In one of the longest stare downs in history, Scott Boras and Jered Weaver blinked first and Arte Moreno and Bill Stoneman were rewarded by signing the consensus number-one player in the 2004 draft to a minor league contract calling for a bonus of $4 million.
I guess you might say I was four months early and several million dollars off, but the two sides finally agreed to tie the knot after protracted discussions and negotiations, which led to the longest holdout (along with Arizona Diamondback Stephen Drew) for an eventual signee in history. With the system stacked against them, Weaver and Drew obviously decided to capitulate to the "take it or leave it" offers made by their respective ballclubs.
In an Instant Message last night, Jim Callis of Baseball America told me he thought "it was a smart business decision because I don't think there was a safety net for him in the 2005 draft." Jim also opined that Weaver "could have cost himself by taking the mound" with the Camden Riversharks on Tuesday and Friday prior to the upcoming draft. In other words, Jered had more to lose than to gain by rejecting the Angels' offer--even as low as it was--and making himself available in the draft next week.
By agreeing to a minor league deal, Weaver gets the $4 million signing bonus upfront rather than spread out over the life of the contract. Had he elected to go for a major league contract, Jered would have also risked losing the prorated share of his bonus in the post-arbitration years. The disadvantage in signing a minor league deal is that Weaver is more vulnerable at the back-end because, under a major league contract, he could only get cut 20% from the average value of, say, $1.05 million (based on $5.25M for five years).
Based on the contract signed, Weaver will receive a standard minor league salary until he reaches the majors. The agreement is subject to the tall right-hander passing a physical this week. He is scheduled to fly back to Southern California today and is slated to begin his professional career in Rancho Cucamonga, the Angels' High Class-A farm team, immediately thereafter. Both Boras and Angels scouting director Eddie Bane think he could move through the system "quickly."
If Boras was quoted correctly in today's L.A. Times article, I have to wonder just how much he knows about his client.
"I think Anaheim is a good place for him. He's a sinkerball pitcher."
Well, I don't know about that. Unless Weaver has added to his repertoire during the past year (while not pitching competitively), he has never been known to throw a sinker. While his brother Jeff may throw a cutter, Jered has always been a fastball, slider, curve, and changeup type. He is as much of a flyball as a groundball style pitcher and could actually benefit by adding a sinker or cutter as he progresses through the Angels' system.
Oh well, what would you expect from just a 5% payout on $4 million?
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Update: Jim Callis tells me that Drew is also going to the California League (Lancaster). Interestingly, the Lancaster JetHawks are scheduled to visit the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes on June 3-5 (probably too soon for Weaver to pitch but most likely just in time to accommodate Drew). The Quakes travel to Lancaster on July 1-2 and then these two teams face off again in Rancho Cucamonga on July 3, as well as for a four-game series from July 14-17. (Full schedule.)
Today's The Day
Update (Monday, 9:50 pm PST). . .MLB.com: Angels, Jered Weaver Agree to Terms. Baseball America: Weaver, Drew Agree to Terms.
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The standoff continues. If the Los Angeles Angels and Jered Weaver don't reach an agreement by midnight Eastern time (is there any other?), then one of the most decorated players in college baseball history will go back into the amateur draft.
Here is where the two sides stand:
The Angels have offered Weaver a $4 million minor league contract or a $5.25 million major league contract. The team has stood firm with those offers since early this year.
Weaver's agent, Scott Boras, is asking for a $6 million guaranteed contract plus $250,000 per year for each season his client pitches in the big leagues in 2006, 2007, and 2008. Boras had originally demanded a Mark Prior-like $10M package, then lowered his asking price to $8M, before reducing it to the current level.
Depending on how you look at it, the Angels and Weaver are a minimum of $750,000 and a maximum of $1.5M apart. Given that the deal being discussed is for five years, it is fair to conclude that the difference comes down to between $150,000 and $300,000 per year--amounts that seem like chump change for a billionaire owner and perhaps a matter of pride for a 22-year-old, soon-to-be multi-millionaire.
By offering Weaver (barely) more than any other player from the 2004 draft, the Angels seem to think their offer is more than fair. On the other hand, the Weaver camp believes it has compromised on two occasions to a range that puts the price tag much closer to the deals inked by Justin Verlander, Jeff Niemann, and Philip Humber in late 2004 and early 2005 than that signed by Prior in 2001.
The Angels seem intent on staying pat with their offer and appear willing to let Weaver go back into next week's draft.
Rightly or wrongly, Boras has shown his hand by lowering his demands of a $10M deal to, say, $6M-$6.75M. As such, I would be surprised if the team that drafts Weaver even matches that offer. You see, it's not like Weaver is going to have much, if any, leverage the next time around. What is he going to do, sit out another year?
From my vantage point, the system, which is stacked for the teams and against the amateur players, needs to be changed. I would argue that Major League Baseball and The Major League Baseball Players Association should discuss the following alternatives in their next Collective Bargaining Agreement:
1. Adopt an NBA/NFL-style pay scale for first round draft slots.
2. Allow teams the right to trade draft picks.
3. Open up the negotiations to more than one team (perhaps an American and a National League club could each have the right to negotiate with first round draft picks).
4. Keep the system the same for high school players and underclassmen but allow seniors the right to negotiate with all teams.
5. Disallow the right to a supplemental draft slot for teams that fail to sign their first round picks.
Going down the list, proposal number one would make it known in advance how much draftees would make, irrespective of the team that selected them or the agent who represented them. Number two would actually help level the playing field by allowing a team like the Padres last year to trade the number one pick to another team in exchange for perhaps two late first round picks or a package of amateur picks and minor or major league players. Number three will never happen as long as the owners have any say in the matter but would be a much more fair proposition for the players that would still fall well short of total free agency.
Proposal number four intrigues me for a couple of reasons. First of all, high school, community college, and juniors all have the option of going pro or back to school. They have some--although not a lot of--leverage when it comes to bonus and salary negotiations. Seniors, on the other hand, have virtually nowhere to turn other than to capitulate to whatever the teams offer. I mean, where else are they going to get that kind of money? They have no competing league to negotiate with, their skills are not transferable to pro basketball or football, and, for the most part, could never make that kind of dough in the real world. Putting seniors into a better position from a bargaining standpoint would also encourage students-athletes to complete their college education and get a degree.
With respect to proposal number five, I cannot for the life of me understand why teams should be compensated for not signing a player they chose. MLB pulled a fast one on the players here. If anything, it discourages a team from paying up, knowing they will get a reasonable consolation prize if they don't reach an agreement. Look, if you select a player and you don't sign him, whose fault is that? Why should the rest of baseball subsidize your ignorance, stupidity, hardheadedness, or even bad luck? The penalty for taking a player like Weaver and not signing him is simply not stiff enough. Do away with the supplemental pick and you will see a more concerted effort on the part of the teams to draft and sign all of their selections.
As it relates to Weaver (and Stephen Drew, the other unsigned first round pick), the clock is ticking and neither side seems willing to budge off their final offers. The Angels didn't even bother sending Bill Stoneman, Eddie Bane, or one of the team's east coast scouts to watch Jered pitch a simulated game for the Camden (N.J.) Riversharks of the independent Atlantic League on Saturday although 20 scouts from around baseball found the time to check out Weaver.
"Our number is not going to change," Stoneman told the L.A. Times this weekend. "If they're not going to find that one acceptable, there's not much point in sending anyone out there. . .I've had no indication they're going to accept what we have out there."
If Weaver doesn't sign with the Angels within the next 12 hours, he will pitch twice before the upcoming draft--in relief on Tuesday and as a starter on Friday. Where Jered will go and how much he will get is anybody's guess. On one hand, he probably won't get much more than what the Angels are offering, if that. On the other hand, the Angels aren't going to find anybody outside the organization as good and as cheap as Weaver who could fill the shoes of either Paul Byrd or Jarrod Washburn, both of whom will be free agents at the end of the year and looking at contracts on the order of $5M per year in the case of Byrd and $7.5M-$8M/year for Washburn (who, by the way, is another Boras client).
Ahh, the wonders of the Internet. A freshman from Canton High School in Plymouth, Michigan sent me an email yesterday, asking if he could conduct a personal interview concerning baseball history and opinions as part of a report used for a final exam in his Language Arts class. I told him "yes" and he sent the following 11 questions to me earlier today. I hope he gets an "A" on this project.
Q: Have you played baseball? If so, how far did you go? Are you involved in baseball today?
A: Yes, I played baseball. I played all the way through high school. I was a pitcher, catcher, and first baseman in Little League, Pony League, and Colt League but was a pitcher only in high school. I also was a fast pitch softball pitcher into my mid-20s. Our team won the city of Long Beach "A" league championship, the highest level.
I'm not involved in baseball in any official capacity today. After coaching my son in Little League during the late 1980s and early 1990s, my involvement has been as a fan, a long-time fantasy baseball participant, and, most recently, as a baseball writer/analyst but only as a hobby.
Q: Who is your favorite baseball team?
A: My favorite baseball teams are the Angels and the Dodgers. I live in Long Beach, California, which is almost equi-distant between Los Angeles and Anaheim. Furthermore, my Dad was a sportswriter who covered the Dodgers from 1958-1968 before becoming Director of Public Relations and Promotions for the then California Angels from 1969-1978.
Q: Who is your favorite baseball player? Why?
A: My favorite baseball player of all time is Lou Gehrig. I admired him from the first time I read his biography and watched the movie "The Pride of the Yankees" as a kid. I idolized him not only for his baseball prowess but for his consecutive game streak and the courage and dignity in handling his illness and retirement. Educated at Columbia University at a time when so few people went to college, he showed up for work every day and gave his best. No excuses. He showed a sense of duty to himself, his teammates, manager, employer, and the fans. He was and remains a true, genuine hero in my book.
Q: Which stadium do you like the best? Have you been there in person?
A: Well, Dodger Stadium was the prettiest and the cleanest back in the 1960s when I was regularly going to Dodgers games. It has lost some of its luster over the ensuing years. I was fortunate to catch a Red Sox-A's game with Roger Clemens pitching back in 1988 on a business trip. I went to the game by myself, walked into the office to pick up my ticket, and was ushered down to the first row behind home plate. I don't know if Fenway is the "best" stadium, but it sure is one of the oldest and has a lot of history attached to it.
Q: Do you think that the whole steroid issue has been taken too far?
A: I have tried to stay out of the steroid debate. I think there are too many voices already, many of whom lack knowledge or expertise on the subject.
Q: Do you think that if Babe Ruth was playing today, he could out hit some of the major leaguers today like Mark McGwire, or Barry Bonds?
A: I don't know, Babe Ruth would be 110 years old today. That would be a tough thing to do.
On a more serious note, if Babe Ruth was playing today, he would be a great player. However, I don't think you can say players of the past would be better or worse than those today. It's an apples and oranges type of comparison. Like society as a whole, players today, generally speaking, are bigger, stronger, and faster than those of yesteryear.
I like comparing players against those from their era. In that regard, Ruth was the best player ever. He dominated the competition more so than any player in the history of the game. Did you know that the Babe hit 54 HR in 1920 at a time when all of the other players in the league hit only 315? Ruth hit more homers than every team (yes, TEAM) in the league other than the Yankees.
Q: Do you think that curses exist in baseball?
Q: Do you think that some players get overpaid?
Yes, just as some actors/actresses, rock stars, doctors, lawyers, accountants, truck drivers, and longshoremen get overpaid. Every profession has its share of underpaid and overpaid people. I don't get hung up on that point. In a free market, capitalistic economic system, people are generally worth no more or less than what they make because it takes both sides to agree on a contract, salary, or wage. We may think people make too much or too little, but they get paid what the market will bear.
Q: How do you think the game has improved equipment-wise (bats, balls, playing field, gloves)?
A: The equipment is much better today than ever before. The bats come from the finest and hardest wood available. The balls are livelier today than in the Dead Ball era (pre-1920) and perhaps even more than in the not too distant past of the 1970s and 1980s. The playing fields, thank goodness, have gone back to natural grass after a growth spurt in artificial turf during the late 1960s through the 1970s. The gloves are bigger and better than ever before although there hasn't been a lot of advancement in that area for the past 30 or 40 years.
Q: What team do you think has the best uniform?
A: I like the classic look of the Dodgers the best. The uniforms are essentially the same as what Jackie Robinson wore when he played on the Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1940s. You can say the same for the Yankees, too, although they lack the color of the Dodgers blue lettering and the small red numbers on the front. I didn't care for the Astros uniforms or some of the other teams during the 1970s and 1980s because they reminded me of softball uniforms.
Q: What is one thing you would change to better baseball?
Being a traditionalist, I would get rid of the designated hitter in the American League. I'm also not a big fan of the wild card although I realize it has given more teams (and fans) hope throughout the season. We just need to come to grips with the fact that the "best" team doesn't always win the World Series. Many times, it is the "hottest" team that wins. To wit, did you know that the last three teams to win the World Series (the Angels in 2002, the Marlins in 2003, and the Red Sox in 2004) weren't even good enough to finish in first place in their divisions during the regular season?
Baseball is a great game and, despite its labor problems and other controversies from time to time, will outlive us all.
A Day (Looking) at the Races
On the eve of Memorial Day weekend, I wanted to reflect on the first two months of the 2005 season by reviewing each of the division races in the American and National Leagues.
Four teams are in the thick of things in what has been a New York Yankees-Boston Red Sox exclusive party for seven years. After starting 11-19, the Bronx Bombers have come roaring back and won 15 of their last 17. I guess Joe Torre's job is safe after all. It looks like Mel Stottlemyre might even survive the year, too.
Kevin Brown has won four in a row. Good things happen when you don't give up home runs and Brownie hasn't forked one up since his first start. After being written off by members of the New York press, Mariano Rivera has picked up eight saves in as many games (8 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 2 BB, and 6 K) during the past 2 1/2 weeks and his ERA for the season is down to 1.53, which is lower than it has ever been for a full year. Needless to say, ol' Mariano can still pitch a little.
For the skeptics, please note that the Yankees are number one in the majors in Rob Neyer's Beane Count. Not only that, New York has scored more runs than any team in baseball. Looks to me like their death has been greatly exaggerated.
What can I say? The White Sox are doing everything they can to confound me. I don't know what I'm waiting for but perhaps I'll jump aboard after they win 90 games, which they just might do by the end of August. Chicago has allowed fewer runs than any team in the AL. I still think the Pale Hose are playing over their heads but the makeup of the team reminds me of the Angels in 2002 and the Marlins in 2003. Excellent pitching, good team speed, timely hitting. All they need to do now is finish like Dwyane Wade.
The Twins are hangin' tough, and I wouldn't rule them out. I can't believe the pitching staff has allowed only 73 walks thus far. That's like 1 1/2 per game. They are on pace to challenge the major league record for the fewest walks in a season. In fact, there hasn't been a team even remotely close in the last 70 years.
Although Cleveland is 21-25 and 11 games back, it should be noted that the Indians rank fourth in MLB in the Beane Count. The team is having a tough time scoring runs, but I bet they end up at .500 or better come October. I just don't think the Indians are as bad as the home attendance would suggest.
The Angels are tied for first but you sure wouldn't know it by looking at anything other than the team's pitching stats. The team is dead last in walks (107, 13 below the next worst club) and on-base percentage (.296). As far as I can tell, no team has won a pennant with an OBP under .300 since the Cardinals in 1968 and I'm not sure that should even count because baseball was a different game that year.
Texas, meanwhile, has hit more home runs (68) than any other team in the majors. I know, The Ballpark is known for yielding four baggers. Yet, get this, the pitching staff has allowed fewer HR (32) than any other team in the AL. A better than 2:1 ratio is incredible. The Rangers have won six in a row and figure to be the only team that can keep the Angels honest in what appears to be the weakest division in baseball.
Speaking of weak, what's up with the A's? Or maybe I should ask, why are they so far down? Pacific Gas & Electric [note: thanks to reader Mike, not East Bay Municipal Utility District as I originally wrote] must have had a power outage or something. Oakland is last in extra-base hits, including both doubles and home runs. They have lost five in a row and one can only begin to guess as to when Billy may make a few more moves to position the team to win in 2006 rather than 2005.
Florida sits atop the strongest division in the NL. I picked the Marlins to win the East before the year began so I'm not surprised at all. The pitching has been superb. The staff has allowed just 24 HR all year or about one every two games. You have to go back more than a dozen years to the Dodgers in 1992 to find a team giving up so few dingers.
All I know is that I wouldn't want to face Josh Beckett, A.J. Burnett, and Dontrelle Willis in the postseason. I don't think Brian Moehler will wind up with a 2.13 ERA so expect more than a bit of regression there. But if Beckett, Burnett, and Willis stay healthy down the stretch, look out folks. In the meantime, Miguel Cabrera is as tough an out as there is in the NL. I know it is early but can you say MVP?
In the meantime, I can't dismiss the other team down South. Atlanta is 16-5 at home but, like the rest of the NL East, the Braves are struggling on the road. Outstanding pitching once again. Doesn't seem to matter whose glove they throw out on the hill. Put on an Atlanta uniform and, poof, you instantly become one of the best pitchers in the league.
The Cardinals have the best record in the NL and still look like the team to beat to me. St. Louis is not only well-balanced but they appear to have an easier road to the World Series than any other contending club. Time will tell but the Redbirds may win the division by close to 20 games.
If there is another contender, it's not going to be the team from the Windy City. Sorry, Bryan, but your neighbors to the north look a lot stronger to me. Playing .500 ball without Ben Sheets for a good part of the year is pretty impressive. The team's Pythagorean record (27-19) suggests they may have been a tad unlucky thus far. Moreover, I think it only gets better from here on out for the Brewers. Bud Selig probably wishes he hadn't put that stop-loss sell order in there.
Houston. I think it is safe to say that the Astros have crash landed. 16-30. The third-worst record in baseball. I wonder if those readers who questioned the merits of trading Roger Clemens, as I suggested three weeks ago, still feel the same way now? This is a lost season as far as I am concerned. It's time to rebuild. I picked Phil Garner to be the first manager fired in our preseason survey. Given that Tony Pena resigned, do I still have a shot at winning this category?
I'm going to stick my neck out here and say that Colorado will finish in last place. Other than that, I haven't a clue as to what will happen. I picked the Giants back in March before I knew Barry Bonds was going to lead the league in knee surgeries. I then hopped on the Dodgers bandwagon when they were 20-14. I'm not particularly surprised by the Padres, but I have to admit being somewhat shocked by Arizona's showing thus far. I'm none too happy about it either. You see, I had Javier Vazquez and Brandon Webb on my fantasy team last year rather than this year. Doh! and double doh!!
If Bonds comes back before the All-Star game and plays like the Barry of old as opposed to just an old Barry, then I think the Giants could end up taking the West. I'm not really sure how given the average age of the team and all the injuries, but they've been hanging longer than Michael Jordan in the Slam Dunk contest.
Colorado, in the meantime, is last in the NL in walks "for" (128) and "against" (210). That is not a good differential. The Rockies may have learned to win at home (10-11) but Roger Miller sure didn't have Clint Hurdle's club in mind when he created his signature song.
Retrosheet: Filling in the Blank Generation
Keep Johnny Carson in New York!
May 29, 1972 - The last time anyone would hear that embarrassing bullhorn-fueled burst of nonsense coming from the snarled lip of my crazed next door neighbor, Johnny H - "The Singing Cop" with his greasy metronomical hair curl dangling over his forehead, desperately trying to keep in time with an era long gone (quick, somebody grab his wrist and check his Vitalis signs!). He was still pleading from the window of his early '60s Cadillac (you know, the one with the disconcerting five-foot wooden poster that screamed out, "Keep Johnny in New York!" fully nailed onto the roof) while making his last rounds in trying to drum up support to keep The Tonight Show in New York, even though the show had left NYC for the mud-slinging Hollywood hells of Burbank earlier in the week.
You see, Johnny H was that rarest of cats, a hunky local celeb who thought he was Elvis' brother, an actor (his work on the pro-Cuba soap opera "La Tigressa" is still talked about in some circles. . .unfortunately, these circles are mostly in secret CANF meetings held in the backrooms of Cuban ciguarded bodegas), singer (his 1964 rockabilly side for Lordize Records has a twin guitar break that sounds like a spent Duane Eddy neck gnarling his way through the distorto district of Twangsville), ballplayer, and town policeman.
He clicked off the bullhorn and asked me if I needed a lift anywhere. I told him I was going to meet up with a couple of my friends as we were heading over to The Stadium for a Yankees-Tigers doubleheader. While being chauffeured across town in a dice-hanging, megaphone-blasting (he feared not the clunky monsters of "Target Earth!") Elvismobile would seem to be pretty un-hip, I was running late so I hopped in (naturally, I checked under the rumpled blanket in the back seat to see if Johnny H had gone through with that ill-advised Milton DeLugg kidnapping scheme he had been cooking up).
Johnny H dropped me off at my friend's house, which was located in the backroom of a rundown thread and scallop factory that his family owned. With the mesmerizing whir from the embroidery machines greeting me, I found my two pals already hoisting the moist--a case of Blatz beer and a fifth of Southern Comfort. So we killed some time yakking up baseball, needling down some choice Three Dog Night cuts (what, you were expecting Sir Doug Saldana or Wild Man Fischer?) and rummaging through his baseball card collection. As a companion piece to my growing fluency with Blatz, I started draining some rhythmic shots of Comfort (I now realize how easy it was for Tiny Tim to fall into that horrid three-jar-a-day habit he had of drinking straight-up Ragu Spaghetti Sauce!). I had never tasted that Southern Comfort peach-flavored bourbon liqueur befueur, but "Godfrey Jack Daniels" it went down smooth. Smooth enough that before I knew it, I was more than a half a bottle in and half a bottle out of it. And BP time at the stadium was quickly approaching.
As we were brown bagging it on our way to catch the bus heading to the Port of Authority in NYC, the dreaded woozies started to get to me. Once on the bus, sitting across from the old ladies with cauliflower rears and a crew of dolled-up guys that looked like they might end up sharing some scurvish bath water with Billy Murcia, the whole damned NJT tram started to spin. Fortunately, the ride into Manhattan takes only ten minutes and the P.A. was just ahead. Back then, one of the true tests of a teenager's worth (along with hot wiring cars, easing box-cars of their excess beer, and switching around loose tombstones in the cemetery) was getting in and out of the Port's upstairs bathroom without becoming a scarnation-instant junkie with an honorary degree from Synanon High. But I had to go so bad. . .cripes, it was almost like I was saving up my inner fluids for a YellowDiscipline.com money shot! Luckily, I had no problem making my way through the future residents of gurneyville. Hell, I was skipping over more people than a demoralized census taker. And I had a doubleheader to get to!
I threw up. Now, I had thrown up many times before, but always from something of a natural bent--like a gunnysack full of moldy White Caskets, my Uncle Al's exotic headcheese pizza with mutt dip, or those dastardly tainted Oreo cookies that were left too close to an open can of turpentine. My friends started dragging me down the steps to the subway, passed the seemingly mile long stretch of "Ulzana's Raid" posters, pulling me by a guy dealing a makeshift game of stuss that would have made the great Scarne look like a kid trying to dead deal from the bottom of his "Official 1965 Mr. Met Card Game" deck.
Finally, my friends helped me get my act together (which probably took longer than the mad scientists took in assembling George "The Stork" Theodore during a schematic-free, lightning-deprived weekend) and plopped me down in a subway car. Glancing around, I found that no one was sitting near me. Now either everybody thought I was part of the notorious Musante/Sheen Gang and was there to film "The Incident: Part II," or they felt that I had cornered the market on death-reek colognes with my disenchanting Eau de Parvo # 9.
Looking up, I noticed that the overhead poster ads were starting to morph together--the twin girls from the Wrigley's Doublemint Gum poster now had herpes and were begging for home owner loans at a UNICEF meeting under the stark graffiti tags of the infamous TRACY 168. It was as if a psychotic Ray Johnson baldly snuck into the car and collaged my dipsomanical mind. As we took off for Stadium in our improbable topsy-turvy subway car, I came to the conclusion that some of Professor Pepperwinkle's theories might actually have merit!
Ahh. . .The Yankee Stadium! Where every usher had gnarly fingers, green hair brought on by a slight case of Phytophthera Infestans, and liver spots the size of their off-duty PBA shields (by the way, did you know that in the '70s a strange phenomenon took over NYC, for a record eight-years running, the answer to every Rorschach test given in the city was "uhh. . .the liver spots on Roger Grimsby's face?"). These ushers were but mere trembling statistics, dressed up in their drab uniforms while still suffering greatly from the lasting effects of the Volunsteady Hand Act of 1919.
After one such Souse of Usher cleaned off our already clean seats with his whisk-ey broom, my buddies tried to get me to sit still and enjoy the game. Ooof. . .there I was, sulking lower than Jorge Cantu's batting helmet and taking up more aisle space than "Dancin' Harry" at some long-forgotten NBA playoff game. I was in such a bad state that I couldn't even stagger down to my old pal Michael Burke's dugout box seats and partake in his open endorsement of Neo-Mulhoolyism. My pals whisked me off to the inviolability of a Yankee Stadium bathroom, the last stall on the left (IT'S ONLY A GAME, IT'S ONLY A GAME. . .) to be exact, where I spent most of the doubleheader coxswayin' in the Ty-D-Bowl Man's boat.
Hell, I was so out of it, I kept waiting for Don Wert's (the only ballplayer that has his last name go directly across on a keyboard, except for that little-known shortstop Muzzy Asdfgh from the 1880s) name to be Shepparded in, even though he had been dealt away two years earlier. It should also be noted that terminal out patient, Ray Oyler, was no longer with the Tigers, having moved on to Seattle in the George Lauzerique (who, I imagine, is still waiting for a call back from the James Bond people) deal. Rumor has it that Oyler did rather well for himself after retiring from baseball, when he hooked up with the Milton Bradley Company and became their cover model for the board game, "Hangman."
Having sprinkled the infield with fleeing brain cells, I really don't remember much from the double-header. . .so there is but one place to turn.
The greatest memory retrieval system for pathetic burnout victims of the '70s, like you and me!
I now see that the Yankees swept both ends of the doubleheader and that Sparky Lyle saved both games (I do seem to remember hearing "Pomp and Circumstance" on and off that day, but I always figured it was just the overly triumphant guy in the stall next to me). Hey, I also see that in the first game, it was one of only seven career appearances for Detroit pitcher Bob Strampe, who headed off the mound and into the unforgiving pages of "The Baseball Encyclopedia" with his 11.57 ERA in tow. Thanks for playing along, Bob!
