WTNYJanuary 31, 2005
More Rookie Looks
By Bryan Smith

Earlier this winter, I looked at some of the rookies that we could see playing during the 2005 season. Now that rosters are beginning to be filled, I thought I?d take a look to see what competition rookies and Rule 5 picks will be facing in Spring Training.

Over the weekend, I completed some depth charts for the projected 25-man rosters of each team in the AL Central, West and NL East divisions. Don?t ask me why I chose these three, it was a bit spontaneous, as to not follow the standard East-Central-West format.

I won?t list each team?s projected 25-man, if you want those, shoot me an e-mail (bsmithwtny@yahoo.com). Instead, for each team I?ll talk about who I see possibly contributing?in April. This is just a look at who will be making the team out of Arizona/Florida, as I?m sure the season will give me enough time to speculate about the rest.

To keep my random theme going, here?s the 14 teams I?ve looked at, in no particular order?

Chicago White Sox

Huh, picked the hometown team first. Anyway, the White Sox are pretty set in their roster, one with little chance of a rookie breaking. The most obvious is Tadahito Iguchi, who by MLB rules, should be considered a rookie despite years of professional experience. His presence has made Willie Harris quite discontent, and if his wish to exit the organization is fulfilled, you could see Wilson Valdez make the team. Acquired from Florida, Valdez was once upon a time an Ozzie Guillen reclamation project, so the ties are there for the two to re-join on the South Side.

Detroit Tigers

Despite an organization with not a lot of promise, the Tigers won?t be featuring too many rookies in 2005. A head-on battle during Spring Training will be Alex Sanchez against Curtis Granderson, with the likely outcome being sending their top prospect to AAA for some seasoning. His breakout in AA was likely park-related, so seeing just how real of a prospect he is could be of some help. Ryan Raburn has an outside chance at the second base job, but that would only be if Fernando Vina starts the year on the DL and Alan Trammell prefers Omar Infante on the bench. You could see a rookie reliever nab the bullpen?s last spot, though an ex-prospect like Franklyn German or ex-Rule 5 pick like Matt Roney is more likely.

Oakland Athletics

It?s very possible that the Rookie of the Year race will be won and lost in Oakland. Nick Swisher will probably be one of the favorites, though until Eric Byrnes is traded, Swisher is not completely assured of consistent playing time. Either is Dan Johnson, especially after Billy Beane told Athletics Nation that the first base job is Scott Hatteberg?s to lose. A bit of loyalty over common sense from Mr. Beane?

A re-built rotation will likely have two rookies in Joe Blanton and Dan Meyer, both solid if unspectacular prospects. Neither will draw the media praise of a Dontrelle Willis, but both should be more consistent. And again, I?m bound by Major League Baseball rules to mention Keiichu Yabu, who will be fighting for both a spot in the rotation and bullpen. One of his competitors in the ?pen will be Tyler Johnson, a Rule 5 pick who?s hope of staying with the team likely resides in Ricardo Rincon?s left arm health.

Florida Marlins

A massive lack of depth in Florida will be the only hope for a lot of rookies to stick in south beach, as the Marlins will be giving no rookies extended playing time. Josh Willingham, who?s MLEs speak quite highly of what he could bring, will be battling with Matt Treanor (typical back-up catcher) for that spot. Chris Aguila, a no-namer, has a chance at the last bench spot, with little competition at this point. Cub fans will not be pleased to hear that Luke Hagerty pretty much has a ? chance of making the team, only needing to overcome battles with Ben Howard, Tim Spooneybarger and Justin Wayne for the final spot.

Washington Nationals

While we once thought there could be loads of rookies on this team, Jim Bowden has slowly compiled a veteran-heavy team. Rule 5 picks Tony Blanco and Ty Godwin will battle Wil Cordero and Endy Chavez respectively, for spots, and both are likely going to come up losers. Ryan Church, sort of a poor man?s Jason Bay, will take on J.J. Davis for a bench spot, and could become the starter if Nick Johnson gets hurt in Spring Training, or Brad Wilkerson becomes a Cub. In the bullpen, no-names Gary Majewski and Francis Beltran could make the team, but are ninth and tenth on my depth chart at this point.

Texas Rangers

Yuck, this team is definitely headed down the 2004 Kansas City Royals path of destruction. Adrian Gonzalez will battle with David Delucci for the Designated Hitter spot, with a loss sending him back to AAA?again. After signing a three-year contract to stay away from the Sacramento Kings, expect 6-10 Chris Young to get a good number of starts in Arlington. He doesn?t have a ton of upside, but this team will take 5th starter numbers if they can find it. And if things bounce right in Spring Training, and I can assure you they won?t, real prospects Ian Kinsler or John Hudgins could open in Dallas.

New York Mets

Unfortunately, the Mets decided to call up David Wright early enough in the 2004 season to expel him of rookie status, eliminating the 2005 favorite from competition. They are now fully prepared to add no one to the argument now, with another pitcher from Japan (though he's Korean), Dae Sung Koo, the best of the bunch. Also, I believe Heath Bell will make the team after a dazzling 25 innings last year, and he?ll be a very solid reliever on a team with little in that department.

Minnesota Twins

While Baseball America is going against the grain ranking Joe Mauer in their prospect rankings this winter, MLB rules will not allow him to be up for Rookie of the Year. Instead, the Twins will let Jesse Crain try and win the award, though they won?t be giving him the sexy stat that BBWAA writers love: saves. Terry Tiffee is behind both Michael Cuddyer and Eric Munson for 3B at-bats, and Mike Ryan has the same David v. Goliath chance of making the roster. Ryan Rowland-Smith, the club?s Rule 5 pick, actually has a hope of opening in Minnesota. He?ll need either Joe Mays or Terry Mulholland to open the season on the DL, and then beat out C.J. Nitkowski for the final spot. Neither is asking too much, is it?

Atlanta Braves

So much has been made as to whether Andy Marte or Jeff Francoeur will open the season with the Braves, but I don?t think that will happen. Marte will spend Spring Training learning the left field position, and only not report to Richmond should Brian Jordan or Raul Mondesi not be ready, and the Braves not choosing Ryan Langerhans to man the spot. I think the rookie with the best chance is Kyle Davies, who really only needs a Horacio Ramirez re-injury at this point, and really has the Braves? front office approval. Finally, Roman Colon is another reliever with under the right amount of innings, so he can still qualify for ROY voting. He?ll get no support there, though he?ll probably earn some Bobby Cox trust this year.

Kansas City Royals

Meet the American League?s worst team. The most exciting thing in Kansas City this year will be Zack Greinke, as he moves to his second year of experience as the Royals most hyped player in recent memory. He?ll likely help cloud the emergence of Mark Teahen, who only really needs to overcome Chris Truby and Tony Graffanino to win the third base job. Given the support he has from Royal brass, I don?t think that should be an issue. Besides him, you?re looking at the back-up catcher (Paul Phillips or Mike Tonis) and fifth starter spot (Denny Bautista, though not likely) being the most likely sources. Andy Sisco has a chance of staying, and it depends on Tony Pena?s decision to carry 11 or 12 pitchers, and his ability to be in the top two of the Shawn Camp, D.J. Carrasco, Dennis Tankersley, Sisco foursome.

Cleveland Indians

Johnny Peralta and Brandon Phillips might seem like rookies, so might Grady Sizemore, but none will garner votes for Rookie of the Year. I can honestly say that I don?t think any Indian will, barring unforeseen circumstances. Ryan Garko has an outside chance if there?s an injury, and there are probably some pitchers who could make it, but remember, Matt Miller, Chad Zerbe, Cliff Bartosh and Denny Stark are probably all on the outside looking in at this point.

Anaheim Angels

Dallas McPherson. He has believers, and no real contender for the third base spot. He has the Jeremy Burnitz skillset that will attract voters, and should be considered one of the more likely ROY winners. He could have some competition in his own organization, but both Casey Kotchman and Kendry Morales are stretches at this point. I think you?ll see Kotchman in AAA and Morales in the Texas League to open the year, and the former forcing Bill Stonemann?s hand at the deadline. Will he have Terry Ryan?s vision, and trade Darin Erstad, or Larry Beinfest?s stubbornness, and deal Kotchman? Time will tell.

Philadelphia Phillies

This will finally be Chase Utley?s year for consistent playing time, perfectly coinciding with his exit from rookie status. Marlon Byrd has one of those problems, though Kenny Lofton?s entrance will likely send Byrd to Scranton. The 25th man spot could be a battle between Jose Offerman and a pair of rookies, the heralded Ryan Howard and Rule 5 pick Shane Victorino, with Howard really only making it should Thome be injury-plagued. Gavin Floyd is really the best bet, but he?ll still need Padilla or Wolf to be injured, or to beat Brett Myers should he want a real ROY chance.

Seattle Mariners

After such a good September call-up, you have to expect the Mariners to find a way for Jeremy Reed to get playing time. My guess is that Randy Winn will become the 4th outfielder, with Reed and Ibanez the two getting consistent playing time in center and left, respectively. The story of the spring could be the team?s last rotation spot, where Felix Hernandez is set to battle with Aaron Sele and Gil Meche. Team officials are saying that Hernandez will not make the team, but with a good enough spring, anything is possible. Clint Nageotte and Travis Blackley have shots at the team, but both are probably best served with a little more AAA seasoning.

That?s all for today. Next Monday I?ll finish this mini-series, followed by some Vegas-odds for the ROY crowns.

Baseball BeatJanuary 29, 2005
Weaver and Angels About to Tie the Knot
By Rich Lederer

According to two unrelated but reliable sources, Jered Weaver is expected to sign with the Angels "any day now." One source has ties to Long Beach State and the other to the Angels. No terms were revealed.

[Additional reader comments and retorts at Baseball Primer.]

Baseball BeatJanuary 29, 2005
Play Ball!
By Rich Lederer

Long Beach State beat Arizona State last night, 7-3, at Tempe, Arizona in the season opener for these two highly ranked teams. The crowd of 4,783 was the largest crowd at Packard Stadium since drawing 5,965 against LSU in 2001. (Boxscore)

The win was the 400th in the head coaching career of Mike Weathers, who recently agreed to a four-year extension through 2010. He took over the 49ers program in 2002 after serving as a long-time assistant coach to Dave Snow. Weathers, 54, joined Snow's staff after a successful run as the head coach of his alma mater, Chapman University in Orange, California.

Don't mistake the 3:51 time in the boxscore for Jim Ryun's record-setting mile run. Instead, it reflects the nearly four-hour marathon in which the 9th-ranked Sun Devils and the 14th-ranked Dirtbags combined for 21 hits while rummaging through nine pitchers. ASU, which lost its season opener for only the third time since 1977, now has a 13-3 all-time record vs. LBSU.

The star of the game was Long Beach State's All-American shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, who went 3-for-4 at the plate with a pair of intentional walks and three runs scored while making three sparkling plays in the field. Tulowitzki is a name to remember. The 6'3'', 200-pound junior is already drawing comparisons to former 49er SS Bobby Crosby. Tulowitzki and Crosby are both big and strong with outstanding arms and good power.

Tulowitzki, the sixth-ranked junior prospect in the country by Baseball America, was selected by the magazine as the tenth pick in its 2005 mock draft. The Sunnyvale, California native was the Most Outstanding Player in last year's Regionals and was the starting shortstop for the gold-medal winning Team USA last summer.

In a preseason poll among Big West coaches, Tulowitzki was chosen as the conference's best athlete, the best defensive shortstop, and the infielder with the best arm. "Tulo" was a first-team All-Big West pick last season and earned honorable mention All-America honors in a year that featured fellow highly acclaimed shortstops Stephen Drew and Dustin Pedroia.

Long Beach State ace Cesar Ramos, who was credited with the win last night, is also a likely first-round draft choice this June. The left-hander is Baseball America's 18th-ranked prospect among juniors. He was chosen by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in the sixth round of the 2002 draft. Like Tulowitzki, Ramos was a member of Team USA in 2004.

Ramos, who has been likened to former Dirtbag and current Red Sox lefty Abe Alvarez, has big shoes to fill. The preseason All-American has been designated as the team's Friday night starter, an honor previously bestowed on last year's College Player of the Year Jered Weaver. Ramos and Alvarez, who Theo Epstein was pleased to take with Boston's second-round pick in the 2003 draft, are both 6'2", 190-pound southpaws with exceptional control and command of their fastballs and off-speed pitches.

The product of El Rancho High School in Pico Rivera, California faced two potential first-round picks in third baseman Jeff Larish and right fielder Travis Buck. The latter was teammates with Ramos and Tulowitzki on Team USA.

Speaking of the Sun Devils, Arizona State honored former All-American Paul Lo Duca in a special pregame ceremony. His #16 jersey was added to the outfield wall--the 14th player in the school's history to receive that distinction. Lo Duca was the 1993 Sporting News Player of the Year, setting ASU single-season records with a .446 batting average and 129 hits.

If Long Beach State can win two out of three on the road against the 9th-ranked Sun Devils, it is possible that the Dirtbags could jump into the top ten in one of the polls next week. After playing the fifth most-difficult schedule in the country last year, the 49ers play several teams that have received votes in this year's preseason polls, including defending College World Series champion Cal State Fullerton six times as well as ASU, Wichita State, Baylor, USC, UCLA, Pepperdine, Houston, UC Irvine, California, Cal Poly, and UC Santa Barbara.

Saturday Update: The Sun Devils beat the 49ers, 8-6, on Saturday in game two of the three-game series.

Sunday Update: Long Beach State won the rubber match, 11-1, on Sunday. The Dirtbags outscored the Sun Devils, 24-12, in the series. Tulowitzki went 7-for-14 with two doubles, two walks, and a hit by pitch. His on-base percentage for the series was .588 and his slugging average was .643.

WTNYJanuary 26, 2005
WTNY 75: Mailbag Edition
By Bryan Smith

Bryan, where do you see Jered Weaver and Stephen Drew fall on your top 75 list? Would they even make it based on their scout reports?

I still plan on running a piece on players that did not get in a full season last year, but since Weaver and Drew remain unsigned, I?ll answer them special and not include them in the article. In fact, let?s expand this question to touching on recently-signed but not-yet-played Phillip Humber, Justin Verlander and Jeff Niemann as well.

My knowledge of these players mostly stems from two years worth of the College World Series, but thanks to Rich Lederer, I feel like I have a handle on Weaver more than anyone else. I have argued with Rich a lot about Weaver?s ceiling, which will be dependent on his fastball velocity and strength of his slider. Control is not a problem at all for Jered, and he could probably immediately step in and have some of the best on my top 75. If pressed I would likely put Weaver somewhere in the 25-30 range, between Gavin Floyd and John Danks.

Stephen Drew is probably the largest question mark to sign, given his brother?s history and the Diamondbacks? depth at shortstop (especially when Justin Upton joins). I don?t think the latter should hold up negotiations, but it gives Arizona a viable excuse should they pass on Drew?s $5M+ price tag. If signed, Drew should probably be moved to centerfield, though I think second base would work as well. His plate discipline is very sound, and his bat is as polished as they come. My guess would be that his ceiling is about 25 home runs, but given his position and solid contact skills, that would work. Drew would likely slot in right in front of organization-mate Sergio Santos, though still third in the Arizona prospect lists.

As for the Rice pitchers, I am quite high on Jeff Niemann, and still need some convincing on Humber. Niemann was the rage as a sophomore when Rice won the CWS, showing stuff that few see in college baseball. His ceiling is probably higher than anyone in the draft, but it?s the likelihood to reach that ceiling that worries me. Given his huge frame, I think Niemann should at least end up a reliever if his career curtails, where he could throw a high-90s fastball with consistency. Either way, this was a great pick by the Devil Rays, and Niemann could be anywhere between 40-50, definitely in front of Denny Bautista and right near the status of Merkin Valdez and Angel Guzman.

Humber and Verlander both need to show me a bit more, as I?m not convinced either will be a great Major League player. Humber didn?t show much more than #3-5 potential to me, and Verlander?s numbers make him a questionable pick. Humber would likely be in the Mike Hinckley range, while Verlander is right around Jon Papelbon at about #70. But I?ve failed at recognizing the skills of draft picks before, so make sure to take my comments with a large dose of salt.

Why do you say, "Kazmir will not be an ace, I think that ceiling prediction is a bit high?? I haven't heard anything like that before. Most of what I've seen about Kazmir says that he'll be an ace if his arm doesn't explode or move him to the bullpen.

Well, I think you missed the big third ?if,? the one that will most greatly prevent him from acedom. And that, is the mystery of the third pitch. At some point, I believe that competition catches up with the player that uses just two pitches, and finds a way to torch them. Unless his appearances come in one-inning stints, when two solid pitches have proven to be acceptable.

At this point, pitching coach has a lot on his shoulders, much more than his 20-year-old southpaw. Showing the change to hitters, even at an irregular basis, will be important to his success. There is no questioning Scott?s talent, look at where I ranked him, he?s just at a higher percentage to move to the bullpen than the pitchers ahead of him. No crime in that.

I think [Casey] Kotchman is a bit of a lost prospect at this point. Is he Sean Casey or Todd Helton?

That?s the million dollar question, isn?t it? Actually, either way, I think the Angels would be happy. Or maybe not the Angels, maybe whatever team they trade him to. It?s hard to see the Angels resolving their glut at first base by moving Darin Erstad, a 2004 Gold Glove winner, and the love of Mike Scioscia?s heart. Instead, Kotchman will be resigned this season to either landing in some Juan Rivera/Tim Salmon platoon in the DH spot, or to continue raking in the Pacific Coast League. You think Dan Johnson and he are friends?

Anyway, on to your question of comparison. His numbers look pretty similar to Helton?s, my reservations about Kotchman?s power developing make him sound like Casey (for both, I linked to their Baseball Cube account in the question). If you want more possible comparisons, people have thrown out both Will Clark and Mark Grace in the past, but still, I don?t find any of those to be quite perfect. One thing I look for in a comparison is what type of school the player was drafted from, college or high school. All four veteran players were collegiate athletes, while Kotchman started pro ball in his teens.

So, I think I?ve found the comp that I?m happy with, despite not having his minor league numbers on hand: Keith Hernandez. Both struggled as 21-year-olds in the Majors in a little over 100 at-bats, and come with good defensive reports. Keith started his greater-than-100 OPS+ streak the next year (which I think Kotchman could do), and did not stop until he was 35: fourteen straight years. His peak years, ages 25-27, all included 140 OPS+ years, a number Eric Chavez has yet to approach.

The only problem with this is that Casey doesn?t yet have the plate discipline that Hernandez had, only totaling 31 walks all season long. If the Angels preach this, then Kotchman can be like Hernandez, if not, then I?m not sure.

Petit you either love him or hate him. But still, if you're taking him for sabermetrics, how could you rank McCarthy that far behind?

Brandon McCarthy is an extremely odd prospect, because his season was going solid in low-A, and then he tore up the Carolina League, and regressed back when reaching the Southern League. My belief is that Brandon?s H/9s in the low-A and AA (7.7 and 8.0, respectively) are more indicative of his talent than his number in high-A. That was, unless I?m mistaken, probably a case of a pitcher in the zone for awhile. We can try to break everything down to a set of numbers, but forgetting the mental aspect of a 20-year-old is unfair. McCarthy was in the zone, pitching better than his skill set calls for, but was more on par at other times.

Petit, on the other hand, entered this season with what his catchers saw (link?) was improved control. He was virtually the same all season, taking a reasonable hit upon each promotion, especially in his twelve Eastern League innings. Still, everything was on the same page, even during his great pitching in the Venezuelan Winter League. He won?t be this good in the Majors, but he should have some success. A friend of mine compared him to Livan Hernandez, and while the comp has imperfections, namely Yusmeiro?s superior control, it?s not bad.

The ?love or hate him? arguments with these two players would get us into the scouts v. stats argument, and since we must consider both sides, I think both of these players have a higher ?flame-out? chance than a lot of pitchers. But such solid peripherals are hard to ignore, and I don?t think either will ever be anything worse than a middle reliever. Best guess is 3-5 starter with a lot of innings.

What makes Meyer #28 and [John] Maine not even an honorable mention?

John was just off the honorable mention, mostly due to a less-than-great performance in AAA. I want you all to realize that just because someone was left off my top 100, it?s not that I didn?t see them, or don?t like them. Simply put, John Maine is just not one of the 100 players I think will be best in the minor leagues. If he?s 101, then he?ll be a millionaire. Lots of times over.

With that being said, the question pertains to Meyer and Maine. To me, Meyer has the lead in various aspects. The top reason is his ceiling is definitely higher, given his aptitude to throw four pitches for strikes, which he did when I watched him as a September call-up. He?s extremely polished, never having struggled at any level, and has better control than Maine. Meyer is also left-handed, and while I think it?s pretty silly to cite that as a big advantage, it definitely helps you get noticed more.

John Maine is going to pitch in the Majors with the Orioles, just not particularly well. He should be a back-end starter for sure, and from what I saw, does not have the stuff to be much more. If I were you, I would call the front office and complain that you don?t still have the guy featured in the next question?

I don't understand what you meant when you said, "citing maturity issues as the one problem that will likely hold [Elijah Dukes] back. I don?t buy it." Don't buy what? That he has those type of problems? Or that those type of problems can keep someone from reaching their potential?

This question was answered via e-mail, but I thought it would be pertinent to print the answers I sent:


What I meant by that statement on Dukes is not me challenging whether maturity issues exist, but rather that those issues will hold him back. I also read that he was much improved in the California League, which is where my statement stems from. From what it sounds like we see pretty much eye-to-eye here, that Dukes is an amazing talent, and only a major relapse of past issues will stop him at this point. That or him proving he's more the low-A player than the CL version.

I still have more questions to answer, so expect a second mailbag soon.

WTNYJanuary 25, 2005
Drained
By Bryan Smith

Friends, thank you for giving WTNY the most satisfying two weeks of my short-lived writing career. Prospect lists are what do it for people, when prospect writers get their due. Or, at least I like to think so.

Not a lot to contribute today. I have a mailbag in process (any more questions, leave in comments), an article on short-season players, and even an extended honorable mention. The fun never stops here, well, after today I guess.

As I try and catch up on the little sleep I ever get, you tell me: who are your top 10 prospects? Why do the minor leagues interest you? What do you want to know more about in the minors?

Baseball BeatJanuary 24, 2005
No Hatfields and McCoys Here
By Rich Lederer

Matt Welch is the proprietor of a popular current-events weblog known by his name. He is a Contributing Editor and media columnist for Reason magazine and a U.S. Correspondent for The National Post, Canada's second-largest newspaper. Matt writes about politics, sports, music and pop culture.

Matt and I grew up on the same street in the Lakewood Village section of Long Beach. We lived within ten houses of each other, separated only by a road that intersected our block. Although Matt is 13 years my junior, the Welch and Lederer families were connected through baseball. Matt's Dad was my younger brother Gary's first Little League coach. As an eight-year-old, Gary struck out almost every batter he faced. He was awesome. His batterymate was none other than Matt's older brother Larry. Four years later, Gary and Larry played on the same Little League All-Star team coached by Matt's Dad.

Welch, 36, is married and lives in Los Angeles. His two sisters and two brothers also live in Southern California. He has four nieces. His Dad still lives in the same house. My Mom still lives in her house. Although Matt and I haven't seen each other in ages, our passion for baseball has brought us together once again.

Matt linked the first Abstracts From The Abstracts review last July without making the connection. I sent an email to Matt, thanking him and asking if he was the Matt Welch from down the street. He wrote back and said "yes" and we proceeded to exchange questions and answers that brought us up to date on everyone from our parents on down.

I received an email from Matt a few weeks ago, asking if I would be interested in serving as the first subject in a new MattWelch.com feature ("Infrequently Asked Questions!") that he was considering launching in the near future. I told him that I was game. He sent me a bunch of questions, I returned them, and, bingo, Matt posted the following interview on his weblog Monday morning.

We talk about our shared background, Bert Blyleven, Bill James, All-Baseball.com, and much more. Go check it out.

WTNYJanuary 24, 2005
The WTNY Top 5
By Bryan Smith

5. Dallas McPherson- 3B- Anaheim Angels- 24

In the last two seasons, Dallas McPherson has not given us a lot of reason to doubt him. Over the four minor league stints he?s had at levels in two years (CL, Texas, Texas again, PCL), never has he hit below .300. Only once was the OBP below .400, the slugging under .600, and the OPS not at 1.000. In fact, 100 at-bats in AA in 2003, his 2002 Midwest League performance, and his Freshman year at the Citadel were the only times since high school he?s been below 1.000. Doubting his bat at this point is silly.

But while you would call his numbers unprecedented, there are a few concerns with Dallas. First of all, Anaheim has some great hitter?s parks between low-A and the Majors, which no doubt helped Dallas in both 2003 and 2004. So even though his slugging percentages have been right around what Adam Dunn?s were in 2001, they probably will be a bit lower. Still, the two profile to be similar players, as long as McPherson doesn?t abandon the walk.

And abandon it he did when reaching AAA last year, as he walked just 23 times in 259 at-bats. This will not satisfy the Angels, who are looking for a ceiling around .300/.400/.600 from their new third basemen. Getting that back on track should be both the organization and Dallas? goal for the spring, since McPherson has big shoes to fill in Troy Glaus.

Mike Scioscia is going to have to accept a few things about his third basemen this year. First of all, he?s going to strikeout?a lot. Second, his defense is a far cry from what Troy Glaus offered in his prime, and signiciantly closer to Chone Figgins? offerings in the playoffs. And third, that Dallas is going to tear the cover off the ball, making the Angels decision to let Glaus go the right one.

4. Adam Miller- SP- Cleveland Indians- 20

Miller was what a lot of first-round picks have been over the years: Texan high schooler with a big arm. But unlike Colt Griffins of summer?s past, Miller combined power and control into a dominating combination in 2004. As we watch bonus baby failure after failure, we have to appreciate the findings made by a Mark Shapiro or Logan White.

A lot can be said for ? considering the length of a first full season ? a good start and a good finish. This is what Miller did in 2004, as we compare his beginning and end with his middle:

Time	GS	IP	H	BB	K	ERA	HR
B+E	16	85.2	53	24	98	1.58	2
MID	13	61.0	62	21	68	4.28	6
I should note that this includes the Carolina League playoffs, where against his best competition, he dominated. To me, the B+E line is most reminiscent of the way in which Jeff Francis closed out his 2003 season, prompting his inclusion in my 2004 preseason top fifty. And needless to say, that also happened in the Carolina League. The rest, in Francis? case, is history.

But this is a case where statistics alone did not contribute to Miller?s placement. While his control is evident in his numbers, the degree of his power is not. We also saw that in the article I linked to this weekend, Miller hit 101 mph on the gun this year, which is about 8 mph faster than it was upon being drafted.

There was a lot of thinking that went into my selection of the game?s second-best pitching prospect, but I have landed on Miller. Not only did he have one of the best 2004s of any pitcher, but his numbers, youth and projectability hint that there is more to come.

