Big XII Preview
College Baseball Preview Week heads east today, as we move on from the Pac-10 to the Big 12. We will be sure to catch you up on the Big West later, but in 2006, it only seems natural to segue from USC to Texas. Sorry, Rich.
Howdy, my name is Ryan and I been running a website called Texas A&M & Baseball In No Particular Order for about 3 years now. I won't bore you with my life story so I'll catch you up to speed really quickly....I love Aggie baseball and Bryan and Rich have kindly invited me to say a few words about the Big XII and the fast approaching season.
One last thing before I get into it....keep supporting collegiate baseball. It's a great thing and I'd love to see it continue to grow, so get out to the ballparks near you and watch it on TV (you can even play the video game now). Bryan & Rich do a great job keeping the college game on their minds and in their writing and I tip my cap to them for that.
In the words of my boy, Pat Green, "Here we go"....
2005 Season: 58-15; National Champions (def. Florida)
Preseason Rankings: #1 Baseball America, #1 Collegiate Baseball, #1 NCBWA
Preseason All-Americans: Adrian Aleniz-SP (CB-2, NCBWA-1), Jordan Danks-OF (BA-3) Kenn Kasparek-SP (CB-3), Kyle McCulloch-SP (BA-2, CB-1, NCBWA-1), Drew Stubbs-OF (BA-1, CB-1, NCBWA-1)
Coming off of their second National Championship in 4 years, Texas is only losing 3 arms from a pitching staff that was one of the elite in the nation last season. They're returning a weekend rotation of Kyle McCulloch (138.2 IP, 2.92 ERA, .267 BAA, 99 SO, 45 BB), Adrian Alaniz (108.0/2.67/.235/94/32), & Kenn Kasparek (73.0/2.10/.214/46/31) which is just scary. They only had 3 pitchers with ERAs over 3.00 and two of them aren't returning. As an Aggie, it hurts me to type that out.
Offensively, they're only returning 6 of 14 players with >10 ABs from last season but this wasn't a team that relied on hitting the tar out of the ball. They're also bringing in OFer Jordan Danks who is one of 9 true freshmen to be named to Baseball America's Preseason All-American team since 1983 (which was 3 years before Danks was even born).
Drew Stubbs is getting the most preseason hype but he got the same thing last preseason. He really reminds me of Vince Young heading into this past football season ... a freak of an athlete with a huge upside who has had a couple pretty good seasons but has yet to put it all together and earn his All-American hype. Head coach Augie Garrido has it right when he says that Stubbs is the best athlete he's ever coached but won't say he's the best baseball player he's ever coached. Stubbs hit .301/.372/.474 as a freshman & .311/.384/.527 as a sophomore with 8 & 11 HRs, respectively, in his career. Like I said, good but not Golden Spikes good.
One thing that always impresses me is that Texas has no problem scheduling strong opponents in non-conference play. They start the season in the Astros College Classic with games against Rice & Tulane. They have 3 game series with both Stanford and Long Beach State plus 2 more weeknight games with Rice and a single game against Arizona State.
After coming away with two rings on three consecutive trips to the championship game Garrido continues to build his legacy as one of the greatest collegiate baseball coaches ever. Looking into the future it doesn't appear things will drop off too terribly much. The horns continue to restock with talent and win with great fundamentals and great coaching.
2005 Season: 57-15 (19-8; T-1st), Big XII Tournament Champions, CWS Appearance
Preseason Rankings: n/a Baseball America, #4 Collegiate Baseball, #5 NCBWA
Preseason All-Americans: Joba Chamberlain-SP (BA-2, CB-1, NCBWA-2), Johnny Dorn-SP (CB-2, NCBWA-2), Brett Jensen-RP (CB-1, NCBWA-2)
I can't believe that Baseball America doesn't have Nebraska in their Top 25. The Huskers are going to field a good ball club even after losing the 3/4 of their infield in Alex Gordon (2005 Golden Spikes winner), Joe Simokitis, & Curtis Ledbedder as well as OFer Daniel Bruce (OF). Those 4 made up all of Nebraska's offensive 1st or 2nd team All-Conference players. They do return 2Bman, Ryan Wehrle (.275/.377/.329), who was named All-Big XII Honorable Mention last season as a freshman.
Their pitching staff was phenomenal in 2005 and they're returning 9 of their 11 pitchers with 10+ IP led by their All-Americans Joba Chamberlain (118.2 IP, 2.81 ERA, .218 BAA, 130 SO, 33 BB), Johnny Dorn (104.0/2.16/.199/75/21) & Brett Jensen (46.0/1.96/.207/46/9). Of the 9, only two had an ERA over 3.00 and only one was higher than 3.35. That's sickening.
In the end, pitching takes you to the postseason and this team certainly has that. On a side note, it will be interesting to keep an eye on their pitching staff after losing pitching coach Rob Childress who took over the head coach job for my Texas A&M Aggies.
2005 Season: 46-24 (19-8; T-1st), CWS Appearance
Preseason Rankings: n/a Baseball America, #23 Collegiate Baseball, n/a NCBWA
Preseason All-Americans: n/a
Even coming off of an exciting College World Series season I would be surprised to see Baylor make it through the Regionals in 2006. The Bears lost 2 of their top 3 hitters (Michael Griffin & Josh Ford) from a lineup that was, to put it quite simply, bad. The Bears hit .269/.341/.398 as a team in 2005. They do return All-Big XII DH, Zach Dillon (.304/.379/.417), who will probably suit up behind the plate fulltime now that Ford is gone.
In 2005 the Bears got by on their good pitching, even more than Texas did, but only Cory VanAllen (107.1 IP, 4.02 ERA, .286 BAA, 68 SO, 38 BB) will return to their starting rotation along with relievers Ryan LaMotta (79.2/.221/27/23), & Jeff Mandel (66.0/1.91/.221/27/23). But man, they lost so much pitching ... 49% of the team's innings will not return including the staff's 3rd, 4th, 5th, & 6th lowest ERAs, respectively (only relievers LaMotta & Mandel were better).
2005 Season: 40-23 (16-11; 4th), Regional Appearance
Preseason Rankings: #10 Baseball America, #14 Collegiate Baseball, #16 NCBWA
Preseason All-Americans: Max Scherzer-SP (BA-1, CB-1, NCBWA-1), Hunter Mense-OF (BA-3, NCBWA-2)
It was unfortunate that Mizzou had to travel to Cal-State Fullerton for Regionals in '05 because they had a pretty good little team last year. The Tigers are returning All-American Max Scherzer (106.1 IP, 1.86 ERA, .163 BAA, 131 SO, 41 BB) as their Friday starter as well as 3 other 1st or 2nd team All-Conference players -- OF-Hunter Mense (.327/.440/.473), SP-Nathan Culp (92.2/3.50/.287/63/31), & RP-Taylor Parker (50.0/2.88/.193/42/23).
On the offensive side of the ball, they're returning 10 of their 13 offensive players with 50 or more ABs but did lose their hands-down top offensive player, James Boone, who led the team in BA, RBIs, OBP, SLG, & SB. While the Tigers return Scherzer, Culp and Parker they only return two other arms from their 13 pitchers from last season. Regardless, starting pitching is king in college baseball and Scherzer/Culp should carry them through conference play and into the postseason. If another arm or two step forward this could be another great season for Tiger fans.
2005 Season: 35-26 (14-13; 5th), Regional Appearance
Preseason Rankings: n/a Baseball America, #29 Collegiate Baseball, #28 NCBWA
Preseason All-Americans: n/a
New head coach, Sunny Golloway, emerges as one of two new head coaches in the Big XII this season. Golloway was promoted from within after a messy "resignation" from head coach Larry Cochell and a confusing soap opera with Wichita State's longtime head man, Gene Stephenson (funny). Golloway takes over an incredibly experienced roster as the Sooners are returning 10 of their 13 players who had 20+ ABs and 7 of their 9 pitchers who threw more than 10 innings in 2005.
Their top returning offensive players are 3Bman, Ryan Rohlinger (.345/.449/.563) who led last year's squad with 11 HRs & 53 RBIs and Freshman All-American OFer, Kody Kaiser (.305/.376/.520) who was the only other Sooner to reach double digit HR numbers with 10 ... the next closest was 6.
Out on the bump they do return a very sizable portion of their pitching staff but it isn't a great staff. Of the 7 returning arms mentioned the lowest ERA of the bunch came from Will Savage (97.1 IP, 3.98 ERA, .292 BAA, 53 SO, 19 BB), who threw mostly out of the bullpen. Their most experienced starters are Brad Burns (66.0/4.50/.288/48/37) & Steven Guerra (85.2/5.91/.298/53/24).
2005 Season: 30-25-1 (9-18; 5th)
Preseason Rankings: n/a Baseball America, n/a Collegiate Baseball, n/a NCBWA
Preseason All-Americans: n/a
Finally, I am including my Aggies. Coming off of a Super Regional performance in 2004 the Ags suffered through a disapointing season in 2005 and are looking for a big improvement with new head coach Rob Childress. Childress was snatched up from Nebraska where he was the recruiting coordinator and the pitching coach. His arrival in Aggieland, quite simply, makes me giddy as I think about our future. Why shouldn't it? As the recruiting coordinator he brought the Huskers 4 of the last 5 Big XII Players of the Year in addition to 6 Freshmen All-American pitchers over the last 7 seasons.
Unlike OU, our coaching change resulted in a slight bit of attrition but I think we gained more than we lost. Childress will be picking up an offense that at .274/.347/.380 was almost as poor as Baylor's. Add to that the loss of our top two bats (including Cliff Pennington) and you get the feeling that the offense won't be the strong suit of this squad. However, we return 1B/DH Ryan Hill (.317/.386/.399) and catcher Craig Stinson (from a medical redshirt) and have brought in 4 D-I transfers to combine with a group of youngster who were wetting their feet last season. I think things will turn out better than many will expect.
The pitching staff, which has a good mix of experience and youth, should be solid. We return junior Jason Meyer (77.0 IP, 3.04 ERA, .230 BAA, 49 SO, 41 BB) and sophomore Chance Corgan (58.2/4.45/.251/50/28) to our weekend rotation as well as a bullpen led by super-soph (and defensive back for Coach Fran) Jordan Chambless (32.0/2.25/.209/42/19), junior Kyle Nicholson (40.1/3.35/.253/31/8), & junior Austin Creps (40.0/4.28/.263/28/14). Creps, who was a Summer All-American this past summer, will probably get the first look at the third starting spot. Also, keep an eye out for freshman righty Kyle Thebeau.
Looking at the schedule we have games against 4 of the top 5 ranked preseason teams including a huge non-conference trip to Gainesville to take on the Gators in a 3 game set. We also have single non-conference games against Notre Dame & Rice.
I'm really anxious to see what immediate impact Childress will have on the pitching staff. Overall, I would conservatively say that this is a team that should finish in the middle of the pack and should be even fun to watch in 2007 & 2008.
You can read more about the Ags at my website next week as I start my annual week long Aggie Baseball Preview in preparation for the season opener.
The Rest of the LeagueKansas (36-28; 11-15; 7th) will be interesting to follow. They return former-Stanford arm, Kodiak Quick (121.1 IP, 3.41 ERA, .243 BAA, 91 SO, 42 BB), who was their only legit starter last season and closer Don Czyz (62.1/3.47/.216/60/26). Their offense should at least have a solid middle with Jared Schweitzer (.366/.466/.585) & John Allman (.350/.477/.437) both back after lighting up the Big XII (both hit well above their season average in conference play).
Oklahoma State (34-25; 12-15; 6th) finished last season amidst a downward spiral losing 11 of their last 17 games. They bring back a good portion of their offense which is lead by NCBWA 3rd Team All-American, Adam Carr (.336/.377/.702), and OFers Ty Wright (.342/.430/.510) & Corey Brown (.360/.496/.691). I should point out that Wright & Carr both hit ~65-70 points below their overall season batting averages in conference play (and that Carr hit only 5 of his 22 HRs against Big XII opponents). Brown hit 30 points higher. On the mound they lost their top two starters and bring back Brett McDonald (17.0/1.59/.169/12/7) as their best returning arm.
Barring the arrival of some incredible transfers or freshmen, Texas Tech (34-25; 9-16; 8th) fans need to prepare for a long season in Lubbock. The Red Raiders lost a ton of players on both sides of the ball. They return 6 offensive players who accounted for less than 40% of last season's at bats and only two of those 6 hit over .300, Joseph Callender (.362/.410/.439) & Matt Smith (.321/.473/.429). On the mound they return 5 pitchers whose collective 2005 ERA was 5.87 and only two of those five had individual sub-5.00 ERAs (and none were below 4.00).
Kansas State (30-25; 8-19; 10th) is returning a bunch of guys but according to head coach, Brad Hill, will be filling holes at SS and OF with 3-4 freshmen. They do return 2/3 of their weekend rotation in Adam Cowart (100.2/3.93/.267/70/15) & Chase Mitchell (87.0/4.45/.264/61/32). In addition to those two, and in paying homage to The Three Amigos, they have a plethora of bullpen guys coming back. The plethora really isn't as bad as I thought they'd be as they posted a 3.91 ERA in 165.1 IP last season.
Big thanks go out to Ryan for this fantastic preview. As with all our Designated Hitters, we urge you to support Ryan by reading his site, Texas A&M & Baseball In No Particular Order. You won't be disappointed.
Pac-10 Baseball Preview: Leave It To Beavers
When it comes to baseball, the Pacific-10 Conference is really a misnomer. The University of Oregon dropped baseball 25 years ago. Accordingly, for the purposes of baseball, the conference is really the Pac-9.
Baseball was Oregon's oldest athletic program (dating back to 1877), but it was eliminated from the school's athletic program in 1981 because of budget reductions in the aftermath of Title IX. Although it took awhile for Oregon State to pick up the slack, the Beavers made the state proud last year by winning the conference, hosting a Regional and Super Regional, and earning one of the eight spots in the College World Series.
OSU was joined in postseason play by fellow CWS participant Arizona State, Arizona, Stanford, and USC--making it the second straight year and fourth time overall that five Pacific-10 teams made the NCAA Tournament. The Pac-10 has produced a World Series participant each year since 1996 and has made it to Omaha 24 times overall since Arizona and Arizona State joined the league in 1979.
The 24-game conference schedule begins March 17. The winner and as many as five other schools could earn a postseason bid this year.
The teams are presented in the projected order of finish in the Pac-10 preseason poll among coaches.
1. Oregon State
2005: 46-12 | College World Series | 7th in final poll | 9th RPI
A "feel good" story last year, Oregon State now has to live up to the huge expectations placed upon the program. Picked by the coaches to finish eighth in the league before the year began, the Beavers surprised everyone by winning the conference with a school-record 46 wins and advancing to the College World Series for the first time since 1952.
Led by one of the best pitching staffs in the country, OSU was selected by seven of the nine coaches to capture the Pac-10 title this year. The team's three starting pitchers--Dallas Buck (12-1, 2.09 ERA with a .194 BAA), Jonah Nickerson (9-2, 2.13 with a nearly 4:1 K/BB ratio), and Anton Maxwell (11-1, 4.33)--return for their junior years. Ace reliever Kevin Gunderson (6-4, 14 saves, 2.76)--all 5-foot-8, 155 pounds of him--is back as well.
Buck wasn't as sharp in the Cape Cod League as he was the summer before but is still expected to be no worse than a mid-first round selection in the June draft. Nickerson and Gunderson, meanwhile, pitched for Team USA last summer.
Whether Buck, Nickerson, and Maxwell can combine to go 32-4 again will be largely determined by how well the offense performs this year. Senior Tyler Graham (.307 with 0 HR and 21 SB), a speedster who was drafted in the 15th round by the Chicago Cubs, takes over for first-round draft pick Jacoby Ellsbury in CF and at the top of the lineup. Sophomore shortstop and Pac-10 Freshman of the Year Darwin Barney (.301, 2 HR, 44 RBI), sophomore catcher Mitch Canham (.325 with a team-leading 8 HR), and senior third baseman Shea McFeely (.319, 5 HR) will be asked to generate power in the middle of the order.
Put it all together and the Beavers are not only the favorite to win the Pac-10 title but are a legitimate contender for the national championship.
2005: 41-22 | Super Regional | 17th in final poll | 11th RPI
USC missed the College World Series last year by one game, falling in the rubber match to conference rival Oregon State in the Super Regionals at Corvallis. Coach Mike Gillespie, one of only two men (along with Arizona's Jerry Kindall) to both play for and coach an NCAA championship baseball team, loses Jeff Clement, the third overall pick in last year's draft, but returns junior right-hander Ian Kennedy, possibly the top hurler in the country.
Kennedy (12-3, 2.54 ERA, 12.2 K/9), who led the nation in strikeouts with 158, is a consensus first-team All-American. He was named Pac-10 Conference Pitcher of the Year and has pitched for Team USA with success in back-to-back summers, including last year when he allowed just 11 hits in 28 innings while striking out 35. Look for the 6-foot, 195-pound starter, possessor of a low-90s fastball and outstanding command of four pitches, to go in the top five next June unless Ian's advisor and agent-to-be Scott Boras scares off potential suitors.
In addition to Kennedy, the Trojans have seven starting position players, as well as junior closer Paul Koss (4-1, 14 saves, 2.81 ERA), back in the fold. The offense will be spearheaded by sophomore third baseman Matt Cusick (.311, 4 HR), junior outfielder Cyle Hankerd (.298, 1 HR), and senior second baseman Blake Sharpe (.297, 5 HR). Hankerd was selected the number one prospect in the New England Collegiate League last summer, falling two RBI short of the Triple Crown (.383, 9, 36). He also hit a home run in the All-Star game, two more vs. Team USA in an exhibition game, and slugged a couple in a two-game sweep in the finals.
2005: 34-25 | Regional | 38th in RPI
Stanford, which failed to earn a Top 25 ranking by Baseball America for the first time since 1981, is coming off its poorest conference record (12-12) since 1993. The Cardinal could find the going tough this year, trying to replace a couple of first rounders (John Mayberry Jr. and Jed Lowrie) and its two best starting pitchers.
Three-time NCAA Coach of the Year Mark Marquess, however, is not without talent. Seven starters return on offense. Sophomore outfielder Michael Taylor (.289, 4 HR), selected the top prospect in the Alaska League last summer, is an emerging star. The 6-foot-5, 250-pound behemoth has the offensive and defensive tools, including surprising speed, to become one of the top picks in the 2007 draft.
Seniors John Hester (.282, 5 HR), picked by Baseball America to be the catcher on the All-Conference team, and Chris Minaker (.291, 3 HR), a slick-fielding shortstop, add experience and leadership, while junior third baseman Adam Sorgi (.322, 5 HR) provides another potent bat. Junior right-hander Greg Reynolds (2-3, 5.08 ERA) has the most potential among the pitchers and is expected to become the team's "Friday Night" starter. At 6-foot-7, 230 pounds, Reynolds has the size and the stuff (90-95 mph fastball and hard curve) to be considered as a first round draft choice if he can improve his command and throw more strikes than he has in the past.
T3. Arizona State
2005: 42-25 | College World Series | 6th in final poll | 13th RPI
Arizona State begins the year ranked in Baseball America's Top 25 for the 20th consecutive season, the longest streak in the country. The Sun Devils surprised host Cal State Fullerton in the Super Regionals last year, reaching the College World Series for the 19th time in school history.
After losing six starters, Coach Pat Murphy reloads with 20 letter winners plus the second-ranked recruiting class in the nation. The influx of talent includes five recruits who were drafted last year, yet opted to attend school in hopes of winning a sixth national championship during their stay at ASU.
Newcomers Preston Paramore (NYM, 22nd round), Brett Wallace (TOR, 42nd), and two-way player Ike Davis (TB, 19th) are expected to replace the departing Tuffy Gosewich, Jeff Larish (fourth in the country with 23 HR), and first round draftee Travis Buck at catcher, first base, and DH/OF, respectively. Freshman shortstop Matt Hall (LAA, 8th) is also slated to fill in for Andrew Romine, who will redshirt this year after doctors found a blood clot in his chest.
Junior outfielder Colin Curtis (.342, 2 HR, 17 SB), a first-team preseason All-American, will lead the offense, while junior right-handers Pat Bresnehan (5-4, 5.60 ERA) and Zechry Zinicola (4-4, 5.48) plus senior Brett Bordes (5-7, 4.24) will provide mound experience for the Sun Devils.
2005: 39-21 | Regional | 12th in final poll | 30th RPI
Arizona lost more talent than any team in the conference. Four players were drafted in the first five rounds last June, including first rounder Trevor Crowe, the co-Pac-10 Player of the Year. All three weekend starters will need to be replaced as well.
Coach Andy Lopez, who guided Pepperdine to a national championship in 1992 and has twice been been named National Coach of the Year, will have just three regulars back from last year's squad. Fortunately, both middle infielders return. Shortstop Jason Donald (.288, 5 HR), a second-team preseason All-American, and second baseman Brad Boyer (.285, 3 HR) form the best double-play combo in the conference.
Team USA closer Mark Melancon (4-3, 11 saves, 2.58 ERA), a junior RHP, becomes the number one starting pitcher this year and sophomore left-handers Eric Berger (6-2, 3.84) and David Coulon (3-3, 5.50), coming off strong summers in the Cape, fill out the weekend rotation.
T5. California (34-23)
A team that should have made the field of 64 last year returns seven regulars, headed by three All-Americans--outfielders Brennan Boesch and Chris Errecart plus right-hander Brandon Morrow. Boesch (.355, 7 HR), Errecart (.298, 8 HR), and Morrow (0-1, 9.36 ERA) are all potential number one draft choices in June.
Morrow is much more of a project. The 6-foot-3 junior can hit the upper 90s on the radar gun but has battled control problems in limited duty as a Golden Bear. Coming off a big summer in the Cape, Morrow has the ability to be "one of the most dominant pitchers in the country," Coach David Esquer told Baseball America.
7. Washington (33-22)
Tim Lincecum (8-6, 3.11 ERA with 131 Ks in 104 IP) is the story here. A draft-eligible sophomore last year, Lincecum wasn't taken until the 42nd round by the Cleveland Indians because he reportedly was looking for a seven-figure contract. He went to the Cape and led the league with a 0.69 ERA while striking out more than half the hitters (69 of 134) he faced. Lincecum has a major league-quality fastball and curveball but his 6-foot, 160-pound frame may prevent him from ever being drafted as high as his stats might otherwise suggest.
8. UCLA (15-41)
Eight regulars, including the top six hitters in the lineup, return for a UCLA team that went 4-20 in conference action last year. The Bruins have three junior pitchers--starters Hector Ambriz (3-7, 3.94 ERA) and David Huff, a UC Irvine transfer via Cypress JC, and closer Brant Rustich (2-7, 5.23)--who could gain the attention of scouts this spring, as well as the fifth-ranked recruiting class in the country.
9. Washington State (21-37)
The Cougars went 1-23 in the Pac-10 and have finished in last place in the conference every year since 1999. Six regulars return, plus the team's winningest pitcher (Wayne Daman, 7-6, 4.91 ERA). Daman will be joined in the rotation by junior transfer Mike Wagner, who went 4-0 with 66 strikeouts in 63 innings in a two-year stint at Vanderbilt.
College Baseball Preview
Hooray! Baseball is upon us. Yes, the college baseball season is underway. It's not even February, yet the first pitches of 2006 have already been thrown in several warm-weather locales.
The schedule picks up steam next Friday with 33 non-conference games, including the defending champion Texas Longhorns at the University of San Diego for a three-game set. Other featured series include Cal State Fullerton at Stanford and the University of Southern California meeting Long Beach State.
Texas beat Florida in the finals of the College World Series last June and has now hooked six national championships, including two of the past four. The Longhorns finished #1 in 2002, #3 in 2003, #2 in 2004, and #1 again in 2005.
Not surprisingly, Texas is ranked #1 in all the preseason polls. The eyes of Texas will be looking for the Longhorns to become the first school to win back-to-back titles since Louisiana State in 1996 and 1997. Stanford won it all in 1987 and 1988. If Texas outlasts everyone this year, talk will quickly turn toward the 'Horns being in the midst of the greatest run of championship finishes since USC won five in a row from 1970-1974.
Augie Garrido has captured five titles and is the only coach to win national championships at two schools--Cal State Fullerton (1979, 1984, and 1995) and Texas (2002 and 2005). He has taken 12 teams to the College World Series and will be seeking his sixth appearance since 2000 with preseason All-Americans Adrian Alaniz (So. RHP, 8-3, 2.67 ERA), Jordan Danks (Fr. OF, Round Rock, TX), Kenn Kasparek (So. RHP, 8-0, 2.10 ERA), Kyle McCulloch (Jr. RHP, 12-4, 2.92 ERA), and Drew Stubbs (Jr. OF, .311/.384/.527) leading the way.
Garrido's Longhorns will have to fend off nearly 300 Division I baseball programs in the country. Like college basketball, 64 teams will make it into postseason play. The 16 Regional winners will advance to the Super Regionals, and the eight teams victorious in the Super Regionals will head to Rosenblatt Stadium in Omaha, Nebraska for the 60th College World Series. The winners of the two brackets in the double-elimination tournament will meet in a best-of-three championship series.
We are going to preview the Big West, Pac-10, Big 12, SEC, and ACC over the next five days and conclude our series with the Best of the Rest on Saturday and predictions on Sunday. Our articles will highlight the teams most likely to make the playoffs with a particular focus on All-Americans and potential first- and second-round picks in the amateur draft in June.
With a record number of intersectional games this year, the college baseball season promises to be more exciting than ever. Boyd Nation, an opponent of the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) that the NCAA committee uses to seed schools and select at-large berths for the playoffs, believes that "the Left Coast teams may start being treated more fairly. The RPI's still broken, but teams may be learning to work around it."
[Editor's note: A salute to the legendary Rod Dedeaux, who passed away earlier this month at the age of 91, is in order. Dedeaux, who retired from USC in 1986, won 11 national and 28 conference championships. He was named the head coach of the all-time College World Series team in 1996 and was honored by Baseball America and Collegiate Baseball as Coach of the Century in 1999. Rest in peace, Rod.]
Code Red in Cincy
When moving into a new ballpark, the idea is to follow the Cleveland Indians model. In the seven years prior to changing stadiums, the Indians were one of the American League's worst teams: a 498-636 record. However, the team fittingly left Cleveland Stadium for Jacobs Field at the same time their youth blossomed. In the eight years that followed the move, the Indians made the playoffs six time with a regular season record of 718-509.
Unsurprisingly, the team was no worse than third in AL attendance during this run, drawing over three million fans for six straight seasons. New stadiums add increased revenue, and separately, winning brings in more fans. Add winning and a new stadium, and the results are profitable.
This was the Cincinnati Reds hope following the 2002 season, when they finished 3rd in the National League Central. While the team had flirted with success in the previous decade, they had little to show for themselves since Lou Piniella's 1990 World Series Championship. However, one could argue the pieces were in place after 2002.
Adam Dunn and Austin Kearns had just finished their first full seasons in Cincinnati, and were both extremely productive. Between the two in the outfield was Ken Griffey Jr., who had been great with Cincy previously, but struggled with injuries in 2002. The club's 4.27 ERA had been a product of Elmer Dessens, Chris Reitsma, Danny Graves and Scott Williamson. Heck, Jimmy Haynes had won 15 games.
The Reds were hoping to pull at least a shortened version of the Indians model by winning the division in 2003. They failed, miserably. While the offense regressed by a total of 15 runs, the Great American Ballpark saw the pitching staff give up an extra 112 runs. The club's bullpen had been a success in 2003, but Jim Bowden's rotation was abysmal: Ryan Dempster and Haynes had ERAs above 6.00, and as you surely remember, the Danny Graves starting expirament failed miserably.
It's no surprise that after the 2003 season, General Manager Jim Bowden was out of Cincinnati. The club hired Texas executive, and Doug Melvin/John Hart understudy, Dan O'Brien to fill Bowden's shoes. His job requirements were simple: piece together a viable pitching staff and maximize the potential from the offense.
Bowden certainly could have left O'Brien with worse to work with. Months before leaving the team, Bowden had acquired Aaron Harang for bargain-basement signing Jose Guillen, as well as landing Brandon Claussen from the Yankees. Ryan Wagner had been picked in the previous draft, and expectations were pretty high for all three players.
[Note from Bryan, 1/29/06: Since this article was written, my readers have informed me that (current interim GM) Brad Kullman was the man responsible for acquiring Harang and Claussen. It's no great surprise that two of the best moves the Reds have made in the last five years have had Kullman's stamp. Coincidence, it is not.]
In his first real move as General Manager, nearly two months after having been hired, O'Brien attempted to fill a rotation spot with Cory Lidle. Formerly relatively successful as a member of the Oakland A's, Lidle was coming off a season with Toronto in which he had a 5.75 ERA. Lidle's durability was solid, so you might think he would be a fine addition to the back of a rotation. In Cincinnati, he was near the top.
Besides a signing of Javier Valentin and releasing Russ Branyan, O'Brien went into Spring Training having changed very little about the team Jim Bowden had handled him. However, in Spring Training he made a pair of very interesting moves. On March 25, the Reds signed veteran reliever Todd Jones to a one-year contract. As Jones would take a spot in the bullpen, the next day the club traded Chris Reitsma to the Braves for Bubba Nelson and Jung Bong.
Thanks to some increased health, good revivals from Sean Casey and Barry Larkin, and great power from Adam Dunn and Wily Mo Pena, the Cincinnati offense improved by more than 50 runs in 2004. Griffey even had 300 at-bats during the season. However, by scoring 750 runs, the club was asking for a reduction of 136 runs from their pitching staff to have a pythagorean record of even .500. Rather than shaving off 136 runs, the staff gave up 21 more.
As one might guess, the Cory Lidle signing was no great success story, as he put up a 5.32 ERA in 149 innings. Also, young pitchers Jose Acevedo and Claussen were abysmal in a combined 41 starts. Simply put, Paul Wilson and Aaron Harang were simply not good enough -- aces with 92 and 82 ERA+s, respectively -- to offset horrendous performances from the likes of Todd Van Poppel, John Reidling and Phil Norton.
The one positive in my mind from O'Brien's first season at GM was the way he handled his first two real signings, Lidle and Jones, trading each around deadline time. Magically, O'Brien was able to convince the Phillies to give up a combined five players for two months worth of two mediocre pitchers. Of the group, O'Brien was notably able to land Anderson Machado, Josh Hancock and Javon Moran. So, O'Brien did make up for his trading gaffe of Reitsma with these two.
This is where, my friends, O'Brien left us with very little to compliment him on. Again, he entered the 2004-2005 winter with the goal of creating a better pitching staff, of dropping about 150 runs in that department. Ownership even gave him a little bit of money to spend to do so. So, naturally, O'Brien began by awarding Paul Wilson for his mediocre season (hadn't he learned the Jimmy Haynes lesson) by giving him a two-year, $8.2 million contract. Without spoiling the ending, I'll say this: the Reds will be paying Wilson money in 2006, but after 2005, expectations will be pretty low.
His next move was trading prospect (and I use that word loosely here) Dustin Moseley to the Anaheim Angels for Ramon Ortiz. I actually liked this move at the time, thinking Ortiz had a bit of an upside, despite pretty bad seasons in 2003 and 2004. Still, the cost was very little, and at worst, the team could ship him to the bullpen. However, both I and O'Brien didn't quite note the flyball issues that Ortiz had, which would not be helped by a move to the Great American Ballpark.
Next on the docket was the bullpen, for which O'Brien signed veterans Dave Weathers and Kent Mercker. Both essentially got two-year contracts, Weathers at a total of $2.75 million, and Mercker at $2.6 million. It's dangerous to be signing multi-year deals on players like this, but with the cost low and some previous success on their resumes, O'Brien could have done worse with these deals.
Having released Russ Branyan, quit on Brandon Larson, and discovered that Ryan Freel didn't slug like a third baseman, O'Brien's next move was signing Joe Randa to a modest one-year, $1.3 million contract. This isn't a move with a lot of upside -- a theme of last year's offseason -- but again, he could do worse. Eventually, I'd like to note, Randa would get traded midseason for two pitching prospects. If we say anything good about Dan O'Brien, it must be that he's quite skilled at persuading others on just how valuable two months of cheap mediocrity is.
Still, the Reds were missing one thing: an ace. And O'Brien had nearly $9 million to spend on acquiring one. While a player like Kevin Millwood was signed relatively inexpensively a year ago, the Reds opted on Eric Milton. Like all of O'Brien's acquisitions, Milton had a history of durability, a stamp of mediocrity, and the ability to allow the home run. In the minds of the Reds front office, this was worth a three-year, $25.5 million deal. Horrendous.
In 2005, the Reds scored 70 more runs than the previous season. They allowed, somehow, 18 less runs. However, they lost three more games last season, as the team ERA of 5.15 still didn't get the job done. Felipe Lopez broke out, Griffey was healthy, and the offense performed admirably. But led by Milton's 6.47 ERA and Wilson's 46.1 innings pitched, the pitching staff was again a failure. Besides trading Randa and stealing Allan Simpson from Colorado, O'Brien was quiet while his team self-destructed.
To make matters worse, for the third straight season, attendance fell at the Great American Ballpark. In fact, it fell below the two million mark, nearing Cinergy Field numbers.
This was seen as a very important winter for the Cincinnati Reds. The team was finally able to trade one of their many outfielders for some pitching, but besides that, was set there. And considering that Harang and Claussen had successful seasons, and Milton is tied up, O'Brien was left with patching up just two rotation slots.
Following a season in which he hit .312, but was sapped of all power, O'Brien decided Sean Casey was the best member to trade from his depth. One could argue that a player like Austin Kearns would be better, given Casey's presence in the PR department as well as Kearns' numerous suitors. However, O'Brien found something he liked: a left-handed, durable (well, sorta), home run prone, mediocre starting pitcher. In exchange for Casey, the team acquired Dave Williams, coming off a 4.41 ERA season with the Pittsburgh Pirates. This wasn't a horrendous move, but I certainly contest that the team could have done better.
In a very odd turn, on the day in which the Casey deal was consummated, O'Brien also felt the need to add a second baseman. Why, you might ask? Don't the Reds have Ryan Freel? Apparently Freel's .371 OBP isn't better than the speed and veteran leadership that Tony Womack provides! Oh, by the way, this is a player whose OBP has never topped .350. While this deal isn't up to Milton-esque proportions, O'Brien was able to stand on the other fence of a meaningless one-year acquisition. Especially when, weeks later, the team would re-sign Rich Aurilia to a one-year contract.
This is where the story ends for Dan O'Brien. Shortly after taking ownership of the Reds, Robert Castellini fired O'Brien, putting Brad Kullman in the interim GM role while he searches for the next person to lead this team. O'Brien's legacy is not a very good one, arguably one without a vision but rather the obsession with mediocrity.
I'd like to think there is still some potential to be found within the depths of this Red team. If in charge, I would trade both Jason Larue and Austin Kearns for pitching. In their spots, Javier Valentin takes over the catcher role, while Pena plays in right field. In center is a split between Chris Denorfia and Freel, while Aurilia mans second base for one more season. Add the two starters that those two veteran hitters provide to a rotation of Williams, Harang and Claussen, and things could be worse.
But no matter which action the next leader of the Reds takes, it must be one with a clear vision. The team must maximize the potential of its young offensive players, build a farm system from nothing, and of course, add pitching to a staff that has barely seen it in a decade.
And, more than anything else, put fans in the seats. It's too late to follow the Cleveland Indian method, but the mantra that winning adds attendance applies even in a stadium's fourth year.
I'm sorry to report that our guest columnist stiffed us for the second week in a row. He was originally scheduled for last Thursday but asked if he could push it back a week after I had sent out a reminder a few days ahead of the publication date. Well, this week is now upon us with nary a story or a word from the man who was so "eager to contribute."
We were bailed out last week by Jeff Sullivan. The creator and primary author of Lookout Landing turned in his article a week early. The piece was posted as if it had been slated for that day all along.
Do not despair. The Designated Hitter series is in great shape. We have a couple of new columnists for our College Baseball Preview slated for next week, followed by Will Leitch of Deadspin and Patrick Sullivan of The House That Dewey Built. We also have two nationally known writers booked for March.
Thanks to our guest writers, the momentum has been built. We appreciate the time, thought, and energy that has gone into every column. The series is approaching its one-year anniversary, and it has become one of the must reads in the baseball blogosphere.
In lieu of today's feature, please take the time to peruse the "Designated Hitters" section in the sidebar on the left. Feel free to click on a link to any article you may have missed or perhaps re-visit one of your favorites. There are 44 different columns in all, ranging from sabermetric studies to player profiles, baseball history, and those with a personal touch.
