More Where That Came From
In June of 2002, the Pittsburgh Pirates had the decision between Brian Bullington and B.J. Upton for the first overall choice. Seeing a higher chance for success in Bullington, they went with the 'Moneyball' theme, selecting a college player over a high school one. Tampa, like the Cubs had with Mark Prior the year before, picked up the best player in the draft with the next overall selection. Upton, was the best prospect in baseball until yesterday (he was called up), while Bullington is struggling in AA.
Following the Devil Rays selection, Jim Bowden had a difficult choice in the three spot. The Reds, known more for economical choices than anything else, were left deciding between two high school pitchers: Chris Gruler and Scott Kazmir. With Kazmir's bonus demands growing by the day, Cincinnati was eventually forced to go with Gruler. Similar decisions took place for the Orioles and Angels, who drafted Adam Loewen and Joe Saunders in the fourth and 12th spots respectively. The Mets, never letting green effect their course, chose Kazmir fifteenth in the draft. Since then, Kazmir has flown to 10th on my prospect lists, while Gruler has pitched all but ten starts in two years, Loewen's ERA is 4.61 in low-A, and Saunders is slowly recovering from arm surgery.
And then there is 2003, where due to a pitiful Major League season in 2002, the Devil Rays were slotted first for the June draft. After first considering every player under the sun, Tampa eventually narrowed their selection down to Delmon Young and Golden Spikes award winner Rickie Weeks. Convinced waiting for greatness was better than quick rewards, Lamar selected the outfielder with Major League pedigree first overall. Young is currently hitting .295/.348/.487 in the Sally League, while Weeks has a .254 batting average in AA.
Upton, Kazmir, Young. All in one organization, projecting out to one team. No club in recent memory has had a trio of prospects like Tampa does now. Some say this will turn out to be Derek Jeter, Billy Wagner and Albert Belle. Some call for more, some predict less. But, the Devil Rays join the Cleveland Indians as the only teams to have three top 20 prospects, with Tampa's lot far better than Grady Sizemore, Franklin Gutierrez and Michael Aubrey.
What could make this all the scarier for AL East fans is that Jeff Niemann fell to Tampa in the most recent Major League draft. After a 17-0, 11.70 ERA season as a sophomore in 2003, Niemann was a lock for the number one pick before offseason arm surgery shook his career for a scare. Niemann struggled a bit through his junior year, finishing the season with an ERA, gasp, above 3.00. But scouts are convinced the 6-9 Rice product will revert back to his old self with rest, mixing a high-90s fastball with a power curve sure to land him in a top 25 prospect list. Four in the top 25? Yikes.
For this to happen, Tampa must show increased awareness of their prospect’s arms. I thought the Mets, even before Rick Peterson arrived, did a fantastic job with Kazmir. Due to the combination of his small size and big fastball, scouts have always been wary of the southpaw’s arm. Another scouting concern is whether Kazmir, who lacks a good offspeed pitch, will make it as a starter. Lord knows he’ll be given every opportunity to do so, judging from Dewon Brazelton’s 97 different chances. Tampa has lacked an ace since coming into the league, and now have found a potential ace somewhere between B.J. Upton and Delmon Young.
If we’re praising GMs for stealing prospects, Allard Baird deserves some recognition for his New York heist. Baird, who took loads of heat during the Royals’ long sub-.500 run, is seemingly becoming more accepted of late. In full rebuilding mode shortly after the Beltran trade, Baird saw fit to acquire Rule V pick Jose Bautista for absolutely nothing (cash). And now, after about 20 harmless games in KC, the club miraculously found an interested buyer in Pittsburgh. So with the Mets affixed on Kris Benson, Jim Duquette was quick to send Justin Huber to the Royals.
Admittedly a bit overrated in my rankings, Huber is still undoubtedly one of the game’s top five catching prospects, if not second. Bad defense has led people to believe the Australian will be forced to make the Carlos Delgado, catcher to first, switch. Some wonder whether Huber has the power to succeed there, though his current ISO (nearing .200) is quieting those complaints. John Buck will likely be given the Royals job in 2005, and his performance there should dictate where Huber ultimately ends up.
Hill and Murphy
This move alters Arizona’s future considerably, as the 2007 everyday lineup now has Hill behind the dish, not Robby Hammock. It is a great upgrade, as Hill is currently my sixth best catching prospect in baseball. He’s not the threat that Justin Huber is at the plate, but he’s a better catcher and more Major League ready. If you’re keeping tabs on who will be playing in Phoenix come 2007, you should be thinking along these lines:
Now the question is if Bill Murphy fits into the plans as well. Most places would tell you that Murphy is a better acquisition than Hill, but not me. Despite good stuff, Murphy has allowed far too many walks and home runs to project into a future All-Star. In fact, there is probably an equal probability he ends up a reliever. Murphy would have probably landed in my next group of ten prospects, while I would guess Baseball America thinks of him much higher.
