Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Louisville Lightning Review/Preview

Season 7 was a tough year for the proud franchise. Although the Lightning still won 85 games and had a shot at the wildcard going into the last weekend of the regular season, it was still a season of disappointment. After all this is a franchise that had advanced to the playoffs easily in all of the previous 6 seasons of the Mordecai world. Most of the drop can be contributed to management feeling the team could not win the World Series with the team as is. So despite being well above the .500 mark early in the year several veterans were moved:
Starter Brad Lowe: a high ceiling talent who had not quite ever lived up to his potential was moved to (NL) Vancouver early in the season and really put together a great year for the Harbormasters.
Returned: 20 year old mega prospect OF Harold Brokowski. Harold is probably still 2 years away; however he's already to AA and last season mostly at High hit: in 418 AB's hit 356/446/691. With 28 homers and 40 doubles.

3B Rudy Hume: to (AL) Colorado Springs. Rudy was a solid veteran that was an on base machine. However, management still felt he needed to be dealt as long as the Lightning couldn't close the deal on the World Series.
A pair of B level prospects.
RF Tiny Lennon is all the way in High A, but could someday hurt left handed ML pitching.
OF Phil Maddox is in AAA and could be a solid bat vs Right handed pitching this year if someone were to go down with an injury.

1B/C- Vin Schilling: For the lightning played several years as a weapon vs left handed pitching. Vin was dealt early in the year to the (AL) Salt Lake City Mule Deer, with Salt Lake he was given the opportunity to play everyday and showed what he could do. Hammering the ball from both sides of the plate showed that the Lightning probably made a mistake by not giving him that opportunity.

A couple of prospects. But most notably:
22 year old RP Caesar Alvarez. He will be a key part of the ML Lightning bullpen this year after combining at AAA to go 84 innings 90 hits, walked only 23, struck 79. Had a 1.35 whip and a 3.55 ERA. The Lightning think he can only get better.



The Louisville Lightning are known throughout the Mordecai world as a team that scores......scores...and scores some more. Last year however a few proven guys had down years and a few hand picked prospects that were expected to provide boosts instead flopped. A good many of those same guys are being counted on this year.

C- Donald Martin: Last season the vet had a little bit of a down year going 280/389/387. Still getting his walks, however really taking a dip in average from season 7 when he went 329/441/469. However, he has had a couple of peaks and Valley's and should still rebound strong.

1B- Oscar Won- the youngster will get the majority of the at bats vs Right handed pitching. AAA last season went 337/410/628 with 19 homers and 19 doubles in 261 AB's. The Lightning are hoping that translates over to the majors. He has limited time in the league so far. This could be a little bit of a drop-off of what they got here last season between Vin Schilling and Brian Root.

2B- Stud Danny Alexander had another banner year. Ending in him being named the American League MVP last season. He hit 306/384/645 with 59 homers and 178 RBI. The Lightning expect even more this year from a 28 year old who has seen his homerun totals go up each year since season 3: 25, 32, 40, 48, 59.

SS- Danys Escuela: In his 1st season with the Lightning Danys will be asked to solidify the position. Last season saw Kirk Boucher start there only to see him struggle and get traded to (AL) Colorado Springs. Patrick Neilson was given the job, however he struggled with his throwing and was moved to CF. Finally Louisville found a SS in free agency and Hubbard had a huge year for them in a short time. Hitting over 300 with 14 homers and playing great defense. He asked for a little too much money though and Louisville had to cut ties with him.
Now comes Escuela. Young 23 year old kid(as of now!) He is a solid defender and despite being so young has already logged over 1000 Major League AB's. He has hit at a 316/396/506 career clip. Which if he translates that over to the Lightning's hitter friendly home park could make for even bigger numbers in the future. Look for Danys to be the Lightning SS for quite some time.

