Gazing Through Binoculars (Part 2)
Pitching dominated the discussion surrounding the 2006 draft, as a record was almost broken with the number of pitchers selected in the first round. On Tuesday, we noted that position players will be back in style on the college ranks next year.
Today, I'm here to say we won't have to compromise simultaneously and see a letdown in the arms category.
A year before the draft, I noted Andrew Miller as a top guy, mentioning the worst teams were in the 'AM race.' A big lefthander with a long profile, Miller had control issues but the ability to strike out players in bunches. Experience and projectablity don't mesh often. They did in 2006, and they will in 2007.
While I'm no longer as confident as I was in April, David Price is right in the mix to be named the top pick in a year. A Vanderbilt lefthander, Price was a highly thought of prep arm, and went on to strike out 92 in 69 innings his freshman season. Early season dominance wore Price out as the year went on, but his season ending marks -- 3.81 ERA, 84 H/104 IP, 147 K/38 BB -- still were good enough to be named a Golden Spikes finalist.
Expect Price to gain more consideration for the award next season, as he'll surely spend the summer and fall working on endurance. If he makes strides in that category like he did control a year ago, Price should be the favorite to go 1-1. However, he faces worthy opponents in (high schoolers) Mike Main and Robert Stock, as well as (top collegiate position player) Matt Wieters.
Like Wieters, Price doesn't face a lot of competition for the king of the collegiate pitching mountain. However, there are a host of arms that will belong in the first round. Fellow hard-throwing SEC southpaw Nick Schmidt might be the best of the second tier, and his sophomore season was better than Price's in the same environment. In 108.2 innings, Schmidt struck out 135 while allowing just 80 hits. His breaking pitch is fantastic; his control (48 walks) is not.
Control is Wes Roemer's strength, and while he won't go in the top ten, Roemer went a far way in assuring himself a place in the first round this spring. A worthy candidate for the Player of the Year award, Roemer's 145/7 K-BB rate never fails to look like a misprint. His stuff isn't great, and his inning totals are high, but when working in the low 90s with a good slider (which he does often), Roemer is undoubtedly worthy of a top 30 selection.
Also pitching for a big program on Friday nights, I am a big fan of Sean Morgan, the righthander at Tulane. Home run prone, Morgan's 3.51 ERA is scary, especially considering the ballpark that Tulane played in this season. However, he has the strikeouts (125) and control (39 walks) to merit being in the discussion. Morgan will have to minimize the extra-base hits he allows next season, his slugging against (.370 in 2006) will go a long way in determining his draft position.
Expect the number of two-way players drafted as pitchers drafted in the first round to double between 2006 and 2007; for one Brad Lincoln, next year's class offers Sean Doolittle (Virginia) and Joe Savery (Rice). Oh, and unlike Lincoln, these two are southpaws. I'm far higher on Doolittle, his sub-2.00 ERA and amazing set of peripherals speaks volumes to his talent, big pitching park be damned. Expect him to lead Team USA this summer.
I'm a bit more wary of Savery, who had shoulder tendinitis minimize his innings total this season. Even when healthy in the postseason, Rice rarely turned to Savery - a bad indicator. As is his status as a pitcher for the Rice program, so take his 129 Freshman strikeouts with a grain of salt. Savery's potential should allow him to go top 15 (possibly top five), but he'll come with as many caveats as anyone.
On Tuesday, we talked about the lack of shortstops in the '06 draft. From a pitching standpoint, the draft also lacked closers, the growing trend that didn't really offer a first round talent this season. That will change next year, as Josh Fields is great in that role for Georgia. Teams will love his walk rate (11 BB in 50 IP), his strikeouts (56), and his miniscule slugging against (.257). Barring injury, he'll go in the first round next year.
In the northern Midwest, a pair of arms had lackluster seasons after dynamite freshman campaigns, and remain on the watch list. John Ely was just OK at Miami of Ohio, but the lefthander did allow 76 hits in 75.2 innings en route to a 3.57 ERA. He is one to watch, as is Ben Snyder from Ball State. Yes, his 4.45 ERA is ugly, but Snyder showed what he could do in regionals, beating top seeded Kentucky by allowing just one earned run in 8 innings.
Last for potential first rounders, I want to mention a guy that could be next season's Jeff Samardzija. While NC State righthander Andrew Brackman has stayed away from the football field, the 6-10 pitcher is a good frontcourt player for the Wolfpack. Unprepared for his sophomore season on the mound thanks to basketball, Brackman posted a 6.35 ERA in 28.1 innings before shutting it down. If he's smart, Brackman will realize where he has the most potential (baseball), and stick with it.
Finally, we should expect that summer performances will help pitcher's stocks next June, so I wanted to finish with a few potential Cape Cod League stars. Remember, without their summer in the Cape, guys like Brandon Morrow or Dave Huff would have not been so highly thought of.
The name I've been most outwardly floating around to people is Connor Graham, a righthander from Miami of Ohio. Graham is big (6-7, 240), and inconsistent, but could thrive in the closer's role this summer. He let his first run of the season this week, so don't expect a Craig Hansen summer. But do expect two Redhawks to be battling for draft position in 2007.
Another arm to look out for, though one I know less about, is Texas A&M righthander Chance Corgan (Update: Corgan transferred to TCU on May 31). Expected to be in the weekend rotation this spring, Corgan didn't get a ton of innings for the Aggies. In two starts out east, Corgan is making up for lost time, taking the league lead in strikeouts (19 - which he has since lost) in two scoreless starts spanning 14.1 innings. A big 2007 spring in the MWC could push Corgan way up draft boards.
This year's draft saw Steven Wright be taken high after a great summer closing at the Cape, and a good spring starting for Hawaii. Many believe the Wright they saw in short outings represents his future, despite his spring. Two potential arms that could face the same comments are Dan McDonald (Seton Hall) and Sam Demel (TCU). Demel has yet to allow a run in seven appearances (11 K in 7 IP), while McDonald has done him one better, not allowing a hit or walk in six scoreless innings (11 K).
Of course, these are just a few names that have been blips on a few radars this season. There will be a lot more examples of this during the summer, and I will try to stay abreast on each name that floats my way.
If I Met Warren Cromartie in Front of the Reptile House at the Zoo, This is What I'd Say to Him
"Cool snakes, Warren."
"Andre Dawson used to bring pythons into the clubhouse. Did that every week until one ate Doug Flynn. We had to play the python at second that day. At the end of the week he was outhitting Flynn. Nobody noticed there had been a change. Bill Virdon wanted to keep playing him, but the Players Association said he would hurt licensing revenue. The SPCA said it was cruel to make him slither across the artificial turf like that."
"Flynn, or the snake?"
"I loved everything about Montreal, but I know I got out just in time. After a few games with Flynn and Angel Salazar playing together, you could see that vein in Skip's neck popping out. It was scary stuff."
"It always amazed me how players would complain about Montreal, or not want to play there. You're a pro athlete, young and rich. You can play in the best party city anywhere in the big leagues, or you can go to Milwaukee or Cleveland..."
"Just excuses. Customs, the cold weather, the language barrier. OK, customs could be a pain. But most guys had a place in Florida, so winters weren't a problem. And the language thing? First of all, most people there speak both English and French. I considered myself fortunate to get to experience a different culture anyway, even picked up some French on my own. And the women? Wow. Yeah, I'll stand in line a few extra minutes with my passport if that's the trade-off."
"Who were your running mates on those Expos teams?"
"Ellis Valentine was always a lot of fun. Anytime we'd go into a place, Jerry White would run to the bar and get shots for everyone. And man, you should have seen Larry Parrish on the dance floor. Big ol' Southern boy, but I'm telling you, LP could tear it up!"
"Gary Carter. Camera hog or gamer?"
"A little of both. Did he love the attention? Sure. But we all did. I mean, you have to be to be a ballplayer. This isn't dentistry. As long as he was in the lineup, we were cool with it. He could hit. And I know I wouldn't want to be squatting for nine innings in St. Louis in July--better him than me."
"How bad was the turf at the Big O, really?"
"Ask Andre. He was almost as fast as Raines when he started. But all those years running down flyballs in center just sapped it out of him. Go into the clubhouse after a game, there was more ice in there than Elizabeth Taylor's jewelry box."
"I could see you limping a bit. That from the turf?"
"Partly. I went quail-hunting with Pepe Frias once. Dude shot off a chunk of my ankle. I never told anyone in the front office. John McHale would have finished the job."
"What about crocodile hunting? Who's your go-to guy?"
"Chris Speier. People thought he was quiet, but I could definitely see him jumping in and rolling on a croc. He's a bad man."
"Rodney Scott, no question. You ever see him swing the bat? He knew he wasn't hitting the ball anywhere, so he just chopped at it, tried to pound it into the turf and run it out. Perfect for whacking a snake?"
"Dick Williams is the only one who'd have been crazy enough to try that."
"Youppi! Great mascot, or the greatest mascot?"
"You asked me about what happened when we went out at night? One night me, 'Dre and Bobby Ramos hit Crescent Street. We're walking over, and we see Youppi! doing a promotion or something. It's winding down, and we ask him if he wants to join us. He smacks his head and does that googly-eye thing he does. So we figure that means he's game. We hit the clubs. Now, this is 1980. By this point we're getting good, and people are starting to recognize us a bit, especially Dawson. But as soon as they saw Youppi! that night, everyone just stopped. The ladies were all over him! I tried to get him to lend me the costume for another night, but he wasn't having it. That orange fur's a gold mine."
"And then the next year is the big '81 season. A lot of people remember you waving the Canadian flag after you guys finally won it. Seriously, Cro...was that a Wade Boggs jumping on the police horse moment, or was that for real?"
"From the heart, man, from the heart. People gave Montreal a hard time later on, but it was an exciting time back then. When we were winning, it was a party every night in that stadium. Ugly park, bad turf, but it was electric that year. We felt the love and support from the fans, and we felt like we were part of something special. I'll always have warm feelings for that city, and for Canada. It's a second home to me."
"I gotta bring it up. Rick Monday...why would Jim Fanning bring in Steve Rogers there, in relief, on short rest? I mean I was 7 at the time, and I knew Rogers was good. But I didn't understand why they brought in a starting pitcher in the 9th inning. I mean, nobody could touch Jeff Reardon all year!"
"I still think about that game. Rogers was great for us too. Who knows? We still could've tied it up in the bottom of the 9th, scored more than 1 run in that game maybe. That damn Monday."
"True story. I was in the broadcast booth at Dodger Stadium one time visiting the Marlins announcers, Dave Van Horne and Jon Sciambi. Van Horne and I are talking about the old Expos teams. And who walks into the booth just then to say hi? Monday. Van Horne introduces us. Monday says, 'Pleasure to meet you.' I looked him right in the eye and said, 'Wish I could say the same.'"
"I'd have had your back if things got ugly, believe me."
Thanks to Steve Goldman for providing the inspiration for this piece.
Jonah Keri is the editor and co-author of Baseball Between the Numbers. His Expos-related rookie card collection includes Andre Dawson, Gary Carter, Tim Raines, Randy Johnson, Larry Walker, Pedro Martinez, Vladimir Guerrero, and the immortal Andy Stankiewicz. He knows to an absolute certainty how the rest of the 1994 season would have played out had it kept going. You can reach him at email@example.com.
Winners Never Quit
1968. It was a down year for the Dodgers. And for me. I turned 13 that July. Oh, becoming a teenager wasn't so bad. But coming down with Osgood-Schlatter disease and pneumonia at the same time just about ruined my summer.
If you're going to suffer both illnesses, I guess it makes sense to come down with them concurrently. No need to be on the disabled list any longer than necessary. I think my Mom and Dad put me on the 60-day DL in early June. It was the first time in my "career" that I had ever missed any action.
After playing four years of Little League, I was enjoying my first season of Pony League when I was diagnosed with my diseases. I played the first half of what I believe was a 20-game schedule but missed the entire second half with my knee pain and pneumonia.
I couldn't play baseball. I couldn't ride my bike. I couldn't even run. Well, now that I think about it, I really never could run all that well anyway. To wit, my high school coach used to time me running from home to first with a calendar. I can hear him now, "January, February, March, April..." I wasn't all that bad. I mean, I don't think I ever made it into May. Mickey Mantle could run to first base in 3.1 seconds. I could run to first base in 3.1 months. But the Mick could only do that hitting from the left side. I had the disadvantage of being a right-handed hitter.
In any event, I was sidelined that summer. I was instructed by my doctor to rest and apply ice to my knees frequently. I don't think the ice bags helped my pneumonia much, but my lungs seem to clear up at about the same pace as the improvement in my knees. I was a prime candidate for Osgood-Schlatter as it generally afflicts children in a "growth spurt" between 10 and 15 years old who are involved in sports. I was always tall for my age, but I shot up several inches that year. The good news is that I lost all my baby fat and was as slim as I had ever been.
What's a 13-year-old boy, who has no clue about girls, to do in his summer between seventh and eighth grades when he can't play his favorite sport and is mostly confined to home? Well, he listens to all of the Dodger games on the radio, plays lots of APBA, and reads a bunch of sports books.
My Dad gave me Winners Never Quit by Phil Pepe. The title was short for the slogan, "Quitters Never Win; Winners Never Quit." It could be found scribbled on blackboards in locker rooms across the country. Pepe's book was inspiring, given to me by Dad to cheer me up during a period when I was down and out.
The book chronicled 15 star athletes who overcame injuries and obstacles with courage, guts, and desire. Each chapter had a subtitle that was an actual quote from another player or coach.
Although the Dodgers didn't fare all that well that season, Drysdale broke Walter Johnson's consecutive scoreless innings mark of 56. The Big D's streak was almost snapped during his fifth shutout when he hit Giants' catcher Dick Dietz with a pitch with the bases loaded in the ninth inning. But as Vin Scully told those of us listening to the game, "It hit the bat said Wendlestedt. It hit the bat." In actuality, the home plate umpire ruled that Dietz had not made an attempt to get out of the way and called the pitch a ball rather than awarding the batter first base. Drysdale retired Dietz, Ty Cline, and Jack Hiatt to end the game and preserve his streak.
The Hall of Famer epitomized what the book was all about. He never quit. With the help of Wendlestedt, he persevered and went on to record 58 consecutive scoreless innings. Although Drysdale wasn't one of the subjects in Winners Never Quit, the book featured a couple of my favorite players from that era. In junior high school, I wore number 22 and could twitch my head at the free throw line better than anybody not named Elgin Baylor. Being a righty, I couldn't imitate Sandy Koufax nearly as well but, suffice it to say, I knew everything about him--from his birthday to his stats to his mannerisms on the mound.
I read the book from cover to cover. At least twice. I bought into all the messages conveyed from one chapter to the next as well as the Introduction.
Call it courage. Call it guts. Call it desire. There are many names for it, but what is it, really, this indefinable quality that makes a man put out that extra something just when it seems there is nothing left to give?
Missing ten baseball games that summer turned out to be a small price to pay in the big picture of life. You see, the games come and go. But the values we learn stay with us forever. Just like that book, tucked away neatly on a shelf in my home office.
Gazing Through Binoculars
Scouts were ready to turn the page. After spending a year preparing for one of the weakest draft classes in years, the page has been turned on the 2006 June Amateur Draft. With its exit go complaints about star power and depth; the 2007 draft offers both.
In fact, early returns on the 2007 draft promise one of the better classes in years, competing with 2004 and 2001 for the decade's best. The junior high school class had a fantastic season, and college sophomores around the country left their imprints in the minds of scouts.
As summer and showcase season gets underway, I wanted to allow you the first look at the offerings of the 2007 draft. Today, we'll look at the position players whose aluminum bats will be followed next spring, and Friday, we'll look at the class of pitchers.
Presently, Matt Wieters stands atop the college position player list, and is in the mix to be the first college player drafted with David Price. Both Georgia Tech's catcher and closer, Wieters showed with 5 postseason home runs that he was destined to swing the bat. Expect whichever team drafts him to project him as a hitter.
They will have a hard time, however, projecting a position. Currently a catcher, Wieters' arm would probably rank in the utmost tier of baseball at the Major League level. Given a top-flight career as a hurler, he also should call games and handle pitchers well. So what's the problem? Height.
The tallest catcher in Major League history was Larry McLean, standing 6-5. In 2004, Joe Sheehan wrote an article showing the problems tall catchers have faced at the big league level. Sandy Alomar Jr. is the perfect example. If Wieters was to make the Majors as a catcher, and assuming his listed height is the truth, he would pass McLean to top the list. When you're talking about multi-million dollar bonuses, biases can scare teams off, ask Tim Lincecum.
Plain and simple, Wieters offers the best bat in the 2007 draft class. But to draft him in the top five, a team would have to ask themselves whether such a high pick should be used on a future first baseman. While Wieters might make the Majors as a catcher, it's doubtful he would last too long there.
Catching feasibility is a problem with another projected first rounder, Tennessee's J.P. Arencibia. The switch hitter started his ascension up draft lists as a catcher, when he was one of the Vols' best bats in their Luke Hochevar-powered College World Series run. While success in Knoxville has stalled since the exit of Hochevar, Iorg and Headley, Arencibia remains a highly thought of prospect.
While Arencibia could stand to be more patient at the plate, his power projects well at the big league level. His defense, however, does not. Arencibia lacks athleticism; his mobility behind the plate is greatly in question. Teams will still take him as a catcher with the pipe dream that he will last there, but to do so, he'll have to hit like Victor Martinez. Because he won't field much better.
Seeing as though Evan Longoria and Bill Rowell both should end up at the hot corner, the lack of shortstops in the 2006 draft was unprecedented. The most important position on the defensive spectrum was completely unaccounted for. That will change next year, as currently three college shortstops project as first rounders: Todd Frazier (Rutgers), Josh Horton (UNC) and Zack Cozart (Mississippi).
Cozart is the best shortstop in the group, a well-skilled player defensively that won't have to think about changing positions. At the plate there are some questions, and they start with Cozart's inability to draw a walk. However, his contact rates are the best in the group, and he hit for more power than Horton did on the year. Add enough quickness to steal a base, and he seems a top 15 pick.
The title for best hitter is one to be wrestled over, depending on who you talk to. I think the choice is Frazier, who has superior statistics despite playing in a conference (Big East) that is far from the ACC's caliber. Still, Frazier is a very disciplined hitter who shows the most power of the group. His strikeout rates indicate he might be the worst hitter-for-average, but if he can stay at short (and he should, though third base is possible), his power will make up for it and then some.
Horton is very interesting, a player that should make for a safe choice in some respects, a risky one in others. At the plate, Horton is fantastic, he has a beautiful left-handed stroke that allowed him to hit .400+ in the regular season. He is a patient hitter, and very intelligent on the basepaths. His pop will play in the middle infield. The question, however, is whether his glove will. Horton made 23 errors on the season; he's as mistake-prone as they come. But the athleticism is there, undoubtedly, leaving some to think he could stick. My guess? Second base, where the bat still profiles as above average.
While it's likely that more players will rise to the level in the next year, I feel comfortable proclaiming only two more hitters as 2007 first rounders: Corey Brown (Oklahoma State) and Beau Mills (Fresno State). Both have fantastic bats; two of the best power hitters available.
Brown had a scholarship offer rescinded from Virginia after his senior season in which he pleaded guilty to felony battery. The incident stemmed from a sexual encounter with an underage girl. Questions about this incident will follow Brown around during his junior season, as scouts will be forced to answer whether his head is in the right place for seven figures. Mills will also have to answer those questions, though his problems are in the classroom, not the police blotter. FSU's best hitter in 2006, Mills was suspended for the postseason after failing to meet academic standards.
On the field, both are very gifted players. Brown is the best five tool player that college baseball will offer in 2007, a center fielder that had 30 extra-base hits and 14 stolen bases in 2006. He walks and strikes out at insane rates, passing 40 in both categories on the season.
Mills, a third baseman, is the most powerful hitter in the draft. In just 200 at-bats, Mills had 35 extra-base hits on the season, and could very well project to hit 30 HR annually in the pros. His contact rate is fine (31 K), but questions about his patience (just 17 BB) and athleticism will be his only deterrent.
Finally, I want to finish today talking about one player that I think belongs in the mix for the first round, though his actual status is up in the air. Damon Sublett, of Wichita State, won the Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year award, despite missing two months with a broken hand. Why? Well, his two-way numbers are about as good as it gets.
In two years at Wichita State, Sublett has yet to allow a run on the mound. He is the Shockers' periodic closer, and his K/9 rate is above 15. However, his stuff is just a tick above average as a pitcher, so it appears that he will end up drafted as a hitter. Oh yeah, his numbers there are pretty good, too.
