The Kila Ka’aihue Award – December 2011: Brandon Dickson

Each month TBO provides the Kila Ka’aihue Award to one ball player who’s path to the majors has been blocked by an existing player in his position, or just by the sheer…..general discretion of the front office staff. Sure, the player may never result in a regular in the majors, but they should at least get their chance somewhere.

Starting pitching is a relatively tough area to award a Kila Ka’aihue Award to. If you pitch well enough, you are more than likely good enough to replace the major league team’s fifth starter, become an injury replacement, or will fit into the bullpen. Pitching is always needed and a decent starting pitcher is rarely blocked. But perusing through the PCL statistics I found one starter that should get an extended chance in the majors, Brandon Dickson of the Memphis Cardinals.

Amongst qualifying starting pitchers in the PCL, ”Cotton” was third in the league in WHIP (1.28) and 5th overall in ERA (3.95). Although those stats are decent, but not mind-boggling good, they have to be taken in context, the PCL is a hitter-friendly league.

FutureRedbirds.net has a very good write-up on Dickson from 2010 and he seems to have improved since then. With a low-90s sinking fastball, a curve, and an “improving changeup”, Dickson has a three pitch mix that has gotten him to Triple-A and a cup-of-coffee in St. Louis. His strikeout rate has increased each season since 2008 and his walk rate has each season since then as well.

In a recent post on Minor League Ball, John Sickels provided a preliminary ranking of the Cardinals prospects for 2012. Dickson came in 18th on the list. Sickels noted:

18) Brandon Dickson, RHP, Grade C+: You probably won’t see him this high on other lists, as an older prospect without first-class stuff. But he throws strikes, and could surprise us with a surprising run of success if given a little luck and defensive support. There are many guys with higher upside in the system that you could list here instead, but I wanted to draw notice to Dickson.

All that said, would Dickson survive as a 5th starter? It’s possible, on a poor team, but more likely he would fit in a big league team as a relief pitcher. With a move to the pen it is possible that Brandon could add a couple mph to his fastball. When combined with his already very good ground ball tendencies, Dickson may be a decent middle-relief arm in the pen down the road. He just needs an extended chance.

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Kila Ka’aihue Award – June 2011

Each month I provide the Kila Ka’aihue Award to one ball player who’s path to the majors has been blocked by an existing player in his position, or just by the sheer st…..general discretion of the front office staff. 

Interestingly, the Arizona Diamondbacks are currently in the midst of a pennant race. One of the worst teams in baseball last season is challenging the Giants for control of the NL West. Typically, in the heat of a race like this you don’t really want to try out unproven prospects. That may be the Diamondbacks’ reasoning for not calling up Collin Cowgill.

But Collin is essentially giving them almost no choice. The outfielder is utterly destroying Triple-A pitching hitting .366/.439/.578 with 12 homers, 25 steals in 28 attempts, and a 42/48 BB/K ratio in 375 plate appearances. Scouting-wise, he grades out pretty well across the board with the best outfield arm in the system, good speed, nice power (considering his size), and decent patience at the plate.

Yet, until now he hasn’t caught the eye of many. Minor League Ball listed him as the team’s 15th best prospect and Baseball Americaonly mentions his arm in their annual top 10 prospect list for the D’backs. But other than that, there hasn’t been nearly as much discussion about Cowgill as there has been for other Arizona prospects. His 5′-9″ size has been noted when talking about his MLB future, leading to the belief that he won’t hit for enough power in the majors to be a starting outfielder. But his detractors are still quick to come back and state that he would be a good 4th outfielder.

Then again, there were a few that Gerardo Parra would be a 4th outfielder and he’s playing everyday in left field. Parra also never put up the numbers in the minors that Cowgill is flashing right now.

There is some thought to having Cowgill serve as Parra’s platoon-mate as Parra struggles against left-handed pitching and Cowgill is right-handed. But veteran Willie Bloomquist is getting the job done right now while playing multiple other positions around the diamond. His .298 average and .365 OBP against lefties are nice to pair up with Parra, even with his paltry sub-.368 slugging percentage.

As for his future? Well, Cowgill could start or come off the bench for the Diamondbacks or some other team that trades for him. Arizona may trade him at the deadline as they continue to be an unexpected force in the NL West. An opposing GM may want to try to catch lightening in a bottle with Cowgill and see if he can fit in as a starting outfielder for a rebuilding club. Or the team could just hold on to him, letting him take over as the right-handed platoon for Parra and playing occasionally elsewhere across the outfield.

