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.

Comments

Appreciate the work on the article, nice read... Lester was a bold ranking, but I agree with you that he has breakout potential.

One thing, though: you have Val Majewski listed as 21, when I believe he's actually 23, turning 24 this summer. I'm guessing this would affect your appraisal of how much potential he has by quite a bit.

Matt, baseball cube shows Majewski's birth date as March 1984.

Hmm, yeah, but check him out anywhere else; ESPN, SI, Baseball Almanac, etc. all have his birthday listed as June 19, 1981. Baseball Cube could certainly be right, I have no idea, but it's something to look into. And so are the reports that he has a torn labrum, which is never good (apparently it doesn't need surgery, and since he's not a pitcher maybe it's not as terrible as it might seem).

Matt,
You're right about Val's age, I thought that all looked a bit sketchy, and Baseball Cube tends to be wrong a lot. I'll e-mail the guy there and tell them to fix that. His labrum shouldn't be much of an issue, maybe hurting his power this season while forcing a lot of DH time. Could be worse, and he still projects to be in the everyday lineup in 2006.

Baseball Cube is a great, great resource, but you've got to watch the details. Majewski is a college draft pick after 3 yrs at Rutgers, but the Cube has him playing at Rutgers at 17/18 and then going into the Balt minors at 18.

That doesn't make any sense. The Cube database must have mixed up this majewski with another one.

The 1981 DOB has him getting drafted from Rutgers at 21 which obviously makes a lot more sense.

Bryan, thanks for the commentary of how a labrum injury would affect an outfielder. I've mostly read about how it hinders a pitcher and his progress, but wasn't sure how much it would translate to a positional player, aside from when it was being discussed in regards to Sexson.

Enjoy the columns. With Denny Bautista, if he falters as a starting pitcher do you belive that the Royals, who can't seem to keep a starter healthy, would move him to the bullpen when he still has so much starter potential? Also, do his control issues make the move to reliever a good one? Thanks again for all the prospect info.

Another note on Jon Lester's age Bryan, I believe he just turned 21 and not 23 as you have listed. Overall though, great list.

Sergio Santos will not be going back to El Paso since the Diamondbacks' Double A Team will now be the Tennessee Smokies of the Southern League which has a neutral, slightly pitcher-friendly park.

Hey there! I'm a big Twins fan, I even have my own blog about them. Check it out if you're interested in that team at all.

Anyway... about Jesse Crain... It's true that the strikeout numbers went down but I don't think it will be a big deal. He throws with kind of a short arm motion, which can be hard for hitters to pick up. Crain throws pretty hard, around 94-96 in the games I saw him pitch. And he was throwing that fastball alot! When I saw his curve, it looked outstanding on the TV. It broke a ton and was still coming in there around 83-84 (I think). Having been a college pitcher for four years it really looked like he was just trying to keep it as simple as possible, and mainly stuck with the fastball. From what I saw he's most effective working high in the zone (with the heat) which will complement his curveball better when he throws it more (that will allow him to throw that hellacious curve for a called strike). The thing was it also looked like he was trying to spot that fast ball down in the zone at the knees. So maybe there's some differing opinions about what works best for Crain. BUT the bottomline is... it worked. In his 20IP he put up great numbers! I have to take exception to the fact that he's ranked as low as he is on this list. Many of these players will never even see 20 innings in the bigs, let alone perform as well as he did. Generally, I just want to say that, don't worry... next year the K's will be back up as he eases into the fact that his stuff is still filthy compared to other major league pitchers.

From what I saw last year I rank the Twins pitchers like this, as far as toughest to hit:

Joe Nathan
Johan Santana
Juan Rincon
Jesse Crain
Grant Balfour
fall off...
Kyle Lohse

Those are some pretty amazing K' machines right there. Lohse could be too if he'd just throw a strike on the first pitch or two. I wouldn't be surprised to the top 5 all have k/9 rates of 8.0+ next year. They all have really good stuff and enough control to use it (maybe except Lohse, we'll see in 2005).

"The only problem with this is that Casey doesnt 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 Im not sure."

This is a pretty funny statement and really shows your "iq" in regards to how you have thought out these players. Go check how many ab's Kotchman had in his call up before striking out and try commenting on his plate discipline. Kotchman is one of the very best hitting prospects in years, and is only 21 years old. "LOST CAUSE?" the writer asks in regards to Kotchman. Your response should have been; only my critiquing skills.

"The only problem with this is that Casey doesnt 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 Im not sure."

This is a pretty funny statement and really shows your "iq" in regards to how you have thought out these players. Go check how many ab's Kotchman had in his call up before striking out and try commenting on his plate discipline. Kotchman is one of the very best hitting prospects in years, and is only 21 years old. "LOST CAUSE?" the writer asks in regards to Kotchman. Your response should have been; only my critiquing skills.