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Ask BA

If you have a question, send it to askba@baseballamerica.com. Please include your full name and hometown if you'd like your letter to be considered for use in an upcoming column. We regret that we can't respond to every question.

By Jim Callis

October 30, 2001

Hmmm. My World Series pick of the Yankees in five games isn't going to happen. Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson have looked awfully tough, and New York will have to beat one of Arizona's aces at least once to pull off its fourth straight championship. I'm nothing if not stubborn, so I'll stick with the Yankees.

If I were managing the Diamondbacks, I wouldn't be sending Brian Anderson to the mound tonight, even if I wanted to try to put some of New York's lefty bats on the bench. With a 2-0 advantage, Arizona should go for the jugular rather than playing it safe. Which is the real Anderson, the one who has a 2.45 ERA in three playoff relief appearances, or the guy who went 3-9, 5.46 in 22 regular-season starts? I'd use him in middle relief only and go with Miguel Batista, who went 6-6, 3.36 in 18 tries as a regular-season starter and has made two quality postseason starts in as many tries. Then, by all means, go with Schilling in Game Four and Johnson in Game Five. If Diamondbacks manager Bob Brenly really goes with Batista after Anderson, he could feel really sick when Anderson or Batista takes the mound in Game Seven.

Worse thing about the World Series? Undoubtedly, it's those horrible computer-superimposed ads on the wall behind the batters. I'm sick of "Ally McBeal" and "The Tick" horning in on baseball.

Got to get a quick plug in. I'll be making an appearance at the seventh annual Fantasy Baseball Symposium at the Arizona Fall League this weekend. It's set for Phoenix from Thursday night through Sunday morning. It's the kind of gathering that would seem to appeal to Ask BA readers, so I'll probably meet a few of you there.

    I was wondering what you thought of the minor league players Cleveland picked up in trade this year: Josh Bard, Milton Bradley, Troy Cameron and Jody Gerut and Josh Bard. Did they do a decent job of bringing new talent into their system (though the John Rocker trade was horrible in the majors) through these deals?

    I see that Gerut didn't play this year. Did he have a wrist injury and if so, is he expected to play next year?

    Paul Lamb
    St. Paul

Bradley is clearly the best of the four players, and it looks like the Indians will give him every opportunity to take over in center field for Kenny Lofton, whom they don't plan to re-sign as a free agent. Bradley, 23, is a multitooled talent with the physical tools to be a star. His temper and attitude wore thin in Montreal, and his other drawback has been an inability to make contact in the majors, where he has batted .222-3-34 with 97 strikeouts in 392 at-bats. He didn't come cheaply, as Cleveland sent righthander Zach Day (the best player in 2000's David Justice trade with the Yankees) to the Expos to get Bradley.

Bard and Gerut arrived from Colorado in exchange for outfielder Jacob Cruz, a decent reserve outfielder who couldn't find a spot in Cleveland. Neither of them has an especially high ceiling. Bard, 23, is a solid catcher but never has hit much in the minors: .275-9-83 in 197 games. He projects as more of a backup than a starter. Gerut, 24, is a classic tweener, an outfielder who's not fast enough to start in center field and not powerful enough to start on one of the outfield corners. He batted .287-14-120 with 43 steals in 242 games over his first two pro seasons before missing all of 2001 with knee problems. Following surgery to remove debris from his knee in June, Gerut will start hitting again in January and should be ready to go in spring training. He could become a decent approximation of Cruz.

While Bradley and Gerut are former second-round picks and Bard was a third-rounder, Cameron actually was a first-rounder in 1997. A throw-in in the Rocker trade with Atlanta, he's a 23-year-old third baseman whose power is offset by his propensity for strikeouts. In 568 pro games, he has hit .230-79-293 with 649 whiffs in 568 games. I don't see him doing much if anything in the majors.

    I know the Cubs and Cubs fans were excited about David Kelton's bat, especially when they thought it was going to be at third base. Now that he looks to be an outfielder, is he going to hit well enough to be a productive major league left fielder, or will he be closer to average? Do you have a comparison to a major league player that you would expect him to play like?

    Michael Cross
    Decatur, Ill.

I've gotten a lot of email about Kelton and/or Chicago's third-base situation. The Cubs have been looking for a steady third baseman ever since Ron Santo left, and coming into spring training they had plenty of options. From top to bottom, their depth chart was Eric Hinske, Kelton, Ryan Gripp, Brandon Sing and J.J. Johnson. Since then, Hinske has been traded to Oakland, Kelton and Johnson moved to the outfield, Gripp hit .227 in Double-A and Sing batted .245 in low Class A. Of the guys still at the hot corner, Gripp is their best option, but his defense may force a position switch and he needs to get going offensively again. They also drafted Corey Slavik out of Wake Forest in the 10th round in June, though they're talking about possibly moving him to second base.

Kelton hit .313-12-45 in half a season at Double-A at age 22, and his plate discipline continued to improve. Those are very positive signs. Prorated to 550 at-bats, the average National League corner outfielder batted .281-27-89 in 2001. Those numbers are well within Kelton's reach once he gets established in the majors. He could produce as much as a Brian Jordan or Cliff Floyd (not necessarily the 2001 all-star version of Floyd), without the athleticism and with a few more walks.

    I was somewhat surpised that Luke Anderson didn't make the California League Top 20 Prospects list and actually raised my eyebrows that Jackson Markert, the overall Rolaids relief points leader in the minors, was absent from the South Atlantic League list. Looking further, it appears that regardless of their success, effective relievers had a hard time making any of the lists. It seems to me that there is an automatic assumption on these lists that a reliever is just a failed starter, and therefore undeserving of recognition. But my examination of the top closers and setup men in the majors shows a different skill set than that of starters. Am I imagining this, or what?

    Dave Cowen
    San Francisco

I'm not sure what you mean by a "different skill set." What I do know is that there's been little correlation between minor league success as a reliever and major league success as a reliever. For instance, Markert's 39 saves represented the ninth-highest total in minor league history. The eight men who have surpassed him are Jamie Cochran (46); Steve Reed and Brent Stentz (43); J.J. Trujillo (42); Mike Perez, Brandon Reed and Mike Soper (41); and Bryan Leach (40). Only Steve Reed and Perez had significant big league careers, but neither was more than a decent setup man.

Let's look at this in reverse. The top 10 closers in the game in my opinion, listed alphabetically, are: Armando Benitez, Keith Foulke, Tom Gordon, Trevor Hoffman, Robb Nen, Troy Percival, Mariano Rivera, Jeff Shaw, Ugueth Urbina, Billy Wagner. (I'd actually put Kazuhiro Sasaki in that group, but I wanted 10 guys who came up through the U.S. minors.) Seven of the 10 were starters throughout their minor league careers and didn't become relievers until they reached the majors. Hoffman and Percival broke into pro ball as position players before being converted to pitchers, and they worked in relief because they didn't have full repertoires. Benitez is really the only guy out of the 10 who was developed totally as a reliever.

Both Anderson and Markert had terrific seasons in 2001. Anderson, 23, went 2-2, 2.59 with 30 saves at high Class A San Jose, allowing 56 hits and 13 walks while striking out 76 in 66 innings. Markert, 22, had a 3-3, 2.82 record and those 39 saves at low Class A Hagerstown, with 57 hits, 18 walks and 45 strikeouts in 61 innings. They both have average to plus fastballs and rely on splitters for success. If a pitcher can command an offspeed pitch in the lower minors, he's going to put up some nice numbers. I'm not saying Anderson and Markert aren't worth tracking, but I wouldn't have put them on either Top 20 and I'm not convinced either will ever save a game in the majors.