In just 165 at-bats on the season, Sublett had 20 extra-base hits, 10 of which went for home runs. He walked 31 times, and stole 12 bases while playing second base. The only question is Sublett's ability to make contact, as he whiffed 34 times on the season. However, given his awesome performance in every other column, this shouldn't hold Sublett back.
It also makes little sense to keep Sublett at second, given an arm that has done such damage off the college mound. The team that drafts Sublett has a player who has the athleticism to play either shortstop or center in the Majors, which helps his value even more. Sublett belongs in the first round, and with a healthy season in 2007, expect him to get there.
Sleeper: Sergio Miranda, Virginia Commonwealth. Another shortstop in a loaded class, Miranda hit .400 this season while named the Colonial American Association's defensive player of the year. Miranda has shown good contact abilties at VCU, and has continued to do so in his first few games in the Cape Cod League, not striking out through his first seven games. However, Miranda will have to prove he has (at least) gap power to get drafted highly.
Deep Sleeper: Curt Smith (Maine). I saw Smith play at the Chapel Hill regional a few weeks ago, and I came away very impressed. A shortstop from Curacao, Smith's body type envokes instant comparisons to Deivi Cruz. His play supports it, and I think he could have a similar career under the right scenario. He won't go highly in the 2007 draft, I don't think, but I'll support the pick wherever he ends up.
Those to look out for: Danny Payne (GTech), Matt Rizzotti (Manhattan), Chad Flack (UNC), Warren McFadden (Tulane), Taylor Harbin (Clemson), Michael Taylor (Stanford), Andrew Romine (ASU), Ryan Wehrle (Nebraska), Kellen Kulbacki (James Madison), Brian Friday (Rice).
On any given day now, you can walk into the Mets' clubhouse and find a friendly player ready to talk baseball with you. It might not be like the good old days of the Eighties, when Kevin Elster would graphically discuss the previous night's sexual conquests, but in this PC-era, listening to David Wright explain why he's hitting so many opposite-field home runs is good, clean fun.
And, hey, it beats the alternative.
I can attest to that, having lived though the media golden age at Shea, and the subsequent collapse in the early Nineties. Younger reporters who sometimes complain that today's stars, like Derek Jeter and Carlos Beltran, have nothing interesting to say, obviously don't know what it's like when the players declare war on the press.
Still, the newcomers have a point about the thick wall of clichés. Where did all this new millennium caution come from? I asked Jeter that very question recently, wondering why he affects that Dawn of the Dead expression whenever the camera goes on. His answer was surprisingly candid.
"It's you guys," Jeter said, nodding at a group of reporters standing around the clubhouse. "Because any time you do something you guys write about it, absolutely anything. You can't really be as loose as you want to be."
It's hard to imagine Jeter being loose and hip and funny - and, mostly, spontaneous. That person packed up and left years ago. The last time I glimpsed the real Jeter was in 1999, when I passed along a message from an extremely attractive female acquaintance: she wanted to meet the Yankee shortstop. At that point, Jeter was still semi-trusting of the press, so the offer was met with a curious arching of his eyebrows.
"You serious?" Jeter asked.
"I wouldn't have mentioned it unless I thought she was worth your time," I replied.
For a fleeting second, Jeter was actually considering it. The wall was down. Like Arnold Schwarzenegger in The Terminator, Jeter was doing the calculus.
Then he shook his head.
"Nah, I just can't do it," Jeter said finally.
I asked why.
"If I went out with her, then you'd have something on me."
For Jeter, and just about every other Yankee, it's safer to answer questions as neutrally as possible. A reporter gets enough baseball data to write his or her story, but very few responses come from the heart anymore. Then again, it's worth noting that getting too close can be dangerous, especially if there's a war going on.
The Eighties-era at Shea came to an official end in 1993, the year Bobby Bonilla and I went one-on-one in the clubhouse. Actually, the franchise had been in steady decline since the Mets lost the 1988 League Championship Series to the Dodgers, which started the house-cleaning of all the wild-siders.
Within 2-3 seasons, Elster, Wally Backman, Lenny Dykstra, Keith Hernandez, Darryl Strawberry and Ron Darling were gone. The final blow was the trade that sent David Cone to the Blue Jays in 1992. The clubhouse had turned decidedly chillier towards the press, since the remaining good guys - Dwight Gooden, Dave Magadan and Todd Hundley, were out-numbered and intimidated.
Still, the '92 Mets were supposed to be talented enough to make up for their lack of charisma. I was writing for the Daily News then, and with John Harper, then the beat writer for the Post, we collaborated on what we believed would be a diary of a championship summer. The editors at Random House figured this team couldn't miss, not with a free agent star like Bonilla, a future Hall of Famer like Eddie Murray and three starting pitchers (Gooden, Cone and Bret Saberhagen) who either had or would win a Cy Young Award.
Trouble was, this team had none of the impenetrable confidence of their Eighties predecessors. The '92 Mets had plenty of paper-talent but were otherwise empty; for all their dreams of dominance, they were only a game over .500 on June 1. That's when the bottom fell out. The Mets lost 37 of 58 games in July and August, at which point the book had done a 180-degree turn.
"We need a new theme," said our editor, David Rosenthal. He was a die-hard Met fan who went on to become executive vice president and publisher of Simon and Schuster's adult trade division. Then, as now, Rosenthal had a sense of what would sell.
"The book is going to be about how much the Mets suck and why. And here's the title."
He paused for effect.
"The Worst Team Money Could Buy."
It was a catchy and fitting phrase. And it was easy enough to document; Harper and I wrote alternating chapters as a diary of the failed summer of 1992, flashing back to the better days in the Eighties. More than anything, though, "Worst Team" was a look at the not-so-glorious life of a baseball writer, and how the likes of Murray and Bonilla and Vince Coleman and Jeff Torborg had taken the fun out of being around the Mets.
We delivered the book to Random House in November of 1992, with the release date scheduled for the first week of April, 1993. That spring, Harper had joined the Daily News and was assigned to the Yankees, which meant I was the book's sole representative in Port St. Lucie. In the final days of camp, I told Torborg what was coming.
"This book is tough but fair," I said. "So don't take any of it personally."
Torborg thanked me.
"I know how this business goes," he said. "I appreciate the heads up."
Turns out Torborg wasn't so appreciative, not after reading that he'd lost control of the team within the first few weeks of the '92 season, and that he was afraid to stand up to Murray and Bonilla. Torborg found it easier to demonize the press than assert authority on his own. He did just that after "Worst Team" was released.
How did I know? Because before the second home game of the season, I was greeted in the clubhouse by this salvo.
"Look who just walked in, motherf-----. Hey, Bobby, why don't you s--- my d---? But don't take it personally."
It was Bonilla, repeating the last words I'd said to Torborg.
"That's right, you heard me, motherf-----. But, hey, don't take it personally."
It was a set-up plotted by Torborg and GM Al Harazin. Bonilla would later admit to Peter Gammons he'd never actually read the book, but that didn't matter. He'd been stoked up by the team's elders, now ready to act as their muscle.
Mets' publicist Jay Horwitz quickly realized there was an explosive situation on his hands. He closed the clubhouse, although he couldn't promise a cease-fire. Throughout the ensuing game against the Astros - which Dwight Gooden lost - my colleagues kept asking, "Are you going back down there?"
I had to. I had no choice. To do otherwise would be caving in to the Mets' intimidation tactics. If I bailed now, I could never set foot in that clubhouse again. So after the last out I trudged downstairs, taking a final deep breath as I pushed past the door.
Bonilla was waiting.
"Whattya know, the motherf-----'s back," he bellowed. Bonilla was standing across the room, knowing I'd have to walk towards him to get to Gooden. He and Doc had lockers only a few feet apart.
What followed was the most brutal 10 minutes of my professional life. I was part of a group of reporters interviewing Gooden, listening to Bonilla taunt me.
"Come on, motherf-----, make your move," he said. "I know you're feeling the itch. Make your move."
Bonilla was staring me down; I could feel eyes lasering through me as I asked Gooden a question. Doc and I had been friends since his rookie year in 1984 and I knew he was caught in a terrible quandary. He wanted to shut Bonilla up, but he knew he couldn't reprimand a teammate in public. Poor Doc. He was so unnerved he started brushing his scalp while answering questions - even though he was completely bald, having shaved his head a week earlier.
Meanwhile, Bonilla persisted, growing more menacing by the minute.
"Make your move, Bobby," he said. "Cause I'll hurt you."
I looked at Bonilla and asked, "Are you threatening me?"
"It's like the home boys say back home: we just chillin," he said with a street-snicker. And with that, Bonilla swiped a radio-microphone out of his face. The eruption was coming, although Bonilla didn't realize a NY-1 camera had been trained on him all along. This confrontation, which Bonilla thought would forever be our ugly little secret, would soon be all over ESPN.
The tipping point was when Bonilla called me a c--t. I'd already heard enough insults, but that one I couldn't allow. I put my notebook in my back pocket, circled around the group at Gooden's locker and got into Bonilla's face. Nothing - no one - was between us.
"You want to fight me?" I said. It was a question and a challenge, both. Bonilla, who stood 6-4, 240 pounds, had me by four inches and 50 pounds. I didn't like my chances, but if he wanted to go, I gave him the opening.
Bonilla did nothing.
Instead, he waited until clubhouse manager Charlie Samuels rushed to separate us. Horwitz and two other clubbies crossed the room in another eye blink. By then, it was obvious no punches would be thrown, although Bonilla was again shouting at me, telling me, "I'll show you the Bronx right here, motherf-----."
Looking back, I realized the whole episode was designed to embarrass and scare me, not to actually break my face. There was a line Bonilla knew he couldn't cross and - lucky for both of us - he didn't. It was an awful rest of the summer; the Mets kept losing, Torborg got fired and the few Mets who were brave enough to talk to me had to make sure the coast was clear in case Murray was nearby.
As for Bonilla, we didn't speak for six long years. It took Bobby Valentine to finally broker a peace treaty. When Bonilla returned to the Mets in 1999, he told the rightfielder he wouldn't tolerate any wars in his clubhouse. Valentine encouraged me to make the first move. It was in Port St. Lucie that I finally approached Bonilla. Once again, I took a deep breath, but to my surprise, it was Bonilla who broke the ice.
"Sometimes, you wish you could do things differently, do them over," Bonilla said. "But you can't. So you move on."
And with that, he offered his hand. It was as close to an apology as Bonilla would ever get, so we shook. Life with the Mets has improved ever since: from Al Leiter to Mike Piazza to David Wright, the stream of good guys has made it fun to be at Shea again.
The era of sex-and-drugs and juicy quotes is over, but so is the dark age. I'll take that trade-off.
Bob Klapisch has covered baseball in New York for the New York Post, New York Daily News and, most recently, The Bergen Record and ESPN.com. He is the author of five books, including "The Worst Team Money Could Buy" (Random House). His work has appeared in Sports Illustrated, Men's Journal, FHM and The Sporting News.
Klapisch, who pitched at Columbia University, still throws for the Hackensack Troasts in the semi-professional North Jersey Majors-Met League. He lives in Westwood, N.J. with his wife and two children.
Stats You Won't Find in Your Sunday Newspaper
Remember when we used to wait until the Sunday newspaper arrived to get all of our in-season baseball statistics? My, have times changed. We are now able to track play-by-play (or even pitch-by-pitch) stats in real time. We can sort 'em and slice and dice 'em to our heart's desire.
Although not on the cutting edge in terms of the delivery, Baseball Analysts is proud to present the Quad and K/100P every Sunday morning. The Quad categories (OBP, SLG, times on base, and total bases) are nothing new but thinking in terms of these four basic measures and combining them to gain an appreciation of both counting and rate stats is our primary purpose in presenting the leaders at the bottom of the sidebar on the left each week.
The K/100P is much more innovative. It does a better job of correlating with runs allowed than K/9 or K/BF. Pitchers who rank high in K/100P tend to prevent runs at an even greater clip than league leaders in the other strikeout measures. To the extent that there is a discrepancy between what K/100P shows and, say, ERA, it usually means that a pitcher may be the beneficiary or victim of a small sample size, home ballpark, team defense, bullpen, or luck. Betting that K/100P and number of runs allowed will converge over time makes more sense than ignoring such disparities.
Herewith are the leaders in the Quad and K/100P as of June 24. Let's start with the hitters first...
American League OBP: Travis Hafner, .447 SLG: Vernon Wells, .625 Jim Thome, .625 TOB: Ichiro Suzuki, 145 TB: Vernon Wells, 175
National League OBP: Bobby Abreu, .450 SLG: Albert Pujols, .751 TOB: Bobby Abreu, 143 TB: David Wright, 176
Vernon Wells and David Wright are the only non-corner outfielders, first basemen, or designated hitters leading their league in any of these four areas. Wells is atop the AL in SLG and TB, which means he is slugging better than anyone per at-bat and in total. It's one thing to lead in one or the other but all the better to do so in both.
What can you say about Wright? The 23-year-old third baseman is not only leading the majors in total bases but is second in the NL in OPS (1.018), 4th in RBI (64), 5th in SLG (.612), 6th in AVG (.339), 9th in OBP (.406), and 10th in HR (18).
For what it's worth, here are Wright's projected full-year stats:
G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB AVG OBP SLG OPS 161 629 109 213 41 7 39 139 24 .339 .406 .612 1.018
Most .300/.400/.600 guys are pretty special, especially those who play infield and can run. To wit, here is a list of all the third basemen who have reached those milestones over a full season (with a minimum of 502 plate appearances):
AGE YEAR OPS AVG OBA SLG 1 George Brett 27 1980 1.118 .390 .454 .664 2 Chipper Jones 27 1999 1.074 .319 .441 .633 3 Jim Thome 25 1996 1.062 .311 .450 .612 4 Al Rosen 29 1953 1.034 .336 .422 .613 5 Eddie Mathews 21 1953 1.033 .302 .406 .627 6 Chipper Jones 29 2001 1.032 .330 .427 .605 7 Alex Rodriguez 29 2005 1.031 .321 .421 .610 8 Ken Caminiti 33 1996 1.028 .326 .408 .621 9 Albert Pujols 21 2001 1.013 .329 .403 .610
Next, we move to the K/100P leaders. Johan Santana and Pedro Martinez have been at or near the top all year long. Let's face it, they just might be the best two pitchers in baseball. Any stat that identifies the greats should be taken seriously, especially as it relates to uncovering those who are not as well-known.
American League Johan Santana, 7.00 Jeremy Bonderman, 6.66 Scott Kazmir, 6.07
Despite a 3.82 ERA, I have no doubt that Jeremy Bonderman is one of the elite pitchers in the game. Always long on potential, Bonderman has arrived. The 23-year-old right-hander throws a 94-96 mph fastball and a plus breaking ball. His command has been outstanding this season, as evidenced by a career-low BB/9 (2.54) and career-highs in K/9 (8.55) and K/BB (3.36). Bonderman hasn't allowed more than two runs in any of his last four starts and struck out 12 batters in his previous two outings. [Update: Bonderman put up a 7.0-7-1-1-1-8 line vs. STL on Sunday, lowering his ERA to 3.65.]
National League Pedro Martinez, 7.33 Jake Peavy, 6.48 Dave Bush, 6.47
Dave Bush is probably the biggest surprise on either list of league leaders. Bush has been solid but not outstanding in his two-plus seasons in the big leagues. His K/100P rate would suggest that he is pitching better than his 4.64 ERA would otherwise indicate. He is among the top ten in the NL in IP (104.2), K (86), and WHIP (1.17). Bush throws strikes and his out pitch is a big hook. Dave's only downfall is a higher-than-desirable career HR/9 rate of 1.17. He has pitched better at home (4-2, 3.16) than on the road (0-4, 7.14).
If Bush is available in your fantasy league on the cheap because of his mediocre W-L record and ERA, then I would advise trading for him before these stats converge with his much more telling K/100P rate.
Numerous Castles Among This Year's Rooks
As the season approaches the halfway point, I thought it would be instructive to check out how the rookies have performed in both the American and National Leagues. What I found of most interest is the fact that the AL seems to have the upper hand when it comes to pitchers and the NL with respect to hitters.
In total, there is a lot of talent in both leagues. The Rookie of the Year races are wide open but seem to be limited to the pitchers in the AL and the hitters in the NL.
Let's take a look at the stats through the conclusion of most games on Wednesday, June 21. I'll start off with the group that may be the weakest of the four.
AL ROOKIE HITTING STATS (Min. 100 PA)
PLAYER TEAM AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB AVG OBP SLG OPS Mike Napoli LAA 93 19 27 5 0 7 15 2 18 .290 .416 .570 .986 Ian Kinsler Tex 94 16 30 7 1 5 21 2 10 .319 .385 .574 .960 Kenji Johjima Sea 221 28 60 13 0 5 29 0 11 .271 .321 .398 .719 Melky Cabrera NYY 133 21 33 4 1 1 16 2 20 .248 .351 .316 .666 Brandon Fahey Bal 108 16 29 1 1 2 16 2 4 .269 .307 .352 .659 Kendry Morales LAA 101 10 23 4 0 3 11 1 7 .228 .278 .356 .634 Nick Markakis Bal 181 21 42 7 1 2 16 0 19 .232 .312 .315 .627 Brian Anderson CWS 152 22 27 5 0 5 18 2 19 .178 .274 .309 .583
Ian Kinsler and Mike Napoli are the only rookies in the American League enjoying standout seasons. Kinsler, who turns 24 today, dislocated his left thumb in early April and missed more than six weeks. He slugged two home runs in his first game back and has gone deep twice since, giving the second baseman a total of five in less than 100 AB.
Napoli began the year at Triple-A Salt Lake and didn't make his MLB debut until May 4 when he became the 92nd player to homer in his first at-bat, connecting off fellow rookie Justin Verlander of the Detroit Tigers. The 24-year-old catcher, who led the Texas and California leagues in home runs the previous two seasons, is number one among AL rookies with seven cranks and has a superb OBP of .416.
NL ROOKIE HITTING STATS (Min. 100 PA)
PLAYER TEAM AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB AVG OBP SLG OPS Dan Uggla Fla 265 49 83 11 4 13 43 4 20 .313 .366 .532 .899 Prince Fielder Mil 258 35 76 20 1 14 40 5 23 .295 .351 .543 .894 Russell Martin LA 132 20 40 8 2 4 27 0 15 .303 .376 .485 .861 Mike Jacobs Fla 212 25 58 17 0 10 38 2 30 .274 .365 .495 .860 Andre Ethier LA 112 15 33 6 1 4 15 1 10 .295 .360 .473 .833 Josh Willingham Fla 195 20 52 13 0 9 34 1 22 .267 .351 .472 .823 Willy Aybar LA 106 14 29 9 0 3 20 1 12 .274 .364 .443 .807 Ryan Zimmerman Was 270 37 75 20 1 10 46 5 23 .278 .333 .470 .804 Jeremy Hermida Fla 98 14 26 7 1 2 8 2 14 .265 .368 .418 .787 Ronny Paulino Pit 171 17 54 9 0 2 15 0 15 .316 .369 .404 .772 Conor Jackson Ari 198 30 52 11 0 6 38 0 28 .263 .355 .409 .764 Hanley Ramirez Fla 251 52 67 16 5 3 20 20 25 .267 .338 .406 .745 Josh Barfield SD 231 30 58 11 2 4 19 8 11 .251 .287 .368 .655 Nate McLouth Pit 176 31 39 10 0 3 9 8 14 .222 .292 .330 .622 Re. Abercrombie Fla 170 23 37 10 1 3 14 3 14 .218 .280 .341 .621
The Marlins have six rookies playing everyday. Dan Uggla has not only been Florida's best first-year player but is in a good position to earn NL Rookie of the Year honors. Not as heralded as teammates Jeremy Hermida, Mike Jacobs, Hanley Ramirez, or Josh Willingham, the 26-year-old second baseman is leading NL rookies in hits (83), batting average (.313), and OPS (.899).
Hermida was on the disabled list with a right hip flexor from April 18 to May 23. The 22-year-old outfielder is starting to play well, going 16-for-55 with six doubles in June (including a walk in each of his last five games).
Hitting only .177 on May 7, Jacobs has turned his season around and raised his average by nearly 100 points. The 25-year-old first baseman is hitting .404/.456/.750 in June. He has slugged 24 doubles and 21 home runs in 312 career at-bats. However, Mike's value may be limited to a platoon role unless he begins to hit LHP better than the .122/.204/.204 line he has put up in 2006.
