Wednesday, December 18, 2013


Burdened with payroll, underperforming on offense and in danger of falling out of the Central Division race, the St. Francis Friars today boldly (some say desperately) "rolled the dice" with their biggest asset (a deep farm system) and packaged four prospects and a player-to-be-named to acquire Brownsville Cutters 1B/DH Chris Davis.

Davis (.276, 18 HR, 49 RBI) joins Jose Bautista, Pedro Alvarez, Carlos Beltran and Carlos Quentin to form a powerful middle of the order for the Friars, who will make a big play to get back into the Central race.   But the cost was high:   a slugging SS prospect in Javier Baez, two promising pitchers at AAA (Danny Hulten, Casey Kelly) and former first-rounder Bubba Starling (along with $4.8 million in salary) are the property of the Cutters.   A player to be named from St. Francis's farm system will be added to the mix following the conclusion of the 2013 post-season.

"This trade is pretty simple," said owner Scott Hatfield.  "If we catch Casselton and win the division outright, it will be considered a success.   If we miss the playoffs, even if we end up with an improved record, it will probably be seen as the straw that broke the camel's back, and trigger an organizational shakeup.  None of this might've been necessary if management had not stupidly spent much of their cap on now-sidelined 1B Mark Teixeira.    I signed off on that decision, so what can you do?   You can't fire the owner."

The powerhouse move also frees up salary for the Friars, which may or may not play a role in other moves.   The privately-owned property of a renegade Tridentine monastic order may have finally left a sour taste in the mouths in the brotherhood's Abbot, Brother Gregor.  "Scripture tells us," the Head Friar intoned ominously, "that for everything there is a season.   A time to be born, a time to die, a time to cast away stones, a time to gather stones for casting.  And, in this baseball season, it seems that it is time for the brotherhood's investment in this secular business to yield some performance, so that our order might derive some profitability from sales of merchandise.   If we can't increase the club's profits, we may have no choice but to cut payroll and place the club on the open market this off-season."

Tuesday, April 23, 2013


The Friars have been a decent offensive club for the last two seasons, nearly leading all BARB clubs in runs scored in their sole playoff season (2011).   But the rotation?   Ever since the Finches traded away Justin Verlander in their inaugural season, they've lacked a true #1 starter, the kind who can take over a short series and turn a .500 club into a winner.

Instead, the Finches have run through a series of middle-of-the-rotation starters and journeymen, many drawn from free agency.   Attempts to flesh out the rotation by drafting established big league starters haven't been too successful, either:  in just one year, three lefties in their twenties (Jorge De La Rosa, Dallas Braden and Clayton Richard) were all lost to season-ending injuries. "It makes you appreciate the beauty of a horse like Bronson Arroyo," admitted team president Scott Hatfield. "Never misses a start, usually gives you at least five innings, even if he gets hit around."   And, indeed, the 37-year-old Arroyo is not only better-conditioned than many pitchers ten years his junior, he's been the one constant on Darwin's staff since joining the club in 2009.

But is that about to change?   Finally, after some frustrating stalled picks (Mike Montgomery, Tyler Matzek, Matt Hobgood, Randall Delgado) the Friars are finally reaping the benefit of deep drafts from the last three seasons.   For the first time ever, the system seems stocked with legitimate #1 and #2 starting prospects, some of whom appear ready to finally contribute to the big-league club:

Clay Buchholz, added as a free agent, is again showing why he has legitimate strikeout potential.  Young lefty Derek Holland, added in a 2012 trade, seems to be flashing the form that made him a top-20 starter in 2011 again.   2010 draftee Shelby Miller's three-pitch repertoire has improved by leaps-and-bounds since this time last year, when he was struggling in AAA.   He is now clearly ready to contend for a spot in St. Francis's rotation.   Travis Wood, a castoff free agent signed off the waiver wire in mid-2012, has given six or more innings in each of his first four starts this year.   2013 draftee Wade Miley provides Wood and veteran Cliff Richard heavy competition from the southpaw side.   Most importantly, 2012 draftee Matt Harvey probably has improved more than any other minor-league arm in the last year, moving from someone thought to be bidding for a fifth rotation spot to ace-like status, as his average fastball has ticked up nearly two miles an hour since being acquired by the Friars.

