El Toro (or, Jose Fernandez)

For my first returning post, I’ll give a brief account of the recent development of my adoration of Marlins top prospect Jose Fernandez.

(Image courtesy of MiLB.com)

About a year ago, my boyfriend Matt (then an intern with The Miami Herald) met Jose, his father and his agent at Alonso High School in Tampa to observe his workout, watch him throw a couple pitches and interview him for a short feature for the Herald. I stayed at our Clearwater hotel while Matt ventured out for a morning with Jose Fernandez, but when Matt returned, I heard all about the Cuban native’s multiple attempts to defect from his home country. I heard about his short stint in Cuban jail. Heavy topics — the kid’s only 19! But I also heard about Jose arriving and eating a fast-food sandwich for breakfast and referring to himself as a “bull”…topics seemingly more appropriate for a maturing teen. When Matt interviewed him, Jose had yet to sign with the Marlins. He and his agent were still playing the money game, waiting to see what the Marlins would offer before deciding whether he would head off to school or would become the newest addition to the Marlins’ farm. Obviously, he did the latter. And now, a year later, I’ll bet the Marlins are quite thrilled he did.

I’m a sucker for a good story. I loved Jose Fernandez just a little bit before I’d ever seen him pitch. Then, a month ago, on June 16, I went with a friend to a low A Greensboro Grasshoppers game. I currently live in North Carolina and was headed that direction for a teaching conference. A friend and I went early to see Jose pitch. I was floored. Stunned. Awestruck. Whatever word you want to pull out, I was it. His fastball averaged 96 mph, and he touched 98 a handful of times. He walked one batter and struck out 11, about half on one of the most beautiful curveballs I’ve ever seen. Sure, he let up a few hits (including one home run off a 97 mph fastball), but when it came down to it…Jose Fernandez was dominant. At the end of his eight-inning, 102-pitch outing, he sort of rolled his shoulders forward, clinched his fists and powered off the mound. He paused for a moment to throw a kiss up to the sky (I guess he’s a religious dude, too), then resumed his domineering stance. He reminded me of some kind of animal. An animal that’s crazy strong with a determined mentality and intimidating nostril flare. Oh, could it be the animal Jose Fernandez referred to himself as a year ago? He’s a BULL. That night, I nicknamed him El Toro and decided he’s my new favorite prospect. He’s with the Marlins, but I don’t much care. I’ve never enjoyed watching a pitcher quite as much as I enjoy watching him. I left Greensboro wishing I’d be able to see his next start.

But then, I turned super crazy lucky. El Toro was promoted to high A Jupiter, Fla. (the mighty Hammerheads) shortly after I saw him in North Carolina. And guess where my family lives and I was headed for a chunk of my summer break? You guessed it: the east coast of Florida. A few days after I got a wisdom tooth pulled (ouch), I went with my brother Alex to Jupiter to see El Toro. Matt had alerted me to the fact that he’d be pitching that night, so Alex and I made the 1.5-hour drive south. It was his first start at a higher level, and at first he didn’t look quite the same as when I’d seen him in Greensboro. His fastball velocity was down a little (avg. 94-95) and guys grabbed hits (and runs) off him here and there. But in his last two innings (the 4th and 5th), El Toro returned to form. The 4th and 5th were 10- and 9-pitch innings, respectively. In the 4th, he struck out two batters with his breaking ball (one swinging and one looking). Sandwiched in-between the two strikeouts was a flyout to left on a 97 mph fastball. Then in the 5th, two straight batters grounded out (to short and second, respectively), before El Toro induced a flyout to center on a first-pitch fastball. He had only thrown 64 pitches to that point, but I guess they’ve got him on a pitch count (or innings count, considering he’s gone 5 his first two starts with Jupiter). Unfortunately, Alex had been waiting in line for dollar dogs for about 45 minutes at that point and returned to our seats immediately after El Toro was finished for the game, so I had nobody to share the glory with. I told him all about it when he got back with our dogs, but he didn’t see it with his own eyes…I’ll have to take him to another game.