There’s even the outside chance that the D’backs could try to trade away Chris Young and his rising salary. They could then give Cowgill a full shot at an everyday job in center, allowing the team to allowcate funds elsewhere.

Regardless of his future role, Collin has impressed TBO. Congratulations to Collin Cowgill on receiving the June 2011 Kila Ka’aihue Award!

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Kila Ka’aihue Award: August 2010

Each month I provide the Kila Ka’aihue Award to one ball player who’s path to the majors has been blocked by an existing player in his position, or just by the sheer st…..general discretion of the front office staff. 

Four pitchers from Gwinnett are gracing the top 10 in ERA within the International League (minimum 43 IP).  Three of those rank in the top seven in that category.  Michael Dunn, Stephen Marek, Craig Kimbrel, and Chris Resop formed this formidable group of pitchers that the Gwinnett Braves have relied on for the early part of the season. 

After a brief stint with the Braves, Resop was put on irrevocable waivers due to a condition in his contract and the Pirates snatched him up.  He’s now in their pen, posting a 2.45 ERA, a 1.00 WHIP, and 13 strikeouts in 11 innings.  He may have found his niche and Huntington may have found a reliable arm for his pen going forward.

As for the other three, they keep racking up some notable stats.  Check out the following statistics for them:

Rk   W L ERA G SV IP H BB SO WHIP SO/9
2 Stephen Marek 2 2 1.48 47 8 48.2 38 19 56 1.171 10.4
3 Michael Dunn* 2 0 1.52 38 7 47.1 31 25 64 1.183 12.2
4 Craig Kimbrel 3 2 1.65 47 23 54.2 27 35 81 1.134 13.3

Three of the top four pitchers in ERA within the International League pitch for Gwinnett.  Each pitcher has been impressive, racking up seven wins and 38 saves between them.  They’ve also racked up the strikeouts with a combined 201 in 150.2 IP.  All of them have a K/9 rate over 10, but Craig Kimbrel leads the pack with a nasty 13.3 K/9.

So, for the first time, the Kila Ka’aihue Award will go to a trio of players, pitchers Stephen Marek, Michael Dunn, and Craig Kimbrel of the Gwinnett Braves.  Congrats!

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The Kila Ka’aihue Award: July 2010

Each month I provide the Kila Ka’aihue Award to one ball player who’s path to the majors has been blocked by an existing player in his position, or just by the sheer st…..general discretion of the front office staff. 

The Los Angeles Angels were dealt a sizable blow when slugger Kendry Morales was sent to the disabled list for the remainder of the season.  Replacing a bat like Morales’ is tough mid-season during a pennant race and typically it would mean a trade that would require better prospects than what the Angels gave up for Dan Haren.  Right now the Angels are using hard-hitting catcher Mike Napoli at first, with Jeff Mathis behind the plate.  But what about Mark Trumbo?

Although Napoli’s batting average is relatively low, he’s slugged 18 home runs so far this season to give the Angels decent power from first base.  But the catcher position has struggled since he left.  The once highly-revered prospect Jeff Mathis has only hit .235 with a platry .604 OPS.  

Even after their two recent trades, the Angels haven’t halted their pursuit of a power bat, sources tell Jon Paul Morosi of FOX Sports (Hat tip MLBTR).  But the Angels could conceivably look within their organization for help if they can’t work anything out.  They could look towards Mark Trumbo.

Mark is a first baseman for the Salt Lake Bees, producing a .295/.351/.568 line in 444 at-bats.  On the season he’s hit 22 doubles, 5 triples, and 26 home runs, putting him on a pace to hit about 34 home runs if he received about the same number of plate appearances as last season.  That’s not to say he doesn’t have his faults.  Defensively, he has his issues, rating a little below average.  He also doesn’t take nearly enough walks.  But could he out-hit Mathis (with Napoli sliding back behind the plate)?  Yes.

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The Kila Ka’aihue Award: June 2010

Each month I provide the Kila Ka’aihue Award to one ball player who’s path to the majors has been blocked by an existing player in his position, or just by the sheer st…..general discretion of the front office staff.

