The Futures of the Game
Rob McMillin (6-4-2) and I went to the Stockton Ports @ Rancho Cucamonga Quakes game Saturday night. The primary attraction was watching Jered Weaver of the Quakes make his first home start, but I was also interested in checking out teammates Brandon Wood and Howie Kendrick for a second time in less than a week as well as seeing Daric Barton, Danny Putnam, and Kurt Suzuki of the Ports.
I had witnessed Weaver's professional debut the Monday before and was anxious to see if he could improve upon his three-inning, three-hit, one-run effort against the Lake Elsinore Storm. It turned out that there were 5,797 curious fans in attendance--or nearly triple the number that braved the Southern California freeways five days earlier--who found out that Weaver (2.1-5-4-4-0-5, L) may not be as "major-league ready" as his agent Scott Boras once thought. (I may be guilty of being overly optimistic as well, although I think it remains a distinct possibility that Weaver could make the jump to the Angels as early as next summer.)
The ballpark, known as the Epicenter, is about an hour's drive from my home in Long Beach. It is located just off the famous Route 66 near the San Gabriel Mountains in the Inland Empire.
I requested media passes far in advance and took advantage of the opportunity to access the field and dugout prior to the game. Rob and I also sat in the tiny press box, which accommodated one radio announcer from each team, two local cable-TV broadcasters (including Darrell Miller, brother of Reggie and Cheryl), the official scorekeeper, the scoreboard operator, and a local reporter.
Arriving on the field around 5:45 p.m., I met Todd Steverson, the 33-year-old manager of the Stockton Ports. Steverson, who was drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays in the first round (25th pick) of the 1992 amateur draft out of Arizona State, played 31 games in the big leagues in 1995 and 1996. While introducing myself and shaking hands, I realized just how much more professional "Baseball Analysts" sounds than "Rich's Weekend Baseball Beat."
Upon my request, Steverson arranged for me to interview Barton and Suzuki in the Stockton dugout. Suzuki, who played his college ball at Cal State Fullerton and was on the 2004 NCAA Championship team, was a familiar face to me. The 21-year-old catcher was drafted in the second round last June. He signed for $550,000 and played in the Rookie League last summer and the Instructional League in the fall.
The Hawaiian-born Suzuki likes playing for the A's. "I love it. Everybody's laid back. They just want you to get your work in and get the job done."
I asked him about the A's penchant for teaching plate discipline (each farm team is either first or second in its league in walks drawn according to Kevin Goldstein of Baseball America) and Suzuki (.280/.394/.459 with 41 BB and 39 SO) revealed that, "It's not so much about walking but gettting on base. If you get a pitch to hit, they want you to hit it."
As to whether it was true that the A's don't promote players unless they walk at least once every ten plate appearances, the 6-foot-1, 200-pound catcher candidly remarked, "No, there's nothing like that."
Suzuki, who hit a two-run homer off Weaver in the second inning later that evening, was 3-for-9 with no extra base hits and two strikeouts vs. the Long Beach State right-hander in 2003-2004. "He was pretty unbelievable in college. He's a competitor. He throws a fastball on both sides of the plate and a decent slider to keep you off balance."
Barton waited patiently while I spoke to Suzuki, then walked over and sat next to me on the bench. Daric, who went 3-for-5 that evening, was an important piece of the Mark Mulder trade between the Oakland A's and St. Louis Cardinals last December. Listed at a generous 6-foot-1 and a more realistic 205 pounds, he was a first-round draft pick in 2003 out of Marina High School in Huntington Beach, California.
A catcher by trade, Barton was moved to first base this year for three reasons. First of all, he lacks a strong arm and the receiving skills to catch at the major-league level. Secondly, the A's have their fill of catchers in the minors, including John Baker (Sacramento, AAA), Jeremy Brown (Midland, AA), Suzuki (Stockton, High-Class A), and Landon Powell (the 24th selection in last year's draft), who tore the lateral meniscus in his left knee and has yet to play in 2005. Thirdly, Barton, whom general manager Billy Beane labeled as "the best pure bat in the minor leagues," has the stick to play elsewhere.
Fair-skinned and sporting a blond crewcut and the makings of a goatee, Barton (.310/.439/.467 with 59 BB--second in the league--and 46 SO) told me that, "Patience is one of the keys to my success. When I'm going good, I'm selective." The sweet-swinging, left-handed hitter, with an advanced knowledge of the strike zone, said he was "one of the few guys who worked with the A's philosphy of working the pitcher and getting on base via walks" when he was with the Cardinals last year. He likes the fact that "everybody does that here."
As far as which position he plays now or in the future, Barton's answer was rather refreshing: "Whatever keeps me in the lineup." Although he got off to a slow start this year, the modest Barton didn't even mention that he underwent an emergency appendectomy during the spring. Instead, he admitted to "pressing a bit the first couple of months, trying to do too much" on the heels of the trade.
Besides Weaver, who wasn't on his game that night, the two best players on the field were undoubtedly Barton and Wood. In addition to being the only invitees to the seventh annual All-Star Futures Game on Sunday, July 10 in Detroit, Barton and Wood are the youngest players on their teams. Daric, 19, is a full two years younger than any of his teammates, while Brandon, 20, is six months younger than anyone on the Quakes.
When it comes to evaluating prospects, one of the most important factors is age relative to level of play. Starring in High Class-A ball at or under the age of 20 is a telltale of a potential impact player.
Wood (.306/.358/.661) hit a towering shot to straightaway center field--his league-leading 26th HR of the year and fourth in five games--in the bottom of the first inning. It was "the longest home run" that the official scorekeeper had ever seen at the Epicenter. The Angels' #1 choice in the 2003 draft is a special talent. At 6-foot-3, 185 pounds, he is another protypical big shortstop from the post-Cal Ripken era.
If Wood has a weakness or two, it would arguably be his plate discipline (24 BB against 68 SO) and perhaps range in the field. Whether he winds up at SS, 2B, or 3B, Wood is likely to make it to Anaheim based on his bat more than his glove. He has a slightly open stance and likes to pull the ball. As such, the former high school star out of Scottsdale, Arizona may find more and more pitchers testing him with off-speed pitches and fastballs away as he moves up the chain. How Wood responds could determine just how quickly he makes it to the big leagues.
[Additional reader comments and retorts at Baseball Primer.]
The Class of 2006...at BP
Hey everyone, I want to point you over to Baseball Prospectus today, where I have an article up. It's my first time at BP, which is pretty exciting, and I was honored to be asked. For that, I would like to thank Will Carroll and Joe Sheehan.
Anyway, the piece is on five college pitchers that will be in the 2006 draft class that might be on top of some draft boards by themselves. If you don't know much about Andrew Miller, Dallas Buck, Ian Kennedy, Max Scherzer and Daniel Bard, I urge you to check it out (though it's premium).
Finally, big thanks go to Rich and the two BP guys I mentioned for helping me edit the piece. Without them, it would have been impossible. Expect more on the '06 class in this space over the weekend.
System Overviews: TOR, TB
With a slow day around Baseball Analysts, I thought I'd take the time and write up a pair of system overviews. Expect me to do this from time to time, and today I'll begin in the American League East.
TORONTO BLUE JAYS
Preseason John Sickels Top 10= League, Purcey, Hill, Banks, Rosario, Jackson, Adams, Quiroz, McGowan, Marcum
Preseason Baseball America Top 10= League, Hill, Quiroz, Rosario, Purcey, Adams, McGowan, Jackson, Banks, Chacin
It would be impossible to look at the Blue Jays minor league system and say that we foresaw what was going to happen in 2004. They have had an up and down year in the largest of ways, as players like Aaron Hill and Russ Adams have moved on to the Majors, while Brandon League has been awful and Guillermo Quiroz hurt.
The solace to the system, however, was a great draft in 2004. David Purcey, the club's first round pick last year, has been passed on the organizational depth chart by second pick Zach Jackson, already in AA. While Purcey's BB/9 is way too high, he still is pitching well. Jackson has added a cutter, like Gustavo Chacin did in 2004, and has really taken off this season. Second-round pick Curtis Thigpen, the former Texas backstop, is doing everything well in the Midwest League. Finally, the unsung hero of the class might be third-round pick Adam Lind, who in his age 21 season in the FSL, is hitting .297/.362/.414. If just some of those 22 doubles (in 273 AB) start going over the wall, watch out.
The other sleeper in the system looks to be Chi-Hung Cheng, the key of the Blue Jay's increased scouting in the Far East. Cheng has been the best prospect on the Lansing Lugnuts this season, and has dominated the Midwest League with a 2.91 ERA and 89 strikeouts in just 77.1 innings. He's one to watch, as raw pitchers don't enter this system very often. In fact, most of the time it's very polished players, which indiactes why the Blue Jays have a glut of B-/C+ pitchers in their system: Izzy Ramirez, Vince Perkins, Jamie Vermilyea, Kurt Isenberg, Shaun Marcum. The head of the polished class is Josh Banks, who has just seven walks (against 74 strikeouts!) in AA this season, but simultaneously has allowed 12 home runs. The lone raw pitcher is Francisco Rosario, a favorite of mine, but a player likely destined for the bullpen.
Guillermo Quiroz' return is key to this system, as the Blue Jays have hung their backstopping future on his shoulders. Quiroz must get enough repetitions in AAA this year to sustain a full-time Major League role next season, so Toronto fans can stop being forced into watching Gregg Zaun try and play. Quiroz will have some aging hitters to learn from in AAA, as both John Hattig and John-Ford Griffin are hitting with gusto this season. Both 25 years of age, neither profiles to be more than a bench player at the Major League level.
In conclusion, if the Jays hadn't drafted well last season, the Toronto system wouldn't have a lot at the top. Lucky for them, their first four picks all look to be top ten prospects.
Current Blue Jays Top Eleven Prospects
1. Zach Jackson
2. David Purcey
3. Dustan McGowan
4. Francisco Rosario
5. Josh Banks
6. Chi-hung Cheng- SLEEPER
7. Guillermo Quiroz
8. Adam Lind- SLEEPER
9. Curtis Thigpen
10. Shaun Marcum
11. Brandon League
TAMPA BAY DEVIL RAYS
Preseason John Sickels Top Ten= Young, Kazmir, Niemann, Bankston, Orvella, Dukes, Brignac, Hammel, Gathright, Houser
Preseason Baseball America Top Ten= Young, Kazmir, Gathright, Hammel, Brignac, Houser, Dukes, Orvella, McClung, Bankston
While graduations have lessened the Devil Rays depth, very few teams have better top fours than the Devil Rays. That, of course, starts at the top with Delmon Young, who is proving to be the best player in the Southern League this season. As if his game was not complete enough, Young will almost surely surpass 40 steals on the season. Expect Delmon to spend the second half of this season playing with B.J. Upton, and for the Devil Rays to show their hand on how they are planning to rebuild this organization.
Young has been part of a fantastic squad in AA, one in which five of my top ten players have played on. Second on the list is Elijah Dukes, joining Young in the outfield, who has not drawn the usual character complaints this season. The Devil Rays decision between Dukes, Joey Gathright (who I didn't include on this list) and Rocco Baldelli will be an interesting one. They also have some middle infield depth with the breakout of Fernando Cortez, who entered the year with a career .699 OPS, and left the Southern League midseason with insane (for him) .333/.377/.420 numbers.
Wes Bankston was moved up from the California League about the same time Cortez was moved to the Durham Bulls. Bankston made a mockery of A-ball in 62 at-bats, and now has hit eleven extra base hits in his first 87 AA at-bats. Bankston's breakout this season should allow for the midseason trade of Aubrey Huff. In that trade, the Devil Rays will likely demand pitching, as their system doesn't have much of it. The most legit prospect highest up the later is Jason Hammel, who has a 3.00 ERA in 10 Southern League starts. The 6-6 Hammel might be the least known of the Biscuit stars, but he certainly will be starting in Tampa before long.
The other top ten pitchers in this system are 2004 first-round pick Jeff Niemann joined by southpaw James Houser. Both have had some arm troubles in the past, but while Houser seems to be over his, Niemann's continue. If you ask me, I expect Niemann to join the Angel Guzman and Anthony Reyes always sore club, bouncing on and off the DL for a long time. Houser is pitching better than his ERA (4.20) indicates in the Midwest League. Houser is backed up on offense by John Jaso, a powerful catcher (tops in the system), ace Andy Sonnanstine, and Reid Brignac.
For kicks, I have tried to create the Devil Rays 2007 lineup, considering the moves that I would make:
1. Carl Crawford- LF
2. Jorge Cantu- 2B
3. B.J. Upton- 3B (sooner or later, we have to accept it)
4. Delmon Young- RF
5. Jonny Gomes- DH
6. Wes Bankston- 1B
7. Elijah Dukes- CF (once Rocco proves to be healthy, deal him)
8. Fernando Cortez- SS (maybe)
9. Toby Hall- C (hanging on by a thread)
They aren't far from being a contender, ladies and gentleman.
Current Devil Rays Top Ten Prospects
1. Delmon Young
2. Elijah Dukes
3. Jeff Niemann
4. Wes Bankston- SLEEPER
5. Jason Hammel
6. John Jaso- SLEEPER
7. James Houser
8. Fernando Cortez
9. Reid Brignac
10. Andy Sonnanstine
If you'd like to see any more system overviews in the future, or have any questions about these two, please indicate within the comments. Also, please check back tomorrow for a few surprises.
As I piece together a midseason prospect list, I wanted to pay homage to the players that have moved beyond lists like mine. My during-season policy is not to wait for AB and IP benchmarks to be surpassed, but simply to project which players will grow out of their prospect shoes.
For guys like Tony Giarratano, Prince Fielder and Jeff Fiorentino, cups of coffee have been just that. For others, as Kyle Davies can attest, sometimes a short-term expirament becomes much more than that. So, below I have ranked 23 players that will not be eligible for my midseason list. These players come from the ESPN newcomer list, so players that debuted before the 2005 season will not appear below.
Instead, you'll read about the future for these players that are already beginning to make a difference in their organization's W-L column. Still, as young as they are, there is room for projection, and as always, a little ranking. They are not ranked in terms of projected career value, that's just too tough, but instead how I think they will impact their organization in the near future (think pre-free agency, or even pre-arbitration).
1. Kyle Davies (ATL): 4.75 ERA in 41.2 IP- Dan Meyer, at this point, is probably trying to get back to playing long toss. And there isn't anything long about Jose Capellan's outings, as he was most recently moved to the bullpen. That leaves Kyle Davies atop the 2004 Braves pitching prospect trio, where before the season, many outlets had him at the bottom. This is just another example of why the Braves are smarter than us all, and why having faith in their braintrust is always a smart idea. But after beginning his career with three scoreless outings in his first four appearances, Davies finished the month of June off disastrously. Interleague play did not do well for the Brave right-hander, who gave up a whopping fifteen earned runs in just 14 innings pitched. His other bad June start was in between two of those interleague performances, on three days rest, when the Cincinnati Reds also hit the Brave hard. Kyle certainly bears watching, as that half/half split is one ugly trend.
2. Robinson Cano (NYY): .764 OPS in 174 AB- I was always a seller of Cano's future when he was in the minor leagues, thinking his career would top out at the season he is having now. Oops. At 22, Cano has adjusted to life in the Majors -- on the game's largest stage -- quite well. Swinging from the left side, Cano has slugged right-handers at a .500 clip this season, and in the month of June, his stats were .308/.344/.505. Any suggestion that the Yankees should make offers at the Jose Vidros and Orlando Hudsons of the world do not make sense, as Cano has already become one of the better 2B in the American League. Right now, the critique would be consistency, as Cano has tended to be a very hot/cold hitter. For example, from May 10 to May 18, Cano went 15/29, but collected just five more hits until June 3. Add a little consistency to a solid game, and Cano will become an elite at his position.
3. Huston Street (OAK): 1.59 ERA in 34 IP- Only a hamstring injury could slow Street down, the former Texas closer that went from the College World Series to Major League closer at an unparalleled rate. His latest injury has sidelined him since June 14, when he had not allowed a run in six appearances. In fact, down the road it will look mighty impressive that Street did not allow a run in June. The right-hander seems to succeed on two things: his fearless nature and a unique arm angle. Chad Cordero in Washington is only proof that an experienced college closer makes a damn good draft pick, as those type of players are not afraid to pitch to anyone. Street has shown this nature, and opposing hitters have not enjoyed the results. His arm angle could be a cause for concern, as the delivery looks to put stress on his shoulder. But, that's purely speculative, and I'll be knocking on wood that Huston closes for a long time.
4. Ervin Santana (LAA): 4.71 ERA in 27.2 IP- Once a top pitching prospect, Santana was all but forgotten after a 2004 riddled with injuries. The electric right-hander is back in a big way, drawing the tough job of replacing Kelvim Escobar. Santana has done a pretty good job at that, and the fact that he has the club's second-worst ERA is more indicative of the staff's success than anything else. Santana's numbers are a bit skewed by two disasters, first in his debut against the Indians (6 ER in 4 IP), and then in Interleague play against the Marlins (7ER in 2.2 IP). Besides that, Santana has shut out the Chicago White Sox, and held the Dodgers and Nationals to just two combined runs in 13 innings.
5. Aaron Hill (TOR): .917 OPS in 119 AB- His bat has been good since college, but this good? Good enough to handle third base full-time, no questions asked? Nah, I wouldn't have guessed that from the career sub-800 OPS entering the season. But these are the type of statistical anamolies that can happen when you strike out just 10 times in 123 at-bats: a .375 BABIP. That isn't sustainable, obviously, but even normalized to the league average BABIP, Hill is still a .280 hitter. I still don't believe he's a third baseman, but if the Blue Jays trade Hudson and move Russ Adams to second, that's one good shortstop.
6. Tim Stauffer (SD): 4.62 ERA in 50.2 IP- The player in last year's Futures Game that impressed me the most, Stauffer has looked good in a pitcher's park in which it's hard not to. But the ERA split between home and away has not indicated that PETCO is doing wonders, so Stauffer's rookie season looks to be pretty legitimate. He's walking more hitters than he should, given his lackluster stuff, but those calls will come with experience. And that he should get at the back of a very good Padre rotation, one that would put the rookie in the bullpen (or worse) for the playoffs, if the season ended today.
7. Scott Olsen (FLA): 1.59 ERA in 5.2 IP- Now that's the way to start a pro career! Sure, it's hard to look bad against the Devil Rays, and he walked three hitters, but it is one good start. And hopefully, his performance will help with future confidence, allowing Olsen to become the player he has projected to become. I'm not so sure the Marlins will keep him up -- depends on the legitimacy of Rosenthal's Burnett-is-gone rumors -- but more performances like his debut would do him well. And finally, correct me if I'm wrong, but is 60 strikes in 89 pitches a pretty good ratio in a first start, or what?
8. Dan Johnson (OAK): .753 OPS in 84 AB- I've been on the Johnson for DH spot bandwagon for awhile now, and less-than-100 AB into his first season, the 2004 PCL MVP is paying dividends. Johnson is certainly playing better than Scott Hatteberg and the 2005 version of Erubiel Durazo, one of which will likely be dealt if Billy Beane has it his way. The one critique in the first baseman's game this far into the season is power, though he did hit his first home run last Tuesday. Currently in an 11/27 groove, Johnson has all but taken a full-time position.
9. Hayden Penn (BAL): 6.07 ERA in 29.2 IP- First of all, kudos to the Orioles for handling Penn correctly. While promoting the red-hot Penn might have been premature with John Maine in the International League, it hasn't really come back to haunt the Orioles. They also have kept close watch on Penn's pitch counts, only twice letting him go into triple-digits, and never over 103. But, Penn has been getting hit up of late, with five home runs allowed in his last three starts. Sooner or later, if the ship is not righted, swapping Maine and Penn might be in the best interest of everyone involved. No matter what, Hayden is one fantastic talent.
10. Edwin Encarnacion (CIN): 0/6 in 2005- He may get sent down again before being up for good, but Encarnacion should lose his prospect status by year's end. I have little doubt that the Reds will pawn off Joe Randa, which will put an end to the correct decision to sign the aging third baseman. Randa was simply a placeholder, and is the type of player that clubs like Minnesota would love to give a pitching prospect for. Encarnacion looks to be a very solid player -- not a superstar -- and should begin ending the Reds 3B curse next season. Hopefully his presence will coincide with a revamped Reds team, as besides signings like the Reds, Cincinnati is an organization being run into the ground.
11. Brandon McCarthy (CHW): 8.40 ERA in 15 IP- After watching McCarthy pitch twice in the Majors this season, I do believe he can be an effective Major League pitcher. At the same time, I understand why his ERA (5.48) was so high in the International League, despite leading the lead in strikeouts (81 K in 64 IP) when he was called up. The book on McCarthy has changed very little since coming to the Majors, except an abandonment of the control (8 BB in 15 IP) that was so good in the minors (18 BB in 64 IP). Few pitchers are as good as McCarthy when the count has two strikes; but many times, that is the problem. Brandon will need to gain confidence in a third pitch, as his fastball doesn't seem to be fast enough, and his curveball has the tendency to hang early in the count. Put those together, and you know why the young right-hander has given up 16 HR in his seventy-nine total innings this season.
12. Justin Huber (KC): 3/12 in 2005- Will the Royals find consistent at-bats for Huber, or will he suffer the same fate at Prince Fielder? Luckily for Justin, while blocked by a good first baseman like Prince, there is an open DH spot with his name on it. Huber put himself back on the map this year when the Royals correctly decided to end the expirament with using him behind the plate. He'll probably be an emergency/third catcher for the rest of his career, but from now on, the only balls he'll have to worry about catching are those when Sweeney gets tired of playing the field.
13. Mark Teahen (KC): .674 OPS in 171 AB- One down, one to go. Billy Butler, the Royals best prospect, was moved from the hot corner following a recent injury. Butler has begun playing in the outfield at High Desert, different from where I had him projected (1B). Now, Teahen must worry about the Royals' golden boy, Alex Gordon, who will likely be sent to the Texas League when he signs. Will Gordon move to the outfield, as well, or will Teahen's bat force the Royals to say "Uncle"? Teahen needs to get that OPS around .750 by the end of the season to have a legitimate argument, because Angel Berroa is just not hitting enough to normalize KC's left side production.
14. Kelly Johnson (ATL): .755 OPS in 77 AB- A one-time shortstop prospect, Johnson found himself this year (like Meyer, Espinosa, Montanez, etc) in the International League as an outfielder. Unlike the other guys mentioned, Johnson showed big-time power in AAA, and has replaced Raul Mondesi in the everyday lineup. It was a genius move for the Braves to stick with Johnson even after an awful debut, when he began the season 1/30. But since then Johnson has been on fire, and may have landed himself a full-time spot for year's to come. At this point, trading Chipper Jones is probably what's best for the franchise.
15. Tadahito Iguchi (CHW): .778 OPS in 237 AB- The 'Gooch', as he is known in Chicago, would be higher on this list if not for his age. He also would be higher if he was running like he did in Japan, where he twice led the league in stolen bases. Iguchi has attributed his lack of running to the success of the hitters behind him, but that thought really only applies to Frank Thomas. If Iguchi has the potential to steal a lot of bases at a fantastic rate, he should be doing it no matter how many home runs Paul Konerko is hitting. But, this could also be a farce similar to the belief that Ichiro could hit home runs, 'if he wanted to.' Oh, please.
16. Andy Sisco (KC): 2.35 ERA in 38.1 IP- My guess is that many in the sabermetric community will call for Sisco to move back into the rotation this offseason. He once was a starter, has dominated at the Major League level, so ergo should become the Royal ace, right? Wrong. Sisco has found a niche in Kansas City, pitching with more velocity than ever, and has been the go-to reliever for two managers. I'm not sure if the Royals future is a closer-by-committee, but a L/R tandem could certainly be in the works.
17. Ambiorix Burgos (KC): 4.44 ERA in 24.1 IP- Ok, I have written about this guy enough. But what I will say is that a serious shoulder injury would be a shame, because this kid was figuring out Major League hitters on the fly.
18. Chris Ray (BAL): 1.42 ERA in 6.1 IP- His velocity is there, and Ray offers a big arsenal and one fantastic breaking pitch. The Orioles announcers have compared Ray to Goose Gossage, without the Goose-intimidation. For the Orioles to not re-sign B.J. Ryan this offseason would be wrong, but to keep Ryan and Ray as the end-of-game pitchers for a long time would be fantastic. In basketball, a great defense makes for a good offense. In baseball, a great 8th-9th combination makes the starters look a lot better. Expect Baltimore to begin proving that.
19. J.J. Hardy (MIL): .549 OPS in 150 AB- Was I right about Hardy after all? Is his performance really putting quiet to the hate mails I got in comparing Hardy to Royce Clayton, or simply putting them on hiatus? Well, I guess you could look at Hardy's numbers and see improvements in his month-by-month OPS: 462, 596, 612. Still, Hardy has been a disaster at the plate, still playing with decent consistency thanks only to plate discipline and good work in the field. Should I mention that Clayton had a .589 OPS in his first full season?
20. Brad Thompson (STL): 2.08 ERA in 21.2 IP- The unsung hero of the starter-turned-reliever story, Thompson has had as much success as anyone. The reason I didn't include him in my story on the issue is that Thompson is different that the Capellans and Broxtons of the world, his fastball is different. Where Capellan and Broxton throw 'heavy' fastballs, Thompson's sinks. Still, Brad has not generated a great GB/FB rate this year, but instead is excelling on great control. The minor league all-time leader of scoreless streaks (56.2 IP), I have reservations on whether Thompson will have continued success in St. Louis. His .170 BABIP will not continue, and sooner or later, his current scoreless streak (8 IP) will end.
21. J.P. Howell (KC): 5.63 ERA in 16 IP- As if pitching for the Royals doesn't make it hard enough to get a win, Howell's three starts have come against very formidable opponents this season. In his first start -- J.P.'s lone win on the season -- Howell faced Brad Halsey, who entered the game with a 3.48 ERA on the season. In his next two starts, Howell would face two of the top five ERA pitchers in baseball: Roger Clemens and Mark Buerhle. Sure, he didn't make it easy on the offense (9 ER in 15 IP), but in many ways, he had lost before making his first pitch. In his last start, against the White Sox southpaw, I witnessed Howell pitch one of the more impressive 11 baserunner, five earned run performances I had ever seen. On the mound Howell is a master, as he did not throw one pitch ouside of 77-88 mph at U.S. Cellular. In fact, Howell's problems began when his fastball went from 84-85 to 86-88, likely straightening out when the velocity improved. His lack of stuff means that Howell needs two things to be successful: control and deception. He must first hit his spots, and also confuse hitters into swinging at his junk. Neither happened against Chicago, meaning he walked four in five innings, and when he got too cute, was lit up. Control and deception.
22. Ryan Doumit (PIT): .718 OPS in 46 AB- This is not the organization for players like Doumit, as Craig Wilson and even Daryle Ward can attest. It appeared that Doumit might be able to handle duties behind the plate, but I'm not so sure he'll log many more than the 32 innings he already has. Instead, Doumit will find time wherever he can, likely carrying a larger stick than he has shown this far. For the Pirates, it will be important for Doumit to play better than Chris Shelton in Detroit, who was a Rule 5 pick from the Pirate organization when the club just could not give up on J.R. House.
23. Mike Morse (SEA): .974 OPS in 76 AB- I wasn't so sure anyone knew why Morse was doing so well, until reading the U.S.S. Mariner exclusive on the subject. While Morse is turning heads in the organization at the moment, I reserve my doubts that this type of success will continue. In the past, it has appeared that Morse is similar to Shea Hillenbrand, in that he tends to always start very well. When being traded from the White Sox, Morse was the season's surprise, dominating the Southern League like few middle infielders do. After that, he faded, presumably when the world got the book on Morse. I'm not exactly sure how that book reads, but I have no doubt that sooner or later, the best pitchers in the world will get their hands on it. After then, expect Morse to get passed in the organization by either Yuniesky Betancourt (AAA), Adam Jones (AA), Asdrubal Cabrera (A+) and Matt Tuiasasopo (A-). At least he's replaceable, right?
When All Else Fails, Blame The General Manager
"It ain't my (bleeping) fault. Campanis is the (bleeping) guy!"
--Tommy Lasorda (radio outtake, circa 1980s, replayed incessantly by the legendary radio broadcaster Jim Healy)
Bob Keisser of the (Long Beach) Press-Telegram wrote a column today, entitled "Tracy's future role: the fall guy." While defending Dodger manager Jim Tracy, Keisser rips into general manager Paul DePodesta:
Add it all up, and you have the perfect fall guy for the Dodgers' swoon of 2005. It's not (Tracy's) fault, but when did that ever matter?
Owner McCourt's not going to take any of the blame.
General manager Paul DePodesta isn't going to step up and take the heat, either, even if this is more his team than Tracy's.
DePodesta signaled how much he thought of Tracy in the offseason. He gave him just a two-year contract, a measly raise, and then put the same kind of financial squeeze on his coaches.
Tracy deserves better. He's not Tommy Lasorda one per planet is enough and he's not even Walter Alston, but then neither of those Hall of Famers were handed what has become an annual mess since Tracy was, um, fortunate to succeed Davey Johnson after the 2000 season.
So Tracy won in spite of DePodesta's moves. Now he's losing because of them.
The GM never replaced Lo Duca. Jason Phillips can't throw anyone out, and he's a hack at the plate.
The infield defense is predictably weaker with the departure of Beltre and Alex Cora, not a good thing when you also go out and acquire a big-dollar pitcher, Derek Lowe, who depends on ground-ball defense.
The two key players acquired in the Lo Duca trade are flawed. Hee-Seop Choi has played enough now to know he's average. Brad Penny averaged 6.5 strikeouts every nine innings through the injury he suffered three games into his Dodgers career. His 2005 strikeouts/per nine innings average is down to 4.8, along with some of his velocity.
I don't really know how many managers could have handled this kind of chaos as well as Tracy, other than Joe Torre. The bigger question may be how much longer he gets to handle it.
For whatever reason, Keisser obviously has an axe to grind here. I think this type of "analysis" is proof that (many of) the oldtimers are uncomfortable with the changing of the guard within the executive suites of major-league baseball. To say it is disappointing in the case of Keisser, a member of the Society for American Baseball Research, is an understatement.
On occasion, Keisser has shown that he "gets it." But, more often than not, he reverts to criticizing DePodesta in a less than objective manner. He uses the cafeteria approach by picking and choosing his spots, pointing out the failures and ignoring successes.
First of all, to write that "Tracy won in spite of DePodesta's moves" last year is irresponsible. And then to go on and say that he's now "losing because of them" is pretty outrageous.