But that’s not all. Though Matt and I were at a Clearwater-Brevard County game (Phillies and Brewers FSL affiliates, respectively) during the Futures Game and are planning on watching the game soon on ESPN3, El Toro apparently rocked it out there, too, striking out two batters in his one inning. He cranked up the heat and threw a 97-99 mph fastball to impress. It evidently worked, as plenty of talent evaluators have said he was the most impressive pitcher in the event. This showing was after Baseball America had ranked El Toro No. 8 in their Midseason Top 50 Prospects List: http://www.baseballamerica.com/blog/prospects/2012/07/midseason-top-50-prospects-list-2/

Suffice it to say, I’m in prospect love. I can’t wait to see/hear more of El Toro in the future. He’s so good that Matt and I may make a day-long trip OUT OF Key West to Jupiter during our vacation to see him pitch. That’d be 10 hours of total driving for a 3-hour game (probably 2 or less of which El Toro will actually pitch), but I’d say he’s worth it.



This is the second time I’ve disappeared for a nutso long time and then returned, hoping to reclaim my post. And this time, there’s really nothing different about how busy I am (currently studying for the October 6 LSAT and writing lesson plans for the upcoming school year), but I’ve gone to a couple minor league baseball games recently, and seeing prospects (Phillies and otherwise) is sort of spurring me to come back. 😉

The blog (still titled “Philling in the Blanks”) will likely not be 100-percent Phillies-centric, considering I’ve fallen in love with a few prospects outside of the Phillies organization. (Can anyone say Jose Fernandez?) 


Phillies OF: Who to platoon? (Hint: not Brown)

Some Phillies fans have been talking recently about the prospect of signing Adrian Beltre. Problem is, he’s a third baseman, which means the Phils would have to move Polanco someplace else or get rid of him entirely. I like Polanco, so I’m not too keen on ousting him, but I guess there’s not really anywhere else he can go unless he’s been hiding some outfield talent up his sleeve.
Speaking of the outfield…I can’t wait to see what the Phillies end up doing. But I mean that not in the immediate sense–rather, where will the OF be a quarter of the season through, when they’ve really figured things out?
It’s obvious Victorino will hold down the fort at centerfield. He has two more years on his contract and, although he seemed undisciplined at the plate at time throughout the 2010 season, fangraphs actually has his WAR at a solid 3.6 and his 2010 worth at $14.4 million, which was indeed higher than his 2010 salary ($5 million). Victorino made the Phillies money and can be expected to continue producing runs and making defensive plays in 2011.
The question is how will the Phillies fill the undeniable gaping hole Jayson Werth left open when he signed his monster contract with the Nationals? RAJ maintains that Dom Brown has to earn his place on the big league team or will otherwise star the season back in the minors. So here’s where I take issue and wish the Phillies would do something different. Bring Brown up and keep him there. Give him a chance to grow. By the end of the season, he will have improved to the level of performance fans expect of him. If the Phillies send him down and bring him up just for a few at-bats here and there (like they did the end of the 2010 season), they stunt his development and extend the length of time until they get real production out of him. It’s nobody’s fault but their own.
Let’s say the Phillies do keep Brown up after Spring Training. There are talks of Ibanez starting in left and Brown/Francisco platooning in right. I love the idea of Francisco platooning with another player, but NOT Dom Brown. NOT DOM BROWN. He needs to be a full-time starter to develop the way he hasn’t been able to.

Instead, put Brown in right all on his own, accept that he’ll make some rookie mistakes offensively and defensively, but know that it will all be worth it in the end (“end” hopefully meaning the final stretch of the season). Platoon Francisco and Ibanez.
I know, Ibanez is a nice guy and still has some talent left in his older frame and all that, but would you rather take a risk on an old guy or a young guy? Last season, the Phillies lost money on Ibanez, according to fangraphs, which estimated Ibanez’s 2010 worth at $7 million. A positive monetary value, yes. But the Phillies paid him $11.5 million–the same amount they will pay him in 2011.
Instead of Ibanez only making the Phillies $7 million of the $11.5 million they’re paying him, let’s stick Benihana in the mix and let him contribute and perhaps close some of the gap. Though Ibanez has certainly has up moments in addition to down ones, Francisco could add a little variety and give Ibanez a break.
And though Brown will almost certainly make mistakes to start and could even end the season with an overall negative estimated worth to the Phillies, it’s for the best, both for Brown and the Phillies. Brown’s talent was grossly neglected toward the end of the 2010 season, and that can’t happen again. Give him a legit chance, not just a handful of at-bats. And, fans, in the meantime, don’t hate on him until he gets that chance. The ML at-bats he had in 2010 were teeny tiny sample size. Wait until you see him over a full season to judge.
Let’s just hope the Phillies give him that opportunity.

