WTNYJanuary 26, 2007
2007 WTNY Prospect Mailbag
By Bryan Smith

Baseball prospects are far from sure bets, products of attrition that disappoint far too often. However, that does not stop the collective hope of fan bases, who watch and read about these players and project an organizational up-tick because of them.

In writing my annual prospect list from SI.com, I received nearly one hundred e-mails, evidence of this on a fantastic scale. The information age has brought people closer to prospects than ever, and now, the valuation of top prospects seems to be at an all-time high. Over the course of today (Friday), I will go through questions posed to me in the comments section of Tuesday's post and via e-mail, answering as many as possible. Also, if more questions arise from people, drop them in the comments section here, and we'll get to them as well. Here's a refresher course on each of the series of articles:

Honorable Mentions
Prospects 75-61
Prospects 60-46
Prospects 45-31
Prospects 30-16
Final 15 Prospects

If you need catching up, I'm Bryan Smith, co-founder and former writer on this site. I wrote my annual prospect list at SI.com, but gained permission from the site to run the final installment at Baseball Analysts on Tuesday. Rich has been gracious enough to allow to finish today, creating a mailbag that has annually accompanied this feature. Enjoy!

How would you "tier" this list? Where are the drop-offs from "uber-prospect" to "really really good prospect" to "really good prospect"?

If you need reminder of the list, click here, and scroll towards the bottom of that page. To answer this question, I can say that the minor leagues has four uber prospects. The top four players are absolutely fantastic prospects, and my confidence in their future success is very high. Delmon Young was #1 on this list a year ago, but is #2 now, despite being closer to the Major Leagues. Those four represent the utmost tier of the list.

After that, the next tier is probably a big one, something like 5 (Brandon Wood) to 27 (Mike Pelfrey). Ranking of some players within that tier is pretty obvious, but nonetheless, these players project as future All-Stars, but all of whom do worry me in some sense. Whether it is Brandon Wood's strikeouts, Andrew Miller's control or Tim Lincecum's health, something is holding these players back right now. After this, tiering becomes more difficult, but eye-balling it, the last few tiers would go something like 28-45, 46-62, and 63 to eightysomething. Each tier is made up of many like prospects, and each prospect has a pretty glaring weakness.

Would you say this is a strong prospect list compared to '06, '05, '04? It seems there's a lot of talent. I'm only asking because I feel the tops of those years--Felix, the '05 Young, Mauer, and maybe B.J. Upton at one point--were all "better" prospects than Gordon. Am I wrong?

In my honorable mention article at SI.com, I noted that the minor leagues seem to have more talent than ever. I really do attribute this to the gains made in utilizing information, combining statistics and scouting reports to draft most effectively. While dogmatic organizations tend to be at the back of farm system rankings, those who can look at all the information make this the deepest list I have ever written.

I wrote above that there were only four uberprospects, but when can you remember there were four prospects as good as these four at once?

Also, it was very difficult for me to not rank some of those within honorable mention in my top 75. I had comments written out for guys like Jeremy Jeffress and Eric Campbell, but ultimately, depth pushed them out. If I'm bored in the future, I could probably come up with another 50 names that just missed making the honorable mention. There has not been a more fun time to evaluate prospects in the history of baseball, I say.

How good of an indicator do you feel this list is in relation to a team's overall farm system strength? In other words, how worried should an organization be if it has poor or minimal representation on the list?

Not especially worried, I would say. Top-heavy prospects are important for farm system strength, but they are one component - teams need star power prospects, depth in prospects, and must have graduated prospects recently to get high grades from me. By looking at the number of players in my top 100, that only tells you about how many top-heavy players each team has.

Nonetheless, organizations with two players or less in the top 100 do represent some of the worst farm systems in the game: Washington, San Diego, Toronto, etc. These teams have a long ways to go - the Padres and Blue Jays must start being better in the Major League draft. I think Washington isn't far from having a good farm system again, as the 2006 draft has good potential and the organization now teams together Dana Brown with the superbly talented Mike Rizzo.

If you want to get a good idea of farm system strength, try and pool together my top 100 list with some team-by-team top 10 rankings at Baseball America or Baseball Prospectus. If you can get a feel for the depth in each top 10 -- a club like the Cardinals has good depth despite not being top-heavy at all -- then your organization is fine.

Where would the Japanese rookies - Daisuke Matsuzaka, Akinori Iwamura, Kei Igawa - rank on your list?

An inevitable question, as I am usually pretty stubborn by not allowing these guys entrance into my list. It stems from respect for the leagues in Japan, as they do a far better job of preparing these players for the Major Leagues than AAA could.

Matsuzaka is the easiest ranking, as his game is so complete. I think his fastball and slider combination will be among the top in the Major Leagues, and he will be all the more devastating by showing another 3-4 pitches to batters to keep them off balance. He has a history of pitching in big games, and his control has improved heavily in the last three seasons. Matsuzaka is ready for the Major Leagues, and the Red Sox landed the right-hander at a good price. With three years of an ERA around 3.50 (or less) coming, Matsuzaka would rank third on this list.

Next, rather unusually, I have Igawa. Most rank Iwamura next, but I really think Igawa can be a good Major League starter as well. Problem with Igawa is that in his scouting profile, I see shades of Barry Zito, shades of Ted Lilly, and shades of Kaz Ishii. But, it's not really useful to claim a player to be between a Cy Young pitcher and a replacement-level one, so I'm guessing he can be Lilly-esque. Igawa combines a low 90s fastball with a slow, deadline overhand curve, and mixes in a usable slider and average change. The key for him, and what proved to be Ishii's downfall, will be maximizing his fastball control in the Major Leagues. If he can set up batters for the curve effectively, Igawa could save the Yanks a lot of money on what Barry Zito would have given them. I will say Igawa would be unofficially 46 on my list, between Jeff Niemann and Chuck Lofgren.

Iwamura, the Devil Rays versatile infielder, is most worrisome to me. He brings over very good power from Japan, and the isolated slugging percentage numbers translated at a place like Baseball Prospectus seem about right to me. However, I can't get over Iwamura's strikeout numbers - no Japan player has traveled across the Pacific with those numbers. It will be extremely hard for Iwamura to hit .280 is he whiffs in 25% of his plate appearances, which I think could happen. And furthermore, since most Japan players walk less in the Major Leagues, I don't think he will walk enough to support his drop in batting average. I am not high on Iwamura at all, who would not surprise me if he turned out to be no better than Pedro Feliz. Iwamura would be in my honorable mention.

How can you rank Homer Bailey ahead of Phillip Hughes. Looking at their statistics side by side, Hughes' numbers are better in every respect. And if you say that it's the stuff that defines the greater prospect, the difference in stuff between Hughes and Bailey is minimal with Bailey having slightly more velocity although Hughes has a heavier ball. Further, if it is stuff that defines the prospect than I'm certain you can find a myriad of prospects who have the same stuff as Bailey and Hughes. The key than must be the marriage between stuff and control that translates into success and therefore the better prospect. Isn't that the embodiment of Phillip Hughes? The remarkable maturity (pitching knowledge), super stuff, and superior control all combine to create one of the best pitching prospects we've ever seen. The part of that equation that Homer Bailey holds is super stuff and improving control. Taking into account the previous argument, you can only conclude that Phillip Hughes is indeed the better pitching prospect.

By a power of about eight million, this type of question (dealing with these two prospects) was the most popular I received, speaking to the fabulous intensity of Yankee fans. Still, its funny, because the difference between the two players is totally negligible. Both prospects are generational, both are top tier, and both project as aces in the Major Leagues (the only two in the minors). So, I don't really think the individual ranking is important, but I will do Bailey the hnor of defending him, since he was ultimately my choice.

As far as "stuff" goes, I disagree with the question, I don't think you can find other stuff like Bailey's or Hughes' in the minor leagues. Someone like Jason Neighborgall might have impressive raw stuff, but it doesn't compare to these two players, as he has no idea where it is going. Say what you will about Homer Bailey's command, but it hardly had an adverse effect on his performance in 2006. In the end, I decided to label the Reds prospect with the minors best stuff, and I again, I disagree with the e-mail about how he labels their fastballs. I would not say that Hughes has more life than Bailey, but instead more sink, as Bailey's exploding four-seamer has plenty of life. I love Hughes' two-seamer, however, so the fastball difference is about as negligible as their overall ranking.

But, again, why Bailey? What overcomes Hughes' edge in command? Two things: breaking ball and health. Now, let me remind, I'm not claiming Hughes is poor in either category at all. His curveball is fantastic, but my reports of Bailey's hook were phenomenal. The pitch might be a 75 on the 20-80 scouting scale soon, and it should generate a lot of swings-and-misses at the Major League level. While Hughes is long removed from past shoulder soreness, he is still more susceptible for future injury than Bailey.

Now listen: I believe Philip Hughes will not only pitch in the Majors in 2007, but I believe he'll start admirably in the playoffs. I believe he will anchor the Yanks' rotation for years to come. And I also believe the same for Homer Bailey's, who has enough star power to reinvigorate the city of Cincinnati.

If Franklin Morales can improve his control w/o altering his delivery, or, at least, with minimal impact to his delivery, do you think he could be considered in the top 25-30 range? His "stuff" is pretty filthy when he's on target.

This will be the key for Morales. I place this question deliberately after the Bailey/Hughes one for a reason, in the previous ranking, I allude to a ideological belief I have in prospects that Morales reinforces: command can be taught, raw stuff cannot. Pitching coaches are very important aspects to baseball, and their effect on teaching young players command has been seen again and again. Very often, I have players with great stuff and iffy command ranked pretty high, because I do believe in the power of a pitching coach. Morales is a player whose raw stuff is among the ten best pitching prospects in the game, but he is going to have to make the most out of Spring Training, the AA pitching coach and the Rockies' roving pitching instructor. Still, Morales can probably be successful even with only minor improvements in control, as I documented in his player comment at SI.com that he will improve in 2007 merely be leaving the California League's hot sun.

To what extent do you take defense (both a player's individual ability based on scouting or available metrics, and the position they play on the defensive spectrum) into consideration when ranking position players?

As heavily as possible. After all, evaluating minor leaguers is all about tools, and defense encapsulates two of the six (five plus patience) tools that I use. So, reports about a player's range and his arm are of superb important to me. Also, as this question alludes, the defensive spectrum has a large impact on rankings, as you can see in some of the spots on my list.

One e-mail asked me about why I chose Tulowitzki as a better prospect than Longoria. After all, the latter probably has better power skills, and overall, is probably the better future hitter. But the difference between these two players on the list represents how much I weigh defense into rankings. Tulo had a head start because he plays shortstop, and he also plays it well. Longoria is a solid-average fielder, but Tulo has good range and a great arm. Up the middle.

I think the hardest position to consider defense effectively is the catching position. Offensive catchers are the dream of every Major League General Manager, but there are rarely very many in the game at once. They are extremely rare. The reason for this is because many offensive minor league catchers (I'm looking at you, Josh Phelps) don't make it in the Major Leagues because of defense. While Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Neil Walker both were helped by their position, and its relative ranking on the defensive spectrum, it is still very hard to know if they will play good enough defense to enter the Offensive Catcher fraternity.

Hopefully this answered the question.

How much do off-field and or personal issues(i.e. Elijah Dukes' recent/consistent transgressions) weigh in the rankings? Is there a red flag, so to speak, when it only is considered if applicable?

I don't think that I weigh make-up as high as other evaluators, or those within the game. Certainly it is an important part of becoming a star, but I think it is so hard to quantify, it is almost not worth doing. Delmon Young did not drop in my rankings because of the bat-throwing incident, or concerns about his anger. Instead, he dropped because he hasn't shown consistent patience in the minor leagues.

Elijah Dukes did drop because of his make-up, and because his anger continually effects his on-field play. But Dukes fantastic ability keeps him in the top 40. Ultimately, I could not drop him any more, because we simply do not know the effect a promotion to the Majors will have on him. Just as easily as his anger could destroy him (which sounds like a line from Star Wars ... Elijah Dukes as Anakin Skywalker?), he could also get a chip on his shoulder and become a superstar. Since we have no way of knowing this, guessing and ending up wrong seems foolish.

In the end, I won't remember 2006 as the season in which the Devil Rays cut Dukes season short because of his antics, I'll remember him taking Chuck James' fastball 500 feet out of the Durham ballpark, over the blue monster in left field. Talent speaks to me more than anger.

Mad lib: I agonized the most over the ranking of: the three 18-year-old star prospects. Fernando Martinez, Jose Tabata and Elvis Andrus are all extremely unique prospects, like Felix Hernandez was at one time. All of them have the talent to rise to the top of my list one day, but each is so likely to bust out at some point. These players, high on star power and attrition, are always the hardest to rank. With these three, I was changing their rankings constantly, trying to find something that worked for me. Ultimately, F-Mart's good showing in the AFL proved to me his power was real, and his good showing in that left him atop the group of three. Still, I really like Tabata, so I knew he couldn't be far behind. If he rises to my top 10 next season, don't consider me surprised. The hardest to rank of this group was Elvis Andrus, who struggled a bit offensively, as he isn't nearly as strong at these other two players. Still, Andrus could be a very good defensive shortstop and still learn to be an offensive force, a combination which should leave Braves fans drooling. These three players leave me very excited for 2007, when the projection will slowly be turning into realization for each prospect.

The Astros have a catcher that is getting high marks in their minor league system named JR Towles. He always has a high average and plays almost daily in the 3 years in the minor leagues. What have you heard about this young man? The Astros need a catcher after Ausmus leaves...could he possibly be the next in line?

I am familiar with Towles, he had a good season in Lexington, where I was able to see him play during the summer. In person, Towles has one glaring need: time in the weight room. Very skinny, Towles power and health would be much improved with some added strength. He showed some good, yet crude, defense behind the plate: memorably, he threw one ball to the right field wall after attempting to throw behind a baserunner at first base. It was a good, aggressive move that displayed plus arm strength, but it also reinforced complaints about his raw ability. Towles largest positive is good plate coverage, he's a natural hitter with a propensity for contact. This bodes well for his future, as his weaknesses are more easily rectified than problems with his bat. Towles didn't get much consideration for this list, but the Astros are high on him, despite drafting Max Sapp in the first round. As far as replacing Ausmus goes, he very well could, but I don't see Towles becoming Major League ready until at least 2009.

Adam Jones was 19 on your mid-season list...the drop from 19 to 25 isn't all that significant I realize, but did he do anything to drop his stock in the last months of the season? He appeared to take a big jump forward from June-on in Triple-A, but struggled in the majors. If he continues what he did from June-on in the minor leagues, do you see him as a potential top-10 guy next year (assuming no callup)?

Jones drop is not significant at all. He was passed by the best 2006 draftees, as well as the year's best breakout players. I still think very highly of Jones, and my position on his future is unchanged since midseason. However, his Major League trial should create a little cause for concern about his ability to hit a breaking ball. With a decent amount of ML at-bats, the next time Jones reaches the Majors, every team will have a scouting report on him. The Mariners, an organization that shows little patience with prospects, will need to make sure that Jones has mastered the pitching he sees in the PCL before promoting him again. Also, while I remain high on Jones' defense, I was a bit disheartened to read Dave Cameron's lackluster reviews of it at USS Mariner. In compiling the Best Tools of AAA for Baseball America, managers raved to me about Jones defense, so I do think he will be above-average in the Major Leagues. Jones could probably get to 10-15 before his call-up next year, but that's probably where his "rank ceiling" is.

Probably too far in the future, but how about Angel Villalona?

Certainly what I have read about Villalona thus far is intriguing, and it sounds like he should finally give the Giants a star position player prospect. It has been a long time. The reason I didn't rank him yet is two reasons: he has not played in a game yet, and I just don't know enough about him. Baseball America does such a wonderful job bringing these players to the public, but ranking Villalona solely on what I read in BA would be dishonest. For now, I'm willing to wait to see his power in a minor league, and then try and talk to someone who say him before I give him a good ranking. Still, he's probably somewhere 101-125, which for a 16-year-old is pretty remarkable. Kudos to BA for reporting this information so well, and look out for some teenage power in the Arizona Summer League (presumably) next summer.

Last year you had Jon Lester ranked #14. He will probably start the year in the minors for the Red Sox while he rebuilds his strength after recuperating from kicking cancer's butt. If he still qualified for your list, what would he rank this year?

Impossible to say. I am so excited Lester is going to be on the mound in 2007 -- he's a hero -- it speaks to his character as a prospect. We have no idea how much weight or strength loss Lester sustained during cancer, but he's a workhorse, and I don't doubt it will all come back. This is such an uplifting story that it trumps prospect rankings. Lester is a player that everyone, including Yankees fans, should be rooting for. A goal of mine for 2007 is to see him pitch somewhere, and I know that I will wear a Lester jersey into Fenway Park before his career is done.

You have T.Snider ranked 1 spot ahead of A.Lind. What pushed Snider ahead in your eyes?

They are neck and neck. Lind is a favorite prospect of mine, a breakout player I targeted last year whose pure bat proved to have some big power in it. I also am a big Snider fan, the make-up you have heard about in the past came across so well through an interview. These guys are both really good prospects, but I do think Snider could just be more of an offensive force in the Major Leagues. I likened Lind's offensive profile to Carlos Lee, but I think Snider can be above that, even if his size does worry me a bit. Another factor, which we shouldn't overlook, is that Snider will probably reach the Major Leagues at the age of 21 or 22, long before the age Lind will be during his 2007 rookie season.

Keep your minor league questions coming in the comments section of this post, and I will try to answer as many as I can in the next few days. Thanks!

WTNYJanuary 23, 2007
The 2007 WTNY Prospect List
By Bryan Smith

There is no greater season for a prospect evaluator than the winter, as we finally bear down, combine all the evidence and take our stances. For the fourth winter in a row, I have compiled a list of the minor league's 75 best talents -- Major League Baseball's future stars. This winter, I was lucky enough to have SportsIllustrated.com invite me to post my list at their site. This was a fantastic opportunity at heightened exposure as well as the ability to have my wordiness edited by Jake Luft. Over the last week I have written six installments, the last of which is also produced below. The other five pieces at SI:

Honorable Mentions
Prospects 75-61
Prospects 60-46
Prospects 45-31
Prospects 30-16

With the allowance of Luft and SI.com, I have opted to simultaneously post the final edition of my list at Baseball Analysts. I have much nostalgia built into this site and its readers, so I wanted to post my prospect list in this forum again.

Finally, Rich has allowed me to come back to Analysts this Friday as well, as I wanted to compile a mailbag of the questions I receive during the presentation of this list. So, if you have any burning prospect-related questions, leave them in the comments below or e-mail me and I will pick as many as I can to answer Friday. Thanks, as always, for reading.

Bryan Smith's Top 75 Prospects in 2007
For the purposes of this list, a prospect is a player who played predominantly in the minor leagues last season or was drafted in the 2006 June draft. A player loses eligibility for this list once he surpasses 50 innings pitched or 130 at-bats in the major leagues. Japanese imports Daisuke Matsuzaka, Akinori Iwamura and Kei Igawa were not considered due to lengthy experience overseas. Players are judged based on what scouting and statistical reports claim on their potential. Each prospect is presented below with his 2007 baseball age and 2006 statistics.

15. Jay Bruce, 20, RF, Cincinnati Reds
2006 Stats (Class A-): .291/.355/.516, 19 SB in 444 AB

Bruce had a historic season for a teen-ager in the Midwest League, showing left-handed power unrivaled for a player of his maturity. Like so many young left-handed hitters, Bruce has work to do with southpaws, striking out in 30 percent of his at-bats against them in 2006. This is not what scares me. What does is the context within Bruce's numbers and the similarities they bear to Brian Dopirak's legendary Midwest League season in 2004. That year Dopirak became wildly hyped in prospect circles, but I made note of a 27-game stretch during the summer in which he was a decidedly better player than the rest of the season, which is the same thing that happened to Bruce in 2006. In 33 games between June 4 and July 10, Bruce was amazing, hitting .427 and clubbing 24 extra-base hits. The rest of the season? A paltry .238 batting average. However, his power did remain consistent throughout the season, so I am now cautiously confident in Bruce's future.

14. Andrew McCutchen, 20, CF, Pittsburgh Pirates
2006 Stats (A-/AA): .294/.359/.450, 23 SB in 531 AB

Speed is the name of McCutchen's game, as his quickness with his legs and bat leave the Pirates thinking big with their future center fielder. Generously listed at 170 pounds, McCutchen relies on ridiculous bat speed to hit for plus power. His power was restrained much of the season by the spacious dimensions at his home park; he slugged .536 on the road in Low-A. With quickness unrivaled for players with his power, McCutchen also profiles to steal 30 bases and win Gold Gloves down the road. Raw in both areas, McCutchen could stand at least another season and a half in the minor leagues, but his late-season success at AA might have pushed his timetable forward significantly.

13. Tim Lincecum, 23, RHP, San Francisco Giants
2006 Stats (SS/A+): 1.71 ERA, 14H/31.2IP, 58K/12BB

In modern college baseball history, no pitcher has been as dominant in a single season as Jered Weaver was in 2004. In his final year at Long Beach State, Weaver posted a 1.63 ERA and struck out 213 batters while scouts nitpicked his game. In 2006, Weaver received his vindication for his overshadowed Golden Spikes season, dominating the Majors as a rookie. There are numerous similarities between Weaver and Lincecum, who had a 1.99 ERA and 199 strikeouts as a junior at Washington. Lincecum has better stuff than Weaver, touching the high-90s with his fastball while featuring a hammer curveball, but his height (he's about 6-feet tall) led to a drop to the 10th overall selection in the 2006 draft. Lincecum's largest pitfall could be the combination of his violent delivery and extreme workload. The Giants will work hard at managing both in 2007, preparing Lincecum to contribute in the majors by 2008.

12. Andrew Miller, 22, LHP, Detroit Tigers
2006 Stats (A+): 0.00 ERA, 2H/5IP, 9K/1BB

The first player from the 2006 draft to reach the majors, Miller was also the best the draft had to offer. Since opting for North Carolina instead of the Devil Rays out of high school, Miller had long been marked as the player-to-top in his class. Miller won Baseball America's College Player of the Year award with a marvelous junior season. Extremely projectable at a lanky 6-foot-6, Miller's four-seam fastball is already 94-97 mph. As a starter, his bread and butter is a sinking two-seam fastball and a slider that few left-handed hitters can touch. A September call-up showed the Tigers how dominant Miller profiles to be, but also how raw his delivery and command still are; he struck out six batters and walked 10 in 10 1/3 innings with Detroit. Miller will likely begin in Double-A Erie next season and could be pushing for a major-league roster spot again late in the season.

11. Troy Tulowitzki, 22, SS, Colorado Rockies
2006 Stats (AA): .291/.370/.473, 6 SB in 423 AB

Incumbent Clint Barmes struggled in 2006, which means there is nothing holding Tulowitzki back from playing every day in Coors Field. Tulowitzki is a gifted contact hitter who sprays the ball all over the field with gap power. It isn't a stretch to project him as a perennial .300 hitter who bangs out 40 doubles annually. He also has a power stroke that should produce 10 to 20 home runs a season. In the field, he is mistake-prone but shows good range and a cannon arm from the hole. Despite struggling with Colorado in September, Tulowitzki proved in the Arizona Fall League that he's ready for The Show.

10. Adam Miller, 22, RHP, Cleveland Indians
2006 Stats (AA): 2.84 ERA, 133H/158.1IP, 161K/46BB

Miller has gone under a distinct maturation in the minors, the type separating "pitchers" like Jake Peavy from "throwers" like Kerry Wood. Formerly known as "Mr. 101" stemming from a late-season velocity reading before an arm injury in 2004, Miller has since backpedaled his approach and trusted his stuff. These days, Miller focuses on keeping his darting two-seamer down in the zone (resulting in a 1.59 G/F ratio in AA) and striking out hitters with his plus-plus slider. Miller's maturation is still a work in progress. That was evident in 2006 as he allowed seven home runs in his first 10 starts. However, the right-hander limited opponents to a mere two home runs the rest of the season thanks largely to an improved command of his slider.

9. Billy Butler, 21, LF, Kansas City Royals
2006 Stats (AA): .331/.388/.499, 1 SB in 477 AB

Butler played in an unfriendly hitting environment (Wichita) in 2006. At home during the season, Butler hit just one home run compared to 14 while on the road. The latter number more accurately details Butler's huge power potential. Butler's combination of contact and power skills are fantastic, and his late-season performance indicates he could be even better next year. Between June 1 and his exit to play for Team USA, Butler batted .354 while striking out just 33 times. Butler creates an adventure with every fly ball in left field, but his defensive shortcomings will be forgotten if he can provide protection for Alex Gordon in the Royals' lineup.

8. Cameron Maybin, 20, CF, Detroit Tigers
2006 Stats (A-): .304/.387/.457, 27 SB in 385 AB

Maybin lived up to all the hype in his first pro season. He might not be the second coming of Ken Griffey Jr., but Maybin has a generational five-tool set. Many have pointed to Maybin's .408 BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play) and called his season overrated, but I don't believe this is true. Maybin has the same kind combination of speed and line-drive ability that allows Ichiro to post high BABIPs every season, albeit not quite as high as .408. While his numbers could come down a bit with worse luck in 2007, it also could be pointed out his numbers took a hit by an early return from a thumb injury. Maybin struggled horribly in his first 15 games coming off the DL, hitting just 12-for-56 without much power. With a healthy season, I think Maybin could improve on his 2006 numbers in the Florida State League; the speedy center fielder has greater power than he showed in the tough Midwest League.

7. Justin Upton, 19, CF, Arizona Diamondbacks
2006 Stats (A-): .263/.343/.413, 15 SB in 438 AB

Like his brother, B.J. Upton, Justin Upton is an extremely divisive prospect as people struggle to understand why his output has not matched his talent. The latter was obvious for four years of high school, and nationally on display in spring training when Upton looked fantastic against the Chicago White Sox on WGN. Upton has a mature body with extremely long legs, which combined with his speed give him fantastic home-to-first times. Upton draws deserved comparisons to Alfonso Soriano, who has a similarly long, controlled and powerful swing. Most people have questioned Upton's makeup due to his poor season, but the concerns are overdone; expectations were just too high for the 2005 draft's top pick. Upton might not be as major-league ready as we thought last March, but his All-Star ceiling should not be altered because of an average debut.

6. Chris Young, 23, CF, Arizona Diamondbacks
2006 Stats (AAA): .276/.363/.532, 17 SB in 402 AB

While the exit of fan favorite Luis Gonzalez provides a public relations hit to Arizona in 2007, the entrance of Young should quickly make D-Backs fans forget their former hero. This will be most evident defensively, as Arizona adds Young's fabulous range in center, pushing Eric Byrnes to left field and surely saving the pitching staff many runs. Offensively, Young should be at least on par with Gonzalez next season, if not better. Young has the chance to be a 25 homer/25 steals threat as a rookie and is the odds-on favorite to capture National League Rookie of the Year honors. Young began making better contact last season as well, but his batting average didn't go up, the product of bad luck against southpaws. His BABIP was .100 points worse against left-handers, and when that number improves, Young could threaten to break the .300 barrier for his first time as a pro.

5. Brandon Wood, 22, SS, Los Angeles Angels
2006 Stats (AA): .276/.355/.552, 19 SB in 453 AB

After a breakout season of epic proportions in the hitter-friendly California League in 2005, Wood entered last year with a considerable amount of pressure. Was it a fluke? Can his offensive approach continue to produce big results? Will his power sustain at higher levels? What Wood proved in 2006 was that he was indeed a top prospect, showing substantial power throughout the season. Wood is going to suffer through a lot of variance in his numbers because of his high strikeout rate, but his ability to hit the ball out of any park offsets concerns about his swing-and-miss tendencies. By walking more often last season, Wood became a more valuable prospect, making a potential move to the hot corner far less daunting. Expect Wood to push the Angels to a decision on whether to call him up in 2007 as Salt Lake's altitude should lend to Wood's 100th minor-league home run by midseason.

4. Philip Hughes, 21, RHP, New York Yankees
2006 Stats (A+/AA): 2.16 ERA, 92H/146IP, 168K/34BB

If Roger Clemens does not return to the Bronx in 2007, Hughes will be the hot-button issue in New York come June. By then, Hughes will be dominating AAA with every outing. The Yankees have done a fabulous job preparing Hughes for his midseason call-up, slowly increasing his workload in the minor leagues. With 146 innings last year, Hughes should be able to pitch consistently through October, by which time he might already be the Yankees' No. 2 starter. Far more impressive than Hughes' heavy sinker or jaw-dropping curveball is his understanding of pitching; he is the most intelligent phenom in recent memory. Hughes does not give in to any bat, rarely allows free trips to first base, and gets groundballs consistently from the stretch. Hughes is as good as a New York pitching prospect has been in a long time.

3. Homer Bailey, 21, RHP, Cincinnati Reds
2006 Stats (A+/AA): 2.47 ERA, 99H/138.2IP, 156K/50BB

A year ago, things did not add up with Homer Bailey. The prep star's full season debut began in the pitcher-friendly Midwest League, where he allowed a 7.73 H/9, struck out 125 batters and allowed just five home runs in just over 100 innings. However, his ERA was 4.43. The reason? Sixty-two walks, indicating poor command that Bailey had not shown as a high schooler. The anomalies I saw straightened themselves out in 2006, when Bailey became the game's best pitching prospect. The electricity of Bailey's stuff -- the life of his fastball and break on his curve -- are fantastic, and Bailey already attacks hitters like a veteran. In 2005, Bailey walked fewer than two batters just six times. In 2006, he raised the number to nine starts. If he can make a 50 percent improvement on that number again next season, Bailey will finish the year in Cincinnati.

2. Delmon Young, 21, RF, Tampa Bay Devil Rays
2006 Stats (AAA): .316/.341/.474, 22 SB in 342 AB

I wanted Young to be my top prospect this season. He held that role a year ago and I have long predicted his future superstardom. My views on Young's future are unchanged heading into this season, but Young was downgraded to the No. 2 spot on this list because of one negative trait: patience. Young does not have great makeup (see: bat toss at umpire), but he would hardly be the first superstar to combine success with anger. What I can't overlook is Young's allergy to drawing walks, as he has just 20 since a mid-July promotion to AAA in 2005. Young must walk more in the majors to reach his full potential, but his power, hand-eye coordination, speed and throwing arm will make him an All-Star regardless.

1. Alex Gordon, 23, 3b, Kansas City Royals
2006 Stats (AA): .325/.427/.588, 22 SB in 486 AB

Gordon is the ultimate hitting prospect. A left-handed hitter with a gorgeous swing, the 2005 Golden Spikes award winner made the transition to wooden bats look easy. He thrived in the Texas League, becoming a potential savior in the eyes of Royals fans. Unlike Butler, Wichita's pitcher-friendly tendencies did not faze Gordon, who hit 19 home runs in the seasons' final 60 games. This did correspond with a rise in strikeouts (63 over that span), but the Royals do not question Gordon's ability to hit for average. Also an intelligent player, Gordon understands the value of a walk and also is fantastic at picking out the right times to steal a base. The Royals expect him to hit and hit quickly as a rookie in 2007.

The rest of my top 75 prospect list is in order after the jump, and remember to leave your questions for the mailbag on Friday.


WTNYAugust 29, 2006
By Bryan Smith

Dear loyal readers,

Today, I'm sad to say, will be my last post as co-writer at Baseball Analysts.

18 months ago - hard to believe, isn't it? - Rich and I moved from All-Baseball.com to this venue, in hopes of creating an eclectic site to provide daily, lengthy baseball analysis. It's been a fantastic year and a half, and our creation has had more success than either of us could have hoped for.

Personally, today represents another left turn in my own winding Internet road, a journey spanning four years and multiple URLs. I deeply appreciate each reader who has stuck with me through it all, as you are the reasons I have had opportunities for publications I deeply admire and respect. Without you, I never would have had bylines at Baseball Prospectus, SI.com or Baseball America.

Once upon a time, I had the energy to write five long posts a week, the time to throw myself into minor league baseball research constantly. When such a schedule became too daunting, I was lucky enough to find Rich, whose partnership allowed me to decrease my workload to three times a week. Unfortunately, for personal reasons, I am no longer able to commit to such a schedule, and in fairness to Rich, I could not ask to remain on this site's masthead.

So instead, Rich and I have decided it's best for me to turn my key in, and going forward, he will have full control of this site. I'll be making guest appearances, now and again, and will also be freelancing some work all around the Internet. After years of attempting to live by strict writing schedules, I have reached a point in which I must step back.

I have not lost the itch to write or the itch to follow baseball, this I can assure you. I will remain knee-deep in minor league analysis, and will try to write as often as possible. I'll still be making a prospect list, and this January, I'll again attempt to find prospects that will break out next season. I have some plans for writing before then, and I don't doubt you'll be seeing my byline plenty going forward.

As the cliche goes, it's not goodbye, it's see you later. For those looking to get in contact with me going forward, please do not hesitate to e-mail me at bsmithwtny AT yahoo.com. I want to finish today thanking Rich Lederer, who has been a fantastic partner during our run and will undoubtedly continue to be a wonderful friend going forward.

Take care, Bryan Smith.

WTNYAugust 15, 2006
NL Rookie Countdown
By Bryan Smith

Major League Baseball should be amped up for a huge September, a month promising as much drama as any year in recent memory. The American League seems as deep as ever, with some heated battles for the AL Wild Card, and a less exciting race in the AL West. In the National League, all teams are all fighting for spots behind the Mets.

In some ways, more intriguing than the races this September will be to see which rookie jumps forward with a big season's end. Perhaps the deepest rookie crop in history, there has been evidence of a Major League youth movement all over the Majors - from Miami to Los Angeles.

With the year counting down, and September about to crown a champion, I wanted to give a primer of each league's Rookie of the Year race before anyone separates himself. We start today with the National League, and my countdown of the best NL rookies of 2006 ...

10. Cole Hamels

Where He Was Last Year: My #49 prospect entering the season, Hamels' injury-riddled 2005 saw questions begin to crop up about his health problems. Hamels hadn't stayed off the DL for a long period of time since high school, and even his own frustrations were beginning to show - an early season bar-fight accident angered the organization. Still, when on the mound, Hamels showed potential of what he had in his first minor league season. The makings of a big ceiling were there, but so was a lot of risk.

How He Is This Year: Hamels began the season on time, and flew through the minor leagues when no stop posed a problem. Glorified on the internet, Hamels was not an instant success, but has performed admirably (4.50 ERA) in his rookie season. I love his peripheral numbers - which include 74 hits and 96 strikeouts in 84 innings - and Hamels has the ability to dominate that few players do at his age. He won't be winning any trophies this season, but Hamels is a good long-term bet to become an ace.

9. Takashi Saito

Where He Was Last Year: Not on American soil. Saito, 36, came over from Japan in the winter, when the top 1992 draft pick enjoyed a lackluster career. Saito had a big season in 2001, when he posted a 1.67 ERA, but the hinges appeared to come off after a bad 2004. Saito's signing took quite a bit of foresight from a scouting department emerging as baseball's best.

Where He Is This Year: With Gagne hurt, Saito has been fantastic in the late-inning role. An unsung hero from the most recent Sunday night win, Saito looked fantastic in his one inning of relief. As would be no surprise for a Japanese pitcher, Saito is best when throwing his breaking ball for strikes in fastball counts. Saito has had a good year, but remember, voters have an anti-aging bias when it comes to "rookies."

8. Scott Olsen

Where He Was Last Year: Things may have looked bad a year ago, when Olsen posted his highest ERA ever - a 3.92 showing in AA, but such was not the case. As I pointed out when ranking Olsen as the game's #20 prospect, the southpaw's rise in ERA came with large improvements in both the walk and strikeout categories. A bit 2006 was in the cards.

Where He Is This Year: Olsen hasn't been fantastic with the Marlins this season, but he's been consistently very good. The problem with Olsen, and many members of the Florida staff, will be finding a way to harness his great stuff and cut down on the walk total. While Olsen's home run mark is down again this season, he'll never turn the big corner until he learns to hit the ball where he wants.

7. Russ Martin

Where He Was Last Year: Not far removed from a conversion to behind the plate, Martin took to the position last year, following up on an awe-inspiring Spring Training. Martin ranked as my #37 prospect, and I said he had the "best plate discipline in the minor leagues." We knew then what we have now - Martin has all the makings of a very solid, very consistent Major League catcher.

Where He Is This Year: The Dodgers were cautious with much of their youth in the early season, allowing each player to start hitting the ball consistent in the Pacific Coast League. Martin was one of the first call-ups, and his presence made the team forget about Dioner Navarro's 2005 cup of coffee. With a walk-off home run on the national stage Sunday, Martin appears to be entering the upmost echelon of baseball catchers, a tier where only a few players alive currently reside.

6. Matt Cain

Where He Was Last Year: Something must have been wrong with Cain last season, who showed up in camp out of shape, and spent the season in AAA. Armed with newfound control problems, Cain was posting dangerously high walk and flyball numbers. Still, his stuff was great and his strikeout rate was high, and Cain was among my top pitching prospects, ranked as the minors' #8 prospect.

Where He Is This Year: Teams take baby steps with young bodies, and the reins are still on Cain this season. Manager Alou's grip doesn't promise to lighten until Cain can add a bit of consistency to his game. While he's flashed double-digit strikeout, no-hitter type stuff, the problem remains his HR-happy fastball, with which he must further harness control.

5. Ryan Zimmerman

where He Was Last Year: In lecture halls 16 months ago, if you can believe it. While Zimmerman's bat was considered no sure thing entering the draft, it caught on quickly, and Zimmerman began to fly through the minors. Zimmerman's defense was advertised very highly, and his package of successful indicators led me to a #12 ranking of the National on my rookie list.

Where He Is This Year: The problem with Zimmerman's bat was always in the power department - he could make contact just fine. This season his downfall, when compared to the other rookies, will be his inability to smash enough home runs to keep with the slugging percentages of the worlds Prince Fielders and Dan Ugglas. Zimmerman is a remarkable story, and you have to wonder where he would go if the 2005 draft was done all over again.

4. Dan Uggla

where He Was Last Year: ... Crickets ... The answer to this question is one that nobody knows - he wasn't that important. But exposed to the Rule 5 draft, Uggla found a perfect suitor in the Marlins, desperately looking for a Luis Castillo replacement. Uggla has been that and more in the Miami middle infield, flashing power that even his biggest supporters weren't aware of.

Where He Is This Year: While he's fallen off some since a ridiculous start to the season, Uggla still has the best numbers of any rookie middle infielder this season. Hanley Ramirez might have generated most of the early-season press -- OK, ok, well ... all of it -- but Ramirez' recent drop-off has opened the doors for Uggla to show his true colors. I would sell his stock high if I lived in Miami, but that could be a tall order depending on the market.

3. Prince Fielder

where He Was Last Year: Hitting, of course, but in the minor leagues. Since his MVP season in the Midwest League, Fielder was a threat in any league he attended. At each stop, including the PCL last season, Fielder showed power that was drawing 40-HR annually predictions. His play at first base was never lauded, but Fielder always seemed to get the better end on predictions than his father did. I was always a believer, and made him my #4 prospect.

Where He Is This Year: Fielder has been fantastic this season, putting himself in sight of 30 HR by season's end. The Brewers were simply able to trade Carlos Lee at the deadline because of Fielder's resurgence. The Brewers infield defense hasn't been good this season, but as Rickie Weeks and Bill Hall continue to make improvements, so will Fielder. Not only is he the best front-to-back rookie in the NL, he's even more of a future star than we thought.

2. Andre Ethier

where He Was Last Year: Even since Ethier starred at Arizona State, he was the profile of a 4th outfielder. Capable of playing all three outfield positions, but none of them particularly well. Capable of hitting enough for a full-time spot, but not enough power for a spot in a corner. However, last year everything seemed to click, and Ethier exctied Logan White. The Milton Bradley-for-Ethier trade looked pretty bad 1-2 months in, but now the Dodgers have managed to flip the script.

Where He Is This Year: Fantastic. Not yet eligible for the National League batting race, Ethier would now be in first place, a legitimate number. The Dodgers didn't seem to like Ethier as much as some of their homegrown options early in the season, but Ethier's wide-ranging skillset grew on the Dodgers. Now, after they found another way to acquire Maddux, the Dodgers seem committed to not move Ethier.

1. Josh Johnson

where He Was Last Year: Not ranked in my prospect list, and to be honest, Johnson wasn't particularly close. He had a good 2005 season, and some wondered if he had turned a corner, but I wasn't willing to jump on the bandwagon. Johnson's hit ratio was just too high to support a K/9 that never touched 9, and a walk ratio that was at 3.78 per nine in 2004. I didn't like Johnson.

Where He Is This Year: I was wrong. Strikeouts aren't always the answer, as apparently, Johnson's minor league 7.30 mark was enough for the Major Leagues. If the season ended today, Johnson would lead the NL in ERA, making him a shoo-in for the National League Rookie of the Year. With that in mind, it's his award to lose, and if I was a gambling man, I'd say his most likely competitors are: Prince Fielder, Dan Uggla, Russ Martin. But before one of the hitters emerge from the scramble, Johnson will have to start pitching badly, an occurrence yet to happen in 25 games this season.

And, of course, as I always urge: please use the comments to give me your own National League rookie list.

WTNYAugust 10, 2006
2006 Story From the Systems: Surprises
By Bryan Smith

Hard to believe, but the minor league baseball season is narrowing down. The season has been full of every weird twist and turn that we have each year on the farm.

For the next five Fridays, we'll attempt to look back on this season and find context for it all. We start with the season's largest surprises, beginning with the clubs in the American League...

Kansas City - Quite simply, demotions are bad news for any rebuilding process. This season, my surprise story has been a pair of Major Leaguers spending time in the minor leagues: Mark Teahen and Zack Greinke. Teahen, the prize acquisition in the Carlos Beltran trade, was sent down to Omaha in early May sporting a .195/.241/.351 line. After torching the Pacific Coast League in just 79 at-bats, Teahen has been one of the AL's best hitters in June. Greinke's story is far more strange and doesn't offer a happy ending. After leaving during Spring Training citing personal problems, the pride of Kansas City has spent much of the season in Wichita, pitching inconsistently in a league where he was once the best prospect.

Tampa Bay - The easiest pick of the group, and the strangest story of the season: the Durham Bulls. Take your prized D-Rays prospect, and take your pick. Delmon Young? Forget the lack of power, Delmon missed 50 games for his infamous thrown bat. B.J. Upton? The good boy of the Durham clan had a DUI after the Bulls were shut out in a doubleheader against Buffalo. Elijah Dukes? Ejected and suspended multiple times, Dukes is now at home in Florida, contemplating giving up baseball. This, of course, came months after Dukes showed signs of being the best of the group. You can bet make-up has suddenly become an important aspect of the D-Rays scouting staff's requirements.

Cleveland - Simply put, no system has had a jump in 2006 like the Indians, thanks to three equally surprising breakouts. While Andy Marte was brought in during the off season to be the future at the hot corner, Kevin Kouzmanoff has made things interesting. After nearly hitting .400 in the Eastern League, Kouzmanoff has continued to flourish since replacing Marte in the Buffalo lineup. Next spring's position battle promises to be one of the year's best. Brian Barton is the ultimate draft day faux pas story, and looking more and more like a legit prospect with each swing in AA. Finally, Chuck Lofgren went from the athletic southpaw with an intriguing upside to a polished pitching prospect worth the Indians delicate touch.

Baltimore - Since Jeffrey Maier, it appears bad news is a staple of this organization. While things appear dismal on the Major League front, the farm system does appear to be making baby steps towards mediocrity. While both Radhames Liz and Brandon Erbe would make good choices for this column, it always seems that with a little good news comes bad news for the Orioles. Brandon Snyder looked great in his pro debut last summer, immediately validating his selection in the first round. The wheels came off quickly this year, and Snyder has yet to make a pit stop. In Low-A, injuries and ineffectiveness led to Snyder playing just 38 games before a demotion, where his season line reads .194/.237/.340. While the New York-Penn League should have offered a vast improvement, Snyder's struggles have not subsided, and the catcher sports a poor .606 OPS.

Seattle - Chris Snelling spends much of the season on the DL? Old news. Aggressive promoting all through the system? A Bavasi staple. And while most of his pushed players have struggled at the higher levels, the Mariners are looking like geniuses for putting Mark Lowe in the bullpen. Once a middle-of-the-road starting prospect, Lowe has been the Mariners own K-Rod/Gagne story of the season, not allowing a run in his first 11 games. Seattle won't be able to tell the Lowe story in the playoffs, but his unsung season is a remarkable story.

Texas - It wasn't long ago that the DVD trio was supposed to be the Rangers saving grace, the pitching that had been lacking in Arlington for a decade. Suddenly, things don't appear so easy. Thomas Diamond, once poised and filthy off the bump, has 68 walks in 107.2 innings at AA. John Danks has continued to be inconsistent as can be, allowing a few too many hits and runs to be an elite pitcher. Surprisingly, Edinson Volquez has been the best of the bunch, but he too comes with control problems: 72 in 120.2 innings. Considered three future anchors six months ago, it would no longer be too shocking if DVD represented half of the Rangers future bullpen.

Los Angeles - Howie Kendrick, Brandon Wood, even Nick Adenhart, they aren't surprises. These names are tributes to the Angels scouting department, yes, but their 2006 successes come as a small surprise. The one player to turn the most heads, however, has been Jose Arredondo, just 2 years removed from donning a helmet and wood bat. Probably the Cal League's best pitcher before his promotion, Arredondo dominated in one of the minors most difficult environments for pitchers. Arrendondo has struggled in AA, and is raw enough to still have the PROJECT label across his forehead, but for the first time in awhile, the right-hander is beginning to look more like a pitcher than a thrower.

Toronto - While the Blue Jays lack of development in the pitching category is a story of itself, Toronto's big surprise is Adam Lind, who has added something to a faceless system. While Toronto's risk-averse drafting has yielded little dividends in recent years (read: Russ Adams, Aaron Hill), Lind provides validation for the pure college hitter. After flashing polish and gap power in the Florida State League a year ago, Lind added strength in the winter, and now many of his long balls are clearing the fence. Lind is now the clear-cut top prospect in the organization, but no one else has advanced like he has in 2006.

Oakland - Another organization often deemed risk-averse, the A's big story could be the poor full season debuts of their prep pitching trio. But the happier story, the more surprising story, has been Jason Windsor's catapult through the system. The former over-worked Titan CWS MVP has been gangbusters this season, offering enough control and a good enough fastball to get out players consistently in both AA and AAA. While his Major League debut wasn't so hot, Windsor's 11-0 record at AAA speaks for itself. We're a long way from Billy Beane complaining about his collegiate usage habits at this point.

Boston - Opposite from Oakland, the Red Sox season's success story stems from their young pitching draftees. Normally a college-heavy organization, the Red Sox went out on a ledge drafting Clay Buchholz (JC boy) and Michael Bowden (HS right-hander) last season. However, neither player has missed a beat in the South Atlantic League this season, making up for the system's loss of the Jons, Papelbon and Lester. I maintain my preference for Bowden as the better prospect, but with near identical peripherals, it's hard to tell at this point. If not these two, recent draftee Bryce Cox makes for quite the story, as closing in Wilmington is a long way from the back end of Rice's bullpen.

Minnesota - Doubt Mike Radcliffe, and this is what you get. While Matt Garza was not a sexy first round choice 14 months ago, the Fresno State ace would be a top ten pick if the draft were re-held today. With Francisco Liriano out indefinitely, Garza is in the Major Leagues, a long way from his original Fort Myers assignment. However, Garza proved able in each stop between Florida and Minnesota, even dominating in five AAA starts before his call-up. Garza is one of a huge group of pitching success stories for the Twins: Pat Neshek the other feel-good story of the season. Now we're all but waiting for Eduardo Morlan to become elite, seemingly the next Twin in the pecking order.

Chicago - A no-doubter: Josh Fields. What looked like a stretch on draft day looked even worse last season, as Fields couldn't help drawing comparisons to Drew Henson with his long, contact-averse swing. However things clicked for Fields in the winter, and he's been one of the best hitters in the International League in 2006. Problem for Fields is that Joe Crede has been just as good in the Majors, making his .315/.389/.526 line look only moderately appealing. Most shocking, Fields has still not really sunk his teeth into a new position, as Scott Podsednik's seemingly-forthcoming exit would usually open a hole for a hitter of Fields' caliber.

New York - Plain and simple, a 17-year-old in full season baseball is a unique sighting. One of three in the Sally League this season, Jose Tabata has looked like the best and most consistent in 2006. The Yankees newest elite prospect wasn't fantastic, but his near-.800 OPS has convinced many people that he's the future in the Yankee Stadium outfield. Still a long way from the Majors, things get ugly when one thinks about what the NYC hype machine could do to a great story like Tabata. So, for the hope of avoiding that, I nominate J.B. Cox as the season's success story.

Detroit - Flame-throwing is now synonymous witht he Tigers, as Joel Zumaya and Justin Verlander are a pair of the best stories from the Major League season. If we look to find a continuation of this in the minors, it's easy, as the arrival of both Humberto Sanchez and Andrew Miller have made minor league headlines this season. Sanchez' arrival is one of refinement, going from a projected reliever to a key September arm for Detroit in their Cinderella season. Miller will also be making a cup of coffee, as his Major League contract stipulates so. After landing Cameron Maybin in 2005, the Tigers landed a bigger heist on draft day 2006, finding consensus top prospect Andrew Miller in the six-hole.

WTNYAugust 09, 2006
Swings and MIsses
By Bryan Smith

October is the month of baseball memories, June the month of swoons, when the long season begins to take notice. July is the month of trading, March the month of spring. And January, in baseball, is the month of predictions.

I haven't been able to write a mid-season review of my sleepers this season (perhaps my first prediction), so today we'll break down each player seven months removed from their praises. I definitely haven't achieved the success rate I had last year (which was probably an anomaly), but inevitably, a few have indeed proven to be worth a higher value than they were a year ago. The players:

  • Reid Brignac (TB/AA/SS): My best success, Brignac is now a highly-valued middle infield prospect. While the Cal League surely boosted his numbers, Brignac has good power and will hit at the next level. Raw defensively, he might not end up at short, but he is athletic enough to improve. I still like Brignac, and it looks like he's the Midwest League’s success story of the season.

  • Christian Garcia (NYY/R/RHP): The danger of projecting success for young pitchers is, of course, attrition. Garcia's oblique injury has tarnished his season, and since returning, he has not looked like the same pitcher. It's hard to know what to make from his current sample size, but he sure doesn't look like the pitcher we saw last season. Too bad, because he was my most confident selection.

  • Homer Bailey (CIN/AA/RHP): Bailey was already highly-regarded, but when I put him on my list, it meant I thought he would enter elite status this season (like Nick Markakis the season before). I was right in this regard, as the player I saw pitch in the Midwest League last season proved more consistent this year. Bailey is the poster-child for learned control, as since seeing a decrease in the walk column, he's become the game's best pitching prospect.

  • Adam Bostick (FLA/AA/LHP): The opposite of Bailey, Bostick is the poster-child for not being able to harness control. While Bostick continues to show good strikeout numbers thanks to an above-average breaking ball, his control numbers completely hold him back as a prospect. I still think a move to the bullpen could create a good reliever, but my confidence in his left arm is out the window.

  • Adam Lind (TOR/AAA/OF): Doubles in the Florida State League turn to home runs in the Eastern League. It seemed too easy a statement to hold up, but it did this season, as Lind proved he had middle-of-the-order power. His defensive profile, or lack thereof, will hold him back as a prospect, but Lind is one of the minors better pure hitters. If Carlos Lee became manageable in left field, Lind can do the same; he'll be ready by next summer.

  • Mark Trumbo (LAA/A-/1B): There is danger in projecting a breakout before you see a player in person. Trumbo is that type of player, as his lack of athleticism shocked me when I saw his big body manning first in Cedar Rapids this spring. Trumbo has big power that should blossom in the Cal League, but his slow bat and poor fielding ability don’t leave a lot of hope. Trojan fans, if it makes you feel better, I can't imagine someone that large being much of a pitching prospect.

  • Brad Harman (PHI/A+/SS): My largest point of confusion on the season. Harman looked to be a fantastic choice in the spring, when the shortstop led the WBC Australian team in hitting. However, his year in Clearwater has proven disastrous, and reports of Harman are very bad. I do think an exit from the league will benefit Harman, but Chase Utley-lite is no longer a valid projection. Ouch.

  • Chuck Lofgren (CLE/A+/LHP): I discovered Lofgren a bit late to put him in my BP article, but I did mention his name as a breakout guy before the season started. Lofgren showed a lot of potential last year, and with his athletic profile and good stuff, looked ready to blossom in 2006. He's done just that with Kinston this season, as he's currently tied for the minor league wins lead. Lofgren is no future ace, but he'll be very valuable in the middle of a rotation.

  • Garrett Mock (ARI/AA/RHP): It just doesn't make sense to me. How can a player that strikes out batters at such a high rate be so poor in the hit column? What seemed like a fluke last year has proven reality in the Southern League, as Mock is simply a hittable pitcher. I don't see a way around this, and while his strikeouts might get him a shot in the big leagues, his hit rates no longer bode well for future success. Perhaps a change in organization - he has since been traded to the Washington Nationals (and Mike Rizzo) - will be best for Mock.

  • WTNYAugust 08, 2006
    Summer Notebook
    By Bryan Smith

    Once upon a time, I kept score at every baseball game I went to, without fail. Need a memory? Look back into old scorecards of Albert Pujols as a Peoria Chief, or a Norberto Martin walk-off home run in Comiskey Park.

    Slowly, my habit started to die, and I stopped keeping score. Needing something to stay into the game, I've made sure to have a notebook nearby in every stadium I've been to in 2006. Glancing over the pages, I have a lot of thoughts that didn't turn into articles this summer, a lot of lists that are in danger of going unread. Today we'll remedy that problem, as I begin to empty out my 2006 notebook...

    After watching Team USA multiple times this summer, I posted a synopsis of my thoughts on SI.com Friday. The article breaks down the top 11 players on the team, but with my notes, I realized I should probably touch on the team's other players. Some quick thoughts on each:

  • Sean Doolittle (Virginia/So./1B): The ACC Player of the Year took the summer off pitching despite a great spring off the bump. His bat struggled a bit compared to last year (when he led the team in hitting), but Doolittle was still impressive. His defense at first base is almost Major League caliber, touted by Coach Tim Corbin as the best at the college level. He'll never hit more than 15-20 home runs in a season with wood, but he has impressive gap power and a good approach at the plate. At this point it's hard to tell where he’ll be drafted at (first or mound?), but either way, a high selection is a given.

  • Ross Detwiler (Missouri St./So./LHP): One of the roster's bigger surprises, Detwiler was the first of the original starters to move to the bullpen. A relief role is where he projects best, as scouts do like his 92-94 mph fastball that offers solid projection. However, Detwiler's a bit of a project at this point, with poor command and a raw breaking ball. He has high bust potential, but as a hard-throwing southpaw, a lot of teams will be interested in attempting to refine his stuff.

  • Brandon Crawford (UCLA/Fr./SS): Very close to making my top 11, Crawford might have been the team's most athletic player. A gifted shortstop, Crawford combined good range with an infield cannon. His bat is a question mark at this point, and he really struggled with a move to wood. He should be back on Team USA next summer, where he'll profile as 2008's Zack Cozart.

  • Cole St. Clair (Rice/So./LHP): A closer at Rice this spring, St. Clair's stock took the biggest bump in Omaha where he showed a lot of versatility. His ability to pitch multiple innings could lend a starting spot next spring, but his future is relief, where he seems (to me) similar to Gregg Olson.

  • Nick Hill (Army/Jr./LHP): Intangibles were a large part of Hill's selection to the team, but make no mistake, the kid can pitch. His fastball won't light up radar guns (84-88 mph), but he had as much pitchability as any non-Roemer on the pitching staff. I like Hill's breaking ball some, and while he faces an uphill battle as a pro pitching prospect, I wouldn't bet against him.

  • Darwin Barney (Oregon St./So./SS): Listed at short, Barney rarely got a chance to play up the middle with Cozart and Crawford on the roster. Instead, he showed versatility this summer, proving able in left field. If he can add 2B and 3B to his resume, Barney will be able to sell himself as a utility player in the Mackowiak/Freel sense, which I always thought he profiled best as. A true tweener.

  • Roger Kieschnick (Texas Tech/Fr./OF): Brook's cousin, Kieschnick seemed to come up with the big hit late in every game. While there is juice in both his bat and his arm, I did not like Kieschnick. The left-handed right fielder looked really bad against advanced pitching, swinging and missing often. There's a hint of great potential there, but Kieschnick's a long way from achieving it.

  • Tommy Hunter (Alabama/Fr./RHP): Quite simply, Hunter's stock has limited potential thanks to his bad body. While Hunter has good control of a low 90s fastball and a good slider, he's large in every area. If Tommy doesn't lose weight in the fall, he faces the risk of a serious drop in the draft as a eligible sophomore next year.

  • Preston Clark (Texas/Fr./C): Clark seems to be a good college player without a ton of potential as a pro prospect. However, his status as a solid receiving catcher should help him land a spot with an organization, and he could be a back-up catcher at the pro level. However, I just didn't see enough hitting ability to like him much.

  • Tim Federowicz (UNC/Fr./C): A surprise freshman season ended in big fashion, as Federowicz made the team to help Arencibia in the late innings. However, the catcher also found a lot of action on the mound, where he flashed a fastball that touched 90. A good defensive catcher, Federowicz has enough contact ability to be listed as a good '08 prospect.

    * * * * *

    After mentioning in last Friday's column that I attended the East Coast Showcase last week, I got a few e-mails asking me who I liked from the event. I won't go into too much detail, because I'm far from being able to properly read players from such limited exposure, but here's a few players to look out for that shined:

  • Matthew Harvey: A big right-hander from the Northeast, Harvey should have a huge senior season in 2007. In his first outing at the showcase, Harvey struck out the only six batters he faced, showing a fantastic low-to-mid 90s fastball and a big, slow curveball he could throw for strikes. A likely top 15 pick.

  • John Tolisano: Apparently, Tolisano has been around the block, competing on the showcase circuit for years. His comfort level was apparent, and Tolisano had a fantastic batting practice, hitting multiple home runs. I think he's a third baseman at the pro level, but his bat will be enough to handle the position switch.

  • Hunter Morris: An Alabama shortstop, Morris will also likely move positions, probably to left field. He showed the most power of any hitter I saw, hitting 4-5 home runs in batting practice. He's a mess defensively, but his bat is first round caliber.

  • Michael Main: The top-ranked prep player next year, I only saw Main hit and take outfield practice, I wasn't there to see him pitch. However, Main's outfield practice blew away everyone else, and he showed fantastic speed down the lines. With an 80 arm and good speed, it was easy to see why Main is valued as a future top-5 pick.

  • Drew Cumberland: I'll end with a sleeper, as Cumberland is hardly valued in the same breath as these other players. However, I thought the world of Cumberland, who showed soft hands and a big arm at short, where I think he'll stay at the next level. He also took a good batting practice, showing projectable power and a good offensive approach.

  • WTNYAugust 04, 2006
    Baseball in All Forms
    By Bryan Smith

    "Baseball is timeless," the back of a shirt I once owned read.

    People would ask me why I was so into baseball, a game too slow to keep their interest. My responses, well-prepared, circled around the type of cheesy cliched lines that adorned popular t-shirts like mine. I jumped on response bandwagons.

    In truth, looking back at those times, I knew I loved baseball, but I could never properly explain why. Putting your reasons in words was always difficult. This summer, my baseball experiences have been as prolific and eclectic as ever, and it's all starting to make sense to me. I'm starting to develop my own real answer.

    Baseball isn't timeless. It isn't like math, a universal language the same in South Africa as it is in Australia, the same in downtown New York City as it is in rural Iowa. Baseball in these locales revolves around the same game, but I love it because it isn't.

    Last fall, I was lucky enough to find a ticket to the first game of the World Series. A lifelong Cubs fan, I didn't go thinking the outcome would matter to me. But in U.S. Cellular, the atmosphere captured me in seconds. I remember getting goose bumps during the national anthem, looking around and realizing that I was in the midst of the luckiest moment of my life.

    World Series baseball isn't the baseball they play in early August. More importantly, it isn't the same feeling from the stands. When Bobby Jenks entered Game 1, and particularly when he struck out Jeff Bagwell, I was hooked. I was as excited in that moment as I'd been when Mark Prior shut out the Braves in the playoffs a couple years earlier.

    After a long winter break from baseball, I returned to the game in the spring, making an annual sojourn with my father to Arizona. We don't trek to Phoenix for the sun or for the golf, but instead fill our schedule with baseball, filling it as much as possible.

    Spring Training baseball is a different beast as well. Managers throw strategy to the wind, more concerned with trying things to gauge their team. Superstars are trying to recapture their stroke, altering and tinkering until they find it. Others are playing in desperation, trying with everything they have to make a roster, make an extra 300k, make their pension. Boone Logan made the White Sox.

    Only a peripheral college baseball fan, in May I went to my first College World Series regional, watching my preseason championship pick North Carolina host Winthrop, UNC-Wilmington and Maine. I saw scouts drool over Andrew Miller and analyze Daniel Bard, and family cheer for their son/brother/etc like you'll never hear at a Major League park.

    As if I have to tell you, everything changes with an aluminum bat. I did see a 21-19 game, living up to the stereotype of the college game. But what I saw, what I loved about college baseball, was to see a game where mistakes are magnified. In a game where errors are much more commonplace than the Majors, college baseball almost always rewards the team that is well coached, plays good defense and pitches well. North Carolina, not so surprisingly, won with ease.

    This year, I've seen a dozen minor league games, going from town to town trying to catch a glimpse of the players I have/will rank. Colby Rasmus and Andrew McCutchen. The A's high school trio. Justin Upton and Delmon Young. And more.

    It's a surreal experience to go to a game ready to just watch one player. To see baseball with blinders on, watching a player as he runs the bases, watching the third baseman field it only with peripheral vision. Watching how a player reacts to a ball off the bat, not following the ball into a mitt. I struggle with this, but am improving, learning slowly how to properly scout a prospect.

    For five games in the summer, I watched the national Team USA, playing against Taiwan and Japan. I saw trick pitching from the Asian teams, I saw scrappy players that went with pitches like few Americans can. I saw Pedro Alvarez, a future first rounder, hit one of the longest home runs I've seen in person. I broke down David Price's weird delivery, and heard the buzz of scouts when Daniel Moskos first took the mound.

    This week, I spent two days at the East Coast Professional Baseball Showcase, an event designed by those in the game to watch the best prep prospects on the Atlantic coast. I struggled through 105-degree heat to watch batting practice after batting practice, to see right fielders practice throws to third base, and catchers try to show off their pop times.

    Certainly, this experience was the most difficult of all, and it was this that made me realize why I love baseball. This wasn't a 3-strikes, 3-outs type game that we're taught, but a fraction of it. Scouts gained as much from watching a shortstop field grounders and throw to first than they did watch him play against competition. With bits and pieces, the smartest men in baseball could discern prospect from suspect.'

    What do I love about baseball? I love two things ...

    I love the desperation. A player in search of a ring, a fringe player trying to make the 25-man, a college player on the field for the last time, a prospect attempting to rise above his competiton, a player swinging and pitching for his country, a teenager trying to impress a scout. Baseball isn't the same in Game 1 as it is in a baseball showcase, but the desperation is.

    More than anything, I love the fragments of the national pastime. A Michael Main throw from right field. A Julio Borbon triple. Delmon Young's first home run of the season. Daniel Bard's beautiful, easy delivery. Boone Logan's unique, strange one. Bobby Jenks fastball, gliding past Jeff Bagwell's swing. Each moment different than every other, but as beautiful as the one before it.

    WTNYJuly 26, 2006
    Short Stocks
    By Bryan Smith

    Short-season baseball. A hodgepodge of good college players, learning high school players, foreign players of every background. Age differences can run up to about 6 years - wood bat experience about the same.

    For these reasons, judging short-season baseball has always been a torment to me. It's hard to get a good handle on players when you have very little context about what it means that they're doing. However, any dismissal of short-season baseball means you don't see Anibal Sanchez or Radhammes Liz coming, when everyone else did.

    As of yet I have no great way to add context to short-season numbers, but I think it's best to pull players into categories they fit in, and evaluate them there. College players in short-season ball are evaluated separate from the high school players of the same caliber. Players who spent their springs in extended spring training get grouped into one as well.

    Looking at the leaderboards and through the box scores of short-season leagues with this mindset, certain players start to jump out. Here's a list I have of players impressing in their non-impressive leagues this summer ...

    Removed From Aluminum

    We expect big things from the college crop at this level, as we would if they started next season in low-A. And most of the time, they deliver - short-season leaderboards are littered with college players, some just organizational guys drafted after the 20th round. Looking at the leaderboards, you then have to pick a player who has completely distinguished himself from those around him.

    When Evan Longoria left the New York-Penn League, the home run race suddenly became a one man show. Yesterday, we talked about how Warren McFadden is benefitting in the Cape Cod League from no longer playing in Tulane's AAA stadium. The same is now happening for Mark Hamilton, who has twice as many home runs as the nearest slugger. Readers will know that I've long loved Hamilton, and that his stock really jumped for me when I found out he was hitting .245/.383/.592 on Friday nights in college. The Cards will probably jump Hamilton to high-A next season, but as long as the strikeouts don't bring him down, Hamilton should rise quickly. I still don't believe he slipped through the second round.

    I'll go with an atypical selection for my pitcher in this category: Steve Uhlmansiek. Unlike Hamilton, Uhlmansiek wasn't playing in college baseball as of two months ago, nor even 14 months ago. But the Mariner southpaw was once Mike Pelfrey's ace-teammate at Wichita State, and Seattle drafted him knowing he had to be healed first. The road to recovery from arm surgery is a long one, so his performance thus far is just a stepping stone. But after spending two years forgotten about as a prospect, Uhlmansiek belongs in the discussion once again.

    On Their Own For the First Time

    The Oakland A's have appeared very focused on appearing less dogmatic in their drafting ways since Moneyball. That included drafting three high school pitchers in the high rounds in 2005, a group that has looked less than impressive in their first professional season. This season, they went the high school route early again, drafting high school slugger Matt Sulentic in the third round.

    In addition to his high draft status, Sulentic also was aggressively promoted to the Northwest League, the higher of the A's two short-season affiliates. And unsurprisingly to Billy Beane and co., Sulentic has matched every challenge. Sulentic has a hit in each of his last six games, where he's collected five extra base hits and five walks. His .355 average is near the top of the NWL leaderboard - a remarkable feat for someone yet to turn 19.

    Pitchers at this age are far more coddled by their organizations, making a selection here a little more difficult. Clayton Kershaw is a possibility, but the first high school pitcher should dominate the Gulf Coast League. I almost went with Sean O'Sullivan, who doesn't really fit the bill. But the year's top draft-and-follow is making another Angels investment look good.

    Instead, we'll go with Jeremy Jeffress, who has proven that not every high school flame-thrower is raw. The Virginia right-hander touched the high 90s during the showcase circuit, making teams forget about his small 6-0 frame. Now, his performance on the mound is living up to those velocity readings. Jeffress hasn't allowed a run in his last three outings, and in those 11.2 innings, he's allowed 3 hits, 4 walks and struck out 12 batters. Suddenly, the Brewers pitching crop (Yovani Gallardo, Mark Rogers, Will Inman, Jeffress) is starting to look pretty impressive.

    Making Up for Lost Time

    Bonus babies need to be delicately taken care of, and as a result, many teams are now giving their high profile draftees a year wait to make their full-season debut. Instead, the player spends his spring in extended spring training, and his summer in short-season ball. The thinking is that a player learns how to be on his own in a controlled environment, while also setting up a player for better success in his first season.

    One organization seeing a lot of positive feedback from this strategy is the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Two of the Midwest League's best arms, Wade Davis and Jacob Magee, are both high school draftees who spent their 2005 seasons dominating the NYPL. Given their success, the team had little reservations about making Jeremy Hellickson wait to debut in full-season ball.

    And again, the results are looking good, as Hellickson is leading the New York-Penn League in strikeouts with 38. Another small right-hander, Hellickson throws three good pitches - and offers plus pitchability. He'll have to sharpen his breaking pitch going forward to become an elite arm, but he's the most polished of the Davis-Magee-Hellickson bunch.

    There was little competition for what hitter would win this award, because as dominating as Mark Hamilton has been on his home run race, Chris Carter has been better. Seemingly the sports world's most popular name, Carter is neither the old Vikings receiver of the Arizona Diamondbacks' AAA slugger. Instead, Carter was a higher round pick from Las Vegas by the White Sox last season that disappointed when they tried him in the South Atlantic League this season.

    After his bad full-season trial, the team quickly pulled him, assigning him to extended spring training immediately. It's thought that he blossomed here, as Carter now has 10 home runs in the Pioneer League - the next closest number is five. While he's limited to first base and doesn't walk enough, players with Carter's type of power are few and far between. You can bet that now the Kannapolis Intimidators are desperately awaiting Carter's arrival.

    Many other players would have fit this category, including a host of Angel prospects. Ryan Mount has been fantastic in Carter's shadow in the Pioneer League, and his presence up the middle makes him a better prospect. And the Angels drafted Trevor Bell before Mount, and Bell is near the league's top ERA mark.

    WTNYJuly 25, 2006
    Working Through Wood
    By Bryan Smith

    It should be no surprise that when you put wooden bats in the hands of aluminum-ready college hitters, they struggle. It's a pitching dream to make this 180, but an offensive nightmare.

    However, despite depressed numbers, there is nothing better for a college player to spend his summer enduring the tribulations of using wood. Scouts flock to these leagues, trying to project how a player will handle the full-time switch. Some players see their stocks fly through the roof in these situations; other players watch their draft status fall.

    No league is better in this regard than the Cape Cod League, which annually produces more top-round college talent than any summer destination. And even where the best of the best flock, struggles with wood follow. Twenty hitters drafted in the first five rounds of the 2006 draft spent their previous summer in the Cape; the group produced an aggregate .745 OPS.

    We're nearing the end of the regular season in this year's version of the Cape, so it's time to look at potential names to add onto 2007 follow lists. While we'll save the pitchers for another day, here's my position breakdown of the best seasons/prospects that should be available for the 2007 draft.

    Catcher

    Starting at the top, we have Matt Wieters, who I previously stated as the top-ranked player for the 2007 draft. While Vanderbilt ace David Price is riding an impressive scoreless streak for Team USA, things have not changed as Wieters has produced substantially in his first Cape Cod League summer. The Georgia Tech catcher, who I previously mentioned would be the tallest in Major League history (or near the top), is hitting .329/.447/.529 this summer. Wieters was fantastic in the collegiate postseason, and if he continues on his current path, should be a top-3 pick next June.

    Another catcher enjoying a strong summer is Josh Donaldson, from Auburn, who splits his time between behind the plate and the hot corner. Donaldson did throw out 38% of baserunners in his sophomore campaign, however, so don't be surprised if teams take him with the intention of making a full-time catcher out of him. With his current summer in the Cape Cod League, where he's hitting .320/.393/.524, teams won't have reservations playing him anywhere. The other player to watch at the position is Mitch Canham, champion Oregon State's backstop. This summer, Canham is hitting .344/.446/.492 following a good experience in Omaha.

    First Base

    There's a small crop on the right side this season, as only one name really sticks out as a potential high-round 2007 draftee: Matt Rizzotti. Despite playing at a small school, Manhattan, Rizzotti is enjoying his second good summer in the Cape. Scouts have seen enough of the first baseman to think highly of him. This summer, he's currently hitting .236/.401/.377, showing a lot of patience, a good amount of hitting ability, and a workable amount of power. Behind Rizzotti, there's very little, as only non-high tier prospects Mitch Moreland (Mississippi State) and Jordan Pacheco (New Mexico) moderately stick out.

    Second Base

    Clemson remained atop national rankings all season thanks to a fantastic offense that had no leader, but a high, high number of contributors. One of the better hitters for the Tigers was Taylor Harbin, who is continuing his good offensive production in the Cape. Harbin impressed often on television during the postseason, and scouts have high opinions of the second baseman, as well. Harbin doesn't have fantastic patience, but has a good amount of pop, all of which can be seen from his current .271/.304/.396 line.

    Speed usually dominates this position, and a couple of other players find their way here because of their legs. Eric Farris is diminutive and offers very little pop, but his speed and patience should find him drafted next season. He's currently 10/12 on the bases in the Cape while hitting .344/.417/.406. Jeffrey Rea has not been as good at the plate or on the bases, but the Mississippi State middle infielder is the better prospect of the two. Rea will actually be a senior next season, so the leverage a team good have on him could yield a decent middle-round selection. This summer, Rea is hitting .293/.404/.358 with eight steals.

    Shortstop

    Surprisingly, the first position on the defensive spectrum has very few good players this summer, as many of the better players on this position currently play for Team USA. That leaves the best shortstop as Michael Fisher, another Georgia Tech player, which shows the reason for their big 2006 offense. Fisher's ability to play multiple positions might be his most attractive trait, because his bat has struggled a bit. This summer has been just OK, as Fisher is hitting .246/.342/.348. Another player to watch is Andrew Romine, from Arizona State, who didn't play often this spring due to returning from a scary blood clots surgery. Romine has all types of talent, but has yet to really put them on the field. He's a sleeper to look out for.

    Third base

    There's a couple players at the hot corner who stick out for me: Josh Satin (California) and Matt Mangini (Oklahoma State). The latter player is transferring there from N.C. State, where he made headlines with a huge start this spring. Mangini went on to have a decent second half, but his numbers remained solid. Teaming with Corey Brown next season, the Cowboys should have one of the nation's better 1-2 punches.

    California looked to have a good 1-2 punch in Chris Errecart and Brennan Boesch at the beginning of the spring, but the two struggled, and Josh Satin emerged as one of the team's best hitters. His arrival has been prolonged this summer, as Satin seems to be upping his status to a top-3 rounder for next June. This summer, the Bear is hitting .262/.373/.346, and while the numbers don't look impressive, he's doing just enough to impress scouts.

    Another player worth mentioning is Matt Cusick, the third baseman for USC. While Cusick offers nothing in the way of power, he's a good defender at third base and has great on-base skills. Rich Lederer has compared him to Bill Mueller. The comparison seems to be holding up in Cusick's wood bat trial, as he's hitting a defensible .283/.408/.349 on the summer. Teams will be scared off by his lack of power, but he should make the organization that gobbles him up in the middle rounds very happy.

    Outfield

    This is another position experiencing a weaker year than many in the past, as only a few players look to be solid, bona fide selections in next year's draft. One of them is Warren McFadden, who hit well in his redshirt freshman season with Tulane, smacking more than 20 doubles. The move from a Triple-A park to the Cape has gone well, some of those doubles have gone for homers, and McFadden's .270/.366/.487 line looks solid.

    All Michael Taylor, of Stanford, needs to do is to convince the scouts that some of his tools will convert once he makes the full-time switch to wooden bats. So far, so good, as Taylor has impressed this summer. His patience remains an obstacle, as he has just a .287 OBP in the Cape, but his .197 ISO is one of the better numbers we have to report. Taylor runs well and hits for power, a combination that almost always yields a higher pick.

    Colin Cowgill had a big breakthrough year with Kentucky in 2006, and has had a decent-enough summer to keep some dreams alive for next year's draft. His .232/.308/.379 line could certainly use some sprucing up, but a recent hot streak should do wonders for his stock. Also, keep an eye out for Tyler Henley, an outfielder from Rice. In the midst of a pretty big summer, .234/.390/.453, Henley could be getting the breakthrough he needs for a high selection.

    As mentioned, next time around we'll look at the pitchers...

    WTNYJuly 18, 2006
    Too Little Salty
    By Bryan Smith

    Fact: In the prospect world, there is no one that creates more polarity than Jarrod Saltalamacchia. It isn't very close.

    In a few popular midseason rankings, I have seen everything from Salty's ranking. He's been in the top 25 in one, to near the bottom of a top ten in catchers rankings. Jarrod was at 75 on my own list, and other sites would likely leave him out of the top 100.

    If nothing else, Saltalamacchia represents one huge issue facing those who rank prospects: fish or cut bait?

    After a good season as a teenager in the South Atlantic League in 2004, many (not including myself, unfortunately) predicted Salty would break out the next season. Scouts raved about Salty's bat, which only shined at times, but winced at his defense. With Brian McCann shining ahead of him in the system, Salty was a second tier prospect for the system.

    Things changed last season, dramatically, when the catcher succeeded at one of the minor league's most difficult stadiums. Showing power that rivaled the best in the minors, projecting better offensive numbers for Salty than McCann was a common practice. Johnny Estrada was out the door, this we knew, but who was the right person to project as the Braves backstop?

    Thanks to good defense in his Major League cup of coffee, along with solid offensive numbers, most people (this time including myself, thank you) went with Brian McCann. The Braves felt confidence in the slugger's ability to call a game, and didn't hesitate to start the season with him behind the plate. But they were prepared to have a problem of depth, surely the game's best problem to have.

    Obviously, this season has not gone to plan. Saltalamacchia has hovered around the Mendoza Line for much of the season; his season numbers are among the worst of any full season qualifier in professional baseball. But in each quote, the catcher has maintained one fact: he's turned his focus from offense to defense this season. We have seen results, as I noted last week, as Salty's caught-stealing numbers are at a career high.

    However, no team can employ a catcher with a sub-.600 OPS, no matter how good his defense is. Offensively, there have not even been the faintest signs of upside; Baseball America has reported scouts claim Salty looks lost at the plate. At the same time, McCann has predictably risen as one of the NL's better catchers; surely a player the Braves want for much of the next decade.

    Surely the question most commonly circulating through the Braves player development channels is what method should the team take next to solve the catcher's problems. Do you put him at DH the rest of the season, and force him to tackle offense with the effort he's put on his ability to catch? If so, are you ready to accept Salty's future does not lie behind the plate? The Braves aren't, and have shown much in allowing Jarrod to stay behind the plate, and in AA this season.

    In my latest rankings, I did not have Chris Iannetta ranked ahead of Saltalamacchia. Iannetta is in the midst of his own breakout season, poised to catch for the Rockies as early as 2007. His bat was better than both Ian Stewart and Troy Tulowitzki in AA Tulsa, and his defense is better than Salty's. How?

    Hope. The Braves need to make a change with Saltalamacchia, and should likely finish the season with something dramatic. But the player we saw last season cannot be simply lost. The Braves must now find him, and when they do, we'll see that Salty deserved to be ranked among the game's top 100 prospects, if not in the top quarter.