3. Andy Marte- 3B- Atlanta Braves- 21

For his time in the Braves organization, Marte has been an extremely consistent player. His slugging percentages, when weighing in Myrtle Beach?s horrible park factor, become fairly even. His on-base percentage has stayed consistent the last two years, and his yearly averages aren?t too far from each other. Marte is as consistent as they come, likely showing us what kind of player he profiles to be in the Majors. His average will likely be around .280, and his slugging has a ceiling in the .500s.

The question in my mind, is what about his OBP. If you split his season into two halves, pre-injury and post-injury (they come within 15 at-bats of eachother), he?s still consistent. His average in the first half was .264, and then .274 in the second half. His slugging went from .527 to .522. The big difference? His OBPs (estimated, but wrong by a few hundredths if anything), as in the first half it was just .335, and in the second .394. Where his OBP heads in the future will decide how good a player he becomes.

Everyone cites Miguel Cabrera as a comp to Marte, even John Scheurholz, but I don?t see it. Cabrera was simply a bit more raw than Marte at the same ages, never seeing the doubles go over the fence in the minors like Andy did in 2004, and never walking as much. Marte does not have Miguel?s upside, which is not a fault on him, just me saying that I don?t think the huge breakout season that has been predicted again and again will happen. Marte should stay extremely solid, and end up more like Carlos Lee (an ex-3B) than Cabrera.

The big question with Andy will be his position, now that Scheurholz has committed to keeping Chipper at third. This is a decision I disagree with, since I think Marte is a better third basemen than Jones, and has less experience in the outfield than him. But, it?s hard to go against this organization?s decisions, and I think you?ll see Andy split time at the hot corner and left field this year. In 2006, you should be seeing a Marte-Jones-Francoeur outfield.

In conclusion, Marte is an extremely great talent destined for many an All-Star game. He is a streaky player that always ends up with similar numbers. What will change Marte from solid to great will be his walks, and his consistency in selectivity. Either way, he?ll make his presence felt?soon.

2. Felix Hernandez- SP- Seattle Mariners- 19

In twenty years, when I look back on this list, I see myself thinking only two things about my selection of Felix as second overall. Furious for not choosing him first, or nodding that while TINSTAPP is extreme, it has a good point. This is to say that the only thing holding back Hernandez from greatness is a right arm that will throw about 400 professional innings before turning 20.

There?s nothing to dislike about Hernandez stuff-wise. From watching him in the Futures Game, I can tell you that he throws a fastball as well as anyone in the minors, and his curve would already be one of the 15 or so best in the Major Leagues. Furthermore, Jim Callis of Baseball America (no link, sorry) reported that Felix has a slider that has yet to be debuted. With that, Felix could take off even more, reaching unprecedented levels if his arm doesn?t fall off.

What impressed me most this season was King Felix?s (as coined by U.S.S. Mariner) ability to adjust to a level. In his first nine California League starts, Felix had a 3.59 ERA, 48 hits in 47.2 innings with 53 strikeouts, 14 walks, and five home runs allowed. In his last seven: 1.61 ERA, 37 hits in 50.1 innings, 61 strikeouts, twelve walks and zero homers. This works for the Texas League too, his first four AA starts: 4.79 ERA, 21 hits in 20.2 innings, nineteen strikeouts, nine walks and three home runs. And in his last six, Felix had a 2.45 ERA, allowing just 26 hits in 36.2 innings with thirty-nine strikeouts, twelve walks and zero home runs. That, my friends, is impressive.

Equally impressive is Seattle?s decision to not allow Felix to pitch in the Venezuelan League this winter. They realize the talent they have, and are not going to risk his right arm after numerous problems with that in the organization. The fifth starter spot in Seattle is wide-open, and if Felix doesn?t grab it in Spring Training, he should have it before the All-Star Break. The marketing potential of Ichiro and Felix in the future likely makes that Mariner department tickle, as they should be the top two in that regard in the game soon.

1. Delmon Young- OF- Tampa Bay Devil Rays- 19

Young didn?t hit for the power that Ian Stewart did. He didn?t hit for the average that Jason Kubel had at much higher levels. And he definitely does not have the polish at the plate we see from Casey Kotchman. But for me, there was little thought in choosing who to crown my 2005 preseason top prospect.

Tampa Bay has begun to witness the flux of young studs in this organization, both with the September call-up of the aforementioned Scott Kazmir, and my midseason top prospect, B.J. Upton. But unlike the talented shortstop, there is no ceiling for Young?s offensive potential. We have all heard the Albert Belle comparison, but in my mind, Delmon is far the better player than Joey Belle was.

How can I be singing such praise for a player not yet out of low-A? More so, one that has yet to even master the strike zone? My answer to that, is Young has showed the knack to improve, despite already being a good player. His August numbers:

AB	BA	SLG	W	K
103	.437	.786	20	22
Most intriguing for me is not the average or the power, both of which will come and go. But for a player that walked just once in April to show that type of improvement is fantastic. Delmon has not gone four games without a walk since mid-July, during a span in which he went 7/19.

Unlike the walks, the strikeouts aren?t going anywhere. In each month of play, Delmon struck out in 20-265 of his at-bats. He profiles to do so in excess of 100 times per season in the Major Leagues, a figure that would be offset by 80-100 walks.

And even when Young was bad, he was not bad. His worst monthly average was a modest .262 in April. In fact, only once all season did Young go three games without a hit, a feat no matter the number. To house that type of consistency, and still have nine hitting streaks in excess of six games is fantastic. And that doesn?t even mention his six-game, multi-hit streak in mid-August.

Overall, there are little flaws in Delmon?s resume. He has confidence and a Major League pedigree. He makes consistent contact, and shows ridiculous power. Toss in enough speed to be a threat and solid right field play, and you?ve got baseball?s best prospect.

WTNYJanuary 22, 2005
Around the Net
By Bryan Smith

While still preparing my top five (all detailed reports) for Monday, I wanted to use the weekend to drop-in a few articles that I missed linking to over the past two weeks or so. But before that, here are the individual links to all the prospect lists thus far:

Honorable Mention
75-60
60-45
45-30
30-15
15-6

I hope you all have enjoyed the lists so far, and if a question of yours did not get answered, I?m trying to piece together a mailbag for next week.

Just nine days after teammate and third overall selection Phillip Humber signed a deal with the New York Mets, fourth pick Jeff Niemann agreed Thursday to a deal with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Worth $5.2 million over five years, the contract includes a $3.2 million signing bonus for the Rice University star. Undoubtedly the top sophomore in the country in 2003, Niemann struggled as a junior because of offseason elbow surgery and a groin problem that kept him from pitching for nearly a month last year.

According to the Herald Tribune, Niemann has ?hired a trainer and has been working out at Rice nearly every day.? Hopefully this will allow Jeff to pitch at full strength, when Baseball America says he has this arsenal:


?he has a fastball that reaches 97 mph, and he does an excellent job of staying tall in his delivery and using his height to drive the ball down through the strike zone. He also throws a nasty slider that scouts considered the best available in the 2004 draft class, and he added a spike curveball that he picked up from his former roommate and Rice teammate Wade Townsend?

Jeff will likely start next season in either high-A or AA, depending on how his Spring Training goes. A September start, or even earlier, should not be ruled out should Niemann return to his old self. This will take breaking a rotation that Lou Piniella named on Tuesday, containing Rob Bell, Mark Hendrickson, Dewon Brazelton, Scott Kazmir and Doug Waechter.

Still unsigned from the 2004 first-round are who most people slot as the top two players: Jered Weaver (Angels) and Stephen Drew (Diamondbacks). Weaver is asking for a Mark Prior-type deal, which A-B?s own Rich Lederer argued for less than two weeks ago. Drew, who has been rumored to be everything from signed to back in school, is looking for the type of contract Mark Teixeira received. Both are expected to sign, as Scott Boras? other obligations are dwindling.

WTNY

Staying in the Tampa organization, here?s an unfortunate story coming from the St. Petersburg Times (scroll down):


Outfield prospect Elijah Dukes was arrested early Tuesday on a first-degree misdemeanor charge of battery (domestic violence). Dukes is to remain in jail until this morning, when he is expected to have bail set by a Hillsborough County judge. According to police, Dukes was having an argument with his sister then grabbed her by the throat and punched her in the left arm.

This is extremely bad news for Dukes, who has previously been arrested two other times within the last two years. The Devil Rays tried to recognize Dukes? off-the-field problems by allowing him to miss part of last season to attend anger management classes. The organization cited improvements in his behavior upon a dominant performance in the California League in the second half of last season.

I still do not believe that Dukes? anger problems should greatly effect his status as a top prospect, and as a reader pointed out, the issues only make him more comparable to Milton Bradley. Both switch-hitters with a bit of speed and power, Bradley also went through low-A and high-A as a 20-year-old, and not even as dominantly as Dukes did. Still, the two have similar discipline stats, power numbers (once adjusted for park), and like builds. I should note that in his 21-year-old season, Bradley hit .329 in AA over the course of 346 at-bats.
At this point, it?s hard to tell whether the future is bleak or bright.

WTNY

And in what I promise will be the last Devil Ray story linked to, here?s a piece from the Ventura County Star on the evolution of Delmon Young, and the help that Dmitri has had on him. My favorite was when Delmon asked his older brother how to hit a good split-finger, Dmitri responded with, ?'That's easy, Del. You don't. You get him to throw you something above the belt.? It?s nice to see that selectivity is not just being preached to him within the organization, but at the dinner table as well.

WTNY

Another top prospect recently profiled in the news was Mr. 101, Adam Miller. The nickname derives from the Carolina League playoffs last year, when two radar guns had the teenager in triple-digits. From the piece, found in the Cleveland Plain Dealer (hat tip, Rich Lederer):


"I definitely wasn't trying to throw that hard," Miller said. "It just happened."
?
A power pitcher since high school, Miller figured he would continue to throw in the low-90s during the 2004 season. However, as he dominated for the lower-Class A Lake County Captains, his radar readings climbed into the mid-90s. At the South Atlantic League All-Star Game, Miller had five pitches clocked at 98 to 100.
?
He understands that repeating delivery, leveraging downhill and achieving maximum extension through release translate to velocity - not raring back and firing.
?
As valuable as it is, velocity alone has not made Miller an elite prospect. To succeed in the majors, most starters employ at least a three-pitch mix. Miller complements the fastball with a slider that Tribe brass has declared close to major-league ready. His third pitch, the change-up, remains the wild card.
?
The circle change paved the way for dominance at Kinston?Miller further honed the change at the instructional league last fall. When Miller debuts for Class AA Akron in the spring, it could be a part of the repertoire.

Not a lot to pick on there, my friends. If you live anywhere near Akron, do yourself a favor this year, and go see an Aeros game. Just make sure to pick the right day, because on every fifth, a future ace will be pitching.

WTNY

A little more than a week ago, Major League Baseball signed a ten-year extension with the NAPBL, the organization that runs the minor leagues. My favorite is this little biscuit at the bottom:


Additional highlights of the agreement include access to all Minor League content for a baseball-only television channel, owned and operated by Major League Baseball, and joint marketing initiatives between MLB and the Minor Leagues.

I can?t think of anything I would want more than if MLB TV featured a minor league game of the week, carefully pitching the game that will match together the best group of prospects. Who knows, maybe one day a scouting report will only be a video away.

Baseball BeatJanuary 22, 2005
Seriously Speaking
By Rich Lederer

Weaver Talks Getting 'Serious' is a headline in today's Los Angeles Times. Staff writer Mike DiGiovanna reports that the Angels and Scott Boras are in "serious discussions" that may lead to a deal before the start of spring training next month.

Neither agent Scott Boras nor Angel General Manager Bill Stoneman would elaborate, but Boras confirmed Friday that they had spoken by phone several times this week and would have face-to-face meetings "shortly."

The two sides have had little dialogue since the Angels selected Jered Weaver with the 12th pick in the draft last June. They are believed to be "millions apart" with Boras seeking a Mark Prior-like contract and the Angels offering money more in line with what other first-round starting pitchers have received. The former USC star received $10.5 million for five years while Justin Verlander, Philip Humber, and Jeff Niemann have each recently signed five-year contracts for approximately $5 million.

The five-million dollar gap between the deal Prior inked 3 1/2 years ago and those consummated as recently as the past week (in the case of Humber and Niemann) is presumably what needs to be compromised if the Angels and Weaver are going to reach an agreement. You can probably narrow that gulf to four million as I am quite certain that Boras and Weaver would be happy with an eight-figure deal and the Angels would have no hesitation making the College Player of the Year the highest-paid player from the 2004 draft by offering at least six million.

Maybe the Houston Astros-Roger Clemens negotiations can serve as a model for the Angels and Weaver. The Astros offered $13.5 million and The Rocket asked for $22 million when the two sides filed their proposals for salary arbitration last Tuesday. Three days later, they agreed to $18 million (a number that was just north of the mid-point at $17.75 million).

Let's see, $6 million and $10 million leaves a mid-point of $8 million. The Angels agree to give in a little to let the player win and, bingo, you've got yourself a deal at or near $8.5 million. That is a number that should work for both sides.

Although Weaver has stats comparable to Prior, one could argue that the latter projected to a somewhat higher ceiling owing to his superior mechanics, a 2-3 mph advantage on their fastballs, and arguably better stuff. Jered, on the other hand, has equally good command and control. He is as polished as Mark was at the same stage of their careers. When you shake it all up, Prior comes out on top with Weaver not too far behind.

Ten million is probably a tad too close to Prior. Six or even seven million doesn't leave enough separation between Weaver and his fellow pitchers in the class of 2004. Eight to nine million is the number that makes sense. With so much definition provided by the various signings, I would be surprised if the amount of money winds up below or above that range.

Should the Angels and Weaver agree on a pact before spring training, I think it is quite possible that the player who Baseball America ranked as the closest to the major leagues among the draftees will pitch in Anaheim sometime this summer. If they don't, it's possible that the two sides could still negotiate a deal all the way up to the week before the next draft. However, I wouldn't expect Weaver to make the jump to the big leagues without the benefit of spring training and at least a couple of months in the minors.

Weaver and the Angels. The Angels and Weaver. I hope a million dollars or pride doesn't get in the way of this match made in heaven.

WTNYJanuary 21, 2005
WTNY 75: 15-6 (part 6 of 6)
By Bryan Smith

The WTNY Top five will actually be reveiled next week, though it shouldn't be too hard for you loyal readers to guess who they are. I hope you all enjoyed the list, and I'll see you Monday.

15. Jeff Francis- SP- Colorado Rockies- 24

There are not a lot of criticisms to impose on Jeff Francis, undoubtedly the 2004 Player of the Year. You know that you?ve made it when the only thing that evaluators have against you is your future home ballpark, though I guess that complaint is quite valid given the Colorado environment. Other that that, nothing should hold Francis back, and I believe he is the most talented pitcher the Rockies have ever developed. The stadium should hold him back from winning the Rookie of the Year, I know it didn?t do so to Jason Jennings, but this year?s class should be far more loaded. A lanky southpaw, Francis throws four pitches with confidence, and was the most talked about player by the Futures Game broadcasting crew. His ceiling simply isn?t as high as the players above him, but there isn?t a lot standing in Jeff?s way now, besides those Rockie mountains.

14. Jeff Francoeur- OF- Atlanta Braves- 21

Earlier in the year, I did a study on the patience of all the current top Major Leaguers, and how their walks and strikeouts had progressed since each level. My findings were unique, showing that Francoeur?s plate discipline has been worse than anyone else at the top. While I don?t find this to be too damning, I think it gives Francoeur more of a chance to flame out than a lot of prospects. Still, he?s been compared to Dale Murphy since his high school days, and with this organization, that?s extremely high praise. John Scheurholz alluded to the fact that Francoeur will likely break in Atlanta before Andy Marte, more due to position than anything else. With Jeff I either see a bust or an All-Star, with very little middle-ground evident.

13. Scott Kazmir- SP- Tampa Bay Devil Rays- 21

The ultimate relief question in the minor leagues is Kazmir, though many I have talked to said that he is one of the special few that can succeed with just two pitches. He has shown a bit of dominance at every level, including over the world champion Boston Red Sox while in the Major Leagues. The D-Rays are going to give Kazmir every chance to succeed, so he?s going to be a starter until he really proves it?s a bad idea. This could either result in an Octavio Dotel-type career, when he moves from starter to reliever while in the Major Leagues, or, as I?m predicting, he?ll stay in the rotation. Kazmir will not be an ace, I think that ceiling prediction is a bit high, and he?ll be a perfect #2 or 3 under a soon-to-be-named Devil Ray ace.

12. Lastings Milledge- OF- New York Mets- 20

Derek Zumsteg had a very good piece profiling Lastings? sketchy background, which (combined with his signing bonus) was the reason that Milledge was not a top-five pick. That background is also one of the only flaws against him, who should definitely be considered the beast five-tool talent in the minor leagues. The Mets, who frankly could use a new development staff, promoted Milledge a bit early, where upon he was disastrous in the Florida State League. He?ll get a second chance in the league this season, and this time should be ready. I think the world of Milledge, and it?s unfortunate that we won?t be able to see him roam centerfield in Shea Stadium. Well, I guess not too unfortunate for the Mets. What?s really fun is imagining a Milledge-Beltran-Cameron outfield, and the amazing defense that could produce. Even more so, at least with Lastings and Beltran, is the top offense.

11. Matt Cain- SP- San Francisco Giants- 20

All things considered, Matt Cain is as polished a 20-year-old as there is in baseball. But there is a reason that he stands behind Chad Billingsley and Adam Miller: upside. Don?t get me wrong, Matt has considerable upside. Actually, the fourth-most of any pitcher in the Majors. But, after seeing the K/9 decline when moving to the Eastern League, I don?t have quite as much confidence as I do Chad and Adam. Also concerning was his rise in W/9, since a 4.00 number will not sustain future success. But we see this kind of performance out of a lot of people when moving up to AA, and I expect him to return to old levels next year. The Giants have gotten nearly as much out of Jerome Williams and Jesse Foppert as they would have thought, and this speaks quite poorly for Cain?s future, but he still has the potential to dominate at any moment. I love Matt, and given SBC Park, he could be putting up big numbers for a big number of years.

10. Joel Guzman- SS- Los Angeles Dodgers- 20

Like Jeff Francoeur before him, Joel Guzman has had BB/K numbers in his career that are worse than any Major League star. But I guess looking at Guzman?s career is where you get problems, since he wasn?t nearly the player as heralded as the Dodgers had claimed?until this year. Guzman?s breakout this year is what Los Angeles had hoped for years ago, they spent a record amount on him when he would have been just a sophomore in high school. With that said, it?s hard to penalize Joel for waiting this long to show us his true colors, which is why I didn?t. But, I think if Guzman, who is likely to move to third, is any reason the Dodgers didn?t sign Adrian Beltre, that?s a large mistake. Guzman is another with a large ceiling, a lot of room for flame-out, with very little in-between. While scouts expect Guzman to grow even more than his 6-4 frame, pushing him away from shortstop, the Dodgers need to keep him there until it?s absolutely necessary to move him. Let me give you some advice L.A. fans: pray there isn?t.

9. Chad Billingsley- SP- Los Angeles Dodgers- 20

Every time I see Billingsley?s statistics, I am reminiscent of my favorite player in baseball. Often times, the player I credit with my intense fandom in baseball. In 1996, he was the rage of the Florida State League, with a 5.7 H/9, 10.7 K/9, and an odd 5.5 W/9. His stuff was as good as it gets, with a huge fastball and breaking pitch, along with the occasional solid third pitch. Billingsley, similarly, posted a 6.7 H/9, 10/9 K/9 and 4.8 W/9 this year. His stuff is similar to that of Kerry Wood, the player whom I am speaking of above. But unlike Kerry, Chad moved up and dominated AA in the same season, and is set for an appearance in Los Angeles some time this summer. With Edwin Jackson and Billingsley on the way, Jon Weisman could be kept a happy man for years to come.

8. Ian Stewart- 3B- Colorado Rockies- 20

Blame it on Cecil Fielder. Blame it on Delmon Young or Lastings Milledge. Blame it on Jeff Francis. Blame it on someone, because Ian Stewart?s amazing 2004 season appears to be a bit overlooked. Last year we fell in love with Prince Fielder after his low-A season in which he hit .313 with 49 2B+HR and 71 walks. Albeit it in a more favorable park, Stewart bested those numbers this year with a .319 average and 61 2B+HR, and falling just short of Prince with 68 walks. Yes, he is that good.

I?m not quite sure what park factors would do to Stewart?s numbers here, but there is no denying that his season was at or better than Fielder?s the year before. His slugging was helped a bit by nine triples, which if prorated by the Rockies? team average, would fall to .558. Still, Prince didn?t hit .319/.398/.558.

Really, Stewart has everything I like in a prospect. His strikeouts looked to be a problem early on, he hit 50 before reaching 200 at-bats, but then had just 60 in his next 300 at-bats. In fact, his K% declined in every full month, before reaching it?s low 17.3% in August. The same type of correlation happened in slugging, as his great August included a .385 average and .635 slugging.

It seemed like Ian was always working on some solid streak, as he had six hitting streaks over six games, though none over eleven. By the end of the year Stewart was literally flawless as a hitter, and thus should create some internal debate as to whether put him on the Prince Fielder-skip-highA-track. Garrett Atkins will likely allow the Rockies to keep Stewart at a decently slow pace, but his bat might make O?Dowd want to bring him up earlier.

7. Prince Fielder- 1B- Milwaukee Brewers- 21

Forgive Prince for taking a while to become adjusted to the Southern League, his excuses are pretty sensible. This was a 20-year-old who was forced to skip high-A the year following winning the Midwest League MVP award, giving Fielder his first real dose of failure. And he was moved to one of the minors? worst hitting leagues, into a park not real favorable on batters. Tough assignment.

But give the kid credit, he showed a lot of integrity in the way he played this past season. After starting with a red-hot April, Fielder was pushing far too hard in both May and June. For a thirteen game stretch in May, Fielder did not collect one extra-base hit while batting 10/54. Prince was still walking a lot, and his strikeout ratio never veered too far from 20%. 81 games into the season, Fielder was hitting just .246, but with an ISO of .180 in 305 at-bats.

This was about the time that Fielder was summoned to start the Futures Game at first base for the United States squad. While I feel the game is set in place more to evaluate pitchers than hitters, Prince impressed me more than any other hitter during the game. Facing Felix Hernandez, who otherwise looked dominant, Fielder took a 95+ fastball the opposite way for a single. His accomplishment will likely be overlooked in years to come, but it showed the type of hitter Prince was, even against the toughest of competition.

Not surprisingly, it was soon after the Futures Game when Fielder started to figure AA out. His contact skills became much more pronounced, as seen by both his rise in batting average, and decline in K%. In his last 54 games, making up about 40% of the season, Fielder hit .313 with a .547 slugging, walking 27 times while striking out 33. His bat had arrived.

This leaves the Brewers with a rather large decision this spring. Do they send their top prospect back to Huntsville for more success, or do they take his last 200 at-bats as a sign that he should be making dinner dates with Will Carroll in Indy? Some could argue Prince never really got going in AA, since he only registered two hitting streaks beyond three games. But given his 39 multi-hit games, and that fantastic finish, I would advise the Brewers to continue forth with their 2006 ETA.

6. Casey Kotchman- 1B- Anaheim Angels- 22

If nothing else, you have to respect Terry Ryan . In the middle of the season, and the middle of the pennant race, he dealt his most vocal leader in Doug Mientkiewicz. Replacing him was Justin Morneau, a first base prospect with huge power, even a surer bet than Kotchman. So to even out a Nomar Garciaparra trade that just could not get agreed to, Ryan traded a valuable player for a pitching prospect. A bold move, no doubt, but in a system with this much depth, not too gutsy an opportunity. It looks as if Kotchman, ready for the Majors in every facet of the game, will start the season in AAA, before moving to the Majors later in the year. This will take a Terry Ryan-like move from the Twins, not likely given their conservative front office, along with Anaheim?s love for Erstad. Darin should switch positions or teams by year?s end, literally putting the ball in Casey?s court.

WTNYJanuary 20, 2005
WTNY 75: 30-16 (Part 5 of 6)
By Bryan Smith

30. Ian Kinsler- SS- Texas Rangers- 23

The Jeremy Reed Inauspicious Breakout of the Year award goes to?Mr. Ian Kinsler. Sorry, but the former 17th round pick was not my choice of who would top .400 with significant time at a minor league level. After playing in only 20 games at Arizona State University in 2002, ?He made up his mind,? Missouri coach Tim Jamieson told me. ?He was looking for the opportunity to play at a high level conference.?

In the Big 12, his career was defined by ?intangibles more than his numbers.? Despite a stress fracture in his foot, Kinsler put together a solid season at MU, hitting .335/.416/.536 in just short of 200 at-bats. ?If not for the injury, I think his numbers would have looked better,? Jamieson forecasted. Kudos to Grady Fuson and the rest of his scouting team, as after a .762 OPS in the Northwest League in his pro debut, Kinsler adjusted perfectly to full-season ball.

Thanks to his ability to get the ?barrel on the bat all the time,? Kinsler hit .402 in 59 Midwest League games. After former first-round pick Drew Meyer was demoted to the California League, the Rangers opted to allow Kinsler to skip a level and move to the Texas League. Jamieson said of Ian?s body, ?he had a frame that allowed him to put on weight, and has added about 15 pounds since leaving college.? New muscle, along with ?quick hands and a short stroke,? give Ian the ability to turn on any fastball and hit it for power.

?The thing that sets him apart is his discipline and knowledge of the strike zone.? Described as ?confident? and ?very dedicated,? Kinsler?s mistake-free play saw continued success in AA, with a .299/.401/.465 line. His play is already forcing John Hart to consider various Alfonso Soriano options, including a trade or a move to the outfield. ?Ian had everything, he just needed some refining.? Consider it done.

29. Scott Olsen- SP- Florida Marlins- 21

I have a lot of conflicting views in trying to evaluate Olsen properly. First, this is a pitcher that on the stat sheet shows a 2.97 ERA, but upon further evaluation, had an RA of 3.77. He was one of the luckiest pitchers in the minors last year, but at the same time, also one of the most dominant. Olsen would lead the Florida State League with 158 strikeouts, though he undoubtedly has some control issues that seemed to pop up from time to time.

But first and foremost, the report on Olsen is that he has the ability to control a game. Five times this year did Olsen strike out double-digit batters, once in back-to-back games in June. And while I have a problem with the fact that he allowed zero earned runs in just six of his 25 starts, four of them came in his last five starts. In fact, in those last five, he allowed one run in 30.2 innings, allowing 21 hits, 6 walks and one home run while striking out 42 batters. There is no question that without this finish, Olsen would be farther down this list. His end just gave us a look at his ceiling.

