WTNYJune 28, 2005
The Graduates
By Bryan Smith

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?


What about Chris Shelton?

Jeff, since he debuted in 2004, he wasn't on the ESPN Newcomer list for 2005. If he was on this list, he'd by pretty high...I like him a lot.

I just want to take the time to point out that I always believed in Cano and am ecstatic to see him doing so well. In addition, in case anyone was wondering, it seems as though his being named the '03 FSL best defensive 2B and the '04 EL best defensive 2B is more indicative of his talent in the field than those persons willing to say he was a horrendous 2B.

What about Chien-Ming Wang?

Chipper is an injury prone 10 and 5 making it unlikely that he will be dealt.

What about Gus Chacin?