Baseball BeatOctober 29, 2004
...And The Envelope, Please
By Rich Lederer

The results of the Internet Baseball Writers Association (IBWA) Awards have been made public by Christian Ruzich at the All-Baseball.com home page.

My selections for Player of the Year (Barry Bonds and Vladimir Guerrero), Pitcher of the Year (Randy Johnson and Johan Santana), and Debut of the Year (Khalil Greene and Bobby Crosby) matched the consensus picks of the group.

The Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) will announce its awards during November. It will be interesting to compare the honorees from the IBWA with those from the BBWAA.

Baseball BeatOctober 29, 2004
The 1918 Red Sox Revisited
By Rich Lederer

Everyone knows by now that the Red Sox had not won a World Series in 86 years.

Everyone also knows that the Curse of the Bambino has now been 86'd.

Furthermore, everyone knows that the last time the Red Sox made it to the World Series was in '86.

But how many know that Fred Thomas, the last surviving member of the 1918 Boston Red Sox, died in '86?

Although Frederick Harvey Thomas (1892-1986) only played 41 games at third base for the Red Sox in 1918, he played more games at the hot corner than anyone else that year. Nine different BoSox manned the position, including first baseman Stuffy McInnis and catcher Wally Schang.

Thomas was a 25-year-old rookie in 1918. He made his debut on April 22, played sporadically throughout the season, and then started every game in the World Series as the Red Sox beat the Chicago Cubs four games to two. Thomas went 2-for-17 in the Series with no extra-base hits, runs or RBI. You might say he had a World Series like Scott Rolen. However, Thomas at least won a ring.

Tommy, as he was known, went on to have an undistiguished career. He played for the Cleveland Indians in 1919 and for the Indians and Washington Senators in 1920. His final game was August 9, 1920. He had lifetime on-base and slugging averages below .300 and an OPS+ of 65.

Other than playing in the World Series, Thomas' claim to fame might be the fact that he hit one of Boston's 15 home runs in 1918. A fellow by the name of Babe Ruth hit 11 and four others (including Thomas) had one each.

Ruth not only led the major leagues in home runs that season, but he also topped all players in extra-base hits (48), slugging average (.555), OPS (.966), and OPS+ (194). Oh, I almost forgot. Ruth finished ninth in the American League in ERA (2.22), second in WHIP (1.05), fourth in H/IP (.75) and W-L % (.650), and ninth in CG (18 out of 19 GS).

If that wasn't enough, Ruth was 2-0 with a 1.06 ERA in the World Series. He threw a complete game shutout in Game One and was the winning pitcher in Game Four when he blanked the Cubs for seven innings before giving up two runs in the eighth. Having completed 13 scoreless innings in his first World Series two years ago, Ruth strung together a total of 29 2/3 consecutive shutout innings--a World Series record that stood until Whitey Ford broke it in 1961.

Gosh, 1961. That was 43 years ago, an equidistance between the Red Sox World Series victories in 1918 and 2004.

(For those readers who are interested in learning more about the 1918 Red Sox, I suggest purchasing Allan Wood's, Babe Ruth and the 1918 Red Sox. Allan, who maintains The Joy of Sox website, will personally autograph the book if you order it directly from him. I bought the book for my son--an ardent Red Sox fan--last year, and I know he thoroughly enjoyed it.)

Baseball BeatOctober 28, 2004
Obituaries
By Rich Lederer
RIP The Curse of the Bambino 1918-2004

The Curse of the Bambino died last night in St. Louis. He passed away in front of a national television audience. The Curse was 86 years old.

The Curse battled to the bitter end and was only three outs away this postseason from extending his life. He will be missed by all who knew and loved him.

The Curse touched four generations of family, friends, and foes alike. His life spanned 16 presidents (from Woodrow Wilson to George W. Bush), two World Wars, The Great Depression, and The Cold War. It included World Series heartbreaks in 1946, 1967, 1975, and 1986 in which the BoSox lost the seventh and deciding game every time.

The Curse was preceded in death by Jimmie Foxx, Lefty Grove, and Ted Williams. He is survived by starting pitchers Derek Lowe, Pedro Martinez, Curt Schilling, and Tim Wakefield; relief pitchers Bronson Arroyo, Alan Embree, Keith Foulke, Curtis Leskanic, Mike Myers, and Mike Timlin; catchers Doug Mirabelli and Jason Varitek; infielders Mark Bellhorn, Orlando Cabrera, Doug Mientkiewicz, Kevin Millar, Bill Mueller, David Ortiz, Pokey Reese, and Kevin Youkilis; and outfielders Johnny Damon, Gabe Kapler, Trot Nixon, Manny Ramirez, and Dave Roberts.

Services will be held this weekend throughout Red Sox Nation. Eulogies will be offered by Johnny Pesky and Bill Buckner. Pallbearers will include Mel Parnell, Carl Yastrzemski, Jim Lonborg, Carlton Fisk, Luis Tiant, Dwight Evans, Fred Lynn, Jim Rice, Wade Boggs, Roger Clemens, Mo Vaughn, and Nomar Garciaparra.

In lieu of flowers, members of the Red Sox Nation are asked to make donations to help re-sign free agents such as Cabrera, Lowe, Martinez, and Varitek.

WTNYOctober 28, 2004
Important Misses
By Bryan Smith

Over the last few days, my narrow-focused articles have forced me to skip over a few big minor league topics. Today I want to run through those issues, even if not putting out a lengthy article. Enjoy, and please feel free to bounce around your minor league thoughts in my comments. Anything, questions to me, questions to fellow readers. Lets get a mL community here!

WTNY

Jason Kubel provided plenty of headlines this year, going from a average FSL outfielder, to a minor league superstar, to a player in the American League Division Series. Since his regular season ended, Kubel provided us with one more, along the tune of Kubel Likely Out for Most of 2005. Torn ACL. Not exactly what Terry Ryan had in mind.

In order to get Kubel some more at-bats, the Twins opted to send their star prospect to the Arizona Fall League. My guess is the team had in mind what I did: to get Kubel prepared enough to replace Jacque Jones. While Jones is not a free agent, there is no question that his trade could help replace the potential hole Brad Radke could leave.

Despite Kubels injury, the Twins can still trade Jones. This would mean the team uses an outfield of Stewart-Hunter-Ford, and insert Matt LeCroy and/or Joe Mauer in the DH spot. I would recommend this, but there is no question that Terry Ryan wanted his player to bring home the 2005 Rookie of the Year. I mean, this is a guy that Peter Gammons reported was untradeable by June.

I would be remiss to not answer the question, What does this injury do to effect Kubels prospect status? A lot, but maybe not as much as expected. Being a Cubs fan, I saw Corey Patterson tear his ACL running down the line in early July of 2003. Working extremely hard, Patterson was back to baseball-shape by February. Seven months. Kubels injury was a little more extensive, and should be out 9-10 months, with a possibility of the Twins being safe, and waiting for the knee to completely heal.

So, hes not gone from prospect lists. This probably drops him out of the top-five outfield prospects, a list where he recently was second or third (Delmon, Francoeur). Does it drop him from the top ten? I dont know, Ill leave that for another day

WTNY

Another story I missed, but my friend Rich Lederer backed me up on, was the Tigers signing of Justin Verlander. I missed the Tigers conference call on the signing by about sixty minutes, where the team credited Verlanders father for getting negotiations rolling again. This is because only a week before, the Tigers had made the difficult decision to send their second-overall choice back to the Old Dominion.

While I am hardly a draft expert, I was not a big fan of the Tigers choice of Verlander. But what most interests me about this signing, is how it should get the ball rolling on the other first-round unsigned players: Philip Humber, Jeff Niemann, Jered Weaver and Stephen Drew. I have deliberately left off Wade Townsend, who has now been labeled ineligible to sign with the Orioles.

To quote Baseball America, [Verlander] received a $3.12 million bonus in the deal that is worth a guaranteed $4.5 million with a maximum value of $5.6 million. This is right around what the Mets should be looking to sign Philip Humber, who will likely want $500,000-1M more in each number. This should help speed along that process. But as for Weaver and Drew, it might just take a little while. I think both are going to get done, but we might have to way until lonely February, or something of the sort.

WTNY

In the injury news department, we have Mike Jones out all of next year and Carlos Quentin and Jeff Baker are done in the AFL. Greg Miller and Kris Honel are making strides, and both should be ready by next April. All these come courtesy of Jay-Dell Mah of the Scoresheet Rookie Reports, the best minor league news blog/source out there.

You have to feel for Doug Melvin, who had a real rough year with the Brewers. First, Hardy is out for the year with a shoulder injury. Then, Dave Krynzel breaks a leg. Jones is playing off and on, as is Manny Parra. Throw in struggles by Rickie Weeks and Prince Fielder...yikes. This is still a very good organization, but may have fallen from the top ten with as disastrous a year as one can imagine.

Quentin has a back strain, so Im not worried, since its not related to the Tommy John surgery he had out of college. Baker has a wrist injury, which tends to linger and drastically affect batting numbers. That will effect him in my next rankings, for sure. Miller and Honel are damn good prospects, and their returns would be huge for their respective organizations. At this point, I dont know who I like more, Logan White or Grady Fuson.

WTNY

Quick check in on the AFL, which I have been ignoring a bit here. This isnt deliberate, and hopefully Ill give you more in the weeks to come.

The AFL has been dominated by five hitters: Mark Teahen, Chris Shelton, Rickie Weeks, Ryan Howard and Tommy Whiteman. Both Teahen and Shelton have shots at big league jobs next year, and are doing nothing but further convincing their AL Central franchises. Weeks is making his season look like an aberration, and making a case to be a top prospect again. Howard is hitting with huge power- shocking, I know- while learning the art of left field. Whiteman is an Astros shortstop prospect that could form a double-play combination with Burke if his success continues.

As for pitching, the big name in Arizona has been Huston Street. Oakland has found its closer next year, whether they bring Octavio Dotel back or not. Street just succeeds at every level of competition, and seems to have the bulldog attitude necessary for a good reliever. Mix Jairo Garcia and Street, and the As could turn games into 7 innings. I also have to mention Dustin Moseley, who not only is leading the league in ERA, but also has only allowed 3 hits in 12 innings. The Reds need all the help they can get.

WTNY

Baseball America has released a full-list of minor league free agents. I need a few more days to peruse the list to see if I can find any worthy acquisitions, but if you beat me to it, drop it in the comments.

And lastly, congrats to the Boston Red Sox, and all their fans. You deserve it. Now bring on the Hot Stove League already!

WTNYOctober 27, 2004
My New York State of Mind
By Bryan Smith

In part two of fulfilling readers suggestions, I will be profiling the Yankees minor league system. One of my readers, James, asked, I'd also like to see the Yanks to see if the system is as dead as the NY papers are making it. Now I have no real evidence of this, avoiding the New York newspapers and all, but lets assume the media is quite pessimistic. If any of you have examples of this, drop it in my comments.

To help me with this project, I asked Fabian- loyal reader and writer of Minor Yankee Blog- to give me his bit on a bunch of prospects. Look for his comments incorporated throughout todays article. If you are a Yankees fan, or just a fan of minor league baseball, I highly recommend his site.

In my preseason top fifty, Dioner Navarro was the lone Yankee, reflecting the sad state the Yankee system had become. In fact, no other Yankee even made my extended top 90, which indicates the futility Brian Cashman had let the system become. Notice the past tense, that will come in play later.

Consider this, from 1997-2002, the Yankees had seven first-round picks they signed. The best, not including the unsigned Mark Prior, is Bronson Sardinha. This is a third basemen that had an ISO near .100 during the season, split between the Florida State League and Eastern League. I've really soured on him. He doesn't hit enough, in my opinion, to be a viable LF, RF, 1B, and doesn't play defense well enough to be a viable 3B, SS, 3B, CF, says Fabian. And this, is the best.

He is the best, because two of them (Ty Godwin, John Ford-Griffin) were traded out of the franchise, three (Ryan Bradley, Andy Brown, David Walling) have no Major League promise, and one (David Parrish) was called up simply as an emergency catcher. While his last name will keep him in the minors awhile, he stinks. Drafting like this is not acceptable, and the Yankees should be focusing on landing bigger names.

But when the 2003 draft came around, the New York Yankees hit jackpot. After their long draft drought, the Yankees selection of nearby product Eric Duncan has turned successful. If I was picky, I might mention a season average of .258 or his 131 strikeouts. He strikes out more than I'd like, but that's the only fault I can find, says Fabian. He has outstanding raw power according to most scouting reports and has been able to translate that into great game power at a young age.

Not only is this power apparent in scouting reports, but also in the fact that his ISO was well over .200 in the pitching-friendly Midwest and Florida State Leagues. And that, at just the age of nineteen, makes me forget his negative points. And in response to his work ethic, Fabian writes, his defense went from "no way he's sticking at 3B" at the time of his drafting to "he could stick at 3B" and his receiving of votes for MWL best defensive 3B this year. Sticking at third though, aint gonna happen.

One other good thing came from the 2003 draft, and it was all the way down in the ninth round. A lanky right-hander from a Kentucky high school, Tyler Clippard appeared to be a pitcher who could do everythingOK. BA keeps harping on his lack of a dominant out pitch, but early in the season opponents would say, courtesy of local newspapers, that his curveball was much better than any they could handle at their current level, which coincides with what was in the '04 prospect handbook. In addition, his change has been coming along this season and his fastball is picking up velocity. Well, he went from doing everything OK, to doing everything well pretty fast.

I dont like the fact that in 149 innings, Clippard allowed 153 hits and 12 home runs. This was the Midwest League, and opposing batters are only going to get harder. But, I do like his K/BB ratio of 145/32, and Kevin Goldstein gave him a positive comment. There is no question that his pitches must further improve, because my guess is the right-hander has the tendency to hang his curveball. But this appears to be a very good ninth-round pick, and Clippard is definitely someone to keep an eye on.

But, Yankee fans would laugh at me if I evaluated their system by their drafts. George Steinbrenner has more money than anyone else, and this is seen not only on the Major League free agent market, but the scouting department is well. Plain and simple, no other big league club has an influence outside of this country like the Yankees. The majority of Yankee prospects come not through the draft, but from overseas prospects.

The best of which, as I mentioned, is Dioner Navarro. Yankee fans seem to still be up on Navarro, as seen by Fabians comments, Had a disappointing year statistically, but I think it's worth noting that his struggles were pretty much isolated around the time of major trade talks so it might be worthwhile to analyze his monthly splits. Just how disappointing a year statistically? After closing out the 2003 season with a .341/.388/.471 line in 208 Eastern League at-bats, Navarro hit .271/.354/.369 this year, before a .676 OPS in the International League.

Pardon me for not buying the trade-talk excuse, because that speaks down to a players mental strength. Navarros 2003 seems, in retrospect, to be a bit of an aberration. Calling him Pudgito is insane. This isnt to say this kid cant be a Major League catcher, hes just not worthy of the rankings he saw before the season. To me, and sorry Yankee fans, I see a Toby Hall type. Trade himnow.

Next on a lot of lists, and the topic of much debate between Fabian and me, is Robinson Cano. And while I never believed much in Cano, who had topped a .750 OPS only once before this season, I am slowly coming around. While many of the Yankee prospects struggled in the pitcher-friendly Trenton stadium, Cano torched it for a .853 OPS before getting a promotion to AAA. He seemed to be back to his old self in the IL, with a .719 OPS in 216 at-bats.

Pardon me, but I dont think there is much to Canos future besides a peak of a .800 OPS, with most seasons in the low-.700s. This is, of course, where Fabian would break in. He fell off after a promotion to AAA, but the only real
change was in his doubles/triples rate as his homer rate actually spiked and his BB/K numbers remained exactly the same, which is encouraging. This is a fair point, but I dont think the Yankees should hang their hats on Cano at second base. Let me see what he does next year, and maybe he could take over there at some point.

But dont get me wrong, Fabian and I do not disagree on every issue, hardly. Melky Cabrera, for instance, is where we share a common ground. The power is coming and he seems to be at least solid defender. I wouldn't say he's Bernie Williams, but I'm beginning to warm up to the Mark Kotsay comp I have seen in BA, the good ('04) Kotsay is a great ceiling to have. I have said Bernie Williams before, which is more an indication in how highly I think of Cabrera than an actual prediction. I wrote about him in this article, and dont want to beat a dead horse, but hes good.

Two more overseas prospects that spoke volumes with their play were Abel Gomez and Erold Andrus. After a solid debut last season, Gomez continued to progress in 2004 in the Midwest League. His peripheral HR/9, H/9 and K/9 numbers are better than those of Clippard, but a 4.61 BB/9 needs improving. Back to Fabian, Throws in the low 90s. His changeup is reportedly pretty good too, but he needs to work on a breaking ball. In addition, he also lacks control.

As for Andrus, it wasnt batting average that got him a contract with the Yankees. But that, and pretty much only that, is what hes given the organization. But, there is hope for more, as scouts think that Andrus has a huge power bat. Unfortunately, comes this from Fabian, The latest news on him is that he is being converted to 1B
to take advantage of his power potential and diminishing speed. Moving him now, with his career SLG at just .411, is a bit premature to me. Stock going down.

To close out the Caribbean players, I want to touch on two very disappointing players: Rudy Guillen and Ramon Ramirez. Guillen seems to be a BA fav, largely due to the great tools he had when he signed. He is about to turn 21, and has three seasons in a row with a declining OPS. The real problem, is that the OPS started at .748. Dont tell all this to Fabian:


A lot people have soured on him, but I'm willing to give him some benefit of the doubt. He was hitting for average and not much else to start the season and then he suffered a somewhat serious knee injury that kept him out much of the summer. When he came back, the power increased slightly (I haven't looked at the numbers so I may be wrong), and the plate discipline also seemed to tick upwards while the BA plummeted. I think he could have a big '05.

Finally, lets touch on Ramirez. This kid has a great arm, just has not figured out how to use it. To Fabian:

He has problems with the longball and there have been some durability concerns raised due to his diminutive stature. That said, he strikes out a ton of guys and I think the Yankees should convert him into the bullpen and have themselves a shutdown reliever in the making. His control is also usually pretty good. He might be able to pull a Brazoban for the Yankees in '05 if they are willing to try it with him.

His home run ratio, which Fabian recognizes, is what might prevent him from being a good reliever. Remember, Brazoban allowed ten home runs in 127 minor league innings. Ramirez allowed more this year, though Juan Cruz has proved you can succeed in relief despite a high H/9. I love the K/9 on this kid, though I dont think he could reach the Yankees next year. Put him in relief, send him to AA.

