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.

Comments

The remaining five:
Young, Hernandez, Miller, McPherson, Marte.
My guess is
1. Young
2. Hernandez
3. McPherson
4. Marte
5. Miller - go Tribe!

Bryan, great series of articles. Thanks for sharing the work.

you gave us a hint in the Kazmir review, so im gonna guess

1. Delmon
2. Felix
3. Miller
4. Marte
5. Niemann

fun list.. thanks for the great work!

Bryan has said he wont be rating the first year draftees tho Niemann is a pretty good one. So here's my take...

1. Hernandez
2. Young
3. Miller
4. McPherson
5. Marte

I'm surprised that Cain did not make the top 10, but I'd be as wary of his hairline fractured elbow as anybody who follows him.

Bryan,

could you shed some lights on Billingsley's "stuff"...? I've read that he added some velocity but the latest websites I read his FB sits at about 92-94mph, but he does have some real good secondary pitches. Do you think he will throw harder in the majors?

Thx-

Fun list so far Bryan, keep up the good work.
My own personal top 5 :
1. Hernandez (TINSTAAPP ... *pffft*)
2. Marte
3. Young
4. Miller
5. MacPherson

I have a very hard time considering Dallas McPherson a top 5, or even 10, prospect. The Adam Miller hype is also getting a bit out of control.

Yeah, no draftees this year, though I think Niemann is going to be special. Wilt, Billingsley's fastball is slower than Wood's, which created some hesitation in making that comp. But Chad apparently has a super curveball as well, so that bodes well for future success.

"Kazmir will not be an ace, I think that ceiling prediction is a bit high"

Why do you say this? 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.

Fabian-

What's there not to like about Adam Miller? His stats were staggering this year and he's done nothing but show improvement at each level. Combine that with his outstanding makeup and it seems easy to understand why he's being hyped.

Wilt, Bryan, Billingsley's fastball was sitting in the 93-96 MPH range by the time he reached Double A Jacksonville, and he was topping out at 98. I know Kerry Wood's fastball has reached higher velocities than than that, but does Wood's fastball "sit" in a range better than 93 to 96 MPH? I doubt it. I think I read somewhere that the "average" Kerry Wood fastball this year was 94 MPH.

Miller's 4 seamer reportedly touched 101 mph and sits at 97-98 easily. he throws a 94-96 mph hard sinker just like kevin brown did. add to that a 87 mph slider. he also has a changeup in development. purely stuff-wise you gotta love miller right now. I cant see anyone with better stuff in the minors than Hernandez.

Kazmir does sounds a lot similar to Dotel... There arent a lot of two-pitch starters who find consistent success in the majors.

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

As far as McPherson in the top 5, its rare to see a young prospect dominate in both AA and AAA in the same season. However, I dont think some scouts are as high on his swing as his numbers were. Still, its hard to see him fail after the Angels basically let Glaus walk to open up a spot for him.

I think McPherson fans are in for a pleasant surprise.

Great work, Bryan.

If Kazmir isn't the next Billy Wagner (a better physical comp than Dotel), I'm assuming Bryan means that Kazmir isn't really an ace in the same way that Kerry Wood isn't a true ace. (Although given Bryan's comments about Billingsley, that's probably not what he meant.) To my eyes Wood's insane K rate masks some problems, but he's still a damn good pitcher to have on your team. Either way, Kazmir still seems awfully young to get tied up about the fact he doesn't yet have a quality third pitch--given how great his other two pitches are.

And if we're going to start speculating about which players coming off arm injuries are better prospects than (still healthy) Kazmir, a you seriously hinting that Niemann would rank higher than Greg Miller or Cole Hamels?

I don't know enough about Adam Miller to comment, but I do know that velocity isn't everything. I've seen 101 mph Billy Koch get torched more than I'd care to remember.

It's interesting to note that #20 on Jeff Francis' PETCO comp is Joe Kennedy, the same Joe Kennedy who had a 3.66 ERA in 27 starts for Colorado. I really hope that in five years we're debating whether Harden or Kennedy is the best Canadian starter since Fergie.

Great job Bryan, very interesting reading.

I think Bryan's rankings are pretty much in-line with a lot of the BA editor's rankings as far as pitching goes.

1. Hernandez
2. Miller
3. Billingsley
4. Cain
5. jackson/kazmir

Velocity sure isnt everything but Miller's sinker has great movement and is ranked a plus plus pitch according to scouts. He also has a equal if not better slider than kazmir. So unlike Kazmir, Adam has 3 great pitches.

I like Billy Wagner as the near highest end ceiling for a guy like Kazmir if he can add a solid 5mph to his fastball and throws it with great control like Wagner does.

Still, I think Bryan's pitching rankings are very much in-lined with most other outlets.

If you're just comparing arsenal, Billingsley is a lot more similar to Kerry Wood than Kazmir. Both Wood and Billingsley throw a late breaking hammer curve. Kazmir's out pitch is a slider.

Anyone with a plus plus sinker should not give up 7 HR in 91 IP in a low A pitcher's park(947 index for 2003, the only year I could find).

BTW, does anyone know where you can find minor league GB/FB ratios?

I just want to know how Prince Fielder (280 pounds while only being about 5 10-11) had 11 steals last season.

Ive heard comparisons about billingsley as being ben sheets redux 2.0. Are those fairly accurate?

