Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Season 8 Outlook: St. Louis Pathfinders

The major league Pathfinders will be hard pressed to improve on their 62-100 record as they’re reducing payroll, the few veterans left are getting older, and they’ve lost some of the few credible relief pitchers they had.

Starting Pitching:
Lefty B.C. Harris, a 32 year old veteran will lead the still rebuilding Pathfinder starters as the “ace” for Season 8. Harris managed a 7-11 record and one of the few sub-5.00 ERAs on the team in Season 7. Joining him will be two former Rule V players, “The Big Kahuna” Al Osuna and Wayne Lambert. Osuna’s injury plagued Season 7 (elbow tendonitis) limited him to only 44 innings and a 1 win. Lambert, a waiver claimed Rule V selection who’d never pitched above High-A until last year managed to shock management with a respectable 5-6 record in 36 appearances, including 23 starts. Staff workhorse Moises Lee, a crafty lefthander, managed a team leading 10 wins (against 11 losses) in 48 appearances and hopes this season for a set spot in the rotation and not having to pitch between starts. Rounding out the staff is Todd Kroon, who bore the brunt of lackluster run support all season on his way to a 1-13 record.

Grade: D+

Heavily overworked and joined by many moonlighting starters, the relief corps hope to hold their own in Season 8. The boys in the bullpen will have to do it without last season’s closer, Dolf Vernon (11 saves) or primary set-up man Jung Lee (3.15 ERA in 46 appearances), casualties of the salary crunch in the rebuilding effort. A rag-tag effort of Joe Lamb (4-9, 5 saves) and Al Santiago (5-3, 2 saves) will head up the setup corps for suspected (and rather suspect) closer, Mark Miller (3-6, 5 saves). Both Santiago and Lamb will be ready to pounce on the closer job when the 36 year old Miller falters, but it’s expected to be a messy bullpen by committee with the hot hand (well, luke warm on this team) getting the ball at the end of the games. Expect Rule V relief pitcher(s) to be brought in and logging lots of innings in the Pathfinder bullpen in Season 8. The fans waiting for the arrival of Triple-A’s Mike Cooper will have to keep on waiting since management has stated he still needs another year of seasoning.

Grade: D-

Centerfielder Pablo Castro led the Majors with 68 steals, one of the few actual bright spots for the Pathfinders in Season 7. Jeff Clark (Anaheim) and J.T. Barber (Huntington) were two Rule V players taking over starting jobs as they split time at shortstop, right field, and second base throughout the season. After a slow start Clark wound up the season with 10 home runs, 53 RBI, 18 steals, and a .279 batting average. Barber’s fast start cooled as the season went on and wound up at a .262 batting average, 15 homers and 75 RBI. Both are expected to start this year with Barber at shortstop and Clark in right field.
Rookie Matty Molina will get a great opportunity at playing time in Season 8 as there is no better option than this 23 year old, coming off consecutive 40 home run seasons in Triple-A. Preston Fleming and Felipe Sojo will continue to split time at second base this year. David Chang will back up the outfielders, but he’s barely up to that task and battling injuries and a poor batting eye.
Catchers Ross Jodie, a glimmer of his former self, and newcomer James Serano will attempt to handle the pitching staff and hit their weight. Look for Serano to get more playing time as the season continues as he’s a better pitch caller. His play will allow for more 5-2 losses as opposed to 11-3 losses. Yearly disappointment Brandon Sandberg will fill a utility role, since that’s what he’s best at, next to underachieving.

Grade: C

An above average team on whole, the Pathfinders defense is led by Clark and Barber who will both do fine. Management is shy about another adventurous season from Vincenzo Hutton at third base, who is capable at the dish (.272, 19 homers, 71
RBI) but managed an atrocious .880 fielding percentage last season. Look for Brandon Sandberg to get more time over at third and Hutton to move to second base and left field before he actually kills some poor fan sitting 25 rows behind first base with an errant throw.

Grade: B-

The real place to look this year at the start of the season in Double-A, where $18.8 million International signee Alex Johnson will be joined by outfielders Dave Womack and Travis Brown where they represent the hope and future of the franchise. Until those guys mature it's going to be a long, long season. Prediction: 50-112.