Wasting away (NL version)

One of the things I wanted to do when we launched Call to the Pen back at the end of March was to find a way to get all our team lead writers involved by way of collaborative posts. This is our first venture along those lines.

In this edition I posed a simple question to generate a wide range of team-specific thoughts from our writers. The article got a little too large and unwieldy so I split it into two parts.

Part one covers the responses for each of the American League teams and was posted yesterday. Obviously this is part two and covers the National League.

Here is the question each of our leads were asked (responses after the jump):

With respect to the team you cover/write about, which player’s talent or ability is being wasted by your organization and why?

Arizona Diamondbacks: Venom Strikes lead writer Scott Allen

The Arizona Diamondbacks typically are quick to jump on using the talents of their players on their rosters from top to bottom of the organization.  However, one thing they also typically do, is give up on players too quickly.  Just ask outfielder Carlos Quentin or pitcher Max Scherzer.  Looking to the current rosters, you could probably point to several players who could be used in different or better ways.

One of those players right now I’d say is outfielder Gerardo Parra.  Here is a guy who was in the running for MLB Rookie of the Year in 2009 and spent quality time with the major league club in Arizona.  He was on the opening day roster in 2010 and was there until he recently got sent down to AAA Reno upon the return of outfielder Conor Jackson from the DL.

Sure, Parra’s batting average dipped from his .290 in 2009 to a current .247.  However, he was being played sparingly even with the absence of Jackson.  Instead the Diamondbacks were using Cole Gillespie in Jackson’s spot for the most part.  I’m not sure what Parra did, or did not do, to warrant being used less.  He had a great game less than two weeks ago in Houston, where he had a double and triple and both Dbacks RBI’s.  That was his last start before being demoted.

I understand the need to have Jackson in the fold, although he still appears to be struggling at the plate.  Jackson still only has 3 RBI in 66 AB.  Parra has 7 RBI in 73 AB.  Gillespie is hitting .257, Jackson .258.  So, I do not find a good argument right now as to why Parra is toiling in Reno right now when he could be a huge contributor on the Diamondbacks roster.  I guess that’s why they don’t pay me the big money to make those decisions, huh?

Atlanta Braves: Tomahawk Take contributing writer Kris Willis

The player that is being the most underutilized by the Atlanta Braves has to be Kris Medlen. This is kind of a moot point because he is currently in the starting rotation due to injury of Jair Jurrjens. However, he should remain in the rotation after Jurrjens is healthy at the expense of Kenshin Kawakami.

On the season Medlen has a 1-1 record as a long reliever and has posted a sparkling 2.46 ERA. Medlen also has struck out 19 batters and given up only 3 bases on balls in 22 innings pitched. Plus Medlen is still only 24 years old.

Kawakami has struggled this season to the tune of an 0-6 record and a 5.73 ERA. He has struck out 16 but walked 10 batters in 33 innings this season. The biggest difference is in terms of their salary numbers. The Braves gave Kawakami a ridiculous contract and feel obligated to pitch him regularly. Even at the expense of Medlen.

Chicago Cubs: Cubbies Crib lead writer Jordan Campbell

The Cubs are without question wasting the talents of Carlos Zambrano. Zambrano’s numbers certainly were not the best to begin the season. However, besides last season, Zambrano has had seven consecutive seasons of 16+ wins. Not to mention on a lesser note, he is one of the best hitting pitchers. And, while the Cubs bullpen is indeed bad, and Zambrano helps solidify it, the Cubs are weakening their rotation. In addition, Zambrano is not too happy about being a reliever. So as long as Zambrano is in the bullpen, the Cubs will have a hard time remaining in playoff contention.

Cincinnati Reds: Blog Red Machine lead writer Tim Grimes

My one and only “waste of talent” is catcher Ryan Hanigan. Dusty continues to run Ramon Hernandez out there everyday. Granted Ryan only has 25 less at bats but the guy is raking. He has already set a career high for RBI’s in a season and is flirting with a batting average of .400. His defense has been above average by throwing out runners stealing at a 45% rate.

My sentiments are matching the ones here in Cincy. Everyone can see this guy taking over at any game now. He is Bronson Arroyo’s personal catcher and is bucking to be the everyday guy.

Colorado Rockies: Rox Pile*

*Rox Pile is currently in search of a lead writer so Chicken Friars lead, Nathaniel Stoltz, agreed to stand in.