October 26, 2001

I'm not usually one to get all misty about the good ol' days, but I'm going to miss the times when the top college prospects represented the United States at all of the important international tournaments—at least until major leaguers start participating in the events. I always liked the rare U.S.-as-underdog angle and enjoy watching future stars such as Nomar Garciaparra and Jason Giambi at the Olympics.

I don't fault USA Baseball for using professionals, because the goal is winning and the playing field is more level than ever before. But I'd be more excited about the 2001 World Cup in Chinese Taipei if we were sending Rutgers righthander Bob Brownlie and Clemson third baseman Jeff Baker instead of minor league journeymen Marty Malloy and Ed Vosberg. There are a couple of big prospect names on the U.S. roster, such as Joe Borchard and Carl Crawford, but there aren't many of them.

Alert reader Dylan Manchak of Denver emailed to ask if I didn't think much of Tony Armas Jr. or just forgot him when I was ranking the top players available if there were an Expos/Marlins dispersal draft. I overlooked him. I should have put him fifth, between Brad Penny and Ryan Dempster.

    Remember the adage that the World Series team with the fewest ex-Cubs will win the Series? I know that Diamondbacks Mark Grace and Mike Morgan are ex-Cubs, but I can't find a single ex-Cub on the Yankees roster. Could that indicate a Yankees sweep?

    Erick Metzger
    Reynoldburg, Ohio

Actually, the adage was that any team with three or more former Cubs was doomed in the playoffs. Writer Ron Berler introduced that theory in a 1981 Boston Herald article (which is archived online at www.ruz.com/baseball/berler.html), when he pointed out that since World War II, only one team, the 1960 Pirates, managed to win a World Series with three ex-Cubs on its roster. Of course, the Yankees thoroughly dominated that Series, and Pittsburgh's seven-game victory was one of the most improbable ever.

Berler's theory, which was popularized by former Chicago Tribune columnist Mike Royko, has continued to hold up since he wrote his article. In 2000, for instance, the Yankees (Glenallen Hill, Jose Vizcaino) beat the Mets (Matt Franco, Todd Pratt, Turk Wendell, Todd Zeile) in the World Series. The 1960 Pirates remain the only exception.

Erick actually overlooked former Cubs Miguel Batista and Luis Gonzalez on the Diamondbacks, which puts them well over the limit. The Yankees, by contrast, astutely dumped Hill and Vizcaino and are Cubs-free. Things don't look good for Arizona.

    I wanted to get your expert opinion on the Aussie prospects in the minors. I've heard lots of noise about Chris Snelling and Craig Anderson with the Mariners, but I find it hard to look past John Stephens. He has put up phenomenal numbers for Double-A Bowie and performed well for Triple-A Rochester in the Orioles organization. However, I continually hear that he doesn't throw hard enough. Do you think he has what it takes to make the majors, keeping in mind he's still only 21?

    Craig McQuillen
    Sydney, Australia

The Cubs' Juan Cruz and Stephens are probably my two favorite prospects. I'm not saying they're the best prospects, just that I enjoy following their careers. I wrote a column about Stephens last year that subscribers can check out at www.baseballamerica.com/online/columnists/0015callis.html, and he has continued to put up numbers. This year he split time between Bowie and Rochester, going a combined 13-9, 2.51 with 147 hits, 40 walks and 191 strikeouts. Stephens' fastball still doesn't exceed the mid-80s, but even advanced batters are having little luck solving him. I suspect we'll see him in the majors at some point in 2002, and he's fortunate to be in an Orioles organization that already has given a shot to soft-tossing Josh Towers. It's still difficult to project Stephens becoming a big league star with his stuff, though he continues to get batters out. I look forward to watching him in Baltimore.

My quick personal ranking of Australian prospects (2001 seasonal ages in parentheses):

1. Chris Snelling, of, Mariners (19)
2. Brad Thomas, lhp, Twins (23)
3. John Stephens, rhp, Orioles (21)
4. Craig Anderson, lhp, Mariners (20)
5. Grant Balfour, rhp, Twins (23)

I'm also keeping an eye on catcher Justin Huber (Mets); second baseman Adam Morrissey (Cubs); lefthanders Travis Blackley (Mariners), Adrian Burnside (Pirates) and Damian Moss (Braves); and righthanders P.J. Bevis (Diamondbacks) and Mike Nakamura (Twins).

    Besides union concerns, don't you think the owner/operators of minor league clubs effected by contraction would have a field day in the courtrooms of the United States and Canada? I agree with you that a lot of this contraction talk most likely is posturing, but I don't think Major League Baseball has considered the potential public-relations damage closing down minor league operations would have. Agree or disagree?

    Mike Capps
    New York

I don't think MLB considered the public-relations damage floating the idea of contraction right before its championship event. What other sport would do that? But I digress. I doubt MLB really cares about the reaction from the 10 minor league cities that ultimately would be affected (I'm not counting complex or foreign summer league teams). I'm sure they'd have the foresight to honor any existing player-development contracts between the contracted franchises and their affiliates, but beyond that I don't believe there'd be any other obligation to worry about. Some of those cities would still stay in the minors, as major league organizations from with less desirable affiliates would be glad to make a change when their PDCs expired.

October 23, 2001

I don't see the Diamondbacks providing much resistance to the Yankees in the World Series. Yes, Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson conceivably could win twice each, but that's about the only way Arizona beats New York and I don't see it happening. The Diamondbacks are so feeble offensively that they'll squander a quality start of two and lose some low-scoring games. The Yankees are just deeper through their lineup, rotation and bullpen, and a sweep wouldn't be far-fetched. I'll pick New York in five games.

This could be Arizona's last hurrah for a while, Schilling and Johnson notwithstanding. The lineup is old and full of holes, and the team doesn't have the money to add significant talent or the prospects to step in. The Diamondbacks have mortgaged their future: they owe roughly $200 million in contracts and deferred payments through 2006, and they already have hit up their owners for $60 million in cash calls and Major League Baseball for a $20 million loan. Why didn't MLB tell Arizona to spend more responsibly rather than fund further free-agent purchases? That's a good question that at least one scouting director from a National League West rival is asking.

The Braves already are being written off as a team that once again couldn't win when it counted and is at the end of its glorious 10-year run of NL East titles. Both statements are misconceptions. Atlanta has gone 56-50 in the postseason and won 13 of 23 series. They just haven't been able to string three series in a row more than once. Does anyone else wonder what might have happened had Denny Neagle and Mark Wohlers been able to hold a 6-0 lead in Game 3 of the 1996 World Series? The Braves had kicked the Yankees around in the first two games of that matchup and seemed poised for a sweep. If New York doesn't win that title and then followed up the next year by losing to Cleveland in the American League Division Series, would owner George Steinbrenner have lost his patience and torn apart a foundation that should win five World Series in six years?

And while we have an offseason of moves to ponder, Atlanta still looks like the favorite in the NL East to me. The Braves need to refortify their offense, but Rafael Furcal, Andruw Jones (he has to rebound, doesn't he?), Chipper Jones, Brian Jordan and Javy Lopez (provided he re-signs) aren't a bad start. Marcus Giles should be at least an average second baseman at the plate, and it's not as hard to find production at first base and left field as Atlanta made it look in 2001. Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine (he's a Hall of Famer and he's underrated, a rare combination) still will front the rotation, which would love to see Kevin Millwood return to 1999 form. As for the competition? The Phillies made giant steps forward this year, and teams that do that almost always take significant steps back the following season. I love the Marlins' pitching, but I don't believe in their offense, which may not be able to afford some of its better bats anyway. The Mets? Maybe, but GM Steve Phillips has a lot of retooling to do in the offseason and not a lot of ammunition to use as trade bait. I don't think the Expos will be contracted—more on this in a moment—not that we'll be able to tell the difference.

