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By Jim Callis
August 30, 2002
I'm quite thankful that it came to an end todayall the rhetoric surrounding the labor negotiations, that is, rather than the negotiations themselves. I have yet to see a quote trumpeting a new era of increased competitiveness in baseball, but if/when I do, I'll laugh. Smaller-revenue franchises aren't required to put revenue-sharing money back into their teams, and the owners never will be able to bargain away the incompetent manner in which several of the perpetually downtrodden clubs are run.
Do you have any insight on Elizardo Ramirez? His numbers are extremely impressive. Is he legit? What is in his arsenal?
Port St. Lucie, Fla.
Ramirez might have the best line of stats in the minors this year. Counting his playoff start, he went 8-1, 1.01 and allowed just 47 hits in 80 innings. And his most impressive number is his unbelievable strikeout-walk ratio: 76-2. Yes, 76-2. Counting his two seasons in the Rookie-level Dominican Summer League, the 19-year-old righthander has gone 22-3, 1.41 with a 203-15 K-BB ratio in 217 innings.
Ramirez is a legitimate prospect, but it's too early to put him in the same class as Myers or Floyd. He doesn't have nearly their kind of stuff. Somewhat frail at 6 feet and 150 pounds, Ramirez' best pitch right now is his changeup. He also has an average curveball and fastball, the latter of which usually sits at 88-90 mph. He has exceptional command of all his stuff, and in Rookie ball anyone who can throw more than one pitch consistently for strikes usually will succeed. GCL managers also have praised his mound presence.
Because he redshirted in his first year at Clemson, Johnson will be a fifth-year senior in 2003. That allows the Padres to control his rights until a week before next year's draft, much as if Johnson were attending a junior college. However, with the college playoffs getting expanded and pushed back further into the summer in recent years, the chances are good that Johnson and the Tigers will be playing in the NCAA regionals by the time the closed period before the 2003 draft begins, in which case San Diego wouldn't get another chance to sign him.
I wouldn't say that the Padres continually fail to sign high draft picks though. From 1997-2001, the average club didn't land three of its selections in the first five rounds. San Diego fell short with four, which isn't a huge difference. Of those four playersTim Hummel (fifth round, 1997), Beau Craig (third, 1998), Alberto Concepcion (second, 1999) and Matt Harrington (second, 2001)Hummel is the best prospect and he's neither a can't-miss guy nor is he having a good year in Triple-A. I don't think losing out on those four players will come back to haunt the Padres.
That doesn't mean that Johnson wasn't worth slot money for the middle of the second round, which would have been in the neighborhood of $700,000. He hit .384-25-81 for Clemson this spring, and scouts liked the quickness and loft in his swing. He had a nice approach as a hitter, using the whole field and showing the ability to make adjustments. He also has enough athletic ability to make moving from first base to the outfield a possibility.
As for Bud Selig's million-dollar gag order, I'm just shocked, shocked that the commissioner has said something that didn't come to pass. How atypical.
In a recent Ask BA, you mentioned that Drew Henson might not be ready to play in New York next year. What about not-so-highly-touted Andy Phillips? I know he is not in the Yankees Top 10 (yet), but he has played very well this year. What are the Yankees' thoughts on him?
Can you tell me why Andy Phillips has not gotten any recognition this year? Between Double-A and Triple-A he has 28 homers and 85 RBI. He's only 25.
Phillips has had a big season between Norwich and Columbus, and he may even make the Yankees Top 10 Prospects list in the offseason. A seventh-round pick in 1999 out of the University of Alabama, he batted .293-37-184 in 324 games over his first three pro seasons. That was a decent performance, but not enough to make him a hot commodity.
He has the same kind of build as Kent (6 feet, 205 pounds), but Kent was hitting .270-21-80 as a big league regular at the same age. Phillips' numbers in Triple-A (.263-9-34, .767 on-base plus slugging percentage in 48 games) have paled compared to what he did in Double-A (.305-19-51, .999 OPS in 73 games), so he still has some developing to do. He'd be a longshot to help the Yankees before next year's all-star break. Phillips is adequate defensively, and he projects as more of a versatile sub as second base, third base and the outfield than as a frontline big leaguer.
August 27, 2002
Tom Hicks may have bid the price up on Alex Rodriguez much more than he had to, but there's no denying that A-Rod is having his second straight tremendous season for the Rangers. He may not win the American League MVP because of some writers will hold his team's last-place finish against him, but there's no doubt he's the best player in baseball (factoring his position) and could be for a while.
What's interesting is that there's been no talk about Rodriguez' chances of becoming the first triple crown winner since 1967. He already leads the majors in homers (46) and RBI (114) and ranks fifth in the AL in hitting at .318. He probably won't overtake Mike Sweeney (.352), Bernie Williams (.345) or Ichiro (.342) for the batting title, but it is an outside possibility if the season doesn't end on Thursday.
As BA editor/draft guru Allan Simpson reported last week, the Orioles are in a standoff with No. 4 overall pick last week and signed Shafer and Majewski for undisclosed bonuses well below their draft slots. (Click here to see that story.) Shafer's slot as the 45th pick would be roughly $850,000, while Majewski's at 76th would be approximately $475,000.
This isn't anything new for Baltimore. Just last year, the Orioles signed No. 7 overall pick Chris Smith to a predraft deal worth a below-slot $2.175 million. They also gave No. 19 choice Mike Fontenot a take-it-or-leave-it $1.3 million offer that he eventually accepted after holding out all summer.