Seth Smith has received only limited playing time. Sure, his 31 games looks good, but that’s only because Brad Hawpe was injured for most of April.

Smith has hit better than either Carlos Gonzalez or Dexter Fowler, and while he’s hit far worse than Hawpe, Smith is a quality defender while Hawpe is possibly the worst defensive player in baseball. Smith needs to be starting somewhere every night, and the Rockies need to bench either Fowler (against righties) or Hawpe (against lefties) to make room for him in the everyday lineup.

Florida Marlins: Marlin Maniac lead writer Michael Jong

I do not believe the Marlins have allowed significant talent to go to waste in the minors. In fact, as a team with a low payroll mandated by a stingy owner, the Marlins are in fact one of the few teams who have to consistently call up minor leaguers, perhaps before their time is ready. In rebuilding years such as 2006 and 1998, the Marlins have relied heavily upon two sources of players: talent scrounged up from the Rule 5 Draft and minor league free agents and prospects, either homegrown or acquired via trade. Because the team does not fill holes often through free agency, it must aggressively promote top minor league talent to the majors in order to complete its roster.

That being said, the team has had enough stability in recent years that it has been able to slow down the advance of young talent from the minor league system. While top-ranked talents like Chris Volstad and Sean West have been promoted quickly, other mid-level prospects like Rick VandenHurk and Gaby Sanchez have been left to stew in Triple-A. If I had to name a player whom the Marlins allowed to waste away, it would be one of those two. Despite a need at the corner infield positions in 2009, the Marlins let Sanchez, who was coming off an injury and a miserable spring, sit in the minors all season while the likes of Emilio Bonifacio and Ross Gload ate valuable plate appearances. Rick VandenHurk was again sent down to the minors this year despite showing improved control late last season, making way for trade acquisition Nate Robertson.

Marlin Maniac contributing writer Dave McGrath

The Marlins have always traditionally been a team that has not been afraid of rushing its young talent to the big leagues, and then playing it once it arrived. So it’s hard to say that the team is guilty of wasting any talented players.

You could make the argument that the team’s handling of either Andrew Miller, Sean West, or Rick Vandenhurk was wasteful, as none have proven ready for the big leagues as of yet, but all have had option years tossed away. But at the same time, its hard to criticize those moves, as they truly needed arms in 2007 and 2008, and those guys were the best options.

So, due to lack of alternatives, the obvious answer has to be Über-prospect Mike Stanton. Stanton continues to absolutely pillage AA pitching, .340/.481/.845 (yes, you read that last number correctly), with 15 home runs in just 133 plate appearances. Meanwhile, the Marlins current outfield quartet of Cody Ross, Chris Coghlan, Cameron Maybin and Brett Carroll have combined (as of May 9) to rank last among MLB outfields in homers and extra base hits, 29th in runs created, 28th in OBP and 26th in batting average.

So, its probably safe to say they could use a plus outfielder who can hit 25+ homers over the rest of the season.

Houston Astros: (Site build pending)

*We are currently in search of a lead writer for the Houston Astros so Chicken Friars lead, Nathaniel Stoltz, agreed to stand in.

Reliever Sammy Gervacio dominated last year, posting a 2.14 ERA and 2.62 FIP and striking out 25 batters in 21 innings. He was expected to be a prominent setup man for the team this season.

Gervacio pitched just 3 1/3 innings this year before hitting the DL with shoulder trouble. He returned to pitch 1/3 of an inning and struggled, and the Astros immediately sent him to the minors. They emphasized that the demotion was not to rehab from the injury, but for “performance reasons.”

There’s a decent chance Gervacio is the best reliever on the team, and it’s shocking that the Astros pulled the plug on him that quickly. He had just come off the DL for a shoulder issue, he throws 1/3 of an inning, and all of a sudden, you declare his “performance” below MLB-level? Sorry, that’s what we call jumping to conclusions. Guys with this much talent and potential do not deserve to be jerked around this way.

Los Angeles Dodgers: Lasorda’s Lair contributing writer Joseph Lopez

The Dodgers are finally starting to play well, but their pitching still needs to make some major adjustments. Seriously, Hiroki Kuroda cannot do everything all by himself. So, with Clayton Kershaw and Chad Billingsley still trying to find their form, why don’t the Dodgers call up pitcher James McDonald? I know McDonald did not play particularly well during spring training, but the guy does have talent. And with the team ERA at 4.68, there’s relatively low risk in calling up McDonald.

