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.

Comments

Does this mean Petit cracks the top 30? Or did I miss something?

"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), Dopiraks average slips to .285. Simply put, a .331 BABIP is not sustainable, thus making his .307 average a bit of a fluke."

Probably, but it depends upon how many line drives a player hits. A line drive has a far better chance of turning into a hit than any other type of batted ball, so a player that hits a lot of line drives will almost certainly have a higher BABIP. As a rough guide, expected BABIP is about .115 + LD% if I recall correctly, and while a .216 LD% is a very big ask, it's not totally impossible on a consistent basis. Hitting line drives is a skill, so you shouldn't automatically need to adjust his numbers to a league average BABIP either I don't think.

Magnificent list though!

I don't get why your just discounting Carlos Quentin's HBPs as being illegititmate to count for his OBP. I mean, obviously pitchers are pitching him inside and going a little too far, just like against a good hitter pitchers would go too far outside or low and walk them.

As for Hamels, I'm enthralled. I really think if he could just stay healthy he'd be a top 10 pitcher in this league-his stuff is absolutely nasty. I guess as the Phillies go, Floyd is more consistent, but I'm more impressed by the potential of Hamels. And how can you knock on a guy named Cole? As long as thats not for Nicole (my apologies to Kristin Benson), that just sounds like the name of a winner.

Regarding Carlos Quentin, basic math question: how do 43 HBP's account for only .030 in OBP? That implies well over 1000 plate appearances. What am I missing?

Todd, I normalized it for what a hitter in the Majors might do, if he's the kind that gets hit a lot. It's kind of proven that the same types are always atop the leaderboards, so I would expect Quentin to keep getting hit, just not at those levels.

And Sean, the reason I do that is because there is a correlation on level and HBPs. The lower the level, the more often players get hit by pitches. As you move up the ladder, it happens less and less. There's no way Quentin will get hit 43 times in the Majors...ever...guaranteed.

Bryan, another great article. BJ Upton also went on record praising Hamels and his changeup as his toughest minor league challenge. I don't remember where the original came from, but he mentions it in this BP article: http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=2955

Bryan, although Brian McCann bats left-handed, I remember someone (I think JC of Sabernomics) said that he actually throws right-handed. Doesn't that make him a right-handed catcher, albeit one that hits lefty?

Matt's right. It's Upton you're thinking of that was praising Hamels' change. (Unless Delmon also said the same thing somewhere else.)

Oh, I think you guys are right. I knew it was someone I trusted immensely...I'll change that.

And John, you're right, LD% weighs huge into BABIP, so there is a lot more data needed. I think that's more applicable for a doubles hitter like Brandon Moss than a power hitter like Dopirak though, my guess is he's more likely to take the average hit in 05.

Update on Honorable Mention prospect Elijah Dukes. He was arrested again, this time for allegedly grabbing his sister's throat and punching her.

In my eyes this doesn't drop his prospect ranking; everyone knew he had issues and this isn't likely to directly affect his development. He might lead the Milton Bradley lifestyle in the majors but he's still very talented.

http://www.sptimes.com/2005/01/19/Rays/Rays_hoping_to_avoid_.shtml

Not to add anything substantial to the comments or anything, but the Nats' Brian Schneider is also left-handed and caught more innings than Pierzynski last year.

Regarding your comments on Shin-Soo Choo and his numbers being inflated by the hitters' Texas League...His home ballpark, Wolf Stadium I think it's called, ranked 894 on BA's park factor chart, so that should do something to neutralize the fact that the Texas league is a hitter's league, right?

I'm not sure if it'd make a difference in this case Jon, but I don't trust BA's park factor numbers, I'd go with BPro's.

Duncan should be higher by the way.

Bryan--
"And John, you're right, LD% weighs huge into BABIP, so there is a lot more data needed. I think that's more applicable for a doubles hitter like Brandon Moss than a power hitter like Dopirak though, my guess is he's more likely to take the average hit in 05."

Maybe Dopirak's home runs are just very long line drive doubles that keep going over the wall with all his power? Yeh, I doubt it too. I agree then, I'd be surprised if his average didn't fall off, especially once he gets to see a better breaking ball at higher levels. Since he's not played higher than Low-A ball, I'm surprised he's this high on your list actually.

Hey Fabian, do you have a link to BPro's park factors? (and if they're more complicated than BAm's, a short explanation of how to read them?)

Brian: If you think Reed will only hit for a 250 to 270 average in the Majors, then you need to find a different job.

Hey Brian,

Regarding Brian McCann left handed bat, you forgot to mention that Montreal's Brian Schneider was a regular left-handed hitting catcher last year in the majors. Expos players are often forgotten but Schneider should've won the gold glove in 2004 and he should be recognize as one of the good catchers in the NL.

There is no way jeremy reed is going to hit less
than .290.He doesn't have the power but so what
Seattle is loaded with power.i don't see how he can be ranked that low in the rankings.He sorta
reminds me of Nomar Garciaparra.Except without the power.

Some math on Quentin, just to be devil's advocate:

538 PA
236 Hits+BB+HBP
= .438 OBP

Take the 43 HBP, say 10 is a more legit number. That leaves 33 other PA's that he did not get to swing the bat or look at 4 pitches out of the strike zone. Based on his BB percentage (roughly 9%), we can assume around 3 walks in those 33 AB's. Then add his approx. number of hits in 33 AB(.332 BA) which is roughly 11 hits.

So it's safe to assume that of the 43 AB's that Quentin was hit, these are more accurate projection numbers:
10 HBP
3 BB
11 Hits

Adjusting his OBP using these numbers would give you:
538 PA
217 Hits+BB+HBP
= .403 OBP

I guess I just helped Bryan's argument, though I wasn't really trying to.

Merkin wasn't included in the Sheffield trade (that deal sent O. Perez and B. Jordan to the Dodgers). He was included in the deal that brought Russ Ortiz to Atl.