This could be the end of the road, but it isnt. I want to deal with two other prospects that didnt fit in the 2003 draft or overseas prospects categories. Matt DeSalvo is one of the few types that went to college, but was not eligible to be drafted. His numbers, they speak for themselves: 1.43 ERA in 13 high-A starts. Four homers allowed in more than 100 innings. To my boy:


Yes, he's really old for a top prospect. Yes, he's small for a top RHP prospect. Still, this is a guy who has dominated at pretty much every level he's ever been at: college, SS, A-, A+. The only one where he failed was at AA this year and that was because he tried to pitch through a back injury and was not able to do it as he lost all command of the strike zone. In addition, it's not as if he's working with smoke and mirrors either, he has at least solid stuff with a low 90s fastball, and good curve and change. I really like DeSalvo and think that he has a shot at being in the majors by the end of '05 provided that he is fully recovered from his back injury.

I agree with Fabian here. You show me you healed from your injury Mr. DeSalvo, and Ill forget that youll be in your age 24 year next season.

Lastly, is the one good piece of the 2002 draft: eighth-round pick Brad Halsey. Chosen out of Texas, the small Halsey moved relatively fast through the system, even getting some spot starts in New York. To me, Halsey is the southpaw version of David Bush, who had a good year with the Toronto Blue Jays. Halsey has allowed just 15 home runs in 375 innings, and has the makeup to succeed. While Fabian thinks this guy should be in the Yankees 2005 rotation, Im not sure he fits in New York. But I know if I was a GM in another organization, I would have Halsey circled.

So, thats it. Like usual, the Yankees have a lot of hyped prospects that arent real. They also have one real prospect (Duncan), and a few more (Cabrera, Clippard, Gomez, Halsey, Cano) that I believe can be solid prospects. The system is hardly not a good one yet, but its headed in the right direction.

WTNYOctober 26, 2004
Sun in Tampa
By Bryan Smith

After asking you- my loyal readers- for some article topics, I have a full schedule in the coming weeks. I will touch on many of the topics, the Yankees, the As, an article on the games better starters. But the idea I found most intriguing came from Jeff, who asked, How good can [Tampa Bay] become?

While I often write overview review of systems, or comment on individual players, I dont recall profiling an organizations future in depth. To do so, well go position-by-position, and detail what lies down the road with the Devil Rays.

Before moving on, I should say that the Devil Rays are going to need a GM with more foresight than Chuck Lamar has to offer. Think someone with great focus on the farm system, someone along the lines of Frank Wren, Logan White, or best of all, Grady Fuson. And while Im not the right person to speak on Lou Piniellas credibility, Im not sure hes the right guy either. If there were only more Eric Wedges

And before I start, let my think raysbaseball.com, without which very little of this article could have been produced

Catcher: The more and more Toby Hall plays, the more and more he convinces me that he would be one good back-up catcher. This is a guy I loved coming out of the minors, but just has not produced thus far in the Major Leagues. I say this because in the last three seasons, Halls line has been very close to .255/.295/.375, a far cry from the .768 OPS in forty-nine 2001 games. But his catching abilities have improved since then, and while his 34.3 CS% is the lowest in three years, it is good for a back-up catcher.

Problem is, the Devil Rays have no real catching prospect that could take Halls reins. It looked as if Pete LaForest could be that guy, but bad defense and terrible offense this year have extinguished that belief. Both Brett Cordell and Shawn Riggans played well in the hitter-friendly Bakersfield this year, but neither is close to supplanting Hall. Hall, just turned 29, should be producing the same offense and defense until reaching free agency after the 2007 season.

First Base: Tino Martinez played the position surprisingly well in 2004, and despite his rumored love-connection with Piniella, should be gone next season. Aubrey Huff played the position in about 80 games this season, but his atrocious defense is better suited for the DH spot. Not only do the Devil Rays need a first basemen for 2005, but all the way until Wes Bankston is ready.

When will that be? Well after a fabulous debut in 2002, Bankston struggled in the South Atlantic League in 2003. The Devil Rays sent him back there this season, where he put together a .289/.390/.513 season and reinstated his future in this franchise. Also, the Devil Rays should consider moving Josh Hamilton to first when he returns, giving Bankston at least one competitor. No matter what, the ETA for either player is no earlier than 2007, where both should progress relatively slowly.

Second Base: This is where the infield debate begins. Should the Devil Rays keep Julio Lugo at shortstop, and move 20-year-old B.J. Upton to the hot corner? Should they move Lugo to second, keep Upton at short, and move Cantu to third? Should they sign someone other than Cantu for third? Is this debate for naught, because Sweet Lou has already made up his mind? Ill say True to the final, because it seems as if the infield next year will have Upton at third. So, we might as well treat the future as having that scenario as well.

Jorge Cantu is going to be here awhile, though his effectiveness in the Majors I will question. Can someone who was that bad in the minors from 2001-2003 be this good? Maybe, and the Devil Rays will be happy to give Cantu the opportunity. If not, there are not a whole lot of possible successors, with Rays Baseball listing Elliot Johnson (he of the .709 2004 OPS) as the clubs top 2B prospect. Expect Cantu here for much of the next 5 years, barring the acquisition of a veteran.

Shortstop: Julio Lugo has gone from being arrested in Houston, to being one of Lous favorite players in Tampa. Lou is going to be hard-pressed to give Lugo up, which really isnt that bad. This is a guy that after next season, could probably be signed to a deal like three years, $12 million. Sort of a lot for a team on a short budget, but remember, what Lou wants, Lou is going to get. Especially with that Met job still unfilled.

One interesting tidbit on Lugo is that he had an .859 OPS in 195 plate appearances in the two-spot, but just .699 in 257 appearances while batting sixth. Batting behind Crawford, Lugo can be an effective tool, and I think Upton fits best in the sixth spot anyway.

Third Base: B.J. Upton, lock and load. Hes going to be here, and hes going to be here for awhile. The long-term contract they discussed earlier this year is not going to happen, and Upton will be a free agent after the 2010 season. By that time, the team will likely need to decide on B.J. or Delmon, one of whom must become the face of this franchise.

Designated Hitter: Aubrey Huff was signed through his arbitration, which is exactly the type of deal that I support. He is signed through the 2006 season, by which he will be done with his twenties. Reader ZTigerX at his blog argues that Huff should not be re-signed after that, using logic that convinced me. So Huffs role will basically be to keep this team in legitimacy for awhile, before leaving and watching the team improve. His DH successor should become a little more apparent when reading through the depth the Rays have in the outfield, or the loser of the Bankston/Hamilton 1B battle.

Left Field: Im not going to preach to the choir, Carl Crawford needs to walk more. If Devil Ray coaches are not preaching this to their talented leadoff hitter, they should all be fired. Crawford is a very good player, with the potential to be more. As he enters arbitration, the Devil Rays should sign him through arbitration years, similar to the deal the Blue Jays gave Vernon Wells. When he hits free agency after 2008, the D-Rays will probably have to decide on him or Baldelli.

Center Field: Rocco Baldelli offers more of the same, with a lot more power potential than Crawford. Hes not the player everyone thought a year and a half ago, but hes probably better than I normally give him credit for. With the huge number of outfield prospects in this system, most of whom can play center, I think Tampa should trade Baldelli before they have to start paying him big arbitration dollars. Hell hit arbitration after next season, and start making big dollars after the 2006 season. In one of those years, he should go.

Right Field: Jose Cruz Jr. was a good signing for this organization, and signing more players like him on short deals would be a good move. But, if he thinks of himself as more than a placeholder, hes greatly confused. Delmon Young has this job the second hes ready, which should be Opening Day 2006. In Albert Belles first full Major League season, he hit .282/.323/.540, and Delmon is very capable of that his rookie season.

Outfield Replacements: The first and most ready is Joey Gathright, who could probably be ready by midseason 2005. But, what he will produce in the Majors, isnt much. If you average his AA and AAA numbers, Gathright hit about .330/.390/.380 this season, and both the batting average and on-base percentage will drop in the Majors.

Next is Elijah Dukes, who I wrote about in this article. Dukes is immensely talented, and the most eligible of these three players for the centerfield spot. He played well in Bakersfield this year, and would be best suited to be the Opening Day starter in 2007, after Delmon Young has already established himself. While he must show more power, Dukes does have 25-25 potential.

Finally, the least advanced is Jason Pridie. While older than Dukes, like Bankston, Pridie spent his second season in the South Atlantic League. And again, like Wes, things improved the second time around. But a kid who cant top an .800 OPS the second time around, while also posting a BB/K of 37/114. I think Pridie is drastically overrated, and WAY behind Dukes and even Gathright in prospect rankings.

Some are going to say Matt Diaz or Jonny Gomes here, but I dont think these players have much of a future with this organization. Bench spots maybe, but Im not as much of a buyer here as a lot of guys.

Offensive Recap: I have 2009 circled. B.J. Upton will be a free agent after 2010, but Young and Dukes wont hit the Majors until 06 and 07 respectively. While we dont know who will be at catcher or even short in 2009, I really like the start of Bankston, Cantu, Upton, Crawford, Dukes, Young, and Josh Hamilton.

Starters: This is where things start to get uglier, but not as bad as I expected. By the end of the season, the D-Rays had a pretty established rotation of Mark Hendrickson, Rob Bell, Dewon Brazelton, Jorge Sosa and Scott Kazmir. All five should be back next year, which isnt the most exciting proposition to D-Rays fans. This fivesome had a 4.89 ERA in 480.1 2004 innings, which isnt as bad as it could be. What is terrible, is the groups 5.13 K/9, with the first three I mentioned posting a combined K/9 of just 4.37. Yikes.

As for their free agencies, Bell and Sosa will hit the market after the 2007 season, Hendickson after 2008, Brazelton after 2009, and Scott Kazmir wont be a free agent until post-2010. I should say, that I believe the worst two of the bunch are Bell and Hendrickson, who will be out of the rotation and non-tendered before if opportunities present themselves. I like Sosa, Brazelton and Kazmir, though I doubt Sosa will be around after 2007. So really, only Brazelton and Kazmir are the mainstays here.

So who can replace the other three? Well, the first name I should mention is Jeff Niemann, the Devil Rays 2004 first-round draft choice. Niemann remains unsigned, but there is no question that this signing (more on that at a later date) should begin a domino effect among the first-rounders. But believe me, Niemann can use all the time off that the Devil Rays will give him. If he returns to his Sophomore form, Niemann has ace-caliber stuff, and should be ready in 2007. Its impossible to project his career quite yet.

After Niemann, the next best name is Jason Hammel. Hes always had solid HR/9 numbers, and his K/9 saw a rice in 2004. The tall, recently-turned 22-year-old, throws pretty hard, and improved both his control and secondary stuff this year. Hammels ERA was below 2.00 in the hitter-friendly California League, and he should be in the Southern League next season. I like his numbers, and Hammel could be ready in 2006, likely causing Bells exit.

Joining Hammel in AA will be Chris Seddon, who will be repeating the level. After an amazing seven starts in high-A, Seddon hit a wall in AA, though he improved as the season went on. A Montgomery season-ticket holder gave me a great description of Seddon, which I posted back in July. Overall, it said that Seddon is lanky, throws in the high-80s, with solid secondary pitches. The club may challenge him with a promotion to the International League, and either way, he could be in the rotation by mid-2005.

So, ideally, the Devil Rays will open the 2007 season with a rotation of Kazmir, Niemann, Brazelton, Hammel and Seddon. Bell and Hendrickson will likely both be non-tendered in a year, and Jorge Sosa will be traded before making big arbitration dollars. This rotation should be well-established by 2009, the Devil Rays season.

Due to the impossibility of projecting the future of a bullpen, I wont get into that. But I should highlight Chad Orvella, who went a few weeks without allowing a hit. Orvella has great control, a trait that is never the first strength associated with closers. There is a possibility that Kazmir will come in and take the closers job, but you have to believe in Orvella, who has a career 11.9 K/BB rate.

As Ive said, 2009 is the Devil Rays year. Everyone will be established then, with few players making huge dollars. Hopefully, Crawford will be re-signed with the team until 2010, when the team will need all their resources possible to make decisions on Upton v. Young and Scott Kazmir. This team has the makings, to me, of 90 wins. But, that will take a lot of things to bounce right, and Ill probably be hurt from these same comments.

Will 90 wins ever win the AL East? If anything, I think 2006 and 2007 will be the times to hit the Yankees, as Steinbrenner already has $143M and $84.45M committed respectively. But if these players are developed correctly, an art the Devil Rays appear to be learning, this team could compete with any Yankee team.

Thats all for today, and Ill be back tomorrow with comments on the Yankees, Justin Verlander, Jason Kubel and more

Baseball BeatOctober 26, 2004
IBWA Awards
By Rich Lederer

My ballot for the 2004 Internet Baseball Writers Association Awards is listed below the following descriptions and rules.

* PLAYER OF THE YEAR should go to the player you believe was the best in his league in 2004. Pitchers are eligible for this award.

* PITCHER OF THE YEAR should go to the pitcher you believe was the best in his league during in 2004.

* DEBUT OF THE YEAR should go to the player you believe had the best first major league season in his league in 2004. A player is eligible for this award if he is eligible for the BBWAA Rookie of the Year award.

* MANAGER OF THE YEAR should go to the person you believe was the best manager in his league in 2004.

* EXECUTIVE OF THE YEAR should go to the person you believe was the best executive in his league in 2004.

For PLAYER OF THE YEAR you may vote for up to ten players, with points being awarded for 1st place, 2nd place, etc., on a 14-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 basis.

For all other awards, you may vote for up to three players, with points being awarded for 1st place, 2nd place and 3rd place on a 5-3-1 basis.

Your votes should take into account the players' performances during the 2004 regular season, and should NOT take into account players' performances during the post-season.

Ties are NOT ALLOWED in your voting. You must rank the players 1-10 or 1-3.

2004 IBWA END-OF-YEAR AWARDS

NATIONAL LEAGUE PLAYER OF THE YEAR

1. Barry Bonds
2. Albert Pujols
3. Adrian Beltre
4. Jim Edmonds
5. Scott Rolen
6. Mark Loretta
7. J.D. Drew
8. Lance Berkman
9. Bobby Abreu
10. Todd Helton

We should beat major league baseball to the punch by renaming the N.L. Player of the Year Award the Barry Bonds Award. Or we could just put him in his own league--you know, the American League, the National League, and the Barry Bonds League.

AMERICAN LEAGUE PLAYER OF THE YEAR

1. Vladimir Guerrero
2. Johan Santana
3. Manny Ramirez
4. Gary Sheffield
5. David Ortiz
6. Mariano Rivera
7. Carlos Guillen
8. Melvin Mora
9. Miguel Tejada
10. Alex Rodriguez

Guerrero went to the whip in the final week of the campaign to differentiate himself over Ramirez, Sheffield, and Ortiz. Some ballots probably won't even have Santana listed. However, I don't see how you can ignore him. His second half (13-0, 1.21) was just sick.

NATIONAL LEAGUE PITCHER OF THE YEAR

1. Randy Johnson
2. Roger Clemens
3. Ben Sheets

Clemens was phenomenal in his first year of retirement, but he was no match for Johnson. Whoever wins will join Bonds in the over-40 winners circle.

AMERICAN LEAGUE PITCHER OF THE YEAR

1. Johan Santana
2. Curt Schilling
3. Mariano Rivera

A no brainer.

NATIONAL LEAGUE DEBUT OF THE YEAR

1. Khalil Greene
2. Jason Bay
3. David Wright

Greene's position the deciding factor over Bay and his counting stats overwhelm Wright's slight advantage in rate stats.

AMERICAN LEAGUE DEBUT OF THE YEAR

1. Bobby Crosby
2. Zack Greinke
3. Shingo Takatsu

Greinke will have the most career value when it is all said and done.

NATIONAL LEAGUE MANAGER OF THE YEAR

1. Tony LaRussa
2. Bobby Cox
3. Jim Tracy

Hats off to all as I didn't pick any of these three to win their division.

AMERICAN LEAGUE MANAGER OF THE YEAR

1. Buck Showalter
2. Eric Wedge
3. Mike Scioscia

To be fair, Showalter should split his winnings with Teixeira-Soriano-Young-Blalock.

NATIONAL LEAGUE EXECUTIVE OF THE YEAR

1. Walt Jocketty
2. Gerry Hunsicker
3. John Schuerholz

All three GMs made some important moves. Jocketty's in-season acquisition of Walker was huge as was getting Pujols to sign a long-term contract before the year began.

AMERICAN LEAGUE EXECUTIVE OF THE YEAR

1. Dave Dombrowski
2. Brian Cashman
3. Theo Epstein

Dombrowski orchestrated one of the biggest year-over-year improvements in baseball history. How he convinced I-Rod to sign with the Tigers after losing 119 games the year before, I'll never know. And he totally ripped off Bavasi in the Guillen deal.

Agree? Disagree? Let's hear who you would have picked and why.

(Update: Check out TwinsFanDan's ballot at Will Carroll Presents... for another view on the subject.)

WTNYOctober 25, 2004
'Tall' Cup of Coffee
By Bryan Smith

A couple months ago, I moved this site to prospect-only, which is not to say my interest in Major League Baseball has evaporated. Particularly, my interest in Hot Stove baseball still is extremely strong. So while I dont have a lot of time to write an article today, I want to point to a few things on the Internet.

Being an avid reader of Chicago newspapers, it was refreshing to see a great offseason preview like the Daily Southtown did with the Chicago White Sox. An honest and telling series, the Southtown has three articles (infield, outfield, pitching staff) on the White Sox coming months. Each article goes over the players on the White Sox roster, and offers quotes from Ozzie Guillen and Kenny Williams, as well as the writers prediction on the players future.

From this article, we learn that the White Sox plan on signing a shortstop, a good starting pitcher and a good reliever. Randy Johnson and Carlos Beltran are the clubs top two targets, and eithers acquisition would lead to the trade of Carlos Lee. After that, the club appears to be in hot pursuit of Omar Vizquel, looking to steal him from the rival Indians. They also want Troy Percival, who would supplant Shingo Takatsu in the bullpen.

As for the starting rotation, it is a lock that Chicago will sign one of Pedro Martinez, Carl Pavano, Odalis Perez, Eric Milton, Wilson Alvarez, Russ Ortiz and Derek Lowe. Judging by Ken Williams previous interest, I would say that Milton, Ortiz and Perez are the three likely targets. We see a 2005 roster that includes:

Catchers (2): Ben Davis and Jamie Burke

Infielders (8): Paul Konerko, Willie Harris, Juan Uribe, SS signee, Joe Crede, Frank Thomas, Ross Gload, Wilson Valdez

Outfielders (4): Carlos Lee, Aaron Rowand, Carl Everett, Timo Perez

Starters (5): Mark Buerhle, Freddy Garcia, Jose Contreras, SP signee, Jon Garland

Bullpen (6): Shingo Takatsu, RP signee, Damaso Marte, Cliff Politte, Neal Cotts, Jon Adkins

Going into the offseason with three needs? Wouldnt it be nice?