I mean, Keisser talks about the (poor) team Tracy inherited, especially as compared to Walter Alston and Tommy Lasorda. But what did DePodesta inherit? A ballclub that was still reeling in some respects due to bloated contracts from the Kevin Malone era and moves (or lack thereof) from the pending sale of the team by FOX. Vladimir Guerrero, anyone?
DePodesta has been on the job 18 months. I'm not sure how much credit he should get for last year or how much blame he should get for this year. But to not give him credit for last year while blaming him for this year is unfair, to say the least. I'm not even trying to defend DePodesta per se. To be honest, I'm not convinced he has the shrewdness yet of Billy Beane, and he certainly doesn't have the luxury of a budget the size of Theo Epstein's Boston Red Sox.
Keisser says "Phillips can't throw anyone out." Granted, Phillips has only thrown out 20% of base stealers this year, but LoDuca has thrown out just 29%. The difference between the two is about four or five stolen bases for the year. I'm sorry but that is not statistically significant.
Phillips is a "hack at the plate?" C'mon. He is about average for a catcher. Not good, not bad. Is he LoDuca? No, although I'm quite sure Keisser overvalues the latter's batting average. What I will say is that LoDuca (.298/.355/.399) isn't worth $4.2M more than Phillips (.246/.300/.365). Not surprisingly, Keisser fails to mention the difference in money. I guess it must be nice to have an unlimited budget to work with in this department, as Keisser most assuredly would have in putting together his "fantasy" team. He writes that McCourt is cheap but blames DePo for making cost-conscious moves. Talk about having it both ways?
I give Keisser credit for pointing out the decline in Brad Penny's strikeout rate, but he doesn't mention that the loss in Ks has been offset by a lower walk ratio while importantly increasing the number of groundballs vis-a-vis flyballs.
Let's face it, Phillips isn't the hack here. Keisser is.
Oldies But Goodies
In order to qualify for today's column, the featured players had to be alive during Lyndon Johnson's term in the Oval Office. From oldest to youngest, we'll start with an active player whose birth pre-dates LBJ's presidency.
News item: Roger Clemens (DOB: 8/4/62) is leading the major leagues in ERA this year. The Rocket's ERA of 1.51 is so remarkably low that Dontrelle Willis (1.76) is the only one within nine-tenths of a run of the man who is making a strong case as the greatest pitcher of all time.
Question: If the Houston Astrodome was considered as the Eighth Wonder of the World, then isn't Roger Clemens the Ninth? The seven-time Cy Young Award winner is pitching as well as ever at the age of 42. According to Lee Sinins' Runs Saved Above Average (RSAA), ol' Roger has already saved more runs this year (34) in just 15 games than all of last year (32). Since 1900, only five pitchers--Pedro Martinez (1997, 1999-2000), Lefty Grove (1936 and 1939), Greg Maddux (1994-1995), Lefty Gomez (1937), and Clemens (1997)--have ever saved at least two runs per game in a full season.
Moreover, there have been just four pitchers--Martinez (1.23), Grove (1.08), Clemens (1.04), and Randy Johnson (1.02)--in the 20th and 21st centuries who have averaged at least one RSAA per game over the course of their careers. The University of Texas alum, undoubtedly rooting for his Longhorns in this weekend's College World Series, passed Grove earlier this year for first place among modern-day pitchers in RSAA. He currently stands at 676 vs. 668 for Grove and 643 for Walter Johnson.
News item: John Smoltz (DOB: 5/15/67) pitches a shutout this week, his first since 1999. Smoltzie mowed down the Florida Marlins for his seventh win of the season, which gives him more victories than he had the entire decade of the 2000s going into this year.
Question: Are you aware that the 1996 Cy Young Award is now within 30 victories of becoming the first pitcher to ever win 200 games and save 100? To fully appreciate the merits of achieving both benchmarks, it is worth noting that only 82 pitchers have ever won 200 and just 105 relievers have ever saved 100.
While on the subject of starting and relieving, Smoltz is a great example to show how much easier it is to put up great rate stats as a one-inning closer than as a six- or seven-inning starter. To wit, the Atlanta veteran struck out more than one batter per inning as a reliever but is only averaging 6.75 SO/9 this year. He is also allowing nearly two more baserunners per 9 IP (11.20) than he did from 2001-2004 (9.21).
Despite inferior rate stats, Smoltz illustrates how much more value a starter is worth to a ballclub in terms of saving runs. He already has 18 RSAA this year, topping three of his four seasons in relief--and is within four of exceeding the 22 runs he saved in 2003 when he put up a Bob Gibson-like 1.12 ERA. Same pitcher but vastly different results.
News item: Frank Thomas (DOB: 5/27/68) has hit seven home runs in just 40 at-bats thus far in 2005.
Question: Has there been a more productive hitter in the American League the past 15 years than Thomas? The two-time MVP is the only player in the history of baseball to hit .300 or better with 20 or more home runs and 100+ walks, runs, and RBI for more than four consecutive seasons (and the Big Hurt put up these magical numbers for SEVEN straight years).
While accomplishing this streak in his first seven full seasons (1991-1997), Thomas averaged .321/.443/.587 with 35 HR, 118 BB, 107 R, and 117 RBI. For the record, Thomas had a similarly fantastic campaign in 2000 when he hit .328/.436/.625, 43 HR, 112 BB, 115 R, and 143 RBI.
To show just how great Thomas has been, realize that Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle, Carl Yastrzemski, and Rickey Henderson were the best offensive players in the AL for 15-year stretches since the league was founded in 1901. The Hall of Fame should hold an investigation if the White Sox slugger doesn't make it into Cooperstown on the first ballot.
[Additional reader comments and retorts at Baseball Primer.]
Reviewing the Breakouts
With most of the minor leagues at or near their midseason All-Star breaks, now is as good a time as ever to begin to rehash prospect, and breakout lists. Today I thought I would do the latter, and critique how I did with my 15-man list that I wrote before the season. Below is a quick review of those players, and their statistics are below. Enjoy...
Andy LaRoche- I liked him, sure, but this much? Leading the minor leagues in home runs as we almost enter July? No, not quite. And as Brandon Wood is no doubt being helped by his environment, the California League, LaRoche has not exactly been playing in hitting havens. At this point, I wonder what separates LaRoche from Ian Stewart, except for a couple years that Ian has on him. With that being said, LaRoche is undoubtedly the third best prospect at his position, and with Andy Marte graduating to the Majors, has an argument for the top spot. There are things like patience and defense that could still be improved, but if you're good enough to send Joel Guzman back where he came from (SS), you are being noticed.
Francisco Liriano- A rather raw southpaw before the season, having spent 2004 recovering from arm surgery, Francisco seems to have put it all together this season. He very quickly became one of the Eastern League's best pitchers this year, striking out hitters at a fabulous rate. A big southpaw with fantastic stuff, the Twins very may have been planning to include Liriano in their playoff bullpen to add yet another powerful arm. Now, with the playoffs looking more and more unlikely, it won't be long until the Twins try giving Francisco and Scott Baker a few starts. Proving to be on top of the Twins deep, deep system, Liriano struck out eight in his first AAA start, spanning six innings.
Jon Lester- Last year, Lester's season stats were a bit misconstrued by bad play early and bad play late. I worried the same would happen this year, when Lester began the season allowing six runs in eight innings. There were good signs (13K/1BB), but an ERA of 6.75 was not how I hoped he would start the season. Since then he has been dynamite with a 2.27 ERA and 6.82 H/9, even if his K/BB is 'just' 61/26. While Lester has been outshone in the Boston system by Jon Papelbon and Anibal Sanchez, both of whom were fantastic early on, Lester is every bit as good as they are. Despite being a southpaw in an organization like the Red Sox, Jon continues to be a sleeper. People are waiting for that Verlander-type game, not appreciating the consistency that Lester has had en route to his 2.75 ERA.
Nick Markakis- With all the press that Jeff Fiorentino received making a surprise trip to Baltimore, Markakis fell a bit by the wayside. Fiorentino proved that he could already hit in the Majors, so many felt like Jeff had jumped over Nick and Majewski and became the top Baltimore outfield prospect. Personally, I don't see it. Fiorentino played OK in Baltimore, but hasn't even been spectacular in the Carolina League. Sure, Markakis has not done too much better, but the potential is there. I just love the walks, I love the doubles, and I love his right field play. Simply put, with a bit more power, this guy is a future superstar. Here's to hoping he finds it, and puts enough confidence into Oriole management not to re-sign Sosa for too long.
Ambiorix Burgos- If you had asked me back in March how Burgos would make the Majors, I surely would have predicted the relief role. I wouldn't, however, have gotten his ETA quite right. I still would not have gotten it right in mid-April, when Burgos was doing alright in the Texas League. But when the Royals called up Burgos and his 4.50 ERA from AA, they must have seen something that I did not. I believed in Burgos, but after walking 75 in the Midwest League last year, he needed a lot of minor league seasoning before reaching the Majors. In fact, what Burgos needed was to get thrown into the fire, and for his team to have the patience to let him get his way out. Burgos was doing just that before his recent bout with shoulder soreness, which Will Carroll tells me will hopefully go away with a few weeks of rest. Cross your fingers, because in his eight June apperances, Burgos allowed just one run in 9.2 innings, striking out 13 batters. He had found his way out.
Elijah Dukes- One of the streakier players in the minors this year, Dukes had an amazing April, followed by a horrible May. Luckily, a solid June has brought his average back over .300, and his slugging again over .500. Dukes has shown very good power in Delmon Young's shadow, and while not quite running as much as Young, also has solid speed. With Rocco Baldelli injured, the door has been open for the next Devil Ray center fielder to step forward, and Dukes is attempting to do that. It's amazing that a team with no chance in 2005 has not been more aggressive, not doing anything to B.J. Upton, Young and Dukes despite very good offensive years at their current levels. For some reason, I don't think Chuck Lamar has learned any lessons from Terry Ryan.
Asdrubal Cabrera- Few teams in recent memory have had middle infield depth in the minors like the Seattle Mariners. Up to a few weeks ago, Seattle had Jose Lopez and Mike Morse in AAA, Yuniesky Betancourt in the Texas League, Adam Jones and Michael Garciaparra in high-A, and Cabrera with Matt Tuiasasopo and Yung Chi Chen in low-A. And the problem is, a good problem at that, is that no one is playing poorly. Jones is hitting like he never has before in the Cal League, Tui is proving his short-season performance of last year not to be a fluke. Even Lopez and Morse are making waves since being promoted to the Majors. But, maybe with the exception of Lopez, I think Asdrubal is the best of the bunch. In fact, Cabrera proved to have the whole arsenal in the Midwest League this year: versatility (played 2B, SS, 3B), defense, contact (.318 AVE and just 32 K's in 192AB), patience (30 BB), and even pop (.156 ISO). Now Asdrubal has been promoted to the Cal League, which was Seattle's plan of their polished infielder since before the season. Moving forward, the Mariners should be planning to keep Lopez at second, Cabrera at short, and move Tui to either third or the outfield. And if you ask me, all the other players mentioned are far more likely to be suspects than legit prospects.
Francisco Rosario- On Tuesday, I wrote that Rosario might be the next player to make a successful move from starting to relief. Because simply put, Rosario is not putting the type of results into box scores as his organization would hope. As Liriano has taken his stuff and transformed himself into an elite prospect, Rosario cannot do that. For as good as his H/9 is, he allows too many home runs, and does not strike out enough batters. The latter two do not bode well for relief, I admit, but who knows what will happen when the pitch counts get turned down. Kenny Baugh can put forth those type of numbers in the International League and draw pity from me, but Rosario just breeds frustration. Like Brandon League, Francisco needs to find a home quick, because both are on the verge of falling out of favor.
Chris Young- Before the season, I may have been the only person alive to think Young a superior prospect to Ryan Sweeney. Shortly into the season, I warmed to Sweeney, and Young's cold start worried me. Now, I just wish you could put Young's positives with Sweeney's, which would eliminate any weakness, and create the super prospect (a.k.a Delmon Young). For example, put Young's power (.229 ISO) with Sweeney's contact (11.0 K%), Young's range with Sweeney's arm, and Chris' baserunning (13/16) with Ryan's age. If only. Instead, we have to take Chris Young for what he is: a .233 hitter that is likely to strikeout in excess of 150 times annually. Young still profiles to be Mike Cameron at best, but now is simply no different on the White Sox' radar than he was a year ago. This July, opposing organizations would be smart in asking for Young (low on the CWS outfield chain) as that player to be named later in Ken Williams' latest move.
Melky Cabrera- On April 21, Yankees prospects Eric Duncan and Cabrera looked pretty helpless in the Eastern League, hitting .164 and .232 respectively. But since then the two are learning similarly to Burgos, as both were thrown into AA a bit prematurely. Cabrera is still the better of the two statistically, though his numbers have dipped since he topped .300 a few weeks ago. Cabrera looks to be a very streaky player that is showing power for the first time this season. Still, a .150 ISO for a player that doesn't hit .300, walk a ton or have a bunch of speed just isn't enough, so Melky needs to begin excelling in some area. And for him, as he's proven before, contact is what he needs to succeed. As a .300/.360/.450 player, Cabrera is very valuable. At .270/.330/.420, not so much.
Alex Romero- Alex is just like Melky Cabrera, just above him. There is not one area that Romero excels at, and he doesn't even play the defense that Cabrera does. His numbers this year have been a little better, particularly showing the bit of power that he did develop in the Venezuelan Winter League. Romero also started with a big slump, so his decent numbers should be taken into context. The reason I have Cabrera ranked higher is one of projectability. It seems like Cabrera has a bit of star potential that Romero does not. Maybe both will be players in the mold of Aaron Rowand and Eric Byrnes, with the latter being what Romero could be. But those have now become the ceilings of these two players, not Bernie Williams, as I have mentioned before.
Sean Marshall- Where many of the pitchers on this list entered the season very raw, I liked Marshall for his polish. A broken hand and abrupt promotion last year had made him virtually unnoticed, but I could not overlook how good his K/BB numbers always were. In the FSL Marshall made 12 starts, and his 61/26 ratio was the worst of his career. But he stayed effective due to a solid hit rate, proving that he can still succeed without his best stuff. The Cubs have now promoted him to AA, where he finished last season, and where the test begins. I think this organization likes Marshall better than Rich Hill, who is currently learning the nuances of a Major League bullpen. Marshall will not be like that: he will be starting, good results or bad, until his career ends.
Carlos Marmol- Last night, I watched Jorge Sosa pitch well (better than the numbers indicated) against the Marlins, continuing his quest to be Leo Mazzone-reclimation project of the year. in fact, Sosa has been a reclimation project for multiple years, as it wasn't long ago that the Mariners opted to move Jorge to the mound. The Cubs decided to do the same with Marmol a few years back, moving the ex-catcher to the mound. Good decision. After furthering the learning process in 2004, Marmol has excelled in the Florida State League this year, leading to an all-star berth. There is very little to dislike about Marmol's numbers, with the only nitpicking to be his walk total. Carlos still has a long way to go before being noticed in this system, but there is no question that his first half caught the eye of Oneri Fleita. The problem with Marmol is his need to be on the 40-man roster, which just might make him an attractive Rule 5 candidate in December. And with the Cubs, I'd guess that's a sore subject.
Francisco Hernandez- In the South Atlantic League, two catchers with very high expectations entering the season were Hernandez and Yanks' 2004 second-rounder Jon Poterson. Instead of living up to these thoughts, the Sally League proved to be too much for either player, as they combined for a 1.078 OPS. Now both players will be dropped to short-season baseball, where they must again prove past expectations to be correct. This leaves me in a conundrum, as I simply don't know what to do with Hernandez, no matter his success in rookie ball. At best I was trigger-happy with Francisco, as I proved to be with Fernando Nieve in 2004. At worst, Hernandez is the next example of why trusting statistics from any league below low-A is foolish.
Finally, here is a look at the statistics for all these players, starting with the hitters:
Name LVL AB AVE OBP SLG BB/K
AL A+ 249 0.333 0.380 0.651 19/38
NM A+ 253 0.289 0.368 0.470 32/48
ED AA 242 0.302 0.361 0.504 22/49
AC A- 192 0.318 0.407 0.474 30/32
CY AA 270 0.230 0.330 0.456 37/81
MC AA 290 0.272 0.316 0.421 19/48
AR AA 253 0.273 0.331 0.443 18/36
FH A- 148 0.223 0.287 0.318 13/28
And, now for the pitchers:
Name LVL IP H K BB ERA
FL AA 76.2 70 92 26 3.64
JL AA 75.1 63 74 27 2.75
AB MLB 24.1 25 28 12 4.44
FR AAA 82.1 70 63 27 3.72
SM A+ 69 63 61 26 2.74
CM A+ 72.1 60 71 37 2.99
That's all for now. How'd I do? Who did I miss?
My Little Blue Book
When I was nine years old, my parents gave me a little book with a blue cover for Christmas. It was small enough to fit into a stocking--5 by 4 inches, with the kind of cheap-grade paper that made its 174 pages seem more like 50. Written by Louis Phillips in 1979, it had the terse, uninspiring title BASEBALL.
You wouldn't think much of the book if you saw it today. It's littered with dry lists (the 3,000-hit club, top ten lifetime homers, etc.), strange-but-true anecdotes (like Harvey Haddix's lost masterpiece), a glossary of baseball terms (a can of corn is "a high, lazy fly ball that can be easily caught"), and mini-bios and illustrations for some of the game's most honored luminaries. The quality of the drawings is variable at best - you'd swear Carl Yastzremski was actually Richie Cunningham, and that someone inserted a sketch of Dionne Warwick in place of Rod Carew.
But to me the book was a godsend. I studied it obsessively for the entire winter after I got it. I could tell you that Tris Speaker hit more doubles than any man in history, that Al Zarilla was the last guy to smoke two triples in an inning, and that Walter Johnson struck out 3,508 batters, more than every other major-league pitcher (up to that point, anyway; the figure has been bested eight times since). For awhile my father and his friends used to try to stump me by asking me to, say, rattle off the complete list of 500 home-run hitters, or give the names of the last Triple Crown winners in each league.
The weird thing is, I wasn't a huge baseball freak when my parents gave me that book for Christmas. I mean, sure, I'd been to many ballgames by 1979. But to be honest those games are mostly a miasma of hazy impressions. I never had the primordial experience where you walk into a ballpark for the first time and fall in love with the smell of the grass or the thwack of the ball hitting the bat. Instead, I fell in love with baseball through a book. You might even say that I fell in love with BASEBALL before baseball itself.
It's a little embarrassing now that I think about it, that a throwaway stocking stuffer--which couldn't have cost more than a buck-fifty--was my way into the National Pastime. In fact, after I'd memorized all the stats in my little blue book, I got ahold of some baseball periodicals and followed the 1979 season after it was over (sorta like a guy I knew who liked reading literary criticism about Moby-Dick, but hadn't actually read Moby-Dick).
After that stat-fueled winter of 1979, I got into baseball--I'm talking real, actual baseball here--pretty hardcore. But until that time, baseball was mostly a series of lists and dates and numbers to me. Something about those stats had a kabbalistic hold on me, which is exactly what the traditionalists complain about--that today's kids are reducing the wonderfully elusive game of baseball into a Matrix-like stream of data. But that's what baseball was to me in the early days: a parade of numbers.
My ally in the world of baseball numbers was always my brother Sean. Four years younger than me, he was something of a math prodigy. My dad would quiz him when he was still young enough to sit in the seat of a grocery cart, asking, for example, "what's negative three minus negative five," and Sean would chirp "Two!" Later he learned how to do long division in a blink and read college textbooks as a hobby--you know, for fun. Eventually he had to be sent to an advanced math school (think this episode of the Simpsons) because he was too bored with regular ol' addition and subtraction.
Around that same time, in the mid-'80s, I read Robert Coover's The Universal Baseball Association, Inc.: J. Henry Waugh, Prop. I was too young to understand it as a work of meta-fiction, but I was smitten with the main character, Henry Waugh, and his attempts to devise a role-playing baseball game that he could play on his kitchen table:
Henry had spent the better part of two months just working on the problem of odds and equilibrium points in an effort to approximate [the game's] complexity. Two dice had not done it. He'd tried three, each a different color, and the 216 different combinations had provided the complexity, but he'd nearly gone blind trying to sort the colors of each throw. Finally, he'd compromised, keeping the three dice, but all white, reducing the total number of combinations to 56, though of course the odds were still based on 216. . .Besides these, he also had special strategy charts for hit-and-run plays, attempted stolen bases, sacrifice bunts, and squeeze plays, still others for decided the ages of rookies when they came up, for providing details of injuries and errors, and for determining who, each year, must die.
This was turbo-charged Strat-o-matic, a league where you got to be player, fan, manager, GM, owner, and even God Himself. It was just attractive enough to a self-absorbed teenager (is there any other kind?) that I decided I was going to invent a role-playing baseball game of my own.
But I would need help from my brother Sean. The two of us were heavily into Bill James, APBA, and baseball arcana (I remember going to a ballgame with him once and both of us trying to name every ballplayer from 1982 whose last name ended in the letter Y--we got everyone but Tim Flannery). In many ways Sean was the ideal partner as we embarked on our super-project. But in another way we were totally ill-suited to the task. After all, I was only 14 years old; he was 9. Math prodigy or no, I'm not sure we realized the enormity of constructing a game that was, essentially, an extremely complex orrery--a mechanical model of baseball itself.
But try we did. We spent the better part of one summer figuring out the percentages of various incidents, both on and off the field (i.e., when the Pittsburgh Drug Trials exposed baseball's drug problem a short time later, I factored in the odds that a player would be suspended for putting coke up his nose). Far and away our biggest bugaboo was devising a mathematical model for baseball's aging patterns. Sean and I filled notebook after notebook charting the flow of hundreds of players' careers.
It was an endless, painstaking research project, but I realized, near the end of that summer, that our data was fundamentally screwy. Specifically, I noticed that different types of players aged differently--that slender slap hitters were different animals from lunky longball types (an insight that eventually made PECOTA tick). But because I hadn't factored that in, it made our research virtually useless. I began to feel in over my head. When I started high school in the fall, I set aside my preoccupation with baseball numbers and turned to other things: girls, the Godfather movies, the Clash, things like that.
But Sean stayed with the stats. He figured out that you didn't really need dice or mathematical models to make a workable baseball role-playing game. Instead Sean skipped over all the research and hatched a baseball league out of his own imagination. It was called the United Baseball League, or UBL, and it was filled with concocted players who seemed straight out of a Preston Sturges movie: Apollo Armstrong, T-Bone Clemons, Barrett Vollm, L'Shaen Galloway, Lefty Wells (a righty), and Amos Grace (Brooks Kieschnick before there was Brooks Kieschnick).
Sean would spend his days filling new notebooks with new numbers, all of them recording the goings-on of his baseball otherworld. One time I peeked at his stat pages and discovered thousands of simulated teams and players, going back to the 1940s. The closest analogy I can think of are the mad ravings of Charles Crumb, the older brother documented in the movie Crumb. As he slowly began to lose his mind, Charles' comic strips dispensed with actual drawings and instead became crowded--even ravaged--with odd markings and hen pecks, a strange kind of graphophilia whose meanings were known only to him. That was Sean's United Baseball League.
Sean eventually outgrew his numbers fetish, just as I did, and both of us ended up drifting into the humanities (I'm now a writer; he's an actor). When I was home from college one summer I ran across the research I had done on our role-playing baseball game and I threw it all away. I guess I was at that age where a mathematically modeled baseball game seemed silly, if not downright hubristic (in a Robert McNamara sorta way).
If you think about it, my folly of trying to reduce baseball to numbers is the same one that gets levied against Billy Beane and Paul DePodesta. The anti-numbers crowd (Joe Morgan, Richard Griffin, Buzz Bissinger, Larry Bowa) caricaturize sabermetrics as narrow-minded and robotic--some human element, they say, always slips out, unaccounted for.
The older I get, however, the more I realize that baseball numbers have a personality all their own. In fact, I sometimes like to think of a ballplayer's statline like a song melody. As your eye scans left to right, you pick up tones, rhythms: some are jagged and staccato, others have a sweet languor; some burst at the seams, almost comically, while a few are nearly sublime. Here are a few of my favorites (I'll let you guess who they belong to):
155 611 135 230 46 18 39 131 7 .376 .450 .702
2-3 .400 77 0 0 55 82.3 37 20 137 1.20
97 303 54 92 6 14 8 28 26 .304 .346 .495
21-20 .512 44 44 23 0 342 311 113 208 3.39
92 0 29 0 0 0 0 0 29 --- --- ---
I like the cadence of those lines. They give off the pleasing impression that the backs of baseball cards are as personable as the fronts.
One of the first things that strikes you about baseball, especially compared to other sports, is the sheer volume of it. Last year alone there were 2,464 games, 188,519 plate appearances, and well over half a million pitches thrown. Most of these situations were probably pretty boring, very much like one another. The thrill, however, is when the unexpected slips through the cracks.
People give Jayson Stark a lot of crap for his Useless Information columns--you know, where he lists all of baseball's latest numerical oddities. There are even some people who think that such eccentricities aren't germane to "real" baseball because they are essentially valueless. (A few years back Lee Sinins refused to consider Kevin Millwood's no-hitter, in which he walked three hitters, any different from other games where a pitcher might allow, say, three stray singles. This is what I would call the fundamentalist version of performance analysis, where all incidents on a ballfield are converted into their most concise unit of value.)
But to me the game has always been about these serendipitously random moments--like when two balls were in play at Wrigley Field in 1959, or when a guy in the upper deck of Yankee Stadium caught foul balls on back-to-back pitches, or when a Randy Johnson fastball just so happened to cross the path of an unfortunate flying dove. The game is full of such impossibilities. My brother Patrick was there when Randy Velarde turned an unassisted triple play, while a friend saw the Twins turn two triple plays in one game at Fenway Park. Sometimes it seems like everything has happened in baseball--but nearly every week, if not every day, the game comes up with something that you've never seen before.
Back in 1979, I read this passage in Louis Phillips' BASEBALL:
Although many players have managed to hit 2 home runs in a single inning, not one player has ever hit 2 grand-slam homers in a single inning in major-league play.
I'm not sure why that factoid made an impact on me, but I used to chew on it when I was a kid. I dreamed that sometime, somewhere, someone could pull off that feat.
Flash forward twenty years later. I'm sitting in the stands in Dodger Stadium on a night in late April, and Fernando Tatis goes yard with the bases juiced--not once, but twice in the third inning. The second one was a low liner that just barely cleared the fence in left center. The Dodger fans around me glumly buried their heads in their hands, but I stood up, stunned. As Tatis rounded the bases, the first thing I thought of was my little blue book. It was almost dead to me--I hadn't thought of it in years. But on that night the memory of those pages came back to me, as alive as ever. It was enough to give me a lump in my throat.
Brian Gunn ran Redbird Nation, "a St. Louis Cardinals Obsession Site," for two years. He's now a full-time movie writer in Los Angeles. If you'd like a compendium of his best sportswriting, you may order the Redbird Nation Reader from Lulu.com. All proceeds benefit the March of Dimes.
Patience, My Friends
"All things come round to him who will but wait."
--Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Tales of a Wayside Inn, The Student's Tale
LAKE ELSINORE - At times as clunky as the famous American poet's proverb, Jered Weaver made his long-awaited professional debut Monday night for the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes in a High Class-A minor league game vs. the Lake Elsinore Storm at The Diamond.
Three weeks after ending his year-long holdout, Weaver appeared in a game for the first time since June 2004. The Angels' first-round draft pick a year ago pitched three innings, allowing three hits, two walks, and one run while striking out four. He faced 14 batters and exceeded his 50-pitch limit by two (throwing 32 for strikes).
Although Weaver struggled in the second inning, he simply overpowered the Storm in the other two innings. Jered struck out George Kottaras and Jordan Pickens, the number three and four hitters in the Storm lineup, in the first and third frames. Kottaras, who slugged a game-winning, two-run home run in the seventh inning, appeared overmatched by Weaver's heat the first time around and various breaking balls the next time when he was called out attempting to check his swing. Weaver K'd Pickens twice on a total of seven pitches, including a slow curve to end the first and a sidearm fastball for the second out of his third and final inning of the evening.
In addition to punching out four batters, Weaver induced two comebackers which he fielded skillfully, two fly outs, and a pop out to the third baseman. The three hits allowed were all singles, including a broken-bat blooper to right by Fernando Valenzuela, Jr. The son of the 1981 National League Rookie of the Year later scored from third base on a single that fell just in front of right fielder Ben Johnson, who threw a perfect one-hopper to home that beat the stocky first baseman by a country mile but was mishandled by catcher Timothy Duff for what turned out to be the only run scored against Weaver.
At 6-foot-7 and 210 pounds, Weaver is an imposing figure on the mound. Jered reminded me of A.J. Burnett in terms of the number on the back of his sleeveless road gray jersey, the blond hair, high dark socks, big turn, long stride, and stiff leg finish. Although not reaching the high-90s like the Florida Marlins hurler, Weaver's fastball was clocked at 92 mph in the first inning and generally sat between 89-91. He also mixed in a slider, curve balls of varying speed, and a changeup.
After signing with the independent Camden Riversharks of the Atlantic League last month, Weaver threw in the bullpen but never appeared in a game. While in New Jersey and awaiting his first outing, the 2004 College Player of the Year finally agreed to a $4 million bonus--the seventh-largest in draft history--with the Los Angeles Angels, hours prior to the deadline on May 30. The product of Simi Valley High School and Long Beach State then reported to Rancho Cucamonga on June 11, exactly one year after his final college game (a seven-inning, 12-strikeout no-decision vs. Arizona in the NCAA Super Regionals at Blair Field in Long Beach).
The 22-year-old threw two simulated games before getting his first start in the pro ranks. As expected, Weaver was a bit rusty, but Jered left no doubt in the minds of the 2,085 fans in attendance that he has what it takes to pitch in the big leagues. It is only a question of when and not if. Let's face it, there have been skeptics at every stop along the way even though the two-time, first-team All-American has put up numbers as good as any college or Team USA pitcher in history.
Far from perfect, Weaver needs to work on quickening his delivery to home with runners on base. Lake Elsinore stole two bases against him although one was as much the fault of the catcher (who hesitated following a tipped strike) as Weaver. He may also benefit in due time by getting more sink on his two-seam fastball, which he uses to complement his more powerful four-seamer. That said, Weaver's stuff is plenty good enough as is and he undoubtedly has the command to succeed at the major league level, perhaps as early as next spring or summer.
Weaver is scheduled to make his next start on Saturday, June 25 when the Quakes host the Stockton Ports. His pitch limit is expected to rise to 75. Therefore, if all goes well, look for Jered to go five innings in his second start of the year. I'll be there once again to bring you the action.