Ramirez got off to a hot start but is just 2-for-40 in his last 11 games. The toolsy shortstop was batting .344 on May 22 but has had only one two-hit game in the past month. Although ripping LHP to the tune of .396/.482/.688, he is hitting just .236/.302/.340 vs. RHP. To his credit, Ramirez is seventh in the NL in pitches per plate appearance (4.13) and has drawn a walk 9% of the time.
Willingham was placed on the 15-day disabled list last week, retroactive to June 7, with a left hand injury. He could be activated today. The 27-year-old left fielder went yard in his last two games. Call yourself fortunate if you have him as a catcher on your fantasy team.
Aside from the Marlins, the Dodgers are playing the most rookies in the NL this year. Willy Aybar, who was recently sent back to Las Vegas despite hitting .274/.364/.443, Andre Ethier (.295/.360/.473), and Russell Martin (.303/.376/.485) have already exceeded 100 plate appearances while Matt Kemp slugged seven HR in his first 15 games in the big leagues and is now an everday fixture in the starting lineup.
Prince Fielder and Ryan Zimmerman are also vying for NL ROY honors. Fielder and Zimmerman gave glimpses of what was to come last year when the Milwaukee first baseman hit .288 with two HR in 59 AB and the Washington third sacker batted .397 with 10 doubles in only 20 games. They have each slammed 20 two baggers this year. The 22-year-old Fielder leads all rookies with 14 HR and the 21-year-old Zimmerman sits atop the RBI leaderboard with 46.
AL ROOKIE PITCHING STATS (Min. 25 IP)
PLAYER TEAM IP H R ER BB SO W L SV ERA WHIP K/9 K/BB Jon Papelbon Bos 35.2 19 1 1 4 35 1 1 23 0.25 0.64 8.83 8.75 Jered Weaver LAA 26.1 16 5 4 4 22 4 0 0 1.37 0.76 7.52 5.50 Zach Miner Det 26.0 19 8 6 7 13 3 1 0 2.08 1.00 4.50 1.86 Fran. Liriano Min 58.1 47 14 14 17 67 6 1 1 2.16 1.10 10.34 3.94 Joel Zumaya Det 35.1 19 9 9 17 45 3 0 1 2.29 1.02 11.46 2.65 James Shields TB 30.0 32 10 10 10 27 4 0 0 3.00 1.40 8.10 2.70 Bobby Jenks CWS 29.2 26 10 10 9 36 2 1 20 3.03 1.18 10.92 4.00 Sendy Rleal Bal 31.2 28 13 11 17 12 1 1 0 3.13 1.42 3.41 0.71 Justin Verlander Det 89.2 84 34 32 28 53 8 4 0 3.21 1.25 5.32 1.89 John Rheinecker Tex 30.0 38 12 12 5 16 2 1 0 3.60 1.43 4.80 3.20 Bobby Keppel KC 29.2 32 12 12 12 15 0 3 0 3.64 1.48 4.55 1.25 Ruddy Lugo TB 42.1 36 18 18 20 24 1 5 0 3.83 1.32 5.10 1.20 Casey Janssen Tor 62.0 62 33 31 12 32 5 5 0 4.50 1.19 4.65 2.67 Jake Woods Sea 29.1 25 17 16 19 25 1 1 1 4.91 1.50 7.67 1.32 Fausto Carmona Cle 31.0 32 17 17 10 25 1 2 0 4.94 1.34 7.47 2.60 John Koronka Tex 81.0 89 45 45 30 38 5 4 0 5.00 1.47 4.22 1.27 Boof Bonser Min 26.1 30 17 17 8 22 1 1 0 5.81 1.44 7.52 2.75
What can you say about the rookie pitchers in the AL? Francisco Liriano, Jonathan Papelbon, Justin Verlander, Jered Weaver, and Joel Zumaya have been lights out thus far. In fact, Liriano and Papelbon have been so dominant that either one could wind up winning the Cy Young Award almost as easily as Rookie of the Year. The 22-year-old Liriano (6-1, 2.16 ERA) makes his seventh start of the year tonight against a guy named Roger Clemens. Set your DVR now.
Papelbon (1-1, 0.25, and 23 saves) has been the best closer in either league during the first three months of the current campaign. The 25-year-old RHP has allowed only 24 baserunners and one run in 36 innings of work. Opponents are hitting--if you can call it that--.153/.186/.185 against him.
Verlander and Zumaya, both of whom can hit triple digits on the radar gun, are two reasons why the Detroit Tigers have the best record in baseball. Verlander, 23, has won eight games and ranks fifth in the AL in ERA (3.21). The 21-year-old Zumaya lost his first game of the year last night but has struck out 45 batters in 35.2 IP while leading the league in holds with 17.
Weaver made his MLB debut on May 27 and proceeded to beat the Baltimore Orioles, Cleveland Indians, Tampa Bay Devil Rays, and Kansas City Royals in his first four starts before managing to get sent back down to the minors on June 17. The 23-year-old RHP didn't allow more than five hits, two walks, or two runs in any game while limiting opponents to an OPS of .489 or .047 lower than the worst-hitting regular in the majors this year.
James Shields is off to a fantastic start. The 24-year-old won his fourth game without a loss last night and has yet to give up a home run in 30 innings while inducing twice as many groundballs as flyballs. Shields has a major-league quality changeup and could be a solid starter if he continues to command his fastball the way he has this month.
Bobby Jenks (2-1, 3.03 ERA, 20 saves) has been among the best closers in the league this year. The hard-throwing righthander earned his fame last fall when he helped the White Sox win their first World Series championship since 1917.
Boston's Jon Lester and Craig Hansen are two prized prospects to keep close tabs on, and Cleveland's Jeremy Sowers will be making his MLB debut against the Cincinnati Reds on Sunday. The latter was 8-1 with a 1.27 ERA for Buffalo. The 23-year-old Sowers was 14-4 with a 2.37 ERA at three levels in his first season of professional baseball last year.
NL ROOKIE PITCHING STATS (Min. 25 IP)
PLAYER TEAM IP H R ER BB SO W L SV ERA WHIP K/9 K/BB Takashi Saito LA 34.2 20 7 7 8 45 3 2 4 1.82 0.81 11.68 5.63 Josh Johnson Fla 67.0 53 21 15 32 59 6 4 0 2.01 1.27 7.93 1.84 Ramon Ramirez Col 31.0 18 8 8 6 31 2 1 0 2.32 0.77 9.00 5.17 Brian Sweeney SD 34.1 32 10 9 11 12 2 0 1 2.36 1.25 3.15 1.09 Adam Wainwright StL 33.2 22 9 9 6 28 2 1 1 2.41 0.83 7.49 4.67 Shawn Hill Was 26.0 22 8 7 9 12 1 1 0 2.42 1.19 4.15 1.33 Jonathan Broxton LA 26.2 20 9 8 12 34 1 0 0 2.70 1.20 11.48 2.83 Brian Bannister NYM 28.0 22 9 9 17 14 2 0 0 2.89 1.39 4.50 0.82 Alay Soler NYM 33.0 25 13 11 13 19 2 1 0 3.00 1.15 5.18 1.46 Ken Ray Atl 32.2 26 11 11 15 23 0 0 4 3.03 1.26 6.34 1.53 Ricky Nolasco Fla 53.0 56 24 18 16 41 5 3 0 3.06 1.36 6.96 2.56 Mike O'Connor Was 63.0 46 28 24 29 44 3 4 0 3.43 1.19 6.29 1.52 Enrique Gonzalez Ari 27.0 19 11 11 6 21 2 0 0 3.67 0.93 7.00 3.50 Clay Hensley SD 80.0 69 36 36 35 38 4 5 0 4.05 1.30 4.27 1.09 Matt Capps Pit 35.2 37 17 17 5 28 2 1 0 4.29 1.18 7.07 5.60 Jose Capellan Mil 38.2 33 20 19 13 29 2 0 0 4.42 1.19 6.75 2.23 Paul Maholm Pit 82.0 101 42 41 41 56 2 5 0 4.50 1.73 6.15 1.37 Mike Thompson SD 39.0 42 22 20 10 17 3 2 0 4.62 1.33 3.92 1.70 Scott Olsen Fla 67.0 60 38 35 29 58 6 3 0 4.70 1.33 7.79 2.00 Fernando Nieve Hou 65.0 64 35 34 20 42 2 3 0 4.71 1.29 5.82 2.10 Matt Cain SF 77.0 66 45 41 34 62 6 5 0 4.79 1.30 7.25 1.82 Cole Hamels Phi 25.2 22 15 14 14 25 1 2 0 4.91 1.40 8.77 1.79 Sean Marshall ChC 76.0 70 42 42 36 50 4 5 0 4.97 1.39 5.92 1.39 Angel Guzman ChC 25.1 24 18 16 20 29 0 2 0 5.68 1.74 10.30 1.45 Taylor Buchholz Hou 77.1 78 52 50 19 47 4 6 0 5.82 1.25 5.47 2.47
Josh Johnson (6-4, 2.01 ERA) and Takashi Saito (3-2, 1.82, 4 saves) have been the top-performing rookie starter and reliever, respectively, in the NL this year. The 22-year-old Johnson began the season in the bullpen and didn't earn his first start until May. He hasn't allowed over three runs in any game and has held the opposition to no more than two runs in eight of his nine starts. Johnson has struck out almost 8 per 9 IP while giving up just two homers over the course of 67 frames.
While it is hard to think of the 36-year-old veteran of Japanese baseball a rookie, Saito qualifies as a first-year player here in the States. He has performed admirably as both a set-up man and closer for the Dodgers. The RHP is averaging 11.7 Ks per 9 while limiting opponents to a .168/.219/.277 hitting line.
In the department of the best of the rest, Matt Cain, as a whole, hasn't pitched up to expectations yet but nearly tossed a no-hitter against the Angels in his last start to go along with a one-hit shutout vs. the A's a month ago. The 21-year-old has a huge ceiling and could wind up as the best of the lot five or ten years from now. Chad Billingsley, Cole Hamels, and Anthony Reyes are three other rookie starters to watch closely.
My sense is that 2006 is going to be remembered as a year in which a number of great--not good--players began their MLB careers.
[Additional reader comments and retorts at Baseball Primer.]
"The Chicago Cubs have traded the 13th pick in the 2006 Major League draft to the Boston Red Sox, in addition to their fifth round selection for the Red Sox 28th and 44th overall picks. With the 13th pick in the 2006 draft, the Red Sox select Daniel Bard, a righthander from the University of North Carolina."
In a perfect world, Bud Selig would have stepped up to ESPN's microphone in New York with those words on June 6. The Cubs would have then gone on to take Jeff Samardzija with the 28th pick, and Tyler Colvin in the 44th slot. Boston, at 27, would have still landed their man, Jason Place.
And you know what? No pundit would have complained.
Thanks to a series of questionable free agent signings the previous winter, the Cubs entered their first Tim Wilken-led draft without a second, third or fourth round selection. The Cubs were staring right at one talented player, and then waiting 136 to start shooting darts at fringe picks.
It is then, you can bet, that Wilken analyzed the market. He realized the player he liked in the first round - assuming certain players didn't fall - would slip: there had been eight million dollar associations with his name. As the draft neared, Wilken realized the player his eyes had fallen in love would be around at 149.
Suddenly, thanks to baseball's lackluster slotting system, the Cubs were eyeing two perceived talents instead of one. Budget concerns would limit Wilken in the 13-hole; he would have to pick a player willing to sign for "slot." The Cubs had set aside quite a bit of money for the fifth round; they couldn't afford top dollar at 13.
As far as slot players, Wilken had a favorite, too. Maybe it's true - that even if money wasn't an issue, Tyler Colvin would have been the Cubs man. But, ignoring that, it's fairly obvious (in hindsight) that a belief in Jeff Samardzija triggered the selection of Colvin. Wilken saw the market, planned for it, and in return, got his men.
The public has torn apart the Cubs draft, both the philosophy behind it as well as the individual players. After recently reading enough to reach my boiling point, I wanted to make one fact clear: criticizing a draft before any player takes the field is laughable. Doing so is to disrespect trained professionals. Scouts know far more in the days before, during and after draft day than writers could ever aspire to.
If a scout takes a player higher than expected, intelligent criticism is usually lacking. A journalist's job, in this situation, should be instead to search for the reason the scout fell more in love with the player than his peers. In a recent article at Baseball America, we find out a snippet of what attracted the Cubs to Samardzija:
Cubs scouting director Tim Wilken indicated the Cubs and Orioles both saw Samardzija at his best in an outing during the Big East Conference tournament. Wilken said Samardzija repeatedly pumped his fastball into the 97-99 mph range, up significantly from the regular season, when he sat in the 91-94 mph range. Samardzija showed a much better slider in that outing, using a higher arm slot to stay on top of the pitch better.
Those that criticize the Samardzija signing likely didn't see Jeff that day. If they did, it was likely without the Stalker radar readings the Cubs had access to.
Frustration about the draft needs to be properly channeled - to those in charge of the process. The way in which the draft is currently run, without any real foresight, is ludicrous. Not only has baseball prolonged an opportunity at a successful venture, but they have made success less likely by creating a poor product. The intrigue of a good draft is in the trades, in the order of the players go ... arranged by talent. Baseball offers no trades, and the draft order is sometimes as dependent upon bonus demands as talent.
Until we see changes -- which might be forced to wait until a commissioner change -- than we cannot properly have a draft day grading system. The readers want it, but to do so would be foolish. In a battle of baseball wit, a scout beats a writer.
I do, however, believe that you can rate a draft as being good. In doing so, a writer should either applaud the philosophy behind the draft, or the selection of certain players due to personal experience. I recently praised the Washington Nationals draft, and have told some I think it's the best draft in the Majors. Am I a big believer in Chris Marrero, Colten Willems or Sean Black? No, not especially. But for the Nats, a team yet to find an identity, a rebuilding process is essential. Spending four picks on players that were considered top round talent, even when calculating their risks, is a smart way to approach the draft.
So they get credit from me. I also loved the Boston Red Sox draft, but for a different reason. I had been present to watch Daniel Bard in his regional start, and afterwards, I believed. Bard threw in the mid 90s with ease that I didn't see in many young pitchers, and his breaking pitch was close. I was bound to like the draft of whoever selected him. When the Red Sox added Masterson, their "grade" was sealed in my eyes. I also believed in Kent Bonham's analysis on this site, and that analysis makes Masterson's case so clear.
Those are two examples of being supportive towards draft classes. In neither case did I disagree with a scouting director, a professional of infinite more training and resources. Clapping your hands at a golf course is acceptable, loudly booing is not.
For the record, I am not a Jeff Samardzija believer. While I understand the praises he draws for his body, athleticism and make-up, that isn't enough for me. I would argue his name has been built up through a football forum, and that besides a fastball that lights up radar guns, he offers little else on the field. And I didn't rank Tyler Colvin in my draft day top 40. Part of it was probably oversight, but there is very little about the outfielder that jumps out at you. Nothing, definitively nothing, screams first rounder.
But, it just doesn't make sense to bash the Cubs draft. Even if you don't believe, Tim Wilken and his staff does. Wilken is among the most respected directors in the business, as much a part of the Blue Jays success this season as any non-player around the team. I don't see Samardzija and think $7.25 million is a sensible number, but under what authority do I have to criticize Wilken? Question the organization, fine, but don't condemn them.
Until baseball makes changes at the top, we can't sufficiently give teams post-draft grades. Simple. I think we can opine who made out the best, but without trades and a more sensible slotting system, we can't pick out the worst.
Scouts have done more for the game of baseball than any other profession. Behind every player is a scouting story, a believer that wasn't surprised the day they reached the Major Leagues. I can rest in my armchair and praise the Giants for grabbing Lance Salsgiver in the 39th round -- I mean, he hit well in the Cape! -- but is it logical to bash 29 other teams for not taking him in the 38th?
Tim Wilken (and co.) made a draft day gamble that Samardzija and Colvin (and trust me, in that order) represent first and second round value. We can disagree, but at some point, you have to respect that they believe enough to back their bet with more than eight million dollars.
It's more likely than not that Jeff Samardzija never lives up to his $7.25 million billing. That the Cubs hear a lot of "I told you so"s for his draft. Until Jim Hendry has the option to trade down, or we have numerical evidence to support it, we simply can't fault his staff for taking the guys they believe in right now.
With each box score and every game, the search continues. The next breakout prospect. We try to look under every rock to find them, with some analyzing nearly every prospect en route to saying, "I knew about this guy first."
While that search drives prospect mavens, I'm not sure we spend enough time on the opposite. Each season, dozens of prospects take giant steps back. Failure is the name of minor league baseball; most prospects never see time in the Majors. So rather than address those players moving backwards, we discard them for the flavor of the week.
I don't have scouting information on these guys, so I couldn't tell you the exact cause for 2006 concern. But after scouring through league statistics, and beginning to rework my top 75 for the midseason ranking, here are 8 guys in danger of slipping:
Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C - Atlanta Braves: .210/.319/.320.
We didn't see this coming. Saltalamacchia flew up prospect lists last season when he showed a good amount of hitting in one of the minors' most difficult hitters parks. Myrtle Beach is hellish on bats, and while AA Mississippi is no cake walk, we should have been seeing improvements upon 2005 numbers, not this giant step back. The word has continued to be that Jarrod has altered his focus to defense this season, but it would be unfortunate if this came at the expense of his bat.
Brian McCann is very well thought of in Atlanta, and their slew of young catching was always considered a good problem. Because, at worst, if one of the players didn't make it, another player would be on the horizon. McCann seems to have made it in Atlanta, while Salty seems clueless in AA. He could turn things around with a good second half and a big 2007, but he didn't capitalize upon his opportunity to become a top ten prospect and push past McCann.
Thomas Diamond, SP - Texas Rangers: 4.19 ERA, 81 K / 45 BB.
In actuality, Diamond's numbers are not that bad this season. His prospect status is not in the toilet, his Major League hopes are still strong. But they aren't unchanged. After his dominant run through the Cal League in 2005, harder times were met in Frisco. The reason: increased walks, to the tune of a 4.96 BB/9, the highest of his career. Until now. After walking just 44 players in his first three stops, spanning nearly 130 innings, Diamond has 45 walks in 66.2 innings this season. His current 6.08 BB/9 matches the number he put up as a freshman at New Orleans.
Diamond has continued to show good stuff, not allowing very many hits and still maintaining a good strike out rate. But with his pitcher's body, we used to project a future innings eater with ease. However, in a season where pitching prospects are graduating to the Majors at huge rates, Diamond has been unable to capitalize and become one of the better prospects left. Instead, he's made us wonder: are we looking at a future reliever?
Eric Duncan, 1B - New York Yankees: .209/.279/.255.
Note the numbers listed above is just Duncan's performance in AAA, where he spent the beginning of the season before a demotion two weeks ago. Back in AA, Duncan is still relatively young for the league, but he has seen Eastern League pitching a time or two. Duncan has not had a very good season in 2 years, but salvaged his prospect status last season with a good showing in the Arizona Fall League. There are different theories as to why he hit so well there, but with this season, that should all be forgotten.
The most disconcerting of Duncan's numbers this year is his Isolated Power, which wasn't even .050 in more than 100 at-bats in Columbus. We worry that Delmon Young hasn't really shown any power in 2006, but what about Duncan? While he has hit two home runs and four doubles since being demoted, where were the hard hit balls in Columbus? Always a prospect whose stock was actively watched by those on the trade market, expect other organizations to pass on Duncan this season.
Garrett Mock, SP - Arizona Diamondbacks: 4.92 ERA, 79 K / 34 BB.
Mock represents one of the stones that I turned in the search for breakout prospects; regrettably, he was on my preseason breakout list. One of the Cal League's most prolific strikeout arms last season, Mock's numbers were depleted by horrible hit rates that I opined was caused by his .334 BABIP. While some of that may be true, it is now clearer that Mock is just pretty darn hittable, as his H/9 is approaching 10 again this season. Excuses can be made in California, but if we consider AA to be the litmus test, Mock has failed thus far.
Also lending to some problems this season are some new found control problems. Mock's 34 walks this season are one more than his total from last season, over 174.1 innings. I liked Garrett because if the BABIP rate ever went his way, it seemed as if all the other pieces were in place. Good control, the ability to strike guys out and consume innings. But when one of those disappears, and Mock continues to be hit, his prospect status fades. The Diamondbacks newfound pitching focus could very well leave Mock in the dust.
Wes Bankston, 1B - Tampa Bay Devil Rays: .295/.342/.429.
