May 1, 2010

Minor League Month in Review: New Britain Rock Cats - April

New Britain Rock Cats (4-16, 6th (last) in Eastern League Eastern Division)

               Team Leaders - Hitters                   Team Leaders - Pitchers    
               Hits: Rene Tosoni - 24                   Wins: 4 - tied with 1
Avg: Rene Tosoni - .338 ERA: David Bromberg - 1.13
OPS: Rene Tosoni - .878 IP: David Bromberg - 24
HR: Juan Portes/Chris Parmelee - 2 K: David Bromberg - 19
RBI: 3 - tied with 7 Saves: Chris Province - 2
SB: Ben Revere - 5 WHIP: Spencer Steedley - 0.75

On paper, the New Britain Rock Cats might have the best team in the entire Eastern League. But so far, they've been the worst. By a lot. The team finished April with a dismal 4-16 record, which is the worst record throughout all of baseball (in both the Major and Minor Leagues). The team certainly has great potential, having 13 players that appeared on my Top 50 Prospect list, the most out of any Twins affiliate. But a mixture of poor offensive production and disappointing pitching has resulted in winning percentage of .200.

The offense, lead by four top 13 prospects, has managed to score only 54 runs this season (or 2.7 runs/game). The only hitter that deserves praise thus far is Rene Tosoni (#9). Tosoni is hitting .338/.385/.493 with seven extra-base hits (all of which lead the team) in 19 games thus far. His OPS of .878 is 168 points higher than Mark Delonc's OPS, which is the second highest on the team. But even worse than that is the fact that Delonc doesn't have enough at-bats to qualify amongst the leagues leaders, which then puts Ben Revere's (#4).668 OPS the next highest on the team. Tosoni has cut his strikeouts down from last year, but he still has struck out nearly four times for every walk. Overall, Tosoni is a more mature player than he was last season.

Fun fact: Tosoni has started 16 of his 19 games at DH, but he leads the team with three outfield assists.

Revere, the highest-rated prospect on the Rock Cats has five of the team's 15 stolen bases this season. He has also displayed a good arm strength in center field, something he has struggled with in the past, by throwing out two runners at home plate. He has displayed good plate discipline and his average is heading north, but he will need to improve his hitting on the road as the season gets going.

The bullpen, as hard as it may be to believe it, is probably worse off than the offense for the Rock Cats. The bullpen appeared in all but one game in
April, and out of those 19 appearances, the bullpen surrendered a run in 15 of them. The bullpen has a collective ERA of 6.04 with a 1.73 WHIP and 54/40 K/BB ratio.

The only reliever to New Britain return in 2010 was Spencer Steedley (Cole DeVries was a starter in 2009), so it's no surprise that he's been the most reliable member of the Rock Cats bullpen. In 14 2/3 innings, Steedley has struck out 17 batters while allowing only two runs (both of which came in the same game). But sadly, the rest of the bullpen has struggled, a lot.

Joe Testa (#49) has appeared in seven games, but he's only been untouched in one of those appearances. He has an 0-3 record and has allowed 12 earned runs (15 total) in 7 1/3 innings for a 14.73 ERA. Chris Province, who the Twins acquired from the Boston Red Sox over the Winter in exchange for Boof Bonser has appeared in a team-high nine games, but his 10.03 ERA and 11 walks allowed are team highs. As a matter of fact, his 11 walks are the most amongst any reliever in the Eastern League.

But not all is bad in "The Hardware City." In fact, the starting rotation has been very good so far. The starters have a 3.61 ERA, but only have only factored into the decision seven times (including two victories). The starters have induced a 1.15 ground-ball/fly-ball ratio and have allowed the second-fewest home runs in the Eastern League.

David Bromberg
(#8), the Twins Minor League Pitcher of the Year in both 2008 and 2009, is already starting to make his case for himself in 2010 by allowing only three runs in four April starts for a 1.13 ERA (fourth best in the Eastern League). But the same pitcher who lead the minor leagues with 177 strikeouts two years ago has seen his K/9 ratio fall this season. It's still very early, but his K/9 in 2010 is 7.13, which is down from 8.7 in 2009, 10.6 in 2008, and 12.5 in 2009. But while his strikeout numbers have declined, he has managed to cut down on his walks this season and has a 2.25 BB/9 ratio. Again, it's very early, but this trend is noticeable. Bromberg just knows how to pitch. As he's matured, he has worried more about movement and location than velocity. I'm sure that he'll take a sub-2.00 ERA over being the strikeout leader any day.

Tyler Robertson and Michael McCardell have also pitched well, but not without their flaws. Robertson has only pitched into the sixth inning once, and he was pulled after recording one out. McCardell has given up 31 fly-ball outs, which is by far the highest on the team (yes, I am nitpicking). Both have sub-4.00 ERA's and have been reliable starters, which can't be said for Carlos Gutierrez (#14). The first round pick in 2008 continues to struggle against Eastern League hitters, and his time in the rotation may be numbered.

Perhaps the biggest surprise for the Rock Cats in this young season has been the strong play from Deolis Guerra (#16). The only remaining player from the Johan Santana trade put up strong numbers through three April starts. He has gotten significantly better in each of his three starts and has not surrendered a run in the 18 innings he's pitched. Obviously, two great starts is (way) too small of a sample size to get giddy over, but the fact that Guerra is only 21-years-old and has great potential makes it hard to not feel good about it.

What's Next?: Seven of the team's nine series in May are against .500 (or better) clubs. They will face the New Hampshire Fisher Cats (the Eastern League - Eastern Division leader) eight times. With no offensive help in Fort Myers, the hitters will need to give themselves a kick start. Pitching help isn't far away, but it's unlikely that either Kyle Gibson or Bobby Lanigan are promoted before the Florida State League All-Star Break, which is June 11-13 (although with the way both are pitching, I may be eating my words very shortly). Hopefully for the Rock Cats (and my fantasy baseball team) sake, Stephen Strasburg will be promoted before the next time they'd have to face him (which if the Harrisburg Senators keep the same rotation schedule, will be May 13th). EDIT: The Nationals have announced that Strasburg will be promoted to Triple-A Syracuse. Nice break for the Rock Cats.


bobojo said...

Thank you Josh. This is one of the best of the Twins blogs. Well done.

Josh Johnson said...

Thanks much!