One on One: Fast Break
We're not talking about Kobe's latest offensive burst. That would be One on Five. Instead, we're dusting off a favored format of ours. One on One, a chance to talk about the offseason - including free agent signings and trades - plus a sneak preview of the year at hand.
Bryan: Congratulations Rich, we did it. We made it through the winter. Just a few more weeks until baseball is back.
Rich: Promise, Bryan? (As I cross off another day on my calendar, waiting for pitchers and catchers to report)
Bryan: I do, just 22 more days. That should be exciting, but I'm really excited for what happens about five weeks from now. Spring Training is fun and all, but this inaugural WBC has me giddy.
Rich: Oh, I didn't realize boxing had another title fight at hand.
Bryan: Don't be sarcastic Rich, we finally have a World Cup of our own! I mean, passionate baseball in March? I'm a bit worried about the impact this might have on the season, but really, good baseball should outweigh political complaining.
Rich: All right. I'll come clean with you. I bought a strip of tickets for three games at Angel Stadium the minute they went on sale.
Bryan: Now that's more like it. What team are you most excited to see, it seems like a few have murderer's rows and rotations of aces.
Rich: Heck, I don't even know who is playing, much less who is playing for whom? I mean, is A-Rod in or out or in?
Bryan: Who knows. Last I heard he was talking to Castro about playing for Cuba. Apparently his great uncle had a Cuban friend once.
Rich: Does smoking a Cuban cigar qualify as well? Look, I don't know if I should root for the good ol' USA or return to my roots like the players and side with Germany, Ireland or Sweden.
Bryan: That's very Piazza-ish of you. Speaking of Mike, word is that he's been talking to the Phillies this week. Platoon a bit with Ryan Howard, give Mike Lieberthal time off. Is this a good fit?
Rich: Mike is from Norristown, Pennsylvania, so he might get a nice welcome home party from his family and friends. But, other than that, I wouldn't be overly excited for either side. Let's face it, Piazza is a much better fit for an AL team.
Bryan: I agree. I thought it might be the Orioles or Twins, but those two seem content with Javy Lopez and Rondell White, respectively. I still think Minnesota should bite.
Rich: How 'bout the Yankees? Alex Belth is clamoring for the guy. If New York is going to live with Jason Giambi in the field (which I think is a disaster waiting to happen), then why couldn't Mikey DH and spell Jorge Posada once a week behind the dish?
Bryan: Not sure New Yorkers - at least those in the Bronx - would like Piazza in a Jim Leyritz role, he's not quite as lovable. But really, it's a far better bet for anyone in the AL than National League teams. I would say Oakland, but the Frank Thomas situation is the worst kept secret in baseball.
Rich: I don't want to pull a Yogi Berra here, but if the Big Hurt ain't hurt, what would it hurt to sign him?
Bryan: It wouldn't, as long as Beane doesn't think that signing him would be enough of a reason to trade away Jay Payton, who would then be out of a starting spot. Signing Frank is a good move, depending on him is not.
Rich: I agree. But I'm not worried about the A's depth. They have a lot of chips at their disposal. Trading for a DH is a lot easier than finding a good CF or SS. Hint, hint.
Bryan: Yeah, sometimes you're left with Alex Gonzalez. And that's no longer even close to a compliment.
Rich: The good news for Boston fans is that this version doesn't have a middle name. He can pick it a bit and should suffice in the ninth hole, provided they consummate that deal with Cleveland. Are you koo-koo for Coco Crisp?
Bryan: Opinions about this possible trade seem to be all over the map. Some Bostonians think that Crisp will be some great improvement upon Johnny Damon, and others think he isn't even worth Edgar Renteria, er, Andy Marte. Covelli is a fine player, and should modestly succeed in Boston, but I don't think he's a budding All-Star.
Rich: I fooled around on the Sabermetric Baseball Encyclopedia and came to the conclusion that Crisp's 2005 looked a tad like Damon's 24-year-old season in 1998 and Marquis Grissom's 25-year-old campaign in 1992 (without the SB). As a result, I think he is a suitable option for the Red Sox. They need a CF and there aren't too many options, if the truth be told.
Bryan: Good point. I do think that this puts the Red Sox back in the AL East argument. The Yankees are much the same team they were, and probably due for a bit of regression. The Blue Jays are much better, but have not pulled ahead of the top two. So now, Boston should be able to get away with a bit of regression and still be in the race.
Rich: I haven't been overly worried about Boston. Everyone seems focused on what they need rather than how much they have improved themselves in certain areas. If healthy, they should be just fine. What I'm not so sure about though is whether the second-place team in the AL East will earn the Wild Card berth this year.
Bryan: Well, I think it will be the same as it always is. The Wild Card should be a simple competition between the loser of the AL East and the loser of the A's/Angels. I think the Indians have taken a big step back, and have the White Sox winning the division by over five games.
Rich: Oh, I haven't given up on the Tribe at all. Despite a 22-36 record in one-run outcomes, they missed the playoffs last year by just two games. I think Cleveland will need to be reckoned with, for sure. It's too bad the Indians aren't in the NL. They would run away with the West and could give the Cardinals and the Mets/Phillies/Braves a run for their money.
Bryan: Well, as the official Midwest representative of the group, I'm going to pick on you for pointing out the Cardinals only. After such a lackluster winter, are you really ready to hand them the division?
Rich: St. Louis won 100 games last year, the most in baseball. Will they win 100 this year? No, probably not. But, let's assume they slip back to 90 games. Who else in the division is in a position to win that many?
Bryan: This seems like the argument with the AL Central last year. "Even if the Twins regress..." Now I'm not saying the Cardinals shouldn't be the division favorite, they have certainly earned it. But I wouldn't rule out the Astros, the Cubs, or the Brewers -- my pick -- to win 91 games.
Rich: I've already ruled out the Cubs. So take that. I like the Brewers and wouldn't be surprised in the least if they captured the Wild Card spot in the NL. That is one fun team.
Bryan: I agree. A lot of high ceilings on offense with a good, young pitching staff and a better coach. That's one good formula. Too bad they don't play out West.
Rich: If the Dodgers can give all these players one-year deals, maybe baseball should allow teams to switch divisions for a year. Can you imagine how much a spot in the NL West would bring in an auction?
Bryan: More than the auctions for Jeff Weaver and Bengie Molina, that's for sure.
Rich: Maybe they can both sit out the year and keep in shape by playing pitcher and catcher - the same game I played as a kid - with one another.
Bryan: I mean, it really seems like this is an option at this point. Otherwise, it seems like Molina might have to take a one-year deal with the Blue Jays, and as for Weaver...well, I still haven't heard a team officially associated with Weaver.
Rich: Buster Olney reported that "the Phillies are doing some checking on Jeff Weaver." I gotta tell you, Bryan, I just don't understand these guys. How could Weaver pass up, say, a 3 x $9M offer from the Dodgers? Is it really worth an extra million bucks or so a year to leave your hometown team? I mean, is that incremental money going to have any bearing whatsoever on your lifestyle or your kids or grandkids? Suck it up and be glad you can stay home, play this silly game called baseball, and make more money than you will ever know what to do with.
Bryan: Amen. But if that's your philosophy regarding Weaver, what are your thoughts on Roger Clemens? It almost seems as he's trying to start a bidding war between his two hometown teams to be fought on after May 1.
Rich: I'm not convinced it's as much about money this time around as it is with whether he wants to even play another season. He could retire after the WBC. Picture him winning the championship game. That wouldn't be such a bad way to end things, now would it?
Bryan: Well, I guess it depends how many people confuse WBC with a boxing match, or care about it at all.
Rich: But you could be right. Maybe Clemens is just rope-a-dopin' Drayton McLane and Tom Hicks. In fact, it seems to me that Lloyd's of London just might be paying Roger's salary this year, so help me Jeff Bagwell.
Bryan: Alright Rich, let's go into the lightning round, like before the winter. Where does Sammy Sosa end up?
Rich: Dead, like all of us. How 'bout David Wells?
Bryan: Theo gets back and gets a deal done in a week. Wells back to San Diego. How about any of the Rays left on the trading block?
Rich: Julio Lugo and Aubrey Huff are history. Look for Lugo to end up with the Cubs. Andy Friedman will deal Huff to the highest bidder, but it may not happen until this spring. No way Molina sits out. Four million dollars for one year is much more than zero, no?
Bryan: Molina gets backed into the corner, also known as the city of Toronto. He's definitely an improvement upon Gregg Zaun. And how much colder can we expect Jeff Weaver's surroundings to be?
Rich: I'm pretty sure there is a market out there for Weaver. Unlike Scott Boras, I just don't think it's 4 x $10M. But, if it is, then I guess the Bank of Omar Minaya or Tom Hicks will be the one to foot that bill. Let's end with the ace of the free agent market and WBC. Roger Clemens - in or out?
Bryan: In, but on May 2. Whether that's with Hicks or McLane, I'm not sure.
Rich: When it's all said and done, I think he might be known as Roger Clemency. Let's just hope he bows out on a high note, whether it be in March with the WBC title under his belt or with one last great season in Houston or Texas.
Nightmare on the Farm
Ranking farm systems is a practice that I generally avoid. It's simply too difficult to come up with a solid ranking, as one should effectively balance the number of and degree of top-heavy players, the depth in a system, as well as those that have recently graduated and been traded. It's a lot to balance.
Instead, most of the time I like to stick to tiers. We know that at the top of any organizational ranking list, in no particular order, should be the Dodgers, Diamondbacks, Marlins and Angels. These come as no surprise. We know about the other good systems: the Devil Rays, Red Sox, Braves, etc. The successes of these teams are well documented.
We criticize General Managers for bad trades, for bad signings, for not making any trades or any signings. We bash managers and players, and after the occasional draft, we criticize scouting directors. However, very seldom do we talk about organizations that need to improve their farm systems.
In the mailbag following my top 75 prospects, I made a chart of the number of prospects that each organization brought to my list. There were no teams that completely missed out; however, six clubs had just one prospect in my top 100 players. Today I'd like to look at those six in more detail in hopes of narrowing down the worst of the bunch. For each of the teams, I will give you the next best three prospects (in my mind), along with a brief look at what else the system provides.
Top 100 Prospect: Ryan Zimmerman (12)
Things were looking really, really bad about eight months ago. Top prospect Clint Everts was injured, Larry Broadway was struggling, and Mike Hinckley was looking like a different pitcher. There was very, very little to like in this system. And then came Ryan Zimmerman, the fourth pick of the 2005 draft. Zimmerman shot through the system, going from the University of Virginia to the Major Leagues in about two months. Next year, Zim is a favorite to win the NL Rookie of the Year. He is the Washington system.
In my mind, the second best prospect in the Washington system is a different third baseman. Kory Casto, a third round pick in 2003, broke out in a big way last season. Casto has very good power and patience, but is lacking a bit in contact skills and athleticism. After Casto is 2002 first-round pick Clint Everts, who has progressed very slowly in the system, especially after being injured last season. His potential is that of a #2/3 starter, but it remains to be seen if he can reach that. After those three players, there is very little that I like in the system.
New York Mets
Top 100 Prospect: Lastings Milledge (17)
I've talked very much this winter about Omar Minaya's moves this winter that have mortgaged the Mets future for the present. For Carlos Delgado, he traded the likes of Yusmeiro Petit, Mike Jacobs and Grant Psomas. Paul Lo Duca cost Gaby Hernandez. Once upon a time, this system had some very good players at the top, and then enough average talent in the system to be middle-of-the-road. Then, suddenly, all but Milledge left the system, and there was just one player at the top. Suddenly, those average players are among the organization's best.
One player not mentioned in this debate is Mike Pelfrey, who adds considerably to this system. He provides the team with one of the top 50 talents they lost in Petit. We also should give the team credit for having the players from which to deal, as much of the success in 2006 will be a result of the farm system. The Mets aren't the worst system in the Majors, but after losing so much, they are near that bottom tier.
Top 100 Prospect: Felix Pie (19)
The Cubs had very high hopes for their farm system last year, as they were planning on having Felix Pie turn a corner, and they had a minor league home run king in Brian Dopirak. Angel Guzman was supposed to be healthy again, Ryan Harvey was entering his first full season and Jason Dubois was ready to get his big break. The Cubs were very, very well thought of, with probably one of the top 15 systems in the game.
If you had told me that Matt Murton would hit over .300 in the Majors, and Ronny Cedeno's bat would prove to be real, I would have said top ten. But, that was not the case. Brian Dopirak fell apart, Angel Guzman stayed hurt, and Billy Petrick got hurt. Jason Dubois struggled in a limited opportunity, and Felix Pie was hurt for the year by July. Still, Pie had a very good season, and the team's draft pick -- Mark Pawelek -- showed fantastic potential. There is still hope for this system, but they simply need to have a year in 2006 that is as good as 2005 was bad.
St. Louis Cardinals
Top 100 Prospect: Anthony Reyes (31)
For years, the Cardinals have floated near the bottom of Baseball America's organizational rankings. Last year, they were dead last. Simply put, Walt Jocketty does not put a lot of stock in minor leaguers, and the team has never had a great number of players from which to trade from. However, it does appear that, with a more college-oriented philosophy, the tide might be changing in St. Louis.
In 2004, Anthony Reyes had a modest start to the season in high-A before dominating the Southern League. And whatever potential he showed that year, Reyes proved to be for real in AAA, as well as limited Major League action last season. While the Cardinals haven't showed a ton of faith to give him a spot yet, they expect very high things down the road. Much further down the road lies much of the rest of the system. The Cardinals are very highly invested in their 2005 draft, which includes Rasmus, Greene, Mark McCormick, and Nick Stavinoha. We'll see how much of this is for real next season, but for the first time in awhile, there is reason for hope.
Top 100 Prospect: Brian Anderson (33)
In the past, I have criticized Omar Minaya for trading most of the Mets top prospects. If I do that, it's only fair to do the same with Kenny Williams, who acquired Javier Vazquez and Jim Thome in part because of Gio Gonzalez, Daniel Haigwood and Chris Young. Young broke out in big ways last year, Gonzalez turned out to be a fantastic draft pick, and Haigwood is the kind of solid, young starter that good systems have lots of. However, with those three players gone, there is not much depth left in this system.
At the top is Brian Anderson, who was part of the reason behind Young's trade, as was organizational favorite Jerry Owens. Joining Owens atop the White Sox thoughts is Ryan Sweeney, who has been touted highly since his first Spring Training, and former first-rounder Josh Fields, who finished the season better than you might think. Besides that group, there is very little else in this system. I like southpaw Ray Liotta more than I did Haigwood, and Broadway was certainly not the worst first-rounder they could have made.
Top 100 Prospect: Homer Bailey (40)
It isn't a good sign for an organization when their top prospect can be found on my breakouts list. Bailey is a fantastic talent that I think highly of, but he's still pretty raw, and his presence atop the Reds prospect list speaks more of the organization than it does Homer. For years the Reds have tried to fix their pitching weakness by cultivating it in the minors, and for years, the results have been ugly. Their pitching prospects continually get hurt.
Like the Cardinals, much of the future of the Reds farm system is predicated upon the 2005 draft. The early results are promising, as Jay Bruce showed fantastic athleticism as a top pick, and Travis Wood looked like a steal. If those two continue to break out in 2006, this system will prosper. I should also note that I think very highly of Denorfia, who would be in my top 125 and should make an excellent fringe outfielder (CF or 4th OF) for some system. However, this team lacks any form of depth you could imagine, and Bruce, Wood and Bailey are all very far away from being Major Leaguers.
In the end, none of these systems look to be particularly impressive. However, I think the Nationals and Reds clearly stand out as the two worst teams. Given the potential of Bailey and Bruce, and my high thoughts for Denorfia, I think Cincinnati probably has the better system.
This gives the Washington Nationals, understaffed for years, the worst system in Major League Baseball. As this team finds an owner, and likely a new staff in the coming year, we can only hope an emphasis is placed on a farm system that offers very little hope.
I had the opportunity to speak with former Dodger farmhand Chuck Tiffany a couple of days after the trade that sent him, along with Edwin Jackson, to Tampa Bay for Danys Baez and Lance Carter. Unlike my interview with Bill James in December 2004, I can't say I had breakfast at Tiffany's. I'll admit, it would have made for a nice title. Instead, I settled for a 45-minute telephone call one evening last week with the young man who will turn 21 on Wednesday.
Tiffany was drafted in the second round out of Charter Oak High School (Covina, CA) in 2003. He signed a $1.1 million bonus in August and pitched two innings at Ogden (Rookie) in the Pioneer League. The southpaw made the jump to Columbus (Low-A) in the South Atlantic League in 2004 and Vero Beach (High-A) in the Florida State League in 2005.
The pitcher (see photo) who Bryan Smith tabbed as the 72nd-best prospect in baseball earlier this month has a minor league record of 16-9 with a 3.90 ERA. Moreover, he has struck out 279 batters in 211 innings (or nearly 12 per 9 IP). Tiffany's first two wins included a combined no-hitter (in which he pitched the first five innings) and a seven-inning perfect game.
Had Tiffany opted for Cal State Fullerton rather than signing with the Dodgers out of high school, he would be a couple of weeks away from beginning his junior season. However, rather than being the "Friday Night" starter for the Titans this year, Tiffany is entering his third full professional season and first with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.
Rich: As a Dodger fan growing up, how did it feel to be drafted by your hometown team?
Chuck: It was a childhood dream. I grew up in the city and had always watched them play. I was really excited about everything and was shocked when they traded me. It's now just a new chapter in my life that I have to open up.
Rich: Did someone from the Dodgers contact you regarding the trade?
Chuck: Ned Colletti called me up and said he had some news for me. He told me it was very hard for him to even tell me. He then said the Dodgers had traded me. A couple of the people within the organization called, and I thanked them all.
Rich: The news must have been tough on you.
Chuck: Like I said, it was a dream. They gave me everything they could, and I gave them everything back I could. It just happened to be in the cards that I was part of the trade. Now that I'm with another team, I'm going to do the same thing I did with the Dodgers and give the Devil Rays everything.
Rich: That's good. Who did you hear from the Tampa Bay side?
Chuck: Andy Friedman. He called me about an hour or two later. Mr. Colletti actually told me that Mr. Friedman would call sometime throughout the day. He then called and welcomed me, and I thanked him and said I was shocked at first. He knew I was shocked but said everybody was excited over there. At the time, I couldn't really say how upset I was because I didn't really know what to do because everything was a shock. If I had a chance to talk to him now, I would tell him I'm excited to be with them and that I can't wait for the season.
Rich: One of the nice things about the trade is that Tampa Bay has a lot of good, young players and appears to have a bright future.
Chuck: That's the same way I feel about it, too. They actually have faith in a lot of the young players, bring them up, let them do what they've been doing and what we're paid to do and what we love to do.
Rich: In some ways, the trade could turn out to be a positive for you. The organization has more hitting than pitching in terms of depth of talent so the opportunity might be greater with Tampa Bay than with Los Angeles.
Chuck: Yeah, which, in time, we shall see.
Rich: Did Friedman tell you where they expect you to play this year?
Chuck: He told me that they would call me within a week and let me know.
(Editor's note: Tiffany was subsequently told that he will report to St. Petersburg on March 2.)
Rich: After succeeding in High-A last year, the obvious assignment would seem to be Montgomery, Tampa Bay's AA-affiliate.
Chuck: It's up to them. It's all in their hands now. All I can do is just go there and compete and earn my spot.
Rich: Absolutely. What are you doing this winter to stay in condition and make yourself better?
Chuck: I'm doing a lot of running. I've taken a little bit of time off from playing catch, but I've been throwing the football, working out, and pretty much running at least two or three miles every day.
Rich: When will you start throwing a baseball?
Chuck: I'm slowly working my way up so I will be ready when I start pitching in games.
Rich: Do you have a personal catcher you work with during the offseason?
Chuck: No, I'll just throw to Lenny Strelitz, my agent at West Coast Sports Management, or call a friend or my little brother and they will play catch with me. I'm meeting up with Cory Lidle tomorrow, and we're going to play catch.
Rich: From what I understand, you throw three pitches. A fastball, curve, and change.
Chuck: Yes, that's correct.
Rich: How would you rank those pitches in terms of their effectiveness?
Chuck: All three are the same. I worked on my changeup a lot last year. My changeup was a weak pitch at one time. In fact, everytime I threw a changeup, it was, pretty much, a home run. The Dodgers brought me to the instructional league to work on my changeup, and I was throwing 80-90% changeups and only five or ten fastballs and two or three curveballs to try and get out of innings. It was probably the best thing that's ever happened because I noticed how much a changeup can work against a batter. I felt really confident when they let me throw all three pitches and now my fastball, curveball, and changeup are all great pitches that I can use.
Rich: One complements the other.
Chuck: Yes, exactly. When you're expecting one pitch and another one comes, it's sort of hard to hit. Before, it was only fastball or curveball. Now, I can throw all three for strikes.
Rich: Do you throw a circle change or do you choke it in the back of your palm?
Chuck: I actually throw it with my ring finger and my middle finger. I don't choke it off or anything. I just throw it like a four-seam fastball, but the way it is positioned on my hand and fingers it rolls off at a slower speed.
Rich: I see.
Chuck: I can try and throw it as hard as I want. I could probably get it up to about 84, but it won't go any harder. My fastball is usually about 88-90. When I throw it really good, it's about an 82 miles per hour pitch and it just sinks.
Rich: There is a philosophy that one should maintain a certain spread in terms of speed between a fastball and a change of pace. Is that something you have tried to achieve?
Chuck: Everybody laughs when I pitch because my fastball will range between 82 and 93 at times. I learned how to change speeds myself by just throwing the ball. I realized you can't always throw it one speed. I know that changing speeds between a fastball and a changeup is a big thing because now you throw a ball at 90 and then you throw a change at 80, it looks like a fastball but it's different timing. I feel the change in speeds really helps out, and I've worked on that a lot.
Rich: With respect to your fastball, do you throw a four-seam only or do you also throw a two-seamer?
Chuck: If I need to, I'll throw a two-seamer. But most of the time I use a four-seamer. My ball has a natural movement to it so that's why I really don't worry about two-seams at times.
Rich: To the extent that there has been criticism about your pitching style, it generally is about the number of flyballs you give up and that you don't induce enough groundballs. Do you think that is a fair assessment?
Chuck: You know what, I've never heard of that. Honestly, I've never heard of a coach being mad about a flyball for an out. I'd rather have a popup as an out than a groundball. The reality is that a player doesn't have to throw the ball to a base. He just has to catch it.
Rich: My high school coach liked to say, "There are no bad hops in the air."
Chuck: Exactly. But don't get me wrong. In different situations, when it calls for a groundball, I know which pitch to throw to get a double-play ball. It just depends on what type of batter is up, who's running the bases, and everything like that.
Rich: If you were looking to get a double play, which pitch would you be inclined to throw?
Chuck: It depends on the hitter. What they can and can't hit. I study everybody before I pitch. I have charts on them. I've played against them before and remember certain pitches I've thrown. All three pitches work good for me, so I'm not worried about always throwing this pitch to get a groundball.
Rich: Do you keep your own charts or do you get scouting reports?
Chuck: I do my own. When I was with the Dodgers, I had to be up in the stands two nights in a row before I pitched. I don't know how the Devil Rays do it. But when I did that, I just kept my own chart and studied it along with the stats the night before to make sure I knew what they could or couldn't do.
Rich: Is your curveball more of an overhand drop or a left to right pitch?
Chuck: Whatever way I want to throw it. Sometimes I have it just drop off the table but, most of the time, I can make it slurve.
Rich: Alan Matthews from Baseball America said your propensity to give up home runs might have to do with your arm angle and the curveball flattening out.
Chuck: No, I just gave the guy the right pitch that he wanted to hit. They still have to hit it, no matter which arm angle I'm coming from. It's just that I left it in their sweet spot, maybe a changeup stayed a little high or a curveball that didn't really break that much. People say that, in this game, you make a lot of mistakes. You're not going to be always perfect. There are times I throw a pitch where a guy wants it to be and he'll totally miss it. That's the one shot he had. That's his mistake. Well, sometimes they hit my mistakes and that's what hurts. That's what gives up the home runs. My mistakes. Not the arm angle.
Rich: Do you think you have given up more home runs on one type of pitch than the others?
Chuck: Probably the changeup because I wasn't very good at it and most of the time I left it hanging and it pretty much never came back into my glove. You know?
[Both of us laugh.]
Rich: That's an honest answer but something that can also be fixed.
Chuck: Oh yeah, that's why they sent me to instructional league. Seriously, they told me everyday, "throw changeups, changeups, changeups." So everyday I sat there and threw a changeup and they didn't let me go until I perfected it.
Rich: Some people have speculated that your future might be as a relief pitcher instead of a starting pitcher. I imagine you'd rather be a starting pitcher?
Chuck: Oh, I'd rather be a starting pitcher. But whatever they need in the big leagues. If they need me to come out of the 'pen, I'm more than willing to go in there but, in my eyes, I want to be a starting pitcher.
Rich: Your fastball, curveball, and change repetoire seems better suited to being a starting pitcher than a relief pitcher. A reliever, for the most part, just needs two really good pitches. If you could develop that changeup, have that third pitch. . .
Chuck: The only thing that I think is the difference between a starting pitcher and a relief pitcher throughout the game is I get stronger. In the fifth, sixth, and seventh innings, if you look at the radar gun, I'm still throwing as hard as I did in the first. With the relief pitcher, you just come out and give it everything you've got because you don't get to throw those extra innings. Once you go through the lineup, three-fourths of the time you get taken out for the set-up guy or closer. So, I think the three pitches, no matter what, can work as a starter or a reliever. It's just the way you use them.
Rich: You have averaged nearly 12 strikeouts per nine innings in the minors. Do you feel as if you are a strikeout pitcher and why?
Chuck: I've been told that I'm not a power pitcher, I'm a crafty pitcher. In my eyes, I've always been a guy when I needed a strikeout, I know I can get it. I know I have the pitches to do it. Most of the time, when I get a guy 1-2, 0-2, I just try to put him away. I don't like to mess around with them and sit there and go 3-2. My goal is when a guy comes up to bat, I'd rather see him walk back to the dugout than popout. I want to strike him out everytime because that means I'm giving it everything I've got. I don't want to think, "Here, put the ball in play." To make this really easy on myself, I'd rather just go right at them.
Rich: Looking at your game logs, my partner Bryan Smith has noted that you have generally been more effective in games when you have been a bit wild, if you will.
Chuck: Every game is different. It just depends on what game it is. Some days your arm feels great and some days it doesn't. When I'm out there, honestly, none of that is going through my head. If my arm is tired or not, I'm just throwing 110% each pitch and that's all that matters. If I'm throwing it a little bit softer, it's not because my arm is sore or tired. It's just the way it felt that day. There are games I've gone out and thrown 85-88 and pitched great and other times I've thrown 91-94 and had awesome games. It just depends on the day.
Rich: After finishing 2004 by striking out 46 batters in your last 21 innings of work, you beat first-round draft pick Philip Humber and the St. Lucie Mets, 1-0, in the season opener. You allowed just one hit in five innings while striking out 11. You went 4-0 in April and were named the Florida State League Player of the Week twice and the Dodgers Minor League Player of the Month.
Chuck: I felt good when I finished in 2004 and was pumped up going into the 2005 season. I got hit pretty hard by the Mets in a spring training game. They shelled me. I later walked by them in a scrimmage and they asked if I was ready to be lit up again. They tried to get in my head. I proved them wrong.
Rich: Nice. You then experienced a setback in May when you had surgery to remove a pre-cancerous mole from your back.
Chuck: I actually pitched a game the day I heard I was going to need surgery within the next two weeks. It was scary news. Once I got it done, I was in bed for two or three days because my lower back was really sore. But, as soon as I was able to move without it nagging, I had a baseball in my hand and I was throwing it and just getting ready. About a week-and-a-half later, I was back even though I was supposed to be out for about two, two-and-a-half weeks. I came back a bit early and was just trying to get back into a throwing mode. No excuses, I lost. I went out there and threw and got hit, and I lost. It's nobody's fault. It's just the game of baseball.
Rich: Well, you righted the ship in July.
Chuck: I did. I came back and didn't lose much.
Rich: You had some ups and downs last year. The season might best be characterized as one of peaks and valleys, but that is probably pretty normal for someone your age who is working his way through the system.
Chuck: I've always been taught that failure is a part of success. If I went the whole season without losing, then what happens when I lose? I've always been the type of kid who hasn't been able to handle failure. It just teaches me never to do it again. When I lost those couple of games, I knew I was in a valley, but I also knew sooner or later that I would hit a peak again. All I knew to do was to keep on battling.
Rich: Logan White, the Dodgers Scouting Director, called you a great competitor.
Chuck: I always talk to him. Like he said, I do compete. When I go out there, I never give up. I could be having the worst game or the best game of my life, but I'll be giving everything I got. You could have nine runs off me in the first inning...I won't give up. That's one thing my teammates know about me. When I'm on the mound, I'm giving them everything I got. Everybody respects me because they can see it. There's not one pitch I throw without trying, and I think that's where I get a lot of my respect from because I'm a competitor.
Rich: Is there a pitcher out there who you model yourself after?
Chuck: I've always wanted to be like Randy Johnson. Without a doubt. Randy Johnson. Nolan Ryan and Roger Clemens are right-handed. But Randy Johnson has always been the guy that I've looked up to and been a hero to me. I try to pitch like him. I don't have his height or anything but am hopeful that one day I could have a name like him and other people could look up to me.
Rich: At one time, it appeared that you were on the fast track and that you might be going from Vero Beach to Jacksonville.
Chuck: Yeah, they were projecting me to be in Jacksonville by the All-Star break but then I had that little back surgery, which set me back a little. They then took up Justin Orenduff, and he kicked butt and did awesome. They needed pitching in High-A because we were in the race for the playoffs so they kept me down. High-A, Double-A, Big Leagues--it doesn't matter because I'm gonna give it everything I got. So, I wasn't disappointed. As long as I can keep throwing the ball, that's all that matters to me.
Rich: You were named to the All-Star team in 2004 and 2005. Did you pitch in both games?
Chuck: I didn't pitch in Georgia, but I pitched in the Florida State League game.
Rich: How did you do?
Chuck: I gave up a home run and struck out the next guy. [Laughs] I didn't know in the All-Star game that they expect fastball first pitch--especially from a reliever--so, when I threw the first pitch fastball, he hit it about 400 feet. My agent told me I should have thrown an off-speed pitch. It's a learning process and now I know.
Rich: I'm sure you have played with or against some of the guys in the Tampa Bay system along the way. Are there any players in particular who stand out?
Chuck: Delmon Young. I played on the USA Team with him. Coltyn Simmons. He's a catcher. I've hung out with him. I met Elliot Johnson at the All-Star game. We talked a lot. I know quite a few guys from that organization. We all have respect for each other. I'm just excited to go join them.
Rich: Are you familiar with another Tampa Bay left-hander, Scott Kazmir?
Chuck: Yes, when I was a sophomore in high school, we played in Joplin, Missouri, on different teams. I got to watch him. He's a good, little left-hander.
Rich: Looking at the Tampa Bay farm system, if you are assigned to Montgomery, you should be the youngest player on the team and one of the youngest in the league. As a result, you are still ahead of most players your age.
Chuck: I feel being young is an advantage. When I get out there and see these older players, I just picture them being the same age as me. There's a reason why they are there and a reason why I'm there. I believe in everything I throw--my fastball, curveball, and changeup--and know my stuff can compete with them. Age, in my mind, doesn't matter when it comes to pro ball. Age is only a number; it's not the way you play. We're all there for the same reason: to compete for a job in the big leagues. Whether you're 20 or 40, it's all the same when you get to the Show.
Rich: Given your frame (6-foot-1, 220), do you feel like you have the ability to stretch your fastball out a little bit more?
Chuck: Yes, I believe that's realistic. I've worked hard in the off-season, and I believe that all the running and working out will pay off in time.
Rich: I'm sure you are chomping at the bit and looking forward to spring training.
Chuck: I'm totally looking forward to it. I can't wait. I'm excited. It's going to be culture shock because I won't be in Dodgertown anymore. I'll be staying in hotels rather than dorms. It's a big city. I'm ready to go.
Rich: Well, good luck this season, Chuck. Let's be sure to stay in touch.
Chuck: Will do. Thanks, Rich.
The Ballad of Ned
Here We Go, Dodger Fans was one of the more controversial articles I've posted at Baseball Analysts. In fact, it seemed to be as polarizing among readers as the trade that sent Edwin Jackson and Chuck Tiffany to Tampa Bay for Danys Baez and Lance Carter.
Although the column only generated about a tenth as many comments as a typical Jon Weisman post at Dodger Thoughts, it received more than our normal share. The debate centered on two questions: (1) was it a good or bad trade and (2) an indication that similar trades might be in the offing as well?
I thought the deal was ill conceived and expressed concern that it could also be a harbinger of things to come. Look, I might be wrong on both fronts. We shall see. In the meantime, I remain steadfast in my belief that Jackson and Tiffany will provide more long-term value than Baez and Carter. Sure, the latter may be more useful to the Dodgers in 2006, but what about 2007 and beyond?
Perhaps Dodgers General Manager Ned Colletti and I see things differently. With that in mind and in the spirit of fun, I present to you The Ballad of Ned, sponsored by Kellogg's Corn Flakes.
Come and listen to a story about a man named Ned
Traffic that is, brown smog, California tea.
Well, the first thing you know ol' Ned's a millionaire,
Dodger Stadium, that is.
The Beverly McCourts!
If Colletti wins a title in his first year (a la Paul DePodesta in 2004) but fails to do so in his second, we just may be hearing the following verse in October 2007...
Well, now it's time to say good-bye to Ned and all his kin.
Frank and Jamie, that is. Buy a team. Drive it into the ground. Y'all come back now, y'hear?
Hey, if I'm wrong, I will be the first critter to yell, "Well doggies!"
A Quantitative Approach to Studying Release Point Consistency
We know an awful lot about pitchers. We know how hard they throw, how many batters they strike out, what kinds of pitches they have, and whether their deliveries are fluid and easy or violent and rough. This is all objective and indisputable information that has a lot of value when it comes to projecting a pitcher's future health and success.
One thing we don't know much about, though, is the consistency of a pitcher's release point. The fact that we don't have a good way of measuring what's arguably the most important part of being a good pitcher is one of the more ironic twists of modern analysis. Sure, you can look at a bad curveball and say "he let go too early" or "he held on too long," but that's just one of a few thousand pitches that the guy's going to throw all year, so it doesn't tell you very much. What we need is a way to quantify the extent to which release points varies over a larger period of time for different pitchers. And, thanks to MLB.tv and MS Paint, we're getting there.
Take this low-quality screengrab of Felix Hernandez, immediately prior to release:
The ball is a little fuzzy, but it's definitely there about to leave his hand. Just moments from now, it's going to fly past some unfortunate hitter's bat at 95 miles per hour, since all Felix ever does is dominate. But anyway, here's the really cool part: copy and paste that picture into MS Paint. Now move your cursor to the center of the ball. In the lower right corner of the window, there should be a set of coordinates - for me, it reads 124,37. Think of this like a set of coordinates on any generic x,y plot. The center of the ball is 124 units (pixels) from the left of the window, and 37 from the top.
I didn't know quite what to make of this the first time I noticed it, but after a little brainstorming, I realized that this could be an effective way to quantify both release point location and, with a large enough sample, consistency (it's the second one that I actually care about). So I devised a plan: collect a group of images of a pitcher much like the one of Felix above, enter the x,y location of the ball into a spreadsheet, and calculate 95% confidence intervals at the end to get an idea of his release point consistency.
For the purposes of this article, I decided to compare Mark Prior to Kerry Wood, since one is considered to have picture-perfect mechanics while the other...not so much. As far as further methodology is concerned, note that:
1) For each pitcher, I looked at 40 pitches - 20 from the windup, and 20 from the stretch. These are kept separate, in case either pitcher happens to change his delivery with runners on.
2) I only used images from one game so that I didn't have to account for differences in center field camera angle. Incidentally, both Wood and Prior's games took place on the same day - April 13th, a doubleheader vs. San Diego.
3) All pitches were chosen randomly.
4) To account for any differences in scale between images (since the camera has a tendency to zoom in and out), I chose reference points at opposite corners of the batter's box and adjusted accordingly.
5) Once I had 95% confidence intervals in pixels, I converted to inches by using the fact that a baseball is about three inches in diameter, and showed up as eight pixels wide on screen.
So, onto the results of this study:
Kerry Wood, Windup
The little red box represents the 95% confidence interval - based on the collected data, Wood would be expected to release 95% of his pitches from the windup within a box measuring 1.6 by 3.1 inches. The area of this box is 4.84 square inches.