Surely, I will get hate mail for making this my Devil Ray selection. However, I just don't see that Delmon Young or Elijah Dukes has a depleted prospect status. Dukes, in fact, was really rising up my list before his latest suspension. And Young just hasn't been able to play baseball, until yesterday, so let's wait a little while before we give up on these guys for make-up issues. Instead, let's focus on the situation of Wes Bankston, who has not quite turned a corner in AA Montgomery.
Tampa didn't like that Bankston only offered the first base position for managers, so in Spring Training, the team thought to try him at the hot corner. While it looked, at times, like he might take to the position, the conversion overall didn't go so well. This is a first baseman. However, this season, he isn't showing the power or patience of one. While, granted, injuries have limited Bankston's productivity this season; we haven't seen enough promise of a future above-average corner player. Unfortunately for Bankston, his bat had been all he had left.
Chris Volstad, SP - Florida Marlins: 4.05 ERA, 65 K / 20 BB.
Before last season's draft, I watched all the video and heard the reports. I was convinced Volstad was the top prep pitcher in the draft, all 6-7 of him. But now, not even three months into the season, I'm not sure Mark Pawelek (not yet to throw a pitch) isn't the better prospect. Volstad doesn't even have top honors on his team, though the Greensboro rotation does rival the best low-A rotations ever. 'Polish' is an odd term in ranking prospects, and one that comes up often with players that have good control. Volstad, it will be said, has good polish.
But then why, I might ask, is Volstad not a polished-enough pitcher to prevent so many hits? Why are his strikeout numbers already in the toilet? The stuff is the same as it ever was, for the most part. But perhaps the fastball has straightened out, or his curve has not proven to be an out pitch. Whether it is Volstad's approach to hitters or his movement, big changes need to be made this winter. His cache of the first prep pitcher from the 2005 draft will lengthen his half-life, even if his peers go running past during that time.
Brad Harman, SS - Philadelphia Phillies: .237/.326/.310.
Another breakout selection, another misstep. After the World Baseball Classic, my opinion of Harman had reached an all-time high. I have no doubt that, had I revised my prospect rankings then, I would have found a place for him in the honorable mention. However, it seems like I really missed the boat with this kid. After leading the Australian team in hitting before they were ousted, Harman has been unable to hit in the Florida State League this season. Doing so is an uneasy task for a player with Harman's limited profile, but there really isn't much to pick from as positive here.
Harman has shown very little power, even of the gap variety, with just 13 extra=base hits this season. His 51 strikeouts are on their way to triple digits, lending to a batting average that has needed some recent success to climb from the Mendoza line. Defensive question marks continue to surround the Aussie. All that's left is a good walk rate, enough for a hope that his bat returns in the Eastern League. Harman is too young for his prospect status to be dead, but considering it was never very alive in world's outside of my brain, this season has really been a struggle.
Tyler Clippard, SP - New York Yankees: 5.16 ERA, 68 K / 28 BB.
Things have been a struggle for Clippard this season, his ERA higher than his hit rate suggests that it should be. The reason, as we have learned from the Hardball Times extensive coverage on the batted ball, is that EL hitters are likely hitting the ball very hard. We always knew that Clippard had a good curveball, a pitch that has always been enough to garner a good amount of strikeouts. We knew he always had good control, lending to positive walk rates for much of his career. Put those together, and many people thought you had the start of a pitching prospect.
But it's hard to be truly successful without a fastball. Clippard is a solid young pitcher, and his good control helps, but there just isn't enough juice on the fastball. It is going to, consistently, get hit hard. Add in the fact that a curveball-happy pitcher tends to hang a lot of pitches, and Clippard's future doesn't shine so bright. Like Duncan, you can bet Clippard won't be the most sought after Yankee prospect this July.
Angels Option Jered Weaver to Salt Lake
Breaking News: The Angels just announced that Jered Weaver has been sent back down to the Salt Lake Bees, the team's Triple-A affiliate in the Pacific Coast League. Bartolo Colon was activated and will start on Sunday.
The five-man rotation will be comprised of Colon, Kelvim Escobar, John Lackey, Ervin Santana, and Jeff Weaver. The older Weaver started on Friday night and pitched a solid game, striking out nine batters without allowing a walk. Poor defense once again lost it for the Halos as Weaver, Dallas McPherson, Juan Rivera, Adam Kennedy, and Mike Napoli made errors or failed to make fairly routine plays.
Jered was interviewed after the game and seemed rather downcast despite saying all the right things. I'm on record as stating that sending Weaver down is nothing more than the easy way out. You don't mess with a prized prospect who has won four games in his first four starts while fashioning a 1.37 ERA. Going to a six-man rotation, as unconventional as that might seem, would make more sense than demoting Weaver.
Look for the Angels to deal the older Weaver, if at all possible, or Santana within the next few weeks in order to get another bat in the lineup and free up a spot in the rotation for Jered. That said, I'm not in favor of swapping Santana for Carl Crawford unless the latter can handle center field adequately. He doesn't make sense as a left fielder because playing him there would force Garret Anderson into a full-time role as a designated hitter, which then limits the team's ability to find at-bats for Tim Salmon this year and either Kendry Morales or Casey Kotchman next year.
Put me in charge and I would keep Jered and Santana in the rotation, even if it means using six starters on a temporary basis. I would also trade Kennedy in order to make room for Howie Kendrick. If the Angels come up short this year, so be it. But I'm of the belief that Jered, Ervin, Howie, and perhaps Shea Hillenbrand give the team a better chance to win now.
Next year, you're looking at a rotation of Colon, Escobar, Lackey, Santana, and Jered Weaver. If Colon is healthy, I would be willing to put up that fivesome versus any other group of starters in the majors. The Halos can fix their offense by applying the $24 million now going to the likes of Jeff Weaver, Darin Erstad, and Steve Finley/Edgardo Alfonzo toward two heavy-duty hitters. This is a ballclub, if run properly, that could contend for the World Series championship as early as next year.
Longer term, Nick Adenhart is in a great position to replace Colon in 2008 after Bartolo's contract runs out. Brandon Wood will reach the majors sometime in 2007 and figures to be one of the league's elite bats at shortstop or third base for many years to come. Erick Aybar is on the cusp of being ready to play every day in the majors and could be used as trade bait or as a valuable reserve middle infielder while awaiting Orlando Cabrera's departure in two years.
Of a more immediate nature, Jered Weaver will need to pack his suitcase and catch a plane flight from Orange County to Salt Lake on Saturday. He will face the Las Vegas 51s on Sunday or Monday rather than the San Diego Padres, the team that should have drafted him in 2004.
Back to Omaha
Last weekend offered the finest college baseball has to offer. If the sport ever needs a selling point, last weekend may have been that.
No game better shows this than the second game of the UNC-Bama super regional. Freshman Tommy Hunter had shut down the Tar Heels for 7 innings, allowing just two runs and giving his club a 4-2 lead. He was over 90 pitches, nearing in on 100, and stupidly, he was left in the game. After allowing two baserunners, North Carolina first baseman Chad Flack hit a three run home run, ruining both Hunter's day and stat line.
But the Tide was not to be outdone, as they had their own heroics when down 6-4 in the ninth. With UNC closer Andrew Carignan in the game, who had previously allowed just one extra-base hit, the home team quickly got two baserunners on. And then freshman Alex Avila provided his own heroics, giving Bama a go-ahead home run in the most dramatic of ways.
Well, not quite the most dramatic. That honor belongs to Flack, who in the bottom of the ninth hit his second home run of the game, a two-run shot that walked the Heels off and into Omaha. Such a dramatic ending has not been seen on a mainstream stage in a long time; in fact, few endings rival that game's madness.
College baseball has a lot to offer, and drama might be at the top. Please readers, this weekend watch the College World Series, as it will provide as much intrigue in a couple days as the MLB playoffs will in a month. For those just entering collegiate baseball fandom, here's a quick primer of the team's involved...
Best Position Player: Cole Gillespie.
Best Pitcher: Jonah Nickerson.
Largest Strength: Top-heavy pitching staff. Arms rule in Omaha, and if that proves true, the Beavers are in a position to succeed. While I chose Nickerson as the Beavers' best arm, it's close, with Dallas Buck and Kevin Gunderson all close. Not only are all three good arms and battle-tested, but they have the experience of pitching in games of this kind; Oregon State is the lone team returning to Omaha after 2005.
Beyond the big three pitchers, the third starter (Gunderson is the closer), Mike Stutes is really good. As is the club's set-up man, Eddie Kunz. With these five pitchers, the Beavers will always be a danger to whomever they face. If they can advance to the championship series, these five become the reason they should be favored.
Largest weakness: Depth. Head coach Pat Casey deserves all the credit in the world for Oregon State's two year run, developing a program where people weren't sure it could be developed. This is no small feat. Because of this big turnaround and top-heavy team, Casey's recruiting has only been able to go so far. The five pitchers mentioned were much of the reason for the team's relatively low 3.43 team ERA, and pitched about 75% of the club's innings. Will five guys pitch the Beavers to victory?
In addition to this, we don't know if Oregon State has the bat's to contend. Their .130 ISO is the lowest of the eight teams, edging fellow West Coast club Cal State Fullerton. While Cole Gillespie had an award-winning season, what else is there to offer? Barney, Rowe and Canham are all good, but if that's all, you have to worry about this team's chances at hitting into a championship.
Best Position Player: Jemile Weeks.
Best Pitcher: Chris Perez.
Largest Strength: Momentum. Miami was not considered a team likely to advance to Omaha, and they enter as the largest underdogs. While the other 7 teams are in Boyd Nation's top 10 in ISR, Miami stands at 23. Since winning just one game in the ACC tournament, the Hurricanes have won five of their last 6, outscoring their opponents 59-28 during that stretch. If any team is happy to be here, it's Miami.
And that isn't to say they don't have the talent to be here. Their team batting average is third of the club's that advanced, and their .239 opponents' average against is nothing to laugh at. They basically stand in the middle of most of the categories, but at the top of none. Jon Jay, Weeks and Perez provide star power to a team that could make for the best storyline of the tournament.
Largest weakness: Starting pitching. The team knows who is getting the ball in the first inning in Omaha, they just don't know if they can trust them. The combination of Carlos Gutierrez, Manny Miguelez and Scott Maine made 53 starts this year, the rest of the team just 10. However, it isn't as if they particularly earned their spots, combining for a 4.44 ERA. Their jobs are easy: get the ball to Danny Gil and Chris Perez. Their ability to do so will dictate their success.
Best Position Player: Joey Side.
Best Pitcher: Josh Fields.
Largest Strength: Umm ... perhaps hitting? While Miami is the biggest surprise in Omaha, Georgia might receive my vote for the least talented team. While they get points for a high team batting average, the club's .384 OBP is among the lowest in Omaha. Their .169 ISO is in the middle of the pack. More than anything else, Georgia has a middle of the order that is very dangerous, including Side and Josh Morris. Pitching around these two players will be essential for every club, as after that, Gordon Beckham (freshman) might be the only bat that can truly hurt you.
Georgia got through a good group to get here, so they do belong. I'm just not sure they'll contend.
Largest weakness: Pitching, pitching, pitching, by a long shot. This club has the worst ERA (4.76) and opponents' average (.277) left in the tournament, which doesn't bode well for a first round match-up with Rice. There are some good names at the top, notably Josh Fields and Rip Warren, two relievers primarily in the bullpen. Junior Brooks Brown gained some first round interest this June, but his collegiate results have been up and down. If he gets hot, his arm is in the mix too.
After that, however, things get ugly. The problem is the team will throw Brown against Rice in the opener, a game in which they are substantial (and deservedly) underdogs. After that, what will they have left in the tank for game two, presumably against Miami? Perhaps Warren gets the start, but if not, there is not a single exciting option on the team.
Best Position Player: Josh Rodriguez.
Best Pitcher: Eddie Degerman.
Largest Strength: Hard to pick, but it's the plethora of bats this team throws at you. Their .931 team OPS is the highest in Omaha, and choosing Rodriguez as the top hitter was no easy question. Beyond Rodriguez, the Owls also offer Brian Friday, Joe Savery, Aaron Luna and Greg Buchanan. Top to bottom the order is talented, and in the middle, it's damn near impossible to pitch to. This team hits, hits and hits all-day long, and they might do so to the championship.
Oh, and the pitching is pretty good, too. No two arms in the tournament have had better seasons statistically than Degerman and closer Cole St. Clair, who sports a .144 average against. A senior, expect Degerman's arm to get tested hard in this tournament, as he will pitch early and often. If you remember Jason Windsor's CWS workload, expect Degerman to get in the neighborhood in this tournament.
Largest weakness: Pitching depth? It's truly hard to find a flaw in this team, they have done so well all season long against a tough schedule. They win every weekend series. And while I chose the depth in the staff, other starters Craig Crow and Bobby Bell are really good, going 16-1 on the season. For me, the tournament's wild card is Joe Savery, sophomore two-way player that hasn't been thrown very often this season.
For a college that normally wears out top arms, it is strange that Savery only has 62 innings under his belt? The southpaw is superbly talented, but the Owls' reservations about his workload should make Rice fans wonder when he pitches in big situations.
Best Position Player: Josh Horton.
Best Pitcher: Andrew Miller.
Largest Strength: Dangerous starters. Everything out of Chapel Hill this spring has been about the Tar Heels' awesome trio of pitchers: Miller, Dan Bard and Robert Woodard. Miller won Baseball America's Player of the Year, and was the consensus top player available in the 2006 draft. His talents were on display last weekend against Alabama, proving that if Miller controls his fastball, North Carolina will win that game. Bard's inconsistency and Woodard's fringe stuff pose question marks, but both can pitch the Tar Heels to victory. If these three mesh at the right time, North Carolina could have an easy path.
Note that the team can also hit, as their .324 batting average is the best in Omaha. They have done so at a fantastic rate recently, scoring 62 runs in their five-game winning streak; 12.4 runs per game! The club is led by .400 hitter Josh Horton, but Chad Flack's amazing super regional performance has him coming in with the gold star. Those two, along with Jay Cox, create a lot of problems for opposing pitching staffs.
Largest weakness: Inconsistency. And a lot of it. The Tar Heels may be the team most prone to concentration lapses in Omaha; their 86 errors are good for second in the tournament. Horton is the culprit of 23 himself, and problems in the middle infield showed in Fayetteville. The staff also has problems with consistency, and Bard is a good example of that. In the second game of the super regional, head coach Mike Fox pulled the first round arm quickly, when it became apparent it wasn't one of his good days. None of those things can happen against teams like Fullerton or Clemson, so UNC must be on their best behavior.
Cal State Fullerton
Best Position Player: Blake Davis.
Best Pitcher: Wes Roemer.
Largest Strength: As opposed to North Carolina, Fullerton plays absolute mistake-free baseball. Their 54 team errors are the lowest in the tournament, and 28 less than the next lowest team on the left side of the bracket. They also don't walk people, handing out just 120 free passes on the season. Ace Wes Roemer leads the way with just 6 in 141.2 innings, but the club's top three starters combine for just 51. You have to beat them, they won't beat themselves.
In addition, the number of veterans on this club is astounding. Danny Dorn and Brett Pill might not make for great pro prospects, but with their experience, this team has good veteran leadership. Normally a discounted strength, these types of things play huge roles in Omaha.
Largest weakness: I worry about the offense this team will generate, especially when going against Andrew Miller and, potentially, Clemson's #2 option. They hit for a pretty high average, but there really isn't very much power to speak of. Furthermore, they don't walk very much, as their IsOD is the lowest in the tournament. Can this team really depend off three consecutive singles off Miller and guys like Jason Berken, Bard and the other good pitchers in the tournament? Without one guy with a double-digit home run total, this problem might become the focal point this weekend.
Best Position Player: Matt Wieters.
Best Pitcher: Umm? Matt Wieters? Nah, Lee Hyde?
Largest Strength: Wow, this team can hit. Just three teams in Omaha have .400 OBPs, and Tech's .420 is the highest. They are also one of just two teams with a .500 slugging, sitting at .501. There is a lot of terror in this lineup, with five players that hit 11 or more home runs. The group is led by two-way sophomore Wieters, the catcher/closer and the best at drawing walks and hitting the long ball. But if you pitch around Wieters, you meet a lot more bats, like redshirt senior Jeff Kindel, and juniors Wes Hodges and Whit Robbins. The amount of hitting this team can produce, and did produce against College of Charleston, is pretty astounding.
Largest weakness: Football scores should be the expectation in GTech games, as the defense and pitching is both atrocious. The club's 94 errors are an Omaha high, and their .275 average against is right up there with Georgia's. Blake Wood was an overdraft by the Royals in the recent draft, but then looked great in his super regional start. If he pitches as he's capable to do, as he showed in the Cape, Tech becomes a much better team. But outside of Wood, Hyde and Wieters, is there a single arm the Tech staff should be comfortable putting on the mound.
The answer, no, will be their downfall.
Best Position Player: Tyler Colvin.
Best Pitcher: Stephen Faris.
Largest Strength: This club is very much like Oregon State, because they do everything pretty darn well, and in fact, better than the Beavers in all areas. Offensively, Colvin proved why he was a first round choice last weekend, hitting a walk-off grand slam. Colvin's ability to steal bases is one the whole team shares, their 101 stolen bases are an Omaha high, and they do so at better than an 80% clip. Other than Colvin, Andy D'Alessio is the most powerful player on the team, and Taylor Harbin is one of the more talented second basemen left in this tournament.
The pitchers are good too, led by three starters: Faris, Jason Berken, Josh Cribb. These players combined for 49 starts, but weren't overworked, with no one going over 100 innings. This is because the team offers a good bullpen to hand the ball to, led by closer Daniel Moskos.
Largest weakness: I'm going to pick on the staff, even though they don't deserve it. The Tigers have proven they can pitch with anyone this season, and their starters don't walk people, which is always a plus. But if ever there is a group of talent that rivals pro ball, it's in Omaha. And the Clemson staff just doesn't have a lot of high-profiling pro prospects; it wouldn't surprise me if they got hit. But I'm going to stop now, because I'm truly nitpicking. Really, there isn't a lot about this team that went wrong in 2006.
And now, for the predictions, which have not been going particularly well for me this tournament...
Right Side of the Bracket: Oregon State. Depth is a concern for me, but I wouldn't be shocked if they have just enough arms to win the tournament. If they beat Miami in the opener, you have to like their second pitcher over what Rice has to offer, and at 2-0, the Beavers would then be in the driver's seat. Rice is the easy pick, but I think the Beavers ride continues.
Left Side of the Bracket: North Carolina. The opening round match-up between Miller and Roemer is one of the best in recent Omaha history, and I believe the winner of this game wins this side of the bracket. I'm picking Miller and the hot North Carolina bats, who shouldn't be too fazed by Roemer's good-not-great stuff.
College World Series Champs: UNC. I picked them in the preseason, and they beat the team (Alabama) that I picked at the beginning of this tournament handily. A nice going out for Miller and Bard, a nice coming out for Horton and Flack.
The Real Kings of Dodger Stadium
After reading Rich's piece about his alma mater, Lakewood High winning its fifth CIF Southern Section baseball title, I asked him if I could get equal time for my alma mater, John F. Kennedy High of Granada Hills. The Cougars won their seventh Los Angeles City section title on May 27 with a surprising 4-2 win over Chatsworth High at Dodger Stadium. Kennedy tied John C. Fremont High for the most Los Angeles City titles overall.
For those of you from outside of California, the organization that runs high school athletics in the state, the California Interscholastic Federation, is divided into ten sections. They are nowhere close to being equal in size. The Southern Section is the largest in terms of population and area and covers schools in places like Anza, Lee Vining, Edwards Air Force Base, San Luis Obispo, and even Lakewood. It contains both public and private schools. The Los Angeles City Section consists of all the schools that are members of the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). Depending upon the sport, there are around 50-60 schools competing for the title.
Kennedy High opened in 1971 in order to take care of the booming population in the north end of the San Fernando Valley. The LAUSD drew up a district for it that included upper middle class neighborhoods at the very northern edge of the city of Los Angeles as well as more working class neighborhoods in Lake View Terrace and Pacoima. But in the 1970s and 1980s, the school drew most of its students who lived in areas that were right at the median income level, like my family. I grew up just four blocks away from the school. The 118 Freeway (it's changed its name a lot since I was a kid, right now it's the Ronald Reagan Freeway) overpass was about halfway between my home and school.
Although it was a new school, Kennedy quickly developed a good reputation in sports, especially in baseball. The area was loaded with youth baseball leagues and the school had a wealth of talent to draw from. A team from Granada Hills won the Little League World Series back in 1964.
