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Eastern League Chat with Alan Matthews

Moderator: Alan will begin taking your questions at 2 p.m. Please limit your questions to Eastern League teams and players

 Q:  Jim S. from Milwaukee asks:
Thanks for taking my question. Your write-up about Brandon League seems to hit the issue right on the head. What are the Blue Jays doing? Have you heard any clarity regarding if they view him as a starter, middle reliever or possibly a closer, and which of these roles do you think League is best suited for? The Jays have no closer to speak of (Miguel Bautista?) and League seems to fit the "closer in waiting" profile...great fastball with sink, good slider, with a delivery that may be too inconsistent for a starter.
 A: 

Alan Matthews: Welcome to today's minor league forum. I'm more comfortable handling a stop watch and radar gun that a keyboard and a silly mouse, so excuse the typos. And here's to hoping Chris Rix is down for the count...

Alan Matthews: It's interesting how so many clubs lately have taken varied paths while trying to develop a closer. League has bounced back and forth from a number of roles. But his role as a middle reliever seems the strangest this summer. It seemed as if the Jays were preparing him for a role as a reliever, but wanted to break him in as a middle-innings guy in an effort to get him more innings than just the one or two at the end of games. Towards the end of the season, he was moved to the rotation, and I believe he should get his shot to start, until he proves he can't handle it. He's got great stuff, an electric arm and made a lot of progress with his third pitch, a changeup, this year.

 Q:  Mark from Acton, MA asks:
Alan, thanks for taking these questions! Had Wil Ledezma not exhausted his prospect status last season as a Rule 5 player in Detroit, where would he have fit into this list based on his dominance of Eastern League hitters in the first half of the season? Also, how much consideration did Ryan Raburns bounce-back season garner? He finally showed the outstanding stick he was projected to have coming out of Florida. Its amazing what health will do for re-starting your career isnt it?
 A: 

Alan Matthews: Ledezma would have factored in the top 10. I don't really need to go into his stuff because the masses had a chance to witness it when he was called up to the big leagues and held his own. He'll be a guy the Tigers can depend on for quality starts in the middle of their rotation for several years down the road, I think. Raburn's season was impressive. He needs to show it again next season and could factor as a reserve for the Tigers eventually.

 Q:  Jim from Boston asks:
Where would Hanley Ramirez rank if he had enough AB's to qualify for the rankings? Thanks.
 A: 

Alan Matthews: Ramirez' production has fluctuated along his minor league climb in the past three seasons but his performance in the EL was arguably his most impressive yet. He would have fallen in the top 10, certainly, and was No. 3 on JJ Cooper's Florida State League list. Finally, some hope in Boston's system.

 Q:  Shad from Maryland asks:
Love these chats! Where did Walter Young fall on the list? What kind of player do you see him becoming in the majors and is he a 1B or a future DH? Thanks
 A: 

Alan Matthews: Big Walter Young, as he is often referred to around our offices, is a compelling player. He has tremendous power and has displayed it along every step of the way throughout his career since being drafted in the 31st round by the Pirates in 1999. I am afraid he'll never have an opportunity to display it in the majors, however, as his swing has big holes and he is below average defensively. He could garner some consideration as a DH reserve in Baltimore, but will not play a major role with a winning major league team in the future.

 Q:  Chris from Long Island, N.Y. asks:
Hello Allen, I've heard and read Val Majewski's name mentioned in potential Orioles trades. Considering the Orioles haven't produced a decent position prospect in eons and that their present Major League outfield bats 7,8 and 9 in the order, do you think they're crazy to consider trading Val? Do they rate Markakis over Val? I've seen them both play and I like Val much better.
 A: 

Alan Matthews: I too, have watched both players and concur. I'll take Majewski. He's not going to be a guy who is a perennial all-star in the majors, but will be a steady everyday outfielder who does everything well. His makeup is off the charts, so perhaps that's why I'm biased, although Markakis has superior tools and is a good, hard worker as well. Let's hope the O's hang on to them both.