This month’s winner is Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Xavier Paul.  A fourth round draft pick out of highschool in 2004, Paul has steadily climbed the minor league ladder through the years.  However, he’s been stuck at Triple-A for most of the past three seasons.

Looking at his regular statistics as he’s worked his way through the minors it’s not glaring that he will be anything more than a fourth outfielder.  But take a specific look at his slash statistics over the past three seasons at Triple-A.

2008 – .316/.378/.463

2009 – .328/.378/.500

2010 – .345/.402/.633

Although the latter two are from a relatively limited number of plate appearances (129 and 194 respectively), it’s hard to ignore the improvement.  He’s already only 1 home run away from his career high of 13 in 520 plate appearances in 2006.  If he were to get that 520 plate appearance total again, at this rate, he would hit approximately 32 home runs.  Just don’t let him steal bases.  His stolen base success rate throughout the minors isn’t that good.

Paul doesn’t really have that much more to prove in Triple-A.  The Dodgers could easily slide Reed Johnson to the 5th outfielder spot and release Garrett Anderson.  Anderson was a bad signing before he even picked up a bat for the Dodgers, but now there’s proof as he is still hitting below the Mendoza Line as we are nearing the halfway point.  At the very least, they could just call him up for interleague games and put the ugly fielding Manny Ramirez at DH.

Being realistic, Xavier isn’t likely to hit upwards of 30 home runs in the show, but it would be nice to see a few hundered at-bats from him in the majors to see what he can do.

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The Kila Ka’aihue Award: May 2010

Each month I provide the Kila Ka’aihue Award to one ball player who’s path to the majors has been blocked by an existing player in his position, or just by the sheer st…..general discretion of the front office staff. 

Unless you haven’t noticed, former top Pittsburgh Pirates prospect Neil Walker has started to hit again.  The way he’s started to hit, and the major league club’s lack ability to hit, made Walker the award winner for May.

A former 2004 first round pick out of Gibsonia, Pennsylvania, Walker was ideal for the Pirates.  The slick-hitting catcher was a good first-round prospect from a town near Pittsburgh.  Neil didn’t fail to impress early on as Baseball America included him on their Top 100 prospects in baseball list each year from 2005 to 2008.  He rose steadily through the system, but was switched to third base in 2007. 

Things didn’t start going down hill until he hit Triple-A in 2007, when he hit .203/.261/.250 in 69 plate appearances.  For the next couple years at Triple-A Walker would continue to struggle.  He did receive a brief call up in 2009, but struggled in Pittsburgh.

But 2010 has been different for him though.  With top hitting prospect Pedro Alvarez at the hot corner, Walker’s been forced to play multiple positions to prove his worth.  On top of a few innings at third, he’s also played much of his time at second base and in the outfield this season.  Overall he has a .319/.391/.564 line at Triple-A this season, including a .608 slugging percentage in May.  But be wary, he also has a .133/.235/.267 line against lefties this season.  It’s only 45 ABs, but that’s still an ugly line and he struggled mightily against lefties in 2009 as well.

Recently Steven Pearce injured his ankle and Neil was actually called up in his place.  He’s pretty far down on the depth chart, but when Andy LaRoche and Jeff Clement are ahead of him, anything’s possible.

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The Kila Ka’aihue Award: EY Jr.

Each month I provide the Kila Ka’aihue Award to one ball player who’s path to the majors has been blocked by an existing player in his position, or just by the sheer st…..general discretion of the front office staff. 

This month’s winner is Eric Young Jr., the son of the famous speedster second baseman.  He’s not as good as his father was, but he’s definitely got speed, gets on base well, and some good playing ability.  I profiled the younger EY last September in my Rookies To Look For segment.

But the kid still hasn’t had much regular starting time in the majors.  This season he’s blocked by Clint Barmes at second and a stocked outfield in Denver.  He also has some defensive limitations that might cause him to permanently move to the outfield.

Mark Hulet of FanGraphs has admitted that he’s “un-apologetically one of the biggest Eric Young Jr. fans around”.  In a article penned last August, Mark looked forward to the Rockies finding some way of utilizing his speed in 2010.

