Setting the Stage
In a battle of the bottom-dwellers, the Toledo Mud Hens traveled east to take on the Red Sox AAA affiliate in Pawtucket, for a four game set. The Mud Hens would take on the Paw Sox without the services of their top pitcher – Virgil Vasquez – as he headed to Detroit to fill in for the injured Jeremy Bonderman. Two generally veteran clubs battled throughout the Mother's Day weekend, and here's some of the tidbits we discovered.
• Replacing the recently promoted Vasquez was TigsTown's #11 prospect, Dallas Trahern. After an electric first month at AA-Erie, Trahern comes to Toledo with a pedigree for excellence, and a determination to prove his worth. Dallas looked poised and in command throughout his AAA debut; something that isn't an easy feat given the circumstances. His traditionally dominant sinker was evident throughout his lengthy appearance, inducing ground ball after ground ball. He worked consistently in the 88-91 range, topping out at 94 on three occasions, while his slider sat consistently in the 84-86 range with good late bite. As usual, Trahern didn't miss many bats, forcing hitters to put the ball in play nearly every at-bat. I've maintained for over two years now that Dallas needs to miss more bats to be truly successful at the higher levels; and after watching Saturday night, I still maintain that line of thought. The Pawtucket lineup is rather poor relative to the rest of the league, with very few players carrying ML quality bats on their shoulders. Two things I observed last night that could help Dallas in his quest to miss more bats; changing up the first pitch, and working his 4-seam fastball up the ladder. Of all the batters I saw him face, my charts only show four first pitches that were not fastballs; which tends to be a pattern advanced hitters will pick up on in scouting reports. I'd love to see him mix that up more, particularly on nights when his slider is his second plus-pitch -- as it appeared to be on Saturday. Lastly, the challenge with many young pitchers is in teaching them to consistently work low in the zone. I think it might be quite the opposite with Dallas; he might just work low too much. Later in the game, the Pawtucket hitters seemed to be prepared for the ball at the knees, waiting for that pitch and ready to drive it. It may well behoove Trahern to work his four-seamer up towards the letters with some regularity, changing the hitter's line of sight. All-in-all, an excellent performance in an emergency role for Dallas.
• Outfielder Ryan Raburn is absolutely locked in right now. I've seen him hot before, but he's in another world at this moment. His swings in BP had more purpose to them than any I've ever seen, and once he was in the game, you couldn't get him to look away from the ball. He's squaring up everything, recognizing pitches better than I've ever seen him. Not to mention his defense; which it looks as though his outfield instincts are back, and he might yet make himself into a legitimate Major Leaguer. It's worth noting that the rocket home run he hit Saturday night just missed a dad's glove and careened right off his five-year old's head. No worries folks, latest word had the kid doing fine; a little scared and looking like Rocky Balboa, but fine overall.
• Everyone out there is concerned about the struggles of Brent Clevlen; and after watching him this weekend, they should be. He looks completely lost in all phases of the game. Brent is swinging at every pitch within his zip code, not making solid contact with even belt-high fastballs, and just looks generally lost at the plate. He didn't look this bad in his first disastrous tour through the Florida State League in 2004. Defensively, he didn't look much better. His breaks on the ball were late, his routes were poor, and he seemed generally disinterested. In the end, I'd say he's got a ton of work to do before he's even close to contributing to a Major League club.
• One guy that never, ever gets talked about is catcher Andrew Graham, and he might just warrant a little discussion. He's never going to be a stud catching prospect, but he might become quite a serviceable backup. He's certainly got the defensive ability; with a very strong, accurate arm, good blocking skills, and the ability to lead a team on the field. Offensively, he has the ability to make contact with regularity, but he seems afraid to let his powerful swing loose. I've seen him drive the ball consistently, albeit not since he was with Oneonta. He's a big, strong kid who must start using that to his advantage.
In an oddity – maybe it's just me – the Hens through a lefty in batting practice, with a righty pitching in the game; that always seems odd to me….Chris Shelton looks completely annoyed with the entire concept of being in AAA. Don't expect anything great from him anytime soon….Henry Mateo is a nice little player; if he could ever employ the Juan Pierre hitting technique, his slick fielding and great instincts could give him a nice career as a backup….Boston's top relief prospect – Craig Hansen – might just be on the verge of heading back to The Show; his fastball was popping at 94-96 in the strike zone and he looked very sharp….If Ian Ostlund ever makes the big leagues, it will be on the back of his curveball; that was one filthy pitch!