But with Olsen, there is also the basement floor. Five times during the season his walk total matched or was higher than his strikeouts, and thrice he walked five batters in one game. Furthermore, in ten starts, his hit total was higher than his innings pitched. I have less confidence that Olsen will reach his ceiling than any other player in the top 50, it?s just the height of his ceiling that has led to his placement.

28. Dan Meyer- SP- Oakland Athletics- 23

In a great interview over at Perfect Game (hat tip, Brad Dowdy), Atlanta Braves? scouting director Roy Clark cites Dan Meyer as a player they loved out of college. They chose the soft-throwing southpaw out of James Madison in the sandwich round following his junior year, a season in which he posted solid if not spectacular statistics. Since then, and you better credit the Braves developmental staff, Dan?s numbers have actually improved in the minor leagues. Never has his ERA been above 3.00, and once has it been below 2.70, in five stops. Most of the time the ERA is in that range, though each time his peripherals have varied a bit. After seeing a bull pen appearance of his in September, I really have started to believe that he?s a rich man?s Mark Redman, throwing high-80s fastballs in the same, effortless style. But Meyer has four pitches that he will use at any time, has great control, and is smart enough on the mound to pile up strikeouts. He and Joe Blanton are both going to be solid, middle-of-the-rotation starters, simply giving the team 300+ solid innings on the Harden-Zito days off.

27. Ryan Howard- 1B- Philadelphia Phillies- 24

Yes, friends, more comps here. In the fifth round of the 1998 draft, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays selected a big, left-handed hitter with a power bat and bad defense, from one of the nation?s top programs: Miami. Three years later, in the same round, the Phillies took a similar player from another solid program, though a bit less heralded: Southwest Missouri State. The Devil Ray would post three slugging percentages above .530 before making the Majors, while the Phillie took until AA to reach those numbers, and he got well above .600. I?m not saying the comp is perfect, but I believe that Howard will become some version of Aubrey Huff, probably with a little more power, more strikeouts and a bit of a worse average. Still, Howard is probably the best prospect that is openly on the trading block, and should be pursued by any young team with an open hole at first base. I really wouldn?t frown on the Devil Rays and Phillies trying to work out a deal involving Rocco Baldelli and Howard, though I have been criticized for calling for Baldelli?s trade in the past.

26. John Danks- SP- Texas Rangers- 20

Since being drafted, Danks has always been called the ?poor man?s Scott Kazmir,? which given my experience watching him, seemed a bit unfair. After seeing 33 pitches from him in the Futures Game, I came away under whelmed, saying he was ?throwing between 89-92, and showcasing a curveball he left up quite often.? This is both less than both was reported prior to the game, and a lot less than Kazmir?s repertoire. Still, I think Danks will develop a third pitch better than Kazmir did, and I find him to be a better rotation candidate than his fellow Texan. His Midwest League numbers were unsurprisingly dominant, but he significantly worsened in Stockton. I think the key to Danks? success will be learning that change, keeping his BB/9 below 3.0, and getting out of the California League. He has the chance to put up Matt Cain-type California League numbers to start the year, but I expect just modest numbers before the Rangers get him out of there.

25. Daric Barton- 1B- Oakland Athletics- 19

This, he, is the reason that the context of numbers is more important than what they actually say. On the surface, we see Daric Barton as a player that hit .313/.455/.511 last season, never having an average below .300 all season. His numbers, according to Peter Gammons, were Pujols-esque. But what I hope to show you over the course of this report, is that Barton?s numbers raise a lot more questions than you would think given that BB/K (69/44).

After missing the first month and a half with a broken hand, Daric played just 90 games during the 2004 season. During a 46-game stretch in the middle of his season, encompassing about half of his at-bats for the year, Barton was not a prospect. But the other half, he was the minors? best hitter. But as I said, we could not possibly have seen this, since .301 was his lowest average of the season. His first 22 games, in which he hit .422, was enough to earn him fame in Prospectdom. Don?t get me wrong, he wasn?t chopped liver in the rest, for in the final 22 games, he hit .342. Combined in those two stretches is a .384 average, a .635 slugging, and 42 walks.

But the problem was in the other half, the middle one, when his accomplishments were none too spectacular. In those 46 games, Daric Barton was reduced to a .240 average, with a .383 slugging. His ISO was reduced more than 40%, and his walks significantly declined to just twenty-seven. This is quite problematic for the A?s, since an argument could be made that Daric was the centerpiece of the Mark Mulder deal. Should this be the player Barton becomes, the .240 kind, Billy Beane?s logic seems far more flawed.

It would be rather unoriginal for me to tell you that Barton may not be able to stay behind the plate. But, this information opens the door for many comparisons, for instance Scott Hatteberg has been thrown around. The one I like, on the optimistic side, is Carlos Delgado. A catcher in his youth, Delgado moved to first base because his glove made sense there and his bat could justify it. His low-A numbers included hitting .286, with 36 2B+HR, and 75 walks in 441 AB. Not too off from Barton, who was actually better in all three categories per plate appearance.

The Midwest League is not a friendly place for hitters, which makes Barton?s numbers that much more impressive. California is a far greater hitter?s haven, speaking highly for the future of Daric. But Barton?s consistency needs loads of improvement, and he must decide which half-season most truly resembles his talents. Ken Rosenthal recently reported that the A?s will not take any chances and move Barton to first base this season, and now it?s Barton?s job to prove his offense can justify the switch, like Delgado did.

24. Nick Swisher- OF- Oakland Athletics- 24

With some players, you hear how broken thumbs greatly hurt their numbers, but not from this guy. Swisher found out that he played the whole season with a broken left thumb and torn tendon, both of which have been repaired this offseason. To hit 29 home runs with this type of injury is a remarkable feat, and just leaves us guessing on how many more he could hit. Oakland management is probably hoping that what the surgery improves most is Swisher?s contact skills, since he hit just .269 and struck out about 25% of the time. Neither of the numbers are fantastic by any means, and if he could get to .280 and 20%, then Swisher will be a star in right, and probably a finalist for the Rookie of the Year. The notion of giving the right field job to Charles Thomas or someone else is ludicrous, Swisher has the potential to be the team?s second or third best hitter?in 2005.

23. Greg Miller- SP- Los Angeles Dodgers- 20

Even with a year missed, given what level he should begin at next season (AA), Miller is an extremely young prospect. Also, if Logan White is right that Miller has regained most of his stuff from his fantastic 2003 season, there should be no stopping him. I know this might fall on deaf ears to Dodger fans who have heard so much hype and seen so little results from Edwin Jackson, but trust me, these guys can make a difference. It might take Miller a little while to do so, recovering from the injury usually has a grace period, and the presence of Jackson, Chad Billingsley, Joel Hanrahan and Jonathan Broxton will allow the Dodgers to take him extremely slow. If I were a gambling man, I would bet on an ERA in the low 3.00s, a K/9 a bit below the nine mark, but a solid H/9. The logjam of pitchers in this organization will create some interesting decisions for Paul DePodesta, as most of them don?t fit his prototype pitcher anyway. My guess is that Billingsley and Jackson will make it before anyone else in this organization, with Miller a likely candidate to be traded given his 2004 season.

22. Yusmeiro Petit- SP- New York Mets- 20

Petit is another that, even if we didn't see the degree of his breakout, we should have better recognized him before the season. Now, I don't follow short-season ball much (a flaw of mine you could say), but an 8.5 K/BB in 74 innings of work split between the Appy and New York-Penn Leagues should have caught my eye. For 2004, Petit's control worsened a bit (who's wouldn't?) to just under 5.0, which is still better than most of the players on this list. He struck out 200 batters in less than 140 innings, though he was striking out batters less and less at each of his three levels. Still, Yusmeiro did not allow a home run in either the FSL or Eastern League (56 innings), and was great this winter. While his stuff doesn't match up to others behind him, he's better than Brandon McCarthy (a similar pitcher), and one of the top thirty prospects in baseball.

21. Gavin Floyd- SP- Philadelphia Phillies- 22

The fact that at full health, the Philadelphia Phillies will not have room for Gavin Floyd in their rotation is a joke. It is a waste of resources to be spending money on the likes of Cory Lidles and such, when Floyd is so ready for a spot. Now I know that Randy Wolf and Vicente Padilla will likely allow Floyd to get a lot of starts this year, but when he?s not in Philadelphia, I just will be furious with this franchise. The best idea now is to package Wolf and Ryan Howard together, land another marquee player, and let Floyd be a starter. Throwing curveballs at his own pace should help, as the Phillies employed the unique philosophy of setting limits on how many times he threw the fantastic pitch in the minors. This allowed for the further development of his fastball and third pitch, and also his confidence to throw either in any count. Floyd should be another Rookie of the Year contender next year, if given the opportunity, and should make that 2001 draft?s top-five rock solid.

20. Jose Capellan- SP- Milwaukee Brewers- 24

In a lot of the comments on players during my rankings, I've given awards, so I'll continue by naming Jose Capellan my most talked about player of 2004. This is a notable award, because it was Jose's huge rise through the Brave system that made him so noticed by prospect evaluators. He was also helped by pitching on a day that I turned on TBS, and being traded to the Brewers this winter, both of which I dealt with on this site. More than any prospect in baseball, I feel like I have a handle on Capellan's skill set. He's a thick player that uses big thighs to throw a mid-to-upper 90s fastball extremely consistently. In the process, Capellan has fallen in love with the pitch, making his curveball inconsistent and his change unseen by anyone outside of coaches. His ceiling is Bartolo Colon, a comparison that I've made before, but he's a lot more likely to make it as a reliever. His heavy fastball does not induce many home runs, which should make him star in the closer role in Milwaukee, and good press can only be a good thing for the Brew Crew.

19. Michael Aubrey- 1B- Cleveland Indians- 23

One of the most overused comparisons used with prospects is that of the good fielding, good contact, lack of great power first basemen: you'll see Mark Grace or Sean Casey or J.T. Snow or Will Clark. But few players have ever been as close to that mold as Michael Aubrey, who I will compare to Sean Casey. Like Aubrey, Casey grew up in the Cleveland system, and played in the Carolina League (in Kinston) at 21 years of age. In 344 at-bats there, Casey hit .331 with a .544 slugging, 36 walks and 47 strikeouts. In 218 at-bats, Aubrey was .339/.550, with 27 walks and 26 strikeouts. Now Michael went on to struggle in the Eastern League, compared to Casey who had injuries cut that season short. But in the next season, Casey hit .386/.598 in the Eastern League, so let high expectations for Aubrey begin. It won't be long before Travis Hafner and Aubrey, along with Grady Sizemore, Franklin Gutierrez, and Victor Martinez help re-establish greatness in this organization.

18. Hanley Ramirez- SS- Boston Red Sox- 21

Everyone I read says that Hanley Ramirez will hit for power one day, and I don?t deny that fact at all. The more and more removed from the shoulder injury, the more and more power Hanley started to hit. Six of his eight FSL doubles were in his last fifteen games there, and his Eastern League performance was solid. What was interesting about his power in the Eastern League was that it was confined to an 11 game stretch in the middle in which he hit seven extra-base hits, and in his last six games, with six extra-base hits. In the other 15 games, all you have to show is one double. Hanley has consistency with his average, strikeout numbers (about 16-17%), walks, he just now needs the power to be consistent. He?ll always be more gap power than anything else, but 15-25 home runs a year is definitely not out of the picture. Now the Red Sox must decide whether they want that at second base, or want the fruits of what trading Hanley would provide.

17. Rickie Weeks- 2B- Milwaukee Brewers- 22

Blame Rickie Weeks for me not ranking drafted players this year. A bit of an overstatement, but my wrongful placement of Weeks (fourth) on last season's list showed that you can never be too sure of a player until you see enough reps. It wasn't that I was wrong a year ago about Week's talent, there's an abundance, just more wrong about his ETA. To expect a player from Southern University, no matter how dominant the player was, to rise to the Majors within a year of being drafted is a lot. Weeks showed his flaws in the Southern League this year, striking out at levels that we never would have dreamed, and overall not showing the contact skills that made him a Golden Spikes winner. Still, there's a lot of hope for Weeks still. While not being hit by 28 pitches will take down his OBP a bit this year, I think it's safe to say he'll hit for a higher average this time around. And once some of those 35 doubles start going over the fence, watch out, Junior Spivey will be gone in a hurry.

16. Jeremy Hermida- OF- Florida Marlins- 21

I?ll blame it on consistency for Hermida never really getting it going this year, keeping his average high but not showing the power we thought. So 2005 will sort of be his put up or shut up year, the season in which his agent is telling him to ?Show me the power.? Jeremy has a little bit of everything in his repertoire, though his power has yet to really shine, and both his base running and selectivity were down a bit this year.

Hermida was hurt on and off all year, especially in May and June, two months in which he combined for just 90 at-bats. He played a bit more consistently from July on, though not everyday by any means, in which he hit .289 and slugged just .428 in 180 at-bats. You have to begin to wonder at this point whether or not leadoff will be Hermida?s calling card, which given his bit of power, is a spot he could be quite dangerous. Still, the Marlins would love to see Hermida blossom into everything they thought he could be with the eleventh overall pick, which is a five-tool player in the middle of their order.

One important aspect to being a leadoff hitter is a good OBP, and while Hermida walks enough to be solid, his walk totals decreased this year. I actually noticed an interesting trend that I thought worth passing along: in the 29 games this year in which Jeremy did not collect a hit, he walked 23 times. But in his other 62 games, he walked just 19 times. So that?s saying that about 55% of Hermida?s walks for the season came in 32% of his games.

Jeremy will move up to AA next year, which as I said, is his time to begin showcasing his power. I would be remiss not to note that Miguel Cabrera posted extremely similar ISOs as Hermida has in his minor league run, and as we know, really took off as a Carolina Mudcat. Now I?m not comparing the two offensively, but I?m saying this should be Hermida?s breakout season. If he can get the base running back to 2003 dorm, the Marlins will have the five-tool talent they once thought they had.

WTNYJanuary 19, 2005
WTNY 75: 45-31 (Part 4 of 6)
By Bryan Smith

45. Chuck Tiffany- LHP- Los Angeles Dodgers- 20

Things are looking good for Scott Elbert, aren?t they? In June, the teenage southpaw became the sixth pitcher that Logan White has drafted in the first two rounds in the last three years, joining the likes of Greg Miller, Chad Billingsley, Jonathan Broxton and Chuck Tiffany.

Surprisingly, it might be the latter that has received the least fanfare, likely because he spent the entire 2004 season in low-A. But still, no other player mentioned above has had streaks of dominance like Tiffany, who reached the double-digit plateau in strikeouts in five different games this past season. This included each of his last four starts, when the powerful leftie struck out 46 in 21.1 innings, allowing just ten hits and three earned runs in the process.

My problem with Tiffany, is his lack of continued dominance even at a relatively easy level. After starting the season with nine solid starts (2.25 ERA), Chuck really ran into difficulty in his next nine. Only twice in those next batch of starts did Tiffany allow two or less earned runs, and in neither instance did he pitch more than four innings. His ERA for the nine games was 7.08, with 38 strikeouts and 41 hits allowed in 34.1 innings.

This type of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is a scary thing to deal with, because the balance could really tip in either direction. Given the reports I?ve heard of Tiffany?s fastball/curve combination, along with the way he finished out the season, you have to believe in this kid. I think the Vero Beach stadium will really help his flyball affinity (or so I would guess), and set Tiffany on a course (A+ and AA) similar to those that Miller and Billingsley both have traveled by. But Tiffany can always brag about his three no-hitters.

44. Merkin Valdez- SP- San Francisco Giants- 23

Stay wary of players the Atlanta organization rids themselves of, seldom have they ever made John Scheurholz regret his move. Manuel Mateo when the Braves included him in the Gary Sheffield trade, Valdez was not yet twenty nor in full season ball upon his entrance in the San Francisco organization. His 2003 was great, he was as good a low-A pitcher as was seen, making us wonder if Atlanta should have chosen a different pitcher. Those thoughts continued after his seven fantastic California League starts this year, games that led to his promotion to the Eastern League. And it was there, when pitchers are said to either succeed or fail, that he showed signs of flaws. With an opening at the closer position in the Majors, the Giants gave Valdez a three-game AA tutorial on relieving, and then quickly promoted him to San Fran. Two innings and five earned runs later, the experiment ended and Merkin was a starter again. But since his repertoire only consists of two solid pitches, Brian Sabean could have been right moving El Mago to the closer position. It was really a matter of control that led to his Eastern League struggles, so if he gets that back on track, Valdez will still be projected into what could be a great future Giant rotation.

43. Jeremy Reed- OF- Seattle Mariners- 24

Meet the perfect example of the dilemma between weighing the 2004 season with that of 2003. I?m usually a ?What have you done for me lately? type, but to Jeremy Reed that might not apply. The 2003 WTNY Player of the Year, Reed had a season that any prospect would be jealous of. In 2004, Reed regressed, falling below the prospect status of Shin-Soo Choo from his new organization, and Brian Anderson from his old.

Much of the plate discipline that one enshrined Reed in sabermetric culture was not apparent this season. While his 57 walks expressed as a raw number are intriguing, it hides the fact that 30% of those were the product of six games in May. So in his other 110 games, Reed walked just 42 times. This is not terrible, but also not terribly far from the likes that are criticized for this trait. My guess is that he?ll one day return to 2003 form, but only have always taking a while to digest his new league.

Another possible stopgap in Reed?s quest to become a Major League regular will be his lack of power. Many, including blogger extraordinaire Dave Cameron, are unsure that Reed will be able to play centerfield defensively. This leaves the corners as Reed?s future stomping grounds, positions where contact and baserunning fall behind power on the priority list. This could be quite problematic for a player that did not hit a home run until late May (145 AB), and even had a 20-game extra-base hitless streak. Put those skills in Safeco field, and Reed is far from Lenny Dykstra.

But don?t let me be overly critical of Jeremy, who I still think (and proved in September) will help a Major League roster. His contact skills are fantastic, with a 15.7 K% the only time over twelve all season. His average was way down, but I think he has the makings of a .250 hitter. His slugging should be about equivalent to what it was May-August: .418. For him to be a useful player under those circumstances, he must have an OBP above .346 to have a .260 GPA, and .390 for a .280 GPA. Look for something in the middle, which won?t keep him a Mariner long.

42. Brian McCann- C- Atlanta Braves- 21

Brian McCann is a very unique prospect. First of all, he?s a left-handed catcher, of which there was one regular last season (Pierzynski). Second, he shows a lot of power from the left side, which is about as rare as you can find in catchers. I really like McCann, who might be able to supplant Johnny Estrada in 2006 or 2007, probably the latter as the Braves would be best suited to take Brian slow and get the most out of Estrada. When fully developed, McCann should have great power, as after April his ISO was never below .175 for a month. His average will likely never hit .300, but he should maintain above the league average for much of his career. And if his defense continues to progress at previous levels, then I think McCann will answer the Estrada-McCann-Salty debate himself.

41. Conor Jackson- OF- Arizona Diamondbacks- 23

I constantly remind myself to be careful with Diamondback prospects, who are aided by the best hitters ballparks in the minors, with great home run stadiums in Lancaster, El Paso and Tuscon. So, it?s important to keep everything in perspective, especially when dealing with the huge numbers that Arizona prospects have been putting out. One of those players is Conor Jackson, the D-Backs former first-round pick out of California. So while trying to weigh how the parks have helped Jackson, I?ve come up with two assumptions about a skill set: first, he?s an amazing contact hitter with good averages, few strikeouts, and great selectivity; second, that he lacks the power that many of his numbers would suggest, though he?s not completely devoid of any. He reminds me a bit of a right-handed Ben Grieve, who posted similarly great statistics in the California League as a 20-year-old. Grieve?s contact skills regressed when entering the Majors, and since, his power has regressed as well. Hopefully the D-Backs will not have this happen to them, but given the glut of players with Jackson?s positions (LF/1B), trading him at top value might be their best option.

40. Brian Anderson- OF- Chicago White Sox- 23

I decided on Anderson over Jackson because while the two feature similar offensive skill sets, Anderson?s position (CF) is important in the debate. Both rarely whiff, Jackson a little less, but Brian is still far from the 20% mark. Both are solid contact hitters, but I think it?s Anderson that actually could have better power in the future, as his A+/AA stadiums were considerably harder than his former Pac-10 rival. If the White Sox win a lot of games this year, with both Aaron Rowand and Scott Podsednik, it has the ability to stunt Anderson?s growth, who should be ready in 2006. I don?t think Chicago will win the division however, opening the door for Poddy?s exit and Anderson?s arrival. He?s extremely well-thought of within the White Sox organization, and profiles to be their centerfielder of the future. I know you heard that with Joe Borchard Sox fans, but Anderson?s bust percentage (a made-up figure in my head) is considerably less than Borchard?s at the same level.

39. Franklin Gutierrez- OF- Cleveland Indians- 22

It was thought after Milton Bradley?s numerous off-the-field issues in Cleveland, the Indians would be lucky to get any player of value for him early last season. But like he seemingly always does, Mark Shapiro acquired five-tool talent Gutierrez (and fringe prospect Andrew Brown) for Bradley. Gutierrez continued to do well with Cleveland, hitting .302 and showing a bit of increased patience along with the fantastic defense that scouts had touted. Missing was the great power from Vero Beach the previous year, as Franklin hit just five home runs in the 70 games he played. He also struck out 77 times, making his K% go above 29%, raising it for the fourth consecutive season. But it seems like an injury of all things might help the latter two problems, at least according to this article from the Beacon Journal. The article states that after a HBP ended Gutierrez?s season, the Indian organization moved Franklin off the plate, which should lessen his injury risk, and prevent him from being such a pull hitter. His power was way up again in the Venezuelan League this winter, where he finished with the league?s fifth best slugging. His K% was still above 25, so there are things to be done. But with a player this complete, not too much.

38. Shin-Soo Choo- OF- Seattle Mariners- 22

Giving someone the title of ?five-tool talent? is extremely high praise, meaning the player excels in contact, power, speed, arm strength and defense. Some have mentioned that discipline, or selectivity should be named a sixth tool, and if so, Choo will then become the minors? second-best six-tool talent (behind Jeremy Hermida in Florida). The tool I?m most worried about in Choo?s bag-o-skills is power, as his slugging conveniently rose in the hitter lover?s Texas League, with a little help from his friend the triple. Safeco tends to hurt those type of players, though I think it?s safe to say that in the very least, Choo undoubtedly possesses ?gap power.? Anyway, the rest of the tools are securely in place, though Choo still remains a little behind Jeremy Reed on the depth chart. That should change this year, and Choo could get an opportunity to make what I think would be the first two-player, Asian-born outfield in history.

37. Joe Blanton- SP- Oakland Athletics- 24

Billy Beane has handed the reins over to his rookies this year, and it will be them who ultimately decide if the A?s are a better baseball team than the Angels. I?ve stated before that I agree with the notion that the ?05 rotation could actually outperform the ?04 one, which would probably land Beane in Mensa. Blanton is, in my mind, the safest of the bunch to excel, and the least likely to be a star. I think Blanton?s future is posting ERAs around 4.00, while eating a ton of innings, and going on very solid streaks. His control is among the best in the minors, and he doesn?t allow a ton of home runs, so the Oakland defense should dictate just how well he does.

36. Kyle Davies- SP- Atlanta Braves- 21

Since drafting the right-hander in the fourth round of the 2001 draft, the Braves have been very careful with Kyle Davies? arm. They employed the Cubs strategy of sending players to short-season ball in their first fully signed season with Davies, who didn?t hit the minors until 2003. After a very solid performance in Rome, Kyle was sensational this year, posting great peripherals in both the Carolina and Southern Leagues. For some reason I didn?t notice Davies? accomplishments like I had other Braves? prospects, probably because someone was always doing something better than Kyle, who was simply consistently good all season. Davies is well-liked by the types (Scheurholz, Mazzone) that you want to be favored by, and has even been mentioned as a possible fifth starter by the Braves? GM himself. He won?t land the job out of Spring Training, but should Horacio Ramirez suffer any setbacks, Davies is now next in line.

35. Carlos Quentin- OF- Arizona Diamondbacks- 22

In a recent article, I pointed out how Carlos Quentin?s record 43 hit by pitches significantly helped raise his on-base percentage, by more than .030 points all season. In the comments, a reader noted that even with HBPs at a normal level, it?s hard to criticize Quentin for an on-base percentage above .400. And that?s exactly right, as long as you recognize that the .430 is wrong, and that even the .400 is park-aided. But I still like Quentin a lot, and believe he has a stronger future than Conor Jackson in the outfield, and should push either Shawn Green or Luis Gonzalez to first base by 2006 or 2007. Like Jackson, Quentin seldom strikes out, so in the very least should post high averages in the Majors. I?d still like to see a more fair OBP though, he did walk just 43 times last season.

34. Brian Dopirak- 1B- Chicago Cubs- 21

Drafted in the second round from a Floridian high school in 2002, there was a general consensus on the scouting report of Brian Dopirak, the teenager. Loads of ?raw power? was promised, with a contact problem looking like a possible offensive flaw. In a rather conservative approach fast becoming common in the Cub organization, Dopirak?s first full season under contract was predominantly spent in short-season ball. His first full season was this year in the Midwest League, more than a year and a half after being drafted, when he started to prove the scouts wrong.

No longer will we see the word ?raw? used to describe Dopirak?s power. In a league not known for the home run, the Cub first basemen rounded the bases thirty-nine times this year, nearly breaking the Midwest League record. He has gone a long way to prove how refined his power actually is, and has left us wondering if it?s possible for even more to develop. Scary thought for opposing NL Centrailians.

In his quest to be more than a power hitter who doesn?t make contact, Dopirak quenched that knack with a .307 batting average this year. His worst month was .261 in May, and in only two months (April and May) was his average under .290. Dopirak had one of the minors? best hitting streaks this year, a 27-gamer that spread from early June to July. Despite all this, I was still a bit skeptical of Dopirak being a real .300 hitter. I calculated his BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play), and found it was .331. Regulated to the NL average of .298 (thanks THT), Dopirak?s average slips to .285. Simply put, a .331 BABIP is not sustainable, thus making his .307 average a bit of a fluke. He?s not Greg Vaughn, but let?s not be projecting .300 batting averages down the line quite yet.

But any questioning of his contact skills ? or his other flaw, the strikeout ? was calmed in a month-and-a-half long span extending from May 28 to July 23. Included in that 50 game stretch was that 27-game hitting streak, and more than half (20) of his home runs for the season. A look:

Date	         BA	 ISO	 K%
5/28-7/23	.348	.374	18.2
The Rest	.283	.236	25.4
While I do think his season line in the Florida State League will look closer to what ?The Rest? says, few minor leagues can boast that type of Bondsian (minus the walks, Dopirak?s next task) performance for even fifty games. First base opens on the North Side in 2007, which will be a nice time for Dopirak to continue to prove doubters wrong.