Photos by Tom Lederer
Try of Relief
Editor's Note: If you came over today eagerly anticipating Rich's take on Jered Weaver's debut, he will have that up tomorrow. Expect plenty of commentary and "I told you so"s of the ex-Dirtbag's 3-inning, one run, four strikeout performance.
I must admit a soft spot. An inherant bias that, all too often, leads me to overrate certain prospects. The group, which adds many names annually, often includes players that become my favorites to follow in the minors.
Before the 2004 season, in what was my first publicized prospect list, Bobby Jenks was ranked as baseball's 31st prospect. Conversely, Jenks did not make the Baseball America list. This past January, I had Jose Capellan and Jonathan Broxton ranked 20th and 74th, respectively, against BA having them in the 25th and unranked spots. Ambiorix Burgos was on my breakout list before the year, when few others could get over his 75 walk season.
When you put these players side-by-side, it isn't surprising to find similar skillsets. All are rather large humans that are blessed with a hard and moving fastball, but cursed with poor control and a limited repertoire. Their fates were predictable for about as long as they have been noticed, as each has had his fair share of scouting reports reading, "possible forthcoming move to relief."
This is why I was not surprised when, in the course of the same week, Capellan and Broxton's fates were both altered. The writing had been on the wall, especially for the Brewer, who has had his second pitch (curveball) long criticized. He shined in the minors and even the Futures Game, after which I wrote, "Capellan threw his fastball from 95-98, using it on thirteen of his fifteen total pitches. His curve was rather unimpressive, and though this might depress Braves' fans, Capellan reminded me of a younger Kyle Farnsworth." An inauspicious Major League debut ensued (11.25 ERA in 8IP), when again, the Braves couldn't stop him from using that fastball too much.
When the Brewers acquired Capellan for closer Danny Kolb, I wondered if Doug Melvin got the best reliever. Another Armando Benitez, maybe, and one with a 'heavier' heater at that. But Milwaukee thought to leave him in the rotation a little longer, even after a Spring Training when Chad Moeller said, "He just needs a second pitch that he can throw consistently for a strike. He was pretty much a one-pitch pitcher today." After 12 decent-at-best starts in the International League, Capellan's time bomb went off.
As for Broxton, he faced a disadvantage that Capellan did not: organizational depth. With the Dodgers flush in starting pitching prospect, and Broxton not separating himself from the pack, a move could be afforded. The Bull has a big fastball too, and better yet, a good breaking ball on top of that. Put it together and what do you got? A reliever.
Adding fuel to the fire, Broxton's velocity increased in short stints, reportedly from 92-93 to 95-97. This is a nearly impossible happening to see coming, rather just an answer to a farm director's prayers. Who would have known that Francisco Rodriguez would take off when dropping his pitch count? Or to an even larger extent, Eric Gagne, the quintessential starter-turned-reliever story?
While even the Dodgers may not have seen Gagne coming, you can bet Dan Evans is still thanking his lucky stars the Blue Jays asked for Luke Prokopec in the Paul Quantrill trade. What Los Angeles did see, however, is the similarities between Gagne and Broxton when they were still starting at Vero Beach:
Name ERA H/9 K/9 W/9
EG 3.74 7.60 9.28 3.09
JB 3.23 7.71 10.10 3.02
The jury is still out on Capellan and Broxton, who have been told the move to relief will be a temporary one. But you can bet more outings like the two-inning, four strikeout performance Capellan had on 6/16 will gradually sell Melvin and DePodesta on a full-time move. And, of course, they might already by sold on it. Maybe the story of Chris Ray was enough to do that. Or maybe it was the early results of Kansas City's patchwork bullpen, or Jenks' newfound success. Whatever it was, if you ask me, these moves are far from temporary.
Ray won't be doing anything but relief from here on out, especially not after what the Orioles have seen. Once a marginal starting pitching prospect with a 3.65 ERA in 2004, short stints have helped the ex-Tar Heel jump over the likes of John Maine and Adam Loewen on the organizational ladder. In twenty-seven games in the Eastern League, Ray had a 1.10 ERA and a 37/6 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He has since been called up to Baltimore, where he is showing an arsenal that principally includes a 93-97 mph fastball and hard, 80 mph slider.
Where Ray should quickly become B.J. Ryan's set-up man, his rapid ascent pales in comparison to Ambiorix Burgos. Despite a 5.05 BB/9 in the Midwest League least year, Burgos still managed a 4.38 ERA and 172 strikeouts in 133.2 innings. The big league stuff was there, so the Royals thought to start him in the bullpen at AA this year. With huge problems and a successful start (17K in 8IP) in the Texas League, Burgos was called up April 27.
Since then, Ambiorix has grabbed the Royals closer role. The results have been mixed -- trial by fire for sure -- but Kansas City must be enthused with his progress. They must also be excited that Burgos is joined at the back end of the bullpen with 2004 high-A pitchers Andy Sisco and Leo Nunez. 6-9 Sisco, the Royals Rule 5 steal, has thoroughly bounced back from a 2004 riddled with lost velocity and inconsistency. Nunez, who I once compared to Juan Cruz, has proven to be another heist since being acquired for 118 year old Benito Santiago.
While those are the early success stories, it fails to recognize the guys still honing the craft in the minors. I have already mentioned Bobby Jenks, who is now a long way from where he once was, being compared to Bartolo Colon and profiling to be his future teammate. Instead, arm and mental troubles led to his release from the Angels, where he was subsequently claimed by the White Sox. His new organization gave him the AA closer job at the beginning of the season, and are slowly prospering from their claim. In 33.2 innings this year, Jenks has struck out 40, allowed just one home run, and has an ERA that stands at 2.67.
The other two players I want to talk about are Colt Griffin and Manny Delcarman. Griffin was the Royals first round pick in 2001, following a high school season in which he hit 100 mph on the radar gun. He started all but four of his first 61 games, when Colt's ERA was 5.03. The Royals are now attempting to convert his stuff to the bullpen, though he isn't progressing as quickly as others in the KC system. Delcarman had to move because of system depth, and his results have been mixed. A few mixed-in bullpen blow-ups have left Manny's ERA at 4.11, but you can bet Theo Epstein is a lot more pleased with his 42 strikeouts in just over thirty innings.
Give a pitcher some big velocity, and maybe even a solid secondary offering, and no matter the control they have, a chance exists. It's akin to a catcher with fantastic catch-and-throw skills, who at the very least, will ened up as a back-up Major League catcher. Minor leaguers with questionable stuff, almost no matter how good their control is, do not have the luxury of leaning back into a relief role. No matter who is on the horizon of bullpen switches (Francisco Rosario? Renyel Pinto? Mark McCormick?), you can expect their organization to be swayed by history. For now, Melvin and DePodesta are the newest GMs left hoping the past does repeat itself, and that their flamethrowers become the next K-Rod, Gagne, Benitez or Rivera.
I'll be crossing my fingers.
Minor League Notes
When Peter Gammons writes, people listen. So when Gammo introduced greater America to a new prospect, suddenly he's the flavor of the week. "Next up on the horizon is Edison Volquez, nicknamed 'Little Pedro,' who has been moved up Double-A Frisco." So, as we should in the case of any Ranger prospect, I turn to Jamey Newberg:
Volquez needed only 105 pitches to complete the game, a remarkably low number considering the fact that he did record seven punchouts. The filthy change-up was almost Dominguez-esque, but it was as effective if not more so because of the greater life on his heater and the sharp breaking ball he mixed in.
This came on the heels of a Volquez complete game in one of his first few AA starts, in which Newberg also reported he hit 95 in the ninth inning. So how did we allow Volquez to fly under the radar until now? Well, Volquez was good but not great between the Midwest and California Leagues last year, with K/9s right around 7.65, and BB/9 about 3.00. But nothing like this year, when the Rangers aggressively moved Edison to AA following 11 solid CL starts, and he has blossomed ever since.
Still, Volquez cannot break the inner circle of Ranger pitching prospects, as John Danks and Thomas Diamond still rank better within the system. The southpaw was also moved up to AA, after just 10 starts, and has hung in there with Frisco since coming up. Danks hasn't really been great since the Midwest League last year, but he always pitches solid, and profiles to be a darn good #3 starter in the Majors. His ceiling, however, is not that of Diamond.
Thomas Diamond showed us his ceiling on Sunday, when the right-hander pitched a one-hit, complete game shutout in which he struck out 14 hitters. While the Rangers have been very aggressive with their pitching prospects this season, Diamond remains the exception, the only member of the Bakerfield opening day rotation to still be with the team. One has to think that will change before his next start, and he will likely leave the California League with 1.99 ERA, 53 hits in 81.1 innings, with 101 strikeouts, 31 walks and just three home runs allowed.
That performance yesterday re-opened the best SP prospect from the 2004 draft debate, where it looked like Justin Verlander was running away with things. Verlander has just been promoted to AA after dominating the Florida State League with a 1.67 ERA and 104 strikeouts in 86 innings. Both players have fantastic size and stuff, and have appeared to be in a competition of greatness this season. The question will likely get answered very soon, as Verlander moves from a good pitching league in the FSL to one of the minor's worst parks for pitchers in Erie.
With the injuries and season-long slumps piling up, it looks more and more everyday that this will not be Year 12 for the Atlanta Braves. Instead, it appears to be Year 1 of the rebuilding process. This season the club has been able to give offensive chances to Brian McCann (.833 OPS in 14AB), Wilson Betemit (1.014 in 82), Kelly Johnson (.687 in 47), Ryan Langerhans (.773 in 133), and most recently, Andy Marte (.479 in 28). On the pitching side, Kyle Davies (3.45 ERA in 6 GS) has appeared to supplant himself into the rotation.
So what comes next? The Braves will lose Rafeal Furcal this offseason, who will in all likelihood be replaced by Betemit. The club will likely wait one more year to decide on whether Estrada or McCann will be the future Atlanta backstop. Andy Marte will likely head to the hot corner next year, pushing Chipper Jones into left field. Expect Johnson and Langerhans to continue a competition for the 2006 RF spot (a.k.a. waiting for Francoeur).
And in centerfield, I offer a proposition. Andruw Jones, who will make $26.5M the next two seasons, gets traded to free up money. In exchange for Jones, Jim Hendry will offer Corey Patterson (Georgia native), Matt Murton (former GTech OF), and either Sergio Mitre, Rich Hill or Sean Gallagher. The Cubs will also pay $10M for each of the next two seasons, giving them a legitimate fifth hitter in exchange for a Wrigley not-so-favorite.
The 2006 Braves, around the horn: Johnny Estrada (unless an offer comes for him), Adam LaRoche, Marcus Giles, Wilson Betemit, Andy Marte, Chipper Jones, Corey Patterson and Johnson/Langerhans.
To me, the College World Series invokes memories of great pitching performances from players overcoming aluminum bats. With Luke Hochevar already gone from the tournament, it appeared that yesterday's game would feature the last great pitching prospect in the CWS: Dallas Buck. The Oregon State right-hander has seen his stock go through the roof this season, and I eagerly anticipated watching Buck pitch. Unfortunately, it was not quite Dallas' best effort against a Baylor offense that is the worst of the CWS teams.
In 5.2 innings, Buck allowed one earned run (three total), while scattering seven hits and two walks. Despite striking out more than 100 batters on the year, only two Bears went down on strikeouts. In fact, of the 91 pitches that he threw, only seven balls were swung and missed at. Furthermore, the acclaimed sinkerballer often compared to Derek Lowe registered just six ground ball outs.
Still, not all was lost on the afternoon, as Buck kept his team in the game. He showed some mental toughness on the mound, though he gets visibly upset when mistakes are made. Think Carlos Zambrano, without the mid 90s four seamer. His sinker looked very good early, diving down and in to right-handers and coming in 88-91 mph. And not only did his slider show why it's such an out pitch, but Buck also spotted it for strikes.
All in all, watching Buck I can understand why he will be sought after next year. But to become the player he can be, Buck must keep his sinker down, his slider away from right-handers, and his endurance (FB was down to 85-88 in 5th and 6th). You can bet that we'll be keeping our eyes on him, and I'll also have more on him very soon.
Since we have not talked about the minors in quite some time in this space, please feel free to leave any minor league questions and comments below.
Ahh, the life. Surrounded by Father's Day, I am on the verge of attending three games in four days, each at different ballparks but all within driving distance of home.
On Friday night, I joined Rob McMillin, his wife Helen and his Dad at the Angels game in Anaheim. We met Mat Gleason (aka Rev Halofan) and his girlfriend plus Sean Smith and his wife prior to the game at Fresca's, a Mexican quick-service restaurant across the street from the stadium. We talked about the Angels past and present, including David Eckstein, Darin Erstad, and Jarrod Washburn, while we ate before making the five-minute walk across Katella, through the parking lot, and into the ballpark just in time to get seated for the first pitch.
Rob, wearing an Angels hat, and Helen, sporting a Cubs cap, kept score the entire game. I haven't kept score at a major-league game in ages although I was known to keep track of Jered Weaver last year pitch-by-pitch. The Angels beat the Marlins, 3-2, in 11 innings on Big Bang Friday. Chone Figgins had the first big bang of the night when he homered to lead off the bottom half of the first inning. Figgins made a diving catch in left field for the second out in the top of the inning and had the presence of mind to quickly throw the ball to second to double up Luis Castillo. If it wasn't a Web Gem that night (are games on the West Coast included in these highlights?), it should have been.
When Figgins strolled to the plate, I turned to Rob's Dad and mentioned the adage about always leading off an inning after making a great play in the field. I only said that in passing as I am not a believer in such things. It just so happens that we choose to remember those instances while conveniently ignoring the other times. Kinda reminds me of the myth that celebrities die in groups of three. Speaking of which, has anyone died since Anne Bancroft? Or was she the third?
* * * * *
On Saturday night, my son Joe and I went to the San Diego Surf Dawgs-Fullerton Flyers Golden Baseball League game at Cal State Fullerton. Stephen Roney, President of the Allan Roth Chapter of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR), organized the outing. I also had the pleasure of meeting Dick Beverage, the President of SABR, and Andy McCue, a member of the Board of Directors, among others. Interestingly, Barry Mednick of SABR is the official scorekeeper for the Flyers.
About a dozen members and their guests met with Flyers Manager Garry Templeton before the game. He was cordial (signing a few autographs and allowing a couple of photo ops) but complained about losing the night before when the home plate umpire awarded Rickey Henderson a base on balls rather than ringing him up on strikes. Templeton even mimicked Henderson's crouched stance and first step toward the third base dugout to add color to the presentation. The former All-Star shortstop, while generous with his time, wasn't happy about that particular call, the long road trip the Flyers just completed, or the lack of suitable replacements for injured players.
Heck, other than Rickey, I didn't think the starters were even suitable. The defense was inadequate and the last-place Flyers seemingly emptied their bullpen while getting routed by the first-place Surf Dawgs, a team managed by Terry Kennedy. I thought Scott Dierks, the Surf Dawgs second baseman, had good hands and was deft at turning two, but I was less than impressed with the defensive play as a whole.
Although the contracts of three GBL players have been purchased by Major League Baseball franchises thus far, most of the players are on their way out rather than on their way up. As such, for my money, I would prefer watching a California League (high-Class A) game, primarily featuring 20-23 year-olds over an independent minor league dependent upon mostly 24-26 year-olds who were unable to make it to the next level.
The player drawing most, if not almost all, of the attention was the oldest on the field by at least 15 years. Henderson (.299/.489/.403) flied out weakly to center in his first trip to the plate, blooped out to short in his next appearance, and got on-base three times via a hit by pitch, a groundball double down the left-field line, and a hard-hit single. Rickey didn't walk or steal a base, but he scored a couple of runs. He has lost a couple of steps over the years but still runs better than most major leaguers. Baseball Toaster's Ken Arneson saw ol' #24 walk, steal bases, and hit his only home run of the year last month on a family trip to San Diego.
The good news is that we were able see Henderson bat five times. We would have gotten an opportunity to witness the future first-ballot Hall of Famer hit a sixth time except for the fact that I tipped off the Flyers third baseman Sean Walsh by yelling "appeal" in reference to the fact that a Surf Dawg baserunner had tagged up from second base a tad too early on a fly ball to center. Walsh, who is hitting the snot out of the ball in the early going (.462/.538/.754), heard me (hey, I was sitting on the third base side and was one of only about a thousand fans in attendance), tossed the ball to second, and the umpire called the runner out.
Shame on me because Henderson ended up in the on-deck circle when the final out was recorded in the top of the ninth. To my surprise, Henderson jogged out and played center field in the bottom of the inning even though the game was all but over. To Rickey's credit, he loves to play and entertain the fans. Rich Lederer (a little third-person humor) can't fault him for that.
* * * * *
Speaking of the California League, my next outing involves driving to Lake Elsinore to catch Jered Weaver's professional debut Monday night. The Four-Million-Dollar-Man is scheduled to pitch for the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes vs. the Storm. I'm not sure if he is supposed to start or relieve, but I didn't want to miss the opportunity to be there so I purchased four tickets in the front row behind home plate.
According to Mark Saxon of The Orange County Register, the Angels' 2004 first-round pick "will make his professional debut Monday night pitching for Class-A Rancho Cucamonga at Lake Elsinore. Stoneman indicated Weaver likely will pitch just two innings or so, as he missed spring training because of a contract holdout."
I am also looking forward to scouting Quakes 2B Howie Kendrick and SS Brandon Wood, Bryan's 62nd and 63rd top prospects, respectively. Kendrick, who is leading the league in batting average (.376) was recently activated from the disabled list. The 20-year-old Wood has hit 22 HR, three more than anyone else in the league. Unfortunately, I won't be able to see Kendry Morales swing the bat as he was promoted to Arkansas (AA) a week ago. The folks in Arkansas apparently haven't seen him do much with the wood in his short stint there (4-for-23, .174 with no HR, 1 BB and 6 SO).
Angels. Marlins. Flyers. Surf Dawgs. Quakes. Storm. Major league. Independent League. California League. They all have one thing in common. Baseball. Ahh, the life.
* * * * *
OFFICIAL WEAVER WATCH
Quakes Activate RHP Jered Weaver; Place RHP Bob Zimmermann on DL.
Official Lake Elsinore Storm Baseball Homepage:
The Storm Will Host Rancho Cucamonga
The First Pitch Scheduled For 7:05 pm
#27 Javier Martinez RHP (4-2) vs. #34 Jered Weaver RHP (0-0)
Official Site of the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes:
WEAVER ACTIVATED, MAKES PROFESSIONAL DEBUT MONDAY NIGHT
Angels 2004 first round-draft pick (12th overall) Jered Weaver will make his professional debut with the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes Monday night at Lake Elsinore. Weaver has worked out with the Quakes for two weeks and participated in two simulated games including one on Wednesday.
Rancho Cucamonga @ Lake Elsinore Orange County Register:
Jun 20, 2005 - 7:05 PM
RHP Jered Weaver (2004: 15-1, 1.62 @ Long Beach State) at RHP Javier Martinez (4-2, 5.15)
Webcast Start Time: 7:00 P.M.
Jered Weaver, the Angels' first-round draft pick from 2004, will make his professional pitching debut tonight in Rancho Cucamonga, but it is not expected to last more than a couple of innings.
While the Angels will be focused on their three-game series with Texas, Scioscia acknowledged he will be interested to know how Weaver does.
"We're very excited to have Jered, not only in our organization, but starting on the path to reach his goal of pitching in the major leagues," Scioscia said. "Our player development department will be very conservative with the approach to Jered because there is a lot that a young pitcher needs to absorb and especially a pitcher that hasn't pitched in a year."
October in June: CWS Bracket Two
Our day-late previews continue with bracket two today, following the exciting Tulane and Texas victories. It appears the two best teams in the bracket might just be Tulane and Oregon State, who were forced to bash heads in the preliminary rounds. Here's a look at all the clubs in bracket two...
Key Players: Micah Owings (P/DH), Nathan Southard (CF), Tommy Manzella (SS), Brian Bogusevic (SP)
WHY THE GREEN WAVE WILL WIN: Plain and simple, Tulane might just be the most complete team in the College World Series. Offensively they are the best of the eight, with the highest average and runs per game totals. Their team 3.80 ERA just missed being top 30 in Division I, and their fielding percentage was 17th in the nation.
None of this could be done, of course, without Saturday starter Micah Owings. The former Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket transferred from his old school following a disappointing draft-eligible sophomore season. Owings shined with the Green Wave this season, saving his best pitching for the end of the season, and using his power bat in the middle of the lineup. Teammate Brian Bogusevic joins him in two-way duties, and while not quite the hitter that Owings is, Bogusevic is a better pitcher when he's on top of his game.
Three other hitters in the lineup, besides Owings, hit above .350 this season. The list includes shortstop Tommy Manzella who was one of the more overshadowed and underappreciated players in college baseball this year. The same thing happened in the bullpen with Sean Morgan and Dan Latham, as the pair combined for 78.1 innings with an ERA under 3.00 closing games for Owings and Bogusevic.
WHY THE GREEN WAVE WILL LOSE: Well, I guess I could fault the team for not having a ton of depth, but that would simply be nitpicking. Tulane goes six or seven deep in their order, and have three effective starters and a good-enough bullpen.
The problem most often for Tulane is their starting staff, as Owings and Bogusevic are very prone to bad outings from time to time. Both players are relatively raw on the mound, and not the Jason Windsor/John Hudgins-type pitchers that normally dominate in Omaha. Effective hitting teams should be able to rough up the Green Wave, which will put some considerable pressure on Tulane's offense.
Key Players: Jacoby Ellsbury (CF), Andy Jenkins (1B), Dallas Buck (SP), Jonah Nickerson (SP), Kevin Gunderson (RP)
WHY THE BEAVERS WILL WIN: If you ask Boyd Nation, this is likely the team he would have chosen to win. The top team on Boyd's ISR, Oregon State had both the 20th best batting average and eighth best ERA through June 12. The club showed very few weaknesses in a cinderella season that brings them back to Omaha for the first time in fifty years.
First of all, the club has two collegiate superstars in Ellsbury and Buck. Jacoby has drawn numerous comparisons to Johnny Damon in the past, and his .413/.502/.596 numbers were fantastic this past season. There was simply no better leadoff man in the NCAA this year, so Ellsbury will often begin a Beaver rally. Buck became the club's ace and a 2006 blue chipper in a season in which his sinker yielded a 2.12 ERA.
WHY THE BEAVERS WILL LOSE: Well, first of all, because they have already lost. The devastating defeat to Tulane on Saturday really puts the Beavers against the wall, especially considering their opponents on Monday. Also, many think that the Beavers could simply be satisfied by making it to College World Series, as proving they belonged could have been enough.
Some could voice concern about a pitching staff that only goes six deep, but that would be pushing things. Oregon State may have drawn the worst opponents of anyone in the tournament, and while they might not be the caliber of Tulane, they are likely one of the best four teams in Omaha.
Key Players: Zach Dillon (DH), Ryan LaMotta (RP), Mark McCormick (SP), Trey Taylor (SP)
WHY THE BEARS WILL WIN: Pitching. If the Bears can make it deep into the CWS, it will be because of their arms. The club ranked 12th in the NCAA in ERA, led by junior fireballer Mark McCormick. Unfortunately McCormick did not win on Saturday, leaving the rest of the Bear staff with a considerable onus.
Luckily for McCormick, the staff is good enough to do so, especially with the best bullpen of the eight teams. The club is extremely deep in pitching, so don't expect too many troubles in that area.
WHY THE BEARS WILL LOSE: Their offense is very lacking, with just two hitters above .300. Furthermore there is not one Baylor slugger that has nine home runs this season, and just one with a .400 OBP or .500 SLG. If opposing teams can avoid Josh Ford, then very little else in the lineup will hurt you.
Only twice this season, and not since March 5 has Baylor lost a game in which they scored more than four runs. In fact, the majority of their losses have been in the case of zero, one and two run contests. Baylor has succeeded this season in games in which they score runs, but if they can't, expect a trip back to Waco right on the horizon.
Key Players: Seth Johnston (SS), Drew Stubbs (CF), Brent Cox (RP), Adrian Alaniz (SP), Taylor Teagarden (C)
WHY THE LONGHORNS WILL WIN: The Longhorns offer one of the most balanced attacks in college baseball. In the lineup they have Drew Stubbs, a contact-first leadoff man with some of the best baserunning skills in college baseball. They also have senior shortstop Seth Johnston, who will bring as much pop from a middle infielder as anyone in this tournament. Taylor Teagarden is the other big name in the lineup, the polished catcher that handles the pitching staff and shows big-time power.
They also have the Yankees second round draft pick, closer Brent Cox. Huston Street's prodigy, Cox is also the most accomplished closer in the tournament. Finally there is Alaniz, the freshman phenom who is developing into the next Longhorn ace. The foursome is a formidable group, that's for sure.
WHY THE LONGHORNS WILL LOSE: While the Longhorns have the longest running streak of trips to Omaha, they also are an extremely different group than the 2004 version. This squad is very young and inexperienced, and despite being red hot right now, are capable of getting in some bad stretches.
Still, they overcame a big obstacle in defeating Baylor -- who had handled them all season -- and moving on to play Tulane. This team would have championship aspirations if Sam Lecure was still on the club, but without him, they are simply just a good squad. Expect them to lose the next two games, to Tulane and Oregon State, and go home having had one wonderful season.
* * * * *
Arizona State 4, Tennessee 2 [Recap]
WP - P Bresnehan (5-4) LP - J Adkins (10-5)
HOME RUNS: Ten - J.P. Arencibia (14) off Erik Averill in the 1st
Tennessee is the first team eliminated from the CWS.
Florida 7, Nebraska 4 [Recap]
WP - Darren O'day (8-3) LP - Johnny Dorn (12-2)
HOME RUNS: Fla - Adam Davis (11) off Johnny Dorn in the 1st
Florida won its seventh straight game. Jeff Corsaletti tied a CWS record with three doubles. The Gators, one win away from reaching the finals, are off until Wednesday when they will play the winner of Tuesday's matchup between the Cornhuskers and Arizona State.
October in June: CWS Preview
Not only does this preview come admittedly late, but it does so on the verge of my predicted champions (Tennessee) losing their first-round game. Rich, of course, had his team (Nebraska) win, so I expect the bragging to begin tomorrow. Luckily we both had Tulane, so if we go down on one side of the bracket, it will be together.
Anyway, we will begin our two-part preview with bracket one, which kicked things off yesterday with Florida and Nebraska picking up victories. The draw hosts the hometown favorites, the SEC's two best (and even) teams, and the cinderella club. While I thought it possible for Tennessee to hang in there long enough to upset Nebraska, it now appears that the Huskers should make it through ten more days.
Here is a look at the four teams in bracket one...
Key Players: Alex Gordon (3B), Joe Simokaitis (SS), Joba Chamberlain (SP), Johnny Dorn (SP), Zack Kroenke (P), Brett Jensen (CL)
WHY THE HUSKERS WILL WIN: First and foremost, they will win because they have more pitching depth than any team in the College World Series. The staff ranked second in Division I play with a 2.61 cumulative ERA, and had eight players make at least 18 season appearances. Opponents have hit just .225 off the Huskers, allowing Nebraska to score 256 more runs than their opponents.
Joba Chamberlain has become the de facto ace of the staff, transferring into Nebraska the season, and possibly pitching his way into the 2006 first round. Chamberlain led the team in strikeouts by a considerable margin, and pitched what might have been his best game of the season in the Super Regional. He won't beat you with his fastball -- at 88-92 it's just average -- but instead with a good feel for breaking pitches. Behind Chamberlain is freshman Johnny Dorn, who like Chamberlain has really progressed this year. The two young pitchers will be balanced by southpaws Zack Kroenke and Brian Duensing, both who were drafted in the middle rounds two weeks ago. Finally, closer Brett Jensen has been fantastic, posting a 45/9 strikeout-to-walk ratio and a 1.90 ERA in 42.2 innings.
Another bonus in the Nebraska corner is the Baseball America Player of the Year, Alex Gordon. The third baseman and second overall selection is capping off a fantastic season in which he may have taken the title from Darin Erstad as the best Husker ever. Gordon does just about everything well, even running the bases, and can take the ball out of the park at any time. In the game against Arizona State last night, the Sun Devils made sure not to let Gordon beat them. Expect this to continue throughout the CWS, but for Gordon to simply take his walks, and let Curtis Ledbetter try and knock him in.
Finally, the Huskers come in hot. The club has won their last 11 games, and last lost to a non-Texas Tech team on May 10. Team that with an atmosphere that will be overwhelmingly positive in Omaha, and Nebraska has to be considered the favorite to win the tournament at this point.
WHY THE HUSKERS WILL NOT WIN: If Nebraska gets knocked out of this tournament, it will simply be because their bats run cold. Alex Gordon is protected in the lineup by Joe Simokaitis and Ledbetter, but very little else. The majoirty of their losses were a product of run scoring, though the team will be very tough to beat if they can score four or more runs.
As I mentioned, the lineup is incredibly top-heavy. Gordon and Simokaitis are responsible for 92 of the club's 300 walks, and only one other player drew more than 21 for the season. Without the group of three that I have mentioned, the club is hitting just .285. Expect opposing starters to go deep into games against Nebraska, and for the pitching to have to bail them out.
Key Players: Matt LaPorta (1B), Jeff Corsaletti (CF), Brian Jeroloman (C), Alan Horne (SP),
WHY THE GATORS WILL WIN: Opposite of Nebraska, the Gators will win with offense, or more specifically, the home run ball. The club ranked 17th in Division I in home runs per game, led by first baseman Matt LaPorta. The sophomore showed as much power as anyone in the nation this year, cementing a first round spot next year, and also homered against Tennessee yesterday. He simply is not going to make mistakes at the plate. The club also received double-digit home run totals from Jeff Corsaletti, Adam Davis and Brian Leclerc.
Corsaletti is probably the next best player on the club, the centerfielder who leads things off, was tops on the team in batting average and walks. His contributions to the team are similar to that of Johnny Damon with the Red Sox: while he might not be the most traditional leadoff hitter, he is a great all-around player. He has enough speed to justify the spot, but has the power to knock in the bottom of the order during the middle of the game. He does just about everything right, and Corsaletti must star against the Husker pitching staff.
The other reason, as shown on Friday, is Alan Horne. A former first round pick by the Cleveland Indians, Horne is an unfortunate case of someone that is hurt by attending college. Horne has been all over the map during his college career, finally making a home in Gainesville this season. The Tommy John rehab is still a work in progress, as his 4+ ERA this season can attest. Still, he can regularly run his velocity into the mid 90s and uses a curveball that he can throw for strikes early and often.
WHY THE GATORS WILL LOSE: Depth, depth, depth. The club's cumulative batting average is actually less than the Huskers, because after their five .300 hitters, there is very little else to offer. If the team does not generate runs via the home run, or an opposing team's error, they could run into some problems. Opposing teams should really focus on Corsaletti and LaPorta, forcing the rest of the team to come up big.
