Angel Pagan – Twelve years ago, the New York Mets made Pagan, an 18-year-old, a fourth round draft pick – however it was not a smooth transition from draft to Shea for the young Puerto Rican.
Things started out well for Pagan. He dominated rookie ball in 2000 and A- and A ball in 2001. Things got a little tougher as he got to A+ ball in 2003. He went just .249/.307/.313 with 35 steals in 50 attempts. He flashed very little power and poor plate discipline (104 Ks to just 46 walks).
Still, that didn’t stop the Mets from promoting him to AA the following year. His 2004 season would be terrific (.287/.346/.413) and validated the decision. At 23, if he could show good success in AAA in 2005, he’d be a shoo-in for a call-up. Unfortunately, he never really got going, finishing with a .271/.333/.395 line with 27 steals in 45 attempts.
The, on January 25, 2006, the Chicago Cubs purchased Pagan’s contract. He spent the majority of 2006 in the majors, although he suffered a lot of injuries and missed over two months. In 187 plate appearances, he went .247/.306/.394. Still, on July 2, his 25th birthday, Pagan hit two dingers – they just happened to be the first two of his career. Pagan was, quickly, a Major League record holder, being the first player to hit his first two career homers on his birthday.
However that would be the highlight of his tenure with the Cubs. The following season, 2007, Pagan had similar struggles as 2006: he struck out a decent bit, didn’t walk at all and got hurt again (suffering from colitis and losing a lot of weight). The Cubs traded him back to the Mets for two guys you’ve likely never heard of: Corey Coles and Ryan Meyers.
Abracadabra, Pagan was the starting left fielder for the Mets in 2008 thanks to Moises Alou’s general brittleness. He ceded the position back to Alou in early May and injured his shoulder making a spectacular grab against the Dodgers on May 7. He had season ending surgery on July 29. Still, all was not lost, as he finished with a .275/.346/.374 line, brought his Ks down a tad and his walks up a good bit. He also started to hit line drives (23%) and his swinging strike rate dipped below 5% after being 7.1% the previous two years. Still, it was just 105 plate appearances, so nothing was certain for 2009.
Let’s just say, May 7 is a pretty unlucky day for Pagan. A year to the day after his season-ending catch, Pagan was arrested for traffic violations as there were several warrants out for his arrest for failure to pay other traffic fines. His legal problems didn’t hold him back though, rather his old arch nemesis did: his health. He went on the DL on June 1 with a groin strain. But he made his way back and, on August 1, hit a grand slam – his first home run since 2007 and his first for the team that drafted him. While Pagan had a nice BABIP (.349), his .306/.350/.487 line was not completely unexpected. He continued to have a line drive rate hovering around 20% and he swung and missed just 4.2% of the time – he was putting the ball in play more and hitting it well.
In that context, his break-out 2010 made sense. In fact, you could have argued that his .290/.340/.425 line was underwhelming given that the power wasn’t there at levels you’d expect.
Given his career arc, 2011 should have been a repeat of 2010 with an uptick in most numbers. That hasn’t happened. As has been the case throughout his career, Pagan has battled injuries. However, his BABIP (.288) is sitting a lot lower than it should compared to his career with the Mets (never lower than .330) given he has a massive 24% line drive rate. His K-rate is just 10.9% and his swinging strike percentage is quite low as well – he is putting the ball in play and he is hitting the ball hard. He’s been tremendously unlucky. If healthy, Pagan is a huge asset down the stretch, capable of batting well with some light pop and a good amount of steals. I also think he’ll be a bargain for 2012.
Matt Wieters – The Orioles have sucked for a long time…not Nationals-level sucking (which resulted in back-to-back drafts yielding Strasburg and Harper), but certainly bad enough to land some sort of blue chip future superstar. When Wieters was selected fifth overall in 2007, he was supposed to be that blue chip.
Wieters was a man amongst toddlers during his entire minor league career. He went .345/.448/.576 in A+ ball and .365/.460/.625 in AA in 2008. In 2009, he posted a .305/.387/.504 line in AAA before earning the call.
In his second career game, he had his first major league hit, a triple against Justin Verlander. He hit his first major league home run off the hated Mets. Wieters finished 2009 with a .288/.340/.412 line in the majors. There were definite growing pains, though. He swung and missed a lot (10.5% of the time) and posted a 22.3% K-rate compared to a sub-optimal 7.3% walk rate. In addition, his power (just nine dingers and a .124 ISO) came nowhere near his minor league numbers.
The last red flag was his .356 BABIP (which was in line with what he did in the minors). However, his line drive rate was acceptable (18.5%), but not nearly good enough to sustain a BABIP anywhere close to .350.
