WTNYJuly 28, 2004
Tidying Up
By Bryan Smith

In case you missed it, the product of all my prospect rankings is in the post below. I haven’t responded to any comments in the last week, all in an effort for this article. Now, it will return to the old format, when I try to respond to each comment quickly and thoroughly. Thank you very much for your input throughout my rankings, my readers were the sole reason to go from ranking 40 prospect to 100.

Today’s article is somewhat of a notes piece, with the focus on answering the questions that have recently been posed to me. After that, I will give updates on a few graduated prospects and a look back to March. But first, time for some...

Reader Mail Part 1: When 100 is Just Too Small

Richie asks: Hey great job on the rankings, just wanted to know where Matt Peterson of the Mets would rank. He's been pretty good at AA, dominating at times but wild others.

Matt Peterson is a very interesting case, but I can assure you that he would fall into the top 110. The former Big 10 hurler has met every challenge the Mets have posed, with one noticeable flaw: not a ton of strikeouts. Yes, I know studies have discounted the importance of the minor league K/9 rate, but if most of the prospects on this list are better, it’s hard to ignore.

But, let me say, if Peterson keeps the ERA down and the strikeouts low, my opinion of him may change. There have been many pitchers succeed without a lot of K’s, it is just too early to judge if Matt Peterson can be one of those guys. What is more worrisome than the K/9 is the K/BB, sitting at a pedestrian 2.00 this season. Also, after giving up only 4 HR in 2003, Peterson has allowed 11 in just over 100 innings this season. Remember, it’s the peripherals, not the ERA that makes a prospect. But, don’t rule Peterson out as a top prospect, I’m sure not.

JH asks: Ok, now I see that you consciously left Lopez off the list...so I guess my question now would be why?

Followed by Paul: I have to agree that the continued omission of Jose Lopez appears just obstinate at this point. Perhaps some explanation on your prospect philosophy would help (only high upside). It seems to me that Lopez is a near lock to have a starting job next year in Seattle and should be a regular for a long time to come. I'll grant that he doesn't project as a certain All-Star, but he does fairly project to be an above-average major league infielder and that should place him safely above the likes of Mark "call me Randa, if I'm lucky" Teahen.

If I’ll admit anything, I’ll say that Jose Lopez is a better middle infield prospect than Alberto Callaspo, who I mistakenly ranked 100. Jose’s omission was the product of being a bit short-sighted, something I’ll try to improve with each ranking. But, in my opinion, Jose Lopez is no better than the #100.

Why is that? Jose Lopez is a third basemen, as his defense has proved throughout the minors. And while his offensive power numbers are nice, I just don’t know if he projects to hit enough for a third basemen. Purely contact hitters can fall victim to some pretty bad luck, and I’m not convinced Lopez isn’t the hitter we saw last year. His patience is ever-so-slowly improving, but a .331 OBP still isn’t acceptable. You have to love the power, though ever reaching his current .496 slugging isn’t likely in the Majors, especially at Safeco.

I’m sorry Lopez fans, I just don’t see the potential here. Maybe another Jose Valentin, or just another bench player with some pop.

Reader Mail Part 2: On the Verge

Fabian comments: ...It's nice to see Melky Cabrera get some attention. While I think he will develop more home run power, I don't think he will have that much. From the times I've seen him play he doesn't seem to have the body-type or swing of a guy who will give you very good home run numbers. I think he will be a very good leadoff or number two hitter though. Also, the reason I think you don't hear him hyped is that the entire Yankee OF will have their contracts run out over the next two years so he might be the rare Yankee prospect to get a shot.

First, it will be smart to mention that I have not seen Melky Cabrera play baseball. In fact, there is a very minute number of prospects I have witnessed, so my opinion is strictly based off word of mouth and statistics. With that being said, I do think that Cabrera may develop power in the upcoming seasons.

As an 19-year-old in 1987, Bernie Williams split an injury-shortened season between the short-season NYPL and the Florida State League. Though his season only amassed 164 at-bats, Williams only had 7 extra-base hits, all doubles. His age 20 season, 1988, was spent in the A-ball Carolina League, where Williams hit .335. His Isolated Power jumped from about .042 in 1987 to .152 in 1988. While his overall numbers would take a hit in 1989 (AA and AAA), Williams would again see a rise in Isolated Power. Finally, in 1992, Williams would graduate to the Major Leagues with a career .173 ISO.

