Here in Part Two, we will continue with a discussion about the immediate futures of Kenny Maiques and Kyle McClellan, the late season pitching of a group of Quad Cities starters and the rise of a newcomer named Andres Rosales.
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Kenny Maiques. One of the top stories of 2007 in the Cardinals minor league system was the emergence and dominance of Swing of the Quad Cities closer Kenny Maiques.
The 22-year-old Californian was drafted in 2005 out of Rio Hondo Junior College, but had to undergo Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery shortly thereafter. 2006 wasn't a lot better. After his first start for short-season Class-A State College last season, he felt tightness in his forearm. The right-hander returned to Florida and spent the remainder of the season in rehab.
Finally free from discomfort in 2007, Maiques really put it together. He registered a 1.93 ERA and held Midwest League opponents to a .186 batting average on the season. Maiques struck out 57 in 53 innings and walked 20. His ground out to fly out ratio was a respectable 2:1.
With 31 saves this season, Quad Cities' closer now owns both the single-season and career saves record for the franchise, which had been 27 and 28, respectively.
Given his repertoire, experience and results, several have wondered if Maiques might move from relief back to starting next year. Speaking for the organization, Vuch isn't ready to commit just yet.
"With the '07 season just recently ending, those kinds of decisions will be made in the next few months, and many of the starting/relieving decisions don't resolve themselves until we get into Spring Training," Vuch said.
Maiques was one of the few standout players in the system that remained on the same club all season long. If continuing to relieve next season, the move to the next rung up the ladder, the Palm Beach Cardinals of the Florida State League, would seem a given. But, would that change if Maiques was asked to return to starting?
Vuch believes Maiques has earned that promotion based on his 2007 season, but left the door open slightly. "I don't see many scenarios where Maiques would need to repeat Quad Cities, so I think if we were penciling in rosters, he'd be likely to move up. But nothing is ever etched in stone at this time of the year."
Kyle McClellan. Another standout reliever this past season was Missourian Kyle McClellan. A good indication of how the Cards' 25th round pick in 2002 has improved his standing is his selection to play in the Arizona Fall League.
It has been a long road back for McClellan, who missed time in 2004 with a forearm injury, then underwent Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery and a later procedure to relocate a nerve in 2005 and 2006, respectively.
During the 2007 regular season, the 23-year-old split his time between high-A Palm Beach (29 innings) and Double-A Springfield (30 2/3 innings). McClellan was equally successful at both stops, combining for a 1.81 ERA and an opponent batting average of .212.
He fanned 54 in 59 2/3 innings and walked just ten batters all season long. Like Maiques, his ground out to fly out ratio was 2:1, illustrating an adherence to the organizational philosophy to keep the ball down.
With numbers like that, does McClellan have what it takes to return to starting, which was his original role in the system, or will the Cardinals be happy to see him continue to excel in relief?
Vuch acknowledges the possibility of a shift, at least. "I think that will also be an off-season decision. Kyle made huge strides this year. He has the repertoire necessary to be a starter, but has also had health issues in the past."
In addition to good health, there was more to why McClellan caught the organization's attention. "His velocity spiked much higher this year while working in relief. Whether that's a matter of his role in 2007, or simply due to him being at full health is something our pitching and medical guys will determine. He's pitching in the Arizona Fall League as a reliever. But whatever role he takes in 2008, he's definitely opened a lot of eyes with his work this year," Vuch explained.
Shaun Garceau, Elvis Hernandez, Tyler Herron. For the first three months of the season, the Swing of the Quad Cities were adhering to the tandem starter system, tried for the first time by the Cardinals in 2007. In it, four pairs of starters took turns starting and relieving the other, being limited to 85 and 75 pitches, respectively.
Never intended to be used for the entire season, at the end of June, five players stood out from the others enough to be named the members of a traditional five-man rotation. Those included Shaun Garceau, Elvis Hernandez and Tyler Herron. Like Maiques, Hernandez was named to the Midwest League Mid-Season All-Star Team.
As the latter months of the season ensued, each of the three starters suffered a marked downturn in results. In the case of Garceau, the troubles began in June, a month sooner than the other two, whose troubles seemed to correspond timing-wise with the rotation shift.
The data below illustrates the opponents' batting average against each pitcher in 2007. Comparing late-season results to the early-season marks shows a significant increase – over 40 points of batting average in all three cases.
Could the reason have been the change in roles and associated workload level, fatigue, injury or what?
Vuch moved quickly to head off any worries. "We have no major concerns with the three. There may have been a fatigue factor in play for several of the Quad Cities pitchers, as this was the first full season for most of them. Overall, I think we were pleased with the overall body of work for all three of those guys in 2007," he explained.
Andres Rosales. Arguably the most impressive pitcher on the Cards' new Gulf Coast League squad this season was Andres Rosales. The Colombian, hailing from the same town as former Cardinals shortstop Edgar Renteria, was then promoted to Johnson City at the end of July.
Between the two stops, the right-handed starter posted an ERA of 1.80, holding enemy hitters to a .212 batting average. Rosales struck out 64 hitters in just 50 innings pitched and demonstrated excellent control, walking only eight batters all season long.
Though having been in the organization for three seasons now, Rosales spent the first two in the relative anonymity of the Dominican Summer League. As a result, Rosales was unknown to many prior to this season. So, I asked Vuch about him, starting with his repertoire.
"Rosales has an average fastball, but with above average command. He has a quality curve and the makings of a decent changeup," Vuch explained.
Though he is only 19 years of age, the organization wants to continue to see Rosales challenged as we move into 2008, his fourth as a Cardinals minor league hurler.
"Rosales is a guy that will need to move up next year as he's not as young as some of the other kids we've brought over. He will come into next spring competing for a slot on one of our A-ball staffs," said Vuch.
Brian Walton can be reached via email at email@example.com.
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