Ask BA

As you’ve hopefully noticed by now, we’re breaking out the blogs here at baseballamerica.com. Aaron Fitt has been churning out news and notes for a while on our College Blog. Matt Meyers has been prolific filing spring-training reports on our Prospects Blog, where I just learned that Marlins lefthander Sean West will miss most of the season after having surgery to repair a labrum tear. And coming later today, we’ll debut our Draft Blog.

    I’ve started hearing a little buzz about Kosuke Fukudome, the fact that he’ll be a free agent after 2007 and intends to come to the United States. In fact, I think it was in your Wednesday chat at ESPN.comPremium. Beyond his monster numbers in Japan, what can you tell us about him? Is he likely to crack the Top 100 Prospects list next year and, if so, where would he rank?

    Mike Kotowski
    St. Louis

Fukudome, who plays for the Chunichi Dragons, was the 2006 Central League MVP and batting champion, hitting .351-31-104. He’s a career .306/.393/.545 hitter with 179 homers, 599 RBIs and 66 steals in 993 Japanese games. He also went 4-for-22 with two homers as Japan won the inaugural World Baseball Classic.

When I first saw Fukudome, he was a 19-year-old third baseman on Japan’s silver medal-winning 1996 Olympic team. Now he’s an outfielder who fits best in right field but can handle center. He won’t be the same kind of power hitter in the United States, but he does have some pop and is a legitimate five-tool player. He’s the best U.S. prospect among Japanese position players, a more athletic version of Hideki Matsui (a career .304/.413/.582 hitter in Japan) with a little less power.

Matsui was nearly 29 when he signed with the Yankees in 2003, and he ranked eighth on our Top 100 that year. Fukudome will be two years older if he comes over next season. There are several exciting outfield prospects in the minors right now, and given his age, my guess is that Fukudome would rank toward the middle of next year’s Top 100 if he does sign with a U.S. club.

    I realize that Vanderbilt third baseman Pedro Alvarez is a year away from being draft-eligible, but as he’s the likely No. 1 pick in the 2008 draft, I imagine he’d be a top prospect immediately. Is Royals third baseman Alex Gordon a comparable talent at this stage of his career, minus the steals?

    Nick Stroud
    Wauwatosa, Wis.

That’s a fair comparison. Gordon was the best college hitter in the 2005 draft, when he went No. 2 overall to Kansas City. Alvarez is the best hitter in the college game today, even if he has to wait another year to turn pro. They’re both lefthanded hitters with like builds (6-foot-2, 215 pounds for Alvarez vs. 6-foot-1, 220 pounds for Gordon).

Alvarez has shown more power than Gordon did in his first two college seasons, while Gordon controlled the strike zone a little better. They have similar speed, though Gordon has good baserunning instincts.

I think the biggest difference between the two may be that Gordon will stay at third base while Alvarez may have to move. He’s still developing, but he looked pretty rough when I saw him at the Houston College Classic in February. I can see Alvarez moving to the outfield, as did Pat Burrell, who played third base at Miami before going No. 1 overall in the 1998 draft.

    There was a question in your Wednesday chat at ESPN.com where someone person asked about a comparison between Yankees righthander Philip Hughes and the Astros’ Roy Oswalt at a similar stage of their development. Can you delve into that question more?

    Gerald Paradine
    Astoria, N.Y.

This comparison doesn’t work on a physical level, obviously, as the 6-foot-5, 220-pound Hughes dwarfs Oswalt, who was 6 feet and 170 pounds at the same stage of their careers. Hughes also signed out of high school at age 17, while Oswalt turned pro out of junior college at age 19, so he has risen through the minors more quickly.

But the questioner’s point was that Hughes and Oswalt had similar stuff when they got to the verge of the big leagues, and they do. Oswalt had a 92-94 mph fastball that topped out at 96 mph, as does Hughes. Oswalt had a marvelous curveball, as does Hughes, though Oswalt’s was a slower version with 12-to-6 break while Hughes has a harder hook with 1-to-7 movement. Oswalt’s changeup was his third pitch, as Hughes’ change is for him, and Oswalt’s was a little more reliable.

Their statistics from what figure to be their last full minor league seasons also mirror each other. When Oswalt split 2000 between high Class A and Double-A, he went 15-7, 2.21 with a 188-33 K-BB ratio, .237 opponent average and six homers in 175. At the same levels in 2006, Hughes went 12-6, 2.16 with a 168-34 K-BB ratio, .179 opponent average and five homers.

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