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Stop! Slama Time?

  • Blog Post by: Seth Stohs
  • July 13, 2010 - 11:47 AM

 

Excuse me if you have heard this before. Anthony Slama is ready for a promotion.
The Twins drafted the right-handed reliever in the 39th round of the 2006 draft. He opted not to sign, but instead he went back to the University of San Diego for his senior season. Before the 2007 draft, he signed as a draft-and-follow (something teams/players are no longer able to do) and reported to Elizabethton. 
In six games at E-Town, he recorded four saves and in 7.1 innings, he walked just one and struck out ten. He was ready for a promotion. He spent the rest of the season at Beloit where he went 1-1 with a 1.48 ERA in 21 games. In 24.1 innings, he gave up 15 hits, walked nine and struck out 39. But there are a lot of college pitchers that sign and do well in the short-season and even in Low A ball.
In 2008, he began the season at High-A Ft. Myers. He was one of five Miracle players to make the midseason All-Star team. Following the game, Jeff Manship, Rob Delaney, Danny Valencia and Brian Dinkelman (all 2006 draft picks except Delaney who was signed as an undrafted free agent) were promoted to Double-A New Britain. Slama stayed in Ft. Myers, and despite huge fan and blog support for a promotion and posting ridiculous numbers (4-1 with 25 saves, a 1.01 ERA, a 0.94 WHIP, and 110 strikeouts with just 24 walks in 71 innings), he remained with the Miracle.
He began the 2009 season in Double-A, back with the quartet that he left him behind in Ft. Myers. Valencia, Manship and Delaney were promoted to Triple-A Rochester before July, Slama continued to pitch great. Again, fans and bloggers wondered aloud why the Twins were being so slow in promoting Slama to Rochester. But Slama just kept going about his business. After 51 games, the same number he had pitched in Ft. Myers the previous season, he was promoted to Triple-A for just 11 more games. In 51 New Britain games, he went 4-2 with a 2.48 ERA, a 1.19 WHIP and 25 saves. In 65.1 innings, he walked 32 and struck out 93. In 11 games at Rochester, he went 0-2 with a 3.45 ERA. However, it is important to note, as I did in the Minnesota Twins 2010 Prospect Handbook, “It is important to note that he had one game in which he gave up five runs in 1.2 innings. Without that outing, he gave up just one run in 14 innings.
Because he signed in 2007, Slama did not need to be protected on the 40 man roster until after the 2010 season, but he was invited to Major League spring training. He pitched well. He went 1-0 with a 1.08 ERA in nine outings. Some fans were saying that he was a sure-thing, ready for the big leagues. (Then again, some fans thought that Wilson Ramos (hitting .210 in Rochester) and Juan Portes (hitting .178/.268/.275 at New Britain) were ready for the big leagues. As expected, Slama stayed with the Twins until the end of camp, but he was sent back to Rochester.
He has been incredible again with the Red Wings this year. Through 40 games, he is 0-1 with 16 saves, a 1.28 ERA and a 0.93 ERA. In 49.1 innings, he has struck out 60 batters. And again, fans, bloggers and myself included are clamoring for Anthony Slama to be promoted. Call it a gut-feeling, but I can’t help but think that his big league promotion is imminent.
The Concerns
In my mind, there are three concerns that can justify the Twins keeping the already-26 year old Slama in Triple-A.
The first is valid, but Slama has continued to surprise many. Scouts are not real high on Slama. He sits between 88 and 91 mph, and tops out at about 92 mph, so he isn’t a flame-thrower by any means. His breaking ball is more of a “Show Me” kind of pitch than anything else. He has a split-finger fastball that acts as a changeup. Based purely on “stuff”, Slama does not impress scouts. He is known for having a deceptive delivery, but some wonder whether he will be able to fool big league hitters. The other side of this argument is that his career strikeout rate of 12.8 strikeouts per nine innings says he is doing something right. Even this year at AAA, he is striking out 10.9 per nine innings.
The second concern is more of an issue than a concern. He isn’t on the 40 man roster, and because of that, he would need to be added to the 40 man roster. Right now, the roster is at 40, so someone would need to be removed from the 40 man roster to make room for Slama. Once on the 40 man roster, it is easy to promote a player to the big leaguers. Again, this is an easily-correctable issue. Clay Condrey could be moved to the 60 Day Disabled List. Ron Mahay appears to be the last man in the bullpen, and although he isn’t pitching horribly, he is the guy on the current roster that could be let go. Why is the 40 man roster an issue that should not be overlooked? Because once on the 40 man roster, a player has just three option years. The Twins have to be thinking that if they are going to add Slama to the 40 man roster and call him up, he needs to be able to remain on the big league roster the rest of the season. Otherwise, it wastes one of his three option years. I know we all want to believe that he will come in and dominate and never need another option year, but that isn’t always the case. It was a good thing for the Twins to still have an option remaining on Jesse Crain in 2009. Pat Neshek had an option that they were still able to use this year so he can continue to improve and gain strength and pitch innings in Rochester this year. If, and when, Anthony Slama is added to the 40 man roster and called up to the 25 man roster, it should be with the idea that he will not be optioned back in 2010.
The final concern is one that I think is legitimate. In his incredible 2008 season in Ft. Myers, he managed just 3.0 walks per nine innings. In 2009, between AA and AAA, he walked about 4.5 per nine innings. In 2010, it is 4.4 walks per nine innings. Generally speaking, the Twins don’t like promoting pitchers who walk more than three per nine innings. Slama is basically walking a batter every other inning the last two years. The reality is that the walk numbers typically do not get better with a promotion to the big leagues. I mean, we all see how big the Major League strike zones tend to be and how much more patient big league hitters are. So, I do believe that the walks are a definite red flag. Fortunately, Slama has been able to still have a very good strikeout to walk ratio because of the strikeouts.
So, if we couple the thought that he will not be able to maintain a 10 or 11 strikeout per nine inning rate in the big leagues with the likelihood that he will walk no less than a batter every other inning at that level, it does create a legitimate concern.
That said, the Twins don’t really have a strikeout guy in their big league bullpen. Slama could provide that to this roster right now. Aside from trying to improve his control, it’s hard to imagine what more he can do in the minor leagues. The team is struggling and needs a jolt. How about try out a guy who has not given up an earned run in AAA since June 2nd?
Maybe based on some of this information above, you can see why it isn’t quite the Slam-Dunk that a lot of Twins fans seem to believe. However, I believe that the time has come. It’s (Anthony) Slama Time! If for no other reason because he’s got a really cool mustache!
 
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