WTNYDecember 23, 2004
Next On Tap
By Bryan Smith

Sorry for the non-posting thus far this week, it's been a combination of writer's block, other WTNY work, other real work, and a busy time of year. Add all that up, and you just might have one week with all of two articles. But, in the spirit of the upcoming new year, and the "futuristic" principle this site was founded on, I want to throw some guesses at how the 2005 season will go for a bunch of my top prospects. This kind of stuff won't be on my top prospect list, which will be much more of a review, so I thought today would be a good day to start it.

No order is really being presented below, more of just whatever jumble of words enter my head:

Jeff Francoeur- Baseball America has started an argument that wasn't really thought of too much before yesterday: Francoeur or Andy Marte. There is no question the former has a bit more star potential, while Marte has a much, MUCH higher chance of reaching whatever ceiling he has. Francoeur's 2005 season, in my mind, will begin to make BA second-guess their choice. In the Southern League, I expect Francoeur to struggle a bit, as he did during his cup of coffee at year's end. Remember, the SL made a lot of real good prospects (Weeks, Loney, Fielder, Barfield) have poor seasons last year, and it is the worst hitter's league in the minors. I expect Francoeur to post a line not far from Fielder's, without the 65 walks. I'll say, .275/.320/.460.

Andy Marte- So then, what will his competitor do? Well, this largely depends on whether or not the Braves decide to send Marte back to AA, or challenge him with an International League promotion. Also, a position change to left field (as hinted to by John Schuerholz), could also prove an impact on his offensive numbers. But I keep feeling like one of these seasons Marte is going to put together all his offensive potential, and simply explode. This probably won't happen, but let's hope the Braves find out in the International League. How about this prediction: Chipper Jones gets injured in June, when the Braves call up Marte who is hitting .280/.360/.480. He finishes the season in the Majors playing third, with Chipper destined to move back to left in 2006.

Felix Hernandez- Talk about on the verge of putting it all together. Hernandez has been said to not even yet release his amazing slider, which will prove yet another piece in the "Next Great Player" puzzle. He just keeps on succeeding, but did not really dominate the Texas League in the second half of the season. Still, it sounds as if the Mariners will send him to the Pacific Coast League, where he won't last too long. Let's say they give him a Greinke-ish call with his PCL ERA somewhere between 2.75 and 3.50. In the Majors, he is jaw-dropping, even challenging Scott Kazmir, Nick Swisher and the Oakland trio of pitchers for the AL Rookie of the Year.

Adam Miller- It shouldn't be shocking that the next person I think of after Felix Hernandez is Adam Miller. After a great playoffs in the Carolina League, if I were the Indians I would challenge Miller with a promotion to the Eastern League. But the organization is quite conservative, and I expect at least a few starts in the Carolina League. It won't take long to reach AA, where his ERA will be in the mid-to-high 3.00s. Look for a real slow start, with a finish that makes some wonder if he'll open 2006 in Jacobs Field.

Greg Miller- From one Miller to another, next season will be the second unveiling of Greg Miller to the minor leagues. With an arm that is apparently healthy, look for the Dodgers to send their prized lefty back to the Southern League. I think he'll finish with a decent ERA, after a start to the season that will make Logan White question his presence in AA. Look for him to come back at the end of the season, and possibly even contribute to either AAA or the big league team.

Chad Billingsley- He'll be Miller's mate in the Southern League rotation, which will also have prospects like Jonathan Broxton and Mike Megrew. Yikes, watch out for this club next year. I expect Billingsley to just absolutely crush this league in April and May, with a promotion to the PCL in June. He'll struggle there, posting numbers a shade better (with a much better K/9) than Joe Blanton's last season. He's much more likely to earn a September start than Miller, but an average Los Angeles team will probably be able to afford allowing both to see time.

Daric Barton- There is now a lot of pressure on Barton, who seems to have been a sticking point in the Mark Mulder trade. Instead of having to go to Palm Beach next year, Barton will end up in Modesto (could be worse!), which is much more of a hitter's haven. His numbers could be anywhere from average to ridiculous, with my guess as somewhere in the middle. His numbers should look pretty similar to Omar Quintanilla's there last year (.314/.370/.480), with an OBP in the low-.400s as my only real significant change.

Delmon Young- The star of the California League will not be Barton, but instead Delmon Young in his return home to Cali. Look for Young to post crazy-good numbers early on in the season, with the Devil Rays pushing him to AA with an OPS somewhere upwards of .900. He'll go back to modesty in Montgomery, with his first real test of professional pitching. My guess is he'll have an OPS of about .800 in the Southern League, leading to an internal debate on where he should begin the 2006 season. No matter what, he'll still be one of the game's top five prospects.

Chuck Tiffany- If you haven't yet heard of Chuck Tiffany, you will in 2005. Pitchers just simply seem to dominate in Vero Beach, and Tiffany will provide no exception to that rule. Expect him to post an ERA in the low-2.00s before being moved up to AA to take Billingsley's spot in the rotation. He'll become known as a better pitching prospect than Greg Miller, though I think time will prove the latter to be a bit stronger. Tiffany will undoubtedly pass the John Danks of the world, that's for sure.

Shin-Soo Choo- While I never thought too much of Choo last year, I'm beginning to like the guy as a prospect. Like, more than I do Jeremy Reed. I think he'll play great in the PCL next year, and should get to debut in Seattle by about July or August. I cannot say whether or not he has centerfield-quality defense, but a midseason Randy Winn trade could open up a spot for Choo in the outfield. By that time, let's say his 2005 PCL line reads about this: .320/.400/.495.