    WTNYJuly 12, 2006
    2006 WTNY Midseason 75
    By Bryan Smith

    Without a question, this is a sandwich prospect year for pitching prospects. On the way out is one of the best classes ever, on the way in is a draft that seemed to only boast pitchers. Yesterday, in the unveiling of my prospect list, just three pitchers made the first tier, which encompassed 23 players.

    Today, in the second and final part of this installment, you will read about more pitchers than hitters. In all, 42 hitters made the list, against 33 pitchers. While this seems fairly even, the lack of top-flight pitching prospects leaves the two groups on different levels. While the likes of Andrew Miller and Brad Lincoln should help even things this winter, this is truly the season where TINSTAPP holds the most water.

    Five Diamondbacks made the top tier yesterday, and one more player from the organization will be discussed today. This gives the club the minors' premier farm system, and should make Mike Rizzo the top GM prospect on the market. Who else has constructed good systems and future job prospects? Read on, for the rest of my midseason top 75, to find out...

    24. Colby Rasmus, of: Cardinals (A+)

    I've reached a summer record of most minor league games seen in person this year, and I maintain Rasmus is the sweetest swing I have encountered. His ceiling is lower than the other freakish outfielders in his class, but Rasmus does everything with ease.

    25. Joel Guzman, of/3b: Dodgers (AAA)

    Slips out of the first tier because he hasn't taken the step forward that many others in the organization have. Guzman has a good future in baseball, but I believe his best development route would be the Major League school of hard knocks with a bad organization that could afford waiting him out.

    26. Scott Elbert, lhsp: Dodgers (AA)

    In contrast, Elbert has taken that step forward this season. Currently the best southpaw in the minor leagues, Elbert has electric stuff, as control is the only thing holding him back from elite status.

    27. Yovani Gallardo, sp: Brewers (AA)

    One of the season's best success stories, Gallardo offers excellent pitchability for a 20-year-old. The only question is whether his stuff will be enough to hang near the top of a rotation.

    28. Humberto Sanchez, sp: Tigers (AAA)

    For me, Sanchez was among the most impressive in the Futures Game, even if he showed the nation how large he really is. If Jim Leyland is serious about a 6-man rotation in the second half, Sanchez' presence in the Majors shouldn't slow Detroit down.

    29. Dustin Pedroia, 2b: Red Sox (AAA)

    After a slow start, Pedroia has come on strong, and appears ready for the Major Leagues. He'll get his chance in 2007, and should be a solid regular in the middle infield for years to come.

    30. Matt Garza, sp: Twins (AA)

    Garza's name this high on the list is testament to Mike Radcliffe, the game's best scouting director. Garza has slowed a bit in AA, but his dominance in AA showed big-time potential.

    31. Jason Hirsh, sp: Astros (AAA)

    Free Jason Hirsh!

    32. Reid Brignac, ss: Devil Rays (A+)

    The best success story of my breakout picks, Brignac has brought the power stick to Visalia. His high error total creates a questionable future, and we still need to see this away from the Pacific.

    33. Brandon Erbe, sp: Orioles (A-)

    In many ways, the Jay Bruce of the pitching class, as I would not be surprised (in the slightest), if Erbe is the top-ranked pitching prospect in a year. For now, we have to hope his arm doesn't break down even amidst the Orioles enviable coddling.

    34. John Danks, lhsp: Rangers (AAA)

    Another slow starter in the higher levels, Danks only slides a bit on my prospect list. Southpaw starters with high ceilings are a rare commodity, so the Rangers will execute a lot of patience with the one-time first rounder.

    35. Felix Pie, of: Cubs (AAA)

    This is the beginning of a freefall if Pie doesn't pick things up. The tools are all there, but since May 1, any type of performance has not. Things need to change in the second half.

    36. Fernando Martinez, of: Mets (A-)

    Like Tabata yesterday, I'm too scared to put him both any lower or any higher. Immensely talented, evaluating Martinez properly will be difficult until he has a long bill of health.

    37. Micah Owings, sp: Diamondbacks (AAA)

    Owings provides a lot of polish and has flown through the Arizona system. A late-season cup of coffee will complete a whirlwind two-year run for Owings.

    38. Daric Barton, 1b/dh: Athletics (DL)

    Like Jason Kubel last year, we can't really penalize Barton too much for getting injured. His early season struggles were worrisome, but only a real cynic would have soured on his bat already.

    39. Nolan Reimold, of: Orioles (A+)

    The rare raw college player, Reimold has a long way to go before he reaches his ceiling. However, he's shown a bit of everything in Frederick, leaving Orioles fans salivating.

    40. Eric Hurley, sp: Rangers (A+)

    It has been an awesome season for Hurley, pitching well across the board in the Cal League. His stuff is fantastic, and if he receives a late-summer promotion, don't be surprised if his ERA increases.

    41. Edinson Volquez, sp: Rangers (AAA)

    This is a cautious ranking, as Volquez has earned this position, I just don't have a lot of confidence in it. When I close my eyes and try to envision his career, I foresee a middle reliever every time.

    42. Adam Miller, sp: Indians (AA)

    Miller will have a hard time ever meeting the expectations laid out for him after flashing so much potential in the 2004 season. However, this season has been a step in the right direction for the Indians star righthander.

    43. Trevor Crowe, of: Indians (A+)

    Right behind Miller on the Indians prospect list is Crowe, who has shown a lot of skills in a lot of different areas this season. His walk rate is particularly exciting, as he could develop into an invaluable asset alongside Grady Sizemore. Perhaps he'll be the player everyone thought Franklin Gutierrez could be.

    44. Hunter Pence, of: Astros (AA)

    At some point, you have to give a guy credit if he continues to have success, despite the naysayers not going away. Pence has legitimate power, and is going to have some success in the Major Leagues. However, there's a gray line between some success and consistent success, and thanks to his BB/K rate, I can't see which side he's on quite yet.

    45. Gio Gonzalez, lhsp: Phillies (AA)

    Another cautious ranking, as I'm beginning to worry if Gonzalez is injured. Since June 1 the southpaw has an ERA north of 6, and has allowed home runs in each start. If the breaking ball isn't as crisp, is something wrong with the arm?

    46. Eric Campbell, 3b: Braves (A-)

    Doesn't receive the hype he should, as Campbell has hit for a fantastic amount of power in his full-season debut. While he doesn't quite walk enough yet, his great contact rate leaves all the makings for a future All-Star hitter.

    47. Ryan Braun, 3b, Brewers (AA)

    Braun seems to be among the minors most hot-and-cold hitters, especially when the third baseman reaches new levels. A future dynamite fantasy option, Braun has continued to impress after a promotion to Huntsville.

    48. Andrew McCutchen, of: Pirates (A-)

    My concern after seeing McCutchen is that he's just too skinny to ever develop good power. But for now, he can fly with the best of them, and with refinement should be a weapon in centerfield and at the top of a batting order.

    49. Chuck Lofgren, lhsp: Indians (A+)

    Athletic and polished, Lofgren has done even better than I could have imagined in March. The southpaw thrives on good pitchability, but also has the stuff to thrive at higher levels.

    50. Wade Davis, sp: Devil Rays (A-)

    A popular breakout candidate that I never backed, Davis has been fantastic in the Midwest League this season. The righthander has slowed down since a fantastic start, but he has the power stuff to move in a hurry.

    51. Ricky Romero, lhsp: Blue Jays (AA)

    The Blue Jays stayed cautious and allowed Romero to debut late, but he made up for lost time, dominating the Florida State League. He has struggled a bit in two AA starts, but Romero is not making the Blue Jays regret taking the safe route last June.

    52. Adam Lind, of: Blue Jays (AA)

    Just as I expected, Lind has seen many of his 2005 doubles clear the fence this season. A talented power hitter, I'm curious where his patience went since last season. A better walk rate the only improvement he needs to make offensively.

    53. Troy Patton, lhsp: Astros (A+)

    Patton moves up slowly in this list, basically staying stagnant with a season that falls short of some expectations. He has still showed a lot of the maturity that draws such high praise, but also has been hit harder at the new level. His next jump, the big one, will go a long way in determining the truth to his profile.

    54. Kevin Slowey, sp: Twins (AA)

    Put your guns down, people. Slowey has had an amazing season, even a historic one, but he just isn't the caliber of the guys in front of him. His continued success in the Eastern League is a good sign, but I don't see the ceiling that other people do with Slowey. However, another half like this one went, and he'll undoubtedly break the top 50.

    55. Thomas Diamond, sp: Rangers (AA)

    Losing your control at an age as old as Diamond is not, not, not a good thing. Diamond has shown improvement recently, but a half like he's had is worthy of the slide on this list that he's received.

    56. Joey Votto, 1b: Reds (AA)

    I was told a couple years ago by an industry executive that Votto would break out in 2005. It appears my information was a year early, as Votto has been fantastic this season, making Adam Dunn's non-move to 1B look genius. He should be manning the corner in Cincy by Opening Day 2008, at the latest.

    57. Ubaldo Jimenez, sp: Rockies (AAA)

    Big breakout first half, spotty record in the past, stuff that remains filthy and unrefined. Jimenez could go both directions, but the most likely destination remains a successful bullpen role.

    58. Sean West, lhsp: Marlins (A-)

    Pitching on a historic staff in Greensboro this summer, West has emerged as the best blend of stuff and pitchability of the rotation's four first rounders. Aaron Thompson can't match West's stuff, Ryan Tucker doesn't have anywhere near the pitchability. Chris Volstad is an anomaly; West is the best.

    59. Neil Walker, c: Pirates (A+)

    Dropping him this far is less an indictment of Walker's first half, and more an indictment of my winter ranking: it was too high. I took some late excitement about his power potential and pushed Walker to 44, which was setting the bar of expectations too high. His current performance is way below that, however, and he'll need to bounce back from his injury problems in a big way during the second half.

    60. Scott Mathieson, sp: Phillies (AA)

    Just like Humberto, Mathieson has continued upon a successful winter stint to pitch very well this season. His stuff really isn't in Sanchez' vicinity, but Mathieson looks like he definitely isn't far from being a #2/3 starter in the Majors. If so, even this ranking is too low.

    61. George Kottaras, c: Padres (AA)

    Has continued to improve after a 2005 season in which he turned heads but also showed flaws. Kottaras has the patience and gap power to succeed in PETCO, and he should be behind the plate for a long time. I'm coming around as a believer.

    62. Jose Arredondo, sp: Angels (AA)

    One of the most interesting stories on this list, Arredondo was an infielder just two seasons ago. While Carlos Marmol had a similar track catapult him to the big leagues, Arredondo is making his own push for Majors. Already on the 40-man, and as surprising as this is, a September call-up would no longer be too shocking.

    63. Jacob Magee, lhsp: Devil Rays (A-)

    The better statistic half of the D-Rays' low-level aces, Magee doesn't quite have the stuff of Wade Davis. However, his strikeout rate and handedness are both huge pluses, and Magee could take off with another good half-season.

    64. Josh Fields, 3b: White Sox (AAA)

    Fields has improved by leaps of bounds this year, showing one of the better power strokes in the minor leagues. Fields, however, has a lot of trouble making contact, and will need to continue to post high BABIP rates to succeed. His currently level is unsustainable, but if moved to left field, Fields can still be a valuable part of the White Sox in the near and long-term future.

    65. Radhammes Liz, sp: Orioles (A+)

    His statistics are amazing, consistently, but his age is damning. Liz has the fastball to move up the ladder, but the Orioles have been stubborn about promoting him. The time is now to see if Liz has a future beyond the bullpen.

    66. Mike Bowden, sp: Red Sox (A-)
    67. Clay Buchholz, sp: Red Sox (A-)

    These two are extremely similar; picking between them is nothing more than intuition. I'm going with Bowden, who is younger and has been a bit better since struggling early in the season. Both are good prospects, and the Red Sox probably wouldn't mind if all their top prospects had clones.

    68. Gaby Hernandez, sp: Marlins (A+)

    Hernandez has continued to pitch like a solid middle-rotation guy this season, which means the Marlins got what they paid for. Actually, more ... we can all agree Lo Duca is overrated, no? Hernandez is just another pitching prospect in this organization, but whether they trade him or add him onto their young staff, he's definitely a valued commodity.

    69. James Loney, 1b: Dodgers (AAA)

    It's been a long road back for Loney, who has been fantastic in the PCL this season. He's great defensively, and his contact skills are as good as it gets. But his lack of power is worrisome, not just with a future in Dodger Stadium, but a future in the Major Leagues.

    70. Glen Perkins, lhsp: Twins (AA)

    Hasn't been fantastic, but Perkins has been a good incumbent in the New Britain rotation. A hometown Minnesota boy, Perkins might have more value to the Twins than your average #3/4 pitching prospect.

    71. Jacobby Ellsbury, of: Red Sox (A+)

    I went over his profile recently, but really, the Red Sox are getting a little less this season than what they bargained for last June. However, Ellsbury has still been great defensively and has continued to shown a lot of the skills necessary to be a future leadoff man.

    72. Asdrubal Cabrera, mi: Indians (AAA)

    I'm preaching patience with the bat here, and wincing in thoughts of how he might produce in the Majors if the Indians allow him to replace Ronnie Belliard at second next season (hint: not good). Cabrera's bat is a long-term project, but his defense is not. It's already a fantastic tool, good enough to move Jhonny Peralta to a new position (in a perfect world). He shouldn't have a full-time job in the Majors next season, but he is going to be good for a long time.

    73. Cesar Carrillo, rhp: Padres (DL)

    This ranking might be aggressive given his recent injury, but Carrillo was very good before the injury tarnished his first full season. A good rehab program could have Carrillo better than ever. Padres fans are just hoping his rehab program goes better than the Tim Stauffer route.

    74. Dustin McGowan, rhp: Blue Jays (AAA)

    Will the real Dustin McGowan please stand up?

    75. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, c: Braves (AA)

    I'm not ready to let go, yet. Salty has legitimately improved behind the plate this season, but that can be discounted when reminded how bad he's been with the bat. It's been awful. There was too much talent last year to close the book on him, but the day we can is not far away.

    WTNYJuly 11, 2006
    WTNY Midseason 75 (Top Tier)
    By Bryan Smith

    It's hard to believe what a difference six months makes. Winter is a time for projection, for hope, a time where each prospect's cup is half-full. But thrown bats and extended slumps change everything, including the ranking of prospects.

    As I have done in the past, I have once again compiled a ranking of the minors' best 75 prospects. While the name atop the list has not changed, it came with far less ease than in January. Below Delmon, everything remains in flux.

    I have decided to make eligibility requirements subjective this season, opting to not include any player that should lose his prospect eligibility by season's end. Any player currently in the Majors was exempt, and many in the minors (read: Lastings Milledge) were taken off the list by my subjectivity. If, in fact, these players remain prospects for another season, you can expect they'll be back in another six months. And by then, I think we can agree, everything will be different all over again.

    My thought process when ranking prospects works in tiers, and while I would normally reserve this day for a ranking of the top 25, I found it more educational to cut things off at the end of my first ranked tier of prospects. Enjoy...

    1. Delmon Young, of: Devil Rays (AAA)

    Following the Delmon Young press conference, I had decided Young would not be my top prospect at the midseason mark. It would be my way of not just indicting his bad showing of make-up, but his low walk and home run totals in AAA as well. Then I saw Young for the first time, the night of his first home run, and my mind was changed. The power is going to come, I promise. He's hitting .375 with seven extra-base hits and just 11 strikeouts in 19 games since returning. Minor league baseball has no better player.

    2. Alex Gordon, 3b: Royals (AA)

    Like I said, Young was not my first prospect three weeks ago, Gordon was. And if I had stayed with that decision, it would have been defensible. Gordon represents the best bet for success in the minor leagues; he has no discernible flaw. He's going to hit for average, a lot of power, draw plenty of walks, play steady defense, and steal enough bases to make his fantasy owners giddy. Suddenly his four figure baseball card is looking like a sound investment, no?

    3. Howie Kendrick, 2b: Angels (AAA)
    4. Brandon Wood, ss: Angels (AA)

    Wood has done little for this order to be flip-flopped, continuing on a path to success after a ridiculous 2005. But this season it's Kendrick to take the full step forward, catapulting himself past Wood and into the top five.

    Kendrick, I've said before, is a player with limited potential value. In other words, his ceiling has a roof. Confined by his own stature, there is a limit to the power Kendrick can develop in relation to Wood. However, Kendrick is nearly guaranteed to hit for a better average than Wood.

    The ranking of these two players is a simple test of risk vs. reward. Kendrick offers no risk, but his reward is limited in comparison to Wood, whose ceiling is highest among current prospects.

    5. Justin Upton, of: Diamondbacks (A-)

    Watching Upton in person, the top overall pick from last year exudes an aura that doesn't usually follow teenagers. The aura was first evident in Spring Training, when Upton's build and bat were enough to hold his own in big league camp. He shined on the national stage, saving what some would call his best Cactus League game for a contest against the White Sox on WGN. Now far from the big stage, Upton is struggling a bit, but in seeing him, it's obvious there is more than the numbers tell us. Upton will come around, if not at the pace I thought, and when he does, sparks will fly.

    6. Stephen Drew, ss: Diamondbacks (AAA)

    If Drew began the season in the Arizona batting order, it would have surprised no one had he separated himself from the NL Rookie of the Year pack. Instead, the Diamondbacks chose the cautious route with their young shortstop, maintaining another year of mediocrity from the position for the betterment of their future. Good decision. Drew has progressed as expected in AAA, and he is on the right timetable to make a splash next season. A gifted offensive player, Drew has even more to show than what he has since signing in pro baseball.

    7. Billy Butler, of: Royals (AA)

    I have always believed in Butler's bat, and on Sunday, his performance in the Futures Game showed why this is a good idea. Butler is as good a hitter for his age as it gets, he's polished and powerful. His play in the field is a work in progress, but it's improving, even at a Carlos Lee-type rate. The most concerning blip on Butler's radar is a drastic home/road split that favors his time in Wichita. For all we know, it's nothing, but it's also worth keeping notice. Butler is going to hit in the Majors, and with Gordon, Dayton Moore's long-term vision is beginning to come in better focus.

    8. Cameron Maybin, of: Tigers (A-)

    There have been a lot of positives about Cameron Maybin's season, his full season debut. Any teenager holding his own in such a difficult league is worthy of praise. Maybin has also been lucky, striking out at a percentage too high to keep his batting line as high as it is. a true five-tool player, the North Carolina outfielder is far more raw than he has shown this season. But underneath it all, the Tigers - who landed the top rated player in the 2006 draft - may have landed the top player in 2005.

    9. Phil Hughes, sp: Yankees (AA)
    10. Homer Bailey, sp: Reds (AA)

    Bailey was not an oversight in my listing of the top pitching prospects weeks ago, I told someone after that article that Bailey wouldn't rank high for me until he showed "consistent dominance." So, upon promotion, Bailey decided to go off, and currently has a 17 inning scoreless streak going at Double-A. He has earned his status as the game's 1A pitching prospect, especially after a dominating performance in Sunday's Futures Game.

    Hughes was not as good on Sunday, but his stuff was solid, and you could see the makings of a very good player. Unlike Bailey he won't always necessarily amaze a scout, but his polish is pretty unique for a player his age. It's a good sign that Hughes has already turned a corner in AA, and at this pace, he should be up to New York at some point next season.

    11. Jay Bruce, of: Reds (A-)

    Earlier in the season, I did a study on teenage hitters in the Midwest League. Needless to say, the list of success stories was a short one; the expectation level for this group is (as a result) low. The type of season that Jay Bruce is having so far is unprecedented. Bruce is hitting for power at rates that even Prince Fielder did not at such an age. And he's doing so with a decent-enough strikeout rate. On the shortlist of people that wouldn't surprise me to be atop this list in a year.

    12. Troy Tulowitzki, ss: Rockies (AA)

    The best combination of offensive and pure shortstop ability on this list. Drew isn't a bad defender, but neither his range or arm can match Tulo up the middle. While Troy is not the same caliber hitter, he is in the ballpark. Tulowitzki offers good power for a middle infielder, and he has the patience learned from three big program collegiate years. Tulowitzki's problem is a strikeout rate that is too high, his one drawback from being complete as a hitter.

    13. Andy Marte, 3b: Indians (AAA)

    Things were a struggle for Marte much into the season; he was drawing poor reviews and his numbers followed. Marte was a mess; Atlanta and Boston could not have appeared smarter. While it's too early to say Marte has turned a corner, he's done enough to salvage his status as a first tier prospect. We continue to hope that Marte will eventually mold into a superstar, turn his promising young seasons into a star-studded future. Such a breakout may never happen, but color me surprised if Marte doesn't still build a solid career.

    14. Carlos Quentin, of: Diamondbacks (AAA)

    At this point, the fact that Quentin has not been given an extended trial in the big leagues is discouraging. In the winter, we asked what would by so wrong about Andy Marte to make two (good) organizations trade him. Now, Quentin is bringing up similar questions. Why are the D-Backs so reluctant to give Quentin the keys? At this point, the outfielder has shown patience (while continuing his high HBP totals), a very good contact rate and gap power. Quentin has polish all over his bat, and soon, teams will have to truly investigate what Arizona's asking price is on their #3 prospect.

    15. Elijah Dukes, of: Devil Rays (AAA)

    It's both a good and a bad sign when the only flaw in a prospect's resume is make-up. We can now say definitively that the Devil Rays did not assign enough value towards make up, but how important is it? The future of Dukes will go a long way in answering this question, he's truly a player whose progress will only be hindered by himself. I won't be surprised if Dukes ends up the best player on this list; I won't be surprised if he is a complete bust. With Elijah Dukes, only the middle would be a surprise.

    16. Chris Young, of: Diamondbacks (AAA)

    Undervalued before the 2005 season, I thought Young started to become overvalued this winter. He hit for power well, steals bases and plays very good defense, but batting average is a substantial limiting factor. With that being said, Young has struck out in just 18.3% of his at-bats this season, a very positive number. Look for Young's .282 BABIP to improve in the second half, and with it, his batting average. While we'd like it for Young to be showing more on the bases to call him a five tool talent, giving him credit for the "Hitting for Contact" tool is a big step in the right direction.

    17. Andy LaRoche, 3b: Dodgers (AAA)

    Three straight Bryan Smith pre-2005 breakout selections, sweet! LaRoche answered a lot of questions this season when he turned his Southern League struggles from last season around, looking like a much more complete player. While in AA, the third baseman walked in about 15% of his plate appearances, rarely struck out, and showed some of the power he had in Vero Beach a year before. I wouldn't be surprised if LaRoche struggles a bit as a rookie in 2007, and in the same league as David Wright and Ryan Zimmerman he might not make many All-Star teams, but he's a big chip in the Dodgers reconstruction.

    18. Adam Jones, of: Mariners (AAA)
    19. Jeff Clement, c: Mariners (AAA)

    From a fantasy perspective, Jeff Clement is the Mariners best prospect. The list of power-hitting catchers at the Major League level is a short one, and a list Clement should be adding his name to by 2008. Despite his struggles coming back from injury in AAA, Clement has given the Mariners a lot of reason for optimism about their future backstop logjam. Given how quickly Clement should rise towards the top of any fantasy catcher list, keeper leaguers should have Clement ranked higher.

    From a baseball standpoint, Jones is the better prospect. On the bases and in the field, Jones is superior. He brings a unique degree of athleticism to the game - his transition to the outfield has gone seamlessly. And if Jones joins Choo and Ichiro in a Major League outfield, it's quite possible baseball will have never seen three stronger arms in the same outfield. At the plate, Jones has improved as the season has progressed, showing more patience and better contact skills.

    Jones shouldn't be a superstar on the Seattle Mariners, but he'll be a good one for a long time.

    20. Carlos Gonzalez, of: Diamondbacks (A+)

    The Diamondbacks have five prospects ranked higher than the top prospect of 19 organizations. Now really, is there any doubting that (scouting director) Mike Rizzo deserves a GM job somewhere? Gonzalez is not the best bet for success (Quentin) or player with the highest ceiling (Upton) in the organization, but he scores well in both categories. After hitting for solid power in the Midwest League last year, his huge slugging numbers in Lancaster should not come as a surprise. Gonzalez is better than the player he was last year, and not quite the player his numbers suggest currently. But with a few more walks and less strikeouts, the latter could very well change.

    21. Jose Tabata, of: Yankees (A-)

    Volatility. It scares me. If Tabata flames out, I look too quick to pull the trigger. But any lower, and you look stupid when he becomes a star. For now, his standing towards the back of the first tier will have to do, but it's a long way between now and 2009. Tabata has shown a solid contact rate, good doubles power, solid patience and good baserunning in his full season debut. And he's 17. Or is it, "But he's 17"?

    22. Ian Stewart, 3b: Rockies (AA)

    As you can tell, with his performance this season, I have dropped Felix Pie from the first tier. Ian Stewart, I have to say, is on the verge of getting the same treatment. While the third baseman is not posting Pie-type numbers in the Texas League, he has been pedestrian. For only so long can pedestrian be good enough. Eventually, we'll have to see that Stewart is going to turn those 26 doubles into home runs, and that he might be able to hit for average. For now, the hope of 2004 lingers enough to keep him in the top 25.

    23. Nick Adenhart, sp: Angels (A+)

    In a lot of ways, Adenhart is similar to Phil Hughes, a good blend of stuff and serious polish. Adenhart, for three months, has pitched far older than his age and level indicates. While he hasn't posted the double-digit-type K/9 numbers that many pitching prospects ranked higher and lower than him have, Adenhart offers poise that very few in the minors have ... for his age, only Hughes is close. The minor leagues continue to offer success story after success story for the Angels, who have quite the stable of young pitchers in Jered Weaver, Jose Arredondo and Adenhart to go with their accomplished pitching veterans.

    Part Two, with 24-75, coming tomorrow...

    WTNYJuly 06, 2006
    Mixing Youth
    By Bryan Smith

    Is it too early to mention the word 'dynasty' in Chicago? With one championship already in tow, the Sox appear to be the near-favorites to repeat in 2007. Even if they fall up short, the White Sox recent run has put fans in the stands, money in the payroll, and wins on the scoreboard. At the least, the Sox need to be thinking in dynasty terms.

    Kenny Williams now faces the difficult job of keeping the momentum going. He has set the bar high for himself and the organization, and the pressure will be on to continue winning games. This winter, he excelled in this role, taking chances that -- in the cases of Thome, Vazquez and Cintron -- are now paying off two-fold.

    We all remember the New York Yankees dynasty in the 1990s, one built on homegrown success with players like Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams and Mariano Rivera. We have also seen the Yankees on a current world championship slide that I think every Sox fan would hope to avoid in a few years.

    So what is it that the Yankees failed to do? Well, with all kinds of money, the Yankees went out and started buying. They bought the perceived best in everything, and forgot what earned them championships - player development. Meshing in youth with proven veterans became a philosophy Brian Cashman discarded.

    I'm here to say the White Sox must avoid this trend. Kenny Williams must continue to fill certain slots with youth, making the difficult decisions of when to bring on a prospect, and when to trade him. Today, we'll look at the Sox Major League roster and minor league depth chart, and try to answer some of those questions.

    As an outsider, I don't think it's a stretch to say the current White Sox have two weaknesses: Scott Podsednik and the bullpen. Pods is currently manning a .698 OPS, and his defense has drawn criticism from Ozzie himself. As far as the bullpen goes, I think an aggregate 4.43 ERA was not what the Sox had in mind. These are the first places to look into the farm system.

    Williams toed the line of angering his team when he traded Aaron Rowand this winter, a good friend to many and a valued member of the clubhouse. Williams was lucky to have Brian Anderson ready and Jim Thome coming to lighten the blow, leaving no White Sox player too upset. However, along the backlash lines, I don't think the Sox can really afford to bench, trade or release Podsednik this season.

    Surely, the current lineup has enough firepower to withstand Podsednik's offensive inadequacies. But in the future, the Sox can't afford to depend on that. Luckily, at the end of the season, Podsednik is a free agent. Williams will be making no public relations risk when allowing Podsednik to ride into the sunset. And with that, left field will be open.

    Yes, the Sox will have money to potentially acquire a big name to fill Pod's small shoes. But since left field expectations are already low, and the Sox have potential replacements in Triple-A, I don't see the point. To me, this means Spring Training competition: Ryan Sweeney v. Jerry Owens v. Josh Fields.

    Fields? Fields. As a pro, the former Cowboy has yet to play a single position besides third base. The Sox have let this ride up to Triple-A, up to Fields' breakout as a prospect. Third base is already manned by someone sub-30, and will continue to be as Joe Crede just entered arbitration in 2006.

    One option is to trade Fields while his value is high, his prospect status seemingly at a pinnacle. But answer me this: if you were another GM, would you not see that Williams has a depth problem? If he leaves Fields at third base, he has no choice but to trade him, right? Wouldn't you then offer less for the 2004 first rounder?

    My belief is that Fields should begin playing left field now, for the rest of the season, and continue to do so in the Arizona Fall League. Next season, Fields should compete with the other current members of the Knights outfield for the left field spot, which will have been vacated by Scott Podsednik's exit from the lineup.

    Seeing as though defense is part of the White Sox brand, I can see you all wince at the thought of putting a never-before-outfielder in left. But we aren't talking CLee-type defense with Fields, to say that would be to underrate his athleticism. This was a Big 12 quarterback, my friends, and a player currently apt to steal a base. It would take him awhile to learn the reads, but with a half-season, the AFL, and Spring Training, I think he would be ready.

    Some would argue his bat already is. Fields has both 33 extra-base hits and walks in Triple-A, both in just 243 at-bats. He has stolen 13 bags in 17 attempts (there's that athleticism, again), and is sporting a .957 OPS. The power and patience are there, and he would add another home run threat to a lineup in Chicago chock-full of them. The question mark is his contact ability.

    With 78 strikeouts so far, Fields is whiffing in an atrocious 30+ percent of his at-bats. To maintain a .321 batting average, Fields has a ridiculous .448 batting average on balls in play. While his ability to hit the ball hard would indicate his BABIP should be higher than the average player, .448 is completely unsustainable. So, my concern about Josh Fields would be that in the Major Leagues, there's a good chance his batting average will look like Crede's did, in 2004.

    If not Fields, the other options would be Sweeney or Owens. Sweeney has been an organizational darling since Spring Training 2004; the field in Tucson still wet from the Sox' organizational drool. His results in the power department, however, have been lacking. This season, Sweeney's ability to hit a single has continued. He remains a fantastic contact ability, though his current strikeout rate (16.2%) is nearly 30 percent higher than it was in 2004-2005 (12.5%).

    Sweeney cannot, however, up his extra-base hit percentage. This season, Sweeney has continued to hit for more bases in about 6% of his at-bats, where Josh Fields is at 13.6%. Sweeney will likely be able to hit .280-.300 as a pro, but any slugging far above .400 would be a surprise. Given a walk rate that isn't bad but far from great, you're looking at about .280/.320/.380 next season. Note that I do think Sweeney has upside at this line, but it would take a philosophical change to learning to elevate the ball more that he has to undergo.

    The eldest of the group, Jerry Owens, is having the most struggles with Charlotte. His current .241/.305/.314 line is far from a career .757 OPS. But really, our focus should be that career OPS, likely headed to about .720. Can we truly expect Owens to out-perform Podsednik when he has merely done so at lower levels? Like Sweeney, Owens is a gifted contact hitter, and also one that can draw a walk. Add on his ability to steal bases at an awesome rate, and you can see why the Sox like him.

    But while Sweeney hits the ball hard, but into the ground, Owens doesn't really hit the ball hard at all. This explains a lower BABIP than Sweeney, and will be the cause of (far) lower 2006 predictions.

    The answer, as we've seen it, is Josh Fields. His conversion to left field should begin now, and the Sox should also be preparing Sweeney as a back-up plan. Owens, in this case, is odd-man out. The only other option, in my mind, is trading for a left fielder using one of the already-established starters. But we'll deal with the pitching staff in part two.

    Before I go, some quick thoughts on handling the rest of the offense:

  • Pierzynski: Extension was genius. Let contract play out, but seeing A.J. in a White Sox uniform until about 2010 would probably be best option.

  • Konerko and Thome: Re-signed for as long as you'll want them, most likely.

  • Iguchi and Dye: I think the Sox should begin thinking extension for Tadahito this winter. A pay raise for him wouldn't hurt the payroll. While Dye should be back in 2007, it should just be for the option price, and post-2007 they should re-evaluate when looking at Dye's age, the other free agent options, and the development of Aaron Cunningham and Anderson Gomes.

  • Uribe and Crede: The Sox should really maintain this left side for a long time, barring any Miguel Tejada-esque possibilities. They can be retained on arbitration in the near future, but around post-2007, Williams needs to begin considering an extension.

  • Anderson: He'll come around, Sox fans. Have faith, this is your CF going forward.

  • Mackowiak: I'd explore the trade market with him. Owens or Sweeney could take his bench spot with their ability to play CF, and I'd imagine Cintron can play 3B if needed. If not, let him walk post-08.

  • Ozuna and Cintron: I can't believe I'm advocating Ozuna's continued place on this team, but there is really no reason to not let these guys ride out their arbitation, and then evaluate.

  • Widger and Gload: If either demands any sort of premium, look for better options. At dirt-cheap, they work fine.

  • WTNYJuly 05, 2006
    Juggling Prospects
    By Bryan Smith

    No Major League draft prospect is more coveted than the five tool player. While baseball's highest level is littered with success stories, athletic outfielders have been among the largest busts of the first round. Many in baseball claim teams should adopt a safer approach in regards to the draft, taking safer picks from the college ranks.

    Rarely do these two paths intersect. And in the rare instances they do, the players are high commodities, with dreams of Barry Bonds dancing in the heads of scouting directors. This past June, Drew Stubbs was drafted in the top ten as the quintessential example of five-tool pipe dream mixed with collegiate intelligence.

    The 2005 draft offered three of these players. A half season into their full season debuts, their success comes as a small surprise to many around baseball. Two first round picks and one third rounder, all three players were highly desired for their speed, their defense in center, their ability to bat around the top of the order. While not prodigious in one of the five tools -- power -- all offered some hope of projectablity.

    All similar athletes with similar profiles, choosing an order is the perfect example of the difficulties -- and the silly subjectivity -- of ranking prospects. Gardner, Crowe, Ellsbury. Or is it Ellsbury, Gardner, Crowe? Today, we'll attempt to hash out which players belong in which order, and why.

    THE EARLY YEARS

    Athletic young outfielders are a commodity out of the preps, but to be a draft choice, there needs to be a ridiculous amount of tools or very good refinement. In 2002, Denard Span and Jeremy Hermida were examples of players that fit the bill. Trevor Crowe, Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner were not. All three players had strong college commitments, and these commitments were founded upon a lack of high interest from Major League organizations. Crowe and Ellsbury were both second day picks, in that order, while Gardner did not get drafted.

    As far as college destinations go, the players picked programs that ranked in order of how they did in the draft. Crowe, the most talented of the group, went to Arizona. After not starting as a regular, Crowe ended his freshman season with 187 at-bats, and a .316 batting average. He didn't walk and showed little but gap power, but Crowe could steal bases and hit for average. He was exactly what the Wildcats bargained for.

    Ellsbury became a regular quicker at Oregon State, and produced more. A .330/.427/.510 line his freshman season turned a lot of scouts' heads, and suddenly Ellsbury was on the map for the 2005 draft. A great defender in centerfield, teams were drooling. On the opposite end, Brett Gardner wasn't drawing any notice, struggling in his first season at College of Charleston. His .284 batting average and 28 steals were both good, but Gardner struck out 50 times and had just 11 extra-base hits in 215 at-bats.

    As sophomores, Gardner and Crowe both did well in catching up to Ellsbury, and both owed their newfound success to the triple. Both players logged 9 triples on the year, as Crowe's slugging percentage went up to .576, Gardner just two points behind. Crowe also stole 26 bases in 27 chances, and showed an improved batting eye. He flew up follow lists. Gardner did the same, nearly hitting .400 in a fabulous display of future leadoff talents. While Gardner didn't boast the pedigree of Ellsbury and Crowe, all three entered their junior seasons separated by little.

    BEFORE AND AFTER

    It is not difficult to figure out why Trevor Crowe was the first of the three players drafted, taken 12th overall in 2005 by the Cleveland Indians. As a junior, Crowe exploded, jumping his triples total to 15, giving him 49 XBH in the small college season. His 36 walks showed a huge improvement in two seasons, and his 27 stolen bases with a career single season high. Crowe was for real, and the Indians loved the Oregon native.

    In Crowe's home state, Ellsbury was making noise as the Beavers had a Cindarella run to Omaha. Much of the team's press went towards Ellsbury, who seemed to act as the soul behind the team. Ellsbury struck out just 21 times in the leadoff role as a junior, hitting .406 en route to a first round draft choice by the Red Sox.

    Brett Gardner had the best numbers of the three players, but was not drafted until the end of the third round, by the Yankees. Playing in a worse conference, Gardner feasted on college pitching as a junior, hitting a ridiculous .447/.506/.571. Gardner also had great speed, stealing 38 bases. A quick look at his college numbers validated that the Yankees received good value on their choice.

    After signing quickly, Gardner and Ellsbury would play against each other in the New York-Penn short-season league. Unsurprisingly, Ellsbury was better than his peer, stealing four more bases while boasting a .097 advantage in the OPS column. Crowe was struggling, but the Indians had been aggressive with him, pushing their first round pick to the Sally League. His .326 slugging percentage raised question marks, and many began to wonder if the patient Ellsbury was perhaps the best of the bunch.

    GETTING HIGH-A

    The most discouraging aspect of Ellsbury's season has been his abandonment of the base on balls. Consistently one of the group's most patient hitters with aluminum bats, Jacoby's walk totals have gone down as Crowe's have gone up. While no team could scoff at a .384 on-base percentage from the leadoff role, an extended time treading 50-70 points behind his athletic peers will leave him in the dust.

    As mentioned, Crowe has turned things up this season. He is walking in nearly 20% of his plate appearances, which is more than a 15% increase since his freshman season at Arizona. In addition to his more patient approach, Crowe is also swiping more bags than ever. While not the fastest among the three players we are discussing, Crowe might be the most cognizant; his success rate is always among the highest.

    Brett Gardner is the surprise of the season, vaulting himself from an afterthought in this discussion to a name we must consider. The Yankees have been more aggressive with him than the approach we've seen by the Red Sox or Indians; Gardner has been promoted to Double-A after a good half-season with Tampa. During that time, the College of Charleston outfielder hit .323, swiping 30 bags while walking 43 times. His only problems were the lack of extra-base hits, and a strikeout rate that he hasn't sniffed for years. Still, given his successful time in Tampa, Gardner has a claim to be the Yankees 3rd prospect.

    CONCLUSIONS

    In terms of ceiling, and upon further inspection, there is little question which prospect reigns supreme: Crowe. His substantial power edge, intelligent baserunning and enhanced patience leave an extremely intriguing product. while his contact skills grade out as the group's worst, his combination of line drives and quick feet should give him high enough annual BABIP numbers to offset his swing-and-miss disadvantage.

    Conversely, Ellsbury is the contact hitter of the group. His 12.1 K% is fantastic, and down the road, should yield even higher batting averages than Ellsbury is even showing. The power has been the question mark with Ellsbury, no longer going extra bases with a wooden bat. This is a trait that is hard to project being a plus at this point, limiting Ellsbury to a leadoff role down the line. If he fails in leadoff, there is no real backdrop.

    However, ranking prospects is about comparing a prospect's upside with the likelihood he reaches it. Where Ellsbury falls short in terms of ceiling, he may be the group's surest thing. One statement that I'm confident in making is that Brett Gardner is the largest question mark. This is no particular damnation of Gardner, he's up against two good bets.

    My reasoning for saying this is that in terms of contact rates, Crowe and Gardner are toss-ups for who is worst. Both striking out at 21-22% rates this season, I mentioned Crowe as the worst contact hitter because he showed a higher aptitude for whiffs in most of college. Most, except a freshman season in which Gardner struck out 50 times. Plus, while Crowe leans back on his power as a trade-off, Gardner remains nothing more than a gap-power hitter.

    Because of low power totals, it's difficult to project Ellsbury or Gardner hitting anywhere but atop an order. In comparing their skill sets, I have Ellsbury as the player more likely to hit for average (this season's difference be damned), while Gardner should make up for that with higher walk rates. Similar players both on the bases and in the field, it all comes down to a question of power. And for every season except their sophomore year, Ellsbury has showed more power than Gardner. Narrowly, he's the better prospect.

    For the last four seasons, three prospects with one profile have been among high profile baseball circles. This season, as they enter prospect rankings, we know pretty much what most draft boards did a year ago (and recruiters years before that): Crowe, Ellsbury, Gardner.

    WTNYJune 30, 2006
    Gazing Through Binoculars (Part 2)
    By Bryan Smith

    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.

    WTNYJune 27, 2006
    Gazing Through Binoculars
    By Bryan Smith

    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).

    WTNYJune 21, 2006
    Stepping Back
    By Bryan Smith

    "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.

    WTNYJune 20, 2006
    Backpedaling
    By Bryan Smith

    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.

    WTNYJune 16, 2006
    Back to Omaha
    By Bryan Smith

    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...

    Oregon State

    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.

    Miami

    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.

    Georgia

    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.

    Rice

    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.

    North Carolina

    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.

    Georgia Tech

    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.

    Clemson

    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.

    WTNYJune 14, 2006
    Tier Promotion
    By Bryan Smith

    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:

  • Philip Hughes - If you had told me in mid-April that I would be writing this article, I would have guessed this list might very well begin and end with Hughes. By then Hughes was flexing his young muscle in the Florida State League, which he would live with a ridiculous 30-2 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Pitchers his age, 20, aren't supposed to be capable of that. However, since a move to AA, Hughes has started to seem far more human. However, not one peripheral number is frightening, thus the righthander's presence on this list. Hughes will not be ready for New York for another year, at the earliest, but Hughes will quickly remind Yankees fans how useful homegrown blue-chippers can be.

  • Anthony Reyes - The rap on Reyes goes unchanged through the season's first two months, yet Reyes finds himself in a new tier. The Cardinal righthander continues to be ignored in AAA, despite slowly getting better and better as this season has gone on. Reyes really belonged in yesterday's article; he deserves a spot in the big league rotation, or to be dealt for a bat soon. A limited ceiling holds Reyes back as a prospect some, but he is as good a bet to be a productive leader as you'll find among this tier.

  • Mike Pelfrey - The favorite for leading this tier, but it isn't as if he's made it clear cut. Like Hughes, Pelfrey coasted through the Florida State League, posting his own 26-2 K/BB ratio. His move to AAA has gone better than the Yankee prospect, but he hasn't been consistent. At times, in his last start, Pelfrey has been dominant, and looks like a future ace in the making ... a guy who could have fit in last year's top tier. However, players of that caliber don't get hit as hard as Pelfrey has in some outings, leaving some room open for doubt. With a little consistency, Pelfrey would definitively rise atop this group.

  • Nick Adenhart - How in the world can I have the nerve to start an article with TINSTAPP and put this guy on my list? Trust me, Adenhart belongs. Having already been through the injury process, Adenhart is one step of the game, pitching with a repaired elbow. On the mound he has been dominant in the Midwest League, pitching well in all-but-one outing on the season. While his strikeout numbers pale in comparison to others in low-A, like Wade Davis or Brandon Erbe, Adenhart shows more pitchability than both. The Angels have no need to rush him, so I just don't see the negatives here. Big stuff, a healthy right arm, a coddled future and a bunch of pitchability. He belongs.

  • Matt Garza - The final pitcher on our list who is helped by an early season run through the Florida State League. While last year's first round pick lasted the longest in the FSL, he certainly earned his promotion, allowing just 27 hits in 44.1 innings. And of the three, Garza has been the best upon a move to Double-A, in perhaps the most difficult ballpark. The Twins knew they were drafting a right arm with a lot of stuff last June, but I doubt they thought the player might be ready to contribute by September, 2006. Expect the Twins to develop a solid long-term plan this winter, and when they do so, expect Garza to be featured prominently.

  • Jeremy Sowers - From a stuff and ceiling standpoint, Sowers does not belong on this list. He's bad in neither category, but a fastball in the 80s usually isn't associated with top 6. In this instance it should be, as Sowers makes up for any lack of stuff with the extraordinary ability to keep the ball down. Sowers has been consistently dominant in the IL this season, and despite problems in the back end of the rotation, the Indians have not backed down. They will be patient with Sowers -- and their seven figure free agents -- even if it detracts from the 2006 win-loss record. So, for now, Sowers is one of the minors' top 6 pitching prospects, but perhaps the closest to Major League success.

    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.

  • WTNYJune 13, 2006
    Stuck in the Mud
    By Bryan Smith

    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.

    WTNYJune 09, 2006
    Super Weekend Ahead
    By Bryan Smith

    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.

    Pick: Rice.

    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.

    Pick: Mississippi.

    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.

    Pick: Clemson.

    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.

    Pick: Alabama.

    WTNYJune 07, 2006
    Morning After: Going Deep
    By Bryan Smith

    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.

    Before yielding big results in his junior season as an Aztec, the majority of Masterson's attention resulted from his developed body. Masterson is 6-6, 245, offering one of the larger pitching frames in the 2006 draft. He has good tilt on a mid 90s fastball, yielding some of round one's top ground ball rates. Like many players in his class, scouts believe Masterson has a good back-up career in relief, where his developed two-pitch arsenal could rise quickly.

    However, in the past few weeks, Masterson has become a favorite of mine. For his frame and stuff, few pitchers could boast his type of walk rates allowed: just 26 in 116 innings. In Kent Bonham's recent college stat study on this site, he found Masterson to be as unlucky as they come. Remove defense, park and schedule from the equation, and Masterson's 4.54 ERA drops to 2.67.

    The Aztecs rode Masterson hard in the middle of the season; Tony Gwynn kept his Friday starter on the mound for four complete games. But when postseason play became an unrealistic goal, the workload decreased, and Masterson has thrown just 18.1 innings since May 1.

    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
    Round Nine: Mark Melancon, 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.

    WTNYJune 06, 2006
    Draft Preview
    By Bryan Smith

    "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:

    RANK Name Team
    1 Andrew Miller North Carolina
    2 Evan Longoria Long Beach State
    3 Brad Lincoln Houston
    4 Max Scherzer Missouri
    5 Drew Stubbs Texas
    6 Daniel Bard North Carolina
    7 Tim Lincecum Washington
    8 Luke Hochevar Fort Worth
    9 Brandon Morrow California
    10 Joba Chamberlain Nebraska
    11 Justin Masterson San Diego State
    12 Matt Antonelli Wake Forest
    13 Brett Sinkbeil Missouri State
    14 Dave Huff UCLA
    15 Greg Reynolds Stanford
    16 Kyle McCulloch Texas
    17 Mark Melancon Arizona
    18 Brooks Brown Georgia
    19 Mark Hamilton Tulane
    20 Steven Wright Hawaii
    21 Andrew Carpenter Long Beach State
    22 Emmanuel Burriss Kent State
    23 Josh Butler San Diego
    24 Kris Johnson Wichita State
    25 Adam Ottavino Northeastern
    26 Jared Hughes Long Beach State
    27 Wes Hodges Georgia Tech
    28 Josh Rodriguez Rice
    29 Mike Felix Troy
    30 Chris Coghlan Ole Miss
    31 Derrick Lutz George Washington
    32 Harold Mozingo Virginia Commonwealth
    33 Matt LaPorta Florida
    34 Ian Kennedy USC
    35 Dallas Buck Oregon State
    36 Chad Tracy Pepperdine
    37 Jeff Manship Notre Dame
    38 Jordan Newton Western Kentucky
    39 Jeff Samardzija Notre Dame
    40 Cyle Hankerd USC

    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.

    WTNYJune 05, 2006
    Jumping on the Mock Train
    By Bryan Smith

    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...

  • I have noted over and over again that I believe Notre Dame WR/RHP Jeff Samardzija will be the draft's biggest reach. I still think that will be true, and remain enamored with the possibility of him landing with the Diamondbacks, probably in slot 55. Given their first two selections, Samardzija might be outside of Arizona's price range, but their presence in the wide receiver's stomping grounds, South Bend, create an intriguing combination.

  • Dellin Betances has been quite the anomoly this spring, his stock changing often, his velocity reportedly down. However, players with his projectablity rarely find their way to Brooklyn, so the Yankees really should choose Betances at pick 41. If they can muster the courage to go with Pedro Beato in the first round, the Mets will truly be "on tilt" the rest of the day.

  • In Callis' mock of the top 15 picks, we can already see where I made a few mistakes. However, in most cases, the back-up choice I listed might be the man to go. The big exception is the note that Chris Parmalee is on the verge of a pre-draft deal, which certainly will shake things up.

  • My final prediction is that I will praise the organizations that spend picks on Mark Hamilton and Steven Wright on draft day. Others that pique my interest as post-round 1 gambles: Mike Felix (Troy), Milton Loo (Yavapai), Derrick Lutz (George Washington), Cory Rasmus (Ala. HS), Harold Mozingo (Va. Commonwealth), Josh Rodriguez (Rice).

    Leave your own predictions in the comments...

  • WTNYMay 31, 2006
    And So It Begins...
    By Bryan Smith

    It's always easiest to pick on the team chosen last. In college sports the postseason is simply an unjust finale to a year, in all the NCAA sports across the board. Every playoff system leaves room for argument, and as we build up our disdain, we let it out on team #64, or the selection committee that backed them.

    In baseball, those are one in the same. In the largest travesty of the 2006 College World Series tournament, Mississippi State University received a bid to play postseason ball. Their strongest argument, a red-hot start to the season, was topped by Old Dominion's better start. The argument that the SEC deserves more teams than most conference is negated by the exclusion of LSU, their first since 1989.

    In the end, the only piece of evidence left that makes sense is that the chair of the selection committee doubles as the MSU athletic director. No joke.

    Of course, this wasn't the selection committee's only mistake. There are plenty more - the pac-10 champion Oregon State University didn't receive a top 8 national seed, meaning they play Texas in the second round. But harping on injustices, however, is to ignore the fun tournament that starts this weekend and carries us to late June.

    If anything, we can just use the committee's mistakes as reasons to cheer. Root for Oregon State, boo Mississippi State, but in the end, allow yourself to be enraptured. If you are heading into the weekend without a lot of background on the CWS, here's a quick and dirty look at the nation's 16 regionals, to be played this weekend.

    Clemson Regional

    Participants (in order of seed): Clemson, Elon, Mississippi State, UNC Asheville

    There was no question among the selection committee who the top teams were -- Clemson, Rice -- the only problem was finding a ranking. Clemson received the nod, and as a result, the definitively less experienced two seed in Elon. However, the Elon offense is nothing to take lightly - six regular spots have an average over .300, and the team is hitting .305/.410/.477 overall. While I like SoCon Freshman of the Year Steven Hensley, who might pitch the Phoenix past MSU, Clemson has an insane amount of depth. Look for the likes of Tyler Colvin, Andy D'Alessio and Josh Cribb to cruise the Tigers into round 2.

    Pick: Clemson.

    Arkansas Regional

    Participants: Oklahoma st, Arkansas, Oral Roberts, Princeton

    This regional represents another postseason injustice: non-hosting one seeds. While the Cowboys deservedly received the top seed in this regional, the committee opted to play it in Fayetteville. This obviously works in Arkansas' favor, who will already have the dangerous Nick Schmidt (a surefire 2007 first rounder) ready to shut down the dangerous Oklahoma State bats. Oral Roberts walked through the Mid-Continent Conference, but don't depend on them for your upset. If you watch any of this regional, try the Schmidt-Corey Brown match-up, we'll be talking about both a lot in a year.

    Pick: Arkansas.

    Kentucky Regional

    Participants: Kentucky, College of Charleston, Notre Dame, Ball State

    Kentucky very well might be the Cinderella story of the season; the most unlikely of 40-win SEC teams. However, Coach of the Year John Cohen has an offensive bunch, led by Ryan Strieby and John Shelby the team slugged .530 on the year. However, the Fighting Irish just might have the arms to quiet the Wildcats. Jeff Manship is one of the draft's most underrated prospects, but if he gets the nod in an opening round clash against College of Charleston, we might be forced to see Jeff Samardzija get more airtime. I don't like the guy's pro prospects, but in college, his mid-90s fastball is a good bet to get the job done.

    Pick: Notre Dame.

    Georgia Tech Regional

    Participants: Georgia Tech, Vanderbilt, Michigan, Stetson

    OK, we have already found a better sophomore potential pitcher-batter match up: David Price vs. Matt Wieters. Price is the odds-on favorite to be the first collegiate player drafted in a year, and if scouts continue to prefer Wieters at catcher (he doubles as a closer), then Matt could be the first hitter taken. But, these players are just faces on a pair of star-studded teams. Price is backed by an offense that includes a fantastic pair of Freshman: Pedro Alvarez and Ryan Flaherty. Tech is a veteran-led team, expect Wes Hodges, Whit Robbins and Jeff Kindel to attack Price. The Commodores are truly a team built for 2007, and given Price's late season slide, the Yellow Jackets should cruise.

    Pick: Georgia Tech.

    Fullerton Regional

    Participants: Cal State Fullerton, Fresno State, San Diego, St. Louis

    Fullerton is simply a powerhouse, a well-built George Horton factory. This year's team is no exception, led by sophomore ace Wes Roemer - who walked just four batters all year...in 125.2 innings. CSUF does not make mistakes and has depth, a team built for the Super Regionals. I like San Diego to upset Fresno State for rights to lose to the Titans, as Fresno suspended their only significant offensive threat - Beau Mills - for the remainder of the season. San Diego has a good group of arms including Josh Butler and Brian Matusz, they might scare Fullerton, but they won't have the offense to beat them.

    Pick: Cal State Fullerton.

    Pepperdine Regional

    Participants: Pepperdine, UCLA, UC Irvine, Missouri

    Underline it, circle it and star it; this is the best regional, hands down. Pepperdine was a surprise regional host, but as a result, drew the most difficult four seed. Missouri struggled all season with junior ace Max Scherzer hurt and outfielder Hunter Mense struggling. With Max back, this is a dangerous team. If the Waves could make it past the Tigers, they would face the winner of the John Savage match-up: his new club (UCLA) or his old one (UC Irvine). UCLA is a good team and should make it past Irvine, and I like Scherzer to pitch his way past the host; he's been too good the last two weeks. The deciding game should be UCLA's David Huff against Missouri's Nathan Culp, two of the 2006 draft's best southpaws. Huff is a favorite of mine, and the better pitcher, but I'll take the Tigers as my shocker.

    Pick: Missouri.

    North Carolina Regional

    Participants: North Carolina, Winthrop, UNC Wilmington, Maine

    The Tar Heels were surely one of the last picks to host a regional, especially after not winning a game in the ACC Tournament. But for the first time in more than 20 years, Chapel Hill will be host, and it couldn't be a better group of arms to showcase. UNC will be so tough to beat with Daniel Bard, Andrew Miller, and Robert Woodard all rested and waiting. The team is prone to making mistakes, but I'm not convinced Winthrop is strong enough for the effort. If they pitch their stud freshman, Alex Wilson, against Wilmington, there will just not be enough in the tank to face UNC. If they try to wait with Wilson, they might not even make it past the Seahawks. Lots of pressure on North Carolina to come through, and I think they'll do it.

    Pick: North Carolina.

    Alabama Regional

    Participants: Alabama, Troy, Southern Miss, Jacksonville St.

    Argue with me if you'd like, but this should not be a difficult weekend for Alabama. At all. I say this knowing full well about Mike Felix, the Troy junior two-way player that might be the most underrated player in the country. I also am well aware of Alabama's offensive problems, with a team OPS just north of .800. But this team can pitch, and they should pitch their way to the super regionals. Freshman Tommy Hunter should get the opener against Southern Miss, as 'Bama saves ace Wade Leblanc, and his 10-0 perfect record, to face Felix, who struck out 12 more batters in 20 less innings on the year.

    Pick: Alabama.

    Rice Regional

    Participants: Rice, Arizona St, Baylor, Prairie View

    I tend to disagree with the committee; Rice is the best team in the country. After starting a bit slow, to use relatively, Rice has been on a tear for the last two months. They destroy anything they come across. That being true, this shouldn't be a hard weekend for the Owls. Arizona State has been in the postseason many times, and should come well coached, but this is another team so dependent upon young hitters. Freshman Brent Wallace, Ike Davis, and Preston Paramore are all key parts to that offense. When these players face senior right-hander Eddie Degerman, who despite a lackluster pro profile does deserve to be in the discussion for pitcher of the year, expect Degerman to come out on top.

    Pick: Rice.

    Oklahoma Regional

    Participants: Oklahoma, Houston, Wichita State, TCU

    Another very deep regional, and like my pick in the Pepperdine regional, I'm choosing the best arm: Brad Lincoln. The Cougars had quite the argument for hosting a regional themselves, and Lincoln is the reason why - no player in the country carries his team like Brad. But don't take that as a knock on Houston, they have the depth to compete with anyone thanks to a solid group of arms. Wichita State and TCU both seem to be a year away. Oklahoma is an intriguing pick, a veteran team led by senior Daniel McCutchen, but when he faces Lincoln, the Player of the Year will rise to the top.

    Pick: Houston.

    Virginia Regional

    Participants: Virginia, South Carolina, Evansville, Lehigh

    Pass. This is not the best of regionals, as Virginia doesn't strike me as a legit top seed. However, thanks to South Carolina's youth, there is no real direct threat to the Cavaliers. South Carolina is so talented; both Justin Smoak and Reese Havens turned down serious money to become Gamecocks, but neither should be leaned on against Sean Doolittle. The Virginia star beat out the likes of Andrew Miller, Matt Antonelli and Shane Robinson for ACC Player of the Year honors - the result of double-digit win and double totals. Look for Virginia to ride him to the second round.

    Pick: Virginia.

    Georgia Regional

    Participants: Georgia, Florida St, Jacksonville, Sacred Heart

    Georgia struggled in the first half of the season on weekends, losing numerous weekend series before capturing their last 4, and five of their last 6. Their late season success can be credited to Brooks Brown, as well as hitters Joey Side and Josh Morris. All three are juniors on the way out, and are dying to show freshman like Gordon Beckham the way to get it done. Standing in their way is Florida State, who counter Beckham with a freshman shortstop of their own - Buster Posey. The series will likely come down to Bryan Henry against Brown, and with stud sophomore closer Josh Fields waiting in the wings, it's hard to pick against the Bulldogs.

    Pick: Georgia.

    Nebraska Regional

    Participants: Nebraska, Miami (FL), San Francisco, Manhattan

    This should be a cakewalk for Nebraska, as this is really a down season for the Hurricanes. In fact, a first round loss to San Francisco would not be too surprising. The Cornhuskers have such a deep pitching staff that even Manhattan - who does have a 2007 top five rounder - will be getting a top-3 round caliber talent in Tony Watson. Once Joba Chamberlain takes the mound in Lincoln to advance Nebraska, it's over. Chamberlain's profile was built upon last year's CWs, expect more of the same in 2006.

    Pick: Nebraska.

    Mississippi Regional

    Participants: Mississippi, Tulane, South Alabama, Bethune-Cookman

    To me, the Tulane-South Alabama stands as one of the most intriguing first round match-ups. Tulane, in hopes of making a Super Regional, will likely hold off on ace sophomore Sean Morgan, hoping to throw him against Old Miss. South Alabama, on the other hand, will have all hands on deck in hopes of beating Tulane, including the nation's most prolific pitcher: P.J. Walters. Walters pitched well in the Cape last summer and has been successful for South Alabama all season - certainly an interesting mid rounds selection. If Walters really wants to make a name for himself, it would be by beating Tulane. I don't think he will, however, as I believe the Green Wave's bats will carry them past not only South Alabama, but Ole Miss as well.

    Pick: Tulane.

    Oregon State Regional

    Participants: Oregon State, Kansas, Hawaii, Wright State

    For two years now the Beavers have been a really fun team to root for - college baseball's Mystery, Alaska. The team added even more in terms of likability after getting screwed by the selection committee. Put an adoring fan base together with Dallas Buck, Jonah Nickerson and Kevin Gunderson, all juniors, and you have a regional winner. Kansas is the Kentucky of the Big 12, even more apt after their recent Big 12 tournament win. But if Hawaii ace Steven Wright shuts them down this weekend and upsets the Jayhawks, don't be surprised. In the end, Oregon State, and it won't be particularly close.

    Pick: Oregon State.

    Texas Regional

    Participants: Texas, NC State, Stanford, Texas-Arlington

    There isn't a bad team in this regional - there isn't a consistent one either. Texas was so beatable earlier in the year, coming out of the gates losing to San Diego handily. But the Longhorns have turned it around and enter the tournament ready for another big run, Drew Stubbs and Kyle McCulloch's last hurrah. Without Andrew Brackman, who wasn't even good this year, NC State doesn't have that shutdown pitcher, so the second round match could have a football final score - Texas, 14; NC State, 6.

    Pick: Texas.

    * * * * *

    First of all, let me again attempt to urge you all to watch college baseball when at all possible in the next three weeks. The game of aluminum is a fun one to watch, even if you have to wince through multi-error games. Real emotion will be on display every night, and some of this year and next year's best talents will be passing through television screens and ballparks across the country.

    Finally, I know you guys want some "win-it-all" picks. I'll predict the specific Super Regional games next weekend, but let's cross our fingers that we get some dandies like Rice v. Houston, Oregon State v. Texas, UNC v. Alabama and Clemson v. Arkansas. Talk about dramatic baseball. Until then, here's my first guess at the CWS: Clemson, Georgia Tech, Fullerton, Alabama, Houston, Georgia, Nebraska, Texas.

    At that point, the hottest team wins, so I'm going to make a surprise choice and pick Alabama to win it all, riding on the veteran arm of Wade Leblanc and Tommy Hunter's new arm. But in the final I think 'Bama plays Nebraska, and the Cornhuskers deserve as good of odds as anyone to win it this year.

    Now go, my readers, and fill out those brackets!

    WTNYMay 26, 2006
    Tiger Bite
    By Bryan Smith

    For years, promises were heard and patience was preached. In time, Mike Illitch would be the type of owner that spends money. Over time, Dave Dombrowski would give the Detroit Tigers his patented Florida facelift.

    For years, Tigers fans would have to watch the Indians build a dynasty, the Twins make something out of nothing, and the White Sox win a world championship. They were simply instructed to sit back and take it, their day of reckoning was promised to be right around the corner.

    For now, these Detroit fans are starting to believe. Maybe Jim Leyland can still manage. Maybe Dambrowski can pull a rabbit from his hat twice. Maybe Illitch will eventually spend the necessary money. Their belief is seen by a recent upswing in attendance numbers - three straight 25,000 home games - that should only continue with three consecutive home series against the Indians, Yankees and Red Sox, respectively.

    Personally, I do not believe. The White Sox are too good, too built to last. But this column is not about the south side, but about Motown, and the cautious optimism slowly protruding from it. While I'm far from convinced this is the season the Tigers snap their losing streak, I do see good things happening. Worth noting:

  • For all the contact problems that Curtis Granderson has, the kid can play. Only 10 times in 47 games has Granderson not struck out in a game; he's on pace to exceed 150 strikeouts, making a high batting average very difficult. However, Granderson makes up for his contact inabilities with good power, great defense and fantastic discipline. His ISO seems to be settling in the .210 range, his Rate2 in center stands at 113, and Granderson has 26 walks in just north of 200 plate appearances. Not every formula for success reads the same, but whichever one that Granderson is using, it's working.

  • Kudos is definitely in order for the Tigers having the guts to give Marcus Thames a good number of at-bats. Thames has been able to hit for years; few hitters in professional baseball have a more prolific track record against southpaws. However, high strikeout rates and mediocre defense has plagued Thames for years, even following a double-digit home run season in 2004. At this point, Thames offers little long-term value for the club, but the ability to make small findings of his stature speaks volumes to the aptitude of the front office.

  • The front office also obviously has good drafting skills, as Justin Verlander has hit an unbelievable stride of late. After not pitching great in his first 2 May appearances, Verlander's last 2 starts (granted against AAA offenses in MIN and KC) have built a 17 inning scoreless streak. Verlander is such a fun pitcher to watch, a player that keeps his velocity until the end of games, and also throws a nasty, nasty curve. Verlander was far from a sure thing in a draft that included the fantastic Rice trio, but years removed, he was probably the best pick of the top ten.

  • In the American League East, it appears that Jon Papelbon has decided his own future with a fantastic start in the closer's role. After notching his third win and lowering his ERA to 3.22 on Thursday, it's impossible not to wonder if Joel Zumaya has not done the same. Scouts always believed that Zumaya's future likely was in the bullpen, and this spring, Jim Leyland was smart enough to speed up his timetable. And while Zumaya is prone to the occasional home run -- the longball has been responsible for 3 of his 4 earned run outings -- his dominance in a short role is undeniable. The other route, which Tigers fans should be growing increasingly afraid of, is the Scott Williamson route. After winning 12 games in a dominant 1999 reliever season, the Reds relief-to-starter experiment in 2000 ended poorly, creating a health hazard. At this point, leaving Zumaya in the bullpen might be for the best.

  • Soon, it will be in the pen that Zumaya should have some pitching prospect company. While Kevin Whelan has seen control problems slow his progress in high-A, the Tigers seem to be growing arms at will these days. The next starter-turned-bullpen ace should come via Humberto Sanchez, who seems to be continuing upon his Arizona Fall League success. This season, the 6-6, 230 pound giant has allowed just 38 hits in 57.2 innings, while striking out 68. Sanchez may still have a career in starting left, but teamed with Zumaya, the Tigers could have bullpen dominance for a decade.

    So, as you can see, the newfound Detroit optimism exists for a reason, even if it currently stands a bit overabundant. In a group of players like Granderson, Verlander, Zumaya and others, as well as a good front office, the pieces are slowly fitting into place. And with a bit more patience, Tigers fans are really going to have a team to stand behind.

  • WTNYMay 24, 2006
    Preliminary Bryan Board
    By Bryan Smith

    For many of the college players that will hear their names called in the upcoming draft, this weekend is their last to shine. Many are already finished, and many more will see their stock stay volatile as they enter the collegiate postseason. With less than three weeks until the draft, uncertainty still surrounds the last weekend of the NCAA regular season.

    Before the craziness of conference and NCAA tournaments creates a large stir in the draft rankings, I wanted to release my first big board of the spring. Before the season, I wrote a top 20 college prospects article for SI.com, but since then, so much has changed.

    Please note that the upcoming rankings are in no way the order I think players will be drafted in this June, far from it. Instead, these rankings indicate my opinions based upon statistics and conversations with those inside the game. I chose to keep high school players out of the rankings because I cannot judge them as well, and will leave that to far smarter men.

    So, if I was in charge of creating a draft board for a Major League organization, the top 25 of the college version would read like this...

    1. Andrew Miller, LHP: North Carolina
    His lack of sheer dominance this spring is a concern for a $5M investment, but Miller is worth the money with great stuff and oodles of projectablity.

    2. Brad Lincoln, RHP: Houston
    Has consistently dominated mediocre competition in 2006 thanks to a lights out fb-cv combination. Improvement in change will determine pro success.

    3. Evan Longoria, IF: Long Beach State
    Will hit at the next level, as he has been one of the best on Friday nights. At this point, profiles at second or third, and versatility creates a nice utility infielder fallback option.

    4. Max Scherzer, RHP: Missouri
    His start against Texas last weekend should be a tell-tale sign to organizations that Max is back. With full health, Scherzer could challenge Miller for top spot.

    5. Tim Lincecum, RHP: Washington
    I love the comparisons to Scot Shields, who Lincecum could be competing against for Best Set-Up Men honors as early as 2007. I just don't see the potential as a starter.

    6. Luke Hochevar, RHP: Tennessee/Fort Worth Cats
    Seattle Mariners have such an interesting choice in the fifth spot: pony up on Scherzer, Lincecum or Hochevar? For many reasons, the latter choice would be defendable.

    7. Drew Stubbs, OF: Texas
    Torii Hunter is the closest comparison to Stubbs: great defense, good power, and poor contact abilities. He could be worse, but at the low end, he's a good bench outfielder.

    8. Brandon Morrow, RHP: California
    Morrow comes at you hard, with a big fastball and a good splitter. He is another that screams future reliever to me, but a bit of refinement could lend an even higher ceiling.

    9. Joba Chamberlain, RHP: Nebraska
    Joba could stand to use a postseason similar to his 2005 efforts, but no matter what, teams love his future innings-eater potential and hope his fastball returns to the consistent mid-90s.

    10. Daniel Bard, RHP: North Carolina
    So many questions surround a seven figure arm, as Bard has truly been inconsistent since a fabulous freshman season. Multiple first-round pick organizations should gamble.

    11. Matt Antonelli, IF: Wake Forest
    I love thinking of Antonelli as an athletic Edgardo Alfonzo; his 2006 improvements should cap a dominant calendar year for Antonelli.

    12. Greg Reynolds, RHP: Stanford
    For me, the ceiling isn't there. He could eat innings, stay at the back end of the rotation, but if he's much better than that, why doesn't he strike anyone out?

    13. Brett Sinkbeil, RHP: Missouri State
    A pretty complete package, Sinkbeil has three good pitches and a good pitcher's body. Should fly through an organization to the middle of a rotation.

    14. Dave Huff, LHP: UCLA
    I fell for Huff following his Cape performance last year, where he looked primed for a good spring. Results have followed, and Huff is the '06 draft's first "crafty southpaw."

    15. Ian Kennedy, RHP: USC
    I know, I know, it's been an awful three months now. But not many players have 2 seasons like Kennedy and completely fall apart forever. Will eat innings somewhere.

    16. Matt LaPorta, 1B: Florida
    More weaknesses than strengths, no matter how far he can hit a baseball. LaPorta might be fun to watch, but the caveats should worry people.

    17. Kyle McCulloch, RHP: Texas
    Similar to Reynolds, pitching with solid-not-great results against very good competition. Kyle's pitchability ranks off the charts, but his ceiling is simply low.

    18. Justin Masterson, RHP: San Diego State
    Go straight to the bullpen, directly to the bullpen. Do not pass go, do not start any games, and do not collect $200.

    19. Drew Carpenter, RHP: Long Beach State
    After outperforming teammate all spring, Carpenter closed the year as the Dirtbags' Friday starter. Had many bright spots in 2006, and is a supplemental-type pitcher.

    20. Mark Melancon, RHP: Arizona
    The health red flag is a cause for concern, but Melancon was playing so well before going down. A calculated risk at the tail end of the first round that could pay off big.

    21. Wes Hodges, 3B: Georgia Tech
    A big year put him in the top ten, but an inconsistent 2006 may have cost him a first round selection. Hodges won't ever be a Major League star, but could be a solid-to-average third baseman.

    22. Jared Hughes, RHP: Long Beach State
    The Cape's 2005 darling has not pitched well of late, and his draft status has tanked. But teams love the sinker, and he makes a great early 2nd-round pick.

    23. Mark Hamilton, 1B: Tulane
    It wouldn't surprise me if Hamilton outplays LaPorta in the pros, where he truly has Ryan Klesko potential. Whoever picks him will get big points from me.

    24. Brooks Brown, RHP: Georgia
    Another great Cape pitcher that has found mixed results in 2006. A big finish has helped his status, and his controlled 93+ mph fastball is looking more and more appealing.

    25. Wade Leblanc, LHP: Alabama
    Gave up way, way, way too many home runs this season, but every other peripheral was fantastic in a tough conference. A solid, if unspectacular, second round choice.

    Final Honorable Mentions: Dallas Buck (RHP-OSU), Josh Butler (RHP-USD), Josh Rodriguez (SS-Rice), Chad Tracy (C-PEP), Steven Wright (RHP-HAW).

    WTNYMay 23, 2006
    Disappointing Midwest Teenagers
    By Bryan Smith

    Daunting. Professional baseball must be daunting to teenagers at first, given the degree of difference that their first full professional season entails. Away from home for the first time. Baseball everyday. For more than five months.

    After falling in love with high school draft prospects, and paying large bonuses to deter them from college, Major League organizations ask a lot of their bonus babies. Furthermore, these players must deal with the stress of high pressure, as many are associated with high draft selections. Life is difficult, and oftentimes, baseball -- for the first time in their lives -- does not come easy.

    Each year, a traditional article of mine is to identify a number of prospects that I believe will break out. In preparation for this list, I look for trends from past breakout prospects, and attempt to apply that to a new brand of prospects. Certain strikeout and walk rates, ISOs in a given stadium, a telling split. And as I've pointed out this year already, with the case of Reid Brignac, a less-than-stellar Midwest League debut.

    In 2004, both Brandon Wood and Adam Jones played in the Midwest League during their first professional seasons, at the ages of 19. Neither played particularly well, both had OPS below .750, neither lived up to the first round status. It wasn't until the next season, when professional baseball became more routine, that results started to match their obvious talent. After missing out on the cases of Wood and Jones in 2004, Reid Brignac's 2005 sent out sirens to me that he was on the verge of a breakout. So far, that looks correct.

    Each year there are examples of this, so I recently decided we need a better system of evaluating teenage Midwest League performance. For whatever reason, teenage struggles happen more often in the Midwest, likely because of more difficult stadiums, pitchers, and colder weather. We'll save a look at the South Atlantic League for another article.

    The Baseball Cube, a fantastic resource for minor league research, has full data available since the 2002 season. In that timeframe, I went through every Midwest League team, and looked for players during their age 19 seasons, which mostly covered their first run through the MWL. I also looked for players with more than 100 at-bats at the level, to avoid sample size issues. Given those parameters, I found 45 player-seasons since 2002 from which to create a baseline.

    AB AVG OBP SLG OPS
    16,531 .265 .334 .391 .725

    Normally, a .725 OPS at any level would not raise eyebrows for a prospect, but for a 19-year-old in the Midwest League, it's average. However, when combing through the list of players, I noticed a group that was more prolific than the rest: first basemen. Five nineteen year olds played first base in the Midwest League since 2002 (Prince Fielder, Kila Kaaihue, Daric Barton, Casey Kotchman, Brad Nelson) and their combined batting lines is an astounding .289/.390/.480, and they make up for nearly a quarter of the home runs.

    So, I went back through the study and corresponding Excel spreadsheet, and eliminated the five aforementioned players. First basemen are at the tail end of the defensive spectrum, and their ability to perform with the bat is paramount. How have the other 7 positions on the field fared in the MWL at 19?

    AVG OBP SLG OPS
    .262 .326 .379 .705

    Certainly, we can see the effect the first baseman had, as the average OPS drops to .705. Furthermore, there is an increase in the strikeout percentage (which went from 19.7% with all 45 to 20.0% without the 1B) and a decrease in walk percentage (9.3% down to 8.5%). Suddenly, the player with the .725 OPS is not even just average, but nearly 3% above it.

    However, this was not quite enough. Given the fact that Wood, Jones and Brignac were all middle infielders, I wanted to further adjust by position. In fact, just last week, I mentioned Paul Kelly as an early potential 2007 breakout, seeing another teenage middle infielder hitting with sub par results. So, going back through the Excel spreadsheet, I eliminated all players that didn't play in the middle infield during their Midwest League stay. While we are left with a number of the original bad players, beyond Wood, Jones and Brignac lay other talents like Ruben Gotay, Ronny Cedeno, Erick Aybar, Josh Barfield and a few other good prospects.

    A look at the average middle infield teenage Midwest League batting line, covering 24 players since 2002:

    AVG OBP SLG OPS
    .260 .319 .368 .687

    Another decrease. The average ISO is no down to .108, eighteen points lower than it was with the corner infielders, catchers and outfielders added on. Players are still striking out at about a 19-20% rate, but walks are down to about 7.8%, in relation to at-bats. Undoubtedly, players in this category should have even lower expectations than the rest of the group.

    * * * * *

    This season, I have counted 19 teenage players that currently reside on Midwest League rosters. At the end of the season, it's likely that many of those nineteen will not have impressive batting lines; many will look like early disappointments. However, this may not be true.

    What I hope this article did is provide some context to teenage, Midwest League play. Even if MWL 2006 teenager Bryan Anderson finishes the season with a .270/.330/.400 line, we should consider it a small success. If Paul Kelly puts up that line, it will be an astounding forty-three points above the average for middle infielders at that age and level.

    I hope this will be the first article in a series, as we also must tackle how our 45 test cases fared after exiting the MWL, how teenagers have done in the South Atlantic League, and how teenage pitchers have done in full season baseball. As I've said in the past, context is everything in minor league baseball, and there is much work left to be done in quantifying the importance of youth.

    WTNYMay 19, 2006
    The Next Batch
    By Bryan Smith

    It seems the Twins are finally coming to their senses. After too long of letting Kyle Lohse provide bad results to their rotation, Minnesota decided to replace his rotation spot with Francisco Liriano. The future ace had dominated in the bullpen, but like Johan Santana so many years before, was waiting to wreak havoc as a starter.

    The Twins slow decision to move to their youth is odd considering an organization that developed 21st century success through their 1990s developmental program. Suddenly an organization that had so aggressively used the likes of Torii Hunter and company was keeping Liriano in the rotation and Jason Barlett in AAA. And while Bartlett remains in Rochester, Liriano seems to be the first domino in the next Twins youth movement.

    While confidence in their youth seems to have eroded in the last few years, the Twins ability to develop prospects has continued. Minnesota is one of the best drafting teams in the business, showing very little attention to whether a player attended college or not, whether he's a hitter or pitcher. The Twins take the best player on their draft board, and more often than not, the player succeeds.

    For years, the top of Twin prospect lists was filled with fantastic talents, from Liriano to Joe Mauer. Suddenly, this season the minor leagues started with no dominant talent, but significant depth. Now past the quarter mark of the season, it seems apt time to look at how I would assess the current Twins farm system.

    1. Matt Garza - RHP

    With Francisco Liriano moving to the Major Leagues and exhausting his prospect status, the elite top Twins prospect spot was up for grabs at the beginning of the 2006 season. Not even two months into the season, another pitcher, 2005 first round pick Matt Garza, has taken hold. Garza, a product of Fresno State, entered the Twins system a unique blend of polish and projectablity.

    Generally, former collegiate Friday Night pitchers are expected to cruise to AA, facing as few roadbumps as possible on their way. Garza excelled in this regard, making it through the Florida State League without a scratch. In 44.1 innings at Fort Myers, Garza allowed just 27 hits and 11 walks while striking out 53. His ERA was 1.42 upon promotion to the Eastern League.

    Last night, Garza proved he belonged on top of the list. While it's hard to learn anything from a single start, Garza proved he belonged in AA in his debut: 7.2 IP, 1 H, 2 BB, 0 ER, 13 K. After allowing two of the first five batters he faced to reach base, Garza retired the next 19 hitters before a walk ended his afternoon. With problems in the Twins rotation currently being patched by Boof Bonser, some are hoping Garza makes a meteoric rise to the Majors. However, the Twins would be smartest -- and I don't doubt that they will -- to let Garza take his bumps and bruises in AA.

