Ask BA

In the last Ask BA, we discussed prospect trades. And lo and behold, we had one happen yesterday, when the Padres acquired Vincent Sinisi and John Hudgins from the Rangers for Freddy Guzman and Cesar Rojas.


Guzman, one of the fastest players in the minors, could take over Texas’ center-field job from Laynce Nix in the near future. Sinisi and Hudgins are reunited with Padres vice president for scouting and player development Grady Fuson, who drafted them both in 2003 while with Texas. In the long run, however, none of these players will have a major impact on their new club.


    The first round in 2005 featured a run on high school outfielders Cameron Maybin, Andrew McCutchen and Jay Bruce, taken in the 10-12 slots by the Tigers, Pirates and Reds. All are off to good starts this year. How do you see their long-term futures? Which one has the best chance to be a long-term impact player?

    Joel Charny
    Washington, D.C.

They all rank among the most promising young outfield prospects in the game, but if I could only have one, I’d take Maybin. The only reason he lasted 10 picks in the 2005 draft was that the teams at the top wanted more immediate help and thought it would take him a while to translate his impressive tools (which ranked right with Justin Upton’s) into production.


That hasn’™t been the case. Maybin is hitting .330/.409/.510 with one homer, 19 RBIs and six steals in 27 games for low Class A West Michigan, which features one of the toughest hitter’s parks in the minors. He has struck out 30 times in 100 at-bats, but he’s well ahead of expectations at this point. If he were eligible for the 2006 draft, he’d be the favorite to go No. 1 overall.


McCutchen isn’t far behind Maybin. Though he’s 5-foot-11 and 175 pounds, he has more raw power than many clubs gave him credit for. He’s batting .325/.388/.492 with five homers, 21 RBIs and two steals in 31 games at low Class A Hickory. Best known for his top-of-the-line speed and often compared to Marquis Grissom, he might be more along the lines of Tim Raines’”with more pop than Raines had.


Bruce looks like yet another slugging outfielder for the Reds. Easily their best position prospect, he’s hitting .292/.345/.569 with seven homers and 23 RBIs in 33 games at low Class A Dayton. The youngest of the trio, he didn’t turn 18 until April 3.


    I love the work you do at Baseball America, and I have a general question about your draft preparations. I believe you are working on the Midwest. Do you know a guy like Duane Below, a lefthander at Lake Michigan CC? He’s probably a 15th- to 30th-rounder, so do you put in a lot of time for someone like that? Below is of interest to me because he’s the brother of a friend. But I’m also curious about how you compile information. How deep do you go and how much do you know about each of the players? Who do you talk to? Do you travel or do most of your work over the phone? I bet I’m not the only one interested in these questions.

    Dean Schmitz
    Madison, Wis.

I am focusing on the Midwest for our Draft Preview coverage, which will be in the next issue of Baseball America and in expanded form at BaseballAmerica.com. When we put together our state-by-state lists, we rely on a number of sources. We’ll start by putting a rough follow list together that includes collegians (starting with the top guys at major programs, or players who have stood out in summer ball or been drafted in the past), junior collegians (a combination of players under control or who were well regarded coming out of high school) and high schoolers (based on information from showcases and our Prospects Plus service). We’ll also look at Major League Scouting Bureau grades to see who we need to ask about.


That won’t cover every prospect who deserves to be ranked, of course, so it’s time to hit the phones relentlessly. For the Midwest, I’ll talk to about 50 college recruiters and 15 scouts. Both perspectives are important. The college recruiters fill in a lot of blanks and the good ones easily could be scouts if they wanted. They focus a little bit more on how good the prospects are at the present, while the scouts look more toward the long term.


I don’t travel to see the players. I might run into guys here and there over the course of a year, but there’s no way I could cover that much ground. And I don’t consider myself a scout in any case. I might be able to see some obvious things, but seeing a player for just one game often can be deceiving.


We don’t let too many prospects slip through the cracks. As for Below, the first person to mention him to me was Mike Villano, the recruiting coordinator at Central Michigan, where Below will play next spring if he doesn’t sign. The Bureau also turned Below in, and I crosschecked him with a couple of scouts. He’s a 6-foot-2, 207-pound lefty who stands out most for his pitchability. He throws strikes with an 85-88 mph fastball and a fringe-average curveball. He’s one of the best available players in Michigan, which is really down this year, and the 15th-30th round is realistic.


    What can you tell me about Ole Sheldon, who’s currently hitting over .423 at low Class A Lexington? I’™ve never heard of him, and I’™m curious whether his skills are nearly as good as his stats.

    Doug Ohlandt
    Poughkeepsie, N.Y.

Sheldon is playing way over his head. He’s a line-drive hitter and plays a solid first base, but his hot start isn’t indicative of his prospect status. Though he’s leading the minors in on-base percentage (.529) and the South Atlantic League in batting and runs (27 in 29 games), he’s also very old for low Class A at 23 and spending his second straight year at that level.


As a junior at Oklahoma in 2004, Sheldon finished third in the Big 12 Conference batting race with a .367 average (just ahead of Alex Gordon, who hit .365). He lasted until the 14th round of the draft that June because he lacks the power teams want in a first baseman. Sheldon’s stroke is smooth but doesn’t have much lift.


Before this year, Sheldon had struggled as a pro. He batted just .242/.316/.344 with eight homers and 54 RBIs in 122 games. His biggest highlight came in 2004, when he hit a 10th-inning, walkoff home run in the deciding game of the Rookie-level Appalachian League playoffs.


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