WTNYJune 03, 2004
The Story of Three Pitchers
By Bryan Smith

Today, as my title implies, I want to talk about three different pitchers. The first was my top ranked pitcher in my preseason prospect ranking, the second was who should have been my top ranked my top pitcher, and the third is my top sleeper prospect before the season. All three are having very different seasons, but have had a nice last couple of days.

In my prospect ranking before the season, I wrote this about my #3 overall prospect:

While Miller ended the season wonderfully in AA, Jackson did fantastic in the Major Leagues. Jackson reminds me of Giant Jerome Williams, and it looks like the two will duke it out for years to come. Both have mid-90s fastballs and very good curveballs, are basically the same size, and are said to have very fluid motions. If you live in Los Angeles and arent excited, change.
*- After a spectacular September, Jackson might earn a spot with the Dodgers. If not, hell go to AAA and be up by midseason. Dodger Stadium plus Jackson spells out Rookie of the Year.

But, Jackson did not earn that spot with the Dodgers, thanks in large part to his 9.28 ERA in 21.1 Spring innings. Los Angeles sent their top prospect to AAA Las Vegas, historically one of the most drastic offensive stadiums in the minors. Jackson has struggled mightily in Sin City, throwing 52.2 innings of 5.13 ERA ball, with a K/BB of only 38/24. Jackson's record was 5-2 though, likely confusing someone he was worthy of a call-up.

Actually, Jackson was recalled because the Dodger rotation had few other options. Hideo Nomo is hurt in many different ways, and Wilson Alvarez requested a move to the bullpen. Jose Lima is well, Jose Lima, and Paul DePodesta is smart enough to know not to bank every fifth day on his right arm. So, with a homestand against the Milwaukee Brewers, the Dodgers found it harmless enough to give Jackson a start.

Let's tune into the ESPN box score play-by-play for Jackson's first Major League experience of the 2004 season, Mr. Scott Podsednik:

Edwin Jackson pitches to Scott Podsednik
Pitch 1: ball 1
Pitch 2: strike 1 (looking)
Pitch 3: ball 2
Pitch 4: strike 2 (foul)
Pitch 5: ball 3
Pitch 6: foul
Pitch 7: in play
S Podsednik homered to right.

Well, I can almost guarantee that someone was being cursed at in the luxury suites of Dodger Stadium, blamed for that stupid decision to call up the kid. Then, Jackson gives up a single to Craig Counsell of all people! But, Edwin calms down, and allows only one hit and three walks in the next five innings, all scoreless frames. And with the Dodgers scoring five runs, you can bet on the L.A. bullpen giving Mr. Jackson his first 2004 victory.

You can bet that things weren't so lucky for player #2. Rather than pitching for a first place team on the Pacific, our second hurler was dealing for a last place team in Missouri. I've written about Zack Greinke, and particularly his connections with Bret Saberhagen, many times before here, so I'll try and be brief. By some freak error, I ranked Greinke all the way down at #9 before the season, and for consistency's sake, here's what I wrote:

In his first full year against professional hitting, Zack Greinke has made a name for himself. The Royal right-hander absolutely dominated Carolina League opponents, following a winter spent in the Puerto Rican League. Greinke dropped on my list due to a weak K/9 rate, but he balances that with great control. He understands changing speeds better than any other prospect, and mixes in an above-average curve. With three Major League pitches, Kansas City fans are praying for the second coming of Saberhagen.
*- Upon promotion to AA, Greinke was hardly dominating. He'll head back to Wichita at year's beginning, but don't bet against him arriving about the same time that Jimmy Gobble did last year.

My guess of Gobble's arrival date, August 3, was a little off, as the Royals have turned to Greinke now. In his first, well publicized start, Baird and Pena put him against the harmless Oakland A's in the spacious Coliseum. Greinke went five innings, allowing five hits, a walk, and two runs, both of which were the result of a Erubiel Durazo home run. As Rob Neyer predicted, the Royals bullpen threw away a would-be-win, and the Royals lost 5-4 in the eleventh.

