WTNYAugust 18, 2004
A Pack
By Bryan Smith

While I dont have the link, Ill never forget my favorite Rob Neyer column of old. An idol of mine, I thought his articles describing players that he found in a pack of trading cards were excellent. This site is supposed to emphasize players 25 and under, usually prohibiting me from writing a similar piece. But while in Target recently, I found a pack of Bowman trading cards. For you non-collectors, Bowman features not only Major Leaguers, but minor leaguers in their packs.

So, thinking of that Neyer column, I treated myself to a pack of 2004 Bowman baseball cards. The packs feature Delmon Young, last years first overall choice and currently one of the games top three prospects, behind only Andy Marte and Felix Hernandez. Each pack has ten cards, half of which are minor league players. I also believe that within the five minor league cards comes one First Bowman year card, a thicker, gold card. Each of the ten features a replica autograph, along with a picture on the front. The back features the basics (height, weight, etc.), a scouting report (with resume and skillset), and the players 2003 statistics. Minor league scouting reports for three dollars?

Whether by design or coincidence, I opened my pack to the five minor leaguers in sequence, followed by their Major League counterparts. All five minor league cards are commented on below. So, I opened the pack to find

Card 1: Ricky Nolasco
Pitcher, Chicago Cubs, AA

Skills: Throws with over-the-top motionImpresses
with strong, reliable armSolidly built prospect who
gets good late movement on fastball.

Often lost in the great pitching depth of the Cubs system, Nolasco opened some eyes with a sub-3.00 ERA in Daytona in 2003. The late movement the Bowman card speaks of is referring to the sinking fastball Nolasco throws. A former fourth round draft pick, Nolascos stock was climbing rapidly at seasons beginning. After six starts, Nolasco had a 2.45 ERA in AA, earning a promotion to the Iowa Cubs. I say earning lightly, since his K/9 was under 9.00 and K/BB was under 2.00. And in three of the four starts before his promotion, Nolasco allowed more hits than innings. In those four, Nolasco had a K/BB of 14/11, and gave up all his three home runs allowed in each of his last 3 starts.

So, the Cubs were probably pressing a bit on the promotion. This showed when his trip to Iowa crashed and burned, resulting in arguably the worst promotion Ive seen this season. Nolasco had a 9.30 ERA in nine PCL starts, allowing 68 hits in 40.1 innings. He struck out only 28 batters, while allowing sixteen walks. But the organization waited this long to demote Nolasco, as they were content with a AA rotation of Bobby Brownlie, Angel Guzman, Sean Marshall, Chadd Blasko and Carmen Pignatiello. But the team finally bit the bullet, and sent the struggling Californian back to Jackson, TN.

Struggles have continued in Nolascos second AA stint, where hes allowed a 5.10 ERA in nine starts since returning. Hes allowed 54 hits in 47.2 innings, striking out 50 while walking 15. The improvements in K/9, W/9 and K/BB are encouraging, and his ERA is boosted by one start. On August 10, Nolasco allowed eight runs in 4.1 innings, and if taken away, would drop his 2nd stint ERA to 3.95. Not so bad, right?

In my opinion, Nolasco is not the prospect the Cubs thought after six 2004 starts, but more of a prospect than the average fan would see in his current numbers. His H/9 is still way too high, but there is evidence that Nolasco is improving as a pitcher.

Card 2: Leo Nunez
Pitcher, Pittsburgh Pirates, High-A

Skills: Top-notch arm strengthOccasionally gets into
the mid-90sExcellent command of fastballUses slider
as second-best pitchWill try to develop secondary
offerings.

Ill admit to not knowing Leo Nunezs name before opening my pack, but since, Ive started to like the guy. I was first insulted by his arrival in my pack, as his picture is reminiscent of a cocky high school player. The card is quick to say that Nunez weighs in at 150 pounds, and when looking at him, you might not even believe that.

Considering his place of origin (Dominican), his size (lanky) and his stuff, Nunez reminds me greatly of Juan Cruz. Cruz struggled his first two years after signing, not faring well in the Arizona League and Northwest League at ages 17 and 18, respectively. The light turned on as a 19-year-old in the Midwest League, where he had a 3.28 ERA in 17 games. After an average AA season at age 20, along with a few Major League starts, Cruz began his full-time Major League career at age 21.

The problem with this comparison, is that Nunez just turned 21, and is currently pitching in the Sally League. He struggled there last year, after spending the prior two years in the Gulf Coast League. This season the light has turned on, as Nunez has a 2.97 ERA in fourteen appearances. Hes allowed just 107 hits and 41 walks in 127.1 innings, while striking out 125. His 12 home runs allowed makes the Cruz comparison more apt, as my complaint with Juan has always fell in the HR column.

Nunez is on a much slower pace than Juan Cruz was, but seems to be of a similar style. He should be gaining more attention than he currently has, but really has the makings of a top 100 prospect. But to really succeed, this kid HAS to fill out.

Card 3: Jared Wells
Pitcher, San Diego Padres, High-A

Skills: Blessed with a live armThrows in
low-to-mid-90s..Can reach 97 mph on occasionOwns
solid secondary pitches.

Live arms look nice on a scouting report, but they dont matter much to opposing hitters. Wells was a 2002 draft-and-follow, spending half of his year as one of the nations best junior college pitchers. He pitched solid in his 14 start debut, though striking out 53 in 78.2 innings is not exactly what a live arm should do. Believe me, this trend continues.