I'm of two minds about this. One is that it's amazing that it took teams so long to figure out that they have as much bargaining power as their draftees. Almost every player taken in the early rounds has expressed a desire to turn pro, or else they wouldn't have been selected where they were. With that in mind, there's nothing wrong with a club offering whatever it thinks is fair and letting the player decide whether to take it. If the player threatens to attend or return to college, in many cases that will be an empty threat. Though he wasn't cheap at $4.2 million last year, the Phillies called No. 4 overall pick Gavin Floyd's bluff and refused to give him a major league contract or Joe Mauer money ($5.15 million). More clubs may wise up and follow Baltimore and Philadelphia's lead.
On the other hand, it smacks as more than a little hypocritical to me that Major League Baseball tries to preside over draft bonuses with a heavy hand. MLB determines what each slot in the early rounds should be worth and then rips into clubs that exceed those amounts (though it can't do any punitive damage). So if MLB says that the No. 45 slot is $850,000 and Shafer gets offered less by the Orioles, he loses financially because he was taken by Baltimore. It's certainly within the Orioles' rights to offer less and stick to it. But if a club asks a player before the draft if he would sign for slot moneyand both sides know the ballpark amount that's being discussedthen lowballs him later, that's not right. To clarify, I'm not suggesting that Baltimore did this.
As for McCormick, when he fell to the 11th round it was practically a given that he wouldn't sign. The Orioles weren't a likely candidate to capitulate to the McCormick/Scott Boras camp's wishes for upper-first-round money. McCormick had one of the best arms in the draft, having touched 98 mph and rarely dropping below 92 during the spring. That made him worth a flier, to see if he'd sign for a lesser price rather than attend Baylor. But he's also far from a sure thing, because scouts had serious concerns about his control of his emotions, his lack of a quality second pitch and his less-than-smooth arm action. The consensus going into the draft was that he wasn't worth the bonus he wanted.
Felix Pie is tearing the Arizona League up and he's only 17. Is he a legitimate Top 100 prospect?
The Cubs not only do a good job of signing foreign talent, they also recognize the cream of their crop. Farm director Oneri Fleita, who used to head the club's Latin American scouting operation, told me last winter that the best two players Chicago had recently signed out of that area were Pie, a center fielder from the Dominican Republic, and Jose Martinez, a lefty from Venezuela. Fleita described Pie as an athletic player with plus speed and arm strength, as well as an advanced feel for hitting from the left side of the plate.
Pie has lived up to that billing in the Arizona League, where he's batting .330-4-37 with 17 steals in 52 games. He leads the AZL in runs (42), hits (70), triples (13), slugging percentage (.585) and extra-base hits (33). When Allan Simpson finalizes his Arizona League Top 20 Prospects list, it wouldn't surprise me if Pie ranked No. 1. Whether Pie will claim a place among our overall 2003 Top 100 Prospects is another question. It seems a bit early for me, and not many Rookie-level players make it on there.
BA's Canadian guru is Michael Levesque, who also serves as our Expos correspondent (which is reason enough not to contract Montreal). Michael attended the World Junior Championships in Sherbrooke, Quebec, earlier this month. Bowman hit .395 and led his team with four homers and 17 RBI as Canada finished fourth. Here's what Michael saw:
Bowman looked good at the plate, displaying a quick bat with above-average power potential to go along with above-average arm strength. I think he'll hit, but I want to see him do it against better pitching. He seemed to struggle a bit against the better pitching (Cuba, Team USA). He's fairly athletic, but played poorly at shortstop after playing OK there at a tournament in Ottawa the weekend before.
Going into the draft, most clubs projected Bowman as more of a third baseman than a shortstop, and the Mets figure he'll play either at the hot corner or in left field.
As for the top Canadian-born prospects in the minors right now, here's my top 10. Thanks to Michael for pointing out that Blake Hawksworth and Jesse Crain qualify, because I initially overlooked them. I have not included Loewen because he has yet to sign with Baltimore.
1. Justin Morneau, 1b, Twins
2. Jeff Francis, lhp, Rockies
3. Rich Harden, rhp, Athletics
4. Blake Hawksworth, rhp, Cardinals
5. Erik Bedard, lhp, Orioles
6. Eric Cyr, lhp, Padres
7. Scott Thorman, 1b, Braves
8. Jesse Crain, rhp, Twins
9. Vince Perkins, rhp, Blue Jays
10. Shawn Hill, rhp, Expos
August 23, 2002
When did Sports Illustrated start pandering to the lowest common denominator? Their latest issue included a fan poll about the possible baseball strike, which runs under the title, "Baseball Beware." SI breathlessly reports that 75 percent of fans haven't forgiven baseball for the 1994 strike; 73 percent believe a 2002 strike will extend through the postseason; and 66 percent will lose all interest in the game if this year's playoffs are wiped out.
To which I respond, in order:
A whole lot of people must have forgiven baseball, because even Bud Selig will admit that MLB generated more than $3.5 billion in revenue last year. Most of that comes from the public, either directly (tickets, concessions, parking, licensed products) or indirectly (broadcast and advertising rights purchased because of the number of people who will be watching or listening to games).
Who cares how long fans think the strike will last? Because none of them has any clue. Members of the media, including those who cover the labor negotiations in far greater detail than I do, have flip-flopped all summer on what they think may happen.
