Saturday, April 18, 2009

By Chuck Richter - Executive Editor

The Angels bullpen errr gas can has been responsible for losing six out of seven of their losses early on this season, failing to secure leads and put our fires in close games. The Angels looking for someone within the org to step up, recently called up Rich Thompson, Rafael Rodriguez and 28-year old southpaw Daniel Davidson, who will be making his Major League debut. Jason Bulger & Kevin Jepsen both have good stuff and have succeeded at the minor league level, but they have failed to command their pitches, resulting in free passes, hard hit balls, heck, even two grand slams within a three game period.

Angels sure setup man Scot Shields has been awful early on with his control, even to first base, while Jose Arredondo & Brian Fuentes haven't looked as dominate as they can be. When Justin Speier is your best reliever of late, you know there are problems in the bully.

The starting pitching has been solid thus far despite the absence of Lackey, Santana, Escobar and recently Adenhart and Moseley. Adenhart was killed in a tragic car accident by a drunk driver last Thursday morning after dominating the A's through six innings. Despite the tragedy and mess the rotation presents, the Angels starters are tops in ERA in the American League through eleven games. The Angels top starting pitching prospect Jordan Walden is someone I think would be a great fit for a late inning role should the Angels convert him to a reliever.

Walden has put up some 6's through his first two starts this season with the Arkansas Travelers - 6.2 IP, 6 earned runs, 6 walks & 6 strikeouts with a 8.10 ERA. That's not a good way to start the season, but everyone who has scouted Walden knows he has had trouble commanding his offspeed stuff, still not getting a feel for throwing the changeup with regularity. His power stuff doesn't separate enough velocity from his fastball and slider to fool batters long term in a game ini which he starts.

Obviously we're just two games in and Walden could improve the command of his offspeed offering with more minor league innings and ultimately stick as a starter, I believe the Angels should expedite his arrival to Anaheim and convert him to a reliever to fully utilize his high 90's fastball (hit as high as 101 MPH on the radar gun) and hard slider that he throws in the high 80's. If Walden focuses on just his fastball and slider in a month or two of closing games out for the Travelers, we could have a legit closer in the making, one that could help this current group of struggling Angels relievers sooner than later, if he succeeds in the new role.

Walden wouldn't be the only starter turned reliever, remember K-Rod? Frankie came up through our system as a starter, but it wasn't until he was converted to a reliever that he blew through two minor league levels in the same season and ultimately made it to the big leagues and helped the Angels capture their first World Series Championship, that same season. Could it happen for Walden too? Both pitchers' are similar, possessing two power pitches that are true strikeout offerings.

Other starting pitchers that started in the minor leagues and then converted later to the closers role boast an impressive list of firemen. Mariano Rivera, Jonathon Papelbon, Keith Foulke, Dennis Eckersley, Jason Isringhausen, Eric Gagne, John Smoltz, Brad Lidge and Joe Nathan to name a few.

Astros, now Phillies closer Brad Lidge broke down so frequently in college and in the minor leagues as a starter (42 starts in 52 minor-league appearances), Houston had to move him to the bullpen to keep him healthy. In his first try as a closer last year, he set a National League record for strikeouts by a reliever.

Giants farmhand, Twins closer Joe Nathan, started his pro career as an infielder. But when the Giants moved him to the mound, they put him in the rotation, and 29 of his first 39 big-league games came as a starter.

The Angels have ran out of options for relief help and when you look down the organization's depth chart you're going to be hard pressed to find a power arm with the type of stuff Jordan Walden possesses. I believe he's someone who could make an immediate impact in the bullpen and possible future Rolaids relief winner. The fans could use some antacid in the form of an Angels reliever late in the game with the lead.

Make it happen Angels.
Love to hear what you think!


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