The Louisville Bats are set to start play today and will feature two Kentucky natives in the lineup as well as several of the best prospects in the Cincinnati Reds organization. Check out the roster below via the Courier-Journal. I’ve included Baseball America prospect rankings for the Reds organization. Remember top prospects Juan Francisco and Mike Leake are starting the season with the Reds but might appear in Louisville at some point if they struggle, and Yonder Alonso is starting the season in AA but should earn a callup to Louisville early this season.
Earlier this month I posted a Spring Training position battle primer for Kentucky fans looking to keep track of their native sons hoping to make MLB rosters. These were the borderline major leaguers and players assured of making the roster but fighting for a bigger role, not established players. With one week left before Opening Day I thought I’d update each battle so you have a better idea of where the official Kentuckians in the majors count will stand in 2010. A special kudos goes to PLD alum and Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis who appears ready to start the season with the big league club after starting catcher Russell Martin suffered a groin injury.
Toronto Blue Jays: Closer
University of Kentucky and PRP alum Scott Downs is all but eliminated in the three-way closer race that will go to righties Jason Fraser or Kevin Gregg. Downs recently commented to a Toronto newspaper he prefers pitching in the eighth inning anyway.
San Francisco Giants: Fifth starter
Louisville-native and Bellarmine alum Todd Wellemeyer has all but wrapped up the fifth starter position after star prospect Madison Bumgarner was sent to AAA this week. Wellemeyer is 3-0 with a 1.35 ERA this spring.
Cleveland Indians: Left fielder
Lexington-native Austin Kearns has likely lost the starting job to top prospects Michael Brantley and Matt Laporta, but should still stick with the Indians as a reserve. The team is very left-handed, so Kearns’ right-handed bat is needed for balance.
Seattle Mariners: Relief pitcher
Louisville-native Shawn Kelley appears destined to make the team per this MLB.com blog post, but hasn’t had a great spring. Kelley has given up eight runs in 12 innings, but does have 14 strikeouts compared to just one walk.
New York Mets: Relief pitcher
No one in the Mets bullpen has really stepped up this Spring so Louisville Male alum Sean Green remains firmly in the mix for an Opening Day spot despite a 6.75 ERA and eight walks compared to four strikeouts this spring.
Cincinnati Reds: Utility reserve
Despite an early camp injury, non-roster invitee and St X alum Chris Burke is still hanging on to a big league Spring Training spot. Burke is batting just .188 in eight games, so he’ll have to sell the Reds on his defensive versatility to avoid spending 2010 in his hometown with the Bats. 2009 Louisville Bat Drew Sutton is still in the mix.
Candidates: Burke, Sutton, Aaron Miles, Paul Janish
Spring Training games are officially underway, making today an excellent chance to examine what BluGrass Baseball players are battling for specific roles on major league squads and roster spots. I’ve outlined relevant battles I can think of below, but feel free to include any you would add in the comments section.
Toronto Blue Jays:Closer
University of Kentucky and PRP alum Scott Downs is in a three-way battle for the Blue Jays closer position. Toronto manager Cito Gaston has said he might use a closer-by-committee approach if none of the three candidates step up. Downs saved nine games in 13 opportunities last season.
Other candidates: Jason Frasor, Kevin Gregg
St. Louis Cardinals: Fifth Starter
2009 Louisville Bats starting pitcher Ben Jukich is in Cardinals camp as the team’s Rule 5 pick. Jukich must be on the 25-man roster all season for the Cardinals to avoid giving him back to the Reds, so he may be given added chance to make the team out of camp. If he doesn’t earn a starting spot he could be considered for a left-handed reliever spot.
Other candidates: Rich Hill, Mitchell Boggs, Kyle McClellan
Los Angles Dodgers: Right-handed reliever
Kentucky Wesleyan alum Cory Wade is looking to regain his spot in the Dodgers bullpen one year after shoulder pain led him back to AAA. Wade is in an open competition for a right-handed setup role after Ronald Belisario’s visa trouble getting into the country, but he would probably take a spot in middle relief if it means leaving the minors.
