WTNYSeptember 12, 2003
And the Player of the Year goes to...
By Bryan Smith

I'd like to start out today mentioning that yesterday I promised today would yield organizational rankings. I lied. These are the most difficult of all to place in order, and I should have it up by the weekend. Instead, today's theme is a little more timely.

Today, at 12PM Eastern time, Baseball America will be announcing their 2003 Player of the Year. Past winners:

2002: Rocco Baldelli
2001: Josh Beckett
2000: Jon Rauch
1999: Rick Ankiel
1998: Eric Chavez
1997: Paul Konerko
1995 AND 1996: Andruw Jones
1994: Derek Jeter

While Ankiel and Rauch don't fit the bill, the rest of these players have turned out to be very successful. Its a highly prestigious award, that takes a few questions into play:

- Is a player dominating A-ball less impressive than a AA pitcher doing well?
- Is a 18-year-old doing well better than a similar 22-year-old?
- Are hitters in the middle infield more impressive than those at first base, and are southpaws better than right-handers?

For a Player of the Year Award, the answers should be yes, no, and sometimes. The Baseball America award is usually given to someone whom has at least reached AA, and hardly ever given to a low-A player. Those levels contain hitters learning to use wooden bats, and pitchers learning to throw the ball over the plate.

While an 18-year-old will normally make for a better prospect than someone 4 years older than him, it doesn't matter for this Award. This should go to the most dominant player, taking out the Fernando Seguignols of the world.

Finally, position and what arm you use are taken into account, but only when the hitting or pitching is equal. A shortstop hitting even with a first basemen is more apt to win the award, but only if their offensive statistics are extremely close. And, left-handers are less common in the Majors, which should help their minor league status. But the player must clearly dominate his fellow right-hander to use that in the court of arguing this award.

And now, to the contestants:

1. Josh Barfield- 2B- Padres- High A- 20 years old
Numbers: .337/.389/.530 16HR/128RBI 16SB
Accolades: California League MVP; minor league RBI leader

2. Travis Blackley- LHP- Mariners- AA- 20 years old
Numbers: 17-3 2.61 125H/162.1IP 144K/62BB
Accolades: Texas League Pitcher of the Year
1st in W, 2nd in ERA, and 4th in K

3. Bobby Crosby- SS- Athletics- AAA- 23 years old
Numbers: .308/.395/.544 22HR/90RBI 24SB
Accolades: PCL All-Star AND Rookie of the Year
3rd in R and 5th in RBI in PCL

4. Prince Fielder- 1B- Brewes- low-A- 20 years old
Numbers: .313/.409/.526 27HR/112 RBI 2SB
Accolades: Midwest League MVP and #1 prospect
Led league in RBI, 2nd in HR, 3rd in AVE

5. Zack Greinke- RHP- Royals- high-A/AA- 19 years old
Cumulative numbers: 15-4 1.93 114H/140IP 112K/18BB
Accolades: Carolina League Pitcher of the Year

6. Joe Mauer- C- Twins- high-A/AA- 20 years old
Cumulative Numbers: .338/.398/.440 5HR/85RBI
Accolades: FSL All-Star, Eastern League Player of hte Month

7. Dallas McPherson- 3B- Angels- 23 years old
Cumulative Numbers: .310/.410/.596 23HR/86RBI 16SB
Accolades: California League All-Star

8. Greg Miller- LHP- Dodgers- High-A/AA- 18 years old
Cumulative Numbers: 12-5 2.21 118H/142.1IP 151K/48BB
Accolades: FSL All-Star; 0.97 ERA in last 14 starts

9. Jeremy Reed- OF- White Sox- High-A/AA- 23 years old
Cumulative Numbers: .373/.452/.540 11HR/95RBI 45SB
Accolades: Led Minor Leagues in Batting Average
Hit .409 in 242 AA at-bats

10. Alexis Rios- OF- Blue Jays- AA- 22 years old
Numbers: .352/.402/.521 11HR/82RBI 11SB
Accolades: Eastern League All-Star
Led league in hits, AVE

And now to the first elimination round...
Joining us in Round 2 are:

1. Travis Blackley (SEA)- LHP
2. Prince Fielder (MIL)- 1B
3. Zack Greinke (KC)- RHP
4. Greg Miller (LA)- LHP
5. Jeremy Reed (CWS)- OF

I did this for a couple of reasons. First off, while Crosby, Mauer, McPherson, and Rios had great seasons, they were overshadowed. None of them won an MVP trophy, and many have glaring weaknesses. Crosby's average is too low to win the award; Mauer only hit 5 homers! McPherson has an average that is still too low, and Rios needs a boost in slugging percentage.

The hardest cut was Barfield. Not only was he the California League MVP and a second basemen, he led the minors in RBI. But his numbers are dwarfed by those of Fielder. Barfield has a low OBP, due to a poor K/BB rate. This is not Jeremy Reed's problem, who finished the year with nearly twice as many walks as strikeouts.

Another interesting move was not cutting any pitchers. Greinke has impressed me ever since going to the Winter League less than six months removed from high school graduation. Blackley almost won the Texas League pitching Triple Crown, and Miller was my top pitching prospect.

More eliminations...
The final three are...

1. Travis Blackley (SEA)
2. Prince Fielder (MIL)
3. Jeremy Reed (CWS)

I chose to eliminate the pitchers for a couple of reasons. First, while Greinke's final numbers look great, he finished the year a little poorly with high hit rates in AA. He's a sensational pitcher, but that tarnished his status. And Miller finished great, with the aforementioned 0.97 ERA in his last 14, but started too slow. His FSL numbers aren't good enough to be Player of the Year material.

We have it narrowed down to an Australian pitcher, former All-Star's son, and a lesser known college star.

Now for the final run-down...

Finishing in Third Place, due to facing subpar pitchers, and despite posting great numbers is PRINCE FIELDER.

Finishing in Second Place, because his strikeout rates aren't good enough to be POY material is TRAVIS BLACKLEY.

Which means that JEREMY REED, an unknown before 2003, has risen to take the official Wait 'Til Next Year Player of the Year, or WTNYPOY. Reed finished the season keeping his average above .400. He doesn't have great home run power, but stole 45 bases off good baserunning. Reed has the ability to play all three outfield positions, but profiles best in right. There is no better prospect in the game at understanding the strike zone, and Reed should reach the Majors next season.

When I give my organizational rankings this weekend, we'll recap to see if Baseball America agreed. Thanks and have a good weekend!