    While Garza isn't on the same plane as Twins prospects of lore, he has a #2/3 ceiling, and should be in the Majors to stay by 2007.

    2. Jason Kubel - OF/DH

    Many hoped that Kubel's polished bat would start the season in the Minnesota lineup, providing aid to the Twins disastrous offensive problems. However, a lackluster spring coupled with a year away from baseball led to Jason's demotion. Since rejoining the Redwings, Kubel has been solid, if not the International League MVP candidate that many had hoped/predicted.

    I am giving Kubel the benefit of the doubt by retaining his high prospect status, but he's a slump away from slipping a bit down the team rankings. I like that Jason is still making contact at a solid rate, and while not proving to be a HR hitter, twelve extra base hits in 106 at-bats is good. However, Kubel's sudden desertion of the base on balls is a concern, only 8 walks so far.

    Kubel is a solid prospect at this point, but I don't think he is the middle of the order hitter that many had hoped. Look for Jason to continue hitting well in AAA, and upon promotion, succeeding in the Majors. But please, no more Edgar Martinez comparisons. He ain't that good.

    3. Matt Moses - 3B

    Few things must excite Twins fans more than the notion of a third base prospect, currently forced to sit through Tony Batista manning the position. And while many likely believe that Moses can't get to the Majors fast enough, the Twins patience with their former top pick should pay off. After back problems in 2004, Moses exploded onto the prospect scene last year, and thus far, has proven his breakout to not be a farce.

    Problem is, Moses has also yet to turn on the gas this season. In each offensive category, an improvement could be made. Twenty-nine strikeouts in 131 ABs isn't great. Neither is 10 extra base hits during that time, even if five are home runs. Finally, a third baseman should be walking more than 10 times in 145 plate appearances.

    With no real competition to speak of, it's safe to say that Moses is the Twins future at the hot corner. But unless Garza accelerates soon, it will be hard to project anything beyond the average 3B for his future.

    4. Glen Perkins - LHP

    Confusing early results so far. Perkins, a former first round choice from nearby University of Minnesota, Perkins pitched great last year through high-A before hitting a wall at AA. But good-stuff southpaws are a rare breed, and the Twins promised to use patience with Perkins. So far, Perkins second trial of the Eastern League has gone pretty well.

    But, for some reason, things have not gone extraordinarily. Perkins is on a prospect-laden staff in AA, joined by the likes of Errol Simonitsch (2.51 ERA), Adam Harben (2.12) and Justin Jones (3.25). Perkins' 3.58 ERA is the worst of the group, odd because the southpaw also has the group's best peripheral numbers. I am a big fan of Perkins blend of control and stuff, and certainly his handedness helps things. But before becoming an elite prospect, Perkins has to get his ERA down, a feat possibly made easier by reduced HR/9 numbers.

    5. Kevin Slowey - RHP

    Another early season example of the college pitcher dominating A-ball competition, Kevin Slowey was Garza's running mate in Fort Myers. For some reason, when the Twins decided to move Garza to the Eastern League, Slowey stayed. Apparently, the right-hander's 63/2 strikeout-to-walk ratio was not good enough for the Twins.

    Drafting Slowey from Winthrop, the Twins expected to get a polished pitcher. Never one to throw a hard fastball, Slowey has always depended on fantastic control and a better change up. By throwing the ball where he wants and changing speeds, Slowey has developed a formula for success. But the Twins have seen dominating performances turn to rust in the road between Fort Myers and New Britain before (see: Perkins), so approaching Slowey carefully is probably for the best.

    At this point in the season, Slowey's numbers are simply out of this world. However, few types of pitchers demand AA results before proper evaluation like Slowey's kind, lacking any projectablity to speak of.

    6. Anthony Swarzak - RHP

    After watching a player in person, at his worst, the memory is difficult to forget. Last year, following his fantastic May, I saw the beginning of a June Swoon for Anthony Swarzak. Ever since, I stayed farther away from his bandwagon than most. This season, that mentality seems to be paying dividends. Swarzak has not been bad this season, striking out 40 in 39 innings. But, accusations of being both hittable (44 hits) and wild (20 walks) is not a good omen. I was concerned last year that Swarzak's high-80s fastball was not enough, and I will stick to that belief. Swarzak will always get noticed thanks to a great hook, but without a good, controlled fastball, Swarzak's curve will go to waste.

    7. Alex Romero - OF

    One of the missed breakout predictions I had from 2005, Romero is having an interesting season so far. First assigned to AAA, the Twins rushed to a demotion when Romero was hitting just .192 through eight games. The decision seemed a bit forced - Alex had a good BB/K ratio and seemed on the verge of turning things around - but promoting confidence at an easier level is defensible. Since being moved back to the Eastern League, Romero has done very well, hitting .277/.362/.458. For about three years now, Romero has continued to be good at everything, but great at nothing, the sign of a future fourth outfielder. With good speed, better patience, a fantastic ability to make contact and a left-handed bat, Romero is as good a bet as any to have a long Major League bench career. But until his defense improves or his power blossoms, a starting spot seems like a stretch for Romero.

    8. Eduardo Morlan - RHP

    Alright, now we're talking. Morlan, who turned 20 years old during Spring Training, is an exciting prospect. A former Cuban, the Twins grabbed Morlan in the third round of the 2004 draft, obsessed with the stuff he would bring to the system: mid-90s fastball, a very good breaking pitch, and a solid change. Morlan lacked control and profiled as a reliever, but given his stuff, worse things could be said. This season, the report is still the same. In the Midwest League, Morlan has surrendered just 13 hits in 25.1 innings, actually allowing more walks: 15. He strikes batters out at a great rate (34), and keeps the ball in the park. Right now, the Twins have jerked Morlan between the rotation and the bullpen, but given his success, expect an extended starter trial to undergo soon. Morlan's stuff is second just to Garza's on this list, as is his ceiling, but few players could flame out as easily.

    9. Paul Kelly - SS

    Now that Reid Brignac's breakout if becoming official, I'm really starting to believe that teenage Midwest League middle infielders should have reduced expectations. To just use recent examples, the aggregate Midwest League OPS of Adam Jones, Brignac and Brandon Wood -- all of whom played in the MWL at 19 as shortstops -- was .727. Kelly's, thus far, is sitting at .724. I am beginning to become high on Kelly, who has shown gap power (10 2Bs in 149 ABs) that could eventually provide home runs, patience (17 BBs) and a good enough ability to make contact. Kelly is likely going to have a modest season, mostly generating excitement through doubles and good defense. But on the horizon seems to be a breakout, unfortunately Paul's next stop is not the California League.

    10. Denard Span - OF

    If nothing else, I can respect a prospect with a back-up plan. While, without a doubt, Span would ideally like to become the next Twin leadoff hitter, there is another route he can take: fifth outfielder. Span, a fantastic defensive outfielder, also has the great contact skills associated with good top-of-the-order players. Unfortunately, Span doesn't walk a ton, and offers even less power. After homering in his first game, Span has just three extra-base hits since, all doubles, and looks to be a future bench player if things don't change soon. However, a bench career would be helped if Span became a better baserunner; he has been successful on just five of eight attempts so far, bringing his success ratio under 66%. A frustrating talent, to be sure.

    And those that deserve mention outside the top ten, in no particular order...

    The Twins system is loaded, so a breakdown of the top ten cannot even do it justice. Just outside the top ten were a pair of AA pitchers, Adam Harben and Justin Jones, both of which have control problems, both of which probably will need moves to the bullpen to make any real success happen ... Trevor Plouffe began the season hailed by many as a breakout candidate, but his hitting problems have continued. In addition to a complete lack of power at the plate, I think Plouffe is the rare example of a player too selective at the plate: 24 walks in about 150 plate appearances! ... In fact, Plouffe's double play partner, Alexi Casilla, might be the better prospect. Acquired in a trade for J.C. Romero, Casilla has good contact ability (21 K in 157 AB) and great speed up the middle. Likely a future bench player ... Kyle Waldrop has not pitched good enough in his second Midwest League go-around so far, still proving to be too hittable. I don't think the fastball will ever be good enough for sustained success ... Pat Neshek is the most interesting story in the farm system, a former 6th round pick (from Butler University) that entered the year with a career 2.22 minor league ERA. This season, in AAA, Neshek has struck out 49 batters in 27.2 innings. Other than a high HR rate, all signs seem to be go for Neshek's big league promotion ... Henry Sanchez was the rare example of a first round high school first baseman in 2005, but his early results have been very damning. After an early season power surge, Sanchez has allowed his OPS to drop to .660 while striking out in nearly 40% of his at-bats ... I'll close things out by mentioning two completely different pitchers: J.D. Durbin and Brian Duensing. Durbin, a prospect in the system for ages, has looked good in AAA so far except for a very high walk ratio. His move to relief needs to be made soon. Duensing is just in low-A, but he's far more polished than Durbin. Too early to get any good readings from Duensing's numbers, but he could enter legit prospect status if he replaced Kevin Slowey soon in the Fort Myers rotation.

    WTNYMay 17, 2006
    What They Have Done For Us Lately
    By Bryan Smith

    Last week in this space, I took a different look at the nation's best college hitters: examining each by their Friday Night performance. Given this split information, we could quickly identify the players performing at the highest levels against their best competition. Suddenly, qualms about Matt Antonelli's performance against top programs were erased.

    My goal entering this week was to unveil another collegiate stat, this time allowing us to look at pichers in a different way. However, today offers no new statistic, no rock turned over for the first time. However, in my game log pursuits, I did realize a quick-and-dirty system for evaluating one of the most important qualities for a top draft pick: momentum.

    Ask Lance Broadway, who went from third round material to becoming a first round choice in a matter of weeks. Broadway has been good this season, validating the selection that many called a reach. However, each year it seems a pitcher rises in May up draft boards wih a good few weeks.

    Today, we will be looking at how the top ten pitchers in the country have done in their last five appearances. Now this group has been, for the most part, considered first round talent from the get-go, today is merely to introduce the style. In the coming weeks, I will profile more pitchers as we try to identify this year's Broadway.

    For their last five weeks, I have compiled each pitcher's counting stats, as well as two other factors. I will provide the average ISR for the opponents faced over that time period, as well as the average game score in the last five weeks. Game score is not perfect, but it's the best method in providing perspective with the dominance of an outing. Baseball's top ten pitchers...

    Name School IP H ER K BB ISR Ave GS
    Brad Lincoln Houston 38.0 28 7 49 8 97.2 71.4 GS
    Greg Reynolds Stanford 40.0 31 10 35 10 31.4 66.0 GS
    Tim Lincecum Washington 35.0 36 12 57 15 43.6 64.6 GS
    Dave Huff UCLA 45.1 40 15 33 6 41.2 63.8 GS
    Brandon Morrow California 36.1 36 7 33 13 25.0 63.4 GS
    Kyle McCulloch Texas 28.0 32 9 23 7 46.4 57.2 GS
    Daniel Bard North Carolina 30.1 26 9 28 13 85.8 55.6 GS
    Andrew Miller North Carolina 36.2 34 10 26 13 85.8 54.2 GS
    J. Chamberlain Nebraska 33.2 34 17 46 14 31.8 53.8 GS
    Ian Kennedy USC 34.0 37 15 33 6 41.2 50.0 GS

    Brad Lincoln obviously gets points for most impressive on this list, with the signficantly highest game score. However, during that time period, Lincoln faced three teams over Boyd Nation's top 100, striking out 34 batters in 23 innings against these teams. His start against Rice last week, a five-hitter with nine strikeouts, did affirm that Lincoln belongs in the top ten. In terms of dominance, Lincoln leads off the list.

    I am, surprisingly, most impressed with Greg Reynolds of any pitcher on this list. I have been quoted as saying that Reynolds is the most overrated first round talent, but he is really coming around this season. His five starts have all been very difficult, but Reynolds has excelled, particularly in the last three: 27 IP, 3 ER, 17 H, 4 BB. I have criticized Reynolds for the lack of results, but they are now there, even though the strikeouts aren't. Reynolds blend of projectablity and results will get him in the first round, and while my intuition frowns on the pick, he is giving me less and less to point at.

    Staying near the top of the list, Dave Huff deserves mention. I fell in love with Huff during the Cape Cod League last year, pegging him as a breakout candidate in his move to John Savage. It has happened, and Savage has proven the scouting world that Huff is an innings eater, going at least 8 innings in his last five starts, and at least nine in his last four. I'm worried that Huff is too hittable at times, that his lack of overall dominance will plague him at higher levels. But fantastic control and very good stuff (though not great) can go a long way for a southpaw.

    Most of you probably cringed when you saw just how low the UNC duo ended up on the list. Especially when considering their low average ISR, even if Nation's system is West Coast friendly. Bard has been so inconsistent all season; his April 9 start against Miami really hurts his numbers here, though. In his last three appearances, Bard has allowed only 13 hits in 18.2 innings, allowing just three earned runs to cross the plate. Bard's series of poor performances will scare many, but his stuff and occasional dominance does yield a first round pick.

    Miller hasn't been extremely dominant for a while, lacking one game score above 66. Miller's draft status is locked in, however, so these numbers only matter so much. After some midseason dip in his strikeout numbers, they are back in his last three starts, 21 in 20.2 innings. His control is also down in that period, and Andrew has really made a point of generating a ton of ground balls. No concerns about Miller, folks, he's right on pace.

    This list also does a good job in showing the continuing fall of Ian Kennedy and Joba Chamberlain. I still like both players; many first round teams would be best off with their innings-eater arms. However, the lack of a ceiling really will scare some clubs off. Kennedy concerns me the most because his control has been really off - 10 walks in his last 24 innings. Without control, Kennedy isn't much. Chamberlain has had walk problems do, allowing at least two in his last five outings. However, Chamberlain's plus strikeout numbers in each outing, including against Texas, have provided credence to his draft status.

    WTNYMay 16, 2006
    Planning for the End
    By Bryan Smith

    Life without Barry Bonds equals futility. At least this has been the case so far, as Bonds' lone organizational exit has yielded thirteen straight losing seasons. Soon, Bonds will be leaving another team for which he has been a mainstay on, this time leaving baseball for good.

    The San Francisco Giants have been, for years, a team built around Barry Bonds. The front office's strategy is simple and easily identifiable: win while you have Bonds at all costs. With this approach, Sabean has spent years making short-sighted trades, giving San Francisco a winning baseball team from 1997-2004. Suddenly, however, Sabean's tactics don't appear as genius.

    As the cameras follow Bonds so intently this season, the Giants have been plagued with mediocrity, falling to last place in baseball's worst division. Injuries have started to hit many of the thirtysomethings that encompass the starting lineup. The Giants are simply a team trapped between two time periods -- the consistent winnings of the previous decade and the forthcoming retooling of the next.

    Can life after Barry Bonds prove more successful than the Pittsburgh Pirates model? Surely, with better management and a sound blueprint, it is almost inevitable. With Bonds likely retiring after the 2007 season, the pressure is now on for Sabean and company to begin planning.

    While the farm system will unquestionably be important in the rebuilding process, the Giants have a luxury the Bucs never had: money. Not only will Bonds' exit bring in excess of eight figures off the payroll, but the forthcoming exits of many veteran players will present Brian Sabean with a myriad of options.

    Name 06 07 08
    Schmidt 10
    Durham 7
    Finley 7 1o
    Alou 6
    Morris 5 9.5 9.5
    Winn 5 4 8
    Benitez 4 7.6
    Vizquel 2.4 2.4
    Kline 3
    Matheny 2.5 2.5 2o
    Worrell 1.5 2
    Vizcaino 1.25
    Sweeney 0.85 0.95
    Wright 0.8
    Fassero 0.75
    Greene 0.7
    Lowry 0.39 1.12 2.25
    TOTALS 58.14 31.07 21.75

    Arbitration players notwithstanding, the Giants can see nearly $50 million coming off the books between now and 2008. Come 2008, the only contractually-bounded commitments are with two dependable starters (Matt Morris, Noah Lowry) and two fringe position players (Randy Winn, Mike Matheny). This means that in the next two seasons, Sabean has to find the new core of the Giants.

    What spots can Sabean depend upon the San Francisco youth to fill? Offensively, not much. Graciously, we can assert that second base is accounted for, either by Kevin Frandsen or Marcus Sanders. I'm not particularly sold on either player, but given Frandsen's 2006 and Sanders' 2005, it isn't too much of a stretch to think either is the current long-term answer at second base.

    The team is light on corner infield players, especially for those that don't believe in Pedro Feliz or Lance Niekro. At this point, it seems Feliz is no more than a bench player, and Niekro nothing more than some 2005 lightning in a bottle. While Travis Ishikawa could make some noise, I am not a believer. The Giants are simply light on infield youth; any depth is reserved for the outfield.

    The Giants have few better long-term bets than Eddy Martinez-Esteve, slowly but definitively moving up the minor league ranks. Esteve has some defensive problems, without a doubt, but either at 1B or LF, he will be an everyday player by 2008. I believe the same to be true about Fred Lewis, who probably should be leading off by the bay in 2007. Lewis' full-time position might move Winn to the bench indefinitely, but Fred's minor league success demands a role.

    San Francisco has numerous other long-term options in the outfield, most falling under the headings of 'adequate fourth outfield type' or 'too risky to project'. The latter group includes both Nate Schierholtz and Ben Copeland, both with high ceilings and high flame-out potential. And while I really like Dan Ortmeier and Brian Horwitz, neither profiles to be much more than a bench player. Guys like Ortmeier, Horwitz and Jason Ellison are all useful, just not on starting lineups or in the same organization.

    So, where does that leave us offensively? I am confident predicting three spots will be filled by youth, with Matheny, Winn, Ellison and Feliz all as potential bench options. Needless to say, the group does not inspire a ton of hope.

    The pitching staff offers more upside, however, despite Sabean's best efforts to trade every pitching prospect he can. While Sebean's belief in TINSTAPP has paid off on numerous occasions, Giants fans must wince every time they see Keith Foulke, Joe Nathan or Francisco Liriano near a pitcher's mound. Still, Sabean was unable to trade all San Fran's pitching youth, leaving some room for optimism.

    As mentioned, both Matt Morris and Noah Lowry should be in the 2008 rotation, providing 400 innings and sub-average ERAs. The latter is a long-term bet for a rotation spot. And despite some extreme early season struggles, uber-prospect Matt Cain still profiles to be the Giants future ace. This only leaves two rotation spots for Sabean to fill.

    One, you can bet, will come via the current farm system. Pat Misch has gained all the early season accolades, using a change-speeds approach to manage a 0.84 ERA in 43 current Eastern League innings. Misch's second run around Fresno, destined to come later in the year, should answer whether or not Misch is made for a rotation spot.

    If not the late bloomer, than perhaps the Giants could fill a spot with one of two hard-throwers: Merkin Valdez or Jonathan Sanchez. Valdez has been a prospect for ages, but like Andy Marte across the country, has not yielded enough high-level dominance. Also, Valdez has been stuck in the bullpen in AAA, which seems to be the Giants plans for him. Sanchez is the question mark; the Giants have toyed with him in both the bullpen and rotation. In any role he's used, the hard-throwing southpaw has been great, allowing 13 hits (0 homers) while striking out 39 in 27 AA innings.

    Alongside Valdez in the long-term relief plans seems to be Jeremy Accardo, a budding young set-up man that I am high on. The club also has some potential relief talent in the minors -- like LBSU's Brian Anderson -- and even some potential help in the Majors (Kevin Correia), but it seems that only Valdez and Accardo are dependable bets.

    Surely, the Giants seem to be better built in their staff than the flipside for the long-term. Lowry, Cain, Sanchez, Valdez and Accardo are all good bets. Matt Morris, Brad Hennessey, Kevin Correia, Craig Whitaker and Pat Misch could all be there. While undoubtedly not set in this area, we definitely know that Sabean should have his eyes on the lineup.

    In conclusion, to be blunt, the Giants have a lot of work to do before Barry Bonds retires. Namely, this includes acquiring and developing numerous young position players and a few young pitchers. This can be done in a number of ways: with the millions that the Giants payroll will shed in the next two winters, through trades (Jason Schmidt, Steve Finley, Moises Alou, Omar Vizquel, etc), and through the draft.

    While the Giants have been immune from the draft in recent years, choosing to forfeit their first round picks, such will not be the case in 2006. San Francisco will be picking twice in the first round, both in the tenth and 33rd draft spots. The Giants should undoubtedly choose the best player on their board, but in the case of a tie, look for the club to be leaning towards position players. With the tenth pick, both Matt LaPorta and Billy Rowell are potential choices, as well as a list of pitchers too long to mention.

    No matter which direction the Giants go in June, the team must begin a new commitment -- towards youth. With each day on his knees, Barry Bonds' days become more numbered, and the onus shifts more and more towards the front office to turn the Giants into a winner.

    Life without Barry Bonds will not be easy. But, with any foresight, San Francisco should be able to avoid the disastrous fate of the Pittsburgh Pirates.

    WTNYMay 12, 2006
    Giving Credit...
    By Bryan Smith

    ...where credit is due. The Major League season is now about 20% over, making the usual pretender/contender game a bit more valid. However, I don't want to rain on parades in Cincinnati, Detroit, Houston and Colorado, so we'll try to find optimism elsewhere.

    In replacement for the usual Friday notes column, I decided to give credit to the top half (records-wise) of the MLB and write a paragraph detailing each farm system. It is in no way an attempt to be comprehensive, but merely a simple tool for word association. Among the minor league happenings that have drawn my eye recently...

    Chicago White Sox - The idea to replace Brian Anderson with Ryan Sweeney in the outfield makes such little sense to me. Anderson has provided Rowand-ish defense so far, and offers pop that Sweeney doesn't: 72 extra-base hits in 1149 professional at-bats. Batting average isn't everything...Aaron Cunningham is the type of player that I might pick to break out next year. He's been sensational in the Sally League at the age of 20.

    Cincinnati Reds - Homer Bailey is really starting to turn on the gas, literally proving he has "no hit" stuff. With enhanced control this season, minor league baseball might not have a better pitcher once the summer hits full swing... Paul Janish has played so well this season, but don't buy into his stock. It's the college-draftee's second time in the league, and the Florida State League will prove how weak his bat is. The glove should turn him into a nice minor league veteran, though.

    New York Mets - A farm system of four players, only three of whom have serious ceilings. Milledge, Pelfrey and Fernando Martinez are all great prospects, but Alay Soler is probably the subplot of the season. Considered by many this past winter as a lost cause, Soler (with the help of Pelfrey) will make Victor Zambrano an afterthought. Let's just hope that Soler, Brian Bannister and Scott Kazmir are teaching the front office a lesson: older isn't always better.

    St. Louis Cardinals - A farm system that I think is on the upswing, thanks to a good 2005 draft and a good number of picks in 2006. Colby Rasmus continues to bounce back from him slow start, but we can now add southpaws to the growing weaknesses list that already includes breaking pitches. Let's hope the list ends there ... Adam Wainwright has been great in the Majors so far, which really creates a lot of questions surrounding Anthony Reyes. With all the arguments we have for the most over and underrated prospect, one thing we should all agree on is that Reyes is the least appreciated prospect.

    Boston Red Sox - He didn't make it to my recent article praising new prospects, but Mike Bowden would make a top 75 if I wrote it up today. Subtract one start from his numbers, and Bowden is an elite talent. Even his inconsistency has not plagued a great set of peripheral statistics. Bowden has surely bested Clay Buchholz so far ... Speaking of bad starts, Jon Lester is starting to return to his status as an elite pitching prospect. In his last four starts, spanning 18.1 innings, Lester has allowed just four earned runs. When are we going to accept he just always starts slow?

    Detroit Tigers - This is a very hard system to get a feel for, with an odd blend of prospects. In terms of upside, the top two talents are definitely Cameron Maybin and Humberto Sanchez. The Tigers have dealt with bad pitching for so long, it's interesting that Jim Leyland has been handed a rotation of fireballers. Sanchez always seems to be too inconsistent as a starter, but even more so than Joel Zumaya, I think he could make a dynamite reliever. Trying Zumaya and Jordan Tata in the rotation, while filling their bullpen slots with Sanchez might be a good late-season experiment for the Tigers.

    New York Yankees - So much for Eric Duncan's big turnaround as a prospect, huh? The first baseman is hitting .228/.295/.277 in a season when Jason Giambi has a .500+ on-base percentage. Duncan's strikeouts are down, which is nice, but where oh where are the power numbers? ... If you think the support Cole Hamels has gotten for his call-up has been extensive, think about Phil Hughes' upcoming promotion. No, it won't be too soon, but an August injury could bring a phenom to New York.

    Houston Astros - Last year the Astros drew a lot of publicity for a draft which included Brian Bogusevic, Eli Iorg and Koby Clemens. It seems now as if the praise might have been premature. Clemens has been hurt for much of the season, but ineffective while playing. Eli Iorg's OPS is below .600, thanks to 3 walks for the season. Most of the hits are being credited to Bogusevic, who has allowed 25 in just 12.2 innings. I wouldn't want to be the person accountable for these misplayed millions.

    Colorado Rockies - Everything is on the up and up for this organization. If the Kansas City Royals make the Tim Lincecum mistake, the Rockies will be handed a major piece to their puzzle. All the talk for the 2006 draft has focused around the lack of heavy talent at the top, but Andrew Miller is the type of player this organization needs. A boring two-seamer, a 95+ four-seamer and a fantastic slider seems to be a potential recipe for Coors success. Chris Nelson seems to be the exception to the rule of good first-round picks by the Rockies recently.

    Toronto Blue Jays - Ricky Romero looked great in his minor league debut, and should be up to the Major Leagues in short order. Given Josh Towers' struggles in the early goings, it won't take much for some aggressive promoting. Romero in Toronto by season's end? Bet on it ... The early returns on the Blue Jays' early-round college outfield selections have been positive, especially with Ryan Patterson's recent 6-for-6, 3 HR day in Dunedin. Drafting in the middle rounds has been a successful venture for the Riccardi regime.

    Philadelphia Phillies - The question now is: how will Gio Gonzalez react now that the pressure is placed on his left shoulder, with Cole Hamels graduating to the big leagues? Gonzalez is a pretty fantastic talent, and the Phillies will have the makings of a young, talented rotation by 2007. How the likes of Scott Mathieson and Zach Segovia fit in, at this point, is unknown ... Whither Bradley Harman? After garnering my prediction for a 2006 breakout, and performing well in the World Baseball Classic, Harman has been a non-entity in Clearwater. One of my biggest disappointments of the young season, to be sure.

    Arizona Diamondbacks - Mike Rizzo is one of the most talented scouting directors in baseball, and I would never tell him how to do his job. But, I also have a plan for the Diamondbacks draft. Why not take relatively cheap players with the 11 and 34 selections, and then gamble with #55? Given that the club's low-A affiliate is in South Bend, Indiana, is there a better fit for Notre Dame WR/RHP Jeff Samardzija? Scouts love his potential in both sports; Mel Kiper has him 7th on his first 2007 draft board. With a creative contract and the ability to play in his college town, Samardzija could really test the baseball waters with this organization.

    San Diego Padres - The hopes of the entire farm system lay on the bat of George Kottaras, currently managing a .292 ISO in Mobile, a very tough hitters' park. Kottaras also was surrounded by power red flags, but the consistent addition of that to his game is a benefit. However, how must the Padres front office be balancing such encouraging signs with his 34 strikeouts (in 96 at-bats)? Like the rest of the farm system, it really seems to be one step forward, two steps back ... Given the huge outfield in PETCO Park, you really have to wonder if Kevin Towers winces every time he sees Jered Weaver throw seven scoreless innings with more than a dozen flyball outs.

    Texas Rangers - I did not like the trade for Freddy Guzman yesterday at all. Guzman's career should double that of a fifth outfielder's, with some outside ceiling to become a leadoff hitter. Conversely, John Hudgins has potential as a back-end pitcher a la John Maine, while Vince Sinisi has a bit of thunder in his bat. Neither player's loss in the Rule 5 Draft would have caused Jon Daniels to blink this past winter, but that hardly means he should begin pressing ... Another draft combination that I think is perfect: Luke Hochevar in Texas. A hard-throwing sinkerballer in a pitching-starved organization with a hitter-friendly ballpark? A good connection with Scott Boras? Only one pick in the top 85? Drafting Hochevar and offering $2.5 million is in the best interests of all parties involved.

    Oakland Athletics - Last year Marcus McBeth was moved to the mound full-time, and spent his season split between the Rookie Leagues and the Kane County Cougars (low-A). While McBeth started the season off great in the Cal League, allowing just one hit in 8 appearances, his promotion to the Pacific Coast League was too extreme. The former outfielder is a great talent off the mound, but rushing him makes little sense. Bring him into the majors in 2008, as he is hitting his physical peak, and see a true Brooks Kieschnik success story ... Daric Barton, Kevin Mellilo, maybe Travis Buck. The future of this team is really about to hit the Majors for good, providing good fodder for Moneyball 2.

    WTNYMay 10, 2006
    May Day
    By Bryan Smith

    When managers leave Spring Training at the end of March, with a 25-man roster chosen, they intend to stick with it. For much of April, struggling players are given free passes; their team anticipates the player will come around in short order.

    We are now beginning to enter the time of the year in which injuries and demotions start to pile on. Many minor league players saw a hot April up their prospect status, and are ready to thrive on a May opportunity. In the past few days, and in the coming few, there are six transactions that I want to highlight today. Which players will stick and which are merely Band-Aids?

    We'll start things off with three players that have been called up to the Majors within the past three days...

    Since August 1 of last season, Jose Contreras is the AL Cy Young: 14-1, 1.82 ERA, 2.77 K/BB. And while Freddy Garcia and Jon Garland came out of the April gates slow, Contreras established himself as the ace of the South Side. To many teams, his loss would be devastating. So why are White Sox fans simply shrugging off Conteras' sciatic nerve problems?

    It isn't Brandon McCarthy. No, the young hurler labeled by many as the game's best sixth starter will remain in the bullpen while Contreras spends time on the DL. Instead, the White Sox brain trust chose to go with their seventh starter, 22 year old right-hander Charles Haeger.

    Don't worry if the name doesn't ring any bells; before the season, Haeger was an afterthought in prospect circles. After a Spring Training that yielded a 10.45 ERA, his only notoriety came as a result of his knuckleball. Haeger will pitch against Ervin Santana and the LA Angels tonight, and thanks to six good starts, his current reputation is that of the minors' best knuckleballer.

    In none of Haeger's six starts with the Charlotte Knights did he allow more than one run. Only once, in his last start, did he allow more hits than the number of innings he pitched. Conversely, Haeger will have to battle through control problems, having walked 20 batters in 40 AAA innings. And, as one might expect from a knuckeballer, the play of the catcher will be a focal point for Haeger's success. In his six starts this season, Haeger's catchers have allowed 14 passed balls, and Haeger has been credited with four wild pitches.

    One can bet a healthy dose of walks, wild pitches and passed balls will not yield Contreras-esque success in Haeger's first Major League cup of coffee. If he does stymie the Angels, it will be because the knuckleballer provoked groundballs, few hard hits, and received help from behind the plate. Unfortunately for Haeger, trading for Doug Mirabelli is a luxury the White Sox cannot afford.

    * * * * *

    When the Yankees acquired Johnny Damon this winter, Bronx fans were convinced their days worrying about the outfield was over. Durability problems from Damon, Gary Sheffield and Hideki Matsui were hardly anticipated. The days of Bubba Crosby and Bernie Williams' weak arm were thought to be behind them.

    Unexpectedly, Gary Sheffield now is on the DL, out with problems in his wrist. Rather than turning to Crosby or Williams, the Yankees recalled Melky Cabrera, the prospect that gave the Yankees a very forgettable cup of coffee in 2005. Cabrera's reputation had previously been tarnished in New York, but with early positive results from Columbus, the Yanks knew they had no better options.

    As is his strength, Cabrera has magnificently kept his strikeout numbers down in 2006, whiffing just 9 times in 122 at-bats before his call-up. His contact skills should be a plus at any level, keeping his average at an acceptable level. His patience is decent enough; concerns have always focused on his power, or lack thereof. However, with 12 extra-base hits in his 31 International League games, some are wondering whether Cabrera could be more than a fourth outfielder.

    The answer: doubtfully. Cabrera is a fine fill-in at the bottom of a fantastic lineup, capable of putting the ball in play consistently. But without any real strength to speak of, it's unlikely his power could ever support a full-time spot in a corner outfield spot. In center, his mediocre defense -- which looked poor in his first 2006 MLB game -- would be exposed.

    In basketball, Cabrera would be a 6-6 power forward, or a 5-11 shooting guard; in other words, he's your classic tweener. Expect the Yankees to bear his play for the next two weeks, but don't expect him to be featured in any future plans besides trades or a bench spot.

    * * * * *

    Things weren't supposed to be this hard for the Angels. After committing to building the farm system, the Angels entered this season with the most top-heavy, ready farm system in the Major Leagues. But things haven't gone to plan in Los Angeles. Jeff Mathis didn't hit at all, Casey Kotchman's mono hindered his ceiling with the bat.

    Now, Mathis finds himself in Salt Lake, Kotchman on the DL. The Angels have tried calling up Mike Napoli to fill in at catcher, and the short, powerful player would homer in his first Major League at-bat. Howie Kendrick was called up to fill in at a variety of roles, including at the DH spot instead of Tim Salmon. Sporadic play has proven to be the one thing that could slow Howie's play.

    With Kotchman on the DL, the Angels decided to recall Dallas McPherson, another former blue-chip prospect that stagnated when reaching the Major League level. After failing to make the Angels out of Spring Training, McPherson showed his true colors in the Pacific Coast League, slugging and striking out. In his 102 at-bats, McPherson hit 20 XBH, while whiffing 49 times. Yes, in just 33 at-bats in 26 games did McPherson not slug an extra-base hit or strike out.

    Concerns about McPherson's contact skills have never been more prevalent, his batting average ceiling appears to be at about .260. But for a team struggling to find offense, like the Angels have in 2006, waiting around for McPherson to hit the ball hard could actually present a welcome change.

    Call-ups To Be

    On Sunday, Cole Hamels had the worst start of his AAA career: he allowed a run. However, it was just one run in 7 innings, while allowing 5 hits and one walk. Hamels' ten strikeouts brought his AAA total to 36, amassed in just 23 innings.

    Few prospects have flown up lists this spring like Hamels, whose polish appears ready for the Major Leagues. His change up, some have posited, could be among the best at the Major League level. Remember, you might, that Delmon Young once called the pitch the nastiest he had faced as a teenager.

    With nine straight wins, the Phillies have continued to urge they have no need to rush Hamels. But, what Pat Gillick must understand is, at this point, it's not rushing. Hamels is ready. Ryan Madson is ready for a move back to the bullpen. It's a match made in heaven, and despite the loaded National League rookie crop, it's a move that could produce the NL Rookie of the Year.

    * * * * *

    Without a doubt, you have heard about Kerry Wood's first rehab start: 12 strikeouts in 5 innings. While the Lansing Lugnuts don't quite provide the intimidation that the Cardinals or Astros might, it's a start for Kid K, having spent so much of the last couple years on the DL.

    When Wood returns, the Cubs rotation should return to being the club's strength. Carlos Zambrano and Greg Maddux are both dependable, fantastic starters. Sean Marshall has provided lightning in a bottle, seemingly improving in each of his six starts. Wood will make for a very good foursome, and it will be only weeks before Angel Guzman or Rich Hill is replaced by Mark Prior.

    No matter how good the rotation might look, it appears that the Cubs simply don't have the offense to compete in baseball's (current) toughest division. In the Cubs last 11 games, they are 1-11, sliding near the bottom of the NL Central barrel. During this streak, the Cubs have scored a measly 13 runs, never more than three in any contest.

    Kerry Wood's coming back? Yawn. Wake me when Derrek Lee returns.

    * * * * *

    Speaking of oft-injured pitchers, Ben Sheets is returning to the DL, leaving the Milwaukee Brewers again without an ace. Finally, it appears like the Brewers may have a competent replacement.

    As good as Hamels has been in his short AAA stint, the best southpaw at the level in 2006 may be Dana Eveland, the David Wells look-a-like Brewer prospect. Yesterday, Eveland saw his first loss of a season come in a game in which Eveland did not allow an earned run. He was credited with two unearned runs, which he tends to allow as his groundball-provoking nature puts pressure on the seven behind him.

    Dana Eveland isn't found often on prospect lists, his ceiling nowhere near as high as some prospects. He doesn't strike batters out at a good enough rate, more of a groundball-control specialist than anything else. But in a rotation currently featuring Tomo Ohka and an underachieving Doug Davis, Eveland could quickly become one of the Brewers best weapons.

    WTNYMay 09, 2006
    Opening Night
    By Bryan Smith

    One of the questions I receive through e-mail most often is, something like, "Bryan, to what minor league level do you think college baseball best equates with?"

    This is always a tough question to answer, currently impossible to quantify. The best we can do is to guess with our eyes. College baseball's best teams probably hover around high-A ball, while most regional qualifiers might be able to hold their own in the Midwest League (low-A). As we get towards the bottom, some aren't good enough to compete in the Rookie Leagues.

    As college baseball fans know, a week for a big program usually consists of 1-2 midweek games and a 3-game weekend series. For most teams, the best pitcher on the team opens the weekend series, usually starting Friday nights. Friday nights are when teams should be at their best, with the best starter on the mound, and the best 8 behind him. Many Carolina League teams would want to avoid UNC on Friday nights.

    Recently, I started to wonder how hitters perform on Friday nights. At the Major League level, we have splits for everything: month, LH vs. RH, spot in the order, with RISP, etc. I started to realize that for college hitters, in addition to monthly splits, we could add four more: individual numbers for Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and the rest of the week. Today, I present the first step towards achieving that goal.

    Below, I have calculated how fifteen junior hitters -- considered by some to be the best 15 in the country -- have performed on the weekend series' opening night. If a series started on Thursday, I chose that night. But, nine times out of ten, it simply meant combing through Friday game logs. These numbers, ideally, should tell us how hitters do against some of their best competition.

    However, as with many splits, multiple caveats apply. First, I want to stress that I'm not presenting how Evan Longoria did against the best 13 pitchers he's faced. Rather, we're computing how he did against the best pitchers from the 13 teams that Long Beach State has faced on the weekends. Without a doubt, the Saturday Texas starter (Kyle McCulloch) is better than the UC Irvine Friday pitcher. But on Fridays, UC Irvine should be at their best. Other caveats include that this stat screams sample-size, and that due to being done by hand, it might not be perfect. In the cases where it's not perfect, I can promise that it's close.

    So, onto the numbers. Again, below is the performance of 15 highly projected Junior hitters on Friday nights, ranked by OPS:

    Name School AB AVG OBP SLG K
    Jim Negrych Pittsburgh 36 .472 .587 .667 12
    Matt Antonelli Wake Forest 44 .341 .442 .614 1
    Evan Longoria Long Beach 43 .326 .508 .535
    Mark Hamilton Tulane 49 .245 .383 .592 11
    Josh Rodriguez Rice 44 .341 .420 .523 6
    Drew Stubbs Texas 59 .288 .364 .559 18
    Aaron Bates NC State 49 .286 .446 .469 8
    Wes Hodges Georgia Tech 43 .326 .423 .419 10
    Shane Robinson Florida State 58 .293 .406 .328 7
    Colin Curtis Arizona State 59 .271 .358 .373 9
    Matt LaPorta Florida 37 .216 .356 .297 7
    Chad Tracy Pepperdine 56 .214 .313 .268 7
    Adam Davis Florida 48 .208 .321 .250 13
    Jon Jay Miami (FL) 46 .174 .367 .196 6
    Brian Jeroloman Florida 46 .196 .296 .217 11

    The most noteworthy mitigating factor in regards to this split is schedule strength. The chart's OPS leader, Pittsburgh 2B Jim Negrych, is a prime example of this, facing a weak Big East schedule. The best pitchers that Negrych has faced on Friday nights this year are David Price -- a great LHP from Vanderbilt -- and Jeff Samardzija, the overrated Norte Dame WR/SP. On the other hand, Drew Stubbs has faced a very hard slate of pitchers, thanks to Texas' tough schedule. Stubbs' 2006 competition has included four pitchers (Butler, Reynolds, Hughes, Chamberlain) that will likely be drafted in the '06 first round. Generally the level of competition is fairly even across the board, but it's important to note that it could have an affect on the final totals.

    A few other thoughts that the above table produces...

  • Previously, I have noted that complaints exist about Matt Antonelli's performance against his best competition. His numbers refute that point, his 1.056 OPS has included match-ups against 2007 top-ten talents Sean Doolittle (Virginia) and Andrew Brackman (NC State). While Antonelli's patience (7 BB) and power (6 XBH) are both impressive, I was most wowed by his fantastic display of contact. In 44 at-bats, Antonelli has struck out just one time. Add an insane amount of athleticism to these numbers, and I maintain that Antonelli is the June draft's most underrated talent.

  • Other players that profit from this analysis include Mark Hamilton and Josh Rodriguez. Hamilton's contact skills are problematic, neither his .245 average or 11 strikeouts are positive indicators. However, no one has hit more Friday home runs (5), and few have drawn more walks. I was a big fan of Hamilton's before the season, and with his stock on the way up, I want to re-stress my Ryan Klesko comparison.

    Rodriguez entered the year close on many draft boards to Evan Longoria, but his stock fell a bit when Longoria flew past him. However, Rodriguez is my pick for the best natural shortstop in the draft. His contact skills are fantastic; in the last five Fridays, he has not struck out. Josh isn't the most patient hitter, nor the best shortstop, but his talents with the bat outshine those weaknesses. I would draft him in the supplemental first round.

  • Looking for reasons that the Florida Gators have underperformed this season? Point your fingers in the direction of their three junior hitters. Adam Davis and Brian Jeroloman have both proven to be extremely weak with the bat, both showing little power and a high propensity to strike out. And while Matt LaPorta was projected to be the Gators' rock, injuries and poor Friday performances should hurt his draft stock. Shouldn't we raise a red flag knowing that only one of LaPorta's 13 extra-base hits have come on Fridays?

    I believe LaPorta, like Greg Reynolds in the pitching department, will end up as one of the first round's biggest disappointments.

  • The other noteworthy disappointments, rounding out the bottom five, are Jon Jay (Miami - OF) and Chad Tracy (Pepperdine - C). Jay has shown more athleticism in 2006 than in the past, however, his bat has not been the strength that many projected. In the last 13 weekend series, Jay has not hit a single extra-base hit on opening night. Tracy's position could lend an early-round selection, but his offensive talents are overstated. If his Friday numbers prove to be any indicator, neither Tracy's patience (5 BBs) or power (3 XBH) project well with wooden bats.

    Again, the numbers which I presented today are nothing more than a sample-size split. But, in college baseball, where a weekend can drastically change a player's draft position, I think the numbers are important.

  • WTNYMay 03, 2006
    April Stock Offerings
    By Bryan Smith

    Oh, what a difference a month can make. And in the minor leagues, few months have a larger effect on perception than April. Just a year ago, we were wondering what exactly early season success stories like Billy Butler, Brandon Wood and Gio Gonzalez really meant. But, April can also have the opposite fact. While the first month did shed the light on a lot of prospects that would break out, we also saw big early season numbers from Hayden Penn, J.D. Martin and others who would not follow through.

    Without question, I will at season's end denounce April statistics for numerous players, citing what they did from May 1 onward. Simply put, it's difficult to expect teenagers to come prepared for one of their first professional seasons. How you finish is always more important than how you start.

    That said, we must give credit where credit is due. In past year's, I have revised my prospect rankings following April, an article I decided not to write this year. Instead, I wanted to look at a group of players that did not make it in my winter top 75 prospects, but likely would if I made the list today. Currently, there are nineteen players from my top 75 in the Major Leagues, so I have chosen nineteen early success stories that have boosted my impressions of the prospect.

    Sample size caveats still apply in all of these cases, but pretty soon, we are going to have to accept breakouts from the below players to be real. Right now, I believe in the below nineteen players enough to call them top 75 prospects at this moment.

    Nick Adenhart, 19, Los Angeles Angels (Low-A), SP
    Numbers= 2.12 ERA, 22 H / 29.2 IP, 30 K / 8 BB, 1 HR

    The poster boy of the Angels' newest draft strategy, Adenhart fell hard in the 2004 draft when it was discovered his elbow needed Tommy John surgery. Prepared to enroll in at the University of North Carolina, Adenhart was given a surprise when the Angels drafted him late with a high bonus proposal. After spending much of 2005 rehabbing his elbow, Adenhart gradually grew stronger as the short season went on. This year the power right-hander has come out strong, making the Angels gamble look good. I'm a bit worried how Adenhart's flyball tendencies will hold up when he is eventually promoted to Rancho Cucamonga, but he'll always have the ability to miss bats.

    Ryan Braun, 22, Milwaukee Brewers (High-A), 3B
    Numbers= .292/.353/.494, 8 BB / 20 K, 8/10 SB in 89 AB

    The first three weeks of the season Ryan Braun was hitting, but mostly for singles. While Braun had a high batting average, many wondered where the power had gone for the former Hurricane slugger. Sure enough, Braun caught fire at the end of the month, and has three home runs in the past 10 days. The best number thus far is the eight steals that Braun has grabbed, he's been a good baserunner since college. Braun's peripheral statistics have me a bit worried, but I think there is power in the fourth overall pick's future.

    Reid Brignac, 20, Tampa Bay Devil Rays (High-A), SS
    Numbers= .358/.411/.537, 9 BB / 17 K, 3/5 SB in 95 AB

    Many of the concerns that detracted from Brignac's resume in 2005 are being rectified this season. We have already seen Brignac become a more patient hitter at the plate, and he's also made better contact this season. While his numbers are, without question, boosted by the league, Brignac has been consistently getting on base. If anything, his only inconsistency has been power, as his slugging percentage has suffered a bit since an early season, three-HR game. My biggest worry is that Brignac now has 10 errors, with a posititon change likely in his future. At least he's proving to have the bat needed for the move down the defensive spectrum.

    Jay Bruce, 19, Cincinnati Reds (Low-A), OF
    Numbers= .286/.333/.516, 8 BB / 17 K, 3/6 SB in 91 AB

    The Midwest League is now home to four prep outfield choices from the 2005 first round, and no player in the group had a more consistent April than Bruce. A toolsy player that made a late run up draft boards, I had thought the learning curve would be slow on a player like Bruce. However, Jay has taken to A-ball quite well, showing sound -- if unspectacular -- statistics across the board. His power profiles better than any other trait and this point, and his extra-base hit numbers is the number to watch this season.

    Wade Davis, 19, Tampa Bay Devil Rays (Low-A), SP
    Numbers= 0.67 ERA, 13 H / 26.2 IP, 40 K / 13 BB, 0 HR

    At this point, Davis is taking the Anibal Sanchez breakout path, showing validity in dominant short-season numbers. After pitching so well in limited action last year, Davis became a prominent breakout candidate touted by both Baseball America and John Sickels. Kudos to them, as Davis has been as impressive as any minor league starter. Control is the only problem that Davis currently has, as his hellacious stuff has produced otherwise great peripheral statistics. A promotion to the Cal League would do Davis well at this point, as he must be shown that at some point, walks will come back to hurt you.

    Brandon Erbe, 18, Baltimore Orioles (Low-A), SP
    Numbers= 2.25 ERA, 14 H / 20.0 IP, 26 K / 1 BB, 1 HR

    Control is hardly a problem for Erbe, who brought that strength to the table when he was drafted last June. Shortly after being drafted, however, his stuff improved and Erbe has taken off. In fact, I believe that if the draft was re-held today, Erbe would be the first prep pitcher off the board. Erbe rarely hurts himself on the mound, and right now, there hasn't been a minor league hitter that could touch him.

    Matt Garza, 22, Minnesota Twins (High-A), SP
    Numbers= 0.74 ERA, 15 H / 24.1 IP, 34 K / 6 BB, 1 HR

    After a very lackluster start to his collegiate career, Garza blossomed as a junior, earning a first round selection with a good spring at Fresno State. Garza has been great in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League so far, with no real glitches to speak of. As Glen Perkins found out a year ago, the move from Fort Myers to New Britain is a big one, and it will be hard to judge Garza as a prospect until his promotion. Given a few more sensational starts, and the Twins will have no choice but to challenge Garza in the Eastern League.

    Matt Kemp, 21, Los Angeles Dodgers (AA), OF
    Numbers= .337/.402/.604, 9 BB / 17 K, 4/5 SB in 101 AB

    We wondered what role the hitter-friendly Vero Beach stadium had on Kemp's numbers, and if his poor Spring Training would continue into the season. Kemp has given strong answers to both questions this season, proving himself as a prospect. Kemp is just such an intriguing prospect right now, possessing every tool imaginable. He has shown great power so far this spring, to go with good baserunning, enough patience and his usual good defense. With all the Dodger talent in front of him, Kemp will likely stay in Jacksonville for some time.

    Radhames Liz, 23, Baltimore Orioles (High-A), SP
    Numbers= 1.35 ERA, 9 H / 20.0 IP, 39 K / 8 BB, 0 HR

    When combining Liz' 2005 and current numbers, the Oriole right-hander has 176 strikeouts in 114.1 innings. He has allowed just 78 hits. While I'm not crazy about Liz' age relative to his competition, continued success speaks highly of his stuff. Like Garza, we are probably a few months from being about to properly evaluate Liz, but at this point, it's hard to criticize. Control is really the only number to complain about at this point.

    Chuck Lofgren, 20, Cleveland Indians (High-A), SP
    Numbers= 1.33 ERA, 17 H / 20.1 IP, 20 K / 5 BB, 0 HR

    One of the final players to make this list, Lofgren is one that I really thought would take off in 2006. Extremely athletic with budding stuff, Lofgren has been solid this season, but his numbers are far less gaudy than other prospects. Chuck should be relatively consistent this whole season, and the Indians would be best to let him spend most of the season in the Carolina League. Lofgren has all the makings of a future stud, but we must remember that he is still relatively raw on the mound at this point.

    Fernando Martinez, 17, New York Mets (Low-A), OF
    Numbers= .338/.416/.519, 9 BB / 13 K, 3/4 SB in 77 AB

    My favorite story of April. Martinez entered the year an afterthought compared to the other young teenage prospects in the South Atlantic League, Elvis Andrus and Jose Tabata. Martinez obviously entered the year with a chip on his shoulder, and has since exploded onto the Met prospect scene. The young phenom has shown good patience, plus speed, and fantastic power potential at this point. The Mets will be very conservative with Martinez' handling, as they should. Once Mike Pelfrey hits the Majors, he's one of the Mets only real prospects.

    Cameron Maybin, 19, Detroit Tigers (Low-A), CF
    Numbers= .317/.394/.524, 9 BB / 26 K, 4/5 SB in 82 AB

    I was surprised last June when Maybin fell as far as he did, believing the North Carolina outfielder was worthy of a top five selection. And while Maybin's overall numbers look good this year, he has really proven to be quite raw in the earlygoing. Maybin's contact skills have proven to be entirely lacking, his average only high thanks to a .400+ BABIP. Furthermore, the majority of Maybin's power has been the result of four triples. His speed and power potential are still very intriguing, but Maybin must show a better propensity for contact as the year goes on.

    Andrew McCutchen, 19, Pittsburgh Pirates (Low-A), CF
    Numbers= .344/.402/.505, 9 BB / 13 K, 2/4 SB in 93 AB

    The Pirates had locked themselves into drafting McCutchen very early last season, falling in love with his future potential atop a lineup. The idea still must have the Pittsburgh brass salivating, as McCutchen has shown great bat control and plus patience in the early going. So far, I'm most surprised with McCutchen's lack of activity on the bases, only four attempts, and only two successful steals. While he is proving to be very adept at the plate, McCutchen's leadoff credentials would be aided if he proved to be a more dangerous threat on the bases.

    Mike Pelfrey, 22, New York Mets (A+/AA), SP
    Numbers= 1.30 ERA, 20 H / 27.2 IP, 34 K / 4 BB, 1 HR

    It didn't take long for the Mets to realize that starting Pelfrey in the Florida State League had been too conservative. Like Cole Hamels, Pelfrey cut through the FSL with ease, transitioning to pro baseball without missing a step. Pelfrey's great control in April was a very good surprise, and really means that Pelfrey's ceiling is higher than any other pitcher on this list. At this point I expect Pelfrey to make his debut (with Alay Soler) in September, providing Mets fans with a lot of excitement for 2007.

    Hunter Pence, 23, Houston Astros (AA), OF
    Numbers= .340/.395/.621, 10 BB / 18 K, 4/5 SB in 103 AB

    At some point we need to just realize that certain contextual factors just aren't too important. Pence's age and his odd-looking swing have both been criticized in the past, but Pence continues to produce with fantastic results. Pence has done a bit of everything this year, but his power display in the Texas League should signal a lot to the Astros' brass. While both Jason Lane and Wily Taveras are likely locked into future spaces in the Astros outfield, Pence has shown the power necessary to make it in left field.

    Colby Rasmus, 19, St. Louis Cardinals (Low-A), CF
    Numbers= .298/.348/.481, 8 BB / 23 K, 7/8 SB in 104 AB

    Again, because it bears repeating. In the first seven games of the season, Rasmus went 2-for-28 with zero extra base hits. We were worried he needed a demotion to short-season ball. But the results since then have been fantastic, including a .382 batting average and .632 slugging percentage. Colby could be showing better patience and contact skills, but everything else -- including baserunning -- has been sensational. Much better prospect than his numbers indicate at this point.

    Nolan Reimold, 22, Baltimore Orioles (High-A), OF
    Numbers= .304/.402/.544, 11 BB / 21 K, 5/8 SB in 79 AB

    Recent changes in the Orioles scouting department are sure paying off, huh? While Brandon Snyder is slowly progressing in low-A, the Orioles had other huge draft successes in Reimold and Erbe. With Nick Markakis graduated to the Majors, Reimold becomes the best outfielder in a system that includes Val Majewski and Jeff Fiorentino. Reimold can do a bit of everything, with great patience, power and speed. Like many players on this list, his largest flaw has been an overadundance of strikeouts. He'll finish the year in AA.

    Troy Tulowitzki, 21, Colorado Rockies (AA), SS
    Numbers= .342/.404/.557, 5 BB / 18 K, 2/3 SB in 79 AB

    It has been a very odd season for Tulo this year, I think. Overall, his numbers look great, Tulowitzki is hitting in an environment that very few of his draft-mates have even been assigned to. But when digging deeper, Tulowitzki's peripheral numbers look far worse than his .961 OPS. Besides the 18 strikeouts, Tulowitzki has drawn just 5 walks and hit only 2 non-2B extra-base hits. Now we know gap power turns to home run power in Coors Field, so it isn't too concerning. The Rockies should really begin giving Clint Barmes grounders at second base, because Tulowitzki is a matter of months, if that, away.

    Justin Upton, 18, Arizona Diamondbacks (Low-A), CF
    Numbers= .317/.404/.463, 5 BB / 6 K, 3/5 SB in 41 AB

    I absolutely couldn't stand to miss Upton's recent swing through the heartland of the Midwest League. Unfortunately, I chose to grab his game against Cedar Rapids on Monday, missing his first professional home run by 24 hours. Upton's 1-for-4 performance wasn't anything to write home about, his lone hit a good piece of hitting, an opposite field bloop single. Upton proved raw on the basepaths and in the field, but also showed enough speed to have sensational potential in both. Upton's body is so developed at this point, he really could hit the Majors before turning 20. Without a doubt, a top ten prospect at this point.

    WTNYMay 01, 2006
    From One Draft to the Next
    By Bryan Smith

    Corner Houston Texans owner Bob McNair today, and I have a hunch that he would validate the beliefs of many college football fans: Reggie Bush is a special, the special, talent. From a strict football standpoint, most talent evaluators could (and would) tell you that Bush is far superior to Saturday's top pick, Mario Williams.

    But as McNair can now attest, professional sports are not just about on-the-field ability. Sports are a blend of talent and money; the bottom line overrides all else.

    In 2003, baseball scouts were divided on which Golden Spikes finalist was the draft's best talent - Stephen Drew or Jered Weaver. Both were thought to be fantastic prospects, but a red flag on each resume caused draft day drops. Scott Boras. Swerving away from the Boras route, San Diego Padre ownership ordered GM Kevin Towers to find a cheaper alternative with the top pick. Towers signed a pre-draft deal with high school SS Matt Bush.

    We can only hope that the Houston Texans avoid the fate of the Padres, who endured a .555 OPS from their $3 million bonus baby in his first professional season. No matter how Williams fares, pundits will always point to (and criticize) the Texans decision to value the accounting department over their scouts.

    Baseball's upcoming June draft offers no special prospect like Reggie Bush. You've already heard that this crop isn't quite up to par. A player Bush's caliber, generational, was taken first in 2005. Justin Upton, a player that succeeds in all aspects of the game, is similar to the 2005 Heisman Trophy Winner.

    But while no player in the 2006 baseball crop compares to Bush, other examples can be found that are similar. After sitting through two days of NFL draft coverage, I came up with a dozen similar options between the two drafts. Powered by the hope that baseball's draft coverage starts to head in the direction of the pigskin...

    From Big Time Success to Big Time Volatility
    Football - Vince Young; Baseball - Tim Lincecum

    Wonderlic. Release. Motion. Reading defenses. All these flaws and more have been associated with Vince Young since he heroically led the Texas Longhorns to a Rose Bowl upset. Having nothing left to prove at the college level, Young will enter the NFL forced to reverse the beliefs of many that say his style can't succeed at the pro level. While so much has been criticized, the Titans did not reach by choosing Young, who packs a pretty fantastic punch given his athletic ability and deep ball skills. If his flaws can be corrected, he has All-Star potential.

    In many ways, Tim Lincecum is more similar to Matt Leinart than Young. Like Leinart, Lincecum chose to return to college to prove people wrong. Like Leinart, he has done it, and may top the USC southpaw by winning Player of the Year. But Lincecum's similarities to Young are evident by the evaluations associated with the Huskie right-hander. Too short. Violent delivery. Overworked. No one doubts his fastball-curve combination -- much like no one questions Vince's ability to scramble -- but there is more to success than two good pitches.

    Steady and Solid from the Leadership Position
    Football - A.J. Hawk; Baseball - Evan Longoria

    Many people wonder what the Packers would have done if Mario Williams had slipped to the fifth pick. Could they pass up a freakish athlete like Williams for the player they had targeted all along, Hawk? The former Buckeye hardly offers the size, strength and speed of many of his first round counterparts, but makes up for it in results. He was truly the nation's best linebacker and the leader of the Ohio State defense. He is a sure player that works hard, one that will step into Green Bay right away, but doesn't have the spectacular ceiling that some top ten picks possess.

    Just as the linebacking core is expected to lead the defense, Evan Longoria's pro position (shortstop) commands respect. After years at other infield positions, Longoria will move to short in the pros to maximize his output versus his peers. Widely considered the top position prospect in the draft, Longoria will likely never hit more than 20-25 home runs, or has little chance to win a batting title. But like fellow Dirtbag Troy Tulowitzki, Longoria will be able to get to AA quickly, and should produce in the minor leagues.

    Sears Tower Ceiling with a High Basement
    Football - Vernon Davis; Baseball - Brandon Morrow

    Davis is a big tight end with a huge body, good hands, and a 4.38 time in the 40. Morrow is a good-sized pitcher with a 99 mph fastball and devastating splitter. Davis has the potential to be a perennial Pro Bowler at the tight end position, Morrow is a third pitch away from being an innings-eating ace. If all else fails, Morrow will become a reliever -- and likely a good one -- while Davis should never be worse than a mid-level starter.

    The two fit well, but if truth be told, Davis projects better in the NFL than Morrow does in the Majors. Davis has the total package, while Morrow might project to. He still doesn't have a third pitch, and his control is erratic at best. While Davis will be favored by many to win Rookie of the Year and help turn Alex Smith's career around, Morrow will have a lot of work to do to validate his selection.

    What a Difference Two Months Can Make in Millions
    Football - Donte Whitner; Baseball - Clayton Kershaw

    Many are already claiming that the Buffalo Bills selection of Donte Whitner is the draft's biggest reach. Why not trade down and draft Whitner in a lower slot, where many projected him to go? Criticize all you'd like, but at the end of the day, no one helped their draft stock since the Rose Bowl more than Whitner, once considered a fringe first rounder. A good athlete from a big program, Whitner rose to the top of the safety class, depending upon what position you project Michael Huff to. He now will spend the next few years of his life trying to prove he warranted the selection.

    Pitching has been hailed as the 2006 draft's strength for almost an entire year now. We always knew the college crop was loaded, but people also loved some of the talent that a few high school arms offered - Colten Williams or Jordan Walden. But while many of the high school arms have been just OK this spring, Clayton Kershaw has worked his way up draft boards, and could be the first prep pitcher selected. Scouts love the southpaw's size, his arsenal, his consistency. But once he is drafted in the first round come June, people will question whether Kershaw's spring warrants seven figures.

    When Size Matters Most
    Football - Haloti Ngata; Baseball - Dellin Betances

    Ray Lewis has been calling for Ngata's selection all spring, salivating at the possibility of having a big body in front of him for the first time since the Sam Adams / Tony Siragusa duo. Ngata will surely command double teams at times thanks to his giant, 338-pound frame. He can thank his weight for his high selection, just as Betances will be able to thank his height in June. Betances, a Brooklyn right-hander with plus velocity, is loved by scouts. They have all seen the three pitch arsenal before, but Betances stands out because of a 6-9 frame that offers room to fill out. You can bet that on draft day, some scouting director will be salivating just as Lewis did a month and a half before.

    With Injury Come Doubts
    Football - LenDale White; Baseball - Dallas Buck

    Once nearly guaranteed of becoming a first round pick, a horrible spring led to LenDale White's drop to the middle of the second round. Character issues were raised, and questions about his hamstring and work ethic surfaced to lead to White's freefall down draft boards. Still, the Tennessee Titans were confident in their selection of White, holding the belief that at full strength, they found a bargain in the second. Dallas Buck was once named by Peter Gammons as a possible top pick, but decreased velocity and a strained shoulder ligament see his stock falling. Buck, like White, has produced on the field, but it likely won't be enough for him to salvage a good selection.

    Bringing the Punch, On and Off
    Football - Ernie Sims; Baseball - Kyle Drabek

    Receivers going across the middle of the field feared their lives in Tallahassee this past fall, just as Texas hitters currently are intimidated by Drabek. Sims is a sure tackler with great ability on the football field. Drabek has the pedigree and stuff to be seen by many as the top prep prospect in the draft. But in both cases, character issues come as red flags. Sims' stock wasn't effected by his character issues, which are like Drabek's, generally considered minor. Kyle will be considered as high as fourth overall, so for 45 more days, he'll have to continue to invoke fear in those that attempt to hit against him.

    The Safe, Strong Route
    Football - D'Brickashaw Ferguson; Baseball - Matt LaPorta

    Many Jets fans are wondering why their team passed on former Heisman winner Matt Leinart for an offensive lineman. And certainly, in June, the idea of drafting a college first baseman won't be universally loved. But in both instances, it's a safe pick. Ferguson will likely be starting in the first week of the season, his college career prepped him. It's likely that he will be the Jets best lineman. LaPorta will also rise quickly, as even a midseason injury has not hindered his fantastic power output. Pancake blocks aren't quite as sexy as the home run, but in both instances, power is the important factor in these prospects.

    When You Thought He Couldn't Budge
    Football - Matt Leinart; Baseball - Max Scherzer

    After returning to USC, Leinart was favored to repeat as college football's Heisman Trophy winner. Many college baseball fans preferred Scherzer to Andrew Miller in January to win the Golden Spikes Award. While Leinart did little to hurt his stock during the year, Scherzer's injury plagued spring has allowed multiple collegiate pitchers to pass him. Leinart's criticized for his lack of mobility and strength, Scherzer for his third pitch and inconsistency. Leinart, once considered a lack for the top three, fell to tenth on draft day. And when I thought it impossible for Scherzer to slip out of the top two, it appears his spring coupled with his ties to Scott Boras could lead to a worse slip than Leinart.

    Toss-Up, All-Star or Bust
    Football - Jay Cutler; Baseball - Drew Stubbs

    People will never criticize Stubbs for not playing a hard enough schedule as a Texas Longhorn. Cutler has endured such criticism, apparently not earning enough wins for people in a subpar program. Stubbs has played through a national championship, and his flaws include contact issues that could forever plague his batting average. In both instances, the player's athletic ability will win out and warrant a high selection. Cutler is relatively mobile in the pocket with a fantastic arm, Stubbs plays better defense than most big league centerfielders. Both players could cause a lot of money to be flushed down the toilet, but in both instances, the potential is too good to pass up on.

    Going Beyond Guns and Watches
    Football - Chad Jackson; Baseball - Jordan Walden

    No one ran a faster 40 at the combine than Chad Jackson. In the winter, Walden often threw the fastest pitch at a showcase. However, neither number can overshadow flaws. Jackson, considered by some the top WR in the draft, fell from the first round despite his speed-size combination. Walden, once considered a better bet than Kershaw or Drabek, could see control issues push him to the first round's back end. Scouts understand that track and velocity abilities don't always translate to success, and few players are hurt more by this principle than Jackson and Walden.

    Making Coach Proud - A Team Effort
    Football - N.C. State Defensive Line; Baseball - UNC Pitching Staff

    Not many football programs can watch three lineman drafted in the first round following a disappointing season. After spending a season hovering around .500, the Wolfpack had Mario Williams, Manny Lawson and John McCargo all taken in the first round. North Carolina won't have the luck to have all three of their aces taken so high, but Andrew Miller and Daniel Bard are both first round talents. Miller, like Williams, offers a potential that validates a first overall selection. Bard and Lawson are both inconsistent, and both flash All-Star skills. McCargo is undoubtedly a better prospect than the likes of Robert Woodard or Jonathan Hovis, but at least the latter two can boast a successful collegiate career.

    WTNYApril 28, 2006
    True Colors
    By Bryan Smith

    Apologists will blame Elijah Dukes. Or the Devil Rays front office. Or a bad call by a replacement ump. But simply put, there is no excuse. Delmon Young's gaffe on Wednesday was as embarrassing, immature and irresponsible an action as a twenty year old can produce.

    For those unaware, following a strikeout against Jon Lester in Pawtucket on Wednesday, Delmon Young argued strikes and balls with the umpire. This was no surprising act for a phenom suspended a year ago for bumping an umpire in a similar situation. After jawing and standing in the batter's box for too long following his strikeout, the umpire justifiably ejected Young. Delmon, then walking towards the Durham Bulls' bench, threw his bat, hitting the ump across the chest. Video is at MILB.com.

    Young is now suspended indefinitely, deserving of a ten-game suspension. The move highlights the belief that Young's largest weakness as a prospect, and he doesn't have many, is a lack of maturity. And without question, this is a problem more important than numbers-crunchers will believe. Young will enter 2007 with high expectations, a blue-chip prospect starting in the Majors at the age of 21. A lack of poise could certainly lead to a bad year.

    Prior to his outburst, Young was in the midst of an odd season. Lauded for his power projectability, Delmon has now played 21 games without a home run. In fact, the former top overall draft pick has just four extra-base hits and a .392 slugging percentage through 79 at-bats. Instead, he's showing the skillset of a leadoff hitter, showing great contact skills -- a .329 average and low 13.9 K% -- and good baserunning (12/13 SB).

    Currently, the Devil Rays are receiving a line of .240/.293/.480 from right field. Now, a team already patient with their prospects will (in all likelihood) push back the timetable for their best youngster. Not only has Young delayed the date of his first home run in 2006, but he has also delayed his debut in Tampa.

    From a talent standpoint, Delmon Young isn't far from being Major League ready. However, Delmon has now made it all-too-obvious that from a maturity standpoint, he isn't close.

    Other notes from around the minor leagues...

  • With a week of play under his belt, there is no better time than now to begin analyzing another former top choice, Justin Upton. Upton's raw statistics are good, he's 9/26 with three steals, three doubles, four walks and five strikeouts. His line reads: .346/.433/.462. From these numbers alone, we can understand that Upton has fantastic speed, good patience, moderate power and contact skills that need improving.

    But there is more to be read into. Since starting his season 1-for-9, Upton has caught fire, eight for his last seventeen. He's relatively untested in center, with no assists or errors as of yet. His baserunning has been sound, although Justin's last attempt was a caught stealing. To me, what most speaks volumes about his play is this: there have been 21 balls that Upton has put into play this year. Given the game logs at MILB.com, we know that in these 21 instances, Upton has pulled 10 balls, gone with 8 the opposite way, and hit three to center.

    Speed, patience, developing power, and a balanced approach at the plate. Justin Upton has just begun.

  • Staying in the Midwest League, another hot 2005 draftee is the Cardinals' first round pick Colby Rasmus. After seven games, Rasmus had collected just two hits and was batting .071/.188/.071. Since then, the product of Alabama has caught fire , collecting 25 hits in his last 64 at-bats. His line, during that time, is .391/.426/.625.

    My first minor league game of the season was last night, catching the majority of a 15-inning game in which Rasmus hit his third home run, a right field shot off Kyle Waldrop. Rasmus impressed me a great deal, showing a patient approach at the plate which later yielded a walk. Colby was great running the bases, stealing second after each of his two singles.

    In the one game in which I have seen from Rasmus thus far, my guess is that he is a fastball hitter. Two of his three hits, including the home run, were off heaters. His lone strikeout, a horrible swing at a slow, Yohan Pino curveball. If Rasmus can better stay back on slow stuff, the patient, powerful teenager has a fantastic ceiling.

  • In addition to Rasmus, the game I attended last night pitted two former first-round pitchers against each other: Kyle Waldrop (Twins) and Mark McCormick (Cardinals).

    Waldrop, 20, was a first round pick by the Twins in 2004 from a Tennessee high school. All the praise surrounding Waldrop centered upon his polish, including the best change-up of his senior class. In 2004, Waldrop wasn't great in 27 Beloit starts, with a 4.98 ERA, 182 hits and 17 home runs in 151.2 innings. Kyle struck out just 108 batters, while walking only 23.

    Last night was nothing out of the ordinary for Waldrop. In 4.1 innings, Kyle allowed 8 hits, including the home run to Rasmus. He struck out four batters, mostly on his great change, walking none. Waldrop offers an unimpressive fastball, with decent sink, good control, and very little velocity. His curve is inconsistent, poor in many ways, and the result of an inconsistent delivery. I don't see future success for Waldrop, but stranger things have happened.

    McCormick, on the other hand, comes with a far more decorated history. Baylor's Friday Night pitcher in 2005, McCormick had a 2.96 ERA in the Big 12, and was drafted 43rd overall because of a fantastic fastball. He dropped that late because of poor control, at Baylor, McCormick had walked 152 batters in 223 innings. Entering his Thursday start, McCormick's Midwest League career had started with three inconsistent starts: 16 strikeouts, 13 walks, 9 hits allowed in 13.2 innings.

    And like Waldrop, McCormick's performance was no great surprise. The right-hander didn't allow any runs and just two hits in 6 innings; he overmatched the Beloit Snappers. His fastball was fantastic -- easily above 95 -- but an odd hitch in his delivery seemed to promote a lack of control. His curve was also inconsistent, but when he snapped it, it helped in a few of his six strikeouts.

    I think McCormick could have a future in the Bigs; his fastball was as good as I've seen in the minors in awhile. But, if he does, it will in all likelihood come in a relief role, and following a great deal of time spent with a pitching coach.

  • While McCormick's six shutout innings were a personal best, his start was hardly the best of a great Thursday for high-level pitching prospects. Homer Bailey, a breakout prospect of mine (and one that I figured would end the year in my top 20), lowered his ERA by 0.95 points with six shutout innings of his own.

    In his six innings, Bailey did not allow a single hit, his only baserunners the result of two walks. His dominance was also evident in the strikeouts column, where Homer whiffed nine in his six innings of work. Suddenly, Homer's stats for the year look more impressive: in 26.1 innings, the Cincy phenom has allowed 18 hits and 7 walks, while striking out 29.

    But even six hitless innings couldn't make for the best start of the day. Instead, we turn our heads to AAA, where former first rounder Cole Hamels was making his debut at the level. Following four successful starts in the Florida State League, Hamels was promoted to the International League, skipping AA. In his debut, Hamels may have his best start of his 33-start minor league career.

    Playing against blue-chip prospect Lastings Milledge and the Norfolk Tides, Hamels allowed three hits and no walks in seven shutout innings. Hamels dominance, founded upon three great pitches, produced 14 strikeouts. When healthy, and acting mature, Hamels is one of the game's top five (or so) pitching prospects. Along with Gio Gonzalez (1.48 ERA through 4 AA starts), the Phillies have one of the best pitching prospect tandems in the Major Leagues.

    And, without question, it's much needed. The current Philadelphia staff offers Brett Myers, a stud and significant part of the Phillies long-term plans. After that, the group worsens. The other four pitchers -- Cory Lidle, Jon Lieber, Gavin Floyd, Ryan Madson -- have not fared so well, allowing 80 runs in 92.1 innings, good for an obscene 7.80 ERA.

    Less than a month into the season, the fog is beginning to clear in Philadelphia. The verdict: Cole Hamels and Gio Gonzalez belong, where Cory Lidle and Gavin Floyd do not.

  • WTNYApril 25, 2006
    Sanchez Slowly Catching Pack
    By Bryan Smith

    When evaluating the resume of the minor league's hottest hitter, there appears to be two misprints: the year drafted, and that 1 before the decimal point in his current OPS. It is these surprising truths that make Marlins prospect Gaby Sanchez the intriguing story of baseball's first month.

    It would appear that many prospects, in many organizations, follow the Sanchez path. Had he been drafted in 2004, the Marlins would simply have been credited with giving Gaby rest after a long, draining college season. They, borrowing philosophies from other organizations like the Cubs, would even delay the beginning of his first professional season until the short-season leagues had started. It would be following Sanchez' second Spring Training that his full season debut would take place.

    But, again, Sanchez' resume contains no typos. His path has not been well-traveled. He's just making up for lost time.

    Sanchez, drafted in the fourth round of 2005 from the University of Miami-Florida, brought with him two years of good experience. In both 2003 and 2004, he had played in 62 games for the Hurricanes, hitting seven home runs and boasting a .300+ batting average. After a successful summer in the Cape Cod League, Sanchez entered 2005 as an All-American candidate. His draft prospects were high, as were projections for a Miami offense boasting a heart of Sanchez, Ryan Braun and Jon Jay. Then, all of a sudden, it was gone. Sanchez then broke team rules and was subsequently suspended from game play during his junior season.

    A third baseman during his college career, Sanchez' suspension luckily did not extend to practices. Given time to experiment, Sanchez did, strapping on catcher's gear and kneeling behind the plate. It was this versatility, in addition to his respected and powerful bat, that made Sanchez worthy of the Marlins' $250,000 investment.

    However, even a year's worth of hard work has not sped the Marlins plans for him. Florida maintains his transition to catcher will be slow, as Sanchez manned just 29 innings behind the plate through 17 games. The results, for the most part, have been positive. In a league in which baserunners have succeeded at a 70% clip in 386 chances through Sunday, Sanchez has thrown out each of the four attempted base stealers he has faced. His throwing arm will support his move to the mask, his athleticism will not.

    In fact, Gaby's athleticism will not help him at any position, besides Designated Hitter. In 2006, Sanchez has played in 12 games at first base, and already the Miami product has committed four errors. While range is not a trait emphasized in young catchers, critics maintain Sanchez' lack of agility will stunt his transition in the long run. They don't, however, question his bat.

    Likely sent to the South Atlantic League for his defensive inexperience, Gaby has hit like a 22-year-old should in low-A. After collecting two hits and a home run in his season debut, Sanchez pushed forward, registering a hit in the next nine games in which he would register an at-bat. The lone exception was his fourth game, following a 5-for-5 effort on April 8, when Sanchez would walk in all four plate appearances. At the end of his torrid ten-game streak, Sanchez was hitting .465 with seven home runs and six walks. He was the minors' own Chris Shelton.

    As statistics tend to do, Sanchez' numbers regressed in the last week, though his pace has hardly come to a halt. In the seven games since Sanchez hit his seventh home run, Gaby has eight hits in 25 at-bats, with just one walk and one extra-base hit. Perfection has escaped Sanchez, juggling the minors best set of statistics with multiple positions.

    If nothing else, Sanchez -- along with 2005 Texas suspendee Sam LeCure (25/5 K/BB ratio in FSL) -- speaks highly to a particular draft strategy. Oftentimes, these players teach us, the nation's great programs do as much behind-the-scenes preparation as they show us on the diamond. Without the pedigree and resources that Miami and Texas provide, these two talents could still be toiling in the world of aluminum bats. One-time big program talents (Nick Adenhart fits, too) should now be considered to be worth mid-round selections and early round money, even despite a delayed pay-off.

    Catching prospects, for the most part, can be twisted and contorted into three molds. First, at the top, are the blue-chip players, well-rounded and suited for a future everyday role. The minors ain't exactly chock full of 'em. Instead, there are either catchers primarily adept with the glove or the bat. The former are referred to as "future back-ups" while the defenseless are thrust down the defensive spectrum or onto the bench.

    Until further notice, Sanchez is the latter, the hitter with the 1.233 OPS, four errors and a passed ball. But, unlike other failed-catcher stories (see: Ryan Garko, Craig Wilson, etc), this situation provides hope. Sanchez, just a year into his transition and perfect against opposing baserunners, has the ceiling to put the Marlins gamble in the money.

    Looking at the other top catching prospects in the minors...

  • Like was said earlier, the everyday catcher is an extremely rare commodity. The current minor league landscape speaks volumes to this fact, as I believe there are currently just four prospects that will go onto catching 120 games a season at the Major League level: Jeff Clement (Mariners), Russ Martin (Dodgers), Jarrod Saltalamacchia (Braves), and Neil Walker (Pirates). Three of these players -- all but Martin -- could see their defensive inadequacies moved to another position. One, Walker, is out for a month following wrist surgery. It isn't a position of depth.

    Of the group, it is Salty's bat that gives him the nod for tops at the position. After a great 2005, Jarrod's 3-for-3, 2B, HR outing yesterday has raised his numbers to respectable levels. But with Brian McCann at the League level, it will take a lot for Salty to knock down the door. The same is true for Jeff Clement, last year's third overall pick, watching as his .382 Texas League OBP is shrugged off thanks to Kenji Johjima.