3B- Howie Martin- After last season's flip-flopping at 3rd base the Lightning are hoping Howie Martin can play decent defense and hit for the power he has shown in the minors. Howie was a guy that management projected to add a boost down the stretch, however he came up and hit 258/340/438 in 128 AB's late last season. The 23 year old was hitting 311/390/702 in AAA last season with 41 homers in 363 at bats. Martin is expected to hit for good power in the majors, while he will probably not hit for much average or walk a ton.

LF- Dan Van Poppel- The 34 year old future hall of famer is one of the best players to play in the Mordecai world during the worlds few seasons of play.Van Poppel is a career 350 hitter. Also OBP 424 and SLG 592. Career OPS of 1.016. Included in that was a historic season 6 where Van Poppel hit an eye popping 380/449/626. Set a world record for hits in a season with 262 and contributed 36 homers and 143 RBI.
Last season however Dan dropped off quite a bit to a 328/399/512 season. Hitting 23 homers and 130 RBI's.
This season management expects Dan to rebound, while he has lost some of his effectiveness on the base paths and in the field. Dan is still the same great hitter he always has been. Although trade rumors have been swirling around Van Poppel's name all winter it appears management will hold onto the Lightning icon.

CF- Patrick Nielson- In his rookie season last year, Nielson did a decent job. After moving to CF for good he was excellent roaming center. More was expected of Nielson at the plate however as he hit only 248/327/399 in 529 AB's. Included in that where 16 homers and 74 RBI's.
This season Nielson's offensive numbers are expected to go north of last year by a good margin. Especially in the Lightning coveted stat of On Base Percentage.

RF- Bryan Root- Root is returning to RF after stints at DH and 1B the last few years. He is replacing RF Torey Leonard who was a former Lightning 1st round pick with huge potential that was recently dealt to the (NL) San Juan Pierre for SS Danys Escuela and SP Thomas Samuel.
Bryan hit as always last year. A nice solid 312/381/619 season. Including 55 homers and 167 RBI's. Root's last 4 seasons have included all over 300 averages. Over 60 homers each. And over 160RBI's each season. The 31 year old OF is one of the more under the radar superstars in the entire world. And at his age, still has several awesome years left in him.

DH- Crash Cook- Crash is a young kid that the organization has liked for quite sometime now. Finally arriving at the majors late during season 7. Most of the DH duty last season rotated through the trio of Root, Hume, and Schilling. With all but Root gone, it is Cook’s job full time. Throughout the minors Crash showed the ability to hit for tons of power and have good plate discipline at the same time. Season 6 at AAA saw Cook go 293/375/650 with 45 homers in 437 AB’s. After a solid season 7 at AAA Cook finally got his shot at a full time job. However he hit several bumps in the road, Crash limped down the stretch at in the majors to the tune of 231/312/509. Despite not getting on base, Cook still displayed excellent power by hitting 19 homers in just 234 AB’s.
This season the Lightning expect really big things out of Crash Cook, he has not disappointed management at any stop since being drafted in the 3rd round a few years ago. We shall see if Cook can handle this stop coming up at the bigs.

RH- Jack Lincoln- Old savvy veteran coming over from San Juan Pierre in a trade just a few weeks ago. Jack will help provide pop off the bench vs Left Handed pitching.

RH- Scott Clayton- After coming over last season in a trade from Toronto, the career AAAA player had his moments. Hitting 31 homers in just 343 AB’s. However his 231 Average hurt his chances of starting this season. He has a decent glove and will be a solid power threat vs LH or RH pitching.

RH- Alex Gragg- Rule V pick Gragg is almost a lock to make this roster, even though he possesses the same trait as the other 2 bench players, power. He could be a real weapon vs Right Handed pitching for the Lightning.

GRADE- B+ The Lightning are depending on a lot of if’s this year. If the young guys Neilson, Cook, Martin, Won, Escuela all hit. And if the vets Martin, Van Poppel bounce back from sub par seasons. The real question is can 2B Alexander carry this team again? We shall see. The lineup should improve over last season however.