Cabrera, also a switch-hitting centerfielder, has split this season between the Midwest League and the Florida State League. Cabrera hit better in the Midwest League, but the FSL has given Cabrera a boost in Isolated Power. Nineteen extra-base hits in 171 low-A at-bats gave Cabrera a .462 slugging, in other words a .129 ISO. Though he’s hitting only .295 with Tampa, Cabrera’s .438 ISO is a Williams-esque .148.

But, there are differences between the two. Williams stole at least 18 bases in every minor league season, while Cabrera only has 10 this season. Bernie’s plate discipline was superb in the minors, where he finished with 412 walks against 454 strikeouts. This is good for a 1.10 K/BB rate, while Cabrera’s 54/31 mark this season works out to be 1.74.

I really like the Cabrera-Williams comparison, and will keep an eye on that in the coming years. Fabian is right, the Yankees will have some holes in the outfield coming soon, and as of right now I expect Melky Cabrera to fill one of them.

OFF asks: Probably not top 100 worthy, but I was wondering what do you think of Met third-baseman Aarom Baldiris [307/385/389]? Lack of power is a concern but I fully expect him to go crazy next year once he reaches the hitter-friendly EL. Obviously he'll have to switch positions if he's ever going to play in Flushing, but a move to 2b can only help his prospect status. I may be alone on this one, but I think he could be Fonzie-lite.

First of all, you read it right, the kid’s name is Aarom Baldiris. As Avkash Patel pointed out to me, the third basemen announced it before this season, though it was news to me last week.

After breaking out of his shell a bit last year in the Sally League, Baldiris is up to his old tricks with a frustrating .082 Isolated Slugging Percentage. His patience and contact skills are superb, but a third basemen simply can’t be successful with a SLG below .400. OFF pointed out Edgardo Alfonzo, who I’m not convinced is a great comp to Baldiris.

Alfonzo’s Florida State League season came in 1998, when Fonzie was just 19 years old. The then-third basemen hit .294 that season, and walked 57 times in 494 at-bats. His low .409 slugging was a bit concerning considering his position, but there had been worse seen than a .115 ISO. In 1994, Alfonzo would hit .293 in the Eastern League, though his .460 slugging would give him a huge boost in ISO. His fantastic ’94 season would earn him an everyday job in 1995, at the tender age of 21.

Baldiris is 21-years-old right now. He’s not playing everyday in the Majors, instead he’s in the midst of Fonzie’s age 19 season. But despite being two years older, his ISO is about 26% less than Alfonzo’s was in the FSL. His plate discipline is just as good, but his defense and speed weren’t like Edgardo’s in his hey-day. The idea of moving a third basemen with 17 errors in 94 games to the middle infield does not sound like a good one, even if Baldiris can’t hit enough to stay at the hot corner.

Baldiris is blocked by two great players, Wright and Reyes, which should put him on the trade block for the Mets. He fits in somewhere behind Matt Peterson as the Mets’ ninth or tenth prospect, which gives him decent value. I think he’ll end up in a different organization, though I don’t think Baldiris will ever be anything special.

Reader Mail Part 3: East Coast Depth (or lack thereof)

Dave responds: So, if I remember correctly, that's two Red Sox in the entire list of 100, right? And they're not even quality prospects? Brendan Moss was low 70s, as I recall. Sigh. At least we have Youkilis. Yay.

You recall correctly Dave, as Brandon Moss (#70) and Abe Alvarez (#72) were the only two Red Sox prospects to make this list. Before Theo Epstein’s tenure began, the Red Sox farm system was disastrous. Dan Duquette loved trading from the minors, and Mike Port did not have the time to fix the problem. Bringing in a philosophy similar to that in Moneyball, though not as extreme, Theo has helped to slowly build was might be a respected farm system.