By the 1970s, the balance of power in high school baseball had shifted from schools like Fremont, Dorsey, and Venice, and moved to the San Fernando Valley, where it has remained mostly unchallenged for over 35 years. From 1973 through 2006, only one team from outside the San Fernando Valley, San Pedro High in 1992, has won the Los Angeles City high school championship.
1973 was a big year for baseball in the Los Angeles City section. You could see three future Hall of Famers playing in Robin Yount (Taft), Eddie Murray (Locke), and Ozzie Smith (also of Locke), but it was upstart Kennedy (in just its second season) that made it to the final at Dodger Stadium to take on Sylmar. Both teams had already faced off three times in regular season play.
The teams went to extra innings tied 1-1. Kennedy took a 2-1 lead in the top of the eighth on a single from future major leaguer Jim Anderson. Kennedy starter Jeff Jens retired the first two batters in the bottom of the eighth, but a walk and a hit led to Sylmar tying the game. Sylmar would win the game in the bottom of the ninth.
Jim Anderson would be the first Kennedy player to reach the majors when the Angels called him up in 1978 at the age of 21. His career highlight was more of a footnote. In Game 4 of the 1979 ALCS, the Angels trailed Baltimore 3-0 in the fifth inning. The Angels had loaded the bases with one out and Anderson came to bat. He scorched a hard grounder down the third base line that Doug DeCinces of the Orioles managed to smother. DeCinces stepped on third and then gunned out Anderson for a double play. Baltimore went on to win to 8-0 and went to the World Series. DeCinces had attended James Monroe High, a rival of Kennedy in nearby Sepulveda (now called North Hills.)
Kennedy won its first City championship in 1981 with a 4-2 win over Banning High of Wilmington. The team featured a battery of two future major leaguers in Jeff Wetherby (he didn't pitch as a pro) and catcher Phil Lombardi. Wetherby was once featured in Sports Illustrated because he was the only hitter at the time who had a career batting average of 1.000 against Greg Maddux and that hit was a home run to boot.
1985 would be Kennedy's next appearance in the City championship game and they faced Banning again. And they won again, 10-9, on a walkoff homer by Kevin Farlow, who hit a fly ball down the left field line that traveled about 331 feet.
When Kennedy next played in the championship, the coach was Manny Alvarado. In his first year on the job, he led Kennedy to its third City championship, defeating Palisades 4-3. One of Kennedy's players that year was outfielder Garret Anderson, whom most people viewed as a basketball star who was bound for Fresno State. But the Angels drafted him soon after the season ended and Anderson made it up to Anaheim in 1994.
Alvarado led Kennedy to the City championship game in 1995 and 1996 with his most talented teams. He had two players who would make it to the majors in outfielder Terrmel Sledge and pitcher Jon Garland. Kennedy beat Carson 3-1 in 1995 and Poly High of Sun Valley, 5-4 in 1996. Despite Garland's status as a top prospect, he didn't pitch in either championship game as he was an underclassman and Alvarado opted to start an older pitcher, Derek Morse in each game.
Garland almost pitched Kennedy to a third consecutive title in 1997. Kennedy reached the semifinals that season and faced Banning. The semifinal was the day before the final and section rules stipulated that a pitcher could not throw more than 10 innings in a week. So Alvarado opted to hold out Garland for the final. But it backfired as Banning upset Kennedy in the semis. Garland would get his chance to pitch in a big game when White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen had him start games in last year's ALCS and World Series.
Alvarado got Kennedy to the final again in 2000 though. But the Cougars were underdogs to El Camino Real High of Woodland Hills, which featured Conor Jackson. Kennedy trailed 2-1 going into the seventh. Kennedy tied the game on a sacrifice fly and then went ahead on a 2-run triple by Eric Moore. The 4-2 win was Kennedy's sixth title.
Despite the 2000 championship, Chatsworth High was starting to develop a powerhouse squad. The school's program seemed to crank out college players and draft picks every year. They won the City title in 1999, 2001, 2003, and 2004 (going 35-0 that season). El Camino Real upset Chatsworth in the 2005 championship game.
The 2006 season was supposed to be just a prelude to a Chatsworth-El Camino Real title game. Kennedy had a solid season, winning its league, but had still lost 10 games. Like all of Alvarado's teams, it had solid pitching (an ERA under 1.50) and an offense that was good at executing with runners on base. At the high school level, small ball is much more prevalent and more effective as runs tend to be scarcer.
Kennedy was the #3 seed behind Chatsworth and El Camino Real. Kennedy faced El Camino Real in the semis and shocked them 3-2 to set up a faceoff with Chatsworth at Dodger Stadium. Both teams had won six titles.
Chatsworth led 1-0 after five, but Kennedy rallied for four runs in the sixth, its entire offense for the day, and held on for a shocking 4-2 win. Alvarado was now 5-0 in City championship games and Kennedy was 7-1 overall. Including consolation games, Kennedy has won 9 of 10 at Dodger Stadium.
A few days after the championship, Alvarado and some of his players appeared on a local Fox Sports show on prep sports. Co-host Lindsay Soto asked if the win over Chatsworth would make Kennedy "one of the powerhouses in City baseball." Alvarado politely responded, "I think we've done pretty well already."
Bob Timmermann, Kennedy High Class of 1983, has seen his alma mater win the City Championship four times and saw Phil Lombardi and Jeff Wetherby both play in a game at Shea Stadium on July 20, 1989. He writes at The Griddle.
There is no such thing as a pitching prospect. With the recent graduation of one of the minors' top classes of phenoms in recent memory, a phrase normally left for hyperbole is becoming all-but-too literal.
This winter, prospect pundits made cases for their annual pick of baseball's best pitching prospect, selecting from a group of four: Francisco Liriano, Matt Cain, Chad Billingsley and Justin Verlander. All had very good arguments; any choice was defensible.
In my rankings, which were in the very order listed above, I had four other pitchers joining the elite group to comprise a top tier: Jon Lester, Scott Olsen, Jon Papelbon and Joel Zumaya. Even the biggest skeptic could agree that there was such thing as a baseball prospect: there were eight of them.
When the season started, it became quickly obvious the list was missing one name, Cole Hamels. The lefthander proved healthy and dominant in the early going, erasing any previous concern and flying up prospect lists. Hamels' meteoric rise was capped with a call-up to the big leagues, gone before we could properly rank him.
If reports are correct, as of this Thursday, baseball's entire first tier of pitching prospects will have gone the way of Hamels. Jon Lester's Red Sox debut came last Saturday; Chad Billingsley is set to start tomorrow. Baseball may have never had such an accomplished group of graduated pitching prospects.
Unsurprisingly, as a whole, the 8-some is achieving huge Major League success. Jon Papelbon is the American League's best reliever, and Francisco Liriano its hottest starter. Joel Zumaya hit 102 mph on the gun this weekend, while teammate Justin Verlander has been in that velocity's neighborhood late into plenty of games.
This weekend, I received an e-mail with a simple question that, now, I can no longer answer. "Who is the best pitching prospect in the minors?" A week ago, I would have mindlessly answered Billingsley, who had been pitching well in one of the minor leagues' toughest parks for pitchers. Lester, I would have noted, a close second, bouncing back exceptionally from his third slow start in as many years.
Not only is it near impossible to peg a top arm name right now, it's quite difficult to even find a top tier. Players in this group should profile as All-Stars, top of the rotation arms or ace relievers. Scanning through the minor leagues, players that fit this category are few and far between.
So while I do believe a pitching-laden draft in 2006, and next year's loaded class will bring the minor league pitching back to its glory, there is no time to complain like the present. With that said, here is a list of the names that floated in my head for top dog, creating by default a (pitiful) top tier. In absolutely no particular order:
Certainly, other names can make arguments for this list. I considered dozens of other pitchers, and when asked, I'll explain my reasoning for not including every one in the comments. It won't be long before this list is useless, before the 2006 draft starts to make it obsolete. Because, for all we know, at this point next year the best argument might be made for someone like Kyle Drabek. Such is the uncertainty with the great mystery of the pitching prospect.
Stuck in the Mud
Rarely is a Major League ready prospect stuck in Triple-A an indictment of a franchise. Too often a good player finds himself blocked, with a good player or a big contract in his way. While these players become cornerstones to AAA franchises and minor league icons, we are left wondering about what they could do in the right situation.
For some reason, this year there seems to be an abundance of such circumstances, so today we will go exploring. Ladies and gentleman, jumping right into things, your Minor League All-Blocked Team:
First Base: Scott Thorman, Braves
I don't believe that Adam LaRoche is at the heart of the Atlanta Braves' problems. This year, Dave's son has provided the Braves with plenty of power, posting an Isolated Power of nearly .250. However, the power has come at the expense of his batting average, as his ISO is equivalent to his average. The reason? Poor contact skills, as LaRoche is striking out in more than 20% of his plate appearances.
Enter Thorman. While handing the everyday spot to him would be accepting some loss in terms of power (his ISO is only about .240 in AAA), it would help in the on-base percentage column. Thorman's reduced strikeout numbers would help get more batting average from the position, and while Thorman doesn't walk at LaRoche's rate, he does so at an acceptable pace; his OBP is .049 points higher than LaRoche's, albeit at a lower level.
Given his recent home run hot streak, which has helped double his home run rate over two weeks, the Braves would be best suited to try the flavor of the week. If that doesn't work, perhaps a trade would.
Second Base: Asdrubal Cabrera, Mariners
All right, all right, I know Cabrera isn't blocked yet. At .252/.341/.392, Cabrera has done little to prove he's ready for the Major Leagues. But he's 20, a defensive stallion, and right around the corner. The problem: the freakish .483 SLG emergence of Jose Lopez. Some people may have seen Lopez coming, but not me.
So with the Mariners' future middle infield already turning the double play in Seattle, Cabrera is left without a light at the end of his tunnel. Supremely talented, Cabrera has been unaffected by Seattle's desperate attempt to rush him in the last two seasons.
If anyone on this list deserves a midseason trade, it's Cabrera, one of baseball's best prospects a stat sheet has never heard of.
Shortstop: Jason Bartlett, Twins
.259/.305/.341. "Led" by Juan Castro, and his -6.2 VORP, this is the production Minnesota is receiving from the shortstop position. These numbers would be substantially lower if not for an odd, out-of-character season from Nick Punto, who is holding up the position's numbers in half the at-bats. The solution? Stick with the original plan.
The Twins weren't sure what they got in Jason Bartlett when they acquired him for Brian Buchanan, but like many of Terry Ryan's trades, it became quickly clear that Minnesota came out on the better end. Years later, that's still true, though the Twins have shown a vast reluctance to make Bartlett their full-time shortstop.
Currently 26, Bartlett is hitting .306/.328/.445 in Triple-A. Obviously, he isn't a star shortstop; he never walks and shows gap power at best. However, Bartlett represents a vast improvement over Castro and Punto. This is a point that pundits universally agree on, now it's the Twins turn.
Third Base: Josh Fields, White Sox
After his horrendous 2005 season, Josh Fields exited the prospect radar. At the age of 22, the athletic third baseman hit just .252/.341/.409 in the Southern League, striking out 142 times in the process. We assumed that Fields' power potential would never outweigh his inability to make contact. So far, so wrong.
This season, Fields has been other-worldly, hitting .343/.432/.599. Strikeouts? Still excessive, 63 in 207 at-bats, meaning the Sox prospect is sporting a .449 BABIP. So, we know that the numbers are coming down. But even when they reach a middle ground between last year and this season, Fields will be a worthy bargaining chip for a team dedicated to Joe Crede. The Oklahoma State quarterback offers fantastic power, a lot of patience, and tons of athleticism.
Even with the strikeouts, in the next nine months, some team will bite at Josh Fields. And, no matter how you slice it, any post-2005 impression is likely to be left in the dust.
Outfield: David Murphy, Red Sox; Chris Denorfia, Reds; Nelson Cruz, Brewers
Over the winter, I answered a few questions over at soxprospects.com. When asked about David Murphy, I returned this response:
I like Murphy a lot more than your average guy. In 2005, this is a player that struggled very, very badly out of the gate. So much so, in fact, that after 48 games he was hitting an abysmal .218/.278/.303, striking out in 24.2% of his at-bats. There was nothing to like. Then, however, something clicked in Murphy, as he finished the season hitting .304/.374/.495 the rest of the way, this time striking out just 13.5% of the time. Talk about a different player. The one I like to see is the second one, a centerfielder with good contact skills and solid pop with just enough speed and patience. However, David can't let slow starts continually bog him down. I like Murphy more than an Adam Stern or Bubba Crosby, and at worst, he should be a fourth outfielder in the Majors.
Murphy has continued his hot-hitting ways into this season, improving upon his AA numbers after a promotion to Pawtucket. The former Baylor outfielder has struck out just seven times in 16 Triple-A games, while hitting 11 extra-base hits. Theo Epstein's first round pick is starting to look a lot more like a late bloomer than a bust, fittingly months after the Red Sox committed their centerfield future to Coco Crisp. Hopefully, Murphy's hot start won't go unnoticed around the deadline.
Nelson Cruz is in the opposite situation. No, not just because he was a player I frowned upon, but also because the Brewers have a spot opening for him. With Carlos Lee's impending trade from the organization, the hot-hitting Cruz should see a promotion. However, right now, the big outfielder is ready and sizzling. Cruz is on pace for a 30-30 season, with 14 home runs and 13 steals through 61 games in Nashville. Cruz is the rare example of a guy on this list that could, if things break as expected, be awaiting a full-time position by season's end.
This is not true for Chris Denorfia, as unjust as things might be. With the Reds offseason dealing, a spot should have opened up for Denorfia, with Adam Dunn moving to first base. However, an infatuation with Scott Hatteberg unexpectedly arose, and Denorfia was again pushed back to Triple-A. He has thrived in Louisville, improving upon last year's performance, striking out just 20 times in 182 at-bats. Denorfia doesn't have fantastic upside, but he represents the type of all-around solid player that the Reds, or teams trading with them, should not value lightly.
Starting Pitchers: Abe Alvarez, Red Sox; Rich Hill, Cubs; Joe Saunders, Angels; Evan MacLane, Mets; Dana Eveland, Brewers
Notice a trend? This group of southpaws is not one known to light up radar guns (Eveland excluded), but each has discovered a road to AAA success. Hill has his curveball, Saunders keeps the ball down, Alvarez attacks hitters. Whatever the formula, is has worked; as a group, they have a 2.37 ERA in 289 AAA innings this season.
The other thing they have in common (MacLane exluded), is a series of failures in the Majors. As a foursome, in 118.2 Major League innings, 108 earned runs have crossed the plate. So, trust me, it's hard to make an argument that a group of (generally) crafty southpaws belong in a league in which they have proved inadequate.
Maybe the answer is obvious, and the group is simply the left side of a Quad-A All-Star team. Perhaps a journey through AAA, a la Les Walrond, awaits each. But I'm not giving up quite so easily.
Obviously, Rich Hill needs a change in scenery. Wrigley Field has been his nightmare, the home of too many walks and home runs. And though his trade value is depleted, lefthanders with his strikeout numbers and his curveball are a wanted commodity.
Alvarez and Saunders are another pair of likely trade candidates, due to a combination of depth and surroundings. Fenway Park is not the right stomping ground for a bulldog lefty, and with (when healthy) enough depth, the Red Sox could stand to lose Alvarez. Plenty of other clubs would improve upon adding him; if Jim Parque was on his way to forging a Major League career (pre-injury), there is a spot for Alvarez.
Salt Lake is a proven pitcher's nightmare, yet no one has bothered to tell Saunders. When keeping the ball down, he might be able to succeed anywhere. However, the Angels aren't able to allow him to do so in Los Angeles; keeping Jered Weaver in the five-man is problem enough. Saunders is well on the second-tier in one of the game's most loaded farm systems, allowing some team to jump at his low stock while they can.
As for the other two, Eveland and MacLane, I don't see any reason why their organization must change. Eveland has proven his rotund body is best suited for the rotation, not the bullpen role to which he was slated in 2005. While his five starts this season went to hell, Dana simply needs more chances in an organization with time to give it. As for MacLane, he isn't quite ready yet, just as the Mets rotation isn't ready for him. However, when the likes of Steve Trachsel and El Duque fade into the darkness, even with the presence of Alay Soler and Mike Pelfrey, there should be a back-end spot open for MacLane.
Again, I'm not predicting this group offers a single Cy Young, All-Star, or deserving innings-eater. But, given an insane amount of success in the minors' highest level, they represent five southpaws with potential success indicators. Somewhere, this should mean something.
Relief Pitcher: Pat Neshek, Twins
Aaron Gleeman recently put together a better argument for Neshek than I could. In that Gleeman piece you will see Neshek's delivery, which while unconventional, spells death for right-handed hitters. He comes at hitters from an odd angle and in the strike zone - control has never been a problem. His one caveat has always been the lefthanded hitter, or the home run, or best yet, a combination of the two: the lefthanded home run.
The Twins bullpen is not, particularly, a problem: Joe Nathan and Juan Rincon shutting things down late have led to an aggregate 3.54 ERA. However, every bullpen has its' Achilles, and for Minnesota, Jesse Crain is it. The former top relief prospect has been awful in the Majors, and probably deserved to follow fellow Cougar Ryan Wagner's path back to the minors. In his spot should come Neshek, who would need a bad case of dead arm to not improve upon the .395/.418/.592 line that RH hitters have lit Crain up for in 2006.
By protecting Neshek from the Rule 5 draft this winter, the Twins indicated they have a potential commodity in Neshek. Now, more than ever, is their time to cash in.
Yes, our All-Blocked team is without a catcher, but Mike Rivera didn't fit the bill and Ryan Garko's catching days are long gone. And not only is Carlos Marmol unblocked, but he's on the mound these days. As far as finding a universal solution goes, to harp on an annual Jim Callis theme, we must bring up the idea of prospect-for-prospect trading. So much uncertainty is unlikely to be traded, but that can't help us from dreaming (Thorman for Bartlett, Cabrera and friends for Elijah Dukes ... the possibilities are endless!).
However, if we are keeping dreams realistic, go to bed tonight with deadline deals involving the Murphys, Hills, and Nesheks of the world as players to be named later dancing in your head.
The Weekend That Was
Major League Baseball took a backseat on the sporting scene this past weekend. The World Cup. The French Open. The Belmont Stakes. (Did Jazil win the French Open and Nadal the Belmont Stakes or was it the other way around?) The LPGA championship. The NBA Finals. The Stanley Cup. Heck, baseball fans could even enjoy the Super Regionals on The Road to Omaha.
Oh, and let's not forget the Arena Football League's championship. You know, the ArenaBowl (yes, it is one word). There's nothing like football in June. Indoors. Aargh!
HR SB Barry Bonds 716 506 Willie Mays 660 338 Andre Dawson 438 314 Bobby Bonds 332 461 Reggie Sanders 300 302
Steve Finley is in the on-deck circle. After hitting only 47 HR in his first seven seasons, Finley has managed to go yard 299 times and steal 316 bases in a career that has now spanned 18 years.
Rickey Henderson fell three homers short of admission before retiring. That reminds me, has he called it quits yet? The man Rickey calls Rickey cleared the other requirement by 1106. Think he was any good? That's 168 more stolen bases than anyone else in the history of the game.
Among active players, Craig Biggio (266 HR and 408 SB) could be the next player to follow in Finley's footsteps. He's going to need to play at least two more years after this one though. How likely is that? Otherwise, Bobby Abreu (197 HR/251 SB), Carlos Beltran (179/220), Alex Rodriguez (442/232), and Alfonso Soriano (185/183) have a reasonable chance of reaching the 300-300 club over time. Derek Jeter (174/225) is a longshot unless he picks up the power. Let's assume he gets to 180 or so by the end of this year. He would have to average 15 per season over each of the next eight years if he exited the game when he turned 40. Possible but not probable.
And let's not rule out Julio Franco (171/274) just quite yet. At the 47-year-old's current pace of two HR per season, he should get there in about three score and four years from now.
I need to look this one up but Bobby Bonds, Sanders, and Finley may also be a part of the 300-300-300 club. Home runs. Stolen bases. Number of MLB teams.
