Ask BA

While mostly everyone is focusing on who will win the division and wild-card races, don’t forget that chase for the No. 1 overall pick in the 2007 draft. Kansas City has a two-loss lead on Tampa Bay with three games to play, and if the Royals hold on they’ll become the first team ever to pick first in consecutive drafts.

    Which one of the pitchers the Cardinals recently have drafted in the first round will have the biggest impact: Chris Lambert, Mark McCormick or Adam Ottavino? Which one has the most upside?

    Jerred Gracey
    York, Pa.

If we’re including supplemental first-rounders like McCormick, don’t forget Tyler Herron and Chris Perez. In terms of upside, the most promising pitcher in the group is McCormick. He has thrown in the mid-90s since high school and his curveball can be a plus pitch at times. But he’s inconsistent with the quality of his secondary pitches, his command and his ability to compete. McCormick also battled shoulder problems this season, and I don’t have much faith that he’s going to reach his ceiling.

I think Perez is going to have the biggest impact on the Cardinals, and he could start to do so in the near future. He had no problems getting acclimated to pro ball after St. Louis made him the 42nd overall pick in June. He went 2-0, 1.84 with 12 saves in 25 games at low Class A Quad Cities, posting a 32-19 K-BB ratio, .198 opponent average and zero homers allowed in 29 innings.

The Cardinals bullpen has imploded down the stretch, with Jason Isringhausen having hip surgery and the rest of the relief corps having trouble getting outs. Perez could help out at some point in 2007, and he’s the best in-house bet to eventually succeed Isringhausen as closer. He has a 92-95 mph fastball that’s electric when it’s down in the strike zone, and his mid-80s slider is an even better pitch.

    It seems like every division brought up large amounts of talent this year. If you had to create an all-rookie team for each division, which would be the best? The National League East with all the Marlins, the NL West with the Dodgers and Diamondbacks, or one of the other divisions?

    Pat Toy
    New London, N.H.

It has been a tremendous year for rookies, one of the best in recent memory. In terms of sheer depth, no division can compete with the NL East.

Putting together an NL East all-rookie team leaves very few holes. Start with Mike Jacobs at first base, Dan Uggla at second, Ryan Zimmerman at third, Hanley Ramirez at shortstop and Josh Willingham in the outfield. A rotation of Josh Johnson, Cole Hamels, Scott Olsen, Anibal Sanchez and Chuck James is as impressive as it gets, and Taylor Tankersley (bet you didn’t realize he has 22 holds) can anchor the bullpen. The only positions lacking a standout rookie performer can be filled with catcher Chris Coste and outfielders Jeremy Hermida and Lastings Milledge. In the long run, Hermida and Milledge could have the best careers in this group.

The only division that can remotely challenge that depth is the NL West. That lineup features Russell Martin at catcher, Conor Jackson at first base, Josh Barfield at second, Stephen Drew at shortstop and Andre Ethier in the outfield. The rotation goes three deep with Matt Cain, Clay Hensley and Chad Billingsley, and the bullpen beats the NL East with Cla Meredith, Jonathan Broxton and Ramon Ramirez setting up Takashi Saito.

It’s more cyclical than anything, but almost all of the good rookie position players came from the NL. The American League had plenty of outstanding rookie pitchers, but lacked the bats to put together a viable team even if you grouped all three divisions together.

    How good a prospect is Diamondbacks second baseman Emilio Bonifacio? I know it came in the hitter-friendly California League, but a .321 average, .824 on-base plus slugging percentage and 61 steals seem awfully strong for a 21-year-old in high Class A. His 44-104 BB-K ratio wasn't strong, but it improved quite a bit (23-43) in the last two months. Will he make BA's Arizona Top 10 Prospects list, even as deep as that farm system is?

    Justin Riddick
    Nashville

Second base isn’t exactly a prospect haven, but Bonifacio is one of the better up-and-coming minor leaguers at his position. Signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2001, he has made steady improvement in his three years in full-season ball. Though Diamondbacks still have a deep farm system, he could sneak onto the bottom of their Top 10 when we unveil it early next year.

Bonifacio just missed the Top 10 in the Cal League, checking in at No. 11. We’ll have the full Top 20 posted on Tuesday, but I’ll give you a sneak preview of what Aaron Fitt wrote about him:

After spending the previous two years at low Class A South Bend, Bonifacio continued to improve significantly as he moved up to Lancaster, leading the league with 61 stolen bases (in 75 attempts) and finishing second with 117 runs. He draws comparisons to Twins second baseman Luis Castillo for his game and his body, and though his slugging percentage rose 119 points from a year ago, Bonifacio knows his game is keeping the ball on the ground and using his plus-plus speed.

“Whenever he pops a ball up, you can see his body language–he knows that’s not him,” an American League scout said. “He’s a switch-hitter, a slap contact guy, he knows his game and looks very teachable and receptive. There’s no doubt in my mind he’ll play in the big leagues. He’s got all the tools you look for in an All-Star second baseman. He may be the most exciting player I’ve seen in a while.”

Bonifacio has been clocked between 3.4 and 3.6 seconds up the line from the left side on a bunt, giving him a chance for a hit on any grounder to the left side. He’s always hustling and putting pressure on the defense, and his instincts on the basepaths are outstanding.

Bonifacio has the tools to be a plus defender at second base, with soft hands, good quickness and improving range. He still plays out of control at times and tends to rush his throws, but his arm strength is adequate and his exchange is very smooth.

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