Ask BA

If I had to vote for our Minor League Player of the Year award today, I’d go with Reds outfielder Jay Bruce, just ahead of Diamondbacks outfielder Justin Upton. If Upton performs as well in the majors as Bruce does in Triple-A this month, I’d go with Upton. And Devil Rays third baseman Evan Longoria still has a chance to make his case in August.

    It looks like Twins shortstop Trevor Plouffe has started living up to his potential this year, posting a .300 average or better and plenty of extra-base hits in every full month but May. What's the consensus on him? Where does he rank compared to other top shortstop prospects?

    Chris Adams
    Kasota, Minn.

Plouffe was the 20th overall pick in the 2004 draft, and the California high school product needed time to get his bat going. He spent his first two full seasons in the Midwest League (the toughest hitter’s league in the minors) and the Florida State League (the toughest hitter’s league among the three high Class A circuits), and he was one of the youngest regulars in his league both times. So while he hit just .244/.321/.353 with 21 homers and 133 RBIs in his first 312 pro games, those numbers were better than they looked on first glance. Also, he finished strong in both the MWL and FSL, an indication that he was able to make adjustments.

Plouffe opened the 2007 season as a 20-year-old in the Eastern League, which of course is the toughest hitter’s league among the three Double-A circuits. But it hasn’t fazed him, as he has hit .285/.336/.431 with eight homers, 43 RBIs and 10 steals in 104 games. He’s not going to be a high average or on-base percentage guy, but I can see Plouffe hitting .270 with 15-20 homers. He leads the EL with 24 errors at shortstop, so he needs to work on that, and he has average range to go with a plus arm. I thought Jason Bartlett would be a better big leaguer than he has been, and Plouffe could start making a run at his job toward the end of 2008.

The shortstop crop in the minors is pretty uninspiring. Reid Brignac (Devil Rays) is still the best, but he has had an up-and-down year. Carlos Triunfel (Mariners) has been a revelation in Class A as a 17-year-old, and Futures Game MVP Chin-Lung Hu (Dodgers) really has stepped up his offensive production. After that trio, the best minor league shortstops mostly have questionable bats or questionable futures at shortstop. Plouffe fits into the latter category, but he has put himself in the second tier of shortstop prospects this year.

    The Reds have been making progress with their farm system and seem to have some of the best prospects in the game knocking at the door (righthander Homer Bailey, outfielder Jay Bruce, first baseman Joey Votto). Behind them they have righty Johnny Cueto and some young players. Where do you rank them overall at this point? Is Cueto moving up your overall rankings and is he considered a frontline starter despite his height?

    Michael Davis
    Dover, N.H.

We rated the Reds system 12th overall in our preseason talent rankingsPremium, and they stand about the same right now. Their top four prospects stack up with anyone’s. Bruce is the best prospect in the minors right now, and Bailey can stake a claim to being the best pitching prospect in the minors. Votto is continuing to hammer balls in Triple-A, and we’ll get to Cueto in a moment.

After those four, there’s a steep dropoff. Catcher Devin Mesoraco, their 2007 first-rounder, and low Class A third baseman Juan Francisco, would be the next two prospects, and then the system consists of guys who offer some intriguing tools but also have major question marks. Cincinnati’s prospect depth still ranks toward the bottom end of the 30 organizations.

I do like Cueto. He just missed making our Top 100 Prospects list in the spring, and I had him at No. 70 on my personal list. Though he’s listed at just 5-foot-10, he’s a sturdy 192 pounds and throws a consistent 92-94 mph fastball with a fairly effortless delivery. He hasn’t had any problems holding up as a starter, and his slider and changeup should be enough to back up his heater and keep him in that role. I’m always conservative when it comes to projecting starters, but I don’t see any reason Cueto can’t be a No. 3.

    Do the compensation picks for unsigned draft picks apply for just the first round? I know the Devil Rays would get the selection after the first overall choice in 2008 if they don't sign 2007's No. 1 overall pick, David Price. But if they hadn't signed their second-rounder Will Kline (No. 65 overall), would they have received the choice after the 65th pick next year?

    Kevin Gengler
    Hamilton, N.J.

It’s a good time to revisit this question, because there’s a lot of angst about all the unsigned draft picks with the new Aug. 15 signing deadline approaching. We still have 13 unsigned first-rounders (there hasn’t been a first-rounder who didn’t come to terms since the Orioles’ Wade Townsend in 2004) and 40 unsigned picks through the first five rounds (compared to just four from 2006). Most of those players will sign, and many of them already have agreed to terms that won’t be announced until just before the deadline.

In previous drafts, teams that failed to sign a first-rounder were compensated with a choice at the end of the supplemental first round. In an attempt to give clubs more leverage, MLB negotiated better compensation that goes into effect with this draft.

Unsigned first-rounders now yield a compensation choice immediately after the equivalent pick in the following year’s draft, as Kevin mentioned above. Unsigned supplemental first-rounders and second-rounders now will get the same compensation after getting nothing in the past. And unsigned third-rounders will result in a supplemental third-round pick.

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