Speaking of "The Baseball Encyclopedia," I'm still amazed by the fact that when the space shuttle program had problems with their ablative shields randomly burning through, the Macmillan Publishing Company stepped in and allowed NASA to copy their top-secret, solidifying formula used in the making of the hard cardboard box cover that housed the original 1969 Baseball Encyclopedia. Bravo gentlemen, bravo. I find now that Eddie (looked like a CPA, hit like a DOA) Brinkman went 2-for-6 in the doubleheader. Dully impressed!
Huh? Hal Lanier, once a top executive swingman for Buhl In-dust-tries, went 1-for-4 in the twin bill with an RBI in each game! Discovering something like this is almost as shocking as the time I pulled a Gene Brabender baseball card and found out it WASN'T part of the Wacky Pack set!
Wow! I see that Billy Martin got tossed in the first round of the doubleheader. And how do you explain a Paul Jata batting third for the Tigers?. . .Then again, how do you explain Junket Rennet Custard, Cerebus the Aardvark, and the continuing success of Vincent Schiavelli? You can't, you just can't.
Not only did this day mark the final jaunt of Johnny H and my tale of the vomitous Yankee-Tiger double dip, it also was the day where the Yankees finally gave up on Bozo and shipped Rich (four errors in one game) McKinney out to AAA Syraexcuse. While this might pale next to the insane time/space coalescing kabob of Jack Kerouac, Mickey McDermott and Paul Gleason shacking up together in liver cadavering splendor, I still dig it. It's amazing that I can remember that Element Lad was Jan Arrah from the planet Trom, Baron Mikel Scicluna's finishing move involved a roll of dimes, and to have your dog-worn couch reapulstered at Gimbels, you had to call Murray Hill 7-7500! (that's Murray Hill 7-7500! ), but I can't remember a damn thing about the subusway ride home. (Boy, I sure hope David Smith's Retrodeclarativememory site gets off the ground!)
I do remember crawling toward my house and running into one of my ne'er-do-well druncles. He had one scantzy look at me and said, "Son. . .half of your well-being fell off a truck anyway." In case you were wondering whatever happened to Johnny H - "The Singing Cop" and his snazzy early-model Gibson Flying V guitar. . .Well, he was thrown off the town police force, dumped his va-va-vooming platinum blonde wife, went on to fake his own death by pretending to jump off the George Washington Bridge by leaving his cruddy Caddy running in the right lane, as he hopped into a waiting second car driven by his sexy 14-year-old blonde sweetheart/president of the "Johnny H Fan Club," opened a rock-and-roll hot dog stand in upstate N.Y., and, most disturbing, had his name changed to Aron. He died last year.
Oh well, as that great American thinker, Norton Nork, once mimed, "Not everything in life can be solved by hammering out a metallic State Farm logo."
Thanks to Johnny H. and Retrosheet for the ride.
Darren Viola, also known as Repoz, hung around Yankee Stadium in the 1960s and 1970s, various New York City punk clubs in the 1980s and 1990s as a DJ, and has been Baseball Think Factory/Baseball Primer's historian extraordinaire and collector of obscure references during the 2000s.
From the summer leagues all the way up to the College World Series, scouting directors have one job: haul in some solid talent each June. This puts a bit of pressure on them, as could be expected, since the product of drafts are their lone barometer of success. Good drafts yields a long tenure, bad drafts could have them advance scouting again in no time.
While this pressure holds true across the league, it is centralized on the shoulders of the bad organization's scouting directors. Since good teams draft late in the first round, unearthing talent could just be viewed a blessing. That's overstating, of course, but scouting directors that consistently pick in the top ten are expected to bring in better crops. Just as the men running NBC has more pressure than your local cable station's head, Mike Rizzo has a whole lot more pressure on him this year than Logan White.
Many options and considerations need to be weighed when making one of the earlier selections in the draft. While it is a nice idea to say "always draft the top player," ETAs and organizaitonal strengths often make that impossible. Spending more than seven figures on a position that will not be needed any time soon is foolish, especially in a draft with as many blue chippers as this one is offering.
As push slowly comes to shove with the Major League draft, here is a look at the five most pressure-filled picks, and what direction it looks like the team is going. Also is what I would do in the situation, as I slowly type here from my armchair. Oh, what an easy job this is...
1. Arizona Diamondbacks
Baseball America recently reported that the Diamondbacks have narrowed their selection choices to four: Justin Upton, Luke Hochevar, Mike Pelfrey and Craig Hansen. On the other hand, Peter Gammons has long been reporting that the choice will be Upton, who Rizzo fell in love with the second he realized the Diamondbacks would have the draft's first choice. As Stephen Drew remains unsigned going into the last week, Rizzo will need to make this year's first-rounder count should he want to stay in charge.
Upton has been heralded as a good player since his brother was making headlines, and scouts whispered that Justin might be better than B.J. While throwing issues at shortstop will likely force Upton to move down the road, his jaw-dropping speed will be more than enough for the centerfield spot. Upton has the combination of arm strength, speed and sweet stroke to be a future superstar.
Projected Pick: Justin Upton
If I was choosing the list would have been three names: Upton, Troy Tulowitzki and Mike Pelfrey. While I believe Alex Gordon is probably the top player in the draft, choosing yet another corner position player is just not feasible for a franchise filled with them. The Diamondbacks' weaknesses lay up the middle, where it appears Sergio Santos and Scott Hairston will just not be the double play combo that people envisioned.
Upton would also be my choice if I was running the draft, and I would suggest that he immediately be moved to center. While B.J. was constantly thrown with the "everything but defense" criticisms, it would be best to get that out of the way now for Justin. Troy Tulowitzki makes sense here as well, but concerns about his range aren't all that different from what Arizona is currently going through with Santos.
The other gaping hole in the Arizona farm system is in the pitching department, so going in that direction would make sense. But considering the poor relations between Jeff Moorad and Scott Boras -- not to mention the Drew situation -- drafting another Boras client like Mike Pelfrey could be devastating. Arizona also has a farm system filled with hitter's parks, which certainly destroy a pitcher's ego as he attempts to break into the Majors.
My pick: Justin Upton
2. Kansas City Royals
It's all up to Daniel Glass. While the Royals have been bad for the entire last decade, it has been awhile since the club has this much direct pressure on a draft choice. Chris Lubanski allowed the team to dodge out of choice the last time they had a high selection, and the club is still shaking their heads at those results. Drafting cheap would be a huge mistake for a team that is headed in the right direction like the Royals.
And if you listen to what is happening in Kansas City, they agree with me. The Royals denied the Cliff Pennington rumors, saying that they have little economic concerns about their second choice. In fact, the team seems rarely set on a somewhat-nearby player, the NCAA's best hitter: Alex Gordon. Even though the Royals have both spent a first-round pick and a high-profile trade acquiring third basemen in the last 12 months, letting a bat like Gordon's pass would be a sin.
Projected Pick: Alex Gordon
I have long said that Gordon is atop my draft board, and I think he fits in Kansas City. He won't fit in at third base, mind you, but they will have a spot for him. The best idea is to move Gordon to left, while pushing Billy Butler to first, continuing the Jim Thome comparisons.
The Lubanski selection from 2003 pretty much derailed the likelihood of drafting Cameron Maybin, despite the Royals fearless nature in the past. It would be hard to convince Royals fans that Maybin is not just another all ceiling type, because he pretty much is. Sure his chance of succeeding is better than Lubanski's out of high school, but drafting him would simply be a public relations nightmare. The two logical choices are Gordon and Mike Pelfrey, both from schools near Missouri.
My pick: Alex Gordon
3. Seattle Mariners
Dave Cameron has said over at U.S.S. Mariner that Seattle is really praying that Glass tightens his purse strings, so that Gordon will drop one spot. Or maybe the rumors of Boras forcing the Diamondbacks to sign a two-for-one, agreeing to terms with Stephen Drew and another Boras client, like Mike Pelfrey. In that scenario, the Mariners would be more than happy to draft Justin Upton. I mean he's the next Alex Rodriguez, right?
But, it is more than likely that Seattle's top two players will be gone when Bill Bavasi heads to the conference call. So, the team will be forced to pick from the top of the second tier. Money is also of little concern to the team that did not have a choice before the third round last year, even if they spent record money in the round.
When push comes to shove, the players on the Mariner list will be Maybin, Tulowitzki, Pelfrey and Ryan Zimmerman. With Maybin the club will get the pressure associated with drafting the next Griffey. With Pelfrey, an arm injury will add yet another blemish on the Mariner medical staff's tarnished resume. So, the team is likely torn between Tulo and Zimmerman, who many have speculated could play better short than Troy if he was moved. Still, don't expect the Mariners to think that outside the box, and instead look for Bavasi to go back to the California roots to take who would have been a local choice a couple years ago.
Projected Pick: Troy Tulowitzki
I don't like it. This is an organization with Jose Lopez, Asdrubal Cabrera, Matt Tuiasasopo and Adam Jones. There is a lot of money tied up in those players, all of whom belong (currently) at the shortstop position. Yes, Bill James argues a farm system should be built from the top of the defensive spectrum down, but this is going a bit too far.
Cameron Maybin, Baseball America's top high school player last year, seems to be getting overlooked by the Mariners. While the Griffey comparisons have been blown out of proportion as a result of their friendship, Maybin is definitely a special five-tool talent. While Seattle has Shin-Soo Choo and Jeremy Reed at the top of their system, neither plays center the way that Maybin profiles to.
My pick: Cameron Maybin
4. Washington Nationals
This one has to count for the Nationals, as Jim Bowden's inexcusable offseason signings have limited the Nats number of choices in the top 100 this year. Major League Baseball is willing to allow Bowden to spend the majority of his draft budget in the top spot, so money is of little importance here.
There is really very little drama heading into this choice. The Nats need a face of the franchise as they continue to try and sell themselves (not the park) to DC fans, and Brad Wilkerson is just not doing the job. While Vinny Castilla is the short-term answer at the hot corner, the long-term pick comes from nearby Virginia. Ryan Zimmerman has some questions surrounding his bat, yes, but he has Cal Ripken-like instincts on the left side. In a town forced to pay attention to the Orioles for the last thirty years, very few praises could be higher than that.
Projected Pick: Ryan Zimmerman
While I certainly understand the logic behind taking Zimmerman, I just disagree with the selection. The club has no intentions to move Ryan to short, where power concerns will be deemed less important. Even with wilkerson and Nick JOhnson, this is not an organization that profiles to slug in the future, and wasting a corner spot on a defensive specialist is not a good idea.
I still believe that besides Zimmerman, there is an answer for a future franchise player in this spot. My partner, Rich Lederer, has thrown out comparisons Bobby Crosby and Miguel Tejada. For a town still immersed in the Orioles, that is high praise as well. Also, Troy Tulowitzki profiles to hit for power better than Zimmerman, at a much more demanding defensive position. Simply put, Cristian Guzman is just not the long-term answer up the middle.
My pick: Troy Tulowitzki
5. Milwaukee Brewers
With pardon to the right side, there are very few positions that the Brewers should not be considering in this year's draft. True to their scouting director's ideology, this is the perfect team to use the "Best Player Available" mantra when drafting. Milwaukee's payroll is still very low, so Doug Melvin shouldn't have to do too much convincing in forcing the new owner to raise the draft budget.
If dollars and cents are not worried about, the top players on the board hail from the mound. This probably also fits the organization best, as many of their one-time pitching prospects have reached struggles in the upper levels. The best pitcher on the board is surely Mike Pelfrey, who also currently pitches not too far from Milwaukee at Wichita State University. With three solid pitches in his arsenal, Pelfrey could likely be contributing by the time this team is ready to make a legitimate run.
But, the Brewers will also be considering some offense with the pick. If Cameron Maybin is still around, it would be hard for the club to pass on a future superstar like him. Also, the Brewers likely fondly remember Jeff Clement's days of catching as a high schooler in Iowa, where he broke the national record for career home runs. Clement has since kept the power and increased his defensive prowess, making him a much more attractive pick.
Projected Pick: Mike Pelfrey
Pelfrey is, at least, who the team should be drafting. With Jose Capellan likely on the move and the likelihood of the team keeping Doug Davis small, the Brewers are going to need someone to back up Ben Sheets. Pelfrey has ace-caliber stuff, and is a horse, not to mention should be ready by the 2007 season. The only minus is the bonus demands that will come with his selection, likely around $5-7 million. He's worth it, no question, but those type of dollars given to an amateur tends to make owners go gun-shy under pressure.
My pick: Mike Pelfrey
That's all for today, and I would love to hear your 1-5 projections in the comments. I'll have a 1-15 projection at some point in the next couple weeks, with much more thought-out reviews of all the players available.
Pick your poison. Two of the game's oldest stadiums, two of the Majors most passionate fans. On one hand you have 35,008 fans in attendance to catch the World Champions in the season's first Interleague series. On the other hand you have 39,334 fans in the game's other old stadium, in maybe the loudest regular season series that Wrigley hosts.
Either way, their debuts were not going to be easy. But, this was not the first time the pair had overcome the odds, as neither was chosen in the draft's first three rounds. In fact, Brandon McCarthy was not selected from Lamar Community College until the 17th round in 2002, which is looking more like a steal everyday. Kyle Davies was, comparatively, chosen early -- the 4th round -- though Davies is the first of the seventeen pitchers chosen in that round to make the Majors.
Both players were handled delicately by their organizations, as they pitched in short-season ball for two seasons. Their performances were similar, as Davies put up a 2.94 ERA between the Gulf Coast and Appy Leagues, while McCarthy was at 3.26 in the more hitter-friendly Arizona and Pioneer Leagues. Control was a problem for neither, with both showing K/BB rates of over 3/1 in the two leagues, with McCarthy's 2003 Pioneer performance at 125/15 in just 101 innings.
Where it took Kyle Davies two seasons to go from low-A to the Southern League, it took McCarthy just one. Both players pitched in the Sally, Carolina and Southern Leagues during that journey, with Davies throwing a total of 283.2 innings, and McCarthy hurling 172. Double-digit strikeout rates for both during that time, as well as solid control and HR/9 rates around 2.00. Two peas in a pod. In fact, they were born just 64 days apart.
Their debuts, however, were one day apart, as Davies narrowly beat his counterpart to the Majors. Neither was pitching fantastically in the International League, where again it was McCarthy's better control that separated their numbers from looking exactly alike. Coming into the weekend, statistically the two had few differences. At the Major League level, we might have predicted similar results.
Scouts, on the other hand, might have seen the two a little differently. What would have given it away was the five-inch difference in height, though Davies made up for it in weight. Their fastballs were similar in velocity, and both threw good curveballs, and McCarthy's was known as one of the best in the minors. Davies threw four pitches, showing confidence in a change and slider as well. McCarthy didn't have the slider, though in addition to his four-seam fastball, he also threw a two-seamer.
No matter how you slice it, the two always come out similar. And their debuts followed the trend, as both pitched very well.
Kyle Davies' performance comes out on top, since he was the man that ended up in the win column. Davies shut out the world champs in five innings, throwing just under 100 pitches and allowing seven baserunners. McCarthy got the no-decision, as Luis Vizcaino blew the game (and what would have been a one run game for McCarthy) after allowing a Jason Dubois home run. Still, just five baserunners and six strikeouts in 5.1 innings is everything that could have been expected from who I called the best sixth starter in the game in our recent White Sox chat.
For both I charted their first three innings pitched in the big leagues. Davies threw 49 pitches in the three innings, very unmethodical, though he allowed just two Johnny Damon singles and one walk. Of his total pitches, Davies threw 67.3% fastballs (33), 18.4% curves (9), and 14.3% changeups (7). Six of the seven changes that Kyle threw were with two strikes, as he registered both his strikeouts with that pitch. From a velocity perspective, his fastball was 88-92, the curve at 75-79, and the change 80-82mph on the TBS radar gun. I came away impressed by Davies curveball, but it is a bad sign in my eyes that in 49 pitches just one time did he register a swinging strike. To Mark Bellhorn.
Surprisingly Brandon McCarthy was equally as unmethodical during his three innings, throwing 46 pitches. It would have been far more if not for a Corey Patterson bunt and Henry Blanco home run that came on first pitches. McCarthy did not throw the change that had been mentioned in scouting reports during the game, throwing 73.9% fastballs and 26.1% curves. It looked as if he threw the curve in two different ways, both the low-70s looping variety and a tighter curve in the high-70s. His two-seam fastball was thrown predominantly to Derrek Lee, and was registered in the high 80s, while the four seamer peaked at 93. McCarthy has a delivery that seemed a hybrid of Mike Mussina and Jack McDowell, for whom he has long been compared.
It is unlikely that McCarthy and Davies will be able to survive after El Duque and John Thomson return from injuries. But for now the White Sox and Braves are among the lucky few teams that won't get bit by the injury bug, as their top pitching prospects were more than ready. Expect more of the same from both these two in the future, maybe even the same stats.
Notes from the Minors
- Another debut that has not generated enough publicity is that of Jeff Fiorentino, a surprise call-up from the Carolina League by the Orioles. The 22-year-old center fielder is excelling in Camden Yards, less than 400 AB since he was at Florida Atlantic University. Fiorentino has started in seven of the Orioles last eight games, and has a solid .792 OPS over his first 32 at-bats. While the CF job will still likely belong to Luis Matos when he returns, expect the former third rounder to go to AA or AAA instead of the Carolina League when he is optioned down.
- Another centerfielder making a lot of noise is Felix Pie, who looks to finally be having that breakout season in AA. After showing great speed and defense in previous years, Pie is putting it all together this season, already with 13 steals and ten homers. With Corey Patterson entering arbitration soon and never living up to his potential, it might be smart for the team to start considering trading the former first rounder over the winter.
Something must be in the water in Jackson, Tennessee, as Pie isn't the only one currently entertaining a breakout season. Matt Murton, acquired in the Nomar Garciaparra trade, has been flirting with .400 since the beginning of the season. Either he or Jason Dubois must be the Cubs next option in left, and with Pie could economically allow Jim Hendry to spend a lot on right field. On the mound, Rich Hill has been fantastic, striking out 77 in 51.2 innings, and creating some buzz that he'll be the next Cub to start a game should anyone get injured.
- It seems a battle has developed for the minors third spot in the hot corner rankings between Billy Butler and Andy LaRoche. Butler, the Royals first rounder last season, is currently hitting over .350, has 10 home runs, and now 27 walks. LaRoche now has six home runs in his last four games, bringing his season total to 17 in the FSL, in addition to his .361 average. The edge still goes to Butler because of his youth and patience, but LaRoche is definitely making me look good for putting him on my breakout prospect list.
Both players also face the problem of organizational depth at their position. Butler is in Kansas City where the team currently is sporting Gold Glove-caliber Mark Teahen, and will likely draft Nebraska third baseman Alex Gordon in a couple weeks. LaRoche is currently in high-A, and the Dodgers have Willy Aybar and Joel Guzman ahead of him. For Butler the move should be across the diamond to first, as they keep Teahen at third, put Gordon in left and Justin Huber at DH. It's too early to tell what the Dodgers should do, though promotions for Guzman and LaRoche -- and a position change for Aybar -- seem to be on the horizon.
- Last season low-A's two best hitters were probably Ian Stewart and Daric Barton. So far this season, in the hitter-friendly California League, the two are not living up to expectations. Stewart now has a .233 average, and a 5/30 walk-to-strikeout ratio in just 86 at-bats. Barton is not doing much better, just 11 XBH, and a recent hot streak has raised his average to a modest .278. Their great 2004 seasons will allow both players a bit of room for error this season, but both were expecting to be generating consideration for promotions by now.
How the West Was Won
Oregon State (41-8, 19-4) took the first two games of the series vs. USC (33-18, 12-8) to secure a share of the Pac-10 Conference title for the first time since 1952. The Beavers beat the Trojans, 5-4, on Friday night and 10-7 on Saturday.
The opener featured a pitching duel between USC's Ian Kennedy (10-2) and OSU's Dallas Buck (11-1). Kennedy and Buck--both sophomores and among 10 semifinalists for the 2005 Roger Clemens Award and the leading candidates for Pac-10 Pitcher of the Year--threw seven scoreless innings. The Beavers scored five in the eighth to take a seemingly insurmountable lead before the Trojans bounced back with four in the top of the ninth and had the tying run on second when closer Kevin Gunderson struck out Cyle Hankerd to end the game.
The Beavers scored seven runs in the fifth inning on Saturday to overcome a 4-0 deficit. Anton Maxwell improved his record to 10-1, while Gunderson secured his 13th save of the season with 1 1/3 no-hit innings in leading OSU's to its tenth-straight victory. Yesterday's game was played in front of a record crowd of 2,322, the most since Goss Stadium at Coleman Field was renovated in 1999.
Sunday late afternoon update: Too little, too late. . .USC trounced OSU, 12-2, to win the final game of the three-game series in Corvallis.
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Down south, Cal State Fullerton's Ricky Romero (11-4) outpitched Long Beach State's Cesar Ramos (10-6) to win the opener on Friday night, 7-2. Romero pitched a no-hitter for 4 2/3 innings and had a two-hit shutout through seven, while Ramos gave up five runs in the first two frames. The sellout crowd of 3,554 was the third largest in Goodwin Field history.
The number ten-ranked 49ers (36-18, 14-6) then bounced back to upend the top-ranked Titans (39-13, 14-3), 5-1, in Saturday's nationally televised game on CSTV (Direct TV 610). Long Beach's Evan Longoria drove in three runs, including the go-ahead run in the sixth and two more in the eighth to seal the victory. Marco Estrada (8-2) picked up the win by hurling six innings and the team's bullpen, led by senior closer Neil Jamison (4-0, 11 saves, 0.00 ERA), once again shut down the opposition. The Beach is now 27-1 when leading after six innings.
After winning two out of three games in a non-conference series at Blair Field in Long Beach earlier this season, the Dirtbags have now taken three out of five from the defending College World Series champions. No other team has won a series from CSUF this year.
Update: Third verse, same as the first. . .CSUF clinched its second consecutive Big West Conference title by whitewashing LBSU, 10-0, on Sunday afternoon in Fullerton. The Titans are headed to the NCAA Regionals for the 14th consecutive year. A Goodwin Field record 10,355 witnessed the three-game series.
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In the other important Pac-10 series, Arizona (34-17, 15-5) and Stanford (31-20, 11-9) split the first two games with the Wildcats winning the opener, 9-4, and the Cardinal taking the second, 5-4, at Sunken Diamond in Palo Alto.
Trevor Crowe, who leads the conference in virtually every hitting stat, went 3-for-7 with two doubles and teammate Nick Hundley also had three hits including his 14th HR of the year. Crowe and Hundley both figure to be taken in the first round of the amateur draft next month.
Update: Stayin' alive. . .Arizona beat Stanford, 11-8, on Sunday to remain in the race for the Pac-10 crown. The Wildcats now need to sweep their remaining three-game series against California to tie the idle Beavers for the conference championship. If U of A and OSU end the regular season with the same records, the Wildcats would capture the automatic NCAA postseason berth due to winning the head-to-head season series, two games to one in April.
* * * * *
The host sites for the 16 NCAA Regionals will be announced next Sunday, and the full 64-team bracket will be announced on Memorial Day at 8:30 a.m. Cal State Fullerton, the number one-ranked team in the country, is a lock to host a Regional. Oregon State is almost a sure thing and Arizona should have an excellent shot at staying home if the Wildcats win their next three and take the conference crown via the tie-breaker.
Although Long Beach State will most likely wind up in the top 16 in the final regular season rankings, the guess here is that the Dirtbags will be sent packing to Corvallis or Tucson for the Regionals. USC or Stanford will probably get an invite to Fullerton with the other perhaps heading eastward for one of the remaining 13 locations.
One on One: Amateur Hour
It's that time of year again. The time for the traditionalist baseball fans to stand up and object to interleague play. The number of grimaces will only increase this year because, for the first time ever, the rights to the city of Los Angeles will be determined, if Arte Moreno and the Angels have anything to say about it. L.A. joins Chicago and New York in the battle for the large markets, as the Cubs-White Sox and Yankees-Mets series begin tonight as well.
For those of you that can't stand to hear any more arguments about which side of the subway or "L" is better, we offer a getaway. Instead of spending the weekend debating about interleague play, the DH, and the wild card, take a break from Major League Baseball. Things are just starting to heat up in the college ranks and now is as good a time as ever to start paying attention.
Just weeks away from Omaha and the June draft, Rich and Bryan are talking alphabet soup in the form of the NCAA rather than MLB...
Rich: The college baseball season is winding down with many important matchups this weekend. Some teams need to win to make the postseason, others need to win to get a shot at hosting a Regional. What are you most excited about?
Bryan: Well, I'll be checking the boxscores avidly for three series this weekend. First and foremost, the surprise Oregon State Beavers will be hosting your alma mater, USC, this weekend. Oregon State has become the Cinderella for this season that, if college baseball had a larger stage, would be a national story.
Rich: USC is finishing its longest road trip of the year by flying from South Bend to Corvallis for this weekend's three-game series against Oregon State. The Trojans and the Beavers are two of the best teams in the country and will be vying for the Pac-10 championship as well as the right to host a Regional and perhaps a Super Regional.
Bryan: Should be a great series, though the Trojans aren't as stacked as in past years. The game to watch will be Friday night, when the teams have a battle of sophomores. Pitchers Dallas Buck and Ian Kennedy are two of the best in the class. Personally, I can't wait for that Kennedy v. Jacoby Ellsbury at-bat in the first inning. I'll take Ellsbury...
Rich: I have seen Kennedy pitch a couple of times. I was fortunate to see him make his collegiate debut against Long Beach State and Jered Weaver in February 2004. He allowed just one hit and one unearned run in five innings while striking out eight batters. He went on to post a 7-2 record with a 2.91 ERA. Those aren't bad numbers for a freshman. But what impressed me the most were his 120 strikeouts against 31 walks in just 92 2/3 innings. Ian was a member of the 2004 U.S. National Team and he struck out a team-high 40 batters in 26 innings. He has added 128 more Ks this season (second in the nation) in only 87 2/3 innings. This guy has 2006 first-round written all over him.
Bryan: Yes, Ian will be among the top five college pitchers drafted. But, I do not believe he ranks highest in his class. The best two college sophomores, in my mind, are in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. I first talked about Andrew Miller before the season, and he has done nothing to make me believe in him any less. In late April he was named onto the Dick Howser Trophy Watch List, given to the best college player in the nation. Since then he has slowed down the pace a little, and while his numbers fall a bit short of Kennedy's, you can't argue with a 6-6, 195 frame from a southpaw. Not to mention that disgusting fastball-slider combination.
