Braves Sing Auld Lang Syne
Well not actually thank goodness after hearing them sing Christmas Carols. When the Braves turned the calendar to 2012 on Sunday they looked much as they did a year ago. That big changes haven’t been made isn’t news but let me recap the good news so far.
Addition by Subtraction
* The present vacancy left when Peter Moylan was nontendered I expect to be filled by Peter Moylan before Spring Training.
** Backup shortstop and a pinch hitter position to be filled?
According to the Braves website the 40 man currently has 35 slots filled but only 13 of those with position players including Brandon Hicks taking the spot formerly held annually by Diory Hernandez. While there will obviously be some changes on, it a quick check of a few other teams show them with 18-20 everyday players already on the 40 man. The fact that there are only 13 names on the Braves list however highlights the problem the GM faces. Yet Some folks think we are fine with the 40 man we currently have. As my reader (yes I know you are out there) will know, I disagree though I am regularly told I am wrong. Apparently they believe Jose Constanza, Matt Diaz, Eric Hinske and Brandon hicks constitute a strong, deep bench. I don’t.
While I can understand Pastornicky backed up by Hicks and Andrelton Simmons at SS, I’ve been vocal about the lack of a RH outfield power bat. A decision I consider a mistake might actually have created an opportunity for the GM to redeem himself and look like a hero at the same time.
Every Trade Has A Silver Lining?
I don’t know if that’s true but perhaps the acquisition of Carlos Quentin by the Padres offers an opportunity. Everyone knows by now that I thought Quentin was a perfect fit for us but we apparently have a slight payroll flexibility issue; there is none. My ever optimistic status (yes I am) returned this morning however, when I saw a glimmer of hope in today’s Baseball Prospectus’ Newsletter, BP First Take column.
“Moreover, the addition of Quentin could create a roster headache for (manager Bud) Black and (GM Josh) Byrnes. With the outfield projecting to have Cameron Maybin in center and Will Venable platooning with Chris Denorfia in right, there are few spots remaining for the Padres’ bevy of youngsters. Kyle Blanks, Anthony Rizzo, James Darnell and the recently acquired Yonder Alonso all may be deserving of big league looks either on Opening Day or sometime during the coming season. Another trade or two is necessary to give the Padres the flexibility to promote them.”
Well golly gee, the Padres are rebuilding and have an excess of outfielders, inexpensive ones at that. Perhaps Josh Byrnes and Frank Wren should chat about either Chris Denorfia, Kyle Blanks or James Darnell.
I’ve like the right handed hitting Denorfia for a long time. His pluses for us include the ability to play all three outfield positions well. That would allow him to move to center should we be unable to extend Michael Bourn this year. He’s also been a solid leadoff hitter – 278/.328/.414, 14Hr, two triples and 7 doubles,13 walks and 25ks in 170 ABs during 2011 – but can hit anywhere up and down the order comfortably. His slash versus left handed pitchers – .328/.391/.496 in 2011 – fits well with our need to do better against lefties. He’s affordable earning just under $1.2 M this year and not a free agent until 2014.
On the downside he doesn’t add much pop to the lineup, as his .136 ISO shows, his split against right handers isn’t as good as I’d like – .245/.302/.309 in 2011 – and he’s no kid at 31 years old (32 in July.)
Blanks is a 25 year old, right handed hitting outfielder and first baseman who has had parts of three years with the Padres. In 2011 he played mostly right field for the Padres compiling a less than impressive .229/.300/.406 slash line in 170 ABs. He had a .177 ISO built around seven homers, seven doubles and a triple, walked 16 times and stuck out 51. The Padres and many observers believe he will settle in and hit given a full time job. In three years of AAA ball his slash was very nice looking .308/.404/.568 with 23 homers, 21 doubles and 3 triples.
Drafted out of high school in 2004 he’s spent a lot of time in the minors adjusting to the the higher level of play. He started out as a first baseman but moved to the outfield in 2008 and is still learning that craft. At 25 he’s at the point where the Padres expect him to become more productive. Baseball America’s Classification Reports wrote of him this June that “Blanks remains the Padres best internal corner-outfield option going into 2012. The Padres say his weight loss has enhanced his athleticism and range in left field. . . , he could form a formidable (and affordable) middle of the order for years to come.”
Blanks is the Padres prize hitting prospect now and I think would be hard to get from them. He is however major league proven and ready to play every day.
The 24 year old third baseman / outfielder Darnell is the most likely to be available of all of the Padres mentioned for a couple of reasons. First of all they have a third base prospect they like better in Jedd Gyorko -their 3rd best prospect according to Baseball America - and a plethora of outfielders (okay 6) for 3 positions ; Cameron Maybin or Denorfia in center, Will Venable, Kyle Blanks or Denorfia in right and Quentin or Blanks or Darnell in left. Darnell is the youngest of the backups and is essentially a man without a position in San Diego. Darnell however fits for us in more ways than one.
1) He can hit. Darnell is consistently ranked as one of the best hitters in the Padres organization. He split last season between AA San Antonio – 76 games. 333/.434/.604 – and Tucson – .35 games 261/.344/.425 finishing up with 45 at bats for the Padres and a .222/.333/.627 line. Over at Fangraphs Bill James projects a line of .248/.333/.400 for Darnell at Petco, I suspect that would go up a bit at the Ted.
In May Baseball America’s Hot Sheet had this to say about Darnell.
Darnell is a 24-year-old repeating the Texas League, so there’s reason for caution before getting too excited. Still, Darnell’s offensive explosion in his return to San Antonio is exciting, as he’s hitting .374/.475/.675 in 198 plate appearances, ranking fifth in the minors in on-base and 10th in slugging. He’s walked (32) more often than he’s struck out (23) thanks to a simple swing and strong plate discipline, while his 10 home runs in 43 games already match his total with the Drillers last year in 101 games. With Padres fans clamoring for any kind of offensive aid they can get in San Diego, Darnell just might be able to help.
And on December 10 John Sickles writing on Minor League Ball preliminarily rated him the Padres number nine prospect saying:
James Darnell, OF-3B, Grade B-: I like the bat a lot, but age and positional questions preclude a higher grade. Should be a solid run producer.
2) He plays both left field and third base. Our third base prospects are farther away than Darnell and he’s projected to have more power than either right now. If they are better on arrival he can go back to the outfield. In May 2011 Matt Eddy said:
Darnell has the range and arm strength, but he’s a big dude who may simply outgrow the position. His footwork already costs him accuracy on his throws, so many expect a shift to first or to right field.
The Padres however didn’t hate his play at third and elected to split his time between 3rd, 1st and the outfield. His outfield play was solid enough though still a work in progress and he has a strong arm. He’s only 24 and has potential in both spots while being near enough to major league ready to take a chance on now. He is pre-arb eligible and so he is a minimum wage guy and under team control for six years.
The Padres excess of outfielders after signing Quentin means they now have three versions of at least one resource we need. What they need that we can provide – they are pretty well off in pitching as well – I don’t know but certainly Blanks, Darnell or Denorfia (in alphabetical not preferential order) would be useful for the Braves without causing payroll issues.
Let me know how you see it.
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