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December 27, 2001
By Jim Callis
In the final Ask BA of 2001, I'd like to wish everyone a Happy New Year and hope that everyone has had an enjoyable holiday season. If the Red Sox can sell for $700 million (and I know that price also included Fenway Park and a cable sports network), then I also hope all of your personal finances are in as dire straits as baseball's.
If you're into making New Year's resolutions, please make this one: Include your full name and hometown when you submit a question. Thanks.
I hate to invoke the name of Ed Rogers, but I'm going to get on my soapbox again and point out that it's pretty ludicrous to expect any minor league shortstop to measure up to what Alan Schwarz dubbed as the holy trinity of AL shortstops. No big league shortstop ever has put up the numbers Rodriguez has. Garciaparra has won two batting titles and shown 30-homer power. Jeter is the worst hitter of the three, and he bats .320 with 20 homers every year.
That said, the question about who has the biggest upside is a good one. Angel Berroa of the Royals deserves to be mentioned as well when we're discussing the top shortstop prospects in the minors. Right now, I'd rank them in this order: Betemit, Phillips, Berroa, Cabrera. The youngest of the group, Cabrera could be playing in Double-A next year as a 19-year-old. He has the most power potential of this group, but he also has yet to translate it into extra-base hits and there's still some suspicion he may outgrow shortstop. The performances of Betemit, Phillips and Berroa were very similar last season, which all of them began in high Class A before matriculating to Double-A. Betemit is the youngest of that trio and projects as the best hitter. He may wind up at third base with the Braves, but that would be more because of Rafael Furcal's presence than Betemit's lack of ability to play shortstop.
The Expos officially list Phillips at 5-foot-11, though those heights often aren't updated after a player turns pro. Our crackerjack Montreal correspondent, Michael Levesque, put Phillips at 6-foot-1 when he evaluated the club's prospects, and Michael knows more about the Expos than just about anyone who doesn't work for them. So I'd trust the 6-foot-1.
Mark L. Peel
Arlington Heights, Ill.
Who is this Korean first baseman that the Cubs have invited to spring training? And does he have a chance to stick with the Cubs or any other major league teams after the spring? Or is this more of him getting a feel of what major league pitching has to offer?
In last five years Seung-Yeop Lee has won three Korea Baseball Organization MVP awards, four gold gloves, three RBI titles and set the league record for walks, not to mention setting season (54) and career (223) records for homers. He appears to be the Mark McGwire of the KBO. (Lousy in the Olympics, though.) My question is, why would a foreign star come to an American spring training? Has this happened before? Is it just a fun chance for Lee to see how he compares to the world's best? Is it just good public relations for the Cubs, as Korean journalists will also cover Hee Seop Choi, Yoon-Min Kweon and Jae-Kuk Ryu and thus strengthen the message to Korean prospects that the Cubs are the Korean pipeline and the team to choose? Is there any actual possibility that this guest visit could be a prelude to Lee actually signing with the Cubs?
It's always good to hear from Mark Peel, who doesn't miss anything when it comes to the Cubs. I live in Chicago and hadn't seen any mention of Lee in the Chicago Tribune or Chicago Sun-Times. The Cubs issued a press release about Lee, apparently without much fanfare.
I think Mark's allusion to Ichiro, who participated in spring training with the Mariners in 1999, is prescient. We all know how that turned out. Choi is athletic for his size, but with Alou in left field I don't envision Choi switching positions. I also don't see the Cubs giving him up to the Samsung Lions because they really believe in Choi's power. If Chicago does sign Lee in the future, they'll decide what to do with Choi at that point. They'd be much more likely to trade him than to ship him back to Korea.
Lee is still Lions property, so he won't be sticking with the Cubs or any other club this spring. All in all, there are several reasons for him to come to spring training. He will get a taste of major league pitching, while Chicago will get a chance to evaluate him. And the Cubs would love to become the organization of choice in Korea like the Mariners have in Japan. Chicago already is making an inroads on that status, landing blue-chip prospects in Choi and Ryu. I wouldn't be at all surprised if the Cubs sign Lee down the road, though they may not need another first baseman if Choi can stay healthy.