The other, and more significant, depth problem lies in the pitching staff. The club has had no pitcher throw consistently enough to take the ace title, and no one in the bullpen has proven to be a formidable closer. This can often be a recipe for disaster in Omaha, unless the staff gets extremely hot. A continuation of the season 3.95 ERA will just not get the job done, as teams like Nebraska have proven they will win every time they score four runs.
Luckily the staff has picked the right seven games to not allow more than five runs during, as the club will almost always score more than five. If the Gators can stay hot, and keep opposing teams under six, they could still be playing next week.
Key Players: Luke Hochevar (SP), James Adkins (SP), Chase Headley (3B), Eli Iorg (OF)
WHY THE VOLUNTEERS WILL WIN: Consistent offensive production mixed with a top-heavy pitching staff. Tennessee was top fifteen in the nation this season in scoring, doing so at a rate of 8.1 runs per game. This is the second best rate in the tournament, trailing top-ranked Tulane by just one tenth.
The club is getting much of its offense from two stars and top-100 overall draft picks: Chase Headley and Eli Iorg. Both have shown considerable power during the season, and Headley has gotten on base at a rate that no other Volunteer in history has matched. Overall, the team is getting two hitters that will cumulatively produce at .385/.480/.680 levels.
Beyond that, only one player in their starting lineup is hitting below .324, as the club's total average is an impressive .331. Watch out especially for Julio Borbon, a fleet-footed outfielder, and Josh Alley, the club's leadoff hitter. Both players will give Headley and Iorg some safety around them in the order. The Vols also run very often, with more than 100 steals for the season.
While Hochevar just did not get it done yesterday, normally he is one of the nation's best pitchers. With an arsenal that includes a devastating sinker-slider combination, in addition to a mid-90s fastball, Hochevar was supposed to lead the Vols to a date with Nebraska on Sunday. In that game the club would have thrown freshman phenom James Adkins out there, following a Super Regional performance that was as impressive as he had thrown all season. With two arms on the staff, and two bats in the lineup, the Vols certainly have as much star power as anyone.
WHY THE VOLUNTEERS WILL NOT WIN: Despite very good depth in their lineup, the same does not necessarily hold true with their pitching staff. Beyond Hochevar and Adkins, Tennessee can only turn to Sean Watson for consistency on the mound. While this was supposed to be enough to get the Vols through Sunday, losing the preliminary contest only puts added pressure on the club.
I could also mention Alex Suarez, the black hole of the starting lineup, a normally sure-handed first baseman that hurt the Vols on the field and in the box on Friday. Throwing out someone with a .245 batting average and sub-.100 ISO into the first base position is a big risk, even if their fielding percentage is among the nation's best. Mistakes cannot be afforded at such a critical point in the season, and Suarez is symbolism for the Volunteers' slip-up tendencies.
Key Players: Travis Buck (OF), Jeff Larish (1B), Tuffy Gosewisch (C), Erik Averill (SP)
WHY THE SUN DEVILS WILL WIN: First and foremost, the Sun Devils make contact about as much as anyone in the tournament. The club goes ten deep in .280+ hitters, and will constantly put pressure onto a defense. In the error-prone world that is college baseball, this should really plan into Arizona State's hands.
The club also has probably the best top of the order in Omaha, in Jeff Larish and Travis Buck. The decision to put them on top of the order is a sabermetric one, assuming that the two best hitters should be given the most at-bats. Both players are patient and powerful at the plate, and Buck led the team with a .380 batting average. There is no harder thing than to start a huge game against these two hitters, who promise to get into young pitcher's heads early and often.
WHY THE SUN DEVILS WILL LOSE: And they will lose. First of all, the offense is not perfect in any way, shape or form. Only Larish finished the regular season with a home run total in double-digits, playing in a home ballpark that is more friendly than not for sluggers. The .130 ISO has to be the worst of the eight teams, and expecting to win the tournament with single-single-single is not a good mindset.
The team also has very, very little in the pitching department. The club's ERA was 4.63 this year, and only Averill will give the team much from the starting rotation. Friday's pitcher, Zechry Zinicola, had a 5.88 ERA on the year. The club will simply have to hope for five or six good innings, and then hope to play match-ups well out of the bullpen. It is extremely difficult to win consistently by allowing five runs per game, and the Sun Devils have struggled in that regard, until recently.
Finally, the club had just a 7-15 record on the year away from home. All in all, it just does not add up for Arizona State in 2005.
Tomorrow I will give bracket two the same day-late treatment, and hope to give Saturday updates on the initial winners all throughout the day. Check back in...
* * * * *
Tulane 3, Oregon State 1 [Recap]
WP - M Owings (12-4) LP - J Nickerson (9-2) S - D Latham (13)
HOME RUNS: Tul - Nathan Southard (12) off Eddie Kunz in the 8th
Tulane is attempting to become the first number one national seed to win the College World Series since Miami in 1999. Oregon State is making its first trip to the CWS since 1952.
Texas 5, Baylor 1 [Recap]
WP - A Alaniz (7-3) LP - M Mccormick (8-4)
HOME RUNS: Tex - Seth Johnston (9) off Mark Mccormick in the 1st
Texas beat Baylor for the first time in five meetings this year.
CWS: Predictions Before the Storm
With less than an hour before the first pitch is thrown in the College World Series, we thought what better time to get our predictions out in the air than now? Expect more on the CWS this weekend, including many updates, but we wanted to go on record with who will win the tournament beforehand.
Rich: Nebraska over Tulane in the finals of the College World Series. The Cornhuskers have the number-one player in the country in Alex Gordon (named Baseball America's Player of the Year and the top college player selected in the First-Year Player Draft last week), the second-best team ERA (2.61 in the nation, and they are the top team from the only conference with three representatives (by virtue of finishing first in the Big 12 during the regular season and winning the tournament title). If that is not enough, Nebraska will also have more fan support in Omaha than any other university.
The Cornhuskers are not only the best team, but they are also arguably the hottest (having won 15 of its last 16 games). Put it all together and you've got the makings of a championship team.
Bryan: Tennessee over Tulane. I love how the Volunteers are pitching right now, especially with Luke Hochevar leading the pack. Last year Jason Windsor showed that an ace can go a long way in Omaha, and I expect Hochevar to keep that rule going. They also have a solid second starter in freshman James Adkins who shined in the Super Regional, striking out double-digits in an attempt to copy his junior teammate.
The Volunteers also have offense, especially in the way of Eli Iorg and Chase Headley. The latter is an on-base machine that has no problem drawing a walk, and letting his teammates knock him in. The Volunteers dominated their super regional despite being the underdogs, and that role is not a bad one for them.
MVP: Who else? Luke Hochevar
It's not surprising that both of us pick Tulane to win Bracket 2 as they have been atop many rankings for a long time. The club has serious pitching depth, and their two-way stars also will make some noise with the bats.
With the games about to begin, we urge you to turn over to ESPN 2 and watch the final eight teams battle it out--first in a double-elimination format, then in a two out three series between the winners of each bracket. It all begins at 2 p.m. ET, with Hochevar leading off the tournament against the Florida Gators, with sophomore slugger Matt LaPorta.
* * * * *
Florida 6, Tennessee 4 [Recap]
WP - Alan Horne (10-2) LP - Luke Hochevar (15-3) S - Darren O'Day (7)
Ten - Chase Headley (14) off Connor Falkenbach in the 7th
Fla - Matt Laporta (25) off Luke Hochevar in the 3rd
Brian Jeroloman (8) off Luke Hochevar in the 6th
Nebraska 5, Arizona State 3 [Recap]
WP - J Chamberlain (10-2) LP - Z Zinicola (3-4) S - B Jensen (16)
HOME RUNS: None
Cool Papa Dwell: Memoirs of My Dad and Baseball
"Hey, Dad...you wanna have a catch?"
-- Ray Kinsella, Field of Dreams
Alomar, Alou, Armas. Bell, Bonds, Boone. Grieve, Griffey, Garvey...well, I'm sure someone fathered by Garvey will make the big leagues -- he just won't have the same last name.
Baseball, perhaps more than any other sport, is deeply engraved in the foundation of father and son relationships. From Herm and Jack Doscher to Steve and Nick Swisher, fathers and sons have been a common occurrence in baseball. But it's just not in the big leagues. For every Ed and Bobby Crosby, there are thousands of Rich and Joe Lederers.
Baseball is almost a rite of passage when it comes to father-son bonding. The root of this bonding most likely starts with a game of catch, or better yet, one's first baseball glove. How many of us actually remember our first football or basketball as vividly as our first glove? They say smell is the sense that triggers the strongest memories, yet I can't conjure up any memories of my Dad's cologne after he showed me how to shave. I don't remember the smell of grass the first time I helped my Dad mow the lawn. But I can still remember the trail of oil and leather wafting from the kitchen into my room when my Dad was breaking in my first glove.
Oh, how baseball did spoil me! Baseball gave me what seemed like adult privileges as a kid...privileges I could share with my Dad. Playing catch with my Dad was my way to stay outside long after the street lights clicked on. Watching baseball games on TV with my Dad -- never on a school night though -- allowed me to stay up past my bedtime. Taking a trip to the stadium with my Dad for a game was my opportunity to enjoy hotdogs and ice cream sundaes (inside miniature helmets, of course).
As front yards shrink and the work week grows, I fear there is less and less interaction between fathers and sons. The simple game of catch has fallen by the wayside along with other father-son activities like building a tree house or changing the oil of the family sedan. I've always liked Harry Chapin's "Cats in the Cradle," but just recently I noticed one heart-wrenching verse:
"My son turned ten just the other day
He said, "Thanks for the ball, Dad, come on let's play
Can you teach me to throw," I said "Not today
I got a lot to do," he said, "That's ok"
And he walked away but his smile never dimmed
And said, "I'm gonna be like him, yeah
You know I'm gonna be like him"
A father not having time to play catch with his son? That's grounds for child neglect in my book! The notion of "an American boy refusing to play catch with his father," as Kevin Costner's character says in Field of Dreams, well, that's just downright inexcusable. I can only hope that every boy can enjoy the bond with his father that is the game of catch.
Playing catch with my Dad was not like any catch you have ever played. Usually it'd start out like any normal soft toss. But the kid inside of him would shine through and before I knew it, my Dad was winding up like Bob Feller and throwing a huge floating changeup that made my knees buckle. Or sometimes he'd flip it behind his back at 70 MPH for a strike. Then there were the risers from his fast-pitch softball days that would leave my glove hand bruised. And when he'd release the ball while still in his windup like some wannabe Al Schacht, we'd usually have to end the game because I was cracking up so hard. When throwing batting practice, my dad was Tom Seaver. Coaching me, he was Earl Weaver. At home, Ward Cleaver. To this day, I refuse to not believe that my Dad was the best baseball player I ever came in contact with. He was, and still is, my idol.
This Father's Day, grab your glove out of the garage and go play catch with your son. Or if you're older, don't hesitate to call your Dad and tell him 'Thank You' for playing catch with you.
Dad, thank you for writing such an outstanding blog so I, and everyone else, can enjoy your fantastic writing and love of baseball.
Thank you for telling fascinating stories about Lou Gehrig and Sandy Koufax.
Thank you for allowing me to sit in on your APBA and rotisserie drafts when I was a kid.
Thank you for impersonating Al Hrabosky.
Thank you for consoling me the night you had to break me the news that I couldn't play on the All-Star team due to living outside of the district.
Thank you for bestowing upon me the difference between Darryl Strawberry, the hitter and Darryl Strawberry, the man.
Thank you for coaching me in Little League and managing me in AYSO soccer.
Thank you for pronouncing 'Alejandro Pena' like you spent the entire 80s as the U.S. Ambassador to the Dominican Republic.
Thank you for continuing to fill in the blanks about the grandfather I never met.
Thank you for supporting me in whatever sports I wanted to play, be it baseball, soccer or golf.
Thank you for teaching me the "Dodger Song." ("Oh really? No, O'Malley!")
Thank you for laughing at me when I came home with a Kevin Maas rookie card...it was a lesson well learned.
Thank you for turning me on to Vin Scully and off of Joe Morgan.
Thank you for showing me how to throw a curveball ("shake hands with the center fielder") and a changeup ("pull down the window shade").
Thank you for taking me to see George Brett play in a charity softball game, for meeting him was quite possibly the start of my love affair with baseball.
Thank you for introducing to me to Bill James, OPS+ and park factors.
Thank you for surrounding me with coaches like Vern Ruhle, Jeff Burroughs and Mark Cresse.
Thank you for letting me take a break during homework on the evening of May 1, 1991.
Thank you for explaining to me how to keep score and read a box score.
Thank you for playing catch with me.
Thank you for being my Dad.
Happy (early) Father's Day!
[Additional reader comments and retorts at Baseball Primer.]
Blue Jay Way: Q&A With Jon Lalonde
A native of Wyevale, a small town 120 kilometers north of Toronto, Jon Lalonde is living the
American Canadian dream--well, at least those who, like Lalonde, favor baseball over hockey. You see, at the age of 29, Jon is the Scouting Director for the Toronto Blue Jays.
A graduate of Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario with a Bachelor of Commerce specializing in Sports Administration, Lalonde joined the Blue Jays in November 1999 as Service Coordinator in the Corporate Partnerships department. His duties included organizing stadium giveaway days and assisting Blue Jays sponsors leverage their sponsorships effectively. He joined the Scouting Department as Scouting Coordinator in January, 2001 and accepted the position of Scouting Director in July of 2003.
To the credit of J.P. Ricciardi & Co., the Blue Jays have already agreed to terms with 23 of the 49 players selected in the 2005 First-Year Player Draft. The team's number one pick, Ricky Romero, just completed his junior season on Sunday when Cal State Fullerton was defeated by Arizona State in the Super Regional. Lalonde is very high on Romero and the direction of the Blue Jays.
Pull up a chair and find out what he has to say about the draft, various players, scouting, and the Blue Jay Way.
Rich: This year marked the first time since the draft's origin in 1965 that no pitcher was taken in the top five. What do you think accounted for this change?
Jon: I actually wasn't aware that this was the first time that a pitcher wasn't selected in the top five overall. Each draft is so unique that I would have expected there to have been a year somewhere along the line where the overwhelming strength was position players. This is also probably indicative of the fact a prevailing thought has always been to build a team through its starting rotation. I guess this year the talent pool, combined with the needs of the teams selecting in the top five, dictated position player selections one through five.
Rich: The Toronto Blue Jays then broke the trend and selected Ricky Romero with the sixth pick in the draft. Romero was the first pitcher chosen. Why did you go with Romero over some of the more highly ranked pitchers, like Mike Pelfrey, Luke Hochevar, and Craig Hansen?
Jon: Firstly, we believe that Ricky possesses that unique combination of "stuff" and "pitchability." He's not what you would necessarily consider a true power pitcher, but he's not a finesse pitcher either. He's able to change speeds and locate all of his pitches in the mould of a finesse pitcher, but then he's also able to run his fastball into the mid 90s with a plus curveball and a plus changeup.
Rich: Does Ricky throw any other pitches?
Jon: We also believe his slider has a chance to be a real weapon for him. He's very aggressive and does a great job of pitching inside. But, in all honesty, as much as any physical attributes, it's his competitive nature, his will to win that really sets him apart in our minds. When Ricky does get into trouble on the mound, he shows the aptitude to make in-game adjustments and even pitch-to-pitch adjustments. That's not real common in a pitcher Ricky's age.
Rich: How much importance do you put on "pitchability" vs. "signability?"
Jon: Pitchability and signability are mutually exclusive and we treat them as such. Both are important when discussing a pitcher, but because the two items are so unrelated, we don't really put emphasis on one vs. the other.
Rich: Are you a proponent of getting a college workhorse like Romero signed and onto a Minor League team right away or do you think it makes sense for a pitcher that has thrown as many innings as he has over the past year (including last summer with Team USA) to sit out the remainder of the current season?
Jon: I certainly think it's to our benefit and to Ricky's benefit to have him report at some point this summer. He has been a workhorse and he's pitched many innings over the last couple of years when you factor in his postseason innings and time with Team USA. It's not really about how many innings he throws this summer, it's more about introducing him to the professional baseball lifestyle. Things like riding buses, meeting coaches and teammates, adjusting to a pro-style pitching program (every fifth day vs. once a week). I believe it would be a big advantage for him to begin his pro career this summer.
Rich: Toronto has had a recent history of getting its top picks signed shortly after the draft.
Jon: Yes, we've seen that the last few years with Russ Adams, Aaron Hill, David Purcey and Zach Jackson. We were able to get them out playing the summer of their draft years, and they're either in the big leagues or appear to be on the fast track. That said, we certainly would want to be cautious in terms of Ricky's workload. Having seen him compete, I'm sure he'd want to take the ball and pitch a complete game as soon as he arrives. In some instances it's best to protect the player from himself.
Rich: After Oakland drafted Jason Windsor last year, Billy Beane complained that Titan Manager George Horton rode him too hard in the Super Regionals and College World Series. Romero threw nine innings last Friday night vs. Arizona State. Are you concerned about the number of pitches a draftee like Romero is asked to throw during the postseason?
Jon: When it comes down to elimination play and the College World Series, I think that we have to cut teams and coaches some slack. It's not uncommon in MLB's postseason to see a starter pitch out of the bullpen in an elimination game a couple of days after a start. Or like Brad Lidge in postseason last year being called upon to pitch multiple innings several times in a series. When your season's hanging in the balance you have to pull out all of the stops. For these college teams and many of the players, this will be the pinnacle of their careers so to begrudge a coach because he brings a pitcher back on short rest isn't really fair. I think where I get more concerned is when you see very high pitch counts and high innings early on in the season. When I see things like pitch counts of 165 and 150 in March, that's more disturbing than what might take place in elimination games in June.
Rich: That makes sense, Jon. Do you anticipate that Romero, once signed, will report to Dunedin (Toronto's high-A farm team)?
Jon: Depending on when we're able to get Ricky under contract, I would expect that he would initially begin his career at our New York Penn League affiliate in Auburn, NY. We have started most of our high drafts there the last few years, and it has worked out very well. It's an excellent league and Auburn is a great affiliate for us. That will likely be our plan with Ricky, but that decision would ultimately lie with our Farm Director Dick Scott and General Manager J.P. Ricciardi.
Rich: Zach Jackson, your #1 pick in 2004, was recently promoted to New Hampshire (AA). His first two outings were quite impressive. How far away is Jackson from the big leagues?
Jon: Obviously we were pleased to select Zach in the 2004 draft and felt he had an opportunity to help us. Following his progress this season has been enjoyable. In terms of when he will be ready to compete in the Major Leagues, that's a question that's better asked of either Dick Scott or J.P. Ricciardi. We like him alot though. He throws strikes, competes very well and has an out pitch in his cut-fastball.
Rich: Your first selections in 2002 (Russ Adams) and 2003 (Aaron Hill) made it to the majors in about two years. They both play shortstop. Are you of the belief that you take players as far to the right on the defensive spectrum as possible in anticipation that they can always be moved to a less-demanding position later, if need be?
Jon: Generally speaking if a player is capable of playing a quality SS or CF then he can be moved to another position. When drafting players this is something we consider strongly. The more defensive options a player offers, the more valuable he is. That having been said, most baseball people will tell you that the one area of a player's game that can improve the most is defense. Repetitions and quality instruction combined with a sound work ethic can help a below average defender become average or better.
Rich: I've noticed that the club has tended to emphasize pitching in its draft selections. Is there a general belief that drafting and developing pitchers over hitters is a more cost effective way to go, given the price of big league pitchers in the free agent market?
Jon: I think that when J.P. came into the organization, one of the first conclusions he reached was that pitching was an area of need through each of our minor league levels right into our Major League team. Therefore, in his first couple of drafts, he really wanted to emphasize pitching. Specifically, more mature college pitchers that could be pushed quickly through the system.
I think we have been very successful in that regard when you look at players like David Bush, Josh Banks, Shaun Marcum, Jamie Vermilyea and Adam Peterson who we were able to trade and acquire a quality Major League hitter in Shea Hillenbrand. Each of those players were selected in either 2002 or 2003 and are already pushing towards the upper tier of the organization. Acquiring quality pitching at the Major League level, either through free agency or trade has been very difficult recently; therefore, drafting and developing our own pitching is definitely one of our goals.
Rich: College players dominated the draft on day one but high schoolers made a splash on day two. In fact, the percentage of high school players drafted reversed a declining trend that has been in place since 1995. Does this suggest that college players are still the preferred way to go early on because they are both easier to project and more likely to pay dividends sooner but that it's more of a numbers game when it comes to high school kids?
Jon: I'm not sure what to make of the number of high school vs. college players drafted this year. I do believe that in some circumstances, when a Club believes it's close to contending that selecting more advanced college players might make sense. In most cases you can be more aggressive in your development of an advanced college player and challenge him with the higher levels of the minor leagues sooner than a high school counterpart. Also, I think there are many more variables on day two of the draft. Often times you don't know those players as well as your early selections and I think teams are much more open to higher risk/higher reward selections the deeper you go in the draft. So, taking the younger, more raw high school player, perhaps as a draft and follow, makes more sense on day two when the selections are not scrutinized as those earlier on.
Rich: I imagine you are much more dependent on your Area Scouts on day two than day one.
Jon: We're dependent on our Area Scouts right from Round One. They see these guys play more than any of us so to disregard or ignore their thoughts in any round is perilous. Our staff does a great job of identifying not only the best players, but focusing on those that play the game the way we like. Certainly on the draft's second day as you get into the later rounds, it's unlikely we've been able to cross-check those players; therefore, you do have to rely on your Area Scouts. We're very comfortable doing that and we really lean on them in every round, it's just in a different way on the draft's second day.
Rich: Of the 49 players drafted last week, how many did you see play in person? How many would J.P. Ricciardi, Tim McCleary, Tony LaCava, and Dick Scott see?
Jon: J.P. and Tim McCleary focus mostly on potential first round selections although while we're at spring training in Dunedin they like to travel around to see local college and high school games. Tony LaCava and I focus mainly on the higher draft choices, potential top 10 rounders.
Rich: How would you rank order the various tools when it comes to their importance in evaluating a position player?
Jon: We really do place great importance on a player's ability to hit, so that stands out. As I mentioned earlier, defense can generally be improved if the player is willing to work at it. It's much more difficult for a player to rise to another level as a hitter. Hitters can certainly improve and there are many examples of players that were late bloomers offensively, but predicting which players those will be can be perilous.
Rich: What do you most look for in a young pitcher?
Jon: Obviously the first thing you can measure is a pitcher's "stuff." How hard does he throw? What kind of breaking pitch, if any, does he possess? Does he have a feel for a changeup? Once you've identified Major League-type weapons, the most important thing to me becomes can the pitcher throw strikes with all of his pitches? That is so critical in the Major Leagues and specifically in our division.
There's nothing the Red Sox and Yankees love more than facing a pitcher that's constantly behind in the count. In those instances it doesn't matter how hard you throw, if quality hitters know a fastball strike is coming, they're likely to have great success. The last thought I'd offer here is you really want to identify pitchers that compete and aren't afraid to challenge hitters in big situations and in close games.
Rich: Here's a theoretical question: Would you prefer a young power hitter who doesn't strike out a lot or a young power hitter who does strike out in the hopes that you can help him put the ball in play more and make him an even better hitter?
Jon: All things being equal, you'd always prefer the player who strikes out less. That's an indication of hand-eye skills which are critical in successful hitters. The question we often are faced with in the draft room when comparing hitters is that Player A has fewer strikeouts but less power than Player B who strikes out more but has more power. We then have to discuss which player we think will have more value down the road.
Rich: Do you think MLB should allow teams to trade draft picks? If so, would a franchise like Toronto be helped or hurt by such a change?
Jon: I believe that the ability to trade draft picks would only serve to enhance the draft's appeal. As a scout, it would really test your evaluation skills. Not only now do you have to line up the players based on what you believe their abilities are, but now you'd have to consider the scenario "We like player X, but do we like him enough to trade player Y and our 2nd round pick for him?" I think that adds excitement for teams and fans alike.
Rich: I totally agree. Last question, Jon. Beer or tacos?
Jon: I believe that it's in any talent evaluator's best interest to use all information available to make decisions. As much as statistics can be extremely valuable in quantifying a player's accomplishments, there's no substitute for observing a player over a period of time to breakdown his physical abilities. At the end of the day, this business is all about making decisions and in any business situation, the more information the decision-maker can gather, the more accurate his decisions will be in the long run.
Rich: Thanks, Jon. I appreciate your time and insightful answers.
Jon: You're welcome, Rich. I hope you found the information useful.
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Update (Thursday, June 16): The Blue Jays announced the signing of Ricky Romero. Here's the Jon Lalonde quote from ESPN story: "We have followed Ricky for some time now and it's clear that he possesses that rare combination of physical ability and mental toughness."
Drafting Team Rankings (Part 2)
"This is stupid." "Why are you doing this?" "You are going to end up looking like an idiot." All of these things I was accused of last week, when I published my AL draft reviews and rankings. To these criticisms, all I can simply respond is that I agree. As I said last week, "With exactly zero professional at-bats in all 1,501 combined, trying to guess who succeeded and failed might just be a fool's game."
This is an extremely difficult thing to project, but I am attempting to do so anyway. First of all, in one, two, and three years this will be a very fun piece to look back at. These are literally my first impressions and my guesses, after trying to read as much as possible. So with that as your warning, continue to the NL edition.
I want to make sure and emphasize that these rankings are not representative of how the teams drafted, but who they drafted. By putting Arizona on top of my NL rankings I'm not saying Mike Rizzo necessarily drafted better than Logan White, just that his draft class has a better chance (in my opinion) of being successful. With that in mind...
A December Loss Just Means Christmas Comes in June
Arizona Diamondbacks: It isn't hard to mess things up when you are at the top, calling out the name of someone who has (supposedly) Bo Jackson athleticism and Alex Rodriguez power potential. Justin Upton simply makes this class look good by himself, he has all five tools, and -- if they put him in center immediately -- should fly through the system. He's a better prospect out of high school than Delmon Young was, and maybe the best since Josh Hamilton. But Mike Rizzo did not stop there on draft day, picking up the Northeast's pride and joy, Matt Torra in the beginning of the supplemental round. Torra had top ten rumors associated with him, and his control is good enough to make him the first 2005 starter in the Majors. The team then took risks at the beginning of the third round, choosing Wild Thing Jason Neighborall and then two-way player Micah Owings. Neighborall should be converted to relief right now, where he has the stuff to move like Ambiorix Burgos. Owings is still a little raw on the mound, but if his Sunday performance is indicative of ability, he'll shine like a first rounder. With four solid players in the bag, and two more potential players in Matt Green and Mark Romanczuk, it should turn out to be a fantastic effort by the Diamondbacks.
St. Louis Cardinals: Following a 2004 draft in which the club did not sign one high school player, the Cardinal scouting department seemed to be a little less regimented this year. That helped the draft yield considerably, as the club landed three of Future Game's top 31 prospects, and two college players once considered top ten talents. The draft began with Colby Rasmus, the Alabama high school outfielder with a bunch of power. Rasmus signed for a million dollars quickly, and was one of my favorite players in the draft. I'm also quite fond of Tyler Greene, the club's second choice from Georgia Tech, as he profiles to steal 20 bases and win Gold Gloves perenially in the Majors. Where the question with Greene will always be his bat, the club's next choice -- pitcher Mark McCormick from Baylor -- will always have control concerns. In the very least, he'll succeed Jason Isringhausen in the Cardinal closer role. Following McCormick was right-handers Tyler Herron and Josh Wilson, two accomplished pitchers from competitive programs.
Florida Marlins: Like the Red Sox last week, it's pretty hard not to like the Marlins draft. Like the Red Sox, Florida mixed and matched college and high school players throughout the draft, but early, it appears they drafted out of need. Was it a coincidence that the club's first five selections were pitchers? Or that they drafted Aaron Thompson in the 22nd spot when players like Jacoby Ellsbury and Colby Rasmus remained on the board? The club did very nice in selecting Chris Volstad, Jacob Marceaux (a personal favorite) and Sean West, all players that I am very fond of. But Thompson appears to be a reach, and Ryan Tucker may opt to attend Cal State Fullerton rather than sign. The fruits of the scouting department's labor will not be seen soon, as none of these players will move too quickly, but they undoubtedly represent the future of starting pitching in Miami.
Picking Early, Often and Effectively
San Diego Padres: One would normally be stupid in associating San Diego with conservatism. It normally just does not happen, but in 2005 Chief Gayton was the exception to the rule. The long time Padres scouting director conducted a very effective draft last week, but one that does not have a very high ceiling. The draft began with Miami right-hander Cesar Carillo, and Long Beach southpaw Cesar Ramos. Both were very good college pitchers with great control, but neither profiles to be higher than a third or fourth starter. Later in the draft they took Chase Headley (2) and Seth Johnston (5), who both profile to be solid, if unspectacular players on the left side. Ramos' teammate Neil Jamison's potential tops out in middle relief. The player with the most potential could be the club's fourth selection, Arizona catcher Nick Hundley, who I wrote about extensively last Wednesday. All in all there is a decent chance that the Padres net as many Major Leaguers from the 2005 draft as anyone. But in twenty-five years, I doubt many will be hailing this draft as the year's best.
Houston Astros: Lance Broadway's late season heroics put a big move on the draft, changing things just hours before Arizona kicked it off. Suddenly Broadway was the White Sox man, and not Cesar Carillo, as many previously had thought. This allowed the Padres to take their man at 18, instead of being 'forced' into selecting Tulane's ace, Brian Bogusevic. The chain of events also led to the Astros, who instead of taking Jacob Marceaux, ended up with Bogusevic, a far safer talent. The club also went safe at 38, albeit too safe in my opinion, taking Tennessee outfielder Eli Iorg. A reach, yes, but Iorg should move quickly through the system. The high ceiling player is Floridian catcher Ralph Henriquez, a switch-hitter with a father in the Braves organization. Henriquez profiles to have plus power and better-than-average catching skills, which could make him this draft's best talent. He'll just need to learn what consistency means first.
Colorado Rockies: Nice mix of high school and college talent, as well as grabbing hitters and pitchers. Interestingly enough, it looks like the organization prefers aged offensive players, while grabbing more raw pitchers. I wonder if that is an organizational philosophy, or just what their board decided for them this season. Anyway, Troy Tulowitzki is a great talent at the seventh spot, a player that some people would have taken with the top pick. Tulo will not only move quickly through the system, but in Coors Field, has superstar potential. The question here was Luke Hochevar or Tulo, which gets down to the basic philosophy of spending predominantly on hitters or pitchers for Coors. My personal guess would be the latter, but if this team can start building a lot of young depth in offense, look out. Besides Tulo I like the Chaz Roe, Daniel Carte, and Brandon Durden choices especially.
