WTNYJuly 26, 2005
WTNY Midseason Mailbag
By Bryan Smith

In Baseball America's midseason top 25, John Manuel excluded any player that played in the Majors during the 2005 season. I noticed that on your top 75, ten of the players have violated Manuel's rule. If you used that ideology, what ten players would get squeezed onto the list?
-- B. Smith

Great question to start off the mailbag! I wonder who could think of such a good question. Anyway, it is true that ten players on my list have played in the Majors this season. Surely with different eligibility rules -- a.k.a...more strict than I have -- these players would have been excluded from the top 75. But more importance than their exit is the names of the players that enter.

With that being said, here are the ten players that make up my honorable mention. I have chosen not to rank the group, so instead they are in alphabetical order:

Homer Bailey: Cincinnati Reds (SP)

Last June, the Brewers made a mistake in deciding that Mark Rogers was the draft's best high school pitching prospect. Bailey had near-equivalent numbers in Texas, a much harder environment than Rogers faced in New England. And while neither pitcher has shown a ton of polish this season, Bailey is showing a lot more upside. His ERA of 4.67 is enough to make your head spin, but he also has struck out 79 in 71.1 innings. Given a solid hit rate, strikeout rate and home run rate, expect Bailey to emerge as the Reds best pitching prospect in years next season.

Brian Bannister: New York Mets (SP)

Floyd's son has emerged this year as the best of the Bannister children, and third to two very good pitching prospects in the Mets organization. Brian is the closest to the Majors of Petit and Hernandez, as well, and should start paying dividends this September. His strikeout rate isn't fantastic, and he also has given up too many home runs this year -- though the Binghamton environment isn't pitcher-friendly. While neither of those is enough to prevent Bannister from succeeding, an abandonment of his control might. If Brian walks as few hitters as he did in the Eastern League, look for a middle-of-the-rotation career. If not, the recently-drafted Brett Bannister will look to keep Floyd's legacy going. And if we're being honest, Bannister edged out Tyler Clippard for spot 85.

Jonathan Broxton: Los Angeles Dodgers (RP)

I'll deal with Broxton more in-depth below, in a different mailbag about relievers. But I do believe that Broxton is the second best reliever in the minors right now, and may also have the best stuff. Kevin Goldstein reported Broxton hit 101 on the gun last week, which was surely enough to make Yhency Brazoban start to worry.

Kory Casto: Washington Nationals (3B)

The only National in the top 85, Casto leads a resurgent National system. He's not the best prospect in the organization, or even the best at his position (stand up, Mr. Zimmerman), but Casto is the best of the holdovers. When Hinckley and Everts are back to full strength next year, to go with Casto, Zimmerman, Diaz and Galarraga, this system will be stacked. And the entire Nationals scouting department will be in line for a raise, that's for sure. As far as Casto goes, it looks like he'll hit enough to take the position change to whatever the Nationals need. He's a bit old for the Carolina League, but his offensive skill set is looking pretty complete right now.

Tom Gorzelanny: Pittsburgh Pirates (SP)

With Zach Duke and Ian Snell graduated to the Majors, Gorzelanny becomes the top Pirate pitching prospect. He narrowly edges out teammate and fellow southpaw Paul Maholm, because Gorzelanny packs a little more punch. While the two boast similar hit and home run rates, Gorzelanny's K/9 is enough to push him over the hump. It amazes me how many left-handers this rotation could eventually have, but I believe that's organizational strategy more than anything else. That's another column waiting to be written.

Jason Hammel: Tampa Bay Devil Rays (SP)

More than any other player that didn't make the 75, Hammel is the one I worry about the most. He's the one that I can most see making me look like an idiot, as you could say he has the complete package. Size, control, durability, HR rate...it's all there. I'll say that he is prospect 76, mostly because I'm afraid of having him any lower.

Zach Jackson: Toronto Blue Jays (SP)

The Jays system certainly doesn't have a lot at the top, but it definitely has a lot in the middle. Jackson is the lone Jay in the top 85, but he narrowly edged out a few of his organizational mates. David Purcey, Adam Lind and Chi-Hung Cheng all were considered. Jackson is the best of the bunch right now, mostly because he's the closest to the Majors. While Purcey and Cheng have higher ceilings in the rotation, Jackson is a much safer bet. He thrives on good control, good enough stuff to strike some people out, and when he doesn't, a very good cutter to stop any good contact. Jackson is as close as one month from his Major League debut, and at worst, less than a year.