 Q:  Bob from Oceanside, CA asks:
I'm in a fantasy keeper league and will be able to draft Wright or MacPherson? Who is the better long-term prospect for 3B? Is Scott Rolen a fair comparison for Wright? Thanks!
 A: 

Alan Matthews: David Wright had a phenomenal season, not only in the EL and Triple-A, but also with the Mets after being promoted. He is going to play a sound third base, probably better in that aspect than McPherson, but he is not going to post the OPS that McPherson should. Wright's stroke is not as powerful as McPherson's or Rolen's. I am not sure he'll produce to the extent Rolen has, and he is not as strong defensively as Rolen, who is arguably the game's best currently as the hit corner. Wright has slightly better speed than McPherson and is a very good baserunner.

 Q:  Nate from Denver, CO asks:
Hey Alan, thank you for taking my question. How does Mike Hinckley rank above Floyd on this list? I posed a question in a previous chat about what separated Hinckley from Scott Olsen. I was told that its their stuff that separates them, where Olsen might be a number 1 and Hinckley a number 2. If Floyd is a potential front line starter, and Hinckley is a #2, how does Hinckley land above Floyd on this list? Does the term 'front line starter' encompass both #1 and #2 starters?
 A: 

Alan Matthews: Boy, we're getting a little bogged down with semantics, which can happen when using scouting parlance. A front-line starter would be considered a No. 1 or No. 2 guy. All three of the guys we're talking about here fit that description. Hinckley got the nod over Gavin Floyd because of fastball command. He can spot his pitches just slightly better than Floyd, although we're getting pretty picky here because they both have very good command.

 Q:  Roy Hobbs from Buffalo, N.Y asks:
Do you think Guittierez is closer to Alex Escobar, Ruben Mateo, or a productive everyday major league player.
 A: 

Alan Matthews: I can see where you are coming from here because Gutierrez is a young, free-swinging latin player than seems to have slightly more hype than production as this stage of his career. However, I believe this kid is going to figure it out and be a reliable, everyday outfielder down the road. He played the entire season as a 21-year-old in th eEL, so he is far and away ahead of schedule. If it were not for the bone chip that was lodged in his elbow when he was hit by a pitch against Erie, he would have spent the final two months of the season at Triple-A with Buffalo. He can rake, flat-out, with great power, especially when he gets his arms extended. He glides through the outfield and has a 65-70 arm, too, on the 20-80 scale.

 Q:  Jim from Binghamton, NY asks:
Was Justin Huber close to making the Top 20? What's your opinion of him?
 A: 

Alan Matthews: Huber was close to making the list. He was dealt to Kansas City when the Mets made a mystery-push for the playoffs at the non-waiver trading deadline in July, but still qualified with a .271-11-33 performance in 236 at-bats with the B-Mets. Huber is going to hit in the majors, but his catching skills continue to hold him back. 'Not certain the Royals are thinking of moving him to a corner outfield spot, but if they feel John Buck, whom they also acquired (from Houston) via trade this year, is their catcher of the future, Huber might be best-suited at a spot other than catcher.

 Q:  Joel from Washington, DC asks:
Alan, for the last couple days I've been pondering the mystery of Pirate prospect Nate McLouth's inclusion on your AA all-star team and his exclusion from the Eastern League top 20. McLouth had an excellent all-round season, hitting .322 with 40 doubles in a pitcher's park. So how close was he to making the list and what are his long-term prospects? Can he be a productive starting outfielder in the majors?
 A: 

Alan Matthews: All-star teams are reserved primarily for players that perform the best in their league, regardless of status as prospect or age, or even, sometimes, defensive ability. McClouth, meanwhile, was in the 21-25 range and just missed the cut on our list. Don't forget that the EL ranked as one of just four minor leagues with a five-star rating this season. It was deep, and McLouth would have made the cut in either of the other Double-A leagues. He is an advanced hitter but is going to have to play a corner outfield spot in the majors and is going to be fringy there because of his lack of power. He puts the bat on the ball with regularity but I do not project him as more than an extra outfielder and a good extra bat off a big league bench.