    Not only does Martin's defensive prowess promise to keep him behind the dish, but his organization does as well. Intrigues with Dioner Navarro be damned, Martin is creating his own timetable in Las Vegas. Currently, Martin has continued his patient and consistent ways (9/7 BB-K rate vs. 51 AB's), while merely showing traces of replacement level, big league power.

  • For the second straight season, April is proving to be a powerful month for Diamondback prospect Miguel Montero. Last year we saw Montero's breakout start out of the gates, and before long, he had been promoted out of the California League. Don't expect Arizona to be quite as trigger-happy in 2006, even given similar fantastic numbers. What is so amazing about Montero's start has been his balance of power (10 XBH's), contact (just 8 K's) and patience (13 walks).

    Houston will, in all certainty, also soon be approaching the "to promote or not to promote' question, soon. Community college steal Justin Towles' start should remind some of Hunter Pence's 2005 beginning. However, Towles great start seems to emphasize the "sample size" warning more than that of Montero's or Pence's. Because while collecting 18 hits in 38 at-bats, Towles has just five extra-base hits, 2 walks, and has struck out eight times.

    Other big starts include 2005 draftees Caleb Moore (.364/.397/.473, MIN) and Bryan Anderson (.412/.512/.500, STL), both showing high hit rates in the Midwest League. And don't forget the Brewers' Angel Salome, a 20-year-old with patience, budding power, and just three strikeouts in 65 at-bats. Finally, two former college draftees, Chris Iannetta and Kurt Suzuki, have also started on positives notes in 2006. Of the two, expect Iannetta's skillset, and future ballpark, to shine the brightest.

  • Conversely, no positional group is complete without the proper set of slump victims. Double-A "talents" like Miguel Perez (CIN) and Curtis Thigpen (TOR) are currently hitting .184 and .211, respectively. Brandon Snyder, a first-round pick last June (whom followed with a fantastic debut), has been a disappointment in the Orioles farm system with a .268 on-base percentage. Other '05 draftees, collegiate selections Chris Robinson and Nick Hundley, have been awful, as neither has a .250+ slugging percentage.

  • And finally, we'll close things out today with a ranking of the big ten catching prospects in the minors right now:

    1. Jarrod Saltalamacchia - Braves
    2. Russ Martin - Dodgers
    3. Jeff Clement - Mariners
    4. Neil Walker - Pirates
    5. Miguel Montero - Diamondbacks
    6. George Kottaras - Padres
    7. Brandon Snyder - Orioles
    8. Gaby Sanchez - Marlins
    9. Justin Towles - Astros
    10. Chris Iannetta - Rockies
    11. Angel Salome - Brewers

  • WTNYApril 21, 2006
    Friday Bullets
    By Bryan Smith

    Disheartened by Derrek, lifted by Lind, fascinated by Francisco and more in this week's casual Friday notes column, covering everything from college to the Majors...

  • Sample size be damned, I am officially jumping onto the Alex Rios bandwagon. The fifth overall prospect in my first published prospect list, Rios has had me kicking myself for nearly a year and a half (13-18 on the list: Prince Fielder, Scott Kazmir, David Wright, Grady Sizemore, Delmon Young, Bobby Crosby) with his sub-.100 ISOs. However, I was in attendance last weekend when Rios slugged his fourth home run of the season on a Mark Buehrle fastball. It simply seems as though Rios has more strength than in each of the last two seasons, as the home run barely made it over the fence -- likely a fly out in 2004 or 2005.

    Another difference in Rios' play this season is likely an issue of pitch selection. Before the 2004 season I stated that Rios had some of the best contact skills in the minor leagues. In 2149 career minor league at-bats, Rios struck out just 296 times, a fantastic 13.8%. Entering 2006, his Major League career had already produced 185 strikeouts, whiffing in 20.4% of his at-bats. Alex isn't the type of player that will draw 50+ walks at the Major League level, but instead will live and die by his ability to hit the ball, and to do so with power.

    With increased strength and improved pitch selection, Rios is a dangerous player. As early as this season, he could begin to become one of the best power/speed threats in the American League.

  • Try as he might, Rios is not the hottest property of the Toronto Blue Jays. To find that, however, you have to look in the direction of New Hampshire, the organization's AA affiliate. Adam Lind, a player on my preseason breakout list, is in the middle of a fantastic streak. In the first eight games of the season, Lind struggled, collecting just six hits in his first 26 at-bats, including only one for extra bases (and an uncharacteristic seven strikeouts).

    Since then, he has caught fire. On April 15, Lind had a hit in each of his four at-bats, two of which were home runs. This was the beginning of a six game streak in which Lind is 12/24, striking out just once while hitting five home runs. My faith in Lind's power breakout was founded upon a high doubles rate, a tough league and stadium, and a July streak that proved Lind's potential. I do believe he is starting to realize it.

    Luckily, Lind brought my April batting average to my breakout list to .250. We have previously detailed Reid Brignac's hot start, which has his OPS well over .900. Besides these two players, things aren't looking great. Brad Harman has just one extra-base hit versus 12 strikeouts in his first 48 at-bats. Mark Trumbo's first nine games include just 5 hits and zero walks. Adam Bostick has issued 13 walks in 13.2 innings. Neither Garrett Mock or Homer Bailey have been particularly impressive. Let's just hope Christian Garcia returns to the mound soon, and returns to it well.

  • Someone asked me what I would do if put in Jim Hendry's chair, forced to find someone to replace Derrek Lee with. My response was to have Jacque Jones start fielding groundballs at first base, while putting Felix Pie in right field for the Iowa Cubs. While the long-term prospects of Jones at first base are laughable, Pie is the member of the Cubs organization best suited for replacing a bit bat in this lineup.

    In the first 10% of his minor league season, Pie has done everything in the leadoff role for the I-Cubs: seven extra-base hits, six walks, three steals. Pie would bring electricity to a Cubs lineup that will enter their series against the Cardinals as very lifeless. But instead, Dusty Baker is left picking between John Mabry and Jerry Hairston/Neifi Perez. It isn't a good situation.

  • Over at Baseball America, Jim Callis posted an update on his top twenty draft prospects for the coming June. Max Scherzer's low ranking comes in as a bit of a surprise, but given his injury, the Missouri right-hander might now be a reach for the Colorado Rockies, drafting second. My current belief is that the organization should go with Brandon Morrow, the pitcher least dependent on a breaking pitch of those in consideration. Coors Field has never mixed well with breaking balls, but it's hard to imagine Morrow's power splitter being too affected by the thin air.

    The most surprising inclusion on the list is probably Brett Sinkbeil, a player we talked about last summer from the Cape Cod League pitching well for Missouri State. Sinkbeil is a tall, lanky right-hander that projects well to add velocity as he fills out. As of right now, he has good control of a sinking, 90-94 mph pitch. His specific draft selection will depend upon the improvements of his secondary stuff this spring. In my preseason talks with Missouri State pitching coach Paul Evans, he said that as a sophomore, Brett had "difficulties finishing off hitters when he got to 2-strike counts." If Sinkbeil shows scouts he can throw his slider for strikes, and trusts his change-up enough, Callis' ranking indicates a first round selection isn't out of the picture.

    Tim Lincecum is third on this list, and at this point in time, I'd guess he is drafted by the Seattle Mariners. Thanks to hometown ties -- as well as the M's being the least frugal team in the top five -- the pick makes sense. Also, one spot ahead, don't be shocked if the Pirates grab right-hander Kyle Drabek. Or, at least, you can bet he would be the marketing department's selection, given his familial ties with a certain former Bucs' ace.

  • Sadly, Francisco Liriano allowed his first earned run of the season Wednesday, as a walk, steal and single brought his ERA up to 0.96. Nonetheless, Liriano has been one of the most impressive young players in all of baseball thus far, boasting a 3.0 G/F ratio to go with his 14.5 K/9 rate. Apparently, hitters have trouble with sliders that can touch 92 mph.

  • Also on Wednesday, viewers were treated to the best Javier Vazquez outing in years, as the White Sox newest right-hander took a no-hitter into the seventh inning. The end? A check-swing single by Doug Mientkiewicz that simply would not roll foul, as much as Joe Crede willed it to do so. Vazquez was in complete control in the outing, mixing pinpoint fastball control with a devastating curve and change. This came just a day after Jose Contreras' dominating outing; with Roger Clemens out of baseball, Contreras has the game's best splitter. He's my dark horse Cy Young pick.

    But back to Mientkiewicz, who would be hitting .205 had his check swing been brought back an inch more. Meanwhile, Justin Huber is batting .372/.481/.814 in the Pacific Coast League. As much as some have attempted to justify the Royals winter veteran movement, the presence of third-tier thirtysomethings will not help in the win column. Instead, it will force good players like Huber into building a bit too much into their minor league credentials.

    And Royals fans shouldn't be totally hopeless. Thanks to one of the best journalistic articles of the young baseball season, we learn that Zack Greinke is progressing back towards pitching in 2006. Greinke, Andrew Miller, Alex Gordon and Billy Butler. It's a start.

  • WTNYApril 19, 2006
    Minors Not Short on Talent
    By Bryan Smith

    One of the complaints that followed the former Devil Ray front office clan -- led by Chuck Lamar -- centered around B.J. Upton. Lucky enough to draft him in 2002 (thanks to a Pirates gaffe), Upton's bat predictably tore through the minors. Conversely, his glove played as if it had a tear down the center.

    Entering the season, Upton's minor league line read: .304/.396/.474, in over 1,400 at-bats. By contrast, the Devil Rays' left side hit about .290/.350/.430 last year. Fans called for Bossman's promotion. Lamar and company pointed to his fielding record: 144 errors in 367 games. Fans called for a position change. The front office went silent.

    While Lou Piniella had toyed with the idea of using Upton at the hot corner in 2004, last year Upton played in Durham while no one offered a direction. When the group was fired, Tampa fans reveled in the hope that Andrew Friedman and Gerry Hunsicker would bring Upton Blueprints.

    Thus far, the two have been bailed out as Upton's bat has yet to warm up. In fact, the current Devil Ray SS line (.273/.360/.386) is better than Upton's in the International League. However, his patient approach and aggressive baserunning mentality (8/9 already this season) have left Tampa fans again salivating. But again, they remain disappointed, as all the focus has been on Upton's fielding: 7 errors in his first 11 games.

    Despite the pessimism that Upton's fielding record produces, no one questions that his future is bright. They do question, however, the existence of a plan.

    A long-term plan like the organization that B.J.'s brother was just drafted into. A prep superstar with a scouting report more glowing than his brother, Justin Upton was drafted listed at the most ideal position on the defensive spectrum. However, when he opens his season in a few weeks, Upton will be in centerfield, where the club believes it can best utilize Upton's arm. Once magnificently wild in high school, it will now be difficult for Justin to overthrow his target.

    In addition to his mistake-prone issues at shortstop, the first overall pick was also moved thanks to foresight by the D-Backs' new front office. Like Tampa with Upton, Arizona was lucky on draft day to land their blue-chip shortstop -- Stephen Drew, who fell into the teens in 2004 thanks to signability concerns. Once signed, the path to the Majors was set into action for Stephen, who began his minor league career by tearing up the California League last season.

    Now playing for Tucson in the Pacific Coast League, Drew is -- like Upton -- struggling in the early going. Fans have been put off by his .269 OBP, as well as a high strikeout percentage: 12 in 48 at-bats. However, there is a sign of the player chosen to lead Arizona into the next decade -- four home runs through his first twelve games. No one expected AAA to be easy for Drew, barely removed from AA, and he has plenty of time to be acclimated.

    Craig Counsell signed with Arizona in December of 2004, months after the club had drafted Drew, months before they signed him. Now, the two-year contract to which Counsell was handed appears to be the perfect length, as Stephen will be given a full season to prepare for the Major Leagues. There will be no worries about player's catching him from the minors, or some veteran taking his slot. Drew is aware that on Opening Day, 2007, the shortstop job in Phoenix is his until he loses it.

    This is what the Devil Rays need to provide Upton: a clear view at his future. With that weight off Upton's shoulders, it might be then that his potential is truly untapped. Once the undeniable best shortstop prospect in the minors, the Tampa front office has allowed Upton to lose that label.

    Looking at the other top shortstop prospects in the minors...

  • As I said, Upton is no longer on top of the shortstop heap. Instead, at least on my list, Bossman currently ranks third overall. He's one slot behind Drew, the powerful man with the plan, a guaranteed job at a particular position. Ahead of both of them is Brandon Wood, also likely questioning the motives of his front office, currently in their second year of a four-year contract with Orlando Cabrera.

    Wood is already putting pressure on the Angels to consider moving Cabrera, or even, move Wood to the hot corner. His power spike has not dulled in eleven contests, as Brandon has eight extra-base hits in 44 at-bats. However, before Wood holds Bill Stoneman's hands to the fire and forces him to make a move, the strikeouts need to decrease. With fifteen whiffs already in eleven games, Brandon is doing nothing to inspire projections of his future batting average. Even given his weaknesses and uncertainty, Wood's big-time power leaves him with an advantage over both Stephen Drew and B.J. Upton.

  • Looking at the second tier, I see three obvious names, with three more players looking to bang down the door. Last year's top ten pick Troy Tulowitzki leads the group, only an exit from Sample Size Theatre away from joining the first pack. I believe in Troy as a player, and sincerely believe Clint Barmes will be out of the organization or at second base in about a year. However, Tulo could inspire even more faith if he proved a bit more patient, added a bit of power (lots of gaps thus far), and toned down the strikeouts. Complaints in each offensive department, I know, but it won't take significant changes to make him a top 25-caliber talent.

    While Tulo is close to spending most of his time in Coors Field, our other second tier shortstops are a simple injury or slump away. Dustin Pedroia needs to restore his own injury before Boston becomes a reality, but it isn't as if the Sox are too emotionally invested into Alex Gonzalez. Pedroia, a small player with limited upside but nearly guaranteed certainty, should be up by the trade deadline.

    Erick Aybar should be in Los Angeles before then. Cabrera's contract be damned, Aybar is ready, currently hitting .348/.362/.543 in Salt Lake. It appears at this point that Aybar has certain flaws that we will simply have to deal with: a lack of baserunning instincts, no discernable plate discipline, and no great power. But given his good contact abilties, plus speed and great defense, Aybar has everything needed to become a Major League shortstop. Everything but a job.

  • As we move down our shortstop rankings, we find players far more removed from the Major League landscape. No talent better exemplifies this than Elvis Andrus, currently the Rome Braves starting shortstop at the tender age of 17. Andrus drew rave reviews from his short-season companions last year, but has hardly kept his name in the news this April. Showing pretty good patience and contact skills, complaints will almost certainly rally around his inevitable raw weaknesses: undeveloped power, baserunning ignorance, and fielding mistakes. The fact that Andrus could have three minor league seasons to improve in these areas before reaching 20 is what makes Elvis the most intriguing Brave prospect.

    Readers know the players I find most intriguing -- the group I choose each season as my projected breakout players. One this season, Reid Brignac, has assured himself good early season statistics by hitting three home runs in a game earlier this season. Besides that, Brignac is off to a start that proves his potential. It is his ceiling that has me thinking Brignac might be a better prospect than Marcus Sanders, one of the two biggest Shortstop Slumpers of the early season. Since Opening Day, in which Sanders doubled and walked, the Giant prospect has reached base just three times, and never via the extra-base hit. Still, once the ball starts to find the holes, Sanders will start again wreaking havoc on the basepaths and proving his future as the projected Giants leadoff hitter.

  • On the next level there is a slew of players, easily broken in to a few groups. Predictably, one if filled with fantastic defensive players destined for bench careers or mediocrity in starting roles. Leading this clan in potential is Alcides Escobar, who has dazzled in High-A so far. While Kevin Goldstein pointed out yesterday that Escobar's plate discipline is on an upswing, the opposiote seems true with the White Sox' Robert Valido, walkless in 50 at-bats. At this point, neither he nor Tony Giarratano (.250 OBP, 1 walk) have proven to be anything more than defensive specialists.

  • Before diving into the world of 2005 draftees, there are four that don't fit into that category that merit mention. Two are first rounders from 2004, both of whom disappointed in low-A last year. The Twins moved Trevor Plouffe up to the FSL after his Midwest League disaster, and his .446 OBP certainly shows signs of life. A similar heartbeat has not been found in Chris Nelson, former top ten pick repeating low-A. Don't let the .295 batting average fool you, it's empty, his lack of power and patience are currently producing a .744 OPS.

    While many pegged those two players for breakout seasons, I opted for Australian Brad Harman. Also in the FSL, Harman has shown nothing close to Plouffe's polish. Instead, Harman has been awful, hitting just .205/.289/.231 through his first 11 games. His struggles outshine even those of Eduardo Nunez, a PECOTA sleeper with a similar sub-.600 OPS in the Florida State League. Something must be in the water in the Sunshine State.

  • It's foolish not to trust scouts and scouting directors, to shy away from the rankings that these professionals created. In 2005, shortstops were drafted in this order, following Tulowitzki: C.J. Henry, Cliff Pennington, Tyler Greene, and Jeff Bianchi. Henry is now on the DL, a hamstring problem after struggling in his debut. Pennington has struggled like no one else in April, sporting a .114 slugging percentage as we speak. And Greene has been awful as well, striking out 17 times in his first 32 at-bats. Bianchi is rising up prospect lists simply by not playing, at this point.

  • Time to close this article out with a ranking of the top ten shortstop prospects in the minors right now:

    1. Brandon Wood - Angels
    2. Stephen Drew - Diamondbacks
    3. B.J. Upton - Devil Rays
    4. Troy Tulowitzki - Rockies
    5. Dustin Pedroia - Red Sox
    6. Erick Aybar - Angels
    7. Elvis Andrus - Braves
    8. Reid Brignac - Devil Rays
    9. Marcus Sanders - Giants
    10. Alcides Escobar - Brewers

  • WTNYApril 17, 2006
    Pluses and Minuses
    By Bryan Smith

    For those following the upcoming June amateur draft, 2006 has been a year of cynicism. While no one ever proclaimed the '06 class to be top-heavy, the preseason talk centered around one of the best and deepest group of pitchers in recent memory.

    After a 2005 draft in which no pitcher was chosen among the first five picks, the tables were set to be turned in 2006. However, one by one, the wheels have come off for many of the junior blue chippers. Max Scherzer, injured. Daniel Bard, inconsistent. Dallas Buck, ineffective.

    With the draft just about two short months away, player's stocks seem as volatile as ever. Take Ian Kennedy as an example. Early in the season, we saw the player many had labeled the safest pick in the draft, dominant through three starts.

    Opponent IP H ER K BB
    Long Beach State 6 5 3 7 1
    Florida International 7 3 0 10 2
    Kansas 8.2 1 0 13 3

    However, what followed was a string of mediocrity, when Kennedy proved as flappable as anyone in the country. He hadn't suffered such a slump in all his years as a Trojan.

    Opponent IP H ER K BB
    Hawaii 7 7 3 5 2
    Georgia 6.2 9 3 11 2
    Stanford 6.1 9 5 2 1
    Oregon State 6 6 1 5 5
    Stanford 6.1 9 5 6 2

    But with one start, the stock of Ian Kennedy was back. Pitching against Brandon Morrow and the rival California Bears, Kennedy went ten innings to earn his first win in quite a few outings. He showed great control and pitchability in addition to proving his valuable "innings-eater" label.

    This week, unfortunately, Kennedy could not keep scouts' spirits high. Pitching in the thin air of Tempe, Arizona, Kennedy had his worst start of the year: 11 hits and 8 earned runs in 5.1 innings. Despite his best efforts, Kennedy has been pronounced a first rounder through all of 2006's trials and tribulations. But as the last two weeks have shown, single starts will have plenty of impact on how much slot money Ian is allotted.

    Without question, each member of this year's draft class comes with a serious number of caveats. Here's one attempt at balancing the positives and negatives with a few players making movement on draft boards...

    Tim Lincecum, RHP: Washington

    If the season ended today, no player would be more deserving of the Golden Spikes trophy. It took Lincecum a while to get going, but since he has not looked back. A quick glance at his last four starts, in which he has not yielded an earned run:

    Opponent IP H ER K BB BF
    Brigham Young 6 1 0 14 1 20
    Arizona State 9 2 0 12 4 33
    UCLA 9 2 0 18 1 31
    California 8 5 0 8 3 32

    During this streak, Lincecum has struck out about 45% of the hitters he has faced. He has been so dominant, in fact, that just 16.4% of these batters have reached base via a hit or walk. Once full of control problems, Lincecum has been on point since rocky starts against Santa Clara and Cal Poly.

    Statistically, Lincecum is at the top of college baseball. He could very well enter an organization with the nation's most prestigious prize. In addition, he will come with maybe the most devastating two-pitch combination out there, with a mid 90s fastball and devastating curve. Everything rosy?

    Not exactly. While scouts fixate on Lincecum's tiny frame, others point to a workload that would run most pitchers ragged. In four straight starts the Huskie faced more than 30 batters, during which time he also pitched in relief on short rest. The best player on an overachieving team, Lincecum is ridden very hard.

    While some pitchers can thank a rubber arm for endurance, some see Lincecum as a ticking time bomb. His herky-jerky delivery, mixed with that small frame and heavy workload, seems to be a definite sign of arm trouble down the road. Once considered a third round pick because of this red flag, Lincecum's dominance has some teams hoping to play roulette.

    Matt Antonelli, 3B/2B: Wake Forest

    I have been tooting Antonelli's horn in this space for quite some time now, as I fell in love with his patience-athleticism combination display in the Cape last year. Even while Antonelli started to show newly-developed power this year, I said the former football and hockey star could handle a move to the middle of the diamond.

    Someone was listening. After showing his offensive versatility with a move from the middle of the order to the leadoff slot, Antonelli started to show versatility in the field this past weekend. For the first time in his career, Antonelli helped the Demon Deacons at another position, playing half the series at second base. Certainly, this will not help alleviate the long-standing comparison to Edgardo Alfonzo.

    Entering the season as a definite early round selection, many think his newfound power (hitting his 11th homer on Sunday) will undoubtedly lead to a first round selection. But be careful, as teams are not afraid to look at context. At his site, Boyd Nation ranks the Division I baseball teams each week, top to bottom.

    According to Nation's rankings, Wake Forest has played nine top 100 teams this year, playing 18 games against the group. More of his games have been against worse teams, including six games against club's ranked below the 200 slot. Against the 11 schools he has faced ranked below 100, Antonelli has been dominant, hitting .430 with 20 of his 25 extra-base hits.

    However, when up against the best his schedule has to offer, it has been a different story for Antonelli. Against the nine top 100 teams, Matt is just 17/69, good for a .246 average and .391 slugging percentage. While being able to pound Wright State and Virginia Tech is important, Antonelli has much to prove in upcoming weekend series against Florida State, Miami and Clemson. His performance should dictate whether or not Antonelli is among the top 30 picks in the draft.

    Daniel Bard, RHP: North Carolina

    For the first time in the school's history, the Tar Heel baseball team was recently given the #1 overall ranking by one outlet. This fact goes far to validate much of the preseason hype surrounding North Carolina, seen by many as the most top heavy baseball team in the nation.

    "With those two, how could they lose?" one reader asked me, referring to the consensus top-six pitchers Andrew Miller and Daniel Bard. But while Miller has been fantastic, staying consistent and on pace to be drafted first overall, Bard is pitching his way out of the top ten. Instead of two sure-fire wins per weekend, extra onus has been placed on other Tar Heels, like shortstop Josh Horton, third ace Robert Woodard, and closer Andrew Carnigan.

    This past weekend, Bard had his first quality start in five outings. By shutting out Virginia Tech (ranked #131 by Boyd), Bard put a temporary stop to his recent decline. Still, the right-hander walked five batters in 7 innings, bringing the five-start total to 20 in 26.1 innings.

    Like Antonelli, Bard has struggled against the best on the Tar Heel schedule. In three consecutive starts against good programs in Georgia Tech, Florida State and Miami, Bard failed to make it out of the fifth inning. He allowed eleven earned runs in 12 innings. Without the slider -- a potential plus pitch with the development of consistency -- Bard is just another hard thrower.

    Early in the season, I claimed Bard had cemented his status as one of the nation's top three pitchers, and was challenging Scherzer for the second spot. Oops. Now, both Brandon Morrow and Brad Lincoln have firmly moved past Bard, who will be in a two-month race with a few other starters for the fifth college pitcher selected honor.

    Greg Reynolds, RHP: Stanford

    Personally, I have never understood it. OK, Brandon Morrow had an ERA over 9.00 his sophomore year. And Max Scherzer was a disaster as a freshman. I get that, but each balances those poor statistics with an upper 90s mph fastball. While Greg Reynolds possesses good stuff and great size, I have never understood the love for Reynolds.

    Like Kennedy and Bard, Reynolds appeal is for his early season statistics. Through four starts, Reynolds was validating the preseason hype, especially after dominating Fresno State, striking out 11 in 7.2 innings. Since, Greg has only been impressive in one start, against the Cardinal's lone second half cookie-cutter opponent: San Jose State.

    Reynolds is a mixed bag in every sense of the phrase. His delivery isn't fluid enough, and his head-bobbing wind up is blamed for control problems. But Reynolds also offers fantastic arm action to go with his size, indicating a lot of velocity and pitchability in his future.

    But with first round picks, results are important. Without a better resume, Reynolds stands to have a more disappointing draft day than many are projecting.

    Rounding out the Pitchers

    After a bad couple months, Joba Chamberlain had a big weekend pitching against Texas A&M. With Bard and Kennedy, he has a chance at becoming the fifth college pitcher drafted. As do the two college closers -- Mark Melancon and Blair Erickson -- though that's probably too early for both. Melancon was out this past weekend, while Erickson had an unsuccessful attempt at the rotation. Sleeper Josh Butler has been too hittable for San Diego this past week, and now stands as a fringe first rounder. Jared Hughes is in the same boat, and with a big finish, teammate Andrew Carpenter could catch him. Falling is Dallas Buck, who finally this weekend had a good start (if not dominant) against a good team.

    Other Big Hitters

    Wes Hodges had a good weekend, and his numbers are sitting at the best point of his season. While I still question whether his power will make it to the next level, it's hard to imagine he slips past the middle of the first round. The same is true for Drew Stubbs, who will be worth the gamble for some team. He is the Tyler Greene, if more talented, of 2006. Slugger Matt LaPorta continues his all-or-nothing ways; I'm convinced Mark Hamilton (Tulane) will make for the better choice. Finally, look for some teams to snatch up sure-fire players like Chad Tracy and Shane Robinson around supplemental draft time.

    College baseball's short season makes each weekend more important than the previous. In a world where Tim Lincecum is mentioned for the top overall pick thanks to four fantastic starts, expect major changes in common draft mentality before the next time I bring this up. Welcome to the world of "ping."

    WTNYApril 11, 2006
    Youth Moving North
    By Bryan Smith

    This past winter, the Chicago Cubs spent $38.5 million on three overpriced relievers on the wrong side of their peaks. They traded 3 blossoming young pitchers for a center fielder with no power coming off the worst season of his career. Right field was filled with a hitter lacking in big-time power and the ability to hit southpaws. And, inevitably, their two headline starters were deemed not ready for Opening Day.

    By April 3, Cubs fans were ready to cry their typical, "Wait 'Til Next Year." What's odd, however, is that this call to the future suddenly provides genuine hope: there is reason for optimism around the bend.

    Despite a little pressure from the front office, Dusty Baker's opening day lineup card featured two young guns: 23-year-old shortstop Ronny Cedeno and 24-year-old left fielder Matt Murton. While young pitchers have been in and out of the North Side for the past five years, recent history has offered Wrigley Field visitors few looks at prospect position players. Corey Patterson didn't instill very much confidence.

    But in his first at-bat of the new season, Murton proved me (and others) wrong, hitting a 3-run homer that would lead to the eventual Cubs victory. His three-hit effort provided a glimpse to a bright future, one with consistent contact and steady, solid power. Cedeno has built confidence with great defense, an early season five-game hitting streak, and a 4-for-4 effort on the Cubs largest stage yet.

    Those that tuned into Sunday Night Baseball were also lucky enough to see a 25-and-under starter that entered the big leagues without daunting comparisons to Tom Seaver or Nolan Ryan. Sean Marshall -- on my 2005 breakout list, though he saved his big jump for Arizona, 2006 -- became the Cubs fourth starter in the most non-Dusty move of the current manager's tenure. In the face of other, older (though not by much) options, Baker opted for a southpaw with a blend of poise and upside narrowly removed from A-ball. For that, he should be commended.

    A quick glance at Marshall's line (4.1 IP, 4 H, 4 ER, 2 K, 1 BB) instills the image of a true rookie, producing nightmares of Steve Smyth for Cubs fans. However, Marshall was far better than his line suggests. His two-seam fastball was controlled and consistently down in the zone, producing 8 groundball outs. His cutter was a great mix, jamming right-handers, and his curve showed fantastic potential. He made one gaffe -- a belt-high fastball that Scott Rolen tatooed -- and was taken from the game too early to fix his own bases loaded mistake.

    While Marshall doesn't bring with him a ceiling that matches Cubs pitching prospects of old, the poise he showed Sunday was a welcome addition to the Cubs future plans. Amidst the uncertainty of Mark Prior, Kerry Wood, and soon-recalled Angel Guzman are more dependable options like Carlos Zambrano and Marshall. It's a future rotation in desperate need of sixth and seventh starters on deck, without question, but it also has top-of-the-NL upside.

    If Angel Guzman is the next phenom set to join the Cubs, Felix Pie is likely the most anticipated. The long-boasted young outfielder has started his AAA season magnificently, batting .500 through four games. In them, Pie has also collected two triples and three (for three) stolen bases. The 'raw' labels are starting to become replaced with 'ready'. While Juan Pierre currently stands in the way -- and his constant praise and considerable cost does pose an unnecessary burden -- one can only think Jim Hendry will provide a path for Pie when needed.

    Offensively, Hendry has only become locked in to his most necessary players. As of today, both Aramis Ramirez and Derrek Lee will be officially in blue until Pie's superstardom. While the development of Murton, Pie and Cedeno are all essential to long-term success, Lee and Ramirez provide the team with needed certainty. Middle of the order certainty. And Michael Barrett, fast becoming a clutch-legend in the Windy City, will be in town (at the very least) through 2007.

    The Cubs are also financially committed to their bullpen, in which their three game-ending veterans will be in town until the end of 2008. Relievers, however, age slowly, so the Cubs will need to mix keeping Ryan Dempster, Scott Eyre and Bobby Howry healthy while finding other cheap options like they have in Mike Wuertz, Will Ohman and even Scott Williamson. This balance, between expensive and inexpensive, is essential. Despite trading away possible lenders in Ricky Nolasco and Renyel Pinto (among others), others like Carlos Marmol and Jae-Kuk Ryu should keep the Cubs options plentiful for some time.

    At the end of the season, Jim Hendry will be forced to make decisions regarding his aging mentor (Greg Maddux), steady second baseman (Todd Walker), and a slew of other role players. The idea of trading Kerry Wood, and even Mark Prior, will undoubtedly pass by his desk more than once. The temptation of big-name free agents will have the Cubs making calls.

    Chicago is in a good position for the 2007 season not because of the money they have to spend. Instead, it will be Jim Hendry's ability to make meaningful miniscule additions (Murton, maybe Freddie Bynum) and to cultivate enough prospects that will leave the North Side on top for some time.

    Notes From Below the Surface

  • For those of you curious to know what Andrew Miller might pitch like, Sunday Night Baseball could have provided you just that. While Sean Marshall is a poor man's Miller, they are not without similarities. Both are big southpaws (6-6 or 6-7) known for inducing groundball outs via a two-seam fastball and cutter. However, Miller trades in Marshall's plus command and sweeping curve for some extra velocity and a tight, vicious slider. In addition, the North Carolina ace and probable #1 pick offers a four-seam fastball in the mid-90s that can catch hitters off guard.

  • Clearing up any preseason questions, my predicted breakouts for 2006: Homer Bailey, Adam Lind, Garrett Mock, Christian Garcia, Brad Harman, Mark Trumbo and Chuck Lofgren. The latter is the only player to not make the BP article I wrote in January, but I have since come to really develop some faith in the athletic, Indian southpaw. First week returns, however, have not been positive on the group. Both Bailey and Mock lost their debuts while pitching decent-but-supbar, while Garcia and Lofgren have yet to start the season. Of the hitters, Trumbo is a ghastly 2-for-14 thus far, while Harman and Lind are merely treading water. April be damned, I'm still advocating to buy low on all of these players.

  • Pitchers that have made big opening week impressions, however, include Adam Loewen, Lance Broadway, Humberto Sanchez, Gio Gonzalez and Mark McCormick. Loewen might be the most interesting case, as he needs a big year before his Major League contract kicks in. Sanchez could be the Arizona Fall League darling of the spring, and provide the Tigers with yet another live, young arm. Finally, an early season sleeper (damn, missed him!) is Tyler Lumsden, a White Sox pitching prospect that is healthy, reportedly full of velocity, and already dominating.

  • In case you needed reminding, Howie Kendick is really good. A nice office pool bet: what date does Adam Kennedy return to the Cardinals (via trade) so that the Angels can bring up their blue-chip prospect? And, certainly, I expect Kendrick's 9-for-17 start to change a few answers.

  • Finally, a kudos is in order for Ian Kennedy, who went ten innings this past weekend to beat California and notch his first win in quite some time. Kennedy was free-falling a bit on draft boards before this start, but his Jack Morris-esque effort brought back comments of his "bulldog" mentality that led to Kennedy's high standing. A big finish will make scouts forget about the month of March, but Kennedy could certainly stand to start striking out hitters as if it were his sophomore season all over again.

    Back with more on Friday...

  • WTNYApril 05, 2006
    Wood and Metal
    By Bryan Smith

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

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

    ROOKIE WATCH

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

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

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

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

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

    MINING THE REST OF THE PRE-ARB CAMP

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

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

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

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

    UNDER THE SURFACE

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

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

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

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

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

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

    METAL MUSINGS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • WTNYMarch 28, 2006
    2006 Minor League Preview: The Graduates
    By Bryan Smith

    As a hobby, following prospects is a lonely, lonely practice. Each year, dozens of the players that you have evaluated since their prep days become Major Leaguers and enter the world of objectification through statistics. They graduate from the minor league ranks, graduate from 'prospect' labels.

    Last year, 29 players that ranked in my 2005 Top 100 made such a graduation, becoming eligible in Rookie of the Year voting. No longer can we sit back and wonder whether Felix Hernandez' delivery will hold up through a full Major League season, or if Ryan Howard's power potential will be realized. These questions are becoming answers in front of our eyes.

    In part one of my series to preview the 2006 minor league season, I want to look at the best players that will be making such a jump this year. Thanks to preseason reports, I have faith that 16 members of my top 100 will be on a Major League roster on Opening Day. Some are being thrust into full-time roles, learning on the run, while others are being weaned into Major Leaguers. While still others (found at the bottom of the article) might still be on Opening Day rosters or be called up before June, these 16 are the mortal locks to become this year's set of graduates.

    For each of the sixteen players, I have tried to provide you with a multitude of information to discern who might be the best in 2006. First, the players are ranked in the same order (and preceded by the same number) in which I ranked them in my 2006 WTNY prospect list. After the player's name and organization, there are three categories given for each player. One is the role, the information given from the most recent reports I could find about where the player will start the season (fantasy owners can thank me later). Second, the 'projection/comps' category provides the weighted mean and top 3 comparable players that are found in Baseball Prospectus 2006, contrived by their famous projection system: PECOTA. Finally, I quickly conclude with a look at the player's Spring Training, and while it might not have much predictive value, will provide some reasoning for their place on active rosters.

    2. Jeremy Hermida: Florida Marlins

    Role: Starting Right Fielder, #2 hitter
    Projection/Comps: .257/.361/.439, .282 EqA; Jack Cust, Clint Hurdle, Tom Brunansky
    Spring Performance: .214/.328/.268 in 56 at-bats. Solid patience and contact problems still a part of his game, power has been lacking.

    4. Prince Fielder - 1B - Milwaukee Brewers

    Role: Starting First Baseman, Middle of Order
    Projection/Comps: .268/.349/.488, .280 EqA; Greg Luzinski, Hee Seop Choi, Dernell Stenson
    Spring Performance: .282/.429/.487 in 39 at-bats. Has overcome slow start with a big finish. Key has been only five whiffs, making a Carlos Pena career unlikely.

    5. Francisco Liriano - LHP - Minnesota Twins

    Role: Back of bullpen, middle/long relief; 6th starter
    Projection/Comps: 3.87 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 150 K, 27.1 VORP; Curt Simmons, Bob Moose, Johnny Podres
    Spring Performance: 3H/4IP, 2ER, 4K/1BB for Twins; 3H/5.1IP, 1ER, 8K/3BB in WBC. Showed mid-90s fastball and low-90s slider in WBC that left many drooling. Performance convinced Twins to keep him on roster.

    8. Matt Cain - RHP - San Francisco Giants

    Role: Fourth Starter
    Projection/Comps: 4.34 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 137 K, 14.4 VORP; Denny McLain, Gary Nolan, Oliver Perez
    Spring Performance: 26H/18.2IP, 16ER, 14K/5BB. Inconsistency has hurt Cain this March, as well as his flyball tendencies, which have yielded three home runs. At times, however, the Giants have seen the phenom whom pitched so well last September.

    12. Ryan Zimmerman - 3B - Washington Nationals

    Role: Starting Third Baseman, #5 hitter
    Projection/Comps: .289/.334/.462, .273 EqA; Albert Pujols, Justin Morneau, Joe Torre
    Spring Performance: .318/.375/.621 in 66 at-bats. Has shown fantastic power with 5 home runs, as well as 5 doubles. However, his significant strengths (contact, defense) have been missing: 16 strikeouts, 6 errors.

    13. Justin Verlander - RHP - Detroit Tigers

    Role: Fifth Starter
    Projection/Comps: 4.20 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 112K, 19.4 VORP; Seung Song, Dennis Tankersley, John Maine
    Spring Performance: 17H/18.2IP, 7ER, 16K/10BB. A model of control in 2005, Verlander has not shown the same ability this Spring. Nor has he prevented the home run well, allowing three thus far.

    16. Conor Jackson - 1B - Arizona Diamondbacks

    Role: Starting First Baseman, #5 hitter
    Projection/Comps: .269/.359/.439, .268 EqA; Nate Espy, Paul McAnulty, Paul Konerko.
    Spring Performance: .452/.558/.762 in 42 at-bats. One of Arizona's most impressive players, Jackson has managed to outplay Tony Clark's .999 spring OPS. Conor has struck out just twice thus far, which upon first glance looks like a misprint.

    20. Scott Olsen - LHP - Florida Marlins

    Role: Fourth/Fifth Starter
    Projection/Comps: 4.55 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, 118 K, 7.0 VORP; Chuck Stobbs, Ken Holtzman, Pete Falcone.
    Spring Performance: 13H/19.2IP, 6ER, 9K/5BB. Peripheral numbers are lacking in a sense, but Olsen has been among Florida's best young guns. Earned rotation spot.

    22. Jon Papelbon - RHP - Boston Red Sox

    Role: Middle relief, 6th starter and 2nd/3rd closer option
    Projection/Comps: 4.91 ERA, 1.43 WHIP, 74 K, 8.4 VORP; Art Mahaffey, Kelvim Escobar, Barry Latman.
    Spring Performance: 25H/19.1IP, 12ER, 9K/8BB. Given the possibility of taking a rotation spot (and forcing a David Wells trade), Papelbon failed. A good start to the season in the bullpen will go a long way in dictating Jon's future role.

    23. Joel Zumaya - RHP - Detroit Tigers

    Role: Back of bullpen, middle/long relief; 6th starter
    Projection/Comps: 4.58 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, 140 K, 12.5 VORP; Dick Drott, Dave Morehead, Dave Boswell
    Spring Performance: 8H/12.2IP, 9ER, 10K/5BB. Despite ERA and 4 home runs allowed, Zumaya has earned a lot praise and his rotation spot. His electrifying stuff will be slowly harnessed in bullpen, Jim Leyland wants to work him in the Earl Weaver style.

    30. Nick Markakis - OF - Baltimore Orioles

    Role: Starting Outfielder (CF?), towards bottom of lineup
    Projection/Comps: .263/.326/.403, .254 EqA; Laynce Nix, Richard Brown, Jody Gerut.
    Spring Performance: .340/.438/.509 in 53 at-bats. Fantastic. Has shown gap power, good contact abilities and outstanding patience this March. Orioles brass has been impressed enough to allow Markakis to skip to the Majors despite just 124 AB.

    33. Brian Anderson - OF - Chicago White Sox

    Role: Starting Centerfielder, back of lineup
    Projection/Comps: .269/.329/.468, .265 EqA; Ron Swoboda, Roy Sievers, Dwight Evans.
    Spring Performance: .316/.375/.526 in 57 at-bats. Impressive performance, but hardly jaw-dropping. Has shown gap power in excess, but doesn't look to be much of a home run hitter. His 1/5 spring on the basepaths should put a frown on any fantasy owner's face.

    36. Hanley Ramirez - SS - Florida Marlins

    Role: Starting Shortstop, leadoff hitter
    Projection/Comps: .258/.313/.367, .241 EqA; Kenny Perez, Felipe Lopez, Jason Bourgeois.
    Spring Performance: .339/.361/.644 in 59 at-bats. Finally given a challenge, Ramirez stepped up to the plate with 8 extra-base hits in less than sixty at-bats. His lack of discipline should make Joe Girardi think twice when he puts Ramirez atop his order, however.

    59. Jeff Mathis - C - Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

    Role: Starting Catcher, back of lineup
    Projection/Comps: .241/.302/.403, .245 EqA; Guillermo Quiroz, Fernando Tatis, Cole Liniak.
    Spring Performance: .321/.441/.607 in 28 at-bats. Despite being hampered by hand injuries, Mathis has been very solid this spring. His contact problems should be a strain over the course of the whole season, but the Angels are hoping Mathis' patience and power outweighs that.

    62. Ian Kinsler - 2B - Texas Rangers

    Role: Starting Second Baseman, back of lineup
    Projection/Comps: .270/.328/.451, .261 EqA; Daniel Garcia, Alfonso Soriano, Rick Schu.
    Spring Performance: .238/.347/.548 in 42 at-bats. Ian has played with a sense of fluidity this spring that convinced the Rangers he was their man weeks into Spring Training. Minor baserunning and contact flaws don't detract much from a solid all-around game.

    HM. Josh Barfield - 2B - San Diego Padres

    Role: Starting Second Baseman, back of lineup
    Projection/Comps: .260/.322/.416, .260 EqA; Cass Michaels, Tony Batista, Fernando Tatis.
    Spring Performance: .386/.413/.705 in 44 at-bats. Without question, one of the stories of the spring. Barfield proved his 2005 performance was not a PCL-fluke with 11 extra-base hits this spring, mostly doubles. His lack of patience has been a problem, but that's nitpicking on a great month of baseball.

    Without question, the sixteen players listed should be considered the favorites to compete for the Rookie of the Year trophies in 2006. They have the combination of what should be a full season's worth of playing time, in addition to a well-established prospect pedigree. Outside of this sixteen, there are two categories: the rookie fringe prospects, and the prospects yet to be rookies.

    For example, one player that did not rank among my top 100 prospects, though Baseball Prospectus gives a good chance to win the Rookie of the Year is Florida Marlins first baseman Mike Jacobs. The former catcher enters the year with a guaranteed job and a PECOTA weighted mean prediction of .265/.324/.491. With Carlos Delgado listed as his second-highest comparable, Jacobs could be the type of late bloomer that foils any prospect list.

    The ultimate example of a player in this category -- though one who has a 0% chance of winning the Rookie of the Year -- is the White Sox new southpaw reliever Boone Logan. Officially being named a member of the Opening Day roster provides icing on the cake of a Spring in which Logan yielded just one run in 10.1 innings. I should mention, since I didn't in my Arizona trip review, that I did catch one of his 7 appearances, and his ability to provoke ground balls should actually help a bullpen that is currently near shambles. With respect to Josh Barfield, Logan is the story of the spring: a simple arm angle change takes a former Rookie League bum to the World Champions' Opening Day roster. There have been worse movies in Hollywood.

    There are dozens of players in this category, some of whom just missed my top 100 (Joey Devine, Josh Willingham), others of whom garnered no consideration (Dan Uggla). However, with somewhat lacking histories in the minor leagues, these players have an onus to prove they belong that most of the top prospects listed above don't. Many players fold under this pressure, succomb and prove they don't belong, while others blossom into everyday Major Leaguers. That's why we watch.

    Our final category was the one responsible for the NL Rookie of the Year race last year. Ryan Howard and Jeff Francoeur spent last September battling for the award, though each started the year in the minor leagues. The names etched upon the Rookie of the Year trophy is flush with players in this category, those that waited to make their debuts but caused little time in making their presences felt. If 29 players from my 2005 prospect list were considered rookies last year, and 16 definite graduates are listed above, I'll close today's piece with a look at the 13 prospects most likely to start the year in the minors, but to have their names highlighted in boxscores by June.

  • Stephen Drew - SS - Diamondbacks: Will be called up immediately should Craig Counsell's injury prove more hindering than expected.
  • Andy Marte - 3B - Indians: Cleveland's weakness entering the season is the corner positions, and could be solved by calling up Marte.
  • Yusmeiro Petit - SP - Marlins: Florida should have rotation problems the whole year, meaning any hot streak should give Petit a spot in the mix.
  • Joel Guzman - LF - Dodgers: If Jose Cruz Jr. starts off slow, and the position change is a continuing success, Guzman has a good chance to be the '06 Francoeur.
  • Chris Young - CF - Diamondbacks: Might be Opening Day starter if not for hand injury; DaVanon and Byrnes won't look intimidating for long.
  • Anthony Reyes - SP - Cardinals: It shouldn't take long for St. Louis to realize their mistake and replace Sidney Ponson with Reyes.
  • Russ Martin - C - Dodgers: Dioner Navarro's injury could give Martin the opening day job; Navarro health would mean we have to wait for 2 months.
  • Dustin Pedroia - SS - Red Sox: Because Alex Gonzalez can't keep a fan base happy for too long.
  • Kendry Morales - DH - Angels: Mashed this Spring, earning a trip to AAA to start the year. Success could end Tim Salmon's career as an Angels.
  • Jonathan Broxton - RP - Dodgers: I like the idea to give Kuo a spot, but Broxton will come beating down the door before too long.
  • Chuck James - LHP - Braves: In the mix for a bullpen role, but best off as the 7th starter, Richmond ace, and eventual call-up.
  • Fernando Nieve - SP - Astros: A favorite of mine for years, I think the Astros would be crazy to pick Tyler Buchholz over him for the rotation.
  • Cesar Carillo - SP - Padres: If the Pads are better than we think, Carillo could be this year's version of Brandon McCarthy.

    For what it's worth, I believe the NL Rookie of the Year race -- so hyped with Hermida, Fielder, Cain and Zimmerman all in the Majors -- will be a runaway for Prince. As Ryan Howard proved last year, chicks still dig the longball. The American League is a harder race to handicap, far more prone for a late call-up making the big difference. Still, I can't bring myself to predict anyone but Francisco Liriano, who will tantalize voters in the second half with some of the game's most electric stuff.

    These are the players the minor leagues will be without in 2006, the players so influential just a year ago. In the next parts of this series, we'll look at those about to jump on board, and those ready to tantalize prospect evaluators this year.

  • WTNYMarch 21, 2006
    Mr. Smith Goes Back to Arizona (Act 2)
    By Bryan Smith

    To repeat, there are significant perils in Spring Training analysis. Sample sizes dilute both statistics and scouting. Behind-the-scenes factors make the whole picture hazy.

    In other words, this is a dangerous game. But that isn't about to stop me, so long that each reader takes my comments with a few handfuls of salt. My trip to Arizona last week allowed me to watch eight Major League Baseball teams, four in each league. I was left with dozens of impressions quickly scribbled into a notebook, some of which I wrote up yesterday.

    This is a compilation of the rest of those visceral opinions. One note before moving onto the National League...

  • Yesterday, I noted that Joe Borchard looked impressive against the Rockies, and insisted he deserved a spot on the White Sox bench over Pablo Ozuna. However, since then the Sox traded Borchard to the Mariners for Matt Thornton, where Joe will become a fifth outfielder. On a day in which Wily Mo Pena and Borchard were traded for two below-100 ERA+ pitchers, one has to wonder whether Larry Beinfest has lost his cell phone.

    San Diego Padres

    Seen: 3-5 loss to Rockies

  • Chris Young, all 6-10 of him, was the day's starter, and he pitched very modestly. Young seems to succeed on two pitches, a solid fastball that he can control pretty well (it's not quite there yet), and a change-up that was probably the best I saw on the trip. However, I'm afraid to be really successful, he needs to show a better curveball. His attempts at throwing the breaking pitch during this game were pretty atrocious, and as a result, the Rockies didn't struggle against him. I was not a fan of the Eaton trade for the Padres like most, simply because I believe Adam has a lot more potential than Chris. While PETCO Park will help make me look wrong, I'm still not convinced Young will be more than a mid-rotation innings eater.

  • Everytime I watch Khalil Greene play baseball, I'm shocked that he isn't a star yet. This thought continued in this game, where Greene showed his fluid swing off with a few base hits. He does everything very well, making a play to his right in the field that few shortstops could. His speed isn't great -- he was thrown out at the plate once -- but it's hardly a weakness. I am a big believer that the Padres would be best suited to bench Dave Roberts, start Ben Johnson, and make Khalil Greene their leadoff hitter. My guess is that it would jump-start two careers at once.

  • One of the most impressive relievers I saw all trip was Steve Andrade, the Padres' Rule 5 pick from the Toronto Blue Jays. Andrade faced five hitters in his appearance, and struck out three of them. Andrade is a heavy right-hander that produces good fastball velocity thanks to some massive thighs. He pitches off the fastball, using it to set up his strikeout pitch: a vicious, late breaking curveball. One strikeout was also via a change that he rarely threw, but will have a nice effect as a show-me pitch. I'm convinced that Andrade could relieve somewhere, and on a team like the Padres -- a little light in the bullpen -- holding onto Andrade makes perfect sense.

    Milwaukee Brewers

    Seen: 4-8 loss to Royals

  • Looking over the Brewers boxscore, I see two errors: Tomo Ohka, Corey Koskie. Apparently, Prince Fielder escaped. But every Brewers fan in the stadium realized that one will have to hold their breath on every play that the big guy is involved in this year. In the first inning, Fielder allowed a single to his right that most first baseman would knock down. He later was unable to catch a Ohka pickoff attempt that I do believe many would. Finally, to cap off his disastrous inning, Fielder failed to convert a 3-6-3 double play when he dropped the ball, ending up in my scorebook as "3, unassisted."

    With J.J. Hardy not in the lineup, the Brewers bad infield defense was exposed. Koskie is an improvement over Russ Branyan, but not over Jeff Cirillo, who will receive less playing time this year. Bill Hall wasn't great at second, and is still light years better than Rickie Weeks, who might even be worse thanks to an oblique injury. But the worst of all is definitely Fielder, who will have a lot of hitting to do to overcome his inefficiencies. Luckily, few players looked better with the bat in this game than Prince.

  • Question: why is Tomo Ohka promised a rotation slot while players like David Bush and Dana Eveland fight for the fifth spot? I have seen Ohka pitch (coincidentally) about as often as any MLB pitcher, and I have never been impressed. He was awful in this game, allowing nine singles (as well as 2 XBH) in four innings. The hits against him were all hard, and it was clear Ohka was laboring on the mound. Tomo has the chance to succeed against teams that struggle with breaking pitches, but that is about all. In a full season of work, I have no doubts that both Bush and Eveland would greatly outperform Ohka. Even Mike Maddux can't save him.

  • My confidence in my Brewers prediction has severely faded since the Arizona trip, especially with lingering concerns of Weeks' health. Rickie's time off will open a slot for Bill Hall, who struck out in two of his three at-bats. Hall had a great season last year, but the Brewers were right in leaving him without a spot on Opening Day. In fact, Doug Melvin may have been best off trading Hall while his stock is high ... I'm not sure it will get any higher than this. Furthermore, Carlos Lee continues to look bad, not hitting the ball out of the infield in three at-bats. After his bellyflop against Cuba in the WBC, and this poor performance, predicting Lee to have a great contract year seems foolish.

    Chicago Cubs

    Seen: 7-6 win vs. Angels; 2-4 loss to Mariners

  • There is something to be said for aggressiveness, I know. But there is a lot more to be said about patience. This principle is not one the Cubs follow, and it was really evident in their win over the Angels. In the first inning, the Cubs forced Jeff Weaver to throw 27 pitches, 12 of which were balls. Ronny Cedeno would single in a run on a full count. After this at-bat, the Cubs would go 21 hitters without reaching ball 2. Step back and read this sentence again: 21 straight.

    The streak ended with Ryan Theriot in the seventh inning, and the Cubs would have far more success the rest of the game with minor leaguers exuding patience. The first innning, and after the seventh, the Cubs were impressive. From innings 2-7, they were no better than a last place offense. 21 straight hitters.

  • The two starters for the Cubs I saw were Jerome Williams and Rich Hill. Neither was impressive, though Williams calmed a bit as the game went on. Jerome was missing low a lot, a good sign for a groundball pitcher. His mistakes high were hit hard, starting in the first inning, when he allowed three hard-hit balls. Williams' velocity looks down a bit and his control isn't great, but the sinker is working. Seven groundball outs in four innings ain't bad.

    Rich Hill was far worse, allowing five runs in two innings of work. Vladimir Guerrero aside, the whole Angel team hit (or walked) Hill pretty hard. Most surprising to me was the Angels aggressiveness on the bases against a southpaw like Hill. It worked however, which was less an indication of catcher Geovany Soto, but instead Hill's weakness to hold runners on. Until he gains control his fastball, Hill has a long road ahead.

  • Another weakness of the Cubs this year will be their outfield defense. Matt Murton is simply not a good defensive outfielder -- and while I might have exaggerated his power inadequacies -- consistently making bad reads on balls. Pierre and Jones both seem pretty average, but Juan's arm is really bad. Third base coaches should be waving, waving, waving this year against Chicago. Jones and Murton looked very solid offensively, going a combined 5-for-8 in two games. Pierre isn't quite there yet, but he's hitting a ton of groundballs, the only way he knows how. Bronson Arroyo was the cost for Wily Mo Pena, but the Cubs gave up three pitchers for Pierre?

  • Impressions of young Cubs: Angel Pagan looks like Moises Alou at the plate, and performed like him, too. In four plate appearances, Pagan homered and walked twice. For a 25-year-old with a spotty minor league history, Pagan could have doubled as a successful fourth outfielder... Jake Fox is another who seems better than he's given credit for, unbelievably left off Baseball America's top 30 Cub prospects. Fox showed good power and a solid arm behind the plate against the Angels... Two consecutive plays against the Mariners encaptured Felix Pie's skillset as a prospect. On the first, Pie made a great read on a Cory Ransom liner, using his fantastic speed to get to the ball, and making a diving play for the out. On the next, Felix had a horrendous read on a Jeremy Reed double which almost ended up an inside-the-park home run. Consistency is needed... Brian Dopirak went 2-for-4 in two games, showing opposite field power and an improved approach. I'm buying his stock while it's low.

    Colorado Rockies

    Seen: 7-6 win over White Sox; 5-3 win over Padres

  • For better or worse, Aaron Cook is an exciting player to watch pitch. Any hitter must begin his at-bat knowing that his pitch is coming, as Cook does nothing but throw strikes. Cook threw 62 pitches in five innings of work against the White Sox, throwing just 12 balls. As a result, the Sox hit Cook pretty hard, as he gave up four runs (three earned). It's amazing he ever strikes anyone out. In my opinion, a pitching coach needs Cook to throw his pitches a little lower for more success. When down in the zone, Cook continually provoked groundball outs (seven in the game). His breaking pitch was thrown rarely, and needs tuning.

  • Utilizing Coors Field is a strength that any good fantasy owner should have. Therefore, it would not be stupid to use your draft's last pick on Cory Sullivan. The leadoff hitter against the White Sox, Sullivan homered against southpaw Neal Cotts. The former Wake Forest stand-out should garner quite a few stolen bases this year, and Coors will help push up his other offensive numbers. While most people love the prospect of Matt Holliday having a big 2006, forgetting Sullivan completely could turn out to be a mistake. In Coors, Sullivan is on the same plane as Corey Patterson, if not favorable.

    To recap, guys I liked this trip: Neal Cotts, Joe Borchard, Mike Napoli, Denny Bautista, John Buck, Khalil Greene, Steve Andrade, Jake Fox, Brian Dopirak, Cory Sullivan. Guys I didn't: Bobby Jenks, Brian Anderson, Vladimir Guerrero, Jeremy Reed, Chris Young, Tomo Ohka, Bill Hall, Aaron Cook. Mix together with salt.

  • WTNYMarch 20, 2006
    Mr. Smith Goes Back to Arizona
    By Bryan Smith

    Spring Training is a wonderful experience to watch, a fun blend of veterans and rookies, a loose atmosphere in comfortable environments. I am not sold on the fact, however, that Spring Training provides any real indication of the upcoming season, even from a scouting perspective.

    But that has not stopped me for trying. Last year, I looked flat-out stupid by criticizing the likes of Barry Zito, Lyle Overbay, Bartolo Colon, Jon Garland, and to an extent, Derrek Lee. There were some guys that swayed me opinion too positive: Jamie Moyer, Jason Schmidt, Chin-Hui Tsao, Ryan Drese.

    I was not all wrong, however, and that is what brings me to you today. Keith Ginter, J.J. Hardy, Rich Harden, Howie Kendrick, Russ Ortiz and Tadahito Iguchi are all players I had good reads on.

    If nothing else, this proves that I am more than a baseball fan than a scout. However, a fan can sometimes see things just as a scout would; we see positives and negatives from every game. In the last week I saw five baseball games in my return to Arizona, featuring four American League teams and four from the National League. In the next two days, we will be going over the impression I was left with from all eight.

    Chicago White Sox

    Seen: 6-7 loss to Colorado

  • Let's start with where the news is. Two days after I saw the White Sox play, Tracy Ringolsby wrote that Bobby Jenks "has lost up to 10 mph off his fastball." His comments came days after the appearance I saw in which Jenks gave up three runs in just one inning. The big right-hander walked three batters in the inning, while also allowing two hits.

    Shortly after the game I mentioned to someone that Jenks looked awful. His fastball control was awful, as he threw just 13 strikes in a 31-pitch inning. His fastball velocity wasn't the same, and while I didn't have a radar, I will venture that Ringolsby's reports seem exaggerated. Jenks problem was that he hardly flashed a curveball that he threw often in warm-ups, a likely indication that he isn't quite ready for the season.

    With Dustin Hermanson in pain, a leftie spot up for grabs and uncertainty from the closer, the White Sox bullpen could be the team's most discernable April weakness. Until he proves otherwise, I suggest you pass on Jenks.

  • If there is some underlying issue in regards to Jenks, I would suggest Neal Cotts be named closer. After allowing a home run to the first batter, left-handed hitter Cory Sullivan, Cotts settled down and looked fantastic. He retired the next six hitters in order, striking out three batters in a combined 13 pitches. The home run was a startling beginning, but Cotts proved that a relief role is perfect for him.

  • The game's star was Joe Borchard, who had an RBI in his first two at-bats, and a double to lead off the seventh inning. During the game, I posited that the White Sox should really keep Borchard ahead of a Pablo Ozuna type. The Florida Marlins need outfielders too bad for the White Sox to be flirting with Borchard's future. Turns out the Marlins are interested. Borchard struck out in his last at-bat, unsurprisingly, but if he gets 500 AB in Miami, the outcome could be better than we think.

  • Ozzie had Brian Anderson in the leadoff spot, and it just did not fit. In three at-bats, Anderson saw a total of eight pitches, never coming particularly close to a hit. On the opposite side, he looked great in the field, reading balls well and making a great catch (a la Aaron Rowand) running into the centerfield wall. Bad offense and good defense isn't what the scouting reports read on Anderson. The White Sox are hoping for average offense and good defense. I'm not buying any preseason support he's receiving for AL Rookie of the Year.

    Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

    Seen: 6-7 loss to Cubs

  • Let's start with the only other player I saw from the week that could have underlying injury troubles: Vladimir Guerrero. The former MVP looked really bad in this game, reaching base once in three at-bats via a hit by pitch off his foot. Guerrero, a guess hitter prone to looking bad, looked really bad thanks to a few Rich Hill curves. However, this was not retro Vlad as he failed to ever have great timing, and he also looked hurt running around the bases.

    First-round picks in fantasy baseball are very important, and back problems have a history of lingering. Put these two together, and I suggest you pass on Vladimir Guerrero in the first round of your draft. Let someone else make that mistake.

  • Juan Rivera is an interesting player. At the plate he looked fantastic, collecting an RBI in each of his first two at-bats. He does not have a lot of patience at the plate, but he seems to be a solid contact hitter. In the field however, Rivera is awful. He reminded me of vintage Carlos Lee in left, taking disastrous routes to a Todd Walker double. Rivera then dropped the ball when going to throw out Matt Murton later. Rivera has the potential to be a good player at the Major League level, but to do so he will have to make up for being in the red defensively.

  • Mike Napoli impressed me for the second straight year. In his one at-bat, Napoli homered to left field. His approach at the plate and his subsequent home run led me to believe that Napoli is a big-time pull hitter. This would seem to be the reason why he strikes out a lot, but also indicate why his power is so great. Jeff Mathis had two hits in the game and looked ready for the season, but the Angels shouldn't be placing him on a pedestal above Napoli. In 2007, I hope the two have a chance to battle evenly for the catching position.

  • The Angels entered the ninth inning with a very imposing three against Scott Williamson: Howie Kendrick, Erick Aybar and Kendry Morales. The outcome was unimpressive (1-2-3 inning), but it provided a nice glimpse of the future. Kendrick didn't do anything of note, neither did Morales, though he looks stronger than a year ago. Kendry looked foolish on a low and away pitch, but if he solves the holes in his swing, has the swagger of a big league player. Aybar seemed to equal his scouting report, showing a cannon from shortstop and some rawness to his game. After drawing a sixth inning walk, Erick had a horrible jump on a stolen base attempt and was thrown out. His speed is an asset, his baserunning has never been.

    Seattle Mariners

    Seen: 4-2 win vs. Cubs

  • This comes as no surprise to Mariners fans, but outside of Richie Sexson and Adrian Beltre, power could be an issue to this team. Sexson hit a home run, and while the team hit three doubles besides that, no one looked to have anything other than gap power. This team sacrifices power from its RF-slot for Ichiro, but makes it up nowhere else. Carl Everett, Raul Ibanez, Jeremy Reed are all good, smart hitters, but none will provide this team with a big power boost. This will be the downfall of their offense, and inevitably, their chances in 2006.

  • Before long, Yuniesky Betancourt could be the most fun player to watch in the game. He will never be a good hitter, striking out twice, but his first inning double showed the promise of an average one. In the field, it seems as though everything makes sense to him. The one ball hit to me was an easily converted 6-4-3 double play, but it were the other plays that led me to this conclusion. On one single up the middle, Betancourt almost reached a ball that was right of the second base bag. It looks as though the Cuban gets reads off the bat that few players every generation do. Pray his offense doesn't lead to a bench career.

  • I just don't see an offensive talent in Jeremy Reed. I have been in the seller's corner for most of his career, and this game did nothing to sway my opinion. In the sixth inning, Reed looked great, doubling to center and almost legging out an error-ridden inside the park homer. In his other four at-bats, Reed grounded out four times. A quick look at Studes' charts shows that last year, Reed grounded out 4% more than the average hitter. This weakness must be rectified by a hitting coach, because Jeremy does have potential when the ball gets in the air. Until I see that happen a little more often, I will continue to yawn in Reed's direction.

  • Another flaw on this team is a problem with depth. Any reader of U.S.S. Mariner will know the organization has long-term experience with having an awful bench. This year should be no exception. The game did allow me an up-close view into the battle for the Mariners bench spot: Greg Dobbs vs. Mike Morse vs. Cody Ransom vs. Roberto Petagine. Thrilling. Petagine looked awful before singling in his one at-bat, but Dobbs and Ransom were worse. Morse should win the competition, but expectations should be pretty low. If he can play better in left this year, and maybe pick up third base, a career on the bench isn't too far-fetched.

    Kansas City Royals

    Seen: 8-4 win vs. Brewers

  • For what it's worth, I am warming to the Royals idea of bringing in some veterans this year. I still think they overdid it, but I did see some semblance of a baseball team on the field. One reason is Reggie Sanders, one of the most positive influences in baseball. The outfield veteran reached base in each of his four plate appearances, including three singles. The man knows how to hit.

    The other reason is that the KC defense should be much, much better this year. This was evident at the end of the second inning, when a Corey Koskie would-be-single up the middle was snared by Mark Grudzielanek and then thrown to Doug Mientkiewicz, who made a fantastic swoop. With Angel Berroa and Mark Teahen on the left side, this infield will be very good. Royals pitchers might benefit if their numbers were better, and this infield has that potential.

  • Denny Bautista looked better than his numbers indicated. His boxscore reads just three strikeouts and two earned runs in five innings. A good start, respectable, but far from great. Watching him from the stands, however, I think Bautista looked very solid. The skinny right-hander threw a total of just 54 pitches in five innings, pitching for contact more than I had seen him do in the past. His fastball was 94-97 mph on the park's radar gun, and he pitched off that. While that was impressive, his breaking pitch obviously needed work. Solid at 86-88 mph, the slider was just not breaking late, resuling in a lot of high misses. Once that gets tightened up, Bautista could be in for a solid season.

    Still, after watching him struggle a bit in the fifth, I have to wonder if Bautista would just be better in the bullpen. Trying this out, however, is a luxury the Royals cannot afford.

  • The world's deepest fantasy league should notice John Buck is an ultra, super sleeper. After hitting .321/.341/.556 in September last year, Buck reached base in his three at-bats in this game. Buck actually doubled twice, showing power that he hadn't really displayed since the minors. He did hit four home runs in the final month last year, so it's possible that Buck has a 20 HR season in him. It's also possible he's merely a platoon player.

    Tomorrow I will be back with the National League teams on the trip. Feel free to leave any spring impressions of your own below.

  • WTNYMarch 15, 2006
    Virtual Reality
    By Matt Jacovina

    Editor's Note: Bryan is off in Arizona this week catching some Spring Training games, so he recruited someone to take his spot in the weekly rotation. Matt Jacovina, from Warm October Nights, is in to write a fun minor league piece that we're sure answers all your dreams.

    Most every profession, hobby or scene has a time of year when all devoted effort comes to fruition during a glorious, celebratory finale. For politicians, it occurs in early November on Election Day. Model railroad lovers get their week in the spotlight at the NMRC. Teenage girls aspiring to show as much of their midriff as possible, meanwhile, gather and indulge in their style of dress whenever Lindsay Lohan plays a show at a nearby venue.

    Prospect mavens are no different and every off-season treat themselves to a nice helping of lists. Top 10 prospects for each team, top prospects at individual positions, and, of course, top 100 overall lists. It's a satisfying ending to a long season of pondering whether Hanley Ramirez is overrated or if Carlos Quentin being hit by a few dozen pitches a season puts him at a higher injury risk.

    As a fan, all seems fine. Lists may not be the most sophisticated tool for prospect analysis, but you don't care since they're just so delightful. But each year a sudden surprise comes from the inclusion of a few new names. Alex Gordon is cool; you've seen his college stat line, and wow. You've probably even seen him on television. Jay Bruce? Okay. You can appreciate 5-tool high school talent in conjunction with a small sample size of professional at-bats being ranked towards the back of a top 100 list.

    But wait. You've made it to the top of the list, with only the very elite left to be ordered, and there's a high school draftee with no professional at-bats ranking near the pinnacle of baseball players unable to rent cars: Justin Upton. You know his big brother well and have heard that the talent level is similar, but seeing your longest running source position him above AA-tested favorites like Jeremy Hermida and the golden-armed Francisco Liriano is simultaneously frustrating and tantalizing. You don't doubt his talent, but watching his brief scouting video over and over doesn't give much of a glimpse into his future. Like Jason Giambi, should the Yankees ever attempt to bunt him over to third base, you're in a pickle.

    In order to resolve such problems with the uncertain, EA Sports has produced a tool capable of creating an alternate reality where Justin Upton, instead of taking the big bucks and a chance to play professional baseball, attends college, where we'd all be given the opportunity to see what he could do with an aluminum bat. Surely after three years of development in the public eye we'd have a better handle on why he's considered one of the greatest young talents in baseball.

    There are tons of caveats for regarding this as more than a for-fun, "what if?" scenario including: the subjectivity of creating Justin Upton. I tried to be as thoughtful as possible in assigning his abilities, utilizing heavily both B.J. Upton's minor league statistics and his tendency settings from MVP Baseball 2005, scouting reports, comparisons to many other players in the game from Ryan Zimmerman to Chad Flack, and Google's image search for the finishing touches. The other obvious problem is that we're talking about a video game which is intended to excel in game play, not used as an accurate simulation engine. Also, the rosters for the 2006 season are oddly composed of 2005 players, and incoming freshman are computer generated, meaning the type of competition he'd have faced in real life is different from in the game. But, hey, it's something to pass the time until the season begins.

    The following are the yearly chronicles of Upton's journey through college, playing baseball for the North Carolina State Wolfpack. I'm assuming his digital counterpart also learned a few things along the way, and possibly even created a trendy Facebook page, but no such reports were available. Maybe in next year's game.

    2006

    After turning down a potentially record setting signing bonus with the Arizona Diamondbacks in order to pursue a college education -- or perhaps as a means of rebellion against simply following in the footsteps of brother Bossman -- all eyes were on Justin. Stephen Drew's big freshman year was the comparison point most journalists came up with; it sounds like a lot of pressure, but next to the claims of him being the next Ken Griffey Jr., it wasn't so bad. Upton's college career began February 11th, and his first at-bat was a nice summary of his skills: he hit a ball hard into the gap, yet was able to stretch it out into a triple thanks to his incredible speed. Overall, however, February and most of March was rather quiet for Justin and the Wolfpack: Upton's average stayed comfortably above .300, but with the team losing, it was hard to not be slightly unenthused about his debut. Realists kept things in perspective, though, reminding that he was a freshman hitting like a legitimate college cleanup hitter.

    Starting late March, Upton stepped up his game and looked more comfortable at the plate. His strikeouts dipped while his walks increased and his power was becoming more apparent. In early May, during a weekend series against UNC, he held his own against Andrew Miller and Daniel Bard, drawing two walks with a knock against Miller, and getting a base hit and eventually scoring the game's only run against Bard. After struggling when facing Cesar Carillo in April, it was comforting to see him hold his own against top-notch hurlers. At the end of the regular season, he was named the 2nd best shortstop in the ACC behind Tyler Greene.

    Going into the ACC tournament, the Wolfpack had something to prove, after struggling through the first two months of the year. Thanks to the offensive explosions of Upton and first baseman Aaron Bates, they accomplished their goal and took home the tournament championship. In the deciding game, Upton went 4-for-5 with a home run, 4 runs and 7 RBI's. Yeah, yeah, aluminum bats, but that sort of performance is impressive even in a wiffle ball game. Unfortunately, the NCAA regionals didn't go as well, and in the third game, NC State was eliminated by the University of Central Florida, despite Upton taking Mike Billek deep for a three run shot.

    Justin's final line for the season was .372/.445/.616, with 47 strikeouts against 32 walks, 11 home runs, 16 doubles, 6 triples, and a disappointing 11 stolen bases to 5 caught stealings. For the more traditional, he had 48 RBI's and 52 runs. Pessimists pointed out that he fell short of Stephen Drew's freshman campaign where he hit .402/.457/.750, but everyone else was very impressed by his maturity at the plate. More importantly, he appeared to be getting better as the season went on, a sign that he was quickly adjusting to pitching considerably more advanced than he faced in high school. A sophomore slump looked about as likely as Justin deciding to forsake baseball altogether.

    2007

    Justin Upton was always a strong kid -- even bigger than B.J. at the same age -- but he didn't let contentment get the best of him, adding even more muscle to start the 2007 college season. February was an unusual month for NC State, as the offense was rather quiet while the pitching carried the team. The consistently low scoring games didn't correlate with Upton's performance, however: he only hit two round trippers, but opposing pitchers couldn't get him out, and his batting average hovered around .500 for the month, in which he walked more than he struck out. March brought more of the same, although he did endure a brief slump. Yes, apparently he is mortal.

    April proved to be Justin's best month since joining the diverse ranks of hopeful writers, scientists and binge drinkers in college. This particular burst of brilliance made it clear why he had been considered the best amateur in the game before the 2005 draft. Towards the end of the month, it was near impossible to get him out; his improving plate discipline made it difficult to strike him out, and anything over the plate was fair game to be crushed. To top it off, in the beginning of May against the eventual player of the year, Max Scherzer, Upton was able to accomplish the rare feat of taking him yard, although the Wolfpack still lost the game to #1 ranked Missouri 3-2.

    NC State was eliminated quickly from the ACC tournament, but lead by Upton's seemingly unstoppable bat, they pummeled the competition in the regionals and super regionals. The College World Series, Justin's biggest stage yet, began with the best game of his career: 6-for-6 with 2 home runs in a 13-7 victory against Rutgers. He put in another fine performance in a blowout against Notre Dame, going 3-for-5 during an 11-0 victory. Unfortunately, the Wolfpack could only split the next two games against the Irish, and were then beat twice by Georgia Tech, ending their underdog run at the title.

    Glory in Omaha was narrowly missed, but that didn't deter from Upton's dazzling season. His batting line almost requires a second glance to make sure it doesn't accidentally contain his OPS instead of another statistic: .430/.514/.733, in 73 games, with 17 of his extra base hits being home runs. He was named first team All-American at shortstop, and was a runner-up to Scherzer for player of the year. Such a high batting average may seem like an aberration in many cases, but it shouldn't be too surprising after arming Justin with an aluminum bat, considering his astounding bat speed and pitch recognition. Not even the harshest of critics had anything negative to say about Upton's year; his talent was major league ready as just a second-year college student.

    2008

    With excitement very high for a repeat of 2007, February brought a bit of disappointment to baseball fans when Justin bruised his ribs in the first game of the season and sat out for a week to be sure he was fully healed. The Wolfpack struggled even after his return, thanks to much of the team's talent leaving via the 2007 draft. Upton was slow in heating up after returning, and didn't look like himself at the plate until late March, when both he and NC State began to pick up steam. By the end of April, Justin was hitting everything thrown to him and looked just as impressive as ever.

    May was another impossibly good month for the young slugger, and he raised his average back to the suddenly standard .430 range. Pitchers could only take solace in knowing he'd soon be drafted and finally have to face competition that actually had the ability to get him out. The ACC tournament was a bust for the Wolfpack, who were eliminated after two games. In the first game of the regionals, Justin Upton helped his team to an 8-4 victory over Southern University with his two bombs. In an anticlimactic end to his college career, the Wolfpack dropped the next two games, and didn't qualify for the super regionals. That didn't take away from Upton's tremendous season, of course. His final line was .436/.508/.718 in 60 games, with 15 home runs, 3 triples and 15 doubles. Considering his slow start, his finale was even more striking.

    Though he entered college as a polished hitter, Upton's contact rate (as well as power) increased with experience. Combining his upside with performance, he'd almost certainly have been the #1 overall pick if the game allowed players to be drafted during their junior year. Unless maybe a cheap team had the first pick and digital Scott Boras was his agent. In the end, Justin Upton did enough to be remembered as having among the strongest three year careers for a shortstop in college history.

    Overview

    After seeing a few Justin Upton at-bats this spring, I don't think this simulation is too optimistic despite being very impressive. His incredible tools have already begun producing baseball skills, and they certainly justify the high ranks he's been receiving on prospect lists. A college career similar to this one is far from outside his abilities. Incredible bat and leg speed and a comfortable approach at the plate highlight his status as an elite prospect. Defense is much more difficult to judge, although his great speed and strong arm will ensure that the Diamondbacks find somewhere for him to play. One oddity about his video game counterpart was low stealing percentages, which I don't think will have any correlation with real life performances: his speed should produce a lot of stolen bases against minor league catchers.

    So, were some Justin Upton rankings aggressive? Absolutely. But he's the type of youngster who deserves the hype, for better or worse. One of the most riveting stories in minor league baseball for the year will be his transition to professional pitching. It's a safe bet that he'll excel at times, but the extent of his success is the type of unknown that makes the prospect scene so exciting in the first place.

    Matt has been writing about the minor leagues at his blog, Warm October Nights, since last July. He can be reached by clicking here.

    WTNYMarch 13, 2006
    Classic in the Making
    By Bryan Smith
    "...this will be huge. There's no doubt in my mind, the more I watch it. There are so many good subplots here, so much going on. So far it's maybe been better than I thought. I admit I went in believing it would be good, but this has really, really been good."

    -- Bud Selig

    When it's all said and done, a history lesson on Selig's tenure as commissioner will reveal a very rocky road. Selig is infamous for his blemishes, still hated in so many circles for the 1994 strike among other problems. Yet his influence on the game has also resulted in numerous positives; his legacy is more positive than many of us can admit.

    I'm willing to say that in a few years, Selig's most substantial imprint on the game will be his ability to instill March Madness into the national pastime. As we spend Monday filling out our brackets and arranging office pools, it is as good a time as ever to review how we have reached the new Elite Eight.

    The second round began on Sunday as all eight teams played, beginning to shed light upon which teams will be advancing to the Final Four. Korea won a well-fought pitching battle 2-1 over Mexico thanks to a (who else?) Seung Yeop-Lee first inning home run. Puerto Rico is the only other squad still undefeated, as the team capitalized on mistakes by the Dominican Republic to win 7-1. These teams are, realistically, just one win from the Final Four.

    After those two, many would agree the next two talented are the United States and the D.R. The Americans wake-up call came early in the tournament, and the team has played much better since losing to Canada. If the American starters can work 4-5 innings, few teams are more difficult to score against in the late innings. With a win over Korea today, one has to believe the Americans will advance to San Diego.

    The most dramatic game of the tournament should be at 2 p.m. eastern today, as the 3-1 Cubans take on the Dominican Republic players with the same record. One has to favor the loaded Dominican lineup in the match-up, but the lack of a deep pitching staff could come back to hurt them. The subplots that this game will, without doubt, produce are exactly what Selig was talking about in the opening quote.

    Officially, though I'm hardly going out on a limb, my (current) Final Four prediction is the United States, Korea, Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. Cuba is really the only bracket buster left, barring a dramatic Mexican finish.

    With Monday set to be the most exciting day yet in the tournament, here are a few notes I have had thus far...