Atlanta Braves: After drafting surprisingly conservative with their first pick, choosing college closer Joey Devine, Roy Clark went back to normal the rest of the way. There was Beau Jones, one of Louisiana's best arms, and Yuniel Escobar, the toolsy shortstop from Cuba. Many talented arms (35 pitchers in total, the draft's high), and quite a few picks from Georgia and Florida. And of course, lots of high schoolers, as their six college choices were a draft low. It seems that the Braves have just about as much consistency in their draft styles as they do first place finishes. The exception of the year, as mentioned, was Devine. With the club facing unexpected bullpen problems that are likely not going away, hoping Devine to be the answer is a good philosophy. While some mock the idea of spending a first-round pick on relievers, for some teams I believe it is undoubtedly the right decision. And of course the best part of the current Braves draft is the fact that their first five picks have been signed.
The Macgyver Award Winners For Making Use of What They Had
Los Angeles Dodgers: I have mentioned before on this site that while Logan White still has contributed little-to-none at the Major League level, he still has to be considered one of the best five scouting directors in the game. This year was no exception, as White still managed to have one of the best NL drafts despite not choosing until pick 40. Part of his draft was because of good fortune, as consensus #2 pitcher, Luke Hochevar, fell due to bonus concerns. Hochevar should be considered one of the three best Los Angeles pitching prospects already, which is saying a lot considering the Dodgers' fantastic system. But what solidifies White as being good is that after being lucky, he came back with three great high school talents: Ivan DeJesus, Josh Wall and Josh Bell. I also like Sergio Pedroza, presumably one of DePo's boys, who should provide solid value after leaving Cal State Fullerton. White's drafting efforts might just be the best in the NL, and while his class isn't quite the caliber of some, that shouldn't prevent him from getting an interview for the next GM hole.
Pittsburgh Pirates: It isn't that the Pirates were plagued with a lack of picks, they just didn't get any advantages. This is an organization that hasn't smelled the playoffs since Sid Bream, but have still had to wait until pick 11 each of the last two years. And beyond that, they aren't losing enough good players to gain compensation either. Still, considering their position, I really like what the Pirates did, first by taking Floridian outfielder Andrew McCutchen. While their first pick was an all-tools player with high bust potential, it should be noted that the club's next twelve picks were of the college variety. Kudos to the Pirates for creating a very nice balance in their selections, and if McCutchen hits, also for creating one Hell of a class.
Future Members of the Show "Hit Me Baby One More Time"
New York Mets: To be honest, all I really see coming from this class is a future battery: Mike Pelfrey on the mound, and Drew Butera behind the plate. If that is true, Omar Minaya might not be too disappointed. That is simply how good of a talent Pelfrey is, a tall, projectable player with a developed arsenal. He certainly projects better than (gasp!) Jered Weaver, the top collegiate pitcher from 2004. Butera profiles to be his personal catcher, one of the back-up variety, as his bat even pales in comparison to Taylor Teagarden's. But the kid can catch-and-throw with the best of them, and the Mets teaming him up with Pelfrey early and often would be in their best interests. Certainly not a great draft by the Mets, but with Pelfrey and no second and third-round picks, it will be hard to frown upon it.
Washington Nationals: One of the most important things for this organization at this time, besides winning, is creating a face for themselves. Washington is such a perfect place for baseball, that I think they are just a superstar away from blending in. While winning will continue to sell itself this year, the club will no doubt find its dry spell at some point. Then what will the marketing department use? Cue Ryan Zimmerman, maybe the surest thing in this draft. Zimmerman, from nearby UVa, has potential that tops out at (ironically enough) Cal Ripken Jr. Great choice there. I also like what Washington did after Zimmerman, though they didn't pick again until the fourth, choosing only players from competitive areas or programs. As Zimmerman goes, so does this draft, but choosing a few well-tested Tar Heels, Terrapins and Dirtbags can't hurt either.
Milwaukee Brewers: Just like Mike Radcliff in Minnesota and Logan White in Los Angeles, good draft classes associated with Jake Zdurnieck were just an annual event. I'm not as confident as saying that this year, where there is simply not a lot of depth behind Ryan Braun. What is interesting is that I believe Milwaukee chose more, 19, Junior College players than any other organization. Surely if Billy Beane did this it would be associated with Moneyball, with the A's finding an underdeveloped area of the draft. With the Brewers we simply view it with skepticism, but with the new regime in place, I am not prepared to criticize. Braun looks to be Aubrey Huff 2.0 as a player, and looks to be the bat behind Fielder and Weeks. I should also mention that if the latter's brother signs, instead of going to Miami as expected, this draft could turn into a real positive.
Chicago Cubs: In the end, the question had to come down to Mark Pawelek vs. Luke Hochevar. If the question was a concern of dollars and cents, than the amicable Pawelek was surely their man. But in what universe are the Cubs that budget-conscious on draft day? And in what other ways does Pawelek have the upper hand on Hochevar. The latter blossomed like no other at Tennessee, setting records and giving Mike Pelfrey some competition for top NCAA pitcher. Maybe there is something I don't know here, but in the end drafting Pawelek ahead of Hochevar looks like it will end badly. Pawelek has two solid pitches from an area of the country with little-to-zero baseball competition. After Mark the team started to pick predominantly from the college ranks, taking very few high ceiling, high risk players. The draft was filled with pitchers, and skill position players, simply in the hopes that out of quanity comes quality. I'm not sure this is how to run a draft, but considering the Cubs past success, it's hard to quabble.
Cincinnati Reds: While many believe that Jay Bruce's stock rose enough to justify a top five selection before the draft, I just didn't see it. Talk of him being drafted before Cameron Maybin was ludicrous, in my opinion, and I was (and am) far higher on C.J. Henry. Maybe it is something that I'm not seeing, very likely of course, but Bruce's bust potential is probably the highest of the top 20 picks. But while the club may have been better off with Henry or Chris Volstad, it's very hard to argue with a player that so many believe in. So I'm not faulting the Reds too much for Bruce, but instead for a lack of depth. Their next five picks were pitchers, and of the group, Sam Lecure is really the only player I like. This system needs pitching so bad, and I'm just afraid pitchers from Gardner-Webb, Niagara and Loyola Maramount are not going to get it done.
Spurning the Scouts
Philadelphia Phillies: With Ed Wade active every winter trying to fix every Phillie hole, the club often ends up with a few less picks than many teams. A couple years ago they had to wait, and then selected Tim Moss -- an accomplished collegiate second baseman -- with their first pick. They went back to college again this year, in which they selected sabermetric fave Mike Costanzo from the Big South. It remains to be seen how Costanzo will hand playing the hot corner full-time, or how he hits better pitching, but all in all this was a good pick. I also like Matt Maloney in the third as a future swingman, and barring health problems, Jeremy Slayden could provide fantastic value in the eighth round. A valiant effort by the Phillies -- great drafting -- but this is a situation in which context prevented them from having a great class.
San Francisco Giants: Despite normally drafting very well, if unconventionally, the Giants are turning more and more against spending money on draftees. This year the club waited until pick 132 to draft athletic Ben Copeland, and then picked Daniel Griffin -- who racked up strikeouts at Niagara University -- with their first two selections. I'm not so sure this draft is ever going to yield much, but the Giants dug their own graves when they started signing free agents in November.
And finally we will end with the rankings. Please leave thoughts and comments below:
1. Arizona Diamondbacks
2. St. Louis Cardinals
3. Florida Marlins
4. San Diego Padres
5. Los Angeles Dodgers
6. Colorado Rockies
7. Houston Astros
8. Atlanta Braves
9. Washington Nationals
10. New York Mets
11. Pittsburgh Pirates
12. Milwaukee Brewers
13. Chicago Cubs
14. Philadelphia Phillies
15. Cincinnati Reds
16. San Francisco Giants
The Road to "Oh, My, Ha"
Four teams have made travel plans to visit Omaha next weekend. Tennessee, Florida, and Nebraska swept their respective Super Regionals on Friday and Saturday, while Arizona State went the distance to beat Cal State Fullerton, the defending champions, in a three-game set that ended Sunday evening. The other four series are still in doubt and will be decided today. You can follow these games live by visiting the line scores, play-by-play, and boxscores on NCAASports.com, the official web site for NCAA sports.
The right side of the College World Series brackets has been finalized. The Volunteers and Gators will face each other in the opening round, while the Cornhuskers will square off against the Sun Devils. The Nebraska players, in fact, may have already started their 50-mile trek from Lincoln to Omaha. Cornhusker coach Mike Anderson, however, might want to dry off first. In the meantime, Nebraska fans haven't seen this kind of tackling in years.
Notes and observations from around the Super Regionals:
The balk called against Arizona State pitcher Zechry Zinicola on Friday night in the ninth inning that Bryan mentioned in his "You Ain't Got No Alibi" article on Sunday was. . .oh. . .one of the worst decisions I've ever witnessed in a baseball game, especially considering the context.
Let me set the stage. ASU was beating Cal State Fullerton, 2-1, in the bottom of the ninth inning in the first game of the Super Regional. Brett Pill of the Titans led off the frame with a double down the left field line that glanced off ASU third baseman Travis Buck's glove. Danny Dorn reached first base on a bunt single, moving Pill to third. Zinicola, who replaced Brent Bordes at this point, plated the tying run on an errant pickoff attempt to first, scoring Pill and moving Dorn to third base.
Zinicola intentionally walked Ronnie Prettyman to put runners on the corners. He was in the process of intentionally walking Bobby Andrews to load the bases when, on the fourth pitch of the walk, third base umpire Jack Cox charged Zinicola with the balk to score Dorn and clinch the victory for the Titans.
Cox claimed Zinicola violated Rule 9-3j of the NCAA Baseball Rules Book which says the pitcher has to come to a "complete and discernable stop."
SECTION 3. A balk shall be called for the following action by a pitcher:
j. The pitcher delivers the pitch from the set position without coming to a complete and discernable stop, or the pitcher comes to more than one stop from the set position (see 9-1-b);
A.R. -- With the bases unoccupied, the pitcher does not need to come to a complete and discernable stop.
Crew chief and second base umpire Paul Guillie sounded as if he wanted nothing to do with the call. "The call was made on the 3-0 count. The third base umpire made the call." He may as well said, "I didn't make the call. Go talk to Jack."
"I'd like to see the players end the game," Arizona State Coach Pat Murphy said of the balk call by Cox. "He's got to live with it. That's not a sound baseball call and he knows it."
Even Cal State Fullerton Coach George Horton admitted he had never won a game that way. "It was a good baseball game," Horton said. "It's just unfortunate it had to end on an unusual play. It certainly would have been more fulfilling I think for our club if we had won on a base hit or a sacrifice fly or something."
I watched the game live and saw the replay of that incident many times. There is no doubt in my mind that Zinicola paused at the belt before delivering what would have been ball four to Andrews. The more germane point though is that Zinicola didn't gain any advantage if, in fact, he failed to come to a "complete and discernable stop." It was simply one of those "no harm, no foul" plays that 99.9999% of the time are "no calls."
My, I was disappointed in Oregon State pitcher Dallas Buck's body language Saturday night. Buck, who Bryan has labeled one of the "five best sophomore starters," got the call in the first game of the three-game series vs. USC as the ace of the Beavers pitching staff. However, he looked like a loser in the early innings, sending non-verbal signals that suggested a lack of confidence in himself and his teammates. Buck gave up four runs in the first three innings before settling down to pitch scoreless ball into the eighth. He walked six and hit three batters, leaving me unimpressed enough that I would want to see more before catapulting him into the ranks with Ian Kennedy, the USC sophomore sensation.
Michael Rivera's three-run homer highlighted a six-run third inning and starter James Adkins pitched into the eighth as Tennessee beat Georgia Tech, 13-3, to earn its fourth trip to the College World Series. The freshman left-hander struck out 11 and walked only one batter. Luke Hochevar's holdout gets delayed another week.
Brian Leclerc's two-run dinger capped a four-run first inning and Florida never looked back in beating Florida State, 8-5, Saturday night. The Gators improved to 5-0 in the tournament and, as the only unbeaten team thus far, appear to be one of the favorites to capture the CWS title next weekend.
Hank Blalock Alex Gordon, Nebraska's All-American third baseman, hit his 19th home run of the year in the first inning Saturday night to give his team a 2-0 lead that was never relinquished. Gordon, one of the four finalists for the Dick Howser Trophy awarded to the top player in collegiate baseball, is such a special talent that he made what was otherwise a poor draft on the part of the Royals respectable. The two-time Big 12 Player of the Year was pitched around and walked in each of his next two plate appearances before getting ejected by the third base umpire in the bottom of the sixth inning.
Let me tell you, these third base umps had one heckuva weekend during the Super Regionals. When I umpired, we always thought working third was like being given a night off. Ha!
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Update (4:00 p.m. EST):
Baylor beat Clemson, 6-1. Kris Harvey homered for the Bears while Cory VanAllen and Ryan LaMotta combined on a nine-hitter.
Tulane outscored Rice, 9-6. The Green Wave scored seven runs in the eighth and ninth innings to support J.R. Crowel and Daniel Latham who combined to stop the Owls.
"You Ain't Got No Alibi"...
Kudos to ESPN for increased coverage this year of college baseball's super regionals. While the event is still the runt of the three major sports, it's nice to see the Worldwide Leader in sports recognize the following is enough for more airtime.
Unfortunately, the product is not exactly selling itself.
There was no better example of this than the opening game of the USC-Oregon State game on Saturday night. The contest was much talked about as it brought together two of the five best sophomore starters, Ian Kennedy (USC) and Dallas Buck (Or. St.). The story of the game hardly turned out to be strikeouts, but instead that of fielding errors. USC dug itself quite a hole in a losing battle, committing eight errors which allowed the Beavers to score ten times on just seven hits.
The ugliness began early, as the Trojans opened the game with two consecutive errors and a hit by pitch, though Kennedy escaped out of the inning with just one unearned run allowed. The game made another ugly turn in the fourth with a sequence of events that yielded this play-by-play data: E6, BB, GIDP, BB, E4, E6, FC. In the sixth it was another error from the shortstop and a wild pitch that led to two runs. And finally the ugly night was capped off in the bottom of the eighth, when USC opened the door for five runs by committing another throwing error and a misplayed ball in left field.
It was certainly no surprise to see Oregon State, ranked first in the nation by Boyd Nation, defeat USC on its home turf Saturday night. It was simply the "how" and not the "what" that left viewers dumbstruck.
While the degree of ugliness we saw in Game One was unparalleled, the theme of the weekend has simply been that games are being given away. It was seen in the Fullerton regional, in which the defending champs came back to defeat Arizona State with two runs in the ninth. This was spawned by Sun Devil sophomore Zechry Zinicola, named last year on the Freshman All-America team. Zinicola did not look so impressive on Friday when a throwing error on a pickoff attempt and subsequent balk cost Arizona State the game. And while the club came back to win Game Two, should they lose on Sunday, it will have cost them the series.
Our theme was evident at Georgia Tech, in which the first game was nearly totally decided by bad plays. In the first inning the Volunteers struck first, with star Eli Iorg scoring on a wild pitch. But the Yellow Jackets battled back, getting to Luke Hochevar with two outs in both the fourth and sixth. First it was Jeremy Slayden who scored on a passed ball, after reaching base on an error. And then in the sixth it was a balk again, allowing Georgia Tech to take the lead. Tennessee salvaged the contest in the ninth with a walk-off home run, and ended the series Saturday with a 13-3 bashing.
It was four home runs and a complete game that allowed the University of Florida to take the first game of their Super Regional against Florida State on Friday. But without bad play by the Seminoles on Saturday, Gainesville residents might not be making their plans to Omaha this morning. Sophomore Brian Leclerc hit his second home run of the series to take the lead 4-1 in the first inning, but the Seminoles inched back with runs in the third and fourth. But in the bottom half of the inning the Gators received an insurance run when Stephen Barton both reached base and scored on separate errors. Florida did not look back, scoring three in the sixth to solidify a series win.
Misplays also had a large part of Nebraska and Clemson winning their opening game contests over Miami and Baylor, respectively. After falling behind 1-0 in the fourth, Huskers' SS Joe Simokaitis tied the game scoring on a fielding error. Nebraska went on to win the game, and hit three home runs Saturday to advance to next weekend. Clemson hopes they will be so lucky tomorrow, after upsetting the Bears in Waco thanks in part to Baylor. In the third it was two consecutive wild pitches that allowed Clemson to tie the game, and a fielding error in the eighth netted an insurance run.
In conclusion, I apologize to ESPN for the lackluster defense that has been seen so far this weekend. I can only offer a promise, that despite this play, the drama will be what keeps me glued to my television today and tomorrow.
All Series, Updated 4:37 p.m. ET
#1 Tulane tied 1-1 with Rice
#8 Oregon State up 1-0 over USC
#4 Baylor down 0-1 against Clemson
#5 Mississippi up 1-0 over Texas
#6 Cal State Fullerton tied 1-1 with Arizona State
#3 Nebraska defeats Miami, 2-0
#7 Florida defeats Florida State, 2-0
#2 Georgia Tech loses to Tennessee, 0-2
Weekend Heroes (Updated Sunday, 4:36 p.m. ET)
- Tennessee pitchers Luke Hochevar and James Adkins: a combined 22 strikeouts in 14.2 IP.
- Arizona State sluggers Jeff Larish and Travis Buck: the latter goes 2/4 with a HR in game one, Larish does the same in the second game.
- Florida outfielder Brian Leclerc: 3/9 with two HR, 4 RBI, and ten total bases in two games.
- Nebraska sophomore Joba Chamberlain, with the weekend's best pitching performance: seven hits and one run in eight innings, with thirteen strikeouts and no walks.
- Nebraska SS, and Cubs draftee, Joe Simokaitis: 4/7 with 3 R, 2 RBI, one HR and one SB for the weekend.
- Mississippi two-way star Stephen Head: reached base 4 times and recorded save in opening game.
- Tulane two-way star Micah Owings: saved the Green Wave from elimination with a complete game shutout on Sunday.
Sunday Update #1: There were two series I did not write about extensively above, one because they didn't apply to our ulginess theme, the other because there was simply nothing to detail. The latter was the Texas-Mississippi regional, in which Game One was postponed after rain yesterday. Texas was up 2-0 when the game was left until Sunday, and were up 4-2 when closer Brent Cox entered the game.
Cox, the Yankees second round choice and the 'National Stopper of the Year', proved to not be able to hide from the error bug that has been biting. En route to a four-run inning, Cox threw a bunt attempt into right field that started the inning in which Mississippi took the game for good. With the Yankees struggling to get back to .500 and Cashman's sure-thing draftee falling apart, one can't imagine Steinbrenner sleeping soundly tonight.
The other ghost series of my weekend coverage has been the #1 seed Green Wave, who faced elimination at the hands of Rice. Tulane showed quite a bit of resilience, winning 7-0 in a game that was within one-run through eight innings. Micah Owings proved to be the hero of the game with a complete game shutout in which no Owl hitter reached second base. Somewhere, Mike Rizzo is smiling.
Gibson Was Great in '68
Bob Gibson was a very good pitcher for several years through the 1967 season, and a very good pitcher for several more years starting in 1969. But in 1968, particularly during a two-month stretch in mid-season, Gibson was arguably the greatest pitcher of all time.
His period of dominance actually began after he suffered a broken leg on July 15, 1967. Returning to action on September 7, Gibson went 3-1 with a 0.96 ERA the rest of the regular season, then led the Cardinals to the world championship with a 3-0, 1.00 World Series performance. Picking up right where he left off, Gibby was 4-0, 1.64 in spring training of the next year.
Then followed his epic 1968 season: a 1.12 ERA, the lowest ever for anyone pitching as many as 300 innings. In fact, he flirted with a sub-one ERA, entering August with a 0.96 mark, and still standing at 0.99 after Labor Day.
One of the reasons Gibson's season doesn't receive the recognition it deserves is his relatively modest 22-9 won-lost record. How does someone lose nine games with a 1.12 ERA? It was mostly a case of poor offensive and defensive support:April 20: 5-1 vs. Chicago (CG, 3 ER). Hall of Famer Fergie Jenkins three-hit the Cardinals, not allowing a run until two were out in the ninth inning.
May 12: 3-2 vs. Houston (8 IP, 2 ER).
May 17: 1-0 vs. Philadelphia (CG, 1 ER). The game's only run scored with two out in the tenth inning.
May 22: 2-0 vs. Los Angeles (8 IP, 1 H, 1 ER). Hall of Famer Don Drysdale pitched his third of a record six straight shutouts.
May 28: 3-1 vs. San Francisco (CG, 3 ER).
August 24: 6-4 vs. Pittsburgh (CG, 3 ER). Unearned runs ended his 15-game winning streak.
September 6: 3-2 vs. San Francisco (8 IP, 2 ER).
September 17: 1-0 vs. San Francisco (CG, 1 ER). Ron Hunt hit one of his two homers of the year, and Hall of Famer Gaylord Perry no-hit the Cards.
September 22: 3-2 vs. Los Angeles (CG, 2 ER).
In those games, Gibson went 0-9 despite a 2.14 ERA. Had the Cardinals scored but four runs in each of Gibson's 34 starts, he would have gone 30-2. Yes, 1968 was a historically low-scoring season, with only 3.43 runs per team per game in the NL. OK, if the Cards had scored 3.43 runs in each game Gibson pitched, he STILL would have gone 30-4. If they had scored merely three runs in each game, Gibby would have been 24-4. Even if St. Louis had scored only two runs in each game, he would have gone 23-10. And -- ready for this? -- if they had scored just ONE RUN in each game he pitched, Gibson would still have had a winning record, at 13-10.
There is also the perception that EVERY hurler dominated in The Year of the Pitcher. But Gibson's ERA was 63% better than the rest of the National League's 3.03 mark, and 44% better than that of the runner-up in the ERA race.
Gibson pitched 13 shutouts in '68, and easily could have challenged Grover Alexander's record of 16. Besides the May 17 heartbreaker, Gibson twice pitched a complete game victory in which the only run he allowed was unearned. In all, he had 11 games in which he allowed just one run, several of them flukish. Five times during the season, he had a streak of 20+ scoreless innings. Remarkably, Gibson had a 1.83 ERA (but only a 9-9 record) in games he did NOT pitch a shutout.
From June 2 through July 30, 1968, Bob Gibson put on the greatest two-month display of pitching in baseball history. In a stretch of 99 innings, he gave up just TWO RUNS. One scored on a wild pitch ("a catchable ball," according to opposing first baseman Wes Parker), and the other on a bloop double which was fair by inches. Those were the only things standing between Gibby and ten straight shutouts.
It started with a complete-game, 6-3 victory on June 2, in which Gibson whitewashed the Mets in the last two frames. He then ran off five shutouts in a row, beating the Astros (June 6), Braves (June 11), Reds (June 15), Cubs (June 20), and Pirates (June 26). Over the 45 innings, he surrendered just 21 hits and five walks. He was threatening the records of six straight shutouts and 58 consecutive scoreless innings set by the Dodgers' Don Drysdale just a month earlier. And his next start would be on July 1 –- against Drysdale!
The drama ended early, when a low fastball eluded back-up catcher Johnny Edwards in the first inning, allowing a Dodger run to score. Undaunted, Gibby blanked L.A. the rest of the way to win, 5-1, then shut out the Giants five days later. On July 12, Gibson gave up just three hits in a win over Houston, but one was Denis Menke's seventh-inning blooper that landed just inside the left field foul line and plated a run.
On July 17, the Giants paid Gibson the supreme compliment, scratching scheduled starter Juan Marichal so as not to waste their ace against an invincible opponent. It paid off: Gibson had a 6-0 lead after four innings, but the game was rained out, just short of official status, and Marichal won the next day.
Gibby followed with shutouts over the Mets (July 21) and Phillies (July 25) before allowing a fourth-inning run against New York on July 30. He won that game and added three more victories in August to complete a 15-game winning streak, including ten shutouts and a 0.68 ERA.
Gibson was never knocked out of the box during the season, completing 28 of 34 starts and being pinch-hit for late in the other six, as he averaged 8.96 innings per start. Gibson's worst ERA in any month was 1.97 in April. His worst against any team was 2.11 vs. Los Angeles. Help from his home park, Busch Stadium? Gibson's road ERA that year was 0.79.
Gibson continued his dominance into Game Seven of the 1968 World Series against Detroit. In his first 24-2/3 innings of the Fall Classic, he struck out 34 batters, and allowed just 11 hits, three walks, and one run for a 0.36 ERA. Suddenly, he ran out of magic, coughing up four runs on seven hits in the last 2-1/3 innings of the finale. Fittingly, the Cardinals didn't score until there were two out in the ninth inning, and lost, 4-1.
And so ended a pitching season for the ages.
Bill Deane has authored hundreds of baseball articles and six books, including Award Voting, winner of the 1989 SABR-Macmillan Award. He served as Senior Research Associate for the National Baseball Library & Archive from 1986-94. He has since done consulting work for Topps Baseball Cards, Curtis Management Group, STATS, Inc., and Macmillan Publishing, and also served as Managing Editor of the most recent Total Baseball.
[Additional reader comments and retorts at Baseball Primer.]
Drafting Team Rankings (Part 1)
Two days, over 1500 picks, and we're still alive and breathing. We hope that you enjoyed our coverage in the last 48 hours, as we attempted to bring you all the stories from the first round and beyond. The draft will still be on our thoughts going forward, as the sidebar will soon offer updates on which players have signed, and we'll be posting various updates on draftees and negotiations as the year goes on.
With all the speculation behind us, now is as good a time as ever to take our first look at not the stories behind the players, but the teams in which they are now a part of. With exactly zero professional at-bats in all 1,501 combined, trying to guess who succeeded and failed might just be a fool's game. But that has never stopped me before, and this is hardly an exception.
Today we'll review the AL organizations, while touching on their National League counterparts next week. I have attempted to put each team into various categories and have thrown in a surprise at the end. Enjoy...
The "We Lost Orlando Cabrera, Derek Lowe and Pedro Martinez, and All We Got Were These Stupid Draft Picks" Organization(s)
Boston Red Sox: Before the draft even started, anyone could have told you that Theo Epstein would walk away with a successful draft. That is just what happens when you combine a large budget, a well-rounded philosophy, and six of the first 47 picks. The club began the draft with collegiate players, choosing Jacoby Ellsbury and Craig Hansen, both should move through the system quickly. After those two came a junior college pitcher with a bit of polish and a lot of upside in Clay Buchholz. Next, Stanford second baseman Jed Lowrie will soon put pressure to Dustin Pedroia as Mark Bellhorn's successor. Their top six picks were rounded out by a pair of high school players; first Mike Bowden, whose frame has been likened to Roger Clemens, and catcher Jon Egan, putting a ceiling in a position the organization lacks depth at. Overall a very good draft, but a product of the number of selections more than anything else.
The Organizations that Fell Asleep by Pick 110
Cleveland Indians: Like the Red Sox, Mark Shapiro and John Mirabelli head an Indian front office that has one of the most balanced philosophies in the game. This was on display in their first three picks this year, in which two college players sandwiched a high school athlete. Trevor Crowe was, as expected, the first choice after an exceptional career at Arizona. Next came John Drennen, the smallish outfielder from California with lots of pop. Finally, project Stephen Head will begin his career in the batter's box, shifting his powerful bat between first base and left field. But after these three picks, the Indians have very few other noteworthy selections...or at least ones that will be signed. The other big names -- Tim Lincecum, Cody Satterwhite, Tim Dennehy -- will all likely go unsigned and play at Washington, Mississippi and Texas, respectively.
Oakland Athletics: Maybe Billy Beane will prove me wrong. Maybe all the high school pitchers he drafted will make him a genius. Maybe Jason Ray will be the next great Oakland relief prospect. Maybe Justin Smoak will sign after waiting until the 16th round to hear his name. But in all likelihood this will not be true, and the A's draft will be defined by the successes of Cliff Pennington, Travis Buck, and maybe, Thomas Italiano. One thing that can be said about the draft is that it was daring, and given the A's exceptional track record with pitching prospects, it might just be a calculated gamble that comes out a winner.
Texas Rangers: Amazingly, the first team to fool Jim Callis in the draft were the Rangers, who raised some eyebrows after making John Mayberry Jr. their first choice. Mayberry's numbers were down this year, but there is no denying that Jr. offers a ceiling that few other college players can top. Personally I don't think he is anything that Adrian Gonzalez isn't, but time will tell. Luckily for Texas, backstop Taylor Teagarden fell to the third round after concerns about his bat apparently grew. At worst Teagarden looks to be a back-up catcher with good throwing skills, and at best, he'll be catching in Arlington full-time by 2008 or 2009. Unfortunately for the Rangers, the best this draft class will likely do is yield few players besides the two listed above.
Monsters of the Middle (Rounds)
Detroit Tigers: When the dust clears from the draft and we can look at it for the first time legitimately -- in the offseason -- it is likely David Chadd will have made the best debut. Mind you that Chadd's name is not bolded - he is not a player, but the man behind the Tigers' picks this season. After watching Cameron Maybin slide down the top ten into his arms, I was continously impressed by the names Chadd was drafting. We have already written about Kevin Whelan and Jeff Larish, who are sandwiched by Big Ten stand-out Chris Robinson and Auburn outfielder Clete Thomas. The team also gambled on Warner Jones later in the day, giving the club six players that I had deemed top-five round talents...all without a second round pick.
New York Yankees: We usually don't associate the New York Yankees with good drafts, but this year is the exception. One player that I didn't write about the past two days that I was very impressed with in my research was C.J. Henry. The Yankees first pick was the athlete of the first round, and one that will begin his career at shortstop with the power and speed tools already in the bag. If handled correctly, Henry has the potential to be the best player of the draft, period. But after that the team went safer, choosing college players (mostly pitchers) from rounds 2-7. Brent Cox should move quickly through the system, and Zack Kroenke will bring quite a bit of polish to Tampa. The team then gambled in the eighth round with Austin Jackson, who would be the equivalent of a first round selection if the Yanks can pry him from playing basketball at Georgia Tech.
Minnesota Twins: The organizational opposite of the Yankees, one thing we can always expect from Mike Radcliffe and the Twins is a solid, well-scouted draft. This year came as no exception, as Minnesota was very solid through the first five rounds. Matt Garza was a bit of a surprise at a first, another pitcher following a year (2004) in which all they drafted was pitchers. Garza has college polish to go with very good raw stuff, and if harnessed, could meet Glen Perkins in a hurry. They also got a player in the late third round in Ryan Mullins that has potential that tops that of Perkins, with one of the better curveballs of the draft. Also in the middle rounds were high school phenoms (Henry Sanchez, Paul Kelly, Drew Thompson) and more solid college arms (Kevin Slowey and Brian Duensing).
