Prospects in the Desert
For a prospect, every Spring Training presents another adventure. In one year, they won't be invited to Major League camp. In another, they will for the drills but will see little to zero playing time. The next season, they may hang around for awhile, but then get sent down. And finally, there will be that March when they prepare to head north.
This March, it appears as though ten of my top sixty prospects will land on the Opening Day roster. Another ten were still in camp a week from Opening Day, though their first destination will be the minor leagues. Twelve more solid prospects have already been sent down but had some game experience in Major League camp before leaving. There are a lot more that rarely pitched or hit, instead just practicing with the big league squad, before getting one-on-one time in minor league camp.
Today, I want to go through what I've learned, and what I'm thinking after this March. Spring Training numbers have to be taken with huge grains of salt, but to completely disregard them is foolish. As Jon Weisman has mentioned in the past, we need walks and strikeouts for stats to be complete. Nonetheless, MLB TV is blessing enough. My thoughts:
I am a little worried about the A's, and might be dropping them down a notch in my final predictions. While I made a comparison between Nick Swisher and Mo Vaughn when returning from Arizona, I didn't realize how well it fit. Both very good college hitters (Mo was better), that dominated AAA at the same age. Very good plate discipline, though Swisher tends to strikeout more. Both struggled the following spring, as Vaughn hit .235 with one homer in 81 at-bats and Swisher is at .242 with zero homers in just shy of sixty. Mo was bad until about August that season, and struggled with his swing, as Swisher has as well. Call me neurotic, but I would advise against choosing him for Rookie of the Year and drafting him in fantasy leagues. His career potential is still sky-high though, and I would not drop him in my prospect rankings.
Another Oakland rookie worth worrying about is Dan Meyer, who has generated concern from statheads and scouts alike. The combination of an 8.15 ERA, 26 hits in 17.2 innings and just seven strikeouts are frightening numbers. This is not a guy that has a pitch he can lean on, but instead relies on control and changing speeds. I would like to think the desert is to blame for problems reported with his breaking ball and that he will still make 25 starts this year. But with Joe Blanton, Dan Haren and Kirk Saarloos all pitching well, a year of trying to find himself again might just be what the doctor ordered.
It's funny in a spring where Scott Kazmir (1.42 ERA) and Jeff Francis (2.25) have pitched fantastically that Brandon McCarthy and Gavin Floyd have stolen the show. Seriously, even Felix Hernandez has not received the publicity that McCarthy has, it seems. A recent bad start puts the Chicago right-hander's ERA at 3.79, but his 14 strikeouts and three walks are more indicative of his performance. Floyd also suffers from bloated ERA (6.30) syndrome, but has been complimented from Peter Gammons. His eleven walks and four home runs are a bit concerning, but he should be in the Philadelphia rotation to stay in a week. And soon, both of these curveballs will be known as two of the best in the league.
Milwaukee, so dependent on the development of five young prospects, has witnessed a mixed bag. Prince Fielder was dynamite before letting his average fade to .289, likewise with Rickie Weeks' .275. But Jose Capellan was disastrous, with a 9.69 ERA, 22 hits in 13 innings, and complaints of being a one-pitch reliever. I'm starting to wonder if I should stop thinking Bartolo Colon when I watch him, and instead think Armando Benitez. Time will tell, but the relief experiment is surely not far away.
Besides Swisher, you have to love the hitting out West. Casey Kotchman is hitting .382, though his lack of power will probably force him to start the year in Salt Lake. Ian Kinsler will begin in AAA too, but after nine extra-base hits in fourteen at-bats, Alfonso Soriano's exit from the organization could be on the horizon. For those of you scoring at home, Kinsler is for real. So is Jeremy Reed, who is trying to find the middle ground between his insane 2003 season and the modest 2004 campaign. He has succeeded, with a .344 average, six extra-base hits, and locking in the security of a full-time job.
Can you believe the treatment that Grady Sizemore, B.J. Upton and Scott Hairston have received? Sizemore will have to rent an apartment in Buffalo because Juan Gonzalez restrained himself from injury this month. Upton will head to North Carolina for no apparent reason, other than allowing Alex Gonzalez to become the veteran leader. Hairston's demotion makes a little more sense, but I still believe he would give the team far more everyday production than Craig Counsell.
Kansas City should be pleased with the spring, despite Zack Greinke's struggles. Denny Bautista has struck out 15 in 14.2, and locked up a starting spot. Mark Teahen's .358 average and propensity for doubles could make him the 2005 Lyle Overbay. Sure this town will be witnessing a slow rebuilding process, but it sure is nice to see a few success stories now and again.
Ignore the performances of Kyle Davies, Angel Guzman and J.D. Durbin. Instead, credit those to sample size. I think Davies and Guzman could both be huge for their organizations this year, as both clubs have plenty of injury concerns in the rotation. Durbin was shown up by Scott Baker this spring, but remains the better prospect. Ranking him above Jesse Crain is an admitted mistake, but I think that Durbin is still a prospect to be watched.
Other than Baker, the big non-ranked performances of the spring came from Russ Martin, Huston Street and Tony Giarratano. Has anyone realized the latter has produced 40 good at-bats this spring? Street is the talk of the Internet, and will inherit the closer job in short order. Martin was shown up by Jason Repko, but proved that Dioner Navarro is hardly guaranteed the 2006 job behind the dish.
Finally, I think now is a good time to look at how my rankings have revised in the last two months or so. Below, the top ten hitting and pitching prospects in baseball.
Hitting: Delmon Young, Andy Marte, Prince Fielder, Ian Stewart, Dallas McPherson, Casey Kotchman, Joel Guzman, Jeff Francoeur, Lastings Milledge, Rickie Weeks.
Pitching: Felix Hernandez, Scott Kazmir, Chad Billingsley, Matt Cain, Jeff Francis, Jeff Niemann, Brandon McCarthy, Gavin Floyd, Yusmeiro Petit, Joe Blanton.
Amazing the difference a couple months and some preseason games can make. Here's to hoping for a Grady Sizemore sighting in Jacobs Field, a B.J. Upton home run in Tropicana, and a Felix Hernandez slider. Baseball is almost back my friends, and I for one can't hardly wait.