  • The first question statheads will likely have after this tournament's completion is whether successful participants are more likely to continue playing well early in the season. If true, fantasy owners should be pushing up the likes of Adrian Beltre, Ken Griffey Jr., Carlos Beltran and Derrek Lee on their draft boards. All have been fantastic thus far.

    Furthermore, if the Twins had any question whether Francisco Liriano was ready for the Major Leagues, his tournament thus far should answer such qualms. The Dominican southpaw has struck out six batters and showcased the power arsenal that led to such a dominant 2005 season. Finally, for those that doubted the resumes of Jae Seo, Javier Vazquez or Bartolo Colon, their tournaments should change your mind. Seo in Dodger Stadium is particularly intriguing.

  • In the category of 'Surprising Breakouts,' the first name that must be mentioned is Adam Stern. The Canadian that famously led to their upset over the Americans was sensational in the nine at-bats he was given. I still doubt that Stern is good enough to succeed over 500 Major League ABs, but this tournament certainly didn't calm the fears of Red Sox fans who wish Andy Marte was still in Fort Myers.

    No bandwagon has gained in size during this tournament like Chan Ho Park, the sudden tournament leader in saves. The Korean has allowed just one hit while striking out five in three innings, surely making the Padres consider alternate roles for Park. With Akinori Otsuka out of town, the bullpen is a little more thin in San Diego, and Chan Ho could (shockingly) be the answer to such problems.

  • Tournament jeers thus far most notably go to Carlos Lee. The most talented player on the Panaman roster had a horrendous tournament, hitting just .182. Personally, I will always remember Lee striking out in the bottom of the ninth (with the bases loaded) against Cuba, when his team was just a sacrifice fly from an upset. Cuba not making the Elite Eight would have been the shock of the tournament.

    Instead, those honors went to the Canadians, who beat up on the fearsome American threesome of Willis, Al Leiter and Gary Majewski. I was most frustrated with Willis, who looked awful despite facing a lineup with EIGHT left-handers. Given every chance to succeed, Willis failed, which certainly can't put Larry Beinfest -- whom is centering his rebuilding around Willis and Miguel Cabrera -- at ease.

  • The WBC MVP thus far is Lee, who currently has two game-winning home runs, and four overall to his name. The powerful Korean first baseman has been to two Spring Trainings in America, never catching onto an American roster. He has played poorly in Japan for each of the last two seasons, however, posting OBPs of .328 and .315, respectively. His power seems to be his most substantial strength, and in the end, it might make Lee a few extra million.

  • My favorite Far East player so far is Tsuyoshi Nishioka, the Japanese second baseman. After reaching base three times against the U.S. on Sunday, Nishioka kept his tournament average at .500 while his OBP crept towards .600. His mix of patience (4 walks against 14 at-bats), speed (4/5 on the basepaths) and a bit of power (1 triple, 1 home run) has surely raised a few heads.

    Thanks to Japanese Baseball, we can identify Nishioka as a very good prospect. 2006 will be the switch-hitter's age 21 season, as well as his third with the Chiba Lotte Marines, after having become their number one draft pick. His numbers so far -- which average out to about .263/.315/.395 in two years -- aren't great, but bear in mind his fantastic fielding (.994 F%) and speed (41 steals).

    His numbers bear a lot of resemblance to those of Tadahito Iguchi when the White Sox second baseman was five years older. Any maturity at the plate -- and the WBC indicates it is coming -- should make Nishioka as anticipated as any Japanese player in the next five years.

  • Finally, I want to close things out with a few noteworthy performances from the least noteworthy teams. One of the tournament's most impressive pitchers was Italy's Jason Grilli, who allowed just one baserunner against 7 strikeouts in just 4.2 innings. The former fourth overall pick was in danger of becoming a Triple-A All-Star prior to his performance, but left likely garnering a little more interest from the pitching-hungry Detroit Tigers.

    In the coming weeks, I promise to release another set of breakout prospects to supplement my article already posted at Baseball Prospectus. However, one of the players I'm already on record for backing -- Brad Harman -- was the Australian shortstop in the WBC. He left the team's best hitter, which I'm hoping translates to a big sophomore season in the minor leagues.

    I'm off to Arizona this week in what is becoming an annual tradition. With four or five games in tap for four days, I promise to have a full report next week. While I'm gone, please spend your time watching the World Baseball Classic. Whether you hate to do so or not, do your part in making Bud Selig look like a genius.

  • WTNYMarch 07, 2006
    Avoiding Deep Valleys
    By Bryan Smith

    Back in the days of Jon Rauch, the Chicago White Sox were generally thought to have the best farm system in baseball. In the same time period, the Houston Astros were flush in minor league talent. The Seattle Mariners had a slew of young arms, most notably Ryan Anderson, that gave their farm system much clout.

    More than anything else, this memory should remind us that minor league talent is a cyclical trait among organizations. Asking any scouting department or development staff to consistently rate among the league's best is very tough. While we generally think highly of teams like the Braves and Twins for developing youth well, even these organizations have had their valleys in terms of young talent.

    Currently, organizations like the Dodgers, Angels and Diamondbacks are (deservedly) considered the best in the Major Leagues. However, this is unlikely to be true five years from now, as even Logan White cannot keep consistently drafting with such precision. Part of having a farm system is accepting the dozens of busts that will come along the way. Simply put, don't expect the Angels to be so loaded once the current class shows its true colors.

    This has happened in Cleveland, where much of the players that formerly made up one of the best systems in baseball have graduated. Victor Martinez at catcher, Hafner at DH, Peralta at short, Sizemore in center, Cliff Lee on the mound, Brandon Phillips' prospect status in shambles. All of these players made up a great system of yesteryear.

    Now, however, the Indians don't possess such minor league talent. This is not meant to be damning to an Indians front office that was so influential in building the current crop of young players, for many of the reasons listed above. Thanks to busted (yes, probably too early to use that term) first-round picks like Michael Aubrey and Jeremy Guthrie, the Indians are caught in a bit of a valley. Just three Indians -- including the newly acquired Andy Marte -- were among my top 100 prospects. Baseball America is no different.

    As a result of this newfound pessimism in the farm system, I wanted to use a magnifying glass to look at a solid, if not superbly top-heavy, farm system in a forward thinking organization. New Baseball Prospectus columnist Kevin Goldstein -- a long-time friend of mine that deserves congratulations for his new role -- beat me to the punch here, so I merely mean to expand upon his overview.

    I mentioned above that three players were on both mine and Baseball America's top 100, and the three undoubtedly are the jewels of the organization: Andy Marte, Adam Miller and Jeremy Sowers. Marte is certainly a cut above the other two, and should be the Indians third baseman prior to the All-Star Break. I've mentioned that he has Paul Konerko (or better) potential at the plate, and at the very least should be a steady, solid player. Sowers and Miller are interchangeable in the 2 and 3 slots, depending upon whether you want someone with potential (Miller) or a sure bet (Sowers).

    As we mentioned in our AL Central Preview at this site, Sowers should be among (with Marte) the first call-ups the Indians make in 2006. His quick rise up the farm system is enviable, and he has all the makings of a solid #3 starter. I fell in love with Miller prior to his arm injuries last year, but have backed off since seeing a lot of inconsistency when he returned. His arm has ace potential, and as a result, I feel he's a bit overrated at this point. Mark Shapiro has stated he wants to land a big name via trade during the season, and if it means parting with Miller, the Indians should probably consider it.

    Predictably, this is where disagreements between myself and Baseball America start to increase. The second tier of the Indians, those that garnered consideration for my list, has just three names: Fernando Cabrera, Ryan Garko and Chuck Lofgren. Cabrera has the potential to be a dominant reliever at the next level, and is so close that it's a good bet he'll make some sort of a difference. Garko is just as close, and should be up midseason as another bat in the mediocre (besides Hafner) 1B/DH logjam that the Indians have built up.

    Lofgren is the anomaly, the player Baseball America did not rank in their top ten, but whom I would give the six slot in the organization. I will talk about him more in the coming weeks -- in a future expansion upon my breakout prospects of 2006 -- but needless to say, there is a lot to like. He showed a lot of potential last year, and given his insane athleticism and increasing pitchability, there is a lot of upside.

    After this there is a lot of gray area, when we see a world where prospects with significant flaws bleed through. Franklin Gutierrez gets the nod for seventh on my list, a former top prospect with a bad season. In his series analyzing the minor leagues through PECOTA, Nate Silver had a good reference to Gutierrez, trying to downplay the off year that the talented player had. Gutierrez still has a ton of potential, and given his wide array of skills, has downside as a solid fourth outfielder capable of all three spots.

    It's nearly impossible to rank the next four slots, all hitters (alphabetically): Michael Aubrey, Trevor Crowe, Stephen Head, Brad Snyder. Crowe probably gets my nod, as he's higher thought of coming out of college than Snyder and Head were, and doesn't have the injury history that Aubrey does. In a close battle, Stephen Head would come next, as I think he has more upside than Brad Snyder. The latter I think is a greatly flawed prospect, a tweener with bad contact skills and an unknown amount of power. Shipping out him on a high note would be a good idea.

    After Aubrey in the eleventh spot come a host of pitchers, where you would also need a spot for John Drennen to be thrown in. The pitchers: Tony Sipp, Andrew Brown, Rafael Perez, Cody Bunkelman, J.D. Martin. I like Sipp the best, who is probably the one who I can say right now is probably not a future reliever. Brown and Perez almost definitely are, and Martin and Bunkelman are question marks. Sipp has a lot of potential for success, and would rank twelfth on my list.

    If nothing else, this is an extremely deep system with hosts of flawed prospects. The remaining pitchers all offer something I like, but mix it with a lot of reason to not believe they will succeed: Fausto Carmona, Nick Pesco, Sean Smith, Bear Bay, Dan Denham, Justin Hoyman. Of this group, I actually like Smith the best (who BA did not include in their top 30, apparently), a sleeper with a lot of potential as a future reliever. As far as the hitters go, Rule 5 options Jason Cooper, Kevin Kouzmanoff and Ryan Mulhern all have flaws that outweigh the slugging strengths they bring to the table.

    Getting into the business of team prospect lists is dangerous, and a prospect I want to generally avoid. However, here is how I would capture my top 15 Indians prospects:

    1. Andy Marte - 3B
    2. Jeremy Sowers - LHP
    3. Adam Miller - RHP
    4. Fernando Cabrera - RHP
    5. Ryan Garko - DH
    6. Chuck Lofgren - LHP
    7. Franklin Gutierrez - OF
    8. Trevor Crowe - OF
    9. Stephen Head - 1B/OF
    10. Brad Snyder - OF
    11. Michael Aubrey - 1B
    12. Tony Sipp - LHP
    13. John Drennen - OF
    14. Andrew Brown - RHP
    15. Cody Bunkelman - RHP
    Deep Sleeper: Sean Smith - RHP

    The above prospect list is nothing that you will see teams drooling over, or even, envying. This won't earn the Indian staff any awards, and doesn't create a lot of buzz for sustained future success. But as I've tried to prove today, while Cleveland isn't quite as flush in talent as they once were, there are a lot of things to like in this system. For teams that can't fix all their holes by spending seven figures, having a host of players with certain, specific skills is a good thing.

    It will be a few years before the Indians are again atop organizational rankings. These things are cyclical. And it helps, of course, to have a staff that even in down years, produces a lot to be proud of.

    WTNYMarch 03, 2006
    Shifting Gears
    By Bryan Smith

    There are few surer signs of spring each year than the annual decision to change a prospect's position. Thanks to the defensive spectrum, organizations often leave prospects in one spot for too long, and when making the Major Leagues becomes a reality, they need a check on their defense. In another scenario, changing positions can enhance a player's value, as his athleticism might better suit the system. Anyway, this happens each year, and it certainly bears watching.

    In the last week, two of my top 100 prospects were announced to have changed positions. Unsurprisingly, the Dodgers finally started to move Joel Guzman, pushing the tall, future slugger to left field. The other player with a brand new glove this March has been Wes Bankston, the Devil Rays athletic former first baseman, who Tampa Bay has decided to give a chance at the hot corner during spring. Whether you like these decisions or not -- and it's hard not to in both cases -- there is no question that above all else, it shows that two new front offices are creating long-term plans.

    In the case of the Devil Rays, this position change is more important for who is staying put. By moving Bankston to third base, Andy Friedman made the B.J. Upton decision that had been hanging over the organization's head. With a crowded outfield and athleticism through the roof, I believe this was the right choice by Tampa, even if Upton is never anything near a positive in the field. However, here's to hoping Tampa doesn't just change its mind by April when they realize how difficult moving up the defensive spectrum is. As athletic as Wes Bankston may be, it's very unlikely he will be a good third baseman.

    Fantasy owners should be investing in Upton with late-round picks, as the future shortstop should provide very good value in the stolen base category, while holding significant upside in terms of home runs and even batting average and RBI. It's odd, but with their best lineup yet, the Devil Rays actually have multiple players that could post big RBI totals. By midseason this team will really be fun to watch, as this lineup will be thrown on the field everyday:

    C - Toby Hall
    1B - Wes Bankston (didn't Austin Kearns try this same thing?)
    2B - Jorge Cantu
    SS - B.J. Upton
    3B - Yuck: Burroughs, Wigginton, Branyan
    LF - Carl Crawford
    CF - Rocco Baldelli
    RF - Delmon Young
    DH - Jonny Gomes

    You will notice this isn't exactly the list you had been anticipating if you followed the Devil Rays roster construction. However, the lack of Aubrey Huff, Julio Lugo and Joey Gathright from this list is intentional, as I think Friedman needs to continue to show the long-term plan by making a few deals. With good starts, both Huff and Lugo should be able to bring in big pieces during the season. And I also truly hope that if the Marlins are offering anything close to what has been rumored for Gathright, that Friedman has tried to accept. Gathright is fine, but he's a far cry from Scott Olsen.

    Furthermore, this is a team in desperate need of pitching. While Rich's recent metrics have shown that Scott Kazmir possesses a lot of upside, he's the only Devil Ray starter with long-term value. Jeff Niemann is a good prospect, Hammel is a good bet for a back-end starter and Wade Davis is everyone's favorite breakout candidate. Both Chuck Tiffany and Edwin Jackson were acquired for 75 cents on the dollar, and sooner or later, Wade Townsend might be healthy again. Finally, the team also is months from landing either Max Scherzer, Ian Kennedy, or another arm that this draft is so full of. However, it's still not enough. Tampa needs to follow their Floridian mates, the Marlins, and simply stockpile pitchers one on top of the other.

    Few teams present better scenarios for armchair GMs than the Devil Rays, who appear to have so much upside. However, let's be honest, the way the divisions are currently aligned, it's possible this team is destined to be a let down. As good as that future lineup sounds, $100 million sounds good, too. Tampa has become one of my favorite organizations since I started following prospects, but there has to be a concern in Tampa that Major League Baseball has set them up to fail. For those of you keeping score at home, that's now 2 organizations (Colorado, too) for which this fact is true.

    As for the Dodgers, their position change doesn't answer a ton of questions, but it shows long-term faith in their third base prospects. With Bill Mueller in the Majors, Andy LaRoche on the horizon and Blake DeWitt holding so much breakout potential, the Dodgers have seemed set at third to most prospect evaluators for a year. However, with word that the team was going to move Guzman to the hot corner as well, it appeared that Dodger brass -- a group talented enough to build a farm system like this -- did not like LaRoche's long-term value. That no longer appears to be the case.

    While LaRoche has little chance to be a rookie before 2007, the Dodgers seem quite impressed by Guzman and Chad Billingsley. Could both surprise and add to the deep NL Rookie of the Year race? As good as Guzman was in a tough environment last year, I doubt it, as learning a new position and retaining the bat simultaneously is a tough thing to do. Furthermore, the team loses very little in starting Joel in Las Vegas, a place where Guzman's bat will have a hard time not gaining confidence. Next thing you know, this guy could be Jeff Francoeur, version 2006.

    As for Billingsley, I think the time could very well be now according to reports of his stuff this spring. Vegas is a horrendous place for pitchers, and Chad really seemed to turn a corner in AA after July last year. While I have bashed the roles created for players like Brandon McCarthy and Anthony Reyes, Billingsley would be fantastic starting the year in a long relief role to become acclimated to the Majors. Once consistency sets in, the team would move him back to the rotation, where it would appear replacing Jeff Weaver was an extremely easy task.

    March is a month light on hard news in baseball. And while the Guzman and Bankston position changes provided good copy for desperate beat reporters, it also shows a long-term plan is in place for two organizations that needed to show their fan bases just that.

    WTNYFebruary 28, 2006
    Top 20 2006 Sophomores
    By Bryan Smith

    With a graduation to the Major Leagues, prospects escape the realm of subjective opinion rankings. They then enter a world of objectivity, when rankings are based far more on numbers than eyes.

    Today, I'd like to take a select few Major Leaguers back to prospect lists. My first article for this site, one year ago, was ranking the top 20 sophomores of 2005. Data from the previous year, and PECOTA projections for the next five made it easier than my January rankings, but still far from perfect. As good as the top choice of David Wright looks good now, but the inclusions of Edwin Jackson, Alexis Rios and Chin-Hui Tsao do not.

    Twenty-nine players from my 2005 WTNY Top 100 (including honorable mention) - my real prospect list - were rookies last season. Far more other players, not on the list, were classified as first-year players. The point of today's piece is to gather together all these players and find the best twenty in terms of perceived career value. The list...

    1. Felix Hernandez - SP - Seattle Mariners

    Everyone familiar with King Felix has a mancrush on him. Everyone. But no one has been as outward with their feelings as Dave Cameron, and deservingly so, as Cameron brought Felix to our attention when he was pitching in the Northwest League. Within a guest column for this site, Cameron glowingly went through Hernandez' arsenal:

    Let's start with his four-seam fastball. At 96-98 mph, his velocity alone makes it extaordinarily hard to hit. This isn't a Matt Anderson "Hit Me" fastball. Throwing it with movement, it draws stares more often than not...

    If he bores of peppering the zone in the high-90s, he can easily switch to his two-seam fastball, the sinker that caused worms and gophers to leave the grounds of Safeco Field en masse. This pitch is nearly always thrown at the knees and, with late downward movement, it is a groundball machine...

    As good as his two high-velocity options can be, neither is his best pitch. In fact, you would be hard pressed to find a better pitch in baseball than the Royal Curveball. Thrown as a classic 12-to-6 over-the-top curve and coming in at 82-86 miles per hour, Felix's curve is the kind of breaking ball that makes batters wobble...

    And, just for fun, Felix also has a change-up that, on its own merits, is one of the best in the American League. A true straight change, he drops it in at around 84 mph, usually just below the knees of a batter who has already completed his swing by the time the ball actually gets to the plate.

    Felix has had success at every stop, including his stint in the Majors last year. Rich points out to me that Felix was sixth in the league last year in K/100P, a fantastic number for a player of his age. Really the only downside Hernandez possesses is a lot of potential for injury, which would certainly validate the Doc Gooden comparisons. More likely than not, he exceeds them, and should go toe-to-toe with Johan Santana for Cy Young contention for the next ten years.

    2. Rickie Weeks - 2B - Milwaukee Brewers

    The problems are fairly obvious with Weeks. First of all, it's likely that Weeks will never be a good second baseman, perhaps always providing negative value in the field. At the plate, Weeks also has serious contact problems, and PECOTA sees an average that, by 2010, will never top .280. His strikeout numbers should usually be over 100. But PECOTA also sees a 30-40% chance that, in each of the next five years, Weeks is a superstar. Rickie has great power for a player up the middle, and his speed on the basepaths should make fantasy owners consistently happy. When accepting his faults, we should look at Weeks as the NL second base starter in the All-Star Game for years to come.

    3. Ryan Howard - 1B - Philadelphia Phillies

    PECOTA is a pessimistic forecasting system, which should come as no secret to many of you. What is shocking, on the other hand, is Ryan Howard's ninety-percentile projection: .331/.429/.750 with 61 home runs. Wow. His top ten comparables include accomplished sluggers Mo Vaughn, Cecil Fielder and Willie Stargell, among others. Howard might be the best bet to have success in 2006 at the plate, but he also provides very little value in the field or on the bases, and his ceiling isn't much higher. The Phillies will be glad they traded Jim Thome, but I will say right now that when Howard's arbitration time runs out in Philadelphia, he should not be brought back. Now that is looking into the future, ladies and gents.

    4. Brian McCann - C - Atlanta Braves

    When Johnny Estrada went down with injury last year, the Braves were very bold to bring McCann up to the majors. Brian performed very admirably during that time, handling the pitching staff well and peforming well at the plate. In fact, he may remind some (old) Braves fans of Joe Torre, who at the age of 21, hit a very similar .282/.355/.395. In the next four years, Torre built towards his peak, culminating in an age 25 season with a .943 OPS. McCann has better power than he showed last year, and if your fantasy league hasn't drafted yet, take my advice: make McCann (at the very least) your #2 catcher.

    5. Scott Kazmir - SP - Tampa Bay Devil Rays

    There are two schools of thought in regard to Kazmir. The first side, the cynical one, thinks that Kazmir is a wild pitcher that will always be just that. His career can be good, but will not progress much further, as 70-80 walks per season prevents great success. Others think that control can be learned, and focus on numbers like Kazmir's 5.28 K/100P. Scott is a hot-and-cold pitcher that is very fun to watch, and his development is one thing that the new Tampa regime is banking on. If all they expect is a #2 starter, than there are far worse bets out there.

    6. Zach Duke - SP - Pittsburgh Pirates

    Another weird PECOTA player. While the projection system likes the Bucs southpaw more than Kazmir for the next five years, it doesn't see a lot of upside: just a 5% breakout rate is given for the 2006 season. This seems about right, as Duke's solid start simply indicated that of a player with a low ceiling. He is a very smart pitcher who I was really impressed with after he carved through the Cubs, but his strikeout numbers will never be sensational. Look for this to always hold Duke back, who is just the player the Pirates covet for their ideal team. Good things are ahead in Zach's future, even despite an organization that lacks a great reputation.

    7. Edwin Encarnacion - 3B - Cincinnati Reds

    After using just two third baseman from 1996-2003 (Willie Greene, Aaron Boone), the Reds hoped Brandon Larson might take the job in 2004. When it became apparent that Larson was a bust, Edwin Encarnacion started to be hyped. For years, I thought he was undeserving of so much praise, a future solid player with limited upside. However, in each year, Encarnacion has improved, and he played very well in a Major League stint last season. While Andy Marte still is perceived to have more upside than Edwin, the gap has closed, and Encarnacion is on the cusp of providing the Reds with another long-term solution (and the best one of the group) at the hot corner.

    8. Huston Street - RP - Oakland Athletics

    We can sit here and penalize Street for being a closer, talking about how relievers simply don't stack up against players at other positions. Or we could sit here and say that, for a closer, Street's stuff doesn't exactly match up. We could say that he is a one-year wonder, a case of the fungibility of the reliever. But that would simply not give Street enough credit. A true competitor, Street has found a way to be successful in the most difficult baseball atmosphere in the world. His stuff is good enough, because his guts are unparalleled. He will go through some tough weeks, without a doubt, but Street is one fantastic player.

    9. Jeff Francoeur - OF - Atlanta Braves

    No one is more variable on the list than Francoeur. If I went by PECOTA, he wouldn't be this high, as the system doesn't see the Braves outfielder breaking the 4.0 WARP mark in any of the next five years. However, I'm also intrigued by his PECOTA comparables, which have Juan Gonzalez, Cal Ripken (?) and Sammy Sosa in the top five. In fact, there are even more All-Stars making up his top 20. Like Weeks, Francoeur has issues, and my guess is that he will be one of the Majors most hot-and-cold players in baseball for some time. But few people have a feel for the game than this kid, as evidenced by just how quick he became used to Major League pitching. His power still profiles to be prodigious, and when he's done, I think we will all have learned something about how to play right field.

    10. Brandon McCarthy - SP - Chicago White Sox

    McCarthy was simply a tale of two seasons. He struggled in his first trip to the Majors, in which I wrote, "Brandon will need to gain confidence in a third pitch, as his fastball doesn't seem to be fast enough, and his curveball has the tendency to hang early in the count." The club then sent him to the International League to work on his change, and when he returned with the pitch improved, the results were fantastic. Just eight earned runs in his final 42.2 innings for a sparkling 1.69 ERA, and oddly enough, a spot in the White Sox bullpen. However, as we talked about recently in our AL Central Preview, there is every expectation that McCarthy will get his starts this season, and by 2007, a full-time slot. Consistency in the change will determine how high his career can go.

    11. J.J. Hardy - SS - Milwaukee Brewers

    The offensive Daniel Cabrera, few players are gaining more pre-2006 breakout support than J.J. Hardy. One of those boosters is Analysts' own Rich Lederer, who wrote this long-term prognostication on the Brewers middle infielder:

    Longer term, Hardy profiles a bit like Chris Speier. He has a similar body type with medium speed, a good knowledge of the strike zone, and above-average power for a SS. Speier had better range than Hardy showed in his rookie year but was eventually hampered by a bad back despite enjoying a 19-year career in the majors. For what it's worth, the former Giant was one of the best players in the league during his second season.

    The cynical view of Hardy would be to say he is this year's Adam LaRoche, simply on the list because of a big second half. However, Rich has that angle covered, too:

    There are four points of interest [in Hardy's bad first half].

    1. Hardy walked more often than he struck out.

    2. He was putting the ball in play at a pretty good clip.

    3. His Batting Average on Balls In Play was a meager .211 (vs. a MLB norm of about .300). Give him a more normal BABIP and he would have hit .262 before the All-Star game rather than .187.

    4. The number of doubles-to-home runs was unusually high.

    I was never high on Hardy when ranking him as a prospect, going as far to compare him to Royce Clayton. I will gladly admit to being wrong, as Hardy is a fun player to watch that does everything right. Look for a solid 2006 to be the start of a wonderfully solid Major League career.

    12. Curtis Granderson - OF - Detroit Tigers

    Do the Tigers really appreciate what they have in Granderson? Are they really considering starting Nook Logan at centerfield this season? In 2004, Granderson broke out at one of the minors easiest stadiums to hit a home run in. His numbers were helped by an August that was disproportionate to the rest of his career. He was an anomaly, but this year, showed that his breakout was for real. Granderson might not be the next great Tiger, or even a consistent All-Star. But for a team like Detroit, that has been "rebuilding" for so long, he's the long-term answer at one position. PECOTA loves him, but I don't see enough power developing for a superstar to shine through.

    13. Casey Kotchman - 1B - Los Angeles Angels

    Talk about a player PECOTA doesn't like. Thanks to a few years littered with injuries, Major League ineffectiveness, and a lack of opportunity, Kotchman is not a player that is projected well. His top ten comparables are a sorry group, and his high for the next five years -- in terms of WARP -- is 2.6. However, it's a prediction system far from perfect, and in Kotchman's case, numbers don't tell the whole story. For years, Casey has drawn the same comparison: Mark Grace. His fielding has always been lauded, as have his contact skills. Some would say that Kotchman's power would eventually develop, and his offense at first would be way above-average. Others, not so much. At this point, I think Kotchman is -- for his career -- a 15-25 home run player. To be successful, he'll need an average upwards of .300. He can do it.

    14. Jeremy Reed - OF - Seattle Mariners

    If you think the White Sox defense is good now, try imagining a team with Chris Young in left, Aaron Rowand in center, and Jeremy Reed in right. Instead, Chicago was just too deep up the middle, and all three of these players will be in greener pastures in 2006. Reed will be the one of the group who plays in a drastic pitching park, so his play will be the hardest to judge. The one consensus coming from Seattle is that Reed is a great defender, which given their huge outfield is a big plus. But, he does play next to Ichiro, which must be taken into consideration. Offensively, he's probably got Mark Kotsay potential, which has become a compliment, if not a fantastic one. The star potential isn't there, but he can probably be everything that Granderson can, and like Curtis, is the right cog for the Mariners rebuild.

    15. Ervin Santana - SP - Los Angeles Angels

    I'm not sure we really appreciate what Santana has done here. Sure, Bartolo Colon, Jarrod Washburn and John Lackey all had good 2005 seasons, and were more responsible for the Angels performance than Santana's. However, does anyone really believe that without Ervin, the Angels would have made the playoffs? For an October run, every team needs a player that steps up at the right time and replaces someone injured. That is what Santana did, and in effect, made Washburn's high price tag expendable this winter. Santana was on and off with his game last year, but had flashes of the lightning stuff that gained him notoriety in the minors. He's got a lot more bust potential than the names on this list, but he also could be really successful atop the Angel rotation.

    16. Robinson Cano - 2B - New York Yankees

    Both at Baseball Prospectus and BTF, Cano was given about a 10% chance to turn into Hall of Fame baseball player. This is because what he did last year was remarkable, stepping into baseball's largest stage and taking the spotlight off a position that has caused the Yanks so much grief. Cano is another player that I obviously underrated too much as a prospect, not taking his 100 RBI+ season into enough consideration. But, really, is Cano's ceiling much above his performance in 2005? Do we really see a player that even has the possibility to be better than Weeks? Not for me, at least, as I believe Cano will teeter-totter among being an average second baseman for as long as the Yanks let him.

    17. Joe Blanton - SP - Oakland Athletics

    I can say that, with certainty, Joe Blanton will be pitching in the Majors for a long time. He's just that type of player, a solid starter with good durability and good enough stuff to have lasting value to Major League organizations. However, he isn't the type of player that will cause other starters to skip outings to get to. Blanton has succeeded in going after hitters, taking an approach similar to that of Street's, above. He had nice results in 2005, and should continue to do so this year without really being a factor in fantasy baseball. He is a good player with a lot of WARP in his future, but when it's all said and done, it could be remarkable how anti-climatic his career was.

    18. Matt Murton - LF - Chicago Cubs

    As a Cub fan, this was a difficult ranking. I, in a way, wanted to give Murton something back after he had such a good 2005. This was a player that forced his way into Dusty Baker's offense, a trait we should all respect in a player. He came out strong and kept going, having a remarkable season in left field. However, he didn't show any power. Barely any trace of it. In fact, besides home run contests, Murton's career is full of seasons without power. This just isn't acceptable for a Major League corner outfielder. While Murton could survive on becoming a 40-50 doubles guy, even that would be a step up. It will be his power that determines whether this ranking was too low, or drastically too high.

    19. Nick Swisher and Dan Johnson - OF/1B - Oakland Athletics

    On a list that features Ryan Howard in the third spot, it's difficult to drop a few players' rankings thanks to lack of athleticism. In that regard, Howard takes the cake. However, Howard's power is enough to overcome that fault, which is something that neither of these A's can say. In fact, Swisher and Johnson don't have any traits that are fantastic, but enough tools needed for success. This is very similar to my comment on Blanton, and in fact, could be considered a bit on Oakland A's players in general. This team is filled with solid players, top to bottom, that will make them a competitive team on an annual basis. But a World Series team? I don't see it, as there aren't very many players that could have fantastic career years. This holds true for Swisher and Johnson, neither of whom will be taking a large step in 2006.

    20. Andy Sisco and Ambiorix Burgos - RP - Kansas City Royals
    These two names should not be surprising choices for long-time readers. As I have pointed out a few times, I predicted Burgos to breakout before the season. And that he did, going from the Midwest League to the Majors in admirable fashion, with a fantastic 6.05 K/100P peripheral. And as I have also pointed out, I did not think the Cubs decision to expose Sisco to the Rule 5 draft was a good decision. It wasn't, as Sisco started out strong on Opening Day and never looked back. PECOTA is not confident at all with its predictions of these two, as neither garners a similarity score over 15. However, I see the future of the Kansas City bullpen, which at this point, could be their one strength in the next few seasons.

    WTNYFebruary 27, 2006
    College Baseball Revisited
    By Bryan Smith

    In college baseball, rankings are obsolete nearly the minute they are compiled. Since the season is so short, with pitchers only having a limited number of outings each season, scouting directors don't have long to evaluate players. As a result, every weekend, draft boards are changed to reflect the weekend's happenings.

    With that being said, I was thrilled when Sports Illustrated approached me with the opportunity to write an article for their On Campus College Baseball Preview. My top 20 draft prospects article ran Friday, preceding yet another weekend that would go far in making me look dated. However, my heart and soul is poured into this article, as I researched, interviewed, and read in detail to prepare. My top 20:

    1. Andrew Miller - LH SP - North Carolina
    2. Max Scherzer - RH SP - Missouri
    3. Ian Kennedy - RH SP - USC
    4. Drew Stubbs - OF - Texas
    5. Daniel Bard - RH SP - North Carolina
    6. Matt LaPorta - 1B - Florida
    7. Dallas Buck - RH SP - Oregon State
    8. Wes Hodges - 3B - Georgia Tech
    9. Evan Longoria - IF - Long Beach State
    10. Joba Chamberlain - RH SP - Nebraska
    11. Jared Hughes - RH SP - Long Beach State
    12. Kyle McCulloch - RH SP - Texas
    13. Brandon Morrow - RH SP - California
    14. Blair Erickson - RH RP - UC Irvine
    15. Mark Hamilton - 1B - Tulane
    16. Brad Lincoln - P - Houston
    17. Mark Melancon - RH RP - Arizona
    18. Chad Tracy - C - Pepperdine
    19. Brennan Boesch - OF - California
    20. Matt Antonelli - 3B - Wake Forest

    This final ranking was decided on weeks ago, and even since, my draft board has been changed. Of note, Evan Longoria, Joba Chamberlain and Brandon Morrow are the largest climbers. Longoria has continued to show the power he displayed over the summer, making him one of the top two hitters in the country. Chamberlain has zoomed right past Dallas Buck, especially since Baseball America reported his fastball hit 96 mph against NC State. Finally, Morrow is continuing to strike out batters at a torrid pace, though his six walks in six innings this past weekend are a cause for concern.

    I mentioned Buck as someone who has dropped, as even against Brigham Young on Thursday he has not turned the corner with a great outing. His 2005 was built on a great non-conference record, so Dallas really can't afford to start slow out of the gates. I have also been disappointed with Mark Hamilton, who has not shown the power out of the gate that I expected. It will come, and I still think my Ryan Klesko comp applies, but he has slipped a bit. And finally, in talks with Rich Lederer, I realized that Jared Hughes and Brad Lincoln should really swap places.

    Andrew Miller has not shifted at all, instead, he has only helped his status as the 'player to beat' atop draft boards. Miller has shown much improved control this season, walking only two batters through his first two starts. It also should be mentioned that in his Sunday start yesterday, there was only one out that Miller recorded that was not a groundball or strikeout. Yes, you should be drooling.

    In fact, North Carolina is a team worth talking about. My pick for the 2006 College World Series title has stormed out of the gates to an undefeated record, albeit to a fairly weak schedule. Yes, they started hot last year, coming out 9-0 to begin the year. However, during that 2005 spree, the offense was averaging just 6.4 runs per game. Flash forward to 2006, and UNC is 7-0, but has scored 84 runs for an average of 12 runs per game. While most of my focus is on juniors at this site, it should be noted that Josh Horton makes quite a strong case for being the first shortstop drafted in 2007.

    Speaking of 2007 hitters -- as offensive players will obviously be back on the map by then -- there has been no bigger story this year than NC State third baseman Matt Mangini. While the sample size police are surely on their way to arrest me, it is safe to say the best hitter in the country thus far (through 50 AB) has been Mangini. In a lineup that already features insane firepower from the likes of Aaron Bates and Jon Still, Mangini is hitting an insane .680/.730/1.080 this season. Not the most athletic player in the nation, Mangini will go as high in the draft as his bat takes him. Right now, that is pretty damn high.

    Another ACC team that impressed me this weekend was Wake Forest, where Mr. Irrelevant (number 20, above) Matt Antonelli plays third base. The Demon Deacons, in the past plagued by a lack of pitching, threw well enough to get upsets of Missouri and Florida en route to an undefeated weekend. Antonelli wasn't fantastic, but continues to impress me with his discipline-upside combination.

    Getting away from the top twenty, another noteworthy team -- and a surprising one at that -- has been Hawaii. The Rainbows entered the weekend 9-2, winning series over San Diego State, UC Irvine and Loyola Maramount before hosting USC this past weekend. The Trojans stumbled in Honolulu, dropping the first two games of the series before saving themselves from the sweep on Sunday. Hawaii is led by (a bit of a sleeper) in Friday night starter Steven Wright, another solid contributor from the Cape Cod League. In four starts already, Wright has pitched 29.2 innings, giving up just 15 hits and five walks while striking out 27 batters. He bears watching.

    While Wright didn't garner a lot of consideration for the top twenty, there are a lot of other players who did. As I generally do with rankings, below are my eleven honorable mentions (displayed alphabetically) for the top 2006 draft-eligible prospects:

    Chris Coghlan - 3B - Mississippi - Saber-friendly third baseman with limited upside.
    Colin Curtis - OF - Arizona State - Future leadoff hitter with every tool but power.
    Jason Donald - SS - Arizona - Good power, bad contact skills, shortstop. Decent package.
    Chris Errecart - 1B/OF - Cal - Started in Cape Cod League, continuing to show power.
    David Huff - LHP - UCLA - I fell in love with Huff last summer. I know why.
    Brian Jeroloman - C - Florida - Best pure college catcher in junior class.
    Tim Lincecum - SP - Washington - Do numbers speak louder than scouts?
    Chris Perez - RP - Miami - A step below other closers, but second round arm.
    Shane Robinson - OF - FSU - '05 Golden Spikes finalist does everything well.
    Josh Rodriguez - SS - Rice - Very good power, no patience up the middle.
    Brett Sinkbeil - SP - Missouri State - Cape Cod League guy with good live arm.

    Again, rankings are only as good as the date in which they are compiled. With each weekend as we inch closer to June, performances become more and more important. As was the case with Lance Broadway last year, a few dynamite starts in May can go a long way towards turning someone into a first round pick.

    This spring I will try to update my personal draft board often, trying to reflect the times when breakthrough performances happen. Thanks go out to Sports Illustrated for making me stick out my neck for the first time.

    WTNYFebruary 15, 2006
    Second in Line
    By Bryan Smith

    Shortstop prospects are held on a pedestal. Thanks to their high place on the defensive spectrum, good SS prospects are constantly being given the benefit of the doubt. Oftentimes, this creates an excess of hype, and ultimately, a bust.

    But, at the very least, these shortstops are given a shot. Their double play partners, however, are not always given the same star treatment. Second base prospects are never as sexy as those at short, and despite a year in which Howie Kendrick and Dustin Pedroia rank so highly on my prospect list, it's fair to say that second basemen are runs in the prospect world.

    In perusing the prospect battles that will open with Spring Training soon, one fact struck me as obvious: young second basemen are just not given the opportunity that shortstops are. While Hanley Ramirez, a volatile player with a questionable past has been all-but-handed the shortstop job in Florida, prospects from all over -- accomplished at AAA -- are not being given opportunities. Instead, organizations are making these prospects battle veterans that are often favored.

    No fantasy position enters spring with as many question marks as second base. Today we will look at the five Major League organizations that are being hesitant to lean towards talented youth in the face of poor veterans. We'll go in descending order given the amount of sense that I believe the team is using...

    Florida Marlins

    Competition: Pokey Reese v. Dan Uggla v. Alfredo Amezaga v. Robert Andino

    Not only do we start with the most reasonable organization of the five, but the most confusing as well. While the Florida firesale has been widely lauded for Larry Beinfest's ability to stockpile pitching, the Marlins go to camp with major question marks. We have addressed the shortstop (Ramirez) and second base issues, but there are also question marks at catcher and in the outfield. Joe Girardi stepped into a real "fix-me-upper" in Miami.

    It's arguable that Reese was one of the Marlins most substantial free agent signings this winter, a fact that might speak more to the Marlins chances in 2006 than anything I have heard before. Pokey is coming off a stint in Seattle during which he was oft-injured -- the story of his career -- and brought nothing to the table. While the Marlins could surely handle an injury to Reese, they certainly could use his presence this spring.

    The best of the four, in terms of talent, is Andino. There is a chance that Andino will start the year at shortstop while Hanley gets more seasoning, and in fact, a chance that Andino isn't moved to second at all. If not, the next youngest competitor is Rule 5 pick Dan Uggla. While Uggla might look good from the statistic side, it's hard to ask Rule 5 picks to start out of Spring Training. Finally, Amezaga is a minor league veteran that has never maximized on Major League opportunities.

    If Ramirez secures the shortstop job, I'd like the Marlins to see what they have in Andino and keep Reese on the bench. Besides that scenario, however, this might be one instance when older is better.

    New York Mets

    Competition: Kaz Matsui v. Anderson Hernandez v. Jeff Keppinger v. Chris Woodward

    Simply put, Matsui is not going to go down as a Japanese success story. For whatever reason, he is one player that simply couldn't make the conversion, and will likely be a drain on any roster he plays. Even the Mets know this, I think, but Omar Minaya's re-haul just did not make it's way to second base this winter. In the end, the decision will come down to Willie Randolph, who for the Mets sake, has to believe Matsui has nothing left in the tank.

    Since Matsui has never been a favorite among Mets brass, look for Hernandez to get a long look in Spring Training. Known only for his defense before 2005, Hernandez broke out with the bat between AA and AAA last year. Skeptics think he'll revert back to his weak-hitting ways, but he's certainly a better bet to succeed than Matsui.

    I'm not a fan of the other two players. Keppinger is a blue-collar player that everyone can like, and makes contact at a pretty insane rate. However, that's the only plus he offers, and an empty .280 average won't do a lot. Finally, the Chris Woodward ship has sailed, and he should really be in camp to try and motivate Jose Valentin, who has the chance to be a great bench pick-up.

    Unless Minaya gets creative with a trade, I think the Mets would be crazy not to start the season with Hernandez up the middle. However, if the season started today, I certainly wouldn't be surprised to see Matsui in the eight spot.

    Cincinnati Reds

    Competition: Tony Womack v. Rich Aurilia v. Ryan Freel

    Dan O'Brien's tenure of this team took a real left turn this winter when he gave up multiple players for the carcass of Tony Womack. Not only is Womack a player with a pathetic career, but the Reds were relatively loaded at second. Most people would put together a lineup with Womack on the bench, where there are dozens (Uggla, for one) of inexperienced players who are better suited for the role.

    The job should be going to Ryan Freel. With the outfield settled -- Chris Denorfia is even waiting in the wings -- and the hot corner curse presumably over, one would think this could be the season Freel focuses on second. His OBP is among the team's best and his speed is absolutely fantastic. He has little to no pop, sure, but that hardly separates him from the other players on this list.

    Aurilia wasn't a bad re-sign, a player that I might bring to camp to compete with a player like Freel. However, it's one thing to do it with the agenda of motivating a young player, it's another to give the veteran a leg-up on the job. Rich has become very volatile at this point in his career, and while he's a smarter bet than Womack to succeed, he's looking to be just another failure.

    If Cincinnati wants to maximize their offensive output, Ryan Freel must be the Opening Day second baseman, plain and simple.

    San Diego Padres

    Competition: Josh Barfield v. Mark Bellhorn v. Geoff Blum v. Eric Young

    If not for 2004, this wouldn't be a competition. As far as second baseman go, few prospects were more revered after the 2003 season than Barfield, who topped the century RBI mark in high-A. He was the future up the middle for the Padres. This all changed in 2004, however, when the Southern League brought realization to Barfield's potential. His contact skills were bound to create problems. Last year, however, Barfield succeeded in the hitter friendly PCL, putting confidence back in the minds of the Padres front office.

    Not enough, however, as the club plans to make Barfield earn his spot. His main competition up the middle will come from Bellhorn, a player that is hoping San Diego tends to ignore 2005 numbers. I'm not sure Bellhorn is suited for a place like PTCO, given the fact that his power (which would be reduced at home) is one of his few assets. I'm not sure if there is a lot left in Bellhorn, and I also don't think I'd want to be the one to try and figure it out.

    The other two players on the list are depth chart filler, bench players at best. While Blum made headlines for himself last year in October, no team thinks he is more than an accomplished bench player. Young has not been a good second baseman for years, and shouldn't be in baseball too much longer.

    Barfield is the best player on this list, and by 2005 terms, it isn't particularly close. A revert back to 2004, however, and we'll find ourselves looking at Mark Bellhorn as a starter again.

    Texas Rangers

    Competition: Ian Kinsler v. D'Angelo Jimenez v. Mark Derosa

    It seems as if I've been advocating a Alfonso Soriano trade for so long that I'm still in shock that new Rangers brass actually pulled the trigger. One subplot behind Daniels great haul was that it opened a door for Ian Kinsler, one of the great success stories of 2004. Anyway, I was very impressed with Kinsler in Spring Training last year, and after a slow start, he got things going at AAA> He's no star by any imagination, but contrary to popular belief, either was Soriano.

    Jimenez is merely a good minor league pick-up these days for teams hoping he'll go back to posting OBPs above .350. Considering how bad he has played lately, however, that is not going to happen. The book has been written on D'Angelo Jimenez, and at this point, Buck Showalter would be silly to open it. As for Derosa, he's simply not starting material. He has value as a three-position bench player, but should not be given more than 200 ABs per year.

    Kinsler has become a favorite of mine in the last two years, and I think the Rangers must start Kinsler should they want to get the most out of this club.

    WTNYFebruary 10, 2006
    Revisiting Hendry
    By Bryan Smith

    Eighteen months ago, I hypothesized that Jim Hendry was one of the five best General Managers in baseball. This breakdown came a couple weeks after the Nomar Garciaparra trade, the 2004 deadline deal supposed to put the Cubs over the Wild Card hump. At this point in time, Hendry (with help from Andy McPhail) had built a club that was a few outs from the 2003 World Series, and in good position to make runs in 2004 and 2005. My high regard of Hendry was no unique thought at this time.

    However, like Cub fans have become so used to, the 2004 team wittled during the last two months, missing the Wild Card by three games. Hendry stayed creative during the ensuing winter, and went to Spring Training that many heralded as a club capable of winning the NL Central, and even, the World Series. Again, thanks to injuries, underachieving and Neifi, the 2005 team failed to meet expectations.

    Like his manager, Hendry enters the 2006 season in a place where no one would have thought just a year and a half ago: on the hot seat. Recently, I had a reader e-mail me asking for updated thoughts on Jim Hendry. "My question is, do you still feel the same about him? He's not looking that smart anymore," the reader questioned. Today we'll breakdown the last two winters to see if Hendry has indeed taken a step back as a General Manager.

    After the 2004 season, Hendry's first order of business was declining options to Moises Alou and Mark Grudzielanek. Given Alou's presumably declining skillset, few questioned the thought of letting the 39-year-old Alou sign elsewhere. And with Todd Walker still on the Cub roster, retaining Grudzi would have simply been a lost cause. Curiously, two weeks later, the Cubs then gave Neifi Perez a one-year deal to stay in Chicago. It is impossible to know, of course, what role Dusty Baker played in this decision, but this is certainly one of the worst decisions the Cub front office made in 2004.

    Knowing little about the direction the market was headed, especially in regards to starting pitching, the Cubs acted quickly in signing Glendon Rusch to a two-year deal. It was a very cheap contract for the team to sign, and Rusch was one of the most versatile players on the team. Again, this is a "win." In the next few weeks, the team would also choose to retain the likes of Todd Walker, Jose Macias, Todd Hollanswroth and Nomar Garciaparra. Henry Blanco was given a two-year, guaranteed deal to take over the back-up catching spot. No great shakes, but hardly a damning move.

    Besides trying to find a solution to the Nomar situation (which was solved with a low-risk one year deal), the key to Hendry's 2004-2005 winter was finding a home for Sammy Sosa. With about a week before pitchers and catchers reporting, the Cubs traded Sosa to the Baltimore Orioles for Jerry Hairston, Mike Fontenot and Dave Crouthers. The Cubs were criticized for not maximizing value, but retrospectively, acquiring more than a bag of baseball's for Sosa is a positive. Hairston would, at the very least, play his part in keeping the Cubs team OBP afloat in 2004. He would also sign Jeremy Burnitz that day to fill Sosa's spot, and while Burnitz outplayed Sosa during the 2006 season, Hendry didn't show the creativity here that Cub fans love.

    The last order of business before the 2005 season was to create a bit of depth within the bullpen. Hendry started with a few creative acquisitions, signing veteran Chad Fox to a minor league deal, and signing a Scott Williamson who was still recovering from Tommy John surgery. Seeing as though the Cubs got some (mediocre) contributions from both players, Hendry should be given a thumbs up. He then traded disgruntled right-hander Kyle Farnsworth during Spring Training to the Tigers, receiving Roberto Novoa, Scott Moore and Bo Flowers. Novoa has a good, wild young arm and Moore has about a 10% chance of making the Bigs. This is one of the few times Hendry might regret a trade he made.

    Two minor trades also made to shore up the bullpen were acquiring Stephen Randolph and then Cliff Bartosh in hopes to fill a LOOGY role. The Cubs spent too much focus on this, and even trading Bear Bay is too much. The real problem is that just months before, the Cubs had undervalued a southpaw in their own system, exposing Andy Sisco to the Rule 5 Draft. Many of the reasons for this decision, Cubs' brass says, is related to an undefined off-the-field incident. But when the difference between two talents is that of Sisco and John Koronka, it shouldn't matter. Simply put, I believe this to be the big, red mark on Hendry's resume as Cubs GM, which is why I'm so hard on him for it.

    All in all, this was just about as mediocre an offseason as it gets. The Cubs did little to really improve their offense, and entered the 2005 season with an outfield of Jason Dubois, Corey Patterson and Burnitz. With the offensive production that comes from those players, and the fact that the pitching staff quickly was injured, it's no surprise the Cubs ship sunk quickly.

    As usual, during the '05 year, Hendry was as busy as any General Manager. When LaTroy Hawkins became a scapegoat for the team's struggles in May, Jim traded him to the San Francisco Giants for Jerome Williams and David Aardsma. I cannot stress how good of a trade this is. However, his other big trades were a weird triangle of going from Dubois to Jody Gerut to Matt Lawton to nothing in the matter of weeks. While Matt Murton seems to be the best player of the bunch, safely secured on the Cubs roster, it's very confusing to understand why Hendry did this.

    And then, with a few more August trade dumps, the Cubs season ended. Hendry entered this current offseason needing a plan to: improve the outfield, middle infield, top of the order and bullpen. As is the case with every Cubs winter, expectations were high, and rumors of Hendry's firing even existed.

    First, let me start with the worst. Despite the fact that the Cubs 40-man roster is filled with serviceable young arms, the front office made a point of going after relievers with familiar names. First, Hendry quickly re-signed Ryan Dempster to an expensive three-year, $15.5 million contract. I never thought this to be horrible, but the general consensus was that Hendry was overpaying based on about two months of data. The other big spots that needed to be filled were the set-up and LOOGY roles, and this is when the Cubs fell flat on their faces. In the course of two weeks, before the winter meetings, the Cubs signed Scott Eyre and Bobby Howry to three year contracts. Three years, to two very mediocre relievers! Look at it this way: in 2008, the Cubs will still be paying Dempster, Eyre and Howry about $13 million. Yuck.

    As far as the rest of the winter, let's just say the Cubs entered free agency with a plan: Rafael Furcal. As usual, the team also believed they had the money to match any offer, and quickly offered Furcal a five-year, $55 million contract. The team looked like the favorites for weeks until the Dodgers swooped in and signed Furcal to a more expensive three year contract. Simply put, this was devastating to the Cubs, who then were willing to accept Ronny Cedeno as an everyday player. Oh, and they are bringing back Neifi as well, just in case Dusty needs his veteran fix during the season.

    Needing to fill the leadoff spot, Hendry then quickly jumped at Marlins CF Juan Pierre, trading three pitchers for him. The Cubs are one of the few organizations that can trade three B-/C+ talents and get away with it, so I won't criticize the deal too much. If Pierre falters in 2005, however, this deal has the potential to look very bad.

    Like at shortstop, the Cubs didn't take long in accepting Matt Murton as their everyday 2006 left fielder. That left only right field on the shopping list, for which Hendry filled with Jacque Jones. I was a backer of this trade, where most other people I have spoken to hate the deal. While Jones is a clear improvement over Burnitz, it is true the Cubs will enter Spring Training all-but-accepting a below-average outfield.

    One last order of business in the outfield was trading Corey Patterson. Again, we aren't privy to the negotiations for Patterson, so it makes little sense to do anything but criticize the final trade. "But he once had better offers on the table," is simply not fair game unless it's common knowledge. In the end, the fact that Chicago received even two players for Patterson is worth trading him. For Padres fans out there, Corey was the Cubs Sean Burroughs.

    This was basically the Cubs winter. The team also struggled with 40-man roster management again, trading the likes of Jon Leicester and Jermaine Van Buren to make room for people, and then still losing Juan Mateo in the draft. This seems to be the most substantial weakness that the current front office regime has.

    Jim Hendry has never traded away a prospect worthy of any real value in the end. In fact, in almost every trade he has made, he gets the better end of the bargain. Eighteen months later, I still think that Hendry is one of the five best GMs in the game at making trades.

    However, I'm no longer willing to unequivocally say he's one of the game's best GMs. It has been awhile -- in fact, since my article was written following the Nomar trade -- that we have seen the creative version of Jim Hendry at the helm. As the Cubs report to Spring Training in about a week, expectations are the lowest they have been since 2002. I've always been the first person to blame Dusty Baker, but this time, Hendry needs to prove to me that I'm pointing my finger at the right scapegoat.

    WTNYFebruary 07, 2006
    ACC Preview
    By Bryan Smith

    I have to admit my East Coast bias up front. While I'm Midwestern through and through, when it comes to college baseball, my preference lies with the Atlantic Coast Conference. After the ACC expansion, the conference features three of the best programs in the history of college baseball (Miami, FSU, GTech) as well as many great other programs like Clemson and North Carolina.

    Not only does the depth within the conference race pique my interest, but the level of play as well. Many of the players in this conference are some of the nation's best, stemming from great prep programs in Florida, Georgia or Virginia. This season is no exception as it features the projected top choice in the 2006 draft (Andrew Miller) and one of the top in the 2007 draft.

    No conference in college baseball will be as fun to watch this year as the ACC. Here's my preview of what you can be looking for in 2006...

    Players to Watch

    Note: This list is derived from players who appeared on first, second or third All-American teams by either Baseball America, Collegiate Baseball or the NCBWA.

    Wes Hodges - 3B - Georgia Tech
    Shane Robinson - OF - Florida State
    Daniel Bard - SP - North Carolina
    Andrew Miller - SP - North Carolina
    Matt Antonelli - 3B - Wake Forest
    Jon Jay - OF - Miami
    Matt Wieters - C/P - Georgia Tech
    Andrew Brackman - SP - NC State
    Aaron Bates - 1B - NC State
    Sean Doolittle - 1B/P - Virginia
    Taylor Harbin - 2B - Clemson
    Blake Wood - P - Georgia Tech
    Tyler Chambliss - RP - Florida State

    A fantastic list of players, as half of these players will be first round draft picks. Notably, of course, the two North Carolina aces will be top ten picks in the draft, with Miller possibly going at the top. I also love the likes of Wes Hodges, Shane Robinson and Matt Antonelli, all of whom should be top-two round selections.

    Hodges is an extremely consistent player with the potential to be one of the conference's most dangerous offensive talents, along with the less athletic talents like Jon Jay and Aaron Bates. Robinson and Antonelli are the opposites, two players more well-known for their athleticism than polish. Robinson was up for the Golden Spikes last year, and Antonelli is my favorite player in the conference.

    The top players in the conference for the 2007 draft will be battling for tops in their respective positions. Brackman is a super-athletic player with fantastic stuff that should be among the first of the pitchers drafted. Doolittle was a great high school talent that opted for college, and now remains just behind Joe Savery in the best utility talent race. And finally, Wieters is pretty much as good of a catcher as you will find.

    Two very good players not on the above list are Chris Perez from Miami, a first-round talent relief pitcher from Miami, and Josh Horton, North Carolina's #3 sophomore hitter.

    News Kids on the Block - Best Freshman

    Note: This list is derived from players in the SEC that were in Perfect Game USA's top 100 high school players last June. If interested, e-mail me and I'll send you the top 1000.

    Drew Taylor - LHP - NC State
    Marcus Jones - OF - Nc State
    Jemile Weeks - 2B - Miami
    Dennis Raben - 1B - Miami
    David Adams - 2B/3B - Virginia
    Nate Frieman - LHP - Duke
    Luke Murton - OF - Georgia Tech
    Buster Posey - SS/RHP - Florida State

    Depending on who you talk to, the class of the conference is either Adams or Posey. Adams should do wonders in replacing Ryan Zimmermann, while Posey is the type of raw talent that could become a #1 overall pick in a few years. In case you were wondering, there are ties to Major League players in Jemile Weeks (Rickie) and Luke Murton (Matt). Neither player is better than there brother was, but both have the potential to be great players by 2008.

    Three At the Top

    My pick to win the ACC, while not the consensus among most polls, is the NORTH CAROLINA Tar Heels. The team had high expectations last year following good freshman seasons from Miller and Bard. However, with five freshman getting significant time in the field, the product yielded a lot of errors and inconsistent hitting. Miller and Bard were solid, but they saw Robert Woodard pass both of them. This year, however, the team is a year older and should be tighter all around. To go along with the best weekend rotation in baseball, the Tar Heels have a lot of good sophomore offensive talent led by the consistent Horton and the powerful Seth Williams. If all the five-star talents on this team play well, a trip to Omaha is in the cards.

    College baseball is essentially a three-year sport. The first season is an introduction, the second season gets a player acclimated, and the third year is his send off. Some coaches get lucky to have a few good seniors lead his team. The GEORGIA TECH baseball team will have a host of them this season, making them among the favorites in the division. While Wieters and Hodges anchor this team, it will be the likes of Steven Blackwood, Mike Trapani and Jeff Kindel that lead this team into the postseason. Throw in a pair of good starters in Blake Wood and Tim Gustafson and you have a solid team.

    Solid is the way to define the CLEMSON baseball team. While the team doesn't have any real stars, it will be a mix of a lot of good players that give them team legs. Taylor Harbin is the best player on a good offense, and should be among the best second baseman in the NCAA. The pitching staff is the strength, however, led behind returnee Jason Berken. If this weekend rotation performs like it can, then Clemson has a chance to go far. I don't like them enough to put them at the top of any rankings, but this team does have outside Omaha potential.

    Other Postseason Possibilities

    My favorite team outside the big three is the NC STATE WOLFPACK, mostly due to the high-end talent of the top. Such discourse obviously starts with Andrew Brackman, the Wolfpack basketball player and 6-10 ace. The other great player on the team is Aaron Bates, one of the three most powerful hitters in college baseball. Possibly joining Bates in DH duties will be the nation's best transfer, Jon Still of Stetson University. This team has high-end talent all over the place, and while they don't have the depth of a team like Florida State, they could be one of the ACC's best surprises.

    This is a down year for the FLORIDA STATE SEMINOLES. Much of last year's team is gone except Robinson, who started the year off in a big way, and should again be among the Golden Spikes finalists. Robinson will be helped by an extremely young team featuring the likes of Posey heavily. I don't think much of this team to make a postseason splash, but given the right junior leadership (Robinson, Chambliss, Henry), then they could certainly make a run.

    The other three teams in the division aren't quite at the caliber of NC or Florida State. Virginia was sort of the surprise last year, led by top five selection Ryan Zimmermann. The team will be a year early in 2006, led by the likes of David Adams and Sean Doolittle. The same is true for Miami, which aren't offering Jay or Perez a great supporting cast. Finally, I do like Wake Forest to surprise some people, but that may be more a result of my liking for Matt Antonelli than anything else.

    Bottom of the Barrel

    Like usual, it's foolish to expect much from Duke or Virginia Tech, two teams far from competing in such a deep conference. For Duke fans, I really just suggest you go out and support the recruitment of Frieman. Maryland is another traditionally poor program, and they could battle the rest for 12th place honors in 2006. The number nine team is Boston College, coming off the school's best year ever. BC graduated much of their talent, however, and as a result will struggle in their first year in the ACC.

    WTNYFebruary 03, 2006
    Computer Problems
    By Bryan Smith

    In my years of reading Aaron Gleeman, I've read of him losing about two or three computers to unknown reasons. I was always surprised that I never had to deal with it.

    Now I know how it feels.

    My computer will not turn on this morning, which means I presumably lost the ACC Preview that was set to run today. Unfortunately, I'll have to re-write the preview in my normal Tuesday slot next week. The College Preview will have to take a Friday off, and will resume tomorrow as we go over the best teams not covered by the 5 conferences we chose.

    Sunday, we will have the Baseball Analysts All-American team. The College Baseball Preview will then have to conclude Tuesday with my ACC Preview.

    Have a good weekend, and be sure to check back for the rest of the College Baseball Preview!

    WTNYFebruary 02, 2006
    SEC Preview
    By Bryan Smith

    For years, the SEC has had to deal with the claim that the conference is overrated. Some criticize the RPI, others the selection committee. However, the conference has a history of success in the College World Series, thanks especially to an LSU dynasty about a decade ago.

    Nowadays the conference has even more parity, as teams just beat up on each other within conference play. Last year, the SEC offered strong teams, strong players and strong fan bases. The best prospects from the south continually stay within the SEC, and there isn't an easy win within the conference. Overrated? Not so much.

    Enjoy the preview...

    Players to Watch

    Note: This list is derived from players who appeared on first, second or third All-American teams by either Baseball America, Collegiate Baseball or the NCBWA.

    James Adkins - LHP - Tennessee
    J.P. Arencibia - C - Tennessee
    Chris Coghlan - 3B - Mississippi
    Adam Davis - 2B/SS - Florida
    Clay Dirks - LHP - LSU
    Brian Jeroloman - C - Florida
    Matt LaPorta - 1B - Florida
    Wade LeBlanc - LHP - Alabama
    Darren O'Day - RP - Florida
    David Price - LHP - Vanderbilt
    John Shelby - 2B - Kentucky
    Jon Willard - - South Carolina
    Mark Wright - - Mississippi

    Of this group, LaPorta is assured to be a first round pick this June, and Arencibia and Price will be the same in 2007. In fact, it wouldn't be a shock to see all three become top ten overall picks. After LaPorta, the 2007 class has a lot of fringe first rounders that should be off the board at the end of the third: Coghlan, Davis, Jeroloman, LeBlanc, Shelby. Of the group, I like Coghlan the best, though a catching-starved system (maybe the Cubs?) would love a defender and patient hitter like Jeroloman.

    One player not on this list to watch is Brooks Brown, one of the many closers that looked very good in the Cape Cod League. He'll be closing games for the Georgia Bulldogs this season, and should be the Georgia player attracting the most scouts. Finally, my favorite player on this list is James Adkins, who excelled in the CWS last year as the Saturday starter behind Luke Hochevar. While the Golden Spikes finalist is gone, Adkins should go to the next level with his great curveball. He'll be a good first round pick in 2007, I guarantee it.

    News Kids on the Block - Best Freshman

    Note: This list is derived from players in the SEC that were in Perfect Game USA's top 100 high school players last June. If interested, e-mail me and I'll send you the top 1000.

    Jarred Bogany - OF - LSU
    Justin Bristow - SS/RHP - Auburn
    Diallo Fon - OF - Vanderbilt
    Reese Havens - SS - South Carolina
    Robert Lara - RHP - LSU
    Matt Lea - RHP/IF - Mississippi State
    Josh Lindblom - RHP - Tennessee
    Miers Quigley - LHP - Alabama
    Cody Satterwhite - RHP - Mississippi
    Iain Sebastian - RHP - Georgia
    Justin Smoak - 1B - South Carolina
    Josh Zeid - RHP - Vanderbilt

    The highest ranked player on this list is Justin Bristow, who was the 15th ranked prep player a year ago. A weak Auburn team will be ready to have Bristow play two ways, though word is he has more potential up the middle. My two picks for success are Justin Smoak and Miers Quigley. Smoak had as much power as any high school player, and Quigley will thrive when learning a few southpaw nuances from Wade LeBlanc.

    According to Baseball America, Vanderbilt had the best recruiting class in the nation a year ago. Diallo Fon will start in the outfield this season, and you can expect Pedro Alvarez to be on the hot corner. With David Price as a sophomore and a bunch of good, young Freshman, the Commodores should be the SEC team to watch in 2007. However, this year they will likely remain on the fringe of postseason play or not: much like last season.

    Class of the SEC - Florida

    Depending on the source, it's pretty consensus that Florida enters the season as a top five overall team, and the team to beat in the SEC. The Gators earned this tough label last June, when the team lost to Texas in the finals at Omaha. Much of the offense from that team is back, with only place-setter Jeff Corsaletti moving onto the next level.

    If anything, the Gator offense will be full of star power in 2006. LaPorta obviously is the team's best player, and is the most dangerous hitter in the country. While his strikeout rates are among the highest of any projected first round pick, no one has an Isolated Slugging near LaPorta, who was over .300 last season. After a good summer with Team USA, where he continued to show prodigious power, a .700 slugging percentage is not out of the question.

    Joining LaPorta in the heart of the order will be second baseman Adam Davis and catcher Brian Jeroloman. Davis is one of the most fun players to watch in college baseball, because he literally does everything well. In a battle with Josh Rodriguez (Rice) and Jason Donald (Arizona) for the number two middle infielder in the country (behind Evan Longoria) should give Davis some added incentive this season. At the plate, Jeroloman succeeds most at one thing: drawing walks. As a result, he's almost a lock for a .400 OBP this season. His defense behind the plate has been lauded since he was a freshman, which helps make up for any lack of power he has.

    Other than Corsaletti, the Gators only other position player lost is shortstop Justin Tordi. In his spot could be Clayton Pisani, one of the club's best recruits last year. Pisani plays great defense up the middle, and is probably a better bet to succeed than the likes of Bryson Barber. However, the club has enough offensive depth to deal with shortstop becoming a black hole. Brian Leclerc is the other name that will help give the Gators four of the best hitters in the country.

    Florida's weakness, however, will be their pitching staff, putting much more pressure on the offense to succeed. The club lost their top two starters from 2005 in Bryan Bass and Alan Horne. This year, it will be up to Bryan Ball and Stephen Locke to lead this pitching staff. A sleeper is Christian Madson, a player who has struggled with injuries for two seasons now after looking great as a freshman. Speaking of freshman, the staff could get very positive contributions from Chas Spottswood (#126 by PG) and 6-8 Mark McClure, who could be college baseball's next Ryan Doherty.

    With Connor Falkenbach having left, the closing duties are all up to Darren O'Day now. He's the right man for the job, though I really question whoever put him on an All-American team ahead of the likes of Brown. Besides O'Day, look for good bullpen work from Steven Porter, Michael Branham and Josh Edmondson.

    The Gators are in danger of losing much of their offense in 2007, and are thus putting an emphasis on this season to be the year. However, while their offense might take them as far as Omaha, it will be the pitching staff that leads to the club's inevitable loss.

    Southern Depth - Others in top 25

    Note: These are the other 6 teams that are commonly ranked by the sources I've already hit on. Their placement below is my subjective opinion.

    Mississippi State: The Bulldogs lost their best player from last season to the draft in Brad Corley. Very little else is gone from a team that went 42-22 last year. The team returns every other starting player this season, including the likes of Thomas Berkery and Brad Jones. After a great job in a small role last season, look for big things from senior Joseph Hunter. The pitching staff should be much improved in 2006, despite the losses of Todd Doolittle and Alan Johnson from the rotation. One of the spots will be filled by sophomore John Lalor, who pitched well in the Cape after an admirable Freshman season. The final starting spot should be a battle between Josh Johnson and star recruit Matt Lea. With success on the pitching staff, this club undoubtedly has Omaha potential.

    LSU: This club is the opposite of experienced teams like Florida and MSU. Gone from the 2005 version of this club are its top four hitters: Nick Stavinoha, Ryan Patterson, Clay Harris and Blake Gill. This puts a considerable onus on Chris Jackson and Jordan Mayer, the two sophomores on the infield corners. Not surprisingly, given the success this program has perenially on the recruiting front, much of the offense will be made of some of the nation's better freshman. Jarred Bogany and Jason Ogata are assured full-time positions, while you'll also see the likes of J.T. Wise and Robert Lara compete for spots. I'm also a bit confused how the Tigers plan to prevent runs in 2006 with everyone but Clay Dirks seemingly gone from the staff. This team is simply a year away from contention, just like we'll be saying about Florida in another year or two.

    Arkansas: A very young team in 2005, patient Razorback fans will be rewarded in 2006 with a very good season. After a pretty lackluster recruiting class -- no one in the PG top 500 -- the club has no real holes that can't be replaced in 2006. The losses of Scott Hode and Clay Goodwin will be managed by what was a very deep bench last year. The rotation returns all four of its starters, most noteworthy being sophomore ace Nick Schmidt. On offense, look for another big season from first baseman Danny Hamblin, who had 30 extra-base hits in 220 at-bats last season. I like this team to surprise in 2006 after a merely mediocre conference performance last year.

    Tennessee: Gone is Luke Hochevar and his 2.26 ERA. Chase Headley and his .530 OBP have moved onto professional baseball. Eli Iorg was drafted after posting a .667 slugging. That's a lot right there. Still, somehow, star power remains in this program. In the 2007 draft, the Vols should have two of the top fifteen picks in Adkins and Arencibia, the latter could be a top five pick. Also remaining on the team are such players as Sean Watson and Kelly Edmundson, both of whom will have a great effect on the UT program. Finally, look out for Josh Lindblom to complete a good Volunteer weekend rotation that will lead this team pretty far. However, it seems to me that they are a bad pitching performance or a slump away from falling apart, and as a result, a year from contention.

    South Carolina: What jumps out when looking at the Carolina roster is the freshman set to make an impact. Smoak has double-digit home run potential, and Reese Havens has all the makings of a future first-rounder up the middle. Heck, I could see both Will Atwood and James Darnell making significant contributions. All these freshman will undoubtedly create quite the offense, giving senior Michael Campbell and junior Jon Willard some protection in the middle of the order. However, a lot of runs might not be enough in some games as the Gamecocks have a very inexperienced pitching staff with their top three starters all graduating. The weekend rotation will be featuring three guys who did not hit the 30 inning mark last year, which isn't a good sign. As a result, you can bet that South Carolina will go as far as their offense, and especially those stud freshman, take them.

    Mississippi: Brian Pettway and Stephen Head hit a lot of home runs last year, 39 to be exact. Both are now in farm systems. However, the Ole Miss offense will survive. Mark Wright remains after hitting 13 home runs as a sophomore, and of course, the club has Coghlan. Chris does it all at third base, and it would not be a surprise to see his OBP around .500 in 2006. The rotation also saw some big exits, as the top five starters and nearly 500 strikeouts leave the program. Therefore, it's likely that by the end of the season, freshman Cody Satterwhite (my SEC FOY pick) will be the club's Friday Night pitcher. It's hard to go far like that, but with this experienced offense, I wouldn't bet against it.

    A Trio of Potentials

    It wouldn't be a surprise to see Vanderbilt, Georgia or Alabama in the field of 64 at season's end. In fact, Baseball America thinks that both latter teams will be in postseason play. 'Bama is the opposite of a lot of the teams we've been looking at: most of their offense has graduated. However, the team has a pitching staff that could lead them to quite a few wins. After a great Cape performance, Wade LeBlanc leads the way, and as mentioned, should help in making a star out of Miers Quigley. Like South Carolina, Alabama will go as far as their recruiting class takes them.

    Georgia has a very experienced team with much of their offense back. This will be the strength of the Bulldogs team, and it will lead an inexperienced pitching staff. Besides Brooks Brown in the bullpen, the team is another depending on a lot of unproven starting pitchers. This should allow freshman Iain Sebastian to make a pretty big impact. Over in Vanderbilt, patience is the motto amongst their fans. After a super strong recruiting class, the team will be hot and cold in 2006, with just an outside chance at postseason play. In 2007, however, they will be among the top two or three programs in the SEC, with the foundation laid to continue to be a powerhouse.

    At the Bottom of the East and West

    It's going to be a rough year for Auburn fans, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Like Vandy, the Tigers will be starting a few freshman this year, and their play dictates Auburn's future. Bristow has the potential to be a star, as do newcomers Luke Greinke (Zack's brother) and Mike Bianucci in the infield. Look out for this team in 2008.

    As for Kentucky, I suggest fans go out just to watch John Shelby. The end.

    WTNYJanuary 27, 2006
    Code Red in Cincy
    By Bryan Smith

    When moving into a new ballpark, the idea is to follow the Cleveland Indians model. In the seven years prior to changing stadiums, the Indians were one of the American League's worst teams: a 498-636 record. However, the team fittingly left Cleveland Stadium for Jacobs Field at the same time their youth blossomed. In the eight years that followed the move, the Indians made the playoffs six time with a regular season record of 718-509.

    Unsurprisingly, the team was no worse than third in AL attendance during this run, drawing over three million fans for six straight seasons. New stadiums add increased revenue, and separately, winning brings in more fans. Add winning and a new stadium, and the results are profitable.

    This was the Cincinnati Reds hope following the 2002 season, when they finished 3rd in the National League Central. While the team had flirted with success in the previous decade, they had little to show for themselves since Lou Piniella's 1990 World Series Championship. However, one could argue the pieces were in place after 2002.

    Adam Dunn and Austin Kearns had just finished their first full seasons in Cincinnati, and were both extremely productive. Between the two in the outfield was Ken Griffey Jr., who had been great with Cincy previously, but struggled with injuries in 2002. The club's 4.27 ERA had been a product of Elmer Dessens, Chris Reitsma, Danny Graves and Scott Williamson. Heck, Jimmy Haynes had won 15 games.

    The Reds were hoping to pull at least a shortened version of the Indians model by winning the division in 2003. They failed, miserably. While the offense regressed by a total of 15 runs, the Great American Ballpark saw the pitching staff give up an extra 112 runs. The club's bullpen had been a success in 2003, but Jim Bowden's rotation was abysmal: Ryan Dempster and Haynes had ERAs above 6.00, and as you surely remember, the Danny Graves starting expirament failed miserably.

    It's no surprise that after the 2003 season, General Manager Jim Bowden was out of Cincinnati. The club hired Texas executive, and Doug Melvin/John Hart understudy, Dan O'Brien to fill Bowden's shoes. His job requirements were simple: piece together a viable pitching staff and maximize the potential from the offense.

    Bowden certainly could have left O'Brien with worse to work with. Months before leaving the team, Bowden had acquired Aaron Harang for bargain-basement signing Jose Guillen, as well as landing Brandon Claussen from the Yankees. Ryan Wagner had been picked in the previous draft, and expectations were pretty high for all three players.

    [Note from Bryan, 1/29/06: Since this article was written, my readers have informed me that (current interim GM) Brad Kullman was the man responsible for acquiring Harang and Claussen. It's no great surprise that two of the best moves the Reds have made in the last five years have had Kullman's stamp. Coincidence, it is not.]

    In his first real move as General Manager, nearly two months after having been hired, O'Brien attempted to fill a rotation spot with Cory Lidle. Formerly relatively successful as a member of the Oakland A's, Lidle was coming off a season with Toronto in which he had a 5.75 ERA. Lidle's durability was solid, so you might think he would be a fine addition to the back of a rotation. In Cincinnati, he was near the top.

    Besides a signing of Javier Valentin and releasing Russ Branyan, O'Brien went into Spring Training having changed very little about the team Jim Bowden had handled him. However, in Spring Training he made a pair of very interesting moves. On March 25, the Reds signed veteran reliever Todd Jones to a one-year contract. As Jones would take a spot in the bullpen, the next day the club traded Chris Reitsma to the Braves for Bubba Nelson and Jung Bong.

    Thanks to some increased health, good revivals from Sean Casey and Barry Larkin, and great power from Adam Dunn and Wily Mo Pena, the Cincinnati offense improved by more than 50 runs in 2004. Griffey even had 300 at-bats during the season. However, by scoring 750 runs, the club was asking for a reduction of 136 runs from their pitching staff to have a pythagorean record of even .500. Rather than shaving off 136 runs, the staff gave up 21 more.

    As one might guess, the Cory Lidle signing was no great success story, as he put up a 5.32 ERA in 149 innings. Also, young pitchers Jose Acevedo and Claussen were abysmal in a combined 41 starts. Simply put, Paul Wilson and Aaron Harang were simply not good enough -- aces with 92 and 82 ERA+s, respectively -- to offset horrendous performances from the likes of Todd Van Poppel, John Reidling and Phil Norton.

    The one positive in my mind from O'Brien's first season at GM was the way he handled his first two real signings, Lidle and Jones, trading each around deadline time. Magically, O'Brien was able to convince the Phillies to give up a combined five players for two months worth of two mediocre pitchers. Of the group, O'Brien was notably able to land Anderson Machado, Josh Hancock and Javon Moran. So, O'Brien did make up for his trading gaffe of Reitsma with these two.

    This is where, my friends, O'Brien left us with very little to compliment him on. Again, he entered the 2004-2005 winter with the goal of creating a better pitching staff, of dropping about 150 runs in that department. Ownership even gave him a little bit of money to spend to do so. So, naturally, O'Brien began by awarding Paul Wilson for his mediocre season (hadn't he learned the Jimmy Haynes lesson) by giving him a two-year, $8.2 million contract. Without spoiling the ending, I'll say this: the Reds will be paying Wilson money in 2006, but after 2005, expectations will be pretty low.

    His next move was trading prospect (and I use that word loosely here) Dustin Moseley to the Anaheim Angels for Ramon Ortiz. I actually liked this move at the time, thinking Ortiz had a bit of an upside, despite pretty bad seasons in 2003 and 2004. Still, the cost was very little, and at worst, the team could ship him to the bullpen. However, both I and O'Brien didn't quite note the flyball issues that Ortiz had, which would not be helped by a move to the Great American Ballpark.

    Next on the docket was the bullpen, for which O'Brien signed veterans Dave Weathers and Kent Mercker. Both essentially got two-year contracts, Weathers at a total of $2.75 million, and Mercker at $2.6 million. It's dangerous to be signing multi-year deals on players like this, but with the cost low and some previous success on their resumes, O'Brien could have done worse with these deals.

    Having released Russ Branyan, quit on Brandon Larson, and discovered that Ryan Freel didn't slug like a third baseman, O'Brien's next move was signing Joe Randa to a modest one-year, $1.3 million contract. This isn't a move with a lot of upside -- a theme of last year's offseason -- but again, he could do worse. Eventually, I'd like to note, Randa would get traded midseason for two pitching prospects. If we say anything good about Dan O'Brien, it must be that he's quite skilled at persuading others on just how valuable two months of cheap mediocrity is.