    Though I think the idea is farfetched and shortsighted, and the Players Association never would let it happen, once again Major League Baseball officials claim they're considering contraction that would eliminate two teams. Were this to happen, what are the ramifications for the minor leagues? If two MLB teams disappeared, would 10 minor league teams also vanish? And what would happen to these players? Would the independent leagues gain strength from such a move?

    Scott Merzbach
    Sunderland, Mass.

Scott, I couldn't agree more. I don't know if the union has a legal right to contest contraction, but I'm sure they'll go to court to find out and won't take quietly the loss of 50 big league jobs and 80 big league roster spots if they don't have the right. There could be other legal issues to resolve as well, such as the validity of reassigning contracts to other teams. And despite the commissioner's statements, I just don't see how this is viable or healthy for baseball. It's not going to have a noticeable effect on the quality of play. It's not going to allow baseball to expand ever again in the foreseeable future. (For those of you who don't believe baseball should expand, that's fine, but owners are going to have a hard time closing the door on prospective franchise fees of $200 million or more.) It's not going to help baseball sell itself to fans or television networks. And I just have a hard time imagining the Carl Pohlads of the world ponying up $15 million or $20 million each to make two teams go away, when the majority of owners spend most of their time crying poor. And don't get me started on whether clubs really are losing oodles of money. I don't believe it.

I think this is just posturing, conveniently leaked at a time when we have five days between postseason games. What other sport would advertise that it doesn't know how to run itself on the eve of its championship? Nice public-relations move.

But let's assume that at some point this offseason, the Expos and Marlins suddenly cease to exist. I'd think that MLB would have to fulfill the player-development contracts that those clubs have with their minor league affiliates, either by making good on whatever payments are mandated or by fielding co-op teams. From a scheduling standpoint, five U.S.-based minor leagues have Florida and Montreal affiliates (that would be the Eastern, Florida State, Midwest, New York-Penn and Gulf Coast), so eventually they could just reduce their number of clubs by two. In Triple-A, the Expos are based in the International League and the Marlins in the Pacific Coast League, so one team would have to switch leagues at some point. The minors would shrink by 12 clubs, with the best franchises hooking up with other major league organizations and the weakest not being able to find player-development contracts.

At least the players on Florida's and Montreal's 40-man rosters would be reallocated to major league teams via a dispersal draft in reverse order of the 2001 standings, though the exact details have yet to be provided. MLB would try to do the same with minor league players as well, because if they didn't we'd have huge bidding wars over prospects such as Marlins first baseman Adrian Gonzalez. I've got to think there's at least one agent who might want to challenge the reassignment of minor league contracts on behalf of his client, though I'll admit I'm not familiar with the language of a standard minor league contract.

If two teams disappear, roughly 350 jobs in U.S.-based leagues in Organized Baseball would be eliminated. The percentage of those 350 players who are actual prospects is quite small, so the trickle-down effect on the independent leagues wouldn't vastly improve that level of play. And because Organized Baseball would weed out its weakest franchises, not just the ones that had been attached to the Expos and Marlins, indy leagues wouldn't add any notable cities.

    If contraction comes to pass and MLB holds a dispersal draft in reverse order of 2001 regular-season records, in what order would teams pick? Who would go first, Josh Beckett or Vladimir Guerrero (assuming the Expos and Marlins don't make the cut)? And would small-market teams go after prospects rather than established, more expensive players?

    Yogi Buck
    Sebring, Fla.

Again, we'll play along and assume that contraction comes to pass. I assume the order would be similar to the 2002 draft order, with National League teams and then American League teams alternating picks. The first 10 picks, in order, would go to the Pirates, Devil Rays, Reds, Orioles, Brewers, Royals, Rockies, Tigers, Padres and Rangers.

I'll rank the top 15 "prospects" who would be available, breaking them down by players who are on 40-man rosters (as of today) and those who aren't. Marlins catcher Charles Johnson has the option of declaring for free agency if the team's deal for a new stadium falls apart, so I'm assuming he'd exercise that right if contraction happens. He's not included below:

On 40-man rostersNot on 40-man rosters
Vladimir Guerrero, of, MonAdrian Gonzalez, 1b, Fla
Josh Beckett, rhp, FlaBrandon Phillips, ss, Mon
Javier Vazquez, rhp, MonMiguel Cabrera, ss, Fla
Brad Penny, rhp, FlaJustin Wayne, rhp, Mon
Ryan Dempster, rhp, FlaJosh Karp, rhp, Mon
Cliff Floyd, of, FlaGrady Sizemore, rhp, Mon
Jose Vidro, 2b, MonJason Stokes, of, Fla
A.J. Burnett, rhp, FlaDenny Bautista, rhp, Fla
Orlando Cabrera, ss, MonRob Henkel, lhp, Fla
Preston Wilson, of, FlaWill Smith, of, Fla
Luis Castillo, 2b, FlaCliff Lee, lhp, Mon
Matt Clement, rhp, FlaLuke Lockwood, lhp, Mon
Derrek Lee, 1b, FlaRich Rundles, lhp, Mon
Fernando Tatis, 3b, MonJosh Girdley, lhp, Fla
Brad Wilkerson, of, MonAllen Baxter, rhp, Fla

I based these rankings purely on talent, not on contract status. It's possible that small-revenue clubs might balk at taking someone like Guerrero or Floyd who'll be a free agent in the near future, but I still believe they'd take the best guy available in most cases. A strong argument could be made, however, that Beckett might go No. 1 overall because he's financially much more attractive than Guerrero.

    I have seen Corey Patterson's stats in the Mexican Pacific League and they look impressive. How much stock should be put into them, given the level of competition?

    Andrew Gibbs
    Hinsdale, Ill.

The level of competition is decent, probably closer to Triple-A than Double-A, but the sample size isn't. Patterson was hitting .368-1-6 through eight games, and it's hard to make a judgment based on eight games. Perhaps the most important stat for Patterson is his strikeout-walk ratio, and at 10-2 that isn't nearly as pretty as his other numbers.

Patterson didn't put up the most inspiring statistics this year, but I still believe that he'll be a star. He has been aggressively pushed through the minors by the Cubs, perhaps a bit too aggressively, and he still needs to smooth out the rough edges in his game. He still needs to tighten his strike zone and learn to hit lefthanders better. He could get some more Triple-A time in 2002, and I think the following season will be his major league breakthrough.

October 19, 2001

Poor Josh Hamilton. The Arizona Fall League provided him with the opportunity to get some much-needed at-bats after back problems cost him most of the season. Now it looks like his AFL experience may end after two games and an 0-for-7 performance.

Hamilton's back is bothering him again, and it could be related to the February incident in which a dump truck ran a red light and crashed into a pickup truck driven by Hamilton's father, with Josh and his mother as passengers. At the time no one appeared to be seriously injured, but Hamilton has had back problems almost ever since. He may require surgery to repair one or two discs in his back, which wouldn't threaten his career.

Hamilton is still one of the best prospects in baseball and he's just 20. But from his perspective, this certainly has been a year to forget.

    Ichiro Suzuki has turned the baseball world upside down. He's unquestionably among the most famous players and personalities in the world of baseball. He has aided considerably in breaking down longstanding walls between American and Japanese baseball. He won the American League batting crown in his first U.S. season, while leading the Mariners to an unprecedented modern victory total. One could say that Ichiro has done more for baseball in one season than many players accomplish in an entire career, yet he turns 28 years old this week and I can't imagine he'll be active long enough to put up Hall of Fame numbers.

    Players from the Negro League like Josh Gibson are deservedly in the Hall of Fame, though they never played in the majors (though the Negro Leagues were an American baseball league). If Ichiro's Japanese totals were included in the voting consideration, then he certainly could have the career output that would be considered Hall of Fame material. If this were the case, perhaps other great Japanese players like Sadaharu Oh also would have to be considered.
    I'm curious as to how you feel about Ichiro's Hall of Fame possibilities.

