WTNYMarch 24, 2004
Youth Movement
By Bryan Smith

While the media spends Spring Training looking for progress and position decisions, I find the more interesting stories to be in the youth. First, I try to keep up with members of the Rule V draft, I simply don't want to say I missed out on the next Johan Santana. Secondly, I'm going to look at the progress made by my top 50 prospect list.

Before examining the close choices that some Rule V picks will be involved in, let's look at the changes we've seen since December 15. Tampa Bay selection Alec Zumwalt and Boston choice Colter Bean have been returned to the Braves and Yankees respectively. David Mattox, a Red chosen from the New York Mets, will spend the year away from baseball with significant arm problems. Another Met, Lenny Dinardo, has not gotten in a Spring Training game yet, due to what the New York Times called 'shoulder stiffness'.

Matt White has had a tumultuous two years bouncing between the Cleveland, Boston, Seattle and Colorado bullpens. White did very well at AAA last year, but has struggled horribly since returning to Cleveland, allowing six hits in less than three innings. Frank Brooks, the southpaw once deal for Mike Williams, is also making his rounds. Brooks has not allowed a run in four Spring Training innings, split between the team that first drafted him (Oakland), and the team he is sticking with the Yankees II concept. Finally, the Cardinals have talked about how much they like Hector Luna, and Walt Jocketty is expected to make such a trade in this regard.

So that leaves thirteen players that were drafted in the Major League portion of the Rule V draft, starting with former Pirate Chris Shelton. The ex-Buc is 9/20 in camp so far, and should stick with the team. Rich Thompson, the second overall choice, will stay on this club despite just seven hits in thirty-one at-bats.

In my mind, there are four other players that are locks to make their teams: Jeff Bennett (RH, MIL), Jason Szuminski (RH, SD), Jason Grilli (RH, CHW) and Andy Fox (IF, MON). Grilli has pitched terrible with the White Sox during Spring Training, but he's often been mentioned as a candidate for the next musical. Fox is a veteran that was in the draft by a loophole, and is the kind of move that Omar Minaya is becoming paid for.

Bennett has not allowed a run in six Spring Training innings, notably due to his heavy fastball. Finally, Rod Beck's sudden disinterest sucks, but it is probably best for the team. Szminski is going to make the Padres since Beck will start tending to important family memebers.

This leaves seven players that were drafted in the Major League portion:

1. Chris Mabeus- TEX
2. Talley Haines- TOR
3. Willy Tavares- OF HOU
4. Mike Bumatay- LHP TEX
5. Jose Bautista- 3B- BAL
6. Luis Gonzalez- UT- COL
7. Lino Urdaneta- RH- DET

The latter three have all done very well in Spring Training, but there is no real place to fit them on the team's roster. The higher ranked people are struggling against the middle-class group, just like my prospect list is seeing.

Yes, Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau have proven themselves worthy during Spring Training thus far, but these two along with Bobby Crosby, Grady Sizemore, and especially James Loney and Travis Blackley. Loney's performance has been so good that even Baseball Prospectus has officially jumped on the bandwagon.

Edwin Jackson was told he had the fifth starter spot prior to Spring Training, but there is a problem. Jackson has allowed 10ER in 11.2IP, not exactly what I envisioned from my #1 pitching prospect. My #2, Greg Miller, is not out for the entire season but should make a noble return in August. Zack Greinke, who began camp dazzling Royal scouts, also struggled (8 hits in 4.2IP), and will start the year in AAA.

Jeremy Reed will be forced to do the same as he is only 5/30 in Spring Training thus far, definitely beneath the Aaron Rowand level. Alexis Rios was very good in thirty-four at-bats, again showing his power spike with two home runs. Rios, if moved to right field during the season, could help the team in a similar fashion to what Miguel Cabrera did last year.

Prospects and Rule V selections are guessing games, but I feel it's definitely important to evaluate both areas.