WTNYApril 05, 2006
Wood and Metal
By Bryan Smith

By the end of this week, baseball in all forms will be back. Every Major League Baseball team has now played their first game, and the minor league season begins April 7. The wooden bats join the aluminum ranks that have been competing since February.

So for the first time in 2006, the week has provided me with a wealth of information and opinions to share. As will likely become a tradition this year, here is a notes column detailing everyone from young veterans to college teenagers. Enjoy...


We knew this was coming, didn't we Prince Fielder fantasy owners? As I mentioned during Fielder's slow Spring Training, the big guy has a history of slow Aprils. So while 7 strikeouts in eight at-bats would be scary to any sane baseball fan, don't lose confidence and start yearning for Lyle Overbay or ... worse ... Jeff Cirillo. Expect a gradual decrease in strikeouts as the year progresses, as well as an increase in home runs. Still a future star, as is Edwin Encarnacion, another highly touted young player with a bad debut. Patience is a virtue with phenoms.

Interestingly enough, it has been the less touted rookies that I have noticed thus far. Marlins rookies Mike Jacobs and Josh Willingham were both close to making my top 100 prospect list, but limited skillsets scared me from each. This looks stupid thus far, as Jacobs and Willingham were integral in up-ending the Astros in their second game.

Chris Denorfia was the opposite case to these two, missing out on the top 100 for having a skillset too rounded. So much of Denorfia screams "FOURTH OUTFIELDER!", though I have began to think Denorfia is the right third outfielder for that club (if only because Adam Dunn's Opening Day performance might be the worst OF defense in the history of baseball ... seriously). Chris' double to centerfield in his first at-bat was an impressive display of power. The Reds have more than a future bench player in Denorfia, who in some ways reminds me of Gary Matthews Jr.

Real power was on display in Joel Zumaya's first appearance as a reliever, in which the young right-hander struck out three batters in two innings of work. Zumaya should be a force with his mid-to-high 90s fastball and hard-breaking curve out of the pen, but I pray it doesn't infatuate Jim Leyland too much. Other former starters relieving that impressed early -- besides Brandon McCarthy and Jon Papelbon whom were mentioned yesterday -- were Adam Wainwright and Chuck James, both less skilled players than Zumaya.

Finally, no rookie watch is complete without a mention of Kenji Johjima, who hit his second home run of the season last night. Johjima has a natural feel for the game that is quickly becoming the most positive trait of Japanese position player veterans. If Kenji shows this type of power at home, in Safeco Field, his trips to Dallas should make for good fun.


I made a mistake. In picking preseason breakout candidates -- and looking mighty deep for sleepers -- I chose Ben Johnson and Blaine Boyer. Johnson is currently being inexplicably blocked by the likes of Eric Young and Terrmel Sledge, while Boyer is further from the Atlanta closing job than ever. Apparently, I should have gone with option C -- which in all honesty, was Sergio Mitre.

After years of watching Mitre thrust into different roles in Chicago, I was pleased to see the Juan Pierre trade allow him to spread his wings. While his potential is extremely limited, Mitre has all the makings of becoming a rubber-armed, groundball invoking middle of the rotation starter. If Jake Westbrook has value in Cleveland, Mitre can have long-standing value in San Antonio, err, Miami.

Bold predictions have become a staple of the Internet, and while the season is underway, it's not too late for one last guess: Brian McCann is going to hit at least 25 HR's this year. His first was almost nullified when the Los Angeles-Atlanta game was delayed yesterday, but the clubs finished and McCann's first homer went into the books. Brian's power potential is no secret, and I firmly believe it becomes unveiled this year.

Some quick thoughts to round it out: if you didn't think so three days ago, it's time to come around - David Wright and Rickie Weeks are future perennial NL All-Star starters ... Ambiorix Burgos has absolute lights-out stuff, and really should be a bright spot in KC, who can't be wedded to the 9th-inning-only closer idea ... Khalil Greene continued from impressing me in spring to doing so in his first game; while many predicted Bobby Crosby to win AL MVP, it's not a stretch to say former first-round mate Greene could be a better player in the end ... It isn't one start or one spring that is making me say this: if you own Dontrelle Willis in a keeper league, trade him once his value gets a bit higher. His future seems to be as clouded as ever.