Last season saw a complete pitching nightmare for the Lightning. After letting go former ace Rick Smith(signed with Colorado Springs) the Lightning struggled to find any solid starting pitching. Ace Wayne Morgan did a solid job before going down to injury. After trading #2 starter Brad Lowe the rest of the rotation just fell apart attempting to replace him. Free Agent signee Albert Lee(mordecai worlds very own Sidney Ponson) flopped, despite all of his physical tools. Others given chances were former top prospects Cookie Miranda, Bruce Durbin and Jim Stephenson. All either fell victim to the injury bug, the homerun ball or both. The only decent pitcher after Morgan was veteran Edgar Canseco. Originally signed to be a long reliever, Edgar pitched very well through most of the season, although the veteran seemed to run out of gas towards the end. Most of the candidates from last season’s rotation are gone and thus the rotation for the Lightning can only get better…..Addition by subtraction.

1- Wayne Morgan- Morgan never reached the potential he was built up to have so many years ago(due in part to management rushing him) however he has become a solid starter for the most part. Keep in mind the Lightning’s home park is one of the majors most hitter friendly ball yards. Last season Morgan started off great, mid way through the year Wayne got injured and was out until the last month of the year. During his return he got pounded in each and every outing, so his numbers were a little inflated. For the year Morgan went 11-10, 5.50 ERA. Gave up 187 hits in 168 innings and struck out 145. For his career Morgan has compiled a pretty impressive 84-49 record to go along with 838 strike outs and is still only 29. He is a solid start overall.
2- Tomas Samuel- One of the Lightning’s primary off season goals was to add 1 or 2 solid starters to fill out some of their rotation. Samuel helped accomplish that, coming over in a deal form San Juan Pierre much is expected of Samuel. Last year spilt between the bullpen and rotation(for then New York Highlanders) Samuel put together an excellent year going 6-3, 3.23 ERA. In 133 innings he allowed just 118 hits while striking out 129 and only walking 34. In 476 career innings he has a career ERA of 3.31 and WHIP of 1.21. The main hole in his resume is he has only 20 career starts, however the Lightning feel he can be as good or better than the already solid Wayne Morgan because they have roughly the same stamina. Look for his ERA to rise however, due to the swap from NL to AL and the Lightning’s hitter friendly Louisville Slugger Park.
3- Rob Merrick- Veteran free agent pickup, not really what Louisville was looking for at the 3 starter, however a solid veteran presence none the less. Merrick pitched the last 4 seasons for the (NL) Vancouver Harbormasters and has also spent time during his career with Colorado Springs and (NL) Huntington. Rob has a career record of 70-44 and a 3.65 ERA. At 35 and switching back to the American League Merrick is sure to see his ERA go up, but at only 1.2 million he is still considered a bargain.
4 & 5 (Long relief)– These 2 spots are still up for grabs, as management is working hard trying to trade for another starter. However the candidates are as follows:
Sal Hill- the young control artist got some experience last year and is almost sure to get a chance at 1 of these 2 spots. Hill went 3-4 last season in his rookie year with a 5.99 ERA. Hill gave up 131 hits in 103 innings pitched while walking 20 and striking out 54.
Albert Lee- Lee struggled last season in his first year with the Lightning. Some in the organization believe Albert could excel in the bullpen due to his velocity and him being a 2 pitch pitcher. He finished 7-12 in 32 starts last season pitching 166 innings and allowing 179 hits, striking out 123 while walking 88. That high numbers of walks is what spurred on his Zip Code-esque ERA of 6.66. He is probably headed for the bullpen.

Jim Stephenson- A once highly thought of prospect that has been bitten by the injury bug throughout his career. He put together a respectable year last season going 5-2 in 71 innings while allowing 78 hits. Walked 27 struck out 50. Finished with an ERA of 6.31 despite having a WHIP of only 1.47. His career major league record of 27-16 in 68 starts indicates he could be in prime position to grab a spot, however management is concerned with Jim being given to me innings and his injuries returning. In a perfect world he’d be in long relief.