The healthy choice: Unload Blanton

There have been talks and talks and more talks about whether the Phillies should trade Joe Blanton or keep him around for 2011. A recent guest columnist on Crashburn Alley argues that the Phillies should hold onto Blanton at least through the All-Star break in hopes that he regains some value and can then be traded without the Phillies having to eat any of his salary.

I think that’s sound enough reasoning, but I maintain that the Phillies should go with the option that will guarantee them money in return… This is not a comment on how I think Blanton will perform in 2011, rather a comment on financial sense on the Phillies’ part.

1. If the Phillies keep Blanton…

**Disclaimer: The percentage values assigned with each scenario are assuming randomness, not factoring in Blanton’s past performance or predicted future performance.**

Best Case Scenario: Blanton shocks all doubters and posts insane numbers, making the Phillies’ rotation even scarier than ever imagined. The Phillies win the World Series. The $17 million paid to Blanton over the next two seasons are well worth it. No money freed up for other deals, but that’s no matter. Percent chance, given the Phillies keep Blanton for 2011, this scenario happens: 33.3%

Middle Case Scenario: Blanton does a little better than in his 2010 campaign and manages to push his value up so that the Phillies have to eat little to none of his salary. But they will have already paid him somewhere in the $4 million range. Let’s say they then have to eat $3 million. That’s $7 million spent for an OK half-season. Considering Blanton’s salary over the full season is $8.5 million, it’s almost a pointless effort to unload him at the break, unless the Phillies don’t have to eat any greens and can thereby free up $4.5 million from 2011, plus $8.5 million from 2012, totaling $13 million freed up in 2012 signings. This $13 million saved is the best case of the middle case, a rather conservative estimate assuming the Phillies would not have to eat any of Blanton’s salary. Let’s say the Phillies wait until the end of the season to trade Blanton, under the same conditions. They free up $8.5 million. Again, this is if no salary must be eaten. Percentage chance best case of middle case (approx. $13 million freed up)  happens: 11.1%. Percentage chance the Phillies unload Blanton at the end of the year without eating salary ($8.5 million freed up): 11.1%. Percentage chance Blanton improves, but not enough to free the Phillies from eating any of his salary: 11.1%

Worst Case Scenario: Blanton performs even worse than last season and Kendrick and/or Worley end up starting in his place. With Blanton benched, his $8.5 million 2011 salary is a sunk cost. The Phillies are basically paying $8.5 million for a sack of balls. At the end of the season, it’s a must-do to unload him, but they have to eat $5 million of his 2012 salary, freeing up just $3.5 million for other deals. Percentage chance this scenario happens, whereby the Phillies have a net gain of around $3.5 million: 33.3%

2. If the Phillies unload Blanton before the start of the 2011 season…

Only Case Scenario: The Phillies eat $8-9 million of Blanton’s remaining $17 million, freeing up $8-9 million committed dollars. Percent chance the Phillies get this money, given they unload Blanton prior to 2011: 100%

I’d take the guaranteed $8-9 million for other signings any day, especially knowing Kendrick (who had about the same average production as Blanton in 2010 and who will probably be making around $2 million in 2011, arbitration decision pending) and Worley (whose minor league stats and 13 IP in the majors project him as a solid guy in the fifth slot) will be around.

When it comes down to it, you can grumble and grumble over whether you think Blanton will improve and up his trade stock or even contribute substantially to the rotation, but the option that makes the most financial sense is to unload him now, before the 2011 season even thinks about beginning.

The only reason I would suggest considering keeping Blanton is if the Phillies have to eat more than $9 million of his salary. Even if that were the case, I would still heavily lean toward accepting the guaranteed, rather than banking on something you just cannot predict.

Ornament Day, plus a slugger!

A little late on this one (today’s Matt’s birthday!), but if you go to Citizens Bank Park today, you can buy three ornaments and get a fourth free! Also, if you spend $100 or more, you’ll get a free Charlie Manuel Louisville Slugger Bat…

Plus, you can now order “Great Expectations: The 2010 Phillies Video Yearbook” online! 
Lots of great Phillies goodness today! 

Great Expectations–DVD day at CBP!