Other Candidates: Ronald Belisario, Ramon Troncoso, Charlie Haeger
Today I’m unveiling the first of two All BluGrass Baseball teams for the 2009 season. As with most features on the site, we’ll divide BluGrass players into two divisions: one made of rosters of the state’s three minor league teams and the other made of Kentucky natives and college alums. The first team comes from the rosters of the Louisville Bats, Bowling Green Hot Rods and Lexington Legends.
Catcher: Jake Jeffries, Bowling Green Hot Rods — .261, eight home runs, 50 RBI
First Base: Brian Pellegrini, Lexington Legends — .291, 27 home runs, 74 RBI
Second Base: Isaias Velasquez, Bowling Green Hot Rods — .278, two home runs, 40 RBI
Third Base: Juan Francisco, Louisville Bats — .359, five home runs, 19 RBI
Shortstop: Tim Beckham, Bowling Green Hot Rods — .275, five home runs, 63 RBI
Left Field: Daniel Dorn, Louisville Bats — .275, 14 home runs, 47 RBI
Center Field: Drew Stubbs, Louisville Bats — .268, three home runs, 39 RBI
Right Field: Kyeong Kang, Bowling Green Hot Rods — .307, five home runs, 42 RBI
Starting Pitcher 1: Matthew Moore, Bowling Green Hot Rods — 8-5, 3.15, 176 SO
Starting Pitcher 2: Jordan Lyles, Lexington Legends — 7-11, 3.24, 167 SO
Starting Pitcher 3: Matt Maloney, Louisville Bats — 9-9, 3.08, 125 SO
Starting Pitcher 4: Chris Andujar, Bowling Green Hot Rods — 10-4, 2.70, 79 SO
Closer: Henry Villar, Lexington Legends, 3-4, 2.60, 109 SO
Notes: Third base was, by far, the worst position among the three teams. Francisco wins due to his domination of AAA pitching in his brief audition for Louisville. The rotation had plenty of competition with as many as five other starters having an argument for inclusion. If we’d included multiple relievers, Logan Ondrusek, Patrick Urckfitz and Josh Roenicke could have all made the team. Arguably the state’s top position prospect (Chris Heisey) didn’t make the cut because of spending half the season in AA and posting worse numbers than his teammate Dorn in the half season of AAA.
If this award were for the top prospect on the team minor-league veteran Barker would have no shot. Kevin was playing in his 13th minor league season in 2009 with only 97 major-league games to show for his perseverance. Barker led qualifying Bats with a .285 batting average and 22 home runs. His 69 RBIs were second-most on the team. Barker’s .376 on-base percentage, .551 slugging percentage and .927 OPS were also team highs for qualifying players.
Outfielder Chris Heisey might be the favorite for Reds’ minor-league player of the year after his Future Game selection, but he played less than half his season in Louisville, penalizing him for this award. He batted .278 with nine home runs and 37 RBI for Louisville to bring his season totals to .314, 22 home runs and 77 RBI for the season.
Outfielder Drew Stubbs led the International League with 46 stolen bases, and top prospects Juan Francisco and Todd Frazier contributed in Louisville over the last month.
Pitcher of the Year — LHP Matt Maloney
Maloney was 9-9 with a 3.08 ERA and 125 strikeouts in 143 innings for Louisville. Matt also made one late-season tuneup for AA Carolina and has made five starts for Cincinnati. Maloney’s 3.08 ERA was second lowest in the International League and his 125 strikeouts were tied with teammate Sam LeCure for fourth-most in the League.
Justin Lehr won an International League-high 13 games before a late-season callup to Cincinnati. Sam LeCure led the team with 143.1 innings pitched and 125 strikeouts. Travis Wood, favorite for Reds’ pitcher of the year, was 4-2 with a 3.14 ERA in eight games with Louisville.