Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Angels Acquire Reliever Prinz for Nieves

The Angels shored-up their final bullpen spot on Tuesday by acquiring New York Yankees right-handed reliever Bret Prinz for minor league catcher Wil Nieves. The one-for-one deal allows the Halos to keep pitching prospects Jake Woods and Chris Bootcheck as starters in the minors. Both Woods and Bootcheck had been pitching as relievers during spring training in hopes of securing the final bullpen slot but neither was able to pitch well enough to keep the Angels from making the trade for Prinz. The Yankees entered training camp with an excess of relief pitchers and it was known that someone would have to go. Prinz was out of options and had he not made the Yanks big league roster would have had to have gone through waivers where New York would likely have lost the 27-year-old fire-baller to another team with minimal value in return. The Angels now face the same dilemma in that they must keep Prinz on the major league roster or risk losing him on the waiver wire. Clearly the Angels have already made the decision or they would not have pulled the trigger on the deal this close to Opening Day.
Brett Prinz

Nieves is a very good catching prospect but was mired in the Angels' organization behind three major leaguer catchers (Bengie Molina, Jose Molina and Josh Paul) as well as minor league catcher Jeff Mathis who is ranked by Baseball America s the Halos' third best prospect overall. By moving to the Yankees organization Nieves finds himself behind major league starter Jorge Posada and backup John Flaherty with no remarkable prospects in the minors. The Yankees traded away their one good minor league catcher, Dionar Navarro now with the Dodgers, as part of the Randy Johnson deal. An injury to Posada or Flaherty would likely mean a call-up for Nieves according to Yankee GM Brian Cashman.

Wil Nieves

Spring Stats

Wil Nieves........23 AB // .261 BA // 0 2B // 0 3B // 0 HR // 2 RBI

Bret Prinz........5.1 IP // 8.55 ERA // 5 BB // 6 K // 3 HR

In 2001 Prinz was considered by many to be the Arizona Diamondbacks 'closer of the future'. I had a chance to see Prinz pitch that season and the kid had a live arm and explosive fastball. The D-Backs designated closer that year was Matt Mantei but when he went down with an injury Prinz stepped up going 4-1 with a 2.63 ERA with 9 saves that season as the D-Backs went on to win the World Series. An injury prevented Prinz from playing in the post-season and opened the door for Byung-Hyun Kim to become the D-Backs closer. Kim almost became a New York folk hero after surrendering game losing HR pitches in the 9th inning of consecutive World Series games.

Injuries continued to sidetrack Prinz’s career and he seemed to lose command of his pitches. The Yankees acquired Prinz from Arizona in 2003 as part of a deal that shipped OF Raul Mondesi to New York. Prinz spent most of that season on the DL with a severely injured groin.

The derailing of Prinz's career is cause for concern for Halo fans and it is not immediately clear why he had so few innings pitched this spring. His 8.55 ERA would be daunting except for the fact that he has only 5.1 innings pitched. The kid has proven to be fragile and often erratic. Yet there is something about him in that the Yankees kept him in camp this long despite the fact he had a 5.08 ERA last season in 26 games for New York. No doubt it is the fact that he can still hurl 95+ mph fastballs with movement. He spent much of the season shuttling between the Bronx and Triple-A Columbus. When asked what he thought the Yankees got in return for him Prinz joked "Probably a six-pack of Coke." Prinz's fastball was clocked at 94 - 96 mph in his most recent outing against the Twins this past Saturday. Prinz gave up one hit, a walk and struck out three to close out the game and earn his first save of the spring.

This gives the Angels a little more thunder in their bullpen and means for the third straight year the Halos will break camp without a left-handed reliever. But Prinz has been effective against lefties. According to the Long Beach Press-Telegram:
Prinz, like bullpen mates Brendan Donnelly, Scot Shields and Francisco Rodriguez, is effective against left-handed hitters. In 40 at-bats against lefties last year, Prinz held them to a .150 average and they've hit just .220 against him the past three years.

So Prinz could be (or at least one of) the de facto "left-handed assassin(s)" if he proves to Manager Mike Scioscia that he can be effective in that role. But make no mistake, this is a reclamation project. However, with a 2005 salary of $342,000 it will at least be a relatively inexpensive one. Should Prinz regain his '01 form and gain control of his fastball and slider then he could be a welcome addition to an already stacked BP. Perhaps spending some quality time with the Angel relievers will rub-off on Prinz. It seems even Esteban Yan is gaining some Halo Mojo from the Angel relievers.

I am disappointed that Woods did not make the big club but his spring stats (3-0 with a 1.45 ERA and 12 K, 2 BB) should get him a ticket to Anaheim quickly should one of the Angel starters founder or become injured. He and Chris Bootcheck will likely start the year in Triple-A Salt Lake where they can face good hitting on a regular basis and continue to develop. If Woods can stay healthy and be successful there, there should be no stopping him from breaking into this rotation either later this season or next.


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