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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Comments

Sounds like the Red Sox could swipe Petit away from the Mets for Mientkiewicz...

Nevermind. Mets sent Bladergroen for Mientkiewicz. Any info on him, Bryan?

Bryan,

Thanks for your responses. Is Weaver a 96mph pitcher or a 91mph pitcher? I just dont have a lot of faith in this guy because from what I've seen he has the same mechanics as his brother Jeff, who is a good pitcher but did not turn into a staff ace. Jeff arguably has better breaking pitches in his tight knuckleball.

"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.

You do know that hit rates are not indicative of ANY pitcher's talent, right? K's, BB's and HR's are much more important, especially considering the uncertainty of minor league defenses. I believe MGL said that the year to year correlation for BAHIP, in the majors, is .038 or some incredibly low number. McCarthy's H/9 should in no way factor in to his evaluation.

Chris--
When I talk about "plate discipline", I'm talking strictly about walks. When I talk about "selectivty," it's a combination of walks and strikeouts. One of those, Kotchman has mastered, the other he has not.

Jim--
Could you explain what you're saying a bit more, it's just not clicking for me.

Bryan, what Jim is saying is that hit rates have been proven to be relatively unpredictable at the ML level. Just because a pitcher gives up a ton of hits one year does not mean the same is going to happen the next, except in special cases such as knuckleballers. It's the premise behind DIPS.

Thanks for answering my question.

I appreciate your analysis

Jim and Fabian--
Actually, Dayn Perry found that hit rates do make a difference, though I admit flaws in his study.

http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=2124

Whats your highend projection for Jared Weaver? Is it safe to say his brother Jeff Weaver is a good top end ceiling for this guy?

Bryan,

Somebody must have stroke a nerve. If we look at [Sean] Casey and Casey [Kotchman]'s minor league careers, their stats are very similar in nature. Kotchman had a better walk ratio in the low minors but by the time they played in the high minors and majors they have very similar walk rates.

Both of them reached the majors after spending 2-3 years in the minors, with Kotchman doing it 2 years younger because he was drafted out of high school.

So, the verdict is still out on whether the overly hyped Kotchman will have a Casey-like (not bad at all) or a Helton-like career.

The guy that I have in mind right now for a career Kotchman offensive projection is John Olerud.

Just to clarify, I was making his position more understandable, I don't agree with it at the minor league level.

Asking you to look into your crystal ball for a second...at what level do you see Kendry Morales starting his American professional career?

Both of them reached the majors after spending 2-3 years in the minors, with Kotchman doing it 2 years younger because he was drafted out of high school."

This is a pretty significant difference with Kotchman being drafted out of highschool. Power can take time to develop especially with young players still filling out. His quick smooth swing with excellent strike zone judgement is going to produce 25 hr plus power with a plus/plus .300 average. About the numbers Helton would produce taken out of Colorado.

Bryan,

Just wondering if you think Morgan Ensberg will return to his 2003 performance this year. Thanks.

I like the Kotchman comparisons but I think the one the Angels should be worried about is if he winds up being Nick Johnson.

I give my respect to Bryan for not deleting some of the derogatory comments and kept this thread open-ended.

John Sickels in his new prospects book has the same concerns regarding Kazmir. I dont think Bryan is alone on this issue. It looks like some of your readers have a maturity problem to deal with.

http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/columns/story?id=1981234