Rich: Well, I haven't seen Miller pitch, but I know you are high on him. You might think I'm high but Kennedy is a special youngster. His fastball sits in the low-90s. He has excellent mechanics and hides the ball well. However, Kennedy is not a tall and lanky guy like Miller. Instead, at 6'0", 195, he looks more like Tim Hudson or Roy Oswalt. I know the scouts like 'em bigger, but I wouldn't hesitate taking him despite his less than desirable size.
Bryan: Yes, his repeatable delivery and good command are definitely pluses that Miller lacks. Anyway, as you very well know, we could be arguing apples and oranges as representation decides draft order now anyway. Scott Boras' presence in either's corner could very well decide which order they are drafted in.
Rich: You are so very right, Bryan. Who knows which one will go before the other? All I know is that if it were a fantasy draft, Kennedy and Miller would be among the first pitchers chosen next year, provided they avoid serious arm problems.
Bryan: Yes, who knows who the arm-injury bug will bite next. But we would definitely be remiss to talk about the OSU-USC match-up from purely a pitching perspective. There will definitely be some offense in Oregon, notably one of my favorite outfield prospects, Jacoby Ellsbury. It looks like Ellsbury has all the tools to be a future leadoff hitter: 28/11 BB/K ratio in 197 at-bats, twenty steals, gap power. He has most recently been named as a semifinalist to the aforementioned Dick Howser trophy, just another bullet point on a resume that will lead to a mid-first round selection.
Rich: I hope he makes it to the big leagues because Repoz will have a field day with that name. I think USC's catcher, Jeff Clement, is a lock to go in the top ten and, in fact, has been rumored as possibly going to Arizona with the first pick in the draft. If you're looking for resumes, this is your guy.
Bryan: Alright, spit it then...
Rich: He played in the 1996 Little League World Series in Williamsport, set the national high school career mark for HR with 75 and led Marshalltown (Iowa) to the 2002 4-A state championship. Jeff was featured in Sports Illustrated back in September 2002, then went on to hit 21 HR his freshman season while being named Collegiate Baseball Freshman National Co-Player of the Year. He has played on the U.S. National Team twice and is a strong candidate to win the Johnny Bench Award for the most outstanding catcher in college baseball this year. Want more?
Bryan: There's more?
Rich: He is hitting .380/.514/.663 with 10 HR and has 39 walks while only striking out 29 times.
Bryan: Very nice. While both prospects we mentioned will add some firepower to the series, it won't be anything like what we can expect from the Stanford-Arizona series, second on my weekend watch list. Both teams have two hitters that will go in the first round, and the number of scouts at Friday's game should rival the Star Wars opening.
Rich: You mean, Revenge of Stanford?
Bryan: The Wildcats will bring Trevor Crowe and Nick Hundley to the table. Crowe is currently hitting over .400 with more than forty extra-base hits and more walks than strikeouts. Hundley, like your boy Clement, is a stud catcher with three more home runs than the Trojan. I actually like Nick's defense a little better too, though neither will be winning Gold Gloves behind the plate. It will be interesting to see who wins that Johnny Bench Award.
Rich: Speaking of which, why is it called the Johnny Bench Award when ol' Johnny never played college baseball? Wouldn't that be like calling the College Basketball Player of the Year the LeBron James Award?
Bryan: Give it time, Rich, give it time. Maybe in the same light they should hand out a John Mayberry Award for the best first baseman with a less than impressive average but solid power. Would his son win it?
Rich: I think he would be an excellent candidate for such an award. I know the scouts like his size and he looks like a hitter. I saw him on TV last year in the Regional and he was an imposing figure out there. It also doesn't hurt to have his pedigree.
Bryan: I'm not as high on him as most, as his .306 average just doesn't do it for me. It looks like he might follow in his footsteps in that regard, as Dad was only a .253 career hitter in the Majors. One problem is that Mayberry hasn't shown extraordinary power, which was supposed to be one of his calling cards. In fact, he has just half the home runs as the Cardinal second baseman, Jed Lowrie. Jed's the Stanford stud, not the former first rounder.
Rich: You're talking about the Pac-10 Player of the Year in 2004 as a sophomore. Lowrie was a bit of a disappointment last summer on Team USA but has acquitted himself well in his junior year and is a candidate for most of the National Player of the Year Awards. You gotta like the fact that he is a middle infielder with the kind of numbers he's put up (.328/.424/.612).
Bryan: Yes, statistically he even rivals your boy, Mr. Troy Tulowitzki. Troy will be playing in the weekend's marquee match-up, against the nation's #1 Cal State-Fullerton. This series will be a fantastic one, as both teams are well coached, and have plenty of draft-caliber talent. For Long Beach, it all starts up the middle.
Rich: Tulowitzki is the real deal. I wouldn't hesitate taking him number one in the draft. He is that good. Everybody knows the comparisons to Bobby Crosby. He's got the size, a powerful arm, a good glove, 4.2 speed, and plus power. What might not be so well known is that Troy also has the energy, enthusiasm, and leadership skills reminiscent of Miguel Tejada. This is a guy who could make it to the majors by September 2006 and has as good a shot at being named Rookie of the Year in 2007 as anybody.
Bryan: Well, Tulo will have his hands full with fellow top ten talent on Friday. On the pitcher's mound will be none other than Titan ace Ricky Romero, who has been rumored to be going sixth overall (to the Jays) for months. Romero is sort of the southpaw's version of Ian Kennedy, with his hand preference salvaging the discontent scouts have on his size. This season Romero has more than made up for the departed Jason Windsor, leading the Titans back to the top spot in the rankings. While Ricky doesn't have the mid-90s fastball of consensus top pitchers Luke Hochevar and Mike Pelfrey, his 116/29 strikeout-to-walk ratio (and non-Boras representation) could lead to a higher draft selection.
Rich: Romero does get his cheese up to around 92, which differentiates him from Cesar Ramos, the opposing starter tonight, who, like Ricky, is a lefty.
Bryan: Big change of pace in Friday starters for the Dirtbags this year. You've seen Ramos a lot, right?
Rich: Yes. Although he took over the Friday Night role from Jered Weaver, he is more like Abe Alvarez, his teammate from two years ago. He has a lot of polish and his command is superior to Romero's at this stage, in my judgment. I think Ramos could make the leap to the majors about as quickly as any pitcher in the draft.
Bryan: Man, does manager Mike Weathers just make carbon copies of ex-players, or what? First the Tulo-Crosby comparison, and now Ramos-Alvarez. Are you just waiting at the door for Jered, version 2.0?
Rich: I have no doubt that Jered is going to be better than Jeff, v2.0. Yes, Bill Stoneman, you heard me correctly. I don't know where people get this "third pitcher" idea. Weaver was a dominant pitcher his sophomore and junior years and was the best starter on Team USA in the summer of 2003. I wouldn't hold the fact that he is major-league ready against him as seems to be the case. Let me ask you, Bryan, who do you want -- Jeff at $9.5M per year or Jered for, say, $7.5M for five years? I mean, you might overpay a bit the first few years but you could have a bargain on your hand in those post-arbitration years.
Bryan: Uh-oh, I brought up a sensitive subject. I agree with you, Rich, there is certainly a bargain to be had in the middle of the Boras-LAAoA negotiations. I also do think this will be the rare example of when Scott Boras loses in negotations, as I project Jered to sign in ten days. A year layoff on an arm that scouts weren't sold on is not going to bring any more millions.
Rich: Weren't sold on? What are you talking about? Weaver would have undoubtedly gone first had the Padres not been concerned about signability. He was and remains the premier amateur pitching prospect in baseball.
Bryan: Well, I think you might be forgetting about the other Boras holdout, Stephen Drew. It was he that the Padres had picked before negotiations got in the way, not Weaver. But both are definitely elite talents. I just happen to think that Weaver will sign before the May 31 deadline, and Drew will re-enter, getting his money from either the Mets, Orioles or Yankees. One has answered no conerns in a year off, while the other is answering the wooden bat concerns in the Independent League right now.
Rich: I hope Weaver signs with the Angels so I can continue to watch him in person. Paul Byrd and Jarrod Washburn are both free agents at the end of the year. Adding Weaver into the mix at this point looks like a cheap option by comparison. He may not be in the rotation from the get go in 2006, but I would be surprised if he didn't pitch in the majors next year.
Bryan: Well, don't get ahead of yourself, the 2005 CWS is long before Weaver's projected '06 arrival. Who ya got winning the title this year?
Rich: I think the best teams are in the west but they will be lucky to hold two Regionals so the cards are stacked against them. I know one thing though. Those SEC, ACC, and Big 12 teams with all the good seeds sure don't want to see USC or Long Beach State come into town. The sad thing is that Oregon State, Cal State Fullerton, USC, and Long Beach all deserve to host Regionals. But the likelihood of all four teams staying home is slim and none and slim just left for Texas.
Bryan: Yes, I'm not quite sure our collegiate West Coast bias will be able to extend far past the Super Regionals. I actually have Tulane to win the title, Baseball America's preseason #1, as I think the hitter-pitcher combination players Brian Bogusevic and Micah Owings are putting things together at the right time. Jason Windsor and Kurt Suzuki can tell you that often proves very valuable.
Rich: Speaking of Windsor and Suzuki, CSUF beat Tulane two out of three earlier this year. Tulane, a west coast team, and six from the SEC in the College World Series would make the NCAA happy, I'm quite sure.
From the Majors to the NCAAs, it always comes back to the almighty dollar. But for just one weekend, we urge you to switch away from the Cubs-White Sox, Yanks-Mets, or Angels-Dodgers. Try a different flavor of baseball, and instead you might just see the winner of that good ol' 2005 Johnny Bench Award, college or no college.
News Flash: Weaver Joins Drew in Independent Atlantic League.
What's Old is New
Over the last fifteen years, the major leagues took on the task of rebuilding its infrastructure, the stadiums we enjoy visiting so much. From Philadelphia to San Diego, new construction brought us open concourses, more leg room, luxury boxes, video scoreboards, retractable roofs and higher taxes. In Pittsburgh, fans now have a view of the city skyline; in Denver, the snow covered mountains loom over the outfield fence even in July. You can bring your dog to PETCO and visit with Boog Powell in Baltimore. The new stadiums are more than just a place to watch a game; they're an event unto themselves.
It was a little different in Washington this weekend. I was invited down to attend the game on Saturday night, and I found that I liked RFK Stadium. The park was built in 1962 for the second version of the Washington Senators, born when the original team moved to Minnesota. It's the same stadium you saw in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, San Diego and still in St. Louis. And, believe it or not, I liked it. It's a park built with one thing in mind, to watch a sporting event.
It's easy to get to RFK. We took a subway ride from downtown and didn't need to change trains. It looked like there was a lot of parking at RFK, and it was located next to the highway. There were plenty of concessions, and although we were down the right field line, we had a nice view of the action. As I sat there watching the rain and then the action, I thought, why spend all that money on a new park when this was a perfectly reasonable place to play ball.
The Red Sox tried to get a new stadium for years. When the new ownership took over, it was clear to them that it wasn't going to happen. Instead, they looked inward to see what could be done with their existing building. The results are marvelous. The Green Monster seats are the hottest ticket in town. The right field roof, which was dangerous to stand on as late as the 1999 All-Star game (I was up there) is now a beer garden. Plans are in the works to add even more seating to the existing structure. So far, every change the Red Sox made improved the park. They're even going to get rid of the .406 Club, a poor improvement the old ownership installed. Slowly but surely the Red Sox are turning Fenway into a state of the art facility while retaining it's old time charm.
Why can't the Nationals do the same with RFK? If they move DC United to the Redskins home, you could make the seating baseball only. The stands that move for football could be made permanent and angled better for baseball sightlines. The useless outfield seats could be torn down and a lower level of bleachers could be added with a view past the outfield wall. Some clever architect could find a way to insert luxury boxes as well. And most importantly, the field can be torn up and replaced with a state of the art drainage system. The deluge I saw on Saturday night indicated the need for a way to clear the field of water quickly.
Baseball would also be preserving a part of it's past. Just as Wrigley and Fenway stand as monuments to the early intimate ballparks, RFK could stand as a reminder of an era of stadiums that were part of the scene for three decades. Camden Yards is no longer retro; it's become the norm. What's special about going to a new ball park anymore? They're mostly designed by the same people and have the same features. We appear to have replaced one set of cookie cutter parks with another. Granted, they are more fan friendly. They contain more nooks and crannies. There's more to do than in the old stadiums. But in a way the ballpark has become the event. "I'm going to Camden Yards," not, "I'm going to the ball game."
RFK is now the retro park. It's the type of stadium my generation grew up visiting. With Busch soon going the way of the wrecking ball, RFK will be the last of a breed. Rather than make it obsolete, let's fix the flaws. Let's leave it as a reminder of a generation's youth. Let's save the taxpayers of the nations's capitol some hard earned cash. RFK is a place where the game is the event. It would be nice to keep that in at least one venue.
David Pinto is the owner and author of Baseball Musings. David has been involved in baseball research professionally since 1990 when he was the STATS, Inc. consultant to ESPN's Baseball Tonight. The Day by Day Database at his site is fast becoming one of the most popular research tools on the web.
[Additonal reader comments and retorts at Baseball Primer.]
Advance Scouting the Directors (Pt. 2)
Yesterday, we saw that scouting directors can have all sorts of strategies. Some are ruled by their budgets, while others are beneiftted from large wallets. Some like the polish that college players offer, while traditionalists love the high school ceiling. Some prefer taking pitching early, some won't venture into that risky territory. And that was just the NL directors.
Today we'll look at the AL group, where there are 12 incumbents, including a pair of the longest tenured directors. Again, here is the list, organized by organizational record...
White Sox: Duane Shaffer (2001)
First-round picks under Shaffer: Kris Honel (01), Wyatt Allen (01), Royce Ring (02), Brian Anderson (03), Josh Fields (04), Tyler Lumsden (04), Gio Gonzalez (04)
Best pre-2004 players drafted (yr-rd): Chris Young (01-16), Jeremy Reed (02-2), Brian Anderson (03-1)
Pre-2004 steals, or post-5th round picks: Chris Young (01-16), Brandon McCarthy (02-17), Antoin Gray (03-25)
I am giving Shaffer credit for running the White Sox draft since 2001, but there is reason to argue he has been doing so since 1991. On the White Sox site, it says, "Shaffer was the White Sox scouting director for 10 seasons (1991-2000) before serving as senior director of scouting in 2001. He was promoted to senior director of player personnel in February 2002." If you include the 90s on Shaffer's resume, it might be even more damning, as the Sox were very bad in the first round. Of the 20 picks they had in those ten seasons, Kip Wells, Rocky Biddle and Aaron Rowand are the best. Only five of the players were ever regulars. But Shaffer's strong suit seems to be finding players in the mid-rounds, and his first-round talents seem to have improved in recent years. The Sox don't lean in any direction in the first, though maybe the team has begun to learn from one too many pitching busts.
Orioles: Joe Jordan has been hired for the 2005 draft.
Red Sox: Jason McLeod (2004)
No first-round picks under McLeod.
The Red Sox did not have a first-round pick in Jason McLeod's first draft last June, but he sure made it count after that. Second round pick Dustin Pedroia looks like a potential everyday player up the middle. After that, players Andrew Dobies, Tommy Hottovy, Cla Maredith and Mike Rozier all look like potential contributors. Unsurprisingly the Red Sox veer towards college players, though their largest 2004 bonus was to Rozier, a player that slid due to economic concerns. Should McLeod be able to continue to stockpile college players early in the draft, and prep slippers late in the draft, the Sox should continue to bolster what was once a weak farm system.
Twins: Mike Radcliffe (1994)
First-round picks under Radcliffe: Todd Walker (94), Travis Miller (94), Mark Redman (95), Travis Lee (96), Michael Cuddyer (97), Matt LeCroy (97), Ryan Mills (98), B.J. Garbe (99), Adam Johnson (00), Aaron Heilman (00), Joe Mauer (01), Denard Span (02), Matt Moses (03), Trevor Ploufe (04), Glen Perkins (04), Kyle Waldrop (04), Matt Fox (04), Jay Rainville (04)
Best pre-2004 players drafted: Corey Koskie (94-26), Mark Redman (95-1), Jacque Jones (96-2), Matt LeCroy (97-1), Juan Padilla (98-24), Justin Morneau (99-3), J.D. Durbin (00-2), Joe Mauer (01-1), Jesse Crain (02-2), Scott Baker (03-2)
Steals: Corey Koskie (94-26), Doug Mientkiewicz (95-5), Mike Lincoln (96-13), no 1997 steal, Juan Padilla (98-24), Terry Tiffee (99-26), Jason Kubel (00-12), no 2001 steal, Adam Harben (02-15), Errol Simonitsch (03-6)
There may not be a scouting director more respected in the business than Mike Radcliffe. With apologies to Duane Shaffer, Radcliffe is the longest tenured director in the game. What amazes me most about him is that -- even with the Twins successful rebuild -- Radcliffe's name never comes up for General Manager or high-profile scouting director positions. Radcliffe has been remarkably solid with his first round picks in eleven years, with the only problem being Carl Pohlad's budget during that time. The Twins lean heavily towards high school players, though have proven that they will choose a college pitcher every once in awhile. Radcliffe has also had quite a few steals over the years, so be sure to always have your eyes on everyone Minnesota drafts.
Angels: Eddie Bane (2004)
First-round picks under Bane: Jered Weaver (04)
Despite having been a well respected scout in the Angel system for years, 'director' was not attached to Bane's name until late in 2003. Maybe the most famous scouting director for his recent involvement in the scouts v. stats debate, Bane was also named by Will Carroll as one of the next batch of Major League general managers. Bane's comments from the debate lead me to believe that the Angels will be high school-heavy in their draft efforts, but like in 2004, will recognize if a very good college player is left on the board. Bane should also benefit from Arte Moreno, who led the club to sign first round-caliber talents Nick Adenhart and Mark Trumbo in the later rounds.
Blue Jays: Jon Lalonde (2004)
First-round picks under Lalonde: David Purcey (04), Zach Jackson (04)
What is interesting about the Blue Jays is that of all the Major League teams I looked at, their general manager seems to have the most hands-on approach to the draft. Lalonde looks to be a product of philosophy more than anything else, a young man with a limited scouting history that buys into the Blue Jays college-first mentality. My belief is that J.P. Riccardi will continue to be top dog on draft day, which means that the team is not going to shy away from collegiate players. For more information on Lalonde, check out this Batter's Box interview shortly after his promotion.
Rangers: Ron Hopkins (2003)
First-round picks under Hopkins: John Danks (03), Thomas Diamond (04)
Best pre-2004 players drafted: John Danks (03-1)
Steals: Ian Kinsler (03-17)
With Grady Fuson gone this year, Ron Hopkins will finally get the chance to emerge from his shadow. Fuson pretty much led the Rangers' drafting efforts the past two seasons, but Hopkins has had the title of scouting director. Both men came from the Oakland A's, Sandy Alderson era, meaning that it will take a special high school player to make the Rangers not look to the NCAA. John Danks proves that they will do so, every once in awhile, but it would hardly be smart to go into the draft expecting it.
Yankees: Gordon Blakeley (2003)
First-round picks under Blakeley: Eric Duncan (03), Phillip Hughes (04), Jon Poterson (04), Jeff Marquez (04)
Best pre-2004 players drafted: Eric Duncan (03)
Steals: Tyler Clippard (03-8)
Another confusing title, as Blakeley is officially listed as "senior vice president of player personnel." He took over the position for Mark Newman in January of 2003, but Newman continues to have a presence over the Yankee drafts. The Yankees system went extremely bare under Newman, but has had two solid drafts in a row under new leadership. Look for the Yankees to use their extra dollars when it counts, and also expect (in the long run, maybe not this year) more high school players than those from college.
Tigers: Hired David Chadd for the 2005 draft.
Indians: John Mirabelli (2000)
First-round picks under Mirabelli: Corey Smith (00), Derek Thompson (00), Dan Denham (01), Alan Horne (01), J.D. Martin (01), Mike Conroy (01), Jeremy Guthrie (02), Matt Whitney (02), Micah Schilling (02), Michael Aubrey (03), Brad Snyder (03), Adam Miller (03), Jeremy Sowers (04)
Best pre-2004 players drafted: Brian Tallet (00-2), J.D. Martin (01-1), Jeremy Guthrie (02-1), Michael Aubrey (03-1)
Steals: Ryan Church (00-14), Luke Scott (01-9), Nick Pesco (02-25), no 2003 steal
While Mirabelli has been the product of an organization that stockpiles draft picks, the Indians have not received great return under his rule. His first three drafts went pretty horribly, and while 2003 could make up for it all, the Adam Miller injury certainly hurt. Mirabelli is in a young braintrust running the Cleveland Indians, run more supremely by GM Mark Shapiro and assistant Chris Antonetti. The Indians will always lean towards college players, but the team has shown they will never shy away from high schoolers in the early rounds.
Athletics: Eric Kubota (2002)
First-round picks under Kubota: Nick Swisher (02), Joe Blanton (02), John McCurdy (02), Ben Fritz (02), Jeremy Brown (02), Steve Obenchain (02), Mark Teahen (02), Brad Sullivan (03), Brian Snyder (03), Omar Quintanilla (03)
Best pre-2004 players drafted: Joe Blanton (02-1), Omar Quintanilla (03-1)
Steals: no 2002 steals, no 2003 steals
Kubota became scouting director before the infamous Moneyball draft, which of course was hardly the success that Michael Lewis boasted. The A's have actually struggled in the first round the past few years, though I'm not sure what influence Kubota has on the draft. There is very little question on what to expect from the A's, and that is all college, all the time.
Mariners: Bob Fontaine (2004)
No first-round picks under Fontaine
In his first draft atop the Mariner scouting department, Bob Fontaine had to wait until the third round to choose. However, it looks like he made the choice count, as Matt Tuiasosopo looks to be a solid prospect. It is hard to tell what direction Fontaine will take the Mariners, though Bill Bavasi has always tended to lean in the high school direction. Trying to interpret Fontaine is similar to the newest batch, as we simply don't have enough evidence to make any conclusive comments.
Devil Rays: Cam Bonifay (2002)
First-round picks under Bonifay: B.J. Upton (02), Delmon Young (03), Jeff Niemann (04)
Best pre-2004 players drafted: B.J. Upton (02-1), Delmon Young (03-1)
Steals: Joey Gomes (02-8), Chad Orvella (03-13)
Bonifay has taken the unconventional route to scouting director, having served eight years prior to the job as a general manager for the Pirates. Bonifay was blamed largely for the Pirates demise from National League contender to the bottom feeder that offers fans little besides a beautiful park. But, Bonifay (like Gord Ash in Milwaukee) seems to be succeeding in a new environment, having made his early picks count with Tampa. While he had inherited a good team in the Pirates in the early 90s, it appears that Bonifay may be best suited to be in rebuilding mode. It looks like Cam tends to lean towards choosing high school players, but numerous picks with the Pirates -- and the Niemann selection -- prove that he will also draft NCAA kids given the right scenario.
Royals: Deric Ladnier (2001)
First-round picks under Ladnier: Colt Griffin (01), Zack Greinke (02), Chris Lubanski (03), Billy Butler (04), Matt Campbell (04), J.P. Howell (04)
Best pre-2004 players drafted: no good 2001 choice, Zack Greinke (02-1), Mitch Maier (03-2)
Steals: no 2001 steal, Donnie Murphy (02-5), Luis Cota (03-10)
Ladnier has had an odd run with the Royals, struggling in the draft in 2001 and 2003, but looks like he will succeed in 2002 and 2004. The trick is that while the Royals picked four high school players from 01-04, there are fundamental differences between the all-tool combination of Griffin and Lubanski, and the cerebral Greinke and Butler. If Ladnier learns from his mistakes and starts choosing heady players, look for more successes down the road. Also not to be outdone, the team brought in well-respected Denny Rowland last August to help with the 2004 draft. Remember that there are always economic concerns in Kansas City, but if Ladnier can have his choice, he'd probably always draft a smart, high school prodigy.
Advance Scouting the Directors
If you ask a scouting director what his most important possession is, you are going to receive a lot of different answers. Some will cite their draft board, others their radar guns, and of course the new trend, the laptop. Scouting directors across the majors approach the June Amateur draft differently, with ideologies ranging from all-college to all-project.
While ideologies can change after learning from past mistakes, history does tend to repeat itself. We have seen sabermetric teams consistently draft college players for the last few years, while other teams are finding the A's trash (high school pitchers) to be their treasure. I decided to spend this week looking at the incumbent scouting directors across the Majors, and look for trends in how they have drafted in the past. It is also a good time to see their contributions since being hired, as bad drafts in the past could lead to change (or firing) in the future.
Here is a brief synopsis of the 14 incumbents in the National League...
Cardinals: Marty Maier (2001)
First-Round picks under Maier: Justin Pope (01), Daric Barton (03), Chris Lambert (04)
Best pre-2004 picks (yr-rd): Dan Haren (01-2), Brad Thompson (02-16), Daric Barton (03-1)
Steals, or post-5th round picks: Blake Hawkesworth (01-28), Brad Thompson (02-16), Anthony Reyes (03-15)
Since implementing Maier to run their drafts in 2001, the Cardinals have leaned heavily towards drafting college players. While his first picks in 2002 and 2003 were exceptions to the rule, Maier is almost all college after his first couple picks. If he goes with a high school player early, expect a skill position hitter with good plate discipline. The club has been good at unearthing talent late, and while the farm system is remarkably dry, Maier is hardly a bad person to have running your draft.
Braves: Roy Clark (2000)
First-Round picks under Clark: Adam Wainwright (00), Scott Thorman (00), Kelly Johnson (00), Aaron Herr (00), Macay McBride (01), Josh Burrus (01), Richard Lewis (01), Jeff Francoeur (02), Dan Meyer (02), Luis Atilano (03), Jarrod Saltalmacchia (03)
Best pre-2004 players drafted: Adam LaRoche (00-29), Kyle Davies (01-4), Jeff Francoeur (02-1), Jake Stevens (03-3)
Steals: Adam LaRoche (00-29), no 2001 steal, Chuck James (02-20), Steve Doestch (03-14)
It is pretty obvious after seeing all those first-round picks that the Braves believe in getting compensation from their free agents. Clark has unfortunately had more busts than successes, though Adam Wainwright's AAA flame-out, Kelly Johnson's slow timetable, and many other excuses can't really be blamed on Clark. The Braves have a huge emphasis on high school players, as only Richard Lewis was drafted in the first-round from college. The other well-known Brave emphasis is towards southeast players, particularly those from Georgia. The Braves have produced a great farm system under Clark, though how much of that can be attributed to his drafting and their philosophy could still be questioned.