There's always a lot of hand-wringing over how baseball will shrivel up and die if there's another labor Armageddon. Yes, baseball is skewing older and has fallen behind football in terms of popularity, and the game will lose some fans if there's a lengthy work stoppage. Even if the game hemorrhages $1 billion annually in revenueswhich it won'tthat still leaves $2.5 billion, or roughly $93 million per club. (Before you ask, I know the revenue isn't split equally.)
All a poll like this does is reveal the general opinion that fans don't want to put up with another work stoppage in baseball. That's a shocking scoop.
Here's a question SI should have asked, preferably of the owners: Do you think the players would be threatening to strike if the owners agreed not to implement a system of their choosing in the offseason? The players are far from impoverished, but if a new deal isn't reached during the season, the owners will hold all the leverage. Why should the players take the chance that the National Labor Relations Board might uphold the owners' claims that an impasse has been reached?
Shifting gears for a moment, Elliot Legow points out that I goofed on Johnny Peralta's statistics through July 1 when discussing him last time. He actually was hitting .270-7-32 then, and I mistakenly printed his June 1 totals.
You have nothing to worry about. Among the instructions provided to the teams by the commissioner's office on Monday, which were obtained by the Associated Press, was this:
Can the union direct option players to strike? Yes. All 40-man roster players are in the MLBPA bargaining unit. That means that the MLBPA could direct the option players, as members of the bargaining unit, to honor its strike. The union has not done so in the past, however, and it is not likely to do so this time.
If the players do go on strike, they're going to bear the brunt of the public-relations hit. There would be nothing to gain from changing tactics and affecting several minor league postseasons. Also, players on 40-man rosters should participate in the Arizona Fall League as previously planned.
Wallins Creek, Ky.
Both Bankston and Ramirez are having fabulous seasons. Bankston, 18, was a fourth-round pick in June out of Plano (Texas) East High, where he also played quarterback. Scouts considered him a fine athlete with an inconsistent swing, but his stroke has worked great in the Rookie-level Appalachian League. An outfielder, he has hit .304-18-57 in his first 57 games, leading the league in homers and RBI. His strike-zone discipline (17 walks, 44 strikeouts) is typical of a young player making his pro debut.
Ramirez, also 18, is making his U.S. debut after signing out of the Dominican Republic in 2000 and playing in the Rookie-level Dominican Summer League. He was sensational in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League, batting .341-6-26 in 45 games, and has been even better at short-season Lowell, where he has hit .477-1-10 through 10 contests. He also has walked (19) nearly as much as he has struck out (21) and has stolen 11 bases. Ramirez has solid shortstop tools as well.
Both are very exciting prospects at this point. Ramirez arguably is as good as anyone in Boston's thin system. I usually don't put a lot of stock in Rookie-level stats, because often the guys putting up big numbers are old for their leagues. That's obviously not the case with Bankston and Ramirez. They're both worth watching, though proving themselves in full-season ball in 2003 is their next big step.
How impressive are the numbers Brian Barden, the recent sixth-round pick of the Diamondbacks out of Oregon State, is putting up? After a few games in the short-season Northwest League, he has been tearing up the California League. What are his long-term prospects?
Hairston, 22, is one of the best second-base prospects in baseball. He was a third-round pick in 2001 from Central Arizona JC, where he won the state's junior college triple crown. Hairston is an offensive-minded player who uses the entire field and can drive the ball into the gaps. He's just adequate defensively right now and will have to work on his second-base skills. He still ranks second in the MWL in hitting (.332) and slugging (.563) and leads the league in on-base percentage (.563). The Cal League hasn't slowed him down, as he has batted .405-2-12 in his first eight games. Hairston also has good baseball bloodlines, as four of his relatives have played in the majors: grandfather Sam, father Jerry, uncle John and brother Jerry Jr.
Barden, who's 21, isn't imposing at 5-foot-11 and 190 pounds but has wreaked havoc on pro pitchers. He's hitting .338-8-43 in 55 games. If he had enough plate appearances to qualify, he'd be leading the Cal League in batting and would rank fourth in slugging (.526). He also has been solid at third base. Barden's 50-15 strikeout-walk ratio could be better and he's probably playing at least a little over his head. Predraft reports compared him more to David Bell than to a top-notch run producer. But he certainly has made a name for himself and bears watching.
August 20, 2002
Like anyone else who's connected with baseball, I get asked at least a half-dozen times each day if we're going to have a strike. I really don't know. I was more optimistic a week ago than I am now, though it still seems like a settlement can be reached before the players walk out. But saber-rattling comments from owners Peter Angelos, Tom Hicks and John Moores (as if they have a saber) aren't helping and have me wondering about Bud Selig's $1 million gag rules. Where are the fines?
If there is a strike on August 30, I still can't believe it will last more than 10 days. But as I mentioned last time, I never saw the nuclear winter of 1994 coming.
Halifax, Nova Scotia
Blalock entered this season ranked third on our Top 100 Prospects list, trailing only Josh Beckett and Mark Prior. Blalock initially was scheduled to get a taste of Triple-A this year but made the Rangers with a strong spring-training performance. He had hit throughout his professional career and was expected to continue doing so.
