MAY 11th, 2013-Just over 30 games into the 2013 campaign, the Legends appear to have shown their greatest strengths where this year's roster is concerned. We've seen enough to know where we stand out: pitching and speed. Here are some of those strengths (and weaknesses), and whence they lie.
Now don't get me wrong. There's plenty of power potential in the lineup, with C Cam Gallagher, CF Bubba Starling, 1B-RF Fred Ford and (surprisingly) SS Raul Mondesi flashing extra-base pop. Starling, specifically, is beginning to come around, and will likely prove many early detractors wrong about his ability to handle SAL pitchers. Mondesi has been speculated about, here and there, as far as a young prospect who will develop some power as he grows into his 6'1” frame. At a lithe 165 pounds, there's still plenty of room for growth, even for a player with his range and at his position.
Problem is, there have been early injuries to key run producers: Gallagher was hit by a pitch in Asheville, and is now on the DL with a broken hand. Mark Threlkeld was hit in the very first game in his very first at-bat and remains on the DL with a fractured arm. Starling left the team for a few days earlier in the year for an undisclosed reason (nothing serious, as I understand it) which may have affected his hitting.
Also at the heart of the Legends' issues: it doesn't seem that anyone on this team will be winning a batting title, anytime soon. Gallagher leads the team with a .268 average, and he's on the DL. What this team can do, however, is flash the leather. Mondesi, Humberto Arteaga and Yowill Espinal are all quite adept glove men up the middle. Espinal and Arteaga can cover the hot corner if needed, and so can Nick Cuckovich (corner infielder-outfielder), but so far Mike Antonio has had the bulk of the time. Antonio's eight miscues at third, along with Mondesi's eight, are somewhat misleading. Mondesi covers enough ground to snag grounders on the right side of 2B, and has done so several times already.
This ability is, at once, his greatest strength as well as his greatest weakness. Sometimes, you have to know when to let a play go, or at least to allow another fielder a chance to get to it. Antonio is a much better fielder than the numbers would suggest, as well. He's got enough arm to make the throw to first from foul territory; he's done so on at least two occasions, one of which beat the runner. We're not talking 'cannon', necessarily, but he's got plenty of arm for third nevertheless.
At first base, Ford has acquitted himself very well; to talk to him, you'd think he doesn't necessarily feel he's done a good job at first. Ford is not the kind of guy who will rest on his laurels. Moreover, he has enough power potential to be a full-timer either at first or in right (his originally intended position), and would likely field either position just as well.
In left, Terrance Gore runs like a deer. His glove, along with Starling's, are to the outfield what Mondesi's is to the infield, only somewhat more steady. Gore has 18 steals in his 32 games, and seems to have an ideal combination of raw speed, first-step quickness and aggression. As I've stated several times before, I would be surprised if he didn't end the year with 70+ steals, even with a mid-season promotion.
In center, Starling has a rifle of an arm and tons of range. There are times in which he seems to let his frustration (either with previous at-bats or a fielding miscue) boil to the surface. This has not been a frequent occurrence, but it is something he will have to address as he progresses. Still, at least you know he cares about his performance. It's just that he has to be careful not to let it get to him if he's not doing well.
Over in right field, Ethan Chapman (easily one of my all-time favorite minor-leaguers, already) is underrated still, both as a hitter and in the field. He recently showcased his ability to gun down a runner at the plate from deep in right; indeed, nearly at the wall. Chapman let loose a throw that cracked the leather of the catcher's glove on a dead line, making said throw essentially flat-footed. Chapman has also swiped 14 bags this year, second only to Gore. I may be looking in the wrong places for news, but it seems to me that Chapman is still being somewhat overlooked as far as this year's assessments of minor-league prospects are concerned.
Lexington's pitching has been exceedingly strong, so far. Five of our six starters have ERAs at 3.52 or lower, with RHP Aroni Nina the exception. Nina, in terms of progress, is somewhat worrisome in that he's spent the last five years in rookie ball. He is now 23 and has had some rocky showings as a starter. However, while he's allowed a .286 BA when the bases are empty, that number drops to
.250 with runners on, leading one to believe he may be better served as a reliever.
