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May 20, 2009 at 5:30 PM

The Ladder- 5.20.09

Tim Federowicz

The Line: Off to a solid start with Greenville, Federowicz is carrying an OPS of .801 through 28 games and an overall line of .272/.336/.465 with 12 extra-base hits. Driving the ball at a more frequent rate than he did in 2008, he got off to a quick start with home runs, hitting 4 in the month of April. He already has 5 more extra-base hits than last season in 13 less at-bats. Federowicz has been making more consistent contact in the month of May, posting a .306 average through 12 games (he hit .246 in April) including a 4-hit game May 14 against Augusta and a 3-hit game May 8 against Savannah. Always impressive behind the plate, Federowicz has been controlling the running game with his plus arm and handling the pitching staff well thus far. He has also shown off his arm recently, recording 3 caught stealings and 1 pickoff in his last 4 games.

The View: Defense is Federowicz’s biggest strength in his current overall package and he projects as an above-average defender at the major league level. His cannon arm and strong receiver skills are his two biggest assets behind the dish. After looking a bit worn down in the batter’s box at times during his stint at Lowell, Federowicz’s solid start to this season has begun the bring the type of hitter he could become into focus. Getting beat on or being behind a lot of fastballs last season, he’s turned more balls around for solid contact into the gaps and has been quicker on the ball, pulling the ball for harder contact to start 2009. However, his strikeout numbers have been elevated from his 2008 rate (22% vs. 16%) and he has been walking less frequently this season as well (7% vs. 13%). While the hard contact has been there, it will be interesting to see how the adjustments go with his approach and patience at the plate over the coming weeks. Given the demands and physical nature of the catching position, it will also be worth tracking how he holds up 250 or so at-bats into the season. Looking solid thus far, Federowicz has taken the first steps towards becoming a consistent hitter to complement his plus defensive skills and started to lend clues into the type of results he’s capable of producing offensively.

Clay Buchholz

The Line: Finding himself back in Triple-A to start the 2009 season, Buchholz has pitched himself back into position to crack the big league rotation. Featuring all 4 of his pitches on the young season, through 39 1/3 innings he’s fanned 42 batters against 12 walks while only giving up 23 hits and 7 earned runs. Buchholz had a string of 3 starts in a row without giving up an earned run and racked up 25 strikeouts over 20 1/3 innings in those starts, highlighted by an 11-strikeout performance covering 8 shutout innings on May 13 against Toledo. Making batters earn their way on base, Buchholz only walked 3 batters over that stretch, but even then hitters didn’t have much success earning their way on either, managing only 7 hits. Right-handed batters have hit him at a microscopic .110 clip thus far into the season, and batters overall have hit a robust .161 against Buchholz.

The View: After a disastrous 2008 rookie campaign with the Red Sox, Buchholz has gotten himself back on track to contribute at the major league level in 2009. His resurgence has been highlighted by the return of his sharp off-speed stuff that too many times hung or was elevated in the zone in 2008. Buchholz’s change-up has been diving out of the zone, causing hitters to wave over the top of it. The depth and fade has returned to the pitch after more resembling the action of a slider last season, and has been his best pitch in 2009, helping him rack up the strikeouts. His true 12/6 curveball has had the bite and hard break that catapulted him to the major leagues back at the tail end of 2007. Buchholz has mixed his slider in from time to time and the different looks have been tough on batters, producing a lot of weak contact against him. Still prone to struggles with his fastball command, Buchholz has been able to get on top of his fastball more this season, but this aspect of his repertoire will still need to improve for him to have sustained success in the major leagues. His velocity has been consistently 92-94 MPH with his fastball. Buchholz has given up 3 home runs on the season, but 2 of these were in his last outing on May 19 against Buffalo. Keeping his fastball in the lower portion of the strike zone will keep his home runs against down and in the process indicate that his command of the pitch is becoming more consistent. Buchholz has been dominating opponents this season, and a continuation of this dominance will only strengthen his case for returning to the major leagues, while allowing him to work the last of the kinks out at Triple-A.

Trending Up

After getting off to a slow start, David Mailman has been on a tear recently, going 12 for his last 35, with 3 extra-base hits and only 2 strikeouts over that stretch. The sweet swinging lefty has cut down on his strikeouts this season and has been making much harder, more consistent contact. After looking comfortable at the plate in spring training, Mailman has found that comfort level in May and has 8 extra-base hits after hitting only 3 in the month of April. He’s still looking for his first home run of 2009, but the ball has been coming off his bat well…Now pitching out of the ‘pen, lefty Dustin Richardson has been holding hitters in check. Batters are now hitting .175 against him and he’s only given up 1 home run in 23 innings of work. Along with his deceptive fastball with some nice downward tilt, Richardson’s curveball has improved this season and he’s been using it more as a weapon at any point in the count, sometimes grabbing strikes on the corners with it. He has 30 strikeouts on the season…Jon Hee is 19 for 63 since joining Salem and recently hit his first professional home run. Hee has struck out 5 times over the stretch and has been solid in the field.

Trending Down

Ryan Dent is 7 for his last 40 after getting off to a hot start with the Drive. The strikeout bug has bit again, as Dent has 14 strikeouts over the current stretch. The extra-base hits have been there (he has 10 on the season), but the bouts of inconsistent contact have shown again after a tough 2008 season with Lowell. Dent has a smooth, compact swing, but his pitch recognition was extremely raw coming into the system and has been a strong developmental need for him. Improvement in this area will allow Dent’s natural skills to come to the surface more consistently, as so far they’ve only broken through in spurts, including his fast start to begin the season…Michael Almanzar is currently in an 8 for 42 funk with 10 strikeouts over the stretch. He’s has trouble making solid contact and only has 1 extra-base hit during the current slump. An extremely raw player, Almanzar will be prone to highs and lows, sometimes on the extreme ends while his experience catches up to his skills. Look for him to break out a bit once he can keep himself back and off his front foot, and improve how he picks up breaking balls…Since starting off the season with 10 scoreless innings, Kris Johnson has now given up 22 earned runs in his last 22 1/3 innings on 31 hits. Johnson hasn’t been fooling many batters, as they have been sitting on his fastball to produce a lot of hard contact. He has not been able to go deeper than 5 2/3 innings in any of his outings. He has kept the ball in the park though, only giving up 3 homers on the season, and can be effective once he sharpens his command a bit more and learns to trusts his stuff with Pawtucket.