33. Eric Duncan- 3B- New York Yankees- 20

Last season, Duncan showed us exactly the type of player he is, posting very similar numbers in the Midwest and Florida State Leagues. He actually improved upon promotion, walking more and striking out less. His only flaw after moving to Tampa was that his power subsided a bit, only hitting four home runs (but twenty doubles!) in 173 at-bats. Still, I?ll go as far to say that Duncan is one of the top ten power prospects in baseball, possibly top five if I counted it out. I don?t think we?ll ever see huge average numbers out of Duncan, who was even lucky with a BABIP in the .320s, but I think he?ll stay right around .260. All that?s really left is cutting down on those strikeouts, which he did a bit in the FSL, and playing better defense at third, or move over to first. He might even have a more of a future in New York there anyway. There?s supposedly some road block at third.

32. Nick Markakis- OF- Baltimore Orioles- 21

In his always thought-provoking top 100, Mike Gullo said of Nick Markakis, ?I saw him early in the year and he had no clue, but later, he looked better at the plate.? Well, this is a situation where eyes and ears match up, as the former Junior College Player of the Year established himself as a streaky player early before continued success from late May to late July.

Still working on making the full-time switch to hitting, Markakis struggled out of the gates. In his first 12 games ? spanning 41 at-bats ? Nick collected only seven hits and three walks while striking out thirteen times. The next 12 games brought some hope, and his first extra-base hit (game 16- HR) to cool any possible Oriole concern. All in all, Markakis had 17 hits (44 at-bats), reached base in all twelve games, and only whiffed four times.

And then in early May we saw things go back to a struggle for Markakis, who went an abysmal 7/45 in his next fourteen games. It was a better bad streak than the first one though, with 2 HR, ten walks and only 12 strikeouts. Still, the Delmarva Bluebirds were 40 games into their schedule, and the player supposed to lead their offensive attack was hitting below .250 with only a handful of XBH. Could Markakis simply be the next Oriole first-round bust, another multi-million dollar disaster?

Nope. On May 25, something clicked with Nick, and whatever it was would stay with him for more than two months. Markakis would begin making consistent contact and walking in one-tenth of his plate appearances. From that date in late May to his closing out the season at the end of July, Markakis collected 225 at-bats, in which time he produced 75 hits (.333 average), 121 total bases (.538 slugging), and only 37 strikeouts (16.4 K%). This should be the legacy left behind in Delmarva, not the undefined player of his first forty games.

Markakis didn?t call it quits there, as he joined Orioles? owner Peter Angelos? creation: the Greek National Baseball Team in the Summer Olympics. While the team did not produce a Cinderella story for hometown fans, Markakis played a key role at the plate and the mound, a practice Baltimore should hardly encourage. But Clay Davenport had Markakis? .319 EqA as the 17th best of the summer games, which sure could be a lot worse. A Greek hero, Junior College legend, with only Baltimore superstar left on his to-do list.

31. Cole Hamels- SP- Philadelphia Phillies- 21

It?s still hard to get a good read on Hamels, who despite being drafted in 2002 has given us just 117 pro innings. Only sixteen of those came from 2004, in which Hamels only had four spectacular high-A starts. But it appears all injuries are past him, and Will Carroll tells me that Cole is working with Tom House this winter. That should help, but most important will be Hamels just eliminating the notion that he?s lazy. His mechanics are reportedly as good as anyone in the minors, and he has a solid repertoire. I don?t remember where I read this, but I?ll never forget a B.J. Upton quote (thanks Matt), citing the Hamels? change as the best pitch he faced as a pro. Those are the types of quotes that are extremely telling, since Upton once rated favorably on this list. Hamels has top ten potential, and could very well put it all together with one healthy year, though I?m not sure that left arm will ever be trusted again.

WTNYJanuary 18, 2005
WTNY 75: 60-46 (Part 3 of 6)
By Bryan Smith

60. Mark Teahen- 3B- Kansas City Royals- 23

While I don?t believe that Hee Seop Choi should be criticized for being traded twice, I think there is something to the fact that Allard Baird wanted Teahen so bad in the Carlos Beltran trade. This attraction was apparently built through the Royals GM attending multiple games of Teahen, and I do think Baird can be an effective evaluator. Anyway, there is a reason behind that attraction, and those are the solid all-around skills that Teahen possesses. I wouldn?t be the first person to compare Mark with Joe Randa, and I probably will not be the last. In his second trip to AAA, a 233 at-bat (similar to Teahen?s 246) excursion in 1995, Joe Randa hit .275 with a .438 slugging, with 22 walks and 33 strikeouts. Mark hit .280/.447, with 21 walks and 69 strikeouts, which pretty much represents the sole difference between the two. Don?t get too excited about his Texas League numbers, as his BABIP was .402, so those numbers hardly represent his ceiling. But judging by what Joe Randa did as a rookie in 1996 (.303/.351/.433), don?t rule Teahen out in the Rookie of the Year race.

59. Jesse Crain- RP- Minnesota Twins- 23

There are not a lot of concerns surrounding Jesse Crain, who has had an amazing past three years. Coming in to the 2004 season, Crain had a 1.29 ERA in both his two years in the minor leagues and final year at Houston. He was also very good this year, even better than what his AAA numbers portray. Eliminating his first 7.1 innings from his numbers, Crain?s ERA would drop from 2.49 to 1.85, his H/9 from 6.8 to 6.2, and HR/9 from 0.88 to 0.62. So, he finished exceptionally, giving reason for his promotion to the Majors, and his eventual success there. Really, my only concern about Crain stems from his low K/9 (4.67) in the Majors, which was really hurt by not striking out a man in his final 6.2 innings. I don?t really know the reasoning behind this, would love any Twin fan?s guess, and there is no reason to expect continued success if his K/9 is that low. But, my expectation is for Crain?s numbers to rise, his ERA to stay low, and him to eventually become a stud closer in the Twin Cities.

58. J.D. Durbin- SP- Minnesota Twins- 23

Back-to-back Twins in the rankings, with J.D. taking a small edge over Crain for his monster-sized ceiling. Still, the reason that Durbin is so low is that I?m not particularly sure he?ll reach that ceiling, as his K/9 was low for his stuff both in 2003, and his 2004 half-season (more, I guess) in the Eastern League. But he improved when moving up to AAA, and was even better in a great AFL performance when he reportedly topped 100 mph with his fastball. His HR/9 numbers went back to what they had been in his career before a bad Eastern League second half last year, so there is a lot of hope that Durbin will blossom soon. I think he is a great talent, and if things bounce right, could join Johan Santana atop that rotation for a long time. That is, if Terry Ryan doesn?t screw up his long-term negotiations with his Cy Young.

57. Felix Pie- OF- Chicago Cubs- 20

Pretty soon, Felix Pie is going to have to turn the corner, and get over the ?raw? adjective to keep being considered a top prospect. I mentioned this in a previous article, but this is a kid that has not stolen bases (successfully, that is) or walked enough to justify having a low slugging, which is even boosted by the number of triples he hits. That column should slowly decrease as he moves up the ladder, and outfield defense consequently improves. He?s a speed demon and should always hit a few, but that statistics give his ISO a .150 is a bit misleading. Pie?s contact skills have always remained sound, and his outfield defense is stupendous, so there is a lot of reason for hope. But pretty soon, Felix just has to let us stop holding our collective breaths.

56. Jake Stevens- LHP- Atlanta Braves- 21

Brad Thompson?s fantastic streak to open the season, 56.2 scoreless innings, should be counted as one of the key moments from the 2004 minor league season. But what this streak shouldn?t diminish is the amazing work that Jake Stevens in the early summer. The Atlanta southpaw will be remembered most for 33 scoreless innings, but I find it was a Thompson-like streak that best portrays his dominance.

From May 10 to July 15, a streak encompassing twelve appearances, Jake Stevens was the best pitcher in professional baseball. The kid allowed just two earned runs in 58.1 innings over these two months, totaling an ERA of 0.31. His WHIP was an equally solid 0.82, the byproduct of 33 hits and fifteen walks. These two totals should show that Stevens offers both a mix of solid stuff and control, which when used together, can put forth these type of results. The only concern from this streak should be his 57 strikeouts, as with such a dominant streak you might anticipate more whiffs.

While this streak got Stevens noticed, and even taken out of the tandem-like system employed in Rome at the beginning of the season, it was his consistency that lands him on this list. In his fifteen appearances out side the aforementioned two-month greatness was not a two-faced ugly beast with an ERA closing in on double-digits. Instead it was an ERA of 3.76, with his H/9 under nine, K/9 over, and a K/BB at about 3.50.

Only three times this past season did Stevens allow more than two runs in an appearance, one of which can be explained by the superpower known as Ian Stewart. The other two were blemishes within ten days of each other, when Jake allowed 14 runs in 10.1 innings towards the end of July. Other than that, all of Stevens? box scores would have looked somewhat impressive to the average fan.

As it is for all pitchers, Stevens should thrive in spacious Myrtle Beach next season. Unfortunately he won?t be able to escape the Rockie slugger Stewart, who was the reason behind two of Stevens? seven home runs allowed all season. At least he?s getting beat by the best , huh?

55. Brandon Moss- OF- Boston Red Sox- 21

Color me undecided on Brandon Moss? prospect status, thus his conservative placement out of the top fifty. I considered entire exclusion once upon a time, but his yearly averages are too high to ignore. Guys seldom go from trying to break the .700 OPS mark in the NYPL to batting titles in low-A, but Brandon Moss is not a ?normal? prospect.

Looking at his statistics, my first knock on Moss would be his dependency on average to boost his slugging. He has a lot of room left to be desired in ISO, being .176 in the Sally League, and just .120 in his ?stellar? Florida State League promotion. But things are not always as they appear, and even his average could draw the shaky label. Thanks to the Hardball Times, I can tell you that the 2004 AL BABIP average was .303. Moss was ridiculously higher, sporting a .381 BABIP in low-A and (gasp!) .493 in high-A. Given the same number of plate appearances with a .303 BABIP, Moss would have hit just .276 in low-A, and down to .269 in Sarasota. And that slugging wouldn?t smell .500.

But again, I think there is more than meets the surface here. Moss is apparently a line-drive hitter, and it?s been said (Studes) that line drives help boost BABIP. And there is no questioning Moss? ability to put pressure on the defense, since his worst month featured just a 20.5 K%. His contact skills are apparent, as flukes could not cause 14-game hitting streaks upon arrival to the FSL. They would have at least one of his monthly averages under .300 (lowest was .317 in July). And he probably would have issues trying to match multi-hit games (64) with not (68). Those, my friends, are notable feats.

In conclusion, I ask the jury to stay in deliberation in sentencing Moss? future. Time will tell if Moss becomes a martyr for the BABIP movement, or the man to prove the importance of LD%.

54. Denny Bautista- SP- Kansas City Royals- 22

To continue my ongoing WTNY awards, I hereby label the Denny Bautista trade my WTNY Steal of the Year. I mean, Jason Grimsley to a fourth place team? And the Orioles even have two GMs to prevent each other from messing things up? Yikes, it really makes you wonder if Baltimore will ever be well run. Anyway, I?ve always been particularly fond of Bautista, who to me was the most impressive player in the 2003 Futures Game, of which I attended. Control is always going to be a bit of an issue with Bautista, both his walks and wild pitch numbers have always remained quite high. What the game in 2003 might have proved to me, however, is that naysayers are correct in predicting Bautista?s eventual move to the bullpen. This is because in his inning of work in U.S. Cellular that year, Bautista was throwing a heavy fastball in the mid-to-upper 90s. 2005 will be Denny?s sixth season in the minor leagues, and if he doesn?t really impress, could be his last as a starter. You couldn?t say that his organizations didn?t give him a chance.

53. Sergio Santos- SS- Arizona Diamondbacks- 21

I?m worried that because of his 2004 numbers, there will be a misconception of Sergio Santos by the general public. We can all agree that holding his own in the Texas League as a 20-year-old was a remarkable feat, igniting his prospect status. But what I believe some will see is a prospect with unique polish for that age, which upon further inspection, is not true. In fact, it was the raw talent Santos showed that has him on this list, and his lack of polish that powers my belief he should head back to El Paso this year.

The easiest way to see this is looking at Sergio?s somewhat disastrous BB/K numbers. There was no increase of walks as the season went on, as he finished with just 24 in 89 games. This number demands improvement for any real future success, as does his awful strikeout numbers. After whiffing more than 30% of the time in April, it was nice to see Santos drop it below 25% for the rest of the year, but hovering too far above twenty percent is a scary proposition. I would love to see Sergio spend about 75 more games in El Paso, where he draws about 35 walks and only strikes out in 20% of his at-bats.

Furthermore, I think even the more basic offensive numbers were a bit misconstrued. El Paso is one of the five or so best hitters? parks in the minors, which must be taken into account when evaluating anyone from this organization. Not only that, but I think too many triples per at-bat unfairly rose Santos? slugging, though the decline there would be minimal. The worst for Santos was his .349 average on balls in play, where the average usually hovers around .300. When taking all these factors into account, I don?t know if the real Santos numbers (park-adjusted and all) are too far from .260/.300/.400.

Still, don?t let me make you think I?m too down on Santos. This is still a kid that has shown a lot of pop in his bat at a young age, and should be in the desert before too long. His future at shortstop is clouded, though I think it?s important for him offensively to remain up the middle. Since he missed the last 50+ games with a minor tear in his left shoulder, though now fully healthy, I think we owe it to Sergio to see whether or not his last 8 games (12/33, 24 TB, 7K) is any indication of where his future is headed as a player.

52. Brandon McCarthy- SP- Chicago White Sox- 21

In his piece entitled ?Wishes for 2005,? Dayn Perry over at Baseball Prospectus requested that ?Brandon McCarthy starts getting more ink/bandwidth.? While it didn?t particularly occur to me that the 2004 minor league strikeouts leader was getting dissed in recognition, I?ll try to appease Dayn?s hope here. Statistically speaking, there is very little reason to doubt McCarthy after his three level rise, and his dozens and dozens of strikeouts. I guess I could nitpick that his control worsened beyond previous levels, that his AA performance seemed to be a bit more ?McCarthy on fire? than his true talents, and that he really wasn?t even that good in the South Atlantic League. But again, that would be nitpicking, since McCarthy has always struck so many out, saw his HR/9 drop in both the Carolina and Southern Leagues, and still has some of the best K/BB numbers in recent memory. Jon Garland could probably call this season his ?do or die? year, because if he falters, he now will have someone waiting for his job.

51. Curtis Granderson- OF- Detroit Tigers- 24

I best touched on Granderson?s career in a previous article about him, Nick Swisher and Jeremy Reed, a trio of 2002-drafted outfielders that have taken different routes to the same destination: a probable 2005 job. Granderson?s route includes a third-round draft choice out of UIC, where he had been the most dominant hitter in the Flames? conference. After an award-winning performance in short-season ball, Granderson was purely ?solid? in the Florida State League last year. It was this year, in the Eastern League, where Granderson really took off. But I worry a little bit about Curtis, who was quite dependent on a great August and a good ballpark this year, a stadium that the likes of Mike Rivera and Eric Munson once excelled in. So let?s have careful enthusiasm for Curtis, who if things bounce right, should open the season in center with the Tigers.

50. Jason Kubel- OF- Minnesota Twins- 23

You have to feel for Jason Kubel, who undoubtedly deserves my ?Breakout of the Year? award. Playing in the AFL to convince the Twins that he, not Jacque Jones, deserved the right field spot, Kubel tore up his knee. ?Tore up? is a loose expression for saying he tore everything, his ACL, MCL, cartilage?everything. His 2005 season, which was slowly gaining so many expectations, will now have zeroes in every column. His future in the Metrodome outfield is forever in doubt, as he may be resigned to taking the Designated Hitter job when he?s ready. What?s most sad is that he was ready, so ready, and then the unthinkable happened. He could still be the age 28+ Harold Baines, or a number of good DHs, but Kubel will never maximize on the value he made us start to think he had. You have my deepest sympathies Jason, and I pray you can somehow return to full health.

49. Tim Stauffer- RHP- San Diego Padres- 24

Forgive me, I just don?t understand this talk of calling Tim Stauffer a poor choice with the 4th overall pick in the 2003 draft. Sure there were better picks after him, but few players in the minors are as close to the Majors as Tim. His season included thoroughly handling both the California and Southern Leagues, en route to the PCL. Such a whirlwind season should hardly be frowned upon, but rather applauded.

One of my largest pet peeves in prospect tracking is the wrongful promotion of a prospect. Moving from the CL to the SL was an easy choice, what with never allowing three earned runs or a home run in his six starts. But what I?m curious about is why the Padres were so quick to move Stauffer on to AAA. In his first seven starts there, Stauffer had been solid: throwing at least six innings each time, and allowing more than two runs just once. But his last start was merciful, nine hits in just 2.1 innings causing seven earned runs. Does this appear to be the line of a player that has mastered a league?

Three starts into his AAA career, Stauffer was sent to the Futures Game as part of the American squad. This was my comment regarding his outing the following day:


Tim Stauffer, the Padres fourth overall selection last year, threw a 1-2-3 top half of the second inning, showing as much dominance as [Francis]. Stauffer seemed the most ready of any pitcher, throwing three pitches in the ten-pitch inning that included strikeouts of Tony Blanco and Jose Cortes. Stauffer was between 90-91 with the fastball, also showing a low-80s change and high-70s, impressive curve.

My guess is that Stauffer doesn?t usually throw his fastball quite that hard, but you still get an idea on his polished repertoire. Unfortunately he didn?t finish his PCL season like he did that Futures Game performance, though after pitching in Houston, Stauffer would never allow more than three earned runs in a start. His K/9 is a concern for some, but that?s just not the way Stauffer throws.

Come 2006, Tim Stauffer should begin to be the next NL workhorse. His numbers should never be fantastic, but the Padres could use a 180-inning third starter. And to me, that?s top fifty material.

48. Jon Lester- LHP- Boston Red Sox- 21

Last year, the only people I knew that put Jeff Francis in their personal top 50 prospects list was myself and an unnamed front office member that I spoke with. A year later, I consider the Canadian southpaw my prized prediction, as he won the Baseball America Player of the Year award. What I saw in Francis that led to his selection was a beginning of his 2003 season that clouded his overall numbers, along with reports of good stuff.

This season, my breakout choice is Jon Lester. You could say I?m laying the credibility of this list on his hat, though I don?t like to think one fault could hurt me that much. Still, I completely believe that even despite an ERA higher than 4.00 in the Florida State League, Lester will justify this selection. The Arizona Diamondbacks sure thought so, demanding the left-hander if a trade was to be made involving Randy Johnson. While I would hardly call Jon the sticking point, I think it speaks volume that he was on Arizona?s most wanted list.

Like Francis a year ago, I?m concerned that early season numbers are likely hindering public opinion of Jon Lester. In his first two starts, the southpaw allowed twelve earned runs in just four innings, getting battered with fifteen hits. After that, he really matured, throwing 86.1 innings with 67 hits, 90 hits, two home runs, and a solid 3.23 ERA. If I was even further selective, and eliminated two poor starts towards the end of the season in August, his ERA falls to 2.27.

But the Eastern League is far less favorable on mistakes than the Florida State League, so you can expect Lester?s HR/9 to rise. He needs to avoid the occasional slip-up, and show the type of consistency he did from April 20-August 4 if he wants to put himself ahead the Abe Alvarez, Jon Papelbon, Manny Declareman group. He?ll do it, and in the process, catapult onto everyone?s lists next year.

47. Val Majewski- OF- Baltimore Orioles- 24

Looking at Val?s resume after this season, I?m both depressed that I didn?t see him coming earlier, and excited about the prospects of what his career could be. He has not had extended failure once, dating back to his two fantastic 1.000+ OPS seasons at Rutgers, and including stops in the NYPL, Sally, Carolina and Eastern Leagues. It looks like he?s going to be a ~.300 hitter, with a good amount of power, and some varying OBPs. He?s yet to really show any considerable consistency in being a selective hitter, but he?s also a hitter that seldom makes mistakes (such low strikeout numbers). Val was hurt while making a September call-up, so they?ll send him to AAA to make sure he?s fine, before firmly supplanting him into their everyday lineup. But it won?t be long before he?s there, that is, unless another Jason Grimsley-type comes on the trade block.

46. Angel Guzman- SP- Chicago Cubs- 23

The previous Cub prospect on this list, Felix Pie, was a player that still has a lot of believers, just lacks the numbers. Angel Guzman, on the other hand, has the numbers, but is losing the believers. That?s what any injury associated with the labrum will do, though I must clarify (and thank Will Carroll for noting the distinction) that Angel frayed his labrum, did not tear it. I can?t say whether this makes him a more likely candidate to tear it at a later point, so you?ll understand if the Cubs treat him very carefully in 2005. There is no need to rush him given their rotation and depth of upper-level pitching prospects, so the Cubs should execute caution in the innings pitched column this year. Angel proved just how much better he was than high-A players last year, it will be this season in which he must show he belongs on the North Side.

Baseball BeatJanuary 18, 2005
The Rise and Fall of Dale Murphy and the Abstracts
By Rich Lederer

Reader Tom Meagher of The Fourth Outfielder Baseball Blog, a terrific site "about baseball in general and the Los Angeles Dodgers in particular" sent me the following email in response to the Abstracts From The Abstracts series:

I wanted to point out something I realized from your Abstracts series. James clearly loved Dale Murphy, with the one word "Cooperstown" description in the '88 abstract being but one manifestation. Well, when he wrote that there probably wasn't any debate about Murphy's Cooperstown credentials; his peak was easily good enough. But in '88, Murphy's production fell off a cliff. Murphy's first full season in the majors was '77, the year of the first abstract. His first great season was '82, the year of the first abstract not home-published. And the year of his sudden decline was when James stopped writing the abstracts! The James curse?

Interestingly, here is what Bill had to say about Dale in The Baseball Book 1990:

A lot of people have asked me whether I think Dale Murphy can come back, but I don't really have an opinion about it. I won't be drafting him this year, and if he gets traded out of Atlanta his numbers could quickly slide to where he earns his release.

Murphy was traded by the Braves to the Philadelphia Phillies that August. He had one of the ten highest salaries in baseball at the time, and it was essentially a salary dump.

In The Baseball Book 1991, James asked "What are (Murphy's) Hall of Fame chances? What's the best year he's going to have from now on?"

Murphy will probably go into the Hall of Fame without much of a fight. He is not overwhelmingly qualified, like Pete Rose or Mike Schmidt or George Brett, but he is in the strong part of the gray area, and likely to annex enough career totals to push him even higher. Murphy has done more than 40 things which would be characteristic of a Hall of Famer.

Murphy has a huge platoon differential. Last year against left-handers he hit .311 with a .617 slugging percentage, whereas against right-handers he hit .214 with a .324 slugging percentage. Although less than one-third of his at bats were against left-handers, most of his home runs (14 of 24) were against lefties. His 1989 data is less dramatic, but even in the 1989 data there is a striking feature, which is that Murphy had a strikeout/walk ratio almost four to one against right-handers, but better than even against left-handers.

Murphy probably should be platooned at this stage of his career, and probably would be a much more effective hitter if he played 130 games a year, half of them against left-handers. It probably hasn't been done simply because he is still The Great Dale Murphy.

Dale actually played 153 games in 1991. Amazingly, he cut down on his strikeouts (from a range of 125-142 the previous seven seasons to a career-low 93 for a 500-AB season) but put up rather mediocre rate stats (.252/.309/.415) in his first full year with the Phillies.

James listed Murphy as the tenth-best right-fielder in the N.L. in The Baseball Book 1992. Remember, there were only 12 teams in the league back then. The only RF ranked behind Murphy were Kevin Bass (San Francisco) and the infamous platoon combination of Eric Anthony/Mike Simms (Houston).

Just another player now, a cleanup hitter who should hit about seventh. Joe DiMaggio retired when he reached this stage of his career, but we can't expect everybody else to be Joe DiMaggio.

I'll let Bill tell us what happened to Murphy in 1992 in his comments from The Bill James Player Ratings Book 1993.

On the DL April 15 with infection in left knee, back May 7, out for season May 12 after arthroscopic knee surgery. The good news is that nobody took control of his job. The bad news is that there is scant evidence he can still play. He hasn't hit higher than .252 since 1987, can't run, and doesn't connect often enough for his power to justify his overall game.

Even though Murphy retired during the 1993 season, James had these parting comments in his 1994 Player Ratings Book:

Murphy called it quits in May after getting about one hit a week. Murphy's last good year came when he was 31; after that, six years of trying to get it back...The most-similar player to Dale Murphy in all of baseball history is his last manager, Don Baylor. Murphy hit .265 in his career; Baylor, .260. Murphy hit 398 homers, Baylor only 338, but Murphy drove in 1,266 runs, Baylor 1,276.

Although Baylor shows up number three on Murphy's similarity scores, I think that comparison is a little harsh. Murphy not only had a slightly higher career OPS+ (121 to 118), he had four seasons with a higher OPS+ than Baylor's best of 145. Moreover, Murph won five Gold Gloves as a center fielder whereas Baylor appeared in more than half his games as a designated hitter and was inadequate defensively when forced to play one of the corner outfield spots or first base.

Murphy also smokes Baylor across the board when it comes to Bill's Hall of Fame standards. In fact, he exceeds the average HOFer in three of the four measures. Baylor comes up short in all four.

Dale Murphy

Black Ink: Batting - 31 (54) (Average HOFer ~ 27)
Gray Ink: Batting - 147 (87) (Average HOFer ~ 144)
HOF Standards: Batting - 34.3 (204) (Average HOFer ~ 50)
HOF Monitor: Batting - 115.5 (117) (Likely HOFer > 100)
Overall Rank in parentheses.

Don Baylor

Black Ink: Batting - 8 (263) (Average HOFer ~ 27)
Gray Ink: Batting - 67 (353) (Average HOFer ~ 144)
HOF Standards: Batting - 29.5 (298) (Average HOFer ~ 50)
HOF Monitor: Batting - 44.0 (393) (Likely HOFer > 100)
Overall Rank in parentheses.

Although Dale Murphy was no Joe DiMaggio as James once thought, he was no Don Baylor as Bill finally concluded either.

Baseball BeatJanuary 17, 2005
A Holiday on the Links
By Rich Lederer

While golf courses may be crowded around the country on this Monday holiday, the links are wide open on Rich's Weekend Baseball BEAT.

  • Studes, also known to some as Dave, responded to The Art of a Bad Deal by writing a clear and concise article (Player Contract Options) on The Baseball Graphs website.

    First, Rich Lederer wrote a dead-on assessment of the opt-out part of the JD Drew contract. Essentially, JD Drew has the option to leave his contract with the Dodgers after the first two years and re-sign with another team if he wants to. It's totally up to him.

    Of course, Drew will only invoke this clause if he feels he can make more money with a new contract. In other words, he'll only do this if he has two great years, remains healthy, and figures that other major league teams will be willing to pay him more than $11 million a year.

