Opinion of Kingman's Performance

Friday, March 1, 2013

Another Pitching Conversion in the Works

While watching Sandy Koufax each morning at Camelback Ranch, there was one pitcher that none of us recognized that took one of the practice mounds on Monday.  We watched number 60 in a minor league uniform throw for 20 minutes and several of us asked, “who is that guy?”   No one knew who he was until the next day when Sandy commented about how impressed he was with the youngster.

“He has four major league pitches,” he said. This was Koufax’s observation after watching the man show him his repertoire of pitches.  The incredible thing about him is that he has exactly one inning of instructional league experience on the mound.  The player Koufax watched throw was Pedro Baez, a Dominican righthander who up until late summer last year was a third base prospect in the organization.  

Baez’s star was fading after six minor league seasons and a .247 lifetime average.  The Dodgers noticed his live arm and De Jon Watson convinced him to try pitching.  Based on Koufax’s assessment of things, the decision looks to be a wise one.  Baez turns 25 years old this month and is expected to start the season at Class A Rancho Cucamonga.

It is reported that Baez throws heat in the high 90s and has established an effective curve.  The other two pitches that Koufax mentioned?  I’m not sure what they are but who’s to argue with the greatest lefty in history.  

Sandy Koufax provides instruction at the Camelback Ranch facility practice mounds (photo by Evan Bladh)

Baez had advanced as high as AA Chattanooga this past season, but he was struggling at the plate with a .216 batting average.  Signed originally for $200,000, the Dodgers had hoped that by now Baez would be in contention for the starting third base position with the big club.  He never developed power and his offensive production has regressed the last few years.  In 2009 Baez appeared to be on the fast track to the majors, having hit .286 in the California League with 10 homers and 61 RBI.  

A futures game all star twice as a third baseman, the Dodgers were reluctant to give up on Baez as a position player.  As late as July of last season De Jon Watson was asked about converting him to the mound and had this to say to Albuquerque Examiner writer Christopher Jackson:

"We've discussed it a little bit, but we're trying to get the offensive approach kind of corralled here to give this guy a chance. This guy's been in the Futures Game twice as a third baseman. He's probably one of our best defending third basemen in the system. So for us we're trying to exhaust all our energies getting that swing better at this time."
Dee Gordon and Pedro Baez appear in the All Star Break Futures game at Anaheim in July, 2010 (photo: ESPN)

By season’s end the decision was made for the conversion to take place and Baez entered camp early to attempt to hone his new craft on the mound.  During instructional league, Baez blew away hitters with his fastball.  “You talk about Kenley when you see the ball come out of his hand,” said Rick Honeycutt when asked about Baez’s progress.  I guess it's inevitable to not compare Baez to Jansen.  It's probably unfair to do so too.  We are asking a lot in this transition.  Fortunately the Dodger bullpen is deep, so there shouldn't be a need to rush Baez to the majors.
Koufax has suggested that the Dodgers allow him to pitch in a major league exhibition game this spring.  That’s quite a jump for a player that has exactly one inning of experience pitching, but who’s going to question Sandy?  As fans we may be getting a bit spoiled, expecting every converted pitcher to turn out like Kenley Jansen.  It would be wise to exercise patience with Baez.  No matter how nasty his stuff is and whatever Koufax thinks of his assortment of pitches, he still needs to learn to pitch.  With one inning of instructional league experience under his belt, I would think it is realistic to expect Baez to spend a few years in the minors in his attempt to make this very difficult transition.
Note* Several weeks ago, long before Sandy Koufax ever saw Pedro Baez on the mound, Ron Cervenka at ThinkBlueLA.com wrote at length about him ( LINKED HERE ).  I highly recommend this article.

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