Kerry Wood, Stretch
Same deal - based on the data, Wood should throw 95% of his pitches from the stretch within a box whose dimensions are 2.5 by 2.8. The area of this box is 6.95 square inches.
Although we obviously don't have a baseline for how much variation you'll see in a standard pitcher's release point, since this is a fledgling analysis, Wood's results compare favorably to Felix's, at least as far as pitching from the windup is concerned.
Mark Prior, Windup
Dimensions of the box: 3.4 by 5.0. Area: 17.0 square inches. That's more than three times the variability that we saw in Kerry Wood's release point, which I wasn't expecting. That's a huge difference.
Mark Prior, Stretch
That's more like it. Dimensions of the box: 1.6 by 2.3. Area: 3.52 square inches. Better than Wood, and better than Felix.
As far as Prior is concerned, something that may have influenced his final numbers is the fact that the game I looked at was his season debut, six days after throwing 87 pitches in a minor league rehab start. Looking at the spreadsheet, Prior's release point was getting lower as the game wore on, the gradual dropping of his arm being a possible sign of fatigue with his arm strength not yet at 100%. It is worth noting, though, that his considerable improvement with men on base in the April 13th game wasn't a fluke - opponents put up a .766 OPS against him with the bases empty last season, striking out in 23.1% of their plate appearances, but with men on their OPS dropped to .578 while their strikeout rate jumped to 32.8%. In 2005, Mark Prior was a much better pitcher with men on base, and based on the results of this preliminary study, it may have been because he was way more consistent with his release.
A study like this is going to have both its strengths and limitations. On the downside, it's a very tedious process, as you're going to lose the better part of an entire day if you're looking to gather any sort of meaningful results. It's also strictly two-dimensional, as it doesn't give a real good idea of how far forward the ball is being released. Short-arming the ball a foot in front of your throwing shoulder is going to make it do one thing, while a full-extension release will make it do quite another. The system could be improved by having a side-view camera providing z-axis location information, but until then we'll have to maximize the resources at hand. Additionally, it should be noted that this kind of investigation would be difficult to perform on someone who deliberately mixes up his arm angles, a la Jamie Moyer.
All that said, the biggest issue is how to properly interpret the data once you have it. Release point consistency is nice and all, but a consistently good release point and a consistently bad release point are two very different things that cause very different things to happen. Looking at the numbers, we can see that Kerry Wood's release point was more consistent with nobody on than Prior's, but Wood got slapped around while Prior was terrific. Why? Was Wood releasing the ball in a bad place all game long? I'm guessing that better pitchers will generally have more consistent release points, and that these kinds of apparent exceptions are considerably outnumbered by their opposites, but I can't say that with any degree of certainty.
Accepting that any new kind of study is going to have its kinks to smooth out, I think the potential upside here makes it worth pursuing further. Although it's possible to perform manually, one could conceivably automate the whole process, turning what used to be three hours of work into three minutes of watching a machine do everything for you. With the data that would provide, you could look at anything - release point consistency against right- and left-handed batters, correlations with things like walks and strikeouts...pretty much everything you can do with the stats we already have. Comparing a guy's consistency when throwing different pitches (fastballs, curveballs, changeups, etc.) could prove to be a pretty telling indicator of what he needs to work on in the bullpen. And those are just a few examples. Like with any metric, you could use this one in any number of ways.
Still, the most important thing here is: it's something. It's putting a number to what used to be educated guesswork. And as far as I'm concerned, doing that is always worth the effort.
Jeff Sullivan is the creator and primary author of the Lookout Landing Seattle Mariners blog. He's also a student at Trinity College, although nobody's sure where he finds the time. He can be reached by email at email@example.com.
Leaving Las Vegas
["You Just Hope He Never Changes'] said Vin Scully about Edwin Jackson last night, and I couldn't agree more. Especially because Vin was talking not only about Jackson's pitching, but his smile.
Phenoms. Among the many reasons we watch baseball, there is no question that they are high up there on the list. We live to see Felix Hernandez step on the rubber as a teenager, or Jeff Francouer almost winning the Rookie of the Year. These players bring hope to organizations, and even more so, to the game.
This is what the Dodgers thought they had in Edwin Jackson. However, management simply got too excited, too quickly. The Dodgers saw a former sixth-round pick pitching well at the AA level -- at the age of 20 -- and jumped at the chance to bring him up. Jackson pitched well in September of 2003, under the pressure, but since has fallen apart. He has since become a "change of scenery needed" player, unfortunately falling in the same category as a player like Sean Burroughs.
Jackson's pro career started in 2002 when the team began him in the South Atlantic League less than a year removed from high school. It was there when Edwin first began to show signs that he had been a steal in the draft. During that season, Jackson had a 1.98 ERA for the Catfish, allowing just 79 hits in 104.2 innings. However, by striking out just 85 batters, Jackson was able to stay under the radar (respectively), for the most part.
That changed quickly in 2003. The Dodgers decided to allow the mature Jackson to skip a level, bypassing an offensive park at Vero Beach and moving up to the Southern League. This is where Edwin took off. When the AA season had ended, Jackson was among the league leaders in strikeouts, whiffing 157 batters in 148.1 innings. He continued to post a good H/9 rate, allowing just 121 hits, and showing moderate control with 53 walks.
Edwin was on top of the world. Any apprehension about his 3.70 ERA -- despite those great peripherals -- were erased by his fantastic stuff. The Dodgers, clinging to the hope of staying in the playoff race, called up Edwin at the end of the 2003 season. In his first start, Jackson drew the task of going up Randy Johnson and the Arizona Diamondbacks. The results were fantastic, as Jackson allowed just one earned run on four hits in six innings, allowing zero walks.
His fastball was in the upper 90s. His breaking pitch was biting. That month, Jackson would have a 2.45 ERA in 22 innings, allowing 17 hits while striking out 19. We thought he was guaranteed a rotation spot the next season. And this is when we enter the gray area.
Some say the Dodgers changed Jackson's mechanics over the winter between 2003 and 2004. Some think Edwin might have been injured. Some worry he didn't work hard enough. Or, he simply could have been pitching over his head in '03. Whatever the cause, Jackson was not prepared to meet expectations in 2004. After a poor Spring Training, the Dodgers decided to start Jackson in Las Vegas to start the 2004 season.
For those unaware, Las Vegas is one of the PCL's most extreme hitter parks, a stadium not built for the psyche of 21-year-old starters. In nineteen starts at AAA that season, Edwin had a 5.86 ERA. The cause is not what you might guess (home runs), but instead a large increase in walks. Simply put, over the winter, Jackson's control of his fastball fell apart. And lacking the same bite on his breaking pitch, thanks to the desert air, Edwin managed to log just 70 strikeouts in 90.1 AAA innings.
His AAA season was interrupted, however, by another trial in the Majors. Needing a starter for a June 2 game against the Brewers, the Dodgers decided to give Edwin a couple day's rest from the 51s. Again, he impressed pitching in the Majors, allowing one run over five innings in which he uncharacteristically let his infield do his work for him. The team then sent Jackson down, and tried again a month later. This time, the results weren't so good, though the team would win in each of his starts, and his season ERA was still just 3.86 when the team allowed him to finish the AAA season.
Given a September call-up, this is officially when the wheels came off for Edwin Jackson. In his last 13 innings, he would give up fifteen earned runs, 22 hits and four home runs. Even his poor performance couldn't complete deter excitement for his right arm, as I saw a few ups and downs in an appearance I watched via MLB TV:
In the 12 pitch inning, Jackson threw nine fastballs, showing a drastic preference for the pitch. He was between 91-95 mph on what I've described as a 'slow gun', so probably even 93-97. Despite walking one batter, Jackson showed solid control of the pitch, never missing by too much. He also showed a decent curve, with solid downward bite at 82-84 mph. It looks like he has the tendency to leave his pitches up in the zone, which is probably the reason for the three home runs allowed this season. But overall, I like him, while admitting the ranking may have been a little high.
While Jackson's poor September couldn't tarnish his reputation, it did all but guarantee a return trip to Las Vegas. The Dodgers did not realize that it was not the right environment for him to pitch in. And since September, 2004, things have only gotten worse. This past season, Jackson would pitch in 55.1 AAA innings. During that time, and I urge you to brace yourself, he allowed 76 hits, 37 walks, 13 home runs and 53 earned runs. An ERA of 8.62 and a WHIP over 2.00. A nightmare.
Finally making a move to help Jackson's future, it was then the Dodgers decided to demote Jackson back down to AA. He hadn't seen Jacksonville since leaving there in 2003 as a phenom. Now he was all-but-forgotten. In his first start at the lower level, Jackson allowed seven runs in five innings, serving up two home runs. After that point, Jackson settled down and things started to improve.
In his next 57 innings, Jackson would have a 2.68 ERA. He allowed just 46 hits, struck out 41 (not great) and allowed 17 walks. Edwin was called up to the Majors towards the end of August after a hot streak in which he allowed just three earned runs in 22 innings. We were hoping the old Jackson, the first version, was back.
I recently re-watched one of Jackson's better starts in the MLB of 2005, which of course isn't saying much. Against the Astros, he allowed six hits and three earned runs in 5.1 innings. But he struck out 6 hitters, at least.
It seems now that what I saw in that August 27 start was not the same pitcher I had seen in the past. His fastball was really between 91 and 93, and Edwin could occassionally add a bit onto that. The control of the pitch seemed to vary, though I understand it's difficult given the good amount of movement it possesses. However, Jackson also has pretty noticeable mechanical problems, falling heavily to the first base side after pitching. His key pitch was his breaking ball that was quite successul. In fact, he didn't rely on this pitch enough, again showing an overdependency for the fastball. Jackson flashed a change up that wasn't very good, as each time the ball was left too high in the zone.
So what's next for Jackson? The change of scenery should be good, mostly because he can start the season in AAA, in a more neutral environment. The key for the Devil Rays will be to try and get Jackson to gain more confidence in his breaking ball, and also learn to control his fastball better. He can pitch from just 91-93, that's fine, but to do so there must be some semblance of control. And most of all, Jackson needs to regain the confidence of his youth, to again show the smile on the mound that Jon Weisman referenced.
We were wrong about Edwin Jackson, he wasn't a phenom. Let's just hope the Dodgers didn't prevent him from becoming anything at all.
Hardy Guardy Man
Widely considered a defense-first shortstop in the minor leagues, J.J. Hardy broke out offensively in the second half of his rookie year and now ranks as one of the most intriguing players going into the 2006 season.
Among shortstops, Hardy ranked fifth in AVG (.308), seventh in OBP (.363), second in SLG (.503), and fourth in OPS (.865) after the All-Star break last year. He was the best-kept secret in baseball during the summer months because his overall numbers were held back by a horrendous first half.
AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB AVG OBP SLG OPS Pre-AS 187 22 35 12 0 1 19 28 25 0 .187 .293 .267 .560 Post-AS 185 24 57 10 1 8 31 16 23 0 .308 .363 .503 .866 Totals 372 46 92 22 1 9 50 44 48 0 .247 .327 .384 .711
Were both halves aberrations and Hardy is nothing more than just another middle-of-the-road shortstop as his season statistics suggest? Or is there something in the numbers that paint a different story? Well, let's take a closer look at J.J.'s first half stats above.
There are four points of interest.
1. Hardy walked more often than he struck out.
2. He was putting the ball in play at a pretty good clip.
3. His Batting Average on Balls In Play was a meager .211 (vs. a MLB norm of about .300). Give him a more normal BABIP and he would have hit .262 before the All-Star game rather than .187.
4. The number of doubles-to-home runs was unusually high.
Based on the above, Hardy was a virtual lock to boost his numbers rather dramatically in the second half. Lo and behold, his extreme bad luck turned to a bit of good fortune as the season progressed. Hardy's BABIP jumped more than 100 points to .318 and many of his two-baggers turned into four-baggers.
For the year as a whole, Hardy had a BABIP of .263. Recognizing that the type of batted ball can influence BABIP, it is important to note that Hardy's outcomes (33% groundball, 22% outfield fly, 5% infield fly, 15% line drive, and 3% bunt, according to The Hardball Times Annual) were almost identical to the major league averages. Accordingly, I feel comfortable suggesting that Hardy should have come closer to hitting .277 than .247 for the year.
The 6-foot-2, 205-pound shortstop's monthly rate stats capture the marked improvement in July and the surge in power in September.
AVG OBP SLG OPS April .143 .284 .179 .462 May .218 .283 .309 .592 June .188 .304 .313 .616 July .274 .376 .425 .801 August .273 .298 .382 .680 September .305 .352 .561 .913 October 1.000 1.000 1.000 2.000
Hardy ended the season with an eight-game hitting streak (11-for-32), and he hit safely in 17 of the last 18 (25-for-75), 21 of 23 (31-for-89), and 26 of 29 (39-for-110). He slugged five HR in September after not hitting any until the middle of June.
The three-time Arizona All-State High School selection (1999-2001) hit much better batting second than eighth for the Brewers last year. In a chicken or the egg question, did Hardy benefit by seeing better pitches in the second slot or was he promoted because his hitting picked up? The answers appear to be "yes" and "yes."
Manager Ned Yost rewarded Hardy by moving him into the number two hole in late August, and Milwaukee's second-round pick in 2001 responded by putting up Miguel Tejada-type numbers the rest of the year. Hardy's walks plummeted and his other stats soared when he wasn't hitting directly in front of the pitcher.
AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB AVG OBP SLG OPS Bat #8 211 23 49 13 0 1 23 30 22 0 .232 .331 .308 .639 Bat #2 96 16 29 4 1 5 18 6 15 0 .302 .337 .521 .858
Hardy also performed much better with runners on base and with runners in scoring position than with nobody on.
AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB AVG OBP SLG OPS None On 211 5 48 14 1 5 5 12 30 0 .227 .269 .374 .643 Runners On 161 41 44 8 0 4 45 32 18 0 .273 .393 .398 .791 RISP 91 34 26 6 0 1 38 23 10 0 .286 .427 .385 .812
A season-ending shoulder injury suffered the previous year helps to further understand why Hardy experienced such a Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde rookie campaign. He underwent arthroscopic surgery for a torn labrum on May 28, 2004. Hardy recovered in time for spring training and became just the fifth Brewers player to make his ML debut in the Opening Day starting lineup, joining Pedro Garcia, Paul Molitor, Gorman Thomas, and Robin Yount. (Speaking of Yount, the Hall of Famer is returning to the Milwaukee Brewers this year as bench coach and should be in a position to help Hardy as much as any other Brewer.)
Although Hardy has a reputation of having a good glove, his fielding statistics last season weren't particularly inspiring. His range factor (3.76) and zone rating (.843) were at or near the bottom among all regular shortstops. Hardy, however, made just ten errors and his fielding percentage (.975) might suggest that he is more of a sure-handed infielder than one who covers a lot of ground. He makes up for his lack of quickness with a strong and accurate arm.
The son of a professional tennis player (father) and golfer (mother), Hardy was 18-for-30 (60%) on taking extra bases on hits. He was 6-16 (38%) going from first to third, 11-12 (92%) second to home, and 1-2 (50%) first to home. J.J. was never thrown out trying to take an extra base or caught stealing. According to THT, Hardy was second on the Brewers in baserunning, adding a shade over one run with a rate of 23% above the norm.
Hardy, 23; double play partner Rickie Weeks, 23; and first baseman Prince Fielder, 21, form a trio of young infield talent unmatched in the National League. The Brewers were 81-81 in 2005, their first non-losing season in 12 years. Consider that Milwaukee's Pythagorean record was 84-78 and there's every reason to think that the up-and-coming Brewers could be the favorites to win the NL's Wild Card berth in 2006.
Look for Hardy to avoid the sophomore slump and put up a Bobby Crosby-like .280/.350/.460 line. If so, he could emerge as perhaps the #1 or #2 shortstop in the NL in 2006.
Here We Go, Dodger Fans
How high's the water, mama?
Well, the rails are washed out north of town
Well, it's five feet high and risin'
--Johnny Cash, Five Feet High And Rising
Well, I know one thing. Colletti can no longer say that he is rebuilding the team without compromising the future.
Jackson, 22, and Tiffany, 21, represented two of the best arms in one of the most highly regarded systems in baseball. Although Jackson has regressed since being rushed to the majors in September 2003, the right-hander is just two years removed from being named the top pitching prospect in the game and the fourth-best overall by Baseball America.
Tiffany has shown flashes of brilliance since being drafted out of high school in the second round of the 2003 draft. The southpaw struck out 46 batters in his final 21 1/3 innings in 2004 and began the next season with a 4-0 record, a pair of Florida State League Player of the Week honors, and was named the Dodgers Minor League Player of the Month for April. He had a pre-cancerous mole removed from his back and was placed on the disabled list in May. Tiffany, who Bryan Smith ranked as one of his top 75 prospects, never returned to his early-season form but still ended the year 11-7 with a 3.93 ERA and 134 Ks in 110 IP.
Jackson has a plus fastball and slider, yet needs to improve his changeup and command in order to maximize his potential. Tiffany throws three quality pitches--a fastball, a curve that was rated as the best in the organization a year ago by Baseball America, and a changeup. Both pitchers are far from certain bets to become stars at the big league level, but they have the type of upside that make scouts and performance analysts alike dream of what might be one day.
In the meantime, trading two young starting pitchers for a pair of veteran relievers is problematic at best. Yes, Baez was fifth in the American League in saves last year, but his peripheral stats (8.2 H/9, 6.4 K/9, 1.7 K/BB, and 1.33 WHIP) are rather pedestrian. As a so-called proven closer, the 28-year-old right-hander is the type of pitcher who is more often overrated than not.
Colletti apparently sees Baez as a setup man and insurance in the event that Eric Gagne isn't ready to start the season. He may also view him as the Dodgers closer of the future. However, just as Gagne will become a free agent at the end of year, so will Baez. As a result, there is no guarantee that the latter will even be on the roster in 2007.
Although Carter was an All-Star selection in 2003, he is nothing more than a throw-in (to put it kindly). The 31-year-old right-hander had a 4.89 ERA in 2005, striking out just 22 batters in 57 innings. His 3.5 K/9 was the fourth-lowest among all AL relievers last year. He also gave up nine home runs (or 1.42 HR/9) and has allowed a similar rate of long balls throughout his career.
According to Ken Gurnick at MLB.com, the Dodgers now have 18 players under contract totaling $95 million. Accordingly, it appears that the Dodgers payroll will be no less than $100 million next year--a significant increase over last year's budget.
What is Frank McCourt getting for his money? The Dodgers signed free agent Rafael Furcal to a three-year, $39 million contract last month. They also inked Nomar Garciaparra to a one-year, $6 million deal; Bill Mueller to two years and $9.75M; Brett Tomko, 2/$8.7M; Kenny Lofton, 1 x $3.85M; and Sandy Alomar, Jr., 1 x $650,000.
Furcal is a terrific shortstop who can help you at-bat, on the basepaths, and in the field. Although the Dodgers paid up for him, I'm not going to argue against that acquisition. That said, I can't really see the merits of the other deals.
For instance, why give the 39-year-old Lofton almost a million more than what it took the Oakland A's to sign Milton Bradley? Dollar-for-dollar, I would rather have Bradley. Throw in an extra $850,000 plus the $4M from the Baez money and now I'm upgrading from Tomko to a much more significant starter.
I could see the Dodgers' interest in Garciaparra as a third baseman but am having a hard time coming to grips with the idea of converting him to a first baseman. If he's healthy, what's he going to hit? .280-.300/.320-.340/.460-.480? I'm sorry, but these numbers look like Shea Hillenbrand to me. Heck, why not just go with the platoon of Hee-Seop Choi (.258/.335/.460 vs. RHP) and Olmedo Saenz (.261/.338/.548 vs. LHP)?
How much of an improvement is Mueller (.295/.369/.430) over Willy Aybar (.326/.448/.453 in 105 PA)? I wouldn't expect the latter to match those numbers over a full season, but is it unrealistic to think he could put up a .275/.350/.400 line while saving the Dodgers about $4.5M over each of the next two years?
Jon Weisman of Dodger Thoughts brings up another potential use of the $4 million spent on Baez by throwing top-draft choice Luke Hochevar's name into the mix. The University of Tennessee right-hander might be a lost cause at this point, but the idea of investing the money in the system or waiting for the right opportunity down the road is a valid one.
I think Colletti has gotten himself in a pickle here. He made the decision to find a handful of players who could bridge the gap between 2005 and 2007 before reversing course by exchanging two of the organization's most talented pitchers for what might amount to 130 innings of a 3.75 ERA, if Baez and Carter duplicate last year's stats. Moreover, I believe the Dodgers GM has set a bad precedent and would not be at all surprised if he orchestrated another similar deal between now and the beginning of the season.
When it comes to the Dodgers and sticking to a game plan, I think it's not just the water that's five feet high and risin'.
2006 WTNY 75: Mailbag
Before starting today's mailbag, I thought we would recap, and go through the list that I counted down this week. Below are my top 75 prospects for 2006, in order. The players that are linked are the last players talked about in each article, if you'd like to back through.
1. Delmon Young - OF - Tampa Bay Devil Rays
HM. Elvis Andrus - SS - Atlanta Braves
That's a lot to take in, I know. So, I thought it might be fun to look at the distribution per team. Please note that this is hardly an organizational ranking, as some teams who offered just one prospect to this top 100 might have a better system than one that offered three. But anyway, here is a look at the number of prospects that each team brought to the table. For those that had the same number (those in the 5, 4, 3, 2 and 1 categories), I listed the team with the higher number of prospects first. A look:
One striking fact is how the rich got richer since last season ended, which tells a lot about how they value prospects. Of the nine players on the list that traded hands in the last three months, eight of them were acquired by one of the top six teams on this list. Four of them alone were Marlin acquisitions, as the team would have just had three (Hermida, Olsen, Volstad) prospects before.
[Editor's Note: Since this article was written, the Dodgers traded Chuck Tiffany (with Edwin Jackson) to the Devil Rays for Danys Baez and Lance Carter. By shoring up their bullpen, they no longer have the top spot in the table. Everything in this piece is changed to reflect the trade.]
Alright, without further ado, here's a look at the mailbag:
What do you think was the biggest weakness in your list?
In the name of tradition, I wanted to start the WTNY mailbag with a question of my own. I like to be honest with you guys, and oftentimes, I realize mistakes when it is too late. Oftentimes, one of my readers calls me on it, and I kick myself for not having thought about it in more detail sooner. Specific rankings are always dancing around in my heads, but I thought there were two substantial problems with the list that I wish I could fix in hindsight:
1. Ranking the draftees -- This was my first time doing it, and as a result, I was probably way too conservative. Twelve 2005 draftees made the list, but only five were in the top 75. While I think I was correct in my rankings of those within the top 75 (maybe Gordon over Zimmerman), three more players (Braun, Tulowitzki, Maybin) were probably deserving of spots. I'm just learning how to treat these players, however, so expect an improvement in next year's list.
2. Hanley Ramirez -- One factor that separates a good prospect list from a bad one is the ability to trust yourself. I believe in the ranking of each player, and the perspective of outsiders has little influence. This was not true with the ranking of Ramirez. It was simply a case of me listening too much to his supporters, and not actually evaluating his candidacy like I did everyone else. As a result, he's vastly overrated, probably to the tune of about 20 spots. So please, if you show your friends this list, try to tone down my ranking of Hanley.
There are other, smaller issues, but I wanted to get these out of the way first.
If Justin Upton and Mike Pelfrey had signed before your list was compiled, where would they rank? What are your thoughts on each?
Upton was the number one pick in the draft, in something of a consensus, so I have him ranked as that. Most scouts, writers and coaches have been awed by his skills, most of which are said to be better than his brother. I can't quantitatively speak of any of Upton's strengths, though we do now that he grades exceptionally in speed, arm strength and contact skills. His power is said to be raw, but with a lot of potential, and I haven't heard much regarding his discipline.
Justin's one flaw is that he enters the minors with no real position. His struggles at shortstop have been described in numerous ways, even by attributing it to Steve Blass disease, and I'm not sure Arizona would be smart in having him play there. There has been talk of third base, second base and centerfield. To me, the last one is by far the best option. It's the least taxing position to learn, and given his arm strength and speed, the one he profiles best at.
If I was ranking Upton today, I would give him the number four slot in my top ten. Brandon Wood still gets the nod, but Justin certainly ranks ahead of Fielder.
As for Pelfrey, he's easier to speak about, as with him we have the numbers in front of us. Before the draft, I thought Pelfrey was its top talent, narrowly ahead of Luke Hochevar and Craig Hansen. His career at Wichita State had been fantastic, with 33 career wins, and an ERA that dropped in each season, culminating in a 1.93 ERA in his junior season. As we learned in Pelfrey's interview with Matthew Namee way back when, Mike throws three pitches, and all of them are pretty advanced.
His fastball was up to hitting the mid 90s consistently in his junior season, and with it he brings great control. His strikeouts usually come via a power curve that is fantastic, and he also throws a change up. Mike had very few problems his junior season, and I expect his stuff to translate well at the pro level. Right now, his prospect status would be between #45 and 50, right ahead of Hansen.
Aaron Hill wasn't expected to make the majors until this year - if he hadn't, about where would you see him on this list?
Don't know how much of Yuniesky Betancourt (24 MLB) you've seen, but do you think he should just be a placeholder for Cabrera?
I put these two questions together because they both deal with sophomores. I'll have a whole article on the game's top sophomores as we inch closer to the season (as I did last year), but since you're asking, I might as well answer ahead of time.
At the beginning of the season, the Blue Jays had thought third base was one of their deepest positions. They were fresh off signing Corey Koskie, and had former ROY Eric Hinske waiting in the wings should Koskie re-injure himself. He did, of course, and when Hinske wasn't there, the Blue Jays were left to turn to top prospect Aaron Hill. And considering the circumstances, Hill performed quite well, hitting .415 in his first month, and keeping it above .300 until August 15.
With Orlando Hudson traded this winter, the Jays will be moving Hill from third to second, his third position in two seasons. Aaron won't be great at second I don't think -- surely a regression from Hudson -- but his bat will carry him. He hit 31 extra base hits in 361 at-bats, a very good ratio for a rookie. In addition, Hill showed fantastic contact skills (just 41 K), pretty good patience (34 walks), and showed a good read on left-handed pitching. His season numbers fell apart with his endurance, both of which should be rectified in 2006.
I can say without doubt that Hill will make the top 20 sophomores list. Betancourt, I imagine, will be right on the bubble.
From what I've seen, and even more so from what I've heard, Betancourt might be the best defensive shortstop in the league, right now. I saw a bit of it in the Futures Game, when Yuniesky's range took him past the second base bag from the shortstop position to make a play. He moves to hit left and right exceptionally, and has a rocket of an arm. In a just world, which we don't have, he'll win a Gold Glove next year.
But the Mariners desire to bring up Betancourt's defense to the Major League level cost his bat some serious developmental time. Before being brought up to the Majors, Yuniesky had split time between AA and AAA, and hit about .283/.310/.425. He had walked just 17 times in those 410 at-bats, showing now patience. His only plus was striking out just 32 times, showing potential as a future member of OOPs.
Yuniesky will have an empty batting average as a pro. His defense will make up for it. Asdrubal might as well move to second full-time in 2006.
How can we not comment on Marte's "sample" numbers in the Majors? On a team that played 1,000 rookies, they wouldn't let Marte start when Chipper was hurt the second time over Wilson Betemit! In the same "sample" number of ABs, players like McCann, Francouer, and Cano were much better. We must question a prospect when a franchise like the Braves feels confident enough to trade him away for the likes of an Edgar Renteria.
...how can you justify putting Fielder 5 spots ahead of Marte when they had similar numbers last year (when you consider league and park effects), their similar age, (but most importantly) position difference. Marte is described as a future very good glove at 3B, whereas Fielder is poor at 1B. I'd put Marte ahead of Fielder at this point.
Again, I enjoy putting questions together. Here, I wanted to put an anti-Marte comment with a pro-Marte one. I think it makes a nice contrast.
Answering Kevin's point first, I mentioned it was a sample size because his numbers really do have no statistical significance. Everyone of the players you mentioned performed better, true, but they all had more time to prove their worth. Andy was also on a start one day, off the next schedule, one in which it's hard to get going. But there is a comment to be made for his cup of coffee, as I am worried that Bobby Cox gave up on him so fast. If managers were candid, I'd love to know what Bobby saw that we aren't. There had to be something.
John, you make a good point. But Fielder profiles to hit for more consistent power than Marte, and also has the potential to win a home run crown. As I said in my comment, not only is the ceiling there, but I truly believe it will happen. Andy will draw ahead of Prince by playing 3B, but Fielder should make up the difference in career home runs. Oh, and Andy has much higher bust potential.
I know Brandon Wood will be in the top 10 and he should be, but at the beginning of the year Laroche was leading High A in homers and was having a heck of a first half, Wood was right behind him. The dodgers are known for moving up their prospects and Laroche was moved up to AA in a bigger park.
Having said that, do you take those types of things into account when you make your list and analyze prospects against one another? I mean wouldn't Laroche been the homerun leader if he wouldve stayed in single A all year & wouldn't he have been the MOST talked about player if he wouldve played all year there?
Erik, great question. If LaRoche had stayed at Vero Beach, there's a chance he would have hit 40-45 home runs, and a chance he would have been named my minor league player of the year. I don't think there's a chance, however, he would have become one of the top five prospects in baseball.
I disagreed with the decision to leave Brandon Wood at one level for the whole season, but we also have to remember he was just 20 years old. Staying at that level surely provides a confidence booster, as now Wood is known as the 100 XBH man. LaRoche is 21, was more advanced, and better off being challenged. Also, remember than in high-A, Andy wasn't walking, so we would also be talking about a third baseman with 40 walks.
LaRoche's AA season actually gave me more confidence that he won't bust. He proved to have patience under pressure, and his power held up under a more difficult situation. His tools will not allow him to become a 40-HR talent in the pros, while Wood has better tools. Numbers can only go so far, as there is more involved in telling us what a player might profile to hit.
Brandon is a shortstop who hit 100 extra-base hits at the age of 20. His power could be among the best at the SS position in the Majors. LaRoche had a very good minor league season, and will probably max out at being a 30-35 HR guy in the pros, par for the course at his position. There difference in ranking is right there.
I am wondering where you see jeff Salazar of Rockies? He's like Barton -- early had great k/bb ratio -- but has not progressed like Barton. What is his offensive upside? Is he a major league starter? allstar? when?
It's too early to say that the sun is setting for Jeff Salazar, but it's certainly the afternoon. It now seems like every season the Rockies too aggressively promote the former Cowboy, and as a result, he struggles in each second half. This year it was even worse, as when Colorado pushed Salazar out of the Texas League, he wasn't even hitting well. The team would have been far better off in leaving him at the level for the whole season so they could see what they had in the former eighth round pick.
What do they have? How about David DeJesus divided by ten. A left-handed hitter, Salazar's best strength is his patience with more than 70 walks in each of the last three years. His contact skills fell apart at the higher levels this year, and at a normal stadium, Salazar probably couldn't hit past .280 or .290. Who knows at Coors. What I do know is that his CF defense would never be a strength there, probably just a bit below average. In the end, Jeff is a pretty poor prospect who gained no consideration for this list. He might, one day, draw some consideration for a bench spot.
Do you think Ian Kinsler should play SS and Young should move back to 2B? Most metrics (UZR) have Young as one of the worst defensive SS in the game. Or is Kinsler just as bad?
Trev, statistically, you probably are right that it would be the best solution. Young has pretty much no range at shortstop, and I've been told that Kinsler isn't bad there. The Rangers had originally drafted him for his defense, so he could probably be pretty average there. Young at second isn't so bad, so they probably save a few runs.
But, realistically, I'm not sure it's worth the hassle. We're talking about moving two players who have already been moved once. In the same winter, in the span of a couple months. Sure, they both have experience at the past position, but the best option is probably to let them try and improve at their current position. Playing for ten and fifteen runs might look good on paper, but in the real world, it's not always the best.
What causes Patton to fall from 46 to 55? I figured with much of the same stats after a promotion to FSL you'd probably rank him in the 25-40 range (which is where I would rank him).
I'm not sure Patton fell in my mind at all. Another thing I have to work on in the next year is creating more continuity between my midseason and end-of-year prospect lists. But Patton has stayed about the same since midseason. Remember that right now, there are four 2005 draftees that were added to the list ahead of them. Here's the list of players that were behind Patton at midseason, and have since moved in front of him: Anibal Sanchez, Nick Markakis, Adam Miller, Anthony Reyes, Chris Young, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Cole Hamels. All of these players but Hamels had second halves that reassured us of their good prospect status, and made it so their 2005 was not seen as a fluke in our mind. Patton was passed by a few people, but he hasn't gotten any worse as a prospect.
Is it fair to say that Russ Martin's comp is Scott Hatteberg back when he was behind the dish for the Red Sox?
Rob, I think that if we compared Martin to Hatteberg, we would be selling him short. Don't let Moneyball fool you, Scott wasn't a great player. His career-high for home runs in a season was 15, and his OBP eclipsed .370 just twice. Not to mention, Hatteberg was piss-poor behind the dish, where the reports of Martin state that he is a plus back there. Russ' contact skills are a bit better than Hatteberg's, while his patience is much the same. His power potential is better, though not by too much, and he also is a plus behind the plate. A very rich man's Hatteberg, maybe.
He probably doesn't belong on this list because of his age, but I'm wondering what you think of Josh Willingham. Sounds like he'll have the opportunity this year to make a splash. Olivo's bat's not likely to crowd him out.
Willingham was very close to making this list, and with more time in the PCL, he just might have. It's hard for me to speak of Josh's offensive ceiling, because we don't have a lot of data to base a prediction from. What we do now, however, if that Willingham has quite a bit of power potential and fantastic patience. His contact skills aren't great, and at best, he profiles to be a .280 hitter in the Majors. What will dictate what his career becomes, however, is whether Josh can stick behind the plate. I'm not sure he can, and I still believe he could end up a solid left fielder. The decision needs to be made soon. Splitting time between catching and left field -- with Olivo taking the rest -- might be the best option.
Speaking of Rangers pitching prospects, what ever happened to John Hudgins? I assume you're no longer "borderline obsessed" with him.
No, Trev, sadly those days are gone. I'm no longer of the belief that Hudgins would fit perfectly in the back of a Major League rotation. But, I'm still clinging to the possibility that he *might*. It was a rough year for John, one in which he became far too hittable when reaching the AAA level. His control worsened, he struck out less people. The whole season was downhill. But I'm not going to close the book on the guy. At best, he's a durable right arm with good pitchability and three average pitches. The Rangers should teach him to throw a sinker more, like they have with a few success stories, and see what comes of it. I'd still give the guy a C+ if I was grading him, so I guess obsessions die slowly.
...was wondering whether you think Quentin's propensity to get hit by pitches makes him an injury risk at the MLB level--inquiring fantasy owners want to know!
Marty, good question. My guess is that he makes himself a bit more susceptible to freak injuries as a result of it. However, I decided to bring it up to Will Carroll, BP's injury guru, and he sent in this response:
Well, there's certainly some risk, but like Biggio, it's a skill. If he hasn't been hurt so far, he's demonstrated that he can take it and while any one HBP could be the one to do damage, I'd actually say he's less risky. Practice makes perfect.
If your league uses OBP, then Quentin's 'skill' certainly outweighs any freak injury chance. If it doesn't, then I don't know what to tell you. It's probably something I would ignore.
That's all for today. I hope you all have enjoyed the prospect list this past week, as I definitely enjoyed writing it. Thanks are definitely in order to both Rich Lederer, Joe, Jay-Dell Mah, Kevin Goldstein and, of course, all the readers.
The 2006 WTNY 10
With this article, my 2006 prospect list is complete. Thanks to you, the readers, as this has been the most fulfilling of the three prospect lists I have now created. You all are the driving force behind my motivation, and I again thank you for your continued interest.
To recap, here is a list of the articles in this series thus far:
Over the weekend, I will answer many of the questions that you guys have (and still will, hopefully) asked since the list began. Please check back for that, and for now, enjoy the list!
10. Billy Butler - OF - Kansas City Royals - 20 (AA/AAA)
Introduction: There is no question that many of you will quibble with the decision to name Billy Butler the Royals' top overall prospect over Alex Gordon. I understand such criticism, but what I can offer back is that I believe Butler's bat has more potential than any in the minor leagues, with maybe the exception of Brandon Wood. It's not often that a 19-year-old splits time between A+ and AA, and comes out the other side with 30 home runs. It's not often that he walks 49 times in the process, and hits .340. Forget the park factors involved in a place like High Desert, this just is not supposed to happen. I've compared his bat to Jim Thome in the past, also citing Carlos Lee. But it's quite possible I've undershot Butler, who has the potential to win a batting crown and home run title before it's all said and done.