    On the other hand, the Dodgers are on the hook to pay him $11 million a year for five years. They can't get out of this deal if Drew does poorly.

    Studes goes on and discusses the risks and rewards of long-term contracts, mentioning that "the Drew deal is different." He also refers to a related article (Option Value in the Beltran Deal) in The Sports Economist that is worth reading.

  • Rhiannon Potkey of the Ventura County Star wrote an article (Jered, still unsigned after being drafted by Angels, focuses attention on training -- registration required) on Jered Weaver. [courtesy of my son via SG in ATL from Baseball Primer]

    There are mixed signals coming out of the camps of Weaver and the Angels:

    "It's coming along. I have a good feeling about it," said Weaver about the ongoing negotiations between Boras and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

    "Scott and (Angels owner Arte) Moreno met during the winter meetings about things, and that's just one step forward in this long process," said Weaver, who does not wish to discuss financial terms.

    But Angels director of scouting Eddie Bane said the club hadn't had any recent conversations with Boras about Weaver's contract as of two weeks ago.

    "We have basically developed a no-comment situation. We haven't talked to Scott in a while about anything," said Bane. "But we still believe we are going to get Jered signed. I believe the next big date will be spring training (Feb. 20)."

    I find the final three paragraphs of the article somewhat amusing in light of previous comments coming out of the Angels' hierarchy. It's almost as if Bane is saying, "Yeah, we like everything about it -- except for those Mark Prior-like stats because they're going to cost us a lot of money."

    But Bane hopes a deal with Weaver will get done this season. He was thrilled when the Golden Spikes Award winner who led the nation in wins (15-1) and strikeouts (213) was still available when the Angels made their first selection.

    "We knew it would be a long process, and we knew all along his first year would be 2005," said Bane.

    "He is such a good kid. We hear such great things about him, and we did our research. He had a nice career at Long Beach State, but it's time to go out and play some baseball now."

    No, it's time to go out and sign him, Eddie. If you do that, then Weaver can "go out and play some baseball."

  • Jim Caple, a senior writer for ESPN.com, asked a thought-provoking question "Koufax or Blyleven?" in a recent Page 2 column.

    Say you are a general manager in an alternate universe and you can choose a clone of either the 19-year-old Koufax or the 19-year-old Blyleven, knowing ahead of time that both will perform exactly as they did in our major leagues. Wins, losses, ERA, innings -- all those stats on the backs of their Topps baseball cards will be exactly duplicated. The key aspect to keep in mind, however, is that free agency is still banned in this alternate universe. In other words, you'll not only get the pitcher for the start of his career, you will have lifetime rights to him (just as the Dodgers did with Koufax). He's your indentured servant for as long as his arm can still pitch.

    Who do you pick? The Hall of Fame pitcher who had three 25-win seasons, threw four no-hitters and won three Cy Young awards in a four-year span, but who only won a dozen games six times and was done by age 31? Or the non-Hall of Famer who won 20 games only once and never won a Cy Young award, but who won at least 14 games a dozen times, was still pitching at age 42 and finished with 122 more wins than Koufax?

    Well, I'm not sure you could go wrong with either. According to Bill James and Rob Neyer in The Neyer/James Guide to Pitchers, you would have the pitcher with the best curveball of all time (Koufax) or the one with the third best ever (Blyleven). Number two? Mordecai Brown. (Brown cheated though. He only had three fingers!)

    The book credits Koufax with having the second-best fastball from 1960-1964 and Blyleven the ninth-best fastball from 1970-1974. Sandy is also ranked fifth from 1955-1959 and 1965-1969. Koufax and Blyleven, in fact, are the only two pitchers ranked in the top ten Best Curveballs of All Time and in the top ten Best Fastballs in one of the 25 half decades listed (1880-present).

    For those Hall of Fame voters who don't think Blyleven was dominant enough, his curveball and fastball ratings are something you can hang your hat on -- if ranking fifth in strikeouts and ninth in shutouts in the history of baseball isn't already enough.

  • WTNYJanuary 17, 2005
    WTNY 75: 75-61 (Part 2 of 6)
    By Bryan Smith

    75. Ryan Sweeney- OF- Chicago White Sox- 20

    I saved the final spot on this list for a player with loads of potential, but very little real output. For a prospect that is having excuses made for him by everyone else, with just Spring Training providing a glimpse of their upside. So, my final decision came down to James Loney vs. Ryan Sweeney.

    Against my better judgment, I went with Sweeney to round out this year?s WTNY 75. Like Loney, Ryan got his name in the paper a lot of times during March, when both Ken Williams and Ozzie Guillen were singing his praise. There are a lot of quotes that now look embarrassing, perhaps most being the Sox? temptation with sending Sweeney to the Southern League. That would have spelled disaster.

    When I look at Sweeney?s numbers, there are reasons I see why everyone is so optimistic about his upside. Despite being one of the youngest players on my list, Sweeney hit .283 in the Carolina League. Only once did he strike out more than 15% of the time in a month, and he was between 10 and 11 for much of the second half of the season. I?ve heard fantastic things about his play in right field, and he even filled in as the emergency center fielder for Winston-Salem a few times.

    But, I just can?t get over the power. In both April and August, Sweeney?s extra-base hit column was filled with just two doubles, leading to monthly ISOs of .030 and .022. He didn?t hit his first home run until May 11, and only hit seven all season long. After July 20, Sweeney hit just six XBH, which even ignores that half of those were in his final five games. Sweeney was the King of the Single, not something you would expect from a country boy with Iowa blood.

    It?s time intelligence be used with Sweeney?s handling, as the Sox should keep Ryan in Winston-Salem until the power starts to come. Here?s to hoping that Sweeney and Chris Young show North Carolina their own version of the Bash Brothers in 2005.

    74. Mike Megrew- SP- Los Angeles Dodgers- 21

    I?ll probably draw some criticism for choosing Megrew over some of his fellow Dodgers (Broxton, Loney, LaRoche), but I think Megrew offers the best combination of upper-level success with a considerable upside. His peripherals were better than Broxton, minus the walks, and remember I?m a believer that control can be learned. He?s young, large (6-6, 210), and a leftie, all of which always help improve prospect status. I?m a bit concerned that a large park might have boosted Megrew?s stats a bit, but I think most of his numbers were well-earned. The Dodger rotation looks quite solid for next year, and though Miller, Billingsley, Jackson (at least) are all in front of him, a September debut should not be ruled out.

    Editor's Note: Since writing this, I learned from a reader that Megrew has had Tommy John surgery since the 2004 season ended. I think it's safe to say that this takes Megrew not only out of my top 75, but he would not have even made the Honorable Mention either. Sorry guys, I should have caught this.

    73. Aaron Hill- SS- Toronto Blue Jays- 23

    It was a rather large decision for me to rank Hill over other middle infield talents such as Erick Aybar and Omar Quintanilla, but I just have a hard time giving up on Aaron?s power. He?s never been a home run hitter though, so it?s possible that he?ll never break the .150 ISO barrier. You have to love his low strikeout rates and great selectivity, and he hit for solid average in his first year at AA. Ultimately I think the Russ Adams/Aaron Hill debate will end as everyone predicted, with Adams moving to second and Hill becoming a regular at short. I don?t think either projects to be a star, but I could see Hill having a Rich Aurilia career for sure. And to me, considering how long he stayed a regular with the Giants, that?s quite high praise.

    72. Zach Duke- SP- Pittsburgh Pirates- 22

    One of the final additions to this list, it was hard for me to leave off the 2004 ERA champion. It wasn?t hard last year when Jon Connolly did it last year, since it was low-A and his stuff is underwhelming (and I like Connolly), while Duke is a bit more intriguing. His strikeout numbers were great in Carolina, and his home run numbers were among the best on this list. But I didn?t like how his K/9 declined in the Eastern League (6.3), and as Mike Gullo said, ?I've heard plenty of conflicting stories about his stuff. Some say he's an 87 mph arm, while others say he's in the low 90's.? Recent Pittsburgh prospects have hit the wall by AA or AAA recently, so the test will come this year for Duke, who has yet to not succeed at any level (career 2.22 ERA).

    71. Anthony Reyes- SP- St. Louis Cardinals- 23

    For no other reason than great control, drafting Reyes in the fifteenth round of the 2003 draft was a great move by the St. Louis Cardinals. Anthony had never been inspiring at USC: his career ERA finished at 3.89, his H/9 was never below nine, his K/9 never above. This is why Reyes exploding on the scene is so surprising. Sure he was never completely healthy in his last two years at USC, but in twelve AA starts to close out the year, his H/9 was 7.5 and K/9 was 12.4. The fact that his BB/9 dropped below 2.0 shouldn?t be shocking, as that was always his calling card on the West Coast. Everything in me says that Reyes will fall apart, that his ceiling is no higher than that of a fourth starter, that the Southern League helped him like it did Brad Thompson to begin the year. But wouldn?t I be an idiot if I left one of AA?s best second-half pitchers off my list?

    70. Jon Papelbon- SP- Boston Red Sox- 24

    Ask Eric Gagne, and he?ll tell you that his move to relief was done to increase velocity. His pitches were not sustainable long-term, creating a weakness of endurance as a starting pitcher. Jon Papelbon was found to have no such problem, which is the reason that the Red Sox decided to move him the opposite way ? from closer to starter ? a year after drafting him.

    Dominance is a term usually bestowed upon closers, but Papelbon kept that word in his biography as a starting pitcher this year. In thirteen of his 24 starts, Jon allowed one or less earned run, accounting for 76 of his 129.2 innings. During this time he allowed only 41 hits and 20 walks, while striking out 87 and not giving up a home run. To be this type of pitcher, even just 60% of the time, shows that there is a lot of promise in Papelbon?s future.

    And while I would expect the other forty percent to be disastrous, Papelbon showed good things even while pitching poorly. His other 11 starts made up just 53.2 innings, mostly due to not making it through one inning in his third start, and not pitching 5 innings thrice. Still, in those fifty-plus innings, Jon managed to strike out 66, while walking just twenty-three. His H/9 was just above 9.00, and he still just allowed six home runs. Still, Papelbon can not continue to succeed if he is a 5.37 ERA pitcher 40% of the time.

    With Papelbon, Jon Lester, Abe Alvarez and Manny Declaremen, there are a lot of bright spots in the farm. There will be debate whether Lester or Papelbon is top dog, and supporters of the latter will point to the fact that he only allowed more than three runs in a start twice. But Lester supporters can claim that Papelbon?s ERA is a bit deceiving, since his RA would be 2.98, and his relievers stranded all 7 runners they inherited. Either way, you can bet that Red Sox brass is happy there even is an argument at the top, after lacking any murmurs from below for so long.

    69. Jairo Garcia- RP- Oakland Athletics- 22

    Oakland flirted with the idea of turning Garcia into a reliever for awhile, giving him bullpen stints since he was seventeen in 2000. After his first experience with full-season ball yielded a terrible K/9 (6.0) in 2003, the organization decided to try and keep Garcia?s strengths while increasing his velocity. Good decision. Unfortunately I missed seeing Garcia in Kane County by a matter of days, though it didn?t take the A?s long to realize he was above that level. After 38 appearances spanned over low-A and AA, Garcia had struck out 81 in 49 innings while allowing 0 home runs. I saw him be pretty inconsistent in the Futures Game, though one of his mid-80s sliders was Major League closer quality. His build is very similar to Octavio Dotel, and he would be quite lucky to learn from him this spring.

    68. Hayden Penn- SP- Baltimore Orioles- 20

    Not the average teenager, it was Penn?s poise and control that took him from the South Atlantic League to Bowie at nineteen. His numbers won?t amaze you and his strikeout numbers are far from dazzling. Hayden?s K/BB was 3.0 in the Carolina League, and he?ll need that type of ratio to justify under nine strikeouts per game. But he?ll be back in the Eastern League next year at twenty, with the chance of breaking the Major League rotation when he proves himself ready. Baltimore hardly offers a lot of barriers, and the fact that Penn jumped so many prospects to be the top Oriole pitcher is saying something. And even if he labors a bit next year, I think it?s safe to say he has time to figure it out.

    67. Chris Young- OF- Chicago White Sox- 21

    Instincts. This is what influences my choice here, a difficult one since I know the harsh criticism that comes with off-wing opinions. Much of prospect analysis, no matter what sabermetrics say, is speculation. This is where the highest of my speculation lies.

    But let?s focus on the facts with Chris Young here. At 21, he was older than a lot of South Atlantic League opponents. His game is a fairly raw one though, one that will need time to become Major League-caliber. But remember, Mike Cameron (my working comp to Young, also seen in BA), didn?t play 100G until he was 24, or have 400AB until 26. Time is on Young?s side.

    Offensively, I view Young being a force at the plate, a threat to go yard on every swing. This, in turn, causes a lot of strikeouts, 146 during the 2004 season. In fact, only once all season did Young go four games without a whiff, a 4/12 stint in early July. But some times he was fairly under control, ?only? striking out 21.5% of the time. And he walked a lot that month, a season-high eighteen times.

    Young showed a normal prospect flaw besides strikeouts as well, that of the ?late start, early exit? variety. Accompanied with his best three months (May-July) below are the statistics of hot prospect Eric Duncan?s in a similar number of low-A at-bats:

    Name AB AVE ISO BB K%
    Young 283 .276 .258 50 29.0
    Duncan 288 .260 .219 38 29.2

    I?m not suggesting Young is the better prospect ? ignoring age and Young?s other months is ignorant ? but it is an interesting tidbit to chew on.

    Despite an abysmal ability to make consistent contact, Young is an underrated prospect. His Isolated Power can go toe-to-toe with any Sally League hitter (don?t forget the Sally League?s other Young), and he combines that with solid speed and highly regarded defense.

    My instincts tell me Young could be better than Brian Anderson, the White Sox top prospect, but at some point my senses step in.

    66. Dan Johnson- 1B- Oakland Athletics- 25

    What more does Oakland want out of this guy? It?s bad enough that an organizational soldier that bought so much into their philosophy like Graham Koonce hardly got any notice, now they have a legitimate prospect with the same mentality getting shut out. And not just legit either, the player that won both PCL MVP and playoffs MVP in the same league, he?s above the league. But Scott Hatteberg, who?s skill set has declined since Moneyball while his contract value has rose, will likely get the majority of at-bats at first base. If I were Billy Beane, and I?m nowhere near that intelligent, I would hope Carlos Delgado signs not in New York, so he can trade Scott Hatteberg in a deal to acquire Mike Cameron. And then Dan Johnson, the most ready player in the minors, will get his due.

    65. Mike Hinckley- SP- Washington Nationals- 22

    Following the Bartolo Colon and Cliff Floyd trades, the Expos/Nationals franchise lost anything near depth in prospects. And then Clint Everts got hurt in the middle of the season, eliminating their top, star-powered prospect. So, all that is really left for Jim Bowden to play with is Mike Hinckley, a player I really like. He hasn?t really struggled at a level since the Gulf Coast League out of high school, and his effortless trip through high-A and AA was something else this year. Hinckley?s ceiling is no higher than a third starter or so, but he looks very capable of contributing to Washington by 2006. He?ll need to keep those HR numbers down, like he did after his promotion, to get the most out of his exceptional ability.

    64. Josh Barfield- 2B- San Diego Padres- 22

    If I?ve previously labeled Jeff Mathis and Adam Wainwright the most disappointing players of 2004, Josh Barfield has to be considered the most overvalued. After an MVP season in the California League, Barfield became loved by prospect evaluators, what with his .919 OPS at a premium position. What we ignored however, was the league and park in which Barfield played, and his .400 BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play, average is normally right around .300)

    This season, we got exactly what we deserved. And that?s to say, Josh proved his skills aren?t really that different from those of his father after all. Remember, Jesse finished his career with a .256/.335/.466 line, striking out in more than 25% of his career at-bats. Josh is better than his father most in that final category, as his K% declined in each month this year, showing he was learning the level quite well. His BABIP was near average this year, a little below, so I think Josh could likely settle around the .256 BA his father sported.

    After a rough start in which Barfield hit .241 with a .395 slugging through his first 59 games, it seemed as if he started to figure it out. In the next 55 games, Barfield would hit .268/~.350/.480, only whiffing 16.7% of the time. He also walked 25 times in those 55 games, showing improvements in both categories. His power was far more consistent that it had been all year, with twelve doubles and ten home runs in 198 at-bats. It seemed that Josh had turned the corner at AA, and proved his mettle.

    Then the bottom fell out in his last 24 games, when his OPS would never have topped .600, and his strikeouts rose to 24.2% of his total at-bats. He only hit a home run once in his last 136 at-bats, falling right back into the problem he started the year with. Josh will begin the year in AA again, where the organization hopes he?ll become the player he was from mid-June to mid-August, showing polish and power up the middle. Who would have thought that Mark Loretta would leave large shoes to fill?

    63. Edwin Encarnacion- 3B- Cincinnati Reds- 22

    I have written this before, but one of the major disheartening things about Encarnacion is the lack of confidence shown in him within the Cincinnati franchise. The Austin Kearns experiment was just a bad idea, though I don?t think ill-intended, as Dave O?Brien simply wanted to get the most out of his glut of four outfielders. And the Joe Randa signing will give Encarnacion, who is still a bit raw, another season to hone his skills. Mostly, it?s time for some of those doubles to start going over the wall, and Encarnacion?s slugging rise enough to be justifiable from a corner position. Though I guess given this club?s recent hot corner problems, even a .794 OPS would be acceptable here.

    62. Chris Burke- 2B- Houston Astros- 25

    Like Dan Johnson before him, it would be a waste for Burke not to start at second base for the Astros next year. Showing unique confidence that they didn?t in Jason Lane, Astro upper management didn?t even take a shot at re-signing Jeff Kent, seemingly giving the job to Burke. Then reports out of Houston came the team was thinking about moving Craig Biggio back to second, which would be an offensive disaster given how far Biggio has declined, and just how good Burke has become. His PCL slugging percentage will probably not be matched in the Majors, but I view Chris being a premiere two-hole hitter, always contributing a solid average with a bunch of doubles. His stolen base ability is also quite sound, so expect Phil Garner to run him wild if he gets a chance next year.

    61. Ervin Santana- SP- Anaheim Angels- 22

    The first of a group of injured players on this list, it should be no surprise that Santana comes last, largely because I?ve never been particularly fond of him. But he?s got a live arm with a history of success, so I?ll concede that the Angels are lucky to have his arm. Really, Ervin?s done very little to give reason for me to cast doubt on him, so now it?s time to stay healthy for a year, and make some rumbles on the Major League level. With Troy Percival gone, I could see Santana groomed into a set-up role if health continues to be a problem, and his great fastball/breaking ball combo could work wonders there.

    Baseball BeatJanuary 14, 2005
    The Art of a Bad Deal
    By Rich Lederer

    The Los Angeles Dodgers of Los Angeles signed free agent J.D. Drew to a five-year, $55 million contract late last month. He received a $2 million signing bonus and will earn $9 million in 2005 and $11 million in each of the following four seasons.

    Dodger Executive Vice President and General Manager Paul DePodesta made the following comments at the press conference:

    J.D. is a bona fide offensive force in the prime of his career. He's one of the most complete players in the majors and we expect him to be a cornerstone of the Dodgers for years to come.

    "...we expect him to be a cornerstone of the Dodgers for years to come." Well, let's hope so for the sake of Dodger fans but there is no guarantee that Drew will stay more than a couple of years as he has a clause in his contract that would allow him to opt out after the 2006 season.

    In defense of DePodesta, he said "years" and there is no mistaking the fact that two is plural. As such, he is technically correct. However, it is the Dodgers -- and not their new star -- who are taking all the risk here. The only reason why Drew would opt out is if his market value has grown to where he can get an even more lucrative deal elsewhere. If he plays poorly or gets hurts, then the Dodgers will be stuck with him for the duration of the five years.

    I've heard the argument that the Dodgers would be obligated to pay Drew for years three through five even if they didn't give him the option to leave after two so what's the big deal? First of all, it is a big deal -- and that is precisely the point. In fact, there are 55 million reasons why it's a big deal. In any sizable transaction, you don't give the other side the right to put it back or call it away unless you get something in return.

    In other words, the Dodgers should have received some type of consideration for giving Drew the ability to walk after just two years. DePo should have insisted that the Dodgers also have the right to terminate the contract at that point -- essentially making the final three years a mutual option -- or reduced the average annual value of the contract to less than the going rate.

    With respect to the last point, perhaps the Dodgers got Drew at a discount. My instincts tell me not, but I am not privy to such information. The only thing I do know is that the Atlanta Braves reportedly offered him a three-year, $25 million deal (which Drew turned down).

    In the investment world, investors have the option of purchasing five-year, non-callable notes from government agencies such as Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Federal Home Loan Bank, and Federal Farm Credit at approximately 4.00%. If the agency puts an option in there to call the notes in two years, the seller has to offer a higher yield of around 4.375%. In other words, the buyer gets more if the seller asks for the right to opt out early.

    In the case of the Dodgers and Drew, the former would be the buyer and the latter the seller. Just as the government agency has to accept terms that are less favorable if they choose to issue a bond that can be called before its stated maturity, Drew should have to do the same.

    Instead, Drew is holding all the cards here -- and not just the St. Louis variety. His contract is a one-sided transaction. The fact that J.D., who played in a career-high 145 games last year, has been prone to getting hurt is another reason why he got the best of his new employers. Even DePodesta sounds cautious. "If he can remain consistently healthy, he has a chance to put up some pretty gaudy numbers over the length of the contract.''

    "If he can remain consistently healthy...?" That's a lot of money the Dodgers have guaranteed a player they are hoping will stay healthy. At $11 million per year for five seasons, he had better "put up some pretty gaudy numbers," let me tell you.

    I have also heard the line of reasoning that if Drew opts out in two years, that could be perfect because he could be entering the decline phase of his career. The team that signs him next would then be the ones on the hook rather than the Dodgers. Well, maybe. But doesn't that presuppose that everyone else is a sucker? That doesn't make sense to me.

    Mitchel Lichtman, in a recent interview with Jon Weisman on Dodger Thoughts, had this to say about Drew and his contract:

    Drew is one of the few high profile players who are worth their contracts. He is a top 10 player and only a top 10 player is worth 10 mil a year or more. I think the health concerns with Drew have been overstated. I dont particularly like long-term contracts, but one, sometimes you have no choice, and two, people forget that salaries in baseball have risen 12% a year for the last 16 years, and I see no reason why that should not continue.

    Well, MGL, nothing grows 12% per year forever. I've got the unders on that forecast. You see, trees don't grow to the sky. Baseball salaries started well below what a free market would bear at the time of free agency and have been playing catch-up ever since. To think that they are going to continue to grow at such enormous rates flies in the face of economic reality.

    Asset and business values can grow at a 12% or better clip for years, sometimes even decades, but not indefinitely. Baseball salaries have caught up with the economics of the game. Unless the revenues of the sport itself can grow at 12% or more per year, baseball salaries will not be able to sustain the same level of advancement as they have in the past.

    At a 12% growth rate, here is what a player of Drew's ability would be worth down the road:

    2005: $11,000,000
    2006: $12,320,000
    2007: $13,798,400
    2008: $15,454,208
    2009: $17,308,713
    2010: $19,385,759
    2011: $21,712,050
    2012: $24,317,495
    2013: $27,235,595
    2014: $30,503,866
    2015: $34,164,330
    2016: $38,264,050
    2017: $42,855,736
    2018: $47,998,424
    2019: $53,758,235
    2020: $60,209,223
    2021: $67,434,330

    Is there anybody out there who thinks players of Drew's caliber will be making $67 million per season 16 years from now? I didn't think so. Looked at it another way, at a 12% growth rate, the Yankees' payroll would equal almost a billion dollars in 15 years. A billion dollar payroll means each player would have an average salary of $40 million per year!

    I would contend that the idea of locking up a player now so as to keep from having to pay escalating salaries down the road is nonsensical. The irony of it all is that the owners are responsible for outbidding one another, forcing salaries ever higher. Even DePo, who I defended when he was hired a year ago, admitted as much when explaining the rationale for signing Drew and not Beltre. "It's a matter of timing."

    I won't mention what happened the last time the Dodgers gave a player with questionable health a $55 million, five-year deal. Scott Boras played the Dodgers like a fiddle back then and has once again gotten the upper hand in his most recent dealings with the club. A good deal for Drew. A bad deal for the Dodgers.

    WTNYJanuary 14, 2005
    WTNY 75: Honorable Mention (1 of 6)
    By Bryan Smith

    For a prospect evaluator like myself, this time of year is when the pressure rises on what I type. The credibility of a baseball writer is judged by two things: how he expresses something, and the fact within his statement. Will Carroll wrote a great piece in response to the recent scouts v. stats debate, saying about his contacts, "It allows me to do what I do and without those, I'm done." Guys like Will and Gammons, they are judged by both the number and credibility of their contacts. For me, it's all in my prospect list.

    This is why the next two weeks are extremely important ones for me, as today I begin my trek down my rankings. Today I'll begin with my honorable mention, a group of 25 names, with next week tackling 15 names a day as we count down to number one. While not today, each day's list of fifteen will have about 5-7 players detailed, as I did with Dioner Navarro last week. The best of the best at WTNY in the coming days, my friends.

    If you are unfamiliar with my lists, I should explain a few of the differences in my rankings, compared to other sites. First, this year I am not ranking any first-year players. This really stems from point two, which is my heavy weight of statistics in my analysis. Because of limitations in the contacts department, and the importance I weigh in not using others' contacts, I rank with what I have. Players that were drafted in 2004 leave so much to be seen, it's hard for me to get a good feel for where they stand. Finally, unlike your friends at Baseball America, you won't be seeing Mauer, Edwin Jackson or Russ Adams on my lists. Any other questions? Just ask.

    As I said earlier, today will be the 25 honorable mention names I selected. Days ago my honorable mention list stood at 70 names, but I shortened it to twenty-five for both brevity and to conveniently create a top 100. But these 25 names will not be ranked today, instead I'll just present them alphaebetically. Drop questions about these players in comments, and while I might answer some, I'm going to try and piece together a gigantic mailbag for after the completion of this project. Enjoy!

    Erick Aybar- SS- Anaheim Angels- 21

    Conveniently, we begin with one of my most controversial selections. Honestly, Aybar was the last player taken off the top 75, as he was engaged in an internal battle with a player coming Monday. I'll be bold enough to say that in my mind, Aybar's 2004 season was a slight regression from where he was in 2003, he was just helped by a hitter's park in a hitter's league. If you want to view the way that the California League can boast a player's skills, view Josh Barfield. Anyway, Aybar is one of the few players in the minors where being triples dependent isn't such a bad thing, since his speed will probably allow him to sustain at least solid totals in the Majors. His baserunning and defense are both extremely flawed, and that latter (along with the Orlando Cabrera signing) will likely send Erick to second. The best comparison I can think of (and I'm big on comparisons) is Cristian Guzman, though he was in the Minnesota by 21. Judging by what his former-equal Alberto Callaspo did in AA, it probably is going to take Aybar a little longer.