No notes here, since games have not begun and I don't have a myriad of thoughts yet. But with the announcement that Justin Upton will begin the season two weeks late, in the Midwest League, playing centerfield, I won't leave you with nothing.

First of all, the Diamondbacks should be lauded for this decision. If anything, it was too late, as Upton should have been learning the tricks of the outfield trade since the beginning of Spring Training. A rough senior year in the field provided evidence that Upton's infield career was headed down the same path as his brother's. His arm was so erratic in high school, but at the very least, it never lacked power.

If Carlos Gonzales breaks out to the degree that Jim Callis and Kevin Goldstein have predicted -- and it's tough to get two better backers -- then we can say that Arizona now has four of the game's best outfield prospects: Upton, Gonzales, Chris Young and Carlos Quentin. In the end, only three can fit into the long-term plans, so, who doesn't fit.

Upton is obviously in the team's future plans, and my guess is that he will stay in centerfield for quite some time - no better D-Back prospect has better speed. Besides, while Young's range is fantastic, a move to left field could help minimize his one defensive weakness: a lack of arm strength. Young is in the team's future, too, they chose to trade for him just a few months ago. These players are locks.

So it's down to Quentin and Gonzales for the final spot, in right field. And simply put, I think the Diamondbacks have put a good majority of their chips behind the latter's corner. Quentin has not been shown a lot of confidence from the organization that drafted him, as the club barely pursued the idea of trading Shawn Green to make room for him. Instead, it was Quentin's name that was brought up in trade rumors, namely to the outfield starved St. Louis Cardinals.

When July rolls around, expect Arizona to really re-evaluate their outfield situation. If Gonzales hits the California League in a big way -- and that is no bold prediction -- then Quentin could be moving teams by August 1. Not often are top 20 prospects blocked in from above and behind, so some Major League organization must step up and take advantage. Any takers?


At this point in time, it seems as though sixteen college players have separated from the pack and identified themselves as first round picks. As Lance Broadway proved last year, these things are susceptible to change, but there are probably only a handful of players that could even do so (I will provide deeper lists as we inch closer to the draft). Before I divulge my current list, here's the hot/cold list as seen in the past couple weeks:

  • Hot: Brad Lincoln (Houston) - While the Cougars do not have the schedule of a big program, Lincoln has been the most consistently dominant performer this spring. Many of Lincoln's peripherals are par for the first round course (48 H, 83 K's, 1.62 ERA in 66.2 IP), but it's the rest of his package that has flown Lincoln up draft boards. His consistency, endurance, and control have all been excellent thus far, as Brad has been great in every start since mid-February. And to boot, Lincoln has been fantastic as a hitter, showing athleticism that few other pitchers can match. Remaining starts against Tulane and Rice will dictate where in the top 15 Lincoln takes his talented arsenal - he has top 5 overall potential.

  • Cold: Ian Kennedy - On February 17, against Kansas, Kennedy struck out 13 batters in 8.1 innings while allowing just one hit and an unearned run. He had preceded that outing with good starts against Florida International and Long Beach State, and was poised to become the third pitcher chosen in the draft. Since dominating the Jayhawks, however, Kennedy has not taken a game by storm and the Trojans have lost each of his starts. The strikeouts, endurance and bulldog mentality remain, but Kennedy is showing flaws he didn't expose as a sophomore. He's on the outside of the top 5 college pitchers list and looking in, but given his solid schedule, a good final two months could mean a re-entry into the top ten.

  • Hot: Josh Butler (San Diego) - No team took college baseball by storm out of the gate like the Toreros, sweeping then-#1 Texas to start the season. While San Diego has slowed a bit since then, they have been well-anchored by ace junior Josh Butler, who has joined the first round ranks. His fastball has been in the mid 90s this spring, and Butler's miniscule 1.13 ERA has had the scouts buzzing. A better strikeout rate and secondary arsenal would help Butler, but he has done enough to move into the first round.

  • Cold: Dallas Buck (Ore. St.) - There had been a time when Peter Gammons mentioned Buck as a #1 overall candidate, and many times when people (myself included) thought Buck was a lock to take his sinker into the Rockies organization. But the fact is that since conference play began more than a year ago, Dallas has been less than impressive. After a poor showing in the Cape, Buck's control has been off, his demeanor has worsened, and his velocity is down. The Kevin Brown potential remains, but any certainty in his future is gone. If any player from the top 16 is going to fall from grace, it will be this guy.