Not sure I’ll be going to CBP for a third day in a row, though I’m slightly tempted to go every day leading up to my sad departure from the area (heading to Chicago) Dec. 23. Either way, that shouldn’t stop you from going to get 25% off all Phillies DVDs and CDs! Plus a free rally towel with any purchase, while supplies last. But most importantly…

**the premiere of “Great Expectations: The 2010 Phillies Video Yearbook”**
Philadelphia Phillies Great Expectations: The 2010 Philadelphia Phillies Video Yearbook DVD - MLB.jpeg
Inspiring DVD cover, at the very least. The DVD has its premiere today at Citizens Bank Park and then will be available for sale online tomorrow at the Phillies online shop. 
It seems as though, considering he contributed a good bit to the Phillies’ “exciting 2010 campaign,” Jayson Werth should be included on that cover. But he’s no longer one of the faces of the Phillies, I suppose! For many, he probably never was. I love the Halladay-Ruiz hug as the main image. Can’t wait to see what’s inside!
Oh and in case you forget what rally towels look like, here’s an example of what you might get for free if you make a purchase! (Probably same “Fightin’ Phils,” but very likely not from the 2008 WS…in fact, probably one of the 2010 ones they’re trying to unload, I’d guess.)
Aaaaaand here’s what you can do with it when April rolls around!

T-shirts? Lee-shirts!

Matt and I planned on going to Citizens Bank Park today for Cliff Lee’s press conference. We read (on trusty ol’ Twitter) at around 12:30 that it would be at 3 p.m. By that point, we had already resigned ourselves to a later time, around 4 p.m. or so and made other plans through the afternoon. So we sort of shifted around some things and zoomed to CBP to get there just a couple of minutes after 3. On the way, we heard on 97.5 the Fanatic that they were at McFadden’s for that afternoon/early evening show, so we went into the restaurant instead of the Majestic store. 

The bar area at McFadden’s was pretty packed with fans, most of them decked out in Phillies gear. The Fanatic crew were all set up down at one end (near the restrooms) with more fans seated at the tables directly in front of them. There was free beer for everyone watching the broadcast, which I’m sure was much to the delight of most fans. Throughout the presser, I just kept getting chills every time Lee mentioned anything about feeling like he belonged in Philadelphia. I’m not sure he ever used those exact words, but he hinted at that type of feeling a few times, including saying he never wanted to leave. Just warmed my heart right on up. 

After the presser, Matt and I went to the Majestic store to see if they had any Lee T-shirts available… There weren’t any out, so I asked an employee how much it would cost to get Lee’s name and number printed on a plain shirt. She grinned and said, “They’re on their way now! Just wait a few minutes!” About five minutes later, a few employees trudged in with big brown boxes filled with shirts. Another half hour later, the shirts were finally ready for sale, all stacked up on a nice red-tableclothed table right near the doors: 

Lee shirts.jpg
Just lovely.
Then, on the way back from CBP, we heard Mike Missanelli on the radio orchestrating a debate over whether #34 Cliff Lee shirts should be acceptable attire for fans. He holds that the answer is a resounding no, that maybe if Lee were still no longer on the team and fans still thought he should be there, maybe then it would be acceptable. But not with Halladay and Lee both on the team. He said go pay a small fee to get the 4 on your jersey switched out for a 3. (Or put tape over the numbers/names like Phillies fans apparently love doing.) Then, he said it’s just disrespectful to Halladay for fans to wear #34 Lee shirts. Wait, how does that change with or without Lee on the team? 
I say, on the other hand, it’s not disrespectful to Halladay to wear a #34 Lee shirt. If a fan paid money to buy that shirt, they’re contributing money to your multimillion-dollar salary. Be thankful. Be grateful. Let fans wear whatever the heck they want to wear. Sure, I’d prefer a shirt with the correct number, but some might just be wearing a shirt to wear a shirt. If they’ve got “Lee” and “#34,” couldn’t it be said they’re supporting Lee and Halladay at the same time? I say yes. The shirt can be whatever the fan wearing it wants to be. It’s ridiculous to suggest otherwise. I can wear my clothes the way I want to wear them, period. 
That being said, it did hurt my heart a little to see a fan at McFadden’s wearing a #28 Werth shirt with duct-taped “LEE” over the name. I love Lee, but I also love Werth with a pretty fiery passion…let’s let his four-year legacy live just a little longer before we deface his memory? At least I will. (I’d be hypocritical to demand others do the same, so no demands from me!)