It all means that St. Francis is on the verge of having a respectable, affordable, young cadre of starters ready to contribute to the parent club, able to give their teammates quality innings and reduce the heavy workload soldiered by the Friars pen the last two seasons. "This is the best pitching we've ever had, and we think it's going to get better as the year goes on," enthused obviously-unobjective team president Scott Hatfield. "Our offense, if healthy, is improved as well compared to 2011, so this is going to be our best club yet on paper.   Can we compete with Pottsylvania, that just won a world championship, or with Casselton, which has the best record in the division overall the last five years?   We think we can, and hopefully by the second half we'll have the depth and payroll flexibility to make moves to push us forward."

Saturday, April 13, 2013


Friars closer Jason Motte has been sidelined by a serious elbow injury and is attempting to rehab his arm without having surgery.   It is believed that if Motte is forced to have surgery, he will be lost for the season.   The Friars had rather prudently obtained some veteran insurance, signing RHP Fernando Rodney through the 2013 Draft and adding former Yuma setup man Rafael Soriano as a free agent.  Still, Motte's departure (even if only temporary) means that St. Francis will continue to pursue bullpen arms on the trade market.

One arm not making its way to opening day:   former Brooklyn prospect Daniel Schlereth.   The journeyman left-hander did not pitch well enough this spring to earn a roster spot, despite openings in the pen, and he has been optioned to AAA St. Michel after agreeing to a minor-league split contract that raises his salary $250,000.   "We can afford this penalty to obtain some insurance," remarked team president Scott Hatfield.

Veteran Bronson Arroyo, despite a mediocre 2012 BARB campaign (10-10, 6.75), has earned the nod for Opening Day starter.   He will be followed in the rotation by 2013 Draftee Wade Miley, veteran LHP Clayton Richard, rookie hurler Matt Harvey and last year's #2 starter, LHP Derek Holland .   Waiting in the wings: RHP Shelby Miller (who had a great spring and will being the year at AAA St. Michel) and former Brooklyn RHP Clay Buchholz, signed off the scrap heap as a free agent.  RHP Henderson Alvarez, who showed flashes at times in 2012, will begin the year on the disabled list, while prized prospects Danny Hultzen and Dylan Bundy are returning to AA Georgetown for more seasoning.   All three could eventually play a role with the parent club, or serve as trade bait.

The glut of young pitching meant that neither RHP Edinson Volquez or LHP Travis Wood would get a rotation spot, but instead would begin the year in the St. Francis pen, while veteran RHP Aaron Harang (actively shopped by management) would be the club's spot starter and primary long man for now.  "We are in an unusual position for any club, much less St. Francis, " Hatfield mused.  "Virtually all of our starters are healthy and had decent springs, and we have as a result tremendous depth in the rotation.   We expect to be active in the trade market precisely for that reason."

In other news:   C Jesus Montero will go north again despite a disappointing spring, and the Friars will (for now) carry three catchers.   Montero's main role, however, will be as a DH against left-handers and veteran Kelly Shoppach is expected to get most of the playing time off the bench to back up starting catcher Salvador Perez.

During the spring, observers were surprised to see slugging RF Jose Bautista play occasional innings at both 1B and 3B, as Bautista is still dealing with injuries from last season and hasn't played regularly in the infield since 2010.   "I thought it would be good for my workout to make sure I was using all my skills," Bautista said, "and maybe it will come in handy for the team, as well." Bench strength is a concern for the club, with no left-handed hitters available and only one player (IF Todd Frazier) likely to play a utility role, so perhaps Bautista's unusual prep will in fact become part of the club's style of play in 2013.

Meanwhile, three other infielders (Aaron Hill, Pedro Alvarez and Ike Davis) are expected to get most of the playing time at 2B, 3B and 1B.   All three run-producers came over last August as part of a blockbuster trade with the Arizona franchise in a swap for Shawn Marcum, which is now looking like one of the most one-sided exchanges in league history.   Marcum, who battled injuries last season, is now once again sidelined to start the year and when he returns he is expected to be no better than a #3 starter.

Monday, April 1, 2013


In a shocking development, prized young catcher Salvador Perez has been suspended from the team and informed that management is trying to decide whether he is part of their future, or not.

