Amusing Happenings

If the year were 2008, news involving Matt Antonelli, Angel Villalona and Scott Kazmir would be front page worthy in the baseball, and fantasy baseball world. Things have changed greatly in just a few years for all three, but each found themselves in the news recently. Let’s take a look at what’s happening with this trio of ball players.

The Padres made Antonelli the 17th pick in the 2006 Rule Four draft. He signed and began playing in Low-A his draft year, and finished the year in Single-A. In 2007 Antonelli split the season between High-A and Double-A, where he showed outstanding discipline walking in over 13 percent of his plate appearances. His power was above average for a middle infielder with an ISO over .180 at both stops, and 21 home runs combined between levels. There was reason for optimism going into 2008, unfortunately, that’s when things began to unravel for the youngster. He retained his plate discipline and contact skills, but saw his power and average completely collapse. In spite of his struggles in Triple-A that year, he got a cup of coffee with the parent club, where things didn’t go any better. The 2009 season was not the bounce back anyone was hoping for. The year began with him missing time with a leg injury, and concluded with him hitting below the Mendoza Line (.196 average). Antonelli played in just one game in the Gulf Coast League in 2010 due to having surgery to remove a broken hamate bone. After the season, Antonelli became a free agent when the Padres opted to non-tender him. The Washington Nationals took a flyer signing him to a minor league contract. He played in four Double-A games, and another 86 Triple-A games. It was Antonelli’s most successful campaign in Triple-A. He slashed .297/.393/.460 hitting eight home runs in 359 plate appearances, while walking at a high rate and keeping the strikeouts in check (16.4 percent strikeout rate).

The resurgence was all the Baltimore Orioles needed to see from Antonelli in order to be convinced to offer him a major league contract, pending a physical. He’ll likely serve as a utility infielder, with his primary duty coming at second base (his natural position) and third base (his college position). Brian Roberts concussion woes, or continued struggles from Chris Davis, who is expected to play third base with Mark Reynolds shifting to first base, could provide Antonelli regular playing time. It’s unlikely he’ll ever live up to his lofty prospect billing, but he is still young enough (turns 27 in April) to dream of him turning into a viable middle infielder in deep mixed leagues or AL-only formats.

The most surprising name of the trio to read in the news, namely for why he was in the news, was Villalona. He once ranked as the top prospect in the Giants organization, but saw his career derailed by murder charges in his home country, the Dominican Republic. He reached a settlement with the victim’s family, and the charges were eventually dropped. Having been cleared of charges, the Giants thought it prudent to add him to their 40 man roster in order to protect him in next month’s Rule Five draft. Villalona was removed from the baseball’s restricted list, and has been working out for the Giants at their San Domingo complex. He still needs to receive a U.S. work visa before he can return to the states, but Giants VP Bobby Evans said the club is “not anticipating any problems.”

Villalona hasn’t played professional baseball since 2009. His results in three minor league seasons didn’t match his then club-record $2.1 million contract he signed as an international free agent. However, even with all of the negatives in mind, he is still just 21 years old and has time to turn things around if he receives a U.S. Work visa. Villalona’s calling card has always been his power potential, and positive reports of his bat speed suggest he still owns that potential. He was a free swinger posting paltry walk rates of 3.6 percent and 2.9 percent in Single-A and High-A, and he’ll need to improve that dramatically if he ever hopes to succeed in the upper minors. Power is a valuable asset, now more than ever, so there is no harm in casting a curious glance at Villalona’s MILB player page throughout the year if he’s allowed back in the states.

Unlike Antonelli and Villalona, Kazmir was a one time hot fantasy commodity. The southpaw was a strikeout machine after the Devil Rays acquired him from the Mets in return for Victor Zambrano. His control was spotty, but his ability to miss bats helped offset that deficiency. Regardless of preferred metric, Kazmir’s ERA often bested what his results “should,” have been during his peak years. However, no advanced metrics suggested a collapse to the degree Kazmir has suffered.

In 2009, his strikeout rate completely fell apart. His 7.15 K/9 was 2.66 K/9 lower than his 2008 rate. As one would expect, he generated a lower swinging strike rate that year than any other in his career as well. The biggest culprit appears to be sliding velocity on both his fastball and slider. Things got so bad with the Angels, who acquired him in the summer of 2009, that they placed him on waivers this season and granted him his unconditional release. He pitched in just one game in the majors this year, before being placed on the disabled list with an apparent back injury. While rehabbing in Triple-A, he allowed five or more earned runs in four-of-five appearances. The last game he pitched in was June 14, but Kazmir is hoping to make it back to the majors this coming year.

According to Enrique Rojas, Kazmir will be pitching in the Dominican Winter League as a member of the Escogido Lions. Kazmir turns just 28 in January, but will need to either rediscover his lost velocity, or reinvent himself if he wants to avoid washing out of the majors before his 30th birthday. From a fantasy perspective, a new soft tossing version of Kazmir who pitches to contact would have almost no value. However, if the radar gun shows readings you’d expect from vintage Kazmir, he could return to fantasy relevance depending on what team he lands with.