Diamondbacks: Mike Rizzo (2000)
First-round picks under Rizzo: Jason Bulger (01), Sergio Santos (02), Conor Jackson (03), Carlos Quentin (03), Stephen Drew (04)
Best pre-2004 players drafted: Brandon Webb (00-8), Chad Tracy (01-7), Sergio Santos? (02-1), Carlos Quentin (03-1)
Steals: Brandon Webb (00-8), Chad Tracy (01-7), Dustin Nippert (02-15), no 2003 steal
Talk about college heavy, the Diamondbacks first 19 selections in the 2004 draft were from the NCAA. Sergio Santos was Rizzo's only high school pick, and a shortstop with plus power is always pretty intriguing. Rizzo's drafting looks to have improved greatly since 2000 and 2001, which were both fairly shaky drafts. It appears that Rizzo will use his first pick on Justin Upton this June, but after him, expect the club to draft quite a few college players after Upton.
Padres: Bill Gayton (2001)
First-Round picks under Gayton: Jake Gautreau (01), Khalil Greene (02), Tim Stauffer (03), Matt Bush (04)
Best pre-2004 picks: Josh Barfield (01-4), Khalil Greene (02-1), Tim Stauffer (03-1)
Steals: Jason Bartlett (01-13), George Kottaras (02-20), no 2003 steal
While not as lauded as the A's or Blue Jays, the Padres have always been seen as a saber-savvy team. Their drafting philosophy leans in that direction, as the Padres normally choose college players with their first selections. Each year the team spends a semi-early choice on high schooler, as Barfield and David Pauley can attest. The Matt Bush fiasco should not be blamed on Gayton but instead on Padre ownership, as Gayton was sold on Stephen Drew weeks before the draft. Don't expect a first-round high school mistake this year.
Marlins: Jim Fleming (2003)
First-round picks under Fleming: Jeff Allison (03), Taylor Tankersly (04)
Best pre-2004 picks: Logan Kensing (03-2)
Steals: no 2003 steal
After a fantastic run with the Devil Rays that is just starting to give Tampa dividends, Fleming moved to the Marlins for the 2003 draft. His first Marlin draft looks like it might have been a bust, as Jeff Allison ran into drugs and few other players have developed as Fleming foresaw. 2004 should yield a little better crop, and expect even more as the future, as Fleming is very highly regarded. He looks unafraid to shy away from drafting any player, as a high school pitcher like Allison can testify.
Nationals: Dana Brown (2002)
First-Round picks under Brown: Clint Everts (02), Chad Cordero (03), Bill Bray (04)
Best pre-2004 players drafted: Clint Everts (02-1), Chad Cordero (03-1),
Steals: no steals
Give Brown some credit, this is a guy that was hired on a whim in 2002. He was given both a small staff and a smaller budget at his fingerprints, and managed to make his first two first-round picks count. Everts' injury was unfortunate, but Cordero looks to be one of the best picks from 2003 so far. None of Brown's drafts have had any depth, which I think is fair to attribute to his payroll problem. It appears as though this will be the first season in which dollars aren't superbly constraining, so Brown should start being graded from here forward. It looks as though Brown drafts according to best player on the board, with an eye towards holes in his system. Look for a hitter this year.
Dodgers: Logan White (2002)
First-round picks under White: James Loney (02), Greg Miller (02), Chad Billingsley (03), Scott Elbert (04), Blake DeWitt (04), Justin Orenduff (04)
Best pre-2004 players drafted: Greg Miller (02-1), Chad Billingsley (03-1)
Steals: Russ Martin (02-7), Andy LaRoche (03-39)
What is very interesting about White is the fact that he has gotten so much press, but still has not produced a Los Angeles Dodger through his drafts. Baseball America has ranked all of White's drafts highly, likely because he caters to the high school heavy philosophy that BA tends to support. White has proven that he -- not Paul DePodesta -- will be drafting in Los Angeles, though expect a few DePo sleepers to sneak into the later rounds. Logan White is as well thought of as any scouting director in the business, and is a few less injuries from creating a star-studded resume. Expect the high school picks in the first round to continue.
Mets: Have hired Russ Bove for the 2005 draft
Brewers: Jack Zduriencik (2000)
First-round picks under Zduriencik: Dave Krynzel (00), Mike Jones (01), Prince Fielder (02), Rickie Weeks (03), Mark Rogers (04)
Best pre-2004 players drafted: Krynzel (00-1), J.J. Hardy (01-2), Prince Fielder (02-1), Rickie Weeks (03-1)
Steals: no 2000 steal, Chris Saenz (01-28), Dana Eveland (02-16), Ty Taubenheim (03-19)
Speaking of highly regarded scouting directors, few come more respected in the baseball business than Zduriencik. Known to stick to his draft board more than anyone, Jake is one of the many contributors that are taking part in a good-looking Milwaukee rebuilding process. But also like Logan White, not a lot of players drafted under the current scouting director have made the Majors (Krynzel and Weeks' Sep. call-ups). Milwaukee has two of the best prospects in the business in Fielder and Weeks, and their development is essential to Milwaukee returning to glory. Contrary to popular belief the Brewers will spend on the draft, Zduriencik sticks with his board, and Milwaukee is a little weak in the pitching department. Boras candidate anyone?
Giants: Matt Nerland (1999)
First-round picks under Nerland: Kurt Ainsworth (99), Jerome Williams (99), Boof Bonser (00), Brad Hennessey (01), Noah Lowry (01), Todd Linden (01), Matt Cain (02), David Aardsma (03), Craig Whitaker (03)
Best pre-2004 players drafted: Jerome Williams (99-1), Jason Ellison (00-22), Noah Lowry (01-1), Matt Cain (02-1), Nate Schierholtz (03-2)
Steals: no 1999 steal, Jason Ellison (00-22), Ryan Meaux (01-25), Clay Hensley (02-8), no 2003 steal
Ignoring the Giants recent 'We don't need no stinkin' first-round pick' ideology, the previous thought was to go pitching-heavy early. The Giants loaded up with pitching in from 1999-2003, and had some great prospects from Ainsworth to Williams to Foppert and now to Cain. Either the club believes that hitting is a commodity that can be discovered in later rounds, or one that can be paid for at the Major League level. When you team Brian Sabean's desire to trade big pitching prospects and the Nerland ideology, not a lot of his blue chippers are going to make the Majors. Expect role players like Lance Niekro and Ellison to make impacts, and Nerland has still left enough young pitchers in the farm system for Sabean to pick and choose.
Pirates: Ed Creech (2002)
First-round picks under Creech: Brian Bullington (02-1), Paul Maholm (03-1), Neil Walker (04-1)
Best pre-2004 players drafted: Brad Eldred (02-6), Tom Gorzelanny (03-2),
Steals: Brad Eldred (02-6), no 2003 steals
Plain and simple, the Pirates screwed up badly in 2002 drafting Ball State right-hander Brian Bullington ahead of prep shortstop B.J. Upton. But new scouting director Ed Creech saved face by publicly stating that he liked Upton better, but was both alone within the franchise and didn't have the pocketbook to stomach the pick. Creech has not really shown many tendencies with the Pirates, though it's obvious that he is constrained by his budget. Neil Walker last June broke a short trend of college pitchers, though I believe that was more geared at tuning the farm system than anything else. Creech will go with the best discount player on the board, and could be one more bust away from joining the unemployed list.
Cubs: John Stockstill (1999)
First-round picks under Stockstill: Ben Christensen (99), Luis Montanez (00), Mark Prior (01), Bobby Brownlie (02), Luke Hagerty (02), Chadd Blasko (02), Matt Clanton (02), Ryan Harvey (03)
Best pre-2004 players drafted: Steve Smyth (99-4), Dontrelle Willis (00-8), Mark Prior (01-1), Brian Dopirak (02-2), Ryan Harvey (03-1)
Steals: no 1999 steal, Dontrelle Willis (00-8), Brendan Harris (01-5), Adam Greenberg (02-9), Sean Marshall (03-6)
The longest tenured NL scouting director, John Stockstill has both success stories and blemishes on his resume. Most consistent in his ideology is the tendency to draft players that have slipped due to economic concerns, using the Chicago market to his advantage. Stockstill also tends to spend late-round picks on players generally seen as hard to sign, and many are names that tend to pop up again: Khalil Greene, Taylor Teagarden, Jeff Larish, etc. Stockstill was unfortunate to come right before the Corey Pattersons and Kerry Woods were drafted, and also is likely bummed that Jim Hendry chose to include Dontrelle Willis in the Matt Clement trade. I'm not sure that Stockstill will have a lot more drafts with the Cubs at this pace, but expect more of the draft-the-undraftable strategy to continue in 2005.
Phillies: Marti Wolevar (2002)
First-round picks under Wolevar: Cole Hamels (02), Greg Golson (04)
Best pre-2004 players drafted: Cole Hamels (02-1), Michael Bourn (03-2)
Steals: Jake Blalock (02-5), no 2003 steals
Of all the men on this list, Wolevar probably has the least impressive resume. The best player Marti has drafted is Hamels, currently on the shelf and flush with make-up and injury knocks. After that the list drops to someone of Michael Bourn caliber, a player that has no dream of making my top 100 prospects. This is quite concerning for a Phillie team that is aging quite fast, and will find their system particularly dry once the likes of Gavin Floyd and Ryan Howard (both before Wolevar) come through. We have seen him use his highest pick on a high school pitcher, college infielder and high school outfielder, so the best ideological guess is best player on the board.
Astros: Hired J.D. Elliby for the 2005 draft
Reds: Terry Reynolds (2004)
First-round pick under Reynolds: Homer Bailey (04)
Last season was Reynolds first draft, and it went pretty well as the club picked up the nation's best prep pitcher (Bailey), a toolsy college player (B.J. Szymanski) as well as a polished college shortstop (Paul Janish). Reynolds was all over the board with his draft, but appears to lean towards projects, as both Bailey and Szymanski were drafted years from the big leagues. With that being said, the Reds could use reinforcements quickly, and with a fairly weak farm system, we could see that ideology change the second time around.
Rockies: Bill Schmidt (2000)
First-round picks under Schmidt: Matt Harrington (00), Jayson Nix (01), Jeff Francis (02), Ian Stewart (03-1), Chris Nelson (04-1)
Best pre-2004 players drafted: Clint Barmes (00-10), Cory Sullivan (01-7), Jeff Francis (02-1), Ian Stewart (03-1)
Steals: Clint Barmes (00-10), Cory Sullivan (01-7), Jeff Salazar (02-8), no 2003 steal
The last three drafts have gone nicely for Schmidt, who has picked up three good young players in Francis, Stewart and Nelson. The main problem for Schmidt has been drafting solid players that went unsigned, as seen by Matt Harrington in 2000 and Micah Owings in 2002. Add both those players to the farm system and you have much more depth than what the current system is offering, which is benefitting from a good overseas program. It seems as though Schmidt has decided to go with prep players earlier in the draft (most of the time), while shifting to college players in the middle rounds.
I'll be back tomorrow with the American League directors...
They Used to Be Called Firemen
How do you spell relief? F-i-r-e-m-e-n. A-c-e R-e-l-i-e-v-e-r-s. C-l-o-s-e-r-s. Call 'em what you want. Heck, spell 'em the way you want. This isn't English 101. It is the Deployment of the Bullpen. The Next Frontier.
Class, we're going to do a case study. No textbooks needed. Let's take a look at last Friday night's game between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Atlanta Braves. I will set the stage for you.
Jeff Weaver started for the Dodgers, had a no-hitter broken up in the sixth, and gave up just three hits and no runs through seven. With one out in the eighth and the Dodgers leading 2-0, pinch hitter Pete Orr singled and moved to third on Rafael Furcal's double. Weaver struck out Marcus Giles and then walked Chipper Jones on four pitches to load the bases.
Weaver had thrown 114 pitches at this point and was clearly laboring. Adam LaRoche, Atlanta's clean-up hitter was due up next. Weaver throws right and LaRoche bats left. Kelly Wunsch, a southpaw, was warming up in the bullpen.
Dodgers manager Jim Tracy left Weaver in and LaRoche crushed a 2-2 offering for a grand slam into the right-field pavillion. Braves 4, Dodgers 2. Tracy replaced Weaver (who threw 119 pitches, his highest total since June 1, 2004, when he served up 125) with Wunsch to face the switch-hitting Johnny Estrada, who promptly singled. Giovanni Carrara was summoned from the bullpen, and he struck out Andruw Jones.
Tracy and Weaver were subsequently bailed out when Milton Bradley slugged a grand slam in the home half of the eighth inning. Yhency Brazoban pitched the top of the ninth and retired the Braves in order, striking out Brian Jordan for the second out and pinch-hitter Julio Franco to end the game.
The Dodgers won the game, 7-4. Carrara, who threw one-third of an inning, was the pitcher of record when Bradley hit the game-winning home run. He got the win to run his record to 4-0 and Brazoban got the proverbial "show up in the ninth inning with a three-run lead and get a save"--his 11th of the season.
According to the Long Beach Press-Telegram, "Tracy defended the decision to stick with Weaver, noting that had he turned to Wunsch, the Braves likely would have countered with PH Julio Franco." What Tracy meant was that he preferred Weaver vs. LaRoche over Wunsch vs. Franco. I don't really agree with that decision myself. LaRoche is a much better hitter than Franco and Weaver was gassed.
"I wasn't going to take Weaver out. Until that point, the hardest hit ball had been a double by Horacio Ramirez . . . he was one pitch away, I wouldn't want anybody to take the ball away from me in that situation."
The decision to leave Weaver in or take him out should have nothing to do with whether Tracy would or wouldn't "want" the ball in that spot. Instead, it should come down to whether Weaver gave the Dodgers the best opportunity to win the game.
Rather than thinking it came down to either Weaver vs. LaRoche or Wunsch vs. Franco, why wasn't Brazoban--the Dodgers' best pitcher in the first month-and-a-half of 2005--an option at that point? Why do you have to stick with a tired starter or go with a LOOGY (which stands for Left-handed One-Out GuY)? I mean, the game was on the line right then and there. Dodgers up 2-0, top of the eighth, bases loaded, and the opposition's #4 hitter coming to bat. This is about as highly leveraged of a situation as you will get.
A manager should want the best pitcher available to him to be in the game for that critical at-bat. A well-rested Brazoban and his 2.03 ERA and more than a strikeout an inning was clearly that man. Another point in favor of using Yhency was knowing that the Dodgers were activating Eric Gagne from the disabled list the following day. Given everything, pushing Brazoban for four outs made all the sense in the world.
But even if Tracy didn't want Brazoban to pitch that much, I would still argue that he is better off using his fireman/ace reliever/closer in the eighth for one batter than having him start the top of the ninth with even a two-run lead but nobody on and facing the bottom half of the order. The Dodgers needed to retire LaRoche with the bases full. Estrada, Jones, and Jordan in the ninth could wait for another pitcher, if need be.
When you call 911, do you expect the fire department to do everything they can to put out your fire, or would you want them to hold back in case they're needed elsewhere?
Managers need to understand the win probability or expectancy when considering pitching changes. Choosing your best reliever to come in and close out an inning during a threat in the seventh or eighth--even if it means using a lesser option in the ninth--is generally a more prudent use of your bullpen than calling upon your so-called closer for the last three outs of the game when nobody is on base.
They used to call these relievers firemen rather than closers. Their job was to put out the fire when needed, not necessarily to literally close out the game.
In the example above, I will say it is easier said than done. To deploy this strategy effectively, a star reliever would need to warm up earlier and more often because his role would be less certain than just getting ready to pitch the final inning. However, there is no reason why Brazoban couldn't have been asked to begin throwing after Furcal doubled. The tying run was on second base, the go-ahead run was at the plate, and the Braves had their second, third, and fourth hitters coming up. After Weaver walked Chipper Jones two batters later, Yhency should have been warm enough to face LaRoche. If not, Tracy could have visited the mound twice, giving his ace that much more time to get ready.
As I pointed out in a recent chat with Jon Weisman at Dodger Thoughts, "I have always been an advocate of using your best relief pitchers in the most highly leveraged situations. Brazoban and Gagne should be used when the game is on the line, no matter the inning. The Dodgers also have the luxury of having one of the best LOOGYs in baseball this year and a couple of decent back of the bullpen guys who could pitch late in a game, if need be."
In recent times, closers have been used less frequently before the ninth inning at critical junctures and in ties late in the game--two of the most highly leveraged situations--and almost exclusively when their team has a one- (good), two- (OK), or three-run (not so good) lead in the ninth. The latter two instances amount to an inefficient use of resources and appear to be driven by the desire on the part of relievers and agents to accumulate saves and by managers unwilling to go against what has sadly become the conventional wisdom.
Getting rid of the save stat would go a long way toward alleviating this problem. Absent that, changing the definition of a save (i.e., the tying or winning run must be at-bat or on-base when a reliever enters the game) would help matters. But save or no save, it should be the responsibility of all managers to use whatever they wish to call their best reliever when the game is on the line, starting as early as the seventh inning. If it means letting these pitchers throw more than one inning, well, that would be a good change, too. Remember, they used to be called firemen.
A Brad Penny For My Dodger Thoughts
Jon Weisman, owner/operator/author/moderator extraordinaire of Dodger Thoughts, and I conducted what Jon called a "face-to-computer-to-computer-to-face chat about the state of the Dodgers." You can read Talking the Fifth: A Dodger Thoughts-Baseball Analysts Chat in its entirety at one of the best baseball blogs in the universe.
Here is a snippet. . .
Rich: The problem, as I see it, isn't just one of offense at third base. I'm also concerned about the position from a defensive standpoint. The team's defensive efficiency (.691) is the fifth-lowest in the league.
Mike Edwards and Oscar Robles are career minor leaguers, Perez has some talent but is unproven, and, thank goodness, the Dodgers had the sense to drop Nakamura. I'm not suggesting that DePodesta should panic here, but I would be inclined to find a one-year stop gap for as little consideration as possible.
Jon: I agree. But in a sense, the point you bring up about left field leads us to the fact that DePodesta does have multiple weaknesses to consider with this team. Which is the bigger problem right now, for example: third base or a complete starting rotation?
Rich: Given that Scott Erickson is the pitcher who makes the starting rotation incomplete, there is no doubt in my mind that finding a fifth starter is the more important issue, at least from the standpoint of the regular season. A fifth starter isn't all that important in the post-season though so I would want to shore up the third base situation before the trading deadline passes.
Jon: Well, I assume that Perez will get his shot to prove himself offensively and defensively at third base, and then if by mid-June the position is this year's version of Dave Ross-Brent Mayne 2004, DePodesta will make a move.
Rich: That's fair. One guy he won't be able to move in a trade though is Erickson. For my money, I don't see how Jim Tracy can afford to hand him the ball even one more time. I mean, five strikeouts in 31 innings? C'mon. I'm not sure what they saw in him to begin with but it's painfully obvious by now that the guy is done. No good. Incapable. Over-the-hill. Kaput.
Jon: One of the Dodger Thoughts commenters found, I think, that three of his five strikeout victims were pitchers. I believe Adam Eaton accounted for two.
Rich: Wow, if that doesn't say it all ... I can't add much beyond that other than to also chime in with the fact that Erickson has only struck out ONE batter in 17 IP at home. You know, as in Dodger Stadium, the renowned pitcher's ballpark. Now that is pathetic!
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Hurry up, head on over to Dodger Thoughts if you want to read the before and after. Be sure to read the attached comments from Bob Timmerman & Co. If you have anything to add, feel free to leave your comments over there this one time. I'll check them out and respond, if need be.
Two on Two: White-Hot Sox
With a 3-2 win over the AL East-leading Baltimore Orioles on Thursday, the Chicago White Sox pushed their record to 26-9, tops in the Majors. The Sox have already put together two eight-game winning streaks this year and are getting production from places no one expected. For example, rotation incumbent Jon Garland has made the switch from 100 ERA+ innings-eater to one of the early-season AL Cy Young Award candidates.
Still, with so many things going right, the Sox are still not receiving the respect that .743 teams normally garner. Will "Ozzie ball" wear off at some point, with the Sox opening nothing more than a flash in the pan? Or, was this really a universally underrated team heading into the season? To find this answer, we decided to go straight to the source, to question the White Sox fans that follow the team the closest.
Helping us bring out the "Two on Two" segment from hibernation are The Cheat from southsidesox.com and Mike Wilkins from whitesoxinteractive.com. Read on as the pair tries to make a case for the team that couldn't even land a second-place prediction in our AL Central preview...
Bryan: This season the Sox appear to be a whole different team than the second place club we have seen in the past. What is so different about the White Sox this season?
Cheat: Pitching. There's a whole new attitude to the pitching staff. The rotation has, for the most part, kept runs off the board. In the rare instances that they haven't, the pen has held serve to let the offense claw back into games.
Mike: It's all about attitude.
The Sox got rid of two guys (Lee and Ordonez) who seemed overly focused on padding their personal stats with the long ball, and replaced them with what Kenny Williams likes to call "grinders"--guys like Podsednik and Pierzynski who grit their teeth, hustle, get on and get over when they need to. Carl Everett's hitting renaissance hasn't hurt either.
Rich: Wait a minute now. The White Sox have been a pretty consistent ballclub the past several years, averaging 83 wins per season in the four years following the Central Division title in 2000. After 35 games this year, the Chisox have won 26. That means the team has won about eight more games than expected at this point.
Mike, are you saying these extra wins are attributable to an improvement in the team's attitude?
Mike: Sure am, Rich. Instead of guys who are focused on going up there and swatting a home run, the Sox lineup now has 9 guys who are focused on getting the guy who's already on base across the plate.
Bryan: Of course, the flaw behind that reasoning is that the White Sox are eighth in the Major Leagues in home runs, but just 21st in on-base percentage. From May 3 to May 8, in which the team did not lose, they averaged two home runs per game. The offense appears to be as inconsistent as last year -- this year's team actually has more games with less than three runs -- but the pitching constantly has bailed this team out. But considering the Maggs-Ozzie, Damaso-CLee, and Thomas-management debates, I do think the clubhouse could be a much more fun place.
Mike: A lot of us Sox fans are gnashing our teeth over how low our OBP is. But when we do get guys on base, we tend to be (one nightmare against Detroit excepted) pretty productive about getting them home. Uribe, Everett and Rowand all have BA/RISP numbers above .300...so when the table does get set for them, they do a pretty good job of feasting on it.
Cheat: Obviously, home runs are inconsistent. The Sox hit one about once every 23 at bats last season; They're hiting them at a rate of about once very 30 at bats in 2005. But you can't rely on the HR for all of your offense. Last year the Sox went 1-44(27.8% of games) when scoring less than three runs. They've scored less than three in 7 games(22.5%) so far this season, winning 4. They're avoiding those low scoring outputs more than last season, and the improved pitching is making those games more winnable.
Bryan: Alright, so I think it is fair to say that we have attributed this early season outbreak to two factors: BA/RISP and pitching. The former is interesting, as the merits of clutch hitting could be argued for days. What I do find interesting is that the Sox more consistent hitters for average -- Tadahito Iguchi, Joe Crede and A.J. Pierzynski -- are hitting .192, .263 and .097 respectively with runners in scoring position. On the other hand, struggling hitters Rowand, Podsednik and Uribe are all over .333. What gives?
Mike: Well, when Juan Uribe isn't spinning around in the dirt after a flailing swing and miss, he's usually popping a ball into shallow right. He's had ample opportunities to drive guys in being at the bottom of the order, and he's just able to slap the ball when he needs to.
Cheat: I think that's what you call balance. Pierzynski's not going to his .097 with RISP for the whole season, and the three you named as being excellent in that situation probably aren't going to continue being as good. It should all even out at the end of the year. The one thing we can all agree on is that they need more RISP ABs, where they rank among the bottom two in baseball for the second straight season.
Rich: Speaking of Pierzynski, how do you square the fact that he was considered a clubhouse "cancer" on his two previous teams?
Cheat: I think he has learned that his attitude hurt him where it counts. His wallet. He's determined not to let off the field issues interfere with his future pay days.
Mike: AJ was also known as a solid game caller, and a living breathing example of the old baseball cliche "hit 'em where they ain't." To me, that's a lot more important than some stories coming out of the SF clubhouse. I'm sure Ozzie will keep him in line.
Bryan: Well, I can't decide whether Ozzie has a positive or negative impact in that clubhouse. While he has had a midas touch with everything this year, is he really a good influence? It seems to me that he picks favorites, and like a bad teacher, is not one who you want to be on the bad side of.
Cheat: I'd agree that Ozzie has favorites. Cough, cough, Timo Perez, cough. Sorry, I'm still getting over a cold. I think his influence on the clubhouse, however, has been a positive one. Despite an ill-advised war of words with a former player, he keeps the mood light. Players know what to expect from him. They come to the park knowing their respective roles, that they'll be put in a situation where they can succeed, and that they have a shot to win every game they play.
He's not the unpredictable tirant that some in the media portray him to be. He's not the kind of guy that will rip into a player, or get ejected for no reason. I think that more is made out of what he's said because it's Ozzie. I've actually seen a few occasions during his tenure where I'd like to see a little bit more fire from my manager. It's Ozzie's truthfulness that gets him in trouble. The press doesn't know what to do with a guy who doesn't give cliched, sanatized sound bites, so he's assumed to be out of control.
Rich: If attitude and Ozzie get credit for the team's rocket launch, I'm sure Frank Thomas--if he is back in the lineup--will undoubtedly be blamed by certain members of the media should the White Sox inevitably return to Earth.
Bryan: Yes, Frank will definitely draw criticism, which is really too bad. Still, this is a team that desperately needs his bat. Consistent offense has been a serious problem, and adding his kind of middle-of-the-order presence will be big. My question though, is who do they bench? Is Jermaine Dye in a part-time or permanent slump? Is Aaron Rowand more pre-2004 (4th outfielder) than .900 OPS man?
Cheat: I'm worried about Jermaine. Nobody fears him as an opposing pitcher. As for Rowand, I'm disappointed with his slow start, but that's nothing new for him. What's new is that he hasn't been benched by now. Maybe that's what he needs.
When Frank comes back, Ideally, you'd see something of a super-platoon with Carl Everett getting giving Rowand, Dye, or Frank the day off against tough right-handers.
Mike: Dye worries me as well. His struggles at the plate have been compounded by the fact that he's been just rotten in the field... misplaying just about anything on the ground to his left.
Bryan: I wrote after watching Dye in Spring Training that he was so frustrating because the man is a physical specimen, just not a baseball player. At some point I think the Sox should realize that stud prospect Brian Anderson is a better option than Dye, and maybe Rowand as well. I think the Sox best lineup might have Thomas at DH with Everett, Poddy and Anderson playing everyday, with Rowand on the bench and either Dye or Timo gone. But alas, this will never happen.
