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2007 Modesto Nuts pre-Preview

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As with Asheville, I'm expecting to be missing some things that will probably be obvious to some of you, so feel free to chirp in.

Alright then, on to Modesto.

Rotation:

  1. Samuel Deduno
  2. Chaz Roe
  3. Brandon Durden
  4. Alan Johnson
  5. Xavier Cedeno
Deduno's apparently returning to anchor a staff that's long on promise but somewhat short on results thus far. I don't mean that as a knock, necessarily, you'll find the same status with a lot of the position players with this team. It's a raw staff with a lot of upside if they (outside of finesse pitcher Johnson) can refine their control. There are some mechanical issues the four flame-throwers are trying to work out as well. If any of the Roe, Durden, Cedeno trifecta are able to take a leap forward in these aspects, the Nuts should be solid pitching-wise in a League that shouldn't be too deep at first. If they fail, at least they'll be interesting to prospect watchers.

Bullpen
Andrew Johnston
David Patton
Chad Bailey
Simon Ferrer?
Craig Baker?
Jon George
Zach Simons

That's probably more than we're actually going to keep, and Jake Postlewait and Adam Bright might be held back from last season, further clouding the picture. For this reason, I'm coming around to the idea that Baker probably will be kept in extended Spring Training, but I can see him starting in the Nuts' rotation and then moving up to Tri-City to anchor the rotation. This also makes sense that Pedro Strop will be kept at Asheville, at least for a little while. Despite his poor performance last season, I don't see the Rockies giving up on Simons that quickly. He seemed to settle down a bit after he was moved to the pen. Johnston and Patton are a knockout punch in the eighth and ninth if the rest can get there. Ferrer, the lone knuckle-ball pitcher in the Rockies system is of particular interest to me.

Lineup:

C: Kyle Blumenthal/Bryan Opdyke
1B: Chris Cook/ Michael Paulk
2B: Eric Young Jr.
SS: Chris Nelson
3B: Philip Cuadrado
LF: Cole Garner
CF: Dexter Fowler
RF: Daniel Carte
Util: Jason Van Kooten

Most of these positions are fairly well set, Opdyke likely has to compete with Kyle Wilson for the backup catcher job, but I see his superior defense winning out. I list Van Kooten here instead of in the next category because he's likely to be Modesto's version of Jamey Carroll, a floater who moves around to get as many AB's as possible. His play in Asheville merited the promotion, but there's definitely a crowd in the infield at this level.

You're going to read about Fowler, Chris Nelson and Eric Young Jr plenty enough in other venues, so you might notice me focusing on Cuadrado and Garner a bit more. They are both outside our top 30 on most lists, but in 27 other systems they'd make it in. The question with them is how far can they remain viable before being exposed by more advanced pitching? Garner, in particular, has had low contact rates despite his prodigious power.

Cuadrado, on the other hand, just seems to be un-noticed. To answer the question of viability on him, let me start by showing a couple of example of corner infielders who put up similar numbers to his in Asheville this past season in 2005:

Cuadrado 2006: .296/.374/.479, 20 2B, 2 3B, 15 HR, 72 K, 35 BB, 378 AB

Dustin Hahn 2005: .281/.358/.422, 32 2B, 2 3B, 11 HR, 96 K, 55 BB, 488 AB

Jose Valdez 2005: .292/.359/.487, 19 2B, 2 3B, 21 HR, 64 K, 45 BB, 439 AB

Alright you know it's a trick question, I'm comparing somebody I feel deserves prospect attention to a pair of not so bright prospects and the numbers I'm showing you, particularly those of Jose Valdez, compare pretty well. Is it an age thing? Hahn was one year older at this level, since his numbers aren't quite as solid, let's put him aside for a bit and focus more on Valdez. Valdez and Cuadrado both spent their season at Asheville barely legal to consume alcohol, celebrating their 22nd birthdays later that year. What about the park? Ahh... now you're on to me. Valdez is a pure left-handed bat, and McCormick Field made him look like a super-somebody. This season both his and Hahn's numbers dropped off a cliff.

Why don't I expect the same to happen to Cuadrado, who's listed as a switch hitter? I mean, couldn't he have used the left hander's advantage at McCormick as well to pad his stats? There are clues this didn't happen. First, Cuadrado fared well at Tri-City, a very tough hitting environment, whereas the other two hadn't. Second, check the distribution of his balls in play. As you can tell, he's the guy candidates target in an election because he could go either way. This bodes very well for him, compare this chart to that of Hahn and Valdez and you will see that their tendencies to pull (which might have been negatively reinforced at Asheville) have cost them.

While I have you over at MinorLeagueSplits.com, also take a look at Cuadrado's batting splits page. There's lots to rave about here, but I'll keep it to those aspects that impress me the most. Was he better in July and August than he was in April and May? Check. This to me signifies he's learning something. Quickly, I also want you to note how many HBP's he took this season (14). When you get a chance to watch him bat, you'll see he's not afraid of keeping near the plate to cover the outside, and doesn't get intimidated.

Go over to the right hand side of the table and you'll see what kind of contact he made. A lot of groundballs, but he also had the highest line drive rate on Asheville's roster. This goes along with what I've been told and seen about his swing, which doesn't have a whole lot of lift, but hits the ball squarely. The hope is that he will naturally develop more homerun power as he gets closer to the majors with minimal adjustments to the swing. The lack of power keeps him in a utility/bench projection overall, as his skillset would be fine in the middle of the infield, but there's not enough offense for third.

Okay then, but what about Garner? There's some good and bad news here. First of all it's good news that he's right handed all the way, and he too shows some ability to take pitches to the opposite field. The bad news is that this ability apparently aided in some brutal home/road split numbers. Of particular note are the 31 doubles hit in Asheville compared to just nine on the road. Think of Fenway Park's Green Monster, and picture a similar fence in right field. I've got a feeling Garner learned to use that to his advantage. That said, there is more to be positive about. Like Cuadrado, he too had a second half surge, leaving me to wonder if he took a step forward late in the year. The biggest question mark with Garner has always been his ability to make consistent contact, but look at his progression from April to August:

April: 65.8%
May: 72.5%
June: 74.8%
July: 78.3%
August: 81.5%

If he can stay closer to the last number while batting at Modesto than the first, he should have no trouble making the transition to high A, and with his power (there aren't the same questions that follow  Cuadrado here) he should enter the radar of many national pundits.

His performance at Hawaii puts a little more doubt to that, but fatigue from the extended season might have had a lot to do with the slump in paradise.

I'm pretty high on both these players for 2007, along with Eric Young Jr, they just seemed to take off for Asheville late in 2006.

Bench:
Hahn
Travis Becktel
Valdez?
Paulk

The team isn't going to be particularly deep, Becktel will hopefully regain the promise he showed in Tri-City, while Hahn should repeat to try and come back from his injury riddled and sub-par 2006. Because of the lack of depth, I wouldn't be surprised if we tried to shore up the bench with a move similar to the Doc Brooks signing of last year. Valdez may be kept around another year as well, as he'll only be 23.

Overall:

I feel for Modesto, they got spoiled their initial year with the Rockies with a young talent laden club that couldn't quite put it together for a playoff run, and then they had to deal with the talent gap last season. This team is better than the one the Nuts fielded in 2006, especially the front line, but the lack of depth, and relative youth, might not let them compete just yet. This group's starters aren't quite to the level of the 2005 squad, but as I was trying to show you with Garner and Cuadrado, they're not as far off as you might think.