    Mike Marinaro
    Tampa

It is, officially, the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum (italics mine), so Oh won't ever get considered for induction. You do, however, raise a very interesting point about Ichiro.

It's conceivable that Ichiro could play for 10 years or so. If we assume that he has a standout career, he could bat in the neighborhood of .325 and amass 2,000 hits. While he's unlikely to have the chance to reach 3,000 hits in the United States, I do think he'd have a chance at Cooperstown. If he stars for a decade, adds another three or four batting titles and continues to lead the Mariners to the postseason, I believe the writers would consider him strongly.

I posed this question to three of our correspondents who do get to vote. Paul Hagen, Tom Haudricourt and Phil Rogers had similar responses. If Ichiro dominates over a significant period of time, they'll consider him strongly, and Tom drew a parallel to Kirby Puckett. They wouldn't hold the late start to his U.S. career against Ichiro. Paul and Tom said they wouldn't consider his Japanese performance while trying to decide his merits, because it's a U.S. hall of fame, but Phil said he couldn't ignore his Japanese batting titles if Ichiro continued to excel over here.

    I got the chance to see Juan Rivera play five or six times at Triple-A Columbus this year, and at those games he hit well over .500 with five of his home runs. However, the only time that he hit the ball with authority was to right field. Does he have trouble pulling the ball or did I just happen to see a few games where he didn't?

    It also seemed that some of the less-than-anticipated statistics that Nick Johnson put up could be attributed to the fact that he was trying to turn on pitches more. I understand that the Yankees wanted him to do that to increase his power, but it seemed to diminish his overall numbers.

    Is it really that important to be able to pull the ball? Rivera seems to be doing all right going the other way, but will major league pitchers take advantage of him inside? On a side note, Johnson's swing is one of the most beautiful things that I've seen at a ballgame, but that might be because I missed Cooper Stadium's tube-top night.

    David Hamrick
    Mansfield, Ohio

With the way baseballs fly out of ballparks these day, the result of several factors, pull power isn't as important as it was in the past. The majority of homers still come when a guy pulls the ball, but I'd bet there's a higher percentage of opposite-field homers now then there was 15 or 20 years ago. Players don't have to turn on pitches to hit the ball out, though it certainly does help their chances if they can pull pitches.

The Yankees know what they're doing in player development, so I still expect Johnson to become a star. Rivera will do the same if he gets some more discipline. Otherwise he might be merely good.

    A big thanks from all minor league fans for writing this column. My question is, when will the minor league free-agent list be released? I look forward to this time of year to see what underachievers and fallen stars are out there. Does BA plan to post it online again this year?

    Ken Bumbaco
    Virginia Beach

Teams don't have to take care of all the paperwork associated with six-year free agents until Monday. We should get the list and have it up on our website early next week.

October 17, 2001

What more can be said about the Yankees? This team continually does what it takes to win in the postseason. There's no doubt in my mind that the Athletics had more talent, and they should have been able to put New York away after they won the first two games of the Division Series. During the regular season, Derek Jeter isn't as good as Alex Rodriguez (or a healthy Nomar Garciaparra), but in the postseason he has no equal. Though the Mariners won 21 more regular-season games than the Yankees, I'll pick New York in six games in the American League Championship Series.

Randy Johnson just mowed down the Braves on Tuesday, but I'll come clean and admit my pick before the National League Championship Series started was Atlanta in seven games. I'll stick with that, though the Braves will have to pick up at least one victory (and more likely, two) against Johnson and Curt Schilling to advance to the World Series.

It's prospect season at Baseball America, meaning we're starting to get immersed in Draft Report Cards, organization Top 10 Prospects and the 2002 Prospect Handbook. Ask BA felt the effects this week, as this first installment was delayed for a day, but hopefully that shouldn't happen too often this winter.

    This year certainly wasn't a banner one for that staple of the free agent era, the trade-deadline deal. A few teams helped themselves some, but there were no Ricky Hendersons or David Cones changing teams. The Braves and Indians virtually stood pat despite significant weaknesses and easily gained the postseason. The Twins clearly hurt themselves with their moves, while the Cubs, Diamondbacks, Phillies and Yankees arguably did the same. Ironically, Chicago's best move, getting Fred McGriff, may help more next year.

    Such trades make for great theater, but at least the Astros are taking a hard look at them now, having supplied key players for this year's Mariners juggernaut when they dealt for Randy Johnson in 1998. Payroll pressure also seemed to have something to do with the relatively subdued midseason market. Was this just a one-year aberration, or will future July trades smack more of tinkering than supercharging?

    Mark L. Peel
    Arlington Heights, Ill.

Of all the trades made before the July 31 deadline, the only move that significantly helped a team came when the Athletics acquired Jermaine Dye from the Royals, and even then they had to send second baseman Jose Ortiz and two lesser prospects to the Rockies. The move that had the greatest effect came after the deadline, when the Cardinals dumped Ray Lankford and picked up Woody Williams from the Padres. Both players had to clear waivers, and St. Louis' main goal was to get rid of Lankford. They did that and got a pitcher who went 7-1, 2.28 in 11 regular-season starts before beating the Diamondbacks in the Division Series.

But I'm not sure that this year's trades were that unusual in the impact they ultimately had on teams. Several analysts have tried to determine how many victories a superstar is worth to a team, compared to a replacement-level player, and most have concluded that five wins is usually the maximum. Over two months of a season, even the best players are usually only going to make a difference of about two wins. Unless a pennant race is nail-biting close, a trade usually won't put a contender over the top.

Most of the time, deadline trades have more of an emotional effect on a team, demonstrating to the players that the front office is committed to winning. Sometimes clubs go overboard trying to show that commitment. Trading Matt Lawton to the Mets for Rick Reed didn't cost the Twins the postseason. Minnesota overachieved in the season's first four months and played down to its level of talent in the final two. But now the Twins are left with an older, more expensive player and no obvious leadoff man. Likewise, the Cubs bolstered their bullpen by getting David Weathers from the Brewers in a deal that cost them Ruben Quevedo—then needed a starter like Quevedo in the final two months when their rotation suddenly developed some holes.

I took a quick look at the last 10 years of deadline deals—I checked only the July 31 trades, so I could have missed someone—and Johnson is very much the exception rather than the rule. Besides the Big Unit, I found just two other future Hall of Famers who changed teams: Henderson in 1993 and Mark McGwire in 1997. And when McGwire joined the Cardinals, they were 51-56, so that trade wasn't made with contending in mind.

    There have been several discussions on the current status of Harvard righthander Ben Crockett here in New England, most asking why he wasn't signed by the Red Sox. Any information to add while letting us know how good of a prospect he might be?

    Jeff Lamm
    Canterbury, Conn.

Crockett is a solid prospect. We projected him as a possible first-round pick and likely third-rounder, but because of lingering concerns about some elbow tendinitis he had in 2000, and possibly his signability, he was available to the Red Sox in the 10th round. He's not overpowering, but he can throw his 89-92 mph fastball for strikes to both sides of the plate, setting up hitters for his nasty slurve. While negotiating with Boston, he had his second strong Cape Cod League performance, posting a 1.67 ERA and a 74-9 strikeout-walk ratio in 59 innings.

The Red Sox have invested heavily in foreign players, particularly in Asia, at the expense of the draft. Over the last five drafts, they have failed to sign 14 of their picks from the first 10 rounds, including future top-five picks Justin Wayne (ninth round, 1997) and Mark Teixeira (ninth round, 1998). In 2001, they lost out on second-rounder Matt Chico, sixth-rounder Justin James and Crockett. Boston scouting director Wayne Britton said he would have been extremely pleased with his draft if he could have signed Chico and Crockett. Britton said Crockett was offered more than 10th-round money, but it wasn't enough to get him to give up his final year at Harvard. Crockett said the Red Sox ultimately halted negotiations, citing an "organization decision." He'll finish his degree and should be an enticing senior sign next June.