DATE OPP IP H R ER HR BB SO GB FB TBF #Pit 6/11 Bal 7.0 1 0 0 0 2 6 9 6 23 98 6/06 @Sea 6.0 7 3 3 0 2 3 15 5 28 91 5/31 @LAA 6.0 1 0 0 0 4 4 12 1 22 105 5/26 Sea 5.0 4 0 0 0 1 6 6 4 19 83 5/19 @Mil 5.0 2 1 1 0 3 5 5 1 17 68 Totals 29.0 15 4 4 0 12 24 47 17 109 445
The Twins are 28-34 with the fourth-worst record in the A.L., yet could find themselves at the end of the year with the Rookie of the Year (Liriano), Cy Young Award winner (Johan Santana), and the batting champion (Joe Mauer). I don't think this combo bodes well for Ron Gardenhire in his quest to become the Manager of the Year.
G IP H R ER HR BB SO W-L Sv ERA WHIP AVG OBP SLG 29 30.1 15 1 1 0 4 31 1-1 20 0.30 0.63 .144 .183 .163
Clemens will make his final MiL tune-up on Friday at Round Rock against the New Orleans Zephyrs (AAA). The seven-time Cy Young Award winner is scheduled to face major-league hitters (maybe that should be singular for Mauer only) for the first time this season when he meets the Minnesota Twins in Houston on Thursday, June 22.
There's lots to look forward to this weekend. Besides Finley and his pursuit of the 300-300 club, Liriano and Papelbon doing their rookie schtick, Roger getting back in shape for when it all counts, and the College World Series, we've got the U.S. Open. Men's Professional Golf. At Winged Foot.
Now that sounds like a soccer team to me. Winged Foot. Well, at least here in the States. You know, our soccer. Everyone else's football. I agree with Scott Van Pelt of ESPN here. Wouldn't it be a lot easier if the rest of the world would call our football their soccer? That way, they'd have our football, their soccer. Our soccer, their football. So instead of having football and football, they'd have football and soccer just like us. But the reverse, you know, to avoid confusion.
Super Weekend Ahead
If college baseball needs anything to truly succeed on a larger scale, it's: 1) Cinderella stories in their postseason tournament, 2) big stars to follow. While the latter is hard to come up with given baseball's current draft system, last weekend sure provided some good team stories.
Manhattan almost had their dream regional come true, as the Jaspers nearly won their regional after shutting down Nebraska in the opener. The Cornhuskers struggled in both of their games, exiting days after their stock to win it all had been going up. Nebraska joined multiple top seeds in the ugly weekend, namely the defending champion Texas Longhorns.
Texas lost their Saturday game to a red-hot Stanford team, and then were shocked the next morning with a late-game loss to the N.C. State Wolfpack. Top seeds Oklahoma State and Kentucky both saw smaller schools -- Oral Roberts and College of Charleston, respectively -- come to play against the big boys, dominating the weekend.
And as far as most exciting goes, we had a fantastic Pepperdine regional, as Missouri rebounded from a Friday loss to the Waves to win the regional. While it looks like the seeding committee didn't do their job with so many upsets, such is the nature of college baseball. This is why, if you're smart, you'll keep your eyes glued to the TV this weekend.
So after a dismal weekend on the prediction front last week, I'm back at it again, with your Super Regional preview.
Oklahoma at Rice
Offense should be on hand this weekend in Houston, as both squads averaged more than eight runs per game in 2006. The difference maker should be that, in addition to hitting well, Rice's pitching staff had just a 3.02 ERA this season. Cross your fingers that we have an all-senior pitching match on one day, as Rice's Eddie Degerman and OU's Daniel McCutchen are an interesting pair. Degerman's odd delivery wins out in the battle, as does the whole Rice pitching staff, right down to closer Cole St. Clair.
He might not be a secret, but watch out for Joe Savery as the Owls' weapon this weekend. The future 2007 first rounder is great at the plate and on the mound, and Savery could spell the Sooners' demise this weekend. While I may have said differently last week, until Rice shows signs of weakness, it's pretty difficult to pick against them.
South Carolina at Georgia
One player I missed talking about in my draft review was Joey Side, one of the sixth round's best finds. Side was fantastic in the Bulldogs regional, hitting a home run in every big opportunity. The weekend pushed his OPS north of 1.000, and I should also mention that Side is a good defensive center fielder. Watch out for Side this weekend, who is just one of three Georgia double-digit home run hitters, along with freshman SS Gordon Beckham and first baseman Josh Morris (23 jacks!).
The Georgia offense is a deadly weapon, but the Gamecocks can hit as well. Senior outfielder Michael Campbell puts constant pressure on the defense with a fantastic contact rate, and freshman Justin Smoak does nothing but hit the ball far. Smoak is just one of a few freshman on the team, which could play a role this weekend.
The winner of the Brooks Brown-Mike Cisco match could very well determine this series, but in the end, I'll go with the club that offers the most pitching depth - SC.
Pick: South Carolina.
Miami at Mississippi
Inspired by Bill Simmons, I can hear the promotions for this series already. "Coghlan! Jay! It's Miami and Ole Miss! The Super Regional, only on ESPN U!" The two juniors are the big names of this series, but underclassmen middle infielders - freshman 2B Jemile Weeks for Miami and sophomore SS Zack Cozart for Miss - might have the bigger impact on the weekend.
In the end, I like the advantage that Miss has in the power and bullpen departments. While Chris Perez is as dangerous a player as there is in this series, the Rebels bullpen goes five players deep. If any of Mississippi's freshman starters struggle, look for the bullpen to stymie the Hurricanes.
Stanford at Oregon State
On paper, this series isn't close. Oregon State is nearly a point better than the Cardinal in ERA, and .060 points better in OPS. But while we were all anticipating an OSU-Texas Super Regional, Stanford decided to play its best baseball of the season last weekend. At its best, Stanford is a deadly team, anchored of course by second overall choice Greg Reynolds. However, this team simply doesn't have enough power and enough pitching to win.
Oregon State, at least, has the pitching. While Dallas Buck is no longer the pro prospect he once was, the junior has the pitchability to beat a lot of guys. Behind him on the staff, famously, are Jonah Nickerson and Kevin Gunderson, two top-ten round players. Oregon State is a tough team to beat at home, and led by Cole Gillespie, the Beavers will be making a return trip to Omaha at weekend's end.
Pick: Oregon State.
Oral Roberts at Clemson
I admit we didn't give Oral Roberts enough attention last week. The Golden Eagles then went out and played great baseball, led by an offense that is, on paper, better than Clemson's. Andy Bouchie is as good a hitter as we will see in this series, so look for Clemson to avoid him whenever possible. Letting Bouchie beat you would be stupid. But, if anything, Clemson has the pitching staff to beat him. Few rotations have been as productive as Faris, Berken and Cribb, and the bullpen can handle any pressure situation.
The Clemson offense is also dangerous, led by surprise first round pick Tyler Colvin. While most scouts may have thought of Colvin as a second- or third-rounder, he's a great college threat with power and fantastic baserunning instincts. The whole Clemson team is well coached on the basepaths, stealing about 1.5 bags per game at a better-than-80% clip. Clemson cruises.
College of Charleston at Georgia Tech
My prediction, not-so-bold, is that sophomore Matt Wieters will have the largest role in this series. Wieters is a fantastic player, a potential top ten pick next June, that doubles as a catcher (1.072 OPS) and reliever (2.67 ERA). But while we knew his bat and arm would both have influences, its his arm behind the plate that may define his series. If College of Charleston does anything well, it's swipe bases, going 124-for-158 on the bases this season.
While Tech's offense offers power, with five guys in double figures, Charleston will play small ball, offering the better team average and five double-digit SB runners. If the series comes down to pitching, Charleston has the advantage, especially with Nick Chigges (11-1, 1.32) on board. The club may not have faced the best talent this season, but Charleston is ready to make their move to Omaha.
Pick: College of Charleston.
Missouri at Cal State Fullerton
My predictions didn't go great last week, but if I take anything from the article, it's the Missouri-to-win prediction. The club was obviously the best fourth seed in the tournament, and they overcame a loss in Max Scherzer's start to win the regional. Kudos to coach Tim Jamieson, back-to-back complete games, and Nate Culp, the junior southpaw that pitched on Saturday and Monday. The Tigers have the arms, but perhaps not the bats, to move on.
However, Fullerton will take their arms against anyone. Cal State had just one guy over 6 home runs on the season, and a team slugging percentage of just .445. But their pitching staff has a 2.62 ERA, thanks to just 119 walks in 532 innings. Friday starter Wes Roemer was responsible for just 6 of those in 133.2 innings, and gives the Titans a decent chance to beat Scherzer.
I'd like to pick Missouri as my continued sleeper, and I'm not a huge CSUF believer, but the top seed gets it done here.
Pick: Cal State Fullerton.
North Carolina at Alabama
We end with the weekend's most exciting regional. While the Tide would be favorites in Vegas, the super regional host, it sure doesn't seem like that coming into the weekend. All people can talk about are the arms in North Carolina, and they do have them, led by (obviously) Andrew Miller and Daniel Bard. In the bullpen, watch out for Jonathan Hovis and Andrew Carignan. Quite a group.
Alabama has some good arms themselves, but the problem is, they have less experience. Tommy Hunter has first round upside, but his start should come against Bard, the more experienced pitcher. However, 'Bama gets more consistent hitting, as UNC's powerful showing in their regional was not indicative of the season they had with the bat.
Alabama was my pick to win it all a week ago, and while I had first-hand good impressions of North Carolina last week, things won't change yet.
Three and Out?
With a win over the Tampa Bay Devil Rays yesterday, Jered Weaver is now 3-0 with a 1.86 ERA. Not a bad start, ehh? A nonpartisan observer might even go so far as to say that he has earned a spot in the Angels' starting rotation with his performance thus far. Well, that person might just be wrong. You see, Bartolo Colon is scheduled to start this Sunday after spending nearly two months on the DL. The 2005 Cy Young Award winner's return means one of the members of the current rotation needs to be traded, demoted to the bullpen, or sent down to the minors.
If you were Bill Stoneman or Mike Scioscia, what would you do? Let's take a look at the numbers. The names have been deleted to protect the
G IP H R ER HR BB SO W-L ERA WHIP H/9 BB/9 K/9 3 14.0 23 14 11 3 4 9 0-2 7.07 1.93 14.79 2.57 5.79 11 67.0 77 40 29 7 17 53 5-6 3.90 1.40 10.34 2.28 7.12 12 79.1 59 32 27 8 29 62 4-3 3.06 1.11 6.69 3.29 7.03 12 73.0 67 41 35 6 18 51 5-3 4.32 1.16 8.26 2.22 6.29 12 69.0 85 53 49 15 19 40 3-8 6.39 1.51 11.09 2.48 5.22 3 19.1 11 4 4 2 3 17 3-0 1.86 0.72 5.12 1.40 7.91
I'll let you in on a little secret. The pitchers were listed in alphabetical order--Bartolo Colon, Kelvim Escobar, John Lackey, Ervin Santana, Jeff Weaver, and Jered. Remember now, which one would you NOT boot from the rotation? OK, that's what I thought. I just wanted to make sure I wasn't being biased here.
With a small sample size caveat, the younger Weaver is leading the six starters in ERA, WHIP, H/9, BB/9, and K/9. 5-for-5. A clean sweep. Whether Jered is the best starter or not might be debatable. However, what's clear is that he's not the worst starter.
I mean, why would you send Jered back to the minors at this point? Sure, he has options left. But is sending Weaver down what's best for him or the team? No way. Once a pitcher is major-league ready, it makes no sense to yank him back and forth like a yo-yo. Besides, if the name of the game is to win, who gives you a better chance at doing just that than the kid himself?
The team's future lies in the fate of Escobar, Lackey, Santana, and Weaver. Uhh, that's Jered, not Jeff. Escobar recently agreed to a three-year contract extension that secures his services through 2009. Lackey is signed through 2008 with a club option for 2009. Santana is making $350,000 and is under the control of the Angels for at least four more years. Jered is earning a prorated share of the MLB minimum salary of $327,000 in his rookie season.
Unfortunately, Colon's contract isn't tradeable unless, of course, the Angels are willing to eat a large chunk of it over the next 1 1/2 years. If the veteran RHP is healthy, he is an asset. If the big guy's not, well, he becomes a liability faster than you can say one year remaining at fourteen million dollars. The good news is that I don't think Arte Moreno needs to lie awake at night wondering if Bartolo's salary next year is going to jump to $15M with a top three finish in the 2006 Cy Young balloting.
One possible solution not being bandied about is to keep all six pitchers in the rotation. Giving Colon an extra day's rest may not be the worst thing in the world. Skipping Santana on the road from time to time is certainly justifiable given his career splits (9-3, 3.18 at home and 3-5, 7.44 away). Letting Jeff Weaver take an occasional turn could serve to increase his trade value should he return to form. Escobar, Santana, and the older Weaver could even be used in relief in between starts, strengthening a bullpen that tends to become too dependent on Scot Shields and Frankie Rodriguez for long stretches.
There are a lot of decisions that could be made here. Sending Jered back to Salt Lake at this time should not be one of them.
Morning After: Going Deep
There is more than one way to eat a Reese's, and more than one way to analyze a draft. In the coming days, I will do my best to provide as many options as I can.
In the coming days I will have a general review at SI.com, and next week, we'll start to go through the draft lists team-by-team. Today, however, I wanted to look at some of the players that were overshadowed by the big names and dramatic stories.
The top of the draft went down in crazy fashion yesterday, with the Rockies and Mariners making a pair of pretty silly choices to mix things up early. The round provided so much intrigue, but all the players were familiar names, just arranged in a different fashion. An organization's ability to go deep in a draft, to make value choices as the days go on, determines who had the best draft.
In that light, I want to spend today looking at my favorite value pick from each round. With guys dropping and reaches happening all over the place, these are twelve names I found refreshing when perusing the draft lists. We'll start our way at the top, with the familiar Eddie Bane, and end with the Yankees fantastic middle round drafting, led by Damon Oppenheimer. More to come...
Round One: Hank Conger, c, Los Angeles Angels
In most mock drafts, Conger was off the board at this choice. While I gave both Bryan Morris and Daniel Bard consideration for this space, Eddie Bane picked Conger over the two pitchers. Oh, to have been in the war room for that argument! Anyway, in a recent chat, Baseball America's John Manuel predicted Conger would be the draft's best player in five years. Conger plays the game's most premium position, and offers serious power and the ability to switch hit. The Angels didn't splash often in this draft, drawing my interest just one more time, so this was a big pick.
Supplemental First: Dave Huff, lhp, Cleveland Indians
It was important for the Indians to get a good player in this spot, their first pick of the draft. In the end, Huff got the nod over Joba Chamberlain, due to the Huskers' injury concerns. Huff's pitch count suggests he also might have future injuries, but this late in the draft, he is worth the risk. Everyone has now heard the Barry Zito comparisons, while Huff offers a plus change instead of that knee-buckling curve. He'll rise quickly in a system with a lot of southpaws (Sabathia, Lee, Sowers, Lofgren). My only concern is the inconsistency shown in the hits allowed column this spring.
Round Two: Justin Masterson, rhp, Boston Red Sox
I have spent the last two weeks on board the Masterson train, going as far to write up a capsule on him in preparation for his spot in the first round. It didn't happen, as the Sox got a steal late in the second. Here's my write-up:
A Midwest boy, Masterson was a late bloomer, leaving the prep Ohio scene for Bethel College. Dominated in his second season there, named a NAIA All-American. After committing to San Diego State, Masterson dominated in the Cape Cod League, allowing just four earned runs in 31.1 innings, striking out 39 in the process.
While Bard is a lock to be shut down before pitching again in 2006, Masterson could reasonably spend the year on a limited pitch count, getting in a little more competitive baseball. He's in the perfect organization to be monitored closely.
Supplemental Second: Mark Hamilton, 1b, St. Louis Cardinals
Unfortunately for Hamilton, being drafted here means he enters an organization for which he has no future. Fortunately, he immediately becomes the system's best power hitter, and profiles to move quickly. Hamilton would have led the nation in home runs if not for Hurricane Katrina, which kept Hamilton playing in a pitcher-friendly "home" ballpark. Earlier in the year we read about Hamilton's big power showing on Friday nights, indicating he should transfer to the next level better than power collegiate competitors Aaron Bates and Matt LaPorta. Finally, Hamilton was solid in the Cape last summer, so wood bats won't be a problem, either. Expect Hamilton to get more respect in the trade market in 2008, when he is ready for the show.
Round Three: Stephen King, ss, Washington Nationals
Guilty confession: I love, love, love the Nats draft. I know this now excludes me from future admission to any school of sabermetrics, but I'll live. Kudos to Dana Brown for a job well done, grabbing the likes of Chris Marrero, Jordan Walden, Sean Black and King. The last of the group to be drafted, Jim Callis had predicted earlier on Tuesday that he would end up going 13th overall to the Cubs. And let me tell you, if Tim Wilken likes a guy... Anwyay, King is agile and is fine at short despite a big frame that bodes well for future power. The current market inefficiencies supports high school selections, and Washington capitalized in 2006. This won't pay off right away, but on Tuesday, Jim Bowden laid a foundation.
Round Four: Ben Snyder, lhp, San Francisco Giants
Following his study for this site last week, Kent Bonham sent me a list of all pitchers he used, all of whom appeared on a Baseball America prospect list during the year. I quickly adjusted his spreadsheet, looking for the pitchers with the largest difference between ERA and AdjDERA. This should tell us which hurlers were the most lucky and unlucky this year. A couple of really interesting names showed up, and in the top 10 for most unlucky we find fourth rounders Ben Snyder and Craig Baker, taken eight picks earlier to the Rockies. Snyder gets the nod here because he throws from the left side, has four pitches, and had a very good regional weekend. His status as a draft-eligible sophomore is the only knock against him - he has most of the signability leverage.
Round Five: John Shelby, 2b, Chicago White Sox
My least favorite round of the draft today, and not only because my favorite team spent their pick on the draft's most overrated player (Samardzija). It just seems as the round was chock full of mediocre talents, with Shelby getting the nod over Chris Errecart and Kevin Gunderson thanks to his position. Bonham's analysis ranked Shelby as the draft's third-best collegiate second baseman, so the Sox had good value in this round. Choices like Shelby and Chris Getz, made a year ago, aren't sexy, and don't offer a lot of upside. But in this round, getting potential average Major Leaguers at important positions is a plus.
Round Six: Harold Mozingo, rhp, Kansas City Royals
While Ottavino was always the better pro prospect, thanks to a bigger fastball and better size, the difference between the two is not 147 picks. Mozingo was the better pitcher for most of this season, and enters the Royals system far more polished than Ottavino. Given great command and a good enough curveball to be called an out pitch, Mozingo should rise quickly. 2008 is not an unreasonable ETA. The second option for this spot was Jordan Newton, the beginning of a great middle round run by David Chadd and Dave Dambrowski, to be continued...
Round Seven: Jonah Nickerson, rhp, Detroit Tigers
Tim Norton was almost the guy here, but I wanted to give the Tigers some love. The team went really college-heavy this year, and while reaching with Bourquin and Strieby, the club had quite a few very solid picks. Nickerson fell late in this draft because he doesn't have Buck's upside or Gunderson's arm angle, but Nickerson was the most consistent of the three. The Tigers have oodles of starting pitching as a young organization right now, but Jonah could move quickly as a future member of the back end. The Tigers got Chris Cody in the next run, the Manhattan pitcher that led the Jaspers to an upset this past weekend. Good drafting.
Round Eight: Dellin Betances, rhp, New York Yankees
I passed on Norton as my seventh round choice because I knew the Yankees had nailed the 8th and 9th rounds. Betances has been telling people its Yankees or bust for quite some time, a theory New York plans to test. If Betances doesn't sign right away, he may go to St. Petursburg JC, and could end up a prime draft-and-follow candidate. Melancon would have been a first rounder if not for injury, and while mildly serious, he's too good to last much longer.
Bonham also tipped me off on another awesome ninth round pick, Nate Boman by the Angels. Labrum victim, yes, but Boman was TheMan last year. These are the types of risks teams should be taking in these late rounds.
Round Ten: Emeel Salem, of, Baltimore Orioles
What? He fell this far? In Bonham's sheet of all the hitters used in his study, Salem is seventh when ranking by Bill James' speed score. The athletic Alabama outfielder stole 32 bases this season, and plays very good defense in center. He is also a very good contact hitter, striking out less than 10% of the time during his junior season with the Tide. With Salem and Emmanuel Burriss, the Orioles landed two of the most athletic collegiate players in the draft. Final tenth round pick Blair Erickson drew consideration for this spot, as did talented football player Jared Mithcell, a high school outfielder taken by the Twins.