One and (Hopefully Not But Probably) Done
Kansas City Royals: Well, it can definitely be said that unlike some years, this time KC made their first round pick count. Daniel Glass held nothing back from his pocketbook with the Royals highest selection ever, allowing them to draft the consensus #2 player, Alex Gordon. There is no question that Gordon was the best college player available, and his bat should help him fly through the Kansas City farm system. In case you missed it, Rich has already thrown the Hank Blalock comparisons out there. The problem with the Royals draft was not at the top, but after Gordon, they really fell apart. I don't really see a potential solid player after Gordon, just five catchers and three shortstops in the top twenty picks that were drafted because of organizational black holes more than anything else. Still, having Gordon turn into the next Blalock might make it all just worth it.
Toronto Blue Jays: Let me begin by saying that the Jays almost did not make this section, and instead Monsters of the Middle, but I went with instincts with their inclusion. We all know that Ricky Romero was a fantastic pick. A lefty that throws a good, hard fastball in addition to a mean slider and curveball that gives hitters multiple looks throughout the game. Romero is smart, tough and talented, and could be in the Skydome by 2007. My other favorite picks are Robert Ray and Paul Phillips, though the club is definitely hoping Brian Pettway adds to the lack of sluggers in the Jays farm system.
Seattle Mariners: This is where Jim Callis was not confused, but pretty much everyone else that follows the draft was. Before Tuesday it had appeared for weeks that Troy Tulowitzki was the Mariners man, even despite the fact that he plays the position in which Seattle is strongest at. But instead Bill Bavasi pulled a fast one and went with a catcher showing power that the organization has never seen...and mind you, they drafted Jason Varitek. Jeff Clement should be a good one, and allow the team to not be starting any fortysomethings behind the plate late in the decade. The rest of the diamond was not helped very much by the draft, where the next best choice (in my mind) came from the 12th round, in Craig Hansen's teammate, Anthony Varvaro. He and John Holdzkom should add a little pitching firepower to the mix, but still leave a little to be desired in the hearts of Mariner fans.
Chicago White Sox: Well, I guess the Sox wouldn't make this list if we gave credit for the unsignable players drafted, too. Jordan Danks would give this draft class a big push forward if the Sox gave him enough money to spurn Texas, a move that is not expected to happen. Instead the White Sox will likely close negotiations with Lance Broadway soon, and add another good prospect with a plus curve and average fastball to the fray (say hi, Brandon). Chris Getz, from Michigan, could be effective, but only in the way in which smallish second baseman can be.
The First Signs of Head Scratching
Los Angeles Angels: Well, don't let me be too harsh on the Angels, they actually did a pretty nice job. They did very good in the middle rounds too, although I was not too impressed with Trevor Bell or Ryan Mount, their first two selections. Instead it was the next two -- P.J. Phillips and Sean O'Sullivan -- that really gives this draft some life. Phillips is the younger brother of Brandon with a similar skillset, and will be babied in the minors with the list of good middle infielders ahead of him. O'Sullivan is in the mold of draftee Mark Trumbo from 2004, a good two-way player from high school that Eddie Bane elected to take a chance on. O'Sullivan is better, though, and if his velocity returns to pre-spring levels, a first round talent from the mound.
ANGELS UPDATE: After doing further research on the draft today, I have decided I was too harsh on the Angels in my article this morning. In fact, so much so that I would now be willing to call Eddie Bane's draft class one of the top seven (if not 5) classes in the American League. Bane was extremely high school heavy in his selections, but it paid off, as the team ended up with an astounding 11 players that made Future Game USA's top 100 HS list.
First selection Trevor Bell will surely be the Angels top priority, as the two-way star ranked 12th on Future Game's list. Beyond that the club has many decisions to ponder in deciding which players to pursue, and which to allow to honor their college commitments. Here is a list of the ten other plans on the top 100, and their possible 2006 college:
O'Sullivan SD St.
Matusz San Diego
My guess is that the team goes hard after O'Sullivan, and also lands Phillips and Matusz. The bottom five on that list are almost guaranteed to go to college unless the club feels like setting some round bonus records again this year. The question marks will be Ryan Mount, their second round choice that has the 2004 CWS champs as leverage, and Mendoza, who could be headed to Miami. No matter what the Angels will walk away with one of the most impressive high school hauls in the draft, accelerating Bane's stock as a future GM.
Baltimore Orioles: While congratulations will likely be hurled around the office after David Chadd's debut in Detroit, I have to wonder if the same will be done with Joe Jordan in Baltimore. The first-time scouting director began his tenure off with a risky start, going with a high school riser early. I will admit that of everyone drafted in the first round, Brandon Snyder is the person I know the least about, and one I have a hard time believing is a better prospect than C.J. Henry or Chris Volstad. Still, even if he pans out, only Garrett Olsen from Cal Poly might make a huge difference after Snyder. Luckily for Jordan, expectations of good drafts and fruitful farm systems don't come with this job, but instead a guaranteed job until Peter Angelos gets angry and starts to blame people.
Tampa Bay Devil Rays: If someone asked you before the draft if you'd spend seven figures on a player that was once the third starter on his college team, what would you say? What if you also learned the player hadn't pitched competitively in a year? Plain and simple, if the Devil Rays were looking for polished arms there were better options, as even Lance Broadway, Cesar Carillo and Brian Bogusevic would have made more sense, in my mind. I think their second round pick, Chris Mason, has decent potential, and everything changes if they sign Jeremy Hellickson. But expect Iowa's best prep prospect to attend LSU in the fall, pitch three very good seasons there, and go in the first round in 2008.
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I agree with many that it is too early to be seriously critiquing draft classes, so please add a grain of salt to my comments. And my rankings, for that matter, as I have simply done a quick-and-dirty estimate of how the fourteen AL teams ranked in their efforts Tuesday and Wednesday:
1. Boston Red Sox
2. Detroit Tigers
3. Cleveland Indians
4. New York Yankees
5. Minnesota Twins
6. Oakland Athletics
7. Kansas City Royals
8. Toronto Blue Jays
9. Texas Rangers
10. Seattle Mariners
11. Los Angeles Angels
12. Chicago White Sox
13. Baltimore Orioles
14. Tampa Bay Devil Rays
What are your thoughts? Am I giving the Tigers too much credit, or the Orioles not enough? Is Oakland's newfound strategy smart, and should Toronto consider a similar move? Please leave any draft recap thoughts in our comments.
MLB Draft: The Morning After
Everybody always wants to know who had the best draft. Well, this year, it's a no brainer. Jim Callis of Baseball America, in his Final First-Round Projection (which he released prior to the draft yesterday), called the first 18 selections in the draft in the exact order that they were taken. Yes, he got the first, second, third, etc. all correct. Each and every one of 'em, from Justin Upton at #1 to Cesar Carrillo at #18. Nobody else was even close. Congratulations, Jim. That was awesome. I promise to pay more attention to what you have to say about Jered Weaver in the future. Cross my heart.
Our goal on Day Two is to provide a general overview of Day One and recap the stories that occurred beyond pick number 48 or what is also referred to as the end of the supplemental round. We will also have updates on today's activities to the extent warranted although it is not our intention to stay abreast of every selection. If you have any particular interest in sleepers, those who surprisingly fell, or perhaps unknowns, please do not hesitate to ask questions or make remarks in the comments section below.
With the foregoing in mind, let's analyze the results of Day One. Of interest to those who complain about the west coast teams not getting their due in the NCAA pairings, the University of Arizona and Long Beach State had more players selected on the first day of the draft than any other school in the country. Baylor and Auburn both had seven players drafted in the first 18 rounds.
Arizona saw juniors Trevor Crowe (1st round), Nick Hundley (2nd), Jordan Brown (4th), John Meloan (5th), Kevin Guyette (10th), Chris Frey (11th), and Brad Boyer (14th) plus senior Jeff Van Houten (13th) all get the call on Tuesday. Crowe, a Golden Spikes Award finalist, was the 14th overall pick. No Wildcat had been drafted that high since Eddie Leon went ninth overall to the Minnesota Twins in 1965.
Long Beach had two juniors taken in the first round. Troy Tulowitzki (7th pick overall) and Cesar Ramos (35th overall, 5th in the supplemental round) went early, followed by Marco Estrada, Steven Hammond, and Neil Jamison (6th round), Cody Evans (10th round), Chris Jones (11th round), and Brian Anderson (14th round).
Of the 560 players chosen, 392 were from college, 165 were from high school, and three didn't attend any school according to MLB.com. (We're unsure if their parents know this fact so the names of these players are being withheld to protect the truant.) The trend toward taking older, more advanced players was maintained as 70% of the players selected were from the college ranks. Only 29% of those chosen were from high school vs. 46% in 1995. The percentage of high school draftees, in fact, was the lowest since 1985 (25%).
Not surprisingly, Billy Beane's first two choices were college players. However, he then spent Oakland's next three picks on high school players--and pitchers at that! The lesson of Moneyball, if there was any at all, wasn't that on-base percentage was the be all and end all to player evaluation. Instead, it was about value. It just so happens that OBP was undervalued as recently as a few years ago but is now fairly valued in the marketplace. Beane, being a contrarian investor, is focusing on high school pitchers just about the time when most of the other teams are shying away from them.
Our advice, generally speaking, would be to take the best player available, irrespective of schooling. However, for our money, we would argue that there is something to be said about balancing your portfolio, if you will, with both college and high school players. We are also proponents of not putting all of your eggs in one basket and would be inclined to take a mixture of hitters and pitchers.
In the meantime, Arizona's selection of Justin Upton marked the third straight year and sixth time in the last seven that the number-one pick had been a high school player. Justin and B.J. Upton are now the highest-drafted siblings in history, nudging Dmitri and Delmon Young, the fourth (1991) and first (2003) picks, respectively, out of their previous fame.
Also of note, this year's draft marked the first time in history that no pitcher was taken among the top five. Cesar Romero of Cal State Fullerton (6th, Toronto Blue Jays) was the first hurler chosen. Twenty-six of the next 45 selections were pitchers. In all, 17 of the first 27 pitchers came from the NCAA and juco ranks and 10 from high school. The Florida Marlins took the first HS arm (Chris Volstad) at #16.
MLB.com reports that Division II Central Missouri had five pitchers chosen in the first 10 rounds and Flower Mound High in Texas had consecutive players picked in the second round. Right-handed pitcher Thomas Italiano, thought by some to be the hardest-throwing high schooler, went to the A's with the 53rd pick, while the Twins chose shortstop Paul Kelly at 54.
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-- Posted by Rich Lederer
SCOUTING STRAIGHT FROM THE SOURCE: Yesterday in reviewing Cliff Pennington's resume from Texas A&M, I mentioned the help I received from Ryan Levy's website. Levy, the blogger and expert on the Aggies, offered Baseball Analysts some insight on the next A&M choice, Kevin Whelan, who went in the third round to the Tigers. For those uninterested, I have heard some claim that Whelan will become a better reliever than Brent Cox, the Yankees second round pick. Here is Levy's take on Whelan:
Kevin Whelan, as with a lot of guys, has a somewhat interesting story. Kevin came to A&M as a catcher and played there his freshman season (along with a little bit of OF) and it wasn't until the summer of 2003 when he was up in the Jayhawk league that he took the hill in a game and was allegedly clocked in the upper-90s, at which point our coaching staff asked him to stay off the bump until he got back home so they could monitor him and watch his mechanics. He threw in 10 games in 2004 with mixed results: a 4.15 ERA but an 11.42 K/9 in 8.2 innings. In the summer of '04 Kevin went off to the Cape Cod where he completely dominated the league with a 0.42 ERA, 31 strikeouts and only 6 walks in 21.2 innings enroute to leading the league in saves with 11 and being named the leagues "Outstanding Relief Pitcher".
His 2005 season at A&M came with some mixed results again. He struggled during the first month of the season but was very solid the rest of the way with the exception of a complete meltdown against Baylor in mid-May.
Kevin throws gas (tops out in mid-90s and is a consistant 91-93) and a pretty good splitter. I think that he is still somewhat of a work in progress when you consider he has only pitched 39.2 innings of NCAA ball plus 21.2 innings of Cape Cod ball. At times he looked like a guy who was a little inexperienced but he certainly has what the scouts would consider "good stuff". He finished his 2 years at A&M with a K/9 of 11.57. Interestingly enough, Kevin's groundout to flyout ratio is quite low at 0.68 (19/28) for a guy who features a splitter.
Great stuff from Ryan, who also kept game-by-game logs for all the A&M staff, as well as AB-by-AB logs for Whelan and the other Aggie draftee, Robert Ray. So be sure to go check that out.
Posted by Bryan at 9:59 p.m. ET
BETTER AGGIE PENNS A DEAL: Just one day after being selected 21st overall in the MLB Draft, Cliff Pennington has signed a professional contract with the Oakland Athletics. The contract -- which calls for a $1.45M bonus -- comes as no surprise to many people that foresaw two like-minded parties. On one side it was the A's, a team known to draft with their budget in my mind, always doing their homework to make sure the player they picked is "signable." Opposite Billy Beane was Cliff Pennington, the hard-nosed, blue collar shortstop from Texas A&M that has always been known to leave everything on the field. "I'm ready to get out there and start working my way up," the Aggie told Mychael Urban of mlb.com shortly after being drafted. The expectation, based on past Oakland philosophy, is that Pennington will begin shortly in the Northwest League, and likely end the year in the California League. Yesterday I wrote extensively about Cliff's merits as a player, which in review, profile to be similar to current Blue Jays shortstop Russ Adams.
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Posted by Bryan at 6:24 p.m. ET
NICK HUNDLEY DRAFTED 76TH OVERALL TO SAN DIEGO: The second collegiate catcher taken in the draft, from the University of Arizona. Hundley's scouting report is somewhat reminiscent of another 2005 draftee: big power, average to above average contact, and questionable skills behind the plate. Ring a bell?
If not, it should sound awful familiar to the report that Dave Cameron gave on U.S.S. Mariner about the third overall choice, Jeff Clement from USC. Here are the pair's numbers from their junior seasons:
Name AVE ISO W K AB
NH 0.352 0.318 42 43 227
JC 0.347 0.259 44 41 216
While Hundley's numbers look better on the surface, they should mean nothing without a bit of context. According to Boyd Nation, the man to talk to on such issues, USC had the hardest schedule in the NCAA this year, while Arizona's ranked 24th. Furthermore, from 2001-2004, Arizona's home field had a park factor of 133, compared to the 105 that USC boasts. The Wildcat's raw numbers are a shade better, sure, but adjusted we see why Clement was drafted 73 spots earlier.
The knock on both players is a defensive one, as Clement's ability to stick behind the plate has always been questioned. It appears that Clement has improved enough to calm those concerns, and in the process may have passed Hundley. Both players (unofficially) had 65 attempted baserunners this past year; Clement threw out 29 of them, Hundley just 26.
In conclusion, this is a great pick by the Padres, but Hundley's potential should not be blown out of proportion. His defensive skills will always be in question, so he'll need to retain the offensive prowess he had this season to rise in a system that already boasts sabermetric favorite, George Kottaras.
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-- Posted by Bryan Smith
: Jeff Larish
went into the 2004 season as one of the game's top prospects after a 2003 in which he hit .372/.528/.697. If the sport had been basketball Larish would have declared for the draft, earned his seven figure bonus, and moved onto the minors. Not so fast my friend.
Instead, Larish hit *just* .308/.396/.468 in '04, and did not get John Mayberry Jr. pity with a first round selection. He actually dropped to the 13th round, picked by the Dodgers, who attempted to get value for their low selection by offering the Sun Devil $650,000 to leave college. Jeff elected to return to ASU for his final season, gambling that his numbers would head north. They did, as Larish hit a very solid .320/.452/.653 as a senior.
While this was enough to move Jeff's stock to the fourth round, where he was selected by the Tigers, Larish is not likely to get offered the money he turned down. Suddenly Larish has lost all the leverage that he had a year ago, handing it over to the front offices. Expect the Tigers to low ball Larish, for him to sign, and for the Tigers to land a second round-caliber talent.
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Posted by Bryan Smith at 10:20 a.m. ET
SABERMETRICS IN THE SIXTIES: Somewhere between the power conferences and the nation's second best college pitcher, not a lot was written before the draft about two sabermetric picks -- Mike Costanzo and Chase Headly -- that ended up getting drafted 65th (PHI) and 66th (SD), respectively.
Costanzo, of the quiet Big South conference, was first chronicled in a detailed fashion by Craig Burley, who put him on the Hardball Times Preseason All-America team at first base:
The 2004 MVP of the Big South conference, Costanzo finished at #8 in last year's THT Hitters Rankings after hitting .359/.459/.740 for the Chanticleers. One of the leading power hitters in the nation, Costanzo didn't just fill up on creampuffs; Coastal Carolina play a pretty tough schedule in a pretty tough park, but Costanzo's 21 homers put him in the top five in the NCAA. Costanzo is also a third baseman and a prominent pitcher for Coastal Carolina, going 7-4 and striking out 57 in 66.2 innings. He continued to show power in the Cape Cod League, finishing fourth in the league in home runs and turning it up in the playoffs. Costanzo's nearest competition for the nomination was Stanford's John Mayberry, Jr., who is a well-regarded prospect but has not outperformed Costanzo to date.
Costanzo did not let down this season, either, hitting .379/.525/.658 in his final campaign. I'm not quite sure where Costanzo fits into a system that may be forced to trade Ryan Howard soon, but they must have chosen the player they felt was highest on the board. In my mind, that player should have been Headly.
Whether the presence of Luke Hochevar gave Chase Headly notice or shielded him from the spotlight will never be known, but the third baseman surely rose up draft charts considerably this season. After transferring to Tennessee this year, Chase hit .387/.534/.694, and went on to gain notice from Boyd Nation in his College Hitters to Watch column at Baseball Prospectus:
Headley, on the other hand, walks a lot. Defense is somewhat hard to measure at any level, but observationally he can probably stick at third for a while. The potential catch is that, while all of the guys on this list are going through their best season to date (that's part of being 20 instead of 18), Headley's previous season numbers have not shown nearly this much power.
Both of these players will likely be kept on close watch in the upcoming years, as we see how statistics that are as good as these players have -- from poor schedules though, mind you -- stack up at the minor and (hopefully) Major League level.
Update: Baseball America's John Manuel is reporting that while announcing their first pick of the day, the Phillies also announced the signing of Costanzo. Also, Philadelphia plans to use Costanzo at third base, which is very exciting for a kid that grew up idolizing Mike Schmidt.
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Posted by Bryan Smith at 12:09 p.m. ET
AND THEY'RE OFF!: Day Two of the MLB Draft is officially under way, as five of the first seven picks come from the college ranks. The best known of the early choices is USC pitcher Brett Bannister, who also boasts a little bit of pedigree.
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Posted at 12:17 p.m. ET
HOCHEVAR REVISITED: The contract negotiations between the Dodgers and the Tennessee right-hander should prove interesting, if for no other reason than the fact that his reported asking price and the so-called slot money for the spot at which he was drafted are as wide in percentage terms as the Jered Weaver situation last year. One source indicated that Hochevar is looking for a $5 million contract, while another made reference to a four-year major league contract.
Huston Street was drafted 40th last year (the same pick that the Dodgers used to select Hochevar this year), and the former Texas Longhorn signed an $800,000 contract with the Oakland A's. Given that the only reason Hochevar was even available in the supplemental round was owing to signability concerns, it stands to reason that the staff ace of last summer's Team USA ballclub has a good shot at getting a substantially better deal than Street. On the other hand, the fact that Hochevar was passed over by every team in the first round and fell to the ninth pick in the supplemental phase, one could easily argue that his original asking price is way too high.
Steve Henson of the L.A. Times reports that "the Dodger front office is optimistic he can be signed this summer."
"Every situation is different," scouting director Logan White said. "We certainly weren't caught off-guard. I think he's going to be a really good big league pitcher."
Paul DePodesta, who is expected to head the negotiations with Hochevar because of his past dealings with agent Scott Boras, seemed unaware of Hochevar's demands. Tony Jackson of the Long Beach Press-Telegram included the following quote in his Dodger Notes:
"That certainly hasn't been told to us. . .We really haven't gotten to the details on that yet."
Negotiations cannot officially begin until Tennessee concludes its season. The Volunteers face Georgia Tech, the #2 national seed, this weekend in the Super Regionals.
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Posted by Rich at 2:55 p.m. ET
FIELD OF DREAMS: Boy, what a difference a day can make. Troy Tulowitzki goes from arguably the most difficult college home ballpark (Blair Field in Long Beach) for hitters to the most friendly in the majors (Coors Field in Colorado). Tulowitzki: "I guess it's the baseball gods working in a mysterious way."
Tulowitzki is anxious to begin his professional career. "I'm a guy who wants to play," he told Bob Keisser of the P-T. "I think it will happen pretty quick." The 7th pick in the draft is expected to be assigned to Modesto, the Rockies' High-A farm team in the California League, which isn't far from his hometown of Sunnyvale.
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Posted by Rich at 3:30 p.m. ET
FINISHED IN MORE WAYS THAN ONE: The MLB Draft has ended. 1501 players were drafted. For all you college seniors out there who weren't drafted, "Have a nice life."
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Posted by Rich at 8:30 p.m. ET
YOU ARE NOW FREE TO MOVE ABOUT THE COUNTRY: J.J. Cooper of Baseball America just reported that Matt Harrington was not taken in this year's draft after having been selected in each of the past five years. Harrington is a free agent and can now sign with any team.
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Posted by Rich at 8:55 p.m. ET
ECHO CHAMBER: Jim Molony of MLB.com has published an article about the pros and cons of trading draft picks, an idea I proposed (along with four others) just prior to the Weaver signing. I'm not suggesting that all five recommendations should be implemented, but I believe teams should--at a minimum--have the right to trade draft picks.
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Posted by Rich at 9:15 p.m. ET
Question of the Day: On the heels of Luke Hochevar and Mark Pawelek, we ask, is Scott Boras a net positive or negative for his clients? Should he still be viewed as the most influential man in the draft?
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Please check back as the day goes on, as we will have updates throughout today on the draft's best stories.
Live Blogging the MLB Draft
1. Arizona Diamondbacks: Justin Upton (HS SS)
2. Kansas City Royals: Alex Gordon (Nebraska 3B)
CORRECTLY TIED DOWN: In the end, the Diamondbacks and Royals did exactly what they had to do. While the scouting departments always run the drafts, you have to believe the PR departments had their say this morning. Where Seattle at third will likely be second guessed by many, few will argue with the top two picks.
The Royals got a taste of the public relation nightmare a below-slot choice would have received when rumors they had cut a deal with Cliff Pennington were made public. How could the Royals spend their highest choice ever on a consensus fringe first-rounder? Or more directly, how could they not draft Alex Gordon, top on some draft boards and a potential hometown (almost) hero.
For Arizona, enough comparisons had been thrown out there on Justin Upton to make drafting him a must. Bo Jackson athletically and Alex Rodriguez physically. B.J. Upton? Ha, he's way better. Forget the fact that Upton has no real home yet -- he's either a shortstop, third baseman or centerfielder, depending on who you ask -- because his bat will play anywhere.
I have for months claimed Alex Gordon to be tops on my draft board. Had I been Mike Rizzo today, I too would have drafted Justin Upton...and would not have blinked.
Posted by Bryan Smith at 1:09 p.m. ET
Gordon - Best college player in the draft. Projects to be a Hank Blalock type third baseman in the big leagues. Great strike-zone judgment and power.
Posted by Rich Lederer at 1:12 p.m. ET
3. Seattle Mariners: Jeff Clement (USC C)
Jeff Clement, C, USC - All-American catcher and a finalist for the Golden Spikes Award. Played on the U.S. National Team last two summers and was named MVP during the 33rd Annual USA vs. Japan Collegiate All-Star Series in Japan. Broke the national high school record for career home runs with 75 while prepping at Marshalltown HS (IA). Outstanding power with a short, compact stroke and good bat speed. Has shown excellent plate discipline (44 BB and 41 SO), especially for a young power hitter. Led Trojans in BA (.347), OBP (.474), and SLG (.606). Worked hard on his defensive skills after his freshman year, improving his footwork, blocking balls in the dirt, and arm quickness. Threw out 56 of 131 runners (43%) his sophomore and junior seasons.
Posted by Rich at 1:21 p.m. ET
4. Washington Nationals: Ryan Zimmerman (Virginia 3B)
As expected. Moments after the Nats drafted Zimmerman, the two sides agreed to a $2.975 million Minor League deal, with more than $800,000 up front as a signing bonus. According to this MLB.com article, "Zimmerman will report to Double-A Harrisburg and then play in the Arizona Fall League once the Minor League season is over. Zimmerman also will report to Spring Training in 2006."
Did the Nationals have territorial rights to Zimmerman? (In the early days of the NBA--when teams were trying to win over local fans--the draft included territorial picks. A team had the right to forfeit its first-round pick and select a player from its immediate area. Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry Lucas, Bill Bradley, and Gail Goodrich were four of the more famous territorial draft picks.) In any event, it is good to see a Major League team draft and sign a hometown player, especially one the caliber of Zimmerman.
Posted by Rich at 7:40 p.m. ET
5. Milwaukee Brewers: Ryan Braun (Miami 3B)
Braun was first brought to my attention by John Sickels, who first wrote about him in late April. And then, again on May 18, when he said:
I love his bat, and I don't think he is far behind Gordon or Clement in what he could accomplish offensively. His defense may force a shift to the outfield, but even so I think he is one of the premium guys available. I would not be afraid to take him in the first ten picks, but he may last a bit longer than that.
Mind you, this is all before it was a given that Braun would be in the top ten (or even the first round). And hitting isn't new for Braun either, as his slugging percentage has been above .600 in each of his three Cane seasons. It appears that only Pat Burrell, Jason Michaels and Aubrey Huff have had better careers in Miami. That's a pretty good list to be behind, and Braun has Huff-like potential, even up to the defensive problems at third.
Posted by Bryan at 9:28 p.m. ET
6. Toronto Blue Jays: Ricky Romero (Cal State Fullerton LHP)
Ricky Romero, LHP, Cal State Fullerton - Without question, the best left-hander in the draft. Ramos may have better command but Romero throws harder (low 90s) and has more upside than his Big West competitor and former Team USA teammate. Doesn't turn 21 until November. Had an outstanding junior year when he and Jason Windsor combined to lead CSUF to the College World Series title. Elevated his stature last summer by leading Team USA in ERA among starters and striking out more than one per inning. Came back this season and was the ace of a team that was number one in the country for most of the year, while boosting his strikeouts per nine from approximately 7 to 10.
Posted by Rich at 1:20 p.m. ET
7. Colorado Rockies: Troy Tulowitzki (LBSU SS)
Troy Tulowitzki, SS, Long Beach State - The comparisons to former 49er shortstop Bobby Crosby read like a cliche at this point but they are apt. Plus arm and plus power for a shortstop. Tulowitzki has all the tools. Big, strong (6-foot-3, 205 pounds) modern-day SS. For a RHB, runs a respectable 4.25-4.3 to first base. Has excellent range in the field. Intense player with great leadership skills. Led team in AVG (.349), OBP (.431), and SLG (.599) and finished his three-year career sixth on the career home run list despite missing 20 games this year with a broken hamate bone in his hand. Proved he can handle a wood bat by tying for the lead in HR with four last summer on Team USA. Aggressive hitter who may need to work on plate discipline.
Posted by Rich at 1:17 p.m. ET
8. Tampa Bay Devil Rays: Wade Townsend (Rice RHP)
Can't help but think Tampa Bay and Townsend had a deal worked out in advance. Wink, wink. Don't see the Devil Rays taking him here otherwise.
Posted by Rich at 7:15 p.m. ET
9. New York Mets: Mike Pelfrey (Wichita St. RHP)
Mike Pelfrey, RHP, Wichita State - Big, tall right-hander with a mid-90s fastball. Think Roy Halladay. Capable of getting strikeouts and groundballs. Wichita State pitching coach calls him the "best pitching prospect" in the school's history. However, the Shockers do not have a good reputation for developing pitchers who perform even better at the pro level. Client of Scott Boras adds to the uncertainty. A great gamble if he falls below the top ten.
Posted by Rich at 1:22 p.m. ET
10. Detroit Tigers: Cameron Maybin (HS OF)
11. Pittsburgh Pirates: Andrew McCutchen (HS OF)
12. Cincinnati Reds: Jay Bruce (HS OF)
13. Baltimore Orioles: Brandon Snyder (HS C)
14. Cleveland Indians: Trevor Crowe (Arizona OF)
15. Chicago White Sox: Lance Broadway (TCU RHP)
The largest riser in this draft has undoubtedly been Broadway, who was a third-round pick a few weeks ago, and could have gone top ten this morning. Instead Broadway went to the White Sox, who are pleased to get someone who beat Brian Bogusevic as well as Southern Miss and Stanford in the past couple weeks. TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle told me that Broadway's repertoire includes a "spiked curveball, change up and fastball." The latter is apparently usually between 88-92, and his curveball will likely be known as one of the draft's best. Schlossnagle downplays thoughts that Broadway has stepped up the past few weeks, instead claiming "it's just that more people have seen him since we were playing Tulane and in the CUSA tournament and NCAA Regional."
Posted by Bryan at 1:43 p.m. ET
16. Florida Marlins: Chris Volstad (HS RHP)
First of all, drafting high school pitchers in and of themselves is regarded by many to be a fool's game. For those that do take the risk, and in doing so select one of the first couple players available, another question often comes up. On one hand, you could choose the fairly polished prep arm from a premier state, while the other is still raw (his state lacks big-time baseball) but his numbers are fantastic.
In 2003, the debate was between John Danks and Jeff Allison. The latter was ranked higher going into the draft, but the Rangers -- for budget and local concerns -- chose Danks before Allison. In 2003, Mark Rogers had a fantastic season in the northeast, but Homer Bailey had been mentioned as a top pitcher from Texas for years. Rogers went first, not by much, but now it appears that Bailey was the choice.
This season, while neither should be among the top 10 picks, the debate is between a Floridian right-hander and a southpaw from Utah. The latter has better strikeout numbers and has not registered an earned run in more than 60 innings. His stock had a rise that shamed Google, and he gained enough recognition to attract a certain power agent. Chris Volstad, from Florida, has not had so much volatility. Standing 6-7 tall and showing three plus pitches, Volstad has long been heralded a first-rounder.
Before watching them both through the video available through MLB's scouting service, I would have guessed the better pick to be Pawelek. While more risky, yes, this was a kid with a ceiling that no Major League dome could hold. Volstad would be a solid pick, yes, but why go the high school route for a kid that lacks that big ceiling?