    Still, the Reds were missing one thing: an ace. And O'Brien had nearly $9 million to spend on acquiring one. While a player like Kevin Millwood was signed relatively inexpensively a year ago, the Reds opted on Eric Milton. Like all of O'Brien's acquisitions, Milton had a history of durability, a stamp of mediocrity, and the ability to allow the home run. In the minds of the Reds front office, this was worth a three-year, $25.5 million deal. Horrendous.

    In 2005, the Reds scored 70 more runs than the previous season. They allowed, somehow, 18 less runs. However, they lost three more games last season, as the team ERA of 5.15 still didn't get the job done. Felipe Lopez broke out, Griffey was healthy, and the offense performed admirably. But led by Milton's 6.47 ERA and Wilson's 46.1 innings pitched, the pitching staff was again a failure. Besides trading Randa and stealing Allan Simpson from Colorado, O'Brien was quiet while his team self-destructed.

    To make matters worse, for the third straight season, attendance fell at the Great American Ballpark. In fact, it fell below the two million mark, nearing Cinergy Field numbers.

    This was seen as a very important winter for the Cincinnati Reds. The team was finally able to trade one of their many outfielders for some pitching, but besides that, was set there. And considering that Harang and Claussen had successful seasons, and Milton is tied up, O'Brien was left with patching up just two rotation slots.

    Following a season in which he hit .312, but was sapped of all power, O'Brien decided Sean Casey was the best member to trade from his depth. One could argue that a player like Austin Kearns would be better, given Casey's presence in the PR department as well as Kearns' numerous suitors. However, O'Brien found something he liked: a left-handed, durable (well, sorta), home run prone, mediocre starting pitcher. In exchange for Casey, the team acquired Dave Williams, coming off a 4.41 ERA season with the Pittsburgh Pirates. This wasn't a horrendous move, but I certainly contest that the team could have done better.

    In a very odd turn, on the day in which the Casey deal was consummated, O'Brien also felt the need to add a second baseman. Why, you might ask? Don't the Reds have Ryan Freel? Apparently Freel's .371 OBP isn't better than the speed and veteran leadership that Tony Womack provides! Oh, by the way, this is a player whose OBP has never topped .350. While this deal isn't up to Milton-esque proportions, O'Brien was able to stand on the other fence of a meaningless one-year acquisition. Especially when, weeks later, the team would re-sign Rich Aurilia to a one-year contract.

    This is where the story ends for Dan O'Brien. Shortly after taking ownership of the Reds, Robert Castellini fired O'Brien, putting Brad Kullman in the interim GM role while he searches for the next person to lead this team. O'Brien's legacy is not a very good one, arguably one without a vision but rather the obsession with mediocrity.

    I'd like to think there is still some potential to be found within the depths of this Red team. If in charge, I would trade both Jason Larue and Austin Kearns for pitching. In their spots, Javier Valentin takes over the catcher role, while Pena plays in right field. In center is a split between Chris Denorfia and Freel, while Aurilia mans second base for one more season. Add the two starters that those two veteran hitters provide to a rotation of Williams, Harang and Claussen, and things could be worse.

    But no matter which action the next leader of the Reds takes, it must be one with a clear vision. The team must maximize the potential of its young offensive players, build a farm system from nothing, and of course, add pitching to a staff that has barely seen it in a decade.

    And, more than anything else, put fans in the seats. It's too late to follow the Cleveland Indian method, but the mantra that winning adds attendance applies even in a stadium's fourth year.

    WTNYJanuary 24, 2006
    Nightmare on the Farm
    By Bryan Smith

    Ranking farm systems is a practice that I generally avoid. It's simply too difficult to come up with a solid ranking, as one should effectively balance the number of and degree of top-heavy players, the depth in a system, as well as those that have recently graduated and been traded. It's a lot to balance.

    Instead, most of the time I like to stick to tiers. We know that at the top of any organizational ranking list, in no particular order, should be the Dodgers, Diamondbacks, Marlins and Angels. These come as no surprise. We know about the other good systems: the Devil Rays, Red Sox, Braves, etc. The successes of these teams are well documented.

    We criticize General Managers for bad trades, for bad signings, for not making any trades or any signings. We bash managers and players, and after the occasional draft, we criticize scouting directors. However, very seldom do we talk about organizations that need to improve their farm systems.

    In the mailbag following my top 75 prospects, I made a chart of the number of prospects that each organization brought to my list. There were no teams that completely missed out; however, six clubs had just one prospect in my top 100 players. Today I'd like to look at those six in more detail in hopes of narrowing down the worst of the bunch. For each of the teams, I will give you the next best three prospects (in my mind), along with a brief look at what else the system provides.

    Washington Nationals

    Top 100 Prospect: Ryan Zimmerman (12)
    Next Best Three : Kory Casto, Clint Everts, Colin Balester

    Things were looking really, really bad about eight months ago. Top prospect Clint Everts was injured, Larry Broadway was struggling, and Mike Hinckley was looking like a different pitcher. There was very, very little to like in this system. And then came Ryan Zimmerman, the fourth pick of the 2005 draft. Zimmerman shot through the system, going from the University of Virginia to the Major Leagues in about two months. Next year, Zim is a favorite to win the NL Rookie of the Year. He is the Washington system.

    In my mind, the second best prospect in the Washington system is a different third baseman. Kory Casto, a third round pick in 2003, broke out in a big way last season. Casto has very good power and patience, but is lacking a bit in contact skills and athleticism. After Casto is 2002 first-round pick Clint Everts, who has progressed very slowly in the system, especially after being injured last season. His potential is that of a #2/3 starter, but it remains to be seen if he can reach that. After those three players, there is very little that I like in the system.

    New York Mets

    Top 100 Prospect: Lastings Milledge (17)
    Next Best Three: Phil Humber, Brian Bannister, Anderson Hernandez

    I've talked very much this winter about Omar Minaya's moves this winter that have mortgaged the Mets future for the present. For Carlos Delgado, he traded the likes of Yusmeiro Petit, Mike Jacobs and Grant Psomas. Paul Lo Duca cost Gaby Hernandez. Once upon a time, this system had some very good players at the top, and then enough average talent in the system to be middle-of-the-road. Then, suddenly, all but Milledge left the system, and there was just one player at the top. Suddenly, those average players are among the organization's best.

    One player not mentioned in this debate is Mike Pelfrey, who adds considerably to this system. He provides the team with one of the top 50 talents they lost in Petit. We also should give the team credit for having the players from which to deal, as much of the success in 2006 will be a result of the farm system. The Mets aren't the worst system in the Majors, but after losing so much, they are near that bottom tier.

    Chicago Cubs

    Top 100 Prospect: Felix Pie (19)
    Next Best Three: Mark Pawelek, Ronny Cedeno, Ryan Harvey

    The Cubs had very high hopes for their farm system last year, as they were planning on having Felix Pie turn a corner, and they had a minor league home run king in Brian Dopirak. Angel Guzman was supposed to be healthy again, Ryan Harvey was entering his first full season and Jason Dubois was ready to get his big break. The Cubs were very, very well thought of, with probably one of the top 15 systems in the game.

    If you had told me that Matt Murton would hit over .300 in the Majors, and Ronny Cedeno's bat would prove to be real, I would have said top ten. But, that was not the case. Brian Dopirak fell apart, Angel Guzman stayed hurt, and Billy Petrick got hurt. Jason Dubois struggled in a limited opportunity, and Felix Pie was hurt for the year by July. Still, Pie had a very good season, and the team's draft pick -- Mark Pawelek -- showed fantastic potential. There is still hope for this system, but they simply need to have a year in 2006 that is as good as 2005 was bad.

    St. Louis Cardinals

    Top 100 Prospect: Anthony Reyes (31)
    Next Best Three: Colby Rasmus, Chris Lambert, Tyler Greene

    For years, the Cardinals have floated near the bottom of Baseball America's organizational rankings. Last year, they were dead last. Simply put, Walt Jocketty does not put a lot of stock in minor leaguers, and the team has never had a great number of players from which to trade from. However, it does appear that, with a more college-oriented philosophy, the tide might be changing in St. Louis.

    In 2004, Anthony Reyes had a modest start to the season in high-A before dominating the Southern League. And whatever potential he showed that year, Reyes proved to be for real in AAA, as well as limited Major League action last season. While the Cardinals haven't showed a ton of faith to give him a spot yet, they expect very high things down the road. Much further down the road lies much of the rest of the system. The Cardinals are very highly invested in their 2005 draft, which includes Rasmus, Greene, Mark McCormick, and Nick Stavinoha. We'll see how much of this is for real next season, but for the first time in awhile, there is reason for hope.

    Chicago White Sox

    Top 100 Prospect: Brian Anderson (33)
    Next Best Three: Lance Broadway, Ray Liotta, Ryan Sweeney

    In the past, I have criticized Omar Minaya for trading most of the Mets top prospects. If I do that, it's only fair to do the same with Kenny Williams, who acquired Javier Vazquez and Jim Thome in part because of Gio Gonzalez, Daniel Haigwood and Chris Young. Young broke out in big ways last year, Gonzalez turned out to be a fantastic draft pick, and Haigwood is the kind of solid, young starter that good systems have lots of. However, with those three players gone, there is not much depth left in this system.

    At the top is Brian Anderson, who was part of the reason behind Young's trade, as was organizational favorite Jerry Owens. Joining Owens atop the White Sox thoughts is Ryan Sweeney, who has been touted highly since his first Spring Training, and former first-rounder Josh Fields, who finished the season better than you might think. Besides that group, there is very little else in this system. I like southpaw Ray Liotta more than I did Haigwood, and Broadway was certainly not the worst first-rounder they could have made.

    Cincinnati Reds

    Top 100 Prospect: Homer Bailey (40)
    Next Best Three: Jay Bruce, Chris Denorfia, Travis Wood

    It isn't a good sign for an organization when their top prospect can be found on my breakouts list. Bailey is a fantastic talent that I think highly of, but he's still pretty raw, and his presence atop the Reds prospect list speaks more of the organization than it does Homer. For years the Reds have tried to fix their pitching weakness by cultivating it in the minors, and for years, the results have been ugly. Their pitching prospects continually get hurt.

    Like the Cardinals, much of the future of the Reds farm system is predicated upon the 2005 draft. The early results are promising, as Jay Bruce showed fantastic athleticism as a top pick, and Travis Wood looked like a steal. If those two continue to break out in 2006, this system will prosper. I should also note that I think very highly of Denorfia, who would be in my top 125 and should make an excellent fringe outfielder (CF or 4th OF) for some system. However, this team lacks any form of depth you could imagine, and Bruce, Wood and Bailey are all very far away from being Major Leaguers.

    * * * * *

    In the end, none of these systems look to be particularly impressive. However, I think the Nationals and Reds clearly stand out as the two worst teams. Given the potential of Bailey and Bruce, and my high thoughts for Denorfia, I think Cincinnati probably has the better system.

    This gives the Washington Nationals, understaffed for years, the worst system in Major League Baseball. As this team finds an owner, and likely a new staff in the coming year, we can only hope an emphasis is placed on a farm system that offers very little hope.

    WTNYJanuary 18, 2006
    Leaving Las Vegas
    By Bryan Smith
    ["You Just Hope He Never Changes'] said Vin Scully about Edwin Jackson last night, and I couldn't agree more. Especially because Vin was talking not only about Jackson's pitching, but his smile.

    Call me a sentimental fool, but there is nothing like seeing a young baseball player thrilled. And to see that ballplayer balance his excitement with poise - that's pretty much the pinnacle of enjoyment for me as a fan.

    -- Jon Weisman, the day following Edwin Jackson's MLB debut

    Phenoms. Among the many reasons we watch baseball, there is no question that they are high up there on the list. We live to see Felix Hernandez step on the rubber as a teenager, or Jeff Francouer almost winning the Rookie of the Year. These players bring hope to organizations, and even more so, to the game.

    This is what the Dodgers thought they had in Edwin Jackson. However, management simply got too excited, too quickly. The Dodgers saw a former sixth-round pick pitching well at the AA level -- at the age of 20 -- and jumped at the chance to bring him up. Jackson pitched well in September of 2003, under the pressure, but since has fallen apart. He has since become a "change of scenery needed" player, unfortunately falling in the same category as a player like Sean Burroughs.

    Jackson's pro career started in 2002 when the team began him in the South Atlantic League less than a year removed from high school. It was there when Edwin first began to show signs that he had been a steal in the draft. During that season, Jackson had a 1.98 ERA for the Catfish, allowing just 79 hits in 104.2 innings. However, by striking out just 85 batters, Jackson was able to stay under the radar (respectively), for the most part.

    That changed quickly in 2003. The Dodgers decided to allow the mature Jackson to skip a level, bypassing an offensive park at Vero Beach and moving up to the Southern League. This is where Edwin took off. When the AA season had ended, Jackson was among the league leaders in strikeouts, whiffing 157 batters in 148.1 innings. He continued to post a good H/9 rate, allowing just 121 hits, and showing moderate control with 53 walks.

    Edwin was on top of the world. Any apprehension about his 3.70 ERA -- despite those great peripherals -- were erased by his fantastic stuff. The Dodgers, clinging to the hope of staying in the playoff race, called up Edwin at the end of the 2003 season. In his first start, Jackson drew the task of going up Randy Johnson and the Arizona Diamondbacks. The results were fantastic, as Jackson allowed just one earned run on four hits in six innings, allowing zero walks.

    His fastball was in the upper 90s. His breaking pitch was biting. That month, Jackson would have a 2.45 ERA in 22 innings, allowing 17 hits while striking out 19. We thought he was guaranteed a rotation spot the next season. And this is when we enter the gray area.

    Some say the Dodgers changed Jackson's mechanics over the winter between 2003 and 2004. Some think Edwin might have been injured. Some worry he didn't work hard enough. Or, he simply could have been pitching over his head in '03. Whatever the cause, Jackson was not prepared to meet expectations in 2004. After a poor Spring Training, the Dodgers decided to start Jackson in Las Vegas to start the 2004 season.

    For those unaware, Las Vegas is one of the PCL's most extreme hitter parks, a stadium not built for the psyche of 21-year-old starters. In nineteen starts at AAA that season, Edwin had a 5.86 ERA. The cause is not what you might guess (home runs), but instead a large increase in walks. Simply put, over the winter, Jackson's control of his fastball fell apart. And lacking the same bite on his breaking pitch, thanks to the desert air, Edwin managed to log just 70 strikeouts in 90.1 AAA innings.

    His AAA season was interrupted, however, by another trial in the Majors. Needing a starter for a June 2 game against the Brewers, the Dodgers decided to give Edwin a couple day's rest from the 51s. Again, he impressed pitching in the Majors, allowing one run over five innings in which he uncharacteristically let his infield do his work for him. The team then sent Jackson down, and tried again a month later. This time, the results weren't so good, though the team would win in each of his starts, and his season ERA was still just 3.86 when the team allowed him to finish the AAA season.

    Given a September call-up, this is officially when the wheels came off for Edwin Jackson. In his last 13 innings, he would give up fifteen earned runs, 22 hits and four home runs. Even his poor performance couldn't complete deter excitement for his right arm, as I saw a few ups and downs in an appearance I watched via MLB TV:

    In the 12 pitch inning, Jackson threw nine fastballs, showing a drastic preference for the pitch. He was between 91-95 mph on what I've described as a 'slow gun', so probably even 93-97. Despite walking one batter, Jackson showed solid control of the pitch, never missing by too much. He also showed a decent curve, with solid downward bite at 82-84 mph. It looks like he has the tendency to leave his pitches up in the zone, which is probably the reason for the three home runs allowed this season. But overall, I like him, while admitting the ranking may have been a little high.

    While Jackson's poor September couldn't tarnish his reputation, it did all but guarantee a return trip to Las Vegas. The Dodgers did not realize that it was not the right environment for him to pitch in. And since September, 2004, things have only gotten worse. This past season, Jackson would pitch in 55.1 AAA innings. During that time, and I urge you to brace yourself, he allowed 76 hits, 37 walks, 13 home runs and 53 earned runs. An ERA of 8.62 and a WHIP over 2.00. A nightmare.

    Finally making a move to help Jackson's future, it was then the Dodgers decided to demote Jackson back down to AA. He hadn't seen Jacksonville since leaving there in 2003 as a phenom. Now he was all-but-forgotten. In his first start at the lower level, Jackson allowed seven runs in five innings, serving up two home runs. After that point, Jackson settled down and things started to improve.

    In his next 57 innings, Jackson would have a 2.68 ERA. He allowed just 46 hits, struck out 41 (not great) and allowed 17 walks. Edwin was called up to the Majors towards the end of August after a hot streak in which he allowed just three earned runs in 22 innings. We were hoping the old Jackson, the first version, was back.

    I recently re-watched one of Jackson's better starts in the MLB of 2005, which of course isn't saying much. Against the Astros, he allowed six hits and three earned runs in 5.1 innings. But he struck out 6 hitters, at least.

    It seems now that what I saw in that August 27 start was not the same pitcher I had seen in the past. His fastball was really between 91 and 93, and Edwin could occassionally add a bit onto that. The control of the pitch seemed to vary, though I understand it's difficult given the good amount of movement it possesses. However, Jackson also has pretty noticeable mechanical problems, falling heavily to the first base side after pitching. His key pitch was his breaking ball that was quite successul. In fact, he didn't rely on this pitch enough, again showing an overdependency for the fastball. Jackson flashed a change up that wasn't very good, as each time the ball was left too high in the zone.

    So what's next for Jackson? The change of scenery should be good, mostly because he can start the season in AAA, in a more neutral environment. The key for the Devil Rays will be to try and get Jackson to gain more confidence in his breaking ball, and also learn to control his fastball better. He can pitch from just 91-93, that's fine, but to do so there must be some semblance of control. And most of all, Jackson needs to regain the confidence of his youth, to again show the smile on the mound that Jon Weisman referenced.

    We were wrong about Edwin Jackson, he wasn't a phenom. Let's just hope the Dodgers didn't prevent him from becoming anything at all.


    WTNYJanuary 14, 2006
    2006 WTNY 75: Mailbag
    By Bryan Smith

    Before starting today's mailbag, I thought we would recap, and go through the list that I counted down this week. Below are my top 75 prospects for 2006, in order. The players that are linked are the last players talked about in each article, if you'd like to back through.

    1. Delmon Young - OF - Tampa Bay Devil Rays
    2. Jeremy Hermida - OF - Florida Marlins
    3. Brandon Wood - SS - Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
    4. Prince Fielder - 1B - Milwaukee Brewers
    5. Francisco Liriano - LHP - Minnesota Twins
    6. Stephen Drew - SS - Arizona Diamondbacks
    7. Carlos Quentin - OF - Arizona Diamondbacks
    8. Matt Cain - RHP - San Francisco Giants
    9. Andy Marte - 3B - Boston Red Sox
    10. Billy Butler - OF - Kansas City Royals
    11. Chad Billingsley - SP - Los Angeles Dodgers
    12. Ryan Zimmerman - 3B - Washington Nationals
    13. Justin Verlander - RHP - Detroit Tigers
    14. Jon Lester - LHP - Boston Red Sox
    15. Alex Gordon - 3B - Kansas City Royals
    16. Conor Jackson - 1B - Arizona Diamondbacks
    17. Lastings Milledge - OF - New York Mets
    18. Ian Stewart - 3B - Colorado Rockies
    19. Felix Pie - OF - Chicago Cubs
    20. Scott Olsen - LHP - Florida Marlins
    21. Joel Guzman - SS/3B - Los Angeles Dodgers
    22. Jon Papelbon - RHP - Boston Red Sox
    23. Joel Zumaya - RHP - Detroit Tigers
    24. Jarrod Saltalamacchia - C - Atlanta Braves
    25. Andy LaRoche - 3B - Los Angeles Dodgers
    26. Daric Barton - 1B - Oakland Athletics
    27. John Danks - LHP - Texas Rangers
    28. Yusmeiro Petit - RHP - Florida Marlins
    29. Chris Young - OF - Arizona Diamondbacks
    30. Nick Markakis - OF - Baltimore Orioles
    31. Anthony Reyes - RHP - St. Louis Cardinals
    32. Anibal Sanchez - RHP - Florida Marlins
    33. Brian Anderson - OF - Chicago White Sox
    34. Thomas Diamond - RHP - Texas Rangers
    35. Howie Kendrick - 2B - Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
    36. Hanley Ramirez - SS - Florida Marlins
    37. Russ Martin - C - Los Angeles Dodgers
    38. Jeremy Sowers - LHP - Cleveland Indians
    39. Adam Miller - RHP - Cleveland Indians
    40. Homer Bailey - RHP - Cincinnati Reds
    41. Adam Loewen - LHP - Baltimore Orioles
    42. Dustin Pedroia - 2B/SS - Boston Red Sox
    43. Jeff Clement - C - Seattle Mariners
    44. Neil Walker - C - Pittsburgh Pirates
    45. Adam Jones - OF - Seattle Mariners
    46. Phil Hughes - RHP - New York Yankees
    47. Edison Volquez - RHP - Texas Rangers
    48. Hayden Penn - RHP - Baltimore Orioles
    49. Cole Hamels - LHP - Philadelphia Phillies
    50. Craig Hansen - RHP - Boston Red Sox
    51. Gio Gonzalez - LHP - Philadelphia Phillies
    52. Jason Kubel - OF/DH - Minnesota Twins
    53. Elijah Dukes - OF - Tampa Bay Devil Rays
    54. Kendry Morales - 1B/OF - Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
    55. Troy Patton - LHP - Houston Astros
    56. Garrett Mock - RHP - Arizona Diamondbacks
    57. Eric Duncan - 1B - New York Yankees
    58. Javi Herrera - OF - Oakland Athletics
    59. Jeff Mathis - C - Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
    60. Scott Elbert - LHP - Los Angeles Dodgers
    61. Adam Lind - OF - Toronto Blue Jays
    62. Ian Kinsler - 2B - Texas Rangers
    63. Jeff Niemann - SP - Tampa Bay Devil Rays
    64. Jonathan Broxton - RHP - Los Angeles Dodgers
    65. Dustin McGowan - RHP - Toronto Blue Jays
    66. Carlos Gonzales - OF - Arizona Diamondbacks
    67. Asdrubal Cabrera - IF - Seattle Mariners
    68. Gaby Hernandez - RHP - Florida Marlins
    69. Jason Hirsh - RHP - Houston Astros
    70. Chuck James - LHP - Atlanta Braves
    71. Eddy Martinez-Esteve - OF/DH - San Francisco Giants
    72. Chuck Tiffany - LHP - Tampa Bay Devil Rays
    73. Fernando Nieve - SP - Houston Astros
    74. Jered Weaver - SP - Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
    75. Andre Ethier - OF - Los Angeles Dodgers

    HM. Elvis Andrus - SS - Atlanta Braves
    HM. Erick Aybar - 2B/SS - Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
    HM. Wes Bankston - 1B - Tampa Bay Devil Rays
    HM. Josh Barfield - 2B - San Diego Padres
    HM. Ryan Braun - 3B - Milwaukee Brewers
    HM. Reid Brignac - SS - Tampa Bay Devil Rays
    HM. Eric Campbell - 3B - Atlanta Braves
    HM. Cesar Carillo - RHP - San Diego Padres
    HM. Christian Garcia - RHP - New York Yankees
    HM. Justin Huber - 1B - Kansas City Royals
    HM. Matt Kemp - OF - Los Angeles Dodgers
    HM. George Kottaras - C - San Diego Padres
    HM. Cameron Maybin - OF - Detroit Tigers
    HM. Andrew McCutchen - OF - Pittsburgh Pirates
    HM. Miguel Montero - C - Arizona Diamondbacks
    HM. Matt Moses - 3B - Minnesota Twins
    HM. Dustin Nippert - RHP - Arizona Diamondbacks
    HM. Hunter Pence - OF - Houston Astros
    HM. Mark Rogers - RHP - Milwaukee Brewers
    HM. Ricky Romero - LHP - Toronto Blue Jays
    HM. Marcus Sanders - 2B - San Francisco Giants
    HM. Ryan Shealy - 1B - Colorado Rockies
    HM. Troy Tulowitzki - SS - Colorado Rockies
    HM. Merkin Valdez - RHP - San Francisco Giants
    HM. Chris Volstad - RHP - Florida Marlins

    That's a lot to take in, I know. So, I thought it might be fun to look at the distribution per team. Please note that this is hardly an organizational ranking, as some teams who offered just one prospect to this top 100 might have a better system than one that offered three. But anyway, here is a look at the number of prospects that each team brought to the table. For those that had the same number (those in the 5, 4, 3, 2 and 1 categories), I listed the team with the higher number of prospects first. A look:

    Team # Team #
    D-Backs 8 Brewers 3
    Dodgers 8 Rockies 3
    Marlins 7 Yankees 3
    Angels 6 Blue Jays 3
    D-Rays 6 Padres 3
    Red Sox 5 Indians 2
    Rangers 4 A's 2
    Giants 4 Phillies 2
    Braves 4 Pirates 2
    Astros 4 Nats 1
    Royals 3 Mets 1
    Tigers 3 Cubs 1
    Orioles 3 Cards 1
    Seattle 3 Chi Sox 1
    Twins 3 Reds 1

    One striking fact is how the rich got richer since last season ended, which tells a lot about how they value prospects. Of the nine players on the list that traded hands in the last three months, eight of them were acquired by one of the top six teams on this list. Four of them alone were Marlin acquisitions, as the team would have just had three (Hermida, Olsen, Volstad) prospects before.

    [Editor's Note: Since this article was written, the Dodgers traded Chuck Tiffany (with Edwin Jackson) to the Devil Rays for Danys Baez and Lance Carter. By shoring up their bullpen, they no longer have the top spot in the table. Everything in this piece is changed to reflect the trade.]

    Alright, without further ado, here's a look at the mailbag:

    What do you think was the biggest weakness in your list?
    --- Bryan Smith

    In the name of tradition, I wanted to start the WTNY mailbag with a question of my own. I like to be honest with you guys, and oftentimes, I realize mistakes when it is too late. Oftentimes, one of my readers calls me on it, and I kick myself for not having thought about it in more detail sooner. Specific rankings are always dancing around in my heads, but I thought there were two substantial problems with the list that I wish I could fix in hindsight:

    1. Ranking the draftees -- This was my first time doing it, and as a result, I was probably way too conservative. Twelve 2005 draftees made the list, but only five were in the top 75. While I think I was correct in my rankings of those within the top 75 (maybe Gordon over Zimmerman), three more players (Braun, Tulowitzki, Maybin) were probably deserving of spots. I'm just learning how to treat these players, however, so expect an improvement in next year's list.

    2. Hanley Ramirez -- One factor that separates a good prospect list from a bad one is the ability to trust yourself. I believe in the ranking of each player, and the perspective of outsiders has little influence. This was not true with the ranking of Ramirez. It was simply a case of me listening too much to his supporters, and not actually evaluating his candidacy like I did everyone else. As a result, he's vastly overrated, probably to the tune of about 20 spots. So please, if you show your friends this list, try to tone down my ranking of Hanley.

    There are other, smaller issues, but I wanted to get these out of the way first.

    If Justin Upton and Mike Pelfrey had signed before your list was compiled, where would they rank? What are your thoughts on each?
    --- A half-dozen readers

    Upton was the number one pick in the draft, in something of a consensus, so I have him ranked as that. Most scouts, writers and coaches have been awed by his skills, most of which are said to be better than his brother. I can't quantitatively speak of any of Upton's strengths, though we do now that he grades exceptionally in speed, arm strength and contact skills. His power is said to be raw, but with a lot of potential, and I haven't heard much regarding his discipline.

    Justin's one flaw is that he enters the minors with no real position. His struggles at shortstop have been described in numerous ways, even by attributing it to Steve Blass disease, and I'm not sure Arizona would be smart in having him play there. There has been talk of third base, second base and centerfield. To me, the last one is by far the best option. It's the least taxing position to learn, and given his arm strength and speed, the one he profiles best at.

    If I was ranking Upton today, I would give him the number four slot in my top ten. Brandon Wood still gets the nod, but Justin certainly ranks ahead of Fielder.

    As for Pelfrey, he's easier to speak about, as with him we have the numbers in front of us. Before the draft, I thought Pelfrey was its top talent, narrowly ahead of Luke Hochevar and Craig Hansen. His career at Wichita State had been fantastic, with 33 career wins, and an ERA that dropped in each season, culminating in a 1.93 ERA in his junior season. As we learned in Pelfrey's interview with Matthew Namee way back when, Mike throws three pitches, and all of them are pretty advanced.

    His fastball was up to hitting the mid 90s consistently in his junior season, and with it he brings great control. His strikeouts usually come via a power curve that is fantastic, and he also throws a change up. Mike had very few problems his junior season, and I expect his stuff to translate well at the pro level. Right now, his prospect status would be between #45 and 50, right ahead of Hansen.

    Aaron Hill wasn't expected to make the majors until this year - if he hadn't, about where would you see him on this list?
    --- Daniel

    Don't know how much of Yuniesky Betancourt (24 MLB) you've seen, but do you think he should just be a placeholder for Cabrera?
    --- Trev

    I put these two questions together because they both deal with sophomores. I'll have a whole article on the game's top sophomores as we inch closer to the season (as I did last year), but since you're asking, I might as well answer ahead of time.

    At the beginning of the season, the Blue Jays had thought third base was one of their deepest positions. They were fresh off signing Corey Koskie, and had former ROY Eric Hinske waiting in the wings should Koskie re-injure himself. He did, of course, and when Hinske wasn't there, the Blue Jays were left to turn to top prospect Aaron Hill. And considering the circumstances, Hill performed quite well, hitting .415 in his first month, and keeping it above .300 until August 15.

    With Orlando Hudson traded this winter, the Jays will be moving Hill from third to second, his third position in two seasons. Aaron won't be great at second I don't think -- surely a regression from Hudson -- but his bat will carry him. He hit 31 extra base hits in 361 at-bats, a very good ratio for a rookie. In addition, Hill showed fantastic contact skills (just 41 K), pretty good patience (34 walks), and showed a good read on left-handed pitching. His season numbers fell apart with his endurance, both of which should be rectified in 2006.

    I can say without doubt that Hill will make the top 20 sophomores list. Betancourt, I imagine, will be right on the bubble.

    From what I've seen, and even more so from what I've heard, Betancourt might be the best defensive shortstop in the league, right now. I saw a bit of it in the Futures Game, when Yuniesky's range took him past the second base bag from the shortstop position to make a play. He moves to hit left and right exceptionally, and has a rocket of an arm. In a just world, which we don't have, he'll win a Gold Glove next year.

    But the Mariners desire to bring up Betancourt's defense to the Major League level cost his bat some serious developmental time. Before being brought up to the Majors, Yuniesky had split time between AA and AAA, and hit about .283/.310/.425. He had walked just 17 times in those 410 at-bats, showing now patience. His only plus was striking out just 32 times, showing potential as a future member of OOPs.

    Yuniesky will have an empty batting average as a pro. His defense will make up for it. Asdrubal might as well move to second full-time in 2006.

    How can we not comment on Marte's "sample" numbers in the Majors? On a team that played 1,000 rookies, they wouldn't let Marte start when Chipper was hurt the second time over Wilson Betemit! In the same "sample" number of ABs, players like McCann, Francouer, and Cano were much better. We must question a prospect when a franchise like the Braves feels confident enough to trade him away for the likes of an Edgar Renteria.
    --- Kevin

    ...how can you justify putting Fielder 5 spots ahead of Marte when they had similar numbers last year (when you consider league and park effects), their similar age, (but most importantly) position difference. Marte is described as a future very good glove at 3B, whereas Fielder is poor at 1B. I'd put Marte ahead of Fielder at this point.
    --- John

    Again, I enjoy putting questions together. Here, I wanted to put an anti-Marte comment with a pro-Marte one. I think it makes a nice contrast.

    Answering Kevin's point first, I mentioned it was a sample size because his numbers really do have no statistical significance. Everyone of the players you mentioned performed better, true, but they all had more time to prove their worth. Andy was also on a start one day, off the next schedule, one in which it's hard to get going. But there is a comment to be made for his cup of coffee, as I am worried that Bobby Cox gave up on him so fast. If managers were candid, I'd love to know what Bobby saw that we aren't. There had to be something.

    John, you make a good point. But Fielder profiles to hit for more consistent power than Marte, and also has the potential to win a home run crown. As I said in my comment, not only is the ceiling there, but I truly believe it will happen. Andy will draw ahead of Prince by playing 3B, but Fielder should make up the difference in career home runs. Oh, and Andy has much higher bust potential.

    I know Brandon Wood will be in the top 10 and he should be, but at the beginning of the year Laroche was leading High A in homers and was having a heck of a first half, Wood was right behind him. The dodgers are known for moving up their prospects and Laroche was moved up to AA in a bigger park.

    Having said that, do you take those types of things into account when you make your list and analyze prospects against one another? I mean wouldn't Laroche been the homerun leader if he wouldve stayed in single A all year & wouldn't he have been the MOST talked about player if he wouldve played all year there?
    --- Erik

    Erik, great question. If LaRoche had stayed at Vero Beach, there's a chance he would have hit 40-45 home runs, and a chance he would have been named my minor league player of the year. I don't think there's a chance, however, he would have become one of the top five prospects in baseball.

    I disagreed with the decision to leave Brandon Wood at one level for the whole season, but we also have to remember he was just 20 years old. Staying at that level surely provides a confidence booster, as now Wood is known as the 100 XBH man. LaRoche is 21, was more advanced, and better off being challenged. Also, remember than in high-A, Andy wasn't walking, so we would also be talking about a third baseman with 40 walks.

    LaRoche's AA season actually gave me more confidence that he won't bust. He proved to have patience under pressure, and his power held up under a more difficult situation. His tools will not allow him to become a 40-HR talent in the pros, while Wood has better tools. Numbers can only go so far, as there is more involved in telling us what a player might profile to hit.

    Brandon is a shortstop who hit 100 extra-base hits at the age of 20. His power could be among the best at the SS position in the Majors. LaRoche had a very good minor league season, and will probably max out at being a 30-35 HR guy in the pros, par for the course at his position. There difference in ranking is right there.

    I am wondering where you see jeff Salazar of Rockies? He's like Barton -- early had great k/bb ratio -- but has not progressed like Barton. What is his offensive upside? Is he a major league starter? allstar? when?
    --- Shoedog

    It's too early to say that the sun is setting for Jeff Salazar, but it's certainly the afternoon. It now seems like every season the Rockies too aggressively promote the former Cowboy, and as a result, he struggles in each second half. This year it was even worse, as when Colorado pushed Salazar out of the Texas League, he wasn't even hitting well. The team would have been far better off in leaving him at the level for the whole season so they could see what they had in the former eighth round pick.

    What do they have? How about David DeJesus divided by ten. A left-handed hitter, Salazar's best strength is his patience with more than 70 walks in each of the last three years. His contact skills fell apart at the higher levels this year, and at a normal stadium, Salazar probably couldn't hit past .280 or .290. Who knows at Coors. What I do know is that his CF defense would never be a strength there, probably just a bit below average. In the end, Jeff is a pretty poor prospect who gained no consideration for this list. He might, one day, draw some consideration for a bench spot.

    Do you think Ian Kinsler should play SS and Young should move back to 2B? Most metrics (UZR) have Young as one of the worst defensive SS in the game. Or is Kinsler just as bad?
    --- Trev

    Trev, statistically, you probably are right that it would be the best solution. Young has pretty much no range at shortstop, and I've been told that Kinsler isn't bad there. The Rangers had originally drafted him for his defense, so he could probably be pretty average there. Young at second isn't so bad, so they probably save a few runs.

    But, realistically, I'm not sure it's worth the hassle. We're talking about moving two players who have already been moved once. In the same winter, in the span of a couple months. Sure, they both have experience at the past position, but the best option is probably to let them try and improve at their current position. Playing for ten and fifteen runs might look good on paper, but in the real world, it's not always the best.

    What causes Patton to fall from 46 to 55? I figured with much of the same stats after a promotion to FSL you'd probably rank him in the 25-40 range (which is where I would rank him).
    --- ultxmxpx

    I'm not sure Patton fell in my mind at all. Another thing I have to work on in the next year is creating more continuity between my midseason and end-of-year prospect lists. But Patton has stayed about the same since midseason. Remember that right now, there are four 2005 draftees that were added to the list ahead of them. Here's the list of players that were behind Patton at midseason, and have since moved in front of him: Anibal Sanchez, Nick Markakis, Adam Miller, Anthony Reyes, Chris Young, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Cole Hamels. All of these players but Hamels had second halves that reassured us of their good prospect status, and made it so their 2005 was not seen as a fluke in our mind. Patton was passed by a few people, but he hasn't gotten any worse as a prospect.

    Is it fair to say that Russ Martin's comp is Scott Hatteberg back when he was behind the dish for the Red Sox?
    --- Rob McMillan

    Rob, I think that if we compared Martin to Hatteberg, we would be selling him short. Don't let Moneyball fool you, Scott wasn't a great player. His career-high for home runs in a season was 15, and his OBP eclipsed .370 just twice. Not to mention, Hatteberg was piss-poor behind the dish, where the reports of Martin state that he is a plus back there. Russ' contact skills are a bit better than Hatteberg's, while his patience is much the same. His power potential is better, though not by too much, and he also is a plus behind the plate. A very rich man's Hatteberg, maybe.

    He probably doesn't belong on this list because of his age, but I'm wondering what you think of Josh Willingham. Sounds like he'll have the opportunity this year to make a splash. Olivo's bat's not likely to crowd him out.
    --- Mike

    Willingham was very close to making this list, and with more time in the PCL, he just might have. It's hard for me to speak of Josh's offensive ceiling, because we don't have a lot of data to base a prediction from. What we do now, however, if that Willingham has quite a bit of power potential and fantastic patience. His contact skills aren't great, and at best, he profiles to be a .280 hitter in the Majors. What will dictate what his career becomes, however, is whether Josh can stick behind the plate. I'm not sure he can, and I still believe he could end up a solid left fielder. The decision needs to be made soon. Splitting time between catching and left field -- with Olivo taking the rest -- might be the best option.

    Speaking of Rangers pitching prospects, what ever happened to John Hudgins? I assume you're no longer "borderline obsessed" with him.
    --- Trev

    No, Trev, sadly those days are gone. I'm no longer of the belief that Hudgins would fit perfectly in the back of a Major League rotation. But, I'm still clinging to the possibility that he *might*. It was a rough year for John, one in which he became far too hittable when reaching the AAA level. His control worsened, he struck out less people. The whole season was downhill. But I'm not going to close the book on the guy. At best, he's a durable right arm with good pitchability and three average pitches. The Rangers should teach him to throw a sinker more, like they have with a few success stories, and see what comes of it. I'd still give the guy a C+ if I was grading him, so I guess obsessions die slowly.

    ...was wondering whether you think Quentin's propensity to get hit by pitches makes him an injury risk at the MLB level--inquiring fantasy owners want to know!
    --- Marty

    Marty, good question. My guess is that he makes himself a bit more susceptible to freak injuries as a result of it. However, I decided to bring it up to Will Carroll, BP's injury guru, and he sent in this response:

    Well, there's certainly some risk, but like Biggio, it's a skill. If he hasn't been hurt so far, he's demonstrated that he can take it and while any one HBP could be the one to do damage, I'd actually say he's less risky. Practice makes perfect.

    If your league uses OBP, then Quentin's 'skill' certainly outweighs any freak injury chance. If it doesn't, then I don't know what to tell you. It's probably something I would ignore.

    That's all for today. I hope you all have enjoyed the prospect list this past week, as I definitely enjoyed writing it. Thanks are definitely in order to both Rich Lederer, Joe, Jay-Dell Mah, Kevin Goldstein and, of course, all the readers.

    WTNYJanuary 13, 2006
    The 2006 WTNY 10
    By Bryan Smith

    With this article, my 2006 prospect list is complete. Thanks to you, the readers, as this has been the most fulfilling of the three prospect lists I have now created. You all are the driving force behind my motivation, and I again thank you for your continued interest.

    To recap, here is a list of the articles in this series thus far:

    Part One (Honorable Mention)
    Part Two (75-51)
    Part Three (50-26)
    Part Four (25-11)

    Over the weekend, I will answer many of the questions that you guys have (and still will, hopefully) asked since the list began. Please check back for that, and for now, enjoy the list!

    10. Billy Butler - OF - Kansas City Royals - 20 (AA/AAA)

    Introduction: There is no question that many of you will quibble with the decision to name Billy Butler the Royals' top overall prospect over Alex Gordon. I understand such criticism, but what I can offer back is that I believe Butler's bat has more potential than any in the minor leagues, with maybe the exception of Brandon Wood. It's not often that a 19-year-old splits time between A+ and AA, and comes out the other side with 30 home runs. It's not often that he walks 49 times in the process, and hits .340. Forget the park factors involved in a place like High Desert, this just is not supposed to happen. I've compared his bat to Jim Thome in the past, also citing Carlos Lee. But it's quite possible I've undershot Butler, who has the potential to win a batting crown and home run title before it's all said and done.

    Skillset/Future: There is no way to hide Butler's weakness: defense. He started the year at third base, but given Mark Teahen's presence at the Major League level, the draft of Alex Gordon, and his small potential at third, the Royals thought it best to begin to move him in 2005. So, Butler moved to the outfield, where the results have been less than spectacular. However, Billy has the arm for left field, and if reports are correct, then he did improve late in the season. Time will tell if Butler's future is in left, at first or at the DH spot. While he is quite raw in the field, there is very little raw about his bat. Butler was very consistent at drawing walks in high-A, and while the skill faded a bit as he was promoted, it should be a strength at the Major League level. Also, his 98 strikeouts weren't too high, considering his peers, and Butler's contact skills allow him to consistently hit the ball on the nose. So much so, in fact, that he showed fantastic power in his first full pro season. His bat has it all. Butler isn't as sure a bet as a few other players on this list, but very few can match that ceiling. Alex Gordon can't, I know that.

    9. Andy Marte - 3B - Boston Red Sox - 22 (AAA)

    About one month ago, I looked at Andy Marte's "disappointing" season in detail. I put quotes around disappointing, because I am not one in that corner. There is no doubt that Marte didn't progress much this year, but he also wasn't horrible. People are too quick to judge him by his Major League stats (sample size!), Dominican Winter League stats (started very slow, came back strong), and a lack of a breakout season. However, my contention is that the only thing that was damaged this year was Andy's confidence. After struggling pretty bad in the Majors, he would go to struggle after being demoted. The first time, it resulted in a .196/.304/.340 stretch for nearly a month. The second time, it put considerable dead weight on his year-long DWL stats.

    If the Red Sox are serious about keeping Marte, they must do everything in their power to re-build his confidence. With Mike Lowell, Kevin Youkilis and J.T. Snow in the fold, the team will be able to leave Andy in AAA for much of the season. He should start to hit confidently in Pawtucket, and begin to break out in the ways that we have been projecting for years. I made the comparison in the article linked above, and I will again: don't be shocked if, in the end, Andy Marte ends up as Paul Konerko with enough agility to stick at third.

    8. Matt Cain - SP - San Francisco Giants - 21 (MLB)

    Introduction: For much of Matt Cain's minor league career, he has been overshadowed by Felix Hernandez. A year younger, a better fastball and curveball and better control always gave King Felix the edge. Cain has always found himself in that next echelon, despite an absolutely dominating minor league campaign. If the lack of attention ever got to Cain, you can bet it was in the second half. Called up to the Giants days before September 1, the former first-round pick was able to make seven starts with the Giants organization. His results were fantastic with a 2.33 ERA and just 24 hits in 46.1 innings.

    Skillset/Future: However, a few of his other Major League peripherals were bothersome. First, it's hard not to cringe, when looking at his 0.51 G/F rate in the Majors, and he was only at 0.64 at AAA. However, for all those flyballs, he does not manage to give up very many home runs, a fact that will dictate the amount of future success he has. Cain also walked 19 batters in the Majors, while posting a career high 4.51 W/9 at AAA this year. It's likely that Cain's fastball added a bit of movement this season, and it will take him some time to get used to it. Matt pitches very, very heavily off his mid-90s fastball, and his ability to control that will determine if he becomes at ace in the Majors or not. His secondary offerings are solid, with a fantastic power breaking pitch and a change up that has come a long way in the last 2-3 years. Cain need not fight for a rotation spot during Spring Training, it should come guaranteed. If he stays in the SF pitcher's park, look for a legitimate NL Rookie of the Year contender.

    7. Carlos Quentin - OF - Arizona Diamondbacks - 23 (AAA)

    Introduction: The Diamondbacks took a risk in drafting Quentin in the first round, knowing that he had (or would need?) Tommy John surgery. The team rehabbed Quentin, who obviously missed out the 2003 season after which he was drafted. In 2004, Quentin didn't miss a beat, hitting a combined (about) .335/.435/.550 between the California and Texas Leagues. However, I worried that much of his on-base percentage was founded in being hit by 43 pitches. Some quick stat analysis allowed me to see a correlation between league and HBP, meaning he couldn't sustain such levels in the Majors. His contact and power skills were great, he had right field potential (not center), but the patience wasn't there.

    Skillset/Future: It is now. Quentin showed a fantastic skill in 2005, one in which he was able to actively learn and improve. After walking just 43 times in 2004, Quentin added nearly 30 walks to that total this past season. This kept his OBP high, as predictably, he was hit by only 29 pitches. I've now accepted he will be hit by a few in the Majors, but it's nice to have the ability to walk in nearly 13% of your plate appearances, too. At AAA, Quentin also continued to show his fantastic contact and power skills, while learning the nuances of right field. It's likely that if the Diamondbacks are out of things early, then they will start trading veterans (Shawn Green?) to clear spots for players like Quentin.

    6. Stephen Drew - SS - Arizona Diamondbacks - 23 (AAA)

    Introduction: Stephen Drew might not need a spot cleared for him. According to some reports, Drew has the upper handle on the Arizona shortstop job out of Spring Training. My expectation is that Craig Counsell wins the job, and Drew adjusts to the minors a little more before being rushed. This is the right way to handle someone who just 12 months ago was likely not to sign, and 7 months ago was playing in the Independent League. Predictably, Drew dominated the league, and right before the deadline, signed with the Diamondbacks. Sent to the Cal League, he continued his great hitting and became one of the league's most dangerous threats. However, things stalled in AA when Drew was met with some bad BABIP luck (.241) and some, finally, stiff competition.

    Skillset/Future: So much for being rusty. After not playing competitive baseball in nearly a whole calendar year, Drew managed to jump right back into the thick of things. His patience is, like his brother, fantastic, and Drew has pretty fantastic power for a middle infielder. I don't think he will hit for 30 HR in a season, but about 20-25 with 30+ doubles would do Arizona quite well. At short, there are no longer expectations that Drew will have to move, and there should be little pressure from those around him in the system. Stephen's biggest pro problems have been contact issues, which were far more prevalent in AA than the Cal League. His potential is that of a .300 hitter, however, so it should work itself out. Look for Drew to be on more than one All-Star team before it's all said and done.


    5. Francisco Liriano - SP - Minnesota Twins - 22 (MLB)

    Introduction: It's no secret that Brian Sabean does not have the foresight of some General Managers. While one of the best in the Majors at his job, Sabean makes short-sighted decisions that include handing away draft picks and trading a lot of pitching prospects. In the past, Sabean has given away a large number of pitching prospects in the White flag deal, a Sidney Ponson trade, and most famously, an A.J. Pierzynski trade. Joe Nathan quickly became the Minnesota closer and made the deal famous, however, it was a hard-throwing southpaw with arm problems that was Terry Ryan's best haul. Liriano is now another data point in proving that it takes two years to heal from arm surgery, as he was back to full strength this season. How full? How about this, in fifteen starts in 2006, Liriano struck out eight or more batters. He also reached the double-digit mark it ground outs in four of his starts. Liriano, after dealing with a high .311 BABIP in the Eastern League, sunk to .240 at AAA. Given those extremes, his real performance is probably somewhere in the middle.

    Skillset/Future: After the Futures Game, I filed this report on Francisco:

    True to form, Liriano threw just one pitch under 85 mph (and 84 at that), and two fastballs under 96. Also validating his scouting report, half of Liriano's pitches were balls. This guy should be in Minnesota's bullpen at the end of the season, as very few southpaws even in the Majors can throw 89 mph sliders

    Everything that Liriano throws, he pitches hard. His fastball was from 94-98, with good life and solid control. His slider is the best left-handed pitch in the game, an 86-89 weapon that dives in the zone and creates most of his strikeouts. And finally, Liriano mixes in an 84-85 mph change up that is just enough velocity off his fastball to be effective. Francisco has the complete package, and only struggles when he is letting balls out of the park. With more experience, this should begin to happen less, and soon in Minnesota, we will see the best 1-2 southpaw punch in quite some time.

    4. Prince Fielder - 1B - Milwaukee Brewers - 22 (MLB)

    Introduction: During the first two or three weeks of Spring Training, few players created more buzz than Prince Fielder. If memory serves me correctly, Fielder had all of his three Spring home runs occur in the first four games. Then, he cooled. Apparently, his slump extended from Spring Training until May 7. At that point in the regular season, Fielder had just two home runs, and was riding a 28-game homerless streak. His batting line was .245/.333/.330. Then, things began to turn around. In Prince's last 272 at-bats, he would hit 26 home runs with a line of .309/.387/.662. It was this finish that convinced Milwaukee that their best future included Prince Fielder at first and the bounties of a Lyle Overbay trade, rather than the other way around.

    Skillset/Future: I have Fielder on this list because I think he will one day win a home run title. Maybe more than one. As a Cub fan, it kills me that for (likely) the next 15 years, I will have to deal with playing against the likes of Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder. Soon, you will know those two as the most powerful hitters in the NL. However, Prince isn't an absolute complete hitter, as his contact skills are a bit lacking. He should strike out about 120 times a season, and if I'm guessing correctly, probably have one pretty bad slump (though not 30-game .633 OPS bad) per season. But Prince has great patience, and as a result, manages to keep his batting average pretty high. At first, he's far more athletic than his Dad ever dreamed of, and won't hurt Milwaukee there. For what it's worth, Fielder is my preseason pick for 2006 Rookie of the Year, even if he starts out a bit slow.

    3. Brandon Wood - SS - Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim - 21 (AA)

    The breakout player of the 2005 season, the player of the year during the 2005 season. Add together all the baseball that Wood played in 2005 (A+, AAA, AFL, World Cup), and he hit 121 extra-base hits (58 HR!) in 689 at-bats. He hit a combined .316. And throughout all of it, Brandon was simply baseball's answer to the Energizer Bunny, with very few slumps lasting longer than a few days. A former-first round pick, Wood had an unimpressive full season debut in 2004 while playing in the Midwest League. In a year his power has blossomed, and Wood's potential has shot through the roof. And did we mention that he did this at age 20, up the middle?

    If Brandon Wood is able to stay at short, which will depend on a number of factors, his value is unlimited. However, this ranking would be the same, most likely, if Wood moved to third tomorrow. Why? We haven't seen this much power potential in the minor leagues...ever. 58 home runs in less than 700 at-bats? C'mon. Forget his iffy contact skills, and the good hitter's park and league he played in during the 2005 season. He's for real. Brandon has legit 40 HR potential, and if he can continue to walk, should be a truly dangerous player. Here's to hoping the Angels leave him at shorstop, where his defense is about average (a little above, probably), so that Wood is the next great fantasy baseball player.

    2. Jeremy Hermida - OF - Florida Marlins - 22 (MLB)

    Introduction: To a greater degree, you've seen this before. Your patient, left-handed hitting Georgian outfield has a cup of coffee that won't soon be forgotten. In Hermida's case, it was from hitting four home runs in 41 at-bats, including even having a flair for the dramatic. In 1998, it was five home runs in 36 at-bats, not to mention 15 hits. Back then, J.D. Drew was the next Mickey Mantle, the next Hall of Famer. Since then, Drew has had a career mixed with stardom, inconsistency and injury. Hermida's hoping to go 1-for-3.

    Skillset/Future: Jeremy doesn't quite have the tools that Drew had after winning the Golden Spikes at FSU, but he certainly has the potential to exceed the career J.D. has had. At 6-4, 200 pounds, Hermida has room to add pretty significant power. He just turned that corner in 2005, hitting 22 home runs after belting out just 16 previously. In addition to the budding power, Hermida adds the minor league's best (bar none) batting eye: 117 walks. He's a very smart player that plays good outfield defense and is fantastic on the bases, stealing 67 bases at an 87% clip in his minor league career. The one concern with Hermida, like with Drew, will be his contact skills. He'll strike out more than 100 times annually in the Majors, and as a result, should see his average sit around .280-.290. But given everything else he brings to the table, this won't be a problem. In 2006, look for Jeremy to surpass the .242/.340/.424 line that Drew put up as a rookie. He might just win the Rookie of the Year while he's at it.

    1. Delmon Young - OF - Tampa Bay Devil Rays - 20 (MLB)

    No surprise here. While I love Hermida and Wood, neither is particularly close to Young's level as a prospect, in my opinion. I mean, this is the guy that I chose first last year over Felix Hernandez. My support is unwavering. And Delmon has surely done nothing to make me look stupid.

    It would have been difficult for Delmon's 2005 season to look more impressive. Tampa decided to see what the former top pick was made of, allowing him to skip the California Legaue and go straight to AA. He proved ready for it, succeeding in all facets of the game. He showed immense power in a pitcher's league, didn't strike out too much and walked at a reasonable level. He continued to steal bases and show perennial Gold Glove-caliber defense in right field.

    By the end of the season, Delmon was a 19-year-old hitter playing in AAA. While it's difficult enough to ask this of pitchers, it's insane to do so from hitters, who have to come to the park ready day in and day out. As a result, Young struggled in AAA, drawing only 4 walks in about 235 plate appearances. Yes, that number still makes my jaw drop, as well. But plate discipline has never been a significant problem for Young, and when he returns to the level in 2006, expect a lot more walks.

    A quick run-down of the six tools: Contact? Check, lifetime .317 hitter that struck out in just 17.7% of his at-bats, and just 14.4% after being promoted. Power? Oh, c'mon, check. Has more than 50 home runs in the minors before turning 20, and has the potential to hit for 30 or 40 annually in the Majors. Discipline? Well, this is the question mark. It's been acceptable in the past, and then fell apart late in the year. No check yet, but I bet it's coming. Baserunning? Check, over 75% for his career, and was 25/33 in a half-season at AA. Arm? Check from everyone I've ever talked to. Strong and accurate, a weapon. Range? Not the best in the minors, but hardly a problem, check.

    Number one prospect, two years running? Check.

    * * * * *

    Note: This list was created before Justin Upton and Mike Pelfrey signed contracts. I will deal with both players in my weekend mailbag, so please check back then.

    Over next weekend I'm hoping to do a mailbag article, so if you guys have any questions, please drop them in the comments below. Those that I don't answer right away should get responded to in a separate article on Saturday.

    WTNYJanuary 12, 2006
    2006 WTNY 75: 25-11
    By Bryan Smith

    Today begins the final descent of my 2006 prospect list, as we begin to detail the best 25 prospects in the game. Today I'll go to number 11, and then tomorrow I will look at the WTNY 10. So far, here's a look at the other entries:

    Part One (Honorable Mention)
    Part Two (75-51)
    Part Three (50-26)

    Remember, the age and level listed are correct for 2006, and each player's name is linked to his minor league track record. Enjoy the list, and as always, please leave your comments at the end!

    25. Andy LaRoche - 3B - Los Angeles Dodgers - 22 (AAA)

    Introduction: Before the 2005 season, I picked Andy LaRoche as one of my breakout prospects. In his comment, I mentioned that once his average caught up with his power, he would take off. You see, I had noticed that in 2004, LaRoche was very unlucky, posting a BABIP of .281 in the South Atlantic League and then .247 in the FSL. This, in my opinion, had been far more of a fluke than the other way around. This theory proved true in 2005, as LaRoche's BABIP normalized, and his average went up. In the FSL this past season, LaRoche's BABIP was about .320, followed by about .315 after being promoted. So, if I stick with the theory, LaRoche is better than the player he was in 2004, but not quite the player he was last season. We'll see what 2005 provides.

    Skillset/Future: If LaRoche puts all the skills he has shown together at one time, he has superstar potential. His calling card is certainly power, which was certainly enhanced by the FSL's easiest hitter's park: Vero Beach. However, at the Major League level, LaRoche should be hitting 25 homers annually. His contact skills have worsened in each of the past two seasons after a promotion, indicating each time, he's been a bit over his head. However, Andy showed better patience at AA when he struggled, a sign of a very smart hitter. At third, Andy isn't anything great, but his arm is certainly enough for the position, and his range will do. Note: There were few decisions more difficult for me than Barton v. LaRoche.

    24. Jarrod Saltalamacchia - C - Atlanta Braves - 21 (AA)

    Introduction: An honorable mention last season, I'm still kicking myself for not including him on my breakout list. Like Brandon Wood and Adam Jones did in the Midwest League, I neglected to see potential in an average low-A line from a teenager at a skill position. These are mistakes we shouldn't make. But anyway, it was still difficult to see Salty showing any power at Myrtle Beach, one of the minors' most favorable parks for pitchers. And it certainly wasn't easy for Salty, who had drastic home/away splits, and saw a lot of potential home runs fall in the gap. However, I'm not quite sure when this problem will be rectified, as Atlanta has pitcher's parks from Rome (low-A) to Turner Field.

    Skillset/Future: For a catcher, Salty has fantastic power. His .205 Isolated Power in 2005 is just a taste of what he could provide at the Major League level, in which he should be good for nearly 30 home runs per year. However, while his power was better than his numbers suggested, his batting average is worse. There is little chance that Jarrod continues to hit much above .300 without striking out less, as his BABIP was .362 in 2005. Given pretty fantastic patience for someone his age, this won't be too bad of a problem, as he can still hit about .280/.360/.540 in the Majors. Not a great catcher, Jarrod shouldn't have to move from behind the plate, assuming his skills moderately progress in the coming years.

    23. Joel Zumaya - SP - Detroit Tigers - 21 (AAA)

    Introduction: While at the Futures Game in Detroit this past season, I made a comparison between Zumaya and the 2004 breakout player: Jose Capellan. Jose's big fastball took him from a 3.80 ERA in low-A in 2003 to a four-stop, fantastic trip through the Atlanta system in 2004. He took a poor SAL K/9 and turned it into 156 strikeouts the next season. Zumaya was much the same, rising to AAA last year after having posted a 4.36 FSL ERA in 2004. His K/9 rose by nearly 3.5 from one year to the next. Buzz was throughout the organization about his big fastball. We can only hope this is where Zumaya and Capellan cross paths for good.

    Skillset/Future: In the 2004 Futures Game, Jose Capellan made noise with that fantastic fastball, but didn't show more than 2-3 curveballs in his whole inning. He had fallen in love with his heater, and while it was heavy, it was simply not enough. The Brewers, who acquired Capellan over the winter, were forced into converting him into relief. In the '05 All-Star contest, Zumaya consistently hit 99 on the gun, but threw his fastball in 11 of his 12 pitches. His curveball, the twelfth pitch he threw, was quite good, but it appears Joel does not trust that or the change up he rarely throws. To avoid a future in relief, and to maximize his potential, Zumaya must gain confidence in his secondary offerings.

    22. Jon Papelbon - SP/RP - Boston Red Sox - 25 (MLB)

    Introduction: In November of 2004, I predicted that Jon Papelbon and Jon Lester would, in one year's time, be "one of the 3 best 1-2 pitching prospect tandems in the minor leagues." I was wrong. They are the best. Detroit, Texas, Florida, Los Angeles and others have good combinations, but none match the prospect status of Papelbon and Lester. Papelbon's big breakout ended in a trip to the Majors, where he went back to his college role, helping out in the Red Sox depleted bullpen. After giving up four earned runs in his first three appearances, Papelbon would settle and get used to the role, allowing just 2 ER in his last 14 innings.

    Skillset/Future: The Red Sox are now left with the difficult decision of what to do with Jon Papelbon. It seems as if the team will again start by trying him in the rotation, and if he labors (or the team really needs a reliever) he will move to the bullpen. This is probably the best philosophy, though I don't think that move to the 'pen will have to happen. Papelbon can throw five different pitches, and has found much success (especially against left-handers) with a splitter learned from Curt Schilling. His fastball (92-95 mph) has great control, and Jon also offers a nasty slider. Those three pitches comprise most of what he throws, though he can also offer another breaking pitch and a change up. This guy is nasty, and if his control returns to the levels it was in the minors, don't forget about him in the AL Rookie of the Year race.

    21. Joel Guzman - SS/3B - Los Angeles Dodgers - 21 (AAA)

    Introduction: Speaking of a player trapped between two roles, we find Joel Guzman as one of the big question marks of one of baseball's best farm systems. I was not impressed with the reluctance of the old Dodger regime to decide on a position for Guzman, first keeping him at short, and then in 2005, bouncing him between the middle of the field and the hot corner. It's agreed among most scouts that Guzman's frame -- over 75 inches tall -- will not allow a long career at shortstop. The Dodgers recent signing of Rafael Furcal indicates that Ned Colletti's staff agrees with this assessment. However, at third base, Guzman is sandwiched between LaRoche and Bill Mueller. What's the best choice? Count me as a voter in the corner outfield category.

    Skillset/Future: Guzman is one of the few minor leaguers who could move from the middle infield to a corner outfield spot, and still be above-average offensively. The former big bonus baby has showed massive power in the last two seasons, hitting a combined 116 extra-base hits in just 953 at-bats. This is a fantastic ratio, and as he builds more muscle, Joel should also see more of his long hits clear the fence. Besides maintaining power, Guzman did step back considerably when hitting AA. His contact skills took a giant step back, and a .365 BABIP indicates his future may be living around the .260s in terms of batting average. However, Joel has also begun to walk more, collecting a career-high 42 walks last year. If the DePo-less Dodgers continue to preach this philosophy, Guzman's power and patience should make up for substantial contact problems.

    20. Scott Olsen - SP - Florida Marlins - 22 (AAA/MLB)

    Introduction: The Marlins have added a lot of minor league prospects this winter as a result of their firesale. However, despite adding three top 40 talents, their top two remains in tact. Second on the Florida prospect list is Scott Olsen, one of the obvious steals of the 2002 draft. For his first three seasons in the Florida organization, Olsen kept his ERA between 2.80 and 3.00. He broke that tradition in 2005 with a 3.92 ERA in AA. While that generally would indicate a regression, Olsen both lowered his walk rate and struck out hitters at a better rate. There are a lot of good southpaws in the Marlin organization, but in five years, we could be saying that Olsen is the best.

    Skillset/Future: Looking at Olsen's peripherals in the last four years is very interesting. While both his strikeouts and walks have improved, in each season, Scott's hit and home run rates have increased. How can a prospect's stuff obviously improve, yet he seemingly becomes easier to hit? As a guess, I will infer that Olsen is a master at pitching late in the count, mixing in his Major League caliber slider with a very good change up. However, early in the count, batters have probably found a lot of Olsen's favorite pitch: a mid 90s fastball that few southpaws can match. No matter what the problem has been, I would think it's a correctable one, though the HR/9 issue is a scary one. Florida will throw their next phenom into the fire this season, and his H/9 and HR/9 should go far in telling us what his future might look like. Elbow inflammation ended his season, so as with every pitching prospect, treat his stock carefully.

    19. Felix Pie - OF - Chicago Cubs - 21 (AAA)

    For years, we had been waiting for Pie to turn the corner and begin to turn his tools into skills. 2005 was the year. Playing in the pitcher-friendly Southern League, Pie started the season fantastically, hitting for power in the first time in his career. While Felix was still not walking often, striking out a lot and not running well on the bases, his key weakness (power) had been righted. By mid-June, the Cubs were looking for a new center fielder, as Corey Patterson's struggles continued. Weeks before the organization planned to call up their phenom, he hurt his ankle, and would not play again all year. Patterson is a good example of a leg injury halting progress, so the Cubs have their fingers crossed that Pie returns with the same power in 2006. And with it, maybe, some further refinement across the board?

    18. Ian Stewart - 3B - Colorado Rockies - 21 (AA)

    Ian Stewart's drop in the rankings from last year do not reflect a regression in my mind as much as they do that he was passed by others. He didn't really regress, in my thinking. Sure, his first month was bad, but it was coming off some bad hamstring problems. On June 1, Stewart was hitting .212/.292/.339, having struck out 14 more times than he had collected a hit. However, Stewart would finish the season with the numbers we expected: .297/.378/.555. His contact rate was a more reasonable 23.3%, and Ian crept back into my top 20. A healthy Stewart is a very dangerous hitter, one with immense (and consistent) power and good patience (nearly in 12% of his PA). His defense is fine at the hot corner, and as long as his contact rate remains average, he should be one of the best hitters Coors has seen. But before he returns to being a five-star, elite prospect, he needs to show us that I'm right: his regression in numbers was simply injury-related.

    17. Lastings Milledge - OF - New York Mets - 21 (AA)

    Introduction: In retrospect, 2004 should be referred to as the year of the Sally League. Delmon Young and Ian Stewart would dominate the league, fighting all year long for rights to the MVP trophy. This allowed Lastings Milledge to draw less publicity than someone with his skillset usually might, as he hit .337/.399/.579. This season, Lastings saw a decrease in power, but was far more consistent across the board, and received rave reviews. There is no better five-tool talent in the game.

    Skillset/Future: For this, I'm simply going to quote myself in an interview with Ricardo Gonzalez at Metsgeek:

    If maturity or injury issues don't hold him back, Lastings has future All-Star written all over him. People need to stop worrying about his power, his baserunning, or the Mets aggressive promoting. Instead, we need to look no further than Felix Pie, and realize that eventually, doubles turn into homers, teenage speedsters become good baserunners, and the great talents can handle even the highest levels.

    16. Conor Jackson - 1B - Arizona Diamondbacks - 24 (MLB)

    Introduction: If I've already accepted that Howie Kendrick has the minors' best contact skills, than Conor Jackson is undoubtedly in second place. A former first-round pick from California, Jackson now has just 156 career strikeouts in 1159 total at-bats. Mind you that 85 of those at-bats came at the Major League level this year, in which Jackson got his first cup of coffee. However, the July experiment to implement him in the lineup proved to be a failure, as Jackson mixed bad BABIP luck (.205) with a lack of power. Considering how good Tony Clark was playing, the team sent Jackson back down to the minors, promising to give him another shot in 2006.

    Skillset/Future: Jackson's contact skills make him the player he is, and as a result, will rely heavily on a good BABIP. However, when the batting average isn't treating him well, look for Conor to start drawing walks to keep his OBP high. Few minor leaguers have a better batting eye. But the real worry with Jackson is not his OBP, but his slugging, especially since moving to the first base position. Jackson has just 33 home runs since becoming a pro player, spanning about two Major League seasons. At that rate, he'll have to hit a lot of doubles and draw a ton of walks. That's a lot of pressure. However, I eventually expect him to succeed if not in 2006, as Clark will suck out more than a few at-bats.

    15. Alex Gordon - 3B - Kansas City Royals - 22 (AA)

    Introduction: Darin Erstad was made the first choice out of Nebraska after rewriting the University of Nebraska record books. About ten years later, the Cornhuskers again offered a top-five talent to the draft, and one who had topped Erstad's marks. Alex Gordon, the 2005 Golden Spikes Winner, was drafted second overall by the Royals, signing just in time to make the Arizona Fall League. Scouts were blown away by Gordon's bat in the short time that he was in the league, despite a good number of struggles. The organization has decided to keep him at third for now, but a later positional switch to the outfield or first base is not out of the question.

    Skillset/Future: On draft day, my partner Rich Lederer compared Gordon's bat to Hank Blalock. In fact, it's likely that Lederer is even selling Gordon short with the comparison, as he profiles to have even better power. Alex's patience should be impressive, as well, as he walked 12 times in about 65 AFL plate appearances. The only two worries surrounding Gordon are contact and defense. The latter should take care of itself, but the real question is whether Gordon can be a .300 hitter in the Majors. Given his power and patience, there could be far worse things to have question marks about.

    14. Jon Lester - SP - Boston Red Sox - 22 (AAA)

    Introduction: My favorite prospect in the minors, Lester more than validated the confidence I had in him in 2005. Once coveted for Randy Johnson, the Red Sox refused to trade him, and for good reason. Lester would be the Eastern League's best pitcher in 2005, as the Red Sox were conservative with him, placing him on a pitch count and refusing to move him up a level. With no pressing needs at the Major League level, Lester was best in further honing his skills in the minors. Having turned 22 on Saturday, Jon will not be kept from the Majors much longer. Look for the team to bring him up sometime early in the midseason, when their schedule is soft and he can be broken in easily.

    Skillset/Future: Lester profiles to be a #2 pitcher at the pro level. Like Papelbon, the Red Sox had him working on a new pitch in 2005, with Lester trying to develop a cutter. The results were successful, as Jon continued to improve against right-handed batters. In addition to the cutter, Lester throws a fastball with great movement up into the mid 90s, and a good change up and curveball. This season, he started to draw comparisons to Andy Pettite, which certainly isn't the worst thing in the world. His control is inconsistent, but if offered, could be a weapon. Lester is so close to being Major League quality, the Red Sox could trade both David Wells and Matt Clement, and their rotation could improve.

    13. Justin Verlander - SP - Detroit Tigers - 23 (AAA)

    Introduction: The best pick of the 2004 draft in hindsight, though I'm not sure many would have guessed it on draft day. Verlander had a fantastic 2005 season, pitching at three different levels, including the Majors. Justin was also given the honor of starting the hometown Futures Game, in which he flashed a 95-98 mph fastball and spike high 70s curve. After nearly not signing with the organization, Verlander is the Tigers best prospect, and if his injuries have subsided, should join the Major League rotation full-time very soon.

    Skillset/Future: On the mound, Verlander offers it all. His 6-5 frame is a fantastic pitcher's body, and provides the tilt that his great fastball provides. His power curve is also quite possibly the minors best, and was the driving force behind his dominance in the Florida State League. Justin also offers a show-me change up, but given his two-pitch arsenal, he barely needs it. Verlander's arm tired at the end of the longest season of his life, causing the Tigers to have to put him on the DL. The organization must approach Justin with caution, but once the reins come off, look for the Old Dominion record holder to do some great things.

    12. Ryan Zimmerman - 3B - Washington Nationals - 21 (MLB)

    Bar none, the most impressive debut of any 2005 draftee. The Nats top five hometown selection began his pro career in low-A, but quickly made it known he was best suited for AA. After a slow start in Harrisburg, Zimmerman got it going quickly (while re-learning the shortstop position) and was summoned to the Major Leagues. Zimmerman impressed in 20 games about as much as a prospect could, hitting .397 and showing Gold Glove defense at third, and above-average defense at shortstop. He showed gap power and makings of fantastic contact skills. My concerns regarding Zimmerman is not necessarily that he won't hit for power, or that his 2005 was a fluke, but that he doesn't walk. He is really in danger of becoming a Gold Glove third baseman with an empty batting average.

    11. Chad Billingsley - SP - Los Angeles Dodgers - 21 (AAA)

    Introduction: Sometimes, there are some statistics I don't know what to make of. Oftentimes, I've talked about how misleading pitching statistics are, and have thrown out bad starts to make a case for a pitcher. Chad Billingsley is the type of pitcher that applies for, as he had three starts between May 3 and June 19 that tarnished his season statistics. What really trips me out, however: each start was against the same team, Delmon Young's Montgomery Biscuits. Anyway, during those three starts, Billingsley allowed 23 hits, 5 home runs and 19 earned runs in 10.2 innings. In his other 25 appearances, Billingsley had a 2.53 ERA and a staggering 6.18 H/9. Suddenly, his stats look a bit more impressive, no?

    Skillset/Future: For the first time in two years, I'm going to back off my comparisons between Billingsley and Kerry Wood. We always accepted that Billingsley didn't quite have Wood's stuff, but he had a far cleaner delivery, and as a result, was far less of an injury risk. This season, he also proved that his mechanics will yield for more control, as Billingsley's non-Montgomery BB/9 was 2.93. Impressed? You should be. And mind you, when I say that he doesn't have Wood's stuff, this is not an insult. Billingsley can bring his fastball up to 97 mph, and he has one of the minors best sliders. Add in an above-average curveball and change up, and you have one of the five best pitching prospects in the minors.

    Over next weekend I'm hoping to do a mailbag article, so if you guys have any questions, please drop them in the comments below. Those that I don't answer right away should get responded to in a separate article on Saturday.

    WTNYJanuary 11, 2006
    2006 WTNY 75: 50-26
    By Bryan Smith

    Today we continue our countdown of the game's best prospects, going through the next 25 players on my list. So far, I've named 25 honorable mentions and listed #75-51. When we're finished today, it will just leave the twenty-five best prospects in the game. Please feel free to leave comments at the bottom, and remember, the age and level listed are for 2006.

    Enjoy!

    50. Craig Hansen - RP - Boston Red Sox - 22 (AAA)

    Introduction: Few statements represent the massive ideological change that baseball has undergone in the past 50 years as this: Craig Hansen was heavily considered to be drafted first overall. A reliever. Obviously, no position has undergone a change in such a period as the relief position. Closers are extremely valuable commodities, so much so, that first round picks are now being used on them. We've seen Ryan Wagner, Chad Cordero and Huston Street all picked in the first round. Derrick Lutz and others will do so in the 2006 draft. 2005's best talent was Craig Hansen, who may have the best stuff of any college closer. While Hansen's level of competition wasn't super-high, there was not a more dominating force in college baseball last year.

    Skillset/Future: Many have called for the Red Sox to move Hansen back to starting, but I'm not sure this is the best move. How will his stuff hold up for 200 innings? In about 80 innings per year, Hansen has a slider that is unparalleled in the minors. It hits the high-80s consistently, and at times, touches the low 90s. His fastball is about 95-98 mph, and he has very good control of the pitch. Craig does not allow home runs, walk too many batters, or give up very many hits. The Red Sox will make him their closer within two years, and he should succeeding pitching on one of baseball's biggest stages.

    49. Cole Hamels - SP - Philadelphia Phillies -- 22 (AA)

    Introduction: So much talent, but it should be no surprise that I have far less faith in Hamels harnessing his ability than most people. This is a guy who hasn't been truly healthy, it seems, since high school. He missed much of the beginning of 2005 after getting in a fight outside of a Florida bar. In three years within the Philadelphia organization, Hamels has logged just 28 starts. Yet this team remains convinced that his future will turn out better than Gavin Floyd's has. I'm not sure if there is a correlation between Hamels injuries, but the Phillies must figure it out, quick. This left arm is too good to not succeed.

    Skillset/Future: Since being drafted out of high school, there has been a universal agreement on his delivery: near perfect. So, it's hard (like Mark Prior, in a sense) to blame Hamels string of injuries on anything mechanical. Cole is most well-known for having one of the best change ups in the minor leagues, and it was back in true form this season. However, we also saw some control problems, likely due to rust more than anything else. In addition to his great change up, Hamels offers a low-90s fastball and an above-average breaking ball. The trio of pitches give Hamels great potential, but with this arm, we all know that it means only so much.

    48. Hayden Penn - SP - Baltimore Orioles - 21 (AAA)

    Introduction: Looking at his year in retrospect makes me dizzy. In the beginning of the season, he was the Eastern League's best pitcher, and started to fly up prospect lists like no other prospect. However, immediately following that, Penn developed dead arm, and was nearly simultaneously promoted to the Majors. This resulted in eight very poor starts, when Penn was sent back to Bowie. He continued to pitch badly, likely due to the dead arm, until the month of August. For the rest of the season, he was back as one of the minors best pitchers. Very few pitchers were as inconsistent as Penn this year, but assuming dead arm only strikes once, he could really turn a corner next year.

    Skillset/Future: Leo Mazzone will be thrilled to see that Penn has such good command of his pitches this year. His best pitch is a low 90s fastball with good life that Penn can throw in any spot. Under Mazzone, expect it to be tossed on the inside half more in 2006. Penn's secondary stuff is OK, highlighted by a good change-up that was praised during Hayden's poor Major League debut. To really succeed in the Majors, however, Penn must show a better breaking pitch than what he had in the Majors. Whether or not Mazzone can help him with this will likely determine whether he sits in the back end of various Major League and AAA rotations or whether he becomes a solid #2/3 starter.

    47. Edison Volquez - SP - Texas Rangers - 22 (AAA)

    Introduction: If you ask me, Casey Janssen (who is one of a few Blue Jay pitchers to just miss this list) had the quietest 2.18 ERA season in recent memory. At the same time, Edison Volquez had one really, really loud 4.10 ERA season. Volquez is often talked about as if he has already broken out, as if he's one of the best pitching prospects in the game. But this has always confused me. If he has such good pitchability, why the career 3.99 ERA? If his stuff is so good, why a K/9 of just 8.43?

    Skillset/Future: However, I do think there is something to get excited about in Volquez. This is a guy that threw in the mid 90s, heavy fastball at the Futures Game, also showing one of the game's best change ups. His slider is a work in progress, though I was more impressed than most reports show while in Detroit. The key for Edison is that despite great stuff, he also has great control. Besides a poor debut at the Major League level, Volquez has not topped a 1.30 WHIP at any level. There is pitchability inside that body, I'm convinced. In 2006, he has to prove it with results, not with velocity.

    46. Phil Hughes - SP - New York Yankees - 20 (A+)

    Introduction: If not for a hint of arm injury at the end of the season, Hughes could be 10-15 spots higher on this list. No prep pitcher from the 2004 draft has impressed me more. However, as I mentioned, towards the end of the season, Hughes had a bout with shoulder inflammation. Combine that with a broken toe suffered in August, and Hughes' debut full season was ended shortly. The toe is not a concern, but the shoulder is, as Phil has many wondering if inflammation is hiding (or will lead to) a tear. Torn labrums are currently the worst injury a baseball player can sustain, so until Hughes proves he's past this, I will stay conservative with his ranking.

    Skillset/Future: Dazzling array of pitches, delivery and control. First and foremost, the Californian has a big pitcher's frame that should only add more velocity over time. Right now, his fastball consistently sits in the low 90s, but we can maybe expect two or three more ticks soon. The key, however, is that Hughes has such good control with the pitch, only walking 20 hitters in 90.1 career innings. Conversely, he strikes out hitters at a pretty fantastic rate, notching 93 in 86.1 innings this year. This is due to a good combination of secondary pitches, namely one of the Sally League's best curveballs. If Hughes can stay out of injury, and further refine pitches three and four (change and slider, respectively), he could be one of the best pitchers on this list. If he makes it through one healthy season, my expectations (and ranking) will soar.