After Youkilis, there really isn’t a lot in the higher levels. Readers of this site know how much I like Alvarez, who earned a spot start against Baltimore last week. And despite struggles this year, it’s a little early to rule out Kelly Shoppach as a prospect. Brandon Moss was mentioned, and his status is rising steadily as his great numbers stay consistent. Another good low-level prospect is Hanley Ramirez, who has put himself back on the map after doing well in short-season ball. Finally, Sally Leaguer Jeremy West has pretty good numbers at the first base position, and should be Moss’ Bash Brother for the next few years.

Furthermore, the Red Sox have had some great output from their draft, as well as their most recent Caribbean signing. The club’s first three picks, Dustin Pedroia, Andrew Dobies and Tommy Hottovy have all gotten off to great starts. Pedroia, often unfairly compared to David Eckstein, is hitting .406/.486/.594 through his first 8 games. Dobies has a 1.86 ERA in 9.2 innings, during which he’s struck out 16 and walked one. Hottovy, a closer at Wichita State, has yet to give up a run in 10 innings this year, allowing five hits and no walks. Finally, expensive sign Luis Soto has a .261 ISO in 88 at-bats, despite concerns about his defense and plate discipline.

There is more on the way Dave, and this organization should be top 15 before too long.

OFF also asked: I was wondering what do you think of Brett Harper? He's a little bit too old for the league, but a 1.000 OPS in the FSL is pretty impressive.

A 45th round selection, Brett Harper entered the year with a career .094 ISO in 607 at-bats. The 23-year-old has broke out with St. Lucie this year, hitting .350/.440/.564 before being promoted. He’s played just five games in the Eastern League, but already has three extra-base hits.

Harper is undoubtedly a better prospect than Craig Brazell, a player that caught the eye of many Mets’ fans after last season. If AA is not too much a test, Harper can no longer be considered old for his league, and could be considered a real prospect. I would probably rank him a little over Baldiris at this point, and I think of him as a poor man’s Michael Aubrey, without the great defense.

Thanks for the questions, please leave any more in the comments. And now, it’s time for...

Ex-Prospect Updates

In today’s first edition of EPU, we will detail the rise of hitters Justin Morneau, Grady Sizemore, Alexis Rios and David Wright. Also, the poor performances of Abe Alvarez and Travis Blackley demand looks as well.

Of these six, Morneau has highest bragging rights, as his good play has led to Doug Mientkiewicz’s upcoming trade. Morneau’s 0-5 series opener against Chicago ended what had been a nine-game hitting streak, during which he had three home runs, and hit .333 in 39 at-bats. Morneau’s season numbers are up to .278/.316/.528, proving that his recall to the Major Leagues had been much overdue. The Canadian will surely not be playing in the Olympics, as the Twins have every intention to give him an everyday job in the second half. With a few more walks, Morneau will become far and away the best Twins’ hitter...he might be anyway.

After beginning his Major League career 0/4, Grady Sizemore has reached base in each of his last six games, raising his line to .294/.455/.588. The high slugging is due to a July 25 home run, when Sizemore went yard on former top prospect Zack Greinke, who demands an upcoming article himself. Grady has taken the Indians centerfield job by storm, a position he isn't likely to relinquish anytime soon.

Still looking for his first career home run is Alexis Rios, who isn’t exactly living up to the Dave Winfield comparison I gave him before the season. But the 6-6 outfielder isn’t doing too shabby, hitting .346/.384/.519 in the month of June. Alexis passed the 50-game mark over the weekend, and doesn’t appear to be looking back. The Blue Jays will give Rios no competition for playing time next year, when they expect the 23-year-old to start hitting a few more home runs.

David Wright, ranked second in my midseason list, is struggling the most of the three, hitting .167 through his first 24 at-bats. But things looked to be improving on Monday, when Wright hit his first career home run off Expos’ starter John Patterson. Wright, the youngest of the bunch, should have the slowest transition to the Majors. But, this should not prevent the Mets from trading Ty Wigginton, who saw his trade value jump with an early-July hot streak.