Cheat: I'd have to agree with your assesment of Dye. He reminds me of another player who wore 23 in this town and couldn't hit a curveball. I don't know if bringing Anderson up is the answer though. At this time last year, he was in A-ball. I'd like to see him get a significant amount of at-bats at Charlotte before they make a rushed decision on him.
Mike: Is that Jordan or Brian Daubach you're alluding to? (laughs) I don't think Anderson's quite ready for prime time yet...every time I see a Sox farmhand tearing it up my first thought is "Joe Borchard."
Bryan: Not sure about Borchard, Anderson can take a walk, but I can see what you guys are saying. No reason to rush him when Rowand still has such high potential. Moving from the outfield to the infield, I'm sure you guys are happy to see Joe Crede finally having a good season. If Crede can stay consistent and Konerko can get some consistency, that offense will be alright, I think.
Cheat: I really like the way the middle infield is shaping up. Iguchi and Uribe are about as solid as they come back up the middle, and they're both swinging the bats pretty well. As far as Konerko goes, I just hope we see more Konerko and less of the Rob Deer we've been seeing lately.
Rich: Like 'em or hate 'em, the Sox's offense is different this year. No more Ordonez, Lee, or Valentin. And Thomas hasn't stepped afoot the playing field this year. Add it all up and the team has been without four of its top five power hitters from the past several years. On the one hand, you gotta give Williams some credit for having the courage to make such radical changes. On the other hand, I don't think the offense is the reason for the team's major league-best record thus far.
Mike: That's right Rich. We get timely hits to score runs, but we don't get anywhere near enough of them. Our pitching has just been sensational. Contreras and Hernandez don't look so hot on paper, but they've been able to get the outs they need when they need them. In our first home game against Minnesota, they had the bases loaded at least twice, and Jose got them to GIDP both times. If there's such a thing as "clutch pitching," I'd say we're leading the league in it.
Rich: Right, but the so-called clutch pitching is one of the reasons why I am so skeptical as to whether the White Sox can keep it up. The team has undoubtedly received good pitching performances from Contreras, Hernandez, Buehrle, and Garcia, and outstanding work from Garland. But, if Garland was a stock, I would be shorting him right about now.
Mike: This ex-trader is putting a "buy and hold" rating on Garland now. It's like he's a whole different player from what we've seen in the past. His smug cockiness has been replaced by confidence. He's working quickly, effectively, and not panicking on the rare occasions so far he's gotten into trouble.
Bryan: I think there might be something in the rumor that Garland has learned from Mark Buerhle, and that he has finally matured. I bet you will see many a Cub fan wince every time they see his record and Matt Karchner's statistics. Still, Garland is nowhere near this good, and will eventually run into trouble. What's good for him, though, is that even a mediocre ERA the rest of the year will give him good numbers.
Cheat: The key for Garland with be his ability to avoid the walk. He has always appeared to be afraid to challenge hitters, as evidenced by his career 3.75 BB/9IP before this season. This season, however, he has challenged hitters, getting ahead in the count and making the hitter put the ball in play. As long as he doesn't return to his old 3-walks-a-game self, he'll post some very good numbers. I envision him with an ERA under or around 4.00, which given the stadium the White Sox play in, is very good.
Mike: People always seem to forget that Garland has won 12 games a year for three years in a row and has never spent any time on the DL. But here in Chicago, a guy who's almost always hurt can win 12-14 games a year and be branded a superstar if he wears blue. Mark my words guys: this is the year Garland turns the corner.
Rich: I would take a healthy Kerry Wood over Jon Garland any day, week, month, or year. That said, I realize Wood is on the DL and Garland is putting up the best numbers of his career--well, at least, the best W-L and ERA. I think the latter have changed more than anything else, seducing Chisox fans into thinking they have a new ace on board. His K/9IP ratio of less than 4:1 is downright poor and disconcerting to a numbers man from the west coast.
Cheat: You and Kerry can have a lot of fun watching baseball games together. I keed, I keed.
You're not going to find me calling Garland an ace. In the past I have questioned why I hear players and announcer praise his "stuff." I just never saw it. He is, however, the best 5th starter in baseball.
Bryan: That's fair, but let's talk about numbers three and four, Contreras and El Duque. While I think we can agree that Buerhle, Garcia and Garland are all in good positions, can they maintain this type of production from the Cubans? I think it helps they are around each other, and Contreras might finally be meeting expectations. But what isn't to keep these guys from getting injured?
Cheat: I fully expect El Duque to go down at some point in the season. Contreras appears to have progressed a bit with the acquisition of El Duque. His last start didn't show it, but he's been dropping down sidearm like El Duque recently. Contreras is a head case, and probably needs Duque to babysit for him to succeed like he has for a full season.
The one name you need to bring up when talking about the Cubans is Brandon McCarthy. He's on-call to fill in whenever one of them goes down. He's a pretty nice insurance policy to have waiting in the wings.
Mike: Indeed he is. McCarthy put together what might be the best Spring Training ever seen by a Sox pitcher. And it's always nice to be able to brag and say that he's one that we grew all by ourselves. He's been the marquee attraction on a struggling Charlotte ballclub.
Bryan: Yes, if Garland is the league's best fifth starter, McCarthy might just be the best number six. I really do think the Black Jack comparisons are right, and that he will be a stud in the rotation next season. If I were Ken Williams, I would put McCarthy in middle relief in about August, like the Twins have with so many minor league starters, and be ready to put him on my postseason roster...record willing.
Rich: Not so fast, partner. Although I underestimated the White Sox going into the season, I still think the Twins are the team to beat in the AL Central. However, if the South Siders play .500 play the rest of the way, they will end up with 89 wins and be right in the thick of the Wild Card race.
Cheat: You were not alone in picking the Twins to win the central. I picked them over the Sox before the season too. It's really nice to see that the AL wild card will actually be a race this season, not just a consolation prize for finishing second in the AL East. I think the Sox have answered some of their question marks that they had entering the season, and should have their sights set on the AL Central crown. Though, I do like the recent trend of Wild Card winners taking home the World Series title, so the wild card would not be a disappointment.
Rich: Yes, three years in a row. The oldtimers must be cringing. The Angels, the Marlins, and the Red Sox. Sorry, Cheat and Mike, I guess it is the National League's turn this year.
Mike: In 2003, Brian Cashman said that the Sox were the team that he feared most if we made it to the playoffs--and we didn't. I think there's still reason for Cashman (and Theo Epstein) to fear us though--our lineup is just as deep, a little more balanced, and we picked up one of the bext postseason pitchers out there in El Duque.
Bryan: Personally I go really back and forth on the merits of the White Sox. The fact is that they are playing over their heads right now, and Minnesota is right on target. The White Sox can coast and still win quite a few games though, so this has all the makings of a September battle...further fuel for the rivalry.
Mike: We don't see the Twins again until August 15th. Part of me dreads the thought of heads-up action against them ten times in the last 2 months of the season, but part of me says "bring 'em on." We've proved so far this season that we can beat them--and I'm reasonably sure we can beat them again and hold them off down the stretch.
Rich: Well, how many games do you think the White Sox will win this year? What place will Chicago finish? Do you see them playing in October? If so, how far do you think they can go?
Mike: I see us winning between 89 and 93, and holding off the Twins to win the division by 2 or 3 games. Playoff baseball returns to the South Side for the first time in 5 years, and we advance to at least the ALCS.
Cheat: Before the hot start I picked the Sox to win 87 games, but I'm not going to let the quick start get me too excited. 92 wins sounds like a good revision to my original prediction, AL Central Champs. I can't predict them going deep in the playoffs though. That would be down right crazy. I don't even remember the last time they won a game that mattered in October ('83), so I'm not going to tempt fate and start picking World Championships or anything crazy like that.
Bryan: I am still going to say that the White Sox miss the playoffs, but narrowly. Look for the Twins to be throwing Johan Santana at the Sox on three days' rest if he has to, but Minnesota is simply the better team. What's really too bad is that Chicago isn't buying into the Sox enough, as their attendance still leaves much to be desired.
Rich: I'm going to bump up the White Sox from about 81 wins at the start of the season to a range of 88-92. The Sox and Twins have the opportunity to really dominate this division. If Chicago wins 88, I think they miss out on the playoffs. If they win 92, I think we will see them in the post-season. The fact that the Twins and White Sox play each other so often down the stretch should make for one of the most interesting races in baseball.
Not surprisingly, Cheat and Mike have a more positive spin on the White Sox's chances than Bryan and Rich. However, the White-Hot Sox have even surprised them. Is there anybody out there who can say they truly saw this coming? How do you see it? In or out of the playoffs? What are the chances of a White Sox-Dodgers repeat of 1959? Different teams, players, and stadiums, for sure. But what about the outcome?
I'm a fan of the Cardinals, hardwired to be so. My Dad grew up in Alabama back in the days when the closest thing the American South had to big league baseball was the far-flung broadcasts of KMOX out of St. Louis. So in some senses, he was predisposed to favoring the Cards. However, this was cemented during the '46 World Series when he and one of my uncles made an exceedingly modest bet on the outcome. My uncle took the Red Sox, and my Dad took the Cardinals. The Cards won, and Dad was hooked. The team has been an indelible part of my family ever since.
When I was growing up, each summer we'd make the 13-hour drive from South Mississippi to St. Louis to take in a handful of Cardinal games. My Mom, dutifully in attendance but with only a perfunctory interest in the game itself, would often do needlepoint in the stands. My first major league game was a Cards win over the Reds in 1980, and I was hooked. It would be a fine decade for Cardinal Nation. The radios in our house, for some reason, couldn't pick up KMOX. However, my Mom's Chrysler could, so my Dad and I, during games of critical mass, would often sit in that car parked in our driveway and listen to Jack Buck growl the action to us from afar. I remember listening to the a crucial road tilt with the Mets in late '87--the one in which Terry Pendleton's clutch bomb essentially felled the vile Amazin's for good that season. At that point in my life, I'd never been to New York, and it seemed to me and my provincial ignorances a veritable Sarajevo of potential hostilities. I worried for the physical safety of my team--that they won the game was gravy.
The Cardinals and their successes (and their occasional failures) pepper the memories of my youth. I now live in Chicago, far, in the geographical sense, from my home and my family back in Mississippi. That's served only to buttress my febrile love for the Cardinals and the sense of complicated pride I feel in being a native of the South. But this column isn't about the Cardinals or the South.
For a long time, I viewed the Atlanta Braves as traitorous interlopers. They weren't the South's team; the Cardinals were. The Cardinals had spent years cultivating the market, and then the Braves came along and undermined all of it. You'll find a great many people of my Dad's vintage in the South who are Cards fans, but most of a younger stripe favor the Braves. This bothered me for many years. I regarded them to be a whimsical spurning of history and tradition.
For many years, the only thing the Braves could otherwise do to raise my anger was occasionally preempt "Night Tracks" on WTBS during that fleeting and regrettable time in my life when the novelty of the music video held sway over televised baseball. (I shudder at the memory.) They weren't really considerable opponents back in the days when Rick Mahler, Rafael Ramirez and Bruce Benedict roamed the land. All that, of course, changed.
By the time the '90s rolled around, the Braves--thanks to the impossibly heady triumvirate of John Schuerholz, Bobby Cox and Leo Mazzone--began a run of dominance not seen since the Yankees were brawling at the Copa. That all this was coincided with a rather bereft decade in terms of Cardinal achievements made it sting even more. So I cultivated a hatred for the Braves that went far beyond whatever animus you might feel for intruders of glancing consequence. They were now the force nonpareil in the NL, and a deep adoration for the team pollinated the South. Grrr.
A very vocal majority of my college friends were Braves fans, and this led to countless arguments among us. I would rail against the frat boy smugness of Chipper Jones, moan to the heavens about the leviathan of a strike zone that Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine alone seemed to enjoy and harrumph about the prevailing whiff of evil surrounding Ted Turner. And all the while the Braves kept racking up division title upon division title. This decidedly one-sided rivalry reached a particularly grisly nadir in the 1996 NLCS, when the Braves, down three games to one, performed hate crimes upon my Cardinals, outscoring them 32-1 in the final three games to take the series. I recall, in the instant after Glavine's bases-clearing triple in the early innings of Game Seven, hurling my remote control through an open window. The indignity was such that I was forced into exile for many weeks.
I'm older now, and, if not mature (I'm not), I'm less prone to abject homerism and, as such, able to appreciate the amazing bestowals of the once-maligned Braves. Somewhere along the way, my feelings toward the Braves scooted along the continuum from red-faced hatred to grudging respect to subtle admiration to, finally, the point I'm at today--I like the Atlanta Braves. I've probably watched a thousand Braves telecasts in my life, and I've come to regard the arid wit of Skip Caray as a sort of comfort food for me ears. His voice, which I don't hear enough these days, takes me back, as they say. Mostly, though, I admire how the organization has evolved and thrived under an array of economic conditions and with generations of different players. I'm proud of them. They'll most assuredly never displace the Cardinals in my heart and mind, but the Braves now have ineffable honor of being, dare I say it, my second-favorite team. It feels good to say it.
In my professional capacity, the Braves have made a mouth-breathing fool of me over the past several years. I've picked against them season after season only to be proved wrong, season after season. My predictions of their demise weren't borne of dislike or wishful thinking; rather, I just couldn't see how they'd keep up in spite of all the roster upheaval. As I look over the standings right now, I see the Braves are once again in first place in the East and once again toting around the best record in the NL. Again, I'm confounded. We're toe deep in what may be the most amazing Braves season since the '91 campaign that started it all. And, like those paid actors at McDonald's with little regard for their cardiovascular health, I'm lovin' it. Should they encounter my Redbirds in the post-season, I'll root like all hell against the Braves, but should their paths fork away from one another, I'll have no reservations in rooting like all hell for the Braves.
So, Atlanta Braves, you amaze me game after game. I enjoy your company, I respect your accomplishments, I like you, and I even root for you. Most of the time. Oh, and I'm sorry for all those mean things I said about you.
Dayn Perry is an author at FOXSports.com and Baseball Prospectus.
[Additional reader comments and retorts at Baseball Primer.]
WTNY Best College Pitchers
Following yesterday's article on the best hitters in college baseball, I wanted to tackle the pitchers. This year's group is fairly top-heavy, with a fairly substantial dropoff following the top four pitchers.
I have not included Jered Weaver and Wade Townsend in this article, though you should forget about neither. While teams will surely have reservations about players that sat out a year, it might have been OK for two arms that were badly overworked in college. Neither has the stuff of the top two names on this list, but they definitely make the aforementioned group of four a stellar six.
Onto the thirteen best college hurlers...
First, we will look at the best right-handed starting pitchers in college baseball. That group is Luke Hochevar (Tennessee), Mike Pelfrey (Wichita State), Mark McCormick (Baylor), Tim Lincecum (Washington), Cesar Carillo (Miami), and Micah Owings (Tulane):
Name IP ERA H K BB SLG
LH 96.2 1.77 64 107 32 0.246
MP 107.2 1.50 72 113 23 0.241
MM 72.1 2.74 46 75 39 0.233
TL 79.1 3.29 47 95 51 0.262
CC 92 1.47 67 96 16 0.262
MO 85.2 3.78 75 91 15 0.340
(SLG is the opponent's slugging percentage against the pitcher)
There is no question that the top two pitching talents in the draft are Hochevar and Pelfrey. The problem, like too many amateur stars, are that they are seen as tough signs through their affiliation with Scott Boras. Who is better is a coin flip at this point, though I like Pelfrey a little better because of control. While both pitchers should normally slot as top eight choices, we could see these players slip considerably depending on team's budgets.
McCormick probably follows the big two, as his stuff has been boasted for the last two seasons. His problem, including when Rich saw him live, is the control. He is improved in that area this season, but I would be a little afraid of pitching a NCAA pitcher with a K/BB less than two. Lincecum has the same problem, as he has even more walks than McCormick. Tim is the best sophomore available in this draft, and one of the younger players, so teams will still be intrigued by the polish-ceiling combination.
Cesar Carillo reminds me of Aaron Heilman, who was the 18th overall selection out of Notre Dame after going 15-0 as a junior. Carillo has yet to lose in college, including twelve wins his sophomore season. His stuff is not going to bring scouts out of the woodwork, but this is the type of smart, polished pitcher that you look for at this age.
Owings is the wild card, similar to Jeff Larish as he returned to school after a poor showing in last year's draft. The difference is that Owings was a draft-eligible sophomore last season, and instead of returning to Georgia Tech transferred to Green Wave. Owings is a solid two-way talent but one that I believe will stick on the mound. He is still a little raw on the mound, and for some reason I see a future middle reliever, but Owings could make a team happy in the sandwich round.
Moving onto the southpaws, we have Ricky Romero (Cal State Fullerton), Cesar Ramos (Long Beach State), Brian Bogusevic (Tulane) and Ryan Mullins (Vanderbilt). Their numbers:
Name IP ERA H K BB SLG
RR 104 2.60 81 116 29 0.323
CR 107.1 2.10 84 83 13 0.282
BB 89 2.83 81 89 30 0.313
RM 59.1 3.49 57 53 18 0.376
Like the right-handers, there is no question who is on top here. Ricky Romero is a fantastic talent that after living in Jason Windsor's shadow last year has stepped out in a big way. You have heard about his three solid pitches and their fantastic movement, but notice all those strikeouts and his 4/1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. His best attribute may be the lack of Scott Boras in his representation group, which could aid in making him the top pitcher drafted.
Next is Brian Bogusevic, a hard-throwing leftie that has stepped up big at Tulane. Like Owings he still is a little raw at pitching, but I believe that his ceiling is far greater than that of Owings. Look for this kid in the College World Series, because he will surely not let the Green Wave go down without a fight. Ryan Mullins is similar to Romero in the fact that he lived in a shadow last year, that of Jeremy Sowers, and has disappointed a bit in his junior campaign. Mullins is nowhere near the talent that Sowers was, but he is a fairly safe choice in the supplemental first round.
Last but not least we have Cesar Ramos, who has taken over Friday night pitching for the Dirtbags since Jered Weaver moved on. Here is what Rich said about Ramos after seeing him this spring:
Ramos, who has been likened to former Dirtbag and current Red Sox lefty Abe Alvarez, has big shoes to fill. The preseason All-American has been designated as the team's Friday night starter, an honor previously bestowed on last year's College Player of the Year Jered Weaver. Ramos and Alvarez, who Theo Epstein was pleased to take with Boston's second-round pick in the 2003 draft, are both 6'2", 190-pound southpaws with exceptional control and command of their fastballs and off-speed pitches.
With the increased popularity of spending first-round picks on college closers, here is a look at this year's batch. Craig Hansen (St. John's) leads the pack, with Brent Cox (Texas) a close second. I have also made a pre-emptive move in listing Jason Neighborall (Georgia Tech) here. Their numbers:
Name IP ERA H K BB SLG
CH 47.1 1.14 26 62 12 0.222
BC 52.2 1.88 39 63 10 0.255
JN 50 6.30 44 66 45 0.288
Teams are going to be afraid of drafting Jason Neighborall this season after seeing 45 walks in 50 innings from the Yellow Jackets' Friday night starter. I wouldn't be too afraid, as I believe the smart move would be to draft him and immediately move him to the closer spot. Neighborall has a big fastball and fantastic strikeout numbers, along with allowing very few extra-base hits this year. With that being said, he is represented by Scott Boras who will quickly teach him if he doesn't like the role he is drafted into, not signing could be his best move.
The best of the group is undoubtedly Craig Hansen, who might just be the best closer to come out of college yet. The successes of Chad Cordero and Huston Street will make Hansen both a hot and expensive commodity. He is yet another Boras client, and will be demanding big dollars since he could contribute as early as September. In my mind, the relieving-starved Mets would be crazy not to draft Hansen ninth, and make him the best-paid college closer yet.
Brent Cox is last, after emerging as the Longhorn closer this season with Huston Street's departure. Cox is a solid pick that could end up like Cordero, who went a little unnoticed coming in as the second-ranked closer behind Chad Cordero. Plenty of teams are having bullpen issues this year, and spending a choice on 2005 and 2006 would not be a bad decision.
Finally, here is my attempt at ranking the thirteen players. Again, these rankings are far more stat-heavy than anything else, but it doesn't appear to be too far off other lists.
1. Mike Pelfrey, RHP/SP- Wichita State
2. Luke Hochevar, RHP/SP- Tennessee
3. Ricky Romero, LHP/SP- Cal State Fullerton
4. Craig Hansen, RHP/RP- St. John's
5. Mark McCormick, RHP/SP- Baylor
6. Brian Bogusevic, LHP/SP- Tulane
7. Brent Cox, RHP/RP- Texas
8. Cesar Carillo, RHP/SP- Miami
9. Cesar Ramos, LHP/SP- Long Beach State
10. Tim Lincecum, RHP/SP- Washington
11. Ryan Mullins, LHP/SP- Vanderbilt
12. Micah Owings, RHP/SP- Tulane
13. Jason Neighborall, RHP/P- Georgia Tech
WTNY Best College Hitters
To continue shooting from the armchair, if I was a Major League general manager, there are eighteen college hitters that I would consider taking in the first round. Eighteen players that I would offer six- or seven-figure bonuses to; eighteen that I would hope grace prospect lists before taking the field in my uniform. Should I be Walt Jocketty, with the last pick in the first round, my draft board of college hitters gets thrown out should number eighteen be chosen ahead of me.
I will admit that I do not have the bias towards college players like many of my peers, though I understand it is the safer choice. This year's crop is fairly deep in middle-of-the-road prospects, with one blue chipper, and a whole bunch that grade out as "solid" after that. With the June Amateur Draft a little less than a month away, and the College World Series inching closer and closer, I thought it time to look a how the eighteen were doing.
Here is a brief position-by-position analysis of the best hitters available from the NCAA this year...
At the catching position, the best hitters available are Jeff Clement (USC), Taylor Teagarden (Texas) and Nick Hundley (Arizona). Here are the statistics of the three through the weekend:
Name BA SLG BB/K SB AB
JC 0.354 0.639 35/27 4 147
TT 0.327 0.497 35/34 3 165
NH 0.345 0.673 35/36 9 171
I have concerns about this group, as no player in this group is anywhere near perfect. Clement has a long documented history of power, including 21 home runs as a Freshman, but I wonder what else will translate to the pros. He is somewhat reminiscent to former USC backstop Eric Munson, another highly thought of Trojan catcher that never justified his top-10 selection. Clement has some defensive inadequacies to overcome, but his power and patience behind the plate will make him an early selection.
Taylor Teagarden is everything that Clement is not, a fabulously talented catcher with offensive questions. Teagarden will likely rise up a system quickly with a good defensive grades all over his resume. If I were drafting Taylor I would worry that I might be drafting a back-up catcher, as his bat might not make the jump well. Teagarden has very little power, but hopes to turn into a Brad Ausmus type behind the plate.
The sleeper of the group could be Hundley, who has out-hit Clement while playing better defense with the Wildcats. All these catchers have good patience, though Hundley has proven to be the most apt to strikeout of the group. There is a decent chance that he will slip in the draft to the twenties or so, but Hundley could be a similar pick to Kurt Suzuki last year, a player the A's are thanking their lucky stars for drafting.
Three interesting stories make up the group I selected to be a part of the list. They are Stephen Head (Miss.), John Mayberry Jr. (Stanford), and Jeff Larish (Az. St.). Their numbers:
Name BA SLG BB/K SB AB
SH 0.316 0.615 18/31 3 187
JM 0.308 0.485 22/26 3 169
JL 0.328 0.678 39/45 8 180
Quite the group at first, as we have one of the nation's best two-way players, a former first-rounder with Major League pedigree, and the nation's best Senior who overcame a tough junior season. Head is the best of the group, a southpaw at Mississippi known for both his bat and his left arm. I love that Head has light-tower potential, doesn't strike out very much, and is very athletic. With that being said, the walks and batting average are fairly worrisome for a future corner player, and I do wonder whether Head will become an all-power, nothing else guy in the future.
It seems as though John Mayberry Jr. is a poor man's Stephen Head, especially with low numbers in the walks and strikeouts column. Mayberry's power has evaporated this season, and his batting average is the lowest on this list. There is no doubt in my mind that Mayberry comes into the draft a bit overrated, as his father may have more to do with his draft position than his junior season numbers.
Jeff Larish has the best numbers of the group by far, with the typical power-patience combination you look for in a first baseman. Larish was projected to be a first-round choice last year, but really struggled and decided to return to Tempe for his senior season. This definitely creates concerns that Larish will be the type that takes a while to adjust to levels, which is often the problem of a quad-A player.
Only one player at second base, but an impressive one in Jed Lowrie (Stanford), his numbers:
Name BA SLG BB/K SB AB
JL 0.313 0.594 28/29 3 160
A few seasons ago, the Chicago Bulls drafted Kirk Hinrich out of Kansas with their first-round choice in the NBA Draft. A proven player from a well-respected school, Hinrich had less risk than any player in the draft. Lowrie could very well be baseball's Hinrich, as I don't believe his ceiling is that of some players, but he should be somewhat of a contributor in short order. I think the best explanation of Lowrie's skillset was given by Craig Burley, who chose him second among any second baseman younger than 24 years old alive:
A natural shortstop, Lowrie moved to second base as a freshman and was named the best defensive second baseman in the Pac-10 by Baseball America, so we know he can play there...What is really attractive, though, is his bat. For all intents and purposes, Lowrie was the best hitter in the NCAA last year (he ranked at the top of my Adjusted Hitters Rankings until the very end of the season and ended up third in a virtual dead heat). What's more impressive is that he did this as a sophomore. He does everything -- he hits for average, he hits for a ton of power, and he takes his walks. And he did it all against some of the toughest competition in college ball.
Moving to the left side, we have quite the talented group at shortstop with Tyler Greene (Georgia Tech), Troy Tulowitzki (Long Beach St.) and Cliff Pennington (Texas A&M). Great numbers for shortstops, too:
Name BA SLG BB/K SB AB
TG 0.340 0.553 27/54 25 197
TT 0.372 0.673 10/24 2 113
CP 0.363 0.563 28/22 23 190
Top to bottom, the shortstops are in an intense battle with third basemen for the most talented position on this list. It all starts with Troy Tulowitzki, the Long Beach State shortstop that my partner Mr. Lederer has been boasting for two years. Troy has a .301 ISO this season, despite playing in an extreme pitcher's park in Blair Field. His power, teamed with his size (6-3) and arm (Big West's best) have drawn comparisons to former Dirtbag Bobby Crosby for years. He doesn't walk as much as his fellow shortstops, but Tulo has just about everything else to offer a Major League team.