At any rate, RHPs Brian Brickhouse, Christian Binford and Miguel Almonte, along with lefties Daniel Stumpf and Colin Rodgers, have made short work of opposing batsmen this season. Brickhouse (1-3, 2.41 ERA in 33 2/3 IP) struck out 9 in 6 2/3 innings, allowing only 2 hits and shutting out the Lakewood Blue Claws in the process on his way to a Legends win. While he's had a strong year, statistically, there are signs that he's actually picking up steam. Binford (2-2, 3.21 in 33 2/3 innings) has allowed 2 runs or less in 5 of his 6 starts, giving fits to left-handed batters (.212 BAA, 1 extra-base hit in 55 PA) and being generally steady and sure. Almonte (1-4, 3.48 in 31 innings) has made five of his six starts on the road, holding batters to a .243 average in 112 plate appearances. He cut down 16 batters in his last two combined starts (12 2/3 innings), and while he has had a few rough starts there is potential here. It's possible that he could end up a solid #3 starter at the higher levels, but he has work to do before that happens.
Stumpf (3-0, 1.03 ERA in 26 1/3 IP) has only allowed opponents to score in two of his five starts. He's actually been nearly unhittable with runners on base (.105 BA in 43 PA), striking out 14 of the batters he's faced in those situations. While I expected Brickhouse (or Scott Alexander) to become the ace of this rotation, Stumpf has an iron grip on that title.
Rodgers (2-1, 2.84 ERA in 25 1/3 innings) has had some early inconsistency, but he's also shown flashes of brilliance: in his home start vs. the Greenville Drive on April 19th he went 7 shutout innings, striking out six and walking only one for his first win of the year. He, also, has been tougher in away games than at The Bank (.271 BAA at home; .139 in away games). A .349 BABIP in his home appearances is a sign of defensive lapses behind him, and is likely to drop sharply in the coming weeks.
Out of the 'pen, RHPs Alec Mills, Mark Peterson, Cory Hall, Ali Williams and Daniel Hernandez, along with LHPs Clayton Schulz and Scott Alexander, comprise one of the best relief corps in The Sally. Hernandez, Alexander, Hall and Mills all have ERAs under 2.00, and five different relievers have recorded at least one save. Mills leads the team with five, while Peterson has four, Schulz and Hernandez have two each and Alexander has one. It seems that any one of them could be facing down your team in the ninth.
Williams has had two outings that could be considered 'very bad', but for the most part he appears to be (at times) a dominant power pitcher who mows down batters at will. One wonders what will be the result when he becomes a bit more consistent; as it stands now, he could be a 7th or 8th inning pitcher/set-up type in the making. He has bee roughed up by RHH and with runners on the bags, but this could be remedied with time and experience.
In Hernandez's 7 appearances for Lexington this year, he's given up runs in only one of them. At first glance, I wanted to say that he's been the most consistent of all the Legends relievers; that would not be the case. Schulz and Alexander have had similarly overpowering years, so far. The most recent addition to the team, RHP Chas Byrne, is the grandson of former Yankees/Browns/White Sox/Senators LHP Tommy Byrne, and joins the Legends after missing all of the 2012 season.
So, to summarize:
-Strong pitching (starters and relievers)
-Speed on the bases and in the OF
-Tight D in the middle infield
-Power has been lacking
-No batter hitting even .270
-Lack of a dominant cleanup hitter to hit behind table-setters at top of lineup
With the way the Savannah Sand Gnats have rolled to first place, the Legends have a lot of work to do if they want to catch them. There's not much of a chance that we can match them, hitting-wise, but our pitching and defense (along with some smart, fundamental hitting) could inch us ever closer to the division lead. At this stage in the game, it's all about 'baby steps'. There's a lot of baseball yet to play.