    In your Minor League Top 10 Prospects issue, the Orioles didn't have a single player make a Top 10. Is their organization that bad?

    Ray Travis
    Forest Hill, Md.

We've broken down the Top 10s by organization for the last three years, and the Orioles are the first team to get shut out in a season. They almost got blanked on our preseason Top 100 Prospects list as well, with Keith Reed averting that fate by making it at No. 96. These rankings reflect Baltimore's lack of an impact prospect, and the Orioles rank in the bottom third of teams in terms of organizational talent.

They do have five players who made the expanded Top 20 lists we ran on the web: shortstop Brian Roberts (No. 18, International League), righthander John Stephens (No. 18, Eastern), lefthander Erik Bedard (No. 16, Carolina), second baseman Omar Rogers (No. 17, Appalachian) and shortstop Bryan Bass (No. 14, Gulf Coast). But Roberts is the only one of the Orioles' seven first-round picks in 1999 to make a Top 20, and his long-term role in the majors may be as a utilityman.

    Who are the top transfers this year in college baseball, and what kind of effect should they have on their respective teams?

    Steve Rollins
    Birmingham

BA's college guru, John Manuel, reports that this was a relatively quiet year for transfers, lacking an impact guy like a Brian Roberts (North Carolina to South Carolina in the summer of 1998), Mark Prior (Vanderbilt to Southern California in 1999) or Todd Linden (Washington State to Louisiana State in 2000). The biggest news came out of Iowa State, which discontinued its program. Cyclones righthanders Alan Bomer (a ninth-round pick of the Cubs) and Lincoln Mincks chose Texas and Central Florida, respectively, while shortstop Jake Brown wound up at Texas Tech.

Lefthander Ryan Gloger, who barely pitched in two years at Stanford but had consecutive strong summers in the Cape Cod League, will front South Florida's rotation in 2002. Other moves that John says are worth watching: righthander Mark Michael (Kentucky to Central Florida), outfielder Eric O'Brien (Kent State to Arizona State), shortstop Kevin Estrada (Florida to Pepperdine) and righthander Adam Larson (Mississippi State to Middle Tennessee State).

October 12, 2001

The last edition of Ask BA contained a question about why Ty Cobb's career runs total is listed differently (2,245 runs vs. 2,246) in different sources. The Elias Sports Bureau, the official statistician of Major League Baseball, disagreed with my answer. Executive vice president Steve Hirdt says he personally reviewed each of Cobb's 3,035 games and verified Elias' total of 2,245 runs. Hirdt declined to elaborate on how Elias differs from the sources that credit him with 2,246 runs.

In the interest of full disclosure, I worked at STATS, Inc., a competitor of Elias, from September 1997 through May 2000. I didn't mention this on Tuesday because I didn't think it mattered. My ties to STATS in no way colored my response.

I stand by what I wrote, though I was a bit snide at the end of my response and thus have deleted the last two sentences that appeared on Tuesday. In no way was I trying to imply that Elias is shoddy. My main point is that if a statistical discrepancy exists, it's frustrating that all sources can't reach a consensus.

    I just saw that the Cubs picked up Jose Fernandez off waivers. Why would the Angels let them take their minor league player of the year? Is he a Roosevelt Brown type? Do you think either of them can contribute for the Cubs next year? And who do you foresee playing second base for the Cubs next year?

    Joe Miller
    Champaign, Ill.

    The Angels released Jose Fernandez, who was their minor league player of the year. With the Cubs picking him up, is there a chance he could play second base next year or is he simply a utility player?

    Chris Lampe
    Waterloo, Iowa

    Why was Jose Fernandez, Anaheim's minor league player of the year, put on waivers? What does BA think of him? Why was he passed up by so many teams, allowing the Cubs to claim him?

    Al Watkins
    Burlington, Iowa

Who would have guessed that Fernandez would have merited three Ask BA questions in the last three days? This was nothing more than a typical bookkeeping move that often happens after the regular season ends. The Angels were clearing space on their 40-man roster, so they removed Fernandez. While he did hit .338-30-114 in 122 games at Salt Lake, he was 26, in his third full year in Triple-A and playing in a hitter's park in a hitter' league. Also, he's never going to take Troy Glaus' job at third base, and while Fernandez has played briefly at first base and in the outfield, the Angels have established players in those spots as well.

Fernandez had surgery to remove the hook of the hamate bone in his left hand on Oct. 9, which further clouds his future. The Cubs have plenty of minor league talent, so it's surprising that they gave him a spot on their 40-man roster. He fits the profile more of a minor leaguer with a future in Japan than as a true prospect. Fernandez has played exactly two games at second base as a pro, so he won't be Chicago's solution there. The Cubs aren't expected to re-sign veteran Eric Young as a free agent, and I think Bobby Hill will seize the job by midseason, if not sooner.

I get a lot of questions about Brown, who has proven he can hit in Triple-A and is hoping for a shot in the majors. It doesn't appear that his opportunity will come with the Cubs.

    What are your thoughts on Cardinals outfield prospect Chris Morris? Where do you think he'll end up next year, and do you think there's a better basestealer in the minors? In his first full season he hit .294 with an on-base percentage of .398. I really think he's a sleeper in that organization.

    Joe Johnson
    Fayetteville, Ark.

I'm skeptical of Morris as a true major league prospect. When I talked to managers and scouts who saw him in the Midwest League, the consensus was he can run and do little else. He's not a standout defensively and has almost no power, producing just 22 extra-base hits and a .367 slugging percentage. No matter how fast a guy is, he's of no use as a major league regular if he has no pop. I'd guess he'll make it to Double-A by the end of 2002.

Morris is definitely the most prolific basestealer in the minors. But the best might be Jamal Strong, who had 82 steals this year and a better success rate (87 percent to 82 percent) than Morris. Most of the guys who put up gaudy stolen-base totals in the minors are just speed guys with little baseball aptitude—at random, I checked the 1993 minor league leaders and found the names Essex Burton, Kerwin Moore, Marquis Riley, Kraig Hawkins and Curtis Goodwin—but Strong appears to be the current exception. He also needs to get stronger, though.

    I'm always intrigued by minor leaguers who tear up their league and then appear overmatched after late-season promotions. What's your take on two such players, Keto Anderson and Jason Bay? Both had tremendous, dominant seasons, but then collapsed upon going up a notch. Are they considered prospects or suspects?

    Michael Stern
    Mohegan Lake, N.Y.

Anderson, whose older brother Marlon plays second base for the Phillies, actually began the season by hitting .161 in the low Class A Midwest League before being demoted to the short-season Northwest League, where he batted 215 points higher. He's 22 and it was his third year in pro ball, so he still has much to prove.

Bay's story was similar. Also 22, he spent two months batting .195 in the high Class A Florida State League before getting sent down to the MWL and hitting .362 with power. I'm still not sold on him either. At 22, a player should be able to hold his own in high Class A.

    What are your feelings on Rett Johnson? Why didn't he make any of the league Top 20 lists? I like his strikeout-innings ratio and his stats look really good. So please tell me more about him.

    Tom Shea
    Milford, Mass.

Johnson is a solid pitching prospect but just wasn't quite good enough to make either the California League or Midwest League Top 20. He has a bulldog makeup to go with a fastball and slider that are both a tick above average, and he went a combined 11-7, 2.99 with 166 strikeouts in 165 innings. He was overshadowed by teammates at both stops: Clint Nageotte, Aaron Taylor and Derrick Van Dusen in the MWL; and Rafael Soriano, Matt Thornton and Craig Anderson in the Cal League.