 Q:  Tom McCullough from York PA asks:
A catcher Dioner Navarro at age 20 posted good enough numbers in 2004 at AA Trenton and at AAA. Is he the next Ivan Rodriguez? Thanks.
 A: 

Alan Matthews: The Yankees' Navarro, along with Blue Jays lefty Gustavo Chacin, posed the two biggest debates among league scouts and managers for the list. Neither made it, but both were close. Navarro did not perform well enough at Trenton (.369 slugging) despite ranking highly in the Class A FSL last season, and really shining at Trenton late in the year. might have come in thinking he would handle it better. He got a reality check, and honestly, I was surprised the Yankees pushed him to Triple-A after 255 Double-A abs. He has good catch-and-throw skills and moves well behind the plate. He can drive balls to the gaps, though he would not classify as a home run hitter at this stage. He has his age on his side, so let's hope he takes his humbling experience to heart and works harder to come back, make adjustments, and continue his development.

 Q:  Joe from Newtown, PA asks:
Why Durbin ahead of Scott Baker.. in the AFL preview Scott Baker is ahead of Durbin in the "Best Pitcher" category. Also, Baker dominated the Eastern League in his short stint there.... Does Durbin profile as a MLB starter still? With his max-effort delivery he sure seems like more of a reliever (albeit a potentially great one) than a starter...
 A: 

Alan Matthews: Although the staff at BA is constantly comparing and contrasting prospects, we don't always fall on the same side of the fence on opinions of some players. That's part of what makes our publication such a great place to come for reports and news. In this case, I'll take Durbin because of his arm strength and hope he stays healthy. He bounced back from surgery remarkably well, and made it to the big leagues this year. The Twins are my pick to win the World Series this year, in part because of the arms they have in the bullpen, like Jesse Crain and Grant Balfour, products of their deep system. Scouting director Mike Radcliff has done a great job and both Baker and Durbin could contribute to the Twins' title defense in 2005.

 Q:  Joel from Washington, DC asks:
What's the story with Bryan Bullington? Where has his velocity disappeared to? Is he shaping up as one of the worst overall #1 draft picks ever, especially when you consider that the Bucs took him over B.J. Upton?
 A: 

Alan Matthews: Perhaps the Pirates felt that Bullington was the safer pick but at this point, it's clear Upton is going to be the better major leaguer. There are a number of different theories regarding Bullington's dip in velocity, ranging from a different arm slot than what he showed in college to the layoff before signing as reasons for the fall off. He showed some flashes of it returning this summer and there is no reason to write him off.

 Q:  David from Logan Square, Chicago, IL asks:
The Eastern League really had a bevy of strong pitching this year, who do you think has the highest ceiling out of the top studs: Cain, Floyd and Kazmir? Are there any budding prospects ready to bloom in their place?
 A: 

Alan Matthews: I'll take Cain. This kid is really advanced, in every phase of pitching. His fastball and breaking ball are major league average pitches currently and his changeup shows potential to be a plus pitch, too. He pitches at 93-94 and he is very composed on the mound. He generates great downward plane on his pitches and absorbs instruction well.

 Q:  Tiffythetitan from Oakland, CA asks:
Did the Giants have any other prospects of note besides Matt Cain and Merkin Valdez?
 A: 

Alan Matthews: Justin Knoedler was widely considered the best defensive catcher in the league. He has well above-average arm strength, a clean release with a good exchange from glove to throwing hand. He handles staffs well and knows how to call a game. I just don't think he's ever going to hit, to he missed the cut. Lefthander Pat Misch has remarkable control and fringy stuff. He drew some consideration for the list, as well.

 Q:  Frank from Herndon, VA asks:
Is Robinson Cano ready to take over 2B for the Yankees next year?
 A: 

Alan Matthews: Perhaps that's wishful thinking, but the beauty of their lineup is that you can get away with breaking in a raw rookie and still win 90-105 games. Miguel Cairo has not hurt them this season. Cano is not ready, as his approach needs improvement, but he has great tools. I'm not certain he can play second base in the big leagues, however. Scouts love his arm strength but I agree with them when they suggest he'll have to move to third base.