Live Blogging the 2006 MLB Draft
Jim Callis of Baseball America believes the Kansas City Royals will take former Tennessee ace Luke Hochevar with the first pick in the draft. If so, it would be apparent that the team has reached a pre-draft agreement with agent Scott Boras. Hochevar was selected by the Los Angeles Dodgers last year and agreed to a $2.98 million signing bonus before reneging on that deal. An amount in excess of $3 million but less than the $5 million that other #1 choices have demanded in the past is probably in the cards. Let's call it $4 million, which is still below what Boras was seeking a year ago for his client.
1. Kansas City Royals: Luke Hochevar, RHP (Fort Worth)
A top prospect in last year's draft, it was a surprise when Luke Hochevar slipped on draft day to the 40th pick, belonging to the Dodgers. Our own Rich Lederer wrote his capsule:
...Hochevar's outing on Friday didn't raise his stature in the draft. He worked eight innings and gave up five runs on nine hits while recording nine strikeouts and four walks. However, prior to that, he was considered one of the top two starters in the draft (along with Mike Pelfrey).
No, ladies and gentleman, Rich has not edited that last sentence in the last 365 days. The three million dollar bonus that Rich suggested proved to be the dividing line between the two sides, as Hochevar reneged after agreeing to a $2.98M contract.
Since then, thanks to Kent Bonham, we have learned that Hochevar may have been statistically overrated last year. His final junior stat line offers an ERA of 2.26, a number aided by context. Remove defense from the equation, and Hochevar's ERA slips to 3.69, without his park and schedule, just 3.97. Suddenly the Dodgers unwavering offer doesn't look so bad, does it?
Hochevar proved a lot with his stint in Indy ball, showing the same arm strength, and just a little less polish than his previous self. Given a year off to rest his once over-worked arm, this is forgivable.
At any spot in the top ten, Hochevar is simply a reach, lucky to have his hold-out gamble pay off. In truth he is a pitcher that belongs from 10-20 in the draft, garnering little more than slot from that position. Given his flakiness in the past, the bang is just not worth the buck with Hochevar.
2. Colorado Rockies: Greg Reynolds, RHP (Stanford)
Not one of my partner Bryan's favorite prospects, Reynolds flew up the draft boards by beating fellow Pac-10 stars Lincecum and Morrow late in the regular season and then North Carolina State in the opening game of the Texas Regional last Friday. He has pitched five complete games in his last six starts and will be extending his season when he faces the Beavers once again in the Oregon State Super Regional this weekend.
Reynolds has the size (6-7, 225) and excellent command of a fastball that sits in the low-90s, as well as a curveball that impressed me when I had the opportunity to watch his last start on TV. He throws strikes but has never been one to punch out very many hitters, as evidenced by a mediocre K/9 rate in college and in the Cape Cod League the past two summers.
3. Tampa Bay Devil Rays: Evan Longoria, 3B (Long Beach State)
Longoria slips past the Rockies and into the laps of the Devil Rays. The Cape Cod MVP last summer follows in the footsteps of Bobby Crosby and Troy Tulowitzki as the third Dirtbag infielder selected in the first round of the draft in the past six years.
Here is my scouting report from early February after watching him over a three-game weekend vs. USC:
Second-year transfer from Rio Hondo JC...Named the Cape Cod MVP after leading the league in homers (8), RBI (35), and SLG (.500) and a first team Summer All-American by Baseball America...Can play 3B, SS, or 2B...Adequate defensively...Slightly open stance with left heel off the ground...Steps into ball as it is pitched...Drives ball to all fields...Hit a long flyout that was held up by the thick air in the first inning on Friday against Kennedy...Tattooed a line drive past a diving CF for a triple in the fourth inning vs. the USC ace...Runs well for his size and is a good baserunner...Rated as the 10th-best prospect by Baseball America and is a lock to be one of the first position players drafted in June.
Longoria should fit in well with Tampa Bay's youth movement. Although some have likened him to Aaron Hill and others to Chase Utley, I think he profiles a bit like Ryan Zimmerman. At 6-2, 213 pounds, Longoria's build is similar to Zimmerman's. They both exhibit line-drive power, capable of hitting .280-.300 with 20 or more home runs. Longoria may not make quite the rush to the majors as Zimmerman did last year but could find himself in the Show at some point in 2007.
4. Pittsburgh Pirates: Brad Lincoln, RHP (Houston)
An outstanding two-way player in college, Lincoln will undoubtedly earn his keep as a pitcher at the next level. One of the many "undersized" RHP in the draft, the hard-throwing Cougar has displayed excellent command of his fastball and secondary pitches and could work his way through the minors rather quickly.
5. Seattle Mariners: Brandon Morrow, RHP (California)
After a 9.36 ERA in his sophomore season, Brandon Morrow had worked his way off a lot of follow lists. However, like so many prospects before him, Morrow was a Cape Cod League darling, quite possibly the league's best 2006 success story. Pitching in relief, Morrow dominated, striking out 24 batters in 14.2 innings, flashing a good fastball and plus splitter. Reservations about his control and starting potential carried into this spring, and were for the most part, quenched by his great 2006. The right hander continued to be near unhittable, allowing just 72 knocks in 96.2 innings.
The biggest question surrounding the live arm is his ability to control the fastball, a weakness that seems to come and go with each outing. With good control Morrow might be the best arm in this draft, a player that held postseason teams UCLA, UC Irvine and Stanford to just five runs in 22.2 innings, striking out 27. But in other starts, he's off, letting bad command get to him on the mound. However, many believe Morrow's strength is his ability to be effectively wild - in his two starts while allowing six walks, Morrow didn't allow an earned run over 12 innings.
Whether his future lies in a rotation or a bullpen, there is a future for Brandon Morrow. This kind of arm strength is rarely wasted too long in the minor leagues.
Note: As reported by Baseball America, no high school player was taken in the top five picks for the first time since 1992 when Derek Jeter went sixth.
6. Detroit Tigers: Andrew Miller, LHP (North Carolina)
I saw Miller's last start, his regional appearance against Winthrop, and this is the best attempt at a scouting report that I could muster:
Miller's length comes across as soon as he walks towards the mound; his frame is all arms and legs. The length allows for very good extension in his delivery, which helps produce a 91-93 mph four seam fastball that touched 95 mph in the first inning. His frame is so wiry that the naked eye guesses it could add 25-30 pounds, maybe more; Miller's success could greatly depend upon his workroom ethic. The slider is as every bit as good as advertised, a pitch impossible for left-handed hitters to hit. Miller knows this, and goes to it early and often during at-bats against LHB. Some question his ability to stay in a rotation without a third pitch, but his two-seamer plays the part of a change up, working in the high 80s. While the pitch doesn't offer the velocity difference that a true FB-CU combo would, the two-seamer's heavy action makes it a difficult pitch to adjust to.
Andrew did not pitch great against Winthrop, allowing four runs in eight innings of work. But scouting is done between the lines, and the gray area is where Miller thrives. Comparisons have been thrown out all over the place, and Miller's career has been written up as both a starter and a reliever.
I was always a believer in Andrew Miller, a proponent of his since he was a sophomore. On Saturday, I found out first-hand why. Truly, no one in this draft offers more potential.
Kershaw was the first high school player chosen in this year's draft. Highly coveted by the Dodgers, he got past the Tigers because Andrew Miller was still available when Detroit's turn came up. The 6-4, 215-pound LHP had a 13-0 record with a 0.77 ERA in his senior season. He has reportedly touched the mid-90s with his fastball and has a plus curveball. Improved mechanics have contributed to better command. Given his height, handedness, stuff, and track record, Kershaw has one of the highest ceilings among all draftees.
8. Cincinnati Reds: Drew Stubbs, OF (Texas)
Stubbs has been associated with the "Can He Hit?" question since people have ranked the 2006 draft-eligible players. However, from a facts perspective, he has *never not* hit. As a freshman, at one of the country's largest programs, Stubbs earned an everyday spot. He was one of the better players on a 2005 club that won the national title, drawing rave reviews for his defense in center. The College World Series proved Stubbs to be a freak athlete - and freak athletes with contact problems draw an unfortunate group of comps.
Last summer, Stubbs hit well with wood, hitting .304 for the USA Baseball National team. And this year, given the role of leading the Texas attack, Stubbs thrived, coming to play on every day of the week. There are serious contact problems, yes, but Stubbs skillset counteracts that. His speed and power should yield higher BABIP rates than than most players, meaning we don't have to write him off as Torii Hunter just yet (how many can say that?).
If all else fails, Stubbs will sit on a Major League bench, able to play all three OF positions, and able to steal a base, hit a home run and draw a walk at will. If all goes well, he is the best position player eligible to be drafted.
Rowell was the first high school position player drafted this year. He played shortstop in high school but projects as a third baseman in the pros. The left-handed-hitting Rowell, known to have "middle of the lineup power," set the school's career home run record during his junior season and hit .557 with six home runs as a senior.
According to mlb.com, the Orioles expect that he will sign quickly and play with one of the team's short-season affiliates this year.
10. San Francisco Giants: Tim Lincecum, RHP (Washington)
Lincecum is the Giants' first pick in the opening round since 2002 when they took another power pitcher in Matt Cain. The Husky went 12-4 with a 1.94 ERA while leading all Division I pitchers with 199 strikeouts.
I watched Lincecum when he faced USC on April 21. I charted his pitches, talked to scouts, and reported my findings here.
Lincecum's stuff is as good as or better than any college pitcher in the draft. He throws a mid-90s fastball and an outstanding curve. A veteran scout that I spoke to rated Lincecum's fastball as a 7 (on the 1-8 scale the team uses) or a 70 (on the more traditional 20-80 range). He called Lincecum's curve and change-up a 6 and his pitchability a 65.
Many analysts have suggested that Lincecum could make it to the majors this year as a reliever, but let's not forget how many pitches this workhorse has already thrown since the beginning of February. I wouldn't be inclined to rush Lincecum and would like to see him given a chance to become a starter in the professional ranks first. If it doesn't work out, then go ahead and convert him into a Scot Schields-type relief pitcher.
11. Arizona Diamondbacks: Max Scherzer (RHP, Missouri)
12. Texas Rangers: Kasey Kiker, LHP (H.S./Phenix City, Ala.)
13. Chicago Cubs: Tyler Colvin, LF (Clemson)
John Manuel of Baseball America called this pick "the biggest shock of the first half of the first round." His physical tools (6-3, 190 pounds with good speed as evidenced by stealing 23 bases in 27 attempts) and stats (.359-12-65 with a .622 SLG) while playing for one of the best teams in college baseball would suggest this selection may not be such a reach after all. Cubs fans will get a chance to see their #1 pick this weekend as Clemson hosts Oral Roberts in one of the eight Super Regionals.
14. Toronto Blue Jays: Travis Snider, OF (H.S./Everett, Wash.)
Toronto reverses its recent course of taking college players in the first round by taking the player Baseball America ranked as the "Best Pure Hitter" among high school eligible draftees.
15. Washington Nationals: Chris Marrero, 3b (H.S./Miami)
16. Milwaukee Brewers: Jeremy Jeffress, RHP (H.S./South Boston, Va.)
17. San Diego Padres: Matt Antonelli, 3B (Wake Forest)
We should feel lucky, as baseball fans, that Antonelli picked our sport. He certainly didn't have to. As a senior in high school, Antonelli was a three-sport star, or more specifically, the three sport star. Antonelli was named the state's best player in both football and hockey. The baseball award went to Jeff Allison, with Antonelli landing a close second.
But, he chose baseball. Scouts watched Antonelli for two years thanks to such plus athleticism, witnessing a solid if unspectacular collegiate campaign. In his second summer at the Cape, Antonelli began to draw more notice, despite a lackluster .267/.361/.330 line. His success post-Cape is one of the best data points to support the notion that true offensive Cape success stands around the .700 OPS line.
Before this spring, scouts wondered if Antonelli could hit for power. So, he doubled his previous career high home run total, slugging .584. They doubted his ability to hit good pitching, but he was one of the draft's best on Friday nights. And, of course, Antonelli showed versatility, patience and speed; playing 2B in addition to 3B, drawing 39 walks, and going 15-for-18 on the bases.
If you prefer a draft-for-the-stars approach in the first round, Antonelli is not your guy. But he does a little for everything, and his versatility will lend a future somewhere.
18. Philadelphia Phillies (for Billy Wagner): Kyle Drabek, RHP/SS (H.S./The Woodlands, Texas)
Makeup, makeup, makeup. Drabek is a top ten talent but a fiery temper and off-the-field issues dropped him to #18. The son of former Cy Young Award winner Doug projects as a pitcher although he has the tools to hit and field at the pro level. His fastball has been known to reach the upper-90s and his power curve ranks among the very best in the draft.
19. Florida Marlins: Brett Sinkbeil, RHP (Missouri State)
20. Minnesota Twins: Chris Parmelee, OF/1B (H.S./Chino Hills, Calif.)
Baseball America listed Parmalee as the high schooler with the "Best Strike-Zone Judgment" and the second "Best Pure Hitter."
21. New York Yankees (for Tom Gordon): Ian Kennedy, RHP (USC)
Here is my scouting report on Kennedy as written in early February. I have seen him pitch several times while at USC, including an outing vs. the University of Washington that I charted pitch-by-pitch.
Following in the footsteps of fellow Trojans Tom Seaver, Randy Johnson, Barry Zito, and Mark Prior...Consensus All-American...Pac-10 Pitcher of the Year...Two-time pitcher for Team USA...Although stuff is no better than average for a major league hurler, the right-hander exhibits outstanding command of four pitches...Fastball ranged from 89-91 all night...Throws strikes and changes speed...His stretch position is similar to Mike Mussina...Top ten draft pick unless his advisor and soon-to-be agent Scott Boras scares off potential suitors.
Kennedy's stock fell this year, owing to a disappointing junior season. Agreeing to terms with agent Scott Boras could prove troublesome. If and when Kennedy signs--and for how much--should prove to be one of the more interesting post-draft stories.
22. Washington Nationals (for Esteban Loaiza): Colton Willems, RHP (H.S./Fort Pierce, Fla.)
23. Houston Astros: Max Sapp, C (H.S./Windermere, Fla.)
24. Atlanta Braves: Cody Johnson, 1B (H.S./Panama City, Fla.)
25. Los Angeles Angels (for Paul Byrd): Hank Conger, C (H.S./Huntington Beach, Calif.)
26. Los Angeles Dodgers: Bryan Morris, RHP (Motlow State CC, Tenn.)
Callis correctly tabbed this pick in his Tuesday morning mock draft (although he later moved him all the way up to the Dodgers' first pick at #7). Morris may not be as well known as many college pitchers because he played for a community college in Tennessee. However, he earned Freshman of the Year and Pitcher of the Year honors while fashioning a 10-1 record with a 0.82 ERA, which included a no-hitter vs. Southwest Tennessee and a four-hit, complete-game shutout with 14 strikeouts vs. Hiwasee in the playoffs.
Morris is my type of pitcher. The 6-3, 200-pound RHP has a plus fastball and a power curve. Moreover, the freshman recorded 122 Ks in 88 IP (12.48 K/9) and induced nine groundouts (and only two flyouts) in that Hiwasee shutout last month. He was drafted in the third round by the Devil Rays out of high school last June. The two sides supposedly agreed on a $1.3 million bonus that greatly exceeded the slot money, but the deal was never consummated due to an inability on the part of ownership to pull the trigger. Morris chose to attend Motlow State and join his Dad, who is the assistant coach, for one year.
Without seeing him pitch before, I'm still going to give Logan White a big thumbs up on this draft pick.
27. Boston Red Sox: Jason Place, OF (H.S./Easley, S.C.)
28. Boston Red Sox (for Johnny Damon): Daniel Bard, RHP (North Carolina)
There seem to be two camps regarding Daniel Bard entering the draft: the apologists and the critics. Both sides have valiant arguments, and at times this season, I have audibly been on either side.
From a statistical standpoint, it is easy to be critical of Bard. Mixed in with great performances as a freshman and in his 2005 summer are disappointing sophomore and junior caimpaigns. Bard became the poster boy of inconsistency this season, and was not able to turn around his aptitude for the big inning. His context was a wash; his AdjDERA equivalent to his season ERA. Bard has a good arm and offers a lot of upside, but he doesn't profile as a top 15 pick.
That's one side. The other is far more focused on his freshman year, and really points to last year's Cape: 82 strikeouts in 65 innings. Scouts often stand on this side, enamored with the ease of Bard's delivery. In his regional start, Bard sat at 93-96 mph, and seemingly recorded a ground ball out at will. His slider comes in at the low 80s, and is a pretty devastating second pitch. He uses a third pitch, a mid 80s change, more than most of these high level players use their "third pitch."
John Manuel of Baseball America recently compared Bard's season to that of Justin Verlander as a college junior; an inconsistent spring unable to meet summer's expectations. But scouts across the nation know that Bard, the type that looks like a future workhorse, has the stuff to belong in the top 10. I agree.
29. Chicago White Sox: Kyle McCulloch, RHP (Texas)
30. St. Louis Cardinals: Adam Ottavino, RHP (Northeastern)
Note: 15 college players, 13 high schoolers, 1 JC, and 1 Indy Leaguer were taken in the first round.
Yes, Preston is Don's son. He's a 6-3, 205-pound shortstop out of Evansville Central HS in Indiana. A three-sport star, Mattingly earned All-State honors with the football and basketball teams. He signed a national letter of intent to play baseball for the University of Tennessee. Look for the younger Mattingly to forsake college for the riches of professional ball.
32. Baltimore Orioles (for B.J. Ryan): Pedro Beato, RHP (JC/St. Petersburg, Fla.)
33. San Francisco Giants (for Scott Eyre): Emmanuel Burriss, SS (Kent St.)
34. Arizona Diamondbacks (for Tim Worrell): Brooks Brown, RHP (Georgia)
35. San Diego Padres (for Ramon Hernandez): Kyler Burke, OF/LHP
36. Florida Marlins (for A.J. Burnett): Chris Coghlan, 3B (Mississippi)
38. Atlanta Braves (for Kyle Farnsworth): Cory Rasmus, RHP/SS (H.S./Seale, Ala.)
Cory's brother Colby was taken by the Cardinals in the 28th spot last year. A two-way player, he projects more as a pitcher than as an infielder. The stigma of six-foot-and-under RHP has apparently been overcome this year with Rasmus, Lincoln, Lincecum, Drabek, and Jeffress all getting first and supplemental round attention despite their lack of height.
39. Cleveland Indians (for Bob Howry): David Huff, LHP (UCLA)
I scouted Huff when he pitched against Miami back in February. He is a finesse pitcher, working in the high-80s. His fastball did not touch 90 that day but hit 89 on at least three occasions. The lefty throws a slow curve in the low-70s and a somewhat harder curve/slider that was consistently at 78-79 that afternoon. He will need to locate his fastball and change speeds to keep batters off balance in order to succeed at the big-league level.
40. Boston Red Sox (for Johnny Damon): Kris Johnson, LHP (Wichita State)
41. New York Yankees (for Tom Gordon): Joba Chamberlain, RHP (Nebraska)
42. St. Louis Cardinals (for Matt Morris): Chris Perez, RHP (Miami)
43. Atlanta Braves (for Rafael Furcal): Steve Evarts, LHP (H.S./Tampa, Fla.)
Atlanta stayed the course of previous drafts by selecting its third high school player out of the southeast. Cody Johnson (#24), Cory Rasmus (#38), and Evarts (#43) give the Braves three more kids to put into its pipeline of young talent.
44. Boston Red Sox (for Bill Mueller): Caleb Clay, RHP (H.S./Cullman, Ala.)
Note: 7 college players, 6 high schoolers, and 1 JuCo were taken in the supplemental round.
5:35 p.m. - With allowance for last second adjustments, Callis correctly projected seven of the top ten picks. He dialed the first 18 selections last year. Baseball America's draft guru had Kershaw going to Detroit in the 6th hole (although parenthetically added that "this is the first possible stop for Andrew Miller, too"), which led to the wrong choice by the Dodgers. To Jim's credit, he figured L.A. would nab Morris with their first pick when, in fact, they lucked out and took him their second pick and the 26th overall.
7:32 p.m. - The first day of the draft has concluded. The draft will resume tomorrow with the 19th round. Be sure to check back later today and tomorrow for more updates and comments.
A few of Rich's quick takes in the aftermath of the first day:
STL: The Cardinals certainly drafted a lot of big-name college players in Perez, Jay, Hamilton, Degerman, Robinson, and Erickson. Ottavino's size and strikeout rates are intriguing. Not sure how much he was tested at Northeastern though.