Matt Hagen of The Hardball Times even felt that EY deserves ABs in the majors, at least at a utility player level.  He provided his personal projections of what Eric’s average line could be in the majors and what is prime year line could be:

Average-year projection:
.278 / .348 / 7 HR / 29 2B / 6 3B / 58 RBI / 90 R / 60 BB / 90 SO / 30 SB / 8 CS
Prime-year projection:
.288 / .370 / 9 HR / 32 2B / 8 3B / 65 RBI / 100 R / 68 BB / 84 SO / 36 SB / 9 CS

Young could turn into the Rockies’ fourth outfielder, especially if they trade the increasingly expensive Brad Hawpe at the trade deadline or next off-season.  Hopefully for Young, he’ll get traded to some team that needs a cheap outfielder with speed.

If you haven any recommendations for this award, please forward them to The Baseball Opinion through the TBO Contact form.

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The Kila Ka’aihue Award

As a new post category, I am starting the Kila Ka’aihue Award.  Each month I plan to provide the Kila Ka’aihue Award to one ball player who’s path to the majors has been blocked by an existing player in his position, or just by the sheer st…..general discretion of the front office staff. 

The award will be named the Kila Ka’aihue award, not because he has been the most hindered of the players that will get this award, but because of his unique name alone.  Yes, Kila is deserving of the award, (and will be the first recipient) but I have seen even greater injustices over the past decade alone.  It is also easy to profile Kila as the first recipient since I have already completed a ”Rookies To Look For” posting on him.  Sure, this is partly pure laziness on my part, but I like to look at it as “building a base for a new category out of existing material”.  Comedians do this all the time, contractors building a new building…not so much.  So, let’s look at Kila once again:

Kila Ka’ahiue (pronounced KEY-luh Kuh-eye-HOO-a) was drafted in the 15th round of the 2002 draft.  The lumbering 6′-3″ 233 pound Ka’ahiue rose slowly through the minor league ranks, putting up rather lackluster numbers along the way.  But he broke out in a big way in 2008.  He posted a 1.086 OPS in 376 plate appearances at Double-A that season before moving up to Triple-A and hitting .316/.439/.640 (1.079 OPS) in139 plate appearances.  He also hit 38 home runs between Double-A, Triple-A, and the Majors that season.

But those types of numbers didn’t impress the Royals front office enough and they traded for Mike Jacobs from the Florida Marlins after the 2008 season.  The Royals’ trade for Jacobs was disgusting in itself.  But for Kila, it meant that he would toil away in the minors for the 2009 season.  Jacobs would go on to hit even worse than expected (.228/.297/.401), yet Kila didn’t get a single at-bat in the Majors in 2009.  Although his .252 batting average at Triple-A didn’t impress enough, he still walked 102 times.  Marc Hulet of FanGraphs pointed out that it was “…six fewer times than Jacobs has in the last three years combined.”

There’s still doubt out there that Kila will hit for a decent average in the Majors, given an adequate number of at-bats.  But there’s no doubting his ability to draw a walk or display a show of power.  Defensively, Kila is mediocre at best at first base, but the team is currently playing Billy Butler there and it comes down to who you want to hide at DH more.  So Kila isn’t going to be great, but with the high loss total they had last season, they should of at least seen what he could do in August/September.

As of right now, Kila is third on the MLB.com depth chart at first base.  He’s not even on the DH depth chart.  All of which is interesting since Kila is hitting .306/.419/.583 (1.002 OPS) in camp.  Then again, this is just spring training and outfielder Brian Anderson is hitting .368/.415/.605, a tell-tale indication of how spring training numbers are not a good indicator of how well a player will hit in regular season action.

Where once Kila’s chances were hurt by the illogical acquisition of Mike Jacobs, they are now hindered by the acquisition of Josh Fields.  Yet Jose Guillen’s offensive prowess has slid significantly since he signed the multi-year contract with the Royals and Fields has failed to hit well in the majors.  A mid-season call-up may be in place if those two don’t hit and if the team doesn’t go with Alberto Callaspo in their place.

At the time of the posting I mentioned Oakland Athletics GM Billy Beane’s love affair with slow, high-OBP mashers may draw his interest in a trade proposal.  But I’d also suggest another AL West team, the Seattle Mariners.  Ken Griffey Jr.’s uninspiring season last year and Milton Bradley’s tendency to get injured or suspended leaves the DH position as a possible spot for Kila.

Congratulations to Kila Ka’aihue for becoming the inaugural winner (and namesake) of the Kila Ka’aihue Award!

If you haven any recommendations for this award, please forward them to The Baseball Opinion through the TBO Contact form.

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