Here's my take on the latest roster churning. I'll give this team credit for one thing... they certainly keep you busy on the transactions analysis.
Before we get to the bullpen, we have the matter of Justin Maxwell, our Baseball America #10 prospect (he was listed as #11 in the Prospect Handbook, but that was with the fictional Esmailyn Gonzalez in the #10 spot, so I think it's appropriate to bump everyone else up a notch). J-Max is a 6'5", 25-year-old University of Maryland graduate. He can play all three outfield spots, and although he's mostly played centerfield in the minors some think he'll eventually get moved to left because of his arm and occasionally suspect routes to the ball.
He's shown a patient approach at the plate, walking in 11.8% of plate appearances across three levels (A, high A, and AA) in 2007 and 2008. He also has a good deal of raw power, evidenced by ISO power rates of .278, .228, and .226 across those three levels, respectively. He tends to strike out too much, but his real problem is that he hasn't been able to stay healthy. In fact, 2007 was the only year that he didn't get hurt since getting drafted in the fourth round of the 2005 draft.
More than anything he needs at bats, so why is he here playing the fifth outfielder role where he's just going to sit most of the time? Rizzo said that it's because he was already the 40 man, and they didn't want to have to make a corresponding roster move, but shouldn't the development of our prospects be our top priority? Are we really so worried about a guy like Dmitri Young getting claimed on waivers? I'm happy for Maxwell, but it's really not in his or the team's best interests to be here.
Chico Harlan asked about Corey Patterson, who would have made more sense than Maxwell as a defensive replacement, but Ryan Langerhans would have been my choice. All he did last year was put up a .380 on-base percentage while playing gold glove defense wherever we put him (well, except first base... he was a little ugly there).
As for the bullpen, mostly we're just seeing the guys we should have seen Opening Day if the team had done the right thing and kept the best 25. Clearly Jason Bergmann should have been here from the start. Yeah, I know, waivers, options... whatever. If someone wants Wil Ledezma so bad they can have him. There are lots of career 5.17 ERA guys littering the landscape who can give up gopherballs as well as he can. The Bergy question is well covered territory for me, so I'll just leave it at that.
Garrett Mock was also clearly one of our best 7 relievers at the end of spring training. He has that great combination of strong groundball rates and excellent strikeout ability that you love to see. Last year he pitched 108 innings at AAA with a 3.34 ERA (which translates to a Major League equivalent of 4.35). He was even better in a brief call-up, posting a fielding independent ERA of 3.84, while he striking out more than 10 per 9. Command can be an issue, but he's better than the guys he's replacing.
Kip Wells is a little harder to get excited about, but he's a groundball guy, which Rizzo likes. For some reason the Marcel and Bill James projections expect him to pitch in the mid-4s ERA this year. His problem has always been command. But in 11 innings at Syracuse he's only walked two, while striking out 11. So I'm not going to boo just yet. Rizzo might be on to something.
Of the guys going down, obviously Saul needed to go. Pitch FX confirms what anyone could see with their own two eyes--the movement on his sinking fastball is just nowhere near what it used to be. The pitch recognition of pitch FX isn't perfect, but if you click that link it's telling you that the vertical movement on his fastball has declined from 7.2 inches last year to 4.9 this year. The velocity on everything is down a tick as well, except his change-up, which is actually faster (though that's probably pitch FX mistaking fastballs for changes, also not a good sign).
Wil Ledezma just has no idea where the ball is going. People seem to think he'll get claimed on waivers, but I doubt it. Someone said he'll refuse the assignment to Syracuse, but I'm not sure what other choice he's going to have. If he can't cut the mustard here, who's going to guarantee him a Major League roster spot? Maybe he has a new career in mind.
If you're going to be unhappy about any of these cuts, Steven Shell I guess is the one. He did make it through 50 innings with a 2.16 ERA last year while stranding a league-average 71% of inherited runners, which should be worth something, right? Well, yeah, but not a lot. He did that on a .225 BABIP and 85.7% strand rate. His fielding independent ERA of 4.11 tells us he was ok, but nothing special. And I always kind of felt like after a few times through the division his goofy delivery would lose some of it's deceptiveness. We grabbed him off the junkpile, and if someone else wants to take a shot that's fine. I'm still betting he clears waivers and is back in the organization shortly.