Last season, McDonald went 5-5 with a 4.00 ERA in 63 IP. While McDonald has a ton of talent and potential, he’ll need to work on a few things down in the minors before the Dodgers call him up. Currently with Triple-A Albuquerque, McDonald is 2-1 with a 4.71 ERA. He also has a K/BB ratio of 27/14 in 28.2 innings of work. If McDonald can turn things around within the next couple of starts, the Dodgers should at least consider giving him another chance at the big league level.

At 25, I don’t see why the Dodgers would want to keep McDonald down in Triple-A, especially since the team as a whole has been rather inconsistent. The offense has kept the Dodgers around in the division, but they’ll need all the pitching they can get if they’ll want to catch up to the San Diego Padres, who lead the division by 3.5 games. The Dodgers currently sit five games out of first place, and their pitching is preventing them from taking the next step in reclaiming the NL West. San Diego and San Francisco have both been pitching great so far this season, and the Dodgers desperately need some relief for their struggling staff. James McDonald could potentially provide some much needed relief.

Milwaukee Brewers: Reviewing the Brew lead writer Dave McGrath

The Milwaukee Brewers have had their fair share of “wasted” or underutilized talent in the past. Yovani Gallardo probably could’ve helped the big league club sooner, as could Ryan Braun or any replacement for the disaster known as Bill Hall.

However, one of the most distressing aspects of the 2010 incarnation of the Brew Crew is that there really doesn’t seem to be any buried potential help on the bench or in the minors. Among regulars, only Alcides Escobar and maybe Carlos Gomez aren’t performing well enough offensively.

And while there are plenty of holes in the bullpen and starting rotation, there really aren’t any difference makers ready in the minors. I suppose you could argue that Todd Coffey needs to be making appearances later in games, where Trevor Hoffman has been awful, but it wouldn’t be very compelling.

So, with those parameters, the biggest waste on the Brewers would undoubtedly have to be $12.50 million being paid to Jeff Suppan, who has actively hurt the team consistently over the course of his contract. I could go over tons of stats displaying this, but I think the negative 5.00 and counting WPA (Win Probability Added) he has accumulated in just 3.25 years really says it all.

When you factor in the $2 million that will be paid to him to buy out the final year of his contract, that is $14.5 million being thrown away at a player that hurts Milwaukee’s chances of success. From the last offseason alone, here are some of the arms that 14.5 million could’ve bought: CL Mike Gonzalez, RP JJ Putz, CL Jose Valverde, RP Fernando Rodney, SP Joel Piniero, SP Carl Pavano, SP Rich Harden, CL Billy Wagner, RP Brandon Lyon, SP Brad Penny, SP Livan Hernandez and SP Jon Garland.

So, biggest waste on the Brewers: Jeff Suppan’s contract and roster spot.

New York Mets: Rising Apple lead writer Adam Garnett

If this question was posed to me on April 5th, the answer would have been simple: Ike Davis. Now that Ike has cemented himself at first base for the Mets hopefully for years to come, my answer to the question of which player’s talent or ability is being wasted most is Jenrry Mejia.

Yes I know Mejia currently resides on the big league roster in the Mets bullpen, but his 97 MPH fastball and wicked cutter scream “ace starter potential”. This 20-year old kid should be honing his golden arm in the minors right now, not toiling in the pen without a defined late-inning role. I understand the argument that I’ve heard from Jerry Manuel that he has the best arm out there and and they need him, but as we’ve seen the past few weeks, this team is going nowhere this year and should be looking to build for future campaigns.

Philadelphia Phillies: That Balls Outta Here lead writer Justin Klugh

I can confidently tell you that there’s not a bench player on the Phillies roster right now wringing his hands menacingly as an undeserved starter once again usurps his spot in the lineup. There’s nobody sitting there arching their eye brows and wringing their hands, plotting some sort of misguided revenge scheme in which a rack of bats mysteriously collapses on Chase Utley or Jayson Werth is tricked into finally listening to who his beard is telling him to kill.