    Jonathan Broxton- SP- Los Angeles Dodgers- 21

    This can be the first example of my praise of Logan White, but rest assured, it will not be the last. I don't care what anybody else says, the Los Angeles Dodgers have the best farm system in baseball. With such a mix of legitimate prospects and depth, it's a wonder Logan isn't getting interviews all over the place, and I'm looking at you Tampa. As for Broxton, his ranking would likely be higher if not for the loud murmurs that he's a candidate to make the switch to the bullpen. His control improved late in the season, quieting such talk, but such a big body will always harbor those debates. His performance in Vero Beach, like just about everyone that pitches there, was dominant. Care to be freaked out? Try comparing Broxton's peripherals (7.7 H/9, 3.0 W/9, 10.1 K/9, 1.19 WHIP) with those of Eric Gagne in the same stadium (7.6 H/9, 3.1 W/9, 9.3 K/9, 1.19 WHIP). Yikes, now I'm gonna have all the Dodgers fans calling the front office to get him switched. Sorry DePo.

    Melky Cabrera- OF- New York Yankees- 20

    I have never made it a secret of my obsession with Melky Cabrera, dating back to his days with Battle Creek earlier this past season. To me, he's been the Yankees second-best prospect for months, with or without Pudgito. His numbers show the general trend of what happens to a player when he moves up the ladder, but in no way would I call his FSL performance a drop-off. His ISO rose to .150, probably park-related, and really a drop in average was the only poor sign. You have to love a player with a K% (K/AB) under 20, and he was at 13.5 in the Midwest League, and 17.7 in Tampa. Both, for such a young player, to fare this well in full-season ball is quite the accomplishment. He's a few walks away from being a clone of Bernie Williams at the same age, so that should get all you Bombers fans salivating. Given the problem in centerfield and Duncan's block, I really see no player in this organization that's more likely to stay with New York other than Cabrera.

    Robinson Cano- 2B- New York Yankees- 22

    For some reason I've always had an internal bias with Cano, though one particular Yanks fan that reads this site has made that notion a hard one to keep. Well, so have his numbers. He really showed his dominance over Navarro as a player this year, looking better than Dioner in both Trenton and Columbus. His performance in AAA was far less than dazzling, but even a .144 ISO has to be respected given his youth and his position. While the Yankees signed Tony Womack to a two-year, $4 million deal this winter, they could have done far worse than have handed Cano the job. I don't see his ceiling ever being over an .800 OPS, with a line looking like .280/.340/.420 probably about what type of player he can be. Looking at this position across the league, that's a commodity that many teams would like to buy.

    Elijah Dukes- OF- Tampa Bay Devil Rays- 21

    Another player I'm fascinated by, I was shocked to read Dukes in the teens on what site's list, though I do recognize he could fly up lists next season. Everyone you talk to recognizes the immense amount of talent that Dukes has, citing maturity issues as the one problem that will likely hold him back. I don't buy it. In my mind, Elijah has five-tool talent that could even rival that of Lastings Milledge. If the power develops like it should, Dukes has the potential to be a 30/30 player in the Major Leagues, and give the Devil Rays a legitimate reason to trade Rocco Baldelli. Lord, wouldn't you want to have controlling interest of the team that could one day start Carl Crawford, Dukes and Delmon Young in their outfield? The team will likely challenge him, as well as Young, with a promotion to the Southern League next year. That's quite far from the help that the California League gives hitters, so next year should provide a true test of Dukes' character.

    Richie Gardner- SP- Cincinnati Reds- 23

    Following a less-than-stellar career at the University of Arizona, Gardner was quite the stud across both the Carolina and Southern Leagues in 2004. The Voros McCracken's of the world will likely point to Gardner as an example for drafting college players, as he could be contributing by mid-year, only two years after he was drafted. Still, given the room Richie has left to be desired in the K/9 department, it's still quite possible that scouts will have the last laugh here. Gardner's value is netted solely in his ability to control his pitches, as his W/9 was under 2.0 in both leagues last season. That's far lower than what he showed in his junior season at Arizona, making you wonder if 2004 was a fluke, or whether Cincinnati might be improving their teaching on the farm.

    Ryan Garko- C/1B- Cleveland Indians- 24

    Failure is, well, one thing that Ryan Garko does not have to worry about. A four-year player at Stanford, his OPS was at or above .995 in his three final seasons as a Cardinal. Success at the plate continued this season, as Garko played in three different levels, and though his brief trial in AAA is hard to judge, never really seemed challenged. I've said of Garko before that he's the type of player that could dominate AAA next year, have a great second half with the Indians, and make the BP cover in 2006. Then, as Josh Phelps before him, fall flat on his face. All kidding aside, Garko is your typical poor-defensive, big bat catcher: he'll bust up lefties, and probably like Matt LeCroy, even make a case for 500 AB. He could become Ben Broussard's platoon-mate as soon as the Juan Gonzalez trial fails.

    Tom Gorzelanny- SP- Pittsburgh Pirates- 22

    Luckily for Tom, since he was born 11 days after July 1, he'll still be a 22-year-old in the stat books next season. You could say his Sally League dominance last year could be explained by such a late birthday, but since his college resume doesn't boast a big name, you can understand why the Pirates sent him there. He quickly proved he was far too good for the league, posting great numbers across the board, though 9 home runs in 93 innings is actually a lot given his great half-season. As for his Carolina League performance, I think his ERA is quite higher than the way he pitched, since his H/9 was low, K/9 high, and W/9 was nothing to really be concerned about. Even despite his age, the Pirates should be conservative with Tom, sending him back to Lynchburg to prove I'm right about that inflated ERA.

    J.J. Hardy- SS- Milwaukee Brewers- 22

    This was a bandwagon I never got on, so you can't say I ditched the guy when his shoulder really got bad last season. The scouting reports I read, on fantastic defense and a solid overall player, they prompted me to call him "Royce Clayton at best" last season. Their minor league careers correlated pretty nicely until this year, as both were playing in AA at age 21, and their averages were within one point of each other. Hardy's 100 at-bats in AAA were far better than Clayton's 200 at the same age, though the two seem fairly consistent with their walk totals. This does not bode well for Hardy, as Royce did not reach the 40 walk plateau in a season until turning 28, making .346 the OBP high of his career. In fact, it was that season for Royce, in which he hit .288/.346/.445, that best represents the player I think Hardy could become. The shoulder injury only helps my case that it will take him a long time to adjust to the Majors.

    John Hudgins- SP- Texas Rangers- 23

    I wish I had saved the e-mail desperately. My respect for Jamey Newberg should not be news to anyone, and his description of Hudgins' performance pitching against Felix Hernandez should be a must-read for all prospect followers. Newberg said, in my attempt to paraphrase him correctly, said for that day Hudgins was Greg Maddux. He showed such precision in his final season at Stanford, though he was never more than a solid pitcher in his Pac-10 career. And that's really what I see in Hudgins, as a player very similar in style to Tim Stauffer with the San Diego Padres. He's going to be an innings eater in the Majors, you can bank on that, though he'll probably never be the strength of the Rangers' rotation. Still, given their inability to find such players now, I think Arlington will be welcoming Hudgins' arrival at some point in the 2005 season. I'll say his chance of reaching his ceiling is as high as anyone in my honorable mention.

    Andy LaRoche- 3B- Los Angeles Dodgers- 21

    Other than a low average in the second half of his season, at a level higher than what he began, there's really no reason to dislike Andy LaRoche as a prospect. His ISO was still quite high in Vero Beach, which as we've previously mentioned is a pitcher's park, and he continued to show fairly good patience. Considering how long it took Joel Guzman to adjust to the stadium, I think Dodgers' fans will understand that it's best for LaRoche to be sent back to high-A beginning next season. At some point, you'll probably see him move up to Jacksonville, with Blake DeWitt filling his shoes. Did I mention this system is loaded yet? Well, LaRoche has far more power potential than his brother does, and if he keeps his strikeouts down and walk numbers solid, he could turn out to be a rich man's version of Adam still.

    Brandon League- RP- Toronto Blue Jays- 22

    Never have I been considered to be particularly nice to relief prospects, so you'll understand when you only see two in my top 75. League is probably number three, though I think there are some bad qualities you have to worry about here. While his HR/9 was always solid in the minors, making him a good candidate to relief, at some point Blue Jays fans should be concerned that his K/9 has not reached 8.0 since the Pioneer League. He's yet to show the dominance on the mound that many relievers do shortly after their switch, though League certainly impressed onlookers upon his arrival in Toronto. League has great control and should be equivalent to the 2003 (not 2004) version of Dan Kolb statistically, though his arsenal is different. Now that J.P. traded away Adam Peterson, the doors are wide open for League to land some saves next season.

    Francisco Liriano- LHP- Minnesota Twins- 21

    Everyone has their favorite Twin prospect to break out next season, from Scott Baker to Scott Tyler to Adam Harben to Alex Romero to Liriano. While I agree with Romero as well, I think Liriano has the chance to take as large a step forward as anyone on this list next season. Remember, this was his first season back from arm injury, and he still showed a lot of great stuff and hope for the future. His ERA of 4.00 at Fort Myers was definitely too high, and it's a bit problematic that his H/9 numbers were so high. But I think his strikeouts are indicative that his great stuff was at least some of the way back this year, and they should only improve as he returns to New Britain this year. A loaded Minnesota rotation will give him time to develop, though I do think Liriano could be pushing the envelope, and give Aaron a new "Free ____" caimpaign, as early as this year.

    James Loney- 1B- Los Angeles Dodgers- 21

    We heard the wrist excuses a year ago, when Loney was showing no power in a pitcher's park as a teenager. But then he came to Spring Training in 2004 and turned everyone's heads, making them proclaim that since his injury was healed, he was ready to start showing why he was a first-round pick in 2002. And then they sent him to the Southern League, and he regressed. Talk of the wrist injury not being healed resurfaced, but I'm just sick of the excuses. I like the low strikeout numbers, but at this point that's all I really like. He doesn't walk quite enough, and hasn't shown the ability to hit for average that was supposed to be his calling card. And his power? I really think he hit more home runs in the first week of exhibition games last spring than he did all year with Jacksonville. But people, even our own Jon Weisman, keep swearing by his talent, so I can't write him off quite yet.

    Sean Marshall- SP- Chicago Cubs- 22

    Probably, at this point, my favorite Cubs prospect. After a solid career at Virginia Commenwealth, Marshall dominated the Midwest League in seven starts this season. Everyone forgets that, though performances by John Danks and Matt Chico seem to be remembered by everyone. Well, Marshall was then promoted to the Southern League to fill Ricky Nolasco's vacancy, completely skipping over Daytona. This is a unique move by a franchise that really babies prospects, but I guess acceptable given Marshall's collegiate background. Well he was hurt within six poor starts at West Tenn, and didn't resurface until the AFL, when he immediately kept showing the control that's his calling card. That left him in those AA starts, and are essential to his success, as he'll probably give up his fair share of hits. The Cubs are flush with mid-level pitching prospects, so it's easy for Marshall to get lost in it all. But I have a feeling that in a year, Cubs fans will be calling for Marshall to take the Glendon Rusch role at the back of that rotation.

    Jeff Mathis- C- Anaheim Angels- 22

    I recently named the former first-rounder my disappointment of 2004, so I refer you to that entry for my extended thoughts on Mathis. In short, this is a player with a lot of talent still, though his performance last year was terrible. His development is going to hold sabermetric favorite Michael Napoli up a little bit, but it's essential for the Angels to send Mathis back to AA next year. Let's hope he built enough endurance tihs winter to sustain a whole season of catching in the Texas League.

    Clint Nageotte- P- Seattle Mariners- 24

    It was hard to label Nageotte a starting pitcher or relief one, because what he's doing now and what everyone swears he'll be doing at one point are far different things. Nageotte, like his buddy Travis Blackley, struggled mightily in both Tacoma and Seattle this past season. Neither was ready for the Majors at all, and both pitched far worse after returning to AAA following their demotion. But Nageotte's slider gives him a lot more future value than Blackley, since he should be converted to relief pretty soon. The Mariners return on pitching prospects lately (Nageotte, Ryan Anderson, Blackley, Rafael Soriano, Rett Johnson, Gil Meche, etc) is disastrous, and they should realize that the treatment their giving Felix Hernandez should be instilled on all players. Anyways, I think Nageotte will soon be converted into a two-pitch reliever, where he could have great success in both the set-up and middle relief slots.

    Dioner Navarro- C- Los Angeles Dodgers- 21

    Refer here for my thoughts on Dioner.

    Fernando Nieve- SP- Houston Astros- 22

    Like Erick Aybar, Fernando Nieve was the final player I took off my top 75 list. It saddened me to do so, because I kind of liked bragging about Nieve, who was on my breakout list a year ago. His season in the Carolina League was overlooked because of a 7.1 K/9, though all his other peripherals suggested good things. An extremely poor winter helped me decide he would be the pitcher to leave my 75, though I still think he has an extremely high ceiling. His three starts in Round Rock went extremely well, giving a lot of hope for the future. Watch him next year, because I think his '05 performance will tell us whether or not he's destined for the Houston rotation, or just another failed Houston pitching prospect. Part of me wishes for both.

    Renyel Pinto- SP- Chicago Cubs- 22

    For me, Pinto is one of the hardest prospects in all of Prospectdom to read. First of all he's a Cub prospect, so that always makes me take a second to put it all in perspective and not overrate him a little bit. Secondly, his H/9 and K/9 numbers were as good as anyone on this list last year, making me think Pinto could be a very powerful leftie in a rotation stacked with powerful right-handers. But the worry with Pinto is control, as his W/9 was on the wrong side of the 4.5 mark last year. Like a lot of prospects with his numbers, there are whispers that he's better suited for relief, which actually wouldn't be so bad. How about this comparison:

    Player A: 6.2 H/9, 4.0 W/9, 9.7 K/9 in AA at 21
    Player B: 6.8 H/9, 4.6 W/9, 11.4 K/9

    Who is Player A? None other than Arthur Rhodes, who I think (given build, style, numbers) should serve as Pinto's running comparison now.

    Omar Quintanilla- MI- Oakland Athletics- 23

    You see that position I listed for Quintanilla there? That's no mistake, as it's a pretty common thought that Q will move to second both because of defensive shortcomings and a certain Rookie of the Year. I was telling Will Carroll the other day that Q is a poor man's Khalil Greene, though his best year at Texas was only a bit better than Greene's freshman season at Clemson. Still, I think the two are very compareable in an average sense, with Omar possibly being an even better contact hitter. There's no question that Greene will outpower Quintanilla, a feat that Rich Lederer could probably handle. A Chavez-Crosby-Q-Johnson infield would be very solid for Billy Beane in 2006, when you have to figure the A's to be a favorite for the World Series.

    Jarrod Saltalamacchia- C- Atlanta Braves- 20

    Given the rigors of the catching position and such a long season, you have to credit Jarrod with the way he handled himself in the 2004 season. He didn't do anything spectacular, though he showed talent both as a hitter and a receiver. You have to love a switch-hitter behind the plate, and even the best in baseball (Victor Martinez) wasn't in high-A until he was 22, Jarrod will be at 20. Salty needs to cut down on his strikeouts, since his K% was a fairly poor 25.6 last season. The average could use a boost, though is his .270/.350/.420 line continues, I don't think anyone can really complain. The largest worry for Salty should be the Braves logjam of catchers with Johnny Estrada and Brian McCann, in which he falls third. Still, the Braves will wait as long as they can to see if Jarrod blossoms into the hitter that led to his high draft selection.

    Nate Schierholtz- 3B- San Francisco Giants- 21

    Very similar statistically to the aforementioned Andy LaRoche, with more strikeouts, less walks, and a better *looking* performance in high-A. I emphasize looking, because really it was Andy's average that's worse, but Schierholtz was the one that saw the large drop in ISO. And even with such a large SLG loss, much of his California League power numbers were dependent upon nine triples, which is hardly sustainable. But he's a legitimate power hitter, that shouldn't be the concern here, which should be BB/K, a combined 33/93 in 2004. I can't decide whether it's a good idea to push Nate to Norwich next year and really test him, or leave him in California a little longer, though I'm actually leaning towards the former. They need to figure out whether he should be groomed as Edgardo Alfonzo's successor or not.

    Steven Shell- SP- Anaheim Angels- 22

    King of the peripheral. Despite a high ERA and HR/9 due to a bad park we've already spoken about, Shell doesn't come up on a lot of radars. But he should, if not for his ability to eat a lot of innings, then for his 190/40 K/BB. That's about as good as you'll find in the minor leagues, though reports on Shell's pitching aren't quite as good. I wish he allowed less home runs, mostly because of the emphasis I place in Dayn's study, but it's always been a problem of Shell's. Watch him in the Texas League, where many an Angel prospect proved to be a failure.

    Joey Votto- 1B- Cincinnati Reds- 21

    Interestingly enough, we close with perhaps the guy that would be #76 on my list. I really like Joey Votto, who's season wasn't really noticed because of the press that Brian Dopirak got. But quietly, Votto was playing well enough in the Midwest League to draw a promotion to Carolina, where he continued his hitting ways. His power needs a bit of refining, but Votto already has the contact and discipline skills of a Major Leaguer. Call it a feeling that the strikeouts really won't decline and he'll be slotted for 100+ annually in the Majors, but that will be swallowable when some of those doubles start going over the fence. And it's going to happen, making Votto the reason Sean Casey should not get another extension.

    That's all for now folks.

    WTNYJanuary 13, 2005
    All Tied Up
    By Bryan Smith

    One story hidden beneath the overtold Carlos Beltran signing is how it directly affects Lastings Milledge. While you can bet the Mets will be thanking their lucky stars for landing the Majors' top five-tool talent, they immediately put the future of the minors' top 5-tooler in jeopardy. The former first-rounder has as unique a history as they come - best chronicled by Derek Zumsteg - but now has fallen victim to an all but too familiar story: the prospect block.

    Now you won't hear me saying the Beltran signing was a poor one because it blocks a prospect that won't be ready until 2007, that would be ridiculously foolish. Instead, I think it's useful to keep an eye on what's happening in the Majors, because this will effect the organization's handling of a certain prospect. In this case, Milledge becomes one of two things: (1) trade bait, (2) candidate for a position change in the near future.

    Given the fact that Mets' management is making defensive star Mike Cameron move for Beltran, I think it's safe to say that Milledge will never play 50 games up the middle in Shea. The question now is which previously-NYM prospect traveled route will Lastings follow: Jose Reyes or Scott Kazmir? The former was forced to move from shortstop to second base after his rookie season, to make room for the Mets prize of the '03 offseason, Kaz Matsui. Kazmir, who's story has been beaten to a bloody pulp, was traded in a deadline deal because of a cloudy future in the Big Apple.

    The answer to that question is impossible to answer, it's quite possible even Omar Minaya has no idea. If Lastings continues to remain in the highest echelon of prospects, you can bet he'll be the Mets right fielder in a few years. But any sign of injury, failure, or even immaturity could end in Milledge being dealt away. It's not as if Minaya's previous history has shown a tendency to hold onto prospects, given the quick departure of Brandon Phillips and Cliff Lee.

    Milledge is just one player that has seen that happen to him recently, as we talked about Carlos Quentin and Conor Jackson with the Diamondbacks report on Tuesday. Some in comments included possibilities for both players to get time in Arizona, though I really can't imagine such a scenario. Like I said on Tuesday, I believe the most logical situation is for Quentin to play right, Shawn Green left, and Luis Gonzalez at first base. Jackson could definitely be packing his bags if the Diamondbacks are in the thick of things come July (I just thought of this -- how good does Aubrey Huff for Jackson and Chad Tracy sound for Tampa?).

    A pair of shortstop signings this winter will definitely force some changes on the farm. Some think the Boston Red Sox overpaid for Edgar Renteria, and I would even say so despite thinking Renteria is one of the most exciting players to watch in baseball. What made matters worse, for some Sox fans, was to see his salary after hearing John Henry boast about the talents of Hanley Ramirez. Suddenly, Hanley's lifetime home is blocked until 2009, and you can bet Ramirez doesn't want a Jason Lane-like wait. Instead, he'll likely move to second base, replacing Mark Bellhorn whenever he is ready.

    Loyal reader Fabian will be the first to tell you that Robinson Cano is much more adept for the Yankees 2B job than Tony Womack. Orlando Cabrera? Oh yes, that's California League MVP Erick Aybar that you're stepping over. While I think that Aybar was destined for a move to second anyway, this signing will force that move come 2006. But for a team like the Angels, so flush in middle-of-the-infield prospects, what can you do?

    Being such a fan of both the minor leagues and the hot stove league, I sure wish general managers would swap prospects every once in awhile.

    I mean, think of everyone who could be on the block. You have Eric Duncan in New York, who has made huge strides at third base, but has no real future there because of Alex Rodriguez. Ryan Howard is a popular name to put out there, since he could succeed at 1B and DH, but could never take Jim Thome for a job. Either Jeremy Reed or Shin-Soo Choo could go, as both pretty much would fill the same role in Seattle. We already mentioned Jackson, Ramirez, Milledge, Cano and Aybar. Casey Kotchman? Even Andy Marte? I could see it all.

    So as I prep my top 75 list to begin it's descension next Monday, here's my mission for you: come up with the best swap of two prospects you can think of.

    WTNYJanuary 11, 2005
    Better Than We Thought?
    By Bryan Smith

    A few weeks ago, I checked in on the A's slew of moves and how if affects their future going forward. Today, I would like to do the same with the D-Backs, who have been stockpiling players of the age bracket opposite of Billy Beane. Sure it was their subtraction of an aging veteran that has created the most buzz, but all that proved was Joe Garagiola's belief in 'quanity over quality'.

    Most recently, Arizona finalized the off-and-on deal between them and the Los Angeles Dodgers for Shawn Green. The deal's expansion to four players hardly hurt the D-Backs' farm, as Dioner Navarro wasn't there long enough to be noticed, and none of the Juarez-Muegge-Perez trio was even noticed in the first place. So, in effect, they lost Randy Johnson for Javier Vazquez, Brad Halsey, Shawn Green and $19 million (ten from L.A., nine from N.Y.). In my mind, this both is a win in 2004 value (26 win shares to 25) and future value, as Randy realistically only had a year left in the desert anyway. Under that light, Arizona looks to be a winner.

    On the free agent market, not so much. Other signings have made the Troy Glaus and Russ Ortiz signings look disastrous, but we must still realize the monumental improvement they offer from last year. Worse are the signings of Royce Clayton and Craig Counsell, who will make a combined $2.65 million in 2005, with Counsell making another $1.75M in 2006. There were better deals to be had here, and this really stunts the growth of Alex Cintron and Scott Hairston, with the latter appearing to be nearing the 'bust' column.

    The Glaus signing, and eventually the Green acquisition, has created a logjam of sorts at first base. Shea Hillenbrand has been loyally serving the Diamondbacks since they sickened of Byung-Hyun Kim, further fooling fans with his deceiving statistics. And on the other hand, there is Chad Tracy, who defied expectations in his first season of work at the hot corner. His defense was thought of terribly by fans though, so a move to first may create a vision of what Lyle Overbay would have brought to the table.

    With Hillenbrand likely being dealt, and we'll look for possibilities in a second, the only open holes seem to be behind the plate and in center. The former should be some combination of Koyie Hill, Robby Hammock and Chris Snyder, with Hill the most logical option to get 2005 at-bats. No matter what, spending more than 750k on two catchers will be an overpayment, I'm afraid. As for centerfield, that will remain undecided. So far, we have seen the Diamondbacks express interest in both Eric Byrnes and Mike Cameron, though I view the Met as quite unlikely.

    Instead, Billy Beane should lend another helping hand to the Diamondback organization, coming up with another one of his multi-team trades. His good friend J.P., for one reason or another, was once interested in Hillenbrand, giving us our three teams. The rumored offer for Byrnes is currently Jose Valverde, and for Hillenbrand, Adam Peterson. If Beane prefers the latter, this trade could be done quickly and easily. No matter what, I have a hard time believing Riccardi and Billy can't figure something out.

    This makes the Arizona 2005 lineup something like this:

    1. Eric Byrnes- CF
    2. Craig Counsell- 2B
    3. Luis Gonzalez- LF
    4. Troy Glaus- 3B
    5. Shawn Green- RF
    6. Chad Tracy- 1B
    7. Koyie Hill- C
    8. Royce Clayton- SS

    Not terrible, but still a far cry from what we had envisioned last October. What will remain extremely important, for Garagiola's sanity, is a lot of health. It's not a terrible prediction to see Green, Gonzalez and Glaus needing to move to first in the coming years, which could be disastrous for a team that has all three until 2007 (Glaus until '08).

    Furthermore, this currently blocks the Diamondbacks' two best prospects, Conor Jackson and Carlos Quentin. You'll see how the two stack up against each other next week, but no matter how you rank them, both are marquee prospects for this organization. The problem, is they were once thought to be the future corner outfielders in the Arizona desert. My guess is that Gonzalez or Green will be the player most likely to move to first, opening up the RF spot for Quentin, or if he falls, Josh Kroeger or Jon Zeringue. This really hurts the D-Back future for Jackson and Chad Tracy.

    What that projected lineup will not block, however, is the future for Sergio Santos and Stephen Drew. My guess is that not only does Drew get signed, but then moved to center, where he'll ultimately be Byrnes' successor in center. Santos will take over for Royce Clayton in 2006, though it's entirely plausible that he will one day shift somewhere for Justin Upton. That's a situation left for re-evaluation come June.

    Interestingly enough, the Diamondbacks are plentiful in both veteran hitters and prospect sluggers, but the well runs a bit drier on the pitching end. This off season has seen the overhaul of the Johnson-Webb-Fossum trio atop the rotation, and seen it changed to Vazquez-Ortiz-Webb. If you view this change via Win Shares, it represents a loss of one win, going from 36 to 33. What could actually, gasp, help is the upcoming signing of Shawn Estes. The southpaw accounted for nine Win Shares last year, presumably more than Arizona got out of their mixed-bad fourth spot.

    While Estes does continue to bring a veteran feel to this team, it ignores the fact that Brad Halsey and Mike Gosling are better choices for the spot. Though my guess is that Halsey will be the fifth starter for now, with Fossum replacing the newest Cub (Stephen Randolph) in the bullpen. So, the rotation as we know it, though I wouldn't ever put Estes and Halsey back-to-back:

    1. Javier Vazquez- RHP
    2. Russ Ortiz- RHP
    3. Brandon Webb- RHP
    4. Shawn Estes- LHP
    5. Brad Halsey- LHP

    Since Arizona doesn't have a lot of pitching prospects, this really isn't blocking much. I do like Dustin Nippert, who should be ready to replace Shawn Estes in the 2006 season. Vazquez, Ortiz and Webb will all likely be here until 2007 or 2008, though this doesn't look to effect any real prospect (sorry Chico) too negatively.