October 9, 2001

There's a federal law or something that mandates that all Internet columnists make postseason projections, so here goes. In the Division Series, I'll take the Athletics over the Yankees in five games, the Mariners over the Indians in four, the Braves over the Astros in five—as I write this, Brad Ausmus has just hit a two-run homer to tie the opening contest of that series—and the Diamondbacks over the Cardinals in four. Oakland will beat Seattle in seven games in the American League Championship Series, while Atlanta will beat Arizona in seven in the National League. Then the A's will win the World Series by beating the Braves in six games.

I'm not an Atlanta fan, nor do I dislike the Braves, but I'd like to see them win it all. In a season of milestones, the significance of their 10 straight division titles has been underappreciated. More because of bad luck than anything else, they've repeatedly come up short in the World Series, and they probably won't be recognized as one of the greatest dynasties of all time. Winning with the worst team of their 10-season run might help change that a bit.

Before we delve into the questions, two parting thoughts on Barry Bonds. One, I'm more impressed with his slugging percentage record (.863) than his 73 homers. Two, just looking at his swing and discipline in the games I watched over the final week, I was struck by the thought that 100 homers seemed possible.

    I know you're swamped, but I'm interested in your assessment of Kevin Mench and how he managed to fall out of the Top 20. (Not just the Top 10, but the Top 20!) I know his average was .265 in the offense-friendly Texas League, but didn't his other stats show that he hit the ball consistently hard?

    Rob Carroll
    Lake Forest, Calif.

Mench ranked as the high Class A Florida State League's top prospect in 2000, when he batted .334-27-121 with more walks than strikeouts at age 22. Moving up to Double-A this year, he dropped to .265-26-83, and his strikeout-walk ratio deteriorated to 76-34. Michael Point, who put together that Top 20, said managers did mention Mench but many thought he backslid over the course of the season. He hit just .228 with one-third of his strikeouts in the final month. The only tool he consistently showed was power, and that alone wasn't enough to get him on the Top 20 or project him as a future star.

    I saw your list of Top 20 Prospects for the New York-Penn League and noticed Brooklyn outfielder Frank Corr was left off the list. How can this be? He only led the league with 13 home runs, a .594 slugging percentage and 35 extra-base hits while batting .302 in his first professional season. After being one of college baseball's best hitters the last two years, Corr proved he can do it with wood. I know he doesn't have the ideal major league body, but the last time I checked, neither did Benny Agbayani and he starts for the parent team in Corr's likely position. What gives?

    Cris Belvin
    Tulsa

Keep in mind that just because a guy doesn't make a Top 20 doesn't mean he's not a prospect. Corr can hit. But because he's a stocky 5-foot-9 and 205 pounds, he's going to have to convince people he can keep producing. You mention Agbayani, but it took the Mets a long time to give him a chance. At Stetson Corr batted .431-18-98 in 2000 and .374-18-60 this spring, and as a senior sign he wasn't going to cost much. Yet he still lasted until the 17th round in June. Josh Boyd, who wrote our NY-P Top 20, said only one manager brought up Corr as a prospect, citing his power and scrappiness and also noting that he's not a tools guy.

I like Corr as a sleeper. But there are a lot of corner outfielders who can hit bouncing around the minors, and he's going to have to do something to separate himself from the rest. He's off to a good start, but he's still a good ways from Shea Stadium.

    What's the status of Yankees pitching prospects Jason Arnold and Sean Henn? Both were shut down before the end of the season with arm problems. What's your opinion on both of them? Also, who do you consider to be the best pitching prospect in the entire system?

    Mitchell Cohen
    East Brunswick, N.J.

Both Arnold and Henn had elbow problems. Arnold just had tendinitis and was shut down, but Henn required Tommy John surgery. When healthy, Henn had one of the livest lefthanded arms in pro ball, capable of reaching 98 mph. Arnold has touched 97 and has a more-rounded repertoire at this point. Guys come back regularly from Tommy John surgery, so I'd still regard both these guys as among the Yankees' top pitching prospects.

My choice as the best is Brandon Claussen, a 22-year-old lefthander who led the minors with 220 strikeouts in 187 innings between high Class A and Double-A. He can hit 94 mph with his fastball, and even better, all his pitches dance and he can throw them all for strikes.

    There are several articles, including one on the MLB.com site, that state Rickey Henderson has broken the all-time runs scored record (previously held by Ty Cobb with 2,245) with his 2,246th. However, on the MLB.com stats page, Cobb is credited with 2,246 runs. ESPN.com, baseball1.com, and baseball-almanac.com all list Cobb with 2,246. What's the correct total? Did Henderson break the record or tie it with 2,246?

    There also seem to be several different reports of Cobb's batting average and career hit total on the different sites. MLB.com and baseball-almanac.com both credit him with 4,189 hits and a .366 average. Did Pete Rose break Cobb's record with 4,192, or did he actually set the record in an earlier game with hit 4,190?

    Marty Sheehan
    Wilmington, Del.

It all depends on whether you want the truth or the stamp of "official." Many early baseball records were kept by hand and, not surprisingly, contained errors. Researchers continue to pore over box scores, daily logs and play-by-play accounts to find and correct mistakes. According to the excellent website www.baseball-reference.com, in the first game of a July 12, 1912 doubleheader, Cobb scored a run that erroneously was entered in his hit column. Most sources have corrected that mistake, giving Cobb a run (that gives him 2,246 for his career) and taking away a hit.

However, Elias, the official statistician of Major League Baseball, basically requires an act of God to revise historical totals. So while MLB obviously buys the stats from its website from someone other than Elias, it recognizes 2,245 as Cobb's total and celebrated Henderson when he got to 2,246. But the simple truth is that Henderson didn't set the record with a homer off Luke Prokopec on Oct. 4. He got run No. 2,247, the real record-breaker, when he doubled and scored on a Phil Nevin grand slam in the first inning on Oct. 6.

It's a similar situation with Cobb's hit total. In recent years, he has gained a hit in 1906, lost two in 1910 (a two-hit performance was double-counted, which may or may not have been a deliberate attempt by the American League to counteract some shenanigans that allowed Nap Lajoie to get seven bunt hits in a season-ending doubleheader, giving Lajoie the batting title) and lost a hit in 1912 (as detailed above). His correct total at the moment is 4,189. So Rose didn't really surpass Cobb with No. 4,192, though he did as far as MLB is concerned. Just don't look at the numbers on their website.

Stats shouldn't be revised haphazardly, but when mistakes can be documented and changed, they should be.

October 5, 2001

Will someone please explain what the Astros are thinking? They pitched around Barry Bonds so much that it basically cost them the final two games of their three-game series. Yes, Bonds is having one of the four or five best offensive seasons ever—Mark McGwire's 1998 isn't even close—but it makes no sense to keep walking him with multiple runners on base. They didn't have to throw him fastballs down the middle, but why not see if he'll chase something a little off the plate? And an intentional walk in a game they trailed 8-1? That's just gutless. As much as I like a lot of people associated with the Astros, they'll get what they deserve if the Giants somehow knock them out of the playoffs.

Those Top 20-related questions keep pouring in, so we'll answer six more today. Thanks to Will Lingo (Pacific Coast), Andrew Linker (Eastern), Michael Point (Texas), Gene Sapakoff (South Atlantic) and Allan Simpson (Gulf Coast) for providing feedback from the leagues they covered.

    Given his solid, respectable year and his high draft status, I'm surprised that Justin Wayne didn't make the Top 20 in either the Florida State League or the Eastern League. Does he just not throw hard enough? BA draft reports last year didn't represent Wayne as a flamethrower, but they didn't dismiss him as a soft tosser either. What's the story?

    Josh Logan
    Moline, Ill.