    45. Adam Jones - CF - Seattle Mariners - 20 (AAA)

    Introduction: When I think of Jones, I'm reminded of two players that I picked to break out this year: Reid Brignac and Mark Trumbo. The latter is an Angel that was given a bat at the pro level, despite being able to hit 90+ on the mound. Jones was in this same situation out of high school, drafted in the first round, and then surprisingly made a full-time shortstop. And like Reid Brignac, with high expectations, Jones was just OK in the Midwest League in 2004. Like many teenagers at the level, he wasn't great, but his bat showed promise for what 2005 would bring. Just like that, everything started to click for Jones, who would finish the season with an .800+ OPS in AA at the age of 19.

    Skillset/Future: The big news of the offseason for Jones is that in 2006, he will no longer be a shortstop. He would likely have done fine at the position, but with Betancourt and Cabrera in the system, there was simply no room for Jones' questionable range. So, in the AFL, the Mariners moved Adam (and his big arm) to center field. In just one year, it's possible that the Mariners will have two of the five best outfield arms in the AL with Jones and Ichiro. Offensively, Adam does a little bit of everything. He won't hit for great home run power in the Majors, maybe about 20 per year, but instead profiles to slap about 30-40 doubles. He walks enough to bat in the two-hole, and managers shouldn't complain about his contact skills, which are about average. Jones likely won't show great range in center, but if he manages to find himself in the same outfield as Jeremy Reed and Ichiro, he won't have to. At worst, Adam leaves the organization to become a Ryan Freel-type player elsewhere.

    44. Neil Walker - C - Pittsburgh Pirates - 20 (A+)

    Introduction: A favorite of mine, as I'm susceptible to falling in love for young catchers with big-time power. Walker fits that bill, and he would have undoubtedly made my breakout prospects list had I not been under the impression that 2005 was his big coming out season. I criticized the Pirates in the past for drafting Walker, as he was then considered a reach at 11, but was attractive because of a cheap bonus demand and hometown ties. However, after 50 extra-base hits this past year, I will now retract any criticism. The Pirates showed foresight, not frugality, in drafting Walker.

    Skillset/Future: Walker is high on this list for his bat, not his glove. Behind the plate, Neil is a work in progress, and will need to really work on his mobility to be successful. There are rumblings that he will one day have to be moved, but I think at 19, that talk is a bit premature. Walker improved as the season went on, and has the potential to be average behind the plate. Just being average will be OK, because Neil's ceiling is in the superstar category offensively. As a teenager, Walker struck out just 83 times this year in more than 500 at-bats, a sign I love for a young catcher. He also showed a ton of power, and while it doesn't always tend to leave the ballpark, it will over time. Switch-hitting catchers aren't exactly a dize a dozen, making Walker as untradeable as anyone in the organization. However, before I get too excited, I will have to see more than 20 walks in a season. Since there are very few other offensive problems to refine, I do think this is a problem that Walker can overcome in the next 2-3 seasons.

    43. Jeff Clement - C - Seattle Mariners - 22 (A+)

    Introduction: The last time the USC Trojans offered the draft a top five catcher, things did not work out so well: Eric Munson. Like Clement, Munson was a powerful hitter that was criticized for his defense. And while I once feared this would be the player that Clement might become, I no longer do. There is no question that Clement's defense behind the plate is lacking, but he also improved each year while at USC, and is light years better than Munson was. Also, Clement has better power, which he has been showing since high school, when he broke Drew Henson's all-time home run record. In all, he's a far more complete player than Munson, and should end up with a far better Major League career.

    Skillset/Future: I've already talked about two parts of Clement's game. His power, from the left side I should add, is fantastic. Jeff dominated the Midwest League after signing, hitting six home runs in less than 120 at-bats. Inland Empire citizens are surely waiting at the edges of their seats to see what he does in the Cal League. His problem defensively is not his throwing arm, which is fine, but instead his movement behind the plate. A big frame has yielded slow actions there, and he can certainly tighten that up. My other Clement concern is that of contact, as he strikes out about 20-25% of the time, which is a little high. This is horrible, threatening a good future batting average or anything, but it certainly would help to improve upon that. Finally, his batting eye is above-average, but not to a great degree. If Clement makes it to the Majors, it will be on power, period.

    42. Dustin Pedroia - 2B/SS - Boston Red Sox - 22 (AAA)

    Introduction: We knew the day of the draft that Pedroia was a steal. So, pardon me, for if in the future I go back and criticize teams for not taking Dustin at a higher slot. Forget that he was an older college player with limited potential. This is a guy that had hit .400 in his sophomore season, and topped a .500 OBP in his junior season. In his final two years at Arizona State, Pedroia's OPS was over 1.050. He struck out just 47 times in all of college. Ian Kinsler was blocked because Pedroia was just too good. Yet Dustin slipped to the 65th pick because the best comparisons he could muster were David Eckstein, just because of his tiny height. It's really too bad for all these teams, because by missing out in Pedroia, they missed out in one of the 3 safest picks in the draft.

    Skillset/Future: There has been a lot of talk about Dustin this winter, now that the Red Sox middle infield situation is questionable. With Hanley Ramirez now out of the system, and Edgar Renteria traded, it's quite possible that Pedroia will move back to shortstop this season. As a result, the Red Sox will likely fill that hole with just a part-time solution (maybe just Alex Cora), as they wait for Dustin to get a little more seasoning in AAA. They will find he won't need much, as his poor 2005 Pawtucket line can really be blamed on an unlucky .261 BABIP. When that returns to normal levels, expect Pedroia to continue to post high batting averages while showing some of the best plate discipline in professional baseball. Oh, and he has a little pop, too.

    41. Adam Loewen - SP - Baltimore Orioles - 22 (AA)

    Introduction: It has been a long road coming for Adam Loewen, the southpaw's answer to Edison Volquez. I say this because like Volquez, Loewen continues to receive a lot of hype while continually posting high ERAs. However, there is a fundamental difference between the two players: control. Edison has always had it, and Loewen goes through only stretches with it, and has an ugly career 5.64 W/9. However, I'll take his stuff over Volquez' any day of the week, and I like him more because of what 2006 will provide: Leo Mazzone. If anyone can harness Loewen, and maximize his potential, it's the best pitching coach of all-time. And after the way Adam ended the season, and then pitched in AFL, there are lots of reasons for excitement.

    Skillset/Future: No one in the minor leagues throws a 'heavier' array of pitches than Adam Loewen. It is very difficult for players to make good contact against him, and as a result, no one on this list has a higher G/F ratio: 2.58. This 'heaviness' is a result of his frame, which provides the ability to throw at a downward angle that few players have. Loewen's fastball is in the low-to-mid 90s, but has fantastic life, if not great control. At the Futures Game, I was impressed by his loopy, high 70s curveball that is already considered Major League quality. There have been good advancements with a change, as well, though the pitch needs to be implemented more in 2006. In the same organization that produced B.J. Ryan, it wouldn't be shocking to see Loewen become the next great Oriole reliever. But before that time comes, the Orioles should see if Leo Mazzone can make him the next Oriole ace.

    40. Homer Bailey - SP - Cincinnati Reds - 20 (A+)

    I've talked about Homer Bailey at length recently, so I won't go into detail here. Basically, the former top ten pick is one of my favorite prospects in the minors, a right-hander with an amazing two-pitch arsenal. However, his control -- once praised -- fell apart in pro ball, and needs to be improved before he can take off. I've heard concerns that Bailey's delivery is flawed and he is an injury risk, which of course forces me to temper my expectations (especially in this organization). But simply put, Bailey has the potential to be one of the minors top talents if everything can come together. Here's to betting that it will in 2006.

    39. Adam Miller - SP - Cleveland Indians - 21 (AA)

    Introduction: Before his injury, he was known as "Mr. 101." This refers to the time in the minors in which he hit 101 on the radar gun, and prior to injury, he was consistently in the upper 90s. His slider was deadly, and at the beginning and end of the 2004 season, he was one of the minors best pitchers. I had him ranked as my #2 pitching prospect a year ago. But, as often happens with young players, Miller was injured in spring training of last season. An elbow injury would keep him out for much of the first half, and while he declined surgery, it sounds to have slightly effected his stuff. Adam looked good in a few August starts before ending the season poorly.

    Skillset/Future: I haven't heard exact descriptions of the post-injury Miller, just that his stuff is a bit down. No longer does he have the fastball that will touch 100, but he still is said to sit in the mid 90s. Adam, no longer with the minors best two-pitch combination, will now simply have to better refine his change up to be really successful. What's impressive is that even after the injury, he still has great control given what kind of stuff he brings to the table. 2006 is a make or break year for Miller, as we see what kind of shape his elbow -- and stuff, for that matter -- is in.

    38. Jeremy Sowers - SP - Cleveland Indians - 23 (AAA)

    Introduction: Staying on the theme of Indian pitching prospects, Sowers is quite the opposite of Adam Miller. The club's 2004 first-round pick was excellent, as the team made a reported last-minute decision of Sowers over Chris Nelson. Sowers was a former first round pick that passed on seven figures to go to Vanderbilt after a hugely successful high school career. Things simply continued in college, as the southpaw led the Commodores to their first ever Super Regional. He has been even better as a pro, however, as his 2005 ERA was lower than any season at Vandy. Sowers has flown through the Indian system, and will begin the season at Buffalo, likely one Major League injury from breaking into the Big League rotation on a full-time basis.

    Skillset/Future: Like most southpaws that don't hit 95 on the radar, Sowers was drawing Tom Glavine comparisons out of college. However, even 18 months later, the comparison still looks more valid than most times it is used. Like the former Atlanta ace, Sowers has great control of his pitches, issuing only 29 walks in more than 150 innings this past season. His fastball is in the 88-92 range, and provides a good amount of sinking action, similar to Glavine in his prime. Sowers also throws a plus change up and plus curveball, and his pitchability is what generates a majority of his strikeouts. I would not imagine that Sowers enjoys the K/9 numbers in the Majors that Glavine has, but with his intelligence and durable arm, it certainly isn't out of question.

    37. Russ Martin - C - Los Angeles Dodgers - 23 (AAA)

    Introduction: Of every prospect on this list, not one made unexpected Spring Training noise like Russ Martin did last year. In the end, his final March statistics were hardly jaw-dropping, with five hits (one for extra bases) in 13 at-bats. But the Dodgers had fallen in love with the catcher, both for the way he handled their pitchers as well as his plate discipline. Martin was then sent to AA, where he played on the most talented team in minor league baseball. The former 17th round steal has not been particularly durable during his minor league career, but should be good for about 130 games per year.

    Skillset/Future: Russ Martin has the best plate discipline in the minor leagues. Sure, Jeremy Hermida might draw more walks and Howie Kendrick might make more consistent contact, but no one puts it together like Martin. This past year, Russ' Isolated Discipline (OBP-AVG) was .129, and his K% (K/AB) was 16.9%. Both of these are fantastic rates, and should help to provide Russ with a very high OBP in the Majors. This will help, as I am beginning to think more and more that he doesn't have any power. Like he did in 2005, expect a lot more seasons when his slugging is under his OBP. But between being on the bases a lot and playing great defense, it's no surprise that the Dodgers are excited to make Martin their full-time catcher soon. Players like him often don't produce a lot of volatility, so expect pretty consistent production.

    36. Hanley Ramirez - SS - Florida Marlins - 22 (AAA)

    Introduction: What in the world is there left to expect of Hanley Ramirez. We have gone from thinking he was a budding superstar, to being convinced he was a bust. In 2004, he made us think he did have All-Star potential, before allowing us to back off that opinion in 2005. There has not been a more volatile player in minor league baseball the last three years than Ramirez. Because of that, and ongoing make-up issues that angered the organization, the Red Sox were quick to trade Ramirez to the Marlins this winter. The opposite of a player like Russ Martin, Hanley is firmly on the scouts side of the infamous scouts v. stats debate. Whether he ever joins the other side is a fact that we all remain quite skeptical of.

    Skillset/Future: It seemed very unlikely a year ago that Hanley would be able to stay at shortstop, especially when Boston signed Edgar Renteria. I began to warm to that very idea, thinking that Ramirez would look great in center field. However, now moved to the Marlin organization, it's almost assured Ramirez will stay up the middle, where his defense will play at about average. His power is pretty non-existent, and at this point, expecting 20 home runs is pretty foolish. Hanley does make really consistent contact, and as a result, could be a .300 hitter in the Bigs. But, at this point it is unlikely he will ever walk very much, and his baserunning is too inconsistent to make him a threat at the top of a lineup. On a championship team, Ramirez is simply a seven or eight hitter that provides moments of greatness around a sea of mediocrity.

    35. Howie Kendrick - 2B - Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim - 23 (AAA)

    Introduction: There was not a more familar site this year than opening Kevin Goldstein's Baseball America Prospect Report and finding out that Howie Kendrick collected two hits. It was pretty silly for awhile, as it just kept coming, but it turned out downright odd by season's end. The guy had more multi-hit games than 0-fers. That doesn't happen. And that especially shouldn't happen for a former 10th round pick out of a community college. What began in the Pioneer League in 2003 has yet to stop, as Kendrick has now hit .340 or higher at four straight levels.

    Skillset/Future: As I have implied, Kendrick has fantastic contact skills. In fact, I'd go as far to call them the best in the minor leagues. In nearly 300 games and 1200 at-bats, Howie has struck out just 142 times, and just 62 in 2005. He centers the ball very well, and because of that, should consistently post high BABIPs. In Spring Training, I was impressed with the pop I saw in his bat, and while he'll never hit for a lot of power, expect about 25-30 doubles on an annual basis. In the field, I was also impressed in March, which ran counter to what many have said. However, that talk was hushed in 2005, and it appears that Kendrick will stay at second, where I think he has good lateral movement. Like Neil Walker already, the only real offensive trait to work on is his patience, as Kendrick drew just 20 walks in the entire '05 season.

    34. Thomas Diamond - SP - Texas Rangers - 23 (AA)

    Introduction: In 2004, Diamond quickly established himself amidst a slew of '04 college draftees with a fantastic start to his pro career. After dominating the Northwest League, the Rangers challenged Diamond with a promotion to the Midwest League. The results were staggering, and the Rangers entered 2005 with very high hopes for their right-hander. He continued to exceed expectations in the Cal League, moved up to AA after 14 starts. During that time, he was the league's best pitcher, and left with a 1.99 ERA. At that point, his minor league career had 169 strikeouts in 127.1 innings. But as happens with many young pitchers, Diamond struggled when reaching AA pretty badly. By allowing a few more walks and home runs, Diamond's ERA soared to 5.35, and his place in the Texas organization (especially among DVD) has been questioned.

    Skillset/Future: One thing I really like about Diamond is his big, strong pitcher's body. However, velocity reports from college now seem high, as Diamond's velocity is only about 91-95 mph. His curveball remains his best pitch, and Diamond made strides with a change this year. After reading many different reports of Diamond pitch, I think the general consensus is that he's inconsistent. Sometimes he's hitting 95, his curveball is biting, and he's a top 20 prospect. Othertimes he'll be the Rangers next disappointing pitching prospect. I really do think that Diamond will succeed at the Big League level as a #3 starter that provides a ton of innings with an ERA right below league average.

    33. Brian Anderson - OF - Chicago White Sox - 24 (MLB)

    Introduction: If nothing else, Ken Williams is one of the most shrewd GMs in all of baseball. Not many front offices would have the guts to trade one of their most well-liked players (Aaron Rowand) in the months following a World Series victory. However, popularity is not one of the qualifications that Williams demands from his center fielder. And while Rowand's defense is very good up the middle, he simply isn't likely to perform at a high level offensively again. So the team traded Rowand, and later Chris Young, because center field is their deepest position in the minors. Brian Anderson, a former first round pick, was waiting in the wings.

    Skillset/Future: Before I start praising Anderson, I want to start with the bad: he lost his contact skills this year. After striking out just 74 times in 2004, Anderson was over 25% in AAA this season. For all the criticism I give Chris Young on this very issue, it should be noted that Anderson whiffs far too much. However, what he also brings to the table is a very solid all-around game. Brian finally showed the power that had been projected of him this year, and when he moves to a hitter's park in 2006, could be capable of hitting 25 home runs. Anderson has a solid batting eye and plays good defense, and is already said to be fitting in with his new teammates. The Jim Thome trade was not only good for the White Sox offense because Thome will improve upon Carl Everett's performance, but also because Brian Anderson should be exceeding Aaron Rowand.

    32. Anibal Sanchez - SP - Florida Marlins - 22 (AAA)

    Introduction: "And in this corner, weighing in at 180 pounds, Anibal Sanchez!" What is Sanchez fighting for, you ask? Well, after breaking out in 2005, Sanchez is here to prove that short-season statistics should be considered seriously when we evaluate prospects. Not a lot of people had Anibal on their radar after 2004, despite a 1.77 ERA in the New York-Penn League. Those who saw his performance were not surprised that he broke out in 2005, as it had simply been a continuation of what he had shown in short-season ball. While prospects like Mitch Einertson fight to make the stats nearly worthless, Sanchez reminds us that every once in awhile, there is an actual diamond amidst all the cubic zirconia.

    Skillset/Future: Coming from baseball's newest hotbed, Venezuela, Sanchez is like many of the pitchers we are seeing from there: short, stocky, and bringing a lot of heat. In Sanchez' case, he pitches at an even six-feet tall, but is still able to throw his fastball into the mid 90s. Better yet, he's good at controlling the pitch, issuing only 40 walks during the 2005 season. However, what has put Sanchez on the prospect map is a deceptive change up that Baseball America fell in love with at the Carolina League All-Star Game. Add in a curveball that I liked at the Futures Game, though it isn't great, and you begin to understand why Sanchez was a better haul than Hanley Ramirez. However, an injury history has to leave some room to temper expectations, which is why Sanchez' ranking is pretty conservative.

    31. Anthony Reyes - SP - St. Louis Cardinals - 24 (MLB)

    Introduction: As a Cubs fan, I really like Sidney Ponson all the sudden. Yes, he just signed with the Cubs rival, but I'm really hoping he wins a rotation spot in Spring Training. Why? Because it blocks Anthony Reyes, who the Cardinals should have simply all-but-guaranteed a spot. After four unimpressive and inconsistent seasons at USC, Reyes has blossomed with the Cardinals now that he has found himself healthy. Starting his pro career in 2004, Anthony has flown through the system, and even impressed the Cardinals with a call-up in 2005. However, St. Louis remains reluctant to give the 24-year-old a rotation spot, which is just fine with the Cub fan in me.

    Skillset/Future: Reyes does it all on the mound. First and foremost, he throws his fastball in the mid 90s, yet has had fantastic control since his freshman season in college. This is what has allowed Reyes to succeed in the minors, along with the development of a very good curveball. His change up is solid if not spectacular, and will certain allow him to succeed at the Major League level. My big concern is the number of home runs that Reyes allows, as his HR/9 was up in the PCL, and then quite high in his 13.1 Major League innings. Hopefully Dave Duncan, one of the Majors best pitching coaches, will work his specialty and teach Reyes to keep the ball closer to the ground than the stands.

    30. Nick Markakis - OF - Baltimore Orioles - 22 (AAA)

    Introduction: Markakis has had quite an odd career thus far, with many interesting twists and turns. Not really highly thought of out of high school, Markakis blossomed in one year at Young Harris College, where he played both ways. He excelled so much, in fact, that he was named the best player at the Community College level, leading to a first-round selection by the Orioles. The team drafted him as a hitter, and he began his pro career showing a lot more polish than power and projection. That continued for the first half of his 2004 season, before he finished it fantastically, leading me to project him to break out in 2005. Markakis' season ended early as he went to play for the Greek team in the Olympics, where he would again play two ways. Finally hitting full-time in 2005, Markakis did break out, with a power spike towards the end of the season that extended into AA.

    Skillset/Future: This guy does it all right. Markakis' power is still pretty projectable, as he hit 41 doubles this year, but just 15 home runs. Those numbers should begin to creep closer together as he moved towards his peak, much to the point where Nick starts to hit at or above the slugging average of most right fielders. In the outfield he plays great defense, and is special because he features an arm that could have pitched professionally. From a plate discipline standpoint, Markakis is a success because he walks a lot, a career-high 61 times in 2005. This is combined with pretty good contact skills, though they regressed a bit in AA. If Nick can continue to improve upon those contact skills, while adding a little loft to his swing, there is serious potential for .300/.400/.550 seasons.

    29. Chris Young - OF - Arizona Diamondbacks - 22 (AAA)

    I'm also going to keep Young's comments short, as he has been one of the most talked about prospects on this site. Basically, I loved Young before the season, as he provides four tools that few in the minors can match: speed, range, discipline, power. He showed this in 2005, as he broke out in a big way, leading to a trade (the White Sox sold high) to the Arizona Diamondbacks. The reason I say that his stock has peaked is because it seems people are willing to overlook the other two tools on his resume: contact and arm. His contact skills are pretty atrocious, and as a result, I don't think he'll hit more than .280 ever as a pro. This is a solid player that I would love to have on my team, but he's not the next Hall of Fame center fielder, if you ask me.

    28. Yusmeiro Petit - SP - Florida Marlins - 21 (AAA)

    Introduction: As Ricardo Gonzalez puts it over at Metsgeek, the key to Yusmeiro is "deception and location." These skills have been the driving influences behind Petit's success in pro baseball, as his scouting report isn't extremely favorable. Petit has always drawn comparisons to Sid Fernandez, both for his large frame and deceptive delivery. With each season of success, this comparison makes more and more sense.

    Skillset/Future: As Ricardo said, the real key to Petit is control. And Yusmeiro has great control, probably the best of any pitcher in the minors. In 2005, he walked just 24 batters in more than 130 innings. This allows for some leeway in the H/9 category, though his deceptiveness (he hides the ball for a long time) has allowed opponents batting average to never be a problem. The biggest concern about Petit is that he allows a lot of home runs, and could be over 30 annually at the Major League level. Traded to the Marlins this winter, Florida must begin to teach Petit ways (a sinker?) to keep the ball on the ground. His future ERA depends upon it.

    27. John Danks - SP - Texas Rangers - 21 (AA)

    Introduction: It seems as if I'm in the minority of believers that John Danks will be the best of the Rangers trio of pitching prospects. However, I think Danks will succeed even though the Rangers have not helped the situation. The team has promoted Danks early in both of his full seasons, leading to significant struggles at the next level. This isn't great on a kid's confidence level, and instead, the Rangers should be allowing about ten fewer starts at these high levels. In 2005, it was AA (where Diamond also struggled), where Danks WHIP went over 1.50.

    Skillset/Future: It seems as if each time Danks gets promoted, he has a momentary loss of control. At his best, John's fastball (in the low 90s, with room to improve) is a weapon that he also controls. If harnessed, he shouldn't be giving up more than about 2.50 walks per nine innings. However, it seems that in high pressure situations (promotions, the Futures Game) he loses control, which could simply be learned with more experience. Danks also has the makings of two more good pitches, including a fantastic curveball and a solid change up. He shows maturity by having confidence in both pitches, and as he adds pitchability, I think he will strike out even more hitters. With a little guidance, the Rangers will be able to turn Danks into a #2 starter. Unfortunately, I'm not sure he's in the right organization.

    26. Daric Barton - 1B - Oakland Athletics - 20 (AAA)

    Introduction: Daric Barton has yet to play in the Major Leagues, and the Mark Mulder trade is still a success for the A's. Dan Haren is that good. So, from Billy Beane's perspective, anything that comes from Barton is just icing on the cake. But that isn't to say expectations are low for Barton, who will be adding to the glut of 1B/DH types in the organization very soon. Intelligently, the team moved him away from catching this season so that Barton could focus on hitting. This turned out to be a good decision, as Barton only continued to learn as a hitter, while no longer providing negative value in the field.

    Skillset/Future: There are few issues that demand more attention in the next two years as whether or not Daric Barton will develop true slugger power. Some think his 36 doubles from 2005 are a sign of things to come, that Barton will remain a gap hitter at the pro level. Others think the doubles will one day clear the fence, as Barton ages and adds more muscle. Either way, Daric can be a successful Major Leaguer, thanks to great discipline and contact skills. The short left-handed slugger drew 97 walks in 2005, keeping his OBP for the season above .420. He also struck out just 79 times, which indicates he could be in the mix for batting titles down the road.

    Over next weekend I'm hoping to do a mailbag article, so if you guys have any questions, please drop them in the comments below. Those that I don't answer right away should get responded to in a separate article on Saturday.

    WTNYJanuary 10, 2006
    2006 WTNY 75: 75-51
    By Bryan Smith

    My prospect list moves on today, away from the honorable mentions and into the actual rankings. Today we count down the numbers 75-51 prospects in baseball, as I see it. As always, please feel free to leave any comments below the article.

    Enjoy!

    75. Andre Ethier - OF - Los Angeles Dodgers - 24 (AAA)

    Introduction: Ethier was totally the A's kind of player at Arizona State University, walking 52 times against 30 strikeouts in his last year on campus. However, the problem was always that Andre couldn't get his power to get going, and that he was destined to a career somewhere between being a fourth outfielder and a AAA one. But in a year of Texas League revivals, Ethier busted out, showing power that hadn't been seen since his days in college. However, the A's promptly traded him, selling him high, to the Dodgers for Milton Bradley.

    Skillset/Future: I thought it was funny that the A's brought Jay Payton back to the organization, as Ethier's best comp is Payton. Both have the potential to be marginal starters, and in certain streaks, should even perform quite well. At other times, however, they look like fourth outfielders stretched at any outfield position besides left. Ethier will never be an All-Star at the Major League level, but there is an off chance he retires with more than 4,000 at-bats, or something of the sort. And that has to be considered a success.

    74. Jered Weaver - SP - Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim - 23 (AA)

    If you've read this site long, you know his name. You know his name real well. Rather than re-write the report that Rich has so eloquently done so often, I'm instead going to turn you to three of his articles from this season:

    Weav Only Just Begun
    He's Baaack!
    The Futures of the Game
    Patience, My Friends

    I am certainly more of a pessimist on Weaver than Rich is, as his flyball tendencies scare me. However, if the Angels are committed to working on this problem, and the right measures are taken, we all know that Jered has pitchability through the roof. At worst, he's a fringe 5th starter. At best, he's a #3. That's a pretty tight window.

    73. Fernando Nieve - SP - Houston Astros - 24 (AAA)

    Introduction: It had to be a now or never year for Fernando Nieve. This is a guy that signed with the organization in 1999. I projected him to breakout before the 2004 season. The Astros were beginning to implement prospects into their rotation. It was simply time for Nieve to turn that corner, and become a top prospect. Problem is, I still can't tell whether he did or not. Nieve pitched brilliantly in 14 Texas League starts, showing better stuff than his organizational mate Jason Hirsh. However, once reaching the PCL, Nieve struggled with hits, walks and strikeouts. A bad combination.

    Skillset/Future: I really do think that Nieve has a future in a Major League rotation. However, these days, I no longer believe he has #2/3 potential, but instead will have to hang towards the back end. He has a rubber arm that has allowed for three straight seasons with over 150 innings, and his stuff is good enough for a career 8.51 K/9 in the minors. However, it seems that Nieve has always been a bit too hittable, and lacked a little too much in the control department. Whether or not a Major League pitching coach can solve these problems should prove to be instrumental to Nieve's future success.

    72. Chuck Tiffany - SP - Los Angeles Dodgers - 21 (AA)

    Introduction: Tiffany did a lot more to disappoint in 2005 than anything else, as expectations were very high. After ending 2004 as well as he did, striking out 46 in his last 21.1 innings. The problem with Tiffany, however, has always been consistency. Sometimes he is the best pitcher in the Dodger system, other times his struggles are massive. There is a very little happy medium.

    Skillset/Future: There seem to be a lot more cons in this section than pros. First, Tiffany has a flyball affinity, and as a result, tends to allow a ton of home runs. Without knowing first hand, I would guess he has the tendency to hang his curveball. It's also a problem, I would guess, that Chuck really only offers two pitches at this point: fastball and curveball. Both offerings are pretty good, but there has just not been a lot of development with a third pitch. Throw in just average control, and you begin to understand why people aren't so enamored with a double-digit K/9 guy.

    71. Eddy Martinez-Esteve - OF/DH - San Francisco Giants - 22 (AA)

    Introduction: I would have a lot more faith in EME if only he was on an AL team's roster. Because we all know the guy can hit. The Giants have to make a decision in choosing how they will replace Barry Bonds: maximize the offense, so losing his bat will be minimized, or get an all-around player who will be better than Bonds was defensively? It's all a matter of how much you weigh defense. Brian Sabean's answer to this question will likely dictate how long EME stays in this organization. If the team wishes to take a hit on defense, then sticking him in left field is the solution. If not willing, it's time to sell high, and trade him to the American League. As a fan, I'm hoping it's the latter.

    Skillset/Future: As I've said, EME can't play defense. At all. His throwing arm is atrocious, and his range makes Pat Burrell cringe. He will never be good, and expecting any different would be foolish. However, there is a pro to match that con. His bat. There is no better pure bat in the minors, considering he has the full package. Unparalleled plate discipline. Great contact skills. Big-time gap power. This guy has it all. It will be interesting to see what leaving the Cal League does to his numbers in 2006, but I don't expect it to be as much as some. A fantastic batting eye tends to minimize volatility, I've found.

    70. Chuck James - SP - Atlanta Braves - 24 (AAA)

    Another sabermetric favorite, James is yet to really struggle at a level. But if you ask me, he's simply a left-handed Jered Weaver. Sure, there are differences in their stuff, but not really huge differences in their stats. Both allow a ton of fly balls, and thrive off very good control. A system of pitcher's parks has allowed James to not allow a ton of home runs, which has been Weaver's problem in the early going. And, of course, both players strike out a good number of hitters based on their fastball control, a decent breaking pitch and unmatched pitchability. James won't be anything better than a back-of-the-rotation pitcher, but he could also be very good in that role.

    69. Jason Hirsh - SP - Houston Astros - 24 (AAA)

    Introduction: Besides Jon Lester and Francisco Liriano, no pitcher broke out in 2005 more than Jason Hirsh. A 2003 second-round choice, I had Hirsh circled on a list before the 2005 season of guys that could be drafted in the '05 Rule Draft, if left unprotected. However, he then proceeded to have a season in which he was named as the Texas League Pitcher of the Year, and was promptly added to the Houston 40-man roster. The key for Hirsh seemed to be a decline in his walk rate, as the big right-hander shaved his BB/9 almost in half. There is a good argument, in my mind, for both Nieve and Hirsh atop the Astro food chain.

    Skillset/Future: Coming out of college, Hirsh was a pitching coach's dream. He had the pitcher's body at 6-8, 250, and was blessed with velocity in the mid-90s. However, there was little control and little secondary stuff. A year later, neither of that is true. Hirsh's curve was raved about in 2005, and as I said, his control was much improved this year. He was unable to average a strikeout per inning, but that's nitpicking. I went with Hirsh over Nieve because I thought the former had a better chance to be a good reliever if starting didn't work out, given his frame and velocity. If the Astros continue to implement young players onto their roster, look for Hirsh to get his chance in 2007.

    68. Gaby Hernandez - SP - Florida Marlins - 20 (A+)

    Introduction: Following a third-round selection in the 2004 draft, Hernandez started to make noise in posting some silly numbers in the Gulf Coast League at 18. With expectations high, Hernandez was great in the South Atlantic League, proving the Mets were involved in a heist waiting until pick 74 to draft him. The word was that his stuff was more consistent after the draft, and there is no question that even since being drafted, Hernandez has thrown more onto the frame. However, he struggled mightily when being promoted to high-A, and with his stock pretty high, the Mets weren't too stupid to sell this winter. If the Marlins can keep Hernandez from preventing home runs, then they will be very happy with their acquisition, as well.

    Skillset/Future: Very few players in the minor leagues allow fly balls at the rate that Hernandez does. This is very odd to me, given reports of a sinking fastball and an extremely low HR/9. Sooner or later, you have to worry, those balls are going to start going over the fence. Or, the Marlins must teach Hernandez a way to add tilt to his fastball. However, this can't come at the cost of his control, as Gaby doesn't make a ton of mistakes. And, as is the problem with all young pitchers, Hernandez simply needs to become more consistent from start-to-start. We'll find out how much of a scare his K/9 reduction is very soon, as Hernandez will likely head back to the Florida State League.

    67. Asdrubal Cabrera - IF - Seattle Mariners - 20 (AA)

    Introduction: A personal favorite of mine. Defense is just beginning a revolution in Major League Baseball, and it has yet to really start trickling down to the minors. Once it does, expect guys like Cabrera to start gaining a little more publicity. Because as far as defensive infielders go, there are few better in all of the minor leagues. To really get a feel for it, try reading Sam Geaney's scouting report on Cabrera. Here's the part about defense:

    Special w/glove. Plus hds and pure showy SS actions. Expert hop reader. Smooth transfer. Plus range and instincts allow him to not only get to balls but look for outs in places most SS wouldn't look. Shows off serious athleticism coming in and throwing on run. Very good feel for game, knows speed of runners which allows him to sit back and complete play with ease. Never got caught waiting too long to unload. Avg arm strength made better by plus accuracy. Errors are coming on plays that most INF won't get to or dream of making but that he has chance to pull off. Exc. body control.

    Skillset/Future: If you haven't gotten it yet, he can be a Gold Glove-caliber player up the middle. There's a chance the presence of Betancourt in the system could push Cabrera to second, which would be a shame. As a hitter, he must start getting back to the things he did in the Midwest League. First and foremost, Asdrubal must re-commit to drawing walks, as his contact skills are a tad below average. I can't imagine he'll hit for much power, so Cabrera needs to hope to have a ceiling of Placido Polanco on offense, and Omar Vizquel on defense. If the Mariners infield situation is too cloudy, then you should really be crossing your fingers that your team lands him. Special talent.

    66. Carlos Gonzales - OF - Arizona Diamondbacks - 20 (A+)

    Introduction: In retrospect, I guess we should have been impressed when Gonzales was posting .150+ ISOs in short-season ball as a teenager. We should have listened to the scouts that said that power would further develop, that there was a player inside this underachiever. Because in 2005, Gonzales took off like few other prospects in minor league baseball. He was the most impressive player in the Midwest League. Arizona spends a lot of time drafting college talents, not worrying about how to refine skills. But if they can find a balance between raw Latin American players and college players, this system should continue to flourish.

    Skillset/Future: Gonzales tends to have every skill in the book, just not every one is fully developed. His contact abilities improved greatly in 2005, as his career average jumped 40 points and his K% was down to under 17%. He showed Major League power, hitting 52 XBH, including 18 home runs as a teenager. Carlos began to walk more, drawing 48 free passes and bringing his OBP north of .370. And while he doesn't have extraordinary speed, Gonzales is seen as a good center fielder. I'll remain skeptical about Gonzales for another year, but if all of this is for real, he could jump about 40 spots in 365 days.

    65. Dustin McGowan - SP - Toronto Blue Jays - 24 (MLB)

    Introduction: As a whole, Dustin McGowan's minor league career is not particularly impressive. A former first round pick, he has a long injury history that includes pitching only 31 innings in 2004. His career minor league ERA is just 3.82. His career K/9 is under 9.00. He is an underachiever, in every sense of the word. However, those that watch McGowan pitch consistently come away impressed. And after coming back from Tommy John surgery very quickly, it's hard not to root for the guy.

    Skillset/Future: This is not a guy that finds his way on this list via statistics, as I've said. Instead, it's his stuff. When watching McGowan pitch in the Majors, you see a guy with a good fastball, and two different breaking pitches. His fastball was not all the way back in 2005, but I came away very impressed with his breaking stuff. He's never had the pitchability to register a ton of strikeouts (beyond class A0, but that can be a learned trait. There is a chance, if he keeps underachieving, that McGowan could be best suited moving to the bullpen. However, an improvement on his fastball -- one in which he reverts to pre-injury form -- could provide the Blue Jays with a possible Rookie of the Year candidate at the back of their rotation.

    64. Jonathan Broxton - RP - Los Angeles Dodgers - 22 (AAA/MLB)

    Introduction: It's funny, I remember arguing with Dodger fans in the past about whether or not Broxton could remain a starter. I said no, and as a result, did not think as highly as him as most people. They liked him as a starter, and saw great things. It turned out that the real answer was somewhere in the middle. In the end, the best thing for Jonathan Broxton was to move to the bullpen. And while his Major League ERA didn't tell the story, I can all but guarantee it will be the best thing for the Dodgers, too. 22 strikeouts in 13.2 innings? Suddenly, those comparisons between Broxton and Gagne's minor league numbers don't look so silly, do they?

    Skillset/Future: The reason a move to relief was so good for Broxton was that it helped his stuff, as it tends to do with some arms. For the Bull, his fastball jumped from about 94 to 98 or 99, and his breaking pitch became that much more devastating. His control has improved in each of the last three seasons, a sign that not only will he strike out people in relief, but he could also be a closer. Oh, and by the way, he doesn't really allow home runs, either. I have Broxton ranked as the second-best relief prospect in baseball, and it certainly wouldn't surprise me if he was winning Rolaids awards within the next five seasons.

    63. Jeff Niemann - SP - Tampa Bay Devil Rays - 23 (AA)

    Introduction: The San Diego Padres have to be more upset with the Rice University baseball program than anyone else. After Jeff Niemann's sophomore season, it was no contest that Niemann was the best player in the draft. Had the draft been a year early, the team would have been forced to take Niemann. There would have been an uproar if ownership ordered for anything else. The 6-9 rightie had led Rice through the College World Series ranks and capped off a 17-0 season with a 1.70 ERA. He was frightening. But soon, he would be hurt, and it still seems as the injury that followed his sophomore season is still causing problems today.

    Skillset/Future: It's just too hard to give up on a guy that used to touch 99. It's hard to quit on a guy that once had a power curve that would have reinvented the word. Alright, I'm exaggerating, but really, it's a pity this kid's stuff isn't what it used to be. Even with regression, Niemann still has an impressive two-pitch combination, but really needs to be healthy to completely prove that to us. Maybe we'll have to wait for arm surgery for that to happen, or maybe this winter will have provided it for us. The Devil Rays took a risk drafting Niemann in the top five, but if any arm has the chance to pay them dividends, it's Niemann's.

    62. Ian Kinsler - 2B - Texas Rangers - 24 (MLB)

    Introduction: It seems as if every analyst in the world credited Texas with a win after the Alfonso Soriano trade. Most people wrote that Brad Wilkerson could be a better hitter than Soriano, much less the other two players Jon Daniels received. What seems to be ignored is that Daniels also had incentive to make the trade, as Ian Kinsler has been waiting in the wings. Sure, his AAA season wasn't the greatest success in the world, but it's hard to believe that he can't step in and provide value to the Rangers immediately. And, who knows, maybe both Wilkerson and Kinsler will outdo Soriano in 2006.

    Skillset/Future: I only saw Kinsler play one game in Spring Training last year, but I was impressed. I noted in my review of my preseason Arizona trip that Kinsler was one to have power to all fields, and a strike zone that doesn't expand. Both these comments seem just as apparent now, as Kinsler is coming off a career high in home runs, and staying consistent with his good contact skills. His plate discipline is a bit above average, and Ian should represent a step up in defense over Soriano. There is a chance that Kinsler will have a 20/20 season in the Majors, and a very outside probability that he could win Rookie of the Year.

    61. Adam Lind - OF - Toronto Blue Jays - 22 (AA)

    Introduction: Not to sound like a used car salesman, but Lind is the breakout prospect that I have the most faith in. I found him very early in the season, before his red-hot July, and noticed how few of his extra-base hits were going over the wall. I blamed it on Dunedin, and wrote somewhere that he could correct that problem in 2006. He started to correct it at the end of the season, showing hitting skills that were unmatched in the FSL. It's probably dangerous to start throwing around Paul Molitor comparisons, but for some reason, that's what I see when looking at Lind.

    Skillset/Future: More than anything else, the problem with Lind will be determining a position. Third base is thrown out, now leaving a decision between first, left and DH. For some reason, oftentimes it's the latter that would be the best option for the team. However, for what problems Lind has athletically, he makes up for it offensively. Adam's contact skills are among the minors best, and his sweet swing should also help him become an annual .300 hitter. Besides that, he's very inconsistent, as extra base hits and walks tend to come in bunches. If, like I'm predicting, Lind adds a little power and a little endurance, he could be the minors best pure hitter in under one season.

    60. Scott Elbert - SP - Los Angeles Dodgers - 21 (A+)

    Introduction: Of all my choices, this is the one I think I might end up pinching myself for most in one season. Not in a good way. Why? Because the Dodgers do this every year. Sometimes the player is Greg Miller, othertimes it is Chuck Tiffany, this year it was Scott Elbert. They bring some hard-throwing southpaw with big numbers to the table, and we become amazed. However, there isn't a great track record for these players. Sooner or later, I think, that trend will break, and one of these pitchers will maximize his potential. Or, the Dodgers will have one helluva fight for the LOOGY spot in their bullpen.

    Skillset/Future: If pitchers only needed two pitches, this guy would be great. His low-90s fastball has good life, and his slider is at times devastating. However, to be a starter, a prospect needs a third pitch, which Elbert lacks. There have been few advancements in that category in a year, and without it, Elbert has a future in the bullpen. Not only will a move to relief offset the aforementioned problem, but it should also minimize the damage his control problems provide. Like I've said before, having the fallback of becoming a very good reliever is a nice thing. But the reason you see Elbert so high on the list is that I think that even a good career in relief would be a disappointment.

    59. Jeff Mathis - C- Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim - 23 (MLB)

    Introduction: Wax on, wax off. After 2003, Jeff Mathis was one of the most exciting players in minor league baseball. A catcher with projectable power out the roof. After 2004, he was a forgotten prospect. Baseball America pointed out that Mathis had simply tired in the Texas League, a theory that should undoubtedly be applied to catchers in the future. Finally, it seems like we're getting the right view of Mathis. Would it surprise you if I said we've learned that he's an inconsistent player? Nah, didn't think so.

    Skillset/Future: Gone are the days in which I will forecast 30-40 home run potential for Mathis. That was foolish. Instead, I think we should expect 40-50 extra-base hits per season, with about 20 (max) coming via the long ball. Jeff has made strides with his contact skills, and in the Majors, should continue to fall short of 100 strikeouts per year, while batting about .280. He mixes this with pretty average discipline skills, adding (as we've seen) about sixty or seventy points to his average. Behind the plate, Mathis is no gem, but he'll certainly be serviceable to the Angles. And after all, when Mathis is done hitting in the 8th inning in 2006, the team might as well bring in Jose Molina. Average catchers have a positive value, and that's just what Mathis is.

    58. Javi Herrera - OF - Oakland Athletics

    Introduction: There is no player on this list I saw more than Herrera this year, who I was able to see in six different games. And it seemed as if each time I saw him, I was impressed. But this scares me, because it reminds me of another player I love in person that has disappointed: Shin-Soo Choo. Both are small, strong players with hints of all six tools. I'm no scout, so I recognize the danger in evaluating players in such a fashion. But we also have to allow our experience in the game have some influence, so I'm bringing out that card with Herrera. His stats might not equal a few players behind him, but I'll be damned if he doesn't succeed on my watch.

    Skillset/Future: As I said, there are bits and pieces of all six tools in this kid. I can personally attest that he covers great ground in center, which should make up for an arm that is average at best. Herrera is an accomplished base stealer, who with a little push, could probably swipe about 25 bags a year in the Bigs. He likely won't, I don't think, be a 25/25 player, though. There is power in his bat, but given his small frame, I think it should be confined to the gaps. From a plate discipline standpoint, Herrera has one plus (batting eye) and one minus (control problems). Add these two together, and his OBP should be a bit above-average in the Major Leagues. If Herrera can swing and miss less, he has the potential to be a special player in the Majors. If not, he should still be average. If he regresses, he can be a fourth outfielder. That range of options is what impresses me most, I think.

    57. Eric Duncan - 1B - New York Yankees - 21 (AA)

    Introduction: Normally, I'm not a sucker for age being a defining characteristic in a player. Too often, I think, players are allowed to use their age as a crutch. Sure, he hit just .240 in Low-A, he's just 18. But for some reason, I do think age is very important when evaluating Eric Duncan. While a .734 OPS in AA is not very impressive, there are things to like in the numbers, and those are enhanced when learning the player was in his age 20 season. I'm also drawn to the Yankees reluctance to trade Duncan, which might reflect a newer organizational philosophy more than a particular faith in Eric. Time will tell, I guess.

    Skillset/Future: This winter, the Yankees decided to eliminate Duncan's most glaring weakness: his play at the hot corner. While it had improved in two years through Duncan's hard work, he was never going to be a good third basemen. With A-Rod entrenched at the position, anyway, a move to first base was best for all parties. My anticipation is that Duncan will be a good fielder there, and also could have the bat for it. His power is very significant, and while his 2B:HR ratio was a bit low, he could hit 30 home runs in a Major League season. Duncan also has very good patience for someone his age, which makes up for bad, bad contact issues. When considering all that, his peak is that of a .270/.350/.500 player in my mind. And oddly enough, in 2007, he could be looking to prove that in the Big Apple.

    56. Garrett Mock - SP - Arizona Diamondbacks - 23 (AA)

    Introduction: Another one of my breakout guys, Mock is the one I had pegged the earliest. He is just a simple case of numbers distorted by context. He played in Lancaster, in the Cal League, one of the worst environments a pitcher could have. Garrett had a .334 BABIP on his many groundballs, a number that could have prevented about 25 hits if normalized. He didn't pitch great at the end of the season, instead showing potential for 2006. This guy has everything I look for in a breakout prospect. Truly, I would be shocked if he isn't a top 40 player in one year.

    Skillset/Future: What I love about Mock is that he's fairly easy to project. A durable arm and good pitcher's body will allow Mock to become an innings-eater in the mold that John Lackey serves for the Angels. He might not be noticed much, but quietly, he'll be throwing 200+ innings of above-average baseball a season. While that is what will most likely happen, Mock also has the potential to be a #2 pitcher. He throws four good pitches, and his fastball has enough tilt to provoke a lot of ground balls. We like that in these parts. Look for the Southern League to be a nice place for Mock to break out in next year, possibly even surpassing the numbers put up by Dustin Nippert. And in no time, he should pass Nippert in the organization's eyes, if he isn't already.

    55. Troy Patton - SP - Houston Astros - 20 (AA)

    Introduction: In a lot of ways, Patton represents a few different Astro draft ideologies. The first is to load up with players from Texas, one of the nation's best baseball states. This provides the team with a bunch of hometown players coming from high school and college programs that the Houston front office trusts. The other ideology, as Roy Oswalt has proven, is one that ignores height. The club is far more impressed with results than, as Michael Lewis might put it, how a player looks in a pair of jeans. This has paid off with Patton, who now has a lifetime 2.13 ERA in the minors. The Moneyball philosophy, to find underrated traits in players, is what allowed Houston to pick up Patton in the 2004 draft's ninth round.

    Skillset/Future: Not many players impressed me in the 2005 Futures Game more than Patton. My comments after watching him:

    the southpaw started the inning with a 93 mph fastball, the only velocity the pitch hit in four throws. He also showed an impressive change in the dirt, and forced a ground out from Bergolla on a mid 70s, loopy curve.

    If this game was an indication of what Patton normally brings to the table, he should be pitching in Houston by the time he turns 21. Very few southpaws in the minors offer a three-pitch combination like the one I saw in Detroit. Add in great control and the ability to keep the baseball in the park, and you have a future #2 pitcher, barring injury.

    54. Kendry Morales - 1B/DH - Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim - 23 (AAA)

    Introduction: At the 2005 Futures Game, prior to its start, I watched the players take batting practice and interact on the field. One thing I noticed, not to my surprise, was Kendry Morales and Rafael Betancourt talking to each other. I remember taking a picture of it, wondering what it would mean in 5, 10, 25 years. These two are, after all, test cases. While Cuba has produced Major League players for years, oftentimes, they have been pitchers. Before Morales and Betancourt, very few position players made it from Cuba. In these two, we have the Cuban's best hitter (Morales), and their best fielder (Betancourt). Their translation to Major League Baseball will go far in dictating how big of a market there exists for Cuban hitters in the future. Test cases.

    Skillset/Future: Morales quickly went through the Cal League, showing the Angels his competition in Cuba exceeded class-A ball. However, upon hitting AA, Kendry had a few struggles. They were quickly overcome, however, by a huge finish to his season that extended into the Arizona Fall League. We know now that Morales has plus power, possibly to the tune of thirty home runs per year. He also makes good contact skills, only lacking in the discipline category offensively. If the Angels can get him to start walking, his lack of athleticism will not be a problem. If not, however, then he will have to overcome low OBPs from the DH spot...never an easy task.

    53. Elijah Dukes - OF - Tampa Bay Devil Rays - 22 (AAA)

    Introduction: If maturity wasn't a key component of a baseball player, all the talk about Elijah Dukes would be how far he has come since being drafted. While he's always possessed all the tools, the 2002 hometown pick has had a long process of refining them over the years. In 2003, his pro career started in low-A, and Dukes was a mess. He didn't have a ton of power, and lacked any form of contact. His defense and baserunning were raw at best. His only plus was a good amount of discipline, and an age where his faults would be accepted. But maturity does count, so we only see Dukes as a bit of a disappointment. After run-ins with the law, Dukes' 2005 season was clouded with ejections, and even a suspension. His skills have come so far, but he has not.

    Skillset/Future: As I mentioned, Dukes has all the tools, and now has most of them refined. His strikeout percentage has dropped at each level, reaching a low of 18.6% this year. His power peaked, as Dukes hit 10 more home runs than he had in any season prior. Elijah has always had good discipline, which has consistently made up for contact faults. He plays good enough defense to remain in center, and while his baserunning isn't great, it's not a reach to expect Preston Wilson SB numbers. But if I was to compare Dukes to any player, as I have before, it would be Milton Bradley. Like Bradley, it could be Dukes' non-baseball issues that do him in more than anything else. With Rocco Baldelli now signed to an extension, we already know that we can blame Dukes' forthcoming trade on that.

    52. Jason Kubel - OF/DH - Minnesota Twins - 24 (AAA)

    Introduction: It seems as if Alanis Morissette should be add a phrase to "Ironic" about Jason Kubel. A 12th round pick in 2000, Kubel was more ordinary than not in his first four seasons. To cap it off in 2003, he hit a very ordinary .298/.361/.400 in the Florida State League. A year later, Kubel was considered one of the minors' purest hitters, and the future right fielder of Minnesota. His 2004 season shocked the prospect world. And after climbing so high, Kubel entered the realm of freak accidents in the Arizona Fall League, tearing up every "CL" in the knee. He did not play in 2005.

    Skillset/Future: It's very hard to evaluate Kubel as a prospect. This might be considered high for him, but I went over each hitter, and could not convince myself that I'd rather have any of the guys behind him before Kubel. At worst, his knee will relegate him to DH duty, where I truly believe he will hit. His contact skills were fantastic prior to the injury, and should return as he builds muscle memory. His plate discipline is above-average, and he'll hit for good (not great) power. But this guy could win a batting title one day, and for the Twins, that will be great whether it's in left, right, or off the bench.

    51. Gio Gonzalez - SP - Philadelphia Phillies - 20 (A+)

    Introduction: Pitching defined the 2004 first round more than anything else. Of the first 41 picks in the draft, twenty-eight of the players drafted threw off a mound. However, more than 2/3 of those players were college pitchers, and it seemed as if prep pitchers were falling a bit. This allowed the White Sox to draft Gio Gonzalez with the 38th overall pick. A hard-throwing southpaw from Miami, Chicago went the Houston way, and ignored the height written within the scouting report. Instead, they focused on the pitcher, who could turn out to be the draft's best prep pitcher. If so, it will be in a different organization, as the team traded Gonzalez to the Phillies in the Jim Thome deal this offseason. Gonzalez and Cole Hamels should be fighting (no, don't use your fists, Cole) for place on the organizational depth chart soon.

    Skillset/Future: In one Baseball America Daily Dish, written towards the end of the minor league season, the BA crew had this to say about Gonzalez:

    ...the 19-year-old lefty sent Kinston down in order after the first inning as he showed off an explosive 93 mph fastball, hammer curve and a late-diving changeup.

    After succeeding in short-season ball at the age of 18, Gonzalez started to draw comparisons to Johan Santana. Part of this was on merit, and of course, part was due to Santana's rising profile. In reality, there is little in common between the two pitchers besides handedness, velocity and similar frames. Both short, Santana become a dominant pitcher as his change-up became one of the game's best. His fastball features as much movement as anyone in the game, and he has an above-average slider. Gonzalez has a solid fastball, but really pitches off his great curve. There seem to be mixed reports on his change-up, but at worst, it sounds to be an average pitch. With three solid pitches, I expect Gonzalez to finish his first season as a Phillie in AA. By this time next year, we could be talking about him as a rotation candidate.

    Over next weekend I'm hoping to do a mailbag article, so if you guys have any questions, please drop them in the comments below. Those that I don't answer right away should get responded to in a separate article on Saturday.

    WTNYJanuary 09, 2006
    2006 WTNY 75: Honorable Mention
    By Bryan Smith

    With winter league baseball finally nearing its conclusion, the time has come for me to unveil my top 75 prospects. We will be doing so gradually in the next week, finishing with the top ten on Friday. We start today, however, with the 25 guys that came closest to making the list. I didn't want to be put in the position of ranking this group, so it goes from Andrus to Volstad.

    Enjoy!

    Elvis Andrus - SS - Atlanta Braves - 17 (A-)

    Introduction: Two years ago, in my first attempt at ranking prospects, I had the dilemma of ranking a 17-year-old that had tore through the Northwest League. I don't have a link to it, but I distinctly remember ranking Felix Hernandez in the number ninety spot. Two years later he would be second, and three years later he is being talked about as a potential Cy Young candidate. However, for every King Felix, there are plenty of failed teenage phenoms. For that reason, if going to 100, I would rank Elvis Andrus in about the ninetieth spot. Players with such youth are risky, without a doubt, but their upside is beyond what most American-born players can reach.

    Skillset/Future: While most players would be raw playing in professional baseball shortly after being able to drive, Andrus is not. He walked 19 times in 187 plate appearances, which is pretty fantastic given his maturity level. Furthermore, his contact skills are also refined, as his .295 batting average and 16.9% strikeout rate would attest. Elvis has good speed -- though his baserunning needs work -- and defense that, with more work, could be fantastic. He's simply a very fluid player in the Edgar Renteria mold. What Andrus lacks right now is power. While you might assume this can develop into a strength with age, my guess is that the potential is merely average. The Braves will likely start him in full-season ball next year, and we should get a better look at the player the Padres wish they had in Matt Bush.

    Erick Aybar - SS - Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim - 22 (AAA)

    Introduction: Back in 2003, things were looking good for Mr. Aybar. As a teenager he had posted a .794 OPS in the Midwest League, also stealing 32 bases at a 78% clip. The Angels preferred him to Alberto Callaspo up the middle, and he was seen as the Angels shortstop of the future. Now, that is simply not the case. This is not for lack of trying, as Aybar's play has been consistent, but for his organization-mates. The Angels have signed Orlando Cabrera to a long-term deal, and behind Aybar is Brandon Wood, one of the game's top prospects. A move to second wouldn't do much good, as Howie Kendrick has him blocked there. It seems as if there are two outcomes for Aybar: a super-utility career in the Chone Figgins mold, or a trade.

    Skillset/Future: At every stop in his pro career, Aybar has hit at least .300. His OPS has always been over .790. He has always struck out in less than 16% of his at-bats. However, Aybar's stock has been gradually slipping since its 2003 peak. Why? First, his baserunning has seemingly worsened, as Erick is just 100/159 the last two seasons. He also hasn't gained a hint of discipline, giving his on-base percentage a ceiling of about .375, and likely a home around .330-.350. It's likely that Aybar's SLG numbers will come down as well in the future, since the number is fairly triple-dependent. There is likely some team out there who will confuse Aybar for a leadoff hitter, but really, a Tony Womack-career is his destiny.

    Wes Bankston - 1B - Tampa Bay Devil Rays - 22 (AAA)

    Introduction: It's sure easy to fit in quietly when everyone around you is making noise. You might recognize Bankston's name from 2002, when the fourth rounder hit 18 home runs in 246 Appy League at-bats. However, it was then he started to blend in. In 2003, Bankston struggled in low-A on the same team as B.J. Upton. Repeating the level in 2004, this time he was protection for Delmon Young. This year, he again played on Young's team, which also featured Elijah Dukes. Fifth hitters rarely get recognized in minor league baseball, but it's hard to blame Bankston for being paired with top five picks.

    Skillset/Future: Since lighting up the Appy League fresh out of a Texas high school, Bankston has moved to first base. Given the Devil Rays crowded outfield situation, and Bankston's limited range, this was the best move for everybody. The question now is whether Bankston's bat can survive at first. I believe it can. It's unlikely he'll be an All-Star, but I imagine that his power can be that of an average American League first baseman, with the potential to pass that. His Southern League power, an ISO of .190, is about what I foresee, in which Bankston is a doubles hitter with 20-30 HR potential. Wes has a good batting eye that regressed a bit in AA, but should always play as a strength. And contact hasn't been a significant problem since 2003, and should be average at the Major League level. Tampa should be searching for a one-year option at first this winter, since in 2007, it should be Bankston's turn to take the helm.

    Josh Barfield - 2B - San Diego Padres - 23 (MLB)

    Introduction: Those with a Major League pedigree often tend to get advantages that others don't, while also being forced to live in their father/brother's shadow. Josh Barfield doesn't really fit that stereotype, as he had to both earn his prospect status and the comparison to his father. A fourth-round pick in 2001, Barfield quietly played well in 2002 before exploding the next season in the California League. With 128 RBI's and 122 strikeouts, Josh was seen as Jesse, the 2B version. A down year in AA tempered expectations, but Josh played well upon returning to a good offensive environment.

    Skillset/Future: Josh seems to do everything well but make contact. In each of his now four minor league seasons, Barfield has reached the triple digits in strikeouts. This creates the necessity for high BABIPs, which he has managed in three of four seasons, including a .363 clip in 2005. However, it's unlikely this will continue at the Major League level, and as a result, his batting average should dip considerably. Good thing that Barfield's plate discipline has gradually improved, and even with a .250 batting average, he should manage an OBP of about .320. Josh will always have more power than the average second baseman, so it's too bad he'll be playing in PETCO Park, which will turn plenty of home runs into doubles. Both his baserunning and defense, which we were both once skeptical of, are average skills. An offseason Mark Loretta trade paves the way for Barfield to start at second, where he is an underdog (but candidate) for NL ROY.

    Ryan Braun - 3B/OF - Milwaukee Brewers - 22 (A+)

    Introduction: This season, I have decided to add recent draftees to my prospect list. This is a first for me, and as a result, expect many of the rankings to be conservative. Because like Elvis Andrus, with many of these players, it's hard to know less than 500 at-bats into their pro career who they really are. We have a decent handle on college players like Braun, as with him, we have seen great offensive numbers at a big school like the University of Miami. After two good years at the U, Braun shot up draft charts and Miami record books with a .388/.471/.726 junior season. After much deliberation, the Brewers (with a very intelligent scouting department) settled on Braun with the fifth overall pick.

    Skillset/Future: On draft day, I talked about how there were only three other Miami hitters with bigger numbers: Pat Burrell, Jason Michaels and Aubrey Huff. The latter is the best comparison you can make for Braun. Neither plays defense well, and if not now, it's likely that Braun will move from third to right field at some point. However, with bad defense is also a fantastic bat with all the strengths. While neither his discipline or contact rates were great in his debut, expect them both to improve in Braun's full-season debut. He also has power that rivals anyone in the minors, and should one day create quite a tandem with Prince Fielder. However, unlike a few of the other college draftees, it's presumptuous to believe that Braun will fly through the minors. While his season-ending stats were good in low-A, to do so, Braun overcame some significant struggles. While he should finish the year in AA, expect the Brewers to conservatively start Ryan in the FSL.

    Reid Brignac - SS - Tampa Bay Devil Rays - 20 (A+)

    Introduction: Some of you will be surprised to see Brignac on this list. It's unlikely he'll make any other top 100s. However, if you really are shocked by this selection, read my latest BP article. In the piece, I selected Brignac as one of my eight key breakout prospects of 2006. After being drafted in the second round following a wonderful Louisiana high school career, Brignac played great in the short-season Appy League. Expectations were high in 2005, and as a result, he fell short. As they lessen in 2006, expect them to go the opposite way, and this time exceed them.

    Skillset/Future: I like Brignac to break out for 2 reasons: a big late-season finish and his list of comparisons. The big finish, which came in the last quarter of Brignac's season, showed improved contact skills and increased power. If he can tone down the strikeouts, as well as improve his discipline, Reid should be a very good offensive shortstop. He doesn't have great speed, and as a result, great range, but it's unlikely he'll move from shortstop. Brignac's calling card is plenty of undeveloped power, and his 2005 performance is quite reminiscent of two 2004 MWL seasons: Brandon Wood and Adam Jones. It's tough to enter the Cal League being compared to Wood, and even I don't believe he has that potential. But Adam Jones is a pretty perfect offensive example for Brignac, which should push him into next year's top 75.

    Eric Campbell - 3B - Atlanta Braves - 20 (A-)

    Introduction: And the short-season performance of the year goes to...Eric Campbell. You might not have heard of Campbell before, because of the system in which he plays, but with Marte's exit, this guy is the top 3B in the system. A second-round pick in 2004, Campbell had a lackluster debut in the GCL, so the Braves decided to get conservative. Stuck in the Appy League this season, Campbell was its top hitter, slugging .634. One of the holy grails of minor league analysis is to discover exactly what short-season performances dictate, as examples like Mitch Einertson prove. But Atlanta -- who rarely drafts outside the south, Campbell is from Indiana -- loved his power on Draft Day 2004, so they weren't shocked by his 2005 output.

    Skillset/Future: As I've alluded to, Campbell's biggest calling card is big-time power. In 2005, over half of his hits and 17.6% of Eric's at-bats went for extra bases. Both of those are pretty dazzling percentages. Besides power, Campbell is a pretty average player. His contact skills aren't great -- his strikeout rate is about 25% -- and as a result, he should be a 100 K-per-year player. Eric walked in just under 10% of his plate appearances, and with maturity, discipline could even become a strength. On the bases, Campbell had 15 steals. While 30/30 is likely out of the question, he should be good for about 10-15 annually at the Big League level. The Braves have a slew of pitcher's parks in their low levels, so expectations should be tempered for Campbell. But come 2009, this guy will likely be looking to become Chipper Jones' long-term replacement.

    Cesar Carrillo - SP - San Diego Padres - 22 (AA)

    Introduction: There was a time in which it looked as if Carrillo would become 2005's version of Aaron Heilman. His perfect record at the University of Miami extended for a long time, before Carrillo seemingly collapsed late in the season. While his results took a nosedive, the Padres still targeted Carrillo as one of the draft's safest bets: a player that would finally provide a quick and easy return on their investment. Miami has been a hitter's haven for years, and Carrillo quietly became one of the leaders this season. The Padres have much faith in Carrillo who was drafted more as a "safe bet" than a "future ace."

    Skillset/Future: Reports claim that Carrillo doesn't have the stuff of a future ace, but he isn't back of the rotation material, either. His control is erratic, depending on the nature of his fastball, which sits in the low-to-mid 90s. Cesar's secondary stuff, two pitches, should both play as above-average at the Major League level. His groundball nature intrigues me, and the Padres should have a battle as whether their two complete pitching prospects -- Carrillo and Tim Stauffer -- have the better Major League career. This should be determined in 2007, in which Carrillo should be ready for an extended Major League stay.

    Christian Garcia - SP - New York Yankees - 20 (A+)

    Introduction: Like Brignac, this is another one of my breakout prospects. Some of you may be surprised that I rank Garcia third in the Yankee system, ahead of Tyler Clippard, C.J. Henry, Brent Cox and Jose Tabata. However, as I expressed in the BP article, I believe that Garcia has as much potential as any of them, and that he's also very likely to achieve that. Certainly there are maturity obstacles to overcome before a player can breakout, but I see it happening with Garcia.

    Skillset/Future: As Rich has expressed on this site in the past, pitchers with high strikeout and groundball rates succeed. Line drives and flyballs simply fall in for hits too much, so I often tend to favor power-sink pitchers. Garcia is just that. His velocity has been throughout the 90s in the minors, but should settle in the 94-96 region before too long. I've also heard fantastic reports about his curveball, which rivals Clippard's for the system's best. These two pitches cause both strikeouts and ground balls, and for success, he just needs to tighten that change. Dayn Perry has proven that low HR rates are the best future predicting stat, and Garcia's 0.3 HR/9 rate is one of the minors' best. With some improvements in control and consistency, I expect Christian to enter the top 50 in the next year.

    Justin Huber - C/1B - Kansas City Royals - 24 (AAA)

    Introduction: Worries about whether Huber can catch are now long gone. The Royals intelligently ended that endeavor once they acquired the Australian slugger, instead letting him focus on his bat. That has always been Huber's calling card as a prospect, since the days in which he profiled to replace Mike Piazza in New York. However, the Mets then inexplicably traded Huber away in the Kris Benson deal.

    Skillset/Future: Huber's bat has always profiled to be powerful, and this year, it finally reached that level. His 23 home runs this year were a career-high, as was his .343 batting average at AA. Huber swings and misses a lot, and as a result, probably won't hit much higher than .280 at the Big League level. However, he walks quite often, and because of it, his OBP will be above-average. Still, it's unforeseen whether he will fully develop 25+ HR power, like Mike Sweeney, who he has been compared to since before being traded to the Royals.

    Matt Kemp - OF - Los Angeles Dodgers - 21 (AA)

    Introduction: With so many prospects in the system, we would understand if Dodger prospects got lost in the shuffle. However, despite their depth, few players made an impression on Dodger brass this season like Matt Kemp. While Andy LaRoche was dominating in Vero Beach, battling Brandon Wood for the minor league home run lead, Matt Kemp was quietly the VB Dodgers second-best hitter. Once LaRoche moved up to the Southern League, Kemp had the responsibility of hoisting the team on his shoulders. And the former sixth-round pick continued to impress, through all this, showing athleticism that is second to none in the system.

    Skillset/Future: This is Kemp's most significant strength. His athleticism. At 6-4, Kemp has a frame built for power and a throwing arm, but also has speed that produced 23 steals and a lot of range in the outfield. He should settle in right field, where Kemp has Gold Glove potential if he properly refines his skills. He also has the power to hit at the position, though the power he showed in 2005 was likely enhanced by the Vero Beach environment. In the Majors, he profiles as a possible 25/25 player. To have All-Star potential, Kemp must learn to walk more, a trait that has just stayed still in two years.

    George Kottaras - C - San Diego Padres - 23 (AA)

    Introduction: It's no surprise that the sabermetric crowd loves Kottaras. A 20th round pick from Connors State College in 2003, Kottaras has been showing collegiate discipline since entering the Padre organization. His performance has been steady in each of his minor league stops, though his first (Idaho Falls in 2003) and last (AA Mobile this year) were a bit behind his longer stops. The Padres have not done much with the hole created by Ramon Hernandez this winter, showing the club has a little faith in Kottaras' abilities. How much faith will be decided in one season's time, in which San Diego should be expecting him to start batting against right-handed pitching.

    Skillset/Future: As I alluded, Kottaras' is a very disciplined player. He walks about as much as anyone on this list, while also making a lot of good contact. Between those two, he profiles to have a solid OBP in the Majors. However, what I don't see developing is a lot of power in his bat. Kottaras has been a gap hitter for the past two years, unable to hit a lot of home runs in even the California League. The spacious outfield in PETCO Park could help or hurt this skill, but either way, he's not a guy that will boast a good Isolated Power. My main concern is whether Kottaras will be able to handle southpaws, as his pull-heavy approach could turn him into a platoon player. It could certainly be worse for Kottaras, who should be given every opportunity to succeed in an organization that respects his strengths.

    Cameron Maybin - OF - Detroit Tigers

    Introduction: On draft day, I truly believed Cameron Maybin was the third best player in the draft. There were six marquee talents in my mind: Upton, Gordon, Zimmerman, Maybin, Pelfrey and Hansen. The four college pitchers had years of success, established against some of the nation's best. Upton and Maybin, however, were simply word of mouth. And that seemed to be louder that it had been in recent years, for any tandem of high school draft eligibles. Upton had unlimited potential up the middle, and Maybin was drawing Griffey comparisons in center.

    Skillset/Future: A prolonged draft negotiation left us unable to see how Cameron's talents will transfer to a wooden bat. The Tigers are probably best off playing the Braves/Campbell conservative role in 2006, starting Maybin in short-season ball. They won't, asking him to overextend himself in the Midwest League. After a slow start, expect Maybin to show bits and pieces of all six tools, including plate discipline. His speed and arm in center profile extremely well, and his bat led to a Baseball America Player of the Year trophy. Maybin is a special talent, and a stroke of luck that the Tigers should be thankful for.

    Andrew McCutchen - OF - Pittsburgh Pirates - 19 (A-)

    Introduction: As I commented in an article back in August, I have learned that the Pirates bring certain preferences into their draft room. The team found their resources would be best utilized if they drafted players who fit PNC Park. Those three types of players: left-handed college pitchers, left-handed sluggers and outfielders with lots of range (for left field). Since 2003, their picks have dictated this philosophy: Paul Maholm, Neil Walker, Andrew McCutchen. The latter, this year's pick, was considered the best athlete to come from Florida since Lastings Milledge. The combination of his speed and ceiling were unmatched in this draft, leading the Bucs to dream of him covering one of the biggest left fields in the Majors.

    Skillset/Future: As I indicated, McCutchen's primary tool is his speed. This will help him become an outfielder capable of great CF defense (or LF), while also stealing a lot of bases. In his short time after signing with Pittsburgh, Andrew went 17/19 on the bases. The Bucs will soon learn that when you draft players from places like Florida, even when they are prep players, they often come refined. Both McCutchen's speed and his discipline are refined tools. At the plate, he managed to draw 37 walks (against 30 strikeouts!) in 210 at-bats. Not only does McCutchen make great contact, but his discipline also provides a future batting leadoff. His power will never be a great skill, but should develop enough for him to hit 10-15 homers and more than 30 doubles per year. Given his leadoff skills and outfield defense, this should be more than enough.

    Miguel Montero - C - Arizona Diamondbacks - 22 (AA)

    Introduction: Not as if the Diamondbacks needed any more help. Before the season, Arizona already had one of the best systems in the game. They had Carlos Quentin and Conor Jackson at the top, with Stephen Drew nearly signed and waiting in the wings. They had a decent amount of promising pitching, and the upcoming #1 pick in the June draft. But suddenly, as the year started, Arizona had two more players that came from nowhere: Miguel Montero and Carlos Gonzales. While the latter had drawn warm reviews from scouts in the past, Montero had not. Instead, he had a history of weak hitting that included very little power. This year, however, Montero took off in the Cal League and found himself on the prospect radar.

    Skillset/Future: There are plenty of Diamondback prospects who have drawn rave reviews in Lancaster, only to see them fall by the wayside at AA (Jon Zeringue, for one). Montero has a chance to be that type of player, with enough ceiling to possibly hit well in the Majors. He can defend at the Major League level, though it's unlikely he'll ever win a Gold Glove. Montero also has good contact skills, though they faded when he moved up to AA late in the season. I don't trust Montero's high-A power spike, and he has never walked much. I'm definitely more down on him than most, but given solid defense and good contact skills, he has back-up potential (which counts for something).

    Matt Moses - 3B - Minnesota Twins - 21 (AA)

    Introduction: It's just hard to get a good read on Matt Moses. A first-round pick in 2003, Moses signed relatively quickly and managed to high impress in the Gulf Coast League. The following season, however, back problems started and Moses hit horrendously (.223/.304/.366) in the Midwest League. Expectations were very low this year, as we all can understand that back problems tend to repeat themselves. However, Moses jumped out of the gate to become one of the FSL's best hitters, yielding a midseason promotion to the Eastern League. And as has always been the story, where there is an up, what followed was a down for Moses.

    Skillset/Future: The question that surrounds Moses is whether his bat will hold up at the Major League level. It should, though it will never be far above average, and back problems have done nothing to help him on the defensive end (he'll get by, though). Moses walks enough, drawing 42 walks this year, and showing a better ratio before his promotion. However, his contact skills lag behind a bit, and while it will never be a huge problem, Moses should register 100 strikeouts per season. Due to those contact problems, it's unlikely Moses hits better than .280 for much of his Big League career. I should note his .306 average in the FSL was helped by a .363 BABIP. What remains then is a question of power. Moses actually showed more power once reaching the Eastern League, and while the stadium in New Britain helped, it did show his spike is real. Based on the evidence, Moses should hit about .270/.340/.440 in the Majors near his peak, which in Minnesota, is more than enough to play the hot corner on a daily basis.

    Dustin Nippert - SP - Arizona Diamondbacks - 25 (AAA)

    Introduction: This is the classic example of why using mid-to-late round choices on successful college pitchers is such a good philosophy. Nippert wasn't highly thought of coming out of West Virginia in 2002, but years later, the 6-7 right-hander is making scouting directors scratch their heads. Sometimes size does matter. Especially when teamed with Nippert's control, which was the reason for his success right of the gate. Such good numbers continued until he needed Tommy John surgery in July of 2004. Many worried it would impact the right-hander's career. Hardly. Nine months after going under the knife, Nippert was pitching, and pitching well. His season finished with performances in the Majors. Chalk up another one for TJ surgery, ladies and gents.

    Skillset/Future: As Dustin has added velocity to a fastball that now touches 97, he has lost the control that was so good in college. But it's hardly a weakness now, as Nippert's BB/9 was back down to 3.22 this year. Also armed with a power curve, he has never found it hard to generate a lot of strikeouts, though his K/9 dipped to an all-new low this season. Part of the blame might be the Diamondbacks pressure to force Dustin into throwing his change-up more, which would (as Brandon McCarthy can attest) certainly help his prospect status. While Nippert does have the nice backdrop as a Major League reliever, it's hard not to worry about a 25-year-old pitcher with a K/9 below 7.50.

    Hunter Pence - OF - Houston Astros - 23 (AA)

    Introduction: Did anyone have a better quiet year in minor league baseball this season? It didn't seem as if there was a lot of talk about Pence, who was promoted out of the South Atlantic League after making mincemeat of the young pitchers for 80 games. He showed every skill at the level, playing CF, walking enough, not striking out too much, and showing fantastic power. It's hard to ignore Pence's age and 2B:HR ratio (should never be that low) when evaluating his Sally League performance, but it still shocks me that this guy didn't get more publicity. Six foot four center fielders with huge power don't get ignored often.

    Skillset/Future: Even after moving to the Carolina League, Pence continued to show good power. However, I would expect (as he moves up the minor league ladder) more of Pence's home runs to drop as doubles, which is a phrase we don't say very often. Pence's future as a Major Leaguer will heavily depend on his ability to stay in center, which doesn't currently look promising. It won't take a lot of offensive aggression to turn Pence from a future centerfielder in Houston to a mere fourth outfielder.

    Mark Rogers - SP - Milwaukee Brewers - 20 (A+)

    Introduction: Agree with it or not, the Brewers drafted Mark Rogers fifth overall in 2004, one spot ahead of Homer Bailey. Rogers had become the de facto ace of New England after Nick Adenhart (number 101 in the rankings) went down with injury. Rogers had dominated his competition in Maine, and his fastball was up to 97. Concerns with Bailey's workload led to the Rogers selection, whose potential was seen as quite high. However, as is often the case with pitchers like this, raw doesn't quite do it all justice. It will likely be a long and gradual process before Rogers arm can throw a third pitch and handle a large workload.

    Skillset/Future: Five times this year, Rogers was asked to pitch in relief. This happened mostly at the beginning of the year, and in each appearance, Rogers was dominating. This is, I believe, his future role. In such an instance, his fastball should reach the high 90s, and his breaking pitch will have extra tilt. No longer will there be a worry of a change up. However, this is probably two years from happening, in which Rogers will likely mix great success with big control problems. I still don't like the Rogers selection in 2004, but if you put this guy in the bullpen with Mike Maddux, the results could be Rolaids material.

    Ricky Romero - SP - Toronto Blue Jays - 21 (A+)

    Introduction: For all the talk about Craig Hansen, Mike Pelfrey and Luke Hochevar this year, do we realize the first pitcher drafted in 2005 was Ricky Romero? While this was most likely due to bonus demands and such, the Blue Jays did not reach with this selection. Romero spent three years at one of the NCAA's most prestigious college programs, pitching for one team that would win the College World Series. Then, in 2005, he hoisted the team on his shoulders as he took over for Jason Windsor in the Friday Night role. Romero continued to succeed, showing fantastic control, and good stuff. Add in that he's a southpaw willing to pitch a lot of innings, and the Blue Jays interest isn't so surprising.

    Skillset/Future: How about we go straight from the source here? These are a pair of quotes from Rich Lederer's interview with Blue Jays scouting director Jon Lalonde:

    He's not what you would necessarily consider a true power pitcher, but he's not a finesse pitcher either. He's able to change speeds and locate all of his pitches in the mould of a finesse pitcher, but then he's also able to run his fastball into the mid 90s with a plus curveball and a plus changeup.

    We also believe his slider has a chance to be a real weapon for him. He's very aggressive and does a great job of pitching inside. But, in all honesty, as much as any physical attributes, it's his competitive nature, his will to win that really sets him apart in our minds. When Ricky does get into trouble on the mound, he shows the aptitude to make in-game adjustments and even pitch-to-pitch adjustments. That's not real common in a pitcher Ricky's age.

    Expect Romero to fly up the prospect ladder in 2006, passing plenty of Toronto pitchers that would fall in the 101-150 part of this list on his way.

    Marcus Sanders - 2B - San Francisco Giants - 20 (A+)

    Introduction: We all know by now that Brian Sabean isn't one to value an early-round draft pick. Annually, it seems that the Giants give up a pick by unnecessarily signing a free agent before his team declines arbitration. However, if the Giants keep making picks like Sanders, we'll forget it. Sanders was a 17th round pick in 2003, but after a year in community college, the Giants signed him in the spring as a draft-and-follow. He finished his first season in the Arizona Summer League, in which Sanders showed plenty of leadoff capabilities. You can bet that more than once, the Giants had to pinch themselves when being reminded that he was a teenager picked in the 17th round.

    Skillset/Future: Sanders' skillset seems very similar to that of Andrew McCutchen. The leadoff skills are all there. Sanders speed is nearly to the point of being called unparalleled, as he has an 87% success rate as a pro. Marcus has also walked 104 times in about 750 plate appearances, yielding two seasons with .400+ OBPs. What he doesn't have, however, is power. Sanders hit just 28 extra-base hits in 420 at-bats this year, and while that number might improve in the Cal League this year, his slugging should never be too far higher than .400 as a pro. It will take a lot of walks to offset that. Finally, Marcus split time between shortstop and second this season, but it is believed his future home is at second base. Look for Sanders to produce more of the same results this season.

