Can I Get a Cup of Coffee?

On Aug. 22, Memphis 1b Josh Phelps became the fifth AAA player to hit 30 homeruns this season. Albuquerque 3b Dallas McPherson leads the pack with 40 roundtrippers, followed by Oklahoma rf Nelson Cruz with 37, Charlotte 1b Brad Eldred with 35, and Toledo 3b Mike Hessman with 32. There’s one other thing these five have in common – not one of them has spent a day in the majors this season. If they are such good homerun hitters, why is it that their teams have not seen the need to have any of them on the 25 man squad?
Before looking at any statistics, we have to understand that all five already have a strike against them – none are currently on their team’s 40 man roster. If a team chooses to promote such a player, room has to be made not only on the 25 man active roster, but also on the 40 man major league roster. Sometimes a team can move an injured player from the 15 day to 60 day disabled list, gaining a roster exemption, but most times a team must drop another player from the 40 man roster to make room, and run a very real risk of losing that other player to another team via waivers. Four of the five players we will look at joined their current teams as minor league free agents, where a player with six or more years or professional experience who is left off the 40 man roster may elect for free agency. This rule was intended to allow these players to go to a new team and get a new chance of making it to the majors, but instead has led to many players as young as 24 bouncing to a new AAA team every year. That another player must be cut in order for them to be promoted to the majors is a cost to the team that leads to these players being held to a higher standard than those already on the 40 man roster.

Name
BA
OB
SA
BsR
AB
H
DO
TR
HR
BB
SO
Cruz, Nelson
.342
.429
.695
—-
383
131
18
3
37
56
87
.279
.338
.518
.157
402
112
20
2
24
35
109
Phelps, Josh
.291
.373
.568
—-
461
134
31
2
31
56
109
.271
.332
.491
.148
474
128
25
2
25
39
124
Hessman, Mike
.271
.375
.603
—-
380
103
17
5
33
57
133
.229
.299
.489
.139
403
92
16
2
29
38
133
Eldred, Brad
.248
.308
.561
—-
412
102
22
1
35
27
137
.233
.281
.479
.132
413
96
20
1
27
22
134
McPherson, Dallas
.275
.378
.611
—-
437
120
21
3
40
73
162
.237
.299
.458
.131
467
111
23
3
25
41
162
Wood, Brandon
.298
.376
.599
—-
392
117
21
2
31
44
103
.236
.292
.421
.117
465
110
27
2
19
35
133