I already mentioned that Abe Alvarez was given a spot start last week, though I didn’t say how badly it went. Alvarez went five innings, allowing eight hits and five walks before being taken out with 95 pitches. Home runs by Miguel Tejada and Melvin Mora helped contribute to Abe’s five earned runs, but I think it’s too early for Red Sox nation to cut bait on Alvarez. He was pushed a little fast this year, though I hope Alvarez is at least allowed to give Bronson Arroyo some competition next Spring.

Travis Blackley was ranked 25th in my preliminary rankings, but his Major League pitching thus far has indicated it should be worse. Through five starts, Blackley has a 10.38 ERA, thanks to allowing eight home runs and 20 walks in 21.2 innings. I just can’t understand this, because it doesn’t correlate with what Travis has done in the past. Seattle likely won’t keep running Blackley out there, but I hope they help fix this problem before his confidence is too trashed.

Finally, a look back...

Lastly, I wanted to point a few things I wrote on March 5, in a piece entitiled “Break Out! Version 3.” In an attempt to identify potential minor league breakout candidates I wrote these tidbits...

ATLANTA: Jake Stevens (LHP): In the third round of last June’s draft, the Braves made a typical choice. A left-handed Southern starter with a good body and good stuff. Like Dan Meyer and Marty McBride before him, Stevens already possesses two good pitches, and a third is on the way. The Braves do great work with needy young starters, and I expect the same from Stevens this year.
BOSTON: Abe Alvarez (LHP): For some reason, I trust Dirtbags. Long Beach State has a fine baseball pedigree, producing talent ranging from Jason Giambi to Jered Weaver. Lost in the Weaver hype last year was Abe Alvarez, the southpaw that Theo spent his first ever second-round pick on. Alvarez lacks the ‘stuff’ that scouts love, but he always gets the job done. The New York-Pennsylvania league was a joke, as Alvarez didn’t allow a run in nineteen innings. The team will likely push Alvarez, who could end up in AA this season.
CHICAGO: Bobby Brownlie (RHP): Already somewhat of a prospect, I am under the belief that Brownlie is ready to explode. Had it not been for arm fatigueness, Brownlie was a lock for a top five pick, instead dropping more than twenty choices to the Chicago Cubs. Brownlie has one of the better curveballs in the minor leagues, and also changes speeds pretty well. He’s an injury concern, but the Cubs gave him the last month of the season off, he’d been playing for eight months straight. Brownlie could catapult threw Cubs’ rankings this year, don’t be surprised if he ends up #1 next year.
COLORADO: Jeff Francis (LHP): I talked about Francis when I put him in my top 50, and I’ll talk about him again. He is a prospect right now, but underrated by many. I’m under the belief that Francis will be a top ten pitching prospect in baseball next year, he offered the whole package in high-A last year. Francis was 10-1, 1.06 in his last thirteen starts, and is a dominating force on the mound. His future isn’t that bright due to Coors Field, but I expect Francis to be larger than Chin-Hui Tsao at this time next year.
HOUSTON: Fernando Nieve (RHP): I hate praising Houston, but not many teams have been better at recognizing the small market for small pitchers. Nieve is not tall, but instead has sensational movement on his fastball. His peripheral numbers were much better than his ERA last season, and Nieve could break out big in high Class A this year.

I don’t mean to toot my horn too much, but it’s cool to look back, ain’t it? I should mention I also wrote about Jeff Allison (currently in drug treatment), Jason Cooper (hitting .238 in AA), and Lorenzo Scott (hitting .183 in SS ball). But, I was just going for one.

Hope you enjoyed today’s piece, come back next Monday for more.


I'm not sure I agree with your assessment of Lopez. He's still only 20 years old, so his defense will almost definitely improve in the next couple of years. Even if he has to be a third baseman, his numbers still look pretty good to me. He needs to improve his walk rate, but his contact rate is fantastic, having only struck out 27 times. His current line is .298/.344/.506. He's putting up great numbers at 20 years old against competition that's on average 3-5 years older than him, and he's doing it in the biggest pitchers' park in the PCL. I think he's 2 years away, but in that time, if his plate discipline and defense improves I think we're looking at something special.

With 5 prospects in the top 50, I would say the Mets farm system is in the top 5 in the majors. What are in your opinion the top 5 systems in the game?

The Devil Rays now have the game's best system. What say you?