Skillset/Future: There is no way to hide Butler's weakness: defense. He started the year at third base, but given Mark Teahen's presence at the Major League level, the draft of Alex Gordon, and his small potential at third, the Royals thought it best to begin to move him in 2005. So, Butler moved to the outfield, where the results have been less than spectacular. However, Billy has the arm for left field, and if reports are correct, then he did improve late in the season. Time will tell if Butler's future is in left, at first or at the DH spot. While he is quite raw in the field, there is very little raw about his bat. Butler was very consistent at drawing walks in high-A, and while the skill faded a bit as he was promoted, it should be a strength at the Major League level. Also, his 98 strikeouts weren't too high, considering his peers, and Butler's contact skills allow him to consistently hit the ball on the nose. So much so, in fact, that he showed fantastic power in his first full pro season. His bat has it all. Butler isn't as sure a bet as a few other players on this list, but very few can match that ceiling. Alex Gordon can't, I know that.
9. Andy Marte - 3B - Boston Red Sox - 22 (AAA)
About one month ago, I looked at Andy Marte's "disappointing" season in detail. I put quotes around disappointing, because I am not one in that corner. There is no doubt that Marte didn't progress much this year, but he also wasn't horrible. People are too quick to judge him by his Major League stats (sample size!), Dominican Winter League stats (started very slow, came back strong), and a lack of a breakout season. However, my contention is that the only thing that was damaged this year was Andy's confidence. After struggling pretty bad in the Majors, he would go to struggle after being demoted. The first time, it resulted in a .196/.304/.340 stretch for nearly a month. The second time, it put considerable dead weight on his year-long DWL stats.
If the Red Sox are serious about keeping Marte, they must do everything in their power to re-build his confidence. With Mike Lowell, Kevin Youkilis and J.T. Snow in the fold, the team will be able to leave Andy in AAA for much of the season. He should start to hit confidently in Pawtucket, and begin to break out in the ways that we have been projecting for years. I made the comparison in the article linked above, and I will again: don't be shocked if, in the end, Andy Marte ends up as Paul Konerko with enough agility to stick at third.
8. Matt Cain - SP - San Francisco Giants - 21 (MLB)
Introduction: For much of Matt Cain's minor league career, he has been overshadowed by Felix Hernandez. A year younger, a better fastball and curveball and better control always gave King Felix the edge. Cain has always found himself in that next echelon, despite an absolutely dominating minor league campaign. If the lack of attention ever got to Cain, you can bet it was in the second half. Called up to the Giants days before September 1, the former first-round pick was able to make seven starts with the Giants organization. His results were fantastic with a 2.33 ERA and just 24 hits in 46.1 innings.
Skillset/Future: However, a few of his other Major League peripherals were bothersome. First, it's hard not to cringe, when looking at his 0.51 G/F rate in the Majors, and he was only at 0.64 at AAA. However, for all those flyballs, he does not manage to give up very many home runs, a fact that will dictate the amount of future success he has. Cain also walked 19 batters in the Majors, while posting a career high 4.51 W/9 at AAA this year. It's likely that Cain's fastball added a bit of movement this season, and it will take him some time to get used to it. Matt pitches very, very heavily off his mid-90s fastball, and his ability to control that will determine if he becomes at ace in the Majors or not. His secondary offerings are solid, with a fantastic power breaking pitch and a change up that has come a long way in the last 2-3 years. Cain need not fight for a rotation spot during Spring Training, it should come guaranteed. If he stays in the SF pitcher's park, look for a legitimate NL Rookie of the Year contender.
7. Carlos Quentin - OF - Arizona Diamondbacks - 23 (AAA)
Introduction: The Diamondbacks took a risk in drafting Quentin in the first round, knowing that he had (or would need?) Tommy John surgery. The team rehabbed Quentin, who obviously missed out the 2003 season after which he was drafted. In 2004, Quentin didn't miss a beat, hitting a combined (about) .335/.435/.550 between the California and Texas Leagues. However, I worried that much of his on-base percentage was founded in being hit by 43 pitches. Some quick stat analysis allowed me to see a correlation between league and HBP, meaning he couldn't sustain such levels in the Majors. His contact and power skills were great, he had right field potential (not center), but the patience wasn't there.
Skillset/Future: It is now. Quentin showed a fantastic skill in 2005, one in which he was able to actively learn and improve. After walking just 43 times in 2004, Quentin added nearly 30 walks to that total this past season. This kept his OBP high, as predictably, he was hit by only 29 pitches. I've now accepted he will be hit by a few in the Majors, but it's nice to have the ability to walk in nearly 13% of your plate appearances, too. At AAA, Quentin also continued to show his fantastic contact and power skills, while learning the nuances of right field. It's likely that if the Diamondbacks are out of things early, then they will start trading veterans (Shawn Green?) to clear spots for players like Quentin.
6. Stephen Drew - SS - Arizona Diamondbacks - 23 (AAA)
Introduction: Stephen Drew might not need a spot cleared for him. According to some reports, Drew has the upper handle on the Arizona shortstop job out of Spring Training. My expectation is that Craig Counsell wins the job, and Drew adjusts to the minors a little more before being rushed. This is the right way to handle someone who just 12 months ago was likely not to sign, and 7 months ago was playing in the Independent League. Predictably, Drew dominated the league, and right before the deadline, signed with the Diamondbacks. Sent to the Cal League, he continued his great hitting and became one of the league's most dangerous threats. However, things stalled in AA when Drew was met with some bad BABIP luck (.241) and some, finally, stiff competition.
Skillset/Future: So much for being rusty. After not playing competitive baseball in nearly a whole calendar year, Drew managed to jump right back into the thick of things. His patience is, like his brother, fantastic, and Drew has pretty fantastic power for a middle infielder. I don't think he will hit for 30 HR in a season, but about 20-25 with 30+ doubles would do Arizona quite well. At short, there are no longer expectations that Drew will have to move, and there should be little pressure from those around him in the system. Stephen's biggest pro problems have been contact issues, which were far more prevalent in AA than the Cal League. His potential is that of a .300 hitter, however, so it should work itself out. Look for Drew to be on more than one All-Star team before it's all said and done.
Introduction: It's no secret that Brian Sabean does not have the foresight of some General Managers. While one of the best in the Majors at his job, Sabean makes short-sighted decisions that include handing away draft picks and trading a lot of pitching prospects. In the past, Sabean has given away a large number of pitching prospects in the White flag deal, a Sidney Ponson trade, and most famously, an A.J. Pierzynski trade. Joe Nathan quickly became the Minnesota closer and made the deal famous, however, it was a hard-throwing southpaw with arm problems that was Terry Ryan's best haul. Liriano is now another data point in proving that it takes two years to heal from arm surgery, as he was back to full strength this season. How full? How about this, in fifteen starts in 2006, Liriano struck out eight or more batters. He also reached the double-digit mark it ground outs in four of his starts. Liriano, after dealing with a high .311 BABIP in the Eastern League, sunk to .240 at AAA. Given those extremes, his real performance is probably somewhere in the middle.
Skillset/Future: After the Futures Game, I filed this report on Francisco:
True to form, Liriano threw just one pitch under 85 mph (and 84 at that), and two fastballs under 96. Also validating his scouting report, half of Liriano's pitches were balls. This guy should be in Minnesota's bullpen at the end of the season, as very few southpaws even in the Majors can throw 89 mph sliders
Everything that Liriano throws, he pitches hard. His fastball was from 94-98, with good life and solid control. His slider is the best left-handed pitch in the game, an 86-89 weapon that dives in the zone and creates most of his strikeouts. And finally, Liriano mixes in an 84-85 mph change up that is just enough velocity off his fastball to be effective. Francisco has the complete package, and only struggles when he is letting balls out of the park. With more experience, this should begin to happen less, and soon in Minnesota, we will see the best 1-2 southpaw punch in quite some time.
4. Prince Fielder - 1B - Milwaukee Brewers - 22 (MLB)
Introduction: During the first two or three weeks of Spring Training, few players created more buzz than Prince Fielder. If memory serves me correctly, Fielder had all of his three Spring home runs occur in the first four games. Then, he cooled. Apparently, his slump extended from Spring Training until May 7. At that point in the regular season, Fielder had just two home runs, and was riding a 28-game homerless streak. His batting line was .245/.333/.330. Then, things began to turn around. In Prince's last 272 at-bats, he would hit 26 home runs with a line of .309/.387/.662. It was this finish that convinced Milwaukee that their best future included Prince Fielder at first and the bounties of a Lyle Overbay trade, rather than the other way around.
Skillset/Future: I have Fielder on this list because I think he will one day win a home run title. Maybe more than one. As a Cub fan, it kills me that for (likely) the next 15 years, I will have to deal with playing against the likes of Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder. Soon, you will know those two as the most powerful hitters in the NL. However, Prince isn't an absolute complete hitter, as his contact skills are a bit lacking. He should strike out about 120 times a season, and if I'm guessing correctly, probably have one pretty bad slump (though not 30-game .633 OPS bad) per season. But Prince has great patience, and as a result, manages to keep his batting average pretty high. At first, he's far more athletic than his Dad ever dreamed of, and won't hurt Milwaukee there. For what it's worth, Fielder is my preseason pick for 2006 Rookie of the Year, even if he starts out a bit slow.
3. Brandon Wood - SS - Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim - 21 (AA)
The breakout player of the 2005 season, the player of the year during the 2005 season. Add together all the baseball that Wood played in 2005 (A+, AAA, AFL, World Cup), and he hit 121 extra-base hits (58 HR!) in 689 at-bats. He hit a combined .316. And throughout all of it, Brandon was simply baseball's answer to the Energizer Bunny, with very few slumps lasting longer than a few days. A former-first round pick, Wood had an unimpressive full season debut in 2004 while playing in the Midwest League. In a year his power has blossomed, and Wood's potential has shot through the roof. And did we mention that he did this at age 20, up the middle?
If Brandon Wood is able to stay at short, which will depend on a number of factors, his value is unlimited. However, this ranking would be the same, most likely, if Wood moved to third tomorrow. Why? We haven't seen this much power potential in the minor leagues...ever. 58 home runs in less than 700 at-bats? C'mon. Forget his iffy contact skills, and the good hitter's park and league he played in during the 2005 season. He's for real. Brandon has legit 40 HR potential, and if he can continue to walk, should be a truly dangerous player. Here's to hoping the Angels leave him at shorstop, where his defense is about average (a little above, probably), so that Wood is the next great fantasy baseball player.
2. Jeremy Hermida - OF - Florida Marlins - 22 (MLB)
Introduction: To a greater degree, you've seen this before. Your patient, left-handed hitting Georgian outfield has a cup of coffee that won't soon be forgotten. In Hermida's case, it was from hitting four home runs in 41 at-bats, including even having a flair for the dramatic. In 1998, it was five home runs in 36 at-bats, not to mention 15 hits. Back then, J.D. Drew was the next Mickey Mantle, the next Hall of Famer. Since then, Drew has had a career mixed with stardom, inconsistency and injury. Hermida's hoping to go 1-for-3.
Skillset/Future: Jeremy doesn't quite have the tools that Drew had after winning the Golden Spikes at FSU, but he certainly has the potential to exceed the career J.D. has had. At 6-4, 200 pounds, Hermida has room to add pretty significant power. He just turned that corner in 2005, hitting 22 home runs after belting out just 16 previously. In addition to the budding power, Hermida adds the minor league's best (bar none) batting eye: 117 walks. He's a very smart player that plays good outfield defense and is fantastic on the bases, stealing 67 bases at an 87% clip in his minor league career. The one concern with Hermida, like with Drew, will be his contact skills. He'll strike out more than 100 times annually in the Majors, and as a result, should see his average sit around .280-.290. But given everything else he brings to the table, this won't be a problem. In 2006, look for Jeremy to surpass the .242/.340/.424 line that Drew put up as a rookie. He might just win the Rookie of the Year while he's at it.
1. Delmon Young - OF - Tampa Bay Devil Rays - 20 (MLB)
No surprise here. While I love Hermida and Wood, neither is particularly close to Young's level as a prospect, in my opinion. I mean, this is the guy that I chose first last year over Felix Hernandez. My support is unwavering. And Delmon has surely done nothing to make me look stupid.
It would have been difficult for Delmon's 2005 season to look more impressive. Tampa decided to see what the former top pick was made of, allowing him to skip the California Legaue and go straight to AA. He proved ready for it, succeeding in all facets of the game. He showed immense power in a pitcher's league, didn't strike out too much and walked at a reasonable level. He continued to steal bases and show perennial Gold Glove-caliber defense in right field.
By the end of the season, Delmon was a 19-year-old hitter playing in AAA. While it's difficult enough to ask this of pitchers, it's insane to do so from hitters, who have to come to the park ready day in and day out. As a result, Young struggled in AAA, drawing only 4 walks in about 235 plate appearances. Yes, that number still makes my jaw drop, as well. But plate discipline has never been a significant problem for Young, and when he returns to the level in 2006, expect a lot more walks.
A quick run-down of the six tools: Contact? Check, lifetime .317 hitter that struck out in just 17.7% of his at-bats, and just 14.4% after being promoted. Power? Oh, c'mon, check. Has more than 50 home runs in the minors before turning 20, and has the potential to hit for 30 or 40 annually in the Majors. Discipline? Well, this is the question mark. It's been acceptable in the past, and then fell apart late in the year. No check yet, but I bet it's coming. Baserunning? Check, over 75% for his career, and was 25/33 in a half-season at AA. Arm? Check from everyone I've ever talked to. Strong and accurate, a weapon. Range? Not the best in the minors, but hardly a problem, check.
Number one prospect, two years running? Check.
Note: This list was created before Justin Upton and Mike Pelfrey signed contracts. I will deal with both players in my weekend mailbag, so please check back then.
Over next weekend I'm hoping to do a mailbag article, so if you guys have any questions, please drop them in the comments below. Those that I don't answer right away should get responded to in a separate article on Saturday.
2006 WTNY 75: 25-11
Today begins the final descent of my 2006 prospect list, as we begin to detail the best 25 prospects in the game. Today I'll go to number 11, and then tomorrow I will look at the WTNY 10. So far, here's a look at the other entries:
Remember, the age and level listed are correct for 2006, and each player's name is linked to his minor league track record. Enjoy the list, and as always, please leave your comments at the end!
25. Andy LaRoche - 3B - Los Angeles Dodgers - 22 (AAA)
Introduction: Before the 2005 season, I picked Andy LaRoche as one of my breakout prospects. In his comment, I mentioned that once his average caught up with his power, he would take off. You see, I had noticed that in 2004, LaRoche was very unlucky, posting a BABIP of .281 in the South Atlantic League and then .247 in the FSL. This, in my opinion, had been far more of a fluke than the other way around. This theory proved true in 2005, as LaRoche's BABIP normalized, and his average went up. In the FSL this past season, LaRoche's BABIP was about .320, followed by about .315 after being promoted. So, if I stick with the theory, LaRoche is better than the player he was in 2004, but not quite the player he was last season. We'll see what 2005 provides.
Skillset/Future: If LaRoche puts all the skills he has shown together at one time, he has superstar potential. His calling card is certainly power, which was certainly enhanced by the FSL's easiest hitter's park: Vero Beach. However, at the Major League level, LaRoche should be hitting 25 homers annually. His contact skills have worsened in each of the past two seasons after a promotion, indicating each time, he's been a bit over his head. However, Andy showed better patience at AA when he struggled, a sign of a very smart hitter. At third, Andy isn't anything great, but his arm is certainly enough for the position, and his range will do. Note: There were few decisions more difficult for me than Barton v. LaRoche.
24. Jarrod Saltalamacchia - C - Atlanta Braves - 21 (AA)
Introduction: An honorable mention last season, I'm still kicking myself for not including him on my breakout list. Like Brandon Wood and Adam Jones did in the Midwest League, I neglected to see potential in an average low-A line from a teenager at a skill position. These are mistakes we shouldn't make. But anyway, it was still difficult to see Salty showing any power at Myrtle Beach, one of the minors' most favorable parks for pitchers. And it certainly wasn't easy for Salty, who had drastic home/away splits, and saw a lot of potential home runs fall in the gap. However, I'm not quite sure when this problem will be rectified, as Atlanta has pitcher's parks from Rome (low-A) to Turner Field.
Skillset/Future: For a catcher, Salty has fantastic power. His .205 Isolated Power in 2005 is just a taste of what he could provide at the Major League level, in which he should be good for nearly 30 home runs per year. However, while his power was better than his numbers suggested, his batting average is worse. There is little chance that Jarrod continues to hit much above .300 without striking out less, as his BABIP was .362 in 2005. Given pretty fantastic patience for someone his age, this won't be too bad of a problem, as he can still hit about .280/.360/.540 in the Majors. Not a great catcher, Jarrod shouldn't have to move from behind the plate, assuming his skills moderately progress in the coming years.
23. Joel Zumaya - SP - Detroit Tigers - 21 (AAA)
Introduction: While at the Futures Game in Detroit this past season, I made a comparison between Zumaya and the 2004 breakout player: Jose Capellan. Jose's big fastball took him from a 3.80 ERA in low-A in 2003 to a four-stop, fantastic trip through the Atlanta system in 2004. He took a poor SAL K/9 and turned it into 156 strikeouts the next season. Zumaya was much the same, rising to AAA last year after having posted a 4.36 FSL ERA in 2004. His K/9 rose by nearly 3.5 from one year to the next. Buzz was throughout the organization about his big fastball. We can only hope this is where Zumaya and Capellan cross paths for good.
Skillset/Future: In the 2004 Futures Game, Jose Capellan made noise with that fantastic fastball, but didn't show more than 2-3 curveballs in his whole inning. He had fallen in love with his heater, and while it was heavy, it was simply not enough. The Brewers, who acquired Capellan over the winter, were forced into converting him into relief. In the '05 All-Star contest, Zumaya consistently hit 99 on the gun, but threw his fastball in 11 of his 12 pitches. His curveball, the twelfth pitch he threw, was quite good, but it appears Joel does not trust that or the change up he rarely throws. To avoid a future in relief, and to maximize his potential, Zumaya must gain confidence in his secondary offerings.
22. Jon Papelbon - SP/RP - Boston Red Sox - 25 (MLB)
Introduction: In November of 2004, I predicted that Jon Papelbon and Jon Lester would, in one year's time, be "one of the 3 best 1-2 pitching prospect tandems in the minor leagues." I was wrong. They are the best. Detroit, Texas, Florida, Los Angeles and others have good combinations, but none match the prospect status of Papelbon and Lester. Papelbon's big breakout ended in a trip to the Majors, where he went back to his college role, helping out in the Red Sox depleted bullpen. After giving up four earned runs in his first three appearances, Papelbon would settle and get used to the role, allowing just 2 ER in his last 14 innings.
Skillset/Future: The Red Sox are now left with the difficult decision of what to do with Jon Papelbon. It seems as if the team will again start by trying him in the rotation, and if he labors (or the team really needs a reliever) he will move to the bullpen. This is probably the best philosophy, though I don't think that move to the 'pen will have to happen. Papelbon can throw five different pitches, and has found much success (especially against left-handers) with a splitter learned from Curt Schilling. His fastball (92-95 mph) has great control, and Jon also offers a nasty slider. Those three pitches comprise most of what he throws, though he can also offer another breaking pitch and a change up. This guy is nasty, and if his control returns to the levels it was in the minors, don't forget about him in the AL Rookie of the Year race.
21. Joel Guzman - SS/3B - Los Angeles Dodgers - 21 (AAA)
Introduction: Speaking of a player trapped between two roles, we find Joel Guzman as one of the big question marks of one of baseball's best farm systems. I was not impressed with the reluctance of the old Dodger regime to decide on a position for Guzman, first keeping him at short, and then in 2005, bouncing him between the middle of the field and the hot corner. It's agreed among most scouts that Guzman's frame -- over 75 inches tall -- will not allow a long career at shortstop. The Dodgers recent signing of Rafael Furcal indicates that Ned Colletti's staff agrees with this assessment. However, at third base, Guzman is sandwiched between LaRoche and Bill Mueller. What's the best choice? Count me as a voter in the corner outfield category.
Skillset/Future: Guzman is one of the few minor leaguers who could move from the middle infield to a corner outfield spot, and still be above-average offensively. The former big bonus baby has showed massive power in the last two seasons, hitting a combined 116 extra-base hits in just 953 at-bats. This is a fantastic ratio, and as he builds more muscle, Joel should also see more of his long hits clear the fence. Besides maintaining power, Guzman did step back considerably when hitting AA. His contact skills took a giant step back, and a .365 BABIP indicates his future may be living around the .260s in terms of batting average. However, Joel has also begun to walk more, collecting a career-high 42 walks last year. If the DePo-less Dodgers continue to preach this philosophy, Guzman's power and patience should make up for substantial contact problems.
20. Scott Olsen - SP - Florida Marlins - 22 (AAA/MLB)
Introduction: The Marlins have added a lot of minor league prospects this winter as a result of their firesale. However, despite adding three top 40 talents, their top two remains in tact. Second on the Florida prospect list is Scott Olsen, one of the obvious steals of the 2002 draft. For his first three seasons in the Florida organization, Olsen kept his ERA between 2.80 and 3.00. He broke that tradition in 2005 with a 3.92 ERA in AA. While that generally would indicate a regression, Olsen both lowered his walk rate and struck out hitters at a better rate. There are a lot of good southpaws in the Marlin organization, but in five years, we could be saying that Olsen is the best.
Skillset/Future: Looking at Olsen's peripherals in the last four years is very interesting. While both his strikeouts and walks have improved, in each season, Scott's hit and home run rates have increased. How can a prospect's stuff obviously improve, yet he seemingly becomes easier to hit? As a guess, I will infer that Olsen is a master at pitching late in the count, mixing in his Major League caliber slider with a very good change up. However, early in the count, batters have probably found a lot of Olsen's favorite pitch: a mid 90s fastball that few southpaws can match. No matter what the problem has been, I would think it's a correctable one, though the HR/9 issue is a scary one. Florida will throw their next phenom into the fire this season, and his H/9 and HR/9 should go far in telling us what his future might look like. Elbow inflammation ended his season, so as with every pitching prospect, treat his stock carefully.
19. Felix Pie - OF - Chicago Cubs - 21 (AAA)
For years, we had been waiting for Pie to turn the corner and begin to turn his tools into skills. 2005 was the year. Playing in the pitcher-friendly Southern League, Pie started the season fantastically, hitting for power in the first time in his career. While Felix was still not walking often, striking out a lot and not running well on the bases, his key weakness (power) had been righted. By mid-June, the Cubs were looking for a new center fielder, as Corey Patterson's struggles continued. Weeks before the organization planned to call up their phenom, he hurt his ankle, and would not play again all year. Patterson is a good example of a leg injury halting progress, so the Cubs have their fingers crossed that Pie returns with the same power in 2006. And with it, maybe, some further refinement across the board?
18. Ian Stewart - 3B - Colorado Rockies - 21 (AA)
Ian Stewart's drop in the rankings from last year do not reflect a regression in my mind as much as they do that he was passed by others. He didn't really regress, in my thinking. Sure, his first month was bad, but it was coming off some bad hamstring problems. On June 1, Stewart was hitting .212/.292/.339, having struck out 14 more times than he had collected a hit. However, Stewart would finish the season with the numbers we expected: .297/.378/.555. His contact rate was a more reasonable 23.3%, and Ian crept back into my top 20. A healthy Stewart is a very dangerous hitter, one with immense (and consistent) power and good patience (nearly in 12% of his PA). His defense is fine at the hot corner, and as long as his contact rate remains average, he should be one of the best hitters Coors has seen. But before he returns to being a five-star, elite prospect, he needs to show us that I'm right: his regression in numbers was simply injury-related.
17. Lastings Milledge - OF - New York Mets - 21 (AA)
Introduction: In retrospect, 2004 should be referred to as the year of the Sally League. Delmon Young and Ian Stewart would dominate the league, fighting all year long for rights to the MVP trophy. This allowed Lastings Milledge to draw less publicity than someone with his skillset usually might, as he hit .337/.399/.579. This season, Lastings saw a decrease in power, but was far more consistent across the board, and received rave reviews. There is no better five-tool talent in the game.
Skillset/Future: For this, I'm simply going to quote myself in an interview with Ricardo Gonzalez at Metsgeek:
If maturity or injury issues don't hold him back, Lastings has future All-Star written all over him. People need to stop worrying about his power, his baserunning, or the Mets aggressive promoting. Instead, we need to look no further than Felix Pie, and realize that eventually, doubles turn into homers, teenage speedsters become good baserunners, and the great talents can handle even the highest levels.
16. Conor Jackson - 1B - Arizona Diamondbacks - 24 (MLB)
Introduction: If I've already accepted that Howie Kendrick has the minors' best contact skills, than Conor Jackson is undoubtedly in second place. A former first-round pick from California, Jackson now has just 156 career strikeouts in 1159 total at-bats. Mind you that 85 of those at-bats came at the Major League level this year, in which Jackson got his first cup of coffee. However, the July experiment to implement him in the lineup proved to be a failure, as Jackson mixed bad BABIP luck (.205) with a lack of power. Considering how good Tony Clark was playing, the team sent Jackson back down to the minors, promising to give him another shot in 2006.
Skillset/Future: Jackson's contact skills make him the player he is, and as a result, will rely heavily on a good BABIP. However, when the batting average isn't treating him well, look for Conor to start drawing walks to keep his OBP high. Few minor leaguers have a better batting eye. But the real worry with Jackson is not his OBP, but his slugging, especially since moving to the first base position. Jackson has just 33 home runs since becoming a pro player, spanning about two Major League seasons. At that rate, he'll have to hit a lot of doubles and draw a ton of walks. That's a lot of pressure. However, I eventually expect him to succeed if not in 2006, as Clark will suck out more than a few at-bats.
15. Alex Gordon - 3B - Kansas City Royals - 22 (AA)
Introduction: Darin Erstad was made the first choice out of Nebraska after rewriting the University of Nebraska record books. About ten years later, the Cornhuskers again offered a top-five talent to the draft, and one who had topped Erstad's marks. Alex Gordon, the 2005 Golden Spikes Winner, was drafted second overall by the Royals, signing just in time to make the Arizona Fall League. Scouts were blown away by Gordon's bat in the short time that he was in the league, despite a good number of struggles. The organization has decided to keep him at third for now, but a later positional switch to the outfield or first base is not out of the question.
Skillset/Future: On draft day, my partner Rich Lederer compared Gordon's bat to Hank Blalock. In fact, it's likely that Lederer is even selling Gordon short with the comparison, as he profiles to have even better power. Alex's patience should be impressive, as well, as he walked 12 times in about 65 AFL plate appearances. The only two worries surrounding Gordon are contact and defense. The latter should take care of itself, but the real question is whether Gordon can be a .300 hitter in the Majors. Given his power and patience, there could be far worse things to have question marks about.
14. Jon Lester - SP - Boston Red Sox - 22 (AAA)
Introduction: My favorite prospect in the minors, Lester more than validated the confidence I had in him in 2005. Once coveted for Randy Johnson, the Red Sox refused to trade him, and for good reason. Lester would be the Eastern League's best pitcher in 2005, as the Red Sox were conservative with him, placing him on a pitch count and refusing to move him up a level. With no pressing needs at the Major League level, Lester was best in further honing his skills in the minors. Having turned 22 on Saturday, Jon will not be kept from the Majors much longer. Look for the team to bring him up sometime early in the midseason, when their schedule is soft and he can be broken in easily.
Skillset/Future: Lester profiles to be a #2 pitcher at the pro level. Like Papelbon, the Red Sox had him working on a new pitch in 2005, with Lester trying to develop a cutter. The results were successful, as Jon continued to improve against right-handed batters. In addition to the cutter, Lester throws a fastball with great movement up into the mid 90s, and a good change up and curveball. This season, he started to draw comparisons to Andy Pettite, which certainly isn't the worst thing in the world. His control is inconsistent, but if offered, could be a weapon. Lester is so close to being Major League quality, the Red Sox could trade both David Wells and Matt Clement, and their rotation could improve.
13. Justin Verlander - SP - Detroit Tigers - 23 (AAA)
Introduction: The best pick of the 2004 draft in hindsight, though I'm not sure many would have guessed it on draft day. Verlander had a fantastic 2005 season, pitching at three different levels, including the Majors. Justin was also given the honor of starting the hometown Futures Game, in which he flashed a 95-98 mph fastball and spike high 70s curve. After nearly not signing with the organization, Verlander is the Tigers best prospect, and if his injuries have subsided, should join the Major League rotation full-time very soon.
Skillset/Future: On the mound, Verlander offers it all. His 6-5 frame is a fantastic pitcher's body, and provides the tilt that his great fastball provides. His power curve is also quite possibly the minors best, and was the driving force behind his dominance in the Florida State League. Justin also offers a show-me change up, but given his two-pitch arsenal, he barely needs it. Verlander's arm tired at the end of the longest season of his life, causing the Tigers to have to put him on the DL. The organization must approach Justin with caution, but once the reins come off, look for the Old Dominion record holder to do some great things.
12. Ryan Zimmerman - 3B - Washington Nationals - 21 (MLB)
Bar none, the most impressive debut of any 2005 draftee. The Nats top five hometown selection began his pro career in low-A, but quickly made it known he was best suited for AA. After a slow start in Harrisburg, Zimmerman got it going quickly (while re-learning the shortstop position) and was summoned to the Major Leagues. Zimmerman impressed in 20 games about as much as a prospect could, hitting .397 and showing Gold Glove defense at third, and above-average defense at shortstop. He showed gap power and makings of fantastic contact skills. My concerns regarding Zimmerman is not necessarily that he won't hit for power, or that his 2005 was a fluke, but that he doesn't walk. He is really in danger of becoming a Gold Glove third baseman with an empty batting average.
11. Chad Billingsley - SP - Los Angeles Dodgers - 21 (AAA)
Introduction: Sometimes, there are some statistics I don't know what to make of. Oftentimes, I've talked about how misleading pitching statistics are, and have thrown out bad starts to make a case for a pitcher. Chad Billingsley is the type of pitcher that applies for, as he had three starts between May 3 and June 19 that tarnished his season statistics. What really trips me out, however: each start was against the same team, Delmon Young's Montgomery Biscuits. Anyway, during those three starts, Billingsley allowed 23 hits, 5 home runs and 19 earned runs in 10.2 innings. In his other 25 appearances, Billingsley had a 2.53 ERA and a staggering 6.18 H/9. Suddenly, his stats look a bit more impressive, no?
Skillset/Future: For the first time in two years, I'm going to back off my comparisons between Billingsley and Kerry Wood. We always accepted that Billingsley didn't quite have Wood's stuff, but he had a far cleaner delivery, and as a result, was far less of an injury risk. This season, he also proved that his mechanics will yield for more control, as Billingsley's non-Montgomery BB/9 was 2.93. Impressed? You should be. And mind you, when I say that he doesn't have Wood's stuff, this is not an insult. Billingsley can bring his fastball up to 97 mph, and he has one of the minors best sliders. Add in an above-average curveball and change up, and you have one of the five best pitching prospects in the minors.
Over next weekend I'm hoping to do a mailbag article, so if you guys have any questions, please drop them in the comments below. Those that I don't answer right away should get responded to in a separate article on Saturday.
2006 WTNY 75: 50-26
Today we continue our countdown of the game's best prospects, going through the next 25 players on my list. So far, I've named 25 honorable mentions and listed #75-51. When we're finished today, it will just leave the twenty-five best prospects in the game. Please feel free to leave comments at the bottom, and remember, the age and level listed are for 2006.
50. Craig Hansen - RP - Boston Red Sox - 22 (AAA)
Introduction: Few statements represent the massive ideological change that baseball has undergone in the past 50 years as this: Craig Hansen was heavily considered to be drafted first overall. A reliever. Obviously, no position has undergone a change in such a period as the relief position. Closers are extremely valuable commodities, so much so, that first round picks are now being used on them. We've seen Ryan Wagner, Chad Cordero and Huston Street all picked in the first round. Derrick Lutz and others will do so in the 2006 draft. 2005's best talent was Craig Hansen, who may have the best stuff of any college closer. While Hansen's level of competition wasn't super-high, there was not a more dominating force in college baseball last year.
Skillset/Future: Many have called for the Red Sox to move Hansen back to starting, but I'm not sure this is the best move. How will his stuff hold up for 200 innings? In about 80 innings per year, Hansen has a slider that is unparalleled in the minors. It hits the high-80s consistently, and at times, touches the low 90s. His fastball is about 95-98 mph, and he has very good control of the pitch. Craig does not allow home runs, walk too many batters, or give up very many hits. The Red Sox will make him their closer within two years, and he should succeeding pitching on one of baseball's biggest stages.
49. Cole Hamels - SP - Philadelphia Phillies -- 22 (AA)
Introduction: So much talent, but it should be no surprise that I have far less faith in Hamels harnessing his ability than most people. This is a guy who hasn't been truly healthy, it seems, since high school. He missed much of the beginning of 2005 after getting in a fight outside of a Florida bar. In three years within the Philadelphia organization, Hamels has logged just 28 starts. Yet this team remains convinced that his future will turn out better than Gavin Floyd's has. I'm not sure if there is a correlation between Hamels injuries, but the Phillies must figure it out, quick. This left arm is too good to not succeed.
Skillset/Future: Since being drafted out of high school, there has been a universal agreement on his delivery: near perfect. So, it's hard (like Mark Prior, in a sense) to blame Hamels string of injuries on anything mechanical. Cole is most well-known for having one of the best change ups in the minor leagues, and it was back in true form this season. However, we also saw some control problems, likely due to rust more than anything else. In addition to his great change up, Hamels offers a low-90s fastball and an above-average breaking ball. The trio of pitches give Hamels great potential, but with this arm, we all know that it means only so much.
48. Hayden Penn - SP - Baltimore Orioles - 21 (AAA)
Introduction: Looking at his year in retrospect makes me dizzy. In the beginning of the season, he was the Eastern League's best pitcher, and started to fly up prospect lists like no other prospect. However, immediately following that, Penn developed dead arm, and was nearly simultaneously promoted to the Majors. This resulted in eight very poor starts, when Penn was sent back to Bowie. He continued to pitch badly, likely due to the dead arm, until the month of August. For the rest of the season, he was back as one of the minors best pitchers. Very few pitchers were as inconsistent as Penn this year, but assuming dead arm only strikes once, he could really turn a corner next year.
Skillset/Future: Leo Mazzone will be thrilled to see that Penn has such good command of his pitches this year. His best pitch is a low 90s fastball with good life that Penn can throw in any spot. Under Mazzone, expect it to be tossed on the inside half more in 2006. Penn's secondary stuff is OK, highlighted by a good change-up that was praised during Hayden's poor Major League debut. To really succeed in the Majors, however, Penn must show a better breaking pitch than what he had in the Majors. Whether or not Mazzone can help him with this will likely determine whether he sits in the back end of various Major League and AAA rotations or whether he becomes a solid #2/3 starter.
47. Edison Volquez - SP - Texas Rangers - 22 (AAA)
Introduction: If you ask me, Casey Janssen (who is one of a few Blue Jay pitchers to just miss this list) had the quietest 2.18 ERA season in recent memory. At the same time, Edison Volquez had one really, really loud 4.10 ERA season. Volquez is often talked about as if he has already broken out, as if he's one of the best pitching prospects in the game. But this has always confused me. If he has such good pitchability, why the career 3.99 ERA? If his stuff is so good, why a K/9 of just 8.43?
Skillset/Future: However, I do think there is something to get excited about in Volquez. This is a guy that threw in the mid 90s, heavy fastball at the Futures Game, also showing one of the game's best change ups. His slider is a work in progress, though I was more impressed than most reports show while in Detroit. The key for Edison is that despite great stuff, he also has great control. Besides a poor debut at the Major League level, Volquez has not topped a 1.30 WHIP at any level. There is pitchability inside that body, I'm convinced. In 2006, he has to prove it with results, not with velocity.
46. Phil Hughes - SP - New York Yankees - 20 (A+)
Introduction: If not for a hint of arm injury at the end of the season, Hughes could be 10-15 spots higher on this list. No prep pitcher from the 2004 draft has impressed me more. However, as I mentioned, towards the end of the season, Hughes had a bout with shoulder inflammation. Combine that with a broken toe suffered in August, and Hughes' debut full season was ended shortly. The toe is not a concern, but the shoulder is, as Phil has many wondering if inflammation is hiding (or will lead to) a tear. Torn labrums are currently the worst injury a baseball player can sustain, so until Hughes proves he's past this, I will stay conservative with his ranking.