 Q:  matt from atlanta asks:
I'm curious how you would rank Fausto Carmona of the Akron Aeros - not sure if he had enough starts to qualify, but he did well for being so young at that level, and has a lot of potential. He ended up pitching great in the AAA playoffs.
 A: 

Alan Matthews: Carmona surrendered 114 hits in 87 innings this season and all of a sudden, wasnt missing bats. He is young, good point, but for me there were just too many signs that perhaps his wonderful 2003 season was more streak than substance. I'd rank him in the EL top 30, probably right there with Francisco Cruceta, who also has been inconsistent.

 Q:  John from St. Catharines asks:
Hi Allan, What kind of major leaguers are Hill, Rosario and League the Jays three prospects on the Top 20 going to be? Do you see League as a starter or reliever? Can Hill switch to 3B because Adams seems to have made a case for himself as the SS in Toronto and is Rosario healed form the Tommy John surgery? Thank You
 A: 

Alan Matthews: I think you're on track in assuming Hill is slightly behind Adams in terms of overall defensive ability but my bet is that Hill will win that job in the future. Perhaps not as soon as next season, but Hill has serviceable range at shortstop, good arm strength and playable hands. He can really hit, and should be in the Jays everyday lineup by 2007 and perhaps earlier. It looks like Rosario is fully recovered. His coaches said the injury he sustained this season was not elbow-related, and he pitched well as the season got longer. His velocity had returned to where it was prior to the surgery, as well.

 Q:  Tony from Cleveland asks:
Did Ryan Garko get some consideration for the list ? He only spent a short time in AA but he did rake, did the lack of a true position hurt his case ? Thanks
 A: 

Alan Matthews: You're on the right track. Garko was in the 22-26 range on our list because he is an advanced hitter but doesn't have a true spot on the diamond. He's not going to be an everyday catcher and his hands are not going to be good enough to play first base, not to mention he's undersized for that position. He does, however, have a good two-strike approach. He's going to hit for a high average and for power. He's described as a hard worker so perhaps he can find a home.

 Q:  Eric the Red from The Great North asks:
Is Jason Kubel the Twins starting RF next season? He doesn't appear to have much left to prove but I'm sure Justin Morneau's rise to the Twins leaves some doubt to Kubel's future.
 A: 

Alan Matthews: Not sure why Morneau's rise would leave questions regarding Kubel, as Morneau has been a boost for the big league team. Kubel will have a chance to win the job next spring in right field and I expect him to take it.

 Q:  Vic from Toronto asks:
Hi Alan, Thanks for the chat. Gustavo Chacin looked real impressive in his 2 starts with the Jays, How good a prospects is he and close did come to making the Top 20? Also, is John Hattig a prospect or suspect? Thanks.
 A: 

Alan Matthews: Chacin was #21. He has some many positives, with his most outstanding negative being his four years at this level. Keep in min, however, he was 19 when the Blue Jays first called him up to the Southern League so he was not really old, by most Double-A standards this season. He is very composed and confident and he showed that pose in winter ball last season and again in the big leagues this year. His cutter made the difference for him this season, as he added that to his fastball/curveball mix and dominated the EL, leading the minors in wins. He relies heavily on deception, too, so big league hitters could get their payback after facing him a couple times. He could hold down a spot near the back of the Jays' rotation or not stick at all in the big leagues for any considerable period of time.

 Q:  jerry from texas asks:
i saw zach duke pitch this year in sept, and he seemed to have a major league feel for the art of pitching that the other pitchers in the eastern league do not have yet. i then saw him outduel the talented chacin in the championship opening game. what are your feelings on where duke will be next year, and what does he need to work on for the next step to the majors?
 A: 

Alan Matthews: As we wrote in the report, Duke epitomizes pitchability. He has a knack for getting hitters out, but only his breaking ball is a plus pitch. With Duke, he commands all of his pitches, which make them better, but if he misses spots, he can get hit hard. He ran out of gas last year, but reports on him were good, late in the season, like the outing you saw where he pitched six innings with three earned runs off 10 hits in a no decision with seven Ks in the opening game of Altoona's playoff series with the Fisher Cats.

 Q:  david from Okla. City asks:
With the expos moving to DC will there be a youth movement to elevate some of the talent for Harrisburg?
 A: 

Alan Matthews: Who knows. Depends on who's running the club. Chances are, the Expos will still be under MLB's control, and therefore could be a club that features a number of rookies and younger players. One thing is probable, Broadway is worked in as the everyday first baseman over Nick Johnson and Mike Hinckley tempts the big league staff to break camp next spring with him in the major league rotation. He's a bright spot for an organization that lost Clint Everts and Shawn Hill to arm injuries this year.