But after hitting .200-1-6 with an uncharacteristic 33-12 strikeout-walk ratio in 32 games, he was sent to Triple-A. Once he arrived in Oklahoma, he immediately began hitting like his old self, putting up .352-2-20 totals along with 10 doubles, six walks and just five strikeouts in 23 games.
However, while Blalock was raking his elbow was bothering him. Doctors discovered a fracture on the tip of his right elbow, the result of an old injury. He went on the disabled list for 10 days, and while he resumed playing in mid-June he hasn't hit as well since, just .279-4-32 over 59 games, and his plate discipline (23 walks, 45 strikeouts) has suffered as well.
It doesn't look like Blalock is 100 percent, though his performance still is solid for a 21-year-old in Triple-A for the first time. He also has made four starts at second base, as the Rangers look for ways to eventually get him and Mark Teixeira into the big league lineup at the same time. (I still think Blalock will be at third base and Teixeira at first.)
Blalock is still one of the top five hitters in the minor leagues and arguably the best. When he gets totally healthy and receives a second chance at the major leagues, he'll hit and be an all-star for years to come.
East Brunswick, N.J.
It hasn't been a banner year for our Yankees Top 10 Prospects list coming into the season. Henson, who ranked No. 1, is struggling mightily in Triple-A (.243-14-56 with 134 strikeouts and 32 walks in 115 games) and isn't convincing anyone that he'll be ready to play in New York next year, as had been hoped. No. 2 Nick Johnson is having a passable rookie year but hasn't hit quite like expected.
Nos. 3 (Brandon Claussen), 5 (Juan Rivera) and 6 (Sean Henn) have been sidetracked by injuries. Nos. 4 (John-Ford Griffin) and 9 (Jason Arnold) went to Oakland in the Jeff Weaver trade. Nos. 7 (Marcus Thames) and 8 (Erick Almonte) have been more disappointing than Henson. No. 10? Bronson Sardinha hit OK in low Class A before being demoted to short-season ball to convert to the outfield.
We ranked the Yankees system fifth overall, and if we were to assess all the organizations again today New York would fall at least 10 spots. The Yankees no longer appear well-stocked at the upper levels of the minors, and they've had more guys take a downturn than they have had emerge. The best prospect in the their system is Rivera, who has just come back from a fractured kneecap. The group right behind him includes Claussen (who's recovering from Tommy John surgery), Henson and Sardinha, as well as breakout pitchers Danny Borrell and Julio DePaula.
All this isn't very encouraging, though the Yankees have the money and intelligence to fix the problem. And all those World Series titles are nice to fall back on.
Just two years ago, New York was in a similar situation. Of the players on its 2000 Top 10, only Randy Keisler had a solid season. Johnson, D'Angelo Jimenez and Todd Noel got hurt; Alfonso Soriano and Wily Mo Pena had rough years; and Henson, Jackson Melian, Ed Yarnall and Jake Westbrook were traded. But the Yankees system didn't grow fallow and the major league team didn't stop winning or finding appealing prospects to use in deals.
I wouldn't say we ignore Peralta. He ranked 19th on our Indians Top 30 list in each of our first two Prospect Handbooks despite hitting .241 and then .240 in Class A. I left Peralta off my revised midseason Cleveland Top 15 in the July 2 Ask BA, at which point Cleveland had just added four prospects in the Russell Branyan and Bartolo Colon dealsand Peralta was hitting .245-4-21 through 49 games.
Peralta has heated up since then and projects as a shortstop who could hit .275 with 15 homers. He doesn't have an abundance of speed, though he has the arm to stay at short. With Omar Vizquel and Brandon Phillips on hand as the likely double-play combination of the near future, not to mention the two years remaining on Ricky Gutierrez' contract, Peralta will find it difficult to claim a starting job in Cleveland unless he hits enough to play at the hot corner.
My respect for Peralta is growing, but I'd like to see him continue to hit for more than a month and a half. I'm not so sure I'd include him on my Top 15 if I revised it now, if only because the Indians have traded for Covelli Crisp, Francisco Cruceta, Luis Garcia and Ricardo Rodriguez, so the competition has gotten even tougher. Outside of the injured Alex Escobar and maybe Fernando Cabrera, there aren't any obvious choices to take off my last Top 15. Corey Smith isn't hitting, but I wouldn't drop him completely off the list.
August 16, 2002
I'll admit I'm much more an advocate of the players than the owners. But even if I weren't, it seems fairly obvious that the players have made a bigger concession by agreeing to the concept of a luxury tax (for which the owners are giving them nothing in return) than the owners have in increasing the threshold from $98 million to $102 million. And don't kid yourself when MLB lawyer Rob Manfred refers to this as a "competitive balance tax." It's the closest thing to a salary cap that the owners can hope to achieve, and it's not going to turn the Yankees into the Royals or the Royals into the Yankees.
Though a strike date has been set for August 30, I'm still fairly optimistic that we'll either have no strike or a very short one. I think an actual date was selected more to spur a settlement than to lay the groundwork for a long, bitter walkout. Of course, in 1994, I never thought the World Series would be cancelled.
Major League Baseball just released the complete rosters yesterday, and you can see them in full by clicking here. As for the best players, the AFL is loaded as usual, moreso with hitters than pitchers. Here's my view of what an all-star team of prospects would look like:
CJohn Buck, Mesa (Astros)
OK, I know I'm cheating a little bit by putting Jenks at relief pitcher when the Angels are using him as a starter. But I do think that's his long-term destination and there isn't a quality bullpen guy on an AFL roster.