I would have been wrong. Chris Volstad was the best high school arm this draft had to follow. The Marlins will get good value for their pick, and I would guarantee it if that damn TINSTAPP didn't stand in my way.
Volstad's huge frame is far more projectable than Pawelek's, where both throw from 91-94 now, Volstad might be consistently in the mid 90s in a couple years. Pawelek probably has the better breaking pitch right now, a sick slider that the MLB scouting service says goes from 1 to 7. Volstad throws the traditional 12-6 curve, and it is good, but he also mixes in a change as an out pitch. Pawelek has not gotten that far yet.
Of course it will be injuries that decide which player has bragging rights in the end, but right now give Volstad the leg up. And if you don't believe me, ask the Kansas City Royals whether they would prefer the all-tools player to the cerebral one.
Posted by Bryan at 1:23 p.m. ET
17. New York Yankees: C.J. Henry (HS SS)
18. San Diego Padres: Cesar Carillo (Miami RHP)
19. Texas Rangers: John Mayberry Jr. (Stanford 1B)
Mayberry - Perhaps the biggest enigma in the draft. Has arguably the best body of any college athlete. Ranks among the top athletes and projects to hit with more power than he has shown in his junior season.
Posted by Rich at 1:24 p.m. ET
20. Chicago Cubs: Mark Pawelek (HS LHP)
A Scott Boras client is signed, sealed, and delivered before the end of the first day of the draft? Well, Baseball America is reporting that Pawelek just inked a contract, which includes a bonus of $1.75 million or $250,000 more than last year's 20th pick received. (For more on this signing, check out MLB's article, Cubs sign first-round pick Pawelek.)
Posted by Rich at 7:45 p.m. ET
21. Oakland Athletics: Cliff Pennington (Texas A&M SS)
PENNING A COMPARISON- Together they represent one side of the conundrum. In the all-important risk v. reward argument, they stand on the low-risk, low-reward side. They argue that spending seven figures on the next Mark Lemke is a lot better than the next Brien Taylor.
The first of them was Russ Adams, back in 2002, when J.P. Riccardi made the Tar Heel his first pick as GM. Where Adams was taken ahead of blue chippers like Scott Kazmir, Jeff Francoeur and Matt Cain, he was also ahead of Denard Span, Matt Whitney and shortly after Scott Moore. This year Adams' teammate in fighting the high reward types is Cliff Pennington, now chosen 21st overall to the A's.
While Rich would surely disagree, I would argue that no player in recent memory has invoked thoughts of another of his type like Pennington. With the help of Ryan Levy (the source for Pennington, Texas A&M and Big 12 baseball), Baseball Cube and UNC's old player bios, here is my case...
Name G AB BA ISO W SB
RA 50 143 0.322 0.063 17 20
CP 63 241 0.340 0.100 22 12
Pennington certainly started faster, gaining a full-time slot within the Aggies order less than five games into the season. It took Adams a little while longer to break into the order, but like Pennington, took a spot with good play throughout the year. Both players played at third base for most of the year, though Adams would shift to second towards the end. Pennington showed a better propensity for contact than Adams, who topped Cliff in the patience and baserunning categories.
Name G AB BA ISO W SB
RA 57 239 0.331 0.083 28 28
CP 63 257 0.339 0.116 33 12
Both players would move off the hot corner for their second seasons, as Pennington shifted to short and Adams to second. Their contact skills certainly began to look more similar, as did their patience. Pennington continued to show a bit more pop, while Adams was more of a threat on the basepaths. Where Adams gained All-ACC recognition for his season, Pennington was on the All-Big 12 second team.
Over the summers following their sophomore years, Pennington and Adams both opted for the Cape Cod League. Adams won the Robert A. McNeece Outstanding Pro Prospect Award and was named MVP of the Cape's mid-summer All-Star game where Pennington was given the #9 prospect tag from Baseball America and won the league's Manny Robello Award (10th Man). Their averages (Adams at .281, Pennington hit .277) and stolen base numbers (23 and 21) were both very similar.
Name G AB BA ISO W SB
RA 63 254 0.370 0.185 52 45
CP 56 212 0.363 0.198 37 29
Russ shifted to short for his final season at North Carolina, showing the versatility that the Blue Jays fell in love with. Pennington also played a little bit at second this year in College Station, showing potential at both positions. His numbers -- besides the power numbers -- all fell a bit short of Adams, though they were again very similar.
In conclusion, expect Cliff Pennington to be a good choice, and to make the Majors on a similar timetable to Adams, which would be first in mid-2007, and full-time in 2008. His defense was always much better regarded than Adams, and sticking at shortstop -- and ranking better than 10th in the AL in fielding Win Shares -- should not be a problem. Look for him to have a little less patience than Adams, but have better than .283/.393 in the AVE/SLG departments. The Royals would have been reaching at two, but expect Billy Beane to be quite happy in retrospect.
Posted by Bryan at 1:26 p.m. ET
22. Florida Marlins: Aaron Thompson (HS LHP)
23. Boston Red Sox: Jacoby Ellsbury (Oregon St. OF)
Not surprised by this pick at all. The prototype merging of scouting and performance analysis right here. Has the tools (speed and defense) as well as the strike zone judgment that sabermetricians like to see. He won't hit .400 in the majors like he has in college, but .300 with moderate XBH power, BB, and SB thrown in a la Johnny Damon is certainly achievable.
Posted by Rich at 6:50 p.m. ET
24. Houston Astros: Brian Bogusevic (Tulane LHP)
25. Minnesota Twins: Matt Garza (Fresno St. RHP)
26. Boston Red Sox: Craig Hansen (St. John's RHP)
I'm not a huge fan of taking relievers in the first round but when a potential number one drops to #26, you gotta step up--provided that you are willing to pay the (Boras) freight. Like in the case of Hochevar (who fell to #40), it'll be interesting to see whether the team steps up or if the player reduces his asking price. One can't minimize the potential for a long holdout in both cases.
Posted by Rich at 7:10 p.m. ET
27. Atlanta Braves: Joey Devine (NC St. RHP)
I will refute Rich, because I believe that relievers make great late first-round picks. The track records of relievers drafted the last few seasons are far better than the players usually picked between 25 and 30. For a team like Atlanta, that sees so much change over from season to season, adding a potential mainstay in their bullpen is a fantastic idea. Devine is a good one too, as his velocity improved this season, up to the mid-90s in the ACC tournament. Considering the depth of this system, and the consistent holes in Atlanta's pen, this was a very good pick.
Posted by Bryan at 9:36 p.m. ET
28. St. Louis Cardinals: Colby Rasmus (HS OF)
After not signing one high school player all of last season, the Cardinals come out making a statement by picking Rasmus. A left-handed power hitting outfielder, Rasmus set the Alabama home run record this season, watching his stock go through the roof. He sounds like a very cerebral player -- the kind of high schooler college-geared teams like -- so Rasmus could be a very hot prospect next season. Also, he should be a relatively easy sign, which is more than the Cards can say for some of their picks.
Posted by Bryan at 4:27 p.m. ET
29. Florida Marlins: Jacob Marceaux (McNeese St. RHP)
30. St. Louis Cardinals: Tyler Greene (G. Tech SS)
31. Arizona Diamondbacks: Matt Torra (UMass RHP)
32. Colorado Rockies: Chaz Roe (HS RHP)
33. Cleveland Indians: John Drennen (HS OF)
34. Florida Marlins: Ryan Tucker (HS LHP)
35. San Diego Padres: Cesar Ramos (LBSU LHP)
Cesar Ramos, LHP, Long Beach State - If Tulowitzki is similar to his predecessor Crosby at Long Beach State, then Ramos has to be likened to Abe Alvarez, who made it to the bigs last year in Boston and is currently pitching for Pawtucket. Both are lefthanders who rely on command and control more than raw speed or stuff. Ramos works in the high-80s with a four-seam fastball. Excellent mechanics. Arm may have tired down the stretch. Allowed 14 H, 11 ER with only 6 K in 10 IP in his final two starts vs. CSUF and USC. One of 10 semifinalists for the Roger Clemens Award, given to college's top pitcher. Pitched for Team USA last summer.
Posted by Rich at 2:07 p.m. ET
36. Oakland Athletics: Travis Buck (Az St. OF)
37. Anaheim Angels: Trevor Bell (HS RHP)
38. Houston Astros: Eli Iorg (Tenn. OF)
39. Minnesota Twins: Henry Sanchez (HS 1B)
40. Los Angeles Dodgers: Luke Hochevar (Tenn. RHP)
It came as no surprise to many that on the heels of last year -- when Philip Humber, Jeff Niemann and Justin Verlander all signed similar contracts -- Luke Hochevar came out of the gate asking for a bonus of about $5M. Still, this price tag and the Boras name under his representation caused Hochevar to drop far, giving the Dodgers a legit top ten selection. Hochevar would only add to a farm system chock full of pitching depth, and could quickly become one of the better names on the list. Considering that the Dodgers don't have a player above him that gets first signing preference, expect Hochevar to sign -- for less than $5M -- rather than returning to Tennessee.
Posted by Bryan at 5:15 p.m. ET
I applaud the Dodgers for taking Luke Hochevar. The argument wasn't about high school or college in this case. This was a pick that Logan White and Paul DePodesta would both endorse. White obviously likes Hochevar, going back to 2002 when he drafted him out of high school. DePo is probably stunned that he even had the chance to select such a talented pitcher at #40.
Hochevar's outing on Friday didn't raise his stature in the draft. He worked eight innings and gave up five runs on nine hits while recording nine strikeouts and four walks. However, prior to that, he was considered one of the top two starters in the draft (along with Mike Pelfrey).
Scott Boras and an asking price of $5 million scared away many teams. It will be interesting to see if the Dodgers step up well beyond the norm for a supplemental pick or if Boras and Hochevar come down. Unlike Jered Weaver last year, every team in baseball passed on Hochevar, which weakens his position considerably.
Furthermore, even in the words of Boras, Hochevar is not as "major league ready" as was Weaver last year. Luke might throw a couple of mph harder than Weaver and has a plus breaking ball, but he does not possess the same command and control as Jered. His lack of polish suggests Hochevar is probably at least two years away from pitching at Dodger Stadium.
Conclusion: A potentially great draft pick if the Dodgers can sign him for a price not to exceed $3M.
Posted by Rich at 8:30 p.m. ET
Final add: Jon Weisman asked a question regarding Hochevar and you can find my response on his Dodger Thoughts site at Baseball Toaster.
41. Atlanta Braves: Beau Jones (HS LHP)
42. Boston Red Sox: Clay Buchholz (HS OF)
43. St. Louis Cardinals: Mark McCormick (Baylor RHP)
McCormick - Major League-ready fastball that hits the upper 90s coupled with Rookie League command and makeup. Client of Scott Boras adds to the concerns of scouting directors and general managers.
Posted by Rich at 2:09 p.m. ET
44. Florida Marlins: Sean West (HS LHP)
45. Boston Red Sox: Jed Lowrie (Stanford 2B)
46. St. Louis Cardinals: Tyler Herron (HS RHP)
47. Boston Red Sox: Mike Bowden (HS RHP)
48. Baltimore Orioles: Garrett Olsen (Cal Poly RHP)
And that, ladies and gentleman, is the first round of the 2005 draft. We'll probably slow down our up-to-the minute coverage around here, and worry about recapping the first round. Please leave any thoughts on picks 1-48 below, and for a list of all the picks that are made today, drop by The Griddle at Baseball Toaster.
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TRIVIA QUESTION: Four number one draft picks have been named MVPs. Name them.
Posted by Rich at 6:35 p.m. ET
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FYI: In case you tuned in earlier in the day, and came back thinking you were reading the same things, here is a list of updates made since 5 p.m. ET: Zimmerman (4), Braun (5), Townsend (8), Pawelek (20), Ellsbury (23), Hansen (26), Devine (27) and Hochevar (40).
Winner Take All
Results from Monday's NCAA Men's Baseball Division I playoffs:
*Texas beat Arkansas, 5-2, in the Austin Regional. Taylor Teagarden and Chance Wheeless homered in the seventh and eighth innings to break a 2-2 tie, and closer J. Brent Cox allowed just one hit and no runs over the final three innings to preserve the victory for the Longhorns.
*Rice edged LSU, 4-3, in the Baton Rouge Regional. The Owls scored the game-winning run in the top of the ninth on a triple by Tyler Henley and a single by Greg Buchanan.
*Baylor turned back Stanford, 4-3, in 12 innings to win the Regional in Waco. The Bears tied the game in the ninth and won it in the 12th on a home run by Jeff Mandel. Greg Reynolds pitched 11-plus innings for the Cardinal, facing 44 batters. Stanford didn't go down easily, loading the bases in the bottom of the 12th with two outs before Tyler Bullock struck out Ben Summerhays to end it. (Thanks to Stanford grad Jon Weisman for providing the painful details.)
*Georgia Tech-South Carolina in progress in the Atlanta Regional.
10:00 pm PST update: Georgia Tech shut out South Carolina, 5-0. Sophomore right-hander Tim Gustafson, named the Most Outstanding Player in the tournament, threw seven shutout innings to lead the Yellow Jackets to their fourth Regional title in the past six years.
*Tulane-Alabama just underway in the New Orleans Regional.
10:00 pm PST update: Tulane handled Alabama, 7-4. Micah Owings was credited with the victory in a game that was originally scheduled for Sunday night and pushed back from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. Monday night because of rain.
*Cal State Fullerton-Arizona (Fullerton Regional) and USC-Pepperdine (Long Beach Regional) are scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. and 7 p.m. PST, respectively.
10:30 pm PST update: CSUF toppled Arizona, 6-3. Fullerton scored five runs in the third inning and never looked back. Freshman Wes Roemer, named the Most Outstanding Player of the tournament, allowed only three runs (eight hits and no walks) over eight innings to lead the defending CWS champs over the Wildcats. The Titans advance to the Super Regionals for the fourth time in the past five years.
USC defeated Pepperdine, 5-2. Three pitchers combined for the Trojans to muster the victory in the seventh and final game of the Regional.
Super Regional Pairings
#1 Tulane vs. Rice
#8 Oregon State vs. USC
#4 Baylor vs. Clemson
#5 Mississippi vs. Texas
#3 Nebraska vs. Miami, Florida
#2 Georgia Tech vs. Tennessee
#6 Cal State Fullerton vs. Arizona State
#7 Florida vs. Florida State
All eight of the national seeds and 14 of the 16 top-seeded teams advanced to the Super Regionals. USC and Arizona State won their Regionals as the number two seeds, defeating host Long Beach State and Coastal Carolina, respectively.
As Alice Cooper said, "SChool's out for Summer." But that won't stop me from asking ten questions that are on my mind.
1. Is there a better story in baseball this year than the Washington Nationals leading the NL East one-third of the way into the season? This is the latest a Washington-based team has been at the top of the standings since 1933.
2. How would you like to be 28-26 and realize your team is in last place, as is the case with the Florida Marlins? The Fish would be no worse than third in all of the other divisions.
3. Did anyone out there have a Pick Six ticket with the Washington Nationals, St. Louis Cardinals, San Diego Padres, Baltimore Orioles, Chicago White Sox, and Texas Rangers? Me neither.
4. Anybody else so engrossed in the NCAA Playoffs unaware that the Philadelphia Phillies are the hottest team in baseball? The Phillies have won six in a row and nine out of the last ten.
5. How many of you know what these nine schools--Arizona State, Clemson, Florida, Florida State, Miami, Mississippi, Nebraska, Oregon State, and Tennessee--have in common?
6. Was there a more clutch performer than Sergio Pedroza this weekend? The Cal State Fullerton right fielder hit a two-run home run in the top of the ninth to give the defending College World Series champions the lead then made a diving catch near the right-field line with the bases loaded to end the game as the Titans eliminated Missouri on Sunday afternoon. Pedroza was two for three with another HR and three more RBI in the game in progress last night vs. Arizona.
7. Will any of the pitchers who started on Friday draw the same assignment on Monday in the finals of the Regionals? USC's Jack Spradlin is the best bet but there may be others as well.
8. Speaking of SC, did you think I made a typo in the opening sentence above?
9. If you were in charge of a major-league team's draft on Tuesday, would you select a Scott Boras client in the first round?
10. What is the over-under (month and year) on Jered Weaver's MLB debut?
Good luck. Well, I can't salute ya. Can't even find a flag. If that don't suit ya, that's a drag. School's out for summer, except for those nine teams listed above. They all won their Regionals and will be joined by seven more on Monday to form next weekend's Super Regionals.
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Be sure to check back tomorrow for live coverage of the MLB Draft.
Planting the Seeds
The number one seeds won every game in the opening round of the NCAA Division I Baseball Regionals yesterday. There were three mild upsets but no big surprises on day one of the playoffs.
In the Corvallis Regional, #3 St. John's beat #2 Virginia, 5-3. Craig Hansen, considered the best closer in the country, made his first start in two years, subbing for the injured Anthony Varvaro. Hansen faced 32 batters in a seven-inning, eight-hit, three-run performance and the Red Storm backed him with five runs in the fifth and sixth innings to earn a second-round matchup with host Oregon State, a 4-3 winner over Ohio State in a battle of the OSUs. Shea McFeely hit the first pitch in the bottom of the ninth over the centerfield wall for a walk-off home run in the nightcap.
Number three Creighton won its first NCAA tournament game since 1992 over number two North Carolina State, 8-3. Creighton, one of 28 Jesuit colleges and universities in the nation, faces the Nebraska Cornhuskers (which slipped past Illinois-Chicago, 8-6) today in the winner's bracket in the Lincoln Regional.
Third-seed Oklahoma outsoared the Golden Eagles from Southern Mississippi, 5-4, to earn the right to square off with Ole Miss (which whitewashed Maine, 5-0, behind a complete-game, six-hitter courtesy of Mark Holliman) in the Oxford Regional.
In perhaps the best-pitched game of them all, Winthrop's Kevin Slowey scattered seven hits while striking out 13 without a walk. Slowey improved his record to 14-2 in outdueling Mike Pelfrey (12-3), one of the top two starting pitchers (along with Luke Hochever, who earned the victory over Austin Peay, 7-5, to go 15-2) in Tuesday's draft.
Elsewhere, Cal State Fullerton, the defending College World Series champions, took Harvard to school in a 19-0 blowout in the Fullerton Regional. In another laugher, Texas hammered the Mighty Quinn, 20-2, in Austin. The Bobcats were treated rudely by the Longhorns in their first NCAA tournament game. Quinnipiac's second and perhaps last game will be against Miami (Ohio).
Top-ranked Tulane beat Southern, 17-7, in the New Orleans Regional as Mark Hamilton went 4 for 5 with two homers and seven RBI. The Jaguars closed within a field goal in the top of the seventh, but the Green Wave added a run in the bottom half and six more in the eighth to win by the football score.
In other action involving national seeds, Georgia Tech outlasted Furman, 5-4, in 10 innings in Atlanta, while Florida's game with Stetson and Baylor's opener vs. UT-San Antonio were both postponed by rain. You might call the Regional in Waco a Texas Hold 'Em. If it keeps raining, some team may end up winning on the river.
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I attended the Regional in Long Beach on Friday and witnessed USC handle Pepperdine with ease, 7-3, in the afternoon and Long Beach State manhandle Rhode Island, 11-2, in the nightcap. The Trojans and 49ers will face each other for the fourth time this season in the winner's bracket tonight. Long Beach will be looking to avenge three previous losses to the university with 12 NCAA championships, more than twice as many as any other school.
USC put up a four-spot in the bottom of the first inning and the Waves never recovered despite a two-run home run off the bat of Steve Kleen in the eighth. Trojans coach Mike Gillespie gambled and started his number two pitcher, Jack Spradlin, a tall left-hander who succeeds by mixing his pitches and changing speeds, rather than Ian Kennedy, the team's ace. Kennedy was held back so he could challenge the Dirtbags in tonight's featured pairing. The SC sophomore led Team USA in strikeouts last summer and the nation this spring.
Just as Gillespie's move paid off, Long Beach State coach Mike Weathers rolled the dice by going with the team's number four starter, Cody Evans. The transfer from Golden West (Calif.) Community College hadn't won a game all year and found himself behind, 1-0, in the first inning after giving up a two-out hit by pitch, a stolen base, and a run-scoring single.
I have a feeling that 2,451 of the 2,452 fans in attendance were beginning to second guess Weathers right about then. However, I thought it was a brilliant move, one in which only a number one seed in a position like Long Beach could possibly consider. The 49ers coach can now avail himself of his Big Three of Cesar Ramos, Marco Estrada, and Jared Hughes the rest of the way. That said, I am not in agreement with Weathers' decision to bypass Ramos in Game Two in favor of either Estrada or Hughes. Although the latter two pitchers are highly capable, Ramos is the guy you want starting the most important game of the year, especially considering the fact that SC is going with its top gun in Kennedy.
Hall of Famer Tommy Lasorda and legendary USC coach Rod Dedeaux, long-time friends, sat together in a box just to the left of home plate. Lasorda signed autographs and posed with young boys as their fathers quickly snapped photographs. He even shook hands and spoke with Troy Tulowitzki, who was in full uniform with bat in hand, as early as the fourth inning of the USC-Pepperdine opener. Lasorda (2000) and Dedeaux (1984) coached medal-winning teams in the Olympics.
Bret Saberhagen was also in attendance. His son, Drew, a freshman, is a reserve first baseman. There were no signs of Ryne Sandberg (whose son, Justin, who is a third-year sophomore utility infielder) or Jim Tracy (father of Collegiate Baseball's second-team All-America catcher, Chad). I wasn't particularly impressed with Chad's arm although he showed some power when he hit a long fly ball to the edge of the warning track in left-center.
On the other hand, the opposing catcher, Jeff Clement, is projected to be among the top dozen players taken. Clement is ranked the number-one power hitter in Baseball America's draft preview. I've rarely seen him get a hit, but he takes a vicious cut and has put up good numbers during his college career at SC.
After falling behind 1-0 in the first, Long Beach State scored eight runs in the second frame off Dan Frederick, whose only chance of getting drafted is if World War III breaks out. Freshman Jose Hernandez and Sean Boatright hit back jack, do it again home runs over the IN-N-OUT sign on the wall in left-center field. Frederick faced 13 batters, giving up six hits, two walks, and a snowman. I haven't seen a Ram get hit this hard since the days of Kurt Warner.
Third baseman Evan Longoria, not to be confused with Tony Parker's spur of the moment arm candy, had three hits. Longoria may very well replace the departing Tulowitzki at shortstop next season. Tulo was ranked by Baseball America among all the prospects #1 in arm strength, #2 in five-tool talent, #3 best athlete, and #4 best defensive player. He demonstrated his arm by making a perfect relay throw from short right field to third base, nailing a Ram trying inexcusably to stretch a double into a triple in the seventh inning while down, 10-2. Wham bam, thank you, Rams.
Rhode Island went through more pitchers during the game than the Long Beach frat houses afterwards. The throws by the defense were higher than Dock Ellis in his no-hitter against the San Diego Padres in 1970. The team is more likely to spend Sunday at Disneyland than at Blair Field.
Between now and then, USC and Long Beach State will square off in front of what promises to be a standing-room only crowd. The K-Man Kennedy will be going for the Trojans while Weathers opts for Estrada or Hughes. Weathers had this to say about his decision not to start Cesar Ramos today:
"I feel both (Hughes and Estrada) match up better with USC. It's nothing against USC, but the other two can't be forgotten. Righthanders are better suited for USC."
I guess it's possible that Long Beach could win the Regional without using Ramos against USC, but it seems unlikely, if not unwise. In the meantime, I can't help but wonder if Weathers has planted a negative seed in the back of Cesar's head. I backed him the first time around when few others did but am less enamored with his strategy from here on out.
Time will tell.
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Quiz: Who will be the best pitcher in the ballpark this evening? Ramos, deemed to have the best command of any college pitcher in the opinon of Baseball America? Kennedy, the sophomore sensation who is putting up better numbers than former Trojan Mark Prior at the same stage of their careers? You could make a case for either, but there is also a third candidate to consider. His name? Jered Weaver, who is expected to attend tonight's game.
Weekend Link: Dirtbags Baseball. Although "dedicated to fans of Long Beach State Dirtbags baseball," Jeff Agnew covers college baseball about as well as anyone.
One on One: The 64-Team Question
This week's One on One ventures into the College World Serious. Most students are on summer break but there are 1,600 collegians trying to extend their spring semester for another week or two. We take you around the country--well, at least everywhere except the Northeast--while discussing each of the 16 Regionals set to begin play this afternoon.
Rich: Well, Bryan, if it's June, it must be time for the college baseball playoffs.
Bryan: Yep, just as all the tension of the draft is building, it's time for college coaches to overuse their bonus babies in the College World Series. This season will be no exception, I imagine.
Rich: It's too bad there won't be more bonus babies from the West playing in this year's postseason. Do you realize that only nine of the 64 teams are from the western part of the country? You know, the one that produces the best amateur baseball year in and year out?
Bryan: Wow, that is a small number for such a good year. But who are you making a case for...who got snubbed?
Rich: Two teams from California got totally jobbed. Cal Berkeley and Cal Poly both deserved spots in this field. California (33-22, fifth in the Pac-10) won series from fellow conference invitees Arizona, Arizona State, and Stanford and also swept Long Beach State in a rain-soaked series in February. Cal Poly (35-20, third in the Big West) had the same conference record as Long Beach, yet failed to get a bid. Heck, you can even make a good case for San Francisco, UC Irvine, and Washington.
Bryan: Well, that definitely is convincing, especially for California considering the strength of the Pac-10. I mean, those are certainly four good teams to finish behind, as none figured to be worse than a two seed. It seems like the West is always given its due with solid high rankings, but the RPI doesn't give the area enough credit for its depth.
Rich: The Ratings Percentage Index carries too much weight with the selection committee, which, by the way, has just one representative from the West and none from the Pac-10 or Big West, two of the strongest conferences in the country. Let's face it, the RPI favors teams in the Southeast. Boyd Nation's Iterative Strength Ratings are much better indicators than the RPI because they do a better job of measuring teams from dissimilar geographic regions.
Bryan: Interestingly enough, Boyd's ISR rankings currently have both Cal Poly and California in the top 25, ahead of number one seeds like Florida State and Coastal Carolina. I guess this goes to show that even if college football turns to a playoff system, we will never see the best 32 matchups possible.
Rich: I wouldn't have a problem with leaving the two Cal schools out if the tournament was limited to 32 teams. But when I see the ACC and SEC get four number ones, the Big-12 three, and the third-place team from the Big West and the fifth-place team from the Pac-10 get left out, then I gotta think something's wrong.
Bryan: I can agree with that. But, what do you think about the teams that did get in? Any problems with the actual seeding of the tournament? I felt as though one of the better number ones, Oregon State, has too tough a road.
Rich: Too tough of a road? Man, I thought OSU was treated overly kind, especially in comparison to the other number ones in the West. Virginia (#24 RPI, #51 ISR), St. John's (#55 and 100), and Ohio State (#64 and 69) are about as easy of a threesome as there is. Remember, we're playing baseball here, not basketball or football.
Bryan: I guess I'm guilty of associating good draft prospects with good teams. I guess that isn't too bad, though I consider OSU to be one of the teams to beat, and it just seems like Florida State and Georgia Tech both have easier roads to Omaha.
Rich: I can't argue with you there, Bryan. Florida State is no better than a number two, yet gets Auburn (the 8th place team from the SEC), South Alabama, (74th in ISR), and Army (127th) in its Regional. Why not just give them a Pass Go card and $200 and send them directly to the Super Regional?
Bryan: I think we can agree the ease of the FSU bracket will get them a spot in the Super Regional. Who else do you have going? Any surprises?
Rich: The surprises out West might be who doesn't go. The Long Beach Regional pits the host Dirtbags along with USC and Pepperdine, arguably the best second and third seeds in the entire country. Long Beach has the advantage as the number one seed there. But the Trojans (#5) and Waves (#10) both rank in the top ten in ISR. Forget the ISR, these three teams are among the top 34 in RPI. C'mon now. That's just not right.
Bryan: Assuming USC takes care of Pepperdine -- no easy task I know -- the SC-LBSU battle could be one of the best second round matchups in the country. Two very solid, if undertalked about, Friday night pitchers in Ian Kennedy and Cesar Ramos. Two top ten hitting talents in Troy Tulowitzki and Jeff Clement. Unfortunately this is a matchup we should see in the Super Regional, not the second round.
Rich: You said it, not me. You're talking about my alma mater (USC) and hometown (LB) teams. I've got my weekend tickets right here on my desk. I'll be there for each and every game. The question I have is whether Mike Gillespie feels as if he is forced to start Kennedy today or if he will take a chance and hold him back in anticipation of facing the 49ers tomorrow?
Bryan: Well, Gillespie doesn't have the luxury of a team like North Carolina -- a two seed that I think ends up in the Super Regional -- of having a ton of pitching depth. My advice would be to focus on Pepperdine first, and then worry about LBSU. . .though Cal State Fullerton showed last year all you need to win a championship is one ace and some serviceable pitchers behind him. The Titans rode Jason Windsor hard last year, and I expect the winner of the Dirtbags/Trojans matchup to do the same with their ace.
Rich: Although Ramos is the headliner, Long Beach has three other capable starters, including Jared Hughes (8-3, 2.83 ERA, second-team all-Big West) and Marco Estrada (8-2, 2.27 ERA, third team)--both of whom struck out nearly a batter an inning--plus one of the best bullpens in the country, led by senior closer Neil Jamison (4-0, 0.00 ERA, 11 saves). Despite the loss of Jered Weaver, the Niners led the nation in team ERA (2.44).
Bryan: Cesar Ramos is a good ace, no doubt, but he's hardly the best southpaw in California. We've already hit on the defending champs, Cal State Fullerton, who will likely have to battle Arizona or Missouri in the second round. I like the Titans chances with Ricky Romero on the mound, but Missouri and Arizona are both worthy contenders.
Rich: Yes, Will Kimmey of Baseball America calls the Fullerton Regional the "Bracket of Death." I would hate to be Arizona and staring at the prospect of facing Max Scherzer (1.53 ERA, 11.5 K/9), one of the many outstanding sophomore pitchers in the tournament, in the first game. That is a tough, tough draw.
Bryan: No kidding, Scherzer and Romero are as tough a tandem as it gets. Call me crazy, but I'm not going to predict the Wildcats to come out on top. Look for Missouri and Arizona to wear themselves out, while the Titans yawn through Harvard. In my mind not choosing Fullerton to land in the CWS is crazy.
Rich: If Fullerton can make it out of its own Regional, Titan fans should begin making hotel reservations in Omaha because their team should sweep the winner of the Tempe Regional.
Bryan: Fullerton would in all likelihood play the winner of the Nebraska and Miami Regionals. Unless NC State goes on a hot streak, I have to think Nebraska comes out of that. In Coral Gables, it will either be Miami or Mississipi State. Who do you have down South?
