WTNYSeptember 14, 2005
Cheap Awards
By Bryan Smith

In every sport, there are a few valuable commodities that owners find most important. In these certain situations, this commodity can take full control of the organization, pushing his weight around in every department. Because in the end, it's all a game of dollars and cents, and the owners know, superstars (sometimes even more than winning) pay the bills.

Basketball fans can attest to the influence that players like LeBron James and Kobe Bryant have in the front office. In football, Brett Favre proved that #4 was number one by all-but forcing Javon Walker to end holdout talks and come to camp. Major League Baseball has players that also believe their numbers should dictate in organizational decision making. Barry Bonds, whose importance to the Giants has not gone unstated, is that kind of player.

While it is way to early in the process to be putting him in that echelon, Delmon Young realizes he is en route to that category, and has already started the drama-queening. With Vince Naimoli slowly stepping away from the Tampa Bay limelight, Young saw a good time to criticize the organization that once made him the first overall draft pick. Young's threats -- one could surmise -- are simply an attempt to get through to the new ownership, and make them realize change is needed. For gosh sakes, here they have the potential savior of the franchise already counting down his days until free agency.

Chuck Lamar is as good as gone. While GMs like Dan O'Dowd and Dave Littlefield sit on the hot seat, at this point, Lamar might as well begin packing up his belongings. With rumors of skilled rebuilder Gerry Hunsicker interested, expect the Devil Rays to make a change at some point. Then, maybe then, Delmon gets his wish, and this team stops being so cheap.

Simply put, Young's comments should be taken as more of a call-to-attention than a direct threat. There is significant time for things to change in Tampa, and for this organization to stop being the one like destination on every limited-trade clause. In fact, given the Florida weather, state income tax policies and distance from Spring Training, one could even imagine the Devil Rays eventually becoming an attractive target. By then, Young should be a superstar, and given his current path, will be making even more outrageous demands.

It isn't hard to find flaws in how this organization was built. Scan any stat or transaction sheet since the expansion and you'll find mistakes worthy of criticism. Kevin Stocker for Bobby Abreu. Josh Hamilton. B.J. Upton's ever-non-changing position. Nowhere in there, however, will you find the handling of Delmon Young.

The 2005 Southern League MVP and Baseball America Player of the Year had a season he should be more than proud of. At the tender age of nineteen, and amidst huge expectations, Delmon had a fantastic run. Before leaving AA, he was damn near flawless. His contact skills were great, with a .336 average and a strikeout rate of just twenty percent. His huge power skills had produced 37 extra-base hits in 330 at-bats. He stole 25 bases, and was one of the league's best outfielders. The only remote trait worth criticizing was a walk rate (25 in 330 AB) that could have used improving.

When moving to the International League, however, it didn't improve...it got worse. In fact, in 52 games with the Durham Bulls, Young walked just four times. While people can hope that Young can make like Jeff Francoeur and get away with it, that isn't likely. Young's .303 OBP at AAA proved he was in a little bit over his teenage head. Furthermore, his stolen base success rate dropped, and his power began to revert to being more gap than home run. Despite having the talent to keep his head over water, Young was flailing.

There is no reason to promote Delmon Young for the month of September, following a less-than-spectacular AAA trial. He is, without doubt, close to the Majors, and will probably have a legitimate argument for a big league job out of Spring Training. However, his first exposure to this new type of lifestyle should not be destined for failure, as promoting a .303 OBP would suggest. Give Young time (yes, wait until about June of 2006) to further his discipline skills, while conveniently, waiting for that arbitration clock to begin to tick.

Stuart Sternberg might not see it that way. The new primary owner of the Devil Rays will likely see Young as a player that must be pleased...at all costs. If true, that leaves Devil Rays fans with one option: hope Delmon's attitude is far more influenced by B.J. Upton than Elijah Dukes. If not, the height and then plight of the Los Angeles Lakers (would this example make Upton our Shaq?) becomes Tampa's best comp.

All that, while ignoring the style from yesterday. In a more short-winded format than that from above as well as Tuesday, here is a look at the other award winners from AA on up:

Southern League Pitcher of the Year: Ricky Nolasco - Second year in AA, really tightened things up. Has emerged as a similar pitcher to Sergio Mitre, a versatile sinker/slider guy that could be everything from an innings-eater to a ROOGY. His great year still leaves him beyond a few Cubs pitching prospect -- and at least one Jaxx (Sean Marshall) -- on the organizational ladder.