    Onto my current top 16 list, with a few comments mixed in. By the way, if you are interested in any of the videos of the West Coast players here, head over to Calleaguers.com, as the collection of videos (and velocity reports) have been gathering for the past two months. College baseball's top 16 juniors...

    1. Andrew Miller (UNC) - KC all but locked into this pick.
    2. Max Scherzer (Mizzou)
    3. Daniel Bard (UNC) - His groundball numbers might be reason for going #2 overall.
    4. Evan Longoria (LBSU)
    5. Brad Lincoln (Houston) - Forget the recent Houston failures, this isn't Rice.
    6. Brandon Morrow (Cal) - Command issues remain ; I really see Joel Zumaya.
    7. Drew Stubbs (Texas)
    8. Joba Chamberlain (Neb) - Hanging on by a thread
    9. Ian Kennedy (USC)
    10. Wes Hodges (GTech) - Frustrating lack of power consistency
    11. Matt LaPorta (Fla)
    12. Mark Melancon (AZ) - .222 SLG Against in thin Arizona air.
    13. Matt Antonelli (Wake)
    14. Josh Butler (SD)
    15. Dallas Buck (OSU)
    16. Jared Hughes (LBSU) - Scouts trust control, size and sinker

    Many will surely be writing in with complaints about the omission of Greg Reynolds, whom Kevin Goldstein recently mentioned as a first round lock. Kevin may be right, but if so, let me stress how poor the selection would be. A nice blend of size and stuff, to be sure, but Reynolds lacks any meaningful results to speak of. Tacking together two consecutive solid starts would be nice.

  • Comments

    Love your daily notes. I didn't know about your site until this winter, when Bryan's article on sleeper-prospects was published at BP, so I don't know if you'll keep this up. Hope you do, though.

    Great article. This is why Baseball Analysts is one of my favorite sites.

    One guy that you didn't mention much, but has been moving up draft boards, is Brandon Morrow. He has finally harnessed his great stuff and is finally getting good results.

    I was wondering what your take on him as a ML prospect is. I have heard that he lacks a good third pitch, and may end up as a closer. However, I have heard Justin Verlander and Joel Zumaya as comps. Do you think that he can stick as a ML starter? And does he have that kind of upside?

    I love this website and your insights into the draft stuff. I would like to get your take on Washington RHP Tim Lincecum though. Reports are he was up to 99 mph with a devastating CB while striking out 18 last week? I dont care if he's 6'0 or 6'7, that "stuff" plays in the big leagues!

    Jerry, I've been a long proponent of comparing Morrow to Zumaya, though I don't see the comparison to Verlander. Morrow, like Joel, has some fastball control problems, but plus velocity (mid 90s) and a good second pitch (in Brandon's case, a splitter). His issues with command and lack of a third pitch make an eventual move to the bullpen possible, if not probable.

    After a brief 2 game stretch in which Morrow walked 11 in 13.1 innings, he has given 9 free passes in his last 32.1 innings - not a great rate, but good enough to remain a starter. I like Morrow a lot more than I used to, and if Dave Cameron predicted the M's pick Morrow with the 5th pick in the draft, you better listen.

    John Blaze, thanks for the Lincecum question, I pretty much expected it coming. After his 18 strikeout performance this past weekend, I think Tim is probably a near lock for the top two rounds. I wouldn't blame his relatively low status on his height, but instead a combination of his delivery (problematic) and workload (excessive). There is not a bigger injury risk in college baseball, I believe.

    However, I hadn't heard that he touched 99, which would certainly change things. I'll touch more on Tim in my next college report. If interested, here's a video of his violent delivery:


    Great stuff, this is my new favorite feature at the site (though it is all good of course). I had the pleasure of seeing Daniel Bard live about a month ago (before his struggles of the past 3 weeks) and walked away very impressed. He pitched a complete game without a ball ever reaching the outfield: 2 infield pop-ups, 11 ground outs, 13 strikeouts, and a caught stealing. His final line was an impressive 9 IP 5 H 2 ER 1 BB 13 K.

    I've always been a sucker for player comparisons, but I struggle to find a good one for Bard. The best comp I came up with for the Bard I saw on this day was Brandon Webb. Do you think Bard has a Webb type ceiling or am I way off the mark?