The Reds haven't had much success on the foreign market, and they do hold hopes that Bergolla, a Venezuelan, will start a new trend. While he didn't make the Top 15, he will be included in our 2002 Prospect Handbook. Bergolla is light years removed from the majors at this point, and it's very easy to get excited about prospects who haven't had much of a chance to show any weaknesses. Cincinnati is high on him, but Chris Haft, who analyzed the club's prospects for us, points out that Bergolla still is settling in at second base after moving from shortstop, and he needs to get a lot stronger. If he can do both of those things, he'll move up the charts next year.
Well, it's not like the Athletics can walk on water. I have a lot of respect for their organization and everything they've accomplished, but I wouldn't have made the Billy Koch trade. While losing six players in the minor league phase of the Rule 5 draft (including outfielder Papy Ndungidi) would indicate that the Orioles perhaps should have reconsidered its protection choices, I don't think Garcia is going to come back to bite Baltimore. I also don't think the departures indicate that the Orioles are deep in pitching, though that is the strength of their system.
None of the five pitchers (lefthanders Jimmy Hamilton and Jason Pruitt, plus righthanders Omar Anez, Garcia and Jason Lakman) figured to make our Baltimore Top 30. Ndungidi might have, but he also has severe makeup questions and is coming off a horrible year in Double-A.
December 20, 2001
It's just crazy this time of year, which is why Ask BA has been on such an irregular schedule. The Top 10 Prospects packages for the issues and the 2002 Prospect Handbook are in full swing, not to mention the requisite holiday shopping. All that is a long way of saying I'm sorry Ask BA didn't make its regular appearance on Tuesday. If you're taking a break from fighting off the mall crowds to read Ask BA, remember that dandy 2002 Prospect Handbook would make a nice gift for someone. And I've even included the link above.
I'm kind of disappointed that Bud Selig hasn't called me to complain about my harsh treatment of him. Rather than solving baseball's problems, many of which he deserves blame for, the scourge of Minnesota has been calling columnists across the nation. More cuddly press coverage apparently will solve anything.
I've gotten a lot of emails asking me why Tim Redding was left off the Astros Top 10 Prospects list. The answer is simple. He exceeded the rookie limit of 50 innings, so he didn't qualify. If he had, he would have contested Carlos Hernandez for the No. 1 spot.
Richard L. Mostak
The Cardinals-Red Sox trade is one of those that makes sense to both clubs. Boston gets a starter (probably its No. 2 behind Pedro Martinez) who will give them innings, and St Louis gets some help for its depleted minor league system while giving up a guy who didn't project to get much work with the Cardinals having as many as seven viable starters. Where do Luis Garcia, Rick Asadoorian and Dustin Brisson fit on the Cardinals list of prospects?
What do you think of the three prospects whom the Cardinals received from the Red Sox in exchange for Dustin Hermanson? Are any of the guys legitimate prospects, or are they just career minor league players?
Upon reviewing the Top 10 Prospects for the National League Central in your last issue, you stated that the Cardinals have the sixth best (out of six) farm systems in the Central. Is the Dustin Hermanson trade enough to move them out of the cellar and where do guys like Luis Garcia, Rick Asadoorian and Dustin Brisson fit into the Cardinals Top 10?
Richard is correct. We do update the lists based on trades that occur after they appear in our issues but before our Prospect Handbook goes to press. I'm not the biggest Hermanson fan in the world, because he's been on the decline for a while. The Red Sox would have been better off not trading for Hermanson and not signing John Burkett, and spending their combined salaries on Chan Ho Park.
I'm working on Boston's top prospects list at the moment. Before the trade, I would have put Garcia from third to fifth on the Red Sox Top 30, with Asadoorian down near the bottom and Brisson not making the cut. Will Lingo, who covered the Cardinals in our most recent issue, probably will insert them in roughly the same spots on his St. Louis Top 30.