    Finally, let's move onto the bullpen. You shouldn't see a lot of changes here, though recent reports have the team close to signing Steve Reed. Again, another veteran signing, though I've always liked the way Reed competes against every batter. With Fossum moving to the bullpen, and expected improvements from everybody in the bullpen, I really like the way this turns out:

    CL- Jose Valverde
    SU- Greg Aquino
    MR- Oscar Villareal
    MR- Mike Koplove
    MR- Steve Reed
    LOOGY- Randy Choate
    LH/Long- Casey Fossum

    So, this leaves five open spots for the bench. I think we have to assume Robby Hammock, Alex Cintron and Matt Kata all get spots, which shouldn't be too damning on the offense. Finally, I would give the final two spots to Luis Terrero and Josh Kroeger, a RH hitter and a leftie, speed and power, centerfield and the corners.

    What will this team do? If we look at 2003 Win Shares, since many were injured in 2004, and just view the ten veterans acquired (assuming Byrnes and Reed but not Estes) this winter, you get 142. Remember, a .500 team should get 243 Win Shares, meaning that the team would need 101 WS from Koyie Hill, Chad Tracy, Shawn Estes, Brad Halsey, their bullpen and their bench. I'm pretty sure such a thing could be done, and if many out-do their 2003 number, even 85-90 wins. Given the uncertainty from the rest of the division, it remains possible the Diamondbacks could come back and win this division.

    And for kicks, a quick look at what the Tuscon offense could look like next year:

    C- Chris Snyder
    1B- Jesus Cota
    2B- Scott Hairston
    SS- Sergio Santos
    3B- Jamie D'Antona
    LF- Conor Jackson
    CF- Victor Hall
    RF- Carlos Quentin

    Does Vegas offer 2005 PCL odds yet?

    Baseball BeatJanuary 10, 2005
    January Bonus
    By Rich Lederer

    Rich's Weekend Baseball BEAT has been given the distinct honor of being featured by ESPN senior writer Rob Neyer as the link of the month on his home page. Rob's columns can be found on ESPN Insider, the premium level of ESPN.com's baseball coverage. His older articles can still be accessed without charge via the Rob Neyer Archives.

    LINK OF THE MONTH
    Rich's Weekend Baseball Beat
    Richard Lederer's weekly essay is just one part of the excellent All-Baseball.com, but I'm spotlighting Rich's work because it's always good, and because I want everybody who's interested in Bill James to know about Rich's series of articles about James's 1980s Baseball Abstracts. You'll have to dig around a little to find those articles, but for you Bill James aficionados it's worth the effort.

    Thanks, Rob. To make it as easy as possible for readers to find the reviews from the Abstracts From The Abstracts series, I have placed the links to the entire series below.

    Abstracts From The Abstracts:

    1977 Baseball Abstract
    1978 Baseball Abstract
    1979 Baseball Abstract
    1980 Baseball Abstract
    1981 Baseball Abstract
    1982 Baseball Abstract
    1983 Baseball Abstract
    1984 Baseball Abstract
    1985 Baseball Abstract
    1986 Baseball Abstract
    1987 Baseball Abstract
    1988 Baseball Abstract

    Enjoy!

    Baseball BeatJanuary 09, 2005
    The Bane of Weaver's Existence
    By Rich Lederer

    In The Great Debate, a must-read roundtable discussion moderated by Alan Schwarz of Baseball America, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheimed scouting director Eddie Bane made a comment that has received little, if any, attention.

    Im in the middle of a negotiation right now (with Jered Weaver) where a guy wants to compare our first-round picks stats to Mark Priors. And to me, theres no correlation whatsoever.

    Hmmm. "There's no correlation whatsoever," ehh? Even though Prior and Weaver both pitched on the west coast at the Division I level for and against teams that went to the NCAA playoffs? And "where a guy" seems a bit disrespectful to agent Scott Boras if you ask me. It's no wonder that the Angels and Boras haven't reached a deal.

    Let's go back and take another look at their remarkably similar statistics:

                 IP    H   R   ER   BB     K    W-L
    Weaver    144.0   81  31   26   21   213   15-1
    Prior     138.2  100  32   26   18   202   15-1
                 H/9    BB/9    K/9    K/BB     ERA
    Weaver       5.1     1.3   13.3    10.1    1.62
    Prior        6.5     1.2   13.1    11.2    1.69

    If anything, Weaver's raw numbers were slightly superior to Prior's. However, to be fair, the numbers should be adjusted for park effects. In that regard, Weaver pitched his home games at Blair Field, a ballpark known to suppress hitting, whereas Prior pitched his home games at Dedeaux Field, a more neutral park.

    Using Boyd Nation's total park factors (weighted-average park factor for all games), Long Beach State was an 88 for the 2001-04 period and USC was a 101 for 1999-2002 (a rate above 100 favors hitters and below 100 favors pitchers). These are far from perfect numbers given that they cover four years rather than just the specific years in question. However, one could argue that the longer stretches serve to normalize the data, making them more -- not less -- reliable.

    A simplistic way to compare the two ERAs would be to divide 101 by 88 and multiply that quotient (1.15) by Weaver's ERA of 1.62 to get an equivalent park-adjusted ERA of 1.86 (vs. Prior's actual ERA of 1.69). As a result, Prior's ERA is a little bit better than Weaver's on an adjusted basis. It is also worth noting that Jered's defense-independent ERA was 1.60. Boyd's World does not have DERA for Prior as such records only go back to 2002.

    Long Beach State had the seventh most difficult schedule in the country last year. USC had the second-toughest schedule in 2001. The 49ers and Trojans play each other every year and they compete against a number of the same teams year in and year out.

    Like it or not, Eddie, Weaver's and Prior's numbers can be adjusted and compared quite easily. This point, in fact, is one of the major issues separating the stats vs. the scouts debate. A lot of the scouts simply don't want to believe the numbers because doing so dilutes the value of their worth (or so they think).

    Last year, Weaver faced five different Pac-10 teams in six games. He threw seven shutout innings to beat 26th-ranked Cal in the season opener. Jered struck out the first 10 batters he faced en route to a 14-strikeout victory over 16th-ranked USC in his next outing. The tall right-hander hurled eight shutout innings, allowing just one hit and one walk while striking out 15 vs. UCLA a month later. The College Player of the Year tossed seven shutout innings in a win over 17th-ranked Arizona the following week. He beat Stanford, the #1-ranked team in the country, in the Regionals in June by throwing eight innings and allowing just one earned run while whiffing eight. In his final collegiate game, Weaver went 7 2/3 IP and gave up only one earned run while striking out 12 vs. Arizona in the Super Regionals. The Wildcats went on to the College World Series.

    Suffice it to say that Weaver acquitted himself rather nicely vs. Prior's alma mater and the best teams in the Pac-10 conference. He also beat 11th-ranked Baylor, 4-1; 7th-ranked Wichita State, 10-1 (with 16 Ks); 7th-ranked UCI Irvine, 3-0; and the 2004 College World Series champion Cal State Fullerton, 6-2. His only loss was against 3rd-ranked Miami.

    I'm sorry, but it is simply disingenuous to say that there is "no correlation whatsoever" between Weaver's and Prior's stats. Bane knows the stats are incredibly similar so he is trying to play a little three-card monte on the public by proclaiming that they aren't akin to one another.

    Boras is believed to be asking for a deal similar to the five-year, $10.5 million contract Prior signed with the Chicago Cubs in August 2001. Given their comparable stats and competition, is that so unreasonable?

    The whole thing is really quite silly when you think about the fact that Jered's brother Jeff is scheduled to earn $9.25 million in 2005. I know Jeff is a more proven pitcher at the big-league level, but who would you rather have for about the same amount of money -- Jered Weaver for the next five years or Jeff Weaver for one year?

    Another point in Jered's favor is the fact that Prior's contract has proven to be a bargain for the Cubs. I could understand the reluctance on the part of the Angels to give their first-round pick Prior-type money if the former Trojan was a bust in the majors, but he obviously hasn't been. If anything, the Cubs ace should be making more money.

    Now I'm not suggesting that Weaver is going to be as good as or better than Prior. Nobody knows that at this point. However, based on his college and Team USA records, I think he has earned the right to a Prior-like contract.

    By the way, how much money do you think Weaver would be getting if he were a free agent like Eric Milton, Derek Lowe, or any number of starters who are being gobbled up at $7.5-$9 million/season for three or more years rather than having to negotiate with the Angels only? I think it is high time that general manager Bill Stonewall step up to the plate and make an offer that approaches the contract that Prior got from the Cubs. Period. End of story.

    [Additional reader comments and retorts at Baseball Primer.]

    Baseball BeatJanuary 08, 2005
    Looks Like We Made It
    By Rich Lederer

    Brian Gunn notified me via email late last night that the Jim Edmonds article we co-authored in August (The Most Under-Over Underrated Player in Baseball) was named as one of the top ten sports columns in 2004 by The Daily Fix of The Wall Street Journal.

    Carl Bialik and Jason Fry wrote the following introduction in The Fixers Make Their Picks For The Best Columns of 2004:

    Your average Daily Fix contains a dozen links to columns we liked, which over a year adds up to some 3,000 sports stories that we thought were worthy of a look.

    But some columns stuck with us weeks and even months after we sent you their way. As the year wound down, we decided to try something new: putting our heads together and picking the 10 we found most memorable.

    Enjoy our first-ever Fix Picks for the year's best sports columns, presented in alphabetical order.

    The other honorees included Thomas Boswell of the Washington Post, Tommy Craggs of the San Francisco Weekly, Jeff Jacobs of the Hartford Courant, Bruce Jenkins and Gwen Knapp of the San Francisco Chronicle, James Lawton of The Independent (U.K.), Steve Politi of the Newark Star-Ledger, Joe Posnanski of the Kansas City Star, and Bill Simmons of ESPN.com. Eight of the ten articles appeared in the print media and ours was the only one that appeared on a blog.

  • Brian Gunn and Richard Lederer, Redbird Nation

    Take a knowledgeable, rational, literary fan. Add a great season for the fan's chosen team, with sympathetic players sparking a run to the World Series. Stir in the wonders of blogs, whose cheap, easy publishing software makes anyone an Internet commentator. The happy result for baseball fans this year was Mr. Gunn's Redbird Nation, a site about the St. Louis Cardinals and their loyal supporters.

    Our favorite post from our favorite baseball blog, included in the Aug. 12 Fix, profiled Cardinals centerfielder Jim Edmonds. Unbound by the confines of a newspaper column, Messrs. Gunn and Lederer mixed links, stats, biography and colorful observations like this one: "Put Jim Edmonds in a batter's box and he's transformed. Gone are the heavy eyelids and the cavalier attitude, and they're replaced with something else altogether -- a series of rituals, neuroses, and tics. He grimaces, jabbers with umpires and catchers, steps out to do calisthenics or pace around or talk to himself."

    Alas, Mr. Gunn retired after the season. We wish him well, and hope his writing resurfaces.

  • Brian and I enjoyed collaborating on the Edmonds article, and we are most appreciative of the recognition our work has received. Despite Brian's "retirement," we are hopeful of producing another jointly written column in the near future.

    In the meantime, you can read the Edmonds piece and dozens of other articles written by Brian in A Redbird Nation Reader, a 248-page, must-own book for all Cardinal fans.

    WTNYJanuary 07, 2005
    Wanting More
    By Bryan Smith

    I didn't present formal awards at WTNY this year, a practice I may get into next year. I can tell you that this year, Baseball America got the Player of the Year right in Jeff Francis. Jason Kubel would get my award for breakout of the year, and Huston Street for "Rookie" of the Year. But rather than spend time analyzing more and more successes, I want to talk about two of the unfortunate award winners: the Disappointments of the Year.

    This award has two separate categories, one for hitters and another for pitchers. One's chance to win this award correlates perfectly with the amount of hype they receive, so a B.J. Upton flameout would have drawn a lot more consideration than Alberto Callaspo would have received. I did not penalize players that were injured, eliminating the likes of J.J. Hardy and Greg Miller. So when looking at my 2004 rankings, I have come away with my two winners of this award: Jeff Mathis of the Anaheim Angels and Adam Wainwright of the St. Louis Cardinals.

    Before the season, Mathis and Wainwright ranked on my list twelfth and 28th respectively. The former came after a season in which Mathis had an .884 OPS in 98 California League games, followed by an OPS over .800 in the Texas League to finish out the year. This led me to say that Mathis had "much more raw power than Mauer," which after considering Joe's debut, was blatantly false. This mis-read on my part is a combination of disbelief that Mauer would develop the power that scouts promised, and a real inablity to use the effects of the ballpark in my statistic evaluations.

    This year, Mathis fell apart in his long haul in the Texas League. While Mauer was destroying the Majors prior to his injury, Mathis (as seen on Baseball America), fell apart after May. Prospect evaluators keep saying to believe in Mathis, though he has fallen fast in catcher rankings, behind Barton, McCann, Navarro, and to some, even Chris Snyder. His catching skills behind the plate will never be more than average, and I'm not sure anymore if he'll be able to overcome "gap power". By now, at least some of those doubles should be going over the fence.

    As for Wainwright, the writing for his downfall was in the clouds. Kudos to the Braves front office, a favorite in my book, for correctly reading the futures of both Wainwright and Bubba Nelson within the last year. Sure, this organization might make its mistakes (Odalis Perez, Merkin Valdez, Jason Schmidt), but more often than not, John Scheurholz is getting the better end of a deal. I csn tell you this for sure: I would be a lot more afraid to trade with him than Billy Beane, as some have hypothesized GMs are. But with Wainwright, it didn't take a genius, as his K/9 took a stark drop in the 2003 season.

    Not only that, but Wainwright was far and away the worst picher when joining Team USA after last season, showing a bit of wear on his power arm. It was that arm, or the pitches it could produce, that kept Wainwright in my top 30. My negligence for forecasting his bad season is actually pretty embarassing a year later. But his curveball, and mid-90s fastball came highly touted, though I was probably reading a lot more 2002 reports than not. My prediction of him being in the Majors by the All-Star Game...oops.

    Looking forward to next season, both of these players will be sent back to their 2004 destinations. Jeff Mathis should start the season getting put in the DH spot a little more than he did last season, to avoid the late season drop-off. With any success, I would move him to the even more hitter-friendly Salt Lake destination, which should give him a little boost of confidence. I think he still has more offensive potential than Ben Molina, though I'm not sure it's enough to justify benching the defensive specialist. Or, since he's already come up once this week, he could just be another Sal Fasano.

    Baseball BeatJanuary 06, 2005
    Fight On
    By Rich Lederer

    While I was in Miami rooting my USC Trojans on to victory in the National Championship game in the Orange Bowl at Pro Player Stadium (the Orange Bowl at Pro Player Stadium -- is that like the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim?) -- Wade Boggs and Ryne Sandberg were elected by the Baseball Writers Association of America to the Hall of Fame.

    Boggs received 91.9% of the vote (exeeding my over/under line of 88%), the third-highest total in the past ten years. Interestingly, George Brett (98.2%) and Mike Schmidt (96.5%) were the only two inductees who gained a larger percentage of the vote.

    Maybe third basemen are finally getting their due -- let's not forget that Sandberg even began his major-league career at the hot corner -- but I won't go that far until Ron Santo gets his day in Cooperstown. The Veterans Committee can make that a reality on March 2 when they announce their selections, if any. Santo had the support of 46 voters two years ago, 15 short of the necessary total.

    Sending Sandberg and Santo into the HOF together would not only do wonders for the travel business between Chicago and New York in late July, but it would go a long way toward rectifying two wrongs as Ryno should have been a first-ballot pick and the player without a nickname should have been selected by the BBWAA years ago.

    Speaking of Cubbies, relief pitcher Bruce Sutter finished third in the voting (66.7%) and two of the other three players named on more than half the ballots were reliever Rich Gossage (55.2%) and outfielder Andre Dawson (52.3%).

    Although I'm not one to think of the Goose on the Cubs (Chicago, maybe; but more on the South Side than the North), Sutter won the Cy Young and Dawson the MVP while calling Wrigley Field their home. Of the three, I'm actually the most partial to Gossage -- and not just because we share the same birthday.

    Gossage threw 1809 innings whereas Sutter tossed 1042. That, my friends, is a difference of 767 innings. In other words, Gossage got 74% more batters out during his career than Sutter. C'mon now, guys, if you're going to consider enshrining pitchers with 1000 innings, then what about Dan Quisenberry?

                        IP       SV      ERA      ERA+
    Sutter            1042      300     2.83      136
    Quisenberry       1043      244     2.76      146

    Quiz had five seasons in which he pitched 128 or more innings, which is about 50 more than the average of today's top closers. He finished in the top three in the Cy Young voting for four consecutive years (1982-1985). I'm not suggesting that Quisenberry was Sutter's equal at their respective peaks, but I find it hard to believe that the latter is getting such respect when his A.L. counterpart got less than 5% of the vote his first and only year on the ballot.

    When reviewing the qualifications of relief pitchers, let's not forget the number of innings pitched, OK? Just as volume x profit margin = total profits, it's number of innings x runs not allowed (vs. the league average) = runs saved. If we don't begin to make a distinction in the number of innings pitched (as well as the quality), they're going to have to order a bus to transport the potential onslaught of relievers to upstate New York in the future.

    WTNYJanuary 05, 2005
    Dodger Dioner Detailed
    By Bryan Smith

    One inevitable piece of ranking prospects is the "Honorable Mention" group, the players you simply couldn't find room for in your rankings. This year, with the new responsibility of ranking 75 prospects, I have allowed myself 15 in the honorable mention category. These players will come after my top 75 is revealed, but since one of them has been in the news of late, I thought it would be a good time to talk about him.

    In this year's rankings, I will balance the rankings with detailed reports on some players, and the usual, more concise reports on others. The detailed reports allow me to contribute bits and pieces I found through the game-by-game logs at Sports Network, which provides most minor league teams with the statistics available on their site. The problem with this, is that TSN is hardly perfect, oftentimes leaving the game-by-game data, and season-ending stats conflicting. But nonetheless, I'm never off by too much, and my findings are far too interesting to keep to myself.

    Today, to both prep you for my upcoming rankings, and give you some insight on how they will look, I'll present a detailed report on Dioner Navarro. His world has likely been spun upside-down in the last few days, when he went from being a Yankee, to a Diamondback, to finally a Los Angeles Dodger. I'll say that I think Navarro will have a nice season in the hitter-friendly stadium in Las Vegas, prompting many to call for his arrival in Hollywood. But, there is a definite possibility that Mike Rose will out-hit Navarro in the Majors, and Russ Martin do the same in the minors.

    But that's enough babbling on about Navarro, of whom I present my first detailed prospect report:

    Dioner Navarro- C- Los Angeles Dodgers- 21

    Pardon me while I scoff at the Yankees for a second. Excuse me for gloating Yankee fans, but I don't get to do this very often. I found the handling of Navarro, who prior to the 2004 season was universally regarded as their top prospect, laughable. It's hard to blame a player's performance on upper management decisions, and I'm not doing that here, but any choice that could slow the development of such a talented player is ludicrous. There is a reason this farm system has been in the dumps for the past few years, and blaming it on their trades is not sufficient.

    What am I talking about? First let me begin in Columbus of the International League (AAA), where Navarro was on the roster from June 28 until late August. During his two month stay with the Clippers, the eventual first-place club played 65 games. My beef with his handling stems from the fact that Navarro played only forty games in AAA, getting 136 at-bats when he could have had up to 221. Instead, Navarro's playing time sometimes dwindled to every other day, preventing a rhythm that was surely somewhat behind his great outburst in AA a year ago. But hey, the 33-year-old catcher Sal Fasano needed time to boost the .701 OPS he had last year, or maybe try to make it to the Majors somewhere, since his career .215/.300/.390 line won't be one to show the grandkids in years to come). Anything to preserve that all-important International League West Division Title I guess, one that they won by a 13-game margin I should mention.

    Navarro is an extremely streaky player, which as I said, is my main problem with the 'every other day' philosopohy. Sure, it didn't prevent him from a 14-game hitting streak that spanned from July 31-August 19 (three weeks for a two-week hitting streak). Still, the more reps the better return, which is an important aspect for any Yankee prospect. Navarro was streaky all season, pretty much alternating good weeks with bad ones. An average that stood at .319 on April 26 was down to .267 by the end of the month, then back to .298 by May 11 and down to .255 a week later. But then began a different streak, a solid one, in which he hit in 17 of 20 games (including 12 in a row), collecting 28 hits in 83 at-bats, and enough for a .458 slugging. That's the best you're gonna get from this kid let me tell ya.

    And that's my other problem with the Yanks and Dioner (not the power, we'll get to that in a minute), which is the timing of his promotion. When the aforementioned streak ended on June 7, Navarro was hitting .292. Why not promote him then? Or wait ten days, when his average would still be as high as .290. But no, the Yanks wait to the pull the trigger a bit too long, immediately promoting him after a streak in which he had all of five hits in 34 at-bats, and saw his average slip to .271. Whether that explains why he began his AAA career at 4/31 I'm not sure, but it probably didn't help. Simple negligence.

    As a player, Navarro holds two major weaknesses: work ethic and power. The former idea was conceived when Navarro reported to Spring Training a little chubbier than how he finished it, which is one explanation for why his defense slipped a bit this season. I like to believe this problem will come with maturity, since age (he turns 21 in February) is one thing on Dioner's side (that and great contact skills). As for power, I'm just not so sure here. His highest monthly AA ISO was .101, and he was no lower than .097. This is roughly indicative of what Navarro should be able to offer in the Bigs, especially considering Dodger Stadium. Even Sal Fasano could top that.

    Baseball BeatJanuary 04, 2005
    Abstracts From The Abstracts
    By Rich Lederer

    Part Twelve: 1988 Baseball Abstract

    Bill James wrote the twelfth and final edition of the Baseball Abstract in 1988. Citing workload-related burnout, James made a "gut-wrenching decision" to stop producing the "world champion bestseller of baseball" that year. In describing baseball in the late 1980s, the back cover of the green and gold book proclaims: "These are the best of times and the worst of times." Well, for James' fans, it was the latter.

    I was shocked when I learned that the Baseball Abstract was no longer to be. I mean, how could someone take away what had become a rite of spring? For me, awaiting the arrival of the Baseball Abstract each year had replaced the anxiety of looking forward to the new APBA cards during the 1960s and 1970s.

    I figured we hadn't heard the last of ol' Bill but wondered if we would ever read his work in this type of format again. Oh, there were more Bill James works to come -- the Baseball Books of 1990-1992, the Player Ratings Books of 1993-1996, and the hardcover books about baseball history -- but never has there been another Baseball Abstract as we once knew.

    James dedicates "my last Baseball Abstract" to his fellow table-game (Ballpark) league members from the 1970s.

    As you reach the end of things, you look back to the beginnings. It was during this period, in trying to win that league, that I became obsessed with how an offense works and why it doesn't work sometimes, with how you could evaluate a trade and understand whether you had won or lost, with finding what information you would need to have to simulate baseball in a more accurate way. I had thought about these things before, of course, but to win that damn little league I had to know. That focused my interest in the game onto analytical questions; and then there was an economic accident, and there I was on the bestseller list.

    James once again acknowledges Susie McCarthy, "the best wife in the world. Yes, it's true; the computerized rankings were just released on Tuesday by WWRS (World Wife-Rating Service), and Susie is ranked first again. . .Among husbands, by the way, I rated 912,474,384th, between a Yugoslavian alcoholic and a Jamaican guy who's been dead for several years." He mentions several others, including his agent, editor, Dan Okrent, Dallas Adams, Walt Campbell, Pete Palmer, John Dewan, and Don Zminda. "For all you do. This book's for you."

    James writes several essays in the first section of the book. He discusses the best players of the day in "Rain Delay" in a conversational format reminiscent of Abbott & Costello's famous "Who's on First?" comedy routine. James opines that Wade Boggs is the best player in the game. He lists Tim Raines, Ozzie Smith, Don Mattingly, and Tony Gwynn two through five. Roger Clemens is the only pitcher in the top ten.

    In "Platooning," James wonders why "we know almost nothing about it" even though "it is an old strategy, dating back at least to 1906." He studies the data from 1984-86 and concludes that the platoon differential is not only real but "a condition of the game, shared by everybody" rather than "a weakness peculiar to some players."

    Owing to baseball's decision to reduce the size of the strike zone in theory while making it larger in practice by instructing the umpires to uniformly enforce the new rules, James predicts in "The New Strike Zone" that "runs scored are going to be down this year -- and attendance will be down right with them."

    In the history of baseball, whenever runs scored go down, attendance goes down. When runs scored go up, attendance goes up.

    A check of the records shows that runs scored declined by more than 12% in 1988 but attendance actually increased by nearly 2%. In 1963 -- the last time the strike zone was enlarged -- runs scored dropped approximately 11% while attendance fell by 4%.

    In "Game Scores," James introduces his annual fun stat, "a kind of garbage stat that I present not because it helps us understand anything in particular but because it is fun to play around with." The purpose was to create a way to evaluate pitching performances on a scale of zero to a hundred, starting with 50 and adding one point for every hitter the pitcher retires, two points for each inning the pitcher completes after the fourth inning, one one point for each strikeout; then subtracting one point for each walk, two points for each hit, four points for each earned run, and two points for an unearned run.

    James also discusses a couple of spinoffs -- "Cheap Wins" (any game in which a starting pitcher is credited with a victory despite a game score below 50) and "Tough Losses" (any game in which a starting pitcher is charged with a defeat despite a game score of 50 or better), which he details more thoroughly later in an article named after these two concepts. "The unluckiest pitcher, by far, was Nolan Ryan. Ryan was credited with no cheap wins. He was charged with 11 tough losses. . .Ryan's record was 8-16; had he been credited with a win every time he pitched well and got a decision, and been charged with a defeat whenever he pitched poorly and had a decision, his record would have been 19-5."

    * * * * * * *

    In the Team Comments in Section II, James writes a companion piece to the Minnesota Twins review called "The Gap" in which he discusses the need for front-line talent when it comes to the postseason. "I've been trying to tell people every World Series time for ten years that in a short, crucial series, depth don't count."

    James leads off the Kansas City Royals segment by announcing, "It is dangerous for a baseball team to have too many players with the same weakness, no matter what the weakness. . .So in building a ballclub, you have to be aware of the weaknesses of your stalwart players, and avoid duplicating those weaknesses among the replaceable players."

    The fan in James emerges in "The Hobby", a three-page article that sympathizes with Bo Jackson and his desire to play professional baseball and football. He takes manager Billy Gardner to task for his handling of Jackson as well as Bret Saberhagen, the latter in a piece entitled "The Kansas City Managers." Saberhagen had won the Cy Young Award in 1985 and had 15 wins (including five complete games in which he had given up only two or three hits) at the All-Star break in 1987.

