WTNY 75: 75-61 (Part 2 of 6)
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:
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.