Kansas City Royals.  Catcher Humberto Quintero and outfielder Jason Bourgeois went to the Royals for relief pitcher Kevin Chapman.  They released veterans Jack Cust, Zach Duke and Livan Hernandez, choosing to fill their roster with younger players.

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