The New Britain Rock Cats have lost four of their last five games, and are in the very difficult situation of trying to gain ground in a very tough Eastern League. The team has hit well, but they are not getting very good pitching right now. Add to the mix that they have just lost potential ace Anthony Swarzak to a 50-game drug suspension, and this is a team that is definitely in limbo right now. The team has the bats to make a move in this division, but they may need to get Jay Rainville from the Fort Myers Miracle in order to make a serious move. Rainville is coming off a 2006 season where he missed the entire year to injury, so he may need to make a couple more Florida State League starts in order to be ready for the Eastern League. However, though it is early, if the Rock Cats do not make a move soon, then they could dig themselves into an early grave.
Third baseman David Winfree has been tearing the cover off the ball lately, and appears to have the confidence to have a big season in his first year in the Eastern League. Winfree is batting .421 over his last five games, including a home run, and four runs batted in. Top shortstop prospect Trevor Plouffe is batting .333 during his last five games, and has hit the ball hard. He appears to be turning his career around, after a rough past couple of seasons. Garrett Guzman has seen a drop in his batting average over the past five games, though he has driven in four runs.
The bullpen has had some bright spots over the team's last five games, and guys like Jonathan Martinez and Jose Mijares are really starting to find their groove on the mound. Martinez has assumed a setup role this season, after working as mostly a closer last year, and he has looked sharp lately. Martinez has not allowed an earned run over his last two appearances, a span that has encompassed 5.1 innings of work. In that time, he has struck out six, while walking only one. Mijares has picked up a save in his last two appearances, without allowing an earned run. The lefty has struck out three in that span, while walking one. Brad Baker is going to have to show the magic he displayed in his last start, now that Swarzak is going to miss at least ten starts.
Second baseman Felix Molina has really struggled lately, batting .095 through his last six games. He is a fan favorite in New Britain, and is not having the kind of season he was projected to have in his second year of Double-A ball. Rashad Eldridge was supposed to give the team some added depth in the outfield this season, but his bat has yet to come around. He is batting only .091 through his last four appearances, with only one hit in his first 11 at-bats. Brian Buscher is also struggling with the stick, batting only .207 though his first seven games.
Anthony Swarzak is definitely in the Who's Not section, based on his horrid start to the season, including his current suspension. He was expected to lead this pitching staff, and now he just has to try to get his career back in order. Reliever Daniel Powers has lost his last two appearances, and is really getting hit hard. He has pitched two innings over his last to appearances, allowing six earned runs. In that time, he has allowed seven hits, while striking out only one. Nick Blackburn has allowed only four earned runs through his last nine innings of work, but he has been hit hard. He has allowed 12 hits during his last two starts, and needs to start going deeper into the game. He will also be a guy to be relied upon now that the rotation has lost such a big prospect like Swarzak.
What We Know
The loss of Swarzak is going to weigh heavily on this team. Any time you lose a pitcher of Swarzak's skill, and potential, it is going to be a loss that is going to have repercussions throughout the entire roster. One guy to keep an eye on is Brandon Roberts, who appears to be heating up after a slow start. He is a big outfield prospect in the Twins organization, and is going to be counted on as a table-setter on this team. Guys like Plouffe and Winfree are playing up to their potential and the Rock Cats are going to need them to continue to produce if they are going to have success. Baker is going to have to move into a permanent starting role, and eat innings. Brock Peterson hit his first home run of the season this past week, and the Rock Cats are going to need him to provide pop to go along with Winfree in the lineup. If they can get continued production from their big names in the lineup, then it could take the pressure off the pitching staff to replace Swarzak.