    The problem is, Saberhagen was pitching too much. Now, I don't mean that pitching 161 innings in a half-season is necessarily destructive. Working in a four-man rotation, seven innings a start and occasionally eight or nine, for some pitchers, might be all right. The critical factor isn't the number of innings pitched, but the number of innings pitched when tired [my emphasis, not Bill's].

    James lists Saberhagen's innings pitched for his first 18 starts (9, 8, 8, 9, 8, 9, 7, 9, 9, 5, 9, 9, 9, 7 2/3, 9, 9, 7, and 9). "In the game that he pitched 7 2/3 he threw 142 pitches. What makes this so irritating, in retrospect, is that it was so unnecessary. Those games include wins by the scored (sic) of 13-1, 10-2, 6-1, 4-0, 4-1, 6-1, 10-5, 6-0, and 10-3. In Saberhagen's first 16 starts the Royals outscored the opposition 99 to 35. In game after game, the risks involved in letting somebody else finish up would have been minimal; the worst reliever in baseball couldn't have lost more than a couple of those games."

    Not surprisingly, Saberhagen "wasn't the same pitcher" in the second half of the year. Sabes went on to win his second Cy Young in 1989, but it turned out to be the last time he pitched as many as 200 innings in a season. Although Saberhagen was an effective pitcher the rest of his career (75-56, 3.47 ERA, 4:1 K/BB ratio), he never approached the supremacy he reached in 1985, 1987, and 1989 when he was 21, 23, and 25 years old, respectively.

    James compares his days in the military when "generals were in the habit of thinking of manpower as a free resource" to the Seattle Mariners, who "treat talent as if it were a free resource." At the time, the Mariners had a streak of 11 consecutive losing seasons -- the longest since the Kansas City A's run of ineptitude ended in 1967 -- and it was James' belief that it was "due to the organization's failure to perceive a simple reality: that young men who can play baseball are precious to baseball teams. You shouldn't give one away unless you also acquire one." By the way, it took Seattle four more years before it had its first winning season (out of 15) in 1991.

    "As a sports fan you hear a lot about momentum. As a scientist you'll have a hell of a time proving that any such animal exists," James writes in "Momentum, Ad Nauseum." By studying the issue, he concludes "that which is called momentum in baseball is not a characteristic of play but a characteristic of the perception of play." He calls momentum "one of those superficial concepts that is hard to resist if you don't think it through" and says "the illusion of momentum will in time, I think, be overpowered by its own absurdities."

    James, in a study regarding lineup construction, reports that the number of runs scored was the highest in the first inning ("the only inning in which you get to decide who will hit"), the lowest in the second inning ("when the bottom of the order comes up"), and almost the same in innings three through seven.

    What was surprising, however, was this: If you took the first two innings and added them together, the average was not up from the standard for innings three through seven. It was down. What does that mean? By setting the lineup for the first inning, managers are exercising a degree of effective determination over not one but two innings, the first and the second. They accept the cost of a poor second inning in order to get the benefit of a strong first inning -- and they lose on the deal! They wind up scoring fewer runs than if they just started the lineup at a random point.

    The implication is that lineups are not constructed properly. "The largest determination of how many runs are likely to be scored in an inning is whether or not the lead-off man reaches base. If the lead-off man reaches base, the number of runs that will probably be scored in an inning is about three times as high as if the lead-off man is put out. . .The one player who is least likely to lead off the second inning is the number-three hitter. . .Thus, the one player who is most likely to start a successful inning and the one player who is least likely to start the second inning are the same player.

    "Further, the traditional baseball thinking puts in the fifth spot the slow-moving slugger with the low on-base percentage. . .Think about it. Who leads off the second inning most often? The first inning ends 1-2-3 a little less than 30 percent of the time. The most common lead-off man for the second inning is the fifth hitter -- the one player in all the lineup least suited to be a lead-off hitter!"

    James wonders if it wouldn't make more sense to put the player with the high on-base percentage in the fourth spot and the one with the low on-base percentage in the third spot. What do you know? Maybe Felipe Alou gets it after all. Although I would prefer to see Barry Bonds bat first or second, it follows why Alou would bat him fourth rather than the more traditional third slot for such a hitter. The only disadvantage in sliding a player down in the lineup is the loss of approximately 18 plate appearances per spot/season.

    In the St. Louis Cardinals segment, James writes about the advantages and disadvantages of the running game. He doesn't buy into the incidental benefits generally but does in the case of the 1987 Redbirds.

    The stolen base, it is argued, puts pressure on the pitcher, breaks up the infield, and takes the double play out of order. While all of these benefits are real, it is my belief that in general, in the normal case, the hidden benefits of the stolen base are canceled out (sometimes more than canceled out) by hidden costs of the running game. The running game can create a balk, and it can create an error on the pitcher; it can also lead to a runner being picked off first base without being charged with a caught stealing, a hidden cost which doesn't show up in the box score. The running game can distract the pitcher; it can also distract the hitter. Hitters who take pitches to allow the runner to steal often find themselves behind in the count, and for that reason the aggregate batting average of all hitters following a stolen base attempt is awful. The stolen base attempt can break up the infield and allow a hit to get through, but if the runner just stays on first base he'll add 30 points to the batting average of a left-handed hitter by forcing the first baseman to stay close to the bag. If you steal second you give those 30 points back. In general, it's a wash; the negatives and positives balance out.

    James explains that first-run strategies are well understood when it comes to the sacrifice bunt but not when applied to a stolen base attempt.

    If a batter attempts to steal second and is successful, he increases his own chance of scoring a run, but does almost nothing to increase the chance that any other player will score. If he attempts to steal and is thrown out, however, this decreases not only his own chance of scoring but that of every player who will bat in the inning. There is a big, big difference in your chance of scoring a run if you reach first base with no one out or if you reach with one out.

    So the runner, in attempting to steal, is doing something to decrease the other players' chance of scoring, and nothing to increase it. Thus the effect of the stolen base attempt, like the sacrifice bunt, is to increase the chance of scoring one run, but to decrease the chance of scoring several runs in an inning.

    James develops his idea further by stating that "not all runs in a baseball game are equal. The first few runs that you score are crucial. After five runs, each run is, as economists say, of diminishing utility, meaning that it will have less probable impact on the win column. . .One of the possibly legitimate arguments for the running game, then, is that it tends to rearrange runs into more productive groups."

    In the case of the Cardinals, James reports that they were only eighth in the majors in runs scored, yet scored less than three runs fewer times than any other team. He says the Cardinals were 15-9 when they scored just three runs whereas most teams lose almost two-thirds of such games.

    In "Management," James reduces a manager's job "into three levels of responsibility" -- (1) game-level decision making, (2) team-level decision making, and (3) personnel management and instruction. James praises Whitey Herzog as a successful manager who "makes decisions on all three levels at the same time." He proceeds to list "some very fundamental premises of Herzog's managing which receive very little attention" such as:

  • Never have anybody on your roster that you won't use. If you lose confidence in a player but keep him on the roster, you're making the roster smaller.

  • When a player loses his aggressiveness he loses his value.

  • If a player doesn't want to do the job that you need him to do, get rid of him.

  • Everybody has to play defense. If a player can't play defense it's hard to find an offensive role for him either.

    Nonetheless, James correctly predicts that Whitey is "reaching the end of his effectiveness in St. Louis" despite the fact that the Cardinals were the defending National League champions and a World Series participant in three of the previous six seasons. "I suspect that Whitey Herzog may have managed his last championship team in St. Louis." The White Rat resigned 2 1/2 years later, having gone 195-209 (.483) in that interim period.

    James questions Frank Cashen in the New York Mets comments about the need for players to spend at least one full year in Triple-A. "My theory is that once a player has proven that he can play AAA ball, every extra game that he plays in the minors will make his career less than it would otherwise have been."

    James mentions Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Sandy Koufax, Dwight Gooden, Babe Ruth, Robin Yount, Kirby Puckett, Tony Gwynn, Reggie Jackson, Pete Rose, Andre Dawson, and Ozzie Smith as players who didn't spend a full year at AAA. "The position that every player has to play a full season of AAA ball is, I think, intellectually indefensible. The vast majority of the greatest players in baseball history played fewer than 300 games of minor-league ball."

    Speaking of Dawson, James ridicules his selection as the National League's Most Valuable Player in 1987. "There are occasions in your professional life that make you think you're not making any progress. The election of Andre Dawson as the National League's MVP is one of mine." He states that Dawson "couldn't have been one of the thirty best players" in the league, listing 20 players who created more runs per out "without adjusting for illlusions of context." James points out that "Dawson's statistics were tremendously inflated by playing in Wrigley Field" (.332 with 27 HR vs. .246 and 22 HR on the road).

    So why did he win the MVP Award? I know what some people will say. It wasn't Dawson's statistics, it was his leadership and his throwing arm. People will say that, but you know it isn't. You don't give him an MVP for "leadership" on a last-place team. Half the time, the MVP Award goes to the league leader in RBI. That's not leadership; that's statistics. And if they really understood his statistics, they wouldn't have done it.

    In "SQ, IQ" James reviews speed quotient -- a concept he introduced the year before -- and unveils intelligence quotient as "another characteristic of a player that is useful both on offense and on defense." He identifies five characteristics of an intelligent baseball player: (1) the tendency not to make errors, (2) command of the strike zone, (3) effective baserunning relative to speed, (4) consistency, and (5) growth.

    Although speed scores "can be independently verified by watching players run. . .I can't say that somebody is stupid unless I can support it." James mentions Luis Salazar and Alfredo Griffin as players who have low intelligence scores even though the latter "is not regarded by those who know him as stupid, not at all." James suggests that Griffin "may be smart, but he doesn't play smart." He believes Ozzie Smith would be the highest-rated player, followed by Raines, Carlton Fisk, Mike Schmidt, Gwynn, Keith Hernandez, Phil Bradley, Brian Downing, Mattingly, Eddie Murray, and Ryne Sandberg.

    * * * * * * *

    The centerpiece of the final Baseball Abstract are the comments in the San Diego team segment that have become known within the sabermetric community as A Bill James Primer.

    Of all the studies I have done over the last twelve years, what have I learned? What is the relevance of sabermetric knowledge to the decision-making process of a team? If I were employed by a major-league team, what are the basic things that I know from the research I have done which would be of use to me in helping that team?

    1. Minor-league batting statistics will predict major league batting performance with essentially the same reliability as previous major-league statistics.

    2. Talent in baseball is not normally distributed. It is a pyramid. For every player who is 10 percent above than the average player, there are probably 20 players who are 10 pecent below average.

    3. What a player hits in one ballpark may be radically different from what he would hit in another.

    4. Ballplayers, as a group, reach their peak value much earlier and decline much more rapidly than people believe.

    5. Players taken in the June draft coming out of college (or with at least two years of college) perform dramatically better than players drafted out of high school.

    6. The chance of getting a good player with a high draft pick is substantial enough that is clearly a disastrous strategy to give up a first-round draft pick to sign a player like Rick Dempsey, Pete Falcone, or Bill Stein.

    7. A power pitcher has a dramatically higher expectation for future wins than does a finesse pitcher of the same age and ability.

    8. Single-season won-lost records have almost no value as an indicator of a pitcher's contribution to a team.

    9. The largest variable determining how many runs a team will score is how many times they get their leadoff man on.

    10. Any one of the following:

  • A great deal of what is perceived as being pitching is in fact defense.

  • True shortages of talent almost never occur at the left end of the defensive spectrum.

  • Rightward shifts along the defensive spectrum almost never work.

  • Our idea of what makes a team good on artificial turf is not supported by any research.

  • When a team improves sharply one season, they will almost always decline in the next.

  • The platoon differential is real and virtually universal.
  • Feel free to clip and save this Primer. It's James at his best.

    * * * * * * *

    In Section III, James subjectively rates the players and separates the rankings and comments for the first time. Rather than providing brief comments on every starter like in years past, he chooses to focus on 63 players but spends at least one full column on each of them. James also adds a new feature ("in a word") to describe each player.

    George Bell, slugger. Wade Boggs, offense. George Brett, ballplayer. Gary Carter, fading. Will Clark, aggressive. Roger Clemens, excellence. Eric Davis, dynamite. Darrell Evans, efficient. Carlton Fisk, forty. Kirk Gibson, intense. Dwight Gooden, recovering. Tony Gwynn, golden. Rickey Henderson, electric. Keith Hernandez, dependability. Don Mattingly, hitter. Mark McGwire, powerful. Jack Morris, ace. Dale Murphy, Cooperstown. Eddie Murray, consistent. Kirby Puckett, adorable. Tim Raines, brilliant. Cal Ripken, regular. Ryne Sandberg, complete. Mike Schmidt, immortal. Darryl Strawberry, graceful. Ozzie Smith, wizard. Alan Trammell, homely. Lou Whitaker, anchor. Robin Yount, classy.

    In Section IV, James informs his readers that STATS (Sports Team Analysis & Tracking Systems), "a company run by some friends of mine (Dick Cramer and John Dewan), plans to collect a pitch-by-pitch, play-by-play database for every game played during the season." He distinguishes STATS from Project Scoresheet ("a not-for-profit group that collects scoresheets from every game for the benefit of its members") and states that he is no longer associated with the latter despite being its founder, "although I'll still do anything I can to help them too."

    At the moment, some of the directors of Project Scoresheet and STATS tend to see themselves as being competitors and are engaged in some stupid squabbling over absolutely nothing. There is no fundamental reason why both groups cannot succeed. . .My effort in this field has been to break the Elias monopoly, and to insure for the fans permanent access to the records of the games. I support both groups because I think we're better off with two independent sources for public access, rather than one; indeed, if there were a third credible effort I'd support that, too. But you've got to remember, guys, that Elias is still there and still wants desperately to deny everybody else access to the scoresheets. Nothing would make them happier than for you two to push each other over into insolvency. Watch your ass, OK?
    * * * * * * *

    James puts the finishing touches on the Baseball Abstracts in "Breakin' The Wand."

    Well, it's time for me to go. The Baseball Abstract has been good to me. Starting this project twelve years ago was a casual decision. . .In retrospect, it is fortunate that I had not the foggiest idea what I was up against. . .I had no idea how difficult it would be, once I had written the book, to turn it into a commercial product.

    . . .The first book was very far from being what I wanted it to be. I did the second book because I knew that I could do a better job than I had done on the first. In the first effort I had compiled data, but had not had the time -- or, indeed, the self-confidence -- to write about the material.

    . . .In the years 1977-1981 I produced the book every year out of my home. I wrote articles about teams and players, and typed them up and had them photocopied and stapled together, and we sold them. . .We never sold very many copies -- about 2,200 tops, I think -- but good things happened as a consequence of doing the book.

    James believes his work built a bridge between the mountains of traditional wisdom and statistics. "A statistician is concerned with what baseball statistics are. I had no concern with what baseball statistics are. . .I was concerned with what the statistics mean." His audience was not the public but an informed public. "I was aiming at the top of the pyramid. . .By assuming an intelligent audience, I developed a small audience, but an audience with which I had a wonderful relationship."

    Okrent wrote an article about James for Sports Illustrated in 1981 and several publishers expressed an interest in distributing the Abstract at that point. He signed with Ballantine Books and the first edition sold well. "The second edition sold better. The third edition sold better. This remains true; I don't think we've ever had a year when the sales didn't increase. It became the best-selling baseball book each season."

    After the book became successful, there was a period of years in which it was not rational for me even to consider whether I wanted to keep doing it. Having written the book for several years for almost no money, I couldn't walk away from it the minute it began to pay off. The process of writing this book is so exhausting that...every year since 1978, I have told Susie in the spring that this would be the last year of the Abstract.

    I made it to the end of this contract, and the time has come to consider whether or not I should sign another. I have decided not to.

    James discusses how the relationship with his readers changed over the years from a "virtual love fest" to one in which he was getting "more and more letters that irritate the living hell out of me. People have started assuming that I am a goddamn public utility or something. I get letters from people telling me that I do this well but that I shouldn't do that and I should do more of that and less of this and try some of the other. If they irritate me enough, I write back "Dear Jackass: I am not your employee. It is not my function to write about what you are interested in. I write about what I am interested in. If you want to read it, read it. If you don't, don't. But DON'T TELL ME WHAT TO WRITE ABOUT."

    James says that he only wrote about 30 such letters the last year but was concerned about how many more he would need to write in the future. "I think that whenever a writer finds that he is beginning to dislike his own readers, it's a very clear sign that he's heading down the wrong road."

    I've also got to say, guys, that having done this, I've now done all I can do. I can't help you any more. . .I leave the field to whoever is playing in it. Because four months a year of cyclical depression has gotten too much for me. Because I am no longer certain that the effects of my doing this kind of research are in the best interests of the average baseball fan. Because I wonder if anything I found now could have any real impact on the game. Because I have been repaid for my years of doing this book in anonymity, and no longer have any claim to go on drawing paychecks from it. Because while I have enjoyed doing this book, I have only one lifetime and many dreams. Because I have confidence that I will make a living one way or another. Because I feel that I am on a collision course with my own audience. Because I suspect that my leaving the field may be in the interests of sabermetrics.

    Because it is time to go, friends. I'm breakin' the wand, exit stage right. I hereby release any and all of my formulas, theories, and other systems of analysis to any other analyst who wishes to use them and to call them by name (runs created, value approximation method, etc.) either for private or economic use, even by Elias should they so desire. I'll be doing other things, writing other books. I won't be hard to find. I hope that some of you will enjoy those other books. I know that some of you won't, and that's all right, too. It's been good.

    Bill James
    Sabermetrician, Retired
    February 1988

    It's been good? Wow! What an understatement. Thanks for the Baseball Abstracts, Bill, and for all your wit and wisdom over the years.

    * * * * * * *

    Abstracts From The Abstracts:

    1977 Baseball Abstract
    1978 Baseball Abstract
    1979 Baseball Abstract
    1980 Baseball Abstract
    1981 Baseball Abstract
    1982 Baseball Abstract
    1983 Baseball Abstract
    1984 Baseball Abstract
    1985 Baseball Abstract
    1986 Baseball Abstract
    1987 Baseball Abstract

    [Additional reader comments and retorts at Baseball Primer.]

  • WTNYJanuary 03, 2005
    Back from Hibernation
    By Bryan Smith

    With the Dominican Winter League playoffs beginning yesterday, I figure now is as good a time as ever to check on the prospects of the DWL. The League consistently lands more premier players than any of the other winter leagues, with well over five players that will be in my top 75 prospects (read on for more info). I would highly suggest you read Baseball Prospectus' winter league translations when they come out, as they are always a valuable tool in putting these statistics in perspective.

    To help, using the statistics available at mlb.com, I calculated that the league average is .255, and the league ERA is 3.81. Looking at each team's average, I can tell you that the league OBP would likely be just above .320, and the SLG a hair above .380. So any player with an OPS very far above .700 is having a better-than-average season. For pitchers, I can tell you that the ERA is a good indicator of the prospect's season, and that his H/9 should be well over 9.00, though few K/9s are that high. Hopefully that will provide some guidance here.

    There are six teams in the DWL, and between them I found 20 players worth commenting on. If you want more info on the league, I suggest you head over to the MLB website.

    Aguilas Del Cibao

    Not a lot here, with Edwin Encarnacion the best prospect to speak of. The Reds third base prospect should have been insulted with the Austin Kearns hot corner expirament, as Dave O'Brien is not showing a lot of confidence in the solid if not spectacular Encarnacion. To remain politically correct, O'Brien said that he thinks Encarnacion is still raw, and needs at least another year in the minors. I wouldn't disagree with this, but I hardly think it necessitates Kearns moving. Instead, sign Joe Randa.

    On the other hand, maybe O'Brien is right about Encarnacion. After a less-than-stellar season in the Southern League, Edwin is hitting just .241/.310/.362 in 141 at-bats. These numbers aren't far below league average, but he needed a solid campaign to start changing the minds within the Cincinnati front office. I wouldn't be shocked, nor frown upon, if the Reds offer Encarnacion in a trade for a young starter, someone like Kip Wells. Both teams could do far worse.

    Speaking of the Bucs, on the same club is Leo Nunez, who the club just dealt in exchange for Benito Santiago. The last time I commented on Nunez was when I found him in my pack of Bowman cards, basically calling him a poor man's Juan Cruz. Nunez had a real solid season with Hickory this year, showing his Cruz impression with a solid peripherals minus the unsatisfactory HR ratio. He's a nice arm for the Royals to get for a 40-plus catcher, and his Winter League performance (1.98 ERA in 13.2 IP) is making Mr. Baird look like he made another solid acquisition.

    Let me stop now and point out that this season, Baird acquired three relatively intriguing players in Nunez, Denny Bautista and Justin Huber, in exchange for Jason Grimsley, Benito Santiago and Jose Bautista. He's doing something right.

    Azucareros Del Este

    Through December 20, this team had a 16-28 record, likely because their best hitter (Luis Terrero) only had an .811 OPS. Hanging right with Terrero was team star, Andy Marte of the Atlanta Braves. His .801 OPS is pretty solid, well above the league averages across the board. He continued to show the patience and power that makes him a top prospect, but still leaves us waiting for the huge numbers everyone is expecting. You have to wonder if they might not come at all, and Marte will just simply be somewhere between 'average' and 'solid', but I (like everyone else) have a hard time believing it.

    The Royal-Pirates connection is not done, as catcher Ronny Paulino played in the league for all of 66 at-bats. Paulino is one of the nine million players that were drafted from the Pirates (by the Royals) in the 2003 Rule 5 draft, but later returned. After a season better than Geovany Soto's, the Pirates added Paulino to the 40-man roster after the season. It's looking like a shaky decision now, after (I know sample-size) his winter league totals will finish with a .152/.233/.197 line. He's just another fringe catching prospect in an organization flush with them, and his recent numbers likely won't help getting noticed between J.R. House or Humberto Cota.

    Last but not least, we have the WTNY debut of another Royal, Ambiorix Burgos. The hard-throwing right-hander is picking up right where he left off in the Midwest League, with a 2.21 ERA, along with 11 hits and 24 strikeouts in 20.1 innings. Control is continuing to be the problem (and I don't even have his HR/9 numbers), with 14 so far this winter. Burgos has the chance to follow in the footsteps of Denny Bautista, but even Denny's control isn't quite this erratic.

    Gigantes Del Cibao

    To paraphrase, in a recent Sporting News, Jim Bowden expressed his surprisement to see the Brewers netting Nelson Cruz for Keith Ginter, whom he was also after. Cruz was just part of a winter of solid returns for Doug Melvin, who acquired Carlos Lee, Cruz, Jose Capellan, and Justin Lehr for Podsednik, Kolb and Ginter. After a real breakout season between the California and Texas Leagues, Cruz is continuing his success in the DWL. Through 75 at-bats, he's hitting .333/.390/.493, with continued struggles in the BB/K department (7/25). He has the chance to provide a lot of power in the outfield, and will likely battle Brad Nelson for a 2006 spot.

    Leones Del Escogido

    I was down in Florida for winter break and it was alarmingly cold, and while I don't know the weather in D.R., I can say with confidence that there is enough heat to go around in Escogido. With four flame-throwing prospects on the roster, the Lions undoubtedly provided a lot of fun baseball to watch this winter.

    Top dog on the list is Jose Capellan, who has probably been talked about as much as any prospect on this site. I'm not really sure why, other than I think I have a real good handle on the kid. The decision for him to pitch in winter ball is one I strongly disagree with (kudos to the Mariners for not letting Felix pitch), and he is showing a bit of wear. His 4.30 ERA is not alarming, but that combined with a subpar H/9 ratio has to at least raise some yellow flags. Two more not pitching so well are Jairo Garcia (6.28 in 14.1) and Merkin Valdez (4.87 in 20.1), though again, neither is pitching too poor.

    The surprising best pitcher on the team has been Ezequiel Astacio, another player I don't know has ever been talked about on this site. Coming over from Philadelphia, he did not look like the best player in the Billy Wagner deal, but Taylor Buchholz certainly opened up some doors. Now a competitor with Fernando Nieve for the system's best pitching prospect, Astacio is playing extremely well in the D.R. His 1.47 ERA out of the bullpen has been fantastic, though I would be a little higher on him if he had struck out more than 12 in his 18.1 innings.

    A few notes on hitters, though they didn't quite breed prospects here like they did on the mound. Wilson Betemit is officially not a prospect anymore, as his .209/.329/.358 line should justify. I guess that answers the Betemit v. Berroa debate, huh? Brian Myrow is showing why he had such loud supporters in New York, leading the D.R. in walks, and second in OBP. He needs to find a spot on some Major League bench. Finally, Kelly Shoppach is making the Red Sox happy they re-signed Jason Varitek, and angry they didn't already trade him. The no-longer-a-real-prospect just couldn't reach that .500 OPS barrier in 67 at-bats.

    Estrellas Del Oriente

    Moving from a team flush with pitching to one with hitting. Is there a better up the middle combo in the minors than Robinson Cano and Joel Guzman? I don't think so, which really makes me wish I had seen these two playing together this winter. Both re-affirmed their prospect status, though I can't say I'm too happy with Guzman's .412 OPS. Cano was great with a .788 OPS, making me wonder (again) just why Tony Womack got a two-year deal. Which is more insane, his or Eckstein's?

    Brendan Harris was once a favorite prospect of mine, one of those blue collar guys that you would love to see on an All-Star team some day, a nicer Jeff Kent. No more. His OPS was a shade over .600, and I really think the Nationals could have done worse than sign Vinny Castilla.

    Denny Bautista is another who shouldn't be pitching in winter ball, and because he is, seems to be laboring a bit. His 6.92 ERA seems a little high when looking at his numbers, though 33 hits in 26 innings is a disastrous total. I still am fairly high on Bautista, though I wonder if he might be a bit injury prone now. Maybe relief will be his calling card after all.

    Tigres Del Licey

    Another team flush with hitting. I'm not exactly how you fit both Erick Aybar and Hanley Ramirez onto one team, but they managed, presumably moving Aybar over to second where he belongs. In fact, I also think I have the right beat on Aybar, who only had a .336 SLG in his 125 winter league at-bats. I think Aybar was greatly helped by the California League, as Josh Barfield was before him, and will struggle mightily (as Alberto Callaspo did before him) in AA. Hanley was better, his average low at .252, but ISO high at .200.

    Felix Pie was the last member of the club, and I think I'm more right every day with calling him overrated. His .238 average was hardly helped by walks, and his ISO was just .137. He also only stole 4 bases, which is his sole calling card these days. That and good defense. Not even Tom Goodwin is a good comp anymore. Sad story.

    Official WTNY announcement: My Top 75 prospects list will be released on Friday, January 14. Individual player comments will go through the following week. The list is all but done, though I'm still plugging away on the comments. Stay patient for me guys.