For his second trial, the situation was a little more difficult for the young right-hander. Greinke's first start at home, against the rival Minnesota Twins, was on a Friday in front of more than 30,000 people at Kauffman Stadium. The pressure was on, as the Twins were throwing veteran Brad Radke on the mound. Greinke responded with a great start, allowing only one run in seven innings, which took him only 100 pitches. The run, a Michael Cuddyer home run in the fifth, would tie the game at 1-1, the same score when Greinke left after seven innings. Kansas City would scrap a run across in the ninth, giving former starter Jeremy Affeldt, and not the deserving Greinke, the win.

Now tune to yesterday, as Greinke would make his debut against the lowly Detroit Tigers. Zack pitched fantastic, allowing only two runs (a 2-run blast by Brandon Inge in the second) on six hits and two walks in seven innings. He was Greg Maddux-like efficient again, throwing only 99 pitches during the start. Unfortunately for Greinke, he was pinned against Tiger right-hander Jason Johnson, who held the Royals scoreless. So, after three starts, Greinke is yet to give up three runs in a game, and yet to notch his first Major League victory. It's a little early for Greinke to be appearing on the Baseball Prospectus unluckiest pitchers list, but he's got my vote.

And finally, we move to player #3, the Rockies southpaw Jeff Francis. Thus far, I'm most happy with my placement of him on my top 50 list, as I didn't see him that high anywhere else before the year. Pardon me for tooting my own horn, but here's what I wrote in February:

Heres my guarantee: you wont find another prospect ranking in the world that has Jeff Francis in the top fifty but right here. The reason behind that is an e-mail that I saved thanks to Kevin Goldsteins Baseball America Prospect Report. In Francis last fifteen starts, he went 10-1, 1.06, showing the type of prospect he really is. Francis has a big body and is very durable, but needs to refine his pitches before blasting off.
*- Im very high on Francis, and I expect the Canadian to dominate AA in 2004. With Tsao and Francis atop their rotation, the Rockies should boost that road record in coming years.

And domination it has been. On Tuesday, Francis struck out fourteen batters in eight innings, and his one run allowed dropped the ERA to 2.12 for the season. As Kevin Goldstein of the BAPR wrote, Francis now leads the Texas League in innings pitched, wins, ERA, and strikeouts. A pitching triple crown? Maybe I should have put him in my top 25!

Anyways, that's what I have to offer today. While I can't give direct links (computer issues), check out Batters Box and Baseball Prospectus for some cool draft coverage in the last couple days. And watch the Hardball Times, as Craig Burley keeps rolling out his college statistics mat, my vote for discovery of the year by an on-line sabermatrician, although no such award exists. If the Padres pick Stephen Drew first overall, expect the Tigers to select Jered Weaver, Jeff Niemann to cover the New York tabloids, Homer Bailey get Tampa's selection, and Phillip Humber to drop to the Brewers. More on the draft next week, and keep watching for what I've now dubbed as the "inevitable B.J. Upton June call-up."


I currently go to school here in Tulsa and have had the pleasure to watch Francis pitch 3 times this year. His performance Tuesday night was simply incredible. He was a man against boys. The opponent, Frisco (Rangers' affiliate) had some good players but no one could muster anything than a bloop single. Even Francis's 2 walks were the result of questionable calls by the umpire.
I hope that the Rockies flirt with .500 this year so they wind up trading Francis for a short term solution like Julio Franco. As much as I admire Francis's skills, an extended stay in Colorado could really hurt him.

B.J. Upton to me looks like Derek Jeter circa 1999, what do you think? I'm also of the personal opinion that he should have been the consensus number 1 prospect in baseball before the season, and Joe Mauer.

You know Fabian, I was going to write up a piece reviewing my prospect rankings, and I was going to mention that. I was never half as high on Mauer as everybody else, but I think I fell into the Mauer hype, and put him at #1. I'm just glad I saw enough in Upton to put him at #2.

As for Jeter, Upton has A LOT more power than Jeter does, and is probably a little more raw on the bases. I like Alan Trammell with more consistent power as a comparison myself.

Just to clarify, I stated Jeter '99, which would be MVP Jeter. One of the top seasons ever by a shortstop. In that season he had an ISOP of about .200+ I think. If you think Upton is better than that, you'll have to convince me how that is possible.