Paul Maholm in June, 2003
The Double-A Transition Monitor
The transition to Double-A separates the wheat from the chaff among prospects, especially pitching prospects. I want to start a new feature called "The Double-A Transition Monitor." This is basically what it sounds like: keeping track of interesting players who are making their transition to Double-A. We will begin with three players who are making their debuts in Double-A this spring. Each of them had a question they needed to answer at this level. Let's see how they are doing.
I'm going to write up five more of these players for my premium newsletter subscribers.
Paul Maholm, LHP, Pittsburgh Pirates
Maholm was Pittsburgh's first-round pick in 2003, from Mississippi State, eighth overall in the draft. He posted a 1.84 ERA last year, but was limited to just 8 starts after being hit in the face with a line drive. That's OK now. Coming into 2005, he had a career 2.88 ERA in 19 starts at the A-ball level, with a 72/35 K/BB in 91 innings.
Maholm is not a hard-thrower, relying on an upper-80s fastball and an assortment of breaking balls and changeups. Although his overall A-ball stats were good, his strikeout rate was low enough to give some concern about his chances in Double-A. So far, he's doing OK for Double-A Altoona: 1-1, 4.19 ERA in 5 starts, with a 16/6 K/BB ratio in 19 innings, 17 hits allowed.
Maholm just went on the Altoona disabled list with a strained groin. He is expected to be out 10-14 days, but the injury is not considered serious. At this point, his Double-A transition is going adequately.
Steve Bondurant, LHP, Oakland Athletics
Oakland drafted Steve Bondurant in the 15th round in 2002, from the University of South Carolina. He pitched brilliantly in the Midwest League last year, going 14-5, 2.08, with a 132/27 K/BB in 126 innings. However, he was hit hard after promotion to Double-A Midland, with a 6.39 ERA in 7 starts.
Bondurant is a soft-tosser with a mediocre fastball; he needs excellent control to survive. Scouts were skeptical about his chances because of this; statheads were concerned that he was too old for the Midwest League last year and that his numbers should be discounted.
Returning to Midland in '05, Bondurant has made some adjustments. He is 3-1 with a 3.77 ERA, 27/9 K/BB ratio in 31 innings, 23 hits allowed. He's given up 4 homers in 5 starts, but generally speaking he is doing much better than in his last go-around in the Texas League. The strikeout rate is solid and a good sign, but (as you certainly know) we need to see how things progress. Even if he ends up with numbers similar to this at the end of the year, he will still face a challenge in Triple-A and the Majors simply because his margin for error is small.
Shane Costa, OF, Kansas City Royals
Cal State Fullerton outfielder Shane Costa was drafted in the second round in '03 by the Royals. He got off to a slow start last year at Class A Wilmington, but played better as the season progressed, finishing with a credible .308/.364/.417 performance. The question going into 2005 was power: how much would he show in Double-A? Would he end up as a tweener, lacking the power for a corner spot but being marginal defensively in center?
Costa got off to another slow start this year, but has hit better lately for Double-A Wichita. Currently he is at .277/.339/.396, basically the same as last year once you adjust for league/park context. I like his contact ability. He's not a walk machine (8 free passes, 101 at-bats) but has struck out only 6 times this year. His power is still mainly to the gaps. My guess is that Costa will heat up as the weather warms, and finish with numbers very similar to last year: .300/.360/.420 or so. He is a very muscular and strong player, but his swing is tailored for the line drive, not big power.