Garcia, 23, was Boston's best prospect in Double-A or Triple-A and their best hitting prospect. I ranked the top young players to switch teams in December in my column for our upcoming issue, and I put Garcia third. He has power, and as a bonus he has a good approach at the plate and enough athleticism and arm to play on an outfield corner. He put up a nice .974 on-base plus slugging percentage in Double-A last season, too.
Asadoorian, 21, was a 1999 first-round pick out of Whitinsville, Mass. He's a wonderful center fielder with a strong arm, but big league teams don't covet outfielders who can play defense. If they can't hit they won't play, and Asadoorian hasn't hit yet. He batted .212-6-40 at low Class A Augusta in 2001, with a 139-47 strikeout-walk ratio, a .299 on-base percentage and a .318 slugging percentage. He's aggressive at the plate without a concept of what he should be trying to do, and he doesn't read fastballs well. If he doesn't turn it around next year, write him off.
Brisson fared better at Augusta last season, hitting .295-10-53 in 319 at-bats, but at 23 he was quite old for the South Atlantic League. He's just a garden-variety first baseman who'll be fortunate to reach the majors.
In the last Ask BA, I didn't just say that St. Louis had the worst system in the NL Central, but in all of baseball. This trade helps a little, but they still could come out on the bottom when we do our official rankings. We haven't done them yet but they're on the agenda for the Prospect Handbook.
I was surprised to see that Keith Ginter did not make your list of Houston's Top 15 Prospects. I realize Houston has a deep system and Ginter didn't have the year last year that he had the year before in Double-A, but has his stock fallen that far?
Jersey City, N.J.
Is Astros prospect Keith Ginter going to get a shot at a major league job somewhere? He was the Texas League MVP in 2000, but may have disappointed in Triple-A in 2001. Second base obviously is taken in Houston, but I would think a number of other teams would be willing to take a flier on a guy like him. I hope he doesn't become a career minor leaguer, but I fear that's his future.
Keep these type of questions about our lists coming. We'll try to answer as many as possible. I received a lot of email about the Astros list I wrote, and not just about Redding. Nannini, 21, had a solid year at low Class A Lexington, where he went 15-5, 2.70 with a 151-36 strikeout-walk ratio in 190 innings. I like him a lot, but his fastball really leveled off in 2001 at 87-89 mph. He also was hurt by Houston's lack of a high Class A club, because he had pitched well in 12 starts there the year before. The Astros are so deep that Nannini was pushed down to the second 15you'll see him in the Prospect Handbookand they didn't protect him on their 40-man roster.
I'm getting the feeling that Ginter had a career year in 2000, when he hit .333-26-92 at Double-A Round Rock. He batted .263-13-46 the year before in high Class A, and .269-16-70 last season in Triple-A. Ginter is a prospect, but he struck out 147 times in 132 games in 2001 while continuing to struggle on defense. He wasn't a standout defender before bulking up in 2000, which cost him even more in the field. He won't be buried in Triple-A, though he might never be more than a useful reserve in the majors.
Bobby Van Deusen
I actually like this trade more for the Padres than for the Mariners. Davis is the key player for Seattle, and he's still just 24 and has plenty of upside. But he also batted .239-11-57 in 2001 and never has hit much as pro. Serrano was San Diego's No. 2 prospect entering 2001, but he wouldn't have made the Top 15 before the trade. His fastball was down to 88-90 mph last season and his secondary pitches just haven't come along, so he looks destined for the bullpen. Arias is eminently replaceable.
I ranked Vazquez sixth on my list of prospects changing teams in December. He didn't blow through the minors, but he can hit and he plays solid defense. He looks like San Diego's shortstop for 2002, and his bat should allow him to hold off Donaldo Mendez in the future. I also like Tomko a lot and think he'll be a nice fit in the Padres rotation. He was just buried on a deep Mariners staff. And don't be surprised if a Lampkin/Wiki Gonzalez platoon gives Seattle as much production this year as Seattle gets out of Ben Davis and Dan Wilson.
The Yankees and Padres made an interesting trade recently, though it was well below the radar screen. The Yanks traded Bernabel Castro and received Kevin Reese in return. I find this interesting (strange) for a few reasons.
