Matthew St-Germain


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2008 AL Central Prospects

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Over the course of 49.1 innings in the majors last year, Laffey amassed 25 strikeouts and 25 runs over 49.1 innings. He also maintained his excellent groundball rate at 65%. While these numbers don't scream 'buy', it is important to note that he was able to decrease his control rate every year from 2004 to last years 1.9 in Triple-A. While that shot up to 3.3 during his promotion, it's still evidence that Laffey is learning to harness his command of the plate better. Another specific note on his 2007 MLB performance is his extremely unlucky strand rate of 57%. While groundball pitchers with low dominance rates tend to have somewhat lowered strand rates, this is beyond the normal distribution pattern for pitchers of Laffey's skill set. Combine this with his .323 BABIP and a fair number of ground balls that Laffey gave up luckily found their way through holes in Cleveland's defense, most likely on the left side of the diamond. Laffey is great at keeping the ball in the park, and as Cleveland's fifth starter, he's likely to see more than a few wins drop in his lap. The real question is if he can shore up his control and pitch deep enough into games to qualify for the win.

108 IP, 9 W, 69 K, 4.04 ERA, 1.32 WHIP

Deeper Mixed Leagues:

Nick Blackburn, RHP, Minnesota Twins
The Minnesota Twins are masters at developing pitchers in the mold of Brad Radke, what with Kevin Slowey making an impact this year in the Twins rotation, and Nick Blackburn shortly behind him. Blackburn will never be known as a pitcher with even moderate strike out numbers, however, his plus command of three above-average pitches with good speed changes will allow him to keep the ball in the park and more often than not on the ground. His consistency and stamina will also allow him to pitch at least five to six innings plus per outing, giving Minnesota both a solid end-of-the-rotation and bullpen option to work with for 2008.

Blackburn is definitely slated for Triple-A to start the season, and while his amazing 2007 seemingly came out of nowhere, it wasn't necessarily shocking. It's clear he'll likely figure into some bullpen action for the big team at some point, with the occasional spot start if he can keep up with what he built last year. While Minnesota does have a lot of pitching options to work with, many of them are still too young for major league duty, leaving Blackburn as one of the first candidates to earn a job either in the rotation or bullpen depending on Minnesota's needs. He'll likely never be a top draft pick in fantasy, however, and will most likely just be a good back-of-the-rotation innings-eater, but in this division, you've got to shine whatever you can, because there's a lot of coal.

Luke Hochevar, RHP, Kansas City Royals
Luke Hochevar has the unique distinction of either rising or falling significantly this season in terms of AL Central prospects. He's got the potential to have a starting job at some point, which should immediately place him in a position of value comparative to his divisional brethren, however, his inability to fully put together his potential could very easily signal disaster for those rostering him.

Hochevar has five pitches to go to, three of them above-average, with great command and a repeatable ¾ delivery. He's given up a fair share of home runs and his command unfortunately has not progressed well due to issues with his delivery. He will likely start the year at Triple-A, and while his surface stats in the majors last year look good, they simply do not match up with his numbers at Double and Triple-A. Though it is true he was pitching in two hitter-friendly ballparks, as well as hitter-friendly leagues, that still won't cut it at the major league level with substandard peripherals.

Because of Hochevar's pedigree, you must attentively watch his spring training to see what pitcher we are going to see this year. While he battled wildness and tended to over-think his pitching, he worked on correcting both flaws, and sometimes a pitcher with a nice pedigree only needs small changes to begin to realize his potential. He's also been somewhat of a strange beast in terms of his progression, and it wouldn't be shocking to see him become the top rated prospect in the AL Central this year if he both gets the opportunity and puts everything together. I would not specifically bet the over on Hochevar, but as of right now I'm holding on him until we get to see how things progress for him in March.

Ben Francisco, OF, Cleveland Indians
That's it! No one else will likely provide substantial value in the AL Central. With that said, there are a few guys that may help those of you in AL-only leagues. Ben Francisco is currently the Indians fifth outfielder, and is only likely to see about 140 plate appearances this year, with likely little power, a good batting average and a little speed. He has the range and arm to play any outfield position which will likely help his plate appearances should anyone go down in Cleveland's outfield. However, due to his limited power now at age 26, he likely will not become a regular starter in the major leagues.

Chuck Lofgren, LHP, Cleveland Indians
Chuck Lofgren has three above-average pitches, good command, pitches aggressively from a downward plane and repeats his high ¾ delivery well. That's why it's a mystery to the Indians organization that Lofgren struggled last year after a breakout 2006 campaign. He still led the organization in strike outs, however, his 146.1-153-68-123 line in Double-A was not what Cleveland was hoping for.

Lofgren will likely see a significant amount of time this year in Triple-A, refining his game and attempting to move his pitches a little more down and a little more inside. If Aaron Laffey succeeds in his starting role with Cleveland, it's likely we'll only see Lofgren as a reliever, with the occasional spot start here and there. And this is all dependent upon Lofgren performing at the Triple-A level first. The likelihood that he sees significant action this year is small.

Adam Miller, RHP, Cleveland Indians
Adam Miller is Cleveland's top prospect, and whether or not that is a good thing for them remains to be seen, and the answer is progressively tilting towards the negative. Nobody doubts that Miller has filthy stuff- three above-average pitches including a fastball that tops out at 98, plus a solid fourth offering in a quality changeup,

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