Matt Cain Trade, A's Pitching, Raiders QBs
The Giants have been trying out their young players lately, but thereís no star quality there.
Of the four young outfielders who have been up this year, Nate Schierholtz is the only one who looks as if heíll be a consistent hitter in the major leagues. That opinion is based on both my personal observation Ė he has a nice, level swing that seems perfect for hitting the alleys at AT&T Park Ė and his age and minor league stats.
Schierholtz is 23, three years younger than the others, which is significant. The age at which a player reaches the majors is a very important predictor of success. Schierholtz made a big jump this year, hitting .333 at Fresno and .349 in just 63 at-bats with the Giants. He also worked on his power stroke when he was sent back to Fresno and hit another 10 home runs. He may be one of those young hitters who develops power as he grows older and learns to look for pitches he can drive.
The other encouraging sign about Schierholtz is that he has cut down his strikeouts, because high strikeout totals for minor league hitters is a sign of holes in their swings that will be exploited by major league pitchers. Two years ago at San Jose, he struck out 132 times. Last year, he struck out 81 times at Connecticut. At Fresno this year, in 411 at-bats, he struck out 58 times.
Rajai Davis, obtained from Pittsburgh in the Matt Morris trade, is a superlative centerfielder He has not been a hitter with high strike out totals in the minors Ė 59 is his high Ė but good pitchers have made him look very bad at times since heís been with the Giants. The question is whether heíll be Brett Butler of Tsuyoshi Shinjo. Butler used his speed, bunting and slapping grounders past drawn in infielders, and had a productive career. Shinjo, who might have been the Giantsí best defensive centerfielder since Willie Mays, foolishly tried to hit home runs, wound up with a .238 average and went back to Japan after one season.
Fred Lewis has similar skills to Davis but isnít quite as good in the field and has real holes in his swing, with strikeout totals over 100 in each of his complete seasons in the minors.
Daniel Ortmeier, who has been shifted to first base, is a good athlete but one who has not hit for percentage or consistent power. He appears to be a hitter who would hit about .260 with 16-17 home runs, which would sadly be an upgrade for Giants first basemen in recent years but hardly what you want from a hitters who should be in the middle of the batting order.
One interesting factor about these prospects: The only one who has shown good plate discipline in the minors, with a decent walks-strikeouts ratio, is Davis, who came from another system.
Iíve long suspected that one of the major problems with the Giants farm system is that they donít teach good plate discipline. Theyíve been slow to use the statistical information that so many successful clubs have incorporated into their approach. Giants owner Peter Magowan alluded to that when he extended Brian Sabeanís contract, saying theyíd start using the statistical approach more. But not everybody got the message. Manager Bruce Bochy made a sarcastic reference to stats people this week as ďpropeller heads.Ē Bochy is only 52, but heís old in his thinking. I fear that there are too many like him in the Giants organization.
Getting back to my original thesis, trading Cain is the only way to get the good young players the Giants still need. Forget the reports about Noah Lowry being available. No club is going to give up top prospects for a pitcher who should be 3-4 in the rotation.
The Giants do have depth in starters, with Kevin Correia pitching well and Jonathan Sanchez a strong possibility, too. But itís not enough to have good starters now because they so seldom complete a game. Cain has pitched well all season but the erratic Giants bullpen and lack of runs support has doomed him to a losing record. To get their offense jump-started, theyíll have to trade him.
AíS PITCHERS: While the Giants are looking for hitters, the Aís are auditioning pitchers for their starting rotation. Their bullpen should be solid again next year with a healthy closer, Huston Street, and setup man Justin Duchscherer.
One question: Will they trade Joe Blanton, who will be arbitration-eligible? I think they should keep Blanton, who can be a solid No. 3 starter.
Rich Hardenís status clouds the picture but, since Harden has barely pitched in two years, the Aís canít count on him being available. So, Dan Haren is the only sure thing. Haren has faded in the second half, probably because of fatigue, but heís a legitimate staff leader. Chad Gaudin has been a pleasant surprise, as has Lenny DiNardo, as an end of the rotation starter.
Dallas Braden has had his chances, but he still appears to be no more than a good Triple-A pitcher. The Aís hope that Dan Meyer, recovered from a long period of arm problem and surgery, will be the pitcher they thought they were trading for two years ago.
RAIDER QBS: The Raiders finally signed their No. 1 pick, JaMarcus Russell, and that will create some uneasy days soon for backups Daunte Culpepper and Andrew Walter Ė and eventually, for starter Josh McCown.
Coach Lane Kiffin praised McCown for his play in the season opener against Detroit and made it clear he will remain the starter. So, when the two-week roster exemption for Russell is removed, the Raiders will try to move Culpepper or Walter. Culpepper has some trade value because of his past record but probably no more than a low draft choice. Walter has no trade value. Still, I think the Raiders are more likely to just release Walter and keep Culpepper (they have to pay his salary, anyway), in case McCown gets injured or plays so poorly, Kiffin wants to make a change to a veteran quarterback.
Donít be surprised, though, if Russell starts to play a significant part of the time in the second half of the season. By then, the Raiders will be headed toward another season at the bottom of the AFC West, so they will have nothing to lose.
E-MAIL: I answer most of my e-mail but there are some things you should know:
--While you are sending one e-mail, I may be answering dozens. So, if you send an e-mail with several questions and/or points, Iíll probably only respond to one of them. If you send another e-mail pointing out that I didnít answer the rest of your questions, I wonít respond.
--Iím honest in my responses, as I am in my columns. If I think youíre full of it, Iíll tell you. If that hurts your feelings, thatís your problem, not mine.
--I am not biased for or against teams. There are some Raider fans especially who cannot understand that. Not all. I hear regularly from Raider fans who appreciate my take, but there are the loonies who still believe Al Davis walks on water. I think a 15-50 record over the last four-plus seasons is proof that heís sunk.
VACATION: I will have columns in the Examiner on Friday and next Tuesday, but there will be no website columns until Oct. 3.
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