Also worth noting is the fact that with Murphy moving on, the new #2 Marlins prospect is Jason Stokes. Murphy had jumped over both Stokes and Scott Olsen, who was almost out in Bill’s place. Stokes has fantastic raw power, and with Choi’s trade, projects to be the Marlins; 2006 first basemen. Someone to watch is Robert Andino, who flew through short-season ball, and is flying up the shortstop rankings. Keep watching to see if he slows down, because if not, the Marlins may have another Edgar Renteria.
Cubs, old and new
Justin Jones had taken the worst fall of a Cubs’ prospect this year (well, maybe Blasko), dropping from the #2 prospect to somewhere around 8-10. This can be attributed to both the sore elbow he’s complained of since his professional arrival, and his less-than-dominating performance in the Midwest League. Often compared to Scott Kazmir, Jones has taken a much slower path than his southpaw counterpart thus far. Still, Jones’ stuff alone is enough to make him the Twins’ third or fourth best pitching prospect. And what did they get him for? Oh, just the opportunity to start Justin Morneau everyday. If it’s true, that defense at first base is overrated, Minnesosta improved themselves in a big way here. Now if they could just find a buyer for Luis Rivas!
I was a bit surprised to see Harris included in the deal, as he’s been a favorite of Hendry’s since he was managing the farm system. Harris, who Baseball Prospectus once compared to Albert Pujols (sorry, couldn’t pass that one up), was coming on strong at AAA before a meaningless promotion. The infielder hit .400 playing everyday in June, along with a .700 slugging percentage. My guess is that Harris will be the 2005 Washington Senators’ third basemen, with Maicer Izturis at shortstop. The switch-hitting Izturis is hitting .365/.447/.442 in AAA, with only twenty strikeouts and eight errors in 74 games. Included in the Scott Stewart trade this past winter, the 23-year-old has hit around .440 in his last 20 games.
And finally, there is Matt Murton, who Theo Epstein admitted he grudgingly included into the Nomah! trade. Murton was originally drafted by the Cubs, decided to go to Georgia Tech, and later won the Cape Cod home run crown. He was one of Epstein’s first draft picks, all after hitting .344/.434/.536 during his final college season. While this is a bit short of Mark Teixeira’s .427/.547/.772 line at GT, it still projects very well. Murton’s power has dipped a bit this season, but the numbers should improve in his final month, seeing as Daytona favors hitters. Murton, in my opinion, becomes the eighth best Cubs prospect, with this being my top ten:
1. Felix Pie
That’s still a damn good top ten considering it lost two players yesterday. Ol’ Hendry does it again.
Mets, old and new
Almost immediately after posting my final 100, a reader asked me why I didn’t include Matt Peterson onto the list. My guess, judging from New York stereotypes, is that same reader agrees with my decision now that Peterson has moved onto Pittsburgh. I just don’t understand why, after striking out 153 in 137.2 innings last year, Peterson’s K numbers are so far down this year. A sub-9.00 K/9 and 2.00 K/BB is just not the makings of a great prospect, though the Pirates will be praying I’m wrong. But, Peterson joins a strength of the organization, as the Pirates have become flush in pitching prospects: Van Benschoten, Burnett (doesn’t apply), Bullington, Peterson, Ian Snell, Tom Gorzelanny, Zach Duke, Bobby Bradley, etc.
Mets’ fans were in depression this weekend, seeing that their GM traded away about half their farm system. But to solace New Yorkers, few teams would complain about owning the rights to the Wright-Petit-Milledge trio. Jeff Keppinger helped ease the pain as well, as Mets fans saw the 24-year-old second basemen was hitting .334/.384/.409 in the Eastern League. Keppinger reminds me a bit of Dustin Pedroia, one of the Red Sox first picks this year, and even more so after seeing Keppinger’s last college season saw him hit .389/.480/.691. Keppinger’s career minor league line should read about .310/.360/.410 right now, which should be good enough for some team to want him this winter. That’s surely what Duquette must be thinking, as he’s stuck with Reyes and Matsui up the middle for a while.
Dealt: A Ranking
Since I just can’t get enough of these rankings, I thought I’d rank the 20 prospects that changed teams this weekend. Below, along with their new organizations:
1. Scott Kazmir- Tampa Bay Devil Rays
That’s all for today, I’ll be back with more come Wednesday.