Nelson Cruz, 27, was signed by the Mets in 1998, and played three seasons in the Dominican Summer League before being traded to the A’s in 2001. After hitting 26 HRs at three levels in 2004, Cruz was traded to the Brewers. He appeared in 8 games for Milwaukee in 2005 after hitting 27 more HRs in AA and AAA. After another good start in 2006, hitting .302 with 20 HR in 104 games, Cruz was traded to Texas along with Carlos Lee. The Rangers kept Cruz in the majors, where he hit .223 with 6 HR in 130 AB. Playing everyday for the Rangers in 2007, Cruz disappointed again, hitting .235 with 9 HR in 307 AB. Then optioned to AAA Oklahoma, Cruz stung the ball, hitting .352 with 15 HR in 44 games. At the end of 2008 Spring Training, Cruz was designated for assignment, and after clearing waivers, was resigned by the Rangers to a minor league contract. Again at Oklahoma, Cruz has hit .342 with 37 HR in 383 AB. His replacement in the Rangers lineup has been rookie David Murphy. At first glance, Murphy’s .275 BA, 15 HRs and 74 RBI, after hitting .340 in 103 ABs in 2007, look better than Cruz’s 2006-07 performance with Texas. Murphy projects to 275/326/443 and .131 BsR per PA, below the .140 average for a corner outfielder, while Cruz projects to 279/338/518 and .157 BsR per PA. almost exactly the same as Jermaine Dye’s 278/336/511. Cruz might have a chance when Murphy went on the DL on Aug 7, but Cruz himself was disabled at the time, so the Rangers instead purchased the contract of Jason Ellison, whose 246/297/340 (.093 BsR) is much worse than either. As the Rangers are 17 games out of first place, this would be a good time to give Cruz another chance in the starting lineup, but it appears unlikely to happen. Cruz would become a free agent this winter, and could be a smart acquisition at minimum salary. ***Update – On Monday, the Rangers designated Jason Ellison for assignment and purchased the contract of Nelson Cruz. In his first game, Cruz had three hits, including a double and a homer.
Josh Phelps, 30, was signed as a catcher out of high school by Toronto in 1996. Considered a poor defensive catcher, Phelps spent most of his time in the majors at DH or 1b. He appeared in one game for the Blue Jays in 2000, then returned to AA Tennessee to hit 31 HRs the next year. Still in the minors in 2002, at AAA Syracuse, Phelps blasted 24 HRs in 70 games, then another 15 in 74 games for Toronto while batting .309. Sliding to .268 and 20 HRs in 2003 and .237 and 12 HRs in 79 games in 2004, Phelps was shipped to the Indians on Aug. 4. Cut by Cleveland at the end of the year, he split 2005 between Durham and Tampa Bay, and all of 2006 in Toledo of the Detroit organization. Once again a minor league free agent, Pehlps signed with the Yankees to start 2007, but was cut mid-season and signed with Pittsburgh. Despite hitting .351 in 77 ABs, he was again let go at the end of the season and signed ith the Cardinals, who assigned him to Memphis, where he’s hit .291 with 31 HR and 99 RBI. Phelps projections to 271/332/491 and a .148 BsR per PA, almost exactly average for 1b. This is even a little better than Ryan Ludwick’s projection of 256/316/473 entering this year, but one must ask though, what was Phelps thinking when he signed to be the backup for Albert Pujols? *** Another update – on Wednesday, the Cardinals purchased the contract of Josh Phelps, transferring Mark Mulder to the 60 day DL.
Mike Hessman, 32, was drafted by the Braves out of high school in 1996. Starting in 1997, he homered 19 or more times in each of six seasons, reaching AAA Richmond in 2002. He had two cups of coffee with the Braves in 2003 and 2004, mostly pinch hitting, good for a .188 BA, 4 HRs and 30 Ks in 80 ABs. After nine seasons with the Braves, he was cut loose and ended up in Toledo after signing a minor league contract with the Tigers. After three seasons of 28, 24 and 31 HRs, Hessman got a call to the Tigers in 2007, hitting .235 with 4 HRs and 17 Ks in 51 AB. Back to Toledo in 2008, Hessman’s so far hitting .271 with 33 HRs. Being an extreme flyball hitter (55% since 2005-2008, according to minorleaguesplits.com) leads to his very low projected BABIP of .259. Combined with projected K rate of .297, Hessman’s line is 229/299/489. Only his very high HR rate of 10.3% of fair balls gives him a BaseRuns per PA rate of .139, slightly above the major league average of .133, but behind incumbent 3b Carlos Guillen’s .148. Hessman has virtually no chance of cracking the Tigers lineup.
Brad Eldred, 27, was drafted by the Pirates in 2002 out of Florida International. He hit 28 HRs in his first full season in 2003, followed up by 40 the next year. That included an eye popping 15 HRs and 50 RBIs in August alone! By mid 2005, Eldred was in AAA Indianapolis with another 28 HRs, and got the call to Pittsburgh. Although he hit 12 HRs in 190 ABs with the Pirates, Eldred also stuck out 77 times, and it was clear he could not lay off a major league curveball. Returned to AAA, he suffered a broken wrist when struck by a pitch after only 18 games and missed the rest of the season. In 2007, Eldred hit only .209 for Indianapolis and .109 for the Pirates, earning his release. Signed by the White Sox and assigned to AAA Charlotte, Eldred has so far hit .249 ith 35 HR and 100 RBI, with 27 BB and 135 SO. His projected bb% has actually fallen from his pre-injury 2005 level of .058 to .051 now, while his so% is at .288, virtually unchanged from his Pirate years. A 51% flyball hitter, Eldred’s projected babip is down to .271. All that combines for a 233/281/479 line, good for a .132 BsR per PA, below the .140 average for all DH and .145 for 1b. With Paul Konerko on the DL and the White Sox in a very close race with the Twins, Eldred could get a call, but he’d still have to compete with Ken Griffey Jr or Nick Swisher for a spot in the lineup.
Dallas McPherson, 27, was drafted by the Angels in 2001 out of The Citadel. In 2004, he hit 20 HRs and AA Arkansas then another 20 at AAA Salt Lake, earning him a promotion to Anaheim where he got three more in 40 at bats, along with 17 strikeouts. McPherson finished 2004 with 43 HRs but also 186 Ks for the season. He split time between the majors and minors in 2005 and 2006, hitting 15 HRs in 101 games for the Angels over the two seasons. A back injury kept McPherson out for all of 2007, and he was granted free agency at the end of the season when the Angels left him off their 40 man roster. He signed with the Marlins and was assigned to Albuquerque, where he has hit .275 with the 40 HRs so far. The Marlins have been surprise contenders in the NL East, and could presumably use another big bat. During spring training, Florida signed Jose Castillo, who had been released by the Pirates, but he was again released and the 3b job was given to Jorge Cantu. Once a potential star who had hit 28 HRs for Tampa in 2005, Cantu had lost his job and made his way to Miami by way of Cincinnati. 2008 turned into a rebound year, hitting .272 with 22 HRs so far. So who’s better, Cantu or McPherson? First, remember that McPherson has hit his 40 HRs playing for Albuquerque, which leads the homer happy Pacific Coast League with a 1.26 HR park factor, along with striking out 157 times. All that, combined with his past performances, gives McPherson a 237/299/458 line, good for .131 Base Runs per PA. Cantu’s projection is 268/304/434, for a BsR of .123 (major league average of .133). Dan Fox’s Simple Fielding Runs has McPherson at -6 runs per 600 balls at 3b, while Cantu is a butcher at -33. So, while McPherson gives at best a league average bat with below average fielding, overall he’s still a better contributor than Cantu. At the least Florida could platoon, with the lefty McPherson getting the bulk of the at bats.
One other player deserves mention. On Aug 23, Brandon Wood, 23, of the Angels AAA Salt Lake team reached the 30 homer plateau. Signed out of high school in 2003, Wood made a name for himself hitting .321 with 51 doubles and 43 homers at High A Rancho Cucamonga in 2005. That was followed 25 HR ar AA in 2006 and 23 and 31 HR at AAA the past two seasons. Wood has not had any success with the Angels, hitting .134 with 2 HR, 2 BB and 33 SO in 97 ABs. All of Wood’s minor league success has been in the high offense Class A California League, Class SS Texas League and Class AAA Pacific Coast League. His projected 236/292/421 line, with .117 BsR per PA, is well below the .135 average for 3b, and slightly below the .121 average for ss. Even after collecting 98 extra base hits in 2005, he only projected to .117 after adjusting for the California League ballparks. Wood is only 23, so still has a few seasons left to develop more power, and is currently on the Angels 40 man roster, but has two options remaining, meaning he can still be assigned to the minor league for another two seasons. His offense has yet to project as high as the major league average for his position, and it is likely that he may never catch on as a regular in the majors.

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