In early January, a group of roughly 90 minor league prospects converged on the Lansdowne Resort in…
On the Bubble: Chris Mabeus, RHP
They say that timing is everything and thus far in Chris Mabeus' career, he has been plagued by bad timing. When he was selected by the Texas Rangers as a Rule V pick, it seemed that Mabeus would have an excellent chance of making the major leagues in 2004. The Rangers were coming off of almost five years of pitching ineptitude and weren't expected to compete for the division title. It seemed like a good situation for a talented -- if a bit raw -- reliever to stick for the year.
Alas, it was not to be. In an ironic twist of fate, the Rangers suddenly found themselves flush with young, hard-throwing relievers ready to make an impact in the major leagues. Texas went from having one of the worst bullpens in baseball in 2003 to having one of the best in 2004. Unfortunately, this meant that the Rangers had no room for Mabeus and he was returned to Oakland.
Mabeus began the 2004 season where he ended the 2003 season: in AA-Midland. In less than half a season with the Rockhounds, Mabeus dazzled the Texas League. He appeared in 20 games, compiling a 4-0 record with a 1.99 ERA. Perhaps most impressive was Mabeus' strikeout to walk ratio, which was an astounding 13.5:1. That performance earned Mabeus a spot on the AA All-Star team and a ticket to AAA before the season hit the midway point.
The Alaska native arrived in Sacramento at a moment when the Oakland A's bullpen was doing its best imitation of the Texas Rangers' bullpens of the 2000-2003 time frame. As Mabeus continued his good relief pitching in Sacramento, it seemed only a matter of time before he was promoted to Oakland to stop the bleeding in the A's bullpen. Alas, it was also not to be. By the time Mabeus got a good number of AAA innings under his belt, the A's bullpen – bolstered by the acquisition of closer Octavio Dotel – was doing a decent impression of a good bullpen and that opening never materialized for Mabeus.
However, all was not lost for the sinkerball specialist. After finishing an impressive stint in Sacramento that saw him compile a 3.00 ERA in 51 innings, the A's rewarded him by placing him on the 40-man roster in December. The A's also showed their confidence in Mabeus' future as a big leaguer reliever when they sent him to the MLB Rookie Career Development Program in early January. In addition, Oakland traded reliever Justin Lehr to Milwaukee in part because Mabeus had passed him on the A's depth chart.
While Mabeus has primarily served as a closer over the past two years in the minor leagues, he projects as a middle- or late-inning reliever rather than the 9th inning guy. He has a low to mid-90s fastball, a wicked sinkerball and an improving slider. Like current A's set-up man Chad Bradford, Mabues is a groundball specialist who strikes out a lot of batters and walks very few. Unlike the submariner Bradford, Mabeus has a much more traditional delivery and is effective against lefthanded hitters as well as righties. At age 26, Mabeus is entering his prime pitching years and probably doesn't need more seasoning in AAA.
Despite all of these positive attributes, Mabeus may once again be a victim of bad timing this spring. In late November, Mabeus was a strong candidate to make the A's roster as a middle reliever. However, since that time, Oakland has rebuilt its mediocre bullpen. The A's have added set-up men Juan Cruz and Kiko Calero, swingman Keiichi Yabu, and Rule V draft pick Tyler Johnson. They have also re-upped with 2004 holdovers Chad Bradford and Octavio Dotel. Doing some quick math makes it clear that Mabeus is facing an uphill battle for a roster spot. Despite the fact that he is likely ready for the big leagues, Mabeus may fall victim to the fact that the A's (like the Rangers in 2004) have seemingly transformed a mediocre bullpen to an above-average one overnight.
In conclusion, it seems unlikely that Mabeus will be heading to Oakland come April 1. However, with a good spring, Mabeus should position himself to be the first in line for a promotion should a member of the A's bullpen get hurt or traded. Until that time, Mabeus should be a part of a strong Sacramento bullpen that will include top prospects Jairo Garcia and Huston Street, as well.
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