That's all for now, but I'm hardly done with this little project. Debate in the comments the merits of my points, the Francoeur over Marte, Reed over Choo, and Tiffany v. Miller arguments.

Comments

As a Dodger fan I can't help but think you are jinxing Billingsley and Tiffany. I think Billingsley has some work to do cutting down his walks before he dominates to the degree that he may be capable of. And since I know you put a lot of stock in the rate at which pitchers surrender home runs, I would have thought that the 11 homers Tiffany gave up in only 99.2 IP would make you a bit wary of Tiffany. Sure, 141 K's in less than a 100 IP from a 19-year-old in A ball is VERY encouraging, but Tiffany still posted a 3.70 ERA at the end of the day. So as with Billingsley, I see some work to do. An ERA in the low 2.00 range in high A? I just don't see it

The Rays front office has already said that Young will start in AA Montgomery next season, skipping the Cal League altogether. I'd guess for a relatively slow start again, but he'll eat up in the summer and post an OPS in the mid-800's before being called up in September.

You seem to be a bit pessimistic about Barton's performance in '05. I see no reason why he shouldn't easily better his '04 numbers now that he is out of the MWL, in addition, I see no reason why he won't continue to offensively outperform Young.

As far as Franc... over Marte, I was shocked when BA did it and see no reason for doing so. Marte plays a more premium position right now and has been a better hitter thus far in their minor league careers.

I can't foresee a scenario in which Barton outperforms Delmon Young. That's equivalent to saying that Scott Hatteberg rivals Albert Belle. No way, no how. Let's see how Barton performs against legitimate pitching before we do backflips over him because of Beane's infatuation with him. Remember that he could be playing multiple positions next year and his offense could suffer while attempting to learn the nuances of 3b and/or 1b. Count me in the minority of those who think that Barton is overrated. He's very polished offensively but I don't see 30+ HR potential there. I can see a .290-15-80 type of player (which is very good, of course), but I just don't see the huge ceiling that others see.
I'd take Choo over Reed in a heartbeat. Reed's defense is underwhelming and lacks sufficient power for a corner outfielder. Choo may not hit for power now, but he could easily hit 25+ by making slight changes to his swing. Reed doesn't have such a luxury.
In regards to BA's ranking of Francoeur over Marte, I think they are getting too much guff for that. Both profile to be above-average big leaguers. Sure, if I had to take one of them, I'd take Marte. But Francoeur is no slouch. His athleticism and projection are unrivaled of ANY in the minor leagues. Does Marte have a safer ceiling? Sure. Does Francoeur have more upside but inherently more risk? Absolutely. I think both will be cornerstone players in Atlanta in 2-3 years. I don't think the Braves would mind if we continued this argument when they are both All-Stars in 2008.

J Deloney, as far as Marte vs. Franc, I feel that not only is Marte safer, he also has a higher ceiling.

Also, if Barton did not face "legitimate" pitching this year, can we say the same for Young and are we just going to start over from point A with both guys?

the A's have moved their single-A affiliate to Stockton, I believe. Modesto has a Reds single-A team now.

As a Jacksonville citizen, I can't wait for the upcoming Southern League season. It is going to be quite a rotation this year!

I would be shocked if Chipper Jones ever lands back in Left Field. If he is ever bumped from 3rd...I'd bet he goes to 1b.

Modesto is now affiliated with the Rockies, not the Reds (or A's). Daric Barton will likely start the season in Stockton.

Nice article... I agree with most of it, especially in regards to Choo; I was never high on him at all until recently, when some comparisons to Mark Kotsay seemed viable. One thing I disagree with is your idea that Tiffany will surpass Greg Miller in his prospect status. If his arm is as healthy as I've been reading, I think Miller will quickly regain his status as a top 10 pitching prospect.

"Finally, unlike your friends at Baseball America, you wont be seeing Mauer, Edwin Jackson or Russ Adams on my lists. "

Do you have a hardline cutoff for what is a prospect and what isn't? i.e. min 1 year pro experience, max 40 PA or 10 IP in MLB.

Good stuff Bryan, enjoy your columns...

Could you shed light on your hitter rankings? Delmon has been on many's top of list ever since he got drafted and looks more to be the sure-thing next super star in the mold of Albert Belle, Manny Ramirez, Griffey (?). Are there any other OF in the minors right now you would consider in that category?

It sounds like your preference for pitching goes like...

1. Felix Hernandez
2. Adam Miller
3. ...???

I cant make a good read on the #3 guy. Matt Cain? How bout some scout reports on these pitching prospects instead of just readily available minor league stats? :)

From what I've read about Billingsley being a power pitcher, he's still projected to have major velocity but isnt time running out on projections? Last I checked his fastball still sits 91-93mph even tho it can hit 95. He seems to have some pretty polished secondary pitches.

I havent heard much about this Adam Miller guy. BA seems to be pretty high on him and liking his "stuff" but what does he throw?

I read some report about him topping 101 mph in a game but thats was bout it. When they drafted him out of HS he didnt throw that hard did he??

Wilt and Donald--
The reason I don't report on stuff much is that it would pretty much be a regurgitation of BA stuff, which I will not have this site be. Their reports factor into my rankings, yes, but I will not use their contacts to make my credibility look better.

Wilt,
I'm in the midst of my top 100 on the main page, so I would advise you check that out. I like to keep my readers guessing.

And donald--
Miller was a first-round draft choice in 2003, and yes, I heard the same about his fastball. Apparently, he's added about 5mph since being drafted, and also has a hammer curve. He's for real.