Amidst all of the hubbub over these so called "major-league" teams, Zephon and I have decided to throw together some season previews for the full-season minor-league affiliates. I'll be covering the Reno and South Bend squads, while Zephon will cover Mobile and Visalia. Needless to say, the system is in better shape than it was in last year due to the stellar 2009 draft. First up though is Reno, and we'll see that the '09 draft obviously has done little to help the state of things in AAA.
First on the docket is a look at the rotation. It's a pretty simple situation, with five guys as candidates for major-league call-ups as needed throughout the season filling up all five spots, with whoever performs the best likely getting the call if needed. Billy Buckner, Kevin Mulvey, Bryan Augenstein, Kris Benson, and Cesar Valdez have all had success in either the upper minors, and even the major leagues for Benson and Buckner, so the hot arm will be the one selected for as-needed spot starts. So far only four of them have thrown, with Benson being the lone starter to not start a game already. The results? Mixed. Very mixed:
Buckner - 5 IP, 7 R (7 Earned), 10 H, 3 K, 1 BB, 1 HR - Pretty poor performance. Billy is going to need the strike more batters out if he wants to have any success. The guy once thought to be the lead candidate for the fourth/fifth starter job now appears to have fallen down to seventh, even without factoring in a possible return of Brandon Webb.
Mulvey - 6.1 IP, 2 R (2 Earned), 6 H, 4 K, 1 BB, 0 HR - Despite the seemingly-insignificant difference in rates between the Buckner/Mulvey starts, Mulvey ended with much better numbers, presumably (and this is mere speculation) by keeping the ball down and out of the thin Reno air, which is also something he'll need to do to be successful at Chase. If you ask me, he's moved up to #5 on the starter chain (Webb not accounted for), and will be called up on the 17th.
Augenstein - 5.2 IP, 5 R (5 Earned), 4 H, 3 K, 3 BB, 1 HR - This shows you that you don't have to hit the ball all over the ballpark to score plenty of runs. Walks bit Augenstein, the supposed control artist, in the rear in his start, as well as a fourth-inning two-run homer from Fred Lewis (yes, the Giants' Fred Lewis). He's got a little more work to do to get back to his pre-injury form from Mobile last season. Should be ready for 2011, but don't count on him until September this year.
Valdez - 4.2 IP, 0 R, 3 H, 7 K, 3 BB, 0 HR - The dark horse spot starter candidate showed up big in his first start of the year, despite throwing just 88 pitches and getting just two outs through the fifth. The K total stands out, especially given that he only recorded 14 outs overall. He's a sinkerball-thrower who keeps the ball in the park, and would have been called up last year had he not been hurt shortly after Augenstein's stint in the big leagues. If Benson isn't effective and there's an injury after Mulvey gets called up, I see no reason why anybody but Valdez would be called up based on the initial results.
The relief corps in Reno contains a few names that we could see in the bigs this year. Clay Zavada (0.1 IP, 3 ER), Zach Kroenke (2 IP, 2 ER), and T.J. Beam (3.1 IP, 0 ER) are names that a lot of us are familiar with, though they have hardly lived up to their reputations. The rest of the crowd includes the aging Jason Urquidez, back-from-TJ Daniel Stange, Billy Spottiswood, who is continuously shuttled from Reno to Visalia and back, the equally-aging Jose Marte, and Josh Ellis. Keep an eye on Stange, a guy who is steadily recovering from his TJ and was once a guy who could hit 98 on the gun.
We all know how good John Hester is, but with the recent injury to Miguel Montero, he's been called up to the majors and replaced with another hot prospect, Sean Coughlin. Coughlin has a major bat and could find himself ready for major-league action as soon as next year, giving us a pleasant surplus of catchers at a time when catchers are of immense value. The other Reno catcher, Carlos Corporan, was a waiver pickup from Milwaukee who won't amount to much but a solid defensive catcher, and has little to no bat.
Reno's roster has a couple of very promising infielders, beginning with slugging first-baseman Brandon Allen. While we're toying with the idea of Allen in the outfield, he's only played at first so far this season. Regardless, he's off to a rousing start with a .974 OPS. Slick-fielding second-baseman Mark Hallberg has had a decent debut, just getting his feet wet at AAA and enjoying the favorable hitting environment in getting on-base in 6 of his 16 plate appearances. Otherwise, RyRo hopes to get out of his Spring Training funk (though the initial results haven't been thrilling), Ed Rogers is his AAAA self, and Yunesky Sanchez hopes to regain his 2008 form after an off-year in '09. Expect to see Allen and perhaps RyRo in the majors this year, and don't be shocked if Hallberg's name pops up come September.
There are also four familiar names from big-league Spring Training manning the Reno outfield, Drew Macias, Cole Gillespie, Jeff Bailey, and Doug Deeds. Gillespie and Bailey have started hot, while Macias was hit-less through three games and Deeds has done nothing too exciting thus far. This also appears to be the pecking order for big-league call-ups amongst these names, with Gillespie being first on the fill-in list, followed by Bailey, Macias, and then Deeds. Joining them is Chris Rahl, who spent last year having a mediocre season at Mobile, and probably needs more time.
That's all for Reno, look out for the lower minors starting sometime this week.
I've decided that since the AAA starting pitching quintet is one that fans are keeping an eye on since at least one of them is going to be needed in the majors soon, that I'll update the overall season stats on the five of them here as the next month rolls around (until I cannot do so any longer - I may try to find a way to let Zephon or someone else do this at that point if he/someone wants to).
Billy Buckner - 5 IP, 7 R (7 Earned), 12.60 ERA, 10 H, 3 K, 1 BB, 1 HR, 5.20 FIP.
Kevin Mulvey - 9.1 IP, 4 R (3 Earned), 2.89 ERA, 8 H, 5 K, 2 BB, 0 HR, 2.77 FIP.
Bryan Augenstein - 5.2 IP, 5 R (5 Earned), 7.94 ERA, 4 H, 3 K, 3 BB, 1 HR, 6.02 FIP.
Cesar Valdez - 10.2 IP, 5 R (5 Earned), 4.22 ERA, 13 H, 13 K, 3 BB, 2 HR, 4.04 FIP.
Kris Benson - 5.0 IP, 2 R (0 Earned), 0.00 ERA, 4 H, 5 K, 1 BB, 0 HR, 1.80 FIP.
NOTE: FIP calculations use 3.2 as approximation for league-factor and currently do not factor in HBP numbers, as I couldn't find them.