Rich: The Hurricanes have lost five straight so playing Virginia Commonwealth should be a nice way to get things back on track. Mississippi State, on the other hand, has been on hot streak. I'm going to take a wild guess here and say MSU pulls off a mild upset and faces Nebraska in the Super the following week.
Bryan: Any other upset predictions? I've mentioned that I think North Carolina will go on to face fellow ACC team Florida State in the Super Regional. I really don't think that Notre Dame or Florida will be too hard a test for the North Carolina staff that has to be considered one of the best in the country. In fact, I think UNC has a good chance at going to Omaha.
Rich: Yes, you have been singing the praises of Andrew Miller all year long and some scouts apparently think Daniel Bard might be as good or better. That is one heckuva lefty and righty tandem. Speaking of great arms, I think the marquee matchup is between Luke Hochevar (14-2, 1.90 ERA with 131 Ks in 118.2 IP) and Mike Pelfrey (12-2, 1.91, 136 Ks in 131.2), assuming Tennessee and Wichita State can make it past Austin Peay State and Winthrop, respectively, in their first games. However, beating Winthrop's Kevin Slowey (13-2, 2.26) won't be a walk in the park.
Bryan: I agree, it doesn't get any better in the Super Regional than the top two draft pitching prospects in the nation. Expect both pitchers to go well into triple digits in pitch counts and rack up quite a few strikeouts. If only college baseball was more publicized, this would be a matchup that everyone across the country would be talking about.
Rich: I've never seen Hochevar pitch before although I had the privilege of watching his sister, Brittany, play volleyball at Long Beach State. She was an All-American who is the all-time leader in aces at a university that produced Misty May, the gold medalist in beach volleyball and perhaps the best women's volleyball player ever.
Bryan: Well, I'm even going to go out on a limb and say that Luke is a better athlete than his sister.
Rich: I'm not 100% sure about that but he will definitely be the richer of the two in short order.
Bryan: Didn't you see Pelfrey pitch last year vs. Long Beach State at Blair Field?
Rich: I did, Bryan. Although he didn't face Weaver, I was fortunate to see another tall right-hander dominate the opposition. He threw seven shutout innings and allowed just two hits and one walk. I could tell he was the real deal as a sophomore. He is going to make one of the GMs very happy come next week.
Bryan: Like Weaver, Pelfrey might be one to drop due to economic concerns. But I think he'll showcase this week--maybe even in upsetting Tennessee--that his size, durability, and three-pitch combination is top five worthy.
Rich: I think these pitchers all lost a bit of leverage this past week. The ceiling has been set and the teams know they can dig their heels and remain patient with their offers. I suspect these guys will sign much sooner than Weaver although there is never any hurry after logging 120 innings or so during the regular season and potentially another 20 or 30 in the playoffs.
Bryan: We saw with the Angels-Weaver negotiations that the balance is shifting towards the teams, who are now dictating the prices and forcing the agents to meet their demands. This year's negotiations should be interesting, too.
Rich: No doubt. Switching gears here, how do you see the Texas and Louisiana Regionals going?
Bryan: First of all, I expect Tulane to steamroll into the final eight. Not only is their regional very easy, but I don't expect a ton of pressure coming from the winner of the LSU-Rice battle. Tulane was ranked by the seeding committee as tops in the country, and they should at least live up to that billing for the next two weeks.
Rich: I'm not going to argue with you there. Brian Bogusevic and Micah Owings should change their first names to "Two-Way Talents" because everytime I hear or read their names, that description comes up. Interestingly, Tulane, LSU, and Rice are three of the 12 teams in the country that have appeared in the tournament every year since 1999. Furthermore, LSU will be gunning for its third straight trip to the College World Series. You don't think they have much of a chance, huh?
Bryan: Nope, I think Tulane is a machine, and it seems like LSU has had just an OK year considering the normal strength of their program. I am also rooting for the Green Wave for sentimental reasons because I would love to see the Cinderella OSU Beavers take them down in Omaha. But, oh yes, I'm getting sidetracked, and you asked about Texas.
Rich: Yes, Texas as in the team from Austin as well as that Regional in Waco which sports three homies in Baylor, UT San Antonio, and Texas Christian, plus some unknown baseball school from California (Stanford).
Bryan: I think Baylor should win their regional out of depth, though head-to-head I think Texas Christian might be the better team. Texas should also win, but face a very tough team in the Super Regional in Mississippi. I think they are one of the best teams in the country, and while not my pick to win, I could see them in the final two or four.
Rich: Baylor and Texas are certainly the favorites. The Bears are a good, solid senior-laden team, the type that could easily wind up in Omaha. Texas? I've been following Augie Garrido since his days at Fullerton and his teams always seem to be right there, no matter what.
Bryan: Texas is an extremely young team, especially in the pitching staff, and I'm not sure how they will handle this type of pressure. Look out for the Longhorns in 2006, though, as I expect them, UNC and Missouri to be a few of the better teams in the nation. . .along with the usual bunch.
Rich: Let's not get ahead of ourselves here, Bryan. Do you have a weekend surprise in store for us?
Bryan: The weekend series I am anticipating the most is in Nebraska, where I actually think the number three seed in the entire country could fall. Not only has NC State caught fire at the right time, but my hometown UIC Flames are better than some people think and could give Nebraska a tough matchup. My shocking surprise is that Alex Gordon's season is done by the draft on Tuesday.
Rich: I wouldn't be shocked if Gordon is drafted by the Royals and is tutoring under George Brett before June is out. That said, I bet Alex hopes he can extend his collegiate career a bit longer than you are forecasting.
Bryan: Alright Rich, don't try to dodge out of your weekend surprise selection. Are you going to step out on the limb, too?
Rich: My surprise is that Arizona loses in three games and pays a steep price for not placing a bid to host a Regional, similar to what happened with Arizona State last year. ASU, on the other hand, shows the West's superiority by beating Coastal Carolina, the number one seed in the Tempe Regional.
Do you agree with Rich that the selection process is slanted against teams on the wrong coast? Do you have a draft sleeper for Bryan? Which teams do you see as the locks or surprises? We're no longer interested in questions. Just answers.
The Yankees and the First Free Market
Soon after the New York Yankees' four-game sweep at the hands of the Cincinnati Reds in the 1976 World Series, George Steinbrenner assembled his brain trust to discuss the upcoming free agent marketplace, the first of its kind in baseball history. Despite the sweep, the Yankee brass had a right to be upbeat--it was their first trip to the Series after eleven mostly forgettable seasons, they had reopened the refurbished Yankee Stadium to rave reviews, and they had a fine team. Gabe Paul, the club's general manager and architect, had engineered an astounding series of trades, landing Chris Chambliss, Willie Randolph, Dock Ellis, Lou Piniella, Ed Figueroa, Mickey Rivers, and Oscar Gamble, all in just two years. Paul's deals brought them to the brink, and the new era of free agency promised to push them over it.
In December 1975 an arbiter had determined that pitchers Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally, by playing the previous season without signed contracts, were no longer bound to their former clubs, paving the way for widespread free agency after the 1976 season. In the spring there were more than 200 unsigned players, but only 22 made it through the entire season. These 22 formed the first free agent class.
The ground rules of the marketplace have changed many times over the years, but in the first go-round teams were allowed to sign no more than two free agents, or the number of players they lost themselves, whichever was higher. The teams conducted a dispersal draft, with each club selecting the right to negotiate with certain players. Teams could pick as many players as they wished, but each player could only be selected by 12 clubs, effectively cutting his own free market in half.
Steinbrenner had completed the purchase of the Yankees in early 1973, and since that time had been right in the middle of all of the available high-profile talent.
After the 1973 season, the Yankees tried to hire Dick Williams, who had just won two consecutive World Series with the Oakland A's, but could not get the A's to release him from his contract. The Yankees refused Charlie Finley's demand for players, and eventually hired Bill Virdon instead.
In December 1974, the Yankees landed star right-hander Catfish Hunter, who had been made a free agent when Finley reneged on one of the provisions in his contract. Hunter received a record five-year, three million dollar deal.
The next off-season they went hard after Messersmith, another one-person free agent class, and announced his signing on March 31. After some bickering over deferred payments, Messersmith claimed that there was no binding agreement, a claim the commissioner upheld, and the pitcher eventually signed with the Braves.
At the June 15 trading deadline in 1976, the Yankees, already in first place by 10 games, traded for Ken Holtzman and purchased Vida Blue for $1.5 million. Bowie Kuhn disallowed the Blue deal, along with the Red Sox purchases the same day of Rollie Fingers and Joe Rudi.
In 1974 Steinbrenner had been convicted of making illegal contributions to Richard Nixon's reelection campaign, and of coercing his employees to lie to a grand jury. He was suspended from the day-to-day operations of the Yankees for two years, an unenforceable prohibition that baseball tried with Steinbrenner again in 1990. The record-setting Hunter deal, we were asked to believe, was made by Gabe Paul alone, without consultation with the principal owner. No one was fooled. With Steinbrenner again the public face of the team by 1976, the Yankees were obviously going to be big players in the first free agent market.
When his front office gathered, Steinbrenner's opening words were: "We are not going to win a championship with Fred Stanley at shortstop." Indeed, the Yankees fielded nearly a complete team of All-Stars in 1976, with Stanley clearly the weak link in the regular lineup. There was only one starting shortstop available on the market, 34-year-old Bert Campaneris of the Oakland A's. Gabe Paul had another name in mind: Baltimore's Bobby Grich, an outstanding defensive second baseman who had played shortstop in the minor leagues. Grich was also a fine right-handed hitter, another thing the Yankees needed, and Paul made the case that he would be the missing piece. It was quickly agreed that Grich would be their top priority.
Their second choice was also an easy one, Cincinnati left-hander Don Gullett. Gullett was just 25, and had beaten the Yankees in the first game of the just completed World Series.
In the November 4 dispersal draft, the Yankees selected nine players: Grich, Don Baylor, Gullett, Gary Matthews, Wayne Garland, Reggie Jackson, Campaneris, Dave Cash, and Billy Smith. The order of these selections is significant, although some of it (like Baylor ahead of Gullett) was dictated by how many other teams had already selected the player. Asked about the Yankees' priorities after the draft, Steinbrenner allowed, "We are primarily interested in Grich, Gullett, Baylor and Jackson." In reality, Plan A was to go hard after Grich and Gullett. There was not really a Plan B, since George was not accustomed to needing a Plan B. The Yankees wanted Grich and Gullett, and that was that.
The club quickly contacted Jerry Kapstein, the agent for both Gullett and Grich, and secured the right to make the last offer, essentially guaranteeing that they would top the highest bid. Their initial offer to Gullett, six years and two million dollars, was enough to land their prey, thereby angering several other teams who hadn't even had the opportunity to speak with the star pitcher.
Unlike the prolonged chess matches we endure today, in 1976 the players acted as if they feared waking up from their dream. Don Baylor was signed by the Angels on November 16, and the following day brought contracts for Joe Rudi (also the Angels), Dave Cash (Montreal), Gary Matthews (Atlanta), and Bert Campaneris (Texas). The Yankees signed Gullett on the 18th, and then asked Kapstein what it was that Bobby Grich wanted.
What Bobby Grich wanted, it turned out, was to play for the Angels, in his beloved southern California. When Grich heard that Baylor, his best friend in baseball, had signed with California, he called Kapstein and asked him to contact Harry Dalton, the Angels' general manager, whom Bobby knew well from their years together in Baltimore. The Angels had shown little interest in Grich because they already had a well-regarded second baseman, 24-year-old Jerry Remy, and because everyone assumed the Yankees would outbid everyone for him. California had selected Grich with their last pick in the draft, and was the twelfth and final team to choose the second baseman. Dalton's priorities were Baylor and Rudi, and he quickly landed both.
The rule allowing each team to sign only two free agents contained a single exception: a team could sign enough players to replace their own lost players. The Angels played the 1976 season with two unsigned players: seldom used utility men Paul Dade and Billy Smith. On September 9, the Angels purchased infielder Tim Nordbrook from the Orioles, an unusual transaction for a team that was in fifth place, 17 games behind the Royals. What made this deal interesting was that Nordbrook was also soon to be a free agent, giving the Angels a total of three. The Angels made no effort to sign Nordbrook, so they ultimately "lost" three players who combined for 25 at bats, and 4 hits, in the 1976 season.
Bobby Grich was aware of all this, and knew that the Angels could sign a third player. When Kapstein passed on Grich's interest to Dalton, Harry told him that the Angels had already spent more money than they had wanted and were out of the market. The four-time Gold Glove winner persisted, telling Dalton that if the Angels made a decent offer he would take it without any bidding war. Dalton agreed, talked to Gene Autry, and got the OK to invite Grich to Anaheim to work out a contract.
But not before Grich had his promised meeting with George Steinbrenner. The Yankees put on quite a show, telling Grich that he would guarantee them the championship, that he would be an outstanding shortstop, the missing piece to a coming dynasty. Bobby said he'd think it over, that he was leaning toward the Angels but he was impressed with the Yankees pitch. Of course, George wasn't used to people "thinking it over," so he told Grich that if he signed with the Angels he would lodge a protest with the commissioner about their suspicious purchase of Nordbrook. This was a mistake. Grich left the meeting, called his friend Dalton to ask whether the Yankees had a case, and quickly worked out an agreement with the Angels.
The Yankees did not want to be publicly spurned by anyone, so they leaked a story that they had soured on Grich's demands (though he had made none) and were wary of his ability to play shortstop. The guy they wanted all along, it turns out, was Reggie Jackson. This was convenient, since by this time there were only two free agents left on the Yankees draft list: Jackson and Billy Smith. There was no way the Yankees were going to come away with only one free agent, and there is no way they were going to sign the likes of Smith. So, of course they wanted Reggie Jackson. They got him pretty quickly, for five years and three million dollars.
Gabe Paul got his shortstop in March, trading the displaced right fielder Oscar Gamble to the White Sox for Bucky Dent. The Yankees went on to win the next two World Series titles, thanks in large part to two big years and post-seasons from Jackson.
It is interesting to speculate on what would have happened had the Yankees landed Grich in 1976. Jackson earned the nickname Mr. October in New York, and Dent had one of their most famous home runs. Grich, on the other hand, had many fine seasons ahead of him, and Gamble had a great year for Chicago in 1977 and several more good ones. What we are left with is this: had the Yankees acquired Bobby Grich, all of what followed, the subsequent trades and signings, the managerial changes, the infighting, the wins and losses, the whole Bronx Zoo saga, all of it would have been different. How it would have turned out is anyone's guess, but it's hard to imagine how it could have been as fascinating as what actually transpired.
Mark Armour is an engineer and writer from Oregon. He and Daniel Levitt wrote the award-winning book, Paths to Glory, and are at work on a follow up. Mark has also written extensively for Baseball Prospectus, several other leading baseball web sites, and many SABR publications, and is the director of SABR's Baseball Biography Project.
Prospect .300 Club
...we like our nice, round numbers. The world of baseball even embraces them more than society at large. Oh, there are certain numbers not ending in a zero that resonate with baseball fans like no others.
The truth of the matter is that we like to put players in nice, neat boxes. At the assembly line of statisticians, you can hear them packaging 40-HR seasons here and 50-HR seasons there (although Brady Anderson's 1996 campaign may have a hard time getting past the folks in quality control). Does anybody care that Gehrig and Harmon Killebrew each hit 49 dingers twice? I didn't think so.
In his article entitled "Baseball as Numbers," Rich Lederer had it exactly right about the importance of round numbers in baseball. One number he didn't mention, however, was three hundred. Many baseball fans could tell you that the legendary Ty Cobb hit .300 nineteen different times during his career. But how many could tell you that while Harold Baines did it five times, he was within ten percentage points six other times? Or how about the next Sandberg-type Hall of Fame argument, Jeff Kent, who has only two .300 seasons, but six .290 years?
Just like 100 RBI or 40 home runs, a .300 batting average is another bench mark to a good season in baseball. Despite the many problems batting average has, baseball fans old and new, sabermetric or old school respect a .300 hitter. So, in honor of USA's over-commercialed upcoming "4400 club" TV series, I decided to look at the ".300 club" in the minor leagues.
While well over one hundred hitters are batting over .300 from low-A to AAA, I am only counting those that are solid prospects, say, C+ grade or better. The list proves to be very eclectic, with prospects we've known since before they began professional baseball, to some that I was introduced to yesterday. A .300 average during a minor league season is a good way to get noticed, to end up in a prospect book, to get a full-time Major League job. 45 prospects fit the mold, and we will talk about each today, attempting to discover which players are flukes, which will stay atop prospect lists, and which players will be next.
Arranged in order of (what else but) their average, here is the list of the ".300 club":
1. Eric Patterson, 2B, Cubs (MID): .397
Quick take: Unfortunately a trip I made to see the Peoria Chiefs was during Patterson's time off with a hamstring strain, an injury that still could not slow the red-hot Patterson. Eric has all the skills that add up to being the Cubs next leadoff hitter: contact, speed, patience. His one problem is that Patterson is a hitter too advanced for the league the Cubs have him in.
2. Chris Snelling, OF/DH, Mariners (PCL): .389
Quick take: Or, should I call him Doyle? And yes, since Mr. Zumsteg started this little experiment, Snelling has been the prospect that he should have been years ago. Since Chris has the type of raw power that neither Shin-Soo Choo nor Jeremy Reed has, Snelling is the favorite for the future left field Mariner spot. Health allowing, of course.
3. Conor Jackson, 1B, D-Backs (PCL): .385
Quick take: This season, amazingly enough, Conor Jackson has either walked or doubled in more than 25% of his plate appearances. On the other hand, Jackson is striking out in about 5% of his strikeouts. Jackson profiles to have equal power and better patience than Lyle Overbay, probably the subject of many Doug Melvin calls this week given Prince Fielder's hot streak.
4. Matt Murton, OF, Cubs (SOU): .379
Quick take: Murton is not a .400 or even .379 hitter, in fact far closer to .289 (his last 10 games to go below .400), but he still is a solid prospect. Even with the fantastic contact-patience combination that Murton offers, he'll still need power to be more than a blip on Jim Hendry's radar.
5. Howie Kendrick, 2B, Angels (CAL): .373
Quick take: The first middle infielder on this list, Kendrick will also prove to be one of the most legitimate. Kendrick is both a fluid player and one good with the bat, and the combination often proves to be a good one. Kendrick currently has the label of second in the Angel everchanging middle infield struggle, but he'll have to prove himself in the Texas League before Stoneman starts doing anything drastic.
6. Andre Ethier, OF, Athletics (TEX): .367
Quick take: Before becoming a Billy Beane second round pick in 2003, Andre Ethier was quite the hitter at ASU. In 2002, Ethier hit .363/.459/.538 with the Sun Devils, followed by .377/.488/.573 in his final campaign. Dustin Pedroia, on the other hand, had OPS numbers of .849, 1.051 and 1.113 at ASU. This means that Ethier profiles to have less contact and power skills than Ethier, even with a bit of a patience boost.
7. Eddy Martinez-Esteve, OF/DH, Giants (CAL): .360
Quick take: EME has quickly become one of my personal favorites in the minors, as he could be the one given the job of replacing Mr. Barry Bonds. All this kid does is get on base, and also has some power that could even increase after returning to full health. I'm worried that EME will even be a liability in left field, and will need some sort of Carlos Lee-type improvement to even be sustainable.
8. Denard Span, OF, Twins (FSL): .353
Quick take: For each of the last two years, Span has proven to be a .270/.350/.310 hitter. That isn't good for a former first-round pick that drew the inevitable Torii Hunter comparisons back in 2002. Span is either a slow learner or an overperformer, and I'm starting to lean towards the latter. Nothing is saying that he can't be a good 5th outfielder somewhere, but he still profiles to be little more than that.
9. Billy Butler, 3B, Royals (CAL): .348
Quick take: He's good. As I've said before, Jim Thome good. Like Thome, Butler is going to make the slide across the diamond to first base. Whether that is for Teahen or Gordon remains to be seen, but it will be done. Plain and simple, cerebral and young hitters like this don't come around often, so the Royals should be counting their lucky stars. And learning their lesson, as they see Chris Lubanski flail his arms in the same lineup.
10. Justin Huber, 1B/DH, Royals (TEX): .346
Quick take: From Jim Thome to Mike Sweeney, if Butler moves to first it will push Huber to DH. He will hit enough for that position, which makes Mr. Baird look even smarter for finding a way to get him for Jose Bautista. Huber will actually take over for Sweeney in due time, assuming the oft-rumored first baseman eventually gets dealt. Expect Huber to become one of Buddy Bell's favorites quickly.
11. Andy LaRoche, 3B, Dodgers (FSL): .343
Quick take: This one I got right. LaRoche has broken out and more this year, taking the minor league home run lead and on pace to top the forty mark. If he keeps this up he'll push the Dodger 3B train each up a level, and has the potential to make Joel Guzman move to yet another position eventually. Simply put, LaRoche is a few walks from being one of the game's most elite prospects, and he's certainly putting pressure on Ian Stewart.
12. Delmon Young, OF, D-Rays (SOU): .342
Quick take: It wasn't long ago, May 4 to be exact, that Delmon was hitting .293. Since then he has been on a tear, continuing to hit both for power, and unexpected speed. Young truly is the entire package, and should actually get the move to Durham soon so he can be ready for a September call-up. If I were Chuck Lamar, arbitration situation be damned, I would name Delmon Young my 2006 starting right fielder soon.
13. Asdrubal Cabrera, 2B/SS, Mariners (MID): .338
Quick take: Another breakout pick that looks to be succeeding. In his last 43 at-bats, worth about 1/3 of his season, Cabrera has just nine hits. Luckily for Cabrera, he had a .402 average before that, so there was a lot of room left to fall. Cabrera isn't going to offer much more than solid contact skills and great defense, but that would be enough for some offenses.
14. Hunter Pence, OF, Astros (SAL): .337
Quick take: Product of the Astros recent draft-em-from-Texas strategy, Pence was chosen one pick ahead of Pedroia in last year's draft. In fact, given that Pedroia, Kurt Suzuki and EME were all soon after him, hopes are high for Pence. He is fulfilling them so far in the South Atlantic League, making people quickly forget that Mitch guy that broke some short-season record last year. The Major League scouting bureau said of him, "very tall...good strength and arc in swing for power. Swings bat with authority." Sounds good to me.
15. Javier Guzman, SS, Pirates (CAR): .337
Quick take: People love the young, quick little shortstops that hit for high averages in A-ball. And while Guzman isn't a household name yet, like Pablo Ozuna and dozens of others have been, it probably won't take long should he continue streaks like what he is currently hitting. Guzman has some solid talent and good speed, but seems very similar to Ozuna in my mind, with little upside beyond the bench at upper levels.
16. Matt Moses, 3B, Twins (FSL): .333
Quick take: Another Twin late bloomer, Moses looks to be the former top choice that will stick on prospect rankings. Moses, unlike Span, has had a good excuse for some poor numbers, which was an ailing back. Those problems seem to be taken care of, and Moses is hitting well in a tough pitcher's park. People that hit there consistently tend to move on to good things, so expect Moses to solve Minnesota's hot corner problem before too long.
17. Chris Shelton, 1B/DH, Tigers (IL): .331
Quick take: Called up yesterday, Shelton looks like he will go down being a fantastic Rule 5 selection. His catching days are long over, but like Matt LeCroy, still has a chance at carving out a good career. With frustrations mounting about incumbent Carlos Pena, who hits from the left side by the way, expect a platoon to be implemented soon. For now though, the Tigers have given Shelton a brief look at the full time job while Pena hones his skills as a Mud Hen. Look for Shelton to try and take advantage of the small window of opportunity he's been given.
18. Reggie Willits, OF, Angels (TEX): .331
Quick take: Probably my least ranked prospect on this list, Willits was a no-name Sooner chosen in the 7th round before his early season heroics. Still, this is a guy with no power and reminiscent of last season's Josh Anderson, who made everyone notice his gaudy average and big stolen base numbers. A ton of speed and some line drive luck won't do you much more than a paragraph in an article like this...nowhere near legit prospect rankings.
19. Mitch Maier, 3B/OF, Royals (CAL): .330
Quick take: Chosen as the last pick in the first round a couple years ago -- a pre-draft deal because the Royals felt they could land Miguel Vega later -- Maier is starting to pay dividends after years of defensive confusion. His future position still remains in question, as Maier was never seen as a catcher, and his play at third was reportedly atrocious. Those stolen base numbers from last year are down, making me think Maier can't play center, and should start taking notes from Eli Marrero now.
20. Carlos Quentin, OF, D-Backs (PCL): .327
Quick take: He's good, and even with a fairly big drop-off since his silly good early season numbers, Quentin profiles to be playing right in the BOB before long. The Diamondbacks' quick turnover from basement feeder to division contender is admirable, and now new ownership has to juggle a team in the thick of things that also should be in rebuilding mode. Jackson, Quentin, Stephen Drew, Justin Upton. The faces around this offense will be changing for the first time in a long while soon, and Arizona must be ready to handle challenges thrown their way.
21. Ryan Doumit, C, Pirates (IL): .325
Quick take: Pirate catchers at the Major League level currently have an aggregate OBP of .287, so a little improvement is needed. Still, the club is getting enough in the CS and ISO departments to justify letting Doumit return to his real level. Still, I believe that Doumit -- even with his defensive issues -- will still be a better catching regular than Humberto Cota.
22. Dan Johnson, 1B, Athletics (PCL): .324
Quick take: An atrocious April led many to wonder if Johnson had simply been an overhyped, one-time wonder. Wrong they were, as Johnson has proven not to be some Graham Koonce or Jeff Liefer-type, and has legimiately proven that he's a better option than Scott Hatteberg. Expect Billy Beane to make some drastic moves with his team so far at the bottom, and by August, expect Dan Johnson to be playing in Oakland.
23. Dustin Pedroia, 2B, Red Sox (EL): .321
Quick take: So much has been said, and it is all correct. Pedroia has the heart of David Eckstein, but the bat of Jeff Kent. His defense is as steady as they come, and all signs point to him being an All-Star up the middle. Cliff Pennington has Pedroia to thank for his early selection this year, as teams are realizing good numbers from good conferences can sometimes be a sign.
24. Rickie Weeks, 2B, Brewers (PCL): .320
Quick take: Starting to get a little crazy, the hype is, considering Junior Spivey's struggles and Weeks' recent excellent play. The former second overall choice has salvaged what was looking to be a repeat season, and given Doug Melvin reason to consider immediate promotion. The Brewers brought up Gary Sheffield about 15 years ago, and the club now is lucky enough to have his second coming up the middle.
25. Clint Sammons, C, Braves (SAL): .318
A bit of an odd selection in the seventh round last year, Sammons is just another example that Roy Clark knows what he is doing. The Braves live and die in Georgia, and Sammons addition to the catching carousel makes three good prospects plus Johnny Estrada. That, my friends, is what they call surplus. But Sammons, a defensive specialist, looks more like a back-up than anything, possibly handling the duties for Brian McCann down the line.
26. Josh Willingham, ?, Marlins (PCL): .317
Quick take: At the very least, I hope Josh Willingham has Lenny Harris type opportunities off Major League benches for the next fifteen years. In the best case scenario, Willingham becomes a Mr. Fix-It for the Marlins, spelling Carlos Delgado at first, a corner outfielder, Mike Lowell, and even Paul Loduca on certain days. Willingham has enough power to hit it to Cuba, and not allowing him a batting practice to show that off of would be a horrible decision.
27. Wily Aybar, 2B/3B, Dodgers (PCL): .317
Surprisingly named to Baseball Prospectus' prospect lists, Wily Aybar has gained a small amount of fame in sabermetric circles. But, much of this fame was lost after Aybar was moved full-time to the hot corner, a position in which he cannot match Joel Guzman or Andy LaRoche offensively. His hope is to transform into Edgardo Alfonzo over night, and eventually supplant Jeff Kent at second.
28. Adam Jones, SS, Mariners (CAL): .315
This is what the California League does, it just chooses some middle infielder at random, and gives the kid some insane stats. Ask Josh Barfield or Erick Aybar what can happen with one too many Cal League at-bat, as prospect evaluators start to sing your praises all over the place. In an organization as stockpiled in the shortstop department as these guys, it's a shame to see this bit of success will delay Jones' inevitable return to the pitching mound.
29. Alcides Escobar, SS, Brewers (SAL): .315
Quick take: To succeed when moving from the low-A and high-A leagues, you need to walk. Alcides Escobar, despite having a bevvy of skills, does not walk. He is going to become overrated and overhyped, as people talk about his fluidity, his speed, his wrists. But Escobar does not have a good enough power to be frugal with the walks, and not enough walks to be frugal with the power. And in this scenario, there simply is no middle ground.
30. Felix Pie, OF, Cubs (SOU): .312
Quick take: Maybe it's the Cubs fan in me, but I just believe that we are seeing Felix Pie put all of his tools together. This is what a complete baseball player is supposed to like, especially one that will replace Corey Patterson in 2006. Patterson received his share of bad press in Chicago, and LaTroy Hawkins can attest how quickly that can get you out of the Windy City. If Felix Pie continues to be in this club, as well as hit for power, speed and show his typical good defense, it's embarassing Pie wasn't always the Cubs top prospect.
Prospects 31-45, withholding comments:
31. Hanley Ramirez, SS, Red Sox (EL): .311
32. Brandon Wood, SS, Angels (CAL): .310
33. Kelly Johnson, OF, Braves (IL): .31034. Matt Tuiasosopo, SS, Mariners (MID): .309; MLB scouting bureau says that he has the look of a young Jose Canseco
35. Drew Meyer, UT, Rangers (TEX): .309; You think he lists Ryan Freel and Rob Mackowiak as his idols?
36. Jeremy Hermida, OF, Marlins (SOU): .308
37. Hernan Ibibarren, 2B, Brewers (SAL): .308
38. Brandon Sing, ?/1B, Cubs (SOU): .307
39. Nate Schierholtz, 3B/OF, Giants (CAL): .305
40. Ryan Sweeney, OF, White Sox (SOU): .303
41. Brent Clevlen, OF, Tigers (FSL): .303
42. Jason Jaramillo, C, Phillies (SAL): .303
43. Aaron Hill, SS/3B, Blue Jays (IL): .301
44. Mike Napoli, C, Angels (TEX): .301
45. Todd Linden, OF, Giants (PCL): .300
Sometimes it's the park, sometimes it's the age, sometimes it's the league, and sometimes it's just luck. Batting average without context in the minor leagues can be a poor tool. Fluctuation will likely see many players leave the .300 club at one point or another during the year, and they can only be so lucky to return. But so many times the context and the means don't matter, the end result will be enough to get noticed.