    Ryan Shealy - 1B - Colorado Rockies - 26 (AAA)

    Introduction: Every year, the first base prospects seem to add a new, random face. We'll call him the flavor of the week. Oftentimes, this is an older player coming off a gargantuan season. No matter how sexy the White Sox made pitching, chicks will always dig the long ball. Mix Ryan Shealy and Coors Field, and you will see a lot of that.

    Skillset/Future: Enter Todd Helton. Shealy's largest problem is that he plays first base, a position the Rockies do not expect to need help. The team is planning on trying Shealy in the outfield, but it is not an experiment that should yield good results. He's just not athletic enough to play the outfield at Coors. However, it might be best for the Rockies to sell Shealy at a high point, fresh off a monster season at Colorado Springs. After all, this is a guy who doesn't walk a ton, plays poor defense and makes inconsistent contact. But man, oh man, can he hit a baseball far.

    Troy Tulowitzki - SS - Colorado Rockies - 21 (A+/AA)

    I'm cheating here. On the day of the draft, my partner Rich (who has a history of attending LBSU games) wrote up a fantastic review of Tulo. I'm reprinting it here:

    The comparisons to former 49er shortstop Bobby Crosby read like a cliche at this point but they are apt. Plus arm and plus power for a shortstop. Tulowitzki has all the tools. Big, strong (6-foot-3, 205 pounds) modern-day SS. For a RHB, runs a respectable 4.25-4.3 to first base. Has excellent range in the field. Intense player with great leadership skills. Led team in AVG (.349), OBP (.431), and SLG (.599) and finished his three-year career sixth on the career home run list despite missing 20 games this year with a broken hamate bone in his hand. Proved he can handle a wood bat by tying for the lead in HR with four last summer on Team USA. Aggressive hitter who may need to work on plate discipline.

    That about says it all. Troy's potential is on par with about every player in the 2005 draft, as we heard rumors that some teams had him atop their draft board. His power should be prolific in Coors Field, which he could reach in time to make Clint Barmes trade bait. However, there are concerns with Tulo. As Rich said, his plate discipline needs work, and he doesn't make great contact. While his power and defense should be pluses up the middle, there are obstacles to overcome before I put him in my top 75.

    Merkin Valdez - RP - San Francisco Giants - 24 (AAA)

    Introduction: This is now the third season in which I'm ranking Merkin Valdez as a prospect. The first followed a season in which Valdez dominated the Sally League. I then ranked him 44th in baseball, and wrote:

    Don't be surprised if Valdez is converted to a reliever down the road, he has a very light frame and an undeveloped off speed pitch.

    He stayed at number 44 for a year, as in 2004 he pitched great in the Cal League before struggling at the other three stops in which the Giants gave him time. The Giants decided to try Valdez as a reliever, to which I wrote, "...since his repertoire only consists of two solid pitches, Brian Sabean could have been right moving El Mago to the closer position." Get the point?

    Skillset/Future: A lot of people seem to be delaying the inevitable, but I just don't see a future for Valdez in the rotation. His third pitch has never really developed, and a few more mph on his fastball (which a full-time move could provide) would do wonders in setting up his breaking pitch. The Giants seemed to lose faith in Valdez this year, never moving him away from Connecticut. If he remains a starter next year my hopes are not high for him in Fresno, which should do wonders in convincing the Giants what we've known for awhile: this guy is a reliever.

    Chris Volstad - SP - Florida Marlins - 19 (A-)

    Introduction: Every draft has the same argument, it seems. On one side, there is a prep pitcher with insane high school statistics. In this case, it was a senior season with 16 hits in 63 innings with 132 strikeouts. However, prior to this player, oftentimes you didn't know baseball existed in his state. In this case, Utah. On the other hand, you have a pitcher with less gaudy statistics. However, this player has been on draft boards for years, as a result of being the best in his state. And his state is known for baseball, often either Florida, Texas or California. In this case, Chris Volstad was Florida's best pitcher. The big states often produce the best results. I have had, and continue to have, Volstad as the best prep pitcher from the 2005 draft.

    Future/Skillset: Part of being the top talent is being the most polished. And Volstad is just that. First, he already has the height to be a Major League pitcher, standing 6-7 at just 18. As Volstad adds weight to the frame, expect his fastball (low-to-mid 90s) to add velocity. Not only does that pitch have potential, but scouts saw a lot in all four pitches that Volstad throws. His ceiling isn't super-high, as Volstad will be the type that doesn't allow walks and generates ground balls more than swings and misses. However, there is a lot of room for error with a pitcher who -- at 18 -- walked just 15 in 65 innings, allowing one home run. Of course, with pitchers, we know that kind of error could be caused.

    Over next weekend I'm hoping to do a mailbag article, so if you guys have any questions, please drop them in the comments below. Those that I don't answer right away should get responded to in a separate article on Saturday.

    WTNYJanuary 07, 2006
    2006 Breakout Prospects
    By Bryan Smith

    Last week, I reviewed the fifteen selections I made a year ago to break out in 2005. It turned out that I nailed some (Lester, Liriano, Young), was close on others (Burgos, Cabrera) and fell flat on my face with others (Pauly). In the end, I graded myself as a B- student, which considering the class, was a good thing.

    As a companion piece to my review, this week, I wrote the 2006 version of my piece at Baseball Prospectus. This year, I selected just eight players, all of whom I really like to improve in the next season. The eight guys, with just a brief description:

  • Homer Bailey (CIN) - 2004 top ten pick, Bailey struggled with command in the Midwest League. His two-pitch combination should allow him to take off once he becomes more refined.

  • Adam Lind (TOR) - No glove, all bat guy that was one of the minors more prolific doubles hitters. However, for about one month, he showed that there is plenty of potential for home runs.

  • Garrett Mock (AZ) - Innings eater that pretty much only retires hitters via the strikeout or groundout. A bad park and high BABIP should be corrected in 2006.

  • Christian Garcia (NYY) - Second to Bailey in terms of stuff on this list. Second to Mock in terms of K+GB outs. Could be first in Yankee system soon.

  • Reid Brignac (TB) - Like many before him, just could not meet expectations as a teenage shortstop. Late season finish showed potential that his bat has.

  • Adam Bostick (FLA) - A pitcher that has struck out a ton of hitters in the last two years. In 2005, his cumulative numbers were thrown off by a few bad starts.

  • Brad Harman (PHI) - Aussie teenager that had ups and downs in his first full season. A small guy with some pop in his bat, and could have the versatility to play anywhere up the middle.

  • Mark Trumbo (LAA) - Raw hitter with good contact skills and blooming power. Once doubles start clearing the fence, will be everything that Nick Markakis is -- minus some athleticism.

    Those are the eight. Please feel free to leave your own breakout candidates below, as well as discuss my choices. And again, if you want to read my reasons for selecting these 8, about 200-350 words per player, head over to BP. There are a few more players I like to breakout in 2006, and I'll have those in a forthcoming article.

    As for this coming week, it's top prospect week at Baseball Analysts. On Monday the countdown to number one will begin with 25 honorable mentions for this year's top 75. Come back and check out my list soon!

  • WTNYJanuary 03, 2006
    Breaking Out 101
    By Bryan Smith

    Welcome back to class. You surely remember last year, when I took the first test to this class, right? In fact, shortly before the season, I predicted 15 prospects for whom I forecasted big things for in 2005. While prospect rankings are very similar across the Internet, this list is different among everyone from Baseball America, to baseball executives, to me.

    Below, I have graded my first test in the course of Introduction to Breakouts. I'm extremely happy with the results, as many of these players will come back next week, as I count down my top 75 prospects. Much of getting the right answer on these players is luck, as I was more confident in some of the players I missed than those I got right. However, I told myself last year that even one or two right answers would make the article worth it.

    How'd I do? See for yourself. Below I go over all fifteen players, with a quote from last year's article, their 2005 statistics, thoughts on that performance, and a final grade.

    Nick Markakis (BAL)

    What I said then: "...things clicked in Markakis' last 225 at-bats. He hit .333/.400/.538, while striking out only 37 times. This is the kind of performance I hope to see from Nick in 2005, playing in the hitter-friendly Carolina League. There is no reason to believe, even with the acquisition of Sammy Sosa, that Markakis won't be the Baltimore right fielder in 2007."

    A+= .300/.379/.480, 43/65 in 350
    AA= .339/.420/.573, 18/30 in 124
    AFL .326/.408/.453, 11/8 in 86

    What I say now: This is a clear-cut example of the end of a season providing hints as to what will come. Markakis' full-season debut started out slow, but when he got going, he became one of the better hitters in the minor leagues. My guess that this trend would continue into the 2006 season was correct, as Markakis has become one of the uncontested top forty prospects in the game.

    As a whole, Markakis hit .310/.390/.504 this year, about 20 points of average below his final 225 at-bats of 2004. After a solid season in the Carolina League, he finished the season on fire in Bowie. Nick is one of the minors more refined players, and should -- as I suggested -- be playing right field in Camden Yards in one season. Like many on this list, he will feature prominently in my top 75 prospects, which will be announced next week.

    Grade: B. I wasn't the only one that predicted this, and Markakis still isn't top 25 material, but he certainly improved.

    Jon Lester (BOS)

    What I said then: "My other well-known favorite is Jon Lester, who some might call the reach of my top 75. At forty-eight, I believe this will be the season that Lester puts it all together. Endurance has always been a problem with Jon, sustaining his good numbers from start to finish. His stuff at its best is fantastic, his fastball was up to the mid-90s in Sarasota last year."

    AA= 2.61 114/148.1 163/57 10

    What I say now: Of all the players on this list, I was most comfortable last year with my selection of Lester. Like Jeff Francis the year before, I was so comfortable to put him among my top 50 prospects. This was extremely unique in prospect lists, and it paid off as Lester's stock skyrocketed in 2005. His season made him the Eastern League Pitcher of the Year.

    Like last year, the Red Sox are seemingly refusing to trade Lester, who has #2 potential in the Major Leagues. Dave Cameron at USS Mariner wrote a good column last week against Lester, but I think Dave is underrating his stuff. Few southpaws offer a two-pitch combination like him, and even fewer are as good in the H/9, K/9 and HR/9 ratios. If Lester can tighten his control, he should be a consensus top five pitching prospect. As it is right now, he seems to be right on that bubble.

    Grade: A. My biggest sleeper turned out to be just that. I'll likely be boasting his name for years to come.

    Chris Young (AZ)

    What I said then: "Compared by Phil Rogers of Baseball America to Mike Cameron, Young is the definition of a Three True Outcomes player. Strikeouts, walks, home runs. All are very prevalent in Young's game, and when you mix that with great defense, I believe you get a future Major Leaguer."

    AA= .277/.377/.545, 70/129, 32/38 in 466
    AFL .253/.326/.410, 8/25 , 3/3 in 83

    What I say now: Again, I'm tooting my own horn here. Last year, I saw a lot more in Young than I did Ryan Sweeney, and accordingly ranked him higher on my top 75 prospects. This move paid off, as Sweeney's power problems continued in 2005, while Young took off. He continues to be a three-tool player, sorely lacking in the contact and throwing arm categories. However, his faults are aided by fantastic power, blazing speed and superb range.

    It's likely that Young's inclusion in the recent Javier Vazquez trade indicates that the White Sox think his stock is too high. While I love Young as a player, I tend to agree. He still can be a better player than Cameron, I think, but his contact abilities should prevent him from ever becoming a superstar. This guy could make a great fifth or sixth hitter on a good team, but expecting a clean-up hitting Gold Glove perennial All-Star is a bit much. And it seems that's about where his stock is at these days.

    Grade: A-. His stock soared in 2005, and he should be a top 30 player next week.

    Elijah Dukes (TB)

    What I said then: "One of many Devil Ray outfield prospects, Dukes is truly second to only Delmon Young in the organization tools-wise. He walks a little, has some pop, makes enough contact, and has tons of speed. The problem? Make-up issues, ending in an arrest [last] offseason."

    AA= .287/.355/.478, 45/83, 19/28 in 446

    What I say now: Dukes' most significant weakness did not improve in 2005, though the Montgomery Biscuit managed to stay out of trouble with the law. Instead, Dukes kept it to the field, where he was ejected numerous times, and suspended once for his actions. While playing, however, he was about the best Biscuit in Montgomery not named Delmon Young.

    There is no real flaw to Dukes' game, besides his attitude, as he grades average or better in all five tools. However, he is not extraordinary in any either, which will make All-Star seasons few and far between. Tampa has significant depth issues in the outfield, and given Rocco Baldelli's winter extension, you have to figure that Dukes' 2006 season in Durham is simply a showcase to 29 teams.

    Grade: B-. I thought he might have Lastings Milledge potential, but in the end, he'll settle at being Milton Bradley, without Bradley's ceiling.

    Melky Cabrera (NYY)

    What I said then: "Melky Cabrera of the Yankees has drawn comparisons to a poor man's Bernie Williams [from me], with pretty solid skills across the board. He hit 38 doubles between the Midwest and Florida State Leagues, both in stadiums that don't exactly favor the hitter. As he moves to the Eastern league, look for some of those doubles to start clearing the fence soon."

    AA= .275/.322/.411, 28/72, 11/13 in 426
    AAA .248/.309/.366, 9/15 , 2/2 in 101

    What I say now: One thing I have to keep in mind is that doubles don't necessarily clear the wall more often with age. Sometimes, strength is needed -- in addition to gap power -- to start comparing people to Bernie Williams. Cabrera's season in the Eastern League began well, albeit without power, prompting the Yankees to attempt to fill their CF hole with him. This proved a bad idea quickly, and Cabrera was sent down, and never really recovered.

    At this point, it's unlikely he will ever be anything more than a bench player. However, he had his fifteen seconds of NYC fame, and sometimes, that helps build a 500 AB trial in cities like Kansas City . Melky needs to start drawing more walks, tighten up his defense, and keep his contact skills up to have a future on a Major League bench. Despite those obstacles, I'd still love him as a throw-in.

    Grade: C+. I'm giving myself a little credit since the Yankees trusted Melky at one point, but really, this is not a breakout.

    Alex Romero (MIN)

    What I said then: "Last year, Alex Romero of the Twins, had a .792 OPS in the same stadium that Kubel had a .761 in. Romero doesn't have much in terms of power yet, but both his contact and plate discipline skills are top-notch. Alex was also a star in the Venezuelan Winter League, and then later the Caribbean World Series. While projecting a Kubel-esque breakout is probably unfair, any development of power will make Romero a fairly complete prospect."

    AA= .301/.354/.458, 36/69, 12/23 in 509

    What I say now: Just like winter power did not hint anything towards Alexis Rios, the same is true with Romero. For that reason, I have promised myself to pay less attention to winter league baseball. Romero's 2005 season looks good overall, with an average over .300, an OPS above .800, and less than 70 strikeouts. Looking at those numbers alone, you'd think this guy could fill a hole in the Twin Cities soon.

    Wrong. I like Romero a lot less this winter than I did a year ago. His patience fell apart in the Eastern League, and given the environment in which he played, a .157 ISO isn't particularly impressive. Romero's defense in center was never great, and it doesn't help that he steals bases at something near a .500 clip. His well-rounded skillset should open a career as a fourth outfielder, with a Lew Ford ceiling, but it's probably foolish to be expecting much.

    Grade: C. Despite better numbers, Romero really regressed on the whole during the season.

    Francisco Liriano (MIN)

    What I said then: "Liriano, a power southpaw that came over in the A.J. Pierzynski trade, progressed well after just pitching nine innings with arm problems in 2003. In thirteen of his starts [last] year, Liriano struck out more than six batters, showing fantastic stuff. Both his H/9 and ERA were too high considering the rest of his stats, and for Liriano to be taken for real, both need to come down in 2005."

    AA= 3.64 70/76.2 92/26 6
    AAA 1.78 56/91 112/24 4

    What I say now: Wow. I thought Liriano was a good prospect, better than he was given credit for, but could I have seen this? Besides Justin Verlander, there was no pitcher in the minors that could come close to claiming he had a better season. Liriano's ERA in the Eastern League is high because of a bad BABIP (I'll get into that next week), which then over-corrected itself when moving to AAA. However, he showed all season long that Terry Ryan may have acquired an ace.

    As I saw at the Futures Game, Liriano throws only hard pitches, as everything comes above 85 mph. The great Major League fastball hitters could make him pay, as they did in September, but it's unlikely that will happen very often. At worst, Liriano could be moved to the bullpen, and turned into a dominant reliever. At best, he sits alongside Johan Santana and forms one of the best 1-2 southpaw combinations in recent memory.

    Grade: A. Liriano looks to be the cream of the A.J. Pierzynski crop, which is saying something, given Joe Nathan's career in Minnesota.

    Francisco Rosario (TOR)

    What I said then: "...Francisco Rosario of the Toronto Blue Jays, a power right-hander who spent 2004 returning from arm injuries. His power stuff was almost back last year, and we can expect it to return soon in full form. Rosario is quite dependent on his control, when his walks get up in numbers, he really struggles...look for the Jays to consider moving his power stuff to the bullpen."

    AAA 3.95 111/116.1 80/42 16

    What I say now: In a lot of ways, I thought Rosario was a similar player to Liriano. Coming off arm surgery, solid stuff, fallback as a reliever. There was a lot to like there. Unfortunately, I ignored the stuff reports that had been all over the place. While Liriano was back up into the mid-90s in 2004, there was a universal consensus that Rosario's velocity didn't make it all the way back. I assumed it would.

    It didn't. If it does, I still have faith in Rosario, most likely in a middle relief or set-up role. Otherwise, he also could put together a nice little AAA career, and hope to have some Amaury Telemaco-ish resurgence down the road. However, the most likely situation is that Rosario is simply mediocre forever, another victim of a sore arm. Forecasting the success of pitchers returning from injury is one dangerous game. In this case, it's a game I lost.

    Grade: D. Did not breakout at all, and likely sealed his fate as a starter.

    Ambiorix Burgos (KC)

    What I said then: "Last year in the Midwest League, Burgos struck out 172 batters in just 134 innings, while allowing just 109 hits. His problem? 75 walks. Burgos struck out more than ten batters four times, but also walked at least five on seven different occasions. Kansas City isn't the best organization to teach control (see: Colt Griffin), but they should make a point of it, because Burgos is one special talent."

    MLB 3.98 60/63.1 65/31 6

    What I say now: My assumption in putting Burgos on this list was that he would eventually become a reliever, and that is where his success would lie. If you would have made me guess, I would likely have predicted Burgos' rookie year to fall in 2008. However, in the midst of a few months, the Royals converted Burgos' great stuff to relief, and then with little warning, brought him up to the Majors. From a developmental standpoint, the Royals did a horrible job.

    But in some cases, the player is too good for an organization to screw up. Because try as the Royals might, Burgos really succeeded in 2005. In fact, with Andy Sisco, the Royals have built quite the future bullpen. Burgos obviously has serious control problems, but he also has a dangerous splitter that allows quite a few strikeouts, and very few home runs. A smart Kansas City manager would platoon close with Sisco and Burgos, as the two are solid foundations for a good future 'pen.

    Grade: B+. No one saw this coming, even me. I'm just proud, and shocked, to have spoken his name prior to 2005.

    Carlos Marmol (CHC)

    What I said then: "A former catcher, Marmol slugged just .353 in 502 at-bats between 2000 and 2002. Moved to the mound in 2003, Marmol had a great season in low-A last year, striking out 154 with a 3.20 ERA. He needs to cut down on the walks and be more consistent with the stuff, but the right seeds have already been planted."

    A+= 2.99 60/72.1 71/37 7
    AA= 3.65 70/81.1 70/40 10

    What I say now: More often than not, Carlos Marmol is referred to as a work in progress. This is what happens when the conversion between hitting and pitching (or vice versa) is made. For likely the next 15 years of his career, Marmol will be referred to as raw. However, I took the universal "raw" description as also meaning he had better stuff than he does. Don't get me wrong, the former catcher has a solid arsenal, but hardly enough to have a future ML career as a starter.

    If Marmol is to succeed, it's likely on the Ken Phelps All-Star Team, or in middle relief. I would like to see what would happen if the Cubs tried moving him to the bullpen next year, to see if he could add a few more miles per hour, and a little more bite. If so, he would be a very good relief prospect. Otherwise, as I said, the most likely career is one spent predominantly in the minors.

    Grade: C. Hardly on a lot of radars, but Marmol is a C+ prospect that had a very nice 2005 season.

    Sean Marshall (CHC)

    What I said then: "Marshall was fantastic in the Midwest League, with a 12.75 K/BB in 51 innings. He was hurried to AA, but suffered a hand injury before getting acclimated there. The team brought him back into the limelight in the AFL, where he labored a bit, but still struck out 16 and walked just two. He'll need a little more stuff to be a top prospect, so here's hoping that's what the winter provided."

    A+= 2.74 63/69 61/26 7
    AA= 2.52 16/25 24/5 1

    What I say now: Bryan, Bryan, Bryan. Did I really believe that Marshall's stuff would improve over the course of a winter? So much so that he might start to get mentioned in top 100 debates? I sure hope not. Marshall is good at what he's good at, which is to say a poor, poor man's Jeremy Sowers. He is a soft-throwing southpaw with pretty good breaking stuff, and enough pitchability to succeed. This is what happened at AA towards the end of the season, when Marshall had his best run of the year.

    I'm told the Cubs are quite high on Marshall, who I do believe could turn out to be a better starter than Rich Hill. Hill has a big safety net in the bullpen that Marshall does not have, however, as Sean doesn't have very great, dominating stuff. So, the Cubs will send him back to West Tenn in 2006, with the hope that he forces their hand into a promotion to Iowa. Who knows, but maybe in 2008, we could be talking about Marshall starting a few games on the north side. And if not there, probably for a different organization.

    Grade: C+. I think I might have been a year early on Marshall, but I do get some credit since his season ERA was under 3.00.

    Thomas Pauly (CIN)

    What I said then: "A former reliever at Princeton, Thomas Pauly was great last year in the Carolina League with a strikeout-to-walk ratio over 5:1. Combine that with a H/9 around seven, and finding problems becomes difficult. I could pick on him for that HR rate, but viewed in more context, it isn't even that bad. Don't be surprised to see Pauly give the Reds a pitching prospect they can actually brag about in just one year's time."

    NO 2005 STATISTICS: INJURED

    What I say now: Reds pitching prospects get hurt. A lot. At some point, we probably have to understand that this is not just some coincidental happening, but more of a trend. Despite quite a few good doctors associated with the team, good prospects go down every year in this organization. Pauly was just the next one, so here's to hoping Homer Bailey doesn't follow him. 2006 will be a good barometer to see how much of Pauly is left, but at this point, the prospects of a career in the Majors seem slim. If his stuff and great control returns, we'll talk.

    Grade: F. This is the risk you run gambling on pitching prospects.

    Andy LaRoche (LAD)

    What I said then: "Following a summer when LaRoche was named the Cape Cod League's best position prospect, the Dodgers gave him top-round money. Good decision. Once the average catches up with the rest of his skills, most notably his .197 ISO in the Florida State League, LaRoche should be one of the game's top third base prospects."

    A+= .333/.380/.651, 19/38 in 249
    AA= .273/.367/.445, 32/54 in 227
    AFL .352/.394/.451, 6/17 in 91

    What I say now: Logan White still hasn't had a lot of his guys succeed in the Majors. But, Logan White also continues to look like the game's best scouting director. This is what it took to turn LaRoche from a late-round draft pick to one of the game's top third base prospects. For much of the season's first half, LaRoche kept pace with Brandon Wood in the minor league home run lead, and was on top for a long time. However, a move from Vero Beach to Jacksonville all but ended his bid.

    While most see some colossal regression from high-A to AA, I think LaRoche showed a lot of poise upon promotion. Suddenly he became a disciplined hitter, a skill that would go a long way into covering any contact problems that he might have. What won't leave any time soon, I would think, is his fantastic power. Dodgers Stadium is a pitcher's park, but LaRoche really profiles to hit more than 25 home runs wherever he plays. With a little discipline, annual lines of .275/.360/.480 is a conservative guess.

    Grade: A. This guy could have been elected the governor of Florida at one point. Top 30 prospect.

    Asdrubal Cabrera (SEA)

    What I said then: "Cabrera is a middle infielder with big league defense, to go along with speed, selectivity, and a bit of pop (.155 ISO). His bat will never be fantastic, but with that defense, it won't have to be. Let's just hope that Matt Tuiasasopo, who is terrible up the middle, doesn't push Asdrubal to second."

    A-= .318/.407/.474, 30/32 in 192
    A+= .284/.325/.418, 15/47 in 225

    What I say now: Spectacular season for a guy whose bat scared me. He started the year in low-A, juggling positions, and still managed to put up a fantastic line. He showed great patience, better contact skills, and again, a little bit of pop. Once Adam Jones was ready for AA, the Mariners confidently moved Cabrera into his spot. At worst, if he couldn't give them Jones' bat, he would play defense as good as anyone in the Cal League.

    And that's what he did. Upon moving to high-A, there was serious regression in Cabrera's numbers, despite playing in a good hitting environment. What most discourages me is the lack of walks, as a smart hitter will walk more (rather than much less) when he is struggling. I also believe we saw his true colors in regards to power, as expecting a .150 ISO would be pretty silly at this point. His contact skills are great, he has versatility, and is a highlight-reel defensive player. There is a Major League future for Asdrubal Cabrera, mark my words.

    Grade: B+. Definitely made himself noticed, rising to AAA at season's end. I acknowledged his potential was limited (it still is), so the grade is a bit higher.

    Francisco Hernandez (CHW)

    What I said then: "As for Hernandez, he's a switch-hitting catcher reminiscent of Victor Martinez. His offense and defense both were great in short-season ball, and the true test will be this year, when his body has to take 100+ games behind the plate. That's really the only thing negative I can come up with his game right now."

    A-= .222/.292/.314, 13/29 in 153
    SS= .349/.405/.524, 19/25 in 212

    What I say now: Another note to Bryan Smith: stop with lofty, lofty comparisons. Melky Cabrera could be Bernie Williams? Francisco Hernandez could be Victor Martinez? Yikes! That is simply setting the bar too high.

    Basically, Hernandez excited me last year after becoming the talk of short-season ball. A teenage, mature, switch-hitting catcher? It's hard to not get pumped about a player like that. However, Hernandez showed that catchers are a tough bunch to predict. In his first exposure to full-season ball, Hernandez failed miserably. His walks and strikeouts were fine, not a problem, but his batting average and isolated power were disastrous. As quickly as they could, the White Sox demoted him back to short-season ball, where he dominated once again.

    2006 should be the year in which we find out whether there is power in Hernandez' bat or not. If there is, watch out. If not, then another one will most definitely bite the dust.

    Grade: D+. Another great performance in short-season ball indicates I could have been one year off. Still disappointing.

    * * * * *

    I tried to be a tough grader, and as a result, gave myself a B- average (2.64 GPA) with these fifteen players. However, if you ask me, classes like predicting breakout classes should really be graded on a curve. At least I came away from the class having learned something, as Cabrera and Romero teach me that it's always good to stay away from those moderately athletic, moderately talented players. And after Marmol and Marshall, I've learned loyalty doesn't have to extend to these articles.

    But really, I'm most proud of the 3 A's, as it feels good to have attempted to bring Lester, Liriano and LaRoche (should I just always go after the L's?) to your attention before 2005. However, I was probably more lucky than good, as for every Lester, there are quite a few Thomas Paulys and Francisco Rosarios. Another thing to keep in mind that these are long-term predictions, and in the end, it's possible that Francisco Hernandez makes me look better than Andy LaRoche.

    A true review of Breakout Prospects 101 would be incomplete without a review of the names I missed. Including any of these players on the list would have me on top of the world. Here's a look, with their 2004 numbers (to see what I was working with), in absolutely no specific order:

  • Joel Zumaya - Blazing fastball should help him build a good career as a starter or reliever.

    2004 A+ = 4.36 90/115.2 108/58 10
    2004 AA = 6.30 19/20 29 /10 6

  • Jarrod Saltalamacchia - Catapulted into #1 catching spot, as well as Braves future arguments.

    2004 A- = .272/.348/.437, 34/83 in 323

  • Anibal Sanchez - A good year for the Red Sox, who harbored Sanchez' breakout, and then sold a high stock this winter.

    2004 SS = 1.77 43/76.1 101/29 3

  • Brandon Wood - Any perfect breakout list contains the 2005 Player of the Year on it, without a doubt.

    2004 A- = .251/.322/.404, 46/117 in 478

  • Howie Kendrick - We really just had to believe that this little engine really could.

    2004 A- = .367/.398/.578, 12/41, 15/21 in 313

  • Adam Jones - Many thought Jones would be changing after 2005. But after his breakout, it's to CF, not the mound.

    2004 A- = .267/.314/.404, 33/124 in 510

  • Carlos Gonzalez - Scouts had liked him, but his numbers never told a good story.

    2004 SS = .273/.327/.427, 22/70 in 300

  • Jason Hirsh - Most teams wish his breakout had been in 2006, not 2005, as he then would have been Rule 5 eligible.

    2004 A+ = 4.01 128/130.1 96/57 8

    Who should I have seen coming from this group. Definitely Sanchez and Kendrick, who teach us at the very least, to respect fantastic numbers at the lower levels. Salty, Wood and Jones indicate that a teenager keeping his head above water in low-A is a noble task, especially those that were highly regarded coming out of high school. Joel Zumaya, I kick myself for not seeing, with his fantastic H/9 ratio, as well as a great K/9 when moving to AA. And finally, I'm not sure it was possible to see the last two players coming. Sometimes, Gonzalez and Hirsh teach us, breaking out is simply spontaneoous.

    In conclusion, there are a whole lot of ways to predict a breakout prospect. Sometimes theories work, sometimes they blow up in your face. But, you certainly can't hit the ball if you don't swing the bat. I'll be back in the batter's box soon.

  • WTNYDecember 31, 2005
    The Windy City's Year
    By Bryan Smith

    Forgive us if we keep bringing it up. We're not used to it.

    The Bulls might have dominated the 1990s, and the Bears 1985 season may have been one of the best ever, but this was something different. This was something unanticipated, something that no one saw coming. For lifelong Chicagoans, this topped it all.

    Cubs fans will look back at 2005 and remember a season in which they endured a lot of trash talk, and a championship that was as painful to watch as any in their lifetime. White Sox fans will remember it as payback, when their team finally was noticed, when their own curse was lifted. Unfortunately, at this point, I don't fit in either category.

    I am a Cubs fan. I have lived and died by the team for years, and I can honestly say (like all Cub fans) that they have provided me with true pain. However, I will never say that 2005 did, unlike many others. For me, watching the White Sox win the championship was not difficult, at all. It was a joy.

    When the Cubs had their run in 2003, I became a bigger baseball fan. I will never forget sitting in the stands on October 3, during the Division Series against the Atlanta Braves. I won't forget the atmosphere around Wrigley Field, and moreso, the environment within. Mocking the Braves tomahawk chop is etched in my brain, as is standing and screaming for what seemed like an entire game. Most, I remember watching near perfection in the form of Mark Prior, as he out-pitched the legend of Greg Maddux, and gave the Cubs a 2-1 lead.

    As close as that game brought me to baseball, it cannot match what 2005 provided. 2005, like 2004 before it, began with the highest of hopes, as many predicted the Cubs to make the playoffs, and some thought the World Series was not out of reach. Like always, the White Sox were merely a blip on the radar in the eyes of the Chicago newspapers. And then something started to happen: the South Siders started to win.

    It started, fittingly, with a 1-0 win over my AL Central pick, the Cleveland Indians. Mark Buerhle would pitch eight scoreless innings, and a seventh inning sacrifice fly would be enough. A little less than three weeks later, the team was 16-4, and their pitching staff made the Cubs group of arms look like a AAA squad. Even then, we didn't believe in this team.

    No one could seem to get behind a team with such little offense, as their only true threat was Paul Konerko. We laughed at the fact that Kenny Williams dealt their other power hitter -- Carlos Lee -- to the Brewers, bringing back only Scott Podsednik and Luis Vizcaino. No one thought Ozzie Guillen, with his big mouth and bunt-first philosophy, could manage a playoff team. Or that Don Cooper could keep a staff going at such a pace, pitching head and shoulders above the league.

    We didn't see that beneath Konerko, there was just enough balance for a decent offense to form. Or that the Lee trade allowed Williams to bring in players like A.J. Pierzynski, Tadahito Iguchi and Dustin Hermanson. Ozzie Guillen's faults overshadowed the fact that he was a great motivator, and with Cooper, handled a pitching staff (oddly enough) as well as any manager in the game. For months, this team was a sparkplug for pessimism. They seemed the opposite of the Moneyball philosophy, completely different than the lovable 2004 Red Sox.

    Instead, the 2005 White Sox were a throwback team. They won games their way. Four pitchers started at least 32 games, pitching over 200 innings. These four would all win at least 14 games, and prove to be the backbone to their playoff run. They also played defense, as well as the city of Chicago had ever seen. Aaron Rowand ran into walls, Joe Crede made diving backhand stops, and Juan Uribe went as deep into the hole as anyone. This was the team that defied the modern era, that made shutouts sexier than home runs.

    In the end, this really was a team built for the playoffs. Their red-hot start allowed for a slow (and scary) finish, but once this team entered October, they went to business. Fittingly, their first opponent was the Boston Red Sox, 2004's team of destiny. It began uncharacteristically with a 14-2 win, in which Jose Contreras' quality start was masked by five home runs. They closed out the series in Game Three, a sweep, beating the former World Champs at home. From this game, we will always remember Ozzie Guillen bringing in the decriped Orlando Hernandez with the bases loaded and a one run lead. And how can we forget what followed, when El Duque caused two pop outs before striking out Johnny Damon to end the inning, and effectively, the series.

    The White Sox run then moved on to the Los Angeles Angels, in which the series will forever be remembered more for controversy than dominance. After losing Game One in close fashion, the team got on the backs of Buerhle, Contreras, Jon Garland and Freddy Garcia. From Game 2 to Game 5, this foursome would pitch all 36 innings and gave up just eight runs. The play of these four, along with the likes of Joe Crede, A.J. Pierzynski and Paul Konerko was disappointingly overshadowed by the likes of Doug Eddings. But at the end of the day, the city of Chicago had their first World Series in a long time.

    This is what brought me back home. I came back to Chicago on October 22, 2005 to see the first game of my first Chicago World Series. And, I apologize for this Cub fans, it blew the Wrigley Field Division Series out of the water. Comiskey Park (its name will never change), which had been empty for so many games, was suddenly so full, so loud, so energetic. Sitting in my seat, an hour before the game began, it seemed as if each moment brought a new set of goosebumps.

    When the game began, the stadium was truly brought to life. We stood on our feet in the top of the first inning, as Jose Contreras blew away the Astros' biggest threat, Lance Berkman. Then again in the bottom half of the inning, when Jermaine Dye's solo home run ignited the 41,206 fans. Much of the game is now a blur, lost in the simple memories of sitting in the seats. This team had sucked me in.

    I can definitively say that for the rest of my life, no memory will top the eighth inning of that Game One. Bobby Jenks, who had become my favorite White Sox player, was brought in with two outs. Wily Taveras was on third, Chris Burke was at first, and would soon move to second. At the plate was Jeff Bagwell, one of the 1990s greatest players. Every White Sox fan, and hopefully every Chicagoan, was on their feet. And for five pitches, Jenks challenged Bagwell with triple-digit heat. On the fifth pitch, he won.

    Ultimately, the same fate would be handed to Adam Everett in the ninth inning to win the game. And just four days later, the White Sox won the World Series in the way their season started: a 1-0 win. The conversation I had with my father -- a lifelong White Sox fan -- on the phone, seconds after the game ended, is my baseball memory of 2005. The man who taught me the game of baseball, who I had always thought had seen everything the game had to offer, was floored. And so was I. I fell in love with that team.

    Forgive me if I change the Carlos Lee jersey I bought four years ago to read "Jenks." Forgive me if I find tickets to Opening Day, and join -- loudly and proudly -- in the standing ovation. And forgive me if I continue to root for this team to win 163 games per season (while losing 10).

    Call me a fairweather fan. I call myself a Chicagoan.

    WTNYDecember 28, 2005
    2004 Draft Retrospective: Top Ten
    By Bryan Smith

    In doing research for my article that appeared at Baseball Prospectus last week, I was reminded of the ugliness atop the 2004 draft. The faults of Matt Bush are now well-documented, and it's likely that even John Moores would throw in the extra money to now trade Bush for the likes of Stephen Drew or Jered Weaver.

    It seems to me that 18 months is about the first logical time in which a draft can be reviewed. At this moment, we feel quite certain in calling Matt Bush a bust, and Gio Gonzalez a steal. But, with the rest of the baseball world quiet, I thought now would be a good time to look back at the 2004 draft in more detail. In part one of a series (to be continued at a later date), I want to use today to look back at the top ten of the '04 draft.

    The top ten that year was flooded with pitching, as the college ranks offered a class that, in depth, rivals what it will bring to the table this year. While there wasn't much in the way of hitters, two high school shortstops were extremely well thought of among scouts. The top ten (plus Weaver and Drew) were the obvious first tier of the 2004 draft, as there appeared to be a talent drop-off shortly thereafter.

    In looking back at the ten players selected, I found four groups based on the type of player they were: high school shortstop, high school fireballer, a pitcher from Rice, and a small-college pitcher. Here's my breakdown of the ten...

    HIGH SCHOOL SHORTSTOPS

    Pre-Draft Buzz: To this day, I hold the belief that not one single Major League Baseball team had Matt Bush atop their draft boards. According to Baseball America -- prior to the draft -- at least one team had Nelson on top. So, how did Bush rise to the top of the draft, while Nelson fell to becoming the ninth overall selection?

    First, of course, was money. Bush was likely fourth (at the highest) on the Padres big board, behind what had been their final three: Stephen Drew, Jered Weaver and Jeff Niemann. Once ownership halted high-end bonus talks, the team had to begin looking past the Scott Boras crowd, into the next tier. Bush was attractive to San Diego both because of his bonus demands (or lack thereof - $3.1 million), and his hometown ties.

    The belief before the draft was that Bush would become the better defensive player of the two, while Chris Nelson had the better bat. Both had cannons for arms, though Bush's graded out better; he had pitched in the low-90s for much of the season. Bush also showed extraordinary range, leading some to deem him a future Gold Glover. His contact skills were solid, and the belief was that his other four tools would make up for any lack of power.

    Nelson's arm was a little less because of Tommy John surgery that preceded his senior year, and his range was just average. However, his bat speed drew comparisons (that have now grown far and wide) to Gary Sheffield, an ex-shortstop himself. Nelson was a very good hitter, with above-average -- though not spectacular -- skills across the board.

    However, a pitching run in the top ten (from 2-8) allowed Nelson to slide into thin air, as the Rockies nabbed him ninth. The club had been expecting Nelson to be drafted by either the Indians or Orioles, and while they had prepared to draft a pitcher, were happy to have the blue-chipper fall into their laps.

    2004: Short-season ball began poorly for Matt Bush, and ended worse. Before even beginning play in the Arizona League, Bush was arrested. This, of course, had followed a rowdy incident in a PETCO Park box, in which he and his friends had caused problems. Before his first plate appearance, Bush had doubters across the nation wondering if he was a bust.

    His play seemed to confirm that belief, as Bush started slow, and never got going. In 21 Arizona League games, the first overall pick would have just three extra-base hits. His batting average was below the Mendoza Line. There were some positives in his defense, baserunning and discipline, but the negatives outweighed the positives. Moved to the Northwest League, in hopes that a change in scenery would spark something, Bush was average in seven Northwest League games.

    The opposite fate happened for Chris Nelson, as many would wonder at the end of short-season ball whether Bush was the right high school shortstop at the top. Sent to the Pioneer League shortly after signing, Nelson registered 147 at-bats in 2004. His line: .347/.432/.510. In retrospect, we could have seen that his slugging was boosted by triples, that he struck out too much, and that his baserunning was poor, but that would have been nitpicking. Nelson began popping up in prospect lists; he was the flavor of the short-season fall.

    2005: While things went from bad to worse this year for Matt Bush, things just turned poor for Nelson. Neither was awe-inspiring, to say the least. Bush's season contained pretty much the same minuses that short-season ball had. His batting average wasn't there, as he hit .221 in 453 at-bats, despite showing good contact skills with just 76 whiffs. His power was among the worst in the Midwest League, with just 18 extra-base hits all year.

    Many of the positives from Bush's debut were gone. The Californian was rarely asked to steal -- just 12 times all year -- and was successful in just two-thirds of those attempts. His plate discipline was no longer a strength, as his 33 walks show promise, but hardly count as a positive. The only plus was his defense, as onlookers have told me that it was quite strong. He will always have the rocket arm and good range, it seems.

    Nelson's 2005 began late with a hamstring injury, as he appeared in just 79 games. Nelson was atrocious in those games, with little power, no contact skills, and mediocre defense. Much can be blamed on the injury, but even that has people bringing out the term "injury-prone." In all, Nelson hit .241/.304/.330 in 315 Asheville at-bats. Worst was his 88 strikeouts, which indicated that batting average might never be a strength.

    Future: For Nelson to be successful, his power must reappear in 2006. If it does, any contact problems will be overlooked. An increase in walks would be nice as well, though like Bush, it isn't currently a big problem. Nelson's ceiling isn't quite what people thought after 2004, but it's still his main draw as a prospect. He could turn out to be an All-Star -- especially in Coors Field -- though after this season, that doesn't look to be a good bet.

    As far as Bush goes, all bets are off. He'll certainly get more opportunities to succeed than the average prospect, given his status as a former #1, but he might just not be very good. My guess is that his defense and contact skills will carry him, and that the Padres will give him some at-bats off the bench. It would be in Bush's best interest to retain his 2004 discipline, to start stealing more bases and to add a few more positions to his arsenal.

    One player only has power to boast. The other has none, but could develop enough of everything else to at least come off the bench. Neither looks to be a fantastic selection.

    THE RICE TRIO

    Pre-Draft Buzz: Hopes were super-high for Rice University in 2004, as the school was armed with the best trio of pitchers in the history of college baseball. Atop that group was Jeff Niemann, who was coming off a 17-0 sophomore season. In basketball, Niemann would have surely left for the pros. His junior season showed why that would have been a good move.

    Injuries plagued much of Niemann's junior year, with a sore arm (and decreased velocity) becoming a continuing trend. His year was good -- a 3.02 ERA, 94 K's in 80.1 innings -- but not enough to cement his status as the draft's best player. Stepping into his role as the Rice ace, to the surprise of some scouts, was Phil Humber. The right-hander was the team horse, having pitched in 100+ innings in each season of his college career. His stuff was not as good as Niemann or Wade Townsend, but he was the most polished.

    Humber's rise left Wade Townsend as the consensus third of the three, though his ERA (1.80) was the best in 2004. Townsend had good -- not great -- stuff, but it came at the cost of some control issues. He could eat innings and had some upside, but he didn't profile to be much beyond a third starter.

    In the end, Humber went first, going to the Mets with the third overall pick. Niemann quickly followed, going to the Devil Rays, who were willing to take the risk. Wade Townsend would be chosen eighth by the Orioles.

    2004: Considering the number of innings consumed by these three at Rice, no one thought it a good idea for them to pitch in 2004. This belief slowed down contract negotiations, as Humber and Niemann weren't signed until after the season. Wade Townsend was not signed at all, and stuck, as he was also deemed ineligible to return to Rice. Like Luke Hochevar this year, Townsend was left between the Independent League, or working alone.

    2005: He would choose home, as the year -- before June -- consisted of just tryouts for Townsend. He was generally unimpressive in these workouts, but piqued the Devil Rays interest in the June draft, who sought to reunite him with ex-teammate Jeff Niemann. However, it's believed that had Tampa passed, Townsend could have spiraled nearly 20 selections before having his name called. He would finish the year quite poorly in the New-York Penn League.

    Humber's 2005 began with the most steam, as the Mets started him quickly in the Florida State League. His results were inconsistent, but the Mets were impressed with the control that Humber showed. At the same time that Gaby Hernandez and Brian Bannister were promoted, Humber was moved to AA. He would have just one (bad) start there, before his season ended. Tommy John surgery.

    Niemann's year was clouded with injury as well, as he was on and off the DL the entire season. He started late, finished early, and had time off in-between. While the work schedule might sound appealing to you, it certainly hurt Niemann's declining star status. His strikeout numbers in both the Cal and Southern Leagues were good when he pitched, but no longer is this the guy that touches 99 with that devastating, spike curveball.

    Future: Hopefully, a joint lawsuit. Humber, Niemann and Townsend (yes, I think he's next) deserve to sue Wayne Graham, their former coach at Rice. Maybe the likes of Miguel Ramos and Kenny Baugh (and how about Matt Anderson) could do so as well. Graham seems to be the Steve Spurrier of college baseball, creating a fantastic college atmosphere, while doing more harm than good for pro careers.

    Graham's abuse on young arms has slowed the career of all of these players. Humber should be OK, as Tommy John surgery should repair all the damage, and he'll be back to full strength in 2007. Niemann's arm is a big question mark, and many have speculated that Townsend could be hurt. The Devil Rays must figure this out, because if these two could be returned to full strength, this system would get even deeper.

    HIGH SCHOOL FIREBALLERS

    Pre-Draft Buzz: A situation somewhat reminiscent to the Bush/Nelson fiasco. It's likely that had 29 teams in baseball had the choice between Mark Rogers and Homer Bailey, that 29 of them would have taken Bailey. The exception to this is the Brewers, who were actually left with the decision, and came out with Rogers.

    Bailey had been lauded since early in his high school career at Texas, and was all over the radar before the 2004 season. That year, he had a 0.38 ERA with a K/9 well over 18.0. His fastball was explosive, easily in the mid-90s, and his curveball was among the draft's best. Bailey had walked just 10 in 72 innings, also showing polish that few do out of high school. He was a can't miss prospect.

    Rogers, on the other hand, saw his stock ascent solely in his last year. Prior to that, Rogers had been New England's second-best talent, as Nick Adenhart had left everyone else in his dust. When Adenhart went down with an arm injury, Rogers burst onto the scene by dominating his weak Maine competition. His fastball had touched higher radar readings than Bailey's, albeit not on a consistent basis. His curve was good, but again, not that of Bailey.

    But, oh yes, his price tag was lower. The Brewers drafted Rogers fifth overall, while Bailey would slip to seven.

    2004: Both players were allowed just tastes of pro baseball in 2004, as their organizations wanted to give them experience (of being away from home) more than innings. Rogers pitched in nine games in the Arizona League, totaling just 26.2 innings. His WHIP was high at 1.65, but there were positives in the fact that he struck out 35 and did not allow a home run.

    Bailey pitched even less than Rogers -- he had thrown more innings in his senior year -- with just six appearances in the Gulf Coast League. He also didn't allow a home run, but other than that was unimpressive: fourteen hits, three walks, nine strikeouts. But this was a sample-size for both players, causing few to back off their beliefs that Milwaukee missed out on the better talent.

    2005: Very similar, disappointing (on the whole), seasons. Both spent the year in low-A, and were handled quite delicately by their NL Central organization. Neither would throw more than 105 innings, and both spent time in a tandem-like system, appearing some in relief.

    I'll be writing a lot more about Bailey in the coming weeks (I think quite highly of him), but his 2005 season doesn't look great on the whole. He walked 62 batters in 103.2 innings, hardly showing the control that characterized him in high school. What did follow him to the Midwest League, however, was great stuff. During that time, he allowed just 89 hits, while striking out 125. Better yet, Bailey allowed just five home runs all season.

    Rogers was good and bad in the same areas as Bailey, but worse in each category. He threw less innings, just 98.2, because he missed time with a blister. He allowed more walks during that time: 70. His H/9 and K/9 were lower, as in his innings, Rogers allowed 87 hits and struck out 109. He also allowed 11 home runs, though it's interesting to note that all of them came in his final 75 innings of the season.

    Future: I actually still think highly of both players. Bailey has one of the best two-pitch arsenals in the minors, and should be among the game's elite pitching prospects in little more than a year. The Reds must preach control with him, and continue to work on his change-up, but Bailey has legitimate ace potential.

    In Rogers, I see a similar player as to what I saw in Ambiorix Burgos a year ago. This guy is a future reliever. He was best in that role in 2005, and it is likely his fastball could jump to the mid-to-upper 90s if just pitching 1-2 innings. The Brewers shouldn't limit him to that yet, but it also isn't fair to let him continue to struggle as a starter. His production early in the season should dictate his move-to-relief timetable.

    SMALL SCHOOL HURLERS

    Pre-Draft Buzz: These three tended to get caught in the middle. They weren't the best high school hitters, pitchers, or even college pitchers. They were generally seen as the second tier of college pitching, but more because of exposure than anything else. Justin Verlander, Jeremy Sowers and Thomas Diamond were all dominant college pitchers, not worked as hard as the Rice trio, but for some reason, did not have the same notoreity.

    Verlander quickly went to the top of this threesome because of a great pitcher's body, and even better stuff. His stock rapidly ascented after dominating rival Justin Orenduff, and Verlander single-handedly put Old Dominion on the map. He had touched 99 in his junior season, and with less baggage than the Rice trio (again, Wayne Graham), was chosen second overall by the Detroit Tigers.

    Jeremy Sowers pitched at the biggest school of the three, but was also the leader of the Vanderbilt program. There is no doubt that Sowers deserves some recognition for Vandy quickly becoming one of the nation's recruiting powerhouses. Sowers didn't have the great stuff that the other pitchers in the top ten had, but he was crafty and he had a rubber arm. He was quickly compared to Tom Glavine, like most soft-throwing southpaws, but for once, the comparison felt apt.

    Diamond went to the smallest school of the three -- University of New Orleans -- and as a result, was at the bottom of the barrel. He had developed quite a big frame while at school, and as a result, had boosted his velocity to the mid 90s. When mixed with two solid breaking pitches, Diamond had been devastating. Grady Fuson decided to pick Diamond ahead of a few high school arms that many thought the Rangers were considering.

    2004: Only Diamond was allowed to pitch of the three, as his first two years at college had yielded so few innings. Like Chris Nelson, Diamond did nothing but enhance his prospect status during his short-lived first season. Starting off in the Northwest League, it didn't take long for Diamond to distinguish himself as the best pitcher in the league. Five appearances, 15.1 innings and 26 strikeouts later, Diamond was moved to the Midwest League.

    He would have seven late season starts in low-A, where his ERA improved upon his Northwest League rate. In 30.2 innings, he allowed just 18 hits and eight walks, while striking out 42. Oh, and throughout his whole season, guess how many home runs he allowed? Just one. Diamond was suddenly the player the Orioles should have picked, in the matter of months.

    2005: Diamond picked up where he left off in 2005, starting strong in the tough California League. He was moved up to AA after 14 starts, as he was 8-0 with a 1.99 ERA. 53 hits in 81.1 innings, with 101 strikeouts and just three home runs allowed. Moved to the Texas League, his control fell apart, as he would allow 38 walks in 69 innings, and his ERA would bloat to 5.35.

    Jeremy Sowers had the opposite season, actually improving when moving to AA. He started the year in the Carolina League, and was moved up after 13 starts. Prior to that, he allowed 60 hits in 71.1 innings, striking out 75 and walking just 19. He also proved to be a groundball machine, so the team moved him to the Eastern League, where Sowers would excel. While his strikeout numbers worsened (70 in 82.1 IP), Sowers would walk just nine men and continue to provoke ground balls. He finished the year in AAA, where he'll start next season.

    However, no one's 2005 can trump that of Justin Verlander, who flew up prospect lists and quickly validated the Tigers selection. Starting in the Florida State League, Verlander quickly separated himself from the pack as the league's Cy Young. He left the league with the ERA title (1.67), and had struck out 104 batters in 86 innings. Reports of his three great pitches would eventually lead him to start the Futures Game. Verlander pitched great in the Eastern League, not so great in the Majors, and had his year ended early with injury. The Tigers have really high hopes for his 2006 season.

    Future: These three seem to still be in the order they were drafted in. Verlander's stuff separated him from the pack, as long as he can stay healthy. And while Sowers will never be an ace, he's an early safe selection for Rookie of the Year, 2007. Thomas Diamond has a lot of volatility after a bad finish in AA, but few players from the 2004 draft have seen their stock climb more in the last 18 months than him.

    In the end, the moral of the story seems to be that choosing the safer, cheaper pick is not the best philosophy when drafting. Sometimes it works, like with Jeremy Sowers, but other times it means missing out on a talent like Homer Bailey. It seems as if the Detroit Tigers made the best pick of the top ten, trusting their instincts in selecting a player that many thought was not one of the five best players in the draft. Looking back, we now know he's at the top.

    WTNYDecember 26, 2005
    Trading Futures
    By Bryan Smith

    One theme from baseball's winter should return today, as the Toronto Blue Jays are continued to, again, press the pedal to the metal. The organization's stated desire to add another bat should be fulfilled, as the Jays and Arizona Diamondbacks are expected to finalize a trade for Troy Glaus. In return, Arizona is acquiring 2B Orlando Hudson and the versatile Miguel Batista, also sending former first-round choice Sergio Santos to Toronto.

    Glaus will help replace the year-long hole left by Carlos Delgado, providing protection for Vernon Wells and Lyle Overbay in the heart of the Blue Jays order. Troy returned from injury last year to hit 31 home runs, also showing the good defensive and bad contact skills that previously had characterized his career. All these trends will continue with a trip across the border, though fantasy owners should be expecting an increase in the RBI column.

    Santos will help add depth to the middle infield, where Aaron Hill is now moving to second base. I have never been high on Santos, but in the end, he could be a useful bat on the bench. Before a horrible 2005, he was thought to be the Diamondbacks future at shortstop. Now, a year later, he's stuck behind Hill and Russ Adams on the depth chart, left clawing for a hope of a future.

    Hill's move to second is very important for the Blue Jay defense, which is losing the Gold Glove Hudson. The additions of Glaus and Overbay on the Toronto corners should help minimize any defense problems, but Hill must be at least an average defender at second. This could be a problem, as the former first-rounder has spent most of his professional career on the left side. Watch this move to be one of the keys for Toronto in 2006.

    Speaking of defense, the exit of Troy Glaus and Royce Clayton leaves the Diamondbacks to endure a serious downgrade from their left side. In Hudson, however, the Diamondbacks acquired the game's best second baseman, bar none. His presence in the infield, along with Conor Jackson, should help offset the increased problems due from Chad Tracy and Craig Counsell - who will be pressed at shortstop.

    While Counsell is a fan favorite in Arizona, this move really signals his impending exit from the organization. His move to short will allow top prospect Stephen Drew time at AAA, but once he is ready, there will be no role for Counsell. Like Craig, both Hudson and Drew bat from the left side (Orlando from both), eliminating hope for a platoon. If the Diamondbacks are alive in the NL West in July (unlikely given the Dodgers full-court press), then Counsell will probably be kept as a pinch-hitter/sparkplug. If not, the D-Backs will likely be looking to trade their leader at the deadline.

    Even without Counsell, second base is overly accounted for in Arizona, as the free agent signing of Damion Easley covers Hudson's most significant weakness: southpaws. Orlando hit just .227/.286/.320 against left-handers last year, while Easley tatooed them at a .333/.390/.725 pace (albeit in just 51 ABs). A straight platoon would further worsen the Arizona defense, however, so expect Hudson to start about 130-140 games (buy his future, fantasy owners!). Those other 20-30 games should just happen to fall on games against the likes of Odalis Perez or Jeff Francis.

    In Batista, the Diamondbacks are simply eating salary. He will help by starting every fifth day in 2006, before taking his services elsewhere in a year. Like Orlando Hernandez, acquired for Javier Vazquez, Batista's role is to simply bridge Arizona until 2007. If there is a market for him during the season, and there should be, Arizona shouldn't hesitate take advantage of it. And, of course, the same rings true for El Duque.

    In fact, this trade was quite similar to the Vazquez deal. The Diamondbacks, in both deals, acquired versatile veteran right-handers to help offset salary, as well as to be traded again during the season. They also, as is the new rage in Major League Baseball, acquired two superbly-talented defensive players with quite volatile offensive skillsets. Hudson is a Gold Glover who has yet to really turn an offensive corner, despite showing bits and pieces of doing so. Chris Young is one of the game's top prospects, a favorite of mine, constantly garners comparisons to Mike Cameron. Such a comp is to say that Young will be great in the field, hit for significant power, and make very little contact. Their gloves, and offensive ceilings, are the reasons that both players feature prominently in Arizona's long-term plans.

    If the rumors are true, Arizona is also close to signing Jeff DaVanon, formerly of the Angels, to play center. I like this move a lot, as it is the definition of a low-risk, high-reward signing. If DaVanon struggles, Arizona can simply stretch their outfield defense by moving Shawn Green to center and promoting Carlos Quentin. If he plays well, then Green can be traded, presumably bringing in another big piece of Arizona's future.

    Simply put, this trade -- while filling important holes for both teams -- just opens the door for more moves. For Toronto, Glaus leaves a logjam at DH between Corey Koskie, Eric Hinske and Shea Hillenbrand. The latter is likely on his way out, as I expect trade talks between the Twins and Jays to resume shortly. Expect Toronto to come out asking for Jesse Crain, and in the end, be left with something resembling Kyle Lohse and a prospect.

    In the desert, Counsell's move to shortstop creates a cloudy future for Alex Cintron. The market won't be huge for Cintron, nor will the bounty be. But teams with notable holes in the middle infield -- like the Red Sox or Rockies -- should take a gander at Cintron. And for the Diamondbacks, asking for the likes of Abe Alvarez is worth pursuing given their back-up plan: leaving Cintron to rot on the bench.

    Between Cintron and possible midseason trades of Counsell, Batista, El Duque and Green, Arizona should undergo major changes in the next 6-7 months. Conor Jackson, Drew, Young and Quentin are all on the verge of creating a Phoenix powerhouse in 2007. In fact, this team is simply a few pitching acquisitions (Green for Anthony Reyes?) from becoming one of the '07 National League favorites.

    The Toronto Blue Jays and Arizona Diamondbacks, as represented in this trade, have had two different ideologies this winter. For the Jays, who sense fear in the Yanks and Sox, the goal is to win now. Arizona, on the other hand, is asking fans to endure a season of fine-tuning for the greater good. If you ask me, with these two plans, both sides win.

    WTNYDecember 23, 2005
    Diego Draftees
    By Bryan Smith

    For the second time this year, I have an article up today over at Baseball Prospectus. The piece is a review of the 1995-2004 San Diego Padres drafts, which tells us a little bit about how they should have treated re-signing Giles, Hoffman and Hernandez.

    Hint: historically, this is not a team that should be really concerned about adding compensatory picks, so they made the right moves in my book.

    Check out the piece over there, and if you have any comments, as always drop them below, or e-mail me.

    And of course, if you are at all interested in the 2006 draft, and the pitchers at the top, check out my first article.

    Merry Christmas!

    WTNYDecember 21, 2005
    Recapping a Busy Tuesday
    By Bryan Smith

    In past years, December 20 has been an early Christmas for some General Managers with the hopes of landing a second-tier free agent for cheap. This year, the presents under the tree are quite disappointing. It seems like, in this day and age, players bound to be non-tendered are often traded before reaching this stage.

    Fifty players were non-tendered on Tuesday, and some have (and will) immediately signed minor league contracts with the same team. When perusing the list, I found ten players that should generate at least a little bit of interest in some General Manager's mind. The ten, listed alphabetically:

    Joe Borowski - 35 - RP - 2005: Tampa Bay Devil Rays/Chicago Cubs

    The Cubs were unwilling to give Borowski the proper time to heal, and gave him the boot midseason. He paid them back by starting his stint with the Devil Rays strongly, setting a club record with 21 consecutive scoreless innings. However, that mark was made less impressive when he followed it (and ended his season) by giving up fifteen earned runs in 14.1 innings. There is a possibility that Joe Borowski will never again be a serviceable reliever in the Major Leagues. But if some teams are willing to give Rule 5 picks a chance to be their fifth or sixth reliever, giving Borowski a NRI is a decent gamble.

    Chad Bradford - 31 - RP - 2005: Boston Red Sox

    While his season was cut short by injury, the world's most famous submariner had yet another season with an ERA+ over 100 last year. Bradford is basically the right-handers' answer to the LOOGY, as his only talent is (and has been) an ability to effectively retire right-handed batters. Last year, he held RHB to a line of .282/.316/.310. A bad September will be noticed by many front offices, but they should also note that Bradford's best (and only full) month was August. Given the right role, Bradford can still be an effective member of a bullpen. He should be guaranteed seven figures (if just $1M) by someone.

    Jim Brower - 33 - RP - 2005: San Francisco Giants/Atlanta Braves

    Suddenly, it appears that once a pitcher passes his prime, one bad season will irreparably damage his reputation. From 2001-2004, Brower was a right-handed Ron Villone, a versatile reliever averaging about 100 innings per year. He could start, mop-up, middle relieve or even set-up. But things fell apart in San Francisco last year, and he was quickly shipped off to work with Leo Mazzone in Atlanta. The results were solid (shocking, I know) if unspectacular, and it will be interesting if the Mazzone Effect means that Brower will follow him to Baltimore.

    Eric Byrnes - 30 - OF - 2005: A's/Rockies/Orioles

    For five years, Eric Byrnes was a staple on the Oakland A's 25-man roster. It was the only team he had ever played on, and with his strong clubhouse chemistry, it was really the only team we could imagine him on. Suddenly, in the span of about six months, Byrnes has added two teams to that list, and stands to add a third soon. His peak has likely passed, but Byrnes is better than he showed in 2005. I've always thought of him as a poor man's Aaron Rowand, and someone in need of a versatile 4th outfielder, and accomplished southpaw basher should call Byrnes up.

    Josh Fogg - 29 - SP - 2005: Pittsburgh Pirates

    This guy should be a bad, low-payroll team's dream. For the last four years, Fogg has been freakishly consistent, and with his age, shows few signs of stopping in the next two seasons. You can easily expect 140-200 innings and an ERA from 4.30 to 5.30. It doesn't change. He has a mediocre, four-pitch arsenal, and has learned to pitch his way out of trouble (Minnesota knows him as Joe Mays). If Scott Elarton can get a big contract from Kansas City, someone should give Fogg a two-year, $3M contract. At the back of a rotation, he won't disappoint.

    Ryan Franklin - 33 - SP - 2005: Seattle Mariners

    Most of what I just told you about Josh Fogg applies here. Franklin has a broad arsenal, one in which no pitch is particularly effective. He doesn't strike people out. He doesn't have any upside. He can give you about 180 innings of slightly below league average pitching. But while Fogg at least offers a sexy age, Franklin offers the potential of falling apart. I would suggest he look into the salary difference between being a AAA ace and whatever job he could get away from baseball very soon.

    Trever Miller - 33 - LH RP - 2005: Tampa Bay Devil Rays

    Let me get this straight. During this winter, have we really seen Scott Eyre, Ricardo Rincon and Mike Myers get multi-year contracts? Was Steve Kline actually coveted by another team? In such a case, Trever Miller at least deserves a shot. The guy is not quite a LOOGY, as he has always been equally effective -- or in the case of 2005, ineffective -- against hitters on both sides of the plate. His slider is good enough that someone is going to give this guy a decent offer and not be disappointed. I would pay something like $750,000 for a trial run, that's for sure.

    Miguel Olivo - 27 - C - 2005: San Diego Padres/Seattle Mariners

    Man, the Padres must be really confident in Doug Mirabelli's abilities, or else think Bengie Molina is going to fall into their hands. But, really, if Yorvit Torrealba can bring in a live arm like Marcos Carvajal, is Olivo's market really non-existent. This guy was great with the Padres last year, after a horrible (and I mean really bad) run with the Mariners. He's quick, is pretty good behind the plate, and has some decent pop in his bat. If he could walk or make contact, he'd be an everyday catcher. As is, he should at least be someone's back-up in 2006.

    Ramon Ortiz - 32 - SP - 2005: Cincinnati Reds

    Cincinnati was a bad, bad career move for Ramon Ortiz. After watching Ortiz hang curveball after curveball, the Angels decided to punish Ortiz a year ago, and send him to a stadium where it would really hurt. The results were predictable, as Ortiz gave up 34 homers in 171.1 innings. I mean, did this guy really strike out 162 guys in a season...within the last five years? Crazy. A team with a committee for the fifth spot in the rotation, and a big outfield, should really consider bringing Ortiz in. The results could be Pedro Astacio-esque.

    Junior Spivey - 31 - 2B - 2005: Milwaukee Brewers/Washington Nationals

    Like Byrnes, it seems like we just blinked, and Spivey became a journeyman. Really, it was just 2002 in which Spivey hit .301/.389/.476. And if word on the street is correct, that could even be duplicated soon. Why? Well, because apparently Colorado needs a second baseman, and has targeted Spivey to fill that role. This is best for Spivey, as any stadium without an easing hitting environment seems to be too difficult at this point.

    Again, not a lot to offer here. I'd almost prefer the minor league free agent market, which in some ways, is what this will become.

    * * * * *

    The one team that has left many scratching their heads after Tuesday has been the San Diego Padres, who apparently had a case of second-thoughts when the deadline came close. Two players acquired this winter (Dewon Brazelton and Pete LaForest) were given pink slips, as well as two others that hadn't been with the organization long (Olivo, Craig Breslow). Very strange.

    San Diego brass has claimed that had they not traded Sean Burroughs to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, he would have been non-tendered. Basically, the Padres decided to non-tender Burroughs yesterday, dumping Brazelton. I thought Dewon could have a future in PETCO Park, but it appears that he will be forced to take his act somewhere (likely a AAA team) in 2006. Still, you have to wonder what the White Sox (who were interested in Burroughs, and ultimately acquired Rob Mackowiak) were offering for Burroughs. Could the Padres have acquired Damaso Marte or Luis Vizcaino?

    If Olivo didn't fit on the roster, which still seems odd to me, it's no surprise that LaForest doesn't either. LaForest is really a AAA player, a catcher that used to hit well -- no longer does -- and never was good behind the plate. Breslow looks like a pretty good LOOGY destined for Kansas City, leaving the Padres another hole in their pitching staff.

    These moves further indicate the Padres do not have a plan this winter, which contrasts heavily with the Los Angeles Dodgers, who have rehauled their offense in the last month. The NL West was up for grabs, and the Dodgers seem to have taken it.

    Earlier this offseason, I mentioned that the Padres seemed to have the mentality of "2006 or bust." The acquisition of Vinny Castilla and the flirtation with David Wells were the driving forces behind this thought. Now, I don't know what the plan is. Trading Mark Loretta to the Red Sox for Doug Mirabelli was a big question mark, and by giving Josh Barfield a shot, seemed to indicate they were thinking about their future rather than 2006. However, the re-signings of Brian Giles and Trevor Hoffman -- two old players -- create some urgency within the organization.

    Another question mark was thrown into the equation yesterday, in which the Padres acquired three players from the Texas Rangers for Adam Eaton, Akinori Otsuka and an A-ball catcher. Both Eaton and Otsuka are free agents after the season, while Chris Young, Terrmel Sledge and Adrian Gonzalez are far from it. Now, you'd think the team was really geared towards the future rather than the present.

    Most people are giving the Padres the "W" for this trade, citing Eaton's forthcoming free agent status, as well as his outspoken reluctance to re-sign any time soon. Many say that the Rangers, by swapping Eaton for Young in their rotation, were not adding much. To this notion, I disagree. Over at the Hardball Times, we see that much of Young's season was because of luck. He allowed very few home runs, despite being an extreme flyball pitcher, and might even have trouble keeping balls in the park at PETCO. His second half seems to be a good start for a prediction, and with young pitchers, there is always the threat of injury. The Rangers were trading a pitcher destined for worse numbers in 2006.

    Eaton, on the other hand, has upside that Young can't touch. He was one of the NL's best pitchers through June last year, but injuries took a toll on the rest of his season. In many ways, he's similar to Kerry Wood, as both have eight-figure stuff and a ten-cent arm. If the Rangers could manage to acquire Eaton and Kevin Millwood, and harness the two properly in 2006, they can easily become one of the AL West favorites. Otsuka adds a dependable arm to the bullpen. Adrian Gonzalez and Terrmel Sledge were blocked. The Rangers are going for it in 2006.

    As for the Padres, it's hard to tell. It's hard to say what roles they will find for Gonzalez and Sledge, or what they will do with the back of their rotation. They acquired plenty of good talent, but for me, it creates more questions than it answers. Los Angeles seems to have intimidated the team, who after jumping out to a quick lead seem to be backing off the 2006 race. However, would it really surprise anyone if the long-rumored Dave Roberts for David Wells trade finally happens within the next week?

    * * * * *

    The Red Sox had all their cards on the table. They were committed to bringing Johnny Damon back. In fact, this late in the winter, they needed to bring Johnny Damon back. Other options, like Brian Giles or Milton Bradley, secured their futures. Damon signed a contract with the Yankees yesterday for four years and $52 million, matching what the team gave Hideki Matsui.

    For months, Brian Cashman was saying all the right things in the Big Apple. Unlike the Red Sox, he wasn't committing to anything, except the possibility that Bubba Crosby could start the season in center. We never bought it. Cashman proved us right, overpaying for a leadoff hitter that should not be providing very good value in 2009. But he solved a few problems for 2006, specifically those at the top of the order and in center field.

    And, of course, he weakened the Red Sox. Their options now are quite limited. Convince the Reds to trade Wily Mo Pena. Trade for one of the A's outfielders, and pay a ridiculous premium. Sign Preston Wilson. Give Dave Roberts 500 at-bats. The Yankees are filling holes, the Blue Jays are acquiring five-star players, and the Red Sox are prepared to take a giant step back.

    At this point, the biggest mistake would be trading part of the future for a centerfield option. Frankly, I don't think the Red Sox will be winning the division in 2006. I would acquire Roberts for Wells, and give the playoff hero a full-season in center. Put Jon Papelbon in the rotation, and see what potential he has in that role. Use the money designated for Damon and bring in Roger Clemens. See if some magic can produce a Wild Card team, and if it can't, retool in one season. Who knows, at that point, Theo Epstein might even be back on the market.

    From the Yankees end, this move likely didn't take a lot of thought. Filling holes and weakening the Red Sox. You can bet that George Steinbrenner will pay a premium for that. When this team closes their winter by acquiring a defensive-minded first baseman (J.T. Snow) soon, they will enter Spring Training with one of the best offenses in the American League. No longer should the Blue Jays, and especially the Red Sox, intimidate them.

    * * * * *

    Step down from the ledge, Cubs fans, things aren't quite as bad as they appear (or as bad as they are for the Red Sox). Far and wide, there seems to be a general consensus that the Cubs are foolish and idiotic for handing Jacque Jones a three-year, $16 million contract. I see things differently.

    Jones is a role player. If this were basketball, he would make a mean sixth man. In baseball, he brings three key attributes to the table: the ability to hit right-handed pitching, good baserunning and good fielding. First and foremost, is the left-handed bat that Jones brings to the table. For his career, Jones is about a .290/.345/.485 player against right-handed pitching. Last year, the Cubs had a .748 OPS against RHP, and Jeremy Burnitz (the everyday RFer) hit .267/.345/.430. Both of those marks should be improved upon by Jones in 2006, who will (conservatively) manage an .800 OPS, with the ceiling of somewhere near .850. With a little more luck in the BABIP department, and factoring in his recent increase in walks, Jones is as talented a hitter against RHP as the Cubs could have hoped.

    Last Spring Training, Dusty Baker was committed to making the Cubs better on the basepaths. His plan, well, failed. Certainly, the addition of Juan Pierre should help improve those marks in 2006. But, don't discount the possibility of Jones helping, as well. Never an accomplished base stealer, his quickness should shine through when the Cubs attempt to advance runners from first to second, first to third, and second to home. According to Dan Fox, the man behind incremental runs (as found in the 2006 Hardball Times Baseball Annual), Jones has been one of the best baserunners in the Majors for the last five seasons. He had a solid 0.58 IR last year, and since 2001, he is at 4.92. He is among the game's 50 best on the bases. Burnitz? Well, his -0.51 finish in 2005 dipped his five-year total to -1.61, so he's a below average baserunner. This difference shouldn't make a huge difference in the 2006 standings, but it's a relatively ignored improvement on what North Siders have been used to.

    As we all know, fielding statistics are the question mark of sabermetrics. But, by most all metrics, Jacque Jones is quite the fielder. For some reason, Baseball Prospectus' numbers tend to question Jones' play in left field during the course of his career, but give him high marks for right field. The Hardball Times numbers rank Jones as the seventh best right fielder in the Majors, but also have Jeremy Burnitz at third, and Mark Kotsay towards the bottom of the outfield barrel. No matter what numbers you use, the outcome will likely say that both Jones and Burnitz are above-average outfielders. The effect will be minimal, but gone are the days of wincing to the actions of Sammy Sosa.

    It's hard to mention Jones, however, without calling to attention his weakness: southpaws. During his time with the Twins, Rod Gardenhire refused to bench Jones against left-handers, and he leaves Minnesota with a career .227/.277/.339 line against them. Dusty Baker's tendencies be damned, the Cubs must learn from this mistake for this signing to be successful. This transaction is simply not complete without the acquisition of a right-handed hitter for the bench. There aren't a lot of fantastic options out there, but if the Tigers found Craig Monroe off the minor league free agent market, the Cubs could surely find someone (Eric Byrnes?). And if all else fails, throw John Mabry out there, who at worst could give you an OPS of over .700, despite batting from the left side.

    Brian Giles and Hideki Matsui were free agents that were nearly unwilling to leave their homes. Milton Bradley came with baggage and a price tag the Cubs were unwilling to pay, which is also true for the likes of Bobby Abreu, Austin Kearns and even Kevin Mench. Reggie Sanders certainly isn't the world's best right field option. Simply put, I don't see a lot of options for Jim Hendry here.

    For the next two seasons, I'm confident in saying that Jacque Jones will be worth his salary if platooned. In the third year, he has a chance of doing the same, or at worst, becoming Orlando Palmiero version 2.0, with more raw power, of course. In the NL Central, soon-to-be baseball's worst division, Jacque Jones is not going to ruin any postseason opportunities. At about $5.3 million per season, the Cubs committed about 1/18 of their payroll for the next three years to a role player. I don't see a lot wrong with that.

    * * * * *

    In the world of tendered contracts, the Devil Rays re-signed Toby Hall for $2.25 million yesterday. All I have to say is ... OOPs.

    WTNYDecember 19, 2005
    Suddenly Suspect
    By Bryan Smith

    One year ago, there were three candidates for the title of baseball's top prospect. Since then, one debuted in the Majors, stuck, and lost his prospect eligibility. Another was one of the minors best hitters, and will be uncontested atop prospect lists this season. The third option, however, did not live up to expectations. The third option regressed.

    Andy Marte's 2005 season was a disappointment. Many called for last season to be the one in which Marte truly broke out, showing superstar potential, and finding a spot on Atlanta's roster. Whether it meant in left field, or Chipper Jones in left field, we all assumed the Atlanta Braves would find a spot for such talent. A season later, the Braves have no interest in finding a spot.

    Right before the Winter Meetings, in an interview with Talking Chop's Joe Hamrahi, John Schuerholz said:

    ...[Andy is] a primary dominant third base candidate for a major league team in the very near future, whether it be for our team or someone else's team. I mean this guy's total package, offensively and defensively, his power potential, and excellent defensive skills make him a legitimate major league third baseman. Right now, though, there's a guy named Chipper Jones ahead of him.

    In the end, the Braves were not willing to wait for "the very near future." Marte had his two-week trial to impress the Braves' brass, a la Jeff Francoeur, and failed. From June 7 to June 23, Marte was given 35 at-bats at the Major League level. At the end of the two weeks, his line read .200/.286/.314, and his destination was Richmond. Bobby Cox would give the blue chip prospect just 22 more at-bats all season.

    Suddenly, Marte is staring across from a lot more people in the other corner, the non-believers. There have to be doubts in the minds of the Atlanta Braves, who wonder if Marte's Major League debut was a sign of things to come. There are obviously doubts within the Tampa Bay organization, who might be among those who wonder about Andy's elbow, about a torn UCL. Many are wondering why, for nearly a fourth of his season from July 22 to August 20, Marte hit just .196/.304/.340. Or why he is, again, struggling in the Dominican Winter League so much.

    There is certainly a case against Andy Marte. Trading Marte, however, is a bold move. Too bold, and too hasty. Simply put, there is little precedent for trading a prospect of this caliber, this early. John Schuerholz has very little wiggle room with this trade, as its results could either make him look like a genius (again) or a fool. Trading blue-chip prospects for Major League role players is a dangerous game.

    Ask the Los Angeles Dodgers. Ask Tommy Lasorda, who needed a closer in early July of 1998. Lasorda, then GM of the Dodgers, traded a top five prospect for Jeff Shaw, since Eric Karros and Adrian Beltre were handling the infield corners. While Shaw was a positive influence on the Dodgers, the cost undoubtedly outweighed the return. Since that trade, the Dodgers have missed out on 206 home runs, or about 100 more than what Eric Karros gave the organization since then.

    In 1994, Paul Konerko was the 13th overall pick out of an Arizona high school. He quickly signed with the Dodgers, and had more than 250 at-bats that season in the Northwest League, in which he would hit .288, with 24 extra-base hits, 36 walks and just 52 strikeouts. At the age of 18, Konerko was showing good power potential, plenty of patience, and developed contact skills.

    By contrast, at the same age Andy Marte played his first full season in professional baseball. He was higher than Konerko, playing with Macon in the South Atlantic League. Marte's season was pretty fantastic for an 18-year-old, as he would hit .281/.339/.492 in 488 at-bats. His power was far more developed than that of Konerko, his contact skills (114 strikeouts) were fine, and his patience was coming. Marte was quickly deemed the Braves future at the hot corner.

    The Dodgers were aggressive with Konerko at 19, allowing him to skip low-A and allow his full-season debut to come in the California League. Konerko jumped at the opportunity, and started right where he had left off in 1994. In 448 at-bats, Konerko would hit .277, this time with 41 extra-base hits (19 HR), 59 walks against 88 strikeouts. He showed the exact same skillset as he had in the Northwest League, though the full season began to show his weakness at the hot corner. His bat, however, undoubtedly profiled to find a home somewhere.

    Like Konerko, Marte spent his age 19 season in high-A. While Konerko was playing in the hitter's California League, Marte was playing in the Carolina League, in one of the minors most difficult parks. He played great defense for a teenager at third base, not showing extraordinary range, but surprisingly solid with the balls he could reach. His offense pushed forward, despite the