Among the players who didn't make my cut are catcher Justin Huber (Phoenix/Mets); first basemen Adrian Gonzalez (Mesa/Marlins) and Justin Morneau (Phoenix/Twins); third basemen Corey Hart (Maryvale/Brewers), Drew Henson (Maryvale/Yankees) and Chad Tracy (Scottsdale/Diamondbacks); and outfielders John-Ford Griffin (Phoenix/Athletics), Choo Freeman (Mesa/Rockies), Xavier Nady (Peoria/Padres) and Wily Mo Pena (Scottsdale/Reds). I'll be looking forward to seeing a lot of them in action when I speak at the annual Fantasy Baseball Symposium in Phoenix in November.
The first bonus rule was instituted at the 1946 Winter Meetings. Players signed to big league contracts worth more than $6,000 couldn't be sent to a lower classification without being put on irrevocable waivers, and were subject to being drafted by another team if not protected on big league rosters at season's end. Similar restrictions were placed on players who exceeded bonus amounts at various levels of the minors, from $4,000 for Triple-A contracts to $800 for Class D or E deals.
The rule didn't deter teams from spending on amateur players. Thirty-eight bonus players were protected on major league rosters in 1949, and the Pirates made Paul Pettit the first $100,000 bonus baby in 1950. It also was believed that teams were signing players for more than the limits and underreporting the bonuses. As a result, the rule was abolished at the 1950 Winter Meetings.
A second bonus rule was enacted at the 1952 Winter Meetings, and applied to free agents with less than 90 days of pro experience. If they signed for more than one year or more than $4,000, they had to be kept on the major league roster for two years or exposed to irrevocable waivers.
As before, this did little to curb bonuses. In the first year of the rule, 13 players exceeded the limit. The woeful Pirates used four of their 25 roster spots for bonus babies while going 50-104. The price for signing amateurs continued to climb, and teams continued to find loopholes in the rules, not to mention just ignore them. The Orioles were reprimanded once and fined another time, but that did little to bring teams in line. At the 1957 Winter Meetings, clubs voted to repeal this version of the bonus rule.
An amateur draft was proposed for the first time at the 1959 Winter Meetings, but teams decided instead to take a third crack at bonus guidelines. The new limit was set at $12,000, and players who received more than that had to be protected on big league rosters. However, they could be farmed out the year after they signed under certain circumstances.
Once again, teams spent with abandon. In 1960, the Cubs signed Danny Murphy for a record $130,000, and in the first half of 1961 teams spent $5.23 million in bonuses. Baseball tried to tighten the rule at the 1961 Winter Meetings, dropping the bonus standard to $8,000, but also allowed all such players to be sent to the minors the season after they signed, with no restrictions.
Teams spent less money on amateur players, though the contraction of the minor leagues may have done more to cause that trend than the new rule. Six-figure bonuses were still common, and the idea of an amateur draft kept gaining more support but not enough to get instituted. At the 1963 Winter Meetings, the four recent expansion teams were allowed to farm out four bonus players immediately without keeping them on their major league roster for a year.
Dissatisfaction with the bonus rule was growing. Lesser teams couldn't afford to sign several bonus players, which would allow them to build up their talent base, because they would tie up too much roster space. In January 1964, owner voted unanimously for league presidents Joe Cronin and Warren Giles to submit a proposal for an amateur draft in August. That summer, the Angels signed Rick Reichardt for $205,000 (which wouldn't be topped until Andy Benes got $235,000 in 1988) and the Athletics spent $634,000 on 80 players. While there was some opposition to the proposed draft, centering on fears it would be scrutinized by the House Judiciary Committee, it passed 13-7 at the 1964 Winter Meetings and began in 1965.
Much of this information comes from "The Baseball Draft: The First 25 Years," the landmark book written by BA draft guru in 1990. Before I get flooded with questions, because I get them all the time, we are looking into updating the book sometime in the near future.
Why delve into the bonus rule when it has been gone for 38 years? I was speaking to a scouting director recently, and he suggested that the best way to take away the advantage the high-revenue teams have in signing amateur talent would be to dock them roster spots. If a team spends more than a certain amount, say $1 million, to sign a draft pick or a foreign amateur free agent, he would have to be kept on a 40-man roster immediately. A bonus rule isn't on the table in the Basic Agreement negotiations, but it might solve more problems than creating a worldwide draft or allowing teams to trade picks would.
McBride is from Sylvania, so Ben is perhaps a little biased, but he's not way off base here. First, let's take a quick look at the pertinent numbers for the four pitchers that he mentions:
"MB" is Missed Bats, just a quick shorthand stat I use that measures strikeouts minus (hits plus walks). I'd take Wainwright's season over the other three, but McBride isn't far behind him and has been doing a slightly better job than Floyd and VanBenschoten this year.
VanBenschoten was named the SAL's best pitching prospect in our annual Best Tools survey, while Floyd received some recent attention for throwing one no-hitter (which he lost) and flirting with another. While both were taken ahead of McBride in the first round of the 2001 draft, he's definitely in their class. He throws in the mid-90s despite being a 5-foot-11 lefthander, and he just needs to polish his secondary pitches and command. There are a lot of pitfalls awaiting pitchers between low Class A and the majors, but McBride's future looks bright. He's probably at least 2½ years away from the majors, but he's definitely in Atlanta's plans. Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz can't pitch forever.