Eastern League MVP: Mike Jacobs - Has gone onto make a name for himself at the Major League level, but only after leaving the EL in the top ten in each of the triple crown categories (1st in RBI). Jacobs has been fantastic since joining the Mets, showing the same power and better discipline than he had in Binghamton. Believe me, the club could do much worse than finding a left-handed bat to split time at first between Jacobs and Mike Piazza for 2006.

Eastern League Pitcher of the Year: Jon Lester - Few things make me more proud, as I believed in Lester's breakout before the 2005 season more than any other player. Lester's season was fantastic, probably the best of any prospect in a now-loaded Boston system. But like last year, if you take out the first couple starts, the season looks even better. They gotta het him going earlier next year, and who knows, by midseason, he should be contributing.

Eastern League Rookie of the Year: Chris Roberson - I'll give him this, I definitely didn't believe in him. After a good FSL season in 2004, I thought Roberson was nothing but a fluke. He now appears to be more than that, a good centerfielder with a solid mix of speed and power. His K/BB numbers must get better -- and he must continue to make himself look better than Michael Bourn and Greg Golson -- but for once, you'll hear my say that Roberson has a chance of making an impact in this organization.

Texas League MVP: Andre Ethier - Two points for whoever saw this coming. After a nice career at Arizona State followed by a modest introduction to professional baseball, Ethier likely made himself a part of Billy Beane's plans for the future of this organization. In a sense, reminds me of current 'A' Jay Payton, who was drafted high after playing at Georgia Tech. His AA season in 1995? .345/.397/.535. Ethier's? .319/.385/.497. Payton showed better contact skills, while Ethier is more disciplined. Similar power as well as speed in the outfield should give Ethier a similar career path.

Texas League Pitcher of the Year: Jason Hirsh - I truly believe that Hirsh was headed to be a good 2005 Rule 5 pick before he kept on just coming along. I noticed him early in the year and made a note about his upcoming Rule 5 eligibility, which should fall by the wayside after the Astros add him to the 40-man roster. Hirsh vs. Fernando Nieve makes for an interesting argument, and while Hirsh probably comes up short, it isn't by as much as you would think.

International League MVP: Shane Victorino - Not really a prospect, but turning out to be a damn good Rule 5 pick. Victorino added a power spike to his game this year, while showing a little less speed. Still, with good contact and discipline skills, mixed with a touch of power and the ability to play the outfield, and Victorino looks destined for a fourth outfielder slot.

International League Pitcher of the Year: Zach Duke - Like Jacobs, now famous after a great debut to the Majors. Duke's season may be in question because of a small injury and heavy workload, which should bode well for his future. In his few starts this year, Duke showed a knack for changing speeds and confusing hitters. He figures heavily in the Pirates' rebuilding plan.

International League Rookie of the Year: Francisco Liriano - Another proud award winner of mine, because like Lester, he was a breakout selection. Liriano's fantastic year makes him one of the top five pitching prospects in the minors, and a contestant in the second-to-King Felix argument. He throws the ball with a ton of movement, and a ton of philosophy. Throwing Liriano and Johan Santana on back-to-back days will be fantastic for this organization.

Pacific Coast League MVP: Andy Green - The Rick Short of the West. Give the park some credit and his age some credit, but admit to me, this guy should be getting some ML at-bats, no? Naysayers will point to an awful 100 at-bats last year, but overall, Green would be a good option for this team. He is good especially as a bench player, where his versatility and bat will help.

PCL Pitcher and Rookie of the Year: Felix Hernandez - The best of the bunch, save maybe only Delmon Young. What could be said about Hernandez already has, so I just want to say this: no rookie in the last 20 years has started quite like King Felx. But like Duke, the Mariners wouldn't exactly be stupid if they shut their star right-hander out for the year.


Would like to have seen the parent club in parens, I don't know who some of them are being compared to.

Sure Gilbert, I apologize for not having added that. Here are the players mentioned above, and their parent organizations:

Delmon Young - Devil Rays
Ricky Nolasco - Cubs
Mike Jacobs - Mets
Jon Lester - Red Sox
Chris Roberson - Phillies
Andre Ethier - A's
Jason Hirsh - Astros
Shane Victorino - Phillies
Zach Duke - Pirates
Francisco Liriano - Twins
Andy Green - Diamondbacks
Felix Hernandez - Mariners