The FSL answer is easy. We require that starters have at least one-third of an inning per team game to qualify for our Top 20 lists, and Wayne fell short while with Jupiter. In the EL, he just didn't overwhelm anyone with his stuff, though he did go 9-2, 2.62 with 70 strikeouts in 93 innings. He has command of four pitches but none of the managers or scouts was overwhelmed by his stuff. His fastball is solid average and nothing more, though it does have good life. Wayne is a legitimate prospect, but part of the reason he went fifth overall in the 2000 draft was that the Expos thought they had a prearranged deal to sign him for below market value for that draft slot, only to wind up giving him a club-record $2.95 million.

The thing that immediately jumps to mind for me about Wayne is not that he gave up the game-winning hit in the 2000 College World Series, but that he showed up for the press conference afterward. He was obviously upset, but he answered several questions until all of us reporters were done with him. That, my friends, is class.

    I wanted to ask what you thought about Esteban German, a second baseman in the Oakland organization. His numbers between Double-A and Triple-A at age 22 (119 runs, 10 homers, 48 steals, .427 on-base percentage, .443 slugging percentage) seem to warrant notice, though I've never have seen him mentioned in chats or on prospect lists. With Johnny Damon's impending free agency and Frank Menechino's average production (though he is my favorite Athletic), will Oakland look at German for their second base/leadoff spot next year? Is his glove major league caliber?

    Rob Small
    La Jolla, Calif.

    I was a little surprised not to see Esteban German at the end of Top 20 lists in either the Texas League or the Pacific Coast League. A relatively young prospect with seemingly good on-base skills for a middle infielder, German put up some off-the-chart secondary stats for a leadoff hitter. Does he have a shaky glove? Because otherwise it would seem to me that with the trade of Jose Ortiz and lingering questions as to whether Johnny Damon ever will be a decent leadoff option again (not to mention how long he might be in Oakland), German might get a shot to win the second base/leadoff job sometime in 2002. Your thoughts?

    Jack Thomas
    San Francisco

These aren't the first questions Ask BA has received about German, who finished third in the minors with 83 steals (in just 94 attempts) while showing fine leadoff skills in 2000—and still didn't crack the A's Top 30 in our Prospect Handbook. German was solid in the TL, though Midland did boost his average (he hit .309 there compared to .256 on the road and .284 overall). He's not big and he's more quick than blazing fast, and TL managers regarded him in the same class as guys like Willie Bloomquist, Nelson Castro and David Matranga. German was sizzling in the PCL, but his tools weren't enough to get him on a 20-man list in a 16-team league. Defensively, he's more steady than spectacular.

My guess is that Oakland will let German percolate in Triple-A for most of next year. It wouldn't surprise me if they found a way to sign Damon. Menechino has put up very solid on-base numbers for the A's this season, so German won't just grab the job away from him. But it's conceivable that when Menechino becomes eligible for arbitration that Oakland would look to German, a cheaper alternative. He's exactly the type of prospect that is underrated while in the minors yet sometimes surfaces to have a decent big league career.

    I was disappointed that Eric Munson didn't make the Top 20 in the Eastern League. Could you please explain what the managers said about him and why he wasn't in the Top 20?

    Kelly Uganski
    Muskegon, Mich.

The EL was one of the deepest leagues in terms of prospects this year. In fact, all the Double-A leagues were strong across the board, with the Southern the most impressive in all the minors. But I digress. Munson hit .260-26-102 with 35 doubles, 84 walks, 141 strikeouts and an .853 OPS. His biggest negatives were his strikeouts, an August slump and a lack of effectiveness against lefthanded pitching. The tool that got Munson drafted third overall in 1999 and will have to carry him is his power, and managers liked the power of Erie catcher Mike Rivera and Binghamton outfielder Robert Stratton better. Personally, I'd take him over Stratton and would have put him on the Top 20, but people who saw the EL on a regular basis disagreed.

    I was wondering why Kyle Davies is consistently one of the best players for his age (see Baseball For The Ages from 1998-2001), yet he didn't make the Gulf Coast League Top 20. He was among the league leaders in most categories and even received a promotion to Macon, where he pitched very well.

    Keith Grunewald
    Atlanta

We did name Davies the top 14-year-old player in 1998 and the best 15-year-old in 1999, and he has received honorable mention in his age groups the last two years. Of the four GCL Eastern Division managers who saw him, two liked him while two were lukewarm. Allan Simpson had him tagged as the 12th-best prospect in his division. Davies was very polished and showed command of three pitches, but he didn't have plus velocity and there were concerns about his frame and long-term durability.

    Please share your thoughts on Brandon Berger, regarding how somebody who hits 40 homers can't make the Texas League Top 20. What is your opinion of him as a prospect? He seems to have come out of nowhere and he's had limited success in his short stint with the Royals. We know he can hit Mark Buerhle so far. Can he beat out Mark Quinn for left field next season?

    Jim Schubert
    Wauwatosa, Wis.

Let me count the ways. Berger is 26. He needed three full seasons to get out of the high Class A Carolina League. His previous career high for homers was 18, and such sudden power surges often are met more with suspicion than admiration. His numbers were boosted by Wichita's park, where he hit .325-24-56 in 56 games. He's not much of an outfielder or runner. Not a single TL manager mentioned Berger as a prospect. He's pretty much a DH type who could fit in the majors as a bench player but doesn't project as anything more, though he has had his moments since his September callup.

    Just curious: How come Jason Botts didn't make the Top 20 list in the South Atlantic League. Was there fear that he's going to be another Jon Tucker?

    Hugh O'Reilly
    Toronto

Botts got a little mention but not enough to make the Top 20. His best tool is his power, though Savannah's ballpark helped mask it, as it did to Hank Blalock in 2000. Botts hit just one of his nine homers at home. He really has taken to switch-hitting and has a good eye at the plate. He has split time between first base and the outfield, though with Carlos Pena around he'll have to improve at the latter position. I hadn't seen a Jon Tucker reference in a while, and I think Botts has a brighter future than that.

October 2, 2001

I don't know if I've ever been as interested in the final week of the season and at the same time wanted it to end. I guess the latter feeling springs from being a Red Sox fan and just not wanting to be embarrassed any longer. Every time I think the Sox can't seem even more petty, Ugueth Urbina plays his music too loud on a team charter and prompts a shouting match. What an abomination. I defended GM Dan Duquette's record in terms of acquiring talent earlier this summer, but his overall performance can't be tolerated. No organization treats people worse, and it's coming back to haunt them.

At least there's plenty of significant distractions to help me avert my eyes. Barry Bonds' pursuit of 70 home runs is enthralling, but I'm almost more interested in seeing if he can break Babe Ruth's slugging percentage mark of .847 and post a .500 on-base percentage. How anyone can argue that he's not the best or most valuable player in baseball this season is beyond me. Randy Johnson has a very real chance of topping Nolan Ryan's single-season record of 383 strikeouts, which is the sexiest single-season pitching record. I think he'll get it. I could see him getting 12 whiffs tonight against the Rockies, leaving him six away from passing Ryan, and he easily could get six or more in five innings against the free-swinging Brewers on Sunday. Beyond Bonds and Johnson, we also have such story lines as whether Rickey Henderson can add a couple of more personal milestones, Albie Lopez can lose 20 games or Frank Catalanotto can win a batting title. And, of course, the race to settle the playoff positions in the National League.

Before we answer some more league Top 20 Prospects-related questions, a few pointers on getting a response. One, using profanity or resorting to personal insults isn't going to win you any friends. Believe it or not, the decision not to rank your favorite player wasn't the result of a grudge. Two, please include your full name and hometown. We ask for that at the top of this webpage, but many people forget to include that information in full. And three, please understand that we can't possibly answer all of the questions we get. We'd like to, but it would be a full-time job. It's fine to resubmit a question, but don't get uppity because you believe you're being ignored.

Several good Top 20 questions have been filling the Ask BA mailbag, so we'll answer more than our usual four today. Keep them coming.