Sure enough, 2010 brought massive struggles. Wieters finished with a .249/.319/.377 line – worse at each slash than 2009. Still, his ISO was up a smidge, his walk rate neared 10% and he swung and missed less. However, he didn’t make real good contact (15.4% line drive rate) and hit way too many ground balls for a catcher. Not surprisingly, his BABIP was just .287.
There wasn’t a ton of optimism heading into 2011, but there were a lot of ‘ifs.’ If Wieters got his line drives up, if he continued to cut down on the Ks, if he started to drive the ball, things could, maybe, break the right way. Well, they have, sort of. Wieters sits at .263/.324/.434. His K-rate has continued its decline and his HR/FB rate has finally reach double digits (his ISO is now .171). He is also hitting the ball better (17.8% line drive rate) without much change in his BABIP from 2010.
Wieters will make a fine catcher down the stretch. I believe in the steps he has taken and think his BABIP should shoot above .300 next year, which could result in a nice average from a catcher. As he continues to mature, he’ll drive the ball more and more. Look out 2012, Wieters is going to be a star.*
*In interest of full disclosure, I’m an Orioles fan. However, I’m a huge pessimist when it comes to my teams (Orioles and Eagles, predominantly). I’d rather bet on the under and have someone exceed my expectations than sour on a player (*ahem* Manny Alexander, Jeffrey Hammonds) after I placed high expectations on them. So, I think I’m as objective as possible on Wieters. His numbers tell a story, a story I want to invest in as a fantasy owner.
James McDonald – The Dodgers took McDonald as a draft and follow pick in the 11th round of the 2002 draft. This allowed him to go to Golden West College before starting in the majors. McDonald, a Long Beach Poly student (a school that boasts Tony Gwynn, Milton Bradley, Chase Utley, Tyus Edney, DeSean Jackson, Winston Justice, Willie McGinest, Billie Jean King, Cameron Diaz, Snoop Dogg, Carl Weathers!, and others as graduates), must have been thrilled that his hometown club took him.
In 2003, McDonald started off well for the Gulf Coast Dodgers, however he missed all of 2004 and most of 2005 with an injury. He came back to start 22 games and make eight relief appearances for the Ogden Raptors in A ball in 2006. He finished with a 3.98 ERA and 1.29 WHIP but just a 2.25 K:BB rate.
He took a nice stride in 2007 across A+ and AA ball, finishing with a 3.07 ERA and 1.17 WHIP with a mighty fine 4.54 K:BB rate. He was named the Dodgers minor league pitcher of the year.
The following year, across AA and AAA, McDonald looked to have pitched quite well with a 3.26 ERA and 1.19 WHIP. However, his K:BB rate (2.66) was nothing special for a 23-year-old. Still, he made his major league debut with the big league club, working one scoreless inning of relief against (oddly enough) the Pittsburgh Pirates.
McDonald’s career had pointed at 2009 as the day he would take the mound as a starter for his hometown club. Unfortunately, things didn’t go well. In his first start, he didn’t escape the third inning. He only got three more starts, making it to the fifth in just one, before being banished to the bullpen. With a 6.75 ERA on May 14, McDonald got his second banishment: to AAA. Quite simply, McDonald had real problems with his control, walking 4.75+ batters per 9 – that aint gonna cut it.
McDonald started 2010 in the minors, putting up decent Ks but a bit too many walks. The Dodgers were done with him. Along with Andrew Lambo, the Dodgers exiled McDonald to Pittsburgh for the services of a fringe-above-average reliever in Octavio Dotel. Looking back, though, wasn’t that a favor to McDonald? The Dodgers are an absolute mess and the Pirates have some young players that look good. If I’m an alien, I’d rather be a Pirates fan than Dodgers fan right now…maybe (it’d be hard to give up rooting for Kemp/Kershaw).
Anyway, McDonald blossomed in Pittsburgh. He started 11 games for the club in 2010 and posted a 3.52 ERA, 2.91 FIP, 3.84xFIP, 8.58 K/9 rate and 3.38 BB/9 rate – huge improvements.
While he has been a little lucky in 2011 (78.7% strand rate) and his Ks have taken a bit of a step back (7.5 per 9), he is getting good swinging strike rates (8.2%), is giving up less line drives (18.7%) and has greatly improved his ground ball rate (42.1%). I’d happily trade a handful of Ks for many more balls hit on the ground. McDonald seems to be settling himself in as a solid MLB pitcher for the next few years. He is by no means sexy, but could carve himself a very similar career to Ted Lilly. He’s a nice player to own for the rest of the season and for the next few years.