Wells started this season in the Midwest League, with less than jaw-dropping numbers. In 81.1 innings, Wells allowed 91 hits and struck out just 72, but somehow earned a promotion. His walk and home run totals were pretty low, but there was no reason to think he was ready for the California League. And looking back, nine CL appearances later, there is still no reason to believe that. Wells has a 5.70 ERA, and has struck out just 25 in 47.1 innings. Combine that with 59 hits, and what you dont have is a real prospect.

Kevin Towers: Its time to shut this kid down, tell him to go home for the year. Maybe send him to the Instructional League where he can be taught the arm of pitching, because it isnt going well.

Card 4: David Aardsma
Pitcher, San Francisco Giants, AAA

Skills: A power pitcher who owns excellent control of
his fastballGets good break on his slider and
curveHas proven he can shut the door.

Brian Sabean is known for off-the-wall first round draft picks, and Aardsma is no exception. Thinking he might need a solid relief arm down the 2003 stretch or for the 2004 season, Sabean selected Aardsma, fresh off closer duties for the nations top college team. After quickly signing Aardsma, the team sent him to the California League, where the right-hander allowed two runs in 18.1 innings and struck out 28.

The team toyed with converting Aardsma to a starter, trying to harness the skills he possessed as a reliever. But the idea was scrapped when it appeared the 04 Giants were in need of some relief help. With Robb Nen out for the season, the team was hoping Aardsma would make the quick step to the Majors that his college relief counterpart Chad Cordero did. Things looked well after six appearances, when his ERA stood at a solid 1.80. Now the ERA is 6.23, which translates to things fell apart after six appearances.

When pitching in the Pacific Coast League, things have gone well for the Rice right-hander. He has a 2.64 ERA in 38 appearances, and has allowed just 38 hits in 47.2 innings. The good news is that hes also given up only one home run. The bad news, is hes allowed 25 walks. The first two, along with a K/9 just under 9.00, bodes well for the Giants 2005 projected closer. He could just take the job now, I mean, Dustin Hermanson is closing.

Card 5: Jerome Gamble
Pitcher, Boston Red Sox, AA

Skills: Plays off 93-mph fastball with improving
change-upBreaks off a hard curveKeeps ball below
kneesCommitted worker with nice upside.

Not exactly the best person to have the gold card of. Gamble was selected in the fourth round of the 1998 draft out of high school. Hes looked solid in two different Sally League appearances, one before and one after Tommy John Surgery in 2001. And then he was selected by the Reds in the 2003 Rule V draft, but failed to make the team out of Spring Training. Things look to be going downhill for the right-hander that was once the Red Sox best pitching prospect.

Now, in the Eastern League, Gamble has struck out just 36 in 61.2 innings. Like Wells from above, he has some solid numbers, but nothing that should get you too excited.

But for some reason, Jerome Gamble reminds me of Kenny Baugh. The Tigers selected Baugh in the first round of the 2001 draft, 11th overall. He had been the ace of Rice in both his Junior and Senior seasons, during which his ERA was about 2.00 and he threw 260 innings. This is a ton for college pitchers, and IIRC, Prospectus even predicted his downfall. Arm surgery came in 2002, when Baugh missed the entire season before debuting in high-A in 2003. After just four starts, Baugh was moved up to the Eastern League, where he had a 4.60 ERA in nineteen appearances.

My interest in college baseball began in Baugh senior season, and I always looked fondly on the right-hander that was so dominant in the NCAA. So in an article before the season, I predicted Baugh as one of my 2004 breakout prospects. While things are going slowly, I would think this has been a good year for Baugh, despite already surpassing the 140 inning mark in AA. He has a 3.72 ERA during that time, and a K/BB of about 2.50. There is no doubt that Baugh will be moved up to AAA next year, and is likely a candidate for some 2005 starts. Ill always like Kenny Baugh, and hopefully his chances in Detroit will go well.


And that is how the cookie crumbles. My Major League cards were solid: Podsednik, Blalock, Sosa, Ramirez, Colon, albeit unexciting. Sosa is currently my least favorite Cub, although you wont ever catch me admitting he was on steroids. Instead of Sosa, I think Solo fits him better.

Finally, let me give some ups to B.J. Upton, who hit his first Major League home run off Kelvim Escobar yesterday. Batting in the two-hole, Upton went 2/5, also doubling off Kevin Gregg. This raised my former #1 prospects season line to .357/.386/.548 in 42 at-bats. Tuesdays game gave the shortstop a seven-game hitting streak, during which he has thirteen hits in 28 at-bats. His largest struggles have come defensively, where hes already made three errors, though it sounds as it hes improving. But no matter how you slice it, Upton was the top prospect in baseball deservingly.

Comments

I think you're judging Cruz off his pre-Agegate DOB, which should affect your comparison some.

Bryan...
Excellent breakdown of your cards, but what mostly stuck in my mind was the Upton update--

In a conversation with an elder yester ever, a tender subject came to mind; what is the value of a defensive shortstop?

Hyped as the mother of positions throughout baseball history, SS has slowly lost defensive appeal in lieu of the $250 million dollar man ideal, more an offensive powerhouse than a playmaking assistant. With fields groomed thrice gamely and stadiums competing for cleanliness, there's little chance of a bad hop or a misplay, only allowing diving gap saves and up-the-middle 360s as showstopping events.

So maybe what I'm getting at is that Upton's defense or lack thereof has had a blind eye turned towards it just because the kid can hit, which, evidently, he can.

That saying, "Defense wins games," left baseball as soon as the steroids craze hit; how has the most well-built offensive team in BB (NYY) dominated the league for years now? Let's just say this: if the Pistons were baseball players instead of basketball players, they'd be forced into injection.

(AIM: urbanburger)