August 13, 2002
No strike date yet? Great news. Now let's hope both sides can use that positive momentum to get a deal done before the players decide they have to set a deadline.
Hagerty has yet to give up an earned run in his first six professional starts, though he has surrendered nine unearned runs in 25 innings and thus has a 2-2 record. Opponents are batting just .180 against him and he has a 29-7 strikeout-walk ratio.
I thought Hagerty would go in the second half of the first round because there were a number of teams looking for college pitchers and he has so much upside. There aren't too many lefthanders who are 6-foot-8 and have thrown 93-94 mph. But Hagerty wasn't as aggressive and as dominant this spring at Ball State as scouts would have hoped, and his fastball wasn't as crisp as it had been in the Central Illinois Collegiate League the previous summer. His breaking ball also was inconsistent and he faded down the stretch, losing four of his last five decisions. All that combined to knock him down to 32nd overall, the first of three supplemental first-rounders for the Cubs. He signed for $1.15 million.
I wouldn't say Bullington overshadowed Hagerty and caused him to slide slightly in the draft. Bullington is more polished and should move more quickly through the minors, but scouts certainly took every opportunity to evaluate Hagerty. The Cubs have had all kinds of trouble developing lefthanded starters since Jamie Moyerand they didn't exactly get maximum value out of himand Hagerty may help reverse the trend.
Since signing a $4.8 million contract last August as the No. 3 overall pick in the 2001 draft, Brazelton has begun his pro career in relative anonymity, especially compared to the rest of the top five: Joe Mauer, Mark Prior, Gavin Floyd and Mark Teixeira.
Brazelton has spent this year at Double-A Orlando, going 3-8, 3.59 in 22 starts. His secondary numbers are OK but not outstanding: 123 innings, 114 hits, 59 walks, 94 strikeouts. Going from Middle Tennessee State to Double-A may have been pushing it, but he has handled the challenge. He has permitted just two earned runs in 20 innings over his last three starts.
Brazelton struggled at the beginning of the season after the Devil Rays asked him to reduce his full windup, but he has looked better since being allowed to use it again. He has pitched at 92-94 mph and reached 97 with his fastball, and his changeup is still a big league pitch. His biggest need is to refine a breaking ball, and his curve has been scrapped in favor of a slider.
We're working on ranking the best prospects in a variety of college summer leagues for our upcoming issue. I've been working on the Cape Cod League Top 30 list, while editor Allan Simpson and college guru John Manuel have been checking out the other circuits. John, who knows more about college ball than anyone, says the NECBL is on the rise and may be the third-best summer league, behind only Cape Cod and Alaska.
The four prospects getting mentioned the most in the NECBL are Danbury outfielder Jeff Frazier (Rutgers), Keene first baseman Trey Hendricks (Harvard) and Concord righthanders Chris Lambert (Boston College) and Grant Reynolds (Kennesaw State, Ga.). Hendricks and Frazier finished 2-3 in the batting race while grabbing a share of the home run crown. Frazier is a quality athlete who also went 18-for-18 stealing bases, while Hendricks is a strong 6-foot-4, 215-pounder who may take on an expanded pitching role with the Crimson next spring.
Lambert, the Big East Conference pitcher of the year as a freshman in 2002, has a mid-90s fastball and led the NECBL with 72 strikeouts in 46 innings. Reynolds, an Australian who wasn't drafted as a junior this year, used his low-90s fastball and nasty slider to set a league ERA record at 0.46.
August 9, 2002
Yes, I like Victor Martinez. In the wake of the last Ask BA, when I identified my top three hitting and top three pitching candidates for our Minor League Player of the Year award, I have received several emails touting players I didn't identify. Jesse Foppert is having a nice year and is a terrific prospect, but his 6-6 record works against him. Mark Prior? He made just nine minor league starts, which is far too few.
No one was the subject of more of these emails than Martinez, who's hitting .346-19-74 in 104 games at Double-A Akron in the Indians system. Martinez is somewhat rough defensively, but the only minor league catcher who's clearly a better prospect is the Twins' Joe Mauer. Still, I narrowed my list of hitting candidates down to three, and I don't think Martinez is quite in the class of Rocco Baldelli, Jose Reyes and Jason Stokes.
What do you think about the Gomes brothers in the Devil Rays organization? Joey had a breakout year as a senior at Santa Clara and is tearing up short-season ball. His younger brother Jonny has 26 bombs in 368 at-bats. Both strike out a bit, but what do you see as their future?
The Devil Rays recently drafted two brothers into their farm system, Jonny Gomes (2001) at high Class A Bakersfield and Joey Gomes (2002) at short-season Hudson Valley. Jonny led the Rookie-level Appalachian League in homers last year and both brothers are first in their league this year. What is the consensus on these two kids, and do they have the tools necessary to climb over solid outfield prospects ahead of them in the system?
How does Jonny Gomes project as a major leaguer? He's striking out at an astronomical rate at Bakersfield but everything else about his offensive game looks excellent. How is he defensively? You don't hear much about him, but the California League leader board looks like the "Jonny Gomes Show." Is this kid for real?
Not only do I receive a lot of Victor Martinez emails, but as you can see, the Gomes brothers are also a popular subject.