Right behind Troy is Tyler Greene, who I contemplated ranking as the top shortstop in the draft. Greene was a second-round choice by the Atlanta Braves out of high school, when it was believed that Tyler already had Major League defense. While only improving in that area since then, Greene has slowly quieted those that doubted his bat. Tyler runs very well, walks a lot, and has added a power element to his game that gives him a little bit of everything. I do wonder whether he will consistently hit when reaching the professional level, and if he can stop striking out in about 27% of his at-bats.
The least-known player of the group is Cliff Pennington, known as a scrappy player that impresses scouts and statheads alike. Pennington has great contact skills, runs well, and shows very good defense up the middle. What power he has shown this season is unlikely to transfer over much professionally, though he could very well be hitting 30 doubles a year in the Bigs. I might go as far to say that Pennington is the most likely of the group to be a league-average player across the board in the Majors, as Cliff looks to be everything Russ Adams was coming out of college.
The hottest prospects may be at the hot corner this year, with Alex Gordon (Nebraska) leading the way, followed by Ryan Zimmerman (Virginia) and Ryan Braun (Miami):
Name BA SLG BB/K SB AB
AG 0.404 0.749 48/26 19 171
RZ 0.402 0.614 23/9 14 184
RB 0.417 0.768 29/27 21 168
Three hitters above .400? OK, the men on the hot corner win for the most stacked group. Gordon is obviously not just on top of this heap, but I have said numerous times before that he sits atop my draft board. His combination of huge power, fantastic patience, and speed are unparalleled in this draft. Gordon has the athleticism to move to left should the Royals and Mariners ask, and his numbers already indicate a greater Major League career ahead than that of Major League all-star Darin Erstad.
In the close battle for second, Ryan Zimmerman wins out ahead of Braun, as Zimmerman is maybe the best defensive player in this draft. Combine his future Gold Glove with his great contact skills, just nine strikeouts this year, and you can see why Zimmerman is so well thought of. My worry is that Zimmerman will not have hot corner power, as everything I heard calls him a doubles hitter. Still, Ryan was the most prolific extra-base hitter on the USA National Team last summer, so there is some potential there. Bill Mueller is the current comparison, though I think Zimmerman could even top the 2003 batting champion down the road.
Still with all that being said about Zimmerman, he only beat out Miami third baseman Ryan Braun by a little bit. Braun has like offensive numbers to Alex Gordon, and Patrick Ebert has projected him to be a future 20-20 player. John Sickels has also touted Braun in the past, as there is very little to dislike with this kid. Miami doesn't have their normal crop of great players to give the draft this year, but Braun is the rare example of a great hitter from a historic program that just isn't garnering any respect.
The outfield encompasses five of the eighteen this year, Jeremy Slayden (Georgia Tech), Travis Buck (Az. St.), Trevor Crowe (Arizona), Daniel Carte (Winthrop) and Jacoby Ellsbury (Oregon St.):
Name BA SLG BB/K SB AB
JS 0.349 0.570 23/42 1 186
TB 0.389 0.563 17/29 17 208
TC 0.426 0.775 30/26 20 204
DC 0.318 0.591 17/48 9 198
JE 0.446 0.640 25/8 20 175
This is my favorite group not because it has the best group of players, but instead has two players that I believe have flown under the radar.
Those two are a pair of speedsters that control the strike zone as well as anyone in the powerful Pac-10. The first is Arizona outfielder Trevor Crowe, who is doing just about everything with the Wildcats this season. Where Brian Anderson hit .366 with a .668 slugging in his last season, Crowe is well over .400 with a SLG over .100 points higher. He seems to be everything and more that Anderson was, and should be drafted ahead of the 15th slot that Brian was, and paid in excess of Anderson's $1.6 million.
My other sleeper is Jacoby Ellsbury, who looks like a future leadoff hitter from Oregon St. Ellsbury has struck out an amazing eight times in 175 at-bats this year, while hitting nearly .450, swiping 20 bases and walking a lot.
The top player of the group is Jeremy Slayden, the highly regarded Georgia Tech outfielder that has rebounded from injury well this season. Slayden is projected to be a right fielder in the future, showing good power and patience this year with the Yellow Jackets. My concern is that Slayden looks nothing more than a left-handed Matt Murton -- and while that hasn't looked like criticism through 45 games -- it isn't the highest praise for a top twenty selection.
The generally overrated pair of the fivesome are Travis Buck and Daniel Carte. While Buck was Baseball America's top-ranked outfielder heading into the season, unimpressive BB and ISO numbers have led to a freefall this year. Carte has just OK numbers, but that isn't great when you realize he plays at Winthrop. He is a project, similar in that regard to B.J. Szymanski from last year.
So, with all that being said, I think we have enough evidence for a ranking. Mind you that salt should be taken, as second-hand information and college statistics might not be enough. So, here is my inaugural attempt to rank the best hitters in the NCAA:
1. Alex Gordon, 3B- Nebraska
2. Troy Tulowitzki, SS- Long Beach St.
3. Tyler Greene, SS- Georgia Tech
4. Ryan Zimmerman, 3B- Virginia
5. Trevor Crowe, OF- Arizona
6. Jeff Clement, C- USC
7. Ryan Braun, 3B- Miami
8. Jeremy Slayden, OF- Georgia Tech
9. Cliff Pennington, SS- Texas A&M
10. Stephen Head, 1B- Mississippi
11. Taylor Teagarden, C- Texas
12. Jacoby Ellsbury, OF- Oregon St.
13. Jeff Larish, 1B- Arizona St.
14. Jed Lowrie, 2B- Stanford
15. Travis Buck, OF- Arizona St.
16. John Mayberry Jr., 1B- Stanford
17. Nick Hundley, C- Arizona
18. Daniel Carte, OF- Winthrop
News & Views
I remember taking Driver's Education, Career Guidance, and News & Views my sophomore year in high school. (Hey, I went to public school. I will say these were the easiest classes I took, if you don't count Teacher Aide the last semester of my senior year.) I had the same teacher--Mr. Gough--for all three subjects, which were rotated as a wheel program for tenth graders.
The News & Views of that time were the Vietnam War, anti-war demonstrations at Kent State, cigarette advertising banned from television and radio, and the voting age lowered to age 18. Having felt cheated by not discussing baseball in our class back then, I decided to hold my version of News & Views as this weekend's Baseball Beat column.
News: Steve Finley raises his batting average from a dismal .149 at the end of April to .190 in a week by going 7-for-18.
"We've been talking about that all week--we look at Fin, see his average and wonder how a guy could be hitting so low but be so productive," Manager Mike Scioscia said. "From runs to big hits to RBIs to home runs, every other number he has is terrific.
"That probably highlights the fact that batting average is way down the scale of how you evaluate a player. You look at runs scored and runs knocked in. Not only has he been knocking them in, but at key moments."
Views: I'm glad to hear that Scioscia de-emphasizes batting average in his evaluation of players. Although he points to runs scored and RBI as the more important measures, what he really is saying (without doing so) is that Finley's batting average on balls in play is artificially low while his power and plate discipline are basically in line with his career norms--points that I made last week.
Steve Finley: OF, 40, LAA, .149/.227/.322. Although Finley has perhaps the worst rate stats of anyone, I suspect he is the most likely player of them all to end up with numbers closer to his seasonal average. Why? Well, for one, he is in outstanding shape. Two, his HR, ISO, SEC, and BB rates are all in line or better than his career norm. Three, Steve has stolen four bases in five attempts, suggesting he hasn't lost much, if any, speed. Come October, I think Finley's numbers will be just fine.
News: On Tuesday, May 3, Josh Towers throws a three-hit shutout for eight innings against the Baltimore Orioles, the best-hitting team in baseball in 2005.
Views: I have always been intrigued by Towers because he throws strikes. More often than not, good things happen when you don't walk batters. The Toronto starter has walked two and struck out 25 in 35 1/3 innings. He is on pace to give up 11 BB in 187 IP. Since 1900, no pitcher has given up so few walks throwing 150 or more innings.
Since the 6'1", 188-pound right-hander signed as a free agent with the Blue Jays in November 2002, he is 18-11 with a 4.40 ERA in 204 IP as a starter. J.P. Ricciardi has gotten a lot of value out of the pitcher making $358,000 this year.
Towers reminds me of Bob Tewksbury and Jon Lieber. Like Tewksbury and Lieber, Towers almost always gives up more hits than innings--the tradeoff for being around the plate so often and not having much in the way of a strikeout pitch. Interestingly, Tewks and Lieber didn't really come into their own until they turned 29, which Towers will be on his next birthday in February.
News: In a recent chat at Baseball Prospectus, Nate Silver answered a question--Is their (sic) a point at which strikeouts presage a problem translating hitting ability to the majors?--by saying the following:
Here's a secret: strikeouts are a good thing for a young power hitter.
Views: Well, what I'm about to say isn't a secret. In fact, it is a well-documented fact. Strikeouts are not a good thing for a young power hitter.
Silver went on to explain, "Let's reverse things for a moment and think of things this way: if Adam Dunn hits .266 and slugs .569 in a year in which he strikes out 195 times, that means he's absolutely murdering the ball those times that he does make contact. In other words, *if* he's able to improve his ability to hit for contact at all, the upside is real, real high as compared with, say, Sean Burroughs or someone."
I'm not saying Dunn doesn't have more upside *if* he cuts back on his strikeouts than Burroughs. That's a given. In fact, I don't see any value added in that argument at all. I'm also not saying that Dunn, strikeouts or no strikeouts, isn't a better hitter than Burroughs. I don't think you will find many people on the side of the San Diego third baseman in such a debate.
What I'm saying is that strikeouts are NOT a good thing for a young power hitter despite Nate's claim to the contrary. All else being equal, you would always prefer a young power hitter who doesn't strike out over a young power hitter who does strike out. And my statement is coming from someone who doesn't think strikeouts are nearly as bad as the general public believes.
Young power hitters who strike out a lot can be good players. Young power hitters who don't strike out often are almost always great players.
The major league burial grounds are filled with players such as Billy Ashley, Roger Freed, Phil Hiatt, Sam Horn, Dave Hostetler, and Hensley Meulens. I could list many, many more but limited the names to a half-dozen of the higher-profile names that have come along in the past couple of decades. More to the point, there are hundreds of unknowns out there who never even got a sniff of the big leagues because they simply didn't make enough contact to get a chance.
Look no further than active players Joe Borchard, Jack Cust, Bobby Estalella, Bucky Jacobsen, Brandon Larson, Ryan Ludwick, Eric Munson, and Calvin Pickering as further evidence of young power hitters who are having a difficult time making the transition from the minors to the majors. I'm even skeptical as to whether Dallas McPherson and Wily Mo Pena will be as good as advertised. Josh Phelps, a one-time Baseball Prospectus coverboy, has a huge hole in his swing and is unlikely to be anything more than a mediocre DH on a poor team.
All else being equal, the goal is to find power hitters who don't strike out. Active players who meet this criteria include Barry Bonds, Brian Giles, Vladimir Guerrero, Todd Helton, Magglio Ordonez, Albert Pujols, Gary Sheffield, and Frank Thomas (circa 1993-1997). I'm also high on Aramis Ramirez, who hit 36 HR last year while reducing his SO from 99 in 2003 to 62 in 2004.
One of the weaknesses of the sabermetric community is that we don't challenge each other often enough. By allowing such comments to pass without addressing them adds to the conflict between scouts vs. stats or scouting vs. performance analysis. Nate is an excellent analyst, but he is off base on this subject.
[Additional reader comments and retorts at Baseball Primer.]
One on One: Armchair GM
While sitting in the stands beats a hotel lobby any day of the week, can anyone blame us for getting a little nostalgic for the Hot Stove League? Any baseball fan can agree that even the best of May Sweeps would pale in comparison to some good trade talk. We've gone on record with our first impressions, our second and some noteworthy early season statistics, and now it's time to move the focus from the field to the front office. As contenders are hit by injuries that expose holes and bad teams watch their hopes die, it is time to start talking trade.
Make Rich General Manager for a day and this is what he would and wouldn't do:
If I am Tim Purpura, I would either trade Roger Clemens or surround him with better players. The Astros are 11-16 and they are not getting any younger or better. In fact, Houston's roster is the fourth oldest in baseball. Clemens would be an expensive acquisition as his new team would not only have to pick up the balance of his $18 million contract for the year but also pay a $3 million assignment fee.
With teammates like Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio, the Astros need to make a decision to go for it all now (a decision I think is virtually impossible at this stage) or start rebuilding. As much as I enjoy Clemens pitching for his homestate team, I would vote to trade him to a contender. Reuniting the Rocket with the Boston Red Sox would be a great way for him to go out. Absent that, how about Toronto? At 16-13, the Blue Jays are in the thick of things in the AL East, especially given the fact that the Yankees or Red Sox are no longer a lock to win the division. Let's not forget that Clemens enjoyed perhaps the two best back-to-back years of his career north of the border.
If I am Brian Cashman, I might trade for Clemens if the Rocket and George were agreeable to such a deal. However, I would not trade for Ken Griffey, as rumored, under almost any scenario. Junior is not the answer to the team's problems in center field. He is nothing more than a name at this point in his career. Peel back the onion skin and you're looking at a 35-year-old, injury prone player, making over $10 million per year, barely hitting his weight and on pace to hit 13 HR.
Speaking of the Yankees, if you want to really shake things up, why not move Derek Jeter to CF, Alex Rodriguez back to SS, and pick up a cheaper option at 3B in the form of Casey Blake (if that could be arranged) or settle for a Mike Lamb or even a Jose Hernandez? This is the type of bold move that will light a fire under the Yankees. Moving Tony Womack around only makes the team worse, not better.
If I am Dan O'Dowd, I would swoop in and trade for Zach Day. The Washington National right-hander is apparently in manger Frank Robinson's doghouse. He is the prototypical Coors Field pitcher. Granted, Day needs to throw more strikes but his sinking fastball and low salary are an ideal fit for a rebuilding Colorado franchise.
I am also of the belief that the Rockies should trade Todd Helton to any team willing to take on the rest of his contract, irrespective of the players I might get in return. Reallocating the money earmarked for Helton among a number of other players is a must in my mind.
If I am Paul DePodesta, I'm on the phone right now talking to Theo Epstein about Bill Mueller or Kevin Youkilis and Terry Ryan about Michael Cuddyer or Terry Tiffee. I think Youkilis, Cuddyer, and Tiffee are all better options than the Dodgers have now and offer decent solutions longer term. Mueller works because he would fill the void this year and perhaps for part or all of 2006, allowing the Dodgers to sit back and wait for Joel Guzman, who I think projects as a 3B, to develop.
If I am Bill Bavasi, I am on the horn with Scott Boras, working out a deal for Jered Weaver prior to the upcoming draft. Five years, $7.5 million. That's about a 50% improvement over the Angels' offer and just $600,000 below what the Weaver camp was asking for at the end.
Paying a pitcher who could be in the starting rotation as early as 2006 an average of $1.5M per year for each of the next five years is a bargain, if you ask me. You overpay in the early going but, if he pans out, you've got yourself a steal in the post-arbitration years. Weaver, on the other hand, gets to stay on the west coast and pitch in the friendly confines of Safeco Park.
* * * * *
Make Bryan General Manager for a day and this is what he would and wouldn't do:
If I am Jim Hendry, I get on the phone with Chuck Lamar, quickly. Has anyone else noticed that the positions in which the Cubs are most lacking, the Devil Rays would consider trading? Aubrey Huff, Julio Lugo and Danys Baez. While I doubt the Cubs could muster a blockbuster involving all three, just grabbing Huff and Lugo would be a smart move for a team that still has a chance to get in the playoffs.
Luckily, the one kid quickly becoming the Cub's untouchable -- Felix Pie -- plays a position the Devil Rays are not interested in acquiring. But start with Angel Guzman, Jason Dubois and one of the Cubs young relief prospects. Throw in a few more decent names, and the Devil Rays will have a hard time saying no. With Huff and Lugo added to that lineup, Cub fans will slowly stop wincing every time Nomar's name is mentioned.
If I am Allard Baird, I make sure Daniel Glass is willing to pay Alex Gordon what he is asking this June. While it's a given at this point that Arizona is going to draft Justin Upton, Baird should be very excited that he will land the top player on my board. Gordon continues to prove that he is a fantastic talent, and even Mark Teixeira bonus demands should not make the Royals run away. While the Royals are slowly putting together a pitching staff that isn't laughable, they have a long way to go on offense. Gordon is the type of player that will make rebuilding easier.
After drafting Gordon, I make sure to recognize the considerable market for Jeremy Affeldt. It's amazing how ready people are to completely disregard performance and go straight by stuff, which Affeldt has plenty of. Closers are the one position that will be most sought after in the next three months, so Affeldt is a nice bargaining chip. Get a conference call going between Mr. Hendry, Mr. Sabean, Mr. Beinfest and Mr. Minaya, and let the four of them battle it out until the top bidder wins the southpaw.
If I am Ken Williams, I put some good publicity out there about Frank Thomas, who is not exactly receiving a hero's welcome in preparation for his return. I realize that this so-called "small ball" will not keep the Chisox in front of the division forever and that Frank's bat will be loads more valuable than what Jermaine Dye and Scott Podsednik are currently giving me. I also make sure that Dye and Poddy are the guys losing time, as Carl Everett is better than both of them, as well.
If I am Joe Garagiola Jr., I take advantage of the Cubs said interest in my infielder Alex Cintron. While I thought he might be a good player once, it seems like he really isn't much better than what Craig Counsell could give me. In no scenario will I back down from my current offer of one Major League reliever, though I might go as far to let Jim Hendry pick from the Mike Wuertz, Jon Leicester and Todd Wellemeyer group. If it were up to me, I would choose Wuertz.
If I am John Hart, I will undoubtedly shop Alfonso Soriano once Ian Kinsler proves to be a bit more ready. Soriano has put up some decent numbers in Texas, but with a ready contributor waiting in the wings and pitching sorely needed, you can kiss him goodbye. I'm not exactly sure who would be interested, but there has to be some market for a second baseman with great speed and plus power.
If I am every GM in baseball not named John Hart, I do not acquire Soriano. I realize that Hart will likely be asking for my best pitching prospect, and that is just not something I am willing to pay for someone who walks about as often as Jose Reyes. Soriano also plays sketchy defense, and should his OPS be lower than his .808 performance last year, that will be the fourth straight season of decline. Sure, players at 29 are supposed to be at the pinnacle of their careers, but Soriano is a perfect example of the kind that peaks at 26.
So, would you hire us? What ideas are too ridiculous, too pie-in-the-sky, or simply make too much sense? What would you do?
Watching Dave Hansen: Living Vicariously Through the Career of a Pinch-Hitter
Dave Hansen, number five all-time in pinch-hits, was called up to the Seattle Mariners yesterday, extending a 15-year Major League career that seemed on the verge of winding down after the Chicago Cubs cut him at the end of spring training. From the Associated Press account:
"This is really exciting. I thought I bonded really well last year with these guys," Hansen said in between a stream of hugs and handshakes with teammates. "I hoped I would be able to come back."
This news brings me great cheer, for many reasons. Hansen, like me, was born in 1968 and raised in Long Beach, California, so every day he spends in the bigs provides me with at least some small sliver of evidence that I am still young enough to be of playing age. Put me in coach, I'm ready to play!
It's also inspiring to see a hard-luck story -- and behind every great pinch-hitter there's a hard-luck story -- squeeze a few last jackpots out of a bum deal.
But most of all I'm thrilled because I know Hansen to be a genuinely good, generous, and humble guy who deserves success more than most ballplayers you'll ever meet. I know this because I played with him growing up. And not just on the diamond, but in a rock band. In fact, he announced his signing with the Dodgers (who drafted him with the 47th pick in 1986) on stage, at the St. Maria Goretti carnival, where our cover band, The Ladds, was playing the second of two triumphant shows. It was definitely one of the best days in either of our lives up to that point. And it was one of the last times I ever talked to him.
IN THE LBC
I knew about Dave Hansen years before I actually met him. In Long Beach and Lakewood, where we grew up, the baseball tradition is so thick and all-encompassing that adults and kids alike spread excited or envious rumors about 10-year-old stars from rival Little Leagues and faraway elementary schools.
It helped that most Little Leagues within several square miles played in Heartwell Park, a lush, rectangular 122-acre spread stretching nearly two miles long. You could always ride your bike or skateboard up a few blocks to check out the rival talent you knew you'd be squaring off against come puberty. When I was an 11-year-old 6th grader at Mark Twain Elementary and an all-star for Lakewood Village Little League, I heard awestruck tales of three regional studs-in-the-making: Ralph Lakin, Troy Hamill, and Dave Hansen.
It does Dave no disservice to say he was easily the worst of the three. Lakin, by the time he was a sophomore in high school, was a square-shouldered mustache-boy who could drive the ball 400 feet from both sides of the plate and throw fastballs in at least the high 80s. Hamill was a mid-sized shortstop and surfer dude with astonishingly powerful wrists; think of Spicoli as Soriano. Hansen was a classic quarterback/shortstop type -- about six foot, 185; slightly slower afoot than the other two, strong and accurate arm but not a rocket, and a more patient approach at the plate. He was good enough at football to be one of the best high school quarterbacks in Southern California, but he didn't seem to drink from the same magic waters as Lakin and Troy-boy.
Here's a hint about how crazy our youth baseball competition was -- when I was playing in the Heartwell Pony League (ages 13 and 14), our 13-year-old team came second in the league, losing two out of three in the playoffs against the long-dominant Cobras. The Cobras' infield included not only Hansen, but future nine-year major leaguer Brian Hunter, and 13-year-minor leaguer Brian Grebeck, the younger and almost-as-good brother of 12-year major league veteran Craig. The Grebecks were the classical type churned out by my alma mater Lakewood High School -- undersized, overachieving middle infielders who lived and breathed the game of baseball, taking nourishment from the likes of such local Dodger retirees as Eddie Roebuck, Jim Lefebvre, and Norm Larker.
All this heavily nurtured talent was funneled into the Lakewood High School baseball program, and its legendary ear-splitting coach John Herbold, who would go on to run Cal State L.A.'s baseball program for two decades. Herbold managed to dominate a five-team Moore League whose other schools produced such talent as, oh, Tony Gwynn, Jeff Burroughs and Bobby Grich. Yet Herbold's Hustlers, as the name on our T-shirts from eight-year-old camp proudly boasted, would beat these marvelous athletes year in and year out based on a marinated knowledge of the game, "working it" day after day, and playing baseball like it oughtta be played.
It's hard to be an over-achieving Hustler when everything about the game comes easy to you and the surrounding sports-mad culture showers you with praise while excusing your excesses. This is what happened to Lakin and Hamill and a few other happy-go-lucky God-like talents in Lakewood and Long Beach. But Hansen always approached the game as if he was studying for a particularly difficult chemistry final, face screwed into intense concentration at the plate, footwork and angles at shortstop as methodical as David Eckstein's.
Unfortunately for Hansen (and me, and a lot of other people), Herbold abruptly left Lakewood the same year we were supposed to arrive, replaced by a coach who preferred weightlifting football players to runty, tobacco-dipping year-round baseball fanatics. Dave's parents had moved to Rowland Heights, about a half hour away, but if Herbold would have stayed he would have used his uncle's Lakewood house as a residence, and the school would have almost certainly won some CIF championships during my tenure. Instead, he dominated the weaker local competition around Rowland, hitting .432 with 11 homers and 29 walks in just 44 at bats during the regular season of his senior year.
By then, we had become pals. He remained friendly with the Lakewood players he left behind, especially our lightning-quick second basemen Wayne Tennis (who turned the pivot faster than I've ever seen a teenager, keeping Damion Easley rooted firmly on the bench). Hannie was a Grade-A, 100% surfer -- crazy Bermudas, sandals and vans, and a lingo-rich vocabulary you had to hear to believe. We'd almost want to drop coins in the guy, just to hear him talk; never has the word "kook" sounded so funny.
The Ladds' Dave Hansen (center) jamming on guitar with cousin Tony (left) and Matt Welch (right).
I don't know how it all got started, but some time in the last six months of our senior years, we began hanging out at his uncle's house after school, bashing on some of the instruments lying around from his uncle's days in a surf/garage band way back when. Dave was a terrific guitar player, especially good on Ventures instrumentals like "Walk Don't Run," and early Beatles tunes. He'd screw around with a song like "You Can't Do That," I'd try my worst to sing like John Lennon; his cousin Tony would chip in on an axe decorated like Eddie Van Halen's, the heavy-metal troll who lived next door would play Judas Priest licks, and my childhood pal Dave Rima would beat the skins. Before you knew it, The Ladds were born, and started performing at junior high dances and the like.
You learn specific, intimate things about people when you play in a band with them. With Hansen, two things stick out in my memory -- his humble and respectful behavior toward his kin (extraordinary for any 17-year-old, let alone a doted-on two-sport athlete), and his submersion of ego in the cause of a Greater Good (specifically, a well-performed song). He was funny and handsome, and could certainly be the life of the party; yet I, who was none of those things, probably had the bigger ego.
We knew, after he'd been signed, that if there was anyone who wouldn't squander a $90,000 bonus, and the opportunity to play for his favorite team, it would be Hansen. High school ended 10 days later, and we started to scatter our various ways, but from that point on, all of us who had ever harbored dreams of a big league career lived vicariously through Dave.
THE MAKINGS OF A PINCH-HITTER
Dave Hansen shot up through the minor leagues, establishing himself as a Dave Magadan-type third baseman -- high average with walks, and gap power. He hit .299/.384/.377 in rookie ball as a 17-year-old; .262/.332/.338 the following year in the California League, .291/.361/.410 at Vero Beach (A-ball) in 1988. Then in 1989 he became the first Dodger in four years to go from A-ball to the big leagues in one season, even if it was a rather extreme cup of coffee -- Franklin Stubbs got hurt, so the Dodgers flew Hansen seven hours from San Antonio to Montreal, where he sat against the lefty Mark Langston, and then sent him back down 36 hours later when Mickey Hatcher came off the disabled list. His quote in the L.A. Times was classic; we all passed it around:
"I was in my hotel room today and I'm thinking, I don't know what I'm doing here," said Hansen, who was on the 28th floor. "This is a big skyscraper and I'm on top of it. It didn't all sink in until I came to the park and put on the uniform."