Charles Fisher- The 37 year old veteran was signed off the scrap heap this past weekend. He bring a ton of experience to the Lightning staff considering he has racked up 210 career starts in a solid career thus far covering Atlanta, Sacramento and most recently Minnesota. Charles more than likely has seen his last days of starting and will be asked to help the young bullpen, however, like Edgar Canseco last season. Even with a fairly low stamina, if he pitches well enough to give 5 and 6 innings a start he may be asked to take the ball every 5th day.

GRADE- C—the rotation could be the Lightning downfall this year. If they add one more legit pitcher to go with Morgan and Samuel however, that would go along way to helping their impressive lineup.

Middle and Setup Relief-
LH Specialist- Banjo Roberts- A career minor leaguer, the 27 year old product finally got a chance in the majors last season and didn’t disappoint in pitching 17 innings he allowed 25 hits, however he posted an impressive 17 strikeouts against only 2 walks. Him being a decent, cheap, alternative for the bullpen made it an easier choice to include him in the pen.
RH Specialist- Jake Stahoviak- After coming over in a trade last season from (AL) Salt Lake, he spent the entire year at AAA. The 28 year old did a decent job going 41 innings, allowing 48 hits, with a 5.50 ERA. But posted an impressive 9 walks and 40 K’s to go along with a 1.39 WHIP> It is possible his stay in the majors could be short lived.

Setup B- Don Kell- After coming over in the highly controversial trade from Colorado Springs in which he was swapped for young SS Kirk Boucher. But Kell did exactly what he was traded to do, be a bullpen innings eater. After the trade he appeared in 39 games for Louisville, going 3-2 with a 3.83 ERA. In 51 innings he allowed 62 hits. He did however have a 28/21 K to walk ratio. Which is not great. However the amount of innings he could make back to back really helped a starting staff without a lot of innings eaters.

Setup A- Caesar Alvarez- See at top under trade acquired.
Setup A- Fritz Montgomery- The 28 year old Fritz Montgomery will go into his 4th season with the Lightning as the setup man to closer Jose Redondo. Management has discussed trading Redondo and sliding Montgomery into the Closer’s rule but as of press time nothing has materialized. Fritz is coming off a season in which he made 63 appearances and finished with a 4-5 record. In 99 innings he allowed 107 hits , while walking 32 and striking out 82. Recording an ERA of 4.89, however his WHIP was only 1.39. He is a solid anchor to this bullpen.

Closer- Jose Redondo- In his third season as the closer Jose had by far his best season. The Lightning finally put enough arms around Redondo in the pen to allow Jose to only throw 1 inning and not 2. This served as a huge benefit. Redondo finished season 7 with a record of 2-1 in 47 appearances while saving 30 out of the 33 games he was asked to slam the door. Jose pitched 47 innings and allowed 41 hits, he walked 14 and mowed down 46 in route to a sparkling 2.47 ERA and only a 1.16 WHIP. Another season like this could put Jose in good position to cash in on the market if the Lightning allow him to leave after the season, in the mean time he’ll hang around a throw his one inning at a time.

GRADE- B- Between Redondo, Montgomery, Alvarez and Kell there is several solid arms in this pen. With the addition of 1 or 2 big time prospects by midseason this Lightning bullpen could be one of the better ones in the AL.

COMING SOON- (All in the next 2 seasons)
1B- Lou Arnold
RP- Quentin Cammack
3B- Alex James
LF- Harold Borkowski
RP- Rudy Morgan

FINAL- The trades of some of last season’s veterans was the “one step back to take two steps forward” philosophy. Those 2 steps might not be taken this year, however it is easy to see the plan being molded into place.
PREDICTION- Back in the playoffs as a wildcard team.