Chuck James: Atlanta Braves (SP)

Here to represent the lefties that didn't make it, the Rich Hills, Sean Marshalls, and Sean Henns of the world. James is the best of the bunch, in my opinion, as his peripherals are pretty unrivaled. He made a mockery of the Carolina League in seven starts, and certainly isn't showing signs of problems in the Southern League. An August promotion to AAA would do him well, as James needs to be challenged for the first time in this organization. We need to finally see what he's made of.

Adam Jones: Seattle Mariners (SS)

A personal guarantee: if Jones keeps up at even a shade of the pace he's on, he'll finish the year on my top 75. At 19, the former first-round pick dominated the California League, and has yet to slow down in AA. Also armed with a first-round caliber arm as a pitcher, it's safe to say Jones doesn't struggle with throws deep in the hole. I have him behind Cabrera, who has a resume with more consistent success. If I tried to play Jim Callis' game, I would go with this order: Cabrera, Jones, Betancourt, Tuiasasopo, Morse, Navarro. All in all, our disagreement comes from Asdrubal. It's hard to not be high on Jones.

Greg Miller: Los Angeles Dodgers (SP)

Given the success of players like Cole Hamels and Adam Miller post-rest, it's hard to give up on Greg. He had an arm equivalent to those two before his injury, but now needs to prove that it's still there. He's looked good in his six appearances so far, but the 15.2 inning sample size is just not enough. Nor are the eight walks good enough to justify a top 75 selection.

And there you have it, players 76-85 on my prospect list.

As a Dodger fan, I was wondering about the fates of Delwyn Young, Dioner Navarro, Travis Denker and Matt Kemp?
-- Benaiah

Benaiah, I think you forgot about Scott Elbert, James Loney, Cory Dunlap, Justin Orenduff, Sergio Pedroza, etc. The Dodgers system is unbelievably stacked, and off the top of my head, probably the organization with the most minor league depth. While two Dodgers fell in my honorable mention, I have to say that Orenduff was extremely close. I'm also a Dunlap fan, as I think his power might develop into a weapon in time.

As far as the players you mentioned, it's really a no-tools group, save Dioner Navarro. 'Pudgito' has fallen into the system's second-best catching prospect, and is being forgotten quickly because of that. He has a lot of work to do to catch Russ Martin, who is superior in nearly every aspect of the game. But given Navarro's contact abilities, and above-average defense, I think he could be the Dodgers back-up catcher.

After that, Delwyn Young probably has the next best tools. But Young is like ex-Dodger prospect Victor Diaz -- another big-hitting second baseman with very limited defensive skills. Young is probably, like Diaz, set up for third base or the outfield. But then his horrible selectivity skills come into play, and in the end, Young is just a marginal prospect. Denker is better at second base, though his season this year seems to be pretty fluky. It's too early to fairly evaluate Travis, as this year has to be seen as an aberration to everyone outside his parents.

So, does Drew stay at short? Or are we seeing the D-Backs outfield in Jackson, Quentin and Drew (and doesn't that bode well for them!)
-- Chris B
Is the ranking of Quentin over Jackson despite Jackson's better stats and "write-up" in the list a reflection of ceiling? Is it because Quentin's higher on the defensive spectrum?
-- Trev

I'll answer Trev's question first, because it's the easier answer. Quentin is a better prospect than Jackson for a host of reasons. One is, as mentioned, Quentin's place on the defensive spectrum. Chris B. mentions Jackson being in the future Arizona outfield, but I do not think the Diamondbacks plan to shift Conor back there. The plan is to keep Jackson at first, while Quentin is good enough to stay in right field. Big difference there.

Also, I believe Quentin to be the more complete hitter. Jackson has better selectivity, with contact skills that are among the best in the minor leagues. But Quentin has discipline that is good enough, and he matches it with plus power. Jackson, on the other hand, has gap power with the occasional home run. This is best seen when giving Jackson and Quentin the same BABIP rates (not a perfect method, I know), as Carlos then has an OPS about .120 higher than Conor.