Back then, Hansen was clearly the Dodgers' third baseman of the future. The L.A. Times
ran a story on July 28, 1990 about the "New Dream Infield" that would finally erase the memory of Garvey, Lopes, Russell and Cey -- Karros
, and Hansen. Dave was only 21, he'd won the Most Valuable Player award in the Dominican Winter League playing under Kevin Kennedy, was in the midst of an all-star season leading the Triple-A Albuquerque Dukes to the league championship, and the Dodgers were using place-holder third basemen like Jeff "career high OBP: .286
" Hamilton ... what could possibly go wrong?
Three things: An early leg injury, Tommy Lasorda, and one mediocre season.
The injury is in my memory, though I couldn't find any evidence of it while researching, so I may be mistaken ... but I have the distinct recollection that Hansen hurt his leg somehow, and lost his not-insignificant speed, some time before his 22nd birthday. He stole 31 bases and hit 19 triples in the minors over 2,718 at bats; but just 4 SBs and 6 3Bs in 1718 ABs in the bigs. No doubt his defense suffered as well.
But the more important roadblock was Tommy Lasorda, who was one of the worst managers in Major League history when it came to dealing with the third base bag. After Ron Cey left in 1982, the Dodgers starting third basemen the next six years were, in order: Outfielder Pedro Guerrero, someone named German Rivera, career .318 slugger Dave Anderson, 35-year-old Bill Madlock, Mickey freakin' Hatcher, and Jeff Hamilton. If there was an outfielder who'd proven he couldn't handle ground balls (Cory Snyder, Candy Maldonado), or a banjo-hitting infielder lying around (Enos Cabell, Bob Bailor), Tommy'd throw 'em out there. Even Eddie Murray had to play three games at the hot corner under Lasorda.
In 1991, Hansen was 22, coming off a .316/.425/.437 year at Albuquerque. The Dodgers finished five games out of first place the year before, featuring a makeshift injury-replacement platoon of 28-year-old second basemen Mike Sharperson and (ironically enough) a 25-year-old Lenny Harris, who would go on to set the all-time record for pinch hits. Both Harris and Sharperson had career years in 1990, and could have made an effective platoon at second base (where a 30-year-old Juan Samuel was stinking up the joint), but Lasorda elected to try Jeff Hamilton one last time, and sent Hansen down for further seasoning. After Hamilton broke down, Harris and Sharperson resumed their platoon, but with less success.
Soon, in a season marked by injuries, the Dodgers began using Hansen like a yo-yo, coming up to the big club to pinch-hit whenever another starter would go down. It was a curious role for the third baseman of the future, but Lasorda was always a curious manager. Here's a funny quote from the July 13, 1991 L.A. Times:
"I'm getting pretty good at this," said Hansen, who is in his second stint with the Dodgers this season. "The first time I got called up in '89, I brought four bags. Now I brought just one. Plus, of course, my guitar."
Here's another ironic one, from a week later:
Dave Hansen, who joined the team from triple-A Albuquerque to fill the roster spot vacated by the injured Darryl Strawberry, said he is prepared for the unfamiliar role of a pinch-hitter. "I've never really done it before, but heck, all it is is hitting, right?" he said. "And I love to hit."
That very day -- July 20, 1991 -- Hansen hit his first big league home run, a pinch-hit three-run job that helped lift the Dodgers to a comeback win over the Mets. I learned about this happy news several thousand miles away in Prague, Czechoslovakia, when I received a faxed copy of a Long Beach Independent Press-Telegram
article, sent by my friend Shannon (who, ironically, I'd met at that St. Maria Goretti show). Later, in 2000, Hansen would set the all-time record for pinch-hit home runs in a season, with seven.
After going .268/.293/.393 in 53 mostly pinch-hitting at-bats as a 22-year-old rookie, Hansen was finally ready for a starting role in 1992. Unfortunately, he tanked, hitting .214/.286/.299 in 132 games, as the Dodgers plummeted from 93-69 to 63-99. (It also didn't help him that the National League that year averaged a paltry 3.88 runs a game, its lowest total since 1968, making most offensive stats look far worse than they actually were, especially in pitcher-friendly Dodger stadium.) Regardless, that was basically the last chance at a starting job Hansen ever got -- the team's third baseman of the future in 1993 was 35-year-old Tim Wallach, who responded with a stirring line of .222/.271/.342, and yet kept his job in '94 and '95 as well.
Meanwhile, Hansen developed into a deadly pinch-hitter, spending Wallach's tenure by hitting a robust .318/.414/.412 over 330 at bats. After getting 341 ABs at age 23, he has never topped 181 in a season since, except for when he played in the Japanese league in 1998. He could have been a Dave Magadan, or even (with some luck) just like young Sean Burroughs is now. And, Lord knows, he could have easily turned into a bitter man.
Yet when you hear him interviewed on the radio, or see his quotes in a newspaper, or listen to people like Vin Scully wax poetic about the guy, you realize he took the exact opposite approach. As he told Sports Illustrated five years ago, "I choose to like it instead of bitching about it." He's the guy who will tell you that he's "blessed," that it's just great to be a grown man paid to play a boy's game, and that there's no point in losing perspective.
Some people make it, some people don't, and some people make it in ways they never expected. Hansen was a hard-working nice guy when he was 13 years old, and remains so now, which is a key reason why he's still playing professional ball and climbing up the pinch-hit list while the rest of his old pals thicken around the middle and complain of back pain. We still have many mutual friends (he has never, to my knowledge, put on any airs when hanging with the boys from the neighborhood), and keeping track of his exploits has long become a currency we all trade when catching up on old times. I hope he lasts long enough to pass Manny Mota and even old Lenny Harris himself, and I would dearly love to see him get a ring, but when he finally hangs up those spikes what I really look forward to is busting out the old guitars.
Matt Welch (mail-at-mattwelch.com) is Associate Editor of Reason magazine, where he contributes to the Hit & Run weblog. His work is archived at mattwelch.com, where he also blogs.
[Additional reader comments and retorts at Baseball Primer.]
2005 WTNY April 75 (Part Two)
We'll jump right into the list today. If you have any questions about the format, please refer to yesterday's entry. Enjoy...
26. Kyle Davies- SP- Atlanta Braves (AAA)
April Numbers: 2-0, 26/30, 9ER (2.70 ERA), 23/9, 3
Atlanta has received good production from their rotation this year, but don't be surprised if Kyle Davies replaces Horacio Ramirez before long. Davies is pitching very well in the International League, and has all the tools to be a third (maybe second) starter in the Majors.
27. Ryan Howard- 1B- Philadelphia Phillies (AAA)
April Numbers: 25/75 (.333), 15/26 (.441), 8-0-4 (.600); 0/0
It's possible that Jim Thome's injury will give Ryan Howard enough room to establish himself, possibly getting included in a trade during midseason. Howard has proved he has power and is walking at great levels, now the strikeouts and lack of athleticism are the only flaws we can cite.
28. Ian Kinsler- 2B- Texas Rangers (AAA)
April Numbers: 23/86 (.267), 6/18 (.323), 8-0-4 (.500); 1/2
Another player that should be up before long, because I keep expecting Alfonso Soriano to get traded. Jamey Newberg wondered aloud how someone with such a good Spring Training could be having such an average start to the season, but Kinsler is starting to come around with the bat. This guy is not going to be fantastic, but he'll be a solid player for 15 seasons, in my opinion.
29. Michael Aubrey- 1B- Cleveland Indians (AA)
April Numbers: 23/75 (.307), 5/13 (.349), 4-0-3 (.480); 1/1
Another player I will admit to having overrated before the season is Aubrey, another player in the Sean Casey mold. Aubrey did not walk enough this April, and since I doubt he will ever slug .500 in the Majors, something close to a .400 OBP will be important.
30. Jeff Niemann- SP- Tampa Bay Devil Rays (A+)
April Numbers: 0-1, 6/11.1, 5ER (3.97 ERA), 17/5, 0
This is a conservative placement for Niemann, who I think could very well turn out to be the best player drafted in 2004. While the MLB scouting service said last year that Niemann would be "quick to the ML level," I disagree. If I were the Devil Rays I would be extremely conservative with Jeff, giving him all of this year and most of next year in the minors. The 6-9 rightie has some control issues that need to be fixed in the California or Southern Leagues, not in the Majors. Still, given that flaw, Niemann's ceiling is insanely high. He already is in possession of four good pitches, including a fastball that he can really dial up when needed. He'll likely move up to the Southern League at some point, where Chuck Lamar really should keep him for the rest of the year.
31. Anthony Reyes- SP- St. Louis Cardinals (AAA)
April Numbers: 2-1, 19/25.1, 9ER (3.20 ERA), 26/4, 4
Dan Haren was extremely well thought of by the St. Louis organization, who used him prominently in the playoffs last year. The addition of Mark Mulder, and the emergence of Anthony Reyes allowed for Haren's exit. Reyes has bounced back from injuries flawlessly, and is proof that we have a LONG way to go to being able to decipher college statistics.
32. Brian McCann- C- Atlanta Braves (AA)
April Numbers: 17/61 (.279), 4/11 (.313), 5-1-4 (.590); 0/0
Man, don't the Braves teach their players what a base on balls is? McCann has his flaws -- those walks and some sketchy defense -- but he will almost certainly be an improvement over Johnny Estrada (c. 2005) when he arrives in 2007. Power like this behind the plate is rare, and again, credit must be given for this organization's ability to find talent.
33. Justin Verlander- SP- Detroit Tigers (A+)
April Numbers: 3-1, 14/23, 3ER (1.17 ERA), 30/5, 0
I thought he was a reach being drafted second, I even had him behind Townsend, but it shows why I'm not working for a Major League team. Verlander's transition to professional ball has started extremely well, and he might be up for a promotion sooner rather than later. The Major League scouting service calls him a "franchise type pitcher," and with Jeremy Bonderman, Dave Dambrowski's job has gotten a little safer.
34. Jon Papelbon- SP- Boston Red Sox (AA)
April Numbers: 2-1, 20/22.2, 7ER (2.78 ERA), 24/2, 5
I don't know if the Red Sox pitching prospects are only pitching to Brave prospects, but they aren't walking anyone. I predicted before the season that Papelbon and Lester would be the breakout combination of the year, and while I still like Lester, I may have chosen the wrong person to team with Papelbon. The only thing to criticize Papelbon for are those home runs, but Jon should move to Pawtucket soon.
35. Adam Miller- SP- Cleveland Indians (DL)
April Numbers: Injured
Miller is back throwing after a brief scare in which I thought he might be gone for the season. He probably won't be back until summer, but Miller still has the potential to rank this highly on this list. I'm still disappointed he got hurt, but that's what happens to pitching prospects.
36. Franklin Gutierrez- OF- Cleveland Indians (AAA)
April Numbers: 15/58 (.259), 11/15 (.377), 4-0-2 (.431); 4/7
I really thought Cleveland was going to have a very good offense this year, as they had depth at every position. Not so much. Gutierrez has seen the likelihood of a future job in Jacobs Field rise this year, and he should be playing alongside Grady Sizemore in short order.
37. Felix Pie- OF- Chicago Cubs (AA)
April Numbers: 29/81 (.358), 7/16 (.409), 10-2-3 (.642); 8/13
Well, I said this had to be the year those tools started to result in production, and he is doing it this year. Pie is running wild in the Southern League, as well as spraying extra-base hits all over the place. Pie has risen to the top spot in the Cub system, and still profiles to be their leadoff hitter in short time.
38. Chuck Tiffany- SP- Los Angeles Dodgers (A+)
April Numbers: 4-1, 16/27, 5ER (1.67 ERA), 33/13, 1
I was a bit worried that my ranking of him (higher than most outlets) was a little too much, but Tiffany is proving that the way he ended last season was not a fluke. Tiffany is another great arm in a loaded Los Angeles system, and should be also make the traditional great Dodger Vero Beach to Jacksonville move soon.
39. Shin-Soo Choo- OF- Seattle Mariners (AAA/MLB)
April Numbers: 14/46 (.304), 8/12 (.407), 2-0-1 (.413); 2/5
Choo was included on this list because even though he is currently in the Major Leagues, Mike Hargrove is not going to use him enough for Choo to lose his prospect eligibility. Jeff Shaw recently asked me why I liked Choo more than Jeremy Reed, and while I don't have an answer, it is all intuition. Choo does it all, and now the only worry is whether Choo will hit enough for a corner spot.
40. Gio Gonzalez- SP- Chicago White Sox (A-)
April Numbers: 2-1, 11/22, 3ER (1.23 ERA), 38/6, 0
With Johan Santana's recent fame, I have no doubt people will start getting compared to him right and left. Gonzalez is not the pitcher Santana is, but his breaking ball might be just as good. This was a steal at 38, though it is still too early to predict anything.
41. Merkin Valdez- SP- San Francisco Giants (AA)
April Numbers: 1-0, 19/17.1, 4ER (2.08 ERA), 16/10, 0
Sort of the Felix Pie of pitchers, as Valdez always shows enough to stay on prospect lists, but never as much as we would have hoped. In the worst, Valdez is going to be the Giants answer in the bullpen. At best, he'll have a Pie-like breakout on the mound. But I can certainly tell you that 2.08 ERA will not stay with him considering those peripherals.
42. Nick Markakis- OF- Baltimore Orioles (AA)
April Numbers: 21/74 (.284), 7/14 (.345), 8-0-1 (.432); 1/2
I consider Markakis one of my prized prospects, as he is another that I am completely using intuition on. There is a chance that Markakis is not going to hit for the power that a right fielder must, but remember that he started last year quite poorly, so a 2004-like improvement will make this ranking valid.
43. Eric Duncan- 3B- New York Yankees (AA)
April Numbers: 20/85 (.235), 11/15 (.327), 1-0-2 (.318); 0/0
Ugly. The Yankees were pretty aggressive moving Duncan up to the Eastern League this year, and Duncan is showing how unready he is. Still considering his youth, discipline and immense power potential, he remains the Yankees top prospect.
44. Ervin Santana- SP- Anaheim Angels (AA)
April Numbers: 4-0, 17/24.1, 4ER (1.48 ERA), 16/10, 1
Well it's nice to see Santana back and pitching well again, but that K/BB has to improve. His electric arm of old gives promise, but we need to see the numbers of old to be sold that Santana is back.
45. Brian Dopirak- 1B- Chicago Cubs (A+)
April Numbers: 22/83 (.265), 2/17 (.287), 3-0-4 (.446); 0/0
Well, not really the month I was hoping for from the player I deemed the Cubs top prospect before the season. He isn't striking out that much this season, and despite his home run numbers being far from overwhelming, his ISO is enough at .181. Dopirak simply must walk more, though I guess this rate is helpful when verifying those Richie Sexson comparisons.
46. Jeff Mathis- C- Anaheim Angels (AAA)
April Numbers: 18/47 (.383), 5/9 (.434), 7-1-2 (.702); 2/2
Guess who's back? Suddenly those theories of the Texas League being so touch on catchers are looking to be correct, as Mathis has come out of the gate swinging. He started well last season too, so it's a little early to be putting Mathis back in our top fifteens. He does have that type of talent, and will make Angel fans forget about Ben Molina quick if and when he gets the opportunity.
47. Sergio Santos- SS- Arizona Diamondbacks (AAA)
April Numbers: 13/78 (.167), 9/22 (.250), 5-0-3 (.346); 0/0
Well, this is just not good. A .167 average, a .189 average with balls in play, and 22 strikeouts? Even if Royce Clayton is completely done, Santos is just not ready to take over. His ISO and walk rates are intriguing, but Santos is showing his youth out of the blocks this year.
48. Dan Johnson- 1B- Oakland Athletics (AAA)
April Numbers: 17/81 (.210), 15/14 (.330), 7-0-3 (.407); 0/1
Johnson is not exactly making me look like a genius, as I have chastised the Oakland organization time and again for playing Scott Hatteberg over him. Johnson is showing great BB/K and ISO rates, so all he needs now is to get that batting average up. He might not win the PCL MVP again, but it's a safe bet that OPS will get over .800.
49. Angel Guzman- SP- Chicago Cubs (ST)
April Numbers: Extended Spring Training
Since Guzman has not really done anything of note since Spring Training, I'll just share with you now what I wrote then:
...Despite not having a strong build at all, Guzman has enormously long legs for a pitcher. His fastball was not the power sinker I had heard, as he both didn't cause grounders nor keep the ball low in the zone. He certainly favors the pitch, throwing seven in his first eight pitches. I was most impressed by Guzman's curve, which he showed control of throughout the game. He looks like the rare talent that can succeed without a great third pitch, as his change was absent for most of the game.
50. Dustin Pedroia- 2B- Boston Red Sox (AA)
April Numbers: 23/72 (.319), 11/7 (.419), 7-0-2 (.500); 1/2
This guy is going to play in the Majors. I guarantee it. His ceiling isn't very high -- a .919 OPS will never be touched -- but he is going to play. I really believe Boston will play have Varitek, Renteria, Pedoria and Hanley Ramirez as their players up the middle by 2007. This guy is good.
51. Robinson Cano- 2B- New York Yankees (AAA)
April Numbers: 35/104 (.337), 5/13 (.367), 8-2-4 (.567); 0/0
Time to give this kid his due. While the Yankees recent freak-out might make Cano extinct from the May list (his eligibility could be gone soon), now is the time to acknowledge just how well things have gone for him this year. Cano doesn't walk enough and reports on his defense aren't great, but he is a fantastic improvement over Tony Womack. If the Yankees truly are committed to getting younger, Cano is a good start.
52. Dan Meyer- SP- Oakland Athletics (AAA)
April Numbers: 1-2, 26/18, 12ER (6.00 ERA), 11/9, 3
The things I have heard hint toward injury, which would explain why Meyer's velocity has decreased since last year. I still love this kid, a leftie with four solid pitches, and think the A's did get enough for Tim Hudson. But Meyer needs to start turning things around soon, as his hits, strikeouts, ERA, walks and home runs are all not good enough right now. That's a lot.
53. Tim Stauffer- SP- San Diego Padres (AAA)
April Numbers: 2-0, 28/29.2, 10ER (3.03 ERA), 23/7, 1
I really like Stauffer, and have since he outpitched reports at the Futures Game, and I think the Padres could use his arm soon. Stauffer may have been my Rookie of the Year choice had he started the year in San Diego, and I think he'll be an effective Jon Lieber-type pitcher when all is said and done.
54. Curtis Granderson- OF- Detroit Tigers (AAA)
April Numbers: 25/79 (.316), 5/22 (.360), 9-1-0 (.456); 3/5
Erie is where hitters go to become famous, a place where Mike Rivera can hit double-digit home run numbers. Granderson has not really faded in Toledo like I thought he might, meaning that if his defense is good enough to play center, he should be the answer in Comerica Field soon.
55. Jon Lester- SP- Boston Red Sox (AA)
April Numbers: 1-0, 23/19, 12ER (5.68 ERA), 22/6, 3
I entered the year with the highest of hopes for Lester to break out, but he has been the last of Red Sox prospects to do so. Lester's peripherals look pretty solid (bad HR rate), so his ERA should come down soon. Remember that last year his season started poorly as well, so my hopes remain high that Lester still breaks out this year.
56. Zach Duke- SP- Pittsburgh Pirates (AAA)
April Numbers: 4-1, 34/30.1, 14ER (4.15 ERA), 13/6, 4
He won't be winning any ERA titles this year, but Zach Duke should continue to pitch effectively, and guarantee himself a spot in the Pirates 2006 rotation. I've heard him compared to a left-handed Jason Marquis, which means that he should spent the next few years underachieving in the back end of the Pittsburgh rotation.
57. Jose Capellan- SP- Milwaukee Brewers (AAA)
April Numbers: 1-1, 26/19.1, 13ER (6.05 ERA), 14/5, 2
Well this isn't working. Over Spring Training it became obvious that Capellan is not going to be able to succeed with just one pitch, which is a bit of a problem. Expect his move to the bullpen to be fairly soon, because I truly don't think Capellan has success in the rotation.
58. Edwin Encarnacion- 3B- Cincinnati Reds (AAA)
April Numbers: 20/72 (.278), 12/18 (.372), 6-0-4 (.528); 1/2
The Joe Randa signing pretty much sent a message to Edwin Encarnacion that any hopes of playing for the Reds in 2005 should be disregarded. Encarnacion is still young for the International League, so he will spend this year refining his skills at AAA. He has done a pretty good job this year, as he is hitting for power, drawing walks, and has a respecatable average. Encarnacion's only concern should be Randa becoming a fan favorite in Cincinnati this season.
59. Mike Hinckley- SP- Washington Nationals (DL)
April Numbers: Injured
Hinckley was getting some publicity in Spring Training, when it looked like he might take a rotation spot. That didn't happen, but it might after the All-Star break when Hinckley returns and Jim Bowden gets dealing. John Patterson and Hinckley are certainly a good place to start when building a young rotation, not to mention the others currently pitching in Washington.
60. Jake Stevens- SP- Atlanta Braves (A+)
April Numbers: 2-2, 23/19.1, 10ER (4.66 ERA), 10/7, 1
Stevens has played pretty horrible this season, making me wonder if my thoughts on him before the season were a little overhyped. Jake was great in Rome last season, but to have such poor numbers at Myrtle Beach is pretty depressing. He's in danger of having Chuck James pass him sooner than later.
61. Jason Kubel- OF/DH- Minnesota Twins (DL)
April Numbers: Injured
We know that Kubel will not be playing this season, but he has the hitting skills to stay on this list. We will have to wait and see how bad the knee really is, but even the hitter we saw in 2004 is good enough to succeed in the DH spot.
62. Howie Kendrick- 2B- Anaheim Angels (A+)
April Numbers: 40/99 (.404), 6/17 (.444), 6-2-5 (.657); 4/5
Kendrick has been golden this season, pretty much doing nothing wrong in the early going. While Erick Aybar and Alberto Callaspo underwhelm in AA, Kendrick and Wood are outperforming them a level down. Again, here is what I said about Kendrick in Spring Training:
Kendrick was dynamite in the Midwest League last year, and I was impressed with both his lateral movement at second and the pop in his bat.
63. Brandon Wood- SS- Anaheim Angels (A+)
April Numbers: 30/93 (.323), 6/24 (.360), 4-1-9 (.677); 1/2
This is as good a middle infield as you will find in the minors, as Brandon Wood is showing why he was a first-round pick in 2003. While his power numbers must be taken in context of the league he plays in, this kind of power is rare for a shortstop. I would like to see a few more walks to completely be sold on Brandon's talent, but he has been dynamite this season.
64. Andy LaRoche- 3B- Los Angeles Dodgers (A+)
April Numbers: 32/98 (.327), 5/17 (.359), 6-1-5 (.561); 1/1
LaRoche actually started the season quite poorly, raising his average to .250 on April 15. Since then he has gone on a tear in which he hit five homers in two weeks, and rose his average eighty points. LaRoche continues to show that he has more power than his brother, while also taking some of Adam's good skills. A few more walks and LaRoche might become an elite prospect.
65. Fernando Nieve- SP- Houston Astros (AA)
April Numbers: 1-1, 15/29, 5ER (1.55 ERA), 34/9, 1
Way, way back on March 5, 2004, I named Fernando Nieve as one of my breakout prospects for the 2004 season. I was wrong. He would actually pitch mediocre last year, but it looks like this season will be when he puts his name on the map. To prove you that I'm not lying, this is what I wrote fourteen months ago:
I hate praising Houston, but not many teams have been better at recognizing the small market for small pitchers. Nieve is not tall, but instead has sensational movement on his fastball. His peripheral numbers were much better than his ERA last season, and Nieve could break out big in high Class A this year.
66. Elijah Dukes- OF- Tampa Bay Devil Rays (AA)
April Numbers: 27/79 (.342), 9/21 (.404), 6-2-4 (.620); 6/8
From a 2004 breakout prediction to a 2005 one, Elijah Dukes is looking like he is overcoming complaints about his attitude and just playing baseball. It's not real easy to outperform the top prospect in baseball, but Dukes has looked better than Delmon so far this season. What is Tampa going to do with all these outfielders?
67. J.D. Durbin- SP- Minnesota Twins (AAA)
April Numbers: 0-0, 21/17.1, 11ER (5.71 ERA), 11/10, 3
Another player who I'm not quite ready to take off the top 75 list, but if he gives me this performance for another month, he's gone. The Twins called up Scott Baker when Juan Rincon got suspended, but my guess is that Durbin would make a better reliever, and Baker a better starter at this point. Durbin is similar to Jose Capellan, and time will tell if both end up relievers in the end.
68. Kurt Suzuki- C- Oakland Athletics (A+)
April Numbers: 22/73 (.301), 11/18 (.400), 6-1-1 (.452); 2/3
This is not a guy accustomed to failure, and he stint of constant success has continued this year. Suzuki hits well, walks a lot, and plays solid defense. The A's have spent a lot of early picks on catchers the last few years, but I sincerely believe that Suzuki will be the best and end up replacing Jason Kendall down the line.
69. Brandon Moss- OF- Boston Red Sox (AA)
April Numbers: 14/67 (.209), 4/23 (.243), 4-0-1 (.313); 2/3
The Red Sox answer to Eric Duncan so far this season has been Brandon Moss, who was brought up to AA when he really hadn't had enough time to prove he really did master the FSL. Moss in retrospect could have been drastically overrated, but I want to give it another month before I rush to any judgments.
70. Cole Hamels- SP- Philadelphia Phillies (DL)
April Numbers: Injured
This guy has attitude problems. He has little experience. But nonetheless, Cole Hamels remains on this list on potential alone. His change up and motion were both great before he got hurt, and I for one can't wait to see what he has in his tank when he gets back.
71. Anibal Sanchez- SP- Boston Red Sox (A+)
April Numbers: 1-1, 14/20, 7ER (3.15 ERA), 35/1, 1
Another player that I must stress sample size with, but this is one beginning that I just can't ignore. Remember that Angel Guzman had these type of numbers during his rehab stint last year in the FSL, so Sanchez might have a comparable in Guzman. I'll wait another month to see whether this was for real or not, but Boston is having a huge rise up organizational rankings after one month.
72. J.D. Martin- SP- Cleveland Indians (AA)
April Numbers: 1-1, 15/25.2, 4ER (1.40 ERA), 34/4, 0
Kevin Goldstein of Baseball America mentioned that Martin had added a cutter this season, and that might help explain some of why Martin is playing so well this season. The former first-round selection is making teams wonder why they didn't pick him in the Rule 5 draft this past December when they had a chance. This Indian system suddenly has a lot of pitching, so the Jeremy Guthrie bust can now be swallowed a little easier.