    I was just wondering why Brett Myers wasn't listed in the Eastern League Top 20 and why Carlos Silva was? Is it because of Myers' midseason slump?

    Brandon Kochkodin
    Minersville, Pa.

    I was wondering what happened to Brett Myers on the EL Top 20 list. I realize he didn't have a Josh Beckett-type year, but he came into the season ranked in the top half of the BA Top 100, had a 130-43 strikeout-walk ratio and almost a strikeout per inning—as one of the younger pitchers in the league—and he skipped a level. I would have thought he could beat out his teammate, Carlos Silva, who had similar stats and is 1½ years older. Heck, Myers was listed on your possible Player of the Year Watch for a good part of the season. Oversight or overrated?

    Jim South
    Arlington, Va.

    Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa! Are you serious? No Brett Myers in the Top 20 list for the Eastern League? I'd love to know what EL managers said to keep him off the list instead of guys like Luis Pineda and soft-toss master John Stephens. Take away Myers's midseason slump and you've got a guy who dominated the league with his mid-90s fastball and plus slider.

    Mike Ludka
    Clarks Summit, Pa.

    How in the world can Brett Myers be left off of the Eastern League's Top 20 list? I'm guessing it's a mistake. Either that, or there wasn't a manager willing to say anything nice about him because he's such an arrogant you-know-what. But as far as a prospect, he's Top 10 in that league without a doubt. You have Juan Rincon at No. 9. Are you trying to tell me Rincon's a better prospect than Myers? That's ridiculous. Myers, the 12th overall pick in the 1999 draft, consistently throws 93-94 mph and has a nasty breaking ball. He'll be 21 and pitching in Triple-A and probably Philadelphia next year. Am I missing something?

    Jeffrey Zampanti
    Kenosha, Wis.

Since I've started writing this column, I've never received as many questions about a single subject as I did about why Myers didn't make the Eastern League Top 20. I contacted our EL writer, Andrew Linker, and he said there just wasn't widespread support for Myers. His own manager, Gary Varsho, loved Myers, and one scout liked him, but overall there weren't any big Myers proponents. Most observers didn't see him throw in the low to mid-90s or flash a tough breaking ball. From a pure radar-gun standpoint, the most intriguing pitcher on Reading was probably Franklin Nunez.

Myers had a lot of success at the beginning and end of the season, and struggled in between. He opened 2001 with nine straight quality starts, going 5-1, 2.57 with 50 strikeouts in 56 innings. Then he slumped over his next nine outings, going 3-3, 6.71 with 32 whiffs in 51 frames. And he finished strong, going 6-0, 2.39 with 48 strikeouts in 49 innings during his final eight appearances. He did do particularly well in multiple outings against Altoona, Akron and Erie, so it's possible that he didn't impress the managers on the majority of the other clubs. As an outsider just looking at the stats and knowing what I know about the players, I would have put him on my EL Top 20. But those who got a closer look just weren't as impressed.

    All right, what do you have against Mariners second-base prospects? Roman Cordova leads the Arizona League in hitting at .352 as a 16-year-old and he can't make the Top 20 in a seven-team league? Pedro Liriano hits .326 and steals 65 bases as a 19-year-old in the Midwest League and doesn't make the Top 20?

    Mike Mitchel
    Puyallup, Wash.

Cordova surprisingly didn't draw much mention in the Arizona League, according to Allan Simpson. His bat couldn't be denied, but he's very rough as a second baseman and is going to have to find a position. I also suspect that there was some skepticism about Cordova's age, which is almost a given when a young Latin player has a lot of success. As for Liriano, I did the Midwest League and the consensus was that he's a fine player and a prospect, but his tools aren't as pretty as his stats. He doesn't walk much or have much power, and isn't as quick as his gaudy steals total would indicate. Defensively, he's improving but still has a ways to go. Both of these guys are worth watching but weren't good enough for their league Top 20s.

    Here I go again on Cubs prospects: First, I'm really not sure how Juan Cruz is only No. 7 on the Southern League list. I feel he's got a better chance at long-term success than any of the pitchers ahead of him. Nick Neugebauer never had command before this year, while Joe Kennedy and Dennis Tankersley were surprises. But Cruz was a proven prospect and lived up to and beyond expectations. He's now dominating in the majors at only 20 years old. Please help me understand where he lacks compared to the other guys.
    Also, what is lacking in Steve Smyth's game that he's never talked about as a future major league starter? He always has been successful in college and the minors. Why isn't he seen as the lefty the Cubs have needed—and will need next year?

    Dave King
    Flagstaff, Ariz.

My infatuation with Cruz has been well-documented. I'd take him over Kennedy, Neugebauer and Tankersley, but all four are top-drawer pitching prospects and the other three guys outpitched Cruz in the Southern League. Kennedy, for instance had a 0.19 ERA and a 52-3 strikeout-walk ratio in 47 innings. It's not hard to fathom why managers preferred him over Cruz.

I share your opinion on Smyth. He lacks a dominant pitch but does just fine with a low-90s fastball, a cutter, slider and changeup. This year, he went 9-3, 2.54 with nine homers allowed and a 93-40 strikeout-walk ratio in 120 Double-A innings. I think part of the problem is that he's in an organization jammed with pitching depth. I can't see how, in the long term, he'll muscle his way into Chicago's rotation. He could be a very good middle reliever or lefthanded specialist for the Cubs if they don't trade him.

    I was looking at your Carolina League Top 20 list and Garrett Atkins wasn't on there. How come? This guy hits and hits and hits, and there's no reason to expect him not to hit more homers in the future when he gets stronger and learns to pull the ball.

    David Lehman
    Fountain, Colo.

I think managers just want to see more power out of Atkins. He did hit .325 with 43 doubles, but he cracked just five homers despite playing in one of the best hitter's parks in the league. He also hit .371 at home and .280 on the road, so there could have been a feeling that he was partly a creation of his park—which is good practice for being a Rockie. I'd say keep an eye on Atkins, but he's going to have to do significantly better than five homers a year.

    Where would Ricky Nolasco and Jae-kuk Ryu have fit into the Top 20 for the Arizona League, and what is the general opinion and scouting reports on these two? I'm assuming Ryu is regarded as having the higher ceiling, but both seem like legitimately good pitching prospects. Also, what do you make of Andy Sisco? He seems to be a big-time project.

    Mark Roberts
    Richmond

Neither Ryu nor Nolasco pitched enough innings to qualify for the list. Allan Simpson said that before he took out the nonqualifiers, Ryu ranked 10th and Nolasco 14th. Ryu showed three plus pitches: a breaking ball that's his best offering, plus a fastball and splitter. He was very poised and threw strikes at will with very sound mechanics. Nolasco also had a plus-plus breaking ball to go with a 90-91 mph fastball, and he had an advanced knowledge of how to pitch for a high school kid. Sisco is a project, but 6-foot-10 lefthanders don't come around very often.

    I'm curious as to how close Justin Gillman came to making your Top 20 list for the Gulf Coast League. He was the Reds' second-round pick this June. Fresh out of high school, he posted a 1.75 ERA in 36 innings, allowing only 19 hits and 11 walks while striking out 38. When the GCL season ended, the Reds promoted him to Billings, where he made one appearance and threw six no-hit innings. Then the Reds bumped him to Dayton for their postseason. I'm guessing he will start next year in Class A and could finish the season in Double-A.

    Erick Metzger
    Reynoldsburg, Ohio

Let's go back to Allan Simpson yet again. Allan said that Gillman just missed making the list. He was the No. 9 prospect in the Western Division. Reds outfielder Elvin Andujar was No. 7 in that division and No. 20 on the overall list. Gillman showed a solid fastball and above-average command of his curveball. He's projectable and mature for his age.

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