I saw Jay when Miami was out here (vs. UCLA) and wasn't impressed. He has what I would term a poor stance with a very "handsy" approach. He starts with his hands held above his head, then drops them into the slot before raising them as the ball is pitched. Unless Jay makes adjustments, I would think pitchers could get him out with hard stuff high and tight.
With respect to Degerman, his stats (12-1, 1.67 with 150 strikeouts in 113 innings) should be enough to impress me, but I can't get past his highly unorthodox mechanics. My eyes almost popped out of my sockets when I saw him pitch on TV this past weekend. Sure, he pitched well, but mark me as a skeptic. His straight-over-the-top delivery doesn't appear sustainable to me and his diving curveball may not be as effective with a different arm slot.
ARI: I'm not particularly high on Buck (OK, I flat out don't like him), but I like the team's first three pitchers (Scherzer, Brown, and Anderson). If the D-Backs can sign all three, I think we will look back in time and applaud their 2006 draft. I also became a Hankerd believer when I saw him play three games vs. LBSU in February. He also showed up well on Kent Bonham's list of hitters.
Here is my scouting report on the USC left fielder:
Drafted in the 45th round by the Chicago Cubs in 2003...Broke out last summer in the New England Collegiate League, hitting .383 with nine HR and 36 RBI (two short of winning a triple crown)...Big, strong kid...Keeps weight back with left heel off the ground...Lifts front foot straight up...Slight uppercut swing...Hits the ball hard and usually in the air...Outfield defense is plenty good enough...Made three spectacular catches, including diving grabs to his left and right plus a running catch going back and toward the line in left field...Also threw out a runner trying to score on a single from second base with two outs with a one-hop strike to the catcher...Should be moving up draft boards as the spring progresses.
CLE: Given the lack of a first round pick, the Indians fared quite well in my judgment. Huff, Wright, Rodriguez, and Hodges comprise a formidable foursome. Although Davis might be more of a name than anything else, he seems like a worthwhile pick at 101. That said, I may have taken CSUF's Blake Davis before Adam. If healthy, Rustich, the big UCLA relief pitcher, could be a steal at 401.
PIT: I would give the Pirates a strong "B" this year. Lincoln alone makes for a good draft. Felix is a favorite of those who paid attention to Kent Bonham's work on pitchers. Don't know what to make of Hughes after watching him pitch all year. He was up and down and may lack the mental toughness one would like to see. Negrych's upside may not be all that great, but neither did he cost them much as a sixth rounder.
"Everything is a mess," I was told of the 2006 draft in the past few hours. Surprisingly, the person was not talking of my mock draft, but rather the haziness that had yet to clear, with less than twelve hours before the first name is called.
Baseball Analysts will attempt to keep you updated as the day rolls on, liveblogging the event as we did last year. Our comments will be posted as the draft unfolds, most certainly in a fashion different than we anticipated.
However, before the craziness ensures, it is time at one more preview of the draft. We'll open in the same place that most scouting departments will today: attempting to look at the morning mysteries. For me, the three biggest questions that we will soon have answers for are...
1. Kansas City, can you be serious?
For the last calendar year, at least, we have known that Andrew Miller represented the top talent in the draft. And for what appears to be that long, the Royals have remained unconvinced. Now, less than 24 hours before the draft begins, the Royals remain juggling three candidates: Miller, Brad Lincoln, Luke Hochevar.
The future health of the organization demands the Royals pick the player atop their draft board. If it isn't Miller, for whatever reason, they must explain that to their fan base. However, it would be a travesty to waste their top selection on Hochevar for financial reasons. Furthermore, the repercussions of awarding a player for holding out are damning for the future of the Major League draft.
Pick Miller, pick Lincoln, pick Hochevar. I don't care. But KC, please, don't settle for the cheapest choice.
2. How many college pitchers will it be?
The strength of this draft is no secret. There are about 3 legitimate college position players, four solid prep pitchers, and about 5 first round-caliber high school hitters. The rest? College pitchers.
We know that the top half of the first round will involve these hurlers: Miller, Lincoln, Hochevar, Tim Lincecum, Max Scherzer, Joba Chamberlain, Brandon Morrow, Greg Reynolds, Daniel Bard. All of these players are first round locks, and it could be argued the group of nine is among the top dozen best players in the draft.
The rest of the first round has another group of college arms that could be selected. Kyle McCulloch, Justin Masterson, Brett Sinkbeil, Dave Huff, Brooks Brown, and JuCo players Pedro Beato and Bryan Morris. The market is offering one commodity, and while this draft's talent base had been criticized, it is flush in polished arms.
The record for pitchers in the first round is 20. My prediction: it will be topped by one tomorrow.
3. Who will be the first to change the complexion of the draft?
Uncertainty surrounds this year's draft like few in the past, making a mock draft nearly impossible for those in the world not named Jim Callis. Not only have the Royals left many in the dark about their forthcoming selection, but so have many other teams that could determine the placement of the draft's top 30 talents.
For instance, the Pirates are in the position to change things. Greg Reynolds has been the name we've heard the most in the past two months, but few would be surprised by Bard, Morrow, Drabek, Kershaw or Stubbs. The Giants pick, drafting tenth, is one domino that could fall post-Pittsburgh. If Bard isn't available, Callis has mentioned San Francisco might go cheap with Chris Parmalee, but what do they do if he's there?
Tim Lincecum and Matt Antonelli are two names suffering right now, both are becoming options for teams that had never considered the names. Kyle Drabek is a wild card, his alcohol abuse makes a fit hard to find. And, of course, we have the deep sleeper choices, like Jeff Samardzija (as high as to the Cubs), to keep us on our toes.
The one certainty this far out is that we will be surprised on Draft Day. The big question is which domino will fall first, and in what direction will it push the rest?
On days like this, we all wish we were flies on the walls of war rooms. Actually, we wish we were the scouting directors at the head of the table, making the decisions. Instead of turning in my application, I have decided to sit back comfortably in my armchair and play backseat director.
As I have done all spring, I am going to stay away from presenting my high school draft board; I'll leave that to the professionals. But through talks with college coaches, a lot of reading, watching and number-crunching, I feel confident in my analysis of the college crop.
So, readers, join me in my war room. The draft is just hours away, and my final collegiate draft board, going 40 names deep, reads:
And yes, I do realize there is a space between Huff and Reynolds on the big board. It represents the simple dividing line between true first round talent, and the rest.
So, that should get us started on a wild day in which near no-hit bids, superstar injuries and rivalry blow outs all play second fiddle to the aluminum bat. Here's to hoping that, for at least today, scouts have priority over wallets on the organizational food chain.
Jumping on the Mock Train
Before the college season started, I wrote an article highlighting the top 20 2006 draft-eligible college players. It's now fun to look back at the article and see what the year provided, how many players had their fates changed in 2006. Today, I have another piece up at SI.com, this one providing stark contrast to the first.
I was hesitant to write a mock draft for the site, it's dangerous territory to compete with Jim Callis, who predicted the top 18 picks correct last season. However, with a low set of expectations, the draft provides a puzzle of possibilities, a combination of trends and talents. I had fun with the top 30, stretching at times, and I imagine that in 24 hours, we'll be able to look back and laugh just the same as my first piece.
However, while I'm in the predicting mood, here's a few more before Draft Day...
Leave your own predictions in the comments...
Lakewood Beats Blue-Chip Stock to Win CIF Championship
Lakewood High School, my alma mater, beat Agoura in the California Interscholastic Federation Southern Section Division I championship, 2-1, at Angel Stadium in Anaheim on a warm Saturday evening to capture its fifth CIF title since the school was founded in 1957. Agoura, the #1 ranked team in the country when the season began, featured Robert Stock, Baseball America's 2005 Youth Player of the Year.
Keith Chipman (13-1, 1.07) was the winning pitcher while Stock (5-3, 2.70) was saddled with the loss. The latter threw six scoreless innings and then gave up the decisive runs in the bottom of the seventh as David Ross laced a groundball double that skipped over first base to score the tying and winning runs. Stock (.456/.588/.756), a catcher by trade, led off for the Chargers and went 3-for-3 with three hard-hit singles and an intentional walk. He has a great stroke at the plate and a strong arm.
I sat behind the Chipman family by coincidence, just to the left of home plate and a few aisles over from Bret Saberhagen, the two-time Cy Young Award winner and currently the head coach at Calabasas High School (which plays in the Marmonte League with Agoura). A 6-foot-1, 170-pound senior, Chipman throws strikes and keeps hitters off balance with a good, looping curveball. Stock, on the other hand, has a fastball that has reportedly touched the mid-90s on the radar gun. He appeared to be throwing around 90-mph to the naked eye along with a curve and an outstanding changeup, especially for a kid who wasn't old enough to get a driver's license until last November.
A junior, Stock was also Baseball America's best 13-year-old in 2003, best 14-year-old in 2004, and last year's best 15-year-old. He follows Delmon Young, Nick Adenhart, and Cameron Maybin as BA's Youth Player of the Year and is the first underclassman to earn this honor. Two summers ago, Stock became the youngest player ever to make Team USA's national team. The 6-foot-1, 185-pound Stock is a special talent who would be among the top draft choices on Tuesday if he was eligible.
Lakewood's victory may have been sealed earlier that evening when Damion Easley, the star of the 1987 LHS team that won the school's last CIF championship, hit three home runs for the Arizona Diamondbacks. I mean, that's gotta be The Omen when a former player by that first name goes yard three times and drives in a career-high seven runs on the very same day!
Speaking of old (so to speak) Lancers, my brother Tom was the winning pitcher in the very same game 36 years ago when Lakewood defeated Ventura High School at Anaheim Stadium. George Brett played shortstop and Scott McGregor was the starting pitcher for El Segundo High School in the preliminary game that night. Tom was first team All-CIF with a 10-0 record and an ERA of 1.53. For perspective, Fred Lynn (El Monte High School) was on the second team.
Tom picked off the tying run at second base in a timing play with his second baseman, Kim Hannaford, who went on to play at Stanford University. Four years earlier, Tom and Kim were two of the star players on the Lakewood Pony League All-Star team that went to the World Series in Ralston, Nebraska. Interestingly, this year's Lakewood team had only two seniors among its starters. The rest of the lineup was comprised of a junior class that won the Pony League World Series three years earlier and a sophomore who led off the last inning with a double down the left-field line.
Lakewood has produced over 50 professional baseball players and 12 major leaguers, including Larry Casian, Floyd Chiffer, Easley, Bruce Ellingsen, Mike Fitzgerald, John Flannery, Rod Gaspar, Chris Gomez, Craig Grebeck, Dave Marshall, Tony Muser, and Jim Strickland. The school has had only three baseball coaches--Artie Boyd, John Herbold, and Spud O'Neil--in the last 45 years. O'Neil has a career record of 569-205 and has won 14 Moore League titles and two CIF championships.
Mike Ruddell of the Class of 1969 sat one aisle over from my brother behind the Lakewood dugout on the third-base side. He was selected by the Cincinnati Reds in the 4th round (84th overall) of the 1969 amateur draft in June and pitched two no-hitters in the same minor-league season. Mike and Don Gullett were teammates on the Sioux Falls Packers in the Northern League (Single-A). His Dad was my Colt League All-Star coach in 1970.
Russ McQueen, who like Tom was Ruddell's teammate in 1969 and an All-CIF selection in 1970, won four College World Series titles as a pitcher for the USC Trojans from 1971-74. McQueen was the CWS MVP in 1972 and was selected on the All-Decade team for the 1970s. He was drafted by the California Angels in the 14th round in June 1974.
Clint Myers, who played third base on the 1970 Lakewood team, is the Head Softball Coach at Arizona State University. His Sun Devils were eliminated from the College World Series about an hour before the first pitch of the 2006 CIF game was thrown. Myers played his college ball at ASU and was a member of the CWS runner-up in 1972 and 1973 before being drafted in the third round by the St. Louis Cardinals in 1973.
Clint's oldest son, Casey, also played and starred for the Sun Devils, winning the Pacific-10 Conference Player of the Year honors in 2000 and 2001. He played five years in the Oakland A's minor league system. Clint's youngest son, Corey (Desert Vista HS in Phoenix), was chosen by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the 1st round (4th overall) of the 1999 amateur draft. He has played in the minors for eight seasons, including the Salt Lake Bees in 2006.
Lakewood High School has had a history of great baseball teams and players. This year's squad has just perpetuated that tradition and should be one of the favorites to win its sixth CIF championship next season when all but two starters return to defend their title.
Aluminum Adjustments (Part 2)
When we last parted, fair reader, I was blabbing away with the contention that college pitching statistics could be effectively separated from the effects of defense, parks, and strength of competition. But at least I made it up to you by offering up a Top 25 List. And nothing whips us baseball fans into a lather quite like a list. So today's installment promises more of the same. Only this time, we turn our attention to college hitters.
In analyzing this year's draft-eligible college hitters, we'll begin with the same "scouting" filter applied to the pitchers. This time, the list of hitters was further refined using the metrics explained below.
And, again, this is not a list based on any type of prediction as to how these players will perform at higher levels.
NAME/SCHOOL/POSITION - Pretty much as you'd think.
OPS - A traditional measure of a player's all-around offensive performance.
POWER - Chicks dig the long ball. Here a player's power will be expressed in two ways:
Here's a quick, feeble explanation of linear weights, because we'll talk about them again later on. The role of the hitter is to produce runs. That's their end of the bargain. It is possible to quantify the value of each offensive event, (walk, single, double, etc...), based on how it contributes (or hampers) run scoring. Using these values, you can judge a hitter's overall offensive value by taking the value of each offensive event and multiplying it by the rate at which he gets them. Is that clear as mud? Sorry. Anyways, linear weights power measures only those events (doubles, triples, home runs) that are a reflection of a hitter's power.
SPEED - Speed is a Tool that doesn't seem to translate well into traditional offensive statistics. Here, we'll use a player's Speed Score, a metric pioneered by Bill James. When determining a player's Speed Score, we'll look at a function of his stolen bases, stolen base attempts, triples, and the percentage of times scored once on base.
DISCIPLINE - Earlier this year, on another popular baseball website, a leading sabermetrician with connections to a major league team offered the following (paraphrased) opinion: "one key to a good draft is selecting players with excellent plate discipline at the expense of hitters with gaudy, yet possibly illusory, power numbers." This is incredibly valuable insight. For us baseball geeks, it's as if Warren Buffett dropped into a Yahoo Finance chat room and said "Hello. If you're looking to invest in the stock market right now, I recommend everyone invest disproportionately in manufactured housing sector stocks with P/E ratios under 12.5 and R&D budgets that represent between 5-8% of their previous year's revenues. Have a nice day." So, we're going to take a look at a hitter's plate discipline, using these metrics:
wOBA - This is where it gets good. OPS is a fine statistic. It's quick (OBP+SLG), and everyone can quickly digest the fact that 1.000 = great. But it's not exactly what we want. Because all OPS really gives you, essentially, is the ability to pick up a player's wallet and see how fat it is. Bigger is better, that's for sure. But if you really want to be able to get a clear picture of how much a player is worth, you need to be able to open up the wallet and see exactly how many, and of what denomination, bills he has inside. And that's where Andy Dolphin, Mitchel Lichtman, and Tom Tango come in. In their recent book (which you should buy), they introduce what they call wOBA. Here's what it is: wOBA is a linear-weights (remember these?) based formula scaled to map with OBP. So, .300 = bad, .400 = good, .500 = great. It's basically a batter's run value per plate appearance, scaled in a way that makes it more user-friendly (when you read wOBA, think OBP).
AwOBA - Hitters are ranked by this metric. It is wOBA, adjusted for park and strength of schedule. Building again on the work of Boyd Nation, using his Division I park factors, I have taken each hitter's wOBA and first adjusted for the parks in which they played. Next, I took the now park-adjusted wOBA and isolated that from the strength of a player's schedule, averaging the ISR -- another Boyd stat -- of the opponent's of each player.
Now then. Let's take a look at the Top 25 offensive seasons registered by this year's draft-eligible college hitters, as sorted by AwOBA.
THANKS: Once again, these articles, and the research that underlies them, simply would not have been possible were it not for a few extremely smart people I have had the pleasure of getting to know in a non-creepy internet way over the past few months. First, Tom Tango offered insight, wisdom, and advice every step of the way. He is a brilliant guy, and the fan in me can only hope that he is on Theo Epstein's speed dial. Craig Burley's previous work in this area helped inspire me to undertake this effort in the first place, and his thoughts along the way even helped it all make sense. And finally, of course, I can't even begin to thank Boyd Nation for all of his time and help. Remember, when it comes to college baseball, it's Boyd's World, and we're just living in it.
Aluminum Adjustments (Part 1)
If Moneyball taught us anything, it's that you should never underestimate a man with titties.
I am referring, of course, to the infamous passage from Michael Lewis's 2003 best-seller which details the reaction of an Oakland minor league coach after seeing the club's prized 7th round pick, Brant Colamarino, take off his shirt. But there are larger questions that this anecdote invokes, beyond the size of manzier for which Colamarino should be fitted. Namely, is it possible that in college baseball there still exists an entire class of players who are either over-looked or missed altogether due to the effects of the parks in which they play, the level of competition against whom they play, or due to scouts who might too often worship at the altar of The Five Tools?
Before going any further, let me be clear on two important points. First, I am not here to pick a fight with the scouting community. Because no major league team should, in their right mind, ignore the experience and observations of their professional scouts. Rather, what follows is an attempt at using the best of both worlds to determine the top seasons as recorded by this year's draft-eligible college hitters and pitchers.
Second, this is not a prediction of how a player's college performance will translate to wood bats and the major leagues. I am certain that work is being done, but you won't find it here.
With that out of the way, here's what I did. First, I took every draft-eligible college pitcher who had appeared on any of Baseball America's Top College Prospects lists at any point this year. Next, I sought to refine this "scouting" list by using the metrics explained below. So, it's as if your team's scouting department runs into the Baseball Operations office with their list of the best 50 or so pitchers in college baseball from the past season, the GM takes a look, and then turns to you as you sit at your laptop and says: "get to work."
So, here goes...
NAME: The player's name. See, this is going to be easy!
TEAM: Where they go to school. Still with me?
POSITION: I even threw in their handed-ness for free.
IP: Innings Pitched.
ERA: Your standard Earned Run Average. Joe Morgan should probably stop reading here.
STUFF: What defines a pitcher's "stuff?" Seriously. I'm asking. I don't know. To me, it's always been one of those things that everyone knows exists, but no one has been able to adequately explain. Like Scientology. Or David Hasselhoff's career. Alas, we'll seek to define it here through the prism of the following metrics:
DERA: Did somebody say defense-independent pitching performance? OK, then. Years ago, Voros McCracken penned what is arguably the most important sabermetric article on pitching ever written. The long-and-short of it is this: the analysis of a pitcher's effectiveness should be based only on plays which are completely under his control: home runs allowed, strikeouts, hit batters, and walks. By doing this, and thus assuming that a pitcher's singles, doubles, and triples allowed will all follow certain regular characteristics, you can peer into what a pitcher's true ERA would look like if they had an average defense playing behind them. So, there you go. What I've used for the list below is an equation developed by Boyd Nation specifically for the college game.
AdjDERA: This is where things get tricky. This analysis looks further than DERA by adjusting for both Strength of Schedule and Park Effects. These are critical factors when analyzing the college game, as the level of competition and the characteristics of the parks in which they play vary widely from team to team. For pitchers, there is an added level of complexity because this should be done only for teams against whom they have pitched, and only for stadiums in which they have played. Don't worry. I've gone through the 2,000+ game logs so you don't have to. Note that adjustments for schedule strength and park factors stem from Boyd Nation's ISR and PF.
Finally, then. After all that...here are the Top 25 pitching performances this year (through the weekend of May 21), as sorted by AdjDERA.
THANKS: These articles, and the research that underlies them, simply would not have been possible were it not for a few extremely smart people I have had the pleasure of getting to know in a non-creepy internet way over the past few months. First, Tom Tango offered insight, wisdom, and advice every step of the way. He is a brilliant guy, and the fan in me can only hope that he is on Theo Epstein's speed dial. Craig Burley's previous work in this area helped inspire me to undertake this effort in the first place, and his thoughts along the way even helped it all make sense. And finally, of course, I can't even begin to thank Boyd Nation for all of his time and help. Remember, when it comes to college baseball, it's Boyd's World, and we're just living in it.
On Deck: The Hitters.
Kent Bonham is a consultant in Washington, DC. He can be reached here.
Baseball Is More Than Superstars
Thanks to Chad Finn for his fine article on Red Sox journeyman players. Like Finn, I have always gravitated towards baseball's "average Joes" rather than the game's superstars.