73. Eddy Martinez-Esteve- OF- San Francisco Giants (A+)
April Numbers: 28/81 (.346), 12/13 (.430), 8-0-4 (.593); 1/1
He's not very athletic, and he's going to make every flyball an adventure in left. But man oh man, EME has some serious hitting talent. There is nothing wrong with his offensive skillset, and this might just be the guy given the responsibility of replacing Barry Bonds when he retires.
74. Matt Moses- 3B- Minnesota Twins (A+)
April Numbers: 31/77 (.403), 7/17 (.447), 10-1-4 (.717); 5/7
Like Martin, Moses is a first-round pick that did not live up to expectations last season. But now that his back injury is behind him, Moses is hitting in Fort Myers like few before him have. If he goes through the system fast, Moses could just solve Aaron Gleeman's woes of having Luis Rivas up the middle: Moses to the hot corner, Cuddyer to second. I can already see the Twin fans salivating...
75. Josh Fields- 3B- Chicago White Sox (AA)
April Numbers: 23/75 (.307), 9/24 (.391), 4-0-1 (.400); 3/4
Last on my list is a choice solely based on intuition in my ongoing quest to rank White Sox prospects over Ryan Sweeney. Josh Fields has all the athleticism in the world, and even has shown some good discipline so far this season. Fields has a ton to work on, but also has some immense potential.
2005 WTNY April 75 (Part One)
With a month of baseball and all of Spring Training having happened since my last prospect rankings, I think it's time to look where my rankings currently stand. The unveiling of this list will see the graduation of all players that should lose prospect eligiblity soon, and will feature 2004 draftees for the first time. Today I will present my top 25 players, while tomorrow we will go through 26-75 in a quicker format.
For each player I have given their April numbers, with a bit of an unusual stat line. For hitters, the line is as follows:
H/AB (AVG), BB/K (OBP), 2B-3B-HR (SLG); SB/ATT
While a bit odd, this will help me greatly when compiling prospect splits at season's end. For pitchers, the line should be read:
W-L, H/IP, ER (ERA), K/BB, HR
Please note that this list will have little turnover, as I realize not too much faith can be put in Opening month statistics. This is more reflective of any changes of feeling I've had recently, along with dealing with any injuries that have happened since the last list. Enjoy...
1. Delmon Young- OF- Tampa Bay Devil Rays (AA)
It was going to take a lot for Delmon to lose his spot atop my list, as I truly believe this is one of the game's next superstars. Tampa Bay was aggressive with their former top choice, moving the 20-year-old to AA to start the season. Young has taken the transition well, and is also walking and stealing bases at better levels than last season. He still has things to work on, like less strikeouts and more consistent power, but this is a kid that should factor into the Devil Rays 2006 plans. Tampa Bay has a number of things to do soon, such as deciding where B.J. Upton factors into future plans. What they do know, however, is that Carl Crawford and Delmon Young will be their corner outfielders for quite some time.
April Numbers: 24/85 (.282), 10/24 (.364), 1-1-4 (.459); 9/11
2. Felix Hernandez- SP- Seattle Mariners (AAA)
Again, this was not about to change, as Delmon and Felix are heads above the rest of the minor league crowd. Felix has been fine, but not fantastic, thus far in the PCL season. Rather than dissect his numbers, I found this first-hand account to be the most telling of where the King is at (from Devin of Lookout Landing):
Hernandez, obviously already flustered, then started to get a bit wild as he stuggled to get his curve and changeup across the plate...Hernandez was hitting 96 MPH consistently with his fastball and somewhere between 81-83 MPH with the curve, he also threw a 69 MPH changeup. Wicked. After the first, he had hitters absolutely flailing at that nasty curve...
April Numbers: 3-2, 28/29, 8ER (2.48 ERA), 28/15, 1
3. Andy Marte- 3B- Atlanta Braves (AAA)
Overall a pretty solid month for Marte, who saw his rate numbers dragged down by an eight-day slump. From April 19 to the 28th Marte went just 5-for-36, which is the reason his numbers look pretty low. But when you dig deeper you see that besides those games he was 18/41, and he still has an ISoD of .089 and ISO of .184. I still believe the Braves are best suited with Chipper Jones and Ryan Langerhans on their outfield corners, with Andy Marte at third. I was hoping that Marte would come out of the gate red-hot, proving that breakout people have been calling for would be in 2005. He hasn't, and it is beginning to look more and more like Marte might just turn into a solid, but not spectacular, third baseman.
April Numbers: 23/87 (.264), 9/22 (.333), 4-0-4 (.448); 0/0
4. Ian Stewart- 3B- Colorado Rockies (A+)
I'll admit to having underrated Stewart in my last rankings, where he did not rank in the top five. After further thought, even despite his hurt hamstring, I'm willing to say that Stewart is the game's fourth-best prospect. His hitting skills are ridiculously advanced for his age, and it looks like he'll stay at the hot corner. Add all that up, mix in Coors Field, and you have some silly good numbers. Hey, Todd Helton might steal a plaque with that resume.
April Numbers: Injured
5. Prince Fielder- 1B- Milwaukee Brewers (AAA)
OK, so his numbers don't look that good, and his Spring Training was pretty bad after his red-hot start. But this guy gives me a feeling of future dominance, it just seems as if his hitting skills are Frank Thomas-like. Fielder's walking and striking out are both at appropriate levels this season, so all he needs are a few more balls to leave the yard to be set. Lyle Overbay is doing fine at the Major League level, so there is no hurry, but Fielder still figures to push Lyle out by the break.
April Numbers: 19/79 (.241), 15/15 (.375), 3-0-2 (.354); 1/2
6. Matt Cain- SP- San Francisco Giants (AAA)
I guess this is payback for ranking Cain behind Chad Billingsley on my last list, as Matt has come out of the blocks dominating this season. San Francisco was agressive in promoting Cain to AAA after an up-and-down half season in Norwich last year, but hindsight is validating the move. It was not too long ago that prospect lists were filled with stud Giant pitching prospects -- Williams, Foppert and Ainsworth -- and San Fran fans will tell you they haven't seen much come from that. Cain is the best of the group, and has looked better in the PCL than King Felix. A little work on control is all that is preventing Cain from being the Dontrelle Willis (c. 2003) boost the Giants need to stay afloat in the NL West.
April Numbers: 3-0, 10/25.2, 4ER (1.75 ERA), 29/11, 3
7. Hanley Ramirez- SS- Boston Red Sox (AA)
Recently, I have decided that Hanley Ramirez had jumped over Joel Guzman as my top shortstop prospects. I like the fluid nature in which Ramirez plays the game, his rounded skillset, his propensity for contact. Guzman's size is a bit of a concern, as are his struggles with hitting a curve. Hanley might not be able to stick at shortstop with the signing of the player he has long been compared to, but there is no question that he will be getting regular playing time soon. I mentioned to Randy Booth at Over the Monster that with Johnny Damon a free agent after this season, the Red Sox might want to consider moving Hanley to center sooner rather than later.
April Numbers: 22/75 (.293), 4/12 (.346), 2-5-0 (.453); 4/6
8. Carlos Quentin- OF- Arizona Diamondbacks (AAA)
His numbers are flawless. In fact, it is quite hard to cite flaws since he has started playing professional baseball. I wonder how much Arizona's slew of great hitter's parks in the minors have helped this, so Quentin will be a good test study for sure. What he will also be is the Arizona Diamondbacks 2006 right fielder. He's going to hit, he's going to get on base, and he's going to become a fan favorite in Phoenix. Jeremy Deloney had it right telling me I underrated this guy in January, that's for sure.
April Numbers: 22/63 (.349), 17/10 (.500), 4-0-4 (.603); 4/4
9. Jeff Francoeur- OF- Atlanta Braves (AA)
The walks are getting concerning. I mean, this is a guy that in April has walked in about 3% of his plate apperances, and had the exact same struggles in the AFL. Superstars don't walk this little, so I'm a little wary about forecasting Francoeur's ceiling. I love the power, and sincerely believe he is a future 30-HR threat in the Majors. But, how valuable is that with an OBP that will, at best, be .340? What if it's .307? Everything else looks good right now, but the Braves need to get this kid taking more pitches...soon.
April Numbers: 26/95 (.274), 3/21 (.307), 10-0-3 (.474); 5/6
10. Casey Kotchman- 1B- L.A. Angels (AAA)
How does this happen? A guy hits all his life, dominates this level last year, and starts the year this cold? Sure his BABIP is about .220 this season, but three extra-base hits? Could he be a victim of being too selective? All valid questions. It could be noted that Mark Grace struggled in AAA at the age of 24, though the Cubs called him up anyway. That's who Kotchman is currently looking like, as I now more than ever believe he will never develop Will Clark power. I think it's safe to say the Angels will take any power at this point.
April Numbers: 15/78 (.192), 18/11 (.357), 3-0-0 (.231); 0/1
11. Rickie Weeks- 2B- Milwaukee Brewers (AAA)
He isn't going to hit four triples every month, and his BB/K ratio is pretty absurd right now. But, Weeks is doing just about everything else right. His BABIP is extremely high right now, around .350, so a slump on the way could be projected. This is not a good sign for a guy hitting .265, and it shows he needs to work on contact considerably. But power this good up the middle doesn't come around much, so the Brewers are willing to work with him. Like Prince his arrival might be a little delayed, but the two will be Milwaukee's right side by the end of the year. And yes, Weeks does have Gary Sheffield power potential.
April Numbers: 22/83 (.265), 6/26 (.337), 3-4-3 (.506); 4/5
12. Jeremy Hermida- OF- Florida Marlins (AA)
Before the season the question was whether Hermida would hit for power or just be the next Florida leadoff hitter. The answer: the power has come. I can't say no one saw it coming, as Dave Cameron said in an interview with me, "Get him out of the Florida State League and add a few more pounds and he's going to take off." Consider Hermida lifted off, as he has fixed every flaw on his scouting report besides a high number of whiffs. This is a guy who this season projects to walk more than 100 times and hit about 40 homers. Juan Pierre should hear the footsteps coming, as should the outfielders in front of Hermida on this prospect list.
April Numbers: 20/73 (.274), 20/19 (.436), 4-0-8 (.658); 2/2
13. Joel Guzman- SS- Los Angeles Dodgers (AA)
Unlike the other huge Dodger breakout of 2004, Adrian Beltre, Joel Guzman is proving that he is for real. Still, all of his flaws still apply, which include size too big for the shortstop position, too many strikeouts, poor recognition of curveballs. It is much more likely that Guzman is going to replace Jose Valentin at third than Cesar Izturis up the middle, as many predicted when the Dodgers let Beltre walk. Whether Guzman turns into the next Beltre or the next Valentin remains to be seen, but I will say that I am far more bearish on Guzman than most.
April Numbers: 23/80 (.288), 10/25 (.366), 5-1-4 (.525); 2/3
14. Lastings Milledge- OF- New York Mets (A+)
As I type his ranking, I just keep having to remind myself, "Sample size, sample size, sample size." Milledge has such high potential, but by the same token, such high room for bust. Milledge is currently on the shelf with a bum left wrist, an injury we have seen sap power out of players for a season. Even if he doesn't hit for a ton of power this season, New York could still work with him on selectivity, as walking in 6% of PA and striking out in 30% is not acceptable.
April Numbers: 11/51 (.216), 3/15 (.298), 2-0-1 (.314); 4/6
15. Chad Billingsley- SP- Los Angeles Dodgers (AA)
When I wrote about Billingsley a couple weeks ago, I talked about why the Kerry Wood comparisons make some sense. Chad has a dominating two-pitch arsenal that helps him rack up strikeouts, but doesn't have the control to ever have a good WHIP on his resume. Wood naysayers will tell you that it is quite possible to look dominant on the mound while spending years throwing more than pitching. Billingsley has some serious control and mechanical issues to climb before becoming a star, but like any good pitching prospect, has a future somewhere, on some staff.
April Numbers: 1-1, 16/22.2, 11ER (4.37 ERA), 25/11, 0
16. Yusmeiro Petit- SP- New York Mets (AA)
The cloud of smoke that the Scott Kazmir trade and its aftereffects caused have been lifted, and now Petit's true colors are shining like never before. Petit has been lucky that the unforgiving New York media has had a pair of Binghamton pitchers to watch, and one with quite the pedigree. While Floyd Bannister's son is another that got off to a Brad Thompson-like start, it is Petit that remains the better prospect. Yusmeiro has it all: good control, deception, and a knowledge of changing speeds. There are questions about his stuff and about his ceiling, but Yusmeiro should be fine. Think Livan Hernandez (c. 2005, not 1997), and remain the Mets fans of that team ERA.
April Numbers: 0-2, 15/20.1, 6ER (2.66 ERA), 23/2, 2
17. Thomas Diamond- SP- Texas Rangers (A+)
First on my list of 2005 draftees is Thomas Diamond, which is probably surprising for all those Niemann and Butler lovers out there. One of the reasons is that Diamond has an extensive track record now, since he signed with the Rangers out of New Orleans and started pitching so fast. Diamond has a 2.51 ERA in more than 70 professional innings, with 97 strikeouts and just 22 walks. I keep finding things to fall in love with this guy for, and MLB's scouting service liked him too:
Good pitcher's build, similar to Roger Clemens...Solid delivery, good extension on release. Fastball explodes late in zone...Curveball has big, 12-6 break...Excellent movement and deception to change up.
With a little improvement on his slider, Diamond has all the makings of solving the Rangers' rotation woes. He'll beat John Danks to the Majors, and also profiles to be a better pitcher. Not a lot to dislike here.
April Numbers: 3-0, 19/25.2, 9ER (3.16 ERA), 29/9, 2
18. Conor Jackson- 1B- Arizona Diamondbacks (AAA)
Like Quentin, I'm curious how these insane minor league numbers are going to translate when Jackson actually faces Major League pitching. And insane they are. Jackson just keeps hitting doubles, and has only struck out three times in almost ninety plate appearances. His move to first base is pretty official, meaning that Shawn Green will be the man left out in Arizona in a year's time, assuming Luis Gonzalez does not retire. Jackson should be called up before Quentin to relieve Chad Tracy, who could very well interest any team in need of a third baseman.
April Numbers: 29/74 (.392), 13/3 (.472), 9-1-1 (.581); 0/0
19. Brandon McCarthy- SP- Chicago White Sox (AAA)
Well, I wondered how the curveball would do after leaving the Arizona atmosphere, and the answer is not too well. McCarthy has given up five home runs in the International League this season, and I would be willing to gamble at least three of them have been hanging curveballs. McCarthy has still pitched very well when considering his K/BB and age, but I think the White Sox expected a little more after his Spring Training. With the rotation dominating it looks like McCarthy will not be pushed too hard this year, a good thing for a kid who might get tired early because of that March. McCarthy is similar to a right-handed Barry Zito, though he has better control than the former Cy Young winner. Brandon will be in Chicago full-time in 2006, as trading him from the organization would be far worse than Jeremy Reed.
April Numbers: 2-2, 25/29.2, 14ER (4.25 ERA), 40/9, 5
20. Brian Anderson- OF- Chicago White Sox (AAA)
That's because Reed had a fellow outfield prospect nipping at his heels in Brian Anderson. While Jermaine Dye continues to stink it up in Chicago, the White Sox are an injury away from calling the Wildcat to the Windy City. Anderson has it all, a disciplined high, solid contact skills, and has shown newfound power this year. He has the ability to play any outfield position, so he could undoubtedly get a chance next year. He is the player Shin-Soo Choo, trying to top Reed, wants to be.
April Numbers: 26/80 (.325), 8/24 (.389), 8-1-4 (.600); 0/0
21. Hayden Penn- SP- Baltimore Orioles (AA)
Like that, in a blink of five starts, Hayden Penn comes from nowhere and grabs hold of the Oriole top prospect spot. Penn was third at some point this offseason, behind Markakis and Majewski, but has had a red-hot debut to thank for dusting the pair of outfielders. 40 strikeouts in less than 30 innings? This is because Penn now has three above-average pitches in a mid-90s fastball, a much-improved fantastic change up, and a solid curve. Throw in a little control and youth in the Eastern League, and you can understand why the bandwagon keeps growing.
April Numbers: 2-1, 21/29, 5ER (1.55 ERA), 40/6, 0
22. John Danks- SP- Texas Rangers (A+)
With the emergence of Ian Kinsler last year and Thomas Diamond this season, John Danks is kind of flying under the radar a bit in Dallas. While I'm always a little wary of Danks after being quite underwhelmed by his performance in the Futures Game, I realize that he's far better than what he showed in the game. In fact, he is the best left-handed pitching prospect in baseball right now. It was going to take a damn good high school player to make Grady Fuson spend seven figures on, and Danks was that player in 2003. Texas is really waiting for Danks and Diamond to come take hold of a rotation that is the only thing holding the club back from perennial playoff visits.
April Numbers: 1-1, 17/20.2, 4ER (1.74 ERA), 19/5, 0
23. Daric Barton- 1B- Oakland Athletics (A+)
Of all of my comments in my January rankings, my comments about Barton drew the most criticism. It remains to be seen whether the numbers I cited (half the season he was the minors best hitter, the other half he was awful) mean anything, but his early numbers have been quite poor. I still really like Barton and can truly understand the comparisons that have been made to Carlos Delgado. With all that being said, big things were expected from Barton this year, hitting in the minors easiest league. Given his age and having the duties of learning a new position we can forgive his early struggles, but that ISO really needs a rise in May.
April Numbers: 19/78 (.244), 13/11 (.362), 2-0-2 (.346); 0/0
24. Billy Butler- 3B- Kansas City Royals (A+)
Give the Kansas City scouting team some credit, they are relentless. In 2001, the team drafted high school fireballer Colt Griffin in the first round, but still had the guts to draft another high school pitcher in 2002 (Greinke). Despite the bust that is Chris Lubanski being a wasted 2003 first-round choice, the club went back into the high school hitter department in 2004. The key when realizing why Greinke and Butler are looking like successes is that both are cerebral players, with huge upsides. Butler is a great talent as a hitter, with good contact skills, a disciplined eye and huge power. His one real flaw is a lack of athleticism which hurts his defense at the hot corner. While the precedent of moving from third to first isn't full of names, Butler does have some similarities to a right-handed Jim Thome. I think Kansas City fans could live with that.
April Numbers: 30/85 (.353), 12/17 (.433), 5-0-7 (.659); 0/0
25. Scott Olsen- SP- Florida Marlins (AA)
Of all the better prospects in baseball, few players have flown under my radar more than Scott Olsen. A good start to this season, combined with some graduations and injuries have made Olsen the second-best southpaw prospect in baseball. His control looks very good this year, and Olsen does not give up home runs. A.J. Burnett is going to command a lot of money this offseason, and the Marlins will need an effective pitcher to fill his void. Olsen looks to be it.
April Numbers: 3-0, 24/27.2, 8ER (2.60 ERA), 35/7, 1
Back tomorrow with prospects 26-75, please leave any feelings below.
Over the Hill and Coals
On the rare occasion when I order a steak in a restaurant, I always ask for it to be "medium well." I like my meat cooked. Not burnt, mind you. But no steak tartare for me.
Based on age and performance in the early going, there are several players who look like they are as "well done" as some of my steaks. I'm talking about ballplayers you can stick your fork in. As in meat that has been overcooked, these guys appear to have very little springyness in their games.
Older players with subpar rate stats such as AVG/OBP/SLG or K/BB are one of the best ways to identify seasoned veterans on the decline. I also like to check base on balls to strikeout ratios for batters, the number of triples and stolen bases, and the ratio of runs scored to runs batted in. For pitchers, I think strikeouts to walks, strikeouts to innings or, better yet, strikeouts/batters faced are the best measures in deciphering trends in effectiveness.
After stir frying around ESPN's stat pages, I came up with three categories of players who have little or no juice left in them.
Medium Well Done
Rich Aurilia: SS, 33, CIN, .211/.253.352. Aurilia had a nice run with San Francisco from 1999-2003 and the Giants let him go at just the right time. Never one to draw many base on balls, Rich is walking at the lowest rate of his career. He has a little power still in his bat but is a mediocre defensive player and a slow baserunner, especially for a middle infielder.
Steve Finley: OF, 40, LAA, .149/.227/.322. Although Finley has perhaps the worst rate stats of anyone, I suspect he is the most likely player of them all to end up with numbers closer to his seasonal average. Why? Well, for one, he is in outstanding shape. Two, his HR, ISO, SEC, and BB rates are all in line or better than his career norm. Three, Steve has stolen four bases in five attempts, suggesting he hasn't lost much, if any, speed. Come October, I think Finley's numbers will be just fine.
Scott Hatteberg: 1B, 35, OAK, .267/.320/.344. Hatteberg's stats are down across the board. The Pickin' Machine is walking at half his normal rate and hitting home runs at the lowest pace of his career. The fact that he is seeing fewer pitches per plate appearance than ever makes me think pitchers are going after him and exploiting his inability to hit. Scott might be able to hang around as a catcher but not as a first baseman.
Mike Lieberthal: C, 33, PHI, .239/.316/.338. Lieberthal's age and half-dozen knee surgeries may be catching up with him. His power is way down this year. However, Mike is walking and striking out at career-best rates, making me think he might be more effective in a limited role.
Jorge Posada: C, 33, NYY, .235/.315/.321. Posada may be in nothing more than a slump. However, his isolated power is less than half his career norm. I wouldn't give up on him at this point but the wear and tear of catching 130 or more games for five consecutive seasons may be the culprit here. Jorge won't be an effective 1B or DH unless he can produce at a similar rate as in the past.
Jim Thome: 1B, 34, PHI, .203/.347/.304. It may be premature to include Thome in this group, but players his size tend not to age particularly well. I'm not sure if his bad back is an excuse for his early season woes or an indication that he is in the decline phase of his career. He continues to walk and strike out a lot. The only real change in Thome's stats is the marked decrease in the number of HR from where you would expect him to be at this stage of the campaign.
Royce Clayton: SS, 35, ARI, .225/.279/.325. I saw Clayton hit his only home run of the year when I was in Phoenix ten days ago. I have no plans of going back this summer so it might be a long year for ol' (literally) Royce. Granted, Clayton has never been much of a hitter (career OPS+ of 78 with nary a season of 100), but his current rate stats are at or near career lows and he is striking out more than ever.
Tom Glavine: SP, 39, NYM, 1-3, 5.67 ERA. Counting Glavine out is like giving up on his former team. Both just keep coming back when just when you thought they were done. That said, 16 walks and 17 strikeouts aren't the recipe for longevity. Glavine is 37 wins shy of 300. I wouldn't be surprised if he bounced back this year, but I'm skeptical as to whether he can last long enough to make it to that magical mark.
Ken Griffey, Jr.: CF, 35, CIN, .244/.313/.372. Griffey has been skidding since 2000, his last full season. He has stolen 11 bases this century, an indication of his health and speed (or lack thereof). Junior doesn't have the ability to lift the ball like he once did. To illustrate, he didn't hit his first home run this year until the last day in April and his groundball/flyball ratio is the highest ever. Griffey is also striking out like never before and his BB/SO ratio is at an all-time low.
Mike Piazza: C, 36, NYM, .221/.286/.390. Piazza has been in a gradual decline since 2000. He played at a high level in 2001 and 2002 but is no longer a standout at his position. Working in Piazza's favor is the fact that he has only struck out four times this year, suggesting he may have a year or two left as a designated hitter. That said, Mike has limited value as a hitter only. Unfortunately, he can't even blame Shea Stadium for his ills as he has hit better at home than on the road the past few years.
Sammy Sosa: OF, 36, BAL, .270/.305/.450. I realize Sosa has four home runs, but he is only on pace to hit 27 with 61 runs and 74 RBI. Worse yet, Sammy has struck out 18 times and has walked just three times. His OPS (.755) hasn't been this low since 1992, the year before he went on a power splurge that saw him slug 533 HR in the following 12 campaigns (an average of 44 per season).
Bernie Willliams: OF, 36, NYY, .236/.317/.303. Bernie has been written off before but he's now 36 and not getting any younger or better. Hard to believe he is still playing CF. Not only does Williams possess a poor arm and range but his offensive production can now be called into question as well. His isolated power, secondary average, and power/speed numbers are all at career lows. He might be a good guy to have on your bench but not in the field.
Very Well Done
Ray Durham: 2B, 33, SF, .222/.356/.278. Durham is walking more than ever so his OBP is in line with his career average despite a precipitous drop in AVG. However, his loss of power (no HR and an ISO one-third his career norm) and speed (one SB and an all-time low zone rating) are such that he is on the verge of no longer being a productive player.
Marquis Grissom: OF, 38, SF, .213/.229/.325. Grissom has gone from a player who stole 70+ bases in consecutive seasons to one who has hit 10 or more HR in each of the last 13 years to a guy who hasn't pilfered a base and has scored just five times in 22 games. His slugging average is also the lowest it has ever been and he has walked just twice in 84 plate appearances. There is nothing in his stat line that suggests he will bounce back.
Brian Jordan: OF, 38, ATL, .238/.297/.333. I will never understand why the Braves signed Jordan (and Raul Mondesi, for that matter). Perhaps John Schuerholz thought he and Bobby Cox could wave their magic wands and turn back the calendar to 2001. In Jordan's last 520 AB (dating back to 2003), he has hit .258 with 13 HR, 67 R, 65 RBI, 44 BB, and 4 SB in 7 attempts. He is such a poor offensive player at this stage that I'm not sure he would be productive as a shortstop or catcher. As a LF, he is nothing short of a major liability.
Raul Mondesi: OF, 34, ATL, .202/.236/.357. Although not as old as his fellow corner outfielder, Mondesi is equally inept. Forget his rate stats, look no further than his four BB and 21 Ks for proof that he has spun around the rotisserie a few too many times. I thought he was from the Dominican Republic, but he must be from Finland because he is finnish(ed).
Rafael Palmeiro: 1B, 40, BAL, .238/.295/.313. Palmeiro is no longer a major-league caliber ballplayer. He can't hit, field, or run. In other words, Raffy has no tools other than what he might hawk on TV. Palmeiro no longer has the lift (so to speak) in his swing as his 1.35 G/F ratio suggests--the highest rate since 1989 when he hit a whopping eight HR. He is a former shell of himself and is simply hanging around, trying to get to the magical 3,000 hit mark.
Hideo Nomo: SP, 36, TB, 2-3, 6.58 ERA. Nomo's K/9 rate has been plummeting since it reached 10.0 in 2001, and it has dropped even further this year. He has walked more batters than he has struck out and has allowed six HR in 26 innings. I will be shocked if he lasts the year in Tampa Bay.
I'm sure there are other players who may qualify for one of the above lists, but I don't have Nomo at this time.
[Additional reader comments and retorts at Baseball Primer.]