Skillset/Future: Dazzling array of pitches, delivery and control. First and foremost, the Californian has a big pitcher's frame that should only add more velocity over time. Right now, his fastball consistently sits in the low 90s, but we can maybe expect two or three more ticks soon. The key, however, is that Hughes has such good control with the pitch, only walking 20 hitters in 90.1 career innings. Conversely, he strikes out hitters at a pretty fantastic rate, notching 93 in 86.1 innings this year. This is due to a good combination of secondary pitches, namely one of the Sally League's best curveballs. If Hughes can stay out of injury, and further refine pitches three and four (change and slider, respectively), he could be one of the best pitchers on this list. If he makes it through one healthy season, my expectations (and ranking) will soar.
45. Adam Jones - CF - Seattle Mariners - 20 (AAA)
Introduction: When I think of Jones, I'm reminded of two players that I picked to break out this year: Reid Brignac and Mark Trumbo. The latter is an Angel that was given a bat at the pro level, despite being able to hit 90+ on the mound. Jones was in this same situation out of high school, drafted in the first round, and then surprisingly made a full-time shortstop. And like Reid Brignac, with high expectations, Jones was just OK in the Midwest League in 2004. Like many teenagers at the level, he wasn't great, but his bat showed promise for what 2005 would bring. Just like that, everything started to click for Jones, who would finish the season with an .800+ OPS in AA at the age of 19.
Skillset/Future: The big news of the offseason for Jones is that in 2006, he will no longer be a shortstop. He would likely have done fine at the position, but with Betancourt and Cabrera in the system, there was simply no room for Jones' questionable range. So, in the AFL, the Mariners moved Adam (and his big arm) to center field. In just one year, it's possible that the Mariners will have two of the five best outfield arms in the AL with Jones and Ichiro. Offensively, Adam does a little bit of everything. He won't hit for great home run power in the Majors, maybe about 20 per year, but instead profiles to slap about 30-40 doubles. He walks enough to bat in the two-hole, and managers shouldn't complain about his contact skills, which are about average. Jones likely won't show great range in center, but if he manages to find himself in the same outfield as Jeremy Reed and Ichiro, he won't have to. At worst, Adam leaves the organization to become a Ryan Freel-type player elsewhere.
44. Neil Walker - C - Pittsburgh Pirates - 20 (A+)
Introduction: A favorite of mine, as I'm susceptible to falling in love for young catchers with big-time power. Walker fits that bill, and he would have undoubtedly made my breakout prospects list had I not been under the impression that 2005 was his big coming out season. I criticized the Pirates in the past for drafting Walker, as he was then considered a reach at 11, but was attractive because of a cheap bonus demand and hometown ties. However, after 50 extra-base hits this past year, I will now retract any criticism. The Pirates showed foresight, not frugality, in drafting Walker.
Skillset/Future: Walker is high on this list for his bat, not his glove. Behind the plate, Neil is a work in progress, and will need to really work on his mobility to be successful. There are rumblings that he will one day have to be moved, but I think at 19, that talk is a bit premature. Walker improved as the season went on, and has the potential to be average behind the plate. Just being average will be OK, because Neil's ceiling is in the superstar category offensively. As a teenager, Walker struck out just 83 times this year in more than 500 at-bats, a sign I love for a young catcher. He also showed a ton of power, and while it doesn't always tend to leave the ballpark, it will over time. Switch-hitting catchers aren't exactly a dize a dozen, making Walker as untradeable as anyone in the organization. However, before I get too excited, I will have to see more than 20 walks in a season. Since there are very few other offensive problems to refine, I do think this is a problem that Walker can overcome in the next 2-3 seasons.
43. Jeff Clement - C - Seattle Mariners - 22 (A+)
Introduction: The last time the USC Trojans offered the draft a top five catcher, things did not work out so well: Eric Munson. Like Clement, Munson was a powerful hitter that was criticized for his defense. And while I once feared this would be the player that Clement might become, I no longer do. There is no question that Clement's defense behind the plate is lacking, but he also improved each year while at USC, and is light years better than Munson was. Also, Clement has better power, which he has been showing since high school, when he broke Drew Henson's all-time home run record. In all, he's a far more complete player than Munson, and should end up with a far better Major League career.
Skillset/Future: I've already talked about two parts of Clement's game. His power, from the left side I should add, is fantastic. Jeff dominated the Midwest League after signing, hitting six home runs in less than 120 at-bats. Inland Empire citizens are surely waiting at the edges of their seats to see what he does in the Cal League. His problem defensively is not his throwing arm, which is fine, but instead his movement behind the plate. A big frame has yielded slow actions there, and he can certainly tighten that up. My other Clement concern is that of contact, as he strikes out about 20-25% of the time, which is a little high. This is horrible, threatening a good future batting average or anything, but it certainly would help to improve upon that. Finally, his batting eye is above-average, but not to a great degree. If Clement makes it to the Majors, it will be on power, period.
42. Dustin Pedroia - 2B/SS - Boston Red Sox - 22 (AAA)
Introduction: We knew the day of the draft that Pedroia was a steal. So, pardon me, for if in the future I go back and criticize teams for not taking Dustin at a higher slot. Forget that he was an older college player with limited potential. This is a guy that had hit .400 in his sophomore season, and topped a .500 OBP in his junior season. In his final two years at Arizona State, Pedroia's OPS was over 1.050. He struck out just 47 times in all of college. Ian Kinsler was blocked because Pedroia was just too good. Yet Dustin slipped to the 65th pick because the best comparisons he could muster were David Eckstein, just because of his tiny height. It's really too bad for all these teams, because by missing out in Pedroia, they missed out in one of the 3 safest picks in the draft.
Skillset/Future: There has been a lot of talk about Dustin this winter, now that the Red Sox middle infield situation is questionable. With Hanley Ramirez now out of the system, and Edgar Renteria traded, it's quite possible that Pedroia will move back to shortstop this season. As a result, the Red Sox will likely fill that hole with just a part-time solution (maybe just Alex Cora), as they wait for Dustin to get a little more seasoning in AAA. They will find he won't need much, as his poor 2005 Pawtucket line can really be blamed on an unlucky .261 BABIP. When that returns to normal levels, expect Pedroia to continue to post high batting averages while showing some of the best plate discipline in professional baseball. Oh, and he has a little pop, too.
41. Adam Loewen - SP - Baltimore Orioles - 22 (AA)
Introduction: It has been a long road coming for Adam Loewen, the southpaw's answer to Edison Volquez. I say this because like Volquez, Loewen continues to receive a lot of hype while continually posting high ERAs. However, there is a fundamental difference between the two players: control. Edison has always had it, and Loewen goes through only stretches with it, and has an ugly career 5.64 W/9. However, I'll take his stuff over Volquez' any day of the week, and I like him more because of what 2006 will provide: Leo Mazzone. If anyone can harness Loewen, and maximize his potential, it's the best pitching coach of all-time. And after the way Adam ended the season, and then pitched in AFL, there are lots of reasons for excitement.
Skillset/Future: No one in the minor leagues throws a 'heavier' array of pitches than Adam Loewen. It is very difficult for players to make good contact against him, and as a result, no one on this list has a higher G/F ratio: 2.58. This 'heaviness' is a result of his frame, which provides the ability to throw at a downward angle that few players have. Loewen's fastball is in the low-to-mid 90s, but has fantastic life, if not great control. At the Futures Game, I was impressed by his loopy, high 70s curveball that is already considered Major League quality. There have been good advancements with a change, as well, though the pitch needs to be implemented more in 2006. In the same organization that produced B.J. Ryan, it wouldn't be shocking to see Loewen become the next great Oriole reliever. But before that time comes, the Orioles should see if Leo Mazzone can make him the next Oriole ace.
40. Homer Bailey - SP - Cincinnati Reds - 20 (A+)
I've talked about Homer Bailey at length recently, so I won't go into detail here. Basically, the former top ten pick is one of my favorite prospects in the minors, a right-hander with an amazing two-pitch arsenal. However, his control -- once praised -- fell apart in pro ball, and needs to be improved before he can take off. I've heard concerns that Bailey's delivery is flawed and he is an injury risk, which of course forces me to temper my expectations (especially in this organization). But simply put, Bailey has the potential to be one of the minors top talents if everything can come together. Here's to betting that it will in 2006.
39. Adam Miller - SP - Cleveland Indians - 21 (AA)
Introduction: Before his injury, he was known as "Mr. 101." This refers to the time in the minors in which he hit 101 on the radar gun, and prior to injury, he was consistently in the upper 90s. His slider was deadly, and at the beginning and end of the 2004 season, he was one of the minors best pitchers. I had him ranked as my #2 pitching prospect a year ago. But, as often happens with young players, Miller was injured in spring training of last season. An elbow injury would keep him out for much of the first half, and while he declined surgery, it sounds to have slightly effected his stuff. Adam looked good in a few August starts before ending the season poorly.
Skillset/Future: I haven't heard exact descriptions of the post-injury Miller, just that his stuff is a bit down. No longer does he have the fastball that will touch 100, but he still is said to sit in the mid 90s. Adam, no longer with the minors best two-pitch combination, will now simply have to better refine his change up to be really successful. What's impressive is that even after the injury, he still has great control given what kind of stuff he brings to the table. 2006 is a make or break year for Miller, as we see what kind of shape his elbow -- and stuff, for that matter -- is in.
38. Jeremy Sowers - SP - Cleveland Indians - 23 (AAA)
Introduction: Staying on the theme of Indian pitching prospects, Sowers is quite the opposite of Adam Miller. The club's 2004 first-round pick was excellent, as the team made a reported last-minute decision of Sowers over Chris Nelson. Sowers was a former first round pick that passed on seven figures to go to Vanderbilt after a hugely successful high school career. Things simply continued in college, as the southpaw led the Commodores to their first ever Super Regional. He has been even better as a pro, however, as his 2005 ERA was lower than any season at Vandy. Sowers has flown through the Indian system, and will begin the season at Buffalo, likely one Major League injury from breaking into the Big League rotation on a full-time basis.
Skillset/Future: Like most southpaws that don't hit 95 on the radar, Sowers was drawing Tom Glavine comparisons out of college. However, even 18 months later, the comparison still looks more valid than most times it is used. Like the former Atlanta ace, Sowers has great control of his pitches, issuing only 29 walks in more than 150 innings this past season. His fastball is in the 88-92 range, and provides a good amount of sinking action, similar to Glavine in his prime. Sowers also throws a plus change up and plus curveball, and his pitchability is what generates a majority of his strikeouts. I would not imagine that Sowers enjoys the K/9 numbers in the Majors that Glavine has, but with his intelligence and durable arm, it certainly isn't out of question.
37. Russ Martin - C - Los Angeles Dodgers - 23 (AAA)
Introduction: Of every prospect on this list, not one made unexpected Spring Training noise like Russ Martin did last year. In the end, his final March statistics were hardly jaw-dropping, with five hits (one for extra bases) in 13 at-bats. But the Dodgers had fallen in love with the catcher, both for the way he handled their pitchers as well as his plate discipline. Martin was then sent to AA, where he played on the most talented team in minor league baseball. The former 17th round steal has not been particularly durable during his minor league career, but should be good for about 130 games per year.
Skillset/Future: Russ Martin has the best plate discipline in the minor leagues. Sure, Jeremy Hermida might draw more walks and Howie Kendrick might make more consistent contact, but no one puts it together like Martin. This past year, Russ' Isolated Discipline (OBP-AVG) was .129, and his K% (K/AB) was 16.9%. Both of these are fantastic rates, and should help to provide Russ with a very high OBP in the Majors. This will help, as I am beginning to think more and more that he doesn't have any power. Like he did in 2005, expect a lot more seasons when his slugging is under his OBP. But between being on the bases a lot and playing great defense, it's no surprise that the Dodgers are excited to make Martin their full-time catcher soon. Players like him often don't produce a lot of volatility, so expect pretty consistent production.
36. Hanley Ramirez - SS - Florida Marlins - 22 (AAA)
Introduction: What in the world is there left to expect of Hanley Ramirez. We have gone from thinking he was a budding superstar, to being convinced he was a bust. In 2004, he made us think he did have All-Star potential, before allowing us to back off that opinion in 2005. There has not been a more volatile player in minor league baseball the last three years than Ramirez. Because of that, and ongoing make-up issues that angered the organization, the Red Sox were quick to trade Ramirez to the Marlins this winter. The opposite of a player like Russ Martin, Hanley is firmly on the scouts side of the infamous scouts v. stats debate. Whether he ever joins the other side is a fact that we all remain quite skeptical of.
Skillset/Future: It seemed very unlikely a year ago that Hanley would be able to stay at shortstop, especially when Boston signed Edgar Renteria. I began to warm to that very idea, thinking that Ramirez would look great in center field. However, now moved to the Marlin organization, it's almost assured Ramirez will stay up the middle, where his defense will play at about average. His power is pretty non-existent, and at this point, expecting 20 home runs is pretty foolish. Hanley does make really consistent contact, and as a result, could be a .300 hitter in the Bigs. But, at this point it is unlikely he will ever walk very much, and his baserunning is too inconsistent to make him a threat at the top of a lineup. On a championship team, Ramirez is simply a seven or eight hitter that provides moments of greatness around a sea of mediocrity.
35. Howie Kendrick - 2B - Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim - 23 (AAA)
Introduction: There was not a more familar site this year than opening Kevin Goldstein's Baseball America Prospect Report and finding out that Howie Kendrick collected two hits. It was pretty silly for awhile, as it just kept coming, but it turned out downright odd by season's end. The guy had more multi-hit games than 0-fers. That doesn't happen. And that especially shouldn't happen for a former 10th round pick out of a community college. What began in the Pioneer League in 2003 has yet to stop, as Kendrick has now hit .340 or higher at four straight levels.
Skillset/Future: As I have implied, Kendrick has fantastic contact skills. In fact, I'd go as far to call them the best in the minor leagues. In nearly 300 games and 1200 at-bats, Howie has struck out just 142 times, and just 62 in 2005. He centers the ball very well, and because of that, should consistently post high BABIPs. In Spring Training, I was impressed with the pop I saw in his bat, and while he'll never hit for a lot of power, expect about 25-30 doubles on an annual basis. In the field, I was also impressed in March, which ran counter to what many have said. However, that talk was hushed in 2005, and it appears that Kendrick will stay at second, where I think he has good lateral movement. Like Neil Walker already, the only real offensive trait to work on is his patience, as Kendrick drew just 20 walks in the entire '05 season.
34. Thomas Diamond - SP - Texas Rangers - 23 (AA)
Introduction: In 2004, Diamond quickly established himself amidst a slew of '04 college draftees with a fantastic start to his pro career. After dominating the Northwest League, the Rangers challenged Diamond with a promotion to the Midwest League. The results were staggering, and the Rangers entered 2005 with very high hopes for their right-hander. He continued to exceed expectations in the Cal League, moved up to AA after 14 starts. During that time, he was the league's best pitcher, and left with a 1.99 ERA. At that point, his minor league career had 169 strikeouts in 127.1 innings. But as happens with many young pitchers, Diamond struggled when reaching AA pretty badly. By allowing a few more walks and home runs, Diamond's ERA soared to 5.35, and his place in the Texas organization (especially among DVD) has been questioned.
Skillset/Future: One thing I really like about Diamond is his big, strong pitcher's body. However, velocity reports from college now seem high, as Diamond's velocity is only about 91-95 mph. His curveball remains his best pitch, and Diamond made strides with a change this year. After reading many different reports of Diamond pitch, I think the general consensus is that he's inconsistent. Sometimes he's hitting 95, his curveball is biting, and he's a top 20 prospect. Othertimes he'll be the Rangers next disappointing pitching prospect. I really do think that Diamond will succeed at the Big League level as a #3 starter that provides a ton of innings with an ERA right below league average.
33. Brian Anderson - OF - Chicago White Sox - 24 (MLB)
Introduction: If nothing else, Ken Williams is one of the most shrewd GMs in all of baseball. Not many front offices would have the guts to trade one of their most well-liked players (Aaron Rowand) in the months following a World Series victory. However, popularity is not one of the qualifications that Williams demands from his center fielder. And while Rowand's defense is very good up the middle, he simply isn't likely to perform at a high level offensively again. So the team traded Rowand, and later Chris Young, because center field is their deepest position in the minors. Brian Anderson, a former first round pick, was waiting in the wings.
Skillset/Future: Before I start praising Anderson, I want to start with the bad: he lost his contact skills this year. After striking out just 74 times in 2004, Anderson was over 25% in AAA this season. For all the criticism I give Chris Young on this very issue, it should be noted that Anderson whiffs far too much. However, what he also brings to the table is a very solid all-around game. Brian finally showed the power that had been projected of him this year, and when he moves to a hitter's park in 2006, could be capable of hitting 25 home runs. Anderson has a solid batting eye and plays good defense, and is already said to be fitting in with his new teammates. The Jim Thome trade was not only good for the White Sox offense because Thome will improve upon Carl Everett's performance, but also because Brian Anderson should be exceeding Aaron Rowand.
32. Anibal Sanchez - SP - Florida Marlins - 22 (AAA)
Introduction: "And in this corner, weighing in at 180 pounds, Anibal Sanchez!" What is Sanchez fighting for, you ask? Well, after breaking out in 2005, Sanchez is here to prove that short-season statistics should be considered seriously when we evaluate prospects. Not a lot of people had Anibal on their radar after 2004, despite a 1.77 ERA in the New York-Penn League. Those who saw his performance were not surprised that he broke out in 2005, as it had simply been a continuation of what he had shown in short-season ball. While prospects like Mitch Einertson fight to make the stats nearly worthless, Sanchez reminds us that every once in awhile, there is an actual diamond amidst all the cubic zirconia.
Skillset/Future: Coming from baseball's newest hotbed, Venezuela, Sanchez is like many of the pitchers we are seeing from there: short, stocky, and bringing a lot of heat. In Sanchez' case, he pitches at an even six-feet tall, but is still able to throw his fastball into the mid 90s. Better yet, he's good at controlling the pitch, issuing only 40 walks during the 2005 season. However, what has put Sanchez on the prospect map is a deceptive change up that Baseball America fell in love with at the Carolina League All-Star Game. Add in a curveball that I liked at the Futures Game, though it isn't great, and you begin to understand why Sanchez was a better haul than Hanley Ramirez. However, an injury history has to leave some room to temper expectations, which is why Sanchez' ranking is pretty conservative.
31. Anthony Reyes - SP - St. Louis Cardinals - 24 (MLB)
Introduction: As a Cubs fan, I really like Sidney Ponson all the sudden. Yes, he just signed with the Cubs rival, but I'm really hoping he wins a rotation spot in Spring Training. Why? Because it blocks Anthony Reyes, who the Cardinals should have simply all-but-guaranteed a spot. After four unimpressive and inconsistent seasons at USC, Reyes has blossomed with the Cardinals now that he has found himself healthy. Starting his pro career in 2004, Anthony has flown through the system, and even impressed the Cardinals with a call-up in 2005. However, St. Louis remains reluctant to give the 24-year-old a rotation spot, which is just fine with the Cub fan in me.
Skillset/Future: Reyes does it all on the mound. First and foremost, he throws his fastball in the mid 90s, yet has had fantastic control since his freshman season in college. This is what has allowed Reyes to succeed in the minors, along with the development of a very good curveball. His change up is solid if not spectacular, and will certain allow him to succeed at the Major League level. My big concern is the number of home runs that Reyes allows, as his HR/9 was up in the PCL, and then quite high in his 13.1 Major League innings. Hopefully Dave Duncan, one of the Majors best pitching coaches, will work his specialty and teach Reyes to keep the ball closer to the ground than the stands.
30. Nick Markakis - OF - Baltimore Orioles - 22 (AAA)
Introduction: Markakis has had quite an odd career thus far, with many interesting twists and turns. Not really highly thought of out of high school, Markakis blossomed in one year at Young Harris College, where he played both ways. He excelled so much, in fact, that he was named the best player at the Community College level, leading to a first-round selection by the Orioles. The team drafted him as a hitter, and he began his pro career showing a lot more polish than power and projection. That continued for the first half of his 2004 season, before he finished it fantastically, leading me to project him to break out in 2005. Markakis' season ended early as he went to play for the Greek team in the Olympics, where he would again play two ways. Finally hitting full-time in 2005, Markakis did break out, with a power spike towards the end of the season that extended into AA.
Skillset/Future: This guy does it all right. Markakis' power is still pretty projectable, as he hit 41 doubles this year, but just 15 home runs. Those numbers should begin to creep closer together as he moved towards his peak, much to the point where Nick starts to hit at or above the slugging average of most right fielders. In the outfield he plays great defense, and is special because he features an arm that could have pitched professionally. From a plate discipline standpoint, Markakis is a success because he walks a lot, a career-high 61 times in 2005. This is combined with pretty good contact skills, though they regressed a bit in AA. If Nick can continue to improve upon those contact skills, while adding a little loft to his swing, there is serious potential for .300/.400/.550 seasons.
29. Chris Young - OF - Arizona Diamondbacks - 22 (AAA)
I'm also going to keep Young's comments short, as he has been one of the most talked about prospects on this site. Basically, I loved Young before the season, as he provides four tools that few in the minors can match: speed, range, discipline, power. He showed this in 2005, as he broke out in a big way, leading to a trade (the White Sox sold high) to the Arizona Diamondbacks. The reason I say that his stock has peaked is because it seems people are willing to overlook the other two tools on his resume: contact and arm. His contact skills are pretty atrocious, and as a result, I don't think he'll hit more than .280 ever as a pro. This is a solid player that I would love to have on my team, but he's not the next Hall of Fame center fielder, if you ask me.
28. Yusmeiro Petit - SP - Florida Marlins - 21 (AAA)
Introduction: As Ricardo Gonzalez puts it over at Metsgeek, the key to Yusmeiro is "deception and location." These skills have been the driving influences behind Petit's success in pro baseball, as his scouting report isn't extremely favorable. Petit has always drawn comparisons to Sid Fernandez, both for his large frame and deceptive delivery. With each season of success, this comparison makes more and more sense.
Skillset/Future: As Ricardo said, the real key to Petit is control. And Yusmeiro has great control, probably the best of any pitcher in the minors. In 2005, he walked just 24 batters in more than 130 innings. This allows for some leeway in the H/9 category, though his deceptiveness (he hides the ball for a long time) has allowed opponents batting average to never be a problem. The biggest concern about Petit is that he allows a lot of home runs, and could be over 30 annually at the Major League level. Traded to the Marlins this winter, Florida must begin to teach Petit ways (a sinker?) to keep the ball on the ground. His future ERA depends upon it.
27. John Danks - SP - Texas Rangers - 21 (AA)
Introduction: It seems as if I'm in the minority of believers that John Danks will be the best of the Rangers trio of pitching prospects. However, I think Danks will succeed even though the Rangers have not helped the situation. The team has promoted Danks early in both of his full seasons, leading to significant struggles at the next level. This isn't great on a kid's confidence level, and instead, the Rangers should be allowing about ten fewer starts at these high levels. In 2005, it was AA (where Diamond also struggled), where Danks WHIP went over 1.50.
Skillset/Future: It seems as if each time Danks gets promoted, he has a momentary loss of control. At his best, John's fastball (in the low 90s, with room to improve) is a weapon that he also controls. If harnessed, he shouldn't be giving up more than about 2.50 walks per nine innings. However, it seems that in high pressure situations (promotions, the Futures Game) he loses control, which could simply be learned with more experience. Danks also has the makings of two more good pitches, including a fantastic curveball and a solid change up. He shows maturity by having confidence in both pitches, and as he adds pitchability, I think he will strike out even more hitters. With a little guidance, the Rangers will be able to turn Danks into a #2 starter. Unfortunately, I'm not sure he's in the right organization.
26. Daric Barton - 1B - Oakland Athletics - 20 (AAA)
Introduction: Daric Barton has yet to play in the Major Leagues, and the Mark Mulder trade is still a success for the A's. Dan Haren is that good. So, from Billy Beane's perspective, anything that comes from Barton is just icing on the cake. But that isn't to say expectations are low for Barton, who will be adding to the glut of 1B/DH types in the organization very soon. Intelligently, the team moved him away from catching this season so that Barton could focus on hitting. This turned out to be a good decision, as Barton only continued to learn as a hitter, while no longer providing negative value in the field.
Skillset/Future: There are few issues that demand more attention in the next two years as whether or not Daric Barton will develop true slugger power. Some think his 36 doubles from 2005 are a sign of things to come, that Barton will remain a gap hitter at the pro level. Others think the doubles will one day clear the fence, as Barton ages and adds more muscle. Either way, Daric can be a successful Major Leaguer, thanks to great discipline and contact skills. The short left-handed slugger drew 97 walks in 2005, keeping his OBP for the season above .420. He also struck out just 79 times, which indicates he could be in the mix for batting titles down the road.
Over next weekend I'm hoping to do a mailbag article, so if you guys have any questions, please drop them in the comments below. Those that I don't answer right away should get responded to in a separate article on Saturday.
Blyleven for Hall of Fame: The Majority Rules, Right?
Although Bert Blyleven came up short in the Hall of Fame voting announced earlier today, his total increased by more than 31% as he was named on 277 of the 520 ballots cast by members of the Baseball Writers Association of America. By crossing the important 50% level for the first time, Blyleven appears to be on track at one day getting inducted into Cooperstown. Gil Hodges, in fact, is the only player no longer eligible for the HOF to receive 50% of the vote total and not have his day in upstate New York.
Bruce Sutter was the only candidate who received the required 75% for enshrinement. Sutter picked up 400 votes or 76.9% of the total. Jim Rice (337, 64.8%), Rich Gossage (336, 64.6%), and Andre Dawson (317, 61.0%) finished between Sutter and Blyleven.
Blyleven, who has been on the ballot for nine years, has a chance to follow a similar path to the Hall of Fame as Sutter. The newest member of the Hall passed the 50% mark for the first time in 2003, earning an almost identical total as Blyleven this year. The 1979 NL Cy Young Award winner then bridged the gap over the next three years, adding between 6%-10% annually to his totals to gain induction into baseball's most prestigious fraternity in his 13th year of eligibility.
As shown below, Blyleven's momentum is really building:
Year Votes Pct 1998 83 17.6 1999 70 14.1 2000 87 17.4 2001 121 23.5 2002 124 26.3 2003 145 29.2 2004 179 35.4 2005 211 40.9 2006 277 53.3
Based on the number of ballots cast this year, Blyleven needs 113 more votes out of the 243 writers who did not support him. That does not seem insurmountable by any means. In fact, there are many writers who have professed to be on the fence, both in public and in private conversations and emails with me. I won't name names here, but you know who you are. All I can say is that you were in the majority by not voting for Bert in the past, but you will be in the minority if you continue to leave his name off your ballot in the years to come.
In the meantime, the favorable press on Blyleven's behalf continues to mount. Non-voters and voters alike have even mentioned our efforts in getting out the word. It's easy to be an advocate when someone has as strong of a case as the man who is 5th in strikeouts, 8th in shutouts, and 17th in wins since 1900. I haven't accomplished anything other than trying to get voters to take a look at Blyleven's stellar record. To the extent that they have, I say amen. To the extent that they haven't, I only ask that they please do before they mark their ballots next year.
Here are a few excerpted paragraphs from an excellent article written by Childs Walker of the Baltimore Sun in today's newspaper:
Blyleven, like many of his peers, is acutely aware of his case. He has watched his name rise on the ballot and can tick off the wins, innings pitched and strikeout totals that comprise the best parts of his argument. He has read the material on BertBelongs.com and by another advocate, Rich Lederer at baseballanalysts.com.
Bert Blyleven essentially has a campaign of people like me trying to get him into the Hall of Fame, one that peaked late last year over at Baseball Analysts. I'm with them. Blyleven isn't even a borderline case, but rather, an above-average Hall of Famer who is underrated due to criminally bad run support during his best seasons. The reputation he picked up as a guy who couldn't win close games is unfair.
Blyleven was nice enough to tip his cap in our direction in a radio interview with MLB.com yesterday and another with ESPN Radio this afternoon. The former is currently listed on the home page in the upper right-hand corner under Highlights (Broadcaster and Hall of Fame candidate Bert Blyleven on possibly getting the call and the team's prospects for 2006). The first few minutes can also be accessed here.
I asked Bill James, one of Blyleven's earliest supporters and the author of a fascinating feature called The Nasty Dutchman in the The Hardball Times Baseball Annual 2006, for his comments about Bert's chances of gaining election now that he has passed the 50% barrier.
The 300-game winners are disappearing from the ballot; there is more room to vote for the 280-game winners, and the 280-game winners have always gotten in eventually. I'm sure Bert will as well ... there are a lot of people advocating for him.
Yes, and these people have only just begun (and are more energized than ever before). Bert Blyleven for Hall of Fame 2007 starts now.
Now back to our regularly scheduled programming, starring Bryan Smith and his must-read 2006 WTNY Top 75 Prospects.
2006 WTNY 75: 75-51
My prospect list moves on today, away from the honorable mentions and into the actual rankings. Today we count down the numbers 75-51 prospects in baseball, as I see it. As always, please feel free to leave any comments below the article.
75. Andre Ethier - OF - Los Angeles Dodgers - 24 (AAA)
Introduction: Ethier was totally the A's kind of player at Arizona State University, walking 52 times against 30 strikeouts in his last year on campus. However, the problem was always that Andre couldn't get his power to get going, and that he was destined to a career somewhere between being a fourth outfielder and a AAA one. But in a year of Texas League revivals, Ethier busted out, showing power that hadn't been seen since his days in college. However, the A's promptly traded him, selling him high, to the Dodgers for Milton Bradley.
Skillset/Future: I thought it was funny that the A's brought Jay Payton back to the organization, as Ethier's best comp is Payton. Both have the potential to be marginal starters, and in certain streaks, should even perform quite well. At other times, however, they look like fourth outfielders stretched at any outfield position besides left. Ethier will never be an All-Star at the Major League level, but there is an off chance he retires with more than 4,000 at-bats, or something of the sort. And that has to be considered a success.
74. Jered Weaver - SP - Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim - 23 (AA)
If you've read this site long, you know his name. You know his name real well. Rather than re-write the report that Rich has so eloquently done so often, I'm instead going to turn you to three of his articles from this season:
I am certainly more of a pessimist on Weaver than Rich is, as his flyball tendencies scare me. However, if the Angels are committed to working on this problem, and the right measures are taken, we all know that Jered has pitchability through the roof. At worst, he's a fringe 5th starter. At best, he's a #3. That's a pretty tight window.
73. Fernando Nieve - SP - Houston Astros - 24 (AAA)
Introduction: It had to be a now or never year for Fernando Nieve. This is a guy that signed with the organization in 1999. I projected him to breakout before the 2004 season. The Astros were beginning to implement prospects into their rotation. It was simply time for Nieve to turn that corner, and become a top prospect. Problem is, I still can't tell whether he did or not. Nieve pitched brilliantly in 14 Texas League starts, showing better stuff than his organizational mate Jason Hirsh. However, once reaching the PCL, Nieve struggled with hits, walks and strikeouts. A bad combination.
Skillset/Future: I really do think that Nieve has a future in a Major League rotation. However, these days, I no longer believe he has #2/3 potential, but instead will have to hang towards the back end. He has a rubber arm that has allowed for three straight seasons with over 150 innings, and his stuff is good enough for a career 8.51 K/9 in the minors. However, it seems that Nieve has always been a bit too hittable, and lacked a little too much in the control department. Whether or not a Major League pitching coach can solve these problems should prove to be instrumental to Nieve's future success.
72. Chuck Tiffany - SP - Los Angeles Dodgers - 21 (AA)
Introduction: Tiffany did a lot more to disappoint in 2005 than anything else, as expectations were very high. After ending 2004 as well as he did, striking out 46 in his last 21.1 innings. The problem with Tiffany, however, has always been consistency. Sometimes he is the best pitcher in the Dodger system, other times his struggles are massive. There is a very little happy medium.
Skillset/Future: There seem to be a lot more cons in this section than pros. First, Tiffany has a flyball affinity, and as a result, tends to allow a ton of home runs. Without knowing first hand, I would guess he has the tendency to hang his curveball. It's also a problem, I would guess, that Chuck really only offers two pitches at this point: fastball and curveball. Both offerings are pretty good, but there has just not been a lot of development with a third pitch. Throw in just average control, and you begin to understand why people aren't so enamored with a double-digit K/9 guy.
71. Eddy Martinez-Esteve - OF/DH - San Francisco Giants - 22 (AA)
Introduction: I would have a lot more faith in EME if only he was on an AL team's roster. Because we all know the guy can hit. The Giants have to make a decision in choosing how they will replace Barry Bonds: maximize the offense, so losing his bat will be minimized, or get an all-around player who will be better than Bonds was defensively? It's all a matter of how much you weigh defense. Brian Sabean's answer to this question will likely dictate how long EME stays in this organization. If the team wishes to take a hit on defense, then sticking him in left field is the solution. If not willing, it's time to sell high, and trade him to the American League. As a fan, I'm hoping it's the latter.
Skillset/Future: As I've said, EME can't play defense. At all. His throwing arm is atrocious, and his range makes Pat Burrell cringe. He will never be good, and expecting any different would be foolish. However, there is a pro to match that con. His bat. There is no better pure bat in the minors, considering he has the full package. Unparalleled plate discipline. Great contact skills. Big-time gap power. This guy has it all. It will be interesting to see what leaving the Cal League does to his numbers in 2006, but I don't expect it to be as much as some. A fantastic batting eye tends to minimize volatility, I've found.
70. Chuck James - SP - Atlanta Braves - 24 (AAA)
Another sabermetric favorite, James is yet to really struggle at a level. But if you ask me, he's simply a left-handed Jered Weaver. Sure, there are differences in their stuff, but not really huge differences in their stats. Both allow a ton of fly balls, and thrive off very good control. A system of pitcher's parks has allowed James to not allow a ton of home runs, which has been Weaver's problem in the early going. And, of course, both players strike out a good number of hitters based on their fastball control, a decent breaking pitch and unmatched pitchability. James won't be anything better than a back-of-the-rotation pitcher, but he could also be very good in that role.
69. Jason Hirsh - SP - Houston Astros - 24 (AAA)
Introduction: Besides Jon Lester and Francisco Liriano, no pitcher broke out in 2005 more than Jason Hirsh. A 2003 second-round choice, I had Hirsh circled on a list before the 2005 season of guys that could be drafted in the '05 Rule Draft, if left unprotected. However, he then proceeded to have a season in which he was named as the Texas League Pitcher of the Year, and was promptly added to the Houston 40-man roster. The key for Hirsh seemed to be a decline in his walk rate, as the big right-hander shaved his BB/9 almost in half. There is a good argument, in my mind, for both Nieve and Hirsh atop the Astro food chain.
Skillset/Future: Coming out of college, Hirsh was a pitching coach's dream. He had the pitcher's body at 6-8, 250, and was blessed with velocity in the mid-90s. However, there was little control and little secondary stuff. A year later, neither of that is true. Hirsh's curve was raved about in 2005, and as I said, his control was much improved this year. He was unable to average a strikeout per inning, but that's nitpicking. I went with Hirsh over Nieve because I thought the former had a better chance to be a good reliever if starting didn't work out, given his frame and velocity. If the Astros continue to implement young players onto their roster, look for Hirsh to get his chance in 2007.
68. Gaby Hernandez - SP - Florida Marlins - 20 (A+)
Introduction: Following a third-round selection in the 2004 draft, Hernandez started to make noise in posting some silly numbers in the Gulf Coast League at 18. With expectations high, Hernandez was great in the South Atlantic League, proving the Mets were involved in a heist waiting until pick 74 to draft him. The word was that his stuff was more consistent after the draft, and there is no question that even since being drafted, Hernandez has thrown more onto the frame. However, he struggled mightily when being promoted to high-A, and with his stock pretty high, the Mets weren't too stupid to sell this winter. If the Marlins can keep Hernandez from preventing home runs, then they will be very happy with their acquisition, as well.
Skillset/Future: Very few players in the minor leagues allow fly balls at the rate that Hernandez does. This is very odd to me, given reports of a sinking fastball and an extremely low HR/9. Sooner or later, you have to worry, those balls are going to start going over the fence. Or, the Marlins must teach Hernandez a way to add tilt to his fastball. However, this can't come at the cost of his control, as Gaby doesn't make a ton of mistakes. And, as is the problem with all young pitchers, Hernandez simply needs to become more consistent from start-to-start. We'll find out how much of a scare his K/9 reduction is very soon, as Hernandez will likely head back to the Florida State League.