Jonny, 21, broke into pro ball first, signing as an 18th-round pick out of Santa Rosa (Calif.) CC in 2001. The Appy League MVP that summer, he's currently hitting .285-26-65 with 77 walks and 136 strikeouts in 111 games at Bakersfield. He leads the Cal League in runs (92), homers and slugging percentage (.595), and he's second in walks and on-base percentage (.446). He's striking out a lot, but he's also producing and getting on base, so it's not a huge concern at this point.
Joey, 22, was an eight-round pick in June out of Santa Clara, where he earned third-team All-America honors as a senior this spring. He has been lighting up New York-Penn League pitching in his debut, batting .290-12-33 with 14 walks and 34 whiffs in 49 games.
Not surprisingly, the scouting report on the Gomes brothers is quite similar. They're built the sameat 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds, Joey is an inch taller and five pounds heavier than Jonnyand have tremendous bat speed. Joey might have a little more raw power, while Jonny is a better outfielder and a little faster. Jonny is a plus straight-line runner, and his speed plays average on the diamond. Both Gomes project as left fielders.
Jonny and Joey are both legitimate prospects. But as bad as the Devil Rays are, if they're loaded in one area, it's outfielders. Besides Baldelli, Carl Crawford and star-crossed Josh Hamilton (all of whom rank ahead of the Gomes as prospects), Tampa Bay also drafted five-tool athletes Jason Pridie, Elijah Dukes and Wes Bankston in rounds two through four this year. Pridie and Bankston are having terrific debuts in the Appy League, while Dukes is expected to sign in the near future.
It was shocking to see David Kelton listed as the Southern League's top hitting prospect. With a .255 batting average, an on-base plus slugging percentage of .762 and 104 strikeouts in 411 at-bats, I just don't see it. Is the Southern League that weak? And what does this say for a player like Tom Nevers?
I think the overriding factor was the lack of competition for the award. Most of the hitters having the best statistical years in the Southern League are older, non-prospect types, including Nevers, who's 31 and was a first-round pick in the 1990 draft. He could win the triple crown and that still wouldn't make him a prospect.
I scanned the rosters for all 10 teams in the league, and using rather broad criteria, I came up with only four other candidates (age in parentheses), whom I'll list alphabetically:
Garrett Atkins, 3b, Carolina (22): .283-11-52, .781 OPS, 66 K in 438 AB
Garrett Atkins, 3b, Carolina (22): .283-11-52, .781 OPS, 66 K in 438 AB
While my choice would have been Freeman, he came into 2002 with a career average of .265 and little history of showing power or getting on base. Perhaps the managers held that track record against him. Considering his age (22) and the fact that West Tenn's Pringles Park is one of the tougher hitter's environments in the league, Kelton would have been my second choice, even though he's repeating the league after hitting .313-12-45 in 58 games there in 2001. It's just a down year for hitters in the Southern League.
In light of how well Wake Forest's Kyle Sleeth has been doing this summer for the national team, where do you see him going in the draft next year? If you could compare him to a current major league pitcher, who would it be?
Sleeth should go in the first half of the first round next year. He's still projectable at 6-foot-5 and 195 pounds, yet he already can hit 94 mph without looking like he's exerting any effort. Sleeth also has a plus slider and throws a curveball and changeup. He has gone 7-0, 1.23 in seven starts with Team USA, sharing ace honors with Houston's Brad Sullivan (6-0, 0.83 in six starts).
After going 14-0, 2.87 as a sophomore, Sleeth is a definite contender to win ACC player of the year next spring. But he'll face stiff competition from the likes of teammate Jamie D'Antona (a third baseman), Florida State shortstop Stephen Drew and Georgia Tech outfielder Matt Murton. BA college guru John Manuel, who has seen Sleeth pitch more than anyone on our staff, describes Sleeth as thin through the hips and says he physically resembles Matt Clement.
August 6, 2002
Mark Prior has picture-perfect mechanics. And I don't profess to be an expert on pitch counts, knowing exactly how many is too many.
But it sure strikes me as excessive when a fifth-place club lets a 21-year-old who's the future of his franchise (yes, more than Sammy Sosa or Kerry Wood) throw 135 pitches. That's exactly what interim manager Bruce Kimm did with Prior on Sunday, and if I were the Cubs GM that would be enough cause to make sure "interim" became "ex."
Kimm has botched double-switches and pitching changes since being put in charge of the Cubs. To his credit, he's very willing to acknowledge when he thinks he deserves blame, but that's been happening too frequently. Those are minor sins compared to the possible jeopardizing of Chicago's $10.5 million investment in Prior.
The Cubs are closer to the Brewerswhat's more woeful, Bud Selig's team or his commissionership?than they are to first place. Yet Kimm has to try to win rather than play for the future in order to try to hold onto his job. With a bullpen that has been horrible in the last month, his starting pitchers give him a better chance to do that than his relievers. Still, common sense would dictate you don't run the risk of burning out a youngster like Prior.
If Prior had enough starts to qualify, he would rank fourth in baseball with 109.6 pitches per start, trailing only Randy Johnson, A.J. Burnett and Jeff Weaver. Under Don Baylor, he averaged 106.1, which was probably pushing it. Under Kimm, he's at 116, which is more than Johnson (113.7) throws per outing.
While I rant, I need to direct everyone's attention to the top of this page. We won't consider your question if you don't provide your full name and hometown. There have been a rash of offenders recently.