Jim
Maybe a 19-year-old making a few mistakes would give up 7 homers? Or maybe not. You're right. Miller is overrated. Forget about him.

nate--
i would not say that sheets is an accurate comp at all. his control bests Billingsley's, as does his curveball. he also was drafted out of college, which always throws off comparisons.

Miller maybe overrated, but apperantly more than half the scouts in the minor dont think so.

A lot of people forget Miller is one of the "break through" players who got better as the year went on (both stuff and stats-wise). After Miller moved up to Kinston (A+), he's only allowed 1 homer in 43 innings. Thats when his velocity and changeup took a leap and propelled him into the elite prospect status.

Pitching in Low A doesnt necessarily mean you're not prone to giving up homers. For instance, Kazmir gave up 6 homers in just 76 innings in low A.

"Kazmir will not be an ace, I think that ceiling prediction is a bit high, and hell be a perfect #2 or 3 under a soon-to-be-named Devil Ray ace."

I can't even begin to comment on the hilarity of this statement.

I dont think Bryan is down on Kazmir. Comparing hish highend ceiling to Wagner or Dotel is actually a compliment for Kazmir. Wagner has way better stuff than Kazmir and did nothing but dominate as a closer. Dotel has had a very low opponent BA for the most part of his career as a reliever.

Bryan, your dismissing Ben Sheets as a comp for Billingsley is another example of your ignoring "scouting" in favor of an obsession with stats. The fact is, Ben Sheets is whom scouts liken Billingsley to. All the time. From what I have read, scouts from various teams would sit in the stands at Billingsley's games in Jacksonville and joke to each other about what a coup it was for the Dodgers to get Ben Sheets to pitch for their Double A team. NOBODY but you has compared Billingsley to Kerry Wood. Physically, Sheets and Billingsley are practically clones of each other: neither is tall (unlike Wood), but both of them have squarish, strong-looking frames. Billingsley's repetoire now is basically Sheets' repetoire as a prospect. Of course Sheets' curve is better now. He is six years older than Billingsley. Sheets has been refining the curve since Billingsley was in junior high. In six years, how good will Billingsley's curve be? Probably about as good as Sheets' curve.

And there is another problem with your Wood comparison that comes straight out of your obsession with stats: Billingsley has far better control that Wood ever had. Billingsley has never walked many batters before this last season. Wood has walked batters in excesssive numbers every year at every level. Every scout who has ever assessed Wood has brought up his control issues. Do scouts do the same for Billingsley? No. Why? Because they don't consider him to have any such problems. In fact, according to Baseball America's "Tools Survey" in 2004, managers in the Florida State League named Billingsley as having the BEST CONTROL of any pitching prospect in the entire league. Look it up yourself. No doubt, you are laughing reading that. How could a pitcher who walked 49 batters in 92 innings in a given league be praised by the league's managers as having the best control in the league? Such a question would be a perfect illustration for scouts of why sabermetrics is flawed. The stats DON'T tell the story. You have to WATCH the players. The people who actually watched Billingsley in 2004 know that he walked a lot of batters not IN SPITE of great control, but BECAUSE of it. Billingsley consciously refuses to throw a pitch over the middle of the plate. He just won't do it. He aims the ball just OFF the plate, either outside or inside, and tries to get batters to chase unhittable pitches. When Billingsley is in luck and he has an umpire with a "Tom Glavine strike zone," he actually gets a lot of called strikes. When he gets an umpire who wants to see pitches over the middle of the plate, he walks guys. When the walks happen, Billingsley is not burned by them, because as long as he is tough to hit, the hitters who got the free passes don't come around to score.

Wow Richard, calm down. Billingsley may be as good as Ben Sheets in 6 years, but if he's "only" Kerry Wood, I think the Dodgers will grin and bare it. The attrition rate on young pitchers is pretty darn high - take a look at a "Top Prospects of 2002" list and see how many of the top pitchers flamed out. Some guys will make it, but it's hardly a sure thing.

Bryan, I liked your list very much. I wonder about the comparative rankings of Delmon Young and Daric Barton? True, they're not very similar physically. But in my eyes, Barton's hitting numbers were better than Delmon's this year given his incredible BB/K ratio and still high ISO. He plays an inferior defensive position now (as Beane has said they're moving him to first full-time), but if Young is already in right, he doesn't project to be a topline defender anyway. Interested on your thoughts.

When I saw Kazmir in the Mets farm system, his nastiest pitch was his 12-6 late breaking hard curve. He rarely threw it, and I suspect it was considered an injury risk. But, while the slider was sometimes inconsistent, and was really his third best pitch, it was still a plus pitch. Without the curve though, he probably does need a changeup, which still needed quite a bit of work.

I don't think there should be any concerns about his repretoire though. If there are any doubts there, they are about his durability and his makeup. The way the Mets limited his innings, I suspect they had doubts about his ability to maintain his velocity over 180+ IP, as well as his somewhat violent delivery.

I do think his ranking here is about right; the same concerns that caused Scott to fall out of the top 10 on draft day are to some degree still concerns. But, while a changeup would be nice, I believe he does already have three plus pitches, if he want's to use them.

And, didn't the Dodgers trade Pedro because they thought he was too small to be a starter?

But, if Scott can remain a starter, and keep throwing strikes, without a falloff in stuff or an arm injury, he may still have better than #2 potential.

In my opinion Cain could be higher, possibly 6 or 7.