67. Asdrubal Cabrera - IF - Seattle Mariners - 20 (AA)
Introduction: A personal favorite of mine. Defense is just beginning a revolution in Major League Baseball, and it has yet to really start trickling down to the minors. Once it does, expect guys like Cabrera to start gaining a little more publicity. Because as far as defensive infielders go, there are few better in all of the minor leagues. To really get a feel for it, try reading Sam Geaney's scouting report on Cabrera. Here's the part about defense:
Special w/glove. Plus hds and pure showy SS actions. Expert hop reader. Smooth transfer. Plus range and instincts allow him to not only get to balls but look for outs in places most SS wouldn't look. Shows off serious athleticism coming in and throwing on run. Very good feel for game, knows speed of runners which allows him to sit back and complete play with ease. Never got caught waiting too long to unload. Avg arm strength made better by plus accuracy. Errors are coming on plays that most INF won't get to or dream of making but that he has chance to pull off. Exc. body control.
Skillset/Future: If you haven't gotten it yet, he can be a Gold Glove-caliber player up the middle. There's a chance the presence of Betancourt in the system could push Cabrera to second, which would be a shame. As a hitter, he must start getting back to the things he did in the Midwest League. First and foremost, Asdrubal must re-commit to drawing walks, as his contact skills are a tad below average. I can't imagine he'll hit for much power, so Cabrera needs to hope to have a ceiling of Placido Polanco on offense, and Omar Vizquel on defense. If the Mariners infield situation is too cloudy, then you should really be crossing your fingers that your team lands him. Special talent.
66. Carlos Gonzales - OF - Arizona Diamondbacks - 20 (A+)
Introduction: In retrospect, I guess we should have been impressed when Gonzales was posting .150+ ISOs in short-season ball as a teenager. We should have listened to the scouts that said that power would further develop, that there was a player inside this underachiever. Because in 2005, Gonzales took off like few other prospects in minor league baseball. He was the most impressive player in the Midwest League. Arizona spends a lot of time drafting college talents, not worrying about how to refine skills. But if they can find a balance between raw Latin American players and college players, this system should continue to flourish.
Skillset/Future: Gonzales tends to have every skill in the book, just not every one is fully developed. His contact abilities improved greatly in 2005, as his career average jumped 40 points and his K% was down to under 17%. He showed Major League power, hitting 52 XBH, including 18 home runs as a teenager. Carlos began to walk more, drawing 48 free passes and bringing his OBP north of .370. And while he doesn't have extraordinary speed, Gonzales is seen as a good center fielder. I'll remain skeptical about Gonzales for another year, but if all of this is for real, he could jump about 40 spots in 365 days.
65. Dustin McGowan - SP - Toronto Blue Jays - 24 (MLB)
Introduction: As a whole, Dustin McGowan's minor league career is not particularly impressive. A former first round pick, he has a long injury history that includes pitching only 31 innings in 2004. His career minor league ERA is just 3.82. His career K/9 is under 9.00. He is an underachiever, in every sense of the word. However, those that watch McGowan pitch consistently come away impressed. And after coming back from Tommy John surgery very quickly, it's hard not to root for the guy.
Skillset/Future: This is not a guy that finds his way on this list via statistics, as I've said. Instead, it's his stuff. When watching McGowan pitch in the Majors, you see a guy with a good fastball, and two different breaking pitches. His fastball was not all the way back in 2005, but I came away very impressed with his breaking stuff. He's never had the pitchability to register a ton of strikeouts (beyond class A0, but that can be a learned trait. There is a chance, if he keeps underachieving, that McGowan could be best suited moving to the bullpen. However, an improvement on his fastball -- one in which he reverts to pre-injury form -- could provide the Blue Jays with a possible Rookie of the Year candidate at the back of their rotation.
64. Jonathan Broxton - RP - Los Angeles Dodgers - 22 (AAA/MLB)
Introduction: It's funny, I remember arguing with Dodger fans in the past about whether or not Broxton could remain a starter. I said no, and as a result, did not think as highly as him as most people. They liked him as a starter, and saw great things. It turned out that the real answer was somewhere in the middle. In the end, the best thing for Jonathan Broxton was to move to the bullpen. And while his Major League ERA didn't tell the story, I can all but guarantee it will be the best thing for the Dodgers, too. 22 strikeouts in 13.2 innings? Suddenly, those comparisons between Broxton and Gagne's minor league numbers don't look so silly, do they?
Skillset/Future: The reason a move to relief was so good for Broxton was that it helped his stuff, as it tends to do with some arms. For the Bull, his fastball jumped from about 94 to 98 or 99, and his breaking pitch became that much more devastating. His control has improved in each of the last three seasons, a sign that not only will he strike out people in relief, but he could also be a closer. Oh, and by the way, he doesn't really allow home runs, either. I have Broxton ranked as the second-best relief prospect in baseball, and it certainly wouldn't surprise me if he was winning Rolaids awards within the next five seasons.
63. Jeff Niemann - SP - Tampa Bay Devil Rays - 23 (AA)
Introduction: The San Diego Padres have to be more upset with the Rice University baseball program than anyone else. After Jeff Niemann's sophomore season, it was no contest that Niemann was the best player in the draft. Had the draft been a year early, the team would have been forced to take Niemann. There would have been an uproar if ownership ordered for anything else. The 6-9 rightie had led Rice through the College World Series ranks and capped off a 17-0 season with a 1.70 ERA. He was frightening. But soon, he would be hurt, and it still seems as the injury that followed his sophomore season is still causing problems today.
Skillset/Future: It's just too hard to give up on a guy that used to touch 99. It's hard to quit on a guy that once had a power curve that would have reinvented the word. Alright, I'm exaggerating, but really, it's a pity this kid's stuff isn't what it used to be. Even with regression, Niemann still has an impressive two-pitch combination, but really needs to be healthy to completely prove that to us. Maybe we'll have to wait for arm surgery for that to happen, or maybe this winter will have provided it for us. The Devil Rays took a risk drafting Niemann in the top five, but if any arm has the chance to pay them dividends, it's Niemann's.
62. Ian Kinsler - 2B - Texas Rangers - 24 (MLB)
Introduction: It seems as if every analyst in the world credited Texas with a win after the Alfonso Soriano trade. Most people wrote that Brad Wilkerson could be a better hitter than Soriano, much less the other two players Jon Daniels received. What seems to be ignored is that Daniels also had incentive to make the trade, as Ian Kinsler has been waiting in the wings. Sure, his AAA season wasn't the greatest success in the world, but it's hard to believe that he can't step in and provide value to the Rangers immediately. And, who knows, maybe both Wilkerson and Kinsler will outdo Soriano in 2006.
Skillset/Future: I only saw Kinsler play one game in Spring Training last year, but I was impressed. I noted in my review of my preseason Arizona trip that Kinsler was one to have power to all fields, and a strike zone that doesn't expand. Both these comments seem just as apparent now, as Kinsler is coming off a career high in home runs, and staying consistent with his good contact skills. His plate discipline is a bit above average, and Ian should represent a step up in defense over Soriano. There is a chance that Kinsler will have a 20/20 season in the Majors, and a very outside probability that he could win Rookie of the Year.
61. Adam Lind - OF - Toronto Blue Jays - 22 (AA)
Introduction: Not to sound like a used car salesman, but Lind is the breakout prospect that I have the most faith in. I found him very early in the season, before his red-hot July, and noticed how few of his extra-base hits were going over the wall. I blamed it on Dunedin, and wrote somewhere that he could correct that problem in 2006. He started to correct it at the end of the season, showing hitting skills that were unmatched in the FSL. It's probably dangerous to start throwing around Paul Molitor comparisons, but for some reason, that's what I see when looking at Lind.
Skillset/Future: More than anything else, the problem with Lind will be determining a position. Third base is thrown out, now leaving a decision between first, left and DH. For some reason, oftentimes it's the latter that would be the best option for the team. However, for what problems Lind has athletically, he makes up for it offensively. Adam's contact skills are among the minors best, and his sweet swing should also help him become an annual .300 hitter. Besides that, he's very inconsistent, as extra base hits and walks tend to come in bunches. If, like I'm predicting, Lind adds a little power and a little endurance, he could be the minors best pure hitter in under one season.
60. Scott Elbert - SP - Los Angeles Dodgers - 21 (A+)
Introduction: Of all my choices, this is the one I think I might end up pinching myself for most in one season. Not in a good way. Why? Because the Dodgers do this every year. Sometimes the player is Greg Miller, othertimes it is Chuck Tiffany, this year it was Scott Elbert. They bring some hard-throwing southpaw with big numbers to the table, and we become amazed. However, there isn't a great track record for these players. Sooner or later, I think, that trend will break, and one of these pitchers will maximize his potential. Or, the Dodgers will have one helluva fight for the LOOGY spot in their bullpen.
Skillset/Future: If pitchers only needed two pitches, this guy would be great. His low-90s fastball has good life, and his slider is at times devastating. However, to be a starter, a prospect needs a third pitch, which Elbert lacks. There have been few advancements in that category in a year, and without it, Elbert has a future in the bullpen. Not only will a move to relief offset the aforementioned problem, but it should also minimize the damage his control problems provide. Like I've said before, having the fallback of becoming a very good reliever is a nice thing. But the reason you see Elbert so high on the list is that I think that even a good career in relief would be a disappointment.
59. Jeff Mathis - C- Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim - 23 (MLB)
Introduction: Wax on, wax off. After 2003, Jeff Mathis was one of the most exciting players in minor league baseball. A catcher with projectable power out the roof. After 2004, he was a forgotten prospect. Baseball America pointed out that Mathis had simply tired in the Texas League, a theory that should undoubtedly be applied to catchers in the future. Finally, it seems like we're getting the right view of Mathis. Would it surprise you if I said we've learned that he's an inconsistent player? Nah, didn't think so.
Skillset/Future: Gone are the days in which I will forecast 30-40 home run potential for Mathis. That was foolish. Instead, I think we should expect 40-50 extra-base hits per season, with about 20 (max) coming via the long ball. Jeff has made strides with his contact skills, and in the Majors, should continue to fall short of 100 strikeouts per year, while batting about .280. He mixes this with pretty average discipline skills, adding (as we've seen) about sixty or seventy points to his average. Behind the plate, Mathis is no gem, but he'll certainly be serviceable to the Angles. And after all, when Mathis is done hitting in the 8th inning in 2006, the team might as well bring in Jose Molina. Average catchers have a positive value, and that's just what Mathis is.
58. Javi Herrera - OF - Oakland Athletics
Introduction: There is no player on this list I saw more than Herrera this year, who I was able to see in six different games. And it seemed as if each time I saw him, I was impressed. But this scares me, because it reminds me of another player I love in person that has disappointed: Shin-Soo Choo. Both are small, strong players with hints of all six tools. I'm no scout, so I recognize the danger in evaluating players in such a fashion. But we also have to allow our experience in the game have some influence, so I'm bringing out that card with Herrera. His stats might not equal a few players behind him, but I'll be damned if he doesn't succeed on my watch.
Skillset/Future: As I said, there are bits and pieces of all six tools in this kid. I can personally attest that he covers great ground in center, which should make up for an arm that is average at best. Herrera is an accomplished base stealer, who with a little push, could probably swipe about 25 bags a year in the Bigs. He likely won't, I don't think, be a 25/25 player, though. There is power in his bat, but given his small frame, I think it should be confined to the gaps. From a plate discipline standpoint, Herrera has one plus (batting eye) and one minus (control problems). Add these two together, and his OBP should be a bit above-average in the Major Leagues. If Herrera can swing and miss less, he has the potential to be a special player in the Majors. If not, he should still be average. If he regresses, he can be a fourth outfielder. That range of options is what impresses me most, I think.
57. Eric Duncan - 1B - New York Yankees - 21 (AA)
Introduction: Normally, I'm not a sucker for age being a defining characteristic in a player. Too often, I think, players are allowed to use their age as a crutch. Sure, he hit just .240 in Low-A, he's just 18. But for some reason, I do think age is very important when evaluating Eric Duncan. While a .734 OPS in AA is not very impressive, there are things to like in the numbers, and those are enhanced when learning the player was in his age 20 season. I'm also drawn to the Yankees reluctance to trade Duncan, which might reflect a newer organizational philosophy more than a particular faith in Eric. Time will tell, I guess.
Skillset/Future: This winter, the Yankees decided to eliminate Duncan's most glaring weakness: his play at the hot corner. While it had improved in two years through Duncan's hard work, he was never going to be a good third basemen. With A-Rod entrenched at the position, anyway, a move to first base was best for all parties. My anticipation is that Duncan will be a good fielder there, and also could have the bat for it. His power is very significant, and while his 2B:HR ratio was a bit low, he could hit 30 home runs in a Major League season. Duncan also has very good patience for someone his age, which makes up for bad, bad contact issues. When considering all that, his peak is that of a .270/.350/.500 player in my mind. And oddly enough, in 2007, he could be looking to prove that in the Big Apple.
56. Garrett Mock - SP - Arizona Diamondbacks - 23 (AA)
Introduction: Another one of my breakout guys, Mock is the one I had pegged the earliest. He is just a simple case of numbers distorted by context. He played in Lancaster, in the Cal League, one of the worst environments a pitcher could have. Garrett had a .334 BABIP on his many groundballs, a number that could have prevented about 25 hits if normalized. He didn't pitch great at the end of the season, instead showing potential for 2006. This guy has everything I look for in a breakout prospect. Truly, I would be shocked if he isn't a top 40 player in one year.
Skillset/Future: What I love about Mock is that he's fairly easy to project. A durable arm and good pitcher's body will allow Mock to become an innings-eater in the mold that John Lackey serves for the Angels. He might not be noticed much, but quietly, he'll be throwing 200+ innings of above-average baseball a season. While that is what will most likely happen, Mock also has the potential to be a #2 pitcher. He throws four good pitches, and his fastball has enough tilt to provoke a lot of ground balls. We like that in these parts. Look for the Southern League to be a nice place for Mock to break out in next year, possibly even surpassing the numbers put up by Dustin Nippert. And in no time, he should pass Nippert in the organization's eyes, if he isn't already.
55. Troy Patton - SP - Houston Astros - 20 (AA)
Introduction: In a lot of ways, Patton represents a few different Astro draft ideologies. The first is to load up with players from Texas, one of the nation's best baseball states. This provides the team with a bunch of hometown players coming from high school and college programs that the Houston front office trusts. The other ideology, as Roy Oswalt has proven, is one that ignores height. The club is far more impressed with results than, as Michael Lewis might put it, how a player looks in a pair of jeans. This has paid off with Patton, who now has a lifetime 2.13 ERA in the minors. The Moneyball philosophy, to find underrated traits in players, is what allowed Houston to pick up Patton in the 2004 draft's ninth round.
Skillset/Future: Not many players impressed me in the 2005 Futures Game more than Patton. My comments after watching him:
the southpaw started the inning with a 93 mph fastball, the only velocity the pitch hit in four throws. He also showed an impressive change in the dirt, and forced a ground out from Bergolla on a mid 70s, loopy curve.
If this game was an indication of what Patton normally brings to the table, he should be pitching in Houston by the time he turns 21. Very few southpaws in the minors offer a three-pitch combination like the one I saw in Detroit. Add in great control and the ability to keep the baseball in the park, and you have a future #2 pitcher, barring injury.
54. Kendry Morales - 1B/DH - Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim - 23 (AAA)
Introduction: At the 2005 Futures Game, prior to its start, I watched the players take batting practice and interact on the field. One thing I noticed, not to my surprise, was Kendry Morales and Rafael Betancourt talking to each other. I remember taking a picture of it, wondering what it would mean in 5, 10, 25 years. These two are, after all, test cases. While Cuba has produced Major League players for years, oftentimes, they have been pitchers. Before Morales and Betancourt, very few position players made it from Cuba. In these two, we have the Cuban's best hitter (Morales), and their best fielder (Betancourt). Their translation to Major League Baseball will go far in dictating how big of a market there exists for Cuban hitters in the future. Test cases.
Skillset/Future: Morales quickly went through the Cal League, showing the Angels his competition in Cuba exceeded class-A ball. However, upon hitting AA, Kendry had a few struggles. They were quickly overcome, however, by a huge finish to his season that extended into the Arizona Fall League. We know now that Morales has plus power, possibly to the tune of thirty home runs per year. He also makes good contact skills, only lacking in the discipline category offensively. If the Angels can get him to start walking, his lack of athleticism will not be a problem. If not, however, then he will have to overcome low OBPs from the DH spot...never an easy task.
53. Elijah Dukes - OF - Tampa Bay Devil Rays - 22 (AAA)
Introduction: If maturity wasn't a key component of a baseball player, all the talk about Elijah Dukes would be how far he has come since being drafted. While he's always possessed all the tools, the 2002 hometown pick has had a long process of refining them over the years. In 2003, his pro career started in low-A, and Dukes was a mess. He didn't have a ton of power, and lacked any form of contact. His defense and baserunning were raw at best. His only plus was a good amount of discipline, and an age where his faults would be accepted. But maturity does count, so we only see Dukes as a bit of a disappointment. After run-ins with the law, Dukes' 2005 season was clouded with ejections, and even a suspension. His skills have come so far, but he has not.
Skillset/Future: As I mentioned, Dukes has all the tools, and now has most of them refined. His strikeout percentage has dropped at each level, reaching a low of 18.6% this year. His power peaked, as Dukes hit 10 more home runs than he had in any season prior. Elijah has always had good discipline, which has consistently made up for contact faults. He plays good enough defense to remain in center, and while his baserunning isn't great, it's not a reach to expect Preston Wilson SB numbers. But if I was to compare Dukes to any player, as I have before, it would be Milton Bradley. Like Bradley, it could be Dukes' non-baseball issues that do him in more than anything else. With Rocco Baldelli now signed to an extension, we already know that we can blame Dukes' forthcoming trade on that.
52. Jason Kubel - OF/DH - Minnesota Twins - 24 (AAA)
Introduction: It seems as if Alanis Morissette should be add a phrase to "Ironic" about Jason Kubel. A 12th round pick in 2000, Kubel was more ordinary than not in his first four seasons. To cap it off in 2003, he hit a very ordinary .298/.361/.400 in the Florida State League. A year later, Kubel was considered one of the minors' purest hitters, and the future right fielder of Minnesota. His 2004 season shocked the prospect world. And after climbing so high, Kubel entered the realm of freak accidents in the Arizona Fall League, tearing up every "CL" in the knee. He did not play in 2005.
Skillset/Future: It's very hard to evaluate Kubel as a prospect. This might be considered high for him, but I went over each hitter, and could not convince myself that I'd rather have any of the guys behind him before Kubel. At worst, his knee will relegate him to DH duty, where I truly believe he will hit. His contact skills were fantastic prior to the injury, and should return as he builds muscle memory. His plate discipline is above-average, and he'll hit for good (not great) power. But this guy could win a batting title one day, and for the Twins, that will be great whether it's in left, right, or off the bench.
51. Gio Gonzalez - SP - Philadelphia Phillies - 20 (A+)
Introduction: Pitching defined the 2004 first round more than anything else. Of the first 41 picks in the draft, twenty-eight of the players drafted threw off a mound. However, more than 2/3 of those players were college pitchers, and it seemed as if prep pitchers were falling a bit. This allowed the White Sox to draft Gio Gonzalez with the 38th overall pick. A hard-throwing southpaw from Miami, Chicago went the Houston way, and ignored the height written within the scouting report. Instead, they focused on the pitcher, who could turn out to be the draft's best prep pitcher. If so, it will be in a different organization, as the team traded Gonzalez to the Phillies in the Jim Thome deal this offseason. Gonzalez and Cole Hamels should be fighting (no, don't use your fists, Cole) for place on the organizational depth chart soon.
Skillset/Future: In one Baseball America Daily Dish, written towards the end of the minor league season, the BA crew had this to say about Gonzalez:
...the 19-year-old lefty sent Kinston down in order after the first inning as he showed off an explosive 93 mph fastball, hammer curve and a late-diving changeup.
After succeeding in short-season ball at the age of 18, Gonzalez started to draw comparisons to Johan Santana. Part of this was on merit, and of course, part was due to Santana's rising profile. In reality, there is little in common between the two pitchers besides handedness, velocity and similar frames. Both short, Santana become a dominant pitcher as his change-up became one of the game's best. His fastball features as much movement as anyone in the game, and he has an above-average slider. Gonzalez has a solid fastball, but really pitches off his great curve. There seem to be mixed reports on his change-up, but at worst, it sounds to be an average pitch. With three solid pitches, I expect Gonzalez to finish his first season as a Phillie in AA. By this time next year, we could be talking about him as a rotation candidate.
2006 WTNY 75: Honorable Mention
With winter league baseball finally nearing its conclusion, the time has come for me to unveil my top 75 prospects. We will be doing so gradually in the next week, finishing with the top ten on Friday. We start today, however, with the 25 guys that came closest to making the list. I didn't want to be put in the position of ranking this group, so it goes from Andrus to Volstad.
Elvis Andrus - SS - Atlanta Braves - 17 (A-)
Introduction: Two years ago, in my first attempt at ranking prospects, I had the dilemma of ranking a 17-year-old that had tore through the Northwest League. I don't have a link to it, but I distinctly remember ranking Felix Hernandez in the number ninety spot. Two years later he would be second, and three years later he is being talked about as a potential Cy Young candidate. However, for every King Felix, there are plenty of failed teenage phenoms. For that reason, if going to 100, I would rank Elvis Andrus in about the ninetieth spot. Players with such youth are risky, without a doubt, but their upside is beyond what most American-born players can reach.
Skillset/Future: While most players would be raw playing in professional baseball shortly after being able to drive, Andrus is not. He walked 19 times in 187 plate appearances, which is pretty fantastic given his maturity level. Furthermore, his contact skills are also refined, as his .295 batting average and 16.9% strikeout rate would attest. Elvis has good speed -- though his baserunning needs work -- and defense that, with more work, could be fantastic. He's simply a very fluid player in the Edgar Renteria mold. What Andrus lacks right now is power. While you might assume this can develop into a strength with age, my guess is that the potential is merely average. The Braves will likely start him in full-season ball next year, and we should get a better look at the player the Padres wish they had in Matt Bush.
Erick Aybar - SS - Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim - 22 (AAA)
Introduction: Back in 2003, things were looking good for Mr. Aybar. As a teenager he had posted a .794 OPS in the Midwest League, also stealing 32 bases at a 78% clip. The Angels preferred him to Alberto Callaspo up the middle, and he was seen as the Angels shortstop of the future. Now, that is simply not the case. This is not for lack of trying, as Aybar's play has been consistent, but for his organization-mates. The Angels have signed Orlando Cabrera to a long-term deal, and behind Aybar is Brandon Wood, one of the game's top prospects. A move to second wouldn't do much good, as Howie Kendrick has him blocked there. It seems as if there are two outcomes for Aybar: a super-utility career in the Chone Figgins mold, or a trade.
Skillset/Future: At every stop in his pro career, Aybar has hit at least .300. His OPS has always been over .790. He has always struck out in less than 16% of his at-bats. However, Aybar's stock has been gradually slipping since its 2003 peak. Why? First, his baserunning has seemingly worsened, as Erick is just 100/159 the last two seasons. He also hasn't gained a hint of discipline, giving his on-base percentage a ceiling of about .375, and likely a home around .330-.350. It's likely that Aybar's SLG numbers will come down as well in the future, since the number is fairly triple-dependent. There is likely some team out there who will confuse Aybar for a leadoff hitter, but really, a Tony Womack-career is his destiny.
Wes Bankston - 1B - Tampa Bay Devil Rays - 22 (AAA)
Introduction: It's sure easy to fit in quietly when everyone around you is making noise. You might recognize Bankston's name from 2002, when the fourth rounder hit 18 home runs in 246 Appy League at-bats. However, it was then he started to blend in. In 2003, Bankston struggled in low-A on the same team as B.J. Upton. Repeating the level in 2004, this time he was protection for Delmon Young. This year, he again played on Young's team, which also featured Elijah Dukes. Fifth hitters rarely get recognized in minor league baseball, but it's hard to blame Bankston for being paired with top five picks.
Skillset/Future: Since lighting up the Appy League fresh out of a Texas high school, Bankston has moved to first base. Given the Devil Rays crowded outfield situation, and Bankston's limited range, this was the best move for everybody. The question now is whether Bankston's bat can survive at first. I believe it can. It's unlikely he'll be an All-Star, but I imagine that his power can be that of an average American League first baseman, with the potential to pass that. His Southern League power, an ISO of .190, is about what I foresee, in which Bankston is a doubles hitter with 20-30 HR potential. Wes has a good batting eye that regressed a bit in AA, but should always play as a strength. And contact hasn't been a significant problem since 2003, and should be average at the Major League level. Tampa should be searching for a one-year option at first this winter, since in 2007, it should be Bankston's turn to take the helm.
Josh Barfield - 2B - San Diego Padres - 23 (MLB)
Introduction: Those with a Major League pedigree often tend to get advantages that others don't, while also being forced to live in their father/brother's shadow. Josh Barfield doesn't really fit that stereotype, as he had to both earn his prospect status and the comparison to his father. A fourth-round pick in 2001, Barfield quietly played well in 2002 before exploding the next season in the California League. With 128 RBI's and 122 strikeouts, Josh was seen as Jesse, the 2B version. A down year in AA tempered expectations, but Josh played well upon returning to a good offensive environment.
Skillset/Future: Josh seems to do everything well but make contact. In each of his now four minor league seasons, Barfield has reached the triple digits in strikeouts. This creates the necessity for high BABIPs, which he has managed in three of four seasons, including a .363 clip in 2005. However, it's unlikely this will continue at the Major League level, and as a result, his batting average should dip considerably. Good thing that Barfield's plate discipline has gradually improved, and even with a .250 batting average, he should manage an OBP of about .320. Josh will always have more power than the average second baseman, so it's too bad he'll be playing in PETCO Park, which will turn plenty of home runs into doubles. Both his baserunning and defense, which we were both once skeptical of, are average skills. An offseason Mark Loretta trade paves the way for Barfield to start at second, where he is an underdog (but candidate) for NL ROY.
Ryan Braun - 3B/OF - Milwaukee Brewers - 22 (A+)
Introduction: This season, I have decided to add recent draftees to my prospect list. This is a first for me, and as a result, expect many of the rankings to be conservative. Because like Elvis Andrus, with many of these players, it's hard to know less than 500 at-bats into their pro career who they really are. We have a decent handle on college players like Braun, as with him, we have seen great offensive numbers at a big school like the University of Miami. After two good years at the U, Braun shot up draft charts and Miami record books with a .388/.471/.726 junior season. After much deliberation, the Brewers (with a very intelligent scouting department) settled on Braun with the fifth overall pick.
Skillset/Future: On draft day, I talked about how there were only three other Miami hitters with bigger numbers: Pat Burrell, Jason Michaels and Aubrey Huff. The latter is the best comparison you can make for Braun. Neither plays defense well, and if not now, it's likely that Braun will move from third to right field at some point. However, with bad defense is also a fantastic bat with all the strengths. While neither his discipline or contact rates were great in his debut, expect them both to improve in Braun's full-season debut. He also has power that rivals anyone in the minors, and should one day create quite a tandem with Prince Fielder. However, unlike a few of the other college draftees, it's presumptuous to believe that Braun will fly through the minors. While his season-ending stats were good in low-A, to do so, Braun overcame some significant struggles. While he should finish the year in AA, expect the Brewers to conservatively start Ryan in the FSL.
Reid Brignac - SS - Tampa Bay Devil Rays - 20 (A+)
Introduction: Some of you will be surprised to see Brignac on this list. It's unlikely he'll make any other top 100s. However, if you really are shocked by this selection, read my latest BP article. In the piece, I selected Brignac as one of my eight key breakout prospects of 2006. After being drafted in the second round following a wonderful Louisiana high school career, Brignac played great in the short-season Appy League. Expectations were high in 2005, and as a result, he fell short. As they lessen in 2006, expect them to go the opposite way, and this time exceed them.
Skillset/Future: I like Brignac to break out for 2 reasons: a big late-season finish and his list of comparisons. The big finish, which came in the last quarter of Brignac's season, showed improved contact skills and increased power. If he can tone down the strikeouts, as well as improve his discipline, Reid should be a very good offensive shortstop. He doesn't have great speed, and as a result, great range, but it's unlikely he'll move from shortstop. Brignac's calling card is plenty of undeveloped power, and his 2005 performance is quite reminiscent of two 2004 MWL seasons: Brandon Wood and Adam Jones. It's tough to enter the Cal League being compared to Wood, and even I don't believe he has that potential. But Adam Jones is a pretty perfect offensive example for Brignac, which should push him into next year's top 75.
Eric Campbell - 3B - Atlanta Braves - 20 (A-)
Introduction: And the short-season performance of the year goes to...Eric Campbell. You might not have heard of Campbell before, because of the system in which he plays, but with Marte's exit, this guy is the top 3B in the system. A second-round pick in 2004, Campbell had a lackluster debut in the GCL, so the Braves decided to get conservative. Stuck in the Appy League this season, Campbell was its top hitter, slugging .634. One of the holy grails of minor league analysis is to discover exactly what short-season performances dictate, as examples like Mitch Einertson prove. But Atlanta -- who rarely drafts outside the south, Campbell is from Indiana -- loved his power on Draft Day 2004, so they weren't shocked by his 2005 output.
Skillset/Future: As I've alluded to, Campbell's biggest calling card is big-time power. In 2005, over half of his hits and 17.6% of Eric's at-bats went for extra bases. Both of those are pretty dazzling percentages. Besides power, Campbell is a pretty average player. His contact skills aren't great -- his strikeout rate is about 25% -- and as a result, he should be a 100 K-per-year player. Eric walked in just under 10% of his plate appearances, and with maturity, discipline could even become a strength. On the bases, Campbell had 15 steals. While 30/30 is likely out of the question, he should be good for about 10-15 annually at the Big League level. The Braves have a slew of pitcher's parks in their low levels, so expectations should be tempered for Campbell. But come 2009, this guy will likely be looking to become Chipper Jones' long-term replacement.
Cesar Carrillo - SP - San Diego Padres - 22 (AA)
Introduction: There was a time in which it looked as if Carrillo would become 2005's version of Aaron Heilman. His perfect record at the University of Miami extended for a long time, before Carrillo seemingly collapsed late in the season. While his results took a nosedive, the Padres still targeted Carrillo as one of the draft's safest bets: a player that would finally provide a quick and easy return on their investment. Miami has been a hitter's haven for years, and Carrillo quietly became one of the leaders this season. The Padres have much faith in Carrillo who was drafted more as a "safe bet" than a "future ace."
Skillset/Future: Reports claim that Carrillo doesn't have the stuff of a future ace, but he isn't back of the rotation material, either. His control is erratic, depending on the nature of his fastball, which sits in the low-to-mid 90s. Cesar's secondary stuff, two pitches, should both play as above-average at the Major League level. His groundball nature intrigues me, and the Padres should have a battle as whether their two complete pitching prospects -- Carrillo and Tim Stauffer -- have the better Major League career. This should be determined in 2007, in which Carrillo should be ready for an extended Major League stay.
Christian Garcia - SP - New York Yankees - 20 (A+)
Introduction: Like Brignac, this is another one of my breakout prospects. Some of you may be surprised that I rank Garcia third in the Yankee system, ahead of Tyler Clippard, C.J. Henry, Brent Cox and Jose Tabata. However, as I expressed in the BP article, I believe that Garcia has as much potential as any of them, and that he's also very likely to achieve that. Certainly there are maturity obstacles to overcome before a player can breakout, but I see it happening with Garcia.
Skillset/Future: As Rich has expressed on this site in the past, pitchers with high strikeout and groundball rates succeed. Line drives and flyballs simply fall in for hits too much, so I often tend to favor power-sink pitchers. Garcia is just that. His velocity has been throughout the 90s in the minors, but should settle in the 94-96 region before too long. I've also heard fantastic reports about his curveball, which rivals Clippard's for the system's best. These two pitches cause both strikeouts and ground balls, and for success, he just needs to tighten that change. Dayn Perry has proven that low HR rates are the best future predicting stat, and Garcia's 0.3 HR/9 rate is one of the minors' best. With some improvements in control and consistency, I expect Christian to enter the top 50 in the next year.
Justin Huber - C/1B - Kansas City Royals - 24 (AAA)
Introduction: Worries about whether Huber can catch are now long gone. The Royals intelligently ended that endeavor once they acquired the Australian slugger, instead letting him focus on his bat. That has always been Huber's calling card as a prospect, since the days in which he profiled to replace Mike Piazza in New York. However, the Mets then inexplicably traded Huber away in the Kris Benson deal.
Skillset/Future: Huber's bat has always profiled to be powerful, and this year, it finally reached that level. His 23 home runs this year were a career-high, as was his .343 batting average at AA. Huber swings and misses a lot, and as a result, probably won't hit much higher than .280 at the Big League level. However, he walks quite often, and because of it, his OBP will be above-average. Still, it's unforeseen whether he will fully develop 25+ HR power, like Mike Sweeney, who he has been compared to since before being traded to the Royals.
Matt Kemp - OF - Los Angeles Dodgers - 21 (AA)
Introduction: With so many prospects in the system, we would understand if Dodger prospects got lost in the shuffle. However, despite their depth, few players made an impression on Dodger brass this season like Matt Kemp. While Andy LaRoche was dominating in Vero Beach, battling Brandon Wood for the minor league home run lead, Matt Kemp was quietly the VB Dodgers second-best hitter. Once LaRoche moved up to the Southern League, Kemp had the responsibility of hoisting the team on his shoulders. And the former sixth-round pick continued to impress, through all this, showing athleticism that is second to none in the system.
Skillset/Future: This is Kemp's most significant strength. His athleticism. At 6-4, Kemp has a frame built for power and a throwing arm, but also has speed that produced 23 steals and a lot of range in the outfield. He should settle in right field, where Kemp has Gold Glove potential if he properly refines his skills. He also has the power to hit at the position, though the power he showed in 2005 was likely enhanced by the Vero Beach environment. In the Majors, he profiles as a possible 25/25 player. To have All-Star potential, Kemp must learn to walk more, a trait that has just stayed still in two years.
George Kottaras - C - San Diego Padres - 23 (AA)
Introduction: It's no surprise that the sabermetric crowd loves Kottaras. A 20th round pick from Connors State College in 2003, Kottaras has been showing collegiate discipline since entering the Padre organization. His performance has been steady in each of his minor league stops, though his first (Idaho Falls in 2003) and last (AA Mobile this year) were a bit behind his longer stops. The Padres have not done much with the hole created by Ramon Hernandez this winter, showing the club has a little faith in Kottaras' abilities. How much faith will be decided in one season's time, in which San Diego should be expecting him to start batting against right-handed pitching.
Skillset/Future: As I alluded, Kottaras' is a very disciplined player. He walks about as much as anyone on this list, while also making a lot of good contact. Between those two, he profiles to have a solid OBP in the Majors. However, what I don't see developing is a lot of power in his bat. Kottaras has been a gap hitter for the past two years, unable to hit a lot of home runs in even the California League. The spacious outfield in PETCO Park could help or hurt this skill, but either way, he's not a guy that will boast a good Isolated Power. My main concern is whether Kottaras will be able to handle southpaws, as his pull-heavy approach could turn him into a platoon player. It could certainly be worse for Kottaras, who should be given every opportunity to succeed in an organization that respects his strengths.
Cameron Maybin - OF - Detroit Tigers
Introduction: On draft day, I truly believed Cameron Maybin was the third best player in the draft. There were six marquee talents in my mind: Upton, Gordon, Zimmerman, Maybin, Pelfrey and Hansen. The four college pitchers had years of success, established against some of the nation's best. Upton and Maybin, however, were simply word of mouth. And that seemed to be louder that it had been in recent years, for any tandem of high school draft eligibles. Upton had unlimited potential up the middle, and Maybin was drawing Griffey comparisons in center.
Skillset/Future: A prolonged draft negotiation left us unable to see how Cameron's talents will transfer to a wooden bat. The Tigers are probably best off playing the Braves/Campbell conservative role in 2006, starting Maybin in short-season ball. They won't, asking him to overextend himself in the Midwest League. After a slow start, expect Maybin to show bits and pieces of all six tools, including plate discipline. His speed and arm in center profile extremely well, and his bat led to a Baseball America Player of the Year trophy. Maybin is a special talent, and a stroke of luck that the Tigers should be thankful for.