Castro is 20 and Reese is 23, yet they were both in Class A last year. What was Reese still doing there? Castro seems to have terrific speed, stealing 67 out of 87 bases last year and is one of the top hitters in the Dominican League this winter. So far, it looks like the Padres got a steal with Castro being three years younger, with really good speed and tearing up the winter league, and I'm not sure what Reese brings to the table.
But what really puzzles me is why two teams would even trade two Class A players straight up in the first place. What's the point? Why not let these guys develop and see what happens? It's not like you're trading for a need. So this whole thing seems a little fishy to me, especially considering that the Yanks and Padres do have some trading history. Any thoughts?
There's nothing underhanded going on here. In fact, this trade makes a lot more sense than the summer deal that sent D'Angelo Jimenez from the Yankees to the Padres for Jay Witasick. (Or for that matter, the offseason move that saw Witasick go from New York to San Francisco for John Vander Wal. I don't understand the obsession with Witasick at all.) It's just a case of two teams each liking the other club's prospect a little better. I think both Castro and Reese will be included in the Prospect Handbook.
Castro spent most of the year at low Class A Greensboro, where he hit .260-1-36 with a .350 on-base percentage and all of those stolen bases. Reese was old for the low Class A Midwest League, where he batted .329-13-73 and added 30 doubles, a .402 on-base percentage and 30 steals in 40 attempts. Castro is a better athlete and plays a more premium position, while Reese is a more advanced hitter. San Diego should have promoted Reese to high Class A at some point in 2001, and I wouldn't be surprised if the Yankees jump him to Double-A to see how he handles it.
December 11, 2001
Gee, I feel pretty sorry for Manny Ramirez this morning. I read the Boston Globe's online account of how the $160 million man apparently was uneasy in Boston last season. His agent, Jeff Moorad, told the Globe: "Manny performs best in a relaxed environment. It's no secret that Cleveland allowed him to sneak out the back door of the clubhouse, and he often was the first player out." Also from Moorad: "I've talked to Dan a couple of times this offseason, and he has expressed an interest in making the clubhouse a more livable place for Manny as well as his teammates. How they do that, I don't know. It might involve in part creating some separate press areas."
Let me make two things clear. I've never begrudged any player from making as much money he could. The owners screwed the players for years and laughed about it, and now they're getting their just desserts. And I've never felt it was an obligation of players to make themselves available 24/7 to the media.
But let's get real here. If a player signs for $160 million, he's opening himself up to the glare of publicity. If Ramirez is so uncomfortable in Boston, how about if he drops a couple of million dollars to remodel the clubhouse as he sees fit? He has the money. Funny how Ramirez' fragile psyche didn't come up last winter when Moorad was shopping Ramirez and allowing ESPN to film the sweepstakes for posterity. Maybe he should have taken less money and gone to play in Montreal.
Stahl just may be the Orioles' top prospect. Erik Bedard could give him a run for that honor, though Stahl is more projectable. Will Lingo is working on that list, which is two issues away from appearing in Baseball America. Stahl is a 6-foot-7 lefthander with a live arm, but he needs to do a better job of staying healthy. He has worked just 157 innings in two years as a pro because he had back problems in 2000 and shoulder trouble last season. If he can hold up, he's Baltimore's best hope for a No. 1 starter.
Bynum's slider was sometimes compared to Carlton's legendary breaking ball, but I don't think anyone was projecting Bynum to win more than 300 games and make the Hall of Fame. He was one of the best lefthanded prospects in the minors and had enjoyed plenty of success in his first two seasons after being a 1999 first-round pick.
Bynum went just 2-7, 5.02 at Double-A Mobile in 2001. He tweaked his right knee during spring-training drills and tried to pitch through it without telling anyone. The result was he had a wasted year, never establishing his fastball command nor refining his changeup like he needed to. He's still worth watching, though on the Padres Top 30 list I'm currently working on, I have him listed eighth among starting pitchers behind Tankersley, Peavy, Mark Phillips, Ben Howard, Cyr, Oliver Perez and Jason Middlebrook. At worst, Bynum will make a good situational reliever because he just eats lefties up with his slider.