It's an extremely unsettled race for this point in the season. Whereas in 2001, we had three players (Josh Beckett, Adam Dunn, Hank Blalock) who would have won it in almost any year that they didn't have to compete with each other, in 2002 no one has jumped to the fore like that.
If I had to narrow the candidates down to three hitters and three pitchers at this point, these would be my choices (listed alphabetically in each category). I emphasize that these are my choices, and don't necessarily reflect BA as a whole:
The hitters would be my top three candidates, and I would be very torn. Stokes has the most impressive numbers. Baldelli is the same age and is a more multidimensional player who has excelled at one or two levels higher than Stokes, yet his batting eye leaves something to be desired. Reyes isn't a slugger like those two, but he's a premium defensive shortstop with a lot of offensive skills for his positionand he's more than a full year younger.
How they perform over the final month of the minor league season will determine who gets my vote, but I won't cop out and avoid a selection for now. Reyes' numbers aren't as good as the other two (though he has a better previous track record), and Stokes is two levels behind Baldelli, so I'd go with Baldelli. I will say that had he been healthy for the entire year, Mark Teixeira probably would have been an easy choice.
That's an interesting comparison to Durazo, because LeCroy certainly has been blocked. He doesn't have a pretty body and he's not much of an athlete, but the 1997 supplemental first-round pick is going to hit for a decent average and provide plenty of power. If the Twins deem Doug Mientkiewicz and David Ortiz as too expensive to go to arbitration with after this season, LeCroy would be a legitimate replacement for either. He doesn't have Mientkiewicz' glove at first base, but he's a more productive hitter. Easily.
The problem for LeCroy is that he not only has to crack the big league lineup, but he also has to watch his back. Michael Cuddyer was one of the best batting prospects in the minors, and Bobby Kielty and Dustan Mohr kept him in Triple-A for much of this season. Michael Restovich, Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer are also on the way, which is going to make it that much more difficult for LeCroy to establish himself in Minnesota. If he can't, there will be several teams interested in giving him that opportunity.
I see the GED as no factor whatsoever, neither a negative nor a positive. Bonderman repeated the fifth grade because he has a learning disability, so he entered the draft in what otherwise would have been his high school senior year. The 26th overall pick in 2001, he's having a sensational season in the high Class A California League considering that he's just 19, going 7-8, 3.86 with 143 strikeouts in 131 innings. He was physically ready to enter pro ball, and as long as he's handled responsibly he should be fine. Even had he stayed in high school for 2002, he still would have spent the summer pitching professionally.
Remember, Bonderman wasn't the first player to try this route. Landon Powell opted into the draft in 2000 after obtaining his GED, but no team realized he was eligible and he went unselected. Under draft rules that should have made him eligible to sign immediately as a free agent with any club, but Major League Baseball delayed a ruling for most of the summer, which cut into his window for signing. He went to South Carolina that fall and will be draft-eligible again as a junior in 2003.
Other players haven't followed Bonderman's path because MLB changed its rules to cut it off. Players still can be drafted after obtaining a GED as opposed to after graduating from high school, but they have to have been out of high school for at least a year. It would be interesting to see how that rule would stand up to a legal challenge.
August 2, 2002
Man, John Stephens' big league debut didn't go very well, did it?
For the last two years, I've written a column ranking the 10 best young players to switch teams included in all the action leading up to the trade deadline. And for the last two years, 10 just hasn't been deep enough to cover everyone who deserved mention. That was even more true in 2002, when two transactions (Bartolo Colon to the Expos, Jeff Weaver to the Yankees via the Athletics) accounted for seven of the 10 prospects.
So once again, I'll use this space to list 10 more guys who bear watching after switching addresses:
11. Ben Broussard, of/1b, Indians
12. John-Ford Griffin, of, Athletics
13. Ricardo Rodriguez, rhp, Indians
14. Bud Smith, lhp, Cardinals
15. Justin Wayne, rhp, Expos
16. Luis Garcia, of, Indians
17. Felix Diaz, rhp, White Sox
18. Jason Romano, of/2b, Rockies
19. David Espinosa, 2b, Tigers
20. Duaner Sanchez, rhp, Pirates
Salt Lake City
Clark is a prospect, but he's not a power righthander and he's not in the same class as Jesse Foppert, Kurt Ainsworth, Boof Bonser and Jerome Williams. The 22-year-old Clark, a 20th-round pick in the 2000 draft out of Connecticut-Avery Point, doesn't throw as hard as his 6-foot-6, 240-pound frame might indicate.
Clark usually works in the high 80s, but he's able to throw strikes with his entire repertoire, which also includes a curveball, slider and changeup. The Giants are enthused by his success, but he'll have to prove himself at each step in the minors.
If there's a Hillsborough High-related question in Ask BA, it usually comes from Jack. I know I've answered his queries about Hillsborough alums Elijah Dukes and Jason Romano, and the school's most famous players are Dwight Gooden, Gary Sheffield and Carl Everett.
Scouts definitely have taken note of Ray, who has touched 97 mph and regularly thrown 93-95 with the Bourne Braves. He and Falmouth's David Aardsma (Rice) are the two hardest throwers on the Cape this summer, though Aardsma reaches maximum velocity with more ease. Ray has some effort to his delivery, which one manager described thusly: "He kicks his leg over his head like Juan Marichal, then he throws the ball as hard as he can." Ray will be on follow lists next spring.
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