So, we have already established Jackson will be playing first base in Arizona for years to come. With Troy Glaus locked up until 2008, expect the Diamondbacks to trade Chad Tracy this winter (the White Sox, maybe?). While that leaves a space open for Jackson, Quentin is still blocked by either Luis Gonzalez or Shawn Green. The problem is that Gonzalez is an institution in Arizona, a power so large -- some believe -- that he had Randy Johnson traded. Green is a commodity that should be more wanted than last winter, after proving to still be healthy this winter.

With Tracy and Green both traded, expect Jackson and Quentin to be regulars in 2006. Drew will take longer, likely one year longer, but should be given a spot when ready. At this point, his defense at shortstop hasn't been as bad as expected. Still, Stephen is likely better suited for second base or centerfield. Much of his future position will be decided by Sergio Santos, and whether or not Arizona views him as a solid shortstop option. Also, recent first pick Justin Upton should have some say, as any future plan should concern him as well.

My guess at the Arizona lineup, maybe in 2008:

C- Miguel Montero; 1B- Conor Jackson; 2B- Stephen Drew; SS- Sergio Santos; 3B- Troy Glaus; LF- Luis Gonzalez; CF- Justin Upton; RF- Carlos Quentin.

I was wondering why there were no prospects specifically being groomed for relief. Do you not think they are worthy of top 75 rankings because they throw so few innings? The 1st pitcher that came to my mind was Fernando Cabrera who is absolutely lights out in AAA this year.
-- Clark
I'm just wondering what separates Travis Bowyer from someone like Capellan? Just Capellan's ability to start?
-- GMoney

A good starter is better than a good reliever. Plain and simple. If you give me a starter with consistent late 90s gas, he's a better prospect than the reliever with the same stuff. Because of that, being a reliever comes as a disadvantage to any prospect. That, better than anything else, explains why only one reliever (Capellan) made my list. But, I'm not opposed to putting them on my list. Jonathan Broxton was oh-so-very close. Bowyer and Cabrera weren't far off -- Bowyer closer -- but they are, in my mind, significantly worse prospects than Broxton and Capellan.

And, this has nothing to do with Broxton and Capellan's "ability to start." That is useless to me, as I believe both pitchers are in for long careers as relievers. In fact, I doubt either player will start another game within their organization. Broxton sealed that deal this past week, when Kevin Goldstein reported the big, Dodger right-hander hit 101 on the gun. Capellan has been in the process of convincing his organization since before he even entered it.

Before we talk about why the two ex-starters beat out Bowyer and Cabrera, let's look at their minor league numbers this year, as relievers:

Name	ERA	H/9	K/9	BB/9	HR/9
JC	1.25	7.06	7.89	3.74	0.42
JB	3.50	8.00	12.50	2.00	0.50
TB	1.68	5.20	11.74	4.86	0.34
FC	0.99	6.55	12.31	1.79	0.40

OK, that doesn't prove my case. While both Capellan and Broxton have been good, they are far from beating out the two AL Central future closers. For example, Capellan ranks second, third, fourth, third and third across the board with his peripherals. Broxton is even worse: fourth, fourth, first, second, fourth. But, both Capellan and Broxton are fairly new to the relief game, and their results are sample sizes at best.

For example, if you look at their peripherals before the season, a different picture is painted.

Name	ERA	H/9	K/9	BB/9	HR/9
JC	2.69	7.68	8.87	3.18	0.13
JB	3.14	7.34	9.55	3.74	0.37
TB	3.02	7.43	8.26	5.01	0.28
FC	3.78	7.99	9.19	3.66	0.70

In this situation, all the players are close, but I think the two ex-starters have the edge. Capellan is first in three of the five categories, while Broxton leads the other two. Clearly, even as starters, these pitchers were lethal to opposing hitters. But they are obviously better suited for short distances, where their heavy fastballs are going to pay dividends. Capellan's HR/9 ratio should excite Milwaukee, while I remain worried about Cabrera, no matter what his 2005 sample size says. While Cabrera and Bowyer should have better short-term success in middle relief spots than Capellan or Broxton, the latter two should dominate when it's all said and done.