    I saw Lincecum live for the 18-strikeout performance. Looking four rows down, I never saw 99 on any of the scout's guns, but did see 94-96 for the first 6-7 innings. By the 8th though, he looked gassed to me.

    He did, however, have 7 groundball outs to go with the 18 Ks (plus one line drive right at the 3B and a warning track fly in the 8th).

    His fastball is electric, and he really pitches everything off of that. His curve is very good, but his change is only little better than show-me (I didn't see a swing and miss off a change the whole night).

    The scouts are definately right about one thing -- he's short and skinny. He's listed at 6', but standing next to 6'2" 1B Curt Rindal, Lincecum looked at least 4 inches shorter.

    Random prediction: Supplemental 1st Round pick by the Orioles (2 scouts there), one season ending injury (Tommy John?), and an 8-10 year career as a dominanting reliever who fans will always want to see in the rotation.

    Good stuff Trev, thanks for the accurate info. Seems like stuff always gets overblown by a couple mph's when you hear things thru 4-5 different people! 94-96 for 6-7 inn is still pretty legit. I remember reading an article on Lincecum a ways back that said the kid doesnt even ice after games and sounded like he has never missed a start in 4 yrs, so I gotta wonder if he's just a freak of nature...sounds like he's proven to be pretty durable for a little dude

    What makes Brandon Morrow more like Joel Zumaya and less like Mark McCormack from last year's draft? Some of this sounds a little like overconvenient pigeonholing - every guy with good stuff and massive control problems is Joel Zumaya, like every highly touted 3b doing nothing for years (Teahen, Burroughs) keeps deluded fans hanging on. When making these comparisons, everyone seems to gloss over that Zumaya was a high schooler with problematic control, and Morrow is a collegiate pitcher with horrible control. For that matter, what's the ratio between "washed up minor leaguers who have great stuff but can't find the plate" and the Joel Zumayas? Very unfavorable I'd say.

    For that matter, who was the last college pitcher who had walk ratios like Morrow who went as high as #5? Maybe it's recent, I can't remember. But it doesn't seem smart to waste a pick that high on such a control risk and a guy who looks like he's heading to the bullpen. You don't often see relievers drafted that high either. Just searching through the draft the last two years I don't see anyone with those kinds of walk numbers going that high. I do remember Mark McCormack's much ballyhooed "best fastball in the draft," his awful control, and him going outside the Top 30.

    Excuse my vehemance, but Joel Zumaya seems like an exception to the rule type of guy, and I've been hearing a lot of exception-to-the-rule comparisons lately around the internet - Kip Wells is the next Chris Carpenter, Wily Mo Pena is the next David Ortiz, Mark Teahen is the next Adrian Beltre - it seems like a case of taking a player with huge flaws, finding someone who defies the rule of the flaws, and then make a comparison to them.

    I still don't get the deal with Drew Stubbs....in the aluminum world he hits for OK average (.300 career average in 681 ABs), OK power (.515 SLG), strikes out quite a bit (he has only 19 more hits in his 3 yr career than strikeouts), and runs really well (even away from the turf in Austin).


    Thanks for your question, it's a good one. After much thought, here's my answer ...

    Prospect analysis, as I've stated before, is a really funny practice. We analyze, scout, breakdown, whatever these players to the finest degree in some hope of determining who will be the next superstar, and sometimes, who will be the next bust.

    Problem is, as you allude, more often than not a prospect tends to bust. This is something that, at this point, I pretty much assume my readers understand.

    PECOTA -- the most respected projection system out there -- derives its predictions through a set of comparisons. The system is notoriously conservative because -- again, more often than not -- it balances a lot of low-end comparisons with a few high-end guys. The former bring down the projection.

    So, if I go into my article, my analysis assuming the reader understands that each player has a good chance to bust, my job is to balance that. There are many examples of players with a lack of fastball control, or no great third pitch that have failed as a result. I know that, you know that.

    The comparison between Brandon Morrow and Joel Zumaya is given to you so you can balance the many busts with a high-end guy. If things go well, Morrow matches up well with Zumaya; if things go poorly, you know the other road he can go down. My guess is that when you see comparisons thrown out there by me, Baseball America, John Sickels, Kevin Goldstein and others, it's simply a high-end comparison presented to help the balance.

    I hope that answers your question.