Todays article has to be really short, because I spent a lot of time today working on a Game 2 chat us All-Baseballers had last night. Let today be somewhat of an open forumwhat prospect/organization/issue do you want to see profiled?

Baseball BeatOctober 25, 2004
Justin Time For Weaver
By Rich Lederer

The Detroit Tigers signed Justin Verlander over the weekend to a five-year major league contract according to Pat Caputo of Baseball America. Verlander received a signing bonus of $3.12 million in a deal that guarantees the second pick in the draft a minimum of $4.5 million and a maximum of $5.6 million.

With a fastball that approaches 100-mph, the former Old Dominion right-hander was regarded as the hardest-throwing college pitcher available in the draft. In an interview with Jered Weaver last spring, I asked the former Long Beach State ace how he compared to Verlander given that the two pitchers played together on Team USA in the summer of 2003.

"Verlander, I think, throws harder. I think I have better location and 'pitchibility'. It's just a matter of developing for both of us."

With Verlander under contract, there remains five first-round picks who have not come to terms with the teams that drafted them--Rices threesome of Philip Humber (#3, Mets), Jeff Niemann (#4, Devil Rays) and Wade Townsend (#8, Orioles); Weaver (#12, Angels) and Florida State's Stephen Drew (#15, Diamondbacks). Townsend returned to classes at Rice this fall and will go into next year's draft pool, while the other four are at various stages in their negotiations.

Weaver's agent Scott Boras is believed to be asking for a deal similar to Mark Prior's five-year $10.5 million contract. The Angels, on the other hand, are reportedly posturing a willingness to forego signing the College Player of the Year in order to pursue one of the many talented free agent pitchers available this off-season. Make no mistake about it, the Angels would like to corral Jered. With that in mind, it would seem to me that Verlander's deal sets the floor for Weaver's services while Prior's contract three years ago establishes the ceiling.

Question to Boras and Angels' General Manager Bill Stoneman: Why can't you agree on a five-year deal for $7.5 million? When you finally get together, don't forget to send me a check for 3% of the transaction value. That's "L-e-d-e-r-e-r."

Baseball BeatOctober 23, 2004
The Cardinals Vs. The Red Sox: A Historical Perspective
By Rich Lederer

The St. Louis Cardinals and Boston Red Sox are two of the most storied franchises in baseball history. The Cardinals have won nine World Series titles and the Red Sox have won five (including once as the Boston Pilgrims in 1903 in the inaugural year of the Series). The Redbirds are tied with the Athletics for the second most championships--behind the New York Yankees with 26, which works out to more than one out of every four.

Interestingly, the Red Sox won all five of their titles before the Yankees won their first. In fact, the Red Sox were so good, they were 5-0 in their World Series appearances between 1903-1918. And then something happened. Strapped for cash, Boston owner Henry Frazee sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees in January 1920 for $125,000 plus a $300,000 loan. The Babe had not only led the major league in home runs the previous two years (including a record 29 in 1919), but he had a career won-loss of 89-46 with an ERA of 2.19 (highlighted by a league-leading 1.75 in 1916). Moreover, Ruth was one of the stars of the 1915, 1916, and 1918 World Series championship teams and his 29 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings in the latter two Series was a record that stood until broken by Whitey Ford in 1961.

When Ruth arrived on the New York scene, the Yankees had never even won a pennant in their history. The Yankees proceeded to win seven A.L. pennants and four World Series titles during The Babe's tenure in New York, while the Red Sox have yet to win another World Series championship since Ruth's departure. Hence, the Curse of the Bambino.

Meanwhile, it took the St. Louis Cardinals 23 years before they made it to the World Series. Led by player-manager Rogers Hornsby, MVP catcher Bob O'Farrell, and first baseman Jim Bottomley, the Cardinals beat Ruth's Yankees in 1926. Grover Cleveland Alexander, fresh off two complete game victories in Games Two and Six, was summoned from the bullpen to protect a 3-2 lead in the seventh inning with two outs and the bases loaded. Despite a hangover from celebrating the night before, Alexander, 39, struck out Tony Lazzeri in one of the greatest confrontations in World Series history and then whitewashed the Yankees in the eighth and ninth innings to preserve the Cardinals victory and the franchise's first world championship.

The Cardinals won the World Series in 1931 and 1934. Second baseman Frankie Frisch earned MVP honors in '31 (with a slugging average of less than .400) and Dizzy Dean won the award in '34 (while becoming the last pitcher to win 30 games in a season in the N.L.). The 1930s Cardinals included the "Gashouse Gang" and General Manager Branch Rickey, arguably the greatest front-office executive in the history of baseball.

The Cardinals were the dominant team in the National League during the 1940s, winning three World Series championships in the decade. Stan Musial won three MVPs during that span, including 1946 when the Cardinals beat A.L. MVP Ted Williams and the Red Sox in the World Series in seven games. Enos Slaughter scored the decisive run in the eighth inning of Game Seven, achieving everlasting fame for his "mad dash" home from first base on Harry Walker's two-out double to left center. Harry Brecheen won three games for the Cardinals, including the final two--an accomplishment unmatched until Randy Johnson beat the Yankees in Games Six and Seven of the 2001 World Series.

After a dry spell in the 1950s, the Cardinals rebounded and won world championships in 1964 and 1967. Third baseman Ken Boyer won the MVP in '64 and first baseman Orlando Cepeda earned MVP honors in '67 while leading St. Louis to its most wins in a season (101) since the 1942-1944 stretch in which the Redbirds won at least 105 games each year. Bob Gibson won the Cy Young Award in 1968 by putting together perhaps the single greatest year ever by a pitcher (22-9, 1.12 ERA, and 13 shutouts), yet the Cardinals fell to the Detroit Tigers in the World Series in seven games.

The Cardinals didn't win another pennant until 1982 when Whitey Herzog led a team that hit the fewest home runs in the league (67) to another World Series championship. St. Louis won two more pennants during the '80s but lost the seventh game of the 1985 and 1987 World Series.

It's been 86 years for the Red Sox and 22 years for the Cardinals since winning the World Series. The last time these two franchises met in postseason play was in 1967 when St. Louis beat Boston, four games to three.

Carl Yastrzemski (.326, 44, 121), the 1967 MVP and the last player to win the Triple Crown, and Jim Lonborg, the 1967 Cy Young Award winner, were the stars of a Boston ballclub whose season was dubbed The Impossible Dream. The Red Sox, who finished in ninth place the previous year, edged out the Tigers and Twins by one game to win the pennant with a .568 winning percentage--the lowest in league history.

The Red Sox came into the World Series as dramatic underdogs that year, yet fought and clawed their way into the seventh and decisive game before falling to the Cardinals, 7-2, at Fenway Park when Gibson outdueled Lonborg (who was pitching on two days' rest) for his third victory of the Series.

Woody Williams and Tim Wakefield, the scheduled starting pitchers in Game One of the 2004 World Series, were both born in August 1966 and had just celebrated their first birthdays when the Cardinals and Red Sox last faced off in the World Series. Williams and Wakefield come into today's matchup sporting regular-season ERAs in excess of 4.00, perhaps the only time in the history of the series that the Game One starters had such lofty ERAs.

The 2004 World Series is set up just like 1967 with the Red Sox at home in games one, two, six, and seven. Who will be this year's Bob Gibson? Or Lou Brock? Or Roger Maris? Will any pitcher win three games like Gibson? Will someone hit .400 with three home runs in a losing cause like Yaz? Will the Cardinals beat the Red Sox for the third time? Or will the Red Sox finally the break the Curse?

Stay tuned. We're about to find out.

WTNYOctober 22, 2004
Building In the Desert
By Bryan Smith

I'll concede, even after this week, that Mariano Rivera is the greatest postseason pitcher of all-time. Hopefully this week will not damage this reputation, despite his two blown saves in one of the most important series in his life. But my prediction is that despite these high-profile meltdowns, Rivera will stay recognized as the clear #1.

Why? History tells me so. There was another instance in recent history, when Rivera failed with everything on the line. When against another left-handed hitter, a little smaller build than David Ortiz, hit another ball up the middle to win a game. Luis Gonzalez fought off he best pitch in baseball narrowly over Derek Jeter's head, to make the Arizona Diamondbacks one of the best expansion franchises of all-time.

Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Only three years since upsetting the Yankees, the Diamondbacks became the worst team in baseball. First, to worst. Blame it on Jerry Colangelo's early preference for deferring contracts, or Joe Garagiola's terrible handling of Curt Schilling/Richie Sexson. Blame it on age, blame it on injury. But whoever is assigned the blame, the fact remains that Arizona is in a bad state.

Deferred contracts will keep Garagiola's spending at a minimum in the next 2-3 years, and possibly force him to trade his best asset: Randy Johnson. But there is a way for Arizona to get back on the saddle and become good again. And the answer lies within their farm system, which through a push towards collegiate players, has become one of the best in the game.

Before diving into the minor leagues, let's look at the youth in the Majors. The most prominent young Diamondback is Brandon Webb, famous in the sabermetric world as the pitcher that should have dethroned Dontrelle Willis. With Curt Schilling's trade last offseason, Garagiola was in effect leaving the 25-year-old Webb as the team's #2 starter. Things went fine in April, before a disastrous 0-4, 6.55 ERA in 6 May starts. Despite his 7-16 record, Webb finished the season well, with a 3.33 second half ERA. The problem? Walks. 119 in 208 innings is simply unacceptable.

Pardon the D-Backs for being excited about their youth in the bullpen, first with Jose Valverde, Oscar Villareal and Brandon Lyon, and later with Brian Bruney and Greg Aquino. The former three with huge disappointments, as Lyon failed to make an appearance, and neither Valverde nor Villareal topped the 30 appearances mark. Bruney was solid in 30 appearances, though 27 walks in 31.1 innings is not acceptable. Aquino was great, leaving some to wonder what the Hell had happened in AAA before, where his ERA had topped 6.00.

The rotation saw some disastrous performances from the likes of Casey Fossum, Edgar Gonzalez and Andrew Good this season. This group combined was 5-26, mostly thanks to Fossum's 15 losses. Mike Gosling was decent towards the end of the season, and in this organization, decent is enough to get you a second chance. He's a mediocre pitcher, somewhat reminiscent of Jim Parque, the old Chicago White Sox southpaw.

Let's move to the defense behind the pitcher, which saw some the same lack of advances in the youth department. Shea Hillenbrend kept pretending he was decent, while Chad Tracy hit .285 in more than 400 at-bats. Scott Hairston had an ISO of .194 in his rookie season, though he must start making better contact. After those two...nothing.

Luis Terrero: .245. Robby Hammock: .241. Juan Brito: .205. Matt Kata: .247. Josh Kroeger: .167. There are more, I just felt like sparing you. This is a team that needs a complete overhaul in the coaching department, and needs to find the next Mike Maddux and Eddie Murray.

Down in the minors, things aren't half as grim. The season started with the aforementioned Josh Kroeger as the star, where he hit .331/.393/.588 before doing more of the same in the Pacific Coast League. Up to take his spot were Conor Jackson and Carlos Quentin, fresh off their domination of the California League. It was Quentin that played better, hitting .357/.443/.533 in 210 at-bats. Remember, his OBP is quite dependent on HBP, of which he took a record number this season. But still, Quentin, Jackson and Kroeger profile as a sensational outfield, and give reason for the D-Backs to trade Luis Gonzalez.

But it wasn't only outfielders in the Texas League, because Sergio Santos saw them all. A growing 20-year-old shortstop, Santos was extremely young for the TL, but kept afloat with the advanced pitching. He hit .282/.332/.461 for the season, showing good contact and power skills, with plate discipline being his obvious flaw. Some are also concerned for his defense, because he made 24 errors in just 87 games at shortstop.

In fact, some say conern over Santos' future position led to the Diamondbacks first round selection of Stephen Drew, commonly referred to as the best college hitter in the country out of FSU. Brother of Tim and J.D., Stephen shows athleticism that bests both brothers, while a stick that has drawn comparisons to both Rickie Weeks and Mark Teixeira. He remains unsigned, though Baseball America has recently reported the sides are zeroing in on an agreement. But, scouts also don't believe Drew will stick at shortstop, saying second base or centerfield are better spots for him.

If they move Santos and Drew, who's the next shortstop? How about Justin Upton, the consensus best player of the 2005 draft? I've always been one to say that I think Arizona plans on leaving Santos at shortstop, and will not spend the money on Upton come next June. Instead, I think the team will stay conservative, choosing one of the better collegiate hitters in the country. Upton should drop to the Mariners, who will proudly spend $8M on another shortstop prospect.

There isn't a lot of pitching in the Diamondback system, or at least seen through statistics, as the D-Backs' affiliates all have hitter's parks. Two with a lot of clout are Dustin Nippert and Bill Murphy, the latter of which was acquired in a deadline deal for Steve Finley. Nippert is a tall right-hander with big stuff, though his H/9 was over 9.00 in the Texas League. Murphy fell apart out of the Southern League, and is a prospect I've always felt is greatly overrated. But the Diamondbacks glut in the outfield, as well as potential trade victim Randy Johnson, could potentially add a lot of young pitching to this organization.

TO end today, here are the Diamondbacks ten best prospects, without Stephen Drew: Conor Jackson, Carlos Quentin, Sergio Santos, Josh Kroeger, Dustin Nippert, Chris Snyder (C Prospect), Bill Murphy, Jon Zeringue (OF prospect), Enrique Gonzalez (high-A pitcher), Koyie Hill (C prospect).

Baseball BeatOctober 21, 2004
Baseball in October
By Rich Lederer

Playoffs.
Wild Cards.
Thirteen Straight Division Titles.
Houston Finally Wins.
Carlos Beltran.

The Revenge of Tom Niedenfuer.
8-3 Repeat After Me.
Lima Time.
Albert Pujols.
The Handshake.

Angels-Red Sox.
I Live For This.
Jarrod Washburn?
David Ortiz.
Walk-Off Home Runs.

Twins Double Up Yankees.
Jeter Scores on Sac Fly.
Ron Gardenhirefire
Santana Dana's Short Skit on Saturday Night.
A-Rod Steals Third And The Series.

Bengie Molina.
Jose Molina.
Yadier Molina.
The Debates.
Carlos Beltran.

Ken Caminiti.
Ray Boone.
Chuck Hiller.
Bill Mueller.
Kevin Millar.
No More Nomar.

Red Sox Nation.
Redbird Nation.
FOX.
FX.
MNF?

Division Rivals.
Killer B's.
Larry Walker.
Albert Pujols.
Cards Rolen Along.

The Rocket Fuels Astros.
Beltran Five Straight.
Broken Left Hands.
Broken Hearts.
Backe From The Dead.

Brad Lidge.
Jeff Clark Kent.
Oh Really, Dan Miceli?
Hats Off To JEdmonds.
Cards Talk.

The Best Rivalry In Sports.
Six-Inning Perfect Game.
Moose Calls.
Godzilla.
What A Day For Rivera.

Who's Your Daddy?
Rain Out.
Anklegate.
Idiots.
Curse Of The Bambino.

19-8.
Wait 'Til Next Year.
Three Outs Away From A Sweep.
Do We Still Believe?
Make Room For Papi.

Boston Marathon(s).
Four Hours.
Five Hours.
Six Hours.
Longest Playoff Game Ever.

Clock Strikes Midnight.
Extra Innings.
Blown Saves.
Keep The Faith.
Why Not Us?

Schilling Shuts Up Yankees.
Blood And Guts.
Hand Interference.
Umpires Overturn Two Calls.
It's All Tied Up.

Bucky Fucking Dent.
Jeff Weaver. Kevin Brown.
Jeff Weaver. Javier Vazquez.
Derek Lowe Down.
Johnny Damon or Johnny Demon?

Greatest Comeback In Postseason History.
Greatest Collapse.
Heads Will Roll.
Where's The Big Fat Obnoxious Boss?
That's Fired With One "R".

Boston.
Massachusetts.
John Kerry.
Houston?
Texas?
George Bush?

WTNYOctober 20, 2004
Winter for More
By Bryan Smith

Writing the past two articles about Cubs prospects playing winter ball sparked an interest in the Arizona Fall League. Todays entry wont be an update of the best prospects, or a couple neat stories from the games there. Instead, Im going to look at the players there, and try to find out why. It was impossible to do all 30 tonight, so I focused on just of the teams. Hopefully, at some point, Ill hammer out the other 75%.

Atlanta Braves

After writing my first article previewing the AFL in August, Braves minor league expert Brad Dowdy posted the following in my comments:


The Braves tend not to send their top flight pitching prospects to the AFL, but rather guys they want to see step it up a notch after a mediocre year. Last year it was Brett Evert, Alec Zumwalt, and Kevin Barry

This is true, as the Braves decided against sending Capellan, Meyer, Davies, Lerew, Stevens, and James. The pitchers that are in Arizona follow a theme: if not put on the 40-man roster, each is available for the Rule 5 draft. From a talent standpoint, no loss would hurt the system more than Macay McBride, the Braves version of Andy Sisco (talent, not results). McBride must show in Arizona hes worth protecting, and in the end, I believe they will.

Matt Coenen and Zach Miner, however, are not promised the same fate. Coenens year in AA was neither sensational or disappointing, and his value to the organization is in question. There is a chance that Coenen could be drafted if left unprotected, a risk I believe the Braves will be willing to take (see Zumwalt, Hernandez). Miner is like McBride in the sense that his results were ghastly in 2004, but he doesnt quite have the talent McBride has. To keep the Cubs analogies going, think of Miner as the Braves Chadd Blasko.

Atlanta sent five hitters to the AFL, but the reasons for each follows one of two trends. Scott Thorman and Tony Pena Jr. already hold spots on the 40-man roster, but Atlanta is questioning whether to keep it that way. Pena is fantastic on defense, but cannot handle the stick. Think of him as a poor mans Hector Luna, the Rule 5 pick that lasted the entire season with the Cardinals. Thormans power numbers slipped heavily in 2004, a year in which proving his worth over James Jurries was essential. Expect Jurries to win the battle. Aaron Herr is not on the 40-man, but his spot in the AFL is simply to help the Braves decision to keep it that way.

Finally, we have Jeff Francoeur and Brian McCann. These represent two of the Braves three best hitting prospects, an honor considering the great state of this system. Both add star power to the Grand Canyon Rafters. Atlanta has sent them there to help their projected ETAs, which likely read 2006 for Francoeur, and mid-2006 for McCann.

San Francisco Giants

More of the same from the Giants, who have brought some prospects, and some auditioning for the Rule 5. Their stars, while not quite as valid a word, consist of David Aardsma and Fred Lewis. The former is a former Rice closer that after being a 2003 first-round pick, pitched in the Major Leagues this season. With Robb Nen on the way out, the Giants will be looking for a closer next year. The AFL will help San Fran decide if Aardsma is their man. A similar situation is present with Lance Niekro, who is in Arizona to decide how the Giants attack the first base position this winter.

Lewis, destined for the 40-man roster, had a good year in the California League before finishing in the Pacific Coast League. He just missed a mention in my discussion of the depth at the outfield position, and probably figures into the top 30 prospects at that position. Lewis power spike, highly dependent on triples, shouldnt be expected to continue. But what the Giants are looking forward to is a leadoff-type hitter that hits for power, and takes a walk. Expect the Giants to be preaching for less strikeouts this winter as well.

After those three, the Giants made an interesting decision sending Chris Begg and Mike Cervanek to winter league ball. Begg was signed into the Giants organization after a sensational 2003 with the St. Paul Saints, from the Independent Leagues. In 2004, Begg had a 9-1 record in the Eastern League, with a 2.30 ERA. His peripheral numbers, while not jaw-dropping, were solid. But in nine PCL starts, Begg was disastrous, with a 6.97 ERA and some of the worst peripheral numbers possible. Still fairly young, the Giants are just trying to discern how great a talent they have here.

Cervanek is another Independent League signing, but one made by the New York Yankees. After a solid collegiate career with the University of Michigan, Cervanek had 2 great seasons with the Chillicothe Paints of the Independent League. His great numbers convinced New York brass, who sent him to the Eastern League in 2001 and 2002. After a release, San Francisco picked him up, where in 2003, he posted the same kind of .275/.330/.450 numbers that he had in his preceding AA seasons. But in 2004, Cervaneks OPS hit .997, before earning a late season promotion to AAA. A third basemen, Cervenak appears to be the latest version of Byron Myrow.

Finally we have Scott Munter, a reliever with solid ERAs, but a terrible K/9. Hes Rule 5 eligible, but has given the Giants no reason to put him on the 40-man roster. The AFL is his last, dying chance.

St. Louis Cardinals

For the Cardinals, almost all the focus is on the Rule V draft. Carmen Cali was fantastic in AA and AAA, before getting a September call-up with the Major League team. His name currently sits on the 40, with his AFL deciding whether he slots into the 2005 plans, is sent to AAA, or taken off the forty and surely selected in the Rule 5. Chris Duncan had a great season, but the Cardinals are likely questioning whether to put a 1B/OF on their 40. If not, he could be a left-handed Chris Shelton. John Nelson finally matched his hype with a great AA season, and would need a terrible AFL to stay off the Cardinal 40-man.

The next three, I cant explain as well. Gabe Johnson appears to have enough service time to be a minor league free agent this offseason, so in my opinion, is auditioning for a signing with the Cardinals. Reid Gorecki is Rule 5 eligible, but in Palm Beach, hardly had the kind of year to keep around. His draft status is fine, since no team would take this gamble. Finally, we have Andy Cavazos, whose reason for being here I cant answer.

Adam Wainwright was the last player selected to the team, who had a terrible year in the PCL after so much hype. The Cardinals are hoping to ignore Wainwrights AAA numbers, a la Edwin Jackson, and his AFL will make that easier. Plus, he has to stay ahead of Brad Thompson and Anthony Reyes in the organizational depth chart.

Chicago Cubs

After two days of writing about it, Ill quickly summarize. Sean Marshall and Jae-Kuk Ryu both suffered injuries at various points of the season, and are in the AFL for extra work. Brian Dopirak is the stud prospect looking to provide a timetable, and help prospect raters decide where he slots in. The other four (Greenberg, Soto, Cedeno, Rohlicek) are fighting for 40-man spots.

Colorado Rockies

In the high altitudes, we have battles of new prospects, and old prospects. Jeff Baker and Ryan Speier just had big years, and are in the AFL to get more work. Baker is a third basemen more Major League ready than Ian Stewart, with limited upside. Speier is a near-ready reliever, and probably one of the best five in the AFL. As for the old prospects, Jayson Nix had a disastrous year, and will likely be left off the 40-man roster. I doubt any team will gamble on him. As for Cory Sullivan, hes an outfielder that missed all of 2004, and is in the AFL to help the Rockies decide on a level for him next season.

The final two are pitchers: Zach McClellan and Zack Parker. The latter is Rule 5 eligible, but will stay that way after a disastrous season in the Texas League. Acquired from the Kansas City Royals in the offseason, McClellan is the most intriguing Rockie here. I like what I see from a Texas League pitcher: 4.15 ERA, K/BB over 3.00. But his 17 home runs in less than 140 innings are disgruntling, and McClellan has to improve that rate in the next month.

San Diego Padres

Before now, weve mentioned solid relievers in Aardsma, Cali, and Speier, but none had a better season than Brad Baker. Formerly a starting prospect with the Red Sox, his transition to relieving went flawlessly: ERA under 1.50, 34 saves, K/9 in double-digits. Again, the Padres are just deciding if hell be ready in 2005, or need one more year of seasoning. Josh Barfield, despite a disappointing year in the Southern League, is still a prospect, and like Rickie Weeks, was sent to the AFL for nothing more than confidence. Hes still projected to replace Mark Loretta.

The next two prospects, Ben Johnson and Paul McAnulty are somewhere between question marks and prospects. The latter had a great year in the California League, but still needs to convince Padres brass that a 1B/OF like him should be retained. Johnson is more talent, an ex-Cardinal prospect, but has batting average issues. If his discipline and ISO can ever be put together with a .300 average, hes a fine prospect.

The last two, very well could factor into the much-talked about Rule 5. Chris Oxspring is currently protected, on the Padres 40-man roster, and probably would have to pitch very bad to leave that status. His time in AAA was cut a bit short by injury, and is also pitching for a spot on the 2005 Padre roster. On the other hand, Randall Spiehs is likely to stay unprotected. His numbers were very good in the Southern League, after good numbers in the San Francisco organization before that. I would take a flier on Spiehs, though I wish he struck out a few more men.

Washington Insert-Name-Heres

Bill Bray was the teams first-round pick this past June, a player said to be very polished when they selected him. Drafting players and seeing results quickly is a luxury that must be afforded by a franchise like this. Seung Song is a prospect ready for the Majors, simply pitching in the AFL to get more work. Finally, more was expected from 2003 second-rounder Jerry Owens, an outfielder out to prove hes better than his sub-.800 OPS suggested this year. Finally, I like Shawn Norris, a third basemen the Expos are hoping is not the second coming of Scott Hodges.

Josh Labandeira is that kind of sub-.800 OPS hitter, but hes a pretty solid defensive infielder. Hes probably closer to the Hector Luna/Jose Morban type than Tony Pena Jr., but thats not to say the Expos should put him on the 40-man. This is the type of player an organization can afford to let go, even the type that will be banking on an unproven Izturis at shortstop next year. They also have a decision to make with Jay Bergmann, who pitched well in relief when being moved there in high-A. I am leaning towards no, but a solid AFL performance can change minds.

Thats all for today folks, hope everyone will be watching the game of the year at seven tonight. And thats not East Coast bias talking

Baseball BeatOctober 19, 2004
Home Sweep Home
By Rich Lederer

  • Idle Thought: Did anyone watch Monday Night Football last night? I have a strong suspicion that St. Louis fans didn't view the Rams victory and the Cardinals loss as a wash.

  • Who says the home field advantage in baseball is overrated? The home teams in the league championship series are now 9-1. Although the Red Sox and the Astros have the momentum, the Yankees and the Cardinals are returning to the comforts of home where both ballclubs swept the opening two games of the championship series.

  • The Yankees win the first three. The Red Sox win the next two. The Cardinals win two straight. The Astros come roaring back and win three consecutive games. I haven't seen such streakin' since the 1970s.

  • After back-to-back-to-back four, five, and six hour games, I can no longer say that I have never watched a Boston Marathon.

  • The Impossible Dream, Part Two? Everyone knows that no team has ever come back from being down 3-0 to win a series. The Red Sox, as one of only three teams to lose the first three and extend the series to six games, would love to be the first to have a shot at bouncing back from such a deficit and sweeping the final four.

  • If it rains Tuesday night in New York, who does that help more--the Yankees or the Red Sox? The pitching staffs of both teams could sure use the rest. However, an extra day would allow manager Terry Francona to use Pedro Martinez in relief if a Game Seven were held on Thursday.

  • If Roger Clemens shuts down the Cardinals in Game Six, he will end up facing either the Yankees or the Red Sox in the World Series. If you don't think baseball can get much better than what we've seen the past few days, picture the Rocket on the mound in Game Six or Seven of the World Series in Yankee Stadium or Fenway Park with all the marbles on the line.

  • A Brown Out? St. Louis right-hander Julian Tavarez breaks his left hand during a dugout tantrum in Game 4 of the N.L. Championship Series and may not be able to pitch . . . And I thought the Red Sox were the idiots.

  • Does anyone else have the feeling that the Astros are this year's Angels or Marlins? All three teams were wild card entries and came into the postseason as the hottest team in baseball. The Marlins and Astros also changed managers during the season. The Angels and Astros were expansion teams in 1961 and 1962, respectively. Just as it took Anaheim 42 years to make an appearance in the World Series, it will have been 43 years in the making should Houston get there.

  • If, and when, the Astros return home to represent the National League in the World Series, they will have only lost one game at Minute Maid Park the past two months.

  • The top two teams in Rob Neyer's Beane Count in the A.L. are still battling it out while the number one team in the N.L. is trying to hold off the challenge from the number five-ranked ballclub. Significantly, the Seattle Mariners and Arizona Diamondbacks finished last in their respective leagues in the Beane Count while ranking among the bottom three teams in wins in the majors. (Going forward, a look at the Beane Count suggests that if the Phillies can reduce the number of home runs allowed, it would not be inconceivable to see Philadelphia still playing a year from now.)

    In the meantime, there is no correlation between teams that ranked high in productive outs and those that made the postseason. In fact, the Montreal Expos wound up number one in the highest percentage of productive outs on offense and the lowest percentage of productive outs on defense.

    The moral of the story? Give me home runs and walks and you can have all the productive outs you'd like.

  • WTNYOctober 19, 2004
    Cubs Winter (2 of 2)
    By Bryan Smith

    Yesterday, we looked at five Cubs minor leaguers vying for spots on the 40-man roster. This is just one of the many reasons players are sent to winter ball, the other primary reason being simply for more work. Today, well look at five more Cubs players still playing, and look at their status as a prospect, and their future in Cubdom.

    Moises Alou, following one of the best seasons of his career, is a virtual lock to head to free agency. One might think with so many holes in the 2005 roster, the Cubs would take Jason Dubois to fill Alous hole. In 2004, Dubois hit .316/.389/.630 in the Pacific Coast League, right in line with his FSL line of .321/.422/.562. The problem is that Dubois has never played more than 130 games in a season, and walked less than ever in 2004.

    Dubois is currently playing in the Mexican League, probably to get more at-bats. Rumors of the Cubs interest in Carlos Beltran have heated up in recent weeks, increasing the likelihood that Dubois will not receive starting time with the organization. Hes either destined for the bench, as a lefty-masher, or the trade market. There should be a value for him, and the combination of Dubois and Sergio Mitre could make for an attractive package.

    No Cub pitching prospect broke out this season more than Renyel Pinto. Despite respective ERAs of 3.31 and 3.22 in the Midwest League and FSL, Pinto didnt draw a lot of hype despite less than stellar K/9 and K/BB ratios. Things change. As a 22-year-old in the Southern League, Pinto changed all that, striking out 179 in 141.2 IP, while allowing 107 hits and ten home runs. His BB/9 has gone up in each of the last three seasons, a trend that must stop if Pinto is to have a future with this organization.

    Any North Side pitching prospect having a future is highly doubtful, but there is a glimmer of hope. Matt Clement is a free agent at seasons end, and Greg Maddux will likely be gone after 2006. As Alex Ciepley commented yesterday, Jim Hendry will unfortunately lean on Ryan Dempster to fill the fifth starters spot. I believe that Mitre is ready, and Bobby Brownlie, Ricky Nolasco and Pinto are turning the corner. Pinto had the best ERA, H/9, K/9 and HR/9 of the bunch, and right now is the frontrunner. Lets just hope the extra innings in the Venezuelan League dont hurt that left arm.

    Before the season, the Cubs two best southpaw arms belonged to Justin Jones and Andy Sisco, a few high-talent, low-performance prospects. Jones was dealt to the Twins, and Siscos poor season in the FSL puts his future in doubt. Now, the Cubs top two lefties have shifted, to Pinto and Sean Marshall. As a 21-year-old in the Midwest League, Marshall dominated, with a 1.11 ERA in seven starts. Marshall allowed just 29 hits in 48.2 innings, with an awesome strikeout-walk ratio of 51-4.

    According to Baseball America, a publication while amazing that I try to not use too often, Marshall shows great sink on his fastball, and has promise with three other pitches. For some reason, the Cubs aggressively moved Marshall to AA, where he struggled in six starts before hurting his left hand. Sent to the AFL to get more work, Marshall has done well in two starts, posting a 3.18 ERA in 5.2 innings. Hopefully the Cubs wont take risks like promoting Marshall to the Southern League to start 2005, because he might just be my favorite arm in the system.

    Good stuff, bad head. Leon Lee didnt expect this when he signed Jae-Kuk Ryu out of a Korean high school, where Ryu had been one of the best starters in the nation, amateur or not. I wont get into the bird incident of 2003, but questions of Ryus character have begun. It was an injury, not character issues, that limited Ryus innings total to 26 this season. Furthermore, all twenty of Ryus appearances this year came in relief, a destination where Ryu is apparently headed.

    Like Marshall, JK has been sent to the AFL for more work. While Ryus ERA might sit at 3.68 after four games, hes allowed ten hits in 7.1 innings. Jon Leicester, Todd Wellemeyer and Mike Wuertz all currently could encompass roles in the 2005 bullpen. After that, Jermaine Van Buren went from an Independent League signing to possibly the next Joe Borowski. Where does Ryu fit in? Well, the Korean has stuff that none of the aforementioned four can match, and now it just comes down to his head.

    The last prospect well touch on today will be, in all likelihood, the top ranked Cubs prospect this winter. After nearly breaking the Midwest League home run record, Brian Dopirak won both the MVP and Prospect of the Year Award in that level. His power is a lot more developed than the average 20-year-old, and his patience made huge strides this year. For Dopirak, the only skill left to perfect is more contact, as the first basemen has struck out 226 times in 229 career minor league games.

    Sending low-A players to the AFL is risky, but the Cubs need to decide where Dopirak fits on the prospect scale. Hes off to a predictable slow start, hitting just .214/.241/.464 after seven games. The former second rounder will surely be sent to Daytona next year, where hell try to top Brandon Sings club record of 32 home runs. Hell do it. Somewhere I read on the Internet the plan is to move Dopirak to right field and have him replace Sosa. Completely incorrect. Dopiraks lack of athleticism will constrict him to first base, with a possible opening after Derrek Lees current contract runs out (2006).

    Finally, I want to finish on concluding on yesterdays article. I posted this in the comments, but find my work to be enough to re-post here. I went through Geovany Sotos day-by-day box scores, and researched his 2004 month-by-month splits. They go as follows:

    April: .280 (14/50)
    May: .224 (15/67)
    June: .242 (15/62)
    July: .357 (25/70)
    Aug.: .250 (18/72)
    Sept.: .273 (3/11)

    If anything, this only furthers the doubt in my mind that Soto will stall in prospect-land. One month, and particularly an eight-game stretch, changed Sotos season from his career numbers. Hes just 21, and could really be the hitter he is showing, but Im not sold yet. I am sold on his defense, as the catcher threw out 39 of 100 would-be basestealers, for a solid 39% CS percentage. John Hill mentioned in the comments yesterday that Soto appears to be a back-up catcher, and in my opinion, that would be the optimistic thought right now.

    As the rules have been explained to me, the 2004 Rule 5 draft will include all college players drafted in 2002, and high school players drafted in 2001. Well, those, and all the players preceding them, not currently on the 40-man roster. By that token, here is the list I compiled of currently draft-eligible Cubs, to be commented on at another time:

    Nic Jackson, Josh Arteaga, Eric Eckenstahler, Jason Szuminski, Carmen Pignatiello, Andy Sisco, Ricky Nolasco, Geovany Soto, Jon Connolly, Russ Rohlicek, Chadd Blasko, Rich Hill, Luke Hagerty, Matt Clanton, Matt Craig, Chris Walker, Adam Greenberg, Keith Butler, Jason Welie, Rocky Cherry, Jerem Spearman, Donnie Hood, Thomas Atlee, Paul O'Toole, Randy Wells.

    Please drop any thoughts or corrections in the comments.

    WTNYOctober 18, 2004
    Cubs Winter (1 of 2)
    By Bryan Smith

    Sending players to winter league baseball offers numerous perks for Major League organizations. You can get more work for players that were injured, or get perspective on just how good a player is. You can decide where a player fits in your scheme of things, or even send your first round draft picks there. Today, I will evaluate five Cubs players that are fighting for 40-man spots, or risking to be unprotected for Decembers Rule 5 draft.

    First, here are the eligibility rules for the draft, as told by Rob Neyer in the always-valuable Transaction Primer:


    A player not on a team's Major League 40-man roster is eligible for the Rule 5 draft if: the player was 18 or younger when he first signed a pro contract and this is the fourth Rule 5 draft since he signed, OR if he was 19 or older when he first signed a pro contract and this is the third Rule 5 draft since he signed.

    First, lets look at the current state of the Cubs 40-man, which encompasses 39 players, and two on the 60-day DL (Borowski, Hollandsworth). Most recently, southpaws John Koronka and Will Ohman were added to the list. Both left-handers spent the entire season in Iowa, putting together solid seasons, convincing Cubs brass to protect their rights.

    Ohman was highly thought of after putting together a solid 2000 season in AA, culminating in a brief stint in the Majors. In 59 appearances, Ohman had a 1.89 ERA, posting a solid K/9 to boot. He spent 2002 and 2003 on the DL, only to return to AAA this season. In 52.1 innings, Ohman put together a 4.30 ERA with 75 strikeouts. Koronka, acquired from the Reds for Phil Norton, had a 4.34 ERA while starting all season. His peripheral numbers were nearly identical from 2002-2004, with a H/9 around 10.00, and a K/9 of about 6.50. Are these players worth keeping?

    Another question mark comes from Carlos Vasquez, a 21-year-old right-hander from Venezuela that spent all season in Daytona. If unprotected, Vasquez could fall victim to being drafted in the Rule 5 draft. But, after posting a H/9 of 10.80 in the FSL, the chance of a team taking a flyer isnt great.

    Battling Ohman and Koronka for the 40-man LOOGY spots will be Russ Rohlicek, formerly acquired from the Houston Astros for Tom Gordon. This season, the 6-5 southpaw put together a season similar to Ohmans 2000: 2.02 ERA, 5.74 H/9, too many walks. His lack of control, and inability to have a K/9 over 9.00, has raised questions on his future with the organization. So far in the AFL, Rohlicek has struck out 8 in 5.2 innings, although he has surrendered 9 hits and 4 walks.

    Of the four winter league position-players Ill talk about today, only one is currently on the 40-man: Ronny Cedeno. A great defensive infielder, Cedeno has never played 120 games in a season. Furthermore, this season was the first since 2001 where Cedeno hit over .220, after hitting .350 in the Arizona League. This year, his line of .279/.328/.401 is definitely not enough to be protected, and must convince the Cubs front office otherwise in the AFL. Hes doing so thus far, putting together a line of .364/.440/.500 in 22 at-bats.

    Cedenos primary infielder competitor is Matt Craig, a third-round pick in the 2002 draft from the University of Richmond. In his second full season of professional baseball, Craig hit a solid .275/.363/.509 in the pitcher-friendly Southern League. Primarily a third basemen, I love the fact that Craigs ISO jumped to .234 this season. While he completely lacks the athleticism to play other positions on the diamond, Id love to see what Craig does in Iowa next year. Definitely more so than Ronny Cedeno.

    Two other players from that West Tenn AA roster that will compete for spots are Adam Greenberg and Geovony Soto. Chosen six rounds after Craig in that 2002 draft, Greenbergs line of .295/.385/.415 in the FSL stayed consistent from 2003-2004. And that, solid plate discipline and no power, is what Greenberg offers as an outfielder. He also offers decent speed, going about 25/35 each of the last two seasons. But does that kind of player have a future in this franchise?

    The Cubs system isnt exactly flush in catching prospects, so you can understand their reluctance to open the possibility of losing Geovany Soto. A 21-year-old Puerto Rican catcher, Soto put together a decent .271/.355/.401 line in the Southern League. This isnt very far from Greenbergs line in Daytona, and hes three years younger and plays a much more valuable position. But, he had been terrible in 2003, so the Cubs arent sure which Soto to believe in. So, hell play in the AFL (4/17 so far), and then follow that up with some games in the Dominican League.

    If I was Oneri Fleita, I would protect Rohlicek rather than Will Ohman, as hes a lot more projectable. I would also drop Cedeno and Vasquez from the 40-man, and take the risk that neither will be selected and kept in the Rule 5 draft. I would leave all three other players unprotected, gambling that none are good enough to hang around the Majors all season long. That leaves 37 men on the 40-man, leaving room for all the free agents I want the club to sign this offseason.

    Baseball BeatOctober 16, 2004
    The Hot (And Not So Hot) Corner
    By Rich Lederer

  • News Item: Colorado Rockies 3B Vinny Castilla declined his part of a mutual option for 2005.

    Lee Sinins reports that Castilla had -9 Runs Created Above Average (aka nine runs below average) in 148 games in 2004. Sinins writes that Vinny has a "Coors-inflated .813 career OPS, compared to his league average of .771, and -159 RCAA in 1625 games."

    For the uninitiated, this is a great example of how runs created on a park-adjusted basis captures the essence of a player like Castilla, who has put up what appear to be gaudy numbers throughout his career (including a N.L.-leading 131 RBI in 2004). However, he has actually been a below-average producer when viewed in the context of his home ballpark and the era in which he has played.

    On the surface, one might think that Castilla's .280 career average and 303 home runs would be such that he would be viewed as one of the most productive hitters to ever man the hot corner. Au contraire. There have been more than 50 3B who have played 1000 or more games with positive RCAA totals as compared to Castilla's minus 159. Get this, our man Vinny has the fourth worst RCAA total among all third basemen in the history of the game. Only Aurelio Rodriguez, Ken Reitz, and Billy Shindle have generated such ugly totals.

    In fairness to Castilla, the 37-year-old must have some value or else he would never have stuck around this long in the big leagues. It is fair to say though that his career stats greatly overrate him. He is one of three players to hit 300 HR and put up negative RCAA totals. The others? Fellow third baseman Gary Gaetti (a reasonable comp) and Lance Parrish who, as a catcher, was a much more valuable player than Castilla. Parrish actually created 130 runs above his position whereas Castilla's RCAP total has been nearly as bad as his RCAA.

    Other overrated players based on RCAP include Joe Carter, Cecil Fielder, Dave Kingman, and Lee May--all of whom also slugged at least 300 HR while producing at a lower rate than the average player at their respective position (i.e., negative RCAP totals).

    Suffice it to say that Castilla has been a bigger beneficiary of Coors than all the family's kids and grandkids combined.

  • Speaking of the hot corner, Bob Keisser of the (Long Beach) Press-Telegram, in a column today regarding the Dodgers and Angels facing the loss of free agent third basemen Adrian Beltre and Troy Glaus, reveals an "an idle thought picked up from a scout": The Yankees will sign Beltre, move Alex Rodriguez to shortstop and Derek Jeter to second base.

    Signing Beltre would not only give the Yankees another big bat, but it would enable them to finally put all the pieces where they rightfully belong. Adding one of the best third basemen in the game would "force" the team to find a home for Rodriguez and make it easier for Jeter to accept a switch to the other half of the keystone combination.

    Sign me up for first base because an infield consisting of Beltre, Rodriguez, and Jeter could be one of the best in the history of the game.

  • WTNYOctober 15, 2004
    Armchair GM Friday
    By Bryan Smith

    Can prospects cause position battles? How will some good players in the minors force their organizations GM to re-evaluate that position? Last year, the Twins traded A.J. Pierzynski to make way for Joe Mauer. There have been numerous examples of top prospects being dealt because there is just no room for them. Today I have five examples of such situations, and some guesses on just what might happen

    1. Andy Marte and Jeff Francoeur- Atlantas situation is really interesting. The team has stated their top offseason priority is re-signing J.D. Drew, and with most of their rotation headed to free agency, will have the money to bring him back. Andruw Jones is not moving away from center anytime soon, so Francoeur will not be playing center or right with Atlanta. That would force him to left field, where Charles Thomas and Eli Marrero were playing this year. Well, Francoeur is better than those two, so thats not a problem, right?

    No. That means Chipper Jones has to play third base, the position where top prospect Andy Marte plays. So, Chipper cant go to third, or back to left, so where? First base is filled by Adam LaRoche, who had a positive first season right in line with John Sickels prediction. To me, this means Chipper Jones, who is signed through 2006, with big options for 2007-2008, or $5M buyouts. Yikes.

    If they move Chipper, they will have to land some pitching to fill out that rotation. I have mentioned the As sending one of the Big Three, though I doubt Billy Beane would ever want to take on that contract. If not Oakland, who? Seriously, any ideas?

    2. Jason Kubel- According to Peter Gammons, when Terry Ryan went out looking for help at the deadline, he would not part with Kubel. This is a guy that hit better than .350/.400/.600 this year in the minors, breaking out of a shell in a big way. But, the Twins are stacked in the outfield, already using Shannon Stewart, Lew Ford, Torii Hunter and Jacque Jones in three spots. But putting Kubel on the postseason roster showed that he fits in their plans, for next year.

    To do that, the Twins must finally trade Jacque Jones. Now I know he came up big in the playoffs, and has been there forever, but trade him. And if you can trade Shannon Stewart, which I doubt, do that too. An outfield of Ford-Hunter-Kubel would be in the best interest of Terry Ryan. Jones brings in the third starter that Carlos Silva only sometimes is, and moves Kyle Lohse where he belongs: the five-hole.

    3. Casey Kotchman- Mike Scioscia has recently called Darin Erstad, and I think I heard this on Fox TV, one of the best first basemen hes ever seen. Whats funny, is that Casey Kotchman has always drawn comparisons to Mark Grace, a former Gold Glover. With an outfield stacked with Guillen-Anderson-Guerrero, there is no clear setting for Erstad. And wasnt it in some Gammons column where Scioscia said he would quit if Erstad wasnt on that team.

    Well luckily for Bill Stonemann, a September situation answered this conundrum. Jose Guillens run-in with the Angels was enough to get traded, which sends Erstad back to center, Garret Anderson to left, and Kotchman to first. And remember, this is the same team that is putting Dallas McPherson at third base, while letting Troy Glaus go. Furthermore, they could dump both Adam Kennedy and David Eckstein, and instead use a middle infield of Nomar-Figgins.

    4. Ian Kinsler- Now listen, Im not the biggest believer in Ian Kinsler. Sickels said hes going to give the former Missouri Tiger a grade of B+ or better, a rating that I hardly concur on. Kinsler could be an average Major League shortstop, but pardon me, I dont see a lot more than Rich Aurilia here. But, thanks for the memorable Midwest League season Ian.

    Well, the 2004 Texas Rangers sported a solid middle infield of MVP candidate Michael Young, and the solid Alfonso Soriano. To me, there are 2 options for John Hart. First, finally move Soriano to the outfield, where he joins Kevin Mench and Laynce Nix. Then, put Young back at second, using Kinsler as the shortstop. Secondly, save the $6M on Sorianos arbitration, and trade him for some pitching. This, after seeing that Ryan Drese and Kenny Rogers were the Rangers best starters, appears to be the best option.

    5. Joel Guzman- Go over to Dodger Thoughts, and read Jon Weismans recent post on the future of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Its damn good, I wish every team had someone to do this. To summarize, Weisman stresses the fact that Los Angeles should take the risk and re-sign Adrian Beltre. This, mixed with Cesar Izturis good season at short, prevents Joel Guzman from having a future in Los Angeles.

    Guzman, all of 6-6, is said to have outgrown the shortstop position. Im not sure I buy that, and think the Dodgers should give him a try there. My plan? Start the 2005 season with Beltre at third, Izturis at short, and Antonio Perez at second base. When Guzman is ready, move Izturis over to second, and send Perez to the bench. Should Guzman not look good up the middle, send him packing in a deadline deal. If he plays well with Izturis, trade Antonio Perez.

    And then before long, youll see Delwyn Young cause a position battle with Cesar Izturis

    Five more quick problems:
    - Ryan Howard in Philly- With Jim Thome, there is no spot for Howard. They are trying him at left, but there is no way a team can have Ryan Howard and Pat Burrell as their corner outfielders. It just cant work. Look for Howard to get traded.
    - Eric Duncan in the Big Apple- Baseball America claims that Eric Duncan, a Yankee product, does not have the athleticism for second base. They suggest first, a spot I believe will be filled by Mike Lowell in the offseason. Duncan is a great talent, and if the Yankees hold onto him for another year, might have the best trade bait in the minors.
    - Hanley Ramirez in New England- Orlando Cabrera is coming back, I can guarantee it. Boston also loves Mark Bellhorn, at second base. What to do with Hanley, who looked like he finally started to put it together at the start of the year? Well, I would spend 2005 teaching Ramirez the second base position, with the plan of inserting him there in 2006.
    - Aaron Hill in Canada- Youll see when I come out with rankings at a later date, Im a fan of Aaron Hill. He started to look better at years end, and I think he could be a special hitter. Some are calling for him to move to third, with Hinske being run out of town, and Orlando Hudson staying. Instead, Ive always supported the notion of trading Hudson, and moving the small Russ Adams to Orlandos spot.
    - Joe Blanton in Oakland- He was toying with a 5.00 ERA in the PCL at some point, but finished in the low-4.00s. Blanton is ready to be a Major League pitcher, and should give Billy Beane enough leg room to trade one of the Big Three. If I was in charge of Oakland, and that aint happening soon, here would be the 2005 lineup:

    C- Damian Miller
    1B- Dan Johnson
    2B- Mark Ellis
    SS- Bobby Crosby
    3B- Eric Chavez
    LF- Chipper Jones
    CF- Mark Kotsay
    RF- Nick Swisher
    DH- Erubiel Durazo

    Yeah, that would work. Bummed that the World Series will have St. Louis and New York, this is armchair GM Bryan Smith, signing out

    Baseball BeatOctober 13, 2004
    A Nearly Perfect Night
    By Rich Lederer

    Game One. American League Championship Series. Red Sox @ Yankees. FOX TV.

    4:30 PST -- My son Joe, donning his Red Sox jersey, and I stretch out on the leather couch. Time to take in the pre-game shows on YES and NESN.

    4:58 -- We switch the channel to FOX and put the remote control away for the evening.

    5:00 -- Star Wars pre-game spoof complete with Johnny Damon as Chewbacca and Don Zimmer as The Emperor.

    5:13 -- Commercial break. After having several fall previews forced upon me, I'm not sure why anyone would ever watch FOX other than to take in a ballgame.

    5:15 -- Joe Buck begins by calling the Yankees and Red Sox "The Best Rivalry in Sports." He is joined by Tim McCarver forever plaid and Al Leiter, who is looking dapper in his suit and tie. Leiter just might be the best left-hander in the ballpark.

    5:20 -- The action begins and Mike Mussina strikes out Johnny Damon on three pitches.

    5:22 -- McCarver informs us that the Yankees are the only team to win 100 games without having a 15-game winner.

    5:24 -- After the second Moose call of the evening, Manny Ramirez grounds out to John Olerud who tosses the ball to Mussina for an easy out.

    5:26 -- The George Steinbrenner-Joe Torre ("with two Rs") Visa commercial makes its debut for the evening.

    5:28 -- Curt Schilling faces Derek Jeter, who is 3-for-21 off the Boston right-hander. First pitch, a fastball down the middle for a called strike. Jeter hits a long fly ball that Trot Nixon runs down in right-center field.

    5:29 -- Alex Rodriguez comes to the plate. His steal of third base in the fourth and deciding game of the ALDS didn't get as much pub as I thought was warranted. Without that theft, A-Rod doesn't score on the subsequent wild pitch.

    5:30 -- Ten minutes into the game and Leiter speaks for the first time.

    5:33 -- Gary Sheffield rips a line-drive double into the LF corner on a hanging slider over the outside part of the plate. Does anybody hit the ball harder than the Yankee slugger?

    5:36 -- Hideki Matsui does his best impression of Ichiro Suzuki by chipping a one-handed double to left field. Sheffield scores and the Yankees draw first blood.

    5:37 -- Bernie Williams hits an RBI single up the middle. Three two-out hits. NY 2, BOS 0. A graphic is displayed, indicating that the Yankees were 55-18 when scoring first this year--the second best record in the majors behind the St. Louis Cardinals.

    5:38 -- Jorge Posada grounds out 4-3. Inning over. Time to put the fish on the grill.

    5:46 -- Kevin Millar, with his paint-brush looking goatee, grounds out 6-3. With the way Millar yanks things, he's bound to end up blind.

    5:47 -- McCarver: "Jeter has the calmest pair of eyes under pressure." The love affair begins.

    5:53 -- Mariano Rivera arrives at the ballpark.

    5:56 -- Having lost track of time, I make a dash for the barbeque. Opening up the hood, I haven?t seen salmon that done since Tim went on the DL earlier this year.

    5:58 -- Jason Varitek, who was moved down to seventh in the batting order apparently in response to an 0-34 season with 18 Ks in New York, flies out to left.

    6:01 -- Bill Mueller pops out to short. Nine up, nine down.

    6:05 -- A-Rod follows a Jeter single with an infield hit. First and second with Sheffield coming up.

    6:08 -- Buck and Leiter discuss the fact that Schilling appears to be favoring his ankle. He is throwing 5 mph below his normal velocity and is leaving the ball up in the zone. The replays show Schilling is not pushing off the rubber. Great work guys.

    6:10 -- Sheffield walks on a 3-2 pitch to load the bases with no outs.

    6:10 -- Godzilla mashes a three-run double off the wall in right field, clearing the bases. Yankees up 5-0. Much to Schilling?s chagrin, the New York fans haven't "shut up" yet.

    6:13 -- After a Bernie Williams ground out that advances Matsui to third, Posada hits a sacrifice fly to center. A productive out I hear Buster Olney whisper. 6-0 Yankees.

    6:14 -- As John Olerud draws a four-pitch walk, a "Curt Shelling" banner is shown hanging over the facade down the right-field line.

    6:21 -- Damon strikes out looking on a 3-2 pitch which the replay shows was inside.

    6:22 -- A Gillette M3 Power razor ad is displayed behind the batter. Does Boston have any razor ads or razors, for that matter?

    6:23 -- Mark Bellhorn is also called out on strikes on another 3-2 pitch that the replay clearly indicates was a ball. Instead of two on with nobody out, Manny strolls to the plate with nobody on and two outs.

    6:25 -- Ramirez takes a called third strike for the first legitimate K of the inning.

    6:35 -- With Schilling watching from the dugout, Lofton and Jeter draw back-to-back walks off Curtis Leskanic.

    6:40 -- After A-Rod hits into a 6-4-3 DP, Sheffield strikes out looking in an at bat which features Varitek framing pitches in a manner resembling a Little League catcher.

    6:45 -- McCarver points out that Mussina has taken perfect games into the ninth inning twice.

    6:48 -- Mussina fans Ortiz and Millar, tying a LCS record with five consecutive Ks (a record he already shared with Schilling).

    6:50 -- Leiter explains the knuckle curve grip from the booth and a video still of Mussina adds to the excellent presentation. However, I could do without Scooter.

    6:51 -- With the home crowd chanting, "Who?s your Daddy," Mussina flashes his five-time Gold Glove skills by fielding Nixon's checkswing groundball toward the third base side of the mound with ease.

    6:54 -- Matsui flies out to deep left field off Ramiro Mendoza. Is it just me or has Manny made some big catches this year?

    6:56 -- Rivera appears in the Yankees bullpen, hugging his fellow relievers while the fans cheer "Mar-i-an-o."

    6:59 -- Olerud, a Wayne Gretzky lookalike, hits a slapshot to shallow left, advancing Posada to third.

    7:00 -- Buck and McCarver are talking ad nauseam about Schilling's ankle, covering it more than Curt's sock.

    7:03 -- With five perfect innings in the book, when will we hear the first Don Larsen reference?

    7:06 -- After witnessing another one of Mussina's knuckle curves, I wonder if it has ever been referred to as a "moose dropping?"

    7:07 -- Aha, the Larsen reference is displayed graphically.

    7:08 -- Mueller flies out to shallow left. Mussina has gone through 18 faster than the first group off your local muni.

    7:09 -- How good is that Louis Armstrong song ("When We Are Dancing I Get Ideas") in the RICOH commercial? Satchmo is the best.

    7:11 -- Lofton pulls a Tim Wakefield knuckler down the line for a solo HR to give the Yankees a 7-0 lead. Deja Boone?

    7:16 -- With two outs, Sheff cooks a ball between Ramirez and Damon for a double.

    7:17 -- Matsui singles down the first base line, scoring Sheffield for his 5th RBI of the game (tying an ALCS record). Yankees 8, Red Sox nothing (and I mean NOTHING).

    7:25 -- With one out in the top of the seventh, Bellhorn breaks up Mussina?s perfect game with a double off the left-field wall. The Yankee faithful reward their ace with a standing-O.

    7:29 -- One out later, Ortiz singles to right. Mussina looks spent.

    7:31 -- Millar doubles just over Matsui's glove, driving in Bellhorn and Ortiz. Perfect game. Gone. Shutout. Gone. Mussina. Gone?

    7:32 -- With Mussina still in the game, Millar trots in with Nixon's single up the middle. Yankees 8, Boston 3.

    7:33 -- Tanyon Sturtze gets the call from the bullpen as Mussina exits stage left. Who do you like now? NY -5 runs or BOS +5? Give me Boston and the runs, thank you. Heck, I might just take Boston straight up.

    7:36 -- Sturtze gives up a two-run homer to the Catcher Formerly Known as Oh-Fer. 8 to 5. What a way to make a living!

    7:37 -- Let me get this straight?Mussina started the inning with a perfect game and ends up not getting a "quality start"?

    7:45 -- Terry Francona hands the ball over to Alan Embree to start the bottom of the seventh. Boston's going through pitchers quicker than a frat party.

    7:48 -- Embree, who sports more cheek than Paris Hilton (that should earn me a couple of Google searches!), gets Posada and Olerud quickly.

    7:52 -- After a Miguel Cairo single, Lofton pops out to Ramirez. Manny has seen more flies than the New York Sanitation Department.

    7:58 -- After Mueller opens the inning with an infield hit off Tom Gordon, Damon whiffs--giving him more Ks for the evening than Mike Krzyzewski.

    8:01 -- Manny fists a two-out single to left center, advancing Mueller to third.

    8:03 -- Ortiz makes his way to the plate, representing the tying run. I live for this!

    8:04 -- The Boston DH launches a triple off the top of the left-field wall, missing a homerun by two feet. Do Red Sox fans now think Ortiz is Mo better than Vaughn?

    8:06 -- With the Yankees clinging to an 8-7 lead, Torre calls on Rivera to get the game's last four outs.

    8:10 -- Millar pops out to Jeter to end the Red Sox rally. Looks like Papi's not coming home.

    8:26 -- Two on and two out?Bernie jazzes the crowd with a double just out of Ramirez's reach. Is it just me or has Manny made some big catches this year? Yankees 10, Red Sox 7.

    8:35 -- McCarver announces that the Yankees are 88-2 this season when leading after the 8th inning. The good news for Boston is that both losses were at the hands of the Red Sox.

    8:39 -- Varitek and Orlando Cabrera mount a one-out rally with successive singles.

    8:40 -- It's Mueller Time. Another home run by the Red Sox third baseman off Rivera would sure taste great to Boston.

    8:41 -- Mueller is apparently less filling. Bill grounds into a 1-6-3 double play to end the game.

    8:42 -- Rivera is all smiles as his teammates pour onto the field to congratulate him. What a day for Mariano. What a night for baseball fans!

    WTNYOctober 13, 2004
    Rookies of 2005 (2.0)
    By Bryan Smith

    Lets pick it up where we left off yesterday, looking at the rookies of 2005. Yesterday I did the AL, today with the NL. While I thought there would be a lot more great names in the National League, only to come up a little disappointed. Lets get into it

    Starting in the NL East lies the Atlanta Braves, an organization proven to succeed despite many changes. Three-fifths of the 2004 rotation become free agents at seasons end, but still, John Scheurholtzs top concern will be re-signing J.D. Drew. This creates a little necessity for young pitching, enter Jose Capellan and Dan Meyer. Ive always thought of Capellan as a reliever, but admitted after seeing him that he could possibly make it as a Bartolo Colon-type. Im not sold, and would much rather see Meyer land a spot, a pitcher who reminds me of a more polished version of Mark Redman.

    Both top position prospects Andy Marte and Jeff Francoeur finished the season in AA, and will be ready before too long. Yesterday I advised Billy Beane to trade one of the Big Three, today I will comment that Braves brass should consider dealing Chipper Jones for some pitching. Jones moved from left back to third mid-season, which are fittingly the two positions of the prospects listed above. Marte should be ready about when Alexis Rios was last season, meaning the team needs just a temporary replacement there. And if the Charles Thomas/Eli Marrero continues to succeed, stick with it, though be ready to put in the former top pick.

    In the rest of the division, the highlight will be the possible appearances of four great arms: Gavin Floyd, Scott Olsen, Yusmeiro Petit and Mike Hinckley. Floyd is the most likely to stick, as he had some ups and downs in a September call-up in Philly. I would call Olsen, with some of the best southpaw stuff in the minors, the longshot of the group. Petit could be up there quick if the Mets are in a semi-rebuilding mode, though you know that is not likely. Finally, I have always liked Hinckley, and think he could be ready for the new Washington (Insert Name Here)s.

    There should also be some hitters. Should Mike Lowell option out of his contract, as rumored, expect the team to give Joe Dillon a chance at the hot corner. While old for a prospect, the team should look at successes of Bucky Jacobsen and Terry Tiffee to tell you that more important than age sometimes, is performance. The team could also insert Josh Willingham behind the plate, who showed a lot of power in the pitcher-friendly Southern League. Avkash Patel will see a rookie next year in New York, and hell tell you hed much prefer Victor Diaz to Jeff Keppinger. But if Peter Gammons is right, and hes known for that, expect Jose Reyes to be dealt, and the high-average, low-else Keppinger to be inserted at second.

    With new teams, oftentimes comes new promise for some players. Ownership in Washington wont be inserted until mid-way through the winter, giving the team no leadership to develop a team. That means that holes on the left side, are likely to be filled by Maicer Izturis and Brendan Harris. This is hardly despicable, as both did quite well last year in AAA. Ryan Church was even better, but looks blocked by a decent Washington outfield of Wilkerson-Sledge-Rivera. Should one be moved, and Wilkerson might, look for Church to get the first look in the outfield.

    For years the St. Louis Cardinals have had one of the games worst farm systems, leaving Walt Jocketty to build the now champion team out of mostly spare parts (minus Albert Pujols). But things are slowly changing in the land by the Arch, as the Cardinals are developing a few players that might be worth a look. While Ill always hope Rick Ankiel gets the first look at any opening in the rotation, also expect competition from Anthony Reyes, Brad Thompson, and Adam Wainwright. The latter fell of the truck with a terrible season in AAA, making the J.D. Drew trade look even better for Atlanta. Thompson began the season amazingly, got hurt, and finished Wainwrightish. Reyes is the stud, posting some jaw-dropping AA numbers, and could be in by midseason.

    Houston will be targeting one name this offseason, and Gerry Hunsicker will tell you: Carlos Beltran. This means the team will decline Jeff Kents option, giving second base to collegiate product Chris Burke following a great PCL season. The team could also give Fernando Nieve a role in the back end of the rotation, a la Brandon Backe, if he continues to impress. The Cubs will also be after Beltran, likely blocking Jason Dubois from the spot he so rightfully deserves. Furthermore, dont expect Dusty Baker to be calling for Southern League batting champ Richard Lewis to be his Opening Day second basemen, though I could see him taking Grudzis spot in the second half of that platoon.

    And then there is, yawn, the rest of the NL Central. I think Zach Duke is going to be a good Major Leaguer for the Pirates, specifically looking at his ridamndiculous HR/9 rate this season. In my book, hes more likely to achieve success than John Vanbenschoten or Ian Snell. Ben Hendrickson has too many innings to still be a rookie, and he could be the Brewers only hyped prospect in the Majors next year. But, dont rule out significant contributions from Dave Krynzel or of course Rickie Weeks, who needs a bounce back season. Cincinnati has nothing until you get to AA, where they might break their 3B drought with Edwin Encarnacion, or actually develop a pitcher in Richie Gardner. Dont bet on either.

    Lets close out this party with the NL West, and specifically the division champs. I commented extensively in the comments of Jons great offseason preview article at Dodger Thoughts, but will re-echo my thoughts here. Despite Baseball Americas concerns, I think the Dodgers should give Joel Guzman a chance at short. Let him start the season in the minors, with Izturis-Antonio Perez up the middle in L.A. If Guzmans successes continue, either move Izturis to second, or to another team. And finally, I think Chad Billingsley actually might have as much of a chance at a rotation slot as, huh, my 2003 #3 prospect Edwin Jackson.

    At the back end of yesterdays article, I mentioned Felix Hernandez in the American League. His National League counterpart? Well, Matt Cain of the San Francisco Giants. I could see him fly to the Majors, though I wont be asking for any lines for him from the Bellagio either. More likely Giant candidates are Brad Hennessey or even Merkin Valdez. Also, expect David Aardsma to get a look-see out of the bullpen.

    The two good pitching prospects getting 2005 opportunities will be Jeff Francis and Tim Stauffer. I could have, of course, misunderstood the rookie rule, meaning Francis is not a 2005 rookie, so please correct me. But if he is, hes the Scott Kazmir of the NL, the young pitcher that could struggle badly, or be the odds-on favorite to win the ROY. Stauffer is solid, and probably your safest bet. Hes never really struggled at any level, but lives on edge. I love what I saw in the Futures Game, and if he continues that, should be a success story.

    Predicting the future of the Arizona Diamondbacks is a fools game. In the outfield, they could go with Carlos Quentin, Conor Jackson or Josh Kroeger. They could use Dustin Nippert in their rotation. They could sign Stephen Drew, send him to AA, watch him tear it up, and promote him by June. For this organization, anything can happen. But the prospects are coming in floods, and by 2006, Joe Garigiola Jr. wont know what to do with himself.

    *********

    Well, that is a lot of names in two days. While you might have preferred the simplified version before the two days and 3,000 words, here would be my top five contenders for each leagues 2005 Rookie of the Year.

    American League Contenders
    Dallas McPherson
    Nick Swisher
    Russ Adams
    Scott Kazmir
    Jason Kubel

    National League 6 Contenders
    Dan Meyer
    Gavin Floyd
    Chris Burke
    Brendan Harris
    Jeff Francis
    Tim Stauffer

    WTNYOctober 12, 2004
    Rookies of 2005
    By Bryan Smith

    In the next two days, my hope is to provide you with the ultimate resource for what my title implies: next seasons rookies. I dont want to just touch on who could win Rookie of the Year, but ultimately touch on the majority of players that will cross the rookie threshold next year. B.J. Upton and David Wright might not be high up on Rookie of the Year ballots, but not every baseball fan knew their names last year.

    To provide a thorough list, I first look at the players that had cups of coffee with the Major League organization this season. All these players are highly likely to play next year, many of whom will compete for the top rookie slot. I also look through each organizations AAA and AA rosters, for players that didnt get call-ups this year, but will get time next year. And finally, I quickly perused over the Baseball America high-A league top 20 prospects, to look for players that might make the big jump next season.

    Today I will cover the American League, which should have some nice ROY competition next season. I might be wrong on a few players, and whether or not they still qualify as rookies, so please correct me.

    In the American League East, its normally safe to say no big rookies will be coming in through Beantown or the Bronx. We saw Kevin Youkilis appear in Boston this season, but few rookies ever have a chance to make a difference with these powerhouses. If Boston spends too much money re-signing their core, look for Theo Epstein to trust Abe Alvarez to be his fifth starter. Ive always been a fan of Alvarez, who Rich Lederer also likes, from Long Beach State.

    The majority of the rookies will be coming through Toronto, who could have as many as six next season. Russ Adams looked spectacular in a September call-up, and probably did enough to force J.P. Riccardi to trade Chris Woodward or Orlando Hudson. While Gustavo Chacin might not have made the difference Adams did, shutting down the Yankees for seven innings will always get you noticed. Carlos Delgados exit should open the door for Eric Crozier, a midseason acquisition from the Cleveland Indians. Furthermore, the closer reins could be handed over to Brandon League as early as next year, and he has sensational stuff. Finally, while they shouldnt make much of a difference, notice that Guillermo Quiroz and Aaron Hill are right over the horizon.

    As much as Baltimore and Tampa need makeovers, they wont be getting much of them. Scott Kazmir still qualifies as a rookie, and should be guaranteed a slot in next years rotation. This season, Baltimore showed they arent hesitant to start rookies, possibly opening a door for former Tar Heel, John Maine. Val Majewski, who I wrote about last week, could land a spot if his arm injury heals over the offseason. The Devil Rays have a bevy of outfielders to choose from (Joey Gathright, Jonny Gomes, Matt Diaz), but no spots with Crawford, Baldelli, and Jose Cruz. Finally, two pitchers that could make a difference are Devil Ray reliever Chad Orvella, and Oriole Hayden Penn. Penn busted on the prospect scene this year, and another explosion will surely land him in Camden Yards.

    Moving to the Central, it should come as no shock that the division champs could have the most rookies next season. The Twins are always known to shake things up, and 2005 should not change that notion. Im already lobbying for the trade of Jacque Jones, as Terry Ryan has already shown confidence in top prospect Jason Kubel. The team also gave a significant number of appearances to Jesse Crain, who should further strengthen next seasons bullpen. The left side of the infield could be entirely new, as both Jason Bartlett and Terry Tiffee, have shown they are ready to replace Guzman and Koskie. And should any rotation spots open up, watch out for J.D. Durbin, or darkhorse prospect Francisco Liriano.

    We see an obvious difference in philosophies between Terry Ryan and Kenny Williams in the fact that the White Sox might not debut any rookies next year. Top prospects Brandon McCarthy and Brian Anderson might have chances, but neither will make a significant impact. Kansas City, shockingly, will see much of the same, with only Denny Bautista and Mark Teahen possibly getting serious time. And in Tigerland, as Dave Dambrowski keeps refusing to start from the youth, we should really only see Curtis Granderson. But dont rule out possible time from second basemen Ryan Raburn, and WTNY favorite, former first round pick from Rice, Kenny Baugh.

    Mark Shapiro will continue his change of the Indians dynamics, as he continuously gives young players opportunities. Jhonny Peralta, Brandon Phillips nor Grady Sizemore can still be considered rookies, but it will be interesting to watch how Eric Wedge uses them in his lineup. All three have already shown some amount of Major League readiness. The Indians rookies should be in the pitching staff, with Francisco Cruceta as the most likely rotation candidate. Also, look for Fernando Cabrera and former top collegiate hurler Jeremy Guthrie to get looks out of the bullpen. The only possible hitter that might make a difference is Ryan Garko, a C/1B type that could steal Josh Phelps job from him.

    Finally, we go out to the West, which should offer some fantastic rookies. The first and most notable is Dallas McPherson, who we saw this October on Mike Scioscias playoff roster. The Angels will not even attempt to pursue Troy Glaus, leaving room for Fabians arch nemesis. But expect McPherson to factor into the ROY debate, if not with average but power and opportunity. I dont believe that Casey Kotchman still qualifies, but lets all pray that on Opening Day 2005, no matter how highly Scioscia thinks of Darin Erstad, Kotchman is 3 in your scorecard.

    Billy Beane, whos farm system I often criticize, will have a chance to prove me wrong next year. Former top pick Nick Swisher showed enough in September to convince As brass hes their starting right fielder next season. Swishers average will probably be lower than McPherson, but expect a good OBP and ISO in his first full season. Joe Blanton, also chose in that draft, had a tough year before a great finish, and his K/BB and HR/9 rates would be enough to convince me hes their fifth starter. Note to Beane: trade one of the Big Three. Oh, and Scott Hatteberg, so PCL MVP Dan Johnson can finally get a chance. Who knows what this team does with Octavio Dotel, but I can promise you that both Jairo Garcia and Huston Street will contend for some save opportunities.

    The Rangers had a breakout season in 2004, but like Kansas City in 2003, will fail unless they add more pitching. They will be hard pressed to find much from their farm system, as scouts think quite lowly of Chris Young, Kameron Loe, and Nick Regilio. If any Ranger prospect makes a difference, it will be John Hudgins, a prospect who I am borderline obsessed with. A former Stanford graduate, if Hudgins avoids arm troubles, Im convinced hell make Grady Fuson proud. Finally, while they shouldnt make much of a difference, expect John Hart to let Adrian Gonzalez or Jason Botts compete for the DH spot.

    Last and rightfully least, are the Seattle Mariners. After Clint Nageotte and Travis Blackley overstayed their welcomes, expect their chances to be limited in 2005. But I like the Australian southpaw, and still believe that Nageotte could be a force alongside Rafael Soriano in the bullpen. As for the lineup, the story of the offseason will be if Bill Bavasi makes room for either Jeremy Reed or Shin-Soo Choo. The former was Septembers best call-up, while the latter is one of the scouts most favorite prospects. But most of all, I would be remiss not to mention Felix Hernandez, who if he reaches the Majors as quick as Zack Greinke, could make waves in the Rookie of the Year debate.

    If Bat-Girl is promoting Santana/Nathan in the 04 campaign, would it be wrong to start asking for your vote (think Internet Baseball Awards) for King Felix in the 05 ROY race?

    Baseball BeatOctober 11, 2004
    Archiving the Abstracts
    By Rich Lederer

    With seven of the 12 Baseball Abstract reviews completed, I thought it would be helpful for reference purposes to link each of them for easy access. The entire series will be added to the sidebar in due time.

    1977 Baseball Abstract
    1978 Baseball Abstract
    1979 Baseball Abstract
    1980 Baseball Abstract
    1981 Baseball Abstract
    1982 Baseball Abstract
    1983 Baseball Abstract

    In addition to these reviews, I wrote an article ("The James Gang") about the assistants who have worked for Bill James over the years. I am hopeful of posting other related articles at the conclusion of the series as well.

    I have added the links to the discussion threads at Baseball Primer at the end of each of the reviews and have inserted an updated reproduction of a classic Bill James graph from the 1982 Baseball Abstract in that particular review. The graph is courtesy of none other than Studes of Baseball Graphs and The Hardball Times.

    I may be guilty of being overly ambitious, but I am planning on adhering to the following schedule for the remaining five reviews:

  • 1984 Baseball Abstract -- week of October 18-24
  • 1985 Baseball Abstract -- week of October 25-31
  • 1986 Baseball Abstract -- week of November 1-7
  • 1987 Baseball Abstract -- week of November 8-14
  • 1988 Baseball Abstract -- week of November 15-21

    The 1977-1981 Baseball Abstracts were self-published by Bill James and the 1982-1988 Abstracts were published by Ballantine Books, a division of Random House. Copies of the book covers for each of the Abstracts are included at the beginning of the respective review.

    I have enjoyed putting together this series and am looking forward to completing the reviews over the next month.

  • WTNYOctober 11, 2004
    When Four Becomes More
    By Bryan Smith

    Before the season began, there were four highly regarded catching prospects touted with having extremely high ceilings. All four had already reached AA, and had their respective teams thinking about how to fit them into future plans. All four fit into my preseason top fifty, and probably just about every top 50 in America. One I wrote about a couple weeks ago, as a year later Joe Mauers future is a much hotter topic than the other three.

    Think about it. Terry Ryan traded All-Star A.J. Pierzynski to the Giants to clear room for his superstud, Mauer. There was already talk out of Anaheim that Bengie Molina wouldnt see an extension, as Mathis fit into the 2005 plans. The once highly though of Kevin Cash was being prepared for life as a backup in Toronto, following Guillermo Quirozs great season. And finally, Dioner Navarro made so much noise, that Yankee fans were wondering if Posada was to move to first or DH.

    Then something happened. Joe Mauer hurt his knee, twice, and spent the greater part of the season on the DL. Mathis hit a whopping .165/.245/.250 after June 19, as told to me by Jim Callis. Quiroz fractured his wrist, and spent the better part of two months riding the pine, with the other time spent hitting .227. Finally, Dioner Navarro, once called Pudgito, saw his power sap down to four home runs in 391 at-bats.

    So, things arent really as they once were. Joe Mauer is going to slowly see less-and-less games behind the plate, as guesstimated to me by A-Bs own Will Carroll. Anaheim will probably move Mathis out of the Texas League, where Kevin Goldstein tells me is a strain for catchers. But, you can bet that one of the Molinas will be in the O.C. next year. Kevin Cash will get a year to prove himself, as Quiroz needs some more time in Orangemen land. As for Dioner, hes probably tops on the Yankees list of Players We Should Trade.

    None of these players have disintegrated beyond the point of reconcile. In fact, there are still high hopes for all four, probably in the same order (Mauer, Mathis, Quiroz, Navarro) as they were in Spring Training. But whats different than February, is that there are some names now in front of these guys, not behind.

    Well deal with the new class later, but first lets deal with those catchers that were behind this winter. More than any other position, catchers tend to get drastically overrated in prospectdom, so there always seems to be a decent amount of depth. Due to that, before the season, Baseball America fans surely knew these names: Justin Huber, Kelly Shoppach, Gerald Laird, Jeremy Brown, and Koyie Hill. And if you dont know all five, you definitely know the one who has a chapter in a baseball best-seller named after him.

    Lets check in on those five now, a year later. Huber was sent to the Kansas City Royals in the Mets kamikaze deadline deals, where the buzz is he cant stick at catcher. That might work out OK, because while in AA this year, Huber hit a solid .271/.414/.487. While Kelly Shoppach did win the International League All-Star spot as a catcher, the Red Sox are gonna need to keep Jason Varitek, unless Kelly can boost that .233 average. Laird looked good early for Texas, got hurt, and struggled mightily in the second half. But, he should factor into the Rangers plans for next year.

    Hill was sent packing to Arizona when the Dodgers went dealing in July, and his status has not wavered from solid. He probably wont be a force as a starter anytime soon, but expect Hill to spend quite a few years on a Major League roster somewhere. And then there is Brown, one of the most famous non-prospects anywhere. What, non-prospect is a bit harsh? Well, thats what I saw when you show me a 24-year-old catcher in AA with a .256 average and .101 ISO.

    In conclusion, if you were a catcher with a name before 2004, Im sorry. This group struggled terribly, and was probably only happy because of the Major League performances of non-rookies Victor Martinez and Johnny Estrada. Now, it being the next winter, there are some new names on the list. Not a lot of names, grant you, but a few. And after a draft with a lot of catchers, there is promise for even more a year from now.

    Today, Ill give you three: Daric Barton, Brian McCann, Chris Snyder. Barton was the 28th choice of the 2003 drafts first round, the Cardinals choice from a California high school. It was said that Barton might not be the best behind the plate, but he had a stick. McCann was selected a year prior, chosen by the Braves 64th overall out of a, surprise, Georgia high school. And finally, we have the senior of the group, Snyder, who blossomed in this, his second tour of the Texas League.

    Barton began the season, his first full season, on the DL, only to rebound to become the Midwest Leagues second overall prospect. Still in just his age 18 season, Barton hit an astounding .313/.445/.511 in 313 at-bats. Furthermore, Barton only struck out 44 times and walked 63, fantastic for a teenager. Sure, his defense was about as good as the scouts had told us, which is to say not very. But there is promise there, and Barton will stick for another season.

    If you want the definition of a solid prospect, Brian McCann is your boy. He doesnt do anything sensational, but there are few things he does badly. .277 batting average in one of the minors worst parks. Heck, Ill raise that, how about a .210 ISO? His defense is sound, and he only struck out 54 times in 110 games. And hell reach the Southern League next year, at only 21 years of age. You probably want to bet on the Braves having a bit of catching controversy in 2006-2007, when Estradas skill set should begin to decline.

    And finally, we have Chris Snyder. If you read Jeremy Deloney, and I dont know why you wouldnt, you have heard of Snyder. To get a grasp of how good Snyder is, lets use one of my favorite games:

    Player A: .323/.384/.500
    Player B: .314/.414/.518

    The latter is Snyder, who went on to hit .301/.389/.520 in the Texas League this season. Player A is someone we have already talked about, Jeff Mathis, and the 2003 statistics that made him the hot prospect. And of course, we all now know of Mathis troubles, that .700 OPS this season. Snyder has now leapfrogged Mathis, who I once said had more power potential than Joe Mauer (oops). In fact, expect the Diamondback to get a chance in Arizona as early as next year, as we gradually see a slew of D-Bax prospects hit the Majors.

    Those are, for lack of a better expression, the new kids on the block. There are also two more guys I want to mention, two that would fit in that second tier. The first is Lou Palmisano, a 21-year-old Brewer chosen 42 picks after Barton. Palmisano won the Pioneer League MVP after hitting .391 last year, but saw his ISO drop from .201 last year, to just .140 this season. Lets just say that while Palmisano might be decent, he aint enough for the Brewers to ignore Jeff Clement next June.

    The second member of the second group is Jarrod Saltalamacchia, chosen only nine slots behind Barton. Another Brave high school pick from the South (Florida), Brad Dowdy of No Pepper ranked him as the Braves 18th prospect. Expect Baseball America to put him top ten. But since he would know was better, here is Dowdys piece on Jarrod:


    Jarrod did everything you could ask for from a 19 year-old in his first year of full-season ball. He battled through a wrist injury in the middle of the season, and then had to shut it down near the end of the year with a hamstring tweak, but still managed to hit .272/.348/.437 in 323 at-bats, with 10 homers and 19 doubles. His OPS of .785 was 6% greater than the league average - especially impressive given his age and experience level. All indicators point to Jarrod continuing to progress as he moves up the ladder next season.

    And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what the current catching crop looks like now. With Mauer gone, there isnt a lot available, with Barton looking like the current #1. But if this article taught you anything, I hope it was to take catching prospects with a grain of salt, most get overrated. Next year, Im sure youll know of Neil Walker, Landon Powell and Kurt Suzuki. Because with catchers, there is always one more to hype up.

    Baseball BeatOctober 08, 2004
    Bronx Banter
    By Rich Lederer

    Alex Belth asked me to convey the comments I shared with him about Derek Jeter in our telephone conversation Wednesday night after the Yankees beat the Twins in extra innings. He was interested in my "objective opinion" (is that an oxymoron?) on Jeter given that I am an outsider with no reason to like or dislike him.

    The Man Some Love to Love and Others Love to Hate was posted on Alex's Bronx Banter site this morning and, not surprisingly, it has generated the type of responses one would expect when discussing Jeter.

    Here is an excerpt from the article:

    Finding fault in Jeter's game is similar to finding fault with Ichiro Suzuki. Jeter can't field and Suzuki can't hit for power. Don't mind the fact that Derek can hit for average, hit for power, and steal bases. Forget the fact that Ichiro can hit for a very high average, steal bases, and field and throw with the best of them. Let's concentrate on what they can't do rather than what they can do. It's kind of like looking at the Mona Lisa and questioning the slight smile rather than the overall beauty and elegance of the portrait.

    Speaking of Ichiro, did anyone catch Gary Sheffield's comments in Tom Verducci's article "Swinging Away," which appears in the October 11, 2004 issue of Sports Illustrated?

    "Two hundred singles? Come on. That doesn't make you a great hitter. If I didn't care about hitting the ball hard and hitting it out of the park, I'd hit you singles all day long. Any guy can go out there and get a single if that's all you try for. I ain't impressed."

    Well, give me a player who can hit a single every time up, and I will show you the best player in the history of baseball. No? Do you know anyone with a 1.000 OBP and a 1.000 SLG? Even Barry Bonds in his best years (.609 OBP in 2004 and .863 SLG in 2001) has never come close to achieving either of these two marks.

    By the way, I'm not suggesting that Suzuki is a better hitter than Sheffield. I wrote an article last January singing Gary's praises before it became fashionable to do so. It's a fact, Sheff has had an outstanding career. However, he always seems to find himself embroiled in some type of controversy and his comments directed toward Ichiro as well as Pedro Martinez and his (current) teammate Alex Rodriguez in Verducci's article are unlikely to find him in good stead with his peers.

    [Reader comments are available at Bronx Banter and Baseball Primer.]

    WTNYOctober 08, 2004
    Problems In the Capitol
    By Bryan Smith

    In the prospect world, the Montreal Expos move to Washington did nothing but move two pathetic franchises closer together. While the Expos, behind current Braves assistant GM Frank Wren, once had the games top farm system, those times were more than fifteen years ago. With promises of little bonuses, Omar Minaya and his scouting staff were very limited in their recent drafts. Montreals system for my midseason rankings didnt offer a lot, besides ace Clint Everts and southpaw Mike Hinckley.

    And then there is one of the worst organizations in baseball, the Baltimore Orioles. The team hasnt seen a homegrown star since Cal Ripken, and has had top prospects with these names within the last ten years: Rocky Coppinger, Nerio Rodrigeuz, Ryan Minor, Keith Reed, Rich Stahl. While the pitching looked deep in the offseason, the team traded Denny Bautista for a middle reliever, and saw John Maine have Jeremy Guthrie-like AAA struggles. And for the club, it was one of the worst months possible, they saw top pick Wade Townsend return to Rice University, Val Majewski was hurt during a September call-up, and worse, Adam Loewen went under the knife.

    Clint Everts and Adam Loewen. The two were destined to be high on prospect lists, before Loewen tore his labrum and Everts suffered the same fate as Tommy John.

    The two were chosen with back-to-back picks in the 2002 draft, with Loewen being selected fourth by the Orioles. Their teams were both really careful with the prize arms, as neither let their top choice pitch in the 2002 season. The next year, both waited until short-season ball began, where each was sent to the New York-Penn League. The southpaw, Loewen, looked slightly more impressive, posting an ERA of 2.70 in seven starts. Furthermore, the Canadian allowed only 13 hits in 23 innings, with 25 Ks and no home runs allowed.

    Everts struggled a bit, with an ERA of 4.17 in ten starts. He walked 35 and allowed 4 homers in 54 innings, with a K/9 below nine. But things improved when the 19-year-old moved to the South Atlantic League, where he posted five solid starts (3.46 ERA). Everts showed one of the best curveballs in the minors, but like Cubs prospect Bobby Brownlie, didnt have the fastball to set it up.

    This season, the tables turned on these two players. Both prospects began the year in the SALLY league, with each seeing a late-season promotion to high-A. Everts low-A season went much better, as the right-hander shot through prospect lists with 90.3 innings of 2.47 ERA. His peripherals were even better: 6.68 H/9, 10.26 K/9, 2.09 BB/9. Everts got four starts in the Florida State League before blowing out his elbow, allowing only five runs in 20 innings.

    Loewen, not so good. Despite showing great stuff, Loewen struggled in low-A, posting a 4.11 ERA in 85.3 innings. His K/9 was under 9.00, but was worse, was his 1.41 K/BB. Control was a problem that many Orioles fell victim to this season, probably a reason behind the firing of scouting director Doc Rodgers. Still the Orioles decided to let Loewen close the season in the Carolina League, where he made it a total of two starts. The results? Six runs, nine walks, and three strikeouts in eight innings.

    Everts and Loewen now add to what has turned out to be a terrible top ten in the 2002 draft. The Pittsburgh Pirates inexplicably chose Ball State University right-hander Brian Bullington over Melvin Upton to start the draft, clearly a sign of things to come. Bullington has a career 6.68 K/9, while Upton became the first teenager to homer in the Majors since Aramis Ramirez and Adrian Beltre. Upton joins Zack Greinke and Jeff Francis as the positives of the 02 top ten, along with emerging first basemen Prince Fielder. The restnot so good.

    Why is that? Chris Gruler, hurt. Everts and Loewen, hurt. Scott Moore, .240 average in 896 at-bats. Drew Meyer, finished year in Rookie League. Six busts in ten picks is despicable, especially when considering the 2001 draft. The year of Mauer and Prior has produced only two busts, Royal right-hander Colt Griffin, and Oriole choice, Chris Smith.

    Bad drafts are common for the Orioles, who also chose Mike Fontenot and Bryan Bass in the first round in 2001. Smith has less than 25 career innings at the age of 24, and Bass has nearly 1,000 at-bats of a .241 average. Fontenot, while not quite as terrible, has only one year with an OBP of better than .350, and is currently behind both Brian Roberts and Jerry Hairston in the depth chart. The Orioles are three deep at second base and traded a pitching prospect for Jason Grimsley?

    In 1999, the Orioles had five picks in the top 40. Lets run through them: Mike Paradis (hurt), Rich Stahl (hurt), Larry Bigbie (success), Keith Reed (bust?), Joshua Cenate (hurt). Yikes. In 1998, two picks: Rick Elder (bust), Mamon Tucker (bust). In 1997, three picks: Jayson Werth (traded), Darnell McDonald (bust?), Ntema Ndungidi (bust). In 1996, no pick until choosing Brian Falkenborg at #51. And finally, in 1995, the team chose Alvie Shepherd with their first choice.

    Ten years of drafts (1995-2004), the Orioles had nineteen picks in the top 40. Of those nineteen, only Larry Bigbie is currently in the Majors. Adam Loewen became the seventh pitcher hurt, and 2004 choice Wade Townsend will not sign. Eight are busts, with only four still with any glimmer of hope. And to give them credit, there is still a decent chance that 2003 first-rounder Nick Markakis will make the Majors. But take that with a grain of salt, as Markakis was chosen ahead of Ian Stewart, Michael Aubrey and Lastings Milledge.

    So, you can understand why Doc Rodgers got fired. While Peter Angelos sits in his offense demanding seven or eight figures for his inconvenience the Expos move caused, he could be spending six figures to find a real scouting director.

    Coming soon at WTNY: Rookies of 2005, AFL preview, decline of C prospects, depth at SPtaking suggestions

    Baseball BeatOctober 06, 2004
    Angels in the Infield
    By Rich Lederer

    I went to the Red Sox-Angels game on Tuesday. I was horrified at the Angels infield. Not sure what I was expecting given that Adam Kennedy was declared out for the remainder of the season two weeks ago and Troy Glaus has yet to play in the field since returning on the last day in August. But I was shocked nonetheless when I took note of the Angels in the Infield.

    Darin Erstad (.295/.346/.400) at 1B, Alfredo Amezaga (.161/.212/.247) at 2B, David Eckstein (.276/.339/.332) at SS, and Chone Figgins (.296/.350/.419) at 3B must be one of the worst infields ever to start in a postseason game. Let's face it, when Figgins has the highest slugging percentage among your infielders, you're in a world of hurt.

    The aforementioned quartet hit 16 home runs all season. Yes, you read that right. SIXTEEN. In other words, the Angels starting infield in Game One of the ALDS went yard fewer times than Mark Bellhorn over the course of the 2004 regular season despite approximately 1,250 more plate appearances than the Red Sox second baseman.

    I think one would need to go back to the 1988 Dodgers to find such an inept-hitting infield that started during the postseason. The Dodgers that year featured Franklin Stubbs (.223/.288/.376) and Mickey Hatcher (.293/.322/.351) at 1B, Steve Sax (.277/.325/.343) at 2B, Alfredo Griffin (.199/.259/.236) at SS, and Jeff Hamilton (.236/.268/.353) at 3B. Including Stubbs at first, this infield hit 20 homers. With Hatcher, they hit just 13.

    If the Dodgers could win it all with such a weak infield, could the Angels? Perhaps. Consider the following similarities.

    The Dodgers had Kirk Gibson, who won the N.L. MVP. The Angels have Vladimir Guerrero, who seems destined to win the A.L. MVP this year. Gibson and Guerrero arrived as free agents during the off-season to rescue franchises that were several games under .500 the previous season.

    Both ballclubs faced long odds going into the playoffs. Just as the Angels find themselves in an uphill battle against Curt Schilling (21-6, 3.26 ERA) and Pedro Martinez (16-9, 3.90), the Dodgers were forced to overcome the one-two punch of David Cone (20-3, 2.22) and Dwight Gooden (18-9, 3.19) in their first series.

    Darryl Strawberry, who led the league in HR (39), SLG (.545), and OPS (.911) was second in the MVP voting in 1988. Manny Ramirez (43, .613, 1.009) led the A.L. this year in those very same categories and could easily finish second in the MVP voting.

    The Angels and Dodgers both had the home field advantage in their first series, yet lost the opening game.

    Mike Scioscia provides another eerie connection. He was the starting catcher with the Dodgers back then and is the manager of the Angels today. Two members of that fabled Dodgers infield--Griffin and Hatcher--are now members of Scioscia's coaching staff.

    Both ballclubs had deep bullpens. The Dodgers had three relievers (Jay Howell, Alejandro Pena, and Brian Holton) who totaled 244 innings pitched with a combined ERA of 1.88. The Angels have three relievers (Troy Percival, Francisco Rodriguez, and Brendan Donnelly) with 176 IP and a 2.40 ERA.

    Heck, the Dodgers even had a Guerrero on the team that year. However, he was peddled to the St. Louis Cardinals in August for John Tudor in a move meant to improve team chemistry similar to the suspension of Jose Guillen. Both teams played their best ball of the season from those points forward.

    The biggest dissimilarity? The starting pitching. The Dodgers had a Big Three of Orel Hershiser (23-8, 2.26), Tim Leary (17-11, 2.91), and Tim Belcher (12-6, 2.91) vs. the Angels' trio of Bartolo Colon (18-12, 5.01), Kelvim Escobar (11-12, 3.93), and Jarrod Washburn (11-8, 4.64). Hershiser not only was the Cy Young Award winner that year, but he ended the regular season with a record 59 straight scoreless innings--including five consecutive shutouts in September.

    Whether the Angels bounce back or not against the Red Sox remains to be seen. It could also dictate the course of action the Halos take this off-season. Do they re-sign Glaus? If so, will he be healthy enough to play third base? If he plays third, what becomes of Dallas McPherson? Does it make sense to slide Glaus or McPherson over to first base, move Erstad back to center field, and Garret Anderson to left to replace the good-as-gone Guillen? Where does Casey Kotchman fit into the picture?

    Is Nomar Garciaparra willing to take a "hometown discount" and sign with the Angels? Do you play him at shorstop or third base? If he plays short, do you move Eckstein over to second and trade Kennedy or do you make Eckstein the new utility player and trade Figgins to whichever team hires John Kruk to be its next general manager?

    No matter which direction the Angels go next year, it is a safe bet that the infield will be much stronger than the one they are forced to put on the field this postseason.

    WTNYOctober 05, 2004
    Seen But Not Heard
    By Bryan Smith

    In previous articles, Ive written about some top-flight outfield prospects, like Los Tres Enemigos (Hermida, Francoeur, Pie) and the 3 college players (Reed, Swisher, Granderson). While the best players (Young, Kubel, Milledge) are always written about, few have touched on the great depth at the position. Today I will talk about seven players that often go unseen at the outfield position, and probably factor somewhere in the 15-30 prospect range.

    A fitting way to start this article is to touch on one of the most underrated prospects in the minor leagues. Sure, Val Majewski made enough noise to land a Sickels profile, but not by much. With Adam Loewen lost to injury, John Maine struggling and Denny Bautista traded, Majewski will battle 2003 first-round choice Nick Markakis for the title of Top Oriole Prospect. That honor will probably come with a bit of reluctance, as previous winners have included Ryan Minor, Keith Reed and Rich Stahl. Whats similar with these 3? We have forgotten them, which means its a good thing the Orioles have dumped much of their player development staff.

    Majewski is an interesting player, because he has both the polish of a college player to go along with the youth and upside of a prep player. The Baseball Cube shows Majewski as having played two seasons at Rutgers University, in 2001 and 2002. As a 17-year-old Freshman, Majewski hit .378/.452/.618 followed by .364/.431/.627 as a Sophomore. The Orioles made him a third-round choice in the 2002 draft, quickly assigning him to the New York-Penn League. Val hit .300/.376/.464 in 110 at-bats there, before finishing the season in the South Atlantic League. Success continued in 2003, where Majewski split the year between the Sally League (.303/.383/.553) and Carolina League (.289/.321/.509). We heard next to nothing about this guy last year, but a 19-year-old with an .830 High-A OPS is solid.

    And solid Majewski has remained. After turning 20 in Spring Training, the Orioles challenged Val with a promotion to the Eastern League. And Oriole management simply saw more of the same, as Majewski hit .307/.359/.490 this past season. Whats concerning is the plate discipline we saw in the NYPL and SAL has evaporated in his last two levels. His power is simply solid, with not a lot of room from improvement, which is troublesome for a right fielder. But when considering the fact that Baltimore split Jay Gibbons and B.J. Surhoff there in 2004, its safe to say the Orioles will use Majewski when ready.

    The same cannot be said for Matt Murton, an outfielder with the unfortunate fate of first playing with the Red Sox, and now the Cubs. Neither team is particularly known for giving position prospects much of a chance, instead dealing them midseason, like Theo Epstein did in the Nomar Garciaparra trade. Murton, also a Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket, was previously known for his power after once winning the Cape Cod League home run crown. But after posting a .292/.364/.437 line in the Florida State League, it appears those days might be behind him.

    Murton now has a career ISO of .135, definitely not good enough for a left fielder. But there is hope that Murton, otherwise harnessing a very solid game, will again show the power he did in his amateur days. As a Cubs fan, I love the addition of Murton, a player I feel will blossom in 2005. The FSL, nor the Southern League (where Murton will play in 2005), are great on hitters, but Matt Murton will be prove good enough to be traded, yet again.

    Alex Romero is destined for the same fate, yet another outfielder in Minnesotas glut of young outfielders. Consider the following:

    Player A: .298/.361/.400
    Player B: .292/.387/.405

    In this old, overused game, Player A is Jason Kubel, now the second best outfield prospect in the minor leagues. Player B is Romero, a Venezuelan that put up those numbers while being a year younger than Kubel. Now its unfair to say if Romero will have a Kubel-like breakout in 2005, though if I were Terry Ryan, I would wait nine months to consider trading him. For now, Romero is a 21-year-old, switch-hitting outfielder with solid tools, next year, well see what the Eastern League brings.

    Yet another player that was hurt by the pitching-friendly FSL was WTNY favorite Melky Cabrera. And not only my favorite, but also frequent commenter Fabian, who tracks this stuff on a daily basis. After beating up on Midwest League pitching to the tune of .333/.383/.462, the Yankees gave Cabrera a mid-season to promotion to the FSL. It was in Tampa where Cabrera put up a .288/.341/.438, actually showing improvements in ISO and OBP-BA. So in case youre keeping score at home, that is three consecutive spikes in ISO, finishing with .150.

    Like Romero above, Cabrera is a Caribbean, switch-hitting outfielder. At previous times, Ive compared Cabrera to Bernie Williams, another switch-hitter that played in High-A at 20, not 19 like Cabrera was in 2004. Bernies ISO was .152, though his average (.335) and walk (65) totals were superior. I doubt Melky will ever reach Bernies greatness, but I do think hes one of the Bronx Bombers top prospects. And unless they sign Carlos Beltran or another CFer in the near future, maybe theyll open a spot for him too. I doubt it.

    On the other side of The Rivalry is another outfielder that saw a late season promotion to the FSL. Brandon Moss was one of the South Atlantic Leagues best hitters this season, hitting .339/.402/.515 before getting 83 at-bats in Sarasota. The greatness did not stop in those 22 games, where Moss hit a ridiculous .422/.462/.542. This season has come as quite a surprise to scouts, as Moss had previously posted a .587 OPS in the GCL and .720 OPS in the NYPL.

    His tools arent superior, especially his outfield defense. But its too early to call this season a gaffe, as we saw improvements in his strikeout rate, which also helped a jump in batting average. While I have no way to have the stats behind this, my guess would be that Moss had a BABIP higher than average, and should see a reduction in batting average next season. But if he puts up a .280/.350/.480 line in the FSL, hell seem even better to me than Alex Romero or Matt Murton.

    From the solid to the toolsy, we move to an overlooked Tampa Bay prospect. This really shouldnt happen, as you would expect Devil Ray fans to grasp on anything moving in the minor leagues. Elijah Dukes seemed to put all his tools together that made him a 3rd round choice in 2002, actually improving after a midseason promotion from the Sally League to the Cali League. Ive gotten some heat on not liking Rocco and liking Gathright, but cant we all just agree on Elijah Dukes?

    In 43 games alongside Delmon Young in the South Atlantic League, Devil Ray brass promoted Dukes with a .288/.368/.423 line. What happened in Bakersfield? Average, up. ISO, up. OBP-BA, up. While he didnt have the 14/15 SB success rate he had in low-A, 16/23 aint bad. And overall, 30/38 is fantastic. Like a toolsy prospect, Dukes has significant SO/BB issues, especially when he has 227 career Ks in 218 games. This kid has possible star written all over him, and will be a name I watch next year extremely closely.

    But Ill see your A-ball tools prospect, and raise you one. In case you werent aware, the South Atlantic League was home to not one, but 2 good outfield prospects with the last name Young. Im not a huge fan of the White Sox minor league system, but I think Chris Young has more potential than Brandon McCarthy, Brian Anderson or Ryan Sweeney. Young put his name on the map with a solid Appy League performance last year, hitting .290/.357/.479.

    More of the same came from Young this season, though there was a significant decrease in contact. Youngs batting average went from .290 to .262, and he struck out 145 times in 135 games. But, good things came from the season as well. Young stole 31 bases in 40 attempts, an improvement off the 75% success rate from 2003. His ISO went up to .243, which shows superstar potential. And to make you sabermatricians happy, he also saw a rise in walks, reaching base 66 times via the walk.

    Be mad at Kenny Williams for trading Jeremy Reed, and be mad at the media for overhyping Ryan Sweeney. But be happy White Sox fans, you got a good one in Chris Young.

    Quickly, a ranking of the 7: Majewski, Cabrera, Young, Dukes, Murton, Romero, Moss. Thats all for today, though I urge interested readers in researching a few other players that just missed this list: Jason Pridie (Devil Rays), Michael Bourn (Phillies) and Fred Lewis (Giants).

    WTNYOctober 04, 2004
    No Switch Needed
    By Bryan Smith

    Last week, I talked about the trials, tribulations, and future of Joe Mauer. We talked about the possibility of moving Mauers injured knee to third base, where the 20-year-old would see increased career longevity. A year ago, it would have been foolish to hint at Joe Mauer and B.J. Upton, once my top two prospects, playing the same position. Now, its quickly becoming a reality.

    While it now appears the grounders Mauer was taking at third werent prepping him for a position change, the idea of having Upton make the A-Rod switch appears real. Lou Piniella, who promised to honor his contract in Tampa, has recently been boasting his 2004 shortstop, Julio Lugo. Called the spark of the team, Piniella will lobby to management to pay Lugo the upwards of $3 million hell command next year. And moving Julio to second does not appear to be an option, rather move the 20-year-old to the hot corner.

    For much of the season, the Devil Rays split the .614 OPS Geoff Blum and immovable Aubrey Huff at third. Uptons arrival changed things, as once he showed his error-prone defense up the middle, Piniella shipped him further left. Blum also split time with Rey Sanchez at second (.617 OPS), shaping one of the worst combinations in the Majors. Luckily, the arrival of 22-year-old Jorge Cantu moved both Blum and Sanchez to the bench, where they should be destined until their retirements.

    Before the season, not a lot of Major League production was expected out of Cantu or Upton. Cantu was a 22-year-old shortstop who had previously walked a total of 80 times in 1,979 total minor league at-bats. And Upton, while screaming of future success, only had 19 years and 105 at-bats above A-ball to his name. Despite having less career AA at-bats than Upton, Joey Gathright merited the highest expectations. And for good reason, because in 2003 the Devil Ray hit .334, and posted OBPs above .400 in both the California and Southern Leagues. But with an All-Star in left and the worlds most overrated centerfielder, Gathright didnt have much of a future with the team.

    After 200 solid at-bats in AAA in 2003, Jorge Cantu began the 2004 season with the Durham Bulls. He would spend 98 games in the International League, before getting the promotion to the Majors. Cantu saw a power spike that led to a .274 ISO, even with the infielder hitting better than .300. Playing second, short and third, Cantu hit 56 extra-base hits, or almost one every six at-bats. His patience stayed pretty poor, as he walked just 16 times in 368 at-bats. But still, Cantu had posted his best OBP since 2000, and he presented a much better option than Rey Sanchez or Geoff Blum.

    But as still remains the problem, B.J. Upton was never a better option for Lou Piniella than Julio Lugo. Not a better option, despite being a former #2 overall pick and harnessing five-tool attributes. Not a better option, despite an .878 AA OPS and .930 AAA OPS. So Piniella, always stubborn, moved Upton to third base, where he made just two errors all season. But take that with a grain of salt, as two errors still equals a low .914 fielding percentage.

    And finally there was Gathright, who looked great after starting the season late with a hamstring injury. Gathright made an Upton-like tear through AA and AAA, but struggled a bit in the Majors. He did have a chance to play semi-regularly, with Rocco spending some time on the DL. I think, despite poor numbers this year, Gathright is ready to be a Major League contributor.

    If the Devil Rays are seriously pondering a left side of Lugo and Upton, this will be a speed-first type team. Carl Crawford already adds an element to the game that few can match, and adding Gathright to that mix would make this the fastest team in the Major Leagues. To add Gathright, of course, would command the exit of fan-favorite Rocco Baldelli. Since writing a Devil Ray preview on Hardball Times, I have been open about my dislike for Baldelli. This came with a bunch of criticism from readers, but I still say that Rocco will not become a star.

    But, there is no question his trade value is high. So when Carlos Beltran runs to New York City after the playoffs, exploit the same team that milked Brandon Backe for Geoff Blum. The Astros will have a big hole in center field, and would undoubtedly show interest in the cheap, but effective Baldelli. And, according to Ken Rosenthal, the Astros have shown a willingness to trade Morgan Ensberg. So screw re-signing Lugo and moving Upton, trade for Ensberg. They would also have the bargaining power to acquire one other Astro, thought doubtfully anyone significant.

    But, with Ensberg in and Lugo gone, these are the players guaranteed of starting jobs next year:

    C- Toby Hall
    2B- Jorge Cantu
    SS- B.J. Upton
    3B- Morgan Ensberg
    LF- Carl Crawford
    CF- Joey Gathright
    DH- Aubrey Huff

    This would open up a lot of money for not just the re-signing of Jose Cruz, but possibly another player. With Tino Martinez off the books, would Richie Sexson consider playing in Tampa? In need of a power bat in the middle, maybe Piniella could convince owner Vince Naimoli to offer Sexson a three or four-year deal. I doubt offers will be fantastic for Sexson, which would work right into the Devil Ray plans.

    And now, your 2005 Tampa Bay Devil Ray Opening Day batting order:

    1. Carl Crawford- LF
    2. Joey Gathright- CF
    3. Aubrey Huff- DH
    4. Richie Sexson- 1B
    5. Jose Cruz- RF
    6. Morgan Ensberg- 3B
    7. B.J. Upton- SS
    8. Toby Hall- C
    9. Jorge Cantu

    With that time, I would follow Lou Piniellas suit, and guarantee they would finish out of the basement. Not only that, but the above lineup could likely be had for less than fifteen million dollars. And once that Delmon Young character comes upcould we be saying, Your AL East Champs, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays?

    No. But maybe third place?

    Baseball BeatOctober 01, 2004
    The James Gang
    By Rich Lederer

    Help, I need somebody,
    Help, not just anybody,
    Help, you know I need someone, help.

    --John Lennon and Paul McCartney

    My older brother Tom wrote a letter to Bill James in early 1983 inquiring about purchasing the 1977-1981 editions of the Baseball Abstract. Bill's wife Susan wrote the following hand-written letter to my brother in March 1983 (one month prior to the release of the 1983 Abstract):

    March 8, 1983

    Mr. Lederer --

    Thanks for writing. Glad to hear from anyone who greatly enjoys Bill's work.

    Concerning previous editions of the Baseball Abstract -- we published #1-5 ourselves and have re-prints (exact duplicates of the originals except the word "re-print" appears on the cover) available at the following prices:

    1977     (covers '76 season)     $6.00

    1978        "    '77    "         8.00

    1979        "    '78    "         8.00

    1980        "    '79    "        10.00

    1981        "    '80    "        13.00

    Price includes cost of mailing.

    Thought I should mention to an "aspiring sabermetrician" that Bill is looking for an assistant. If you subscribe to The Sporting News you might keep your eye out for a classified ad describing the position. But briefly . . . you would need to re-locate in Lawrence, KS; have a facility for statistics as well as writing ability and preferably knowledge about computer operations. I have no way of knowing what your station in life is but if this interests you, send us a resumé and whatever other info. would be relevant.

    Susan McCarthy
    (B. James' wife)

    * * * * * * *

    My brother never applied for the job. James ended up hiring Jim Baker, who responded to an ad in the SABR bulletin in the spring of 1983, as his assistant. Jim applied for the job, took a test, and was one of four finalists who were flown out for an interview with Bill. Jim worked with Bill for a year and contributed to the 1984 Baseball Abstract and the The Bill James Historical Abstract, which made its debut in October 1985. The latter was Bill's first hardcover book, a 700-plus pager that became an immediate classic.

    Jim is now an author of Baseball Prospectus and writes the Prospectus Matchups column. Will Carroll put me in touch with him earlier this week. The following is an excerpt from one of Jim's emails to me:

    The stats we all take for granted now were so hard to come by back then. For instance, something as simple as platoon splits for hitters required us to jump through hoops to get them. Bill had me send $2.00 and a self addressed stamped envelope to every big league team (except the Rangers because Craig Wright worked there and he was cool). Along with the money and the return envelope I'd send a note asking for the platoon splits on their players. Some teams sent them and returned the money. Some teams sent them and kept the money and some teams kept the money and never sent them.

    Now, we just go to ESPN.com and find things like that with a couple of mouse clicks. In 1983, though, it was extremely exotic to have George Brett's batting average against lefties.

    Baker was the first of four full-time assistants employed by James. The others were Rob Neyer (1989-1992), John Sickels (1993-1996), and Matthew Namee (2002-2004). Mike Kopf, a long-time personal friend of Bill's, worked on the 1988 Baseball Abstract and The Bill James Baseball Books in the early 1990s. Mike Webber filled in the gap between Sickels and Namee by helping out once a week, and he continues to work part-time for Bill.

    Although Namee is not as well known as Neyer and Sickels, he was a co-founder of The Hardball Times earlier this year. Rob is a senior writer and baseball columnist for ESPN Insider, a premium level service. He has also authored four books, including The Neyer/James Guide to Pitchers (which was co-written with Bill James). John writes the weekly Down on the Farm column for ESPN.com and has authored The Baseball Prospect Book each of the past two years and Bob Feller: Ace of the Greatest Generation.

    Like his disciples, James has also gone on to bigger and better things and has been the Senior Baseball Operations Advisor with the Boston Red Sox since November 2002.

    Late add: Oh, and my brother? He's gone on to bigger and better things, too. Tom was Manager of the Year for the City of Lakewood in 2003. He is happily married with two children attending Cal State Long Beach, including a son, Brett, who was a first team All-Big West Conference golfer as a freshman last spring.

    [Additional reader comments and retorts at Baseball Primer.]