 Q:  Tom from New York asks:
Is it possible to make a worse move than the Mets with trading Kazmir? How could they possibly trade their best pitching prospect as well as one of the top 5 pitching prospects in the minors? Did they just give up on him too soon?
 A: 

Alan Matthews: I've yet to come across someone in the industry who can justify the deal the Mets made with the Devil Rays in July. Kazmir could blow out his arm, but that's a chance you take with every pitcher, and I am less convinced the "undersized pitchers are more susceptible to injury" theory has much validity. Also, dumping Huber along with Matt Peterson seemed tough to justify in exchange for Kris Benson and Jeff Keppinger. I have already spoken about Huber's upside and feel Peterson could be a good back-end of the rotation guy down the road.

 Q:  Brian from Brooklyn NY asks:
Were you surprised by how well David Wright did at the big league level?
 A: 

Alan Matthews: Yes. He has great aptitude, learns fast and that had to ease the transition. Also, the first trip through the league, rookie hitters often see more fastballs to handle, as pitchers try and judge their tendencies.

 Q:  David Laurila from Cambridge, MA asks:
I'm surprised not to see Abe Alvarez on the list. Can you please comment on his omission?
 A: 

Alan Matthews: Thanks Dave, sorry we left off Portland's best prospect. Hanley Ramirez failed to qualify and Alvarez just missed the cut, mostly because he is a guy who relies on offspeed stuff and deception atop the mound. He is going to be a contributor in the majors, but managers and scouts don't feel he'll be an impact arm, and with the depth of the league this year, a non-impact player was not making the list. Enjoy the offseason.

 Q:  jerry from texas asks:
i have another duke question. there was some early year scouting reports about duke's tremendous start in the carolina league. most reports talked about his mound presences and his ability to throw all three pitches with command and for strikes. the reports also talked like he was a mid to high 80's fastball guy. i saw him pitch in the carolina/california allstar game and he sat on 93 mph. when i saw him pitch in altoona later in the year, he pitch seven innings and worked all seven innings between 89-92 mph. my question is what do you think duke's final working velocity will be once he fully matures?
 A: 

Alan Matthews: Duke will have a major-league average fastball, that sits at 90-91 mph. He will touch 94 in scouts' estimation.

 Q:  Brian from Pittsburgh asks:
Any other B-Mets (besides Wright) on the prospect radar? Were Pagan, Lydon or Musser close to making the top 20? Thanks!
 A: 

Alan Matthews: Musser seems to profile as a reliever and wasn't near the top of lists when managers and scouts were polled, though Angel Pagan and Wayne Lydon are interesting guys. They both have well above-average speed but Pagan has the best chance to develop his offensive skills. He has a good body, some strength in his upper body and showed the propensity to drive balls into alleys. Keep your eye on him, if you can.

 Q:  Aaron Friesen from Altona, Manitoba, Canada asks:
Do you believe Brandon League will remain a starter? Or do you think he will end up in the back of the bullpen? And isn't this situation starting to remind you of how the Blue Jays handled Kelvim Escobar? Thanks.
 A: 

Alan Matthews: We spoke earlier to League's role. It is indeed somewhat perplexing. I think he profiles best as a starter and most coaches and managers agree.

 Q:  Joe from NYC asks:
How close were Chris Duffy and Nate McLouth to the top 20? Do these guys have a future in the Pirates outfield?
 A: 

Alan Matthews: McLouth is going to have to play a corner OF spot and I am afraid he doesn't project to hit for enough power to hold down that spot on a contending team. Duffy, meanwhile, is a real good choice if you had to pick a guy in the league that didn't make our list but could make us look bad. Duffy does the little things as well as anyone. He has above-average speed and runs the bases well, is a heckuva bunter and has a penchant for working his way aboard base. He was Altoona's catalyst this season and was a lot of fun to watch. His best tool is his skill in the outfield, tracking down balls and making good catches.

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