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."