Bautista has more upside than Perez. Mike Berardino raised some eyebrows when he rated Bautista ahead of Adrian Gonzalez on our Marlins Top 10, but that reflects Florida's thinking. Bautista threw at 94-96 mph at age 18, remains very projectable at a lanky 6-foot-5 and has a plus curveball.
Perez is a full year older and three inches shorter, and his fastball lags about 3-5 mph behind Bautista's. His secondary pitches also aren't as developed. That isn't to say he's not a prospect, but he lacks Bautista's ceiling and is more of a middle-of-the-rotation starter. Both guys need another three years or so in the minors, so you're going to have to wait a while.
(Don't rip Bud Selig. Don't rip Bud Selig. OK.) I guess Brewers fans have to try to stay optimistic. Osting is a decent sign but nothing extraordinary. A 1995 fourth-round pick, he went 11-8, 4.71 between Double-A and Triple-A this year, allowing 129 hits and 55 walks in 128 innings while striking out 87. He's a finesse lefthander who has more life than velocity on his fastball, and he relies on changing speeds and mixing his pitches. Every once in a while one of these guys will settle into a nice run as big league starter, but much more often they're bullpen fodder or get stuck in Triple-A.
December 7, 2001
I'll try to limit my snide comments about all the lies coming out of Bud Selig's mouth this week. Just let the Expos move to Washington D.C., sell the Twins to Donald Watkins and stop crying poor. And tell Jeffrey Loria there's no way he's taking Vladimir Guerrero and Javier Vazquez with him if he switches franchises.
One clarification from last week's Ask BA: Gary Garland contributes to www.japanesebaseball.com/forum, but the Website was created by and is run by Michael Westbay.
If the Phillies determine that there's no way Rolen is going to re-sign as a free agent following the 2002 season, then I'd have to like a deal in which they came away with Lieber, who's finally starting to get appreciated as much as he deserves. As much as Ed Lynch struggled as Cubs GM, he was smart enough to say yes when former Pirates GM Cam Bonifay offered him Lieber for Brant Brown. None of those three third-base prospects is a lock to remain at the hot corner, but all of them can hit. If Kelton was the second player in the deal, that would be a great trade for Philadelphia. And Chicago is so deep that the "fringe prospect" might wind up being a pretty good player, too.
Looking at this from the Cubs' perspective, I'd do the trade if it cost Lieber, either Gripp or Deschaine (I'd try to get the Phillies to take Bill Mueller) and a true fringe prospect. I've always liked Lieber, but Rolen is a special player Chicago could build around. Lieber's loss would hurt some in 2002, though the Cubs have the pitching depth to replenish quickly. As tough as it would be to give up an all-star starter, I'd grit my teeth and do it.
I understand some teams had excellent drafts, particularly the Tigers. But based on BA's own predraft analysis, I don't understand how the O's were left out of the top five. So I ask, does BA stand by its published predraft list of talent?
Sure, we stand by our published predraft list of talent. But keep in mind that came out in May, while the Draft Report Cards came out in November. The more significant change in that time period is that instead of having to guess how players would adapt to pro ball, we started to see how they would make the adjustment. I'll draw an analogy to our Top 100 Prospects list, which came out in March with Adam Dunn ranked 33rd. Six months later, we certainly liked him more than Donnie Bridges (No. 26) and Matt Belisle (No. 28). Dunn made major strides in the interim and opinions changed.
The Orioles had a solid draft, perhaps their best in several years. They added some quality position players, a crying need in the system, and a potential star lefthander in Chris Smith. I'll admit that it's very hard to judge a draft so quickly after the fact. But for now, I'd take our top five (Tigers, Giants, Indians, Athletics, Mets) over the Orioles, and off the top of my head I'd take the Angels, Blue Jays and Yankees as well. Baltimore would fall somewhere in the middle of the pack.