Andrew McCutchen - OF - Pittsburgh Pirates - 19 (A-)
Introduction: As I commented in an article back in August, I have learned that the Pirates bring certain preferences into their draft room. The team found their resources would be best utilized if they drafted players who fit PNC Park. Those three types of players: left-handed college pitchers, left-handed sluggers and outfielders with lots of range (for left field). Since 2003, their picks have dictated this philosophy: Paul Maholm, Neil Walker, Andrew McCutchen. The latter, this year's pick, was considered the best athlete to come from Florida since Lastings Milledge. The combination of his speed and ceiling were unmatched in this draft, leading the Bucs to dream of him covering one of the biggest left fields in the Majors.
Skillset/Future: As I indicated, McCutchen's primary tool is his speed. This will help him become an outfielder capable of great CF defense (or LF), while also stealing a lot of bases. In his short time after signing with Pittsburgh, Andrew went 17/19 on the bases. The Bucs will soon learn that when you draft players from places like Florida, even when they are prep players, they often come refined. Both McCutchen's speed and his discipline are refined tools. At the plate, he managed to draw 37 walks (against 30 strikeouts!) in 210 at-bats. Not only does McCutchen make great contact, but his discipline also provides a future batting leadoff. His power will never be a great skill, but should develop enough for him to hit 10-15 homers and more than 30 doubles per year. Given his leadoff skills and outfield defense, this should be more than enough.
Miguel Montero - C - Arizona Diamondbacks - 22 (AA)
Introduction: Not as if the Diamondbacks needed any more help. Before the season, Arizona already had one of the best systems in the game. They had Carlos Quentin and Conor Jackson at the top, with Stephen Drew nearly signed and waiting in the wings. They had a decent amount of promising pitching, and the upcoming #1 pick in the June draft. But suddenly, as the year started, Arizona had two more players that came from nowhere: Miguel Montero and Carlos Gonzales. While the latter had drawn warm reviews from scouts in the past, Montero had not. Instead, he had a history of weak hitting that included very little power. This year, however, Montero took off in the Cal League and found himself on the prospect radar.
Skillset/Future: There are plenty of Diamondback prospects who have drawn rave reviews in Lancaster, only to see them fall by the wayside at AA (Jon Zeringue, for one). Montero has a chance to be that type of player, with enough ceiling to possibly hit well in the Majors. He can defend at the Major League level, though it's unlikely he'll ever win a Gold Glove. Montero also has good contact skills, though they faded when he moved up to AA late in the season. I don't trust Montero's high-A power spike, and he has never walked much. I'm definitely more down on him than most, but given solid defense and good contact skills, he has back-up potential (which counts for something).
Matt Moses - 3B - Minnesota Twins - 21 (AA)
Introduction: It's just hard to get a good read on Matt Moses. A first-round pick in 2003, Moses signed relatively quickly and managed to high impress in the Gulf Coast League. The following season, however, back problems started and Moses hit horrendously (.223/.304/.366) in the Midwest League. Expectations were very low this year, as we all can understand that back problems tend to repeat themselves. However, Moses jumped out of the gate to become one of the FSL's best hitters, yielding a midseason promotion to the Eastern League. And as has always been the story, where there is an up, what followed was a down for Moses.
Skillset/Future: The question that surrounds Moses is whether his bat will hold up at the Major League level. It should, though it will never be far above average, and back problems have done nothing to help him on the defensive end (he'll get by, though). Moses walks enough, drawing 42 walks this year, and showing a better ratio before his promotion. However, his contact skills lag behind a bit, and while it will never be a huge problem, Moses should register 100 strikeouts per season. Due to those contact problems, it's unlikely Moses hits better than .280 for much of his Big League career. I should note his .306 average in the FSL was helped by a .363 BABIP. What remains then is a question of power. Moses actually showed more power once reaching the Eastern League, and while the stadium in New Britain helped, it did show his spike is real. Based on the evidence, Moses should hit about .270/.340/.440 in the Majors near his peak, which in Minnesota, is more than enough to play the hot corner on a daily basis.
Dustin Nippert - SP - Arizona Diamondbacks - 25 (AAA)
Introduction: This is the classic example of why using mid-to-late round choices on successful college pitchers is such a good philosophy. Nippert wasn't highly thought of coming out of West Virginia in 2002, but years later, the 6-7 right-hander is making scouting directors scratch their heads. Sometimes size does matter. Especially when teamed with Nippert's control, which was the reason for his success right of the gate. Such good numbers continued until he needed Tommy John surgery in July of 2004. Many worried it would impact the right-hander's career. Hardly. Nine months after going under the knife, Nippert was pitching, and pitching well. His season finished with performances in the Majors. Chalk up another one for TJ surgery, ladies and gents.
Skillset/Future: As Dustin has added velocity to a fastball that now touches 97, he has lost the control that was so good in college. But it's hardly a weakness now, as Nippert's BB/9 was back down to 3.22 this year. Also armed with a power curve, he has never found it hard to generate a lot of strikeouts, though his K/9 dipped to an all-new low this season. Part of the blame might be the Diamondbacks pressure to force Dustin into throwing his change-up more, which would (as Brandon McCarthy can attest) certainly help his prospect status. While Nippert does have the nice backdrop as a Major League reliever, it's hard not to worry about a 25-year-old pitcher with a K/9 below 7.50.
Hunter Pence - OF - Houston Astros - 23 (AA)
Introduction: Did anyone have a better quiet year in minor league baseball this season? It didn't seem as if there was a lot of talk about Pence, who was promoted out of the South Atlantic League after making mincemeat of the young pitchers for 80 games. He showed every skill at the level, playing CF, walking enough, not striking out too much, and showing fantastic power. It's hard to ignore Pence's age and 2B:HR ratio (should never be that low) when evaluating his Sally League performance, but it still shocks me that this guy didn't get more publicity. Six foot four center fielders with huge power don't get ignored often.
Skillset/Future: Even after moving to the Carolina League, Pence continued to show good power. However, I would expect (as he moves up the minor league ladder) more of Pence's home runs to drop as doubles, which is a phrase we don't say very often. Pence's future as a Major Leaguer will heavily depend on his ability to stay in center, which doesn't currently look promising. It won't take a lot of offensive aggression to turn Pence from a future centerfielder in Houston to a mere fourth outfielder.
Mark Rogers - SP - Milwaukee Brewers - 20 (A+)
Introduction: Agree with it or not, the Brewers drafted Mark Rogers fifth overall in 2004, one spot ahead of Homer Bailey. Rogers had become the de facto ace of New England after Nick Adenhart (number 101 in the rankings) went down with injury. Rogers had dominated his competition in Maine, and his fastball was up to 97. Concerns with Bailey's workload led to the Rogers selection, whose potential was seen as quite high. However, as is often the case with pitchers like this, raw doesn't quite do it all justice. It will likely be a long and gradual process before Rogers arm can throw a third pitch and handle a large workload.
Skillset/Future: Five times this year, Rogers was asked to pitch in relief. This happened mostly at the beginning of the year, and in each appearance, Rogers was dominating. This is, I believe, his future role. In such an instance, his fastball should reach the high 90s, and his breaking pitch will have extra tilt. No longer will there be a worry of a change up. However, this is probably two years from happening, in which Rogers will likely mix great success with big control problems. I still don't like the Rogers selection in 2004, but if you put this guy in the bullpen with Mike Maddux, the results could be Rolaids material.
Ricky Romero - SP - Toronto Blue Jays - 21 (A+)
Introduction: For all the talk about Craig Hansen, Mike Pelfrey and Luke Hochevar this year, do we realize the first pitcher drafted in 2005 was Ricky Romero? While this was most likely due to bonus demands and such, the Blue Jays did not reach with this selection. Romero spent three years at one of the NCAA's most prestigious college programs, pitching for one team that would win the College World Series. Then, in 2005, he hoisted the team on his shoulders as he took over for Jason Windsor in the Friday Night role. Romero continued to succeed, showing fantastic control, and good stuff. Add in that he's a southpaw willing to pitch a lot of innings, and the Blue Jays interest isn't so surprising.
Skillset/Future: How about we go straight from the source here? These are a pair of quotes from Rich Lederer's interview with Blue Jays scouting director Jon Lalonde:
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.
Expect Romero to fly up the prospect ladder in 2006, passing plenty of Toronto pitchers that would fall in the 101-150 part of this list on his way.
Marcus Sanders - 2B - San Francisco Giants - 20 (A+)
Introduction: We all know by now that Brian Sabean isn't one to value an early-round draft pick. Annually, it seems that the Giants give up a pick by unnecessarily signing a free agent before his team declines arbitration. However, if the Giants keep making picks like Sanders, we'll forget it. Sanders was a 17th round pick in 2003, but after a year in community college, the Giants signed him in the spring as a draft-and-follow. He finished his first season in the Arizona Summer League, in which Sanders showed plenty of leadoff capabilities. You can bet that more than once, the Giants had to pinch themselves when being reminded that he was a teenager picked in the 17th round.
Skillset/Future: Sanders' skillset seems very similar to that of Andrew McCutchen. The leadoff skills are all there. Sanders speed is nearly to the point of being called unparalleled, as he has an 87% success rate as a pro. Marcus has also walked 104 times in about 750 plate appearances, yielding two seasons with .400+ OBPs. What he doesn't have, however, is power. Sanders hit just 28 extra-base hits in 420 at-bats this year, and while that number might improve in the Cal League this year, his slugging should never be too far higher than .400 as a pro. It will take a lot of walks to offset that. Finally, Marcus split time between shortstop and second this season, but it is believed his future home is at second base. Look for Sanders to produce more of the same results this season.
Ryan Shealy - 1B - Colorado Rockies - 26 (AAA)
Introduction: Every year, the first base prospects seem to add a new, random face. We'll call him the flavor of the week. Oftentimes, this is an older player coming off a gargantuan season. No matter how sexy the White Sox made pitching, chicks will always dig the long ball. Mix Ryan Shealy and Coors Field, and you will see a lot of that.
Skillset/Future: Enter Todd Helton. Shealy's largest problem is that he plays first base, a position the Rockies do not expect to need help. The team is planning on trying Shealy in the outfield, but it is not an experiment that should yield good results. He's just not athletic enough to play the outfield at Coors. However, it might be best for the Rockies to sell Shealy at a high point, fresh off a monster season at Colorado Springs. After all, this is a guy who doesn't walk a ton, plays poor defense and makes inconsistent contact. But man, oh man, can he hit a baseball far.
Troy Tulowitzki - SS - Colorado Rockies - 21 (A+/AA)
I'm cheating here. On the day of the draft, my partner Rich (who has a history of attending LBSU games) wrote up a fantastic review of Tulo. I'm reprinting it here:
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.
That about says it all. Troy's potential is on par with about every player in the 2005 draft, as we heard rumors that some teams had him atop their draft board. His power should be prolific in Coors Field, which he could reach in time to make Clint Barmes trade bait. However, there are concerns with Tulo. As Rich said, his plate discipline needs work, and he doesn't make great contact. While his power and defense should be pluses up the middle, there are obstacles to overcome before I put him in my top 75.
Merkin Valdez - RP - San Francisco Giants - 24 (AAA)
Introduction: This is now the third season in which I'm ranking Merkin Valdez as a prospect. The first followed a season in which Valdez dominated the Sally League. I then ranked him 44th in baseball, and wrote:
Don't be surprised if Valdez is converted to a reliever down the road, he has a very light frame and an undeveloped off speed pitch.
He stayed at number 44 for a year, as in 2004 he pitched great in the Cal League before struggling at the other three stops in which the Giants gave him time. The Giants decided to try Valdez as a reliever, to which I wrote, "...since his repertoire only consists of two solid pitches, Brian Sabean could have been right moving El Mago to the closer position." Get the point?
Skillset/Future: A lot of people seem to be delaying the inevitable, but I just don't see a future for Valdez in the rotation. His third pitch has never really developed, and a few more mph on his fastball (which a full-time move could provide) would do wonders in setting up his breaking pitch. The Giants seemed to lose faith in Valdez this year, never moving him away from Connecticut. If he remains a starter next year my hopes are not high for him in Fresno, which should do wonders in convincing the Giants what we've known for awhile: this guy is a reliever.
Chris Volstad - SP - Florida Marlins - 19 (A-)
Introduction: Every draft has the same argument, it seems. On one side, there is a prep pitcher with insane high school statistics. In this case, it was a senior season with 16 hits in 63 innings with 132 strikeouts. However, prior to this player, oftentimes you didn't know baseball existed in his state. In this case, Utah. On the other hand, you have a pitcher with less gaudy statistics. However, this player has been on draft boards for years, as a result of being the best in his state. And his state is known for baseball, often either Florida, Texas or California. In this case, Chris Volstad was Florida's best pitcher. The big states often produce the best results. I have had, and continue to have, Volstad as the best prep pitcher from the 2005 draft.
Future/Skillset: Part of being the top talent is being the most polished. And Volstad is just that. First, he already has the height to be a Major League pitcher, standing 6-7 at just 18. As Volstad adds weight to the frame, expect his fastball (low-to-mid 90s) to add velocity. Not only does that pitch have potential, but scouts saw a lot in all four pitches that Volstad throws. His ceiling isn't super-high, as Volstad will be the type that doesn't allow walks and generates ground balls more than swings and misses. However, there is a lot of room for error with a pitcher who -- at 18 -- walked just 15 in 65 innings, allowing one home run. Of course, with pitchers, we know that kind of error could be caused.
2006 Breakout Prospects
Last week, I reviewed the fifteen selections I made a year ago to break out in 2005. It turned out that I nailed some (Lester, Liriano, Young), was close on others (Burgos, Cabrera) and fell flat on my face with others (Pauly). In the end, I graded myself as a B- student, which considering the class, was a good thing.
As a companion piece to my review, this week, I wrote the 2006 version of my piece at Baseball Prospectus. This year, I selected just eight players, all of whom I really like to improve in the next season. The eight guys, with just a brief description:
Those are the eight. Please feel free to leave your own breakout candidates below, as well as discuss my choices. And again, if you want to read my reasons for selecting these 8, about 200-350 words per player, head over to BP. There are a few more players I like to breakout in 2006, and I'll have those in a forthcoming article.
As for this coming week, it's top prospect week at Baseball Analysts. On Monday the countdown to number one will begin with 25 honorable mentions for this year's top 75. Come back and check out my list soon!
Friday has become known as a casual day here in the U.S. Hence, Casual Friday.
I've always thought it should be Thank God It's Saturday. Unless you're going to party on Friday night, why would the last workday of the week be viewed as a cause for celebration? Seems to me it should be the first non-workday.
Come to think of it, maybe Friday has become the first non-workday. More and more employees get every other Friday off. And do college students even go to school on Fridays anymore?
We even stack our holidays on Mondays to lengthen the weekends. Before you know it, we'll be working Tuesday through Thursday only. Just like they do in Europe.
Hey, before you send me a nasty email, go find a catcher for Italy's World Baseball Classic team who wasn't born in Norristown, Pennsylvania, OK? Just teasing. Hey, I'm happy for ol' (literally) Mike. You see, no team in the U.S. is planning on letting him catch for them.
In any event, I wanted to share a comment from a bulletin board in response to an article -- OOPs, Here It Is! -- I wrote a couple of weeks ago. New York Mets shortstop Jose Reyes showed up on a list I created to identify the most overrated offensive players in baseball. Although he was spared first-team honors in favor of Dusty Baker's favorite shortstop, a reader essentially called me a slacker and an "Overrated Analyst."
"Too bad he is only 22 years old and only going to get better. How about a new stat judging the most overated stats and analysts? No Life+Spending 20-30 hours a week on the computer+Never playing the game beyond High School+Ignoring Intangibles=Most Overated Analysts."All this from a guy who goes by "ItalPiazza31" and has FIVE-THOUSAND-ONE-HUNDRED-EIGHTY (5180) posts to his "credit."
With respect to OOPs, let me emphasize that this exercise was designed (1) for fun and (2) as a means to show which players have the most hollow batting averages out there. To the extent that batting averages are given more air time than on-base or slugging percentages, I think it is safe to say that those who met our test are OVERRATED OFFENSIVE PLAYERS (as in hitters). I'm not suggesting that they are necessarily overrated in the other aspects of the game, such as Baserunning And Defense.
You see, those players are assigned a different acronym: BAD.
The Rebuilding of the Giants, 1969-70
I came to know baseball in the early-to-mid 1960s, in the San Francisco Bay Area, in a houseful of Giants' fans. I can't remember not hearing the Giants' game on the radio, ubiquitously, in the house or in the car ...
"How're you doing, everybody? This is Russ Hodges, along with Lon Simmons, welcoming you to another broadcast of San Francisco Giants baseball ..."
Coming of age as a fan of this team in this period was, it's fair to say, a mixed blessing. On the one hand, I got to enjoy the thrilling exploits of a core of brilliant stars the likes of which few ball clubs in history have ever amassed: Hall of Famers Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Juan Marichal, Gaylord Perry, and Orlando Cepeda were all there. On the other hand, for all their talent, the Giants of that period displayed a maddening incapacity to get over the hump, to fill that last remaining hole or two in the lineup and become a great ball club instead of a very good one. After winning a pennant in extremely exciting fashion in 1962, the Giants reeled off a sequence of seasons in which they won 88, 90, 95, 93, 91, 88, and 90 games - and finished third, fourth, second, second, second, second, and second.
Being a Giants' fan in those days was - let's see, how best to put it: it was like going out on an elegant, romantic dinner-and-dancing date with a stunningly gorgeous woman, and then going back to her place - and on her doorstep, she gives you a quick handshake, a peck on the cheek, and a good night, buster. Yes, there are worse ways to spend an evening, but there might well have been, shall we say, more satisfying conclusions as well.
Winning Now, the Stoneham Way
The Giants were owned by Horace Stoneham, then in his early sixties. Stoneham - bald, round, bespectacled, publicity-shunning - was a mild, genial fellow who'd inherited the ball club from his father in 1935, and running the Giants was, quite literally, the family business, his life's work. Stoneham never employed a General Manager in the modern sense; working in close consultation with a close-knit team of executives, most of whom had worked for him for decades (including Rosy Ryan, Tom Sheehan, Carl Hubbell, and Stoneham's nephew Chub Feeney), Stoneham oversaw everything, and authorized every major player transaction.
Even to a very young fan like me, riding his bike to the A&W in Keds and hand-me-down jeans, it was obvious that Stoneham and his management team understood where they were in the success cycle: they had a core of superstars, and it was time to make hay while the sun shines, to win now. The Giants "got" that. Their problem, which so frustrated my brother and me, was that they didn't seem to have a clue as to how to actually patch those last few remaining holes on the roster.
The first thing the Giants spent the mid-1960s frantically dealing for was the perfect left-handed pitcher. In a 48-month period following their '62 pennant, the Giants acquired:
Some of these southpaws did quite well, and others bombed. Some were bargains, and some cost the Giants dearly (I'm looking at you, Ray). But by golly, they were all left-handed!
The other thing the Giants thought they needed was the ultimate veteran pinch-hitter. It seemed between 1963 and 1969 that a faded star's decline phase wasn't officially complete unless and until the Giants created a spot for him on the end of their bench:
This Geezer of the Year club put up an aggregate line of .200/.296/.281 in 544 at-bats, for a combined OPS+ of 63.
Still, the issue with both of these patterns wasn't so much that they were bad moves in and of themselves. (Well, besides the Cepeda-for-Sadecki trade, anyway.) The issue was that this focus on southpaws and senior citizens ignored the vastly larger problems festering away on the roster: the offensive sinkholes at shortstop and second base, as well as (usually, and shockingly) left field and right field. Season after season went by, and the team's core of prodigious sluggers had no one on base to drive in except one other. The Jesus Alous and Hal Laniers kept racking up the at-bats, while management kept obsessing over the arrangement of the deck chairs and remaining oblivious to the icebergs. All the while, the Giants kept falling just short of the pennant.
And so, while forlornly reading in every October's sports sections about the Dodgers' or Cardinals' exploits in the World Series, my brother and I drew the conclusion that Stoneham and his doddering cronies had skill at signing and developing young talent, but were completely inept at the tasks of making trades and fashioning the full major league roster. We took to deriving bitter laughs from role-playing games, in which one of us would be Stoneham (or better yet, Chub Feeney - the name alone was gut-busting), and the other would be a rival GM, and we'd conduct a trade negotiation. The Giants would invariably wind up swapping Marichal and McCovey for Gerry Arrigo and Floyd Robinson, or some such. "Are ya sure ya don't want me to throw in Jim Ray Hart there too, young fella?"
Rebuilding, the Stoneham Way
And so imagine our horror when, during the December 1969 winter meetings, it became obvious that the Giants, following their fifth consecutive second place finish, had decided it was finally time to shake things up. They swung three significant trades in a week's time:
I was aghast, gnashing my braced teeth and wailing my angelic little voice in apoplexy. I understood that none of the talent they'd surrendered was star-quality, but Sadecki, Bolin, and Herbel were useful major league pitchers. And what did they get? Frank Regurb - Frank Rergreb - Frank who?!? And Bob who?!? And what are they trying to do, corner the market on lousy utility outfielders?!?
It got worse. The Giants struggled through the early part of the 1970 season, playing under .500 ball for an extended period - an experience I had never known as a fan. Worst of all, their problem in early 1970 was clearly and abundantly their pitching! As of June 5, 1970, the Giants had scored 304 runs, or 5.7 per game, far and away the most in baseball - but they had allowed 344 runs, 6.5 per game, the most in baseball by an even wider margin. Their won-lost record was a dreary 24-29, barely ahead of the hapless San Diego Padres for last place. Wouldn't they want to have Sadecki, Bolin, and Herbel back now!
I was inconsolable. Adding to my misery, in late May of 1970 the Giants traded Frank Linzy, their longtime relief ace, with over 300 bullpen appearances in his career, to the Cardinals for Jerry Johnson. Yes, the Jerry Johnson, the one with a grand total of 56 major league games under his belt, and a won-lost record of 12-17. The immortal Jerry Johnson!
It got still worse. In December of 1970, they traded second baseman Ron Hunt - the one middle infielder they had who could actually hit a little, for whom they'd given up Tom Haller a couple of years earlier - they traded Hunt to the Expos, for none other than Dave McDonald. Dave who, you ask? Well, so did we. Dave McDonald, it turned out, was a 27-year-old left-handed-hitting first baseman with the whopping figure of 9 major league games on his resume. So not only was he lousy, he was a left-handed-hitting first baseman.
Repeat, a left-handed-hitting first baseman. You've got Willie McCovey on your roster, at his monumental peak. What in the world are you doing trading a perfectly good regular second baseman for a second-rate, minor league, left-handed-hitting first baseman?!?
Amazing as it may seem, it got still worse. During spring training in 1971, the Giants sold McDonald, back to the Expos. Staggered by this latest development, I reeled. Trying to comprehend it, I sat alone in my room, miserably drawing moustaches on Pee Chee athletes, desperately clinging to the last fringe of sanity. I marveled that the Giants had surrendered Ron Hunt in exchange for the market cash value of Dave McDonald!
This was it. The apocalypse was upon us. The Giants were going down the tubes, their days as a winning team finished. And worst of all, they'd done it to themselves, squandering what supporting cast they had around their core of stars, in exchange for a pocket full of lint. As the 1971 season opened, I held my hands over my eyes, barely summoning the courage to peek through my fingers at the carnage I would surely behold.
Then the season began. The '71 Giants blasted out of the gate. They won and won, with reckless abandon, surging to 12-2. Then 18-5. Then 27-9. Then 37-14! It was their best start in my memory, their best start in fact since the hallowed season of 1962. They cooled off after that white-hot start (how could they not have?), but had enough momentum to win the division, in exhilarating fashion, over the hated Dodgers.
I was, of course, ecstatic. All was forgiven.
You Mean ... It Worked?!?
But in the forgiving, I was forced to confront some perplexing questions. Why hadn't the Giants struggled in 1971? Was it just dumb luck on their part, or had I been missing something important in my gloomy assessment of the 1969-70 transactions? Could it be that the Scotch-pickled Stoneham and his circle of old fogey advisors actually knew what they were doing?
I was forced to re-examine their moves in a new light, and I came to form an assessment that I've pretty much held ever since: while I don't think I would have done it exactly that way, there was indeed a distinct method to their madness. The Giants had a clear plan of action in the 1969-70 and 1970-71 off-seasons, and they executed it with something bordering on fanatical rigor.
The sequence of trades which had so appalled me hadn't really been much of a sequence of "trades" at all. They could more accurately be described as "dumps." The moves were far less concerned with what talent they collected, than they were with clearing room, on the roster and on the payroll.
Yes, payroll mattered, even in pre-free agency days. Giants' attendance had taken a major hit upon the arrival of the A's in Oakland in 1968, and by 1969 it was painfully clear that they would need to find a way to operate with significantly less revenue. Even - really, especially - in an era in which major league team payrolls were measured in thousands instead of millions, every few thousand dollars were important. Whatever else mid-tier veterans such as Herbel, Sadecki, Bolin, Linzy, and Hunt meant to the Giants, they each meant annual salaries of at least $10,000 more than young players replacing them. That was a cost Stoneham was now unwilling to bear. Unloading them was a business move at least as much as it was a baseball move.
And from a pure baseball perspective, it also made sense to clear space on the roster for younger talent to fill the significant roles those veterans had been holding. The Giants, whatever major faults they demonstrated during Stoneham's entire 40-year tenure, were remarkably good - tremendous, actually - at producing talent with their minor league system. They had lots of it coming along in the late 1960s and early 1970s. And young players, no matter how talented and well-developed they may be when coming out of the minors, require substantial playing time at the big league level to attain full competence. And even with substantial major league playing time, not all prospects, no matter how good, make the grade in the majors.
There's one and only one way to find out if talented young players will become good big leaguers, and that's to give them the opportunity to play in the majors, if not as full-time regulars, then at least in more than bench-warmer roles. The Giants, beginning in 1969, and accelerating in '70 and '71 (and beyond), provided genuine, substantial opportunities for their young talent.
A couple of the players netted in the three December '69 trades were more than mere triple-A filler: pitcher Frank Reberger and middle infielder Bob Heise were decent prospects, and both were given reasonable chances with the Giants. Jerry Johnson was also (I came to realize) a talented young player, and the Giants gave him room to develop as a relief specialist, focusing on his fastball. Another veteran traded in mid-1970, pitcher Mike McCormick, netted a young pitcher, John Cumberland, who was given a full shot.
Moreover, the freed-up roster space created opportunities for many more young talents from the Giants' own system. Pitchers Rich Robertson, Ron Bryant, Skip Pitlock, Steve Stone, and Don Carrithers were all given serious shots. Outfielder Ken Henderson, who'd gotten his initial opportunity in 1969 when shoulder problems sidelined Jim Ray Hart, was given a full chance as a regular in 1970. Catcher Dick Dietz had been used as a semi-regular for a couple of years, but in 1970 the Giants went ahead and committed to him full-time. Infielder Tito Fuentes had been up and down with the Giants for several years, but in Hunt's absence, the team gave him another opportunity as a regular second baseman in 1971. Twenty-one-year-old Chris Speier was allowed to bypass triple-A and installed as the regular shortstop in '71. Young third baseman Alan Gallagher was granted substantial playing time in '70 and '71.
Not all of these youngsters did well; indeed a few bombed. But others blossomed wonderfully. All in all, the team took some lumps, patiently suffering through some struggles, but also benefited from some pleasant surprises.
The team that scuffled through the early part of 1970 perked up and played much better over the second half of that season (a fact I only grudgingly semi-acknowledged at the time, insisting on viewing the glass as half-empty). And then the '71 Giants vanquished my negativity with their roaring start and eventual division triumph. The ball club in both '70 and '71 was an interesting blend of old and new:
It had turned out to be, right before my eyes, an impressive demonstration of a contending ball club substantially restructuring while remaining competitive. The Giants had pulled off the kind of difficult feat that years later in my business career, in a different context but with similar meaning, was described to me as the challenge of metaphorically "rebuilding the airplane in mid-flight."
The Giants didn't do everything right, not by a long shot. They should have gotten more in the trade market for Ron Hunt than, effectively, nothing. And in May of 1971 they made a pointless, ridiculously foolish trade, of George Foster for Frank Duffy. That fall they made another, giving up Gaylord Perry and Duffy for an already-fading Sam McDowell.
The Giants made mistakes, and they continued to suffer poor attendance and its financial constraints. In 1972-73, they were forced to surrender Mays, McCovey, and Marichal in salary dumps. Before Stoneham finally sold his beloved ball club following the 1975 season, it would have more downs than ups. Still, through it all, as late as 1973 the Giants were putting a highly competitive team on the field. Horace Stoneham and his executive team certainly had their weaknesses, but on balance, they truly did know what they were doing.
Steve Treder is a staff writer for The Hardball Times, has presented papers to the Cooperstown Symposium on Baseball and American Culture, and had numerous articles published in Nine: A Journal of Baseball History and Culture. A lifelong San Francisco Giants' fan, he is Vice President for Strategic Development for Western Management Group, a compensation consulting firm headquartered in Los Gatos, California.
[Additional reader comments and retorts at Baseball Primer.]
Top 30 Free Agents (and More) Revisited
As a follow-up to our three-part Free Agent series (Part One [#1-10], Part Two [#11-20], and Part Three [#21-30]) in November, we are going to provide the status of each player, compare our projections with the actual results of the signings, and add fresh comments on the top 30 plus the honorable mentions. We hit the nail on the head on several but came up one year and a million or two dollars short on the majority of the free agents in a frenzy that surprised us and many others.
1. Roger Clemens - 43 - SP - 2005: Houston Astros
W-L 13-8 | SV 0 | ERA 1.87 | WHIP 1.01 | 185 K/62 BB
Projection: Either Clemens signs with the Astros or he retires. Only Roger knows. It all depends on whether he still has the fire in his belly. If he comes back at a reduced salary, the money saved could be redirected toward a third quality bat to go along with Lance Berkman and Morgan Ensberg -- giving Houston perhaps one last opportunity to make another postseason run before retooling for the future.
Comments: The Astros didn't offer Clemens arbitration. He is now ineligible to sign with Houston until May 1st. Other potential suitors include his home state Texas Rangers, plus the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees. The Rocket has one other option: retirement. The guess here is that he won't make any decision until after he pitches in the World Baseball Classic.
2. A.J. Burnett - 29 - SP - 2005: Florida Marlins
W-L 12-12 | SV 0 | ERA 3.44 | WHIP 1.26 | 198 K/79 BB
Projection: 4 years, $48 million. An expensive gamble given the number of times he has been on the DL throughout his career but one many teams won't hesitate to take.
Status: Signed, Toronto Blue Jays, 5/$55 million.
Comments: Burnett's contract actually worked out to a slightly lower annual amount than we forecast. A.J., however, made out even better because he got an extra year and the option to test the free agent market after 2008, if he so desires.
Burnett turned 29 on Tuesday. His age and career W-L record (49-50) are identical to Chris Carpenter when the latter joined the Cardinals in 2004. Could Burnett put up his best season to date in 2006, followed by a Cy Young Award in 2007?
3. Rafael Furcal - 28 - SS - 2005: Atlanta Braves
.284 AVG/.348 OBP/.429 SLG | HR 12 | SB 46 | 62 BB/78 SO
Projection: 4 years, $40 million. Edgar Renteria went from a .728 OPS in 2004 to this exact contract during the winter. Furcal will draw the same deal, and people will again cite that he's a "winner." Both sides will win at this rate.
Status: Signed, Los Angeles Dodgers, 3/$39 million.
Comments: We lowballed Furcal, on an annual rate, more than anyone on this list. It's reported that offers were up to five years, but Furcal decided to take an increased amount per year for less security. If he signs a two-year deal for more than $11 million after 2008, he made the right move. From where we are sitting, the Dodgers did, too.
4. Paul Konerko - 29 - 1B - 2005: Chicago White Sox
.283 AVG/.375 OBP/.534 SLG | HR 40 | RBI 100 | 81 BB/109 SO
Projection: At least a Richie Sexson-like 4 years, $50 million and a 5-year, $65 million deal isn't out of the question. Good luck.
Status: Signed, Chicago White Sox, 5/$60 million.
Comments: We're going to count this one as a success in terms of our prediction. If anything, we were a tad optimistic. Konerko is likely to earn his keep in at least two of the next three years, but we remain skeptical beyond that.
5. Kevin Millwood - 31 - SP - 2005: Cleveland Indians
W-L 9-11 | SV 0 | ERA 2.86 | WHIP 1.22 | 146 K/52 BB
Projection: 4 years, $36 million. Again, expectations will dictate whether this contract is a success or failure.
Status: Signed, Texas Rangers, 5/$60 million.
Comments: Texas can void the fifth year of the deal if Millwood doesn't pitch a certain number of innings in the early years of the contract, but the Rangers will pay him a minimum of $48 million for four years no matter what. Ugh!
6. Billy Wagner - 34 - RP - 2005: Philadelphia Phillies
W-L 4-3 | SV 38 | ERA 1.51 | WHIP .84 | 87 K/20 BB
Projection: 3 years, $30 million. That's more than $128,000 per inning based on last year's totals. By comparison, Clemens earned just $85,000 per inning despite making a record $18M for a pitcher.
Status: Signed, New York Mets, 4/$43 million.
Comments: Turns out that it's actually $138,000 per inning, with one more season than we had forecasted. The Mets wanted Wagner badly, needed a closer even worse, and have the money to overpay. But there is a lot of risk in a contract like this, and that's before we even talk about the problems involved in paying a reliever eight figures per year.
7. Brian Giles - 35 - OF - 2005: San Diego Padres
.301 AVG/.423 OBP/.483 SLG | HR 15 | RBI 83 | 119 BB/64 SO
Projection: 3 years, $30 million. Well worth it, at least for the next two seasons.
Status: Signed, San Diego Padres, 3/$30 million.
Comments: It's a match! Giles could have signed for more money elsewhere but chose to remain with his hometown Padres. We would not be surprised if he turns out to be the biggest bargain of this year's free agent class.
8. Hideki Matsui - 31 - LF - 2005: New York Yankees
.305 AVG/.367 OBP/.496 SLG | HR 23 | RBI 116 | 63 BB/78 SO
Projection: 3 years, $36 million. The Yankees won't lose him, nor care if they overpay by a couple million. Expect more of the same for all three years of this deal.
Status: Signed, New York Yankees, 4/$52 million.
Comments: Good for Matsui. He casually threatened to leave the Bronx a few times and, as a result, made more money than we had predicted. Matsui should be consistent for the first three years, as we guessed, but it's hard to think he'll be worth anything close to $13 million in 2009. Godzilla comes out on top.
9. Johnny Damon - 32 - CF - 2005: Boston Red Sox
.316 AVG/.366 OBP/.439 SLG | HR 10 | RBI 75 | 53 BB/69 SO
Projection: 3 years, $33 million. In four seasons with the Red Sox, Damon became one of New England's most recognizable faces. Loyalty pays a steep price.
Status: Signed, New York Yankees, 4/$52 million.
Comments: No one outside Boston can call Damon an "idiot" for taking the money and running. His signing fills a hole in New York while creating one for their arch enemy.
10. B.J. Ryan - 30 - RP - 2005: Baltimore Orioles
W-L 1-4 | SV 36 | ERA 3.54 | WHIP 1.14 | 100 K/26 BB
Projection: 4 years, $32 million. Bidding war will run high considering his number of suitors. His value should remain solid.
Status: Signed, Toronto Blue Jays, 5/$47 million.
Comments: Like most of the players on this list, we missed Ryan by one year and between $1-2 million annually. Apparently, that's just the current market. Ryan at five years is a big gamble but, given his age, it's a better risk than the Mets took with Wagner. Toronto also sent a message with this contract, which is a fact we can't ignore.
11. Nomar Garciaparra - 32 - SS - 2005: Chicago Cubs
.283 AVG/.320 OBP/.452 SLG | HR 9 | RBI 30 | 12 BB/24 SO
Projection: 2 years, $15 million. However, you can bet there will be enough incentives and options in the contract to drive its potential value through the roof. We're just not optimistic he'll meet any team's demands.
Status: Signed, Los Angeles Dodgers, 1/$6 million.
Comments: There is very little risk in this contract so, in that regard, it's hard to hate this deal for the Dodgers. But why, why, why would you pay $6 million for Nomar to play first base when you have Hee Seop Choi at less than a million and other needs to fill? From Nomar's perspective, this isn't a great deal either, but it gives him another chance to prove himself and earn a more lucrative deal next year.
12. Jeff Weaver - 29 - SP - 2005: Los Angeles Dodgers
W-L 14-11 | SV 0 | ERA 4.22 | WHIP 1.17 | 157 K/43 BB
Projection: 3 or 4 years @ $8-9M per. Seems like a lot of money but isn't that what these guys are now commanding?