At issue are these comments by Perez, recorded by the Kansas City Star-Herald:

"Our schedule, who drew it up?   Nothing but night games, never any games off, it is hard to see how any one can squat, squat, squat day and night.  I may have to take some days off."

Management interpreted Perez's remarks to refer to this year's BARB schedule, which (unlike previous years) should be balanced, and not provide teams with periodic intervals of 4-6 straight games off, when (among other things) veterans were fond of visiting the buffet, playing 18 holes or going on fishing trips.

GM Scott Hatfield explained Perez's likely demotion this way: "Amazingly, Perez Resists Innovative League scheduling.  Fans Of Offense Love Salazar, but we can't overlook this.  This is no laughing matter."

Wednesday, March 27, 2013


How often does it happen that an amateur player, a teenager, shows such potential that they become the subject of a Yahoo News! article before the comparable professional league gets underway, months before their respective sport's Draft?    Not too often, and when they do, it's usually basketball after one of the invitational prep tournaments.   In the last five years, only Bryce Harper has merited this kind of attention well ahead of Draft Day....until now.

Did you notice how quickly his teammates gathered at home plate?  The kid hadn't even reached first when they piled out, in what was obviously a no-doubter in a respectable (330 foot down the LF line) park.  Oh, and it was a three-run shot to put his team ahead.  Oh, and in hitting it he essentially "outdueled" the other big-name prospect that over 70 scouts came to see at this game between Louisville and Grayson, Austin Meadows.   Don't believe me?   This is Baseball America's absolutely-GUSHING account of the exploit.  Oh, and in the next six games he hit five more out.  And, entering his senior year, he's already broken the previous career mark for HR at his alma mater,  which was set by a current active major-leaguer (Brandon Moss).

What has brought this young man this sort of attention?  Click on the Yahoo link above, which has many pics and multiple videos.   Suffice to say is that, before the prep season began, he was already either the number-one or number-two ranked prep player in the country.  Now, with his season just seven games old, it might just be that Frazier has a chance of being the number-one ranked prospect, period.

Gentlemen, behold the projectable body and quick hands of 6' 1", 190-pound high school senior Clint Frazier.  So quick, that in the video below he clearly tomahawks what would eventually go out over the LF wall.  In, uh, the Metrodome.

But wait, there's more. This video shows Frazier on a West Coast jaunt. The last minute is shot at Petco Park. I like it when he hits a line drive off the Western Supply Building, and also a big fly ball that goes out to dead-center...and out. Petco, even in the daytime, not too favorable for power hitters. So, yeah, I think the kid can really hit. And I don't think he's going to end up playing OF for Georgia, either:

Saturday, March 16, 2013



St. Francis, looking for outfield depth, has obtained veteran flychaser Carlos Beltran from last year's most improved club, the New England Yankee Stompers.  At age 35, Beltran managed to avoid any extended absences due to injury and hit .284 with 20 HR and 88 RBI for a club that came within one game of winning the league title in 2012.   But, with a big contract and a need to rebuild their club, New England felt it was probably better to move Beltran now while his value was up.

To obtain Beltran, St. Francis parted with defensive whiz Hak-Ju Lee, who draws comparison with (among others) Cesar Izturis and Ozzie Guillen for the way he takes charge on the infield.   Lee could be New England's starting shortstop by 2014 if he continues his development with the bat, but with the Friars having obtained veteran SS J.J. Hardy (still only 30 and with plenty of pop) to back up incumbent Alexei Ramirez, and with free agency still to play out, this move made some sense for the Friars.


So far, not so much.   The parent club has added veterans on the long side of 30 this off-season, and has yet to either trade for or develop the ace starter the rotation needs to move into the upper-tier of BARB clubs.
So far, the vaunted list of phenom pitchers hasn't made a dent in the parent club's decisions.   In the last 48 hours, Danny Hultzen, Casey Crosby and ultra-phenom Dylan Bundy have all been notified they will open the year at AAA.   Shelby Miller still has an outside chance of breaking camp with the Friars, but so far it's been a quiet spring without a lot of battles.

But then there's this kid.   He's got no chance of making the roster barring an unbelievable run of injuries.  But the bat speed, the wrists have people talking about Javier Baez, who has drilled four no-doubt bombs in the last two days: