WTNYNovember 04, 2004
For the Lefties
By Bryan Smith

Since yesterdays glowing report on Jon Lester was the best thing to happen to lefties this week, I have decided to spend today focusing on left-wingers. I know, I wouldnt expect me to talk about that either, as it has been a long time since I touched on this group. But, I cant write about hitters forever, and figured that southpaws deserved a piece.

To my surprise, a look into left-handed pitchers in the minor leagues led me to a rather deep position, with a lot of solid arms. Im not sure how high a leftie will be on my rankings, but I know that once you get farther into the list, theyll appear quite often.

And I should mention, that for the purpose of this article, I did not include 2004 draftees, which are a deep bunch with Bill Bray, Gio Gonzalez, Glen Perkins, etc. I also didnt include Scott Kazmir and Jeff Francis, as well as Adam Loewen, who I would not even know how to rank.

After mentioning all the depth stuff, I should say that there is a clear-cut top two players on top of the heap: Scott Olsen and Cole Hamels. While there should not be a lot of debate that Olsen is the best arm, I do think that Baseball America/other prospect sources might overrate him a bit. While his 10.43 K/9 is great, Im less than impressed by a 3.50 BB/9 and mediocre 8.38 H/9. Finally, in what Baseball Prospectus has rated as a pitchers park, Olsen allowed 8 home runs in 136.1 innings, not a ton, but still a bit too much.

Olsen is the typical power pitcher, with a big 6-4 frame that could be built for even more. He needs to cut down that walk rate a bit, and his H/9 needs to come down to be a top pitching prospect in my book. His stuff, along with one great peripheral puts him at #1, everything else is purely marginal.

To be hyping Hamels this offseason would simply be beating the same drum we wrote last season. The southpaw pitched a total of 24 innings this season, four fantastic seasons in the Florida State League. His changeup is still presumably fantastic, and his intelligence while pitching has likely remained the same. Health is really the only thing that will hold him back, though that does remain a concern. Ill promise you that before releasing any overall rankings, I will make Will Carroll get on the phone with his Philly hook-ups.

Following the top two players, there is a small, three-person battle for the third position. Candidate #1, the eldest, is Dan Meyer. His stuff is not going to amaze you, but I see Mark Redman, version 2.0. Both were first-rounders after their Junior seasons, with Redman a bit more highly thought of. But Meyers 2.73 ERA is far and away better than the 5.22 that Redman put up. Lets just say the Pacific Coast League did not treat Redman well.

Second on the three-person ballot is Chuck Tiffany, who closed out the season stop Kevin Goldsteins Baseball America Prospect Report. I love players who close out the season well, and that will definitely help Tiffany and Adam Miller when it comes time for me to make my rankings. His 3.70 ERA, and a HR/9 near 1 are both bad numbers, but his K/9 is over 12.00, and his strikeout-to-walk ratio is about 3.50. He reminds me of Scott Olsen, and should have similar numbers in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League.

The third and final candidate is the player always referred to as the poor mans Scott Kazmir. What does this mean? Texan, short, big fastball, decent slider, hardly guaranteed to stick in the rotation. After dominating the Midwest League, the California League handed Danks a H/9 over 10.00, and a K/BB under 1.00. Thats not good. Poor mans Kazmir sounds right after all.

Right about now, you are probably thinking, Whatever happened to that awesome left-handed pitching prospect from last year? The one that came from nowhere? Oh, thought I forgot about Greg Miller, did ya? No, of course not. Im not one to gauge injuries very well, but I did believe in Miller a lot up to last February. The reports from Instructional League were that Miller looked good, so hes probably next on this list. If he can get back just part of what he used to be, he has the talent to be a lot higher.

Only Dan Meyer has been the traditional soft-throwing left-handed pitcher that is often characterized in prospect lists. The next two will add a couple to that list: Mike Hinckley and Zach Duke. Ive been a Hinckley fan for a while now, and his solid season fits right into the plans I had for him. He should be slotted in to the Washington Greys rotation by 2006, with a chance of even become a card-carrying member in 2005.

As for Duke, he had the season that no one could have guessed, the ERA under 2.00, good for first in the minor leagues. His success is perplexing, but its there. His BB/9 was under 2.00 all season, and he allowed just five home runs all season (including 2 in 51.1 Eastern League innings). Its hard for me to judge his performance, but I do think there is something to the fact that Dukes minor league career looks far better than Sean Burnetts did. And that is high praise. But the Pirates should remember- and Burnett is proof- that even soft throwers can hurt their arms.

At this point weve hit another drop off, with a bunch of throwers below. First, Ill read the rest of the top 15 as I have it: Francisco Liriano, Jake Stevens, Jon Lester, Mike Megrew, Bill Murphy, Sean Marshall, Justin Jones.

I should say that I am a large seller of Murphy and Jones, two players that are highly supported by other prospect sources. I was not a fan of Murphy in the Futures Game, his numbers arent very good, and players that get traded twice in prospecthood turn me off. Jones wasnt even solid in low-A, so Im not sold hell reach the potential that was once given to him (Kazmiresque).

Lester has already received my billing, so Ill just start tooting Mike Megrews horn instead. A huge, 6-6 southpaw from New England, Megrew sounds like he does everything well. Los Angeles has a pitcher breakout every season, and I would choose Megrew to do so next year. Like Lester, his 3.41 ERA isnt great, but a 10.65 K/9 is. Also, his H/9 is considerably better than what Olsen showed this year, in the exact same league.

Thats all for today, my top 25:

1. Scott Olsen- Florida
2. Cole Hamels- Philadelphia
3. Chuck Tiffany- Los Angeles
4. Dan Meyer- Atlanta
5. John Danks- Texas
6. Greg Miller- Los Angeles
7. Mike Hinckley- Washington
8. Zach Duke- Pittsburgh
9. Francisco Liriano- Minnesota
10. Jake Stevens- Atlanta
11. Jon Lester- Boston
12. Mike Megrew- Los Angeles
13. Bill Murphy- Arizona
14. Sean Marshall- Cubbies
15. Justin Jones- Minnesota
16. Tom Gorzelanny- Pittsburgh
17. Chuck James- Atlanta
18. Abe Alvarez- Boston
19. Chris Seddon- Tampa Bay
20. Gustavo Chacin- Toronto
21. Manny Parra- Milwaukee
22. Jon Connolly- Cubbies
23. Paul Maholm- Pittsburgh
24. Andy Sisco- Cubbies
25. Matt Chico- Arizona

Where am I wrong?

Comments

Abel Gomez gets no love? He had a pretty good K rate posseses a reportedly good change and throws hard, though he is small and has huge control problems.

How about Brad Halsey, who at the very least is going to be a great LOOGY and had one of the most dominant minor league seasons this year.

Danks gets my vote for #1 - easy arm, mature stuff, clean delivery, high ceiling. I see him making more than one appearance for the Rangers in 05.

Bryan, I like Olsen too, and I know Hamels was hurt for most of the year, but I think if Hamels can stay healthy he has a greater chance of reaching his ceiling than Olsen.

Great article. Any chance you'll be doing a similar discussion on the top righties? I'd love to see where you have Anthony Reyes, Chad Billingsley, Matt Cain, and Kyle Davies ranked.

I couldn't believe my eyes yesterday when someone actually talked about decent Red Sox pitching prospects. Great to see.

As far as a possible missing lefty. The Cubs best lefty may actually be Renyel Pinto, assuming that he isn't hurt. 25 starts in AA West Tenn., 179 Ks and only 107 hits allowing in 141.2 IP. Throwing strikes may be his downfall. But you can say the same with Andy Sisco.

Wow, even as a Cubs fan, I forgot Pinto. I am extremely, extremely embarassed. Forgive me readers, this is definitely an incomplete list.

Not a huge Pinto believer, but he has definitely upped his stuff lately, and deserved more attention before this season. I would slot him 13, moving the likes of Murphy, Marshall and Jones down. I would keep Chico on the list, and kick Sisco out of my top 25.

I never really wanted him there anyway.

Fabian, I honestly had Gomez at 26 or 27.

Well, there is Bobby Livingston, who put up comparable numbers to Connolly in a more hitter-friendly league, minus some walks and plus some strikeouts (and plus about a year in age). I suppose there are people who'd downgrade him immediately on velocity since he's mostly low to mid-80s, but I don't remember how hard Connolly throws... Travis Blackley I couldn't really make a case for because a lot of people have been spooked by his tendonitis.

Liked the list... agree that Olsen should be first pre-season but if Hamels can prove he's healthy I think he can easily pass Olsen as the top rated southpaw. What strikes me about Hamels is the fact that he has yet to allow a HR... 101 IP last year across Lakewood and Clearwater, and 16 IP this year (before he went down for the year). Considering that the Phillies new park is definitely favors the long ball, this would allow him a great deal of success. But, last year was a bit of a loss in terms of development time and I always view any pitching arm injury with a great deal of trepidation. Continued success with the site!

I know there's a lot of uncertainty with Greg Miller, but I'd still say he has to be top 3, just for his incredible ceiling.

I love Jon Connolly. This guy seemingly has nothing, a young, modern version of Jamie Moyer. But all he does is get people out at each level he's been at. I am a bit concerned that he could go Rule VI this year, the Cubs don't have him on the 40-man roster. A big mistake IMO.

Other than Guzman, Pinto has become the best pitching prospect in the Cubs entire system in 2004. That's why Hendry felt comfortable moving Jones.

Chuck James deserves to be ranked higher than Jake Stephens. He pitched well in Rome last year and was reliable in every outing except one last year. We wish we could have had Dan Meyer longer than the first half in 2003 but look forward to seeing him in Atlanta very soon.

I have a mancrush on Hamels. Last year I called him a left-handed Prior. I didn't know both would have seasons curdled by injury. Hamels will move quickly once he gets healthy, something I expect to happen this year. His arm is finally getting used to the workload of pitching.

I don't think James should have been ranked ahead of Stevens at all. Stevens is nearly 3 1/2 years younger than James, and both played at the same level (Low-A Rome) for all of 2004. In nearly the same amount of innings pitched, Stevens posted a better ERA, K/BB, BB/9, WHIP, and Opp. On Base%.

Granted the numbers were very close across the board, but the age difference at the same level is a big enough factor, in my opinion, to put Stevens well ahead of James.

To be honest, I wouldn't have blinked if Bryan chose to leave James out of the Top 25, but I do think he merits consideration.

Don't get me wrong though - I really do like Chuck James. I just don't think he should rank near as high as Stevens.

The Braves Macay McBride pitched extremely well in the AFL. He shouls be on the list.