So to find an underused Phillie, you need to dive down to the minors, where you’ll find Domonic Brown, the last of a farm system that used to have the future by the balls. Domonic is, thankfully, an outfielder, which is a position that the Phillies will probably one day soon find themselves with an opening. Ask any Phillies fan what a main issue of the future for us is and they will probably tell you “self induced vomiting,” “assholes running on the field,” and “LOL MORE SONGS ABOUT ROY HALLADAY PLZ LOL.” But, as far as actual baseball is concerned, Jayson Werth being the sole player not signed through 2011 is cause for tears. Hell, they just announced our upcoming series against the Blue Jays has been moved to Citizens Bank Park and already people are screaming for the revenue of the surprise home games to go directly toward retaining Werth and any facial hair he may sprouting at the time.

With Werth not a lock, there’s also the issue across the way of Raul Ibanez not returning to the All-Star form he showed in the first half of 2009, as well as pushing 40. That’s two outfield spots that could be open within the next few seasons. Brown, in a dream scenario, should be coming up to fill the vacancy left by Rauuuuuuuul’s departure, while keeping Shane Victorino in center and Jayson Werth in right. So, to deduce that Brown is the most underused Phillie, I’m jumping a year or two into the future, which I’ve decided is totally fine. To replace Ibanez would be the best way to get our money’s worth with Brown.

But, if you want to know the answer in regards to today, it’s the bench as a whole. There’s no one in the reserves that is so much better than their everyday counterpart that they have a right to complain. Hell, Ross Gload even let his apathy known before the season began: “I didn’t come here for more playing time. I probably came here for less playing time – and a chance just to be part of something good.”

This starting lineup is here to play. They do not like to come out. They hate coming out of the game so much, that by August, everybody’s weighed down by exhaustion which has usually led to a slump right around that time of year. Charlie Manuel has claimed that he plans to get more time from his bench this season (and with all the injuries, that’s sort of happening regardless), because giving a Ryan Howard or a Jimmy Rollins the day off here and there right now heavily outweighs watching the team crumble as a whole later on.

Pittsburgh Pirates: Rum Bunter lead writer Tom Smith

Umm…no. The Pirates aren’t wasting anyone’s talents. A team would need a stockpile of talent at the Major League level in order for that to happen. Aki Iwamura is doing a fine job of rotting right in front of everyone’s eyes. He is two-for-May. And now on the DL.

St. Louis Cardinals: Redbird Rants lead writer Ryne Gery

The Cardinals have very few holes to fill. The big league club is set and among the top teams in baseball this year. On top of that, the Cards farm system isn’t exactly stacked; it’s pretty thin on talent that can help immediately. Shelby Miller had everyone excited during Spring Training, but he’s the future and has a lot to work on in the minors. Allen Craig is a big league talent, but the Cards can’t seem to find a place for him in St. Louis. Craig started the year in St. Louis, but struggled to find his comfort zone coming off the bench. In seven games, he went 1 for 18 and was sent to Triple-A Memphis. He knows Memphis all too well. Craig led the Redbirds in most offensive categories in 2009; he hit .322 and led all Cards minor leaguers with 26 home runs and 83 RBIs. His performance earned him the distinction of Cardinals’ Minor League Player of the Year. He carried the momentum into Spring Training, where he hit .300 and drove in nine runs in 21 games. But he couldn’t find it in St. Louis and now, he’s battling for a spot again.

The 25-year-old has been a top offensive prospect his entire career for the Cardinals, but he doesn’t have a true position. He has played shortstop, third base, first base, and the outfield. Unfortunately, the Cards outfield has no room for Craig to get regular playing time. For him, he’s coming up at the wrong time. For the Cards, it means they have a solid club that should make some noise. Like most contenders, it’s hard to find a player that’s being wasted. You can’t argue with success. Allen Craig may need to find another organization to find his own.

San Diego Padres: Chicken Friars lead writer Nathaniel Stoltz

Padres left fielder Kyle Blanks slugged .514 as a rookie last year, but the righty showed a large reverse platoon split, slugging .570 against his fellow righties and just .366 against southpaws. It wasn’t a fluke, either–minor league numbers and even scouting reports back up the fact that Blanks is better against righties. Baseball America’s 2009 Prospect Handbook even called hitting lefties his biggest weakness.

Blanks has opened 2010 in a slump, hitting below .200 and striking out in almost half of his plate appearances.

The young left fielder is viewed as a future cleanup-type bat, and he’s a key figure in the future of the Padres offense. A logical response to his sophomore slump would be to let him play every day, either in the majors or in Triple-A, or at least let him face right-handed starters in the majors, since that would mean he still would play more often than not.

