We're three weeks from Opening Day 2007, there's a slight breeze in the air, and I haven't posted a true opinionated piece since...well I don't remember, anyhow here are some of my thoughts as we enter the `important' portion of the spring.
The 2007 starter at third base? Probably Akinori Iwamura, but all reports indicate we could see Joel Guzman at third by 2008, including Peter Gammons who said the team could consider moving Iwamura to another position. Guzman has shown a flashy glove in Spring, drawing compliments from Joe Maddon who openly questioned the Dodgers for moving him to the outfield.
There is no doubt in my mind that Shawn Riggans should be the backup catcher, he probably should've been last year, but at 27 it's time to find out whether or not the semi-local product from St. Thomas Aquinas High School can get results at the big league level or not. The Rays are beginning to add catching depth, looking at oft-injured but quite talented John Jaso, 2006 draftee Nevin Ashley, and perhaps the biggest wild-card in the system, Sergio Pedroza who is apparently going to attempt to become a catcher, something that if he can handle with the mitt while maintaining his power and eye would eventually make him a very valuable commodity in the organization.
The fifth rotation slot has been talked about a lot, but what about the long relief spot? It would make sense that the loser (or second runner up at least) gets that nod, but if it comes down to Edwin Jackson or J.P. Howell at either slot would the Rays sacrifice upside for right now or right now for upside, in other words who would be the one starting?
Questions are array in the bullpen, should Dan Miceli, Ruddy Lugo, and Seth McClung, the main trio to locking down games, or at least being out there in the latter innings be guaranteed spots or should Lugo and McClung be treated equally amongst other relievers, giving the nod to Chad Orvella, Juan Salas, and Al Reyes over the threesome? Needless to say with Miceli's shots at the organization for lack of professionalism, and his lack of professionalism in the sense of doing his job (seriously three innings, nine hits, six earned runs, two walks, and two strikeouts) could lead to him being the Chad Harville of 2007, or in other words pure horse dong.
Brian Stokes as closer? It seems crazy, and it probably is to most baseball fans, but Stokes possesses a sinking fastball that sits around 89-92, a really good curveball, and a decent changeup, placing him in small situations such as getting three outs at any moment seems like it should work. I know Spring Training isn't a good litmus test for things such as how a starting pitcher will do, how a batter will hit, but it can measure relievers the best if they're used at a decent rate. So far in 6 and 2/3rds innings he's allowed four hits while maintaining zero allowed runs, walking one, striking out none.
Getting to the point, and my belief, a reliever will be good no matter the situation since most pitchers can get you three outs in succession 9/10 times if they have three quality pitches, Stokes does. Is he Mariano Rivera? Well no, since again he has three quality pitches, but the guy you can compare him to is former Ray Danys Baez. While they aren't really that much alike build wise (one is 6'4 225, the other is 6'2, 205) both did spend time in starting and relief roles throughout their minor league odysseys, and looking at their stats throughout their minor league careers they are quite close.
Baez: 8.14 H/9, 0.65 HR/9, 3.06 BB/9, 8.29 K/9, 1.24 WHIP
Stokes: 8.25 H/9, 0.62 HR/9, 3.50 BB/9, 7.45 K/9, 1.31 WHIP
I know we've taken our fair amount of shots at Baez, and rightfully so since he does rely heavily on his defense, and since Jake and myself are quite the Moneyball-atics we are somewhat sour on defensive heavy pitchers, a la Wang, but to be frank we could only hope Stokes could wind up with 111 saves in the Majors. Perhaps the idea of Stokes as the closer isn't all that outlandish.