California League Inland Empire 2009 Season Review

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The Inland Empire team affiliate had a dreadful season with a 59-81 record but it did have a two jewels and several other interesting players.  Read after the jump for the recap of the season.

HITTING:

Best Offensive Prospect

Trayvon Robinson entered the 2009 season with the reputation as a very fast center fielder who didn't hit much, didn't steal bases well, struck out way to much, had little power, and had little plate discipline. He ended the 2009 season as our best outfield prospect by making gains in just about every category. This excellent report by Kevin Goldstein from Baseball Prospectus shows how far Trayvon Robinson has come as a prospect.  Baseball America picked him as their 15th top California League prospect and had this to say about him:

15. Trayvon Robinson, of, Inland Empire (Dodgers)
Age: 22 B-T: B-R. Ht: 5-10. Wt.: 175 Drafted: Dodgers ‘05 (10)
Robinson was a hot topic of conversation among scouts at the Aflac All-American High School Baseball Classic at Petco Park in August. When told Robinson would be on our Cal League Top 20, one National League scout said: "He’d better be! And no one was sure he would hit coming out of high school."

A graduate of Los Angeles’ Crenshaw High, Robinson brought remarkable speed, a volatile temper and questionable bat into pro ball. He’s still a plus-plus runner progress and retains some rough edges, but the overall transformation has been remarkable.

A career .266 hitter coming into the year, he batted .306 with Inland Empire and finished one steal behind Gillies with 43. He has some surprising pop, though it gets him into trouble because he gets power-conscious. He’s a fine defender in center fielder with a fringe-average arm.

"Robinson gets better every year," another scout said. "The ball jumps off his bat, but he strikes out too much. He is way too good an athlete to strike out that much. He should look to go gap to gap more."

His numbers in the California League looked like this. His triple slash numbers of .304/.378/.498 produced an OPS of .869 and an wOBA of .370. He also stole 43 bases and will give Dee Gordon a run for his money when it comes to the faster player in the organization.  His walk rate jumped from 6.8% in 2008 to 9.5% in 2009. His Isolated Power jumped from .110 to .190. The slugging % jumped from .387 to .498 and yes alot of that can be attributed to moving from the MidWest League to the California League but his ISOP stayed at the .190 level after being promoted to AA.  Also in limited plate appearances in AA (70) his walk rate was 14%.  He just turned 22 in Sept so he will be entering AA as a 22 year old Center Fielder.  As far as league leaders go he was 17th in OPS but for players 22 or younger he was 7th. He was 2nd in the league in stolen bases with 43 but was also caught 27 times so he has lots of work to do in that area if he's going to be a plus in the stolen base department. His wOBA was again 7th at .370 for players 22 or younger.

Best Offensive Hitter:

As big a shock as Trayvon was, Scott Van Slyke was an even bigger surprise to be the best hitter on this team. At 23 he's a full year older then Trayvon and since being drafted in the 14th round of the 2005 draft had done little to merit being discussed as a top 30 prospect.  After four different stops in the minors he had a high water OPS of .717 and he got that last year in the California league. When you look at what he did in 2009 it is hard to believe this is the same player.  He was quite easily the best hitter on the team once Eduardo Perez was promoted to AA. He led the team in XBH (69), Home Runs (23), RBI's ( 100), OPS (.907), Walks (61), Total Bases (265). He had a ISOP of .240 while his previous high was .159. As far as league leaders go he was no Kyle Russell but his name was found in the top 10 throught the leaderboard.  10th in wOBA (.389), 9th in slug (.533), 9th in ISOP (.240), 10th in OPS (.935), 5th in home runs (23).

Sleeper:

Steven Caseres was opening some eyes after a sizzling June but then proceeded to suck the final three months of the year. Did he simply tire or did the Cal League pitchers figure him out. He had a bell curve going with his wOBA of .318 / .358  / .528 / .303 / .293 / .277.  He ended up with the best walk rate on the team at 11.7% but his K rate of 25.7 would have led most teams that did not have a Preston Mattingly on it.  At least he got some bang for those strikeouts with 15 home runs. He was drafted in the 9th round of the 2008 draft so this was his first full professional season and for a while he looked like a steal. He's a big left handed kid at 6'4 who did most of his damage against RHP (.926 OPS) and couldn't hit LHP to save his life (.581).  At worse that might put him on the plus side of a platoon but it is doubtful he'll be able to hit major league LHP. The good news is that his K rate (73/331) is only 22% against RHP, compared to .32% (39/121) against LHP.