The Padres’ response? They’re playing Blanks exclusively against…LEFT-handed pitchers, meaning that 1) he doesn’t see too many at-bats and 2) he’s facing the pitchers he struggles with the most, which means he’s less likely to break his slump.

I don’t know if the Padres simply aren’t aware Blanks is better against righties, or if they think the data is fluky, or what, but this type of mismanagement of a potential star is borderline criminal. Bud Black needs to wake up and get Blanks in the lineup against pitchers he can actually hit, and if he’s lost confidence in Blanks for the time being, the Padres need to ship the big fella back to Portland.

San Francisco Giants: Frisco Fastball lead writer Bryan Rosa

When asked to determine which player the Giants organization is “wasting” away, I struggled to find an answer. The usual suspects: Matt Downs, John Bowker, Nate Schierholtz, they all come to mind, but really, are they being wasted? I’d have to say no. All the players have been given an opportunity (even though it was a small sample) to prove themselves, and they continue to not live up to their expectations (and age at alarming rates). Schierholtz seems to be coming around, but right now he’s nothing more than a solid defensive outfielder with singles type power which isn’t going to get the job done. As I continue to think about past minor league talent, I continue to see players who were wasted. For example, Fred Lewis and Kevin Frandsen were both expected by the Giants brass to help get the organization out of the Barry Bonds/Jeff Kent era, but, that became a complete failure. Both Lewis and Frandsen were traded earlier this year, all but giving up on the hope they once possessed.

So, with all of that said, it leads me to Buster Posey, the Giants premier offensive catching prospect. Posey has all of the tools to be something special. He can hit for power. He can hit for average. He has a cannon for an arm. His one weakness (if you want to call it that) is his defense behind the plate, along with his calling of the game, both items that will improve over time with experience. The problem is, the offensively challenged Giants need Posey now and rumors are abound that the Giants want to play Posey at first base just to get his bat in the lineup. I can’t help but ask why.

First off, as talented as Posey is, very rarely do players one year removed from college get the call to the big leagues and rake right away. In addition, the Giants are essentially asking Posey to be their savior by promoting him, pressure that most guys aren’t going to be able to handle at that age. Not everybody is Jason Heyward. Along with that, the Giants have Bengie Molina blocking his ability for a starting catching job and you’re risking Posey’s development behind the plate by having him play at first base a few days a week – time he could be getting behind the dish at Fresno.

Listen, I want to see Posey at the MLB level as much as anybody. He’s the catcher of the future and appears to be a sure thing. But just a few months ago, Giants General Manager Brian Sabean essentially all but said Posey wasn’t ready and signed Bengie Molina for one more season, and that’s fine. But don’t jerk him around by throwing him all over the diamond. The Giants have had a lot of trouble with their home grown offensive prospects during the Sabean era, and I can’t help but worry they’re risking Posey’s future like they did previous players who they anointed as “saviors”.

Give him the keys to the car – or let him figure out how to drive it on his own. Teaching him how to drive a golf cart isn’t going to help him drive a car. Posey is a catcher. Leave him be.

Washington Nationals: Teddy Never Wins lead writer Jeremy Stewart

For a team that essentially has a role for everyone on the 25 man roster, be it as a long relief guy (Miguel Batista) or late inning defensive replacement (Harris, Guzman, Taveras) its hard to find someone who is underutilized so let’s look off the roster.

The most over-worked and much maligned spot on the team has been the middle relief and thats where we find our most underutilized player in righty reliever Drew Storen, currently pitching in AAA Syracuse. Storen was drafted just last year at #10 overall out of Stanford. In his 11 months in the organization Storen has had just a 1.36 ERA across 4 levels of the minors. Storen features a 94 mph fastball mixed with a mid-80s curve that is especially tough on righties. The only reason I can figure Storen is being held down so far is money, holding him in the minors til June 1st keeps him from arbitration for another year.

Update: Storen was recently called up and made his major league debut May 17th.

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Topics: Allen Craig, Buster Posey, Carlos Zambrano, Domonic Brown, Drew Storen, Gaby Sanchez, Gerardo Parra, James McDonald, Jeff Suppan, Jenrry Mejia, Kris Medlen, Kyle Blanks, Mike Stanton, Rick VandenHurk, Ryan Hanigan, Sammy Gervacio, Seth Smith

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