Comments: The Dodgers offered Weaver arbitration. The team has until Sunday, January 8 to sign him. Scott Boras is believed to be seeking at least a four-year, $38 million deal for his client.
13. Jarrod Washburn - 31 - SP - 2005: Los Angeles Angels
W-L 8-8 | SV 0 | ERA 3.20 | WHIP 1.33 | 94 K/51 BB
Projection: 3 years, $25+ million. Teach your kids to pitch left-handed.
Status: Signed, Seattle Mariners, 4/$37.5 million.
Comments: Horrendous, horrendous signing. Maybe the worst of the winter. Why any team would pay this much money for Washburn, who was so obviously pitching over his head in 2005, is a mystery. Why the Mariners, who are still rebuilding in a sense, would gamble on their future like this is yet another red mark on Bill Bavasi's resume.
14. Tom Gordon - 38 - RP - 2005: New York Yankees
W-L 5-4 | SV 2 | ERA 2.57 | WHIP 1.09 | 69 K/29 BB
Projection: 3 years, $18 million. Likes Giles yesterday, he's a great bet for two seasons. However, some team will likely add a third year in order to secure their next closer.
Status: Signed, Philadelphia Phillies, 3/$18 million.
Comments: On the dot. Given the amount of money made by Wagner and Ryan, it's hard to believe that Gordon couldn't have held out for more. Pat Gillick did well in his first signing, taking a slight step backwards with Gordon but adding about $5 million to the payroll for each of the next three seasons. It's the White Sox way.
15. Ramon Hernandez - 29 - C - 2005: San Diego Padres
.290 AVG/.322 OBP/.450 SLG | HR 12 | RBI 58 | 18 BB/40 SO
Projection: 4 years, $22 million. His position and youth will be enough to convince a team this contract is worth it. We don't advise a four-year deal with very many catchers, but the price should be low enough to make him a worthwhile bet.
Status: Signed, Baltimore Orioles, 4/$27.5 million.
Comments: This signing came from left field, as no one expected the Orioles (already paying Javy Lopez a big chunk of money) to get involved with Hernandez. However, they struck quickly, and appear to have made a pretty good signing. They may have overpaid but, if there is a decent market for Lopez, the signing has the potential of being a success.
16. Bengie Molina - 31 - C - 2005: Los Angeles Angels
Projection: 3 years, $20 million. An extra year or a few million more than prudence dictates.
Comments: Molina may have missed his opportunity with the Mets. If he doesn't get an offer to his liking, he could sign a one-year deal with the Angels to return on May 1st and then try the free agent market once again next winter.
17. Paul Byrd - 35 - SP - 2005: Los Angeles Angels
Projection: 1 x $6 million with an option for a second year if the Angels sign him or 2 years, $12+ million should he go elsewhere. A serviceable pitcher when healthy.
Status: Signed, Cleveland Indians, 2/$14.25 million.
Comments: If he stays healthy, this could wind up being a good signing for the Indians. With Cliff Lee and C.C. Sabathia in the rotation (and Jeremy Sowers on the horizon), all they really needed was a #3 or #4 pitcher. Paul Byrd is just that.
18. Matt Morris - 31 - SP - 2005: St. Louis Cardinals
Projection: 2 years, $13-15 million. Incentives, options, and buyouts likely to factor into his next contract.
Status: Signed, San Francisco Giants, 3/$27 million.
Comments: We don't like this signing one bit. If Paul Byrd only is making $7 million per year, then in what world does Matt Morris make nine? Does Brian Sabean not factor in the past two seasons when he signs free agents? Not quite as bad of a deal as Washburn, but if we were grading it, Sabean would earn a big, fat "D."
19. Jacque Jones - 30 - OF - 2005: Minnesota Twins
.249 AVG/.319 OBP/.438 SLG | HR 23 | RBI 73 | 51 BB/120 SO
Projection: Last year, Jermaine Dye signed a 2-year, $10.15 million contract with the White Sox. The last $1.15 million is the buyout for a potential third season. Look for Jones to sign a very similar contract this winter.
Status: Signed, Chicago Cubs, 3/$16 million.
Comments: Jones certainly signed for more than Dye got, as the Cubs were quickly falling out of options. Bryan has defended the deal but, as a result, no longer has the respect of any Cub fan. With a good southpaw basher at a cheap price (Eduardo Perez?), the Cubs will do fine here. Jones did even better.
20. Kyle Farnsworth - 29 - RP - 2005: Tigers/Braves
W-L 1-1 | SV 16 | ERA 2.19 | WHIP 1.01 | 87 K/27 BB
Projection: 3 years, $15 million. There is a lot of risk involved with Farnsworth, which will keep his next contract low. However, if he pitches like 2001 or 2005, this could be one of the winter's best deals.
Status: Signed, New York Yankees, 3/$17 million.
Comments: Off by less than a million per year, and we probably would have guessed more had we known the Yankees would sign him. Farnsworth never had the head to be a great closer, so he might thrive in the Tom Gordon role. But it will be interesting to see how Kyle holds up in New York.
21. Esteban Loaiza - 34 - SP - 2005: Washington Nationals
W-L 12-10 | SV 0 | ERA 3.77 | WHIP 1.30 | 173 K/55 BB
Projection: 2 years, $9-11 million. He is what he is, a guy who can throw 200+ IP with an ERA between 4.00-5.00 in a neutral environment.
Status: Signed, Oakland A's, 3/$21.4 million.
Comments: We seriously underestimated the market for mediocre starting pitching. Given the market, the A's didn't really overpay, though they probably went one year too many. Oakland wanted to land someone quickly, and did so, as Loaiza was one of the first players to change hands. If this deal allows Billy Beane the opportunity to get as much for Barry Zito as he did for Mark Mulder, then we will call it a success.
22. Reggie Sanders - 38 - OF - 2005: St. Louis Cardinals
.271 AVG/.340 OBP/.546 SLG | HR 21 | RBI 54 | 28 BB/75 SO
Projection: 2 years, $10 million. An injury-filled past and old age will force teams to stay conservative with their offers. Whoever signs him should be pleased given the right expectations.
Status: Signed, Kansas City Royals, 2/$10 million.
Comments: Again, right on the nose. We have a little bit of respect for these Royals, as they are determined to show their fan base that someone does care. Sanders won't be playing for a World Series team again any time soon, but he'll have the opportunity to end his career being called a "leader."
23. Preston Wilson - 31 - OF - 2005: Rockies/Nationals
.260 AVG/.325 OBP/.467 SLG | HR 25 | RBI 90 | 45 BB/148 SO
Projection: 2 years, $10-12 million, as long as the Yankees don't get involved. A small- to mid-size market team will think his 25 HR and 90 RBI are a bargain at that price.
Status: Signed, Houston Astros, 1/$4 million.
Comments: Wilson will either make $4.5 million for one year (including a $500,000 buyout) or $28 million for four years if the Astros exercise a club option to extend the contract through 2009. Houston gets Wilson at a slight discount to the $5 million per year entry fee for most middle-of-the-road free agent outfielders with the added bonus of being able to lock him up longer term, if they so choose.
24. Trevor Hoffman - 38 - RP - 2005: San Diego Padres
W-L 1-6 | SV 43 | ERA 2.97 | WHIP 1.11 | 54 K/12 BB
Projection: 2 years, $14 million. He deserves to be overpaid a bit, but no one should make the mistake of giving him a third year.
Status: Signed, San Diego Padres, 2/$13.5 million.
Comments: We basically nailed this one. "There's no place like home...There's no place like home..."
25. Todd Jones - 37 - RP - 2005: Florida Marlins
W-L 1-5 | SV 40 | ERA 2.10 | WHIP 1.03 | 62 K/14 BB
Projection: 2 years, $7-8 million. A cheap closer option for a small- or middle-market team.
Status: Signed, Detroit Tigers, 2/$11 million.
Comments: Here's a joke for you. In 2006, the Tigers will be paying Troy Percival and Jones a combined $11.5 million. The end.
26. Bob Wickman - 37 - RP - 2005: Cleveland Indians
W-L 0-4 | SV 45 | ERA 2.47 | WHIP 1.26 | 41 K/21 BB
Projection: A Jones-like 2 years and $7-8 million. They don't allow month-to-month deals, do they?
Status: Signed, Cleveland Indians, 1/$5 million.
Comments: The Indians had the best signing among mediocre starters with Byrd. They also had the best signing among mediocre closers with Wickman. Ken Williams may have deserved AL Executive of the Year in 2005, but Mark Shapiro is doing one heckuva job in Cleveland, too.
27. Kenji Johjima - 29 - C - 2005: Fukuoka Softbank Hawks
.309 AVG/.381 OBP/.557 SLG | HR 24 | RBI 57 |
Projection: 2 years, $13 million. Teams will only guarantee two, but you can bet they will have some options on the back end just in case.
Status: Signed, Seattle Mariners, 3/$16.5 million.
Comments: Very good signing. The Mariners have a following in Asia that is unmatched, and the Johjima signing will only help that. If he's an average catcher in the next three years -- and he has the ceiling to be much more -- this is a good signing.
28. Kenny Rogers - 41 - SP - 2005: Texas Rangers
W-L 14-8 | SV 0 | ERA 3.46 | WHIP 1.32 | 87 K/53 BB
Projection: 1 year, $6 million. He'll get a $1.5 million raise on his 2004 salary, plus some team will throw in an option for a second year, with a nice seven-figure buyout.
Status: Signed, Detroit Tigers, 2/$16 million.
Comments: Here's a joke for you. In 2006, the Tigers will be paying Kenny Rogers $8 million. The end.
29. Mike Piazza - 37 - C/DH - 2005: New York Mets
.251 AVG/.326 OBP/.452 | HR 19 | RBI 62 | 41 BB/67 SO
Projection: 1 year, $5 million. Piazza will be hard pressed to earn his keep on the field, but he just might be enough of a box-office hit for the right AL team to justify the price tag.
Comments: National League teams have shown little, if any, interest in the future Hall of Famer. As a result, Piazza may have to give up his desire to catch on a regular basis and sign a contract with an American League team to become a full-time DH and a part-time catcher.
30. Juan Encarnacion - 30 - OF - 2005: Florida Marlins
.287 AVG/.349 OBP/.447 SLG | HR 16 | RBI 76 | 41 BB/104 SO
Projection: 2 years, $8.5-9.5 million, basically repeating his previous salary. Encarnacion is young, consistent, and coming off perhaps his best year. You can rest assured that some General Manager will bite at that.
Status: Signed, St. Louis Cardinals, 3/$15 million.
Comments: Who would you rather have, Reggie Sanders for $5 million per for two years or Juan Encarnacion for $5 million per for three years?
Status: Signed, Pittsburgh Pirates, 1/$6 million.
Comments: The two sides have agreed in principle as of Tuesday. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Burnitz's deal is "expected to be worth at least $6 million and would include an option for the 2007 season." If so, Jeromy will make more money than fellow free agent outfielders Encarnacion, Jones, Sanders, White, and Wilson. Thank you, Pittsburgh.
Status: Signed, New York Yankees, 1/$2 million.
Comments: Dotel had reconstructive elbow surgery last June and isn't expected back until midseason. However, the Yankees, who are stockpiling relievers this winter, are hopeful that he can help them down the stretch.
Comments: Few players have had winters as quiet as Durazo. The holy grail will likely be signing a contract with less zeroes than he, and Billy Beane, had once imagined.
Status: Signed, Seattle Mariners, 1/$4 million.
Comments: Mariners fans are making a lot of fuss for $4 million but, for what it's worth, we have set August 15 as the release date in the over/under contest.
Comments: A last-ditch option for Boston, if all else fails. Or perhaps for a team that might trade its shortstop to the Red Sox.
Status: Signed, Kansas City Royals, 1/$4 million.
Comments: Another player dedicated to becoming a leader. A contending team should have made this deal.
Status: Signed, Chicago Cubs, 3/$12 million.
Comments: The Cubs really have guaranteed money towards Howry and Scott Eyre in 2008. Wow.
Status: Signed, Los Angeles Dodgers, 2/$9.5 million.
Comments: They really only need a stop gap for one season, as either Joel Guzman or Andy LaRoche will be ready by then. Therefore, Joe Randa probably would have been a better investment.
Comments: Teams are waiting for a medical report due this month before expressing an interest in Thomas. Look for an AL club to sign The Big Hurt to an incentive-based contract as a DH if he is cleared to play.
Status: Signed, Minnesota Twins, 1/$3.25 million.
Comments: We'd rather have Frank Thomas or Mike Piazza, but Twin fans should note that White has hit .300 or better in five of the past eight seasons with 12 or more HR every year. Hard to find much fault in a one-year deal at that price.
The following players are the remaining free agents who have signed for a total of at least $2 million:
Braden Looper, St. Louis Cardinals, 3/$13.5M
Breaking Out 101
Welcome back to class. You surely remember last year, when I took the first test to this class, right? In fact, shortly before the season, I predicted 15 prospects for whom I forecasted big things for in 2005. While prospect rankings are very similar across the Internet, this list is different among everyone from Baseball America, to baseball executives, to me.
Below, I have graded my first test in the course of Introduction to Breakouts. I'm extremely happy with the results, as many of these players will come back next week, as I count down my top 75 prospects. Much of getting the right answer on these players is luck, as I was more confident in some of the players I missed than those I got right. However, I told myself last year that even one or two right answers would make the article worth it.
How'd I do? See for yourself. Below I go over all fifteen players, with a quote from last year's article, their 2005 statistics, thoughts on that performance, and a final grade.
Nick Markakis (BAL)
What I said then: "...things clicked in Markakis' last 225 at-bats. He hit .333/.400/.538, while striking out only 37 times. This is the kind of performance I hope to see from Nick in 2005, playing in the hitter-friendly Carolina League. There is no reason to believe, even with the acquisition of Sammy Sosa, that Markakis won't be the Baltimore right fielder in 2007."
A+= .300/.379/.480, 43/65 in 350
What I say now: This is a clear-cut example of the end of a season providing hints as to what will come. Markakis' full-season debut started out slow, but when he got going, he became one of the better hitters in the minor leagues. My guess that this trend would continue into the 2006 season was correct, as Markakis has become one of the uncontested top forty prospects in the game.
As a whole, Markakis hit .310/.390/.504 this year, about 20 points of average below his final 225 at-bats of 2004. After a solid season in the Carolina League, he finished the season on fire in Bowie. Nick is one of the minors more refined players, and should -- as I suggested -- be playing right field in Camden Yards in one season. Like many on this list, he will feature prominently in my top 75 prospects, which will be announced next week.
Grade: B. I wasn't the only one that predicted this, and Markakis still isn't top 25 material, but he certainly improved.
Jon Lester (BOS)
What I said then: "My other well-known favorite is Jon Lester, who some might call the reach of my top 75. At forty-eight, I believe this will be the season that Lester puts it all together. Endurance has always been a problem with Jon, sustaining his good numbers from start to finish. His stuff at its best is fantastic, his fastball was up to the mid-90s in Sarasota last year."
AA= 2.61 114/148.1 163/57 10
What I say now: Of all the players on this list, I was most comfortable last year with my selection of Lester. Like Jeff Francis the year before, I was so comfortable to put him among my top 50 prospects. This was extremely unique in prospect lists, and it paid off as Lester's stock skyrocketed in 2005. His season made him the Eastern League Pitcher of the Year.
Like last year, the Red Sox are seemingly refusing to trade Lester, who has #2 potential in the Major Leagues. Dave Cameron at USS Mariner wrote a good column last week against Lester, but I think Dave is underrating his stuff. Few southpaws offer a two-pitch combination like him, and even fewer are as good in the H/9, K/9 and HR/9 ratios. If Lester can tighten his control, he should be a consensus top five pitching prospect. As it is right now, he seems to be right on that bubble.
Grade: A. My biggest sleeper turned out to be just that. I'll likely be boasting his name for years to come.
Chris Young (AZ)
What I said then: "Compared by Phil Rogers of Baseball America to Mike Cameron, Young is the definition of a Three True Outcomes player. Strikeouts, walks, home runs. All are very prevalent in Young's game, and when you mix that with great defense, I believe you get a future Major Leaguer."
AA= .277/.377/.545, 70/129, 32/38 in 466
What I say now: Again, I'm tooting my own horn here. Last year, I saw a lot more in Young than I did Ryan Sweeney, and accordingly ranked him higher on my top 75 prospects. This move paid off, as Sweeney's power problems continued in 2005, while Young took off. He continues to be a three-tool player, sorely lacking in the contact and throwing arm categories. However, his faults are aided by fantastic power, blazing speed and superb range.
It's likely that Young's inclusion in the recent Javier Vazquez trade indicates that the White Sox think his stock is too high. While I love Young as a player, I tend to agree. He still can be a better player than Cameron, I think, but his contact abilities should prevent him from ever becoming a superstar. This guy could make a great fifth or sixth hitter on a good team, but expecting a clean-up hitting Gold Glove perennial All-Star is a bit much. And it seems that's about where his stock is at these days.
Grade: A-. His stock soared in 2005, and he should be a top 30 player next week.
Elijah Dukes (TB)
What I said then: "One of many Devil Ray outfield prospects, Dukes is truly second to only Delmon Young in the organization tools-wise. He walks a little, has some pop, makes enough contact, and has tons of speed. The problem? Make-up issues, ending in an arrest [last] offseason."
AA= .287/.355/.478, 45/83, 19/28 in 446
What I say now: Dukes' most significant weakness did not improve in 2005, though the Montgomery Biscuit managed to stay out of trouble with the law. Instead, Dukes kept it to the field, where he was ejected numerous times, and suspended once for his actions. While playing, however, he was about the best Biscuit in Montgomery not named Delmon Young.
There is no real flaw to Dukes' game, besides his attitude, as he grades average or better in all five tools. However, he is not extraordinary in any either, which will make All-Star seasons few and far between. Tampa has significant depth issues in the outfield, and given Rocco Baldelli's winter extension, you have to figure that Dukes' 2006 season in Durham is simply a showcase to 29 teams.
Grade: B-. I thought he might have Lastings Milledge potential, but in the end, he'll settle at being Milton Bradley, without Bradley's ceiling.
Melky Cabrera (NYY)
What I said then: "Melky Cabrera of the Yankees has drawn comparisons to a poor man's Bernie Williams [from me], with pretty solid skills across the board. He hit 38 doubles between the Midwest and Florida State Leagues, both in stadiums that don't exactly favor the hitter. As he moves to the Eastern league, look for some of those doubles to start clearing the fence soon."
AA= .275/.322/.411, 28/72, 11/13 in 426
What I say now: One thing I have to keep in mind is that doubles don't necessarily clear the wall more often with age. Sometimes, strength is needed -- in addition to gap power -- to start comparing people to Bernie Williams. Cabrera's season in the Eastern League began well, albeit without power, prompting the Yankees to attempt to fill their CF hole with him. This proved a bad idea quickly, and Cabrera was sent down, and never really recovered.
At this point, it's unlikely he will ever be anything more than a bench player. However, he had his fifteen seconds of NYC fame, and sometimes, that helps build a 500 AB trial in cities like Kansas City . Melky needs to start drawing more walks, tighten up his defense, and keep his contact skills up to have a future on a Major League bench. Despite those obstacles, I'd still love him as a throw-in.
Grade: C+. I'm giving myself a little credit since the Yankees trusted Melky at one point, but really, this is not a breakout.
Alex Romero (MIN)
What I said then: "Last year, Alex Romero of the Twins, had a .792 OPS in the same stadium that Kubel had a .761 in. Romero doesn't have much in terms of power yet, but both his contact and plate discipline skills are top-notch. Alex was also a star in the Venezuelan Winter League, and then later the Caribbean World Series. While projecting a Kubel-esque breakout is probably unfair, any development of power will make Romero a fairly complete prospect."
AA= .301/.354/.458, 36/69, 12/23 in 509
What I say now: Just like winter power did not hint anything towards Alexis Rios, the same is true with Romero. For that reason, I have promised myself to pay less attention to winter league baseball. Romero's 2005 season looks good overall, with an average over .300, an OPS above .800, and less than 70 strikeouts. Looking at those numbers alone, you'd think this guy could fill a hole in the Twin Cities soon.
Wrong. I like Romero a lot less this winter than I did a year ago. His patience fell apart in the Eastern League, and given the environment in which he played, a .157 ISO isn't particularly impressive. Romero's defense in center was never great, and it doesn't help that he steals bases at something near a .500 clip. His well-rounded skillset should open a career as a fourth outfielder, with a Lew Ford ceiling, but it's probably foolish to be expecting much.
Grade: C. Despite better numbers, Romero really regressed on the whole during the season.
Francisco Liriano (MIN)
What I said then: "Liriano, a power southpaw that came over in the A.J. Pierzynski trade, progressed well after just pitching nine innings with arm problems in 2003. In thirteen of his starts [last] year, Liriano struck out more than six batters, showing fantastic stuff. Both his H/9 and ERA were too high considering the rest of his stats, and for Liriano to be taken for real, both need to come down in 2005."
AA= 3.64 70/76.2 92/26 6
What I say now: Wow. I thought Liriano was a good prospect, better than he was given credit for, but could I have seen this? Besides Justin Verlander, there was no pitcher in the minors that could come close to claiming he had a better season. Liriano's ERA in the Eastern League is high because of a bad BABIP (I'll get into that next week), which then over-corrected itself when moving to AAA. However, he showed all season long that Terry Ryan may have acquired an ace.
As I saw at the Futures Game, Liriano throws only hard pitches, as everything comes above 85 mph. The great Major League fastball hitters could make him pay, as they did in September, but it's unlikely that will happen very often. At worst, Liriano could be moved to the bullpen, and turned into a dominant reliever. At best, he sits alongside Johan Santana and forms one of the best 1-2 southpaw combinations in recent memory.
Grade: A. Liriano looks to be the cream of the A.J. Pierzynski crop, which is saying something, given Joe Nathan's career in Minnesota.
Francisco Rosario (TOR)
What I said then: "...Francisco Rosario of the Toronto Blue Jays, a power right-hander who spent 2004 returning from arm injuries. His power stuff was almost back last year, and we can expect it to return soon in full form. Rosario is quite dependent on his control, when his walks get up in numbers, he really struggles...look for the Jays to consider moving his power stuff to the bullpen."
AAA 3.95 111/116.1 80/42 16
What I say now: In a lot of ways, I thought Rosario was a similar player to Liriano. Coming off arm surgery, solid stuff, fallback as a reliever. There was a lot to like there. Unfortunately, I ignored the stuff reports that had been all over the place. While Liriano was back up into the mid-90s in 2004, there was a universal consensus that Rosario's velocity didn't make it all the way back. I assumed it would.
It didn't. If it does, I still have faith in Rosario, most likely in a middle relief or set-up role. Otherwise, he also could put together a nice little AAA career, and hope to have some Amaury Telemaco-ish resurgence down the road. However, the most likely situation is that Rosario is simply mediocre forever, another victim of a sore arm. Forecasting the success of pitchers returning from injury is one dangerous game. In this case, it's a game I lost.
Grade: D. Did not breakout at all, and likely sealed his fate as a starter.
Ambiorix Burgos (KC)
What I said then: "Last year in the Midwest League, Burgos struck out 172 batters in just 134 innings, while allowing just 109 hits. His problem? 75 walks. Burgos struck out more than ten batters four times, but also walked at least five on seven different occasions. Kansas City isn't the best organization to teach control (see: Colt Griffin), but they should make a point of it, because Burgos is one special talent."
MLB 3.98 60/63.1 65/31 6
What I say now: My assumption in putting Burgos on this list was that he would eventually become a reliever, and that is where his success would lie. If you would have made me guess, I would likely have predicted Burgos' rookie year to fall in 2008. However, in the midst of a few months, the Royals converted Burgos' great stuff to relief, and then with little warning, brought him up to the Majors. From a developmental standpoint, the Royals did a horrible job.
But in some cases, the player is too good for an organization to screw up. Because try as the Royals might, Burgos really succeeded in 2005. In fact, with Andy Sisco, the Royals have built quite the future bullpen. Burgos obviously has serious control problems, but he also has a dangerous splitter that allows quite a few strikeouts, and very few home runs. A smart Kansas City manager would platoon close with Sisco and Burgos, as the two are solid foundations for a good future 'pen.
Grade: B+. No one saw this coming, even me. I'm just proud, and shocked, to have spoken his name prior to 2005.
Carlos Marmol (CHC)
What I said then: "A former catcher, Marmol slugged just .353 in 502 at-bats between 2000 and 2002. Moved to the mound in 2003, Marmol had a great season in low-A last year, striking out 154 with a 3.20 ERA. He needs to cut down on the walks and be more consistent with the stuff, but the right seeds have already been planted."
A+= 2.99 60/72.1 71/37 7
What I say now: More often than not, Carlos Marmol is referred to as a work in progress. This is what happens when the conversion between hitting and pitching (or vice versa) is made. For likely the next 15 years of his career, Marmol will be referred to as raw. However, I took the universal "raw" description as also meaning he had better stuff than he does. Don't get me wrong, the former catcher has a solid arsenal, but hardly enough to have a future ML career as a starter.
If Marmol is to succeed, it's likely on the Ken Phelps All-Star Team, or in middle relief. I would like to see what would happen if the Cubs tried moving him to the bullpen next year, to see if he could add a few more miles per hour, and a little more bite. If so, he would be a very good relief prospect. Otherwise, as I said, the most likely career is one spent predominantly in the minors.
Grade: C. Hardly on a lot of radars, but Marmol is a C+ prospect that had a very nice 2005 season.
Sean Marshall (CHC)
What I said then: "Marshall was fantastic in the Midwest League, with a 12.75 K/BB in 51 innings. He was hurried to AA, but suffered a hand injury before getting acclimated there. The team brought him back into the limelight in the AFL, where he labored a bit, but still struck out 16 and walked just two. He'll need a little more stuff to be a top prospect, so here's hoping that's what the winter provided."
A+= 2.74 63/69 61/26 7
What I say now: Bryan, Bryan, Bryan. Did I really believe that Marshall's stuff would improve over the course of a winter? So much so that he might start to get mentioned in top 100 debates? I sure hope not. Marshall is good at what he's good at, which is to say a poor, poor man's Jeremy Sowers. He is a soft-throwing southpaw with pretty good breaking stuff, and enough pitchability to succeed. This is what happened at AA towards the end of the season, when Marshall had his best run of the year.
I'm told the Cubs are quite high on Marshall, who I do believe could turn out to be a better starter than Rich Hill. Hill has a big safety net in the bullpen that Marshall does not have, however, as Sean doesn't have very great, dominating stuff. So, the Cubs will send him back to West Tenn in 2006, with the hope that he forces their hand into a promotion to Iowa. Who knows, but maybe in 2008, we could be talking about Marshall starting a few games on the north side. And if not there, probably for a different organization.
Grade: C+. I think I might have been a year early on Marshall, but I do get some credit since his season ERA was under 3.00.
Thomas Pauly (CIN)
What I said then: "A former reliever at Princeton, Thomas Pauly was great last year in the Carolina League with a strikeout-to-walk ratio over 5:1. Combine that with a H/9 around seven, and finding problems becomes difficult. I could pick on him for that HR rate, but viewed in more context, it isn't even that bad. Don't be surprised to see Pauly give the Reds a pitching prospect they can actually brag about in just one year's time."
NO 2005 STATISTICS: INJURED
What I say now: Reds pitching prospects get hurt. A lot. At some point, we probably have to understand that this is not just some coincidental happening, but more of a trend. Despite quite a few good doctors associated with the team, good prospects go down every year in this organization. Pauly was just the next one, so here's to hoping Homer Bailey doesn't follow him. 2006 will be a good barometer to see how much of Pauly is left, but at this point, the prospects of a career in the Majors seem slim. If his stuff and great control returns, we'll talk.
Grade: F. This is the risk you run gambling on pitching prospects.
Andy LaRoche (LAD)
What I said then: "Following a summer when LaRoche was named the Cape Cod League's best position prospect, the Dodgers gave him top-round money. Good decision. Once the average catches up with the rest of his skills, most notably his .197 ISO in the Florida State League, LaRoche should be one of the game's top third base prospects."
A+= .333/.380/.651, 19/38 in 249
What I say now: Logan White still hasn't had a lot of his guys succeed in the Majors. But, Logan White also continues to look like the game's best scouting director. This is what it took to turn LaRoche from a late-round draft pick to one of the game's top third base prospects. For much of the season's first half, LaRoche kept pace with Brandon Wood in the minor league home run lead, and was on top for a long time. However, a move from Vero Beach to Jacksonville all but ended his bid.
While most see some colossal regression from high-A to AA, I think LaRoche showed a lot of poise upon promotion. Suddenly he became a disciplined hitter, a skill that would go a long way into covering any contact problems that he might have. What won't leave any time soon, I would think, is his fantastic power. Dodgers Stadium is a pitcher's park, but LaRoche really profiles to hit more than 25 home runs wherever he plays. With a little discipline, annual lines of .275/.360/.480 is a conservative guess.
Grade: A. This guy could have been elected the governor of Florida at one point. Top 30 prospect.
Asdrubal Cabrera (SEA)
What I said then: "Cabrera is a middle infielder with big league defense, to go along with speed, selectivity, and a bit of pop (.155 ISO). His bat will never be fantastic, but with that defense, it won't have to be. Let's just hope that Matt Tuiasasopo, who is terrible up the middle, doesn't push Asdrubal to second."
A-= .318/.407/.474, 30/32 in 192
What I say now: Spectacular season for a guy whose bat scared me. He started the year in low-A, juggling positions, and still managed to put up a fantastic line. He showed great patience, better contact skills, and again, a little bit of pop. Once Adam Jones was ready for AA, the Mariners confidently moved Cabrera into his spot. At worst, if he couldn't give them Jones' bat, he would play defense as good as anyone in the Cal League.
And that's what he did. Upon moving to high-A, there was serious regression in Cabrera's numbers, despite playing in a good hitting environment. What most discourages me is the lack of walks, as a smart hitter will walk more (rather than much less) when he is struggling. I also believe we saw his true colors in regards to power, as expecting a .150 ISO would be pretty silly at this point. His contact skills are great, he has versatility, and is a highlight-reel defensive player. There is a Major League future for Asdrubal Cabrera, mark my words.
Grade: B+. Definitely made himself noticed, rising to AAA at season's end. I acknowledged his potential was limited (it still is), so the grade is a bit higher.
Francisco Hernandez (CHW)
What I said then: "As for Hernandez, he's a switch-hitting catcher reminiscent of Victor Martinez. His offense and defense both were great in short-season ball, and the true test will be this year, when his body has to take 100+ games behind the plate. That's really the only thing negative I can come up with his game right now."
A-= .222/.292/.314, 13/29 in 153
What I say now: Another note to Bryan Smith: stop with lofty, lofty comparisons. Melky Cabrera could be Bernie Williams? Francisco Hernandez could be Victor Martinez? Yikes! That is simply setting the bar too high.
Basically, Hernandez excited me last year after becoming the talk of short-season ball. A teenage, mature, switch-hitting catcher? It's hard to not get pumped about a player like that. However, Hernandez showed that catchers are a tough bunch to predict. In his first exposure to full-season ball, Hernandez failed miserably. His walks and strikeouts were fine, not a problem, but his batting average and isolated power were disastrous. As quickly as they could, the White Sox demoted him back to short-season ball, where he dominated once again.
2006 should be the year in which we find out whether there is power in Hernandez' bat or not. If there is, watch out. If not, then another one will most definitely bite the dust.
Grade: D+. Another great performance in short-season ball indicates I could have been one year off. Still disappointing.
I tried to be a tough grader, and as a result, gave myself a B- average (2.64 GPA) with these fifteen players. However, if you ask me, classes like predicting breakout classes should really be graded on a curve. At least I came away from the class having learned something, as Cabrera and Romero teach me that it's always good to stay away from those moderately athletic, moderately talented players. And after Marmol and Marshall, I've learned loyalty doesn't have to extend to these articles.
But really, I'm most proud of the 3 A's, as it feels good to have attempted to bring Lester, Liriano and LaRoche (should I just always go after the L's?) to your attention before 2005. However, I was probably more lucky than good, as for every Lester, there are quite a few Thomas Paulys and Francisco Rosarios. Another thing to keep in mind that these are long-term predictions, and in the end, it's possible that Francisco Hernandez makes me look better than Andy LaRoche.
A true review of Breakout Prospects 101 would be incomplete without a review of the names I missed. Including any of these players on the list would have me on top of the world. Here's a look, with their 2004 numbers (to see what I was working with), in absolutely no specific order:
2004 A+ = 4.36 90/115.2 108/58 10
2004 A- = .272/.348/.437, 34/83 in 323
2004 SS = 1.77 43/76.1 101/29 3
2004 A- = .251/.322/.404, 46/117 in 478
2004 A- = .367/.398/.578, 12/41, 15/21 in 313
2004 A- = .267/.314/.404, 33/124 in 510
2004 SS = .273/.327/.427, 22/70 in 300
2004 A+ = 4.01 128/130.1 96/57 8
Who should I have seen coming from this group. Definitely Sanchez and Kendrick, who teach us at the very least, to respect fantastic numbers at the lower levels. Salty, Wood and Jones indicate that a teenager keeping his head above water in low-A is a noble task, especially those that were highly regarded coming out of high school. Joel Zumaya, I kick myself for not seeing, with his fantastic H/9 ratio, as well as a great K/9 when moving to AA. And finally, I'm not sure it was possible to see the last two players coming. Sometimes, Gonzalez and Hirsh teach us, breaking out is simply spontaneoous.
In conclusion, there are a whole lot of ways to predict a breakout prospect. Sometimes theories work, sometimes they blow up in your face. But, you certainly can't hit the ball if you don't swing the bat. I'll be back in the batter's box soon.
The National Football League concluded its regular season on Sunday. The playoffs begin next Saturday with what is called Wildcard Weekend.
Saturday, January 7:
The Indianapolis Colts (14-2), Denver Broncos (13-3), Seattle Seahawks (13-3), and Chicago Bears (11-5) all have byes.
Here's my question: does anybody really believe that one of the teams from the National Football Conference has a legitimate chance to win Super Bowl XL? From my vantage point, the American Football Conference appears to be as stacked as Major League Baseball's American League. Bookmakers, in fact, have already installed the AFC representative as a 10 1/2-point favorite to win the extra large one this year.
What is it with these AFC and AL teams? The Americans have beaten the Nationals in each of the last two Super Bowls and World Series. I would be surprised if they don't make it a three-peat in both.
The AFC includes the team with the best record in football as well as the two-time defending Super Bowl champs. The Steelers, the sixth and last seed in the AFC, are probably better than every team in the NFC, with the exception of the Seahawks.
Da Bears have no almost no shot. I mean, this isn't 1986. That Super Bowl victory has been in the Fridge for 20 years. Tampa Bay? Yes, they won it three years ago, but this is Chris Simms at quarterback -- not Phil. New York Giants? They've got the right surname at QB, just the wrong version. The Carolina Panthers have the Sports Illustrated cover jinx working against them. Joe Gibbs is back with the Redskins but, unfortunately, Mark Rypien, Doug Williams, and John Riggins have all long retired.
The AFC has not only won four of the last five Super Bowls, but it went 34-30 against the NFC this year. Kinda reminds me of the superiority of the AL over the NL. The AL, which has won six of the last eight World Series, beat up the NL in interleague play to the tune of 136-116 last year.
I think the National League may have only two teams that are as good as the top seven in the Americal League. Other than the St. Louis Cardinals and New York Mets, I don't see a NL club that can compete with the Chicago White Sox, New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Los Angeles Angels, Cleveland Indians, Oakland A's, or Toronto Blue Jays.
Thanks to the Sox (Soxes? Socks?), the AL has swept each of the past two World Series. That's right, the NL hasn't won a World Series game since Josh Beckett pitched a five-hit shutout against the Yankees in Game Six of the 2003 Series. But it's not just about what happens in October.
Only four AL teams had losing records vs. the NL last year. Conversely, only four NL teams had winning records vs. the AL. The two leagues look more unbalanced than their schedules.
I'm reluctant to count out the Atlanta Braves because I have been proven wrong when doing so in the past. Arguments could also be made on behalf of the Houston Astros and Philadelphia Phillies. However, all three teams went 7-8 in interleague play last year. Outside of the teams mentioned and the Milwaukee Brewers, who are young and poised to get better, I don't see another club in the NL that could put up a .500 record in any of the three divisions in the American League.
Don't even suggest that the San Diego Padres or the
Just as the AFC is far removed from the old American Football League (you know, the one looking to merge with its more established National Football League brethren), the AL is no longer MLB's junior circuit. If anything, it appears as if the NL has been short circuited.