His co-padre Jamie Ortiz just turned 21 this summer but only garnered 216 plate appearances. With two left handed first baseman on the roster there was only so many at bats to go around. Expect Ortiz to be the starting 1st baseman in 2010 with Caseres moving on up to AA.

Possible Role Player:

25 year old switch hitting 1st baseman Eduardo Perez is not a real prospect but he looks like someone who might be able to carve out a roster spot in his late 20's.

Disapointment:

Pedro Baez wasn't terrible but he didn't break out the way I'd hoped he would. He had a few injuries and only managed 330 plate appearances for the full year. The highlight of his season was making the futures team but I'm not sure why. While moving from the tough Great Lake Loons environment to the offensive fueled Cal league his walk rate dropped in half from 8.1 to 4.8 while his K rate rose from 21.4% to 25.5%. Baez failed in 2008 with the Loons and was sent back to the Pioneer league to regain his confidence. He did okay for a 20 year old but nothing great. However the Dodgers decided to skip him from the MidWest League to the California League and he held his own but did nothing special.  He's going to be 22 headed into 2010 so he still has time to improve his skills.

 

PITCHING:

Best Pitcher: On a very old pitching staff the 20 year old Christopher Withrow was still the best pitcher on the staff. Only the departed Steven Johnson could have given him a run for this title. Most of us were suprised to find Withrow on the 66er staff since he had only thrown 13 innings since being the number one pick in 2007. However the jump worked out as Withrow quickly showed he belonged in this league. Eventually he would get promoted to AA where he would continue to dazzle his followers but while he was in the Cal League he was a good reason to go watch the 66er's play when he was on the mound. Baseball America voted him the 4th top prospect in the league and had this say about him:

4. Chris Withrow, rhp, Inland Empire 66ers (Dodgers)
Age: 20. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 195. Drafted: Dodgers, 2008 (1).
A first-round pick in 2007, Withrow worked just 13 innings in his first two pro seasons because he had elbow problems. His rust showed this year, but he wowed scouts with his pure stuff.

Withrow averaged 10.9 strikeouts per nine innings with Inland Empire before his promotion to Double-A Chattanooga. His 92-96 mph fastball and curveball are both plus pitches, and his heater was clocked as high as 99. He throws with an easy arm action, which bodes well for his future health.

Withrow needs more command to be a front-line starter, and he’ll have to hone his changeup to give him something to play off his power stuff.

Other pitchers of note on the team were Tim Sexton, Justin Miller, Brian Akin, Jacobo Meque, Eric Krebs, Alberto Bastardo, and Mario Alveraz

Tim Sexton game is control. In three years his BB/9IP have been 2.0/2.3/1.9 to bad his K Rate didn't keep up. In his rookie year for the Loons he had a 9.9 K rate but over the last two years he's sitting at 5.8. 

22 year old Justin Miller was the pitcher promoted from the Loons to the 66er's to make room for Aaron Miller. Aaron is the good Miller. Justin throws a heavy sinker but that heavy sink didn't keep the Cal League hitters from knocking out 52 hits in only 34 innings of work. The BABIP of .398 shows he was a bit unlucky but he also walked more then he struck out. A very unimpressive showing in a very limited sample size.

Mario Alvarez had been best known for shockingly making the 40 man roster in the fall of 2008 instead of Wesley Wright. Wright was taken by the Astro's in the rule five draft while Alvarez went on to have TJ surgery. The smallish RHP made it back into the 66er rotation and actually had some good results. His 1.17 WHIP was easily the best of his career, due to him dropping his B/9 rate to 2.5 and giving up fewer hits then inning pitched for the first time in his career.

Brian Akin must be a lot of fun to watch pitch. The 27 year old has been struggling since 2004 but in just about every year he's had a K/9 rate over 10 but to his chagrin has also had a B/9 rate over 7 the last two years. While with the 66ers he walked 8  in only seven innings of work.

Jacobo Meque knows how to strikeout hitters but evidently little else. He struck out 36 batters in only 21 innings of work but still managed to have an ERA over 5.00 and a WHIP over 2.00.

Eric Krebs came over in the D Young deal. Not sure a A journeyman relief pitcher is worth a starting major league 2nd baseman but what do I know.

Alberto Bastardo has a great name and finally got promoted to AA after spending 2007, 2008, and 1/2 of 2009 with the 66ers. Bastado is a little lefty who is now 25 years old. I expect him to be pitching out of relief soon because he won't make in the rotation.

 

The best writer on the staff was  Brian Akin who pens a funny blog called Dear Tommy John Letters.

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