What do you mean by "top prospect" and what's your track record in judging talent? If you rate a prospect as being in the Top 50 or 100, what's your batting average? For top prospects who don't reach your projections, what portion flair out because of injury and what portion fail to fulfill their projected level? I hate to put BA on the spot, as I feel like I'm throwing a fastball in a slow pitch league, but a lot of us subscribers would like to know if when reading your publication we are getting a window on the future or just really interesting stuff for its own sake.
San Rafael, Calif.
As most of you probably know, we've just started ranking the Top 10 Prospects for each team by divisionwe go 30 deep in our second annual 2002 Prospect Handbooka process that will culminate with our overall Top 100 Prospects list in early March. I'll put BA's track record of evaluating prospects up against anyone else who regularly does the same. We talk to more sources inside baseball as anyone, we see as many players as possible, we've covered some of these players since high school and we understand that statistical performance does matter.
BA Online editor Will Kimmey has begun researching the success of players who made our Top 100 lists, and we'll present all of his findings in a future issue. He already reports that of the 421 players who earned that status from 1991-97, 374 (89 percent) reached the majors. So I think it's safe to say that a Top 100 prospect will make it onto a major league roster. We do just flat-out miss on some guys, like a Matt Drews, but I'd bet that a significant portion of the players who don't reach the majors are done in by injuries. Will also reports that those 421 players have combined for 169 all-star appearances and counting.
I just did some quick research myself, looking at the guys who made the first five spots on the 1990-97 lists. Of those 30 players, 15 of them have been selected a total of 38 times for the All-Star Game. Juan Gonzalez and Chipper Jones have combined for three MVP awards, while Sandy Alomar Jr., Derek Jeter, Tim Salmon and Kerry Wood were rookies of the year. Neither Salmon nor Wood has made an all-star team, but they're six of the remaining 15 players who have had solid careers. Nine players have underachieved, led by 1991 No. 1 overall draft pick Brien Taylor, who got hurt in an offseason fight and never reach the majors. Of those nine, five of themall pitcherswere done in by injuries. We whiffed on players such as Ruben Rivera.
I can't wait to see what Will comes up with, but David's assumptions seem correct. One thing to remember about the organization prospect rankings that we've begun to publish is that just because a guy makes his team's Top 10 list doesn't make him a great prospect. In our issue that just went to press, we covered the National League Central, which may have baseball's most loaded organization (the Cubs) and its most barren (the Cardinals). St. Louis' No. 3 prospect, righthander Josh Pearce, wouldn't have ranked in Chicago's Top 20.
The guys whom Kelly mentioned all did give baseball an honest shot, and the last four never went back to football after turning pro in baseball. But some players do just take the money to run. One recent example is Quincy Carter, a Cubs second-round pick in 1996 who signed for $450,000 and the stipulation he give up football. Yet two years later he was quarterbacking the University of Georgia, and Chicago felt helpless to stop him because of the fear he'd dog it if forced to remain on the diamond. The most infamous example is Kevin Murray (Calvin's older brother), who got $35,000 as the Brewers' 11th-round pick in 1982. That was a pretty good bonus back then, but Murray left to become a star quarterback at Texas A&M after just one season in the minors.
Farris is the starting quarterback for the Aggies and has thrown for 2,094 yards and eight touchdowns in 11 games this fall. Jenkins is a backup quarterback at South Carolina, though he has run for 301 yards and three scores on 58 carries. King played wide receiver for four years at Miami before the Browns selected him in the seventh and final round of the 2001 NFL draft. He has yet to make a catch for Cleveland and has two kickoff returns for 48 yards. Smith played linebacker for three years at Oregon before signing with the Colts as a nondrafted free agent in April. He was waived in August and didn't hook on with another team.
Moore hit .213-4-14 in 44 games for Long Island in the independent Atlantic League this summer. Felder, Granger and Morenz aren't playing pro sports as far as I can tell and I'm not sure what they're up to these days.
I don't think I really came down hard on anyone besides Chad Hutchinson in that column, and I doubt he'll track me down (even if he signs with the Chicago Bears, who aren't too far away with me). I've had executives with teams and agents confront me about things I've written, but a player never has.
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