And to guess, Bowyer would slot in somewhere in the 90-110 range, with Cabrera falling in somewhere shortly after that.


Not to quibble with your excellent mail bag and analysis thus far, but the Dodger fan also asked about Matt Kemp, who seems to be showing a good deal of power. What do you think of him?

Chris, I think Kemp is legit. Not .600 slugging percentage legit, but he's a real prospect. His BABIP surprised me at about .310, meaning his contact skills aren't a fluke in the slightest. Hitting that many extra-base hits in Vero Beach is a difficult thing, also, but he's probably getting lucky with his 2B:HR ratio. He also has abysmal plate discipline, something that will destroy him in the Southern League. The Dodgers must start preaching discipline fast, before it's too late.

How did a group of prospects numbering Matt Kemp among them get called a "no-tools group," Bryan? The write-up on Kemp in this year's BA Prospect Handbook notes his "four potential plus tools," and BA called him the "Best Athlete" in the Dodger system. And as far as predicting that his abysmal plate discipline will "destroy him in the Southern League," that is pretty much the same thing that was said by statheads about Joel Guzman, Franklin Gutierrez, and Andy LaRoche. The same thing was said about the Braves' Jeff Francouer. The same thing was said about the Reds' Wily Mo Pena. Notice a theme developing here, Bryan? All of those guys went on to do very well in the Southern League. Or at least well.

Now, for Travis Denker. You really surprise me on this guy. I would have thought you would be drooling over a 19-year-old middle infielder -- who plays 2B WELL and projects to stay there -- in the Sally League hitting .301/.411./.547. You call Denker's season an "aberration." Really? He hit .311/.372/.556 in the Pioneer League last year. At the same age, on the same team, the highly-touted Blake DeWitt hit only .284/.350/.448 in 2004, yet BA ranked DeWitt the Dodgers' #8 prospect, while excluding Denker from the Dodgers' Top 30 entirely. In 2003, playing in the Gulf Coast League as a 17-year-old, Denker hit .270/.382./.426, one of the best performances on that team that season and from one of the team's two or three youngest players. High school draftees who start their pro careers before their 18th birthdays are not numerous. After remembering that Grady Sizemore played in the Gulf Coast League as a 17-year old, I looked up his GCL stats to compare them with Denker's: .293/.380/.376. A better batting average, but a slightly worse OBA and a worse slugging percentage than what Denker put up in the GCL at the same age.

I think the bottom line is that Denker is being dismissed -- or more accurately, denied recognition -- because he was only a 21st round draft pick who did not have the excuse of "falling for signability reasons." That makes him a guy without pedigree, and Baseball America loves pedigree, but I thought you would avoid the same mistake, because you tend to be stats-centric (which sometimes is not a good thing, but this is not one of those instances.) I think Denker is to Logan White's 2003 draft what Russell Martin (17th round) is to his 2002 draft: a diamond plucked from obscurity, because other teams failed to recognize great potential.

Richard, first of all, the no-tools was not meant towards Kemp. My comment above should prove that, as I like Kemp's power and contact skills. it's that sixth tools that's missing. :)

You might be right with Denker...it's very possible he's the next Russ Martin. White is proving to be a mastermind, so it wouldn't even be that hard to talk me into it. But anyone who was drafted in the 21st round, and not as a draft-and-follow, faces a road similar to the one I describe for relievers. They have a disadvantage. Denker really has to prove he's worth it at two full-season levels, in my mind, before I can consider him for my top 75. As a second rounder, he would get considered.

Right now, to put some context to it, Denker rates right with hernan Iribarren on the 2B ladder.

Thanks for your comments on Kemp. One question about that though, what exactly do you mean by getting lucky with his 2B:HR ratio? Does that mean you think that many of his home runs would be doubles in other situations? May I ask why?
And just to clafigy on Denker, you didn't rank him based on his lack of a track record, not because of anything in it, correct?

As far as your 2008 Arizona lineup is concerned, Luis Gonzales will be 41 on 2008 Opening Day.

Fernando Cabrera was an ex-starter, too. Moved to relief in the middle of 2003 at AA, because he couldn't quite develop that 3rd pitch. Bowyer might have been too.

I guess that was unnecessary.